ARC 3: EVENT HORIZON
It’s a quiet night. They’re all quiet nights, lately. Most people stay indoors this late. You don’t see a lot of party goers or passersby, anymore. They blame increasing gang violence and the mask problem. They don’t mention people’s paranoia about government surveillance when there’s a CCTV camera every four blocks, or the organized crime like drug runners and sex traffickers.
They feel the fear building but put the blame on the wrong things. The fear. Megajoule mentioned the fear. And that’s when the man off-screen cut him off. I wonder what he meant. Why was this building fear in the world important to him?
He said it could be fought. How?
I ponder that staring out over the quiet streets of East Downtown, waiting for Kitsune… Bedevil… to pick up the phone. It’s been two weeks since the night I found out her true identity. She called me dozens of times that night but hasn’t called since, and I’ve not had the courage until today to finally call her back.
The phone rings and rings. Finally it goes to her voice-mail where a prerecorded message waits for me. “Hey, this is Ruby and Pawpaw!” — and here a dog barks — “Leave me a message after the tone, nerd!” If I’d just called her and gotten to her voice-mail once in all these months, I’d have known her name.
The tone beeps.
I stammer for a second, unable to string together the words I’ve wanted to say for weeks now. All the thoughts and emotions racing in my head and no way to gather them from the void. So I just start talking without any destination in sight:
“Hey. So. I’m. Really, really, sorry. That I haven’t tried to reach out until now, and that I ran when you told me… told me what you told me.” I pause and rub my chin, gathering more thoughts. “I wish I could tell you who I am. I wish I believed you’d understand and that we could talk it out, figure it out together, but I know you won’t. The truth is so much worse than you think it is, Ruby, it really is. It’s a very bad thing and I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t know how I could ever tell you.”
But God damn it, she deserves to know. She was his fucking sidekick. She was his team mate and probably his friend, too.
“See. The truth is… the truth is…” The words bubble up to the surface; the different possibilities of what I could tell her. That I’m his son. That I’m his clone. That I’m actually him, like I told Maisa. All of them are cruel and only one is the truth.
I groan and hang my head. I’m too weak. “I don’t know what the truth about me is. And I don’t know if I’ll ever know. I owe you more than that, I know, but I can’t even give it to myself, so how could I ever give it to someone else?” Telling the Underground took me a full year, a full year of trust and friendship, and they didn’t even know him personally. This girl, this girl, it would destroy her.
“I’m sorry. If you wanna meet…” I shut up. “You probably don’t. I’ll leave you be.”
I hang up. My chest is hollow again, like my heart collapsed in on itself and left me with a black hole.
“Hey,” Drone says into my ear piece. “You okay?”
“Listening in, huh?” I ask. Not that I expected any different from her. Drone likes to listen in and spy on me.
“I think it’s smart you didn’t tell her. I know you really liked her.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Dear husband, you’ll find someone else. I promise you. You’re a catch. If I weren’t an ace, I would lovingly hop into your arms and ride you until dawn,” Drone says.
I chuckle. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. What’s going on with the Underground today?”
“Flashfire’s still trying to get Iso to tell him what’s going on with the gangs, but he’s… he’s hesitant, Gabe.” There’s an unusual note of concern in her voice. “Some of our friends have pulled back from you. From us.”
“From me,” I say. “From Home Run.”
The news was not kind to me after the massacre at the Cabellero Santo hideout. Ever since they got that picture of me fleeing the hideout with Bedevil — who was masked, thank God for that — they’ve dragged Home Run through the mud as representative of mask violence that’s gotten out of control. FIS blames the rampant gangs in Houston and talks about the things they’ve done to come down hard on the local gangs.
“Yeah. Flash isn’t mad at you. He knows you were just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Still, I think you should just ignore 2nd Amendment’s calls from now on, and not doing anything by yourself. The Underground does good work and you can still make a name as Home Run.”
