1.3 Intermission (Scenes 1-5)

Scene 1 – Fourteen Years Ago
Exterior Cemetery, Early Evening
Benjamin Brant

“…a couple that all looked up to and admired. Philanthropists, community leaders, role models. They…”

I didn’t really pay attention as the priest continued with his spiel. It was true, I supposed, but it didn’t really come close to what my mother and father had been. And listening to it, listening to what people had thought of them, hurt in a way I wasn’t sure I could describe.

My uncle, standing next to me, noticed that I had stopped paying attention, my head tilted down, and took my hand in his. He squeezed it, gently. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, but I squeezed back, and he seemed satisfied.

My parents had been killed violently and in the most senseless fashion. They had been out for the night at a restaurant, one of their favorites, while I stayed home to watch the new dog – a young puppy who wasn’t fully housebroken yet. I had been cleaning up after her when the news came, when I found out that a robbery gone wrong had ended up with the robber hiding in the restaurant and taking them as hostages. That they had ended up being killed along with the robber when the police came. He hadn’t even known who they were, just that they were there.

Uncle Bruce took me by the shoulder and began to lead me away from the grave. Before I left, I took a glance back at the matching coffins which held my parents. “Never again,” I swore. I wouldn’t let anyone else suffer like this.

Scene 2 – Thirteen Years Ago
Exterior Rooftops, Night
Benjamin Brant

I raced over the rooftops, leaping and trusting to my cape to spread and slow my fall. It did so, stiffening just as I’d designed it to and catching the wind, allowing me to keep up with the damnably-quick women I was chasing. “Stop!” I cried, not really expecting them to.

Surprisingly, they did – the one in costume grabbed her companion by the arm to slow her. I heard them arguing as I landed on the edge of the same building.

“No, Essa. I told you, I’d only come out with you if you let me keep you safe, you can’t confront a hero when we could just escape.”

“Come on, babe, it’ll be fun! This is what it’s all about! And besides, he’s a new hero – he can’t have been doing this for much longer than we have, he hasn’t been in the news at all!” She was giving her partner puppy-dog eyes now.

I paused briefly in my approach, confused.

The uncostumed one, who instead wore casual clothes with her long, dark hair pinned up and a odd blur over most of her face, sighed. “Alright, Essa. If you insist.”

“Yay!” The one in costume – Essa – turned to face me, a brilliant smile on her face. “Well, Hero? We’ve stopped – what now?”

The Crows

I cleared my throat and tried to lower my voice. “You’re under arrest,” I growled. “Stealing is a crime.”

She giggled, the other simply rolling her eyes. “Is it really? I wasn’t aware.”

“How did you even find out?” the uncostumed one asked. “We robbed an illegal gambling den. Are you on contract for them?”

“I saw you slipping out of the building at on a.m. with a sack full of loot. Seemed pretty clear.”

“Fair enough,” she allowed.

“What’s your name, hero?” Essa asked. “We haven’t been introduced.”

“Call me Starling.”

“Aren’t Starlings daytime birds?” the uncostumed one asked.

“Shut up,” I growled, and instantly regretted it.

The costumed woman laughed, a high-tinkling sound. The bitch was enjoying this. “Oh, honey, he’s just a baby! I can’t fight him, I’d feel so bad if I hurt him! I don’t think he’s even 18-”

“I’m 19,” I protested before I could stop myself, and she laughed again.

“Even so. Let’s just go, dear.”

The other shrugged and offered an arm to what I suppose must have been her girlfriend.

I snarled, drawing the tech staff I had built and snapping it open. It expanded from a foot and a half to a full six feet, and I launched myself at the smug, condescending bitches.

Immediately, their attitude vanished and they clearly stopped underestimating me – but not, unfortunately, because I was a threat. The costumed one, Essa, seemed to sense me coming somehow, releasing her friends arm and stepping to the side as I brought the staff down on her head.

She didn’t even flinch.

She turned, moving far faster than anyone should have been able to, and with a swipe of her hand, sliced my staff into two pieces. With her other hand, she grabbed me by the throat and lifted me casually into the air.

“I’ll let you live, she told me, her voice as casual as her clothing, “because you targeted me, and not her. But you’re not going free unscathed.”

Scene 3 – Thirteen Years Ago
Interior Hospital, Late Morning
Benjamin Brant

“Mr. Brant?” the nurse said, knocking on the doorframe of the room I was being housed in. “You have a visitor.”

“Who is it?” I demanded. “If it’s Uncle Bruce, I don’t want to see him-”

“It’s not Bruce,” she assured me.

“…fine.”

The nurse left as a new face appeared – a vaguely Asian looking man of about my age, wearing a tailored gray suit. “Heya, Ben!” he said cheerfully, taking a clicker from his pocket and clicking it to no apparent effect.

“Who are you, exactly?” I asked, feeling suspicious of this stranger who had just walked into my hospital room.

“Call me Miles,” he said, offering a hand. “I work for a company called Ambrosia, which you’ve probably never heard of.”

“It’s the food of the gods, said to grant immortality to those who consume it,” I snapped, bristling. “Obviously.”

“Also a type of salad!” Miles said, still obnoxiously cheerful. “But I meant the company, which is of course a reference to the mythological ambrosia and not the mediocre fruit salad.”

I didn’t say anything. No, I hadn’t heard of this Ambrosia Company, but that didn’t mean I had to admit it.

“The point, Ben, is that I’m coming to you with an offer from Ambrosia.”

“I don’t need money,” I growled. “I’ve got more than enough of that from my parents.”

“Yes, we, ah, we heard. That’s part of why we’re making the offer to you – we know you can afford it.”

“This isn’t about the hospital stay, then?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s just what brought you to our attention. Madam Thornhill – our president – likes your… how did she put it? Your gumption. She thinks you were very brave to go out and try to be a vigilante without powers.”

“Foolish, more like,” I admitted, glancing down at my broken legs. “I didn’t stand a chance against that woman.”

“La Borda is making quite a name for herself,” Miles agreed. “Although she’s been mostly standing behind Hertz.”

“Those are their names?” I asked, committing them to memory. I wouldn’t forgive those two – not ever. “The unit of wave frequency, and… is that Italian?”

“Yes. The borda is a sort of witch in Italian folklore, although not a particularly well-known one. I believe her namesake has a sort of short-ranged control over spacetime.”

I thought about the implications of that for a moment, and was horrified. “That’s stupidly powerful!”

“Yes, quite,” Miles agreed. “Some people have all the luck. Fortunately she isn’t terribly ambitious.”

“And her girlfriend?”

“One of our most satisfied customers.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “What did she buy from Ambrosia, exactly?”

“Have you heard of Ondechoq? Small-time supercriminal from Portugal, went inactive several months ago?”

“No.”

“He had the ability to control soundwaves, a power that he was not using to its full potential,” he told me. “One of our agents captured him and we extracted his metagene. Some genetic therapy courtesy of Doctor Hart, and miss Hertz is now the proud owner of a metagene all her own.”

“You sell powers,” I realized. “How does that work, exactly?”

“We do indeed,” Miles agreed. “We have a couple different processes and are always looking for more – everyone is different, after all. Doctors Hart and Kaufman are our genetic specialists, but I personally handle magic.”

“Which would…”

“Which would be used for you? It depends on what exactly you’re interested in, and the results of a few tests they’ll need to perform. Do you have any metagenes?”

“Not that I know.”

“Then the one that just activates your gene will be out. We can transfer an activated metagene to you, as we did for Hertz, or transfer a magical gift.” He frowned. “There are also… experimental methods, which may be dangerous and aren’t guaranteed to work. They bring the price down, though.”

“How did two petty thieves afford this?” I asked. “It can’t be cheap, after all.”

“It certainly isn’t. But along with discounts for assisting in our development, we also offer discounts for those willing to do us favors, and even loan plans. Madam Thornhill is a reasonable woman. I believe that La Borda did a favor for her, Hertz promised a single favor in the future, and the rest they’re paying on loan – thus their current careers as thieves.”

“Hn.” I considered it for a few minutes, Miles producing a smartphone and scrolling through something while I thought. Having powers would certainly assist my crusade against crime. It would guarantee admittance to the MLED, where I would have access to better information and resources. But… “Is it going to be a problem that I intend to be a hero, and not a villain?”

“Not at all,” he assured me. “We take no stance on that conflict – our only allegiance is to our customers.”

“Then let’s talk options,” I decided. “And I’ll want to know how much it will cost…”

Scene 4 – Thirteen Years Ago
Ambrosia Co. Laboratory, Late Morning
Benjamin Brant

After some negotiation, we arrived at a deal that satisfied us both. I would assist them in the testing of an experimental supersuit that Ambrosia had funded the creation of, something called the Psychic Augmenter Mark 5 – the experimental nature of the suit would reduce the price enough that I was willing to pay it, and if it failed I could be given a proven treatment in exchange for a favor at a later date. The test was set for one month after I was released from the hospital.

When the day came, I had dodged Uncle Bruce and made my way to a point in a park where Miles waited for me. He took a brief glance around, then took my hand and quietly chanted something that my brain simply refused to make any sense of, forgetting it as soon as I heard it.

When he finished, however, I realized that I was no longer standing in the park or, for that matter, holding his hand – instead, I was holding the hand of an attractive, aristocratic looking woman a few inches shorter than me.

“You must be Mr. Brant,” she said, releasing my hand. “My name is Doctor Kaufman, and I’ll be overseeing this test.

“Yes, I am. How did I…?”

“Mr. Mercer’s magic is of a sort that trades things,” she informed me. “The closer in value to each other the better. In this case, he traded you for my colleague Dr. Hartland, who has a similar build to you and was amenable to spending a day in New Venice.”

“Teleportation?”

“Of a sort. That’s not what you’re here for though, is it?” she noted.

I flushed. “Right. How will this work?”

She showed me to a dark green bodysuit, almost black, which appeared to cover everything from the neck down. Long boots and gauntlets seemed to be made of a more armored material and a lighter green than the fabric that made up the rest of the suit. A similarly armored belt was finished with a transparent buckle, and the soles of the boots and palms of the gauntlets were the same transparent material. I stepped behind a modesty screen to change into it.

“This is the PA5,” she said. “It’s the fifth version of this technology, although, I admit, it differs only slightly from the previous version. For…” she growled. “For reasons beyond my control, the PA4 and all notes on it were lost, and as such this is primarily meant as a recreation in order to continue my research.”

“And it awakens psychic abilities, correct?”

“Correct. Specifically, it stimulates the nervous system and alters it to allow you to pick up on and manipulate psychic energy, which is already in the world. If my theory is right, you’ll have powers both in and out of the suit, but they’ll be enhanced to some degree while you’re in it. It’s also somewhat armored, because, well…” There was a brief pause in which I assumed she was shrugging. “Why not?”

“Why not indeed. And you believe you have all the kinks worked out?”

“I do. Previous test subjects have had, let’s gloss over the nasty details and just say ‘issues’ with it, but the alterations should keep you safe.”

“What alterations?”

“Primarily is that you’re younger – below the critical age of 25, when the human brain finishes developing. You still have enough neural plasticity to cope with additional sensory inputs.” Her voice had previously been dry and analytical, but she was warming to the subject now. “Additionally, the suit no longer covers the head, which should prevent your brain from melting.”

“…wait, what was that?”

“It only happened with one subject, don’t worry about it.”

“…out of how many?” I asked, beginning to have second thoughts.

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Brant, you’ll be fine. Are you changed?”

“Yes, I-”

Kaufman swept the modesty curtain aside. “Right. There’s an activation button on the clasp of the belt – hit that, then turn the dial it’s set into until the suit is comfortable.”

Scene 5 – Thirteen Years Ago
Exterior City, Late Evening
Benjamin Brant

The PA5 had worked exactly as Kaufman told me it would. Over the course of several hours, I felt tingles and itching all over me – which were, apparently, the result of my nervous system essentially rebooting and relearning how to feel. The slight headaches over the same time were my brain upgrading my senses thanks to the vastly expanded input.

And what input it was! My vision seemed to be entirely disconnected from my eyes, being entirely omnidirectional and no longer limited to the normal visual spectrum. My hearing was so acute that even in darkness I could navigate with echolocation, and the range of what I could hear had similarly been expanded.

And that wasn’t all. While I could only do it for a few moments at a time – Kaufman seemed confident that my time could improve with practice, likening my new ability to a psychic muscle – I could lift myself entirely off the ground in flight! Even when my strength ran out and I began to fall, it was slower and more lightly than my mass should indicate, and when combined with the cape I had created, my aerial mobility would be truly worthy of my chosen name.

When I mentioned the cape to her, Kaufman had gotten a sly look on her face, then offered me a deal – the Ambrosia Co. seemed to like those. The PA5 would, she reminded me, augment my abilities to some degree even after the initial granting of power. She had offered to give me this copy of it as well as her notes on how to maintain it, allowing me to claim it as my own invention, if I did her a small favor. All I had to do was take a message to her family in New Venice. “Don’t worry,” she assured me with a crooked smile. “I’m sure nothing will happen to the notes on it this time – continuing the project will be no problem.”

