The great metropolis of Super City is the home of dozens of costumed heroes—the Terrific Trio, the Bruiser, the Superlative Six, the Cowboy, and many more—who do battle against the super-villains who terrorize the citizenry. But when the heroes are done punching out the villains, it’s left to the stalwart men and women of the Super City Police Department to restrain them, arrest them, and hope that this time there’s enough evidence to actually convict them.
Amethyst, one of the most renowned and mysterious costumed heroes of Super City, is found dead on a rooftop. Detectives Kristin Milewski and Jorge Alvarado of the Super City Police Department are assigned to the case—but every answer they turn up with regards to who Amethyst is and how and why he died just gives them more questions. Complicating the investigation are the rest of the superheroic community, who are looking for revenge for their fallen comrade—plus there are reports of a new Amethyst! Same powers, same costume, but a much nastier attitude…
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Avenging Amethyst is the first novella in a new series—available now from Bastei Entertainment!
Holding onto the staircase railing for dear life as he reached the tenth-floor landing, Detective Jorge Alvarado of the Super City Police Department cried out, “Can we take a break, please? My knees ain’t built for this.”
His partner, Detective Kristin Milewski, rolled her eyes as she went up to the eleventh floor. “Buck up, Alvarado, just five more flights.”
“Who the fuck doesn’t fix all three elevators when they’re busted?”
“Welcome to Simon Valley. This is all low-income housing. Too many costumes fighting each other around here, they have to focus on paying to fix damage that affects quality of life—like the plumbing blowing up or a big-ass hole in a kid’s ninth-floor bedroom. Busted elevators don’t make the cut.”
“My shit knees say elevators are necessary for quality of life.”
Milewski looked down at her partner. “C’mon, tell me you don’t have high-rises in Baltimore without working elevators.”
“Sure, but we didn’t have dead bodies on the fucking roof!” Alvarado shook his head as he trudged slowly upward. He had served in the Baltimore City Police’s Homicide Squad before moving to Super City and taking a job as an SCPD detective.
“You’ll live—probably. Besides, you’re my age, where do you get off with bad knees?”
“No cartilage in ’em,” Alvarado said as he wheezed his way to the eleventh floor. “Found that shit out the hard way when I tried to run track in high school.”
Eventually, they got up to the roof, Milewski pushing the metal bar that opened the thick door to the tar-covered rooftop. A cold breeze cut right through her, evaporating the sweat that had beaded on her forehead from the exertion of the fifteen-flight climb. She quickly zipped her leather jacket back up.
Behind her, Alvarado came through the door and stooped over, hands on his crappy knees.
While her partner recovered, Milewski took in the scene, rubbing her hands together for warmth. Several crime-scene techs were scraping things and taking pictures and poking at their tablets. Others were just standing around. Among the latter were the two uniforms who had called this in, and Dr. Prakesh from the medical examiner’s office.
And lying on the roof—or, more accurately, lying in a person-shaped divot in the roof—was a man wearing an all-black bodysuit that covered him completely from head to toe, along with a big purple cape, and matching gloves and boots. He was lying on his right side, and Milewski could see the large purple gem that was embedded in his chest.
“So Amethyst finally bought it,” she said.
“That’s the asshole from the DuBois case, right?”
Milewski nodded. One of Alvarado’s first cases after moving up here was the murder of a woman named Rosa DuBois, who had been unlucky enough to get caught up in a battle between Amethyst and Dr. Chaos.
One of the officers said, “I ‘member when he took on the Manic Marauder over in Kirby Park. Was fuckin’ amazing. Didn’t think anything could kill ‘im with all that shit the gem can do.”
Another officer said, “When I was a kid, my brother and I saw him take on the Militia Men when they tried to blow up Shuster Bridge.”
“That was one’a the first times anyone saw ‘im,” the first officer said.
Milewski snorted. “And this is the last time anyone’ll see him.” She turned to look at Prakesh. “Any idea on COD?”
“No clue,” Prakesh said blandly.
Blinking, Milewski said, “Excuse me?”
“I’m not touching that thing.”
“Uhm, hi, in case you’ve forgotten, you work for the ME’s office. The entire reason you’re here is to examine the body at the scene and provide a guess as to cause of death.”
“Nobody told me it was Amethyst, just that it was one of the superbeings. If I’d known it was him, I wouldn’t have bothered.”
“The fuck?” Alvarado said.
Prakesh took a breath and tugged on his thick mustache. “Look, remember Dr. Brawner? She went to a crime scene where they thought Amethyst was dead. Turns out, he was just in a coma, and he woke up on his own and flew off without a word. But before that, Dr. Brawner went to touch the body. She was electrocuted, was hospitalized for a month, and quit.”
“I’d wondered what happened to her.” Milewski let out a sigh. This also explained why half the crime-scene techs were standing around with their thumbs up their asses. “All right, fine, so you don’t want to touch the body. What’s plan B?”
