’tis Thursday and ’tis time for more story. Let’s go.
So, last week Dallas’s powers mysteriously turned back on while he was innocently researching and we were left with no clue as to how or why.
And this week we can get a clue, thanks to our dear Wolfgang and his genius plan of infiltrating the bad guys.
Also we get introduced to a new character, who also gets a collage here.
Anyway, if you’re new or have fallen behind, catch up here:
and, let us bravely proceed on to part 6.
The downside of not telling Dallas what I was doing: I only had my movie knowledge to refer to as far as spy-gear went.
And for this spy mission, I had absolutely nothing in the area of secret cameras or hidden microphones to document the occasion. Whatever. This was just a scouting mission anyway, right?
I squinted at myself in the mirror, turning a little. The letter was pretty nonspecific on ideas of dress. I still wasn’t sure if this was something like a backstreet gang rap battle, or more like a business meeting. So I’d gone the ambiguous route of just shaving, wearing a nice t-shirt and making sure my jacket wasn’t super dirty.
I flipped the comb I held over in my hand a couple of times. The idea of actually getting my hair to lie down flat was laughable. But I’d managed to get the tangles out so it hopefully looked a little nicer.
I turned away from the mirror and stepped out of the bathroom. Lucius was perched on the back of the couch, picking at his feathers. He looked up as I entered.
I spread my hands. “Well, how do I look?”
He blinked at me, tipping his head.
I ran a hand over my hair, smoothing it just a little bit. “At least better than before, right?” It was barely a step up from my normal. But best go just as me than try and work out some weird, secret agent-y disguise. They’d invited Wolfgang Dankworth. And Wolfgang Dankworth was just who they were getting, cowlick and all.
My phone dinged in my pocket and I pulled it out. A text from Franklin the Unspecified.
-Outside waiting whenever you’re ready.
It still made me uneasy that this organization knew my address without me ever giving it to them. But I guessed that was an all-members privilege and I should probably just go with it.
I took a deep breath in and let it out. “Well.”
Lucius started to edge over towards me, spreading his wings slightly like he was going to hop up on my shoulder.
I shook my head, holding up a hand. “Sorry, buddy. You’re not coming this time.” Had to see how normal evil pets were at this joint first.
I checked myself over one last time. I’d cleaned the dirt off my sneakers. My jacket was in decent shape. Clean shirt and jeans. Shaved and washed face. And sort of combed hair. Plus I’d put that little wing keychain on my key ring right alongside the Dalek. Never hurt to do a little kissing up and use the gift I’d been given.
Right, then. Ready to go.
I pulled my keys out of my pocket and swung them around my finger as I opened the door. “Later, Lucius.”
He gave a responding chirrup before I closed the door behind me. The sun was just setting and everything outside was lit a dull pink-orange. Cars on the street were just starting to turn on their headlights. I turned and started down the steps, my shoes clanking in an even rhythm.
I looked over to the left as I hit the sidewalk. Over where my car was.
Right next to it, a vintage car with gold paint sat parked, top down. A man leaned easily against the hood, whistling to himself as he watched the sun set. He had on a suit and tie, but the loose, comfortable way it fit him made it almost seem like it was his everyday getup. Slick hair combed to one side . . . he looked almost like some old-time, Jazzy speakeasy singer.
I fingered the collar of my jacket, hesitating for just a second before walking over towards him. Probably Franklin. Nobody else was standing out by their cars or anything.
I cleared my throat as I got close enough for speaking. “Franklin?”
He turned his head, a thatch of coal black hair falling partly over his eyes as he did. His eyebrows went up and a wide grin spread across his tanned face. “Nice to see you again, Dankworth.” He pushed off the hood of the car and straightened his coat, then pushed his hair back out of his eyes. “Nice timing, I just got here.”
I shrugged and nodded a little, trying to not look like I was studying him too intently as I looked him over. “Well, you know. Like to be prepared.” So we’d definitely met before. Probably the day of the opera since I had his card . . .
How much did we talk? How much am I supposed to know about him?
