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

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Hint 24. Don't Make Yourself A Target

One of the things they never tell you in the comics is how difficult it is to get your arse beaten into oblivion on a Saturday night and then to have to go into work again on Monday morning as if nothing ever happened. I smile at myself, though, as I ply foundation onto my face. The bruises are fading but my sense of pride has swollen. I’m a proper super now, albeit something of a failure. Even the best struggle at first and next time I won’t allow Jack to catch me by surprise.

That is, after all, if he’s still alive.

I shake the thought from my head, trying not to consider it. If Shark says a bullet to the brain isn’t enough to put him down then it isn’t enough. Shark knows what he’s talking about.

I throw the makeup into my bag, set my expression, and stride from the room. Alex isn’t up and he won’t be coming into work today so I don’t have an indicator of how well I’ve disguised my injuries. I’m not sure if he’s re-suspended now that Ripley doesn’t need so many officers for an emergency or if he’s on some kind of ‘I-shot-a-superhero’ compassionate leave.

I reappear in the station and slink over to my desk. It’s weirdly quiet but no one’s looking at me so I put it down to the aftermath of Shark’s distraction and the missing Alex.

Jack Docklen isn’t here.

Either he’s an hour late - unlikely - or he’s not coming in at all. The sense of relief is overwhelming. I have a day, then, to be myself for just a little bit longer. I’m not stupid. I know my time is limited. I can be Sergeant Maya Kurtis just for as long as it takes Jack to recover from his head wound… or until they fix that computer of theirs. Whichever is fastest.

What if he’s never coming back? What if he’s… gone?

Amber marches over to my desk as I’m shaking the thought from my head. I haven’t even managed to sit down.

“He’s a fucking idiot,” she hisses, clenching and unclenching her fists with such passion that, for a second, I think she’s going to hit something. “You tell him he’s an idiot, Maya.” There’s a pause as I look at her blankly and her expression softens. “How is he?” She asks.

“Who? Jack?”

“No. Not Jack, Maya. What are you on? Alex. Jack’s just off sick. Alex is the one that nearly got himself killed.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?” She throws her arms wide in despair. “Oh?”

“You don’t need to worry, Amber. He shot her, she didn’t hurt him.”

“I know what happened, Maya. I was there.”

Her teeth are as clenched as her fists and her eyes burn. She’s glaring at me like I’m the stupidest person in the world and, somehow, it’s offensive to her. I just hold her gaze, put out, and shrug, waiting for further explanation. It is an explanation that never comes.

Amber’s patience eventually snaps and she shouts something garbled, swiping my picture frame off my desk and kicking Alex’s chair before marching from the station. I flinch as she slams the door behind herself. I’m not the only one. For what feels like the hundredth time in the last month, everyone is looking at me.

“Apparently I’m the only one that doesn’t know what happened.” I mutter, rolling my eyes.

“He saved her life.”

I look up. Ripley’s leaning against his open doorframe, arms folded. He throws a cursory glare around the station and everyone bends studiously down over their monitors. Tim, who’s dressed as though he were just about to leave on patrol before Amber forced past him, slinks reluctantly out the door.

“May I have a word, Maya?” Ripley asks, gesturing for me to join him in his office. I close my eyes, praying for strength, and walk away from my desk.

Ripley remains in the doorway, allowing me to precede him into his office before he shuts the door firmly behind the both of us.

“I trust Mr. Higgs is doing OK?” He asks.

I nod.

“What did I miss?” I ask.

Ripley doesn’t reply. Instead he bends down, reaching into his desk drawer and pulling out a box of baby wipes. I know what those wipes are for, he’s slammed them down on Amber’s desk enough times for me to dread his next command. They’re his ‘you can’t look like a hooker when you’re in uniform and the public can see you’ wipes.

“Get that crap off your face, Kurtis,” he says.

“No.”

Ripley stands, dropping the blinds, and returns silently to his desk. He just looks at me until, eventually, I realise I don’t have a choice.

He doesn’t say anything as I coat a whole handful of his wipes in dark brown and toss them into the bin beneath his desk. I don’t want to think about what he’ll say when I’m finished and I can’t hold his eye, not until the bruises have been revealed.

My jaw sets stubbornly, daring him to judge me, but Ripley just matches the expression with an even gaze.

“I assume the rest of you looks the same?” He says, tilting his chin towards my hidden arms.

