The Infinite League

In THE INFINITE LEAGUE, we meet Emily Watts.  In her world, super-heroes are real....although she isn't a big fan of them.  But she's about to get a lot closer to them than she ever planned.   In the first of our chapter excerpts, we get to know a little about Emily....and why she's so pissed off.

Chapter 1

EMILY

Tuesday, April 29 - 5 p.m.

 

 

            This is a story about good guys and bad guys, caped wonders and fiendish criminals, and the grey areas that lie in between. This is the story of how the untimely death of one of the worlds’ greatest super-heroes would change not only my life, but also the rest of the world. But hey, I’ll get to that soon enough. This is my story, after all. Let me tell you a little bit about me.

            The first thing you should know about me is that I’m not a fan of people who fly around in capes, flaunting their powers and trying to protect us little people from the forces of evil. My name is Emmeline Watts. My friends call me Emily. I couldn’t give two shits about costumed super-heroes.

            Mom told me what she found most attractive about my dad was his love of children. But there was so much more to him than that. He was a handsome man, extremely kind, very strong, and he had no patience for bullies. If he hadn’t become a police officer, I always imagined that he would have been a teacher. He served on the force for over thirty years, he volunteered as a little league coach, he worked as a scout master, he was a deacon of the Baptist church, a devoted husband, and a doting father to me and my two sisters.

             He was my super-hero, in a world where guys like him are often overlooked by the ones that fly over our heads every day. I never found it fair that men like him are marginalized by the actions of people who are famous because they can fly, start fires with their fingers, or happen to be bullet proof.

             My dad faced dangerous felons every day without amazing powers or fancy gadgets. That’s real bravery, I think.

             The park I’m sitting in was named after him, in honor of the years of service he gave to Philadelphia. Some of the city council members had argued that we should name it after the Ambassador, or the Autumn Sentinel, or one of the many others that hog the front page of the newspaper every day. But in the end, they named the park after my father. To hear the sound of children playing every day in the shadow of his statue; he deserved that much.

            Officer Edward Watts, the bravest man I’ve ever known. He was fifty-two when he finally lost his fight to cancer, taken from this world way too soon. He won’t even get to see his youngest grandson grow up, that’s the really shitty injustice of it all.

            “Fifteen more minutes, Caleb,” I called out to the nine-year-old boy with the scraped knees and unruly brown hair. “Don’t give me that look, I gotta hit the road here, kid.”

He turned away from me suddenly, jumping back on the slide with his friend. My son heard me, although his pouting expression told me he was pretending that he didn’t.

            He’s still stinging from the news that I lost my job three months ago. He’s so proud that his mama is….was….a police officer, and it nearly destroyed me to tell him I had left the force. The worst part was explaining what happened to Dad. He was in the hospital at the time, fighting the biggest battle of his life, and my stupid sister had to let it slip that I had my shield taken away. I don’t care what the therapist told me, I’m always going to fear that final disappointment was what broke his will to keep fighting.

            I reach out to the post and touch the plaque with his name on it, feeling suddenly unworthy to have my fingers upon the words. I know he’s watching over me.  I know he’s proud of me, regardless of the stupid bullshit that happened this year. But I still feel like a failure.

            Thinking about him makes my eyes sting, which I know he’d hate to see. Before Caleb notices that I’m tearing up, I swipe my hand across my cheek to brush away the moisture. I feel a tender sting, and that’s when I’m reminded of the light purple bruise darkening my cheek.

            “Hell,” I whisper to myself. I reach into the pit of disorderly chaos that is my purse, and find my compact mirror and the crumbling remains of my last tin of concealer.

            It was three days ago, but it still hurts like a bitch—and the last thing I need to hear is a lecture from my big sister.

            On the other side of the mirror, I see a face I almost don’t recognize anymore. It’s all the crying, really. I take in all the details, sizing myself up as if looking at a stranger. I look at a woman in her early thirties with long, straggly dishwater blonde hair, stormy blue eyes, and dark eyebrows in desperate need of grooming.

            There’s another bruise on my upper arm from where some moron got a lucky roundhouse kick that knocked me on my ass Saturday night. My knuckles are still discolored after accidentally punching a wall instead of his face. Fortunately, Philadelphia is still pretty cool in early April, and the jacket and gloves I’m wearing don’t look terribly out of place. They hide the bruises nicely. I brush another light layer of concealer over my cheek, and examine myself again.

            I look good, I suppose. Not good enough to keep Caleb’s father in my life, but I’ve still got it going on.

“Hey, airhead? Are you in a meditative trance, or are just ignoring me?”

             Only one voice can always make me smile, besides Caleb. My big sister, even though she’s a good three inches shorter than me. Between the garbage at work and putting Dad into the ground, Ann-Marie gets me through it all.

            “Hey there, nerd,” I greet her with an exhausted wave of my hand, shoving the make-up back in my bag. “How’s life in the fast-paced world of finance?”

            Ann-Marie wrinkles her nose at me, shrugging off the sarcastic remark. She works in the bank branch in the local supermarket, where she’s been since getting out of college. Not a lot of ambition, but at least she has a husband that brings home the bacon.

            “Well, we’re doing better than the main branch,” she told me, as she ran thin fingers through her sloppy brown locks. “Someone tried to hit it today. You didn’t hear the news?”

            “Didn’t check the news, I’ve been swimming through job apps today. Someone tried to hit it?”

            “Bunch of young kids,” she explained, taking a seat next to me on the bench. “They came in with a steak knife and a malfunctioning stun gun. It was strictly amateur night.”

            “Who was on the scene?” I’ll bet it was Kyle, the cute single dad from the robbery division. Or maybe it was Vincent, the hot black guy from homicide that I hooked up with on Groundhog Day, twelve hours before he mysteriously lost my phone number. “Please don’t tell me it was Seth Sharp. If you tell me it was Seth Sharp, I’m going to puke.”

            “No, I think they said his name was the Blue Mole,” she replied.

