Superpowers don’t make you a hero.
Verity Fortune’s crime-fighting days are over. In exile, defeated by her smug supervillain nemesis, her shady past exposed—even her own superpowered family condemn her as a traitor. Whatever it takes, Verity’s determined to prove she can still be a force for good.
Now, Sapphire City faces a new threat. A delinquent duo with extraordinary powers and a terrifying talent for destruction. Outmatched and on the run, her telekinetic powers faltering, Verity can’t defeat this menace alone—but who can she trust, when the only person who believes in her is her arch-enemy?
Glimmer—my sidekick, or am I his? I’m always confused by that—just grinned, his skunk-striped hair sticking up in a you-bet-I-am spike, and waved his swatch of stolen credit cards in my face.
“You want to go shopping.”
“On Black Friday. For presents.” I mimed a barf. Bad songs, corny advertisements, all that enforced cheer, villains wreaking holiday havoc. Even the idea of holiday season makes me nauseous, and that’s before I’ve crammed my belly with my weight in delicious Thanksgiving turkey and Glimmer’s scrumptious pumpkin pie.
Glimmer rolled his eyes. “Who are you, the Grinch Who Stole Giving?”
I patted my director’s-cut-extended-version abdomen. “I’m bearing your food baby, my friend. I estimate it won’t be born for at least another forty-eight hours. I can’t possibly leave the house.”
“Nonsense. If you’re good, I might even get you a present. New t-shirt, maybe.”
I looked down. My shirt sported a cartoon elf, who laughed like an idiot as he prepared to shove a burning dynamite stick up a startled-looking reindeer’s backside. Underneath, it said HAPPY HOLIDAYS, ASSHOLES! “What’s wrong with my t-shirt?”
“I rest my case. C’mon, it’ll be fun. Remember fun, Verity? It’s what normal people have.”
I gave him a telekinetic shove. “Has it occurred to you that a shopping mall stuffed with dazed, overfed, bargain-stunned normal people who aren’t watching where the hell they’re going is just begging to be attacked? D’you think supervillains take holiday weekends off? We could be lumbering straight into a trap!”
“All the more reason for us to be there.”
Sigh. Right, as usual. We’re supposed to be the good guys. Protect the public, keep the peace, all that. Sapphire City’s villains don’t call a halt to murder, mayhem and crazy-ass destruction just so we can eat turkey.
“Do-gooder,” I grumbled, but he got his way. Glimmer always gets his way, at least with me.
“So what are we buying for everyone?” I asked, two hours later as we fought our way through the hostile war zone that was our local shopping mall. A throng of people hemmed us in, bristling with bargain-stuffed bags, pushing laden shopping carts, dragging protesting children.
Glimmer snorted. “You tell me. They’re your family.”
“Big help.” But the crowd made me anxious. My ears throbbed to a jungle of noise: laughter, screaming kids, shouting product spruikers, relentless cheerful music. The smell of massed humans—breath, skin, perfume—clogged my nose and mouth, and my bones stung with impotent unease. Even my mindmuscle—the whiplash creature in my brain that produces my power—squirmed uncomfortably, not sure which way to snap.
Can’t see over the crowd. Can’t taste that sherbety spritz that means augment. Can’t even hear the damn villains coming.
We fought our way to the balcony railing to take a breather. “Games for Ebenezer, make-up for Harriet, books for Jeremiah,” I recited, naming my superpowered cousins. “Perfume for sister Equity, and as per usual Adonis is the difficult one. What do you get the obnoxious big brother who has everything—”
Boom! All the lights in the shopping mall snapped out.
Overhead fluoros. Window displays. Everything.
Glimmer grabbed my hand. The escalator next to us ground to a halt, and overhead, the heating system juddered and stopped blowing air. People cowered and screamed, and started shoving. Children howled. Someone pushed me against the glass balcony railing, and I grabbed with my mindmuscle and held on to stop myself being tipped over the side.
With a rough crack! like a striking flare, the lights came back on.
Not the fluoros. A green, swirling, underwater light. And too late, my secret senses sparkled with the tingling sweet flavour of augment.
Weird, unholy laughter echoed, overpowering the yells of frightened shoppers, and a disembodied male voice coiled through the mall like a snake. “Attention, shoppers! Have I got a deal for you!” Pressure squealed in my ears, and like a tinkle of fairy footsteps, the glittering green air whispered silence.
