Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Alternate Vertigo 3

The room in which Dreamwave found herself was large and bright, but it also lacked windows. With its cream pillars and pale green walls, it was lavish but bland – it positively screamed “government chic”. It was warm, artificially heated. Dreamwave briefly wondered whether she was underground.

But she was already looking around. Her eye was caught by the enormous machine beside her. An enormous, ugly bank of computers, dark grey and chunky – straight out of the 80s. In front of the computers, wired into them, was a thick steel frame on a platform – and attached to the frame, by more wires, was a man in a postal superhero costume.

He wasn’t the room’s only occupant, however. A small cough drew her attention to the tiny man beside the machine. He wore a tatty grey suit which matched his hair.

“Good afternoon, Ms Dreamwave,” said the tiny man. “I’m Peter Copland, and I work for the government ...”

“Who’s that?” she asked indignantly, pointing to the man in the machine. She tried to hide her lack of confidence by standing as defiantly as possible. She wished the others were here.

“A lowly civil servant like myself,” said Copland. He turned towards the wired man. “You may leave now.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“This is Post-Man,” Copland said. “He can teleport. Not far - enough for the postal service, though.”

He patted the machine.

“But this beauty, the things she can do. She can use Post-Man’s powers better than he can. She can cover a broader area, and teleport other things to us.”

Out of his pocket, Copland pulled a yellow and orange duster. He exhaled on part of the ugly device and polished with the cloth. Post-Man had gone to stand at the side. He looked tired.

“You used this to bring me here,” said Dreamwave.

“She’s my pride and joy,” said Copland, as though he hadn’t heard. “She turns powers into computer data. Imagine that!”

“I assume I’m trapped, then?”

“What?” Copland finally turned back to look at her. “Good grief, no. We need a favour.”

The situation was so far out of Dreamwave’s normal depth, she had to keep herself from panicking as Copland explained the situation.

It seemed that, a matter of minutes ago, something had happened at a governmental science laboratory. Some of the Scribblers had been there, and now half the city was gone.

Yes, gone. But that was fine, because the remaining Scribblers were working on it. In the meantime, citizens were likely to panic, and they needed to be restrained until the problem could be fixed.

“That’s where you come in,” Copland explained. “This machine could extend all the way to Cardiff to collect you. But we don’t need to go that far – we only need to cover Dinas.”

“But it’s not that simple, is it?” said Dreamwave. “Post-Man only needed to teleport one person. I’ll be sending half a city to sleep.” She frowned. “Not to mention that I’ll need to keep them all dreaming in that time. REM sleep is all I can offer – I’ll have to create an entire alternate reality for these people.”

“It might take a lot out of you,” agreed Copland. “But you’ll be handsomely rewarded. I note your team’s been trying to access government grants?”

Dreamwave didn’t like this one bit. That sounded like bribery. And how could she be sure Copland really was a civil servant?

Well. One way, to be precise.

Dreamwave concentrated, trying to send Copland to sleep.

He chuckled. “I’m afraid Barbara won’t let you do that.”

“Who the hell is Barbara?”

Copland nodded at the machine. “Named after my wife.”

“She must be touched.”

“She’s dead.”

Copland polished part of the frame for a few moments.

“As a safety measure, powers are cancelled out around her. Just to be on the safe side.” He revealed an ID card from a dusty pocket on his jacked. “Here’s all you need.”

It was genuine, she could see that. Learning to recognise genuine governmental ID was a prerequisite to access their grants – no point funding superheroes otherwise.

She saw that she’d been handed something else along with the card. A cheque. A life-changing sum of money.

“What do I do?” she asked.

She was led to the frame, and wired in like Post-Man had been. As she leaned back, she felt ... bigger. Her powers were extending where they couldn’t before. It felt invasive, yet ordinary, like donating blood.

Dreamwave had never been able to sense people with her powers – that wasn't how they worked. She had to be able to see someone to send them to sleep. But she could feel the machine doing the work for her – channelling her powers into the populace.

Straight into REM sleep. Dream sleep.

And the dreams – those she could sense. She could feel them all, and when she wanted, she could look into them. An entire city full of dreams made her powerful. The machine made her more powerful still.

Dreamwave quickly started the job of building an alternate world for these thousands of people to live. In spite of her misgivings, this was fun.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Alternate Vertigo 2

Dreamwave couldn’t wait to get out of her costume. Three missions in a row, without a chance to shower.

Walking down Coleman Street, struggling with a pile of documents, she turned a few heads – but most of the locals were used to her and the others by now.

She reached the door to number 85, and scowled at the smell of damp from within. Struggling to hold her papers in one hand, she found her keys and unlocked it.

“I’m back,” she called, dumping the papers on the floor, next to an unopened Yellow Pages.