            I made the face I usually make right after I take a good sober look at whatever stranger ended up in my bed on Sunday morning.

            “You’re doing it again,” she told me.

            “What?”

            “You’re making that face. The resting bitch face.”

            “I’m sorry, the Blue fucking Mole?”

            “Good Lord, Emily, you’re at a playground,” she snapped, looking around nervously. “Yeah, the Blue Mole. That’s what Kathy told me. Is he a famous Spark?”

            “He’s a joke,” I groaned, leaning back against the cold bench. “He’s just a regular guy in a homemade costume running around trying to be famous. There are more of those losers running around than actual enhanced people.”

            “That explains why he was handing out business cards with his website on it,” Ann-Marie realized. “Why do people do that?”

            “Because the world is full of stupid people trying to become famous. You show me a real famous person, and I’ll show you someone who just got lucky. Fame is an accident, half the time.”

            “Aunt Annie!” Caleb was dashing across the playgrounds towards us, nearly taking out a couple of younger kids in the process. His face broke out into a wide grin as he slammed into Ann-Marie, locking his thin little arms around her waist. “Are we ordering pizza tonight?”

            “Oh, now you’re ready to go?” Why does my child always behave better around other people, especially when I’m watching?

            “I heard a super-hero stopped a robbery today,” he babbled excitedly. “Was it Necromancer? Was it DeathTek?”

            Ann-Marie disentangled herself from Caleb’s fingers, shaking her head regretfully. “It wasn’t much of a robbery, kiddo.”

            “It wasn’t much of a super-hero,” I added quietly.

            “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a super-hero,” he promised, brushing errant strands of hair out of his eyes. “I’m gonna be just like Ambassador.”

            “I think you have to be born on another planet to be like Ambassador,” I pointed out.

            “Mom, I want to make the world better for everyone,” he argued. “Like you and grandpa do.”

            “Then be a police officer or a firefighter or a doctor,” I suggested, almost a bit harsher than I had intended. “I’d be just as proud of you if you did that.”

            “That takes years of extra school,” he grunted. “Plus, the heroes don’t fuck each other over just to save their jobs.”

            I shot an irritated look at my sister, who was already biting her lip and trying futilely to will the blushing in her cheeks away. “We’ll have a word about your potty mouth tomorrow. Why don’t you hop in the car, Caleb. I’m sure you have some homework that needs to be done before you scarf down some pizza.”

            “Love you, Mom,” he screams as he ran in the direction of the parking lot. I let the awkward silence just simmer for a bit as I continued showering Ann-Marie with withering glares.

            “So, any news on your appeal?” She was trying to defuse the situation with a friendly change of direction in the conversation, but that hadn’t worked since we were kids.

            “No, Seth Sharp and Captain Pierce are buddies, it’s over for me. Could you ask your husband to try and watch his language when he’s giving Caleb his opinion of my career trajectory, please?”

            “Yeah, like you have the mouth of an angel,” she weakly replied.

            “I don’t know what you’re fucking talking about. Are you sure you don’t mind watching Caleb for the night?”  I hate dropping my son on her like this, and I try not to do it often. But she loves the kid, and he has fun with his cousins. As much as we disagree on a lot of things, she’s been such a rock in my life this year.

            “It’s fine, we were all just going to have a pizza and a movie night together anyway,” she promised. “So is this a hot date?”

            “Yeah, I wish,” I answered sadly, as I pulled a twenty dollar bill out of my purse. “I haven’t had vitamin D in so long, a gentle breeze gets me off.”

            “Don’t be gross, sis.”

            “I’m serious, I’m like a virgin again.”

            “Lalalalalalala….”

            “Fine, don’t be supportive,” I grumbled, handing her the money. “Here’s some bucks for the pizza.”

            “Put your money away, you’re out of work,” she grimaced, keeping her hands firmly planted in her pocket. “So where are you going? Job interview, maybe?”

            “Job opportunity,” I smiled vaguely, kissing her cheek and shoving the money into her pocket. “Say hi to Charles for me.”

            “You’d better not be stripping.”

            “Shut up, nerd,” I told her as we walked to the parking lot. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

            “You aren’t doing what I think you’re doing, are you?” she asked seriously, looking at my face suspiciously.

            “You remember I’m a big girl, right?”

            “You’re going to get your badge back, Emily,” she said, with much more certainty than I could ever muster. “Please don’t tell me you’re doing one of those stupid underground cage matches I keep hearing about. There’s safer ways to get money.”

            My sister, like always, was so hilariously off base I wanted to laugh.

“Please don’t tell Caleb that,” I whispered. “I don’t want him searching YouTube trying to see mom getting her teeth kicked in every week. You know he’s worries like an old woman.”

            “Charles was right, you are doing cage fighting,” she yelped, grabbing my bruised arm and tugging painfully. “Are you out of your gosh darned mind?”

            “You two actually had a discussion about this? God, I’m not cage fighting, you dork.”

It was the truth, I really wasn’t. I had crossed that off my list of possible sources of income once I found out that beginner fighters typically don’t get paid at first. Screw that. “I’m looking for opportunities in private security, okay? I’ll tell you how it went in the morning.”

            “I know when you’re lying, you know,” Ann-Marie said knowingly, carefully shoving the twenty dollar bill back into my pocket. “Don’t do anything Dad would be ashamed of.”

            It was a dirty tactic, and she knew it. I put the money back into her pocket, and gave her a withering glare that advised her to keep it, and be content that she at least got the last word in.

            I waved at Caleb once again, and blew my sister a kiss before heading over to my car.

            Had I known it was going to be the last time I would be seeing them, I’d probably have left on better terms.

 

 

 

            Four years ago, when I was a police officer, my partner and I arrested Eamon Flanagan and a bunch of other lowlifes when they attempted to rob a small jewelry store in Walnut Hill. On first glance, Flanagan seemed like nothing more than an uneducated Irish thug with a twice-broken nose and callused meat for fists. But underneath the thuggish surface lurked a deceptively talented gift for quietly breaking into places you’re not supposed to be. He was the one who had expertly bypassed the alarm system, allowing his crew to wander in and freely help themselves to the treasures inside.

