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TEEN: The Adventures of Captain Miracle - Book One: First Flight

Dorothy

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So this one's a bit different. This is not a fanfic, but a work of original fiction that I've been working on for a while. A novel, in fact. I thought I might post it here in order to get feedback and commentary as I progress through writing it. Help me motivate myself to keep going with this huge project. Four chapters are complete thus far, and I'll be posting them over the coming days, and after that, at some undetermined time, will come additional chapters. So don't be alarmed if the rate of posting dips off suddenly after chapter four.

In this world, superheroes are real, and the question of what to do with teenagers who have superpowers is a pressing one. The Hero Brigade, America's premier superhero team, have taken it upon themselves to establish the Kirby Beck Shuster Academy for Extraordinary Young People, a place where "gifted youngsters" can safely master their special abilities. This is the story of Gabriel Cruz, a homeless orphan whose life is changed forever after a chance encounter with a superhero in the streets of Philadelphia.

This is basically a YA novel. I don't expect anything particularly objectionable, but I've rated this story Teen regardless, for violence and some adult themes.

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The Adventures of Captain Miracle - Book One: First Flight

Table of Contents
1. Issue Zero
2. Issue One
3. Issue Two
 
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Dorothy

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Issue Zero

Superheroes are real.

That got your attention, didn’t it? Good. You see, I really need you to be paying attention to what I’m about to tell you. No joking around here, this is some vitally important stuff. Why is it important? Well… I’ll get to that eventually. There’s some stuff I have to get through first for you to really understand things.

So, yeah, superheroes are real. No, don’t bother looking up in the sky, you’re not going to see Superman flying around (although I’m pretty sure he’s real too, somewhere). See, superheroes are real, just… not where you’re from.

Let me explain. You know those theories some people have, that there’s more than one universe, and that maybe there’s even an infinite number of universes – a multiverse, as nerds call it - out there beyond some sci-fi barrier? All true. Well, mostly. For pretty much everyone, travel between universes is impossible, or at least impossible without a huge amount of energy and power – as in, almost all of it in the entire universe. So no, you didn’t start out life in a universe where the name of your favorite book series was spelled with an e instead of an a, your memory has just been playing tricks on you and you’re too stubborn to admit it.

The reason I bring this up is because in some of those realities, including mine, superheroes are more than just the stars of comic books and surprisingly successful movies. They’re a real, tangible part of our past and present. The idea of superheroes is in every universe we’ve observed. It’s one of the few constants in every reality, including the one where the Cockroach Empire won World War I. In some universes, superheroes were real, living beings and in others they were just characters in stories people liked to read, but no matter what, the concept of the superhero was always there. Weird, huh?

Anyway, that’s where I’m writing from. An alternate universe. Well, to you. To me, it’s home. And I’m not really “writing” anything. See, I’m friends with a psychic or two, and they’re beaming this thought out into the multiverse, where it’s been planted in the minds of a couple very suggestible writers.

They all probably think they came up with the story themselves and that this prologue is just a clever framing device to get their readers interested in it… but you and I know the truth.

Are you still with me? Good. Like I said, I need you to pay attention. This is important stuff. Now sit back and get comfortable, because once I get into the details of the story I’m about to tell, things go from 0 to 60 pretty fast. Ready? Alright then.

My name is Gabriel Cruz, and I’m going to tell you how I became a superhero.
 

Dorothy

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Issue One

Like I said, my name is Gabriel. People call me Gabe. Last name Cruz, not that that was ever any help in figuring out who my parents were.

What do I look like? Let me think about that for a moment. I’ve got dark brown skin, with tightly-curled black hair and honey-brown eyes. The nuns at the orphanage used to say that I got my eyes from my mother, but I never met the woman and I harbor serious doubts that they ever did, so I can’t say for sure if they were telling the truth. I’ve got a solid jawline, and high cheekbones that I’ve been told more than once I could chop vegetables with.

I’m pretty tall for a 15-year-old, I guess. At the very least I’m taller than most people my age I know, which admittedly isn’t many. See, as my unshaven face, dirty clothes, and ratty backpack might suggest, I don’t have a community environment that many people would describe as “stable” or “healthy.”

