Come out, you dirty rat-fink villain. I know you’re in here.
I crouched in a shadowy corner of the museum, lactic acid and impatience eating at my thigh muscles. Moonlight sprinkled through the curved glass clerestory, falling like stardust over shining glass cases filled with jewels, ancient treasures, dusty artifacts of old. In the case beside my hidey-hole, a glittering diamond-studded figurine winked at me, whispering Take me! Take me!
Not me. I’m one of the good guys. Verity Fortune, crime-fighter to the unsubtle, beating holes in things my specialty. I couldn’t see the thief I’d come to catch. But I could feel him with my augmented senses, like tiny fairy lights glittering beneath my skin…
There. Across the room, the darkness dipped and swirled. I knew it. My mindmuscle itched, eager to kick some villainous butt.
Still, “villain” is relative in Sapphire City. It wasn’t as if this dude was planning genocide or world domination. If my tip-off was for real—and I needed a break, the way things had gone for me lately—this was just a greedy little art heist.
Audacious, all the same. Sapphire City Museum—read “swanky art fortress”—is tricked out with the latest in invisible laser steal-me-and-I’ll-fuck-you-up technology. But for the Gallery—the gang of super-powered lunatics who terrorize our city, led by a lurid pyromaniac arch-psycho called Razorfire—the threat of loot and the promise of violent death are just a turn-on. They pride their cruel, lonely asses on doing impossible things.
Bring it, you thieving Gallery turdball. Whoever this guy was, he’d be no match for me.
My nose twitched, and my secret senses tingled with the sherbety spritz of augment… and like a cocky-ass specter, the thief strolled right through the minefield.
Holy crap. He wasn’t invisible. Just… un-solid. A glittery, translucent man-shape. His tiny particles danced and shimmered in the silvery moonlight. Glowing with strange inner energy. Eerily beautiful.
For an instant, a foreign gleam knifed through him at waist height. Light scattered in rainbows. The laser system. I winced, bracing for the alarm…
Nothing. No shrieking, no electric shocks, no tiny LED flashing in the corner.
Dude was below the dust threshold. That particle transition dissipated his body heat—which meant no infra-red signature—and reduced his reflective cross-section to negligible. Like a stealth bomber, skipping past radar. The museum’s state-of-the-art security system saw nothing but dirty air.
Honestly. How is that fair?
Inwardly, I cursed, sweating inside my shiny gunmetal leather coat. I’m a masked telekinetic crime-fighter, not a Las Vegas stage magician. I’d crawled in here along the ceiling, clinging like a big-ass spider with fingernails and talent, and this dark corner was as far as I could get without alerting security. But this guy could cut to dust any time he wanted and flee, leaving me in laser-surveillance hell.
I couldn’t beat him. Could I?
Fact was, I needed this victory. And not only to uphold the law (right, because the law’s done so well by me lately) or keep the museum’s shiny junk collection intact (rather than spend the money on something useful, like food for poor people) or even just out of principle, because thwarting Gallery villains in their mission of terror and mayhem is what we Fortunes do.
No, I had to prove to Adonis—my righteous prick of a brother and the boss of our crime-fighting outfit, whom I love to death and would happily strangle if it wouldn’t prove him right—that I wasn’t a liability. That he could trust me again, the way he used to, before… well, before I unwittingly betrayed us all by consorting with our archenemy. If beating some impossibly clever vanishing guy was what it took? Bring it on.
But the thought of clever vanishing guys just made me wince. Don’t even talk to me about Glimmer. Glimmer isn’t a Fortune, but he’s the finest of us, and he had been my best friend. Now…
Golden particles glittered, on the move. Mr. Sparkly strode quietly yet confidently, casting no shadow. His ghostly footfalls made no sound. I couldn’t even smell him, beyond a tart whiff of the weed he’d been smoking, and that bothered me, too.
See, stinky villains are generally easy game. When you’re a gibbering power-mad paranoid with pretensions to world domination? Personal hygiene isn’t high on your must-do list. You’re too busy going bonkers to care what people think.
It’s the clean ones like Sparkly who worry me. The ones who make time for fashion and good grooming. Body-conscious means they’re at least planning ahead. Vain, unfortunately, can mean they’ve got more brain space than you. If a villain has great hair and smells dreamy? Run. Trust me. Because I didn’t run, and I got a dead father, a family in exile and months of screaming nightmares for my trouble.
I flexed my mindmuscle, determined to focus. The sinister glittery thief drifted past another glass case, into a pool of bluish shadow. Damn. I’d lost sight of him. I blinked rapidly. Had he vanished? Beamed up to his starship, or something?
My augmented senses sharpened, directional, and homed in. Oh, right. There he was, sparkly again, flitting from shadow to shadow, rematerializing for a few seconds each time he was out of sight. As if his glittery powers didn’t last very long and he was recharging.
Whatever. He could be the Energizer Bunny and it wouldn’t help him once I got my hands on his thieving Gallery ass. He strolled past a case full of ancient parchments, another stuffed with jeweled funerary ornaments from eighteenth-dynasty Egypt, yet another of antique ivory figurines. In the middle of the room, before a cylindrical glass case, he halted.
Tiny spotlights glared on the item inside. I squinted, trying to get a glimpse.
Looked like… a rock. Lumpy-shaped, like a fossilized seashell, a rusty red-brown color. Was this what he’d come for?
My belly warmed, in anticipation of feeding my hungry power at last. He flexed one glittery hand. Reached for the inch-thick hardened glass… and slipped his hand clean through it. Elbow on one side, hand on the other. Like the glass wasn’t even there.
I gulped. That was totally cool.