The officer who’d been talking about Amethyst’s fight with the Manic Marauder stepped forward. Milewski didn’t recognize him, but his nameplate read wacks. “I put in a call to the Terrific Trio an’ the Superior Six, Detective. The Six is in space or somethin’, fightin’ the Pantheon, but the Trio said they’d send over a gizmo that’d be able to deal with ‘im.”
“Good.” Milewski nodded to Wacks, then turned to Alvarado and indicated the body with a tilt of her head. “C’mon.”
Even as she walked toward Amethyst’s body, Alvarado straightened and looked at her like she had a gem embedded in her chest. “C’mon where?”
“Christ, has everybody forgotten their jobs today? We’re supposed to close this case, and that starts with checking the body—which we’re not supposed to touch until the ME gets a look at it, anyhow. So let’s, y’know, do our jobs?”
“Fine,” Alvarado muttered, “but after those fuckin’ stairs, I ain’t squattin’ for shit.”
Milewski chuckled, and knelt down by the body. The divot was slightly larger than Amethyst’s corpse. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Alvarado stood behind her. “If you’re thinkin’ that this asshole fell from the sky, then yeah. Can’t he fly?”
“Yeah, but he probably needs to be conscious—or alive—to do it. Unless the gem does it for him.” She rubbed her eyes. “I wish we knew how his powers worked.”
Unlike the two teams that Wacks had called, who kept their lines of communication open, Amethyst never spoke to the public, and never made any appearances except to fight whoever he was fighting and then fly off.
Milewski stood up. “This sucks. We can’t even start until we know COD, since we can’t tell if he died before or after he fell to the roof. We don’t know if this is even the crime scene, or if it’s forty feet above us. We don’t know who he is, so we can’t talk to next of kin, and since we don’t know where it happened, we don’t know where to even start looking for witnesses.” She turned to Wacks. “You canvas the building?”
The officer nodded. “Yeah, but nobody saw or heard nothin’ except the folks on the fifteenth floor. An’ all they got was a loud thump onna roof.”
Milewski could see the breath she blew out as it condensed in the cold air. “So we have jack shit.”
She pulled her Zap—the common nickname for the ZP 500 designed by Ms. Terrific of the Terrific Trio, which was by far the most popular smartphone on the market—out of her pocket and checked the time.
“How soon did the Trio say they’d get here?”
Now Wacks looked nervous. “Uhm, they didn’t say when. Just as soon as they could.”
Alvarado winced. “That could mean anything.”
“Yeah.” Milewski pocketed her Zap and shook her head. “Fucking costumes.”
A voice came from behind Milewski. “That doesn’t sound very gracious, Detective.”
Turning, Milewski saw a small one-person vehicle hovering in the open air, fifteen stories above the ground, just past the cornice of the roof. Sitting inside it was an African-American woman with long, dark hair tied in a ponytail and whipping behind her in the wind. She wore yellow goggles over her eyes and a skintight gold-yellow-and-orange outfit. The right arm and leg and right part of the torso were orange, with a yellow “T” with gold trim emblazoned over the front and back of the left side of her body. The cross of the T covered both sides of her left shoulder.
“Holy shit, that’s Ms. Terrific,” Wacks said almost reverently.
Looking at Alvarado, Milewski started to say, “She’s the lea—”
“I know who the fuck Ms. Terrific is.” Alvarado shook his head. “Gimme a break, huh?”
The leader of the Terrific Trio landed the vehicle on the roof and opened a door on the side of it.
The vehicle made absolutely no noise, except for the very light thunk as it touched down on the roof.
Milewski walked forward. “I’m Detective—”
“Kristin Milewski, the only woman working Homicide in the SCPD. You were secondary on the Claw case. Before that, you worked Narcotics and helped put the Pusher away. It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Detective, I’m Dr. Sera Markham.”
Milewski opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.
“All righty, then. But it’s pronounced ‘mah-LOV-ski,’ not ‘mi-LEW-ski.'”
“My apologies, I’d only seen the name written down and assumed it was phonetic.”
“It is phonetic—in Polish.” Milewski shook her head. “It’s fine, I’ve been correcting that mispronunciation all my life. I guess I don’t have to introduce my partner either then, huh?”
“Um, actually, you do.”
Alvarado stepped forward. “Jorge Alvarado. You probably don’t remember me, ma’am, but I was part of your security detail when you spoke at Johns Hopkins seven years ago. I was with the Baltimore City Police, then. I moved to Super City a few months back.”
“That’s how you know her,” Milewski said with a nod.
Ms. Terrific shook his hand. “Well, you obviously did a good job, Detective.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m still alive.” She smiled.
Milewski had to admit that Ms. Terrific—or Dr. Markham, whatever—had a very charming smile. That, in turn, put her on edge. She’d met several costumes, and she trusted the polite ones who smiled even less than she trusted the arrogant ones who sneered.
