While She Was Gone

This should be a happy occasion. I’ve been convinced of that much all day. All five of us, still alive, back together after all that’s happened- has it really only been a week since Starlight left? It feels like much, much longer. All the more reason we should be excited, cheerful at least.

But we aren’t. I don’t have to be an empath to tell that much.  We’re on edge, every one of us. It was obvious ten minutes ago, when we sat around Starlight’s- Zielonya’s- table, eating sandwiches and salad and making polite conversation about the last week, avoiding any discussion of the real reason for our meeting. It’s even more obvious now, since we’ve run out of polite conversation and are left to fill the silence with cookies- supplied by me and Lannis- and chips- supplied by Starlight- while we wait for Swordsman and the flier to Skype in to our meeting.

Not that most of us are eating. Lannis has a plate of chips and a cookie, but she’s mostly just crumbling those up and trying to look like she’s not nervous. Beside her on one couch, Audrey sits without any snacks, looking defiant. Saxon and I face them on the other couch. Saxon’s the only one who seems to be actually enjoying the food, though she’s nearly as tense as Audrey. I’m nibbling a snickerdoodle, on the principle that food, like fancy coffee, makes everything better, but I can barely taste the treat. And Starlight- I guess she must be Starlight, because she has her mask on- exudes an air of impatience that not even Mom’s homemade German chocolate cake could possibly fix.

Swordsman appears in the Skype window first, looking tired and a bit less intense than usual- but not as upset as he probably has a right to be. Like Starlight, he’s in costume, though unlike her, he looks more like a character from The Lord of the Rings than a classic superhero, with his red-brown beard and dark brown tunic and not-quite-black cloak. Only his hat doesn’t quite fit- brown and broad-brimmed, with a stiletto knife where a feather ought to be, it looks like it came from a few centuries after the rest of the costume, though somehow it works. He greets Starlight like a friend- I guess they probably are friends, at least kind of- and seems as glad as the rest of us to hear that her powers are properly back.

The flier- Lady Invidia- appears a few minutes later, bearing that same air of detached calm and control that Starlight usually possesses, but in a way that suggests she’s silently judging the rest of us, Starlight in particular. Her greeting only emphasizes that impression, as she and Starlight trade “Hello”s so cold that I’m surprised the air doesn’t freeze over. That makes no sense; Starlight’s the only person here who actually knows what she’s doing and hasn’t made a mess of things this past week. But I’m definitely not going to ask questions- not of Starlight, whose past is her own to tell us or not tell us as she thinks best; not of Lady Invidia, a classic Hero in regal purple who’s probably one of the most intimidating people I’ve ever met- excepting the ones on the other side of our mess.

Now that we’re all here, Starlight wastes no more time: “All right. Someone finally tell me: what happened while I was gone?”

The four of us trade glances, uncertain where to start, and then look hopefully at the screen. But neither Swordsman nor Lady Invidia comes to our rescue this time. In the end, it’s Lannis who replies: “Well . . . It started when Audrey found a lead, or thought she’d found one, about Gr-”

“I did find a lead about Gr,” Audrey interrupts. “We’ve all agreed on that. And I did get information.”

“We agreed it was a lead,” Saxon shoots back, blunt as ever. “We didn’t agree it was a good one, and we got a lot more than information.”

“It didn’t totally blow up,” I add, hoping that it’ll make Audrey stop looking like she’s ready to set something on fire. “Not much, anyway. Literally or figuratively. And the literal blowing up wasn’t Audrey’s fault.”

“Anyway,” Lannis  pulls the explanation back on track, “yes, Audrey decided to investigate on her own when the rest of us were hesitant. She went-” A pause. “Actually, maybe Audrey should explain this bit.”

Audrey lifts her chin as if Lannis were offering a challenge rather than an invitation. “Fine. The lead didn’t get me right to Gr- it was about one of the groups under him. So I went to the place where the group sometimes met and bluffed at the guy in charge- like I knew a lot more than I did, but I wasn’t going to turn them in because I wanted in on what they were doing- and he blustered back at me until-” Audrey pauses, thinks better of what she’s going to say, and goes on- “Until I convinced him to listen.”

I glance at Starlight, whose gloved hands are clenched on the chair arms, her face tight with controlled exasperation, and wonder if she guesses what Audrey’s not saying outright: “Until I caught his hat on fire to get him interested.” Swordsman and Lady Invidia don’t know that bit either- but Audrey told us three, in private, and got enough of a scolding that she’s apparently keeping it quiet.

Audrey is still going on: “So we talked, and I fished for more information. You know, claiming I already knew it so he’d talk about what he knew. The group that I went to, they’re in the black market, but Gr, whoever he is, I still didn’t get his full name, has lots of different people under him- including some super-powered guys. He’s got kind of big plans, but I couldn’t find out what. And then I ran out of things to say, and the guy I was talking to said he was done and he’d get back to me, but I should leave then- with more threats involved. You know. So I left. And then I snuck back in to snoop around some more, but I didn’t have time to find out much.”

“Because she got caught,” Lady Invidia says, finally speaking. “By that point the other young ladies had realized she was gone and guessed she was in trouble. They wisely went to Swordsman for help . . .”

Lannis takes over again: “Which is about when Audrey texted me the first time about how she’d gone to investigate and a little of what she’d learned. She told you most of it already- what she didn’t include then but did tell me over text was that there was another meta there- a fire-manipulator like her.”

“Better than me,” Audrey interrupts, and not for the first time I wonder how much she’s unbent her pride to say that. “I know what I’m doing, but I’m still figuring out how he did some of his tricks. And he does explosions- I can’t do those. Yet. And he had other powers on top of those.”

Yet. I wonder how long it’ll take Audrey to figure that out. But Lannis is talking again: “So, yes, between him and the others, the non-powered people, and the fact that they could call other metas if they needed to, Swordsman decided that we’d need some help, and that’s when he called Lady Invidia.”

“I couldn’t get ahold of anyone else,” Swordsman interjects. “And Audrey’s description of the meta reminded me of someone who Invidia had dealt with before. Thankfully, she was available and got here quickly.”

