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ONE It is never a good sign when all the lights go out and everyone starts screaming. Of course there are surprise parties but they usually involve lights coming on and there is a disco and a buffet. This did not feel like a party. For one thing this wasnt my birthday. For another I was a prisoner in a high security facility and so surprise parties tended to be pretty rare. I also had a feeling that whatever was happening here was unlikely to result in cake. Which is a pity because I really like cake. Chocolate cake especially. With sprinkles. I considered panicking but decided against it. After all I was locked in a reinforced, lead lined, plasticrete cell. If anything I was somewhat over protected. It was just as well really because the only offensive weapons I had were a rubberised shatterproof spoon, a fine line in sarcasm, and a rather dashing sneer. But it was all beside the point really because I wasnt worried about anyone getting at me. What really worried me was that if someone killed all the guards then I was going to be trapped down here with no food. And me being what I am I doubted anyone would be in a great hurry to rescue me. Of course it could be a break out. Breakouts are good. But from what I could hear through the tannoy the violence was indiscriminate. I was pretty sure I recognised prisoners voices screaming too. Not good. Thankfully the screaming eventually stopped after about half an hour. Which was a blessing really because it was beginning to get a bit depressing. I sat for several minutes just relishing the silence and waiting for something exciting to happen. I waited quite a while. Eventually I got bored and was forced to try and entertain myself by rummaging under my mattress for supplies. It was with a rather pathetic sense of triumph that I managed to scavenge a packet of biscuits and some fruit gums. I considered saving them in case I was going to starve. But like I said I got bored.

My situation didnt really begin to concern me until I heard the backup generators die and the static on the tannoy fizzled out in to silence. It occurred to me that I was about a mile underground and that I might be utterly alone and forgotten. I began to wonder if the water supply had to be pumped in. Oh god I hoped not. I can deal with most things but if I ended up having to drink my own urine then that would be a new low for me. I began to wonder how long someone can actually survive just by drinking their own urine. I wondered if it would stain my teeth. I have good teeth so it is an important consideration. And of course what would it do to my breath? Knowing my luck Id meet the girl of my dreams and Id have yellow teeth and breath that could stun a hippo. But then I thought no, it is no good being negative, you have to look for the silver lining. So I decided that (a) since Im locked in an impregnable bunker with what sounded like armageddon happening upstairs then it is unlikely that Im about to meet the girl of my dreams and (b) drinking my own urine would at least be better than drinking other peoples urine. See thats me, Im an optimist. It was just after this deep, rather philosophical, line of thinking that I heard a gentle knock on my cell door. I strained to see my visitor but of course I cant see through solid walls and doors. I do have excellent night vision but in this instance that just meant I had a really clear view of the door. You see my unique abilities usually require me to be in line of sight with my target. Its very annoying really. I knew a guy in the old days who could see through virtually anything. He called himself the x-ray demon and he was always in demand with the big guys, never out of work. But he hated his ability because he could never turn it off. He told me once that it was like living in a world of glass. He spent a lot of time walking into walls and tripping over stuff. I think he fell off a building in the end. Well I say he fell, but who knows right? Anyway back to the gentle knocking. I resisted the urge to cry out and call for help. It couldve been anyone out there but that wasnt why I didnt call out. I waited for a beat of ten

seconds because it was, quite frankly, more dramatic. In my line of work I have found that drama and creating a sense of uncertainty helps you retain the initiative. Anyway, as my Gran always used to say, you never get anything in this world by being too keen. What do you want? I hissed. I dont know what kind of reply I was expecting. I suppose I thought if it was a villain then my gruff response might make them think twice and if it was a hero then I was at least living up to expectations. Instead I was greeted by two voices. Oh god there is someone there. Help us, let us in, please please let us in, said a male voice. He cant let us in doofus hes in a cell. The second voice was obviously a female. Or someone with a serious helium addiction. He might not be. He may be a guard. This is a bunker. This might be where rich people go to hide. Yeah. Thats why the locks on the outside. Know all. The boy countered. Well I dont know about you Berkley but I dont want to have survived the hell up there just to be killed by some super powered cannibal psycho who dresses in his mothers clothes, has a necklace of human nostrils, and who misquotes Shakespeare in a dodgy English accent while he sucks our kidneys out of our noses. Hes in a cell for a reason. I nodded to myself at this. She certainly had a good point there. But the boy came back quickly with a heartfelt, if slightly nave, argument.

