The funeral was smaller than I’d expected, with only about twenty people. For the first time since I got my powers, I wondered about my lack of grandparents. Before I’d always accepted the story that both my parents were only children whose parents died when I was too young to remember them. Now, given that I knew the majority of Imbued came from broken homes, I had to wonder how much deeper the story went.
I dismissed the thought on the basis that it changed nothing. All it might accomplish was some Freudian excuse for why my parents were scumbags. That wouldn’t make it better, nor would it make what they did acceptable. Plenty of people had fucked up childhoods and didn’t become scum. Near as I could tell, Domenic was one of them.
I looked at the small gathering of Mom’s friends. That was the source of another pressing question: how many of these people wore costumes? Which ones were heroes, which were villains, and which were playing both sides?
I looked at the grave my mother was buried in. Does it even matter? Mom was dead, and everything I had to say to her, every question and accusation, would remain unsaid forever.
These were the thoughts that occupied my time while the officiate rambled on and on, despite his being a stranger with nothing of value to say.
There were Speakers that could do better. Espers with powers that could bring such closure, for both good and ill. Such things were not for the funeral of a woman who was both a hero and a Nazi. Especially not when the deceased was important enough to be first page news.
I slid in my seat to get a little closer to Jay. A Speaker wouldn’t help anyway; my feelings weren’t worth what it would do to my brothers. Even if it might make me feel better, which it wouldn’t, it would devastate them. After what felt like an insulting amount of time, the officiate decided he’d run out of things to say, then Dad stepped up to the podium.
Dad took a minute to gather his thoughts. “I met Amanda twenty-nine years ago, in Boston.” His voice sounded tired, hollow. I ran the math, that would be when Dad was in college. “I was having a bit of difficulty with some people, and this seventeen year old girl jumped into this argument to save this college guy she didn’t know. I found myself wondering who this girl was, where she came from, and how she made everyone there look like chumps.”
Some people chuckled, others sobbed, and I watched in rapt attention as my Dad described a story I’d never heard before. He’s all but confessed they met in costume. He wants people to connect the pair as one in the same without making the announcement himself.
Starfall did have a brief career in the New York region. To the best of my knowledge, Quash only operated here, in Raleigh, but gravity manipulation wasn’t a rare power, and anyone could change costumes and names.
Dad decided he’d let people think long enough. “After she was done chewing them out, she went to town on me and my buddies. I think we would have been better off if she’d just left us to deal with the problem ourselves. A few bruises would have been better than what she did to our egos.”
“Sounds like Mom.” Adam’s voice was loud enough to be heard, but not enough to overshadow Dad’s voice. It was a calculated maneuver, which elicited the murmur of agreement it deserved from the crowd.
“Long story short, she chased my friends off and it was just me and Amanda with our conversation.” Dad let out a sigh. “We went to some dive bar I can’t remember the name of. They carded me, but not her. By the end of the night, I knew I’d found the the most amazing woman in the world.” He paused for just a beat. “She told me so herself.”
Some of the laughs were polite, others legitimate. Despite my mind filling in the blanks with words like ‘racial violence’ and ‘Pairbond Interaction’, I still smiled at the story. Dad again gave us our moment before finishing his speech. “Rest well, Amanda. I’ll pick up where you left off, but I’m afraid I’ll never quite measure up to your standard.”
Dad stepped away and walked toward us, head down. I looked down, something about seeing my dad hurting like this felt wrong. Dad took his seat next to Adam. By some unspoken agreement, it was the furthest position away from me. Adam stood at almost the same moment as Dad sat down, and gave our father a pat on the shoulder before he made his way to the podium.
Adam took a breath once he was in position. “I know I have a bit of a reputation as a speech giver.” He wasn’t wrong. “Mom always insisted I keep that in check, so in honor of her I’ll make this brief for once.”
He turned to look at the grave. “You were always the one who pushed me to try my hardest, and to make certain I knew I was responsible for my own mistakes in life. Because if I messed up, no one would make me as sorry for it as you would. I promise not to slack off in your absence. I love you, Mom.”
True to his word, Adam ended it there. He gave me a meaningful look before sitting on the other side of Jay. I swallowed down my fear before making my way to the podium. I took my place, looking at everyone. My father and brothers, the spattering of other friends and family, the cameras in the back; they all expected me to say something positive about a woman I knew to be a Nazi and fraud.
