I bolted off at my top speed, leaving everyone else behind. For once, the monkey was being cooperative, and fully so, pouring on the speed; one step carried me across the old sewage plant, to a tunnel that led towards Old Downtown. Another step and I crashed through a wall at the end of the tunnel without slowing down by a noticeable amount.
When I made my fourth step, sounds vanished as I shattered through the sound barrier.
I hadn’t reached speeds like these with such ease since I’d fought my demented half-sister during the war; even before that, I’d only managed them less than a dozen times, tops. I was soaring, I was roaring as a primal joy filled me, howling right along with the monkey as our thoughts lined up and we tapped reserves of power I’d forgotten I’d had.
We broke through more walls than I could be bothered to count, all but disintegrated a rusty old school bus when we went through it, gave a rather diverse-looking gang gathered around a portable television a nasty case of burst eardrums (and a shattered television); I focused ahead, I sped up and we. Went. On.
I felt the monkey’s skin attach directly to mine, mingling, melding, the separation vanishing for the first time in nearly two decades; my senses were escalating even faster than my speed did, the world around me slowing to an almost still image I was soaring through, every step taking me several hundred feet ahead. I could see every speck of dust in the air, I could feel the ground crack and liquefy with every step I took, I could feel the air slam into me over and over and over, trying to skin me alive, to shatter my bones, yet unable to do more than stir my fur and draw my lips back further widen the manic grin I felt stretch across my face, two rows of teeth revealed in all their sharp deadliness. I felt more than fast, more than powerful. This, this was what my power, what I was made for, just utter abandon and speed; In that moment, I felt more than human, more than metahuman – I felt like a god, utterly free and untouchable!
This, I could do forever. But alas, the downside of being as fast as me was that, even with my rapidly accelerated perception, the journey was not all that long. Eight steps, in total, until I burst through a wall thicker than many a skyscraper – or perhaps it hadn’t been a wall at all, it might just have been undeveloped earth and rock between the last tunnel I’d been in (less than a tenth of a step long) and the water distribution centre.
I don’t know what the Ascendant and his people had expected to see coming, if they’d expected anything at all, but I was entirely sure they hadn’t expected a furry blue monkey to burst through the wall and scream bloody murder.
To be perfectly honest, I liked what I saw. There were thirty-three people in the room (super-fast perception plus infravision equals lots of battlefield awareness) and all but three had an abnormally high body temperature, practically glowing to my vision.
Two of the three people without the spiking body temperature were in the back of the installation, out of sight of my normal vision – even their heat signatures were hard to pick out through all the intervening material.
The third person was much colder than a person should be, and a look through normal sight revealed a literally white-skinned woman with blue lips, wearing winter clothing; she was standing atop a railway that overlooked several water-purifying tanks, the metal around her iced over; looked like a pretty classic ice cowl, really.
The thirty burning people – all of them also enlarged to ridiculous degrees – were spread all around the place. Those I could see looked like the thugs I’d seen in Chayot’s memory, wearing dark clothing and masks – only the Ascendant must’ve shot them up with something, because they’d all grown to over ten feet of height, ripping through most of their clothing – the only things that still fit them were their masks, which still sat on their now ridiculously small heads, in between shoulders that big enough for someone like Volca or Tamara to fit into without trouble.
I could have – and probably should have stopped, looked around and made a plan on how to proceed, but I hadn’t reached this kind of level in a long time, and if I was honest with myself, I just wanted to cut loose.
Never mind that I was still angry as all hell and wanted to take vengeance on these people. I hadn’t forgotten the burning rage that had driven me earlier, and now was my chance to teach these clowns that you don’t mess with my family.
All these thoughts and observations went through my head in the time between bursting through the wall and landing on the ground, almost exactly beneath the cold woman.
And then it was monkey fun time.
My first move was as simple as it proved to be effective – I kicked off the ground, going straight up towards the cold woman. I didn’t know how exactly her power worked, but given the choice between taking out two of thirty juiced up normies (there were two that I could hit at once, just a few feet ahead of me) and one unknown metahuman… Well, I picked the popsicle.
