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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
CELIA West sat alone in her office, a corner suite in the family penthouse at West Plaza. She kept her wide, preternaturally slick desk neat, the few files stacked in a corner, pens lined up, computer screen conveniently placed, laptop dock accessible. Everything else was put away in drawers and filing cabinets. Anyone standing before her wouldn’t be able to tell a thing about her, except that she kept her office tidy. People might make assumptions based on that. They might even be right about some of them.
On the computer, she clicked on an encrypted file she’d been sent.
A video played, dark and grainy feed from a security camera outside a jewelry store on the south side of downtown. The camera looked down at the front doors from a corner of the building, creating a foreshortened image, as if the walls had shrunk. Time stamp read 1:23 a.m. A trio approached: men in ski masks, overcoats, baggy jeans, shit-kicking boots. Hoodlums of one flavor or another. One carried a backpack, one carried a baseball bat, the third a crowbar. Standard smash and grab.
Before they could get started on the window and grating, though, a masked vigilante walked into the frame. Words were probably exchanged, but the camera didn’t record audio.
The vigilante was just a kid. Male, tall in that impossibly lanky way of teenage boys. All limbs and chaotic movement. He wore a black T-shirt and sweatpants and a homemade mask, probably a bandana with eyeholes cut out, covering most of his hair and the top half of his face. His chin was smooth, youthful. He stood with his fists clenched at his sides, bouncing a little on worn sneakers. He was nervous, excited—this was obviously a first outing. Too young and stupid not to know he couldn’t save the world.
The robbers didn’t have any patience for this. They stood back a moment, glancing at one another as if confirming this was really happening. Then the guy with the baseball bat stepped forward and swung, aiming for the kid’s head.
The vigilante vanished. Blinked out of existence, there … and then not.
Celia used the laptop’s touch pad to back up the video and leaned forward to watch the scene again. The average person might think the trick was a special effect, some editing cut made on the video. But the frame didn’t skip, nothing else in the image changed. The boy was there one frame, gone the next.
The guy with the baseball bat stumbled, thrown off balance when his blow didn’t connect. All three crooks looked around in obvious confusion. Then the baseball bat jerked out of the guy’s hands, swung apparently of its own volition, and caught its former owner on the chin. He fell back and lay writhing on the concrete sidewalk.
The kid hadn’t vanished, then—invisible, along with what he was wearing.
The other two lunged at the bat hanging in midair. The bat fell—wisely, the kid dropped it and wasn’t there when the two crooks attacked the spot he should have been. One of them bent double, from what looked like a kick in the crotch. The other stumbled at a strike to his knees. Kid wasn’t doing too badly, really.
It couldn’t last, however much Celia might want it to. The guy with the crowbar might have just gotten lucky, but he swung in a likely spot, and connected. The kid flickered back to visibility, cringing and holding his shoulder. Pain, maybe any distraction, interrupted his powers. He had to focus to stay invisible.
Now that he had a target, the guy with the crowbar punched him, fist connecting to cheek. The kid’s head whipped around, and he stumbled, his chest heaving to catch his breath. Still visible—he hadn’t pulled himself back together.
Celia had a sinking feeling about how the rest of this was going to go, but the kid turned out to be smarter than she expected. He picked up the bat and shoved it through the bars of the security grating to smash the window of the jewelry store. Celia could tell the alarm went off by the way the crooks flinched. The two still standing hauled up their fallen partner and ran. The kid hesitated a moment, rubbing his face where he’d been struck, shaking his head as if to clear it. He looked down the street—at the approaching police sirens, Celia guessed. He disappeared, turning invisible again before presumably running away. Preserving his secret identity.
As a first outing for a vigilante went, it wasn’t an unmitigated success, but it wasn’t a disaster, either. More interesting to her, though—he was a new guy. She didn’t know who he was. But she had a good guess.
Celia kept a file folder in a locked safe that lived underneath her desk. Inside the folder was a list of a dozen names. The people the names belonged to were all dead, but most of them had descendants who lived on, and she kept a list of those names as well. A third generation was coming up. If she traced down the family trees of that original list of names, she’d find the invisible kid. She wondered what he called himself—not the Invisible Kid, she was pretty sure.
