Read an Excerpt From We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity…

A terrible superhero and a reluctant supervillain team up to uncover their stolen memories in We Could Be Heroes, a genre-bending romp from author Mike Chen. We’re excited to share an excerpt from the novel, publishing January 26, 2021 with MIRA Books.

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories–a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself.


 

 

Chapter 7

Zoe blamed all of this on daytime drinking. None of this would have happened if she’d avoided doing that.

“You know how you said we don’t have much time?” Jamie turned to Zoe, his expression matching his aura. Weary, de­feated, but mildly amused. “We’re out of time. It’s just fire. From top to bottom.”

The man on her shoulder stirred, and she adjusted him enough to maintain her balance as she kicked the door. It tore off its hinges and flew down the hallway, colliding into the beams. Yet the wall of fire still blocked their path, just like how the Satanic magician did to his terrified audience in that one movie she saw a few weeks ago. But the hero in that, a wiry man with a curly brown mullet and an even thicker mustache, found a way out—not through the flames, but via a crack in the wall made bigger by a conveniently placed axe.

As she scanned for any way around, pain seared her palms, a reminder of the debris she’d just cleared minutes earlier. Bruises healed quickly, but burn scars were something new to deal with.

“Well,” Jamie said. “You wanted to catch me. This was one way to do it.”

“Hold on.” Zoe searched the room, eyes darting quickly. Think, think, think, she told herself. If mullet-mustache guy in The Magical Death Show could find a way out, so could she. They were trapped, the path up the stairs blocked and the four walls around them solid. No windows, no emergency exit, just beams and concrete.

Concrete. Of course. The back wall.

Concrete wouldn’t burn. But it could be knocked down. She could be mullet-mustache guy and the axe all in one.

Zoe set the man down on the floor. “Stay with him. I don’t know how long this is going to take.”

“How long what’s gonna—”

Zoe didn’t let him finish. She sprinted full speed and launched herself at the back wall. Her shoulder slammed into it, creating an oval dent and crack lines spidering farther out.

From behind, she heard Jamie say, “Holy shit.”

Pain radiated from her shoulder, but she shook it off. One look around and she knew none of that mattered right now. She took a good dozen or so step backs, then rammed the wall again, then repeated it two more times until the divot became a deeper hole, the cracks giving away to falling chunks. She turned on her hip and started kicking the largest crack, dust flying in her face, mixing with the thickening smoke. “Come on,” she yelled, throwing her foot over and over, then switching over to punches that tore apart her knuckles. Another punch and another punch and finally another, and suddenly her hand exploded through the other side of the wall, fingers touching the cool night air.

Almost there.

Zoe kicked at the perimeter around the hole, loosening and clearing as much debris as possible. Then she ran back from the wall, turned and launched into a full-speed sprint toward the damaged wall. A few feet before impact, Zoe angled her shoulder forward and leaped off her feet. She felt her body’s impact with the concrete: first her shoulder, then her face, then her ribs and arms.

When she blinked, she was face-first on the ground, dust and grime covering her. More importantly, cool air and the sounds of sirens. From behind, a voice screamed out. “Zoe! I need your help!”

Jamie. And the stunned man.

Bloody handprints planted on the ground, and as Zoe pushed herself up, she coughed and spit, her body rejecting soot and debris. “Zoe! Come on!”

She craned to look back at the person-sized hole in the con­crete, jagged rebar edges and crumbled pieces scattered around. Inside, Jamie dragged the stunned man, arms around his chest and pulling with each step.

Zoe stood up and stumbled forward, leg catching on the bot­tom of the punctured hole in the building wall. She hopped over debris, then waved Jamie away. Though she was sore—in some places, screaming with pain—carrying him out while in­jured was still easier than the whole “smashing through a wall” thing she somehow decided was a good idea. They cleared the broken threshold, and Zoe set the man down.

Jamie immediately collapsed next to him, coughing. “Well,” he said in between coughs and spasms, “nice to meet you, Zoe.”

Zoe pushed her fingers through her hair and knelt down be­side the two men. She tried to laugh, but each breath felt heavy and thick.

“Hey.” Jamie pulled himself up to his knees with a groan. “Promise I’m not trying to be a villain here, okay? But hear me out.”

Fatigue and pain made it easy for Zoe to drop her natural skepticism. “What’s that?”

“I should erase his memory.” He tapped the stunned man on the shoulder. “Even though he was having a breakdown, he might remember something about you or me.”

“Will it…will it hurt him?”