“Audrey texted before that, though.” Lannis glances at Audrey, and I remember how she- how we all- nearly panicked when we received that message. “Not much, just- help. So I tried to look in on her mentally, and thankfully I could- I wasn’t sure if she’d be too far away- and that’s how we found out she’d been captured. Though she wasn’t quite captured then; she was trying to bluff her way out, and then fight her way out, but with the fire-wielder nullifying her attacks . . . it didn’t really work.”

“Major understatement,” Saxon mutters, and I agree- I’m the one who freaked out most when a concussion on Audrey’s end left Lannis momentarily stunned, and who put Audrey’s fractured ribs back together after she got out- but Starlight’s more tense now than before we started, so I try to hurry up the explanation.

“Anyway, yes, Audrey was captured, and Saxon tried to go rescue her before Lady Invidia got here, but there was something that kept her from teleporting right into the building- I think Swordsman said it was probably a device of some kind, but I don’t remember really- and so we had to wait for Lady Invidia to arrive. But she got here fast, and she and Swordsman had a plan together almost as quickly.”

“It was a fairly routine operation.” This is Swordsman now. “You can probably guess our basic plan. Lannis got the information we needed about the layout of the base and the people there from Audrey, we determined the best time and route, and in we went, not just to rescue your friend but also to see about stopping their operation for the time being. Lady Invidia took the main group by surprise, while I extracted Audrey.”

“The plan went off fairly well,” Lady Invidia says- by now, she and Swordsman are really the only ones who can tell the story. “Your friends proved surprisingly helpful. Clarity did well at communications between all parties, and while I would have preferred that the Watcher stay where I told her to, her disobedience did save Swordsman and Audrey a fight.”

“Some of the guys there had found them trying to get out.” Saxon grins. “But I found them first. And whatever keeps people from teleporting in doesn’t stop them from teleporting out. I got close as I could, snuck in, found Audrey and Swordsman, and got us all out.”

“Good.” Starlight doesn’t sound approving, exactly, but she  doesn’t sound disapproving either. “And what blew up?”

“A few parts of their base,” Lady Invidia replies, casual as if she were talking about what she ate for lunch yesterday. “Anyone who deals in weapons- explosives particularly- should think twice before including fire-wielders in their crew. I’m sure you understand my meaning?”

“Clearly.” Starlight finally relaxes just enough to lean back in her seat- no more. “I assume that the damage to other buildings was minimal, since I haven’t heard anything about this on the news?”

Lannis nods. “It was- I don’t think what happened even made the news. Not significantly, anyway. The base was still pretty intact on the outside even after the fight; just the inside got messed up, I think. Or that’s what Lady Invidia implied.”

“Small blessings,” Starlight mutters, quietly enough that I’m not sure the pair on Skype can hear. Maybe that’s intentional. “I don’t suppose anyone happened to tell any authorities about this?”

“I left a tip for them with as much detail as I could give without exposing Audrey,” Swordsman replies. “But I suspect that the base would have been cleared out by the time any police arrived.”

“Naturally.” Starlight takes a deep breath. “Well. Thank you two for your help.” Her voice is stiff, as if her words take some effort. “I guess now all that needs to be done is for us five to figure out how to deal with this.”

“Was that a hint, Starlight?” Swordsman stretches, a half-smile breaking his seriousness. “If so, I’ll take it. See you later, and keep me updated on what happens. Good night, everyone.” With a tip of his hat, he disappears from the screen.

“Really, Starlight, if that’s a hint, your subtlety is slipping.” Lady Invidia raises an eyebrow behind her mask. “But, as Swordsman said, good night, and good luck.”

“We don’t need luck, but thank you, and good night,” Starlight shoots back as Lady Invidia also disappears. Then she grabs a cookie from the plate on the table and leans back in her seat. “Well. I suppose that could’ve been worse. Audrey, I assume you’ve learned your lesson about going off and doing this sort of thing without backup?”

Audrey nods sulkily. “Yes, thank you; I’ve already heard two lectures on it.”

“Since when do I lecture?” Starlight doesn’t give Audrey a chance to answer. “Admittedly, it would’ve been useful if you had been patient and waited until we could make a plan and you could actually infiltrate their group instead of getting yourself caught. But as it is, we’ll just have to do our best with the information you were able to gather. Such as it is.”

“It’s better than nothing, isn’t it?” I ask, hopefully. “How many Big Bads can there be with that many connections?”

“Plenty,” Starlight replies. “And always more than you think. They hide themselves well.” She’s about to say more, I think, but the doorbell rings before she can. I’ve never seen someone turn into a different person so fast: on the way to the door, she tosses her mask and cape into the kitchen, swipes her deep-red lipstick off on her sleeve, and throws on an outsized grey college sweater she snatches from a hook by the door.

Curious, we all turn in our seats to see the front door. The man outside looks – well, not quite familiar, but like I’ve seen him somewhere before. Starlight obviously knows him, as she greets him by name: “Daniel. Hello.”

“Hello-” the man pauses, noticing us. “Oh. You have friends over?”

“Yes,” Starlight replies. “Sorry.” She doesn’t seem especially sorry.

“We can go,” Lannis says, standing up. “I didn’t know you were expecting other company.”

“None of us did.” Saxon doesn’t stand, but she’s staring at the newcomer- Daniel- in interest. “Who’s this, Star?”

Starlight takes a second to answer, like she’s deciding what information to share and what not to share. Then she comes to a decision and says: “Someone with whom I occasionally do business.” Turning back to Daniel, she indicates us. “We should be done soon. Give us another half-hour or so? An hour at most?”

She’s asking- but she doesn’t really seem to be giving a choice. Even so, I feel obliged to say, “We really can go if you need us to, Starlight.”

“It’s fine. I can wait.” Maybe there’s disappointment in Daniel’s voice. Maybe bitterness. I can’t tell. “I’ll see you soon- Starlight.”

“Right.” Starlight waits until Daniel turns away before shutting the door firmly. Then she returns to her seat. “Now, time to make plans.”

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The Powers That Be

I should be happier to be home.  I should be… happy to be home, period. My powers aren’t conducive to fast travel, and it’s a long way to Gioura and back – I borrowed a car from a retired superhero, hitched lifts with two different fliers, took a train halfway across Europe… all to meet up with a crotchety Greek demigod… and then the only flight back to Foundry City from Athens was a three-stop connecting trip with the notoriously unreliable Windsor Airlines.  Short version, I’m exhausted enough to lapse back out of American English.  (I speak American even when I’m halfway down a twenty-floor building with a power glitch and no backup; does this give you an idea how tired I am?)

