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First pages

CHAPTER ONE

Freedom

Joaquin stared at himself in Frank Massey’s bathroom mirror. He had unscrewed the piercing from his eyebrow and placed it on the sink. His short-cropped hair that he had grown back on Massey’s recommendation glistened still wet from the shower.

“I hope you’re shaving that goatee in there.”

Joaquin turned to Massey’s voice coming through the closed door. He liked the goatee. It looked cool, and it kind of gave himBig AF’slook. It had been awhile since he had listened to any of his raps but they were stillon fleek in his memory.

The bitches be killin’ it for me, Joaquin thought as he smiled smugly to himself.

A knock came on the door. Joaquin clicked his tongue.

“Hell no old dude, I told you. I did my piercing and all. I ain’t changing the goatee, fuck that.”

Massey opened the door and stood with his hands akimbo.

“How about what we talked kid? My house – my rules.”

Joaquin sighed and rubbed a hand over his chin.

“Your rules ain’t cool.”

“Yeah and living on the streets ain’t much on the cool side too.”

Joaquin crossed his arms over his chest.

Massey raised an eyebrow. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I don’t get why you is makin’ me do all this proper dressin’ and shit. I thought we would be bustin’ some supers, chargin’ at Globe for a change, jus’ like you said. To make the world better.”

Massey stepped inside the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bathtub.

“I've got a duty to find those people and prove what they’re doing. Then I’ll put them in jail. You've got an obligation to those people out there for screwing them over again and again. That’s why you've got to look the part and get a job. It could be months before anything turns up on Doctor Globe. He's got deep pockets since he let his commission in the Army go. You ain’t living in my house without providing.”

“No man, you know you cops ain’t good for shit like that. Bree’ll fuck you right up. You need me.”

Massey shook his head. “All in good time, Joaquin. Now shave that thing off your face. You still look like a thug.”

Joaquin’s face turned red, and he was about to open his mouth when Massey gave him that look. It was the same one he kept on giving every time Joaquin was about to say something stupid or flame up and start throwing shade at stuff.

He looked back into the mirror and waited for Massey to leave the bathroom.

When Massey did, Joaquin took the razor and squeezed it tight in his hand until his knuckles turned white. He would fuck em’ up real good, and he’d be the hero.

But it had been a month since the showdown in the Canadian woods. The only thing that had changed was that Globe’s square face was on every news station all the time. People loved him, and Joaquin witnessed the influx of their banners and t-shirts with his face printed on them. It seemed as if everyone were supporters to his mayoral campaign, to his many charities. No one knew where his deep pockets came from, and no one seemed to care as long as he continued to insist that the people save their money instead of donating to his campaign. It was like he was the hero they all wanted to be. The hero they had convinced themselves that they needed. Hell, even people like Joaquin wanted Globe to be the mayor. And it was plainly obvious that Globe had his sights set much higher than the mayor of Seattle. Joaquin knew that Globe was a villain, but only a handful of people knew that.

Fuck that shit, Joaquin thought.

The razor took to the skin, near breaking at the impact.

Joaquin found it difficult shaving when the razor blades kept snapping when he pressed harder into his skin. He had gone through eight of them before he could get at the goatee. It took longer, but it was far safer than an electric razor that bent against his skin and smoked in his face. He dabbed at his chin with a clean towel and clumsily buttoned up his white shirt.

Massey was waiting for him by the front door. He had his best suit on, and the Detective’s shield clipped to his belt was polished to perfection.

“You goin’ somewhere?”

Massey shrugged. He strode up to Joaquin and fixed his tie smoothing it with his palm.

“To the precinct. Why?”

“Nah, you look too shiny for that dump. You're dressed to impress is all I’m sayin’.”

“Worry less about my tidiness and more about yours. Come on, you’ll be late for your job interview.”

* * * * *

The two rode in silence and Joaquin mostly stared out the window, occasionally pulling at his tie.

“The dumb shit’s chokin’ me man. Do I really need it?”

“Just keep it on until the interview is over.”

Massey parked in front of Mr. Jabbar’s store. It was a small family store owned by the old Arab and his son. Massey had chosen it because it was three blocks from his house and didn’t sell alcohol.

