Sat. May 11th, 2024



….. Posted by uc beverly…..






The streets around Riley’s condo are quiet, and we walk right up to the wrought-iron front gate before running into a camera.


“Shit,” Dante hisses, as he spots the small circle at the corner of the roof.


“I’ve got it covered,” Jeremy says, fingers already flying over his tablet. It takes less than a minute before he’s nodding at the gate. “Go, Kenna. The camera’s off-line and the gate is unlocked.”


I reach out to push to open it, and sparks fly. An electric shock zaps up my arm. “What the hell?” Draven snaps at Jeremy, pulling me away from the gate. “You said it was safe!”


My ex-boyfriend looks completely baffled. “It is. I mean, it should be.” “Obviously it isn’t.” He turns to me. “Are you all right?”


“I’m fine.” My arm tingles a little and my muscles ache, but telling him that won’t change anything, so I keep it to myself.


Jeremy spends a couple minutes working on his tablet as we all wait impatiently. “Try it now.”


I reach for the door again. Jeremy’s the best technopath I know, and if he says the gate is safe, I’m going to believe him. Besides, it’s not like I want anyone else to get electrocuted.


But Draven’s having no part of it. He shoves me behind him and reaches for the gate. It’s total he-man behavior and normally it would set me off, but considering



how much he’s already compromised tonight, it doesn’t bother me. Especially when the gate swings smoothly inward under his touch. He holds it open as we all file into the courtyard.


“Which apartment is Riley’s?” Dante asks as we move between the shadows, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.


Rebel and I point to the second-story, back-corner unit at the same time.


“You’ve been here before?” Draven asks me. The tone of his voice makes me feel weird, even though I’m not sure what the problem is. Is he…jealous? “Once. With Rebel.”


He doesn’t say anything else, which just makes things feel weirder. I keep my mouth shut as we stand outside Riley’s door and try not to look too nervous as Jeremy works.


This time it takes less than a minute before he’s glancing up at us, a surprised frown on his face. “There’s no security.”


“What do you mean there’s no security?” Dante pulls Rebel against his side where he can shield her with his body. “Rebel said her brother’s security system is state of the art.”


“Dad insisted on it when he moved out,” she says. “Didn’t want to take any chances with the heir to his superhero throne.”


There’s an unmistakable bitterness in her tone. She and Draven definitely share that sentiment.


“Yeah, well, there’s nothing,” Jeremy says. “I’m running every type of scan I have, and they’re all coming up blank.”


“What does that mean?” Draven demands as he once again angles his body in front of me like a shield.


I push at him a little this time. I understand he’s being protective, but he needs to


know I’m not his damsel in distress.


“It’s dangerous,” he hisses.


“Everything about this is dangerous,” I snap. “And we don’t have time to stand around. Either we’re going in or we’re coming up with another plan. But freaking out won’t do us any good.”


“She’s right,” Rebel says, shrugging off Dante. She reaches for the door handle. I remember from the last time I was here—when Rebel’s mom made her bring by chicken soup when her brother was sick—that Riley’s lock has a biometric keypad that requires a fingerprint for access. It shouldn’t open for anyone but him, but when Rebel turns the handle it opens without so much as a whimper.



She’s the first one inside. Dante follows behind her, so close that you can’t see where he ends and she begins. Nitro goes in after them, then Draven, leaving Jeremy and me to bring up the rear.


I keep waiting for alarms, lights, sirens to go off, or for Riley to jump out of the shadows or for Mr. Malone and the goons in the gray suits to descend on us. But none of that happens. Nothing happens as we creep into the dark and silent condo. “This is weird,” Rebel murmurs softly.


Is it a trap?


We’re all on alert. We tiptoe down the hall to Riley’s bedroom, and there he is, sound asleep. It’s not an act either—he’s got some drool in the corner of his mouth. “Wake him up,” Draven snaps, as Jeremy scoops Riley’s laptop from the floor by his bed and then disappears into the living room to get hacking.


Dante rips off Riley’s covers and I can’t contain my laughter. Seriously? Seriously? Riley’s wearing Superman pajamas. Honest-to-goodness Superman pajamas, including a blue shirt with a red S in the middle of his chest.


“Are you kidding me with this?” Draven says. Then he shakes Riley awake. Rebel’s brother wakes up slowly…until his eyes focus in the dark and he sees three villains and his sister looming over him. I hang back, trying not to get in the way. Something tells me this is going to be all Rebel and Draven’s game.


Riley squeaks when he sees them, jumping out of bed, arms extended in front of himself in a defensive move. “Rebel! What are you doing here? Who are these guys?”


“I need to talk to you.”


