Book Smugglers Publishing Superheroes

Kid Dark Against The Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Kid Dark Against The Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Published 06/14/2016 | 10,331 Words

From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world

Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?

But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine–an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.

And then they waltz back into Griff’s life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

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Kid Dark Against The Machine

Here are the things you need to know:

  • Superheroes are among us. Okay, you know that already, if you haven’t been living under a rock.
  • The Australian government likes us to believe that they’re in charge of the machine; all governments want you to believe that. Because what, we’re all going to flip out and stage riots if we think too hard about the way the Sky Tower machines arrived one day out of nowhere, one in each country, and started turning ordinary people into superheroes?
  • The Australian government also likes us to believe they have some say in the lottery that happens every six months, choosing one citizen to rotate into the national superhero team, and choosing one of the regular line-up to hand in their powers at the door. But when there are protests and petitions about the weird gender bias, or under 18’s being included in the lottery, suddenly the government is all “our hands are tied, mates.” Suspicious? Well, yeah.
  • Everyone knows that when you step into that machine, you become something… something greater than yourself. And everyone knows that the machine chooses for you. It picks what changes will be made to your body, what identity you take on, whether you’re going to be a Legacy or an Original. Once you’re up, that’s it, you belong to the superhero world until the machine chooses your retirement day and kicks you back into your old life. Everyone knows that. Everyone knew that. Until Solar came along.
  • Yeah, I’m assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, so you know who Solar is. New Solar, the pretty girl with the blonde hair who got to choose. Sure, she didn’t get to choose whether or not she replaced Original Solar, the bright shining star who had been watching over Australia for decades of cheesy goodness. But New Solar got a say in the process. The machine was turning her upside down and inside out, transforming her into a super being who can eat sunlight and bench press cars, and it asked her freaking opinion about whether she wanted to replace her missing arm or not. The press went wild over her because no one ever suspected that the lottery winners got any autonomy at all.
  • I’m trying really hard not to hate Solar for this. For being special. Hell, I don’t envy her life. Not even a little bit.
  • If the machine had asked my opinion on anything back then, I wouldn’t have known what the hell to say. So it’s probably for the best.

1. Secret Identity

Everyone knows how a superhero story goes, in comics and movies. I could write a handbook for this shit in my sleep: secret identities, utility belts and costume changes through to training montages, sidekicks, splash page battles and villainous monologues.

Oh, and don’t forget brooding on rooftops. Brooding on rooftops is an essential trope, up there with having only one girl on a team, and wearing your knickers on the outside of your tights.

You’d have a separate chapter on sequels, showing all the ways that decent superheroes have been ruined by returning to action one too many times.

But we weren’t comic book characters. We didn’t get endless Come Back From the Dead cards. To be a true real life Aussie Beaut superhero you gotta be prepared to leave the stage when you’re told. One day you’re a crime fighting god, the next… you’re just a bloke on the street. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

Kids were the worst. Just when Griff thought he had seen it all—that there were no surprises left in the world—he found chewing gum in the gutters. Chewing gum. In the gutters.

Sure, he’d been a little shit when he was eight years old, but… yeah, okay, there was no honest way he could finish that sentence, even in his head. He’d done worse, in his day.

Still, chewing gum. In the gutters. Either they were spitting it from the tree branches, using some kind of catapult, or… he stared at a boxy, clear footprint in the leaf mulch.

Oh yeah. They’d been climbing on the roof.

He couldn’t even get properly pissed off at them. That wasn’t his job. None of this was his job.

Griff was twenty-two years old, and had nothing better to do than clear gum out of the gutters. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up yelling at those kids to get off his damn lawn… yeah, no, he had literally done that yesterday.

So that was depressing.

 

“I don’t know why we need a bunch of useless high schoolers messing up the place,” he grumbled to Hedda, the home manager, later that day. “I told you I could build the clubhouse for the kids. No problem. It would take me a couple of weekends, tops.”

“That’s sweet, Griff, but you already do so much around here,” Hedda said pointedly. “You need to save some time for your classes.”

Oh, this was the part of the conversation where they both pretended he was committed to the classes she had basically blackmailed him into taking, so he could work towards a social work degree. Like his volunteer hours here contributed to a sensible future plan instead of being a form of advanced loitering.

It was impressive the way Hedda could manipulate a conversation. Griff had known supervillains who were less adept.

Maybe she was a supervillain. That would make sense.

“I mean, if it’s too much trouble to supervise the teen volunteers…” she added thoughtfully. “I could get Randall to do it instead.”

“No,” Griff said sharply. “It’s fine. It’ll be great.”

So now instead of a cruisy couple of weekends building the project he’d been planning with the kids for months, he had to supervise a gang of know-it all teenage girls who wanted to get a community service tick on their school reports. Brilliant.

 

“So we’re building a cubby house?” asked Tara, who was the most cheerful Teen Volunteer, and had brought her own clipboard.

The planning committee boys—ranging between the ages of 10 and 13—all reacted with appropriate disgust at her suggestion.

“It’s not a cubby,” said Mick.

“It’s a clubhouse,” said Bluey.

“A Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse,” agreed Jimbo.

Griff had coached them all firmly about not adding “No Girls Allowed” to the name of the clubhouse, at least until the Teen Volunteers were gone, but he could hear the words hanging unsaid in the air.

“It can’t be that secret if we’re building it in your backyard,” said Willa, the most sarcastic Teen Volunteer and thus already Griff’s favourite.

Beck, who was the sweet one and held a hammer with promising competence, looked delighted. “I guess superheroes are pretty big around here?” she asked as the boys rushed ahead to check that their chalked markings on the grass were still intact.

“It’s a house full of boys with no dads,” said Griff dryly. “What do you think?”

“We know a superhero,” said Beck, as they approached the site for the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse.

Several pairs of bright eyes turned up in her direction.

“Seriously?” breathed Bluey.

“A real one?” Mick asked.

“Sure,” said Willa with a shrug, ditching her handbag and fashion cardie in a corner, and pulling on a plaid shirt instead. “We went to school with Solar.”

Griff shoved his hands in his pockets so no one could see they were shaking. The looks on his boys’ faces were pretty classic, but he wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

“You mean Girl Solar,” Mick said after a moment.

