Chapter 1: Origins
Nine Years Earlier
The thud of his boots echoes against the floor as he paces, his eyes scanning the faces of the two other men in his office. He stops his pacing for a second, only to murmur something incoherent and begin pacing again. He exhales heavily and settles down in his chair, leaning on his forearms on the desk in front of him. A young child, merely eleven years old, sits in the corner of the room with his feet dangling from the chair and his face obscured by shadows. A scrawny man with a poor excuse for stubble, a scientist by the name of Dr. Patrick, stands in front of the desk and wrings his hands nervously.
“Travel across the world. Find me some more fine specimens and bring them back here as soon as possible. While you are gone, I will have someone else go across North America,” the boss behind the desk says finally, leaning back in his chair. “Too many of my experiments have died in combat, and without them my mission will fail.”
Dr. Patrick’s eyes widen. “Sir, that’s… ridiculous. There’s no way we can bring more children here legally from—”
“Did I ask for it to be legal? I don’t care how it happens. I need more children here ASAP, understand?”
“Why can’t we use adults?”
The boss nearly laughs, although the sound is more mocking than amused. “Adults? Adults are strong-willed. Children are easily manipulated. Easily torn away. They can’t and won’t put up a fight. We’ve already learned that bringing older kids here only results in resistance.”
The scientist squirms. “Yes, but what about the parents? We’re both parents. We can understand the turmoil—”
“Who cares about the parents?” the boss demands. “They could visit their children if they really wanted to I suppose, but I doubt they’ll want to as soon as they see what their precious angels have done. Now, do as I say or there will be consequences.”
“Yes sir.” The scientist turns on his heel and shuffles from the room, passing the shadowed child with a nervous glance out of the corner of his eye.
A little boy watches from the side of the road as a van drives past, covered in mud thanks to the recent rainfall. His light blue eyes are stark against the darkened skies, although they grow shadowed when he adjusts his flat cap. It’s not too late, maybe seven in the evening at most, but the sun is covered by a thick veil of dark grey clouds. It will probably start storming again, and the little boy would really like to be home before it does.
He watches curiously as the mud-splattered van pulls to a stop and a tall, lanky man steps out. He glances around for a moment before starting towards the boy, slipping a bit on the muddy Irish road.
“Hello? Are you alright out here in the rain?” Dr. Patrick asks, pulling his coat a little tighter around himself. A few drops of rain fall, followed by more and more.
“Um, yeah,” the boy replies in a thick Irish accent. He shifts, his eyes flitting down to his feet. “My mum told me not to talk to strangers.”
“What a silly rule.” Dr. Patrick’s face contorts a little with guilt before becoming emotionless again. “I’ve come a long way to find a kid like you. Do you want to have powers?”
The little boy’s eyes light up in an instant. “Powers? Like the comics?”
“Yes, yes!” the man replies. “Just like that. Do you want those powers?”
“Well, all I have to know is your name and then, I can take you to a special place where everyone has powers, just like those heroes.”
“I’m Seán McLoughlin, but everyone calls me Jack,” the little boy says. “Can my mum come with us?”
Dr. Patrick’s heart drops into his feet, but he hides it with a small smile and a head shake. I’m going to Hell. “Sorry Jack, but only you can come.”
A scream bubbles up from Jack’s throat and lungs, but the man grabs him and muffles all sound before he can be heard. With one arm holding the small child in place, he yanks open the back of the van and tosses him in, slamming it shut the moment his arms are free. With a long, shaky exhale, he leans against the outside of the van and tries to fight back the guilt that threatens to consume him.
Inside, tears pour down Jack’s face as he looks around, trying to make out anything in the darkness. A sob escapes him and he quickly covers his mouth, knowing not the repercussions of being heard.
“Who are you?”
Jack squeaks and backs away from the sound of the voice, his eyes flitting across the darkness. “Who’s there?”
“I’m Daniel, but you can call me Dan,” the voice replies, his accent distinctly British.
“I’m Seán, but everyone calls me Jack. Except my mum. She calls me Seán.” Jack sits up a little straighter and scrubs his eyes, feeling a little bit less fearful with Dan there. “Where are you?”