I’d slowed down a lot, and no longer moved at super-sonic speeds; thus I could hear her try to shout something – or perhaps scream in horror – before I hit the railway from below. I reached out with my hands, grabbing the metal and tearing it in half right beneath her feet. Then I used both my momentum and my hands on the two halves of the railway to soar higher, tackling her.
Bones broke audibly, specifically those of her legs and she got all of a second of screaming in before my tail whipped up and wrapped around her throat, cutting it off. What most people don’t realise is that, if you do it right, choking someone out is a matter of a few seconds, tops.
I landed on the left side of the railway, letting her dangle off my tail, legs shattered, until she passed out – in plain sight of the mooks.
They didn’t take it well, at all. No less than eight of them leaped at me from below, but I’d been counting on that. I tossed the woman aside, to the far end of the railway, and went to work.
Reaching around me with both arms, one leg and my tail, I ripped huge chunks of the railway off and threw them at the four closest mooks. Before the projectiles were even halfway to their targets, I leapt off the railway, over the vats. I’d seen three enemies close together, and I flew straight at them. I couldn’t see their faces, but I could see their eyes through their masks – they widened in surprise at my high-velocity assault on them before they’d even gotten close.
Tough luck. You shouldn’t have taken this job, I thought as I gut-kicked the one in the middle with both feet. As he folded over, the air knocked out of him, the other two tried to grab me as they flew past – but I was faster; I grabbed each of them by their normal-sized heads, wrapping my hands around them, and pulled them down after me.
The one I’d kicked hit the ground with an impact that created an actual crater around him. Coming to a dead stop, I swung the other two head-first into the ground to his left and right.
All three went limp, but I didn’t waste any time – before their bodies had even fully touched the ground, I’d already kicked off towards five charging brutes.
I slammed into their leader just as the chunks of rock and concrete from the hole I’d blown coming in hit the ground and I did not rip off his head, as quick a solution as that might’ve been.
I did, however, see my father come through a wall (without blowing it up. Negative points for the weak entrance) dragging Warren, Malphas and Volca through (he was stretching his role there, I was sure; still, such an ability could easily be explained as a capability kept secret for emergencies, so…) and I decided to let them in on the fun, so I slammed my forehead into the centre of the guy’s face, grabbed the mooks to his left and right and threw them right at the group.
Then I went to town on the two still standing and trying to tackle me.
The result was as hilariously one-sided as one could expect.
I don’t think that I broke their spines, but at the very least, they’d be in a lot of pain, for a long time, unless whatever they’d taken came with a lot of regeneration.
Warren, Malphas and Volca were getting ready to intercept the two I’d thrown at them and my father was running towards one of the metal vats. Seven enemies were down, two more about to get the shit kicked out of them. Leaving twenty-four targets.
I shouldn’t give the Ascendant too much time to do whatever it is that he’s doing, I reminded myself between seconds.
Twenty-two thugs left. They were gathering in one spot and seemed to be hefting weapons – I had to move fast.
Fortunately, moving fast is part of my power description.
There were twelve huge vats for water purification before it was fed into the city’s pipes. They were organised in four rows of three vats each, with the control room and the central access pipe on one side of the huge installation and my entry point pretty much on the opposite side. I was right in the middle of the vats, and the thugs were gathering behind the next row.
I don’t have much time – but I only need to scatter them, I realised and ran towards the gap between two vats. The sound of the rocks I’d blown into the facility impacting the floor reached me just as I reached twenty of the remaining thugs, who were busy picking up what seemed to be heavily customised rocket launchers.
Those were most likely no threat to me, or to Dad, but they could very well kill any of the others. Not that I would’ve let them pull off whatever they were aiming for anyway.
The juiced-up thugs didn’t even know I was there until I slammed into their midst at two hundred miles an hour, clotheslining no less than five of them as an opening move, two on the left and three on the right; I’d always rather enjoyed mixing wrestling moves into my fighting style – they were surprisingly effective and watching professional wrestling matches on television used to be something me and dad used to bond over, before things went bad.
The five unlucky assholes I hit first were down and out instantly, save for the third one on my right side (I hadn’t managed a full hit), and now I was in the middle of the group, which meant they’d have to be utterly insane to use their weapons on me.