“No, he’ll just have a gap. I’ll leave it at the point when there are a few people in the meeting and they know there’s a fire and that’s it. Ian will probably tell him later he was having a panic attack. Between that and the smoke and the stress, he proba­bly won’t even notice.” They met eyes, and one quick look of approval later led to Jamie doing some weird finger waving. The man didn’t flinch, didn’t convulse, didn’t give any sort of reaction. He simply sat, and then a few moments later, Jamie looked back over and said, “That’s it. It’s done. Let’s bring him up front so the EMTs can take care of him.” Zoe scooped him up rescue-style with her arms but Jamie quickly waved it off. “No, we gotta make it look good. You’re not the Throwing Star, remember?”

They shared a laugh, something that would have felt impos­sible an hour ago, then propped up the man between them, his arms each over a shoulder. A sharp observer would have noticed that she supported all of his weight as Jamie merely framed his other side, and that the man’s feet floated a few inches above the ground. She carried the load at full speed until they emerged from the alley to flashing red lights and the loud water pumps of fire engines. “Hey!” Jamie yelled. “This man needs help!”

Ian saw them and flagged more EMTs to run their way.

“He’s in shock,” Jamie said through huffs. “He had a panic attack. And the smoke, or stress or whatever. He seems unre­sponsive right now, but I think he needs just a few minutes.”

EMTs wheeled over a stretcher; latches clanged and clacked, and the air filled with medical speak as they checked him over. Though Jamie had gone a long way to earning some level of trust, Zoe still lingered just long enough to hear the EMTs pro­nounce the man’s vitals as steady and stable.

The Mind Robber kept his word.

And suddenly, those moments of chasing him down seemed a little different.

As two firefighters passed by, one commented about how a blown transformer on its own shouldn’t cause such a big fire, not at that speed. The other said it looked like the building’s old wood structure probably didn’t help, though its earthquake retro­fit with concrete had kept the whole thing from toppling down.

Blown transformer. Did that explain the flashing blue and sudden blackouts? An hour had passed, and while the danger of the fire was mostly out now, the burnt stench lingered in the air. Combined with the incoming bay fog and light rain over­head, the whole place became a stew of all the worst smells. Jamie adjusted on the bus stop bench he shared with Zoe as they watched the firefighters. Lights from police cars brought flashes of blue into the mix, though there looked to be a plainclothes officer helping out.

They hadn’t really said much during that time, mostly com­menting as the firefighters and EMTs did their job—”true he­roes,” Zoe called them—though they played up the adulation when Ian came by to thank them, before dropping back to ten­sion just as quickly. Jamie didn’t think Zoe was going to break him in half or turn him in, though she had just thrown herself through a concrete wall. So she was probably a little impulsive.

“What’s it like?” Zoe suddenly asked.

“Huh?”

“Doing the…memory thing,” she said. She tugged on the blanket provided by the EMTs, eyes still forward. “What’s it like?”

“Well, it’s um…it’s kind of like watching a movie? You can fast-forward or rewind. Or pause.” He waved his fingers around. “Fingers help, they kind of act like controls. Like, um, swiping to move around. And delete.”

She finally looked at him, eyes wide but not combative like earlier. Instead, she leaned forward, the questions coming out at a much quicker clip. “Anything in their memory? Like even stuff from way back when?”

“As far as I can tell, as long as it’s in there, like if their brain is still capable of recalling it, I can access it. Sometimes it looks a little hazy and then it focuses.” Jamie broke eye contact, even though he could feel her gaze lingering. “But honestly, I try not to pry too much. You know, it’s creepy to do that. I usually just cover my tracks and that’s it.”

“Even yourself?”

Jamie’s muscles locked up. This had to be leading somewhere. While the fire and ensuing rescue had occupied their focus over the past few hours, there was no getting away from the origi­nal reason they were there. Or was it a trick? She had, after all, been chasing him. He weighed his options and realized that sitting next to someone with extraordinary speed and strength left very little margin for error. “Not myself,” he said, breaking the silence. “It’s like what you said about the wall. I’m like you. Who I was before two years ago, I’m not sure.”

“Two years. That’s gotta…” Zoe’s voice trailed off, her brow suddenly furrowed before her eyes locked onto his with a sud­den intensity. “Have you tried pushing past it?”

“A little. But I figure, what’s the point? I am who I am now. You can only move forward from that. You go backward, you’ll only find that it wasn’t the way you imagined.” He opted to not mention the strange underlying sense of guilt the past seemed to spark. “I try to look ahead.” She remained still, the putt-putt-putt sound of the fire engine in the background. “You?”