                        If Seth Sharp and I hadn’t happened to be driving past that store in the three-minute window they had allotted for themselves, they probably would have succeeded. As it turned out, I brought a promising career in felony theft to an end that night. He got out on parole just a few months ago, and the job market has ironically been just as unkind to him as it has been to me.

                        For us to be working together in any capacity is just the most deranged of cosmic jokes, but here I was, standing on the doorstep of his apartment.

                        He was a bit more muscular than he was four years ago, but no less unattractive. Maybe it was that consistent leer on his face, or the fact that his breath reeked of cheap cigars, or his ridiculous ratty hairstyle that looks like the type of mullet a meth-head would adopt. 

            “Well, if it ain’t me favorite rosspot,” he said, favoring me with an unrequested wink and a flamboyant wave of his hand. “Please, step into my boudoir, Officer Watts.”

            “A boudoir is a woman’s private sitting room, you dumb shit,” I explained to him as I walked past, while giving him just enough eye contact to remind him who was in charge here. “Are we ready to do this thing?”

                        “Always ready for a pint and a scuttle,” he told me. “What sort of mischief is we playing at tonight, Officer Watts?”

                        I’ve asked him twice not to refer to me as officer. He knows I’ve been dismissed from the force, and he’s just saying it to get under my skin. It’s his petty revenge tactic for spending three years in prison---because of a female officer, no less. You’d think the money he’s making would be enticement enough to behave.

                        “Stop causing trouble, Eamon,” said a new voice from the other side of the apartment. “She may not be a cop anymore, but I’m sure she could get your probation revoked.”

                        “And if I can’t, I know Sadaf could swim into your police records and add a few interesting felony violations,” I added. “Then we’ll talk about mischief.”

                        Sadaf Sayegh. She’s been a friend of mine for several years now, and she’s also one of the most brilliant computer hackers I’ve ever met. She’s a beautiful young Muslim woman from the small Middle East country of Habindaque, and probably one of the sweetest souls I’ve ever met. Considering everything she’s endured in her home country, I have no idea how she manages to retain that big heart of hers.

            She wore a lovely purple hijab trimmed with gold stripes around her head, and a conservative but dark set of pants that allowed her to run in. Normally she preferred to wear a robe, but she’s smartly dressed for the job ahead.

            “Let’s not be getting nasty, girls,” Eamon finally said with a wave of surrender. “We’re just here to make some money.”

            “It’s not just about the money,” I reminded him quickly. “Don’t forget about that. This is about making the world a better place.”

            “The money is just going to be a happy fringe benefit,” Sadaf pointed out, as she slid her laptop computer into a leather satchel. “There’s a lot of friends and family I could feed with twelve thousand dollars.”

            “And I have some strippers what’s needing some college tuition,” Eamon nodded. “Who’s the target tonight?”

            “Sam Fleckmore,” I said firmly. “He owns a property in Rittenhouse Square. Eamon is going to quietly break into his home, Sadaf is going to hack into his personal computer, and then we’ll all wait for him to come home so I can have a quiet conversation with him.”

           Eamon knew the plan, this wasn’t the first time we had operated this scam together. But he didn’t know the target was Sam Fleckmore.

           “Moving up in the world, aren’t you girlie?”

           Anything that could cause Eamon Flanagan, two-time convicted felon and world class sadistic prick, to stop in his tracks and stare at me in astonishment, was a genuine moment to savor. This was going to be an interesting night.

In chapter Three,  Emily and her two companions -- an Irish thug named Eamon with a talent for breaking into places, and a female Muslim hacker named Sadaf; have broken into the home of a man downloading child porn on his computer.   They've successfully extorted money from him, with plans on using the information they  received to go after the supplier.   Emily will be donating a portion of the money to charity, and it seems like a perfect operation.    But  Emily has a feeling that they're not quite out of danger yet....

3

The Stray Bullet

Tuesday, April 29 – 8:30 p.m.

 

 

            I don’t consider myself a hero. In a world where men and women are seen flying over the skies, lifting cars with their bare hands, and attacking each with beams of energy, the word hero sounds so pedestrian to me.

            Sadaf suggested that the only difference between a super-hero and myself are my lack of actual enhanced abilities. After all, there are quite a few heroes and villains without real powers. True, most of them are just clueless kooks that walk around the streets of major cities, looking for fights to get into. But there are a few people the government technically classifies as Sparks simply because of the specialized gadgets or training they possessed.

            This was the fifth time that I had lead Sadaf and Eamon into a potentially dangerous situation. Sadaf had been my friend for years, and she believed in my crusades. Eamon did it purely for mercenary reasons, of course, but at least I was putting his particular skill set towards helping people for once in his life. If I deserved to be called a hero for anything, it was for that.

            The moment that we had gotten back to Eamon’s apartment, the others had already began to breathe easier. His apartment was on the sixth floor, and the balcony provided a spectacular view of Philadelphia. I could see past the Convention Center, over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and almost into New Jersey.

            For the first half-hour, I kept a vigilant eye on the city below us. Sadaf had plugged in the stolen computer immediately, immersing herself in the task of backtracking the source of all the vile videos and images in Fleckmore’s private files. Eamon was relaxing on his couch, a cold beer in hand, mentally spending the money that I’d be paying him.

            Every time the flash of red and blue police lights blinked on the streets, I felt a nervous apprehension of a job gone horribly bad, and the cruel sting of a career stolen by greedy and immoral men. But they never turned toward the apartment. We seemed to be safe.

            From the kitchen table, Sadaf grunted painfully before popping a few painkillers into her mouth. She gently massaged one of the uncountable aching spots on her back, and then returned to her task.

            “How you doing, honey?”

