include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for The Superhero's Origin by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Superhero’s Origin

Book Five in The Superhero’s Son

by Lucas Flint

Published by Secret Identity Books. An imprint of Annulus Publishing.

Copyright © Lucas Flint 2016. All rights reserved.

Contact: luke@lucasflint.com

Cover design by Damonza

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the above contact.

***


Subscribe to my newsletter and get a FREE exclusive novella!

If you would like to be the FIRST to know about my newest releases, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter by clicking this link HERE. Newsletter subscribers are always the first to know about my newest releases, exclusive deals, updates on my books, and more. Plus, all subscribers get Happy Birthday: A Minimum Wage Sidekick Novella for FREE just for signing up!

So click this link HERE to sign up today!

***


Chapter One


Gotta say, when I went to visit my grandparents for the first time, I really didn’t expect to get attacked by their gardener ninja. For that matter, I didn’t even know that gardener ninjas existed. I wondered if I could hire one off Craigslist or something.

I stood alone in the front garden of what I assumed was my grandparents’ mansion. I say ‘assumed’ because I had never actually been to their place before and so I didn’t know for sure if this was it. I mean, I only found this house because it matched the address that Mom had given me before I left Texas, but Mom had admitted to me that it was possible that my grandparents—who were my late Dad’s parents—might have moved in the years since she last spoke with them and she didn’t know how to contact them to let them know I was going to visit them ahead of time. Apparently, my grandparents didn’t even have a land line or had not given Mom their phone number for some reason.

I looked carefully around the garden, but the gardener ninja was nowhere to be seen. I called him ‘gardener ninja’ not because he was a gardener or even a ninja, but because I didn’t know what else to call him. I had just walked into the garden about five minutes ago when a guy in a ninja costume just burst out of nowhere and started chucking throwing stars at me. I’d dodged them (one of the perks of super speed), but he’d vanished the second I went after him.

And man, was this garden huge. Or it felt that way, anyway. Lots of trees and flowerbeds everywhere, statues and birdbaths shaped like Cupid and other things like that, plus tomatoes and other veggies growing everywhere. Mom had told me that Grandfather liked to garden, so I took this as a sign that Grandfather and Grandmother were still here, but I couldn’t be sure about that.

“Okay, Mr. McNinja,” I muttered, looking this way and that for the ninja. “Why don’t you come out and play? I am really not in the mood to play with you right now.”

Of course, the ninja didn’t respond. I listened for him, but all I heard was the leaves blowing in the wind. I was tempted to just use my new lightning bolt power to blast the entire garden into pieces and force the ninja to reveal himself, but since I didn’t want my grandparents to hate me, I didn’t.

Instead, I tapped my earcom and said, “Val, do your sensors pick up any heat signatures nearby?”

“No,” said Valerie, my late Dad’s AI assistant and who was now my assistant. “You appear to be the only person in the entire garden.”

“What? That’s bull,” I said, scowling as I looked around again. “Even ninjas can’t hide their body heat.”

“I am merely reporting what my sensors indicate, Bolt,” said Valerie. “But if I may make a suggestion, perhaps you should have brought the rest of your team along with you. Treehugger, in particular, would have been very useful here, since her powers over plant life would have made it easier to use the plants to find the ninja.”

“Val, you know this is a personal mission of mine,” I said. “The others don’t need to get involved in my life like this. Besides, I doubt my grandparents would be happy to have a bunch of rowdy super-powered teenagers in their mansion anyway.”

“Perhaps, but backup is always nice to have,” said Valerie.

“Yeah, but that would require knowing ahead of time that my grandparents employ ninja gardeners,” I said. “And there’s no way I could have known that, so the point is moot.”

“I know, but—”

“Val, just can it,” I said. “If you sense anything, let me know. Otherwise—”

I didn’t get to finish that sentence because I heard something flying through the air toward me. I looked over my shoulder to see a ninja throwing star coming my way. I immediately flew into the air, allowing the throwing star to soar past me harmlessly and disappear into the foliage somewhere.

“Ha!” I said, turning in the air to look for the ninja, though I couldn’t see him anywhere. “Can’t get me up here, you dumb ninja!”

I heard shuffling in the trees nearby and looked at them just in time to see the ninja burst out of them and fly toward me. He came fast, so fast that I didn’t even have time to move. He flew past me, pulling a rope around my neck and dragging me down to the earth with him.

We landed on the ground hard, the ninja on his feet and I on my back. Before I could react, the ninja tied my arms and legs up, but since it was just normal rope, I snapped it and jumped back to my feet instantly.

But just as I got back to my feet, the ninja was gone, though I noticed his footprints in the muddy earth heading deeper into the garden.

“Hey, get back here!” I shouted.

I ran after him, though not with my super speed because I didn’t want to run straight into some trap he might have set. I pushed aside huge leaves and branches as I made my way deeper into the garden. I couldn’t hear him, but I assumed he must still be somewhere up ahead.

Then I burst out into a clearing, shouting, “Ah ha! I got you now, you—”

I cut myself off when I saw that I was standing on the edge of a shallow pond all by itself. I looked this way and that, but I didn’t see the ninja hiding in the bushes or in the trees. It seemed like he had just up and vanished … again. The bastard.

Just as I was about to turn and leave, however, I heard something small flying through the air and then felt something sting me in the side of the neck. It felt like an insect, so I grabbed at the spot and pulled off a small dart that was leaking some kind of black liquid.

“Huh?” I said. “A dart? Where did this—”

I stopped speaking because I felt my body starting to stiffen. Dropping the dart into the pond, I staggered backwards, but I couldn’t escape the effects of the poison that I belatedly realized the dart had injected in me.