The house was a state. No carpets, a temperamental boiler, and a hole in the floor of the bathroom. But still, it was a base of operations – the first official headquarters of Alternate Vertigo.

In the living room, all of the furniture that came with the house had been pushed to one side, to make room for a large desk, covered in mountains of paperwork. Behind the desk, Insight was on the phone.

“Look, we really need those forms processed as soon as you can,” she was saying. “We’re depending on that grant. We could lose the house if it doesn’t go through and – look, I’ll call you back.”

Putting the phone down, Insight sighed deeply. She stood up.

“Claire. Thank God you’re back. Worst day ever.”

She clambered over the desk and hugged Dreamwave tightly.

“Is Eric back yet?”

“Upstairs in the shower. Got there before I got a chance, the bastard.” She ran a hand through her short brown hair. “I haven’t felt clean since we moved here, you know.”

“We’ll get there,” Dreamwave reassured. “It’s already looking better than it did. Thanks to you.”

“You’re right. I’m brilliant.”

“Anyway, important stuff!” Dreamwave announced, skipping back into the hall to collect a few papers. “We didn’t manage to stop Latent –“

“Who was Latent again?”

“Illusionist – the one with the warehouse full of documents?”


Dreamwave showed her the first of the papers.

“We managed to salvage some of them.” She flicked through the pages. “This one’s really dodgy.”

Insight’s eyes widened as she saw the information within.

“That’s not right. How did she get this?”

“No idea,” said Dreamwave, biting her lip. “This is really toxic stuff. I’m not sure if it’s all accurate –“

“We can check that.” Insight took the folder.

Trapeze walked in, a towel around his waist.

“Shower’s free,” he chirped.

“No time for that,” said Insight. “The woman in the warehouse had a document full of information on Wraith of the Scribblers.”

“You’re joking!”

Insight passed him the folder as she searched a plain black book for a phone number.

“She had a few pages on Chronal too,” said Dreamwave. “She might have escaped with more. Not much on the other Scribblers, except one thing.”

She took a sheet of paper from her selection.

“This one’s about Amity. No details, no information at all, except for one snippet. Her real name.”

Insight nearly dropped her book.


Trapeze looked horrified.

“We’ve got to assume, then, that she knows everything. Her real name means she could get to her family, her educational history. Maybe she could use that to find out the rest of the Scribblers’ identities.”

“That’s assuming she doesn’t already know,” muttered Insight. She was dialling a number.

Then she stopped.

“Six seconds, front door!”

Dreamwave jumped to the side to let Trapeze pass.

Six second later, the door opened, revealing an eight-foot man with blades attached to his colourful suit.

The man lashed at Trapeze, grazing his arm. Instantly, Trapeze jumped into the air. He bounced off the ceiling, kicking the man with all his strength.

“Left leg!” called Insight.

Trapeze landed, and punched the stranger’s left leg hard, just as it was about to kick out.

Dreamwave joined him, and soon, the stranger was fast asleep.


“Any chance of more warning next time?” asked Trapeze.

“I’m working on it,” said Insight.

“It’s just that it’d be really handy if you could tell us stuff a day in advance.”

They were standing in the spare room. The giant stranger was sleeping on the bed, Dreamwave kneeling at his side.

“Okay,” she said. “I can see things. Just normal dream stuff, though. He’s sitting an exam. Naked.”

Insight shuddered. “Can you guide him along?”

“Of course,” said Dreamwave. “Are we thinking Latent?”

“Must be,” said Trapeze. “No-one else would have a reason to assassinate us, right? No-one else really cares who we are.”

“That’s because we’re called Alternate Vertigo,” mumbled Insight.

“Hey!” protested Trapeze. “That’s a great name.”

“It’s the worst name ever,” said Insight. “As I said at the time.”

“This is because it doesn’t reflect your powers, isn’t it?” he replied. “Dreamwave creates alternate realities, I can fly – would you like it more if we were Alternate Vertigo Foresight?”

“Good God, no.”

“He’s responding,” Dreamwave cut in. “He definitely knows her. He ... I think he hates her. Or resents her.”

“Not a loyal henchman, then,” said Trapeze.

“Hired help, then?” said Insight. “Try working out how much money he’s got. If he’s living in squalor, maybe he accepted money from her.”

“I’ll have him drive home,” said Dreamwave. “See what it looks like when he gets there.” She paused. “Actually, no need. Judging by his car, he’s not exactly strapped for cash.”

“Yeah,” said Trapeze. “But how much can you tell from someone’s car?”

“It includes his shopping,” Dreamwave explained. “This man lives in luxury.”

“So either it’s blackmail,” reasoned Insight, “Or it’s money, and Latent is hideously rich.”

Dreamwave stood.

“So far, then. We’ve got a probably-rich supervillain with loads of extremely well-sourced secrets on the Scribblers. And she knows we’ve got her paperwork, and she knows where we live, and she either wants us dead, or she just wants her paper back. Anything I’ve missed?”