I fidgeted with my keys a little and shifted my gaze over to his car. Knowing me, I might have remarked on it before, so I kept my mouth shut.
“So,” Franklin started. He came over and propped an elbow on my shoulder as he surveyed his car along with me. He had about an inch on me in height. Barely taller, but it put him in the magical, tall realm of six-feet-tall. “You riding with me or are you taking your car? I’m good either way.” He tilted his head back and forth as though weighing the options. “And we could catch up a bit more if you came with me if you want. I could get you more on the lowdown of what we’re doing tonight.”
He spread his hands in a half shrug, then looked over at me, a piece of his slick hair sliding back down partly into his eyes again. “Whatever you wanna do. What’s your pleasure?” His relaxed smile stayed in place on his face.
As much as the idea of more information was tempting . . . and as much as Franklin didn’t seem to be quite as much of a creep as I’d anticipated . . . I still didn’t want to have someone else be my only way of getting in or out of wherever we were going.
I wrinkled my nose slightly and pulled my mouth into a sideways frown, like I was seriously considering each. “Well . . . I’d kind of like to get my sense of direction better this time. Just so I know the way. I’ll drive mine.”
Franklin gave a nod and clapped me on the shoulder as he stood back up straight. “Good idea. Get that whole mental-map goin’ so you know your way there better. Cool. I’ll just catch you up when we get there.”
“Yep. Sounds good,” I smiled back at him and gave an awkward finger-gun, trying to reciprocate his constant cheer just a little bit.
Franklin laughed and finger-gunned back, making a little gun sound effect as he walked around to the driver’s side of his car. He hopped in over the door, settling his lanky limbs easily into place behind the wheel. The keys were already in the ignition and with a quick twist, the engine purred to life.
“Ready when you are, Dank.”
I walked over and got into my own car. And just a minute later, I was following the gold Cadillac out onto the road.
“Mental map is right,” I muttered. “And for more than just me.”
I swallowed back my uneasiness, focusing on the curiosity of just where it was we were going. And what it was we were going to do there.
I didn’t think anything could really hit that exact middle ground between “backstreet gang meeting place” and “professional business meeting place” but somehow . . . they’d managed to find a place that did just that. Great. I didn’t even have that categorization to go off of as I entered the building.
It looked like it used to be some professional, slick business building. Modern architecture. Two or three stories at the most and, to all appearances, abandoned. No for-sale signs were in the front. The paint was definitely in need of a touch-up. And boards crossed over the windows, barring it off from the outside world. The Xs in the windows made it look like some cartoon-drawn dead thing.
But it was definitely where we were going. We were enough out of town that this place was pretty much the only one around. Kind of a city building dropped just west of nowhere.
Franklin turned his car in by the broken down sign that marked the entrance. He steered towards what looked like the access to some underground parking garage.
I frowned slightly, but followed him.
Mansley-level smart, at least. No one could see a bunch of cars parked underground, so if there was anywhere to have a big scale meeting, this looked like a pretty good possibility.
The sky was barely lit anymore and my headlights dipped down as I followed Franklin into the underground parking area. Florescent lights flicked on around us as the incline leveled out a bit more.
The flickering, white lights showed two neat rows of parked cars. All expensive and nice ones too.
Man, didn’t expect that I’d . . . fit right in with my Mustang . . .
Franklin slowed down to a putter and pulled into an empty spot at the end of the row. The gold paint on his car glittered under the harsh light. I pulled in right next to him, shifting the car into park.
With both our engines at a stop, the garage was deathly quiet.
Franklin yanked out his keys and hopped out of his car, again not bothering to use the door. He spread his hands as he looked over at me, as if showing off our surroundings. “Boom, we’re here.”
I got out, pocketing my own keys and raising my eyebrows as I looked around the grey cement of the garage. “Nice.”
“Eh, not quite as nice as inside,” Franklin shot back with a laugh. “You’ll be much more impressed once we get in there.” He waved a hand and started off at an easy stride towards a door across the way. “C’mon, let’s go. The meeting’s starting in just a minute.”
