Scene 22 – November 14th
Interior Television Studio, Early Evening
Exactly one month after I first found my mother’s invention. One month after I was granted superpowers. Just 30 days after meeting my first superhero and supervillain in one night. Less than four weeks after visiting the private areas of the MLED’s compound and meeting a whole host of other heroes, including my new best friend, Holly. Four weeks since meeting a cold-blooded killer. Less than three weeks since meeting that same killer again with no costumes between us, and learning that my mother had lived far longer than I had ever expected – and that she was still gone forever. Just two weeks since I had committed to becoming a Journeyman – two weeks since…
“Mx. Kaufman,” someone said, drawing my attention back into the present, and I glanced up to see Lucas Apollon sitting next to me. “How are you feeling?”
“…nervous, I guess?” I confessed. “I’ve never been on TV before. I’ve never had this much attention on me before.” I glowered at him. “You said that it was Inspiring heroes who had to go on talk shows, not Approachable.”
“In general, yes,” he agreed. “But the options for announcing a new hero are either an appearance on a talk show or a press conference in which you would be expected to give a speech. Believe it or not, this is the better of the two options for you.”
I shuddered at the thought of having give a speech. “Fine. I guess you’re right.”
“I usually am about these things.” He said with a cheerful smile. “You read the briefing packet, right?”
I wiggled my hand in a sort-of motion. “It was a few days ago as a break from schoolwork, so it’s a little fuzzy.” School was ramping up in intensity as my finals for the semester began to approach, and between that, the new classes and events I was now part of as a Journeyman, and everything surrounding my father’s death, I had almost no free time. It was, I thought, for the best – the less time I had to think about… things… the better. It did, however, mean that things blurred together.
“I can give you a quick refresher,” Apollon promised me, and I focused on him as best as I could while he did just that:
Do speak clearly and concisely – don’t take too long to answer a question.
Do stay focused on topics selected by the show – don’t go on tangents.
Do display your personality – don’t overshadow the other guests.
“Thank you,” I told him as he wrapped up his summary a few minutes later. “But…” I swallowed, my throat dry, “do you have any advice to deal with stage fright?”
“Of course,” he said kindly.
Scene 23 – November 14th
Interior Television Studio, Evening
I watched from offstage as the show began – Jacob Ryder, the show’s host, greeted his audience in his usual bombastic fashion and gave a rundown of the major topics for the show. His last introduction would be for us – when he introduced me, Loki, and Canaveral, we were to walk onstage and take seats in the chairs and couch currently sitting next to his desk.
“…we’ll be conducting a video interview with Secretary of Metahuman Affairs Susan Thornhill – her meteoric rise and new plan to keep the DMO well-funded,” the devil-looking man was saying. “But before all that, we have some special guests. Please give a warm welcome to our visitors from New Venice’s MLED, the heroes Canaveral, Loki, and the newest member of their team, Newton!”
The audience applauded as we entered and sat. Canaveral took the chair, which left the couch for Loki and I. He sat first, one arm stretching across the back of the couch, dropping that hand down onto my shoulders as I sat next to him. I leaned into his body a little bit without really thinking about it – the contact felt nice.
“Thanks, Jake,” Canaveral said to the host. “It’s nice to be here again.”
Ryder smiled at him. “How long has it been since you were last on my show?” he asked.
“I think the last time was just after I moved to New Venice and was given command of the New Champions, about… what, four years ago now?”
“Sounds about right,” he agreed. “And Loki! Always a pleasure.”
“Thanks, Jake,” Loki said, a smile crinkling his eyes despite the mask covering his mouth. “I like being on too. You always make me feel very welcome.”
Ryder gave him a nod before continuing, “Now, you two are here to introduce the newest member of the Journeymen, yes?”
“That’s right, Jake. This is our newest member – and a good friend of mine,” Loki added, squeezing my shoulder subtly, “Newton.”
“Hey!” I said, waving first at Ryder and then the audience. “It’s great to be here,” I lied.
“Welcome to the Ryder Report, Newton – and to superheroism!” Ryder said with a huge grin, and the audience applauded. After a moment, he made a calming gesture and continued. “How long have you had your powers, if I might ask?”
