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

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Hint 12. Guard Your Secrets

“Who the hell is this?”

Jack slams the newspaper down onto his desk, jabbing a finger into the front page where my masked face stares up at me in black and white.

“I don’t know, Jack,” I say calmly. “Aren’t we trying to find out who they all are?”

“No,” Jack growls, striding backwards and forwards, round and round the small confines of his office. I can see he’s struggling to control his temper again.

“Why?” I ask.

“Who is she!?”

“I don’t know, Jack! Why is she so important?”

Jack pauses for a minute, breathing heavily. He’s getting more and more like Ripley by the day. It must be what senior management does to men.

“Because,” Jack hisses through his teeth, dropping back onto his chair, “I need to know who she is so I can work out if they used their serum or if she was Sapient+ all along.”

“What are you saying, Jack?”

He sighs. Dropping his head into his hands, he pulls a palm across his face.

“I am saying, Maya, that Shark and The Lady have been Sapient+ for years. We need to know who this is, this Whisper. We need to know if they changed her.”

“Shark and The Lady were Sapient+ all along?”

“Yes.”

“How…?”

“Ask me no questions, Maya, and I’ll tell you no lies.”

I roll my eyes, exasperated by his dramatics.

“Fine. So Whisper’s new. You don’t remember her from your years undercover?”

“No. I don’t remember her from my years undercover.” He pulls the words out weirdly and I don’t understand why he seems so uncomfortable with the sentence. “The fact that Shark and The Lady exist is miracle enough. They’re the only two Sapient+ converts currently operating outside of government control.”

“So we knew they were Sapient+ already. You wanted me on this case, Jack. Why didn’t you warn me?”

“Well,” Jack shakes his head, frustrated. “It’s a little more complicated than that. Officially we didn’t know. We knew about Shark and The Lady in a high up, deep recesses of MI6 kind of way. Now we know publicly.”

I narrow my eyes at him.

“But you knew.”

“Well yes, Maya, I guess I did.”

We stare each other out, Jack leaning over his desk angrily. Eventually I win and he pulls his gaze away, slamming a hand over his eyes.

“Sorry,” he says, “I know I’m being an arse again. I can’t help it. Give me fifteen minutes and come back, I’ll be better.”

I keep my stare going just a couple of seconds longer, just to let him know what I’m really made of, and then I consent, leaving his office in a march. Bending over as I pass, I swipe the newspaper from his desk, taking it with me.

Dropping the paper onto my new desk, I run my fingers over the picture a second time. It’s me, Shark and The Lady, taken just before we leave. I’m in the centre, we’re all holding hands, and Shark is waving, at Jack if I remember correctly. No wonder he’s in such a foul temper this morning. This paper (there are others where the sentiment is somewhat reversed) paints us in such a good light and Docklen, thrown in amongst the general government population, is lumped with all of Shark’s accusations of stolen freedoms. Halfway down the article there’s even a picture of him looking haggard, fighting past the people that surround him. The caption reads: ‘All lies? Is Inspector Jack Docklen (above) one of the one-in-fifty Sapient+ operatives hiding in our everyday lives?

I laugh to myself, enjoying how much the tables have turned since the incident in which I met him.

“Alright, that’s it,” Alex says and I look up, catching him reading the article over my shoulder. “I officially can’t decide, they’re both hot, both of them. Why should I have to pick? I’ll take The Lady, she looks kinky, but I definitely would not say no to Whisper either.”

Amber appears at his side in an instant. She misses me, bless. Or I’m a fantastic excuse for her to spend half her day perched on the edge of Alex’s desk. One or the other.

“Now you know what it’s been like for the rest of us, having to put up with that one staring dashingly out of the newspaper every day.” She cocks her head, indicating Jack as he sits back in his chair, phone to his ear.

