• “Sofia!!!”

    “Er, yes, ma’am,” said the scrawny, timid looking young woman.

    “Shhh!” said Ms. Brunswick, the Head Librarian, hastily. As Ms. Brunswick whispered at the top of her lungs, her breathy orders pushed the poor girl around like a young tree in a very well disciplined hurricane.

    “These books are not straight,” Ms. Brunswick whispered like a screaming teapot.

    “Sorry, ma’am,” Sofia said.

    “Shhh! Keep your voice down!” continued Ms. Brunswick, “This is a library, not a… a… what the devil do you children do nowadays?”

    “Um, the internet?” Sofia ventured.

    “The internet?” Ms. Brunswick rasped, “You hooligans with your iMusic and your iGames. You keep staring at those tiny screens and you’re going to have iProblems, mark my words!”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Sofia said.

    “Shhh!” said Ms. Brunswick, “Back in my day I would push a wooden hoop down a dirt road with a stick and I was grateful for it.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Sofia said.

    “Shhh!” said Ms. Brunswick, “You have worked here long enough to know the high standards we keep here at The Phoenix City Library. I expect we won’t need to discuss uneven books again. Will we?”

    “No, ma’am,” Sofia said. The books in question seemed even enough to her.

    “Shhh!” snapped Ms. Brunswick, “And another thing, the books are dusty.”

    “Which books, ma’am?” Sofia asked quietly, but not because she was in a library. Mostly because she was terrified of Ms. Brunswick.

    “All of them,” replied Ms. Brunswick as she pointed a feather duster down a seemingly endless field of bookcases fading into the distance. Also, just to add a shiny gloss to Sofia’s dull terror, a fluorescent light blinked ominously in the shadows.

    Sofia sighed, took the feather duster and sulked down the endless aisles of books. As she walked she occasionally paused to absent mindedly wave the duster at a few tomes.

    Outside the library, the Heroes had been waiting for the past six days for Dexter to appear. The Great Kawalski and The Sickly Avenger were waiting in a van across the street watching the scene at the enormous library. The Sickly Avenger was leaning weakly against an electric heater with an ice pack on his head.

    “Well,” said Sickly, “If he doesn’t show today, it will be much more difficult to find him.”

    "Always the optimist, aren't you?” Kawalski asked, “Anyway, he’ll show up for sure today. If you let library fines go for too long the library will actually contact creditors and cause all sorts of trouble. If he wants to stay off the grid, he’ll bring those books back.”

    Kawalski then said into a nearby microphone, “Blind Bat, how do things look at the entrance?”

    Sitting just outside the entrance to the library was blindfolded man in ragged clothes shaking a can containing a few small coins.

    “This is degrading,” the Bat said, “when you said I’d be going undercover I thought you meant as something with a lot of money or a British accent. Anyway, no sign of him yet.”

    “I’m sure the Queen appreciates your sacrifice,” said Kawalski, “Techno Ted, how do things look?”

    Sitting on a bench just near the book return slot was a young man in a business suit holding a briefcase in one hand and talking into a cell phone with the other. He wore a gold watch on each wrist.

    “Righto, Old Chap,” said Techno Ted in his best British accent, “No sign of him yet, but I bloody love this undercover business.”

    “Well, stay sharp,” said Kawalski, “I’m certain he’ll show up today before the library closes at five o’ clock. Make sure you keep your eyes on that alley right near you between the library and the next building. He’ll probably want to get in and out and that alley right near the book return slot is his best angle to approach. Steve, what can you see?”

    Kawalski was answered by static.

    “Steve?” Kawalski repeated, “Steve, come in. Do you copy?”

    On the roof of a nearby building, Kawalski’s voice sounded through an abandoned radio next to an unmanned sniper rifle.

    “He’s probably ok,” Kawalski said assuringly to Sickly, then turned back to the microphone, “Whoosh, are you in position?”

    “Sure am,” said the Whoosh, “ready to pursue the villain if necessary.”