I walked after him, keeping my hands in my jacket pockets to hide the nervous tremor I felt starting. My fingers rubbed against the silver wing keychain and I let out my breath.
Come on, you’ve got this. No big deal. Just act like you’re supposed to be here.
Franklin pulled the door open and stood to the side, nodding towards the stairs and making his hair flop sideways again. “Guests first. After you.”
“Thanks . . .” I held up a hand briefly, flashing a smile before I headed up the stairway. The lighting was a little warmer inside. Yellow instead of a harsh white. Carpeting covered the stairs. A little musty smelling, but it still held a professional look about it.
Franklin swung in after me and we both climbed the wide stairs up towards the door at the top.
I rubbed at the keychain in my pocket again. “So, you wanna fill me in on what we’re doing tonight? What the big move is . . .?” I took one hand out and gestured a little, then shrugged, dropping it to run along the handrail. It wasn’t clear how much I was supposed to know. And I wasn’t getting anything back from the opera except the beginnings of a headache.
Franklin chuckled, finger-combing his floppy hair back into place and looking up at the door. “You’ll find out most of it in there. The big move and all. Sort of a surprise we’ve been working on for a while and . . .” he elbowed me good naturedly, “ . . . you’re not up to that level of classified. Yet.”
“But basically, we’re just going to the old auditorium. Inside and to the left, then down the hall.” We reached the top of the staircase and Franklin pulled the door open. “They modified a few things and moved stuff around so pretty much everything’s happening in there.”
We both slipped through the door out into the hall. It was lit by sconces on either side. No one else was there, but I could here a muted, distant voice. Like someone talking on a microphone in another room.
Well, my guess we were a little late, then.
Our footsteps muffled on the carpet as we kept on walking down the hall. My old sneakers and Franklin’s shiny black dress shoes. Franklin hummed something to himself quietly and perfectly on pitch. Some song I’d heard on the radio before, I thought. He snapped his fingers a couple times.
“Man, it’s been a long year,” he remarked. “Doesn’t seem like that long since we got together, huh?”
“Seems like . . . a very long time ago, definitely,” I muttered. I rubbed at the scar on the back of my head, wincing at the ache. It really did seem like it had been forever since I’d woken up backstage with my memories gone.
“Sure wish we could have kept in touch more.” Franklin looked over at me with a smile. His teeth flashed brilliant white against his darker skin tone. “But the wait will be worth it, trust me. You’ll love this.”
We both stopped in front of the door leading into the auditorium and I could see through the windows at the top a big screen on stage, glowing out over the seats.
Franklin made a sweep towards the door with one hand, straightening his tie with the other. “After you.”
I pushed in through the door and the muted sounds came into sharp focus.
“ . . . glad you all showed up tonight. This is going to be a-maze-ing.”
The woman’s voice came through the loudspeakers throughout the room, and up on the big screen, she smiled at the camera. It took me a second to recognize her. Maxine Wellington. The lady Dallas said who just got promoted to assistant-director of the SPI.
So she was in on this. Just like he thought.
I felt a slight rush of adrenaline. Barely in the door and I already had a huge piece of information for Dallas.
The camera angle shifted a little so Maxine was further back from the camera. No one was on stage so she must have been doing it over a video call.
“Anyway. Thanks to all of you for being part of Silverwing. It’s about to pay off big.”
I squinted at the screen. Silverwing was the name of the organization then. That connected with the keychain . . . the tattoos . . . Dallas’s clue . . .
Franklin bumped my arm, making me jump a little. He nodded down towards the front rows of seats. “We got a few spots reserved down there. Should probably go take ‘em.” He kept his voice pitched low so he didn’t disrupt whatever Maxine was saying.
“Right, yeah.” I followed him, trying my best to both watch where I was walking in the dark and keep an eye on the screen to focus on the words.
Not a whole ton of important stuff at first. Just continuing to thank people and assure them that this was gonna be great.
