This is my stop during the blog tour for Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon. This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 15 till 31 December, you can view the complete tour schedule on the website of Lola’s Blog Tours: http://lolasblogtours.net/blog-tour-wearing-the-cape-by- marion-g-harmon/
by Marion G. Harmon
Genre: Superheroes/ Urban Fantasy
Age category: Older Young Adult/ New Adult
Who wants to be a superhero?
Hope did, but she grew out of it. Which made her superhuman breakthrough in the Ashland Bombing, just before starting her freshman year at the University of Chicago, more than a little ironic. And now she has some decisions to make. Given the code-name “Astra” and invited to join the Sentinels, Chicago’s premier super-team, will she take up the cape and mask and become a career superhero? Or will she get a handle on her new powers (super-strength has some serious drawbacks) and then get on with her life-plan?
In a world where superheroes join unions and have agents, and the strongest and most photogenic ones become literal supercelebrities, the temptation to become a cape is strong. But the price can be high—especially if you’re “outed” and lose the shield of your secret identity. Becoming a sidekick puts the decision off for awhile, but Hope’s life is further complicated when The Teatime Anarchist, the supervillain responsible for the Ashland Bombing, takes an interest in her. Apparently as Astra, Hope is supposed to save the world. Or at least a significant part of it.
First off let me just say, I love Superhero stuff. DC, Marvel, all of it. (Although I’m a DC girl myself) I watch anything that even remotely says Super Powered anything but I’ve never read a book about superheroes. Magic? sure. supernatural/fantasy stuff? hell yeah but this was my first foray into reading a book about one of my favorite things to talk about at 3 am with my sisters. Needless to say I was super excited when I saw this book was up for review as part of Lola’s blog tours. I jumped at the chance to read Marion G. Harmon’s first two books of the Wearing the Cape series and he did not disappoint!
Real life meets Superheroes set in Chicago! so you know the skepticism will be high! and I loved that aspect!
Hope/Astra is the heroine of the story and I’m happy to say that although this is a YA novel, there was very little whining and overall bratty behavior by the main protagonist. THANK GOODNESS! I’m so over that trope! Hope has all the usual super powers, strength, flying etc but tons of the other Supers are very exciting to read about. like the Mormon one! LOL
I loved this book because it was kind of like the Impossibles inspired world which intrigued me greatly. The fact that some superheroes used their gifts for profit was a nod to the realistic elements which I approved of.
Wearing the Cape is a fun and entertaining read with a fantastic balance between pragmatic world building and awe inspiring fantasy!
You can find Wearing the Cape on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12345083-wearing-the-cap
You can buy Wearing the Cape here:
Read the first 13 chapters for free here:
By Marion G. Harmon
Genre: Superheroes/ Urban Fantasy
Age category: Older Young Adult/ New Adult
It was supposed to be a working vacation…
For Jacky Bouchard (aka, Artemis: vampire, former night-stalking dark avenger, and reluctant superhero), a trip to the Big Easy was a chance to solidify her new Bouchard identity, meet the grandmother she didn’t know she had, and do a favor for the New Orleans Police Department by helping them keep an eye on their local vampires.
Watching a bunch of fashion-obsessed goths with fangs should have been easy, but now she’s dressing in black and sleeping in a coffin even though living the whole Fiend of The Night stereotype makes her want to vomit. And for someone working undercover, she is getting attacked a lot. When Jacky learns that a master vampire capable of siring progeny with his blood (an urban myth—vampires don’t reproduce that way) may be haunting New Orleans, she decides to go hunting. But the streets of the French Quarter are dangerous when you don’t know who is hunting you, and Jacky finds herself in trouble up to her neck and needing all the help she can get…
I was definitely eager to read, Marion G Harmon’s Bite Me since I love a snarky female protagonist. and I was desperate for a strong female character who happened to be a vampire in YA novels. Well Jackey Bouchard is right on the button. I loved that she had both Creole and Cajun heritage so her ties to New Orleans heralded back for generations upon generations. I truly appreciated the diversity when usually most YA novels ignore that aspect of things especially in a place as fluid and interweaving as New Orleans. Artemis/Jacky’s got a little Kate Daniels from the Magic Bites series about her and I really dig that. I love a tough cookie and she overcame such a horrific situation like a champ even though she still suffers the after effects. I appreciated the fact that although she was now a vampire, that didn’t automatically mean she forgot about her humanity and all the advantages and disadvantages that comes with that.