    The Whoosh was standing several miles down that street doing some stretches. The Whoosh typically needed a lot of space to be effective. His only power was super speed. No one really knew how fast he could go because he didn’t possess any other power, like invulnerability, that would allow him to survive the experiment. If he accelerated too fast he could blow out a knee or tear muscles. If he decelerated too fast he could tumble head over heels at near supersonic speed or wear away the bottoms of his feet like skidding car tires. If he ran for too long the air around him would burn him up like a spaceship entering the atmosphere. The faster he runs, the straighter his path needs to be. If he turns too sharp at high speed he could roll an ankle. Also, his path needs to be clear of all objects larger than a seven nanometers in diameter. As it turns out, colliding with a particle of dust at extremely high speed can do quite a bit of damage to human flesh. That includes any high speed physical contact. He can’t grab or touch anything while moving at high speeds or he’ll shatter every bone in his hand. In short, those silly laws of physics ensure that the Whoosh can only reach full speed and be at all useful if he were running on an infinitely long, perfectly flat, straight runway in a vacuum.

    “Good,” said Kawalski, “stay put and wait for my signal. I’ll tell you if the assailant flees and in which direction.”

    “I’m ready, too,” said Xiara from beside Kawalski, “in case you were wondering.”

    “I wasn’t,” said Kawalski, “but I’m glad you got a good night sleep last night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep like that, or at all.”

    “We non-mortals don’t need to sleep at all,” said Xiara, “but the horrific nightmares you often give me are a nice reprieve from what my life has become.”

    “Now that was just unnecessary,” said Kawalski, “what have I ever done to make you so miserable?”

    “Does your mortal mind not grasp the irony of one of this reality’s most powerful beings reduced to a fist-sized stone, bound in service to a glorified stage performer?” said Xiara.

    “Can you two quit bickering for just a moment?” asked Sickly with annoyance in his voice.

    “Glorified stage performer?” gasped Kawalski, “What about you? What kind of physical embodiment of space-time loses at ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’?”

    “It’s called a game of chance for a reason, you overdeveloped monkey,” shouted Xiara, “even the universe itself is subject to chance where no greater mind overrules.”

    “I’m sorry,” said Kawalski tauntingly, “all I hear is ‘My name is Xiara. I’m sad that I’m a loser. Blah, blah, blah.’”

    “You’re right,” said Xiara, “I take back what I said about you being overdeveloped and I’m sorry if I’ve offended any monkeys.”

    “Both of you be quiet,” shouted Sickly, “I think I see something.”

    Outside the van, Techno Ted looked down at his two golden watches, increasingly frustrated that he had forgotten which one told correct time.

    “I wish had I set these things to the same time,” Ted said, “that would make things much easier.”

    “Why do you always get the cool cover identities?” asked the Bat.

    “Because it’s difficult to pretend to be most things when your eyes don’t function,” said Ted.

    “What?” said the Bat, “my eyes work just fine.”

    “I thought you were blind,” said Ted.

    “I am,” the Bat said, removing his blindfold and squinting in the last rays of daylight, “that’s what blindfolds do. They blind you.”

    “You mean you’re not really blind?” asked Ted.

    “Yes, I am,” repeated the Bat, “by virtue of my blindfold.”

    “That doesn’t count,” protested Ted, “we all thought you were blind blind!”

    “It does count,” said the Bat, “The purpose of a blindfold is to blind the wearer. I wear it. Therefore, I am blind!”

    “What good is echolocation if you can see perfectly well?” asked Ted, “Why don’t you just go without the stupid blindfold?”

    “Exactly,” said Ted, “That’s why I wear it!”

    “I can’t believe you lied to us,” Ted shouted.

    “I didn’t lie,” the Bat shouted back, “I never said I was physically blind!”

    “I can’t believe you,” Ted screamed. Suddenly the seams of Ted suit exploded as plates of metal shot down his limbs and over his body. His necktie was torn away as sections of armor whipped out over his skull and covered his face. Ted leapt at the Bat. Rockets in Ted’s feet sent the two of them flying into the foliage a few dozen yards away.

    “You both need to shut up right now,” Sickly screamed at the two bickering heroes beside him in the van.

    “Your game is illogical,” said Xiara bitterly, “when was the last time an unaided piece of paper overcame a rock?”

    Before Kawalski could answer, The Sickly Avenger stood up, grabbed the staff and shoved Xiara into Kawalski’s gaping mouth just as the words were coming out.

    “Shut up,” Sickly roared, “Both of you stop talking this instant and look!”

    Sickly pointed out through the van window at the alley where a dark shape stirred. A tall, sinister looking figure slipped out of the alley and looked both ways. The library was just about to close and there were no patrons in sight. He was sneaking towards the book return slot when Kawalski grabbed the microphone.