And there it was—several teenage boys on the list, all but one of whom she was already tracking. The remaining one had a question mark by his name: Theodore Donaldson. Grandson of Lawrence Donaldson, whose son hadn’t exhibited any sign of superhuman abilities, which didn’t mean anything. The trait often skipped generations, as she very well knew. But his son …
She crossed out the question mark, wrote a note, and put the file back in the safe. Then she picked up her phone and made a call. A standard receptionist voice answered.
“I’d like to speak to Captain Paulson, please,” Celia said.
“I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting now.”
“Tell him it’s Celia West.”
The receptionist didn’t say anything to that, which made Celia smile. That one name had so much power didn’t seem right, somehow. How had it come to this, again? Once upon a time, she’d just wanted to stay anonymous.
“Captain Paulson will speak to you now,” the receptionist said curtly, maybe even offended. Gatekeeper duties overridden. Sorry, honey.
Mark’s voice came on the line. “Celia?”
“Hi, Mark. I watched that video you sent over.”
“Yeah? What did you think?”
“I think he’s one to keep an eye on.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“Let’s give the kid some room, okay?”
“Did you catch the three crooks?”
“No, but we’re canvassing the neighborhood and we’ve got a few leads.”
“You canvassing for the kid, too?”
The police captain sighed. “I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation with you.”
“Why don’t you drop it and let me keep an eye on him? You wouldn’t have sent me the video if you didn’t want me to know about him, right?”
“I just thought you might have a name.”
“I can get it if we need it. But let’s see what he does next. This may have shaken him up, he may back off.”
“Not likely—I know how these guys operate.”
“So do I, Mark. Better than you.”
“Yeah. Well.” He cleared his throat, avoiding an uncomfortable change of subject. “You’ll let me know if you hear anything through the grapevine?”
“You know I’m always here for you,” she said.
“That’s exactly what I need, for people to think I’m in the pocket of the president of West Corp.”
“No, they’ll know better than that. Take care of yourself, Mark.”
The complicated phone unit—the thing had more controls than a jet fighter—beeped an incoming call. She punched the button, which summoned her own receptionist to the line.
“Ms. West? There’s a call from Elmwood Academy on line three.”
She suppressed a groan. This was about one of the girls. But which one, and was it good news or bad? She could just make the caller leave a message …
“Right, okay, put it through.” The line clicked, and she announced, “This is Celia West.”
“Ms. West, this is Director Benitez, I’m so sorry to bother you”—Celia was pretty sure other parents didn’t get apologies from the headmistress of the city’s most exclusive private school—“but I thought you should know that Anna came to school significantly tardy today.”
“Define significantly tardy.”
“She didn’t arrive until after lunch.”
That late, Celia wondered why Anna bothered showing up at all, but she didn’t say so.
“Did she have a good excuse?”
“I’m not sure what would be a good excuse in this case…”
“Oh, you know, saving orphans from a burning building, that sort of thing.”
“Um. Well. No, I don’t think she had a good excuse. She said she got held up and lost track of time. She wouldn’t go into details. But as you know, Ms. West, attendance is an essential component of success here at Elmwood Academy, and Anna’s attendance may come under review if there’s another similar incident.”
She wondered if Benitez had checked the records to see that Celia had dropped out of Elmwood when she was seventeen. Probably not.
“Yes, Director, I understand. We’ll straighten this out at home.”
“Thank you.” The woman sounded relieved.
“Thank you, for letting me know. Anna and I will have a talk.”
The woman hung up quickly. Celia smiled at the phone a moment before putting it away.
Something was definitely up with Anna, but Celia refused to get too worked up about it. It couldn’t possibly be worse than the kinds of things Celia got up to at her age. Well, it could, realistically speaking. Imagination always failed to provide all the possible scenarios.
* * *
The security cameras in the lobby and elevator let Celia know when the kids arrived home. That meant they’d be in her office in about five minutes, checking in, giving the report for the day. Her little minions, returning to home base. They grumbled when she talked like that.
Her daughters. How the hell did she get far enough along in her life to have two teenage daughters? She ought to get some kind of medal for it. Wait to see if either one of them turns out to be a mass murderer. Ah, yes, there was that.