At least my friend and his sidekick left the place tidy, and all the stuff that could identify me locked up in the bedroom closet like I said, because when I get home at four a.m., what do I find?  Lannis sitting on my sofa drinking coffee and looking like she’s been up waiting for me all night.  She bounces over to the door the moment I come in, and stops two inches short of hugging me.

“How… did you get in?” I ask, setting my bag down and trying to remember whether I gave any members of this peculiar Teenage Superhero Society the key to my flat.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

“Your friend let me in – on his way out.  That kid?  You know the kid who goes around with him?”  Please, please, let them not have done anything stupid.  “Well, I never saw them without their masks…” Thank you. “But the kid – something about his mouth, or the way he walked or something – he looked like that ‘friend’s daughter’ you were babysitting that time in the park.  Is that your friend?  I mean – I don’t mean to be rude, but you don’t seem like you’d have a whole lot of friends with pre-teen kids.”

“Not really, no,” I say, going into the kitchen for a cup of tea.  “Lannis, I’m sorry, it’s been a long week.  Did you come to tell me about what’s been going on in town while I was gone, or just to shoot the breeze?”

“I…” Lannis comes up behind me, retrieving the tea-caddy from where somebody left it on top of the fridge.  “Over here.  I figured it would have been a rough trip, and I came over to say hi, and to make sure you were okay.  Are you… okay?”

“Just some family… stuff… leave it, Lannis.  Did anything noteworthy happen the last week?”

“Oh, a couple things!”  For some reason my frazzled brain cannot fathom, she bursts into hysterical laughter.  “Nothing to worry about.  We handled it for now, but the others want to talk to you about it.  Your friend called a flier – why flier, she couldn’t fly – Star, seriously, why flier? – from New York -”

“He called her?”  Well, it’s either Alice or my mother.  Alice can fly in a way Lannis would recognize as flying.  Swordsman called my mother.  He doesn’t even like my mother.  He called my mother from New York to deal with a problem in Foundry City.  A problem that has Lannis Raehe in hysterics even after it’s over.  At least… I hope it’s over.

“Yeah.  We’ll… we’ll probably have to get all together to explain to you, because nobody was there for all of it.  But for now – how was your trip?  Did you get your powers back?”

“Yeah.  Plasma powers and all – haven’t had those for years.  And this lot I can keep until I decide to go and give them back to Rhadamanthus.”  The kettle’s whistling, so I say what I’m thinking aloud – it won’t be easy for Lannis to hear me, even if it turns out to be possible.  “I just hope they’re worth the price.”

Note to self: Lannis hears thoughts, Starlight girl.  Watch it.

“What… price?” she asks uncertainly.

Sitting in Rhadamanthus’ whitewashed house overlooking the sea – he comes here on vacation, usually a few weeks after any kind of disaster – dipping leathery, honey-tasting bread into beakers of cool mint tea.  He tells me which of Mother’s colleagues – my family – have come his way in the last few years.  I’m isolated out in Foundry City; not much happens there, so I’m enough to handle it… and since the blowup with Mother, nobody who’s anybody goes there just to see me. 

“All yours,” Rhadamanthus said coolly, refilling my cup.  He took a blue bottle down from a shelf and added a few drops from it to the tea.  “Drink, and you’ll have your powers.”

“What do I owe you?” I asked.  Because he’s a demigod.  Because they don’t do gifts, not even for heroes, not even if they’re the patron of justice in person and the kid who wants a favor has worked for nothing but justice since her eighth birthday when she took the mask.

“I wish it were nothing,” he told me.  “The powers are mine to give away.  But I have to take something – rules, you know.”

“What do you want?”

“Sweetheart, you don’t have anything I want.  Your hair?  Not long enough, and anyway, it’s Aphrodite who likes that kind of thing, and I can’t stand the girl.  Your friends’s love?  What friends? What love?  I tell you what.  I will take someone – not family – at some point, for Lachesis.  Someone who’s going to die anyway, I promise.  But this way it’s on record that you’ve paid.  That’s the best I can do.”

“Someone who’s going to die anyway,” I repeated.  I understood: Rhadamanthus had to say he’d taken something off me in exchange.  Giving me a mountain of guilt over whoever dies next is just barely enough to pay for full powers.  I drank, and flicked my fingers to show him the plasma controls were back.

“Someone’s going to die,” I tell Lannis, in the present, watching swirls of tannin diffuse in the boiling water.  “I don’t know who, I don’t know when, but someone I know is going to die.  It might be one of you.  It might be someone you’ve never heard of.  All I know is that they were going to die anyway, but that doesn’t make it easier to handle.  Please, Lannis…”  I can’t confide in her.  Once I start talking, I’ll have to think about what I’m saying.  And that’s the end of it, when you’re around a telepath.  They know everything you were going to say – and everything you weren’t.  Fini.

“I’ll go,” Lannis says quietly.  “I just came to make sure you were okay.  I guess… I don’t know what goes on in your life.”

“We have to keep it that way,” I tell her, as she unlocks the front door.  “The more you know, the more people there are that can hurt you.”

The moment she’s gone, I dive for the phone.  I have to talk to someone – just not Lannis, because I don’t have a filter with Lannis, and I need my filters.  The phone is black Bakelite – a time-travelling friend of Mother’s partner fetched it for him from the ’40s, and he left it with me – but the sight of the dial halts me.  I can’t call Daniel.  I can’t call Mother.  Swordsman won’t be home yet, and I don’t want to tie up the line with his wife Storm in case she needs to call him.  Mother’s partner moved city and I don’t know his new number.  There are some folks I knew on the coast, but they’re not in the business and won’t take kindly to being woken at this hour.

I call Directory Assistance and ask for Rebecca’s phone number.  By now it’s five in the morning – just on the edge of civilized.  Unfortunately, her mother answers, sounding sleepy and cross, but fortunately, Rebecca is already awake and comes to the phone.

