Chapter One: Charisa
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Someone triggered the alarm,” I scold, turning to my partner in crime… fighting.
Hunter glances down at me- or I assume he does. Kind of hard to tell past his goggles and gas mask, though he does turn his head toward me at least. “Hey, it wasn’t me-”
I cross my spandex-clad arms. “Then who could it be? Since no one else is here, despite what your contact said-”
Suddenly, the formerly locked doors of the closed department store we’ve been camping out in swing open, revealing a gang of rowdy young people armed with miscellaneous weapons and the evil intent in their eyes.
“Them obviously,” Hunter answers nonchalantly. “You really shouldn’t doubt Larry. It hurts his feelings.”
“Oh, Larry’s feelings get hurt,” I mumble, stepping out of the shadows I’d been lurking in- an attempt not to be caught by the security cameras without a good reason to be inside a locked up store. I mean, the Ninja has a law-abiding vigilante reputation to uphold.
“Well,” Hunter says, straightening from his perch on the high window-sill to the shadows beside me. “Ready to take care of this gang of upstarts?”
I shrug one shoulder. “Got nothing better to do.”
Hunter tsks at me as he dashes super fast to the nearest male vandal snatches the no-doubt un-licensed gun out of his holster. “It’s a Friday night and you’re out with your boyfriend. There’s tons better to do.”
I roll my eyes as I grab one of the criminals before they can rush at Hunter. “Come on, Hunter. When was the last time you actually took me out on a real date?”
He cocks his head at me as he tosses the now unarmed man aside and dives toward another criminal now producing knives. “We do this because of you. You’re addicted to crime-fighting. Or me. One or the other. Most likely the latter.”
I roll my eyes as he gestures to the one female criminal and I move to apprehend her. “Excuses, excuses. Now you’re even making me do the dirty work.”
Hunter grabs two other goons and conks their heads together soundly. “You know I don’t hit ladies.”
“No,” I agree, grabbing the woman’s hand before she can yank off my mask and scratch my face off or whatever. “You just know how to show them a good time is all.”
“Okay,” Hunter says, taking some Velcro out of his pockets to secure the goons. “I’m getting some seriously mixed signals here.”
“Fix your spider sense then.” I rush toward a retreating criminal and lift one leg up to kick him against the wall where he promptly collapses. “You know, the only reason why I keep you around is because you’re the only guy who is even reasonably close to being as strong as me.”
“You know that’s not true.” Hunter comes to stand by me as he glances around the room now filled with unconscious goons. “Well, that’s done. And I hear the cops now-”
The doors burst down, startling me despite- and partly because of- my super hearing and I jump. The cops quickly fan the room, keeping their guns trained on us. “Hands in the air!”
I quickly raise mine, though Hunter’s a bit slower about it as he glances around. “What’s going on here? We’re the good guys.”
“You’re vigilantes,” retorts one of new transplants on the force. The one replacing Hunter’s buddy Phil while he’s on fraternal leave. “And you’re coming with us.”
I turn while they handcuff me, and glare at Hunter. “Yep. You really do know how to show me a good time.”
“I super don’t like you right now,” I mutter as I grasp the bars of our jail cell.
“They can’t keep us in here and they know it,” Hunter answers, pacing leisurely behind me.
I continue staring straight ahead. “We’ve been crime-fighting almost two years, and this has never happened. People know we’re the good guys!”
“It’s just some new guys trying to show who’s boss around here. In the lamest way possible.”
Clinging the bars, I begin to shake them. “But it’s not right!”
“Would it make you feel better if I bent the bars back for you?”
“No. We must obey the law.”
“I could pick it.”
Frowning, I glance back at him.
My back goes rigid and I turn to find none other than my cop standing on the other side of the bars, his arms crossed and a scowl twisting his dark beard.
I sigh and lean my head on the bars. “Hi, Dad.”
“You two are so grounded.”
Hunter mutters something under his breath about Dad not being his dad.