            “Could use another beer and maybe a handjob,” Eamon replied from the other room. “But since Sadaf’s hands are a little busy, maybe you’d like to come over here and give my flute a nice little how-do-you-do?”

            He was a repulsive Irish lout with all the charm and manners of a horny camel, but he did serve his purpose. Just the same, there was only so much I was willing to tolerate from him.

            “Ignore him, Sadaf,” I advised her. “He’s so skeevy, his flesh light sued him for date rape.”

            “Even if I weren’t gay, I would never afford him the pleasure,” Sadaf said with a smirk, never looking up from her computer. She reached behind her to touch a spot on her shoulder blades, and winced.

            “Are you going to be okay?”

            “I’m fine,” she lied to me. “It just stings some nights more than others.”

            I nodded sympathetically without replying. To tell her that I understand how she feels would be incorrect and insulting. I respect her too much to do that. In her home country of Habindaque, she was dragged out into the streets and publically whipped twenty times. All for the grievous crime of loving another human being that just happened to be the same gender. I know my share of wonderful Muslim families; men and women who would never dream of harming another person just because they live their life differently from them. It’s no different than this ridiculous church of so-called Christians in Kansas that spend their days protesting any little thing that pisses them off. They’re screwed up individuals, but it doesn’t color my opinion of the entire religion. Truth be told, it’s extremist attitudes like those that helped forge me into the happy atheist that I am today.

            “The money transfer went through?”

            “Perfectly, as always,” she reported. “Twenty thousand dollars have been deposited into the account. Shall I make the arrangements that we’ve agreed upon?”

            “Thirty-five hundred in my private account, three thousand for you, another three for our idiot friend back there. The rest goes to the charity.”

            “It’s done,” she confirmed, closing the laptop after a few more keyboard strokes. “I’ve got some other good news, too. I think I’ve backtracked the smut to the source.”

            “You have to be kidding me.”

            “It was a pretty secure encryption algorithm, I’ll be honest,” she admitted with just a hint of a smug smile. “But I got lucky. I used a side channel attack by looking at the greasy smudges on the man’s screen, and that allowed me to narrow down his password. Then just now, I used a little dash of acoustic cryptanalysis with my smart phone, and I could hear the telltale signs that the computer was decrypting some data containing a ten-year-old girl.”

            “Yeah, so I’m going to pretend like I understood more than two words of that sentence so you won’t think I’m a complete moron.”

            “It didn’t take much longer to backtrack the e-mail, and discover the ISP address of the sender,” she continued. “I’ve cracked open the ISP, and I’ve identified the computer belonging to Christopher Whitfield of New York City.”

            “Hold on, how’d this betty do this?” Eamon had joined the conversation now, staring at Sadaf with a suspicious look. “I didn’t think that was possible. You actually found his name and address?”

            “Under normal circumstances, it’s not possible,” I told him. “The only way you can do is to have a law enforcement agency submit a request to the person’s ISP and request an identity.”

            “Or you can hire a genius like me, and I’ll bypass all that bureaucratic nonsense,” she put in. “The point is, you have your big fish, boss. What’s the plan?”

            “Oi, you’ve got him by the clackers! You can probably get a million from this eejit,” Eamon suggested helpfully. “He’ll give a literal ton of cash to keep us from turning him in.”

            “I can live with letting someone like Fleckmore off with a slap on the wrist,” I told him. “But if Whitfield is the one responsible for all this garbage, he couldn’t pay me enough money to let him run free. Sorry to let you down, but today was the last paycheck on this particular trail. You’ve made nearly ten grand for a few weeks of easy work, so let’s not be greedy. I’m gonna turn this asshole over to the feds, and then we’ll throw ourselves into a new crusade.”

            “What a waste,” Eamon decided. He shook his head resentfully, but didn’t argue the point any further. He knew that once I’d made up my mind, the discussion was done.

            “Good work, honey,” I told Sadaf. “If I weren’t a straight woman, I’d kiss you.”

            Sadaf rested her head on her chin, and gave me a piercing glare. “You never let me have any fun.”

            It’s hard for me to describe how she sounded when she spoke those words to me. There was a hint of seductive naughtiness in her words, and a gleam of intense longing. I knew she’d had a bit of a crush on me since we first starting working together, but she was generally reserved and restrained. She locked eyes with me, and she held the gaze. Frankly, it was making me feel a bit uncomfortable. “You feeling alright, honey?”

            “I’m feeling fine,” she assured me, standing up and curling her fingers around the tip of her purple hijab. She gently pulled at it, unraveling the fabric and allowing her brunette hair to flow over her shoulders. “Would you like to feel me and find out for yourself?”

            Okay, this was definitely getting weird. Despite the abuse she’s suffered in her home country, Sadaf still adhered to the basic principles of her faith. I’d seen her remove her hijab once before, but she’d normally never take it off in the presence of a man who wasn’t part of her family…and certainly not near a walking hard-on like Eamon.

            “Do you need some water?” I walked over to the fridge, but Sadaf’s eyes were following me like a hawk.

            I shot a glance at Eamon, wondering what he thought of this odd side to her behavior, but he was staring at the ceiling with a terrified look in his eyes. There was nothing but white plaster above him. Whatever he was looking at was something he alone was seeing. Something was happening to us.

            “I don’t need water,” Sadaf repeated, this time tugging her black blouse up over her body. Her unrestrained breasts bounced free, revealing a side to Sadaf that I’d never wanted to see. “I need you.”

            There was a dry taste in my mouth. Eamon was batting his hands at unseen objects around his face. My best friend was trying to molest me. Something was going very wrong!

            “I need you so bloody bad,” Sadaf continued. She placed her fingers against her cheek, and scratched her cheek.

            In front of my eyes, a huge chunk of bloody meat came off of her cheek, splattering on the floor in front of my feet. She stuck her tongue out and laughed, and reached for me.

            “What the fuck, Sadaf?” I jumped backwards, knocking over a wine bottle in the process. It shattered on the floor, and the sound echoed through my head with painful reverberations. “What’s going on with you?”