    “Dexter Testable has appeared,” he shouted.

    Techno Ted and the Blind Bat stopped wrestling in the bushes and looked up to see Dexter slipping his books into the return slot.

    “Freeze!” the Bat shouted, replacing his blindfold.

    Dexter turned to see the two heroes crouched in the shrubbery several dozen yards away. He turned to run back to the alley.

    “Whoosh,” called Kawalski, “start running now. He appeared at the alley next to the library I showed you before and is trying to go back the same way. Come in at a wide arc to your left and you should be fine.”

    “I’m on my way,” the Whoosh said as he started to run. His rate of acceleration was entirely normal, except that he never stopped accelerating. By the time he reaches the library, Dexter would have no hope of escape.

    “He’s mine,” Ted screamed as he rocketed around Dexter and stood between him and the alleyway.

    Dexter stopped and turned around, but before he got far the Bat had caught up and the two heroes slowly backed Dexter up against the entrance to the enormous library. Dexter’s eyes swept back and forth as he scanned the scene like a cornered animal.

    “Dr. D. Testable,” Ted shouted, “We are the Phoenix City Heroes Department. You are under arrest for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, failure to register a known power, unlawful use of a power…”

    As Techno Ted continued reciting Dexter’s crimes, Dexter began to panic. Once a criminal used a power, he was classified as a villain and his file was sent to the Heroes. Even villains were guaranteed a fair trial once brought to justice, but for someone with a power like Dexter’s, it wasn’t likely to be fair. As the two heroes continued to advance, Dexter took another step back and bumped into something large. He quickly glanced behind him and saw the glass door to the library.

    “PUSH,” the door suggested. It actually seemed very inviting at the moment.

    “Gentleman,” Dexter said calmly, “I think there’s been a misundersta-“

    “Quiet!” the Bat screamed and the two heroes charged at Dexter.

    Dexter turned and ran into the library with the two heroes chasing after him. Kawalski lifted a microphone and shouted into it and a nearby and rapidly approaching hero.

    “Whoosh,” he said urgently, “there’s no way he’s escaping now. He’s gone into the library with The Blind Bat and Techno Ted chasing him. We won’t need you to pursue him.”

    “That’s lovely,” said the Whoosh, “but I’m too close now to stop. Even if I start decelerating now I’ll slam into the library. I think I still have room to turn into the entrance. A building that large should buy me some space to slow down.”

    “Good idea,” Kawalski said, “we’ll hold the doors open for you.”

    Inside the library, Dexter ran past the head librarian, Mrs. Brunswick, who mysteriously felt extraordinarily agitated by it.

    “No running in the library,” she whispered as loud as she could.

    Dexter ran as fast as he could, paying no attention to the small angry woman. Mrs. Brunswick shook her head and turned around to see the two heroes running towards her. She held up and hand and the two heroes halted in front of her.

    “No running in the library,” she whispered shrilly.

    “Ma’am,” Ted said, stepping forward, “We are official agents of the Phoenix City Hero Depart-“

    “Shhh!” said Mrs. Brunswick, “Quiet in the library! Look at you, all covered in metal like some kind of alien! In my day I pushed a wooden hoop down a dirt road with a stick, and I was grateful for it!”

    “Ma’am,” Ted said, “We are currently in pursuit of a potentially dangerous villain.”

    “Shhh!” Mrs. Brunswick said, “You two get your friend and leave the library immediately!”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Ted said, “Immediately.”

    The two heroes stalked Dexter through the maze of bookcases as he scanned the walls and rooms for some means of escape. As he hurried down the aisles, he turned a corner and ran into a young woman holding a feather duster and several books in her hands. When he collided with her, her duster and the books feel loudly to the floor. Dexter, expecting the young woman to become enraged and start screaming, turned to run before she could give away his position.

    “Oh, I’m very sorry about that, sir,” Sofia said.

    Dexter stopped and turned to look at her.

    “Excuse me?” Dexter said.

    “Well,” Sofia said, “I said I’m very sorry for running into you, sir.”

    Dexter slowly approached her and leaned closer until his face was just a few inches from hers.

    “Do you hate me?” he asked.

    “No, sir,” Sofia said, “I’m certain it was an accident.”

    “Interesting,” Dexter said thoughtfully.

    Just then the Blind Bat let out a scream. Dexter held his finger to his lips.