And I lean my head against my seat as Dad drives us home. “But we didn’t do anything wrong.”
“This whole thing is ridiculous,” Dad adds. “The only reason I agreed to let you keep doing this was if you agreed to be careful.”
“I didn’t get shot this time,” I mutter.
Dad glares at me.
“Not helping,” Hunter calls up from the backseat.
This gets a rear-view glare from Dad. “No, you’re not helping. It was one of your tips that landed us here in the first place. Now you two are on police watch, and I have to tread carefully until the scandal of releasing you two with no consequences for the next few weeks.”
I sit up. “So there are no consequences?”
He glares at me again.
“We could always call Senator Brown,” Hunter offers. “He could probably revoke both the police watch and the grounding.”
Dad gestures back at Hunter. “And this kid! You need to spend more time with your normal friends, Chrissie.”
“Normal is overrated,” Hunter offers.
I sigh. “Tomorrow is the first day of summer vacation. Nora, Olivia, and I already have plans.”
“Good. It’s time you remember how to be a teenager again.”
I decide not to mention I also have plans with Kyle. Because tomorrow will be the first day of summer vacation- and my sixteenth summer, in fact.
And I’ll use every ounce of my superhuman will to make sure it’s the best summer ever.
Despite my late night, I wake up before my alarm clock- I want to get a head start on the best summer ever.
I quickly pull on a pair of un-ripped (why spend money for pre-destroyed pants?) jeans, a pair of purple tennis shoes, and my favorite shirt- it’s purple and says ‘I’m a total superhero.’ Normally I’m a bit more secretive about my abilities, but I doubt anyone who sees me in the tee will realize I have super strength, speed, agility, hearing, and regenerative health.
No, only a few people know that I, Charisa O’Dell, have superpowers and that I sometimes masquerade as the Ninja, my crime fighting persona. There’s my dad and my step-family; my friend, Olivia Doyle; my ex-enemy, Marcus Greene; my boyfriend, Kyle Rivers and his mother; and possibly Dr. Donaldson, a friend who nursed me while I was going through the aforementioned process.
All of the above, except, maybe, Dr. Donaldson, and with the addition of Kyle’s uncle, know that Kyle is the only other person in the world who could honestly wear my shirt (not that he would- it’s purple, after all). Like me, he has super strength, super speed, super agility, and super hearing. However, instead of regenerating health, he has the other four senses super-fied (as well as a super immune system, but that don’t help fight criminals so good). Together, Kyle and I make up the world’s total super human population, but that’s fine with me- super villains are no laughing matter (which I know from experience).
I put on the amethyst bracelet that Kyle gave me when he asked me to be his girlfriend. Which he’s not as good at being as my crime fighting partner.
Sighing, I pull my whistle over my head. It was my birth mom’s whistle before she died taking a bullet…
Go away, gloomy thoughts! This is my sixteenth summer- and it’s going to be my best if I have anything to say about it (which I do).
I grab a brush and attack my long, black curls. Then I apply some lip gloss, the only make-up I wear on a daily basis; though, Mother is trying to broaden my usage. However, not even she wears much make-up in the summer because she tries to get a tan (which she never ends up getting). I don’t need to worry about tans because I was born with one built-in.
After doing my devotions- praying and reading a Bible passage, I skip into the kitchen. Mother is already there, making her signature big breakfast.
Blonde, blue-eyed, and (in her mind, woefully) pale-skinned, she looks completely different from me. She acts completely different from me too, but I couldn’t ask for a better step-mother (especially since the fairy-tale ones are usually evil).
“Good morning,” I greet.
“Good morning,” she answers with a smile.
“Good morning,” Courtney echoes as she rolls into the room.
Two years younger than I, Courtney is now enjoying her fourteenth summer- and her fifth summer as my sister. She looks rather like a younger, smaller version of her mother, except that she’s wheelchair-bound and freckled.
“Good morning,” I answer.