In case you hadnt noticed Darla the whole has gone to hell. We have not got the luxury of picking and choosing help. We have to take it where we can get it. And anyway my uncle Henry used to wear my aunty Jens clothes and he was a real nice guy. Amusing though it was listening to nerds arguing I felt I ought to interject at this point. Ahem I said. I would like to point out that I am indeed in this cell for a reason. However I am neither a cannibal nor am I transvestite. Although I did have a cousin called Geoff who had a weakness for frilly underwear and leopard print bodices. I do misquote authors, but only for comic effect, and my English accent is quite genuine. What are you in for, said the girl. She was astute. Id have to watch her. Well Darla. Can I call you Darla? No. Well Darla. I used to attack nerds, scoop out their insides, paint them pretty colours and use them as novelty kites. Oh my God. Really! Said Berkley. He was nice and gullible. I liked him already. No of course not, I laughed with a just hint of warm humour. I simply tried to take over the world. I added with a touch of regret. Though by the sounds of it the world isnt doing too well at the moment. I finished with concerned sincerity. I should have been a politician really. I am just so good at this rubbish. And now for the coup de grace.

Now if the world really is as messed up as you say then we stand a better chance of survival if we work together. This unfortunately came out a bit creepy because I overdid the sincerity. Well you would say that, said Darla with her annoying sense of logic. Youre probably going to starve to death in there. Youll say anything to get out. Well of course she was right. I just had to hope that Berkleys gullible optimism would win through. I was also betting that they watched the sort of movies where enemies team up in times of crisis and end up becoming friends with a sense of mutual respect. I stayed quiet again. Sometimes its best just to shut up and let people work things out for themselves. We dont know the code to open the door, Darla said quietly. I smiled to myself and resisted the urge to whoop with joy and high five the wall. The code was the easy bit. Type in 347810. Thankfully the door locks run on their own interior batteries or I really would have been stuffed. How do you know the code? said Berkley. Oh god now he was starting to show initiative. It mustve been catching. The code is useless to me because I cant use it from in here, I explained. It was someones idea of a joke to let me know what it was. It was quite a convincing reason. It was a blatant lie of course but I reckoned it was quite plausible. I heard them both back away from the door and start arguing again in urgent whispers. I wasnt worried. I knew they were going to open the door. It was with some satisfaction that

I heard the bleep bleep of the keypad and that lovely kerchunk sound as the lock disengaged and freedom beckoned. I had hoped to strike a dramatic pose as the door swung open but its hard to look cool when a couple of flashlights are cauterising your retinas. So who are you? Said Darla as I blinked and fumbled my way out of the cell. Wouldnt it have been wiser to ask me that before you opened the door? I grinned wolvishly. I could be Captain Cannibal or the Evil Doctor von Nostril Collector for all you knew. Oh it was so nice to be out and I enjoyed teasing them. But then my eyes adjusted and I looked at them face to face. To be honest I very nearly just stepped back in my cell and locked the door again. It wasnt that Darla and Berkley were particularly scary. Darla was a skinny redhead with glasses and sensible shoes whilst Berkley was just a sphere with a goatee beard and a death metal T-shirt. Hardly figures of terror unless you have a phobia about teenage nerds (nerdophobia?). But it was their eyes that made me want to go and hide under my duvet. Or to be more precise it was what was behind their eyes. OK then this is the deal. As far as the world is aware I am a C list super villain with telekinetic abilities. I am pretty cool. However I do have a lesser known secret talent. Im a telepath too (shhh now, no blabbing). I keep it secret for several reasons, the first being that no one likes a telepath. They make people nervous. The second is that it gives me an edge and it has literally saved my life on several occasions. Believe me it pays to have a hidden ace up your sleeve. As far as the world is concerned Im PK who just happens to be very (extremely) good at cards. And thats how I intend to keep it. But I need face to face contact

for it to work. And looking and the two bedraggled teens in front of me I was treated to a whole head full of horror. It was hard to make sense of it. Too many images all at once. There was lots of blood and screaming and then there were the superheroes. But it was all wrong because they werent helping people. They were the ones doing the killing. And it was happening everywhere. This was a brutal coup, the heroes were taking over and, as far as Darla and Berkley knew, in less than twenty four hours they had brought the world to its knees. It made no sense. They were supposed to be the good guys. The words holy and crap were bubbling around in my head along with various other words which I will let you work out for yourselves. I held onto the doorframe and felt the world spin under my feet. To be honest I may have lost my dignity at that point were it not for Berkley. You see about halfway through this deluge of horror I noticed that Berkleys attention kept drifting to thoughts about Darlas bottom. God bless teenage boys, youve got to admire them really. Theyd just waded through hell and he was still being led by his libido. I suppose hed pretty much followed her rear end all the way down here. You might even say that Darlas bottom saved our lives. Because if I had remained overwhelmed by their more traumatic thoughts then I would never have noticed the three figures leaping out of the shadows at us. Now I dont mean to brag but I am quite good in a fight. Of course Im much better if I have my power suit and all my gadgets but even in pyjamas and moccasins Im no pushover. Instinctively I surrounded myself and the kids with a defensive bubble and watched happily as three overconfident lycra clad figures bounced off it like pinballs. That confused them. They obviously werent expecting meta human resistance. Unfortunately they rallied quickly and started hammering at my force field. I wracked my mind to try and identify them

