- Heroes Reborn - Event Series
- Book 4: Catch and Kill
- Book 5: Save The Cheerleader, Destroy The World
- Book 6: A Long Way from Home
Heroes Reborn — Event Series
The Heroes Reborn event series consists of six short thrillers based on the fascinating characters and rich mythology of NBC’s world-wide hit TV series “Heroes”, and the highly anticipated “Heroes Reborn”. The new season picks up five years after the finale of the original series and finds those with special powers in a precarious and dangerous world where they are feared, persecuted and attacked.
Collection Two contains novellas No. 4—6 of Heroes Reborn.
Book 4: Duane Swierczynski — Catch and Kill
Book 5: Keith R. A. DeCandido — Save The Cheerleader, Destroy The World
Book 6: Kevin J. Anderson / Peter J. Wacks — A Long Way from Home
is pissed because, weirdly, the traffic is bumper to bumper. A shimmering sea of cars stretching all the way up I-75 to the horizon, as if everyone were driving straight into the sun.
It isn’t supposed to be this way. Not in this direction at this time of day. Luke squints, trying to make out the problem ahead. An accident? Lane closed due to construction? Or something worse? The only reason he’s driving is because Joanne’s jaw hurts. Usually she prefers to be the one behind the wheel. But Luke questioned the wisdom of driving one-handed while holding an ice pack to her face.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Can’t you find a way around this mess?” she asks. “We shouldn’t be stuck here like this.”
“There’s nowhere to go.”
Luke wishes traffic were moving for a number of reasons. For one, they really need to get out of Atlanta as quickly as possible. But it would also give him something to do other than replay the last hour in his mind over and over again, wondering if they missed something.
Memory’s a tricky thing. After a while, you can’t be sure if you’re inventing certain details, maybe subtracting others. Even now, his memories of that frenzied, 10-minute span inside the Shelby house seem to contradict one another.
And that uncertainty triggers his obsession with all the tiny forensic details. Luke can’t help it; he’s a detail man. Always has been. Seeing the little things everyone else misses has always been the key to his success. Some of his patients, he knows, come to see him instead of an M.D. If something’s going wrong in the rest of the body, Luke is almost always able to see the earliest indications somewhere in the mouth. He’s sort of a modern-day soothsayer with a D.D.S. A toothsayer.
So where’s that keen eye for detail now? Come on, think, buddy. You’ve got nothing better to do. You’re stuck in traffic.
The wife—did she bite one of them? Scratch her nails across his arm?
Did Luke step through the remnants of dinner and leave a boot print?
Sure, they set everything on fire. But would fire be enough to erase all the traces of those they left behind?
The car ahead of them lunges forward a few feet, then stops dead. Then it begins to roll forward a few more feet, and a few more. Luke grows hopeful. Here we go. Finally. But then, without warning, the taillights flash deep red and Luke stomps on the brake a little too hard. Joanne bucks in her seat. Almost immediately her hand goes to her mouth.
They crawl forward another few feet, then slam to another halt. This is insane. This is purgatory on asphalt. This, Luke thinks, will never, ever end.
“I was wondering,” Luke finally says.
“If we forgot something. You know, back at the Shelby house.”
“What do you mean, forgot something?”
Luke can hear the annoyance build in her voice. She hates it when he dances around the point. So he comes out and says it.
“I mean something forensic. Like a hair, or skin under fingernails.”
“The bitch didn’t claw at me. She got in a lucky punch.”
It was a frenzied couple of minutes, that’s for sure. The idea was to catch the Shelbys right before they sat down to dinner. If somebody was going to kill us, when would they do it? Joanne had asked. Luke had understood what she was getting at right away. The best time to kill a distracted, childless couple is in the hurried time between arriving home from work and preparing dinner.
So the two of them watched the Shelbys long enough to establish their pattern. They both arrived home between 5:45 and 6 p.m. The wife would open a bottle of wine or mix a pitcher of martinis while the husband took care of dinner—which either meant pulling something from the freezer and microwaving it or ordering something online. This meant that dinner a.) would be ready within ten minutes or b.) would not arrive before 6:30 at the earliest. Which was a generous window of time, considering most murders barely stretch beyond the 10-second mark.
Tonight had been a wine-and-microwaved meal kind of night. Joanne knocked on the front door, doing her best to look like a concerned neighbor, while Luke went around back to the deck that led up from the pool area right to the kitchen. The distraction, and then the kill.
The husband was the Evo. The rumor was that he could manipulate microwave and cell-phone radiation and wireless signals. He liked to impress people with his tricks at cocktail parties and barbecues, which is how Luke and Joanne first heard about him.
(Pro-tip: if you’re an Evo, don’t show off to friends with Facebook accounts. No matter how cool you think you are.)
And sure enough, there he was, standing in his fancy kitchen, his hands stretched out palms down over a frozen dinner resting on the counter. He looked like a faith healer trying to exorcise demons from his supper—eyes closed, hands trembling a little. The creepy thing was, the dinner was cooking under his hands. Plastic cover trembling, sauce bubbling. Luke could smell the heavy aroma of cheese, even through the glass.
