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Philanthropy Month One:

January
Chapter One
Prologue
I think that for the sake of convenience, I should just lay it all out for you here and now. The
story technically starts at twelve-o'-clock AM on January 1st, 201X, New Year's Day, but there's
a lot of stuff that you would probably like to know about, and if I try to cover it all as I tell you
the events of those days and beyond, it might be kind of confusing, and I myself will probably
even lose track of what I'm trying to say. So this is basically all of the vital information that you
need to know about my life prior to that date and time. You need to know it because it's basically
all I knew about, and it's all I was even concerned about.
I should probably start by introducing myself.
Hi.
I'm Ethan. Ethan Kyler.
I'm 19 now, but I was 18 before everything started. I'm taller than everyone I know. I'm at sixfeet-six-inches now, and I think I've hit my peak. I also put on some healthy weight recently, a
lot of good muscle so I look a lot leaner and trimmer, but before I was super skinny and lanky. I
looked like a bunch of pipe cleaners stuck end to end. I'm telling you all of this because I want
you to get a good picture in my head of what I looked like before, because in my opinion that's
kind of important to this whole thing. What hasn't really changed is my face and hair. Everyone
in my family has bright green, hazel-ish eyes, but I've got these dark circles around my eyes, not
really bags, but my eyes kinda sink into my face. My friends say that that, combined with my
messy black hair, really help me pull off the emo kid look, but that's not really my fault, and I'm
not really sure if that's how I want to look, but it's worked for me so far, I guess. I also used to be
kind of pale, not see-your-veins-through-your-skin-vampire kind of pale, but I was definitely
pastier than a bowl of yogurt for sure. The color sort of came back to my skin and I got a little bit
tanner, just a little bit, over the course of the year, like how I got ripped.
I'm going to a university nearby now. I'm a film major and I'm planning on finishing with a focus
in film writing or directing or something like that, but definitely something where I have control
over characters. In high school I wasn't really studious or anything like that, which I guess I'll tell
you more about later, but the point I'm trying to get to is that I really, really, really like movies.
Watching movies is pretty much my favorite pastime. I don't know if I have a favorite movie or
director or actor or anything like that in particular, but I like all kinds of stuff. I'm big on
blockbuster movies, like Star Wars or Die Hard, but I also like some indie movies. My favorite
indie film is probably this Irish black comedy called The Guard. It stars Brendan Gleeson and
Don Cheadle, and it's a buddy cop movie about an Irish police officer in the sticks. I also like
grunge music, like the rock music from the 90's and whatever followed. My favorite band is
probably Pearl Jam.

As far as my social life is concerned, my friends circle is larger now but it's still kind of tightknit and back when this all started I really only had three good friends, and one of them was
slash is my girlfriend, who started going out with me around the time all this started. I pretty
much only went out if it was a date or if we were all going to a movie, or if it was for band stuff
(not school band, band band. I'll tell you more later, because the band is really important.) I
recently moved out, but at the beginning I had been out of my parents' place and living with my
sister for at least two years.
I don't get along with my parents.
The Kyler family, at least on my dad's side, is a clan of Irishmen who sailed to New York City
during the potato famine. My grandpa or my great-grandpa or somebody along those lines then
scrounged up whatever money he had left (which was still a lot, considering he made the trip to
America fine) and traveled out west. He settled down in California, and I don't really remember
the rest of the details, but he made a killing in real estate, selling land to other immigrants, I
think. The family business wasn't ever as huge as all the housing giants that were in the news a
few years ago, but even though my parents are still pretty filthy rich, they got hit pretty bad. Of
course, for rich white people, that really doesn't mean anything, but it had a big impact on me.
See, the business is passed down through the first-born men, like some kind of monarchy, but my
dad decided that he was gonna change it up and offered the business this time to my older sister,
Sarah, who I'll get to in a bit. Unfortunately for pops, Sarah decided that managing dusty land for
houses was for chumps, and she went on to study art and fashion design, and I'm the only other
sibling. So my dad was super poised to have me inherit the business, which I, like my sister,
didn't care for at all, but he was dead-fucking-set on raising me to be this sort of super-miniDonald Trump. But also, through some weird twisted logic, I also had to prove myself worthy of
my inheritance, and at the time I was slumping pretty hard in school and chores and stuff. My
mom and dad talked it over, and ma had the wonderful suggestion of sending me to live with my
sister, for whom they had already put down a nice apartment nearby the university she was
attending. Apparently, getting a taste of living on my own with someone more responsible than
me was supposed to help me build character, but it didn't really help.
I spent most of my high school career slacking, just barely getting by without drawing attention
from anybody. I made sure my parents didn't have to see my grades or go to parent-teacher
conferences, and if my parents even had to go to something like that they were always busy with
something- pops with work, ma usually accompanying him, like little mini-vacations. So I
managed to get by scot-free for most of high school. Fun times for a kid about to finish up his
last year of public education.
I still had to deal with Sarah though.
I love Sarah to death, I really do. But we're pretty much nothing alike. The only thing we have in
common is the Kyler eyes, but even then it's like we're different kinds of Irish. She's the typical
ginger Irish chick, all red-haired and freckly all over, like someone flicked a paintbrush dipped in
crimson at her, and she's a whole foot shorter than me and kind of plump down the middle and
further down. I know I already said I was the pipe-cleaner guy, but to use food analogies this

time, if I was a stalk of celery, then she was a pear for sure. A really short, red, high-strung pear.
So, I guess, an apple then. Not really a pear at all.
She's studying fashion design, like I said, and she's a pretty huge fashionista and kind of a
hipster. I guess I shouldn't say that because I like to dress nice too, but I just put together clothes
that look nice from Goodwill and the sales racks. Sarah dresses really nice all the time, and
everything has to be red and match all the time. Her main hobbies are shopping for clothes and
spending time with her friends. Most of them are also art students who are kind of weird, but
she's way more extroverted and alcohol tolerant than her little brother, so she spends a lot of time
at parties and exhibits and stuff. I don't really know what type of music she likes to listen to, but
if I had to guess based on what I've heard her put on when she gets ready in the morning or when
there's a party at our place, it's definitely all those girl indie pop singers that have gotten really
huge lately, like Adele. I don't really get it, because their voices all sound the same to me, but it's
not my boat that they're floating, it's my sister's and other people like her, so whatever.
Sarah and I hang out a lot but she's kind of exhausting to be around. She's really energetic and
outgoing at parties and I'm usually her chaperon since she always gets drunk. She's usually
responsible and she's never been too far gone, but I still have to watch out for her. At home, she's
almost always on my ass about something, like chores or groceries. But I can tell that she cares
because she's never mean and she doesn't get angry at me for slacking off in the same way that
my parents do. Still, it's definitely really tiring. I get anxious really easily and I tend to keep to
myself a lot- I'm better at socializing now but back then I needed a lot of time to rest and chill
out, something my parents never got and my sister only barely really understood. My parents are
awful, but I don't really hold it against Sarah.
Outside the home, there's a lot of stuff that goes on with my friends and I. I guess I should tell
you about the band now since that's a huge part of it, and everything else.
My friend Scot tried to start a band in middle school. We had three members: Scot, me, and
another kid who I'll get to later. That other kid moved away for a while and went to a different
school, so it was just me and Scot for a while. I'll explain more about Scot in a bit, too, but
basically you need to know two things: he's been my best friend since elementary school, and
he's probably one of the best musicians in the world, with no exaggeration. In high school, we
met my two other friends, who we formed a band with.
Rapid Transit was born.
I don't really know why we called it Rapid Transit. All I remember was that for some reason we
were on the topic of discussing the bullet train they're building that's supposed to go all up and
down California, and I think Scot decided then that Rapid Transit sounded cool. We call
ourselves a "garbage rock" band, partly because we're all trashy hipsters, but partly (mostly)
because there was a heckler one time at a show who said we were playing garbage and so Scot
slugged him in the face and literally sent him flying across the room. The guy lost like three
teeth. I might not remember exactly how we named ourselves, but I definitely remember that. I
put a lot of work into the band, since it's most of my social life. I write the lyrics to the songs
everyone else helps write, and I also sing and play bass. But it's really not my thing- like I said,
I'm mostly into movies and stuff.

The band is Scot's thing. It's always been his thing. Rapid Transit is Scot Young's baby.
And if you don't know who Scot Young is, you've been living under a rock for the past ten or
fifteen years.
I said earlier that it wasn't any sort of exaggeration to say that Scot was one of the best musicians
in the world. And that's true. Scot is a child prodigy, and he's been playing instruments for as
long as he could put his fingers around their necks. The legend has it that as a kid, he was in his
parents music shop for Bring Your Children to Work Day, and he picked up a guitar and started
shredding, and shredding hard. The truth is that as a kid, he was in his parents music shop for
Bring Your Children to Work Day, and he picked up a guitar and started playing it really well for
a five year old. Theres always some element of falsehood in every story, but the Scot Young
mythos was usually remarkably devoid of such inconsistencies, despite what his character, and
all of the stories they write about him, would have you believe. And one thing was for certainScot was larger than life, in every sense of the phrase.
His parents own a music store, and as he was growing up, he would constantly get his hands on
new music and instruments and learn how to play them. The learning wasnt the hard part- in
fact, really, nothing about music was hard for him. Scot figured out how to make eloquent
melodies out of the most bizarre and foreign implements. I remember one time he called me up
to come over and check out this new instrument he had found. I dont remember the name, but it
was this flute-like rod, some rare African pipe instrument that had come into the store.
I remember even asking him, Whats it called?
Scot replied, I dont know. But check this out. He put his lips to the reed and the most
wonderful chirps and whistles came from the end, performing one of Scots own original
compositions.
When he was done playing the four minute piece, I asked him, How long have you had that?
Scot grinned one of his trademark Cheshire cat grins. I just got it this morning.
The mans a genius.
I guess I sort of gravitate towards people who arent really like me at all, because Scot is also
pretty much my opposite. Hes huge, for one- hes like two hundred pounds of pure beefcake.
Hes shaped kind of like a pyramid if the flat part was at the top and the apex was facing down.
Hes also super handsome, and he knows it. Hes like a cross between a Greek sculpture and
David Bowie- well chiseled and suave-looking as hell where it counts. Hes always got a
different girl (or two) under his arm after every show, and all of the girls in our crowd know how
he is but they dont really seem to care, because I guess for all of his innate masculinity and
sexual prowess, the dudes actually a good person and doesnt treat girls like shit. But all of his
philandering has got to make finding a particular long-term girlfriend a pain- I dont think hes
ever lasted more than a week or so with any one girl who hes dated. Maybe he should consider
polyamory. Im sure the girls wouldnt mind sharing.

Scots good with people in general too, not just girls. Hes pretty much the friendliest person I
know, and makes friends with just about anyone provided they arent jerks to him. If they are
jerks well, I told you already about the guy who lost his teeth. I guess the rowdy outgoing part
he got from his parents, although Im unsure if thats racist or stereotypical in any way of
Australians. His parents moved to California some 20 years ago, and he was born here, but he
definitely picked up stuff like his hint of an accent and his outgoing nature from them. Hes
always been my wingman, more or less- Im always dragged along with him to parties that I
dont really want to go to, but he ends up convincing me to one way or the other. The strangest
part is I dont really hold him tricking me into that stuff against him, because hes always there
for me, whether Im having a panic attack outside of somebodys apartment, or dry heaving into
a dumpster behind a venue were playing at. Id pretty much follow him anywhere, and I know
hed do the same for me. Hes a great friend to everyone, but hes a best friend to me. He
convinced me to play and sing for Rapid Transit for the same reason, and he even taught me how
to play bass and gave me one of his favorite bass guitars as a gift. As much of a push-and-pull
relationship we have, I really care about Scot.
Anyway, all of that sappy stuff aside, Scot is the leader of Rapid Transit and plays lead guitar.
Theres two more members of Rapid Transit, and Scot and I are arguably the core. But without
Scot, its safe to say that there wouldnt be Rapid Transit.
The next guy is also the most enigmatic of all of us.
If it sounds like I dont have much to say about Trent Phelps, its because Ive known him for
almost five years now and I still havent really figured him out.
Some background knowledge, which I was planning on mentioning later, but I guess it wouldnt
hurt to get out of the way now- the city I live in, James, California, is the safest city in the United
States. Theres only about 300 cases of reported violent crime a year, with maybe one or less
murder a year. The city is pretty much comprised entirely of houses, churches of monotheistic
denomination and Judaic descent (mostly Mormon or Islamic,) and a small business district. As
of the latest 201X census, the population is something around 200,000 people. Most of these
people are either white or Asian- its about a 45% split. Of the remaining 10%, 9% consists of
non-white Latino people and the last 1% is black.
So Trent is literally part of the most token minority group in James.
There are four things I know about Trent which make him stand out from everyone I know. One
is that hes the only black kid in a nearly all-white school. Two is that he smokes one Marlboro a
day, sometimes two- one for lunch, always, and another for special occasions, like a show. Three
is that he likes jazz and its descendants. Four is that he hardly speaks.
Scot had met him at a poetry slam that I hadnt gone to, but Scot said that he was impressed with
Trents talent and had asked him to join Rapid Transit. Trent was apparently in our high schools
percussion ensemble and already had a pretty innate talent with drums, so Scot made him our
drummer. He really is a great drummer, probably just as good as Scot (I use Scot as a metric

because Scot is literally the best musician I know,) which is good because since Trent and I are
essentially like the peanut butter and jelly of the Rapid Transit sandwich we have to get along.
Scot has compared the two of us to the rhythm section of a Motown blues band, which I really
know nothing about, but Trent apparently appreciates the compliment, because the first time Scot
said that was the first time I saw Trent give off a hint of a smile, the corner of his lips turning
upwards slightly. Trent is pretty much stoic and silent all the time, and Im not sure why that is.
Maybe its just him. He definitely didnt get it from his parents- I dont see his dad a lot because
hes apparently a pretty important banking guy, but his moms really bubbly and sweet, and
Trent genuinely returns her affection whenever she doles it out, and his dads okay too, I guess.
I feel like its almost clich to say that when Trent does speak, its usually really wise or a part of
him functioning as a mediator, but thats really pretty much true. Hes kind of like Silent Bob to
Scots Jay- that is to say, Trent is quiet and wise while Scot is loud and wild. I was alone with
him once, and I dont really recall the exact circumstances (theres a lot of that- Im really
forgetful,) but I was sort of venting about how the band was doing and frustrated that I couldnt
keep up with everyone else in the group, all of whom are exceedingly more talented than I am.
Trent put his heavy arm around my shoulder and murmured something to me, the scent of his
cigarette still on his tongue:
Ethan, its easy to not see your own infinite greatness when youve surrounded yourself by
other people who you put on a pedestal out of habit.
Not only did that sort of help me a bit with my own self-confidence issues, it also let me see
what Trent really thought of me. I never realized that he thought I was great or anything like
that. Whenever Scot said something like that, I knew it was just because he was my best friend,
but Trent I had only known for a short time and yet he had apparently come to genuinely respect
and appreciate me, and after learning that and playing in the band with renewed vigor, I had
come to reciprocate those feelings.
So, thats Scot on the lead guitar, Trent on the drums, me on the bass and at the microphone.
Theres one last member of the band.
That last member just happens to be my girlfriend.
Amanda Thomson stands out from the rest of the members of the band for a variety of reasons.
Most of us are all six feet or taller- me being the tallest, Trent being the shortest at exactly six
feet. Amanda is only five feet tall- she barely comes up to my stomach. Scot and Trent are also
pretty beefy, with Scot being more shredded than a Caesar salad and Trent also being somewhat
lean and tough, but Amanda is pretty petite, although she did start working out a few months ago
and put on a few pounds of muscle. So, ironically, the reason she stands out from the rest of us
tall guys is because shes so small.
Amanda plays backing guitar in our band, but the main reason we put her in was actually
because of her exceptional skills with the piano. Basically, if you can play one single instrument
almost as good as or just as good as Scot, then you were let into Rapid Transit. We were in an

assembly in the auditorium one day (this time, I remember it pretty vividly) for a pep rally, and I
was sitting alone in the bleachers because Scot was also in the orchestra. There was a solo piano
performance being exhibited, and it was Amanda who was playing. She was playing an original
piece titled Fall through Spring, and I watched and listened in awe as her fingers strode across
the keys. Scot may have had raw talent driving his music, but I heard this girls passion for music
and felt it crawling up my skin, rustling the hairs on the back of my neck. I cried a little bit. I
only cry at movies, or if something deeply personal happens, or if I get hurt really bad. (Okay, I
guess I cry a lot. But she made me cry with a piano.)
Scot and I planned on approaching her after the show with the intent of asking her to join the
band. But Scot suddenly had to bail to help the orchestra clean the auditorium up, so he sent me
alone to the practice room to go see her. I think she was there putting away some instruments,
because when I got to the room I saw her struggling to put a violin case in its cubby. I was still
pretty awkward and anxious back then (I mean, I still am now, sort of, and I definitely was at the
start of this story,) but I went over to try and help her out.
Uhm, h-hey, do you- can I- let me help you out? I took long strides over to her and reached up
for the violin case.
Oh, thanks for that. Amanda had let go of the violin case in anticipation of me being prepared
to pick it up and put it in the cubby, but instead of being coordinated and precise I decided to be
stupid and clumsy, and so I let the violin case smack me in the nose. My arms grabbed the case
one second too late, so it didnt fall, but it did sting like hell.
Oww-!!
Oh, man. Im sorry, I thought you had it. She gasped lightly and put her hands to her mouth.
No- its- its fine. Im- Im fine. I pushed the case back in.
Thanks. That was the last one. I always have a tough time reaching up top well, I think that
parts obvious. She smiled at me gently and extended her right hand. Nice to meet you. Im
Amanda.
I rubbed my nose with my left hand and accepted her greeting with the other. Uhm- Ethan.
Ethan- Ethan Kyler. Hi.
Yeah, I know you. Youre Scots friend, right? Ive seen you two hanging out. If youre looking
for him, hes not here right now
Yeah, I- I know. He actually- Im here to look for you. I didnt realize that I was gasping and
stuttering all over the place.
Amanda tilted her head to the side. Hey, are you okay? Take a few breaths. Its okay.

I paused for a moment and looked down at my hands. They were trembling slightly. I put them to
my sides and started inhaling and exhaling slowly, and eventually the trembling stopped and I
felt a lot better. At the time I didnt realize that I was having an anxiety attack triggered by the
violin falling on me.
Are you feeling better?
I nodded slowly.
She smiled at me again. Good. Now, would you like to start over from the beginning?
I nodded again, weakly returning the smile. Yeah. Uhm I dont know if youve heard, but
Scot is starting up a band, and hes looking for new members. I put my hand to my chest. Im
the bassist and I also sing. Trent Phelps from percussion is our drummer. I think Scot wants to
ask you to be in the band.
A band, huh?
Yeah.
Amanda looked away in thought. Hmm With Scot?
Yeah.
I dont really think Scots my type.
I snorted. Uhm ha, I dont really think hes asking you out or anything. I think he genuinely
wants you in the band.
I guess Ill be the judge of that. She looked at me, her eyes looking me up and down. She
smiled again.
But I think I like you, so maybe I will take him up on his offer. Ill join up. Whats the band
called?
At the time, Rapid Transit wasnt named. I shrugged. Well figure that out soon, I think.
Amanda nodded. Okay. Well, here. Let me give you my number. She took a Sharpie from her
back pocket. Oh I dont have blank paper here. Give me your arm.
I blushed. Uhm alright. I rolled up the left sleeve of the jacket I was wearing.
She popped the cap off of the marker and started writing numbers on my extended arm. Feel
free to give me a call, you know, whenever. She winked at me.
I blushed harder. I, uh okay, sure. Probably just gonna call you about the band, but sure.

When she was done, I went outside and tucked the sleeve over my skin, rubbing my arm
compulsively. I had just gotten a real girls real number. For real.
We were mostly just friends after that, but I took every chance to spend with her that I could get.
I learned that she liked video games, superhero comics, cats, and emo, and a whole lot of other
stuff, which was kind of crazy because I didnt have a lot of interests like that- I was pretty much
only into movies. I learned that she was probably just as talented as Scot in regards to music but
she didnt practice as often and slacked off a lot, which was nice because I could identify with
being lazy and irresponsible. I learned that she was interested in pursuing a major in psychology
after graduating high school. But mostly, I learned that she was super nice and gentle- not as
completely inexpressive as Trent, but not even close to being as energetic as Scot. And I kind of
fell head over heels for this really sweet girl.
Fortunately for me, it was about a month before this whole thing began where Amanda asked me
out for the first time. I guess she also liked me a lot and I never realized it. She said that she
didnt want to miss the opportunity to go out with me before we graduated, and since I was too
shy to make a move first, she took matters into her own hands. I was speechless for about ten
minutes before I said yes.
So thats the band in a nutshell. My best friend, my girlfriend, my own personal fortune cookie,
and me. Rapid Transit got pretty big for a garage band full of high school kids, although most of
the spotlight was shown on Scot while the rest of us stood to the side and watched. He cemented
his local celebrity status pretty immediately, and I'm sure there's got to be other fans of his across
the country. On our music streaming site, I even saw a few hits generated from places in the UK.
But it wouldn't be high school without drama.
About three years into our "career," a new band came up out of the blue. They were sort of like
us except they had a heavier sound and they kind of sucked, so really they weren't anything like
us. But these guys would try to compete for our popular venues, which was bad because James
wasn't ever exactly a major cultural center. Finding places to play was hard, even for a band with
Scot Young in it. Eventually, we got frustrated and did some digging into these guys, and found
out that they were a new band also comprised of high school kids. We ended up playing a gig
after them one night.
That was the night I first met The Repugnant Thug. I don't really want to go into the details for
the sake of time and my stress levels, so I'll condense it to the most important parts. Basically,
they went on and played something really intense and sucked eggs (but a lot of people still
clapped, probably because they were trying to be polite,) and then we went on and absolutely
killed the crowd. Then, after the show, the main guy- this Asian kid with dyed blonde hair, bad
breath, and worse taste in leather fashion- comes up to me and Scot after the show and says this
shit:
"Wow, I guess they'll even let amateurs like you into dumps like this one, huh? Eventually, that's
all you'll be able to play. You're already washed up and you're not even out of high school yet."

It took all Trent and I had to hold Scot back and stop him from punching this guy's lights out.
The kid just smirked and left, flicking a lit cigarette at our feet.
"That kid's" name, as I found out later, was Hiroshi Sato.
Amanda knew him a little bit. She said she had a cousin with whom she was distant from but still
spoke to from time to time, who went to a school in our district and had him in her class. He was
Japanese, and he hung out with other Japanese kids during lunch and smoked like a brush fire,
and he always wore studded leather jackets. I guess he thought of himself as some cool biker
gangster, because apparently he had a motorbike license and drove one everywhere. Amanda's
cousin also said that he would hit on other girls, with mixed success. Sometimes there were girls
who genuinely thought that he was being smooth or funny, and sort of gravitated around him.
But other girls, like Amanda's cousin, said they got a more "creepy" vibe from him. When
Amanda met him in person that night, she said to me:
"Yeah. Teresa was right. Keep that dude the fuck away from me. You can smell the sleaze on
him."
"That's the Marlboro's." Trent quipped, a rare moment for him.
So Hiroshi was established to me pretty early on as a grade-A first-class four-star jerk with a
minor in asshole. He was the apparent leader of The Repugnant Thug, a sort of heavy metal band
that leaned more towards classic hard rock and grunge that real metal, and he sang and played
bass.
So naturally, I didn't get along well with him.
It only got worse as we met the rest of the band. He had three other members, two of whom I
didn't really get to know that well, but one who Scot and I knew personally.
I think I mentioned that in middle school, Scot and I tried to form a sort of prototype version of
Rapid Transit with only one additional member. This guy played the drums for us, but he ended
up not going to the same school as us and we never really heard from him again. And through
some strange twist of fate, Travis Gutcher ended up coming back into our lives again as a part of
The Repugnant Thug, only this time he was on leading guitar.
Travis was- and still is- a pretty okay guy, both from what I remembered back then and what I
rediscovered after catching up with him. He's not as talented with music as Scot is- no one really
is- but he's just as passionate about it and also just as extroverted. The two of them got along
pretty well. I don't know if jealous or envious is the right word, but whichever one means that I
resented how the two of them were pretty much made for each other, that's the one I was towards
Travis. I didn't really hold it against him, though, but I definitely wasn't sad to see him leave the
band, either. I had mostly gotten over all of that childish nonsense by the time we met up again,

but it was sort of exhausting being around what basically amounts to two Scots- only one of
them looks more like some sort of rough-and-ready goth kid and the other one is this blonde
Australian beefcake.
There were two other kids, who I guess are important by association, but they didn't really add
that much to the scenery. Most of the drama was sort of driven by the fact that Hiroshi was a
competitive asshole and Travis was our friend at one point in time before he turned to the dark
side. I sort of felt bad for these two- it wasn't their fault.
The first up, I guess, is the drummer for The Repugnant Thug, a shy girl named Samantha
Hodes. I honestly don't know how this girl ended up being stuck in TRT, but I suppose that's just
one of life's biggest mysteries, along with what happened to Atlantis and is there life on other
planets, two different conspiracy theories that are probably connected somehow. But anyways,
Samantha Hodes is this sort of quiet girl who does her hair up in a ponytail so it doesn't cover her
horn-rimmed glasses, and wears turtleneck sweaters and knee-length skirts, and keeps blushing
and turning away whenever she makes eye contact with me, like I won't notice. I can't really fault
her for that, because I'm also pretty awkward, but if her cheeks went any redder she'd easily be
mistaken for a strawberry. It's sort of endearing, so I tried to make friends with her before
everything happened. I sat down with her once after a show and asked her some questions.
"So, like, why is it that you hang out with Hiroshi?"
"Uh... I, uh, don't know what you mean."
"Well, y'know... he's kind of an asshole, right? I mean, I feel like- can I say that to you? That
your friend is- is an asshole?"
"Uhm..." She ran her fingers through her hair, brushing it behind her ears. "I... well, you just
did."
"I mean, you can't be completely blind to his snobbery, right?"
Samantha looked away- well, in truth, she was already looking down at the table, but now she
turned her head all the way away- and sighed. "I... yeah... but he's nicer in smaller groups. Or at
least... not as mean... I guess."
I scoffed and thought to myself, I'll believe it when I see it. But I guess some of that must be true
if such a meek girl willingly spent time with someone like him.
The next guy, and the last member of TRT, was their rhythm guitar. Brennan Smith was the
epitome of shoegazer. The guy was a walking hipster stereotype. Super spacey, dyed blue hair in
his eyes, always looking at his feet on stage, not really saying a lot to anyone.
I... I really don't have anything to say about Brennan Smith. He doesn't really give me any
material to work with. I'm sure he has, like, other hobbies and stuff, or maybe he has a job or

something, but... I'm sorry. He kind of just hangs out and plays guitar. Maybe he likes smoking
pot.
You know what? Yeah, that's it. Brennan Smith smokes pot. A lot. A whole pot of pot. Every
night before bed. You know, weed impairs your neurological development depending on how
much of it you smoke during your adolescence up till your late 20s. That would explain a lot.
Maybe he's so spacey because he smokes a lot of weed. I mean, I don't smoke weed, so I
wouldn't know what it does, but all the stoners I know sort of fit the bill of "kind of acts like this
guy I know in a rival band." And I did get a whiff of something that smelt like burnt ass once
when I walked by him in a venue, or maybe it was just him coming from the bathroom. Or
maybe he was coming from the bathroom because he just lit up in the bathroom, not because he
took a poo. Whatever. I don't really wanna talk about it. What he does with his life is his choice,
but if he can't tell left from right when he's in his 30s that's not my fault.
Okay, so I guess that takes care of it. So Hiroshi's a dick, Travis is our frenemy, Samantha's a
wallflower, and Brennan is a stoner. I think that's mostly everyone you need to know. There'll be
more people later, but for now I think this covers it for the moment.
So now it's on me to recap you on the events leading up to January 1st, 201X, which I guess
would be the December before, and the holidays up until New Years' Day.
So, in December, we had just gotten out of school for winter break. We had a three week break,
running from, I think, the last two weeks of the year through the first week of January. Amanda
had just asked me out a month ago, and so for our next date we were planning to do something
for New Years together. We had one last show for the year to play before we went on break, and
we saw The Repugnant Thug there. They were still awful, we still ruled, it was whatever. Scot
got really close to slugging Hiroshi, and I got really close to letting him. After that, I sort of
chilled out (heh, chilled, because it's winter, get it?) until Christmas, which I spent with my
parents at church (they're Irish Catholic) trying to dodge questions about school and how my life
was. Fortunately, Sarah had my back for most of that, being all he's been a good little brother
and if he's not I just yell at him and he quits it, which my parents found to be amusing and
satisfactory responses.
Then New Years' Eve came.
Amanda stood me up. It wasn't her fault. She called me that night and said her parents wanted
her home last minute and wouldn't let her leave, and later on I found out it was because of some
cooking emergency or something and they needed an extra pair of hands. I'm not going to lie and
say I wasn't disappointed, though, which I was. I ended up hanging out with Sarah at one of her
friends' parties for New Years. We watched the ball drop in New York on TV, and there was a
lot of booze. I normally don't drink, but I was pretty much alone at this party except for my sister
and I felt really uncomfortable, so I had a substantial amount of the host's cheap beer.
Unfortunately, it was too much.