Full disclosure, I never met my parents. My mom dropped me off at an orphanage (yes, those still exist) when I was a baby and only told the nuns my name, and I’ve never heard a single thing about my dad. No, this isn’t one of those “troubled ethnic kid with parental abandonment issues” sob stories that worm their way into all the awards shows every year. It didn’t take me long to learn to live with the fact that my parents left me on my own.

What I couldn’t learn to live with was family after family shuffling into the orphanage with empty offers of treating me like a son and promises that eventually I’d all but forget having any other family. It was like they were robots or bees or something, all trying to draw me into their creepy hive mind. It didn’t help that half of them were white people trying to feel like better people than their neighbors by taking in a black kid. In the end I’d always shut down and stop talking, or say something that made them think I was “aggressive,” or show some other sign that I wasn’t going to be a perfect, easy kid to raise, and every one of them would back out. I never minded, though. I liked it at the orphanage. I liked the nuns. I knew the nuns. I would have been perfectly happy to stay with the nuns forever. Of course, I wouldn’t be so lucky. The orphanage was small and poor, and overcrowding was a constant threat. So once a kid turned ten, they were turned over to social services and put in the foster care system.

I never stayed in a foster home for long. Being fair to the foster families, that was usually my fault. I resented being taken away from the nuns, and I was pretty angry pretty much all of the time. I rejected any attempt my foster parents made to bond with me, I fought with their kids, I tried to run away – you name it, chances are I did it. From what I hear, a bunch of workers at social services had pictures of me on their desk labeled “Public Enemy Number One.”

Eventually I guess they got as tired of me as I had of them. The last time I ran away, on my 13th birthday, no one came to look for me. My face didn’t end up on any milk cartons – and believe me, I checked. I wasn’t a human interest piece on the news, there was no “BRING GABE HOME” campaign searching for me, nothing. It was as if the world had decided that if I wanted to be homeless and starve to death so badly, I was free to do so as far as it was concerned.

And that was fine with me.

That’s how I ended up living on the streets for the better part of two years. I accepted whatever charity people decided to give me, stole anything I needed beyond that, and learned where the safe places were wherever I went. I passed through three states in those two years – not as impressive as you might think, given that I was born and raised in New England – and I found myself in Philadelphia, in the closing days of the summer, on the day my life changed forever.

My day had been going pretty normally before the glowing man crashed through a building.

I was heading back to my hidey-hole after grabbing a loaf of bread and a couple apples from a grocery store with conveniently lax security. I wasn’t able to have fruit very often, so despite the fact that my only shelter was a fort made out of waterlogged cardboard boxes, I was pretty excited to get back home.

That’s when the glowing man crashed through a building – specifically, one just a bit ahead of me on the right-hand side of the sidewalk.

The man had a shaggy blond head of hair complete with messy beard, and wore a tight yellow jumpsuit emblazoned with a white starburst on his chest. His skin was an even deeper shade of yellow, and glowed brightly enough that I had to squint to get a good look at him.

As I took a few clumsy steps backwards in shock of what I’d just seen, the glowing man crashed into the middle of the street. Cars swerved and came to sudden halts to avoid a collision. Pedestrians stood on both sides of the road, either paralyzed by fright or just simply curious to see what was going on.

They wouldn’t have to wait long for an answer. From inside the wreckage of the building that had just undergone unplanned renovations, shadows began to shift and move away from the things that cast them, creeping over the hole in the wall and joining together into a single circular blot before coming to a halt right in front of me.

Smoke began to rise from the shadow with a hiss, and only seconds later a figure started rising up with it. In the blink of an eye, the smoke and shadow were gone, replaced by the hero known as Midnight Man.

The first time you see a superhero up close, it’s hard not to be awestruck by how they carry themselves, with an air of confidence and power that can really only be compared to a god’s. Midnight Man looked like he had been carved out of marble, clad in a dark costume of black and indigo, his face masked by a smooth black cowl that exposed only his mouth and nose, with thin white strips concealing his eyes. On his chest, Midnight Man bore his emblem, a hollow black disc bisected by a thin line. From his back billowed a jet-black cape which added to the overall impression you got that you were looking at a living shadow rather than a man.

I know it’s kind of cheesy, but my jaw couldn’t help but drop as I took in everything I was seeing. Hey, like I said, it was my first time. You can’t blame me for being a bit overwhelmed.