I got to my seat, right next to Franklin and sat stiffly. Pretty much . . . okay, no . . . literally everyone around me was wearing suits and ties. Wardrobe fail on my part. Maybe I should have hung onto that tux instead of leaving it with News.
“So, I’ve got my little prize right here with me for tonight . . .” Maxine held up what looked like a syringe of some sort. I tried to not make my frown of confusion so obvious.
“You fellas have yours right with you. The doctor is gonna take things over from here and get everything explained. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for the party, but know that I love you all and you’re great.” She winked and blew a kiss. “Enjoy.”
The screen froze for a second, then blinked off. The lights came back on just slightly, and a spotlight beamed on, right to the center of the stage. Something sat in the middle. It looked like a . . . a . . .
I squinted. A dentist’s chair? What is this?
The “big move”. Free dental plan.
Not exactly what I was planning on going back to tell Dallas.
I was busy trying to spot the differences between that and a dentist chair when there was the clunk of shoes and a man walked out onto the stage, wearing a white coat and thick glasses. He stopped right in front of the chair, looking over a paper in his hand. Then he looked up to the audience, distinctly pale and nervous looking against the white light illuminating all his bad-postured glory.
He cleared his throat and brought up a microphone he’d been holding in his other hand. “I-it’s very nice that all of you showed up tonight.” The man looked down slightly and it felt like he was particularly talking to the front section that Franklin and I were in for some reason.
I shifted in my seat.
The man consulted his paper again. “So. I-I’m just here to assist . . . the other . . .” He trailed off and swallowed as he looked up, then stepped to the side. “Doctor Übel, would you please come out here?”
There was a polite smattering of applause for the few seconds it took for another man to stride out and take the microphone from Mr. Nervous Assistant.
He wore a deep purple, tailored suit. His blond hair was neatly combed back from his forehead and an eyepatch covered one eye. Now, this looked a bit more sinister.
The new man brought the mic to his mouth and nodded once politely. “Thank you. Now . . .” he turned out to the crowd and gave another nod. “I hope you’re all having a good evening. Let me now enlighten you on the details of tonight’s activities.” He pulled a small clicker out of his pocket and hit a button. A screen mounted in back of the chair lit up, showing a picture of what looked like a very symmetrical little bacteria.
“This . . . any of you who’ve been keeping up with recent scientific developments will recognize . . . is a nanite.” Dr. Übel kept the slide up for a few seconds, then flicked it off. “These tiny robotic implants are what generate the famed ‘superpowers’ of the Hero Program, which began in this very building.” He put the clicker back in his pocket and clasped his hands behind his back.
“I assume you’ve all heard of the Hero Program, judging by the fact it was run by one of our own, Mansley.”
A general murmur of assent from the crowd.
“It didn’t go quite as planned, obviously,” Übel continued. “Mansley made a few slip-ups, and it was actually beneficial things ended when they did, thanks much to Mr. Dankworth, who I believe . . .” he looked over near Franklin and me for a few seconds before his gaze rested on me. “Yes, he is here with us tonight. Welcome, Dankworth.” He nodded.
I felt my face getting red and waved awkwardly.
Übel continued talking, walking across the stage as he did. “Now. The most well known superheroes to come out of this program and Mansley’s work had very typical superpowers. Flight. Super strength. A bit of underdeveloped invulnerability. And that was all very well and good . . . but the public likes more of a show. Not the same old powers over and over again. Which is why Mansley started developing something a little more . . . interesting.”
Franklin elbowed me a little, like he was making sure I didn’t miss the best part.
“These superpowers . . . these nanites get further into their host than the others did. Instead of just overlapping the simple powers of flight and super strength, they would go in and link to their DNA.” Dr. Übel stopped and rubbed his hands together, facing back towards the crowd. “Everyone’s personality is engrained in their DNA. These nanites read into the key elements of the person’s personality, then giving them powers that match.
“We had one test subject throughout the process. It half worked.” He paused for a second. “We are in Utah. Many of you remember Amazing Man’s singular ‘sidekick’, Dallas Knight?”
I stared, barely biting down on my tongue in time to stop from cursing.
More sounds of general agreement.