    “Shhh,” he said softly as he slipped around the corner.

    “Do you really have to do that?” asked Ted as they crept down the aisles.

    “I have echolocation,” said the Bat sharply, and then he screamed again and said, “Its how I see.”

    “You can see perfectly fine with your eyes, you idiot!” Ted said.

    “Oh, for crying out loud,” the Bat said and asked, “What would be the point of the power then? At least I have a real power, you spoiled, rich brat!”

    The two heroes’ approaching voices got louder as they argued more fervently. They came around the corner and saw Sofia, bewildered, standing with a feather duster and several books at her feet.

    “Whoa!” Ted shouted and raised the miniature plasma cannon mounted on his wrist, “Get on the ground now!”

    “What?” Sofia gasped.

    Ted grabbed her arm and spun her around, pinning her up against the wall of books with her arms held firmly behind her back.

    “Who are you?” the Bat screamed at Sofia, “What is your business here? Have you seen a man dressed all in black?”

    Through the tiny gaps between the books, Sofia could see Dexter in the next aisle over shaking his head and pleading with his hands pressed together.

    “I haven’t seen anybody,” said Sofia desperately, “It’s just me back here. I work here. I was cleaning.”

    Dexter crept down the next aisle as Ted handcuffed Sofia. He snuck out between the bookcases where his eyes met Sofia’s.

    “Thank you,” he mouthed silently. He turned to run, but the two heroes’ angry screams sent out sound waves which bounced off Dexter, who was no longer shielded by the bookcase, and returned to the Blind Bat’s ears.

    “Freeze!” the Bat turned and shouted.

    Techno Ted reached out his hand and fired a pin out of each of his fingertips. Each pin pulled a cord connected to the corner of a net so that the five pins together spread the net out in the air as they flew. As the net swept past Dexter it lifted him off his feet and pinned him against the side of a nearby bookcase. Dexter struggled in vain to free himself as the two heroes approached.

    Just then, the Whoosh was rapidly nearing the library and the Great Kawalski and the Sickly Avenger were holding the doors open for him to enter in hopes that he could slow down before he hit anything.

    Mrs. Brunswick, who was sitting at the front desk, quietly screamed, “You there, no running in the libra-…”

    The Whoosh sped past Mrs. Brunswick and the desk, but couldn’t redirect his path away from the complicated maze of bookcases beyond. There was a loud crunch when he slammed into the first bookcase. His body hung there for a moment before falling backward, leaving indentations on all the books in the shape of his body. The enormous bookcase rocked forward on its base and leaned over as though it were in slow motion. One by one, all of the books slid off the shelf and fell to the floor. The top corner of the bookcase then slammed loudly into the bookcase behind it which, in turn, rocked forward, emptied its shelves, and slammed into the next bookcase. More and more bookcases began falling like enormous dominoes.

    “Dr. D. Testable,” said The Blind Bat, “You are under arrest for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon…”

    “Quiet, Bat,” said Ted, glaring at Dexter with narrow eyes, “we can’t bring this one in. He’s too dangerous.”

    Ted raised his shaking palm to Dexter’s face and began charging a plasma cannon housed within his metal glove.

    “You’re going to kill him?” Sofia cried.

    “Villains come with all sorts of powers, young lady,” said the Bat, “Sometimes they’re too powerful and emotionally unstable to be held anywhere, or have publicly and undeniably committed such heinous crimes as would warrant a death sentence, and so for the good of society a provision was made for us to terminate such villains.”

    “That’s not right,” Sofia said, “this man is not that dangerous.”

    “Enough,” said Ted, “We need to finish this.”

    Ted’s hatred for Dexter was burning hotter in his heart than the crackling energy in his glowing palm.

    “When desperate times call for desperate measures,” said the Bat, “ordinary men are sometimes pushed to tragic actions, but with an understanding that what they are doing is good and just they eventually get used to it. Like soldiers in war or cops in the field, we should understand that while death is always a tragedy, it’s better for one wicked person to die so that countless good people can live without fear.”

    “Step back,” said Ted.

    The two heroes stepped back as Dexter thrashed wildly in the net.

    “Does anyone else hear that?” asked Sofia.

    The Blind Bat’s ears perked up and he said, “I see something big coming.”

    Boom, boom, boom…

    “What did you do?” Ted shouted at Dexter, “Did you plant bombs? Did you destroy support beams?”

