So I finished a book yesterday.
It was a pretty huge thing for me because this book is like the Climax of a series I’ve been working on for years now and I have one to go in the series which is awesome.
So this morning, with nothing to write I returned back this idea I’d posted a while back. I did a little more work on it.
I guess in one way or another we spend our whole lives trying to mean something.
And it’s this constant battle to be someone who is worthwhile which spurs us on to take the challenge which comes with every new day.
‘It’s not who people think you are that matters,’ is what Liam Gray always tells me over dinner at least once a week. ‘It’s what you do.’
Liam’s like that though. He doesn’t care what people say about him at all – and they say some pretty bad things – but it’s harder for me, I guess.
He says it’s because I’m in high school, and that years from now it won’t matter than people think I am a total dork and girls barely notice me. That’s all very well for him because no one thinks he’s a dork, and girls are generally all over him.
Regardless, when he says this, I just short of nod and shove food in my mouth so he doesn’t expect more of a response than this.
Liam does that. He acts like my dad when he’s not.
I mean sure, he’s probably the closest thing I have to a father figure but my life is a whole lot more complicated than that.
Liam is super rich. You’d think that would be hugely helpful to making kids at school like me, but it’s not. In fact if anything, being dropped off every morning in Liam’s huge black limousine is sort of less beneficial to my social life. This is because everyone stares and makes comments about how I think I’m better than everyone.
I don’t, but whatever.
Anyway, so from morning until midafternoon I’m sort of trapped in the classrooms of Lion’s Private Academy which is fine because once I survive the day, the nights get a whole lot more interesting.
Liam and I watch a lot of sitcoms. It’s what we do, I guess. In his massive living room, eating microwave popcorn. But in the furthest corner of this enormous space is a single black telephone.
And it’s this single black telephone which rings.
And it’s when this single black telephone rings, that Liam and I go super quiet, and he gets up and puts the popcorn on the side table.
He wanders towards the phone, answers it, speaking in his most level voice; ‘hello?’
There’s this long silence, and I always try to distinguish words even though I never can.
‘Alright.’ Liam concludes, ‘we’re on our way.’
And then he looks at me, and gestures to the door, and I get up and we leave the popcorn and the sitcoms and we head into the hallway.
Once there, Liam crosses over to this huge painting at the end of the corridor of him – at like seven years old or something – with his long since dead parents from whom he inherited billions of dollars, and places his hand on the canvas.
There’s a cool whoosh as the whole end wall groans apart like some kind of hatch or something revealing an elevator lift shaft.
Liam will always turn to me and grin with that look he always gives and then I grin back and we step inside.
And then the elevator door slides shut and rockets who-knows-how-many floors down and opens in a massive control room filled with monitors, and screens and all kinds of chrome covered things.
Then Liam Grey and I change into wicked cool costumes and get into the wicked cool chrome car and we go and save the city.
Because we’re super heroes.
‘I don’t know why you don’t let me drive the Silver Shadow.’ I say for like the hundredth time that week, ‘I have my license and everything.’
‘You’re sixteen, Roe.’ Liam reminds me, as he shifts gear, ‘not going to happen.’
‘You never let me do anything!’ I protest, because I swear he doesn’t.
Liam laughs at this, and I fiddle with my utility belt because I’m annoyed at him.
He trusts me to fight crime as his masked sidekick but when it comes to letting me test drive this ridiculously awesome vehicle? I get a flat no – it’s almost ironic.
Besides, he should trust me, I’m basically him.
I have long since come to terms with the fact that my life is never going to be normal. Given I’m the legal ward, not to mention exact clone of Liam Grey – the world’s most richest man ever – and that he’s got this doubly identity as ‘The Wolf’ who is this super cool super hero who beats up bad guys.
I, as you have probably guessed, am Dare, the Wolf’s sidekick, or 2IC, as I like to call it which stands for Second in Charge and sounds a whole lot better than the term ‘sidekick.’
I’ve lived with Liam my whole life in his massive mansion on the outskirts of the massive metropolis that is Anchoran City.
Being a clone sounds way worse than it is.
I mean there are pros and cons to everything.
