4th November, 14:11
Irene wanted to commit murder.
No, that wasn’t quite right.
She wanted to call up her dad and tell him to come over. They could do all that sappy tv-bonding while they slowly drove Melody’s family insane. They could invite Melody to join in and teach her to let all that repressed anger out. Much healthier that way. Dad would make the bodies disappear, and then they could all go and eat some ice cream.
And that would be wrong. The driving-people-insane-before-killing-them part, not the one that involved eating ice cream.
In fact, she was quite sure that going to eat ice cream would be a very good idea, whether or not they ended up going supervillain on these people. It should cheer Melody up.
It wasn’t that Melody’s family was impolite – her brothers had certainly kept their eyes glued to Irene’s body, despite her clothes not showing all that much, but that was to be expected – or actively mean, but… they were treating Melody like some kind of Pariah, all while being all nice and hospitable.
Her power had already suggested twenty-three different ways to painfully murder them, by way of switching between some of the nastier powers Irene had ever held. Some, Melody wouldn’t even have to know were her w- No, don’t even start to think like that!
She took a centering breath and refocused her attention on Melody’s grandmother, Amelia, who was sitting at the head of the table, the matriarch of the family. A short, but still surprisingly agile and energetic woman in her late seventies. Her pure white hair had been tied up in a bun, she was wearing a simple blue dress (the family seemed to favour blue a lot) and eating slowly, in small bites. She was looking at her, as if waiting for something.
Her power focused, replaying the last few seconds for her – she’d been asked why she’d decided to be a superhero.
“It’s rather simple, ma’am,” she replied, putting fork and knife down. She was glad for the excuse to stop eating – she wasn’t hungry and the food wasn’t bad, but her mood didn’t let her enjoy it, anyway. “I want to make a positive difference in the world. The heroes desperately need more power on their side, so I joined to provide that.”
The old woman smiled, nodding. That was the worst part of the day, so far. They weren’t anti-metahuman, or anti-superhero or anything. In fact, except for Melody’s mother, who seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. Irene hadn’t peeked into her head (yet) to find out what it was about.
No, it was way, way worse. But she’d promised Melody she’d play nice, so…
“Though, to be honest, Melody has done far more good so far than I have,” she continued while she picked her cutlery up again. Everyone at the table, including Melody – who had barely used her vocalizer so far, staying quiet – looked at her. “It’s true,” she said, throwing a look around. Five people, not counting her and Melody. Her two younger brothers, her parents, her grandmother. The rest of the (rather big) family wasn’t there today, which was just as well. “She’s created a gadget for protecting United Heroes personnel against sonic attacks. That’s going to save a lot of lives.”
“Yes, Melody always had a hand for practical stuff,” Cadance, Melody’s tall mother (she looked like a taller, older version of her daughter, minus the massive bust and more wrinkles), said with a just barely non-condescending tone. Irene felt her small finger twitch, almost blasting a hole in the wall. Almost. “But I’m sure you’ll be able to match her – someone with power like yours can surely keep up with anyone.” The woman smiled at her, which only made Irene angrier.
She opened her mouth to remark that Melody’s music was even better than her gadgets, but her friend kicked her leg under the table. ‘Please don’t. You’ll only ruin the mood’, Melody spoke into her head, having apparently guessed her intentions. She closed her mouth, feeling the anger boil inside her belly.
Because, it wasn’t that the Stenton family had anything against one of their members being a superhero, or a metahuman. No, it was just the fact that Melody’s powers were musical. More to the point, they’d turned the only non-gifted member of the family – the daughter they’d already written off – into the most successful musician it had ever known.
As far as they were concerned, Melody was a cheater.
And Irene was this close to cracking, because ever since they’d entered the house, Melody had acted like she believed it herself.
‘You don’t have to take this,’ she told her best friend as she returned to making meaningless chit-chat. ‘You don’t have to let them make you feel like less than you are.’