“A month now,” I told him. “I took a while to decide what to do with them, and ended up skating just under the deadline for registration. I’ll try to be more punctual next time!” I added, making a weak joke. He laughed and so did the audience, so I suppose I must have been doing alright.
“Only a month, and you’re good friends with Loki already – you two look quite cozy there!” he observed. “Did you know each other before your powers manifested?”
Before I could answer, Loki cut in. “I’m afraid that’s skating a bit too close to secret identity stuff, Jake,” he said apologetically. “We can’t answer that.”
“Of course, my apologies,” Ryder said, sounding just as sorry. “I’m afraid that secret identity protocol sometimes slips my mind, as I’ve never had any reason to bother learning it for myself.” He spread his wings in demonstration of why – the man looked like a classic devil, with red skin, horns, and bat-like wings.
“Quite alright,” Loki assured him.
“But still, only one month and you’re already diving headfirst into heroism!” Ryder said to me, sounding impressed.
“Well, it’s not exactly headfirst – the MLED offers a lot of training and guidance,” I point out. “And I won’t be a full hero until Loki and I graduate to the New Champions at the end of May.”
“Graduating together, huh?”
“My 21st birthday is in May, so I will – after seven years – finally become a full fledged hero,” Loki agreed.
“And I’m 21 already, so it’ll just be six months of training before I graduate. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?” I joked, glancing at Loki. He chuckled – his amusement much more restrained than Ryder or the audience.
Canaveral spoke for the first time in a while, noting, “The biggest distinction between experienced trainees like Loki and full heroes, to be honest, is what they’re legally allowed to do, as minors. But the truth is, Loki is every bit as capable as I am.” I wondered if he wanted to reassure Loki that he was valued, or if he had another goal – he had told me before we came on that he intended to leave the interview mainly to me and Loki, and only speak up if Ryder addressed him directly or if there was something he really needed to bring up.
“I’m going to do my best,” I said, this time more out to the audience, “but it’ll be a long time before I can match up to these two.” If he was trying to make the point that experience mattered, I was happy to help.
“Hey, don’t sell yourself short,” Loki protested. “You’re a fast learner and have a great powerset – you’ll be playing with the big boys before long.” He squeezed my shoulder again encouragingly, letting me know I was doing well.
“Speaking of powerset, what can you do, Newton?” Ryder asked.
“I have what I’ve been calling an expanded presence,” I began, naming my abilities in public for the first time. “Basically, my sense of presence, my understanding of how and where I exist in the world, extends beyond my actual body. Just about everything in this entire studio is touched by my presence, and I know where and what they are without even needing to look. And…” I raised a hand, and RYDER’S coffee mug rose with it. “…I can move them, as well.”
“I see! A sort of telekinesis combined with extra sensory perception!” Ryder observed.
“That’s a way of saying it, sure,” I said, a little sourly, and the audience laughed. “There is a little bit more to it than that, though – namely, that when I exert my presence, it affects me as well. If I were to try and pull at your desk, for example -”
“Please don’t!” Ryder joked.
“Just an example!” I promised. “Your desk is pretty heavy – If I was to pull at it, I would probably get pulled out of my seat instead of moving it. That’s why I chose the name Newton – because unlike most telekinetics, I have to obey his laws.”
“How did you learn that?”
“I snuck into an abandoned junkyard the night that I realized I had powers, to try them out. It was pretty clear once I started trying to lift heavier objects,” I explained.
“Newton, that… that junkyard wasn’t abandoned,” Canaveral cut in.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean the reason I swung by and met you that night was that the guard at the junkyard was freaked out and called us about the unknown metahuman,” he told me.
My hands flew to cover my mouth. “You never told me that!” I cried, mortified. “Oh my god, I feel so bad now! God, I need to… I need to find them and apologize, or something!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine!” Canaveral assured me as the audience laughed. “I swung by and let him know what was up on my way back to the Compound at the end of my shift, and he actually wanted to apologize to you for assuming you were a villain!”
I hid my burning-red face in my hands entirely as the audience laughed even harder. Loki rubbed the small of my back comfortingly, but all I could think of was how this was going to be the first impression I had on people all over the world – easily embarrassed, unobservant – because I had missed the guard – and generally not someone to respect. How could this have gone worse?