In my impaired state of mind, I decided to blow the hipster stand I was at and tried walking
myself home, failing to remember that James imposes an 11:00 PM curfew, and has an
extremely strict police force, the kind that throws someone in prison for life if they're caught
riding a bike without a helmet, and I highly doubt that they would show any merrymakers such
as me any mercy as they stumbled around the streets, trying to get to their apartment.
I don't remember much between the moment I stepped out of Sarah's friends' apartment and the
moment I woke up with a splitting headache and a hangover to conquer the gods, but I do know
one thing for certain:
That night, or morning, or whatever, at 12:00 AM on January 1st, 201X, I didn't make it back
home.
~~~~~~
Chapter Two
Origin
I didn't realize I had woken up at first, mostly because of the fact that it was darker than a black
hole in the middle of wherever I was. The only thing that really clued me in on the whole thing
was the whole bit where I was clearly suffering from the symptoms of a hangover, which would
definitely be keeping me awake. I tried moving but my body felt like it was really stiff. I
assumed, then, that I was just stuck at home and snuggled tightly under my bed's blankets, so I
elected them to roll over and allow the warm embrace of said blankets to engulf me.
Only, I couldn't roll over either.
So you see where this gets really strange for the hungover, sleepy Ethan Kyler, whose brain was
currently operating at a very minimal capacity. When I don't get enough sleep, it gives me a
migraine just mustering up the willpower to do a simple thing like getting out of bed to take a
pee. Expending my precious mental resources just to figure out why I couldn't move from my
own bed was exhausting.
My mind, as impaired as it was, tried to go over the night before and what possibly could have
happened in order for me to be rendered immobile in what I believed to be my own bed. The last
thing I remembered was leaving Sarah's friends' apartment, and I don't know where exactly I
woke up. All I knew was:
1. I couldn't move.
2. It was much colder than I had initially thought. I guess I had tricked myself into believing it
was warm because I imagined I was in my bed.
3. My hangover was going to kill me.

I tried to stretch my arm out to feel the space around me, but I heard a rattling sound and my arm
didn't really leave from my body. I tried it again and the rattling sound persisted. I kept trying
this, but this was a really stupid thing for me to do, because my hangover meant I was super
sensitive to all of the loud noises I was making, so my headache decided that it would threaten to
split my head in half by throttling up the pain at the back of my skull. And I still couldn't move,
so basically I only served to establish to myself how big of an idiot I was.
At least I knew now a little bit more about my surroundings. My arms were bound and a metal
rattling noise rang out whenever I shook them. What's metal, goes around arms, restrains you,
and rattles when you shake them? I nearly wet my pants when I remembered that I was out past
curfew last night, and the cops had probably found my underage, drunk ass on the streets and
threw me in jail for the night until morning. Had they found out who I was? Who my parents
were? Ma and pops were gonna kill me. Or maybe they would kill Sarah for letting them down
and then me. Unless they had called Sarah instead of my parents, in which case she would
probably only kill me a little bit, which wouldn't be so bad.
"Hello?" I croaked.
No answer, but my "Hello?" echoed weakly throughout the space.
"H-hello?" Again, no response, but the echo was a bit louder this time since I was louder.
My eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness at this point. I could see a faint hint of wispy blue
light trailing into the space from somewhere- I didn't know that jails had windows. Wouldn't that
defeat the purpose? Although I'm sure windows in a jail would be hard to escape from.
Suddenly, almost as if to fuck with my eyes having just gotten used to this shit, a bright yellow
light flashed over my head. I screamed and rocked my body back in recoil, but still couldn't
move. After opening my eyes, which were still extremely sensitive to the light that I now bathed
in, I saw that all four of my limbs were cuffed to a metal chair which was bolted to a concrete
ground. Apparently my bladder and bowels were both empty, because I would've evacuated both
of those waste storage organs had they been full at this point in time.
My voice trembling, I asked again, louder. "H-hello? Am I... Am- Am I under a-arrest?"
No answer, again. At least, not at first. After a minute or so, I heard the clack-clack of heels
striking hard pavement- I know that sound because Sarah is fond of high heels. So was I really in
a police station somewhere, with a bare bulb hanging over my head and a chair bolted to the
ground? I mean, strange things have probably happened in James to minor offenders, right?
Instead, a woman's voice that didn't belong to Sarah rang out. "Ah, our little drunkard is awake."
The clacking grew closer until it finally stopped, and a woman appeared before my half-shut
eyes.
This lady was the first thing I saw on January 1st, 201X, after suffering the mystery of the
hangover and the bolted chair, so I remember how she looked really distinctly. Have you ever
seen Mad Men? The show on that cable TV network about the advertising execs during the 50s?

There's a lady on that show played by Christina Hendricks, a brilliant redhead and an absolute
first-class full-figured bombshell. This lady looked a lot like Christina Hendricks- she was
curved to the golden ratio in every place a woman could possibly be curved, and I could tell she
was tall enough without needing heels. She was wearing a black pantsuit with a white dress shirt,
and a red tie that reflected the light above her, which in turn illuminated her hair. I guess that part
of her outfit was intentionally matched to her hair.
I mumbled something incoherent in my daze. Sober me would've probably been just as baffled.
The woman had a clipboard tucked under her arm, which she slid out and began tapping a pencil
over.
"Ethan Peter Kyler, age eighteen, born on August fifteenth of year 199X to parents Mr. Peter
Kyler and Ms. Kathleen Pond-Kyler. Blood type O, height six-foot-six-inches, weight onehundred thirty-three pounds, hair black, eyes green. Occupation is student enrolled in
Riverbridge High School, in James Unified School District, in James, California. United States
citizen, born in James, California. And that one..." she smacked the clipboard again, "is the most
important qualifying factor, or at least, the only real one, that Project Philanthropy is looking
for."
I was still utterly baffled. If she was police, it would sort of make sense that she knew everything
about me, but I was clearly not being detained as a suspect in anything and she was clearly not a
cop.
The only really proper response to someone listing off how much they know about you is "Why
do you know all of this stuff about me?" Which, coincidentally, is what I said.
The lady scoffed at me, as if I said something funny. "Well, of course we know everything about
you, Mr. Kyler. Everything crucial, anyway- what if we had picked off some other random, poor
sap instead of the one the Project Philanthropy algorithm had chosen? Then we'd be in a real fix!
Then again, not like Project Philanthropy's algorithm isn't basically a random number generator
itself anyway..."
I was still lost. "Project what?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Hmm, yes. Well, this is always the tough part, and proving it to you will
be even tougher, especially due to how utterly odd these circumstances are, even by Project
standards." She sighed and reached for a chair behind her- this one wasn't bolted down, lucky for
her- and sat in it, folding her arms in her lap neatly with the clipboard underneath them.
"Ethan Kyler, you are one of nine randomly selected individuals who have been inducted into a
secret product test known as Project Philanthropy. The specific product test you and these other
eight people have been initiated into is called Operation Olympian. Four men and five women,
all United States citizens, have been selected to beta-test a piece of technology called the
Olympian Enhancement Device." She paused, then asked, "Are you with me so far, Mr. Kyler?"
I lied and nodded slowly.

"Good. The Olympian Enhancement Device comes in two segments- the Physical-to-Digital
Delivery System, or P2DS for short, and the Olympian Enhancement Suit, or OES. The P2DS
takes many different shapes depending on the version of the OES we have assigned to each user.
In your instance, the P2DS is designed to resemble a wristwatch, which I have already taken the
liberty of fastening to your left wrist." She gestured to my left, and I looked down. I winced at
the light as it reflected off the surface of something shiny, what I believed to be my handcuffs,
until I looked closer and saw that besides the cuffs was in fact a silver watch with a sleek design
and a simple clasp. The face of the watch was green and had no numbers or notches in place of
them, only two hands for minute and hour.
"The P2DS hasn't fully activated its functionality yet, but included within it is technology that is
meant to operate in tandem with the OES. So, rather than explaining them now, I feel like you
need a demonstration." The woman stood up from her chair and approached me, unlocking the
handcuffs on my right wrist. "Your model of the P2DS is activated by your pushing down of the
watch face using your right palm. The watch face is biometrically coded to your right palm print
only."
I was still hungover and I had no idea what was going on. "This is stupid. You're stupid." I
couldn't think of anything else more poignant or intelligent to say."
"Whether I'm stupid or not doesn't change the fact that you're stuck in that chair until you do
what I say, so I suggest you do it. There's honestly no harm in it."
She had a point. "You have a point." I reached over to the watch and pushed down on it hard.
This is where everything gets weird, and this is also when my entire life changed.
There was a blinding, pure, white light that engulfed me in an instant. In that instant, all of the
following happened. The clothes that I had on, still tinged with the smell of booze from the night
before, were gone. In their place was a black body suit with green lines and accents, and a latex
appearance. This suit clad me completely from head to toe- even my face was covered by a
mask. In front of my eyes were two green lenses, which immediately blinked the color away and
filled my vision with all sorts of text and descriptions about things I didn't really understand.
Also, I was incredibly warm, both compared to how cold I was a minute ago and how warm I
had ever felt in my entire life up until then. It was like being wrapped up in a bundle of your
nicest blankets, cooped up next to a fire during Christmastime with a mug of hot cocoa in your
hands. Even stranger, my headache was gone, and I felt suddenly coherent and sober. I could
observe everything around me clearly.
"What-"
"You have now activated the OES."
"What- what the fuck is this?"

The woman smirked. "This is the Olympian Enhancement Suit. The OES is a special apparatus
delivered through the P2DS. The P2DS stores the OES in a digital space, not unlike cloud
technology, and then delivers the suit to its pilot upon biometric activation. As you can see, it
replaces your clothes. The P2DS swaps them with your OES and sends them into the digital
space. Once the biometrics are triggered again, the transfer will occur again. Also..." The woman
pushed her glasses up. "From this moment on, your biometrics have triggered the healing factor
within the P2DS. A highly regenerative, specially engineered species of healing bacteria has
been introduced into your bloodstream through a tiny pneumatic needle within the watch's band.
I assume you're feeling sober now? No more splitting headache? Sensitivity to light and sound?"
I nodded slowly.
"That's the bacteria at work. For minor maladies such as... well, a hangover, obviously, and the
common cold and such, the bacteria will have a near instantaneous effect. For more moderate to
severe injuries, it may take a day or two for you to recover, but your body's natural healing
processes are drastically improved so long as you have the watch bound to your wrist."
"What kind of moderate to severe injuries?" I cocked an eyebrow, which the woman probably
couldn't see because of the mask.
"That will become clear once I explain the purpose of the OES. For now, please get out of the
chair."
I blinked. "You mean, the chair that you've bolted to the ground and cuffed me too?" I looked
down at my cuffs. They were still attached to me, even though my clothes had disappeared.
As if she knew what I was about to ask next, the woman responded, "The cuffs are still there
because they were also partly affixed to the chair. But you can leave your bonds quite simply
using the OES. Go on, give it a try."
I scowled at her behind the mask and inspected my bonds. How would I be able to get out of this,
I wondered? This all still seems so ridiculous and incredible, but I have no real choice other than
to listen to this lady and what she has to say. I quickly tugged my arm away from the arm of the
chair, and with a rending of aluminum, the side of the chair tore itself away and was suddenly
hanging from my wrist.
"Holy fucking shit!" I leaped out of the seat, not realizing that my legs were also cuffed to the
chair, and with more rending, the chair completely collapsed as I had literally yanked its own
legs out from under it.
"What the fuck is this?!"
"This is the true purpose of the Olympian Enhancement Device. All models of the OES grant the
pilot certain abilities, namely superhuman strength. The suit's 'skin' is also highly durable and

impact-resistant, but incredible blunt force may not be completely deflected and still runs the risk
of injuring you, and to that end we have provided a healing ability within the P2DS."
"But what blunt force would I be running into that I need to be protected from? This is like, some
kind of superhero thing. I'm not even a regular hero!"
The woman shrugged. "To what ends you make use of the OES are up to you to decide, not us.
However, I can tell you that this product, as well as the other versions of the OES, are
experimental prototypes designed for potential police or military use."
I frowned. I looked down and inspected myself and saw that the cuffs and bits of chair were still
hanging off me. I pried the cuffs off, which was shockingly easy with the amount of strength the
suit was providing me. Once I had tossed away all of that junk, I gave myself a look over. This
suit definitely looked like something a superhero would wear. It was even, uh, snug in all the
right places, in spite of the fact that it still felt really comfortable and not at all restricting. I
honestly wouldn't have minded if it was as flattering as it was, if not for the fact that my
physique wasn't really that heroic. I was just really skinny and a little bony. Not a hint of
musculature. I wasn't going to look like a beefcake bodybuilder anytime soon.
"So what powers do I have, then, exactly?" Assuming I actually buy into this weird superhero
nonsense. I mean, it's happening to me, and it's all too real, and it can't be a dream, but still, I
thought to myself.
"Well, your model of the OES is designated 'Heracles.'"
"You mean, 'Hercules.'"
"Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero known as Heracles. Heracles is a name
derived from Hera, the name of Zeus's wife. Ironically, Hera tormented many of Zeus's
illegitimate offspring, Heracles being one of them." The woman cleared her throat and pushed
her glasses up again. "As I was saying, your model of the OES, 'Heracles,' has most of the major
abilities provided to all variants, which includes superhuman strength and durability. There is
also a secondary ability built into the suit..." She inspected her clipboard. "Hmm. It says here,
'adaptation and mimicry.' Interesting."
"What? What does that mean?"
"This was a power that I was unaware was being implemented in this product test... Ah, I should
just tell you. You can essentially analyze your opponents and implement their tactics."
"Uhm." I coughed. "Is that it?"
"Yes."
"That sounds kind of lame. I can't fly?"

"No."
"I can't shoot lasers or anything like that?"
"Mimicry can be a very useful ability, especially for someone who doesn't know how to fight."
I grumbled. "But laser beams are cool."
"A few minutes ago, you were reacting very unenthusiastically to the idea of being a superhero
in the first place."
I grumbled again. "Well, I'm not cut out to be one anyway. And there's no crime in James,
anyway."
"You never know." The woman brushed her hair. "In any event, I have some more information to
explain to you before I dismiss you."
"Oh, so I'll be dismissed soon? That's reassuring."
"Sass noted." The woman put her hand on her chest. "I'm sure you've been wondering what to
call me. For your purposes, you can refer to me as Miss Tape Deck.
"As I stated earlier, I am part of an organization called Project Philanthropy. This particular
program, where four men and five women are randomly inducted into the product test for the
Olympian Enhancement Device, is called Operation Olympian. Project Philanthropy is a secret
organization whose mission statement is to research technology designed to improve the overall
wellness and quality of life of humanity."
I tilted my head and crossed my arms. Now she was actually explaining herself, but it still didn't
really make sense, only because this entire situation was incredulous as hell. I mean, let me just
recap for a second here- my drunk ass was kidnapped and bolted to a chair, then a Christina
Hendricks look-alike named after a cassette appears from out of nowhere and tells me I'm part of
a superhero training program. What am I supposed to think?
"There are certain rules you have to abide by in order to remain inducted in the Operation
Olympian beta test."
"Well, I don't really want to be a part of it..."
"That brings me to the first rule- participation in the test is mandatory."
"Great."
"The second rule is that the test will last the course of three hundred sixty five days."
"So I'm stuck with this shit for a year?"

"Yes. The third rule is that you cannot turn over the P2DS or the OES to anyone else. We'll know
if you've done so, and no one else besides the registered pilot can operate it anyway."
"Can I just not use it?"
Miss Tape Deck paused. "Hm. I suppose, but that also relates to rule four. You cannot get rid of
the P2DS or OES. As long as you are still in possession of the devices, I suppose you don't have
to use them, but you can't throw them away. Again, we'll know."
I scoffed. "What kind of clandestine organization are you a part of? Creating and stalking
superheroes, and all your flunkies are given lame code names."
"I'm sure that in time you'll likely learn more about Project Philanthropy, but for now this is all I
have to tell you. Do you have any questions that you think I may be able to answer?"
"Uhm, yeah. Is all of this really happening to me?"
"Yes."
"Who are the other nine people you mentioned?"
"Hm." The woman put her hand to her chin in thought. "You'll likely encounter them sooner or
later. Superheroes in comic books tend to be magnets for strangeness, after all."
I chuckled. "This is James. Nothing amazing happens here."
"Then explain this." She gestured to me.
I shrugged. "I'm going to go home and get some sleep, and when I wake up, I'm not going to
remember a thing. It'll all have been a dream." I halted myself. "Where am I? Am I close to my
place? Am I even in James?"
Tape Deck pushed up her glasses again. She should probably fix those nose pads. "You're in a
crate on the edge of town."
"What time is-" I looked at the watch on my left wrist. I couldn't really tell because there weren't
any notches for one through twelve, but it looked like it was close to 1:30 AM. Sure enough,
numbers popped up into my vision in the lenses in front of my eyes, and the time readout said
that it was 1:36 AM. "I gotta get back."
"Sure, go ahead. Maybe you can use that suit of yours to make your way home?"
I didn't really listen to her, but I also didn't have much of a choice at this point. I lunged forward
and ran past her- I was moving much faster than I ever had before, probably a perk of the suit. I
charged into the black space that lay beyond the light shined overhead by the lightbulb, and the

clattering of metal rang in my ears. I had just burst open a metal door of a shipping container,
which I was apparently being held in.
"I need to get home." As soon as I said those words, more symbols and text appeared on the
lenses. It was a map that conveniently plugged in my home address. I swiveled around slowly,
watching as an arrow on the map, which, I deduced, represented me, also turned itself around,
until it was pointing in the direction of Sarah's apartment. I then ran off in that direction.
The streets of James were pretty desolate and dark save for the streetlights that only barely
illuminated the suburban corners. I couldn't really tell where I was going, and since I was
running straight instead of trying to avoid obstacles, I eventually ran into a wall, and I was too
frustrated to run around the whole housing complex.
Maybe I could try climbing... it would be easy with this thing. I hopped up to the edge of the
wall, jumping a lot higher than I intended- I still wasn't used to the suit yet- and grasped it with
my fingertips. Hoisting myself over was a lot easier than with any other sort of fence I had tried
to climb in the past. I then safely dropped onto the other side and continued running in the
direction of the apartment.
As I continued in stride to the apartment, I thought to myself about how easy the jump and climb
was. Maybe I could do a really long jump and get home faster? Like flying, kind of? I kept
running, and as I was approaching the next boundary, consisting of another wall and a few culde-sac houses, I quickly crouched and then leaped forward in one swift motion.
I don't think I have to tell you how big of a mistake that was.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!" I scared myself shitless,
although I should remind everyone at home that I had nothing to shit out to begin with. I was
more or less soaring through the air, except instead of soaring I was sort of just hanging in the air
with nothing to hold me up, and my arms and legs were flailing about in all directions. If you
went into a picture dictionary, and looked up the definition of graceless, there would be a picture
of me, falling to the ground, screaming, right next to the provided definition.
All I could see when I looked down was the ground, which was approaching way too fast for my
liking. Suddenly, without my voluntary movement, my legs jutted out underneath me, and as I
touched ground, my legs locked up and then I crouched down to the concrete. As I gasped for air
and knelt to the ground, text on the lens read "EMERGENCY LANDING MANEUVER:
SUCCESSFUL." I guess the suit serves its purpose pretty well. I was still trying to force myself
to calm down and breathe slowly, sitting on the pavement of the sidewalk. The map said that I
was within walking distance of the apartment now, which was good, because I was not going to
try jumping again for a long time.
I got to the apartment building and walked in through the front door. As I climbed up the flights
of stairs I realized just how exhausted I had become from all of the running, and especially the
jumping. I was incredibly winded, like I had just run a five kilometer marathon or something,
and given my athletic aptitude and physique, the claim could be made that I have never run a five

kilometer marathon in my entire life. I quickly peaked around at each different flight, down each
hallway, making sure no one was still out and about, and finally got to my apartment. However,
when I got to the door, I turned the knob and realized I didn't have the keys, Sarah did. Groaning,
I put my hands to my head in despair, slumping to the floor, before remembering that we had a
balcony. Sighing in relief, I made my way back outside and looked out for the fire escape, and
then hopped up to it and hoisted myself over. From there, all I had to do was open the sliding
door, which we kept unlocked (hey, lowest crime rate in the US, and it paid off this time, right?)
and this time I checked the apartment quickly, peaking around the corner of each wall.
"Sarah?" No response. I assumed I had made it home before her. Paying no mind to that, I
quickly ducked into my room and tossed myself onto the bed.
I went out like a light. After all, I had a rough New Years' Eve.
~~~~~~
Chapter Three
Orientation
I woke up as the sunlight from the window next to my bed broke through the blinds and leaked
onto my eyes. I blinked slowly and made a gesture to rub the sleep dust from my eyes, but
something covering my face was blocking my knuckles. As I became more and more aware of
my surroundings, I saw that the 'text' in front of my eyes was still there. I hadn't put the suit away
when I went to sleep- so I slept in what was essentially a glorified latex superhero costume.
So were the events of the night prior real after all? I shrugged myself up against the wall next to
my bed and looked down at myself. I was still clad in the same black suit that I had been "given"
last night by Miss Tape Deck- there were green lines and markings all over its surface, and in the
center, on my chest, there was also a circular, softly glowing green light. I felt myself up- a
smooth texture that didn't feel quite like latex or leather, but also didn't feel like any sort of real
cloth, or even like skin, covered my body.On my left wrist was the same watch that had
transformed my appearance into what I was observing now. The arms on the watch read
something like 9:40-something, and the text in my eyes produced a pop-up that read "9:48 AM."
So I had barely gotten something like eight hours of sleep. I wasn't feeling sore from all of the
exercise I was getting last night, and I felt more or less well-rested. I pushed my right hand over
the watch and in an instant, the same blinding light that had enveloped me before did so again,
replacing the suit with the same jacket, jeans, shoes, and undergarments that I was wearing at the
party. I sniffed myself- ugh. They smelled the same, too.
So last night was definitely real. And I was sort of freaking out about it.
"Okay, Ethan," I whispered to myself. "Let's review."
I had gotten drunk, I had left the apartment, I woke up in a shipping container on the edge of
town, cuffed to a chair, and a lady explained to me that I was part of some secret project to make
superheroes. I used the supersuit that the lady gave me to bust out of the container and get home.

"Too unreal." I stared at the watch on my wrist. I continued to gaze at it until my tired eyes
glazed over and lost focus, then I blinked and kept going. Hesitating, I pushed the watch face
again, and the same light came back again, replacing my clothes with the suit.
"Too real to be unreal."
At this point, I decided that I should probably get acquainted with the suit, since I was supposed
to be attached to the thing for a full year, according to Miss Tape Deck. But first, I switched the
suit with my clothes again and began to take them off, putting them in my pile of dirty clothes
and hastily throwing some pajamas on. I quietly opened the door to my bedroom and peered
down the hallway.
"Sarah?"
I stepped quietly into the living space, which was small and consisted of the mini-kitchen and
living room, and also led out to the balcony. No one there. I went back down the hallway,
carefully opening the door to Sarah's room and peeping inside, without stepping in all the way.
Yep. She was snoozing away. It was dark and she got no natural light in her room, and there was
hardly any coming down the hallway as well, so I couldn't really see, but she was definitely
there, snoring quietly under the sheets. I wonder if she had even noticed I didn't come home with
her, or if she saw me in bed when she got home. I started to panic a little at the notion of the
latter- it probably would've been dark when she did get back, but I couldn't help but wonder if
she had seen me in the suit. I had barely been a superhero for nine hours and I had already made
what movies had made out to be an incredibly rookie mistake in giving away your secret
identity.
I shook the thought away from my head for the time being- after all, if she had seen something,
she was the type to say it up front. I sighed and made my way back to my room.
I looked around aimlessly, my eyes trailing from the movie posters to my bed to my desk to my
pile of dirty laundry, and decided that was where I would start first. I picked up the big pile of
laundry, slid open the door to my closet with my foot, and dropped it into a bigger pile lying in
my hamper. I also still smelled like trash, so I figured I should shower too. I went into the
bathroom and did my business, sanitary and otherwise. After I was done and drying myself off, I
glanced over myself in the mirror. Same ol', same ol'. I stroked my cheeks to look for my hair
growing back in, but I didn't really ever have to shave that frequently, which I always thought
was odd, but hey, less money spent on razors the better. I wished I could actually grow a beard in
though, because then I would actually look older and not like a stretched out baby-faced kid.
Then I looked down at the watch at my wrist, which I had made the mistake of showering with- I
didn't wear things on my wrist often, apart from infrequently having cloth wristbands, so I didn't
make it a habit to take it off. I assumed, that naturally, something as high tech as this "PhysicalDigital Delivery System" wouldn't be messed up by a little bit of water and soap. I wiped it dry
with a towel. I figured that I should make sure that it works, and get a chance to check myself out
in the mirror as a bonus. I dropped the towel and pushed the watch down. The suit appeared over
me- I locked the bathroom door and started inspecting myself in the mirror.

I looked... kind of lame. I was really skinny then, without any sort of muscle like I have now, so
the suit just stretched over my skin but it didn't make me look buff or flattering in any way.
Well... flattering in at least one way, but that doesn't really mean much when the rest of me looks
kind of awful and pathetic.
"I should really start working out," I sighed.
The suit's mask had big green-tinted lenses, but my vision wasn't actually green-tinted. The
lenses were really big- I traced the outline of them with my fingers, and they easily arched way
over my eyebrows and slightly below my lower eyelids. They were also pretty opaque, so I
couldn't see my own eyes in the mirror. There were green lines and grooves running all over my
suit, but they didn't really seem to make a shape or emblem, and the only thing I could think of
that would have an emblem on it, the glowing chestpiece, was also devoid of any such symbol. I
shrugged and pressed the watch again, putting the suit away. If there was ever going to be a
symbol on my chest, I wouldn't ever be able to think of anything good that wouldn't look silly as
hell.
I put my pajamas back on and climbed back into bed, this time actually tucking myself under the
sheets. Since Sarah wasn't up yet, I figured I would get a little bit more shut-eye in spite of the
fact that I had just showered and everything. I rolled over, snuggling up to some pillows, and
drifted off.
~~~
I woke up again as the light coming through my window got brighter. I also heard a ringtone
going off in my room, and force of habit commanded my hand to reach for my phone on my
desk, but it wasn't there. I shook myself off from my bed and realized I had nearly made a grave
mistake. I stumbled out of my sheets, nearly tripping on them, and lunged for my closet, digging
through and grabbing the jeans I was wearing the night before. Sure enough, I had almost
doomed my phone to a watery fate, one that even a bowl of rice couldn't save it from. (Sarah
tried it once and said it was fake. She had to get a new phone. It was tragic for a brief moment,
but she got a better phone out of it so whatever.)
The phone was low on battery, so I plugged it into the charger and inspected the notification I
had just gotten. It was a text from Amanda. It read: Oh man, I'm so sorry that I couldn't go on
the date like we planned for last night! Do you want to go for lunch to make up for it?
I weighed my options and I thought about what I was doing for the day. Nothing, with a side of
nothing, and then a second course of nothing after. I texted her back: sure, what time? let me
know when and where. I put the phone down on my desk and looked through my closet for stuff
I wanted to wear, before deciding on a favorite T-shirt, jacket, and jeans, and my best red hi-top
sneakers. I also grabbed a pair of cloth wristbands- white, with green lines around them- and put
them on each wrist- the one on my left covered up the watch pretty well. When I was done
getting dressed, I checked and saw a reply from Amanda: You can meet me at 1:30 at the In-NOut by The Spot. I smiled. She knew how to win me over pretty easily. It isn't really that hard to

tempt pretty much any native Californian with the promise of In-N-Out Burger. I checked the
time on my phone (it read 11:44 AM) and replied with a sounds good, see you there c: and left
the phone to charge, going through to the hallway and heading to the kitchen to fix myself a light
breakfast. I rummaged through the fridge, found some frozen waffles and orange juice, and
poured myself a glass as I put the waffles in a toaster and waited.
Sarah soon walked into the living space from the hallway. She had her hair done up in a bun, and
her makeup from the last night was smeared a little and flaking off. I guess I wasn't the only one
who hadn't completely bothered to make themselves comfortable before going to sleep. Unlike
me, however, she had the sense of mind to go to bed in pajamas, or at least, a tank top and
sweatpants.
She yawned, covering her mouth. "Morning," she mumbled through her fingers. "Waffles?"
"Do you want some?"
She nodded very slowly, slumping into one of the two chairs at the small dining table, ducking
her head into her elbows. "And coffee. I'm dying."
I nodded and chuckled.I didn't wake up with a hangover because mine was cured by the suit, or
the watch or whatever, a fact that I had sort of forgotten about and taken for granted. I prepared
the coffeemaker with water and grounds.
"It's coming up." The waffles also popped out of the toaster. I decided to give these ones to my
sister, since she probably needed something in her stomach. I also put a bottle of syrup on the
table beside the plate. She proceeded to pick up the bottle, and, in an almost comical fashion,
began pouring heaps of syrup onto the waffles until it threatened to spill over onto the table.
"Are you okay?" I chuckled as I served her the cup of coffee and put another set of waffles in.
Sarah looked at me with contempt. "Why aren't you about to fall over?"
I shrugged and thought of something on the spot. "I got home and went to bed earlier than you. I
also woke up a while ago so I got over it pretty quickly."
Sarah grumbled. "Lucky." Lucky for me, too. She didn't mention the suit, or having seen me, so I
guess that was a win for me. "What are you all dressed up for?"
"Going out later today."
"With Amanda?"
"Yeah."
"Didn't she stand you up last night?" She kneaded her eyelids.
"...Yeah." I coughed nervously.

The waffles popped out of the toaster. I served myself and sat down with my waffles and juice
across from my sister.
"So this is like, a make-up date?"
"Maybe. I guess?" I shrugged. "We're just getting lunch."
"Yeah, it's not like you can really make up New Years'." She took in the aroma of her coffee and
sighed with content. "I don't think I'm going to be doing anything today, so I'll be home by the
time you get back. I'll probably be napping." She rubbed her temples. "And regretting my life
choices."
"Sounds good to me." I finished my waffles, took the dirty dishes to the sink, and started rinsing
them off. "I'll be going in about an hour."
"Oh, can you take the laundry down then?"
"I guess so."
"Thanks. Mine's in my closet."
~~~
After I had finished doing both mine and my sister's laundry, I started heading out to The Spot.
The Spot is the worst name ever for the outdoor shopping mall that just went up recently, but it
was also probably one of the best places to hang out and shop. The mall was built in the center of
a new district between James and an older, neighboring town called Cherry. This new district,
Cherry Heritage, was itself being built over an old US Air Force base- two of the plane hangars
were still standing and being renovated into aerospace museums. During the recession of the last
decade, construction of the new homes and buildings was severely halted, but the goal was to
have a new school, public safety departments, and houses and shopping centers. Unfortunately,
hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they soon realized- the soil from the Air Force base was
contaminated with lead and other waste materials, so it became unsafe to reclaim water or grow
plants for food here. The only heritage any cherries here would have would be that they would
probably kill you if you ate them.
I mostly spent a lot of time going to the movie theater here, but there were a lot of other shops
too, like a Borders bookstore, various grocery stores, some specialty clothes shops, a huge shoe
store, and an arcade bowling alley. Each one of us in Rapid Transit had a different place we'd
like to hit up when hanging out here, and we hung out here a lot. Trent liked to go the bookstore
and get a cup of coffee; Scot liked to invite us for bowling, and Amanda would often drag me to
shop for clothes. I wouldn't have minded that so much if not for the fact that the shoe place rarely
had anything nice for men. (I'm always down for a new pair of hi-tops.)
Today I was stopping at In-N-Out for my lunch with Amanda. She told me to meet her here, not

pick her up and take her out, so I was wondering why she wanted me here. She knew that this
place was my favorite burger place, so maybe she just wanted to make up for last night.
I parked and got out of my car, stepping into the restaurant. Amanda was sitting at one of the
booths. She waved and smiled at me when she saw me enter the restaurant. I returned her
greeting and went to go sit with her.
"Hey." She stood up to give me a hug, tip-toeing to give me a kiss.
I knelt down to her and returned the gesture. "Hey." The two of us sat back down in the booth.
"I already ordered." She held the receipt up. "How are you?"
I thought about everything that happened last night. Apart from the party, I didn't think I could
tell Amanda about anything- she probably wouldn't believe me, and if she did she would
probably geek out really bad, and I couldn't risk that in public. Of course, there was also the
whole "for your own safety" thing.
"Uhm... I'm okay. Last night kind of sucked."
Amanda passed me my drink. "Yeah? I'm sorry about that. I wish I could've been there with you
instead."
"It's fine. It's just that I don't really care for any of Sarah's friends and the whole party was really
awkward. I got pretty drunk and I went home earlier than she did."
"You got drunk?" She smirked at me, her lips wrapped around a straw. "You seem fine to me."
I grinned and rubbed my left wrist gently. "I'm young, I can get over a hangover pretty quickly."
Amanda cocked an eyebrow at me. "Yeah, sure."
Our order was called, so I went to pick up our tray and came back to the table.
Amanda explained to me what she was doing for New Years' without me. "My parents needed
my help finishing tamales for the party. I thought that it would've all been done before our date,
but they ended up keeping me for longer than I wanted. I'm really sorry."
"As long as you saved me some tamales." I took a bite out of my burger. "We'll just have to do
something better next major holiday."
"Yeah. You have a month and a half to plan something romantic for Valentines' Day." She
winked at me.
I blushed. "Uhm, y-yeah. I don't really know anything about that."

