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

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Hint 5. If You Have The Chance, Be The Hero

I’m sitting at my desk when it happens. I’ve been back for just a day and, until this moment, being grounded had been more-or-less bearable.

There’s a large television mounted on the wall at the end of the station and, from my desk, I can see it perfectly. This means that when Alex jumps to his feet, running over to turn the volume off mute, I’m one of the only ones that doesn’t have to leave my seat to crowd around the free space underneath.

“Stop just watching it,” Ripley roars, exploding from his office, and I tear my gaze away from the screen to watch him instead. “Get on the radio! Who do we have in the area?”

“It’s already done, sir,” one of the girls that mans the phone lines replies, “Dawson’s team’s on their way.”

Ripley growls, in frustration or anger I don’t know. I stop watching him, calmly returning my gaze to the television. Usually I’d be apoplectic by now, barely able to keep myself materialised in the same position for more than a second, but this time I’m strangely calm. Last time I gave in to the temptation, I got shot and, worse, utterly humiliated. It would appear that Jack Docklen, ironically, has taught me the need for protocol.

Besides, Ripley’s been around for a long time, he’s too clever. It might seem as though the events unfolding on the television have his whole attention but I know he’s keeping at least half an eye on my movements. This is turning into a test and I’ll be damned if I get myself suspended properly.

The tv screen shows the back of a large van, its doors jimmied wide open. Two figures move around in the dark shadow inside. It’s impossible to read anything about them because the cameraman’s too far away to make them out clearly. I start doing the maths in my head. How much money do they transport between banks in those vans?

And then the camera moves, panning round from the back of the van to take in the logo on the side and my heart drops through my stomach. I recognise that logo. That’s a van from The Facility. They’re not stealing cash. They’re stealing serum.

There’s a whole underground ring dedicated to the (currently unsuccessful) synthesis of Sapient+ serum but no one’s ever managed to steal it before. There’s very little point in even trying. It’s not a case of a simple injection and bam, superpowers. The serum requires a whole set of secret activation sequences. Painful sequences that require expensive equipment and medical experience. I should know, I screamed my way through every single second of them. It was the most horrific thing that ever happened to me.

The fact that someone has risked the security of one of The Facility’s armoured vehicles to steal something that was previously considered useless is a terrifying omen.

A pair of hands thump down on the back of my chair. I know who they belong to without turning.

“Kurtis…” Docklen begins.

Of course he came straight to me. There’s no way he could get halfway across the city in time and if he can’t make it there in time, how can Jack Docklen bask in all the glory?

“No way,” I say. I can see Ripley watching me.

Docklen sighs, hands tightening on the back of my chair. I make a conceited effort to catch Ripley’s eye, to not look at Docklen. That calm I felt before is fading fast. I could stop this, I have the power to stop this. The figures on the tv are now casually tossing crates out the back of the van, onto the street, and there’s no sign of Dawson or his team.

“Look.” Without warning, Docklen pulls my chair out from under the desk, spinning it around until I face him. I yelp in surprise but he ignores it, crouching down so that our faces are on a level, and fixes me with an intense stare, his crystal blue eyes boring into my own.

I swallow. Suddenly, the robbery on the tv doesn’t seem like the most important thing anymore.

He has his hands on the arms of my chair, trapping me in my seat, but I wouldn’t want to escape even if I could. He doesn’t seem to notice, he’s too busy trying to tell me something with his eyes, but the knuckles of his left hand are grazing against my thigh and it’s all I can think about. It’s just the smallest pressure but it’s driving me to distraction, my skin shivering beneath the weight of such a light touch.

“Maya,” he breathes, leaning in. “I need you.”

My focus switches instantly. He's so close we’re almost touching and I find my gaze falling to his lips. It’s instinctive, I can’t help myself.

“I can’t,” I say, battling against my own treacherous body, trying not to lean in closer.

“This is more important that some stupid feud with Ripley.” He sighs, leaning back, breaking eye contact and releasing me from his spell ever so slightly. “I don’t need you to endanger yourself if you don’t want to, Maya. You don’t even have to stay. Just drop me off and go. I…” He stops himself from saying more, cutting the sentence off so abruptly.

“What?”

“I… can’t say.” Docklen slams his fist down on the arm of my chair in frustration and I jump as he stands, running a hand through his hair. “Look, Maya, there’s more to this than it seems. Just please, can you trust me?” He crouches back down again and this time, as he reaches out to grab the arm of my chair, his hand hovers over my leg. It lasts just a second but it’s long enough for me to wonder if he pulled himself back from doing something more, from placing a gentle palm on my thigh.

“No,” I breathe, remembering the last time I trusted him, the last time he persuaded me to go beyond my duty. I remember saving his life and the way he repaid me for it. I’m not one of those stupid girls that lets herself get swept away by sweet words and good looks. He had his one chance and he ruined it. I can tell by the things he says, by the way he holds himself, that he knows exactly what to say to manipulate women. He doesn’t mean any of this tenderness, this false honesty.

