File Not Found- A Heroic Short Story

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Pink Dynamite, the hero of Harbor Heights, was dead.  The Hero and Sidekick Association of the United States was in a scramble to cover the area until, in a surprise twist that would have the media reeling for months, they found her will.


Never before had a hero set a succession for their city in a will.  There was no legal record of such a transaction, and the rights of a hero over their city had never been explored in such a fashion.

It had been less than six months since Fuse Girl had been with Pink Dynamite, less than six months since she’d stepped out of the HSAUS orphanage, young and ready for whatever the criminal scum of Harbor Heights could throw at her.  Now New Pink Dynamite sat in a large, barren waiting room, reigning in the impulse to twitch or pluck at the scratchy new fabric of her freshly tailored Pink uniform.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

Six Months Ago:

“It’s just not fair Lix, I mean, in less than a year I have to go find a real, normal job, but you get picked to replace Fuse Boy with 10 months left in here!” John Smith XXVI complained.

“I told you not to call me that.” Jane Doe LIX chided, “I have a new name now.”  She folded a sleeping shirt and placed it into a suitcase, clearly labelled Doe-18-F-LIX.  The eight was still tacky from where it was covering a six; she had only used the case once before.

“Well then, FUSE GIRL, did you know that most kids our age have boxes of things when they leave their parent’s homes?  Sometimes a whole truckload.”

“A truckload?” Fuse Girl laughed, “What would they even put in them?” She put her exercise shoes on the top and snapped the latches.

“Books, toys, trinkets, I dunno,” John Smith XXVI shrugged, sitting on Fuse Girl’s bed.

“But the books belong in the library and the toys are for the nursery or the gym, if I take them then no one else gets them.”  Fuse girl retorted, it was obvious.

“What about keepsakes?” John Smith XXVI held out a small mass of folded paper.  At first it looked like trash, but Fuse Girl looked at it more closely, it was a flower, intricately folded with a tidy name on one petal, Jeremiah Michaelson.

“You chose your name!” she squealed, “Have you decided where you’ll go?”

“I’ve applied to some universities in the tri-state region.”

“But the orphanages give diplomas and degrees when you leave, you don’t have to go to a separate institution,” Fuse Girl replied, confused.

“That’s easy for you to say, the Doe institution had a much better reputation than Smith,” Jeremiah shrugged. “Before it burned down.”

“Thanks for that reminder,” Fuse Girl grimaced, tracing the painted-over six.  Had it really been two years?

“Sorry,” he apologised with a wry smile.

Now:

“They couldn’t even have revamped the colors?  Brown and bronze are just so 15 years ago, not to mention that awful pink logo, we need to revamp the small town heroes more often.”  The New Pink Dynamite stood uncomfortably in her brown and bronze jumpsuit, resisting the urge to cross her arms over the large pink sticks of dynamite with lit fuses that curled back to make a P and D across her chest while three men in suits criticised her.

“Pink Dynamite got a revamp three years ago, we went with a more classic design to try and remind Harbor Heights of the good old days,” Another man in a suit refuted.

“It’s been a long time since a hero was killed in the line of duty, if we make it too splashy the ratings will drop.” The third agreed.  News coverage was running on a large screen off to the side, the news channels from the larger city nearby were running the Pink Dynamite story non stop, showing images the hero who had trained New Pink Dynamite for five months and three weeks and crime scene images of her brutal death.

“Secret Will Confounds Hero and Sidekick Association!” ran on a ticker across the bottom.  New Pink Dynamite couldn’t hear the announcer, but she was sure that’s what it was about.

“Earth to Dynamite, are you in there?”  The first man in a suit snapped his fingers at her.

“Daydreaming isn’t in her file,” Another scowled at a tablet to verify.

“Sorry, I was just… What did you need?”  New Pink Dynamite asked.

“What’s your alter-ego going to be, did you get that sorted out before the stabbing?”

New Pink Dynamite’s hand went to the reinforced weave over her torso reflexively, “No sir, but I was thinking maybe Belle Shepherd?”

“No, the BS initials are too easily overplayed if it gets out, pick from this list and we’ll get you set up with your documents.  I’ll send them with your new Fuse Boy, you’re dismissed.”  One of the suits pushed a tablet into her hands and began to walk away.

“Sir?  Who will my new Fuse Boy be? I was hoping maybe I could get someone from Smith?”  She called after him, glancing over the list of hopelessly awful names in her hands.