"That's what happens when you don't go out on dates that often. Don't worry. You've known me
for four years. You'll figure something out." She put a handful of French fries in her mouth.
"But we've only really been dating for like a month." I grumbled.
"No whining." Amanda wiped her mouth of ketchup.
"Fine then. So what's going on today?"
"I'm just running errands and I thought I could catch up with you and your night. Maybe if you
want to, we can do a bit of shopping before I have to leave?"
I nodded. "Sure, sounds like fun."
So after we finished our lunch, we went around for a while, shopping for some clothes for us
both. I helped Amanda pick out a few outfits, although I'm not really that great at coordinating
fashion compared to her or my sister (and, don't tell Amanda I said this, but she looks pretty
good in anything and everything anyway.) I also got a new jacket for myself, and picked out
another pair of sneakers (the last ones they had!) so it was a win-win for both of us all around.
"Wanna plan another date?" I helped her put all of her bags away in her car.
"Something soon, sure." We leaned into each other for another kiss. "Maybe once we've figured
out what we're doing when school starts up again. See you."
She sat in her car and waved at me as she pulled out of the parking lot. I said goodbye to her and
headed back to my own car and also left The Spot.
As I was driving back home, I thought back to the night before. I was still somewhat in disbelief
over the whole thing, despite the fact that I had sort of proved to myself already that everything
that happened last night was real. I didn't remember the place where I was being held by Tape
Deck, but it probably wouldn't be that hard to find out. I pulled the wristband away from the
watch and pushed it, activating the suit again. This time, the text that came up looked kind of like
a GPS, except the road map was laid out 'in front' of my car, with different arrows and turns
mapped out on the streets. I remembered that this actually looked very similar to the map that
helped me get home the night before.
"How does this work?" I asked myself out loud. Before my eyes popped up a text document, the
corner of which read 1/1153 PGs. "Oh, I see. So I guess this suit is also sassy." I assumed from
that that the suit had voice activated directions. "Can this GPS map take me to where I was last
night, around 1 AM?" Sure enough, the road map in front of my eyes started drawing out a
bunch of direction arrows pointing me across the streets of James. "Cool."
I got to the place where I was being held. I didn't get a good look at it the night before, when my
only concern was getting home, but I got one now. There were loads and loads of old shipping
containers down in a drainage ditch, all of which the suit claimed were empty. I saw the one
where I was being held in- the door was still busted off on the ground. The container was big and

red, but didn't actually look any different than the other ones. I stepped down the slope and into
the ditch, and entered the red container again. I looked around, and even though it wasn't on, the
hanging lightbulb and the chair were still inside. I couldn't see how the lightbulb was turned on,
though. The lamp and wire that the bulb were hooked up to ran outside of the container through
the ceiling, or, I guess the top. The lid? Whatever. I went back outside and climbed up onto the
container to look for clues. There was a hole drilled through where the lightbulb was dangled in
from, with a little button attached to the wire. Clicking the switch on and off turned the lightbulb
on and off.
But there was nothing telling me anything about who these people were or where they went after
I did. "What happened after last night?" The suit didn't seem to interpret that as a command,
either, so nothing came up about Tape Deck.
Thinking about it, I tried to phrase that thought as a proper command: "Can you tell me about
Tape Deck or where she went?"
This particular remark brought up text reading [ CLASSIFIED ] flashing red. "I guess not." I
sighed and scratched my head, sitting on the roof and looking around the ditch, and up above me.
The skies were getting pinker and the clouds were getting wispier. That was probably a sign that
I should head home, but I got a feeling that maybe I should take a further look around.
I hopped down to the ground and took a look around the ditch again. I started making my way
through the maze of containers, seeing nothing really out of the ordinary. I wondered how they
got here and figured that there were train tracks nearby, so someone probably dumped them here
a long time ago, maybe in an accident. There wasn't anyone nearby besides me, so I decided that
I should probably head back to my car and go home.
Just then, I heard a noise- the rattling of metal on metal. "Where is that coming from?" A red blip
appeared on the mini-map in front of me. I slowly and quietly began walking in the direction of
the blip, hiding myself behind various containers. The metal-on-metal got louder. I peered
around a corner and saw a small group of people standing hunched over, huddling together. One
of them was dragging a lead pipe across the side of the containers. So it was more like lead on
metal. I heard them mumbling indistinctly. The suit amplified what they were whispering
amongst themselves.
"I heard that there was a woman here, but I guess not."
"What are we here for, anyway?"
"I dunno. All the guy told me was to look for a woman with a watch."
"A watch?"
Uh-oh. I was able to guess from this that there was more than one clandestine organization
interested in superpowered watches. This was a bad place to be for the owner of said watch. I

tried to sneak away and head back to my car, but I heard someone shout "Hey!" from down the
hall made by the containers.
"Oh boy." Suddenly, I was surrounded from all corners by small groups of thugs. One or two
more of them had pipes, and I saw one of them with a gun tucked down their pants, too.
"Hey, buddy. What are you doin' here? Where's your lady friend?" One of the thugs with a pipe
spoke up.
The suit was keeping me cool, but I was still sweating bullets. My fingers were twitching, and
my stomach was doing barrel rolls. The suit was putting targets on each one of the men
surrounding me. Thoughts were racing through my head faster than horses at a track. I knew that
I could probably live through this encounter, and even beat them all without a scratch to myself,
but I'd never done anything like this before.
"That's a nice watch you've got there."
I gulped. "Y-yeah? You want it?" I don't know what came over me. I was about to make either
the coolest or stupidest decision in my entire life. I stretched my arm out, my left arm, with the
watch on it, and beckoned them forward with a come hither motion. "Take it then."
The first guy lunged at me with a pipe. I closed my eyes and grit my teeth.
Clank!
"What the hell?!"
I opened my eyes. The man was standing before me, his mouth hanging open. I looked at the
pipe in his hand. It had a dent driven into it, a dent from my head. The pipe wielder was
mumbling in shock. The adrenaline and impulses in my head forced my mouth into a wild grin
beneath my mask. I had everything under control. I clenched my fingers into a fist and swung.
That was the first blow. The man went flying and slammed into the side of another container. At
this point, everyone else had lost their wits just as I and my first attacker had, so they all dove in
on me. When they did, I started punching back. This was the first time I had ever been in a fight,
so about half of me was focused on survival and the other half was focused on getting all of these
angry thugs to stop trying to beat me up. I just threw random, wild punches, but fortunately my
attackers were also random and wild, so it worked, and the fact that, for all intents and purposes,
I was super strong and indestructible definitely helped. Every punch or kicked I landed knocked
another mook into a wall, and every punch or kick they landed resulted in them groaning in pain
and rubbing their respective appendages. Suddenly, I heard a loud bang noise, followed shortly
by a stinging sensation in my chest.
Uh-oh. That was definitely a gunshot. Was I dead? I didn't feel dead. I looked down at myself
and there wasn't a hole in my suit, or my chest, and there wasn't any blood or anything either,

although my chest was a little sore. Further down was the shell from a bullet, right under my
foot.
Ohhh.
The man with the gun kept shooting me, but it didn't really work that well. I thought that being
shot with a gun- you know, a weapon designed to kill people with metal projectiles that pierce
skin- would be a lot more awful, traumatizing, and horrifying, but it wasn't that terrible when I
was already fully gone passed Fight-or-Flight Level: Pants-pissed, so all I did was watch- and
feel- all of this guy's rounds stinging me in my chest, rolling off of the suit's material like
raindrops on an umbrella. The thug kept clicking the trigger, but no more bullets were going to
be fired. I approached the man and took the gun from his quivering hand.
In a brief fit of rationality, I decided that I should probably ask him about the people who sent
him and his buddies to investigate the containers. "Hey, can I ask you about-"
Nope. The guy tried to run off. Fortunately, I had just gotten a watch that turned me into a
superhuman being, with superhuman speed being an implied power of superhuman strength. I
lunged after him and grabbed him- very gently, I remembered- by the collar.
"Hey man, wait!"
"Don't- don't hurt me!!"
"I'm not trying to. Just- just stop for a second!"
Eventually, after trying to pin him down for a few minutes, I had finally stopped him at the
expense of exhausting both him and myself. I sat him down and stood over him.
"Now, will you please answer my questions? Nicely? And calmly?"
The man sighed and reluctantly nodded.
"So, who tipped you off about the lady with the watch?"
The man shrugged. "I dunno. Some guy. Our boss said he was this bald white dude with a nice
suit. We met him in LA in a bar, and he gave our boss some cash to look for a redheaded woman
and grab her watch."
"Is that all you knew?"
"Look, man. I'm not like those stupid guys in the movies. I know that not telling you hero-types
things you wanna know is bad for my health. I swear, man."
I shrugged. "Fair enough." I started walking away, stepping over groaning and moaning bodies
of beaten-down gangsters.

As I got out of the container ruins and made it to my car, I suddenly felt all of my insides being
rearranged back into how they should normally feel, particularly when you just survived what is
typically a near-death experience for anyone who isn't a superhero, and collapsed by the driver's
side door. I was panicking and didn't think to reach for the watch, so I looked for some sort of
opening on the suit's 'fabric' where I could pull the mask off my face. When I found it I
immediately pulled it off, bent over, and hurled. So much for that lunch with Amanda. I gasped
for air in between slinging puke underneath my car, heaving and stumbling over my suddenly
weak muscles. I guess the healing ability provided by the watch wasn't completely perfect. I
made a mental note to talk to Tape Deck about that if I ever saw her again.
After lying down for a moment, I began breathing normally again, at which point I put the mask
back on and climbed into my car. I pushed the watch and brought my clothes back, taking a few
moments to calm myself down completely and piece together everything that just happened.
"People are after the watch." I said to myself. I repeated those words solemnly. "People are after
my watch."
~~~~~~
Chapter Four
Meditation
At this point, I had to look over all of the implications of what the events that just transpired
really meant, and how they affected me.
This group of thugs that I had just beaten up didn't pose a threat to me as long as I had my watch.
But what if I had been caught off-guard without it? What if they had found me the night before?
Would I have been in danger then? Would Tape Deck have been in danger? What if they come
back tomorrow, or the day after, or the week, month, whatever? Would they stop? And who
exactly is this bald guy who's sending them after the watch? And what does he know? Was he
one of the nine people with a watch too?
I shook that thought from my head. No, that wouldn't make sense. If he had the watch, then
wouldn't he have just come by himself and fight me? Then again, none of this made sense either,
so I guessed I should just be prepared for anything.
I could put together a few things about this guy:
1. He was a member of Project Philanthropy or a related group.
2. He had enough money to throw around to pay off a squad of goons to come to James and
rough-house people.
3. He knows about Tape Deck.

4. He knows about the watch.


Fact one implied that he's either trying to make superhumans, trying to become a superhuman, or
already is one and wants the watch for whatever reason that may imply. Fact two implied that
there was some jerk-ass rich dude who was deeply involved in stuff like this. Fact three and four
would directly support fact one- I don't know much about Project Philanthropy, but anyone who
does would know who Miss Tape Deck was, and would also have a lot of knowledge about the
watch and the suit.
But none of this really mattered in the long run. All I knew now was that I was in a lot of deep
shit.
I couldn't get rid of the watch. Tape Deck had told me that much. I had to keep the watch for a
whole year- three hundred and sixty four days remaining. I didn't know who I could contact or
talk about this with for help. The police could probably help, but I felt like superhuman
melodrama was a little bit above their pay grade. I couldn't risk endangering my friends or
family, and I didn't think I could protect them all by myself.
Could I reach out to Tape Deck? Or anyone else in Project Philanthropy? I didn't know how, but
they would probably like to know if someone was coming after their property, right?
It was worth a shot.
"Can I call Tape Deck?" Sure enough, a little call icon showed up before my eyes, and I heard a
soft ringing noise. Then, a little click noise.
"Mr. Kyler."
"Is this Miss Tape Deck?"
"How are you enjoying the Olympian Enhancement Suit?"
"Uhm..." I folded my arms. Her question took me off guard. "I'm... it's okay, I guess?"
"What are you calling for, Mr. Kyler?"
Being called mister was unsettling. "I'm, uh... who would want this watch?"
A pause.
"Hello?"
"Could you rephrase your question, Mr. Kyler?"
"Uhh..." I thought of a better and more forward way to repeat it. "Who would try to kill me and
take the watch?"

"You haven't lost it, have you?"


"I thought you'd be able to tell! And how would I be able to call you without it?" I grumbled.
This was like calling tech support.
"Just making sure. I do not know of any one specific individual or faction who would hunt you
for the OED. There are multiple splinter cells and competing groups who would likely covet
such power."
"Oh. Great." I began to feel queasy again. She basically meant that there would be all sorts of
bad guys coming after me.
"Fear not. I will do some investigation of my own and make sure these individuals are put in
their place. You can rest easy for the time being."
"Wait! But you won't tell me anything about them? Will I hear back from you? What if they
come back?"
"I don't think I'm allowed to tell you about such things at the moment. I must go make the
preparations to protect our interests in James, California. Goodbye. Call again if there is anything
important you need to discuss."
"But this is important!" Too late. She hung up.
I groaned and pressed the watch, putting the suit away. Tape Deck made it clear that I wasn't
going to be enlightened about what exactly I was involved in any time soon. After venting my
frustrations on my steering wheel, I relaxed myself and figured that I had no other choice other
than to wait for something else to happen to me. I had no major lead that would allow me to
Colombo this on my own, and I assumed that even if Tape Deck made good on her promise to
'protect her interests,' as she described me so impersonally, there would still be some nuts headed
my way soon.
Either way, all I could do was wait.
~~~
Sarah was on the couch watching home decorating shows when I got back to the apartment.
"Hey. How was the date? I thought you'd be back earlier."
I hoisted the shopping bags I had over my head. "The date was fine, but she had to bail early."
My stomach grumbled. I grimaced at the thought of myself puking up what was a perfectly fine
burger just because I couldn't handle the pressure of fighting off a few guys with pipes and guns.
"I don't think they cooked the food well, though. I'm feeling a little sick."

Sarah waved me away. "There's a bottle of Pepto in my cosmetic's cabinet, I think, if you need it.
Go lie down for now, but I'll need your help with dinner."
I nodded and went to my room. Sarah's officer was gracious, but my stomach wasn't upset on
account of indigestion alone. I took off my jacket and shoes and crashed onto my couch. I sighed
and held my left hand above my head, looking at the watch. I began fiddling with the clasp with
my right hand, and found that it came off rather easily. There was a light ring of skin around my
wrist now- I had only been wearing it for about a day, but the patch where I wore it was pretty
obviously lighter than the rest of my skin on the same arm. I kept gently playing with it in my
hand, careful not to accidentally activate the suit, although I figured that wouldn't happen
without the watch actually on my wrist.
I still didn't know why this was all happening to me. My New Year was already off to a really
crazy start. I doubted I would get the answers to all my questions any time soon, especially since
Tape Deck seemed less than helpful on the occasions I had spoken to her. Either way, it didn't
change the fact that one, I didn't want this, and two, I didn't have any plans on engaging in
superheroism any time soon. Being a hero didn't make much sense to me- it was a high risk, low
reward job. Not even a job, more like volunteer work. I didn't have any motivation to be a hero
or anything like that either. At this point, I had realized that my only real choice was to wait a
whole year before I could get rid of the watch.
One whole year of trying to figure out how to fend off bad guys who wanted what I didn't. How
infuriating.
My phone started ringing. I picked it up from my pocket. It was Scot.
I answered it. "Hey, man."
"Yo, buddy! How's your winter break?"
I laughed. "I... well, it could use a change of pace."
"You're lucky I called them. Are you busy Friday?"
"Nah. What's up?"
"Friday and Saturday. Rehearsal and a show."
I nodded to no one in particular, since Scot wasn't actually in front of me. Rehearsal and a show.
Friday nights were band practice, and the next day we'd play at one of our usual places. Just a
small, local show, nothing special, but Scot and Rapid Transit by extension had a lot of name
recognition and star power, so there would always be a crowd as long as people had even an
inkling that Rapid Transit was gonna show up. We would make a little bit of cash off of the
hand-made merch that Amanda sometimes brought, and the official bootleg CDs that Scot would
also sell, and of course the crowd we brought did the venue well, so everyone won.

"Yeah, I'll be there." I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, something to keep my mind off of this
whole business with the watch until I went back to school next week. The Rapid Transit routine
was a comfortingly familiar one.
~~~
Friday came, and boy was I happy about that. I was honestly getting antsy just waiting around
for the weekend, sitting at home by myself, trying to pass the time. I got a lot of well-deserved
rest, but other than that I was sort of frustrating myself to anxiety because of the stress of it all.
But finally it was here. It was getting closer to evening, and I had been waiting literally all day to
leave the apartment. I even took the long way to Scot's (while making sure I was still on time)
just so I could spend some time outside and relax for a change.
Scot's parents both ran the family business of the music store, and it was pretty successful.
Successful enough for them to get a really nice house and help Scot pay for all of his musical
adventures. Their lawn was well-manicured, with all sorts of colorful and pretty flowers dotting
its landscape. They also had a paved stone path and a water fountain, which they only ever had
on sometimes because of drought regulations, but was still really pretty. Even my parents didn't
have a fountain. They had a pool, though. (But so did Scot's, so that comparison doesn't even
really matter.)
Amanda and Trent had gotten here a few minutes before me, but it's not like I was late. Their
cars were already in Scot's driveway. I got out of my own car and popped the trunk open,
slinging my bass guitar case over my shoulder. Once I locked my car, I went over to the front
door, rang the bell, and waited.
The door swung open and Scot's Cheshire cat grinning visage greeted me. "Hey, man! What kept
you?" He gleefully patted me on the back, thinking that his joke was funny- he knew that I didn't
really like being late to anything, even if I was unreliable and didn't want to show up to
something. (It wasn't like I didn't want to come over today, though- quite the opposite.)
I returned his smile, although I couldn't bring myself to be as bright as him. "Hey, Scot." I
nudged his shoulder with my own as I stepped in through the house's threshold. "Is everyone
already downstairs?"
He nodded. "Yeah. We're ready to get started. Just waiting on you, tall-dark-and-handsome."
I scowled. "I hate it when you call me that."
I followed Scot down through the basement stairs. Scot had set up the basement to be his own
personal recording studio of sorts. It wasn't really tricked out with anything super cool, but the
walls were soundproof and he had a computer that he put together himself and had hooked up to
all of the audio equipment. There was also a pretty comfy couch, where people who came over
for parties would sometimes sit if Scot decided to through an impromptu, quiet show. There
were, of course, some other personal amenities here and there- for instance, each of the four
walls was dedicated to one of us, the space being ours to fill with whatever we wanted. It was

sort of a tradition for us to line the top of our walls with the covers of our favorite albums. Scot
had a bunch of classic hard rock albums from the 70s and on, being particularly fond of AC/DC
and Led Zeppelin. Trent had a lot of varying taste but it was mostly jazz and hip-hop: Marvin
Gaye's What's Going On, De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, and The Bizarre Ride to the
Pharcyde were among his favorites. Amanda was unashamed of her geekdom and had the
soundtracks from some of her favorite video games up, most of which I didn't recognize, but I
did recognize the cover of American Idiot. As for me, I had hung up the album art for Temple of
the Dog, Badmotorfinger, and Ten. Scot's side of the room also had some instruments (for play,
decoration, and both) hanging on it. Recently, he even put a fridge in the corner and stocked it
with drinks and cold snacks, and brought down a second couch that sat back-to-back with the
other, and a flatscreen TV complete with cable, a Blu-Ray player, and some of his own game
consoles.
It was pretty much the best part of Scot's place, which in turn was the best place for us to hang
out ninety-nine percent of the time. And Scot knew it, having spared no expense on making it so.
Amanda and Trent were already waiting in their positions on stage. Trent was behind the drum
kit and Amanda was sitting on a stool to the left (stage right? I'm a musician and I still don't
know) of the mic stand, her Fender Stratocaster in her lap. Scot's guitar, a round, horny (heh)
Gibson SG was resting beside his stool, to the right (...stage left) of the mic stand. I got to my
position, shook Trent's hand, hugged Amanda, and set up my bass. If you must know, since I'm
naming everyone else's equipment, my bass is a Rickenbacker 4001. It's got a kind of weird
shape to it, but it's the same type of bass that Paul McCartney played. Scot got it for me as a gift,
and he told me that thinking I would be impressed, and I was, sort of, but it wasn't really my
intention to channel the Beatles, since I wasn't a huge fan to begin with.
"So," I began as I settled into my own seat, "what's the deal, guys?"
Trent shrugged nonchalantly, taking a cigarette from a pack and striking a match.
Amanda answered for Trent. "I think Scot said he was gonna go over the setlist when we all
showed up."
Scot nodded. "Right. I'll talk about that with you guys, but first, there's something important that
I should probably mention. It's about tomorrow's show."
Already the anxiety that I was attempting to relieve by agreeing to play the show to begin with
was coming back. "Don't tell me Hiroshi's going to be there."
Scot nodded again, solemnly. "The Repugnant Thug. We each get a half hour of play. They play
before us."
Amanda grumbled. "I mean, I don't know why we're surprised at this point, but it sort of sucks
that we're kicking off 201X and we already have to share a venue again. This shit is such a pain."
"Hanging out with Travis isn't always so bad," I reasoned. "But Hiroshi is such a prick."
Trent nodded in agreement. "He's bad news."

Scot grunted in acknowledgement of everyone's negative sentiment. "I don't like him either, and
to be honest I don't care for his sound or what his band brings to the local scene, but The
Repugnant Thug is getting a lot more popular and we have to get used to sharing venues."
"I wish I didn't have to." Amanda thumbed her nose.
I didn't like to voice it every time, but I agreed with Amanda silently. Hiroshi always felt like
some sort of rival, someone who was better than me at almost everything, or some kind of bully
who was always on the aggressive and trying to intimidate me. I don't really know why I got that
vibe- I didn't know why I should be intimidated by someone shorter than me, especially when
Scot was always around to back me up, but something about him just gave off that feeling, and I
didn't like it. It made my hair stand on end, and I would end up feeling smaller and just
uncomfortable overall.
"Yeah, me neither. But I guess it's something we have to deal with until people stop showing up
for their shows." Scot shrugged.
Amanda crossed her arms. "You know, Scot, the reason why they turn up to their shows is
because we're always on after them. They've been riding on Rapid Transit's coattails since day
one."
"That might not necessarily be true..." I didn't want to believe that our two fanbases had a mutual
overlap.
"It is." Trent puffed a whiff of smoke.
"In any case..." Scot grinned ear-to-ear. "All of us here should know by now, we're better than
them in pretty much every conceivable way, right?"
The three of us remaining hesitantly looked at each other and slowly nodded in agreement.
"C'mon, guys! We've got three musical geniuses, one of them being super famous and manly,
and the most handsome and attractive frontman on the face of the earth!"
"Can't argue with that one," Amanda purred, winking at me.
I blushed. "Uhm- can- can we just... aren't we going to review the setlist?"
"Sure thing, buddy." He produced a paper with song titles written on it, passing it to me. It was a
pretty short list, five or six songs, with two crowd favorites thrown in. "Do you think that's
good?"
"Hmm..." I gestured for the Sharpie that Scot used to write on the page. When he handed it to
me, I began drawing arrows indicating what I wanted switched around. "I wouldn't open with
'Livewire.' Not powerful enough and doesn't have a lot of hype. Maybe 'WDYWMTD.'" (That's

'What Do You Want Me to Do?' We don't have emo band status title lengths, more like British
indie rock level.)
I passed the page around and the band continued making additions and subtractions until the
final setlist was ready, at which point Scot prepared to lead us into practice. We jammed out for
about the length of the whole set, which was a lot more exhausting than I had initially thought
given that it had only been a few weeks since we last played together. I was probably bent out of
shape for no real reason other than my general anxiety and mood over the past couple of days.
After another half hour of us repeating the set again, Scot set down his guitar and the rest of us
put our instruments down in suit.
"Whew. I'm going to go upstairs and chill out. Maybe change my shirt." He poked at his shirt
collar and kept waving it open, fanning the air in and out from his chest. "Or maybe just practice
without it. Who knows?" He winked at everyone in the room. Amanda snickered. "Break time,
guys." Scot went upstairs.
Trent had already lit up twice in the basement, but he knew that Scot was secretly not fond of
him potentially smoke damaging his equipment. "Smoke break." He left the basement too.
It was me and Amanda, alone in the basement. I settled into the couch and exhaled deeply.
Amanda snuggled up beside me.
"Are you feeling okay?" She whispered to me.
Amanda would always stress honesty with me, and I heard that honesty was one of the keystones
that a proper relationship was built on, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to tell her the truth. "Sort of.
Not really."
"Is it the show?"
I frowned. "How do I sound tonight?"
"Pretty good, for someone who doesn't practice as often as the rest of us."
"Well, that's good then." I reclined into the couch cushions a little. Amanda moved to the side a
little, silently giving me permission to put my left arm around her, which I did. "I just don't like
being around Hiroshi, and seeing him up there with someone who used to be my friend makes it
worse."
"Do you feel betrayed?"
"Sort of? I don't really feel like I knew him that well, but I know that it sort of sucked for Scot
and I to see him go and then come back as... well..."
"An enemy?"

"I don't want to say that. I feel like that's too strong of a word."
"But something like that, right?"
"Yeah." I ran my free hand through my hair in exasperation. "But I also just feel anxious in
general."
"Why's that?"
In spite of the whole honesty thing, I elected not to tell her about the watch. "I dunno. Just got
this feeling. Do you ever get those? Uncomfortable feelings that you can't shake? Like, there's
something you forgot to do, or you feel like something awful's going to happen?"
Amanda nodded. "Sometimes. But when the thing actually happens, most of the time at least, it's
not so bad."
I rested my head on hers. "I hope you're right." I mean, there was no way for her to know that I
was referring to my potentially impending doom at the hands of one or more clandestine
organizations hell-bent on stealing a watch from me in order to empower themselves with
superhuman abilities, but still, her relatively simple advice could still be poignant to me.
Scot came back downstairs with a different shirt, and Trent followed him a few minutes after, the
scent of tobacco trailing behind him as he appeared. After Scot poked fun at me and Amanda for
cuddling up on his couch, we all got ready to play for another hour of rehearsal. We would be
ready to follow up The Repugnant Thug again by tomorrow for sure- the constant practice and
the talents of my fellow band members made sure of that. The real question was, would I be able
to steel my own nerves for the performance? I had a foreboding feeling that my ability or
inability to get it together by tomorrow's show would also reflect how well I would be able to
handle other, more distant events to come. Or maybe that was just some bullshit. I still don't
really know for sure, but there was only one way to find out.
~~~~~~
Chapter Five
Performance
Scot had picked us all up and loaded us in his parents' van, with most of our gear in the trunk.
Trent was sitting shotgun, while Amanda and I were in the back seats- I was sitting behind Scot.
I was absentmindedly gazing out the window, looking at the James landscape, which wasn't
really special in and of itself- just rows and rows of houses that all looked the same, with the
same freshly cut lawns and pine trees. If your house wasn't a new development, like within-thepast-five-years-or-so new, it was the same bland copy-and-paste job as everyone else's.
Everything was so monotonous and peaceful. I couldn't imagine a James, California where a
superhero was needed. I silently wished that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't have to deal with any
of those same goons from the other day for the next year.

I had put my hand in the middle of my seat in my daze, and Amanda had put it in her own,
rubbing it gently. I slowly realized that the sensation I was feeling was her thumb caressing my
knuckles. I looked at her apprehensively, and she just gave me the same warm and gentle smile
that she always gave me when she knew I was feeling anxious. I knew she meant well, but I also
knew that I couldn't tell her about what was going on with me. I just couldn't risk what I knew
from movies to be the typical reaction to girlfriend-finds-out-about-her-boyfriend's-superheroalter-ego. Amanda was a big girl, she could take care of herself, but until I knew more about
Project Philanthropy, I didn't want to involve her in anything that could be considered dangerous
to people without an indestructible supersuit. I smiled back at her and went in for a quick kiss on
the cheek, but she intercepted it with her lips instead.
"You'll be fine, hun." I know she was only referring to the show, but her words, as simple as they
were, still calmed me down quite a bit. At least, Amanda's kind and soft demeanor definitely
helped a lot more than Scot's approach to resolving my anxiety issues- random, repeated
exposure to things that terrified me. I mean, it worked for me, at least, but it was still exhausting.
Scot scoffed at us. "You're not going to get up to anything naughty in my car. Not before the
show, anyway."
Amanda scowled back at him. "I don't think I would ever have sex anywhere you have."
"I haven't had sex with anyone back there."
"Yet." Trent grumbled.
Scot had a good laugh at that. "Haha, yeah, yet!"
I shuddered at the thought of sitting in Scot's potential leftovers. "I'm never carpooling with you
in this car again, Scot."
"Be sure to scrub the seats down after giving him a ride."
"Hehe..." Scot was still chuckling. "Ethan wouldn't give me a ride."
"Oh, shut up!"
~~~
The Three Rockets was, err, three things in particular. One, it was the only major bar-slashvenue within the James city limits that would serve minors (even denying them alcohol on
occasion,) which meant that it was the best venue to draw in the crowd of people who would be
most likely to know or care about us- that is, other kids from school. Two, it was the only venue
within the James city limits, period, which made it convenient for everyone involved. Three, it
was the biggest shithole that I had ever been to. The Three Rockets was where I had my first preshow panic attack, puking my guts out in a dumpster behind the building with Scot slapping my

back hard; it was where Scot coined the term 'garbage rock' after punching out a heckler and
sticking him with the dental bill; it was where I had my first drink (so, in a way, it was indirectly
responsible for setting me down the road that led to me obtaining the watch in the first place;)
and it was also where we encountered The Repugnant Thug for the first time.
There were a lot of memories welled up in this audacious refuge for hipsters with one too many
piercings, tattoos, and body mods in places where such things probably don't belong. The doors
to the bathrooms had been busted down a long time ago, probably by Scot in a fit of pre- and
post- show hype and zeal, and had never been replaced, so the odors wafted into the bar and
mingled with the scent of stale alcohol, staler cigarettes, and various perfumes, deodorants, and
the lack thereof. Further lending credence to the notion that Scot was the culprit behind the
defacing of the bathroom doors was the fact that he would often be "found" in the ladies' room
"by accident," much to Amanda's secondhand embarrassment (but not like the other female
patrons really minded. Scot just has that kind of power, I guess.) Along the walls were tattered
ads and posters for other shows by smaller bands that had come and gone- a lot of the newer
pages were of us. It was sort of weird and surreal seeing my own face (and everyone else's) being
plastered all over the walls of some random, shitty bar.
And in spite of all of its shortcomings, we had come to call this place home, too.
We had unloaded all of our things and were sitting backstage. Scot brought us all different drinks
of our choice: Scot himself had insisted on being allowed a beer from tap, but had to settle for a
ginger ale after being reminded that a. he was our designated driver and b. he was underage
anyway; that didn't stop Trent from getting a beer, though; Amanda had a coffee with a dab of
cream and sugar (seriously, she only put in like half the creamer from the little cup thingy and a
pinch of sugar from the packet;) and I had a Coke.
"Man, these guys are no fun." Scot stared at his ginger ale, the longing for a different cold, tall,
frothy, golden-brown liquid twinkling in his eyes.
"See, Scot, if you let me drive next time, not only will I not have to sit in your potential semen
seats, you'll be able to drink however much you like. Win-win for all of us."
Scot grinned at me and tipped his glass my way, nearly spilling some of the froth. "I like that
plan, buddy."
Trent shook his head and took a sip from his own beer. "Tee-are-tee haven't shown up yet."
Amanda crossed her arms. "Let's hope it stays that way."
We had spoken too soon, as is always the case when one speaks of the devil. The door to the
backstage room swung open and The Repugnant Thug's members were standing in the hallway.
Hiroshi Sato was always wearing the same leather biker jacket, covered with studded spikes on
its shoulders. His bleached blonde hair hung in messy bangs that cast a shadow over his beady
black eyes, which seemed to pierce through the person they were staring at. Travis also had the

leather biker look going on, with strapped wristbands around his arms, which looked more like
the belt that he had around his pants than any real type of normal fashion accessory, and black
hair that he had spiked up in the back. I didn't have the heart to tell him that while it might've
looked cool to him, it looked like a bird's butt to me. Samantha had on the same super modest
sweater and skirt combo that she always wore- everything about her appearance and demeanor
was the opposite of the other guys in her band. I still don't know why she stuck around. Brennan
Smith was... well.. Brennan Smith. He was so weird and spacey it was unnerving. I don't know
how he can see through his mop hair. I don't want to know. If superheroes were real, Brennan's
superpower was creeping me out.
Hiroshi gazed at each of us and smirked, slinging his bass guitar down and taking a seat on the
couch across from us. The rest of his band followed suit.
"Happy New Year, everyone." Hiroshi clasped his hands together and rested his hands on them,
putting his elbows on his knees. "How's our favorite garbage rock band doing?"
"Coming from you, it sounds like you're genuinely trying to be nice for once, Hiro." Scot hid his
repulsed expression behind his ale's glass.
"I'm in a good mood for once. And tonight's show is going to be pretty impressive."
"Yeah, you're right. I hear the act after yours is especially awesome." Amanda couldn't hide her
own satisfaction at having said something minorly clever.
"C'mon, guys." Travis sighed. "What's the harm in a little bit of friendly rivalry? No need to be
rude."
"Travis is right, Hiro. No need to be fucking rude." I thought I was being funny too.
Hiroshi put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it. "You're pretty damn childish, Kyler. Of course,
that's what I expect from the frontman of an overrated band of hipsters not even out of high
school yet."
"Listen you shit, you and your band are a bunch of high school hipsters too." I started wringing
my left wrist. "If you had an idiom dictionary and there was a picture of 'pot calling the kettle
black,' there'd be a picture of you next to it."
"And if there was an award for shitty jokes and comebacks, you'd be the Guinness Book of
Records record holder for 'most times earned.'"
The tension in the room was getting electric on one side and oppressive on the other. My
knuckles were whiter than my already pale skin. Samantha was sweating bullets- if she knew she
was going to be in such a heated atmosphere she shouldn't have brought along a sweater. Travis
was gripping Hiroshi's shoulder, much like Amanda was holding onto Scot's arm, who was more
liable to leap out of his seat and throw a punch than I was. Brennan Smith had said nothing the
whole time and his mouth was slightly agape.

One of the sound guys saved us from the oncoming bloodbath. "The Repugnant Thug? You guys
are on for sound check."
"That's our cue." Travis was the first to stand up. Samantha followed suit quickly, grateful to exit
the uncomfortable situation Hiroshi and I had unwittingly put her in. Brennan finally realized
that something was going on and hesitantly followed Travis, seemingly unsure if that's what he
was supposed to be doing. Hiroshi was the last one to get out from the couch.
"We'll settle this with sound instead, I guess." Hiroshi put out his cigarette in the ashtray on the
table in the center of the room, and walked out of the room along with the rest of his friends.
"Hey, sorry about all this, guys." Travis waved at Scot and I. "No hard feelings. Good luck with
the spot you have after us."
I sighed, already exhausted by the brief Mexican standoff. "Yeah, yeah. Good luck to you too, I
guess." Travis nodded and left.
Scot got up and beckoned to the rest of us. "Well, we might as well be nice enough to go take a
seat and catch their show, right?"
"Well, aren't you just a wellspring of patience today?" Amanda stood up as well. "That's a weird
change in attitude considering you were just about to slug that guy a few seconds ago."
"Yeah, well Scot's weird." I made to leave too. "So there's that."
~~~
The Repugnant Thug was about to play. The four of us had a table in the back of the bar, all of us
turned to face the stage. I wasn't particularly looking forward to a half hour of mindless noise,
especially not after all of the nonsense in the back room, so I was just piddling about, playing
with my drink's straw. Trent was smoking away, reclined in his chair. Scot was the only one
watching with intent- I wondered if he actually took this feud seriously compared to everyone
else. Of course, Hiroshi likely took it seriously enough to likely throw a fist around or too, so I
was still pretty on edge about the whole thing.
Hiroshi stepped up to the microphone stand. "Hello, everyone. We're The Repugnant Thug.
Thanks for coming out for us." A round of appreciative applause rang out.
Amanda sighed. "We should probably set up the merch for our show, right?"
Trent nodded. "I'll help." The two of them got up from their chairs. "Scot. Keys."
"Huh? Oh right." Scot gave Trent his car keys.

