The bright light hurt her eyes, making her squint. Once her eyes adjusted, she looked down at the old fashioned, buckled, leather straps that were keeping her bound to a hard, metal chair. She tugged at them once, to test their resilience and was rewarded with a tight pinch from the material. She tried to stomp her foot in frustration but they were bound too. She looked around the room. It was small and painted a dreary grey. The only source of light was a small, hanging bulb that was currently blinding her. The only other furniture was a small, metal table that was placed across from her. It was void of any papers or pens. She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes, trying to think. There was nothing in the room to help her get out. She twisted her torso around as far as she could and spotted a door. It didn’t seem to have any locks on it at all. She faced front again and flexed her fingers. Maybe she could try to unlatch the straps. Several minutes passed and no progress. Her hands were starting to cramp painfully.
“Come on,” she grunted through her teeth. She searched the floor for something, anything. Of course it was spotless. Her ears picked up a faint sound from the other side of the door. It sounded like someone was turning the knob. She only had a moment to think before it opened and a young man walked into the room. He had thick brown hair and dark green eyes. He wore a white lab coat over a yellow shirt and black jeans, and black boots. A plastic name tag read, “Jay”. He faced her and looked her in the eye. She didn’t feel threatened by him and she relaxed. He finally spoke after what seemed like an eternity of awkward.
“We’ve been expecting you, Willow.” He smiled kindly. How did he know her name? She’d never seen him before. Willow blinked.
“How did you know my name?” she managed. “Where am I?”
He laughed. “Let me show you.” Jay balanced on one knee and unlatched the straps on her arms, and then her legs. She rubbed her wrists where the leather had pinched her. He stood and led the way out of the room and down the hall. It was painted the same grey as the room. Several identical doors lined the hallway, each one with a different number. She quickly glanced back to see what her door was. 5. She frowned, wondering what that could mean. Another person in a lab coat passed them in the hall, nodding to Jay and frowning at Willow’s clothes. Willow looked down subconsciously. She wore a dark blue hoodie and black leggings. Her red high tops were fading. She pulled down the sleeves of her hoodie to cover the red marks the straps left. Willow looked at Jay. He seemed focused on a clip board she hadn’t noticed at first. She tried to get a closer look but he stopped abruptly and chuckled. She almost bumped into him but caught herself.
“Whoops, I almost missed it,” Jay said as he hastily laid the clip board down and stepped in front of a door.
“Wait,” Willow asked nervously. “What is this?”
“Inside this door will tell you where you are and why you’re here.” Jay smiled encouragingly. Willow looked at the door and nodded.
Jay nodded. “Let’s go!” He turned the knob and they stepped into a huge room filled with people. Most of the people who weren’t dressed in lab coats were teenagers. Willow could hardly believe her eyes when she saw one teen, blast fire out of his hands. She stopped walking and Jay put a hand on her shoulder.
“I know it’s crazy but this is it!” Willow stared open mouthed as one girl flew overhead and shot lasers from her eyes, completely destroying a metal target. Suddenly one girl appeared right in front of her and blushed.
“Sorry I’m still working on my invisibility.” She vanished and Willow looked up at Jay silently, eyes wide. Jay smiled and motioned for her to follow him. Willow managed to move her feet and trailed after him. Several teens with what seemed to be super strength, hefted huge boulders onto their shoulders and proceeded to see who could throw theirs the farthest. What captivated Willow the most was the huge group of teens crowded around a window. On the other side was a row of teens seated in chairs just like Willow had been, minus the straps, and each one had a person in a lab coat with them. She could just make out one teen tapping an answer on a screen and then his scientist injecting him with a long needle. Willow gasped but couldn’t see the what happened next because Jay had ushered her into a different room. This one was a lot more comfortable looking. A leather couch sat against one wall and faced a wooden desk. It looked very expensive. Beaded lamps lit the room and a rug covered part of the hard wood floor. Paintings of people from a long time ago hung on the walls and a bookshelf stood in one corner. Jay motioned for her to sit down. She sat and watched him take a seat at the desk.
“I know you’re wondering what all this is, and why you’re here.”
“Every teenager in this building has been where you are right now. Confused, nervous, scared even. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be scared.”
Willow folded her hands to stop them from shaking. “I’m not scared.”
Jay nodded intently. “Good. Willow have you ever noticed anything strange happening around you lately?”
“What do you mean?”
Jay leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “You really don’t know what this place is do you?”
Willow looked at him confused. “No I don’t. You’re kind of freaking me out.”
