Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #Superheroes | Supervillains
Coming to a stop, I looked over my shoulder at the cashier, who was still standing behind the counter with his gun down, and said, in the most superhero-ish voice I could muster, “Yes, good citizen? What is it?”
“If you're a neohero, what's your name?” said the cashier. “I've never seen you before. Are you new?”
Oh, dang. How could I forget to give myself a proper superhero name? It seemed like such an obvious thing now that the cashier mentioned it, but it still took me by surprise.
I looked around the store quickly before spotting some candy bars with the word 'BOLT' on them in big red lettering. I hadn't realized that they sold Bolt candy bars in Texas, which made my stomach growl, because I was still hungry.
“Uh …” I struggled to come up with a name. “Bolt!”
“Bolt?” said the cashier, tilting his head to the side. “Like the candy bar?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Like … a lightning bolt! Because like a lightning bolt, I strike hard and fast and I never strike the same place twice!”
That sounded absolutely retarded to me, but the cashier seemed impressed by it. He whipped out his phone and said, “That's so cool! Can you take a selfie with me? I want to show proof to my friends that I met a real life neohero.”
“Uh, while that sounds great, I must go, citizen,” I said. “Crime does not sleep and neither does justice, so I suggest you call the police so they can take that vile man to jail where he belongs. Good day!”
With that, I turned and ran out the door before the guy could ask me anything else. As much as I liked saving people, I didn't want to be late for school, not when I was still the new kid anyway. I didn't want to anger Dad even more, because if he learned that I was late to school because I beat up a criminal … well, I didn't think he'd be very appreciative of that.
ude, did you see this?” said Malcolm in amazement as we ate together at lunch.
I looked up from my lunch at Malcolm, who was looking at something on his smartphone across from me. Tara sat to my right, as she usually did, and she still didn't seem to be paying much attention to me or anyone else.
But I ignored her for now, wondering what Malcolm wanted to show me. “What is it?”
“It's footage of some new neohero no one's ever seen before,” said Malcolm excitedly. “Look, it's on YouTube.”
Malcolm gave his phone to me, which I looked at curiously as the footage played. It was silent, but that didn't stop me from recognizing the robber I had beaten earlier that day, or the cashier whose life I saved. I saw the robber try to shoot me, as well me dodging the bullets and then knocking the robber out with the aisle. Still, I was almost too shocked to pay attention, because I was trying to figure out how this footage had already gotten onto the Internet.
“Where did this come from?” I said, looking up at Malcolm, who was bouncing in his seat excitedly.
“It's security footage from the local convenience store,” said Malcolm as he took his phone back, the excitement in his voice obvious. “The local news station put the footage up on their YouTube channel. Apparently there was a robbery there this morning and the cashier says that a new neohero named Bolt rescued him.”
I was surprised at how quickly this video had gotten put online. “Really? I've never heard of Bolt before.”
“Me neither, but this is awesome,” said Malcolm. He started scrolling through the comments on the video. “I didn't know we had a neohero right here in Silvers. Most neoheroes hang out in bigger cities, not small Texas towns. And look, he's already got a Neo Ranks page.”
“He does?” I said, trying to act as causal as I could. “That was fast.”
“Yeah, but it's missing a lot of information, like his powers, and it doesn't have a clear picture of him yet,” said Malcolm. “Someone must have put it up just within the last couple of hours, after the video was put up online.”
I tried not to show my surprise, because I didn't want Malcolm or Tara knowing my secret identity yet. I hadn't expected that my first crime-fighting adventure would earn me a Neo Ranks page already. I hadn't even realized that I
get a Neo Ranks page at all. I didn't think that Dad knew about Neo Ranks or ever visited the site or used the app, but I figured if the footage was online, then that meant he probably already knew about my little adventure.
As casually as I could, I said, “So what's his Neo Rank?”
“Uh, let me see,” said Malcolm. “It's a one.”
“One?” I said. I tried not to sound disappointed. “That's weak.”
“Well, it's only because he seems to be a new hero, since no one knew about him until today, and the most he's done so far is defeat a robber,” said Malcolm. “Hardly as amazing as defeating Nuclear Winter or fighting off the Pokacu invasion.”
