Prologues are tricky. They must abide by a certain set of rules: be concise, don’t drown the reader in tedious information, make sure something happens, and adopt a viewpoint other than your protagonist’s. Basically, a prologue must act like the teaser before a television show’s opening credits.
I wasn’t originally planning on using a prologue in Terrific, my upcoming novel featuring the world’s greatest superhero — Mighty Woman! But then I realized it could provide an effective way of introducing the villain and laying the foundation for her arc.
The results are below. It’s still rough, unedited, and very much a work in progress, and you may well spot a typo or five. But it is evidence that, yes, I do remain hard at work on this thing. Plus, I feel like sharing something. So here we go…
Copyright 2016 Daniel R. Sherrier
Doctor Death Junior was a cackler. This child who had barely entered her teens deigned herself worthy of succeeding the greatest genius who ever lived. Dumb luck alone granted her the opportunity.
Graffiti was her hobby, and a police officer had caught her in the act of “painting” beneath a highway bridge. While eluding arrest, she stumbled upon Doctor Death’s subterranean lair, where an unavoidable lack of maintenance had degraded the security system, granting the juvenile delinquent access to the arsenal of a superior intellect. But acquiring his tools did not mean she acquired a sufficient understanding of his mission. Therefore, Doctor Death Junior became one of the ridiculous ones, yet another narcissistic super-villain who wreaked pointless havoc for no grander purpose than her own inane entertainment. She purloined the infamous name of Doctor Death for escapist fantasy.
Clarissa needed to kill the pretender. Her father would have wanted it that way.
She had wanted to deal with her sooner, but her father withheld the location of his lair until her eighteenth birthday. Finish your education first, he had insisted. As if any school system had much to offer her anymore. The unfortunate delay allowed the embarrassment of “Junior” to persist far too long. But at last, Clarissa was ready to end this fraud.
Her father provided hints about how to craft a failsafe mechanism in the event his suit of armor fell into the wrong hands. Clarissa was tasked with filling in the gaps to complete the device. He had trusted she was up to the challenge, and she rewarded his confidence by accomplishing the objective. She required no dumb luck to achieve her victories.
Junior was hardly the brightest prey. After stealing someone’s identity, returning to that someone’s lair on a continual basis was a foolhardy habit. Apparently, Clarissa needn’t have bothered concocting a tracker.
Clarissa descended below ground and marched toward the lair’s secret entrance. For this task, she donned no costume nor took any measures to conceal her identity. What did it matter? The girl would be dead within the next few minutes.
The idiot had neglected to reactivate the security system—likely had no clue it existed in the first place—so Clarissa strode down a tunnel that led directly into the main room. Incessant cackling assaulted her ears, growing louder with each step.
Oh God. Junior was rehearsing.
“Flee before the awesome power of Doctor Death Junior! Ha ha ha!” And it didn’t even sound rehearsed. It merely sounded bad. “None can thwart my touch—my touch…of death!”
The gene pool would thank Clarissa for eliminating this strand.
This arrested-development imbecile didn’t even hear Clarissa enter, which afforded the latter a moment to inspect the lair’s condition. The place was so…sterile. No. Tainted.
The original Doctor Death had stored his many inventions and prototypes here, but several of those delicate machines, each beyond Junior’s comprehension, had been haphazardly shoved against one wall. The apparent purpose was to make space for a practice area so she could play with the armor’s various functions. Disrespectful. And she was lucky she hadn’t blown herself up.
Clarissa could take inventory later. For now, she simply needed to confirm that Junior was indeed wearing the armor and that spares remained. The wall compartment was carelessly left open, displaying five sets of Doctor Death’s lightweight, black-and-gold armor. As for Junior, the fool had her black cape turned to the entrance, and the matching helmet covered the back of her head. A flourish of her arms revealed flashes of gold, providing Clarissa with necessary confirmation.
Junior must have used the miniaturization circuits to compress the armor so it would fit her much smaller frame—circuits the original Doctor Death had employed for stealth entrances and last-minute escapes, not banal tailoring.
“No, too high,” Junior muttered to herself before trying again. The display was pitiful. “None can thwart the touch of Death! Ha ha ha!”
Clarissa’s skin jumped in revolt. If only Junior had channeled this much effort into learning about the scientific achievements that surrounded her, she might have been a halfway-worthy successor…at best.
Extracting a small remote control from her jacket pocket, Clarissa pressed a button. Her sole regret was that she couldn’t see Junior’s face as the armor’s joints locked into place. But at least the cackling ceased.
Clarissa allowed the pretender to wriggle in confusion for several seconds, her every effort futile—not that she seemed to grasp the futility.
“Who dares to enter this place?”
“Face me,” Clarissa said, dialing a sequence on the remote.
Against her will, Junior completed several clunky steps until she had turned half a revolution and saw a tall, lanky teenager with a pixie cut and penchant for dark clothing.
Clarissa maintained a stoic front, though she was taken aback at how young Junior appeared up close, even with a mask obscuring the top half of her face. The kid was only about four years younger, but they were four long, important years. Clarissa had been Junior’s age when she learned who her father was and began the interminable wait. But no way was she ever this young.
“Junior,” Clarissa greeted with a slight nod.
The pretender fidgeted, but her armor permitted no movement, not even the slightest twitch. “What did you do? Why can’t I move?”
“Because you don’t know the override code. If someone pulled this on me, I’d be free in an instant. Can you figure out why?”
“Don’t know and don’t care. I was in the middle of something, and you’ll pay when I—”
“Middle of embarrassing my father.”