Luke saw the box on the counter and noticed that the couple was eating vegetarian tonight. Pasta, brie, and asparagus. Trying to keep the middle-aged flab off, he supposed. Well, consider the battle won. You two won’t gain another pound.
Especially after you’re brain-dead.
The hit went off just as planned—at first. Joanne knocked, distracting the wife, sending her to the front door. The moment she walked away, Luke slid open the deck door, startling Mr. Microwave. His hands shifted away from the frozen dinner, and the surface of the counter beneath them began to ripple.
Luke lifted his gun and fired twice—two chest shots—before the guy could even think about raising his mitts and sending some of that heat Luke’s way.
The double impact of the bullets sent the husband flying backwards. He reached out towards his half-cooked supper as though it might save him. His fingers caught the edge of the plastic tray and pulled it off the counter, sending cold pasta and congealed brie flying. Meanwhile, he smacked the back of his head on the edge of the Formica countertop on his way down. His body landed among the remains of his intended meal.
Dinner’s ready, honey.
Mrs. Shelby, however, was much more quick-witted than her husband. She’d just opened the front door when the shots rang out. The plan was for Joanne to do the same to the wife—take her out with two torso shots. But before Joanne could lift her gun, the wife slammed the door shut in her face. Joanne pulled the trigger anyway, firing through the door, with no way of knowing whether the bullets had found their target.
She lowered her gun and blasted apart the doorknob, then kicked the door in.
The wife was waiting for her.
Knocked the gun out of her grip with one hand, then landed a lucky punch on the left side of Joanne’s jaw. Which just pissed her off. This Evo-harboring bitch was going down.
But Luke had already cleared the distance between the kitchen and the living room. He took out Mrs. Shelby with a shot to the chest, and one more to the head just to be sure. As far as they knew, Mrs. Shelby didn’t have any powers. But that might just mean she was better at hiding them.
Five minutes later the house was on fire and Luke and Joanne were peeling away from the scene of the crime … right into hideous traffic on I-75.
So the double murder is fresh in his mind as they inch along the highway. Luke feels no remorse about the Shelbys. Maybe they were perfectly nice people, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were too dangerous to be allowed to live.
But because the hit went a little sideways, he finds himself endlessly picking over each moment. In his haste to reach the wife, did he step through some of that brie and pasta crap on the linoleum floor? Perhaps even leave a useable shoe print that the police could trace back to him?
(No, the fire would take care of that … right?)
Round and round he goes until the sound of panic in Joanne’s voice snaps him out of it.
“Oh, bloody hell,” she says.
She’s craning her neck out the window to see down the road, but Luke’s view is obstructed by a delivery van.
“What is it? I can’t see …”
“A police checkpoint.”
“Oh shit. Already? How is that even possible?”
“Calm down,” she says. “We don’t know it’s for us.”
“Should I try to find an exit?”
Joanne looks. “There are no exits. Besides, that would look more than a little suspicious, don’t you think? Careening through traffic in a desperate bolt for a ramp?”
“Maybe one of us really has to use the bathroom … Aw, shit! This is not good. Not good at all.”
“Will you calm down?”
As they edge towards the checkpoint—Luke can see it now—it’s impossible for him to remain calm. On the plus side, he’s no longer obsessing over the crime scene. Instead, he finds himself imagining ways they might escape a police checkpoint. There was the ram-our-way-through method, in the hope that the cops haven’t set up strips of spikes on the asphalt. There was also the shoot-our-way-out method, though they’d almost certainly be outmanned and outgunned.
Or there was simply surrender and arrest. But that wasn’t a real option, because that would be admitting that everything—including his marriage—was over. This road trip is the only thing keeping it together.
“We’ve got to do something,” Luke says.
“Just wait until we’re closer,” Joanne says. “See what we’re up against.”
“We’re up against the police, that’s what we’re up against!”
But as they inch closer, they see that isn’t quite the case. Sure, it’s technically the Atlanta PD bringing traffic to a crawl. And they’re stopping every third car—or fourth. The selection seems random.
Each cop, however, is accompanied by a worker in a lab coat holding a pouch of sterile swabs. A window goes down, and the lab rat hands the cotton swab to the driver—and the passengers, if any are present. Then the swab is handed back to check the result. The test seems to work fast.
The test to see if anyone traveling along this highway happens to be an Evo.
“What are they doing?” Joanne asks.
“I’ve read about this,” Luke says. “They’ve just started doing it in major cities. Random searches for Evos.”
“They can tell that with a swab of your cheek now, huh?”
“Yeah. I wish we could get a hold of some of those testing kits. It would make our job a lot easier.”
Job. As if this is what they do for a living.
In a sense, though, it is.
They lurch forward, three car lengths at a time, then one, then three again, since the cops only seem to be stopping every third or fourth car. They were probably told to make it random, but Luke can already tell that they’ve fallen into a predictable pattern. And with some quick counting, he realizes they’ll probably be fine.