I felt annoyed at my extremely low ranking, but I didn't say that aloud. If I was going to get in trouble when I got back home, I was hoping that I would at least get a decent ranking for it. Yeah, I knew ranks went up and down all the time on that site based on what neoheroes did and what powers they had and how people felt about them, but I didn't like being the same rank as such famous neoheroes as The Elastic Pinkie or Big Toe Man (yes, both of them exist).
“But I wonder who this Bolt guy is,” said Malcolm. He was watching the security footage again. “We have a few neoheroes here in Texas, like Burn Shot, but I didn't know we had one right here in Silvers.”
“Yeah, it's pretty amazing,” I said as I took a bite out of my ham sandwich. “Guess this little town isn't as boring as it seems.”
“It's kind of hard to tell, but Bolt looks pretty young in the footage,” said Malcolm. “Maybe about our age.” He suddenly raised his head and looked around the crowded, loud cafeteria. “Hey, do you think he's a student here at the school?”
I also looked around, mostly to avoid arousing Malcolm's suspicion. “I don't know. I'm still new here, remember? I don't know any of the other students well enough to guess who it might be. He might not even be a student here at all. Maybe he's homeschooled or maybe he goes to the Academy.”
“Nah, the Academy is on Hero Island near New York, which is too far away,” said Malcolm, shaking his head. “Besides, we know who all of the Academy students are. Their superhero names are publicly available online and Bolt's isn't among them. Nah, Bolt's clearly a new hero, probably doesn't belong to either the NHA or the INJ.”
“The INJ?” I said. “What's that?”
“The Independent Neoheroes for Justice,” said Malcolm. “They're another superhero team, the second largest in the US next to the NHA. They're based in California.”
“Oh,” I said. “I've never heard of them.”
“Yeah, they aren't in the spotlight as much as the NHA,” said Malcolm with a shrug. “But it doesn't really matter. Wouldn't it be awesome if this new hero is a student here at the school?”
“Yeah, it would be,” I said, nodding. I looked at Tara, who didn't seem to be paying attention to the conversation. “Hey, Tara, who do you think Bolt is?”
“I think Bolt is just another dumb, glory-seeking neohero,” said Tara, without missing a beat. “I wonder if he is going to pay for the damage he caused to that convenience store or if the people who own it will.”
Tara's tone was as a sharp as a knife. I probably should have expected it, but it still annoyed me a little.
So I said, “Hey, Bolt saved that man's life. So what if he ended up causing a little property damage in the process? Isn't it important that he saved an innocent person and helped put a criminal behind bars?”
“It's a big deal for the people who run that store,” said Tara, her tone as cold as ever. “They might not even have the money to fix it, or if they do, it will take a long time and might force them to close the store for a while, which will cost them money and maybe their entire livelihood.”
“Well, I think it's great we have a new neohero right here in town anyway,” I said. “Don't you feel safer knowing that we have such a strong and brave hero here willing to fight crime and protect us from supervillains?”
“That's what the police are for,” said Tara. She shot me an irritated glare. “And who cares about some new neohero? We get new neoheroes literally all the time. Did you hear about that one guy in China who blew up that factory full of workers with his mind?”
“Oh, uh, no, I didn't,” I said. “Did anyone survive?”
“No,” said Tara, again without looking at me. “Like I said, neoheroes just cause way more trouble than they're worth. I wish they would all go away.”
Tara's bluntness left me temporarily speechless. I had always known that she didn't like neoheroes very much, but her criticisms felt far more personal now. But I didn't know what to say.
So I just shrugged and said, “All right. But next time you're in trouble, I hope you don't cry out for Bolt or some other neohero to save you.”
“Don't worry,” said Tara. “I won't.”
Something about her tone made me so angry that I was going to shout at her, but then Malcolm said, “Hey, let's not fight. Why don't we agree to disagree on this issue like we always do whenever we talk about it?”
Malcolm's conciliatory tone managed to break through the haze of my anger. I could think more clearly now and I realized that I had been crushing my empty water bottle in my hands with my super strength. I stopped doing that before anyone noticed.
“So,” I said, looking at Malcolm and pointedly ignoring Tara, “who do you think is most likely Bolt?”
