“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity lasts forever.”
Stacey said something funny.
I managed to miss it completely, and I’m not even sure what I was thinking about when I should have been listening. But I knew it was funny, and not nasty, because Zaheera and MJ were laughing. They wouldn’t laugh at something cruel; they definitely wouldn’t laugh at me or Ashleigh being the butt of a joke. In fact, Zaheera would likely get offended and say something to Stacey about how her attempts at humour were hurtful and undeserved.
So it was definitely a funny comment – and for once, that left me wishing I’d been paying attention when Stacey spoke, instead of mentally writing a few paragraphs of my latest Tarzan fanfic in my head.
That’s what I’d been thinking about: I’d left a cliffhanger on my last update – Tarzan was just about to meet Jane for the first time.
Zaheera said something, and the laughter that resulted shook my thoughts away from my fiction, again. I smiled, then the smile froze on my face, leaving one of those awkward rictus grins, like a dead clown when the body goes all hard. I was smiling at a joke I hadn’t heard – and they probably knew I hadn’t heard it, and that meant they knew I didn’t know what I was smiling about. But I couldn’t not smile now, because the suddenly vanishing smile would be even worse. What if they hadn’t realised I hadn’t heard, but then I flashed a grin and went to my resting witch face in the fastest expression change since Jekyll and Hyde? That would be even more awkward.
Then again, the longer I sat internally debating this, the longer I sat with a frozen rictus grin on my face, and how could this situation be more awkward than it already was? I knew I should just make a comment, just join the conversation, but I also knew I was really bad at joining conversations. I was much better at sitting beside conversations with stupid grins on my face as I considered the multiple ways I could screw up every comment I’d make until long after the appropriate time to make such comments had passed. Or trying to justify why I couldn’t even think of a simple comment to make, or… I gave a small internal scream and kept that stupid grin on my face.
Beside me, Ashleigh shifted on her seat, reached for her beer. She was so much better at this than I was. She was sidelined from the conversation not because she was an awkward moron, but because she wanted to be. I was anti-social because I mucked up every attempt I made at being social. She was antisocial because she growled at pretty much everyone except me.
Although, to be fair, when I first started following her about and awkwardly fumbling my way into horrid conversations with her, she may have growled. I was probably too focused on everything internal to notice her growling. Maybe.
Ashleigh. Of course. She was the perfect way out of this awkward position I’d inadvertently put myself into. I turned to her, my smile becoming more natural. She was sitting on the padded bench, knees pulled up to her chin, shoes off and feet up. She had odd socks on. Of course she had odd socks on. Ripped jeans. White vest top – she was sitting on her leather jacket.
She saw me looking, and met my gaze over the top of her beer bottle. She didn’t say anything, didn’t move. I envied her that, her poise; I could never be so cool when someone was staring at me. Of course, she was looking at me now, but I’d started it, I’d looked at her first, and anyway, I was leaning in towards her so she’d hear me over the music.
“How you doin’, Ash?” I yelled at her, grinning stupidly, relieved I hadn’t messed that up. This might not be so bad.
Oh no. That was her answer? How was I supposed to respond to that? Had she just ended my attempt at a conversation? Was she not interested in talking to me? No, because she was still looking me straight in the eye. Ashleigh didn’t do that. If she didn’t want to talk to you, she didn’t even look at you. There was no politely waiting like a lemming until the other person said their piece, like I would do.
Hold on, do lemmings politely wait? All I knew about lemmings was that they followed other lemmings over cliff edges. No, stupid tangent. Concentrate, Rebecca. Ashleigh was fine. Well, she said she was fine. Would she say if she wasn’t? Probably not. She didn’t really admit to ever owning feelings, so like a guy, but how could I say I didn’t believe her?
“Everyone seems really down tonight,” I said, as Zaheera, Stacey and MJ shared another laugh. Oops, that was a lie, even though I hadn’t meant it. Zaheera never lied. She was kinda my inspiration, and kinda my nemesis. As much as I loved her, because she was awesome, I wanted to prove a Christian could be every bit as good a person as a Muslim, so I’d decided to never lie, too. “Well, they seemed really down earlier,” I corrected myself. Crisis averted.
Ashley shrugged. “You’ve got a reason to be down. The others?” Her eyes flicked over to them. “So, they don’t get to be top dog. Not like the reasoning isn’t sound. They should have expected it.”
“Maybe.” Well, yeah, probably. Ashleigh had a way of cutting through all the chaff and getting to the point. I sometimes wished I could be more like that, and I sometimes thought she was too blunt. “It’s still bound to sting a bit. Doesn’t it sting you?”
She took a long drink from her bottle. I considered turning to get my wine, but I might miss her reply. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I was thirsty, or if watching her drink had made me want to drink, too. Hmm.
Seems I was a bit like those lemmings, then. But not, like, suicidal.
She banged her bottle on the table and laughed dismissively. “No, I wasn’t rejected. I never wanted to be Sanctioned.”
I nodded. That actually made sense. Ashleigh had a deep distrust of anyone with any kind of authority. All through our Test Year, she’d been pushing boundaries and irritating the testers. There was no way she could actually want authority, not when she hated those who had it.
