Author’s note: This chapter has been edited to prevent spoilers. Long story short, Nova, a 17 year old high school senior, has recently experienced loss due to a murder by a man named Fortune. As she seeks justice (or revenge), she will later find out she’s what’s called Gifted, but for right now, all she knows is that she’s never so much as had a skinned knee or broken bone.
An excerpt from Liz Long’s upcoming YA superhero novel Super Nova:
The next night I decided to go out and see what I could find. I had no idea where to start, so why not dive right in? It was still early, just after nine, but my parents thought I was going to Henry’s for a movie. I heard my mother go to her bedroom and flip on the television while my father surely remained down in his office.
I rummaged through my closet, wrinkling my nose at everything. What did one wear to go save the world? Blue tights with red underwear seemed a little too conspicuous. It couldn’t be a dress, obviously, and shorts were out because my pasty white legs would be spotted a mile away. Plus, it was still on the warm side, so a black sweater wouldn’t cut it. I settled on a pair of black yoga pants, paired it with a thin black long-sleeved shirt and dug out my black Chucks from a pile of clothes on the floor. I looked in the mirror as I pulled my dark hair back. My blue eyes and pale face wouldn’t hide me very well, but I didn’t have a mask of any sort. Guess I’d have to make one later. I would not wear a ski mask.
I stood in front of the full-length mirror on my closet door to get the full effect. I looked ridiculous, like a hipster’s idea of a cat burglar. I didn’t have other options, though, unless I went shopping for leather pants or a corset. I grimaced at the thought; how was one supposed to be lightning-fast in hot pants and heels? I shrugged my vanity off—I was going to fight crime, not compete in a beauty pageant. I needed to be able to fight and run, not stun my opponent with heaving bosoms and luscious calves. Not that I really had either of those things, anyways.
I slipped out the front door and into my car. As I headed towards the city, I contemplated the options. So far, my plan was to drive into Arcania and tiptoe around the streets until I came across…well, a bad guy. I couldn’t hope that I’d find Fortune so easily, but I could use some practice on a teenage vandal spray-painting the walls or something.
I went into the heart of the city and took my car to Dad’s parking garage. Mine was the only vehicle on the floor and the emptiness of the giant space gave me the creeps. I took the stairs down and headed away from the courthouse. My heart thudded in my chest; I half-expected to be jumped from behind at any moment. I felt like an owl, my head spun around so much in every direction.
The movies only showed the good parts of criminals getting beaten up. They never showed the tedious part where the hero ran around hunting down justice. It was a lonely, eerie process. Shadows leapt out at me from every direction. I gritted my teeth and pressed onwards, stepping as quietly as I could, listening for any sounds of movement. No way would I chicken out, even if I did just nearly wet myself at the newspaper rustling against the pavement. This is what I would have to do; trouble wasn’t going to walk up to me and offer itself. I had to find it and that meant I couldn’t run back home with my tail tucked between my legs every time I got scared.
Since it was only my first night on the job, I didn’t stray too far, perhaps only a five or six block radius around my dad’s office. I tried to familiarize myself with the city layout and its buildings. After maybe an hour, I’d gone from scared to almost bored. All I’d run into since I parked the car was the occasional homeless guy rattling his cart across the streets. I’d only seen a handful of cars drive through and when they passed, I stayed in the shadows to avoid being noticed.
As I passed the same alley for what had to be the third time, I heard a sound coming from the darkness. I froze, straining to listen. I jumped when a garbage can was knocked over and I took a few steps forward towards the culprit. I realized I was holding my breath and quietly released it. A few more steps and I saw…a stray dog digging through the trash. I heaved a sigh of frustration. The dog barely looked at me before going back to its dinner. Great. Not even a stray dog found me intimidating enough for a growl. I decided to pack it up and go home to bed. If any vandals were out tonight, they were in another part of the city.
I’d walked it into the parking garage but hadn’t made it past the first floor when I heard it. A slap of a hand across skin followed by a strangled cry, then a thump as someone hit the concrete floor. A man’s voice cursed loudly as the woman cried. The sounds echoed across the lot all the way to where I stood. I was so close to the stairway, to my car hidden in its corner on the fourth floor. It would be so easy to run. I paused, my hand halfway to the stairwell doorknob. Another sob emitted from the woman. My heartbeat thudded in my ears as my mind struggled to weigh the consequences of either choice. A split second later, I took off towards the struggle.
I skidded to a halt when I saw shadows dancing on the concrete walls. I poked my head around the corner and saw them: a pimp and his prostitute. The girl, who couldn’t possibly be more than twenty, lay on the ground, tears and blood on her face. What little clothing she wore was ripped, barely concealing her lime green bra and scraped white thighs. The man, who luckily had his back to me, wore dark jeans and a black jacket; I guessed he had maybe forty pounds on me, but he was only a few inches taller.
“I told you I was gonna get my money one way or another!” he yelled at her.
“Please, I can get it. It was a slow night! I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”
“Said that last week. I’m done with you. I ain’t no sucker and I’ll get my money’s worth outta you, slut.”
