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

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Hint 1. Rules Are Made For Breaking

“I know it’s difficult to stand so close to greatness, Ms Kurtis, but I would be much obliged if you could keep your eyes on the job at hand.” Docklen smiles, only turning to face me as he finishes the sentence.

Oh shit.

I flush immediately, cursing my complete lack of decency. I’ve never been subtle - when we were ten, my brother took to calling me bulldozer and the nickname was so apt my friends still use it to this day - and now Inspector Jack Docklen, the man from the tv, has caught me drooling.

“I shouldn’t have to be here babysitting you,” I huff, disguising my embarrassment with frustration.

He’s actually even better in real life than on the news. It’s… intoxicating. He’s like a piece of art. A warm piece of art, in uniform, with soft lips and broad shoulders. I like shoulders.

Jesus, Maya, he’s your boss now.

His grin only grows at my reply and he turns back to facing the scene before us. I make a distinct effort to stop thinking about him.

It’s moments like these when I really hate my job. Police officers scurry around the perimeter of a grey, blocky skyscraper, the downstairs of which, on a normal day, hosts a large branch of the City National Bank. On a normal day. Today it hosts between four and eight armed gunmen and twenty-three civilian hostages.

I fold my arms angrily. I’m Sapient+, special government operative S+489002, created to break through the boundaries of human capability and out into the realms of the surreal. I could be inside that building and back again, with three hostages in tow, all in less time that it would take for Jack Docklen to spread that smug smile out across his perfectly chiselled jaw once again. If the government had any kind of flair, I’d be rocking it in tight leather and heels too.

Instead I’m stuck here, in heavy kevlar, watching people shout ineffectually through plastic megaphones.

“You look… discontented.” Docklen cocks his head and a thrilled shiver runs up my spine at the sudden realisation that this time, he’s the one watching me.

“That’s because I am discontented,” I mutter, not catching his eye.

They’re blue, his eyes. I know this already. I’ve stared longingly into enough newspaper photograph versions of them to be quite sure.

Boss, Maya, remember? Control yourself. Jesus.

Docklen smiles more, leaning in before he replies.

“Me too,” he whispers, nudging my arm with his elbow. Those blue eyes sparkle playfully as I turn to him in disbelief.

“What?”

He shrugs, straightening up again. His gaze returns to the slick, professional, passionless, police manoeuvre in front of us.

“I just feel like a proper police force should recognise its special talents rather than squander them away, disguising them in amongst all the rest like they’re no different. It’s a waste, you know?”

I crease my brow suspiciously, watching the expression on his face for any indication of laughter. I’ve only known the man ten minutes but it already feels like everything he says is slightly mocking and I can’t quite tell if he’s making fun of me.

Docklen grins, flashing his teeth, before turning away so fast his ruffled hair flicks out from his head.

“Constable,” he shouts, gaining an air of professionalism, of superiority, that has been suspiciously absent until now.

A junior officer nearby starts in surprise. He turns warily, only to be caught in the full power of Docklen’s charm. I force myself not to laugh as Docklen strides forward shamelessly, clasping his hands behind his back.

“I must admit,” he says, “that I have arrived drastically unprepared. Would you be so kind as to lend me your vest?” He gestures to himself, in nothing more than his shirt and tie.

The constable hesitates, completely thrown by this turn of events. He looks at Docklen, he looks back at the bank.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not to remove my kevlar until I have returned to base.”

Unsurprisingly, Docklen is not ruffled by this defiance.

“This is a pressing matter, constable,” he replies, “let us not forget that there are lives in danger.”

“I really am sor…”

“Constable!” I bark and he jumps in surprise, turning fearful eyes my way. “Are you ignoring a direct command from a superior officer?”

“Sergeant Kurtis…” The constable sighs, unable to meet Docklen’s eye as he unbuckles the vest and passes it over. “Sorry sir,” he murmurs.

“Good choice, son,” Docklen grins, all charm and rainbows. “Now go stand behind the tape. We can’t have you walking around here without a vest. Health and safety and all.” He winks at me as the constable slouches off. “Good job, Kurtis,” he says.

Docklen slips the vest over his head with ease, strolling back to my side as he tightens the buckles with strong fingers.

Think what he could do with those fingers.

“That’s better,” he says, rolling his shoulders to get comfortable. I bite my lip, looking away.

