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

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Hint 22. Stay In Control

I understand that once Shark has seen us both safely from The Facility he must return immediately for The Lady and I don’t question it. What I don’t expect, the next morning, is to still be alone at mine, experiencing full radio silence.

I materialise in the bathroom, thanking my lucky stars that Alex isn’t in there already, and examine myself in the mirror. I couldn’t sleep last night but I try not to think about it. Every time my mind drifts back to Jack my chest tightens, I can’t breathe, and I have to move my thought process onto something else. I don’t really need to mull it over anyway. All the things he did to me have already been done. And as for all the things he is, well, Shark will answer that later when he finally turns up. I won’t give him a choice this time.

I look hideous. My right eye is ringed in blossoming red spiderwebs, burst blood vessels, and the bruise only actually begins below my cheekbone, greens and yellows spreading all the way to my lips.

Tilting my head back, I take in the handprint on my neck. It’s raw and painful but only skin deep. My wrist, however, did not get off quite so lightly. I can make out every single curve in Jack’s fingerprints, branded onto the underside of my arm.

There are a few more bruises, on my ribs and ankle, and the cut on my collar bone, the one that Jack healed, is just a thin, white scar but by this time I’ve had enough of feeling sorry for myself. I coat myself in antiseptic gel and slouch back to my room.

At around eleven I hear Alex leave his bedroom but I don’t get up and join him. I’m terrified of what he’ll think if he sees the state I’m in.

“Maya,” he shouts, “are you in?”

I don’t reply. He sounds terrible, about as bad as I feel.

“Maya, I think it’s my turn for pizza and wine,” he says. “Please say you’re in.”

His tone breaks my heart but I keep my mouth shut until he walks away from my door, leaving me in peace.

“That’s fine,” he says, mumbling to himself. “Think I needed something a bit stronger than wine anyway.”

I’ve never heard him like this before but Alex is incapable of feeling negative emotion for more than a few hours so I know he’ll cheer himself up. I resolve to be a good housemate when I’ve fixed my own problems. I’ll listen to everything he has to say.

Thirty minutes later, I can’t stand much more of this. Alex is sitting silently in the living room; I didn’t hear him go back to bed so I know he’s just there on the couch. For a normal adult human this wouldn’t be such a big deal but Alex is like one of those kids whose parents say ‘when they’re quiet, that’s when you know they’re really getting into trouble.’ While I’m sure Alex isn’t drawing on the walls, it is very possible he’s doing something equivalently self-destructive.

Shark is still nowhere to be seen. He must know how much of a state I’m in, he must know I’m worried. He always knows what I’m thinking, no matter where I am or how far away he is.

He doesn’t answer a single one of my silent calls and, eventually, I decide that whilst I could never point to his flat on a map, I am familiar enough with its inside that I can rely on my power to get me there.

Two seconds later I’m standing in his living room and, for the first time ever, I take him by surprise.

“Maya…” he says, as though he’d completely forgotten I existed.

He takes one look at my face, eyes falling to my neck, and drops everything in his arms. He takes hold of my wrist, the uninjured one, and pulls me close, wrapping tight arms around my back.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, voice muffled by the way he buries his face in my hair. “All of this is my fault. I’m so sorry.”

It’s not his fault, it’s Jacks.

As Jack’s name rolls across my mind, the familiar tightening of my chest returns, as though my ribs aren’t big enough for my lungs. I bury my head the crook between Shark’s shoulder and his neck, breathing deep. The panic subsides with the smell of his cologne and I close my eyes, relaxing for the first time since last night.

“I didn’t get the sequences,” I say, speaking into his chest. “I’m the one that should be sorry.”

Shark pushes me back, surveying me at arms length. I realise he’s still wearing his superhero clothing, red bandana, mask and all. He doesn’t look like he’s stopped moving since I saw him last.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “We’re alive.”

“How’s The Lady?”

“She’s…”

“Going to be just fine, thank you.”