Sure I get like a really accurate glimpse of what I’m going to look like at thirty five, which sort of ruins the surprise of life but at least I know that I’m going to go bald any time soon.
Liam’s story is the typical I-had-this-really-emotionally-ruining-thing-happen-to-me-during-childhood-which-is-associated-with-the-death-of-my-parents-and-I-have-since-inherited-billions-of-dollars-which-was-hugely-helpful-in-turning-the-underground-of-my-mansion-into-a-headquarters-and-invent-an-altar-ego-who-fights-crimes story.
When he was like… twenty something he nearly died and realized that as much as he had been a lone wolf up until this point – super-hero-name-related-pun-there – things would be a whole lot easier if he had someone to give him a hand.
Liam had very little desire to get married or settle down or have a family even so he paid off some totally immoral scientist to clone him.
I was the result of that clone.
Liam was as adverse to the idea of dealing with a baby as he was to being married, setting down and having kids. As a result I was left in some test-tube like thing for a bit experiencing accelerated growth and entered the world as a fully grown seven year old.
It was weird.
What’s also weird is that Liam chose to call me Romulus which is the stupidest name I’ve ever heard – and I have found is basically the opinion of nearly everyone else who hears it – so I refuse to be called anything but Roe.
Unless I’m out, costumed, fighting crime, then I’m Dare.
Things didn’t go how they ought to have gone that night, and I think this was why things happened how they did.
There’s never really been a ‘big time criminal’ in our city. Not really. I mean we’ve got Reoffenders. That’s what we call the bad guys who don’t seem to learn their lesson the first time and come back for more once they’ve either escaped prison or are out on probation.
But the Wolf and Dare never had an Arch-Nemesis.
Of course all of that would change that night. Sort of.
It was dark, and wet, and my boots kept slipping on the rooftops as we pursued our enemy through the rain.
Liam was ages ahead of me, because he was faster and his boots weren’t slipping like mine.
It seemed a pretty simple situation.
Some random group of guys dressed in black had broken into the city museum and stolen some equally random set of knives from some dull exhibit.
Only I am a super hero so these kinds of things while boring to be are things I am supposed to care about.
We had them on the run – we always have them on the run – and I was stoked because I’d be home with enough time to catch another episode of my favorite show before I’d have to do my English homework.
Ahead of me, the bad guys leaped rather suddenly downwards, perhaps suspecting they’d lose us a little easier down there amidst the cars and bystanders.
Most small time bad guys think that’ll be the case.
But I didn’t know it then, but these weren’t small time bad guys.
The Wolf drew out his grapple gun and shot it upwards, before throwing himself off of the side of the building after them.
I brought up the rear – as usual – and since I didn’t have a grapple gun I just jumped and tumbled down. I landed in a horrendous smelling puddle in some side street.
The Wolf was already tearing into combat. Fists and kicks and jerks and fantastic weapons that he’d invented which had been clipped to his utility belt were all used.
The black clad men staggered back, stumbling, and toppling over.
Of course I was in amongst the action, at the Wolf’s side as always. I felt best this way. After all, this was everything I’d been trained for. Made for.
We finished them off pretty quickly.
The Wolf identified the particular bad guy who’d grabbed the knives, stalked over and grabbed a hold of the massive wooden case in which the knives were stored.
He turned back to me and despite the latex mask over his face I knew Liam was grinning.
There was nothing like that Post-Bad-Guy-Ass-Kicking feeling, believe me.
‘Nice!’ I said, dusting myself off and surveying our work. I’d have high fived Liam but he’s not the High Fiving type.
There were six of them. All lying face down now, waiting for the cops to show.
‘Yeah, well,’ Liam was saying.
I fiddled with my stun gun, trying to look cool, because it was general about now that the press caught up with us and snapped a bunch of photos for the paper.
Liam kept talking, he always liked to capitalize on the minutes after we’ve totally dominated some villain to make grand statements and advice.
I half listened, because I was; one, trying to look impressive for when the cameras showed and two, had noticed something pretty weird.
Alongside one of the fallen bad guy’s legs there was a kind of sparking.
Sparking. Like a mechanical sparking.
Which was weird because people don’t usually spark at the knee. Or anywhere else for that matter.