Another great book in the Wearing Cape Series. Everyone should read them!!
You can find Bite Me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16053522-bite-me
You can buy Bite Me here:
Check out these Excerpts from all FOUR books in this fabulous Series
Cape (plural capes): literally, a sleeveless garment hanging from the neck over the back and shoulders; figuratively, a superhuman who has chosen to act as a superhero. Synonyms: hero, mask, super, superhero. Connotations: ‘cape’ is used as both a familiar and derogatory term for superheroes, who often casually refer to themselves as capes but generally consider it a demeaning term when applied to them by the press.
Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans
I was driving east on the Eisenhower Expressway when the Teatime Anarchist dropped the Ashland Avenue overpass on top of me, using enough C4 to bring the whole southbound span down at once.
My day had started normally enough. I gulped coffee and grabbed scorched toast, exchanging kisses with Mom on the way out the door. The September chill nipped around the edges of my coat and at my legs, making me glad I’d worn tights under my skirt. Driving one-handed, I scanned my schedule with the other: I’d be playing Mom’s Girl Friday at the gallery, getting ready for Thursday night’s foundation event. Julie had texted; she planned for us to take the University of Chicago by storm our first year, and wanted us ready by Orientation Week. We’d ruled Oak Park High till graduation, and she didn’t see any reason our college years should be different.
I passed a gray Suburban and the red headed munchkin in the back seat waved at me while her mom talked business on her hands-free cell. I stuck out my tongue, making her laugh, and my epad launched into Julie’s new call theme: the U of C fight-song. Wave the flag of old Chicago—
Overhead explosions shattered my thoughts and I looked up to see blooms of blasted concrete and falling bridge. I screamed and ducked, lost control. The car slid. A flash of yellow and I hit something hard. I screamed again at the second, world-ending shock as falling roadway flattened my car. The tires blew. The buckled roof hit my head and flying glass stung my face as my vision exploded in fireworks. Choking off the scream, I found myself lying stretched across the front seat, the gearshift digging into my stomach, in smothering darkness. I tasted blood on my tongue.
Alive. I was alive.
The car roof pushed down, inches above my head as I lay there in the dark, my seat belt cutting off my air. Lightheaded, clawing blindly, I unbuckled but still couldn’t breathe without choking. Cement dust. Pulling my coat open I yanked my sweater up, taking shallow, sobbing breaths through the wool and fighting to think around the rising fear.
Twisting around, I cautiously felt my legs, wiggled toes. Nothing broken? Emergency kit under seat (thanks Dad!). Pen light—I almost wept with relief. Broken epad, damn it. Still, breathing okay, not bleeding out. Help. Help would come.
But would it come in time?
What about the munchkin and her mom? Were they under the road now? Could they wait, if they were alive? I choked on panic as thick as the dust. I had to get out. I had to know. They had to be alive.
Gasping, pulse pounding, I pushed against the roof above me and felt something deep inside me change. Cold fire ran through my bones. I shrieked and my next breath filled me with the whole world. Tearing through the crushed roof of my car, I heaved aside the chunk of roadway above my head as easily as clearing cheap drywall, stood, blinking at the disaster around me, and saw what had saved me; I’d slid into a huge earth moving machine traveling in the next lane and it shielded me. Around us, cars had fallen with the span and lay broken among shattered chunks of road and twisted steel frame. Dust-clogged air carried the smell of spilled oil and gas, the first bite of burning rubber. A white sedan screeched to a sliding stop at the north end of the broken bridge. The world went far, far away as I looked at my shaking hands, unable to believe what I’d just done.
Oh God. Oh God.
I pushed the screaming panic down. Okay. Deal now, freak later.
I started digging.
Anne Rice sucks. Lord Byron, Bram Stoker, all the rest too. Before they got hold of the horrible legends and turned an unclean spirit possessing a decomposing body into a freaking romantic hero, nobody anywhere thought vampires were nifty.