‘They’re family,’ Melody said, looking sideways at her with a gentle smile. ‘They’ll change their mind, eventually.’
‘Bollocks,’ Irene replied, focusing on the casual conversation Melody’s father and brothers were trying to draw her into, about her costume. They wanted to know where she’d gotten the idea.
“The cape belonged to my mother – she used it in the years before she became pregnant with me,” she replied casually. This wasn’t all that interesting. “The bodysuit is just comfortable, and a nice contrast. White and black, light and dark.”
“Interesting. So, you’re proud of being their daughter?” Amelia asked, her voice curious and very precise (she was a former opera singer).
Irene turned her head to look at the old woman. “Of course I am,” she spoke with utter conviction in her voice.
“Even though your father is a monster?”, the old woman continued, her voice harder. Everything fell silent in the room.
I will not blow off her head, I will not blow off her head, I will not blow off her head…
“Whatever else he may be, he is my father,” Irene said carefully, enunciating the words slowly, deliberately, to prevent her voice from slipping into its usual abnormal form. “And he has always been good to me. I will judge him by that, first.” ‘He’s certainly a better father than yours seems to be,’ she thought towards Melody. She didn’t reply, but Irene felt a surge of sadness and shame that made her feel bad, instead. She shouldn’t put this on Melody.
“That is both admirable and dangerous – just because he is good to his family doesn’t mean he’s a good man, do you understand that?” Amelia continued, keeping her gaze steady.
“No, but that’s where it starts,” she countered with more vinegar in her voice than she’d wanted. At least it didn’t slip. “I know what he’s done. What he still does. But I can’t very well take any influence on him if I shut him out, now can I?”
The atmosphere at the table grew colder.
“And how does your mother justify being with him?” Cadance asked, drawing Irene’s attention to her. She looked as furious as Irene felt. “She’s had more than a century to work on him, and he hasn’t gotten better. I’m not even sure she’s trying. And yet she still calls herself a superhero, being together with a man who murders countless innocents!”
Irene called on her power, and for once found it responsive, reaching out, assembling data without actually invading minds.
She lost someone to dad, or to his subordinates.
“I don’t know what happened to make you so mad,” she said, calming down a little. “But whatever else you may think of me, or my father, don’t presume to judge my mother.”
The temperature in the room fell, again, as she put steel into her gaze.
“It’s the fourth of November today, of the year two-thousand and twelve. It’s fourteen past two,” she said, slowly. “It has been eighty-nine years, ten months, three days, fourteen hours and two minutes since she gained her powers. Eight days later, she put on what later became her costume for the first time. In all that time – nearly a century – my mother has never, ever called herself a hero.”
She put her cutlery down, folding her hands on the table in front of her. “Superhero, Queen of Superheroes, the Paragon of Modern Virtue… those are all labels the public put on her, labels she’s protested against more than once. There is a reason she is not actually a legal member of the United Heroes, only an independent advisor. My mother has never, ever pretended to be anything but what she is – a woman with her own set of beliefs, who does what she thinks is right and asks others to do the same.”
Looking up, she circled the table with her gaze, looking them all in the eyes one after the other. “If people expect her to be a paragon of virtue who always does what they feel is ‘good’, that’s their problem, not hers. She wants to be together with my father – who may well be the only man in the world she can really share her life with – and no one has the right to tell her not to. Besides, have you ever stopped to think about how bad my father could get if she wasn’t doing her best to moderate him?”
“That isn’t… it doesn’t… he’s still a monster! How can she be with him!?” Cadance threw back, flustered. “Even if what you say is true, how can she consider herself a good person!?”
Suddenly, Irene’s anger vanished. Or at least, it died down. She’s just lashing out… why? Her power surged, but… no. She quickly took a few pills, calming herself and her power.
