Strangers – Though Not On a Train

There are two kinds of superhero: true metas, ‘the gods’; and partial- or non-metas, ‘the men’.  If it can work at any time of day, or fly, or use its powers to fight, it’s a ‘god’.  Siegel and Shuster’s Superman is a prime example.  So is my mother.  If it’s nocturnal, or has non-aggressive powers, or no powers, or relies on tech as well as powers, it’s a ‘man’.  Kane’s Batman character is a prime example.  So am I.

In all the comic books, the ‘men’ either are billionaires, or are funded by billionaires, so they don’t have to work a day job on top of their hero duties.  Clearly, I am neither.  I don’t like to be all shrouded in mystery about who funds me, or basic facts about my life, but I’m protecting other people besides myself.  My secrets are not all my own.

Enough to say that I do not have a fulltime daytime job.  So if it amuses me to do so, I can go to the library in the early afternoon, to read back issues of the Foundry City Herald and update my ongoing tabulation of how much, exactly, Jason Keller, investigative reporter extraordinaire, actually knows about me.  Today Saxon is on shift, shelving books.  And the powers-that-be have rearranged the library and moved the newspapers, so I am forced to enquire after their current location.

“Pardon me, Miss -” I remind myself to look at her name tag.  “Miss Warrick.  Could you tell me where I might find Herald back-issues nowadays?”

So Saxon directs me to the appropriate rack, and I select the appropriate issues, and retire to my favorite reading desk, the useful one where the chair-back can be placed against the wall.  I am disgusted – but not surprised – at how long Mr. Keller takes to say what condenses to rien à declarer.  Just as ever, he is entirely clueless.  But then I see another, alarming, article.  A shooting at the library in broad daylight, and I didn’t even know.  This was a week ago.  Disturbing though diurnal criminality certainly is, I find myself rather relieved than otherwise: first that the article shows unmistakable signs of there having been metas, probably Saxon and certainly Rebecca, on the scene; second that they reacted so well to unexpected disaster; and third that I have yet to receive a gloating communique-by-proxy from Mother.

I fold all the newspapers back into their places, but keep this one in my hand as I rise to go.  At the front desk, Saxon is shuffling recently-returned books onto a cart, and doesn’t look up as I lay the paper on the counter.

“Saxon,” I say in my scary night voice, as my niece calls it, “I wish to apologize: I have underestimated you.”  I tap the paper.  “You did well.”

“Thanks,” Saxon replies and when she looks up, her eyes flicker wider for an instant, in hastily-concealed surprise.  I think she was expecting to see a mask.

“Um… hi.”  Picking up another book, then setting it back, she seems unsure what to say next.  “Do you know if we’re all still on with this café meeting thing?”

“I’ve heard nothing to the contrary.”  It’s a clumsy code, but adequate – there’s nobody else nearby, so far as I can tell.

“Then there’s some stuff I need to open up on – let you know what you’re dealing with.  It’s tricky, though.  I’ve known Rebecca for years, so I don’t want to spoil things between us now – and I’m kind of wary of Lannis – and I don’t know Audrey so well – but you’re -”

I smile.  “A nameless, largely faceless, total stranger.  That’s what strangers are for: telling things to.”

“Okay.  You’ll do as well as anyone, Star, I guess.  Can you wait an hour until the end of my shift, then meet me in the café out front?”

Consideration takes only a moment.  It is one o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.  While I have things to do today, I can readily spare at least two hours, and I tell Saxon so.

She is as good as her word: no more than an hour has passed before, seeing her in the doorway from the library, I close up my book.  She joins me at my table – I ordered hot chocolate, for the look of the thing, but have yet even to touch the mug – and leans forward, so we won’t be overheard.

“Okay, yeah, I’m from another planet,” Saxon begins, without preamble.  “And back there, I was a princess.  Had a dad, mom, big brother Max – he’s a wolf morpher -”

“A werewolf?” I murmur.

“Yeah, nearest thing the local mythology has here is a real, live, don’t-want-to-meet-on-a-dark-night werewolf.  But we don’t call it that.  Where I come from, having powers is pretty much the norm.  But I’m here, obviously.  We were on a hunting trip in the woods – Mom, Dad, me and Max.  I was goofing off with a bow, stuff like going invisible, shooting arrows mid-teleport… one of the arrows didn’t go where I’d expected, and it hit my Mom.  I killed my mother, okay?  I mean, the little you’ve said, I guess you wish you could do the same, but I loved my mom.”

I cannot let that pass.  “I may not be close to my mother, Saxon, but not loving someone is vastly different to wanting them dead.”

“Okay, sorry.”  She glances down at the table, refusing to meet my eyes.  “Are you going to drink that?”

“No.”  By this point, of course, it is stone cold.  Heating a liquid by ninety degrees Farenheit counts as one-half of a phase change, so within seconds the chocolate is steaming again, and I push it across the table to Saxon.

“So anyway,” she continues, sipping the cream off the top of the drink, “now I’m here, and my family here don’t know about my powers or history or anything – and I’ve never touched a bow since.  I use a sword.”

I nod.  “Thank you – for trusting me.”

“We ought to have another TSS meeting.”

“We ought,” I agree.  “I think Lannis is a trifle busy at present – it’s over a week since I’ve heard from her – so shall you make the arrangements and we meet here, or I make them, and we meet at my apartment?  I do believe I’m the only one of us living alone at present.”

“Yeah – at yours would be good.”

So it is arranged – Saturday at noon, when nobody has any prior engagements.  My message on the telephone is very simple: today I am calling the meeting, this is the address – it is on Knighton Boulevard in the Italian quarter, a nice but inexpensive part of town – and to press the buzzer for apartment thirteen, the only one without a name on it.  I’m still fretting – wrong word? – musing – over what to do about Lannis’ overtures of friendship.  Simply put, I’m not used to having friends at all.  Friends who invite one to Bible studies and give one cinnamon muffins are entirely outside my sphere of experience.

Saturday morning Daniel stops by unexpectedly.  He can’t stay for long, as he’s going to visit his son for lunch, but he’s brought a bottle of New Zealand Merlot – Oyster Bay at that, not the cheapest available – and says we need to talk.  So he pours a glass for himself, and a half-glass topped with water, the way I like it, and we talk.  Overall, it’s about as pleasant and relaxed as last time we spoke, over a month ago, outside the Berrigan pawnshop in Rodham Block.

When Daniel leaves, I tuck the half-empty wine bottle in the cupboard, and check that everything is ready.  Bathroom’s clean.  Everything with my name on it – mail, a few books, stuff like that – is in my bedroom and the door is firmly closed.  It’s a beautiful day, so the ranch-slider onto the balcony is open, letting the warm breeze into the main room that serves me for kitchen, lounge, and dining room.  My loft apartment is tidy, minimal, and Scandinavian: bare pine floor-boards, white-washed walls and ceiling with unpainted rafters, floor-to-ceiling bookcases everywhere there isn’t a window, pine table and six chairs (two of which rightfully belong in my bedroom and the bathroom), sleek, squared-off sofas and armchairs arranged for easy conversation.

Deli lunch today – interesting breads and cheeses, cold meats and salami, salad, fruit.  I don’t know what these girls can and can’t eat, but that should be all right.  I hope.  I’m oddly hyper-aware of everything today.  The smell of freshly-ground coffee, ready to be brewed.  A stray white blossom drifting across the room, from the flowering bean plant I keep on the balcony in memory of a friend.  A car passing in the street below.

The door chime.  By the voices through the speaker, I’d say Lannis and Audrey have arrived together, and I buzz them up.

“Hello, Audrey, Lannis.  So glad you could come…”

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