And they are. They pass through the checkpoint without a swab or even a lingering stare. No one suspects a thing. A cop waves them on. Luke stares at the boxes of Evo tests piled up on the side of the road, wishing he could grab one or two.
They continue up the highway. All of Luke’s fretting about being arrested was for nothing.
Of course, the point isn’t merely to stay free.
The point is to stay free so they can find their next target.
is late for work.
She doesn’t know she’s the Target. To her, she’s just another 16-year-old high school junior who—unless she pulls off a miracle in the next few minutes—is going to be looking for another after-school job in the near future.
Mr. Baraniuk made that much clear during her last “employee evaluation.” If she’s late one more time, even by a single minute, she’s gone. And she can pretty much forget about a recommendation.
Right now it’s 60 seconds until Mr. Baraniuk will be expecting her to appear in front of him, ready to don her apron and dish out candy by the pound to the working folks and tourists who stumble off Euclid Avenue looking for a sugar fix.
Baraniuk’s Sweet Shoppe is inside Cleveland’s famed Arcade Building, built in 1890 as the first indoor shopping mall in America. (It’s true; the Target wrote a school report on it last year.) The Arcade is one of her favorite things about the city—well, when she isn’t running late. Five stories of Victorian splendor, with four balconies and a skylight that makes you stop and stare. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Cleveland.
The only problem with this century-old marvel is that there are only two entrances: one on Euclid, and the other on Superior.
And right this second—55 seconds before she’s officially late and officially fired—the Target is equidistant from both entrances.
If by some miracle, everything on the block ceased to exist except for the Target and the Sweet Shoppe, then she could make it to work with enough time to strap on her red-and-white checked apron and force out a smile.
But between her location and the Sweet Shoppe there are a series of empty storefronts, victims of the economic downturn. Dusty mannequins, nicked wooden counters, forgotten signs about sales that happened years ago. Try plowing through that. You’d need a sledgehammer, a blowtorch, and a bulldozer.
The thing is, the Target knows she can pull off a miracle. At least, a miracle by most people’s definition.
But she promised herself a while back, after all of the stuff about Evos went public: no more miracles.
Right now, though, does she have a choice?
So the Target runs straight for the wall … and goes straight through it. To the outside observer, it would look like someone running into a shadow and disappearing. Only, this shadow is made of solid brick.
There’s more to it than that, to be sure. But the Target doesn’t know how to explain it, or even the basic mechanics of how she does it. Last year, she cautiously asked her science teacher, Ms. Procaccia, about the physics, of, you know, stuff going through stuff.
Ms. Procaccia explained that no object is truly solid. In fact, everything you see is mostly empty space between atoms. That said, the way those atoms are arranged prevents objects from flowing through each other. “Otherwise,” her teacher said with a smirk, “our bodies would fall right through the classroom floor and into the basement.”
Oh, how the Target was tempted to plunge her fists through Ms. Procaccia’s desk and say, You mean like this?
How does the Target not fall through the floor? She doesn’t know that, either. Her body seems perfectly normal and solid most of the time. But when she means it, when her mind is focused on it—just like you focus when you want to pick up a paper clip—she can pass through things like a wall or a door or even a concrete slab with ease.
What does she feel? Butterflies in her stomach and a slight tingling all over her body. But nothing nasty or unpleasant. Rollercoasters are far worse in comparison.
But here’s the thing.
And it’s an important thing.
(There’s always a thing, isn’t there?)
The Target can’t pass through a living person—or any living thing, for that matter. No humans, no animals, no plant life. Once she walked through a tree in the wood, just to see what would happen. (Wood happen, ha ha.) Nothing at first. But when she visited the same spot a week later, the tree was dead and in the process of falling over. Sorry, tree.
No living things—check.
The Target does everything in her power to avoid them when phasing (that’s what she calls it) through objects. She may be an Evo, but she’s no killer.
So when she emerges from a wall in a part of the Arcade that’s always empty—it’s a little alcove that used to lead to another store, but has been abandoned for years—she’s utterly horrified to find someone standing in the way.
She doesn’t have the time to register who might be standing there. All she can do is contort her body like crazy to avoid them.
And for the most part, she does. (Chalk it up to another miracle.)
Except part of her elbow passes through the stranger’s wrist. There’s a horrible crunching noise as the intricate arrangement of bones are rudely snapped out of place. The man—now she sees that it’s a man standing there, an older man—howls in agony, looking down at his hand, and then up at The Target. His mouth is screaming, but his eyes are questioning, as if to ask, Now where in the hell did you come from?
The Target can only skid to an awkward halt and mouth, I’m so sorry!
But the older man is already in shock by this point, collapsing to the ground in a messy heap.
A crowd quickly gathers around to see what the fuss is about. There are cell phones aloft, taking video, just in case this is the start of some disaster or outbreak. Or because it’s fun to post human misery online. Nothing ever really happens unless it appears on YouTube.