“Good morning indeed,” Dad echoes, joining us just then with the remains of last night’s scowl still on his face.
Like me, Dad is Hispanic and has darker coloring, curly black hair, and brown eyes. Which are both focused on me and frowning in that special way that eyes can do even when the mouth isn’t.
Mom glances between us. “What happened last night?”
Courtney glances up. “Something happened last night?”
“Champ is just going to be more careful,” he answers, giving me a I’m-saying-this-so-you’re-going-to-make-it-true look.
I sigh and nod. “Okay, okay- no more listening to authority.”
“It’s not that- things have been changing, Chrissie. I’m starting to wonder if someone has it out for you.”
“But we only do good and Senator Brown makes sure everything stays legal-”
Dad crosses his arms and leans back. “I didn’t say it was a good guy. Just… be careful, okay?”
I nod slowly, letting that information sink in. “Okay.”
“So, any big plans for the summer?” I ask my friends Olivia Doyle and Nora Tanner, who are both sprawled out lazily on Nora’s bedroom floor.
“None. At. All.” Folding her hands behind her hazel head, Nora leans back, causing her glasses to move upwards slightly.
Olivia glances up with her smart but un-glass-ed, blue eyes. “I’m trying to get into the Yin Program.”
Nora and I both turn to her. “What’s the Yin Program?”
“It’s this special gap-year class that ‘the global educator’ Mulan Yin founded.”
Nora scrunches up her face. “So it’s like school?”
I stick out my tongue. “Never thought I’d see the day that you had to go to summer school, Olivia.”
Olivia misses my sarcasm. As always. “I don’t have to go to it- I want to go to it. It’s very elite, though. Only the rich, famous, or very smart get in.”
“Then you’re good.” Olivia’s nothing if not smart. Except, maybe, quiet.
Nora rolls over to face us better. “So, where is this gap-year thing taught?”
“It has locations all around the globe. But the closest location to our dear Montgomery, Alabama is Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
Nora gasps. “But what about Andrew? You know, your boyfriend?”
“Your brother will survive,” Olivia assures.
“Yeah,” I agree. “As long as he has his video games, he’s good.”
Nora shrugs. “You got a point.”
“Can you girls ever get together and not talk about me?” Andrew asks suddenly.
I whirl around and see Nora’s older brother standing in the doorway. His longish brown hair resembles Nora’s in color and almost in length. His synthetically ripped jeans (ugh!) combined with his shaggy hair makes him look a bit like a hobo (which he once dressed up as).
“Andrew,” I say, “you need a haircut. And some humble pie.”
“No more than you do, Chrissie,” he retorts.
I protectively shield my hair with my hands.
“I meant the pie.”
“What do you want, Andrew?” Nora demands.
“For you to stop gossiping about me every time I turn my back.”
I roll my eyes. “We’re not gossiping about you. We’re just scheming how best to cut your hair.”
“Nice,” Andrew answers dryly. “By the way, Chrissie, your boyfriend’s here.”
I really need to get a better grasp of my super hearing. This is getting ridiculous. I push myself up. “Got to go.”
“Bye,” Olivia and Nora echo.
“Tell me about it later,” Nora adds.
Like that’s going to happen.
I hurry outside and find Kyle, who is Japanese American, leaning against his mom’s car. Now that he’s sixteen and has his license, he’s legally allowed to drive. Not that that’s ever stopped him before (Kyle’s uncle was a crime lord and had a tendency to teach Kyle illicit habits before Uncle Rivers was interned).
“I shouldn’t have had to send Andrew to fetch you.” Kyle raises an eyebrow. “You do remember that you have super hearing, right?”
Super hearing or not, Kyle is the only person who can consistently sneak up on me. “I was enthralled in the conversation.”
“I was too.”
I scowl at him.
Kyle grins his signature grin. Then, with a flick of his well-groomed, if floppy, black hair, he climbs into the driver’s seat of the car.
I climb into the passenger seat. “So, where do you want to eat?”
