It was daylight by the time Mike finished his work and had me out the door so he could worry about ‘paying’ customers. The sun hidden behind clouds as a thin mist of rain fell on already sloppy mush-filled streets.
Mike was nice enough to replace my lost glove. In fact, he replaced my whole suit with a brand new copy that didn’t smell like burnt house. When he offered remake my coat using some kind of synthetic spider silk I tried to explain that I didn’t need the armor. Mike told me silk was actually shit for body armor, but tough enough to survive the hell I put my clothes through.
All of which was secondary to the gauntlets. The finished pair were worn under the rest of the costume. I’d tested them enough to know they hit with shattering force, usually mine. My power lovingly shared every curve, inside or out, of these beauties. Sure, I didn’t know fuck all about how they did what they did, but according to Mike and GL, it was perfectly normal tech to shape explosives.
I’d even convinced Mike to give me a sixth setting to the weapons, one which would break the casing and fire the piston forward. It was almost like a shotgun slug, though only with a range of a few feet.
“So, how did you meet Mike, anyways?” I ignored the glances I got from pedestrians. If they thought that I was talking to myself, so be it. I just walked, listening to my boots sloshing along.
GL’s answer took so long that I was beginning to think he’d left. “I’ve been around the block a few times.” I looked around, but no one seemed to react to his voice. Not sure how he pulled that off, but that could come in handy. “Back when I got my powers, I spent a while trying to find a way to have a human body again. Mike’s why I came to DC in the first place. I was hoping to, I dunno, transporter accident I guess.”
“Which couldn’t work.” I felt myself tense up. “I suppose if Mike’s ideas pan out, you have another shot.” Is this my lot in life, to be a tool for others to use for their own advancement?
“No,” GL sighed. It took me a moment to realize he didn’t read my mind. “It’s what I lost to gain powers. No refunds. No loopholes. No exceptions. Muwth helped me understand that. I’m stuck like this, and the one thing that might make it better is certain to make everything else worse. Don’t worry, I’m over it.”
Wow, do I feel like an ass. “I guess everyone on the team owes Muwth something.” Maybe I am wrong to suspect her, maybe there is something going on to mess with her predictions. She’s in hiding for a reason.
Besides, Muwth’s motives still weren’t my highest priority. Kitten was far and above the greater problem. Even with the gauntlets, I was pretty sure I’d lose. I could hurt her if I hit her, but I didn’t know if I could hit her.
Dealing with The Bastard and seeing how sloppy Flux and Shadow Boxer were in a fight gave me hope. If she relied on power instead of skill the way they did, I had a chance. The problem was she’d spent years killing Imbued and police, giving her way more real experience than I had.
“Speaking of Muwth, I should probably get in touch with her,” GL said. “You up for going out again tonight?”
I studied my new boots, and the mud that covered them. “Yeah, it matters now more than ever.”
“Semper Vigilans,” GL answered. “Always vigilant.”
In spite of myself, I smiled. “Yeah, semper vigilants.” That was a good way to look at it. Whatever Kitten’s game, I’d be ready. Whatever Muwth’s game, well, I didn’t know if she even was playing a game, but I knew how to find out, if I was patient. It’s not like I had much choice. For now, I had time to walk and plan.
It was almost noon by the time I got home.
“Zach!” Mom exclaimed the moment I opened the door. “Where the hell have you been? You left your cell in your room.”
Oh, right, the whole ‘still grounded’ thing. “Sorry, forgot it in the confusion. Won’t happen again.” Probably not true, something about bringing my personal cell to fights that got all my things broken seemed dumb as hell.
“I was out stopping a robbery, then sat down to do some planning with the team.” I pulled my coat off and hung it on the rack near the door. The boots came next, left on the placemat. The rest of my costume was going to wait until I was in my room. “Oh, and got the costume stench-free.”
Her eyes narrowed, but I could see her inhaling deeply. “Well, that part of your story checks out. Homework?”
“Done,” I answered. Seeing her skeptical gaze, I explained. “Thanksgiving weekend, the teachers don’t want to grade homework while nursing hangovers. Bet you any amount of money we’ll have a bunch of pop quizzes on Monday.”
She almost smiled, but forced the expression into a smirk. “Sounds like you’d better study, doesn’t it?” Her voice was hard, but not angry. “I’m going to get my last bit of Christmas shopping done, you’d best be at the books when I get back.”