Jay glanced down at the desk. “This is a place where heroes are made. All kinds of heroes.”
“I’m not following you. Superheroes don’t actually exist.” Willow folded her arms and tried to look calm.
“Willow,” Jay leaned forward and watched her intently. “Superheroes do exist and they aren’t born. They’re made. Welcome to Hero Incorporated.”
Willow sat there stunned, not knowing what to say. Jay watched her with a small smile.
“Well?” He raised one eyebrow and drummed his fingers on the desk. “I know it’s a lot to take in-“. Willow stood up abruptly.
“A lot to take in? Are you serious?! You just told me that superheroes actually exist! And that you make them?!”
“Technically I don’t. The other scientists do. I just invented the serum.”
Willow laughed in exasperation. “This is crazy,” she said quietly, lowering herself back onto the couch. Jay stood up excitedly.
“This is the future! Imagine a world where superheroes actually exist! The world would be safe!” He had a strange, over-eager, gleam in his eye. He quieted down when she didn’t say anything. “Willow, this could be you. Wouldn’t you like to have powers?”
Willow sat there, staring at the floor. Powers? Sure that sounded super cool, but it could probably be dangerous, having that much power at such a young age. She hadn’t even graduated high school yet.
“What kind of powers would I have?”
“That’s up to the Personality Test!” Jay moved from behind the desk and was now browsing the bookshelf. “It is a highly accurate test that gathers information from the answers you choose and will give you a list of powers that would best suit you. It preforms at a 99.9% accuracy!” He cleared his throat. “I should know, I designed it.”
“All those kids out there,” Willow gestured to the door, “have some kind of super power?”
“And, what, they live here?”
“Well, there are different sections of the building that house Junior Heroes until they graduate and are ready to go out into the world. Each section contains kids that have the same kind of ability. Kind of like different classes of heroes. It really helps with keeping track of all of them.”
“How many teens are here?”
Jay thought for a moment, staring at the wall. “Though we’ve only been running for a year, I would say just over one hundred and fifty so far.”
“Why is this happening now? Is something, like, wrong? So you need one hundred and fifty superheroes? Or is this just a little experiment?” She felt weird about calling it “little”, since it really wasn’t.
Jay put the book he was holding back on the shelf and nodded grimly.
“Yes, in fact something is wrong.”
“Are you serious? What is it?”
“A Super Villain.”
Willow sat there silently. Jay looked at her intently. “Willow?”
“A Super Villain. Seriously?”
Jay nodded slowly.
“Yes. That’s what I just said isn’t it?” He folded his arms and sat down behind the desk again. Willow didn’t believe him but she decided to play along.
“What do they look like?”
“We don’t know that.”
“How do you know they’re a problem?”
He stood up and opened a small drawer in the desk. He pulled a device out and walked over to Willow. He handed it to her.
“This is how.”
It was black and had a single button at the bottom. Really it looked like a normal smart phone. She turned it over and looked at the back. There was no writing on it or anything. She turned it back over to the front and glanced at Jay.
“What do I do with it?”
“Just press the button.”
She paused for a moment with her finger hovering over the circle. What if he was really telling the truth? Could super villains actually exist? But that was such a dumb thought, wasn’t it? She paused. If there were heroes, then there must be a bad guy. It was so obvious. The screen brightened and she realized she must have pushed the button while deep in thought. It showed a black screen with green lines shooting out from a red center. It resembled something she’d seen in movies that the government used to track...well...aliens. She blinked in disbelief when she spotted a huge greenish blip moving slowly towards the red dot. “Jay? What is the red dot?” He sat down next to her and touched the screen. Immediately the black and green picture morphed in a satellite image. The red dot was Earth. “Then that means...” she couldn’t finish her sentence. The blip was some kind of a space craft. A super villain’s ship was headed right for earth. “But how can one exist? You said that super heroes were made, not born. Does that include bad ones?” Jay took the device and placed it back in it’s drawer.
“It does, Willow, and he’s coming for Earth. That is why I’m doing what I’m doing. Making superheroes to save this planet.”
None of this was adding up. Did Hero Incorporated have some dark secret no one knew about?
“Jay. This place has been running longer than you said, hasn’t it.”