“I’m over here, at the very back. There’s some food if you want,” Dan replies.
Jack moves towards the sound of his voice on his hands and knees, and when his eyes adjust to the darkness he can make out a young boy, about his age, with curly brown hair and dark eyes.
He sits beside him, digging through some of the snacks the Brit hands him and picking out a granola bar. He holds it in his hand and stares at it for a moment before putting it down again, his appetite gone.
“Where is he taking us?” Jack whispers.
“America, I think,” Dan replies, pulling himself up slightly and peering through the small grate in the side of the van. He pulls on his earlobe with his left hand, a long exhale escaping his lips. “His accent is American, at least.”
Jack wraps his arms around his legs and shakes his head. “I don’t want to go to America. I want to go home.”
The boss glances from child to child from behind his desk, a small smile forming on his narrow face. Jack shifts his feet, clenching his hands into fists to stop the shaking. Besides him and Dan, a French boy, two Scottish girls, and a Spanish boy were also taken from their home countries by the scientist, and Jack is convinced he would have taken more if he hadn’t had a deadline.
“Well done,” the boss says to Dr. Patrick, who stands behind them and wrings his hands.
“Thank you, sir,” he replies.
The boss grins up at the scientist. “Please make these children… comfortable, now that they are so far from home. I’m hoping you will start on them today.”
Dr. Patrick nods rapidly, and Jack glances back to see a gleam in his eye that he’s never seen before. A stab of fear passing through him, he looks to Dan, who stares at the floor and refuses to meet the eyes of the man behind the desk. Jack glances from him to the boy sitting in the corner, whose face is concealed by shadow.
The boss stands and walks over to them, kneeling in front of the small group of children. “What are your names?”
"Seán,” Jack says.
Dan looks at him for a split second before staring at his feet again. “Daniel.”
“I’m Aileen. That’s Emilia,” one of the Scottish girls states.
The French and Spanish boys glance at each other before staring at the boss, eyes wide. He sighs heavily and sends a glare at the scientist. “Why did you have to get two boys who don’t speak
“I wasn’t thinking about it. I’m very sorry, sir,” Dr. Patrick replies.
“Their names are Louis and Antonio,” Dan says, his voice quiet. “They told us on the way here.”
“Thank you, Daniel,” the boss replies, straightening up and locking eyes with the scientist. “I have already given you the papers, so you can start on Seán.”
Jack’s stomach grows cold. “Start with what?”
Nobody answers him. The scientist approaches the children, herding them from the office and down a long grey hallway. Their footsteps echo through the corridor and up to the ceiling, the eerie sound filling Jack’s ears. He glances back towards the office and notices the little boy from before following them, his face hidden by his too-long brown hair. Quinn looks forward again after a second, his gaze flitting over the row of rooms they’re passing. Some are already marked with names, and a couple kids, probably sixteen or seventeen, poke their heads out of rooms.
“Daniel, this is your room,” the scientist says, gesturing to an unmarked door. When the Brit makes no move towards it, he pulls the door open and nudges him inside before locking it. He then hangs a clipboard on a nail in the door, Dan’s full name, Daniel Howell, clearly written on the front page. “Aileen, Emilia, your rooms are there. Louis, Antonio…” He sighs heavily and points to two different doors, and after a moment the boys move to their respective spaces. Dr. Patrick places clipboards on each of their doors as well.
“What about me?” Jack asks, a steady feeling of dread filling him to the brim.
Dr. Patrick locks all of the doors and moves forward, taking Jack roughly by the arm and dragging him to a room at the end of the hallway. They reach a bright, white office filled with lights and machines, and the scientist orders him to lie down on the table. As he does, Dr. Patrick straps down his arms and legs.
“Please let me go,” Jack begs, tears starting to brim in his eyes as he tugs against his restraints.
“Hush, I’m just putting you under. You won’t feel a thing,” Dr. Patrick replies, a glint in his eye that only serves to heighten Jack’s panic.
A mask is lowered onto his face, and even though he fights it his eyes still grow heavy. In a matter of moments, he slips into darkness.