The man in the street groaned and rubbed his head as he sat up. As soon as he spotted Midnight Man, his eyes narrowed and he snarled.

“You!?” the man exclaimed. “Bellringer was givin’ me a wallopin’ just fine on his own. Why’re you buttin’ in my affairs?”

“Bellringer, and Twilight Girl, are making sure the convoy is leaving the city safely,” Midnight Man answered. His voice was thick and heavy, like a fog. “Sorry, Lens Flare. You’re not getting any plutonium today.”

The man – Lens Flare – leapt to his feet with a bellow of uncontained rage. “Those isotopes were my best chance at turnin’ myself back to normal, you moron!” he shouted, charging Midnight Man with fists raised.

Midnight Man responded without missing a beat, sprinting forward with surprising quickness. “If you really wanted to turn yourself normal again,” the hero exclaimed as his fist connected with Lens Flare’s jaw, “you’d have done it a long time ago. Through legal means.”

The force of Midnight Man’s blow knocked Lens Flare back but not down. The criminal’s feet dug into the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust as he ground to a halt. Flashing a manic grin, Lens Flare cracked his knuckles, threw back his head, and let loose with a halting, wheezing laugh that crackled like electricity.

“Believe whatever self-righteous nonsense you want, Midnight Man,” Lens Flare growled. “I’ll take you down either way. Big mistake, tryin’ to take me on in the daytime. My powers are strongest in the sun – while yours are at their weakest.”

“Night or day, your overconfidence will be your downfall - just like always!” declared Midnight Man defiantly.

“We’ll see about that!” Lens Flare clapped his hands, and a glowing ball of light burst forth, hurtling towards Midnight Man – and me.

I yelped and dove to the ground in order to avoid the sphere, making the reasonable assumption that balls of energy tossed by a supervillain probably ought to be avoided. From just beyond the spot where I’d been standing moments before, I saw a flash of light followed by the roar of an explosion, and concluded that I’d taken the correct course of action.

People were fleeing the scene in droves, but for some reason I stuck around, transfixed by the battle. Midnight Man and Lens Flare were locked in a furious struggle, trading blows and blasts of light and darkness, with neither prepared to give an inch.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little girl on the other side of the street, cowering and clutching her head in her hands. I could hear her crying out softly for her mother – which, in retrospect, probably should have seemed stranger than it did at the time given the distance between us – but as you’ll soon see, stranger things were still to come.

Lens Flare readied another blast of light, a ball of energy forming in his palm as he angled it at Midnight Man’s head. At the last second, Midnight Man dodged into a flip that vaulted him over Lens Flare’s arm with a kick, knocking off the villain’s aim and causing him to loose his blast at the building the girl hid beneath.

As the ball of energy hit the building and debris began to fall, it was like everything slowed down around me. My heart raced as I watched a huge slab of wreckage descend on a collision course with the kid, with Midnight Man too busy with his fight to notice.

If I’d been thinking clearly, I might not have done anything – not to sound harsh or anything, but there was hardly any use in getting us both crushed, and it wasn’t like I would be able to cross the gap in time anyway. Rationally, there was no reason for me to try and save a little girl I didn’t even know.

Thing is, though, rational thought tends to go out the window in situations like that. All thought, really. I just… didn’t think about anything except the fact that a little girl was about to be crushed, and I was the only one who could even try to do anything about it.

I scrambled to my feet and sprinted across the asphalt. Impossibly, I arrived on the other side of the road before the debris could hit the girl – but only just. The slab was inches from her head, and I knew instinctively what to do.

I dove under the slab just before it could crush the girl – and I feel it bears repeating that there was no logical reason this should have worked – and hefted it onto my shoulders.

All at once, time sped back up to normal, and I found myself facing an astonished little girl scurrying backwards in alarm, and somehow holding up a huge chunk of debris on my back without being crushed by it.

My first thought was since when have my muscles been this robust? My second thought was hang on, since when do I have muscles?

My third thought was I have to make sure this kid gets out of danger, and that’s the thought I acted on. “Run!” I cried, and the girl eagerly obliged, sprinting away from the chaos and into the crowd of people gathered on the far end of the street. As she did, she looked back at me, a grateful smile on her face. My heart skipped a beat.

