Footsoldiers: A Super Human Clash Special From Philomel Books (4 page)

BOOK: Footsoldiers: A Super Human Clash Special From Philomel Books
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Hesperus said, “Then we're done. Apex, I told you that when this mission was over I was quitting. You are not our leader. We just followed you. There's a difference.”

He folded his arms, and in the darkness his opaque visor was as impenetrable as ever. “Then go. There are others who would be willing to take your place.”

“And
my
place?” I asked. “I know what you are, Apex. And I . . .” I looked over toward Octavian, who was watching with interest. “I'm sorry, Octavian. But this is not for your ears.” I sealed him off from the sound of our voices.

For almost a minute I stared at Apex's unmoving, impassive, slightly misshapen body.

Hesperus broke the silence, and it was then I realized that she and I were not on the same wavelength after all.

When we were in the air, Hesperus had told me that she had suspected Apex for some time. “There's something not right about him. He's not one of us. I don't trust him, and if you think about it you won't either.”

Well, I thought about it. I considered Apex from every angle. Of all of us, he and Thalamus were easily the most famous. Even today, some people talk about him the same way they talk about Titan.

But then the people today don't know what Hesperus and I had figured out. Even though we'd both figured out completely different things.

No one knows what made us superhuman. Or if they
do
know, then they're not telling.

It could be something genetic. Certainly the fact that Titan's son is also a superhuman lends strength to that idea. Or maybe it's more complex than that. It could be that we are chosen by some higher beings—gods, aliens, time-travelers, whatever—to be the Earth's champions. That's a nice theory, but it has one great big hole in it: the higher beings are also doling out powers to the bad guys.

The events of that night led Hesperus and me to look at Apex in different ways. Not just different to each other, but in ways that we had never looked at him before.

For the first time, I used my control over sound waves to map out Apex's features on the inside of his helmet. I saw his face.

Hesperus used her instincts to analyze his motives. She saw his soul.

Apex was ambitious, and—like all of us—he had a touch of a savior complex. Anyone who becomes a superhero has one. We wanted to be the good guys. Righting wrongs, helping the innocent, foiling evil plans. We did it because we could, because we liked it, and because someone had to. We wanted the admiration, even if we were always going to remain anonymous.

Most of us, I'm sure, led pretty ordinary lives most of the time. But by donning a costume and fighting crime we were able to have people look up to us, think of us as heroes.

Certainly, that was one of the reasons
I
did it. I loved the idea of being a hero, and these past ten years it's been pretty tough not being able to talk about it with anyone.

In that regard, Apex was no different to the rest of us.

But there
was
a difference. And that was in how far we were willing to go for the admiration we craved.

“You did this,” Hesperus said. “You and Thalamus. You set us up.”

“I did not,” Apex said.

The lie in his words was as clear to me as his rapidly beating heart.

But like I said, Hesperus and I had been looking at him in different ways. I'd never even considered that Apex had planned the attack.

It was all I could do not to blast him apart right there and then.

“You wanted the fame that the High Command has,” Hesperus said. “What was it you said back in the HQ? ‘If the public are to become aware of us, it is better that they do so through our deeds, not our words.' You've got what you wanted. After this battle everyone is going to know about us.”

“Preposterous,” Apex said. He turned toward the approaching ambulances, then turned back. “Even if that were true, you would not be able to prove it. Leave if you want, Hesperus. You too, Thunder. Octavian, Thalamus and I will carry on without you.”

“You would have died here if it hadn't been for Hesperus,” I said. “Do you really want to rely on Thalamus or Octavian to save you next time?”

Again, he turned his back on us.

“I know your secret,” I said.

I could hear his heartbeat increasing.

Hesperus looked at me. “What is this? Something else?”

“Yeah. Something else. You want me to tell her, Apex? Or are you . . .
man
enough to do it?”

He slowly turned back to face me. “Who else would you tell?”

“Apex, I won't deny that you're good at what you do. And I believe that you act in the best interests of the human race. But what you've done today is . . . inhuman. Despicable. Innocent people could have been killed.
We
could have been killed. And for what? For glory.”

“To raise our profile. To let the people know that there are others protecting them. Your idea of a press release would not have worked, not to the degree that my plan will.”

“So you admit it?” Hesperus said. “I've had it with you, Apex! Give me one reason we shouldn't arrest you for this.”

“I cannot be arrested,” Apex said. “Nothing I do is illegal. And Thunder knows why.” He stepped back. “Tell her if you feel that you must, Thunder. If you think that it is going to make any difference. But you know what will happen if it becomes public, do you not? I will no longer be able to operate. I am one of the most effective and best-known superheroes. Reveal my secret and you will destroy the public's confidence in all of us.”

He walked away then, scooped up Thalamus' unconscious body in his long arms and carried him to an ambulance.

I only met Apex a few more times after that. We spoke, but only on neutral topics. Then the events of Mystery Day happened, and suddenly there were no more superhumans, heroes or otherwise.

I told Hesperus everything that night, as I understood it. Afterward, we spoke about it often, but only between ourselves. We never told anyone else how Apex had betrayed us. How it had been for nothing—with myself and Hesperus out of the team, the Footsoldiers disbanded. Octavian was still tied to his wife's business schedule, and the injuries Thalamus received from Spite's attack kept him out of commission for a couple of months.

We visited Thalamus in the hospital, and he knew that we knew about Apex. He filled in the missing details about Apex's background, swore us to silence.

Hesperus and I worked together for a while, but it wasn't long before we drifted apart. Sure, we still liked each other and got along, but our personal lives were quite different, and the bonds of Apex's secrets were either too small or too great to keep us together.