“My mother has literally saved billions of lives – and that’s not even counting all the people saved by her charities, or the people she trained or advised – so I think regardless of what she may or may not call herself, no one has the right to criticise her for anything until they’ve spent most of a century doing nothing but helping people,” she said calmly. “And before you say anything else, I think it’s pretty fucking low of you to bring up this kind of topic at a friendly get-together. And that’s nothing compared to how you treat your own daughter.”
Melody threw her a wild, scared glance, but Irene ignored her. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed! I literally have a nigh-unlimited breadth of power at my beck and call, and I don’t need it to get it. You’ve been making snide comments about her all the time, when you weren’t just ignoring her, and I find it pretty fucking sad that the Dark is a better parent than both of you,” She pointed her finger at Melody’s parents, who looked utterly shocked, “because he at least isn’t jealous of me for being better at something, nor does he treat me like a pariah!“
She rose from her seat, the chair flying backwards across the dining room of the old colonial mansion. Grabbing Melody’s hand, she dragged her out of the room.
‘Irene, what are you doing!?’ the startled girl asked, just barely remembering to grab her vocalizer.
She stomped out of the house, slamming the door shut. “We’re going to Italy. I know the best ice cream parlor in the whole world, and we can visit the Colosseum, too!”
* * *
4th November, 21:25
In Basil’s hideout, Prisca, Dalia and Vasiliki had spent the last two hours blowing stuff up.
Well, that was a little inaccurate. To be precise, Vasiliki had been trying to blow Gilgul up. Having picked up a lot about proper research from Basil, she’d made sure to include control samples (which meant she always tried to blow something else up along with her, to see how each attempt worked). So far, nothing had worked on Gilgul, which made Prisca feel quite smug.
The hour before that, they’d been following Basil’s advice, testing Dalia’s power against Gilgul. The results had been too random to make sense off, and they’d decided to wait for Basil to make sense of that stuff. It was his speciality, anyway. So they’d been blowing stuff up, instead. But now Gilgul’s time was running out, because apparently being covered in acid that ate through steel, set on fire and then blown up with enough force to rattle the walls of what Basil called his Fun Room (the one set apart for explosive testing) was actually taxing for her power. And that was just a single experiment.
They’d reached number thirty-four now. And Vasiliki claimed she could still come up with more.
“Wow, you must be… a nightmare to fight out there,” Prisca commented as she let Gilgul sit down on the floor, conserving time.
Vasiliki, who was naked (apparently, some of her rituals required nakedness, and she’d also remarked that there was a worrying tendency for her clothes to get torn up all the time, so she was taking precautions now) and quite sweaty enough to have Dalia’s eyes glued to her, breathed deeply and replied, “Not really, I… I can’t pull this stuff off on the fly… nor can I enchant something with… all of this. What I can do… on the fly, or through artifacts, is nothing compared to what I can do with a ritual, but they take too much time. Besides, I don’t want to… strip naked outside… you know?”
Prisca nodded, letting her spear fade away, followed by her armor, which she quickly replaced with a simple green sundress. “But if it comes down to it, you can pull out the big guns?”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Dalia threw in, jumping up. “Did I see that right? You can just… change clothes, at will!?”
The other two girls looked at her in surprise – she’d been rather quiet since they stopped experimenting with her power – and rolled their eyes.
“Yes, I can wear anything I want, in this form. Now, back to important stuff,” Prisca said, turning back to Vasiliki. “So, about my question?”
The girl shrugged, still breathing hard. “N-no, I’m… unable to really go beyond the… the paragon tier. Biggest thing I’ve ever managed was when Basil and I were testing my power. I managed to blow up some whole cars at the junkyard, and melt some others. One time, I took a bus apart.”
Prisca eyed her suspiciously. “And did you do that stuff… naked, with him?”
Vasiliki blushed, and nodded. “B-but I made sure he promised not to look!”
The redhead in front of her nodded, satisfied. “Not like he’d be interested, even if he hadn’t promised it. Basil is weird about girls.”
They all chuckled about that.