I watched her run until I saw a woman scoop her up and give her a squeeze, and I let out a sigh of relief. I pushed backward and the slab slipped from my back, crashing onto the ground with a crack.

Someone in the crowd screamed, and I whipped my head around to observe the fight once again.

It seemed that things had taken an unfavorable turn for Midnight Man. Lens Flare held him by the neck in a vice grip, his hands slowly crushing the life out of the struggling hero.

Midnight Man kicked his legs uselessly and gasped for air in a desperate attempt to escape the villain’s clutches. One of his hands clawed at Lens Flare’s grip, while the other groped around his waist, like he was desperate to get something out of his belt.

Whatever the case, it was clearly a losing battle.

Once again, rational thought vanished from the equation. The only thought in my head was that if I didn’t do something fast, Midnight Man would be dead – and I’d be left alone in the street with a murderous supervillain.

I charged with a yell, and Lens Flare barely had time to turn his head before my fist slammed into his jaw.

The force of my punch sent Lens Flare flying across the road, dropping Midnight Man in the process. The beefy supervillain barreled into the same building he’d been thrown through earlier. He grunted loudly as he slammed into the building and slumped onto the ground with a groan.

Lens Flare was down, but I wasn’t done with him yet. In a flash, I was on top of him, knees digging into his chest and hand around his throat. Curling my hand tightly into a fist, I hit Lens Flare with unrelenting force square in the nose. As my knuckles buried themselves into his face, I could hear a sickening crunch as his nose shattered. Lens Flare gurgled as his blood, strange and yellow and glowing, began to flow.

In hindsight, it was pretty gross to look at, but I have to admit, at the time I felt a rush like nothing I’d ever felt before. I got caught up in it all, and I just didn’t stop. I threw punch after punch at Lens Flare’s face. It was like some deep, hidden rage that had been locked up inside me had finally been unleashed, and had leapt at the chance to cause some damage.

Lens Flare’s face was battered, bruised, and bloody, but I would have gone even further if a strong, steady hand hadn’t caught my wrist as I raised it to deliver another punishing blow.

I snapped my head around to see Midnight Man towering over me, his eyes narrowed and fingers curled tightly around my wrist. He was stronger than he looked – strong enough to hold my newfound strength at bay.

“I think he’s had enough, son,” said Midnight Man. You know those people with voices so imposing, so intimidating, that every word they speak sounds like an order you had better follow or else? That was Midnight Man. His voice was enough to snap me out of my frenzy, and I glanced down at what I’d done.

Lens Flare groaned miserably, his face puffy and swollen and smeared with blood. My eyes darted to my fist, still clenched and held back by Midnight Man, and I saw that it was stained with the stuff as well.

My eyes widened, and I looked up at Midnight Man. The way he was glaring at me, I couldn’t help but think I was in some deep crap for brutalizing the villain like I had, and my heart began to race as I imagined what was going to happen. I’d go to jail, I thought. Or worse – I’d get thrown back into the system.

“I- I didn’t…” I stammered desperately. “I didn’t mean to…”

I couldn’t see it through the mask, but I could have sworn Midnight Man raised an eyebrow bemusedly. “You think you’re in trouble?” he asked.

In my panic, his tone was lost on me, and all I heard was condemnation. Frantically, I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, anything, that could get me out of this mess.

“I- I saved your life,” was what I blurted out.

That’s when Midnight Man did the absolute last thing I expected him to do.

He laughed.

It wasn’t a loud laugh – more a quiet, reserved chuckle than anything else, and the man barely even smiled as he did it – but given that what I had been expecting was for him to read me my rights, it came as much of a shock to me as if he’d let loose with a belly laugh that would make Santa Claus jealous.

Midnight Man pulled me up to my feet. I felt my head rush as I stood up, and it was all I could do to keep from falling right back on my butt. The feeling of vertigo stayed, even as Midnight Man let me go and reached into a pouch on his belt.

He produced a small, thin syringe filled with an opaque green fluid. “I’ve fought Lens Flare enough times to know what he’s capable of,” Midnight Man explained, tapping a finger against the syringe. “I’m not such a fool as to charge into battle with him without a plan, certainly not during the daytime, when his powers are at their peak.”

