I finished all my homework by seven—giving me more than enough time to get to headquarters, and finish what I was really excited about—Cassie’s armor.
I closed my laptop, pushed back my chair, and stepped away from my desk. Then I looked out the window. From the third floor of DePuit Hall, I could see most of Grand Lake University’s main campus. Lights came from dorms and lecture halls, standing out in the night, and illuminating the snow that covered the grounds.
It was January in Michigan after all, and that meant winter.
I considered whether I really wanted to cross the city in weather this cold. I’d fixed up my van, but I’d paid more attention to adding armor than making it comfortable.
And then I reconsidered because the armor I’d made was pretty cool. It answered an interesting problem. What sort of armor should you design for a superhero who’s in hiding, who doesn’t really need armor, and whose identity will most likely be exposed if the armor is recognizable as something you made?
Plus, bearing in mind she’s nowhere near you, can you make it something she can maintain?
So having decided to do what I’d planned to do in the first place, I started walking toward my closet (and the door).
I didn’t make it.
The door opened, and Jeremy, my roommate, and a couple of his friends walked in. Jeremy was slightly chunky, had brown hair, a thin mustache, and wore a black t-shirt that read, “There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.”
Caleb and Gabriel came in after him. They lived a few doors down the hall. I didn’t really know either of them.
Jeremy walked over to his desk, opened up his laptop, and said, “Nick, you gotta see this. It’s hilarious. I was going to show it to these guys, but you might get a kick out of it too.”
“I was about to go to the library,” I said.
He tapped the keys. “This won’t be more than five minutes. It’s a video I heard about on a podcast. Hey, I’ve got it.”
The website for “The Capes Next Door” appeared. I wasn’t really sure what the title meant. I had my suspicions. It was one of the SuperTV cable channel’s shows. I thought it maybe focused on the superhero scene in a different city each week?
No way to tell from what I was seeing though. The page was called “Fan Video,” and so it wasn’t really even part of the show.
I crowded around Jeremy’s desk with everyone else. I had five minutes if it would get him off my back.
He clicked play, and the video started, and an announcer’s voice talked over a still frame showing a woman in black hero costume facing off against a gang next to an old, brick building. All the gang members seemed to be in their teens or young twenties. Some carried knives, others guns, and a few didn’t seem to have weapons at all.
Worse, one of them appeared to be holding a knife next to a girl’s throat. She couldn’t have been more than eleven. Another pointed a gun at a woman who might have been in her thirties. She was holding her purse out as if she was passing it to another gang member.
The announcer said, “We don’t know who this young woman is, but watch how she handles this gang.”
Then the camera zoomed in on her, and I recognized the woman. She wasn’t much older than I was. Even though she wore a wig or had dyed her hair black, I recognized Tara, one of the older students in the Stapledon program.
Square jawed, and near six feet tall, she looked like a Jack Kirby illustration come to life.
As the announcer stopped talking, the action on the screen went from still to full speed. Tara ran, closing the distance between herself and the gang in a blur—not as quickly as a super with speed powers, but quickly enough.
The scene switched to the view of another camera, showing the fight. Due to the darkness and her speed, it wasn’t easy to follow each movement. All I saw was a blur of hands and feet.
After that, Tara, the girl, and her mother were the only people standing.
Then the announcer said, “Let’s take that in slow motion.”
It was amazing the second time around. My older sister Rachel knew Tara, and I’d gathered that Rachel liked her, but didn’t think she was especially smart. In this fight though, she was brilliant.
She noticed how closely they were standing to each other, and pushed one backward into the group, forcing them all to back away or get hit. By itself, that wasn’t impressive, but one of them backed toward the man holding the knife on the little girl.
The guy with the knife pulled it away from her neck as he dodged the man falling toward him.
That would have been a happy coincidence, but it wasn’t. Tara managed to move within reach of the knife at the exact moment when it was easiest to take it. Then she used the movement that began as she stepped toward the man with the knife to kick the gun out of the hand of the man who had been pointing it at the girl’s mother.
With the potential hostages freed, she’d downed the entire gang with more of the same.
I’d been trained pretty well, and while I could see how she’d done it, I wouldn’t have been able to do it myself. Even in powered armor, I wouldn’t have had the reflexes.
While I thought about how hard that would have been to do (even with her reflexes), the video cut to the beginning again.
It showed her slow motion run toward the gang only this time focused on her chest.
Maybe if she’d been just an attractive picture to me too, I’d have stayed. I don’t know. But I’d talked to her once or twice, and watching more felt uncomfortable.
I said, “Gotta go,” grabbed my coat, and left. They may have said something as I went, but I missed it.