“And the technology’s advancing so fast I just don’t know how to keep up with everything. All I can say is thank god Jennifer’s going into the business when she’s out of college. It’s a young person’s game these days, wouldn’t you agree?”
I smiled and nodded. “I could not agree more, Patty.” Sometimes I just wanted to cringe at these obvious power plays. Patty’s grand-daughter was just about the right age to pair off with Adam. Patty’s hope being that they’d be able to leech our wealth off to bolster their medical tech company. “But I think Mike and I have a few years in us before we pass on the torch.” I put on the smile of gossip and inside information as I leaned forward. “Confidentially, I think it will be Chloe that picks up where we leave off.”
Patty may have been disappointed, but there was no barb in my words for her to feel slighted at. “She has been growing up, hasn’t she? Do you think her brothers will mind?”
What she was really asking was how much windfall they’d get from our estate. “I imagine they’ll be fine. Adam’s aiming to go into politics, and Jason doesn’t have that fire to be a leader.” I hated saying as much, but it was true. Not that he could get away with being lazy. We promised ourselves we’d give our kids enough to do anything they wanted, but not enough to do nothing. “Chloe wants and deserves the responsibility.”
Patty shook her head in sympathy. “So few young people today do. It comes from everything being so quick and easy these days.”
Speaking of products of their time. “I expect people have been saying that since the world was young.”
Still, Patty’s implied offer might be worth looking into. The possibility of investing in or purchasing Patty’s holdings, at least. Political marriages weren’t in the same hemisphere as the table. I swore long ago I wouldn’t use my children as livestock. If Adam liked the girl, that would be fine, but I’d sooner he never marry than marry out of some obligation. Besides, our family wasn’t in any danger of bankruptcy.
Frederick, our head of security, approached. “Ma’am, there’s been an incident.” His eyes glanced at Patty and the others that were pretending not to listen in. “An Imbued approached Starfall after she left the party. She handled it peacefully and reports the Imbued appears new to their powers and wasn’t there for a fight. However…”
Frederick understood the value of discretion; telling me in front of eavesdroppers meant it was already public knowledge. “Our guest, our vehicle, our responsibility.” I finished his conclusion for him. I looked over at Peggy. “My apologies.”
“I understand completely.”
Frederick was busy giving me the rundown as we walked away. “Your husband’s already been informed.” In a single smooth motion, he placed a PDA in my hand.
“What’s his opinion?” I flipped through the reports sent by our stand-in, as well as another from the driver. I could see Mike’s edits already on the reports, highlighting important details. The impersonator refused to give more details than the obvious, and that the girl was there to talk to Starfall. Having worked with him before, I anticipated his professionalism. No doubt I’d hire him again in the near future, as a means of distancing Chloe from this new Imbued.
For while he wouldn’t speculate as a matter of professionalism, our driver was expected to tell us his every thought. The female Imbued, estimated at approximately thirteen to fifteen years old with light hair, came from the direction of our home. Chloe’s slight build worked in her favor in that regard, and it seems she radiated a neon-blue light that made identifying her features impossible. Still, the conclusion that it was Chloe was obvious to anyone with the right knowledge.
“Messy, but nothing that can’t be fixed,” Frederick answered. “All that connects you to the event is Starfall, who was here for a routine celebrity appearance done entirely above board. No one will suspect anything.”
“No one will know,” I corrected. “Plenty will suspect.” We were out of earshot of guests now. I thanked my lucky stars that it was poor form to find the identities of superheroes.
Career journalists who cared more about the story than their lives might dig for villains, but never a hero or unaffiliated. Morality aside, there was too great a risk of lawsuits over violations of privacy. That left only the gossip rags, who never did any actual digging.
Frederick opened the door to Mike’s study for me. Mike was alone, watching the car’s security camera footage. “It’s her.”
I looked at Frederick. “Okay. I want you to give the impersonator and driver both a ‘thank you’ bonus for behaving professionally under the circumstances.” It was a blatant bribe to keep their mouths shut. I trusted they both would anyway, but I wanted them to feel good about it. “A thousand dollars each should be generous enough.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Frederick hurried out.
Mike tapped the keyboard, bringing up a still. The girl was barely recognizable as human, wreathed in teal light that made her look like something out of a biblical visitation. Her clothes, however, were Chloe’s. “Third stage, already?” My stomach clenched as I fought down the tears. Why did it have to be my little girl?
“I’m not so sure.” Mike clicked a few times, bringing up different scenes. Chloe’s light started at deep blue at first, but was yellow near the end. “She could be second stage, with each power creating their own overlapping glow. Or her power manipulates light directly, meaning we can’t trust visuals for power scaling.”
I swallowed down the pain. “Or she’s third stage.”
“Or she’s third stage.” Mike couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. “We’ve got about a minute and a half before she’s back on the property. Frederick’s moved our security personnel to the other sides of the building; she’ll get back inside without incident.”
I nodded. “I’ll go up to her room. Maybe…” I couldn’t even think my fears, let alone speak them aloud.