“Yeah, how do you feel about that? He kinda totally ignored you in favour of his sister!” Dalia threw in, sliding over to sit next to them, dressed in sweatpants and a shirt.
Prisca shrugged, drawing Dalia’s gaze to her barely covered chest. She wasn’t into girls, at all, but she enjoyed peoples attention… after years of having nothing to draw it to herself. Except, of course, for… “Look, I know Basil. That’s just what he is – bloody oblivious. I knew that going in, and honestly… even disregarding how he’s saved my life twice now, he was with me even… before I got my power and turned into this.”
The other two nodded, slightly uncomfortable. They’d both quickly learned that Prisca preferred to see her projection as her real body, and neither of them was quite comfortable with that. But neither did they confront her about it.
“So I guess I can forgive him for being… himself. Besides, his sister is really nice,” Prisca continued, oblivious herself. “Even after I tried to… um…” She blushed, suddenly cutting off.
“Whaaaat?” asked Dalia with a grin. “Does this relate to… the Incident?” Prisca had let it slip, days earlier, how she’d tried to get Basil into bed with herself, and failed. Even Vasiliki had laughed herself sick, and was now leaning in curiously.
Blushing even more, Prisca answered, “Well, two days later, I visited… in this form, because Basil said his sister knew about him, anyway, and he thought it’d be pointless to keep my power a secret from her – she wouldn’t rat us out, anyway. So, um, Basil was still asleep – he’s been sleeping a lot, lately, recovering – and we got to talking and… she’d kind of… sort of… listened in on us, on that night. And she, uh…”
“Totally berated you for not seducing her little brother properly?” Vasiliki helped her along with a grin.
“Um, yes…” Prisca replied, wide-eyed. “How did you know? I mean, this isn’t normal behaviour, I think…”
Shrugging, Vasiliki rose to her feet. “I’ve gotten to know Amy a little. She’s just the type to go that route.” She looked at Dalia. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d actually encourage us all having an orgy with Basil. She’s just the type for liking the idea of her brother scoring with two – or three, now – supernaturally hot girls. She’s probably been encouraging him to do so, actually.”
“Y-you think she’d do that? Sounds more like something a guy would say to his little brother!” Prisca threw in, exasperated.
“That’s Amy for you. Basil is not one to tell, but I can read between the lines, and it sounds like she’s quite… promiscious. Not in a bad way, I think, because Basil would totally have a cow about that, but still,” Vasiliki finished, leaning on her staff. “Anyway, I’m tired. I’ll get a shower, then go home.”
“I’ll come along. You shouldn’t be going around alone at this time, not with the way things are right now. And I can just wink out once you’re safe home,” Prisca said, standing up, her clothes melting and reforming into heavy winter clothes. “What about you, Dalia? Want me to walk you home?”
The other redhead shook her head. “Nah, I’ll shower and crash here. No school tomorrow, anyway, and mom probably won’t notice, anyway.”
“Alright… call if you need anything,” Prisca said, a little unsure. Dalia rarely talked about her mother, she’d found out, and it was never good. She wondered what her home life was like, if she preferred sleeping in Basil’s underground hideout alone. “Actually, keep the console on – we can play some games or something, later.”
Dalia raised an eyebrow. “I thought your time was running out?”
“Which means I’ll be waking up soon. I can just use the computer Basil made for me to link with this place, and we can play games, or watch movies. I’m sure Eudocia will j- uh, forget that!” She slapped her hands in front of her mouth.
“Eu-what?” asked Dalia.
“Eudocia… ‘good thought’? Sounds like the kind of name Basil would give to something. Or someone. Who is Eudocia?” asked Vasiliki, suddenly looking far less tired.
“Uhm… I guess… I need to explain some stuff…” Prisca said, looking down at her feet, drawing a circle with one as her clothes melted back to a comfortable sundress. “Let’s go to the console room, boot up the screens and all…”