Being the first precious students of the world’s first supervillain school had some advantages, Petra had to admit. They each had a private suite instead of a dorm room, there was barely any concept of rules aside from ‘obey the staff’, and then there was the garage.
More specifically, the school’s underground garage was stocked with vehicles the students were allowed to freely take out at their leisure. There were three motorcycles—two import sport bikes and one domestic chopper—a van, two sedans, a smart car and a fire engine red sports car that Petra secretly suspected was schmuck bait; as if the doors would lock and the alarm would go off if someone chose that one.
Personally, she’d never taken advantage of that particular perk. For the past two months, she’d been actively avoiding accepting anything if she could get away with it. After all, it was clear where it came from. She’d even met him: Orb Weaver himself.
All the gifts, all the freedoms, all the privileges the school gave them didn’t look so good to her when she knew the other side of the coin; what would happen if she at least said ‘no’. Tamara and Brain Child both treated the ‘supervillain school’ thing like a joke, but Petra knew it wasn’t a laughing matter.
As they entered the garage to pick out something to go into town in, Petra did her best to watch Dan out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t know him as well as the others. While Brain Child was always up for a talk and Tamara was at least willing to spar or accept a challenge to a video game or something, Dan just wasn’t around as much.
The powers that were in the school spent a lot of one-on-one time with him, often pulling him out of classes or calling him away during free time. This was the first time in about a week that she’d managed to say more than a few words to him, but in truth, she wasn’t even sure if it was a good idea.
After all, while she might be there under protest, surely some of the others were there because they wanted to be, right? The very thought made her feel sick. People she was effectively living with, working with, possibly becoming friends with might very well be harboring a desire to become to cold, manipulative and cruel kind of person she’d met in the form of Orb Weaver.
Two Months Earlier
“I’m home!” as usual, Petra was stopped at the back door by the fact that her house key stuck in the old lock.
She wasn’t expecting an answer, given the hours her parents worked, but there was always a chance that one of them had taken off for errands or just because, considering they owned their store and had the luxury of sometimes leaving the place in the hands of their employees.
What she didn’t expect was a completely unfamiliar voice calling to her from the living room. “You parents aren’t home Miss Jules, but if you would please come here, they’ve given their permission for me to discuss something with you.”
After a quick rundown of the people she might expect needing to have a talk with er, she concluded this wasn’t her principal, guidance counselor, or boss from her part-time job at the Speedy Wok. That meant there was a strange man in her living room assuring her that her parents had given him permission to come into their home and speak with her.
Not being anywhere near that stupid, she started to back out of the house as slowly and as quietly as possible while reaching for her palmtop. An excellent plan until she backed into a wall of muscle.
Whirling around, she looked up to find a towering hulk of a woman, easily six foot six and also easily a protomorph given that here eyes were like steel marbles set in her head with no iris or pupils,and her hair was metallic green all the way down to the roots where it was done into tight braids and done up in a tight bundle in back. She wore no make-up, but rocked her suit like a professional model if she was also a professional bodybuilder.
Arms folded, she glared down at Petra and spoke with a heavy accent whose origins Petra couldn’t suss out. “I would suggest not upsetting him. Call your parents for confirmation, but if you attempt to call the police, things will turn out rather unfortunate.” She quirked an odd, self-satisfied smile and added, “This is not a threat of physical harm, but of fiscal harm. Your comfortable home, your parents’ livelihood—they all depend on you taking this meeting and being very gracious for the opportunities offered to you.”
Petra’s grip tightened on her palmtop, as she considered her next move. She couldn’t take the risk—either that the big woman was telling the truth, or that she might just break her legs for not cooperating. “A-alright. But I can call my parents?”
The obvious hired goon reached into a pocked and pulled out a printed cell phone, which she dialed with one massive thumb. “I will call for you. Here.”
Accepting the disposable phone, Petra pressed it to her ear while watching her antagonist warily. After a few minutes, a female voice answered, “Jules Electronics and Automation, how can I help you?”
“Mom—“ she started.
“Petra, oh thank goodness. Listen baby, I need you get home right now. There’s a very important man you need to talk to.”
The stress in her mother’s voice only fueled Petra’s worries while making her even less clear on what was going on. “I-I know Mom. I’m here at the house now and… did you know he had—um—people.” The second she said it, she felt bad because it might have been taken as a euphemism for ‘protomorph’ or even just ‘descendant’. “I mean people he’s hired.” The more flustered she became, the less intelligent her attempts at explaining got. “Strong people?”
Her mother saved her from herself and possible the big woman too by saying, “Yes honey, he’s got hired muscle. Look, please just talk with him, listen to what he has to say, and everything will be alright. Can you do that for me and your dad?”
“Mom?” Petra was working hard not to shiver now. “What’s going on?”
“Just do what the Orb Weaver says and everything will be alright, baby.”
That past semester, Petra was in a Sociology class where part of the homework each weekend was a short report on a current event to share with the class the following Monday. Lots of her classmates had done reports on the Orb Weaver and the so-called ‘Weaver Villains’ he’d spawned.
What did he have to do with her parents? Why did he want her?
The last one felt like a stupid question: he obviously wanted her for her powers, to use her powers for crime like the Weaver Villains did.
“O-okay, Mom.” Not that she was sure she could follow through, but she could try. Then, as an afterthought that suddenly become exponentially important when she thought of it, she added, “I love you.”
“Love you too baby.”
The protomorph had been listening in and decided at just that point that the conversation had come to an end, snatching the phone away from Petra and crumpling it in a huge fist. “Now,” she said, still grinding the phone in her palm. “Time to meet the Orb Weaver.”
There were pictures of Orb Weaver online, in galleries on every major news or superhero site. They were always inconsistent. There was always a black and yellow theme, and the costume was always armored on some level or another. Sometimes it had extra mechanical limbs: humanoid arms, insectile legs, or a mix of the two. Sometimes there was a belt, sometimes pockets. The helmet had dozens of permutations. All seemingly to make people unsure if this was the real Orb Weaver or another robot servitor.
Petra had no idea what to expect when she was ushered into her living room and found the criminal mastermind sitting in her father’s favorite recliner.
This suit was leather or some analog. Black with yellow tapering stripes marching up the ribs, and down the thighs and forearms. Extra padding on the chest was emblazoned with the now-familiar image of a yellow Orb Weaver spider and there was a golden spider on the buckle of his black belt and the backs of his wrists. His boots and gloves had extra ceramic plating, and on his head was a motorcycle style helmet augmented with more ceramic plating, visible yellow and silver lights across the brow and up the jaw line, and a chrome ‘mask’ like a car’s grill or a muzzle over the bottom part where the mouth would be.
A unique look Petra had never seen the villain sport.
He gestured to the couch and love seat. “Good of you to finally join me, Miss Jules. May I call you Petra? Either way, please, have a seat—we have much to discuss about your future.”
Petra Jules was not normally afraid of much. Jump scares in horror movies bored her. Monsters, even when she was younger, were mentally dissected and eradicated in bursts of logic. Visceral fear from the dark or heights was meticulously reasoned out and thought through until it was manageable and a non-issue.
This, however was something different.
It wasn’t just her body reacting to something controllable that she could deal with, this was an objectively dangerous individual over whom she had no power. If Orb Weaver wanted to kill her or her parents, there was very little she could do about it.
Maybe she could save herself with her powers. Maybe. No one knew exactly what Orb Weaver was capable of. The general consensus was ‘a lot’ and ‘run’. That assessment was bearing out assuming he knew what she was capable of and was still certain he could intimidate her.
So when he told he to sit, she sat. And stewed in her anger over it.
The Orb Weaver nodded, then raised a hand to his hired goon. “Lara, please get Petra a glass of water. I’m sure she had a long day at work and is likely parched.”
Lara nodded and disappeared through the kitchen door.
Once more, the mastermind’s attention was fully on Petra. “I’m sure many questions are racing through your head at this moment. An Honor Role student like you, there’s no doubt in my mind that my reputation proceeds me in this case. So let me set your mind at ease from the outset: I did not come here to harm you or your parents.”
His voice was deep and smooth with a slight Southern accent. A lot of people would equate it with ‘folksy wisdom’. Petra equated it with ‘actor trying to convey folksy wisdom’ and doubted it was how he really talked—assuming ‘he’ was a ‘he’ at all. There was no real proof of gender or gender identity that she knew of in Orb Weaver’s case.
“In fact, I’m here to offer you a grand opportunity—an opportunity that your parents were easily convinced was in your best interests.”
Petra concealed a frown at his very deliberate phrasing of that and wondered what he’d done to ‘convince’ her parents and why he even cared whether or not he was lying to her. “I’m listening,” was the best response she could muster.
“Excellent. That’s all I ask.” He leaned forward, folding his fingers in his lap. “Now Petra, by now you understand that you are an extraordinary young woman. Not just for your remarkable powers, either: you are highly intelligent and dedicated to your studies for someone your age. I both respect and admire that, as it reminds me very much of myself. Now combined with your powers, which have near infinite versatility, you have great potential.”
She couldn’t help it. Petra felt her lips moving before she could think better of it. “A lot of people have told me that…” It wasn’t that she was prideful of the fact, it was just that she had been hearing that all her life, even before gaining her powers. She was ‘gifted’, they said, destined for the great things. When her powers manifested, they all just become more adamant about it to the point that she was afraid to admit that her deepest aspiration was to take over her parent’s store and maybe expand it into a chain.
Orb Weaver knew nothing of this, and simply moved on to his sales pitch. “Many people will tell you as much, but few are capable of truly nurturing that potential. I do.” Apparently, he did notice the downward twitch of her lips. “Now hear me out, Petra. The fact of the matter is, you don’t belong in a public school in the first place. More to the point, you don’t belong in a school that won’t be able to address your abilities. You belong somewhere you will flourish, not languish like any of the common rabble, don’t you agree?”
Just then, Lara returned with a tall glass of water and placed it on the coffee table in front of Petra. The young woman didn’t touch it, but too the distraction as a chance to gather her thoughts. She didn’t like kowtowing to Orb Weaver, no matter how dangerous he might be. If it was just her at risk, she might have defied him right there, but she wasn’t so she played along.
“My parents and I discussed it, back when the Institute in Mayfield opened. Since then, we’ve been getting pamphlets from other places… but none of them were really trustworthy.” A little jab, but one she thought she could get away with.
“To tell you the truth, the Liedecker Institute would still not be the place for you. They accept just anyone as long as they are a descendant. You, my dear girl, are one of the elite—or you could be. At my school for the future leaders of this world, you would not share a tiny dorm room, nor would you be taught in a crowded classroom alongside other students. You would have your own, personal luxury suite and a staff of tutors handpicked to shore up your weaknesses and hone your strengths to a molecular edge.
“And that is just the start, Petra. Come to my school and you will have every advantage, every opportunity. Where you are now, it’s likely you’ll find yourself exactly where your parents are now.”
Now he definitely saw the change in her expression. “Oh. They never explained things to you, did they? How they thought that mere knowledge of computers and home automation would see them through with no formal understanding of the ways of business? How they were unable to negotiate good terms with their vendors and were on the verge of going out of business until the Barrone Crime Family stepped in to give them a little extra help?”
There was a smile in his voice now, and the accent fell away entirely. “How when I heard about you, I arranged—heh—an offer the Barrones couldn’t refuse and took over your parents’ debt.” At this point, he sat back, clearly satisfied with himself even though Petra couldn’t see his expression.
“So yes. That’s my question to you, Petra: do you want to some day end up in a situation where whether or not your daughter attends a certain school determines the survival of your livelihood, your hopes and your very dreams. Oh, and yes, that’s what is at stake here. The choice is yours: accept a life of luxury and training to become the optimal form of your future self… or destroy your parents by your own hand. No pressure.”
“Unless you’d rather drive something else, I’m just going to take a regular car,” Dan said, taking a key from the case set into the wall of the garage.
Petra shook her head to clear away the bad memories. “Yeah, that’s fine. You can drive too, if you want.”
He shrugged. “Fine by me. Are… you okay? You look kind of upset—though if you want to tell me to buzz off, I won’t take offense.”
“No, it’s okay. I was just…” She tried to put on a smile, but wasn’t feeling it and besides, he’d already seen that she wasn’t as upbeat as she normally tried to be. “Do you mind if I ask you a question? And like you said,d if you want to tell me to buzz off, I won’t take offense.”
“How did you hear about the school? Well, that’s not all. More like… how did you get here?”
Dan frowned and slumped his shoulders. “I can tell you, but I want to warn you first: it’s not a pretty story. You might not like hearing it. I die a lot in it.”
Petra almost tripped over her own feet. “Die? I—I mean—how?!”
He offered her a semi-hollow smile as they walked toward one of the sedans. “Let me start with the basic thing you’ve got to remember: I’m not a descendant. My powers come from something else.”
To Be Continued…