An unhealthy obsession with bloodsuckers wasn’t a problem before the Event. Sure, there were a few delusional psychotics who believed they were nosferatu, and a subset of goth culture that wore fangs with their Victorian lace, but what’s the harm? Except for the psychos, I mean. Today it’s a whole different story.
Jacky Bouchard, The Artemis Files.
It had become a mantra, and I repeated it as I watched the fang-action across the room. I’d been haunting Sable’s for weeks, and the scene Sable and “Evangeline” were putting on was depressingly familiar. She stood beside his chair (throne, really), all blonde curls and lace over crinoline, while he sipped at her wrist and she shivered deliciously. The rest of his court watched him with greedy eyes. I sipped my Coke and ignored the sad hopefuls watching me.
God. One more night.
The windows open to New Orleans’ warm and damp spring night didn’t help, and the sweaty crowd around me made me glad I didn’t have to breathe. A deal’s a deal, I reminded myself again. Sable had “requested” my presence in his house three nights a week; in return, he left me alone when I hunted in the French Quarter. Speaking of hunting, it had been long enough between bites that the bodies around me were looking less like people and more like Happy Meals. Time to work.
Looking around for a likely suspect, I caught the eye of a kid with a face full of freckles under bad makeup and a mop of unevenly dyed raven hair. Without lowering my glass, I pointed at the door with my pinky finger and started moving that way myself. He blanched and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, but he pushed his way out of the crowd and met me in the doorway. Envious stares followed him.
“I don’t do public fang,” I whispered in his ear, and jerked my head for him to follow me. Down the hall from the crowded parlor was a study where nobody would interrupt us. I took his hand and he flinched a little at my cool grip, but then he squeezed. I almost sighed.
A single red-tasseled table lamp lit the study; Sable liked it dim and probably didn’t have a sixty-watt bulb in the house. I sat down on the velvet-upholstered loveseat, straightened my skirts, and patted the cushion beside me.
“I.D.?” I kept my voice low. He looked blank and now I did sigh. “You don’t expect me to risk entrapment, do you?”
“Oh, yeah.” He nodded eagerly and pulled out his wallet to hand me his driver’s license. I held it up. It looked real enough and declared he was Steve Jansen, eighteen, but I took a picture of it with the camera hidden in my bloodstone cameo broach anyway, then sat demurely while he put it away.
“Na— Yeah.” He blushed, and suddenly I didn’t have the patience for it. I reached across his lap and took his right hand, pulled it gently towards me, and locked eyes with him.
“It’s easy.” I put influence into my words and felt him relax under the suggestion. Drawing his hand around my waist made him lean across me. A polite, or at least cautious, boy, he braced against the loveseat so he wasn’t lying across my frill-covered chest. The move put his head at an angle, neck in front of me, and despite my influence his Adam’s apple bounced again. I added more influence to a gentle “shhh,” and watched his pupils dilate till his irises practically disappeared. The pulse in his neck slowed along with his breathing, and when he was ready I leaned forward, opening my mouth.
Just a touch of my teeth and his blood flowed, electric copper on my tongue. I wrapped my arms around his waist as he went boneless, made a seal with my lips, and started counting. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… At thirty I stopped the flow with a lick. He didn’t twitch, and I laughed lightly—mood improved as always by the spike of heat in my veins.
“Breathe,” I said, and he took a deep convulsive lungful. Pushing him upright, I patted his shoulder. “Hold still.” Pulling a handkerchief from my skirt pocket, I wiped away the two little spots of blood left behind before applying it to my own lips. Standing up, I pulled him up with me and over to the door. I waited, holding his hands; there was no way I was letting him out into the crowd in his current state—people could play cruel jokes on someone who’d just been vamped.
When his pupils started to contract I kissed him on the cheek. Putting all the influence I could into it, I whispered “Goodnight Steve, now go home and don’t come back,” and pushed him out the door. He went straight down the hall without looking back, walking fast and without answering any of the calls sent his way. Two shakes and he was past Sable’s looming doorman and out the front door. Obviously the suggestion had taken, at least for now.