“I know,” I say, but the words feel untrue, meaningless, and Drone can tell given the sigh on the other end of the line.
“I’ll leave you alone, dear husband,” Drone says. “If you do something crazy, at least let me know so I can help, okay?”
“Yeah, I will. Promise.” And I mean it. I’d never step out on my work wife. “So long as you keep telling me I’m pretty.”
“You’re pretty stupid,” Drone replies, and the comms go dead, leaving me with just a grin and a little piece of my heart back.
Doc’s still up when I get back, empty-handed. He grunts his usually greeting as I walk in. “Slow night, huh?”
“Yeah.” I still haven’t told him about the thing with Bedevil. I told him that something happened between me and Kitsune, and he suspected that it had to do with the hideout massacre, but he doesn’t know that I came this close to getting found out by one of the top heroes in the nation.
Really, it’s a testament to how differently I carry myself than Megajoule did. After months of hanging out with me, she still didn’t really know.
A scary thought enters my mind and runs a knife down to my core: Unless she knew, and she’s denying it herself, just like you were.
I stow that away for now. She hasn’t told anyone where I live, thank God, so clearly she’s not interested in having me thrown in jail just for upsetting her. She’s a good person.
That’s what really makes me sad. She’s a good person and she doesn’t deserve what I did to her.
“The news is still the same. I think you need to keep your head low a little longer, at least until your fifteen are up,” Doc says.
“You never want me to go out anyway.” I search Google for a good pancake recipe (sans banana) and try to whip something up. A few moments later, I’m rewarded with crispy, blackened disks of sadness. I stare at my work.
I pour some Captain Crunch into a bowl, instead. “What would I do, Doc, if I didn’t do this? I feel like I’m useless if I’m not out there, helping people.”
“You can help people other ways, Gabe,” Doc says. He taps his foot, which I have only just now noticed is in a new cast. “I’ll be handing this one out later to somebody that has it coming. And the person I took it from was this wonderful Spanish grandmother that needed to work bad.”
“How much did you charge her?” I ask.
“A buck,” Doc says. “Bought myself a burger.”
I chuckle. “I dunno. I feel like all I know how to do is fight. That’s all I am.”
“You could be a firefighter,” Doc says. “They need to be strong, and you’re strong. They even screen people for fire resistance nowadays, I think.”
I tap my chin. “I guess so. What was it like, before all this?”
“Before powers?” Doc asks. “I ran a hospital. Not much different for me.”
“I mean for the world.”
“You’d think it was calmer, but I don’t think so. I dunno. It might seem bad, kid, but that’s just because you weren’t alive for the Anarchy, or for Foundation. Live through that and anything seems more peaceful.” Doc scratches his chin, his eyes suddenly very far away. “Never been times as bad or heroes as good as that, you ask me.”
I stir the cereal in my bowl, unable to spoon some into my mouth and eat. It all feels so heavy. “Not even Megajoule?”
Doc’s gaze looks back even farther, if you ask me, which is odd since Megajoule rose on the heels of Foundation, not before. “He carried the torch after them. I think that’s why he named his team the Inheritors, if you ask me. The times changed, though. Cloaks gave way to masks, Foundation became OPI, and there were no more monsters to slay.”
“Nero and Carnality?” I ask. “The Syrian war and Kassandra?” Flashfire saw horrible things there and the whole thing culminated in a fight between Templar and Kassandra, apparently. Just one super-powered brawl between a cape and a cloak.
“Echoes of a different time. OPI really has calmed the world. At least our side. Not counting China or the Youxia or anything.” Doc resumes his TV program. “Just be glad you never saw that stuff, kid. Megajoule saw the Youxia and it changed him. He saw monsters I don’t even know about, and well, you’ve seen those videos.”
“Yeah.” I set my bowl down, my appetite completely disappeared. Not like I had much of one to start with, anyway. “Not that I watch them anymore.”
Doc studies me and there’s a flash of relief on his face. “I’m glad. They aren’t good for you.”