It didn’t seem all that difficult, although I wasn’t sure why she contact them herself. Ah well. I was traveling across the rooftops on my way to the address she had given, reveling in the incredible freedom flight gave me, when I was startled to see a massive humanoid figure with a much smaller one sitting on its shoulder – Anima, the leader of the New Champions, sitting atop one of the golems she could create.

She noticed me too, giving me a wave that the golem copied, and I landed beside her to say hello. By the end of the night I had agreed to join the junior MLED team, the Young Champions, and had completely forgotten about the message.

1.3 Scenes 19-22

Scene 19 – October 31st
Exterior Frat House, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

After taking the picture, Simone hefted one of us in each arm. Before I had time to really register it, the world twisted and warped as she bent spacetime, and then she was setting us down in an alley a few blocks away from the party. It wasn’t the worst way to travel, I supposed, even if it was a little nausea-inducing to experience. Holly, however, looked perfectly fine, so I steeled myself and didn’t show it. Perhaps it would get better with practice.

Not that I was likely to get all that much, since I had decided not to join the Journeymen. But if I kept in contact with these two, perhaps Simone would still transport me every now and then.

From the alley Simone had taken us to it was only a few minutes’ walk to Phi Beta’s house, which sprawled somewhat but wasn’t as luxurious as the Koval family’s mansion – I was still amazed that Holly’s family was apparently so wealthy and I had had no idea. We joined the throng of people milling around the doorway, two frat bros dressed as Roman guardsmen judging each person’s suitability to enter. Anyone in a costume got in free, but those out of costume – or simply in one that the doormen felt to be ‘too lazy’, as they judged a group of freshmen girls whose costumes consisted of tight black shirts and cat ear headbands – were asked for five dollars to help cover expenses. You then got one of three stamps – DD for designated driver, O for those over 21, or X for those too young to drink.

“Do you have a wallet somewhere in those tiny shorts?” I asked Simone. “This year’s door guards don’t look to be swayed by cleavage like they sometimes are.”

“I think I’ll be okay,” she said, confident as ever. “The nerf guns ought to push me over the edge.”

My phone buzzed as we approached the judges, and I pulled it out to silence it. When I glanced at the screen, though, I was surprised to see that the caller ID read Devon Durandel. “Sorry guys, I think I gotta take this,” I said apologetically, stepping out of line. “Devon never calls unless it’s important. What’s up, Devon?”

“It’s your dad,” they said, their voice low and serious.

I suppressed a sigh. “Another flare-up? Well, thanks for letting me know. I have plans tonight, but I’ll be in to see him tomorrow-”

“No, Quinn, you need to come in now,” they insisted. “It’s not just another flare-up that he’ll get through. It’s bad.”

My blood was starting to run cold, but I didn’t want to believe it. I refused to believe it. “But… but he was just in the hospital a few weeks ago! He was checked out with a clean bill of health, he-”

“He wasn’t. I wanted to tell you, but… it was bad that time too. It’s been getting worse for the last three months, according to Doctor Yaffe.”

“I… why didn’t he tell me?”

“…you should come in and ask him yourself. I came in because he was my patient for so long, and… we’re not sure he’ll make it through the night.”

 

Scene 20 – October 31st
Exterior Frat House, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

I felt as though someone had bludgeoned me with a hammer. My thoughts weren’t flowing correctly. “I, I…” I stared down at the phone in my hands, not even really registering that Devon had hung up.

Holly pulled Simone out of the line and over to me. “What’s wrong, Quinn?”

“It’s, it’s my dad,” I stammered. “He’s in the hospital, he…” I could barely speak.

I had no idea how Holly understood, but she clearly did. She gave Simone a meaningful look, and the teleporter seemed to understand. “Which hospital?” she asked. “NV General or Sacred Heart?”

“General.” A moment later, I had been scooped up and set down in front of New Venice General Hospital.

Devon was standing outside the doors and stared in surprise as they slipped their phone into their pocket. “Quinn! I didn’t expect you so soon, but…” They offered a pained smile to Simone. “Thank you for bringing them.”

“It’s the least I can do,” she said. “Quinn, are you gonna be okay? Do you want me to stay? Should I get Holly?”

I wobbling walked over to Devon and took their arm, trying to steady myself. Simone repeated their question, and this time I managed to shake my head.

“I’ll keep an eye on them,” Devon assured Simone. “Thank you again.”

“You can call me or Holly any time and we’ll be back here in a flash if you change your mind,” Simone told me. I nodded dumbly, and after a moment she was gone.

“She seemed like a good friend,” Devon remarked as they led me into the building. “How long have you known her? And this Holly she mentioned?”

“Don’t,” I muttered. “Please don’t quiz me on my love life. Not now.”

“Sorry. Just thought you might appreciate something familiar.”

“I just… I just want to see him,” I whispered.

We said nothing more until we reached my father’s bed.

 

Scene 21 – October 21st
Interior Hospital – Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

Dad smiled weakly at me as I stood in the doorway, looking more sickly than I had ever seen him. “Heya, kiddo,” he said, quietly. “How’s things? Did you make it to the party?”

I glared, trying to summon up some anger. “How could you!” I hissed. “How could you – how could you…” A moment later, I deflated, and just walked over to sit beside him and take his hand in my own. He held onto me almost as tightly as I held onto him. “How could you be dying?” I finally finished.

My father sighed. “I’m sorry, Quinn. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“So you let it be a surprise,” I said bitterly. “Instead of giving me time to get used to the idea.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Because I know you, Quinn. You wouldn’t have gotten used to it. You would have obsessed over it until you found something to distract yourself, and then tried not to think about it.  He had to pause to cough. “…and it would still have come as a shock,” he finished.

“…yeah, I guess you’re right.” I squeezed his fingers. He winced, and I loosened my grip a little. “Sorry.”

 

We sat in silence for a few minutes before I said, “I think I knew for a while, even without being told. In the back of my head. I just didn’t want to think about it, like you said. I was in denial of how bad it was, despite people’s concern. Maybe I knew that if I acknowledged it, the anxiety would…”

“You get that from your mother, you know.”

“Anxiety?”

Dad nodded. “She was a lot like you.”

“You never talked about her much.”

He gave me another one of those sickly smiles. “Yes, well… you get the denial from me. If I didn’t talk about her, I could… I could pretend she was still…”

We fell quiet again.

 

“Are you sure there’s nothing that can be done?” I asked – speaking up a little this time, so that Devon and Dr. Yaffe, who were waiting just outside, could hear.

“Devon and Mark both agree that there isn’t anything else,” Dad said. “Mark has been a miracle worker already, keeping me fit enough to work and to live at home, mostly. But there’s only so much that can be done.”

“We could have gone to Peregrine Hospital,” I protested.

“You know that we can’t afford that,” he denied. “Even the travel expenses would be too much, let alone admission.”

“There’s a healer right here in New Venice, Anima is-”

“-is devoted to the New Champions, yes. She’s a busy women, she doesn’t have the time for every little thing.”

“You are not a little thing,” I said fiercely. “You’re an incredible professor. You’re a world-renowned expert in poetry. You’re my father. You’re David Kaufman.

I realized that my father’s eyes had closed. “No!” I shouted, shaking him. “Dad, please, stay with me!”

 

He opened his eyes after a moment. “I’m sorry, kiddo, it’s… it’s hard to keep my eyes open. I don’t have much energy left, I’m afraid.”

I hugged him as tightly as I dared. “Dad, please…”

“Sit down, Quinn. Tell me what’s in your head. What are you thinking?”

It took a moment to convince my arms to release him so that I could sink back into the chair and reclaim dad’s hand. “About what?”

“Your future. What are you going to do tomorrow?”

I tried to think about it, and found it hard to imagine a future without my father in it. “I don’t know. Not much, I expect. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out of bed, honestly. I guess I’ll have to arrange your funeral…” I swiped at my face, only then realizing that I was crying. No surprise, I supposed.

“Tsk. Come on, Quinn, have you never talked to a dying man before?”

“What do you mean?”

Dad smirked at me, and when he did he looked like himself for a second – not the pale, sickly version of himself he had been moments before. “You’re not supposed to tell me the truth, you’re supposed to make me feel better. I’m dying here – tell me how great you’re gonna do without me.”

“…okay.”

“So?”

I took a deep breath. “I guess… I’m going to finish my bio degree. I’m close enough that it would be silly not to. But also…”

“Also?”

“I’m going to become a hero, dad. Like you wanted.”

He smiled widely. “That’s great to hear, kiddo.”

“I… I’m going to ask out Holly – the one I told you about, remember?”

“I remember. Be brave – girls like a confident partner.”

“I think… I’m going to try and stick with my art, too. Maybe I’ll find some other artists in the MLED and we can put a show together.”

“That sounds like it would be wonderful.”

I was crying again, crying into his hand. “Dad, I… I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”

“Quinn…”

“No, I’m not going to lie! You always raised me to be honest, and it’s the truth! Dad, you… you’ve always been there for me. Without you…” I sobbed gently. “I can’t even imagine it. I’m going to fall apart, dad. I… I…”

 

It was some time later that my father spoke again. “‘Do not stand at my grave and weep,’” he began. “‘I am not there; I do not sleep. / I am a thousand winds that blow, / I am the diamond glints on snow, / I am’-”

“Don’t you dare quote at me,” I hissed. “I don’t want your trite bullshit right now!”

“Quinn-”

“I know you love poetry, but please, please don’t sink into it right now!” I begged. “Please, please just… just be here with me? Just… just us. No ancient authors getting in our way.”

“…I didn’t realize it bothered you.”

“It…” I deflated again, all the anger slipping away. I couldn’t be mad at my father – I never could. “It doesn’t, really,” I admitted. “I just… I don’t want you to comfort me. I just want you not to go.”

Dad slipped his hand out of my grip and ran it through my hair briefly. I leaned into the gentle touch. “I understand, Quinn. I just…” He seemed to be about to say something, then stopped. “Can you promise me something, Quinn?”

“Anything.”

“Promise me…” he trailed off and seemed to be thinking, his hand still stroking my hair. “Promise me that you won’t forget about your art,” he said after a moment.

“I promise. I’ll always be an artist, you know that.”

“That you’ll always be honest and kind.”

“I promise. I won’t forget what you taught me.”

“And that… that you’ll always do the right thing.”

“I promise, dad. I… I’ll even become a hero.”

“And that… you’ll remember to feed the elephant.”

“The… the elephant?”

He gave me a weak smile. “I bought you an elephant for Hanukkah. It’s… it’s in the attic.”

I found myself laughing a little as well as crying. “I bought you an elephant, dad,” I managed. “It’s… in the basement.”

He laughed too, although it looked like it pained him. “I hope they’ll get along with each other.”

“I’m sure they will. Soon the house will be overrun with elephants.”

“But no one will mention them,” he joked, and I broke.

“Dad, please…”

“I win, kiddo. But now…” He reached down and took my hand again. “Now it’s your turn.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m leaving the world in your hands, Quinn. Promise me…”

 

“…dad?”

 

Scene 22 – October 31st
Interior Hospital, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

I couldn’t think.

 

“Time of death, nine thirty four pm.”

 

There was nothing left.

 

“Come on, Quinn, let’s get you home.”

“How are we going to get them back? I bussed, you walked…”

“See if you can find the info for a Holly in their phone – I didn’t catch the name of the teleporter who brought them, but I got the impression the two are waiting together.”

 

Somehow, I made it out of the hospital. I didn’t know how, or where to.

 

“My god – what happened?”

“Their father died tonight. It was unexpected, I think. I don’t want to leave them alone, so…”

“Yes, of course. They can use one of the spare rooms.”

 

I found myself lying on a bed. It might have been comfortable, or maybe not. I couldn’t tell. I wouldn’t have cared even if I could.

 

“…rest, Quinn. We’re here for you.”

1.3 Scenes 15-18

Scene 15 – October 31st
Interior Townhouse, Late Morning
Quinn Kaufman

I accidentally slept in too late on Halloween morning and had to rush to get into my costume, which I had finished late the previous night. It was rough, but when combined with the wig and the right mannerisms, I felt that I had more than a passing resemblance to Anima. And whether or not I won the costume contest for the fourth year running, I had certainly done enough to not embarrass myself.

I took a few moments to set up how my impression would go – I cocked one hip to the side, put my hands on my hips, and twisted my upper body slightly to accentuate what few curves I had. I was happy with the slim, androgynous build that I had, but it was very different from Anima’s generous curves. Maybe I should have added some padding?