“Well now you’ve got to make the difficult choice too,” Alex says, pointing at Shark. “Look at this guy, a chisel cut beast of a man. Not as attractive as myself, obviously, but certainly enough to give Inspector Limelight a run for his money. Which one would you pick?”

“I don’t have to pick,” she says with a smug grin, “I’ll take them both. One at a time, both together. You can even throw one of the girls into the mix, I don’t care.”

“That’s not the point. That’s not fair. I have to pick, girls are funny like that, so you should pick too. Which one would you have, Maya?” He pulls me back into the conversation. “Jack Docklen or Mr. C Shark?”

Well, that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? I don’t know, they’re both incredible. And, at the same time, they’re both kind of arseholes.

“That’s a stupid question, Alex,” Amber says, rescuing me from having to answer. Jack opens his office door, gesturing for me to come back in. I stand, walking away, and it means I never get to retaliate to the end of their conversation.

“Why?” Alex asks.

“Because she’s basically Mrs. Maya Docklen already, isn’t she? She can’t pick the bad guy now, she’s already got the good guy.”

“Jack Docklen’s the good guy? Ouch.”

The bad guy. Shark’s the bad guy. I’m the bad guy. The jury may still be out in the court of public opinion but, officially, according to my job,I’ve just become public enemy number one. Or three. Probably three: Shark, Lady, me. One, two, three.

“Feeling better?” I ask.

“Yes,” Jack replies, slamming his phone back onto the cradle. “Grab your bags, Maya, we’re stopping by The Facility.”

“Oh really?” I say, feigning excitement as my heart drops through my stomach. “I haven’t been by in ages.”

Jack furrows his brow.

“Really? I thought you guys had like monthly check-up testing days.”

I shrug.

“Yeah. They’re not scheduled exactly monthly, they just come around when they come around. I’m probably due one soon.”

“Oh, fantastic. They’ll be missing you then.”

I hold out my elbow, preparing to take us, but Jack just looks at the limb, obviously hesitant.

“Hey, Maya,” he says, “you mind if we go the normal way, take the car?”

“Sure…”

“Thanks,” he says. “Kind of need to work myself up to it, you know?”

He grins awkwardly and I realise I’m not the only one that would really rather we weren’t visiting The Facility right now.

“You’ve not been before?” I ask as we walk through the station.

“No, no. It’s not that.” Jack puts a hand to the back of his head. “I’ve been more than enough times, it just creeps me out.”

“Jack,” I say as we make our way out to the line of patrol cars. “I absolutely know there’s more to it than that. Are you going to tell me or must I ask no questions again?”

“Well it’s up to you, Maya, I don’t mind lying this time - it mixes it up a bit.”

I mutter something wordless in frustration and throw myself in the passenger side. Jack laughs, enjoying messing with me, and climbs in behind the steering wheel.

When we’re in the station it’s easy to forget what happened, forget ‘The Kiss’. Here, alone in the car, though, with his hand drifting down so close to my leg every time he has to shift gear, I find myself lost for words, licking my lips nervously. It’s not as carnal as it is with Shark but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, doesn’t mean I don’t want to trail a hundred kisses down his naked chest.

For the first time, Jack doesn’t catch me staring. He’s focused intently on the road ahead, jaw clenched tight. I don’t want to go to The Facility because I’ll probably get caught - translocation is a pretty unique trait - but I didn’t do anything more illegal last night than trespassing. Jack probably wouldn’t even report me. It would just end up with a lot of awkward questions.

Why he’s so terrified, though, I have no idea. And he’s definitely terrified, knuckles slowly turning white against the dark leather backdrop of the steering wheel.

I settle back in my seat, shifting my leg slightly so that when he changes up into fifth, he’ll have to brush the back of his hand over my thigh.

The Facility itself isn’t an imposing building. It’s got a sweeping, curling roof, all white, and glass walls that open onto an airy auditorium, the type with a large reception desk and trickling water feature. It’s a sinkhole for taxpayer money if ever I saw one but it’s justifiably beautiful. No, the thing about The Facility isn’t the building. It’s how you get to the building in the first place.

