R. L. Copple

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Hero Game
Sample

Chapter 1

 

Jeremy used his moth wings to flutter upwards. He pulled himself on top of a stack of crates and remained crouched. The men he'd followed to the lake pier stepped briskly toward a boat. But where was the kid they'd abducted?

Jeremy waved at Mickey, suited up as Vulture, and pointed toward the men. Mickey nodded and lifted himself into the air. Jeremy leaped off the crates and danced through the evening air toward the boat.

One of the men glanced their direction, then jerked his head back toward them. His eyes grew wide, and he pointed at them.

"Rats!" Jeremy strained to go faster, but the moth wings left a lot to be desired when it came to speed. He'd hoped the seagulls flying through the air would mask their approach.

A couple of the men pulled out guns while the others climbed aboard. Bullets zinged by Jeremy. He felt a sting on his arm; blood trickled where the bullet had barely broken his skin. Numbing pain spread up his arm. Just what Jeremy didn't need. Being in a virtual body, he wouldn't die from a gunshot, but the pain felt real enough.

Jeremy followed Mickey as they dropped behind another stack of crates. At least his erratic moth-flying made him a hard-to-hit target.

Jeremy peered around a corner. "They're getting away."

Mickey pointed a claw toward them. "Not if I can help it." A small pop caused a claw to shoot toward the boat. Jeremy watched as it embedded itself into the rear of the ship.

"What was that?" Jeremy kept his eyes on the receding boat.

"Homing beacon." He adjusted a dial on his watch, and a tiny beep emitted from it at regular intervals. "Now, what can your superhero powers do to stop them? Are you immune to bullets?"

Jeremy glanced at his bleeding arm. "No."

"Fly?"

"Not fast."

"Ray blasts of any kind?"

"Nope."

Mickey rubbed his forehead. "Super intelligence, maybe? Read people's minds? Anything?"

"All I can do is fly erratically and poison people with my wing dust."

Mickey shook his head. "Is that all?"

Jeremy sighed. "Yes, this superhero sucks. I don't think I'll use it again."

"Not if you want to save someone's life. Now, what about saving this kid, do we switch to new superheroes?"

"You can fly fast. I'll hang onto your tether." Jeremy stepped from behind the crates as the boat sped into the sea.

"As Blue Nova, I could be there in a flash."

"But you wouldn't have the homing beacon then, and I wouldn't be able to tag along."

Mickey leaped onto a crate and extended a tether claw from his right foot. "Grab hold then. I hope you're not too much of a drag."

Jeremy shook his head as he grabbed the cord and wrapped it around his wrist. "I'm ready."

Mickey leaped into the air, and Jeremy mimicked him. Mickey's strong vulture wings pulled on him even though he beat his own wings furiously.

The sun sank behind the horizon as they flew over miles of water. After an hour, the homing beacon led them to a shoreline dotted with caves, illumined mostly by moonlight.

Mickey pointed to one cave. "They're in that one."

"An underground lair."

Mickey smiled as he raised a fist into the air. "Now we have you, Dr. Weevil. You'll not escape our crutches this time!"

Jeremy laughed. "Don't you mean clutches?"

"No, crutches, you know...ah, forget it." He dove toward the cave entrance. "Let's go get 'em!"

Jeremy released Mickey's tether as they entered the cave. They traveled down a narrow tunnel. Jeremy's eyes could enhance what little light there was to see in near darkness.

"Ouch," Mickey muffled his shout. Apparently Mickey's eyes weren't as good.

But a light cracked through the darkness ahead of them, and Jeremy flapped faster in anticipation of seeing it. The tunnel widened into a cavern. Mickey landed on an outcropping of rock, and Jeremy attached himself to the cave ceiling right where it shot upwards.

"Oh, that's one other thing I can do, hang onto things."

Mickey whispered, "Oh, that should come in real handy. Maybe for playing cards."

The water ended at a shore where the boat had docked. A man busily tied it off. Another set of cave tunnels exited past him. How massive was this underground cave? More and more Jeremy felt as if he starred in one of those old spy movies.

Jeremy widened his eyes. "Mick, they're still aboard the ship. We should act now."

"But they'll see me coming for a mile."

"I'll go by myself. A moth isn't so conspicuous."

"But what are you going to do when you get there? Stun them with your beauty?"

Jeremy faked laughter. "Very funny. I don't know, but I'll think of something."

Mickey leaned against the wall. "Have at it then."

Jeremy fluttered across the cavern. Due to the darkness and the fluttering of bats, the man on the dock didn't pay him any attention. Jeremy landed on top of the boat's cabin and scanned the area for something he could use. Anything.

He noticed a roof vent next to him. Jeremy smiled as an idea formed in his mind. He sat with his back to the vent and vibrated his wings. Moth dust floated out before being sucked into the vent. He kept it up until the sound of talking inside the cabin died off.