Thus, I fell over backwards onto the ground with a thunk. And I couldn’t get up, because the poison had paralyzed my body. I tried to move, but I couldn’t even make my pinkie finger twitch.

Before I could do anything else, the ninja suddenly appeared out of nowhere and stood over me with a long, sharp-looking knife in his hand. He raised the knife above his head, clearly about to bring it down on my neck and kill me.

But before the ninja could stab me, a rock flew out of the bushes and smashed into the back of the ninja’s head. The ninja immediately staggered to the side and collapsed, though he looked more unconscious than dead.

Panting, I had no idea who had knocked him out until someone stepped out of of the bushes and said, “Bolt? What are you doing here?”

I looked up at the man standing above me and was surprised to see that it was a tall, Japanese man in a long coat. “Triplet? Is that you?”

The superhero detective known as Triplet nodded as he looked down at me. “Yes. But I noticed that you still haven’t answered my question.”

“Well, that’s because I was going to ask you the same,” I said. “I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew here. Are you on a case or something?”

Triplet opened his mouth to answer, but then the ninja suddenly jumped back to his feet and lashed out with a kick aimed at Triplet’s head. Triplet, however, ducked and threw a punch at the ninja, but the ninja quickly dodged and then vanished back into the trees and bushes around us.

“Damn ninja,” said Triplet, looking around in annoyance. “I hate it when they do that.”

“When they do that?” I said. “Have you fought ninjas before?”

“Once, when I visited my grandparents in Japan,” said Triplet. “Tricky bastards. But anyway, he won’t get far.”

I was about to ask Triplet what he meant when I heard rustling in the bushes, followed by what sounded like a fist punching someone’s jaw, and then the ninja stepping out of the bushes again. Only this time, the ninja’s arms were being forced behind it, held by none other than Triplet himself.

For a moment, I was confused at how there could be two Triplets until I remembered Triplet’s superpower, which allowed him to split into three different clones that were all the same as him. Of course, he called them ‘Thirds’ rather than clones, but that’s basically what they were, regardless of his preferred terminology.

The Third forced the ninja down to his feet. The ninja didn’t say a word, but he did glare up at Triplet, who nodded at his Third.

“Good job, me,” said Triplet. “Keep him down while I help Bolt here. Feel free to punch him in the head if he tries to escape.”

The Third nodded while Triplet turned to look at me again. “Can you get up, Bolt? Or is the ninja’s poison keeping you down?”

Suddenly, I was able to bend my fingers and I could feel movement starting to return to my body, so I nodded and said, “The poison is fading, I think. Either the ninja didn’t get to put as much poison in my body as he wanted or it doesn’t have any permanent effects.”

“Sounds good,” said Triplet. “Let me help you up.”

Triplet held out a hand, which I grabbed, and he then helped me up to my feet. I could stand on my own now, although my body was still fairly stiff and I doubted I’d fully recover for a little while.

“Now, can you tell me what you are doing here?” said Triplet. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon after your Dad’s funeral.”

I rubbed the back of my head as I said, “I came here to visit my grandparents. I was told they live here.”

“Your grandparents?” said Triplet. “Paternal or maternal?”

“Paternal,” I said. “They were Dad’s parents, but I’ve never met them before. Mom told me about them and so I’m trying to meet them.”

“Interesting,” said Triplet. “So you are the grandson of Matthew Jason, then?”

“How do you know my Grandfather’s name?” I said in surprise.

“Because I’m also here to meet him, though not for the same reasons as you, evidently,” said Triplet. He nodded at the ninja. “If this guy is any indication of your grandparents’ desire to see people, I guess they aren’t exactly welcoming to guests.”

“Why are you here to meet my grandparents?” I said. “Do you have some business with them or something?”

“Yes,” said Triplet. “It’s part of a larger investigation that I’m undertaking, but before I tell you about it, I am going to have this ninja tell me about his masters and if he’s alone or not.”

Triplet walked up to the ninja—which was still held down by one of his thirds—and said, “Okay, ninja, talk. Are you alone? Or are you just one of the bodyguards protecting Matthew Jason and his wife?”

The ninja didn’t answer. He just glared at Triplet from behind his mask, causing Triplet to say, “Okay, then I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.”

Triplet grabbed the ninja’s mask and ripped it off. That was when we discovered that the ninja wasn’t a ‘he’ at all, but a woman, and a young one, at that, who didn’t look much older than me. She had skin that was either naturally dark or just very tanned and she had short brown hair. She still glared at us, as if her looks alone could kill.

“Talk,” said Triplet. He raised a hand. “I’m not afraid to hit a girl, if you’re hoping on chivalry to save you. Don’t believe in it.”

“I will never tell you intruders anything,” the ninja said. She looked away. “Hit me as much as you like. I will not tell you anything else about this mansion’s defenses.”

Triplet looked like he was about to slap her, but I grabbed Triplet’s arm and said, “Hey, man, let me try to talk to her. Maybe she’ll listen to me once she finds out I’m related to her master.”

I thought Triplet was going to brush off my suggestion at first, but then he lowered his arm and said, “Okay, but be quick about it. I don’t want to spend all day interrogating her.”

I nodded and walked up to the ninja girl. She wasn’t looking at me or Triplet; her eyes were focused strictly on the ground. It was like she was afraid that we might be able to read her mind, even though neither of us had telepathic powers. Or maybe she just didn’t want us reading her face in case it helped us figured out what she was thinking.

“Hey,” I said, stopping in front of her. “What’s your name?”

“None of your business,” said the ninja girl, still without looking at me.