We both look up together, Shark releasing me enough that I can turn to look at her. She makes my moment of self-pity look pathetic. My bruises pale in comparison to the sallow, milky pallor of her skin and the way her eyes sink back into her skull. It’s an unfortunate moment for me to see her without her mask for the first time. She stands awkwardly in an old dressing gown, all her fluid femininity lost beneath its voluptuous rolls. She holds one arm tight to her chest, supported by a rough sling.

“Go back to bed,” Shark says.

“No.”

He sighs.

“You haven’t got your mask on, Lady.”

“So what?” She says, anger flaring immediately. She turns to look at me. “It’s Maya. Maya’s one of us.”

“You know why we can’t afford that kind of luxury.”

“No, actually,” she says, “I don’t. Take one look at her face and tell me she hasn’t earned the right to look at yours.”

Shark sighs.

“Lady,” he says, warning.

“No,” she says. “No. I’m sick and scared and I want to sit around in just my dressing gown. I don’t want to have to wear a mask. Look at me,” she says, “I don’t want to be The Lady right now.” Her face crumples. “You’re getting cuddles and I’m not even allowed to be myself in my own home.”

I drop Shark immediately, pulling her into my arms. She flinches, drawing back slightly, and I make sure to avoid the left side of her body in its entirety, wrapping only half of her in my embrace.

“I’m Anna,” she says. “My name is Anna.”

“You’re not thinking properly.” Shark says, “This is…”

“It’s done already, Cristian, so forget about it.”

I stiffen in her hold, ensuring I keep one hand wrapped around her waist as I turn back to face him. He looks furious.

“Cristian?” I ask. “You’re called Cristian?”

“That’s none of your business,” he snaps, storming from the room.

As he leaves, back turned to me, he reaches up, tearing the mask from his face and throwing it to the floor. It kills me, watching the back of his head as his ruffled hair exits the room, knowing that for the first time I could truly know what he looks like, if only he were facing me.

I make to follow but The Lady grabs my hand.

“Give him a minute,” she says, “he just needs to get his head around the concept.”

I nod and she smiles, releasing me to hobble awkwardly over to the sofa.

“Will you look at my shoulder?” She asks. “I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet and Cris doesn’t know anything about medicine at all.”

“I don’t really know anything about medicine either,” I say but she’s already pulling the dressing gown off her left arm, unwinding hasty, blood-stained bandages from her body.

My breath catches in my throat but I try and hide it so I don’t upset her. I’ve seen bullet wounds once or twice, like back in Caverny when I first met Jack, but this is something different. She’s been shot in the left shoulder and the dark, crimson circle just there is to be expected. What I don’t understand are the great tears, a whole star’s worth, emanating from that one tiny hole. Her flesh has been split down her chest, down her arm, and over her back.

“Is it bad?” She asks, eyes screwed tight shut.

“What happened?” I ask, mesmerised.

“They sent more than just Sapient+, more than we expected.” I look up. Shark’s standing in the doorway to his room. It’s dark behind him and he’s standing back deliberately. I still can’t see his face.

The Lady - Anna - doesn’t open her eyes.

“Cover it up again,” she says. “I’m going to bed. I don’t want to have to hear this story, I’m trying not to think about it.”

Diligently I rewind the gauze around her body, understanding, now, why it covers such a large area. Shark remains hidden in the darkness of his doorframe as I help her shuffle back to her room, tucking her gently into bed. She smiles as I shape the duvet around her. By the time I’m finished, the bed sheets are damp, sticky from her movement.

“It’ll be OK,” she says as I look at the blood with concern. “I’ve taken a lot of painkillers. When I’ve had a nap I’ll take a look at it and we can decide what needs to be done.”

“Alright,” I agree, wondering how she hasn’t fainted from blood loss already.

I return to the living room and Shark steps out to meet me, the light falling across his face for the first time. He allows me to reach up, running featherlight fingers across his brow.

“I should have let you take it off,” he says, “you’ve wanted to do it ever since the first time we met.”