“Be honest, don’t talk back and listen. You’ve got a solid recommendation here.”

Joaquin stared at the windows barred with signs promoting a particular brand of cigarettes and lottery tickets. He climbed out of the car whining at the idea of walking inside and pretending to be polite and proper.

“Here’s some cash if you need to get a cab back home.”

Joaquin reached through the open door and took the money stuffing it into his pocket.

“Why you doin’ all this? You know what I am. I don’t want you to be doin’ none of this cause you feel guilty for poppin’ me up like that before.”

Massey paused for a second. His eyes drifted over the boy’s shoulder where his bullet had hit him long ago.

“You got potential. Now scram.”

Joaquin started to protest but the car took off with a roar dulling his words.

* * * * *

Andy Kitz sat with his jaw clenched. His eyes scanned the contents of his laptop screen. He tried to keep his face neutral, but each second that rolled by led to another frown. He started to feel pain in his molars as he ground his teeth. He was aware of a white blur in his peripheral vision, and he raised a single finger. Without a word or further direction from Andy, the waitress reached for his cup. He waited for her to refill his coffee, and then took a large gulp, sucking in air through his teeth in an attempt to relieve the competing pain of the hot liquid that burned his throat. His eyes never left the screen.

“So, it’s good, right?”

When the video ended, Andy tilted the lid of his laptop partially closed, popped his ear buds out and focused his attention on a grinning, Joe.

Joe was Andy’s best informant. He never delivered anything but pure gold and his videos were in high definition with high bitrate sound. This combination made them all the more valuable.

Of course “Joe” wasn’t Joe’s real name. To him and everyone in the network Andy was “Nate” and Nate was the father, mother, and moderator of theSuperHub. It collected and stored video, photos, audio recordings and text data on super humans spotted around the city from his five informants. Those informants had their own networks of people who “Nate never meets because his five primaries were enough to trust these meetings to without suspicions being raised.” It was the law as far as SuperHub was concerned, and anyone who wanted to be involved knew that that was the price of admission.

“It’s fucking brilliant Joe. It’s...” Andy struggled for the word, “...beautiful,” he concluded.

Joe’s grin couldn’t have gotten any wider, and Andy opened the screen to play the video again, a single ear bud adorning his ear.

The view was from a high angle, possibly shot from a tenement fire escape with a telephoto lens. A teenage superhuman was phasing through the glass window of a jewelry store. The camera zoomed in on his hand as it slid through the glass like it wasn’t there. Zooming out, Joe’s video showed that there were people around him spitting “holy shit” and “no way” and they also filmed what looked like a Dynamo stunt.

Just as the kid’s hand was about to clasp around a necklace, he turned around to wink at his audience, and his face contorted in pain while he screeched at the top of his lungs. He stumbled backward and fell, a fountain of blood erupting from his sliced stump.

Andy admired Joe’s quickened breathing as he zoomed in on the severed hand that lay in a pool of blood inside the glass, and then on the teen that twitched in agony as he clasped his arm.

The last image on the video was of police officers coming around the corner, and an askew view of a metal fire escape as Joe switched off the camera.

“He couldn’t do it without looking at the process,” Joe whispered. “Like he had to concentrate on that, and only on that, but he got cocky.” Joe tilted his head to the side. “And it cost him.”

Andy pulled a green flash drive from his laptop port and dropped it in his inner jacket pocket. “What happened to him?” he asked.

Joe grimaced, his eyes losing his trademark sparkle as if the rest of the story wassuch a bore.

“Cops took him to the hospital. They spent an hour photographing the...” he held up his fingers for an air quote, “...scene.” He got serious for a moment. “They managed to save his life, but he couldn’t explain how a chunk of his arm ended up on the other side of the glass. He’ll probably get three to five months in juvy for his little stunt.”

“What a shame.”

The café door opened, and three people walked in. They directed themselves toward Andy’s table and took the empty chairs.Someone was missing...

“Where’s Donovan?” Andy asked.

Maya, an athletic brunette with devilish black eyes who Andy fantasized about from time to time answered first. “He’s sick or something. Sorry, Nate. He passed his drive along to me, though.” She refused to meet Andy’s glare.

Andy clenched his jaw. “You know what we talked about. We need to be careful. Someone else finds these USB drives, and we’re all in deep shit.”

