Scene 16 – June 19th
Interior Convention Center, Evening
“This is the worst,” I quietly grumbled as I stared out at the mass of people that crowded the convention floor – not just heroes, but politicians and businesspeople, too – the movers and shakers of the East Coast. There were even non-hero metahumans – I recognized Jamie Walters, who made holograms that big-budget movies used as special effects, White Rose, who used her plant-control powers to grow eave buildings out of trees… and was that Motael chatting with Droideka? The armor certainly looked right, but how could he have gotten in? Waiters floated through the press of people, carrying trays of drinks and appetizers, and the constant buzz of conversation pressed on me from all sides.
It was overwhelming to my sense of presence in a way that I hadn’t really felt since the first month or three I had had my powers, a migraine already pressing at me from the sensations. Too much information…
Zookeeper put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Breath, Newton,” she murmured. “In… out… in… out…”
I focused on breathing, setting aside the information and the outside world as best as I could.
I used a trick I had learned when Holly had first started to teach me magic and directed my sense of presence at a single thing, reducing its breath and increasing its depth to get all the information about just one object rather than being overwhelmed by the world.
the jacket of my formal costume was simple enough that its information wasn’t overwhelming, not as I shoved it to the back of my mind. Yes, I could tell you exactly how many threads made it up and how many molecules of what went into those threads and how many of what elements went into those, but that information was more static than the constantly shifting crowd.
Once, just doing this was enough to occupy my entire mind, and attaining this razor’s-edge focus took long minutes. Once, collecting my mind into a state to perform magic was all I could do. Now, however, I was able to find this focus and leave myself there almost comfortably – not easily and not pleasantly, but better than the panic attack I had been having before.
When I returned to the present, Zookeeper was murmuring something to Canaveral while gently rubbing my back. I didn’t catch what she said, but I heard his response.
“Yeah… you’re right, I shouldn’t have made them come. I thought they were just playing up their social anxieties for a laugh – they had done fine in previous gatherings, so I didn’t expect a panic attack…”
“I was just playing it up,” I said, still taking deep breaths, and they turned to face me properly. “Earlier, I mean, not just now. I didn’t expect a panic attack either, it was just…” I gestured to the crowd. “A lot more than I was expecting. Sensory overload.”
Anima, who had also hung back – although Vulcan had wandered off – nodded understandingly. “It’s not uncommon among metahumans with enhanced senses. I used to have similar problems, certain people with immense stores of life energy or big enough crowds would overwhelm my ability to sense lifeforce. Starling was always vulnerable to sensory attacks as well.”
“How did you get over it?” I asked.
The older hero sighed. “I got used to it, mostly. Learning to focus more on my regular senses and letting the life sense fade to the background rather than relying on it helped, but… yeah, it was mostly just getting used to it.”
“…and Starling?” While I hated to the man and was very glad that he had been transferred to Houston a few months ago, I had to admit that he was a very accomplished hero. And our powers were similar enough that I couldn’t turn down potentially useful advice just because it would have come from him, even secondhand.
“He build lenses into his mask to normalize things somewhat,” she said apologetically. “Earplugs too.”
“Well…” I frowned. “I guess I’ll just have to get used to it, then. And get used to what I’m doing now, if these big events are going to continue.”
“They won’t,” Canaveral promised. “In New Venice, we just have this and the winter showcase, which you already went through fine, it’s not nearly as large. And I won’t make you go next year, I promise.”
“Ah, there’s our newest heroine!” I glanced up to see the face of Senator Malcolm Daly.
Scene 17 – June 19th
Interior Convention Center, Continuous
“Senator!” Canaveral said cheerfully, instantly shifting into public-facing mode. “A pleasure to see you again, as always.”
“Senator Daly.” Anima greeted him with a polite smile, inclining her head slightly. Zookeeper smiled and bobbed her head as well, although she didn’t say anything.
Daly was a tall, barrel-chested man, with think, graying hair and an incredibly deep voice. It rumbled when he spoke in a way that, I had to admit, was very pleasant. He was taller than I was generally into, and more masculine than I usually liked in men, and also old enough to be my father. But his voice very nearly made up for those shortcomings.
“Uh… hi,” I belatedly said. “Nice to meet you.”
He reached out to shake my hand, and I took his. “Always good to see more heroes. It’s a real pleasure to meet you, young lady. How are you?”
“Not a lady, but I’m fine,” I lied. If he had been able to see my face I’m sure that he would have seen right through it, as I still felt a little pale and shaky, but fortunately my costume include a full face mask. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine, fine,” he said airily. “Glad to be taking a night off from politics, you know? I got into this business for the law, not the PR that takes up so much of my time.”
Isn’t this whole ‘meet the new hero’ spiel all about PR? I thought but didn’t say. Instead I just smiled widely, so that it would come out in my voice, and told him, “Yes, I feel much the same. It’s not that I don’t like meeting people, but it feels like a waste when I could be out keeping people safe.”
“Exactly! You understand.” Daly clapped me on the shoulder and, finally, released my hand. “And if I may say so, this is quite the costume! I quite like the subtle patterning.”
“Thanks! You know, I actually didn’t realize that it had a pattern at first?” At some point in the last six months or so, I had begun to be able to make out a subtle, neuron-esque pattern on the fabric of my suit, finally confirming for myself what Canaveral and Holly had both commented on. “It took me a while to be able to pick it out.”