“No, we chose one of the old Fuse Boys to come back, he’s been with Mambo Italiano in New York for the last few years, he’ll get the Pink Lair shipshape and get you up to speed.”  New Pink Dynamite thought to argue that perhaps her sidekick shouldn’t be older than her, but the suit was gone down the hall by the time she had gathered her wits. Instead she ticked the box next to ‘Raquel Stephenson’ and left the device with a receptionist before taking the Dynamite Cruiser out past the story-hungry Bayview reporters and down the freeway for 40 miles to the Pink Lair, cleverly hidden under a mint farm just outside of Harbor Heights.

Two Years Ago:

“Does anyone remember the reason the Hero and Sidekick Agency exists?”  The instructor asked, looking expectantly for hands.

“Because there were too many orphans and not enough homes,” A low voice rumbled next to Jane Doe LIX.

“I heard that, John 32.”  The teacher warned, “Now can anyone give the real reason?”

“Because there were gangs and other organized crime and not enough organized law enforcement, coupled with a large group of under-utilised citizens.  The Agency knew the police couldn’t condone vigilantism but something needed to be done.”  Jane Doe LIX answered dutifully.

“Very good, Jane 59!  I might have to add rote memorization to your file.” The teacher smiled, “Now what percentage of effectiveness has the hero/sidekick dynamic had in the last decade?”

Now

“The US Hero and Sidekick Association has issued a report stating that they are not worried about the new 404 gang that has been apparently using their heroes’ public files against them, despite the recent injuries of three other heroes culminating in the death of small-town star Pink Dynamite.  We unsuccessfully reached out to her protege Fuse Girl, but the Association says that there will be a press release later this week with any details.”  The newsfeed snapped off as a perimeter alert was triggered in the Pink Lair.

“Oh shut up freaking klaxon bullshit it’s me, Fuse Boy!”  A gruff voice came from the entry hall followed by a large, heavily muscled man.  Pink Dynamite turned the alert off manually and stared.

The Fuse Boy photo in the file she had been given was definitely not up-to-date. Her new Fuse Boy had to be in his mid thirties, he had a full foot of height on her and he was built for power over flexibility.  His hair was dark and shaggy and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in days.  “You’d think the he-sauce would pony up for airfare but no, they sent me by bus across the whole goddamned nation.  Bus! I’ve been on the damn thing since before they even knew it was you taking over.” He dropped a large green bag on the ground unceremoniously.

“He… Sauce?”  She asked, focusing on one distressing detail at a time.

“The H.S.A.U.S.” He answered, “So you’re the new Pink Dynamite?  Your file said acrobatic but I thought you’d be bigger.”

“Your file said hand-to-hand but I didn’t expect a bodybuilder.” He walked around taking in the Pink Lair, with the shining steel floor and the matte gray walls it hardly seemed appropriate to call it Pink, but the hero defines the space, or at least that’s what the old Pink Dynamite said.  There were a few motorcycles and weapons on museum pedestals in the main room, mostly those that looked good but had been upgraded to faster, better models.  Actual weapons storage was in the back of the long room in a bullet-resistant glass section called the cage.  It had at one point been a holding cell– there was a bed still bracketed to the wall inside– but no one had ever been held there.

“Stark grayness sweet stark grayness.”  He nodded before stepping forward, if he noticed her cringe he didn’t say anything about it.  “I’m Bernd Blake.” He offered a hand.

“Um… Raquel…” She hesitated.

“Just get your new identity?” Fuse Boy asked, “It took weeks for me to remember mine.  You can call me Fuse if you want, Pinky always did.”  His handshake was firm but not punishing.

The short wall directly opposite the cage was an oversized computer console with multiple workstations linked to one giant screen which could be used to show information to multiple viewers or, as the previous Pink Dynamite used it, play workout videos.  The station was mostly so large for photo opportunities or for creating press releases with an appropriate backdrop.

Bernd walked to one of the stations and typed in a username and password that the system recognized before flopping into one of the chairs gracelessly.  “So what were you going to pick before they gave you the infamous name list?”  He asked.

“I’m sorry what?” New Pink Dynamite was getting very tired of her life being in flux, she was constantly confused, she had had 4 names in the span of a week, and she was still reeling from watching her government-issued mentor bleed out onto the sidewalk.

“Your secret identity, I was going to be Harrison something but they canned that.”  He was typing into the console.

“Oh. Belle Shepherd.”

“I like it.”  He was scrolling now, New Pink Dynamite was sure it was probably very fascinating stuff he was doing, but she stood where she was, unable to get the interest required to move.  “I’m going to be blunt,” He stated after a few minutes, “You seem exhausted and frazzled.  Something tells me you haven’t had a minute’s respite in the last three days and I doubt anything major will happen tonight, so go get some sleep in the ready room. I’ll wake you if anything comes up.”  She could have hugged him but her exhaustion was triggering apathy.

“Yeah, I’ll see you in a few hours, thanks.”  She agreed, heading toward the ready room.