“Hey, it’s better than what happened the first night I had powers. My priest tried to exorcise me!” Ryder revealed, and the audience laughed even harder. “You laugh, but it wasn’t funny as a 13 year old kid! I was just trying to prepare for confirmation, and suddenly Father Theodore comes rushing at me with a cross and a bible, going ‘exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus’!”
I took a deep breath as I realized that the audience laughter was no longer at me, but at Ryder – he had seamlessly redirected their attention away from my embarrassment to himself. He really was a good host.
“Moving on to less heretical subjects,” Ryder continued as I straightened, “we have a topic that you requested to talk about, Newton?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling on firmer ground now that I was speaking about something I was much more confident in. “I understand that I’m far from the first trans superhero – that road was paved for us by Sister Mercy, and even in New Venice…” I glanced at Loki, suddenly realized that I didn’t know if he was out to he public. He gave me an encouraging nod. “…Loki is genderfluid,” I finished.
“Really?” Ryder asked, seeming surprised. I realized Loki must not have been publicly out until this moment – he seemed pretty unruffled on the outside, but I could feel that his arm was a little tense around my shoulders and my sense of presence told me that he was shaking, just a little.
“Yeah, I’m a girl when I’m out of costume,” he said, voice still smooth and confident.
“And a very pretty girl you are, too,” I told him, patting his leg in hopes of reassuring my friend. I hadn’t meant to out him if he wasn’t ready to come out, or just hadn’t been expecting it – I had told him that I wanted to talk about being nonbinary in the preshow chat, and he had agreed and said he would support me, but maybe he hadn’t been expecting to be cited as one of my inspirations for coming out as a hero?
“Thank you!” he said, seeming a little surprised and very grateful. He squeezed me shoulder a little, then relaxed – I could feel the tension draining out of him. I was glad that I had been able to help – to remind him that I was here for him as he had been for me. “It’s not quite as simple as guy in costume and girl out of it,” he said to Ryder, “but it’s simpler to explain it that way, at least.”
“Anyway, I’m far from the first hero not to match their birth gender,” I said to Ryder, getting back to the subject. “But I asked our strategic consultant, and apparently I am the first hero to use they/them pronouns.”
“Well, the first single hero, at any rate,” Canaveral noted. “Multiplex is a bit of a special case.”
“Multiplex is a special case,” I agreed – the duplicating hero was a hive-mind that included every insect that came too close to their central consciousness. They had once been a woman, but to my knowledge didn’t even identify as human at this point. “My point is that I thought it might be good to make myself and how I should be referred to clear to the public, since a lot of people probably aren’t familiar with what it means to be nonbinary.”
“By all means,” Ryder invited me, giving an encouraging smile. “Please, educate us!”
With Loki beside me, I took a deep breath, then began to teach.
Scene 24 – November 14th
Interior Mansion, Late Evening
Mom and Morgan had helped Dad go to bed a little while ago – it hadn’t been one of his good days, so he was off earlier than usual – and we were now participating in the family’s usual Friday night ritual of watching the Ryder Report. While his show usually only covered the events of the day it was recorded, on Friday nights he included news from the entire week before, so it was the best way – or at least, our preferred way – to get the news.
Tonight he had introduced a new hero who would be joining the Journeymen in New Venice. As soon as the segment was over, Morgan paused the show, then steepled her fingers, clearly thinking deeply.
“They’re so cool!” Tristan burst, leaping up from the floor where he had been sitting tonight and jumping into the air. My little brother, only sixteen, had a big goofy grin on his face. “They’re my new favorite hero!”
“Oh yeah?” Mom asked, sending a brief, worried glance to Morgan. “Why’s that?”
“They’re trans, like me!” he said happily. “Well, not exactly like me since I’m not nonbinary, but still!”
“I’m glad you’re happy, brat,” Percy – my next youngest brother, at eighteen – began, “but isn’t there already a trans hero? On the Journeymen, even?”
“Referee is trans,” Viv confirmed. My twin sister was the smartest of all of us. Well, of the kids, anyway, I corrected myself. Morgan was brilliant even beyond Viv, even beyond Dad… even beyond how Dad had been, at any rate. “And Loki too, apparently.”
“Yeah, well, Referee is my age,” Tristan explained. “Newton is an adult! That’s the difference! And Loki wasn’t out until just now, so, like, whatever – why be ashamed, right?” He pumped his fist. “But Newton was just out with it, right away! So cool!”