“Right,” I said. “Well, you probably don’t know this, but I’m the grandson of your employer, Matthew Jason. I just came here to see him.”

The ninja girl suddenly looked up at me and I saw fear in her eyes. “You’re his grandson?”

“Yes,” I said, nodding eagerly. “So is Matthew Jason still living here? And also his wife, Jane Jason?”

But the ninja girl seemed to have stopped paying attention to what I was saying, because she was looking at the ground again and muttering, “Then her vision has come true. This is not good.”

“Vision?” I repeated. “Who is ‘her’ and what kind of vision did she have?”

“I will never tell,” said the ninja girl. “I am not only the protector of my employer, but I am also his secret keeper. You can torture me all day and all night, but I will never betray my employer.”

“Well, we’re not going to torture you,” I said. I looked at Triplet. “Right?”

Triplet shrugged. “I don’t really want to, but it depends on how you define torture.”

I immediately looked at the ninja girl again and said, “Look, you can trust me. I’m Matthew’s grandson and I have no intentions of harming him or anything. I just want to talk to him.”

“How can I know for sure that you are indeed his grandson?” said the ninja girl. “You have not offered any proof to back up that claim. You could just as easily be lying in order to gain access to information that no one is supposed to know.”

I was about to tell her that she was just being really unreasonable now when I heard more rustling in the bushes. Triplet and his Third must have heard them as well, because they were also looking around, though the ninja girl didn’t seem as surprised as us.

“Who’s there?” I said, looking this way and that for any sign of whoever was in the bushes. “Show yourself or else.”

“How arrogant,” came an elderly, male voice from somewhere in the bushes. “Demanding that I show myself on my own property … you are just like your father. But very well, I will reveal myself anyway, because I’ve been meaning to meet you for some time now.”

Then a man stepped out of the bushes. He was an elderly man, probably in his late sixties or so, wearing an old-fashioned suit, his silver gray hair combed back neatly. He wore glasses very similar to Dad’s, except his looked a lot more expensive and maybe even custom-made, but I couldn’t tell that for sure.

“And who are you?” said Triplet. I noticed his hand move toward his coat pocket, like he was reaching for a weapon. “Another one of Matthew Jason’s bodyguards?”

The man shook his head. “No, no. I am surprised that you haven’t already recognized me, but given that neither of you has ever seen me before, that is unsurprising.”

My eyes widened. “Wait, did you just mention my father? How do you know him?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” said the old man. “Let me state it plainly, then, so that there is no confusion: I am Matthew Jason, the father of Theodore Jason, also known as the superhero Genius, and you, my young man, are Kevin Jason, better known as the superhero Bolt. Don’t look so surprised; I know much about you already, but let’s talk about this inside my mansion, rather than out here in the cold and dirty garden.”

***


Chapter Two


Triplet and I followed Grandfather up the main path through the garden to the mansion. The ninja girl—whose name was Emma—walked between us and Grandfather, like she thought we were going to harm him while his back was turned, even though neither of us intended to even touch Grandfather. I was just amazed at how Grandfather knew who I was, even though I had never met him before and had never told him my secret identity.

But Grandfather didn’t talk to me or Triplet as we walked. He seemed very interested in getting back into the mansion, though why, I didn’t know. Maybe he just didn’t like talking about this stuff outside or maybe he just wanted to sit down on a soft chair. He walked with a small limp, I noticed, which probably made it hard for him to stand.

That was just one of the millions of questions I hoped to ask him when we got into the mansion. I had come here, after all, because Mom had told me about Grandfather and Grandmother. She had told me that Dad had cut off contact with them due to how they had treated him in his youth, but thought I should go and try to talk to them again now that Dad was dead. At the very least, I wanted to tell them that Dad was no longer alive, even if I did nothing else, since I wasn’t sure they knew about his death.

Yet I hoped to do more than that. Mom had said that Dad’s parents knew more about Dad’s early years as a superhero than anyone. She had said she didn’t know much about them except that Grandfather had been interested in Dad’s powers. She had said that they might be able to help me understand my own powers better since he raised Dad; in particular, the new lightning bolt ability I had gained after I took that serum from Professor Hernandez a month ago. Professor Hernandez certainly hadn’t been able to help me understand it, even though he made the serum, because he had not planned for the serum to give me extra powers.

Of course, this entire trip could end up being for nothing, because there was no guarantee that Grandfather or Grandmother knew the reason behind my suddenly gaining this new power. But hey, even if they don’t know, at least I’ll get to know them a bit more, given how I know practically nothing about them at the moment.

We passed through the main gate at the back of the garden, which took us into the mansion’s main courtyard. We made our way up the short path that snaked through the courtyard to the wide front steps of the mansion, which were a bit taller than they first appeared. Grandfather didn’t seem to mind, however, because despite his age and his limp, he seemed pretty healthy, though I wondered why he and Grandmother lived so far away from the rest of civilization.

When we reached the front doors, Emma opened them for us. Grandfather went in without looking at or thanking Emma, followed by me and Triplet, and then Emma closed the doors behind us.

We emerged into a large, open parlor that felt old-fashioned to me. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling above us, while two staircases led up to the second floor, though I didn’t see anyone else up there. It was also a lot warmer in here than it was outside, although this place had an abandoned feeling to it, even though it looked clean and well taken care of. Maybe it was because it was so quiet; aside from the sounds of our footsteps on the floor, it was practically silent.

“Emma, please show these two to the living room,” said Grandfather, gesturing at the living room that could be seen through the arch on the right side of the room. “I am going to go see if Jane is awake and will be down shortly to talk with them afterwards.”