“We’ll make it through this, Amanda,” Mike said. Gravity warped around me, a brief taste of our power interaction to make me feel better and sharpen my power for the coming trials. Mike’s emotions blended with mine, strengthening my own resolve as I strengthened his. Together we can do anything. “She’s our daughter.”
If only that was any sort of guarantee. “I know.” I was out the door and heading for the stairs.
I waited by her door, trusting my own senses to know exactly the moment I needed to open the door. Chloe was suspended in midair by yellow light. You better make this look good, Amanda. “Oh. Fuck.”
Chloe flipped herself upright without effort. Her power doesn’t rely on reflexes or conditioning, it’s controlled through thought alone. “Umm, this isn’t what it looks like?”
I stepped in, closed the door, and leaned against it. Stay in control, one slip will bring disaster. “Are you sure?” I rested my left pointer finger on the fingers of my right hand. “I think it looks like my daughter got superpowers, flew out of the house to chase down her childhood hero, fell out of the sky onto someone’s lawn, and cost me at least two grand in ‘thank you for not telling the tabloids’ money. Is that about right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Chloe was busy studying my hands. With each new point, I slid my finger down so I could close my hand. I felt bad making her feel guilty like this, but it was the only chance to save our family.
Now that she knew she was in trouble, I changed tracks. “Well, it’s not the worst thing I’ve walked in on you doing.”
She looked away, unable to meet my eyes. She had powers, now, which meant that fear of parental reprisal wouldn’t hold much longer. I’d need to reinforce it as much as possible while I still could. “Thanks for reminding me.”
I spared a look at her arms, covered in dirt and flecks of blood that had only recently stopped glowing. I couldn’t yet be certain if it was because that blood had finally died, or because she wasn’t using her power.
“Looks you got durability to go with the flight, but not enough to protect you completely.” I kept my tone firmly in ‘parent’ mode. “I’ve got a party to get back to. I want you to take a shower and disinfect your scrapes.”
She looked up at me; of all the things she expected, being told how to handle her powers wasn’t it. “Okay.”
I smiled, reminding her that I was both her mother, and more competent than I led others to believe. “Bandage them if you have to. You haven’t healed yet, so I doubt you’re a regenerator. You may have a specific resistance to infection, but it’s best not to press your luck. After that, you are to write down every last detail you’ve learned about your powers tonight, along with everything you remember about what you were feeling or thinking when you got them. I’ll make excuses for you at the party.”
I went downstairs before she could react. She’d be running on autopilot for a while. Hopefully that would buy us enough time to figure out a real game plan. I was on autopilot as well, unable to focus on the party. If it were any other circumstance, I would have begged off and cared for my daughter, but a break from normalcy now would put suspicion on her.
It was past nine when everything was said and done. I finally had a chance to get back to Chloe’s room. I looked at her room, behind which she was sequestered.
Mike reached for my hand. “Do you want me to go with you?”
I smiled and accepted. He was every bit as worried as I was. Maybe more; much as I loved my husband, he still had some old fashioned ideas about girls needing more coddling and protection than boys despite his ability to see into my very soul through our Pairbond.
“We’re in this together.” I knocked on Chloe’s door.
“Come in.” I clenched Mike’s hand harder; that wasn’t the voice of a scared girl. That was the voice of a scared girl convinced she had to make a hard decision. I knew it quite well. Seems we gave her too much time to think. I pushed the door open.
“How are you feeling, mushroom?” Mike tried to break the ice.
Chloe stood near the edge of her bed. The scrapes didn’t look so bad now that they were clean, no worse than some of her tumbles in gymnastics. She held a sheet of paper in her hands. “You were prepared for this, weren’t you?” To emphasize her point, her fingertips started to glow. “All those private tutors about Imbued weren’t about making sure I was well educated. You knew.”
I glanced at Mike. He wanted me to lead, as he always did when it came to Chloe. “Chloe, you know there is no way to predict or control who gets powers. People have been trying and failing for thousands of years.” Chloe’s eyes made it clear she wanted more, so I relented before it became a battle of wills that only served to make things worse. “But, we feared it might. We hoped it would never would.”
“We thought one of us would have to die, first,” Mike said. “The Mark of Cain is the closest thing to a guarantee we have of predicting powers.” But not the only explanation.
Chloe’s eyes widened. “You mean…” she trailed off. She was a smart girl, she could figure it out on her own. “You have powers.”
Mike’s gravity field started wrapping around us, clarifying my own senses. I pressed back against that bond, pouring my mind and soul into Mike as he did the same to me. Once upon a time, I’d have been horrified by such perfect, unbreakable intimacy. Now, terror was the idea of losing it. Followed by the fear of losing my only daughter.
She’s our daughter, love will get us through. She’ll hate us for the betrayal. She’ll find out eventually, at least we stand a chance to control the fallout this way. Which thoughts were mine, and which were Mike’s was as impossible to discern as it was irrelevant. We’d long ago ceased to think of ourselves as individuals rather than two sides to the same whole.