She timed it well and set aside the spreadsheet she’d been studying so that she was waiting, back straight, hands folded on the desk in front of her, when they walked into her office. Sullen, they held their backpacks slung over their shoulders, and afternoon weariness marred their features. Their neat uniforms—navy skirts, white shirts, maroon cardigans—always looked rumpled by this time of the day.
She greeted them. “Girls.”
They muttered hellos and trudged forward to sit in the two chairs that might have been put there for the purpose.
“How was your day?”
Thirteen-year-old Bethy went first. “We had a quiz today, you know that quiz I told you about, and I think I did okay, but I don’t really know. You won’t be mad if I flunk it, right? ’Cause you saw me studying for it, right?”
“I know you studied. I don’t think you flunked.”
She went on for another minute about gym class, about how she needed a new pair of gym shoes because her old ones were too small, and so on, and on one hand Celia wanted to shake her and tell her stop with the minutiae. But really, the greater impulse was to sit back, smile, and let her go on all day long, just to hear the sound of her not-quite-mature voice tumbling forth. Right now, Celia could fool herself that Bethy was still a little girl, with round cheeks, hair in a ponytail, foot swinging to kick at her chair leg. In a couple of years, she’d be like Anna, slouched in her seat, her mind a million miles away, on boys or school or the problems of the world, or maybe just wanting to get out of her mother’s crummy office and back to the sanctity of her own private life.
Bethy was strawberry blond, but Anna had inherited Celia’s own flame red hair, which she in turn had inherited from her mother. The West redheads. God help her.
Bethy finally wound down and let out a sigh. Amused, Celia said, “I know you’re not going to believe me, kid, but you shouldn’t worry so much. You’ll have plenty to worry about soon enough, don’t spend it all on a math quiz.”
Her youngeest pouted, clearly not believing her, but Celia didn’t expect her to.
“Grandma’s cooking dinner tonight. You guys’ll be ready for it in a couple of hours?”
They brightened at that, which was a comfort. Family still held some attraction for them, for however long that lasted. Gathering their bags, they stood to make their exit.
Celia said, “Anna, you mind talking to me for just a minute?”
Bethy looked at her sister with a wide-eyed expression, like someone rubbernecking at a car accident. Anna herself put on a blank face, a prisoner walking into a courtroom, and returned to her seat.
Eggshells. Celia couldn’t pinpoint the moment when dealing with Anna had become like walking on eggshells, or handling fine china. The change had happened slowly, and then one day she looked up and her oldest daughter wasn’t a little girl anymore, and Celia didn’t know what to say to her.
Treat her with respect. First rule. Celia remembered being that age, how she felt when people didn’t take her seriously. She wouldn’t inflict that on her own kids if she could help it.
“Hi, Anna,” she said.
“Hi, Mom,” the teenager answered, her thin smile a mask. Her hair was chin length, loose, the color bringing out the faint freckles on her nose. She let Celia catch her gaze, but her expression was neutral.
“I got a call from Director Benitez today. You were late to school. Very late.”
Anna sighed and looked at the ceiling. “It wasn’t that big a deal. It shouldn’t have been, I wasn’t hurting anything.”
“You sure about that?”
She didn’t answer.
“So, where were you this morning?”
Her mouth worked, as if chewing over words. “A friend of mine needed help. I couldn’t ignore that, could I?”
Celia believed her, because neither of the girls was a practiced liar. They were smart enough to know that lying wouldn’t get them anywhere, with their father the telepath around. That was something, at least.
“No, of course not. If your friend was really in trouble and if you were really the only person who could help.”
“I was.” She stated it as a challenge.
Celia leaned forward and asked, “Was this friend of yours Teddy Donaldson by any chance?”
Anna gaped. “How—” She clamped her mouth shut, then changed her mind about talking. “Did Dad tell you that?”
“I don’t think Dad knows anything about it. You haven’t seen him since this morning, have you? So how would he know?”
She went into full shutdown mode, as Celia expected, but that was okay. She had her confirmation.
“I applaud your efforts to help your friend. But next time, call me first. We can get you a permission slip or something. Don’t go haring off just because you think something’s a good idea. Got it?”