And silence fell. Everyone obediently stopped yelling and shoving. Even the children lapsed into calm. A few even curled up on the floor and went to sleep.
Curious calm wafted over me like sweet smoke, and I yawned. A nap sure would be nice…
“A mindbender!” Glimmer whispered fiercely in my ear, startling me out of my trance. “Pay attention!”
Chagrined, I shook myself. What the hell was that, the Jedi Mind Trick? We augmented folk were immune to other augments, at least more immune than most. But this greenlit clown’s power had crawled right up my nose to chew at my brain. “Show yourself, wankstain,” I yelled, waving my arms, “and I’ll rip you a new one. How’d you like that?”
The unseen villain—for surely he was up to no good—laughed again, his amplified voice booming in the eerie green quiet. “Better. Let’s play a game, shall we?”
Roughly, I pushed my way to the stairs, bouncing on tiptoes to peer above the docile crowd. Nothing. I scrabbled with my senses, but all I got was static. Couldn’t see him. Couldn’t smell him. Couldn’t find a damn thing.
By my side, Glimmer unleashed, a shimmering white shockwave of question, like a villain-smugness detector. Nothing flashed.
Shit. My bones chilled. Already, I dreaded the gunshots, the explosions, the sheets of fire. Who was this lunatic, and what flavour of murder was he planning? We had to stop him.
I grabbed a fistful of power and dragged downwards, preparing to fling myself at the distant ceiling for a better vantage point…
“The game is called ‘Unconsume’,” said the villain cheerfully. “The rules are simple. Take a look at yourselves, people. Spending time you don’t have, to buy random stuff you don’t need, from predatory mega-rich store chains that do not need your money. Repeat after me, folks: Screw that!”
“Screw that,” echoed the crowd obediently as one. All of them. Even the fidgeting kids.
I halted in pre-leap, and glanced at Glimmer, confused. He frowned, motioning me to be still.
“That’s right!” crowed Mr. Unconsume, and the green-glitter air swirled with uncanny persuasion. “So listen up, shoppers. You’re gonna go now, and by the end of today, you’re gonna give away every pointless piece of crap you bought.”
I looked at Glimmer, incredulous. I had to admit I liked this guy’s style. Around us, people were nodding and poking through their shopping bags. A guy near us tipped his swag out on the floor and kicked it. A woman tossed a bag of Christmas decorations over the balcony, tinsel fluttering down.
“Give the food and clothes to a homeless shelter. Give the toys to a kids’ charity. give the TVs and fridges to a school or a halfway house or a support group, whatever you like—But…”
I tensed, wary. Always with the ‘but.’
“…if you haven’t ditched it ALL by close of business,” Mr. Unconsume added darkly, and the air flashed crimson with threat, “I’ll come looking for you. And don’t think I won’t know. Are we clear?”
Mingled voices came from the crowd, a blur of yeahs and sures and you got its.
“Are we CLEAR?”
“Yeah!” they all yelled, and stampeded for the doors.
I grabbed Glimmer, and we gripped the railing for our lives as the crowd blew by like a sweaty tornado. Mr. Unconsume’s teasing laughter whirled along with them, sweeping them out into the parking lot. Eventually, the doors at the end slid shut, and we and the glitter-green silence were alone.
“Well,” I said after a moment, “that was interesting.”
“Mmm.” Glimmer ruffled his hair, nonplussed. “In a bleeding-heart, social-equality kind of way.”
“I guess he kind of had a point.”
“I guess he did.” He fidgeted. “We’ve got loads of food left at home. Maybe we should, you know.”
We looked at each other, sheepish. I folded my arms. “Still fancy doing that shopping?”
Cool fingers brushed my shoulder.
I whirled, scrabbling blindly for my power.
No one. Nothing. Just a cone of swirling green light, receding towards the ceiling, smaller and smaller until it vanished in a pop! of laughing glitter. “Happy Holidays.”
Meet Erica Hayes!
Erica Hayes was a law student, an air force officer, an editorial assistant and a musician, before finally landing her dream job: fantasy and romance writer. She writes dark paranormal and urban fantasy romance, and her books feature tough, smart heroines and colourful heroes with dark secrets. She hails from Australia, where she drifts from city to city, leaving a trail of chaos behind her. Currently, she’s terrorizing the wilds of Northumberland.
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