I shut the parlor door firmly and put my back to it before reaching into my skirt and pulling out my earbug. Wiggling it into my ear, I pushed off and headed for the second, outside door—the other reason I’d chosen the study.
“I am so out of here.”
“Roger that, Night Hunter,” Paul said. “I’m parked three blocks south.”
Before the Event, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, and biological, remained beyond the reach of terrorist organizations. Terrorist attacks by individuals, although explosive-enhanced, could only be perpetrated against soft targets.
The Event has changed everything; now super-terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere, and even assault or stand off conventional military forces. Worse, Verne-type superhumans are often capable of making more exotic weapons of terror. Some, particularly of the save-the-world ecoterrorist flavor, are highly motivated to do just that. A perfect example is the Godzilla Plague.
Sir Arthur Moore, War in the Heroic Age
“Nuts!” I swore when the godzilla came over the harbor wall.
Beside me the Bees watched it pull itself up, their eyes wide as saucers. Lake water poured off of its sides.
Then Megan snickered. “Nuts? Is that seriously the best you’ve got?”
That—and the screaming crowd—broke the spell for Julie and Annabeth. It was a beautiful spring day and I’d had no duties, so all three Bees had dragged me to Navy Pier for Chicago’s first warm weekend. Things were getting better, but after the last four awful months they were still in “Don’t let Hope mope” mode.
So of course it was our turn.
The creature splashed into the harbor, rocking ships as it half-swam, half-waded towards the pier. The Bees clustered in around me as the rest of the weekend crowd turned into a fleeing mob. News-footage of the other attacks hadn’t really prepared me for how big it was; fumbling in my bag for my earbug, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
“Hope?” Shelly queried when I got the earbug in.
“I’m on the pier!” I responded, reaching out to grab Annabeth when a rude man and his date shoved her out of their way.
“You’re there? Cameras just caught it—how fast is it coming?” My Best Friend Forever and Dispatch wingman, Shelly sounded calmer than I was.
“Not fast, but—” Behind me the park music died. Looking back, I saw the Ferris wheel jerk to a halt, cars swinging. My earbug snarled and popped, but—thank God—didn’t die too. “The critter’s electromagnetic pulse field is working, just like the ones that hit Tokyo and New York!”
“Is there somewhere you can change?” Lei Zi broke in, cool as ice. I looked around.
“We’re outside the Grand Ballroom, and I don’t have my Astra costume under my shorts—I’m not Clark Kent!”
“Rush is bringing your gear to you. Find somewhere private.”
I relayed her message and Julie pointed to an abandoned kiosk. “There!” she yelled, and I pushed for it through the mob as the Bees hung onto me. We reached it and I started stripping; I didn’t like Rush, but I had faith in him. The Bees formed a human curtain, blocking the sight of anyone coming around the kiosk, and Rush arrived in a blur of red motion. He thrust a black bundle into my hands.
“Gottagocheckthebuildings, makesurenobody’s leftbehind!” he said, pausing long enough to wink at Julie before disappearing. Kicking my shoes away, I finished pulling off my summer shorts and top, thankful again for my decision not to update to the spandex and pleather bodysuit Andrew had designed for me. Even done completely in black, my classic high necked, long armed, micro skirted costume still made me look like a figure skater in a cape, but it was easy to get into.
Except for the half-mask and attached wig; when I turned around Julie gave the mask a straightening tug before grabbing my discarded stuff. A roar of ear splitting decibels filled the air and the pier shook. “Time to run screaming,” she said. Annabeth gave me a quick hug. “Wax its ass,” Megan snarked, and they ran for it, racing down the pier after the retreating crowd.
I watched them run before launching myself into the air.
“Shelly?” I said. “Keep an eye on them?”
“I’ve already tagged their cellphones—if they stop moving I’ll know. The team is on its way.”
That was the best she could do; I put my worry away and turned to the crisis at hand.
“We’re on an inland lake!” I yelled to be heard over the monster’s roar as I got some altitude. “Tokyo and New York I understand—how did a godzilla get here?”