“She sucks!” howled Bluey. “Real Solar was the best.”

Willa’s eyes narrowed. “Oh yeah? What, she’s not good enough to be a superhero because she’s a girl?”

Beck put a hand on her arm. “They didn’t say that, Will. Calm down.”

“Oh, I’ll calm down,” Willa growled. “Right after we’ve had a little talk about gender bias and statistics and oh, decades of history of female superheroes being just as good if not better than the blokes.”

Mick glared up at her. “Bring it,” he declared.

What followed was possibly the geekiest conversation Griff had ever witnessed. Willa had obviously been practicing this topic for some time, and the boys came right back at her with knowledge gleaned from years of dedication to superhero annuals and wikis.

After a few minutes, Griff crooked a finger at Beck, and the two of them started quietly working on the support struts. Tara joined them, making herself useful.

Willa finished laying down her truth bombs and finished up with an almighty mic drop about the low crime rate in Sweden. After that, she picked up tools and started work. The boys, sullenly, also came along to hit things with hammers.

At the end of the day’s session, seven-year-old Davey, who had been creeping closer and closer to the worksite, tugged on Willa’s sleeve and confessed: “Solar’s my favourite.”

Willa smiled a wide, approving smile. It was immediately wiped off her face when Jimbo jumped in with: “You can’t have a girl as your favourite. Unless you are a girl. And girls don’t even like superheroes.”

Willa looked furious. Griff braced himself to explain to management how one of the Teen Volunteers had punched a twelve-year-old. Instead of going after Jimbo, though, Willa got up in Griff’s face. “What the hell are you teaching these kids?” she hissed between her teeth.

“Don’t look at me,” Griff protested. “I just fix shit around here.”

“Yeah, well this looks like some shit that needs to be fixed.”

She wasn’t wrong. He knew she wasn’t wrong. But there was a reason he kept away from conversations about superheroes.

 

Griff expected Willa to return to the “girls are superheroes too, girls can do anything” topic again during their weekend work sessions. Instead, she let the matter drop.

Until the day they officially opened the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse with a party and balloons. The Teen Volunteers turned up to the party with a crate of creaming sodas, a huge cake, and three genuine, real life, true blue Superheroes.

Surf, Solar and Astra. It could have been worse, Griff told himself desperately. None of the three of them were on the Team eight years ago… there was no reason they would recognise him.

No reason except that they lived in a fucking Sky Tower that contained a historical archive of everyone who’d ever stepped into the machine, and been transformed into a goddamned hero.

He was being paranoid. It was going to be fine. They had no reason to look past Griff’s flannie shirt and work boots and dyed brown hair to see the person he had been almost a decade ago.

It was fine. He was fine. No worries.

 

When it started getting dark, Hedda and Randall moved the party inside so that the younger kids knew it was time to think about pyjamas and teeth-brushing instead of pestering three superheroes. Superheroes who apparently had nothing better to do on a Saturday night than chat to a bunch of orphans about their top ten battles, and scariest villains, and what it was like fighting crime with The Dark, who was everyone’s favourite.

Even the most hardened misogynists among the clubhouse boys had forgotten that “girls aren’t real superheroes” now they had spent a few hours in the presence of the gorgeous, powerful, hilarious Astra and Solar. Griff had to hand it to Willa—she knew how to win an argument.

When everyone else headed inside, Griff stayed in the clubhouse, leaning against one of the sturdy log walls. It was a relief to just breathe for a moment, away from Them. The chosen ones.

A soft sound alerted him to the presence of an intruder. She stepped into the clubhouse, faintly outlined by the glow of—well, sunlight.

He used to do that. Original Solar. Griff remembered how the musclebound wall of Good Moral Choices glowed even in full darkness, warmth pouring off him whether he was preparing for battle, or snoring on the couch. It was comforting, right up until he opened his mouth and you realised what a privileged, self-righteous bastard he was, always thinking he knew best.

Griff had always been on Team Dark, in every way possible.

“This is a great clubhouse,” said Solar, the soft blonde teen hero with one arm. Davey’s favourite. The teenager who had stopped the nation a year ago, when she supplanted Australia’s longest serving superhero, taking his name and powers. They didn’t call her Girl Solar or Solarette or any bullshit thing like that, which was progress maybe?

“Everyone worked hard on it,” Griff said now, since she was apparently talking to him. “Your mate Beck, she’s a demon with a drill.”

“I bet she is,” Solar laughed. “I wish I could have done something like this. I miss high school.”

She sounded wistful. Anyone else might have sneered at her, but Griff knew what it was like—leaving your friends, your home, everything you knew. Hell, she had parents to leave behind.

Solar had been sixteen when it happened to her. Griff—he wasn’t called Griff then—had been twelve.

“Any time you want to come by, do some roof repairs, you’re more than welcome,” he said, forcing himself to be light and snarky. “I fucking hate going up on the roof.”

Solar laughed then, but only for a moment. “Griff… that’s what they call you, right?”

“Sure,” he said, tensing up.

“I know who you are,” she said, and she sounded sad about it.

Griff’s vision suddenly went dark, everything narrowing to a pinpoint. He could hear the blood rush in his ears, his pulse racing with fear and adrenaline, ready to fight or run. But he couldn’t do that, couldn’t freak out here in front of a stranger. Couldn’t let her see how weak he was.

“You don’t know shit,” he said roughly. “Go back to your shiny silver tower, yeah? Leave us mortals alone.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you.” Solar was the one who sounded upset. So he was going to get into trouble for making a superhero cry, that was exactly what he needed right now. “I wanted you to know, that’s all. You’re not—”

“If you say I’m not alone, I’m going to punch you,” he interrupted. “I’d break my hand or whatever, but it would be worth it. Keep your nose out of my business.”

“Okay,” Solar said softly. “Okay, I’ll—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Get out,” he said.

She went, as quietly as she had arrived. The temperature dropped like four degrees once she was gone. Back to normal, then.

Griff dropped to the floor of the newly-minted Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse, and wrapped his arms around his knees.

No worries. Nothing to see here.

 

2. Sidekick

“I don’t need a sidekick,” was the first thing that the Dark said to me, and then he didn’t speak again for like, a month.