Fortunately for everyone involved, these weren’t the kind of weapons you just had to aim and pull the trigger to use – never mind that they were still in the process of assembling half of the human-sized things, anyway. Unfortunately for them, I was also too fast to give them the chance to put up an effective defence, anyway.
I roared at the top of my lungs, not long but short, explosively – I’d shattered glass and burst eardrums with my roar before – to stun them, and then I went apeshit on them (heh).
My fists flew, breaking bones left and right – though I limited myself to striking at extremities, to reduce the chance of lethal blows; Hennessy’s and Camille’s request sat oddly with me, as did Journeyman’s words. I’d never really lost sleep over killing. Not during my stint as a villain, certainly not during the war, nor during the years after. But now…
I’d been told, from two sources that had a great deal of weight with me, that I shouldn’t kill. Journeyman, who’d so often given me good advice (and was the closest thing to a true friend I’d ever had, aside from Warren), and my own daughter and her girlfriend. I wondered whether Journeyman had known that they’d ask me that… no, stupid question; of course he’d known. There was no way this was a coincidence, not when he was involved.
But why had he preempted the girls’ request? Because, now that I thought about it, it had been more than just a plea to spare the Ascendant. They’d pretty much told me that they didn’t want me to kill, period. Not just in this one case.
Because, one way or another, it’d be on them for not stopping me. At least, in their heads, it would be, as unreasonable as that was.
And I couldn’t do that to them, not to Hennessy and, yes, not to Camille, either. She might have rubbed me the wrong way, but she was good to Hennessy, and that was more than I could say about myself.
All I could do, in the end, was to sigh. Which brought me back to the here and now – among the broken – but still alive – bodies of twenty enhanced thugs. Two of them hadn’t even hit the ground yet, still falling down in slow motion as I refocused on the present.
Two thugs left. As well as the Ascendant and whoever the other one with him is. I looked around, with both my normal and infravision, only to find that my team had taken care of the rest. Malphas, Volca and Warren had downed the two whom I’d thrown at them, my father had taken out (non-lethally, which was pretty surprising to me) the other two and was waiting near the place where the last two active heat signatures were.
No time to waste. I went and joined my father, after telling Warren to stand watch with the others.
I didn’t want them involved in the finale. However it turned out, they’d sleep better if they remained ignorant.
We didn’t bother with big entrances, not at this point. Father and I just walked, without a word, down a short hallway made of concrete and lined, left and right, in pipes of various sizes and colours. It ended in a reinforced steel door with the words ‘Central Pipe Access’ written on it.
Father and I raised a foot each and kicked the door out of its frame, sending it flying across the room beyond.
There was a yelp, and the sound of a gun being drawn and cocked.
Father let me take the lead, and I simply walked in in full monkey form, stooped over to fit through the door, with my hands entwined behind my back.
Within, I found two men standing over a contraption they were about to lower into a hatch in a big red pipe. The machine looked like some kind of tubular nightmare made of brass, gold and plastic, and did not inspire confidence at all. Of the two men, one was reasonably tall, thin, and wearing a pure white priest’s robe, with a mask depicting an angelic face; the other one looked like the thugs outside, only he was still normal-sized and fully clothed; he was holding a pretty heavy-looking handgun and put five bullets into my chest, and three more into my head, before I’d even fully entered.
I barely felt them, but still. I had to set the tone of this meeting, not them. To that end, I took a single step towards them, ignoring the burning desire for bloody murder at the sight of the Ascendant, and backhanded the last of his thugs, throwing him across the room. The man slammed into the wall and slid down with a sigh, the breath knocked out of him. Father walked over there to stand watch over him, while I approached the other one.
“The Ascendant, I presume?” I asked, without bothering to mask the pure hatred I felt for the man, the desire to kill him; nor did I hold back the monkey’s growl. “I’ve been hoping to talk to you for a while now,” I continued, while I reached out with one hand and pulled the contraption off the hatch.