“Well, good to know the guy walking around in blue tights isn’t a total idiot,” I cracked. It was a lame joke, sure, but the pounding headache was making it hard to think.

“I had almost retrieved this syringe from my belt when you intervened,” Midnight Man continued, ignoring my snark. “I created this serum to temporarily cancel out Lens Flare’s powers. One dose and his little light show – not to mention his strength – would have been deep-sixed for around ten hours.”

By now, I was feeling so woozy that just paying attention to what Midnight Man was saying became a struggle. I’m not even sure how I can remember what he was telling me. At the time most of it sounded like he was talking with marbles in his mouth.

“Still,” he said, tucking the syringe away back into the pouch, “the stuff is disgustingly expensive to make, so I suppose I should thank you anyway. You saved me a decent amount of time and money even if you did go a bit overboard.”

He smiled gently, which isn’t something you really expect from someone nicknamed the “Soldier of Darkness.” It was a thin smile that curved more in one direction than the other, but even so it couldn’t really be called a grin.

“So if you’re worried about getting in trouble for this,” Midnight Man said, “you can relax. All things considered, you did good.”

“That’s a relief,” I half-said, half-slurred. I could feel my balance slipping, and my brain sluggishly registered the fact that I was absolutely about to faint, but it couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.

“That said, I’d like to talk with you in private about what just happened,” Midnight Man said. His head was turned in the direction of approaching sirens and alarms, and he was oblivious to my imminent collapse. “If this isn’t just a one-time thing, it would be prudent for you t”

That was the last thing I heard before my feet kicked out from under me and my vision went black.
 

Dorothy

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Issue Two

In my dream, I was flying.

Wind billowed in my face as I glided through the sky, occasionally lowering myself to run my fingers through the clouds as the sun radiated down, illuminating my entire existence. For the first time in a long time, I felt no fears, no worries, no anxieties. There was nothing but me and the sky.

Me, and the sky, and a woman who suddenly appeared to join me in my flight.

She was muscular and tall, and just from a glance I could tell that she carried herself with confidence and grace. Her presence was comforting, like I’d known her my entire life.

I looked more closely at this woman, my eyes traveling to meet hers, to see her face - only to see to my shock that she had no face. Where one should have been, the woman simply had a smooth, blank patch of dark skin.

I heard someone say my name, and the darkness returned.

I awoke with a start in a hospital bed, with sweat on my brow. The first thing I noticed was that I was not wearing a shirt, which struck me as odd since I didn’t remember taking my shirt off. The second thing I noticed was the fact that in place of my shirt, about a half-dozen electrodes were stuck to my arms and chest, all connected to a monitor next to me which was beeping at a fairly consistent rate.

So, I had a heartbeat. That was good news, I supposed.

The third thing I noticed is that wherever I was, I definitely didn’t recognize it. My memories of what had happened before I woke were fuzzy, sure, but I knew for a fact that this place – dimly-lit, with smooth black walls and slick marble floors – was no place I’d ever been.

My initial conclusion was that the government had kidnapped me for some nefarious experiment, which seems pretty dumb looking back, but when you wake up in a hospital bed somewhere you’ve never been with no memory of how you got there, logical thinking doesn’t tend to follow.

“Gotta get out of here,” I mumbled to no one in particular as I ripped the electrodes off of my body. The beeping ceased as if my heart had stopped, and as I realized that I had no idea how I was going to get out of this place, I felt like it might as well have.

I stumbled out of bed and took a few wobbly steps in what I assumed was the direction of the door. Half-naked, half-conscious, and lacking any sort of plan, I’m sure I’d have made a formidable opponent for whatever government goons stood between me and freedom. My great escape was halted, however, when from behind me a familiar voice spoke:

“The exit’s the other way, you know.”

My disoriented head turned to see Midnight Man standing over the bed. One hand rested on his hip, while the other held one of the electrodes, tapping the edge with a thumb.

“Minighmuh?” was all I could manage to say. My vision got spotty again, and as my knees began to wobble I realized that I was going to fall.

I wasn’t to fall for long, however. Even as my legs gave out from under me and I began to crumple onto the floor, I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye speeding toward me.
Impossibly fast, Midnight Man was at my side, catching me in his arms before my journey to the ground could be completed.