“Maya…”

“I said no,” I say, pushing him away. “I know that’s not a word you’re used to hearing, Docklen, but what it means is that you’re not going to get what you want, not this time. I’m pretty sure the shock won’t kill you though, so don’t worry.”

“This isn't about me, Kurtis,” he snaps, irritated.

“Yes, it is,” I say.

“You don't understand. Stop letting your pride get in the way of what’s right. You’re a police officer, stop thinking about your wounded ego.”

“My ego?” I hiss, sucking a furious breath in through my teeth. “My ego?”

Be calm, Maya. Be professional.

“Look,” I say, trying not to let him get to me. "I honestly don't care what you do anymore. If I was off duty, I’d take you there without a second thought and if you wanted to get yourself killed then that’s fine by me. But I’m not off duty right now and Chief Inspector Ripley has told me not to leave my desk. That’s an order and that’s the end of it.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

I stand, stalking angrily over to the crowd beneath the television, Docklen just lets me walk away.

Ripley looks down at me out the corner of his eye as I draw to a stop at his side.

“You made the right choice, Kurtis,” he says.

“I feel like I’ve just chosen sides in some strange power battle.” I say with a shudder, tossing a quick glance over my shoulder to where Docklen fumes. “If you knew what he was trying to get me to do, why didn't you come over and stop it?”

Ripley smiles, shrugging. "I wouldn’t be a very good boss if I had to go round making sure everyone followed my orders.”

“If I had taken him, you would have suspended me.”

“Damn right I would have. It would have been for your own good too.”

I fold my arms, resigning myself to just watching the events as they unfold on the screen. As long as I keep reminding myself that I did the right thing, I can fight the boiling guilt that rises up in my throat as I watch the figures in the van collect up every single crate and disappear without a trace.

Docklen spends the rest of the day locked in his office on the phone. I keep looking up at him but he doesn’t see me, not once, and every time I return to my paperwork with a sinking feeling, wondering if I made the right choice. He’s the only one that ever seems to really appreciate the potential difference I could make. I want to help him when he asks. Not just because he looks like a Hollister model but because I think he knows what he’s doing. The problem is that I just wouldn’t be able to respect myself after the way he acted the last time. I’ve had so many men mess me around before that I really believe in my single chance policy.

At five o’clock, on the dot, I lock my computer screen and waltz downstairs into the women's changing rooms. I change back into civilian clothing, a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, tossing my uniform carelessly into my locker and slamming it shut. After a full day of ignoring my existence, Docklen’s there as I turn. He’s leaning casually up against the doorframe but I can tell that it’s all an act. He’s still stressed about this morning’s robbery. I can sense the tension in him, coiled up tighter than a spring.

I narrow my eyes, instantly suspicious, as I slip my jacket over my shoulders.

“What do you want?” I ask.

He grins cheekily.

“Well I’m a man in the women’s changing rooms,” he says, making a show of peering round the empty room as if he’s never seen lockers before. “What do you think I’m looking for?”

“Trouble,” I reply, grinning.

Docklen laughs and it’s only because I’ve been trained to read dangerous situations that I notice just how tinny it sounds, how forced.

“Do you mind if I go old school, Maya,” he asks, “and walk you home?”

“I’m an experienced police officer, Docklen, I think that if I was even slightly inclined to walk home, I’d know how to do it safely.”

“I’d really rather you called me Jack and I don’t want to walk you home because I think it’s unsafe. I want to walk you home because I think we got off on the wrong foot and I’d really like to make it up to you so we can be friends.”

“You know I live at least 45 minutes away by train. If we started walking now we might get back by, oh, I don’t know, Sunday?”

“Then let’s just start walking now and by, oh, I don’t know, Saturday afternoon, we’ll see how far we’ve gotten and if you’re bored of me, you can teleport back the rest of the way in half a second.”

Docklen pushes himself away from the door. The movement reveals just the tiniest flash of boxer short above the waistband of his jeans. Amber’s voice flashes through my head at the sight and I realise just how terribly disappointed she’d be if I passed up on this opportunity.

“Alright,” I concede with a smile. “I’ll try to like you if you try not to stab me in the back again.”

“Ouch,” he says, clutching his heart. “You’re really plying on the guilt there, Kurtis.”

I shrug, tossing him a smile, and make my way out of the station. He doesn’t move back as I pass him in the doorway. We’re so close my elbow brushes against the pocket of his jacket and as my heart jumps at the contact, I curse myself for a lovesick teenage fool.

“So,” Docklen begins as we walk down the steps at the front of the station and I hunch my shoulders against the cold.

I could be home already, I think to myself bitterly, and I haven’t even made it down the station steps.

“Why did you choose to become Sapient+?” He asks.

It's midwinter and the sun has begun to set. I look up at the dark clouds, contemplating whether or not I want to answer such a personal question.