“The Teatime Anarchist’s future-files say godzillas were dropped as eggs all over both hemispheres from 2003 to 2015, in deep water. Once hatched, they stayed out of sight till reaching their full 300 foot length and laying a few eggs of their own. Then they zeroed in on the nearest source of temperature or pollution spikes in the area. It’s probably attracted to the runoff from the Chicago River and the heat pollution from the nuclear plant.”
“You think?” No cars moved in the streets as I looked down—engines killed by the EM pulse.
“Every other cape in town is on their way. The police are responding with their EMP-hardened unit, but it’s going to take time to get it together and out to the pier.”
“They should have invested in some airlift!” I looped around and came in low, mindful of its primary reported weapon: a jet of high-temperature hydrogen plasma.
“Leaping lizards,” Shelly whispered.
The monster heaved itself onto Lakeview Terrace at the end of the pier. It looked like someone had asked the wizards of Hollywood to make a “thunder lizard,” and they’d delivered by slapping a T-Rex and an alligator together and inflating it to impossible size. Scales colored shades of green, it looked really striking. If you got past its teeth. Its big, big teeth.
“Mal! Dude! Look at this!” Tony nudged me hard for the third time, eyes glued to his epad.
“Malcolm Scott!” Mr. Winfield called, going down his list.
Ignoring Tony, I raised my hand. “Here.” Winfield didn’t even raise his eyes to look; he’d stopped looking at anybody years ago, which made it easy to ditch his class — just get a “friend” to answer to your name, he didn’t even have to disguise his voice. Sophomore year, I’d been as many as three kids a day in his class, until I got onto the wrestling team and was able to shrug off those kinds of friends.
“Tina Halls! Rachel Kerry!”
Even out here, standing in the middle of the soccer field in our designated “homeroom station” for what had to be the third Emergency Evacuation Drill since school started, Winfield acted like he talked to disembodied voices. At least the Emergency Class Monitors — Doug Lee and Tiffany Bright this fall, poor guys — were checking the same lists. Tiffany held one of the class’s two emergency phones, the ones they were supposed to call us on to tell us where to go or if the drill was over, in a death-grip. I wanted to tell her to lighten up.
I pushed my fists deeper into my pockets. A varsity jacket was good for two things: putting you out of range of the bullies and keeping you warm, and fall was coming early this year. The field hadn’t had time to warm up yet, and I wondered how long they’d keep us out here chilling until they decided the drill was over.
Dude, she’s standing right beside you.
“Mal, will you freaking look at this?” Tony shoved the epad in my face, almost dancing. “Not. A. Drill!” I pulled my hands out and managed to grab the pad before he dropped it. It would have been okay in the grass, but he was enough of a spazz he’d probably have stepped on it.
He had it set to Powernet; not a shock — he wasn’t a supergeek, but only because they were the worst kind of geeks and he wasn’t interested in getting beat on or hazed every other school day. The pad showed a streaming video identified as news helicopter footage.
The Sentinels and every Guardian team in Chicagoland were fighting a bunch of trees.
The information bar scrolled team stats and facts, going on about how Riptide had obviously leveled up — he’d never shown the ability to use his water jets to cut before.
“Dude, it’s at the municipal airport! No wonder they’ve got us out here!” Tony took the pad back, keeping it tilted so I could see, and we watched mutant trees waste a bunch of connected buildings the infobar said was the Chicago Executive Airport terminal, the place rich guys kept their jets. The capes kept working the edges, like they were trying to trim a hedge growing faster than you could cut. They blasted trees, smashed them, sliced them, and the bar kept referring back to Riptide’s new attack style. Trees are eating the airport and that’s their priority?
“That is one bad-ass Crip,” Tony said admiringly. He had more than just my attention now, and we became the center of a crowd as half the class tried to look or asked what we were watching; nothing like this ever happened out in the burbs. I smelled lavender, turned, and had to grab Tiffany before she hit the grass.
“Sorry!” she said as if my bumping her was her fault. She got herself straight and flashed me a smile when I let go of her arm. “What’s going on?”
I shrugged, not sure what to do with my hands. “It’s not a drill.”
