About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Who’s got the friggin’ fire extinguisher?”
Renee’s shout echoed all the way down the main staircase, punctuated by a foot stamped down on the ceiling above me. I dropped my paint-soaked roller into its pan a little too hard and splattered eggshell interior latex all over the legs of my jeans, adding to the preexisting splats of burgundy, sage, white, navy blue, and two different wood stains.
I was downstairs in the foyer of the mansion we were hip deep in renovating, trying to get a second coat onto the walls of the spacious entry. Even after a primer and first coat, the garish blue-green paint job the home’s previous owners subjected themselves to—in a fit of drunken misguidance, one can only hope—continued to peek through. The home in mostly deserted Beverly Hills had been on the market for seven years before we bought it; real estate in California anywhere south of Santa Barbara was hard to sell. Everyone was moving north, just as they had been in the twenty years since the outbreak of the Meta War, which had ravaged Los Angeles, among other major cities. With the last four major film studios located in Vancouver, half of the city’s population had defected to Canada.
Several million residents remained, though, including us six—the last of a defunct group of superheroes once called the Ranger Corps.
The house we settled on—and after much discussion named Hill House, in memory of a fallen friend—was huge. More than twenty rooms, a perimeter fence with a built-in security system, an interior courtyard, outdoor pool and tennis court, and plastic pipes that didn’t need replacing. Everything else was superficial and could be fixed with time and patience.
More foot stamping above. Renee and Ethan had gone upstairs to work on the front room, which was destined to be our common lounge. I darted toward the main staircase on my right and took the steps two at a time, past the first landing and up to the second floor.
The lounge was on my immediate right. Its floor was bare, stripped of its old carpeting, and sanded smooth of ancient carpet glue. The walls were painted a pleasant lemon yellow and trimmed with walnut molding. It was a large, L-shaped room, and I stood at the entrance to the short end.
Ethan “Tempest” Swift sat on the floor by the far wall, next to the open balcony doors. Morning sunlight glinted off his red hair, seeming to set it on fire. He clutched his left hand to his chest and scowled at the far end of the room. I rounded the corner to the longer end of the L and was assaulted by the odor of scorched plastic. Renee “Flex” Duvall hovered in the center of the room, staring up at the ceiling. A dusty, broken light fixture lay in pieces at her feet. Above her, exposed wires dangled and sparked, and light gray smoke twisted out of the hole in the ceiling.
“Are you two trying to burn us down?” I asked. I strode over, accidentally bumping Renee sideways with my hip. She grunted. I extended my hands toward the exposed wires and concentrated. The heat pulled into my body, absorbed through my fingertips to settle deep in my belly. A warm flush filled my cheeks. A few sparks leapt from the hole to me—little caresses of warmth—and then the threat passed.
“Yeah, we were hoping to cause a nice fire,” Renee said. Her berry-red lips twisted into a wry smile, the only bit of her skin that wasn’t ash blue. “Because I love burning down the headquarters I’ve barely had a chance to live in.”
For a moment, I didn’t know if she was serious. Renee and I had an awkward relationship, to say the least. I discovered the awesome extent of my powers during the same fire that killed a good friend—possibly a lover—of hers. I hadn’t grown up with her and the others, and she often seemed to view me as an annoyance, rather than a teammate.
“My fault,” Ethan said, hauling ass to his feet. “I should have turned off the circuit breaker before I decided to try some rewiring.”
I blanched. “You think?”
“I’m just trying to be helpful with this whole renovations thing, Dal. I like to think I can do more than just help the paint dry faster.”
Renee’s mouth twitched. “You know, people might line up for that kind of assistance. Blow a lot of wind, dry the paint in ten minutes flat. Contractors would pay good money for you.”
“Not contractors who get paid by the hour.”
Ethan’s particular power was control over the air. His code name, Tempest, fit the ability perfectly. He could concentrate a whirlwind to drill a hole into the ground, and aim a blast of air at an object to knock it loose from a great height. His most impressive (to me) talent was gliding on air currents to simulate flying. He looked so free when he flew, as close to happy as he ever seemed to get. Ethan often played peacemaker among our disparate personalities, but he never seemed to find any peace for himself.
