Fri. May 10th, 2024





My ears strain for sounds of movement or danger.


I don’t hear anything, so after a minute, I step out into the stairwell. It’s a circular staircase—which is weird enough in a lab—so I can’t see the bottom.


I close my eyes, take a couple deep breaths, and start down one slow step at a time.


I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe this. How can there be a secret level? Why is there a secret level?


I’m confused, worried, more than a little scared. And annoyed, really annoyed. My mother lied to me. She looked me straight in the eye and lied. She made me doubt Rebel, made me doubt myself, and that pisses me off. It also makes me wonder what else she’s lied about. And why.



At the bottom of the staircase there is a door. It’s locked, requiring a security pass. I swipe my mother’s badge and the light changes to green. Proof that she not only knows about this level, but she has authorization to be here.


Before I open the door, I look through the narrow, rectangular window just above the doorknob. Two cameras hang on the opposite wall, scanning the length of the hallway, one on each side. The whole thing is monitored at all times.


Which pretty much sucks for me. My mom might have clearance, but I certainly don’t. If they catch me on camera, I can’t even begin to imagine how much trouble I’ll be in.

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But I’m close, so close, to finding out what’s going on down here. I came back to the lab against my mother’s specific orders because I have to know. I have to prove to myself that the crazy thoughts I’ve been considering for the last eighteen hours are as nuts as they seem.


Villains aren’t victims. They’re liars. I can’t walk away. Not now.


So I wait and I watch the cameras sweep the hallway again and again and again. I track the arc. I memorize the pattern, rendering the data as a 3-D image in my mind. And I notice a blind spot. A couple of them, actually.


There are exactly four seconds when neither of the cameras picks up the hallway right outside the door. Two seconds when they meet in the middle and can’t see directly beneath each other, and then another four seconds when the second camera can’t see the end of the hallway.


It’s a long distance, but if I time it precisely right—and run like hell—I can make it. I hope.


I wait a little longer, count the seconds again as I watch the cameras run through one, two, three more sweeps. I know if I don’t go now, I never will. I’ll lose my nerve and I’ll never know what’s down here.


Taking a deep breath, I wait for the camera to get into position and launch into motion, running full-speed down the hallway. I get to the first true blind spot,



where the cameras cross, and wait, breath held, always counting. Then I book it again.


I’m terrified I’m not going to make it, but I do. I turn the corner, breathing heavily and praying there aren’t more cameras on this hallway.


My hope is in vain, because of course there’s another camera. But thankfully only one, which gives me a lot more time to walk down the hall without getting caught.


I make it down this hallway and another using that same technique. I’m not sure where I’m going, or even what I’m looking for. But I figure I’ll know it when I see it.


There are labs on either side of me, dark rooms that look empty. And while there’s a part of me that wants to know what’s behind every single door, there isn’t time.


What I’m looking for—what I need to see—will be wherever Mr. Malone and the gray suits went.


Which means I need to keep moving.


I turn the corner again, expecting to have to dodge yet another camera. But in this hallway there are no cameras, at least none that I can see. This only makes me more nervous. After all that security, all that surveillance, why would this area be unwatched? Unless there’s something going on here that Mr. Malone and the Superhero Collective don’t want anyone to see.


Fear rockets down my spine. It’s not fear of getting caught that paralyzes me. It’s fear of what I’ll find. Of what I’ll see. I don’t want my faith in the superheroes to be misplaced.


But I’ve gotten this far and I’m not going back until I know. Squaring my shoulders, I keep going. Most of the rooms are dark, but fluorescent lighting pours under one of the doorways. Someone is in there.


I drop to my knees and crawl along the wall. The window in the center of the door is covered by tightly closed blinds. I’m just inching up to peek through when I hear


it. A scream so pained, so tortured, that I swear it chills the blood in my veins.


Every hair on my body stands at full attention.