“Oh, no!” She dropped her clipboard and spun around, looking up like she expected the capes to airdrop right into the soccer field. I bent and scooped the board up from the wet grass, reattached the emergency phone she’d clipped to it, but kept hold of it all as some of the guys laughed. She flushed. Skinny and awkward, Tiff was probably the girl who would bloom into a supermodel after graduating, but guys are dicks and right now it sucked to be her.
“I’ve got to take that to the flagpole,” she explained, ignoring the guys. “Now that everyone’s been counted.”
“So let’s go.” I started off and she skipped to catch up.
“You don’t — Thanks. For back there.”
I shrugged, still walking. “Not a problem.”
“So, do you think they’re going to evacuate us?”
Coming around the side of the school, we watched school buses pulling into the half-circle drive that separated the front parking and the flagpole lawn from the main doors.
“I think that’s a strong maybe.” We crossed between two buses already in line, engines idling while they waited to move up and load, and joined the crowd of students and adults at the flagpole.
Vice Principal Blevins stood at the center of the group, looking at his own clipboard and talking into his phone. He nodded and said something as a packed bus pulled away. The sound of the engines made it impossible for us to hear him, but after all the drills he was probably totally into finally doing it. Tiffany pulled herself up straighter and reached for the clipboard.
“Thanks Mal, I — Wait! The phone!”
Shit. It had come unclipped somewhere. I looked around behind us, spotted it back in the drive. One of the buses we’d passed between had moved up but the other just sat there, and of course the phone lay on the pavement in front of it.
“I’ll get it!” I darted back across the drive.
“No, wait!” Tiffany cried, but I crouched and grabbed it. I turned back to her, heard the engine throttle down, and the lurching bus smacked me to the ground.
Shit. The pain of my head hitting the drive blinded me, but I felt the scrape of the pavement as the bus fender caught my jacket. Blinking my eyes clear as the rolling bus twisted my body into line with it, I saw the right wheel coming at my legs, knew it was going to roll right over me. Panicking, I kicked, the wheel caught my shoe, twisted my foot. My scream went higher than Tiffany’s at the wrenching pain, sharper than any wrestling hold and hot pressure erupted beneath my skin, flared out as I pushed.
The concussive explosion hammered my ears and I barely heard the shriek of wrenched metal, couldn’t see through the blinding flash. I blinked, blinked again, desperately scrubbed my eyes and tried to hear through the ringing. What —
The bus, what was left of it, lay twisted on its side twenty feet away from me — the entire front window buckled and craze-cracked and pushed deep into the cabin with the rest of the front of the bus. Blood painted the webbed glass, dripping onto the drive. Tiffany wouldn’t stop screaming.
The crowd around Blevins added its noise, mute in my ringing ears, and my stomach rolled with a way too familiar nauseating panic. I tried to stand but couldn’t make my legs work. Blevins yelled something, pointing, and two of the campus-cops headed for me, pulling the guns we always teased them about — like they’d shoot kids. I scrambled uselessly backward as heat and pressure flashed through me. I exploded again, and kept exploding.
I rocketed into the air, acceleration squishing me like a thrill ride. Hersey High dropped away under my feet and my ears popped hard as the buildings shrank and the clouds got more personal.
It did. The burning thrust bursting from my bones vanished — and with it the roaring flaring column pushing me up. Now my stomach decided we were falling. Nope, the buried science-geek in me said. We’re just decelerating, coasting to apogee. We’ll be falling in a few seconds.
Awesome — I’d burned through all my adrenaline and my brain had decided that sixty seconds of non-stop terror were enough, so I was going to die calm and sarcastic. I should have been nicer to Tiff —
“Are you done?”
I flailed about my center of gravity. A tiny blonde, a serious sticky mess, lightly swinging a bell-shaped chunk of metal that probably weighed more than I did, hung in the air beside me.
“Because I can give you a lift,” Astra said.
We were doing everything we could, and Mother Nature was still kicking our butts. The high winds, blowing hard enough to weaponize the sleeting rain, kept rescue copters out of the sky unless aerokinetics like Tsuris and his dad Jetstream flew with them to carve out zones of still air. The Ohio River was doing its best to drown Cairo, Mound City, and Paducah, and trying to help the Mississippi laugh at the spillways and floodways to submerge Wickliffe and points south. Even Riptide couldn’t stop that much water; the best he could do was protect rescue boats and find desperate swimmers.
