CHAPTER ONE NOT LIKE THE COMICS
My thumb grazes the pages of the new comic book. “The final instalment of the series.”
I view the illustration of the front page; Shenovi is looming over an unmarked gravestone and the six main heroes peer out from the depths below the stone.
The title is in bold print “Forward Facing Heroes” and the tagline is in italics “Who will make the ultimate sacrifice?”
“This book answers all the questions. Who is Shenovi? Did Weeper survive? Oh…” I turn to the first page and breath in the scent of the new comic.
I groan as the sound picks up from my nightstand. I’m torn… I need my answers, but I need to perform my duties first. The sound stops.
I’m already moving as I rise from the bed, giving the comic another despairing gaze, before swiping my phone from the nightstand. It’s just after one in the morning, the usual peak hour for the criminal world.
I dodge the tables in the hallway, knowing the items that adorn them rank well above my average pay of zero. The dark wood beneath my feet is soundless, masking my hurried pace. V’s already gonna’ kill me.
I stop at the top of the stairwell, catching a glimpse of the shimmering full moon from the massive window above the entryway.
I drop down the stairs and pass under the large arch positioned between the twin staircases directly across from the large front doors in the foyer.
I follow the hallway entering steel doors on the right. A shiver crawls up my spine as I view the cold interior of the main kitchen.
“Carter!” I jump, not expecting V to be waiting. “It took you four minutes to travel down two hallways and a flight of stairs. This is unacceptable. You need to be quicker.” He doesn’t wait for me to reply before vanishing in a whirl of yellow and purple.
“Need to be quicker.” I mutter, mocking his tone. I stomp toward the pantry, uncaring of the noise I make. I pull the door closed behind me, noticing that V was kind enough to leave the secret entrance open. The stairs twist around into a dark abyss, or so it feels.
As I come to the bottom, I scan the room. It’s a neat space divided in two. The relaxation area is to my left and it comes as a surprise to see the large, mounted flat screen blank. Yensay has a habit of leaving it on as background noise.
The coffee table centred between two, two-seater couches and a single three-seater couch, is littered with papers and coasters. Some still hold empty soda cans; the mini fridge beside me is usually well stocked.
My eyes widen a little as I spy the half-eaten packet of Tim-Tams. I can’t help myself as I pinch one from the packet.
I climb the three steps into the second half, Yensay’s half. A police scanner is positioned between the two staircases; however, my eyes are drawn to the cork board that Yensay is attacking with tacks and string. “We have a mission.” Nah duh, Sherlock.
I turn to V, who’s waiting impatiently by the U-shaped computer desk; Yensay’s workspace. It’s a cluttered mess as always with folders and papers strewn across every inch of it and where there is a gap in the paper, an empty coffee cup lies in wait to be used again.
“Down under Espian Highway; a phone call was made five minutes ago, it’s the Bloody Roses MO.” Yensay pins string to the location and connects the other end to a headshot of a police officer. “We believe it’s the missing officer, Evans Morgan.”
I give V a side glance, ogling his costume as I pass. The main body of the suit is a yellow, it isn’t blinding but it stands out, a requirement of his contract. His dark purple combat boots and gloves are designed for grip.
On his chest, he bares the insignia of Velocity, the speedster. This is a simple, purple V. However, the right slope of the V is shaped as a lightning bolt.
To allow for gliding capabilities, a hooded cape is attached; it’s a mix of the two colours with the cape being purple and the hood yellow. The hood falls to his lower thigh but is rarely used.
Entering through the archway, I casually browse the doors searching for the one marked with my name. I input my four-digit code, 1096, and watch as the door slides left. I can feel the excitement growing as it usually does before I suit up.
I hurry into the room, eager to change and as the door begins to close, I start undressing. I leave my prior garments scattered on the ground as I begin to redress myself in the silver and blues that are my costume.
I hesitate, allowing the soft fabric to slip between my fingers. It’s a mighty great sensation dressing myself in costume. I know I’m going to achieve something extraordinary tonight.
I flex, viewing myself in the mirror, the costume fits nice and snug as it always does. I run my hands along the sleeves; most people would think they’re hiding. Take away the costume and you have a vulnerable weakling. But not me. Take away the costume and I can still kick arse. I smirk before attaching my mask to its allocated hook on my belt.