After a few minutes, he leaned over and glanced inside the cabin. As expected, they'd all fallen asleep. But what to do about the man on the dock? Jeremy noticed the man lit a cigarette. The flame flashed a brilliant light in the darkness, but to Jeremy it felt as if major fireworks on the Fourth of July had gone off.

Before he could think to stop himself, Jeremy leaped off the cabin toward the man.

The man jerked as Jeremy reached for the match in his fingers. The flame shot into the air and fell into the water. The man pulled a gun and swung it around toward Jeremy.

Jeremy flipped so his back fell against him; the dust from his wings showered over him. The man snored before he hit the ground.

Jeremy blinked his eyes and gained a deep breath before motioning Mickey to fly on over. Jeremy hopped onto the boat and swung the cabin door open. Mickey followed him in.

The sleeping men lay on the floor, but then Jeremy spotted a body under a blanket. He reached for the cover and pulled it back. He groaned. "Look!"

Mickey swung around and stepped over. "Is this the kid?"

"I don't think so. This is a dummy."

Mickey rubbed his forehead. "Why would they do all this for a ruse? Who's leading us along like this?"

Jeremy sucked his lip. "Most likely they're distracting us while they pull off the real crime."

Mickey shook his head. "Bucko, you're acting like this is a movie, as if we're fighting super villains. All Earth has are standard criminals. Who would know enough about us to do this?"

Jeremy froze. Who indeed! A sick feeling grew in his gut. "Mick, you said this felt like a movie super villain."

"Yeah, so?"

"Who would create a super villain for us based on movies?"

Mickey's eyes widened. "Rillian! But he's dead."

Rillian, the mastermind behind the Mind Game: a virtual trap designed to enlist humans to unknowingly fight a war for him. They had escaped that trap, but he worried that someone on Rillian's home planet wouldn't let it go.

"I know, but what if he had a relative? What if this was to divert us while something else bigger went down?"

Mickey groaned. "You could be right. We'd better get back to the base."

Jeremy nodded. "Suit, appear as Astro Man." Darkness swept over him, then the control room of the Titan moon base materialized around him. Mickey appeared next to him as Blue Nova—as fast as light.

Bridget, his eight-year-old sister, sat in a chair, sleeping. Even while virtual, she ended up sleeping. Jeremy didn't bother her, but moved to examine the vid feeds from Earth.

He scanned from one to the next, searching for a clue. One monitor flashed alive and a reporter stood before a burning house.

Jeremy grabbed the end of the control panel as his legs turned to jello. He pointed at the screen. "Mick, that's my house!"

Mickey gasped. "Both your and Bridget's bodies are in there!"

 

Chapter 2

 

"Bucko, I'm going with you." Mickey read the coordinates on the vid screen.

Jeremy figured no sense in waking Bridget. One less worry for him at this moment. He entered the coordinates into the suit. "Suit, appear as Astro Man at coordinates."

The room dissolved into darkness and he materialized outside his burning house. Micky appeared beside him. A crowd encircled the house, and Jeremy saw the news crew he had just heard reporting on it.

Mickey frowned. "This doesn't look good. What's the plan?"

"Since you're Blue Nova, zip in there and grab our bodies. Then deliver them to your house. As fast as you are, no one will see you enter or exit with us, so they'll be no questions. I'll try and save my parents."

Mickey saluted, then shot in a blue blur around the crowd and into the house. A second later, a faint blue hue wavered briefly against the green trees in Jeremy's back yard.

Jeremy punched in the code for shields while pointing the gun into the air. The gun vibrated and a sphere of light expanded from the gun until it enclosed him with a few feet to spare. He put the ray gun back in the holster.

Jeremy ran toward the crowd and pushed his way through. People screamed as the shielding came in contact with them. It apparently induced a slight shock. The crowd parted readily enough.

A fireman stood in his way. "You can't go in there."

Jeremy didn't respond or slow down, he pumped his legs faster now that he'd left the crowd behind. The fireman hit the shield and fell to the side.

Jeremy threw himself against the door, and it shattered. Fire flared around him, but the shields held. He moved into the house, jumped over a caved-in ceiling and flaming furniture, before flinging open the door to his parents' bedroom.

They lay unconscious on their bed. The smoke swam thick in the room; Jeremy prayed he wasn't too late. He shut the door, then ran toward the window. He crashed into it; the glass shattered and the walls bulged. Firemen rushed to the window.

Jeremy turned off his shields and smoke surrounded him. He grabbed his mom and dad, pulled them to the window, and placed them in the outstretched hands of the firemen. Jeremy coughed from the smoke as he dived out the window and rolled onto the ground, popping up onto his feet.