The first thing Jack feels when he wakes up is an immense, burning pain in his right eye. Gritting his teeth, he pulls himself upright and tries to take in his surroundings. The room is off-white and windowless, with a simple single bed and attached bathroom. The single lightbulb dangling from the roof is enough to make the entire room blinding. His head starts to spin and he stands up, hoping to make it to the bathroom before he passes out. Stumbling, he finally reaches the sink and stares at himself in the mirror.
What he sees is less than pleasant. The white of his right eye progressively turns black with what looks like an infection, the blue of his eye turning green like poison. His stomach churns and he backs away from the mirror, returning to his bed swiftly and hoping that all of this is just a terrible dream.
Chapter 2: Sides Collide
Mark and Jack clash for the first time.
Jack stands on the roof of a building, staring down at the streets below him with his bottom lip held firmly between his teeth. His green hair blows incessantly in the strong rooftop winds, causing him to brush the strands from his eyes more often than he would like. Their hired criminals sneak into the bank below, every movement monitored by the five figures high above the ground. Silence hovers around them, the distant sound of cars and trains barely interrupting their focus. Dan, a lanky Brit with loose curls, dangles his legs over the edge of the building and watches the crooks with disinterest.
"How can you be comfortable with that?" Cry asks. His mask hides his emotions well, but everyone can tell by the tone of his voice that he's distinctly uncomfortable with Dan's vicinity to the edge.
Dan shrugs in response, never even turning to face Cry. Stephanie, the only girl in the group, pays little attention to the two boys as she watches the street. Matt and Ryan, the newest members of the group, sit quietly nearby.
A voice crackles through their individual earpieces, causing silence to fall once again. "The Hero Squadron is intercepting the criminals. Interfere!" Matthew, their leader from the sidelines, exclaims.
Jack straightens up, subconsciously tightening the strings of the white eyepatch over his right eye. Stephanie strides over, hooking her arms around Jack’s shoulders and bracing herself. With a deep breath Jack starts running, using his momentum and speed to race down the side of the building. In the blink of an eye, he's on the ground. A moment later, Cry lands on the ground with Matt, Ryan, and Dan.
Jack lets Stephanie down and takes off at superhuman speeds, racing towards the first hero he sees. He extends his fist, about to ram it right through his chest, when he’s slammed into the ground. The hero stands over him, a cheeky smile on his tanned face. His dark eyes glint with mischief as Jack wheezes, trying to get air back into his lungs. How was he able to stop him so fast? Nobody, not even somebody with powers, has ever been able to do that!
"That didn't work, now did it, Demon?“ the hero asks, his grin growing even more. Jack zips to his feet despite his body already starting to protest and attempts to attack again, only to get knocked to the ground. A flare of bitter emotion enters his gut for a moment at the sound of his alias, and he does his best to channel that feeling into fighting instead of thinking.
"How?!" he demands, throwing another punch as his blood starts to boil. The hero simply laughs and knocks him down again.
“Demon, he can slow you down by manipulating time! You're not gonna win like this," Matthew exclaims into his earpiece. Instinctively, Jack claps his hand over his ear and drags himself to his feet again. A quick glance at his team tells him that they’re getting their asses handed to them.
"Get out of there. All of you. Getting the loot isn’t worth it,“ Matthew orders.
"Don't have to tell me twice, Canary,” Dan replies through the earpiece. With a burst of flame, the Brit is gone. The other experiments, all known to the world by different aliases, race away after him, leaving the heroes to capture their hired criminals.
Mark watches Demon go before grabbing the criminals, ropes already binding their wrists thanks to the other heroes. The cops arrive within minutes and the crooks get loaded into their vehicles and carted off.
"A job well done," Ken compliments, grinning at his teammates.
“Agreed,” Mark replies. “It was almost too easy, you know? Like they aren’t even trying.”
“Maybe it just wasn’t worth it. The gain didn’t match the risk,” Marzia points out in her gentle Italian accent. She holds a specialized pen that allows her to concentrate her ability to draw things into existence, and she spins it in her fingers as she speaks.
“Whatever it was, it’s done now. We should probably head back,” Felix, a Swede with blonde hair and striking blue eyes, states. He reaches over and takes Marzia’s hand, their fingers intertwining.
