By the time I finished my shower and was out, poor Mr. Knapp had a bunch of new visitors. Had I known I would cause this much commotion, I would have found somewhere else to announce my return. I could have used a pay phone, Dad could have sent one of his less conspicuous vehicles and drivers. So not only am I a selfish bitch, I’m also stupid.
Dad was waiting for me, alongside Frederick. He had been our head of security for as long as I could remember, and I never before thought to wonder if Frederic was his first or last name. Behind them stood a man in a generic gray costume. He didn’t look like any profile of superhero or villain I’d ever seen. In fact, his outfit was so plain and impersonal that it screamed ‘I’m moonnighting right now’.
Dad stepped forward, the concern on his face more comforting than I’d expected. “Oh, Chloe! Knapp said it looked bad, but…” his look darkened. “Did that boy do that to you?”
Not knowing who the moonnighter was, I couldn’t risk airing the family’s dirty laundry in front of him. He was behind Dad, so I allowed just a flicker of electricity to flash in my eyes. “You know he didn’t.” I hoped was vague enough.
“Forget about him.” I put as much command in my voice as I could, given that I was trying to order my father. Hopefully he’d get the message that I didn’t want Domenic hurt. “We have Mom’s arrangements to worry about.”
“Yes, of course, you’re right.” His soft tone didn’t quite match the ‘we’ll talk about this later’ look he gave me. He turned and gestured to the costumed man. “This is a healer. He’ll fix everything, okay?”
A healer? To the best of my knowledge, there were no healers in the area. Aside the one working with the hospitals, but he was a Gadgeteer who used a room sized machine to do the job. Which meant this was someone brought in from out of town, and thus probably knew a few secrets. Then again, he might only have been told Mom was Starfall and brought in as part of the hunt for her killers. “Okay.”
The healer stepped closer. “Brace yourself, this is a bit of a ride.”
I took a breath and closed my eyes. One never could know what weirdness a Gifter would inflict on someone, but no matter what came, I had to hide my powers. I wasn’t quite prepared for the most incredible feeling of my life.
My heart pounded in my chest, and instead of pain, it felt amazing. I’d never been one of those athletes who got a runner’s high, but that’s what it felt like only a thousand times more intense. I felt muscles bulge under my skin and press against my clothes. Moments later, the sensation faded.
Still panting, I risked opening my eyes. The bulge of muscle had faded, leaving only my normal physique, but my fingernails had grown at least an inch and all the effort I’d put into shaving my legs yesterday was undone. In fact, there was now visible hair on my toes.
“She still looks a little unwell.” My father’s voice sounded annoyed to the point of barely hidden anger. I had a hard time reconciling the easy-go-lucky father I knew my whole life with the supervillain Quash, but the way he was acting now bridged the gap for me.
“Sorry, but I can’t risk pushing her any further,” the healer answered. “She’s not trained.”
Trained for what?
“Sir, if I may?” Frederick spoke up. “It might be for the best. One would expect her to look a little worse for wear, so soon after a tragic loss. I can’t see any obvious bruising, and makeup will cover the rest.”
“You’re right, as usual.” Dad slumped down. “It’s been a long day. See to it our guest is compensated for his services, and getting the mess cleaned up. I just want to spend the rest of the day with my family.”
“Yes, sir.” Frederick turn to the unknown Imbued, while I took that as my cue to follow my father out of the house.
Dad waited for us to get about ten feet from the house. “About Damascus-”
“Stop. Now.” I let my power warp my voice. “That’s my concern, not yours. Right now, we play like a happy family for my brothers and the cameras, then we show Hunter and Killer how their job is done. After that, then maybe we find time to talk about something else. But if you so much as look at Domenic funny, it won’t be him that you have to fear.” Holy shit, I just threatened my dad.
He sighed. “More and more like your mother every day. I’m sure she’s smiling down on you right now.”
Is ‘down’ is the direction she’d be looking? “How are my brothers holding up?”
“Adam’s gotten leave from his school to put off his finals.” Dad said it like it was something to be proud of. In a way, it was, Adam was always the smart one of us three, or at least the one who took the time to think before acting. He had that in common with Domenic; I could imagine them sitting in front of a fireplace having long, boring discussions about domestic policy. “Jason’s reaction was about how you’d expect. I’m sure he’ll feel better with you home.”
I wondered if Dad’s comment was a way to play on my guilt, or simply an attempt at a kind word. Either way, the guilt and suspicion were both quite real. “Oh.” Jay always was the baby of the family, in more ways than one. The rest of the walk was done in silence.
Adam was on the closest back porch waiting for us. I didn’t run, but I walked faster. I hadn’t realized just how much Dad’s power hurt until the pain went away. Once again, I felt a pang of guilt for Domenic; he went through the same thing I had, without the benefits of superhuman durability. I shouldn’t have left him behind, not in that condition.
“It’s going to be okay, Mushroom.” Adam’s hand touched my shoulder, startling me out of my thoughts. Part of me felt bad that I didn’t feel worse right now. His arms slid around me. “We’ll get through this, together.”
“I still…” I felt the tears coming up. Part of me wanted to tell Adam what our parents were responsible for, to kick over the house of lies around our family. Instead, I let myself cry in my brother’s arms. “It doesn’t feel real.”
Adam didn’t say anything, he just let me have my cry before leading me inside. Dad no doubt passed by us at some point, but I don’t know when. I expect the staff had their questions, but none of them were foolish enough to ask.