Emma bowed respectfully toward him and said, “Yes, Mr. Jason,” and then gestured for us to follow her. Although I wanted to see Grandmother, I nonetheless followed Emma with Triplet into the living room.

The living room was fairly large, with lots of old books on built-in shelves and a large flat screen TV on the left side of the room. The living room also had a window showing the forest that surrounded the mansion, along with red curtains and a nook in which to sit and read a book. Emma led us over to the sofa, where she had us sit down and told us to wait until ‘Mr. Jason,’ as she called him, came back. Then she left the room, but I had a feeling that she was watching us anyway, even though I didn’t see her anywhere.

“So,” said Triplet, causing me to look at him. He actually looked slightly confused, as if he didn’t know how to react to everything that had just happened. “This is … interesting, to say the least.”

“I’ll say,” I said. “But I’m glad it turned out this way. I just hope that this means that Grandfather is going to talk with us.”

“Maybe he will, but I am not sure about that,” said Triplet. “One thing I’ve learned in my career, both as a superhero and as a detective, is that when things go easily like this, there is usually something bad coming up. We should keep our wits about ourselves, just in case your grandfather has anything up his sleeve.”

I nodded, but said, “But why are you here, anyway? Why do you want to talk to my grandfather? You mentioned something about it being part of a ‘larger’ investigation earlier. Did someone hire you to investigate Grandfather?”

“I wasn’t hired to investigate your grandfather, no,” said Triplet. “But the trail I’m following ended up leading me to him. I’m hoping he’ll be able to answer a few questions about the case I am on.”

“What is this case?” I said. “Can you tell me the details or is that none of my business?”

“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t tell you about it, because it really is none of your business,” said Triplet, “but since we’re going to be talking to your grandfather together, I can give you some of the details about it. I can’t tell you everything, of course, but I can tell you just enough so you’ll know what’s going on.”

“Okay,” I said. “So what are you investigating?”

Triplet folded his arms over his chest and sat back in the sofa. “I’m currently investigating the case of a missing girl named Savannah Jones. She went missing in upstate New York about a month ago and the police have been unable to find her, so her parents came to me to ask for help finding her.”

“Why did they come to you?” I said. “Do you have experience finding missing people?”

“I’ve solved a few cases like that in my time,” said Triplet. “But all of them have been related to finding missing superhumans like you and me. Savannah, according to her parents, was a superhuman before she went missing.”

“What kind of powers did she have?” I said.

“Astral projection, apparently,” said Triplet. “Essentially, she could project her soul from her body and go almost anywhere, though I understand that she had a limit of four miles before her soul had to return to her body.”

“Do her parents think she was kidnapped by another superhuman?” I said.

“No, but it is a possibility,” said Triplet. “The evidence I’ve found so far suggests that she was kidnapped by someone who probably wasn’t an ordinary human, at any rate. Normal humans aren’t exactly known for being able to steal souls, after all.”

“What?” I said. “Steal souls? But you said she went missing.”

Triplet rubbed his forehead, as if he had just remembered something. “Right, I forgot to mention that we know where her body is, but it’s her soul that’s been missing. Apparently, she used her astral projection to leave her body a couple of weeks ago, but has not yet returned to her body and her parents don’t know where her soul is. That’s what I’m looking for.”

“That’s a weird case,” I said. “Definitely not something you’d see on an episode of Law and Order.”

“I’ve solved weirder cases,” said Triplet, “but anyway, my investigation took me here because someone I spoke to reported seeing a strange old man in the area where Savannah Jones’s soul was thought to be, around the time her soul disappeared. I was hoping to ask your grandfather if he might know anything about it.”

Then Triplet looked at me with a questioning gaze. “What about you? Just coming over to say hello?”

I shook my head. “No. Well, that’s part of it, but I’m hoping that my grandparents might be able to help me understand my new power. I don’t know if you know about it, but—”

“The red lightning,” Triplet interrupted. “Yeah, I’ve heard about it. I saw an article on Neo Ranks shortly after Robert’s death in which the author speculated that you had a new power.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I got it from the serum that Professor Hernandez gave me, which gave me back my original powers, too. My mom thinks that my grandparents might be able to help me understand it, because Grandfather is apparently very knowledgeable about how superhumans work.”

“Well, he did raise Ted,” Triplet said. “So that is probably where they got their knowledge from, if they really do have it.”

“I hope so,” I said. “But did Dad ever talk to you about his parents? Back when he was alive and you were both in the Neohero Alliance, that is?”

“Nope,” said Triplet, shaking his head. “Never did. We were too busy fighting supervillains and saving the world to talk about our families. I don’t really want to talk about my family anyway; too annoying.”

“So you don’t know what to expect, then,” I said.

“Right,” said Triplet, “but I don’t really care one way or another what your grandparents know about superhumans. As long as they can answer my questions about the missing girl’s soul, I’ll be fine.”

Just as Triplet said that, Emma suddenly appeared in the entryway, a platter with tea and biscuits on it. She walked over to the coffee table in front of us, placed the platter on it, and said, “Mr. Jason will be down to speak with you very shortly. Until then, feel free to have some tea and biscuits if you are thirsty or hungry.”

Emma spoke politely enough, but I could tell that she was still annoyed at how we had beaten her earlier. Especially when she glared at Triplet, although Triplet hardly even seemed to notice her annoyance. He just took a cup and poured himself some tea as he said, “Thanks. When will Mr. Jason be down?”

“He is right here,” said Grandfather as he entered the living room, though now he leaned on a cane for support. “Emma, please be a dear and help me sit down. These old bones aren’t what they used to be.”

