Hey guys, revising the story, starting from square one. I feel that this is a much better start tothe story. It's going to run a little differently than the last time, but hopefully this works out better. We also won't see any fight sequences for a few chapters, so just hang in there. We need to give heroes time to get their powers.
I'm also welcome to suggestions and ideas, if you're the kind of reader who likes to do that. So feel free to write them in the review section or in private messages.
Anyways, hope you like it! Read and review!
I stumbled over my own feet in my rush to get out of the rain. It was cold and windy, unusual for early September, the time of the season that only showed the symptoms of summer. Either way, I wrapped my poorly-chosen cotton sweater closer to my body, making my way to the bus stop.
There were only a few others waiting there. A woman with her baby, a college student reading a textbook on advanced bio-engineering, and a trio of suit-clad men in dark shades, murmuring softly to one another. They could have been security guards, secret agents, or actors late for rehearsal. Broadway was only a few streets down.
I hunched under the fiberglass canopy, away from the others. Being surrounded by strangers made me nervous, especially ones who looked like bad guys from a James Bond movie. No one paid any mind to the skin-soaked girl with long, wet straggly hair that frizzed up at the mere mention of water. I pulled up my hood to draw less attention to myself. Or my hair.
I had been spending time at the library. Most of the day, really. Some of it reading ahead for school, the rest job searching online. Even though I was in the middle of New York City, the busiest place in the world, I couldn't find a single place that would hire a high school Junior who's almost on the honor roll.
I say 'almost' because I'm too scared to try. My cousin, who's not so ashamed of his nerdiness, is on his way to valedictorian next year. He's already been accepted to the National Honors Society, and a total favorite amongst the science teachers at Midtown. I'd say I'm jealous, but the only reason I'm not beside him is my own fault, so I had little to complain about.
The bus was pulling in, about 300 yards away. It was trying to maneuver its way around some very rude taxi cabs, in them either filled with pestering passengers or drivers hostile to anyone else who owned a driver's license. I hoped it got here soon. My shoes were soaked through. They made Squish-squish noises every time I moved.
We lined up single file as we got on the bus. I sat by myself in one of the rows while two of the suit-clad men sat behind me. I hadn't realized until now that they were speaking in another language. I couldn't tell if it was Spanish or Italian. A part of me wished I understood, because right now I could use a distraction.
I had a small knapsack with me, filled with some of the books I borrowed from the library. Some of it was Shakespeare (for school, not recreation – Old English gave me a headache), others about physics and stuff like that. I knew Newton's Three Laws of Motion by heart, as well as all the simple machines. Physics was the kind of stuff that made my brain happy.
Behind me, the two men's voices rose, anger beginning to tinge their words. I listened absentmindedly as the argument escalated, even when the third guy on the other side of the row reached across the aisle to manhandle one of them. Something thumped against the back of my seat, a leg perhaps.
I glanced behind me, annoyed. The men were fighting over a small vial of juice or something (grey in color, translucent and bubbly), shouting at each other in a foreign language. The man in the other row had completely left his seat now and was leaning over the other two, hanging on to the bar on the ceiling as he tried to wrestle the vial from their grips.
There was no way I was getting involved in a fight with three men who were triple my size, but the bus driver wasn't as complacent about the situation. He snapped at the three men to quit it and sit back in their seats, or he'd stop the bus.
Well, they didn't stop fighting. So the bus driver slammed on the breaks.
There's a thing about buses not having seatbelts. I don't know why, but I was beginning to think there should be a change in that law, because as the men behind me slammed into my seat, sending me into the one in front of me, I wasn't feeling so hot. Things got even worse when the vial, whatever it was, flew out of their hands and slammed into the back of my neck. The glass shattered upon impact, cutting my skin.
I gasped as a sharp pain went up and down my spine. My hand flew to my neck, fingers connecting with the strange grey liquid, which flowed over my skin like quicksilver, mixing with the blood from my new wounds. They didn't feel deep, which was a relief. I didn't really want to know what it was like to get stitches.
The men cried out simoultaneously as the vial smashed. Its remnants covered my sweater, glass shards spilling over the chair, some with my blood on it. I winced, brushing them away from me, careful not to cut my hands.
By then the bus driver had jumped up from his seat to yell at the suit-clad trio, his face looking as angry as each and every one of the drivers he was backing up in the five o'clock rush hour. The three men separated themselves, trying to get a word in edgewise, some pointing at me and at each other, as if they didn't know who to give attention to. A woman in a dark coat leaned over from the next seat over, to see if I was okay.