So how did he not fall through the floor? Gravity isn’t advisory-only, even for Gallery show ponies. Could this dude fly as well as sparkle? And how did he make his clothes do that trick? It didn’t make sense. Maybe his secret villain name was Logicfail. Why did no one ever worry about these things?
Still, no time to puzzle it now. He’d already grabbed the funny rock—and nothing happened. I grinned. Logicfail, my ass. Can’t turn that to glitter, can you? You’re stuck, like honey-stuffed Winnie the Pooh. Now what’s your plan, smart-ass?
I stretched my mindmuscle, a feline pleasure-yawn, and leapt. Whee! Up like a bouncing rubber ball.
He clenched his sparkling fist around the treasure, and yanked.
Kapow! Glass exploded, and the thief materialized in a puff of angry gang boy. Young Latino dude, jeans and black tank top, studded dog collar, shaven scalp crawling with prison tattoos. Fist still clenched, gym-built forearm bloody to his elbow and dripping red puddles onto the floor.
I hurtled through the air, slingshotted on a rubber band of mind energy. Tough guy, eh? DNA all over the place, broadcasting his true identity to anyone with twenty minutes and a spectrometer. I liked his attitude.
Umph! I crashed into him and we hit the floor. Fighting, rolling, limbs flailing.
And now the alarms went bugfuck.
A siren whooped. Blinding white lights flashed on. Steel security grilles ground down over the exits, crunch-grr-slam! We struggled. I aimed a swift punch of force, banging his skull into the floor.
“Goatfucker,” he snarled, and scattered into particles beneath me.
I fell through him. Slammed into the floor face-first. Shit. The treasure-rock clattered across the tiles into a corner.
His particles swept around me, tingling—steady on, tiger, we only just met—and he coalesced. On his feet, hulking with rage, sweat spraying from his shaven head. “Asshole,” he growled, and kicked at my ribs.
I rolled away, grabbing his foot with my power. He fell on his ass, cursing in Spanish. I caught something about an impossible (at least for me) feat of bestial eroticism, and grinned. At least “asshole” and “goatfucker” improved on “bitch” or “whore”, this season’s must-have snappy put-downs for the discerning sexist-pig villain. Gotta love an equal-opportunity insult. And he wasn’t afraid to fight a girl. I could learn to like this guy.
But I’d no time to flirt. Any second now, rent-a-cops with guns would blunder in. I needed to be history when that happened. I grappled for his throat, ready to knock him insensible.
And a third person appeared right next to us, and kicked me in the face.
Not arrived, or coalesced. Appeared. From nowhere, eureka! with a rush of displaced breeze.
My head whiplashed sideways. A broken tooth crunched, and I tasted copper. But no time to care. I was too busy skidding across the floor, and my body slammed into a display case. Doinng! The glass and my skull both thrummed with the impact. I blinked, groggy. Who the fuck was that?
A skinny teenage girl, blue dreadlocks straggling to her shoulders. She wore a threadbare camisole top and jeans patched with scraps of plaid. A knotted string bracelet hung on her wrist, the kind of friendship pledge that grade-school kids wear. Her eyes were deep-set, bruised, her pimpled face sickly like a shopping-mall zombie.
And she had a sidekick. An equally scrawny boy, his gangly overgrown legs encased in black jeans. Jagged black-dyed hair with blond roots flopped over his cheek. Wispy unshaven chin, bitten black fingernails. His Yoda t-shirt read DO OR DO NOT – THERE IS NO “TRY”. He wore eye pencil, for God’s sake. I smelled cigarettes, alcopops, cheap spray cologne.
Just kids. So far as I could tell, they weren’t even high. What the hell?
Mr. Sparkly swore and scattered. But Blue Dreads Girl was quicker. And she pulled the very same trick. Dissolved into a metallic cloud of sparks.
I gaped. Impossible. No two augments were exactly the same. Not even Harriet and Eb, my twin cousins, had identical powers… But I had to believe my eyes. Didn’t I?
Tornado-like, she chased him, wrapping herself around him, twisting into him, through him. The two tangled, buzzing like angry wasp swarms… but Sparkly tired first. He dragged himself free, and slumped to the floor in human form, drained. And the remaining particles swirled into a coiling funnel and remade themselves into Blue Dreads. She laughed and kicked him with her scruffy lace-up boot.
In the meantime, Guyliner had retrieved the treasure and stuffed it into his jeans pocket. I scrambled up, ignoring my aching face. I needed to win that rock. To prove I could still do this, that my lurid sojourn into temporary insanity hadn’t crippled me.
But Blue Dreads just grinned. Gleeful, a cruel little girl. “Too slow, hero,” she gloated, and she and her emo BFF vanished.
Snap! Air slammed into the empty spaces. Gone. Ka-poof. May the Force be with you.
Just like that, I lose.
Inwardly, I cringed. I’d wasted my chance. Still, no point crying about it. Sparkly groaned on the floor, limp, and I stumbled over to spend a few precious seconds finding out why Razorfire—because it had to be a Gallery heist, right?—had ordered him to steal a rock. At least that info would be something… and I skidded to a halt, waving my arms for balance.
Twin red laser dots bloomed on Sparkly’s chest.
Uh-oh. I glanced down. Another two red dots, hovering over my sternum. Nice steady shots, too, barely flickering.
Well, fuckity do-dah.
The loudspeaker started blaring witty commands. “On the fucking floor NOW! Drop your weapons! Hands where I can see ’em!”
Right. Good luck with that. Stupid rent-a-cops, late to the party as usual.
Sparkly tried to rise, but only vomited. Blue Dreads had given him a right good thrashing. I sighed, frustrated. Sparkly, we’re just not working out. It’s not me, baby; it’s you.
I coiled my power around one fist and fired myself at the glass ceiling like a silver-streaked cannonball.