“He thought they would be,” I say.
“Well, he was wrong.” Doc struggles to rise to his feet and hobbles over to the counter on his broken leg. I go to meet him and help him over to the kitchen, but he rejects my aid. “The reason I don’t want you out in a mask is because you deserve better, kid. You deserve better than living in his shadow. You don’t think I don’t know that’s why you do this?”
“That’s not why. There are kids out there, getting hurt.”
Doc grabs my jacket and stares me deep in the eyes. “You don’t think I don’t know that? I see it every night. Christ, Gabe. Kids get hurt all over. You can’t save them all. He couldn’t, but he tried, and it broke him. Fell under the weight of his own name. His own legend. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
I help Doc back to his chair and get him some water, processing his words. Collapsing under that weight, pulled into the singularity of his fame. Like a black hole inside my chest.
Epione’s house is always warm and welcoming, even before I make it into the house. The backyard is lush, there’s a fire going in the hearth on the porch, and Epione herself stares into the flames.
I’m never quite sure what to say to Epione. This isn’t because she’s a beautiful girl — she is — and it’s not because she doesn’t join us very much on missions. It’s just that there’s always something a little off about her, like she’s putting on a good face for everyone, all the time. I’d know, too, because I do the same thing.
Epione smiles to herself and nods, even though she hasn’t looked away from the fire. “Did I really make that much noise?”
“I just have very good hearing,” Epione replies. “Even Remise says so.”
“What are you doing out here?” Laughter carries through the windows from the living room and kitchen. The Underground is making merry, even despite our bad situation right now. I suppose when it feels like you’re losing, it’s best to keep your spirits up.
“Sometimes I like to be alone.” Epione stands up and turns to me. She never takes off her polite smile. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her wear any other expression for more than a few seconds at a time. “To think and to process. Life is hard sometimes, and I need to put on all my armor.”
I chuckle. “Well, I can leave you be, if you want. I was mostly here to talk to Flashfire, anyway.”
“I know. You don’t have to go, though. I can tell something’s on your mind. Would you like to talk about it?” Epione asks.
“I don’t even know what I’d say. I don’t know how to word it.”
“That Kitsune is Bedevil, you mean.” Epione sits down. “You seem like you should talk about it.”
“Are you playing therapist?” I ask.
“I am a medical student first and foremost.” She pats the chair next to her, so I follow her instructions and sit down. “You’re very upset by her.”
“And myself,” I say. “I ran from her. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Do you think that you should have known what to do?” Epione’s mysterious, demure smile never wavers and there’s a gleam in her eyes as she turns them toward me. “Should the answer have been glaringly obvious, Gabe dear?”
“Careful, you’ll start to sound like Saw Off.”
Epione’s smile blips and her face falls flat. After a second, she returns to her usual self. “Yes, well, Jason does have a type, I suppose.”
“Sorry.” I shouldn’t be making barbs.
Damn. I’m hurting her, Flashfire, Doc, everybody. I always hurt people. Even my power, fully unleashed, hurts everyone around me. I really am like a black hole.
“Earth to Gabe.” Epione lays a gentle hand on my arm. “It’s okay. I don’t put that much stock in Jason’s past. He doesn’t like that part of himself and the only reason it would upset me is because it would upset him.”
“Sometimes, I feel like I upset him all the time. He’s my best friend, Ep, and I feel like I hurt him so much.” I clench the arms of my chair and close my eyes, trying to shut out the constant stream of memories at letting him down, going too far, and hurting people. “All I’ve ever wanted is to help people. For people to look at me and say, ‘He saves people. He saves children.’”
Epione’s voice sits serenely on the edge of my perception, at the edge of the parade of bad thoughts. “You feel that chasing the version of you where people say that is going to hurt more people than it will help.”
“I do. I’m scared of that, yeah.” I chew on my lip, my eyes still closed. “But I feel like I need him at the same time.”
“Are you not Home Run?”
“I don’t know.”