Authors: Michael Carroll
ALSO BY MICHAEL CARROLL
e Quantum Prophecy Trilogy
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Copyright Â© 2012 by Michael Carroll. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Philomel Books, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Published simultaneously in Canada.
Printed in the United States of America.
Edited by Kiffin Steurer.
To Vicky Stonebridge and Richmond Clementsâ
for all the Hi-Ex hi-jinks!
MY NAME ISÂ .Â .Â
. Well, I'm not going to tell you my real name. What's the point of having a secret identity if you blurt it out all over the place? My superhero name was Thunder. This was back in the days when I had superhuman powers.
It's weird talking about this now, after all this time. When we superhumans lost our abilities it came as a bit of a shock to all of us. Especially for me, because I was in the air over Iceland at the time. I was about eighty meters up, moving pretty fast.
The Shark and his gang had just pulled off a pretty big heist, and as soon as they heard I was after them, The Shark ordered his men to slow me down while he made a run for it. I don't know why the bad guys always did that. I'd rounded up The Shark's men and was after the man himself whenâbam!âsuddenly my powers were gone and I was falling like a lead potato.
I was lucky: I landed in a lake. Nearly broke my neck when I hit the water and nearly drowned trying to get out. I'd never learned to swim, you see. Didn't need to. I could fly. Why would I ever need to swim?
I've learned to swim since, of course.
The Shark got away. Never heard a word about him again. I can only hope that when
powers vanished he found himself in a similar position.
So this story that I'm going to tell youÂ .Â .Â . It might ramble a bit but that's because I'm really not used to talking about these things. You don't know what it was like, holding on to these secrets for over a decade.
No, before you ask, I didn't know Titan's real identity, nor Energy's. I had no idea who Quantum was. I met Paragon once or twice, didn't really get to talk to him. But I knew Apex. Knew him well. They're the Big Five, the ones everyone wants to know about. Like they were the best of us or something. Max Daltonâexcuse me while I spit in disgustâwas and still is a self-obsessed jerk with an ego the size of Texas. The way his publicity people work, you'd think that Dalton was the only effective superhero in the business and the rest of us were working for him.
But I'm not here to talk about Titan and his gang or the Daltons, not really. I'm here to tell you about the Footsoldiers.
I doubt you've heard of us, but that's not surprising because we never made the name public. It was kind of a joke name, a dig at Dalton's own High Command. See what I mean about his ego? He chose a name for his superhero team that deliberately gave the impression they were in charge.
Most of the time there were four of us in the Footsoldiers. Myself, Apex, Hesperus, and Thalamus. Now and then Impervia and Octavian worked with us. Once, Josh Dalton worked on a kidnapping case with us because he'd split from the High Command after a fight with his brother. He was all right. Smart kid. Always in the shadow of his siblings, though.
But Octavian was the most frequent of the team's casual members. You might not remember him. Strange guy. Styled himself after the Roman emperor for some reason we could never figure out. Dressed like him too. Toga, laurel-leaf crown, sandals. His powers were pretty basic: flight, energy rays from his eyes, a good left cross. Useful in a fight, but that was about it.
One funny thing about Octavian before I go on: he only showed up for a couple of days every three weeks, and it was always at night. He never said why this was, but he implied that it was something to do with “the phases of the moon.” It was Thalamus who figured it out: Octavian was married and his wife didn't know he was a superhuman. Every three weeks she had to go out of town on a business trip, and Octavian would grab the sheets off the bed to make his “costume.” And he could only do it at night because they lived in his mother's house and he had to wait until she was asleep.
It was shortly after we solved that kidnapping case that this story starts.
I didn't like the way Apex was running things. But then I didn't like much about him. I mean, the rest of us knew each other's real identities, but Apex never even removed his helmet. And you couldn't see any part of him under his armor.
Like Paragon, I guess. But at least with Paragon you got the sense that there was a real guy under it all. With Apex, there were times when I wondered if maybe he was a robot.
Even without visible features it was pretty obvious to anyone who cared to take notice that Apex was a strange-looking guy. He was short, not much taller than Hesperus. And he was stocky. Not exactly overweightâhard to tell through all the body armorâbut he was kinda chunky.
And that voice of his. Perfectly clipped British accent. But a very fake one, you know? Like a guy doing an impression of a newsreader on the BBC World Service.
Apex and Thalamus got on like a house on fire. A really strange boring house, that is. It was probably because neither of them had any social skills. They'd known each other for years and as far as we could tell they didn't have any other friends.
Thalamus, nowÂ .Â .Â . I've got to say, I kind of liked him. Sure, he was puny and ugly and sometimes if you asked him a question he'd answer with more detail than you really wanted. Like, one time I asked him what he'd done the previous weekend and he started telling me. “I woke up at a little after seven-seventeen on Saturday morning and got out of bed and walked the eight steps to the bathroom. The door was closed, so I opened it before I went in. I closed the door after me but I didn't lock it because I live alone, so the likelihood of someone unexpectedly walking in is less than one in fifty-one thousand.” And so on. I stopped him when he started telling me exactly how many corn flakes he'd had for breakfast.
I used to drive him crazy by asking him stuff like, “Hey, Thalamus. What time was it yesterday?”
Hesperus was a little odd too, but in a good way. I'd known her since we were teenagers. We grew up in the same town and pretty much discovered our powers together. Most of us in the superhero community had secret identities, but Hesperus kept hers
private. Around people she didn't knowâor just people she didn't likeâshe often came across as quite cold and abrupt, all business and no fun. Among her friends she was smart and funny and bubbly, with a grin that was amazingly infectious and made you feel good to be alive. She laughed at silly jokes and would become embarrassed when you told her that her hair looked nice.