    The sound was getting closer.

    Boom, Boom, Boom…

    Just then, the next bookcase over began to shake. It tipped over, dumped hundreds of books onto the floor and slammed into the bookcase Dexter was pinned to. Ted and the Bat both looked up as the shadow of the bookcase they stood next to fell over them and dozens of books rained down. Techno Ted turned back to Dexter, braced himself for the cannon blast and fired.

    “No!” Sofia said. She leapt forward and pushed Ted’s arm. A bolt of energy shot out of Ted’s palm like lightning. It narrowly missed Dexter’s head, burned through a large section of the net and scorched holes into several dozen other bookcases. When the bookcase landed on the floor, Dexter was able to escape and scurried under the bookcase which was partially supported by the bookcase it had knocked over. Fire spread quickly out of the super heated holes left behind in the bookcases and along the books covering the floor.

    Meanwhile, another bookcase had landed on top of the two heroes and Sofia and the loud crashing noises continued on past them towards the end of the library. The two heroes crawled out from under the bookcase and looked around, searching for Dexter.

    “Where did he go?” Ted screamed at the Bat.

    “I can’t see him,” the Bat replied, “The fire and the crashing bookcases are causing way too much noise pollution. I’m blind as a…”

    “Don’t you dare say it!” Ted shouted over the noise, “You can help me look for him by taking off that stupid blindfold and helping me look for him!”

    “I told you,” the Bat answered, “It’s not stupid! It gives my power purpose!”

    Techno Ted shoved the Blind Bat backward. The Bat tripped over the fallen bookcase and landed heavily on his back. Hiding underneath, Dexter bit his tongue when he heard the thud of a falling body directly above him. He then heard what sounded quite similar to the dull ringing of a metallic armored fist repeatedly striking someone’s face.

    “I sat outside this library for a week,” Ted screamed, “and for what? For you to lose him because you refuse to open your eyes and look for him! He’s in here somewhere!”

    The fire was spreading quickly and the library was filling with smoke. Dexter knew that his power was making the heroes fight each other. As he waited underneath the bookcase and listened to the two heroes wrestle a few feet above, he glanced across the aisle at the other row of fallen bookcases. Under the bookcase that fell on the heroes, Sofia’s body was still laying motionless.

    Techno Ted raised both palms toward the air and fired both plasma cannons, blasting a hole in the ceiling. He grabbed the Blind Bat by the collar of his shirt and rocketed up toward the sky. Strangely, once he got up a few hundred meters, he no longer felt like dropping the Bat. The Bat had also forgiven Ted’s comments about his choice of eye apparel. They both looked down to see a large crowd gathered outside the library and approaching sirens could be heard in the distance. Smoke poured out of the entrance and the blasted hole in the roof. A moment later, the windows shattered and smoke streamed out into the night sky.

    “It’s just as well, I suppose,” said the Bat, “If he really is still in there, he’s dead or dying.”

    Back in the library, Dexter could hear Ted’s rockets grow distant. He crawled out from under the bookcase and staggered to where he had seen Sofia. He could hardly breathe through all the smoke and the heat was suffocating. He crawled into the space under the bookcase and examined Sofia’s body for injuries. Dexter put his back against the bookcase and tried to lift it but it was much too heavy. He pulled Sofia’s body out of the space and lifted her up. In the distance, Dexter heard the windows shatter in the heat of the fire and sirens could be heard from outside. He made his way towards the windows at the back of the library and climbed outside. Behind the library were a pond which had been evacuated and a small residential area.

    Dexter hurried through the park, carrying Sofia, and once again disappeared into the shadows.

    Early the next day, the firefighters entered the building to survey the damage. When they got inside, they saw the charred and burned information desk in front of a sea of toppled bookcases, blackened book covers and ashes. Sitting at the desk was Mrs. Brunswick. Almost all of her hair was singed off and a few remaining strands stuck out at wild angles, glowing at the ends with tiny cinders. Her clothing and face was black and smelled of smoke.

    “My goodness, ma’am, are you alright?” asked one shocked firefighter.

    Mrs. Brunswick slowly turned her head toward the firefighter. She was shaking so violently that the pencil she clutched in her white-knuckled hands snapped. The broken end slapped against what was left of her desk and quietly roll off the table like a party guest sideling out of an awkward conversation. Mrs. Brunswick slowly stood and after a very tense moment, she spoke.