I looked over at her grave, steeling myself for a performance which needed approval from Truthsayers and loving family alike. “Not long before she died, Mom said something to me that I’ll never forget.” I closed my eyes to keep from crying; no sense in blowing my secret identity on stage. “She told me that as long as I left the world a better place than I found it, she’d be proud.”
I opened my eyes. “It’s a beautiful sentiment.” Even if spoken by a liar. I looked over at her headstone. “I promise I’ll live my life for that goal, Mom.” But my better world will be nothing like yours.
Having performed my part in this show, I hurried back to my seat. I was confident the Truthsayers wouldn’t pick anything damning out of my words, and those who wanted to hear it as an affirmation of my mother would do so. Only Dad and I would know I was condemning her actions in life. It may not have been perfect, but it was enough to keep my integrity without hurting the innocent members my family.
I arrived at the rendezvous point under my own power that night, beating Dad by a fair amount. I wasn’t anywhere near the fastest flyer, topping out at roughly forty miles an hour, but I didn’t have to obey traffic laws.
A number of other heroes and even villains got to the meeting before me. They took positions in clusters that showed their respective alignments.
Included in the bunch were three guys wearing only loose fitting swim trunks, and cheap paper masks. All were pale, scrawny, and covered in way too much body hair. I was surprised they were even here, since I didn’t see them at the last gathering and they certainly didn’t look like professionals.
I almost cried when I saw Domenic’s liquid-steel profile near the corner. Filled with equal parts dread and joy, I dropped down next to him. “Hey, I, uh, didn’t expect you to come.”
He stood perfectly still, but that meant nothing. The way his armor formed made it impossible to know if he turned his head. “It’s a pair of powered serial killers; I can’t go through life wondering if there’s anything I could have done to stop them from taking even more lives.”
Thank God you’re the person I thought you were! I swallowed down my emotion. “Glad to have you.”
“I see you have a new costume.” It was impossible to decide his tone through the distortion of his armor. “The sword’s an interesting touch.”
I let my hand drop to the scabbard. “It’s borrowed. I don’t know if I like it, but for Hunter and Killer, I might need it.” There were far too many eavesdroppers for us to have the conversation I really wanted. “I’m not too clear on what we’re supposed to be doing. Did someone find out where they’re hiding?”
“We’re distractions.” Domenic turned his head this time, to look at where Judge, Jury and Executioner stood. “Or, that’s what the trio’s been telling us.”
Distractions. I traced my hand along the sword. I’m not here to be a distraction.“My powers are better on the front line.”
“Sorry, Mushroom,” a velvet female voice spoke behind me. I swirled only to find my face inches from Jury’s impressive cleavage. “That’s precisely why you’re best suited to run distraction.”
I leapt back, and held myself in mid air. I looked back at where Jury’s partners stood. I hadn’t seen her move at all, but she was no longer there. Wiki said she was some kind of illusionist. “How did you-“ know what my parents call me?
“We were doing this for a living while you were in diapers, Mushroom.” Jury’s perfect smile was visible; her mask started at the bridge of her nose. “But this is still the beginning of the show, and Judge is the the opening act.”
“You shall keep the monsters fearful in their shelter.” Judge’s voice was everything I imagined Death Itself to sound like. Bone being splintered by some medieval torture device couldn’t have sounded any more horrible. “As they cower, I shall follow the scent of their sins. There they shall be dispatched.”
“Translation: they’re hoping that if we’re running patrol, Hunter and Killer will stay inside while they sweep the city.” Domenic’s voice, distorted as it was, was a welcome sound compared to Judge. “I’m guessing Judge’s power can see through other forms of protection, so all they have is a range limit. If the psycho twins stay in one place, it’s just a matter of time before they’re found.”
“You are a smart boy.” Now Jury was right up in front of Domenic. I didn’t see her move, not even vanishing and reappearing like one would expect of teleportation. She simply went from being in one place to being in another. “Tall, dark, handsome and smart. Where were you when I was your age?”
That bitch! She’s flirting with Domenic like I’m not even a factor. The fact that I wasn’t a factor was irrelevant.
“In diapers, apparently.” Somehow, Domenic managed to convey snark through his armor. I almost giggled, but thankfully kept my dignity. I didn’t bother to hide the smile on my face.
“Such a pity.” My head snapped to where Jury was now standing next to her partners. When did she teleport? Did she teleport? Was it just illusion alone? And if her illusions are that good, can I trust any of my senses? “The night is wasting, so we’d best get to the job. The visible forces go out and stay as visible as possible. We’ll search block by block until we have them spotted. That’s when we call in, but don’t be surprised if we have their heads before you get there.”