“Hey, Zielonya, you’re back!  Is everything all right?  We have caller ID on this phone,” she adds conspiratorially, an explanation for her use of my name.

“Yeah… not really.  I’m sorry, Rebecca, this was a bad idea.  I just needed to talk… I’ll call my dad or something.  But Lannis said there had been trouble in town?  What happened?”  So I’m blatantly trying to change the subject.  And I know I’m never going to phone my father.  So what?  I pick up the phone base and take advantage of its long cord to wander back into the kitchen in search of frozen chicken noodle soup to reheat.  And my pajamas and bathrobe from the pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded.

“We’ll get everyone together tonight and go over it.  And you might need to get your friend and the lady he called in from New York to… Skype in or something.  It was pretty weird. Can we meet at your place?  I’m not sure if Lannis is allowed to have meetings at the cafe anymore, and while my sister would love to meet you, it might not be a great idea…”

Oh no I will not have my mother Skype into my flat, I think, but “That would be good.  I’ll do the ring-round and see if everyone can make it,” I say.  “Nobody vegetarian?”

“No.  Hey, Zie – sorry, do people call you Zie? – there’s something I wanted to ask.”

“No, it’s okay.  Go right ahead.”  Someone calls me Zie.  But like I said… it’s okay.

“Um… you’ve been in town for maybe two years? – I mean Starlight has been – and Foundry City isn’t huge – and your house is amazing, and you said you had… premises… somewhere else too… I mean… where do you work?  And what do you do?  Because I’ve never seen you in town, and I thought I recognized pretty much everyone in the city.”

“I tutor-babysit some kids after school while their parents are still at work…” This is not entirely true.  My niece doesn’t need tutoring, and my eldest nephew and the twins need handcuffs, not a babysitter.  And my brother and his wife are usually out pretending to be normal billionaires, which is a kind of work.   “And the flat belongs to the guy who runs the Foundry, and he’s a friend, so that’s rent-free.”  This is true: my sister-in-law’s father gave her and my brother total control of his iron empire and retired to Florida, about ten years ago now.  “I don’t have a normal job.  That’s all I can tell you right now. Please, Rebecca, you have to understand.  I have people I need to protect as well.”

“Okay.  I guess I’ll see you tonight?”  She hangs up without waiting for an answer to what probably wasn’t really a question.

I would love to tell her – tell all of them.  That my family is as mixed-up crazy as Arkham, and my father’s about a sixth of the way through paying off child support – he’s got fifteen years to go – and I haven’t lived with either parent since I was… ooh, about twelve.  Someday I’ll have to tell the others about Bernie and Murph and my blood family, but it can wait.  Until I understand it properly myself, and that will take another trip to Greece and a long conversation with Mnemosyne.

So I just crash into bed, hoping that whatever’s happened can hold off happening again until I’ve had a chance to talk to the girls… and that I don’t hear from Mother…  and that Swordsman doesn’t do his nut about the new powers… and oh, please, that Daniel doesn’t show up tomorrow night like he said he was going to.

Ready, Aim, Fire

The shooting range is nearly empty when we arrive Thursday evening- which is a good thing, since it takes a while for Lannis, Audrey, and Saxon to all register in the system as visitors and fill out waivers and listen to the range officer go over the rules so we can go in. Also, with six of us- Dad, Elise, my three friends, and me- there’s no way we could all fit comfortably on one lane. But since the range isn’t crowded and Dad’s a regular here, we’ve gotten permission to use three adjoining lanes, at least until more people show up.

Inside the range, I help Dad set out the guns: a .22 pistol and a 9 mm Glock on the lanes for my friends and me; a .22 rifle, another 9 mm, and a .45 on the lane for Dad and Elise. Then, leaving my family to their shooting, I turn to the others and gesture for them to gather closer- though I’ll still have to speak loudly to be heard. “So, the range officer already said this, but I’ll say it again, because it’s the most important thing to know about handling a gun: never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. On the range, that means you keep it pointed downrange- towards the target- even when you’re loading. Shooting for defense, that means that you don’t pull out the gun and aim at the guy unless you’re willing to follow through. Either way, it means you make sure you know where your gun is aimed and what you might hit if you pull the trigger.”

“What if you need to give someone a warning?” Audrey asks, voice just barely loud enough to be heard. “Or a threat- to make them back off?”

“Never point a gun at something or someone you aren’t willing to shoot,” I repeat. “Seriously. Accidents happen. If your finger’s on the trigger- which it shouldn’t be unless you’re ready to shoot, remember?- and something startles you and you pull the trigger by accident? People can get hurt. So don’t take unnecessary risks.”

I step back into the shooting booth where I’ve set out the 9 mm. I have to raise my voice still more to be heard; Elise has put down the relatively quiet rifle so Dad can shoot the .45. “The other rule I’m going to remind you of is to always assume a gun is loaded until proven otherwise. In general, any gun you have should be unloaded when you’re not using it. But always double-check to make sure.” I grip the slide of the pistol and pull it back to display the empty chamber, then turn it so they can see there’s no magazine loaded. “See? Empty. And it stays that way until we’re ready to shoot.”

I show them how to hold a pistol- dominant hand high on the grip, with the curve between thumb and forefinger hugging the curve at the top; heel of the other hand filling the space beneath the dominant thumb, fingers curled tightly ’round the grip- and how to aim- because you do have to aim; you can’t just point and shoot like in the movies- and how to load and unload. I have each of them dry-fire the 9 mm a few times, to get a feel for it. And then I let them try actually shooting the .22. And all the while I try not to glow too much; try not to show my pride at being the teacher instead of the taught. Because I don’t mind that I didn’t know how to fight a month ago; that I’ve never needed to know; that I’ve been safe and fairly sheltered most of my life. But, all the same, it’s nice to be the semi-experienced one for once.

Once everyone’s had a few turns on the .22, I have them each try the 9 mm, warning them that it’ll have a bigger kick and they’ll have to be careful that they’re not dropping the muzzle in anticipation of that after a few shots. The recoil catches all of them off-guard anyway- because even knowing it will happen, the first time around, you can’t really anticipate what it’ll feel like. But they handle it well all the same. For the next half-hour after that, we rotate through- well, Saxon, Lannis, and Audrey rotate through. I’m mostly too busy watching so I can catch when they’re messing up and step in to correct it- or, more than once, ask Dad to step in and explain something better than I can.