Emma silently helped Grandfather sit down on a large armchair on the other side of the coffee table. Unlike Triplet, Grandfather carried a large cup of coffee, which he sipped from every now and then, though I didn’t take any tea or coffee because I didn’t want any right now.

“Ah,” said Grandfather as he adjusted his seat. “This is good. Just the way I like it. Thank you for the coffee, Emma.”

“You are welcome, master,” said Emma, bowing slightly. “Do you need anything else?”

Grandfather shook his head. “No, thank you. Just stay here in case I think of anything else.”

Emma immediately stood by Grandfather’s chair, standing so still that she looked almost like a statue. Her eyes watched our every movement, which was kind of creepy, but I decided to ignore her in order to focus on Grandfather.

“Now, then,” said Grandfather. He looked at me with curious eyes. “It has been a long time since I last saw you in person, Kevin. Or are you going by Bolt now?”

“Either is fine,” I said. “But what do you mean since you last saw me? I’ve never met you before.”

“I saw you when you were first born, which is around seventeen or eighteen years ago now, I believe,” said Grandfather.

“That would be eighteen years now,” I said. “My birthday is coming up on March sixteenth.”

“March sixteenth?” Grandfather repeated. “Well, that isn’t too far away. Isn’t that next week?”

“It is,” I said, “but it doesn’t matter. You saw me when I was first born?”

“Yes, yes,” said Grandfather, nodding. “Your Grandmother and I visited the hospital where you were born. Jane even got to hold you. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “She didn’t.”

“Hmmph,” said Grandfather, though he sounded less annoyed and more resigned, as if he had expected me to say that. “Well, I suppose some wounds just don’t heal. How is Ashley handling Ted’s death, by the way?”

“Well,” I said. “Mom’s strong, though she’s not as happy as she usually is.”

“Yes, I remember her being very strong-willed when I first met her,” said Grandfather. He sighed. “I apologize for not making it to the funeral. I only learned about Ted’s untimely death on the news when they were reporting on that awful Robert Candle. Otherwise, I would have flown down to Texas to be there with you, despite what happened in the past.”

“What happened in the past?” I said. “What do you mean?”

Grandfather opened his mouth to speak, but then noticed Triplet and said, “I would prefer not to talk about this with this man here. It is a family matter, you understand.”

I nodded in understanding, but that didn’t change the fact that I was still curious about what may have happened between Dad and my grandparents in the past that had separated them from each other. I wished that Dad was still alive to tell me, but I supposed I could wait until I had a private moment with Grandfather to ask.

“Okay, but how did you know who I was before I even introduced myself?” I said. I touched my face. “I haven’t even told you about my secret identity yet.”

Grandfather folded his hands over his lap. “That’s because I’ve been watching you very carefully, Kevin, ever since you were born. I won’t say how, but I will say that I know more about you than even you do.”

Although Grandfather spoke calmly, something about the way he talked made me skittish. Maybe it was just kind of creepy that my Grandfather—who I hadn’t even seen until today—had somehow been watching me and knew everything about me before I even told him about it. I thought I’d done a good job of keeping my identity a secret, but if Grandfather could figure it out, then I wondered who else might know it without my knowledge.

“Why have you been watching me?” I said.

“Because you are my grandson, of course,” said Grandfather. “Even if your parents wouldn’t let me see you, that does not change the fact that you are my grandson. And my only grandson, at that, which makes you even more special and important to me.”

Right off the bat, I could tell that Grandfather had other reasons for watching me. He didn’t quite look me in the eyes when he talked and he rubbed his hands together in a way that suggested to me that he was omitting certain information.

But before I could ask Grandfather his real reason for watching me, Triplet leaned forward and said, “Apologies for the interruption, Mr. Jason, but I need to introduce myself. I—”

“You are Mieko Hiro, also known as the superhero Triplet, owner and operator of Triple Eye Investigations, yes?” said Grandfather.

Triplet actually looked surprised when Grandfather said that. “Yes, but how did you know? We’ve never met.”

“Oh, yes we have,” said Grandfather in an amused voice. “Well, I guess we technically did not meet in person or even over the phone, but I’ve used your services before.”

“You have?” said Triplet. He furrowed his brow. “I remember all my clients, but I don’t remember ever doing any work for you.”

“That’s because I didn’t use my real name when I hired you,” said Grandfather. “But if you do remember all your clients, then I am certain that you remember one who called himself the Citizen, yes? The one who hired you to investigate Adam Plutarch’s possible plans to take over the United States?”

“That was you?” said Triplet in surprise.

“Of course,” said Grandfather. He sipped his coffee. “I was worried about Plutarch, because I remembered that he was an enemy of my son before he retired. That your investigation actually exposed Sagan instead, however, genuinely took me by surprise, but maybe I shouldn’t have been, given how superhumans tend to have bigger egos and grander ambitions than we normal people. No offense to you two.”

“No, I think that’s a pretty accurate description of most superhumans, including some neoheroes I know,” said Triplet. “But anyway, I am glad that you already know who I am. Is it safe to assume that you know why I am here?”

“No, because I do not,” said Grandfather. “I can only assume that you believe I have the answers to some questions you have about a case you are investigating.”

“I do,” said Triplet.

Then Triplet told Grandfather everything he’d told me about the Savannah Jones case. Grandfather listened quietly, though I felt impatient and a little annoyed that Triplet had changed the conversation to him and his case, rather than to me and my reason for coming here.

“So I’ve heard rumors that Savannah’s soul is somewhere around here,” said Triplet, “and was hoping that you might be able to tell me if you have seen it.”