I freeze. Another scream rends the air, this one even worse than the first. Adrenaline pours through me. My chest tightens and it’s hard to drag air into my lungs.


I move to a kneeling position and search the window, desperately looking for a split in the blinds so that I can see something, anything.


There’s a gap at the right side of the window where one of the blinds is bent. It’s small, but it’s enough.


I peer through, and my heart stops.


Rebel’s boyfriend, Dante, is tied to a chair in the middle of the room. He’s badly bruised, his head hanging down, shoulders slumped. I can’t be sure, but it looks like the only thing keeping him upright is the strap around his torso and arms, pressing his shoulders against the back of the chair.


All kinds of cables are hooked up to him, and as I watch, his entire body jolts and shakes, almost like an electric current is running through him.


My hand covers my mouth to keep me from crying out as he jerks and shudders and screams.


Oh God, does he scream.


I’m not sure how much time passes before the shaking stops and his body goes limp. But it’s right after he vomits all over himself.


Somebody I don’t recognize hits him hard on the side of the head. He barely reacts, his body listing to the side under the pressure of the blow.


But that’s it. His eyes are blank, his face slack. Then he starts to jerk again.


I can’t watch anymore. I whirl around and sink my butt to the floor, my hands still clenched tightly over my mouth.



Oh my God. Oh My God.


OH MY GOD! What is going on? What the hell is going on?


My mind races and my eyes sting. This must be what shock feels like.


I sit there for a minute, two, trying to get my head together. Trying to make sense of what I’ve seen. But there’s no sense to be made. What’s going on in that room isn’t an experiment—which would be bad enough. No, it’s torture, pure and simple.


Another scream rips through the quiet. This can’t be happening. This just can’t be happening.


But it is.


It really is.


I take a deep breath. The hall spins around me, but I force the nausea down and climb back to my knees. I peer through the slit in the blinds again, then wish I hadn’t. Huge fists rain down on Dante’s shoulders, his chest, his back, his head.


A movement in the corner of the room catches my eye, and I press my cheek against the glass. Mr. Malone and the gray suits are watching, observing casually, like they’re looking at a painting in a museum.


The look of pride on Mr. Malone’s face turns my veins to ice.


I want to rewind time by ten minutes and not find the entrance to sub-level three. I want to stop this guy’s pain. I want to open the door and scream at them at the top of my lungs. But I’m smart enough to know that would get both of us killed. By heroes.


The knowledge turns me inside out.



All my life there have only been three absolutes: ordinaries are useless, villains are evil, and heroes are good.


Heroes are supposed to be the people the rest of the world looks up to, the very best examples of humanity.


I’ve spent my whole life distrusting villains—hating villains—and now I find out that some heroes are just as bad. Maybe worse. This kind of brutality is worse than anything I’ve ever heard villains accused of. This is worse than what they did to my father. Worse than murder.


Heroes are the good guys, the ones who stop things like this from happening. The heroes I know would never do this. But they are.


They are. So what’s going on?


Hypnosis? Mind control? I don’t know. Somebody is responsible for this. There’s no other explanation.


But who? What are they getting out of it?


Another scream pierces the air, and I shudder. I’ve never felt so useless in my life. There is nothing I can do to help him, to save him. Nothing I can do to make it stop. What I wouldn’t give to have any superpower.


I’ve been powerless my whole life, but nothing prepared me for the horror that crawls through me.


I have to do something. I can’t just walk away knowing what they’re doing to Rebel’s boyfriend. Villain or not, he’s a human being and no one—no one— deserves to be treated like that.


With that one thought clear in my mind, I pull myself together. Crawl out from beneath the window. Race down the hall. I want out of here. Now. It takes every ounce of my self-control not to run full tilt back to the elevator.


I have just enough awareness to remember the cameras. So I pause at the corner of the hallway and count. Then I run.



Pause. Count. Run.


Pause. Count. Run.


I do it again and again, until I’m at the stairwell.


