In a world now filled with superheroes and villains, a young disabled woman tries to find her way. One morning, on her way to her new place of work, she finds herself right in the middle of an alien invasion and she learns firsthand what it takes to be a real superhero, whether you are able-bodied or not.
How To Be A Superhero
The darkness and morning chill didn’t help lessen any of the nerves in the tummies of those awake at this early hour. The world awaited the first attack of the Xelone as Raina made her way to the bus stop that would take her to her internship. As strange as the world for the people of Earth had become with the unveiling of superheroes and aliens, daily life still went on as it always had.
Except that people looked up into the sky a little more often than they had before.
This morning though, Raina’s gaze was focused entirely on the ground below. She wanted to make a good first impression at her new place of work, but she also knew she carried baggage the size of the chair she was currently sitting in.
As Raina reached the bus stop, the rain had switched from a light drizzle to a heavy shower. Looking up, she saw the digital clock indicating the bus’s arrival change from four minutes to seven. She knew she’d be drenched by the time it would pull up in front of her and she imagined the looks on her new co-workers’ faces as she rolled into her first day.
After waiting a couple more minutes in the rain, a man wearing a navy raincoat stepped up beside her, holding an umbrella. Raina nodded at the man as he stared down at her. Her wheelchair often proved to be of particular interest. People either stared for too long or avoided her entire existence as if she was a spreader of the plague.
Raina looked up at the man’s umbrella and his glorious dryness beneath it, but once he had enough of staring at Raina, he proceeded to stare ahead, at the darkened buildings and housing across the street, his wide umbrella firmly staying above his own head, and his head alone.
Knowing he wouldn’t see, Raina gave him the evil eye as a rain droplet dripped right onto the back of her neck, where her coat met her scarf. She shivered as the bus finally turned the corner towards them.
As it approached, Raina could see the driver scowl at her. It made her heart sink and she decided to not get up, but instead remain seated. Whenever she rose up from her wheelchair it usually led to more curious gazes. Few understood that you didn’t always have to be paralysed to need a wheelchair.
The driver continued to scowl as it pulled up in front of the two of them waiting for it in the pouring rain. Raina had phoned ahead weeks ago to make sure it was okay for her to travel by bus. They had assured her that it was and that there was a ramp available on every transport vehicle. She had been thankful and relieved, but the look on the driver’s face after letting on Umbrella Man made her feel anything but welcome.
Would it be like this every Monday for the next three months?
The driver greeted her with a grunt and gestured to the back of the bus. Raina rolled the way she had come and as the back doors opened, she saw a young woman get up from her seat to assist the driver. Her long blonde hair framed the broad smile she threw at Raina when together with the driver she lifted the ramp and put it down onto the pavement for Raina.
‘Thanks so much,’ said Raina to the woman as she made her way into the bus. She ignored the driver as she punched her public transport card against the check-in machine while he brought the ramp back in, rain drops covering his jacket.
‘Any time,’ the woman said before returning to her seat.
As Raina rolled into the space allocated for wheelchairs and strollers, she bit her lip.
Could she be…?
She was a likely a candidate as any, Raina mused, staring at the woman’s profile in front of her.
Raina looked down at the wet bag in her lap and rummaged around inside to find her phone. As she took it out, the bus pulled away. She scrolled through her gallery, zooming in and out on photos that been taken by the public of the superheroine commonly known as Moon Badger. Raina would pay a lot of money – if only she had any – to see that grey suit with the white hood and black make-up over her eyes in real life some time. She compared the blurry shots of a woman standing on a rooftop and of the same woman far away during a fight in an alley to the figure and profile of the woman helping her onto the bus. Same height and figure, Raina guessed, looking up and down. But her profile… It was hard to judge a face’s contours from behind a façade. Raina didn’t even know what her hair colour was underneath that hood.
When the vehicle halted at the bus stop along the main shopping street, the young woman got up, walked past Raina absentmindedly, checked out and got off.
Raina gazed after her as she entered a street opposite the bus lane. When the bus pulled away, Raina turned her attention back to her phone and checked social media for any sightings from last night. As she scrolled, Raina realised it was another Moon Badger-less night. That made it two weeks in a row without a sighting. Raina hoped the Badger was okay and hadn’t suffered an injury of some kind. She guessed the woman was preparing for the apparently inevitable and imminent alien invasion.