"Thanks. The more of the show we miss, the better. Have fun, boys." Amanda ran her hand
through my hair playfully and then left with Trent.
I sighed. I couldn't really hold it against her this time either, but it seemed that Amanda was
slowly getting into the habit of abandoning me in hard times. Well, not hard, because that sounds
a lot harsher than it really is. Just inconvenient times.
Scot and I were left alone at the table, with Scot saying nothing. I sighed and turned all of my
attention to TRT, none of it which they actually deserved.
The show was about to begin. Hiroshi began with a heavy bass riff, with the other members of
his band following suit in a specific order. Samantha started beating on the pads of the drumset- I
was always really surprised by how intense and powerful her rhythm was in spite of her really
quiet and soft outward appearance. I guess if there really was an idiom picture dictionary, her
face would be the picture right by "don't judge a book." Brennan was also full of surprises- when
he was standing with a guitar draped over his shoulder, he actually looked like he was aware of
what he was doing. Of course, that was the only time he ever looked like he knew what he was
doing. As Hiroshi and Samantha led the band in a harsh and deep rhythm, Brennan followed
through with a hard and powerful harmony. Now it was Travis's turn. Of the three of them,
Travis was the only one who I was genuinely impressed with, as well as the only one whose
talent I was aware of. Travis belted out a fiery chord, shredding along the wires of his own
guitar. The ensemble had stepped into a hard rock tune with a dark, post-grunge influence, one of
their famous opening songs, 'Numb.' Hiroshi opened his lips and began crooning into the
microphone, with a guttural tone several octaves lower than his natural speaking voice.
I can't feel you
I can't see you
I can't hear you
But I still want to touch you
I don't want to feel so numb
Just some gritty nonsense, if you asked me. The music was actually not half bad, but it was too
bad that their band wasn't just pure instrumentals, because Hiroshi's lyrics were nonsensical and
his singing voice sounded like a shoddy, almost comedic imitation of Kurt Cobain. The song
continued for a while like this- TRT's songs were usually really long and mostly just consisted of
really odd guitar riffs and solos, one of which Travis had just gotten into. He was tearing it up,
honestly. Scot would've had a run for his money. I glanced over at Scot and he seemed to think
the same thing. I even saw him tapping his foot in time with the music, as Hiroshi's bass
thrummed through the bar and Samantha's drums sounded almost like shots of cannonfire. I was
honestly getting a little tired of this whole thing. I probably wouldn't have been so cynical about
it if Hiroshi wasn't always a dick to me, and if they didn't always rely on the same crowd
pleasing songs. A little bit of variety would've been nice once in a while.
~~~

Eventually, their set was over. I'm not going to sit here and ramble on about all thirty minutes of
their show, because honestly, who ever heard of someone trying to describe a concert to
somebody who was completely unfamiliar with the band?
I guess by that token I shouldn't really tell you all about my own show, especially since it
wouldn't be fair of me after having just said that, and there's going to be so many more
opportunities for me to tell you about them later on, so I'll distill this bit for you.
We got up on the stage for sound check. Hiroshi bumped my shoulder with his as his band
stepped down and we went up. I growled at him. I was not in the mood for his shit, but Amanda
put her hand in mine and I backed down. The four of them went to go sit in the back, at the table
where we sat. I could see the whole bar from where I was standing as I was getting set up- there
were a few people crowded around our merch table, which some Three Rockets employees were
managing. It was mostly just shirts and official bootleg CDs, which were basically just mixes of
what we were going to play for the night. Scot gets a bunch of spare CDs in bulk and burns our
music onto them overnight. For him and his setup, it's pretty easy so long as he keeps the supply
to a small number, like fifty or so, and there's usually some left over from each show which
makes restocking our bootlegs easier. Travis flashed a thumbs up at me- or maybe it was at Scot,
I couldn't really tell, but the sentiment was still felt- from the table in back.
There was also a crowd gathering up at the front of the stage. These people I knew for a fact
were here for Scot- it wasn't ambiguous at all. I could tell they were here for Scot because they
were all girls. Like I said before, Scot's groupie crowd was pretty fantastic. A lot of them were
regular fans, and a few of them, Scot had even, err, briefly dated. What mostly surprised me was
the lack of animosity between the girls who had been one-or-two-or-however-many-night stands.
I think there was some sort of unspoken understanding that Scot was just a ladykiller, and as long
as he was handsome and genuinely treated these girls okay it didn't really bring anyone any
harm. I would be lying if I said I wasn't jealous, if only because I was terrible with girls and Scot
never really helped me out with that sort of thing. Yeah, I was dating Amanda, and it's not like I
would ever cheat or dump her for some stupid fling, but still, a little bit of experience before
having gone out with her wouldn't have hurt.
Anyway, sound check was eventually over with and we got started.
"Hey guys." I said into the mic. "We're, uh, Rapid Transit. Uh, well, you know who we are."
When I said this, the crowd applauded loudly- much louder than they did for TRT, might I add.
A few of the girls up front screamed a bit, too.
We opened with 'WDYWMTD.'
'What Do You Want Me to Do?' is my favorite song in our lineup for a lot of reasons. For
starters, I wrote the damn thing. It's my baby. I don't think I've put as much effort into these
lyrics as I have into anything else. It's equal parts cheese and heartfelt rock ballad.
The song starts with a patented Scot Young-signature electric guitar solo that would make
AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' shit its pants in fear. The backing guitar then follows through with

repeated power chords that match Scot's melody. Trent's drum beat then takes a while to kick in,
but when it does it feels like your heart's going to burst through your chest. The bassline comes
in when I start singing:
The last time I saw you, you were running off a cliff
Diving off the deep end, embracing the abyss
You felt at home within, your joints growing stiff
You didnt seem to care that it was you that was most missed
The last time I heard from you, it was a voicemail on my phone
You told me it was fine, you didnt need another lecture
You were doing okay, you wanted to try going it alone
You said it wasnt a game, it was a brand new adventure
And then the chorus comes in:
What do you want me to do?
What do you want me to do?
You get fed up with me and you tell me that were through
What do you want me to do?
What do you want me to do?
Now youre crawling back to me?
Hell no, Im done with you!
At this point, the song has slipped into a pretty steady rhythm. When Scot's playing on the stage
he tends to shut his eyes and do crazy stuff like hold the guitar behind his head and strum out
arpeggios while Amanda's still playing the rhythm.
I thought you were capable of making rational decisions
I didnt realize that your brain was full of fluff
You didnt know it was within my heart where you made the first incision
Now you know the wolf pack youre running with aint quite so tough!
*CHORUS*
After the chorus, there's like a minute long Scot solo, which, when played live at The Three
Rockets, usually consists of him cutting his fingers up (not literally, at least not always) on his
SG and hopping around the stage, with power chords that also slice the audience deep. Then, the
guitars die down and it's just me and Trent playing drum and bass side by side.
Was that you the other day, washed up on my doormat?
You looked pretty tired, I thought you were dead.
I stepped over you to get in, locked you out of my flat
Youre not my problem anymore. Ive moved on ahead.
Then the guitars open up the stage like Moses parting the waves as I go into the final chorus.

*CHORUS*
I hope you find someone else to clean up your mistakes.
Someone to save you from your own deep-seated sins.
Until then, were over. You dont have what it takes.
Until I know for sure youve changed, then maybe Ill let you in.
And just as suddenly as it began, with a slam from all of us on our respective instruments, the
song's over.
I like to think that the song isn't necessarily about two lovers, because that's really cliche, and
more like two best friends who have quarreled for a while before the speaker of the song ends up
being abandoned. I didn't really get the song's theme and lyrics from any personal events, but I
definitely felt like a bit of my Irish Catholicism had seeped in somewhere. Maybe playing
'WTYWMTD' was my way of taking others to church.
So we opened with that and eventually our set was over. The crowd was roaring and had
enthusiastically received our performance, which was good, because boy was I exhausted. After I
gave my "Thank you"s and "Buy our merch"es, I quickly ducked backstage and collapsed onto
an empty couch. The other one was being occupied by another band who was getting ready to go
on after us. They seemed surprised.
Amanda followed me in and smiled at the newbies. "Enjoy the show? Is this your first time?"
The group gave a slow nod, although to which question I wasn't entirely sure.
"Good luck out there. My boyfriend's just exhausted, don't worry about him." Amanda sat next to
me, patting my back. The group gave Amanda their thanks and left the room to step onto the
stage, partly because their sound check was next and partly to give us privacy.
I was always in a daze after a show. We all had our own routines based on however much
adrenaline our how little nerve we had left after we played. Trent would burn it off outside with a
smoke or two. Scot would go off with a girl or two. I would lie down and nap for an hour or two.
My anxiety combined with what little energy I usually had to begin with got me down pretty bad.
Today, I was feeling somewhat better than I usually did, and with what little clarity I was able to
retain I figured it was because I still had the watch on. At least it was good for something other
than bringing me trouble.
"How are you feeling?" Amanda ran her fingers through my hair, this time to comfort me. I
rested my head on her lap.
I decided to be honest again. "Better than usual. Still really sick."
"I guess that's an improvement." Amanda shrugged. "You know, if it gets really bad, you don't
have to do this. You can just tell him you can't play any particular night."

I sighed. "Yeah, I know." We've had this conversation before. I feel like sometimes maybe
Amanda's looking out for me too much. The last time she and I talked about this together, she
tried to convince me to take a weekend off and rest instead of burn myself out playing a show. I
told her that I couldn't let my best friend down, and after we argued- well... it wasn't like we were
yelling or anything, but the discussion was heated, I suppose- for a bit, Amanda agreed that she
would let me do whatever I felt was right, but if it ever got to be too much for me she'd put her
foot down. I agreed with that too.
"I think I'm getting better. Eventually I don't think I'll even have to consider taking a night off."
Amanda bit her lip. "It's just that I worry about you, you know? It feels like ever since I've
known you, you push yourself a little harder than you need to. And, I dunno, maybe it's because
of Scot-"
"That's not-" I stopped myself, because honestly it was about Scot, but I wasn't about to admit
that.
"Okay, maybe it's just something else then, but I feel like you have an unhealthy habit of burning
the candle at both ends, just cuz you feel pressured to do whatever it is."
I wasn't sure if that was entirely true, especially given recent events. I mean, I wasn't about to
follow through on the whole superhero thing yet. I told her that I wasn't sure if I agreed with her,
and she just sighed again.
"You know, that's one of the reasons I like you, I guess. You're kind of easygoing, but you're also
humble and really compassionate." She blushed. "I guess I... never really told you that before,
huh?"
"Well, we haven't been dating for very long, so it never really came up, right?" I gave a weak
imitation of her gentle smile. "But I like you a lot because you're always looking out for me, and
you're really nice. Although, like I'm saying, I still don't really think I'm humble or
compassionate or whatever. And easygoing..." I chuckled. "That's an understatement."
"Like I said." She kissed my forehead. "Humble as hell."
When I was feeling a little better, I sat up and we made out for a little while as the next band
started playing. If it wasn't for the fact that we were sitting on a ratty-ass couch in the rattiest-ass
of bars, it would've been kind of romantic. Eventually I got a little nervous and we stopped and
left the back room, and went to look for the others.
The Repugnant Thug had apparently left already, which was good because I didn't want to be in
their presence any longer. An employee came to me to give me an envelope packed in with what
we made off merch sales. It was a pretty substantial amount. I told him we'd pack up what we
didn't sell as soon as we found my friends, and he nodded and left. I couldn't find Scot in the
crowd so I looked for one of the girls who would be most likely to know.

"He's in the bathroom."


I gulped. "Which one?"
"He'll be out soon," was all she said.
I grumbled and turned to Amanda. "Uhh, you wanna...?"
"I'm not getting him. I'm not walking in on that."
"Well, I can't go in there anyway! I'm a boy and I have boy parts!"
"You're the best friend, not me. Go on, boy." She gave me a shove. I grumbled and went to
retrieve Scot, but fortunately I didn't have to walk in on anything. Before I made what would've
been an ill-fated step beyond the girl's bathroom threshold, Scot stepped out with a girl under his
arm and lipstick almost comically smeared all over his face, and a hickey forming on his neck.
"H-hey, buddy!" Scot was in a gleeful daze. "How's the crowd?"
"We gotta go home soon."
"Oh, perfect timing." He bent down to kiss the girl he was with, and then he spanked her and sent
her giggling on her way. "Call me!" He zipped up his sagging skinny jeans and flashed a
Cheshire grin at me.
Seeing that the coast was clear, Amanda appeared to me, frowning at Scot. "You know, if it
wasn't for the fact that women seem to think of sex with you as some sort of prize, and the fact
that you're not actually the misogynist creep that one would make you out to be, you'd be, well, a
misogynist creep. One who delights in gross bathroom flings."
"The flings aren't the gross part. The bathroom is." He wiped some of the lipstick on his face on
his sleeve. "Where's Trent?"
"Probably outside. Help me pack up what's left of our merch." I pushed the envelope into his
chest. "That's what we earned tonight."
"Sweet." Scot, Amanda, and I all went and put our merch away in the boxes we had brought
them in and carried them out the door.
Sure enough, Trent was outside. I counted, based on the butts that stood crushed under his foot,
that he was just starting his third smoke.
"We out?" He asked.
"We out."

"Ehh." He put out his fresh cigarette, a look of disappointment briefly flashing over his face.
"Let's go."
We piled into the car and Scot started the engine. He took us back to our homes, one by one.
When it was time for Amanda to go, I got out of the car to hug and kiss her bye.
"See you at school," she wished to me before she left.
I had almost forgotten that school started up in like, a day. "See you at school," I repeated to her.
Eventually, I got back to my apartment. Scot shook my hand and congratulated me for a show
well played, and I returned the thanks. I slowly dredged back to Sarah's apartment and knocked
on the door before letting myself in with the keys.
I realized as I stepped inside that I had lost track of the time we had spent at The Three Rockets.
It was a few minutes past eleven PM. Usually, Sarah was still up watching TV or something, but
I guess she decided to get some sleep for once. She probably had to readjust her sleep schedule
for school too. I figured it was a good idea to do the same and get some early sleep. Before I did,
I went and raided the fridge and put together a sandwich, which I ate while flipping through latenight and finally settling on an episode of Saturday Night Live. I forgot who was the guest, but
the skits were good for as long as my sandwich lasted.
After I was done, I put the dishes away quietly and went back to my room. After taking a whiff
of how I smelled, I figured that I definitely needed a shower in the wake of tonight's
performance- The Three Rockets just sort of lingers on you, sometimes for days after you've left,
and the smell stays even longer if you've been singing, screaming, and sweating up on stage,
which is totally unfair to the bands that play there. I threw my dirty clothes off and went in to
take a shower. After I had dried myself and gotten out, I slipped into a comfy set of pajamas and
under my blankets, breathing a heavy sigh of relief. The winter break had been weird so far, but
tonight was a welcome change of pace and I definitely felt much better than I did before. I was
looking forward to going back to school, too, as odd as that sounded- anything that could further
distract me from the watch business I had been dealing with was perfectly acceptable to me, as
long as it worked.
Yeah, as long as it worked.
~~~~~~
Chapter Six
Encounter
Stop me or skip this part if you've already heard this story before. I tend to repeat it a lot because
it's a little factoid that I'm quite fond of sharing and a lot of people usually don't know it, but if
you hang around me a lot you might hear it once or twice more than you need to, only because
I'm absentminded and not that interesting.

Riverbridge High School is called Riverbridge High School because it's a high school next to a
bridge that goes over a river. (And you thought The Spot was a boring name.) However,
Riverbridge High School didn't begin life as a high school, but as a shopping mall. It was only
when James Unified School District and its representatives complained that there were too many
students, not enough schools to send them too, and also too many useless shopping centers, that
the property owners in question decided to turn it over to JUSD to convert into a school.
As a result, Riverbridge suffers from a lot of structural issues and lacks a lot of necessities that
other schools, both old and new, in the same district, do have. For one, we don't have a proper
athletic track or football field. This doesn't really concern me, but because our school sports
teams are absolutely shit at everything, it has a huge impact on our athletic skill and reputation,
which means that if I ever run into jocks from other schools, all I hear is shit about how we suck
at football and we keep losing every homecoming game we play. We also don't have a lot of
necessary classroom buildings. For the past four years, there's been construction going on in
order to put up a new language building, and the finishing touches went up very, very recently.
Of course, a proper foreign language building with air conditioning and with rooms that are
within walking distance of the rest of the campus would've been nice when I was taking my
required two years of Spanish. Instead, I got to walk all the way from one end of campus to the
other, at the portables at the back of the school, whenever I had to go to class. We were also
putting in a pool at this point in time, but that didn't matter to me because I wasn't allowed in
since I wasn't part of any of the assorted swim teams.
I was a senior who was more or less on top of his credits situation, so I only had to take five
classes a day. My schedule for every school day until graduation looked like this:
I would wake up at an ungodly hour, something like 7 AM, in order for me to leave the house on
time and get to school with ample time to find parking and make it to class. My first class of the
day was a math class, College Algebra. The teacher was new, kind of cute, and taught cheer. I
didn't really do too well in her class but I got by. After that was my economics class, which was
easier to grasp than math if I had to be honest. The guy who taught that class was this rotund
middle aged dude with a goatee- he reminded me of John Goodman from The Big Lebowski,
only without the racism and with the temperament turned down a notch. Between that and my
political science class, which I also had after econ, I was able to pretty much coast through
period two and three without too much effort. (For what it's worth, if the econ teacher was John
Goodman, my polisci teacher was Jeff Bridges from the same movie, easy. He even had a poster
of Nixon bowling on the wall!) After econ was lunch, one of my favorite subjects. After lunch
was English. English was taught by the same sweet old lady who did the drama department. I
considered auditioning for drama since her class was taught pretty well and I figured it would
give me experience in acting, but decided against it. I had enough of being on one particular type
of stage as it was without adding "literal drama club" to my list of stress factors. Next was
biology, which, like the math class, was also being taught by a new teacher, who was sort of laid
back and gave pretty fun lectures and assignments. After biology was a free period, so I was free
to bail and get out of school as soon as I was out. If I wasn't hanging out with the band after
class, I would go straight home to nap and work on homework, usually in that order.

School and what accompanies it usually isn't very interesting, so I'll save you from most of the
boring details. Lunch rolled around and it was also pretty routine. The band and I went across the
street for lunch every day- students who signed off on it were allowed to leave campus for lunch.
Gaslight Pizza was probably the greasiest and sloppiest pizza parlor I had ever been to, but the
pizza was good so I didn't really give a shit. We chilled out for a while and dug into our slices,
talking about the show from the weekend.
"So, what's the deal with the girl I found you with?" I knew I would regret asking this question.
"I got her number." He grinned at me. "I'm gonna see her again soon."
"Are you actually going to go out with the girl this time? Or are you just going to be an ass?"
Amanda bit into her pizza crust.
"That depends. Do girls like it when guys ask them out for dates?"
"Sometimes."
"Do you like dating Ethan?" He gestured to me as if saying my name didn't already indicate he
was referring to me.
"Yeah. I like him a lot."
"But you were the one who asked him out first, right?"
Amanda thought for a moment. "I guess, but only because he wouldn't ask first. If he had asked
first..." I got the feeling here that even though I was the subject of the conversation, I wasn't the
one being referred to. "Then yeah, I would've gone out with him regardless."
"Would you have gone out with me if I asked you out?" His signature grin was cheesier than the
pizza he was eating.
Amanda said, flatly, "No."
"Oof. That's harsh." I reached over to pat Scot on the shoulder. "Sorry man. This is one girl
who's just not that into you, I guess."
"Yeah, I guess." Scot pulled out his phone. "Alright. I guess I'll call her later and ask her out. I
only have six months left to experience a real live actual high school romance, right?"
Trent snorted. "'Romance' is a word that shouldn't leave your tongue."
"Double ouch."
We went back to our classes, messing around with each other until we got back to school, and
then it was time to wrap up the last two hours of the day.

And then biology rolled around.


When we all got into class, Mr. Long, our biology teacher, walked in from the lab and sat down
in his chair. As soon as the bell that indicated classes had indeed begun rang out, Mr. Long
addressed the lot of us.
"So, has anyone been following science news through the beginning of the New Year?"
No one said anything. Mr. Long chuckled. "Come on now, I know that most of you don't think
about school when you're on your break, but seriously? Not one of you? This is pretty big."
Still, not a word said or a hand raised. He smiled at us. He had a very kind, toothy grin, but a few
of his teeth were a bit crooked. "Alright then. I'll pull up a video to show you guys. This is
relevant to our next unit, so don't get too comfy."
Mr. Long indeed put up a video on the projector screen. The video was embedded in a news
report, and the report and video were both titled "New Mutation in Homo sapiens Potentially
Discovered."
The video began to play. Mr. Long put it in full screen. At the center of the screen was a black
woman in a wheelchair and lab coat. She had her hair done up in braided locks and tied into a
pony tail. She sat in her chair with her hands in her lap, her eyes looking at whoever the
interviewer was. The audio began to play too.
"So," the reporter began, "you've been leading a research time that has been mapping genetic
mutations in human DNA using the Human Genome Project, correct?"
"Yes." The woman had a kind, gentle smile that seemed completely genuine, not one of those
fake smiles that people put on when they're doing an interview on TV for a station they hate. It
reminded me of Amanda's smile. It brightened up the woman's face.
The woman's name and title appeared on screen: Dr. Lupita Ayala, PhD., Head Researcher at
AOI Labs.
Dr. Ayala continued. "To be more precise, we've discovered a potential mutation that occurs in
chromosomal DNA. Usually, these mutations go by unnoticed by the individual carrying the
mutation for their whole life, but in some cases, these mutations can become serious illnesses
and disorders, such as Down Syndrome, and various other developmental handicaps.
"However, our team of scientists has found a mutation in human DNA that, when present, causes
the cell, and presumably the body, of the human host to undergo what appears to be a radical,
often drastic change in the cell structure and chemistry. The host of the mutation is still
fundamentally human, but their body's abilities change to be completely different than that of a
typical specimen."

"And in layman's terms, what does that mean?"