No, it wasn’t all looks, I reminded myself. “Quinn, right? I’m Anima. It’s…” I trailed off, frowning. The voice wasn’t quite right. I had gotten it yesterday, how had I done it? I pitched up slightly and tried again. “Quinn, right? I’m Anima.” No, not quite right either. What was I missing?

Oh yeah. I quirked the corners of my mouth enough to put a smile in my voice. “Quinn, right? I’m Anima. It’s nice to meet you properly.” Yes, there it was!

The costume and the impression weren’t the only things I had figured out yesterday, either. After a lot of thought, I had made up my mind about registering as a hero.

I wasn’t going to do it.

I had gotten a lot of advice about it. Devon had suggested taking it slowly and asking those who already had the job about it. Hypnos said that I shouldn’t join, as I had no need of what it offered me – Holly said that I should join, because it was fun. Canaveral had said that I should only join if I wanted to do it, and Anima had said it was the right thing to do – at least for her, since she had healing powers.

Ultimately, though, it was Professor Marigold’s lecture in the fabric store that had helped me make up my mind. I had come to agree with her that Tonare and Abelard were both wrong – as was Sterling, but that was obvious. As she had said, there was no reason I should use my powers if I didn’t want to.

I didn’t intend to set my powers aside, they were too useful in everyday life for that – even as I was musing, I had called my backpack and a water bottle to me – but I didn’t think I was going to use them in my career. I couldn’t be a superhero. Whatever anyone thought, I knew that I would never be as good as real heroes like Canaveral, Anima, or even my new friend Loki. But I believed that I could be a good doctor, and that, I thought, would be enough.

Besides, my father would support me no matter what I chose, and that’s all that really mattered to me.

Scene 16 – October 31st
Interior Classroom, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

I slipped into the Metahuman History classroom a few minutes early, as usual, and pulled out my notebook. I had been too busy making my costume to do much art lately, but with it finished it was time to start something new. I leaned back in my chair, considering what to draw, and after a moment I began sketching out the rough shape of a mountain range.

“Hey, nice costume!” I glanced up and saw that Todd Brickler was dressed up as well, in a white bodysuit and red cape. He wore no cowl – the college didn’t allow masks on campus – but he was still identifiable as Canaveral.

“Same to you,” I politely said as he sat next to me. “I considered Canaveral myself, but…” I gestured to my skin, many shades too light.

He chuckled. “It was tough to decide between Canaveral and Vulcan, but I didn’t think I could pull off the shirtless look as well as he does.”

“Definitely not. Uh, no offense,” I assured him. “I just don’t think anyone could pull it off as well as Vulcan. Man’s ripped as hell.”

“Well, you’re certainly pulling off your own costume pretty well,” he said, eyes flicking up and down my body. “You’re going to Phi Beta’s party tonight, right?”

“Same as the last three years, yeah,” I confirmed. I had a bad feeling about where this conversation was going.

“Wait, you’re the girl who won the last three costume contests!” He said, recognition flaring in his eyes. “I didn’t realize!”

“Not a girl, Todd,” I reminded him, annoyed – I had been openly nonbinary for years, and he had no excuse not to know that – hell, I had reminded him just a few weeks ago! “But yes, I’m the reigning champion, and I don’t plan on losing my streak.”

“Whatever. Listen, do you have a date to the party? Because I’m just going stag right now, and Canaveral and Anima sounds like a real power couple, if you know what I mean.”

“No for many reasons, Todd. I already have plans to go with friends,” I informed him as icily as I could manage. “And besides, I’m pretty sure Canaveral has something going on with Zookeeper. Not to mention that I’ve turned you down before-”

He sneered. “Whatever, slut.” He rose, grabbing his stuff and moving to another seat.

I let out a sigh of relief. Insults aside, at least he stopped when he heard a ‘no’.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Professor Marigold said as she entered, dropping her shoulder bag on an unoccupied desk and finishing her soda – blue today.

“Good afternoon, professor.” Today I joined in with the three or four others who responded, and class began.

Scene 17 – October 31st
Interior Townhouse, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

“Nice costume, Quinn!” Susan said as I stepped into the study group’s usual meeting place. She gave me a wink, adding, “You look good as a redhead!”

I smiled at her. “Thank you! And thanks again for letting me borrow your wig, it really makes the outfit.”

“Ah, it’s nothing,” she said, playing with a lock of hair from today’s wig – it was shoulder-length and blonde, matching the Thor costume she wore. “Planning on winning the costume contest again this year?”

I put on my Anima voice and shifted my posture as I responded, “I wouldn’t be sad if it happened, but I just want everyone to enjoy themselves!”

She laughed. “That’s uncanny, honestly.”

“I might have some competition this year though,” I said, nodding to her own costume. “Your Thor looks great!”

She blushed slightly. “It’s nothing special. Half of it is storebought.”

“Which half?”

“The wig. And this.” She hefted a foam Mjolnir.

“So you made everything else? That’s amazing, Sue!”

“Well, Orgo is my most time-consuming class, so I had the time. I don’t know how you did it!”

I shrugged. “I bought the base bodysuit, all I needed to do was the gloves, boots, jacket, and mask.”

“How long did it take?”

“About a day and a half? It’s rough, I know…”

“Quinn, that’s… incredible fast,” she said, awed.

Thanks to my telekinesis I hadn’t needed to pin the fabric, being able to hold it all together. And I had barely needed to measure, either, thanks to ESP. But I decided not to mention that, instead saying, “I didn’t really stop working from the moment I bought the fabric on the 29th until I went to sleep last night. All-nighters make the impossible possible. Including seeing things when you’re tired enough, I do not recommend it,” I joked.

She chuckled. “Are you going with anyone?”

“A friend I met recently never went to the party, even though she’s also a senior, so we’re going together. What about you?”

Susan hesitated before saying, “I think I was just going to be going with my sorority sisters. I’m single at the moment, so…”

“Well, I’m sure some lucky guy or gal will snap you up before long,” I told her.

She seemed a little downcast for some reason, but nodded in agreement. “Maybe I’ll even find someone at the party!”

“That’s the spirit!”

“Hey, stop flirting, you two,” Chris said in a mock-stern voice as he and Peter finally entered. “I know it’s Halloween and we’re all excited, but we still have homework to do!”

I raised an eyebrow at the two of them – Chris was wearing vampire teeth and a black suit jacket with no shirt underneath, while Peter wore a toga that left much of his own chest showing and somehow clung close to his butt as well. “Are you sure you aren’t just annoyed that Sue and I get to see you two in slutty costumes but we didn’t return the favor?”

“I just thought we had all agreed to show off our assets,” Peter said, deadpan as usual.

It took a while for the laughter to die down so we could get down to work.

Scene 18 – October 31st
Exterior Mansion, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

“Holy shit, Holly!” I said in amazement as I stared at her home. “You never mentioned you lived in a mansion!

She shrugged, seeming a little uncomfortable. “It, uh, never came up?”

The world twisted next to us and Simone appeared from nothingness. “Hey dude, what’s up?” Chris and Peter would have been quite pleased by her costume – assuming they liked women who could bench press them – she was dressed as Lara Croft, a tight cropped tank-top and rather abbreviated shorts plus a pair of Nerf pistols strapped to her thighs.

“I invited Simone along too,” Holly said nervously. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” I assured her, even though a pang of sadness shot through me – I had hoped that this was meant to be a date, but it seemed not. I offered a hand to Simone. “It’s been a while! Good to see you again.”

She clasped it and pulled me in to a hug. “Yeah, they managed to arrange a week-long cross-country trip for me, to recharge my batteries. Bossman told me rather strictly not to let them get so low again.”

“It was a little bit of an oversight,” Holly admitted. “And your costume is, um…”

“Don’t like it?”

“No on, it’s just… you don’t usually wear anything quite so revealing.”

Simone shrugged. “It’s not my usual style, no, but Halloween is all about being someone you’re not, right?”

“I guess so.”

“Where’s your costume, Holly?” I asked.

She raised a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow. “You’re asking an illusionist where her costume is?”

“I thought it wasn’t actually illusions?”

A shrug – my eyes darted down to her collarbones for a moment, exposed by the off-the-shoulder sweater she was wearing tonight, then back up to her face. “It isn’t, but I do understand that there’s not much difference for colloquial purposes. And ‘illusion’ is shorter to say than ‘light- and sound-interacting construct’, which is what they actually are.”

“That reminds me – how is it that they can interact with sound and not physically with anything else? I mean, sound energy is kinetic, ultimately, so…”

“Well, from a magical perspective -”

“Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh!” Simone cried, laying a finger on both of our mouths to silence us. “No nerdy magic talk tonight. Halloween is a day to go to a party, flirt with hot girls, and show off a little. Put your costume on, Holly!”

She rolled her eyes, but nodded as she stepped back from Simone’s finger. There was a brief shimmer, and she was suddenly an elaborate clockwork robot, her face appearing to be a porcelain mask and plates of something that might be ceramic and might be painted cardboard. I couldn’t help but be amazed by her artistic sensibility.

“Alright you two,” said Simone, grabbing us both together again. “Time for a selfie!”

1.3 Scenes 13-14

Scene 13 – October 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
Susan Shepard

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” I said as I stepped into the conference room, nodding to Henry and Canaveral, who were already sitting at the table and chatting. Anima, who I had met in the elevator, greeted them as well.

“Good afternoon, ladies.” Henry said with a smile. “What brings me in so early?”

“I’ll explain when Loki gets here,” I told him, taking my own seat at the head of the table and beginning to connect my laptop to the room’s projector system. “No point in going over it twice.”

“I’m not sure if she’ll be in costume or not,” Canaveral told me, “but either way, it shouldn’t be long before she arrives. I know she’s around today. She and Simone were brainstorming a costume for this party that she and Quinn are going to.” He himself was in costume with his cowl down, as he often was around the base. He wore casual clothes on days that he wasn’t actually on shift, but as the leader of the New Champions he was on duty most days. Not that he didn’t hang around even when he wasn’t.

I couldn’t help but be a little amused at his choice of topic, but instead simply commented, “It sounds like Holly is already rather attached to Mx. Kaufman.” The meeting wasn’t scheduled to start for another two minutes – she had time.

“If by ‘attached to’ you mean ‘crushing hard on’, then yes, Holly is quite attached to them,” Canaveral agreed with a chuckle. “It’s kind of cute, in fact. She’s somehow both very completely lacking in subtlety and too shy to actually make a move.”

Very cute,” Anima agreed.

“And what does Kaufman think of it?” Henry asked.

“I think they’re open to the idea, but they don’t really believe that she’s interested. They’re second-guessing themself too much to do anything either. They… seem to do that a lot, I think.”

Henry smirked. “What’s the betting pool on how long it’ll take them to get together?”

“You know that betting isn’t allowed,” I warned. It wasn’t my policy, of course – I felt that communal bonding of that type would be a benefit, in fact – but the director of the MLED as a whole, August Redding, disagreed.

“Hypothetically, of course,” he clarified, and I let it pass. I had made my views on the topic clear when Redding had set forth the policy, but still. A little plausible deniability is all I asked for.

“Hypothetically, it might be split pretty evenly,” Anima told Henry, “between them getting together within a week of Quinn joining up, and it taking more than a year.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think – ah, Loki!” One of the topics of discussion had suddenly appeared in an unoccupied chair – in costume, as it turned out. “Ah… how long have you been there?” Canaveral asked, sounding a little nervous.

The younger hero raised a perfectly-sculpted brow. “Long enough,” he replied. “I thought you were against gossip in the workplace, boss?”

“That was in a crisis situation,” Canaveral protested. “This isn’t an emergency – is it, Director?”

“No,” I agreed. “But we should turn to the real topic. Let’s set Loki’s possible romance with Mx. Kaufman aside and turn to the reason I asked you four here…” I couldn’t help be relish the moment as I turned on the projector, placing Quinn Kaufman’s face on the wall behind me. “…Mx. Kaufman.”

Scene 14 – October 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Susan Shepard

Canaveral leaned back in his chair, seeming unsurprised – he, of course, had probably known the purpose of the meeting from the moment I called it. Henry snorted, seeing the same humor in our pre-meeting banter as I had. Loki stayed completely silent and still, and it ended up being Anima who spoke first.

“What about them?” she asked. “I thought the decision to offer them a place was pretty set.”

“It is, regardless of the outcome of this meeting,” I agreed. “But… one moment…” I turned on the conference room’s recording system so that my secretary could take the minutes of the meeting later.

“This meeting is not about whether or not Mx. Kaufman has a place in the MLED – that much has already been decided. Rather,” I clarified, “it is to dissect the possible red flags that have been noticed around them, and determine if we will be offering a place under the so-called ‘Enemies Closer’ policy or simply as a prospective hero. In attendance are myself, Director Susan Shepard; my deputy, Henry Blackmire; Canaveral, as the team leader of the MLED Heroic Agent team designated ‘New Champions’; his deputy, Anima; and Loki, as the leader of the MLED Junior Heroic Agent team designated ‘the Journeymen’.