“You’re still grounded for skipping school, but just for the weekend instead of till the end of the month, like you would have been if you were off smoking or something. Okay?”
No response, not that Celia needed one.
“And for the next three weeks Tom’s going to be dropping you off in the town car and watching you go through the front doors.”
“Oh, come on!” Anna said.
“Three weeks. Then we renegotiate.”
“Three. Argue again and I’m riding in the car with you.”
Celia glared. Anna wilted.
“Agreed?” Celia said.
Her daughter slumped in the chair, looking sullen. Looking trapped, really. A familiar expression lately. Celia risked a further prompt, stepping gently. “How was the rest of your day? School, classes … anything else you want to talk about?”
She grimaced. “The usual. It’s fine, I shouldn’t complain, but it’s so … It feels like I’m just going through the motions.”
“Jumping through hoops,” Celia added. “I guarantee you, jumping through the hoops now will make things easier later on. You just have to stick with it.”
Oh, that sigh she gave would power wind turbines. “Then I should get started on my homework, shouldn’t I?” She gathered her things, edging off the chair.
One of these days, Celia feared, Anna was going to walk out of the office and never come back. “Okay. I love you.”
“Love you, too,” she muttered perfunctorily, stalking to the door with her bag over her shoulder.
Celia spent a moment indulging in blind panic, convinced that she’d failed as a mother, her children hated her and were destined to become terrorists or trophy wives, that her entire life would come crashing down around her any day now. The moment passed.
She pulled herself together and finished up a last bit of work, reviewing company financials and arranging her task list for the next day.
“Celia? Your mother has dinner ready.”
A man in his fifties stood in the doorway. He wore tailored slacks, and the top button of his dress shirt was undone. His brown hair needed a trim. He seemed like he would be most at home at a university, standing before a chalkboard, lecturing—studious, upstanding. In fact, he was a practicing psychiatrist and a semiretired superhuman vigilante. Dr. Arthur Mentis.
“Hey.” Celia smiled at her partner of twenty years. “How was your day?”
“Calm. Saw a couple of patients, did some record keeping. Nothing else to report. You?” He spoke with a mild British accent, which added to his intellectual air. He approached her desk and sat on the edge to look down at her. The only person who could get away with that.
“Something’s up with Anna,” she said.
“Being seventeen is what’s up with Anna.”
“Something a little more specific.”
“I couldn’t say what it might be,” he said, shrugging oh so innocently.
“You’re not even tempted to pry?”
“No, because I have a good idea of what else I’d find in that stew of a mind. There are so many things fathers are not meant to know about their daughters, I’m terrified at what she might let slip out.”
What she already had let slip, Celia suspected. Arthur Mentis was very good at picking up stray thoughts, and though Anna had by sheer force of necessity become very good at keeping her thoughts to herself, she wasn’t perfect. But Arthur was also one of the most discreet and understanding men Celia had ever met.
Fathers and daughters, yes. Not that Celia was anything of an expert on the subject. She winced and rubbed at a crick in her neck. She’d been sitting here too long. She seemed to get tired earlier and earlier these days.
“Would she tell us if she had powers?” Celia asked. If Anna had powers, Arthur probably already knew, but he wouldn’t say a word about it until Anna did, no matter how much Celia wheedled. It was one of the things they’d agreed on when they became parents. The girls deserved to keep their secrets, as long as no one got hurt.
Arthur nodded. “I think she would. We have to have faith in her.”
“She ditched school this morning to help out a friend.”
“You see? She has her priorities straight. I think.”
“Tell you what: Next time, you can talk to the headmistress.”
“The headmistress hangs up the phone whenever I answer her calls. She won’t stay in the same room with me, did you know that?”
Arthur had been open and public with his powers for a long time. Everyone knew he was a telepath, and people usually got very nervous around him.
Celia never had.
“I’d noticed, yes. I think it’s funny.”
“It makes me wonder what she’s hiding,” he said.
Indeed. She patted his hand. “Faith, Arthur.”
Copyright © 2013 by Carrie Vaughn, LLC
- File Size : 775 KB
- Publication Date : January 7, 2014
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 319 pages
- Publisher : Tor Books; Reprint Edition (January 7, 2014)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00F8FG6G4
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #885,596 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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