I could see his point of view. He’d been the Dark for decades—fighting crime, righting wrongs. He had an image to maintain. You looked at that dark swirling cape, the glaring eyes beneath the cowl, and you thought “lone hero who can fuck up your shit without even trying.”

Then there was me, twelve years old with my stupid red hair and freckles, and a costume that screamed Kid Dark.

I had a cape to match his. No hood, only a domino mask, because I guess the machine was super into everyone seeing I was a ginger. My boots, my belt—everything reflected his costume. Oh, and I wasn’t exaggerating about the name—according to the machine, I was Kid Dark.

None of them knew what to do with me. They were all veterans of combat, powerhouses in lycra. They were R-Rated, and I was PG-13.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

“Astra’s my favourite,” said Liam, two months after the opening of the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse. He wasn’t a kid Griff spent much time with, to be honest. Liam was one of the specky indoor reader-gamers, and it was the outdoor football-kickers who crowded around Griff when he was working.

Griff never looked too closely into why he was uncomfortable with the boys looking up to him as a role model. He told himself it was because he was a dropout with no employment skills, but no, that wasn’t it.

He remembered being that kid. He remembered desperately wanting some grownup to be his hero. But he didn’t choose his role model, in the end. The machine chose one for me.

“Yeah, kid.” Griff wasn’t really listening. He was busy trying to unblock the sink without doing himself a mischief. “She’s hot, we’ve all been there.”

“I don’t have a crush on her.” The kid sounded offended. “I don’t like girls.”

Willa was right, someone had to take some responsibility for these kids not turning into total arseholes when they grew up. “Girls can be heroes just as much as guys, you know.”

“I know,” Liam said patiently. “That’s what I was saying. I don’t have a crush on her, I don’t want to kiss her or anything. I genuinely think she’s the best. I made this chart.”

While Griff worked on the pipes, dismantling and reassembling them, the kid read to him from a three page chart proving categorically that Astra—not just this Astra, but all four of the legacy Astras rolled into one—was a more efficient and effective superhero than any of the traditionally lauded Aussie “greats.”

“Kid,” Griff said finally, when he was done and washing his hands. “You do good work. But what’s your point?”

“Oh,” said Liam, pushing his cheap plastic spectacles further up his nose. “I think I’m turning into a supervillain. Do you think I’ll get to pick which hero is my nemesis?”

 

3. Villains

I was that kid. You know the one. The one who climbs on the roof and brawls with boys twice his size and doesn’t give a shit whether it’s dangerous or not. The one who spends his weekends tagging, not because it’s an innovative and subversive artform, but because he wants to wreck the world.

The social worker therapist lady who checked in on us regularly said I was acting out because of suppressed childhood trauma.

I reckon I just didn’t have much to lose. Even at eight years old, you know when you’re not wanted. We didn’t have a Hedda in my day, all warmth and diabolical sarcasm. Our house manager was Mrs. Criff, who hated children, and me in particular. So yeah, I’d leaped a fence or two in my time. I knew how to roll when I fell. I’d even taken a gymnastics lesson or two before the funding ran out. My everyday superpower was winning fights because I was more of an arsehole than whatever kid I was fighting, and didn’t hesitate to bite or gouge.

Later, after the superhero machine stamped me into one of Australia’s Mightiest Heroes, I took my new muscle and ability for granted. It never occurred to me to wonder where the villains came from, the ones that we fought all the time.

If there is a machine that turns out cookie cutter supervillains, then it’s a fucking miracle that it didn’t get to me before the hero machine called dibs.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

Griff’s first impulse was to laugh it off, but there was something about Liam’s grave little face that struck that option off the table.

“Supervillain,” he said finally, and came over to sit at the kitchen table. The benefit of the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse was that the boys were split these days between that and the den with the vintage Playstation, so the kitchen was pretty quiet between meals.

“I know it sounds crazy,” said Liam with the patience of an elderly professor teaching long division. “But I think that the world’s supervillains are created in a similar way to the heroes: just less public.”

“That makes sense,” Griff said slowly. “But come on, kid. They’re not going to choose a…”

“Twelve-year-old?” Liam said slyly.

Griff let his head fall into his hands. That answered the “why tell me” question. “How long have you known? Does everyone know?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” said the boy, peering through his thick lenses at Griff. “I mean, Kid Dark doesn’t have much of a retro-fandom. Thanks to my research on Astra, I’ve spent a lot more time than most looking into the obscure corners of superhero history.”

“So I only have the hipster kids to worry about?” Griff didn’t know whether to be offended or relieved.

“If that makes you feel better.” Liam cleared his throat. “Anyway, supervillains…”

“I wouldn’t worry, kid. There’s never been a villain with a kid sidekick before. What would they call you, Spreadsheet Boy?” Liam was pale, under-sized for his age, and had a very stubborn chin. He didn’t look remotely scary. “I always assumed supervillains just—”

“Came out of nowhere?” said Liam skeptically. “There has to be a system, like the hero lottery, only sneakier. I’ve been tracking the movements of known supervillains and while there are certainly more of them than the heroes, and their patterns are more erratic, I think I can categorically prove that there are never more than eight active during a six month period. My theory is that unlike the heroes, the villains enter into a phase of semi-retirement only to return at a later date. Dr Chemical, for example, has had five active six month terms over the last eight years.”

Okay, that was genuinely interesting. Griff motioned for Liam to show his charts—the villain charts took up a heftier stack than the “Astra is the Best” charts. “They’re not Legacies? Definitely the same dudes?”

“I think that’s why no one has ever spotted the pattern before,” Liam agreed. “The machine reuses and retires the same villains, over and over. Occasionally it does employ the Legacy method—like Glamourpuss, who was four different women in the 90’s.”

Griff shrugged and pushed back from the table. “This is great work and I bet you could get it published in Wonder Weekly or whatever. But I don’t know why you…”

“I’ve been having dreams,” said Liam seriously. “Dark, sinister dreams. I believe they are guiding me to the location of the supervillain machine—luring me in so that I can become one of them in the next cycle. The dreams have been getting more intense and specific. It’s going to be soon. I can feel it.”

Griff had never told anyone about the dreams he had, in the weeks before the lottery told the world he was going to be one of Them. He’d figured he was the only one.

“Kid, what exactly are you planning to do with this information?”