Jack stops the car outside the first barrier, narrowing his eyes as three openly armed military personnel make a slow circumference of the car. I throw my feet onto the dashboard, knowing from past experience that this has the possibility of taking a while.

A fourth soldier knocks on Jack’s window and he rolls it down begrudgingly. I roll mine down at the same time, sticking out an arm to run light fingers over the ears of one of the gate’s massive Alsatians. I come through here a lot. The Facility is the one place I would never just materialise out of the blue. It’s a guaranteed way to get shot. Or electrocuted. Or fried. Or exploded. Or squashed. You never know who they’ve got visiting and what they can do.

“Docklen,” the soldier says with a nod, “Miss Kurtis.”

I raise my eyebrows incredulously. This is the kind of place where they know names but Jack’s not Sapient+, he shouldn’t be coming through here that often.

“I rang ahead,” Jack says, impatient.

“Yes, we know.”

The soldier steps back and I retract my arm, Jack closing both windows simultaneously from the driver’s side.

We arrive at the second gate.

I never understand who would go through the whole process of becoming Sapient+ just to stand around guarding a massive barbed wire fence. Gloria once told me that it’s like superhuman community service. If you have the type of power they want, you have to do your stint on the middle Facility gate. I’m not sure if I believe her though; I see a lot of the same faces. It must pay well.

Jack and I both roll the windows down again as a tall man saunters over to the car, flanked by a woman and some kid who can’t be too much over eighteen.

“Get out,” he says, pursing his lips, and I roll my eyes. Often the guards on this gate have good banter, we have being Sapient+ in common so they’re always rather friendly. This guy, though, goes out of his way to be a dick.

Jack looks just as miserable as I do, walking around until he’s standing in front of the car bonnet and folding his arms. I follow suit.

Tall-guy dick-man spends the next five minutes with his eyes closed, waving hands in front of our faces and down my stomach.

“What’s your power?” I ask as he finishes, stepping back.

“None of your damn business, get in the car.”

I roll my eyes again but do as he says. You don’t mess with The Facility and you certainly don’t mess around at the gates.

The final gate isn’t barbed wire fencing like the previous two. It’s a solid, metal barrier that runs an unbroken ring around the entire Facility campus. There is but one guard in an ask-me-anything type role and even he has some military issue fully automatic slung over his shoulder.

I get out the car first, walking up to the barrier’s massive screen, and follow the standard protocol identification routine. Full palm scan with all the fingers, voice recognition, retina scan. Twice. And then, finally, I translocate myself an inch to the right and back again so they can get a reading on the super-sciencey, I-don’t-understand-it resonance of my power.

By the time I’ve finished, Jack’s at my side. I look for the guard but he just steps forward. Palm, voice, eye. Palm, voice, eye.

Now I’m really stumped. They have Jack Docklen on file?

The gate slides silently open in that weird, efficient way of modern robotics and we return to the car, driving through.

The glass doors at the front of The Facility building open in exactly the same manner. Jack walks straight up to the woman behind the reception desk. He doesn’t identify himself or mention who he’s here to see. He just states that he rang ahead and she nods.

“You know where he is,” she says, laughing, “and you know where the lifts are. But it’s part of my job and I’ve still got to direct you else I’ll get in trouble. Take the back lifts, Jack, just turn left past my desk, and he’s on the fifth floor.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Jack says with a wink and she giggles.

I decide that I hate her.

“Miss Kurtis,” she says, surprised as I appear at Jack’s shoulder. She clicks a couple of times on her computer and then looks back at me. “Your appointment’s not for another fortnight.”

“Oh,” I say dryly, holding back the sarcasm; this is all news to me. “Thanks for the email.”

“I can send you a reminder if you like, just give me a second.”

“No that’s fine,” I treat her to my most sickly of smiles. “I’m not here about my appointment: We’re together.”