“Your—?” Letting her act of defiance fall to the wayside, Junior’s face opened up, and her delighted squeal grated worse than the cackling. “You’re his daughter! Oh my God! Your dad is awesome! What’s he like in person?”
Clarissa wished she knew. “Do you even comprehend what his mission was all about? Do you understand why he undertook any of this?”
Ugh. “He called himself a doctor for a reason. Doctor Death was trying to heal the world.” Clarissa had watched her father’s posthumously delivered recording numerous times, and she could recite his words nearly verbatim. “The way to do that is to attack its most persistent plague—mankind. This planet is overstuffed with people who should have been evolutionary dead-ends—who should never have achieved life in the first place—but all this human refuse manages to find each other and reproduce, creating even worse examples of humanity. Our species will soon grow too bloated and collapse under our own weight, taking the whole planet down with us. But my father wasn’t content to wait for disaster to happen. The Earth’s population needs to be drastically reduced so the remainder may flourish. That’s what he was working on…until Fantastic Man killed him.”
“No way! I knew it had to be something like that.” Junior seemed to have comprehended only the last part. Clarissa’s mistake—not taking the simple-mindedness of her audience into account. “So wait, who’s your mother? Is she a super-villain, too? Which one?”
Her mother died of cancer five years ago, after a too-long battle. She had been one of the world’s precious few innocents who never hurt anyone. She deserved the better life her ex-husband was striving for.
But Clarissa bit her tongue, looked down, and pressed buttons.
Junior’s arms lifted, and not by her own doing. Her hands stretched in opposite directions, and they kept pulling—not forceful enough to inflict lasting damage, but enough to hurt. The kid’s eyes moistened, and the crying followed even sooner than Clarissa had dreaded.
“I’ve been watching you,” Clarissa said. “Carrying on like a lunatic all these months as you pranced around trying convince the world you’re some ‘super-villain.’ Clearly, you fail to grasp the importance of the mission. You’ve been ruining my father’s name, so it’s past time we end the taint that is Doctor Death Junior.”
“Ow, ow, ow! Please! I’m sorry!”
“Do I look like I want an apology?” Clarissa increased the pressure.
Junior shouted, embarrassing herself with her sobs. “Don’t—I don’t want to die!”
But she needed to. Clarissa had several options for how to go about it, and she considered which would be most appropriate. Ripping her in half would have been needlessly gruesome, nor did she look forward to listening to Junior’s screams as the armor’s gauntlets turned their life-draining energy back onto her.
A more elegant solution sprang to mind. Clarissa activated one of the armor’s special features, one she assumed Junior was already familiar with.
A look of horror overcame the pretender as she slowly dwindled in size. Clarissa imagined it from Junior’s perspective—the true heir growing gigantic as she reclaimed the mantle that was rightfully hers. This was appropriate.
Junior was now small enough to crush under Clarissa’s heel, but enough of her remained to leave a messy residue. Under a microscope it would still—no, not elegant enough.
Clarissa crouched over the minuscule fraud. “If nothing else, you reminded people of my father’s work. For that, you get to live. But not here. I’m exiling you to a microscopic world. My father spent some time in one elsewhere. It resembled a prehistoric Earth full of dinosaurs, if you can believe it. I have no idea what you’ll encounter in these molecules. I trust you’ll find the experience…memorable.”
The words must have thundered in those diminishing ears, which were each no bigger than a grain of sand. After another second, the entire girl was that size, then tinier, until she was gone. No, not gone—invisible to naked perception as she entered the visually spectacular realm of molecular interaction she no doubt failed to appreciate.
One more action would prevent Junior’s return. The press of a button would short out her stolen armor, rendering all its functions permanently inoperable, turning it into little more than ordinary metal, which could still prove useful, might allow her to survive down there, in whatever was down there.
Just press the button, and the girl would never be able to reclaim her life. She’d still be alive, though, at first. It wouldn’t be Clarissa’s fault if Junior failed to adapt to her new environment, right?
This was a test. Yes. If Junior was truly worthy of survival, she’d find her own way back. The real Doctor Death managed to return from a micro-world. Escape was possible, provided she could rise to the challenge.
Clarissa pressed the button quickly, then exhaled slowly.
No more counterfeit Doctor Death. Now she was Doctor Death.
Doctor Death the Third. She couldn’t be “the Second” like she was supposed to be, as she couldn’t stomach the thought of anyone confusing her with that immature juvenile. “The Third” was fine, and the name wasn’t as important as the mission—something Junior had gotten backward.
Her instructions were clear. It was time to get to work. Unlike her father, she could do so in a world without the Terrifics.
Fantastic Man, the so-called Beacon of Brightness, the master of photons—he converted his body into light and exiled himself into space right after he murdered his arch-nemesis. No one had seen him since.
The telekinetic Captain Amazing quit at the same time, presumably to lead a normal life.
The telepathic Ultra Girl was no problem either. Clarissa winced at the thought of that one—her father’s mistake, his distraction, the one he empowered in the Terrifics’ final month. Fortunately, Ultra Girl was such a terrible superhero, she died on Jupiter and stayed that way for several hours. Her brief career lasted barely beyond her resurrection.
That left only Mighty Woman on active duty. But one superhero, alone and overworked for four consecutive years, could pose no threat.
End of prologue!
Now it’s time for me to get back to work revising the manuscript so I can release the book later this year. In the meantime, please feel free to let me know what you think about the prologue. Thanks for reading!