The Target is so shaken up that she walks into the Sweet Shoppe a full two minutes late. Her boss is true to his word. She gets fired.
and Luke settle on a reasonable chain hotel in Knoxville for the night, enduring the withering stare of the proprietor. Yeah, I’m black. I know that’s a crime these days, especially around these parts, but all I want is a place to crash with my husband. I’ve had a long day, which included the double-murder of a nice suburban couple back in Atlanta, so why don’t you give me a bloody break?
Joanne’s dead tired; she admits that.
Plus her jaw is killing her. Ordinarily she’s stoic about things like this. If women have double the pain threshold of men, then Joanne has the pain threshold of a half-dozen women. Even natural childbirth left her wondering—is this what all the fuss is about?
But mouth pain, that’s something else entirely.
Especially when she tries to chew a lousy Caesar salad in a diner near their hotel. With every bite, the pain centers in her brain light up like a carnival display.
“You should let me take a look at that,” Luke finally says.
“I’ll be fine,” she says. “Just let me eat.”
“You can hardly eat, and you haven’t had anything all day.”
“I hate killing on a full stomach.”
Luke looks like he wants to shush her, but then smiles instead. Gallows humor is the only kind they share these days.
Back at the room Luke finally convinces her to let him take a look. This is what he does for a living, after all. He pulls out his black dental kit and takes out a mouth mirror. Shows it to her to reassure her.
“See, nothing else, no picks, no probes, just a mirror. Let me have a look.”
Joanne still can’t believe she fell in love with a dentist. To be sure, the stability of his profession was an attraction—she’d been with too many mooches and layabouts, so a guy who picked up the tab was a refreshing change. Let alone a guy who paid his taxes and laundered his own clothing on a regular basis. It felt good.
“Open wide,” he says.
The very act of opening her jaw even a little, however, sends paroxysms of pain throughout her entire face.
“Shhhh now … Ah, I see what happened. One of your crowns was knocked loose. Hold on a second. This won’t take long at all.”
“This might hurt a bit …”
Anyone messing with her teeth, even when it’s her husband, takes Joanne back to when she was a frightened little girl at the mercy of a dental surgeon with the DTs. To her, there is no worse pain than what can be inflicted on the teeth. (She couldn’t even bring herself to finish Marathon Man—one of Luke’s favorite movies, naturally. All dentists love that movie.)
And like that, Luke has worked his magic, set things right, and she feels the pain recede with every breath. She reaches up and grabs his wrist, squeezes it. Luke smiles, puts down his tools, caresses her face. She closes her eyes and smiles back, then holds his hand tighter against her face, as if it’s a heating compress. He sighs.
But Luke, as usual, is mistaking her touch for affection, and the truth is, she can’t bear to look at him right now. Joanne would clench her teeth if they didn’t still hurt. She wants to scream and lash out, sending all her deep reserves of pain out into the world. She can’t do that, because she’d end up seriously hurting her husband.
So instead she decides to vent her rage another way.
She rips off his belt, pops a button before he finally understands what she’s doing. He’s about to ask, Are you sure?, so she pulls his face closer, as if to tell him, Yes, I’m sure. Luke blindly fumbles at her clothes, but she’s already ahead of him. This is no time for a striptease. This is about shedding garments as quickly as possible.
She feels his skin under her nails and tears at it as if she were digging her nails into her own flesh.
doesn’t know what the hell that was all about.
When’s the last time we acted like drunk teenagers? Luke can’t remember. The mission is everything. They’ve become like the worst kind of married couple, where everything fades away except for the business at the end. For most people, that means grappling with mortgages and credit-card debt and children’s schedules. Luke and Joanne have no debt; their only child no longer has a schedule. So all that’s left are the executions. That’s their business now.
Luke sees the whole thing as a weird extension of his previous career. Dentists are widely feared—even more than cardiac surgeons who can crank open your ribcage to screw around with your heart, or neurosurgeons who can saw through your skull to play with your gray matter. Think about it: what those butchers do is far more ghastly. Yet, dentists are seen as the sadists.
It isn’t about sadism, though. Not for Luke. His career as a dentist has been all about removing the unhealthy parts of a system so that the whole can thrive. No different than a diseased tooth. Evos are abscesses—infections at the root of humanity. Left unattended, the disease could spread until the whole mouth is at risk. Why would you forfeit the whole, when a little fix could save everything?
What happened to their boy, Dennis, made that painfully, horribly clear.
Now Luke and Joanne are resting in bed with the TV on. A mindless distraction so they don’t have to deal with the sudden silence in the room. There are no fancy channels; just the usual network fare. Supernatural shows, edgy sit-coms, procedurals, reality shows.
But as the reality shows give way to the national news, one of the top stories turns out to be the Shelby double-murder. Just as Luke feared.
“What is it?” Joanne asks, half-mumbling. The brutal sex has made her sleepy.
Oh, it all makes sense. Affluent couple, “savagely butchered” in their own home. But neighbors talk. Rumors about Mr. Shelby, claiming he was not quite what he appeared to be.
“Shit,” Luke says again. “They’re going to connect the dots. I told you this couldn’t last forever. Sooner or later someone’s going to-”
“Shhh,” Joanne says, fully awake now, “I’m trying to listen.”
