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.