Maybe I could have made it back to school in time to finish the last class, but that would have involved putting effort into getting to school. Only to watch everyone else do whatever Murray dreamed up to make the less athletic kids feel bad. He’d probably make us play dodgeball with bricks if he thought he could get away with it.
I guess it was only ‘them’, now, not ‘us’. I wasn’t allowed to participate in much of anything, since I had powers. The only reason they hadn’t kicked me out of gym already was because it’d look bad. Blah blah, discrimination, blah blah lawsuit. I was planning to switch classes, anyway. Maybe shop. Plenty of fun to be had with power tools.
I was online the moment I got home, surfing for myself on the news. Turns out, I was overshadowed. Apparently, they were putting Nano’s victims under Infiltrator quarantine. Which meant the stations were interviewing people whose loved ones would be spending the next couple days sequestered. The way some of the people reacted, you’d think they were in the ICU dying, not a two day vacation courtesy of the government.
Only Twelve really put any focus on me at all, and they weren’t the biggest station in the world. I got to see my interview, and not much more than that. I tried not to be upset that I’d taken down two supervillains and my fifteen minutes of fame was less than three minutes long. White Lady barely featured at all, at least. I had to wonder if it would have been better or worse for me if they realized my partner was Anima. Probably worse.
At least they got my full interview out, including my message to Kitten. They kept my comment about my image consultant, which was a little embarrassing. I’d have to be careful what I said from now on. And then they went on to ask the cops about me.
Predictably, the officers refused to say anything. Kind of a pity, but Cassie was right that the mystery only made them look harder. They’d already found some shitty clips of my race with Alex, and a few even shittier clips of me respawning in the bank. Then the station went to speculate on how I got to walk out, when everyone else was in quarantine.
That, I wasn’t so happy about. Now my power was public knowledge, which meant every villain in the city would be thinking up ways to beat it. I sighed, reminding myself that it didn’t matter. I only had one target, and she knew more about my weaknesses than I did. After her, I’d hang up the cape and go on with my life.
Eventually Mom got home, about an hour earlier than expected. I heard the door slam behind her, right before she shouted at the top of her lungs. “What the hell were you thinking?!”
Huh, I thought I’d have at least a few seconds of ‘are you okay’ first. I hadn’t even managed to get to the door before my mother swung it open, looking more pissed than I’d ever seen her. “Hi, Mom. Guess that means you saw the news.”
She huffed and stepped within inches of me. “Oh, I saw the news alright. Imagine my surprise when I found out my son skipped school to attend a bank robbery!”
Geez, she really needs to brush her teeth before shouting right into someone’s face like that. “You make it sound like I’m the robber. I stopped two supervillains, Mom. I’m using my powers to help people. That’s a good thing. You should be proud.”
“No! No I’m not proud!” She turned around, stalking to my door before turning back to face me. Her makeup had started to run from her tears. “If you want me to be proud, become a doctor or scientist or even a lawyer. No mother ever wants to find out her only son just got into a fight with super powered psychopaths! And one of them can control minds! Do you have any idea how scary that is!?”
If that upsets you, I can only imagine what you’d do if you found out my real reason to put on a costume. I forced a smile. “I wasn’t in any danger. That’s how my power works, Mom. You don’t have to worry, I’ll be fine.”
She glared at me. “Your father said the same thing, and look how that turned out for him!”
“Not really the same-”
“This was his idea, wasn’t it!?” She shoved her fingers through her hair, like she might actually rip it out. “Of course it was his idea! I’m surprised he didn’t have you out there wearing his old army fatigues and carrying a fucking assault rifle!”
Well, there goes any chance of her seeing reason. The moment she said I was acting like Dad, my only choice was to ignore her until she ran out of steam. Still, I had to make at least one comment. “Pretty sure impersonating a soldier is against the law.”
“Don’t get smart with me.” Mom simply glared at me, daring me to speak up.
I didn’t. I wanted to. I wanted to yell at her about how damn small her worldview was, and how she didn’t understand what I was dealing with. That I had real problems to deal with, and a pair of second rate Imbued were the least of my worries.
I wanted to tell her just who Kitten was, and how no one was going to do anything about her. How much trouble the gangs could cause me at school if they wanted. That I was doing all of this to protect her and Laura and everyone else I cared about. But that wouldn’t have done any good, it would just make her worry more.
After a minute of staring me down, she apparently decided I was intimidated enough for her to continue her tirade. She crossed her arms. “Now, are there any other nasty surprises you want to tell me about?”
“Not really, no.”
“You’re grounded until you can learn not to lie to your mother.”
“I gave you a chance to tell the truth, Zach. About sneaking out at night to get into street fights.”
Oh. Well, fuck.
“I found out about that on the news, too. What I want is to know why!” Her voice was starting to crack from all the screaming. I could only imagine what the neighbors thought. “I want to know why you’re doing all of this. I want to know why you lied to me when you said, and I quote, ‘nothing’s changed’. And I want to know why the police didn’t let me know my sixteen year old son was out in the middle of the night starting fights with criminals.”