Grandfather again sipped his coffee and seemed to be thinking about Triplet’s story. I noticed Emma shift next to Grandfather, but I didn’t know if that meant anything or if Emma was just changing her position because she was getting tired of standing one way all the time.

“Very interesting case,” said Grandfather, though he wasn’t looking at us. “Someone who kidnapped a teenaged girl’s soul … it almost sounds romantic, or tragic, depending on your point of view. But sadly, I don’t think I can be of much help. I’ve seen no spirits of anyone in the woods around this mansion. Emma, what about you?”

Emma shook her head. “I have not seen any, either. The woods have been quiet recently.”

Grandfather nodded. “I am sorry, Mr. Hiro, for not being able to help. Not much happens around here. But that is just the way I like it.”

I thought Triplet was going to thank Grandfather for his time, stand up, and leave, but instead Triplet tilted his head to the side and said, “But what about your wife? Jane, I believe you said her name was? Could I speak with her? Maybe she has seen something that could point me in the right direction.”

Grandfather suddenly lowered his coffee cup when Triplet mentioned Grandmother. His eyes flicked to the ceiling, like he thought he’d seen something up there, before looking at Triplet in a calm way again.

“Ah, I am sorry, Mr. Hiro, but I doubt Jane would be of much help, either,” said Grandfather. “You see, she is bedridden and has been for five years now. It is part of the reason we live out in the wilderness; the stress of the city is too much for her, so the doctor told us to move out into a quieter place where she can rest without worry.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Jason,” said Triplet. “But are you sure she knows nothing about this case?”

“Positive,” said Grandfather. “Her bedridden state means that she hasn’t left her bed in many years. She has not seen anyone other than Emma and I since she became bedridden, so I doubt she has seen anything that could help.”

“Grandmother is bedridden?” I said in surprise. “What kind of disease has she come down with?”

“Ah, I do not know,” said Grandfather. “The doctor said he has never seen anything like it before. We’ve been doing everything we can to keep her alive, but it is very hard when we don’t know for sure what is ailing her.”

“Can I see her?” I said. “Is that all right?”

Grandfather shook his head suddenly. “Oh, no. Well, not right away, at least. She is sleeping right now and it isn’t wise to wake her up when she is asleep, since she needs her rest.”

“Oh, okay,” I said in disappointment.

“But you don’t need to worry,” said Grandfather. “I will tell her that you visited after you leave. She will be delighted to hear it.”

“Leave?” I said. “I’m not leaving, at least not anytime soon.”

“Not leaving?” said Grandfather. “Why?”

“Because I have a few things I want to talk with you about,” I said.

Grandfather looked almost annoyed for a second, but then his old kindly smile returned and he said, “What is it?”

“It has to do with my superpowers,” I said. I held up my hand. “After I took Professor Hernandez’s serum—”

I was interrupted by the sound of something smashing into the ground outside. Emma’s hand immediately went to the weapons at her belt, while Triplet, Grandfather, and I looked toward the back window of the living room, though I didn’t see anything outside.

“What was that?” said Triplet. “It sounded like something crashed.”

“I don’t know,” said Grandfather. He sounded afraid. “Emma, please—”

Grandfather was interrupted by something smashing through the window, sending broken glass all over the floor. Triplet and I stood up, while Emma stepped in front of Grandfather like she was going to protect him.

Then the thing that had smashed through the window stood, showing that it was not a mere ‘thing,’ but a human. But I didn’t know who he was. He was a man wearing a red bandanna around his forehead, plus a blue domino mask across his eyes. He wore a flowing yellow cape and had what looked like boxing gloves on his hands, but they didn’t look like any boxing gloves I’d ever seen.

Even odder, the man’s eyes were glowing, which made it impossible to tell what they really looked like. He also looked amused at us, but not surprised, almost as if he had been expecting to see us.

“Hello there,” said the man, waving at us like he was just taking a stroll down the street. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything important, though I guess it doesn’t matter, given that I’m going to kill you either way.”

“Who are you?” I said. “And who are you going to kill?”

The man sighed, as if I had just asked a stupid question, but said, “My name is Twinfist. And I am here to kill that old man—and anyone else who gets in my way—for the crimes he has committed against my master.”

***


Chapter Three


Twinfist?” I said. “I’ve never heard of you before. Who is your ‘master’?”

“Why should I tell you?” said Twinfist. “I am here to kill the old man and I can do that without telling you a thing about me or my master.”

“Not unless we stop you,” said Triplet. “Or do you really think we’re just going to let you kill Mr. Jason?”

“No,” said Twinfist. He slammed his fists together. “But it sure would make my job much easier if you did.”

I looked over my shoulder at Grandfather. “Grandfather, do you know who this man is and why he wants to kill you? Do you know who his master is?”

Grandfather gulped and said, “Yes, but I did not think he would ever find me. I thought he had abandoned his grudge against me.”

“Okay, but who is he?” I said. “If you know who he works for, that would be great.”

“I will tell you later,” said Grandfather. He rose from his chair. “For now, I am going to get to safety while you two beat this man. I would be a liability in a fight.”

“Get to safety?” said Twinfist. He laughed. “Why do you think I am going to let you get away so easily? I was given explicit instructions not to let you get away under any circumstances.”

“Because we’re going to make sure you can’t get him,” I said. I rose from my seat and raised my fists in defense. “I may not know who you are or why you want to kill Grandfather, but I can still fight and beat you.”

“The old man is your grandfather?” said Twinfist in surprise. “Hmm, I was not told that Matthew Jason had grandchildren. I guess it doesn’t matter, though, because you look easy enough to defeat.”

“I’ve beaten far stronger supervillains than you before,” I said. “Underestimate me at your own risk.”

