I’ve always wanted a sibling. Someone who, when you say, “Oh, yeah. Dad just blew up half of the coastline again,” could answer, “Ugh. He’s the worst.”
But, no. Dad only wanted one kid, one experiment, one—what’s the pet name he always calls me? Oh, yes—apprentice.
Basically, he wanted a glorified sidekick and free child labor.
“I’ve got them this time, Gravitas.” Dad sat in his plotting chair, which was nothing more than a gaming chair in front of various monitors. “There’s no way those imbeciles will escape my trap this time.”
“Wendy,” I muttered.
“What?” Dad swiveled around to look at me, a blank stare on his face.
“My name is Wendy, not Gravitas.”
“Psh.” Dad turned back around. “You need to keep your identity a disguise. Gravitas is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t like it, I have a few more choices—”
“I like Wendy,” I said. “That’s what you and Mom named me.”
“Because we didn’t know what powers you would possess yet.” Dad’s mouth quirked upwards. “If I had, you would have been Gravitas from birth.”
“It sounds like an elephant.” I plopped down and grabbed my portable video game console. I’d already beaten three levels of my RPG before Dad spoke again.
“Ah! Look at this.” He clicked a few buttons until an area in the shipping district appeared. I glanced out of the corner of my eye, but one of the pixelated boys on my screen was currently running low on HP with three enemy turns remaining, so obviously I was distracted.
“Gravitas—” I glared at Dad until he amended, “Wendy. Look. You need to know how to stop this.” He hacked into the cameras until we saw some thugs with masks on. So stereotypical. I had to admit, Dad was generally right when he called people imbeciles. “Drug deal. It looks like some underlings hoping to make it into Hersir’s elite forces.”
“Wonderful.” I groaned, though it had nothing to do with drugs or gangs. My swordsman had fallen to the second attacker, and by the rules of the game, he would not be revived. Permadeath could only be erased one way—by restarting the entire level, which I did with a few clicks.
Stupid rules. Stupid pixelated villains. Stupid real-life villains.
Here, Dad expounded on his theories of how to completely erase Hersir from existence, which I had heard roughly 2.3 billion times before, so I returned to my game. I’d nearly navigated the entire board before I heard Dad say: “Gra—Wendy? I said it’s time to suit up. We’ll take the Spaceship—” Ugh, how pretentious is it to call your souped-up car a spaceship? “—and intercept Hersir’s lackeys before they can escape.”
“Woohoo,” I muttered. “How about we just go out to eat or something after the drug raid? Maybe go to the movies?”
But Dad had already launched himself from the seat, his finger drawing in the air as he sketched out a foolproof, innovative, incredibly detailed plan that I suspected he expected me to memorize as he spouted it off.
I sighed and stopped to tie my laces. If I had a sibling, this would be grounds for a shared eye roll and a synchronized, “ugh, Dad,” comment.
Who would have guessed—Dad and I were able to take down Hersir’s goons easily. I mean, nothing’s really been hard since my powers manifested. All I have to do is heighten gravity on the criminals and down they go. Then Dad swoops in, lecturing them about virtues, how a life of crime never pays, how moronic they are, and how he has more intellect in his pinky finger than they do in their entire brain—blah, blah, blah. It’s exhausting, and I don’t even have to move. I just get out of the car and think about using my powers, and—bam—gravity itself is my pawn.
“Another job well done, Gravitas,” Dad announced as the police threw the last of the reprobates in the back of their squad cars. “But we can’t rest on our laurels.”
There were still residual sparkles of sunlight on him, but the fancy glasses he’d made me filtered them out so he didn’t burn my eyeballs. If, for some reason, my gravity didn’t take someone down, Dad’s—Sunspot’s—ability to burn and blind them with his solar flares would. He was a living legend before I was even an idea in his mind.
If there ever was a moment when he wasn’t plotting everything from my conception to what breakfast I consumed this morning for optimal fuel.
Dad held open the passenger door for me. I glanced up at him as I slid under. “Hey, Dad?”
“Can we pick up some fast food on the way home or something and...I don’t know...just drive around? Put the top down and drive for a bit?”
“Ah!” Dad rubbed his hands together. Little sparks exploded from his palms. “Patrolling! I like the way you think!”
“No, like—” I began, but Dad had already circled the car and was theorizing which streets Hersir’s operations were liable to be most active on. “Not like that,” I grumbled. “Just a ride.”
I slumped in my seat and slammed my door.
I have never been much of a plotter, but that night, I finally understood why Dad might wake up at midnight in a cold sweat, screaming things about his brilliant new schemes for crime-fighting.
Because I had an ingenious idea.
If I had a sibling, I might have been able to run it past them first, work out some kinks, probably even convince them to help me. I’d consumed enough media to know siblings have your back whenever you’re going to do something convoluted and not parental approved. Siblings are also good at talking you down when your ideas are abhorrently awful, but I had nobody. Just this foggy, late-night spark of inspiration that solidified into a terribly perfect plan as I plotted.