“Yeah, says the guy who makes these meetings in a fucking crowded Polish café,” Lester quipped.

Andy turned to Lester. He didn’t like “Lester” very much, not because he looked like a thug, but because he complained about “Nate’s” leadership consistently. They’d all seen some weird stuff, but no one had ever captured the level of evidence Andy had at the Seventh Street King’s warehouse. Andy was glad his camera had backed up to the cloud before he destroyed his camera in a low moment of fear.

Maya had answered Lester’s challenge before Andy finished processing the insult. “No one here listens. Barely any of the customers speak much English as it is. To them, we’re a bunch of students having coffee.”

“That’s true,” Mickey conceded, nodding.

Lester rolled his eyes and covered his mouth with mock surprise. “Mickey finally says something!”

“Leave him be, Lester!” Maya hissed across the table.

Mickey took his red flash drive out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Andy. He pulled on his woolen hat - a nervous tick Andy had seen many times before.

Lester sighed and took out his black drive. Maya produced a pink one and a yellow one.

Andy collected them and hid them in his inner pocket with Joe’s flash drive. He pulled out four pieces of paper and gave each of them one.

“That’s the new pass for theSuperHub for this week. Be sure to burn the paper or whatever when you’re done with it.” He met Maya’s questioning eyes. “Make sure Donovan knows, but for God’s sake, be discreet.”

Maya nodded solemnly.

“I’ll contact you in the Hub once I’m done with your videos. Keep looking, keep searching.Keep documenting.

The four nodded as they always did and Andy put his laptop in his backpack, took a shot from his coffee and walked out of the café.

* * * * *

“Miss Anne?”

Anne turned from the scene behind the reinforced glass window to see Bree in her pink linen pajamas. Bree held a threadbare kitten that was at one time white, but now, even the industrial lighting in the room couldn’t wash out the dinge.

Anne knelt in front of Bree, and pushed Bree’s blonde hard over one of her ears. “What is it sweetie?”

Bree hugged her kitty close, and in a small voice asked, “Why are you so sad here?”

Anne glanced back at the window where Peter and Kristof lay on medical beds, tubes running from their arms and wrists into machines whose purpose was known only to Dr. Globe, and the team of scientists that were constantly going to and fro from the room to their lab past another reinforced glass window.

“Well, honey,” Anne replied when she returned her attention to the little girl, “I’m not happy here.”

“Why don’t you leave?”

“Doctor Globe won’t let me leave. He says I have to stay here.” Anne mussed Bree’s hair. “Besides, who’d look after you?”

Bree stuck out her lower lip. “I’m big enough to take care of myself,” she declared with a defiant squint of her eyes.

“I’m sure you can, Bree, but I’m not sure I have anything to go back to.”

Bree frowned. “I shouldn’t’ve led them to the cabin.”

Anne stood and stared into the room behind the glass. She rested her head against the glass in the same spot she had every day. Each time, her forehead left a smudge against the glass, and each morning the smudge was gone. “Why’s that, sweetie?” she asked the precocious ten-year-old. She wondered for a moment if Bree understood the ramifications of the showdown in the woods; if she understood Anne’s forced stay in the secure bunker. Or the lives forever altered because of one man’s lust for power, for control.

“Well,” Bree responded, her attention on the stuffed kitty in her arms, “there was so much mud from when the snow melted. It made my pretty, pretty shoes dirty.”

When Globe had captured Peter, Kristof and Anne with Bree’s help, many people died on the freshly melted snow. Anne was almost glad that there wasn’t a lot of snow. The red soaked into the mud, and mixed. The white ground would’ve shown the world where Justin died. Not that Globe would allow anyone in the area. The entire portion of the provincial park was quarantined. False documents declared it a biohazard. Bree’s display with the birds had convinced the powers that be that there was a real danger in the cold dark forest. Little did they know that the real danger left in a helicopter.

“Pardon?” Anne mumbled. Bree had been telling her something, and she had missed it.

“I’ll ask Doctor Globe to let you leave.”

Anne smiled. “I need to stay here with you.”

Bree’s smile dropped. “No!” she cried out. “I don’t need you! You’ll leave tomorrow.” Bree turned and walked out of the room.