“N-no, put that back!” he shouted in a shrill voice, all but leaping for the contraption – though there was no way this scrawny guy could lift it, not unless he shot himself up with his own drugs – it was almost as big as he was, and probably quite a bit heavier. “I need the dispenser, I need it!” he shouted as he tried to reach it, with me holding it out of his reach like a school bully denying a smaller boy his action figure or something.
Good God, this is the monster that hurt my girl so much? THIS? I thought furiously as I brushed him back. He fell on his ass like a freaking pushover, and started sobbing. Sobbing. For crying out loud, he was… he was acting like…
“I need that! If I don’t do this, they’ll take my name away!” he cried. “I need it, I n-“
“Oh, shut the hell up,” I said as I lashed out with my tail, hitting him in the gut. He slid back against the wall, the air – and fight – knocked out of him. Then I looked at the contraption. “This. It’s supposed to poison the water supply, right?” I asked the Ascendant, though it was my father who answered.
“Yes. He’s used a similar contraption before,” he said from where his hulking grey form stood over the downed minion.
I nodded to myself – and then I squeezed, crushing it. The Ascendant made a desperate, weak scream as I snapped it in two, watching various fluids spill over my hand and onto the ground, as the pieces tumbled down and hit with a metallic crunching sound.
“He’s not going to use this one, though,” I said with a satisfied growl in my voice.
The… little man in front of me was just sobbing now.
“I can’t believe it. This man, he created all this misery? I expected more from the Gefährten,” I almost-whispered.
“I guess we know now why they wanted to purge him. Can’t have been hard to find someone more appropriate to the job,” he replied casually. “Though my reports suggest he used to be much more… together. Perhaps his power has degraded his mind. Or perhaps just the threat of disappointing the Gefährten was enough to make him crack.”
“Yeah,” I breathed, though I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to. This was… not what I’d expected. “We’re done here, let’s go,” I said, turning around – though I didn’t leave him behind. I picked him up with my tail instead.
“Why not just kill him here?” Father asked. “We have time. We can enjoy it.”
“No,” I said firmly. “He’s going to the authorities, and he’s going to stand trial and be judged fairly.”
Father tilted his head, clearly confused – or at least surprised. “Seriously? Why the sudden about-face?” His voice almost slipped into his natural tone, for just a moment. I enjoyed that way more than I should.
“H- Chayot and Dearheart contacted me, asked me to spare him. To have him stand trial, as he should,” I said. Then I had a thought, and I reached around myself with my tail, so I could look straight at him. Snot was running down from beneath his mask, and his eyes were bloodshot and wet.
So pathetic. “Did you hear that, you piece of trash? The only reason you’re living through this is because the girls you hurt, the children you tortured, they want you to be treated fairly. No, not fairly – better than you could ever deserve. Do you get that!?” I screamed the last sentence into his face, revealing rows of teeth and covering him in spittle.
He nodded frantically in between sobs, but then he shook his head. “It don’t matterrrrrr,” he whined. “Th-they’re… they’re going to kill me, anyway. Just for failing. And so I don’t t-t-talk.”
“He’s right,” my father agreed. “He’s dead already. And we do need some intel, to be perfectly honest.”
I turned to look at him. He approached me in turn, leaving the thug behind. “I’m not going to kill him. Not going to leave any evidence. But it would be irresponsible not to extract as much information as we can from him, before he vanishes either into prison or is killed by his own people,” he stated firmly.
Why does he have to constantly make sense? I asked myself, but there wasn’t really any argument to be made. Really, I had no reason to even think it over – the Gefährten were major trouble, way worse than the Syndicate, and any edge against them was worth this.
“Alright. But be quick about it,” I said, dropping the Ascendant.
While my father went to work on him – I doubted there’d be much of a challenge, not with a man this broken – I went to take a look at the thug I’d downed earlier.
There, I met my next big temptation. His mask had fallen off, revealing features I’d seen before.
It was the same man I’d seen in the visions Hennessy had shown me. The one who’d taken her.
The one who’d kicked Tamara’s head when she’d already been on the floor, paralysed by poison and half-mad from fear for her child.
Boots, all around us. Boots, kicking. Boots, falling.