“Really?” Daly asked. “How odd. I wonder why? In any case, it was wonderful to meet you, but if you’ll excuse me, I think I see an old friend I have to say hello to.” He slipped away and jogged slightly to catch up to a slender woman wearing metal gauntlets up to her shoulders. “Ferrous! It’s been far too long!”
Zookeeper patted me on the shoulder. “That was well-handled, Newton.”
“Thanks,” I said, grimacing under my mask. “I still don’t like it, though.”
“I know, kid, but you just have to make it through the night,” Canaveral promised. “You can go home tomorrow.”
I sighed in relief – or anticipation of relief, at least. I still had the rest of the party to get through, after all. “Thanks, boss. I still wish I was back at home with Loki, but… well, cutting this trip short is better than nothing.”
“No problem. What did you think of Senator Daly?”
“Hmm…” I rubbed the fingers on the hand he had shaken. “How do you spell ‘unctuous’?”
Canaveral laughed. “I know what you mean, but keep that quiet, yeah?”
“Well handled indeed,” said another new voice, this one high, feminine, and with a faint Indian accent. “It is Newton, correct?”
I turned to see Senator Rekha Solanki – an inch or two shorter than my own 5’4”, wearing a white pantsuit and with her hair pulled into a loose bun. “Evening, Senator,” I greeted her, automatically offering my hand.
She shook with a smile. “A pleasure to meet a promising young…” The senator tilted her head thoughtfully. “Should it be ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’?”
“‘Hero’ is gender neutral enough for me, thanks for asking. Although I do have to wonder why so many important people seem to have heard of me,” I mused. “I haven’t really done much worth noting.”
The senator shrugged. “You caught my eye with your appearance on the Ryder Report – my child was watching with me and was inspired to come out to me as nonbinary, after seeing you do so with such nonchalance. By the way, I have to ask on their behalf for an autograph – they’re a rather big fan of yours – although please don’t feel pressured if you’d rather not.”
I didn’t feel pressured at all – I felt quite flattered, and was one again thankful for the full-face mask that, this time, hid my reddening cheeks. “Of course! Do you have a pen and paper? And who am I making this out to?”
Solanki produced a stack of index cards and found a pen in her pocket, offering them to me. Instead of signing physically, I did a trick that the PR department had insisted I learn – I took them with my presence and signed telekinetically. “They’re still searching for a proper name, I’m afraid – at present they’re going with ‘Jay’, but I have a feeling they won’t stick with it.
To my biggest fan, Jay, I wrote. Shoot me a message when you settle on a name, and I’ll do you a new signature to celebrate! And don’t forget, never be afraid to be yourself – Newton. I added my username on HeroWatch, and made a mental note to keep an eye on my messages On the site.
“Thank you,” the senator said, scanning my message before pocketing it. “I’m sure they’ll love it. In any case, that’s how you caught my eye, and your other accomplishments convinced me that you have a great deal of potential. You stood up to Legion and survived-”
“Which was very stupid of me, I didn’t have any training at the time.”
“You helped talk Anima down when she was overcome by Excalibur during that incident-” She gestured to the heroine in question, who frowned slightly.
“That was mostly Referee,” I pointed out.
“You helped capture no less than twelve supervillains-”
“Half of that was Overshadow and Underlight, repeatedly, because I happen to have powers that counter their strategies,” I insisted, biting back annoyance at how easily they escaped from capture after being apprehended. “And the other half weren’t supervillains, they were just garden-variety powered criminals.” Honestly, taking down someone like a bank robber who could hover a foot of the ground wasn’t anything an unpowered officer couldn’t do.
Solanki exchanged an amused look with Canaveral. “I see your humility is no act.”
I crossed me arms. “I’d be happy to take credit for my accomplishments if I had actually done anything worth being proud of as a hero.”
She let out a rather giggly laugh. “Newton, just being a hero is worth praise in this day and age. So many metahumans turn their talents to commercial ends, or simply let them languish, unused. And that’s not even getting into those who are drawn into a life of crime. Having powers and using them for good is worth celebrating in and of itself.”
I decided not to mention that I had originally decided against becoming a hero. “You have a power of your own, right?”
She nodded, and reached out – her arm stretched like taffy through the crowd to reach a waiter, returning with a prawn in hand. “Yes indeed. I tried being a heroine in my younger days – I was a member of the Young Valorous, which is DC’s trainee hero team. Unfortunately, my power has few combat applications, and I decided I could serve the public better through pushing policy.”
“That makes sense,” I admitted. “Not every power is suited to hero work.”
“Indeed. So, for having a hero-suitable power and choosing to use it for such, I commend you. And besides, I like to think that I have an eye for talent, and that’s something you have in spades. Perhaps you have yet to find the challenge that you and you alone can solve, but I have faith that you’ll get there.”
“Well… thank you, I guess.”
Solanki chuckled. “You guess. You know, Newton, it’s quite refreshing to meet someone who’s not constantly trying to push an agenda or promote themselves.”
“Hey, what are you trying to say here?” Canaveral asked, putting on a tone of mock-hurt.
“Not you of course, Canaveral,” she assured him with a smile. “Newton, I’m afraid I’m a busy woman, and I have several other people to meet tonight, so I should say my goodbyes.” She popped the prawn she had snagged into her mouth, waved with her pinky, and walked off.
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