Jay sighed, fidgeting with his name tag. “Correct. About ten years ago, a group of scientists had an idea. An idea that would change the world. They would actually create superheroes. They had been preparing for it for years, researching, studying, testing, everything you would expect from scientist trying to make a name for themselves. Finally they had everything they needed except for one thing. Someone willing to try it on. Eventually they found someone. He was the son of the head scientist. I was eleven at the time, and obviously not apart of this yet.” He chuckled and continued on. “Long story short, it went wrong, and a super villain was made instead. It was terrible and he ended up killing his own mom.” He paused and looked down. “They shut it down, and never tried it again, until I came along and picked up the pieces. Nothing like that has happened since, and it will never happen again.” Jay sat down at his desk and sighed. Willow couldn’t believe what she’d just heard.
“What is his name?”
“He calls himself Gravitron.”
“What makes you think it won’t happen again?”
“Because I’m doing it right this time,” he assured her.
Willow sighed, still not quite convinced.
“Do any of the teens out there know about this? About the history or the fact that he’s coming back?” She gestured to the closed door.
“No. They aren’t ready yet.”
Willow blinked. “Then why do you think I’m ready?”
“It’s hard to explain, but I believe you’ll do great here! That’s why you’re going to convince them to stand and fight.”
“Me? Why me? Why would they even listen to me? They don’t know me at all!” She stood up and glared at Jay. “I don’t even have any powers.”
Jay raised his eyebrows. “We’ll fix that! We can go and give you your own powers right now!”
“Right now. But only if you want to.”
Willow looked at the floor. “Jay, I know you want me to convince everyone out there, but one thing I don’t understand is why. Why didn’t you choose someone else who already has powers? Someone who’s been here longer that two hours? Why did you choose me?”
Jay reached out and touched her shoulder.
“Because, Willow. You’re going to lead them into battle.”
Blackness. Willow felt like she was awake but she couldn’t see anything. She heard voices from somewhere in the distance. There were many voices but they all sounded the same and they were all calling her name. Wait, was it raining? Willow shot up and wiped water off of her face and out of her eyes.
“Did I faint?”
Jay dipped his head to say yes. “In fact you did. Luckily, Ben can control water.” He smiled at a brown-haired boy standing next to him. He must have been 15 or 16, and was looking at her shyly with his hands held behind his back.
“You can do that?” Willow shivered and adjusted her hoodie.
“Yeah. It’s pretty cool actually.” Ben looked at his hands self consciously. “I’m still getting used to it.”
Jay clapped his hands together. “Great! You’ve already made a friend!”
A friend? She’d barely said five words to him. Still something about him was really intriguing, and she did want to get to know him better. Ben looked down at the floor silently. What was he so embarrassed about? “Ben can finish giving you a tour of the place,” he then lowered his voice,“and then you need to make a decision, Willow.”
But she still wanted to know more. What did he mean by “lead them into battle”? Was he serious?
She nodded and stood up. “Do you have a towel?”
“Ah, Ben can get you one when you stop by the laundry room.” Jay ushered them back out into the main area but held Willow back for a moment.
“Don’t tell anyone about them. Understand?”
Willow nodded quickly and hurried to catch up with Ben. Some kids noticed her, but the vast majority were too preoccupied with their newfound powers. As they made their way through the huge room, Willow saw so many different powers. Some she had never even imagined. One girl actually shape-shifted into a raven before flinging sharp, black knives from her wings. Each one hit the target inside the bulls eye. Ben gently tugged her arm and led her through a door. They turned down a hallway and Ben entered a white room labeled, “Laundry”. It smelled very strongly of clothes detergent, almost making her sneeze. Rows upon rows of towels and clothing sat inside bins. The left side of the room was dedicated to the dirty laundry, and the right, clean. Big washers stood along the left wall, each one with its own bin attached to one side. Along the back wall stood a row of dryers. There was a conveyor belt connected to the last one that carried clean laundry to their rightful bins.
“This room is bigger than my house,” Willow laughed. Ben handed her a clean towel and smiled as she dried her face.
“It’s pretty neat isn’t it? Just wait until you see the dorms.”
They continued down the hallway and turned a corner. The left side of the wall had long windows running down the entire length, letting you see into the cafeteria. It was mainly white but the tables and chairs were painted cheery shades of red, blue and yellow.
“The furniture looks like it came out of a comic book...ohh,” Willow said laughing.
“I know right? I think its kind of ironic,” Ben said grinning. They kept walking down the long hallway and Willow was starting to feel talkative.
“So, how long have you been here?”
“Maybe a month. If that.”
“Jay must trust you then.”
Ben shrugged. “I think he just didn’t want to do it himself. I’m not like his special tour guide. I just happened to be around when he needed someone.”
“He seems to be a pretty nice guy. A little out there but okay. I like him.”
Ben had been looking at her but now he faced forward.