Just as we pull out, his cell phone rings. Kyle removes it from his pocket “It’s probably Senator Brown.”
I snatch the phone from his hand. “I’ll answer it- you drive.”
Kyle groans. “First, I get a driver’s license. Then I can’t answer my own phone while I’m driving. I can’t do anything illegal these days.”
“Shh,” I scold before answering the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello?” a scared-sounding masculine voice that is definitely not Ninja’s and Villain Hunter’s legal guardian, Senator Brown, answers. “Is this a superhero?”
“Uh…” I glance at Kyle in confusion. “Yes?”
The man sighs in relief. “Good. I need your help-”
“How’d you get this number?” I demand. As far as I know, Kyle’s only given this number to two people: Senator Brown and Emily Rogers (the first civilian I ever rescued as the Ninja and whom I re-rescued last summer in England).
“Brown gave it to me,” the man answers. “He thought I might need it. I hoped I wouldn’t, but now I do… Oh, please come.”
“Who is this? Where are you?”
“I’m Jin Yin- Mulan Lin’s brother. Surely you’ve heard of her.”
“I have.” Just this morning, actually.
“Good. I’m hiding in a warehouse near the Montgomery Museum of Fine arts. Please come quickly. I don’t think I can hold out much longer-”
“What’s going on?”
“No time to explain. Just come. Please.”
The line goes dead.
Kyle glances at me. “So, he’s near the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts?”
I scowl. “You shouldn’t eavesdrop on conversations.”
“Technically, the conversation was meant for me.” Kyle sighs. “If only it wasn’t lunch time...”
“We can eat later. But this man is in trouble. And Senator Brown gave him our number.”
“I know.” Kyle drives into a parking lot, turns around, and drives out facing a different direction.
I call Dad’s number. He picks up immediately.
“Dad,” I say, “someone just called from Senator Brown asking for help near the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. We’re going to check it out, okay?”
“I suppose so. It’s better than a lunch date, anyway. But be careful.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
I hang up.
Kyle sighs. “But really, couldn’t this Jin have waited until we were at the restaurant? Then we could have at least taken lunch to go.”
“Your stomach can wait.”
“It’s not my stomach I’m worried about; it’s my burrito. It’ll be so lonely without me.”
I roll my eyes.
“I’ll be back, Burrito,” Kyle calls longingly. Then he turns to me. “Do you have your costume? Mine’s in the trunk.”
I pat the purse I carry now for just that reason. “It’s right here.”
“Good. So here’s the plan: we find a phone booth, dash to the museum, find and rescue what’s-his-face, and then eat lunch.”
I nod. “Sounds good to me.”
Dressed in a ski mask, a pair of ski goggles, a black scuba suit which has thankfully grown with me, a short karate robe, black gloves, and black slip-on shoes, I rejoin Kyle at the car. Kyle has become Villain Hunter with an army helmet, a gas mask, a camouflage shirt, a pair of camouflage pants, a pair of gloves, and a pair of boots.
“Enjoy your phone booth?” he asks.
I shudder at the memory of the gas station restroom. “I would have preferred a phone booth.”
“Blame technological advances.”
“Oh, I will.” I drop my purse, which now holds my regular clothes, into the back of the car. “I will.”
Hunter locks the car and then offers me his gloved hand. “Well, now that we’re done primping, are you ready to go?”
I take it. “Yes.”
Then, together, we dash off towards the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art at around the speed of sound.
“Stop!” Hunter orders suddenly.
We both come to a halt, and then inertia sends us flying in opposite directions.
I sit up. “That could have been smoother.”
Hunter jumps up and then helps me up. “But it was effective. Oh, Ninja- you forgot to take off your necklace.”
I look down at the whistle still around my neck. “Oops.” I tuck it into my karate robe.
Hunter removes his phone from his pocket and dials the number that had called us. “Hello? We’re here.”
“You are?” Jin says. “That was fast.”
“Yes,” Hunter agrees. “Now where are you?”