“Careful now,” he said in a gentle tone which didn’t quite seem to suit him. “First time’s always a doozy. I’m not surprised you’re still reeling from it.”

“First…” I winced. “What do you mean ‘first time?’”

“First time you manifested your powers,” Midnight Man answered. “Or at the very least, the first time you manifested them to such a degree, or for so long. You have a name, son?”

Midnight Man hefted me onto his shoulders and carried me back to the bed. Once he’d got me seated, he reaffixed the electrodes to my chest, and the machine started beeping again.

“Gabriel,” I said, after taking about thirty seconds to process everything he’d just said. It still took some effort to speak, but the headache was finally starting to pass. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about, okay? I don’t have any… any powers, and…” I looked around, and realized once again that I had no idea where I actually was. “And where are we?”

Midnight Man jabbed his thumb at the wall behind him. Across the cement, in large blue letters, was written the words MCCOY MEDICAL GROUP. “This is one of my safehouses,” Midnight Man explained. “I have about six in Philadelphia, and a few more across the country. The McCoy Medical Group, which helps fund me, set them up so that my allies and I always have a safe place to recuperate and access medical supplies if we need them.”

“A medical group seems like an unlikely sponsor for a vigilante,” I remarked.

Midnight Man gave a slight shrug, as if he were used to hearing such comments. “I have a great deal of medical skill myself,” he explained. “The McCoy Group saw value in sponsoring a superhero to help clean up its hometown.”


His expression suddenly turned solemn, and he fixed his gaze on me. Having Midnight Man staring directly at you with a frown on his face is a very unique situation, and not one I’d recommend trying. If I had to open up a haunted house, the only room it’d have would just contain Midnight Man staring directly at you with a frown on his face.

“But that’s enough about my corporate sponsors,” he said. “I brought you here to analyze and assess the powers you displayed yesterday.”

“I told you, I don’t – yesterday?” I said, startled.

“You were out for over twelve hours,” Midnight Man explained. He was observing a computer monitor, jotting the data rushing across its screen down on a notepad. “It’s a little past midnight.”

“Twelve hours?!” I repeated incredulously. The machine’s beeping sped up as my heart rate increased. I wasn’t anxious about anything in particular, but when you’re homeless, having twelve hours you can’t account for is usually a bad sign.

“I was expecting you to be out a bit longer than that, actually,” Midnight Man said, glancing over his shoulder back at me. “A first-time power manifestation at that level? That usually knocks rookies out for at least a day.”

“I already told you!” I protested angrily. Superhero or not, this guy’s constant babbling about some supposed “powers” was really starting to peeve me. My fingers curled tightly around the edge of the bed. “I don’t have any powers!”

Midnight Man turned around, his focus now entirely on me. His notepad was gone, and both hands rested on his hips. “If you don’t have any powers,” he asked with a hint of a smirk, “how do you explain what you did yesterday? Or what you’re doing right now?” He tilted his head towards my hands.

I looked down, and yelped in surprise when I saw what had happened. Completely unnoticed by myself, my fingers hadn’t stopped curling around the edge of the bed as I’d been chewing Midnight Man out. In fact, it was quite the opposite – somehow, the bed had given way to my grip, and where my hands had been the mattress and bed frame were warped and deformed.

“I- I didn’t know I could- I didn’t-….” I stammered, unsure why Midnight Man seemed so unfazed about the whole thing.

“You have power,” Midnight Man said firmly. “Judging by your current state of confusion, I’d say I’m correct in my assumption that yesterday was the first time this power has manifested itself, would you agree?”

I didn’t know what to say. I just nodded dumbly.

“And if you displayed that much power in just your first go-round,” Midnight Man continued, pacing back and forth in front of me, “you have the potential to grow even stronger. With the right training, you could grow into one of the greatest of this generation’s crime-fighters.”

I waved my hands in alarm. Now this guy was officially going over the line.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up!” I yelped. “What makes you think I want to be a part of any sort of superhero nonsense? Whatever you’re selling, man, I don’t want any part.” Again, I ripped the electrodes from my chest, hopped off the bed, and started making my way towards the exit. “I mean, thanks for patching me up and everything, but I’m not getting in over my head.”