“Oh, I’m going to destroy the supervillain machine,” said Liam cheerfully. “You can be my sidekick, if you like. I hear you have experience at that sort of thing.”

 

4. Cape and Tights

They called her Catsuit. Which, I can say after half a semester of a Gender Studies class, is pretty fucking sexist. Solar didn’t have to walk around calling himself Tight Lycra, did he?

Catsuit wore fishnets. Her original costume had fishnets, and even her later “I’m tough as nails” reboot costume had fishnet sleeves. I’m only going to mention this one time, so you can get your bullshit reactions over and done with, then never again.

She was a lethal weapon. Like me, the machine hadn’t given her any major superpowers—she didn’t have laser tits or a sonic punch or anything like that. She was just really damned good. She had all the martial arts magically appear in her head, like I had acrobatics.

We could spar for hours. Unlike the others, she didn’t treat me like a kid. I guess she was used to being patronised, so she knew it was a shitty thing to do to someone on your team.

If I trusted any of them—the overpowered adults who were supposedly my peers—it was her. The machine chose The Dark to be my Mentor, but I chose Catsuit to have my back.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

It was a women’s gym, at the dodgy end of the city. Made sense. Her name was in big letters on the door—Danni Harper, Catfight Training.

Ha. She should totally have gone with Catfight, back in the day. But the machine had named her after a costume—which she then couldn’t change without fans complaining.

That was the thing about the machine. It made the choices for you.

“Is this it?” asked Liam, looking dubious.

“Yep,” said Griff. He had known this place existed for years, but he had always kept his distance, before today.

The receptionist was a nice looking girl, glowing with health in that way that super fit people who actually work at it always do. “I’m sorry,” she said when she saw them. “Female members only.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Griff, feeling super awkward. “I need a word with Danni, if she’s free. I could make an appointment?”

“Jay?” He had thought maybe he wouldn’t recognise her after eight years, but that was her voice, he knew it without even turning around. “Oh my god, Jay.”

Griff turned and found himself with an armful of superhero. Danni’s hair was still blonde and bouncy, shoulder-length instead of the glamorous do from her Team days. He could feel every muscle in her arms as they locked around his back, reeling him tightly into the hug. “Hey,” he managed.

“You’re so tall, oh my god,” she said, and finally released him so she could check him over like she always used to, prodding for bumps and bruises. “We looked for you,” she breathed.

Griff shuffled his feet uncomfortably. “Okay, listen,” he started.

“No. Seriously.” Her weirdly green eyes bore into him. “Jay, he looked for you, for years. We were worried you’d end up on the street, or…”

“No big deal,” Griff interrupted her. “I was fine. S’all good. This is Liam.” He grabbed the kid and shoved him forward, anything to dilute that large, sad gazing thing that Danni had going on.

She took it in her stride, of course. Nothing fazed her. “Hey, Liam.”

“We need your help,” Griff admitted. “To, you know. Save the world and shit.”

Danni was amused, her green eyes glittering. “I don’t do that any more, Kid. But you—I guess you never retired, did you?”

Huh. Well, when she said it like that. It wasn’t untrue.

 

5. Training Montage

So let’s talk about some of the choices made by the Great and Powerful machine.

First, it decided The Dark needed a sidekick. He hated the idea, and me, and everything, but he’d only been doing his job for decades, what did he know?

Second, the machine thought it was a good idea to give one fifth of the job of saving the world (within Australian borders) to a twelve-year-old orphan from the outer suburbs. Sketchy as. I’m not even done.

Thirdly, the machine made me a superhero. It injected a career’s worth of acrobatics into my head. All of a sudden, I was a professional trapeze monkey. I could fall, tumble, soar and leap. My body had muscles I’d never even heard of before, and it knew how to be a hero better than I did.

Here’s what the machine didn’t do: it didn’t provide mandatory counselling for me and the team and The Dark to work out how this screwy system was going to work with a kid in the mix, putting his life on the line every week. It didn’t consider that maybe I would have been better off working on my education or hell, learning how to make my own muscles instead of dealing with the ones I was given.

And not once, not at all, did the machine venture an opinion on how I might deal with having this new life of privilege and heroism taken away from me.

Someday, I reckon historians are going to look back at how we let these machines rule our bloody lives, and talk about them the same way they talk about, like World War II and Attila the Hun and the stolen generation. Stupid Shit Humans Do To Each Other: the Sequel.

Assuming it was humans who built the machines in the first place and not like, aliens watching us like a reality TV show.

Everyone knows that what the machine puts in, gets taken out at the other end. Solar walked off into the sunset last year as an ordinary bloke, after decades of punching the sun and bench-pressing cars. The Dark was a paraplegic before the machine called him in, and it doesn’t matter how many years he’s spent leaping around rooftops and swirling that shadowy cape of his, someday he’ll be back in a chair.

Though it kind of looks like the Dark is the machine’s favourite, which corresponds with the sales of comics and other merch, so I guess he’s safe for now.

In the whole history of superhero machines, there’s only one person I know of who didn’t bow their head in compliance and hand the muscles back when his term was over. One ungrateful little shithead who wasn’t willing to pay the price.

Some hero, right?

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

“Can you still do it?” Griff asked Danni. She had invited him and Liam into her apartment above the gym—it was mostly empty floor space, which gave Liam plenty of room to lie out with a box of Sharpies and some butcher’s paper, drawing what he referred to as the Dream Map of Supervillainy.

Griff and Danni drank a lot of coffee, and watched the kid do his thing. It was oddly hypnotic.

“I run a gym, Jay,” Danni said. “All the punching people and flipping off walls I used to do—it translates into valuable employment skills when you call yourself a fitness coach.”

“Well yeah,” he said. “But.”

“But,” she agreed with a sigh of her own. “But training. That’s the difference. I have to train all the time. It took me years of hard graft to get myself anywhere near the level of fighting fitness I had when we were—well, you know.”

He knew.

“Even then, I don’t have the—the uncanny part of it,” she confessed. “The built-in reflexes. I used to look at a room and know every weakness, every detail, like I was some kind of magical ninja anime character. I train all the goddamn time, and I’m good—I’m exceptional, by human standards.”

“We didn’t used to have to give a shit about human standards,” he filled in.

“So true.” She gave him a sly look. “Want to spar sometime?”