Three weeks of heavy rains dumped into the Mississippi and Ohio watersheds, and we were dealing with more destruction than any supervillain had ever caused with the sole exception of Temblor.
“Astra, is your load stable?” Lei Zi asked through Dispatch. She knew it couldn’t be the wind slowing me down.
“Yes — affirmative,” I responded absently. The US Army engineers had done a good job on the hitches, and I’d turned the 10-ton concrete barrier so it sliced into the wind as I flew. I’d slowed because— There it was again. The pitch black night and nearly horizontal rain cut even my super-duper vision down to less than thirty feet, but a twinkling flash of red light teased the edge of my sight. No-one was supposed to be down there.
I slowed again and dropped lower, so tired I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing. The stacked-up storm fronts that had been soaking seven states had put the whole region on alert as aquifers filled and rivers rose. Three states had begun evacuating low ground last week and the flooded ground beneath me, north of Cairo, was supposed to be clear.
There. A sudden wind shift opened a hole in the rain curtain and brought me another red flash. It moved, flying below me and pulling away now that it had my attention. Lower, I could see the drowned fields where the Mississippi had thrown out a new ribbon across the lower ground, creating a temporary floodway. Someone would get to that, but right now we — the Young Sentinels — were trying to save Cairo.
“Astra, Grendel is ready for the next levee section.”
We’d been working on it since early this morning, me flying in the sections as Grendel prepared the foundation — mostly by hammering iron rods down into the collapsed earth levee to anchor the sections as they arrived. But the light below me was bobbing and weaving, trying to keep my attention like Lassie telling me Timmy had fallen down the well, and I couldn’t just ignore it.
“I’m minutes out. Investigating signals north of town.”
“… Understood. Be quick.” She didn’t sound happy, but possible civilians in the evacuation zone took precedence over a town that had been completely evacuated two days ago.
Dropping till the wall section beneath me skimmed over the flooded fields, I followed the dancing red light. Could I see wings on it? It certainly moved like a bird working hard to fight through the wind. One minute, two, and I spotted the house. A solid building with no trimmings, it looked ready to shrug off tornadoes. Someone had circled it with a sandbag berm, but the sandbags were just a ring in the water now and the low-slung house sat half submerged.
And the roof was crowded, lit up to my infrared sight.
“You’re kidding, right?” Shell popped in to float beside me, rain sleeting through her virtual projection onto my mind’s eye. “They skipped evacuation to stay here with kids?”
Five adults, seven children, and, yes a dog and a cat in a carrier, huddled together under a tarp between storm lanterns.
I slowed, made sure of my load. “Who are they?”
Shell’s abstraction lasted less than a second.
“Based on head count, property and tax records, and the AR-15s and military gear, I’m betting they’re the Carletons and their neighbors down the road, the Stewarts. County sheriff’s report says they were told to evacuate, but wouldn’t believe the government if it told them Sunday was coming.”
I sighed. “Paladins?”
“Nope, just part of a local citizen’s militia.”
That was something, anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t get shot at. I brought us down, dropping the concrete barrier beside the edge of the roof, which caused a few screams. It must have looked like the piece of emergency levee had just flown out of the night to sit down by their house.
I landed on top of it, which put me at roof level. I was probably a more reassuring sight. Half the reason for the colorful costume was so that bystanders would recognize and trust you in any situation (the other half was marketing), and Andrew was experimenting with textured and reflective fabrics. I’d left my armor at home to try out the patterned blue and white one-piece unitard outfit he’d come up with, and even in the storm my star crest glowed like a traffic reflector in the light of the lamps. Of course none of them could see Shell, standing beside me completely unbothered by the storm. She saw no need to cater to reality, so the gusts didn’t stir her hair and the drowning rain didn’t so much as spot her green tank top—which read If you can read this t-shirt you are freaking amazing.
“Hi,” I said.
Shell rolled her eyes. “Great heroic entrance. Way to make a memory.”