While Liam babbled, I slipped my stun gun into its holster, and wandered over to the bad guy in mention.
I had just bent low enough to take a closer look at the strange flashing, when there was a loud WHACK! And I was sent toppling over, my ears ringing.
Liam snapped back from his musings and darted into action as the remaining black clad baddies lumbered up again. I’d landed in another pool of water but was pretty quickly on my feet again.
That hit had hurt, I considered, rubbing my now split lip. That had hurt really bad.
Liam was already surrounded and was on the offensive again and I, with a suspicion creeping up the back of my spine drew my stun gun again and took aim, shooting the figure with the glittering knee.
He didn’t even flinch.
‘Wolf!’ I shouted, growing a little nervous now, ‘They’re not real!
He shot a look over at me, confused, ‘What!?’
‘They’re robots!’ I reiterated, because it hadn’t come out right the first time, ‘Like in movies!’ that was a stupid thing to say. Not sure why I said that.
The Wolf seemed perplexed, even beneath the mask, but continued to fight. My shouting had drawn the robot’s attention to me now, and two or three began to advance.
Perfectly aware that my stun gun would offer no aid at all, I balled my hands into fists, ready to fight. They set on me, and scrambled to land injuries of any kind but the thing was that I was Dare.
Dare was fast. Faster than these mechanical henchmen at least.
Darting in and out of their attacks, I edged back further and further, shooting the occasional glance over towards Wolf.
It was weird.
We’d never fought bad guys like this before. Generally our enemies were flesh and blood. There was no one quite… evil enough, or perhaps smart enough in the city to create robotic henchmen to do their dirty work.
It was all a little strange.
I had just settled upon this fact when there was a sudden shout.
Liam, from across the ally way, wrestling free from the black clad figures just as someone else appeared.
Someone else, who was tall, and limber, and wore a navy blue suit and arching black cape.
Cool, I thought, because Liam never let me have a cape and I was a little jealous.
The navy uniformed figure had leapt down from above us, and landed with his boots clattering in the pools of rain.
The Wolf geared up, curling his hands into fists prepared to fight whoever this was, suspecting as I had, that whoever they were, they’d be behind the knives and the robots thing.
Then, the worst thing happened.
I could see red and blue, because the cops had showed. Usually this was the point where we’d stand back and admire our work as the police arrested the criminals.
But it was different. This time was different.
This time, with the whole scene captured beneath streetlamps and the flashing of police cars just beyond the ally way, there was a gun shot.
Everything sort of slowed down, at least in my mind.
I turned, just in time to see Liam stumble backwards, as if he’d tripped or something. But he hadn’t tripped because I could see a huge red welt growing across his chest.
Liam had been shot.
The thought didn’t make sense at all. My brain kind of jammed up. I think I must have shouted or something. I probably did. The robots fell on me from all sides, and I struggled to evade them but I guess I wasn’t strong enough.
My whole world kind of dissolved all around me, in amongst flashing police lights and rain.
I was knocked unconscious, and when I woke, my entirely life had changed.
There’s this kind of unspoken atmosphere that settles when someone dies.
I could feel it the moment I woke in that hospital bed.
There were machines all around me, and everything beeped and wheezed and flashed.
Every part of me also hurt or was bandaged or stitched back together.
Here’s the thing about my city.
It’s always been a kind of Saturday Morning Cartoon kind of crime fighting city.
I’m not sure why that was because I knew that there were other places in the world where criminals were a lot more serious and people got shot and they had Arch-Nemeses.
But our city that never been that kind of city.
No one ever died, not ever. In fact, Liam had always told me that the first rule was that bad guys weren’t to be killed they were to be put to trial.
The criminals too never seemed to shoot to kill either. Sure we’d been wounded and sure the fights were serious but no one had ever died.
Not until then.
I blinked my eyes open, and could see only white, so I closed them again.
Someone had laid a hand towel over the upper part of my face.
They always did that, whenever Liam or I came in from a fight.
The medical staff were the only ones who’d ever see our face. When we came in they’d remove our masks and then they’d cover us up in case someone came in only ever removing the towel when they absolutely had to.
I remember the first time someone saw me. It was the third or fourth time I’d been out with Wolf, having just made my debut as his sidekick, Dare.
