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Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep

Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep

 

By Erin Sheena Byrne

 

Copyright 2016 Erin Sheena Byrne

 

Shakespir Edition

 

License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer. Thank you for your kind support.

 

 

Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep does not contain any inappropriate material and is suitable for reading by all ages.

 

 

Cover Image Copyright 2016 Jolie Byrne

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

 

For Mom, Dad, Jonathan, Melinda, Celeste, Jolie and Nibling.

 

1

“Okay, checklist time,” Bella Sweet declared, reaching for the notepad and pen safely slotted into the glove compartment. She flipped through the scuffed pages, pen at the ready as she found the desired page.

“So, we’ve tried Reserve Drive, tried the industrial park and the warehouse district,” Jack Painter listed off locations, his eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead as he focussed on navigating the streets of Crashton.

“And there was nothing along Cliff Avenue,” Caleb Black chimed in, leaning forward between the front seats.

“Yeah, no surprise there,” his brother, Ty, commented, rolling his eyes.

“There’s never anything along Cliff Avenue,” Bella added as she crossed out the locations listed in order of proximity in the notepad.

“Have we considered the possibility Hero High 2.0 might be built underground?” Ethan suggested. “Or, you know, in the air?”

“Like in that movie!” Caleb said, characteristically excited.

“Oh man, I really hope they don’t build it underground,” Bella groaned. “I’m going to be glowing non-stop if they do.”

“Hey, no need to give up hope just yet: we haven’t checked everywhere,” Jack pointed out, reasonably. “Where to next, Bella?”

“Accidents’ Cove,” she announced, promptly.

Jack frowned. “Seriously? Who would build a big fat superhero school there?”

“It’s not on the list,” Bella amended.

“We just really want to give this stupid search a rest and goof off,” Ty explained.

“Summer doesn’t last forever,” Ethan added.

His friends were right: it was time to call it a day.

Ever since summer vacation began (unexpectedly early for these particular teens), the friends had embarked on a daily search mission to find the location of the future Hero High 2.0.

It had been an entire month since the crazy, chaotic string of events that led, ultimately, to vindication for a minority group of supers known as “gamma accidents.”

For decades, gamma accidents had been maligned; treated as trash while feared as villains. They were banned from enrolling in Hero High Schools across the world, banned from ever being a part of the Superhero Community, banned from standing up and being heroes.

Jack, Bella and triplets: Ethan, Ty and Caleb, were just a few who had to live under those circumstances: never allowed to use their amazing abilities for good, even though it was all they ever wanted to do.

Ostracized, they grew up, leading absolutely normal lives whilst keeping their powers granted by a random gamma ray burst from the sun a carefully guarded secret.

Thankfully, they had each other. And, in very clandestine ways, they managed to still use their unique abilities (even if it was simply for pranks and other shenanigans).

Their close bonds eventually paved the way for a new era to begin.

The new Global Director of Hero Education and Training needed their help to weed out a traitorous Hero High teacher secretly coaching potential heroes to become superpowered felons.

The friends would never forget what followed. The once legendary gamma accident hero, Rust Swift, begrudgingly agreeing to train them; their enrolment in Summer Valley Hero High; the moment they discovered the history teacher, Anthony Wepaynar, was the traitor who had also planned an attack on the school of supers; the race to find all the explosive devices Wepaynar’s rebels had distributed throughout the school building; the unsettling discovery that Wepaynar was Jack’s estranged grandfather; and the accidental detonation of a bomb lodged in one of the school’s toilets that reduced the thankfully evacuated building to charred rubble.

Urban Danger was able to lift the official bans on gamma accidents thanks to the bravery of the five friends from Crashton. And, as a sort of tribute, plans were made to build the new Hero High for the district in the teenagers’ hometown.

Of course, the building would not be complete until summer vacation had ended. But, curiosity has and will always be a teenager’s most apparent flaw.

So, Jack, Ethan, Ty, Caleb and Bella rode around their seaside town in the old, metallic-blue jeep, straying into outskirts and perusing any known spacious locations in an attempt to find the building site.

Yes, their mentor, Rust, had informed them it was all “need-to-know” information, and that they didn’t.

No, that did not stop them.

But weeks of no results meant the search was becoming rather tedious. Definitely time for a break.

“Accidents’ Cove it is,” Jack agreed, wasting very little time considering the proposal.

~~~

Accidents’ Cove was a little, secluded, out-of-the-way strip of beach the friends had named and claimed as their own back when they were nine years old.

It was the ideal spot to hang when the teens didn’t want to deal with crowds or people that couldn’t understand them. Out here, protected by the jagged, rocky cliff-face and the mini forest of palm trees and other sub-tropical fauna and flora, these unique teenagers were free: something they could never be when in the middle of a crowd.

They didn’t have to guard their secrets on this little strip of untouched shoreline. They could be as loud as they wanted, they could use their powers freely (if they wished), and they never had to worry about how the world saw them.

The trek to reach the beach alone was enough to keep all curious passersby away. You either needed a degree in rock-climbing or super-abilities to traverse the treacherous terrain. Luckily, these teens possessed the latter.

Short, dark-haired, tan-skinned Caleb jumped from the edge of the road straight onto the sand below with ease. Sandy-haired, glasses-dependent Ethan, in his intangible hologram form, made the illusion of climbing down the rock-face, turning solid again as he reached the shoreline. Black-haired Ty shrank to the size of a fly and chestnut-haired, electric-blue eyed Jack held onto his miniature friend as he flew down, landing clumsily, as he always did.

Bella stood, peering over the edge, as if pondering how she would herself make it down.

Usually, she either rode piggy-back as Caleb jumped or allowed Jack to fly her down. But, this time, she rejected her typical modes of transport, opting for something new.

During their few weeks of training with Rust Swift, Bella had discovered something useful about the powers she quietly loathed.

All her life, a constant and very apparent glow had hung around her whenever she stepped into shadows or dark rooms or someone threw so much as a sheet over her. Thanks to this ever-present glow, Bella couldn’t go anywhere public at night for fear of discovery.

Although she hadn’t learnt to switch off her colourful glow, she had learnt to concentrate it, to form it into hardlight that she could manipulate.

The sun began setting, dragging daylight to bed. It wasn’t yet dark enough for Bella’s glow to break out. Breathing deeply, calming the trivial anxiety that came so naturally whenever she tried something new, she set her mind on the task.

Down below, her friends watched in awe as a thick ribbon of jade-coloured light formed, curving it’s way downward, like an elegant, curly staircase.

Her heart jumping with joy, Bella stepped onto the path she had created. With every step, the colour faded into new hues, Bella’s emotions manifesting in the colours. An ecstatic yellow; a content indigo; a warm, liberated magenta.

The boys applauded her as she stepped off the curving light path that simply dissipated as soon as she released her control.

“Not just a dumb glow anymore,” Bella said, being sure to sound as smug as she could: she rarely ever experienced a triumph like this.

“I say we celebrate,” Jack declared. He turned to the triplets and winked, the action looking somewhat exaggerated.

Bella should have taken that as her cue to turn tail and run.

She didn’t.

"How are we -?"

She never got to finish her sentence.

Quick as lightning, Jack grabbed her, slung her over his shoulder like a rag doll, and started running towards the water.

“NO, NO, NO!” Bella screamed, ironically shrieking with laughter at the same time. “PAINTER, DON’T YOU DARE!”

The triplets followed along, splashing up water as they waded through the shallows, eagerly running until the salty water reached their waists.

“I WILL NEVER FORGIVE THIS, PAINTER!” Bella yelled, kicking her legs as a joking attempt to struggle free. She knew there was no way she could escape her friend’s grip: his enhanced strength meant any effort to do so would be fruitless. Nonetheless, where was the fun in giving in quietly?

“No one comes to the beach to stay dry,” Jack stated, his grin contorting the matter-of-fact tone he tried to use.

"I WILL END YOU!" Bella protested. "I SWEAR, I -"

She never got to finish her threat as Jack dunked her into the water, careful not to force her down.

She bobbed straight to the surface and stood up, water cascading off her short, curvy form.

Jack laughed, mercilessly, at his drenched friend.

Bella turned around slowly. Dark, wet curls framed her face and a dangerous look entered her denim blue eyes.

“Run,” she said through gritted teeth.

If Jack hadn’t known she was simply playing along with the joke, he would have been genuinely terrified.

 

 

2

Sunlight retired, graciously bowing out to let the sky begin its well-rehearsed night show. The moon shone down on the beachside town like a spotlight as stars shyly gathered in the clear, deep-violet sky.

Calm waves lapped at the sand of Accidents’ Cove as five lifelong friends lazed around the isolated little beach.

“I wonder what this next year’s gonna be like,” Caleb mused aloud as he lay on a sandy towel, gazing up at the night sky.

“I don’t think anything can compare to last month,” Jack admitted.

“We only got one month at Hero High. Imagine what a whole year at Super-Freak School will be like,” Bella said, half-heartedly contributing to the conversation as she focussed on fine-tuning her hardlight abilities, presently attempting to weave the strands of jade-coloured light into handcuffs.

“I hope this year is anything but uneventful,” Jack said, honestly.

“Oh yeah?” Bella said, tearing her concentration away from her conjured, glowing handcuffs. “And why’s that?”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know, I just think… well, come on, guys, seriously. This is senior year. We’ve waited our whole lives to go to Hero High, now we have our shot, and it’s only for a year. I hope it’s a hundred times crazier than last month because I want memories that we will talk about for years.”

“I wonder if we’re gonna have some big ‘Hero High 2.0 Grand Opening’ shindig,” Ethan said, meticulously cleaning his glasses after an afternoon filled with sand and salt water.

The notion was enough to make Caleb perk up with excitement. “Hey, if we do have one of those things, can Bella do special effects?”

“Dude, I’m not that good,” she humbly acknowledged.

Caleb shook his head, dismissing her self-doubt. “Nah, you’re definitely good enough. I mean, come on: if you really weren’t good enough, how could you be making handcuffs and floating lights?”

Bella frowned, the little concentration she had devoted to manipulating the light strands breaking. She turned to look her friend in the eye before bluntly stating, “I’m not making floating lights.”

“Then what are those?” Caleb questioned, unashamedly confused, as he pointed towards the far horizon.

Assuming her friend was simply pulling some silly prank, Bella warily turned to see what Caleb was talking about.

He hadn’t been lying or joking. Far out to the horizon, hovering between ocean and sky were vibrant, glowing blotches of light.

Bella quickly hopped to her feet and sprinted to the edge of the water, waves splashing softly at her ankles as she squinted, trying to get a better look at the strange lights.

The boys, intrigued and curious, followed.

“Is there such a thing as slow motion fireworks?” Ty asked, straining to see the distant phenomenon. No one bothered to answer his teasing question.

“Jack, can you see what they are?” Ethan asked, well aware his friend’s eyesight was second to none.

“It’s probably just some light show we didn’t hear about,” Jack said but narrowed his gaze, nonetheless, to gain a far more detailed look.

Unlike his friends, Jack didn’t need to struggle to see across the distance. Within moments, he could make out the defined edges of the individual lights.

These lights weren’t typical man-made light sources.

“Jellyfish,” Jack said, under his breath, sounding distracted.

He peered closer, confirming to himself his own statement as he watched the lights move in liquid, graceful, dance-like motions, following their own volition.

“Pardon?” Ty prompted, hoping he had misheard.

“Those are… jellyfish,” Jack repeated, staring, dumbstruck.

Gelatinous bodies pulsed and delicate ribbon-like tentacles trailed along as the creatures floated in an unfamiliar habitat.

“You mean they’re jellyfish kites, right?” Bella tried to clarify.

Jack shook his head, a small, almost imperceptible motion. “No, those aren’t kites. I know a jellyfish when I see one and those are jellyfish.”

“Wait, do you mean, like, alien jellyfish?” Caleb prodded, his brown eyes widening and shining. “Because that would be kinda cool.”

Jack shook his head again, with more persistence. “No. Trust me, I know what I’m seeing and I’m seeing floating, bioluminescent jellyfish. Flipping, real life, floating, bioluminescent jellyfish.”

“Are they going anywhere?” Ethan asked. “They seem kinda close to Crashton Beach.”

“Nah, they’re just hovering there. Actually…” Jack trailed off as he lifted himself off the ground, flying slowly over the water as an attempt to gain an even better appraisal of the outrageous phenomenon. “They look like they’re leaving.”

“Should we follow them?” Caleb questioned, uncertainly. “I mean, what’s the procedure here?”

Jack returned to his friends’ side. “Something tells me we better call Dean.”

~~~

Dean was not the most popular student at Summer Valley Hero High. However, he was well-known, just not for the reasons he would have liked.

“The Notorious Dean Lightbody.” He unintentionally earned the title through the careless rumours that spread like wildfire during his freshman year. He didn’t know what sparked them, whether it was his tall and broad frame that intimidated his peers, or his reserved nature that many interpreted as hostile and surly.

The rumours grew more and more outrageous each semester. Eventually, everyone just naturally feared him as if he were some kind of cruel villain. He walked the halls of Hero High, unsuspectingly catching snatches of careless and heartless whispers, trying to avoid the stares of his callous classmates. Even real bullies were afraid of him. Dean did not find that flattering in any way.

But the end of his junior year changed all of that.

By complete accident, Dean found himself caught up in assisting the Gamma Accidents with their mission to find a traitor hiding amongst the hero teachers at Summer Valley Hero High.

Now Dean had relocated to Crashton in preparation for senior year at an all-new Hero High 2.0; a year he would face with his new friends.

He was grateful to have friends, for the first time ever.

He just wasn’t so sure how to feel about the fact they chose to call him at quarter-past midnight.

His cell phone frantically rang at full volume, the insistent tune penetrating his unconscious mind. (Considering how practically no one ever contacted him, Dean was not in the habit of turning his phone on silent. There would be no point).

Abruptly awoken and suddenly alert, Dean lashed out and caught his phone before it managed to vibrate itself off the nightstand.

“What’s the big idea calling a dude when he’s sleeping?” Dean answered the call, completely dispensing with customary niceties.

“It’s important.” Dean instantly recognized the voice of Jack Painter.

Dean groaned. He honestly just wanted to return to sleeping. “On a scale of wanting to know if your pet hamster secretly hates you to finding a lion that escaped from a zoo, how important are we talking?”

“Why do you immediately assume I’m gonna ask you an animal related question?” Jack asked, sounding both curious and slightly offended.

“If it were a plant question, you’d call Lacey Smallwood, wouldn’t you?” Dean reasoned.

Jack hesitated for a moment. “Fine, it’s an animal related question,” he finally admitted.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine: shoot.”

“Is it possible, in any way, for jellyfish to float above water?”

Dean frowned. “What do you mean ‘float?’ And, before you answer that, just tell me: are you asking theoretically or seriously?”

“Hey, if it were an obscure science question, don’t you think I’d call Professor Darkins?”

“Please don’t tell me you’ve actually seen jellyfish floating above water.”

Jack went on to relate the bizarre evening he and his friends had, which included a very honest description of bioluminescent jellyfish floating above water, not too far from shore.

Dean fought to stay awake as he listened, respectfully, while Jack explained everything he could. He didn’t again accuse Jack of kidding: Dean took him at his word.

“So, do you think you can help us? I mean, it’s not just that you can talk to animals and stuff…”

“Dude, don’t patronize me: it’s totally because I can talk to animals.”

“Okay, yeah, it is,” Jack sheepishly confessed.

“You got bored of a long, relaxing summer, didn’t you?”

Dean sighed, trying desperately not to yawn. He rubbed his weary eyes and took a deep breath before speaking again.

“Fine. I’m in.”

“Great.”

“Hey, I might even be able to get my hands on a boat, if you think it’ll come in handy…”

“Even better.”

 

 

3

Almost exactly twenty-four hours after the initial sighting of the floating jellyfish, the five teenagers congregated in the yard of an old, abandoned warehouse dubbed “Clive’s Hideout” by Crashton locals.

The warehouse’s out-of-the-way location, desolate condition and unused docks made it the perfect assembly point, especially for this particular expedition.

In its day (approximately seventy years ago), Clive’s Hideout was really the heart of Crashton, back when the popular tourist hotspot was nothing more than a little fishing village. Imports and exports came and went smoothly, thanks to the three docks.

But, as time marched on and business boomed, requiring bigger and better facilities, the lonely warehouse fell into disrepair.

Now, its boarded-up windows were either broken or covered in thick layers of sand and dust; the yard was littered with trash and foliage grew unrestrained; and two of the three docks were unsafe to even consider treading upon.

A couple of decades ago, the site earned the name “Clive’s Hideout” due to a notorious gang led by a mysterious man named Clive that used the warehouse as a covert base of operations.

The gang had long since been run out of town but no one dared step foot near the warehouse thanks to the somewhat inflated tales of crates filled with volatile bombs stored in the dilapidated building.

However, the five teenagers currently hanging around the warehouse with a nefarious past had no ill intentions. They were simply waiting for a friend.

“You did tell Dean to meet us just after sundown, right?” Ethan asked Jack, impatience starting to taint his voice.

“Yeah. But I don’t know what he has to do to get us a boat,” Jack replied, sounding slightly apologetic.

“Are you sure he’s not building it?” Bella questioned, sarcastically, not bothering to hide her own impatience.

“Have a little faith in the guy,” her neighbour chastised. “He came through for us at Hero High, he’ll come through for us ton-”

A loud honking noise, much like that from a car horn, interrupted Jack’s statement.

The five friends whipped around, curious to see the cause of the abrupt noise. Jaws dropped as a monstrous fusion of bus and boat slowly rolled into the poorly-lit yard on tall, thick tyres.

The hulking hybrid vehicle came to a stop and Dean leaned out the driver’s side window. “Sorry I’m late!” he called, cheerfully. He shut the noisy engine off and moved to the rear of the vehicle, where he swung open a little door, positioned a ladder and climbed down. “My uncle only lets me use it after sundown, after the last scheduled tour of the day.”

What is it?” Bella asked with an expression of horrified curiosity.

Dean swept his arms through the air in a broad, presentation gesture. “This is an amphibious vehicle. She can go on roads and in the water. My uncle uses it to take people out on tours around Crashton: through the streets and around the coastline. She’s called the ‘Duck.’”

“Obviously,” Ethan said, absently, as he observed the twin, large, goofy, cartoon ducks painted on the sides of the bulky vehicle.

Dean proudly patted one of the heavy-duty tyres that came up to his shoulders. “She’s sturdy, she’ll get us where we want to go and she’s completely at our disposal until morning. (We just have to remember to fuel her up before we return her.)”

Jack inspected the unusual vehicle. “When you said you could get us a boat, I sort of thought you’d rock up with a paddle boat or a kayak. Not… this.”

“I only have access to this baby. I don’t know anyone who can lend me a dingy at this hour.” Dean frowned. “What, haven’t you guys seen one of these before?”

“Honestly, man, I have never seen anything like this,” Ty said.

“Well, it’ll have to do,” Jack conceded, eventually. “But how are we going to get it into the water?”

Dean glanced at the triplet docks, realizing why Jack had chosen such a location to meet up. “We need to drive into the ocean, you know, like on a beach.”

“So, we’re going to have to drive through town, in that,” Jack said, pointing to the Duck, “drive onto a beach and then into the water? Just like that?”

“Don’t you think it’ll look a little… suspicious?” Caleb asked.

Dean waved away all his friends’ concerns. “We can take the back roads.”

~~~

Travelling at an almost sloth-like speed as if it would aid their attempts at stealth, the six teenagers made their way to a moonlit shoreline in a long, tall vehicle barely slender enough to fit in one lane.

It was basically a tour-bus structure sitting atop ridiculously big tyres. It had no windows, allowing passengers to feel the environment, not just observe it. Neat, slim rows of seats lined the sides, with an aisle down the middle, leading to the captain’s chair up front. It smelled of sand, sweat and salty water.

“The next time someone offers a ride, I’m gonna make sure I ask more questions,” Jack pledged, purposely raising his voice to be heard over the obnoxiously loud engine.

“What are you guys so worried about?” Dean asked with a confused shrug as he focussed on steering the bus-like vehicle along Crashton’s roads. “We’re not doing anything illegal. There is no reason for the cops to pull us over and drag us off to jail. Seriously, just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s free!”

“This is kinda cool,” Bella admitted, scooting across a row of seats and leaning over the side to peer out the permanently open windows, a late-night summer breeze rustling her dark curls.

“We’re on a bus… but it’s actually a boat,” Caleb summarized. “So… do we say it has a helm or a steering wheel?”

Dean shook his head. “I have absolutely no idea.”

Eventually, the Duck reached a vacant section of Crashton’s coastline. With ease, the hybrid vehicle left the asphalt, mounted the shallow kerb, and drove straight onto the sand, determinedly heading for the softly crashing waves.

From land to sea in one, smooth transition. The teens could feel the moment the Duck’s tyres lost touch with the ground and the vehicle began riding atop the moonlit waters. Now, it’s monster-truck worthy tyres acted as rudders.

“Can any of you see in the dark?” Dean called over his shoulder. “We need to keep a look out for sandbanks. A run-in with one of those bad boys will make my uncle explode.”

“I can see in the dark,” Bella offered.

“Really? You can?”

Bella shrugged. “Well, I’m not totally sure… I’ve never seen total darkness: I’ve been glowing since day one.”

“You’ll do.” Dean turned to Jack. “Point me in the general direction you… oh, never mind.”

Dean’s request became redundant as soon as he saw the swarm of bioluminescent jellyfish floating freely and gracefully above their natural home.

“Yeah, this is the spot,” Ethan said, pointlessly.

Dean switched off the Duck’s engine. As the constant, loud droning died down, a calm quiet mingled with the sounds of waves lapping against the vehicle’s sides.

At a distance, the creatures’ light show was merely interesting. But up close, right in the middle of the spectacle… it was unlike anything and there was no way to describe it precisely.

The gelatinous creatures seemed completely untroubled by the presence of humans in a garishly painted amphibious vehicle. Blissfully unperturbed, they continued their almost choreographed dance in the late-night air.

“It’s like… if Bella were a fish,” Caleb breathed, his brown eyes widening and gazing in awe.

“This is pretty amazing,” Ethan commented as he stared, enraptured by the moment. Blotches of the magenta, indigo and lilac glows reflected off his glasses.

Squishy bodies pulsed, their array of illuminated colours mixing together, countless spaghetti-thin tentacles trailing along yet never entangling.

“So, uh, Dean? Can you, I don’t know, ask them what they’re doing out of the water?” Jack asked, unsure if he wanted to interrupt this enchanting scene.

Dean nodded, reassuringly, as he leaned forward, over the steering wheel, and began addressing the incredible creatures.

“Hey, how’s it hanging, little dudes?” he asked, casually. He spoke as if he and the jellyfish had been friends for years. “Mind curing my friends’ curiosity?”

“He just speaks English to them?” Ethan whispered to his brothers and friends as Dean continued to question the jellyfish.

Bella frowned, a little confused. “Exactly how did you think he was going to talk to them?”

Ethan shrugged. “Remember the cartoons we used to watch? I just assumed he’d speak jellyfish to them.”

“What noise does a jellyfish make?” Caleb questioned, completely stumped.

“Guys,” Dean called, an underlying tone of urgency in his voice. “Something’s wrong.”

“What? What did they say?” Jack asked with obvious anticipation.

Dean shook his head. “That’s just it. They spoke back, but they weren’t speaking… you know, like they normally do.”

“You mean they speak Japanese or something?” Ty said.

“No, no: it’s not that. Look, it’s hard to explain how this all works, but I talk to them and they understand me. They talk back and I understand them. But… I couldn’t make sense of a thing they said.”

“That’s… strange,” Caleb commented, unsure how to respond.

“Does that mean anything?” Ethan asked Dean.

Dean replied with an unenthusiastic shrug of his shoulders. “I have absolutely no clue.”

“Well, at least they’re nice to watch,” Bella said, promptly dropping the issue and turning back to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime light show.

For a good, solid ten minutes, the teenagers basked in the moment, forgetting their mission completely as they enjoyed every last second of this bizarre moment.

Gradually, however, the moment began to slip away.

“They’re diving,” Ty pointed out, shaking his brothers and friends out of their daze.

Diving was not exactly the right term. The creatures sank into the water, drifting below the surface, dragging their glow with them.

“We need to go after them,” Jack said.

“Uh… none of us can shape-shift into dolphins, genius,” Ty said. “Exactly how are we gonna go after them?”

“Hey, Dean, any chance your uncle keeps scuba gear on here?” Bella asked.

“He doesn’t do diving tours,” Dean informed her.

“Oh.”

“But… he is into recreational diving.”

Dean moved past his friends and began searching under the rear rows of seats. With a triumphant, “Aha!” he stumbled upon a large crate filled with an array of items. He started sifting through them. “Uh… well, so far I’ve found some flippers and… a snorkel.”

“Your uncle’s obviously not an avid diver,” Ethan said.

“Okay, who can hold their breath the longest?” Dean asked, holding up the pair of flippers.

“I can,” Jack said. “But I can’t see in the dark so well. I’ll be blind down there.”

Bella snapped her fingers, loudly. “Okay, boys. Listen up: I’ve got an idea…”

 

 

4

Bella’s plan was a thing of beauty. Simple as it was, it seemed completely faultless.

Jack removed his sneakers and slid a floppy flipper on each foot. Wasting no time, he tumbled over the edge of the Duck, straight into the inky water.

"He does know how to dive, right?" Dean asked, a little uncertainly. "I mean, you don't just swim down. There's a whole technique -"

“Our school had a field trip a couple years back,” Ethan explained. “Taught us the basics of diving and diving safety.”

“Just checking.”

Bella knelt on a row of seats and leaned as far out of the vehicle as she could without falling into the water herself. “You good to go, Jack?” she called.

Her neighbour responded with a thumbs-up.

“Okay, down you go, then!”

Without further prompting, Jack disappeared beneath the dark, glassy surface of the water.

As her lifelong friend swam deeper, chasing the quickly vanishing jellyfish, Bella concentrated harder than ever before. She shut out all interferences, totally ignoring the ambient noise of the Duck bobbing atop the gentle yet feisty waves and her friends’ idle banter in the background. She closed her eyes and focussed.

She could feel the light as she controlled it; manipulating and bending it to her will.

When she felt confident her concentration was stable enough, she cracked her eyes open to observe her handy work.

Orbs of jade-tinted light sank beneath the waves, following Jack as he followed the jellyfish.

Bella didn’t bother to hide her triumphant grin.

“That’s so cool,” Caleb commented as he watched the show, enraptured.

“I hope it works,” Bella replied.