“You are here for several reasons,” I told them. “Henry, you haven’t met Kaufman personally yet. Any possible telepathic abilities that may be influencing the rest of us will be unlikely to have affected you, and your opinion will be relatively unbiased, only being shaped by written reports.

“Canaveral, you were the MLED’s first contact with Kaufman – Anima, you were on console with him at the time, and can provide a perspective on that night untouched by hypothetical telepathic abilities. Additionally, Canaveral, your team leader status qualifies you to be present in any meeting relating to Heroic Agent recruitment.

“Finally, Loki,” I said, turning to him, “you’ve had the most contact with them. Additionally, this type of meeting is important for you to be aware of as part of your leadership training – that’s why I’m going into more detail than I otherwise might.”

Loki moved for the first time since I had begun the meeting proper, asking, “Are these meetings held every time a new metahuman is being considered for recruitment?”

Henry shook his head. “No, only when there are possible red flags. Usually it’s pretty clear one way or another – either there are flags or there aren’t, and either they are or aren’t enough to deny recruitment. Edge cases are rare – that’s why we didn’t need one when Journey joined, even though that was after you were placed on the leader track.”

I nodded. “The process is to begin by having each person dissect their knowledge of the potential recruit, in order of least to most familiar. Deputy Director, if you would?”

He wheeled his chair back slightly and pushed a button on the side, raising himself up slightly. When he had been director, he had always stood to address a conference room – he once told me that as a man, being five foot four made it hard to command attention in a room, and standing while others sat was one of the best tricks he had found. Since his injury, he obviously couldn’t do that anymore, but he had found a way.

“As Director Shepard said, I haven’t met Mx. Kaufman personally,” he told us. “I have, however, read through Canaveral and Anima’s reports of the night of first contact, as well as heard the rumors about them. My secondhand impression is of a confident young person who is perhaps a little unsure of what to do with their life. They received their powers recently and had no life plans that involved being a metahuman – with the addition of powers, they have more options than they had before, and aren’t sure what to do now.” He smirked. “Gossip also pegs them as Canaveral’s illegitimate child based on how they moved in bodycam footage of the drug bust, and that he personally escorted them home after Legion showed up. A lot of people overestimating Canaveral’s age, apparently.”

“Any other gossip?” Canaveral asked mildly. I couldn’t tell if he was amused or annoyed by the rumor Henry had shared – Abe was a surprisingly good actor when he wanted to be.

“I’m not sure I would call it gossip, exactly, but…” Henry shrugged. “There’s a bit of an argument among the troops over whether they’re male or female. I actually meant to mention it to you at tonight’s shift change, Susan – we should schedule a gender seminar for the common agents. Especially as it’s reignited the debate around Loki.”

Loki sighed. “You know I don’t really care. As long as people leave me alone, it doesn’t matter what they think they know. The people who matter understand.”

“I know, but it’s not just you,” he said. “A trans agent brought it up to me last night – she and a nonbinary friend of hers are feeling uncomfortable about it, and I doubt Kaufman would be pleased if they knew either.”

“We’ll get it scheduled later, but for now let’s stay on topic,” I promised, trying to get us back on track. “Anything else?”

He shook his head. “Not really. Legion’s apparent connection to their mother is concerning, but the mother vanished more than a decade ago – it has nothing to do with Kaufman themself. I personally see no reason for alarm. Anima?” He began lowering himself once more.

“I’ve only met them in person once,” she said, “and only very briefly. My interaction is primarily second-hand as well, through the console. My impression was of an intelligent person without much regard for themself and their value as a person.”

“Really?” I asked. “That doesn’t seem to fit with Henry’s observation.”

“Oh, they hide it,” Anima noted, “pretty well, too – I didn’t notice myself until Canaveral pointed it out to me. But when you know, it’s clear. They handled their life being put in danger – a gun pointed at them, Legion showing up at their door – far too well for them to have as much care for their life as they should.” She shook her head. “The kid has some serious self-confidence issues.”

“Anything else?”

She shrugged. “I don’t think I noticed anything that Canaveral couldn’t explain better. I do agree with Henry that there’s no real cause for alarm, though.”

“Let’s move on to you then,” I said, turning to him. “What are your thoughts on them? You were the one who flagged their file to have this meeting, after all.” Loki turned to stare at him.

Canaveral sighed. “Anima nailed it. They have a low opinion of themself – I’m not sure why – which they mask with humor and false confidence.” He drummed his fingers on the table briefly, then added, “My best guess is that they have chronic anxiety issues, although it’s possible that they have problems at home which contributed to their low self-confidence. I don’t think so, though – if that was the problem, I’d expect them to jump into the MLED as an escape, rather than agonize over the choice as they have been.”

“And the flags you noticed?”

“Nothing to do with them as a person,” he said, “But a great deal to do with their suit and their family. I know,” he held a hand up to forestall any objections, “their mother vanished a long time ago, and nothing suggests that they’ve been in contact. But.

“Well… have any of you seen their supersuit?”

“Not in person,” I said, “only through your helmet’s camera. Not the best quality video.” Everyone else nodded.

“Quinn told me that they found their suit in their parents’ attic, and that it had been made by their mother. Frankly…” he sighed, shaking his head. “Well, I submitted that flag before they had their chat with Legion last week. My initial assumption was that they were lying, and had stolen the suit.”

“But you don’t think that anymore?” I asked.

“Not anymore, no. That was before I knew that their mother had some connection to Legion, and before I looked into Laura Kaufman.”

“What did you find?”

“Not a lot,” Canaveral admitted. “I think a lot of information about her has been scrubbed from the internet. What’s there is the bare minimum – her college, her work history,  missing person report filed by her husband… and that’s about it.”

“Maybe she just had a small online footprint?” Henry tried.

“Maybe, but I have a hunch otherwise. I’m not completely sure what’s going on there, but I have a bad feeling about it. If she really did create that suit, and it really did activate superpowers as Quinn told me…”

“Then her disappearance is the best lead we have for Legion,” I finished, and he nodded.

“What does that have to do with Quinn that counts as a red flag, though?” Loki said, and I blinked in surprise. He had been so quiet that I had nearly forgotten the young man was there.

“Nothing for certain. But, well… it’s suspicious that a working supersuit that grants powers could have been just lying in an attic for almost fifteen years and still work. I think it’s more likely that Legion planted it. And if Legion delivered the suit, which would have had to be done well before we knew she was in town, she could easily have contacted the Kaufmans in the past as well.”

“Do you have any other reason to suspect this?” I asked.

“None of you have seen the suit in person, so you’ll just have to trust me on this – it looks a hell of a lot like Starling’s,” he said. “The fabric is similar, they have about the same kind of boots and gauntlets, even their belts are the same style. The biggest difference is a full-face mask vs no mask included. And sure, my suit isn’t much different either, but…” he glanced at Loki. “You know that pattern on Starling’s suit? The really subtle one that most people can’t see?”

“Sure,” he confirmed. I myself had never been able to make out the pattern that they both insisted was there, but I was told that Anima could see it as well. “Sort of like neurons, right?”

“Quinn’s suit has the same pattern,” Canaveral said grimly. “Not to mention that it seems to have a similar purpose to Starling’s, enhancing their powers and making them tougher, and the powers it grants – enhanced senses and a sort of self-targeting telekinesis – are very close as well.

“Starling invented his suit himself,” Anima said. “What are we suggesting here – that Quinn stole the suit from him? That Legion stole it on Quinn’s behalf? That Starling got his suit from the same source that Legion got Quinn’s from?”

“I have some theories, but nothing I’m ready to share. There are still too many unknowns, too many possibilities,” Canaveral said. “For now, I’ve said my piece.”

“Fine.” This… was definitely concerning. As Canaveral had said, there was nothing definitive here – a tenuous connection between Kaufman’s suit and Starling’s, and another between their mother and Legion. There were no doubt countless explanations that could fit what we knew, both innocent and less so. “We’ll keep an eye on it for now.”

“For the record,” Canaveral added, “I don’t think any of this speculation has any bearing on Quinn. If they’re admitted under Enemies Closer, the surveillance should be focused on these possible connections with Legion, rather than on Quinn themself.”

“Noted, thank you,” I said. “Loki?”

“I have nothing to add,” said Loki in a rather flat voice, and the other two heroes frowned at him, concerned. He perked up a little and continued, “honestly, I don’t – and probably shouldn’t really. You guys are right, I’m crushing on Quinn – and please don’t tell them that before I work up the courage to tell them – so I’m very far from unbiased.”

“That’s why you’re going last,” I reminded them. “The least biased first, because those who know the person already are less likely to change their views after hearing others speak. And we want to hear your possible biases, because if what you think is notably different from what others observed, that’s a potential reason – potential, I stressed, “for concern.”

Loki nodded. “Okay, that… that makes sense, I guess.” He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair before starting. “When I first met Quinn a week or two ago, I thought they seemed… well, like a decent person. Nothing particularly stood out, other than that it would be nice to have someone else outside the gender binary on the team. And…” he blushed a little bit, “that they had very nice hair.

“It wasn’t until we bumped into each other while shopping the next day that I realized how cool they were,” he continued. “We started talking about art and magic and the conversation flowed easily, so we ended up spending… most of the day together, I guess. It was nice, you know? I don’t have a ton of people who can keep up with me and Quinn… I mean, they don’t know much about magic, not yet anyway, but they’re smart enough to learn quickly and ask good questions. They could probably become a mage themself, if they tried.”

That sounded like the optimism of a crush, but I didn’t argue. I had asked for his biased opinion, after all.

“They, uh… they might have asked me out while we were having dinner that day,” Loki admitted, a blush briefly appearing on his cheeks before vanishing. I was certain the blush was still there, just hidden by an illusion.

“Nice!” Anima cheered. “So do you have a date set up already?”

“Asking during dinner together sounds like it would be a second date,” Canaveral commented. “Do you have a chaperone for the party tonight, young man?”

Loki looked down. “No, I… I gave them a soft no, I said maybe when I was less busy. It came as a surprise, I hadn’t really thought about them like that yet, and… well, I was too surprised to say yes or no yet. And besides,” he said, defending himself, “it might not have actually been asking out like that, they just asked if we could talk more about magic sometime!”

“Stop it,” I ordered. “It’s not the time for teasing, this is an official meeting.”

“Sorry, boss,” Canaveral said, not sounding very sorry. “The teasing will have to wait until after the meeting.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Please continue, Loki.”

He bit his lip thoughtfully, then said, “I don’t think anything super important between us has happened since then, other than me realizing that yeah, I have a crush – I know, I’m gonna tell them at the party!” he hissed at Anima and Canaveral.

“If that’s all, then your final impressions are?”

“Quinn is a nice, clever person who’s pleasant to spend time with,” he said. “I didn’t notice any self-confidence issues myself – although they are a good actor, like Anima said. They’re good at impressions too. It’s not impossible that I’d have missed it.” I waited for a moment, and then Loki flushed and added, “I don’t think they have any big red flags.”

“Alright.” I glanced at my watch. “We’re all busy people, and the consensus seems to be that there isn’t much to worry about with Mx. Kaufman. Let’s take a five minute recess to get water, use the restroom, and let everyone’s observations sink in – if no one has any objections after that, we’ll conclude the meeting.”

Canaveral exchanged a wicked look with Anima. “You know what that means…”

“Oh no,” Loki denied. “No teasing! Nope nope nope!” He vanished with a faint pop, and the sound of running feet swiftly excited the room. Those of us who remained couldn’t help but laugh.

1.3 Scenes 11-12

Scene 11 – October 29th
Arachne Crafts, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

 

After classes the next day, I swung by a craft store on my way home to pick up some fabric. I had already asked my friend Susan if I could borrow her red wig, and a blue bodysuit had been easy to find from a costume shop on the way back from the Compound yesterday. That left just a cut-off jacket, knee-high boot covers, all in green – the mask was in blue, but since I was replacing the lower legs of the bodysuit, I could cut them off and make the mask from them. With no classes tomorrow, I could spend the day sewing and working on the impression, and should be ready in time to wear it to classes and the party the day after.

Ready enough, at any rate. I honestly didn’t care all that much about the costume contest, but people had expectations of me at this point. I couldn’t let them down.

It was taking a while to find the right kind of fabric, though. Ideally it should be something stiff enough that it could hold its shape for the jacket, which shouldn’t be a problem, but it also had to be both shiny enough to be believable as boots and matte enough to not be ugly as a jacket. It was a tough balance to strike. In real life, of course, they were both leather, or some kind of high-tech fabric that looked like it, but I wouldn’t be able to afford a pair of knee-high leather boots and a matching jacket to dye green for a costume I would wear once.

As I browsed, pausing occasionally at one piece of fabric or another, I wasn’t paying as much attention to my surroundings as a possibly-future-hero probably should, and it was only my ESP that stopped me from bumping into another woman who had clearly been paying even less. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” I said automatically as I stopped.