            There were two more figures in the living room now, approaching all of us in the kitchen. One was a large figure that appeared as a black silhouette, shimmering like a hazy shadow in a desert. The other was a pale white glowing image of a woman, laughing despite her hands covered with fire.

            There was a small flower vase on the edge of the sink, and it was right within my reach. Sadaf was getting closer to me now, and black ooze was now pouring from her nose and mouth. Her eyes had turned red, but still she was smiling. She kept get closer.

            “Put your hands on me, Emily,” she was saying. “Possess me body and soul, my flower.”

            My first instinct was to hit her with the vase. More flesh was dripping off of her face now, revealing the porcelain white bone beneath. Her fingertips stretched out and touched my face.

            The dark figure in the background just stood there, waving his hands. He seemed to be the least threatening presence in the room.

            That’s exactly what he would want me to think, I assumed, if he didn’t want me to attack him. I went with my instincts and threw the vase directly at his head. There was a satisfying sound of the vase shattering into dozens of shards. As the dark figure fell on his back, everything went back to normal.

            Eamon was shaking his head, disoriented and angry. Sadaf was still sitting at her chair, with all of her clothes and her skin still intact.

            “I saw the most terrible things,” Sadaf whispered, gripping the table tightly to keep from falling off of her chair. “Oh Emily, what just happened?”

            I looked in the direction of the two figures that had intruded upon us. I knew the answer immediately. It damn near pissed myself.

            I know you’re probably confused right now, so let’s just put a pin in this moment of chaos. I want to go slightly off topic for a bit, just to bring you up to speed to what I was dealing with in this moment.

            I’m sure you know all about the Infinite League. As a police officer, I was hearing about their incidents on a weekly basis. As a mother, I was hearing about their incidents from my kid on a nightly basis. It’s the world we live in; you can’t get away from them.

            They weren’t the first Sparks to make their presence known in the world, but they were definitely the first to reach literal superstar status. Reportedly, they’ve never taken any serious injuries. Considering some of the psychopaths and megalomaniacs with ambitions of world domination and human subjugation that they’ve confronted over the last fifteen years, I have to admit they’ve had a remarkable track record. But the side effect is that it’s made the job of being a police officer a rather thankless and inglorious profession.

            The Ambassador is their leader, and he’s probably the strongest man on the entire planet. He’s gone on record many times claiming that he’s an alien from a doomed civilization somewhere out in the Andromeda galaxy, but who knows if that’s true? What I do know is that he stands over six feet tall, he has blonde hair and a tight goatee, and bright blue eyes. He’s got the body of a linebacker, he can pick up a car with one hand, take a bullet to the chest and just laugh it off, and leap over a house without breaking a sweat. He talks like a gentleman born and raised in the fifties, and he’d probably be embarrassed if he knew how many women touch themselves at night thinking about him. They actually sold a line of vibrators called “Little Ambassadors” for a while there, but his lawyers made the manufacturers discontinue it. Makes me glad I kept one of mine in the original package. It might be worth some money someday.

            DeathTek looks like a giant robotic action figure, and no one’s really sure if he’s the world’s first functioning artificial intelligence, or some regular dude riding around in the machine like a tank. I don’t know how quickly he goes through batteries, but he’s armed with hydraulic hands, guided stinger missiles and who knows what else under the hood. His true face is forever hidden behind a helmet that looks like a curved silver bell with a skull painted on it, and his voice is filtered and electronic and cold.

            Submission was, in my opinion, purely chosen to add some perverted sex appeal to the group. A red fabric mask hides most of her face, and she wears chains that connected to her wrists like a set of manacles. It’s like something out of an eighth grade boy’s fantasy. And don’t even get me started on how she walks around in those stripper boots of hers. She’s said to be a talented acrobatic virtuoso, she can fight a room full of men with her fancy ninja skills, and she can control people’s minds with some sort of mental powers. My sister is convinced that deep down, she’s probably a very nice young lady. But in my opinion, if she walks and talks like a ho….

            Andromeda is the complete opposite. A tall woman with short, punky blonde hair parading around in golden goggles and bright yellow skirts, she’s the most visible member of the team outside of the Ambassador himself. She flies through the air, and she starts fires with her mind. She carries herself like a princess, which is exactly how the majority of the world thinks of her. Seriously. This goes beyond just idolizing her like a pretty pop star; this girl is probably the most popular woman on the planet. She appears at charities, she models for fashion magazines, and she makes inspirational lectures at colleges on her days off.

            Then there’s the Necromancer.  He’s the guy people seem to know the least about. He’s a massive black guy wearing ebony cloaks and robes, and they call him an expert on death. I know more than anybody how these urban legends seem to get exaggerated, especially by a lot of the uneducated criminals that pour through the system like mud. But it’s said that he can kill men with just a touch of his fingers, and cause his victims to see illusions so vivid that they’ll go mad.

            If you’ve been following along with the story, you’ll probably guess where I’m getting at with this. It’s one thing to share the world with people that can fly or pick up city buses or fire electricity from their fingertips. It’s another to see one of them standing right in front of you.

            It downright terrifying to see one of them standing right in front of you immediately following the shenanigans we just pulled. The creepy, funky taste that had been coating my mouth was starting to drift away, as well as the strange visions. On the ground was a man wearing flowing black clothes and bracelets decorated with deep-blue jewels. Standing over him, curling her fingers and tightening her jaw into an angry snarl, was a woman wearing a frosted gold goggles, and a white and gold tunic with a burning flame insignia on the chest. There was only one person she could be. I had to say something.

            “I bought your perfume last month,” were the stupid words coming out of my stupid mouth.

            “You were spotted stealing property from a private citizen,” she said in a more authoritative voice than I could ever come up with when I was a cop. “Don’t you know stealing is illegal?”