Before long, troublesome tendencies becomes clear. Lannis tends to lock her arms and grip the pistol too tight. Audrey slaps- that is, jerks- the trigger and often doesn’t take the time to really aim. Saxon’s the best shot of the three- not that she’s a master marksman, but she stays relatively relaxed, her aim’s pretty good, and she doesn’t rush. I wonder if she’s done something like this before- Mr. Warrick’s into shooting too, I know, so maybe she’s gone with him a few times and didn’t bother mentioning it.

Near the end of the session, I step away from watching them and slip into Dad and Elise’s lane, behind their booth. Wordlessly, I tap Dad’s arm and then point to the .45- I don’t need to say more, and with three other guns firing, the shots echoing off the concrete walls, I probably wouldn’t be heard easily either. Dad nods, and when Elise has emptied her rifle magazine, he gestures for me to go ahead.

Despite my words to the others, especially Audrey, earlier about not rushing, I have to force myself to take my time with my shots. We had an hour on the range; that time is nearly up. But I manage to relax enough to hold the gun steady, to aim carefully, and to squeeze the trigger instead of slapping it. In the end, my grouping isn’t as tight as I’d like- but every shot hit the target, and since I’m shooting the .45 instead of the more familiar Glock and .22, I’m satisfied.

We pack up the guns and unused ammo and tear down our paper targets and head out to  the bathrooms to scrub hands and faces free of lead residue. I grin at the others as I rub my hands dry with a wad of paper towel. “Nice job. You all did well- especially for the first time.”

“Thank you.” Lannis tosses her own wad of paper towel in the trash. “We should do this again sometime.”

“I second that, actually. That was more fun than I expected.” Saxon, the first to finish washing up, leans against the wall by the door. “I can probably get my dad to take us sometime too. Y’know, if Rebecca’s dad is busy.”

I nod. “That’d be good.”

Audrey flicks her ponytail away from her still-damp face and reaches for the door handle. “What I want to know is where Rebecca picked up all that. I mean, she doesn’t look like the Annie Oakley type.”

“I know.” I grin sheepishly. “But . . . Dad likes shooting, if you couldn’t guess. And he got me and Elise started on it with BB guns pretty early- on camping trips, mostly, until we were old enough to come to the range with him. And I really enjoy it, so he takes me a few times a month at least, and . . . yeah. I’ve had a lot of practice.” I step outside. “What now? I think someone mentioned earlier that we might hang out at the cafe for a little while, if people have time . . .?”

Lannis nods and takes the lead back to the range lobby. “That’s what I thought. Audrey and I don’t have anything else to do this evening, and I’d say we’ve earned celebratory coffee.”

“You have low standards for what earns a celebration.” Saxon shoves her hands into pockets, falling into step beside me. “But if the rest of you are going . . . well, I’m not busy either. Let’s go.”

Just Hanging Out (And Setting Things on Fire… that’s Normal, Right?)

Rather than knocking, Audrey just walks into my room. “Long week?” I ask, without looking up. I’m currently trying to figure out which amino acids–it’s not specified, but with this notebook, it looks like the smaller ones, hooked up into a sequence the likes of which I haven’t seen before–Audrey’s mother linked up to make the genetic switch to give her daughter superpowers. It’s fascinating reading, but there are huge gaps in the information. It’s likely that no one will ever be able to decode it, actually. I doubt that even Stephen Hawking (or whoever the equivalent is when it comes to advanced genetics) would be able to make head or tail of this mess.

“Yeah,” Audrey says shortly.

“Well, if it makes you feel better, it’s not likely to get better until you finish college.” I level a meaningful glance at her. “If you’re planning on going to college at all, that is. I’m willing to help you circumvent the system if an education is what you want.”

She clicks her tongue and points at me. “You just handed me a blank check. That was a mistake.”

“Friends are worth making mistakes for,” I counter. “Did your mother invent her own language? I can’t make head nor tail of this, incidentally.”

“Only you would use ‘incidentally’ instead of ‘by the way’,” Audrey mocks in a friendly fashion.

“They mean the same thing, don’t they?”

“In common usage, they’re not equivalent,” she says. “No wonder people keep asking you if you’re British.”

“Last week I had someone ask me if I was Vulcan,” I remark honestly, and we both laugh. “Seriously, though, they did.” I continue. “Why they’d think that, I can’t imagine.”

“Your accent is American. You can’t excuse yourself for your non-idiomatic usage by a foreign accent,” Audrey says.

“My ears weren’t even covered!” I protest. Audrey laughs again.

“Look at this junk from the Herald,” she says, handing me a copy. I frown at the headline.

“‘The Psychology of Superheroes’–Audrey, this is a column. It’s not a psychological journal. It’s opinion, and that’s all it is. What trash.” I throw the paper to one side, instantly regretting it as it appears that some sort of archaeological story made the front page. I’ll catch up on that later, I guess.

“Starlight’s left, and we’re not supposed to do anything until she gets back.” Audrey flops over-dramatically on my bed. “I’m boooooooooored,” she announces.

“Help me decipher these notes, then,” I counter.

“It’s a disposable superhero maker,” she shrugs, referencing TVTropes. “We’ll never get it to work again.”

“They called the super-soldier serum from Marvel that and we still got a whole slate of metas who owed their powers to it,” I retorted. “First Red Skull. Captain America, the Captain America knockoffs, the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Hulk, all the other Hulks. Seriously, why are there so many Hulks? I know that there are so many Caps because of Cold War-era retconning. Sometimes I really dislike comics. Everyone and their dog has an entourage which shares the same superpower. What’s the point of that? They all have the same powers, they can’t cover each others’ weaknesses. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s why we’ve got the Avengers,” Audrey says religiously. I grab the newspaper up and smack her lightly with it.

“Okay. You win. Let’s shove these indecipherable papers back under my bed and go to the gym,” I say.

I hope that we won’t need to understand these papers any time soon.

 

Feature: New Superheroes In Foundry City

New Superheroes in Foundry City

Group - prelim sketch2

Superheroes have been a fixture in Foundry City’s metaphysical makeup since before the United States entered World War II, even if the crime-fighting scene was very different then from what it is today.