"Good job today, everyone,” Matthias, their mission’s coordinator, says through their earpieces. "Drop your suits off and then you can go home."
Mark stretches, a grin on his face as he heads down the street with the rest of his team following close on his heels. Within minutes they’re stepping through the front doors of Curatrix, a hero organization based in Chicago, and no matter how many times he does it it always reminds Mark of the first time he walked through those doors. He had been sixteen at the time, full of excitement at the prospect of becoming a hero. To be born with superpowers is rare, and he knew the moment he could practice his powers that he wanted to join an elite group of super-powered officers known as the Hero Squadron. Curatrix was looking to group together and train a new group of heroes, and Mark was determined to be one of them.
And what better place to do that than Chicago, where a corrupt organization has mutated people to have powers that they weren’t born with? Nowhere else in the world has actual super-powered enemies, and Mark is ecstatic to be able to protect the world from these experiments and be the hero he knew he was born to be. Brave heroes before him have fought and died to protect Chicago from the boss’ institute, and Mark is more than willing to join that legacy.
Mark dodges a passing police officer and moves to where Matthias is waiting. “We’re back!”
“Well done today, all of you. Does anyone need medical treatment?” Matthias asks, his blue eyes flicking from hero to hero.
"My arm is bleeding," Ken mentions, holding a spot on his arm. Phil, a dark-haired Brit, forms a sphere of water in his hand and touches the liquid to Ken’s arm, healing the spot seamlessly.
“If that’s all, you can go home,” Matthias states, adjusting his glasses. “I’ll file police reports.”
Everyone bids farewell to each other and head off to change out of their super-suits. Mark hangs back, shaking Matthias’ shoulder gently.
“You should take some time off. You’re here late every day,” he says with a small, sincere smile.
He smiles back. “Ah, it’s fine. I still have a lot of work to do, and I’m not nearly as tired as you guys at the end of the day. You go home and have a good sleep, Mark.”
Mark grins. “See you later, Matthias.”
With that, Mark heads off to change and go home.
Chapter 3: Interruptions
The rogues join the party and another side of Jack is revealed.
“What a beautiful morning!” Mark says, grinning at his teammates. He looks towards the sunrise, the morning air causing his breath to come out in puffs of vapour. The metal of the fire escape is chilly, the cold cutting through his suit like a knife, but he finds that he doesn’t mind too much. He loves the city early in the morning. It’s calm and quiet, most people still asleep or just waking up.
“It’s too early to exist,” Ken grumbles, resting his face against the bars in front of him.
Marzia pats his head gently and draws a coffee with her pen, the beverage appearing in her hand a moment later. She hands it to him with a small smile.
“Would this help you?” she asks.
“Yeah, thank you,” Ken replies, taking the drink with wide eyes. The steam from the hot coffee billows into the air, warming his face and hands, and he sighs happily before taking a small sip.
Felix lowers the binoculars from his eyes and sighs, plopping down on the fire escape between Marzia and Ken. “Why do we need to use binoculars? Matthias has telescopic vision. That’s like having binoculars for eyes.”
“Yeah, but he’s probably busy at HQ right now. We’re going solo on this one,” Phil replies, eyeing the railing nervously. He stays far from the edge, his back pressed against the wall behind them.
“Scared of heights, Phil?” Mark asks, a teasing grin on his face.
“No.” The Brit glances at him with big eyes. “Just clumsy. If I go any closer, I could trip on a pebble and fall to my doom.”
The other heroes grin or chuckle and Phil tries to scowl, but his eyes twinkle too much for him to look angry. Mark leans back against the wall, his fingers intertwined behind his head as he lets his eyes close. After a minute or two, he hears Felix shift and curse softly in Swedish.
“What is it?” Marzia asks, her eyebrows knitting together. She stands by his side and looks down, her eyes widening substantially. “Oh no.”
The team scrambles to their feet, looking in the direction that Felix points. The experiments crouch by the side of a building, hidden partially by shadows, and the heroes
wait in tense silence.
Matthias’ voice crackles over the earpieces, calm and collected. “Alright everyone, I’m back and connected. Thanks for being patient.”