“I’m in the abandoned building a few blocks down from the museum.”
Hunter and I look up and see a decrepit building not too far away.
“I see it,” Hunter tells Jin. “Now what’s going on?”
“I’m hiding from a group of terrorists attempting to kidnap me.” He clears his throat. “They’re wearing all-black.”
I scan the landscape and find at least five buff men wearing all black milling around.
“I see them,” Hunter says. “What do you want us to do?”
“Find me in the building and escort me out to safety. Please.”
“Can do,” Hunter assures. “Sit tight. We’ll be right with you.”
“Thank-you,” Jin whispers before Hunter hangs up.
Hunter turns to me. “Did you hear?”
“Eavesdropper,” he answers. “Now let’s go.”
Hunter and I dash over to the decrepit building.
“How do we get in?” I ask.
Hunter scans the building with his super vision. “There’s an open window over here.”
We creep towards it.
“After you,” Hunter whispers.
“How gallant of you.”
“That’s my middle name.”
Rolling my eyes, I climb in. Hunter follows close behind.
“What now?” I whisper.
“We play hide and seek,” he answers.
I nod and melt into the shadows of the rather creepy looking rooms. The building must have been an apartment complex or something at one time, and remnants of its past glory litter the ground. However, lighting fixtures are not one of the pieces of furniture remaining.
I creep across the wall into the next room. It’s just as dark and cluttered.
“This place gives me the creeps,” I whisper.
“Not just you,” Hunter whispers back.
I jump ten feet into the air- literally. “Shouldn’t we split up?”
“No,” he answers. “Bad things always happen when people split up.”
“You’re right.” It’s good to not be alone.
Together, we creep into yet another room.
I scan the room with my super hearing. “I don’t hear anything but us.” Then I freeze.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“No,” Hunter breathes. Then he pushes me to the ground with him on top of me.
I’m cut off by a massive explosion that shakes the whole building and sends Hunter and me flying into a wall.
I wince and hold still while my body repairs itself. It takes only a second.
Then I become aware of the heat.
I pick myself up and turn around. Flames climb the wall opposite us, but they don’t stop there; the fire is eating its way to us.
I turn to Hunter, who is still lying on the ground. I shake him.
“Come on; we have to go!” I cry.
Hunter makes no movement.
“We don’t have time for this!” I scream, yanking Hunter up. “This is what happens when you try to shield me.”
I wrap one of Hunter’s arms around my neck and drag him towards the nearest exit. I’m strong, but he’s still awkward-shaped.
“You idiot! You should have let me take the brunt of the explosion. I’m the one with the regenerating health, Moron, not you.”
I blink back tears as I drag him out of the room. This room has no fire, but smoke is rapidly filling it up. “Now, thanks to your middle name, we’re both in trouble.”
I falter a bit, but quickly regain my balance, and continue plowing through the room. “It’s a good thing you have that gas mask, bozo. The smoke is even beginning to affect me.”
I begin to feel dizzy, but I ignore it and keep going. Only one type of gas can give me any long-lasting trouble (but it was so troublesome that it left me with no super powers for twelve hours), but the few people who know about it are either allies or in jail.
Or dragging themselves down an abandoned apartment’s hallway.
“If you really want to be gallant, Moron,” I gasp, “you’d better wake up and help me get your sorry carcass out of here.”
Hunter does nothing and I fall.
Painfully, I sit up, but I can’t seem to bring myself to stand, so I grab Hunter’s shoulders and begin to crawl.
“You’d better not be dead, because if I’m going through all this work in vain…” I cough violently, but continue crawling. “If you’re dead, I’ll kill you.”
Come on, Charisa; get yourself and Hunter away from the fire. Come on. Do it. Be strong.
Out of sheer will, I manage to drag Hunter and myself out of the smoke-filled room and into another smoke-filled room. I feel un-explainably weak. Unnaturally weak.
“We’d better not die,” I tell Hunter before collapsing on the ground next to him.