~~~

The water cooled as Jack dove deeper, employing every technique he could remember.

Jack could hold his breath longer and with more determination than a normal person. He had never recorded his limits, but he knew, at least, he could go a whole twenty minutes before he felt the urge to breathe again.

Swimming towards the ocean floor, his dense molecular structure aiding in his sinking with speed, Jack held his breath with ease.

Light had a hard time illuminating the world below the surface. The jellyfish had already drifted too far away for their light to reach him.

Thankfully, just as it became nearly impossible to see, bluish-green balls of light graciously joined Jack, floating beside him like faithful little companions. He didn’t doubt his friend for a second: he knew Bella would come through for him.

Diving with a bit more determination, Jack pursued the strange creatures capable of leaving their natural habitat.

In no time at all, he caught up to the jellyfish. In the disorienting environment, he couldn’t tell how far down he was. Cautiously, he followed at a distance as the gelatinous creatures changed direction.

In formation, they slowly swarmed towards a man-made structure of glass.

An airlock? Jack thought to himself, frowning as he swam a little closer, Bella’s lights loyally clinging to him.

Feeling the urge to hide, he quickly spotted a patch of seaweed and stealthily hid amongst the swaying blades.

From his vantage point, he watched as the fuzzy forms of the glowing jellyfish entered the airlock structure, disappearing from sight.

Jack wanted to pursue this curious case further, but he’d seen enough. Carefully, he began his ascent to the surface, remembering not to climb through the water too fast.

Sooner than he imagined, he made it back to the Duck. As soon as he broke the surface, Bella’s lights dissipated. He lifted himself out the water and flew into the amphibious vehicle, glad to be back in an environment where he could use his favourite ability: flight.

He shook his head, like a freshly washed dog, water droplets flying off his short chestnut brown hair.

“And? What did you see?” Ty asked, his almond-shaped eyes widening with anticipation.

Jack grabbed the edge of his shirt and started ringing it out, creating a small puddle of salty water around his feet. “I saw… an airlock. I don’t know what it led to: it was really dark down there. Thanks for the lights, Bella.”

“Anytime, pal.”

“An airlock?” Ethan repeated. “As in, something a human would have had to plan and build?”

Jack nodded, his expression honest and serious.

Suddenly, as the weight of the situation began to sink in, it was a lot less funny than when they set out earlier that evening.

“So… what does that mean?” Caleb asked, searching the faces of his brothers and friends for an answer.

“It means…” Jack began, absentmindedly looking out at the ocean. He sighed, heavily. “It means our plans for summer just got a whole lot more complicated…”

~~~

Maybe it was the fatigue catching up to them or the knowledge of something odd going on beneath the water’s surface, but no one felt like talking on the way home.

Dean steered the Duck back onto the beach and returned to the road, water droplets dripping off the vehicle as it rode along.

They were halfway to Clive’s Hideout (where the friends’ old jeep idly awaited their return) when Dean muttered an almost inaudible, “Rats.”

“What’s up?” Jack asked. Despite his sitting all the way at the rear of the bus/boat, he heard the muted expression without even trying.

“I forgot: we gotta top up the gas before we can go home,” Dean explained, speaking louder for the others to hear. He pointed to the little instrument on the Duck’s unique dashboard that gauged the gas. “It’s the rules. My uncle only lets me use the Duck if I remember to return her in tip-top shape.”

Bella shrugged, as if it were of no consequence to the friends at all. “We don’t mind if you make a detour.”

“But I suggest we go to the gas station on the edge of town,” Ty spoke up. “I hate people seeing us at this hour.”

“Thanks,” Dean said, changing course. “And why do you guys hate people seeing you out late?”

“We have a… reputation,” Caleb supplied.

“Oh.”

“No, it’s nothing bad,” Ethan assured, picking up on Dean’s slightly confused tone. “It’s just, normally when we’re out at this kind of hour, we’re doing something that requires our powers.”

“Like finding cherry bombs I accidently dropped in a bunch of desserts Bella’s mom was serving at a function,” Caleb continued.

“But most people in Crashton who know us think we’re just pulling stupid pranks,” Bella added. “Which, okay, we have been known to do that, too. But normally we’re just trying to fix the little things we can without anyone seeing us use our powers.”

“And you don’t want people to see you because…?” Dean said, trailing off, purposefully, prompting for an answer.

“Because, on occasion, they have called our parents,” Jack filled in. “And our parents freak when we use our powers.”

“They’re worried we might get, like, run out of town or something,” Caleb said with an unconcerned shrug.

“I can understand that,” Dean said. “Everyone in the Superhero Community honestly believed gamma accidents were dangerous. If you guys had been found using your powers, you could’ve been locked up.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, we know,” Bella said, sharply. Suddenly changing tone, she said, “Oh, Dean, turn left here.”

Dean heeded Bella’s quick direction and manoeuvred the large vehicle into the gas station lot.

The station attendant – a lanky, acne-riddled, pale-skinned, red-haired teenager only a little older than them – looked up lazily from reading a magazine. A little name-tag pinned to his dark blue shirt declared “Tenny.”

Tenny’s green eyes widened in shock the instant they fell on the weirdest vehicle this side of the country.

“What’s up with him?” Dean whispered to the friends.

“Oh, they don’t get many customers here,” Bella replied, waving her hand, dismissively, as she jokingly missed the point of Dean’s question.

“Especially at night,” Ty added.

“Fill her up, buddy!” Caleb called down, brightly. He was enjoying the joke.

“I’m… uh… just gonna check in with the manager…” the older teenager stuttered, unable to take his eyes off the gaudy hybrid vehicle. “Pete!” he yelled as he ducked into the starkly lit shop.

“We should tip him,” Ethan commented.

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me: does anyone have any money for gas?” Dean asked, sounding more than a little sheepish.

Bella looked at him with a deadpan expression. “Seriously? You keep going on and on about how we need to refuel before we take this freak of a boat back to your uncle… and you don’t even have cash?”

Dean cringed into his shoulders, guiltily. “I kinda got over-excited about riding the Duck at night… and I sorta… forgot about gas money…”

Jack rolled his eyes, inwardly trying to smother his annoyance. “Okay, everybody: take your shoes off!” he ordered.

Dean observed in utter confusion as the five friends reacted with military-style precision, removing their sneakers, specifically, their left sneakers. He watched on as they carefully lifted the soles and began picking out various forms and amounts of cash.

“I have… eighty-five cents,” Caleb announced, counting up the coins that slipped out from under his shoe’s sole.

“Score: I had a twenty in here and I totally forgot!” Bella exclaimed, holding up a crumpled up twenty-dollar note for her friends to admire.

“I had ten bucks in here,” Ethan said, shaking his shoe furiously, disappointed as only a small coin fell into the palm of his hand.

“What happened to it?” Ty asked his brother.

“The other day, I was out with dad at the hardware store,” Ethan explained. “He forgot his wallet and he needed to buy some nuts and bolts.”

“Good thing you were with dad: mom hates it when we use our shoe-money,” Caleb said.

“So, uh, do you guys have enough for gas?” Dean asked, a little unsure how to feel about the fact that “shoe-money” was clearly a longstanding tradition amongst these friends.

The friends added up their shoe-deposit money. Somewhat triumphantly, Jack proclaimed, “We should have enough to tip ole pimple-face, too.”

 

 

5

The summer sun rose early over Crashton, impeding on countless lazy efforts to sleep in late. Of course, no one local to the area complained.

Russell “Rust” Swift, however, had only just arrived here in this sometimes lazy beach town, sometimes energetic surf town.

After living the past eighteen years in a dreary city where it seemed cloudy and rainy even on absolutely clear days, waking up at five a.m. to warm sunshine seeping in through the blinds and seagulls squawking outside his apartment’s window was a totally alien experience.

Grumpily, Rust rolled out of bed and lifted the blinds, the bright sunlight assaulting his sensitive eyes. Ordinarily, he would have shut them again. Even open blinds were too much contact with the outside world for him. But he had decided things would be different now.

Clumsily, Rust navigated through the seaside apartment his temporary assistant (a young, easily excited but doggedly determined Hero College graduate named Audrey Jones) had arranged for him. He still hadn’t learnt the layout by heart. Meaning, in the morning when he wasn’t even fully awake yet, he couldn’t rely on a mental map of his surroundings.

Skirting around a few packed boxes and rearranged furniture, Rust made it to the apartment’s small kitchen.

Before he could proceed in preparing breakfast, his cell phone began ringing. Muttering to himself, he picked up the little device, examining the caller ID before pressing the answer button.

“Jones, hey, I was just thinking about you,” Rust greeted with an edge of sarcasm as he scooted around yet another box.

“Just thought I’d check in on you,” Audrey said. “Did you find the apartment?”

“Yes,” Rust replied, rolling his eyes. He held the phone between his shoulder and ear as he searched through the freshly stocked cupboards. “I can actually read maps. I know it’s not one of my superpowers, but I get by.”

“Ha-ha,” Audrey mock laughed. “Did you check in alright?”

“Yeah, used my real name and everything,” Rust quipped, picking through the grocery items Audrey obviously stocked.

“I got groceries,” she said, unwittingly confirming Rust’s silent speculation. “You should have everything you’ll need for the next three days, after that, you’ll have to restock.”

“You do realize I survived eighteen years without an assistant doing my grocery shopping, right?” Dissatisfied with what he found in the cupboards, Rust resorted to sifting through the supplies he himself snuck into the packing boxes.

“I’ve seen what you eat. Marshmallow infested cereal and fake barbeque flavoured chips are not supposed to be a regular part of a grown man’s diet.”

“You are so right,” Rust falsely agreed as he opened one of the cardboard boxes, sifting through crumpled-up newspapers until he found a cereal box with bright, gaudy cartoons depicting the contents printed on the box. “I have seen the error of my ways. Thank you.”

"Don't play dumb, I know you -"

“Yeah, uh… I gotta go, Jones,” Rust glibly interrupted, something that never failed to grind Audrey’s nerves. “I’ve already poured the milk and the nutritionally-rich cereal is getting soggy.”

Audrey sighed. Rust could’ve sworn she rolled her eyes, too. He could just picture her exasperated expression. If he had to be honest, then he might admit he’s going to miss annoying her. Once summer ended, he’d start his new career as a Hero High teacher, and he had no idea what Audrey would do then.

“Fine,” she conceded. “I’ll catch up later. Please remember to unpack those boxes.”

“Don’t worry. They will get unpacked.”

“This year?”

“Uh… this decade. Definitely. Maybe…”

With a curt laugh, Audrey bid the legendary hero goodbye and hung up.

Rust set the phone down on an empty patch of kitchen counter and made his way through the apartment to the balcony that overlooked Crashton’s popular boardwalk and public beach.

He sat down at the small table, savouring the fresh, warm, summery morning and shamelessly eating his “marshmallow infested” cereal.

It was a day unlike any Rust had experienced in too long a time.

His enhanced senses amplified the scene: the crisp-clear sounds of waves crashing down below, little kids squealing with delight as they tried to outrun the ebb and flow, their small feet making soft slapping noises on the damp sand; up above, the sight of a sky so vibrantly and impossibly blue; and the air so clean, fresh and laced with sea-salt.

This is not the kind of day you spend alone in your apartment. No. This is the kind of day you spend out in the sun, in the surf, surrounded by strangers and friends.

As Rust finished off the last of the cereal Jones so unequivocally disapproved of, he resolved that that was just what he would do: he’d call up those crazy kids Urban Danger made him responsible for training (and maybe even invite Audrey herself), and spend this day like any Crashton local in their right mind would…

~~~

The friends returned to their respective homes around midnight, after seeing Dean off. It didn’t matter how hard they tried, though: none of them got much sleep after their exhilarating escapade and mind-boggling discovery.

But, despite their lack of recuperating sleep, the teens met up in the retro-styled diner Bella’s parents owned to continue their well-intentioned plotting.

The adrenalin from the night before hadn’t had the time to wear off.

“Alright, so we’re all in agreement here, right?” Jack said, speaking in a low voice so as not to invite eavesdroppers as the five friends huddled together in a booth.

Caleb nodded, eagerly following his friend’s train of thought. “Floating jellyfish and an underwater airlock are definitely things that need to get checked out,” he said.

“I wonder who could be behind this,” Bella pitched in, excitement lacing her tone and expression. “Do you think it’s some crazy mad scientist? A weird little faction of the government? A supervillain?”

“Whatever is going on, I don’t think we’re exactly qualified to deal with it,” Ethan pointed out. He approached this entire topic with more seriousness than his brothers and friends did.

Jack waved his friend’s concern away. “Don’t worry: if it starts getting serious, we’ll definitely call someone.”

“Jellyfish floating above water isn’t serious enough for you?”

Jack held up his hands, defensively. “I’m not saying it’s not serious. It’s totally serious. I just… don’t think we need to jump to conclusions yet.”

“The jellyfish weren’t aggressive,” Bella chimed in, instinctively and defensively continuing Jack’s thought process. “We don’t know who’s behind this, but maybe they’re completely innocent.”

“Sure, because anyone who builds an underwater lair and messes with nature is ‘completely innocent,’” Ty said, sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

“There’s only one way to find out what’s really going on here,” Jack said. He consciously lowered his voice and leaned forward. He continued speaking only once his friends followed his direction and leaned in closer to hear him. “We need to go back down there, back to that weird airlock thing, and we need to get inside.”

“And the award for ‘Bad Idea of the Day’ goes to…” Ty said, flipping his hands in a presentation manner towards Jack.

“Are we gonna bring Dean along?” Caleb asked, ignoring his brother’s cynicism.

“We don’t need the Duck,” Bella said. “We know where we’re going, and that airlock wasn’t far off shore.”

“Also, Animal-Boy couldn’t communicate with the jellyfish, remember?” Ty pointed out.

“I just feel kinda bad not inviting him along,” Caleb admitted. “He sorta feels like a part of the tea-”

“Hold that thought,” Jack interjected as his cell phone began ringing. Fishing the phone out his pocket, he quickly answered the call. “Oh, hey, Rust. What’s up?”

“He could probably help, too,” Caleb whispered to his brothers and Bella as Jack conversed with their mentor. “I mean, he did stop, like, twenty alien invasions back in the day.”

“It was not twenty, and this is not an alien invasion,” Ethan said.

“Well, what do you call it, then?”

“I don’t know! But, jellyfish are not aliens.”

“We have not ruled out that possibility,” Bella pointed out.

Jack covered his phone’s speaker and looked over to his friends with a clear expression of distress. “Rust wants to hang out on the beach. What should I tell him?”

“That we’re hunting floating jellyfish and infiltrating a secret underwater lair,” Bella quipped.

“This is serious!” Jack stressed. “I don’t think we should let him in on this… not yet, anyway.”

“Just tell him we’ve got plans,” she rectified, turning serious in a split-second. “It’s vague but it’s not a lie.”

Jack, with obvious relief, returned to his phone conversation, relaying the sensible explanation to his mentor. He ended the call pleasantly and turned back to his friends. “He’s kinda disappointed. I told him we’d all meet up later.”

“Before then, we’re going to go trespassing on underwater property,” Ty said.

“Breakfast first!” Bella said, quickly.

“Okay: first, we have breakfast, and then we go trespassing,” Jack agreed.

 

 

6

“Are you sure this is the spot you went diving last night?” Ty asked, softly bobbing up and down as waves pulsed beneath his surfboard.

“Positive,” Jack replied, pushing himself up into a sitting position on his own board.

“How can you tell? Everything looks so different from last night,” Bella said, sitting on her board, idly swinging her legs in the water.

“Because Ethan said this was the place,” Jack answered, jerking his thumb in the direction of his sandy-haired friend as he paddled towards them.

No further questions needed to be asked. It was a well-known fact amongst the friends that Ethan Black’s memory was infallible.

Nevertheless, it didn’t feel like the right place. With the Duck, in the dark of night, it seemed as if they were miles from the shore. Now, heading out to sea on their boards, stopping at the precise location Ethan specified, the teens realized that they hadn’t strayed as far from the public beach as they originally imagined.

Who would be brazen enough to build an underwater hideout so close to shore? was the unspoken, obvious question on everyone’s mind. It only intensified the feeling of mystery surrounding the strange goings-on.

“Okay, who’s going down?” Caleb asked, excitedly, leaning forward and causing the nose of his board to dip.

“You have to go,” Bella said to Jack. “You can hold your breath for, like, a bazillion hours.”

“Yeah, but I think it would be better if two of us go down,” Jack countered. “Safety in numbers. We have no clue what could be going on down there.”

“Why didn’t we hire scuba gear again?” Ty asked with an “I told you so” lilt in his voice.

“Maybe because we’re broke?” Bella answered Ty with a sarcastic sing-song tone.

“We don’t need scuba gear: it’s probably not as deep down as you’re thinking,” Jack reasoned.

“Again: that’s no problem for you…” Bella said, abruptly halting her sentence and gesturing to Ethan.

“But the rest of us need to breathe once in a while,” he picked up on her cue and finished for her. With a small nod to the side, she confirmed he had done so sufficiently.

“Um, guys?” Caleb attempted to pitch into the exchange. No one noticed and continued to speak above him.

“If we’re quick, we can probably get down there and into whatever that place is before anyone needs to take a breath,” Jack continued.

“How do we know it’s an airlock that leads to a place with air? What if it just leads to more water?” Bella countered.

“I have an idea,” Caleb piped up, fearlessly raising his voice to grab attention.

Typically, no one took much note of Caleb’s ideas as they had a tendency to be the results of his wild and impossible imagination. But Jack, Bella and his brothers recognized that, at times, carefree, excitable Caleb managed to determine the ultimate solution to the problem at hand.

The others turned their attention to Caleb.

“Why don’t we send Jack down with Ty shrunken in some kind of water-tight container? Then, as soon as they get inside the airlock (if it does lead to a place with actual air), Jack can let Ty out, Ty can grow back to normal size, and he won’t have to hold his breath at all,” Caleb explained.

“Oh, no: I am not letting you guys stick me in a lunch box again,” Ty protested, as soon as his brother had finished. “Don’t think I forgot what happened in fifth grade.”

“Come on, Ty: that was almost seven years ago,” Bella said, flippantly waving her friend’s concern away.

“You have to let that go, dude,” Jack agreed.

Ty frowned, grumpily, but eventually gave in. Sighing, rolling his eyes and sagging his shoulders, dramatically, he said, “Fine. But, this time, we’re not locking me in and forgetting the code. Got it?”

~~~

Once Ty agreed to Caleb’s proposed plan of action, Jack sped off to obtain an appropriate container to transport his friend.

Within a minute of zooming off, he returned to his friends, holding an empty, plastic water bottle.

“This should do,” he proclaimed, twisting off the cap and holding it out for Ty.

With an unenthusiastic rolling of the eyes, Ty grabbed the proffered receptacle, placed it on its side in front of him on the board and began shrinking.

Deliberately, he shrank slowly, trying to make it as obvious as possible that he did not like this idea.

Once small enough, he climbed through the bottle’s neck and waited for Jack to screw the lid back on. “Let’s get this over with,” Ty mumbled at a volume only audible to Jack.

“I’m gonna have to get to work on waterproof walkie talkies,” Ethan commented as Jack tumbled into the water, tightly clutching the water bottle containing his miniature friend.

~~~

Jack pierced the water and dove down, conscious of the important plastic bottle he held in his grasp.

Swimming through the clear, clean water, Jack kept his eyes peeled for the structure the jellyfish unwittingly led him to the night before.

With sunlight filtering through the transparent water, the entire scene seemed to transform. In the dead of night, with nothing but a few glowing jellyfish and some handy hardlight spheres, Jack hadn’t seen further than the nose on his face. Now, he could see for what seemed like miles.

But, for all the visibility the daylight afforded him, he couldn’t see the glass structure his glowing little escorts guided him to the night before.

Jack figured, in broad daylight, it would be easier to locate the man-made structure. The water was absolutely clear: a few stray fish here and there, seaweed growing in patches along the sandy sea bed, but no conspicuous airlock.

Doubt began to seep in. What if this was not the right place? Ethan’s photographic memory had never failed before. But Ethan could only remember where they parked the Duck, he didn’t know exactly where Jack went while following the jellyfish.

It had to be here: Jack hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

If his sight (enhanced though it may be) couldn’t find anything, then maybe a different sense would improve his chances of success.

Tentatively, he stretched out his free hand and began inspecting the empty water around him, swimming slowly, hoping he would stumble upon something – anything – to further unravel this mystery.

As he blindly dabbed about through the water, he began to wonder if what he had seen was even real. What if those jellyfish were just the product of some elaborate light show? What if there was nothing more to this entire story than some over-the-top special effects master pulling a stunt? What if -?

“Aha!” Jack exclaimed with triumph as his fingers brushed against something smooth and solid. The victorious little shout came out as nothing more than a string of bubbles, floating to the surface.

Glass. His fingertips most definitely felt glass. Carefully, he swam down, towards the seabed, keeping his hand on the cool, smooth glass all the while, afraid that if he so much as moved his hand away an inch, it might disappear.

Now that he knew where to look and what he was looking at, he could see the faint distinction between the water and the glass. If it weren’t for his enhanced sight, he would never have noticed.

Relying on his sense of touch to guide him, he followed as the glass curved, all the way to the ocean floor. He moved along the perimeter of the glass dome until he came across an area where the structure abruptly protruded, much like the entrance to an igloo.

Jack quickly realized this protrusion must have been the airlock he had seen the previous night.

Slowly, he traced his way to an opening. A simple, free-for-all opening.

 

 

7

Jack assumed anyone smart enough to alter jellyfish and enable them to roam freely above water would have an underwater lair swarming with sophisticated security measures.

But, here he was, staring at an unguarded, door-less entrance.

With cautious, snail-like speed, Jack swam through the transparent tunnel, remaining painfully vigilant, ready to fend off any security defence this structure could yet contain.

It wasn’t long before the glass tunnel gave way to a wide, cove-like inlet. Despite the lack of security measures, this underwater base was still masterfully crafted. As Jack broke the surface of the shallow water, he marvelled for a moment at the intricate glass construction that vaguely mimicked a beaver dam.

Jack treaded water and reached a ledge. Pulling himself up, he wasted no time in freeing his friend from the plastic bottle he had not forgotten about for a second.

As carefully as possible, he placed the bottle on the ground, unscrewed the lid and tipped it on its side, allowing his friend to crawl through the narrow, plastic neck.

Ty immediately resumed his regular stature.

“I swear, I have lost all desire to visit amusement parks,” he said, looking a little dizzy.

“Sorry,” Jack apologized. “I tried not to shake you around too much.”

Ty waved it off. “Don’t sweat it: let’s just… wow,” he abruptly interrupted himself as he suddenly realized where they were.

“It’s sure is something,” Jack agreed.

The structure resembled an underwater aquarium: the transparent glass affording a 360 degree view of the clean, sunlit, vacant, shallow water.

Looking around inside the dome, Jack could see a number of glass passageways splitting off to other areas.

“We’re not here to sightsee,” Jack continued. “We’re here to figure out why jellyfish are impersonating seagulls.”

“Got it,” Ty said, instantaneously reverting back to the matter at hand. “So, what are we gonna do?”

Jack shrugged. “Snoop around, I guess.”

“Why don’t we split up? Cover more ground?”

Jack frowned and shot a sceptical look at his friend. “Did you just suggest what I think you just suggested?” he questioned, disbelievingly.

Ty quickly held his hands up, defensively. “Dude, it was a joke.”

“Actually… it’s not a bad idea.”

“No!” Ty said, immediately, stressing the word as much as he could. “Nuh-uh. No way. Forget it! That is not a smart plan.”

"But -" Jack began but his friend did not allow him to finish.

“Dude! Do you want to get us killed? Because splitting up always ends with someone dead. And I don’t want it to be me!”

Jack rolled his eyes. “That only happens in those lame mock-buster movies we watch on Friday nights. Look, it’s simple. You go left and I’ll go right. We’ve got lots to see and we’ll see more in less time if we each go our separate ways. If you go too deep and you start to feel uncomfortable, just come back here. And if you find some – I don’t know – heavily armed and angry henchmen, then just shrink. Nobody’s gonna die.”