I fling open the door and fall inside. I’m sobbing now, close to hysterical, but I make myself think. I drag myself up the stairs to sub-level two and press the elevator call button. When the door opens, I stumble inside. I swipe Mom’s security badge and jab the button for sub-level one.


All I can think of is getting back to the safety of my mom’s lab.


I need to pull myself together. Every second I waste is another second Dante will be tortured. That thought, more than any other, brings me back. My tears dry and my breathing quiets.


I’m not calm—how can I be?—but I’m functioning. And for now that’s enough. I take a second to splash cold water on my face. Then I grab my research log and shove it into the back of my jeans. I leave the rest of my materials. I shove the boxes back into the cabinets at my station so it won’t look suspicious. I even leave my backpack. No one will know I’ve been here. Then I race toward the emergency stairwell.


I spare a quick glance around to see if Mr. Malone’s newly installed cameras cover this part of the hallway yet. I don’t see any, so I reach over and pull the fire alarm.


I can’t rescue Dante right now, but hopefully this will buy him a reprieve.


As the alarm shrieks, I book it up the stairs to the lobby. By the time I get there, one of the security guards is on the phone with the fire department while the other ushers me out of the building.


I follow his directions, but the second he turns his back on me, I sprint toward my car. I don’t think I actually breathe until I’m pulling out of the parking lot. And even then, I’m only one shaky step from frantic.



I put some miles between the lab and me, then park at a drive-through custard shop. I pull out my cell phone and text Rebel.


Need to c u now v important


I wait impatiently for her answer. It only takes about thirty seconds.


U ok?


Yes but need to talk r u home? I reply.


No 4179 Valmont Ct


I don’t know where that is and I don’t care. I enter the address into the GPS on my phone, then dash off another text.


B there in 20


Fifteen minutes later I park in front of a large, gray house in an area of town I’ve never been before. An area said to be popular with villains.


If I was less desperate or upset, I’d probably turn and walk away. But I am desperate and I am upset and I have nowhere else to go. No one else to trust. Not when my own mom lied to me about the secret sub-level.


If she knows it exists, she probably knows what goes on in there. And if she does, I don’t know what to think. All I know is I can’t face her. Not now. Not with this.


I text Rebel to let her know I’m here, and by the time I get to the door, she’s standing there waiting for me.


The instant I see her, tears burn the back of my eyes again. I blink, try to make them disappear, but they roll down my face instead.


“Kenna!” She reaches out for me, pulls me into a hug. “What’s wrong?”


“I saw them. I saw—”


“What? What did you see?”


I choke up. “I found the secret level.”


She stiffens against me, and before I can say anything else, the door is yanked wide open. Draven stands there, looking just as dark and scowly as he did the previous night. Just as badass. Like he can take on anything.


I never thought I’d be so relieved to see a villain.


“What did you see?” he demands, his voice hoarser, more gravelly than I remember.


I swallow and force out the words, even knowing how much they’re going to hurt him and Rebel. “They have your boyfriend. They’re torturing him.”


For a moment, silence hangs in the air as they stare at me, wide-eyed.


Draven clears his throat, and though his face is pale, his voice is even when he says, “I think you’d better come in.”


I hesitate. These are villains, I tell myself. Bad guys. If I walk through this door, I’m committing treason. But then an image of Dante comes back to me, strapped to that chair with electricity running through his body until he screams and vomits and cries.


Black and white is dissolving. So is right and wrong. If some heroes can be bad, maybe I have to trust that some villains can be…good?


I don’t know if I can, but I don’t have a choice. I haven’t since the moment I peered in that window.


Taking a deep breath, I walk through the door. As I do, I feel the ground shift beneath my feet.




….. Guys she thinks she’s seeing Dante but it’s actually deacon , he’s Dante’s twin




But she doesn’t know that and that’s why she refers him as dante







……………. extraordinary……..


….. Posted by uc beverly…..






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