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Rule #1

By J. L. Ender

The first rule for surviving as a superhero? Optimism.

I leapt from one rooftop to the next, using my jet boots to cover the distance. I did my best to land lightly, not wanting to disturb whoever might sleep beneath me.

But that’s kind of hard when chasing a supervillain.

As I leapt across an alley to a taller building, Cloud Queen formed a hammer of solidified cloud and swung at my chest. I fired a rocket from the launcher mounted on my arm. Its flame washed over my metal suit as I finished my leap. Residual cloud gloop clung to my armor as I rolled to a stop on the rooftop.

Cloud Queen floated on a square patch of cloud, tiara slightly askew in her blond tresses. “Steel Fox, just let me have this one. What’s a little-ole priceless artifact between friends?” She waved a small, green dragon in the air. Another stolen statue. Museum thefts were her specialty.

I shrugged. “Theft is theft.”

“You’re adorable.” She rolled her eyes. “Bye!” She floated upward, taunting me to shoot down her cloud, something she knew I couldn’t do.

I kept hoping she’d change, had tried to get through to her, all in vain.

So far, anyway. I wasn’t giving up.

Optimism. Go ahead and try being a superhero without it. Let me know how that goes for you.

Before Cloud Queen got more than a few yards, a glowing figure dropped from the sky. It crashed through the edge of her cloud, causing it to disintegrate into goop and sending Cloud Queen into freefall. I used my suit’s speed and strength to catch her before impact.

The glowing figure walked in a circle around us, becoming two, then four, then eight flashing figures moving with sinewless grace.

Inches away, Cloud Queen flashed me a worried smile. “Um, truce?”

I studied the nightmare images encircling us. Flashmob. An extremely dangerous villain. I set Cloud Queen on the blacktop. “Truce.”

She formed a sword and shield out of cloud and held them in a loose grip. I raised my left forearm, where a laser gun was mounted.

“What’re you doing here, Flashmob?” I hoped we could end this without a battle.

Cloud Queen laughed. “What kind of a name is—”

I gave her a gentle elbow.

“I want the statue,” a crackly voice hissed, seeming to come from all eight glowing specters.

“It’s not a Power-Up,” Cloud Queen replied. “At least, I didn’t think so…” Power-Ups—ancient artifacts that boosted superpowers—were wicked dangerous. I’d have brought backup if I’d thought Cloud Queen had stolen one. “I just need money. You know what they say. Stealing is like Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop!”

I frowned. “I’ve never heard anyone say that.”

“Yes, well, you don’t get out much.”

“Lies!” Flashmob tightened his circle.

I fired my laser. It tore uselessly through the forehead of one specter. As expected. I kept shooting the ghostly images anyway, distracting the villain.

Cloud Queen lengthened her sword into a spear and drove it through one of the glowing figures. Unlike my attack, her spear broke the specter apart. Lightning burst toward us. I stepped forward to protect her, but she blocked the attack herself, shield vanishing after absorbing the blow.

The rest of Flashmob rushed in, too fast for us to fight them all.

Not good.

I grabbed Cloud Queen and raised a foot, stomping hard on the rooftop. We crashed through to the floor below, Flashmob’s crackling silhouettes following. We landed in a vacant storage room. A rack of tools lined one wall.

“Now who’s the vandal?” Cloud Queen smirked, reforming her spear and striking at another specter.

“Your life was in danger!” My suit—insulated against electricity—would protect me. I fired a rocket through the roof, which widened the hole and brought down more debris, but scattered several of the lightning men.

“Aw, I didn’t know you cared.” She patted the cheek of my helmet. “You’re sweet. Naive and dumb as a post, but sweet.”

“Save the chit-chat for the elevator. Let’s get out of here.”

“No thanks. I can fly, sweetie.”

“The only window is kind of occupied.” Flashmob was still trying to send specters down after us, having reformed the first few we’d scattered.

“Elevator it is. And that’s not a window, sweetie. That’s your vandalism.”

I punched the button for the elevator. Through metal doors, I heard the sound of machinery squealing.

We stepped inside, specters blocked by the closing door. Some sort of jazzy music piped up. I pressed the G button. The lights flickered as we descended at a pace that would make a snail proud.

“I hate elevators,” I muttered.

“Me too.” Cloud Queen pressed the button for the next floor down. The doors rumbled open and she left, waving cheerfully as she stepped into a hallway full of doors.

I saluted, pocketing the little dragon statue I’d nabbed during the chase.

As the elevator doors closed, Flashmob appeared in a circle around me again. I glanced up. He’d opened the escape hatch.

“Cloud Queen!” I called as the elevator descended. “Pack the elevator!”

“With you inside it?” came the faint reply.

“I’ll be fine. Do it!”

The elevator filled with solidified cloud. All eight of Flashmob’s specters were destroyed. He was beaten, at least for now. He’d be too overwhelmed to attack again anytime soon.

“Okay, stop!” I yelled, goo pressing me against the wall.

The elevator hit the ground floor as the doors blew out, hurtling me across the building’s lobby in a wave of storm-gray gunk. I landed on the tile floor, artificial lights dazzling my eyes. I was stuck like a fly in a web.

Cloud Queen appeared above me. She smiled, then dropped to a crouch, rising with the dragon statue in hand.

“You had to see this coming.” She turned, leaving me temporarily trapped.

I had. I’d just been hoping I was wrong.


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J.L. Ender‘s first published novel, Portal World, is available now. He has also released several short stories, including The Rocket Game and The Meek Shall Inherit. His new superhero series, Steel Fox Investigations, will begin January 2020. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, a dispatcher, and a phone operator. He lives in Ohio with his dog Bear.

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9 comments - Join the conversation


  • “You know what they say. Stealing is like Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop!”

    “I’ve never heard anyone say that.”

    “Yes, well, you don’t get out much.”

    –> Ha! I love it (and the rest of the dialogue throughout the story)

  • Ha! This was great. Loved the banter and the “enemy’s enemy is your friend” scenario. And a nice look at the reason for a hero’s endless – and occasionally obnoxious – optimism. Super job!

  • I love the banter between the “best enemies.” It’s a refreshing change for a superhero story these days.

  • As someone who is currently reading Steel Fox, I loved this. :D idk, maybe it will have spoiled something for me in the books, but that’s okay. Really enjoyed seeing the world I’m experiencing in novel form now in flash form. Can’t wait to read the rest of Fox’s story :) and Cloud Queen is fantastic. Love the banter, love her power, love her name.

  • O P T I M I S M
    Lol, loved this!
    Also, this:

    ” I frowned. “I’ve never heard anyone say that.”
    “Yes, well, you don’t get out much.” ”

    …this is…Like…I feel personally called out here XD

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