The Midnight Network

Submitted into Contest #48 in response to: Write a story that features a protagonist with an archnemesis.... view prompt

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General

The Silver Bullet dodged left and right between the buildings of his city as he chased the hooded figure on the motorcycle. Even though he was flying more than two hundred feet in the air, he could see every detail in the streets below, from the orange lollipop of the little girl in the stroller to the size medium tag that was sticking out of his target’s jeans. His eyes scanned the upcoming intersection, making sure that no one would get caught in the hooded figure’s path, but the motorcyclist seemed to be pretty careful. He knew he was being followed, and even though he rode quickly, he wove in and out of traffic without causing any cars to swerve into each other or even sound their horns. The Silver Bullet continued to pursue him until the hooded figure finally swerved into a warehouse parking lot, ditched the bike, and ducked inside. 

The Silver Bullet floated down to the warehouse roof and worked his way to one of the windows lining the edges. Peeking inside, he could see nothing but the dark outlines of shelves and stacks of huge crates. He couldn’t help but sigh thinking of the date he had lined up for tonight. Obviously he wouldn’t be going as the Silver Bullet but as Daniel Wegner, his true name, but once again the life of the Silver Bullet would interfere with Daniel’s. He wondered if the hooded figure was really worth crawling through a dark, empty warehouse and missing a date. After all, he really liked Kate and the way she always paid attention to his quirky habits in the office despite never asking too many questions. She always said hi to him when he walked in late (from stopping a bank robbery) and said bye when he left early (to stop a shooting) with a kind smile that made him weak in the knees and hope for a life where the Silver Bullet didn’t have to exist.  But the police thought this guy was part of the Midnight Network, an organization that had been wreaking havoc in the city for years. Despite many of the criminals being caught, their elusive leader, the Nighthawk, had yet to make an appearance. He led from the shadows, talking through multiple people to get even the smallest job done, and his jobs were rarely small. The Silver Bullet hadn’t slept in weeks thinking about ways to lure the Nighthawk into the hands of the police but he was no closer than he was in the beginning. If this hooded figure had any information about the Nighthawk, he figured he could go on countless other dates with Kate so although he wasn’t happy about it, Daniel Wegner texted her that he couldn’t make it tonight and prepared for a long night as the city’s favorite hero, the Silver Bullet.

Ever since waking up with enhanced senses, flying, and a shiny white charming smile ten years ago, he had been the Silver Bullet. He still remembers the rush following his first save, a baby left in a hijacked car. Everything after that had happened so quickly. The mayor tracked him down and delivered a silver super suit as well as a new secret life. He got a flip phone that became the number one speed dial throughout the city until eventually he settled with a sign in the sky like Batman. Life no longer circled around school, friends, and jobs, but bank robberies, political assassinations, and daring rescues. Although the Silver Bullet attended the city’s best parties and sampled the best banquets, Daniel Wegner couldn’t hold a job down and could barely afford dinner. 

So even after all his years of making the city and its citizens his first priority, he still felt like a villain as he sneaked through an unlocked window and began prowling around the warehouse. As he crept through the narrow alleys, he couldn’t help but think about where he’d be with Kate at that moment. Teasing her for missing an easy putt on the mini golf course. Losing the game anyway, and not on purpose. Grabbing hot dogs at a vendor in the street. Sitting in the park, watching the ducks and talking about the office and whether water is wet and every one of life’s secrets. Walking her home and kissing her on the front porch. The dark warehouse served as the perfect backdrop for his colorful imagination, and scenes of his missed date danced in and out of his mind as he searched the warehouse for the hooded figure.

It was no surprise then, when he fell right into the hooded figure’s trap. The lights throughout the warehouse suddenly flashed on, causing the Silver Bullet to see nothing but bright white, and even though his eyes could adjust faster than any normal human’s, it still took him a few seconds before he could see anything and then a couple more before he spotted the hooded figure sitting in an old lawn chair in between two aisles. He sat facing a worn armchair, and before the Silver Bullet could react, the figure gestured for him to take a seat. 

In his ten years of protecting the city, the Silver Bullet had never been caught in a trap before. He wasn’t nervous exactly, but he was slightly curious to see where it would go, so he plopped down in the armchair and glanced at the hooded figure, waiting for him to speak. But before any words could come between them, the figure took off his hood. Right away, the Silver Bullet noticed two things. First of all, the hooded figure was not a dude. And second of all, the hooded figure was Kate. 

“Hey, Daniel,” she said. “This is slightly more exciting than mini golf and dinner, huh?”

“What are you doing here?” he cried out, forgetting that he was supposed to be the Silver Bullet, the city’s hero, their knight in shining armor who was surprised by nothing and prepared for everything.

“Well, I expected a bit more from the Silver Bullet, but if you really need an explanation, I’d love to offer one,” she said smoothly, almost as if they were talking over lunch in the break room. “But first, I made some tea. Would you like some?” He shook his head out of pure stubbornness, but she just shrugged her shoulders as a small girl appeared silently behind her with a steaming cup of tea. It was his favorite, chamomile, and he hated that she knew that. 

“Right now you’re probably wondering if I’ve always known that you were the Silver Bullet,” she began, gently stirring her tea. “Yes. I knew you as the Silver Bullet before I knew you as Daniel Wegner. I only took the job at the office to get to know you better, to know your weaknesses, your soft spots.

“I know how bad this makes me sound. But please understand that even if my job was to spy on you, I learned to like you, and I am genuinely looking forward to playing mini golf with you someday if you’d still like to.” Daniel could only scowl, displeased that he was played so easily and angry that he could fall for someone who only wanted to ruin him. But he sat quietly in his armchair, determined to see if there was a point to her rambling.

“You’ve heard of the Midnight Network?”

