“I didn’t know how much I needed this brave, thrilling book until it rocked my world. Dreadnought is the superhero adventure we all need right now.”Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.
It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.
She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderera cyborg named Utopiastill haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.
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About the Author
She has a number of hobbies, most of which are boring and predictable. As nostalgia for the 1990s comes into its full bloom, she has become ever more convinced that she was born two or three years too late and missed all the good stuff the first time around.
Read an Excerpt
Nemesis - Book One
By April Daniels
Diversion Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 April Daniels
All rights reserved.
This is taking too long. I just want to pay for the shit and go. It's not like I'm breaking the law or anything except it totally feels like I'm breaking the law. It'd be really cool to be able to do this without shame, without hopping on a train to ride halfway across the city first. Finally, I get to the front of the line and drop the nail polish on the counter. The cashier rings me up with a smile that makes me curdle inside. I wonder if she knows. I take my nail polish and get out of there as quick as I can.
I make sure not to glimpse my reflection in the mall windows as I beeline for the exit. More and more I hate to look in the mirror. It's getting worse every day. The first little bits of hair are pushing their way up from my face, and my voice dropped so early it's almost a lost cause. I'm way too tall and my shoulders are getting broad.
The mall doors slide open and the outside air hits my face, cool and wet. Spring in the Pacific Northwest: come for the moist, stay for the damp. I pick up the pace and trot through the parking structure. There's a space in back of the mall, out of the way and behind a corner. The kind of place you get an instinct for finding if you grow up a certain way, the way that teaches you how to hide. I've used this spot before.
With a last glance around to check if I'm in the clear I duck out of the parking structure and head down the back side of the mall, toward the ramp that heads up to the elevated roadway running through the city's heart. The space between the mall and the ramp is deserted and strewn with ancient litter. There's a little wall segment sticking out from the side of the mall, an architectural brain fart that serves no function I can see, but is perfect for giving me a little privacy in the heart of one of the largest, most densely-packed cities in the country.
The sky is low and gray. Traffic hisses above me. The cement is cold where I sit on it, and I am utterly alone. For the first time this week, I'm happy.
The nail polish is a nice deep red. I've been running mostly with blue recently, but I think it's time for a change. The cotton balls soak up remover and the blue polish rubs off my toes a bit at a time. It feels right. It feels necessary. Painting my toes is the one way I can take control. The one way I can fight back. The one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year:
I'm not supposed to be a boy.
Sometimes I want to climb up on a table in the cafeteria and scream it out at the top of my lungs. There's been a horrible mistake. I'm trapped on the wrong side. I'm not a boy. I won't be a man. I'm a girl. I'm a girl.
I AM A GIRL!
The lie is suffocating. Every time I have to play along, I feel like I'm betraying myself. Sometimes when I see myself in a mirror I get a little jolt, a little splash of fear sluicing down my spine.
Maybe I'm only imagining things. Sometimes I hope I am. There are things that don't make sense. Like, for instance, my junk. It doesn't bother me, but I feel like it's "supposed" to bother me. Isn't that how it's supposed to go? These changes in my body — I don't like them, and I'm constantly getting surprised at all the different ways I don't like them, but the one thing I thought I could count on hating doesn't really bother me. I don't feel much about it one way or the other. And so the uncertainty is never far away, the lingering doubt (hope?) that maybe I'm making it up. Maybe I'm normal; this is all normal. Maybe it just means I'm scared to grow up. Or maybe I'm just a freaky little boy with freaky little thoughts that don't mean anything.
But then in health class when the teacher starts talking about reproductive systems, I get this feeling of cold invasion. My body knows what it's missing, and being reminded of it is the worst feeling in the world.
Obviously I can't tell anyone about this. If it got back to Dad, he'd kill me. He's obsessed with 'making a good man' out of me. "You're a man now," he says as his justification for friggin' everything. He wants me to be strong and boisterous and popular. It's bad enough I'm quiet and like to be alone, bad enough I don't like sports even after he forced me to join the football team, bad enough I couldn't care less about cars. If he found out I might be a girl ... well I don't really want to think about what might happen.
The dirty little secret about growing up as a boy is if you're not any good at it, they will torture you daily until you have the good graces to kill yourself. The posturing and the dominance games are almost inescapable. It's hard to walk from one end of school to the other without getting shoulder checked in the halls. Locker rooms are a forgotten circle of Hell. God forbid anyone ever catch you sketching flowers in class, or reading a book that's "for girls." Maybe for people who really are boys that stuffworks. Maybe it fits for them.
But I don't get to fit. Not anywhere.
The one thing I must never do is try to fit in with the girls. I don't know what would happen if I tried, but I have a screaming animal instinct that tells me not to even consider it.