“That’s OK,” I say, revelling in the fact that I can see the whole of him for the first time ever. “You can let me do it next time.”

He smiles, closing his eyes as I run my hands up into his hairline. He grumbles, a deep, satisfied sound at the back of his throat, almost as if he’s purring.

“What happened to her?” I ask and this time, when he opens his eyes, they’re heavy with concern.

He drops down onto the sofa and I follow, curling up next to him.

“I prepared for Sapient+,” he says, “the whole idea was for Sapient+… I forgot about the rest of the Met, the rest of MI6. I forgot about the military. There were too many. She lost control, she always does. They… They shot her in her other shape. She just went down. At first I thought she was dead. She should have been, it was a point blank shot, I don’t see how they could have missed. But then she started moving. There was so much blood. I couldn’t carry her back, she was too big. I made her change. That’s why it looks the way it does. That’s why it’s so bad.”

“She’ll be OK,” I say. “She’s walking around. She’s arguing. It can’t be that bad.”

“I just wish she’d take a look at it, tell me what I need to do.”

“Let her sleep,” I say, “then we’ll get her to do it. There are other things we need to discuss.”

Shark tilts his head, looking at me appraisingly.

“Jack,” he says.

“What is he?”

Shark sighs, leaning his head against the back of the sofa, and starts to tell me the full story.

“We were ten,” he says, “inseparable.”

“You and Jack?”

“Me and Anna. My powers started coming through first.” He chuckles. “She was so jealous but I’d give her piggy back rides across the ceiling just to shut her up. It was fine until the first time she changed. She was still the same little girl, wanted to play the same little games, but she terrified them. Suddenly she wasn’t human anymore, she was an animal. They split us up, took her away from me and put her in a box. It was the first time I heard her thoughts clear enough to read them. I wish I hadn’t. I wish it could have waited just another day more… It was lucky, though. I didn’t see her until I was fourteen, for four years, but we’d talk constantly, in her head. Two weeks after they took her, one of the scientists brought Jack in. It was the first time I met him. He came in at least once a week. I didn’t think anything of it. We became friends, Jack and I, and the man I had assumed was his father took me under wing.”

“Larry,” I say, hazarding a guess.

“Lawrence,” he says, “only Jack calls him Larry. It was a teenage rebellion thing, Lawrence hates it.”

Shark smiles. Despite the creature Jack is now, these cannot all be terrible memories.

“When we were fourteen, Jack was the one that snuck me out so I could see her again. He fell for her immediately and she couldn’t resist him. He was the only one that treated her like a person. Jack wanted to get her out straight away but he hadn’t seen The Facility’s true force, he wasn’t scared like we were, so I persuaded him to wait. And we waited. We waited for a very long time.’

“It was only when we were sixteen, when he started becoming a real teenager, started getting angry, that I found out the truth about him. Lawrence was as much his father as he was mine. We were just two mutant boys that he’d taken under wing. Jack’s not Sapient+ like we are. He wasn’t made, he was born. His parents were both Sapient+ and now he’s something completely different. Lawrence knew but no one else did. They still don’t know, they think he’s normal. When Lawrence drinks, he tells me that he’d seen how they’d treated Anna and I and he’d vowed to save Jack from that. He’d vowed to take Jack as far from The Facility as possible but after just a few weeks of watching me in my misery, without her, he’d realised the three of us needed each other. It had been worth the risk so we could grow up together.”

“What is it he can do?” I ask, listing powers off my fingers. “He’s too strong, can call up the wind and lightening. He’s telekinetic, can control fire, can control emotions. He healed me. He burned me.” I pause. “You shot him but you say he’s not dead.”

Shark shakes his head.

“He has none of those things. He just has one power, like the rest of us.” He grins. “Except for me, of course.”

“What is it?”

“He induces chaos, in all its forms. He can’t control it, which makes sense, it’s chaos.”

I nod, keeping quiet, allowing Shark to continue at his own pace.