“You need-“ Midnight Man called after me, but I wasn’t about to let him rope me into his crazy, dangerous world.

“What I need,” I interjected, “is to get out of here, find some food, and get back to my-”

“Your what?” Midnight Man barked, and the sheer force of his voice made me stop dead in my tracks and look back.

The superhero was glaring, arms folded across his chest. He looked at me expectantly. “Well?” he said. “Get back to your what, exactly? Your life on the streets? Scraping and struggling just to survive, living day-to-day with no idea of when your next meal will be? Not permitting yourself to think of anyone except you, because selflessness can get you killed out there?”

My face grew hot, and I balled my fists. Heedless of the fact that I was staring down one of the world’s most powerful superheroes, I shouted “you have no idea what I’ve-”

“I’m. Not. Finished.”

Each word was spoken with terrifying care and precision. With long, imposing strides, Midnight Man was inches from me almost before I could blink.

“I know much more than you think, Gabriel,” Midnight Man said lowly. All playfulness had abandoned his voice, and he was speaking to me the same way he’d spoken to Lens Flare. “You could go back to all that. I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop you.”

There was a pause as he allowed me to take his words in. Then, his lips tightened and he began to speak once more. “However. After what I saw yesterday, I know exactly what will happen to you if you decide to do so. Would you like me to tell you?”

I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. I nodded nervously.

“You rescued that girl,” Midnight Man said, “without any care for your own safety. You had no idea that you would even be able to save her, but you put yourself in danger anyway. You acted on instinct, and that instinct was to help others in need. That reveals more about your character than you might think.

“Now, you know you possess a great deal of power. Do you honestly believe you’ll be able to keep yourself from acting on that instinct again, and again, and again, in increasingly-dangerous circumstances?”

“I…” I found I had no words to argue with him.

“You won’t,” Midnight Man informed me bluntly. “You’ll try, and maybe you’ll find success for a few weeks, a couple months perhaps. But there are always people in trouble, and few know that better than the ones who live at street level. You’ll keep throwing yourself, and throwing yourself, and throwing yourself into danger, and eventually you’ll find yourself in a situation that’s too much for you to handle, and you will die, because you lack the training and resources to succeed in such circumstances. This is what will happen. I know this. And the reason I know this is because I have seen it happen countless times with countless kids. They get powers, try to strike out on a career in crimefighting, and unless they’re exceptionally gifted or lucky, they die. Most within a year.”

There was a lump in my throat, and all of a sudden the floor seemed like the most interesting thing in the world to stare at.

“There is, however, another way,” Midnight Man said after a pause that felt like an eternity. “Several years ago, I and other leading adventurers got together to find a solution to the problem of the mortality rate among superpowered youth, which by then had become a community crisis.”

“Leading adventurers?” I repeated. “You mean the Hero Brigade?”

The Hero Brigade was the foremost superhero group in the country. The name went back decades, to the original team formed by the Allied Powers during the Second World War to unite their costumed champions. The team’s current incarnation was formed in 2000 - and Midnight Man was a charter member.

Midnight Man frowned. “I try to avoid mentioning the name,” he said, “but yes. The Brigade’s Executive Committee agreed that it had become necessary, with so many young people developing powers who were not in situations which could provide them with proper training, to create an institution which would give them that training, and teach them the skills they would need to survive with their abilities. Eventually, it was decided that this facility should also provide standard schooling and residential services as well, to ensure the safety and privacy of trainees.”

“So… a school,” I said. “You made a school.”

“With a great deal of international funding, yes,” Midnight Man confirmed. “We made a school. The Kirby Beck Shuster Academy for Extraordinary Young People. On the record, a stunningly-exclusive, invitation-only private school. Off the record, the world’s premier facility for training young superheroes.”

“So what exactly happens at this school?” I asked hesitantly. “Not saying I’m going, but if I did, what could I expect?”

Midnight Man strode over to a computer and began typing. “You’d receive room and board free of charge, to start,” he said. “In terms of academics, you’d receive a standard high school education, plus classes designed to instill an understanding of the history and ethics of our profession, and classes designed to instill a theoretical understanding of your powers, how they work, and how to control them.”