“I'm thinking one of the players on the football team,” said Malcolm, glancing over at the table where the school's athletes ate. “I mean, Bolt moved pretty fast and he is obviously really strong. It's either Josh or Reyes, because they're the strongest and fastest members of the football team.”
I nodded, glad that Malcolm apparently didn't think of me as a potential candidate. He apparently wasn't paying attention to my suit-up watch, which made sense, because it was usually hidden underneath my suit whenever I put it on. Still, I turned it around on my wrist anyway, away from Malcolm, just so he wouldn't notice it.
“Well, whoever it is, I'm sure that this won't be the last we'll hear of him,” I said. “Maybe he'll even become Silvers' defender.”
“Yeah, but wouldn't it be awesome if you knew who Bolt was?” said Malcolm in excitement. “Then you could legitimately say you are friends with a real neohero, instead of all that fake crap you see people brag about online about how they have dinner with Omega Man every Friday like they're good friends or something.”
I was almost tempted to tell him here and now that I was Bolt, but I refrained from doing so, because I was sure that Dad would just save Master Chaos the trouble and kill me himself if I blew my secret identity like this. Of course, he might just kill me anyway after school, but I didn't want to push it.
“Yeah, that would be cool,” I said. Then I looked around. “Say, have you heard anything about Robert Candle? I'm not really concerned about him, but I haven't heard any updates about him for a while.”
“Last I heard, he is still in the hospital recovering from that freak air bomb accident,” said Malcolm, glancing at the wall that Robert had been punched through, which had since been repaired. “No one knows when he's going to get out.”
I nodded in relief. “I wonder if he'll ever be able to walk again after that.”
“Dunno,” said Malcolm with a shrug as he ate some of his macaroni. “Maybe he'd be less of a bully if he couldn't walk on his own two legs. All I've heard is that he's gone crazy.”
I frowned. “Crazy? How?”
“Just something I overheard from one of his friends when I got to school earlier,” said Malcolm. “Robert's apparently been ranting about how 'the new kid' nearly killed him with one punch. His doctors apparently think the explosion of the bomb harmed his brain, which means they might put him in a mental ward if he gets worse. Pretty crazy, huh?”
I nodded again and tried not to show any fear, but it was hard. I knew that Robert had been the only person in the school to avoid Dad's memory-wiping gauntlet. I had hoped, however, that punching him through the wall of the cafeteria would have harmed his memory, but if Malcolm was telling the truth, then Robert remembered full well how he had really ended up in the hospital.
Of course, it sounded like no one really believed him, but how long would it take for someone to make the connection between his rantings and my appearance as Bolt, which was now on the Internet for everyone to see?
That was it. If I was going to make sure that I kept my identity a secret, I would have to go to Robert's hospital room and use Dad's gauntlet to wipe his memory of me punching him through the cafeteria wall.
After, of course, Dad killed me for doing the exact thing I wasn't supposed to do and got caught on camera doing it.
hen I got home after school—far too fast for my tastes, because this time, there weren't any convenience stores being robbed that I could use as an excuse for being late—Dad was sitting in the living room, although he was not in his Genius costume. Instead, he wore his usual blue button down shirt and black slacks, his horn-rimmed glasses reflecting the video playing on the tablet he held in his hands.
Stopping in the entrance to the living room, with my backpack slung over my shoulder, I tried to look as casual and innocent as possible. Dad didn't seem to have noticed me yet, but I knew that was bull, because Dad was always aware of his surroundings even if you weren't.
“So, uh …” I said, my voice trailing off as I tried to figure out what to say. “I'm home from school.”
Dad didn't look up at me; he reminded me of Tara, actually, with the way he focused on the tablet, which was similar to how she focused on her smartphone. He just said, “Kevin, please come in and sit down. There's something I want to talk with you about.”
There it was. That was Dad's 'I'm-not-angry-just-disappointed' tone. He only used it whenever I
Part of me wanted to run into my room and hide in there, but I walked into the living room nonetheless and plopped into the large armchair to the left of the couch. I placed my backpack on the floor, but then Dad looked at me, disappointment obvious behind his eyes.