Docklen’s gaze matches my own, watching policemen mill about awkwardly, waiting for some kind of progression. Alex, my colleague and housemate, is in charge of a sub-group of officers. As we watch he strides past purposefully, too busy to even look my way. I hate him just because he’s doing something, even though all it really is is shouting at people and praying that none of his guys get shot. Shootings equal paperwork and Alex hates paperwork more than anyone. He’s also a decent human being and a good cop so he cares about the team, but everyone’s too macho to admit crap like that.

I shuffle my feet impatiently.

“Do you think you could get me inside, Kurtis?” Docklen asks quietly, eyes remaining firmly on the scene in front of us.

I swallow uncomfortably.

Oh shit.

“Ripley would kill me,” I say.

“That wasn’t my question.”

I wait a second, thinking before I reply. Jack Docklen has gotten way too far ahead of himself. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to lose my job over this.

“Yes, I could do it,” I say, eventually.

“Good. Do it.”

“But…” My voice trails off. “Protocol.” I say, hating myself.

“Oh, Ms Kurtis, let us not fool ourselves.” He turns to me with a grin. “I’ve already seen a demonstration of your opinion of protocol, remember.

“People are in there, afraid, and we’re standing out here, doing nothing,” he continues when I don’t reply. “Do you want to know what I’ve learnt? There’s only trouble when you fail. But we’re not going to fail, we’re going to save lives and catch criminals. Don’t you want to be a hero, sergeant?”

Oh he’s got me there. Of course I want to be a hero, I signed up to become a comic book character for god’s sake.

“Come on.” He nudges me with his elbow again.

I stiffen, holding my back straight, watching him out the corner of my eye.

“Is that an order, sir?”

I would have thought it impossible but Docklen’s grin spreads even further.

“Yes, sergeant,” he says, slowly and clearly. “That’s an order.”

“Right you are, sir.”

Before I can give myself time to second guess, I snap into movement, grabbing his arm, his taut, muscled arm, before anyone can notice. The whole of existence parts beneath my science experiment, nuclear fuelled superpower and within a second, the gloom of an abandoned corridor drapes over our shoulders.

Docklen laughs.

“Kurtis,” he says, “I love you.” Without a second’s hesitation he strides away, footfalls echoing eerily on corporate linoleum flooring.

“I love you too,” I whisper under my breath, trying to not stare where I shouldn’t.

We cross two office rooms, down two sets of stairs, and out onto another corridor before Docklen holds his arm up for silence. He seems to know exactly where he’s going but I don’t question it. He strikes me as the kind of man who knows his stuff.

I haven’t been trained for this. I keep signing up for advanced courses, specifically designed for Sapient+ operatives. I want to join the special forces, use my powers to fight real crime, but I think Ripley knows I’m trying to leave and keeps refusing my applications so I never get to go.

Docklen, on the other hand, is the type of guy to lead those courses. I remember all the newspaper headlines, all those burning buildings and interrupted heists. The papers love him because he’s just a normal human being and yet he does all this heroic stuff like it’s nothing.

And now I’m right here with him.

Docklen beckons me over without even looking. He hunkers up against a heavy fire escape door, pressing his head to the surface and listening intently. I don’t need to follow suit, I’m Sapient+ and I get a few extra perks along with my translocation. Behind the metal I can hear muffled, angry shouting, a sound so characteristic of your generic a-type thug-with-gun.

I crouch next to Docklen, so close we bump kevlar. I get that the vests are there to save our lives and all but right now I hate that there’s so much in between us. He reaches up with a single finger as I peer over his arm, pressing down on the bar across the door. It clicks as it reaches the full length of its movement. Docklen flinches visibly but the door swings open smoothly, freed of the latch, and no one shoots us, not straight away anyway.

Holding the door open just a crack, Docklen presses his eye to the gap. There’s not enough space for both of us to look so I content myself with listening. The sound is so much clearer now that the door’s open but I very quickly realise there’s not too much to be gained by it. It’s just the ranting of one man, and the sniffling, shuffling fear sounds of a group of people as he screams at them to keep quiet.

There’s movement at my side. Docklen holds his hand up, three fingers pointing to the ceiling. As I watch, confused, he taps my leg, drawing a quick line, the cut throat gesture, with his whole hand, and changes it to four fingers. I get it: four fingers, four gunmen. That’s the best case scenario, the reports put it at between four and eight.