I just nod. Ripley mimics the gesture, pulling his thumb across the line of his jaw in thought.

“I just finished the report for Saturday night,” he says. “I’m filing a complaint.”

He watches me and, suddenly, I get it. He’s not going to ask about the bruises, he’s not going to force a confession from my lips. I was at The Facility. I was carrying out my tests. He’s suspicious but he knows better than to question me. He’s not authorised to hear details on the Sapient+ programme; it’s out of his jurisdiction and he can’t do anything but leave it be.

“What happened?” I ask. There were no news reports, not this time, and everything’s been too hectic with The Lady for me to even stop and consider asking Shark.

Ripley taps his fingers on the edge of the desk, thinking.

“Chaos,” he says eventually. “That’s what happened. I don’t think they were organised and I don’t think we were either. I’ve been around a long time, Maya, and criminals like those don’t just go out looking for a fight. Except that’s exactly what happened.” He pauses, expression dark. “And our guys were more than happy to give them one. Not in the Met,” he clarifies quickly, “but every other Sapient+ operative from across the rest of the board was looking for blood.”

Ripley looks disgusted and my heart clenches, imagining what it must have been like for Shark and Anna, alone against such a horde.

“Protocol went out the window, our guys were fighting with tempers flared and we worked that beast of theirs up into something of a blood rage.” He scowls. “And then they just left. All of them: turned tail and ran back to The Facility without warning. They left us on our own against two individuals that had previously managed to avoid or injure half their force. We were defenceless. We lost three guys from other stations before Amber got in the way.”

“Got in the way?”

Ripley just shakes his head.

“I don’t know what she was thinking,” he says, “and if Higgs hadn’t thrown himself in front of her, she wouldn’t be here anymore. Your housemate,” he says, “and don’t you dare repeat a word of this, was a hero on Saturday night. He was this close to sacrificing himself for her but he’s got a quick trigger finger and, dear god, am I glad.”

“She went for Amber?” I ask.

“She? That thing’s not a ‘she’, Maya, it’s an ‘it’ and it’s a bloody killer. It picked her out from the crowd and went for her. It knew what it was doing and it took pleasure in it.”

“But… why Amber? Amber never hurt anyone. Amber’s not dangerous. She’s not even Sapient+.”

Ripley’s expression softens at my distress.

“Go home and heal, Kurtis. Look after Higgs for me.”

She went for Amber. Amber. I don’t know why her attacking Alex sat fine with my conscience but, now that I think about it, it shouldn’t have. Just because she looked so broken and he felt so guilty, didn’t mean it was unavoidable. It was her fault. She killed people and she attacked my best friend. Amber. She attacked Amber, Amber who smiles at everyone.

I stand and Ripley looks at me warily.

“Go home, Maya,” he reiterates, as though he knows my intention is to do anything but.

I push my chair under the table, buying myself just a little time before I materialise in Shark’s living room. As I look up at Ripley one final time, he lays his fist on the table. I furrow my brow as he slowly unwinds his fingers, trying to see the object in his palm. It’s a shiny silver badge, the word Sapient+ engraved in the metal.

“Put this on next time you come in, Maya,” he says, “you were right. I’m not associating with those sociopaths from Townhall. The Met is for the people and we need them to know we’re on their side.”

I pluck the badge from his palm, running my fingers over its smooth surface. Ripley didn’t obtain permission to do this. Something about Saturday night has made him angry enough to prepare for political war.

And then I realise it was me, it was my fault. I set the alarms off on Saturday. The Facility called in all its forces from the field because of me and now Ripley’s going to turn it into an ‘us and them’.

Good. We were always better than those stuck up Townhall bastards anyway.

I clip the badge to my chest, giving him a small nod, and disappear.

My feet have hardly solidified on Shark’s carpeted floor before I’m moving, bursting into The Lady’s room without warning. She looks up in surprise as I skid to a stop, staring at me over the pages of an open book.

“You’re a monster.”

Her gaze hardens at my words and she snaps the book closed with a single hand, placing it at her side.

“Yes,” she says, flipping back the duvet and pulling herself awkwardly to her feet. “But you knew that already.”

I don’t say anything, panting heavily in my fury. She’s looking for a fight, she always is, but this time, for the first time, I’m quite willing to take her up on the offer.

“Come on,” she says, throwing her right arm wide and pushing her left out as far as it will go, opening up her chest. “Enlighten me,” she says, “or punish me. I don’t care, but don’t just stand there.”