“I just always knew I was going to do it,” I say. “I read a lot of comics when I was a kid. Why didn’t you sign up?” I ask, “You’re so desperate to use my powers, why don’t you get your own?”

“I just always knew I was never going to do that.”

“Don’t steal my answer. What’s the real reason?”

Docklen laughs darkly. “Trust me, Maya, even if we walked through to Wednesday afternoon, we wouldn’t have enough time to tell you that story.”

I raise a sceptical eyebrow but he just shakes his head, a small smile playing across his lips.

“So you read comic books, you wanted to be a superhero.” He's looking at me intently, driving the point home.

I laugh, feeling awkward.

“Sure, I guess.”

“So why didn’t you help me this afternoon?”

“Because I don’t read comic books anymore. I’m a grown up, I have a job, and I wasn’t going to lose it just because you wanted to rush headfirst into trouble again.”

“Once bitten, twice shy?”

“Absolutely.”

Docklen is silent for a minute, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“But it was only because you were on duty and had to think about Ripley?” he asks, gazing sullenly down at his feet.

“Sure.”

“And you meant what you said, about how if you were off-duty, you would have helped me without question?”

“I don’t remember saying without question, Jack. But yeah, sure.”

“You’re off-duty now.”

I freeze, stopping in my tracks and narrowing my eyes suspiciously.

“Yeah…”

“Your badge is safely locked away, you’re wearing civilian clothes, and Ripley’s not in charge of your life anymore.”

“Where are you going with this, Docklen?”

Docklen stops walking too, drawing to a halt at my side and folding his arms. He looks a little awkward, as though he doesn’t quite know how to phrase what he’s going to say next. I wait him out, silent until he’s ready to talk.

“Look, Maya, what if I told you I knew who took out that Facility truck earlier? I know who it was and I'm pretty sure I know where they’ve taken it. We’re not too late to fix this, they haven’t had nearly long enough to shift all that stuff.”

“If you know where they are, why do you need me? Why can’t you just go alone or, better yet, tell Ripley and get a squad together for a raid. You could do this the proper way for once.”

Ripley chews his lip distractedly, thinking.

“Because these guys are the best, Maya. If we got a squad together they’d be gone in the blink of an eye, we’d find nothing and I’m kind of hoping that if it’s just me, I might be able to get an explanation from them. And I can’t go on my own because I can’t get in without you they… know me. Don’t ask me how we know each other, I can’t tell you, but they’d never let me get within a hundred foot of them without your intervention.”

I shrug. “Don't worry Docklen, I know you know them from your years undercover.”

“What?”

The look of utter incomprehension on his features takes me aback.

“I know you spent two years undercover, infiltrating serum rings, they ran a bio on you in the newspaper.”

“Oh.” For just a second longer, he looks really confused, like he has no idea what I’m talking about, but then he covers it up with a look of mild innocence. “I didn't realise they knew about that,” he says. “I guess I thought it was super secret.”

I furrow my brow, staring at him suspiciously.

“You were undercover, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Obviously.”

I keep my stare going a little longer, testing him.

“Maya,” he says, “don’t tell these guys I was undercover. They know I'm a cop now, I’m sure, but they didn’t then and I’m kind of relying on there being some sort of lingering relationship in order to pull this thing off.”

"I didn't agree I was taking you yet, Docklen.”

“Oh…” He hesitates. “Please, Maya. I’ll look after you. I won’t let you get hurt again.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know…” He starts tapping his head, indicating my concussion, but I interrupt him immediately.

“I think, if you remember correctly, Jack, I was the one that was looking after you last time.”

There’s a part of me that knows that maybe he’s manipulating me, playing on my pride to get me to go with him. But it’s such a small part of me and it's almost entirely drowned out by self-righteous fury and the fact that I actually want to take him, to prove myself. I want to go with him and I want to be the hero this time. I deserve it.

Docklen grins. I think he knows he has me already, hook line and sinker.

“In that case, Kurtis,” he says, “I promise not to be so much of a burden this time.”

I laugh and his grin just spreads.

“So you’ll take me?” He says.

Reluctantly, warily, I nod.

“And are you just going to drop me off, leave me there, or come with and back me up? I’d rather you came with; there won’t be any news vans this time so you don’t need to worry. This is the real stuff - work without glory.”

“I’ll come,” I say, twitching my lip up until it mirrors his grin. “I know you can’t function without me. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if you actually got yourself killed this time.”

“Oh Kurtis,” he holds a hand to his heart, pretending to hold back tears. “You care!”

I laugh again and Docklen fishes around in his pocket, pulling out his phone.

“Alright,” he murmurs, distractedly tapping a postcode into his maps. “Can you take me here?”

I lean over, looking at the screen, and as I nod an affirmation, I cock my arm for him to take my elbow. With a smile, Docklen lightly straightens my arm and wraps our hands together instead, casually entwining his fingers in mine.


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