“Dad says you’re in trouble.” He darts his gaze over the three villains in the room. He doesn’t look happy, but then again, neither do they. Focusing on Rebel, he grabs her shoulders like he’s going to shake her. “The Cole boys, Rebel? And Nitro? Have you lost your—”


“Don’t touch her.” Dante is between them in a flash, pressing Riley into the wall. “She’s my sister!” Riley answers indignantly, like it means something. Maybe it does. I don’t know. I mean, he looks sincere and sincerely offended that anyone thinks he might hurt Rebel.


“And she’s my girlfriend,” Dante growls. “You don’t get to touch her.” “Rebel!” Riley looks scandalized. “He’s a villain. You don’t know what he’s capable of.”


“We’re all villains,” Draven says. “And you’re going to find out exactly what we’re capable of if you don’t start talking.”



Riley stares at him, a little stupidly in my opinion, but Rebel’s brother never has been the brightest bulb in the lantern, so it’s not entirely unexpected when he answers, “We are talking.”


Draven’s fingers tangle in Riley’s ridiculous pajama shirt as he hauls him to his toes. Riley is tall—almost six feet—but Draven is taller. And stronger. And obviously in control. “The heroes have a secret underground bunker. Code name Lima Whiskey. I want to know where it is.”


Riley goggles at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


Draven growls deep in his throat, and Riley’s life flashes before my eyes. Then Rebel shoves Draven and her boyfriend out of the way. “Come on, Riley. We both know that’s not true. Tell us and we’ll get out of here.”


“What’s wrong with you, Rebel? Have you been brainwashed? When Dad said you were with the villains who broke into the lab, I didn’t believe him. But now?” He lifts his hands helplessly. “Think about what you’re doing. This could ruin all of Dad’s plans.”


“Maybe your dad’s plans need to be ruined,” I say, shouldering my way past Draven. “Do you know what’s been going on at ESH?”


“Kenna, I never thought I’d hear you say that!” Riley’s eyes widen. “Aren’t you supposed to be the reasonable one?”


“Like torture and murder are reasonable?” Nitro pipes up. Riley looks at him blankly. “What are you talking about?”


“You know exactly what I’m talking about, mate. Everyone knows you’re Daddy’s number one pet.” Nitro’s hands have started to glow. “I bet you know a hell of a lot more than we can even begin to know about.” Nitro’s fireball grows.


Riley notices the ball of green flame balanced on Nitro’s hands. He shrinks back, looking more like wall art than a human being.


“You’re crazy! And you need to leave before I call the SHPD.” He looks at Rebel meaningfully. “Leave my sister and Kenna here, and get the hell out.”


“We’ll leave when you grow a conscience and tell us what we need to know,” Draven says. “Until then, we’re not going anywhere.”


“No way. I’ll never talk, no matter how much you torture me.”


“Torture?” Draven asks incredulously. “We’re not the ones with a history of torture. I think you’ve got us confused with your hero friends.” Riley narrows his eyes at him. “Heroes don’t torture.”



“They do,” I blurt out. “I saw it at the lab. You don’t know how important it is that you tell us where the bunker is. We have to find them or people are going to die. My mom could die, Riley. They took her. Heroes took her.”


“Why would heroes take your mom? She works for us.” He shakes his head. “We’re the good guys.”


“Good guys?” Dante tells him, stepping forward. “Good guys? Are you serious right now?” His fist slams into Riley’s stomach and Rebel’s brother doubles over. Dante hits him again and again. Riley is no match for his strength or fury. “Stop!” I shout, grabbing his arm, but Dante’s out of control.


“Back off, man,” Draven tells his cousin. “This isn’t the way to get him to talk.” “Sure it is,” Dante says. “Give me five minutes, and I’ll get the little pipsqueak to give up everything he knows.”


Riley drops to the floor, cowering. Dante pulls back a fist, ready to hit him again. But Draven pushes his cousin away. “We’re not like them. We don’t do the things they do.”


“Deacon.” Dante sounds shattered.


“I swear, we’ll find out where he is,” Draven promises. “But not like this. Never like this.”


He crouches next to Riley, eyes narrowed and hands clenched with restraint. “Riley, tell him!” I urge. It feels like time is running out. “Please.”


Images of Deacon flash before my eyes again. Riley’s willful ignorance is killing me, knowing that my own ignorance let the superheroes get away with too much for too long. But I see the truth now, and even one person can make a difference. Right now, that person has to be me.


After all, only a few days ago I was just like Riley.


I try to reason with him. “We know that the lab has been shut down and the most important experiments have been moved to this bunker. We know that the heroes have been torturing the villains for—”


“That’s not true!” Riley gasps. “We’re not torturing them.”


“Liar!” Draven shoves Riley hard enough that his head bangs against the wall. “I saw it, Riley. I saw what they were doing, and I saw the dead villains—” “Accidents,” he says. “Mistakes. Every great program has them.”