“About time,” Velocity mutters as he moves down into the other half of the room. He never uses his speed unless we’re out in the field. Even now he crosses the room at a hurried pace instead of speeding across.
“So, where’s Morph?” I ask, following behind him. His tinkering lab is closed and probably locked as well. Morph has made it clear that it’s a Carter Free Zone and if he isn’t tinkering away then it’s tightly secured. I even think he wants to add a finger scanner.
“He’s already out scouting, unlike you he doesn’t sit around all night reading comics,” he replies in a snarky tone. I roll my eyes as I glance into the small hospital room. It’s mostly used by Morph; his recklessness often causes him injury.
We turn into a smaller hallway and after two small flights of stairs and a couple minutes of walking, we find ourselves in the garage. “Ya’ know, if you’re gonna’ be such cold company you might as well speed off earlier.”
“You’re so ungrateful.” I’m also lucky, if we weren’t about to leave for an investigation, I probably would’ve copped an earful about how he’s allowing me safe shelter in his home.
I ignore him as I gather my keys and prep my bike. I let the engine roar to life, the robotic voice greeting me. I slip the mask on, letting the voice run through the usual checks as the garage doors roll open.
“Try not to be hours.” V disappears into the darkness and I follow close behind him.
I grin under the mask as I take off, following the GPS’ directions. These tunnels are here, there and everywhere. As far as I know there are currently twenty-seven entrances located throughout the city. But we aren’t worried about unwanted intruders. The entrance to the garage is a struggle for even me to find. Not to mention, Yensay is the one who can let us in and out.
I veer to the right and take a sharp left, flying up a ramp and touching down in an old car garage near Gospel Bridge. I feel myself getting dizzy as I drive up the circular ramps. Each floor seems better than the last and by sub floor two; parking spots are filled by cars belonging to the night owls of the city.
I fly out of the building into the chilly air and shiver at the sudden change of temperature. It only takes another five minutes before I catch up with V who is standing, impatiently, outside of a rundown shed.
I notice that the usual gleam of the Torrens River appears murky, as if the recent death has tainted it. I notice people on the large lit up walkway bridge in the distance are facing us and wonder if they’re watching or simply enjoying the night.
Ignoring V’s pacing, I observe the scene. My eyes lingering on the badge bearing the iconic South Australian Police symbol; the Piping Shrike wrapped in a laurel wreath topped with the royal crown.
I circle the shed, taking mental notes of the flimsy metal and rusted bolts. The backside is covered in vibrant orange, green and purple graffiti and I can’t help but admire the work.
The pathway above the shed is empty and the one streetlamp within a close distance has been shattered; something I also take a mental note of.
I move back to the small dirt roadway, noting the phone in the dirt and the motorcycle tracks that lead east toward the outer boundaries of the city.
“About time,” V grumbles before lifting the badge. We have a mutual agreement; he isn’t allowed to touch anything on scene until I’ve observed it and I’m not allowed to touch the body.
He doesn’t waste time as he enters the shed, but I hesitate. I don’t like going into these places or seeing the bodies. They sometimes give me nightmares about the day that I might stumble upon an all too familiar body.
“… Morgan is restrained to a wooden chair. Arms are tied to the chair arms and the legs are tired to the chair legs by thick rope.” My eyes are on the floor and I refuse to look at the body as V does his usual examination. “Injuries include; lacerations to his left forearm, abdominal and throat.”
Vomit urges its way up my throat as I catch a whiff of the air. I decide to try distracting myself with the writing on the wall and the stick figure drawing on the table.
Nothing helps, it’s all the same. The writing is nothing more than Thorn taunting us, and the figure is just Thorn’s representation of the officer killing himself. All just a sick joke from a psycho who seems to enjoy this a bit too much.
I repeat this to Yensay before making my way to the exit to examine the exterior of the building again. “I’ll leave you to your forensic work.”
I place a bright orange flag beside the phone for both V and the police before combing the surrounding area, but my mind wanders.
Thorn first popped up on our radar shortly after I was contracted in February. Since, he’s been killing cops to try and become closer to us.
I notice something half hidden in the dirt near the road and as I move over to investigate, I can feel the excitement build. A wad of gum.