The nurse had to be twenty or twenty one, probably not even fully trained. She had fluffy blonde hair and sort of looked how I’d imagined a mother ought to, not that I knew what a mother should look like seeing as I didn’t have one.
I’d broken my arm. I was eleven years old and she helped me wriggle off my mask – Liam was goodness knows where – and the second she saw my face she gasped.
‘You’re a little too young.’ She told me, although alike the other staff she wasn’t really aloud to pass any kind of judgment on us or what we did. That was also part of the contract.
‘I’m eleven.’ I told her matter-of-factly, I’d be a fairly serious eleven year old.
‘I can see that.’ She said, as she put my mask aside. I figured she thought the better of saying anything else. I’d told Liam about what she’d said. He nodded as if he wasn’t at all interested but I never once saw that nurse again.
The Hospital staff were bound by a stack of legal papers not to say anything to anyone about who we were. It was all part of the contract.
Because oh yeah, cities have contracts with their heroes. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
We also had agents. Liam and my agent – I supposed my agent now – Hank. He was a short, rather fat man with a like… constantly sweaty forehead.
He was there, I knew that because he had this really, irritatingly loud way of breathing. A wheezing sort of sound that I could hear across the room.
I was perfectly aware that eventually I’d have to face things now and talk to Hank and have everything I sort of half remembered confirmed.
I really didn’t want that, but I’d have to. Like Liam said, sometimes being a hero is doing things you don’t want to.
The thought of Liam made me feel sick.
I curled up into a seated position, removing the towel from my face and blinking across to Hank who watched me with a kind of thoughtful expression.
‘Car accident.’ He said.
‘What?’ I croaked.
‘Car accident. We’ll say it was a car accident.’
I felt sicker now, and sort of had to breathe in and out a few times so I didn’t vomit all over the hospital bed.
So Liam was dead. I’d half hoped that I’d imagined it worse than it was. I fiddled with the hand towel for a bit, not sure what to say. Hank wiped the back of his hand on his sweaty forehead.
‘The good news is that as far as the public is concerned, Romulus Grey just inherited several billion dollars and become the heir of his father’s fortune. Congratulations, Roe.’
I’m not sure if that was genuinely meant to make me feel better. The thing about Hank was that he, like most of the people in his business, loved money. Unlike the super heroes they represented they were not in this because of a desire for justice. They got a pay check.
‘Uh. Okay.’ I said at last.
‘I haven’t heard anything Roe.’ Hank said quickly, still dabbing at his porky skin, the suit he wore far too tight, ‘once I do, I’ll say.’
I knew what he meant.
Most people assume the whole super hero thing is just a matter of an overzealous individual, sewing themselves a spandex suit and taking on the wickedness in the world.
It’s not like that.
Every super hero ever is a part of a large network called H.O.J.A.C.F but we all call it Hojac. It stands for Heroes Organization of Justice and Crime Fighting. The F is silent as it makes for a pretty awkward acronym. Hojac coordinates all super heroes and their placements.
Hojac decides whether you qualify for a Hero’s Administration License. Hojac places you in a city. Hojac deals with the business end. Contracts, agents, and of course, what happens when a city’s hero is killed and the sidekick is left alive.
Which was of course, my situation.
Only my situation was a little more awkward because I hadn’t gotten my Hero’s Administration License and I was a clone.
I didn’t quite want to think about what was going to happen.
Hank was right, to everyone else, I was Romulus Grey, the sudden heir of the Grey fortunes and would live a life of luxury and privilege.
The reality was I was Dare. Sidekick of a dead Hero, with no real place to go. There was no telling what was going to happen.
Whether, I’d stay in the city. Whether I’d be allowed to continue on as Dare elsewhere, or something.
Whether I actually wanted to be a hero any longer – although this last question was sort of my own to answer. I didn’t want to think of that either.
‘I’m in communication with Hojac.’ Hank went on, peering out the window out at the skyline. ‘I guess we’ll get you fixed up, home, and figure things out from there.’
I didn’t respond to this. Instead, I tipped my head back on the stiff pillow case behind me, reached for the hand towel and laid it back over my eyes.