First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
Dave took three days off from work—not voluntarily, but because his entire chain of superiors insisted he needed time to rest and recover. A good idea in theory but awful in reality. Dave loafed around his apartment with no direction and no focus. He tried reading a few things but didn’t make it past the first chapter before tossing the books back onto his shelves. The TV couldn’t hold his attention, and when he’d turned to model-building (a hobby he’d picked up as a teenager to challenge his control of his strength), he’d crushed the tiny plastic ship pieces in his frustrated grip.
He didn’t get a single full night’s sleep. But nightmares weren’t surprising. It would be stranger if he didn’t have them. It didn’t mean he needed professional help.
Finally going back into the office was a relief. Walter might not have approved him for active duty yet, but that didn’t mean there weren’t reports to write, meetings to attend, and papers to sign. It would be nice to be busy, not to mention having people to talk to. Or so he had thought. Once he walked through the doors, it was a different story.
Everyone knew he’d been held captive, of course—unless they’d somehow managed to avoid all TVs, radios, and newspapers for the past five days. Much fewer people should have known the details of what had happened to him, but the way everyone stared made him feel as if they’d watched the whole ordeal in technicolor. He didn’t know which was worse: the people who dropped what they were doing to rush to his desk and tell him how glad they were that he was back, or the ones who completely avoided the issue and talked to him awkwardly about sports or the weather.
That would have been bad enough, but then he found out he wasn’t even getting out of parade duty.
“You’re kidding,” he said, standing in Walter’s office. The papers and files on Walter’s desk had grown so out of control that a small side table had been rolled up to help support them all. The day that Dave had been missing must have been complete and utter turmoil, and he felt a momentary wave of guilt for giving Walter such a hard time after he’d done so much to bring Dave back.
“Afraid not,” Walter said, serene in the face of Dave’s bad mood.
“Does that mean you’re clearing me for active duty?”
“This is fluff. It’s not active duty unless someone starts shooting at you.”
Dave couldn’t stop a grimace. “This is worse than getting shot at. And I thought I needed time to ‘recover psychologically.’ Aren’t you afraid I’ll have a mental breakdown on live television?”
“Not my call. Apparently the public needs to be reassured of your well-being or some other crap. You think you’re mad? I’ve got a top secret security clearance and still have to take orders from the tools in PR.”
Dave didn’t say anything. Arguing with the PR department was an exercise in futility.
“You’ve got a short interview before the parade starts.” Walter shuffled through a stack of papers for a few seconds before pulling one out and handing it to Dave. “The list of questions the reporter’s supposed to ask. Meeting at three to go over your answers.”
Great. Dave turned to leave.
“One more thing,” Walter said. This time, he handed Dave a whole folder of papers. The way he made deliberate eye-contact while doing so was a neon warning sign. “A list of DSA psychiatrists.”
“Pick one, or I’ll pick for you.”
His tone was final. This time, Dave really was dismissed.
When Dave got back to his own desk, he slumped into his chair. The list of questions, he set down in front of him. The list of psychiatrists, he tossed in the trash. All around the room, phones were ringing, keyboards clicking, and people walked busily back and forth. Dave had thought the crowd and noise would be better than his lonely apartment, but now he wasn’t so sure. He felt oddly exhausted.
“Parade duty?” Harris asked knowingly.
Harris’s desk was right next to Dave’s, and the border between them was a warzone. On busy days, papers were always spilling over onto the other’s desk, until Harris had grabbed some Supersonic action figures from Merchandising and set them up along the line as guards. Dave had retaliated by knocking them all over while Harris was gone and leaving a single White Knight figure to stand triumphantly among their fallen bodies. That had only escalated things as far as Harris was concerned, and the two of them staged miniature battles when they weren’t busy.
It was a testament to how worried Harris must have been that he still hadn’t touched last week’s arrangement. White Knight stood unmolested next to Dave’s computer, while all the Supersonics had been shoved head-first into Harris’s pen holder, their tiny booted feet sticking up amid the pen caps.
“Hope it doesn’t rain again this year,” Harris said.
Moreen’s desk was across from Dave’s, and she dropped into her seat like a bomb.
“You coming to the parade?” Dave asked.
“Can’t. Broken arm.” She gripped her computer’s mouse with her left hand and maneuvered it awkwardly.
Harris leaned back in his chair. “That’s the same excuse you used to get out of putting new paper in the printer earlier.”
“And I’ll keep using it as long as it keeps working,” she said, absorbed in her computer screen.
“How long until you’re back in the field?” Dave asked.
An expression flickered across her face faster than Dave could process the emotion behind it. “The cast should come off in a few months. I…” She closed her mouth then started again. “I don’t know if I’ll be going back to field duty.”
Dave jerked up straighter, his chair rolling forward. “What? Is your arm that bad?”
“No.” She let go of her mouse, giving up the pretense of working. “I’m just reevaluating things. I’m not exactly the greatest field agent, you know.”
“What are you talking about? You’re amazing.”
“You’re freaking terrifying,” Harris agreed.
Moreen looked between the two of them with a sad half-smile. “Giordano kicked my ass. The yakuza would have killed me in Seattle if the Illusionist hadn’t been there. The Black Valentine mind-controlled me into releasing a prisoner. And let’s not forget how I barely survived Pretty Boy Jeffries.”
“Yeah, but…” Harris tried. “But that’s not bad, considering you don’t have any powers.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I should leave it to those of you who do.”
She started typing with her left hand, indicating she was done with the conversation. Harris gave Dave a helpless look before going back to his own work. Dave gazed at Moreen across the desks, feeling like the floor had just been taken out from under him.
“I don’t know how long I’d last without you to watch my back,” he said.
Moreen’s eyes flicked in his direction before returning to her computer screen.
Poor Moreen. 😦 Even the best of us get low self-esteem sometimes.
I’m happy to report that I’ve finished revisions on Almost Invincible and have sent it off to my beta reader! Less than 2 months before it hits Amazon. Can’t wait!
In other milestones, I’ve been posting this serial for over a year now. Can you believe it? It feels like just yesterday Val was drinking her smoothie and breaking Jean-Baptiste out of police custody. Happy one-year anniversary, you lovely super-people!
If you found Fight Crime! (A Love Story) from its page on Web Fiction Guide or Muse’s Success, please consider leaving a review/rating/recommendation to help other people find the serial and start reading.
We’re back to Val next week. See you on Monday!