Then again, it was Ashleigh.
I turned away from Ashleigh, almost knocking my wine over as I went to pick it up. Some sloshed out, splashing my fingers. I left the glass where it was, waving my hand about to shake the wine off or dry it or something. I’m not sure what I was actually hoping would happen.
I stared out across the pub; kinda like if I didn’t look at my hand flapping about next to me, no one else would, either. I mean, it wasn’t a plan, I wasn’t thinking it would work. But the pub was busy and no one was staring at me, or pointing and laughing, or videoing me on their phones, not that I could see anyway, so maybe it did work a bit.It was busy tonight. We weren’t the only folk who’d figured the end of the Test Year meant everyone going their separate ways, and decided on the pub as a way to socialise one last time. There’d been people from the borders, from Orkney, and everywhere in between. And in a few short days, we’d be spreading back out across the country.
Stacey leaned across the table towards us. “You two got any plans?”
Plans? Me and Ashleigh? Like, together plans? Or plans for what we’d do tonight? Or life plans? “For?” I asked. One word answers are great. They’re limited in the ways I can mess them up.
“Life. The future. What are you going to do now that Testing is finished?”
Besides me, Ashleigh shifted in her seat. “Something will come up.”
“To something,” Stacey said, lifting her vodka. Zaheera clinked her glass of coke against it, and a moment later MJ had joined in.
I knocked my wine against Ashleigh’s bottle of beer, without spilling either, which was kinda awesome. To be honest, I’m not even sure if Ashleigh noticed. “To something,” I said. “Do either of you know what your somethings are?”
“Marriage,” MJ said. “I want to find a nice, stable guy and settle down.”
Stacey rolled her eyes in a really over the top kind of way. “Your plan for the rest of your life is to find a nice guy and marry him? Let’s say that takes five years. What’s your plan for everything after you turn 24?”
“To be married. Have kids. Raise kids. Grow old together.”
“I think that’s the saddest thing I ever heard,” Stacey said.
“Stacey, stop it,” I said. It wasn’t like a forceful demand or anything. It was quite gently said, in fact. I glanced at MJ. “I hope you find someone perfect for you.”
“Thanks. So do I. I’d be a great wife and, honestly, I think I’d suck at anything else.”
“A great wife sucks, too,” Stacey said. No one paid her any attention.
“My plan is to get married, too,” Zaheera said, “but at least I don’t have to find a man.”
“Oh,” I said, turning my attention to my friend-nemesis. Maybe I finally had something I could judge her own. Not that I would, but I wouldn’t because I don’t judge, not because she couldn’t be judged. “You have a boyfriend?”
She smiled shyly. “No, I mean my parents will find a man who is suitable for me.”
“Okay,” Stacey said. “Now that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s barbaric,” Ashley said.
Zareena laughed. “We always get called barbaric, despite having one of the oldest cultures in the world. The East was civilised long before the West stopped living in caves. And how else would I get married? Find someone here,” she waved her hand, indicating the pub around them. “I’d know nothing about them, their job, their prospects, their character. They probably wouldn’t even be Muslim. Or maybe I should try online, but what if I get catfished? My parents will identify nice guys from good families, and introduce us.”
I frowned. I mean, the way she put it, it didn’t sound that bad. My parents were bound to disapprove of whoever I dated, if I ever dated, if anything my friend’s parent’s reactions to their boyfriends were anything to go by. And it would be nice, maybe, to have the dating pool whittled down to men who were suitable and nice and interested. I mean, some of my friends had dated guys who weren’t great: guys with no future, guys who cheated, guys who took drugs and spent all their time on computer games. “There are a lot of stories about people getting forced to marry their cousins, or getting abused, and things,” I said.
Zaheera nodded. “Of course there are. Bad news travels faster, after all, and it has more entertainment value. Look at the news on TV, they never report the nice things that happen. It’s always wars, murders. Under Islamic law, forced marriages are illegal. Besides, my parents love me, why would they force me to marry someone I didn’t want to? Why would they not want me to be happy?”
“I… that makes sense, I suppose, but still…”
Zaheera’s smile widened. “But still, all you’ve ever heard is negativity, rumours, and outright lies, and you’ve heard so many it’s hard now for you to identify the truth. It’s understandable, Rebecca. Even your concern is admirable; you clearly care, because you’re such a nice person.”
Well. Even when she was making out I was a naïve fool, she was doing so in a way that made her seem so understanding and compassionate. Ugh. Zaheera was so lovely it was sickening, like too much cake. “You’re a nice person, too,” I said, and it wasn’t a lie because she was. I just wished she wasn’t always so nice.
“Enough,” Stacey said. “No one is getting married tonight, and one more compliment is going to make me throw up. Right now, it’s time for drinks. Whose round is it? Nevermind, I’ll get them.” She stood up, squeezed past Zaheera, and then froze. A hush descended over the entire crowd. “Holy shit,” Stacey muttered.
“What is it?” I asked, straining to see past Stacey.