Raina looked at her home screen and stared at the picture of Moon Badger standing on the edge of a rooftop looking down on the street below. It had been taken the time she had saved a family of four from a house fire two streets away from Raina’s. Moon Badger was seen looking down on the scene to see if everyone was all right.
Raina smiled at the memory of the evening. Fast asleep, she suddenly awoke from a man on the street below her open window shouting: ‘It’s her! It’s Moon Badger! It’s really her!’
Raina hadn’t seen her that night, but knowing she had saved the Ali’s and had been so close in proximity had made her giddy with excitement. It made her giddy now.
It was still almost unfathomable to Raina that she now lived in a world with its own superheroes. To experience firsthand where all those comic books, films and biological and scientific experiments had led to. And to have a superhero in her own neighbourhood no less.
Raina definitely felt safer at night, knowing Moon Badger was out there, looking out for them.
Of course, there was a rather big downside to having superheroes around, namely the reason for their entire existence: villains. For so many positives to have come out of the development of enhanced tech there were also those who used it for more nefarious purposes.
Every time a new villain or threat announced itself, either in her city or in the world, Raina wished she could do her bit to help.
She sighed. Raina knew she’d never be helpful. Not until they found a cure for her illness anyway and she knew that was a long way off.
She scrolled past several tweets containing the same video from last month when the Secretary-General of the UN had addressed the entire planet and had spoken of the new threat of the Xelone. Their invasion, or attempt at invading, had been a long time coming, but to Raina’s surprise it had not proved to have many consequences for daily life on Earth.
Some built shelters, sure, some even hid in them already, but most humans carried on with their lives as they had when the first superheroes and their counterparts had appeared on the scene. Even supers were a concept humans could get easily accustomed to it seemed and so was the threat of an alien invasion.
Raina scrolled down the comments below one particular news video in which Voltage, a superhero from New York City, was seen blasting a bad guy out of the sky, making him drop down hard into the Hudson. River patrol had retrieved him from the water, but the man had been in a coma ever since.
Good riddance, one tweet said.
Thank you Voltage for making our city safer! another had said more moderately.
But not everyone was thankful. As Raina scrolled down many people talked about superheroes as if they were the ones bringing danger to the streets.
Voltage has been created in a shady lab. How can we trust people like that? If they’re still “people”.
Ya’ll applauding these so-called supers should realize the streets would be much safer without them.
Attention-seeking scum, it’s all these “superheroes” are.
Raina dropped her phone into her lap and stared out of the window of the bus. It was desperate for a good clean, both inside and outside.
Go stand in their shoes, Raina thought as blurry houses and streets whizzed on by in the dark, occasionally becoming clearer when the bus stopped to let someone on or off and a street light illuminated the street beyond. I wish I could stand in their shoes.
Raina swallowed. Her eyes pricked slightly, so she blinked rapidly to stop any tears from falling. A child in his father’s lap turned around two rows in front of her and stared at Raina. She smiled which made him instantly turn back to face the front.
Raina looked down at the phone in her lap. It was devastatingly clear to her. She was never going to be a superhero. Her illness would always keep her from achieving what she desired most: to be a superhero and to help her neighbourhood, the world even.
What she’d give to help Voltage, fight the Xelone and proof all the people who stared at her when she was out in public wrong. What she’d give to be Moon Badger’s sidekick.
But she knew that could and would never happen. She was sick and while they were able to create enhanced superhumans, they had not been able to find a biological cause for her illness, let alone a cure, and so she was stuck on the sofa or in this wheelchair for most of her days, waiting for a time when doctors would finally figure out what exactly caused her body to fail so spectacularly that she could barely stand up from lack of energy and muscle strength.
Raina’s nervous tummy about her first day at the museum suddenly turned into nausea and the thoughts that had plagued her for months started to bully her again. She probably couldn’t even finish the internship. Perhaps not even the first month of it. Or maybe not even the first day. School had been tough enough and she’d been given numerous extensions there, but now she was already fatigued on this bus going into work, so how could the rest of the day go any better? It never had before. Raina felt her thoughts starting to twist and turn. She reached into her bag to retrieve her water bottle. She took a sip, but felt the first drops of sweat appear at the back of her neck, indicating the start of a panic attack.