"Well, to put it simply, it means that there may be individuals out there with special abilities
beyond that of a normal human being." At this point, Dr. Ayala began chuckling. "I know it
sounds like science fiction, or that we're implying that these people may have superpowers or
something!" (I gulped. Oh boy...) "But as far as we can tell, based on our research's limited
scope, these abilities aren't any more incredible than, say, perfect cellular regeneration. Healing, I
guess you could say. Because of this, we're primarily looking for a way to use gene therapy to
introduce these mutations into specimens with damaged cells and heal them, or to cure diseases
or illnesses that may not have had reliable treatments until now."
At this point, the professor paused the video. "Your next unit is on cells, human DNA, and the
processes that cells and humans undergo to reproduce. I just thought that this video would be a
neat primer for you students to get interested in the subject."
I hesitantly raised my hand.
"Yes, Ethan?"
"Uhm... so, like, it's not like the people who have this gene, or mutation, or whatever, would
have superpowers or whatever? Like what that professor was saying?"
Mr. Long thought about how to answer me. "Yes and no. In the further report, it details to what
extent and what kind of 'abilities' the team was able to reproduce in a lab, and most of them are
no more fantastic than the cellular regeneration that Dr. Ayala discusses in the video. However,
in the field, these abilities could potentially vary to all sorts of degrees."
Great, I thought to myself. This superhero stuff is leaking into the real world. And I'm learning
about it in biology class of all things.
"Did that answer your question?"
"Uh, yeah, yes sir."
The lecture on cellular biology and cell division began, but I was still distracted by the premise
of the video. I decided to look up the article later and review it at my leisure when I got home.
~~~
When I got home, I posted a status to Facebook:
"hey, did anyone else hear about this study about people with a mutation that could potentially
give people weird 'abilities?' i'm not talking about superhero comic book bs, i'm talking about a
real study"

I hit submit and then I went to google Dr. Ayala's report. I read the article and watched the video
again, and then I went through the research and scientific journals that were cited by the article.
Sure enough, all of the information was just like what Mr. Long told me. There were findings in
a lab based on DNA samples taken from a sample size of 100,000 volunteers. The study was
conducted in order to do general research on chromosomal mutations, but people found that there
were non-harmful, newly discovered mutations in at least three of the volunteers' DNA.
However, in a lab, they could only study the mutation that involved cellular regeneration.
I edited my status with the links I found and waited for a while. The first person to comment was
Amanda. "OMG YEAH I just heard about this today from my bio teacher! This stuff is so cool!!"
I rolled my eyes. I shouldn't have been surprised. Amanda was a total geek about this sort of
thing. I had the sneaking feeling that if I told her about the watch she would flip her shit. The
next comment was Scot's, which only read: "NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERDS!" I
grumbled in frustration.
"Thanks, Scot." I said aloud.
At least now I knew that the superpowers thing was real and that other people had heard about it
too. For obvious reasons, this made me nervous. The study said that occurrences of this mutation
were rare, but what if some really, really bad guy happened to show up and made people's lives
hell? Would I be the only one able to fight them? I really didn't want to play the role of the
superhero, not today, not tomorrow, or any time soon.
I elected to work on my homework to keep myself distracted until Sarah came home. My classes
and teachers were pretty relentless and unforgiving, and didn't seem to think it was unreasonable
in any way to dole out a bunch of homework and projects and whatnot to students just coming
back from winter break, especially seniors. I hated the whole thing about "senioritis," where
seniors started to slack off towards the end of their year, but I guess it was true in a sense. After
all, once you're eighteen and you're almost done with high school, you start to realize how dreary
and bullshit public education really is, and you get antsy and restless and you just want out.
Eventually, my sister came back from her own college classes, looking dead tired. I decided that
now would be a good time to help her start making dinner.
"How was your first day back?" I asked, trying to be polite.
Sarah just gave me a dead, blank stare. Written deep in her eyes was a single word, which I
understood to be Hell.
"Oh, okay. Mine was fine, by the way, in case you were wondering."
"There's pasta in the fridge. You don't have to help me fix anything, because I'm not going to put
anything together. Not tonight, and not for the both of us at least. Not for you."
I grumbled. Fair enough. I prepared two bowls of spaghetti and served her one when they were
done being warmed up.

"I think I'm going to turn in early tonight." Sarah said as she slurped up noodles. "What about
you?"
"It depends on whenever I finish my homework."
"No plans?"
"No."
"Okay. Good to know." She... reclined... into the recliner, and turned on the TV. I finished my
bowl of spaghetti and went back to my room to keep working.
Soon, after about an hour of grinding out inane math problems, my watch started beeping.
That could not have been a worse sign.
I pressed the watch face, putting the suit on. On the heads-up display, there was a little icon on
the map representing James. The icon was red and labeled, BEACON DETECTED. It was in
the middle of the business district, some place where I had never really gone out to myself,
mostly because there was nothing there other than, well, business parks and a few skyscrapers.
James wasn't like New York City or anything, so the actual city aspect was kind of boring and
quiet, just like the suburban parts.
I thought about this hard. I figured I would have to go out there whether I wanted to or not. There
were several possibilities for what this beacon could've been, but they all related to learning
more about Project Philanthropy, so I decided that I would ultimately need to go in order to
figure out more about what was going on with me, whether or not it was a meeting set up by a
member of the group or some sort of trap.
I put the watch away and unlatched my window, but didn't go through it. I went out into the
hallway and saw that Sarah was still in the living room.
"Hey, are you going out after all?" She was either not done with her spaghetti or was working on
another bowl that she had served herself.
"Uh, yeah. Sort of last minute, but I'm going to head out on my own. I dunno when I'll be back."
"I won't wait for you. Good night."
I was really glad she didn't ask me where I was going. I was bad at making up excuses to her. My
parents were dunces, but not Sarah. She would get whatever I was hiding from me sooner or later
if she asked, and I was only ever fortunate that she elected to ask much less often than not. I
would really hate to have to tell her about this whole superhero business, almost as much as I
would hate having to tell Amanda about it.

I left the apartment and started walking. I waited until I was a fair distance away from the
building before I ducked under some cover and put the suit on. Then, I started running, still
ducking behind cover when able, making a bee-line towards the beacon marked on the heads-up
display.
I nearly got lost on the way there. I thought about jumping again but I had to weigh the pros and
cons. Sure, I would get to where I wanted to go guaranteed and I would definitely get there
faster, but I didn't want to shit myself, I didn't want to tucker myself out too much, I didn't want
to shit myself, I didn't want to attract too much attention in case there were bystanders, and most
importantly, I didn't want to shit myself. So I continued running for a while.
It took me about half an hour, but I finally made it to the beacon site after running and sneaking
across the city. I was a little tuckered out, but slowly getting my stamina back thanks to the suit
doing most of the work for me.
I was in the middle of a completely empty intersection. The lights were all red. There were no
cars incoming or parked on the streets. The intersection itself was huge and open. There were no
pedestrians. Nothing. But the beacon was still blinking, even though there was no one marked on
the map.
Okay, Ethan, think. Who could call you out here? Who has access to the OEDs? All I could think
of was members of Project Philanthropy, and the only people I knew for certain were in Project
Philanthropy were the other eight members of Operation Olympian and Miss Tape Deck.
Another potential member of Project Philanthropy was that bald-headed guy I heard about from
the random flunkie at the storage container ruins. So anywhere from nine to ten different people
could've called me here. I ruled out Miss Tape Deck because apart from the whole kidnapping
thing, our communication has been pretty straightforward. I also ruled out the bald guy because I
didn't think he would confront me this soon, or by himself. A situation with him involved
would've been more obvious.
So it must have been one of the eight other Olympians, none of whom I had met.
But I was about to meet the first one.
I heard a thwipping noise, like something was sailing through the air in my direction. I turned to
face the source of the noise and was immediately wrapped up by something that appeared to be a
black rope. Starting to panic, I tugged and pulled at it, trying to break free, but it was no good.
The rope seemed to be made of a woven material similar to that of my suit. Suddenly, the rope
yanked me forward, and I was forced into the air, flying towards its source. I didn't even get to
see who it was at the end of the rope before I was suddenly kicked in the chest with such force
that, had I not been wearing the suit, would probably have punched a hole through my rib cage,
and sent flying back, only to once again be snapped back by the rope and flung to the ground.
I was incredibly disoriented by everything that had just taken place. Within seconds, it was as if I
was fired from a slingshot into another slingshot which then fired me back at the first slingshot.

The rope was no longer around my body, but I was still struggling to come to both my feet and
my senses.
Standing away from me, where I now saw that the rope had come from, was a tall, slender,
feminine-looking figure clad in a black-and-white leather outfit. Their suit looked similar to
mine- black suit with white accents, glowing white chestpiece, and a mask. I couldn't see a watch
or anything, but I made the logical assumption that this person, probably a woman, was one of
the Olympians.
"Staying down would've been the better option, child," the woman said in a sultry but
condescending tone. She threw another rope at me. This time, I was somewhat prepared. I
blocked the rope with my arms, but it still wrapped around them. However, instead of allowing
myself to be pulled forward and kicked again, I yanked my arms back in an attempt to pull the
woman towards me. I did all of this instinctively- I wasn't planning any sort of attack strategy or
anything. So, when I realized that there was a superpowered woman flying towards me at what
must've been at least a million miles an hour, I screamed and ducked. The woman missed me,
but the rope was still attached, so as she went flying and landed past me, I got thrown down to
the ground again. This time, I left a small crater in the concrete.
"Ugh..." I got up to look at the woman again. She was already back on her feet and pulling the
rope at her and away from me.
"Hmph. You're either smarter or stupider than I thought. This shall prove interesting." The
woman leaped at me and launched another kick at me, this one aimed at my head. My instinct
was to block again, but the kick still caught me in my arms and sent me recoiling backwards
through the middle of the intersection.
"Augh! Fuck!!" Being kicked around by a superpowered lady who I didn't even know sucked. I
was beginning to lose my sense of nerve, like I did when the guys with the pipes attacked me.
The woman jumped at me again, this time with a chop aimed at my left to my neck. I raised my
left arm and blocked her arm, but the blow still hurt me like hell. It was clear to me now that
strikes from superhumans against superhumans would still hurt like hell regardless of the suit's
abilities, but this also meant that I could hurt her too. I threw a wide punch at her, striking her in
the chest.
Yep. Definitely a girl.
I sent her soaring back into a lamppost, but the woman somehow threw the rope around the
lamppost, corrected herself in midair, and slung herself back at me using the momentum she had
gained. Again, reacting based on instinct, I slung a fist at her wildly, which collided with her
kick. This time, both of us were blown away, reeling across the street. We tumbled to the ground,
on opposite sides of the intersection, back where we started, only this time my arms and my
chest were sore, and I was quivering and utterly exhausted.
"Boy... You'll pay for making this harder for me than it needed to be!"

"I thought you just said that you wanted this to be interesting! Beggars can't be choosers, bitch!"
Fight-or-flight had fully kicked into full-on-fucking-fight mode. I jumped at her without
realizing what I was doing, but none of my swings seemed to hit her. She kept dodging every
single fist I threw at her. She couldn't have been moving faster than I was, so why was this? I
tried mixing it up with a kick, which managed to connect with her side, but she quickly caught
my leg, picked me up, and threw me away from her.
"Woaaahhh!!" I flew back into the same lamppost that I had thrown her into, only this time I
slammed into it and crumpled up against it. The woman didn't skip a beat- she quickly threw out
more ropes, which tied me to the lamppost. The woman approached me slowly.
I could make out the details of her suit a bit more. I saw that instead of a watch, she had some
sort of pendant or choker around her neck that had a jewel set in it which resembled my watch
face, only without the minute and hour hands and such. Her mask also concealed her face, but
not her hair- her hair was mostly exposed and allowed to flow freely. She had short blonde hair.
"Now then, since you aren't planning on giving me the watch freely, I'll be taking it from you
now."
She wanted the watch?
She wanted the watch!
"Why do you want it? That necklace of yours does the trick for you, right? You're one of the
Olympians? One of the five women, right?"
"Hmm..." She put her finger to where I assumed her lips were. "Yes. But I'm not taking the
watch for me. I'm taking it for my employer."
That explains it. So the bald guy probably wasn't part of Project Philanthropy then. He was part
of a similar organization, and he wanted the watch for himself.
"Your employer doesn't know that he can just get it from you?"
"It's a long story. I don't have to explain it to a runt like you." She knelt over and reached for my
left wrist, but couldn't get the watch off of my arm. "What-? I can't take it off?"
I grinned under my mask. Now was my chance. "Didn't they explain the rules to you when you
got your jewels there? One of them was, no take backs!"
I headbutted her in the face. She howled in pain. I stood up, pushing my feet off of the pavement.
When I did this, I ripped the lamppost from its foundation. Now that I had a long, deadly,
concrete-metal pole fixed to my back, I swung myself around and slammed her with it, smacking
her away like a fly with a roll of newspaper. As she went recoiling back, I slipped from the
bonds she had put on me by throwing away the lamppost and stepping out of the rope.

"Sorry, lady, but I'm not into light bondage." I was on a role with these quips tonight. It must've
been a superhero thing.
"Augh... So you think you're really clever, huh?" The woman put up her hair into a bun. "Very
well then. I'll just have to... figure out a way to get that watch off of you!"
The two of us jumped at each other again, but this time I was ready to block her offensive
assault. I blocked every kick and chop at my neck and even responded in turn with a few
punches of my own, but she was still a much better fighter than I was. Eventually, I was just too
tired to keep fighting her, and she got in a kick to my stomach that knocked the wind out of me. I
finally collapsed for good on the pavement, still barely conscious and able to observe the
Amazonian superwoman standing above me.
"Let's see, if it works like mine, then..." She took my right hand and pushed it onto the watch, but
my suit didn't disappear.
Oh, thank god.
"So you're the only one that can remove it, then, even if I make you go through the motions to
take it off."
"I'm not gonna..." I gasped. "I'm not gonna take it off."
"You've lost. Do it before I beat you into the ground again."
Well, I didn't want that. I slowly pushed on the watch face. The suit disappeared and was
replaced with the clothes I was wearing when I left the apartment.
The woman gasped. "Oh... You're just a boy..."
"Thought you knew that. Kept- calling me that."
"That was just..." She shook her head. "Never mind. I'm after this..." She tried taking the watch
from my wrist again, but not only was it still no dice, it was much more painful with her
basically yanking on my arm.
"What?! It won't come off?"
"I gotta be the one to take it off. And you... know the rules. You wouldn't take it from me
anyway."
The woman hesitated at first, then put my arm down and stepped away. "I... I didn't want this.
I'm- I'm so sorry." She flung a rope away from me, into the distance, and let the rope pull her
along until she disappeared from my line of sight.

"Ugh..." I had no idea why the lady disappeared, but I was grateful to finally have gotten a
moment of reprieve, so long as nobody else showed up. I gingerly touched my face- I must've
looked like a mess under the mask. I put the suit back on and dragged myself to the sidewalk,
where I climbed onto a bus-stop bench and laid down for a while. The heads-up display was
showing me the various parts of my body that were injured and how fast they were healing, but it
neglected to mention the emotional damage and my upset stomach. I barely managed to hold
back from puking this time. I rested up for about an hour or two until I felt better and could
stand. The screen said I was still injured pretty substantially, but I didn't feel completely like shit
and I could probably run back home now. I decided to do that before the woman or someone else
tried to jump me again.
I made it back home. I had healed up on the way back, enough for me to climb into the fire
escape. This time, instead of entering through the balcony, I sidled along the edges of the walls
with my fingertips and toes, finding the window to my room. I popped the window open and
snuck inside, collapsing onto the bed. Closing the door behind me, I quickly ducked into my
bathroom and locked the door behind me. I put the suit away and checked myself out in the
mirror.
I really was a mess. I stripped naked so I could see the full extent of my injuries, and I was
definitely a mess. Gigantic black and purple bruises everywhere. There were also small cuts
along my arms, chest, and face, which I could tell were healing pretty quickly, thanks to the
watch, but the rest of my body was adorned with bruises and welts the size of softballs. They
would probably be gone by morning, but I couldn't let Sarah see me like this. Opening the
window before I left was a good call. I touched some of my bruises and felt how tender and
painful the injuries were. I looked at the shower and knew that I would regret getting in and
allowing the water to wash over my cuts and bruises, but I went in anyway, electing to keep the
watch on to get as much healing in as I could. I stood in a pool of pink water that came up to my
toes, wincing in pain as the water and soap covered my injuries. When I got out and reexamined
myself I saw that the cuts were pretty much gone now and the bruises were slightly shrunken, but
still pretty intense.
I dried myself off, dressed in comfortable long-sleeved pajamas, and tucked myself into bed. I
laid awake thinking about everything that had happened today. It was supposed to be just a
distraction, a day at school where I would be able to forget the crazy shit that happened on New
Years', but it ended up being so much more than that. I learned that people with superpowers
might actually exist, and I ran into another Olympian, here in James of all places. I was lured
into an easy trap, and someone still wants my watch.
The second week of January was already shaping up to be hell.
I hate Mondays.
I hate Garfield, but I hate Mondays too.

~~~~~~
Chapter Seven
Strategy
I felt like I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or maybe the wrong side of the street. The first
thing I did when I got out of bed was to check myself out in the mirror again. The healing factor
thing was no joke- I was still in a lot of aching pain, but my injuries were no longer nearly as
swollen as they were last night in the aftermath of my pummeling. The bruises were all shrunken
to about half their original size, and all of my cuts had sealed up without a trace of scarring. If
they really wanted to, they could just sell whatever medicine was in the watch and make a killing
in the American healthcare system. Hehe... killing. A bit of multi-layered black humor.
I wasn't really looking forward to going to school feeling like this, but I didn't have much of a
choice in the matter. I wore long clothes so that any visible injuries would be hidden well, and
finished my breakfast quickly so I wouldn't have to deal with Sarah asking me what exactly I had
to leave the house for and when I got back home. She didn't come in to check up on me and I
didn't look for her in the living room last night, so I assumed that my way of sneaking back home
worked and she had gone to bed without waiting for me to come back like she said.
I got through most of the school day pretty easily, but I was still really exhausted. I was also
incredibly anxious for a lot of reasons, but for one big one in particular. Throughout the day,
only one thought permeated my mind and drove me to get through the day:
I need to find out more about that woman.
I kept trying to justify this to myself, but I didn't really feel like I needed to pick one good excuse
in particular, since all of them were equally valid in their own way. I knew that, the both of us
being members of Project Philanthropy, we were bound to run into each other again sooner or
later, and even though I wasn't really in a rush to get beaten up by her again, I would still rather it
be sooner than later just so I could get it over with, like ripping a Band-Aid off. I also figured
that finding out more about her, and even getting information from her own mouth, would shed a
lot of insight on Project Philanthropy, Operation Olympian, and the bald guy who hired her to
take my watch. Even if she didn't know anything, that would tell me a lot- mainly, it would tell
me that Project Philanthropy kept all of the Olympians in the dark, not just me. Furthermore,
being able to send her packing would also mean that I wouldn't have to worry about any more
threats to my well-being for a while.
That last train of thought, though, hit a derailment once I realized something very crucial- so
crucial that I berated myself for having forgotten about it in the first place.
I don't fucking know how to fucking fight.
I was sort of slowly getting to figure out how exactly the woman was moving and being able to
fight back, but really I was only able to do little more than blocking her attacks as they came at

me, and the only reason I survived was likely the suit. If I wasn't wearing the suit, I wouldn't
have gotten in any hits, period, and I probably would've been killed dead on the spot. Then
again, I reminded myself, if I didn't have the suit, literally none of what has been happening over
the past week would've happened at all.
I needed to figure out a way to learn how to fight, and soon. I also reasoned that learning a little
bit more about how the suit worked wouldn't hurt either, so I also added that to my to-do list. I
tried to recall what Miss Tape Deck explained to me about the suit and its powers. 'Adaptation
and mimicry' was what she had said. Of course, I had no idea what that actually meant, but
'mimicry' sounded a lot like copying. I resolved to test that power out as soon as I got an
opportunity to, and that would be my first 'foray' into learning how to fight.
Getting in shape and getting used to fighting would also probably help, but I couldn't think of
any way to get started on that front. I wasn't doing physical ed at school anymore and it was
probably too late to try out as junior varsity for the wrestling team or anything like that, although
suplexing the shit out of some villainous motherfuckers definitely sounded cool. I would have to
find other ways to get started on learning how to defend myself, and how I would actually going
about doing that. For instance, if I went to a martial arts dojo or something, would I have to be
wearing the suit while I trained? It would probably make things easier but it'd also be really
weird, especially if I was training alongside others. Would I have to pay? In the short term I
could definitely pay with whatever cash split I got from Scot after we did our shows, but in the
long run I would probably need to find a job somewhere to cover for the lesson fees. I made sure
I always had enough saved for emergencies or to splurge on myself when I wanted to, but after I
had dipped into that piggy bank so much that it went the way of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,
the pooch would be screwed.
All of this kept my mind completely occupied until it got time to head out for lunch, at which
point something else disastrous happened.
Amanda had a smile on her face that would put Scot's natural Cheshire cat impression to shame.
"Did you see what's all over the news this morning? This is probably the coolest thing to happen
to James since a meteorite struck the planet and created life."
Scot was only slightly paying attention to the conversation, casually picking at his left nostril
with his pinky and flicking away anything he found to his disliking. "I thought the meteor killed
all the dinosaurs."
I hadn't seen the news yet. "No, you moron, there were two meteors. One created the Earth
atmosphere and the moon, and the other one killed the dinosaurs."
"What does space have against us?"
Amanda groaned loudly at us. "C'mon you guys! Did none of you see it?"

The three of us shook our heads. I chimed in, "I didn't even know any James-related cool things
were going on, period."
"I can't believe this. People have been talking about it all day! Or at least, I've been talking about
it with people all day. Maybe you guys have shitty friends."
"Amanda, you're our friend." Scot was picking at the other nostril now and had moved on to
bigger fingers.
"Okay, fine. Let me pull it up on my phone, if it even decides to load. Ugh. The reception in
James is awful. I'm on a 4G network but I only get three of them. I can't even show my friends
cool things." It took us a few seconds to walk across Riverbridge's river bridge before she finally
showed us what she was talking about. "Here, look!" She held her phone up to our faces. We
stood to the side to let people walk by us while we watched what was on her phone screen.
I nearly shit myself.
There were security cameras at the intersection we fought at last night to keep track of speeding
cars. A local county news station had gotten a hold of it and published the video to their site. It
was almost at a million YouTube hits already- obviously this story had been shared by non-local
interests. Someone pooping in their office toilet in Japan had probably just seen my incompetent
superhero ass get kicked by a much more competent supervillainess. The video was security
camera level quality, but the picture was still clear and the contents were even clearer, and served
as a harsh memory of what happened last night- my body being smacked and beaten around like
a beach ball at a concert by that superwoman's ropes.
I rubbed a particularly painful chest bruise at the sight of the video. "What exactly is that?"
Amanda gleefully responded. "No one really knows for sure, but isn't that so awesome? They're
like, two superheroes fighting each other! Or maybe the girl is a superhero and that guy is a
supervillain!"
Oh, god. The last thing I needed was Amanda thinking I was the bad guy. "How do you know
the girl is the superhero? Maybe she's the villain?"
"Duh, Ethan. The hero's always the one who wins."
That one, single, enthusiastically condescending remark from my unassuming, cheerful girlfriend
hurt more than any of the scathing wounds that the superwoman had or could ever have inflicted
on me.
Scot laughed at the both of us. "Wow, you guys, you're really acting like superheroes are a real
thing! That sort of stuff only ever happens in movies or comic books, or mediocre TV shows.
They're fun to watch, but you can't get caught up in all of that nonsense. The video's probably
fake."

Amanda made an uhchk! noise at Scot. "Scot, didn't your biology professor show you the same
video Ethan posted to Facebook? That stuff is super real! What if these two are the first ever
superhumans? That's even what other people are saying about the video. First, a scientist comes
out and says that they've discovered a superhuman gene, and the next day, or week or however
long it's been since that article, and there's a video of two people doing crazy flips and punching
people into the air and stuff. It can't be a coincidence."
I had two conflicting choices here- one, to agree with my best friend, getting brownie points with
him and keeping my civilian identity under wraps, or to agree with my girlfriend, moving those
same brownie points to her column in the ledger, but at the risk of blowing my cover later down
the line.
I decided to help Amanda out and picked the latter, because I figured that the risk was pretty low,
or at least much lower than most comic book movies would suggest. Besides, Scot not believing
in me felt like quite a blow to my self-esteem, not unlike that unwitting verbal jab that Amanda
threw out earlier. I wasn't Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or anything like that. I was a real
human being, and a real hero. "C'mon, Scot. What Mandy's saying makes a lot of sense.
Anything's possible."
"Oh, yeah, and I guess Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real, too."
I hated how he always knew what I was thinking. If he was any more in my head, he'd whip out
my watch and somehow get me to transform in front of everyone: Yeah, Amanda, superheroes
are real, alright! And it just so happens that you're after this one's dick!
...is something that he'd totally say.
Amanda was visibly happy that I lent support to what she was saying, but still flustered at Scot
for shooting down her hopes and dreams. She turned to Trent. "What about you, big guy? What
do you think about all of this?"
Trent shrugged. "No comment until further evidence is gathered to lend credence to one
perspective or the other."
"Such a classic Trent copyright trademark tee emm answer. Remind me to never ask you for
practical advice ever again." Amanda stormed off ahead of us in a huff. "I'm hungry."
I sighed and looked at Scot. I furrowed my eyebrows at him and smacked him upside the back of
his head. "You made her mad."
He simply threw his arms in the air in an it wasn't me! pose. "Hey, man, it's not my fault if you
guys get mad at me for raining down on your little nerd parade. Any amateur internet personality
can spot faked found footage when it's staring them in the face."
"Man, you must be a real hit with the ladies." I scowled at him and made to follow Amanda.
"Let's go get our pizza."

The pizza place was also showing news stories and footage of the surveillance tapes on the
flatscreens they had on the walls. When the footage was put in my face on a bigger screen and at
high definition, even though it was still blocky and not actually upscaled to the better resolution
at all, it was even more clear to me that the footage was of me and that woman fighting. I tried to
avert my gaze from the TV screen, but whenever I looked at Amanda her eyes were fixated on it.
I fidgeted in my seat. The less Amanda watched in awe at my no holds barred beatdown courtesy
of a supervillainess who had lured me into a trap I was too stupid to not walk into, the better for
my mental health.
I was all to eager to shift the focus away from the video. "So, then, Scot," I began hesitantly,
"speaking of girls, what's the deal with the girl whose number you got from the other night?"
Scot flashed his teeth at me and put his arms behind his head. "I got a date."
"Yeah? How long has it been since you've gone on one?"
"On a date?"
"Yeah. A real date. Not just some fling."
"Oh..." Scot tugged at his goatee in thought. "Maybe a few months or so. Hehe, or maybe, not
since last year. Get it?" He thought his New Year jokes were genuinely clever.
"Yeah, I get it. Well," I took a bite into my pizza and swallowed. "Good luck to you, really.
Maybe you won't split after a week or two again." I turned to Amanda and nudged her. "That
reminds me, we should plan our date soon."
"Huh?" Amanda was off in another world, a world where superheroes fought each other in the
safest city in the world. "Oh, uhm, yeah. We can talk about that later for sure."
I exhaled through my nose so that my disappointment wasn't completely audible. "Alright then."
She was really taken in by the superhero thing. I didn't know if I should be happy by that or
upset. Probably the latter since she was actively rooting for me earlier.
~~~
Once school was over and I got home, I immediately went to check up on my bruises again in
my bathroom mirror. They were all gone, much to my combined relief and astonishment. Not a
single lesion, contusion, welt, or splash of purple paint remained. I was still a little achy, but
otherwise I was good as new.
Now, onto what I had been planning in my head over the course of the whole day. I figured I
would ask Sarah if she knew about anything like that. Maybe she went to a gym or something
and they had a martial arts class there.

I ducked into the living room. "Hey, sis?"


"Yeah?" She was working on her sketchbook at the kitchen table, a bowl of ice cream to her left
and a bunch of her drawing stuff on the right.
"Do you work out?"
She looked up from her work and cocked an eyebrow. "Do I... work out?"
"I mean, do you go to the gym or anything."
She looked a little upset. "Do I go to the gym? What are you trying to say?"
I realized my mistake. "Oh. Oh! Uh... I didn't mean it like-"
"Like what?"
"I just mean... Oh, come on! I wouldn't say anything like that! I wanted to know for me."
The angry eyebrows dropped into little squiggly inquisitive ones. "For you? Do you plan on
starting going to the gym? What's gotten into you?" She smiled mischievously. "Ooh, is it for
your giiirrrlfriend?"
"N-no... it's for me, I swear." Although, I figured that getting in shape and looking good for her
would've been a pretty neat bonus, but I didn't want to admit that to my sister of all people. "Just
for me. I don't know why I thought you would know."
"Well, I did have a gym membership once, but it was a waste of time, energy, and money." She
tucked the spoon of ice cream into her lips. "But if you're trying to use my membership it's not
gonna work since I stopped paying for it, and the gym was pretty far from here anyway."
I frowned. "Oh, okay. Thanks anyway. Sorry for implying you were f-" I fled into the hallway,
dodging a flying spoon. "Sorry! I mean it!"
"Leave me alone, you little twerp!"
I had clearly greatly upset her. I decided that this was a path I would never wander down again.
Instead, I went onto my computer and searched for different gyms and martial arts centers.
Unfortunately, apart from those two-bit shopping center style tae kwon do places, there weren't
any local gyms that offered martial arts training, or any special martial arts centers, in James.
Or so I thought. At the end of the small list of search results, there was what looked like a boxing
gym that didn't seem to have any reviews or a lot of hits or listings, but it had an address and a
website- "Mac's Ring of Fighters."
It looked like I would be up all night doing 'homework' again.

~~~
I snuck out of the house again and made my way to the shipping container ruins again, this time
so I could practice and play with my suit in peace. I put the suit on and stood idly for a few
moments, stretching and shaking my limbs out until I was ready to go.
"So, what are my- err, what are this suit's powers and abilities?"
A list showed up in the heads-up display. It listed out pretty much everything Miss Tape Deck
had told me:
-SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH AND AGILITY
-IMPERVIOUS, INDESTRUCTIBLE SECOND SKIN
-HEALING FACTOR BACTERIA
- [ ADAPTATION, MIMICRY ]
The bracketed abilities must have been the suit-specific skills that Miss Tape Deck had
mentioned before.
"Can you explain the adaptation power for me?"
At this point, a female synthesized computer voice began speaking to me.
"Adaptation and mimicry primary function. The Olympian Enhancement Suit's lens
cameras will scan the movements and fighting abilities of all of your opponents and
compile them in a database. From there, you can use your opponent's moves in your own
skill set."
That sounded really complicated, but also really neat. "So, does that mean you have the moves
from that woman on file?"
A tiny video popped up in front of my eyes- it was the woman attacking me, only this video
wasn't the found footage from the news, but what I was actually seeing yesterday when I was
getting beaten up. "Scan incomplete. Only partial copying of combatant's moves saved to
database. Further observation of combatant required."
"Do I need to constantly observe all of my opponents before I can completely copy their
moves?"
"Affirmative."
I thought to myself. "And if I tried to use her moves as you've..." It was starting to feel really
weird addressing the artificial intelligence in the suit as a 'you.' "If I tried to use these moves
now, I wouldn't be able to use them as well as she did? I wouldn't be able to fight properly?"

"Affirmative."
"Hmmph." So stealing her moves was a bust until I could fight her again, but I would still need
to last long enough in a fight with her to copy them to begin with. "How long would I need to
scan her for in order to get the database completed?"
"Observation time for each combatant depends on a variety of factors and is thusly
different for each combatant. Estimated time cannot be provided with what little
information has been gathered."
I hmmphed again. So I was right- I would need to learn how to fight for sure, or at least learn
enough so I could adapt and steal that woman's moves. Fortunately, now that I knew how to steal
these moves, actually learning how to fight would be a breeze. I thought about all of the action
and kung fu movies I had at home. "Hey, could I just watch a video of someone fighting and then
copy those moves?"
"Negative. Not possible. Video or filmed footage of combat does not provide the proper
data required for adaptation and mimicry. Live combatants must be scanned."
Okay. So it wasn't going to be as easy as binge-watching Bruce Lee flicks. But I could still use
the suit to scan somebody else's moves and get them for myself, and cut out a whole load of the
training process. I decided to check out Mac's Ring of Fighters after all.
~~~
The building was pretty big, but it wasn't surrounded by any other buildings or shops. It was
slightly in the middle of nowhere, a few houses being pretty close by, and the railroad also
running near it, and it wasn't really modern. At the same time, it wasn't run-down either, so I
could only assume it got enough business to keep it afloat, or the owner was just really diligent
with upkeep. The lights were still on inside. I climbed up onto the roof and saw that it was all
glass. I looked inside and saw that the gym was pretty expansive- there were four big boxing
mats and plenty of room on each side for lockers, benches, bags, and the like. There were also
doors that I assumed led into things like bathrooms and whatever. I elected to do away with the
sneaking around and descended back down to earth, figuring that even though I'm going in there
as a superhero, I might as well enter the place through the front door.
I walked in and was hit in the face by a very odd smell. It was an oddly satisfying odor of blood,
sweat, and various mingling deodorants, a scent that felt a lot more mature and adult than the
awful aerosol body sprays that permeated high school boys' locker rooms.
"Uh... Hello?" I called out. "Anyone home? The light was on." The map on my screen showed
two little orange blips. I was wondering why the color changed from red during the last time to
orange now- I would have to ask whatever superhero Siri that ran my suit that question later. One
of the orange blips started approaching me, and soon I heard a door swing open and shut.

The woman who walked through was probably one of the most gorgeous people I had ever seen
in my entire life. And when I say someone- a man, a woman, anyone- is gorgeous, I mean it. I
rarely use that word to describe anybody. In fact, pretty much only Amanda and this girl, and
maybe like one or two others, fall or have fallen into this category. She had on an ill fitting green
tank top that hardly concealed her thick abs and her bronze arm muscles, or maybe that was the
point all along. She looked like she could pick me up and throw me into the atmosphere, and she
had a beautiful face with an expression that would make me believe I deserved it. Her hair was
thick and curly and grew into enormous black puffs, restrained only by a green headband that
had the Mac's Ring of Fighters logo on it, a logo which I noticed was also emblazoned on her
tiny tank top. Her wrists and hands were bandaged up, and so were her ankles and feet- I realized
that she was barefoot. She was glistening with sweat, and running a towel over her forehead, and
around her neck and armpits. To top it all off, she was my height, which I could only tell as she
got closer in view. Six feet, six inches of I'm going to pound you into the ground, take your lunch
money, and you're going to thank me for it.
"What is it? Closing's in twenty minutes. Come back tomorrow..." She stopped in her tracks to
look me up from head to toe. "Oh."
"Uh... hi." I wished I had a better icebreaker to sort of condition people to accept the fact that
they were looking a superhero in the face, particularly when the situation was as casual as me
walking into their gym twenty minutes before they were about to lock the door. "Do, uh... uh, I
bet you don't get a lot of people coming in dressed in tights, huh?"
She smirked, sizing me up. "Nah. Luchas aren't really our style here." She sat down on a bench
with the towel around her neck, taking the headband off and letting her wild A roam free. "Aren't
you the guy who got beat up on the news?"
I itched my nose, fidgeting on my toes. "Uhm... yeah." I really hated to admit that I got my ass
beat on my first real night of superheroism.
"Well, if that's the case, I figure I understand why you'd come out here. Couldn't handle getting
beat up by a girl?"
"No, no, it's not that at all!" I shook my head vigorously. "I just... I'm..."
"Well, to answer your question, no, it's not every day a superhero comes in to our gym and asks
to learn how to box, mister..."
"Uh..." I rubbed my left wrist. "I haven't really thought of a name yet."
"Well, you've gotta give me something to call you. It's rude to not introduce yourself."
"Uhm..." I thought about the conversation Miss Tape Deck had with me, about how the suit's
name was Heracles, but I figured that sounded really dumb. "It's a long story, but I guess you can
call me Hercules."

She cocked an eyebrow and looked at me incredulously. "Well, I guess I'll take your word for it
then, because without context I'm just gonna go ahead and assume you think yourself to be a lot
mightier than you really are."
"Trust me... I'm really not."
"Well..." She stood up from the bench, slapping the towel down on it, and approached me.
"We're about to close soon, but maybe we have a little bit of time to talk this over with you. But
if you want a gym membership, it's gonna cost you money, just like everyone else."
"Yeah, I figured. That shouldn't be a problem." I paused. "I never got your name, by the way.
You wouldn't happen to be Mac?"
She chuckled. "Oh, this guy's got jokes! Mac's my pa." She extended her hand forward, and I
shook it. "I'm Zoe. I help run the gym with him." She beckoned behind him to one of the doors.
"Pa'll be out soon."
He must've been the other blip on the radar. I noticed that the orange colors were cooling down
to yellow. After a brief clattering noise, someone showed up from one of the locker room doors.
This person must have been Mac.
Unlike his daughter, Mac had a very diminutive shape. He was at least two heads shorter than
Zoe, which meant that he was also much shorter than me. His own body was very stocky and
well defined, but you could tell that he had gotten old and had seen better days, with wrinkles
settling in around his eyes and lips. His hair was also buzzed short and he had grown a neatly
trimmed beard, with little patches of grey fuzz coming in all over. He wore a faded red coat with
the gym logo emblazoned on the left breast, and I saw when he turned around at one point that it
was also on the back.
"Zo, who's this weirdo?" He stood by his daughter.
"He's famous is who he is. I think over a million people have seen him getting his butt whooped
by now."
Don't remind me, I thought to myself. "You can call me Hercules, sir. I wanted to see about
getting a gym membership, and learning how to fight."
Mac, like Zoe before him, stared at me up and down. "I can't get a good look at you through
whatever it is that you're wearing. Mind not wearing your underwear on the outside?"
"My underwear is on the inside, sir." I reasoned to myself that it couldn't really hurt to show two
people who didn't actually know Ethan Kyler what I looked like. I pressed on the watch and took
the suit off. Zoe seemed a little surprised, arms crossed and a how did he do that look on her
face, but Mac was still as a board.
"Take the jacket and stuff off too. Bare chest."

I did as I was told, although I felt really uncomfortable showing off my lack of a physique in
front of two other people who might as well have had the bodies of real life actual Greek gods.
"Hmm..." He walked around me once. "When the doctor sticks a needle in you to take your
blood, does it go right through your arm?"
Zoe chuckled at his joke, covering her smile with her hand. "Aren't most superheroes supposed
to look, uh... well..." She flexed at me. I don't think I have to tell you how humiliating it is to be a
superhero and to be flexed on.
"I'm new to this. It's only been nine days."
"Well... no one's ever a lost cause, but learning the sweet science takes a lot of work, and a lot of
guts." Mac pointed to the watch. "Give me the skinny on the suit."
"Uhm, it gives me super strength and it protects me from most injuries, and the watch also heals
me really fast."
"Heals you, huh?" The man raised an eyebrow and started scratching his beard. "Interesting.
What else you got under the hood?"
"Uh, I can copy people's moves. But I have to watch them for a while before I can copy
everything they do."
"So like... ah, a muscle mimic." There was something brewing in that inscrutable mind of his.
"You know what? Pay the fee, and come out here for an hour, after hours, every Wednesday
night. So that's starting tomorrow."
I blinked. "Really? That's it?"
Zoe turned to her father. "You see something you like?"
"Yeah. I think based on what we know about this kid, he might just be able to learn what I've got
to teach."
Zoe seemed to understand what he was saying and nodded. "Ahh, okay, I got it." She looked at
me and held her hand out again, which I took again. "We're in business, then, Hercules."
Mac winced. "Erm. If we're gonna be taking your money, kid, and if you've already showed us
your face, maybe you wanna just tell us who you are?"
I sighed. I figured I was going to regret this, but this superhero nonsense was still out of my own
understanding and was much too dramatic for my tastes. I was already pretty grateful for them
not losing their shit over seeing me transform in front of them and letting me train at their gym,
so I gave in. "Ethan. Ethan Kyler."

"Alright, Mr. Kyler. I'll have some spare gloves and such to give you tomorrow, but after that,
you're responsible for your own equipment. We good, kid?"
"Yeah. I think so."
Zoe winked at me. "I'll be your personal trainer from tomorrow onward. My old man's getting,
well, you know. Arthritic."
Mac glared at her. "Yeah, well, your old man may be nothing but a sack of busted bones and
joints but he could still knock you flat to the ground in the ring." He shook his head. "Kids these
days. No respect for their elders. Always cocky. Never making nothing but trouble for me." He
looked at me when he said that last part, but it was him who agreed to let me train here, so who
was really making trouble for who?
In any case, after parting words were exchanged, I put my clothes and suit back on and left,
promising to show up again tomorrow night. That was probably one of the most awkward and
uncomfortable situations I had been in since the actual night where I got the suit in the first
place, but I didn't really count that since I didn't believe anything would be able to top that for a
long time. For those two to have just casually accepted a superhero into their gym, they must've
had nerves of steel.
Whatever the case, I was pretty enthusiastic about getting started on training tomorrow. It was
comforting to know that I would finally have some way to defend myself from that woman and
other superpowered goons, so the sooner I got started the better.
~~~~~~
Chapter Eight
Return
School the next day went by pretty quickly. Even hanging out with Scot, Amanda, and Trent at
lunch was pretty typical fair, although Amanda was a little more distant from us due to the fact
that whenever footage of my defeat played on the TV, she would duck out of the conversation
and be fixated on it. It sort of made me want to tell her about how I was the guy that the lady beat
the ever loving tar out of, but I also felt like as long as I was still a super wimp, I wouldn't be
able to live up to that kind of reputation, so I decided against it for now. Telling people who I
was paying to train me in the martial art of pugilism who I was when they didn't know me to
begin with was much different than telling someone who I swapped spit with every so often. So I
decided not to tell her.
I snuck out in a different way that night by telling Sarah I was going out for a jog and I would try
to be back in an hour, which wasn't really lying, since I was running to Mac's Ring of Fighters
and it would take me about an hour to get back home.