Right, heads. “That might not kill them,” I added. “Their powers include extreme regeneration.”
“Thank you for the intel. I won’t ask how you got it, Mushroom.” I found myself wanting to punch Jury. “Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to tip you out of our bounty.”
“Assuming you get to it before I do.” One of the swimsuit guys said. I guess he was the leader, since he stood in front of the others. “They beat a luck manipulator, I expect Espers will have worse luck than Trackers.”
“Hmm, you may be right, Puppy.” Jury’s smile never wavered. “If anyone could beat us, it would be you. May the best trio win.” Jury and her partners all vanished, but we didn’t notice until Jury said ‘trio’.
The almost naked guy just shook his head and chuckled. “I love that bitch.” He turned to his companions. “Well, you heard the lady.”
All three of them hunched over as growls emanated from deep in their throats. Their bodies bulked up, growing muscle like pumping up a balloon while their hair became dense to the point of fur. Their loose swim trunks now looked like they were was painted on. Their faces had become muzzles, and their hands and feet sprouted deadly looking claws. In the end, they stood easily eight foot tall and had to be a half ton of solid muscle each.
“To the hunt, brothers,” the leader’s voice was now an inhumanly deep rumble. He took a running start, then jumped off the building. His ‘brothers’ joined him. They didn’t seem too worried about the idea of dropping three stories to the concrete below. That’s the guy who healed me. No wonder he stopped when he did.
Some others took flight, and a few started their way down the fire escape. I turned to Domenic. “So, what do we do now?”
“I have a route Jury gave me. I wasn’t sure you’d be here, so…”
“I guess that works. I can carry you. It would be more visible, right?”
“Yeah.” Domenic’s armor started to shift, creating handlebars for me to grip.
“Just point the way.” I took hold and then took flight.
Unlike usual, I stayed upright. Domenic would point, and I’d jump. We went that way for about half an hour before I set down in a parking garage, entering at roughly the third floor. “I need a break,” I answered his question before he asked. I was down to roughly a quarter power, and not recovering as fast as I was accustomed to.
“Sorry, it wasn’t planned with you in mind.”
“I guess it wouldn’t be.”
“I can draw out a better map for us to follow next time.”
It was a sweet offer, but I had to turn it down. “No, it might give hints to my power’s weaknesses.” Especially given Jury’s crazy Esper powers that let her know my childhood nickname. “Better just to follow the plan as it exists right now.”
Domenic stood silent for a minute. “Sorry. You’re right. So, umm, you weren’t in school today. And everyone wanted me to send their wishes. I, well, didn’t have the heart to tell them we broke up. Or however it works. I can give you the notes when you pick up your stuff.”
“Is that why you came out tonight?” I kinda wished he’d uncover his face, if only a little, so I could look at him while we talked. “To tell me that?”
“No. I was talking to my sister, and she said something that made me realize I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.” I wondered what possible conversation that could have been. “Maybe I don’t agree with your reason for hunting down Hunter and Killer, but I can’t deny that they need to be stopped. I’d be a monster if I didn’t at least try to help. And, I wanted to apologize for being a jerk Saturday.”
My heart jumped. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed, as hard as I could without kicking my powers on. “You don’t have to apologize. I should apologize for being such a selfish bitch.”
“Well, maybe we can both apologize, how’s that sound?” Domenic’s hand found its place on my shoulder.
“It sounds really good.” Even pressed up against cold steel, I felt warm inside.
“So does that mean we just had a fake break up and make up?”
“I guess so.” I found myself smiling, and for the first time since Mom died I was genuinely happy, if only for a moment. “So is that why you told off Jury when she was flirting with you?”
“That and she creeps me out in ways I can’t begin to describe. I’m going with Wiki’s theory that she’s really a dude. If my girlfriend’s going to be fake anyway, I’d at least like the ‘girl’ part to be real.”
I smiled. “Well, I got that covered at least.”
“Running off to have a quickie in the middle of a mission?” A female voice echoed through the empty structure. I glanced around, trying to find the source of the words. “Sounds like something I would do.”
A girl stepped out. She was slender, with a lean musculature which reminded me an awful lot of my own body type. Her skin tone was darker, a natural tan that went with her black hair and dark eyes. Behind her was another girl who looked much the same, though with unnaturally red hair. “Got room for two more?”