“Don’t forget to take your mask off, that gum stuff is a bitch to get off if it shifts in your sleep.”  He called after her.

***

Blood everywhere.  In her dreams the sidewalk was an ocean of blood and the only island was the slowly cooling body of the hero of Harbor Heights. In her dream she’s still Fuse Girl, still tied to a lamp post, still impotent in the face of senseless violence.

New Pink Dynamite rolled off the small cot in the ready room with a groan; she was not making it back to sleep after the dream she had had.  The news reports had said that her mentor had been stabbed, but they neglected to tell their viewers that the assailants had stabbed her six times, and pulled about four feet of intestine and bowel out through her uniform.  New Pink Dynamite had been ganged up on by four of the total six men and tied to a lamppost to watch.  She still didn’t know why they hadn’t killed her, too. Some part of her wished they had.

After a shower, a browse of her recent messages, and a fresh uniform, New Pink Dynamite found Fuse Boy in the gym, freshly shaven and wearing a revamped classic style Fuse Boy uniform.  Where her uniform was tight brown pants, bronze leather boots, and a stab-resistant vest with stripes and accents in bronze, Fuse Boy had bronze cargo pants, brown suede boots, and what appeared to be a bronze bulletproof vest with a pink FB in stylized dynamite fuse across the chest. The brown mask he wore covered a large portion of his face and with his hair cropped shorter and a clean chin, New Pink Dynamite could see he’d be a believable sidekick.  Upper arm bands and bracelet cuffs as well as myriad useless pink buckles finished the look, adding the ‘super’ flair to the regular heroes.

“You clean up well, ready to go on patrol tonight?” She asked, grabbing a pair of pink escrima sticks she had left behind after training a few days before.  She forced the idea that they might have helped her stay off the light pole out of her mind as she secured them in a leg strap meant for just such a weapon.

“Are you?  It hasn’t been that many days since Pinky–”

“They want to make a unified appearance, Gentry is sending Little Prince over from Bayview to show people we mean business, we’re upping the number of visible patrols and they’re even thinking of finding us doubles for the next few months.”  She cut him off.

“Well if they need a double for me they know where to get one, I was one of four Mambo Italianos,” He chuckled, wiping down the punching bag he’d been using.

“I thought you were Mambo Italiano’s sidekick?”

“The big draw for Mambo Italiano is that he works alone, it’s his schtick.  So instead of giving him a sidekick, they just up the number of heroes.  There are conspiracy websites about it, but most people believe the hype that there’s only the one.”

“Huh. Cool.” She shrugged, unsure what to do with that information, “We leave in ten.”  She turned to leave the gym.

He grabbed her shoulder,  “Hey, if you’re not comfortable going out on patrol–”  In a move she had never actually performed on someone with as much of a weight disparity as he had on her, she flipped him, laying him out flat on his back in front of her.

“I’m fine. We’re going.”  New Pink Dynamite stepped over her sidekick on her way out of the gym.

“Judo takedowns are not in your file,” He complained as he got in the passenger side of the Dynamite Cruiser.

“I am getting very tired of hearing about my file.” She replied coldly.  The rest of their drive was silent.

Three Weeks Later:

For weeks the patrols were completely ordinary.  A mugger here, questionable consent outside a bar there, nothing unusual, nothing new.  The press had given up on sensationalizing the Pink Dynamite story, the HSAUS had written it off as a freak accident, New Pink Dynamite still had nightmares every night, the earth spun.

One night New Pink Dynamite and Fuse boy were filling out requisite paperwork for one of the most boring patrol in the history of small-town patrols when the news story on the big display distracted her.

“My question is where the Association is finding all of these unwanted kids, there are forty boys in the 17-year-old dorm of the rebuilt Doe facility, but the 4-year-old group has nearly sixty.  Doe is the smallest facility they run, how are we still having such a problem with unwanted children?”  The newscaster was speaking with a HSAUS representative who began with the sentiment that with the HSAUS around, every child was wanted.

“Yeah, wanted so bad that they’ll practically steal them.”  Fuse Boy retorted to the announcer.

“They can’t steal kids, it’s the teen pregnancy thing and the orphans and kids whose parents were arrested for good.”  New Pink Dynamite replied.

Fuse Boy shook his head, “No, my Dad is alive and was never incarcerated. I saw my file, the big file that only the HSAUS execs get to see.  And I met him.”

“How is that possible?  The Government wouldn’t let the Association kidnap children.”  She sounded more sure than she felt.

“My mom was Thunderbird before she got retired.  She met my Dad and they got married, but she died during childbirth.  HSAUS said since she was a hero, I was theirs.  The police were the ones who took me from the hospital, I saw the footage. HSAUS owns key newspapers, so they didn’t have to worry about the story getting out.”