I blew air out through my nose. “Look, guys, I know that Teresa is all gung-ho about us doing as much as possible ourselves, but there are reasons people hire professional electricians. Painting is one thing, but electricity is tricky. Let’s just pay someone and get it over with. We can—”
“If you say we can afford it one more time, I’ll gag you,” Renee said. She planted her hands on her hips, and I half expected her to stretch her limbs into crazy proportions in order to intimidate me. I admired her power. She could stretch her body like taffy, at least ten times its original length. All I did was absorb heat.
“Well, we can,” I snapped. Our decision to break away from government oversight and go freelance had hinged on accessing the trust fund my father left in my name. It was money I’d ignored my entire adult life, until I finally found a way to put it to good use. “What we can’t afford is Ethan constantly electrocuting himself, or us burning this place down around our ears. He’s not an electrician.”
“Just a windbag.”
Ethan grunted. “Funny.”
Renee blew him a kiss. “Look, Dal, bring it up with Teresa again. If she wants to hire out, fine. Great. Go for it. Just don’t get your hopes up.”
“I just don’t understand why she’s so averse to using the money,” I said.
“It’s not about the money.”
I stared. “What do you mean, it’s not about the money?”
They had both known Teresa “Trance” West longer than I had; they had grown up together, along with Marco “Onyx” Mendoza and Gage “Cipher” McAllister. The five of them, elder heroes by all rights, worked together like a single entity. As much as I tried, I never felt like one of them. Yes, I was MetaHuman just like they were, but I wasn’t part of their shared history. It made me an outsider.
They knew what else bothered our venerable leader, and I hadn’t a clue.
“Well?” I asked. “Throw me a bone here, guys.”
“She’s being cautious, is all,” Ethan said. “Any electrician we hire would be a stranger. This is our sanctuary, Dal, and we can’t let just anyone inside.”
I understood Teresa’s reasons for extreme caution, having lived through the events that culminated in our separation from the MetaHuman Control branch of the ATF. Her sense of betrayal over the fail-safe plan. The literal betrayal by Dr. Angus Seward, who was once considered a valuable ally and had, in the end, tried to annihilate all Metas. Knowledge that attack could come from any direction, as it often did when we ventured into the city. Heroes to some, villains to others, but feared by all—this is what we had become to the people of Los Angeles.
“I’m not suggesting,” I began, picking my words carefully, “that we grab contractors off the street and give them a key to the front gate. We check them out, they have escorts while on the property, and no access to certain rooms.” Rooms that housed our personal history and, like the War Room, were not for public viewing.
“I could agree to that.”
We all turned toward the door nearest us, at the top of the L. Teresa stood in its frame, arms tight across her chest. Her violet-streaked hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, the tips frozen with blue paint, and more blue paint decorated her cheeks, forearms, and jeans. It created a palette contrast with the natural violet hues that framed her forehead, jawline, and elbows, and sunk deeply into the wells of her collarbone.
The coloration made her look like a domestic abuse victim—a laughable thought to anyone who knew Gage McAllister. They loved each other in a messy, passionate, eyes-wide-open way I thought existed only in the cinema. Few people found that kind of love, and being around them made me alternate between sugar shock and longing for it in my own life. I had low expectations; relationships and I did not go together.
Teresa smiled at me, brightening up the room with such a simple gesture. She was only three years older than me, and the youngest among the others, but her leadership was unchallenged. She created intense energy orbs that could knock someone senseless, or shatter entire brick walls. Power led, and she possessed great power, tempered by equal amounts of humility. Her gentle approval was worth more to me than a thousand words of encouragement.
“I take it you have someone in mind?” Teresa asked.
Oops. “I’ll find someone we can trust.” The haziest bit of memory poked at my brain without coalescing into something useful. It would come to me.
She nodded, taking me at my word. Her...