I threw on my super-suit, which was Dad’s own design. Besides the sun-repellant glasses, it included a black two-piece getup, complete with purple swirls and flecks of light on them, meant to represent spiral galaxies and the stars. Dad had taken great lengths to not make the ensemble either revealing or too skintight. After all, I was his baby girl, and there was no way he was letting anyone ogle me.
Now I was all dolled up with places to go.
Unfortunately, I was only fifteen, so driving the Spaceship was off-limits.
Which meant I was probably the first superhero in history to ride a bike out of their lair while donned in their full get-up. I mean, no criminal is really going to be intimidated by you if you ride by on a two-speed. What’s the worst you can do, ring your Bell of Justice at them?
Dad had pointed out several new locations for Hersir’s recruitment stops as we’d patrolled earlier. They were always the same: look for the shadiest, sketchiest, raunchiest, or most cliché part of town, and there you could find a Hersir recruiter.
So I pedaled straight down to the club Dad had put on his “watchlist.”
On a bike.
In the middle of the night.
If I had a sibling, they never would have let me do this...alone.
But it was too late to back out. I ditched the bike in the alley next to Club Crusoe. Even from outside, I could feel the music pulsing in my chest. How people could stand this without going deaf was beyond me.
I pushed open the door, and for once, my super-suit wasn’t the stupidest getup in the room. Everyone seemed to have neon paint on, and people were in a variety of clothes...or lack thereof. My personal archenemy—glitter—sprinkled the multi-colored floor while confetti twisted around in the sky.
It looked like a kindergartener had designed this for a class project, and their parent—who was probably high at the time—had thought it was a great idea.
I slunk along the back wall to avoid the revelers. I eyed the back booth, where a man sipped something from a crystal glass and stared at his phone.
In fact, he was so consumed by his screen that he didn’t even notice when I thumped down in front of him.
He startled, and I happened to catch sight of a meme before he locked his phone.
I guess even evil villain henchmen need to get a laugh once in a while.
“You going to invite me to join your cronies now, or after you think I’m sufficiently drunk?” I nodded at his collection of glasses.
Henchman scowled at me. “You can’t even drink apple juice yet, kid. Scram.”
I spread my palms out. “Fair enough. But I don’t think I would really be telling Gravitas to scram.” I stomped my foot—Dad had this thing for dramatic flair, and now seemed like the best time to tap into it—and the man gasped as his face was suddenly plastered to the table. “Anything else you want to say to me?”
His mouth opened, but the only things that came out were a few pathetic wheezes.
“I thought so. Get Hersir on the line.”
I released my gravitational pull a bit so he could sit up.
He growled. “So you’re Gravitas. But why do you think I’m just going to call the boss? So you can make some empty threats?”
I leaned forward on my hands. “Who said anything about threats? No. I’m sick of being one of the good guys.” Dad had taught me all about dramatic pauses. Four seconds is the sweet zone: five is uncomfortable, three isn’t dramatic enough. Four...three...two...one… “I want to join him. And I’ll give you all of Sunspot’s secrets while I’m at it.”
Two things I learned in between meeting Henchman and when he dragged me into Hersir’s apartment: one, power dampening cuffs are really painful and leave bruises behind. Two, being blindfolded makes me car sick.
Hersir stood before a tall window and overlooked the city. He had something in his hands—a stress ball, maybe?—and kept twirling it around. Like the typical cliché villain, he didn’t even glance at Henchman as he said, “Did you make sure there wasn’t a bug on her?”
“He was thorough,” I snapped. “Which means if I ever tell Daddy-dearest, he’ll wish he’d just left that non-existent bug on me.”
Hersir chuckled and turned around. He was a bit younger than I expected. So far, we’d only seen grainy pictures or him masked. This guy was probably in his twenties or thirties at best. “I assume you’re making big talk because you’re terrified of what I may do to you, aren’t you? Since you currently can’t use your powers.”
“I’m leaving these on as a gesture of peace towards you. I want to join your side. I’m sick of being one of the goody-goodies.” I sighed. “Well—actually, I’m just sick of my dad.”
Hersir clucked his tongue and left his perch to circle me. “I see. You’re an angry adolescent out to stick it to the man.”
My face heated a bit. If only I had some of that neon paint on so he couldn’t see my blush. “When you put it like that…”
“It sounds so stereotypical, doesn’t it?”
“Says the villain in his lair.”
“Everyone has to lean into their stereotype sometime.” Hersir tossed his stress ball back and forth. “Can’t have the world knowing our dirty little secrets, can we?”
“Like you’re paranoid and probably have anxiety levels off the charts from your little undercover operation here?” I nodded at his toy.
He caught the ball again and tucked it in his pocket.
“It would be so much easier to just give up a life of crime. Maybe be a deli clerk? I doubt they have assassins chasing after them, unless their subs are just that terrible.”