When I turn eighteen, if I haven't killed myself yet, I'm going to move out of the house and go on hormones. Maybe save up for surgery. But for now, what I have is nail polish. I've finished wiping the chipped remains of last week's polish off my toes, and have a clean canvas again. The air is cold. I lay my feet on my backpack as I lean against the wall and close my eyes. For now, at least, I am safe.
A hard, flat bang smacks against the sky and echoes back down.
It's the first time I've heard an explosion in real life, and so I don't understand what it is at first. I get to my feet and peek around the wall, and there across the road, a black and red cloud is blooming from the top floors of an office tower. Another explosion rips through the building, blasts the top three floors to glass shrapnel, and like a stunned yokel I just sit there and stare. Little bits of charred rubble begin to patter down around me, and I'm starting to think I should take cover when a painfully bright blue flash from the upper floors makes the whole world go dim for an instant. A blue laser punches out one side of the burning floors and sweeps the sky like a lighthouse.
Oh. Great. A superhero fight. Just friggin' wonderful.
Yeah, yeah, superheroes are super cool and all that, but it's insanely dangerous to be near them when they're fighting. They can't always keep the bad guys from hitting bystanders. The concrete is cold against my back and shoulders as I duck back behind the wall and try to press myself into the corner. An actual metahuman brawl, right across the street from me. What are the odds? If I keep my head down and stay in cover I should be okay. Maybe I should make a run for the door, get under a roof. No, too dangerous. I'll stay here. The Legion is usually pretty good about taking this kind of thing outside the city when they can.
Another crump of impact, and then a flapping, fluttering noise. Something soft and heavy slams into the ground on the other side of this wall.
No. No. No. Go away. Crap.
On my hands and knees I peek around the painted cinderblocks again. There's a man lying there, crumpled up and broken. He wears a blue bodyglove, and a charred and tattered white cape. Of course I recognize him. He's probably the most famous person on the planet: Dreadnought. Mightier than a battleship, faster than a jet, and so on. He's not supposed to be lying crumpled in an alley. It's wrong and terrifying in ways that go straight through me.
"Hey," I call out to him. "Dreadnought. Are you okay?"
He only moans in response. Every bit of profanity I know leaks out of me in one long, hissing chain. I crane my neck to look back at the tower's top floors. Whatever could do this to a man like him is nothing I want to meet.
"Dreadnought! Can you hear me? You have to get up!"
He puts his arm under him, tries to raise himself up. Dreadnought's arm shakes with the effort and he collapses with a cry of pain.
Chanting curse words like a prayer, I crawl out from my little hiding spot and grab him under the armpits. He's so heavy. Up close, I can see the things about him the cameras always miss. How deep the hollows under his eyes are, how heavily lined his face is. As he turns over, I go weak with shock. There's a hole in his chest about the size of a golf ball, his suit charred and melted at the edges. It looks like it goes all the way through.
Dreadnought tries to speak. It's just a slurring noise. He sounds different than he does on TV. His voice is higher and weaker than I expect. He tries again. "Get out. Leave me."
There's a giddy fear bubbling up beneath me. I manage to stop cussing long enough to say, "There will be firefighters here soon. They'll help you." I drag Dreadnought away from the mall, toward the ramp. We'll hide under the road until the emergency crews arrive, and then I'll find some paramedics and bring them back here.
"Kid, I'm done," he rasps. "Save yourself."
He's heavy and limp but I manage to get him up over the concrete lip and drag him under the ramp. He grinds his teeth against the pain, but when I've finally got him all the way into the deep shadows he seems to relax a bit. In the distance, I hear sirens.
A pale blue glow blooms across the back side of the mall. My hair begins to float on a static charge. A flat wave of blue light flits across ground where Dreadnought landed, once, twice. There is a snapping, hissing sound, and something else, an almost musical series of tones.
My lungs are locked with fear. Beside me, I feel Dreadnought go statue still. Finally, the light fades and the sound disappears.
"What the hell was that?" I whisper.
"She said her name was Utopia. She had some kind of ... weapon." Dreadnought arches and clenches in agony. I scuttle out of our hiding space and dash to my backpack. If there's one good thing to come out of being conscripted into the football team, it's that I was carrying a water bottle today. For a panicked moment I think I left it at school, but when I push aside my natty sketchbook and some French comics, I find it. Dreadnought is breathing heavily when I return, and I trickle water into his mouth. He drinks, but swallowing is difficult for him.
"What's your name, son?" he asks.
Dreadnought's eyes focus on me like he's really seeing me for the first time. "Christ, you're just a boy."
I don't know why I can't lean into the familiar lie the way I do with everyone else. It just feels wrong to lie to Dreadnought, and it hurts that he thinks I'm a dude. "I'm not a boy!" I hiss at him.
"Don't be in such a hurry. You'll be a man —" Dreadnought breaks off in a fit of hacking coughs. "You'll be a man soon enough." More coughs wrack his body. He seems to come to a decision. "Guess that's it then. It's on you now, Danny. The world needs Dreadnought. I'm sorrier than you'll ever know."