Not now, Raina told herself amidst darkening thoughts.
She took a deep breath and looked outside where the rain seemed to have stopped, the first rays of sunlight appearing above the city. But Raina’s her brain barely registered it, too busy with its own spiral down.
Raina put the bottle back and picked up her phone. She started typing a message to her friend Aïda, purely to distract herself and occupy her mind with something else besides the anxious thoughts that she knew would quickly overwhelm her.
Just as she hit ‘send’, Raina heard screeching tyres but before she could wonder what was happening she was suddenly thrown forward, her phone falling out of her hands and onto the floor of the bus. Her chest and arms bumped hard against the back of the empty seats in front of her. But she was instantly glad they were there or, she realised immediately, she might have fallen out of her chair.
Her forearms hurt, but the sound of more screeching tyres outside her window made her look out.
Beyond the dirt she saw the bus had just turned onto Park Bridge before it had braked. But it was clearly not the only one. Cars were positioned this way and that around the bus and on the road.
An accident on the bridge, Raina thought to herself as a car honked outside. Then another.
A sudden sound of a man screaming made her leave her dark thoughts behind instantly. The scream was followed by a door hissing open and people hurrying past her. Recovering slowly from her fling forward and the sudden chaos around her, Raina felt her chair move, though her hands were still firmly planted on the back of the seats in front. Looking behind her, she saw the driver, red-faced and panicky, pulling her backwards, down the ramp he had already put down unnoticed by Raina. It all happened so fast, she could hardly fathom what was happening when the driver turned to her.
‘Good luck,’ he said before running off, turning into a small side street where cars were parked as haphazardly on the asphalt as they were on the bridge. He left the bus where it was, its doors open, the ramp still down.
Around Raina morning commuters were running and racing in all kinds of directions. As the first rays of morning appeared in the sky, men in suits, women in warm coats, moms and dads pushing strollers or carrying their children, elderly people on mobility scooters or behind walkers all hurried down the bridge or into adjacent buildings as fast as they could.
Raina stared at the scene around her in confusion, having no idea what was going on. Across the street a young man wearing a beanie and baggy jeans held up his phone towards the bridge. Raina frowned before following his gaze.
Finally she noticed what was causing the chaos.
Ahead, above the skyscrapers visible beyond the river, glowing clouds in the morning twilight had parted revealing what Raina could only describe as a black hole in the sky.
Its blackness, a black disc blacker than the night and therefore visible amid the twinkling lights of the city in the early hours of a new day, was soundlessly, slowly descending towards the earth, towards the city, towards Raina.
Pulling her gaze away from the strange scene in the sky, Raina’s gaze darted this was and that around her before turning back to the colossus above.
The panic started to grow around Raina quickly as more and more commuters realised what was happening and those still at home came outside or switched on the lights to see what the ruckus was all about.
Screams started to echo around the narrow street leading up to the bridge. Cars still zigzagged across the asphalt coming onto the bridge, but most vehicles were quickly abandoned when their drivers realised there was no way through.
‘Tube station,’ someone yelled at someone else among the screams and sounds of running. The words registered with Raina and she instantly knew they were referring to Park Bridge station, about 300 feet away across the bridge.
Looking around and seeing everyone head into different directions, only taking care of themselves and any kids they had, Raina realised she had no choice. She knew no one here who could help her to a safe place and heading below ground seemed like the smartest option right now.
As fast as her still painful arms could move, she made her way across the bridge, zigzagging around mostly abandoned cars and running people.
Only 200 feet until she was at the station. Her arms were growing tired quickly, as they always did, but she knew she had to keep moving even though her breathing intensified and more yelling and screaming echoed around her.
Raina could not hear it and didn’t look up, but it was as if she could feel the air above her part as the wormhole – which she assumed it was – moved down, pushing aside every particle in its way.
A crowd was now descending on the other side of the bridge in front of the station’s entrance, all of them for the same reason: getting to safety.