“Whatever,” Ty grumbled as he gave up fighting and marched, reluctantly, off to the left, towards an offshoot of the airlock.

~~~

Based on many movies and TV shows, Ty had developed a clear, mental image of what nefarious, underwater lairs should look like. This place blatantly defied that image.

He split away from Jack and wandered down a glass passageway. Where the passage led, Ty couldn’t even guess.

Everything was so clean, bright, and transparent that Ty began to think whoever was behind all this couldn’t possibly be as bad as he had initially assumed.

Eventually, the tunnel came to an abrupt T-junction.

“Oh, great,” Ty muttered to himself as his eyes flicked back and forth between his options. “Now I have to make another decision that will inevitably turn out bad for me…”

Shaking his head and continuing to mumble inaudible grievances to himself, Ty veered down the right tunnel.

It wasn’t as long as the main tunnel, and soon he found himself in another dome, much like the first one Jack and him entered. Except, this one contained furniture.

A canvass privacy screen stood next to a smooth, wooden wardrobe; an assortment of artistic lighting fixtures followed the curve of the glass dome; a white, oversized, shaggy rug covered most of the heavy-duty metal floor; and a neatly made bed dominated the centre of the glass room.

No way jellyfish sleep here, Ty thought to himself, smiling, goofily, at his own, internal joke.

Suddenly feeling like an intrusive trespasser, Ty crept into what could only be someone’s bedroom. He began inspecting the surroundings, trying to remember techniques he saw detectives use in movies and TV shows. (Honestly, though, he couldn’t remember ever watching a show where a teenager tried to snoop for clues wearing nothing but a damp rash vest and board shorts.)

Ty made it a point to step as lightly as possible as he carried out his amateur investigation. He walked up to the wardrobe, deciding it would be the only item of furniture in the room that might offer informative clues.

His first impulse was to simply open the wardrobe doors, but he stopped short, realizing such an action would leave behind fingerprints. Ty did not want to do anything that could create a trail tracing back to him.

He considered shrinking and slipping through the crack between the doors, but he had no clue how he would navigate inside the dark wardrobe.

Deciding to look somewhere else for the moment, Ty stepped over to the bed.

A sleek, modern, wooden frame with neat, clean sheets with an artistic pattern swirling from one far corner to the other. Nothing sinister there. He couldn’t even tell if the bed belonged to a man or a woman: the neutral pattern and colours weren’t something he himself would have chosen, but they weren’t exactly “girly” either.

Ty gave up there, figuring the bed couldn’t give him anything to go on, and focussed his attention on one of the many lamps that decorated the sleeping quarters.

This lamp stood next to the head of the bed and Ty realized it must’ve doubled as a nightstand. Little ledges protruded from the lamp’s body, holding various items like a digital clock, a newspaper, and a cell-phone.

“Aha!” Ty exclaimed, triumphantly, as he snatched the phone up without a second thought.

Before he could even turn it on and further his unofficial investigation, however, a loud, persistent noise suddenly interrupted the otherwise peaceful silence.

An alarm?! Ty frantically thought, panic exploding in his chest. Did I just trip an alarm?!

His mind seemed to switch off as he simply reacted. He stuffed the phone into the pocket of his board shorts, dashed out into the passageway and ran as if a tornado of fire were chasing him until he reached the main glass dome.

Jack approached, flying like a speeding bullet. Even though he was moving at high speed, Ty still saw the frenzied look on his friend’s face.

“Dude! What did you do?” Ty questioned, unable to eliminate the hysterical tone from his voice.

“Shrink! NOW!” Jack shouted, urgently.

Ty miniaturized before he even comprehended Jack’s command.

He felt Jack scoop him up, clutch him tightly in his fist, and Ty just knew his friend had entered the water.

 

 

8

When Jack wandered down the arched, glass passageway opposite to the one he directed Ty to, he honestly didn’t know what he’d find.

He followed the passageway until he reached a point where the tunnel split off in two different directions. Feeling childish, Jack resorted to playing a quick, mental game kids use to determine the first person to initiate a game of tag. His result: turn left.

This passageway very quickly gave way to more aquarium styled structures. Jack couldn’t figure out what each area was used for, but one vaguely resembled a laboratory.

Stepping carefully, cringing when he realized he left small puddles of salt water wherever he went, Jack continued to sneak around the glass underwater base.

It didn’t take long for his search to yield results of sorts.

As he walked along, keeping his eyes peeled for anything that could aid this amateur investigation, a small school of bait fish swam past him. At first, he assumed the fish were in the water just outside the glass. It was only when a stray little silver fish bumped his shoulder that he realized they were swimming in the air, in the tunnel alongside him.

He whirled around and watched as the school swam through the passageways, easily navigating the twists and turns, determinedly heading somewhere.

Not just jellyfish, then, Jack mentally noted.

As he carried on, more and more marine life swam past him. Sardines, tuna, even an octopus pulsed through the air. None of the creatures paid any attention to Jack.

Eventually, he reached a small, domed area with more tunnels leading off in various directions. Jack turned around and around, dizzyingly trying to decide which passageway to go down.

Something caught his attention. One of the passageways actually had a door. He’d seen many passageways so far, but he had seen no doors: this was odd.

Curious, he walked up to it. He examined the handle, realizing there was no way any of the fish could get in here. Only a human would have the dexterity to operate the handle.

He tried to ignore the sudden rush of excited anticipation as he reached out, curled his fingers around the handle and pulled down.

The door opened, smoothly. But Jack never got a chance to step over the threshold.

Within moments of opening the door, an alarm went off.

Jack immediately covered his sensitive ears.

As he turned to run away, he saw movement in the corner of his eye. He stopped for a moment and looked around to get a proper view of what his peripheral vision had noticed.

He picked up his speed when he saw a Great White shark barrelling along an adjacent passageway, headed straight for him.

Must be the guard dog, Jack thought as he ran, struggling to retrace his steps.

The robust shark easily closed the distance and Jack instinctively sped up.

Normally, Jack chose to run if he was going to use his enhanced speed. He had a hard enough time trying to land smoothly when flying as it was; flying at break-neck speeds and trying to land were near impossible for him.

But he was faster in the air than on the ground.

He picked his feet up and shot through the tunnels at lightning speed. The shark was much slower than him, but it was determined: he couldn’t shake him.

Jack reached the entrance dome. He saw Ty, looking panicked and confused.

Ty asked him what he did. Jack responded with a terse command.

Ty listened, thankfully, when Jack told him to shrink. Jack flew by, scooped his miniature friend up and balled his hand into as tight a fist as he could. Then, he shot like a torpedo into the water.

~~~

“Would you rather… eat raw eggs or… sleep in a haystack, surrounded by chickens?” Bella asked, lazily laying on her back on her surfboard, her head resting on her crossed arms.

“Eat raw eggs,” Ethan replied, unenthusiastically, laying on his stomach on his own board.

“Nah, I’d sleep in the haystack,” Caleb said, softly splashing water between his hands as if he were trying to throw and catch it.

"Okay, my turn, I guess," Ethan said. "Would you rather -?"

Before he could finish his question, something shot out the water, right in the middle of the group. Water cascaded around the waiting friends like a fountain.

Immediately, they snapped to attention.

“Was that Jack?” Caleb asked, squinting as he tried to visually locate the zooming projectile.

“Why was he going so fast?” Ethan questioned, confused and concerned.

As if to answer Ethan’s question, something else shot out the water. It disturbed the water, suddenly, causing waves that knocked the three, unsuspecting friends off their boards, into the water.

“Is that a… shark?” Bella said, quickly bobbing back up and holding onto her board to keep her afloat. A look of bewildered disbelief contorted her soft features.

“It’s chasing Jack!” Caleb exclaimed, scrambling, clumsily, to climb back on his board. “What do we do?”

“We need to get to shore,” Bella said, trying to level her tone and establish some kind of calm. “Jack doesn’t have any way of communicating with us, so we’re just gonna have to get to the car and follow. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”

The boys asked no further questions and made no more remarks as they followed Bella and began paddling towards shore, eager to assist their friend and brother.

The adrenalin the situation sparked made them move faster than they would have otherwise. They reached the shore in record time, abandoned their boards without a second thought, and ran up the beach, heading for the carpark.

“Bella, you drive,” Ethan ordered as he fished the jeep’s keys out the pocket of his board shorts where he kept them protected in a small, water-tight container and tossed them over to the girl-next-door.

“What? Why me?” Bella asked, puzzled, as she instinctively caught the keys.

“Because you’re ruthless,” Ethan summed up, quickly jumping into the passenger seat.

“Fine, whatever,” Bella gave up arguing and slid into the driver’s seat, hastily clipping in her seatbelt, slipping the key into the ignition and starting the engine. “Caleb? Follow Jack.”

“On it,” Caleb said, pausing for a moment to visually check if the immediate vicinity was free of onlookers. As soon as he was certain there was no danger of his picture winding up on the evening news, Caleb leapt into the air and began pursuing Jack and the shark, bouncing along the roads of Crashton.

“Hold onto your holograms!” Bella said with bubbling excitement as she speedily accelerated and mercilessly steered the old jeep through the public beach carpark and onto the roads.

Ethan did his best not to scream.

 

 

9

Caleb jumped from point to point along the thankfully vacant roads. He kept his sights locked on Jack and the shark, desperately trying to keep up.

Caleb did not possess any super-speed abilities like Jack, but he managed to catch up to him, nonetheless, thanks to his ability to cover large distances with a single leap.

He got closer and closer, until he was jumping right alongside the shark. It was a Great White, he realized. He recognized the distinct two-tone colouring and robust body.

“Hey, Jack!” Caleb called as he bounced alongside the predator of the deep.

Jack spared a look over his shoulder, relief tinting his panicked expression when he saw his friend keeping pace with him.

“Got any ideas, Mission Control?” Caleb asked. Gravity pulled him back down, but he immediately sprang back into the air, constantly propelling himself along.

Jack waited until his friend reached the peak of his leap before replying. “I can’t shake him. He’s too determined. I don’t know what to do. And I have Ty in my hand,” he summarized.

Again, Caleb fell down to the ground but shot back up into the air. “Pass Ty to me, I’ll get him to the others.”

Jack nodded, tersely, and quickly arched upwards, momentarily confusing the shark. He swooped downwards and as he breezed past Caleb, he placed a miniaturized Ty in his hands with surprising gentleness.

As Jack resumed his aerial game of cat-and-mouse with the large shark, Caleb doubled back and jumped over to Ethan and Bella who hadn’t caught up yet, though they were making rapid progress.

Caleb started bouncing alongside the jeep.

“Here’s Ty,” he said to Ethan as he passed his shrunken brother to his older, regular-sized brother.

Immediately, Ethan twisted around in his seat and placed Ty on the backseat. Caleb hung around, just long enough to watch his brother resume his normal size and make sure he was okay.

He looked a little shaken and dizzy, but he seemed fine, otherwise.

“That shark’s bent on chasing Jack,” Caleb informed Bella and Ethan. “He doesn’t know how to get rid of him… her… uh… it.”

“Tell him to lead the chase,” Bella told Caleb whilst maintaining steady focus on the road ahead. “It’s the only advantage he has.”

“Got it,” Caleb said, ready to bounce away and relay the plan.

“Wait!” Ethan called before his brother got too far. “Give him this,” he instructed as he threw a walkie-talkie out the window. Caleb caught it, expertly.

~~~

Jack zoomed through the air, glancing, periodically, at the oceanic beast tailing him.

He didn’t have a fear of sharks, mostly because he had never had the unpleasant experience of meeting one, up close and personal. And he always had the confidence that he could get away.

But now, in real life, catching glimpses of teeth designed to shred and a robust, streamlined body multiple times larger than himself; Jack felt true terror.

He couldn’t think straight. He knew he had to fix this situation before someone got hurt… or worse. But his panic-stricken mind couldn’t find a solution.

Jack flew, his heart thumping like a crazed, caged animal. He subconsciously balanced his speed: fast enough to evade the Great White, yet just slow enough to keep the chase interesting. Somehow, he knew he didn’t want to outrun the shark just yet. He had no idea what it would do if it lost its target.

The shark suddenly burst forward, lunging at Jack. Working on pure reflex, Jack twisted away, dodging the bold advance.

Instinctively, Jack curved through the air, steering away from Crashton, following a road that led out of town.

“Jack!”

He whipped his head around to see who had called him, but he continued flying straight.

He saw Caleb, eagerly bouncing along the relatively empty road (save a few travelling tourists just entering the popular vacation town). He extended his arm and Jack realized he was holding something.

As Caleb got closer, desperately bouncing as high and as far as he could, he threw the item towards Jack.

Despite Caleb’s sloppy, tired throw, Jack caught the object.

A walkie-talkie.

Jack and the others didn’t care how much others scoffed at their partiality for the novelty communication devices: they worked, and that was all they cared about.

“Bella says…” Caleb called, panting and pausing as he descended. He jumped back up and continued, “you should lead the chase… it’s all you can do.”

“Lead it where?” Jack yelled back, desperately. The shark boldly lunged at him again, but his massive, powerful jaws clamped down on thin air as Jack quickly jerked out the way at the last second.

Caleb leapt into the air. As he reached the peak of his bounce trajectory, he dramatically shrugged his shoulders and raised his palms towards the sky.

Jack understood the “I don’t know, you think of something,” gesture.

The panic faded and a feeling of reassurance settled in as Jack spoke with Caleb. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to unfreeze his problem-solving capabilities.

Caleb told him Bella said to lead the chase. She had a point: in this cat-and-mouse chase, Jack had one significant advantage as the figurative mouse.

The shark would determinedly and blindly follow him wherever he steered this aerial pursuit.

With a sudden rush of hope, Jack held up the little radio.

“Hey, Ethan? You there?” he said.

He had no response for about a minute. But, as expected, his trusty friend replied. “Yeah, I’m here.”

“I have a plan.”

“Thank goodness. What is it?”

“I don’t have time to explain the details. But, are your parents out of town?”

“Uh… yeah, they left this morning for some art expedition in Rockwell City. Why?”

“I need your garage.”

Jack could just imagine what was happening on the other end of the silent radio line. He could visualize Ethan’s scrunched-up, confused expression. He could see the moment that expression melted into a wide-eyed, slack-jawed realization.

“No,” Ethan said, simply.

“It’s for the greater good.”

Ethan groaned. “Dude…”

 

 

10

“Jack is an idiot.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Bella said, nonchalantly, driving along the coast road, trying to keep up with said idiot. “What, in particular, is our resident idiot scheming now?”

“I think he wants to lure the shark to our house, and lock him in our garage,” Ethan explained.

“Aren’t your parents out of town for a few days?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want a shark in our garage!” Ty emphasized.

“Well, I think it can work,” Bella said.

“I thought you just agreed with me that Jack’s idea is stupid,” Ethan countered.

“I agreed he’s an idiot. I never said he wasn’t a smart idiot that sometimes manages to come up with weird and wild ideas that strangely work.”

Ethan shook his head, disapprovingly. He breathed in, deeply and loudly, then let the breath out in a dramatic sigh. “Fine. If we’re gonna lock a shark in our garage, we better get there before Jack does,” he finally said. “Bella?”

“On it!” she said, speedily whipping the steering wheel around and expertly performing a three-point turn in the middle of a coastal road. Once turned around, she floored it.

~~~

Neighbours, friends, and even brief acquaintances, described Kendall and Savannah Black as “eccentric and creative” types. Obviously, that meant the Black family did not live in a “normal” house.

Situated along the old coast road stood a long forgotten fire station that had long since been put out of business. When the triplets were eight years old, Kendall and Savannah moved to Crashton and purchased the dilapidated building. Within two years, they had completely refurbished and renovated the forsaken fire station.

The family lived there ever since.

Right now, the fire station turned family home was only needed for one thing: its large garages, previously used to shelter fire trucks but now acting as a three-in-one workshop, art studio and car shelter.

Bella pulled up on the driveway, stopping suddenly, making everyone inside the jeep involuntarily jerk forward, their seatbelts straining.

“Move it, people!” Bella yelled as she swiftly unbuckled her seatbelt with one hand and removed the keys from the ignition with the other. “We need to get that garage open yesterday!”

Ethan and Ty catapulted out the vehicle and ran up the long driveway to their front door. Bella followed behind, but stopped to stand just outside the garage.

The brothers scrambled to find their house keys.

“They’re not in my pocket!” Ty exclaimed with obvious panic.

“That’s because we gave them to Caleb to keep safe,” Ethan reminded his brother.

“Great lotta use that is: he’s on the other side of town!”

Bella heard the entire exchange. Rolling her eyes, she marched over. Without a word, she promptly lifted up a random paving stone from the driveway. Taped to the bottom of the sandy-coloured stone was a dirty key. Smoothly and quickly, she ripped off the tape and tossed the key through the air to the panicked boys. Ethan caught it, clumsily.

“How did you…?” Ty began, confusedly.

“Seriously, we’ve known each other for almost a decade,” Bella replied, plainly. “By now, we know each others’ homes better than we do our own. Now, move your backsides and get the garage open!”

Ethan fumbled with the key but managed to open the door in record time, regardless. Knowing his brother was faster than himself, Ethan stepped aside and let Ty bolt inside to retrieve the garage remote.

“I got it!” he yelled, triumphantly, dashing back outside.

Bella whipped her head around and stared up at the sky, shielding her eyes from the sun with one raised hand. She could just barely make out Jack and the shark, racing against the backdrop of a vivid blue summer sky. From her point of view, they looked no bigger than a pair of seagulls.

“We’ve got incoming!” she yelled, as she saw the distant figures increasingly looming closer.

“Yeah, I got it,” Ty said, acknowledging Bella’s warning. He pressed the little button on the remote, his hands shaking due to a mixture of adrenalin and anxiety. He watched the large garage door, expectantly.

Nothing happened.

Ty… what are you doing?” Bella questioned. She kept her sights trained on Jack and the shark, but she could hear Ty behind her, pressing the button, repeatedly. But she couldn’t hear the mechanical whir of the garage door responding.

“Of all the times for the remote to go bust, it had to be today!” Ty complained, completely stressed out.

“I’ll just lift it up,” Ethan offered, sprinting over to the door, bending and trying to lift it up as fast as possible.

A wave of worry washed over Bella. The garage remote was bust, Ethan could not ever hope to be fast enough, and Jack and the shark were approaching like bullets.

Her mind racing like lightning, Bella leapt into action.

She whipped around and faced the garage door. Then, working as fast as she could, she trained her glow into a stream of electric-orange hardlight. Manipulating the beam of tangible light, she slipped it beneath the garage door and swiftly flicked it up.

In the nick of time, the door rolled up, smoothly and speedily, exposing the empty workshop/art studio/unglamorous garage.

Ethan jumped, pushing Bella out the way as Jack zoomed into the spacious garage, the frighteningly large shark following suit.

“Close the door!” Ty shouted, urgently.

Bella, sprawled ungracefully on the grassy front lawn, thrust a hand out, reflexively, and conjured a hardlight beam. She waited just a split second longer, making sure Jack escaped before she shut the door.

At the speed of light, Bella’s light beam stretched out, curled under the door’s rim and slammed the roller door down, trapping the angry predator of the deep inside.

Jack crashed on the triplets’ front lawn, lifting up the grass as he skidded. Eventually, his speed died and he stopped. He got to his feet and stumbled over to join his friends, totally unperturbed at the dirt smeared, haphazardly, over his entire body.

Exhausted and panting the friends gathered around each other, a strangely heavy feeling, like that of when a disastrous storm has passed, hanging in the air.

Ty helped Bella and Ethan to their feet as Jack walked, wearily, toward them. The four of them slung their arms around each others’ shoulders to share their weight. Without a word, they unanimously agreed to ignore the thrashing, thudding, crashing and clanging sounds coming from inside the garage.

Caleb arrived a few minutes later, his leaps half-hearted and tired. He immediately slipped in and joined the huddling circle.

“That… is something we are never doing again,” Ty said.

“Agreed,” the others said in unison.

“But… now what?” Jack asked, worn-out.

A loud shattering noise, like glass breaking, emanated from within the garage, as if to punctuate Jack’s question.

“Uh… I’m sure we’ll think of something,” Ethan said. “But, first things first: can we bunk with you guys for tonight?”

“Yeah, I really don’t want to sleep with an angry, trapped shark so close,” Ty elaborated.

“I call dibs on Jack’s couch!” Caleb said.

“Guys, I haven’t even said ‘yes’ yet,” Jack pointed out.

“Fine. I call dibs on Bella’s couch, then.”

Bella shrugged her shoulders intertwined with Ty and Jack’s. “My house is practically Grand Central Station: I don’t think Mom and Dad will even notice a few extra people hanging around.”

 

 

11

The friends made sure the garage was locked and as secure as it could possibly be, what with an aggravated Great White shark trapped inside. Then they made their way back to the public beach to retrieve their boards they had had to discard without a second thought as the wild chase began. Once they had managed to find all the boards (some aimlessly floating atop the waves, drifting with the currents; the others lying carelessly on the sand), they made their way to the suburb Jack and Bella lived in.

Bella (still acting as designated driver) pulled up on the kerb, between the houses.

“Welcome to the Sweet residence. Please do not steal the towels or soaps,” Bella announced, playfully, as she got out the car and led the way up the path to her front door.

“Do we get complimentary breakfast?” Ty asked, jokingly.

“If by ‘complimentary breakfast’ you mean you’ll leave my cereal alone and eat Mark’s… then, yes.”

She unlocked the door and led the group inside. “Make yourselves at home, boys,” she declared, sweeping an arm through the air, gesturing to the living room off to the side of the entrance corridor.

She didn’t have to tell them twice. They were used to visiting each others’ homes.

“I better get home before mom does,” Jack told Bella as the triplets began a debate over who would sleep on which couch.

Bella nodded, understandingly. “Sure thing. I can handle these numbskulls. Hey, do you have work tomorrow?”

Jack blinked, a little stunned by the question. “With all the crazy stuff that’s been going on, I totally forgot. Uh… yeah, I think I do. But, I mean, I could always call for a day off to sort this out…”

“Don’t sweat it, Mission Control,” Bella said. “You did a lot today. We all did. Go to work tomorrow, deliver pizza like everything’s normal, and we’ll deal with it for now.”

“Thanks,” Jack said, gratefully.

“Hey, don’t thank me. As soon as your shift is over, it’s back to work figuring out what to do with Jaws.”

Jack chuckled, lightly, at her quip as he walked away and let himself out. Bella watched as he crossed the conjoined front yards to his own house, unlocked the door and got one foot over the threshold before Rosie, his little sister, ran up to greet her brother with a crushing hug.

No one knew for sure if Rosie had inherited her father’s powers, just as her brother had, but everyone had their suspicions.

Bella turned and walked back to the living room. Before she entered, she heard two pairs of footsteps rushing down the stairs.

“Hey, Bella, why are the triplets staying over?” Josephine, Bella’s ten-year-old little sister, asked.

“Because their parents are away for a while,” Bella simply replied.

“But Mr and Mrs Black have been away before and they just stayed in the house on their own,” eight-year-old Irene pointed out with an expression of innocent confusion.

“Yeah, well, there’s a bit of a… pest problem at their house. It should be sorted soon.”

“Does it have anything to do with the flying shark?” Josephine ventured.

Bella’s eyes widened. Her full attention suddenly snapped to her little sisters. “Okay… how do you two know about that?”

With feigned innocence, the two girls shrugged and held their hands up, palms facing skywards.

Bella bent down to their level, which wasn’t far, considering they weren’t that small and she wasn’t that tall. “Listen very carefully, you little schemers,” she said in a serious, low tone. “Don’t breathe a word of this to Mom or Dad. Got it?”

“Why?” Irene asked, inflicting a small blow to Bella’s patience.

“Because this is something the triplets, Jack and I are gonna sort out. But if Mom and Dad find out, they’ll get worried. I don’t want to worry them, okay?”

Josephine and Irene exchanged a look. They didn’t say a word but Bella knew an entire conversation had just silently been held between them.

“Don’t worry, Bell,” Josephine said, eventually. “We’ll keep it all on the down-low.”

“Mom and Dad won’t learn a thing until you’re done,” Irene added.

“Thanks,” Bella said. She didn’t know exactly what she had just gotten her little sisters to agree to, or what they were going to do from here, but she counted them and their scheming ways as an asset. “Now, onto further business: can you guys round up spare pillows and blankets for our guests?”