Viv gave me an amused glance, which I deciphered easily. Newton was an adult, yes, because they would be graduating from the Journeymen directly after their six-month training period – that meant they were at least 21, or would be by May. And since they were apparently the best friend of Loki, who was only just reaching 21 himself, they were probably much closer to 21. Our age, in other words – and yet, Tristan never treated us like adults. “What do you think, Viv?” I asked.
“I think it’ll make things a bit more difficult,” she noted, “but they don’t have much experience yet, as they themself pointed out. As long as we still do it while Referee is away, they shouldn’t be a problem for us.”
“I… just meant about Newton in general, not about how they’ll impact the plan.”
“Ah.” She shrugged. “I won’t really have an opinion on them until I know more. They were obviously well-coached for this interview – they even had that little probably-rehearsed bit where Canaveral embarrassed them to make them seem more human – and it was a real softball anyway. Once they start going on patrol I might know more. We know what you think, of course,” she said to Percy, who crossed his arms.
“Not my fault that heroes are all the same,” he said defensively. The revelations that Dad had shared with the family a few years ago had led to Percy forming a thus-far-unshakable conviction that the system of heroes was irreparably corrupt. He was very glad that, under Morgan’s direction, we were planning to finally do something about it.
Viv stroked her chin thoughtfully. “I wonder what Devon… you know, Dad’s doctor?” she quickly added, as if we didn’t know about her crush on them. Well, I suppose the others might not have figured it out, but I was her twin – she couldn’t hide anything from me. “I wonder what they think of Newton – first openly nonbinary hero and all.”
Percy shrugged. “What do you think, Dom?” he asked, turning to me.
“I want to know what our moms think,” I said. I glanced to Morgan and Mom, who had risen while we kids chatted and slipped off to a corner to quietly speak. As I watched, Morgan nodded decisively and received a brief, supportive kiss from Mom.
Until I was sixteen, I had thought that she was just Aunt Morgan – our parents’ best friend, who lived in one wing of the family mansion and and emerged on a weekly – sometimes daily – basis to shower us all with affection, and with the literally magical gifts she created. On my sixteenth birthday, though, Mom, Dad, and Morgan had sat me and Viv down to explain that the three of them were a polyamorous triad – each of them loved the other two just the same. They had decided not to mention it to any of their kids until we turned 16 – and apparently Morgan had given birth to me and Viv, not Mom, which in retrospect should have been obvious since we had inherited her naturally white hair – because they weren’t sure if we would understand when we were younger. Polyamory had apparently not been very accepted when they were our age.
Fortunately, times had changed, and both Viv and I were fine with it – she had figured it out two years before, in fact – and so were Percy and Tristan when they were told. Hell, Tristan had tried to rope the rest of us into a plot to get the three of them together before he had been told, and had thus been brought in on the family secret a year early.
I still found it hard to think of Morgan as “mom”, though, even though she was my birth parent. Jennifer had always taken the motherly role in the family, while Morgan acted more as an aunt, and even six years after learning of the triad I still thought of Jenny as my mom and Morgan as… well, as Morgan.
Morgan turned to face the rest of us, Jenny’s arm around her shoulder in support. “Newton’s existence is a good sign,” she told us. “Their clear similarity to Starling means that they’re obviously another Ambrosia Company plant, but that’s good news for us. It means that Legion was probably in town to empower them, rather than that Ambrosia knows where we are.” She sighed. “It’s another pair of eyes and ears to watch out for until we’re ready to move, but we already had to stay clear of Starling and Canaveral. One more possible spy won’t make that much difference, particularly since we’re going to have to move soon.”
Viv’s eyes narrowed. “Are we moving the schedule up, then?”
Morgan nodded. “We’ll have to. I’ll slip Copperfield a hint, and we’ll keep an eye out for his distraction when he finally figures it out.”
My sister bit her lip. “I’m… not sure if I’m ready.”
Morgan put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We have to. For Arthur.”
Viv chuckled and waved her hand off. “It’s not that, I know it’s necessary, it’s what we have to do to save Dad. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for combat. I’m still learning magic…”
“You’ll do fine,” Morgan promised her. “The helmet will help. And with luck you won’t have to fight at all.”
Percy laughed. “Do you really think we’re going to have that much luck?”
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