I blinked, looking down at his bloody face – I’d broken his nose. He wasn’t unconscious, though. But he wasn’t all there, either.
A black boot, dropping down. I remember the sound, the crack. The spray of warm blood, its taste when some droplets flew into my screaming mouth.
I shook my head, realising that I was bent over the man, ready to tear into him, to rip his fucking head off with my bare teeth!
I remembered the light dying in those big, warm brown eyes, I r-
I pushed myself away from him, growling under my breath.
This isn’t the way, I thought to myself. Not anymore. Really, it never was. They were never worth it to begin with. And there… I felt a kind of peace. I still hated them, but… no, it was done.
Once more, I looked down at the thug. He wasn’t anything else, after all. Just a thug. He’d hurt those I loved… but that was over. He was over, as surely as if I’d bitten his head off.
There was no need to literally do it, not anymore.
I waited for my father to finish extracting as much as he could out of the former Ascendant, then we left together, taking two criminals with us.
I did make sure to have him tell me what he found out, though. Just in case.
The next three hours passed in a blur. I mostly let my father do the talking. Warren snuck off with Volca and Malphas, after they made me promise to meet them all later on.
We called down the authorities, and the actual adult superheroes of Chicago showed up to pick up the trash. I hadn’t seen or heard from any of them, aside from Vek (who was just staring at me, as I stood in my pristine suit and tie in front of the piled up thugs – who were slowly reverting to normal size – and the tied up (and unconscious) Ascendant.
I smirked at her, while my father introduced himself as my hireling and handled the nuts and bolts.
Honestly, I couldn’t care enough to participate. I smiled at the cameras as journalists had gathered near the entrance to the water works, reporting as the police carted the goons out, and two men dragged the Ascendant to the paddy wagon. People cheered when they did that.
I just felt… pleasantly numb. It was only thanks to my father’s ingrained lessons that I bothered to smile and do some pleasant chit chat with a few reporters, giving them some nice soundbites.
Before I knew it, we were standing in front of Tamara’s house, just as the sun was setting. Father was back in his Dark form, though I doubted anyone but me could see him.
“Will you be alright from here on out?” he asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, I want to do this on my own,” I said. “Afterwards, though… I’d like to talk to you. At my place.”
“Yeah?” he asked, and I heard something almost like… hopefulness in his voice(s). I couldn’t be sure, but… it was a nice thought.
“Yeah. Drinks are on me.”
“I’ll be there,” he said, before he sank into his own shadow and vanished.
I smiled to myself – though I couldn’t tell why, things were just… just a blur right now. I looked at the house – nice and sturdy, picturesque really – and I tried to put my current state into words.
The closest I could come up with was a feeling like… like something had been knocked loose. Something old and scabbed over, broken and yet so persistent. I wasn’t miraculously healed of all my issues or anything, but…
But for the first time since mother died, I felt like I could finally start to heal.
I walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.
Little feet pounded the stairs and then the little princess opened the door. She was now wearing a bright yellow dress and a matching tiara, with diaphanous golden butterfly wings and a golden wand in her hand.
She grinned up at me. “Hello, Mister Henny’s-other-Dad!” she chirped, and I couldn’t help but grin right back.
“And a hello to you, too, dear Fairy Princess,” I said, just as Tamara rounded the corner into the hallway.
She was dressed in casual stay-at-home clothes, and looked like she’d been crying – she didn’t look sad though. When she saw me, she smiled brilliantly, and even more so when the little princess turned to her and asked, “Mommy, how’d he know I’m a Fairy Princess!? I’m supposed to be in disguise!”
Tamara laughed and picked the little girl up, then she looked at me, looking radiant herself.
God, I could just look at her all day. As inappropriate as that would be now. And as if to underline that fact, Phil joined us, putting a long, thin arm around her shoulders.
“Hello, Kevin. Or Aaron, I guess,” he said, and he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to smile or frown at me. “They’re in the living room. Take your time.”
Tamara mouthed a ‘Thank you’ before she leaned closer to give me a kiss on the cheek (causing the little princess to giggle, and give me a mirroring one on the other one). Then she went up the stairs.