            The Necromancer was starting to get to his feet, clutching his head in what I imagined was a great deal of pain. The stories of his illusion-casting powers were obviously true, he had someone caused all of us to hallucinate. The strange visions had vanished as soon as I clocked him with the vase.

            “This isn’t what you think it is,” I began, taking one step away from Andromeda. “It’s the bad guy we were stealing from…”

            “Listen, this was my day off,” Andromeda said sweetly, trying to reason with me as she took another step towards me to match my retreat. Around her forearms and wrists were leather bracelets, tightly wrapped to the point that it almost looked like it was cutting off her circulation. My eyes popped open when I noticed that they seemed to be sewn directly into her skin! I kid you not, the cords that slid through the eyelets of the bracelet were actually piercing her flesh, as if it had been surgically implanted! I squinted my eyes to take a closer look, and that’s when both of her arms burst into a controlled but blistering flame. It got my attention once again, and I locked eyes with the hero.

            “This is the fire of Huitzilopochtli,” she informed me.

            “What the hell?”

            “I don’t have to burn you. I don’t wish to. Just get down on the ground, citizen. Make this easy.”

            I leapt to the counter and grabbed the laptop. It had everything we needed to bring down Christopher Whitfield, and I wasn’t about to let him get away with his crimes. I hurled the computer at Eamon, and screamed at him to make a run for it. With any luck, after this situation calmed down, I could explain what we were doing. I’d even take a few days in lock-up if it meant Whitfield went down for the rest of his life.

            On the other hand, I helped escort a lot of women to prison. I might not be the most popular new inmate.

            And there was my son. My baby.

            I did the exact thing that I’ve told hundreds of kids and dozens of schools not to do when being questioned by authority figures. I panicked. I ran.

            Eamon ran one way, I ran the other. He ran towards the balcony, and began the dangerous climb down to the street with the laptop in hand. I ran around the corner, hoping to escape through the bedroom window. With any luck, as the heroes chased us, Sadaf could sneak away as well.

            As I moved down the hallway, I was nearly to the bedroom door when I felt strong fingers grab my hair and pull my head back. I didn’t even hear her run after me, but it was possible she was flying down the hall. I was lucky that she didn’t give me whiplash, the girl had definitely worked out. I slipped and fell on my hip when she pulled me back, and she was on top of me a moment later.

            “Get off of me!”

            Andromeda did not get off of me. I was in a seated position, trying to get the leverage to shove her away. But she was straddling my lap, pinning me down. When I continued to struggle, she landed a closed knuckled punch right across my cheek. I’d been hit harder, but not by much. Stars exploded in front of my eyes when she struck me, and I lay there in a daze. She placed her knees on my shoulder and ignited her hands once again, holding them over my face. It knew it was my last warning.

            From around the corner, I heard Eamon’s terrified scream, followed by a cacophony of crashing noises. It sounds like he made it down to the street, but not as slowly or carefully as he would have liked.

            “Young lady? You need to come out here, please,” Andromeda was calling out. “No one else needs to get hurt. Just keep your hands above your head and come to me.”

            From the living room, Sadaf stepped out. Her eyes were swollen with terror and fury.

            “You really need to put that down,” Andromeda said carefully.

            I’d never seen Sadaf handle a firearm. I didn’t even know if she knew how to fire one. But she had gotten into my duffel bag and retrieved my gun. She was now pointing the gun at the world’s most famous and popular heroine.

            Andromeda pointed her fingers towards Sadaf, and a twirling spiral of flames launched towards her! In other circumstances, I would have admitted what a beautiful display it really was. But things were getting very surreal and intense right now. We were fighting a super-hero.

            It wasn’t my intention to be the bad guy, but there was no talking my way out of it now. It was fight or flight…or die.

            The spiraling beam of fire didn’t hit her, but Sadaf dropped down to the floor to avoid it. Before Andromeda called another flaming missile into existence, I grabbed her arm and twisted.

            “Get off of her!” Sadaf screamed! From the corner of my eye, I could see her sitting up again, shakily pointing the gun in our direction. I wasn’t sure which of the two was more dangerous to me at the moment.

            “The big dude is out, I think he might have broken his neck.”  It was the Necromancer, who had returned to the other side of the hallway, now carrying the laptop. He stopped talking when he saw the situation.  On the other end of the hall, I was still struggling with Andromeda. Between him and us, Sadaf was screaming and waving the gun. The dark man leapt towards her and pulled her free arm, trying to drag her out of the hallway.

            Things got even stranger after that. As I pulled on Andromeda’s arm, the most bizarre experience occurred. Well, most bizarre up to that point, of course. The silver cords that attached the bracelets into Andromeda’s skin began to unravel loose! The cords were actually sliding out of her arm, wiggling and shaking like snakes. The bracelet was loosening, as if the cords were trying to find a new home.

            They were pressing themselves against my arm, and trying to dig their way into my skin! As the first one began to pierce my skin, I felt the agonizing sensation of scalding heat penetrate my entire hand! It felt as if my hand was on fire. A few seconds later, it really was. My hand was on fire, and it was burning Andromeda as well!

            “Holy shit, Chidike! Help me out here, this bitch is a Spark!”

            I had never heard Andromeda swear, nor refer to one of her team mates as what might have been his real name. Whoever these super heroes really were, their identities were a well-kept secret from everyone. But if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that Andromeda’s entire elegant persona was just a disguise, and she’d just broken character. But why did she call me a Spark?

            These were all thoughts that I would muse over later, of course. At the time, there was nothing going on in my blonde head but how much pain I was in, and how much I wanted it to stop.

            Andromeda punched me again, this time in the eye. I screamed, which made Sadaf scream, which made Necromancer pull her arm even more angrily.

            Then something happened that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Something I still have nightmares about.

            The gun discharged in the struggle. She missed me, although sometimes I wish she hadn’t.

            Andromeda’s head exploded next to mine.

            There was a pathetic whine and some twitching, and then her body fell lifeless on the floor next to me. The leather bracelet, once alive and trying to bond with my skin, went as cold and still as its bearer.