“It was years ago for me too,” he muttered.

“And…”

“And I don’t train.”

“But you can. You could. You could find it again, if you tried. You never let the machine take it out of you.”

Griff gave her a dirty look. “Out of practice. Gotta be rusty.”

“But you don’t know.” Danni’s eyes sparkled. “We could find out.”

“Or we could sort out the villain machine business, shake hands, and never mention this again.”

Liam cleared his throat. “I have it,” he announced. “I have cross referenced the iconography of my various dreams and premonitions, and I believe I have located the super secret villainous lair where the machine is to be found.”

Griff looked down at the scrawled but perfectly proportioned map. “Outside the city.”

“I have a bike with a sidecar,” volunteered Danni.

“Of course you do.”

 

6. Splash Page

The comics industry and the superhero industry have always held hands, when they weren’t exchanging sloppy makeouts. Without real life superheroes, it’s hard to see how Australia would have a comics industry at all. A new superhero on the block means at least one new title every sixth months, even if it’s a limited edition—no one expected the All-New Solar to run for more than a few issues, for example. Some heroes last longer in comics than they ever did in real life—Catsuit and Buckshot had a shared title that was still going a decade after they both hung up their fishnets, and no one would ever consider cancelling the original Solar title (do we call him Solarbloke now?) even though he’s long gone.

There have been 4 Astras in real life and 12 in comics. The continuity for those is completely bonkers.

Kid Dark is still the Dark’s sidekick.

Like, seriously. There have been five or six Kid Darks in the comics since Jay Jupiter’s debut a decade ago, and all of them (except the dead one) are regular characters in the Dark’s six separate titles. Jay Jupiter of the comics does pretty well for himself. He graduated librarian college, he hooked up with several hot supervillains and at least two of the Astras, and he finally lay the Kid Dark costume aside to be given a new grown up super identity: Shadowfire.

I check in with Comic Universe Jay from time to time. Bloke’s got his shit together. Even when he turned evil for a couple of years, he still held down a day job, dressed well and treated his girlfriend respectfully.

Fandom ships him with Buckshot. Some of the fan art is surprisingly good.

There’s this thing in comics called a splash page—it’s where the art takes over, and you get a massive action sequence across a double page, one big punch-you-between-the-eyes panel.

It’s colour and violence and multiple characters and end of the world shit.

There aren’t that many days in real life that are worthy of being illustrated by a splash page, even if you’re a bonafide superhero. But I can think of a few.

The comics don’t always get it wrong.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

Griff’s day had been splash page after splash page. This was getting kinda ridiculous. First there was the road trip through the Blue Mountains, riding pillion with a beautiful blonde woman, with a genius kid potential supervillain in the sidecar.

Then there was the cliff face. Or, as he and Danni had instantly named it, the motherfucking impossible gonna-kill-us-dead cliff face.

There had been abseiling. He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to remember the glee on Danni’s face as she produced the gear from her backpack, or the sheer delight on Liam’s face in return.

Especially, Griff didn’t want to remember how easy it had been, sliding and bouncing down those ropes like he was twelve again, with so many acrobatic skills flaring up in his brain that he could have trapezed his way across the city with a roll of dental floss and a cobweb.

And now.

Yeah, this was a splash page and a half.

This was lying out on a ledge overlooking a massive underground cave full of, well. Villains.

There were dozens of them. Forty or fifty, maybe. If Liam was right that there were never more than eight officially “on” at a time… well, it looked like the rest of them still wore their costumes when they were off the clock.

Griff recognised many of them from his own hero days, or from the news coverage he hadn’t managed to avoid—there was Black Hat and Madam Manx, Sparkweasel and the Grub. There was Dr. Chemical, Dr. Moonlight, Dr. Dreamboat and three Dr. Carbons. All the Glamourpusses were hanging out together, painting each other’s nails. So were the Bogus Bushrangers.

“That’s it,” whispered Liam. “That’s the machine.”

It wasn’t a metal cube like the one that turned out cookie cutter superheroes. It was a sphere. A massive, platinum sphere with windows.

“What’s the plan here?” Griff whispered. “I can sabotage it, sure, but I doubt I can do anything that these guys can’t fix. Some of them are geniuses, and I’m pretty sure others are millionaires who can hire a lot of repairmen.”

“As long as they don’t fix it by midnight,” Liam breathed, pushing his glasses back up his face. “If there isn’t a new villain at midnight, the system breaks down.”

Griff gave him a dirty look. “Are we talking symbolic victory? I’m going to be in serious shit for letting you off the Boys Home grounds at night, so I was hoping for something more concrete and evil-defeating than that.”

“If a new villain doesn’t get created at midnight, the machine will suffer a catastrophic systems failure,” said Liam. His eyes were a little too bright behind the thick lenses of his glasses and… how did the kid even know that? From his dreams?

“That sounds evil-defeating enough for me,” said Danni. “Let’s go punch some lab coats.”

“How about you both stay here,” Griff said warily. “I can peel down there discreetly, take apart as much of the machine as I can get my hands on. If all three of us go, we’re gonna get caught too fast.”

He had brought several spanners, a small blowtorch, and a hammer. It was eight years since he had done the hero thing, but he was ready to fall off the wagon hard and fast.

“Very sensible plan,” said Danni, like she wasn’t going to shimmy down and start beating up supervillains the second his back was turned. “I will stay here and look after the kid.”

“Whatever,” said Griff, rolling his eyes at her. “Restrain yourself as long as you can.”

She passed him a grappling hook and the last of their cable with a fiendish grin. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

 

7. Speech Balloons

Along with killer dress sense and dubious morals, the thing that most supervillains have in common? They like the sound of their own voice.

Sure, there are heroes who like to banter, and even a few who pull out the portentous monologue on special occasions, when they have something particularly pompous to express (not looking at anyone in particular, former Original Solardude).

But a comic full of villains is always gonna have a lot more speech balloons in it than one full of heroes, you get what I’m saying?

It’s not that they’re smarter than us (that really can’t be true, not with how often we beat them), or that they even have more to say.

But with the exception of Frighteno the Mad Mime (I didn’t make that one up, look up his Wikipedia page if you don’t believe me), villainy is an audible medium. If they could figure out how to harness the power of speech, none of them would need to rob banks or build doomsday devices.