“Sure thing!” the two, inseparable sisters chorused.

~~~

The next day, just as the sun began rising, the triplets and Bella snuck out the house and into the jeep to go check up on their aquatic guest.

“We should get Dean back on board,” Ty recommended as Ethan drove through the empty streets, towards their house.

“He couldn’t talk to the jellyfish, what makes you think he’ll be able to talk to the shark?” Bella questioned, attempting to tie her unruly curls up, out of the way.

“Even if he can’t speak with it, he does know a lot about animals,” Caleb said. “Maybe he can help us some other way.”

“Alright, Dean is probably gonna be useful,” Bella said. “Caleb? Give him a call.”

“On it!”

“But who else should we call in?” Ty asked. “I think a flying shark calls for more back-up.”

“Lacey Smallwood helped us out a lot back in Hero High. Maybe she can help us again,” Ethan suggested.

“We’re dealing with land-roving sea creatures, not man-eating plants,” Bella pointed out.

“I’m sure she can do more than just grow roses at will,” Ty advocated.

“We should call Rust in,” Ethan said. “He’d definitely be helpful.”

"I guess, but -" Bella began.

“Dean says he’ll meet us in a minute or two,” Caleb announced, unintentionally interrupting his friend.

“Good,” Ethan said, pulling up to the driveway of the old fire station.

“I hope the garage is still intact,” Ty said, anxiously, as he unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out the car.

“I hope the shark didn’t escape,” Bella countered as she got out the passenger side.

The four teenagers stood outside the garage, apprehensively.

No noise came from within the garage, so they quietly concluded the shark must’ve calmed down.

“We can just wait until Dean gets here before opening up, right?” Ty said, nervously.

“Yeah, because, you know, we still have to call Rust and convince him to come over,” Bella said, the unease in her voice admitting she, too, was just as fearful as Ty was of the next few minutes.

“Yeah, we totally have to call Rust,” Ethan agreed. “And who knows how long that’ll take?”

“It won’t take that long,” Caleb said, puzzled by the exchange. “I’m dialling him right now.”

 

 

12

In record time, Dean arrived, pulling up alongside the kerb in a dark-coloured pick-up truck.

“Did you guys really trap a shark in your garage?” he called, sceptically, as he hopped out the vehicle and jogged up to the Gamma Accidents (minus Jack).

“Do you think that’s something we would joke about?” Bella asked, honestly.

Dean frowned but shook his head. “Never mind. Can I meet your sharp-toothed guest?”

“Well… it seems to be a lot calmer… I guess we can try make contact,” Ethan said. “Bella? Mind playing garage remote again?”

“Unlimited power to create and manipulate light, and what do you guys have me doing?” Bella muttered as she quickly shot out a bluish-green hardlight beam and lifted the garage door. “Opening doors.”

She lifted the roller door, slowly. Apprehensive, yet curious, everyone stood as close as they dared, peering into the garage, hoping to glimpse the bizarre, frightening creature trapped within.

It took a painfully long time for Bella to completely open the garage. No one could blame her for being cautious.

The shark that had been so aggressive the day before simply swam a leisurely circuit around the inside perimeter of the triplets’ garage.

“Hey, Beautiful,” Dean said with a soft gentleness that surprised the others. Slowly, non-threateningly, he approached the now calm sea beast.

The shark’s beady black eyes seemed to flick over and focus on the tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired teenager.

“Does he understand you?” Ty asked. Though still wary, an undertone of awe entered his voice.

Dean nodded, a slight movement of his head to show his agreement. “And ‘he’ is a ‘she,’ by the way.”

“Do you think you can get some answers out of our girl here?” Ethan asked. “Like, who’s behind this? Why she’s flying? What is going on?”

“Hey, I have to get her to trust me before I start interrogating.”

“Okay, okay, take your time,” Bella said. She turned around to see an old white van stopping by the kerb. “I think we need to attend to other matters, anyway.”

Caleb and Ty stayed to watch Dean converse with the shark while Bella and Ethan left to meet the newcomer.

Rust switched the van’s engine off as they approached. No one really knew how he came to be in possession of the vehicle, but no one questioned it, either.

"Okay, I got here as soon as I could. Is something going on?" he said, climbing out the old van. "Caleb sounded a bit excited when -" Rust abruptly stopped, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of a large, Great White shark idly swimming around the inside of a garage. "What...?" he attempted to ask a question but trailed off, dumbstruck.

“It’s actually a really funny story,” Bella said, unsure how to begin the retelling.

“Kid, I was a teenager once, too. ‘It’s a funny story,’ is just a cute way of saying, ‘We messed up, big time,’” Rust countered, not once shifting his gaze away from the sea predator.

“Well, first of all: it’s not our fault the shark’s flying,” Ethan pointed out.

“Second: it’s such a ridiculous story that it is actually funny,” Bella finished.

Rust walked up the driveway to get a closer look. Ethan and Bella followed, quickly relating necessary details of the story to their mentor. By the time they had reached the garage, Rust knew everything right from when the friends first saw the jellyfish floating near Crashton Beach.

“Where’s Painter?” Rust asked, suddenly.

“He had to go to work, today,” Bella answered.

“And what exactly did you kids think you were going to do with a shark in your garage?” Rust questioned, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head ever so slightly, mimicking the manner of a very unimpressed parent.

“It’s not my garage, it’s theirs,” Bella clarified, pointlessly.

“And… we didn’t really think of what we were gonna do,” Ethan admitted as he started trying to reorganize the trashed garage. “It was Jack’s idea. You know how he is…”

Rust sighed, shook his head and crossed his arms, much at the same time. Surprisingly, his exasperation grew milder. “Well, I did worse when I was a kid. Lightfoot? What does the shark say?”

“It’s Lightbody, sir,” Dean corrected.

“You really don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ I have in no way earned that title.”

“It’s kinda weird. Sometimes I can understand her, but a lot of what she says sounds like… okay, it’s sounds crazy, but it’s like she’s speaking an alien language.”

Rust suddenly seemed to snap to attention. “You mean, she speaks a language you don’t know?” he prodded for a further explanation. “Like Spanish or Greek?”

Dean shook his head. “No. Look, it’s difficult to explain, but animals don’t speak languages like English or whatever. Their languages are unique. Supers who talk to animals – like me – can automatically interpret what animals are saying. I don’t have to learn their languages, I just know them all. And it doesn’t matter if they’re sea creatures, birds, reptiles, land animals… I can understand them all. But she,” he gestured to the shark continuing to calmly circle the gathered humans, “is speaking gibberish.”

Rust frowned, seriously considering Dean’s statement. “And you said it sounds… ‘alien?’” he eventually enquired.

Dean shrugged his shoulders and held his hands up, defensively. “Hey, I told you it sounds crazy.”

Rust shook his head, tersely. His expression was strange, like he was trying desperately to figure out an intense puzzle. “No, no: it’s not totally crazy. Something like this happened before, actually.”

“A bunch of kids on summer vacation trapped a flying shark who spoke an alien language in their garage?” Bella said, sarcastically.

“No, of course not,” Rust said, looking at Bella as if she were crazy. “It was a cow and it wasn’t trapped in a garage, but it did speak an alien language.”

The teenagers stared at the older hero, expressions of disbelief and confusion contorting their young faces.

“Does he expect us to believe him?” Ty whispered, loudly, to Ethan.

“I’m not kidding,” Rust insisted. “Thirty or so years ago, my old team and I stopped a full-scale alien invasion. It happened way before any of you were born and the Superhero Community did a fantastic job of covering it up in the media. But it happened.”

“Jack may have mentioned something about that,” Bella conceded. “He’s really into superhero history.”

“We were about your age, back then,” Rust continued. He began pacing as he related the story, incidentally following the shark around. “These short, squishy, ugly, purple alien guys were trying to wipe out humanity. But there weren’t a lot of them, and they were smart enough to realize that, if it came down to a fight, humans would win purely by outnumbering them. So, the aliens (frankly, I can’t remember what they called themselves) used their advanced technology to gain the upper hand.

“I don’t know how they did it, (alien tech was never my thing), but they somehow created an army out of all the cows in the country. People started getting suspicious when their cattle went missing. And then came the reports of cows flying and attacking people.” Rust paused his retelling to chuckle and shake his head as he remembered the events. “It was the strangest thing I have ever dealt with. Whatever those aliens did, it made the cows a thousand times stronger, faster and far more aggressive than your average farm animal.

“Long story short, we stopped the aliens, returned the cows, and the whole show never made it to the six o’ clock news.”

“How did you know the cows were speaking alien?” Caleb questioned.

“Well, like I said, we cornered one. And we had a friend who could read minds and thoughts. Animals, as well as humans, have thoughts.”

“So, what: do you think it’s another invasion attempt?” Bella asked.

Rust shook his head. "No... those aliens won't come back. They got their butts kicked by a bunch of teenagers. Aliens don't normally like that. I didn't know they left any of their tech behind, but they did drop everything when they scrambled to leave. I'll have to call Urban Danger. I think he -"

A sudden, loud crash interrupted Rust.

Immediately alert, everyone whipped around to see the source of the abrupt noise.

The shark seemed to stumble clumsily away from a pile of Mrs Black’s art supplies, now scattered all over the garage floor, bright paint splattered across the creature’s snout.

Dean wasted no time in rushing over to the shark. He crouched down next to the sinking creature.

“Guys,” he said, frantically. “Something’s wrong!”

The others rushed over.

“What’s going on?” Caleb asked, genuinely concerned.

“She says she’s not feeling well,” Dean replied, frantically.

“Wait a second, I thought we just established you couldn’t understand her,” Ty piped up.

“She’s making more sense, for some reason! I don’t know!” Dean said, not at all caring about explaining. His attention was solely devoted to the ailing creature.

“We need to get her back to the water,” Rust said, urgently. “Now!”

“But she was doing fine in the air before,” Bella said, confused.

“After a while, the cows started to revert back to normal,” Rust hurriedly explained. “They stopped flying and they lost their strength and aggression.”

“Is that what’s happening?” Caleb asked, both puzzled and afraid as he watched on.

“This shark will die if we don’t get her back to her home, right now,” Rust stressed.

“You heard the man!” Bella said, loudly, resolutely. “Move it!”

 

 

13

As if a switch had been flipped, the triplets, Bella, Dean and Rust sprang into action to save the sinking shark.

“I need a tarp and rope: lots of rope!” Rust yelled. “Now!”

Caleb responded, immediately. Frantically, he searched through the trashed garage, hunting for the aforementioned supplies.

“Whose car do we use?” Ty asked.

“We can’t use a car,” Rust said, immediately. “One: none of us are actually qualified to transport a shark; two: no one’s car is big enough; and three: there’s no time for any of that. Bella, call Painter. He’s the only one who can fly.”

“Yeah, so can you,” Bella said, under her breath, whipping out her cell phone and speed-dialling her neighbour. She didn’t mean for the once-great hero to hear her comment, but she’d forgotten, momentarily, that, although some of his abilities weren’t what they used to be, his enhanced senses had not disappeared.

Rust ignored the snide remark and focussed on the situation.

“Ethan, you’re our egghead and, Dean, you’re the animal expert: anything you know that can help us right now, spill it,” Rust said, tersely.

Both Ethan and Dean floundered, the stress and pressure proving a bit too much for them.

“Uh… I…” Ethan stuttered, fluttering his fingers frantically, as if the action would help his brain recall information. Dean only mimicked Ethan’s flustered stumbling speech and gestures.

Suddenly, something in their brains seemed to snap at the same moment, as their faces equally lit up and they both blurted information, in sync.

“Cartilage!” Ethan exclaimed.

“Sharks’ skeletons are made of cartilage,” Dean expounded. “They can’t support their own weight on land.”

“And they’re sensitive to electromagnetic signals,” Ethan added.

“Good, good, good,” Rust said, quickly. “Keep ‘em coming, fellas.”

~~~

Ever since he could, Jack worked to help support his mother and little sister. At times, it felt like a bit much to pile one more responsibility on the shoulders of a kid who already had school and superpowers to worry about. But Jack couldn’t complain: after all, he had a good boss and the hours were reasonable.

But today, he wouldn’t mind calling in for a day off. He’d rather be with the others, working on the strange case of flying sea creatures than riding all around Crashton, delivering pizzas.

In the carpark of Crashton’s favourite boardwalk situated pizzeria, Maniac Pizza, Jack secured a stack of piping hot, aromatic cardboard boxes on the back of a motorcycle. He reached for his helmet and that’s exactly the moment his phone began ringing.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew they’d call him. He knew his team would keep him updated.

With subtle excitement, he answered the call from Bella.

"So, how's it go -?"

“Get here right now, Mission Control,” Bella snapped. Over the line, Jack could hear the urgency in her voice. “Things are going south.”

"Yeah, okay, I just have one more delivery and then -"

“We need you here five minutes ago,” Bella stressed. “Just… hurry things up.”

Jack understood. He groaned, nonetheless. “You know I don’t like using super-speed when I’m on the clock,” he said in a low tone, afraid someone might overhear.

“And you know I wouldn’t ask you to unless it was really urgent. Chop-chop.”

With that, Bella brusquely ended the call. It took Jack a second or two to fully comprehend the terse conversation, in which he stood rooted to the spot, still holding his phone to his ear, absently listening to the hang-up tone.

Shoving his phone back in his pocket, he broke himself out of the spell and took action.

He grabbed the stack of pizza boxes, quickly glanced around to check if anyone would see and be stunned, then he took to the skies.

Like a bolt of lightning in broad daylight, he shot across the Crashton skies. In a fraction of a second, he arrived at the delivery address. With a surprisingly steady landing, he planted his feet back on the ground, right on the pavement outside the customer’s house. He sprinted up the path leading to the front door and rang the bell, impatiently tapping his foot while he waited for an answer.

When the door opened, Jack ignored the shocked look on the middle-aged man’s face. Instead, he continued his speedy service, exchanging a stack of pizzas for money.

"I only just... that's impossible... how did you -?" the customer stuttered.

“They don’t call us ‘Maniac Pizza’ for no reason,” Jack replied with a pleasant grin.

Dumbstruck, puzzled and shocked, the customer continued staring at the young man, even as he closed the door.

Jack waited just long enough to make sure no one would see him fly off, then he returned to the skies. Like a bullet, he shot through the summer sky, his sights set on the old fire station on the edge of town.

Bella ran from the garage to the front lawn to meet him. “The shark’s turning back into a normal shark,” she hurriedly explained to Jack as he landed, his arms windmilling to steady himself.

“And you need me to return him to the ocean,” Jack concluded, scanning the scene and deducing what was going on.

“Her,” Caleb corrected, from the other side of the garage. “It’s a lady shark.”

Rust positioned a bright blue tarpaulin underneath the sagging shark. Speedily, he weaved a rope through the holed edges.

“Be careful with her,” Ethan told Jack. “She doesn’t have bones like us, so be gentle.”

“But fast,” Dean chimed in. “She can be crushed by her own weight.”

The irony was not lost on Jack. Not even twenty-four hours ago, this very shark had been viciously chasing him through the skies above his hometown, striking a fear into his heart he would not soon forget. And yet, here he was, risking his own neck to rescue her.

One glance at the exhausted, struggling creature, and any trace of bitterness he could have dreamed up evaporated.

With a careful combination of speed and tenderness, Jack rose into the air, swooped down, gathered up the ropes, lifted the tarp until it securely cradled the sea beast, and flew away.

In the air, his mind worked over time, taking into account what Ethan told him while trying to work out a perfect altitude and speed.

Jack fixed his sights on the glittery, liquid horizon. He wouldn’t stop for anything.

Time felt slow and sluggish as he flew, and without him realizing, a small part of his mind drifted to memories.

It seemed whenever Jack was in the middle of a rescue (something he’d only begun doing recently), his mind played with him, recalling memories of his superhero father.

John Painter died when Jack was only ten years old, frozen immortally as a dauntless hero in his son’s mind. While alive, John did what he could under the gamma accident ban, conditioning his son to resolve to be a hero, too.

John also shared stories of great heroes with his son. Jack remembered every single one, and, right now, realized he only ever knew of heroes who saved other people. He couldn’t recall his father ever sharing any stories of heroes dropping everything to save a creature that had somehow been altered and turned into a rampaging beast.

But this was no less a great deed.

Every life is a life, and they are all precious.

Jack flew out over the ocean, far away from surfers, anglers, stray swimmers, jet-skis or boats.

Cautiously, he set the tarp down on the waves and released the shark into the water.

Holding his breath, Jack waited for a sign the ocean predator was safe. When the shark seemed to spring to life under the water, he let his breath out.

He stayed, hovering over the water, watching the shark take stock of her surroundings. Maybe he couldn’t understand animals the same way Dean could, but he still knew she was happy.

Feeling relieved, Jack returned to his friends. “She’s home,” he announced. “Home and happy.”

Cheers of success rang out amongst the small group.

But even as they clapped each other on the back and shared their relief, everyone knew, without saying a word, that they were far from the finish line in this story…

 

 

14

Urban Danger: the only Global Director of Hero Education and Training in all of history that ever managed to be so intensely and so widely hated within such a short time of holding the position.

It hadn’t been longer than four months since he took over the role of Global Director from his late father, Samuel Danger. So much had changed in that short time-frame.

He, alone, managed to do what countless others labelled impossible. Within the space of two months, he liquidated the ban on the notorious gamma accidents, allowing them to, once again, save the day without fear of superhero officials running them out of town. And the younger gamma accident generations could now attend Hero High and Hero College, and receive the necessary training to better use their abilities.

Oh, how the Board loathed him. Jaws stiffened, eyes narrowed and fists clenched whenever Urban Danger started talking, because he very quickly developed a reputation of modifying anything and everything.

Accustomed to the old, strict curriculums, standards and procedures, the teachers and members of the board that loyally supported his late father came very close to sparking an uproar every time he tried to pass a new change.

Urban, sitting in his office, shamelessly resting his feet on the large, somewhat tidy-somewhat messy wooden desk, laughed, cynically, to himself as he thought about the long list of enemies he acquired during each and every painful board meeting.

He had no choice: his father designed and sustained a flawed system. Urban Danger knew that for years – decades – and always desired to change it to suit, not his needs, but the needs of Hero students all over the world.

But changing Hero High and Hero College regulations, curriculums and standards impacted the entire Superhero Community.

Urban Danger vowed to make it right, and so, make it right, he would. It was just going to take a considerable amount of time and effort. He understood a few people would be outraged and he knew he wouldn’t be popular.

But the right course is never the popular course.

So, after a long morning of angry phone calls, heated arguments, tense board meetings and more than a few death threats, Director Urban Danger enjoyed the solitude in his now quiet office.

The office had been his father’s. As much as he and his father argued, disagreed and refused to see eye-to-eye on basically any and all subjects, Urban still felt the pain of his father’s passing. He couldn’t handle sitting in this office without first removing and replacing the furniture, the paintings, even the lighting fixtures that reminded him of his stubborn, late father.

At least his secretary didn’t hate him. When his position changed to Global Director, she faithfully followed him. When he made changes to the curriculum, she didn’t threaten to remove him from authority by declaring him “mentally unstable.”

They knew each other back in Hero College, back when they worried about final exams, stupid pranks and nothing else.

Said secretary politely knocked on the closed door before stepping into her boss’s office, her head down, gaze focussed on a journal. Frankly, she surprised Urban at just how calm she remained despite having to keep up with the constantly changing schedules, the threats and the outraged Board members.

“Hey, Mindy,” Urban said, welcoming the company. “Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you a-?”

“The principal of a Hero High in Mexico is on line one, sounds like he wants to talk to you about the new curriculum,” Mindy interrupted, her tone overbearingly official.

Urban rolled his eyes and shifted his feet off his desk. Work was not over yet, it seemed.

“The Head of the Board of Hero Education and Training is on line two. I don’t need to tell you what he wants to say, nor do I want to repeat it. And Mr Russell Swift is on line three.” Having sifted through her official business, she raised her glasses-framed gaze and smiled, fondly and knowingly, at the global director she remembered as a dreaming, prank-loving youngster from decades before. “And, yes, I have thought about it.”

Urban returned the smile. “I’ll take the call on line three. Old Rust won’t be threatening me this early…”

Mindy respectfully left the office while Urban took the call.

One wouldn’t say Urban and Rust were exactly “friends,” but they had known each other for many decades. It was thanks to Rust that Urban felt moved to lift the unfair bans imposed on gamma accidents, and it was with Urban’s help that Rust could start getting back on his feet.

“I assume you’re in Crashton by now, right?” Urban warmly greeted the forgotten hero.

“Yes, yes I am,” Rust replied. “And do you have any idea what else is in Crashton?”

Urban frowned. “Is this a trick question?”

“Flying sharks, Danger. Flying. Great. White. Sharks,” Rust said, his tone straining to sound casual. It didn’t fool the director.

“Uh-huh,” Urban said, leaning back in his chair and kicking his feet back up on the desk. “Care to give me more details?”

“Not really. I have a few questions of my own.”

“Okay, you called so you get to go first,” Urban said, fairly.

“Do you remember that alien invasion thirty years ago?”

Urban frowned as he searched through his memory for any scrap of information to assist this conversation. “Do you mean the one with the little aliens that looked like a bouquet of roses with the eyes of a deer?”

“No, the other one.”

“Rust, I know of at least twelve alien invasions that happened three decades ago. Would it kill you to be more specific?”

“The one with the flying cows,” Rust answered.

“Oh, yes. The Gypes. I do remember that.” Urban involuntarily shivered. “Still can’t handle milkshakes.”

“What happened to the tech they left behind?”

Urban shook his head, even though he knew Rust didn’t see the gesture. “Russell, no technology from the Gypes’ invasion was left behind. And if anything was left behind, I’m sure it would have been destroyed.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because that was dangerous technology. There’s no way the Superhero Community would have allowed it to just hang around.”

“Really, Danger, really?” Rust said with heavy disbelief. “I know I was only a teenager at the time, my team was new at the whole hero game and we still believed there was an actual difference between good guys and bad guys. But I know nothing has ever been so black and white. Did District 61 get involved?”

"Rust, it was a long time ago -"

“Did they?” Rust interrupted, tersely.

Urban remained silent for a moment. Despite his position and title, he shared Rust’s mistrust of the Superhero Community. And he had never put any faith in District 61: the government sanctioned department designed to deal with aliens and supers.

Suddenly serious, Urban again removed his feet from the desk and sat forward. Speaking in an honest, low tone, as if he were afraid of eavesdroppers, he said, “Rust, I don’t know if any tech was left over. And if any was left behind, I don’t know who would have it… but I can find out for you.”

“Thank you,” Rust said, sincerely.

“If I do find something,” Urban continued. “Can I count on you and those kids to sort it out? Completely off the record, of course.”

“Shouldn’t you send some trained-and-ready hotshots to deal with it?” Rust questioned, confused.

“Those kids are not like other Hero High students,” Urban told Rust. “You know as well as I do that they can do amazing things. We had that demonstrated right before our very eyes not so long ago. Remember? They’re strong, they’re brave and they’re a team unlike any in history. We saw a team like them once before, and G-4 will be eternally remembered, Rust. But, right now, you have to give those kids a chance to prove themselves. Crashton is their town: let them save and protect it. Believe in them, let them go, support them and watch them shine. Are we clear?”

Rust breathed in, deeply. “Yes.”

“Good. Now, get off this line. I’m gonna get right on your case of stolen alien technology, but before I can, I have to deal with an angry board member and a Mexican principal, both of which might be plotting my demise as we speak.”

Rust laughed, lightly. “I don’t envy you, Danger.”

“Don’t hesitate to call me if you need someone to play bait for the flying sharks… I don’t think I can get through this week, Swift…”

 

 

15

The teens stood around, straining to listen in on Rust’s phone call to the Global Director. Well, all those who did not possess enhanced hearing strained: Jack easily heard the entire exchange.

“Okay, it’s official,” Rust declared as his call ended, “we are completely involved in this case.”

“Fantastic!” Caleb exclaimed, ever excited.

“I don’t know if I’d say ‘fantastic,’” Rust said. “This is gonna be a lot of work. We have to figure out what’s going on, stop it, and try to keep a low profile so this doesn’t explode all over the news.”

Dean shrugged, carelessly. “It can’t be that hard: superheroes have been doing this for ages.”

“Superheroes normally know what they’re dealing with,” Rust pointed out, gesturing with his phone. “We have no idea if there’s a supervillain behind this or just some smart idiot wanting attention.”

“Whatever. I think we have another pressing matter on hand,” Ethan spoke up. He waved an arm through the air, drawing everyone’s attention to the garage, which was in a disastrous state with various tools and painting supplies haphazardly strewn everywhere. “This place is a total wreck.”

“You kids have superpowers,” Rust said, slyly making his way towards his van. “Trust me, you can clean this place up in five minutes flat. In the meantime, I gotta hit the road.”

No one stopped him from leaving. They hardly acknowledged his absence.

“Maybe I should call Mom and Dad, convince them to stay a little longer at their art expedition,” Ty proposed, fishing in his pocket for his phone. He froze, all of a sudden, his eyes growing wide. “Uh, guys…” he said, slowly pulling a sleek smart-phone out the pocket of his board shorts and staring at it. “We have another problem…”

“Where’d you get that?” Bella asked, peering at the phone, curiously.

Ty slapped his forehead as he remembered. “Yesterday, when Jack and I were wandering around that underwater lair. I found a bedroom and this was on the nightstand. I picked it up and I totally forgot about it.”

“This could be useful,” Ethan said, slipping the phone out his brother’s hand and inspecting it.

“What do you think you’re gonna find? An evil to-do list?” Jack asked, sarcastically.

Ethan gave him a deadpan look. “That is just stupid.”

Jack shrugged it off.

“No, there can be contacts on here. Messages, memos, photos – scraps of information we can use to figure out who’s behind this,” Ethan explained.

“First you have to get past the lock-screen,” Dean pointed out as Ethan switched the device on and a prompt for a passcode popped up.

“Eh, give me a day and I’ll crack it,” Ethan said, confidently.

“Well, unlike some of us, you actually have all day,” Jack said, splitting away from the group. “I’d better scoot back to work before anyone notices I’m gone. Don’t hesitate to call if you need me.”

“We won’t,” Bella called with a fake, sickly-sweet tone.

“I know,” he replied, rolling his eyes and taking off.

“I’m gonna get started with this,” Ethan said, his eyes glued to the phone as he stepped away from the garage, towards the door leading into the renovated fire station.

“And we’re gonna come watch you,” Caleb said.

“Yeah, the garage ain’t going anywhere,” Ty agreed, shrugging his shoulders. “And, let’s face it: out of everything we’ve ever done, this is probably on the bottom of the list of reasons Mom and Dad are going to disown us for.”

And so, despite the fact the garage demanded an immediate spruce-up, the teens retreated, following Ethan as he led the way up to the triplets’ large, shared bedroom.

With his brothers and friends peering over his shoulder, Ethan set to work. His brothers and friends could hardly understand what he was doing as he plugged the phone into his computer and began pulling up programs on screen, his fingers flying across the keyboard. They quickly became bored. Their interest waning, they peeled away, some making their way to the kitchen, some flopping on couches in the living room. Regardless of their disinterest, Ethan continued.

Although he would never claim to be a technological mastermind, Ethan Black’s skills were unmatched. His friends and brothers well knew of his prowess when it came to all things related to technology.

Within half an hour, he achieved success. With excitement that rivalled his youngest brother’s, he quickly sprang up, ran from his room and down the stairs. From the landing, he exclaimed, “I’m in!”

As soon as he made his announcement, he turned around and headed back to his room. The others, who heard him from the various different areas of the fire-station-turned-family-home, understood the cue and followed after him.

“It’s a good thing he’s on our side,” Bella commented, jokingly, as the group sprinted up the staircase, clumsily tripping over each other.

