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

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Hint 26. Keep The Mask Hidden

The tiny memory stick rests on Shark’s elegant oaken dining table. We surround it, all three of us, as though it’s some holy relic. Shark rests his elbow on my shoulder and Anna stands on his other side. She has her arm wrapped awkwardly around her stomach but at least she’s standing.

“What now?” I ask.

Anna leans forward, lips pressed together in thought, and scoops the little mechanical device into her palm.

“Give me a few days,” she says. “I want to understand it properly before we use it.”

She leaves, hobbling away, and the spell is broken. Shark turns to look at me with a smile.

“You were incredible,” he says.

“Shut up - I know it.” I wink, treating him to a grin. “You were pretty impressive yourself.”

“Should have called you something better than Whisper though. Couldn’t keep you fat mouth shut, could you?”

I laugh.

“What does it matter if people recognise my voice now? There was no one there who would know me and whenever Jack gets back, my cover’s blown anyway.”

“Yeah.” Shark sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I’m glad we didn’t have to deal with him again.”

“I think he’s my nemesis,” I say.

Shark’s eyebrows rocket backwards.

Your nemesis? Why do you get him? I’ve got way more history with Jack Docklen. He’s my nemesis.”

“Seriously?” Anna’s back, cradling a laptop under her one good arm. “Fuck you guys. You both know he’s my nemesis and that’s all there is to it.”

I roll my eyes and she catches me in the act. The mood is light, we were victorious. There’s a strange energy that buzzes around the room. It makes me want to move my feet, I can’t keep still. Shark and Anna are intense people and when they feel joy, it’s impossible not to share it with them.

“Do I need to show you my ribs again?” She asks. “I’ve got solid physical evidence that we’re archenemies.”

“Oh we’re doing it on severity of injury caused now, are we?” I turn to Shark, pushing him playfully out the way as I roll up my sleeves. “Sorry mate, you’re out of the running.”

I shove my arm under her nose, the one with Jack’s finger prints seared in, right down to the bone.

“Shit,” she breathes.

“What?” Shark’s back immediately, grabbing at my forearm for a better look. “Fuck,” he says. “I’m sorry, Maya. I was so caught up with Anna, I didn’t realise he’d gotten you so badly. I can’t believe we let him get away with this.”

“You didn’t let him get away with it,” I remind. “You shot him in the face.”

Anna laughs. “When he comes to, he’s going to be so fucking pissed,” she says. “Maybe he’ll choose to be your nemesis after all, Cris.”

“Hey wait,” I say, realising something as she sits. “If we’re doing it on size of scars, doesn’t that mean Alex is yours, not Jack?”

“What? Oh.” She looks away, rubbing her arm gently. “No. Alex is too lovely to be anybody’s nemesis.”

“Well that’s a lie,” I say. “Sometimes when he leaves his dirty underwear on the living room floor, I wonder if he’s my nemesis.”

“Yeah but he fixed me, so we’re even.”

“No.” Shark says suddenly, jabbing a finger in her direction. “Don’t even think about it.”

“What?”

Anna flushes immediately.

“Leave my head alone,” she says.

“I’m so disappointed in you. He’s a policeman.”

“Hypocrite. So’s Maya.”

“What?” I wail, looking between them. “What was she thinking about?”

Shark doesn’t say anything, turning to stride from the room, and after a second I trail him dejectedly, pestering for more information. He keeps his lips sealed as I follow him into his bedroom but I only give up when my phone rings.

“Maya?” It’s Ripley. The pit of my stomach drops out and I suddenly don’t feel so playful anymore. A call on my day off is a very bad sign. Something big must have gone down.

“Yeah? Oh, wait a second. I’m out with people.”

I throw Shark a worried glance, waving away his concern with a single hand. He folds his arms as I wander into his en suite, looking for some privacy.

Why bother, Maya? I can hear everything anyway.

“What’s up, Chief?” I ask, leaning back against Shark’s sink.

“Look, I’m just giving you a heads up,” he says. “There was an incident at The Facility last night. I’m pretty sure it was that Shark guy again. Docklen’s on this case and he’s your CO now so it’s up to him to choose what to do next. No one can get hold of him, though.”

“Do you want me to go down there?” I ask, lump forming in my throat. If he says yes, I’ll tell him I’m sick. I can’t ever go back there again. I can’t push my luck three times.