Before I went inside, I briefly checked my suit's functions. I needed to be able to practice while
wearing the suit, so I could scan Zoe's movements, but I also needed to be able to restrain myself
and not punch her through a wall, or else I wouldn't learn anything.
"Is there a way I can... you know, turn off the whole super strength thing?" I asked.
A checklist came up:
[ON/OFF] STRENGTH
[ON/OFF] INVULNERABILITY*
*DOES NOT DISABLE INDESTRUCTIBILITY OF OES
"Uhm..." This list was oddly convenient and specific, but I also understood that if you were
going to make a gun, you would be sure to put a safety lock on it too. "Okay, switch them both
off for an hour." The list blinked from ON to OFF. I tested it out by trying to lift a bench
outside. I couldn't do it. Then, I pinched myself through the coating of my suit, and it hurt about
as much as I would expect it to. "Okay, we're good."
I walked inside. Mac was sitting on a bench to the side of the ring closest to the door, and Zoe
was standing in the ring. When she saw me walk in, she pointed to Mac. "He's got your gloves
and boots. Lace up and come on up."
Mac helped me put the gloves and boots on, which was a lot harder than it looked. I climbed
through the ropes and into the ring and stood by her. We tapped each other's gloves.
"Alright. So, are you going to be scanning my moves, or whatever, with that suit of yours?"
"Yeah. But I'm also here to train and learn, so however you want to do this, we'll do it that way."
"Okay then. We'll open things up with a quick sparring match. First to get knocked to the mat
wins. And don't worry..." She winked at me. "I'll take it easy on you."
I gulped. I already regretted turning off my superpowers. I was about to be ground into paste.
The match began. Zoe rushed at me and began throwing blindingly fast punches at me. It was
almost the same as it was before with that woman, except with punches instead of kicks- it took
all I had just to dodge out of the way. I kept my arms tucked in, covering my chest and face,
blocking whatever jabs came my way when they did. Unfortunately, I missed one, and that was
all it took for Zoe to take me down. She struck a heavy blow to my gut, which left me reeling
and open, and she followed up with a combo of jabs to my chest and an uppercut to my chin. I
ended up sprawled out on my back, lying pathetically on the mat like a used napkin.
Zoe stretched out a glove to my forlorn corpse, which I gratefully accepted, and helped me get
back up on my feet.

"To be completely fair, if boxing was completely based on how well you ran away, you'd have a
bit of potential, kid." She stuck her tongue out at me. "Are you ready to learn a bit more now?"
"As long as I don't get knocked down that bad again," I groaned.
From there, Zoe spent a while teaching me about the fundamentals of boxing styles. This sort of
stuff is probably really boring, but for me, at the time, I was really eager to learn any bit of
knowledge that would help me fight off people that would otherwise kick my ass. She taught me
to keep my arms up, with my right arm lower than my left, and to sort of crouch down to make
myself smaller and harder to hit. I also learned a lot about the different types of punches that
boxing employed.
"So there are two punches you can throw from the starting position..." She put her own arms up
in the same way she had me put mine. "...and these two punches would use the leading, forward
hand." She threw two punches- one quick throw of her left hand, aimed at my block; and another
curved punch using her left hand, aimed around my block, which I quickly dodged on the spot
instead.
"Oh, that was good. That was a jab followed by a hook. The two punches that you can throw
with your rear, or your right hand, are..." This time, she threw her right hand straight forward at
me, followed by a punch that I clearly recognized as an uppercut with the same hand, both
attacks being blocked by my barrier of arms.
"That was a cross followed up by an uppercut. Mixing up those four different types of punches at
various offensive and defensive positions, as well as from different distances, is key to boxing as
a sport and as a martial art." Then she smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "Of course, you're a
superhero, not an athlete, so you aren't going to be looking at trying to keep your distance from
your opponent while scoring a lot of points. Maybe an out-fighter style isn't for you."
"Out-fighter style?" I repeated her words.
"There's different types of styles and boxing techniques. Usually, there's a sort of, uh..." She
balled one hand into a fist and beat it into the palm of her other hand. "I guess, a rock paper
scissors way of matching up these particular styles of boxing. One style beats another, which
beats another style that beats the first one, and so on."
"And one of those styles is called 'out-fighter?'"
"You know Muhammad Ali?"
I had seen the movie about him where Will Smith played him. "Yeah, sure."
"Well... Muhammad Ali is sort of a big deal to pa and me." She nodded in Mac's direction. "He
was famous for a lot of things, namely for being the greatest heavyweight boxer of his time, and
maybe ever. He was an out-fighter who specialized in..." She rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on! You
know the phrase, right? 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?'"

"I mean, yeah, I guess, but I didn't really know what that meant." I put my hands in the air. "I just
thought it was like, some Gandhi sort of quote. Like, you have to be gentle all the time but hit
hard when it counts."
Zoe scratched her head with her gloved hands. The motion looked really odd. "I didn't really take
that away from the phrase at all. In fact, you're probably the only person who did."
"That can't be true at all."
"Anyway, Muhammad Ali was super fast and stayed out of his opponents' range while pelting
them with quick jabs. He was also really good at fighting defensively, and he let people tucker
themselves out trying to whale on him before he would jump back at them and start beating them
up again."
I mulled it over for a while. Being able to stay out of my opponent's range while still hitting them
hard actually sounded really useful and like something that I would be able to employ. I was
pretty tall and I had a lengthy wingspan, and the suit's powers would allow me to be faster, more
durable, and stronger than a normal person. "You know, that doesn't actually sound half bad. Can
you teach me to fight like that?"
Zoe grinned enthusiastically and bobbed her head, her Afro bobbing with her. "Sure I will. That's
how pa taught me how to fight, anyway. And I think that's how he planned on teaching you."
At this point it was Mac's turn to say something. He called at us from the edge of the ring,
climbing into it from underneath the ropes. "Later on, when we're teaching you more about
dodging and footwork, there's a specific technique that I want to try drilling into you. You're
kind of wimpy, so you might not be able to handle it at first, but with those powers of yours it
should come pretty natural to you eventually."
I wasn't sure whether or not I was supposed to take offense to that. Mac wasn't wrong, of course,
but my pride still felt wounded in some way.
There was a gleam in Zoe's eyes, which indicated to me that she knew exactly what Mac was
talking about. "Ooh, this'll be exciting. There's only two people in the world that know how to
kick dash and they're standing in this ring." She punched me on the shoulder playfully, which
still hurt considering how tough and beefy she was. "Count yourself lucky, kiddo. We're not
going to teach you that right away, but I guarantee you what you learn here in this gym will save
your life."
"It better. That's what I signed up for, after all."
We went over more basic routine stuff for the rest of the night. I got down most of my basic
punches and stances, and the suit's scanning ability copied down most of the information and
Zoe's movements, which I knew would definitely coming in handy later if I ever fought that
woman or another superhuman being again. After we had gone over it enough times, Zoe threw

down with me in another practice sparring match. I still lost, of course, but this time I was able to
get more punches in against her before I got thrown into the mat.
"You're definitely either a superhero or a fast learner, that's for sure." She wiped herself down
with a towel.
"Can't it be a combination of both?" I whimpered, exhausted from having been pounded into
grits twice over now.
"Oh, it can be. I didn't say it wasn't and I didn't say it was." She took a sip from a bottle of
Gatorade, which she offered to me. I accepted gratefully. "Come back next week. We're gonna
drill all this easy basic shit into your head and body until you've got it down to a T. Then, pa's
gonna teach you how to kick dash."
"What exactly is that?"
Mac spoke softly. "Something I invented. My daughter and I are the only ones who know how to
do it. But we'll save more about it for when you're actually learning it, okay, kid?"
I nodded. I left them an envelope with some cash that equated to my membership fee and left the
gym. The first thing I did when I got home was take a nice, long, warm shower, soaking all of
my gross and sweaty regions in water and suds. I went to bed feeling sore and beat, but the good
kind of beat- you know, the post workout exhausted beat and not the "I just got my ass handed to
me by a superlady that can throw rope out of her hands" kind of beat. I slept pretty soundly that
night- partly because I was eager to get some rest, and partly because I was finally a little bit
more confident that the next time I ran into an Olympian and butted heads with them, I would
actually win.
~~~
Amanda and I had finally gotten to planning our date. Since Scot hadn't said anything about a
band meetup, and when I asked him he neither confirmed nor denied that we would be playing
another Three Rockets show, Amanda had decided to invite me over for a more relaxed and
intimate date rather than us going out and shopping or eating someplace.
Amanda's house was a lot smaller and more quaint than Scot's place, but she actually lived in a
house with her parents and not in an apartment with any siblings, like a normal person. There
wasn't really a lawn or anything but there were a few flowers laid out in front of the porch.
Amanda had furnished her room with posters that detailed artwork from all sorts of video games,
posters which she had removed from different magazines and often got as bonuses for
purchasing the games themselves. I myself had a collection of movie posters and things like that
papering my own room's walls, but I wasn't anywhere near as all out as she was, and I framed my
posters- Amanda just taped or even stapled them to the wall haphazardly. ("I'm not planning on
taking them down for a long time. And when I do they'll be pretty old anyway.") She also had a
big flatscreen propped up against one wall, away from the bed, like how Scot had one in his
basement. This one two was hooked up to all of Amanda's video games consoles, of which there

were many. I didn't even have my own TV yet, so this elaborate setup was pretty impressive to
me.
Once we settled on a TV show on Netflix to watch and the pizza guy came by to drop off our
dinner, we basically sat together on her bed, shooting the shit as we spooned and bore witness to
the antics of the Friends as they quarreled over odd Generation X things in an apartment that was
too large for what little they paid in rent.
"So, apparently, somebody came in and fixed up all of the damage that sprung up when those
two superheroes were fighting each other." Amanda took a bite of her pizza.
"Really? Was that in the news? Did they say who did it?"
"Nah, and it's weird. There was a crew of construction people caught on footage working through
the night but no one said anything about having hired them or whatever." She shrugged.
"Honestly it's really lucky for the superheroes though, because James PD issued a warrant for
their arrest for destruction of property, but the charges were dropped soon after the repairs were
made."
"Huh. That really is weird." That was probably Miss Tape Deck and Project Philanthropy's way
of covering up the tracks left behind by their superhuman test subjects.
As if she knew what I was thinking, she nodded and said, "Yeah. I bet there's some sort of
clandestine superhero agency that goes out and serves as damage control whenever fights
between heroes and villains get out of hand."
I was almost creeped out by how close she was to the mark. I snuggled in a bit closer to her and
asked, "Mandy, why is it that you know so much about superhero stuff? Why are you so
interested in them?"
Amanda smiled at me. It was clear that she had been waiting for someone to ask her this for a
long time. "Superheroes are like the closest we have to our modern day equivalent of the Greek
gods. They're all super strong and fantastic and they look like they were chiseled out of marble."
At that last bit, her eyes went a-flutter. Then she continued, "They all also have really compelling
and interwoven stories, also like ancient Greek myths. No one superhero is perfect, and in fact,
the ones that are the most perfect are, in my opinion, the ones that are least interesting. It's super
cool to see these people who have like, fifty times the strength of a normal human being, still
struggle and build relationships with others, and go through tragedy and hardship, and still come
out of all of that on top."
"Huh." That was a really good answer. "I don't know a lot about superheroes apart from all of the
movies I've seen. Do all superheroes have that kind of story tied to them?"
She nodded. "Most do. Most of my favorite ones do, anyway. But a lot of superheroes are more
tragic than others. Like Spider-Man. He's gone through a lot of loss in his story- he loses his
uncle, his first girlfriend and one true love, and that girlfriend's dad, but he comes out of all of it

learning that he can't dwell on his mistakes, and that with great power comes great
responsibility.
"Tough break," I murmured, dwelling on her words. It dawned on me that I was a superhero only
by technicality, but I didn't have any of the qualities of one that Amanda had just listed off. I
wasn't ripped and muscular, I wasn't interesting in any real way, I didn't go through any trauma
or major life-changing events. I was just some guy with a suit.
"Yeah, tell me about it. There's all sorts of things like that in comics. Some are more ridiculous
than others, but I think that the best heroes are the ones that are fantastic but still relatable. I like
Spider-Man a lot."
"Hmm. Hey, Mandy?"
"Hmm?"
"Do you think I could be a superhero?"
I didn't know what caught me more off-guard, her answer or how quickly she answered me.
"Yeah, sure. Maybe you're not as super as Spider-Man, cuz, you know, the whole powers thing,
but you could be a hero. Not all superheroes have powers."
I blinked in my surprise. "Uh, uh-huh? And what qualifications do I have to be a hero?"
She smiled. "Well, you're nicer and more humble than you let on. The fact that you put up with
Scot speaks volumes to that. You also deal with a lot and you're really strong."
"You think I'm strong?"
"Y'know, not like muscles strong. You're your own strong. You put up with that whole deal with
your parents, and your anxiety and stuff. That takes a lot of strength for sure. I admire that a lot."
She kissed me on the cheek.
I blushed and grinned awkwardly at her, the kind of smile where you're not showing the right
amount of teeth, not too much, not too little, but not quite Goldilocks either. "Yeah? So are you
signing up to be my sidekick?"
"Hell no." She slapped my thigh.
"Ow!"
"I'm no one's sidekick. I'm my own superhero." She flexed at me. "That's what I'm gonna be, you
know. I'm gonna be a superhero."
"Yeah? With your underwear outside your clothes?"

She slapped me again. "I wanna major in criminal justice or whatever. Criminology? I don't have
it all figured out but I wanna do that. Be a cop or a detective or something, like the Heroes for
Hire."
"You wanna solve crimes? In... In James?"
"Mmm, that's a good point." She shrugged. "I'll just go where people need me, I guess."
"Yeah, I guess so too. Do you have like, a name picked out or anything?"
"Nah. I'll figure everything out as I go."
I was almost impressed by how easy-going she was sometimes. "You're almost as slack as I am."
"I'm a senior in high school. I feel neither highs nor lows."
"That's from The Simpsons."
"So?"
We ended up chilling out for the rest of the night and nearly finished the third season before I
decided to go home. I didn't want to overstay my welcome, and I was still getting used to
spending one on one time with Amanda, so I didn't want to risk her parents coming home and
catching us in something where they would misinterpret our intentions- or, worse still, properly
interpret them. I thought about what she had said to me. It felt a lot better than it probably should
have, being thought of as a hero, even if what she said about me wasn't necessarily heroic and
more of just general attributes about my character and personality. Still, it gave me a lot more
motivation to continue on with what I was doing, in spite of how dangerous it was getting.
What I was about to do now was rather bold, and, in retrospect, very, very, very, very, very
poorly thought out, but I ended up going through with it anyway, partly because I was feeling
cocky after my first boxing lesson, partly because I was feeling rather emotional after Amanda's
unintentional but much needed pep talk, but mostly because I'm an idiot.
I was going to fight that woman again. And I was going to make damn sure I'd win.
~~~
I went back to the business district where the woman had knocked me senseless before. This
time, however, I decided that instead of taking a low position, like the intersection where she
trapped me, I would pick my own arena and get her in a spot where she couldn't run as easily as
she did after I had been laid low.
But in order to do that, I was gonna have to jump.

I picked a tall corporate skyscraper, but not too tall, for my destination. For the record, the term
"skyscraper" describes any building taller than forty stories, which is usually something like a
hundred fifty meters, or approximately five hundred feet for those of you who don't drink tea and
eat crumpets and speak American instead. James wasn't anything like New York City or Los
Angeles, so these buildings weren't actually very big, but in order for you to get a sense of what
was going on, I should just put it this way: I was a human being who was going to attempt to
jump over a building that was at least, at least the height of eighty-three more of me stacked
from head to toe. From ground level.
Of course, having superpowers definitely helped with that task, but it was a lot harder than you'd
think.
I selected the tower of my choosing and started to get a running start at it from the next block
over. I sped up gradually as I got closer, going from a jog to a run to a sprint as soon as I got on
the street it was on. Then, before I got too close, I jumped.
I screamed. I don't want to talk about it, but I'll admit that I was screaming louder than a baby on
an airplane. I sounded like one too.
But the worst part was yet to come.
I didn't get enough height from the running jump. There were a bunch of meters that popped up
in my line of sight that said that I had barely even cleared half of the height of the skyscraper
with all of that showboating. The black, tinted glass of the building walls was drawing closer,
much faster than I would've liked it to. I could see the lights of the city of James reflected in it,
all of the houses and shops and cars, and some dimmer lights in the distance from neighboring
towns and the freeways, and then all I could see was my masked visage.
Suddenly, without my wanting them to, my arms and legs flung forward and locked themselves
in place. My palms were open and my fingers tensed up. I didn't even know what I was doingthis wasn't a subconscious flight or fight thing like the fights with those thugs and that woman,
either. I legitimately didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't have any control over my limbs. I
shut my eyes as the black window got closer- I was either going to end up as an Ethan pancake
or as an Ethan glass pincushion, and I wasn't looking forward to either result.
But then I stopped moving entirely. I opened my eyes slowly and saw myself, reflected in the
window pane. I was holding onto the ledge right above the window, and my feet were standing
on the ledge directly below. My fingers were gripping tightly to the ledge, with little tiny cracks
coming from the tips. There was a red icon flashing in my eyes- EMERGENCY PROTOCOL
ENGAGED. The suit had saved me by grabbing onto the ledge.
"You can move for me?"
"Affirmative."

I laughed hesitantly, before breaking out into an almost hysterical cackle that quickly devolved
into hysterical sobbing. Why was I so stupid to not have really investigated any of my suit's
powers before? This would've saved me a lot of stress, like the stress of jumping two hundred
feet into the air and then splattering onto the pavement.
Eventually, after I had fogged up the lenses with my tears, and the lenses de-misted themselves, I
had finally collected myself and regained my composure. "Okay. I need to get up onto the roof."
There were a bunch of arrows, like the ones from the GPS, that showed me how to jump.
Reassured that the suit would protect me if I jumped or fell, I jumped up above me, grabbing
onto one ledge and leaping up to the next, scaling the building's wall. I resolved to add "rock
climbing gym" to a list of places I needed to hit up along with the boxing ring.
I got onto the roof and immediately collapsed, laying down flat on my back. If the woman didn't
beat me up in my planned rematch with her, the skyscraper had already helped her along. I
regained my energy after a few moments had passed, and then asked my suit about the woman.
"How did she put that ping on my watch and my map that night?"
"All Olympians can issue a distress beacon that any other Olympian Enhancement Device
active within a thirty square mile radius can receive."
"I can send out that beacon?"
"Affirmative."
Was I ready? I was confident that the woman would come back if I sent the beacon out. She had
seen my face- I was just a kid, and she seemed more afraid of her employer, the bald man, than
she was of me. She likely couldn't anticipate that I had gotten a rundown in the basics of the
sweet science, nor could she have known about my powers. Hell, I didn't even know about them
at the time.
My plan was pretty half-baked and rudimentary. I knew that then, but looking back it was still
really stupid. I figured that what little training I had got from Zoe would help out pretty well, and
I was banking on using those new skills and the moves I had copied from her against the woman.
I was also counting on lasting long enough to finish copying all of this woman's moves, so that I
could actually stand a chance against her. Once I won, I would go through the same routine I did
with the thug- shake her down for questions about everything I could think of.
But was I ready?
"How much of Zoe's moves have I copied?"
"Insufficient amount for complete duplication. Furthermore, movements consist of highly
basic boxing maneuvers."

"Will it be enough to fight that woman?"


"Unable to respond to qualitative queries."
"Hmmph." So my suit wasn't as smart as I thought. "Can I combine all the moves that I've
scanned?"
"Three scenarios available on file. All scans available are incomplete. However, a database
compiled using these incomplete scenarios may be sufficient. User must be warned that
such a database will be rudimentary and unreliable."
Three video files appeared in front of my eyes. One, dated 1/02/201X, was the fight between me
and all of those thugs at the shipping container. The other two, 1/08/201X and 1/11/201X, were
the fights with that woman and Zoe, respectively. A fourth, blank folder was opened up, with
arrows depicting the other three files going into the folder appearing.
"Copy available scenarios into new fighting style database?"
"Do it."
A progress bar appeared as the files were scanned into the folder. After a few seconds, the bar
finished filling up and a check mark popped up, indicating that the new database was made.
"New database loaded. Newly compiled database complete. Arm?"
"Yeah, sure." I assumed that the suit would at least partially control or dictate my fighting
movements when a fighting style was loaded in, just like how it was when I was jumping. Now
that I had them loaded, I felt even more ready. "Issue the beacon."
A red light started blinking on my watch face. Now it was only a matter of time until she showed
up again.
And it really was. It was probably only five minutes or so that had passed until two ropes
appeared, latching onto the edge of the roof, and she swung over and onto the top. She made a
three point landing, one hand and two feet on the ground, and then stood up, crossing her arms to
look at me.
"Hmph. I didn't think I'd get a second chance at this. Or rather, I didn't think you'd be stupid
enough to give me one."
"I'm a firm believer in second chances." I stood my ground and clenched my fists. "But I think
you're mistaken. This is mine, not yours."
"My employer will be much more displeased than he already is if I don't take you down and
bring you to him. I couldn't be any less mistaken. You're just a brat who's about to get a sound
spanking, again. Maybe this time you'll go viral again."

My right eye twitched at the thought of my second loss in a row being posted to the Internet. "I'm
going to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening again."
She lunged at me, but I was ready. I had three advantages against her, two of which I had known
before going in, but the third I hadn't realized until she took that first jump. One, I had trained a
little beforehand. Two, I had compiled that new database of fighting styles. Three, her patterns
were still the same as before. She didn't even bother switching things up. Both of her arms were
outstretched, trying to grab me with her ropes. That was a huge mistake. I quickly ducked out of
the way and aimed a punch at her gut, packing into it enough force with the hope that I would
bring her crumpling to the ground. She did get knocked back, nearly flying off the roof, but her
feet kept her stuck to the rooftop. Did she have spider powers or something? The ropes and the
sticky feet? Was she just a spider girl? She jumped at me again, this time aiming a flying kick at
me, but I caught her leg and threw her away. This time, she did leave the rooftop perimeter, but
her ropes thwipped her back to me. She made another smooth landing and readied herself for
another attack.
"I see I'll have to take this seriously now. You've certainly improved over the course of a week.
But however much you've prepared, you haven't had enough time to actually get ready for this
rematch!" She ran at me this time instead of jumping. I put my arms up, left and right blocking
my chest and head, like Zoe taught me, and dashed at her in return.
This was where the suit's powers kicked in, and I started to understand more about how they
worked as they did. Little electric pinches, like teeny tiny static shocks, would prick me in my
arm, leg, back, or whatever needed to move. They wouldn't hurt me or anything, but they would
coerce me into making the necessary movement. A pinch in my back and knees let me know
when to dodge a kick to the head. A tickle in my right elbow fired a right cross at her head,
which landed and sent her reeling. I was getting into a groove, dodging and blocking before
firing off one or two jabs or hooks, which would smack her in the face or chest, before being put
on the defensive again. I could tell that the system I was using was definitely imperfect, just like
the suit said it would be. I was deflecting and ducking more attacks than the last time, but I was
still getting smacked around a lot. For every attack I blocked or parried, I would end up letting
another one land- I took a ton of kicks to my sides but blocked a lot of her harder hitting volleys
aimed at my stomach or chest, since those ones would certainly take the wind out of me.
As the fight progressed, her attacks got a lot more vicious, with spinning and twirling kicks
designed to catch me off guard aimed at my legs and coming at me from up above. The programs
couldn't help me with those- it started to take more and more of my stamina just to dodge and
block. She was on the offensive again. I still got in a few good blows, but she was tuckering me
out a lot faster than I had anticipated. I did my best to hold out and block, thinking back to Zoe's
talk about Muhammad Ali, about the rope-a-dope and floating like a butterfly. If I could defend
long enough, eventually my scan of her would be complete and I could start fighting back.
My back was pressed to the edge of the roof. I kept my arms up and crouched inward, blocking
her swift guillotine-like kicks and dodging as much as I could that went astray. I wasn't as tired
as I was before when I was also attacking- the suit's powers were slowly healing me. On the

other hand, I could tell that the spider woman was getting exhausted, using up a lot of her more
powerful moves to try and hit me.
Just as I blocked an axe-kick aimed square at my head, my ace in the hole came through.
"New database completely compiled. Load?"
Yes! I thought. Almost as if the suit read my mind- and let's be honest, that's probably what
happened- I felt a bunch more of those tiny pricks in my legs and feet. I dodged her next attack
and jumped into the air, spiraling around like a carnival ride, aiming a kick at her chest. I clearly
caught her off guard, because it worked and I hit her.
"What?! But that's my-!"
She pushed me away. We were both on opposite edges of the roof again. "You- you're a
copycat!"
"I hardly did any training to come back to fight you. You were right about that. But you did all
the work for me."
She cried out in frustration as she charged at me again. I dashed at her in the same way. We were
complete mirrors of each other. Every jumping spinning kick she flung at me, I returned in kind.
Leg struck leg struck leg struck leg. The spider woman's fighting style was pretty much entirely
kicks, which was good for me because I'm so damn tall that keeping her at leg's length wasn't
that hard for me. Even with the powers at my disposal, her moves came incredibly naturally to
me. I knew that she was getting exhausted and nearing the end of the rope when she had to block
my kicks with her arms. I didn't want to completely beat her, just wear her down, but it looked as
if I was nearing my goal. Suddenly, she reached forward and caught my leg, tossing me away
just as I had done to her.
"Enough of this foolishness! I'm not just my martial arts style!" She threw her ropes out, but
instead of them thwipping at me, they flew away. I realized what she was doing- she was trying
to retreat and fight me on her terms. The ropes pulled her up, up, and away, and towards another
skyscraper across the street.
"Oh, no you don't!" As if the suit had sensed what I wanted to do again, my legs pumped down
and then up, launching me away from the roof and straight at her, like a computer guided rocket.
She was sticking to the walls with her hands and feet, just like Spider-Man. I didn't have wallclinging powers, but I was somehow able to jump and climb on the walls with powerful leaps.
She was still a pace ahead of me, but I was quickly catching up. We were almost flying, soaring
from building to building, wall to wall, and I was too full of adrenaline and my nerves were too
shot for me to process that if I fell, everything would be over. I was just trying to seek a moment
where I could grab onto her and pin her somehow, even though that probably meant the both of
us would fall. We continued jumping onto and away from walls, the spider woman using her

ropes to propel herself, me using my legs to kick away from each wall and ledge and chase after
her.
Suddenly, she threw a rope at me instead of the wall. This was my chance. Instead of allowing
myself to be caught by the rope, I grabbed onto it as it wrapped my arm. I grinned at my luck.
She had three choices now- to swing me away, to pull me close, or to let me pull her to the
ground. She tried option one, but couldn't throw me very far while also focusing on keeping
herself in the air. To make matters worse, as a direct consequence of option one, she had
inadvertently invoked option two. I was pulled into her as she soared between buildings with
only one arm and rope to support her. Her mistake was not allowing herself to have a free arm,
whereas I still had one. With said free arm, I was able to grab onto her, gripping and squeezing
her tightly. She was unable to support us both, and so now she had no other option but three.
We both fell to the ground, but because of our midair scuffle, we weren't nearly as high up as we
were when we started. We returned to earth, leaving a crater in the concrete. I lay exhausted on
top of her, having used her body to cushion my fall. I got off of her and pushed her to the side of
the crater, which was a small hole that was about four times as big as our bodies.
I was panting and out of breath now, but I still felt the need to get a few quips in. "Now who's the
one who got spanked?"
She tried getting up, but couldn't, collapsing to the ground just as she pushed herself up with one
arm. "I hate kids."
"I can tell. You hate them enough to try to kill them."
"Don't misunderstand my intentions." She turned herself over, lying on her back. "I only needed
to bring you in and take your watch somehow. I'm not in the profession of murders and
executions."
"That's American Psycho."
"What?"
"Never mind." I got up onto my feet, barely standing. I hobbled over and looked over her. "I won
the rematch. And this time you aren't getting away. I only wish that we had caught this on
camera."
"Oh, shut up." She made a motion with her right hand. Now that I was up close, I could see the
device that she threw the rope from. Instinctively, I put my foot down on her palm. She didn't
make a motion like that hurt her, probably because she was already battered enough and
probably because of the suit. I felt bad for stomping on her, because I didn't want to torture her,
but I couldn't risk her escaping. I knelt down slowly, putting my knee on her stomach and
holding both of her hands down with my own.