A neighbor of the Shelbys from the down the street dares to speak the word out loud. “I think he was an Evo.”
“Wonderful,” Luke says.
The reporter continues:
“And sources close to the investigation believe this double-murder could be the work of …
Luke stops breathing and waits for it. Waits for the reporter to say that some kind of forensic evidence has been left behind, which in turn has led the police to other similar crimes throughout the southeastern U.S. Maybe they’ve gone so far as to capture some of their movements on surveillance cameras. Or even discover their identities. Hell, maybe right now they’re breaking down the front door of their home in Buffalo …
“ … the terrorist Mohinder Suresh.”
Luke knows he should be relieved that their identities haven’t been revealed. But something about it bothers him.
Mohinder Suresh hasn’t driven around for hundreds of miles. Mohinder Suresh hasn’t spent endless nights doing surveillance. Mohinder Suresh hasn’t kicked down those doors, or pulled the triggers.
Mohinder Suresh. Please.
And forget worrying about this stuff. He’s been driving himself crazy for nothing.
“Why should we even bother cleaning up after ourselves?” Luke asks. “They’re going to credit it all to this Suresh guy anyway. In fact, we should start leaving notes. ‘You’re welcome, world. Love, Mohinder.’”
“Forget it,” Joanne says. “How is this not a good thing? We’re not looking for fame. Have you forgotten why we’re doing this?”
Of course Luke hasn’t forgotten.
“Meanwhile,” Joanne continues, “we need to find a new target.”
“What about L.A.? That El Vengador idiot is all but begging for someone to show up and put the barrel of a shotgun between the eye holes on his stupid mask.”
“All the way out west for one Evo?” Joanne asks. “A waste of time. Plenty of them to deal with here. There are probably a dozen right here in Knoxville we don’t know about.”
“Sure. But you know how hard it is to flush them out. They’re all frightened and have battened down the hatches.”
Which makes their mission all the more difficult. It’s tough hunting monsters who look like ordinary people. Their hunt is based on Internet rumors and clues on social media, followed by laborious detective work.
Before June 13th, plenty of people posted videos of their alleged powers. But after that horrible day, everything was pulled down. Real leads are few and far between.
“We’ll find more,” Joanne says. “We always do.”
“I wish we could get our hands on some of those swab kits. Sure would save us a lot of trouble.”
Joanne pours herself a second nightcap, offers Luke one. He declines—booze is the last thing he needs right now—and climbs out of bed. He’s still too keyed-up to sleep. Besides, before long it’ll be 3 a.m. and he’ll be staring the ceiling, thinking about ways to find their next target, hoping to give Joanne something to look forward to. Without a target in their sights, she tends to get morose. Conversation withers. It’s like being married to a zombie. So why put it off?
Joanne puts herself to bed with whiskey. Lucky her. Luke ends up staying awake all night, furiously tapping on their laptop.
realizes that her life as she knows it is totally over.
Oh, God, is it over.
Being fired on the spot—after a lengthy and humiliating interlude of begging, all with the sickly scent of chocolate in the air—was bad enough. The Target had prided herself on being gainfully employed, just like her older brothers before her. They were able to maintain decent grade-point averages and sock away cash for community college. Her mother and grandmother expect the same from her.
So having to explain to her mom why she was home early will be spectacularly shitty. I can’t afford to support you, too! her mother will yell. Why are you doing this to me? Mom rarely considers anything outside of her own needs to be important; she’s a narcissist supreme. (The Target had learned the term this year in psychology class; it’s the most useful thing she’s ever learned in school.)
And then there’s the mountain of homework she has to plow through. (Though she has to admit, she’s kind of digging this week’s assigned reading—Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.) Teachers never seem to care about how much work their colleagues assign; they act as if they were the only teachers in the universe. The Target supposes that they’re world-class narcissists, too.
This day has sucked hard.
She can’t stop thinking about that poor old man. Hopefully someone got him to a hospital, set his wrist.
The tree’s on her mind, too. She’s murdered a tree and an old man’s wrist. Maybe the TV news is right. Maybe Evos should be stopped.
To give herself a little mental break, she pushes her assignments aside and checks out YouTube for a while, mindlessly surfing from one video to the next. Some Lana Del Rey—her personal idol, and the only person who seems to get how truly dark it is out there. This, of course, leads to Lana Del Rey tribute videos featuring girls who fancy themselves decent singers (um, no). Which leads to kids goofing around, taking a “yoga challenge” in their parents’ living room with predictably destructive results. Kids unboxing electronic gadgets. Kids eating giant bowls of ramen noodles. Kids doing homework, just like the Target is supposed to be doing. Kids with normal lives, who probably hadn’t assaulted a senior citizen this afternoon.
Then she sees her friends on Twitter buzzing about a certain video filmed that day in Cleveland, so of course she clicks over to check it out.
And oh, God, is she sorry the moment she clicks the play button.
Her entire soul goes numb. It’s like someone filmed her most secret, most intimate thoughts and then projected them on giant screens all over the planet.
She can’t believe she was stupid enough to use her powers in public again.