“She knew we were coming,” said Trapeze. “Whoever tipped us off, she found out about it. She was clearing out that building when we got there.”

Dreamwave was about to say something else, but she didn’t get the chance, because without warning, she vanished.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Alternate Vertigo

Fred was nervous. He was in a dark warehouse, surrounded by his fellow soldiers, waiting.

“Soldiers”. That’s what Latent had called them. But Fred knew what they really were. Hired help, protecting the secrets of a costumed stranger. They weren’t soldiers. They were goons.

Exceptionally well-paid goons, mark you. Fred wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the money. Most of these terrorists had organisations to train the brain-dead in basic skills. This “Latent” clearly had bigger secrets to protect.

He risked a glance over his shoulder. Yes, there she was – dressed in black with a red pattern. Well, logo – branding was clearly essential to these people. She was shovelling documents from the large, dusty filing cabinets in the back of the otherwise empty space into a black car with darkened windows.

Like so many super-powered terrorists, Latent clearly wanted people to know she was enigmatic.

It was dawning on Fred why intelligence was such a wasted commodity for goons.

The stupid could just stand in wait without a care in the world. But he could see the truth. Latent was clearing out files. This was a secret warehouse, and someone had found out about it.

Beside him, Bob was sleeping.

"Bob!" he hissed, giving him a nudge. "Wake up!"

Bob didn't wake up. He remained firmly asleep, but outstretched his arms.

Fred looked around, alarmed. Others were beginning to notice.

By now, Bob was miming - holding his arms as though he was fishing. Suddenly, it was as though he'd caught a fish - he was pulling back, spinning the imaginary reel.

"Bob, seriously." He nudged, and shook, and even slapped his fellow goon - but nothing would bring him around.

Oh, God. This was a superhero thing, wasn't it?

At great speed, something flew from one end of the warehouse to the other. Fred tried to follow its path, in time to see it kick three of the men to the ground. The flier landed on the ground and looked up.

Fred didn't recognise him, but the costume said it all. Purple and silver lycra showing off the muscle underneath, covering every inch of the stranger, apart from his dreadlocks. The soldiers were turning to face him, but he was up again - flying like a trapeze artist, spinning and kicking and taking people down with astonishing speed.

Bob was no longer the only sleeping agent. Four others were standing on the spot, performing various mimes. One was dancing, two were running on the spot, and the fourth was trying to swat a fly.

The flier was ignoring them, focusing on the strongest of the men first.

Right, thought Fred. He's probably not responsible for the sleepers. That must be someone else. So let's find them.

Fred ran for the far end of the warehouse, where a ladder allowed access to the upper walkways. He climbed with speed, looking around as he did so.

Yes. There she was. A blue and purple costume, and a strangely-shaped helmet. She was staring intently at the sleeping goons.

As silently as possible, Fred made his way towards her. He reached for his truncheon. This had to be quick. One leap, and -

"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!"

Oh, of course, it was his birthday. And where better to spend it than this luxurious hotel, with his wife and children?

The evening was a blur. Cake and champagne, swimming in the pool, a great chat with some Australian tourists. Wonderful.

At the end of the evening, Stephen gave him his present - a DVD box set - with a hand-made card. On the front was an illustration based on a photo of Fred from his time in Iraq. It nearly broke his heart.

Lisa had left her gift at school, so in the meantime, she'd bought him a horrible singing fish from one of the tourist shops. They laughed long and hard at that, until Esme insisted that such a crime against batteries must be stopped at all costs.

After the kids had gone to bed, Fred sat with Esme in the moonlight, enjoying the warmth.

"I love you, Esme," he said.

"Good," said Esme. "But listen. You've done some bad things, Fred."

"Hmm?" He thought about it. Yes, he had, hadn't he? A distant memory now. Yes ... those girls from abroad. Those lorries. Had that really been him? It didn't feel like it.

"Yes, you remember," Esme went on. "That's why I've made an exception for you. I only give people nice dreams, you see -"

"What are you talking about?"

"It's a matter of principle. So you're here on holiday with a loving family." Suddenly, her face was different. Hard. "You don't have a loving family, Fred. And right now, you won't believe me, but when you'll wake up, the loss will hurt, and that'll stay with you."

Fred was on his feet.

"Who are you? What have you done to Esme?"

"You're going to prison, Fred," she said. "Do spend that time thinking about the best way to get all this back, won't you?"

Fred was shaking his head violently. "No, no, this isn't right, this-"

He was in the warehouse. The woman in blue and purple looking down at him. Around him, he could see dozens of his fellow men - all flat on the floor. Asleep? Out cold?

"Sorry you had to miss the fun," called a deeper voice - the flier. "We won while you snoozed."