Anne knew that when Bree set her mind to something, shealwaysgot it. She looked back at the hospital beds, and the two comatose bodies.I’ll find a way to free both of you, she thought and left the cold room toward a future she was only now admitting scared her.

* * * * *

Joaquin sat awkwardly on the chair while Mr. Jabbar filled in his Sudoku. On the desk was a neatly written recommendation with Joaquin’s better picture pinned to it. Mr. Jabbar pushed his thin-rimmed glasses higher on his sweaty and large nose. He stole glances at Joaquin from time to time, but they were short and unrewarding.

“So, Frank tells me you need work.”

It was a question, but Joaquin didn’t get that. He cleared his throat.

“Yeah. I’m...I’m lookin’ for a job.”

“You worked in a store before this?”

Joaquin shook his head.

“So why you think you’ll be good?”

“I’m quick. I....”

Joaquin shifted on his seat again. He didn’t really know what to answer. He was good with threats, good with a knife, but when he stuck it up in people’s faces, good with his fists, but when he punched someone in the gut. He was fast with guns but only when he shot for real. Quick, yeah he was but with stealing wallets.

“You know you look like a thug that once came in here, trying to rob me. Frank’s soft spot for you doesn’t mean you’re not a thief.”

Joaquin put his hands up in protest.

“Nah man you got me all wrong. I just want a job.”

“No. I don’t like your face. You tell Frank my position is filled.”

“What the fuck man, you ditchin me cause I’m black or something?”

Mr. Jabbar stood up. He was a much larger man than he gave out to be. His meaty hand pointed at the door.

“Out of here, now. No thugs, or gangsters, or junkies, or liars. Strict store policy. You go look for a job elsewhere.”

Joaquin stood up too his fists flaming with the pressure he was putting on his bones from squeezing. He knew it would be like this. He wasn’t good at this shit. He was a superhero. He shouldn’t have listened to Massey.

Joaquin loosened his tie and stuck up his jaw at Jabbar’s face before he stormed out of the small backroom which served as an office. He didn’t remember coming into this store before or robbing it. Passing the liquor Joaquin pinched a bottle of Whiskey. They fuck him, he fucks them in return. That was his policy.

“Hey, put that back down!”

Joaquin snapped towards the cashier. He started to scream something in Arabic when Joaquin didn’t put the bottle, but charged for the door.

A loudclick-click!sound made him turn around. Mr. Jabbar was standing with a shotgun in his hands pointed at Joaquin.


CHAPTER TWO

Cast Die

Detective Frank Massey pushed against the door to the Seattle PD with his elbow trying to prevent the paper coffee cups from tipping over inside their cardboard holder.

He greeted some of the officers as he made his way to the desk of a young woman. Massey placed a cup in front of her. She glanced first at the offered coffee and then to the person offering it. She jumped out of her seat and stood with her spine straight, her chair rolling away.

“Detective Massey!” she exclaimed.

“Easy there Officer Patterson! I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“I’m sorry, sir-” she stuttered. “I, uh, mean, Detective Massey. It won’t happen again.”

Massey broke out a wide grin, laughed wholeheartedly and earned a shy smile from Officer Betty Patterson.

“I suppose it’s better that than you shooting me on the spot because I startled you.” His smile faded slightly. “Do you have anything for me? I know I shouldn’t have asked it of you but...”

“No, sir. It wasn’t a bother, really.” She tilted her head to the side and focused on something in the clutter of her desk. “Actually, there was a call for you from a Colonel Burkins. He wanted to know when you were in, but I told him I didn’t know.” She picked up a pink sticky note and held it out to him. “He left you his number.”

Betty passed Massey the note with a name and telephone number scrawled on it.

“Did he mention what he wanted?”

Betty shook her head.

“Alright.” His warm smile returned. “Keep up the good work Officer Patterson.”