“Please,” she begged. “I promise I’ll get it to you. I—” He cut her off with a backhanded slap. She kept her face to the ground and wept. Now was as good a time as ever. I had no plan so I did the first thing I could think of—I used the element of surprise.
I pushed myself off the wall and barreled towards him. I had a moment to register the girl’s face as she looked up; her shocked gaze made the pimp turn to look, too. I sprinted faster and as his face registered surprise, I threw all my weight against him. It was a tackle my football team would’ve envied too, because it propelled us both about twenty feet across the concrete. Miraculously, I kept the upper hand and as I rolled over him, I hopped into a crouch beside him. Dazed, he looked around and found me, tried to lift his hand.
“What the fu–?” he tried to say, but I cut him off.
“You’re going to leave her alone. Go back to the hole you crawled from.”
“The hell I will. She’s mine, you crazy bitch.” He moved faster than I thought, jumped to his feet and swung. He swung at me, caught my shirt sleeve as I jumped back. It ripped and I tumbled down on my butt and scrambled to stand up. He grinned at me and wiped the blood off his scraped chin, spit on the ground. We faced one another for an awful second before he struck at me.
I ducked, tried to throw a right hook, but he blocked my arm and shoved me backwards into the wall, put his hands around my throat. I couldn’t break his grip no matter how hard I pulled at his wrists. Every bit of anger I had made my adrenaline surge. He squeezed hard; it didn’t hurt, but definitely cut off my air supply. So there was a downside to my so-called power—I couldn’t really fight. He would choke me to death if I didn’t hurry to stop him.
He may have been strong but my feet were still on the floor. I stomped on his foot as hard as I could and jabbed him in the eye. He howled, his hands involuntarily coming up to his face. I shoved him backwards and kicked him in the chest. I tried to put a little extra “oomph” into it and he stumbled a few feet back. I heard him choke as he fell, knocking the wind out of him.
He struggled to get to his feet but I ran to him in no time. I put every bit of strength I had into my fist and rammed it into his face. For the first time in my life, I punched someone. His head snapped back and I heard his skull hit the floor hard.
I paused, braced myself in case he got up again, but he was out cold. I felt confident he would have a concussion. What was next? Oh, I could rob him since he’d taken her money. I searched his pockets and pulled out a large wad of cash. I walked over to the girl and kneeled beside her.
“Can you move?”
She nodded and sat up. A large bruise already darkened on her cheekbone and a split bottom lip looked painful. “Who are you?”
“Doesn’t matter. Here, take this.” I stuffed the cash into her hand and put a hand on her shoulder. “You have to get out of Arcania. He’ll try to find you.”
I helped her up and she straightened her clothes best she could. She breathed deep. “I don’t know what to say. How could I thank you enough?”
“By getting far away from him. I know you might not have many options for employment, but I’d recommend you get out of this business.”
“I know. I don’t even really know how it got this far. Oh, your clothes…are you hurt?”
I looked down at my shirt to see a large rip on the side. I grimaced. This would get expensive if I had to buy clothes every time I went out.
“I’m fine. I have to go and so do you. I hope wherever you go, it’s better than here. Run, before he wakes up and starts the search for you.”
“He’ll take it out on the other girls,” she said, her face scrunched up in tears again.
“Then I’ll have to tackle him and take his lunch money again,” I replied. I gave her a small smile before I pivoted and ran to the stairwell. When I looked back, she still stared at me in awe. “Go!”
She nodded, ran out of the garage opening, and disappeared into the night. I ran to my car and drove as fast as I could out to the front. When I passed the pimp, he still lay unmoving in the spot where I left him. I gunned the engine and bolted back to my house.
“Well, that was easier than I anticipated.”
I didn’t acknowledge the evening until I pulled into my well-kept neighborhood. I parked in my driveway and turned off the car but didn’t get out immediately. Instead I sat back and relished my success. I probably saved a woman’s life tonight. I’d done an insane thing to put myself out there, but couldn’t it also be a bit brave? I helped that girl and maybe she wouldn’t quit her night job, but at least she’d live to see another day. A broad grin spread across my face but vanished as I considered the consequences. The joy dimmed.
That man would remember me, would know my face if he saw it again. I was irresponsible for going anywhere without a mask. I didn’t think I would be very memorable, but I couldn’t be in any photos with my father when he won a case and landed on the news. I’d be pretty recognizable if that man saw me in the paper; he could easily figure it out and attack me. Or my parents. Oh god, that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t go out again before I remedied this problem.
Maybe I should’ve killed him.
The fact it took me a long moment to realize my statement was a problem in itself. I shook my head, disgusted with myself. I absolutely wouldn’t think those things. But then again, didn’t I want to kill Fortune? My father said he wanted justice, but my feelings weren’t even deeply hidden: I wanted Fortune dead. How would I convince someone he deserved it over anyone else?
Exhaustion hit me and I gave up my mental war for the moment. I wanted to crawl into my bed more than anything. I trudged into my house and managed to get in my room and change. No matter the future, I’d done a good thing tonight.