"Who are you?" asked Fred. He could barely speak. The hotel still felt so vivid.

"We're Alternate Vertigo," said the man. "Give our regards to your cellmates."

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Mike's Diary

My name is Mike. This is my book. I was given it by a man. The man’s name is Abros and he is my teacher.

I’m not very good at writing I don’t think but Abros thinks it will be good for me. There are things I can’t talk about and Abros said I should write them down instead.

I don’t know what to write so I’ll talk about me.

I am fourteen years old. I am from Cardiff. I lived there with my dad and sister. I didn’t like it there. My dad hates me. I didn’t like school either. I didn’t have friends.

I have a magic power. I hate it. If I say someone’s name they die. Two people and a cat have died because I said their names. I didn’t mean to kill them. After I killed a policeman, I was sent to see a special policeman who said he could help me.

Now I am in a different school which is not really a school. Everyone here has magic powers but most people have better powers than me. Abros can use magic words to make spells. If he says “protect” it makes invisible shields. If he says “flight” it makes him fly.

But Abros told me he accidentally killed someone too. He said a bad word and killed a man. The man was a murderer so I don’t think it is as bad. But Abros said he was really upset about it and that he had to learn it was not his fault because he didn’t mean to kill him.

Abros is teaching me to use my magic power. If I name someone I kill them. But if I describe them or use a nickname it hurts them. He is teaching me to work out how to describe people so I can use my power to fight. That's why he gave me my book. I need to be a better writer.

Also when I'm writing it means I can use people's names and describe them and it doesn't hurt them.

Everyone is nicer to me in this school. There are no bullies. Sometimes people eat with me at lunch and we watch films together.

My best friend is called Rhian. She is fourteen like me. She says she can travel through time. She has a teddy bear which she takes everywhere with her but nobody knows why. She doesn’t talk to anyone else. She only talks to me. Her teacher is Contra and he asks me about her a lot. They think she's stupid but she is the cleverest person I've ever met. She calls me Death Quote.

I like this place and I like Rhian. I like Abros and Contra. But I am still sad because I miss my sister and even though Abros says I didn’t really kill her I think I did.

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Letter From The Post-Man

Hi, Caitlin!

Sorry I have to e-mail you – if you’re under 16, they don’t let you use the phones after 6 o’ clock. I have literally no idea why that is.

Anyway, I owe you the whole story, so here it is.

Last day of term, when I had to go to Mr Pearce’s office, there was this woman with him. Rebecca Glass, she’s called, and she’d been called in because of my “special needs”, so I obviously thought she was, like, Director of Weird Stumpy Arms at some hospital. She asked if I was happy at school, and whether I’d want to move. I wasn’t impressed, so I was like, “It’s just my left arm, dude”. She called me Elizabeth too, so I was sulky.

But it turns out it wasn’t another arm thing – it was the Other Thing. I didn’t like that – I’d only told you and mum about the Other Thing, and now Random Lady knew about it! And was talking about it in front of Mr Pearce!

But it turns out (these four words will be the beginning of a lot of paragraphs in this e-mail) that Mr Pearce has this understanding with the Secret Place I’m at, where he keeps an eye on people, and lets them know about people like me. Remember Phil Cray from the year above? He’s here too.

So, first thing’s first – my Awesome Super Powers. I’d kind-of worked it out, but Ms Glass explained the full story. I have the ability to manipulate powers. You know Finesse, the Scribbler? Her power’s similar, apparently. But the way mine works is, I can boost people’s powers. Any powers. Remember when I said I was thinking happy thoughts when you won the 1500 metres in the summer? Turns out those happy thoughts probably made you run faster. Sorry about that. But that’s how Mr Pearce noticed me.

Powers are like muscles, right. The more you use them, the better and stronger they get. And if you don’t use them, they weaken. So right now, I can nearly double people’s powers. But if I practice, they reckon it’ll be a lot more than that. And that’s cool for running and stuff, but it’s even better for other superheroes.

This place is, like, a school for teen superheroes. I assumed it was that government thing at first, but they’re not associated with the government at all – they’re an independent thing. It’s not really a training programme, even though some of us get trained – it’s more like Hogwarts for super-powered people. Ms Glass is my tutor, and there’s eight kids in the class. There are five other tutors, and most of their classes are bigger.

The headmaster is awesome and/or weird. No-one’s seen his face, and he dresses like a villain IMO. The first-years tell scary stories about him, like he’s really Mr Sintaro or something. It is lame. But he’s always been really nice when I’ve seen him – I think he comes to our class more than the others. We reckon he and Ms Glass have a Thing.

So, sorry about the vagueness of this message. There’s confidential stuff I can’t say, but it’s mostly boring. You know – the address and stuff.

Missing you loads. Get bitten by something radioactive so you can come too!