“Oh, you’re fine,” she responded, glancing up from a shopping list, and I was surprised to recognize her.

“Professor Marigold?” I asked, and she smiled at me.

“Mx. Kaufman!” she said, sounding delighted to have run into me. “What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to my favorite craft store?”

“It was on my way home, and I needed some fabric,” I told her. It wasn’t quite on my way, but superpowers really did have a lot of mundane utility – in this case, negating the need for a bus.

“Ah yes, the costume contest,” she said with a nod. “I’ve heard about your record. Although you’re cutting it a little close, aren’t you?”

“When do I not?” I joked. “But really, I’ll be fine. It’s half the impression, anyway.”

“Can an impression really cover for a less-than-perfect costume?”

I shrugged. “It’s half-and-half, really. If you look close enough and act close enough, people’s minds fill in the details. And hey, that’s what art is all about – getting close enough that your audience will take you the rest of the way on their own. It’s more believable that way.”

The professor gave me a wistful smile. “I always wanted to be an artist myself, you know,” she mused. “I never had the talent, though. Visual art has always escaped me.”

“You have a way with words, though,” I told her. “Certainly you always keep the class enthralled. My father wouldn’t be happy with me if I didn’t count wordsmithing as a kind of art all its own.”

“How is David? I’ve heard he’s out of the hospital – is he doing better?”

“Yes, totally fine,” I assured her. “He’s been out for a week and a half or so, and is doing great.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I was a little worried.”

“I’m telling you, Dad is fine. It’s not the first time his illness has gotten the best of him and it won’t be the last. But he always beats it in the end. Always has, always will.”

“You have great confidence if your father,” she observed.

“And why shouldn’t I?” I asked. “He’s never failed me before, after all.” And he never would. I refused to even consider the possibility.

“What exactly does he have, anyway?” she asked. “I’m sorry if it’s a sensitive subject, but he’s never mentioned it to us at work, and I can’t help but be curious…”

“If he hasn’t said, I don’t think it’s my place to,” I demurred.

The professor nodded, seeming to accept my excuse. “Alright. I just want to say…” She hesitated, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe she wasn’t sure if she should say whatever it was, or how I would take it. After a moment, though, she continued. “If you ever need anyone to talk to… I know I’m not exactly close to your father, and metahuman history isn’t exactly your thing, but you’ve been an excellent student. If you need to talk to someone about it…”

“Why are you being so…” I faltered. “I don’t know… accommodating, I guess? There’s a reason I’m not a writer…”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been very understanding about dad’s illness,” I said, trying to explain what I meant, “and that if I need to talk to someone about it, your door is open. You’re not… um…”

She flushed almost as red as her hair. “No no no, not at all! I just… my late husband also had a chronic illness. He passed away two years ago. I know that it’s hard, for those who love them. I suppose I just wanted to be able to be there for you, because no one was for me.”

“I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

She shook her head. “You had no reason to, Mx. Kaufman.”

“We’re not in class, Quinn is fine.”

The professor managed a smile, although it was clear even to me that she was still embarrassed about my thankfully-incorrect assumption, and maybe a little teared-up from thoughts of her husband. “Then you should call me Joanne.”

 

Scene 12 – October 29th
Arachne Crafts, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Actually, Joanne,” I said, having a sudden thought, “I think I would like to talk with you. Not about dad, but I think it’s relevant to your course.”

“Oh! Of course, what is it?” Joanne – and wasn’t it weird to be thinking of one of my professors, a woman my father’s age, by her first name – asked.

“I was talking with some friends of mine in a study group early today,” I told her, “about superheroes. Specifically, the idea that if you have superpowers, you’re morally obligated to use them for the betterment of society. We didn’t really come to a conclusion, and I admit, I came out less certain of my own opinion than I came in. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the subject?”

We really had, too. At the end the study group, I had taken the opportunity to ask Susan if I could borrow her wig, and after explaining my costume, used it as a segue to mention an editorial I claimed to have read. From there, the natural tendency of college students to argue had taken over, and everyone in the group had to have their say.

“That’s a very interesting question,” Joanne commented, turning to run her hands through the green fabric hanging next to us. “I hope that at this point in my class you’re not surprised to learn that throughout history, different societies have had a lot of different views on the topic.”

“Please,” I said, gesturing for her to continue, “enlighten me. It is indeed an interesting question, and I don’t mind a recreational lecture every now and then.”

She smirked. “Well, back when metahumans were believed to be demigods, there initially wasn’t any moral thinking attached to how powers should be used at all – quite the opposite, in fact. They were viewed as tools, gifts from gods, and to be used as the metahuman in question saw fit. If the god disapproved, surely the powers would be retracted – so rather than having a moral obligation to use your power in a particular way, the possession of them at all was a confirmation that however you did use them was morally correct.

“Skip forward a little to when powers were supposed to be gifts from saints, and it gets a little more complicated. The god-given-and-therefore-a-sign-of-divine-favor thinking was definitely still present, but with the advent of the bible and monotheistic thinking, there were now distinct morals that God was known to enforce,” she told me. “Polytheistic religions were more flexible in that way – respect for the gods was constant, but other than that, there was at least one god who could be claimed as your patron pretty much no matter what your thinking was.

“With monotheism, God became less flexible. As a result, if you followed god, your powers were a confirmation of your righteousness. If you turned away, they were a gift from the devil, not from a saint, and proof of your wickedness instead.”

“But still keeping to the general model that it confirmed how you were already behaving, rather than suggesting a particular way to behave?” I asked.

“Exactly,” Joanne agreed – although with her having launched into a lecture that would fit right into Metahuman History, I was finding it even more difficult not to think of her as Professor Marigold. “Again, it changed with the scientific revolution. With powers now being thought to be earthly rather than heavenly, they weren’t divine confirmation of anything, good or bad.

“Instead, powers were believed to be a natural human trait – or a trait of some particular humans, at any rate. There were several notable philosophers – Vincent Sterling, Anthony Tonare, and Martin Abelard – who wrote on what exactly it should mean for society. Sterling felt that metahumans were naturally better than humans and thus qualified to rule – Tonare thought they were obviously meant to use their talents, whatever those talents were meant to be for – and Abelard suggested that, rather than being qualified to rule, they were qualified to serve. That their powers should be used for the benefit of society.”

“Those three philosophers in the mid-to-late 1500s set the model for how metahumans would fit into society for the next five centuries,” she explained. “Sterling was never very popular – with metahumans as only 15 percent of the population, I’m sure you can see why – but Tonare and Abelard’s views came into and out of prominence, even if not always attributed to them.

“So going back to your question, Quinn, the idea that metahumans are obligated to use their powers for society is a Abelish idea.”

“So the popularity of superheroes is thanks to Abelard?”

“That’s right,” the professor confirmed. “Of course, there’s a lot of Tonaric influence as well – in fact, I would say that Tonare’s ideas are waxing, and Abelard’s are waning. Superheroes are popular, but the number of metahumans who just use their powers in relatively normal jobs is far higher. There’s a reason that the DMO includes the Metahuman Entertainment Division and the Metahuman Mercantile Division, not just the Metahuman Law Enforcement Divison.”

“The MLED for the Abelish, the MED and the MMD for the Tonarics?” I asked, and she nodded. “That leaves the MCD for the… what are those who hold to Sterling’s views?”

“Just Sterlings. And yes, supervillains do tend to end up being handled by the containment division.”

“Are there any groups who still believe in the divine right arguments?”

“Far smaller, but yes. They don’t have a unifying philosopher to name themselves after, though, so they’re called metapagans.”

“Why isn’t this part of the class?”

She snorted. “There’s still a month left, Quinn. This lecture is on the syllabus for the last week of November.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Professor, you never gave us a syllabus.” Marigold – Joanne – whatever – just shrugged. “That really was interesting to learn ahead of schedule, but… it doesn’t answer what you think.”

She sighed. “Honestly, Quinn, I don’t agree with any of them. All three – Tonare, Abelard, and Sterling – believed that metahumans had a duty to use their powers. They disagreed for what purpose, but they all believed that if you had an extraordinary ability, you should use it. I don’t.” I tensed, and she quickly added, “not to say that I think metahumans shouldn’t use their powers. But I’m very much a believer in the idea that no one should feel bound to do anything they don’t want to. Society doesn’t allow for quite that level of freedom, of course, but it does mean that I think you’re not bound to use your power by some kind of moral duty.”

That fit very well with Canaveral’s beliefs, I thought. I wondered if he would consider himself a Tonaric or if, like Joanne, he would set himself apart from Tonare as well.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Professor – Joanne,” I corrected myself. “Fortunately,” I hefted the fabric that I had finally chosen during her lecture, “I have something to do while I think.”

1.3 Scenes 9-10

Scene 9 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
Quinn Kaufmann

 

Holly had been an endless font of costume ideas – it wasn’t surprising that she was creative, she had an incredible artistic eye – but none of them had been possible. Most of her ideas would have required far more time than I had, some of them being completely impossible for someone without her illusory abilities. And while she said that she intended to go to the party too – for the first time, in her case – and would be happy to maintain an illusion for me, I had to decline. It just wasn’t the same as making the costume myself, I had explained, and she hadn’t argued.

Hypnos had had a more realistic idea – one that would have me purchasing a generic costume and then making some alterations. It was both reasonable for the time I had and acceptable for my standards. After agreeing to his idea, I took my leave of them and went into the adults’ lounge, where I found Canaveral and Vulcan sipping beers and watching a game of football. Canaveral was half-costumed, his cowl pulled down to reveal his face, and Vulcan didn’t have much of a costume to begin with – he was in a button-down shirt which, at the moment, was left undown enough to show off his collarbones.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, hesitating in the doorway and trying not to blush seeing Vulcan – the man really did have jawline like an anvil, and showing off his collarbones like that just wasn’t fair. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Canaveral paused the game and waved me in anyway. “You’re not interrupting – this is recorded. Just don’t tell us the score and you’re fine.”

“Couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to, I don’t watch football.” I entered and, still a little anxious – I had only been in the shared lounge space before – took a seat on the unoccupied couch.

“Care for a beer?” Canaveral – Abraham? – asked.

When I nodded, he began to rise, heading towards a cooler sitting in the small kitchen area. I forestalled him by opening it myself using my telekinesis, and floating a bottle to me. He grinned as I popped off the cap and took a sip.

“I’m a little jealous,” he admitted. “My powers don’t have that kind of mundane utility. Even Vulcan here has a leg up on me – he can keep his beer as cool as he wants.” Then he seemed to have a realization. “You haven’t met Vulcan yet, have you?”

“No, I haven’t. He was on console when I first came, I think.”

“Well let me introduce you. Vulcan, this is Quinn, or Newton. They’re a recently-empowered metahuman who hasn’t made their mind up about heroing yet.”

“A pleasure,” Vulcan rumbled. His voice was quiet, soft-spoken, but remarkably deep. It sent a shiver down my spine – seriously, he was too much!

“You turn into metal, right?” I asked. “And control heat?”

He waggled his hand in a ‘sort-of’ motion. “I can absorb and project it, but it’s not complete control. And when I’m not in metal form it’s much more limited – my body won’t let me absorb or project enough heat that I would harm myself, so my limits are lower in human form. There’s also only so much I can have absorbed, and I can theoretically run out of heat, but… well, I do a lot of training to expand my capacity, and usually run about half full so I’m prepared to either absorb or project as much as necessary.”

I nodded. “I’ve got something similar, I think,” I told him. “The costume that activated my powers seems to insulate me from the backlash to an extent, so I can use a lot more force when I’m wearing it. When I’m not, I can’t do any more than I normally can physically – I can just do it at a distance. With the costume, I can use way more force. Messing with my ESP is easier, too.”

“Do you know what your upper limit is, other than the backlash?” Vulcan asked.

“No. I’m sure I have one, but whatever it is, it’s well above what I was willing to test on my own.”

Canaveral nodded. “Smart. It’s better not to test your limits without safety precautions.”

 

Scene 10 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

“What brings you into the lounge?” Vulcan asked. “We were watching the game, you know.”

“Don’t be rude,” Canaveral scolded, and the younger hero muttered an apology.

I took another sip of my beer, using the brief pause to figure out exactly what to say. “Looking for advice, basically. I’m still trying to decide whether or not I should register as a hero.” I set the bottle down and leaned forward. “Can I ask why you all joined?”

The two heroes locked eyes with each other briefly, then glanced up. “What do you think, Anima?”

“Be honest with them,” advised the heroine’s voice through the speaker system.

Canaveral nodded. “That’s what I was thinking – glad you’re on the same page. I’ll go first.

“Susan – that’s Director Shepard, to you,” he clarified, “would want me to give you the MLED’s party line, which is that if you have superpowers, you’re morally obligated to use it to better the world. You know the one – power, responsibility, yada yada yada. That’s the official stance of the MLED. If anyone asks, that’s what I told you,” he told me in an overly-stern, almost mockingly serious voice, and I nodded with a smile. “At the very least, they’d want me to say that it’s because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m just so darn good-hearted.