I looked at Phil, again. He looked back. I grunted. He grunted. I entered, taking off my shoes, and went to the living room.
When I entered, I saw Hennessy (in sweatpants and a pink baby tee) and Camille (in a matching outfit, only with a green top instead of a pink one) sitting on the couch, their eyes wet as they watched the television, holding hands.
Well, Camille was watching television. Hennessy was looking at me, and I got the feeling that she’d been tracking my movements as soon as I’d entered the range of her ability.
Camille turned, as well, and I got another memory for the records; I had made a lot, in my life, but this one, this one was unquestionably beautiful: Both girls broke into relieved, radiant grins, and then Hennessy literally leaped across the room and into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist for some extra hold.
And when I wrapped my arms around her, I felt like I’d finally done something good.
It was nearly midnight before I got back home, but father was still there, despite my tardiness – and he wasn’t alone.
He was sitting at my bar, the living room lit brightly by numerous indirect lamps, without any wraith to obscure him, in his black robe and skin-tight suit; and on the other side of the bar, currently mixing some manner of cocktail, was Journeyman in his dark blue robe.
Just like the last time (many years ago) I’d seen them both together, I was struck by how similar their costumes were, save for the colour of their robes and Journeyman’s mirror mask.
Neither of them had ever told me what was up with that. Or rather, Journeyman hadn’t. Father claimed he didn’t know why Journeyman dressed the way he did.
But that wasn’t important right now. Instead of pursuing the thought, I took off my jacket and tie, opened a few buttons on my shirt and sat down next to my father.
“Gimme something good, barkeep,” I said in the worst Chicago accent I could think of. “I got a lot to celebrate.”
“Most certainly,” he said, as he filled a big glass with whatever he’d been mixing – obviously, Journeyman had known just when I’d show up, and what to prepare for me.
“I gather that the girls were pleased,” father said as he raised his own drink, the tip of the glass vanishing in the shadows of his hood. He sounded… quite pleased himself.
“Very much. I’m now invited to their bi-monthly Saturday barbecue; they want to introduce me to the rest of their team,” I said happily.
Journeyman filled a third glass with a sparkling blue concoction for himself.
We drank in silence.
Really good stuff.
After a while, father broke the quiet. “I have a confession to make,” he said, his voice even.
I looked at him with suspicion. How foreboding, coming from you of all people, I thought but didn’t say. Instead, I let silence speak for me.
“While you were busy with the girls, I snuck into the house,” he said. When I opened my mouth, he raised his hands to forestall an angry comment. “I had good reason to do so. Let me explain.”
I closed my mouth again and nodded. It couldn’t hurt to hear him out, and he usually did have a good reason for anything he did… unless that reason was ‘to annoy someone’.
“These last few years, I have been paying a lot of attention to the rising number of second-generation metahumans,” he started.
I blinked. I had not expected that. “Second-gens? What’s so special about them? I’m second-gen,” I said. “We’ve been around for ages, there are even third- and fourth and fifth-gen, probably even more, out there.”
He and Journeyman both shook their heads. “No, you’re not a second-gen metahuman, Aaron,” father replied, taking another sip from his drink. “Your power is… connected to mine. Your… power certainly took some inspiration from mine, thus explaining the visual similarities,” he explained. “But you’re still a first-generation metahuman. It takes more than simply being connected to another metahuman to become a second-gen. And the differences between first- and second-generation powers are… profound.”
“How so? And what does this have to do with you sneaking into Tamara’s house?” I asked with a frown. I was getting pretty worried there – he wasn’t usually this talkative when it came to powers.
“I’ll get to that. Anyway, second-generation metahumans are a result of multiple very precise circumstances,” he continued, his drink now put aside to let him gesture with his hands. He’d turned to face me, and was getting quite animated, as he usually did when it came to subjects he was really interested in. “Keep in mind, though, that a lot of this is just conjecture – there haven’t been enough cases I could study to draw definite conclusions yet – and whatever Gwen may have found out, she does not share with me.” He sounded quite annoyed by that, but continued in the same tone of voice as before. “It takes two metahumans to produce a second-generation metahuman. They have to both be close enough to heterodyne, and be doing so frequently. They have to both be emotionally and physically close to the recipient – like, for example, living in the same house, or working at the same place – and they have to repeatedly heterodyne their powers over a period of at least a year, it seems. In this case, it just so happens that…”
“That Hennessy and Camille did just that… and with no less than two normies around who spend a lot of time with them;” I concluded, thinking of Phil and the little princess.