            Sadaf was perfectly still, her eyes wide with shock at what had happened. No amount of will power could make me move my legs. The most horrible thing that I could have been involved in had just happened right next to me.

            “I didn’t mean—“

            The rest of Sadaf’s weak apology was drowned out in the furious scream coming from Necromancer’s mouth. He grabbed Sadaf’s head and twisted it completely sideways. The snap was still echoing in my ears as he hurled himself down the hallway, raising his fist to hit me across the face.

The last thing I saw before the world went completely dark was Sadaf’s body slumping against the wall. Then, he hit me. He hit me hard.

By chapter Six, Emily has been through a lot.   She's been arrested by the Infinite League, and held in their government facility at an unknown underground location.    After days of tests conducted by Colonel Franklin Bridge (and an unpleasant encounter with the super-hero Submission) Emily begins to wonder why she hasn't seen a lawyer, or why she hasn't been allowed to contact her family.

Chapter 6

The Lonely Grave

Sunday, May 4 – 10 a.m.

So two more nights passed, with me stuck in my lonely padded cell with nothing to keep me company except my thoughts. Did my family know what had happened to me? What was Caleb going through? His father had walked out on him when he was four, and now he probably thinks his mother had vanished without a trace. I just wanted to let him know that he hadn’t lost me, too.

            Without access to a calendar or my phone, I had no idea how many days it had been since I’d been detained. None of the guards would tell me, and I’ve been unconscious so many times since the incident, I couldn’t even guess what day it was.

            Today was the first day I’d seen sunlight since being arrested. For the last hour, I’d been sitting in the back seat of a black Lincoln town car. Two armed soldiers flanked the vehicle, preventing me from leaving. I’d been given a new dark blue skirt and blouse to replace the grey jogging pants that I’d been sweating in for the last several days, as well as iron manacles on my wrists and irons on my ankles to keep me from trying to wander away.

            It was morning, and we were parked in a cemetery that I’d never been to before. I couldn’t see the city from here, but somehow I knew we were far from Philadelphia.

            There was a funeral being held, but I wasn’t invited to the service. Colonel Bridge had brought me here, but he’d left me here in the car. All I could do was wait.

            I’m sure I wouldn’t have been welcomed anyway. They were pretty far away, but I could see a crowd of thirty people gathered at the ceremony. Uniformed soldiers mostly, plus a few civilians. I could see DeathTek in the back of the crowd, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the group. I thought I saw the Necromancer at one point, but he was obscured by the wave of bodies clustered together. Submission was addressing the crowd, but she kept her head down while she spoke. Even from this distance, I could tell it was an emotional gathering.

            Why did he even bring me here? Some sort of emotional punishment, or fucked up interrogation tactic? I had expected to be arrested and booked for murder charges, but I’d been dragged into the heroes’ private headquarters and held captive for days. After the sadistic incident yesterday, what with the soldiers and Submission using me as a punching bag, I was still scratching my head. If they weren’t going to kill me and they weren’t putting me through the legal system, then why kick the shit out of me and not even ask me any questions?

            It’s almost as if Colonel Bridge hadn’t quite decided what to do with me yet, and he was keeping himself entertained by having me smacked around physically and emotionally.

            I leaned back in my seat and decided to take a nap. For once, it’d be nice to get some sleep because it suited me, not because I’d been drugged or kicked in the face.

            Of course, even that humble request got shot down a few minutes later when the door was opened and the pair of soldiers pulled me suddenly out of my nap. When they pulled me out of the car, I had to bounce in my shackles a bit to keep from falling over. I’m sure Colonel Bridge found my awkward jumping endlessly hilarious, but I tried to stay as dignified as I possibly could. I wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of seeing me beg for mercy.

            “Unlock her,” Colonel Bridge ordered, gesturing towards my leg irons and handcuffs. “Unlock everything.”

            Okay. That, I didn’t quite expect. As the soldiers unlocked me, my first instinct was to run as fast as I could. But it seemed too easy, which meant that there was no way I would have escaped. For all I knew, they wanted to claim that I was shot trying to escape.

            I looked in the direction of where the funeral procession was, but it had already broken up. People were getting into cars and driving away, and there was no sign of the super-heroes anymore. The funeral was over, and the colonel and his two cronies were the only ones left in sight.

            “Walk with me, Miss Watts,” he told me.

            Colonel Bridge began walking down the dusty road in the cemetery, heading purposefully back towards the site of the funeral service. Behind me, both soldiers stayed a few feet behind, but they kept pace with me. They were ready to move if I decided to deviate from the path. I’m sure by now they’d heard what I did to the four grunts in the gymnasium, so they weren’t going to take any chances with me.

            These two had weapons on their hips, and their fingers were resting on the holsters. This wasn’t the time to test them. I walked.

            “How’s your head?” I asked him in as genuine tone as I could manage.

            “I bit my lip when you kicked me,” he admitted. “I think I’ll pull through though, thanks for your concern.”

            “Why haven’t I seen a lawyer yet? Have you even filed formal charges yet?”

            “Excuse me?”

            “I’m a little fuzzy on how long I’ve been in custody, but I’m sure it’s nearly ninety-six hours. That’s the maximum amount of hours you can hold someone suspected of murder in—“

            “Yes, I know you know your rights,” the colonel said, cutting me off with an impatient wave of his hands. “But you can be held for three weeks if you’ve been arrested for violating the Terrorist Act.”

            “Two weeks,” I corrected him.

            “When it involves Enhanced Humans, its three weeks,” he shot back. “People with powers have to be handled with more caution than the rest of us, you understand.”

            “Okay, I guess I get that,” I answered. I was trying to sound cooperative, but it sounded like some bullshit rhetoric designed to keep me in custody indefinitely. Then again, I did a little bit more than just key someone’s car.

            “It’s my job to see that those with special powers don’t use their abilities for criminal purposes. If you have powers, and you wish to operate as a super hero, you register with my office. You can’t be a cop without a badge, and you can’t be a super hero without a piece of paper with my name on it. You understand that, right?”