“The truth, though, is a little different. Not to imply that there isn’t an element of truth in both of those – I do believe that there’s a certain level of obligation inherent in being able to help. If you have money to spare for charity you should donate some of it, if you see someone being hurt you should try to help, that kind of thing. But my personal beliefs,” he was explaining, “don’t require me to actually go searching for that kind of situation in the way that heroes do. Hell, even if I did, being a hero isn’t the only way to help the world – it’s one that’s available to me as it isn’t to a lot of people, because I have powers and because they’re combat-capable, but being a doctor improves the world just as much, if not more.”

Canaveral sighed. “No, the real reason I became a hero is pretty simple – I wanted to. Every since I was a little kid, I idolized heroes, and I wanted to be one too. So of course, when my powers finally came in, I became a hero.

“That’s the only reason you should become a hero, in my opinion,” he said, his voice more serious than I had ever heard it outside of fighting Legion. “It’s a big commitment – outside of the training stage, at least – and you shouldn’t do it just because people want you to, or because you think it’s what society expects from you, or out of some moralistic notion that it’s the most virtuous thing to do with your life. You should only become a hero because you want to.”

“That’s… pretty heavy,” I admitted. “I admit, I hadn’t really considered the question of whether or not I actually wanted to.” I had barely discovered my powers before people started pushing me towards heroism, and much of my musing had been over whether or not I could or should – far less had been over whether or not it was something I wanted.

“I’m sorry if I was pushing you into it,” Canaveral apologized. “I won’t pretend that I don’t want you to join – I like you, I think that we have a lot in common, and I think it would be great to have you as part of New Venice’s heroic scene. But you shouldn’t worry about what I want for you.”

“Abe is somewhat more self-centered than the carefree image of heroism he maintains might suggest,” Anima observed. “Fortunately,  his self-centered desire is to be a socially-oriented, morally upstanding pillar of the community, admired by all and for the best of all possible reasons. I dread to think what he could have become if he wanted something less positive for the world.”

He rolled his eyes while I tried to digest this remarkably cynical view of a hero I had admired for years. “You make me sound like some kind of psychopath,” he complained. “I was just like any other kid! Who didn’t want to be a superhero when they grew up? It’s no different from wanting to be a football player or an actor, and working towards that. We don’t scold them for wanting it because of the prestige, money, whatever, rather than for love of the game or the art. Besides,” he added, “I did say that I do still consider it a moral obligation to help people, and that it really is the right thing to do. It just wasn’t my primary motivation.”

“In any case,” she said, “I think it’s my turn. Unless you want to go next, Vulcan?” He shook his head, and she, apparently, could see this from the console room, because she continued, “Right.

“Mine is a little less philosophical than Abe’s, I suppose. I really did join because of the party line in a lot of ways – to help people. I want to make life better for people, and it really is a responsibility. Do you know my powers?”

I blinked – that seemed like something a non sequitur, and it took me a moment to respond. “Not in a ton of detail. You can animate objects right?”

“That’s part of it, but not the biggest part. Basically, I’m an energy absorber and projector, like Vulcan, only a bit more metaphysical. He deals with heat, but I deal with lifeforce.”

“Is that like the soul? Holly tried to explain that to me, but I’m not sure how much I understood,” I admitted. It had been interesting and I had tried to come off as understanding it all, because I kind of liked her and didn’t want to seem stupid, but it had gone a bit over my head. I didn’t think she had noticed, thankfully.

“Sort of. Magic is insanely complicated, if you hadn’t picked that up.”

“I did get that impression, yeah. It’s interesting, though – I’d love to learn more about it.”

“There are a ton of different… layers to reality, I guess is the way to put it,” Anima explained. “The material plane or the physical world is just one of them. The plane that soul energy lies on is another, and I know Holly thinks it’s the one that’s most important for magic, but it’s really all up for debate.

“Personally, I think it’s like… well, you know how there are four fundamental forces of the universe, each with their own particle that conveys them? Gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force? Plus mass, maybe?”

“Sure.”

“And then spacetime is its own thing entirely but still interacts with the others?”

“Yes?”

“Well, I think magic is a lot like that – there are a bunch of different kinds of metaphysical forces, all of which interact with each other and with the material plane,” she told me. “Holly is a brilliant girl, but I think she’s getting a bit ahead of herself – she’s looking at the energy of the soul as a grand unifying theory of magic, or something along the lines of that. A single connection between the material plane and the metaphysical planes, that can explain it all, or at least a lot of it. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more complicated.”

“I did get the impression it might be,” I agreed. “She made brief mention of illusions being connected to a psychic plane and the impression of thoughts, but didn’t really explain how that was different from the mind shaping a soul.”

“It’s pretty interconnected and not fully understood – I don’t know if even Arthur Peregrine really understands it all.” Anima commented. “This is getting a bit far afield though.”

“Mages of any stripe love talking about magic,” Canaveral interjected. “Get them talking about it and they won’t stop for hours – it’s something they all have in common.”

“Well of course they would! It’s fascinating! And besides, don’t you also use magic?” I asked him.

He frowned at me. “That’s a bit of a secret. Anyway, I’m not a mage – just a natural talent. I’ve never taken the time and effort to expand my one kinetic manipulation trick – I don’t have the right mindset for it.”

“Natural talent?”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Like I said, I’m not a mage. Get Holly or Anima to explain it, they’d do a better job anyway.”

“The point,” Anima said, “is that my particular brand of magic involves the lifeforce of living creatures. I can drain that energy from others and deposit it elsewhere. I can mess with my own – or rather, my own plus whatever I’ve taken recently – and do interesting things with that as well.

“So yes, I can dump lifeforce into an object to bring it to life and control it. I can also burn it up to temporarily enhance my physical or mental abilities. I can give it to others, too, in order to heal them, which is what I meant to be getting at.”

“Hold on,” I interrupted. “We can come back to the healing. How do you get the lifeforce to work with? I mean, you said you were an absorber, right? That means you’re not just generating it, you have to get it from somewhere, just like Vulcan does. But he can step into a furnace or something, yours would have to come from living things… wouldn’t it?” The implications were… not all that pleasant.

“Well,” Anima said after a moment, “I do generate some of it. Part of my magic has resulting in me having than others to start with, and produce it faster, as a consequence of all the times I’ve drained myself and my body worked over time to produce more.. And when I’m on patrol I can drain people just enough to knock them out. But…” she sounded a little uncomfortable, and I felt bad about asking – it was obvious she didn’t like doing whatever it was, “yes, I do have to get it from somewhere when I need a lot. I, um. I go to animal shelters that have to put down animals, and drain them so that it’s painless. It…” She sounded choked up now, and I really wished I hadn’t asked. “I wish I didn’t have to, but…”

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, then repeated a little louder, not sure if the microphones would have caught me. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked – that was obviously a sore spot and I should have known even before asking that it would be sensitive. I just…” Fuck, here I was screwing up my relationship with the team before I even joined!

“It’s okay,” she said after a moment. “Just.. the point was that as a healer, I feel obligated to help people. Heroes, ideally, because they’re the smallest group that makes the largest difference, at least in my estimation. So… yeah.”

Vulcan hadn’t had his turn yet. But my thoughtless question had stalled the conversation pretty effectively, and after a few minutes of awkward silence, I left.

1.3 Scenes 7-8

Scene 7 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound – Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

 

I found myself back at the MLED compound shortly afterward, trying to commiserate with the Journeymen and failing – instead of allowing me to complain, they were insistent on seeing me do impressions.

“I had no idea you were such a good actor!” Holly said through her laughter.

“This, uh, this isn’t acting,” I said, still in Jeff Goldblum’s voice and fiddling with my fingers. “At best it’s, uh, it’s improv at best. Learning lines is not, uh, my strong suit.”

“It’s still great,” she insisted. “What else can you do? Han Solo, Elvis, William Shatner, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum…”

“How about Oprah?” asked Hypnos – he still hadn’t revealed his identity, insisting that he wouldn’t share unless I joined.

I paused considering. “I haven’t actually taken the time to work one up properly, you understand…” but they were looking at me expectantly, and I don’t want to disappoint my new friends. So I put my hands together, leaned forward a little, and said, “the thing about Oprah is that she often speaks in a very low, very emphatic voice, often about how important something is or how meaningful it is. And sometimes,” I brought my voice higher, adding in a touch more excitement, and point, crying, “she gets excited, and then you get a car, and you get a car, everybody gets a car!

They both laughed, and Holly clapped. “You’re underselling yourself, Quinn,” she told me after we had calmed a little. “I disguise myself all the time as Loki, I know how hard it is to alter your body language and expressions on the turn of a dime like that.”

“Yeah, it’s really impressive,” Hypnos agreed.

I shrugged. “Well, let’s see one of yours,” I challenged her.

“I don’t have a ton of specific people,” she warned. “It’s mostly archetypes, like street thugs and innocent civilians.” Hypnos gestured for her to get on with it, and she took a deep breath. “Let me just step into character here…”

A shimmer went over her body as she stepped to the side, and suddenly she was a heavily built street thug, bearded and slightly balding. “You know what’s good for you, you’ll get the hell outta here,” she warned in a deep voice, pointing over my shoulder. “You don’ wanna know what’s goin’ on.”

“How about an innocent?” I asked.

She straightened and shrunk, turning into a young man in a button-down, sweatervest, and glasses. “I already know everything,” she said in a slightly nasal voice, adjusting her glasses. “There’s a 93% chance that you’re dealing drugs, and an 68% chance that you have a gun – oh.” She swallowed in exaggeration fashion. “Maybe I’ll just go, then.”

I laughed as Hypnos remarked. “That’s mean, shit-talking Vulcan behind his back like that.”

Holly huffed. “I would never shit-talk Vulcan like that!” she protested. “I would shit-talk him like this.”

Her body swelled into something even more muscular than the gangster form, but her clothes remained the same as she said, “I’m Vulcan, and despite being the most muscular man in the city with a jawline that could by mistaken for an anvil, I’m incredibly socially awkward and no one understands how I ever got a boyfriend.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and adjusted the position of her arms, and there was a creaking sound as the sleeves of her button down tore, the massive biceps beneath them popping free. “Oh dear,” she said, Hypnos now laughing so hard he fell off the couch, “I seem to have lost some of my clothing again. I feel quite embarrassed, but at least no one seems to mind -”

“Hey!” came Anima’s voice from the console room. “Don’t make fun.”

“Sorry mom,” Holly called, returning to her normal form – or at least, what I assumed was her normal form – with a shimmer.

“Yeah, sorry,” Hypnos echoed.

I raised an eyebrow. “Anima is your mom?”

She shook her head. “No, we just call her that because she mothers us all the time. It’s sweet, really.”

“If a little overbearing at times.”

“Huh.” I sat on the couch Hypnos wasn’t occupying, and Holly flopped down beside me. Her bare feet ended up in my lap and, after a moment of anxious panic – had she meant to do that? Was this intentional flirting? Was it flirting at all? What should I do? What should I do? – I took a breath and let my hands gently rest over her feet. She wiggled them slightly and I squeezed instinctively.

“Ooh, that felt nice. Keep going, please?” she asked, and I obliged. I felt like I was getting mixed signals overall, but that one at least was pretty clear.

Hypnos smirked at us, but didn’t say anything.

“Listen, I didn’t come here to do impressions,” I said. “I wanted to get advice on whether I should join the Journeymen or not. And costume ideas, because to be frank, that deadline is a lot sooner.”

 

Scene 8 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufmann

 

“Okay, okay, sorry,” said Holly. “Costume ideas and hero advice. Right.”

“Don’t join,” Hypnos said immediately, and I blinked at him.

“That didn’t seem to take much thought,” I noted.

He shrugged. “I thought about it for a long time – before I joined and after.”

“But you did join,” Holly pointed out. “And you haven’t quit.”

“My circumstance is different than Quinn’s,” he said. “I’m here because it gives me access to training and support for my power. It’s not…” he seemed a little embarrassed as he continued, “completely under my control. When I first got it, four or five years ago, I had no control at all – whenever I fell asleep, I would randomly project somewhere. Anywhere.”

“But you have better control now, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I can do it on command now,” he agreed. “I can control where I project to, as well. But I can’t project only a few of my senses with any consistency – it’s all or nothing, most of the time. And I know it’s possible, because there have been a few times that I was able to send just my sight or just my hearing, and even a few times that I was able to divide my senses between the projection and my body. But not consistently.” He sounded kind of angry now. “And I still project without intending to when I sleep, half the time!”

“Sounds frustrating,” I offered.