“See, it didn’t work entirely. The forcefields fit. But the teleportation wasn’t quite intended. Much too intense. We needed to keep developing.” Übel started up his slow pacing across the stage again. “We barely managed to save the progress we’d made when the Hero Project disbanded. We worked on continuing the development for over a year. And now . . . as of tonight . . .” he smiled. “It is complete. And we are able to move to the next stage this was intended for.”
A loud cheer came up from the crowd. Especially loud from Franklin and a few other people in the front.
I managed to get enough voice to add a bit of my own to the cheering, but my heart hammered against my ribs and I felt my hands shaking as I clapped.
Dr. Übel let the cheering continue for a few seconds, then held up a hand and everyone went quiet.
“The details of the full plan are still coming out. I’m not at liberty to reveal everything at the moment. But I will tell you that of all the moves we’ve made to climb up in society . . . to rise in the ranks . . . this shall by far be the most drastic.” He took a deep breath and nodded. “We’ll give them much more impressive heroes than they’ve had before.”
They were . . . redoing the superhero program. Illegally.
Dallas was worried because if they did something, there would be no superhero to stop them. But now it would be superheroes making the move. With only plain policemen to stop them . . .
Holy smoke, this is not good . . . not good . . . I swallowed, shoving my hands in my pockets again. Man, Dallas would have a lot in his lap with this mess . . .
“Anyway. We’ll be having more meetings. Plan-telling to be continued. But we have a select few tonight. A select few heroes . . .” he smiled and held up a hand, then stepped back to show the chair more clearly. The assistant guy stepped forward with a few syringes on a tray and set it on a small table next to the chair.
“Some of you, out of the selected group of superheroes, will get your powers tonight.”
I hoped the dark hid how pale I knew my face was. Oh God they’re starting it tonight. How can Dallas do anything if they’ve already started . . .?
No, no, no, it would be good. Get the police to surround the place next meeting or something. It would work out. It would be fine.
Franklin snapped his fingers together absently, a huge grin still on his face. He elbowed me again. “Hey, wait for it, man. This is going to be the best.”
“First up,” the assistant held up a list and Übel glanced over before looking out over the crowd. “Would a Mr. Franklin Tumbler please step up onto the stage?”
Well, no wonder Mr. Fancy Pants was so excited.
Franklin got up casually, turning to wave as he started up to the stage. His shoes clacked loudly as he mounted up on the steps, then took his place next to Dr. Übel. He put an arm around Übel’s shoulders like they were lifelong buddies.
The doctor didn’t seem impressed, but continued his speech. “Now, there will be no immediate effects. Right now what we do is inject the inactive nanites into the bloodstream. We do that with all the fifteen here tonight that will be receiving this privilege, and then . . .” he let out a breath.
“All the nanites run on a certain frequency. When I flip a switch . . .” he pointed off stage somewhere. “The nanites will turn on. They’ll start the process of integrating themselves into your DNA and the process can take up to 24 hours to complete. Signs of the powers may start showing themselves sooner, but only after that stage will the powers themselves activate.”
“Right, Doc.” Franklin leaned in to the microphone. “We all got the science now. So who’s ready to see the cool stuff?”
Applause from the crowd. Without Franklin next to me, it was all surprisingly subdued. This wasn’t exactly a rowdy crowd. But the excitement was still tangible in the air. The way people whispered between each other and leaned forwards in their seats.
“Right then.” Übel nodded, motioning Franklin to the chair.
Franklin took a seat and leaned back, smiling.
His personality in superpowers . . . I just kept my eyes fixed on the stage, trying to work out exactly . . . how this would happen. What it would look like.
I mean, everything aside, I was sort of curious. In a terrified sort of way.
Dr. Übel took one of the syringes and fiddled with it for a second. His back was to the crowd as he stood over Franklin, but after a minute of preparation, he stuck the needle into the crook of Franklin’s arm.
The plunger went down, emptying the contents slowly down to nothing.
