Zander Nelson, formerly known as Phantom and a member of a superhero group called the Backup Crew, loses his job and his apartment—due to a bomb—in one afternoon.
He finds refuge with his ex-girlfriend and teammate, Millie Lennet, formerly known as Mule, but her apartment is also torched, and they realize that someone has a vendetta against them.
Searching for clues nets them nothing. Their former leader, Andrew Shorter—AKA Blaster—is missing, and their former teammate, Glen Fooks—AKA Substance Abuse—is dead, courtesy of another bombing.
Zander’s notion of justice is sorely tested, and once he puts the clues together, he realizes that things aren’t so black-and-white anymore. He also realizes that if the real culprit isn’t caught, he and Millie might not live another day.
Tellson City, California. Monday. August eighth. The near future.
An old saying went— “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
It meant that each day was new and fresh, a clean slate, make the most of it, ad infinitum.
Rose-colored though that concept was, reality painted a different picture. My Monday morning had begun at dawn with a brisk weight-training session in my own home gym that consisted of a bench, a bar, and around four hundred pounds of plates. An hour later, I was done. A hot shower followed.
Before getting dressed, I looked at my reflection in the full-length mirror in my living room and tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. Flat abs, broad shoulders, big arms and legs—if I worked out in a gym, the guys there would say I was jacked. Swole. Diesel. Or some other adjective to describe my build…
And then there was my face. It resembled a hatchet with an aquiline nose, small ears, and a mop of dark hair that tended to quickly grow no matter how often I got it cut. Brown eyes completed the picture of blandness.
Whatever. Looks were something I’d never put much stock in. My viewpoint was that if a girl went out with me, it was because of my personality, not how good-looking I was, or in my case, wasn’t. Period. End of.
As I pulled on my jeans and a t-shirt, I glanced at the newspaper clippings pinned to the wall above the mirror. The Backup Crew Cracks Another Case. Blaster And Crew Blast Gang. Winners All!
My old life, part of the Backup Crew. Crimefighters, superheroes…that’s what the newspapers said. Online discussion groups wondered who we were, the police said that we’d usurped their jobs, and the underworld hated us…
Forget it. Those days were gone. I had to earn my living, so I muttered to no one in particular, “Office duty. Make it a good one.”
At eight-forty-five, I wandered into my job as a data processor for Work Right, took my nameplate from my locker—polished it, so that my name, Zander Nelson, stood out—and greeted the morning crew of six other workers in my section. They remained silent, and I immediately got a feeling that something was amiss, but I switched on my computer and got to work.
My suspicions were confirmed when Mr. Tompkins, my boss, ambled over to my desk at precisely nine-fifteen and told me in no uncertain terms that he was going to have to let me go. “Zander, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”
I swiveled around in my chair to ask the most obvious question. “Why?”
“Times are tough. Gotta cut costs…and there’s family to consider.”
Well, at least he didn’t BS me. When he said family, he meant his nephew. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I was four months short of nineteen, the youngest worker there and, therefore, the most expendable. It didn’t matter that my work record was superior to everyone else’s.
In contrast, the nephew was twenty. Tompkins had asked me to show him the ropes, and I’d done so, never expecting that anything negative would happen.
Naivete ruled. Little Nephew was an idiot who didn’t know what a spread sheet was or what programs to use…he couldn’t even type. I showed him what to do—patiently—and the moron still couldn’t get it.
Worse, that maggot was going to get my job. I protested, but the boss wouldn’t hear it. “I’ll pay you tomorrow. You get severance pay—two weeks. Then you’re out.”
I tried not to get upset, but with no job and no means of support, I told my now ex-boss to shove it. “Pay me now. And you can give that useless piece of garbage you call a nephew my position and pray that he can do the same job I do.”
Tompkins didn’t appreciate that at all. His face tightened, giving him the appearance of a mutated kumquat. “You got some mouth on you, Nelson.”
“So what? You just fired me. Pay up.”
I should’ve shut my mouth, but since I was officially jobless, why wait? Perhaps I’d regret it later, but at that point, I went with my feelings.
Tompkins was my height, but he was forty pounds overweight, balding, and middle-aged. He was outclassed, and he knew it. I stood six-one, weighed a solid one-ninety, and as the former sidekick to Captain Blaster, crime fighter extraordinaire—real name, Andrew Shorter—I’d been well-schooled in how to fight.
Those fighting days had ended a year ago, but the skills were still there, itching to get out when the situation demanded it. This situation called for a butt-kicking, and my ex-boss was one comment away from getting one. He knew it, and that made the situation all the more tenuous.
“Fine,” he finally groused. “Come into my office.”
Once paid, I left, enduring the stares of my former co-workers. They weren’t angry, only uncertain, as they could be next. No job was a lock. I walked out the front door and began wandering the streets of the city.
Tellson City had a population of roughly twenty-five thousand, and like most cities, it had its crime elements. It wasn’t a write-off, not yet, but the police force was understaffed, the city managers didn’t do squat to improve things, and the politicians often looked the other way.
“What a joke,” I muttered, and for the umpteenth time, I wondered why I hadn’t joined up with the Cadre, a crime-busting group out of Los Angeles. I’d met them five months ago, going out to LA to have an interview with Wally Whipper, their leader. He’d said that I was welcome to join them at any time.