He ignored me. “How did you expect this to go, Gravitas?”
I shrugged. “You would be so grateful for the information I’m going to bring that you would fall at my feet and accept me as your second-in-command?”
He tilted his head and smirked. “No...I believe you imagined facing Daddy down on the battlefield. You would wound and betray him in the deepest way...only to double-cross me at the last second. You’d capture me and get back in Daddy’s good graces, with him repentant for his treatment of you.”
“What?” My voice cracked. “No.”
“Perhaps you don’t know how I can be so sure of this story. You see, I have powers too. Very useful in my line of work as well.” He leaned in closer to me. I could smell the gum on his breath—it was a new anti-panic gum that was laced with some substance, designed to lower stress levels. “I can tell when someone is lying to me—it’s like your whole body just tells me the truth.” He took a step back. “That was your plan in its entirety. You really just thought you could waltz right in here and I’d accept you.”
I swallowed. “No—really—”
My palms beneath the power dampening cuffs went sweaty. Now would be the perfect time for a sibling to burst in and reveal that they’d been in on the whole thing all along, and together we would take down Hersir.
Stupid Dad for only wanting one stupid kid.
He stuck his hands inside his pockets. “And you don’t have any trackers on you. No, you didn’t want Daddy snooping.” His grin grew wider. “You don’t even have a phone. My, you really were thorough.”
I bit my tongue so not a twitch of my face would betray anything. Not a single teardrop would fall. After all, Dad had trained me in keeping my emotions in check.
“There was only contingency you didn’t plan on.” Hersir clucked his tongue. “That it was a very, very imbecilic idea.”
“To be fair,” I choked out, “I did consider that. Several times. I just tried to tell myself I was being paranoid.”
“Mm. Perhaps you should learn something from me…” Hersir leaned in until his lips were almost on my cheeks, his minty breath right next to my ear. “You can never be too paranoid.”
And that was when the door exploded. Bits of wood and plaster flew everywhere, and I fell straight into Hersir’s chest. We rolled next to a coffee table, where my back thudded against one of the mahogany legs.
The apartment burst into flames, but my glasses protected me from the inferno.
From Dad’s inferno.
“Hersir, get your hands off my daughter.” Dad’s voice boomed across the apartment.
“But—” Hersir coughed as smoke wafted through the apartment. The sprinklers came on, dousing both of us. “She didn’t—I could tell—”
“Gravitas didn’t lie, because she didn’t plan on me being here.” Dad strode through the room, his flames weakening until they were nothing but little sunspots on his outfit. He hoisted me up and burned through the metal of my cuffs. “She didn’t know I put a tracker in her neck when she was an infant, so she could never be kidnapped or held hostage.”
“You’re saying I have something in me—” I began.
“That goes off whenever you’re not within a certain radius of me? Yes, I am saying that.” Dad put his arm around my shoulders. “Call me a bad dad if you want, but I can’t let anything happen to you.”
It was a little excessive, but since the other option meant I would be either a prisoner of Hersir or dead, I decided to not get too upset about it.
Police, other heroes, and even sidekicks burst into the room. Everyone swarmed Hersir, who spewed incoherent threats about his associates and how he would be back. You know, the typical villain diatribe.
Hersir was being arrested, Dad’s sole goal in life...but he pulled me into a corner and hugged me. “Wendy—”
All emotion-training abandoned me at once. I bawled and clung to him, although my words didn’t exactly exude gratefulness. “I can’t believe you put a tracker in me!”
“I can’t believe you would sneak out and try and catch Hersir on your own!”
I sniffled and wiped at my eyes as best I could. “I wasn’t. At all. I—I just thought if I could pretend to be bad, set off all your alarms, side with Hersir…”
Dad pushed me to arm’s length so he could stare at me, his hands on my shoulders. “You mean…”
I dropped my gaze. “I’m sorry. Really. I just…sometimes I don’t want you to be my hero. I just want you to be...Dad.”
Dad swallowed. He was much better at keeping a stony face, but even he had his limits. “If you were unhappy...you could have just said something…”
“I tried. But you kept trying to teach me to save the world!” My voice broke. “How was I supposed to be Wendy when you just wanted me to be Gravitas?”
Dad cupped my cheek. “I’m sorry. This...is my fault. I just wanted you to be the best hero you could be.” He cleared his throat. “I guess it’s kinda cliché of me to say I lost sight of how you were already the best daughter you could be?”
I gave a watery giggle. “Pretty cliché, but...I like it.”
“Good.” Dad pulled me into his embrace again. “Because, at least for a while, I promise the only annoying things you’ll hear from me are bad dad puns and poetry about how you’re the best daughter in the world.” He tapped my nose. “And...maybe it’s time for a vacation.”
I held him close. “Definitely.”
Having a sibling would save me a lot of trouble, but there was one perk to being an only child.
At least I didn’t have to share my dad.