so I could work out what powers I was facing. But their costumes were covered in blood and their faces contorted in hatred. One of them was actually wearing a necklace of what could be body parts (or soggy red macaroni, it was kind of hard to tell). Darlas earlier reference about nostril collecting didnt seem quite so funny now (but it was still a little bit funny). From what I could see of these guys there were two flyers and an acrobat. They looked to be in their early twenties so I figured that they could be members of one of the ex sidekick groups like the young defence troupe , or teen mega squad, but that didnt narrow it down much because they were all quite a mixed bunch. Well regardless of who they were I knew my bubble wouldnt last forever. I had to start getting offensive before they started wearing me down. So I waited until they were all up close and personal and then exploded the bubble outwards. I then pushed my teenie nerd saviours back into my old cell and shut the door to keep them safe (I am such a softie really). I closed my bubble down in to a more personal combat ready bodyfield and leapt forward with my fists at the ready and a lovely big evil grin all over my face. Its possible that I may have been giggling a bit by this point but it was probably just the adrenaline. Using my PK to augment my blows I was able to put the first flyer halfway through a wall before hed even realised what hit him. The acrobat was trickier because he was so fast and I just couldnt get a fix on him. He bounced around me like a demented frog on steroids. He landed about thirty punches and kicks and I still couldnt latch on. To be fair he wasnt even denting my PK field but he was definitely denting my patience. In the end I started making ouch noises and clutching my face in a bid to urge him into overconfidence. I was very convincing. Im sure I couldve been an actor. Maybe not a lead but a good character actor, possibly in broadway, doing period drama and stuff (but not musicals). Anyway I started throwing in a few throaty gurgles and the bouncy little fool eventually felt brave enough to pull my feet out from under me and pin me to the floor. Then the little rat started beating me around the head with an iron

bar (I dont even know where he got it from). My PK held (of course) but it still made my teeth vibrate. I continued making scared faces and little pained grunts and I was quite getting into the role really. I even threw in a Please stop, dont hurt me. But then he spat at me and it ruined the mood. I ripped the bar out of his hands with a thought and gripped him down tight. The look of surprise on his cheeky little face was wonderful. I had great pleasure in grinning up at him and gently whispering the word Sucker. Then I simply slammed him up against the ceiling at high speed. Repeatedly. There were some very satisfying crunching sounds. As I dusted myself off I assumed that the second flyer would be hurtling straight at me. But when I looked down the corridor I saw that he was just hovering in mid air and staring at me. I found my eyes drifting down to his necklace. Were they earlobes? I remember thinking that he should have at least rinsed them first. He looked lazily in my direction and grinned. He was cocky and obviously so sure that he could take me. He was also a top grade nut boy. I levitated slightly and crossed my arms and attempted to look as calm as possible (because necklace or no necklace there was no way I was going to be out posed). So, I called out with a touch of bravado. I just concertinad one of your buddies into a reinforced wall and your annoying acrobat is now significantly flatter. Which leaves you all alone. Oh dear. I was taunting him but he didnt seem to mind. It was a pity really because I like a bit of banter during a battle. He just kept on staring. I had the distinct impression he was trying to figure out which bit of me would fit best on his necklace. It was hard to reconcile that, according to Berkley and Darlas memories, twenty four hours ago this guy was probably a clean cut goody two shoes hero.


I slipped into his mind to see if there were any answers there but all I found was static and a flash of red. The static confused me because there should at least have been some surface thoughts. Even people who can block me usually cant help but leak out a few random thoughts. It made no sense but I figured now was not really the time to contemplate on the matter. Instead I concentrated on the red flash, because that was something I certainly did understand. Smiling to myself I at least now understood why he felt so sure of himself. This bozo had laser vision and from the looks of it he was hoping to burn me out without even having to come near me. Instinctively I put a small hard bubble around his head and then basically just watched him incinerate his own eyeballs. It was mean I know but I never said I was a nice person. Anyway, from the looks of the blood and gore dripping from these guys I figured they werent very nice either. I half sauntered half swaggered back to my cell door and opened it with a flourish. You can come out now nerdlings, I said. The sooner we get out if here the better dont you think. I was smiling because it had felt so good to really cut loose. Especially after six months in that godforsaken cell. When I opened the door I half expected some freeform adoration and a standing ovation but Darla and Berkley just stared at me in confusion. I guess they didnt know whether to be grateful or scared. In fact they looked like little bunny rabbits caught in the headlights of a monster truck and I almost felt sorry for them. It was achingly obvious that they were desperate for some slither hope. It was also very obvious that they were hoping for something other than me to be their saviour. I certainly wasnt going to be the answer to their prayers but then again sometimes youve just got to make the best of whatever comes along. I endeavoured to look a little less pleased with myself and to seem a little more compassionate.


