One of the biggest changes between the first run of NBC’s Heroes and its reboot, Heroes Reborn, is the lack of Hayden Panettiere’s rapid-healing cheerleader, Claire Bennet. The first episode of Heroes Reborn explained that Claire died in the period between shows, and later episodes elaborated on the circumstances of her death. However, we still don’t know what Claire did in between revealing her powers to the world at the end of Heroes and her off-camera death in Reborn.
Enter Save the Cheerleader, Destroy the World, the fifth in a series of Heroes Reborn tie-in e-books explaining the gaps and filling in backstories of the new NBC series. Read below for an exclusive excerpt of Keith R.A. Candido’s chronicle of Claire’s missing adventures. All six tie-in books are on sale now.
25 January 2011
The White House, Washington, D.C.
On the one hand, Claire’s heart was beating so hard inside her chest that she felt like her ribcage would explode. Here she was, a simple girl from Texas, standing in the Oval Office, meeting the President of the United States.
On the other hand, after being killed during an attempted rape and waking up on an autopsy table with her entire chest cut open, running into a burning building, getting shot, having her brain sliced open, and watching more people than she cared to think about die, from Jackie to her birth mother to her first college roommate, this kind of felt anticlimactic. T
he large oval-shaped room sported two couches facing each other perpendicular to a large easy chair, with two more chairs facing it. Behind the easy chair was the President’s desk, where the commander-in-chief was sitting as Claire entered, surrounded by a half-dozen Secret Service agents and several men and women in suits. The only one of them she recognized was the Vice President. T
he President got up from his chair and smiled. “So—you’re the young woman who changed the world.”
Claire glanced nervously from side to side. “I guess?”
Walking around to the other side of the desk, the President approached Claire, who was standing behind one of the couches. He was even taller in person than he seemed on camera, and he practically loomed over her now. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Ms. Bennet. You’ve created quite a stir. Luckily, it’s one we were prepared for.”
“Actually,” she said very quietly—she felt weird correcting the President, but this was important—”it’s Ms. Petrelli. I’m going by Claire Petrelli now.”
“Well, the late Senator Petrelli is the reason why we were so well prepared for this.”
Claire nodded. “Building 26.”
“Yes.” The President frowned. “How much do you know about that, Ms. B— er, Ms. Petrelli?”
“I know everything about it. My father worked for it, and my biological father was Senator Petrelli.”
One of the men in suits stepped forward. “The President is asking because your name wasn’t in the files that the senator provided. And they were quite comprehensive.”
“My father—” Claire smiled. “Both my fathers—have been very protective of me. Especially my adopted father. It’s to protect him—as well as my mother and brother—that I changed my name. If the press wants to go after my family, let them go after the Petrellis. They can handle it.”
The President nodded. “No doubt. In any case, I’m glad you’re here to be one of my Lenny Skutniks for the State of the Union.”
Claire blinked. “I’m sorry?”
One of the women came to Claire’s rescue. “Lenny Skutnik was the first special guest in the gallery back in ’82. He rescued a woman from the Potomac—dove right in and swam after her and kept her from drowning.”
Nodding, Claire smiled. “A real hero.”
The Vice President said, “President Reagan invited him to sit up in the box, and since then, every State of the Union’s had a guest. Including, now, you, Ms. Petrelli.”
“You should be,” the President said. “What you did took tremendous courage. I know it hasn’t been easy, answering the same questions over and over again. Not to mention all the medical tests.”
“Actually, those have been fine.” She smiled. “It’s always kind of fun to watch another doctor stare in surprise every time I heal right in front of them.”
“You can rest assured, Ms. Petrelli, that your bravery hasn’t gone unnoticed. The reason why I invited you here today to be my guest at the State of the Union is because you and people like you are a big part of my speech.”
That made Claire more than a little nervous. Are they opening Building 26 for business again? Something worse?
“Don’t worry,” the President added quickly. “It’s nothing you need to be afraid of. I pride myself on not making the same mistake twice.”
The Vice President grinned. “We prefer to make newer, more interesting mistakes.”
Several in the room chuckled at that. Claire, though, was not one of them.
