This is an alternate version of chapter 2 from HERO, although in the original manuscript it was actually chapter 3. You’ll recognise pieces from the book, but much of it was cut out from the final draft.
One of the big things in this chapter is the presence of Hero’s dad, Leonard. Originally, Leonard was going to be one of the few people who knew from the start that Hero was a telepath and help her out of some difficult spots. Unfortunately for him, that storyline didn’t end up going anywhere and the scene was rewritten.
When Tybalt collected her for dinner, the lecture she’d been expecting didn’t come. There were, however, pills next to her water glass and he stood behind her chair, hand firm on her shoulder, until she picked them up and raised them to her mouth. The glass came next, and she swallowed.
Tybalt’s grip left her shoulder, and he walked around the table to sit, with his customary coat flick, facing her.
She did her best to scowl and look sullen, as she slipped the pills, nestled in the palm of her hand, into the depths of her pocket. She’d learned that trick when she was ten.
Across the table, the Lamb attempted to pierce her with a suspicious gaze.
She lifted her brows and smiled.
The Lamb’s gaze softened, but the suspicion didn’t fade. “Are you ready for school?” she said.
“I don’t know, did you forget to pack my bag?”
Tybalt scowled. “Hero,” he warned.
“That’s her job isn’t it? Bag packer.”
“Enough,” he said, his voice a growl.
She took a breath to argue, but there was a look on the Lamb’s face, a hint of speculation in her eyes and a smile around her mouth, that gave her pause. Hero’s heart just about stopped in her chest when the Lamb’s gaze dropped to the table, as if the woman could see through it and to the pills tucked into her pocket.
The smile around the Lamb’s mouth widened and Hero didn’t have to hear what she was thinking to know she was in trouble.
The rest of dinner was silent, with only the clink of cutlery and the quiet shuffle of the serving staff laying plates on the table. She tried not to squirm, but as the meal passed and the Lamb’s gaze grew heavier, she couldn’t help but shift in her seat, if only to relieve the tension in her spine. She’d rather have eaten in her room or in the kitchen, surrounded by the noise of pots and pans and Chef’s jokes. Instead she was stuck avoiding the Lamb’s knowing smile, while Tybalt stared at nothing.
It was a relief when the dessert course came, Chef following the servers out, a large bowl in his equally large hand. She half-wondered what had happened to the chef he’d replaced, but then decided she didn’t care when he set the bowl before her; she was just glad he’d come. No one made pudding like Chef.
He sat beside her, a warm, solid presence, just like his food. “So,” he said, and she could practically hear his hands rub together. “Ready to conquer the barrier team?”
She grinned around a mouthful of pudding and nodded. Barrier racing. As a sport, she’d never much cared for the endless mazes and traps, but as a path to freedom, to going groundside, it tingled her toes.
Chef chuckled. “Excellent. Now,” he said, as she scraped the last of the gooey chocolate from the bowl. “What does my favourite barrier rider want for breakfast?”
“No ice-cream,” Tybalt said.
She made a face at him, but he was too busy frowning at the screen hovering over his palm to see. It seemed that these days, Tybalt was always frowning.
“Pancakes then.” Chef leaned in close and added, in a low whisper, “with chocolate.” He waggled his non-existent brows.
On the other side of the table, Tybalt rose and hurried from the room without a word.
She grinned at Chef. “Sure,” she said, as she slipped from the table.
“Hero,” the Lamb began, a stern look on her face, but Hero was out of the door and down the hall before she could finish her admonishment. Something about not asking to be excused from the table, no doubt.
A glimpse of Tybalt’s jacket lead her to a curling flight of stairs, and she silently discarded her shoes at the base before hurrying after him. She lost him at the top, but the gentle snick of a lock and a line of light guided her to a large set of double doors.
From behind the doors came the familiar buzz of the comm-system. Tybalt was making a call, but to whom? There were voices, muffled by the thick wood, but when she pressed her ear close and concentrated she recognised her mum’s voice, her dad’s low rumble and then, like a gift from Old Terra, her name.
The certainty hit hard in her gut; she needed to know what they were saying. She raced back down the stairs, almost colliding with the Lamb at the top, and ran, bare feet slapping across the floors, all the way to her room.
Fink was half on his back, four of his six feet in the air, the holo-fire turning his tawny fur blood red. She almost stepped on his tail as she hurried to her workstation, earning herself a lazy growl.
“Then don’t leave it lying about,” she said as she sat and reached for the thin box of data slides sitting on the workstation’s curved surface.
It wasn’t like he could pack it away, he thought back at her. What was she doing?
“Hacking the security system,” she said as she scrambled through the thin slices of plastiglas and bio-gel. It was here, she knew it was, there was no way Tybalt had found it.
Fink yawned. He thought she’d done that already.
“Not here,” she said as she found the slide and pressed it into the station’s input gel.