“Well what did your dad say when you met him then?”

Fuse Boy looked a bit uncomfortable, “He had a new family, it was hard for him to see me, it was a… brief visit.”

“I’m sorry.” She felt like maybe she should have said more.

“It ain’t your fault, I’m headed out, I’ve got a thing tomorrow and I want to be well-rested.”  They said their goodbyes and Fuse Boy turned into Bernd Blake again, but it looked more like a secret identity to keep Fuse Boy safe than the other way around to New Pink Dynamite.  She grabbed a Hero Fuel branded drink and set back to the paperwork.

Sitting large in the middle of her desktop was an icon she had never seen before.  It was named simply: Click Me.  She clicked it.

“Fuse Girl, if you’re watching this, I want to apologise.”  Pink Dynamite’s voice came over the speaker system as her face cut over the running news feed on the main screen.  She looked more tired than New Pink Dynamite remembered, the crows feet seemed more visible under the mask than before.  “I didn’t want you to be involved in my message, but I was convinced by a friend that it was the only way for you to truly believe what is happening.” The image zoomed out and focused on a group of people, but one caught her eye in particular, John Smith XXVI.  He looked terrible, like he had aged ten years in the last seven months.

“They have to be stopped.” He said, seemingly apropos of nothing.  “The Association isn’t just raising the new generation of heroes, they’re growing slaves.  They feed us and the population some bullshit propaganda and raise us to be big and strong and just smart enough.  I was gonna go to college, become a citizen, vote, pay taxes, you know, the American dream?  Ever wonder why you never hear from the people who get out?  I was given three options: work in a fabrication plant for weapons and uniforms, work in a vehicle fabrication plant, farm, or they would terminate my citizenship.  No money, no passport, we don’t even have an actual social security number, just a HSAUS designation.”

Pink Dynamite stepped forward again, “I tried to retire three times, but they wouldn’t let me.  The car I drive is theirs, my apartment, my clothes, even my cat belongs to them, and according to some very sensitive documents I became privy to, so do my internal organs.  It’s all in the files, we have to get the files made public.  There are a lot of news outlets that won’t run hero stories, but after what I have planned there should be a rush, the HSAUS will be in the spotlight and you’ll hopefully see a pattern. Espionage training isn’t in your file; they’ll never expect you to be the leak.  There are files on your computer now, you’ll know which news outlets to give them to, you’re cleverer than your file says. Just wait for another sign from 404.”  Pink Dynamite sighed, “I’m sorry again, you were a fantastic sidekick, I just can’t be a hero for the wrong side of justice.”

The video clicked off and the screen populated with digital files, thousands of them.  She looked through tentatively before searching for her 32 digit alphanumeric HSAUS designation.

-Designation: Jane Doe LIX (Class CI)
-Alias: Raquel Stephenson
-Arrival Age: 0.5
-Current Age: 19
-Parents:
–Designation John Williams XXIX (Class LXXVI) DECOMMISSIONED HERO
–Cynthia Powers (Civilian) DECEASED.

She looked up the John Williams XXIX from the 76th class and found him in a list of weapons fabricators that had gone missing earlier that year, at the same time as her John Smith XXVI.  She brought up the video again and saw him instantly in the crowd.  She had his nose, hair color, and jawline.

An urgent news alert pinged in the corner of the screen.

“The country is left reeling as another hero is killed in action, Straight Shooter from Frenchie, Alabama was found hung from a third story window just hours ago with the numbers 404 carved in his chest.  Many of his internal organs apparently have yet to be located.”  Straight Shooter had been in the background of the video she had just watched.  New Pink Dynamite recognized the reporter, this station had been playing the Pink Dynamite story longer and with more detail than any other.  This was the station that had done the HSAUS expose earlier that day.  New Pink Dynamite– Belle Shepherd– copied the files to a disc, then made four redundancies to be mailed separately.  She was pulling the Dynamite Cruiser out of the lair when she saw her former sidekick standing in the way.  She unlocked the doors.

“John Williams 29– Buck– is a good man, if you get a chance to meet him I think you’ll like him.”  He said by way of greeting, sliding into the passenger seat.

“Everything is going to change after this.  Are you ready for that, Harrison?” She asked.

“I’ve been on the streets putting small-time criminals in jail for years,” He buckled his seatbelt, “I think it’s time to start acting like a real hero.”

The Cruiser’s wheels spun twice on the dirt road before gaining traction, propelling them away from the Pink Lair. “We’re going to need new costumes.” She laughed, turning toward the city.

The Association wasn’t going to know what hit them.

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