I scoffed at that. “A theoretical understanding?” I said. “I’m, like… really strong. That’s not a theory.”

“Yet it would still be useful to you to understand the limits of that strength and how to use it effectively,” Midnight Man shot back, glancing over at me as his fingers kept tapping away. “To that end, you will also be organized into a team with five other students and assigned a mentor, who will train you in practical application of your power. In the spirit of competition, you will then compete with other teams in various contests throughout the school year, with the highest-ranked teams performing an exhibition match at the end of the year.”

I held up my hands. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, backing up a little. “You’re laying this all on a little fast - I don’t even know what all my powers even are.”

“I can make an educated guess,” Midnight Man said, finally taking a break from his typing. “I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Enhanced strength, speed, reflexes, durability. I’d put money on you being bulletproof. With your permission, I could verify.”

It took me a moment to realize what he meant, but when he did my eyes widened and I stumbled back as fast as my legs could carry me. “You want to shoot me?!” I exclaimed.

“With your permission,” Midnight Man insisted. As if realizing that I wasn’t following whatever logic he was cooking up in his head, he gestured around the room. “Gabriel, I’m a fully-qualified surgeon. Even if I’m wrong about your abilities - and I’m rarely wrong - I’d have you patched up and healed in no time at all.”

“You are not shooting me,” I insisted.

Midnight Man shrugged his shoulders, and for some reason, I got the sense that he had been messing with me the whole time. “That’s fine,” he said. “If you’d allow me, however, I’d like to take some blood and tissue samples. There’s a lot I can find out about your abilities by running a few simple tests.”

I chewed my lip. “That’s… fine,” I said. “If you think it will help.”


Midnight Man nodded. He walked over to a cabinet in the corner of the room and produced a needle and some vials. After tightening a tourniquet around my arm and tapping to find a vein, he brought down the needle and pushed it toward the vein…

...only for the needle to simply slide against and off of my skin. He tried again, with the same result.

Midnight Man’s eye-slits narrowed, and he made a thoughtful noise as he looked up at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied. “Just… reminded of something. Try relaxing. Take a deep breath. Grant the needle permission to pierce you.”

It seemed like nonsense to me, but I figured I’d give it a try. I took a deep breath in and then exhaled, envisioning the needle sliding into my skin. As I did, I felt a pinprick that told me it had actually done so. I looked away as the blood flowed out of me and into Midnight Man’s vial. After what had happened with Lens Flare, I’d had enough of blood for a while.

“By the way,” Midnight Man said as he drew my blood, “I nearly forgot to ask. Are you from around here, Gabriel?”

“For now,” I replied. “I’ve been moving all over the Northeast for the last few years. Originally, I’m from Burlington.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flash across Midnight Man’s face - some emotion I couldn’t quite place. Then it was gone, he was back to his usual stoic self.

Finally, it was done. Midnight Man withdrew the needle and put the vials in a small metal case for safekeeping, wiping off my wound with a cotton swab.

“This sort of bloodwork takes a while,” Midnight Man explained. “Working with superhuman blood is… a delicate process. I should have results within a few weeks. In the meantime, have you considered my offer?”

“You mean the school?” I asked.

Midnight Man simply nodded.

I chewed my lip. I barely knew I had powers, and now I was being asked to jump feet-first into all this superhero nonsense? I was doing fine on my own. I could keep doing fine on my own. There was no reason for me to get involved in all this noble altruistic mumbo-jumbo. I mean, with the kind of strength I had, I could have basically anything I wanted. This guy had been talking about my “instincts,” like he knew me. But he didn’t. What was to stop me from using my powers to make sure I never had another day of discomfort again?

Suddenly, the image of that little girl flashed in my mind. The fear in her eyes as the rubble fell towards her, and the gratitude in her smile after I saved her. I felt a thick lump in my throat.

Maybe Midnight Man had me pegged better than I thought.

“I’m… not saying it’s for sure,” I said, hedging. “But… if I did… I mean, where even is this school?”

Then, Midnight Man did something I never expected from him.

He smiled.

Not a grin, not a smirk, but a genuine, warm, almost paternal smile. It caught me off-guard, but I almost felt… comforted.

“Well, Gabriel,” Midnight Man said, placing his hands on his hips. “How do you feel about New York?”
 
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