He nodded. “Yes. The girl, Charity – she’s a second-generation metahuman, though she hasn’t manifested yet.”
I… didn’t know how to take that. That could be a bad thing… or a good thing. Or neither. But there was one thing… “Wait, what do you mean, she’s a metahuman, but she hasn’t manifested yet?”
“I told you. Profound differences,” he replied casually. “A second-generation metahuman is already connected to their…” He searched for a word. “How to call them…”
“Tenants,” Journeyman suggested. “I call them the Tenants.”
Father shrugged. “As good as any. Yes, such a person – like Charity – is already connected to her tenant. With her, it’s not a question of if she’ll manifest – just when.”
Tenants, huh? This was so much new information. Focus on Charity first.
“And anything could set her off,” Journeyman continued. “The… threshold is far lower. Something as simple as being shoved during a game or losing a toy might be enough to make her manifest.”
“Oh no… I have to warn them!” I said, my head filling with horrific visions of Charity randomly getting powers and hurting the others, ready to jump up and-
“Relax!” they both said in unison.
I didn’t relax, but I stayed in my seat.
“First of all,” father said, “I’ve already taken precautions. The girl is being watched, and I have a wraith ready to intervene, if worst comes to worst. Second, second-generation metahumans – those I know about, at least – are amazingly stable. Not a single one of them that I know about – save for two extreme examples – gained powers beyond their control; and the likelihood of derangements is so low it’s almost non-existent, compared to first-generation metahumans.”
Taking a deep breath, I drank from my glass again. “Alright. Alright. But…” I frowned. “Didn’t you say Mindstar’s a second-generation meta? From what little I’ve heard of her, she’s anything but stable.”
“Mindstar was broken long before she gained her powers,” he replied casually.
I frowned some more. There was another question… the answer to which might clear up a lot. “The two extreme cases you mentioned… Desolation-in-Light and Gloom Glimmer, right?”
He sighed, slumping a little over the bar. “Yes. Let’s not go into that.”
I let it drop, though I was a good deal wiser on the subject now. If the threshold that has to be reached for manifestation is lowered, then that could explain how DiL manifested so early.
Though that didn’t explain how that same thing could happen to their next baby, and even give it such similar abilities.
Questions on top of questions.
We all fell silent for a while.
Journeyman refilled all our glasses with different concoctions. We drank. They were good.
“I’ll still tell them… tomorrow. Since there’s no need to rush it.”
“Of course. They ought to know anyway.”
More minutes passed.
“What will you do now?” Journeyman asked, looking at me. Father also turned to look at me again, clearly curious.
“I… have the beginnings of a plan forming in my head,” I said, surprised to find that, yes, I was working out a plan. “A plan that’ll involve Warren, Volca and Malphas, especially. And the entire rest of the city, too.”
“Care to share it?” father asked with some amusement.
“And ruin the surprise? Hell no!” I grinned at him. I couldn’t see his face, but I was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes. “But it won’t be anything you’d expect, I promise.”
He sighed. “Alright. I’ll look forward to it, I guess.” He emptied his glass, then rose up. “I have got to go. There’s lots of work to do… and no small bit of paperwork, either.”
I chuckled to myself. “You sound like a paper pusher from a bank or something.”
“Yeah, sometimes, it feels that way,” he said as he walked towards the door.
He stopped in front of it, his hand on the door knob.
I suddenly realised that Journeyman was gone. Just vanished. I looked at my father. His head was slightly lowered, enough so to be visible even from behind, despite his robe.
“Aaron?” he said, softly.