He nodded, and pulled back his hood to run a hand through his unruly hair. “It is, yeah. It’s gotten better since I joined, thanks to help from the Champions and the trainers the MLED keeps on staff, but… it’s slow going, and I’m not done yet.” He offered a half-smile, although I was pretty sure he was still angry – at himself and his power. “And the college tuition money doesn’t hurt either.”

“Sounds like a good deal,” I said.

“For me, yes. But that’s me. You aren’t in the same place,” he pointed out. “You don’t have any trouble controlling your power – not that you’ve mentioned, at least.” He paused, and I shook my head to confirm that I didn’t. “So you don’t need to training to keep your power under control. And you’re almost done with college, so I assume you don’t need the help to pay for that, either.”

“I sure don’t. Dad’s a professor at UNV, so I get free tuition.”

“All you’d be doing is putting a target on your back by becoming a hero,” Hypnos continued, “and for what?”

“The chance to help people?” Holly suggested.

Hypnos shrugged. “Look, heroing is a noble thing. But New Venice has a bunch of heroes, and not all that many villains.”

“There are a bunch of villains,” I protested. “The Crows, the Buff Boys, the Magnificent Maxwell, Motael, Voltage, Overshadow, Underlight, probably others I haven’t heard of… hell, Legion was here not too long ago, and the Mountain King was based here for his whole career!”

“All small-time as villains go,” he insisted. “There aren’t any serial murderers like Violet Mail or Graviton – the closest we get are accidental killers, like Voltage or Underlight. The Crows keep a tight lock on things, the Buff Boys are, lets face it, not much of a threat, and everyone else is on their own.”

“Overshadow and Underlight work together a lot,” corrected Holly.

Hypnos flicked a hand dismissively. “Legion is from out of town, and the Mountain King isn’t known to have ever killed anyone. And he’s retired, anyway.  Well, probably.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that New Venice doesn’t need another hero,” he said. “You probably wouldn’t do much for the time you were on the Journeymen. And then, after graduating, you would probably be sent somewhere else.”

“That…” I sighed. I realized I had stopped massaging Holly’s foot when she wiggled it again, and I continued. “I don’t really want to leave.”

“Then don’t join,” Hypnos advised.

“Counterpoint,” Holly said. “If you officially turn down the offer, the loopholes we’ve been using to let you visit will close, and we won’t be able to hang out as much. And I don’t want to lose access to these foot massages you’re apparently giving out now!” She grinned at me impishly, wiggling her feet in my grasp again. This time when I let go, she pulled her legs back and shifted to sit on them instead of lying halfway into my lap.

“Very funny. Do you have any serious advice here?”

Her face fell a little. “That was serious, I’m afraid,” she said. “Well, not the foot massage part, as nice as it was. But there really are rules that allow ‘prospective members’ to visit ‘for the purpose of exposing them to the environment’.” Her words literally appeared in the air above her, quotes and all, and I marveled at the mundane utility of her light-bending skill. “It’s only intended to be for a single visit, but we’ve been bending the rules to let you keep coming.”

“Holly is right, I’m sad to say,” Anima’s voice said, and I started a little – I had forgotten that she could hear everything we said from her seat in the console room. “That particular loophole only works if you’re considering joining.”

“Well,” I sighed. “I still haven’t made up my mind. Anything beyond that?”

“One or two things. First up, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be transferred out. Hypnos is right that it’s a strong possibility because New Venice doesn’t have the craziest villains, but it is a decent-sized city and we need more than a few heroes to keep it all covered. I’ve had to learn about scheduling stuff, but you should ask Canaveral if you really want to get an earful about it.”

“Is he in today?” I asked.

“He and Vulcan are in the New Champion’s wing at the moment,” Anima confirmed – Holly, Hypnos, and I were all in the central, shared space at the moment. “Since you’re over 21, you’re welcome to join them.”

“Do they have good beer?” Hypnos asked. “Please tell me I have something to look forward to if I can’t get my power under control in the next three years.”

“I’ll check,” I promised him.

“What I was trying to say,” Holly said, and we glanced back to her, “is that we could use another hero. I’m going to be graduating before long myself, but I know that Starling has been thinking about moving on from the city, so your chances of staying aren’t as bad as you think.”

“He’s leaving? Really?” Hypnos asked. “That’s surprising. He’s been here longer than me – longer than Canaveral!”

“Starling has been lobbying to be placed in charge of a team,” Anima informed us. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but he feels he was passed over for leadership of the Champions when Canaveral was placed here.”

“But he hadn’t even taken the leadership courses yet,” Holly said, sounding a little confused, and Anima made a noncommittal noise that I suspected accompanied a shrug.

“You’re taking those, right?” I asked Holly, and she nodded.

“Yeah, I have to as part of being the Journeymen’s leader. They’re okay, I guess.

“Holly’s an excellent leader,” Hypnos told me. “Her powers lend themself well to both gathering and distributing information and battlefield control, and she has a good head for tactics. We only won the last Champions-Journeymen paintball tournament thanks to her.”

“You’re gonna make me blush,” Holly protested – when I glanced at her, though, she showed no signs of blushing. Her eyes darted to meet mine a moment later, and then red spread across her cheeks.

“That was the first thing,” I said. “What about the second thing?”

“What things? Oh right!” She gave me a grin again, her blush fading, and said, “You should become a hero because it’s fun. It’s stressful and dangerous and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Magic is wonderful, yes, but it’s a slow and steady thing – heroing is like a rollercoaster. You never quite know what you’re going to get next.”

“Poetic,” I commented. “But what about costume ideas?”

1.3 Scenes 4-6

Scene 4 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library – Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman 

A few days later, I was at the library doing some research for this week’s Metahuman History course. We were each assigned to pick one figure from early metahuman history and write a paper about their lives and impacts on today’s society – I had chosen Aaron Atwick. I was skimming through Atwick’s Argument, a biography of the man which alternated between chapters telling about his life and chapters relating that portion of his life to parts of his most famous theory, when he had proved that 20% of metahumans used magic.

It was the kind of book I would love to read for pleasure, but as a source for a research paper, I had to admit that it left something to be desired. The biography chapters were too fictionalized to be used as sources, while the science portions were too split up. Still, I was resolved to at least finish skimming, and intended to check it out to read properly later.

After a few more minutes, I set it aside and turned to the next book I had pulled from the shelves, Scientific Sorcery, another biography of Atwick which was ought to be less fictionalized. Before I could open it, though, a familiar figure sat across from me.

 “Quinn!” said my friend Devon Durandel brightly, setting down a thick sheaf of papers. “It’s nice to run into you. How are you doing?”

I smiled at them. “I’m doing…” I trailed off, then shook my head. “No, I shouldn’t lie. I’m at a real turning point here, Devon, and I don’t know what to do. Everything feels like it’s up in the air, and I don’t know what to do.” I gestured to my own stack of books. “I’ve been throwing myself into schoolwork to try and avoid thinking about it, but it hasn’t helped much.”

They nodded. “I know how that is. I did something similar when I was starting to come to grips with being nonbinary – I thought if I kept myself busy those thoughts would go away, but…”

“…but they keep breaking in,” I agreed. “It’s a real pain.”

“Sure is,” they said, then took the first paper off of their stack. “Well, I’d be happy to try and give you advice if you’d like. If you’d prefer silence, I need to read these papers.”

“Advice would be nice, but… maybe in a little bit,” I said. I needed to figure out exactly how much I was going to tell them. “Let’s try distracting me at least once more. What papers do you have there?”

“I’m doing research for a patient with a particularly stubborn type of Alzheimers,” they explained. “I can’t give you identifiable details, obviously.”

“Of course.”

“That said, I can tell you it’s a tricky situation. It’s not any of the most common types of the disease – the hospital’s magical healer can treat those just fine, if slowly. It’s some kind of odd variant that hasn’t been seen before.”

“Already troublesome,” I commented. “Do you have any idea why?”

“Some,” they said. “The patient in question apparently has decades of exposure to magical artifacts, which may have affected their genetics or even caused them to build up a resistance to magic.”

“Have you tried contacting Arthur Peregrine?” I asked. “Greatest magician and greatest healer in the world, he might have some ideas.”

“That insight was the result of contacting Peregrine,” Devon informed me. “I’ve been treating this patient for three years, and sent a message to him about a year and a half ago. He only just got back to me, along with suggestions for studies I should look into that might help me untangle the magical mess.” They patted the stack of papers. “Therefore…”

“I assume the patient can’t afford Peregrine Hospital?”

They shook their head. “No. There’s an anonymous donor who’s paying for their stay at NV General, but their pockets don’t run nearly that deep – or they’re not willing to, for an Alzheimer’s patient who still has at least a few years longer. I’m told the family is trying to raise money for it, but…”

I nodded. “Not an option right now. So this magical mess is keeping the magical healers from being able to treat it?”

“It’s keeping them from diagnosing it properly, too. So we’re stuck with conventional methods, which have never been all that successful for Alzheimer’s, let alone this weird variety.”

“That sucks,” I commiserated. “I hope you can find an answer for this guy.”

“So do I.”

We fell silent, each returning to our reading.

Scene 5 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

It was some time later that I finally worked up the nerve to ask Devon for help. “It’s a job thing,” I said out of the blue, and they glanced up at me.

“This is your turning point?” they asked.

I nodded. “It’s… alright, hypothetical situation.”

Devon set the paper they had been reading aside. “Is this one of those hypothetical situations where it’s actually you?”

“It might be,” I hedged, probably unconvincingly. “Hypothetically.”

They nodded. “Hypothetically. Alright, go on.”

“Hypothetically, I’ve recently discovered a unique skill,” I began. “A talent that qualifies me for a job that I didn’t think I could do, before, and therefore never looked into.”

“Is this a job that you’d like to do? Hypothetically?” they added with a definite smirk.

“Hypothetically, it may have been my dream when I was a kid,” I admitted. “But childhood dreams aren’t based on knowing what it’s actually like, you know?”

“I do,” they admitted. “Are you having second thoughts about wanting it, now that it’s actually possible?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s more that…” I drummed my fingers on the table. “It’s a really big commitment,” I finally said. “Hypothetically, it could eat up my entire life. It certainly wouldn’t let me become a doctor as well. Which makes all of the time I’ve spent studying for it feel like a waste.”

“Have you enjoyed your studies?”

“Well, yeah. Most of the time.”

“Not a waste, then.”

“Fair enough.”

“What else?” they asked.

“Well… I suppose one of the big things is that the job might require me to move to another city,” I told them. “I like New Venice, I don’t want to leave. And besides… my dad is here. All my friends, too, those few that I have.”

“Is this one of those jobs that’s very lucrative? You could potentially bring him with you.”

I shook my head. “No, it’s not.” Then I paused – heroes had merchandise, after all, and while part of it went to the government and part of it went to charity, I was sure that part of it went to the hero as well. The most popular of heroes – Aegis, for example – no doubt made a tidy income from those royalties combined with the MLED salary. But it wasn’t as though I would ever be one of those hyper-popular figures. “Probably not, anyway,” I corrected myself.

“Well, it’s not the end of the world if you end up moving,” Devon told me. “I’ve done it myself – I’m lucky to have gotten to stay at NV General after my residency, but I’m not originally from New Venice. You’re a good kid, you’ll make new friends. And hey,” they added, “you don’t have to lose contact with the friends you have here. You’re not going to lose my number just because you moved. Your dad isn’t going to forget you just because you don’t live with him anymore.”

“You’re right,” I admitted, “it’s just a big decision, you know? It’s a completely different direction for my life than what I had planned up until now.”

“It sounds like it,” Devon agreed. “That kind of decision shouldn’t be made lightly. How long do you have to decide?”

I was still in my one month grace period, having only gotten my powers two weeks ago, so… “I have another two weeks before I really need to make a decision,” I said. “After that I think I could still take the job, but it would probably be a little more complicated to do so.” Director Shepard had told me personally that she wanted to have me as a hero, after all, and I knew that there were metahumans who had retired from heroing into the private sector, or vice versa. I had to assume that there was paperwork involved, though.

“Then take your time,” they advised. “Don’t rush into it. Talk to people you trust, get their view on things. Talk to people who’re already in this job, if you can, see what they think. Talk to your dad.”

“He’s all for it. You know him – he believes in me 100 percent, even if I don’t.”

“I guess I should have expected that. David is a great guy and a good father.”

“Yeah.”

Devon seemed to be hesitating for a moment, then asked, “Speaking of your dad, has he told you how his health is recently? I worry about the guy.”

“Not really. He was in the hospital again recently, but he was out again before long. We don’t tend to talk details about it – he doesn’t like talking about it, I don’t think.” Neither did I, really.

“I can understand that, I guess,” they admitted, “but still. Ask him what’s up. For now though, let’s talk about something a little lighter than intractable Alzheimer’s or your father’s health or a hypothetical job as a superhero -”

“Did I say superhero?”

“Hypothetically, I might be making an assumption,” they said, giving me a wink, “but am I wrong?”