Jack says nothing as we walk over to the lifts and I slip my arm in his. But as soon as we step in and the lift doors close, rendering us alone, the grin explodes across his face.

“Catty,” he says, referring to my behaviour with the receptionist.

“What?” I ask, all fake innocence. I make to detach my arm but he moves quicker than I do, grabbing my retreating limb and wrapping his fingers in amongst mine. He leans over, dropping his face into my neck and breathing in deeply.

“Smells like jealousy,” he says.

“Urgh!” I exclaim, beating him away, but I’m grinning and he loves it. “You’re too weird.” I don’t know where all that fear of his has run away to but it’s buried very deep and the cocky, confident Jack Docklen, the one that the journalists love, the one that can get me to break any rule, is back in full force.

“You’re the worst boss ever,” I say as he leans back against the far side of the lift, laughing.

“Well you’re the least subordinate subordinate I ever met,” he says as the lift pulls to a stop, “so I guess we’re even.”

We step out into a white corridor. I’ve never been here before, I usually take the first lift down into the basement, carry out my lab-rat style assessment in its entirety and get immediately out of here. These upper floors are reserved for offices and research. Most definitely not my domain.

It is Jack Docklen’s domain, by all accounts. He doesn’t even hesitate, making his way to one of the further doors. I cock my head as he knocks, reading the single pane cartoon taped to the door. It’s all about artificial evolution, makes no sense to me.

“Jack!” The door is opened by an older man who takes one look at me, kitted up in my police uniform, and takes a step back. “Oh, sorry Inspector Docklen, I didn’t realise you were here on official business.”

“I’m only ever here on official business,” Jack says coldly.

Ouch. There has been some serious love lost here.

The man behind the door looks a little taken aback. He seems like a university type, and knowing this place, he probably was once. As he opens the door, letting us in, I wonder how much more comfortable he would be in tweed rather than this bleached lab coat.

Jack drops himself into an old lounge chair at the corner of the room, throwing his legs over one of the arms. This is definitely the office of someone who’s used to dealing with students. The professor sits behind his desk and I resort to my police escort routine as there are no more chairs, folding my arms behind my back and standing to attention at Jack’s side. He rolls his eyes, tugging on my wrist until I drop down, sitting on the chair arm that’s not currently occupied by Jack Docklen’s legs. It is, however, occupied by Jack Docklen’s arm and I stiffen as his wrist brushes (probably accidentally) against my lower back.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your girlfriend?” The professor asks.

“I’m not his girlfriend,” I say hurriedly.

“We’ll see about that.” Jack rolls his head up around his neck, giving me a wink.

“Stop being a dick,” I say.

He chuckles.

“She’s not my girlfriend, Larry, and if she was, then it would be absolutely none of your business.”

Ouch. Sass, Mr Docklen?

“Look, Jack, I know…”

“We need the names of all known Sapient+, operatives and non-operative, with the power to transport, translocate, apparate, or phase-jump.”

Larry sighs in defeat and shakes his mouse, waking up his computer.

“I know you wanted to see me, Jack,” he says, “they can email you this shit.”

I raise my eyebrows at the language.

“No they can’t,” Jack replies immediately, “my email address got classed as insecure.”

Is it me or is it getting super uncomfortable in here?

Professor Larry sighs again.

“Alright,” he says, “you can get your pen out but it’s not a long list. Currently operative there are only two, S+395422 and S+489002 which, I believe, is you my dear.” Larry twists his monitor and my face glares out at me from the screen.

“I hate that picture,” I say. I’d just gone through my final activation sequence, officially Sapient+ for only five minutes, and I’d thought I was legitimately about to die.

“Who’s S+395422?” Jack asks.

Peering round the side of his computer, Larry clicks a button. My hellhole of a face is replaced by somebody else’s hellhole of a face. He’s a young man, probably about thirty but he looks as likely to die as I felt when they took my picture. Apparently everyone gets the same treatment.