“I was afraid,” he admitted, though I had no idea of what. Not that it mattered. I’d never heard my father say anything like that. “I was so afraid, after your mother died,” he continued. Then he shook his head. “No, even before that. But then, I always had her to reign me in. After she died… I was so afraid, that this world would swallow you up as well. That you wouldn’t be ready to face it.” He took a deep breath, before the words continued to explode out of him. “I’m not trying to excuse how I treated you. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just… I ask you to understand – I was scared, and I just wanted you to be safe. To be strong and cunning and ready, so you would be safe, and able to keep those you love safe, too.”
I stared at him, my mouth wide open, and I was infinitely grateful that he stood with his back to me, so he couldn’t see the tears running down my face.
“I just… I’m sorry. That’s all,” he finished.
An infinite amount of time passed, before I found my voice again. Time during which I relieved all the memories I had of our time together – both the good and the bad – and my limited interactions with my own children.
I thought about it. I reviewed it. And I concluded… “I can’t forgive you, dad,” I said, my own voice choked up for more than one reason. “But… I’ve got children of my own now… and I… I understand.”
He nodded quietly. Then he pulled the door open.
“One more thing,” I threw in. “You… you had another child. Gloom Glimmer.”
“Irene,” he said gently.
“Yes. Um… I just hope you…” I didn’t know how to say this without being hurtful.
Fortunately, he said it for me. “You hope I won’t screw up the way I did before.”
I nodded, even though he couldn’t see.
He continued nonetheless. “I’m still hopeless, I’m afraid,” he said, his voice dripping with… some emotion I couldn’t parse right now. “Fortunately, I have Gwen to reign me in. Irene has grown up to be a fine young hero, despite my worst efforts, and she’s got a stronger moral compass than either me or her mother.”
“That’s… good, I guess.”
“Yeah. Though…” He chuckled. “She asked me for dating advice. Me.” He sounded self-recrimating when he said that, weirdly enough.
I tilted my head. “Why’s that so funny? You know a lot about dating. And seduction. And all things interpersonal.”
He laughed quietly, this time. The first genuine laugh I’d heard from him in a long time. “Oh, I know all the ways the game is played, but… I’ve only ever been in love four times, I’ve dated three women, and I only got serious with two, in the end. And one of them, I was born and grew up with.”
“Oh. Yeah. Funny that she should ask you.”
“Yeah. Well. Have a good night, Aaron.”
“You too. Sleep tight… dad.”
I turned around, and there he was again. Journeyman.
He put a glass filled with something fizzy and pink in front of me, and I took it. He was holding one that was as yellow as a canary.
“What a day,” I said.
“There are days like these,” he agreed, putting his elbows on the bar and leaning on them. He had a question. Unspoken, but there. I could tell, just by glancing at the images in his mirror, by reading the atmosphere.
I looked down at my drink. It wasn’t pink, really. Darker, more purple. Like Hennessy’s eyes. I thought about all that had happened. All I’d seen, and heard, and felt, and done, and not done, and thought about, and not thought about. Along the way, I also decided there was one more stop I had to make, before I could turn in for the night. But that was for later.
Now, I had to answer the question. The same question he’d asked me after I’d run away from my father. The same one he’d asked me before I left for the war. The one he was asking now.
I thought of Hennessy’s smile, and Elouise’s smile, and how it felt to hold them in my arms. I thought of father’s apology and Tamara and so much more.
There were still dark spots. I still didn’t know who’d paid those assassins to come after me – I’d have to follow up on that, perhaps arrange a meeting with Sara. I still had to find my place here in this city. See if my plan was viable, what could be done. My future was still unsure. Heh, I thought to myself. Why should I be any different?
Then I smiled, looking at him again. “Yeah. I think I’m going to be alright.”
He raised his glass. “Cheers, mate.”
I’d breezed past the guards and security measures, making sure not to alert anyone. I’d snuck through the building, until I found the door.
It was perhaps not entirely appropriate, especially at this time, but… I didn’t want to miss one more second.
I knocked on the door with one hand, the other holding a big bottle of chocolate milk and a movie disc.
The door opened after a minute, and Elouise looked at me in surprise. Her white hair was a mess, she was wearing a crooked green nightrobe and her face looked a little pale without her make up – but when she saw my smile and the bottle and the disc, and she smiled back, it lit up the world.