The whole thing was settled within the next ten minutes. The woman in the black coat was a nurse, and confirmed that my wounds were non-fatal and didn't require serious medical care – and whatever that liquid was hadn't been toxic, so I hadn't been inadvertently poisoned, either. The bus driver forced the men off of the bus. Each of them stared at me as they left, standing dumb-founded on the street as they watched the bus drive away.
The nurse had a first-aid kit with her and cleaned up the back of my neck, applied some anti-bacterial stuff before taping on a gauze strip. She said I'd be fine, although some pain killers wouldn't do me any harm if it started to hurt.
As the bus continued on its journey, I glanced down at the shards of glass. There were white patches on some of them, indicating words. Carefully, I picked them back up and placed pieces of them together. Some of them were lost, but it wasn't difficult to figure out what they said.
Syndicon? What the heck was that? The words sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place where I had heard them before. Was it a company? A label? Or a type of chemical solution? All I knew was that it hurt when you poured it on open wounds.
I returned home in one piece that night. Me and my mom lived in Lower East Side, in a small apartment on the top floor of a tenement. The elevator hadn't worked since it was first built a million years ago, so I had to take the stairs. Our place had two bedrooms just big enough to fit a bed, desk, and clothes in a cramped closet; a tiny living room with windows that overlooked the street below; a kitchen with a working faucet and decent fridge; and a single bathroom with no lock. Mom was in the kitchen, as usual, testing out a new cake recipe.
"Amy!" she called from beyond the doorway. The smell of cake batter and sweet icing was in the air. Chocolate, perhaps, although with Mom you could never be sure. She liked to mix things up from time to time. "Come taste this!"
"Coming!" I yelled back, tossing my pack onto the worn couch that Mom had since the Eighties. The color used to be a bright blue with pink and orange flowers, but now the blue was more teal and the pinks and oranges had faded to a variation of browns. I went into the kitchen – a mess of bowls and pans and spices, in every inch of space except the cabinets and drawers they belonged in. Mom had flour dust up to her elbows, and constantly wiping her face had left white patches across her cheeks. She brushed her hands off the flowery apron Gram gave her. My mom put her all into cooking, and it exhausted her, but right now I never seen her happier as she put the finishing touches on a white-and-green cake with little icing flowers on it.
"My masterpiece!" Mom declared, flourishing with her arms. She beamed at me, clearly proud that she had to ruin the entire kitchen to make this beauty. "What do you think? It's a mint-and-chocolate ice cream cake, with soft snickerdoodle in the middle."
"Wow," I said, unable to take my eyes off of the cake. Suddenly, the mess in the kitchen that I knew I would end up cleaning didn't sound so bad anymore. I loved snickerdoodle. "Mom, this is genius."
"Oh, I know you'd love it!" She enveloped me in a huge hug, using enough force that a puff of flower blew over our heads. Mom wiggled in the hug. "Took me two days and five hours to perfect the recipe. Oh, that restaurant three blocks down is going to love this! But you're my official taste-tester, so you get to have the first slice."
"Yes!" I grinned. Cake totally made up for the fact that the flour from Mom's hands had mixed with the rainwater on my back, and was now forming a doughy substance that made my skin crawl.
The thing about Mom being a hobbyist chef is that I never had the same meal twice. We also ate at weird hours of the day. Sometimes I had dinner at 4:30, when I started my homework; others at 9:00, right before I went to bed. It always varied whenever Mom finished cooking or baking or frying whatever she wanted to make that day. Breakfast had to be normal, though, because she couldn't focus her 'culinary energies' on too many projects, or so she'd say. That was fine, because it meant I didn't feel too bad if my homemade lunch got stolen by some jerks at school. I knew I wouldn't be missing any of the good stuff.
It also meant I got to eat cake for supper. That was always something I could agree with.
As I ate at the table, Mom took a brush through my hair, untangling the knots the rain had brought on. I winced each time she yanked on a particularly tough one, but the cake quickly distracted me. It was like tasting a bit of heaven.
Mom's finger brushed against the back of my neck, against the gauze. I winced, the cuts still painful. Unfortunately, this didn't help me from getting out from under her gaze. "What's this? Amy, did you hurt yourself?"
"No, Mom," I pulled away before she could pull off the gauze to inspect the wound. It hurt just her touching the top. "It's fine. There was a fight on the bus on the way home. Some guys and some glass. It's nothing serious. A nurse there said so. I'm fine."
