Lainey Livingston has just been made a member of the Elite Hands of Justice, the world’s premiere cadre of superheroes. Her work with the Red Knights and the Power Squad was impressive; her apprehension stats are above normal, and her great strength and ability to fly are equally remarkable. But no one gets a free pass to active duty, and Lainey’s next test is going to be her hardest. She’s to train with the Reincarnist.
Robert Elliot, the Reincarnist. A magician who has lived multiple lifetimes, he’s the smartest man in the world—and Lainey’s last obstacle. He was personally responsible for seeing Pushstar wash out. But his eyes are the softest, kindest that Lainey has ever seen, and he’s just the sort to knock her for a loop. Lesson #1: Romantic entanglements among crime fighters are super exploitable, and falling in love with a man who “can’t die” is like waving a red flag at a bull. Especially not when the most fiendish plot ever is about to break over Megalopolis like a wave of fire.
Check back later today for an guest post from A.J. where she tells us why Shomi!
“Phenomenal Girl Five? Doctor Rath will see you now.”
I glanced up at the trim, petite secretary, complete with stereotypical bun and nerdy glasses. I studied her for a moment, trying to figure out who she really was, before her tapping foot and impatient look prompted me into action. I quickly put down the magazine I was pretending to read and stood, smoothing out my white linen skirt, checking to be sure my suit jacket hadn’t slipped and was showing any unnecessary cleavage. Doctor Rath was supposedly old school when it came to heroines – a little T&A went a long way with him. Too much and you were considered a woman of loose morals, and heroines had to have impeccable morals. At least, they did if they wanted to join The Elite Hands of Justice.
Anyone who was anyone was a member of The Elite Hands of Justice. Based in Megolopolis, the EHJ were the superhero team of the country, maybe even the world. They were the team everyone turned to when aliens threatened invasion, villains tried their world-domination schemes, and apocalypse was nigh. Other hero teams might deal with the garden-variety villains and stop a terrorist or two, but it was the EHJ whose pictures were in every newspaper and tabloid. Heroes worked their tails off to even be considered for an interview any time a position came up. I had applied at every chance, endured several pre-interviews, and received numerous “we’ll keep you in mind in the future” letters to finally make it this far – an interview with the big man himself. Rath had been the driving force behind the EHJ for twenty years. Possessing super intelligence, Rath was the perfect man to plan strategies to keep one step ahead of whatever villain wanted to blow up/rule the world that day.
The secretary led me into a large, lush office decorated in the finest minimalist antiques amid computers, holo-screens, and other gray bits of hardware I couldn’t identify offhand, but was pretty sure were so high tech not even the military had access to the designs.
Doctor Rath sat behind an indecently large desk. At sixty-five, he had matured into a distinguished gentleman. He was six feet tall with wide shoulders and a muscular, trim frame, evident through the fine charcoal gray Armani suit he wore. His dark gray hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail, and his eyes were the same dark color.
He consulted the folder in front of him. “Phenomenal Girl Five, correct?”
He motioned to the chair opposite the huge desk. “Please, sit.”
I did, making sure to sit up straight and ladylike, legs crossed demurely at the ankles instead of half underneath me, like I did at home.
“As you know, the Elite Hands of Justice are looking to expand the team,” Rath said, shuffling through papers on his desk and coming up with a file folder. “There has been in a shift in the last couple of years, more and more young teens are showing up with powers. Where it used to be one in every one-hundred thousand people had powers, it has accelerated to one in every ten-thousand. That may not sound like a lot, but when you factor in that there are more than three-hundred million in this country alone…” he trailed off. “We have a lot of policing to do. Not that every one of them is going to turn to a life of crime, or a life of heroics for that matter, but we need to keep an eye out.” He flipped open the folder and studied my PR photo. “This is your costume?” He stabbed a finger down on it, resting on my bustline. I stared at it, unsure if he was doing it on purpose or if his finger just happened to land on the most ample part of my body.
He kept staring at me and I remembered I was supposed to speak. “Yes, sir.”
“A little different than the previous Phenomenal Girls.”
“I am my own person, sir. And the previous costume was a bit impractical.”
“A mini-skirt, halter top, and go-go boots aren’t exactly good for flying, sir.” You couldn’t concentrate on fighting crime when you were constantly worried your breasts were going to pop out of that impractical top or someone was looking up your skirt as you flew by.
He gave a slight nod and gestured back down at my photo. “And this black leather get-up is?”
“Well, it’s slightly more aerodynamic.”
“It doesn’t look much like a costume.”
I stifled an eye roll. Of course he would say that. My male teammates had almost said the same thing. S&M vibe aside, the body hugging black leather pants and vest covered more skin than the costumes of the rest of my female teammates’ combined, and that was not even counting the matching fingerless gloves that stretched up my biceps. The women of our set tended to strut around in outfits that either looked like lingerie or something rejected by a cage dancer. The male contingent liked their women looking like eye-candy. Personally, I never bought into the strategy of surprising criminals by distracting them with cleavage. I wished my costume could be less tight. While still in perfect shape, I had the kind of body that had a little extra padding and without careful monitoring, could easily go to fat.