Read More: An Editorial: What is it about Foundry City that attracts…

However, in this past month several incidents have occurred in which it was suspected that there might have been some superheroic activity: a pawnshop robbery, which was thwarted by the well-known superhero Starlight, assisted by a few unknown others; a botched hold-up at the Sartoris Park Cafe, where Starlight was again verified to be present; a bar brawl across town, where when the police entered the scene, they found all the brawlers asleep; a shooting at the Town Center Library, at which some of the victims were mysteriously healed from their injuries; the Amtrak train wreck two weeks ago, for which services will be held at St. Luke’s Prayer Center on Wednesday; and finally the fire on Wilkins Road Monday.

Read More: Memorial services for victims of Amtrak train accident to be held…

It seems like Foundry City has some new superheroes.

The group, which includes Starlight as one of its members despite her previous preferences for working alone, consists of five young women in total. The four previously unknown heroes’ professional names are Clarity, the Watcher, Nightblaze, and Remedy. It is unclear how these names are related to their powers, which will remain off the record according to their wishes. The Watcher, Remedy, and Clarity were all born with their powers. Starlight stated that she and Nightblaze received their powers from their parents, as birthday gifts.

Clarity has been stated to be their leader, despite the presence of Starlight in the group. “Clarity brought us all together,” Starlight said in their interview. She went on to state that as such, it would be appropriate to regard Clarity as their leader.

Officially unconnected to other metahumans in the area, the new team has not been together long, but “what we lack in experience, we make up for in determination,” Nightblaze said. It is unclear which, if any, of the above events these new heroes were present at.

However, it is safe to say that whatever these courageous young women do in the future, it will be well worth following.


Jason Keller is a freelance journalist. He has written, not only for the Foundry City Herald and Foundry City Piper, but for several national magazines, and his first book, focusing on the psychology of superheroes and why they continue to be so beloved, is planned to publish in March of next year.

Marcus Dell has been covered many important political events and is the newly-announced staff photographer covering crime at the Foundry City Herald.

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About

… is, of course, not being talked about.  And while I’m sure that’s not exactly what the wonderful Oscar Wilde meant, in our case, being talked about could well prevent our families from being killed.  Well.  The families of the other girls, at any rate.  My family – or those members of it who anybody could reasonably connect to me – are all quite capable of looking after themselves.

Keller wants to meet in the park, at the spot where he first accosted me a few years ago, when I was just starting out in town.  It’s near enough to the café that I think this could be a good idea: the last place Keller is likely to go looking for a superhero ‘hangout’ is immediately next to where the superheroes agree to meet him.

I didn’t have time to sleep last night, because I’ll be leaving as soon as we’re done with this interview, to go find Rhadamanthus, and I had to spend most of the night clearing up my hideout and my flat, to give the fill-in guy a place to work from.  And then he arrived in Foundry City at five in the morning, and brought his sidekick with him.  Mother’s former partner gave me a location on Rhadamanthus, and told me that he knows what the device I found on the corpse last night is, but he’s going to run it past Mother and the fliers before he gives me the information I need to act.  So I just have to hope nothing too drastic happens while I’m away.

The girls are all getting their costumes arranged, in the café backroom, when I arrive at two in the afternoon of a three o’clock meeting.  I can’t help smiling when I see what Lannis has chosen: a sky-blue coat and cargo pants, with a paler blue veil in a floaty fabric, wound over her head and across the lower part of her face.  It’s an unusual departure from the traditional domino mask, but for some reason it works.  I was right: Clarity is a floaty blue-and-silver name.  And that reminds me.

“Does everybody have their name in order?  That’s possibly even more important than the costume – clothes you can change.  A name sticks.”  I lean over to disentangle Lannis’ veil from the zipper of Audrey’s discarded jacket.  “Lannis I know is Clarity.  Audrey?”

“Nightblaze.”  And with her black shirt, shorts, and tights, that works.  She lights up a jet of flame in her palm, almost but not quite scorching the ceiling.  “Do that to Jason Keller’s camera?”

“I’m sure we’d all rather you didn’t,” Rebecca says softly.  For all she’s so quiet, the murmur of the room drops back to silence when she speaks.  “I’m Remedy, Star.”  And she’s dressed like a Golden Age hero, in green and gold and armor – and a cape.  I have no idea how she pulled that together in the time she had.

“I’m the Watcher.”  Saxon showed up early, sword glimmering in and out of visibility in the sheath slung over her back, a sharp contrast to her apparently commonplace clothing.  The effect is eerie, unnerving, otherworldly – perfect.

“And I’m Starlight,” I say coolly.  “The main thing to remember today is not, under any circumstances, to call each other by your home names.  Clarity.  Nightblaze.  Remedy.  The Watcher.  It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”  I glance down.  “Why are three of you wearing sneakers?”

“You gave us twelve hours,” Saxon growls.  “I only just had time to get to Max’s for my sword and some more durable clothes, let alone finding shoes.”

“Calm down,” I say.  “Didn’t you just hear me tell you you can change your costume later?”  I’m almost shouting.  Not good.  Shut up, Starlight.  Cool and levelheaded again, I continue.  “It would help if we started putting the thought-parameters in place.  The difference between your working self and your other self.”  I don’t like to call it real – behind the mask is my real self.  To illustrate, I take my mask off, look around the room, and say, lightly, in my street voice, “I’m Zielonya.”  Mask back on.  Voice back on.  “And now I’m Starlight.”

“Zielonya?  That’s such an awesome name!” Rebecca glows at me.  “Is there – I don’t know – a story behind it?”

“There is.”  And that will be all for now.  The story is not one I enjoy telling.  “Now, if we’re all ready…? It would be best to get to the meeting point before Keller does, so he can’t see what direction we’ve come from.  Oh – and if you can manage to alter your voice for when you’re masked, that would be wonderful.  I know Saxon does that already; the rest of you… different accent, different pitch, different speech patterns, something.”

Jason Keller appears at three on the dot, with a cameraman in tow.  I don’t recall giving him permission to bring a photographer, but I suppose I can see why he had to.  This is only the biggest story of his career.  I go over to meet him, shake hands cordially as if I don’t know he is out to destroy me.  Not knowingly, perhaps, but to one who works in the shadows, the least exposure is death.