He ran to the ambulance where his parents were being loaded. He arrived, hardly out of breath. "Are they okay?"

The medic looked at him strangely but answered. "They've taken in some smoke. Hard to say how they'll come out, but we're giving them oxygen and we'll know more at the hospital." As another medic loaded Dad into the ambulance, this one studied Jeremy. "Are you related to them, perhaps?"

Jeremy stepped back. Would he give himself away so easily? "No, not really. But when you go into a burning house to save someone, you take an interest in whether it was worth it or not."

"Do you know where their kids are? We are told they have a couple."

"I'll go find them. Bye." Jeremy ran down the street.

"Wait, what is your name?" The medic ran in front of the ambulance.

Jeremy yelled back, "Astro Man."

The medics face wrinkled.

As Jeremy ran, he said, "Suit, appear as Astro Man." The street vanished and the control room on Titus materialized. He raced over to Bridget and shook her.

She yawned and barely opened her eyes. "What's the big deal?"

"Sis, something terrible has happened. Mom and Dad are in the hospital. We need to return to our bodies."

The reporter's voice echoed from the vid feed. "In the midst of this fire another hero, dressed like a comic book character, attempted a rescue. Who is this mystery group of superheroes who keep appearing? All we've learned about this one is he calls himself, 'Astro Man.'"

Jeremy saw replays of him busting through the door, and then a clip of him handing his parents out the window and diving through himself. Then running to talk to the medic, before rushing down the street to suddenly vanish. They interviewed the medic about the conversation. The hot news item had gone from being the house on fire with someone inside, to "who was that masked man"? Jeremy wanted to barf.

Bridget pointed at the screen. "Are our bodies still in there? I don't want to return to my body if it's on fire."

"No, Sis. Mickey rescued our bodies and took them to his house. Hopefully they are not in much pain. But we won't know until we return. Let's go."

She nodded. "Exit suit."

She vanished and Jeremy followed her into the transition from virtual existence.

When the blackness faded, he opened his eyes to see a white, stucco ceiling, and Mickey staring over him. His throat felt full of sand. He coughed, and noticed Bridget did the same. "Water please!"

Mickey handed him a bottle; Jeremy gratefully sucked the liquid down into his throat, soothing it.

Mickey sat in a chair by the bed. "You two going to be okay? The smoke was beginning to build in your room, since the fire appeared to have started closer to your parent's side of the house."

Jeremy glanced at Bridget and could smell the smoke wafting from her and himself. She guzzled her water down as well. He met Mickey's eyes. "I'm hot, sweaty, and feel like I've nearly been roasted for dinner, but I think I'll live." Jeremy pulled his mask off and stuffed it in his pants' pocket. "You think your parents will give us a ride to the hospital?"

"I'm sure they will. You two make yourselves presentable. I'll go arrange the ride." Mickey left the room.

Jeremy breathed deep. He felt lucky to be alive. But how would they explain the smell of smoke?

Bridget stood up from the bed and put her mask away. "I smell like I've been playing in the old burned out house." She raised her arms and examined her clothing.

Jeremy nodded. "And as far as what we tell anyone, that's what we were doing when we heard about our parents in the hospital."

She pointed at Jeremy. "Yes, right. Keep our identities a secret. Good idea."

Mickey poked his head into the room. "They're warming the car up now. Come on."

Jeremy grabbed Bridget's hand and squeezed. "Let's hope Mom and Dad are okay too."

She sighed and followed Jeremy out the door.

 

------

 

Jeremy, Bridget, and Mickey sat in the hospital waiting room. Bridget swung her legs and kicked the plastic chair in front of her. No one told her to stop.

Jeremy rose and paced the floor. They had to be okay. They couldn't die. They just couldn't.

A doctor walked in. "Jeremy and Bridget Goodhue?"

"Yes." Jeremy thought the doctor's eyes didn't look promising.

"I'm afraid the smoke inhalation was too much. We did all we could, but their bodies shut down. I'm sorry."

The words echoed in Jeremy's head. This couldn't be happening. They would walk in here soon and they would all go...home? Jeremy sunk onto the floor, his back against the wall, dropped his head between his legs, and cried. Nothing mattered anymore. In the past year he had seen death more than most people his age. He had helped save thousands, maybe millions. But even with super powers, he couldn't save his parents.

Mickey placed a hand on his shoulder. "Bucko, I'm so sorry."

Bridget stood before him as he looked up.

"BJ, can we go home? Where's Mom and Dad?" Tears dribbled down her cheeks.

Jeremy shook his head. "No, Sis. I'm afraid we can never go back home. Never." He pulled her between his legs and hugged her hard as they cried on the floor.




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Check out Book 1 of The Virtual Chronicles, Mind Game!

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