“Great program?” Dante repeats. He looks like he’s about to lose his tenuous grip on his powers, and I don’t blame him. Riley sounds completely insane—not to mention totally heartless. “You think torturing my twin is part of some great program like the Peace Corps? Like Doctors without Borders? Yeah, you guys are real humanitarians.”


“You. Are. Killing. People!” Nitro adds.


“Not on purpose!”


Draven snaps. He doesn’t touch Riley, doesn’t hurt him, but he leans forward until his face is only inches from the hero’s.


Riley’s eyes widen as he recognizes Draven’s power, sees those blue eyes crystallize with memory control. Rebel’s brother squeezes his eyes tight, blocking out the psy access to his mind.


Draven doesn’t seem to care. He leans closer, whispers something in Riley’s ear. I can only catch a few of the words, but they sound a lot like pain and own medicine and death is too easy.


Riley shakes, trying to curl in on himself.


Clearly Draven doesn’t need to use his power to break Riley’s brain. And still he keeps talking, whispering new threats.


Riley holds a hand to his nose to staunch the sudden blood flow.


My mind screams at me that there has to be a better way, but I don’t move. I don’t intercede. I don’t do anything but watch as the darkness washes over Draven.


It’s a tangible thing, which fascinates me even as it freaks me out. There’s a shift in the way he holds his body, in how he transforms from fighter to predator. A sharpness in his eyes, a clenching in his jaw, a vibe that rolls off him, pumping electricity into the air, into me.


It frightens me, the way I’m responding to him. Not to mention the fact that the whole room seems as spellbound as I am, like we’re all just waiting to see what he does next. I know Draven doesn’t want to hurt Riley; he just wants to scare him. But I also know that if Draven loses control like he did with the guards, we’ll all be sorry.


With that thought in mind, I crouch next to Draven and rest a hand on his lower back. A shudder runs through him.


His eyes are so dark and tormented that my insides twist with fear for him.


“Rebel, you know I can’t tell them!” Riley says, eyes closed tight.


“Dad isn’t the paragon you think he is, Riley,” says Rebel.


“How would you know? You’re too busy playing the wannabe villain to know anything about this family anymore.”


She shakes her head disgustedly. “For a guy who spends all his free time pretending to be Superman, you sure need to work on your X-ray vision. You can’t see shit.”



Rebel glances over to the display cabinet in the corner of Riley’s room, and a heartbeat later, a very expensive and authentic-looking statue of Superman flies off the shelf.


“Rebel, no!”


It hangs in midair for a moment, then falls to the hardwood floor, shattering into a billion pieces.


Riley gasps. “That was an original piece of artwork from DC Comics!” he screeches, crawling over to the mess and scooping some of the bigger pieces into his hands. “I paid a fortune for it. Why would you do that?”


“Because people’s lives are at stake. Lives that are worth a whole hell of a lot more than this ridiculous junk.” A collector’s plate that has Batman and Robin on it floats off another shelf and wobbles in the air. “You better start talking, Riley.” “Don’t you dare, Rebel!” He lunges at her, but Dante holds him back.


“You better make a decision,” she taunts. “My power is feeling a little unsteady, and I just don’t know how long I can hold it…” “Darn it, Rebel!”


“Where’s the bunker, Riley?”


“There’s no way I’m telling a bunch of villains—” “Whoops!”


The plate crashes to the floor and Riley whimpers. He actually whimpers.


Rebel doesn’t give him a chance to say anything else before a three-foot-tall statue of Aquaman and a miniature Iron Man suit go crashing to the ground.


Riley watches in shock, but it’s not until she actually grabs his pièce de résistance—original cells from one of the first Superman comic books—that he starts talking.


“Stop! Stop! Just stop. Please, Reb. Just stop.”


She narrows her eyes at him, poised to tear the page in half. “Where’s the bunker?” she asks again.


“In the mountains.” Riley sinks against the wall. He looks sad, defeated. Maybe I should feel sorry for him—he did just rat out his father and everything he believes in. But it’s hard for me to be sympathetic when Riley cares more for a bunch of collectibles than he does for the suffering of real, live people.


“Where in the mountains?” Draven demands. “The Rockies are pretty damn big.” “I’ve got it!” Jeremy crows from the doorway, Riley’s laptop in hand. “My rootkit found the coordinates for the bunker.”


“Thank God!” Nitro says, and before anyone can say or do anything else, he lets loose a fireball straight at what’s left of Riley’s extensive—and expensive—



collection of comic book memorabilia. It whizzes past me, burns my arm, and then crashes straight into the display case.


Nitro laughs at the horrified look on Riley’s face as the whole thing goes up in flames.












……………. extraordinary……..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *