I moved to help Blue, but Hellfire grabbed my arm. It felt like my skin was burning.
Blue crouched on the floor, backed up against the wall by a ninja. She threw a punch. He blocked it. He kicked. She dodged. The two circled each other.
“I could use some help,” she said.
“I’ve got questions,” Hellfire said.
“Later.” Blue ducked before I even noticed the ninja trying to punch her. His fist cut through the air.
“Now,” Hellfire said. “Are you working for Sum Industries?”
“Not your business.”
“If you want help, it is. Are you working for Sum Industries?”
She didn’t say anything. The ninja kicked, but she grabbed his ankle. He jumped, lifting his other foot off the ground and kicking her with it. She let go. He landed on his feet.
Hellfire let go of my arm.
“Yes,” she said.
“What are you doing for them?”
“This,” she said. “Fighting ninjas.”
“Are you working against the team in any way?”
“But they know that you’re part of this team.”
“You talk about us?”
“Not good,” Hellfire said. “We have a lot of enemies. Nano, especially. She has too many enemies for someone who’s powerless.”
That hurt. Sure, I didn’t have powers. But powerless? I’d been raised in the metahuman community practically since birth. I’d had supervillains kidnap me since I was a baby. I might not have powers, but I knew what I was doing.
I looked at the plate I’d had breakfast on. It was still on the coffee table. I should’ve just stayed there. I should’ve just let the fighter figure all this out. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to feel so powerless. So I grabbed the plate raised it so I could smack the ninja across the back of the head. He grabbed my wrist.
Blue roundhouse kicked him in the back of the head, and before I knew it, he was down. My wrist kind of hurt, and so did my arm. But given the circumstances, the fight had gone pretty well.
“What the Hell was that?” Blue asked, turning to Hellfire.
“Nano saved your life,” he said. “You should thank her.”
“Nano almost got herself killed,” Blue said. “You’re not a fighter. I can’t even imagine how you passed the Metahuman Fighting Exam.”
“If I’m not here to fight bad guys, then why am I here?” No one said anything. “Really. You guys don’t even let me wear my suit because you think it looks suspicious. If you don’t want me to fight, what do you want me for?”
“You give tech support,” Blue said. “Hellfire and I are the big fighters. Cathect helps us figure out and fight the magical stuff. And you’re here to help with the tech.”
A lie. Up until that moment, I hadn’t really wondered why I was a part of the team. I’d grown up in a metahuman world, surrounded by the good guys. I wanted so badly to be a good guy myself that I hadn’t stopped to wonder what they wanted me for.
It wasn’t because I could fight, it wasn’t because of the tech, and it wasn’t because I’d been around bad guys since near-birth. It was because of my mother. Agent 09 pulled some strings to get a charter for the group. Agent 09 was the only reason a bunch of barely-adults could go out and try to fight supervillains. It wasn’t me they wanted at all: it was my mother.
“Oh,” I said. “You guys… You guys don’t want me at all. I’m here because of my mother.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Wish you guys had told me, or something. I don’t have any problems hanging out here. I mean, it’s a nice place. I can hang out, make sure you get through all the bullshit paperwork. So long as you guys tell me the cool stories. I guess I’m not really a metahuman, anyway.”
“Nano, it’s not like that,” Blue said.
“I appreciate you saying that. But really, it’s okay. I just want there to be less bad guys out there. I want you guys to win.”
“I want you to stay on the team,” Hellfire said. “It’s Blue who I don’t trust.”
“I take one job and all of a sudden you don’t trust me? You over-controlling, paranoid–”
Hellfire cut in, “I don’t trust you because you broke my trust, by working with a company of supervillains.”
“I broke your trust? You would’ve let that ninja kill me. If Nano hadn’t stupidly stepped in when she did–”
“You shouldn’t have brought that mess here in the first place. Who knows what that ninja–”
People were yelling. I didn’t like it and I didn’t know what to do, so I went to my room. Maybe this team wasn’t meant for each other. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a hero. Maybe I needed to start looking for a real job.
— — —
Mankind has done a lot of really bad things over the years, but the creation of Craigslist had to rank pretty high on the list of atrocities.
If I wasn’t going to be a practicing metahuman, I had to get some other sort of job. And since I was pretty sure newspapers basically didn’t exist anymore, I went the only place I knew where to look, Craigslist.
“Dog Sitter Needed,” the ad read, “Must be willing to literally sit on dog.” There were some things to like about the ad. First of all, it didn’t require any sort of experience, which was good. Didn’t sound like it would be a particularly hard job. But you know what? It sounded like a sex thing, and I just didn’t want to sit on a dog.
Another job ad read, “Illluminaty.”
I didn’t know what was being advertised. I just knew I wasn’t interested.
A third job headline asked, “Do You Have a Penis?”
When I saw that, I clicked off the Internet. Apparently, Craigslist was a very bad place filled with very bad things.
There was a knock at the door.
I swiveled in my chair, turning around and saying, “Come in.”
Blue did. I saw her there, in the doorway. She looked tired. The fight had been four or five hours ago, but she’d had to go down to the station. I guess it’d taken a lot out of her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “About before. About acting like you weren’t a valued member of the team. And I’m sorry I didn’t immediately believe you when you said you were gay.”
“I’m sorry, too. About the before that happened before, when I asked you out and it was really awkward.”
“Don’t be,” she said. “You were just being honest. I appreciate that.”
That made me feel better. I forgot how easily she was able to make me feel better.
“You still need to learn how to fight,” she said.
“How did you even pass the Metahuman Fighting Test?” she asked.
“There’s a very simple answer to that question. I didn’t.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I took the class three times. After my third fail, Agent 09 pulled some strings and waived the requirement.”
“That’s dangerous,” she said.
“If you don’t like fighting, why do you want to fight bad guys?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to fight,” I said. “It’s just that I’m bad at it. I’m gangly and flaily.”
“But you still want to fight bad guys.”
“Yeah, it’s what I grew up around. Agent 09 was always fighting these big name bad guys, saving the world on a weekly basis. And then Charlie fought a bunch of lower-level street guys, when she worked for the police department. And I guess I just wanted to be part of the family tradition. I almost had to be. Do you know how many times I was kidnapped before I turned 13?”
“How many?” she asked.
“16. I was kidnapped 16 times. I was more used to kidnappings than Christmases.”
“It wasn’t the worst,” I said. “Everyone who kidnapped me knew it was a bad idea to mistreat a kid. That gets the good guys and bad guys pissed off at you, so they made sure to treat me okay. If I’m being 100% honest, my parents fighting was worse. Agent 09 got mean sometimes.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s all in the past. But I’m still a part of this metahuman world, even if I don’t have powers. The bad guys are still going to come after me, so I might as well try and stop them before they can.”
“You’re going to need to learn how to fight,” Blue said.
“Yeah. I know.”
“You’re going to need a teacher.”
“Do you want me to teach you?” she asked.
I thought about it for a moment. On the one hand, Blue’s training might be super-awkward. I didn’t want to look like a nerd in front of her, even though I obviously was. On the other hand, I needed to learn how to fight. And if I was going to learn, I might as well learn from someone who offered, who was at least trying to be my friend.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d like that.”
— — —
My fists hurt, but this was actually fun.
Bang, bang. Plow, plow, plow. Those probably aren’t the right sound effects, but the point is that I was hitting a punching bag, over and over again.
“So when do I become a bad-ass?” I asked.
“A bad-ass?” Blue asked, standing next to me. “Probably never. A good fighter? That’s possible.”
“So when do I become a good fighter?” I asked.
“You’re on your second day of training.”
“So it’s going to take a while.”
Bang, bang. Plow, plow, plow.
Blue and I were hanging out at The Red Fist, a gym that catered specifically to metahumans. I liked it, even though it could get a little intimidating.
A good example was the guy next to me, who was also hitting a punching bag. But instead of a bag, it was a slab of concrete. And instead of hitting it, he was obliterating it.
After punching the concrete for five minutes, he finally broke the slab of concrete in half. The bottom half slammed against the metal wall. Then he wrapped his hands around the top half of the concrete slab, which was still hanging by the chain, and crushed it in his hands.
He whispered quietly to himself, “Don’t mess with the best.”
I went back to the punching bag.
“Is this place only for the good guys?” I asked Blue.
“Yeah,” she said, with a ridiculous lack of confidence. “Maybe? That’s a difficult question.”
“How’d you find this place?”
“You’re not going to like the answer.”
“I don’t like not knowing, either.”
“This is the gym where Sum Industries trains its people.”
“Wow,” I said.
“This is where I train.”
“You’re one of Sum Industries’s people?”
“Not really. I mean, I get why you want it to be complicated, but it’s not. You’re working for them, right? That means that you’re one of their people. You’re on their payroll. You work for supervillains.”
“It’s different,” she said. “They changed. Just like you’ve changed.”
“I’ve changed?” I asked.
“Yeah. At least you think you’ve changed.”
“You’re talking about the gay thing?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Just in general. You’ve been acting more confident the past couple days.”
“You don’t know me that well,” I said. “How do you know that I’ve changed?”
“You look me in the eyes,” she said. “That’s pretty big.”
“But I don’t feel confident about you,” I said. “I’m looking into your eyes to figure out who you are. I want to figure out the Sum Industries thing. I mean, are you a supervillain?”
“I’m tired of answering that question,” Blue said.
“You wouldn’t have to answer it if you didn’t work for Sum Industries.”
“They’re not so bad,” Blue said, her voice getting a little louder.
“You don’t know that.”
“You don’t know that they’re not good, either. Why can’t you just try to give them a second chance?”
“Because it wouldn’t be a second chance,” I said. “It would be a ten millionth chance. You know all the bad things they’ve done.”
“But that wasn’t these people,” Blue said.
“Why would an honest person take over Sum Industries?”
“You don’t know how cool Marquez is.”
“Cool?” I asked. “That’s why you’re a part of the company? Because your boss is cool?”
“You know what?” Blue said. “Fuck you. I try helping you out, and this is the thanks that I get? Fuck you.”
She stormed out of the gym.
— — —
The Sun was setting as I walked through the neighborhood. The gym was close-ish to Mom’s place, so I figured I should go there. See her. Say hi.
I hadn’t talked to her this month. I felt bad about that, but I just didn’t know what to do around her. I liked her, I really liked her, but she was really sad these days. Drank a lot more than she used to. When I was around her, I felt like I was looking at a shadow of my mom, not the real thing.
How could I make her feel better, when I couldn’t even get my own act together? I hoped being there was enough. It had to be enough.
But should I tell her all about my life? Should I tell her that I was gay and that I didn’t really want to be a superhero anymore? Should I tell her my teammate was working for the bad guys?
The neighborhood where mom lived was cool in a lot of way. It was artsy, filled with a bunch of people who had really different views of the world. But at the same time, it wasn’t exactly the safest area of town.
And it was starting to get dark. I was, what, five or ten minutes from mom’s place?
Imagine if I got mugged. Imagine if I got mugged here, while trying to be a superhero. Did the big guys get mugged? Did Peacemaker get mugged, when she was walking down the street at night?
But she was almost 7 feet tall, and I was shorter than that.
I was so much shorter than that. I guess Blue had taught me a couple moves. Like you had to keep your thumb outside your fist when you’re throwing a punch. That was useful. That was a useful thing to know.
But it would be much less useful if someone cut off my hands. If anyone mugged me, I would just give them whatever they wanted.
Passing by an alleyway, I became very aware of the big-looking shadow. Like, it was big. It was the sort of shadow that could kill you. I’m not sure shadows could kill you, but from what I’d seen of Sotto Voce’s cloak shadows could totally kill you and I was therefore totally going to be killed by this big, horrifying shadow.
“Hey, Sarah,” the shadow said.
Oh shit. Oh god. I was totally going to get mugged.
That said, they knew my name. And it’s kind of weird to know someone’s name before you mug them. It’s even weirder to say someone’s name before you mugged them. Like, “Hey, Sarah. You up for a mugging tonight?” That was weird. People didn’t do that.
Maybe it was going to be a kidnapper? What if it was aliens?
Okay, so it probably wasn’t aliens.
But what if?
“Sarah Martin?” the voice asked.
I figured I should probably respond.
“I don’t carry any cash,” I said. “It’s a character flaw.”
The shadow laughed at me, which was a good sign. I mean, how many muggers laugh at the people they’re mugging? It can’t be that many, right? I mean you might have the occasional laughter-themed supervillain, perhaps even a clown of some–
The figure stepped out of the shadow, and I realized she wasn’t a mugger. She was a werewolf: a beautiful, lesbian werewolf.