“Jason.”  He doesn’t know how old I am or am not, and if calling him by his Christian name keeps him from guessing, well and good, I’ll break with the Southern manners I was raised with.

“Starlight.”  He glances around, and it doesn’t take Clarity’s powers to tell he’s torn between nervousness, euphoria, and awe.  “Ladies.  I’m honored to meet you.”

We are all crowded around one of the big octagonal picnic tables under a grove of beech trees, superheroes on three sides, Keller and his colleague across from us.  He starts badly, by moving to take a Dictaphone from his messenger satchel.

“May I record -”

“You may not,” Nightblaze says firmly.  “I know that device is switched off; you will keep it switched off.”

“Okay,” Keller agrees readily, fishing a legal pad and what looks like a Mont Blanc pen out of his bag.  “Now, I was thinking, I’ll ask a question, we’ll go around and each of you give your own answer.  Obviously nobody has to answer anything they’re uncomfortable with.  That all right?”  He’s asking me, and that is not all right.

“Clarity brought us all together, Jason,” I say.  “Why don’t you go ahead and behave like she’s in charge?  It’s close enough to the truth for our purposes.”  With any luck, that will send her bang-smack into the middle of the front page, and give me some much-needed leeway to ease out of the scene for a week or two without being noticed.

“Sure.  So.  What are all your names?  Codenames, working names, whatever you call it.”

That’s safe to answer.  So is how long have you been working together?  So is do you have any connections to metas in other areas?  So is what made you decide to be superheroes?  It’s when he gets up to the tricky stuff, the stuff you need to be a veiled-speech artist to answer, that I start to get nervous.  The first danger sign is what exactly are your powers?  Remedy is about to answer, but I place my hand on her arm and interrupt.

“Jason, it could be quite dangerous for us if that becomes common knowledge.  Nobody’s answering that one.”

“Well, how did you get your powers?”

I glance around, predicting that Nightblaze will be problematic.

“Born with them,” say the Watcher, Clarity, and Remedy, almost together.

“And as for us,” I say, draping one arm over Nightblaze’s shoulders, hating myself, but smiling broadly anyway, “our moms gave them to us as birthday presents.”  It’s not too far from the truth for either of us, and, as hoped, Keller seizes on the bait, ignoring the far bigger question of how it is even possible to be born with teleporting or healing or psychic powers.

“So you two are related?  Aw, how sweet.”

“No way!” Nightblaze almost yells.  She tugs at a lock of my hair, holding it next to hers, to illustrate.  “Black hair, red hair.  Blue eyes, brown eyes.  Related?  Nuh-uh.”

“Okay, okay.  I take your point… uh… Nightblaze.”  Keller glances back at his notes.  “Is this a girls-only club, or would you take male heroes if any showed up?”

“Girls-only,” says the Watcher, and “Find us a good male hero and we’ll give him a trial period on the team,” Clarity says.

Keller is looking from one to the other in bewilderment, and I sigh.  “Girls… there are plenty of good male heroes.  I’ve worked with most of the current crew at one time or another.  Just none of them are currently working Foundry City.  Anything else, Jason?”

“Just one I thought up since arriving: your clothes.  Bearing in mind that I don’t know many superheroes, you’re not exactly industry-typical, are you?  I mean, the necklines, the hemlines, the cut, the no-skin-showing…  what’s with that?”

“We’re superheroes, not models,” I snap.  “The gear has to be practical: we are very industry-typical, but maybe not the industry you were thinking of.  Would you have asked that question if you were dealing with a team of guys?”

For the first time, Keller grins.  “Guy heroes acting as kick-butt as you and dressed as uptight as you?  Yes, I would.”

“Was there anything else you wanted to ask?” Remedy says.

“Um… no.  No more questions.  Can we get a photo of you girls together?”

So we pose, and we smile, and the photographer snaps half a reel of film, and Keller goes away all but crying with joy at his scoop.  When he’s well out of sight, I nod.

“That’s me done, then.  I’ll see you all in a week, if nothing goes wrong.”  I scribble the phone number of my flat on a piece of paper, hand it to Clarity.  “If any of you is really stuck for anything, call here.  Leave a message and someone will get back to you the next day.  Don’t hesitate to physically go to my flat and bang on the door if the Big Bad shows up in person.  During daylight hours someone will be there.”

And then, because that is all I needed to say, I leave.  Places to go, Greek demigods to see, things to do.

For Appearances Sake

I’ve never given a thought to my clothes. Okay, not entirely true, but I don’t give the kind of thought other girls do. I don’t care about what’s ‘in’ or the latest fashion, or what the cool kids are wearing. I personally don’t run in to a lot of cool kids, not being in school and all, so I have no one to compare myself to. However, I do have some criteria for my clothes. They have to be A) cheap B) good quality (as good as cheap can be) C) practical and D) help in my pursuit of invisibility.

So of course the first place I look for a superhero costume is none other than my bedroom. I dig around my closet for about an hour, committedly  pulling out every dark colored piece of clothing I own, which is the majority of my closet. When every t-shirt, blouse, skirt, jeans and leggings are strewn across my bed and floor I finally stop and just stare. Nothing screams superhero to me. I have no eye candy jeans or magnificently fitted t-shirt. No glorious cape or knee high boots. Boots. The word rattles through my mind and I drop to my knees, digging under the piles of tossed clothing. When my hand closes around a smooth suede object I rest, bringing to the surface my priced possession. I’ve been the proud owner of a beat up, worn down, pair of suede boots for as long as my feet I have fit them. They’re nothing special, nothing to be proud of, nothing glamorous. But they have been a constant in my life since my father started down his dark path. In a second they are the center of my new persona. It seems to make sense to me that my play costume would contain boots whose exterior mirrors their owner so perfectly, so secretly.

Suddenly inspired by these boots, these beat up boots, I start digging again even more furiously. Now I have a picture. I pull out one of my thicker but more fitted black shirts, a personal favorite being the most comfortable thing I own that isn’t at first sight an obvious thrift store grab. Next I dig through my pile of jeans and legging finally settling on a pair of worn but fitting leggings, and an old worn pair of black jeans shorts to go over. Lannis will perhaps be somewhat scandalized, but I’m for practicality and comfort solely, so therefore modesty must suffer at times. And besides, skirts in my line of work would end up being a fire hazard.