“Shower first, then a day of reading about Van Gogh awaits. Just like nature always intended for growing boys.”
Mom didn’t say anything, she just grabbed her purse and we passed each other in the kitchen. I wasn’t looking forward to a day spent in the house alone, considering that’s what I did every night. I was looking forward to getting to my cell and texting Cassie for a pick-me-up. She always knew what to say to make me feel better.
I heard the door click open when I was in the hallway. “Oh!” Mom exclaimed in surprise. I whirled around and took a fighting stance on instinct. If Kitten-
“Is Respawn in, Ma’am?” Between the sound of his voice, and the red glow, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know it was Com. Not exactly my favorite person in the world, but anything was welcome compared to what Kitten might do to my mother.
“Yes, Zach’s here,” Mom answered. “If you’re one of his friends, he’s busy right now.”
“Actually, I’m with the police,” Com corrected.
“The hell did he do this time?” Mom exclaimed, turning back toward me. “Zach, get your ass in here right now!”
That’s actually a good question, what did I do this time? I walked back into the living area, and sure enough the glowing red asshole was standing in the front door. “Look, if this is about the damage to that parking lot, I swear it wasn’t my fault.”
“Actually, I hadn’t heard about that,” Com said, a smile slowly spreading on his face. “But since you brought it up, maybe I should take a statement.”
This is why I should have my mouth surgically sewn shut. “Not a lot to tell.” I glanced over at my mother, who just stared at me. What I wouldn’t give for thought bubbles over her head right now. “Ran into some b-lister calling himself Flux in a public storage place in Alexandria. Some kind of telekinetic or something. He tossed me around, I kicked his ass, and he ran away.”
“And he was alone?” Com asked. That’s when I was sure Com knew he was working alongside Kitten.
I shrugged it off. “I didn’t see anyone, but I don’t have super senses. Maybe you have some kind of list he’s on to check?” I wasn’t sure if he got the jibe or not, but I’d said everything I was going to tell him. “So, if that’s not why you’re here, what is?”
Com took a breath, or at least his projection did. “I’m here to inform you that you’ve been offered a Civilian Service Award of one thousand dollars for your actions during yesterday’s apartment fire.”
“What.” Mom sounded like she swallowed the word. “Uh, do we have to do anything? Is there going to be some kind of interview or press conference? Do we have to register with some kind of government program? Who’s paying for this?” All very good questions.
Com waited until Mom finished. “It’s a private sector award funded by donations and businesses. You will have to come to the DC IPD building to verify your identity. Afterward, you’ll just have to sign for the cashier’s check we’re holding for you. I know it sounds a little inconvenient, but it’s done that way to protect secret identities and avoid fraud.”
A grand just waiting for me? I wasn’t about to argue. “Sounds fair enough.”
“Oh, now that I think about it I’ve seen those on the news,” Mom said.
I had, too. Usually alongside some company claiming credit for donating the cash.
“That’s something of a last resort,” Com answered. “Usually the police are given a week to contact the Imbued in question. Outstanding rewards are flagged in police files. The problem with a public release is it invites attempts to scam both the charity and the hero in question.”
“And is this something that Zach will… have to do often?” Translation: how much money can my idiot make like this?
“I don’t know,” Com answered. “First, this is a civilian project, same as many college grants. Who qualifies, how much they get, and when isn’t controlled by the government. I can tell you it is only awarded for saving lives. I’m sure their website will tell you everything you want to know.”
“In effect, it’s a bribe,” I finally spoke up. The adults turned their heads toward me. Mom looked at me like I was crazy, and I looked at her like she was stupid. “That’s what it is in the end. A bit of cheap advertising that gets on the news instead of a commercial. Then some cash goes to superheroes so they keep on saving lives instead of blowing them up.”
“Zach, thats…” Mom trailed off, looking rather embarrassed.
“A very cynical way to view the world, Respawn,” Com finished for her.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Probably, but am I wrong? Don’t worry, you’ve done your job and I’ll be along to pick up my money sometime today.”
“I’ll let them know,” Com said. His glow was noticeably absent a moment later.
“So!” I clapped my hands together. “How about I put studying on hold and take care of some shopping? I’ll pay for lunch, anywhere you wanna go. But keep it under a couple hundred bucks if you please.”
Mom nodded and walked back into the house. “Change out of your costume and get a shower, first.”