“It comes out most powerfully when he’s angry,” he says, “but the inner turmoil is, in and of itself, a manifestation of his power. Even when he’s calm it shows, though. Think about it. How much chaos has he caused in your life since he started working with you?”

“Too much,” I say, “and the way he described his last station. He said everybody was out to get everyone else.”

“He doesn’t mean it but things have a tendency to fall apart around him.”

“So why does he need to keep going back to The Facility at night?” I ask.

Shark smiles but there’s no joy in it.

“The Facility, though they would give him only misery were they to ever find out about him, owes more to Jack Docklen than it knows. Lawrence found a way to remove the stuff from his body - I don’t understand it, you’d have to ask Anna - and it was almost like learning how to reverse the process showed him so much more than doing it the other way around. Those friends of yours, the ones you said had their powers removed, they owe their lives to Lawrence and Jack. There was a time when that alternative wasn’t available.”

“So why don’t they just remove Jack’s powers completely?”

“Doesn’t work like that with Jack, unfortunately. He was born as he is and he’s surprisingly resilient. Everything Lawrence removes is back within the fortnight. If he gets confused or upset, it can come back within days. No one knows the full extent of his abilities and even Jack’s afraid to find out.”

Shark lapses into silence and for a second I simply allow the calm to roll over us. I look up, appreciating how lucky I am to see his face.

“What happened between you in the end?” I ask.

“He hurt her,” Shark says, as if this answers all. “He was supposed to love her but he hurt her.’

“All he ever spoke about was how we were going to get her out, how beautiful she was. He would sneak off to see her on his own. He’d steal kisses through the bars. Eventually, when we were eighteen, men, and I had built up enough rage, strength, and resolve to attempt an escape, I allowed him to come with us.”

Shark grins, an eerie, angry grin.

“I killed the man they paid to put the collar on her. Jack was horrified. He’d been brought up in the real world, he only ever came in to visit us. He didn’t understand. She was still vulnerable. She’d spent nearly a decade in a cage and she was determined to be anything but the beast they claimed she was - not like she is now - I’d done it to protect her and I never regretted it. She was gentle but now I look back on it, part of me wonders how forced it was. She’s a lot happier this way so perhaps Jack did her some good in amongst the bad. I don’t know. Perhaps I should have let her kill the guards herself.’

“Jack never looked at me the same after that but I didn’t mind as long as he kept coming back to us. I thought I’d been sheltered but she knew almost nothing. After she’d been banned from being human for so long, she developed this insatiable desire to learn and he’d keep coming back with books for her to read.’

“Eventually, he wanted something from her in return.” Shark looks at me. “You know what I mean. I was nearly nineteen, he was only just eighteen. Boys of that age want something in return.”

I nod.

“She didn’t want to,” he taps his head, reminding me of his power, that he knew exactly what her thoughts were. “I told her to be honest with him but she felt she owed him. She’d loved him since she was fourteen. We lived on the streets. We only survived because he’d bring food along with the books.’

“Eventually she agreed. He hadn’t told her he’d been skipping out on his midnight sessions at The Facility for the previous few weeks. I think he’d been planning to cut his ties with The Facility to come and join us.’

“From what I can work out, when it came down to it, she was still reluctant and it offended him. He lost control. I think the cut on her ribs came from something falling from the ceiling, I’m not sure, but she always claims he didn't do it on purpose. She changed while he was just there - she says it was his power, that she couldn’t control it - as she changed, she hurt him. I don’t know. If you see his back, you’ll understand. I sometimes think he would have killed her in retaliation if I hadn’t arrived to pull them apart. I don’t know - she’s convinced it was all a misunderstanding and I believe her, if that’s what she wants, but afterwards he never came back.’

“He disappeared. We heard nothing about him for years but we assumed he had returned to Lawrence and The Facility because nothing hit the news, no cities were razed to the ground, and then, suddenly, he was in the papers for completely different reasons. I knew, then, that it would only be a matter of time before he tripped up. I knew we’d be seeing him again.”


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