Shoving a pile of shirts and my looser fitting pajamas off the bed I spread out my new uniform. All black, except for the shoes. A tiny corner of my mind is a bit disturbed at the traditionally evil colors for what was supposed to be an outfit for humanity’s defender, but I shove such worries aside. I’m no villain, and the colors will only serve to help me stand out less at this ridiculous photo shoot. I should be able to blend into the shadows, let Lannis and the others do the talking. I’ve spent almost my entire life working to be invisible, I wasn’t going to move out of the shadows in one night.

 

And besides, black is such a comforting color, for people like me at least.

Author Voices: 2015 in review

Hello to all of our readers!

First of all, thank you for your encouragement with this blog. You were all absolutely fantastic. I’d also like to thank my fellow Teenaged Superhero Society bloggers–C.B., Sarah, Rosalie and Iris. From all of us, I’d like to apologize for our repeated lengthy hiatuses and such as we all begin to tackle the daunting task of Higher Education (gulp), and wish you a happy New Year.

We’re still on hiatus, but until our next post, we’ve got some stats that we’d like to share with all of you!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 880 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

And once again, you’re fabulous. God Bless and we’ll see you all in 2016!

From the Authors: A Brief Digression

From all of us here at the Teenaged Superhero Society, I’d like to wish all of our readers a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, or whatever holidays you prefer to celebrate. Speaking with sheer candidness, I think it’s going to be a little while before we manage to post again–perhaps not until the new year.

Until then, be sure to enjoy your holidays, your time off from school and possibly from work, and God bless you. May you find all that you’re seeking in the new year.

(And let’s all pray that Donald Trump does not win the 2016 elections, because let’s face it, he’s a joke.)

See you in 2016!

~~Erin

Cape or No Cape?

“What were you thinking, Rebecca?”

That’s what my parents asked me when they found out why I’d rushed out last night and then stumbled back home at nearly eleven, exhausted. That’s what they asked me when I told them what Starlight had suggested and I’d agreed to. That’s what they asked me before I asked if we could talk in the morning and then collapsed into bed.

“What were you thinking, Rebecca?”

That’s what they asked again over breakfast, and added to it: “Why didn’t you talk to us first?” And I apologized, over and over- but I reminded them as well that we’d talked about it before- not this exactly, but similar things. Things like how it’s wrong to stand by and do nothing if I can help someone- but that if I’m going to help someone with my powers, I need to be careful about it. And in the end, we agree that Starlight is right; if I’m going to keep doing things- and we all know I am unless Mom and Dad forbid it- this is the safest option. But even after we’ve agreed, the question lingers:

“What were you thinking, Rebecca?”

After breakfast, I head back to my room, grateful that it’s a Saturday and I don’t have to deal with school- only with the issue of figuring out a costume in less than twelve hours. I sort through every item in my closet and dresser, searching for some kind of inspiration, then open my laptop and sort through all the pins on my superheroes board on Pinterest too, before going back to my own clothes and pulling out all the clothing pieces that seem vaguely likely. Midway through this process, my phone rings- Lannis, calling to ask me if I want to meet up at the gym this afternoon. I agree and return to searching for ideas.

A knock on the door interrupts my mental debate on whether or not deciding a color scheme will help at all in this process. “Come in,” I call, absently, expecting Mom or Dad to walk in.

Instead, my younger sister, Elise darts inside, carrying her iPad. She surveys my room- which looks like a tornado’s gone through it and flung clothes everywhere- and grins. “Want help designing your costume?”

“Yes, please.” I clear off my desk chair for her, grateful that someone in my family is unabashedly excited about my choice. “I’m utterly stuck.”

“Really? I couldn’t guess,” Elise replies innocently. She taps her iPad screen, keeping it angled away from me. “So no ideas at all?”

“I’m thinking something in green or red . . . but not both. Then I’d look like Christmas.” I survey the clothing on my bed once more. “Besides the fact that I’d be incredibly noticeable, and the healer probably shouldn’t stand out. Oh, and I don’t want anything black.”

“Of course not.” Elise glances up. “Do you still have those gold leggings you bought last Halloween?”

“The ones I never actually wore? Yes.” I sort through the pile from the chair until I find the item in question. “You have an idea already?”

“Um . . .” Elise gives me a sheepish grin. “I’ve kind of had ideas for ages, ever since you mentioned your group and let slip that Starlight’s in it. I’m just trying to refine them now. Cape or no cape?”

I do my best Edna Mode impression. “No capes!”

“Aw, pleeeeease?” Elise gives me puppy eyes. “Just a short one?”

“No capes!” I repeat, turning back to my bed and considering a purple top that came out of the pile with the leggings. “Did you miss the montage of cape-caused deaths somehow?”

Starlight wears a cape,” Elise sing-songs. “Who are you going to trust? The fictional character? Or your actual superhero friend?”

“Well . . .” I pause, weighing her points and the inherent awesomeness of capes against my memory of the montage. “What kind of cape?”

“Give me a minute and I’ll show you the whole outfit.” A few more taps, and Elise holds up the iPad. “Ta-da!”

I hurry over and take it from her so I can survey the picture: a green-and-gold ensemble with a flared tunic-like top, gold leggings, and- yes- a short swirling cape. “It looks awesome. But can we put it together?”

“Sure. Or something close enough for the picture, anyway.” Elise recaptures her iPad. “If we go get the fabric today, I can make the tunic and cape this afternoon- it won’t be much harder than some of the Halloween costumes I’ve made. I’m thinking cotton for the tunic, maybe, and I’m not sure what for the cape. The rest of the outfit you can probably buy or else find something close enough that you already own- except the armor-ish bits.” She indicates some of the detailing. “I wanted you to be protected, but for the protection to blend in with the outfit . . . I mean, I know you’re a healer and stuff, but better safe than sorry, right?”

“Definitely. When I see Starlight tonight, I’ll ask if she has any idea where to find that sort of thing.” I grab my purse from where it hangs on the back of my chair. “For now, go get your shoes while I tell Mom where we’re going. We’ve got shopping to do.”