And now the greatest secret of the superhumans—that we didn't all die or vanish on Mystery Day—has become public knowledge.

There are still many more secrets. Some of them you will never know, but this one . . . Apex's greatest secret, and his greatest fear . . . This one I shall tell you now.

There is something that makes us superhuman. We don't know what it is. But there are a few of us who know that this process is not as selective as one might think. It chooses people seemingly at random.

Apex wasn't one of them.

He wasn't a superhuman.

He was the result of an experiment conducted in Max Dalton's labs by Thalamus. The purpose of the experiment was to test certain subjects to see whether a tissue graft from a known superhuman would allow the recipient to gain superhuman abilities.

There had been twenty-three failures—each one named for successive letters of the alphabet—before they found success.

Thalamus had donated some of his own stem cells. They were cloned, grown into brain tissue, inserted into the unwilling—and unknowing—subjects. The twenty-fourth one worked, but they were never able to successfully repeat the experiment.

For reasons they could never fathom, Apex was the only one that worked. Some of the other subjects had died; most had simply shown no effects. But Apex . . . He was a triumph of genetic engineering and just plain luck. His mental and physical development was staggering. Within a year of the experiment he was smarter than the average man and much, much stronger. A further year and he was almost as powerful as Titan.

But Thalamus and the other scientists knew that they couldn't keep Apex a secret. He was just too good, too powerful. At the same time, they couldn't reveal what they had done.

So they fashioned a costume for him to disguise his real shape. They gave him an opaque helmet so that no one would ever see his face.

And they let experiment number twenty-four out into the world. They didn't even have to change his name, because the twenty-fourth letter of the alphabet is X.

All in all, it's a pretty good name for a superhero. Ape-X.

 

 

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READ THE JAW-DROPPING CLIMAX TO THE SUPER HUMAN SERIES IN

STRONGER.

COMING IN JUNE 2012.

AN AMPLIFIED VOICE
bellowed out, “This will be your only warning! Get down on your knees and place your hands behind your head! You have ten seconds to comply!”

“Look, I know you can't understand me, but—”

I noticed the flash from the tank's barrel at the exact moment something slammed into my chest and knocked me back across the church's parking lot.

I crashed straight through the pastor's beloved '65 Mustang and hit the church wall hard enough to crack the bricks.

And then I got up. There was barely a mark on me. The car was ruined, though, and that annoyed me more than the fact that the army had hit me with a shell from a tank. I'd loved that car too. Always wanted one of my own. Now it was just a scattered collection of blackened metal fragments.

I couldn't understand what was wrong with everyone. OK, so I was huge and blue and probably looked quite scary, but I still hadn't actually done anything bad. What had happened with Pastor Cullen was an accident—why couldn't they understand that? If I were a bad guy, wouldn't I have done more? Wouldn't I have attacked the cops when they shot at me?

But this was years before I'd heard of the “arachnid response,” the automatic reaction a lot of people have to spiders: They react with fear and revulsion even when they know the spider isn't dangerous. That was what was happening here: They were just terrified of me.

Turning to face the tank again, I yelled, “No way was that ten seconds!”

And then I heard the helicopters.

Three of them, swooping in low over the town, heading straight for the church.

Behind me, all the soldiers and cops and FBI guys were spilling out through the doorway, running like the devil was chasing them.

Ahead, the rest of the cops and the army were pulling back—even the tank had shifted into reverse and was moving in a hurry. It clipped the edge of a parked car and then drove right back over the top of another, flattening it.

Twin streaks of fire erupted from the lead copter, and the concrete in front of me was ripped to shreds.

I did the only sane thing I
could
do: I turned and ran.

With the copter's bullets strafing the ground all around me, I raced around to the back of the church and kept going through the rear parking lot.

The back wall was about fifteen feet high. I jumped for it, expecting to grab the top and pull myself up. Instead I soared much higher, cleared the wall by a good three feet, and came down so hard in the field behind it that I sank to my knees in the dirt.

But even that didn't slow me much: I surged through the soil as easily as someone running through a shallow pond.

I knew the town well, of course. There's hardly a twelve-year-old kid in the world who doesn't know every secret nook and cranny in his hometown. I knew the shortcuts through the housing estates, the barely visible paths through the woods. And I knew the caves: That's where I was heading.

Back in the church, Harmony Yuan had mentioned thermal scanners. I'd watched enough cop shows and read enough comic books to know what they were: cameras that detected heat instead of light. And I knew that someone of my size would be giving off a
lot
of heat—more than enough for them to be able to track me.

But not in the caves, I was sure. The caves were old and huge and went on for miles. And some of them held deep lakes where, according to the guide when my elementary class was there on a field trip, the temperature was the same all year-round. That would be the perfect place to hide.

All right, God
, I prayed.
If you're not going to change me back, at least let me get away from these guys!

In some respects, that was a clever plan. For a twelve-year-old. But, being only twelve, I hadn't quite learned how to think everything through. Sure, immersing myself in the underground lake masked my heat signature, but it didn't occur to me that the soldiers would simply start looking in the place where the heat signature had suddenly disappeared.

They tracked me, they found me, and they caught me.

When I was about six or seven, Pa saw me kneeling beside my bed praying for a new bike. He'd picked me up, and sat down on the bed with me on his lap. He said, “The thing about prayer, son . . . Well, it doesn't work like that.”

I said, “But Ma said that God answers
every
prayer!”

“Yeah, that's right, Gethin. He does. But, sometimes, the answer is no.”

BOOK: Footsoldiers: A Super Human Clash Special From Philomel Books
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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