Everyone was staring at the TV screen over the bar, and the barman was desperately turning the volume up. A devastated looking newsreader was staring out from the screen, his words too quiet to make out. A text bar across the bottom of the screen read: Breaking News: Glorious Killed. In the middle of the screen, the volume bar moved slowly upwards.
“…it seems Glorious cornered her nemesis, Dr Death, at an undisclosed location. In the ensuing battle, both Glorious and Dr Death lost their lives. As Glorious was previously believed to be completely invulnerable, the news of her death is as unexpected as it is upsetting. Police scientists revealed to us that Dr Death created a machine calibrated to Glorious, to remove her powers. There is no danger from that machine to anyone else, whether they have powers or not. Tune in for the full story at ten. In other news, the People’s Republic of China and the USSR have again issued warnings to the Fractured States of America, stating that any nuclear strikes even within the North American continent will be met with overwhelming force. President Putin has issued a statement that if America cannot rectify its problems, Russia is more than prepared to send in troops to help. For the full story on this developments, and the murder of Glorious, tune in for our news at ten.”
The volume went down as the adverts came on, and suddenly everyone was talking at once.
Stacey slumped back down onto a seat. She ran a finger through a pool of beer on the table, dragging liquid out to form random patterns.
“Glorious was the reason I wanted to be Sanctioned,” Zaheera said. “My family would have been furious; I knew that, but this one time I would have defied them anyway.”
Stacey huffed out a small sigh, shook her head.
I sat there, watching, barely even thinking, just… what? I couldn’t process it, my thoughts flitted in circles, making little sense. Glorious. I’d been obsessed with Glorious, when I was a kid. “I had everything,” I said, not knowing why, but feeling like this was important, “the wallpaper, the bedding, the comics. I covered my school jotters with her. She was… she was what a hero should be.”
“Perfect,” Zaheera said.
“Untouchable,” I said.
“Well someone fucking touched her,” Stacey said. She looked across at me, her eyes glistening around the edges. I’d never seen Stacey cry before. I’d never seen her upset, not once during the Testing. She looked frayed.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I knew her.”
“You knew her?” I asked, wondering if she meant like we all knew her. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d met Glorious in the past year – oh okay, I totally could, it was six times – or if she meant something else. Maybe this was just the first time she’d ever known someone who had died. Or maybe it was something else.
“I met her,” Stacey said. I could hear the strain in her voice. The pub’s music was still off, and there was a babble of chatter, but I could hear how close she was to breaking.
“We all met her,” Ashleigh pointed out, more than a little bitchy. I moved my hand up to lightly touch her arm. Her flesh was cool.
Stacey stared at Ashleigh, long and hard, then her gaze softened as she turned back to me. “It was a long time ago and I don’t talk about it, okay. But she saved me,” she dropped her eyes from mine, turned her head away and muttered something under her breath. It sounded like “always.”
How many times had Glorious saved her?
Why had she never mentioned it before?
Stacey surged to her feet. “I’m out of here.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To find something to screw, or smack, and I really don’t care which.” She moved off into the crowd.
“She was an idiot,” Ashleigh said.
“Stacey?” I asked. “Well, she… we all process grief in different ways.”
Ashleigh took a drink of her beer. “Not Stacey, but she is an idiot, too, but I was talking about Glorious.”
“Glorious was a hero,” Zaheera said.
“And look what it got her,” Ashleigh replied. “Killed being a damn hero.”
“No,” MJ said quietly, the first thing she’d said since before the news had come on. “She wasn’t…” her voice was quiet, but she had my full attention, and I’m pretty sure the other two, even Ashleigh, were equally focused on her. “She wasn’t killed being a hero.”
“What do you mean?” Zaheera asked.
“The news presenter was lying when he said that. Almost the whole thing was a lie. Well, not the bits about Russia and China, but almost everything he said about Glorious was a lie.”
MJ could see when people were hiding the truth. It didn’t tell her what the truth was, but she could see when people were lying. If she thought the news presenter had lied when he said Glorious was dead, he had lied. I grabbed her hand, stared into her eyes, felt a balloon swell in my chest as something blew hope into it.
“Glorious is alive?” I asked.
It’s been almost 100 years since the first recorded uses of superpowers. They have impacted on culture, political geography, and society in huge ways. Scotland has a strict policy on dealing with superhumans.
Scotland has a strict policy on dealing with superhumans.
Every child must be tested to see if they have the potential to develop powers. All potentials must attend a year long residential school help them learn to control their powers. Some of those students go home afterwards. Others are headhunted into lucrative positions, their powers an asset to their company. And a few try to become government Sanctioned superheroes.This is the story of five young women who have just finished their Test
This is the story of five young women who have just finished their Test Year, and aren’t eligible for Sanctioning training. Now they must find their place in the world. And the only thing they know for sure is, they aren’t superheroes. They’re the Rejects.
But when Scotland’s most popular and powerful superhero is gruesomely murdered, and a nationwide media and government cover up follows, the Rejects vow to find the real killer, and see justice done. No matter the cost.
Sanctioned is an original webserial in the superhero genre. It starts on 04/07/2016 and will update twice a week. You can find the website at https://
Note from Jim: Those people who like me are reading in the US will want to note that its start date is 7/04/2016. That’s July, not April.