“Gravity powers?” For a second, I wondered if Chloe had some sensory abilities, but no, she was just responding to the levitating objects and hair. Disgust and rejection marked her face. “No. You can’t be. Please tell me you’re not Quash.”
“I’m sorry,” Mike said. “I understand you’re upset-”
“Upset!?” Chloe screeched. Her hands clenched, crushing the paper she held. “Why would I be upset to find out my dad’s the leader of the Klu Klux Klan, superpowered edition?!”
“Now that’s hardly fair,” I said. “The Klan’s a different ideology with completely different politics and policies.” Notably, we’ve actually done something of merit in the last fifty years.
“And you knew!” She turned on me. “You have powers, too!? Which one are you? Echo? Myriad? Fucking Biohazard?”
“Not quite.” Though Myriad was the closest thing Chloe had to a godmother. The woman was almost comically in love with my husband. If I were a different woman, I might have been jealous, but I knew she stood no chance while I was still alive. In fact, part of me was glad someone would be there to look after him if I died.
I dipped into my power, warping light around myself. My golden-blonde hair, dyed only enough to hide the hints of graying, turned midnight black speckled only by points of light. Within Mike’s gravitational field, my probability powers were amplified a hundredfold. I reached for the strings of fate, desperately trying to find the one that might let me keep my daughter. Pain crept into my bones, the pressure of Mike’s power on my body.
“Starfall?” My heart broke for my daughter. I knew how much she loved Starfall, and for me to take away her hero and more in this fashion was as cruel as it was necessary. If I’d only known how things would turn out when she was young. “Oh god, I think I’m going to be sick. You’re supposed to be a hero!”
“I am a hero.” My mind, free within Mike’s power, rushed through possibilities, countless currents in the river of time which would lead me to the resolution I sought. There was always one true, perfect answer to every scenario, I just needed to find it before it was too late.
“You’re a fucking Nazi!”
I caught a scent in the air, that of fresh ozone. Chloe’s powers are electrical in nature. I ran through a mental list of recent villains Mike and I had dealt with. The odds of her having gained powers through the Mark of Cain was low, but greater than her spontaneously getting powers.
“Again, wrong ideology,” I could have made a better argument, but I was still searching for our answer, and the stress on my body was growing ever worse.
We have to stop before you-. No! We keep going, for Chloe’s sake. Even if it kills me, she is worth it.
Chloe stepped back toward her window. “I can’t- I should go to the police. Don’t you dare try to stop me.”
Found it. Not the perfect path, but the best I could hope for. The singular chain of events that might one day see my daughter return to her family. “A-and what happens to your brothers?” I’m sorry, Chloe, it’s the only way.
She stopped cold. “You unbelievable bitch.” The tears running down her cheeks glowed so bright they were painful to look at, or maybe that was just my guilt. Smoke rose from the carpet where they landed. “And you have the gall to call yourself a hero.”
Mike stepped forward. “Your mother is protecting her family.”
“More like save your own ass- gah!” Chloe dropped the paper she was gripping. Flames and smoke rose from the ball as it fell to the floor. She looked at it before turning her head back on us. “Fuck you. You’re using my brothers as shields.”
“We’re protecting them.” Mike’s emotions were in turmoil. He was a man used to taking action and protecting those he loved. Now he had to choose between his daughter, and the rest of his family.
“If you cared about them, you’d never be a villain in the first place.” Chloe’s voice crackled with power. The ozone was intense enough to make it hard to breath. “Fuck you, and fuck your lies. I’m not staying and you can’t make me.”
“Wh-where will you go?” I struggled to keep my head straight. I drank far too deep from the well of power. I would need weeks to recover, but I had what I needed. “What will you do?”
Chloe’s doubt warred with her anger on her face. “I’ll figure something out.” Anger won the battle. “Unlike you, I will be a real hero.”
I wanted to argue that I was a real hero, but it would cost us our chance to have Chloe come back to us.
“O-okay,” I said. “Just promise to keep your eyes and mind open. You’ll see it, we’re not the enemy, they are. They act like animals. To us, to each other, they’re nothing but savages.”
Chloe trembled, her power sparked across her skin, but at least she stopped yelling. What love she still had for us would make the words stick. One day, after she saw the truth for herself, she’d realize we were right.
Are you certain? We have to let her go now, so she can come back later. It’s the only hope we have.
“There’s a small building along sixty-four, near the river.” Mike offered. Our Pairbond was unusual in that it was mostly one-sided. He couldn’t see the possibilities my power laid out, but he could understand them after I steered us onto the right course. “The sign says it’s a cryogenics facility. It’s empty and the roof hatch is unlocked. It’s a place you can stay where we know you’re safe, okay?”
Chloe glared as us for a minute. She was running entirely on anger right now. She didn’t say a word, just dived out the window and shot off into the sky.
Mike’s power vanished and I fell into his arms. “Sweetheart? Will you be okay?”
“As long as we get her back,” I said. My heart was racing from the stress I just put it through. Patty was right, this is a young person’s game. I looked at the crumpled, burnt piece of paper.
I wanted to be a hero.