Which is why, on the whole, you don’t see supervillain team ups most of the time: they’d be so busy monologuing at each other, they’d never get anything done.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

So as it turned out? The supervillains didn’t have an automated lottery to decide which of them got to play every six months. They decided it for themselves. Via informal debate.

Yeah, it was chaos. An assortment of new candidates and classic all-stars filled the cave of wonders, so busy arguing with each other that none of them noticed Griff swinging down to the ground, and crawling in behind the giant platinum Sphere of Villainous Destiny.

He had panels to remove, wires to cut, damage to do.

Many of the villains were using Power Point presentations, wall charts and spreadsheets to argue their worth. Turns out, Liam would have fit in well with them after all.

Maybe Griff might have followed that thought through to its logical extension, if he wasn’t so busy with his spanners.

Only—hadn’t he cut that green wire five minutes ago? It looked fine now. And that motherboard, he knew he had removed half the switches, but they appeared to be… repairing themselves.

Oh, crap.

As this realisation dawned over him, he heard his name being spoken aloud by someone with a microphone.

Not Griff. The other name. The famous one.

 

Liam had the audience in the palm of his hand. The kid had found a spot of upper ground from which to pronounce his villainous intentions. He had a lapel microphone which shut out every other electronic device in the cave, so only his melodious twelve-year-old squawk came out of the massive speakers. He was also wearing a child-sized lab coat, and a bow-tie. He had come prepared.

Griff caught sight of Danni. She was pinned to the ground by what looked like all the henchmen. He counted at least twelve in the scrum. She hadn’t gone quietly, when the kid made his move.

“… For decades you have all been subservient to this box of tricks, this dread machine, and the limitations it enforces upon the world of heroes and villains,” Liam was saying. “But no more! I have a plan to ensure that we no longer have to limit ourselves in our bid to take over the world, but can rightfully compete as the titans we are. Let the heroes restrict themselves to a finite number, while we pour over the world as a multitudinous powerhouse!”

“What do you have in mind, squirt?” yelled one of the Dr. Carbons, the female one with the scorched lab coat.

“Simple,” said Liam, his face shining with evangelical, maniacal glee. “We will destroy the hold that the Villain Machine has over us, by placing a hero inside its workings. A hero who never surrendered the gifts given to him by the Superhero Lottery. We shall feed Jay Jupiter to the machine of ultimate evil, and in the confusion this causes to the programming, we shall finally take control!”

It would be wrong to punch a twelve-year-old in the face. And yet.

Griff stepped back behind the machine, too late to avoid being spotted. Swarmed by a sea of mad scientists, sinister barons and lycra-clad tricksters, he was caught quickly, and manhandled towards the platinum sphere.

To recap: Liam was Villain the Kid, Danni had been brought down by a surfeit of henchmen, and there was only so far acrobatics could get you when you had twenty or so wannabe supervillains clinging to your limbs.

Oh, and Liam was Still. Fucking. Talking.

Griff turned his head helplessly towards the pile of henchman. He could only see Danni’s hair and part of her hand. She wasn’t going to be saving the day any time soon.

Neither was Griff, to be fair.

When all seemed lost, there was a whistle. It didn’t come from Danni, who was down for the count, and it sure as hell didn’t come from still-fucking-talking Junior Professor Evilpants over there.

It came from one of the Bogus Bushrangers. There were eight of them in all, but one—the one who had whistled—looked kind of familiar once you got past the dubious beard and the domino mask.

Was that… the hero formerly known as Buckshot?

Of course Danni wouldn’t come here with just Griff and the kid. Of course she had an escape plan up her sleeve. She was always the smart one. She and Buckshot had a thing, back in the day. Of course they were still in touch.

Back-up plan. Escape. Rescue. That meant…

Oh, fuck.

Griff ducked his head as the ceiling of the cave exploded in a haze of fierce superpowered sunshine, with rubble and dust falling down around all of their heads.

It meant heroes.

It meant Them.

 

8. Superhero Team-Up!

Here’s the part I never admit to anyone: it’s not the fame or the adventure that I miss.

It’s being part of a team.

And when I say team.

Sure, I mean Catsuit and Buckshot and Orbital. Hell, even Solar on a good day.

But also I mean.

Well, you know.

Him.

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

Australia’s Mightiest Heroes descended from the sky, blazing with Solar’s light and Astra’s constellations of glitter and power. Surf shaped the falling dust into a wave that he rode all the way down into the pit. Kestrel—the newest addition—flew on wings of pure metal that sprouted up and out of his spine.

Above them all, the Dark’s cape spread out like a parachute, swallowing the light.

They were grossly outnumbered, but they were True Blue Heroes, glowing with righteous fury and with the machine-made power that made them so bloody special. The villains crumbled and surrendered and ran, all at once. Astra peeled the henchmen off Danni, who threw herself into fighting stance the second she was free.

Buckshot—who still went everywhere armed to the teeth, years after he stopped being a superhero—felled the rest of the Bogus Bushrangers and ran to Danni’s side.

Griff drank it all in—the mighty mashup of past and present, of hero power and villainous potential.

And then he got the fuck out of there, because they didn’t need him any more. No one did.

 

Escaping the Cave of Biff and Pow was one thing. Hiking back to the bike took some time, though. Even with better-than-human endurance and speed, there was always a good chance that someone with better resources would get to it before Griff did.

She had.

Danni—still not Catsuit, because she was wearing her gym gear with no fishnet sleeves in sight—sat astride her bike, waiting for him.

Liam, gaffer taped by the wrists and mouth, sat in the sidecar like an understuffed parcel, utterly livid.

“So I have a theory,” Danni said conversationally. “Tell you on the way.”

“Oh, we’re not waiting for Buckshot?” Griff replied, heavy on the sarcasm.

“His name’s Bryce these days, sweetie, and I promised to meet him for drinks tomorrow. It’s cool, they’re having fun. Shall we?”

Rolling his eyes, Griff climbed on the back of the bike and held on to her leather jacket as she peeled out along the bush track, heading for the city road.

“You have a theory,” he yelled in her ear after a while.

“I think the proximity of the Villain Machine—which The Dark is planning to disassemble to its component parts by the way—pushed Liam past Potential to Fullblown Monologuing Villain,” she called back, the wind catching half her words.