The expression on her face is infuriating. There’s no softness to it, no kindness, and absolutely no guilt.

“You tried to kill my friend.”

“And he shot me. I’d say we’re even.”

“Not Alex. Amber. You tried to kill Amber. She never did anything to anyone.”

“The girl?” Anna laughs spitefully. “That one’s just down to survival of the fittest, love.”

I scream, launching myself at her. She doesn’t even move and I almost manage to make it to her, almost manage to send my fist thudding into her face before strong arms wrap around my stomach, lifting me from the floor.

I struggle, kicking out, and Shark grunts as I slam the back of my heel into his knee.

“What’s wrong with you?” He hisses and, after a second, I realise he’s not talking to me. “You’re always harping on about how we never get any friends but as soon as anything gets even slightly challenging, you’re the one that starts pushing people away.”

Anna doesn’t say anything. I still want to show her a whole different world of pain but Shark sets me back on my feet, laying a steadying hand on my shoulder to keep me still.

“Just tell her how sorry you are,” he says. “Stop pretending you don’t have feelings. Stop pretending you don’t care.”

She looks away, silent for just a second longer, and then she mumbles something incomprehensible.

“What was that?” He says spitefully. “Use your words.”

“I’m an animal,” she spits, directing the words at him. “I should be put down.” The realisation that she’s not quite strong enough to look me in the eye coupled with the self-loathing in her words is enough to calm me slightly.

“No,” he hisses, scornful. “You’re not an animal - animals can’t control themselves. Your problem is that you don’t want to be better. You like thinking you’re a terrible creature because it’s easier to kill someone and pretend it doesn’t matter than it is to start letting them live and have to come to terms with the fact that you’ve done so many sinful things with your life.”

“Stop it,” she says.

“You’re not that thing they said you were. You’re not a monster. You’re worse.”

“Stop it, Cristian.”

“You’re a cold, calculated, human killer. You’re…”

As her face crumples, I put out a hand to stop him speaking. She can hardly keep herself standing, she’s swaying, and if he keeps talking, he’s going to make her cry.

“Get back to bed, Anna,” I say with a sigh. “We can do this later.”

“I’m sorry, Maya. I am. Is your friend OK? I won’t do it again, I promise. I…”

“Just leave it,” I say, shirking Shark’s grip and turning away. He follows immediately, closing the door on her as we make it back to his living room.

“You’re not entirely blameless in this,” I say as he turns to face me.

“I know. I should have been the one to stop her, not your housemate.” Shark pauses, eyeing me shrewdly. I know he’s reading my mind, calculating whether or not he can get away with voicing the rest of his opinion.

“Just say it.”

When he speaks, his tone is firm and unbiased.

“But neither are your friends entirely innocent in this, Maya. The girl made herself a target. They both signed up to fulfil their duties as police officers. They knew what they were getting themselves into.”

I sigh, knowing how rash Amber can be.

I don’t need to speak. Shark can read the truce in my mind and he doesn’t push it any further.

“Thank you,” he says, “for forgiving her. No one’s ever done that before. She won’t know what to do with herself.”

“I haven’t forgiven her just yet, Shark.”

“But you will.”

I humph, folding my arms, and he grins.

“Are you finished being angry?” He asks, reaching forward to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. He’s always gentle when he does this but this time especially so, careful not to brush his fingers across the bruises on my face. “I’ve been waiting for you to get back here. We’ve got some planning to do.”

“We have?”

He furrows his brow, confused that I’m confused.

“Of course we do, Maya. We don’t have the excuse of your testing this time and The Facility will be on high alert. It’ll be much harder to get in tonight. Especially now that we’re temporarily down to two.”

“We’re going back to The Facility? Tonight?”

I don’t understand. I haven’t really had enough time to consider where we go from here but, I guess, at the very least I had assumed we’d be waiting for Anna to heal. The concept of returning to The Facility is more than daunting, especially now that we’ll have no choice but to do it in open hostility.

Shark grins and I realise all of a sudden that the challenges that fill me with fear are something of a game to him. He’s looking forward to this.

“Relax, Maya,” he says. “It’ll be easy - you did all the hard work already. That computer made it abundantly clear. We just need to find someone with the correct level of security clearance,” he grins, “and it just so happens that I know exactly the right guy.”


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