He nodded, barely restraining himself from rolling his eyes. The Midnight Network had been in the headlines for years,and as the Silver Bullet, he had met his fair share of its criminals. He couldn’t think of a dumber question to ask. But apparently Kate could and she asked it next. 

“You’ve heard of its leader, the Nighthawk?”

“Of course,” he snapped, but he instantly regretted it. If he could get some information, any information, about the Nighthawk, this whole miserable night would be worth something. He leaned forward, ready to remember every detail she offered, but Kate had stopped talking. She only grinned at him, waiting for him to connect the dots in his head, and finally, he did. Dread filled every ounce of his body as he asked himself how he could be misled so easily, how he could’ve missed so much. 

“You’re the Nighthawk.”

“That I am,” she said and somehow, her grin managed to grow even wider. The day before a smile like that might’ve sent Daniel’s heart beating a million times a minute but tonight there was only an uneasy feeling in his stomach and a haze surrounding his head. He tried to make sense of it all and pull his head out of the clouds before she could start speaking again, but she was still only looking at him, processing his reaction. 

“I still don’t understand,” he said, trying to stall as he pulled himself together. “What do you want from me?”

“You’re a nice guy, Daniel,” she laughed. “But you’re not superhero material.”

Daniel thought it was hard to breathe before but now it felt like a cinder block had been dropped on his chest. His archnemesis, co-worker, and potential girlfriend had voiced the thought that had been crawling around his head for ten years. He wasn’t a good superhero.  But he was a nice guy. It’s almost like getting friendzoned, he thought. But Kate was still talking. 

“Superheros blindly help. They don’t think, they just do. When they see a guy with a ski mask on his head running away from the bank with a sack full of cash, they don’t think, they just stop him. But you think about him, Daniel. You can’t help but wonder why he did it, what made him risk going to jail for a sack full of cash. 

“And that’s the thing that makes you more of the Nighthawk than the Silver Bullet. The Midnight Network doesn’t blindly steal, loot, and riot. We have a purpose. We steal from those who have more money than they know what to do with. We break people out of prison who were in there because they were caught stealing food for their kids to eat. Because they’re better than the parents who pump drugs through their veins to forget their kids and the fact that they sit on street corners begging for food instead of in desks learning how to add fractions. We’re good people trying to do good things in a city that could be good, Daniel. And we want you to join us.”

Daniel couldn’t speak. He couldn’t laugh in her face, couldn’t tell her to go away and leave him out of this, couldn’t argue that she was wrong. Because she was right. About all of it. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he had always wondered about the people sitting on street corners or lining up at the food pantry as he flew past on the way to stop another petty crime. He had always felt bad, thinking that they needed him more than the millionaire needed his luxury car returned, but never knowing what to do. The worst part was that as Kate kept on talking, she just kept on making more sense.

“This city is hurting, Daniel. And even though you have good intentions and you’re trying to help, you’re part of the problem. The rich have you on speed dial for their slightest inconveniences. The police chow down on jelly donuts and tune in to their scanners for play-by-plays of you handling their problems. The mayor hasn’t done anything for this city in ten years but he keeps getting reelected because you keep the citizens happy. While you’re trying to be good and to do good, the city really just needs to be remade. Before there was you, the city prospered well enough on its own. And, Daniel, aren’t you getting tired?” she asked. He slowly lifted his gaze to meet her own, and he could finally admit it, he was tired. 

“I see you running around the office all the time, Daniel, constantly trying to hide the Silver Bullet. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to sit bored at your desk, glancing at the clock every twenty minutes, wondering if it’s five o’clock yet. You deserve to help people whenever and wherever you want, not because some rich guy called you about the missing Poseidon in his statue garden. And more than anything, Daniel, you deserve to go on dates. If not with me, then with some nice girl who will let you take her home afterward but won’t let you in, settling with a good night kiss at the door. You deserve that, if not anything else.”

Daniel thought for a while. He glanced at Kate. And then he thought some more. 

The Midnight Network had a good cause. They might not be going about it the right way, but he agreed with their morals, with their vision for the city. And he liked Kate, the Nighthawk. More importantly, he thought she was right. Finally, he spoke. 

“You’re right,” he said. “I can’t be the Silver Bullet anymore. I was never cut out for it and never will be. I always thought I’d grow into it, that I’d get used to flying to save the day at everyone’s beck and call, but it’s not me. The Midnight Network is more my style. And I want in. I don’t want the boring nine-to-five job and a volunteering gig on the weekends. I want to rebuild this city, from the ground up, and until it will never need the Silver Bullet or any other hero ever again.

“That being said, I have a few conditions. First of all, I need help faking the death of the Silver Bullet. The city can’t move on until he is dead, and I think they could use a cause to rally behind. Something fiery would be awesome, some explosives would be even cooler. Second of all, the Midnight Network focuses less on crime and more on rehabilitation, like programs and plans that get kids back in classrooms and their parents working jobs again. People need to have everything they need to save themselves instead of waiting around for superheroes like me to save the day, and whether they need physical or mental pick-me-ups, they deserve it and they get it. And lastly, I get to work with the Nighthawk.”

“That can definitely be arranged,” the Nighthawk said, smiling, and Daniel wasn’t as uneasy anymore. “The Midnight Network is excited to have you on board, Silver Bullet.”

“Call me Daniel.”

July 02, 2020 18:59

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1 comment

Emily Nghiem
18:26 Sep 27, 2020

Sorry, I'm short on time and just glanced through this very quickly. Upon first impression from skim reading, I would like to see this as a graphic novel. I will read in more depth later after I read your other stories. My impression is your ideas and storytelling lend themselves to collaborating creatively with others. And producing your stories in multiple forms of media. Not just publishing but also graphic novels, like this one could make, and perhaps short films or video series. I hope you would consider gaining experience in other med...

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