            “Everything except why we’re talking about this. I don’t have any powers.”

            “If a Spark working for the DSA is killed in the line of duty, it’s my office’s responsibility to find who’s to blame, and to punish them accordingly.”

            “There’s no mystery here. Sadaf Sayegh accidentally shot her,” I said in an even voice. “This was shortly before your Necromancer broke her damn neck. I didn’t think any of this was in dispute.”

            “It’s not,” he admitted.

            “So what about him, then? You planning to hold him accountable for what he did to my friend?”

            “He’ll answer for what he’s done,” the colonel said. “But right now, we’re talking about you. I want to know why an ex-cop was hanging out with a man with a record as long as my arm. A man you yourself put away, interestingly enough.”

            “You ask him. He loves to hear the sound of his own voice.”

            “Eamon Flanagan won’t be talking anytime soon. He fell from a five story window trying to escape custody, and he’s currently comatose. It’s unlikely he’s going to last much longer.”

            Damn. He might not have been my favorite person, but he was helping put some very disgusting people away. He deserved better than this slow, miserable trudging walk to the grave.

            “Eamon was an expert at getting past security systems,” I explained. “His parole and my removal from the force happened to coincide quite nicely.”

            “In order to help you steal Christopher Whitfield’s personal computer.”

            “It sounds like you guys have already made your minds up about me,” I remarked testily. “Does it matter why I was doing it?”

            “I’m giving you the chance to explain, aren’t I?”

            Yes, he was. On a quiet road in the middle of a cemetery, somewhere far from Philadelphia. Somewhere no one could hear us. Anything could happen to me, and no one would ever know.

            “We looked into your past, of course,” said the colonel. “You were fired a few months ago from the Philadelphia Police Department.”

            “I’d love to have a look at that file someday. I’ll bet it’s some fascinating fiction.”

            “It suggests that you propositioned your partner Seth Sharp for a number of sexual encounters, and then you attempted to blackmail him to his wife.”

            “You aren’t going to believe anything I say anyway,” I replied. “You look at me and just see the slut cop who killed America’s beloved super hero.”

            “So it’s not true?”

            “Oh, we had sex, but it was before I found out what sort of man he was. And I definitely tried to blackmail him, but it wasn’t for money and it certainly wasn’t for a second round of mediocre banging.”

            “Frankly, I’m not even interested in that part of your story, other than what it tells me about your character,” he decided. “Tell me about what you and Sadaf Sayegh had been involved in since leaving the police department?”

            “Sadaf was a talented hacker. She’d identified Whitfield as someone who’d been downloading a bunch of kiddie porn. We broke into his house to take his computer, which we were going to use to locate the supplier and take him down.”

            “While blackmailing Whitfield into giving you a big bribe in the meantime,” he noted.

            “A girl has to eat,” I shrugged. “And a huge portion of that money was going to go to a charity that does more for these kids than your fancy costumed superstars. I was after the big fish, you know what I mean?”

            The colonel nodded politely, guiding me towards the gravestone that the others had been gathered around earlier. “It’s true, there’s some things you normally don’t hear about the heroes wasting their times with.”

            Oh, that pissed me off. “You think it’s a waste of time to prevent a ten-year-old boy being forced to suck off some old freak for the enjoyment of hundreds of other equally sick freaks?”

            “That’s not what I said,” Colonel Bridge argued. “And I’d explain my position in greater detail, but I’m afraid I’m out of time and we’re at the end of the road.”

            We had stopped at the gravesite where the funeral had been held earlier. The dirt had been freshly moved, and the casket had been placed. The monument declared this the final resting place of a woman named Natalie George. Such a common sounding name for the world’s most famous heroine, I thought.

            “It’s really too bad Sadaf was killed,” Colonel Bridge said sadly. “She would have been a terrific asset back at headquarters. But things got messy, and to be honest, the boys back in Washington think you’re far less useful to us than she was.”

            In a terrifying moment, I noticed three things at once. First, there was an open grave just a few feet away from where Natalie was buried.  Second, Colonel Bridge had just maneuvered directly behind me. Third, the cocking of a pistol had just rang through the air.

            “Jesus, I have a son,” I hissed with closed eyes. I couldn’t move a muscle, every pore on my body tensed up. “It was an accident!”

            “This whole escapade has been an accident,” he whispered.

            Those next ten seconds were the longest of what I assumed would be the last seconds of my life. There’s an amazing amount of memories and regrets you can access in just ten seconds. I had nearly made a grudging peace with my impending death when I heard him holster his pistol, and walk away.

            I realized I was all but hyperventilating as I saw the colonel and his two guards walk away from me. They were heading back to the car, leaving me there alone.

            “What the hell is going on?”

            “If it weren’t for one unexpected detail, you’d be down in the ground right now,” he told me. “But you may still have a chance to make this all right.”

            As he got into the car with his guards and drove away, I found myself left alone in the middle of a massive graveyard. I suddenly felt a nervous knot in my stomach, as if a gunshot from an unseen assassin was about to take me out at any moment. I started thinking about looking for some cover, such as behind a nearby tree or behind one of the nearby mausoleums. But there didn’t seem to be anyone in the area.

            Was I alone? Did they expect me to stay put, or to run?

            There was a rustling of fabric fluttering behind me, like a flag caught in the wind. I turned around, but no one was there.

            “Up a bit,” said a friendly voice.

            I looked up, and discovered that it wasn’t a flag, but a cape. The cape was white and gold, and attached to the massive shoulders of a man that I’d only seen on television. He was tall, and beautiful, and he was staring down at me from his vantage point ten feet above the Earth.

            The Ambassador was floating in the air like a god, gripping a black satchel slung around his shoulder, and favoring me with the warmest smile a girl could ask for.

            “Hello, Miss Watts,” he said to me. “I believe that you and I should have a talk.”

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