Mom’s usual seat remained empty. Thanks to our parents’ busy lifestyle, it was far from the first time, but today, for the first time, it felt wrong. She’s gone, and she’ll never be back.
It was Jay that broke first, retreating for his bedroom with tears in his eyes. Adam was standing before Jay made it to the stairs. “I think I should go talk to him.” He was probably right.
“I’ll give you a few minutes, then follow.” That was the father I was accustomed to, playing support rather than the leading role in the family. I still didn’t know how he could lead his small army of superpowered Nazis. He waited until after Adam followed Jay before looking at me. “You should finish eating, you’re going to need your strength. I have something to show you tonight.”
I did as told. I hadn’t yet eaten anything today, and even though I still wasn’t hungry, I knew he was right. I could rely on my powers to protect me, but I needed to be in the best condition possible to take on these monsters. I have to be strong enough to do what my former hero and mother could not.
After forcing myself to eat, I went upstairs to my room where I checked my mirror. At least I felt better, because I looked like a recovering meth addict. No wonder Dad was so concerned about my health. I went about deciding what makeup I’d need to avoid being mistaken for some ill-fated attempt to bring back the dead.
A knock came around eight. “Chloe? Are you awake?” Our doors were quite high quality, so it took a moment to recognize it was Dad’s voice.
As if I could sleep. “I’m up and dressed.”
The door opened. Dad was still in his casual clothes, but there was a look of determination on his face that to date I thought only Mom was capable of. “Come with me, but keep quiet.”
For a moment, I considered telling him to go to hell. “Okay.” I followed him into the east wing of the building. To my knowledge, it was only used as a sort of museum for my father’s collections.
I kept quiet, following him into one of the side hallways, then turned a corner into another hall. He pushed his hands against a wall, and it swung back like a door. “Quicky.” I rushed in, and he stopped pushing. The door, loaded on some sort of springs, closed the moment Dad stopped pushing it.
I looked around at an area that was old, and not as well repaired as the rest of the house. It looked like it had been years years since it was last dusted. “So, is this how you guys sneak in and out?”
“Why would we bother sneaking in our own home?” I had to admit, it did sound stupid when said that way. “This house was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Amanda stumbled across it when we were house-shopping. There’s three secret areas like this, and the estate holders didn’t even know they existed.” He managed a genuine, if sad, smile. “Your brother may have been conceived here.”
I crossed my arms. “Thanks for making things so much less awkward for me.”
“Please, Chloe, I know Amanda talked to you about the birds and the bees a year or two ago. We didn’t reproduce via parthenogenesis.”
No, I got a slightly different conversation when I was thirteen. After Mom walked in while I had one of Starfall’s posters… and now I know why she was more freaked out about it than I was. I shook off that train of thought and focused on the other thing. “I would have thought the Underground Railroad would detract from its value, in your eyes.”
“Sweetheart, please, could you at least read Heritage’s website before saying stuff like that? You’re embarrassing yourself.” Dad sighed and shook his head. “We’re opposed to slavery of any type, and consider it one of America’s greatest failings. No man should have what he’s earned taken from him by another. We believe the blacks should be sent back to their own continent, where they’re free to do whatever they like with it. Either they’ll puzzle out civilization and make their land worthy of respect, or at least they’ll be trashing their own home instead of mine.”
I don’t even… where is Domenic? I know I’m outraged, but I need someone to give me an itemized list of all the reasons why. “Right. Let’s just get to the part where you tell me why we’re here. I’d like to put the longest day of my life to rest.”
“That is probably the best for now.” At least Dad and I agreed on that much. He opened one of the side doors. “This is what we’re here for.”
Inside was a bunch of sketchboards and scraps of fabric, including a full body suit of white and gold. “What’s this?”
“One of Amanda’s side projects. She was making this for you.” Oh. I felt the need to cry again. “The design’s not complete, but it’s still a full Nemean-silk suit.”
I had to blink away the tears to get a good look. The body suit looked half my size, but that was part of how the fabric worked. It was virtually indestructible, had excellent ventilation, and could stretch to up to ten times its size.
The stuff wasn’t great protection on its own, since a bullet or knife would just push it into the wearer. At best it could serve as a bandage and prevent shrapnel from being lodged in the wound. However, the fabric could survive almost any punishment, even if the person inside did not. For Tanks, especially, it was the perfect costume material.
It was also absurdly expensive and every suit a custom order. “It- it’s beautiful.” I pulled it to myself, my bright teal tears dripping on the fabric. Mom may have bought the base suit, but she sewed the custom patterns in herself. Her last gift to me.
“It’s a bit large, so it should still be comfortable when you’re an adult, if you don’t want to replace it with another design.” Dad waited a moment. “There’s one more thing, this time from me.”
When I looked, he was holding a slender light blue blade. “It’s Amanda’s old sword, when she was trying a new costume theme. It’s never been used, but, I think she’d be honored if you had it.”
He pointed the handle toward me. I’d held mithril before, but not since gaining powers. The material could best be described as translucent titanium in terms of properties, but it was some sort of Gadgeteer-glass. Or, at least, that’s what everyone assumed. The exact process of creation was so secret that the inventor refused to patent it for fear others could copy his work if he did. Whatever it was, I could shield it with my power just as easily as any other solid I’d tried it on.
“I… don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll use it to avenge your mother, that’s all that matters.”
I choked on my words, and could only nod my agreement.
“Good. Now, let me tell you everything we know about those monsters that we couldn’t share at the meeting.”