“Something just feels weird to me about him. I know all he wants to do is help people but his methods of getting there can be kind of, what’s the word?” He frowned. “I almost want to say selfish but he’s not selfish. It’s hard to explain. He can get touchy at times.”
Willow nodded. “I gotcha.”
The hallway widened before them and a huge staircase led the way into another large area, that resembled a common room. It was bright and cheery with couches and TVs set up in little areas. Some teens wandered about, reading or talking. A small kitchenette stood in the far right corner with snacks laid out to enjoy.
“Where do those go?” Willow asked pointing to an elevator.
“There is one elevator on the left side of the room that leads to the boys side, and one on the right for girls. Of course you don’t have to take them if you don’t want to.” Another large staircase, this time made of glass, led to a second floor. Willow noticed that people were walking around up there.
“The second floor is where everyone stays?”
“Yep. The stairs open up to that floor, and you can get to the dorms from there too.” Ben spotted a girl with black hair and waved her over. Willow recognized her as the girl who transformed into a raven back in the training room. She wore a blue tank top with a red zip up jacket and black jeggings. Her hair was long and tied into a french braid down the back. She wore little make up. Just some mascara and thin eyeliner. She waved back at Ben and made her way over to them.
“Hey, Ben. What’s up? Who’s this?” She looked at Willow with a reserved expression. She folded her arms and Willow noticed her nails were painted a dark gray. Ben smiled.
“This is Willow. Willow, this is Avery.”
Willow smiled, relieved when Avery smiled back.
“Can you show her the girls dorms?” Ben looked at Willow. “Guys aren’t allowed over there. It’s against the rules.”
“Sure I can take her.”
“Thanks. See you later, Willow.” He waved and headed back down the stairs. Avery smiled at Willow.
“Let’s go.” Her tone was cheery. They crossed the room and got onto the elevator. “I’m not really a fan of those stairs,” Avery told Willow. “I don’t like being able to see through them.” They laughed and the doors opened. “What power do you have?”
“I actually haven’t taken the test yet.”
Avery nodded. “That’s cool. It took me a while to agree too.” They passed a few girls talking with each other.
“What exactly can you do?”
“Well there are five main classes and each one has sub classes under it. Like take the Fire Class for instance. While there are some who can summon and control fire itself, most in the Fire Class have sub powers like blasting lava from their hands and some can literally combust at will.”
“What class are you in?”
“Earth. Well I’m in a sub class of Earth called the Transmogrifiers. We can turn into any animal we want.” Avery nodded at a door. “We have to keep the dorms separated by each Class. You wouldn’t want any accidents to happen.” She scanned the hallway. There were five doors stationed about ten feet apart. Each one had a sign above it. Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Electricity. Avery led Willow down to the Earth Dorm.
“I’ll show you mine.” She pushed open the door and they walked in. Seven or eight girls looked up at them as they entered. A green rug covered a portion of the hard wood floor. A small kitchen stood in one corner and a seating area in the other. The couches looked extremely comfortable, making Willow realize how tired she was. They crossed the room and Willow saw two sets of ten doors.
“These are the rooms. There are two girls to each room, and they all have two beds, two drawers and the bathroom is in the hallway.”
One of the girls stood up. “Hey, Avery, is she gonna be with us?”
“We don’t know yet, Liza,” Avery stated. “She hasn’t taken the quiz yet.”
The girl nodded and sat back down. Avery took one last look around the room and faced Willow.
“We can go back down to the common room now, Ben should be there.”
“How was it?” Ben was seated at a table reading a book. Soft orange light filtered in through the windows, alerting them that it was afternoon. Willow and Avery sat down across from him.
“It was cool,” Willow stated. “I really like it.”
“I think Jay was looking for you,” Ben directed at her. “He must want you to take the test now.” And agree to put herself and everyone else in danger. But if she didn’t, would he just pick someone else? She needed to get to the bottom of this. She stood up and smiled.
“Okay thanks. I can find my way back.”
“You sure?” Ben had closed the book, obviously ready to show her the way.
“Yeah. Thanks though. I’ve got a pretty good memory.”
“Okay, see you later,” he reopened his book and Avery waved. Willow turned and exited the common room, and hurried down the stairs. She only got turned around once and ended up in the bathroom. She quickly recovered her way and found the training room. Jay was waiting for her at the door.
“There you are,” he said cheerily. “Made a decision yet?”
“Yes, actually. I’m ready to take the test.”
Jay smiled warmly. “Fantastic! Let’s go then.”