“You are not,” I admitted. “Hypothetically.”

“So yeah, let’s turn to a lighter subject. What are you doing for Halloween this year?”

Scene 6 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library – Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 I blinked. “Fuck, I completely forgot! I’ve been so wrapped up in this new thing that I haven’t even thought about it!” I cupped my face in my hands and groaned. “God, what can I even put together in just three days?”

“You know you can just buy a costume, right?” Devon asked.

I peeled off a hand to give them a look. “You can just buy a costume. I have a reputation.” It wasn’t one I had asked for, admittedly, but at this point it would disappoint people if I didn’t live up to it.

“…I think I’m missing something.”

“One of the fraternities at UNV hosts this big costume party every year on Halloween,” I explained. “They rent out a nice big space and invite everyone in the college – it’s both surprisingly accepting and surprisingly responsible, for a frat party. They check drinking ages, designated drivers get free drinks, the frat bros themselves are constantly roaming, making sure no one is being harassed or dangerously drunk.”

“Sounds like a nice party.”

“It is. And I’ve won the costume contest for the last three years running,” I said proudly. “So I can’t show up in a store bought costume – it’s got to be something good.”

“Hm…” Devon eyed me appraisingly, probably picturing me in various costumes. “What costumes have you won with in the past?”

I raised a finger. “Freshmen year I dressed up as a wizard. I had a robe, flash paper for special effects, and a pretty realistic-looking fake beard.” Another finger. “Sophomore year I made myself up as Han Solo – the tricky part there was the makeup, more than the outfit. And the impression, too, but I managed to get it down. That was when I was starting to have less time, classes kicking into high gear.” A third finger. “And last year I had even less time, but I borrowed a leather jacket, gelled my hair to hell and back, and did an early Elvis.”

“Sounds like your best bet is something that you can do mostly with an impression, then. Can you work one up in three days?”

“For the length of a party, probably. But of who?”

“Well, you’ve got a couple different genres represented so far. The wizard is fantasy, Han is sci-fi, and Elvis is real life. Maybe someone from a romance? How about whatshisface from Pride and Prejudice?”

“No way,” I said, shaking my head. “Recognition is important for a contest like this. It’s gotta be something recognizable – people vote for things they know as much as they do for impressive costumes. If I’m up against someone who has a good costume but of someone more recognizable…”

“Fair enough,” Devon admitted. “I don’t know then.”

“I’ll have to keep thinking about it,” I said with a sigh, “and quickly.”

1.3 Scenes 1-3

Scene 1 – October 26th
Exterior City – Late Morning
Quinn Kaufman

I left the Compound with my father, still feeling stunned. He, I assumed, had received a similar message, as he wore approximately the same expression.

We reached his car where it was parked a ways away after a few minutes of walking, and he began unlocking it, but then stopped. “You know what?” he said to me. “We’ve got nothing going on for the rest of the day. Lets go get lunch somewhere. We haven’t done that in a while.”

“Sure,” I said agreeably. “Wherever you’re in the mood for is fine.” I didn’t feel as though I had the capacity to make a choice about that myself – I had been flattened by Legion’s message.

We continued walking, still in silence and more aimless than when we had been returning to Dad’s car. He didn’t seem to know exactly what he was looking for, just keeping an eye out as we roamed the downtown area.

Some time later, we ended up at a stir fry place. We ordered something simple, watched in increasing hunger as a chef cooked it in front of us, and then, finally, my dad seemed ready to talk.

Scene 2 – October 26th
Interior Restaurant – Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“So,” he said as we sat with our finished dishes, “I’m guessing that she had a message for you from Laura?”

I nodded. “Not much of one,” I had to say. “Just that she didn’t want to leave, and that she was sorry. For all that’s worth.”

He sighed. “I was told much the same thing. Legion didn’t want to elaborate on what had actually happened – apparently Laura had been like a mother to her, over the years they spent together, and speaking of it is painful. But I wish…”

“That we knew why,” I said, quietly, and he nodded. “We may never know, unfortunately. Legion was the only lead, and this her is going to be gone before long.”

We ate. Slowly, still digesting the revelation we had been given, we ate.

“One great truth in life I’ve found, / While journeying to the West-” Dad began a few minutes later. “The only folks who really wound / Are those we love the best.”

I raised my eyebrow. “More quotes, dad?”

“Ella Wheeler Wilcox,” he said. “The people whose actions hurt us the most are the ones who we care about.”

“I understand the quote, I’m just not sure of the relevance.”

“We’re hurting right now. We just learned something painful – that Laura didn’t die all those years ago, like we thought, but simply… left. Somehow, for some reason. And we may never know why, because she is, after all, dead.”

“Great recap, but…”

Dad raised a finger, and I trailed off to let him continue. “We’re hurting,” he said, “because we loved her. And she loved us, too. But perhaps we can take our comfort from that – even years afterward the last time we saw each other, her last thoughts were of the two of us.”

I turned this over in my head for a few minutes as we continued the meal. Something about his proposal didn’t feel right, at least not for me, and I wasn’t sure why.

Maybe it was that… I barely remembered my mother. I hadn’t heard her voice outside of recordings until today. I had seen her in pictures, but… I barely knew anything about the woman, really. Dad spoke of her so rarely, that…

Legion’s message had been a shock to me, yes. But, I was starting to realize, not for the same reason if was for my father. It was shocking because it was forcing me to examine my feelings for my long-gone mother, in a way I hadn’t really ever done before.

I had admired her, the little I knew about her. Laura Kaufman had been a neurologist, a research doctor. She had worked in metahuman medicine, just like I wanted to. It had, in fact, probably been an influence on me – perhaps I had wanted to feel connected to her.

But the truth was, I didn’t particularly care – not as much as perhaps I should. Legion’s message was a long-gone woman seeking connection to a child that had never known her, but that connection wasn’t there. Perhaps a few years ago, yes, back in those uncertain years when I had been unsure of who I was or who I would be, when I was struggling with my gender and sexuality and finding my footing. Now, however, I knew who I was – not where I was going, admittedly, but I knew the person I was at this moment.

I was the child of David Kaufman. Laura Kaufman was a woman I had never known. It was unfortunate that it could never change, yes, but it was what it was.

“I’m no good at poetry,” I eventually said to my father, “but I think there’s one for this. And I’m sorry, but… it’s Edgar Guest, I think? Something about what makes a family?”

He rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “The Stick-Together Families?”

“That sounds right.”

“The stick-together families are happier by far / Than the brothers and the sisters who take separate highways are. / The gladdest people living are the wholesome folks who make / A circle at the fireside that no power but death can break,” he quoted. “Is that the one?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not sure of the relevance.”

“It’s…” I sighed. “I’m sorry to say it, but… you, me, and mom haven’t been a stick-together family.”

“No,” he said quietly. “We haven’t.”

“And maybe it wasn’t by choice, but… no one can change the past. And you and me, dad?” I reached across the table to take his hand, and gave it a squeeze. “The two of us have been a stick-together family. We’ve gotten on just fine without her.”

He didn’t say anything, just staring at the table.

“I never really knew mom,” I said, apologetically. “I know you loved her, but… I’m not feeling hurt in the same way you are. I’m feeling… more that I lost the idea of her, I guess. And you…”

“I feel like I got her back only to lose her again moments later,” he said, and I squeezed his hand again.

“I’m sorry, dad,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m glad you did. I’ve always raised you to be honest with me. Thank you for sharing. But…” he sighed. “Maybe we should talk about something else.”

“Okay,” I said agreeably. “I wouldn’t mind not thinking about this myself.”

 

Scene 3 – October 26th
Exterior City – Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

It took us a few minutes to find a new conversation topic – long enough to pay for lunch and then make it back to the car. As we headed home, though, Dad asked, “Do you have any better idea about whether or not you’re going to join the Journeymen?”

I groaned. “No, I’m afraid not. I like the people, but…”

“Is this your anxiety again?” he asked. “We’ve been over this, right?”

“You know it’s not that simple, dad.”

“Sorry.”

“But no, it’s not just anxiety and inferiority,” I said. “It’s a bunch of things.”

“Talk to me,” he requested. “What else is going through your head?”

“Well, number one is moving cities,” I told him. “I was hanging out with the Journeymen a couple days ago, and it’s something that Simone mentioned – when you join an MLED training team like the Journeymen, you don’t have to move. Well,” I amended myself, “not unless you moved to get to a city with a compound. But in general, you don’t have to move. When you graduate, however…”

“You get moved to a different city?”

I shrugged. “Potentially, yes. They move heroes around to keep up with different situations, to give people experience working with different groups… some people end up in one city for years at a time, usually team leaders like Canaveral, but its rarely their home city.”

“I remember that he wasn’t always working out of New Venice,” Dad commented. “He was in… Los Angelos? Is that right?”

“Vegas, but yeah. He moved here four years ago and was put in charge of the New Champions.”

“Why is it the New Champions, anyway? Who were the original Champions?”

“They were the first hero team in New Venice,” I said, thinking back to my Metahuman History class. “Back in the early 20th century, before the DMO was set up to sponsor heroes. They split up a little before World War II, probably because they had sympathies for different sides of the war – one of them, Dr. Hart, actually worked for the Nazis. But that’s off topic,” I scolded.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “You were talking about maybe leaving New Venice?”

“Right,” I said. “The MLED moves heroes around a lot, so…” I shrugged.

“Is that a bad thing?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “It’s not something I had considered before. And that’s not all.”

“Go on.”

“I kind of feel like people are pushing me to be a hero. Or use my powers at least,”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I assured him. “It’s no different than when you were pushing me to be a doctor.” He made a face, and I laughed. “But I need to untangle my feelings, you know? Figure out if I actually want to be a hero or if it’s just that everyone seems to think I should be.”

“I can see why you’re having trouble making up your mind,” he commented.

“Oh, there’s more.” Dad groaned, and I laughed again. “I think I’ve brought it up before, but it feels kind of like throwing away a career I’ve made a couple years of headway on for another career that will take years to master. It’s a big change, and not a ton of my current skills will carry over.”

“That’s true,” Dad admitted. “First aid, I suppose, but heroes are mostly able to leave that to MLED agents and paramedics, and focus on threats.”

“Exactly. There’s a lot to consider.” We turned into our driveway as I continued, “And hell, I don’t even really know what it would be like! I got the impression that the one night I’ve spent working with Canaveral wasn’t a typical drug bust. And while I’ve spent time with my prospective co-workers, that’s not the same as trying to job.”

“You should ask if they take interns,” Dad suggested.

I laughed. “Oh, everyone takes interns! The question is, do those interns actually learn anything, or just fetch coffee?”

“Hey, you can learn a lot fetching coffee.”

“Like what?”

“How to carry hot liquid without burning yourself, for one.”

“True, true. How to run without spilling anything.”

“How to find a good local coffeeshop.”

“How to hide a body.”

“Hide a body?”

“In the coffee beans, obviously.” Dad broke down and laughed, and I cheered in victory as I unlocked the door to our house.

1. Act 3: Soft Starshine at Night

I am the soft star-shine at night. -Mary Elizabeth Frye

Scenes 1-3, Scenes 4-6

Scenes 7-8, Scenes 9-10, Scenes 11-12, Scenes 13-14

Scenes 15-18, Scenes 19-22

Intermission (Scenes 1-5)

Dramatis Personae

 

Principal Cast

David Kaufman, Quinn’s father and a chronically ill poetry professor. (he/him)
Quinn Kaufman, a young metahuman making an important decision about their life. (they/them)

A Legion of Heroes

Abraham Armstrong, the superhero Canaveral and leader of the New Champions. (he/him)
Adam Abelard, the superhero Vulcan, who can transform into metal to create both ice and fire. (he/him)
Benjamin Brant, the superhero Starling, who can fly for brief moments and creates incredible technology. (he/him)
Holly Koval, the young superhero Loki and friend of Quinn, who can magically shape light and sound into not-quite illusions. (she/her and he/him)
Miriam Wright, the superheroine Anima, who can command the zoetic energy of life. (she/her)
Niccolo Mellas, the young superhero Hypnos, who can project his senses at a distance. (he/him)
Simone Destrey, the young superheroine Journey and a friend of Holly, who can teleport. (she/her)

An Assortment of Villains

Alessandra DeVitto, the supervillainess Hertz, who can control vibrations. (she/her)
Maria DeVitto, the supervillainess La Borda and Alessandra’s wife, who can control spacetime. (she/her)
Miles Mercer, an employee of the Ambrosia Company also known as Middleman, who can magically trade things of similar value. (he/him)

A Circle of Civilians

Devon Durandel, David’s former doctor and a friend of Quinn’s. (they/them)
Henry Blackmire, the former local director and now local deputy director of the Metahuman Law Enforcement Division, or MLED. (he/him)
Joanne Marigold, a history professor concerned for her student, Quinn. (she/her)
Susan Shepard, the local director of the MLED. (she/her)