“No, no. That’s fine, Kurtis,” he says and I think I’m going to faint with the relief. “There’s always so much bureaucracy involved when it comes to The Facility. Docklen’s the one with the contacts so we can’t get anywhere without him. I’m just letting you know so you can get ready to leave at the drop of a hat. I imagine he’ll be quite keen to get going as soon as we finally manage to speak to him. He doesn’t strike me as one to be wasting time.”

“No,” I say. “He isn’t.”

“Look, I’m sorry to interrupt your afternoon with friends, Kurtis, but I think it’s probably best if you get yourself home. I know I’m the worst boss ever to be asking you to sit by the phone like that but the way I see it, we don’t have much choice.”

“Crime never sleeps,” I say and Ripley laughs.

“You haven’t been drinking, have you?”

“No, just chilling. I’m fine to go back. Is this confidential or is Alex allowed to know why I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell him either way, Kurtis.”

“I am capable of keeping some secrets,” I say.

Ripley laughs.

“Alright, thanks for this, Maya. I’ll let you know when I’ve spoken with Docklen… although I’m sure he’ll be straight in contact with you anyway.”

“Thanks, Chief.”

The line clicks off and I remove the phone from my ear, spinning it idly between my fingers. Shark pokes his head around the door, grinning.

“Caused quite a stir, did we?” He asks.

“Yeah,” I say, shoving him aside playfully so I can grab my stuff before leaving.

“Hey, Maya.” He wraps his fingers around my wrist as I push past, turning me to face him. I tilt my head back, looking up into his concerned eyes. “What’s your plan?” He asks, “with Jack?”

I don’t really have one. I hadn’t exactly thought that far ahead. Ever since that first trip to The Facility, I seem to have fallen behind the rest of the world and I haven’t quite managed to catch up yet.

“Alright, that’s fine, I guess,” he says, reading my mind as fluidly as if I had spoken. “We don’t know how he’s going to react. Just be careful, OK? I’ll be straight there if it looks like something might happen.”

He smiles wanly, running light fingers first over the fading bruising on my face and then up into my hair, tucking it behind my ear. I want to tell him I couldn’t be more definitively over my fleeting romance with Jack Docklen if I tried but something tells me this isn’t the right time.

Shark grins and I blush.

“Alright, get going, police girl,” he says, ushering me from the room.

I grab Whisper’s costume, already all scrunched up in my backpack, from Shark’s dining table, tossing Anna a quick goodbye before I leave. She’s so engrossed in her laptop and the contents of the tiny USB stick plugged into its side that she doesn’t even look up.

Alex is sitting on the sofa watching tv as I arrive back home.

“How’s you friend?” He asks immediately, turning in his seat to look at me.

“A lot better actually,” I say, hanging up my coat and dropping my backpack on the spare seat next to him. “Thanks for patching her up. What the hell is happening with you and Amber? She threw the weirdest paddy at work the other day.”

Alex’s expression darkens and he turns back to the television, breaking all eye contact.

“Nothing,” he says. “I was just doing my job.”

“Well you were doing it bloody well,” I say, joining him at his side. “Ripley called you a hero and you know he meant it because he immediately told me not to tell anyone.”

Alex just sighs.

“I was just doing my job,” he reiterates, “and I wasn’t even doing it well. Policemen are supposed to protect people, not shoot them.”

“Even when they’re about to decapitate our best friend?”

“Even then. I mean, obviously I had to help Amber…” He rubs a hand awkwardly over the back of his neck, mumbling as he continues. “Meant to protect everybody,” he says.

“Well that’s impossible.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “After the things I saw on Saturday, I wouldn’t hesitate to lock them up. Those three need to be behind bars for the rest of eternity. No question. I just, you know, I’m not a killer. It’s wrong.”

“The rest of eternity?” I ask, swallowing guiltily. “What about Whisper? She wasn’t even there.”

“Even Whisper. Especially The Lady, even though I might have killed her, and all that Shark guy needs to do is open his mouth and he turns into a massive liability.” He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “Let’s talk about something else, please. How’s Anna? You said she’s doing better?”

“Yeah. She was even up and about this morning.”

“Good,” he smiles. “She was really sweet.”

“Yeah,” I say, furrowing my brow. “You’re right. She was sweet.” It was weird.

“And pretty,” he adds. “I gave her my number. Do you think she’ll text me when she’s better?”

“Hey,” I say, catching on too late. I wave a finger under his nose accusingly. “Don’t even think about it.” She’d eat him for breakfast.

He pouts disappointedly. I roll my eyes, about to give him a good telling off, but three things happen all at the same time and I never get the chance.