And she can’t believe someone just happened to be recording when she did.
So now she’s barricaded herself in the half-bathroom downstairs near the mud room, cell phone in hand. She doesn’t want to watch it again, but she presses the little triangle anyway. Maybe if she plays it again, she’ll wake up and realize that this was all a bad dream, that a new school day was ahead of her and she still had her stupid job at the Sweet Shoppe.
No such luck.
The video plays.
The grainy, jittery clip had been shot with a cell-phone camera. It’s super-shaky, in fact, and the quality isn’t too good. There’s a sweep of the first level of the Cleveland Arcade.
And boom, there she goes, popping out of the wall. She sees the instant shock on her own face as she realizes she’s about to collide with the old man. Look how her body contorts to avoid that collision! (See, at least she was trying to do the right thing.) And then, finally, the awful moment where the man’s wrist breaks and she spins around, horrified, but keeps on running because she doesn’t know what else to do except try to make it to work on time.
The Target can’t believe it’s up there for the whole city (the whole world!) to see. Who was the person holding that cell phone? No idea, because he or she didn’t turn it around for a reaction shot. Not even a little selfie moment. The action was focused on the Target and that old man.
The account appears to be new (almost zero subscribers, and no other videos), and the handle is completely unfamiliar—COFFIN77. The one reassuring thing is that it can’t be somebody the Target knows—otherwise, they would have posted her name, right?
The not-so-reassuring thing is that handle. COFFIN. One of her favorite movies of all time is David Fincher’s Zodiac. She absolutely loves the cat-and-mouse aspect of it. The letters, the clues, the manhunt … but most of all, the name the killer chose for himself, which is so deliciously creepy.
Now, though, it feels weird, being on the other side of the equation. COFFIN. Ugh. Who would call themselves COFFIN?
Did that mean they wanted to put her inside one?
hears a voice shouting at her, as if from the bottom of a deep, dark well:
“Holy shit, honey, you’ve got to see this!”
Joanne doesn’t know who’s speaking to her, but she knows the owner of that voice will soon be dead. No one would be stupid enough to wake her up like this, by shouting at her.
“Joanne, come here.”
Oh. Her husband. That’s who’s speaking to her. Luke Collins is extremely lucky that he’s married to her; otherwise, she’d be forced to blow his brains out.
As Joanne rubs the haze out of her eyes, she sees that her husband is on the laptop, still wearing the same clothes as last night—ripped shirt and all.
“You been up all night on that thing?” Joanne asks. “What, were you surfing porn?”
“You’ve got to see this. It was posted online just a few hours ago. I think it’s legit.”
Luke brings the laptop over to the bed, props it up on her belly, and then presses play on a YouTube clip. One minute, it’s just an ordinary mall. The next, a teenager materializes out of the wall, bumping into an elderly shopper who starts howling in agony.
“Eh?” Luke asks.
“What the hell is that supposed to be?”
“Here, watch it again.”
“No, what I’m saying is that it could be a fake,” Joanne says. “We’ve seen plenty of those before—kids looking for attention. Remember that little jerk who pretended he could defy gravity, but it turned out he was just using special effects? I wanted to wring his neck, even if he wasn’t an Evo.”
“I thought the same thing, too. But look at the guy, the one she bumps into. For one thing, he’s in his 70s. Does he seem like the type to join a bunch of teenagers in pulling a prank?”
“Could be. Lots of bored adults out there. But even if it is real, it’s an anonymous post. Impossible for us to track down whoever made it. Or where it was filmed.”
“But that’s what I’ve been doing all night. Pinning down the location. It was killing me, but then it finally clicked.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
Luke reminds her that he attended a dental convention there back in 2012, and the convention hotel was part of something called the Arcade.
“It’s the fanciest mall I’ve ever seen—right out of the Victorian era. So when I saw that clip, I knew I recognized the place. I just had to wrack my brains until I remembered.”
Joanne feels that tingle again. The thrill of the hunt. She put herself to bed with booze last night because there was nothing to look forward to—not after the Shelby killings. Part of her wouldn’t have minded if she never woke up again.
But she has to admit, this sounds good. Though she doesn’t want her husband to know she can be won over that easily.
“You should get some sleep,” she says.
“Cleveland is only six hours away. We can be there by mid-afternoon if we hurry up, shower, and leave soon.”
“You want to go to Cleveland and what, hope to run into this girl? That’s ludicrous.”
“This video was posted just last night. It’s the best chance we have. You know I’m good at this stuff.”
Joanne has to admit, in his own nerdy, determined way, Luke is kind of good at this stuff.
Still, a wife should never let her husband enjoy an easy victory.
“I don’t know,” Joanne says. “I was sort of coming around to the idea of a long drive to L.A.”
“Come on,” Luke says. “The rust belt is lovely this time of year.”
wants to gag because breakfast is pan-fried greasy pork sausage. Fried eggs, sunny-side up (sort of). Hard toast, with Great Lake-sized pools of butter floating on the surface.
If this world doesn’t kill her first, her grandmother’s cooking will.