I'd love to say that my mom's worry for me was unreasonable and unnecessary, but that wouldn't be true. I wasn't exactly intimidating, considering I barely reached average height, was terrified of confrontations, and anyone who weighed more than a pound of muscle than me could easily take me down if they wanted to.
My mom thought my lack of confidence was because she didn't put me through any sports when I was younger, although it was hardly her fault. We just didn't have the money to afford the gear required for any of them. I didn't know if she was right or not, but I quickly learned reading about aerodynamics was a lot easier than learning how to hit a ball with a wooden stick and make it to first base in one go. Not only did I have crap depth perception and bad timing, but my muscle definition was next to nothing.
Trust me. Peter, my cousin who I've known my whole life (we went to school together, from pre-K to…now, I guess), had a better chance of getting on the football team, and the quarterback was, like, his archenemy.
She also blames me not having any paternal support meant I didn't have a single aggressive gene in my body. No ambition, no bravery, no risk-taking. I wanted to tell Mom she was selling herself short, but she'd just wave her hands in the air and turn back to the stove. It wasn't worth trying to argue when I knew I would lose.
"Are you sure?" she asked, leaning over my shoulder to peer into my face. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, but two days and five hours of work had pieces of it hanging out. A strand fell into her eye, and she tossed her head to get it out of the way. "Maybe I should call the doctor, just to be safe."
"I'm not a porcelain doll, Mom," I said, rolling my eyes. "Please, don't do that. The nurse gave me her card, see?" I withdrew it from my pocket. It was a little soggy, but you could still read the printed words. "She said to call her if any weird side effects came up. She works at the hospital and has a degree in bio-genetics. At least, that's what she told me."
Mom plucked the card from my fingers, reading the words on the paper. "'Mary Winters, Nurse – School of Medicine and Bio-Genetics.' What kind of school is that? How do I know she's safe to trust? Her number isn't even in the city region!"
"Chill out, please," I said, taking back the card before Mom could report it as evidence to a crime that I didn't think was worth spending time on. "Just forget it, okay? I don't want to make a big deal out of this."
She sighed, letting it go. But before she turned to dump dirty dishes into the sink, Mom turned to me and waved a finger, "You know, Amy, you can't avoid all of your problems. Some aren't just going to go away if you ignore them long enough. It's why you're homework doesn't disappear magically when you leave it in your backpack. Speaking of which, have you done any of it, yet?"
"Yes, Mom," I replied, finishing off the plate before getting up and placing it in the sink alongside everything else. I was glad the topic had deviated from the bus incident. "I spent the whole day at the library. Plenty of time to get my work done."
"All right," Mom said, turning to me with hands on her hips. "Show me your knowledge of Shakespeare, then."
"Mom…" I groaned.
I gave her a pleading look, really wishing she didn't have to put me on the spot like this. To be honest, I skimmed the plays. I read the Spark-notes version to get the subtext that I had no idea was there. "Like…Macbeth? Or Julius Caesar?"
"And Romeo and Juliet. I'd like a synopsis, please."
"They all die. The end."
Mom narrowed her eyes, her lips screwing up like she tasted a bad piece of lemon in her meringue pie. "Try it again, perhaps with a little more effort."
"Mom, I'm an efficient worker. They're all tragedies. I hate tragedies. Why read a book when you know the good guys die at the end? It just ruins the suspense. I like happy endings."
"I do, too, Amy. But that's no excuse to skimp on your homework. How about you do a little review back in your room? Then you can tell me the finer points of Shakespeare's work."
"Can I just play with my Newton's cradle instead?" I asked, giving her a weak smile as if that would convince her English wasn't worth studying for.
"Amy." Mom warned with a single word that got me beating down the hall in a second.
"All right, all right, I'll do it." I murmured under my breath as I entered my room. Having taken my bag back, I dumped its contents onto my bed. Shakespeare's plays were the smallest among the books. They wouldn't really take that long to read, honestly. Still, he could write a tragedy about a teenage girl committing suicide in a passionate rage after reading a horrible book. I'd bet it get rave reviews. "I hate you, Shakespeare."
I went to bed that night with a stomach full of delicious cake and a head full of 'thee's' and 'thou's' and a bunch of other words that haven't been used in over a hundred years. I couldn't stop thinking about how much of an idiot Caesar was for just standing there while his Senate prepared to stick him.
Least to say, I had a tough time sleeping that night. I tossed and turned, the sheets too warm but the air too cold. I was aware that I was sweating, but I didn't want to get out of bed, stepping on creaky floors and waking up Mom, who would only be convinced something was wrong once she saw the state I was in.