“Ethan Seth Black is a formidable force to be reckoned with,” Ty agreed.

“So, what do you do now?” Dean asked as the group entered the triplets’ shared room.

“Now I rummage through some unsuspecting individual’s personal information,” Ethan declared, cringing when he realized how criminal it sounded. “It may or may not be legal.”

“Flying sharks may or may not be legal,” Bella said, crossing her arms. “Just start rummaging.”

Once again intrigued, everyone crowded around Ethan and leaned in close to watch. With flippant flicks of his hands, he shoved them away.

“I’ve got it hooked up to the computer,” he said, waving to the desktop stationed amid a clutter of paper, pencils, rulers, books and various other odd items, such as socks. “Watch from there.”

Obediently, his brothers, Dean and Bella turned their attention to the computer screen, displaying whatever Ethan saw on the phone in real time.

“Go to the contacts list,” Bella suggested.

“No, go to the memos and the notepad,” Ty countered.

“Oh, come on, everyone knows if you want to find out about a person, you have to search through their photos,” Dean said. “Check the photo library, Ethan.”

“Read through his emails, that’s where important stuff happens,” Caleb said, joining the melee of ideas.

“Guys!” Ethan exclaimed over the loud din of suggestions. “I’m hacking a phone, not playing a video game!”

“Sorry,” the others responded, simultaneously.

“One thing at a time. All your ideas are good, but I can only try one at a time. I’ll check photos, first, and then messages.”

With an edge of suspense, the friends and brothers watched on as Ethan opened the photo application and began scrolling through. It wasn’t a very long scroll: the only photos the phone contained were standard wallpapers for the lock screens.

“Well, that was a bust,” Bella said, mightily disappointed. “Not even one picture of our mastermind. Nothing incriminating. What are they doing with their life?”

Ethan gave no reply as he closed the photo library and proceeded to go through the sent and received messages.

“Okay, who owns a phone and doesn’t have history of at least one text message?” Ty questioned, confused, as the group stared at a blank screen.

“I’m gonna guess our guy’s not popular,” Dean commented.

Ethan opened up the email application next. Involuntarily, he exclaimed, triumphantly, as he saw a long list of unread emails. Excitedly, he began scrolling through the unread mail.

“In the past twenty-four hours, he’s had a lot of people contact him,” Ethan deduced.

“Hey, it could still be a ‘she,’ you know,” Bella pointed out. “And I’m not saying that because I happen to be the only girl here, I’m saying that because we already got the gender of a shark wrong today so I don’t think we should jump to conclusions.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Fine. He/she has had a lot of people contact him/her. But they don’t look like personal emails, you know, like from a friend to a friend.”

The others could see that, as they read the basic information of the emails as Ethan slowly scrolled through them.

“Mission Warehouse… isn’t that the name of some company that supplies parts for radios and stuff?” Bella asked, squinting at the screen.

“Yeah, that’s where I get all the stuff to make and improve our walkie-talkies,” Ethan said.

“So our guy or girl is building handheld radio sets?” Dean concluded, looking mightily perplexed.

“Not necessarily. Mission Warehouse does pretty much everything from spare parts for car stereos to big time radio transmitters. The local radio station tower was built by them, and they maintain it,” Ethan explained. He paused for a minute as he opened a few emails and sped-read through them. “Whoever we’re dealing with, they’re ordering enough stuff to build about fifty transmission towers.”

“That is one hardcore project,” Caleb remarked, nodding his head slowly as he tried to imagine the scope of such an endeavour.

“Wait, hold up. What do flying sharks have to do with radio towers?” Ty questioned.

Ethan shook his head, exhaling loudly and taking his glasses off to rub his eyes. It wasn’t even lunchtime, but it had already been a long day. “I don’t know. None of this makes sense.”

“Nothing’s made sense since we saw jellyfish impersonating kites,” Bella said, blatantly honest. “But it doesn’t have to make sense, we just have to keep rolling with it. One thing at a time, like you said. We know someone is behind this, we know they’re planning to build radio towers, and lots of them. Now, we just have to think up our next crazy, stupid, ridiculous move and go for it.”

“You pep-talk way better than Jack,” Caleb commented.

“Thank you,” Bella said with a mock-smug grin.

“Well, if you want crazy, stupid and ridiculous,” Ethan said, repositioning his glasses and redirecting his attention to the phone he held in his hands, “then I might have an idea.”

He scrolled through the emails and opened the most recently received one.

“It seems our person of interest has a major shipment coming in late tonight,” Ethan said, highlighting specific parts of the email to validate his statement. “Obviously, they don’t want their purchases delivered to their suspicious underwater dome, so they’ve put in a request that the deliveries take place in person, by the docks, not far from the bay.”

“So… we sneak over to the docks and ambush our suspect?” Dean said, again confused.

“No, that would totally not work out for us,” Bella said. “But it might be worth hanging around, anyway. Watch the whole exchange, see if we can’t get any more information.”

“This seems completely dumb,” Ty piped up.

“Yeah, well, this is us we’re talking about,” Bella countered.

“That really has to stop being our excuse for making bad decisions and running with them.”

 

 

16

Urban Danger had every intention of responding to the calls from angry Hero High principals and fuming board members, but the very thought of helping Rust Swift and the Gamma Accidents appealed to him like a long vacation after a year of hard work. Urban was all too eager to pack his bags.

Taking his phone off the hook and locking the door to his office to deter disturbances from outsiders, Urban Danger set to work.

He searched non-stop, straying into restricted files he wasn’t necessarily privy to, hunting for any scrap of information even remotely related to the Gypes’ invasion.

Rust, Jason, Will and Carla Swift weren’t officially “G-4” when the little purple men sprang their invasion attempt. Back then, the Swift siblings were just foolhardy teenagers going up against an alien armada with the help of a few superpowered but equally inexperienced friends.

Urban was one of the few people in the Superhero Community who was actually impressed by the courage and determination displayed by the young members of an outcast minority group of supers.

Satisfied that he had unearthed a sufficient amount of information, Urban compiled all his findings and emailed them to Rust, sending a text message from his private cell phone at the same time to ensure Rust checked his emails immediately.

Urban stood up and walked across the room to the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominated one wall. He looked out at the city below, his eyes taking in the sights of a bustling crowd and traffic flowing like blood along the veins of the city’s streets while his mind continued to think about the Gamma Accidents of Crashton.

He held high hopes for them, and he wondered if they realized that fact…

~~~

Rust left the teens and began making his way through town, to his new apartment, deliberately taking a scenic route, something he was not normally inclined to do.

As he drove leisurely through the streets of Crashton, coasting along the road that hugged the shoreline, he absently noted the gathering of locals and tourists alike along the popular beach and boardwalk area.

A song played on the radio and he found himself singing along, even though he barely knew the words. Precisely at that moment, he recognized the euphoric state he found himself in.

For nearly nineteen years he had lived without anything that so much as resembled joy. Then everything got turned on its head, and here he was, remembering an old, almost forgotten rush of adrenalin as he became entangled in a new adventure.

He eventually arrived at the seaside apartments, parked the van and made his way up to his new home. As he entered the lobby and headed for the elevator, his mind wondered and reminisced over all the highs and lows written in the superhero job description that he experienced firsthand.

He did his best not to recall his greatest defeat or the loss of his team, but those blurry memories still managed to taint his excitement.

He knew how this story would inevitably end. Maybe he shouldn’t encourage those kids so much. After all, they were still young and innocent, they didn’t understand the losses they were bound to suffer one day in this particular career track.

Maybe…

Rust suddenly froze, the hand gripping his keycard suspended in the air. His sensitive hearing picked up the soft, unmistakable sound of his kitchen’s dustbin lid closing.

Confused and disturbed, Rust slowly and silently opened his door, stepping noiselessly into his apartment and creeping towards the small kitchen.

Seriously, I haven’t been here that long, he thought, pressing his back against the wall, feeling like a bad spy movie imitation, he listened carefully to soft, shuffling noises coming from his kitchen. How can I have a burglar problem already?

No regular burglar stood a chance against Rust Swift. He may have completely forgotten how to fly and his strength may not have been as impressive as it was in his prime but he was still more than a match for any ordinary thief that considered taking advantage of him.

“HA!” Rust exclaimed, fiercely, as he jumped out from around the corner and attempted to scare his intruder.

A box of cereal crashed to the ground, and a feminine voice let out a surprised yelp.

“Jones?” Rust said, frowning with pure bewilderment as he stared at the young woman with black hair neatly tucked in a bun, and blue eyes framed by smart glasses.

Audrey took a moment longer to recover her composure. “Okay, before you say any-”

“What are you doing in my kitchen?” Rust questioned, interrupting and completely ignoring her half-uttered command.

Audrey bent down and began cleaning up the cereal that scattered all over the tiled floor when she dropped the box out of sheer fright. “I… had to check up on you,” she admitted, sounding almost ashamed. “And just as well I did,” she said, her voice changing to sound as indignant and assertive as she typically did when Rust did something she did not approve of… something that happened way too often. “So far, you seem to be surviving on children’s cereal, cola, and chilli-flavoured chips!”

“I can explain that,” Rust assured.

“You eat like an eight-year-old!”

Rust smiled at his assistant’s enraged concern. “Audrey: you are not my daughter. You’re not even my assistant anymore. You do not need to go through my cupboards and take care of my diet.”

“I know, I know,” Audrey fumbled, fiddling with her glasses, nervously. “I just… don’t really know what I’m supposed to do now.”

For once, Rust stayed quiet and didn’t interrupt as he realized the Hero College graduate wanted to get something off her chest.

His silence prompted her to continue.

“It’s just…” she began, pausing to sigh and sit back on her haunches. Rust bent down to her level so she could look him in the eye as she confessed. “When I graduated, I thought I had it all figured out. I had high enough marks to get any job I wanted in the Superhero Community. I could even take a position on the Board of Hero Education. But… Danger called me up and sent me on the crazy task of finding you and setting up a superhero team of gamma accidents and now… I can’t work at a desk, Rust. I can’t file paperwork, I can’t handle board meetings and I can’t waste my life and my abilities checking reports. There’s this whole other side to being a part of the Superhero Community that no one ever taught me about.”

“So you thought you’d become a super nutritionist?” Rust teased.

“I was just hoping you’d give me some pointers, just tell me what this world needs, what kind of hero I should be.”

"Jones," Rust said, honestly, "I don't know what advice I can give you. I haven't been a part of the Superhero Community for close to two decades. I don't even know what you mean by what sort of hero this world needs! But I know there will always be a place in this world for people who want to save it. And -"

Before he could even begin his next sentence, his cell phone chimed, alerting him to a received message.

“Who’s it from?” Audrey asked as she stood up.

“Urban,” Rust responded, simply, as he read the text.

“What mess did you get yourself in now?” Audrey questioned, warily.

“Oh, I didn’t do anything,” Rust assured her, leaving the kitchen to rummage through the still packed cardboard boxes dominating the living area. “Have you ever heard of the Gypes?”

“Yes,” Audrey replied. Despite her confused frown, she continued, “They’re a race of aliens who specialize in technology that can manipulate and drastically alter biological life-forms. They tried to invade Earth twice. They were unsuccessful both times. In 1879, angry farmers scared them off, and thirty years ago, I think G-4 stopped them. They haven’t made another invasion attempt since then.”

“Wow. Do you actually have a brain or is it just hard-drives and circuits in your head?” Rust asked, surprised at the young woman’s ability to remember and recall facts with pinpointed accuracy.

“What are you looking for?” Audrey asked, pointedly, ignoring his jab at her intelligence.

“Urban sent me an email. I’m looking for my laptop,” Rust answered, opening a cardboard box labelled “Linen” and carelessly tossing out random books.

Audrey ignored the urge to chastise him for incorrectly labelling the boxes. “Is this about the Gypes? Do you think they’ve come back?”

“It’s at the bottom of the list, but it’s still a possibility. AHA!” Rust exclaimed as he pulled a laptop hastily encased in bubble-wrap out a box labelled “Dishes, Glasses, Mugs and Cutlery.”

Audrey quietly seethed. She only gave him one job…

“Do I want to know what’s really going on?” Audrey asked as she took the laptop from Rust, set it up on the small table just outside the kitchen and turned it on.

“Flying sharks,” Rust said, assuming it was a suitable explanation.

Audrey rolled her eyes as she waited for the laptop to wake up.

 

 

17

Jack called in a few favours from his workmates and managed to leave work early. Stepping out Maniac Pizza, he immediately saw his friends waiting for him at the edge of the boardwalk.

Mid-afternoon in Crashton meant pedestrian traffic along the boardwalk wasn’t as heavy as during the lunch rush. Local folks and holidaymakers alike spilled onto the beaches to embrace the loving sun.

“Hey,” Jack said as he approached the triplets and his neighbour. They sat on the edge of the old wooden boardwalk, swinging their legs over the lapping waves, looking every bit like a group of teenagers enjoying their summer vacation. “Where’s Dean?”

“He went to get us some back-up,” Ty answered his friend.

Jack mildly frowned as he sat down between Bella and Caleb. Still wearing his Maniac Pizza red shirt and long black pants, he looked out of place amongst his friends dressed in simple T-shirts and board-shorts. “Who’s back-up?”

“Lacey Smallwood,” Bella replied, simply.

“And why do we need back-up?”

“Because,” Ethan said, casually holding up the phone Ty had accidently picked up while he and Jack snooped around the strange underwater glass dome. “We have a plan.”

“Sweet. What is it?”

Taking turns, the others explained the plan they formulated in Jack’s absence.

“So we just hang around the docks and spy on some delivery?” Jack summed up. “We don’t even know who we’re looking out for. The docks near the harbour won’t be empty. How are we gonna know who to watch for?”

“Ethan and I scoped the place out just a few minutes ago,” Bella said. “There’s a ton of construction going on down by the harbour, which means a lot of convenient scaffolding is set up. If Dean manages to get Lacey on board, that means the seven of us can split up, hide in various spots around the docks, giving us a view of the entire area. At least one of us will see something.”

Jack nodded, slowly, as he understood his friend’s reasoning. “Alright. But what do we do if we actually see something?”

“If we each take a camcorder (or use our phones), we can record whatever delivery we see,” Ethan explained.

“And then we can show the video or videos to Rust,” Caleb added. “From there, we’ll just…”

“Wing it?” Jack finished.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Ty said. “You know, like we always do.”

“At least it’s a part of a plan,” Jack conceded. “That’s more than what we normally have to work with. Well,” he stood up and clapped his hands together, “I’m impressed, guys. Lead the way: I’ll follow.”

~~~

The email from Urban Danger contained many attached files, all of which Audrey dutifully scanned through.

She was in her element as she opened the files and read through pages upon pages of extensive information about the Gypes, their invasion attempts, the subsequent foiling of their invasion attempts, and what happened to the technology they unintentionally left behind.

Boredom overtook Rust within minutes of Audrey opening the first document. His former assistant smiled to herself as he excused himself, saying he’d rather unpack the boxes. She thought he would never get those boxes sorted out!

Audrey didn’t really know what was going on but she knew Rust needed a summary of the information contained in Director Danger’s email.

“Most of what Director Danger sent is just cover stories,” Audrey said, continuing to search through the documents. “And a lot of grainy photographs.”

“Keep looking,” Rust encouraged, half-heartedly, as he opened cardboard box after cardboard box, sorting through the contents.

“Okay, I’ve passed the conspiracy theory section,” she announced. “Ooh, I found the Superhero Community’s official report.”

“That should be a page-turner,” Rust commented, sarcastically.

“Hey, you’re suspicions were right,” she said, her eyes continuing to scan the laptop’s screen as she spoke. “The Gypes left behind truck-loads of technology.”

Suddenly interested, Rust abandoned his self-assigned task of unpacking boxes and crossed the room to read over Audrey’s shoulder. “Who got a hold of the stuff?” he asked, frowning as he read the screen, attempting to catch up.

“District 61,” Audrey replied, simply, as she scrolled through the current document and pointed to a portion of highlighted text.

“That’s not good,” Rust said, darkly.

Audrey’s eyebrows knotted together in a confused manner. “Wait, why is that bad? I thought District 61 did good.”

“Yeah, I know what they teach you in Hero College,” Rust said, a grimace contorting his features. “They probably tell you that District 61 is the Superhero Community’s best friend, that they help cover for us and make sure the rest of the world never finds out about us or aliens.”

“Yes, that’s what we’re told,” Audrey confirmed, slowly and uncertainly, a frown sneaking onto her own face. “Why don’t you trust them?”

Rust sighed, deeply and gruffly, and began pacing the living room crowded with boxes and furniture yet to be arranged. Audrey turned around to face him as he explained with an irritated tone, “District 61 is a little section of the government responsible for dealing with all the crazy stuff the rest of the world has to stay ignorant about. Alien invasions, superheroes and supervillains… every conspiracy theory that exists, they’re in charge of keeping it just that: a theory.

“But they do more than that. They don’t just come in and clean up after hero and villain showdowns or alien invasions. They assign entire teams of scientists to take apart all the stuff that should be destroyed: everything from supervillains’ evil inventions to alien technology. Then they begin reverse engineering and before you know it, that dangerous tech finds its way into our everyday lives. How else do you think microwave ovens came about?”

Audrey remained silent for a moment as she processed what Rust told her. “So… what does that mean now?” she asked, a hint of worry lacing her tone.

“It means someone figured out the Gypes’ technology… and I doubt they have ‘honourable’ intentions.”

“What do we have to do?” Audrey asked. “I mean, if what you say is true, calling for help from the Superhero Community would just restart the cycle, so obviously we’re on our own now.”

Rust stopped pacing: he hadn’t even realized he had started. As his mind worked to reach a solution, his eyes blankly stared out the glass sliding door that led to the balcony of his apartment.

Audrey watched him, examining his expression, hoping for the slightest clue that would give away whatever went on inside his mind.

“This isn’t our job,” Rust said, abruptly.

Audrey immediately opened her mouth, ready to protest, ready to shoot down any reasoning he dared to use.

Once again, Rust didn’t let her say a word. “But we’re gonna sort it out anyway,” he said with an odd mixture of resolution and annoyance. He snapped around and pointed to the laptop. “Audrey, see if Urban gave us any hints on which scientists worked on the Gypes’ tech. I need a name and an address.”

Audrey smiled to herself as she turned around and again began going through the documents Urban Danger sent. “Only one scientist was assigned to the Gypes’ technology,” she said, promptly, as she read the information. “A Doctor Noah J. Harmica.”

“What kind of a name is Harmica?”

“It’s his name. But I can’t find any of his research notes. Actually, I can’t find anything on him.”

“Figures,” Rust said, rolling his eyes. “District 61 isn’t sloppy: they’re not going to leave all the details of their employees lying around for just anyone to find.”

“Good thing we’re not ‘just anyone,’” Audrey pointed out.

“I’m not a hacker, Jones,” Rust informed her. “I can’t find dirt on anyone. If Urban didn’t send an entire file on this scientist guy, then it means he can’t find anything himself. Or… he’s baiting me.”

"Well, this guy's our only lead so far. I can keep looking until I find something else. There are at least eight more files Director Danger sent. I can -"

“That won’t be necessary,” Rust interrupted her, bluntly.

She tried not to show how much the interjection aggravated her. “Why?” she asked.

“Because I know someone who can help us… someone who once worked for District 61…”

 

 

18

Professor Oscar Darkins never entertained guests. Perpetually engrossed in his work (or hobby, as many preferred to call it,) of building highly intelligent robots or creating oddly coloured chemical concoctions, people rarely disturbed him.

In the basement of an old apartment building in Crashton, the professor managed to rebuild his elaborate laboratory from scratch. It took quite some time to reinforce the walls, ceiling and floor but, in the past, he found it to be highly necessary to ensure the frequent explosions wouldn’t cause the entire building to collapse. His neighbours had a tendency to complain when such an event occurred.

The landlady, a rather confused elderly woman, only allowed him to live in the basement because she was, frankly, oblivious to his strange activities.

Oscar Darkins was a genius and a superhuman, with the ability to turn his entire body invisible. Once upon a tragic time, he walked the path of an evil mad scientist. He gave up that gig and chose to use his abilities (both physical and mental) to save the world. Time crept up on him, and he had to make another choice: retire from superhero duties and leave it all behind him, or continue as a teacher at Hero High.

He chose the latter.

Second to deciding to become a hero in the first place, this career choice was something Darkins never regretted. He could devote himself to his love of mad science while still using his powers for good. Darkins never imagined he would enjoy it, but he found contentment in training the heroes of tomorrow to understand the fascinating world of science.

However, during summer vacation, Darkins wouldn’t hesitate to admit he quite enjoyed devoting his time to his favourite “hobby” without distraction.

Nevertheless, today, a distraction sprang up.

The foreign ring of a doorbell met Darkins’ ears as he sat at his cluttered desk, catching up with some very important reading. He sat up straight, suddenly, and searched for the source of the unfamiliar noise with alarm.

The basement/laboratory was never silent. Even though he wasn’t hammering, drilling, or mixing unknown substances together to achieve an explosion: the laboratory was not a place of noiseless solitude. Multicoloured concoctions bubbled away in beakers and test tubes; unassembled robot parts mindlessly twitched and jerked; and a couple of roughly severed wires sparked with live electricity at regular intervals.

The slightest of noises in this environment would easily unnerve someone unfamiliar with these surroundings, but Darkins viewed the strange clamour as a comforting symphony playing in the background.

Contrastingly, he found the persistent ringing anything but comforting.

Professor Darkins left the desk and his reading as he began searching for the source of the infuriating and puzzling doorbell noise.

Did he even own a doorbell?

Unwilling to leave the safety and comfort of his laboratory, but curious, nonetheless, Darkins climbed the rickety staircase into the small ground-level apartment attached to the basement. He focussed so much on the laboratory that he had a tendency to forget about the apartment. The apartment housed a fridge, a couch, a small table, various stray items and… that was it. Even the bedroom was unused as Darkins typically just slept in the lab.

Cautiously, Darkins pulled back the curtains a few inches, in the hopes he’d get a look at his visitors. However, he fell backwards in shock the moment he did so.

Temporarily blinded by the bright sunshine, Darkins rubbed his watering eyes. He could have sworn it was still late at night. Clearly mistaken, Darkins’ eyes, accustomed to the laboratory’s dimmer lighting, were forced to pay the price.

And he failed to score a peek at his intruders…

The doorbell rang again. Quickly wiping his hands on his once-white-but-now-stained-with-too-many-colours-to-count lab coat, Darkins proceeded to open the door a crack to see who could possibly be bothering to visit him.

He instantly opened the door wider as he recognized the middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and the young woman with a soft smile.

“Miss Jones! Mr Swift!” Darkins exclaimed, jovially and excitably. Contrary to his recluse nature, he warmly welcomed the unexpected guests, graciously leading them into his humble apartment. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yeah, do you remember a Dr Noah J. Harmica from your days at District 61?” Rust immediately began what felt like an interrogation.

“District 61? What? What do you mean?” the professor stammered and stumbled over his words, shocked at the suddenness of Rust’s question.

Audrey kindly and quickly intervened. Professionally hiding her annoyance with Rust, she apologized for the older man’s bluntness, “I’m sorry, Professor Darkins. We were just wondering if you could help us with a little… mystery that’s sprung up.”

Darkins visibly relaxed. “Oh,” he said with a slight nod of his head. “Of course. Please, sit down.”

With a wave of his hand, Darkins gestured towards the old, sagging couch. He did his best to hide his embarrassment as his guests sat down, sinking into the faded and worn cushions.

“What can I help you with?” the professor asked as he dragged a small stool from the kitchen over to sit opposite his guests.

“Is it true you used to work for District 61?” Audrey began, keeping her tone even. She knew she was prying, so she tried to make her voice sound inquisitive and serious to lighten the situation as best she could.

“Yes, I did,” the professor answered, honestly. With a strangely sad glint in his eyes, he added, “But that was many years ago, my dear. I was a different man then.”

“Did you know a scientist called Noah J. Harmica?” Rust asked, attempting but failing to match his former assistant’s tone. Tact had obviously never been his strongest quality.

“I have heard the name,” Darkins replied. “But I don’t believe I ever met him in person. We were in different… departments. He was assigned to research and development, while I had a hand in the more… nefarious dealings of District 61. As I recall, he had a good reputation. Brilliant yet never underhanded. He had… standards… something one usually lost when they worked for District 61. If he discovered something – anything – that could be dangerous, he burned his notes and destroyed all his findings so people with wrong intentions – people a lot like what I used to be – couldn’t use it.”

Darkins watched, slightly puzzled, as Audrey and Rust exchanged confused glances.

“This doesn’t sound like our guy,” Rust said.

“I’m… sorry?”

“No, no… it’s just… the kids have had a few run-ins with flying sea creatures. I called Urban Danger for some help and he gave me some information that showed Dr Harmica had done research on alien technology capable of manipulating and altering biological life-forms.”

Darkins shook his head. “I might never have met Harmica, but I can still vouch for his character. He wasn’t the kind of man who would use his discoveries to harm or violate others in any way. When he quit District 61, he went through his files (both hard and digital copies) and erased them all.”

Abruptly, Rust stood up and crossed the room. With a look of deep contemplation, he parted the curtains and gazed out the dusty window at the street beyond. Darkins assumed the action helped the younger man clear his thoughts.

“I could be wrong,” Rust said, eventually. “Maybe alien tech isn’t involved. I could have sworn…”

“Perhaps we should get in touch with Dr Harmica,” the professor suggested, unsure why he was suddenly so eager to help. “Even if he isn’t involved, he may be able to assist us, nonetheless.”

“It’s worth a try,” Audrey said. “Do you mind helping us, Professor?”