Docklen shuffles back, allowing me my turn at the crack. He watches like a hawk as I slot my gaze into the gap and assess the room.

He was right. Four gunmen pace the wide expanse of the bank floor. Two are huddled in intense discussion whilst the other two watch a group of twenty or so civilians cowering in the far corner. Only one of these latter two is being so vocal about his guard duty.

I don’t get enough time to see much more, however, as Docklen is already pulling me back, shutting the door silently as he does so.

“Right, Kurtis,” he says, slipping out of his vest as he talks. I give him a look that says he’s crazy but he just continues talking, moving onto the buttons of his shirt. “I need you to do something for me.”

I don’t reply. I’m watching his fingers way too closely. He moves down the buttons at a pace, only slowing as he reaches towards the bottom, finally working out why I’m not paying his words any attention.

“Eyes up here, Ms Kurtis, please.”

I flick my gaze away from his navel, licking my lips nervously. He grins as he slips the shirt from his shoulders.

“I want you to take me in there,” he says, slipping the kevlar vest over his naked torso and shrugging his shirt back on over the top of it. I try and hide my disappointment as he shuffles the material around, rearranging it so that it hangs loosely enough to disguise the vest underneath.

“Kurtis, this is important,” he snaps, pulling my attention back. “I want you to get me to the back of the hostages. How smoothly can you do that thing of yours? If we draw attention to ourselves, we’re screwed.”

“I can do it smoothly just fine,” I say, “It’s just effort.”

“I’d say this situation justifies that effort, Kurtis,” he replies dryly, eying his stripes suspiciously. It’s only a small badge, sewn onto the upper arm of his shirt, displaying the crest and star of his rank. Docklen obviously decides it’s too noticeable as he rips the insignia free with a sudden, violent gesture. The subsequent rip stands out but not so much as the badge, and it’s perfectly plausible damage for a hostage.

“Look after this,” he says, smirking as he presses the scrap of material into my palm. “I only got it today.”

I slip Docklen’s stripes into my back pocket and he cocks out an elbow, beckoning for me to take his arm as I prepare to translocate us into position.

“Drop me off at the back of the group,” he instructs, “and then get straight out before they see you. Wait five minutes - you’ve got a watch, time it exactly - and then start getting them out of there. I’ll make sure they’re not looking your way.”

I nod, to show my understanding.

“Good. Don’t take them outside, Kurtis - Joe-gunman will get suspicious if he senses too much of a commotion - just take them upstairs, away from the firing line. How many can you do at once? Four? Five?”

“Three. Any more and I’ll get confused, start mixing bits of people up with bits of other people.”

“Gross.”

“I only ever tried it with dummies at The Facility, I never actually hurt anyone.”

“I never doubted you, Kurtis.”

It’s more effort this time, to fade us calmly out of existence behind the door and slot us gently into the back of the group of civilians sitting on the bank floor. I have to actually concentrate on what I’m doing, instead of relying on instinct, and it always makes me worry I’ll leave some vital part of myself behind, lying pitifully on the cold concrete floor.

We slip into existence quite easily, however, and I’m pretty sure all parts are accounted for. I don’t stop, releasing Docklen and fading back into the nether reason between locations before there’s even time to take a breath.

When I’m back in the corridor, alone, the gravity of the situation suddenly hits me. This is not protocol. This is dangerous, actual danger. I’ve never been shot before. I really don’t want to get shot.

Maya. Calm, girl, seriously. You’re supposed to be a professional.

I focus on my breathing, glancing quickly down at the watch on my wrist. Docklen’s been in there two minutes. I haven’t heard any gunshots, that’s a good sign, right? He’s probably not dead.

Pressing my ear against the door, I can hear the low murmur of his voice followed almost immediately by the harsh retaliation of the thug with the gun. Docklen responds calmly and this time, thug’s reply is cut-off mid shout by a far more calculated tone. He must have caught the attention of one of the conspirators in the corner. I can’t believe he’s going to be able to simply talk his way through this.

I check my watch: five minutes exactly. It’s go time.

In a second I’m back in amongst the hostages. Docklen must have warned them about me because no one is surprised by my sudden appearance. A middle-aged man in a blue suit catches my eye.

“Good afternoon,” I whisper, “I’m Detective Sergeant Kurtis and I’ll be taking over from here. As long as everyone stays calm, we should be able to get through this thing just fine. Now, is there anyone here that’s been injured?”