“Sure you have,” said Twinfist. “Now I’m getting tired of standing around and talking like this. Why don’t we just go straight to the fighting? Or maybe I’ll just skip it and go straight to killing Matthew Jason.”

Twinfist suddenly slammed his fists together again and then jumped into the air, trying to jump over us to reach Grandfather. I shot into the air after him and punched Twinfist in midair, sending him flying back out the window he had broken through.

“Triplet!” I shouted at him. “You help Grandfather and Emma get to safety while I deal with Twinfist, okay?”

Triplet nodded and went to go help Grandfather and Emma while I flew out the window to find Twinfist. I wasn’t sure what to expect, giving that I had not been holding back when I punched him with my super strength, but he had seemed strong enough to survive my attack.

That was why I was shocked when I saw him lying on the ground outside the window, his body and limbs twisted in unnatural positions, while what little bits of his face were left unprotected by his mask were cut and bleeding. He looked like a corpse, which made me wonder if I had actually killed him, but then Twinfist’s eyes flickered open and he looked up at me in annoyance.

“That hurt,” said Twinfist. “But I have to admit, you have a very strong punch. Too bad it wasn’t strong enough to actually kill me.”

Before my startled eyes, Twinfist’s limbs started to twist and crack back into natural positions. The cracking noises that his bones made were creepy and made me wince more than once, but Twinfist looked almost bored by this, as if he did this sort of thing every day. The cuts on his face were starting to close up as well.

In seconds, Twinfist’s body was back to normal and he was standing up, rolling his shoulders and bending his knees like he was trying to work out the kinks.

“There,” said Twinfist. “A bit stiff, but all better.”

“What?” I said. “How did you do that?”

Twinfist looked up at me with a rather creepy smile on his face. “That? Oh, that was just my power. I have a healing factor, so I can survive almost any blow that doesn’t immediately kill me. All you did was break a few bones and give me a few cuts; hardly the worst injuries I’ve ever taken, at least in comparison to what I’ve suffered in the past.”

I had heard of superhumans with healing factors, but I had never actually seen one in real life before like this. The healing process was a lot creepier than I thought it would look, but I wasn’t about to let my own disgust at Twinfist’s power scare me off.

“So what?” I said. “You have a healing factor, but that doesn’t mean you’re as strong as me. One blow is all I’ll need to knock you out.”

I zoomed through the air toward him, but Twinfist didn’t even bother to move. He just pulled back his right glove, which was glowing green for some reason, but I didn’t slow down because I didn’t think he’d be able to hurt me even if he somehow managed to hit me.

But right before I could hit Twinfist again, his gloved fist connected with my jaw. The impact of the blow actually sent me flying off course. I flew crazily through the air, unable to control my trajectory, until I crashed into the ground and skidded a few feet, sending dirt and grass flying until I came to a halt.

But god, my head hurt. It felt like I had been punched in the jaw by a cement block. Granted, my super toughness meant that I wasn’t nearly as badly hurt as I could have been, but the strength of the blow nonetheless startled me so much that I just lay there for a moment too shocked to think.

Then I heard walking and looked up to see Twinfist approaching me. His gloves were still glowing, which illuminated his grinning face and made him look even creepier than usual.

“What … what was that?” I said. I sat up and rubbed my jaw, which felt cracked. “Was that super strength?”

“No,” said Twinfist. “At least, it wasn’t my super strength. It was yours.”

“Huh?” I said. I shook my head and frowned. “I don’t get it. You punched me. I didn’t punch myself.”

Twinfist sighed, again like I’d said something completely stupid. “Technically, yes, I was the one who punched you, but the strength wasn’t my own. It was yours. I merely used it against you.”

“Still doesn’t explain anything,” I said. “How did you take my strength? Did your glove absorb it?”

“No,” said Twinfist. He raised his glowing glove. “The boxing glove merely acts as a safety measure to keep my hands from getting damaged. What really absorbed your powers was my own body, which can absorb the kinetic strength from an attack and allow me to turn it right back against the attacker. I channel it through my hands, because I was a professional boxer before I became Twinfist, but make no mistake, my ability is my own and has nothing to do with my costume or equipment.”

“So brute force won’t work against you, then?” I said.

“Of course not,” said Twinfist. He punched his fist into his other hand. “But it will certainly work well for me.”

Twinfist shot toward me, pulling back his fists behind him. He threw a punch at me, but I flew up into the sky just in the nick of time, avoiding his fist as it smashed into the ground where I was sitting just seconds ago.

But I didn’t stay in the sky for long. I flew back down, grabbed Twinfist, and then threw him toward the forest. He flew through the air uncontrollably before he crashed into a tree so hard that he actually broke through it, sending its upper half crashing into the ground as he crashed somewhere in the forest.

I knew that he had probably survived that, however, so I flew toward the forest to try to find him and take him out before his healing factor could activate. But just as I flew toward the trees, Twinfist suddenly flew out of the debris and punched me square in the jaw again.

This time, the blow sent me crashing into the earth below. I hit the ground hard enough to create a small crater, and before I could get up, Twinfist landed on top of me and started punching me as hard and as fast as he could.

He wasn’t lying when he said he was a professional boxer; his attacks came hard and fast, giving me almost no room to respond. I couldn’t even raise my hands to defend myself. It was like getting run over by an elephant stampede and the constant blows made it almost impossible for me to even think, much less react instinctively.

But then I got lucky and managed to block one of his blows, which threw him off balance long enough for me to shove him off me. He staggered backwards while I jumped back to my feet and ran at him, but Twinfist leaped to the side, causing me to run straight past him.