The ex-mad scientist shrugged and smiled. “I’d be happy to help. I’ve been spending the past few hours reading the new curriculum from Director Danger. I welcome a break.”

 

 

19

Like an organized operation, the teens set about preparing for their spy mission later that evening.

Walkie-talkies had to be repaired and waterproofed (as best as Ethan could manage); Lacey had to be brought up to speed with what was happening (and someone had to explain everything that had happened); and the plan required multiple refinements. Nevertheless, as the shadows began lengthening and the sky melted from vibrant blue to glowing orange, the Gamma Accidents and their friends were ready.

They arrived at the docks a full hour before the delivery was scheduled to take place. Everyone knew what they had to do and where they had to be. Playing up an act of casual nonchalance so as not to arouse suspicion, the teens unhurriedly split up and took up their assigned positions.

“I feel like we’re playing ‘Spies and Bad Guys,’” Lacey giggled into her walkie-talkie as she crouched behind a large stack of metal beams.

“Except, we’re supers, not spies,” Bella said. She strategically hid near a lamp post, the light it cast preventing her from glowing and giving away her position. From her spot, she could see Ethan, pressed up against the wall of a large shed where boats and supplies were stored.

“Has everyone tested their cameras?” Ethan questioned over the radio, a clear note of anxiety rippling his voice. “Do they all work?”

Everyone rolled their eyes, even though they knew no one else would see the gesture.

“Dude, chill,” Ty said. Thanks to his shrinking ability, he was capable of being so far out in the open without anyone noticing. Therefore, he sat idly on the arm of a bench overlooking the docks. “We already checked them. Eight times, at least. You were there.”

“Are you sure you’ll be able to use yours?” Ethan asked.

“I set it up by the bench leg. All I have to do is jump down and press the ‘On’ button. Simple.”

“Okay, okay. Just… wanted to make sure. I keep feeling like I forgot something.”

“If you did, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Jack said, his tone firm yet reassuring. “Our guy should be showing up any minute.”

The teenagers waited in rapt silence, keeping their eyes wide open, hardly daring to blink.

A little later than expected, a young man entered the scene. He wore a simple, bland shirt and a dark-coloured pair of pants, the only indication of his occupation being a company logo embroidered across his top, left pocket. Only Jack, who held an eagle-eye position atop a tall structure of scaffolding, could read the logo.

“Our delivery guy is here,” he alerted the others, his voice coming low and urgent through their radio channel. “Anyone who can see him, start recording.”

The delivery man stood in plain sight with a somewhat disinterested expression plastered on his freckled face. Under one arm, he held a moderately sized cardboard box, while with his other hand, he held a clipboard.

“I must literally be the only person who can’t see him,” Dean said. “Is he by the docks?”

“Actually, he’s closer to the carpark,” Jack said.

“Aw, man, I can’t see the carpark!” Dean moaned. He had taken a rather obvious position, pretending to be nothing more than a teenager milling around the bay, enjoying an afternoon near the harbour.

“Stay where you are, Dean,” Bella warned over the radio. “We can’t risk anyone getting suspicious.”

“Whatever.”

The delivery man stood, waiting, looking completely bored. Periodically, he consulted his wristwatch, shaking his head in annoyance every time he saw another minute tick past. Whilst he looked as if he simply wanted to be over and done, the teens hiding out in various spots around and near the bay waited with ever growing anxiety.

Eventually, after a full fifteen minutes of idly hanging around, waiting for a customer that seemed less likely to show, the delivery man dramatically sighed and rolled his eyes. He turned around and began making his way back to his van.

“Should we do something?” Lacey questioned, uncertainly.

“No,” Caleb said. Since he was near Lacey’s hiding spot, he could speak to her without having to use the radios. “We can’t do anything.”

“Hey, guys? A boat’s coming up real fast over the horizon,” Dean suddenly said. “Do you think this could be our crazy fish guy?”

“Film him if you can, Dean,” Jack instructed.

“I’m a teenager. Filming people while making it look like I’m not filming people is an underrated specialty of mine.”

Anticipation hung heavy in the air between the seven friends as a small speedboat approached the bay at frightening velocity. Equally as fast, a man jumped out the boat as soon as it was close enough to the harbour docks and he bolted up the small set of stairs that led from the docks to a small boardwalk. Still running like a cheetah, he headed straight to the carpark.

The delivery man was within inches of his van when the young man caught up to him.

“Can anyone hear the conversation?” Jack quickly asked. “Because I can hear it, but my phone won’t be able to pick it up.”

“Don’t worry,” Bella said. “I’m close enough to record it.”

“Me, too,” Ethan assured.

The delivery man gave the panting man a very disgruntled look. “7 o’ clock means 7 o’ clock, buddy,” he said, scornfully.

“I’m sorry,” the young man said, inhaling and exhaling slower to help catch his breath. “I forgot about… the delivery. I lost my phone.”

“Oh, you didn’t lose it, pal,” Bella joked. Jack and Ethan promptly shushed her.

The young man quickly caught his breath and straightened up. Nobody could ever suspect this “tall, dark and handsome” fellow to secretly be a mad scientist who somehow managed to make sharks fly. He hardly looked past college age!

“Whatever,” the delivery man said, roughly shoving the parcel over to his customer. Not bothering to hide his disgruntled expression, he held out the clipboard and a pen. “Just sign here so I can finish my shift.”

The young man accepted the pen and with a few swift flicks of his hand, he signed his name.

“Thanks,” he said, good-naturedly.

The delivery man rolled his eyes and got into his van, pointedly slamming the door shut before pulling away.

With business out the way, the young man examined the box briefly. He began making his way back to his boat, glancing around with a tinge of nervousness as if he could sense the multiple pairs of eyes spying on him.

“Well, that went well,” Jack commented in a low voice.

As if some force had heard that sentiment and felt it couldn’t be so, a sudden, loud and insistent ringtone began playing, shattering the relative quiet that blanketed the scene.

“Uh-oh,” Caleb said.

Ethan involuntarily exclaimed with shock as he scrambled to locate the “borrowed” phone he buried deep in his pockets.

“Why didn’t you put it on silent?!” Ty asked, hysterically.

“Well, now we know what you forgot,” Bella commented, pointlessly.

As Ethan frantically fumbled with the phone, the young man slowly changed direction and curiously followed the sound of his ringtone.

Lacey saw it happening. Panicking, she acted without thinking.

The man stepped forward, dangerously close to discovering he had been spied upon. However, before he even glimpsed Ethan, a solid wall of thick, lush ivy sprang from nowhere and obscured his view.

Stunned, the man stumbled backwards. Ethan didn’t hesitate: running a little clumsily at first, he snatched his opportunity to escape.

The man didn’t give chase. Instead, he immediately returned to his boat and promptly left. Anyone could have assumed he had completely put the incident out of his mind, but those who looked closely at his expression and saw the dark glint in his brown eyes knew… the game had changed.

 

 

20

The second their suspect was out of sight, the teens scrambled from their hiding spots and raced to the jeep parked at the far corner of the docks’ parking lot. All efforts to maintain a casual facade were forsaken as they hurriedly climbed in.

Jack took the wheel as the others piled in; Ty shrinking and Ethan reverting to his insubstantial hologram form so all seven could fit in the vehicle.

A tense silence settled in as Jack drove towards the triplets’ house, which had somehow become the unofficial base of operations for this adventure. The drive seemed to stretch on forever with unspoken accusations ringing loudly in each one’s mind, amplified by the strained quiet. After what felt like hours – but was, in fact, only a few minutes – the renovated fire station loomed into view.

Finally, as the jeep pulled up on the driveway and the teens began making their way to the house, the spell broke.

“I’m sorry,” a small, unsteady voice said. Everyone turned around to see petite little Lacey hanging back by the vehicle, her head bowed to hide her shame and tears. “I panicked. I didn’t mean to give us away like that. I ruined everything for you guys.”

Her honest confession melted the tension like a flame to ice.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Ethan said. “I should have put the phone on silent before we even started our stakeout.”

"But I shouldn't have -" Lacey began but her new friends quickly abated her concerns.

“Hey, if it weren’t for that trick with the ivy, we wouldn’t have gotten a chance to run,” Dean assured her.

“So what if our mystery guy knows he’s got supers after him?” Bella chimed in, flippantly waving her hand. “We’ll find a way to make this work for us. We always do.”

Lacey lifted her head, gratefulness shining in her forest-green eyes.

“Well, now that the sappy stuff is over,” Jack said. “What’s our next move?”

“Can we just stop scheming for, like, five minutes and have dinner?” Ty suggested, making his way up the path. Promptly, he unlocked the front door and swung it open. Stepping aside, he ushered his brothers and friends – old and new – inside. “I think we might still have some leftover casserole.”

Bella grimaced as she stepped inside the familiar house. “From when?” she asked, apprehensively.

“You probably don’t want to know,” Caleb told her. “I don’t even remember when we had it the first time.”

“Hey, who left the living room light on?” Ethan questioned, frowning at the light spilling out the aforementioned room, patchily illuminating the entrance corridor. He crept closer, suspicion written on his features. “I could have sworn I switched it off before we left…”

His brothers and friends did not share his wariness. Unconcerned, they ambled past him and continued on their quest for leftover dinner. Absently, they glanced inside the living room with the edge of subconscious curiosity. They froze the second they recognized the figure of a man, sitting casually on one of the couches, his back turned to the kids.

“Hey!” Jack called, automatically stepping forward, protectively.

Startled, the man jumped up and spun around to face the kids.

“Rust?” Jack said. As soon as he recognized his mentor, he relaxed. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, hey,” Rust said. “You’re home early. Mind telling me where you’ve been?”

“Nuh-uh,” Ty shook his head. “This is our house – we get to ask the questions.”

“And, for starters, how did you even get in?” Jack asked.

“Kid, our powers are practically identical,” Rust told him. “You can work it out.”

“So why didn’t you hear us coming?” Caleb questioned, tilting his head, inquisitively.

“And why are you here?” Bella added.

“First off, I’m not very observant. Secondly, I’ve got a lead.”

“So, what? Is it back to business now?” Lacey asked, a little confused.

“No, we are not continuing anything until we get food,” Bella said, firmly. “Everyone to the kitchen, now. Walk and talk, people, walk and talk.”

~~~

As Dean, Lacey, Bella, Jack and Rust gathered in the Blacks’ kitchen, the triplets set about presenting dinner: Ethan tasked with unearthing various leftovers from the refrigerator, Ty heating them up in the microwave oven and Caleb serving.

“Exactly what is this?” Rust asked, his face contorting in disgust and fear as he prodded a heap of multi-coloured mush with a fork.

“Lasagne Surprise,” Ty replied.

“As in, ‘Surprise! It’s not lasagne!’” Caleb added with an all too cheerful chuckle.

“You kids are really testing my invincibility,” Rust commented as he warily proceeded to eat the meal.

“So what lead did you find?” Jack asked, steering the conversation to the pressing topic at hand.

Alternating between eating the reheated “Lasagne Surprise” and talking, Rust explained to the teenagers everything that happened from Audrey showing up in his apartment to the discussion between them and Professor Darkins.

“Darkins and Jones went to go speak with Dr Harmica, see if he’s involved in some way,” Rust concluded.

“And why are you here and not with them?” Lacey asked. She politely ignored the dish Ty set in front of her, opting to rather grow her own dinner. As she listened to Rust’s explanation, she concentrated on growing a little strawberry plant in one of the pot plants sitting on the kitchen windowsill.

“Jones says I’m too ‘direct’,” Rust said. “So she told me to hang back and read through the rest of the files Urban sent while she and the mad professor go to talk to our friend. But enough about me. Where have you kids been up to? Building sandcastles?”

Unsure who should answer and what to say, the teenagers exchanged glances amongst themselves. Rust didn’t know if they could really understand what each other thought, but he figured their silent communication method must have been a success as Bella began talking and no one interrupted her.

She explained, quickly and efficiently, about Ty accidently grabbing the cell-phone while he and Jack explored the underwater dome they found. Glibly, she related how Ethan hacked into the phone, found the emails and the teens decided to go on a stakeout in the hopes of discovering anything that could help them piece together this mystery.

“But we sort of… messed up,” Bella finished, slightly uncomfortable with the admission.

A frown etched itself deeper and deeper into Rust’s expression as he listened to Bella’s recounting of recent events. “You kids just decided to spy on a stranger? You don’t even know who you’re dealing with! And what do you mean by ‘messed up?’”

“Nothing happened, okay? We’re safe,” Jack firmly assured his mentor. Silently, he added, “Please don’t push it any further: they feel guilty enough as it is.”

Rust took a deep breath and composed himself. He resolved to give them a complete and detailed lecture on safety and stupidity later. Right now, there were more pressing matters to address. “Did you hear a name or anything? It would really help if we knew who we were dealing with.”

“Not really,” Caleb said.

“Actually… I think we did get a name,” Jack countered with a slightly victorious lilt in his voice. “We filmed the whole thing from a bunch of angles. One of us has to have gotten a shot of that signature.”

“Yeah, everyone but me,” Dean mumbled, pulling out his phone, nonetheless.

The friends abandoned their dinner as they focussed on examining the video footage from that evening. Some captured better views than others, some were visibly clearer than others, and some caught the entire exchange between the delivery man and their mystery man.

“I have a lovely shot of their ankles,” Ty stated.

“My phone’s camera stinks,” Lacey said, dismayed at the poor quality of her video. “All I have is grainy images of people-shaped blurs.”

“I have a great shot of the signature,” Jack said. “But our mystery guy’s head is in the way.”

“Wait, I got it!” Bella declared. She held her phone up like a fan holding up a baseball they just caught. She promptly passed it to Ethan. “Do your thing, Brainiac.”

Ethan adroitly found the precise sequence that showed their mystery man signing his name. Bella had, indeed, caught the perfect angle. Ethan chose one frame in particular and did his best to enhance it until the signature could be determined.

The man’s scrawl was abrupt and sharply etched, but with much squinting and staring, the letters eventually made sense.

“Is that a J?” Dean asked.

“J. Harm… Harmica,” Caleb said, his brown eyes narrowed to slits as he struggled to read the jagged scrawl. “J. Harmica.”

“That makes no sense,” Rust said, furrowing his brow. “That can’t be the same guy who worked on the Gypes’ tech.”

“Why not?” Lacey asked.

“Because that guy,” Rust pointed to the paused video, “can’t be that much older than you guys. The Dr Harmica I heard about worked for District 61 thirty years ago. Do the math.”

“Maybe ‘Harmica’ is more common a name than you think,” Ty suggested.

“Dude, I think it’s a made-up name,” Bella countered.

“Look, his name and his association with District 61 is probably not the most important thing right now,” Jack said. “Whoever he is, he’s up to something and I’m really doubting it’s anything good. I’m getting worried.”

“So am I,” Rust agreed, grimly. “I don’t think any of us realize just how powerful sea creatures are half the time. Can you imagine what someone could do if they had an army of land-roving sea creatures obeying their every command?”

“Nothing good,” Lacey said.

“Exactly. It’s impossible to know what our guy is thinking, but it’s safe to assume the worst. Did you say he was ordering radio parts?”

“Yeah,” Ethan responded, nodding his head. “He’s gotta be building a bunch of broadcast towers powerful enough to send signals all across the planet. I don’t know what that’s got to do with flying sharks, though…”

“Maybe nothing,” Rust said with an indifferent shrug of his shoulders. Suddenly, his expression turned serious. “Maybe everything…”

Abruptly, he exited the kitchen. He returned without delay, balancing a laptop in one arm. “That Dr Harmica guy – the one that worked for District 61 – deleted all his research notes, but Urban somehow managed to find bits and pieces of information on the Gypes’ tech,” Rust explained quickly as he set the laptop on the kitchen counter. The teens crowded around to read over his shoulder. “I’ve been going through it for the past couple of hours. Most of it goes over my head, but I think I understand this: the Gypes used signals to trigger a transformation in the cows when they tried invading Earth last time. Those signals, although alien in origin, are basically just simple radio waves. They made an army of cows to terrorize the country, and they only had to rig a couple of radio stations to do it.”

It didn’t take long for the information to sink in. Immediately, everyone understood the true weight of the situation.

“There’s no way our guy is just building radio towers for the fun of it,” Ethan said, clearly distressed as he realized the implications. “He’s creating an army.”

 

 

21

An unsettling quiet descended upon the kitchen as the distressing realization dawned on all present.

All of a sudden, as the grave reality of the situation sank in, they understood they were no longer merely connecting a string of clues and solving a simple mystery. Now so much more was at stake and they couldn’t rely on the Superhero Community to swoop in and clean it all up.

Rust only glibly explained about District 61 and their less-than-honourable reputation, but the teenagers understood the deeper meaning: calling on help from the Superhero Community would result in District 61 getting involved and simply restarting the sinister cycle that created this situation in the first place.

Realizing they had no back-up produced an unsettling feeling they knew all too well.

“What are we supposed to do about it?” Lacey asked, her dark, sculpted eyebrows knotting.

“We’re supposed to stop that maniac,” Jack answered, absently and with little conviction as he looked away, his mind struggling to solve the puzzle.

“How?” Ty asked, his voice clear and honest, carrying a heavy tone of overwhelmed defeat. He switched his gaze evenly between Rust and Jack. “For all our powers, we’re only as good as what we know. And there’s a lot we don’t know: we don’t know what this guy wants, we don’t know what he’s gonna do, and we don’t know when he’s gonna do whatever he’s planning to do! We’re in a really tight spot here, guys.”

“We don’t know nothing, either,” Caleb countered, desperate to establish hope. “We know he has a name, maybe even a connection to District 61, and we know what he’s done so far. That has to count for something!”

“Caleb’s right,” Dean chimed in. He may not have felt like he fitted in here but he knew where he stood. “We can’t give up now. We don’t know everything but that didn’t stop you guys back at Hero High. Just… try again. You got this far taking chances, don’t stop now.”

“I don’t know. It’s been a long day, I think I’m out of crazy ideas to try,” Bella said, tiredly rubbing her eyes as if to wipe the exhaustion away.

“There’s one more crazy thing we can try,” Ethan said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the “borrowed” phone that had given them away earlier that evening. “Someone tried to call Harmica. He has no contacts and he’s managed to block all unnecessary calls (such as scammers and telemarketers), so whoever called him has to have known his number and tried to contact him on purpose.”

“Or it was a random butt-dialling,” Ty suggested, cynically.

“It’s a fifty-fifty chance,” Jack conceded. “It’s either a really important clue or it’s nothing. What are you thinking, Ethan?”

“I’m gonna try redialling. What have we got to lose?”

“Seeing as it’s not my phone credit we’re using, I say: go for it,” Rust encouraged.

Speedily, Ethan redialled the mysterious caller who unwittingly gave them away earlier. Electric anticipation hung in the air as he put the phone on speaker and held it out, the dial-tone echoing in everyone’s ears.

After only two rings, the person on the other end answered with an anxious “Hello?”

“Uh… hi,” Jack stepped forward and replied to the taut, disembodied voice. “You tried calling this number earlier?” he ventured.

“Jonas? Is that you?” the man on the other end asked, uncertainly.

Jack quickly glanced at his friends, each nodding, silently urging him on. “No, this is Jack. Who is this?”

The person on the other end sounded deflated and urgent as he replied, “My name is Noah Harmica. I was hoping to find my son. It’s vital I do so soon.”

Jaws slowly dropped and eyes grew wider as fuzzy connections became clearer.

“Dr Noah Harmica?” Jack repeated the name. “And your son is Jonas Harmica?”

“Yes. Do you know him?”

The earnest, desperate tone in the older man’s voice melted everyone’s hearts.

Rust took over. “Dr Harmica? This is Rust Swift. You may have known me as the leader of a team of gamma accidents called G-4.”

"Swift? I thought you were -?"

"Dead," Rust quickly interjected. "Yes, but I'm not. That never actually happened, it was just a cover story Samuel Danger came up with. Now I'm responsible for a team of young gamma accidents and I'm a teacher at a new Hero High in Crashton. Lately some very strange things have been happening here involving the marine life such as -"

“Flying sharks?” Dr Harmica interrupted. “Yes, I’ve been told. That’s why I’ve been trying to contact Jonas. He has my old notes, my research… but I never imagined he’d do anything like this…”

Rust restrained himself from saying the first thing that popped into his head which ran along the lines of, “Guess you don’t know your son so well, then, do you?” Instead, he stepped back and gestured for Jack to take over. Only seventeen and he already had more tact than Rust himself had ever cultivated.

“Sir,” Jack said, respectfully, “we need your help. We’re afraid Jonas is creating an army of sea creatures. We’ve had a few run-ins with jellyfish and sharks already, and he’s built dozens of radio towers. We don’t know what he’s going to do but we’re all a little nervous this side. If you know something – anything at all – that can help us keep Crashton safe from harm, please, don’t hesitate.”

“Crashton?” Dr Harmica repeated, a note of puzzlement in his voice. “I can’t imagine why he’d do anything there. He went to school in Crashton until… of course…”

“Doctor?” Jack prompted, intrigued by the older man’s sudden change in tone.

“We lived in Crashton until my wife left. I think Jonas took the blow harder than I did. He grew rather bitter after that. It’s the only reason I can think of.”

“Do you think he’ll try attacking Crashton with his little army?” Bella asked.

The man on the other end of the phone conversation didn’t seem perturbed at the inclusion of another voice on the line. “I can’t imagine him doing anything so rash… but, then again, I never thought he’d replicate that alien technology I worked on. If he’s going to do anything, he’ll do it in the one place he connects to bad memories: Crashton.”

"Doctor, can you -?" Bella began but her own phone's upbeat ringtone suddenly playing interrupted her question. Slightly annoyed, she hurriedly answered the call, anxious to dismiss the caller. "Josie? What's the matter?"

“Doctor, we need you in Crashton as soon as you can get here,” Jack continued as Bella took the call from her sister.

“We’re en route,” the older man replied.

“You’re driving?” Rust questioned.

“No, a nice young lady and a colleague I never met approached me and told me what was happening. Miss Jones is driving.”

“Tell Jones to ditch the car and teleport already!” Rust blurted.

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Audrey’s voice responded in the background, distorted by her distance from the phone.

“Guys,” Bella spoke up. Everyone turned their attention to her as Rust argued with Audrey over the phone. “Josephine says to turn the news on – right now. There’s something big happening at the Boardwalk.”

“I’ll get it,” Caleb offered as he left the kitchen and jumped along the hallway to the living room. Hurriedly, he turned on the television and switched to the news channel. The others followed.

A bright red “Breaking News” banner scrolled along the bottom of the screen as a very distressed anchorwoman tried to explain the chaos unfolding behind her. The rolling images shook as the cameraman attempted to zoom in and film the ruckus.

Against the familiar backdrop of Crashton’s public beach and boardwalk, marine life aggressively initiated a rampage, destroying everything in sight. Umbrellas, store-fronts, cafe tables and chairs… nothing was safe.

No one bothered to listen to the anchorwoman: the images spoke for themselves.

“Well… nuts,” Ty said as he stared at the live news report, dumbstruck.

 

 

22

It was 9:37 p.m. in Crashton when the most bizarre thing happened. Not many people saw it unfold, but those that did, described it as the craziest thing they would ever see.

Out over the moonlit horizon, shadows emerged from the inky waters. With slow, snaking motions, the shadows loomed closer and closer to the public beach.

A few brave surfers out on the late-night waters were the first to see the shadows up close. As the blurry, dark shapes made their way to the shore, inch by inch, they grew clearer.

Great White sharks led an army of marine life that included glowing jellyfish, sting rays, eels, a few giant squids and one enormous, spotty whale shark.

Crashton residents and visitors abandoned their previous activities and stood, rooted to the spot, as they stared, dumbfounded, at the bewildering sight.

The spectacle changed in a heartbeat from strange to downright deadly as the creatures from the deep reached the shoreline.

Their slow pace proved to be a facade as Great Whites with roughly scarred bodies zoomed forward with shocking speed, lunging at anything that caught their sights.

A cacophony of screams erupted as old and young, local and tourist, scrambled to flee the area.

Amidst this chaos, local news reporters arrived, having responded to some tip-off.

Within minutes of the unprovoked rampage starting, an old white van and a metallic-blue jeep pulled up along the road, the passengers speedily climbing out and running onto the scene.

The noise and chaos caught the newcomers unawares.

“What do we do now?” Caleb asked, his thick eyebrows knotting with confusion and a hint of trepidation as he, his friends, his mentor and his brothers peered down at the beach and the adjacent boardwalk as sea creatures terrorized the townspeople and trashed the surroundings.

Before anyone could answer Caleb, a grey sedan came zooming along the road. It loudly swerved to a halt and the passengers – a slender young woman with wide, blue eyes behind sleek glasses; a tall, wiry older man with crazy, snow-white hair; and a stout, grey-haired man wearing a smart white shirt, waistcoat and slacks – clamoured out.

“Doctor?” Rust said, registering the three newcomers’ presence without turning his gaze towards them. “Your son has lost his marbles.”

The stout old man – Dr Noah J. Harmica – panted slightly as he came to stand beside the teenagers and Rust. He stared with impossibly wide eyes at the chaos unfolding before him. “Oh, no…” he breathed. “Jonas…”

“Sir?” Bella said, softly and sincerely. Dr Harmica turned to the short girl with curly hair, an almost pleading glint in his wide eyes. “We need your help now. How do we stop those creatures before they hurt people?”

As if to punctuate the seriousness of the situation, glass shattered loudly in the distance as a Giant Squid thrust a long, thick tentacle through a boardwalk shop window.

“The radio towers,” Dr Harmica said, fighting through the fog in his brain the intensity of the situation created. “Jonas has to have built a main broadcast tower somewhere high, somewhere overlooking the area but somewhere out of sight.”

Jack, Bella, Ethan, Ty and Caleb exchanged knowing glances, grins spreading across their faces as they realized something at the same moment.

“We know plenty of places like that,” Ethan said. “We’ve spent most of the summer so far riding around the outskirts, looking for the new location of Hero High. We know exactly where to look for a tower someone wants out of sight.”

“You’ll need to stop that tower from broadcasting,” Professor Darkins added. “In other words, smash it to smithereens, kids.”

“We have more immediate problems,” Ty pointed out, gesturing towards the boardwalk which, in a matter of minutes, had turned into a disaster-zone.

“As soon as they’re done with the beach, they’ll move onto the town,” Dean noted, gravely.

“Okay, okay, wait,” Jack said, his mind working overtime. “We can make this work. We need two teams. One goes after the tower and the other keeps the flying fish busy.”

“Good idea,” Rust acknowledged with a curt nod. “Who goes where, Painter?”

Jack suddenly looked taken aback. "Wait, I didn't mean... I was just giving ideas -"

“You’re the leader, kid. You know this team, you know what they can and can’t do. Stop wasting time and just tell us what to do already,” Rust encouraged, firmly.

“Well, alright then,” Jack said, hovering as he gave his orders. “Ethan, you’re our tech expert; Dean, you can’t talk to these guys, and Ty, you’re useful. You three are Team One, in charge of finding and destroying the broadcast tower.”

“Oh, sure. Everyone gets a reason, but I’m just ‘useful’,” Ty complained as he, Ethan and Dean turned around and ran towards the jeep to begin their seek-and-destroy mission.

“Let it go, dude,” Dean said.

Jack turned his attention to the remaining ones. “Okay, I need everybody else to concentrate on our fishy friends. Bella, Lacey: you’re on restraining duty. Caleb, Professor Darkins: you’re our distractions. Rust, you and I have to make sure everyone gets away from the chaos. We’re also the only ones that can out-run the sea creatures. I’ll take ‘em high, you get ‘em low. And remember people: these creatures aren’t evil. They aren’t doing this of their own volition. They’ve become tools, so don’t harm them, got it?”

“I can help, too,” Audrey piped up, afraid she’d been left out.

“I was getting to that. Audrey, I need you to reunite father and son. Dr Harmica?”

The old man nodded, understandingly. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Okay. Everybody clear on this? If not, it doesn’t matter. Here we go…”

 

 

23

“I haven’t seen action in quite some time,” Professor Darkins declared as he and Caleb leapt onto the scene, positioning themselves in the middle of the fray, aiming to draw as much attention to themselves as possible.

“I haven’t seen action in a few hours,” Caleb countered with an adrenalin fuelled laugh. With perfect timing, he hopped up and lunged for the giant squid destroying the shops lining the boardwalk.

Unlike the other sky-dominating sea creatures, the giant squids that joined the odd aquatic army traversed the alien environment using most of their tentacles as legs and the others as arms to wreak havoc.

Caleb wrapped his short arms around the bright orange, squishy body of the squid, as if attempting to hug the gigantic creature. The squid was less than impressed. Halting its spree of complete and utter destruction, the squid began swatting and tugging at Caleb with suction-cup covered tentacles, trying to dislodge him.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” Professor Darkins said, delightedly, as he ran towards a group of electric eels herding a young family into a corner of a restaurant. He grabbed the nearest item – a white china plate with a half-eaten meal still sitting on it – and tossed it like a Frisbee at the eels. It hit one square on the head. Disturbed, all three eels whipped around, blue electricity sparking along their sleek, black bodies.

Once he had their attention, Professor Darkins hoofed it out of the restaurant, leading the chase. The altered eels pursued but as the crazy professor rounded a corner, they lost him. They couldn’t tell he stood right in front of them, completely invisible and undetectable.

On the other end of the boardwalk, Bella and Lacey stood, back to back, as a frenzy of Great White sharks circled, menacingly.

“You know, normal girls get together, paint each others’ nails and swap gossip stories,” Bella commented as both she and Lacey kept their eyes glued to the circling creatures. The largest shark in the group lunged forward, jaws opening wide, razor sharp teeth at the ready. However, before those powerful jaws could clamp down on anything, a bright flash of orange light dazzled the creature’s sensitive eyes and it fell backwards in shock.

At the same time, the other sharks made their move, snapping open their jaws and rushing towards the supposedly easy targets. Not one of them got within an inch of the teenage girls as strong vines exploded from potted plants nearby and wrapped around the robust creatures’ tails. Like dogs on leashes, they couldn’t go any further than the lush vines allowed.

Lacey shrugged as if it were nothing. “Yeah, but I never have any good gossip to share,” she said.

“Me neither,” Bella agreed, teasingly sticking her tongue out at a shark snapping his jaws in frustration as he struggled to free himself.

Across the beach, near the carpark, Rust and Jack focussed on ensuring all bystanders made it out unharmed. This translated to 10% herding pedestrians and 90% warding off aerial attacks from sea creatures.

“Have you ever actually tried flying again?” Jack asked Rust, offhandedly, as he hovered off the ground, giving himself a better view of the situation.

“Haven’t had a reason to,” Rust admitted as he helped an old couple get to their car, shielding them from a swarm of jellyfish with stinging tentacles at the ready. He took the torrent of stings without even grimacing.

“I think there are plenty of reasons,” Jack countered. He spotted a surfer struggling to get to shore as a pod of dolphins clustered around him. Although the creatures were characteristically friendly, Jack knew nothing these creatures did tonight was of their own volition. Wasting no time at all, Jack zoomed down to the water. He gripped the edges of the surfboard and fought to maintain perfect balance to ensure the rider didn’t fall off as he flew to the carpark. As gently as he could manage, Jack lowered the surfboard.

“Thanks a million, dude,” the shaggy haired teenager said, his blue eyes wide with shock. He hurriedly ran as fast as he could from the carpark, holding his board under one arm, the leg strap still secured around his ankle.

“I think you’re just scared,” Jack said, continuing his earlier conversation with Rust. “You told me gamma accidents have maximum power potential right from day one, and that those powers don’t ever fade. That means you can’t just lose the ability to fly.”

“Painter, I don’t know what happened, but after the Rampage, I temporarily lost all my powers,” Rust explained while at the same time swatting jellyfish away as if they were nothing more than annoying flies. “I slowly regained them – my invincibility, my speed, my strength, et cetera – but I never re-learnt how to fly. Anyway, what is taking Team One so long? That broadcast tower should be a twisted pile of metal by now.”

Jack shrugged and dropped the subject as Rust seemed so eager to change topic.