Raina came to a halt at the back of the crowd pressing into the small opening of the tube station. Inside, Raina knew, there was a small, low-ceilinged hall with check-in barriers leading to two long escalators – one down, one going up – which in turn led to a long narrow, not to mention hot, corridor and two platforms beyond.
A short, black haired woman in front of Raina caressed the back of a wide-eyed child whose gaze was fixated towards the sky. The crowd moved slowly, preventing a stampede, but still soon Raina got boxed in. A couple of people fell half over her and her wheelchair as they tried to gently, but firmly push their way inside, the blackness threatening them from above.
Experiencing the world from her lower viewpoint as everyone around her pushed forward with increasing panic on their faces was an uneasy affair for Raina. When she had finally reached the station’s entrance, she breathed a small sigh of relief. She now at least had a roof over her head.
But the relief was short-lived, because now she was within the station, she realised she had a problem. A major problem.
This station wasn’t disabled friendly. It had stairs, but no lift.
‘Shit, shit, shit,’ muttered Raina.
In the past, during her better days, she had used this station going into town occasionally. But she hadn’t in years; her legs too weak, her fatigue too strong.
Raina quickly became frantic. She looked around for a solution, but aside from asking someone to carry her down the stairs, she had zero options at her disposal. And even if she did ask and abandoned her chair, it would mean she’d be trapped down in the tunnels, helpless and dependent.
Raina closed her eyes for a moment as people brushed past and bumped into her. One man yelled at her, so she decided as best as she could to move away from the crowd going into the direction of the escalator and instead head towards the sidewall. It was a narrow station, so people still pushed past her and threw her looks, suspecting her to roll over their feet and in general being annoyed by her presence amid the increasing panic.
Slowly and nervously, Raina got herself as much out of the way as possible while everyone else made their way down the escalator into the tube tunnel, humans going more quickly than the machine. The fear on the faces of those entering was palpable and Raina wondered what they had last seen up in the sky. She felt her heart beat inside her chest and her palms were sweaty on her wheels. Her mind raced with possible scenarios, for her and for the city; for the planet even.
With her left hand glued the wall, she tried to get out of the way of the people still seeking refuge. Some gave her a frown as she moved in the opposite direction of them.
When she reached the entrance, the crowd entering had thinned out and a quiet descended over the station. Only a handful were making their way inside, but they didn’t even notice Raina and quickly and quietly made their way down.
Raina took a peek around the entrance into the street. While scared, she was also curious about the goings-on outside.
She saw cars parked at random in the middle of the road leading onto the bridge, the water below becoming more visible as the morning sun started to ascend further over the city. Her gazed moved up into the air. There it was still, the black hole of nothing. It still hovered, making its way down slowly, without making a sound.
Raina couldn’t help but stare at its vastness in the sky above the river. It was awesome and terrifying. It couldn’t be Earth-made, Raina decided. Sure, there had been rumours about Dark Hex having had an encounter with aliens through the use of wormhole technology, but its existence had been vehemently denied by the US government. Though Hex had kept mum on the subject. Then again, he never spoke much anyway, being a man of action.
A sudden mewl made Raina look away from the sky towards the road leading away from the bridge past Park Bridge Station. A teenage girl was lying on the pavement, her hands and face bleeding. Raina put her hands down and wheeled as fast as she could towards her over the empty pavement. Leaning forward, she put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
‘Can you stand?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ answered the startled girl.
‘Lean on my chair.’
Putting her full weight on the side of Raina’s chair, the girl slowly got up. She seemed to have taken a nasty tumble as her shirt and jeans were ripped and her knees were also bleeding.
‘Slowly,’ said Raina as the both of them made their way to the tube station’s open entrance. Only a handful of people were still around on the streets, either running or looking dazed.
‘Go! Down the escalator,’ said Raina as the girl gestured a thank you. Just as she disappeared from Raina’s view, a sudden screeching sound echoed through the air. It was so deafening, Raina had to cover her ears with her hands.
When the noise finally stopped and Raina removed her hands from her ears, a rumble seemed to come from below the city. Raina looked up and saw some dust come loose from the station’s ceiling. As the tremors got worse Raina rolled herself back to the station’s entrance. She peeked around the entrance again as her chair shook.
From the hole in the sky above the city a giant pin now protruded, like an extraterrestrial drill. Going by the rumbling Raina had heard and felt, it seemed to make its way down into the earth. Once more the ground beneath Raina trembled and roared.
‘Hey!’ she suddenly heard from above over the rumbling noises.
As she looked up, a figure tumbled down from the roof of the tube station, landing gently in front of her.
Where Raina’s heart had been pounding so fast and so loud in the last few minutes, it now seemed to all but stop upon the realisation of who was standing in front of her.
It was Moon Badger.
It was really her. In her grey outfit, white a white hoodie over her head, black makeup masking her eyes and a black scarf to cover her mouth.
‘What’s your name?’ her voice sounded muffled.
‘Huh?’ Raina managed to utter, her chair rocking on the floor tiles of the station.
‘Your name!’ Moon Badger shouted over the noise of the alien drill.
‘Oh! Raina!’ Raina answered as her entire chair started to shake violently. She held onto the arms tightly.
‘We need to get you out of here,’ said Moon Badger, standing firm as the world about them shook.
A loud yelp startled both of them. They looked around and saw an older gentleman on the ground next to his bicycle.
‘Sir!’ yelled Moon Badger who instantly sprinted towards the man. Although she was no match for Moon Badger’s superhuman speed, Raina couldn’t help but go after her.
‘Sir, are you all right? Can you get up?’
‘I need to get home. I was out, but I need to get home. I need to get back to my husband.’
‘I understand, sir, I do, but right now we need to get you off the street. Me and my friends are doing everything we can to stop them, but we need all civilians off the street.’
The gentleman seemed to understand as he tried to get up from the shaking road.
‘Lean on me, sir,’ said Raina which earned her an approving look from Moon Badger as the man pulled himself upright.
‘There you go. Now lean on Raina and the both of you get down onto the platforms below, okay?’
The gentleman nodded and while he limped, they were able to make their way to the station. Raina was thankful that the rumbling had stopped, however briefly. Behind them loomed the gnawing drill, coming out of nowhere, poking into the earth, somewhere to the east of them. Raina tried to think of what it could be drilling after.
When she had safely delivered the man at the top of the escalator, he turned around. ‘No lift?’
Raina shook her head.
As the escalator took the man down the last thing she saw of him was a face of sadness.
Trying to shake it off, she turned her chair back to the entrance.
There she stood.
‘What are you doing?’ Moon Badger asked.
Raina wheeled towards her. ‘I can’t go down.’
Despite the black face paint and scarf, Raina knew she was frowning.
Raina nodded as Moon Badger darted into the direction of the exit. Suddenly Raina heard a noise of multiple engines in the air. Simultaneously her heart started to beat faster.
This wasn’t the noise of the drill. This was Dark Hex. Dark Hex and his extraterrestrial friends. They were here to help!
Raina moved onto the street and couldn’t help but smile up at the Silver Bullets – the fighter planes Dark Hex had constructed with the help of the UN – flying in the sky towards the sunrise and the wormhole.
She turned her head and saw Moon Badger hovering over a small child halfway down the bridge.
As fast as she could, Raina wheeled towards them.
The child was a girl of no more than five years old.
‘Can you bring her inside?’
‘I don’t know. She was stumbling around and then I saw her fall. But she’s breathing and her heart rate’s okay.’
‘I’ll take care of her,’ said Raina.
Carefully, Moon Badger lifted up the child and put her gently into Raina’s arms.
Slowly and glad that the shakes had stopped, Raina wheeled back to the station, holding onto the child. Above her head she could see the Bullets shooting a blue ray of some kind at the wormhole in the sky. Its blackness turned white for a brief moment as another ray hit the drill and to Raina’s astonishment the drill cracked.
But it was not enough for it to break.
Another light from another Bullet hit the wormhole, which flickered, but soon the dark returned, now a stark contrast to the brightening morning sky.
As Raina raced into the tube station with the girl in her lap, a familiar face waited for her at the top of the escalator.
‘Wondered where you were.’
Raina stared at the gentleman with the limp she had helped.
‘Couldn’t let you stay up here on your own.’
Raina nodded and gestured to him to take the little girl and carry her down below. With seemingly rekindled energy, the man took the girl and held her close as the escalator went down.
Raina turned around, but a head-splitting screech made her cover her ears yet again. When it was over, she could hear more Bullets firing rays at the hole. She hurried back to the entrance to look for any signs of more people in distress. As she looked out, she saw a young woman lie behind a car being slowly made to stand with the help of Moon Badger. But the teenager was clearly in no state to stand. So Moon Badger lifted her in her arms and ran with great speed towards Raina.
‘Help her down, yeah?’
Raina nodded. ‘You can sit.’
The girl hesitated for a moment.
‘It’s okay. Sit.’
The girl sat down and with the added weight, Raina wheeled back to the station, her arms tired and in pain but her mind determined.
The road became bumpier as the tremors restarted, but as the young woman held on tight to Raina, they made it to the station in one piece where the gentleman was already waiting for Raina. He handed the girl a walking aid he seemed to have taken up to the surface from below and together they descended the escalator. The way up seemed to have broken down amid the tremors.
‘Raina!’ she heard the familiar voice call out once more.
‘No, stay here.’ The woman belonging to the voice appeared in front of her.
‘What’s going on?’
‘It’s getting ugly. This block of streets is now empty, and they need me up there.’
‘But I need you to stay here.’
‘No, I want… ‘
‘I need to know you’re safe. You need to be down there before…’
As she spoke, a heavy quake shook them, Raina’s chair shaking.
‘…the ceiling comes down.’
‘But I can’t…’ Raina gestured towards the escalator, being quite sure after all that had happened that her legs and arms would not be able to support her.
‘Can’t you sit on it?’
‘Well, yeah, but… After that I won’t be able to get around.’
‘Will you let me?’ Moon Badger said, opening her arms.
‘You’re needed up there!’ Raina realised she had raised her voice in anger at her own situation.
‘I’ll do it,’ a voice came from behind.
‘But you’re…’ started Raina before stopping herself.
‘I’d be honoured to help you down. And back up when this is all over. You can count on me.’ He nodded to give Raina extra assurance.
She stared at the man for a second before making up her mind.
‘Thank you,’ she said before turning to Moon Badger.
The superhero gave her a nod before darting off. Her parkour skills were unprecedented and unmatched and Raina felt lucky to witness firsthand how she climbed up a straight wall across the station, jumped across two roofs at enormous speed and did so making it all look easy. But Raina was also angry and disappointed that she couldn’t help.
As soon as Moon Badger was out of sight, a loud noise echoed around the city.
A hand on Raina’s shoulder made her head turn. The gentleman looked at her with a kind smile, but his eyes showed urgency.
‘You’re sure?’ she said.
‘Absolutely,’ he said.
As they stood at the top of the escalator, he carefully lifted Raina out of the chair.
‘Sorry,’ Raina said.
‘For what?’ said the gentleman.
‘For being heavy.’
He threw her an exasperated look. ‘Don’t do that.’
Carefully, he stepped onto the still moving escalator. She held on to him tightly as he put her onto it. The way down seemed to take ages as the ground around them rumbled and shook. From above came even louder screeches and shots.
When they finally made it down, he gently helped Raina back in the chair he had held onto on their way down.
‘Here we are,’ the man said, his leg evidently still painful to him and Raina was glad that he had the stick to help him, though she felt tears prick in her eyes over her own helplessness and over her city being in such danger.
‘Thank you,’ she said, swallowing away her emotion. ‘My name is Raina.’
‘André.’ He smiled at her before leading the way down the long corridor to the two platforms.
But they never even reached them.
Halfway down the corridor the people that Raina had seen enter were sitting down all along the corridor. The air in the narrow tunnel was hot and stuffy. People were sitting with their eyes closed and their heads back against the postered walls as sweat dripped from their brows. Others held pieces of fabric against bleeding wounds. Some had grimaces on their faces, their injuries invisible. They all had one thing in common: the fear in their eyes over what was happening up above and what would be happening to them down here.
As soon as Raina and André reached them, a woman stood up and flew into Raina’s arms. ‘Thank you. Thank you so much. I had lost her in the chaos. Was afraid she’d… Thank you.’
Behind the woman Raina saw the little girl she had carried in look up at her with big brown eyes.
‘No need,’ said Raina. ‘Just did what anyone would have done.’
The woman looked around at the crowd behind her. ‘No, that’s not true. You two were the only ones who looked out for other people. Thank you.’
The woman sat back down with her daughter who took a sip from a water bottle.
‘And now we wait,’ said André.
What felt like hours went by as they sat there waiting, occasionally talking quietly, but mostly hoping and praying, as the earth rumbled around them.
Raina kept her focus on her breathing and stared at the many posters on the tunnel wall opposite. One poster advertised a play, another perfume, yet another an airline company. She studied the colours of the posters and the alluring words written on them, trying to keep her mind occupied, blocking out the many crying children and adults.
If only she could help. Instead she was down here, trying to control her panic, and failing.
‘I’m scared,’ a girl with wild brown hair and black glasses said to her father across from her as the loudest rumble until then shook them. Dust came down from the ceiling and landed on their heads.
‘I know, sweetie,’ he replied. ‘It’s going to be okay.’
‘How do you know?’ the girl demanded.
Raina looked at the little girl as her father sought reassuring words.
‘Because I saw Moon Badger. And Dark Hex.’
The girl looked up at Raina, her eyes widening. ‘You did?’
Raina nodded. ‘Sure did. Moon Badger helped me get her back to her mom.’ Raina gestured towards the girl sipping from her mother’s water bottle once more.
‘Oh, yes. And she helped her too,’ Raina said, pointing at the teenage girl who was too busy with her phone to notice people were talking about her.
‘And I saw Dark Hex and his Silver Bullets in the sky flying towards the black hole.’
‘No way!’ said the girl, leaning forward.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Raina, smiling broadly. She noticed people all down the corridor had turned to listen to her.
‘So, you see, we’re going to be okay. We have the best out there to help us.’
The girl nodded vigorously. ‘We’re going to be saved by the superheroes!’ She clapped in her hands as she spoke, a broad smile on her face.
‘I think you’re right,’ said Raina, smiling back, desperately wanting to believe her own words.
‘I know I am,’ said the girl.
Her father looked proudly at his daughter, then up at Raina. ‘Thank you,’ he mouthed.
Raina nodded at him.
‘Is that true?’ someone down the corridor yelled. ‘Did you really see them?’
‘I did,’ Raina shouted back.
‘So did I,’ said André, who sat cross-legged at Raina’s feet.
A murmur echoed through the corridor as the people hiding from the ongoing shakes underground discussed this news.
‘We’re going to be saved by superheroes,’ said the girl again, staring at a poster of a musical on the opposite wall.
Raina smiled to herself as she looked around and saw faces of relief all around. Oh how she hoped the girl was right.
Until after what seemed like hours the noise and shaking finally stopped.
After a couple of minutes of silence someone finally dared to speak.
‘Was that it?’ an elderly woman whispered, hunching next to another woman who was sweating profusely in the heat and terror of their underground terrain.
Then an air splitting, skull crushing bang echoed through the walls around them and more dust fell down, making some of the kids scream in fright.
Raina closed her eyes and covered her ears as the earth around them trembled heavily.
Hopefully this was the final blow for the drill and the wormhole; not for them.
When the silence returned, Raina looked at André sitting next to her. He nodded and got up.
‘We’ll check,’ he said to the others.
‘You’re mad,’ multiple voices replied.
Not minding them the two of them made their way back to the escalator.
Only then Raina realised the way up was broken.
‘Come on,’ said André, kneeling and opening his arms.
‘No, I’ll try,’ said Raina, remembering his limp. ‘I’ll try to stand.’
Slowly, with André’s help, she got up from her chair and held onto the side of the escalator.
Raina swallowed. Her legs shook beneath her, weak and fatigued, but she had to do this. She had to get up again somehow anyway. ‘I’m going to try.’
Holding onto André and leaning heavily on the stick he had left by the escalator, very slowly, one step at a time, she made her way back up the stairs. They both noticed a lot of plaster work and tube posters had come loose.
Slowly, they made their way to the surface and as they looked up, they noticed a large part of the station’s ceiling had come down and its lighting had sprayed shards of glass everywhere.
Leaving Raina sit on the dusty floor for a moment, André made his way back down to retrieve her chair. She was glad to sit there, her muscles pulsating and aching, her breathing ragged and her heartbeat high.
But seeing Andre’s puffing and limping as he came back up made her feel guilty despite his comforting smiles.
After both needing a couple of minutes to catch their breaths, Raina and André slowly made their way forward amid the debris, eyeing both the ceiling and the shards of glass on the floor. Raina hoped it wouldn’t blow her tyres.
As they reached the entrance, they looked out.
It was now the end of the morning and the sky above their heads was bright blue. Ahead, and to the right, it was blue. Then they looked to the left…
There, above the river and the skyscrapers, the sky was also blue. Not black anymore; blue.
The wormhole was gone and the drill that had hung from it had disappeared with it.
But then, looking out over the buildings beyond the river, she could see its remains were sprawled across the city. And that wasn’t it. The earthquakes had caused destruction all around the city, including their own street. Houses had lost their roofs, walls had come down and windows were blown out.
‘Shit,’ said André.
‘Hey,’ a voice came from the other side of the road.
Both turned their heads.
Moon Badger was sitting on top of a high brick wall, one of the few that still stood upright on that side after the quakes. ‘What did I say?’ Her shoulders were hunched, her suit dirty but at this distance Raina couldn’t see if it was blood.
‘We just came back up to check what was happening.’
Moon Badger jumped down in one leap and landed gracefully on the ground before walking towards them. She was trying to hide it, but Raina recognised the fatigue and pain in her gait.
‘Everyone okay in there?’
‘As far as we can tell,’ said André.
‘Good,’ Moon Badger said, but she didn’t sound convincing. ‘That’s something.’
Her words hung in the air for a moment.
‘Is it over?’ asked Raina.
‘Yeah,’ said Moon Badger. ‘It’s over.’ She slumped against the station wall, her makeup washed off in places.
‘You okay?’ Raina asked, trying not to look too hard for facial recognition. Up close the superhero looked more human than she had ever done on TV and in pictures.
Moon Badger remained quiet for a moment before pulling up her hoodie slightly, revealing a long gash across her head, amid black curls. Blood stains covered the inside of her hood. She took a long, deep gulp of fresh autumn morning air. ‘As best as I can be. But thank you for asking.’
Raina looked closer at the superhero. Her face was sweaty and she noticed her upper lip was swollen and one eye bruised.
‘But we won.’
‘Yes, you did,’ Raina replied swiftly.
‘No, we did. Look at what you did today.’
Raina and André stared at Moon Badger in silence. An awkwardness hung between them.
‘It’s hardly the same. You fought aliens,’ Raina finally said.
‘True. But you made sure people were safe. How is that any less heroic?’
André and Raina looked at each other and blushed.
‘I should go,’ said Moon Badger pulling herself away from the wall. ‘A report to write questions to answer, actions to justify, etcetera.’
‘Take care, Moon Badger,’ said André. ‘Take good care.’
‘Yes. And thank you,’ added Raina.
‘No,’ said Moon Badger with a little smile showing on her face before she pulled her hood back over her head to hide her curls. ‘Thank you.’
With a sudden leap, she was back up on the wall across the street and with another jump, she was out of sight.
Sirens started to wail all across the city, both near and far as Raina felt a sudden hand on hers. As she looked around to see who it belonged to, she saw the face of the young girl with the wild brown hair and glasses.
‘That… That was Moon Badger.’
‘Yeah, it was,’ said Raina, smiling at the girl’s awe.
‘I know. She saved us.’
‘And you saved us,’ said the girl, looking at the destruction around them.
Raina looked into the girl’s bespectacled eyes. ‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Yes, you did,’ another voice said. Behind the girl, the teenager she had first helped into the station appeared. ‘Thank you,’ she said, also looking at the debris sprawled across the street on either side of them.
‘Eh… You’re welcome,’ Raina replied, feeling a stronger blush appear on her cheeks.
She looked up at André, who smiled down at her proudly but with tears in his eyes.
Perhaps, Raina thought as she looked around her at the people who had been hiding with her in the underground tunnel, she had found a way to be a hero, in her own unique way.