“I found some evidence out here. A wad of gum and it looks fresh.” I can hear the distant wail of sirens. The police force only allows us twenty minutes before they expect us to be gone from any crime scene, unless death of a civilian occurs, then one of us is required to explain what happened.
With a moment’s hesitation Velocity is outside and bent over the gum. “Thanks.” I nod my head before returning to my bike. Yensay is quick to inform me of another crime across town and I don’t waste time as I speed off.
My feet dangle over the railing. “You read comics?”
The shaggy boy rolls his eyes. “I mean… sometimes… yeah.”
“Forward Facing Heroes?” This sparks a little excitement in his eyes.
“Totally!” He straightens himself. “Though I’m behind a far few issues.”
“That sucks.” I pause, checking the time. “Have you seen Abs die yet?”
His eyes grow wide. “Awe come on man. Spoilers aren’t cool.”
“Sorry, sorry.” I hold my hands up, noticing the boy’s nose has begun bleeding again. “I was shocked to find out Rey’s dad was the one who tried to assassinate him.”
“Dude.” He drops his head against the railing, the chain connecting his wrists rattles. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Police should only be another five minutes. “I wasn’t the one who held up the service station at knife point.”
The shaggy kid gives me another, hateful glare. He and I are likely the same age. Yet we’re both stuck in two different worlds.
“Mister, people have to survive one way or another.” He casts his eyes across the empty side pocket.
I can’t help myself. “Just like Shenovi survived.”
“Gah!” He drops his head onto the cold rail. The three steal steps lead into a room where my key witness is waiting impatiently.
Bare streets are my preference. I know my fighting skill is less grace and more… fists. Punching until the person is somehow detained.
Silent as the night, the police cruiser rolls into the small space. With that, I take my leave. Watching from the shadows as the boy is loaded into the cruiser.
Perhaps he should read more comics and rob less people.
Paul slides a plate of sausage and eggs in front of me, and then continues his rotation around the table to Yensay. My arms reach above me, my fingers intertwined as I stretch my back. A small yawn. I examine the quality food. I didn’t get in until almost four and then I stayed up for another hour filling out mandatory paperwork.
“Has the wad of gum given us any good news?” I ask the table.
“Not yet, we won’t get the results back for another few hours at least,” Yensay answers.
“At least it’s one piece of proper evidence.” I’m trying to be positive, but V wants none of it this morning.
“I doubt the leader would have dropped the gum so all it’s going to help with is capturing one of his lackeys.” Velocity barely touches his meal.
“That will give us someone to…”
“To what?” V cuts me off, giving me a look of disgust. “To torture? To beat until he or she gives us some sort of information?” I keep my eyes trained on my meal. “We’re not like that Carter.” Not anymore.
“Maybe we should try a new tactic to gather information.” It’s Morph who speaks. He’s sitting upright as usual and his recently dyed white hair stands out on his dark skin.
The table falls into silence again as we all quietly eat. “I have an idea. However, we should think it over before rushing into it,” V says slowly, looking at each of us but his eyes linger on me a split second longer.
Morph makes a quiet noise and as I look over, I notice him and V sharing a familiar gaze. It seems as if the pair are having a silent conversation. It’s something that often happens between them.
“Tomorrow is the second to last Friday of the month, that means the black market is going to be in town.” He gives me a glance and a bad feeling rises in the pit of my stomach, “I propose we send Carter undercover.”
“Why me?” I blurt out, looking at him in shock. He can’t pick me for such a dangerous and stupid task. It’s damn well unfair.
“Because you’re the invincible one. If something were to happen then you’ll be the safest of all three of us. But you won’t be alone. Morph will go in an hour after you in case you require help.”
My teeth begin gnawing at the flesh of my inner mouth as I glare at him. “It’s too risky and we don’t have enough information yet.”
“I have to agree with him, Carter,” Yensay speaks in a quiet voice and I give her a look of disbelief. Now everyone is teaming up against me!
“You’re agreeing with him?” I ask, waving my hand in his direction. Unbelievable.
“First, we need to create a plan of action. I refuse to send any teammate into a dangerous situation without one.” V stands from the table and glances at Morph, followed by me.
“Fine. Let’s go make a stupid action plan,” I grumble.
“Well first,” V looks to all of us. “We have a city council meeting to attend.”