~~~

“Someplace high… but out of sight,” Ty said, contemplatively, as Ethan drove along the coastal road, everyone inside the jeep keeping their eyes peeled for anything that could lead them to the broadcast tower.

“Do you think it could be somewhere near you guys?” Dean asked, raising his voice to be heard over the racket the wind created as it rushed in through the open windows. “I mean, that old fire station is sort of on a hill.”

“There are higher areas in Crashton,” Ethan said. He looked quite comical as he kept his sights fixed on the road ahead while the rushing wind blew his short, dark blonde hair into a clown-like style. “And if I wanted to build a broadcast tower with the best coverage, I’d pick the highest spot I could find.”

“Yeah, but it also has to be somewhere no one can just accidently find it,” Ty reminded his brother. “I mean, we haven’t found it yet, and we’ve searched these areas a hundred times over, at least.”

Dean frowned. “Okay, I haven’t really been here that long but even I can tell there aren’t many places that no one goes in Crashton.”

“Well… there is one place…” Ty said, trailing off as he mulled over the possibility. “Ethan, turn around right now!”

Ethan stomped on the brake, instantly. “Where are you thinking?” he asked, turning the jeep around without hesitation.

“Cliff Avenue.”

“There’s never anything along Cliff Avenue!”

“Exactly.”

As Ethan drove towards the most secluded road in town, he recognized Ty’s train of thought. Within minutes, they reached the winding, isolated cliff-side road so appropriately named.

As soon as they reached the highest point along the road, Ethan turned the engine off and the three climbed out. Immediately, they looked up and, situated atop the highest hill, amidst a cluster of trees and surrounded by boulders, stood a tall tower comprised of scraps metals. It seemed obvious to them now, but they would never have spotted it had they not known what to look for.

“Okay. There is something along Cliff Avenue,” Ethan conceded.

“Let’s get to work,” Dean said, walking off, carefully picking his way through the small cluster of woods towards the tower.

 

 

24

Regardless of the intense efforts of Bella, Lacey, Jack, Rust, Professor Darkins and Caleb, the chaos only grew. The situation threatened to squirm out of their control as a fresh wave of land-roving sea creatures approached the beach town.

Great Whites, hammerheads, dolphins, eels, squids of all sizes and colours, jellyfish of all kinds and a few more whales entered the already busy scene. It was near impossible to keep track of them!

The boardwalk and beach were clear of all bystanders, but this new wave of sea creatures travelled in a different direction. As soon as they reached the shore, they spread out in an organized manner, making their way into the streets of Crashton.

“Things are heating up, people,” Jack said into his walkie-talkie, hoping someone still had their own radios with them.

“So, we’ll just work harder,” Bella said, resolutely, over the radio line.

“Guys, we found the tower!” Ty’s excited voice exclaimed through the walkie-talkies.

“Destroy it with the utmost prejudice,” Bella told him.

“In the meantime, the rest of us have to hold the line,” Jack said. “Lacey, Bella: round up as many fish, sharks, eels, whatever as you can and haul ‘em back to the ocean. Professor Darkins, Caleb: I don’t know if you can hear me, but just keep people safe.”

~~~

“Okay, now, someone help me out here,” Ty said as he, Dean and Ethan stood, staring at the radio tower. “How on Earth is a shrinker, a hologram and a guy who talks to squirrels supposed to break a transmission tower?”

“We don’t have to break the whole thing,” Ethan pointed out, walking up to the scrappy tower and examining it. “We just need to find the power source or the transmitter itself.”

“So… even though we know what we’re hitting, we don’t know what we’re hitting?” Ty summed up.

“Pretty much,” Ethan answered.

“So… just hit everything?”

“Go nuts. And, no, Dean, that was not supposed to be a pun or anything.”

“I honestly don’t even get offended anymore,” Dean said. “But, for the record, squirrels are really helpful.” To punctuate his point, Dean turned around and called over his shoulder, “Right, guys?”

Promptly on cue, the sound of a hundred little feet scampering along branches and down tree trunks rumbled and a flood of squirrels appeared from seemingly nowhere. Like a militant army, they stood perfectly in line, awaiting further instructions.

Dean grinned, smugly, at Ty and Ethan before returning his attention to his furry friends. “You have permission to go nuts on that tower, guys,” he said, gesturing to the radio tower dimly lit with light from the moon and the jeep’s headlights.

Obediently, the small army ran forward, scurrying up the wiry tower, moving like a unified mass. The little creatures created a low din of clicking “chit” noises as they swarmed.

“They’ll find whatever we need,” Dean assured.

“This is strangely cool,” Ty commented as he watched the assortment of squirrels cover the radio tower’s frame.

Engrossed in watching the living entity of squirrels, the boys didn’t hear the sound of another vehicle driving up and parking just beside their jeep.

They jumped to attention, however, as a deep voice yelled a sudden and terse “Hey!”

~~~

As the Gamma Accidents, Rust, Professor Darkins, Lacey and Dean rushed to take care of their assigned tasks, Audrey thought hard and fast about how to accomplish her own little mission.

She understood it very well could be the most important objective of the evening. And, of course, it would be the hardest mission, too.

She understood why she had been given this task: her teleportation powers were exceptionally useful. Unfortunately, even infinite power to instantaneously transport oneself to any location in the universe had its limitations.

Audrey didn’t need to see or know exactly where she wanted to end up: all she needed was an idea of where she wanted to be and her powers subconsciously did the rest. She could also hone in on a person and teleport within their general vicinity. But she couldn’t hone in on a person she didn’t know and had never met face-to-face.

Right now, her usefulness was at an all-time low. Regardless, she hid her despair like a professional actress and turned to the distressed old man watching with wide, steel-blue eyes as pandemonium escalated before him.

“Dr Harmica?” Audrey said, consciously infusing both kindness and urgency into her voice. “Do you have any idea how we can find your son?”

“I don’t know how much help I can give,” the old man admitted, sadly, not removing his gaze from the frightening scene of marine life rampaging along the boardwalk. “Jonas left home the day he turned nineteen. I haven’t seen him since. I didn’t know what he was up to… I don’t know him anymore. I never thought he could do anything like this… I’m sorry, Miss Jones.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Audrey said. Despite her eagerness to get a move on, she spared a vital moment to reassure the distraught father. “None of this is your fault. Your son may have made some decisions you don’t understand, but you still know him. I may not know Jonas, but I know you’re the only one who can find him and talk to him.”

“He won’t listen,” Dr Harmica countered, desperately.

“He can’t listen if we don’t give him a chance,” Audrey amended. She held her breath and silently pleaded for the chaotic background noise to quieten as she waited for the retired scientist to respond.

“Alright,” he finally said, shifting his gaze to meet the sincere young woman’s. “I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask for.”

Audrey waited as Dr Harmica took a deep, steadying breath. She couldn’t read his mind, but she could see him thinking hard, searching for any stray piece of information that could possibly prove useful.

Any hope Audrey had managed to cultivate crumbled as the old man shrugged his stocky shoulders, his head shaking, negatively.

“I… I really don’t know,” he admitted, downheartedly.

Audrey realized the stress was too much for the older man. If she wanted to make this work, she would have to pry the information from the frazzled man’s mind.

“Where does Jonas have to be?” she asked, directly. “He has to be somewhere, controlling this, right? Where would that have to be?”

“It’s not really like that,” Dr Harmica replied, frowning as his mind switched – almost instantly – from worrying to problem-solving. “The transmission tower can be operated remotely. Once he’s set it up, he can be anywhere. If he’s set it up properly, he doesn’t even have to be in Crashton.”

Audrey honestly felt like screaming right now. All she needed was one clue, one possibility, and she’d be set. Instead, she reached dead-end after dead-end.

Maybe this had been too much of anyone to ask of her and Dr Harmica. Maybe Jonas would never be found and maybe they’d never truly resolve this. Audrey didn’t want to think about what would happen if they failed to locate Jonas. He had already demonstrated his dangerous capabilities. Who was to say he wouldn’t strike somewhere else once this was over?

She’d heard people tell her defeat was something just about every super had to face at some point. But some blind optimism managed to convince her she’d never see that day.

Just as her aggravation threatened to overtake her, her cell-phone rang.

“Hello?” she promptly answered, some mad hope reigniting.

She paused, expectantly, but no reply came. Ordinarily, she would have simply hung up right there and then, switched her phone off and continued with the task at hand. Instead, she did none of that.

Maybe it was the excitement the night’s events incited, maybe it was that undying hope she tirelessly maintained, or maybe it was just pure chance, but Audrey did not hang up. Within a few seconds, her unusual resolution proved worthwhile.

She heard a voice. A deep, firm yet puzzled voice coming through the phone line from far in the distance on the other end. She couldn’t make out what the person was saying.

Undeterred, she quickly checked the caller ID, something she had neglected to do in her haste to answer the call.

“Ethan?” Audrey read aloud, confused.

She didn’t know exactly what was going on, but she realized Ethan wouldn’t accidently call her. He had to have a reason.

Following her hunch, mentally setting out a plan, she ended the call and turned to Dr Harmica. “Are you okay with teleporting?”

The old man blinked, less stunned at the question than Audrey anticipated. “I suppose so,” he said.

“Good.”

With that, Audrey focussed. She let go of worries and the frustration that held her back and instead concentrated on honing in on Ethan’s location. She closed her eyes and let her power do the rest. Within a fraction of a second, she left the parking lot and reappeared in a patchily lit woodland area.

 

 

25

Ethan instantly recognized the voice of the newcomer. The voice belonged to the tall, tan-skinned, dark-haired young man responsible for the tower’s existence.

The three boys turned around. Each wanted to flee, but they knew they had already been spotted: running away now would do nothing. Instead, they stood, rooted to the spot like statues.

Thinking fast, Ethan reached for his phone, safely tucked away in the pocket of his board shorts. With his gaze locked firmly ahead at the newcomer, his fingers adroitly worked the keypad to call Audrey.

Jonas Harmica stepped towards the teenage boys, his expression a mixture of confusion laced with what appeared to be anger.

“What is going on here?” he demanded, his gaze switching between the three boys to the radio tower currently covered by a moving mass of squirrels.

“Justice!” Ty suddenly blurted. Dean and Ethan both glanced sideways at him, questioningly. Ty shrugged, nervously. “What? That is what we’re doing here, isn’t it?”

Jonas’ frown deepened. “Who are you?” he questioned, forcefully. “Who sent you?”

Threateningly, he took a few more steps forward, fuelling the teenaged boys’ panicked state.

However, he couldn’t get much closer.

A loud noise, like a twig snapping, averted everyone’s attention. Immediately alerted, heads whipped around to discover the source of the unexpected snap noise.

In the sporadic lighting cast by the cars’ headlights seeping past the cluster of trees, it was difficult to accurately determine the identity of the shadowy forms slinking towards the three boys and Jonas.

Already racing hearts pounded even harder as the figures masked by the night’s darkness approached, their frightening features made clearer with every ray of patchy light falling on them.

Wolves?” Ty choked as he recognised the snarling animals.

Menacingly, the pack of wolves split up, circling the humans, their heads bowed low, their fur standing on end to make them appear bigger, their eyes almost glowing.

Jonas panicked as the wolves crept closer and closer, their hungry sights set purposefully on him. He tried to back away, but ended up stumbling on his own feet and falling backwards.

“Dean, do your thing,” Ty urged in a low voice to his friend.

Dean tilted his head, curiously, at the wolves slowly making a ring around Jonas. “Those aren’t normal wolves,” he whispered back to Ty.

Confused, Ty peered closer at the pack of wolves. Their grey-brown fur, their white as snow teeth, their heart-juddering growls all looked and sounded real. But there was something that made these wolves very unreal.

“No paw-prints,” Ty observed, his fear fading. He glanced over at Ethan. Sure enough, Ethan didn’t look the least bit perturbed by the wolves’ arrival. Instead, behind his glasses, his gaze was set firmly on the creatures, his concentration visibly evident.

Of all the Gamma Accidents’ powers, Ethan’s hologram abilities were most extraordinary and perhaps the hardest to explain. He could conjure and project images of absolutely anything, even transforming himself into an insubstantial hologram. He could even create sounds to complement the images, but he couldn’t make them tangible, which contributed to his disadvantage. The lack of footprints (or paw-prints, in this case) often gave him away.

But there was just enough of a fear factor that Jonas probably wouldn’t notice such minor details such as the absence of wolf paw-prints.

Jonas’ widened brown eyes frantically darted from one snarling wolf to the other as he attempted to crawl, backwards on his elbows, to escape.

Ethan wasn’t enjoying the show, however. He didn’t like to use his holograms to scare people, even though – he conceded – right now, it was necessary.

“Dean, have the squirrels found anything yet?” Ethan asked, his attention dividing yet remaining perfectly steady.

“I’ll check,” Dean said as he stepped away to report in with the squirrels scouring the radio tower.

Ethan decided to reach for his phone and properly call Audrey, doubting she caught on to his earlier message. He got halfway through redialling when he heard footsteps frantically approaching.

Turning around, he saw Audrey come sprinting through the woods to the clearing with the tower standing predominantly in the middle.

Audrey’s bright blue eyes hurriedly scanned the scene and she jumped backwards in fright when she saw the wolves slowly circling Jonas.

Ethan glanced over and saw Dr Noah Harmica running a little haphazardly to catch up to Audrey. He, too, froze in shock when he saw the frightening scene.

Ethan dropped the illusion and the wolves vanished instantaneously into thin air.

Jonas seemed more terrified of the wolves’ sudden disappearance than their existence. His frantically darting gaze fell upon the newcomers and his expression of complete and utter confusion somehow managed to deepen.

“Dad?” he hardly managed to breathe the word as he slowly picked himself up off the ground, his gaze locked on the older man.

Noah Harmica stared, utterly dumbstruck, at the son he hadn’t seen for years. The glint in his eyes and his slack-jaw expression indicated disbelief but the crinkle in his brow and the almost imperceptible shake of his head bespoke denial.

Audrey, Dean, Ethan and Ty remained unobtrusively silent and simply observed the reunion between estranged father and son.

“What are you doing here?” Jonas asked his father.

Noah Harmica erased the shock from his expression and straightened up. He was notably shorter and stockier than his son but his stance showed his determination, nonetheless. “I’ve come to stop you,” he said. One could hardly hear the waver in his words for his steadfastness.

Jonas’ expression changed from bewilderment to something almost indescribable. Resolve? Obstinacy? Diligence? “I don’t think you understand what’s going on here,” he remarked, firmly.

“Whatever you think it is, Jonas, it’s not right,” his father countered, an almost gentle tone lacing his words. He swept an arm through the air, gesturing to the radio tower swarming with squirrels. “This – this is a weapon you’ve made. And just unleashing it like the way you did? That’s irresponsible.”

Jonas shook his head, vigorously. “It’s not like that at all!” he insisted, hotly.

“There are innocent people in harm’s way now, son!” Noah emphasized, ardently. “What can you say about that?”

“You don’t have any idea what’s going on!” Jonas retorted.

“What did you hope to gain from this?” Noah probed, fighting to cool his own temper and speak evenly. “Is this some kind of revenge for something? Are you trying to get noticed?…. Is this about your mother?”

Jonas turned his head away, his hands clenching into hard fists. He took a shaky, deep breath and his stance eased ever so slightly. Straining to speak calmly, he said, “You have to let me explain. This isn’t my revenge, this isn’t some attention-seeking stunt and I don’t have any beef with this town.”

“So… flying sharks are your audition for the circus?” Ty interjected. Everybody ignored his quip.

“I made a mistake,” Jonas finally admitted.

 

 

26

Although time was of the essence, everyone remained silent, prompting Jonas to continue.

“I got a job working at a scientific research facility about a year ago,” Jonas began explaining. “We looked into, studied, worked on and improved advanced prosthetics for amputees, nano medical technology, water sanitation – that kind of thing. It was completely legitimate work… so I thought. A few months on the job, and I start hearing rumours about the people who fund us. I got curious and I started digging into things I probably had no business going anywhere near. I soon found out that the research facility I worked for was basically just a front for a small section of District 61. Everything we did – all our research, our designs, our discoveries – was funded, directed and owned by District 61.”

Jonas turned to look his father in the eye. Sincerity highlighted his features. “You always warned me about those people, Dad. How they weren’t everything they said they were; how they manipulated honest people like you; how they used what you made for purposes you never intended…. I couldn’t just sit back and put up with it forever. So I took a stand and it got me in some hot water.

“It was either work for them… or else. I was prepared to take whatever ‘or else’ meant, but I got an idea. If I agreed to work for them, I could sabotage them from the inside out. It was a brilliant plan on paper… it just didn’t play out how I hoped.

“They gave me this project,” Jonas said, pointing to the radio tower standing in the middle of the clearing. “They knew who I was, they knew I was your son. They weren’t so happy that you destroyed all your research on the Gypes’ technology, but they knew I had to have some of your old notes. They were so confident I could figure it out. Unfortunately, they were right. Within a few weeks, I managed to crack the Gypes’ tech.”

“Okay, so, you figured this stuff out,” Dean interjected. “But why did you set it all off if you knew this would happen?”

Jonas sighed, heavily. “I didn’t set this up… not the way you think I did, anyway. As soon as they realized I worked out the technology, they scheduled a demonstration. I couldn’t argue with them: not if I wanted to risk everything. So I planned to rig this demonstration so that the creatures gained flight, enhanced strength and speed but were completely docile, then District 61 would never have their weapon and maybe they’d leave the Gypes’ technology alone.”

“I looked into that technology,” Noah Harmica said. “The side effect of the radio signals makes the altered creatures hostile. There’s no fixing it. I tried.”

"I got close," Jonas said. "I found ways to mix the signals enough that the creatures weren't aggressive. I did a few test-runs, and they all seemed promising -"

“The jellyfish!” Ty suddenly exclaimed as the dots connected.

Jonas looked a little confused for a moment but his expression faded as he realized what the younger boy meant. “Oh, yeah. You must’ve seen them. I thought someone might have.”

“But if you managed to make the jellyfish calm, why are all those fish wrecking Crashton now?” Dean asked.

“It only worked on the jellyfish,” Jonas admitted. “And once the signals are strong enough, even they can’t be calmed.”

“So…” Audrey said, cautiously. “Does this mean we’re on the same side then?”