Massey walked into his office and threw his overcoat and blazer on a hanger. Burkins had no doubt called about Massey’s recent trip to Canada. Burkinswas the perfunctory who issued Massey the appropriate paperwork, after he assured the Colonel that he was making an inquiry to the whereabouts of a dangerous criminal who had fled Seattle.It wasn’t precisely a lie,Massey thought. Hehad pursued Joaquin and Kristof into the wilderness, and he was thankful for the odd bit of luck that his car drove up the road at the exact same time Joaquin needed to be saved. Massey’s bosses had photos and video of the flumes of smoke and the heavy gunshots from that day. When everyone had a high-resolution camera and video capabilities on their smart phones, nothing was private anymore. He assumed he would be brought in for a debriefing pretty soon.

Massey dropped into his office chair’s familiar embrace, and decided that the shifting leather and creaking metal shouldn’t be the only sound in his office, so he turned on the old radio perched on the edge of his desk. It seemed to tune in more static than actual stations, but the one station it did receive faithfully was Q-Thirteen. They had their 80’s retro top twenty chart playing the most repetitious songs of the time. Massey wasn’t a fan, but he enjoyed a nostalgic trip like any other man did.

“You’re listening to Q-Thirteen’s Retro World of the 80’s Mega Chart. You tell us what you miss, and we play it for you on the spot! Call now or...”

Frank furrowed his eyebrows. He had heard the name Q-Thirteen somewhere. Sure, he listened to their station and watched their TV channel, but the name was oddly familiar from somewhere else.Somewhere important.

He walked back to Betty’s desk who diligently sorted papers and typed new information into profiles.

“Officer Patterson, do you recall something about Q-Thirteen?”

Betty looked up from her computer screen, fingers poised over the keyboard. “The news station?” she asked.

“Yeah, but not like that. Anything that you might have heard about it, maybe around here?”

She thought for a moment drumming the fingers on one hand absently on the home row of the keyboard. Massey hid his smile at the sight of Betty scrunching up her face while she thought. When she had it, her entire face lit up.

“Maybe a month or so ago there was this guy here. He actually asked about you. I only know that because I was standing right beside him.”

“To whom did this man speak?”

“Officer Wallas I believe.”

Massey thanked Betty and rushed through the precinct. He spotted the sandy blond haired officer propped against a file cabinet talking to his partner.

“Wallas,” Massey barked, “can I have a word?”

The younger officer nodded to his partner and followed Massey back to his office.

“Do you remember someone from Q-Thirteen coming by here to ask about me maybe a month ago?”

Wallas pondered the question for a moment and then snapped his fingers. “Yeah, some guy with a camera came in here looking to talk to someone about the robberies we were investigating at the time. He said he had more information, and mentioned something about that kid you were looking for, the one with the piercings.”

“Joaquin?” Frank’s heart thundered in his chest. No one at the precinct knew Joaquin was living with him. He was still a wanted criminal.

Wallas nodded and continued. “The same guy, yeah. I was about to call you, but then this Andy kid disappeared. I ran him through the system and the name “Andy Kitz” popped up for one charge of trespassing in 2014. He wasn’t working for Q-Thirteen either because we checked with them too.”

“Do you have his address?”

Felix nodded. “I can get it for you right away. Is his case reopened?”

“No, no. I’m just curious that’s all. Get me his file, will ya?”

Wallas nodded and left to retrieve the file.

Frank put his coat back on and just as he was about to leave, his phone buzzed. He answered it without looking at the caller ID. When the speaker was close to his ear, he heard Joaquin’s angry barks and Mister Jabbar’s curses. Massey scowled at the noise on the other end of the line. Wallas had returned waving a manila folder with the Seattle Police Department logo on the cover.

Frank grabbed the file from Wallas’ hand, sidestepped the bewildered man and rushed out of the department.

* * * * *

When Massey stopped his car in the parking lot in front of Jabbar'sconvenience store and jumped out of his vehicle, he had only one thought racing madly in his head:I hope Joaquin hasn’t harmed anyone.

When he entered the store, however, the scene was entirely different from what he had pictured in his mind.

Joaquin sat on the floor, hands on the back of his head, with his legs prostrate, Jabbar Junior was holding the phone and hiding behind the counter, and Mr. Jabbar was holding a shotgun, pointed at Joaquin’s face. Massey’s eyes went from face to face, trying to determine who was the most pissed.

Clearly it was Joaquin who was screaming about his impervious skin and how Jabbar could shoot him ten times over, but he’d still be fine because he was a fucking superhero.