Skidding to a stop, I turned to face Twinfist while he held up his gloves to his face, taking up what looked like the stance of a professional boxer.

“Do you wish to give up?” said Twinfist. “I don’t have any real grudge against you, you know. I’m just here to kill your grandfather, so if you would just stand aside and let me do that, I’ll be more than happy to spare your life.”

“Never,” I growled. “I’d rather die than let you kill my grandfather.”

Twinfist shrugged. “Then so be it. My master won’t care either way, so I might as well go all out.”

Without warning, Twinfist ran toward me again. I expected him to try to punch me, so I raised my arms to block his attack.

Once he was close enough, Twinfist sent one of his fists flying at me. I moved to dodge it, but at the last second, Twinfist pulled back and then struck me—hard—in the abdomen with his other fist.

The blow made me gasp, knocking the air out of my lungs, and before I could respond, Twinfist slammed his other fist directly into my face. That blow knocked me flat off my feet, but I managed to roll out of the way just in time to avoid his foot, which stomped on the ground where I had been lying mere moments ago.

Rolling back to my feet, I walked backwards, trying to put distance between me and Twinfist, but Twinfist kept advancing on me. I wasn’t about to let him punch me, but I couldn’t punch him, either, otherwise he would just get stronger and it would be harder for me to defeat him. Nor could I run away, not unless I wanted to leave Grandfather, Triplet, and Emma to his mercy.

But then I remembered my lightning bolt power, so I raised a hand and fired a bolt of red lightning directly at Twinfist.

To my relief, Twinfist didn’t seem to see it coming. He just stood there in surprise before futilely raising his gloves over his face, but when the red lightning struck him, it exploded and sent Twinfist flying so far and so fast that even my eyes had a hard time keeping up with his trajectory. He vanished somewhere into the forest, his crash sending tons of birds flying from the treetops, chirping and tweeting and making a whole bunch of noise in surprise.

I just stood there, surprised, because I hadn’t expected the lightning bolt to be that powerful. Although I had had the ability for about a month now, I was still learning how to use it and didn’t know the full extent of its power just yet. That it could send someone flying like that was really amazing, in my opinion, and made me wonder what else it could do that I didn’t know about yet.

I thought about returning to the mansion, but then I realized that I needed to see if Twinfist had survived that attack or not. His healing factor probably meant that he could never be killed, but maybe I hit him so hard that he was dead before his healing factor could save him. I hadn’t intended to kill him, but if it did, then I had to know.

So I flew up and over the trees, heading in the direction I had seen him fly. It wasn’t too hard to find the spot where he crashed, because he had knocked down a whole bunch of trees with him, plus created a small crater shaped like Twinfist in the spot where he had crashed.

But when I flew over the spot, I did not see Twinfist anywhere. It looked like he had vanished, but there was no way he could have gotten away that quickly, especially after that devastating attack. Unless his healing factor was quicker than I thought.

Hovering in the air, I tapped my earcom and said, “Val, you there? Can you sense Twinfist’s heat signature nearby?”

“No, I cannot,” said Valerie, “although I must admit that the electrical discharge from your lightning bolt appears to have messed up my systems. It will be approximately one hour before I have them repaired and back up running to their usual strength.”

“Sorry about that, Val,” I said, looking around as I tried to find Twinfist. “I didn’t mean to do that. I’m still learning how to control my lightning bolt powers.”

“That’s fine,” said Valerie. “But be careful. This Twinfist character has already shown that he is willing to kill you. Be aware of your surroundings.”

“I am,” I said in annoyance. “I’m actually searching for him right—”

Rustling in the treetops just below me caused me to look down and see Twinfist burst out of the leaves and branches at me. Both of his gloves were glowing so brightly that they looked almost like miniature suns and he came too fast for me to dodge.

When Twinfist’s gloves smashed into my chest, I went flying straight up into the air and couldn’t control my trajectory. The whole world spun around me as I went higher and higher before I fell back down toward the earth.

I broke through dozens of tree branches on my way down, cutting my face and sending branches flying. I crashed into the earth again, but rolled to my feet just as Twinfist came flying down and smashing his fists into the earth, sending more dirt launching into the air around us.

Standing up, I raised my hands in a fighting position as Twinfist returned to his full height and looked at me. He was smiling creepily again, made even worse by the fact that there was a trickle of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth, which he didn’t even bother to wipe off.

“You’re tougher than I expected, kid,” said Twinfist. “But I can already tell that you’re getting tired. Sooner or later you’re going to make one false move and won’t be able to fight me again.”

I said nothing, mostly because Twinfist was right. All of the hits I had taken from him were starting to take their toll on my body. To be fair, Twinfist looked tired, too, but his kinetic absorption ability must allow him to absorb most of the pain, because he looked ready and willing to go a few more rounds.

That meant that I needed to end this fight now, with one final blow, before Twinfist did. Yet how could I beat someone who was capable of using my own strength against me? And healing from every attack I landed on him?

Then a thought occurred to me: I didn’t need to beat him. Just make it so he couldn’t fight again.

“Got nothing to say?” said Twinfist. “Fine by me. Your voice was starting to grate on my nerves anyway. Let’s end this here and now.”

Twinfist launched himself toward me, while I ran to meet him in the center. He pulled his fists back to punch me, but I dodged them at the last possible second, allowing his fists to go flying over me.

But I didn’t let him leave. I punched him as hard as I could in the stomach, slamming him flat into the ground so hard that it created a crater in the earth. Twinfist gasped, but before he could get up, I slammed my foot on his chest and kicked him in the face, which knocked him silly.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-32 show above.)