“So what, you think he’ll go back to being a normal kid who kind of likes spreadsheets once he’s back in the city?” Griff replied.

“One way to find out!”

Forty minutes later, they pulled up in the alley behind the Boy’s Home. Danni pulled the tape off Liam’s hands and mouth before dragging him in the direction of the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse. “This is convenient.”

“I bring all my kidnap victims here,” Griff agreed.

“I’m fine,” Liam spluttered. “I’m not—oh dear. That was embarrassing.”

“You monologued,” Griff reminded him.

“Ugh. I meant to bring the system down from the inside,” the kid wailed. “Honestly I did. And then everything went sort of… red around the edges.”

“We believe you,” said Danni. “Besides, it sort of worked.”

Liam brightened slightly. “It did, didn’t it?”

“Don’t get cocky,” Griff growled. “Say thank you to the nice lady for saving your arse.”

Liam flung his arms around Danni’s waist. “I always thought you were pointless,” he muttered into her chest. “But you’re almost as cool as Astra.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” she said, patting him on the head. “Now, I trust you can get inside without raising the attention of any of the responsible adults? Given that you are now a fully fledged supervillain.”

“So, so embarrassing,” Liam groaned. He turned, though, and gave Griff an unexpected hug too. “Sorry. Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“Hard to think of anyone I could tell without getting myself arrested for child endangerment,” said Griff.

Apparently that was a reassuring thing to say. Weird kid.

“Night,” said Liam, and made himself scarce.

“So,” said Griff, turning to Danni.

She looked proud of herself. “You’re welcome.”

“I would never have come along if I knew you were gonna…”

“I know.”

“I’m not ready to—”

“I know.”

“Did you have to include him?”

“Who else should I trust with your life, Kid?” she sighed.

“You know I’m twenty two, right?”

Danni leaned in, and for a minute Griff thought maybe his adolescent fantasies were going to come to life with a kiss. Instead, she gave him a friendly hug. “You’re doing fine,” she assured him with a reassuring squeeze. “You saved the day.”

“No,” Griff sighed into her neck. “I didn’t.”

“Well, no. You didn’t. But that kid of yours—he’s got a diabolical brain on him. I’m glad someone’s going to be around to keep him on the straight and narrow.”

“And that someone’s going to be me.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” said Danni, pulling back from the hug with a bright smile. “You got anything better to do?”

“You know you’re my hero, right?” Griff blurted out.

Danni gave him a quizzical look.

“I mean, you always were. Not because you paid attention to me, when the others treated me like kid-shaped furniture. You were the one I learned most from. You didn’t have a lot of power, not like Solar or The Dark, but you did so much with what you had—hell, they took the super off you, and you’re still. You know. 100% hero.”

Embarrassed, Griff gave up trying to explain it. “Anyway. That. I wanted you to know.”

Danni’s smile, if possible, grew even brighter. “Yeah,” she said. “Yes, Jay. I know what you mean. I’m my hero too.”

 

9. Brooding on Rooftops

We fought together for two and a half years, and The Dark told me he was proud of me precisely zero times. He told me I did good twice. Usually, if I didn’t screw up, I’d get a pointed nod. It was his version of a thumbs up, only more passive aggressive.

The last time I got one of those nods was three days before the machine was due to retire me. I knew it was coming. Catsuit was on her sixth term, but Buckshot had been replaced by Orbital six months ago, and the machine had already announced the new candidate. It wasn’t a girl. Solar and the Dark had been heroes forever; no one was replacing them. So Orbital was going to be a one term wonder, or we were about to enter a rare era of the sausagefest super team, or—most likely of all—it was my turn to get the chop.

I was fourteen and a half, and had no idea what to do After Superhero. I’d missed a bunch of school, not that I’d been great at school to begin with. I couldn’t go back to the Boys Home—not after being treated like a freaking rockstar in the media for so long. I’d either get my head beaten in, or the kids would stare at me like I was special, and I didn’t know which would be worse.

I wanted to stay. Not as Kid Dark—I was already over being a sidekick. I wanted to be my own hero, not some spin off. I didn’t want to give up my lean acrobat’s muscles—and after two years of growing like a weed I had no idea how much of my body was me and what belonged back in the box.

So I noped out. The Dark and I fought some alien arseholes in an alley, and I took out three of them with a move that Catsuit and I had developed together—we called it the thunderpunch because we’re complete dorks. The Dark cleaned up the rest, and gave me that “well done” nod, the best I could ever hope for.

“Coming back to the Tower?” he asked.

“Nah,” I said. “I’ve got stuff to do first.”

I could feel his suspicion rising, but he chose to trust me. He headed back to the Tower to pull his usual two hour post-battle session of brooding on rooftops.

I got a motel room, dyed my hair brown, and hitched a ride out of the city before morning.

Three days later, the new candidate walked into the Sky Tower, went into the machine, and came out as Mr Mercury. Yeah, the one with wings on his feet.

Part of me thought that maybe I’d have broken it—that the system wouldn’t work because I hadn’t given my powers back. But it all kept rolling on without me. I don’t know what it means. No bloody idea why the machine let me get away with it.

Once or twice I had the strange, stabbing thought that this was the machine trying to make up for how badly it had fucked me over by choosing me in the first place. But that would mean it had a brain in there, instead of a program, and I don’t think I’m ready to believe that.

The media tried to make a thing about how I wasn’t there for the handover, but the Sky Tower support team covered it up—a press release went out claiming that they removed my powers in private because I was underage.

“He looked for you for years,” Danni said recently. Yeah, I bet he did. I spent those years looking over my shoulder, waiting for the heroes to track me down, or the government suits to turn up in their black cars. Surely someone would drag me back to remove my ability to do a triple somersault in the air while punching a bad guy. It’s not like the powers were doing me any favours.

I never meant to keep them forever. I was a kid. I probably just wanted them to notice how badly I was hurting, or some bullshit like that.

No one came. No one found me. I was in the wind. I looked older than I was, so I drifted, picking up casual jobs here and there. I didn’t make it back to Sydney until I was eighteen.

Hedda and Randall were running the home by then—neither of them knew me from the old days. They never linked Ben Griffith, volunteer in need of crash space, with Jay Jupiter, long lost celebrity old boy.