First, my phone begins ringing, the shrill whistle echoing out from somewhere within the depths of my coat pocket. Second, Alex’s eyes go wide as saucers. The tv’s been trundling away in the background throughout our entire conversation but, just in this very moment, something catches his attention, turning him to stone. Third, and finally, Shark’s electric voice rockets through my brain.

Maya. Maya. You remember we weren’t sure how Jack would react? Well turn your tv on and see. You don’t need to worry anymore. He’s definitely not dead.

“Turn it up,” I snap, turning my attention back onto what Alex is watching. He obeys immediately, fingers scrambling zombie-like for the remote, eventually slamming his thumb down on the correct button. He doesn’t break his gaze from the screen, not even for a second.

At first the picture shows only dust. I squint, trying to make out details in amongst the clouds of obliterated concrete.

“Pay attention, Ladies and Gentlemen,” the voiceover is saying as the words ‘Breaking News’ dart continuously across the bottom of the screen. “This is one of those moments that, even ten years from now, we will still remember where we were when it happened. In a freak act of unexplained terrorism, the Alliance Group Building has been reduced to rubble.”

“Shit,” Alex breathes.

Eventually I see him. A figure slowly becomes visible, striding through the debris. The reporter hits hysterical.

“Is that Card Shark?” Alex asks, confused.

“No,” I say. “Much worse than Shark.”

As he walks, the pavement cracks beneath Jack’s feet. He doesn’t seem to notice. He doesn’t seem to care. Even though his features remain completely obscured by all the settling dust, I remember the madness in his eyes and shudder.

At my side, Alex stiffens.

“Something’s wrong,” he says.

“Well obviously, half the finance district is swamped in rubble.”

“No, I mean… where’s Ripley? Where’s the rest of Enforcement? He’s just walking around there unchallenged.” As Alex speaks, Jack throws out a hand and a parked car disappears through an empty shop window.

I don’t have time to answer before Shark’s words are rocketing through my brain again.

Maya, Jack’s affecting half the city. People in Caverny are looting. Traffic lights are down, we’re in gridlock. Your police guys can’t even get close and The Facility’s convinced it’s another one of our ploys. They’re forbidding all operatives from leaving the compound.

My heart drops out through my stomach. Delanon had it right the last time Jack lost his temper. He’ll take the entire city out if he’s not contained.

Then we better contain him, Maya. He’s your nemesis after all.

It takes me just a second to get past the sudden, bone chilling terror and then I’m scrabbling to my feet without a second thought. This is what I wanted, to have this kind of responsibility.

“Where are you going, Maya?” Alex asks as I burst into movement.

“Nowhere,” I say, knowing that he’ll try and stop me.

I dash into the corner, plunging my hand into all the pockets of my coat. I need to find my phone to confirm my suspicions. If that call was from Ripley then it means Jack knows about last night. He knows about The Facility. He knows about the serum and it has flipped that tiny insanity switch in his mind. The worst thing about this is the realisation that it’s all my fault again.

“What are you looking for?”

“My phone,” I mumble, digging through piles of old receipts until I finally manage to wrap my fingers around its plastic surface.

“Is it in here?” Alex asks.

I ignore him, straightening as I swipe the lock and look at my screen. One missed call, one new message, both from Ripley.

“Alex, I’ve got to go,” I murmur without looking up.

He doesn’t reply and I furrow my brow, confused. It’s only in this moment that I start paying attention to what he’s been doing, looking up. I didn’t think it could be possible but the sight that greets me is one that’s far worse than Jack’s distant figure on the television. My brain connects the dots at lightening speed and I realise what he was doing while I was searching for my phone. He was helping out, digging through the backpack I tossed on the sofa at my arrival.

It was very important, that rucksack. It held my entire outfit, Whisper’s full ensemble, and now Alex is just staring at me, mask hanging from one hand, thunder in his eyes.

“What’s this?” He asks, voice so low I can hardly hear it.

Maya, where are you?

I realise I have a big decision to make. Alex is just standing there, waiting for an answer, but as I try and come up with a suitable excuse, the grainy pictures of Jack Docklen on my tv screen show him disappearing into a second office building. For better or worse, I make my choice. I don’t have time for lies.

“It is what it is,” I snarl, tearing the offending item from his palm. He doesn’t fight me and, after a second’s hesitation, I wrap the material around my face.

“Maya…” he begins but I don’t have time for this. People are in danger and I disappear.

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