The Vice President continued. “Besides, the cover-ups aren’t really tenable anymore, you know?”
“Not that I think you’re wrong or anything, sir,” Claire said slowly, “but why do you say that?”
“Central Park is built on a very large swamp. There are no gas lines under it.”
Claire winced. Lauren had probably had no idea of that when she came up with the cover story—which, to be fair, she had had to do on the fly. But it was just another indicator to Claire that she had done the right thing.
A short young man walked into the office. “Sir, it’s time.”
The President nodded and moved toward the door. “Who’s the designated survivor this year?”
One of the women said, “The Housing Secretary.”
Smiling, the President said, “Lucky him.”
This much Claire did remember from school: one member of the Cabinet was left in the White House during the State of the Union in case something happened to the House Chamber, since pretty much the entire government would be together in one building. She also knew that, since 2001, certain members of Congress spent the evening in undisclosed locations for similar reasons.
At the time she’d learned about the practice, Claire had thought it to be absurdly paranoid. Now, though, she realized it seemed like something her father would have come up with…
Ten more Secret Service agents met them outside the Oval Office, and they all moved swiftly through the corridors of the White House.
The President was talking to one of the women. “Did we get the final notes on the budget section?”
“Amazingly, they said it was fine as is.”
“No one was more surprised than me, Mr. President.”
Claire realized that, of the sixteen Secret Service agents that were surrounding this group of people, four of them were very close to her.
Are they here to protect me? Or to protect everyone else from me?
She was pretty sure it was the latter.
The four agents maneuvered her toward a long line of limousines parked outside the White House, and guided her into one of them. She was seated across from a man in a suit and a man dressed like an airline pilot. One of the agents took the seat next to her.
The man in the suit said, “You’re the indestructible girl.”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“So you’re real.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Please don’t ask me to cut myself.”
He held up both hands. “No, no, I believe you. I mean, if you’re sitting in the President’s box for the State of the Union, then this isn’t just a crazy gag. I figured it was some stunt for a new movie or something.”
The airline pilot was just staring out the window as the limo slowly pulled out. Sirens blared through the air and red-white-and-blue lights strobed across the car’s windows as they drove down 15th Street. Claire found it almost hypnotic.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone, hoping there might be a text from Gretchen Berg.
There was nothing new. There hadn’t been anything new since the two texts her former best friend had sent on the 14th of December. The first was a picture she’d taken of some tabloid or other on a supermarket rack. A picture of Claire and Gretchen on the campus of Arlington University was splashed across the front page with the headline, “INDESTRUCTIBLE GIRL IN LOVE NEST WITH CO-ED.”
The second text read, “How could you do this to me Claire? They won’t leave me alone! I never want to see you again!”
Under that were about thirty texts from Claire, all trying to get Gretchen to relent and respond.
Still no reply.
She sent another: “Please text me, Gretch, let me know you’re okay? PLEASE?”
It only took a few minutes to arrive at the Capitol. Five more Secret Service agents joined the one in the car to escort the three of them inside to the President’s box, which overlooked the House Chamber. The room was huge, all wood paneling, and quite lovely. Watching the speech on a computer monitor—which Claire had only done once, and then just because of a homework assignment—didn’t give one an appreciation for how big the chamber was.
Two sections of seats were empty, and of the three seats on the main dais, only one was occupied—by the Speaker of the House. The President would sit in front of her, with the Vice President on her right.
The airline pilot and the other guy sat to Claire’s right. To her left were the First Lady and the President’s children. The First Lady smiled at her and said, “Welcome.”
“You look nervous.”
“Really?” She chuckled. “I don’t feel nervous. I feel—” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I feel. This is really not what I expected my life to be like.”
Raising an eyebrow, the First Lady asked, “You mean before or after you realized you couldn’t be hurt?”
“Both.” Claire looked away. “And I can get hurt—just not physically.”
A voice from below cried out, “Madame Speaker, the Vice President of the United States, and the United States Senate!”
The Vice President entered and sat down next to the Speaker as about a hundred people filed in to sit in one of the unoccupied sections. Claire figured that it wouldn’t be quite all one hundred senators, and sure enough, four seats were empty.