Übel placed a small bandage and stepped back. Franklin sat up, rubbing at his arm a little before rolling his sleeve back down. His hair fell in his face again and he pushed it back as he strode off the stage, standing to the side.
The process was repeated. Dr. Übel called out a few more names and other people went up. A few business ladies, a couple of older guys who reminded me of Mansley. One or two younger men. The process was the same.
I privately guessed with each of them what the powers would look like.
Super-baking, for that older lady? Stapler fingers, for that pinched-looking businesswoman?
More and more people cycled through until one syringe was left on the tray. The group of people already injected stood off to the side of the stage and I heard them whispering among themselves.
Übel picked up the paper to see the last name.
Franklin looked over my way, catching my eye. He winked.
The last name rang out over the speakers, hitting me like a bucket of icewater.
“Would Wolfgang Dankworth please come up to the front?”
I could have choked.
Me. Me. With superpowers? What sort of stupid, idiotic plan was . . .?
Übel looked down my way and raised his eyebrows, nodding. “Yes, you.”
Holy freaking smoke, I didn’t want superpowers.
But . . . bail now and you’re out. You don’t get any more information. You have to be on board to take this thing down. To do something good.
I just stared for a second before automatically pushing to my feet. I gave Übel a polite nod and started walking out towards the stage just like Franklin had. Easy strides. Trying to hide that my hands were shaking and my jaw was clenched tight.
I walked up the steps and came right up to the chair. Just like everyone else.
“Have a seat.”
I felt a little lightheaded from the effort to keep my breathing even, but I did as he said. Lay back on the smooth back of the seat, squinting against the light coming from the ceiling.
Übel fiddled around for a few seconds, then pushed my jacket sleeve up. “Do you think you could . . . unclench your fists, Mr. Dankworth?”
I did, with effort.
He looked between my shaking hands and my face for a second before picking up the syringe.
I didn’t sign up for this, God I wanted an easy in, easy out, not needles being jabbed into me . . . tiny robots inside my brain . . .
It’s okay. It’s cool. Fine. You get superpowers. Cool, right? Maybe you can fly. It’ll be fine.
I closed my eyes and winced against the jab of the needle into my skin, muttering a curse under my breath. A few seconds passed, a bit of an ache spreading from my arm outwards. Then the needle was out.
There was the soft stickiness of a bandaid on the spot and I opened my eyes, taking a breath.
Übel stepped back and I sat up. He seemed fairly indifferent to my obvious nervousness, thankfully. I got off the stage next to everyone else, quickly rolling my sleeve back down to cover my scar. My hands went right back into my pockets. Anyone could easily see they were shaking by now.
Franklin clapped me on the shoulder. “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Yeah, great,” I muttered.
The assistant quickly gathered up the empty syringes and shuffled away backstage.
“Now,” Dr. Übel stepped to the side. The lights faded back on in the auditorium as he stepped off the other side of the stage towards a panel mounted on the side wall in a little booth. “Time to activate them. The next step will be shown at our meeting two nights from now.” He glanced over at our group. “Should be enough time to get you all acquainted with your powers?”
I nodded dumbly, along with everyone else. My stomach turned, but it didn’t feel like it was all from the nervousness. It was like I’d eaten something bad.
“You should feel nothing more than a light shock. A bit of electricity like a static tingle as the bots find their place,” Übel put one hand on a large switch. “And they all run on the same radio frequency, so this should activate them all at once. Are you ready?”
We’d already nodded once, so he didn’t feel the need to look at us for the answer to that.
He gripped the switch and pulled it up with a “smack”.
There were a few gasps and the people around me jumped a little. It probably worked just fine for them. Franklin even laughed a little.
I guessed the searing jolt of pain I got down my spine wasn’t quite normal.
I know you’re all making that face now.
But I have good news that I’ve actually finished the book now, so you guys’ll have posts on Sunday too now, if I can remember and keep up. Yay!
(Also dude this book turned out to be like 120k words long, just… how…. o_O)
Anyway. I’ll be back with photos, movie reviews and more story soon hopefully.
Toodles ’til later, -whisks off to leave you all in panic-