“Well, the black sets off your blond hair nicely, and gives you a certain look. We want someone memorable to the public.” He eyed the photo and then gave me the same critical stare. “You always wear that much makeup?”
I sighed. Yes, I knew my chosen field was a man’s world, but give me a break. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t see how my love of dark eye makeup and red lipstick has any bearings on whether or not I’d be a good addition to the team.”
Rath seemed a bit taken aback. He stared, mouth hanging open for a moment, then snapped his teeth together with a click and cleared his throat. “Well, er…” He shuffled some papers in the folder and pulled one out. “Your work with the Red Knights and the Power Squad is impressive. Your apprehension stats are beyond average and your power levels are above a seven, which is excellent. Strength and flight, correct?”
He nodded, more to himself than me. “Yes, excellent.” He took out a blue piece of paper and read it aloud in a brisk tone. “Based on your pre-interviews, The Magnificent, White Heat, and Aphrodite have already given their approval for your membership, which only leaves my decision.” He leaned back in his chair and eyed me critically.
I should have kept my big mouth shut. Insulting the boss is not the way to win a job. My heart pounding so fast I was almost sure he could hear it. Still, the EHJ’s three major players had given their approval, and that had to count for something. I sat up straighter in the chair, hands folded neatly in my lap, and tried to look interested, but not over-eager.
When I didn’t wilt under his gaze, he gave me a slight smile. “I think I can okay you for preliminary membership.”
“Thank you, sir.” The words burst out excitedly as I forgot about maintaining my calm, cool expression. “You’ll be pleased with your decision, I guarantee it.”
“Don’t thank me just yet.” He chuckled. “You did read in the contract that you must perform two years of training before you are considered a full member of our roster, correct?”
Okay, so I hadn’t read the contract that thoroughly. My usual pinpoint lawyer mind had instantly started gibbering with excitement and I had barely given it more than a once over. “I think I remember something like that in-between the liability clause and the alias patent agreement,” I said, hoping I sounded confident.
Rath nodded absently, as if the details were no matter, and continued with his orientation speech. “We require all new members to work with The Reincarnist. Tour of duty, they like to call it, be we’ve all done it. I suppose you’ve heard the rumors about him?”
Who hadn’t? “The papers say he’s quite eccentric.”
“You’re being kind. Mad is what the papers say, and there are some on and off our team who would agree. But he’s the smartest man on Earth and no wonder, possessing the intelligence of the ages. Unfortunately, the business of being reborn does have its drawbacks, as he forgets a bit with each new life. However, you’re getting him at a good time. He’s been Robert Elliot for twenty years now, so you won’t have to face working with him at the start of a new life. It’s always hard on those that get him at that age.”
“I thought he was reborn as a young man of twenty, sir, not a baby,” I said, confused.
“Oh, he is, but he’s usually a little confused at first, forgets how the magic works.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, but you won’t have to worry about that. He’s forty, in the best shape of his life, and smart as a whip. I have confidence you’ll get along just fine. Getting training from The Reincarnist really hones your detective skills, always helpful to a hero, as well as your powers. He’s officially on the inactive list, but does special assignments for the team as well as some patrolling of his own sector. You’ll live with him in his house in Covo City – not a hardship, let me tell you. The man is always a billionaire playboy no matter what life he’s in. And this way you can work with him on his assignments.”
I nodded, a growing worry forming in the pit of my stomach as I recalled all of the newspaper articles I had read about The Reincarnist. Pushstar had washed out of the program because of him, and this after years of working with Fantasmo. And Fantasmo was about as nuts as they come. I reminded myself of how long and hard I had been working for this opportunity. Forcing away my doubts, my lips stretched into a smile that I hoped didn’t look as sick as it felt. “Sounds great, sir.”
“I’ll have Gladys work up your papers and clearance level. Have you notified the Power Squad yet?”
I blushed, thinking of the fun that conversation would be. “I didn’t want to count my chickens before they were hatched, sir.” Forget about the fact I had been hired and the team now needed a replacement – Turbyne, our leader, was going to be super pissed I had even gotten a callback interview when his multiple applications to the EHJ hadn’t even garnered so much as a preliminary interview.
Rath seemed to understand. It probably wasn’t the first time a new hire’s old team had sore feelings over their promotion. “I’ll have Aphrodite notify them you are working with us from now on. Your address is correct on your application form?”
“Good, I’ll send someone over to your apartment, pick up your things. We can make arrangements to sublet if necessary.”
“Your training starts today.” He stood. “We’re off to The Reincarnist’s.”
I swallowed hard. God, I hope I’m ready for this.
This book is available from Dorchester October 28, 2008. You can pre-order it here.