After that, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps was announced, followed by the Chief Justice, the rest of the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet. The one time Claire had watched the State of the Union, it had been on YouTube, and it had started with the President’s actual speech, so she’d never seen the preliminaries before.
It took about a half hour for everyone to be introduced and seated, and then finally came the words they’d all been waiting for: “Madame Speaker, the President of the United States.”
It took quite a while for the President to make his way down the aisle, shaking hands and smiling and thanking people amidst thunderous applause.
When he finally made it to the dais, the Speaker formally introduced him, which led to more applause, and then at last the President began to speak.
The speech started with a litany of clichés and platitudes that Claire found herself utterly incapable of paying attention to. She briefly considered checking her phone to see if she’d heard from Gretchen, then decided against it. It’s not like today’s going to be any different. Gretchen had been her best friend, and Claire probably wouldn’t have made it through the early days of college without her. But Claire had also gone public without consulting her—or even warning her.
Now the President was talking about the airline pilot, who had apparently rescued several passengers after an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. After the applause for him had died down, he glanced at her. Claire squirmed in her seat.
“Also with us is Ms. Claire Petrelli.”
Claire noticed that the President paused before saying her last name. No doubt the notes in front of him and the teleprompter both said “Bennet.”
“I’m sure you’ve all seen the video of Claire’s dramatic jump off of a Ferris wheel, and I’m sure you’ve seen the interviews she’s done in the month and a half since. But Claire is not unique—and she is not a freak, either. Claire is one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of evolved humans who walk among us. These ‘Evos’ have kept themselves hidden because they live in fear. Now you might think they have little reason to be afraid. These are people who can fly, who can move at supersonic speeds, who can teleport from place to place, who can change the course of mighty rivers. But they’re also people who are different.
“This country’s history has been marred by an inability to accept that which is different, but it’s also been blessed with an ability to move past that. People with skin the same color as me came here in bondage. The Constitution of the United States, as originally written, considered people who looked like me to be only three-fifths of a person. When immigrants from Western Europe, from Latin America, from Eastern Europe came over here, they were initially viewed with distrust and not considered ‘real’ Americans.
“But we’ve been able to move past that. I’m not three-fifths of a person anymore, I’m the President of the United States. Women can own property and vote. You don’t see employment ads reading, ‘Irish need not apply.’ Not that we’re all there—we still have a long way to go, and that is why these ‘Evos’ have felt the need to stay in the shadows. This administration was recently made aware of the existence of ‘Evos,’ thanks in part to the late Senator Nathan Petrelli. Mistakes were made, primarily by a rogue agent who has since passed away. I can assure you that the same mistakes will not be made twice. Evos are people, just like us—just like my ancestors who came to this country in chains, just like so many of your ancestors who came in boats or planes hoping for a better life. The American dream isn’t just for white people, it isn’t just for landowners, it isn’t just for men, it isn’t just for heterosexuals—and it isn’t just for people who don’t have strange powers. It’s for everyone.
“Which is why I’m going to urge Congress to pass the Evo Registration Act. Let me emphasize that this is not going to be a mandatory registration. What the act will do, assuming it is passed, is empower the Department of Homeland Security to collect information. Any Evos out there who wish to register with the government may do so—but those who do not may choose not to, with no fear of reprisal. In addition, any Evos who are convicted of a crime will be compelled to register as well. It is our hope that law-enforcement agencies will be able to use this information to keep all Americans—Evo or not—safe.”
Claire just stared straight ahead. She hadn’t expected this, and wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
She had wanted to live out in the open. At least the President had made it clear that they weren’t going to do what Emil Danko—the rogue agent the President had referred to—did, making warrantless arrests followed by imprisonment without trial. If Danko had had his way, all the gifted people—what did he call them, “Evos”?—would be rounded up into prisons. Even the ones who hadn’t done anything wrong.
But the President said that this new law would be voluntary. She hoped that would be the right thing.
The speech went on, but she barely noticed any of it. A small voice in her head that sounded a lot like her father said, You wanted to go public, Claire-Bear—this is what happens.