"Listen. I don't want to be involved in any of this nonsense, and I'm sure deep down you don't
really want to be here either. But I need information and answers. About you, about whoever it is
that hired you, and about Project Philanthropy and Operation Olympian. I don't know how much
you know about any of that stuff, but whatever you know, I need to know. I need to take
whatever I can get if it'll help me last a year."
"And what makes me think I'll tell you anything?"
"Well..." To be honest, I didn't really have any sort of interrogative technique, but my common
sense was tingling. It told me that she still had someone who she was afraid of, who would
probably be upset if she failed in her job for the second time in a row. "I'm sure baldie or
whoever it is that hired you would make you think twice about withholding stuff from me."
"Is that a threat?"
"I'm just a kid, remember? I don't do threats. I just need to know what you know, even if it meant
getting the stuffing beat out of me over a skyscraper."
She huffed at me. The two of us were silent except for our heavy, haltered breathing. Eventually,
she spoke.
"Fine. I'll tell you what you want to know. Come with me."
~~~~~~
Chapter Nine
Tremors
She didn't actually tell me much. I felt baited. Or cheated.
We quickly left the business district, and she took me straight to a hotel where she was
apparently staying. She had a ritzy as hell- class suite, the kind that provides superheroes staying
in the room a balcony so that they can conveniently enter and exit without having to go through
the front door, so the two of us snuck in through there. The room was neatly made- either room
service had just been here or the woman didn't touch anything in the room. I didn't even see any
sign of clothes or luggage or anything.
The first thing the woman said to me when we got into the room was, "Do you need to bathe?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Do you need to bathe, yes or no?" She pointed at the bathroom door. "The suit's healing factor
and filtration system, as good as it is, won't make all of that blood and sweat go away. If you
need to bathe, go do it. Take your time. I don't want to have to smell you, or either of us for that
matter, while discussing something as important as this."

"Yeah, well, if you wanted to discuss clandestine superhero shit without having the snot kicked
out of you, you shouldn't have tried to kick the snot out of me first."
I got the sense that she didn't appreciate my snark, so I gave up and went to the bathroom. The
whole room looked like the master bath at my parents' place. There was a tub, a shower, two
sinks, and a throne, and the whole thing looked like it was carved from a single, polished marble
slab. I put the suit away, took my clothes off when they reappeared, and then stepped into the
shower, before realizing that I had nearly forgotten my towel. Fortunately for me, there was one
hanging from the shower door. Also fortunately for me, when I decided to turn the showerhead
on, the woman walked into the bathroom, and the towel was positioned just well enough to
prevent any potential embarrassment. (Not that I feel like there's anything for me to be
embarrassed about, but the last thing I needed at that moment was for an older woman who
kicked my ass on YouTube to tell me that she had seen better.)
I saw that the woman didn't have a watch, but what looked like a jewel embedded in the same
glowing chest light that I also had on my Hercules suit. She pressed it and the suit went away,
concealed in a pendant dangling from her neck that resembled my watch. She wasn't really
wearing any clothes though. By that I don't mean that she was naked- rather, the Olympian
Enhancement Suit went away, and was replaced with a leather catsuit that I would hesitate to
refer to as clothing. Her outfit looked like a costume designer for a spy movie had made it, the
kind of incredibly form-fitting and impractical outfit that a spy wouldn't actually wear because
they would be restrained tighter than if the spaces in their clothes were filled in with concrete.
Then she took it off. I promise I didn't watch. I really didn't want to either- this situation was
already super bizarre without a superwoman getting ready for a bath while a stranger who she
tried to kill twice was in the shower beside her. I put the water to cold to preemptively punish
myself for any stray gaze, and sped up the suds and shampoo process. When I got out of the
shower, I immediately grabbed the towel and wrapped it around myself as quickly as I could.
"Dry yourself here. I'm paying for this place, and I don't want to step over any puddles. Or drops
of blood." The woman was sitting, soaking in the bath. Her pendant was still around her neck,
just like the watch around my wrist.
I looked at the floor of the shower I just stepped out of. It was tinged a slight pink from the red
that ran from my cuts and bruises, of which there were many. She, too, was covered in injuries
that I had inflicted upon her- her body was distorted from the water and soap bubbles, but I could
tell from the shades of purple, and the pink discoloration in the water.
"You have no sense of personal space, do you? Are all superheroes this weird?"
"Did you think I was going to wait for a boy to get out of the shower so I could go in? And I
don't know how to answer the second question. I'm not even a superhero."
"No, you're right about that. Anyone who tries to kill a high school kid, regardless of if that high
school kid has superpowers or not, is seriously low in moral fiber." I finished drying myself and
put my clothes back on in record time.

She looked at me just as my zipper went up- my heart skipped a beat- and rolled her eyes. "I told
you, already, killing you wasn't a part of the plan. And even if I was actually out for blood, I
definitely wouldn't have tried to kill someone if I had known they actually were a child."
"So then what's the deal? You said you were going to explain things to me but you haven't even"
She got out of the tub.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" I pulled my hood over my eyes, covered them with my
hands, tucked my head into my jacket, and shut them.
"You're very innocent. That's almost cute." I couldn't see her, but I heard a bit of splashing
around and the draining of the tub. "Be patient. I'll explain as much as I can right now. More will
come soon." I heard the shutting of the bathroom door.
I waited in the darkness of my clothes for a few minutes before I was satisfied that I could finally
come out and rejoin society. I exited my shell and exited the bathroom. The woman was sitting
on a chair by one of the nightstands, dressed in another catsuit- or maybe it was the same, I didn't
see if she left it behind in the bathroom. The pendant lay on her chest, outside of her suit's collarI thought about how my watch was always hidden under a cloth wristband. I sat across from her
on the bed.
This was the first real look I had gotten at the woman, since I was trying my best not to actually
pay attention to her body in the shower. (I guess that was ineffective in the end, since I ended up
paying more attention to her body than her face while I was in there.) She was blonde, probably
dyed like Hiroshi, and had her hair cut really short, hardly past her ears. Her eyes were cold and
grey, and her gaze was also just as frigid. Her face was really slender and shaped really
smoothly, with her chin ending in a sort of point instead of being rounded. Her body was also
very lithe and thin, from her waist up. Waist down, however, was a different story. I don't think I
need to explain this, and I definitely wasn't surprised. A kick from her kicks would've put a hole
through my stomach if I wasn't wearing a supersuit.
"Shall we start with introductions?" She put her thin brown hand forward. "I'm Alyssa Bell. My
Olympian Enhancement Suit is codenamed Arachne, after the mortal who challenged Athena to a
weaving context and was punished by being transformed into a spider."
I hesitantly shook her hand. "Uh, Ethan. Ethan Kyler. My suit's named after Hercules. From the
Disney movie."
She looked done with me. After pulling her hand away, she huffed, "Don't you have questions
for me?"
"I need to know who hired you. I know he's some bald dude. I also need to know everything you
know about Project Philanthropy."

We sat in silence for a while before she decided to answer me. "Very well.
"My employer is indeed a bald white man operating out of Los Angeles. I'm unsure if his
business is legitimate or otherwise, but whatever the case, he reached out through very specific
black market channels, channels which I tune into from time to time, seeking someone for a very
specific job. He used the code words 'Project Philanthropy' in order to filter out candidates. I'm
assuming the first group of people he sent to James were private bodyguards meant to scope you
out. I was the only one who would've been able to respond to those code words otherwise." She
rubbed the pendant between her fingers.
"I reached out to him. I didn't see his face. He kept himself obscured, but I could tell he was bald,
and the light reflected off of his skin. He addressed me using the codename 'Thanatos.'"
Why did that name sound so familiar? Oh, that was why. "Thanatos is a Greek god, right? Could
he be another Olympian?"
"That seems likely, given that he knows about Project Philanthropy. He hired me to find
someone who he specifically referred to as an Olympian in James, California, and retrieve a
watch from their person."
"But he wouldn't have just sent anybody, right?"
"Right. He had to have known that someone like me had received an Olympian Enhancement
Device. There's no one else who could've responded to his job offer, and, if we discount the
Olympian being targeted in that job offer and the Olympian who was posting it, that means that
there are only seven other Olympians who could've responded. And I'm assuming that the odds
are only one of them-" She gestured to herself. "-could have responded to it."
"So what purpose would he have had in sending you out here?"
"I honestly don't know. I can't think of a reason why."
This all sounded incredibly suspicious, and just as dangerous. I honestly didn't have any choice
but to believe her- I kept reminding myself that things get really incredulous once you become a
superhero. "Is your boss going to come after you now?"
She was silent. I understood why she didn't want to talk about that. If she really had pissed off
another Olympian, she probably didn't want to think about the wrath she had jut brought upon
herself.
"Can you tell me about Project Philanthropy?"
"I can, but not now."
I gripped the sheets. "What? Why? Err, why not?"

"You have to earn that information."


I groaned. Ethan Kyler had gotten himself in more trouble. "How?"
"You're going to help me get Thanatos off my trail."
"Oh, god. You're asking me to help you fight a supervillain."
"If Thanatos is really an Olympian, then he doesn't stand a chance if we combine our efforts. I'm
good in a fight, and your superpowers allow you to adapt and copy other people's abilities, so
you should be able to handle yourself, especially if you have someone like me to help you out.
Besides, Thanatos is liable to show up in your sleepy little zero percent crime rate town and tear
it up looking for you if you don't just help me end this here and now."
I groaned, pinching the bridge of my nose between my fingers. "So, if I help you take down this
big bad supervillain crime kingpin, you'll tell me more about Project Philanthropy? Do I
correctly understand what you're saying to me?"
She nodded.
Anyone, regardless of how well they were holding onto their wits, would have said no. I wanted
to say no. I had only been a superhero for two weeks! What was this lady expecting of me?
Hello, I'm a deadly career supervillain who just kicked your ass across town and back, join up
with me to kick the ass of an even bigger supervillain! If you say no, I'm going to bathe in front
of you again and tell your girlfriend! Okay, I made up that last part. Not only could you not get
more cliche, how stupid of an idea did that sound? But she did make the sound argument that if I
didn't help her, I would be more likely to just keep getting hounded by this guy and I wouldn't be
any closer to getting answers about Project Philanthropy. Without those answers, I wouldn't be
able to feel any more comfortable or safe with the idea of being burdened with this suit for
another eleven months.
I broke down blabbering from the sheer thought of what I was about to say. "You know what?
Fuck it. Yeah. Fine. Fuck you. I'll do it. I'll fucking help you. I hate this. I hate you so much.
You're ruining my life." I was on the verge of tearing my hair out.
Alyssa waited patiently, arms crossed and legs folded, for my panic attack to end. "Are you
feeling better?"
I was biting into a pillow. "Yes."
She stood up. "Come back here next week. We'll move out to Los Angeles and chase down
Thanatos. I'll tell you more about the plans then. If we're successful, you'll get the answers you
wanted."
"If we aren't successful?"

"We're not going to die."


"We'd better not. If we die I'm resurrecting to kill you."
~~~
For the rest of the week I remained on edge, more so than usual. School was stressful. I was
starting to catch myself on slacking, something I wouldn't normally do if I had never realized
that my behavior was becoming particularly abnormal, and so I started utilizing my lack of sleep
to study until I passed out. Because of the aforementioned insomnia, the dark circles under my
eyes were becoming deeper and started to go into a slight tinge of purple. I felt sore and every
muscle in my body ached, even though I had already been completely healed up by my watch by
the time I had got to class on Monday. I was like a zombie: pale, shambling, and half-dead. The
watch could heal a lot of things, but it only worked so well to alleviate my anxiety. In fact, it was
the source of a lot of it- I felt its weight on my left wrist now more than I had over the past three
weeks. I kept rubbing my left wrist, scratching a pink rash into my pasty white skin. It honestly
looked like a disease of some kind. The watch would heal it away, of course, but I would keep
rubbing it back in.
As soon as the first lunch of that week, I could tell that Amanda sensed that something was up
with me, even before Scot did, and he didn't notice or say anything at all. I would
absentmindedly hold her hand and rub it gently with my thumb, and she would do the same for
me, but I wouldn't look at her. Instead, I felt her gaze go over me, as if she could try and figure
out what was wrong by inspecting me on the surface. I desperately wanted to tell her what was
wrong and what was going on, but I decided against it, keeping it to myself for the time being.
Even if she asked me, I resolved to try to keep as much as possible hidden from her. I wouldn't
tell her or Scot anything- they were the two who I was most worried about asking me if anything
was wrong. Trent mostly kept to himself, even though I always got the feeling he knew more
than he let on. But if he did, he, well, kept that to himself, so I wouldn't know.
It was actually Sarah who was the first to ask me what was going on. She walked into my room
on Tuesday night, bringing me a cup of warm hot cocoa, laying it on my desk beside my head.
My nose was literally buried in my math textbook- I was in an odd limbo between sleep and
what I thought at the time to be sleep paralysis, but which I learned later was not the case at all.
"Hey, are you feeling okay?" She ran her hands through my hair.
I looked up at her. At this point I hadn't finished the transformation into superhero zombie
hipster quite yet, but anyone who knew me long enough and knew how I looked normally could
likely tell that the makeover had begun.
"What's it to you?" I grumbled, taking a sip of the cocoa. She almost never made me cocoa. I had
almost forgotten by then that she could make cocoa. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."
"Are you sure? I'm just trying to look out for you."

"What made you think I wasn't fine?"


"Well..." She leaned against the threshold of my room. "You're not looking very good. And
you've been running around late at night a lot recently and coming back after I've gone to bed. I
only know that because I don't usually wait for you to come back, but I'm thinking that
eventually I should..."
"Trust me, you don't have to." That was the last thing I needed, a superhero babysitter sister.
"Well, I feel like I do have to now. I mean, you've been acting like this for a while now, ever
since... New Years'." She folded her arms and sighed. Whenever she folded her arms she always
tucked her hands into her armpits, which I thought was really weird. "Are you sure nothing's
wrong?"
"Seriously, nothing's wrong. I'll be okay." I was lying through my teeth, and I think she knew it.
"It's just... y'know, your high school life is almost over, and mom and dad asked me to take care
of you. I'm just- just trying to look after you, alright?"
"You're not mom or dad. You're you."
"I know, and I'm not trying to be or anything, but I still feel like- well, you're living with me, so
of course you'd be my responsibility, right?"
I sighed and figured I would level with her on some level. "Look, Sare, even if I wanted to be
honest with you about what's going on..."
"So there is something?"
"Even if I wanted to tell you, I don't trust you with this yet. I need to figure this out for myself
before I tell you or anyone what's going on with me."
"Figure it out...?"
"Yeah. I haven't told anyone yet."
"Uhm... Ethan... what are you saying? Do you mean that... y'know...?"
"Uh." I shook my head. "I really- I really don't know."
"Y'know... that you're..."
My eyes widened as I realized what she was trying to get at. "No! I mean- no! No way! Why
would you even think that?"

"I dunno! You were just being all dramatic and shit, like, 'I need to figure this out for myself
because there's something going on with me and I don't want anyone to know,' so I just
thought...!"
"That I was gay? Why is that your first assumption, that I'm gay?"
"Because that's what it sounds like! That's like- I'm an art student! This is how my closeted
friends all came out or whatever!"
"Really? All of them? Do they all watch Lifetime Movie Network? Why is your first assumption
when someone's got some secret that they don't want to tell anybody that the secret is they're
gay?"
For the record, in case it wasn't clear, I wouldn't have normally been mad that my sister, or
anyone else for that matter, assumed that I was gay. I was just upset that my sister's logic had led
her to the conclusion that I was, based on my trying to get her off my back, and then asked me if
I was. Even if I was gay, the fact that I was implying that I didn't want to talk to her about the
thing should've told her that her asking me if I was gay would've been a bad idea. Of course, I
was also just generally irritable and it was her luck that she would be the one to set me off.
"I mean- I just... you know what?" She had just thought of a comeback. I could tell that she had
gained a second wind. "Why was it that your first assumption was that my first assumption was
that you were gay?"
"Because you're my sister and I know how you think! And I was right, anyway!"
She ugh!ed at me and put her face into her hands, which I thought was gross considering they
were just in her pits. "Look, just... I'm sorry I asked if you were gay."
"That's not quite what I'm mad about, but I accept your apology anyway." I sighed and took
another sip of the cocoa.
"Just- just promise me, when you've figured out your... whatever, that you'll tell me what's going
on?"
"Yeah. Sure." Sooner or later I would have to, right?
~~~
"I need to learn the kick dash. I need you to teach me how to do it."
I was at the boxing gym again the next night. We were resting between sparring rounds when I
asked Zoe and Mac about the kick dash. The father and daughter duo turned to each other. Zoe
had this what do we do? kind of worried look on her face, but Mac had the same old stern, stoic,
indecipherable expression he always had.

"No." He said to me flatly.


My stomach knotted. I was planning on convincing them to teach me the kick dash so that I
would be ready come next Sunday. It would give me a new tactic against Thanatos which I could
whip out in case something went wrong. Even with Zoe's rudimentary boxing, Arachne's kicking
techniques, my own improvised fighting style, and Arachne herself being there, I was sure that
something would go wrong while fighting the big bad supervillain that had been trying to kill me
over the past month, so as an insurance policy I wanted an ace in the hole.
"Please. This is important."
"What's more important is your training. The kick dash is my ultimate technique. It's not just
something you can learn and use right away. It's dangerous. And if you try to do it half-baked it's
most dangerous to the user."
"But Pop, he's..."
"I don't care what he is. I know he's a superhero, but look at him." He waved his hand over me.
"He's a popsicle stick."
"I'm standing right here."
"Fine. You're a popsicle stick, Kyler. Let me put it this way." He licked his lips. "When you're
learning how to drive, they don't give you the license first, do they? You've gotta put in the hours
of practice, maybe go to drivers' ed or whatnot, and then you've gotta practice every day and
study the book of law, and then you take the written test and get your permit, and then you
practice more and take the actual test, and maybe you pass and get the license. But even then, if
you're a reckless driver, it's still your fault if you hurt yourself or somebody else. But at least if
you got the license, then that means you earned the right to drive in the first place."
I understood what he was saying, but I also wished that the suit worked that way. I was given the
watch and the suit without any real explanation or training and was made to figure that out. I
wanted to tell him that but I also knew that he was right.
"Fine. I understand."
We resumed training again. The first half of the workout had already ended and involved Zoe
teaching me more moves. The second half was a sparring session between the two of us. I asked
her if I could mix it up and practice the moves I stole from Arachne and she okayed it. I was
attacking her with weaker versions of the kicks that I was trying to learn through muscle memory
rather than the electric impulses the suit would zap me with in order to replicate them. It was a
lot harder to do, but that was also kind of the point. I did end up on the mat less frequently,
though.
As the sparring matches came to a close, Mac left to go pick up some things from the locker
room and his office. As soon as he was gone, Zoe spoke to me in a hushed voice.

"Why do you need the kick dash?"


I chewed on my lip. Oddly, Zoe and Mac were two people who I could be more open about the
superhero thing with, which was weird since they were strangers. Or, maybe it was because they
were strangers and strong themselves that I trusted them with the superhero thing more.
"I fought that girl again, and we came to a truce. We're going to team up to fight another
supervillain, someone who hired her. It's... complicated."
"Yeah, I don't get the superhero stuff, but I get that it's an emergency and you need this
desperately."
"How could you tell?"
"The way that you were fighting, even if you didn't notice it yourself. You've got a different air
about you than when I met you that first night and when I started training you last week."
I knew that my anxiety was present, as it always was, but I didn't really tell that my fighting style
gave it away. "Are you going to teach me?"
"Promise me something. Repeat after me. You ready?"
"Uh, okay."
"'I understand that the kick dash is a complex and dangerous technique that is just as harmful to
the user as it is to their opponent. I understand that I have a long way to go before becoming
proficient in this technique. I will only use this version of the kick dash in an emergency
situation.'"
I felt that it was a really weird thing to do, but I repeated her words anyway.
"Good. Stand over there." She pointed to the other side of the ring. "Put your back to the ropes."
I did as she told me. She went to stand on the other side of the ring, her back also to the ropes.
"Are you ready?"
I nodded. My eyes, and the lenses that covered them, were watching her intently.
Suddenly, Zoe appeared to vanish. In fact, at the time, I felt like she did vanish. Exactly one
second later, she reappeared in front of me. In my shock, I yelped loudly and fell backwards into
the ropes. She disappeared again, and one second later, she was back in her original position.
From there, she sat down and began rubbing her legs. Her breathing was suddenly a lot less calm
and a lot heavier than before, but she didn't look too tired.

"What- what was that? Are you- are you a superhuman?"


She shook her head. "That was... the kick dash."
"How did that work?" The video replayed in my lenses. It really did look like she teleported from
her original position, reappeared in front of me, and then went back again. "How did you do
that?"
"My father... invented the kick dash as a form of footwork... to use in boxing matches. He and I...
we're... the only two people in the whole world... who know how to do it, but he... can't do it
anymore. I'm... the only one. By kicking the ground dozens... up to a hundred times... in a single
second, you can use those kicks to move at... well, blindingly fast speeds.
"Of course, you need... a ton of training to figure out how to do it without... without your legs
tearing themselves apart. My father... he employed it a lot in his fights. He would use it to
dodge... when he was on the defensive, and then... he'd reappear and beat his opponent to hell.
But he... he used it too much, and so his legs... they started to show severe signs of damage."
As she said this, she pulled up the legs of her yoga pants. Her black legs were tinged with red,
like her muscles were stretching out her skin and the color was showing through. Her breathing
was slowly returning back to normal.
"I only do it once a match, and I practice it once a week to keep my skill in shape. But just now I
did it again, so I guess I did it two times this week. I'm the only one who can do it, and that
means I'm the only one who can really teach people how to do it now."
I realized now why she was telling me all of this. "You weren't just showing me so that I could
learn how to do it. You were showing me so that I knew why I shouldn't use it."
She nodded. "Right now, even with that scan of yours, and even if that scan is somehow
complete after only seeing it happen in action once, and even with your superpowers, your body
is incredibly weak and fragile. Definitely too weak to consistently kick dash. When you're
stronger, you can probably combine it with the kick dash to do it several times over in one
sitting, at least with your powers. But even now, you'd probably tear apart the tendons in your
legs if you tried to do it.
"I made you promise to use it in emergencies only. I think you understand now what I meant by
emergency. You can cover a ton of distance over the course of a single second with the kick
dash. Only use the kick dash as an evasive measure. Only use it if you have to run away."
I looked at my legs, then back to hers, and nodded. "I understand. I won't use it if I don't have
to."
"Good." She got up and slid out between the ropes, leaving the ring. "Class is over. I need to rest.
See you next Wednesday."