The station jumped to life, holo-screens blooming around her in a standard three-screen combo and casting her bedroom in a blue-white glow. It was the work of a few more moments to access the mansion’s security system – the mansion’s AI wasn’t very bright – and then there, amongst the holo-screens, each one showing footage from a different room, was the scene in the upstairs study.
Tybalt stood in the centre of her mum’s study, while miniature holos of her parents floated above the desk. She expanded it and sound poured from the workstation’s speakers.
“You what?” Although her suit was creased and wisps of blonde hair escaped her bun, her mum still looked perfect.
“You were the one who agreed to sending her to a school in the city, Patricia.” As far as she knew, her dad, the front of his white chef’s jacket liberally splattered with purple and green, and his dark hair mussed, never quite achieved perfection.
“I also changed my mind. There are too many things going on at Bayard–”
“Things you won’t tell me about.”
“Bayard Explorations is not your business.”
“No,” her dad said as he crossed his arms over his sauce-splattered chest. “After all, I’m just a chef. What would I know about being a CEO.”
He held up a hand, stalling her. “This is about Hero, and she’s earned this. With the extra minder and the bracelet, you won’t have to lift a finger.“
“Would this be the same bracelet she used to remotely deactivate the estate’s security system or the one she used to buy several thousand credits worth of riding gear on my credit line?”
Tybalt coughed, interrupting. “I took the liberty of providing her with a new bracelet; a special order. It’s a simple model, limited to monitoring her movements and wellbeing.”
Yeah, Hero thought, as she ran her hand over the cool silver metal. Maybe a month ago.
“And just how long do you think that will last?” A week; she’d had a stash of gel packs hidden away, just in case. Riding gear hadn’t been all she’d bought with her mum’s credit. “The girl has a genius for tech, I give it a month, maybe two, and we’ll have another cargo-load of ice-cream and race gear on our hands.”
“Which is why she’s been enrolled at Morague,” Tybalt said.
Her mum stared at him for several long seconds before turning her gaze to her dad. “You allowed this?”
“You can’t keep her shut away forever Patricia, voices or no.”
“But the Rider academy?”
“They haven’t trained a Rider for generations.”
“No, just the children of a few score business leaders and politicians, and then there’s the damn barrier team.” Her mum rubbed her hands over her face. “Damnit Leonard, the social fallout I can handle, but she’s bad enough with the ‘pard as it is.”
“Fink was your idea.”
“The therapist’s idea, and I agreed to a nice little puff-cat not a half-tonne Woolsey she could risk her neck on, racing around a stupid track.” She sighed and tiredness swept over her features as she turned to Tybalt. “Why couldn’t you have discussed this with me first?”
“I attempted to do so ma’am, several times. You were busy.”
“Not that busy.”
Her dad scoffed, the sound exploding from under his bush-like moustache. “Really? Then perhaps you ought to have a word with your personal assistant. According to him, if it hasn’t anything to do with that Ayumon dig it doesn’t merit your attention.”
“Ayumon is important.”
“So is your daughter.”
The silence, thick with the tension from her parents’ glares, made her want to squirm, before a crash in the background of her dad’s comm-vid interrupted.
He turned his scowl towards the sound and it deepened further, before he turned back. “We’ll argue about this later. Right now I have a full house, a critic and an apprentice doing her best to burn my ragu to deal with.” His image flickered out.
Her mum threw up her hands. “And so he’s off, leaving me with the mess.” There was silence for a few more moments as she pinned Tybalt with her eyes. Hero resisted another urge to squirm, knowing well what it was like to be caught in that stare. “I should fire you,” she said at last.
“Is only interested in his next dinner menu. You knew I didn’t want her in the city, let alone at Morague. That place has done enough damage to this family.”
“You worry unduly, ma’am. The academy hasn’t had an incident in over thirty years and Hero will be supervised at all times. The likelihood of her coming to harm is negligible.”
“And just how do you propose to keep her safe on that damn death trap of a barrier course? Because you know as sure as I do, they’ll have her on that team before she’s even half-way through the front door.”
“I have had a word with the headmaster. Due to her medical condition, we have agreed that she will not be permitted to join the barrier team.“
“What?” The word exploded from Hero’s mouth, causing Fink to raise his head and shuffle to his feet. “You liar.” Tybalt had promised she could try out for the barrier team. She and Fink, they’d been practising for it all of summer and spring, she’d even agreed to extra math classes and now, now he was taking it away. She slammed the workstation off. She didn’t want to hear the rest.
Fink hummed and nudged her back. She could feel his disappointment in her head. He had wanted this too, wanted to be more than just a glorified puff-cat.
“Don’t worry,” she said, scratching him between the ears. “I’ll find a way.” But first, she thought, narrowing her eyes, there was going to be a little payback.
So, which version do you like better?