“Where were you?” Felix demands.
“Working. Don’t worry about it,” Matthias replies smoothly. “I need you all to keep spying on them. Do not engage. They won’t do anything with so many civilians around.”
Mark looks down the street and sure enough, more and more people are starting to head to work. They pass the alleyway where the experiments crouch, too consumed with their own thoughts to really take notice of the group of misfits. The heroes watch the experiments intently, not saying a word. As they watch, Jack pulls his hood over his head and walks into the streets, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. Cry disappears into thin air, followed by Dan in his signature all-black outfit. The rest of the
experiments stagger themselves, heading into the street as inconspicuously as possible.
“What’s their mission? It makes no sense,” Ken comments. “What could they possibly be doing right now?”
“We can’t really gather any intel about their mission,” Matthias replies. The rapid tapping of his computer keys comes from the background, mixed with a sigh. “They’ve obviously got a talented programmer on their side who can block hacks easily. This will take some work.”
“You’ve got this, Matthias,” Phil says.
Mark keeps his eyes trained on the experiments, who have now scattered themselves among the citizens. He does his best to clear his mind and focus only on the task at hand, but it’s hard. He’s never been a particularly good spy. He’s more of a “punch now as questions later” kind of guy.
Three people, all in matching outfits of different colours, charge out into the streets and Mark straightens up, eyebrows furrowing. Someone screams, sending everyone around them into panicked chaos. One of the new arrivals attempts to tackle Jack, but the Irishman just zips away with a confused frown on his face.
“Not these guys again,” Felix groans, fingers tightening around the rail in front of him.
“Stupid rogues,” Ken says, rolling his eyes. He cracks his neck to the side and transforms into a hawk, soaring to the ground before turning into a dog and racing after the vigilantes. The others follow suit, gearing themselves up for a fight. Mark vaults over the railing and slows time, falling in slow motion and only speeding up time again when he’s close enough to the ground to not get hurt. He hits the pavement and races towards the fight, his teammates all engaging in combat with experiments or rogues or both. One of the rogues is attempting to chase Jack, and without a moment of hesitation Mark slows them both down and knocks them to the ground. Jack groans, not even trying to get up off the ground.
The rogue’s groan becomes an airy laugh. He lifts his head, his brown, curly, streaked blonde hair falling in his eyes. “Well, that was rude.”
“What are you doing here?” Mark demands, picking up both him and Jack by the back of their suits and holding them there. He sends a pointed glare at the rogue. “We’re on a mission right now. We don’t need you three rogues getting in the way.”
“Two things, big shot,” the rogue says, holding up a finger. “First, you just admitted that you were on a mission, and considering the fact that you were already here, that means you were probably spying on these dudes.” He gestures to Jack, who glowers at the two of them. “Second of all, three of us getting in the way? Only three rogues?”
Mark opens his mouth to say something, but before he can the rogue separates into two people, one with curly brown hair and the other with straight brown hair with a blonde streak. They grin at Mark’s bewildered look, and he doesn’t realize that upon separating, he lost hold of their suit.
“Arin and Danny, at your service,” they say in sync. Mark and Jack look at each other, and upon realizing that he had the same facial expression as his enemy, Jack returns to glaring.
“It’s been lovely,” Danny says.
“A real pleasure,” Arin adds.
“But we need to go,” they say in sync.
Mark starts saying something, but before he can they both race off. The other rogues, upon noticing the fleeing of their partners, run after them. Jack takes Mark’s moment of distraction to punch him in the face, sending the hero sprawling to the ground. Before he can regain his senses, he receives another blow to the face.
“I didn’t want to do this, but I think I have to,” Jack says, his voice strange and distant in Mark’s ringing ears. For whatever reason, it sounds weird and foreign and nothing like Jack’s voice despite the fact that it’s coming from his mouth.
Jack reaches up and pulls off his eyepatch, and the moment the sun hits it the white in his eye is being consumed by blackness. The white in his other eye turns black as well and his irises turn a sickly green, his head twitching to the side. Mark stares, mystified and terrified of the sight before him. The creature lifts his hands, a twisted, sadistic grin spreading across his face.