~~~
I don't dream a lot, but that night, I had one.
A bad one.
I was immobilized, true sleep paralysis. I was lying flat on my back and I couldn't move. I looked
around and saw that I was wearing the suit and I was chained to the ground. It was the same
intersection where Arachne beat me the first time. Past the streetlights, everything was fire- the
buildings, the sky, everything was smoky and hot and ash. Suddenly, a figure appeared. They
were taller and they were covered in shadow, but I could see a wide grin. Their teeth were too
white, reflecting the light cast by the flames, and they were jagged and shaped like triangles, like
cartoon fangs or sharks' teeth. They were arranged in a smile that was too wide for the
silhouette's face, sort of like Scot's smile, but this was completely unnatural and felt unsettling.
The silhouette reached for me with a hand also cloaked in black, the palm alone being the size of
my face. Its fingers ended in black, razor sharp claws. I tried to bust out of the chains, like I did
on New Years' Day, but even though I was wearing the suit I wasn't strong enough.
The shadow grabbed my head and squeezed.
I woke up screaming, clutching at my head, clumps of hair in my hands. My bed was soaked in
sweat. I immediately dropped my hair and grabbed the watch, still on my wrist, and pressed on
it. I still don't know why I did that, but it was instinctive. I sat there in my bed for a while,
clutching my knees, letting the slight warmth of the suit drape over me like the cocoa Sarah had
made, taking deep breaths. Eventually my pounding heart slowed down and didn't feel like it was
going to explode.
The watch, and the display on my lens, read 4:03 AM. I groaned.
I wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep.
~~~~~~
Chapter Ten
Thanatos
After days of tiptoeing around my friends and sister and nights without sleep, it was finally the
fateful hour. I arrived at the hotel Arachne was staying at and she was there to greet me, already
suited up and ready to go. She was waiting for me by a car. A really fancy car. I don't normally
recognize cars, because that's not really my thing, but if I had to describe it in a few choice
words, those words would be 'expensive,' 'sleek,' 'expensive,' 'fast-looking,' 'really expensive,'
'probably imported from whatever European country makes luxury sports cars,' and 'worth more
than my inheritance.'
"Get in. We're going to Los Angeles." She got into the driver's seat.

"Wh- huh?" I followed her into the car through the passenger's side. "We're going straight to LA?
Now? Won't the traffic be really bad?" I never really went to Los Angeles that often, but I was
familiar with the concept of California freeways, and I had heard horror stories from Scot and
some acquaintances about what it was like to drive all the way there. Traffic is probably a
supervillain.
"I know where Thanatos is going to be. He's expecting me to report back to him. He'll be
meeting me in person, probably to punish me for my failure, but he doesn't know that I'm with
you." She turned to me and put her hand on my shoulder. "Are you ready? There's no backing
out once we get started."
I thought about my nightmare. "I have to be ready. It's not like Miss Tape Deck or these Project
Philanthropy goons gave me an opt-out button when they had me cuffed to that chair."
"Good answer."
I said I hadn't ever been on a trip to Los Angeles before, but that doesn't mean I didn't know
anything about the I-5 freeway. It was rather uncongested and free of traffic for once, which was
good, but a very rare site- not as rare, though, as a European luxury sports car escorting two
superheroes in the carpool lane at ninety miles an hour. The only other driver I knew who was
that reckless was Scot, but even then he wasn't about to crash us into the dividing wall.
"So, uh..." I tried grabbing the hand grip thing above the door, but there wasn't one, which made
me even more nervous, so I just clutched onto my seat belt for dear life. "Uh... what's the plan
when we get there?"
"It's pretty simple. I lead, you follow. I can restrain him for a while with my webs, but if he's an
Olympian, and a particularly strong one, he's liable to break out of any bonds I put him in. So I
need you to beat on him while he's tied up. If we pool our efforts we can take him down quick
and clean."
"Take him down?"
"Well, if he's an Olympian, it'll be impossible to kill him, but we can subdue him somehow.
We're not invincible. You know that."
"Don't remind me." I thought about the kick dash and what Zoe made me promise. "What if
we're losing? What if he gets the upper hand or we're not strong enough? Do you have a backup
plan?"
She shook her head. "Apart from running, none."
"Great."

"Don't worry. I won't let you get killed. You're only backup. Even if you're mimicking my
moves, you can't mimic the spider powers that my Arachne suit has, so you're only really suited
for hitting him. I need to be the one to catch him in my webs, and I also have to be protecting
you, since you're the weaker of us, so I'll be front and center."
It's probably bad for me to say this, or for me to have thought this, rather, but even though we
were both risking our lives, I valued my life a lot more than the life of a woman who humiliated
me on the internet, somehow convincing my girlfriend that I was a villain. I didn't argue with her
being the one to go in guns blazing. I didn't want to die.
It was about an hour drive before we got to Los Angeles. All I really recognized was that the
buildings were bigger and taller than the ones in James, and there were a lot more lights, and the
roads were all messed up and the sides of the tunnels were covered in graffiti, and there was a lot
of traffic and loud noises. I don't think the big city life would ever be for me. It's my
understanding that most superheroes thrive in such environments- you know, high crime rate and
all that- but I wasn't about to trade my cushy James bubble for anything in the world, no matter
how good the street vendor food was.
We parked. I think Arachne had to pay to park. It was like a thirty dollar fee. That shit was
ridiculous. She beckoned me to follow her once we got out of the car. She thwipped away,
soaring through the sky on a web line, and I jumped after her in pursuit. The buildings and
skyscrapers were much harder to jump and climb across than the ones in James, and whenever I
made the mistake of looking down I saw that there were real live people walking around on the
sidewalks, and lots of cars trying to get through really tightly constructed streets. If I fell, not
only would I become an Ethan pancake, but there'd be witnesses too. I couldn't think of anything
more embarrassing than that.
Eventually, we got to what looked like an old abandoned warehouse, perfect for kidnapping
people and turning them into superheroes, concocting shady business deals with said
superheroes, or making drugs in or something. I don't really know what goes on in Los Angeles,
so those things could very well be a thing that happens.
I whispered to Arachne. "Is he here?"
She nodded. We moved forward through the warehouse. It was dark but the lights on our chest
illuminated the space to a degree. The radar on my lenses didn't show any other signs of life
other than myself or Arachne in the building- the icons on the map had designated her as a
fellow, friendly green blip. There were loads of rows of metal shelves scattered about, some
having been knocked over, and the contents of the cardboard boxes that once lay on themmostly things like screws and tools- were either spilled over or ransacked long ago. There were
also a few shipping containers that reminded me of the ruins where I first woke up, but I didn't
remember or identify anything that related the ones I saw in the warehouse to the ones in James.
"No one's here?" I asked Arachne.
She shook her head. "He has to be here. I don't know why we can't see him on the map..."

I was quivering in my suit. I hunched over and followed Arachne closely, not wanting to be
separated or caught off guard. "Is there anything here that you would recognize? Like, did he
leave you a sign or something?"
"No. This has to be a trap, and he's waiting somewhere. Wait. Look at the map."
There was a red blip approaching us. I turned around as Arachne did and there was a man
standing in the entrance of the warehouse, past the giant metal doors.
"So, not only did you fail completely in your mission, not only did your exploits make it to the
front page of every internet blog known to mankind, but the two of you are friends now. How
quaint."
The man spoke in a very calm and composed accent. It wasn't his voice that was calm, because I
could tell that he was pissed. He sounded American, and I guess he had to be to be a part of
Project Philanthropy, but his voice gave the impression of some sort of European businessman. If
he could be any more of a stereotypical action villain, he would've needed a disfiguring scar and
a cat.
He didn't have a disfiguring scar, but he was bald. He looked young, though, not like an old guy
whose hair was falling out. He was probably born bald or naturally bald or something, too. I
couldn't quite tell, but there was enough light shining on him for me to see that he didn't have the
gray follicles across his scalp like someone who shaved their head would. Actually, the reason I
could tell was because he was so bald, that the streetlight lamps reflected off of his head. He
didn't have any other distinguishing features other than his hair. Just some average white guy. He
also had on a rather nice black suit with a black shirt underneath. It wasn't an Olympian
Enhancement Suit as far as I could tell.
"So... this one must be the Heracles wielder."
I corrected him. "Hercules."
He scoffed at me. "Did you know that Heracles, Thanatos, and Arachne aren't even Olympians?
As far as I'm aware, of the nine members of Operation Olympian, only four of them are actually
named after the twelve Olympians of ancient Greek myth. Heracles was a demigod, and Arachne
was a cursed mortal. Don't go mucking it up even further by using the Roman version of the
name."
He knew a lot about Operation Olympian and he named himself as one of the project members.
If knowledge was power, then Thanatos was easily stronger than me. "So what's Thanatos then?
Who is he in Greek myth?"
He flashed pearly white teeth as me. "Death."

Arachne moved in front of me. "I don't know why you hired me to take this kid's watch, but I can
assume why. And if you know about Operation Olympian and the group that's overseeing it, then
you knew I couldn't just take the watch."
Thanatos frowned. "Yes, well, I was hoping you would have killed him. You can remove the
Physical-Digital Delivery System from one's body when they've been killed or similarly
incapacitated. Of course, getting it to work for someone else once the biometric blueprint has
already been registered to someone else is very tricky but... it can be done."
This guy wanted me dead. He'll kill us both.
I couldn't tell what Arachne's expression was underneath her mask, but she had her hands to her
hips and her head tilted to the side. I could tell she wasn't really in the mood for a villainous
monologue. "And if you thought that anyone with superpowers would take threats to their life
lying down, you're in for a rude awakening."
He began laughing heartily. "Ha! Yes, well, fortunately I'm only sometimes unwilling to get my
own hands dirty. But..." He began fondling a cufflink on his wrist, pinned to his jacket sleeve. I
was under the impression that the P2DS, like my watch and Arachne's pendant, had to maintain
some sort of skin contact- but upon closer inspection, using a zoom feature on my lenses, I saw
that the cufflink went all the way through the fabric, pricking the man's skin. "Sometimes, if you
want the job done right, you must do it yourself."
"He's going to transform!" I cried out. "Run--!"
Suddenly, a black light enveloped the man. His transformation wasn't instantaneous like mine or
Arachne's was- it lasted at least five seconds, but I remember those brief seconds vividly. The
black light wasn't like an actual blacklight- it was warm and bright, but it was also glowing
black, pitch black. Somehow, it was also casting a shadow, or rather, a silhouette, and the light
itself was also much larger than the man was. It looked like a giant black hole had come out of
nowhere and made itself present in the doorway.
Then, the black light vanished.
And there stood Thanatos.
He must have been ten feet tall. Muscles were rippling through his body, bulging against the
lining of the suit. He had hot, glowing red lines etched all over his body, culminating in a red
chest piece in the center. His hands alone looked to be the size of my torso. His gaze through the
lenses of his mask cast a powerful, insidious vibe that made the hair on the back of my neck
stand on end. I saw that even Arachne, who I had known very briefly, but who I knew to be very
cool and unflappable, had taken a few steps back, an arm raised to protect herself.
Thanatos was a monster.

He jumped at us with speed that betrayed his massive size. Arachne and I jumped out of the way
in opposite directions as Thanatos came barreling through the warehouse, knocking away
shipping containers and shelves. Arachne fled, pulling herself to the ceiling of the warehouse
with her rope, or I guess her web. Then, with her back stuck to the ceiling, she shot more webs at
Thanatos, wrapping them around his arms and legs. Thanatos gave a distorted cry as he collapsed
to the ground on his knees.
"Now!"
That was my cue. I ran forward and began wailing on Thanatos's body. His size meant that I
didn't really have to be picky about how I hit him, so I kept slugging him in what I assumed was
his gut.
Suddenly, I heard a cry from Arachne. "Wait! No! Get away!"
"What?" I jumped back instinctively, not realizing that I had just barely avoided being swatted
like a fly. The bonds couldn't hold Thanatos- with a mere flex, he snapped the webs as if he was
wrapped up in Scotch tape. He aimed another punch at me, which I tried to dodge, but I was still
broadsided by his arm and I went flying across the warehouse, smacking into the side of a
container.
Were we even a match for him? I pulled myself from the wreckage and cried to Arachne. "He's
way too strong! We need a better plan!"
"I'm trying!" Arachne wrapped Thanatos in webbing again, and with great effort, slung him like
a whip or a lasso across the warehouse.
My lenses were scanning him. It's not like I could mimic his techniques, right? Suddenly, the
light on my chest started glowing.
"Adaptation ability in progress. Scanning opponent power level."
"What? What's going on?"
"Adaptation and mimicry secondary function. Emergency function. In the event of stronger
opponents, the adaptation protocol can increase the power output of the Heracles OES.
Power output is derived from the chest-mounted battery of the Heracles OES, but
increased power cannot be sustained for long periods of time. After such time, the built-up
power is safely expelled from the battery."
So stealing people's moves wasn't the only think Miss Tape Deck meant when referring to
'adaptation and mimicry.' If it was an emergency function, I guess it would make sense as to why
it didn't show up before when I was looking for it. The whole thing sounded dangerous, too, and
I wouldn't be able to use it for the whole fight. "Will I be able to match Thanatos's strength?"

"To be determined. A substantial amount of time is needed to scan stronger opponents.


Particularly powerful opponents require a greater period of time."
"Fuck." I had to play the waiting game again. But could I really rope-a-dope a giant rampaging
monster?
"I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS PLAYING AROUND!" Thanatos sat up, tearing away the webs
again. He jumped for the ceiling, trying to smack Arachne off as if she was a fly- or in this case,
a spider- on the wall, but she was just barely faster. She jumped but didn't have time to plan, so
she fell straight to earth. I ran and tried to catch her, but I messed up and the two of us collapsed
to the floor.
"Arachne! I have a plan!"
"Is it your adaptation power?"
I helped her to her feet and we began to run to the opposite end of the warehouse as Thanatos
also landed and turned to look for us. "Yeah. I need enough time to power up. I guess in
emergencies I can also copy strength as well as moves."
"How much time do you need?"
"I don't know. It won't tell me. Maybe I can pull it off without being at 100%, but that's a big
maybe."
"I'll try to buy it, but we're going to have to retreat for now. Eventually this warehouse will be
too trashed to fight in."
"YOU'LL STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!" Thanatos hurled one of the containers at us.
Without even missing a beat, Arachne immediately caught it and whipped it back at him with her
webs. The counterattack worked- it sent him straight through the warehouse wall and into the
street.
Arachne seemed to notice how well it worked, too. "Hey, kid, do you think you'd be okay with
incurring some property damage?"
I gulped. "I mean... maybe?"
"Throw big things at him. It looks like that's effective for now. Dumpsters, cars, whatever." She
thwipped out of the warehouse, chasing down our mutual enemy.
I followed her outside and saw her engaged in a duel down the street with Thanatos. She was
using her webs to throw parked cars at him, and it was working. The heavy metal vehicles were
knocking him around much more effectively than my punches were.

There were people screaming in terror and running away from the vehicular mayhem. It looked
like a monster movie. I thought about trying to help them escape, but I figured that that wasn't
my department or something I was good at, so I focused on helping Arachne instead. Besides,
the local police were already here and sectioning off the city block, keeping people away from
the destruction.
I looked around to see if there was anything I could pick up and throw. There were loads of cars
around, of course, but I didn't know if I could actually throw them at Thanatos. My eyes settled
on a dinky smart car parked neatly in a tight space. That might work. I put my arms around it and
heaved. To my surprise, it came up onto my shoulders rather easily- it was still very heavy and
cumbersome, but it was less like, say, carrying a massive bag of bricks, and more like hefting
around a twin-sized mattress- big, but light in principle.
The suit shocked me with more static pulses, and so I automatically flung the smart car at
Thanatos. I managed to see it him, knocking him down briefly, but it wasn't as effective as the
heavier vehicles Arachne was throwing. I saw his sights settle on me, but Arachne used that as a
diversion to throw a trailer at him.
"A smart car?! Really, kid?!"
"I'm trying to help, okay!!" I selected another, small sports car and tried to lift it. This one was
very heavy- I was able to make it budge, but not hoist it over my head.
"Come on, come on!" I heaved again.
"Adaptation power analysis progress- fifteen percent. Utilize charge?"
"Yes! Yes yes yes! C'mon!"
Suddenly, there was a burst of light and the green lines on my body began glowing. I felt an even
greater burst of warmth than the one that normally emanated from the suit, and as I was lifting
the car, it suddenly left the ground and went over my head with more ease than before. It was
still rather heavy, but it felt just like hurling the smart car around.
"Try this on for size!" It wasn't anything like what Arachne had been throwing with her ropes,
but it was better than an oversized metal lunchbox. I threw it at Thanatos, and much to my
surprise, his massive body went soaring, thundering into the side of a building.
"Holy shit." I looked at my hands. The suit was glowing with a green tinge. Was this just from a
fraction of the power that I had gained from trying to adapt to his? "How much longer until a
hundred percent?"
"Approximately one hour fifty five minutes."
I cried in frustration. Neither of us would be able to last that long.

Arachne thwipped over to me and landed at my side. "Nice going, rookie! Was that your suit's
power at work?"
"I think so, but now that I have an estimate on how long it'll take to match him completely, I
know for a fact we can't win."
"Are you sure? We can't outlast him?"
I shook my head and looked at Thanatos. He was sluggishly getting off, shrugging off the debris
he was surrounded in. "We have to keep doing what we've been doing or figure out some other
way to hurt him that works the same way."
"I don't want to do any more damage to the surroundings than what we've already racked up."
I thought back to my adaptation ability. How much longer could I hold onto this fifteen percent
increase in strength?
"Without increasing the power level, current suit extraneous energy output can be
maintained for another eighteen minutes before expulsion."
"Expulsion?" That was it! "Arachne, in eighteen minutes I can blast him with a shot of energy
from my chest light."
"Are you sure?"
"I think the suit should be able to protect me. It said this system was safe."
"If you say so. But you'll have to get in close in order to do that. I'll keep attacking him the way
that I have been. Maybe that'll give you enough cover. But you have to fight him mano a mano."
I nodded. My nerves were long gone and the adrenaline was already pumping through me, and
that combined with the boost in power made me feel a lot more confident than I probably
should've been. Running towards a ten foot tall supervillain monster is always a bad idea,
whether or not you yourself have powers. But we didn't really have any other options, and even
with this convenient emergency power-up at my disposal I didn't think we would win.
I charged ahead at Thanatos as Arachne followed from behind, throwing a truck at him. He got
smacked back into the wall from the impact of the truck. I got in close and began firing off a
volley of punches. This time, I saw that they were actually hurting him- a combination of his
fatigue from being batted around by two ton steel boxes and my strength increase was doing a
number on him. He flinched briefly each time I landed a hit, but he would recover quickly and
take swipes at me with his huge palms. Arachne fired webs at him, pinning him to the wall, as I
kept punching him in the gut.
"ENOUGH!" He tore himself away with one swift motion and tried to kick me. "I GROW
WEARY OF BEING TOYED WITH." I dodged the kick, but like his punch at me before, he

didn't have to even hit me directly just as long as he hit. I got knocked away by his heel, sent
spiraling like a football into a nearby alley. I crashed into a couple of dumpsters. The power
spike in my suit seemed to alleviate some of the damage I sustained, but not by much- I still felt
like shit. I was also probably in shit too. I got up and hoisted one of the dumpsters over my head
and threw it at Thanatos.
"ENOUGH, I SAID!" He punched it back at me, as if this was some game of superhero tennis.
Fortunately, Arachne was there to catch the return shot with her webs and brought it down onto
Thanatos, sending him reeling. This was my chance to get started again. The timer on my lenses
read that I had three minutes remaining. I rushed back in, and Arachne also got in close with me.
She wrapped him tightly with even more webs, keeping him upright as I pummeled him. She
also lent a hand, jumping around and kicking him in the face to disorient him. Whenever he tried
to tear away she would pin him again or throw something small at him, like a lamppost or a
bench. Our plan was working and our team strategy had perfect synergy.
Soon, the timer started drawing down to seconds.
"Get away!!" I cried out to Arachne.
The light on my chest grew even more bright and green. I felt a hot rippling sensation on my
chest, like there was a fire on top of me, only it was also heavy, like an iron weight. The light
grew brighter and brighter, illuminating everything until all I saw was green.
Then"Extraneous energy disposal in three, two, one..."
There was an explosion. My feet were rooted into the ground where I was standing, and my body
was locked in place by the suit, but there was a beam of explosive energy shooting out from my
chest, and striking Thanatos in his. I heard his distorted screams as he was blasted away by the
force of the explosion, ripping through the walls of several buildings into the distance. I
collapsed to the ground, but I didn't feel exhausted or anything. I couldn't move, though- my suit
was rigid. Arachne stood next to me and tried to help me up, but I couldn't stand.
"Hang on."
The suit lenses were indicating that I would be locked in place briefly for a few more seconds. A
part of the energy being dispersed went back into the suit to speed up the healing enzymes, so
my body was being restored from all of the damage and exhaustion. I didn't understand what the
suit was doing, and I still don't quite get how it works now, but I obliged until I could move my
arms and legs again.
"That was incredible." Arachne said, shouldering me. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. The blast healed me up." I looked at the cartoon-like hole in the wall where I had blasted
Thanatos through. "Is he gonna get up?"

Arachne winced. "You don't ask that."


"Why not?"
"Well, when you ask if someone's really down for the count, or if you're like, 'he's not gonna get
back up, is he?' then, usually, they..."
As if on cue, as though Arachne was part of some dark comedy gag, the two of us heard
thudding footsteps in the distance, approaching us. The red blip reappeared on my map.
Oh, great.
"They get up."
Thanatos came bursting back in through another building like a monstrous Kool-aid Man, his
black and red body pulsating with every breath.
"You've gotta be fucking kidding me. I give up."
"GOOD. THEN MAKE IT EASY FOR ME." He bounded into the sky and came back down,
crashing onto our heads like a meteor. We jumped out of the way again, but this time he was
moving faster and the two of us were struck by heavy debris.
When I got up, Arachne was nowhere to be found. Had she fled without me?
"HERACLES. YOUR ADAPTATION POWERS SEEMS TO HAVE SOME RATHER
UNIQUE PROPERTIES. I CAN MAKE USE OF THEM BETTER THAN YOU EVER
COULD."
"Bite me, Kool-aid Man."
His punches were like dodging a train. Even if I didn't get hit by his fist he would still somehow
get me because he was just so huge. I wasn't going to be able to move fast enough, and I wasn't
strong enough to fight back at all. This definitely counted as a kick dash- approved emergency,
but I needed to look for a way out first. I kept dodging around, trying my best not to get hit by
the full brunt of his attacks. Eventually I had gotten past him for a few seconds and saw an empty
stretch of street that I could probably use to escape through and hide. If his suit was like mine
and Arachne's, he could still find me if I appeared on his radar, so I would have to get pretty far
away. I had just gotten healed, but being smacked around by Thanatos's giant arms and legs
wasn't doing me any favors in that department either, so it was now or never.
"BOY!!" He lunged forward at me, fist at the ready.
It's now or never.

Several hundred static pricks racked my legs like a bunch of ants crawling over my skin. One
second later, it felt like those ants had all bit into my legs and kept eating away at the muscles
around my bones. I screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground, clutching my legs and
rocking back and forth.
"It worked," I sobbed. "It worked."
Thanatos was nowhere to be found. I didn't even recognize any of the streets or buildings. No
wrecked cars, no warehouse, no buildings with cartoon holes going through them, no monster
supervillain. Just me, alone in the middle of nowhere, crying my eyes out from the sheer pain.
I heard the engine of a car approaching me from the distance, then my body left the ground and
was sat down into a seat. Then, Arachne's voice.
"You're okay, kid. You got away. We got away. We're safe now."
Then I blacked out.
~~~~~~
Chapter Eleven
Aftermath
I woke up in a bed that wasn't my own. I knew it wasn't my bed because it was much more
comfortable and way bigger. The next thing I felt when I came to was the sensation that my legs
were still being pricked away by ants, only fewer of them than before. I moaned in dull pain and
shifted around in the bed. I was still wearing the suit- I put it away and took off my pants. My
legs were bright red, compared to the rest of my pale white body. They looked just like how
Zoe's did when she showed me the kick dash for the first time, only my red was much brighter
and I didn't have any muscles.
The door swung open. It was Arachne, only she wasn't in her suit. So, I guess I would call her
Alyssa.
"You're awake."
She wore a black and blue dress that was much more modest than the catsuit she was wearing
before- although she could probably be naked except for underwear and that would be less
revealing. The skirt stopped at her thighs, and I noticed that all the blue bits were actually little
blue birds and flowers. It was actually kind of cute- I thought that Amanda would like to wear
something like that.
Alyssa sat down in the chair by the nightstand. "Hercules- I... Ethan, right?"
I nodded.

"Ethan, I am so sorry. I bit off more than I could chew. No matter what the situation is, I'm an
adult and I shouldn't have endangered you like that."
I waved her off. "I'm eighteen. I'm technically not a kid anymore. And I chose to tag along.
Besides, if either one of us had fought him alone, we probably would've died." I added, after she
didn't say anything to me in response, "Apology accepted."
She ran her fingers through her hair. "How did you get out?"
"Trick I stole from an acquaintance. But it messes up your legs if you fuck it up. And I fucked it
up." I gestured to my red, swollen legs.
"Thanatos won't chase after us for a while. I don't think he was too keen on us publicly exposing
him."
"We made the news again?"
She nodded. "'Superhuman Grudge Match in Los Angeles.' Some variation on that title. The
world seems to think we're one of those actual superhumans from that Dr. Ayala's research."
"But we're not."
"No, but they don't know anything about Project Philanthropy or the Olympians."
"And we do." I tried sitting up in the bed but the imaginary ants just dug deeper into my flesh.
"Thanatos seems to know the most."
"I don't know how he fits into all of this in particular." She sighed and reclined in her chair. "I
really messed up this time. I'm never taking on another job like this again."
I looked away. "Yeah. I'm going to try not to attract the attention of any megalomaniacal
supervillain monsters for a while either."
"That's probably for the best." She smiled at me when I looked back at her. "I'll be keeping my
head underwater, but if you need any help, you can contact me. I'll leave you a private number.
Consider it something I owe you for getting you mixed up in that fight."
"Thanks."
"And..." She opened the drawer on the night stand and pulled out a thin manila folder. "I also
promised you this."
The folder wasn't labelled or anything. She handed it over to me.

"You can't actually keep it. I'm going to have to destroy it later, probably. Especially after the
whole Thanatos thing."
I opened the folder up and there was a thick ream of sheets inside. I pulled out some of them and
saw diagrams that looked like my watch and my suit, but I didn't understand what they meant. I
didn't feel like going through them all, either, so I gave them back to her. "Can you just... explain
to me then?"
"Okay. There's a lot to cover though, so keep up.
"Project Philanthropy started as a military program in the 1940s, as do all great clandestine
military programs. As the name suggests, the goal was a lot different than all of the other weapon
development projects back then, like the Manhattan Project. It was originally designed to try and
figure out a way to restore disabled people, with an emphasis on soldiers who had been maimed
or rendered paraplegic in combat."
She rustled through the folder and pulled out a picture of what looked like a very large and bulky
suit. "This was what the prototypes probably looked like. They were big and bulky and they
needed a large power source. In practice, they worked- this was a predecessor to modern
prosthetics and things like that. But the goal was to provide a protective, healing 'second skin'
that was more natural to the user than, say, a bionic arm. But they didn't make much progress and
Project Philanthropy was scrapped in 1947.
"It comes back at least twice, with some progress being made each time- once during the sixties,
in the middle of the Vietnam War, and again during the Gulf War in the early nineties. By the
nineties, they had slimmed the suit down a bit and figured out the power source- a completely
clean fusion reactor."
"Isn't that nuclear?" I suddenly felt very uncomfortable with having a nuclear battery on my
chest.
"No. Nuclear reactors nowadays are fission reactors. They're not clean and produce a lot of
waste. Fusion is more like the energy of the sun. I don't know how sound the science is, but they
were basically able to put really, really tiny suns into batteries and then put them in these suits. It
took basically forty, fifty years for them to get the 'second skin' aspect to work, and how to
power it.
"Then, in 2009, a collaborative group of scientists reinvigorated Project Philanthropy with
several revolutionary technologies. The first one was very specific to the efforts of the projectthe scientists had biologically engineering a new breed of bacteria designed to heal damaged
cells. This would obviously help for handicapped people who were wearing the suit. The second
one was different- the Physical-Digital Delivery System. Somehow, they had figured out a way
to switch two objects around using teleportation- one object would come from a 'digital' space
and be swapped with the 'physical' object in the real world. They marketed this as a way to
easily, conveniently remove the suit whenever necessary.

"Somewhere along the line, though, the project got taken over by somebody new. No one's heard
of him before, seen his face, whatever. Completely opaque. He's the guy who gives out all the
thematic codenames to people. Miss Tape Deck got her codename from him. I guess the guy's an
audiophile."
So Alyssa had met Miss Tape Deck as well. I guess not all of us got our powers at the exact same
time, then, because unless Miss Tape Deck was also a superhuman, I wouldn't know how she
could be in at least nine places at once. Since I hadn't actually encountered a real superhuman
that didn't have a suit, I elected to hold onto what little bit of skepticism I had left.
"Anyway, this guy organized Operation Olympian and partly converted the program into a
supersoldier unit. Beta testing began this year, as you know, on January 1st, 201X."
It all sounded like something out of science fiction. It wasn't that hard to believe since Thanatos's
comments seemed to support the idea that such an organization existed to begin with, and on top
of that I had been using the suit for some time now. But it was still really overwhelming to take
in all at once.
"So, we're part of some World War II- era conspiracy where scientists were trying to create
medical technology, but down the line it became about superhuman soldiers?"
She nodded. "Pretty much. But my issue with this information is that, as far as tactical espionage
is concerned, this was relatively easy for me to get my hands on." She tapped the folder. "So this
really probably only scratches the surface. I did learn some other things that aren't in these
documents, though. For that, I had to be a bit more rough and persuasive."
"Really? What else?"
"Are you sure you want to hear?"
I nodded. "I need to know as much as I can. Anything that'll help me get by for the rest of the
year."
"Okay then. There are three major things you'd probably like to know. One, the selection process
wasn't actually random."
My eyes widened. "Wait, what? So you're saying that it wasn't like someone dropped a name of
US citizens into a hat and grabbed them?"
She shook her head. "If that were the case, and if the selection process truly was random, then I
don't think either of us would have ever met or been brought together. Thanatos's remarks pretty
much confirmed what I was told. Someone selected specific individuals for the Operation
Olympian beta test."
This was definitely a shock to me. It was much easier for me to get by just believing that I really
was some random schmuck who got stuck with superpowers. This only served to raise even more

questions. Who chose me? Why me of all people? How do they know who I am? What was their
criteria for choosing people?
"Thanatos knows who the other Olympians are, so I'm sure that he was somehow involved in the
selection process or at the very least was told about it by someone who was. I still don't know
any other Olympians apart from you and him, so I can't imagine how he got ahold of that
information."
"So does that mean he knew who I was?"
"I don't think he knows your identity, but likely just what your suit is and the powers associated
with it. I think if he knew your identity you'd be in deeper trouble."
"Fair point." I shuddered to think about the consequences of him knowing who I was.
"Anyway, number two is that there's a tenth Olympian out there."
"Really? Didn't Tape Deck say there were only nine suits? Four men and five women, right?"
"This tenth Olympian stole a suit and ran. That's all I was told. I don't know if they're a man,
woman, both, or neither. I'm assuming that anyone who stole an Olympian Enhancement Device
is directly related to Project Philanthropy, though."
So there was another mystery player on the field who I would have to keep an eye out for over
the next eleven months. I could only hope that they weren't malicious or straight up evil like
Thanatos was.
"Third, the Olympian Enhancement Device is specifically designed to combat superhuman
beings."
"So Dr. Ayala's research is real, then?" That didn't necessarily surprise me either, but I didn't
quite believe that it was real because I still hadn't seen evidence of it. "But then that would mean
that there are people out there who knew about superhuman individuals before her thesis even
existed. Is there evidence of that in these papers?"
Alyssa shook her head again. "I'm afraid not. And I understand that implication too. I feel like
Dr. Ayala may somehow be connected to Project Philanthropy, even if it's not directly. Perhaps
her research influenced it in some way even though she wasn't actually working on it in any
capacity. Only time will tell."
"So do you think we'll be running into some actual superhumans down the line?"
"Well, like I said, right? We won't know until it happens, but I think it's safe to assume that stuff
like this will keep piling up over the course of the year."

I looked down at my legs. The swelling and the inflamed appearance had gone down but the pain
was still there. I had sort of forgotten about it over the course of the discussion, but the watch
was doing its work.
The watch. I unhooked it from my wrist and began to play with it in my hands. I was holding a
piece of technology with at least seven decades of scientific research behind it, the culmination
of which resulted in the creation of superhuman warriors. Was that what I was destined to be? A
supersoldier? I didn't really think that at any point in my life would I fight to represent someone
else's interests, let alone my own. I wasn't even really fond of the superhero moniker. But, up til
now, I thought that I was just in this because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It turns
out that I was selected, and I didn't know why.
"So?" Alyssa inquired.
I looked up at her. "So?"
"So what are you going to do now?"
I looked at the watch. It read something like 3 AM. "What day is it?"
"It's early Monday morning. Do you have to go back home? Wherever home is?"
I groaned, putting my face into my hands. "My sister's going to kill me."
"Lucky you. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, huh?" She chuckled.
"Yeah, I guess." I mulled it over. "I think I'll figure it out. For now I'm just going to hold onto
this watch until next year. That's what I was planning on doing before and I won't let anyone stop
me."
"Well, that's really all you can do."
I nodded and put the watch back on my wrist. I tried to get out of bed- my legs were still in pain
but I felt like I could walk. "I think I'm going to go back home."
"Okay. Here, then." She handed me a tiny card with a phone number on it. "Just in case. See you
around, Hercules."
I smirked. She got it right for once. "See you around, Arachne."
~~~
It was probably due to a lot of reasons- the sound beating I took, the fact that it was already late
enough as it was, or simply that the Thanatos issue had been temporarily resolved, but I slept
pretty soundly. Almost too soundly. Sarah had to shake me awake.

"Ethan! Ethan, you- wake up, you lazy piece of shit!"


"I'm up! I'm up!" I didn't realize that my alarm was going off on my phone. I grabbed it and shut
it off.
"Jesus, aren't you going to be late for school?"
"I'll be fine. I really don't care." I got out of bed and went straight to my closet, going through my
clothes.
"Where were you last night?"
"Out." I put a shirt and jacket on.
"When did you come home?"
"Late." My legs went into my pants.
"Are you still not going to tell me what's going on?"
"I'm not gay."
"Oh, haw, haw, haw." She slapped on the back of my head. "Don't be gross. Brush your teeth.
Breakfast is ready too."
"Thanks, Mom."
She stood in the doorway and looked at me as I was brushing my teeth. "So... how are you?"
My mouth was full of toothpaste. I tried to say "Good" but foamy spit nearly got everywhere.
"Well... you know what? Okay. You seem- better."
I spat and rinsed. "Last night cleared my head."
"That's what it looks like. I hope you really are okay, Ethe."
"Me too, Sare." I smirked at her. "Me too."
~~~
I really was feeling better. Amanda noticed it too.
"Hey, you." She kissed me on the cheek as she sat next to me at our table at Gaslight.
"Hey, you." I returned the gesture.

"You look good today."


"Oh, I don't look good every day?"
"Shut up. You know what I mean." She grinned at me. "You look better than ever. Were you sick
last week or something?"
I shrugged. "I guess you can say that."
"Stress?"
"Yeah. I don't know what it was about, but it was really rough." That was a half-truth so it was
easy to say. I really didn't know what the deal was with Thanatos, and the whole ordeal was
hellish. "So, did you see the news about LA last night?"
Amanda's eyes beamed. "Yeah! Did you? Those superheroes were so cool. I can't wait to rub it
in Scot's face."
"Rub what in my face?" Scot sat down, with Trent right beside him.
"That superhuman people are real and that one of them totally got his ass kicked last night by a
bunch of heroes?"
"Oh, yeah. I saw that." Scot scoffed. "What a load of baloney. That stuff really freaks me out. It's
like aliens."
"Aliens could be real, you know," I chimed in.
"Eh," Amanda shrugged. "If aliens are real, I don't think they'd waste their time traveling
distances exceeding billions of light years just to come talk to us, or kill us, or whatever. We're
boring. We're not worth their time."
"Maybe now we are, because we've got superheroes, right?" Scot grinned at Amanda as he took a
bite of his pizza.
The conversation got sidetracked over what cryptological beings were real and what weren't. We
established that aliens were probably real, but not actually involved in anything terrestrial, and
everyone who said that they were were delusional. Yetis and Bigfoot and related creatures
weren't real. Atlantis was real. Mermaids were actually manatees. But superheroes weren't
cryptological beings- they were real and they lived in California. As lunch winded down, we
established that we would have a show on Saturday, "to wrap up the month!" according to Scot.
("We haven't played a show all month, Scot," Amanda reminded him.)
Amanda and I walked behind the other two for a moment to talk alone as we headed back to
class.

"So, are you ready for the show?"


"Yeah. I mean, I have to be, right? We haven't played in a few weeks, so it almost feel like the
first show we played this month, but I think now I'm prepared."
"That's good. I noticed that you seemed worried or distracted all last week but it looks like you're
feeling better now."
"Do I really wear my feelings on my sleeve like that?"
She smiled at me. "Yeah. You really do."
"I guess I gotta work on that." I smirked and flexed. "I gotta work on being a tough John Wayne
type of guy. Always soft spoken but wise and tough. Or maybe not. John Wayne was an
asshole." I remembered that we were talking about the superhero footage earlier. "Hey, so that
guy who the superwoman beat up was in that video from LA, right? So could he be a good guy?"
She shrugged. "Probably. It's not like people jumping to conclusions and judging other people
based on things taken out of context isn't a thing."
"That was deep."
"Well, it happens a lot to superheroes, too. So I guess I fell into that trap and I should've known
better. But why do you ask?"
I was grinning widely. If the whole fight with Thanatos was walking over coals, the reward at the
end of the path was being vindicated in my girlfriend's eyes. "Oh, you know, no reason."
"You're smiling like Scot. There must be a reason."
"I don't think it's that big of a deal. Maybe I'll tell you later."
She cocked an eyebrow at me. "Okay then. Weirdo."
~~~
I went into the boxing ring on Wednesday without my suit on for once. Messing up the kick dash
skill left me seriously hurting, and there are some things that I figured I couldn't just scan and
steal with my superpowers. I resolved to just go into the ring and practice my boxing with Zoe
for the time being, until I was ready to learn the kick dash for real this time.
Mac wasn't there that night, but Zoe was.

"He said he didn't want to see you. I think he was pissed at me for teaching you the kick dash and
he didn't want to be around to blow a gasket at you, either." She rolled her eyes. "I don't think he
realized that what I did ended up saving your life."
"Yeah. Although I regret doing it in the first place. My legs only stopped aching after yesterday.
I think maybe training without the suit would help me a lot."
"No copying my moves?" She tossed me my gloves.
"Nah. If I can't fight on my own then I'm no good. You said it yourself, right? Without what I
copied from you, I probably would've died. And it didn't even work.
My bout of humility got the better of me. Without the suit on, Zoe kept trouncing me effortlessly.
I was only doing marginally better than before- still on the defensive, not trading any blows. Zoe
told me later that as punishment, her father had her on janitorial duty for the rest of the week, so I
could only assume that she was taking out her frustration at scrubbing down locker rooms and
toilets on me.
At our break time, Zoe gave me a squeeze bottle with some sports-erade something or other juice
inside. "So, how does this superhero thing work now?"
I shrugged. "I've learned a lot of things that I still don't really understand. All I know is that it's
mostly out of my hands and all I can do is wait for things to happen and react to them."
"Waiting for big, bad, evil supervillain things to happen to you must make you really anxious."
"Yeah, tell me about it." I squeezed some of the juice. "It made me a wreck last week, but I guess
it worked out in the end since I got you to help me out."
Zoe wiped her brow with a towel. "But isn't anxiety also, like, some sort of superpower?"
"I don't think it is. Superpowers don't normally make you feel like shit for having them."
"Well, think of it this way then. What does your anxiety usually make you feel like?"
I thought about it for a moment. "Like something's wrong, or something bad's about to happen."
"And what do you do when you know something bad's about to happen?"
I shook my head. "I know what you're trying to say, but usually it's too crippling to get me to do
anything about it."
"Well, that's fair. I don't really know what it's like to live with that sort of thing. But look at what
you've accomplished so far. You didn't let it get the better of you this time, right? So what was
your motivation? How did you overcome all of that?"

"I don't know. Luck?"


"Fair. But luck won't save you all the time. And that's why you're here, right?" She stood up from
the bench and climbed back into the ring. "C'mon. Break's over. Let's go."
I sighed and took another drink before joining her.
"C'mon, Hercules. Anyone who can toss cars around and beat up supervillain monsters can
dodge a few punches."
~~~

And so, Saturday was our second, and last, show of the month. (I swear, normally we play shows
more often.)
Scot and I were setting up our merch table right next to the Three Rockets bar. Scot had some
posters printed out that had the same graphic as some of our T-shirts, and a small plastic box full
of CDs. Amanda and Trent had already got everything ready for sound check. And in a strange
twist of fate, for the first time since The Repugnant Thug started playing here, we were the
opening act.
Speaking of which, The Repugnant Thug walked into room just as Scot and I had finished with
the table. Hiroshi and Travis pushed through the crowd of hipsters swarming us to approach our
table, while Brennan and Samantha awkwardly scooted by and went backstage.
"Hey, Scot!" Travis patted him on the back. "Haven't seen you play in a few weeks. How's life?"
Hiroshi followed up with a smug grin on his face. "Thought you would've turned tail and just let
us have this place to ourselves."
Scot tch'ed at Hiroshi. "It's not a competition, kid. It's just about playing music. That's the only
thing it's been for me. And anyone who tries to step in and interfere with that will get their teeth
knocked in." Then he put his hand on Travis's shoulder. "It's good to see you too, bud."
Hiroshi looked rather scorned. "Well, if playing is so important to you, then I guess you're glad
to be going on first for once."
"We are, actually," I chimed in. "That way we get to play and clear out before we have to hear
your godawful voice up on stage. The nineties called, they want their MTV back."
Hiroshi didn't have any words. It seemed as though a few weeks of not being able to prostrate
and lord his imagined superiority over us had caused his sharp rapier wit to rust over. He simply
disappeared back into the crowd and made his way backstage. Travis smiled and put down a ten
dollar bill, taking a T-shirt as he left.

Scot turned to me and gave me his trademark Cheshire grin. "Are you ready, man?"
If Scot or Amanda ever asked me before a show if I was ready, my response was usually
something like "I have to be." When Scot asked me that again, after everything that had
happened over the course of the month, I thought about all of it at once and realized that I would
never be ready, but I had to be. I was never going to ever actually be ready for a show, no matter
how much I steeled my nerves and practiced. I was never going to be ready for fighting
supervillains, no matter how well I held back the urge to vomit and how well my injuries healed.
I was never ready to be a superhero in the first place, but that didn't stop them from slapping a
watch on my wrist and forcing me to keep it for a year. But I had to be ready, and I got through
everything that happened to me in January because I made myself ready, somehow.
I smiled, nodded at Scot, and said, "Yes."
The two of us went on stage to the delight of everyone in the crowd (except for Hiroshi.)
Amanda passed me my bass as the crowd began cheering and applauding. I looked over the sea
of faces, girls lining up in bunches underneath Scot, hipsters sitting around tables and ignoring
the no-smoking signs, the members of The Repugnant Thug watching intently. Four years ago,
this would have been the scariest thing in the world to me. It would've had me projectile
vomiting behind a dumpster while Scot rubbed and patted my back to make sure I got it all out.
But now, I laid claim to the personal achievement of "faced down a giant black and red evil
Kool-aid Man and lived to tell the tale." I was part of a world that was much bigger than any of
the people in this room could possibly imagine, and I still had a hard time grasping it too.
If I could make it through one more night of playing a show live, I could get through anything.
I took a deep breath and opened my lips.

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