I wasn’t about to answer the first question. The second was to avoid a scene like this one, and I didn’t see that going over well either. “There’s a sort of unofficial rule. What happens in costume stays in costume. They try not push Imbued too hard about their home lives.”
“That doesn’t make any sense!” She wasn’t going to listen. “I’m still your mother and the law is that I’m supposed to be told!”
“Because people die trying to do it your way!” I regretted the words before they even left my mouth. At least the silence was better than her shrilling at me.
“Would you listen to yourself? You’re talking like…” she took a breath. “That just proves I’m right. You’re grounded, and you’re going to stay grounded. School, then straight home, no excuses.”
“No! No buts.” She brought her hands up, gesturing wildly. “This ends now. No costumes. No running around at night. No superhero team. Nothing! From now on, your life is school and homework and that’s the end of the subject. And consider yourself lucky; I’d take away your computer if you didn’t need it for classes. Or send you to live with your father, if I wasn’t so damn certain he’s encouraging this behavior. Is that understood?”
I think the only one here who doesn’t understand is you. “Yeah, loud and clear.”
“Good, dinner’s at seven. We’re going to sit down and have a nice, family meal for a change.”
She left, to the sound of me resisting my desire to point out that the reason we never had a family meal is because she was never actually here. Didn’t need Muwth to tell me how that would have turned out.
I plopped down in front of my computer and went back to my research. Nano was a newbie, or maybe someone using a new identity, either way there wasn’t any info to give. Shadow Boxer turned out to be a bouncer at an exclusive club.
She was ranked as a Tank 2.2 for immunity to small arms fire and regeneration, Brawler 2.1 for being just barely stronger than natural maximum, and Sniper 1.4 for the ability to attack at a range of about a hundred feet max. Summoner and Transit, both ranked at 1. Total threat of 1.9, which was pretty weak.
Hopefully, being grounded wouldn’t matter too much. I’d already pulled the one stunt I really, truly, needed to pull. I took down two villains, even though I wasn’t alone. Hopefully the fact that I had an ally with unknown powers might scare the gangs off just as much as me pulling a solo act.
And Nano’s power would earn him an automatic four on the threat scale. People did not fuck around with powers like his. The fact that I seemingly no-sold him would impress people. Now I’d just have to act like mind control was nothing to me, instead of pants-browningly terrifying.
If they backed off, all that was really left was Kitten. Once she was gone I’d be in the clear, and Mom’s wrath would be the least of my list of concerns. Sure, building and leading a team would be harder, but I was confident I could figure something out. For now, maybe it’d be nice to take a break.
The tetris music of my cell kicked up, and that’s when I realized I didn’t have it. I opened my door and went to track the sound. “Hello?” Oh, great, Mom took my phone. “This is his mother, he’s busy. Who are you? I don’t recall my my son mentioning anything about that. No, that won’t be possible. I’ll let him know you called, you can talk to him at school tomorrow.”
Okay, suddenly this is a lot less tolerable. Mom looked at me. “That was a girl, said her name is ‘Cassie’. Claims she’s a classmate and wanted to come over and drop off your homework. Is she that ‘White Lady’ you used to work with?”
“No, Mom, Cassie’s a friend from school.” Sensing the complete lack of belief from my mother, I continued. “Jeez, I know you’ve heard me mention her. We worked together on that history project a couple weeks ago. And that’s before I ever got powers.”
“So she doesn’t have superpowers.” Mom’s arms crossed.
“I’ve never asked.” I didn’t want to give the impression we were close. “I know my secret was kicked wide open the day after I got them, but it’s considered really really rude to pry about things like that. I don’t even know who White Lady is, behind the mask.” Well, unless you count the other mask.
“So you were working with some girl without even knowing who she is?” Mom shook her head. “It’s worse than I thought. God, I know I raised you to be smarter than that. What would happen if she was some kind of deviant?”
“Fun times?” And for a few blessed moments, stunned silence reigned over the Parker household. Sadly, such a golden age was too beautiful to stay long in this world.
“Don’t be crass.”
“Hey, you’re the one who brought it up.” At least this was a distraction from the other crap. “Trust me, she’s not interested. I already tried.”
“You’re as bad as your father.”
That might have upset me more if she didn’t compare me to Dad every last time I did anything she didn’t like. “Besides, I would think you’d be glad to find out that maybe your son had a chance to get a girlfriend.”
“You lost your chance when you ditched school to fight bank robbers.” And back to the topic at hand. “Now you’re grounded until you leave for college. And even if by some miracle I do unground you, there will be no ‘fun times’ while you still live under my roof. I have no plans to become a grandmother any time soon.”
She turned her back to me and started fussing about the kitchen. In the universal language of mom-speak, that was code for ‘this conversation is over, go away until I decide otherwise’.
I returned to my room. There wasn’t a lot for me to do until I could make a call to Muwth or Anima. For the first time since I got my powers, I actually opened a school book while not in school.