She wore handmade armor and carried a sword and an ax, and it didn't bother her in the least when Thalamus pointed out that the Greek god Hesperus was traditionally considered to be a man. She counterargued that Hesperus was an early name for the planet Venus, which is associated with women. That shut him up.
I could tell you of at least a dozen instances when some bad guy just assumed she'd be a pushover. That was not a mistake anyone made twice.
I remember the time Slaughter tried to kidnap her. Forget RagnarÃ¶k: Slaughter was easily the most vicious excuse for a human being I've ever met. She was like Genghis Khan crossed with Vlad the Impaler, only worse. Seriously. One time she killed a guy for looking at her. According to the news reports, she was walking through the city wearing a purple and red costume. Who's
going to look? But she spotted this guy staring at her, and she stopped and punched her fist right through his neck.
So she kidnapped Hesperus. Swooped down out of the sky and grabbed her, dragged her into the air. And Hesperus didn't even struggle. Didn't even say a word until Slaughter had taken her to her hideout, an abandoned house on the outskirts of Seattle.
Slaughter cuffed Hesperus' hands and feet, blindfolded her, and threw her down the cellar stairs.
Hesperus was out of the cuffs before she even hit the ground. She was back up the stairs even as Slaughter was closing the door. She smashed her way through and proceeded to beat the living snot out of Slaughter. I think it was the first time that anyone had managed to lay a decent punch on her.
Of course, Slaughter was out of prison within a week. But she never again tried to take on Hesperus without someone backing her up.
Yeah, the Footsoldiers were a bit weird. But we were superheroes. Weird goes with the territory.
When Thalamus and Apex decided that they should form a team, they asked me. I wasn't going to botherâI was doing pretty well on my ownâbut then they told me that they were going to ask Hesperus too.
That changed my mind. If Hesperus wanted to join, I would too. As we'd grown older, we'd grown a little apart, and I enjoyed spending time with her. Plus there aren't that many women in the superhero game. Maybe whatever it is that makes us superhuman mostly works on men. Or maybe it's like Thalamus said once: “There are certainly superhumans out there who have never discovered their abilities.”
He could be right about that. I only discovered my own powers by accident. I was able to create and shape sound waves. A lot of people have asked me about that, how it works, but it's hard to explain. It's like I was able to
them, like an extra layer on top of normal vision. And I could make the sound waves do what I wanted.
I was sixteen when I discovered this. My folks dragged us all to my little sister's school concert. Let me tell you, there's nothing more annoying than a bunch of seven-year-olds attempting to sing the latest pop songs.
By the time the last kid appeared, I was pretty much ready to cry. Naturally all the old folks went “Aw!” at the sight of her. Then she started to sing. Fractured and uneven sound waves hit me like a shower of broken glass.
Man, she was bad. Up and down the scales searching for the right notes and not finding them. She even hit a few that really shouldn't have existed. I swear I've heard more tuneful car alarms.
Then one particular note just sort of slammed into me. It should have been a Middle C, but it was cracked and chipped like pottery in a cement mixerâwhich, to be honest, would have sounded better. But the thing is, I could see exactly what was wrong with the note, and I fixed it. And the next one, and the next. I didn't realize at first that it was me doing it.
All of a sudden that little girl could sing. She was pitch perfect.
Around me, the parents' fake grins turned into looks of astonishment.
My mother leaned past me to whisper, “Isn't she amazing?” to my dad, and that broke my concentration. The little girl's voice returned to the noise of a wildcat desperately trying to scratch its way out of a metal garbage can.
It took me a long time to learn how to properly control sound waves, but when I was at my peak I was pretty powerful.
Sound waves aren't just noise, vibrations in the air. Well, OK, on one level they are. But they're more than that. They're communication, emotions, alerts and alarms. And properly directed, sound waves can be a devastating weapon. Certain singers can shatter a wineglass through sound. They do it by issuing a note that's perfectly in tune with the glass. The harmonic resonance builds, causing micro-vibrations that shatter the crystalline structure.
At my best, I was able to shatter brick walls. Instantly, too. No messing about trying to find the correct frequency. I could whisper and direct the sound to someone miles away. They'd hear me perfectly. And I could do the opposite: I was able to listen to passengers talking in a 747 at thirty thousand feet.
I could deaden soundsâhandy when sneaking up on someoneâor enhance them. I could create a wall of solid sound that could knock a train off its tracks, or lift me into the air.
I could change the weather by using sound waves to gather or disperse the clouds.
Even in complete darkness I could tell where everything was in a room from the echoes.
So, yeah, I was pretty powerful. A useful guy to have on a team. That's why Apex wanted me.
Every superhero team needs a good balance of powers. Apex was the agile one, the natural fighter, the leader. Thalamus was the brains, the strategist. Hesperus was the weapons expert, and I was the powerhouse.
Now, as a leader, Apex was pretty good. Even back then, I'd have admitted that. He was courageous and cunning. Enemies feared him, as well they should have.
But he was not a nice guy.
That's what this story is about. That's why I'm telling you this now.
Everyone knows the truth about Mystery Day now. There's no need to keep it a secret any longer. We didn't all die in that final battle with RagnarÃ¶k. I wasn't even there that day. I know that's the same thing Max Dalton always told everyone, but I genuinely wasn't. And I happen to know that Dalton
We didn't all die. We just lost our powers. Forever.
Or maybe not.
There's a new generation of superhumans out there now, and one of them is Titan's son. I've seen him on the news. He's brave, but a bitÂ .Â .Â . Well, he needs experience. That recent situation in Topeka could have been handled a lot better, if you ask me.
But back to Apex. After we lost our powers, Max Dalton called a few of the heroes together to talk about the situation. Apex was one of them. He showed up wearing his costume. The full armor, the helmet. Everything.