It's just a fever, I told myself at around 4:00 AM in the morning. From the rain. It was freezing out there. That's why you feel sick. Rain has…pathogens in it. From the smog the city makes. Yeah, that makes sense.
I managed to convince myself, but it didn't help me sleep any easier. I eventually opened the window in my room, but only earned a bunch of leaves blown in my face. I shut the window and returned back to bed, hoping to catch at least the last two hours of night I could in sleep.
That morning, I wanted to die.
Mom came in my room after calling my name half a dozen times and not getting the appropriate response of me scrambling down the stairs to get breakfast and make the daily race to the bus stop, a race I rarely won. She pressed a hand to my forehead and told me it was hot enough to bake pancakes on, her standard description of being too sick to go to school. Sometimes it's worse, like when I had the flu and Mom thought she could boil water with the heat I was generating.
"You're staying home today, girl," Mom tisked, hands on her hips. She was dressed for work, a part time job in a diner near the fishing district of town. The only reason she wasn't actually cooking for these places was because she never finished culinary school. I knew she wanted to. I mean, she was only a few credits shy of earning her diploma. But we hardly had the money to spare. Mom always said she'd take online classes, but I had no idea if she was joking or not. Neither of us saw each other long enough to find out.
Mom glanced at her watch. "Oh, boy, I'm already late for work. I guess it runs in the family. You're staying in bed. There's leftover soup in the fridge if you get hungry. Remember, no spicy foods, no milk, no sweets. Don't answer the door, unless it's Charlie. In that case, tell him I'll pay the rent by Saturday. It's not the truth, but it gets him off my back long enough to make it the truth."
The way Mom said it like that, I just knew Charlie would get paid on time. Charlie was our landlord. He was born sometime in the 1700's, so didn't climb the stairs too often. His arthritis was a life saver, really. It kept Charlie from pestering about rent when we didn't have the money, and usually by the time he remembered phones had been invented, Charlie already had the money in his hands. Charlie was a nice guy, really.
I'm probably just saying that because I don't know him well enough to hate him. I couldn't tell his last name if someone asked. Did Charlie even have a last name? For all my life, ever since I was a toddler and realized that the noises I made with my mouth were words and not bubbles, Charlie had always just been Charlie.
"Yep," I said, but it came out like a croak. It hurt to look at anything. Not only was the sun burning my eyes, but it really felt like I had taken acid to the face and my eyeballs were trying to pop out or something. I kept rubbing my eyes, like that would get rid of whatever was bothering me. It didn't. "I'll just sleep. Don't worry."
Mom sighed. "I always do."
She left with a quick goodbye, the door slamming behind her. The entire apartment fell into silence. For some reason, as soon as I shut my eyes and blocked the bright sunlight streaming in through my windows, I fell promptly asleep. Of course, sleeping at night was impossible, but as soon as the sun came out, I was dead to the world. Go figure.
"Tell me again," he said, his voice dangerously soft. "Exactly how did you lose the serum?"
The three suit-clad men stood ramrod straight in front of the old mahogany desk, each too afraid to speak. The room was darkly lit, the air musky and warm, and the leather seats looking incredibly comfortable as they waited for their boss to decide their fate. The man himself was in the high-backed armchair, peering at them over steepled fingers.
The man had to be at least fifty, but years of work made him appear older. His thinning brown hair was beginning to gray at the temple. He was always clean-shaven, and one of the men couldn't help but stare at a scar that traced from his ear down to his throat. The man looked at each of them in turn before finally saying, "You've disappointed me, boys. Half a million, down the drain. I've never lost that much in a poker game. How am I going to explain to my client that my men lost his package on a bus? Because they had a little argument with each other? You think that's going to be good for business?"
"The girl," one of them blurted, earning terrified looks from the other two. He paused, raising a finger, and continued in a trembling voice, "The girl…it splashed on her. All of it. Nothing was left. But she was fine."
"You think I care about a nobody? She's not important," their boss snapped, almost forcing the three of them to take a step back. But that would be a bad move. "I can't let an affront like this go unpunished, boys. People don't respect you if you aren't a threat. I'm sure you understand."
"What?" they yelped in unison, turning around in surprise as they heard a click behind them. They had no time to react for what was coming for them.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
One by one they collapsed to the ground. The acrid stench of gunpowder filled the room.
The man wrinkled his nose in disgust, glancing down at the lifeless bodies at the foot of his desk. He looked up at the man with the smoking gun, his face hidden in shadow. "Cut off all business with OSCORP. He won't be buying any more after this failure. And clean up this mess. I have a meeting in ten minutes."