“Hey, Ms. Terrific,” Alvarado said, “mind if I ask you something? It’s been kinda buggin’ me since Hopkins.”
“Of course, Detective. But I prefer ‘Dr. Markham,’ if you don’t mind.”
“Okay, I know your husband can bench-press a Mack truck with his pinky, and your brother has the whole fire thing happening. And I know you’ve got, like, a million PhDs.”
Ms. Terrific smiled sweetly. “Only eight.”
Milewski stared at her. “Your definition of ‘only’ is way different from mine.”
“Anyhow,” Alvarado said, glaring at his partner, “what I want to know is—what’s your power?”
At that, Ms. Terrific put her head in her hands and chuckled.
“I say something funny?” Alvarado asked, sounding a little offended.
“Detective Alvarado, I’m an off-the-charts genius. I’m also a black woman. I had to put on a skintight outfit and a pair of yellow goggles in order to be taken seriously by the scientific community. If that’s not a super power, I don’t know what is.”
Unable to help herself, Milewski burst out laughing. Maybe this costume wasn’t so bad. “You have something for us, Dr. Markham?”
“I do.” Ms. Terrific reached into her vehicle and pulled out something that looked like a motorcycle helmet.
“You gonna take him to the morgue on a Harley?” Alvarado asked.
“No. The circuitry in the helmet will serve to divert and absorb any energy generated by the gem.”
Prakesh stepped forward. “So does that mean I can examine the body?”
Ms. Terrific nodded. “Yes, you’ll be safe, unlike that poor pathologist last year.”
“Good, let’s get a move on, then.” Milewski blew on her hands.
“You cold, Detective?” Ms. Terrific asked.
“No, I’m blowing on my hands to make them bigger.”
Ms. Terrific shook her head. “I offered the department thermal gear that would keep them warm in winter.”
“Oh, we do use it, ma’am,” Wacks said, stepping forward. “Really makes a difference this time of year.”
Milewski rolled her eyes. “Can we get on with this, please?”
“Uh, Detective?” That was one of the crime-scene techs, who was pointing at the dead body.
Turning, Milewski saw that the gem embedded in Amethyst’s chest was rising out of the costume’s thorax, until it was now on the same level as his chest instead of sunken inside it.
And then it just rolled off him onto the tar roof.
As it did so, Amethyst’s costume completely disappeared, replaced by a button-down flannel shirt, black jeans, and hiking boots. The man’s face was exposed, revealing a young, dark-skinned man with straight dark hair that was rather tousled.
Everyone just stood for a second, staring.
“Don’t touch the gem!” Ms. Terrific cried out.
“Really not a problem,” one of the crime-scene nerds said.
Milewski noted that nobody had moved since the gem fell off. She certainly had no interest in touching it.
Instead, she looked over at the body that the gem—and its accompanying costume—had apparently abandoned.
There was a depression in the flannel shirt at the spot on the chest where the gem had been. Her knowledge of anatomy was scant enough to know that it was near the heart, but not much beyond that.
Meanwhile, Ms. Terrific held the helmet in both hands, walked slowly up to the gem, reached down, and scooped it up.
Staring at her, Milewski asked, “Really?”
Ms. Terrific shrugged. “Why not?” She touched a button on the helmet and the entire thing lit up with a faint orange glow. “The principle’s the same.”
“Okay, then.” Milewski shook her head.
Alvarado pointed at the helmet. “We need to get that thing to evidence control.”
Ms. Terrific smiled. “Way ahead of you, Detective. Someone from TT Inc. is heading to the O’Neil Building right now with a containment unit to place the gem into.”
“Why O’Neil?” Alvarado asked.
“That is where autopsies are performed, yes?”
“I didn’t think we’d get the gem out until autopsy, so I had the containment unit delivered there. If I’d known it would just plop out like that I’d have brought it with.”
“All right, let’s get to work.” Milewski looked at the body. “We know a lot more than we did a minute ago.”
“How’s that?” Ms. Terrific asked, sounding confused.
Milewski reached into the pockets of her leather jacket and removed her blue gloves. “Well, for starters, the gem obviously exchanged the all-black bodysuit for Amethyst’s civilian clothes, because there’s no way that thick flannel shirt and those boots fit under the costume.”
Ms. Terrific scratched her chin. “Excellent point.”
“Also, while I don’t recognize the guy, we do now know he traces some of his ancestry to central Asia, if not all of it. Also, he’s got incredibly boring taste in clothes, and he looks really young for his age.”
Alvarado snapped his own gloves on. “How you figure that? The age thing, I mean.”
“Amethyst first appeared about twenty-five years ago. This guy doesn’t look like he’s cleared thirty yet.”
Excerpted from Avenging Amethyst © Keith R.A. DeCandido, 2016