“I guess so,” Jonas replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Then we better get to work.”

~~~

“Jack, this is really not working.”

There was no ignoring the despair in Bella’s voice as it came through the two-way radios, wavering and distressed.

“Just keep trying,” Jack urged, desperate to fuel his friend’s determination.

“It doesn’t matter how many we haul out to sea – they just come straight back!”

“They’re pushing their way further into town,” Caleb chimed in.

Splitting up into separate teams was necessary in the attempt to protect Crashton from the advancing, mindless sea creatures. But the move drastically weakened the team’s overall strength.

Bella and Lacey ran through the streets, wrangling sharks, dolphins, squids, jellyfish and stingrays with lassos made of glowing hardlight and leafy vines, then they dragged them away from town, past the boardwalk and released their hold as soon as the creatures were a suitable distance from shore. It seemed to work for a short while, but soon they realized it was like pouring water through a sieve: the sea creatures lost little momentum as they circled back around and headed towards Crashton once again.

Professor Darkins and Caleb had a somewhat harder task: protecting people. It surprised them to see just how many people were out and about at such a late hour. Even more surprising still was how many people purposefully left the safety of their homes to see the chaos firsthand.

Jack and Rust took over as distractions from Professor Darkins and Caleb. Together, they did their best to keep the rampaging sea creatures so preoccupied chasing them that they didn’t have any reason to set their sights back on the townsfolk. Unfortunately, though the tactic worked amazingly well, there were more sea creatures than Jack and Rust could distract at once.

Resolve weakened and exhaustion set in. The signs showed, subtle at first but blaringly obvious as the night wore on. Bella’s hardlight grew dimmer and dimmer; Caleb’s jumping became sloppy and sluggish; and even Jack’s enhanced endurance seemed to buckle as he started flying clumsier than usual.

“We need to regroup,” Jack said, not even bothering to hide the defeat in his voice.

“I don’t think we can,” Caleb replied through the radio, a slight pant in his voice. “We may not be making much of a difference, but I don’t think we can afford to leave.”

“Caleb’s right,” Lacey said. “At the very least, we’re giving people time to run away.”

“Okay: don’t give up, guys. I’m sure the others will have that tower smashed soon enough,” Jack said.

“Good, because as soon as it is and we’re done here: I’m gonna sleep for a week,” Bella resolved.

~~~

“It’s a little complicated,” Jonas said as he tinkered with the radio transmitter. “You see, I can’t just switch off the signals: it’ll be too jarring to the creatures.”

“The shock can kill them,” his father added as he stood near, watching with intent interest as Jonas fiddled with wires and circuits.

“So you have to weaken the signals first and then shut them off?” Ethan summed up.

“Exactly,” both Jonas and Noah answered at the same time.

“But what about that shark that chased us yesterday? She reverted back slowly,” Ty piped up.

“Because she wasn’t completely out of range of the signals sent from the transmitter in the dome,” Jonas explained. “She received just enough of the signals to keep herself alive, but not enough for her to keep from turning back to normal. And, yes, before you ask: I did know about the whole shark escaping thing.”

“Oh, yeah, here’s your phone, by the way,” Ethan said, sheepishly, as he handed Jonas the phone Ty accidently stole.

“In a way, I’m glad you took it,” Jonas admitted as he slipped the phone into his pocket. “But you had me worried: I assumed you were from District 61.”

Dean frowned. “You thought District 61 sent a bunch of superpowered teenagers after you?”

“What? You think they wouldn’t do something like that?”

Dean shrugged. “I thought they were more legit than that…”

“Alright,” Jonas said as he finished up his tinkering. “Done. You can call your friends now.”

“Actually, I think we’d better hightail it back to them,” Ty said. He held up his radio. “It doesn’t sound like they’re going to manage to get all those fish home.”

“They’ll need our help,” Ethan said. “Okay, Audrey, can you teleport Dean and Ty over? I’ll take the Harmicas in the jeep.”

Audrey nodded, curtly. “Tell them we’re on our way,” she said as Dean and Ty stood by her side and an instant later the three of them disappeared, leaving nothing but a fine, blue mist in their wake.

“She teleports?” Jonas asked as he, his father and Ethan raced through the short sprint of woods towards the cars parked on the road.

“Yeah, she does,” Ethan replied, distractedly, as he focussed on restarting the jeep’s often temperamental engine.

“Cool.”

 

 

27

“Come on, Painter,” Rust said as he ran like a cheetah on steroids to outmanoeuvre a fiercely pursuing pod of flying dolphins. “I’m the old man here: you should be outdoing me!”

Despite the intensity of the situation, Jack smiled at Rust’s quip. The once legendary hero seemed to be having a whale of a time and Jack realized – as much as Rust denied it – he honestly missed the adrenalin and excitement associated with saving the day.

“Young or not: I’ve been on my feet for hours,” Jack countered as he swooped down and wrapped his arms around the lead dolphin as if he were hugging the slippery mammal. Maintaining momentum, Jack twisted through the air and released the dolphin. Once free, the dolphin spun around in midair and began chasing the teenager.

As Jack breezed past Rust with the dolphin eagerly tailing him, he called, “Beat that!”

The bantering helped ease the stress of the situation. Jack suddenly realized why heroes – even in fictional movies and comic books – always made sure to throw in a few cheesy one-liners. It was a coping mechanism.

Rust rounded a corner, sharply. The dolphins didn’t take corners as smoothly as others, such as the eels, who banked around corners at break-neck speeds.

As the pod regained velocity, Rust used his speed to zoom up the side of a building. Once high enough, he kicked off the wall, sending himself sailing over the rather confused pod of dolphins. He hit the ground, bending his knees to absorb the impact, and continued running, looking out for his next batch of sea creatures to play distraction with.

Running along the abandoned road, he didn’t expect an obstacle to appear out of thin air. With barely any warning, Rust dug his heels in and struggled to come to a halt. Inertia sent him skidding violently across the road. He ended up crashing into a stationary car parked alongside the kerb.

“Mr Swift? Are you alright?” a feminine voice called out.

Rust groaned from annoyance as he pulled himself away from the car with a new human shaped dent. “Jones, what’s with the ‘Mister’ business?” he asked, irritably.

"Rust, sorry," she said, quickly. Rust noticed Ty and Dean standing at her side. "I didn't mean to -"

“What are you doing here?” he asked, tersely interrupting her apology.

“We need to get the sea creatures back to the ocean,” Audrey answered, ignoring his interruption.

“Yeah, we’ve been trying to do that. Exactly where have you been?”

“We found Jonas,” Ty chimed in. “He’s actually not as bad as we thought. He stopped the radio signals… sort of. Anyway, we need to get the fish back in the water – now!”

Jack swooped down and landed beside his mentor, grabbing onto his arm to stop himself from tumbling forward. “Don’t worry, I heard the whole thing,” he said, quickly. “Anyone need a lift?”

Dean shot his arm in the air like an excited kid in a classroom. “Take me where I’m needed,” he said.

“Where’s the Duck parked?” Jack asked.

“In a shed, near the docks,” Dean replied.

“Okay, cool. Dean, we’ll need you on the Duck with Ty. Get as many of our salty friends following you and hightail it to the water. Ty, be as annoying as you can be.”

Ty nodded, eagerly. “Got it, Mission Control.” He shrank, fast, and hopped onto Dean’s outstretched hand.

“Audrey, can you go help Bella and Lacey out?”

“On my way,” she accepted the instruction and immediately teleported away.

“Rust, lead the chase,” Jack said before grabbing Dean under the armpits and zooming off.

“You young people, always in a rush!” Rust mock mumbled. “In my day…”

~~~

Like fuel tossed on a dying fire, hope and determination reignited as everyone put the last of their best into the job.

As the radio signals lessened, the sea creatures calmed down. Though it was almost impossible to see the change in the still aggressively rampaging creatures, it was enough to make them more manageable.

Audrey caught up with Bella and Lacey. Together, the three of them hastily devised a plan: Bella and Lacey would herd together a bunch of altered sea creatures and Audrey would teleport the lot of them out to the ocean.

“Does this count as ‘girls’ night out’?” Lacey jokingly asked as she grew vine after vine and sent them curling around Great White sharks’ tails and giant squids’ tentacles.

“Yeah, sure, why not?” Bella said as she encased a swarm of jellyfish in a bubble of yellow hardlight. Glowing bubbles containing eels, sea snakes, and even lobsters bobbed along behind her as she went around, gathering more and more rogue sea life. “But we’re not painting my nails after this, got it?”

Audrey appeared, her customary blue mist announcing her presence. “Did we do ‘Truth or Dare’ already?” she asked as she transported the herded marine life to the ocean, returning instantly.

“Fine. I dare you to come up with something more exciting than this,” Bella said.

~~~

Ethan, Noah and Jonas arrived at the public beach parking lot. “You guys better stay out of the way,” Ethan said, careful to sound kind and not severe.

“We can still help,” Jonas said, resolutely.

“We don’t want to sit back and watch,” Noah agreed.

“Then hold on tight,” Ethan ordered as he whipped the steering wheel around and zoomed off towards the centre of town.

“They’re easily distracted,” Jonas spoke up.

“Yeah, we’re gonna get them to chase us,” Ethan agreed. “If you see a fish, throw something at it and get its attention. Soon as we have a following, I’ll haul it to the beach.”

~~~

Jack dropped Dean and Ty off by the docks and hurriedly left to join the effort.

Dean wasted no time running towards a particular shed, Ty following dutifully behind. Dean quickly unlocked the large shed doors, swung them as open as they could go and stepped inside, the oversized vehicle standing in the middle of the cavernous shed.

“All aboard!” Dean exclaimed as he rushed to the driver’s seat. Within a few minutes, he started up the engine up and manoeuvred the brightly painted Duck out the shed, away from the docks and towards the epicentre of the pandemonium.

Ty positioned himself towards the back of the vehicle. “What am I gonna do to get the flying fish chasing us?” he asked, desperately.

Dean shrugged, unconcerned. “Just call them names. That should work fine enough.”

As the Duck rolled down the abandoned streets of Crashton, Ty kept on the lookout for any sea creatures rampaging along. He spotted a herd of hammerhead sharks actively destroying every car parked alongside the road.

HEY!” Ty yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth to enhance his volume. The sharks with their trademark rectangular snouts snapped around, their attention averted to the teenager. “Yeah, you. I heard some squids talking earlier and you know what they said? They said you guys still sleep with a nightlight on!”

“Dude, that’s low,” Dean said.

Ty turned his palms skyward. “I don’t know what to do!” he hysterically said.

However ridiculous his attempt, it seemed to succeed as the hammerheads abandoned their rampage and chased after the zooming amphibious vehicle.

Dean quickly changed his tune as he realized Ty’s unconventional methods proved effective.

“Keep it up!” he called over his shoulder. “It’s working!”

~~~

“Where have you been?” Rust asked Caleb as he came speedily bouncing towards the older hero and Jack, brown eyes as wide as dinner plates.

“Making friends!” Caleb called over his shoulder, not daring to slow down. “Too many friends!”

Jack looked around to see a large assortment of sea creatures – jellyfish, squids, sharks, stingrays, eels, dolphins, even a whale – fiercely pursuing the rightfully hysterical Caleb.

“Jump out the way!” Jack yelled as he sped along the road, easily overtaking the assorted company of marine life Caleb somehow managed to amass.

Caleb obeyed the terse command and abruptly leapt off to the side, heading for the beach.

Jack swooped in and took over the chase, finishing the task by steering the army of sea creatures towards the ocean.

Caleb collapsed on the sand like a rag doll. “I should get extra credit for that,” he mumbled.

Panting heavily as the past few days of fast-paced action caught up to him, Jack watched as the creatures’ aggression evaporated as soon as their watery home came into view. With a gratitude he hoped was more than imagined, the creatures swam the last stretch and serenely sank into the inky, moonlit water.

Audrey teleported another batch of vine-entangled and glowing-bubble-encased marine life to the seafront. The vines fell off the creatures and the hardlight containments evaporated. Bella and Lacey tiredly followed behind on foot.

The old jeep, driven by Ethan, came skidding to a halt in the nearby beach carpark. A school of large mackerels followed close behind. The fish slowed as their home came into view. Calmly, they abandoned their chase and returned to their natural habitat.

Professor Darkins arrived next. Jack couldn’t help but notice he rode on the back of a dolphin.

“Close your mouth, boys,” he said as he rode past a slack-jawed Jack and a wide-eyed Rust. “You’ll catch flies.”

“What are you doing?” Jack asked.

“Riding a dolphin,” Professor Darkins answered, simply.

“Yeah, I can see that. But how?”

“It’s a little trick I learnt back in 1987. Those dolphins were a lot scarier, though.”

“How could they be any scarier?” Rust questioned.

“Well, they had lasers for a start…”

The Duck came zooming along the road then. It didn’t slow down as it reached the beach, instead, it drove on straight into the water. Dean and Ty managed to get almost as many sea creatures following them as Caleb did. Again, as soon as the sea creatures saw their home, they calmed down and graciously left. Dean and Ty stayed in the Duck, watching the once-in-a-lifetime scene.

The rest of the hastily slapped-together team stood together by the water’s edge.

In a vaguely serendipitous moment, everyone gazed out at the glassy water until the ripples created by the returned creatures of the deep faded away.

That… made it all worthwhile.

 

 

28

The serene silence lasted for a good, long while as everyone tried to catch their breath after the whole ordeal. Eventually, however, the questions on everyone’s mind had to be asked.

“So…” Bella said. “What do we do now?”

“The sun rises in a few hours,” Ethan commented, looking out towards the horizon where the faintest glow of the approaching sun could be distinguished beyond the calm waters. “I guess we better make our way home so no one figures out what we did here.”

“Do we clean up the town?” Caleb asked, uncertainly.

With a cringe, everyone slowly turned around to see the disastrous state their beach-town was in. If one didn’t know better, they might presume a Category 4 storm had rolled through the coastal Crashton. Glass from shop windows carpeted the boardwalk; splintered wooden furniture littered the beach, carpark and road; even parked cars hadn’t been spared the wrath of the mindless sea creatures as they decorated the streets with their twisted forms and missing windows.

“We did all the hard work, I’m sure someone else can come gussy up the place,” Ty said with a tired, careless wave of his hand as he and Dean met up on the sand with the others.

“Did Mom teach you nothing?” Caleb reminded his brother. “‘If you make a mess, you have the responsibility to clean it,’ she always said.”

“Technically, the sharks and squids did it,” Ty countered.

“What did you normally do, Rust?” Jack asked his mentor.

Rust shrugged. “We always tried to clean the place up a bit. It helped cover our tracks better. Normally the Director of Hero Affairs for the district would send out a clean-up crew and have the whole place in spick-span shape before morning came.”

“Yes, but that guy has a lot on his plate,” a new, deep voice stated. Suddenly alert, everyone whipped around to see a man with dark skin and a tall, strong frame walk up and sit down on the sand beside them, seemingly unaware of the clean suit he was wearing. “He happens to be the Director of Hero Education and Training for the whole world, too, you know.”

“Danger?” Audrey said, bewildered. “What are you doing here?”

Urban shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’ve been tossing with the idea of coming over here and helping out in person ever since Rust here called me,” he answered, nodding his head in the direction of Rust. “Turns out I made the decision a little late: soon as I get here, what do I see? You guys have handled it all like a bunch of veteran superheroes.”

“We could have done better,” Jack said, modestly though it sounded more ashamed.

“Yeah. I mean, as far superheroes go, we really stink,” Caleb added, hanging his head. “We made a huge mess, took forever to herd those sea creatures back home, and did I mention the mess?”

“There were news crews and cameras all over the show,” Bella pointed out. “We’re probably gonna have our faces plastered all over the headlines as soon as morning comes.”

“Actually, that’s not as big a worry as you’d think it is,” Urban Danger assured the downhearted teenagers. He reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small business card. He offered it to Jack who accepted it and looked over the details, his friends crowding around to read it, too.

“‘Badger?’” Jack read, confused. “What’s a Badger?”

“He’s a freelance reporter, photographer, blogger and media consultant,” Urban Danger explained. “We believe he has mild manipulation powers: somehow, he can make the stupidest of things go viral and make sure the biggest stories never see the light of day. Why else do you think the world is, for the most part, completely oblivious about superheroes, aliens and mad scientists?”

“I thought comic books were our cover,” Dean spoke up. “You know: make people think it’s nothing but a fairytale and then they won’t ever suspect it’s real.”

“That works, too,” Rust said. “But sometimes you need someone to make sure the big stories don’t get attention.”

“That’s what Badger does,” Urban concluded. He tapped the card in Jack’s hands with a finger. “Make this man your friend, and you will never have a problem with the media.”

Silently, the teenagers seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and the tension in their young shoulders eased.

Urban leaned back and looked over the motley crew the teens assembled to help save the day. He recognized Dr Noah Harmica.

“I suppose there’s a good explanation for what really happened here tonight,” Urban said, speaking in the general direction of the Harmicas. He easily caught their attention.

“An unfortunate misunderstanding,” Noah Harmica said. He glanced to the young man at his side whom Urban assumed was his son. “And a few well-intentioned mistakes.”

Urban nodded, satisfied with that answer. “I guess not every story has to have a villain, does it?” he mused aloud.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Rust interjected. “District 61 nearly had an army of uncontrollable sea-life. You can’t tell me they’re not the bad guys here.”

“It’s… complicated,” Urban conceded. “Truth is, District 61 is as shady as a tropical rainforest. But for all the nonsense they cause, they add important strokes to the bigger picture. They manage to keep alien tech away from the majority of questionable individuals, they support the Superhero Community, and they help keep heroes like you doing what you do best: saving the day while keeping your secrets safe. Partnering with District 61 is a… necessary evil.”

“They’re responsible for all this,” Audrey pointed out, sweeping an arm behind her, motioning towards the destruction no one had to see again to remember. “How do we make sure they don’t get what they want from this?”

“I can put a few words in, pull some strings, maybe even contact the Global Director of Hero Affairs and make sure he has his people clean this up, not District 61,” Urban said. “I just hope he’ll take my call…” he grumbled.

"Sir?" Jonas spoke up. "I'd just like to apologize for the havoc I caused. There are probably a million ways I could have handled that better, and I -"

“Don’t sweat it, son,” Urban quickly abated the young man’s concerns. “The past is the past, now we move on. Yes, you’ve made a mess and I can’t say I look forward to the headache this is all going to cause… but that’s this life for you.”

“We’re going to do our best to fix this,” Noah Harmica said, speaking for both himself and his son.

Urban tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, as if he were considering something. “You know, I think there could be a place for you. We’ll always need bright young minds such as yours.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Jonas said, gratefully.

“Well,” Urban said as he got to his feet. He brushed his hands together to shake the sand off his palms. “I better start making some phone-calls. Good job everyone, you can now all go home and hibernate. I’ll make sure there’s not an alien invasion until you’ve at least had ten hours of sleep and five cups of coffee.”

“My Mom won’t let me drink coffee,” Bella said.

“I’m so sorry,” Urban said with almost genuine sincerity. He turned to leave the beach.

Rust quickly got to his feet and caught up with Urban. The two walked a little further until they were out of earshot. “Hey, Danger?” Rust began with little hesitation. “I have to ask a favour from you. It’s about Audrey.”

Urban nodded, understandingly. He looked back over towards the shore where the young woman in question conversed idly with Professor Darkins and Jonas Harmica.

“The kid needs another break,” Rust continued. “She has nothing to do and nowhere to go now.”

“You know, a lot of teachers quit after that whole debacle with Wepaynar. It be a shame for Crashton Hero High to begin a new school-year short-staffed…”

“And Jones is more than qualified,” Rust added as if he needed to vouch any more for her.

“She was always top of her class. Maybe it’s about time she had a class of her own…”

 

 

Epilogue

After Urban Danger assured the teenagers that the mess in Crashton would be taken care of within a few hours and Badger had been contacted, everyone went their separate ways. Professor Darkins declared he would like to catch up with Dr Harmica and his son, maybe swap some notes (to which all who knew of Professor Darkins’ eccentric ways immediately protested – the last thing they needed was him getting “interested” in technology capable of altering sea creatures.)

Audrey offered to teleport both Dean and Lacey to their respective homes. They gladly accepted the offer, grateful to return instantly to their homes. When Audrey returned, she offered to drive the Harmicas home.

“I’ll be going too, then,” Urban Danger said, heading towards a simple, nondescript black car parked in the deserted beach parking lot. He abruptly stopped and turned around, casting an approving glance over the young Gamma Accidents. “You know, I have some big plans for you five. I don’t think you’ve realized it, but this cements what I always believed.”

“Yeah? What’s that?” Jack asked.

“That absolutely anyone can be a hero – doesn’t matter how others see them. Keep up the good work. And Rust? I’m trusting you to continue training them.”

The Global Director smiled and nodded one last time, as if confirming something to himself before he turned around again. “You still have a lot to give to this world, Rust,” he said, and with those parting words, he left.

“So, that’s it, then,” Caleb said as the five of them and Rust stood in the empty carpark.

“Yeah,” Rust said, simply. If he struggled to accept Urban’s last remark, he did his best not to show it. “There’s a lecture I was all ready to give you kids but… you know what? Forget it. You did a good job tonight.”

“Sure is a crazy fantastic summer to tell our grandkids about,” Ethan commented as he, his brothers, Bella, Jack and Rust made their way through the littered carpark towards the jeep and the old white van. “Bet they won’t believe us.”

I don’t even believe us,” Ty countered.

“Well, was this ‘eventful’ enough for you, Mission Control?” Bella teased Jack, her denim blue eyes sparkling with humour.

He responded with a light chuckle. “One day, I’ll learn to watch my mouth. But, yeah, it sure did make for one of those memories we’ll talk about for years.”

“You know, summer’s not over yet,” Ethan piped up. He glanced once more at the once again peaceful ocean. “We should catch a movie or something.”

“No, nuh-uh,” Bella quickly and vehemently rejected the suggestion. “I hate watching movies at the cinema with you guys.”

“Why?” the triplets and Jack asked in unison, each feigning innocence.

“You always use the explosions as ‘flatulence cover’,” she answered, indignantly.

“Uh, so do you,” Ty pointed out.

“Excuse me,” she said with mock offense. “But I’ve mastered silence. I don’t concentrate it all in just one part of the movie like some people.”

“And here I thought you were maturing,” Rust mumbled, shaking his head with mild disapproval.

“Whoa, I have a ton of missed calls,” Caleb said, checking his phone he had wisely switched to silent earlier that evening.

“Me, too,” Ethan said, checking his own phone. “They’re all from Mom and Dad.”

“I hope they didn’t see the garage,” Ty groaned.

Caleb’s phone rang, this time loud enough for all to hear. He answered it, promptly. Immediately, a hysterical female voice began rapidly talking at a volume that enabled everyone in the parking lot to hear her, despite the fact the phone was not on speaker.

The triplet’s cringed. “They saw the garage,” they said in unison.

“We’re grounded,” Ty said. “Doesn’t matter that we saved the day, we’re totally grounded.”

“Bella, do you think your folks will adopt us?” Caleb asked with a desperately pleading tone. “They won’t even notice we’re there, we promise.”

“Nope, you guys are on your own with this one,” Bella replied with a cruel grin.

“It wasn’t even our fault!” Ethan cried.

“No. You ate my cereal, you have to take the fall for the trashed garage.”

“And here I thought we were as thick as thieves,” Ty said, pretending to sound hurt.

The teenagers swapped farewells with their mentor and they went their separate ways.

Despite their state of complete and utter exhaustion, all five teenagers in the jeep continued their bantering and laughing.

Jack dropped the triplets off at their home and they did get an earful from their parents but Bella and Jack quickly helped ease the situation by explaining what happened.

Jack returned home to a rather worried mother and little sister, and Bella’s little sisters welcomed her at the door (she made sure to thank them for their help in keeping everything on the down-low. She owed them, she knew, but it didn’t matter.)

And as each of the Gamma Accidents closed their eyes and sleep graciously crashed over them like the waves they knew so well, faraway thoughts like dreams danced around in their tired, young minds.

Maybe not every story had a villain, like Urban Danger said. Maybe not everyone was as they appeared, as was the case with Jonas Harmica and District 61. Maybe not all beasts were monsters, as they saw with the creatures who did what they did against their will.

And maybe tomorrow was going to be a better day…

 

The End.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Two years after we first met the lovable Gamma Accidents and embarked on their journey through the halls of Hero High, we’re finally here, at the end of their second adventure.

Life is changing big-time for them. New doors have opened and new horizons await us. I’m looking forward to bringing the rest of their wild journey to life. Hopefully, you are, too. After all, they still have a long way to go…

But, for now, it’s “Goodbye, hope to see you again!” from me. I put a little over two years of work into this book. It’s sad how many drafts and bouts of “I wish I could give up without consequences” I went through to get here.

My beloved collaborator (and little sister to put all other little sisters to shame), Jolie, kept my spirits up with talk of all that these characters could become, all the adventures left in store, all the friends yet to meet…. She hardly knows how much I appreciate all those impromptu, excited (and loud) collaboration sessions in my room, the kitchen, by the backyard pool or in the middle of the grocery store.

Not a lot of people know what goes into a story (even a smallish one like this) but I have a fantastic support crew. My Dad, who made sure I knew he would be ready to help me get the next book up when it was finished and who taught me that it’s not as hard or as scary as I so often believe it to be. My Mom, who patiently put up with every revision (even though it made her head swim). My brother, Jonathan; sister-in-law, Melinda; big sister, Celeste, and little sister, Jolie, who just in general inspire my stories with the littlest of things they say and do. And all those people (who either know me or not) who inspired and motivated me in the most obscure ways.

I can’t thank any of you enough. It may just be a book with 28 chapters about a bunch of teenagers getting mixed up in a crazy misadventure with flying sharks and floating jellyfish, but a little bit of every person I love, know, or even just glance at while walking by on the street shines through in these characters I create to reflect them.

Thanks for the stories you told me, thanks for the little adventures you’ve taken me on, and thanks for all the lives you let me peer into. And thanks for coming along with me on this journey here, whether I know you or not.

 

Sincerely,

Erin


Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep

After the epic events of the Gamma Accidents' enrolment in Hero High, summer vacation seems like the perfect chance to relax. But something strange is happening in Crashton. Sea creatures are leaving their natural habitat and flying around in the skies above this holiday hotspot. Someone is obviously behind this. But who are they? And what exactly are their intentions? Jack, Bella, Ethan, Ty and Caleb take it upon themselves to solve this bizarre mystery. Of course, what's the fun in embarking on a new adventure without dragging along some superpowered friends to enjoy the ride?

  • ISBN: 9780987508331
  • Author: Erin Sheena Byrne
  • Published: 2016-05-26 15:50:10
  • Words: 40802
Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep Gamma Accidents #2: Creatures from the Deep