The man in the blue suit says nothing but his eyes tell all. They flick over to a young man, sprawled across the floor, hand clasped to his shoulder. A thick trickle of blood runs through his fingers. He’s been shot but there’s no exit wound. The bullet might still be in there but the damage is minimal.

I watch Docklen out the corner of my eye as I make my way over to the boy. He’s standing, taking a step closer to the gunmen with every sentence. They’re mesmerised by his every word but I’m not listening, concentrating instead on the weird, hunched crouch I’m using to get to the injured civilian.

“Hi buddy,” I whisper when I reach his side. He smiles and I’m impressed. “It’s nearly over I say, you’re going to be fine.”

I take this first one on his own, to make the journey easier, and leave him in the same corridor that hosted our arrival.

Back in the foyer of the bank, man in blue suit has arranged the hostages into some semblance of order. My eyes flick up to Docklen, his hands moving in wild gestures, but I know the most I can do for him now is get the hostages out as quickly as possible. Three hands grab my arms and we’re back in the dark corridor with the wounded boy.

“You’re doing so well,” I tell him and then I’m back downstairs again.

After three trips, halfway through, Docklen’s no longer there when I make it to the foyer.

“What happened to him?”

“They worked out who he was but he seemed to know some names. I thought they were going to shoot him.”

I curse to myself but Docklen seems to know what he’s doing. I remember reading somewhere that he spent two years undercover, tracing illegal strains of Sapient+ serum. It’s not unlikely that he knows some names.

“Come on,” I grab my informant’s arm, taking two others with it. I don’t bother to disguise the pop as I disappear from existence this time. There’s no one to hear and with Docklen’s cover blown, time is of the essence.

The final journeys take no time at all and before long, I find myself standing in the corridor under the close scrutiny of twenty terrified, yet very hopeful, civilians.

“Everyone’s here?” I ask. There is a chorus of affirmative noises. Everyone’s here, except for Jack Docklen.

“Don’t move,” I command, “People will be here shortly to pick you up.”

I make my way back to the bank’s foyer. It’s terrifyingly empty now, the faint crimson smears left by the boy with the bullet in his shoulder painting a harsh reminder of the violence that’s still ongoing in this building.

“Jack!” I call, using his first name just incase my civilian ally was wrong and his identity remains hidden. “Jack!”

He staggers in on the third call, propping himself up against the doorframe.

“What’s up Kurtis, you miss me?” He drawls, chuckling slightly.

“Oh God, what happened to you?”

His shirt is well and truly in tatters now, the vest has gone completely, and a bright purple bruise has already begun to creep around his left eye. I know that later I’m going to be replaying this image over and over in my mind but right now I’m more concerned for his health.

“You should see the other guy… guys.” He chuckles again, straightening. He touches his eye with a tentative finger, recoiling with a hiss of pain. “Ow.”

“What happened?” I repeat.

“Just a mild scuffle, Kurtis. Nothing to fear.”

I raise an eyebrow in disbelief.

“You know, even normal everyday individuals are allowed their talents, Kurtis. I don’t need a magic serum for my special skills.”

“You fight like Jackie Chan?”

Docklen pauses.

“Actually no…” he says, his words revealing the first hint of humility I’ve heard from him. “I fight like, quote unquote, ‘a madman on meth, coca cola, and menthol mints’. My father says I’ve got berserker blood.” He looks down in dismay. “That’s why my shirt always gets ripped.”

Absolutely nothing wrong with that. If anything he looks better like this, all dishevelled and masculine.

Docklen’s pecs nearly kill him then because I’m so busy trying and simultaneously trying not to stare at them that I almost miss the movement in the darkness at his shoulder.

He turns at my wordless shout but I can already see it’s too slow. All I can think about is those perfect abs and how naked they are. Where’s his kevlar? There’s a finger on a trigger and he’s not wearing regulation safety gear.

I am though and no matter how slow he is, I’m Sapient+, I’m fast enough. The world shimmers around me and shimmers back, only marginally rotated from where it began. I didn’t do it on purpose, it’s the protective instinct in me. There’s no going back now.

The bullet hits my chest with all the force of a speeding truck. I’m so close to the gun and I go down immediately. My head hits the floor. I can sense it coming, bracing myself, but there’s so much force in the collision there’s nothing I can do to stop it. My head crashes into the flagstones at Jack Docklen’s feet and everything goes black.


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