Jabbar, on the other hand, screamed, mixing English and Arabic about how Joaquin was nothing but a lousy thug and how come Frank had decided it would be a good idea to send a thief to work at his family store.

Frank stuck his pinky fingers in his mouth and whistled until his lungs hurt. The pair stopped bickering, and Jabbar Junior dropped down unconscious behind the counter.

“What the fuck is going on here?”

“He tried to rob me!” Mr. Jabbar yelled.

“Fuck you bitch, you denied me mah job, 'cause I look like a thug!” Joaquin retorted from the floor.

“I said youare a thug! A thug I am about to shoot if he doesn’t pay for the broken bottle!”

“Fuck you! You said I was a thug. And you broke that bottle yourself, you pay for it, you pussy!”

Jabbar shoved the shotgun closer to Joaquin's face.

“I don’t like lying little shit thugs like you!”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you more!”

“ENOUGH!”

Frank gestured for Jabbar to put away the shotgun. He pointed toward his badge and the storeowner complied.

“Get up Joaquin.”

The boy scrambled to his feet. His shirt was a mess; his suit jacket sleeve was torn and hanging loose.

“You control this kid Frank. I don’t want him near my store again, or I shoot him.”

Massey sighed. “Hussein, don’t be like that eh? How long have we known each other? Ten, twelve years?”

Jabbar nodded his head in agreement. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want you bringing useless gangsters to me. I appreciate your help but you have to respect me on this. I don’t do such favors.”

Mr. Jabbar returned the shotgun to its place behind the counter, went to pick up a broom and sweep the shattered glass and whiskey off the white floor.

“I won’t press charges,” he declared, his back to Frank.

Frank nodded and gestured to Joaquin to leave.

“Thank you,” he called out as they left the store.

* * * * *

Anne grasped the bar across the door and looked over her shoulder. Major Globe stood in the hallway; his face pinched like someone had stolen his favorite toy. His hand rested on Bree's shoulder, and when the little girl looked up at him, his face forced a toothy grin.

Bree smiled and waved. It looked to Anne like she wanted to rush forward and hug Anne goodbye, but the ever-present hand on her small shoulder kept her rooted to the spot. Her pink pajamas even had bunny ears on her slippers. Anne repressed a shudder when she thought of how innocent Bree looked in her nightclothes.

But,Anne thought,she is no innocent little girl. She couldn't think of any logical argument Bree might have used to convince Globe to let Anne leave. Most likely, Bree just used her powers to compel Globe to comply.

It was sad really. Under Anne's tutelage, Bree was progressing. She had started talking and had agreed to let her parents return to their lives. After she didsomething to their minds so they wouldn't come looking for her.

Everything was starting to feel better,Anne thought as she pressed down on the bar to open the door,then that day at the cabin in the woods.

A shudder ran down her spine, and Anne walked out the door for the first time in a month. She had no allies, but if she had learned anything in the last eight hundred years, it was that she was a force to be reckoned with.

* * * * *

Joaquin climbed inside the police car and slammed the door shut. Frank kneeled by his window. Joaquin rolled his eyes and fumbled with the button to roll down the window. When nothing happened, he looked at Massey. Massey held up his remote and pressed a button. Joaquin scowled and rolled down the window. He looked into Massey's eyes expectantly.

“If it would’ve been anyone else they would have pressed charges, and you’d be on your way to jail right now. I promised to keep you safe, but you gotta put in the effort too, Joaquin. I can’t pull you out of shit like this all the time. Last week you trashed a car’s front hood. This week you nearly got yourself blasted with double-ought.”

The boy threw his hands up. “I did what you told me to do! But heknew man, the moment I walked in he was aware of what I was.”

“And what’s that?”

“A thug.”

“Are you, though?” Massey paused for effect. “I thought you were a hero.”

“Heroes do shit, man, they don’t lay about the place and look for shit jobs.”

Massey stood up straight and walked around the car to the driver's side. He reached in through the now-open window, picked up a folder from the backseat and tossed it to Joaquin.

“Just promise me no more shit like this today.”

Joaquin returned a scowl that could only mean something likeYeah? Fuck you, and that was enough confirmation for Massey.

Joaquin's eyes fell on the file. “What’s in the folder?”