Though maybe they did, because there used to be a Kid Dark poster in the den, and it went discreetly missing after the first few weeks.

Around the time I turned twenty, Jay Jupiter made the papers again, because the machine called him back.

No hero had ever been picked twice—well, not in Australia, there was that bloke from Hawaii who joined the US Wonder Team like four times, but it was rare.

I thought about it. I seriously thought about it. My grand return as an all-new, grownup superhero. His equal. I could do it right this time, go out with a bang.

But it had to be a trap. I still—okay I didn’t use them as much, hadn’t exactly kept up the skills, but when I had to I could swing from a rooftop or leap across an alley. I had more core strength than any other twenty-something dropkick who never exercised had any right to own.

The machine wanted me back, and they said it was to be a hero, but what if it wanted to take away what I stole? So I lay low—Griff lay low and said nothing. When Jay Jupiter didn’t come forward, the machine chose another name.

And that was how my career as a hero ended. For good. Finally. With the quietest, most pathetic whimper you can imagine.

Until all that business happened with Liam and the Villain Machine. Until Catsuit sparkled and punched her way back into my life. That was what started me thinking. Maybe my story wasn’t done yet.

There are lots of ways to be a hero. Right? That’s one of the things that people with parents get told all the time. Lots of ways to do good in the world. So why not me?

—Jay Jupiter: The Kid Dark Story.

 

Everything was quiet. Seriously quiet. The boys were asleep. Hedda and Randall had retired for the night.

Griff went outside, checking for the fourteenth time that the locks and bolts were solid, that each window was secure. That everyone was safe.

He was exhausted, in need of about three days worth of sleep, which was why he stood out on the lawn for about twenty minutes instead, staring at the Super Secret Superhero Clubhouse, and then ran himself through forty minutes of acrobatic drills, just to see if he could.

Yeah. So that was a thing now.

Griff swung himself silently up to the roof when he was done, not even breathing hard (stab of guilt, quickly covered) and found a good position with a view both ways of the street below.

Totally not brooding on rooftops. This was taking sensible safety precautions. Yeah.

“Hey, Kid.” The voice was low, a rough burr of a sound.

Griff managed not to scream like a toddler at a Wiggles concert. “Hey,” he said casually.

The shadow near the TV antenna moved, and of course it was him—The Dark, not even creaking the roof as he made himself visible. “You’re a hard man to find,” he said.

Griff tried not to resent that Danni—or Solar, or Buckshot, one of those interfering bloody heroes had sold him down the river. “I’ve been around,” he said shortly.

Australia’s Deadliest Detective should have been able to find him if he put in the effort.

They sat in sulky silence for like, five minutes. Griff remembered long nights like this, of forcing himself not to talk for endless minutes and hours, but always, always being the first to break.

“I was glad you didn’t come back,” The Dark said, after the silence had turned into something yawning and awkward. “When the machine called you again.”

Ouch. “Way to roll out the welcome mat,” said Griff, unable to restrain his sarcasm.

“Don’t be a dickhead,” said the Dark, and that was familiar enough that Griff wanted to grin, to dance, to do something to celebrate. “I was glad because I figured it meant—you had found something better. Something not worth leaving. Home, love, a job… normal person shit, you know.”

Huh. Griff considered his. At the time, he thought he was making the coward’s choice.

But that was the year Jimbo had come to the Boys Home, so small and wrecked from the loss of his parents. That was the month they’d been working on the local school fair, and the kids had planned their costumes for weeks.

Superhero costumes, of course, because fuck Griff’s life.

He’d been afraid, he’d been a coward, but he’d also been busy. There had been plenty of excuses all backed up, reasons not to set foot out the door.

“I’m going to college,” he blurted out. “TAFE, you know. A couple more credits, I get a diploma in community services work. Maybe look into traineeships.”

“Sounds good,” said The Dark, like he only understood some of the words, but was doing his best to sound supportive. So weird.

“I help out the kids,” Griff went on. Possibly this was the longest conversation they’d ever had about anything that wasn’t battle tactics. “Repairs, mostly, yardwork, cleaning. We made a Clubhouse.”

There was a long, thoughtful pause. “You all right for money?”

Was this a Dad conversation? Was that what was going on here? Griff hadn’t had a Dad since he was seven; he had no idea how this script was supposed to go. His only consolation was that The Dark sounded as lost as he was.

“Yeah,” he said. “I have a casual job down the road, pouring coffee a few shifts a week. They give me free board here, so my expenses aren’t too bad.” Another long pause. “Danni offered me a proper job at her gym. Apparently Girls Only doesn’t apply to staff except a few days a week, and she reckons I’d be okay at self defence training.”

The Dark considered this development. “You going to take it?”

“Nah. I dunno. Maybe.”

The shimmery black cape shifted, and a business card emerged, dropping on to the roof between them.

Griff stared at it. “You have business cards now? Have you got stationery with your cape printed on it, too?”

“You need anything,” said The Dark. “You call. Got it?”

“Sure.” Griff picked up the card, and started to laugh. “You actually have a black business card, that’s hilarious.”

“I remember you used to talk less.”

“Yeah, well I used to be super intimidated by you.”

“And now?”

“Now I want to make fun of your business card some more.”

The Dark made a low growling noise. Something else black fell out of his cape.

Griff stared, because he knew what that was. It was his mask. No, not his mask. It was bigger, differently shaped. But it was still a black domino mask. “I don’t do that any more,” he said clearing his throat awkwardly.

“That’s not what I hear.”

Griff reached out to touch the mask. It was made out of some kind of magical science cloth that curled warmly around his fingers. “I—” he started to say, and then stopped, because what the actual hell?

“Want to go catch some criminals?” asked The Dark. He had the courtesy to sound at least slightly embarrassed by the offer.

“Yeah,” said Griff after a moment, the mask still tangled in his fingers. “Sure. Shit. Why not?”

The Dark took a running jump from a standing start, and his cape billowed around him as he landed perfectly on the slats of the fence on the far side of the garden. There was a wobbly slat, but he didn’t fall.

Griff pulled on the mask, took a short run up, and somersaulted after the superhero. Tomorrow, he’d look into fixing that fence, but tonight?

Tonight, he could do this.

THE END

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