Its OK, I said. Im not going to hurt you. And I meant what I said when I was in the cell. We stand better chance of survival if we work together. And right now we need to go and find somewhere safe. I smiled in a way I hoped wasnt too creepy (but I think it probably was a bit) and they smiled back weakly. However our happy feel good moment didnt last. An annoying little beepy sound was coming from Berkleys trousers. He fumbled around in his pockets and pulled out an extremely thin and shiny bit of plastic that I assumed must be a mobile of some sort. Umm hello? he muttered and then nodded several times. He held the phone out to me. Its for you, he said. I held it like it was a poisonous snake. As I put it to my ear I remember thinking that this was unlikely to be good news. The voice was disguised by a modulator (never a good sign) but the message was loud and clear. Hes coming for you Bloodspider. Youve got maybe ten minutes. You need to get out of there now. I hung up because I had no intention of wasting good running time by asking stupid questions. I tossed Berkley back his phone and told them it was time to go. To their credit they didnt question me. Rushing through an underground layer with no map and only two torches was certainly an interesting experience. But only if you have a keen interest in body parts and a particularly strong stomach. We had to take a quick breather in the end because Berkley turned blue and Darla needed to throw up. I used the opportunity to sift through Darlas


surface memories so I could work where we should go next. I figured she was the most likely to have paid attention to signs and exit routes but her mind was jumbled mess of fear and confusion. I managed, after some effort, to at least get a rough idea of direction. Of course it would have been easier to just ask her but its difficult to talk when one of you is dry heaving and gibbering behind a desk. My nerdlings were suffering so I decided that I needed to distract them from the horror around us and lift their spirits a bit. After all a happy minion is a productive minion. So I started a nice wholesome game of eye spy. In retrospect it may not have been my best idea (although I was secretly impressed that Berkley got hypothalamus and spleen). However it mustve helped a little because when Darla eventually looked up she determinedly wiped the vomit from her chin with the back of her hand and held her head up defiantly. She was regaining her composure and digging deep into her reserves. I admired that. Who was on the phone? She said. As if in answer we heard a sonic boom followed by an explosion of concrete as something hit the upper levels like a speeding locomotive. So much for ten minutes, I whispered. I put my nerds in a bubble, powered up my personal bodyfield, and propelled us at high speed in the opposite direction to the crash. They squeaked in surprise and I hoped for Darlas sake that she didnt throw up again. Im not a natural flyer, it takes concentration and effort, but nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of an imminent and messy death. Of course I knew who was coming for me, someone with a grudge, an A list superhero media darling who was, quite frankly, a psychopath even before the world went mad. Captain Starfire, Earths mightiest defender and easily the most powerful creature on the planet. Hes also handsome as hell and one of the few meta humans who actually looks good in lycra (and


man doesnt he know it). My only hope was that we were too far down for his thermo vision to pick us out. We bounced off walls and crashed through the doors at dizzying speed but I would be snail slow compared to him. Of course I would be quicker without the nerds but a good villain looks after his minions (and anyway its pointless being fabulous if there is no one there to appreciate it). For one brief moment I actually though we might make it but then a red blur just erupted out of a wall in front of us. I didnt have time to swerve as a fist hammered into me head on and I found myself literally punched out of the side of the building. My PK took the blow but the pain was incredible, like someone plunging a red hot poker right into my temporal lobes (and then waggling it around a bit just for fun). I must have lost consciousness briefly as I was hurtling through the air because when I opened my eyes my PK was off and the nerdlings were gone (presumed squished). The ground was also rushing up to meet me at an alarming rate. I hastily put up my bodyfield but it spluttered pathetically and fizzled out. In desperation I put everything I had into just repelling the ground. It didnt really work but at least it slowed my acceleration enough so that I ended up with cuts and bruises rather than a serious case of death. But of course I knew that I was just putting off the inevitable. As I lay in a clearing I knew that I maybe had seconds before he came after me again and I knew that there was no way I could match him. I struggled to my feet and slicked back my hair. I was going to die but I was damned well not going down without a fight.