"It could be nothing," Massey replied as he started the car. “It could be an ally." He shoved the shifter on the column into drive. "Let’s go find out.”

* * * * *

Andy took out his earplugs from his ears and let them swing freely while he tried to stick in the key to his apartment.

He walked into the total darkness and threw the pizza box he was carrying onto the table he knew by heart was to his right.

You have to be harder on them Andy. Lester might decide that you are no longer interesting. He might find you boring and decide to take your place.

“Oh, now you show up. I was beginning to think you’re finally left me alone. Now shut the fuck up again.”

“I don’t think that’s the proper way to address someone.”

Andy jumped back and hit the light switch.

There were two people in his apartment that he didn’t invite, nor left there earlier. One of them was an older guy with a badge and the other...

“You’re Joaquin!”

Joaquin buffed up his chest.

“That’s right bitch.”

“You’re a fucking super. You are Hero Two.”

The cop stood up from Andy’s busted up couch.

“Let’s be easy on the name calling and the title giving. I’m Detective Frank Massey.”

Andy clapped his hands in excitement.

“Holy shit! I can’t believe it’s you two. I’ve been looking for you for months.”

“We know. It was high time we met. I was told you came to the precinct with information about the robberies.”

Andy pulled a chair and sat down.

“Yeah, to tell you Joaquin was a superhuman and that other guy too.”

“Kristof?”

“Yeah, that’s his name. He was Hero One in my list.”

“Where do you know these things from, Andy? That’s your name right?”

Andy stood up and showed them the computer with the SuperHub opened and running in full.

“That’s what I do. I research people like you Joaquin.”

Joaquin pulled back a step.

“Why?”

Andy laughed at his naivety.

“Because you are fucking legends man. You are the future!”

“What does this hub of yours do?”

Andy took the mouse in hand and clicked a few images and videos.

“It collects data on supers around the city. We’re working to extend the network to other towns and states, but it isn’t very easy to find trustworthy people.”

“I don’t get it.” Joaquin protested.

“I sent my people, my network out and they track down strange activity throughout the city. They filmed it, take pictures and hack into hospitals and no offense, police departments to find out information on the super. I even have you in the system. Here, look.”

Andy brought up Joaquin’s profile. It was insufficient, but he had plenty of details.

“Whoa man this is some crazy stalker shit.”

“You have an impervious skin, yeah?”

“You know it! I’m invisible!”

“Invincible you mean?” Andy quirked an eyebrow.

“Same shit man.”

“What do you gain from all that?” Massey asked.

“We want the world to know there are heroes out there, people that don’t even know how special they are. We share some of these videos through social media to try and prepare people for what’s coming.”

A chat message popped up on screen.

‘xXvisionXx: Nate, you gotta watch this man, this shit is bad.’

Andy clicked the message and responded.

‘NaterMageddon1: What is it?’

‘xXvisionXx: Just play it! NOW’

Andy clicked on the shared link. It was a broadcast from Q-13 running with the message “EXCLUSIVE” and then another message “SUPERHUMANS AMONG US: ARE THEY A THREAT?”

“This is live,” Massey noted.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Mark Gardner is an author and broadcast professional from Prescott, Arizona. His grandfather introduced him to the alternate history writings of Harry Turtledove at a young age. That started a life-long love affair with speculative fiction. After being fired from a thankless job in retail sales, he began to write his own stories. His books are favorites among fans of Sin City, The Martian, The Punisher, and Firefly. His work is a fast paced, no-nonsense, thrill ride into many genres.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The Sixteen Sunsets saga focuses on several super-powered humans as well as some not-so-super. It takes place in the near future, and we discover that superpowers have existed all along. More and more supers are "coming out," and the powerful fear what they cannot control.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
Joel Cotejar did the cover for the first book, and he'll start on the cover to book three, "Starfall," in 2018. This one features major characters, Bree, and the immortal, Anne.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Ken Grimwood, Chuck Wendig, Wes Chu, Zen DiPietro, David Kristoph, April Daniels, Greg Dragon, Delilah Dawson, and Natalie Wright. These writers are so talented, they make me suffer from imposter syndrome.

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Science Fiction & Fantasy
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It’s not the end of the world. Yet.