“I’ve researched.” She didn’t blink; in fact, she didn’t move, almost to the point that he wondered if he’d accidentally brain-stunned her. “Something has to explain it. You hear the rumors from Hartnell City? I—” She stood up and stared off, the con­nection broken. “Never mind. I should go.”

“Can I ask you something first?”

“Sure.” The smallest of smiles came to her lips.

“I get the strength and speed and stuff. But how does the whole hovering thing work?”

“Oh that—” her laughter filled the air around them “—I don’t even know. It just does.”

Simple as that. Zoe seemed to blow it off like floating in the air was the same as doing a cartwheel. Jamie couldn’t do either.

“So what are you going to do now?” he asked, his breath puffing into the night sky. This was the logical question, one he’d hoped would have come up by now. It hadn’t, so he fig­ured it was on him. This was one variable that couldn’t be left unchecked. Not after this morning. Not after evading her.

Not after saving people together.

He went on, “I mean, look, I’m pretty tired after tonight. So if you’re going to turn me in, I think I’d like to skip the whole beating up part.”

“No.” A gust of wind kicked up strands of her smoke-matted her. “No, I’m not going to turn you in. I think you’ve earned a bit of good faith. It’s too bad, ’cause I had the best catchphrase I was going to say when I caught you.”

“Thanks. Maybe save that for another villain? Well, I guess we know if we wound up working as EMTs together, we’d be okay.”

“Yeah.” Zoe’s head bobbed in a quick nod. “Guess you could call that teamwork.”

She turned, the lights from beyond obscuring her expression, though he could see her mouth drop. “What you said about—” she started before cutting herself off and looking down. “I mean. Never mind. It’s been a long day. I could use a shower.”

“Right. I should get home to my cat. She’s probably wonder­ing where I disappeared to.”

“You have a cat?”

“Yeah. Her name is Normal. She’s…not that bright.” Her per­sistent meows and awkward gait popped into his mind, prompt­ing a laugh. “Definitely can’t survive on her own.”

“Huh. Well, people can surprise you every day. Look, I’ll stay out of your way. You stay out of mine. Okay?”

The question lingered, a bit of a truce in the air.

“Yeah. Sounds good.”

Zoe nodded again, and though he wanted to say something more, the right phrases refused to form. They stared at each other.

Maybe it didn’t have to be this way. Maybe they didn’t have to be at odds.

Maybe they could even help each other.

“You know—” he started, but as he did, Zoe gave a quick wave and turned. She walked off down the alley, looking left and right but not back, then sprinted off with her extraordi­nary speed.

The drizzle picked up, washing soot and debris off his clothes, out of his hair. And though he considered trying to catch up to her, for now he decided to leave it be. All around him, the power fluctuated again—the lights on the fire engine, the streetlights, the surrounding buildings.

They stabilized, and Jamie stood and looked straight at a flyer on a telephone pole.

The flyer was for some furniture clearance sale, nothing to bother with. But burned into it, as if someone had taken a pen­cil of electricity and charred the paper with it, was the word STOP. The edges of the lettering glowed, little flecks of ash blowing off in the wind.

Questions formed in Jamie’s mind, pondering not just the word but how it got here, why it got here. It had to be deliberate, for him to see—with the rain and the madness of the evening, it had to be. But he would have noticed someone coming in with a cigarette lighter or something and burning the word in there.

Stop? Stop what? Stop the fire? Stop being the Mind Robber?

Stop Zoe?

“You alright?” a voice called out. The tone was familiar and Jamie looked up to catch sight of the detective from earlier. He immediately straightened up—Chesterton, that was his name. “Oh. We met earlier, didn’t we? This was your support group you mentioned?”

Jamie told himself to relax. It was completely reasonable that a police officer, even a plainclothes detective, would help out with a downtown fire and not be tracking him from earlier.

“Yep. That was me. Oh,” he said, trying to turn on an extra level of gracious vibes, “sorry again about my cat earlier.”

“My fault. Never say hello to strange animals. Common sense. I heard you helped get some people out here?”

“I just did what anyone would in that situation.”

“Well—” he smiled as he looked over at the open ambulance door “—the city is grateful. San Delgado could use more peo­ple like you.”

Best to leave. “Thanks, Detective. I appreciate it.”

“You’re okay? You need anything?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” He oriented himself using the towering and brightly lit TransNational Building as his guide, then set out to the nearest Metro station, just as he did nearly every single day. But this time, each step felt a little different, as if the world had suddenly shifted from a few hours ago, and it had nothing to do with the burning building or humming fire engines.

 

Excerpted from We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen. Copyright © 2021 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books.

citation

Back to the top of the page

1 Comment

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.