As usual, the Target politely begs off and searches the fridge for orange juice. Something that won’t instantly clog her veins.
“That can’t be all you’re having,” her grandma says.
“Grandma, for real?”
“You need a good breakfast before school.”
The Target sighs. This is all she ever has, first thing in the morning. Her grandmother knows that. But every morning, she tries to feed her fried meat and carbs anyway. The old grande dame is used to cooking for a house full of hungry people. But with Mom working nights and her brothers in their own places now, the Target is the only person at the breakfast table most mornings.
Her grandmother is now faced with more food than she knows what to do with. As usual, she’ll pack it up and take it over to their next-door neighbors, who have a gaggle of hungry kids. But the trip over there can wait. Grandma sits down and turns on the morning news.
Which stops the Target’s heart all over again.
That’s because the lead story is about a double-murder in Atlanta—a suspected Evo hate crime. And the likely assassin, “authorities say”: Mohinder Suresh, the genetics professor-turned-terrorist.
A.k.a. the Boogeyman.
The whole thing with Mohinder Suresh confuses the Target. At first, he was supposed to be on the Evos’ side—right? But now he’s supposedly hunting them down? Whatever. You can’t trust the media; it’s just one more lie heaped on a mountain of them. The only thing you can trust, the Target believes, is seeing something with your own eyes.
Anyway, the Target knows that the idea of Mohinder Suresh coming after her personally is unlikely. There are hundreds, probably thousands of Evos hiding out across the country. And like anyone who’s about to take a plane right after news of a horrific airline crash, she’s probably suffering from crazy-irrational fears.
But what if this Mohinder Suresh sees the clip online and comes looking for her? Sure, there are hundreds—probably—thousands of Evos out there … but how many have been stupid enough to let someone catch them using their powers in public?
There are some things you can’t fix. Like the way you’re born. Your genetic makeup. Your gender. Whether or not you have powers.
But there are some things you can control.
The Target finishes her orange juice and walks the glass over to the sink. She looks down at the steaming breakfast she isn’t going to eat and makes up her mind.
She needs to find out who posted the clip—and force them to take it down, no matter what.
thinks Cleveland is ugly, dirty, and dying. It’s a classic Rust-Belt town where the boom is two full generations in the past and the outlook for the future is bleak at best. People stay because they can’t imagine a life anywhere else.
Which, of course, reminds him of home.
Luke does the navigation thing while Joanne drives. He’s been here before, but never in a car. They arrive just before rush hour, but end up caught in traffic anyway. Which is frustrating. Many of the Arcade shops close at 6 p.m., so if they don’t make it there soon, their hunt will be delayed until tomorrow. Luke knows Joanne doesn’t want to waste another night in a local hotel. She’s not even fully convinced the online clip is real.
“There has to be a better way,” she says, glaring at the traffic through the windshield.
“No, I-79 will get us downtown fairly quick,” Luke says. “Trust me, when the traffic starts moving …”
“No, not that. I mean finding Evos. What if we did manage to steal a bunch of those swabs the cops had at the checkpoint? It would make our hunt a lot simpler.”
“How? I know I said we should steal those kits, but I don’t see how we could use them. Unless we walk up to random strangers and ask if they wouldn’t mind us poking around in their mouths.”
“You’re a dentist, duh. We could set up a free clinic.”
“Sure,” Luke says. “And after maybe a thousand free teeth cleanings, we’ll run across the one dude who can fly.”
“His mouth’s already open,” Joanne says. “Wouldn’t take much to kill him. The right amount of nitrous oxide, and-”
She makes a POOF sound with her mouth that Luke finds strangely erotic. This is the freakish state of their marriage: snuffing out a life has become a turn-on. More gallows humor.
“Well,” Luke says, “until we track down a truckload of Evo swabs, I say we stick to the plan at hand.”
Joanne repeats the POOF noise, as if she can somehow sense this gets a rise out of him. She doesn’t smile much these days, but he knows this is her version of kidding around.
They make it to the Cleveland Arcade by 5:35. The hallways are bustling with the after-work crowd, people running last-minute errands before the commute home. Luke glances around at the couples, feelings alternating between envy and pity. Envy because maybe they have kids waiting for them at home, and there will be dinner and video games to play and jokes to be had.
Pity because they don’t know the real threat out there—the monsters that could bring civilization to a crashing halt.
They pose as grief-stricken parents looking for their missing daughter. All they have is the best still from the YouTube clip, zoomed in on the Target’s pixelated face. The good news is that the race of the girl is somewhat indeterminate. Luke and Joanne could very well be her parents, even though they’re different races.
The bad news is that the race of the girl is somewhat indeterminate, so they really don’t know much about who they’re hunting. If someone asks, “Is she light-skinned?”, they’ll have to fake it.
Nobody seems to recognize the girl. Some people don’t even bother looking—they’re too wrapped up in their own personal dramas, or are worried about being the victim of some kind of sales pitch or scam. (Luke can’t blame them. He was the same way, back when he had a normal life.)
But they know from experience that older Americans are more open to such questions. At the very least, the elderly like to have someone paying attention to them.