Dreadnought reaches up to his chest, and his fingers seem to sink right into his breastbone. He pulls a fizzing white ball of light out of his chest, and holds it out for me.
My head feels like it's filled with cotton. I reach out with a shaking hand and touch the —
— a billion, trillion suns roaring silently in the night
— becoming light, scalding everywhere
— spilling out inside of me as
— a lattice of light and heat, blinding glare against the black
— but more than that
— twisted up out of potential and into being
— the pain is everywhere, filling me
Everything. I see everything. From the biggest galaxy, to the smallest atom. I understand it all. And I can change —
— the part of the Universe that is me
— wrap it around
— folds in on itself
— unravels, reweaves
— tightens up into a new
— bones bending, my ligaments melted
— begins to fade
— What was clear is
— no! No, please!
— I'm not done yet!
— grab and heave
— shove back the darkness
— almost, pull —
I slam back into myself with a gasp. My hips ache. My chest burns. My skin feels tight and wrong. My throat, my guts, my legs. Everything feels different. I'm lying on the filthy ground next to Dreadnought, and the world is spinning. I sit up, and when I move my clothes seem to pull on me in ways they haven't done before.
Dreadnought lies perfectly still. I pat his cheek, but he doesn't respond.
"Dreadnought. Dreadnought! Wake up!"
I stop, and listen to myself.
I have a girl's voice.CHAPTER 2
A buzzing thrill shoots through me, all the way down to my toes. I bolt away from Dreadnought, scuttling back on hands and heels. I stop and take a look at my hand. It seems smaller now. My fingers gently taper in a way that's new to me.
"Dreadnought," I say in this voice I don't want to believe I have. "Something's happened. What's going on?"
I look down at my body, and yeah, that is not the chest I woke up with. When I go to reach down into my pants, my hand kind of jumps back on its own, nervous and scared. After I find the nerve to feel what's between my legs — or rather what's not — I explode in tears. Everything is wrong, but so perfectly right. I wrap my arms around my legs and rock back and forth. The last little doubts are gone, and the fear leaves with them.
I'm free. I'm finally free.
Nearly as abruptly as they came, the tears leave and I feel empty and calm. I crawl back over to Dreadnought, and when I do so I have a moment of vertigo. His eyes are open, and he's staring up at nothing.
"Thank you. I — thank you." I reach over and close his eyes. A surge of almost painful affection and gratitude sweeps through me. Somehow, I will find a way to honor his memory. Nothing to do now but wait for the cops to show up, and try to explain what happened.
It's not the cops who show up first. The cowgirl finds me sitting with my head in my hands on the concrete lip that separates the space under the ramp from the empty space behind the mall. I hear footsteps and look up.
She's wearing a wide brimmed gray hat, and a red bandanna around the lower half of her face. What I can see of her face makes me think she might be Latina. Under a long brown riding jacket her torso is wrapped in custom Kevlar, and her mottled gray cargo pants are crimped in at the knees by hard plastic kneepads.
And oh yeah, she's got a pair of the biggest revolvers I've ever seen sitting casually in her hands. Big, modern-looking pieces with matte-black finish molded plastic grips.
"You okay?" she asks, and I realize she's no older than me. Vigilantes are not — to put it kindly — unheard of in New Port City, but I've never heard of one my own age.
"Who the hell are you?"
"The name's Calamity. Is, uh, is that ...?"
"Dreadnought? Yeah, that's him. You two worked together?"
"No, I'm a mite bit particular about who I ride with," says Calamity. She holsters her guns in a belt hanging low on her hips. "Is ...?"
I shake my head. "He's dead."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph."
"Yeah." You don't know the half of it.
"Did he say anything before he died?" She approaches, bends over to get a better look at the corpse.
"He said it was someone called Utopia, and that she had some kind of new weapon," I say. "Do you — wait you're not with her, are you?"
Calamity scrunches her nose. "Hell no! I was practicing my roof running when I saw the explosion and decided to come on over."
"All right, so then ... who is she? I've never heard of a supervillain named Utopia."
Calamity shrugs. "Me neither, and I've heard of most of the players who could do this. She's either really new, or someone from the little leagues who got lucky." Calamity's eyes fix on me, and she asks "What's your name, anyhow?"
Calamity is silent for a long time. "Well, Danny." She reaches up and taps a curly wire leading to an ear bud taped into her ear. "The cops say they'll be here in a few moments, so we'd best be leaving."
"If the police find you here, they'll want you to testify against a supervillain." Calamity shrugs. "I'll not claim expertise on how things work from where you're from, but in my experience of the world, that is a poor choice of behavior. Might be you decide to keep your mouth shut. Might be Utopia doesn't take the chance. Best be leaving."
Excerpted from Dreadnought by April Daniels. Copyright © 2017 April Daniels. Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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