“What’s his name?” I ask, intrigued by someone who can do the same things as me.

“Even I’m not allowed to know that,” Larry says, “but I can tell you he’s based in Gearling, up North.”

“That’s a long way away,” Jack says as though this would somehow stop a translocating superhuman from terrorising the city.

“Wouldn’t make a difference to me though, would it?” I ask, sarcasm dripping.

“Yeah, not to mention that we’re looking for a woman, Maya. Who have we got that’s non-operative? And why?”

“Just one. S+16200, tentatively non-operative.”

I nod appreciatively. That’s a low number, an early operative. It’s got one whole digit less than mine. And then it hits me. One man, one operative too old to be in contention for the Whisper spot, and one young woman. Me.

“Give me the story. Tentatively non-operative. What does that even mean?”

Larry leans back in his chair.

“It means she was a phase-jumper with the ability to travel through space and time. We have a fairly definitive map of her timeline but she went off grid four years ago and nobody’s seen her since.”

“How old could she be?”

“Depending on the gaps in the graph? Most likely to be over fifty, we think she dies at eighty, some time in the early nineteen twenties, but there are also gaps in her early twenties - suspicions of a relationship with an Asian man from an early Chinese dynasty - and other gaps in her late thirties.”

“Hmm.”

Larry clicks a button and a woman’s face flashes onto the screen, pinched and pale. Not even a little bit like me and Whisper.

“Alright,” Jack sighs, running a hand over his face.

There’s a tense silence. I just sit there, frozen, perched on the edge of the chair, and wait for him to accuse me. A second passes, two. I can see Jack attempt to control his anger but eventually he looses it, smashing his fist into the bookshelf at his side. Larry just watches this with mild disappointment.

“I take it you didn’t find what you were looking for?” He asks.

“Tell me where Shark is.” Jack snaps, fire in his eyes.

Larry sighs.

“I think you should leave, Jack.”

“Shark,” he says, “and The Lady. I know you still see them. What are they planning?”

“I don’t tell anyone about Shark, Jack, just as I don’t tell anyone about you.”

I don’t miss Jack’s eyes as they flick briefly, fearfully, onto me.

“Now, if I’m honest,” Larry continues, “I would love for you to stay a little longer but if you can’t calm down, you’re going to have to leave.” He turns to me. “Nice to meet you, dear.”

I smille.

Jack stands, pushing me off the edge of the chair.

“Take me to the car, Maya.”

“Take yourself to the car. I’m not translocating in here, they’ll kill me.”

Jack glares at me, at Larry, and storms from the room.

“Nice to meet you Mr Professor Larry,” I say and follow him.

Jack collapses back against the elevator wall, head in his hands.

“And you said I was catty,” I say, “‘I’m only ever here on official business’.”

“Don’t start, Maya.”

“Do I get to ask any questions about what just happened?”

“No.”

“I’m a detective,” I say. “I can find out for myself.”

Jack just groans and he looks so genuinely pitiful I actually feel a bit bad.

“Do you need a hug?”

“Yes.”

“What? Oh.” He folds into my arms before I even have time to react and I place an awkward pat on his back.

By the time we make it to the ground floor, cocky fake Jack is back. He leans back with a sigh, runs his hand through his hair, and saunters out into the lobby. I roll my eyes, trailing obediently.

“Goodbye, Jack!” The receptionist trills, waving as he walks to the door. He doesn’t even look at her but I turn, throwing a vindictive salute.

“See you in a fortnight!”

The front slips off again as Jack drops back into the car.

“Ok,” I say. “Policeman’s prerogative. We’re getting out of these gates and phoning Ripley. Tell him we’ve got a lead and we won’t be back before the end of the shift.”

“But we haven’t got a lead, Maya.”

“No, we haven’t,” I say. “We’re going to the pub.”


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