At about five minutes until six, they finally strike minor pay dirt.
An old woman, liver spots all over her face and hands, looks at the photo, looks at Luke and Joanne, looks at the photo, then finally says, “Doesn’t she work at the candy shop?”
types a frantic message:
I am a friend of the person in that video. Please take it down right away, it’s very important.
She types this on a computer at the school library a minute after it opens. This is the only place where she’s (reasonably) sure she can keep things anonymous. A school IP, paired with an email anonymizer service (she likes Hide Me), should be enough. Chances are, this creep with the cell phone is just some anonymous dude who doesn’t know her name. She doesn’t want to inadvertently out herself.
The only problem is, she needs to keep making excuses to go visit the library to see if there’s any response from
After first period, she run-walks back to the library, which is in the opposite direction of her next class. But she can log on quick, see if there’s a reply, then double back to class—and who cares if she’s a little late? It’s not as if she’s going to get fired from school.
But all the computers are occupied, and the same goes after second period. This is so. Damn. Frustrating!
So the Target decides to take a chance and check Hide Me from her phone. He won’t be able to track her through her phone, will he?
She’s just going to have to take that chance.
And after signing in …
Maybe the guy (or girl!) has already forwarded the clip to Mohinder Suresh. For all she knows, there’s a national tip line to rat out suspected Evos. There could be a S.W.A.T. team scrambling for Cleveland right now, looking for that silly girl who broke an old man’s wrist after walking straight through a wall.
School drags on … forevvvvverrrrrr.
When the end of the day finally arrives, however, the Target feels weird about heading straight home, where her Mom will probably take the opportunity to tell her how much she’s ruining her life. Usually, she’s racing for the Arcade, running like hell for the bus that will take her to Euclid Avenue—a bus that’s almost always behind schedule, leaving the Target behind schedule, too.
Then it occurs to her: why not go there anyway?
Think about it: the person she’s looking for (this COFFIN77 asshole) was almost certainly there, shooting video on their cell phone. Maybe they’re always at the Arcade, hanging out. Maybe they just got lucky while shooting random shit.
And maybe if COFFIN77 recognizes her, it’ll show in their eyes. And then the Target will finally know their identity.
Or at least, their face. And then maybe she could force this person to take down the video immediately.
It’s worth the risk …
says the name to herself,
That’s their target? Seriously? She sounds like a bored Cleveland housewife, not an Evo who can walk through walls.
But the owner of the candy store confirmed her identity, and even seemed to be glad to rat her out. Apparently she worked at the store until yesterday, when she arrived late (“for the goddamned last time,” the cranky old bastard told them). Joanne knew their “worried parents” routine wouldn’t fly with this guy, so instead they presented themselves as truant officers. The candy-shop owner didn’t seem surprised. “I knew that kid was trouble.” Even helpfully gave them Marylou’s home address.
Back out in the car, they discuss strategy. This is always the part when Joanne starts to get excited. Thirty minutes ago, it was all just a fuzzy possibility. Now, it’s official. They’re on the hunt.
Every Evo, however, has to be handled differently. There is no one-size-fits-all method of taking them out.
“So, we’re dealing with an Evo who can walk through walls,” Luke says.
“Hard to pin her down in a corner, I guess.”
“Our best bet will be to get her out in the open. Maybe on her way to school?”
“But then she could just dart into any building, right?”
“Our handicap is that we don’t know Cleveland. And we’re on her home turf.”
“You said you attended a convention here.”
“I’ll be honest—I didn’t do much exploring. Especially not in the residential neighborhoods. Buffalo is depressing enough.”
“Let’s at least go and take a look at where she lives. Maybe the right way will present itself.”
Where Marylou Winawer lives turns out to be a neighborhood called Slavic Village. Luke does some of his usual nerdy online research and comes up with a plethora of facts that Joanne doesn’t give a shit about—but she feels compelled to humor him anyway.
“Huh,” Luke says, reading from his phone. “This neighborhood used to be its own township, Newburgh, dating back to 1799. How crazy is that.”
“Absolutely insane,” Joanne says.
“Lots of Czech and Polish immigrants settled here in the late 1800s, but they didn’t start calling it Slavic Village until the 1970s. Is ‘Winawer’ Polish?”
Does it even matter?
Sometimes Joanne is astounded by Luke’s ability to geek out about the most random things. Who gives a high holy hoot about the history of Cleveland and its myriad peoples? Luke does, now that they’re here. While this comes in handy once in a while—like when he was able to identify the Cleveland Arcade from a random YouTube clip—it does get a little old.
Joanne doesn’t to want to learn anything about this “vibrant yet struggling” neighborhood. She just wants to drive by the girl’s house to see what they’re up against.
Pin down the best way to kill this freak, and then do it.
Joanne says, “Hey. Can you get her phone number on that thing?”
MARYLOU, a.k.a. THE TARGET
went back to the scene of the crime, thinking, this is soooo stupid.
And it was.
Not only did she have the weird feeling that hundreds of eyes were on her, but she was afraid to look directly at anyone, fearful ...