I didn't like school.
I wasn't saying that to be edgy, or anything. I didn't have the problems typically associated with someone who doesn't like school. I wasn't bullied. I passed my academics well enough. It's not even that I was bored, though no teenager could truthfully say that they've never been bored at school.
No. I didn't like school because people couldn't shut the fuck up about the Wards.
“Hey, Jess. Did you hear? Eimyrja surrounded herself and some thug in a ring of fire. She said ‘You're so toast’!”
That was absolutely not something Lindsay would ever say. I could imagine her twitching if she overheard that.
“Hah! That's badass. Word is Flashstep teleported himself above another thug and just sat on him!”
I couldn't imagine Jordan sitting on a small child, let alone a grown adult. He was way too small for that. More likely, he threw a token over a thug and just mistimed his jump.
“Oh yeah? I was walking around the other day, and I spotted Red Light on patrol. He winked at me!”
While I doubted that might have actually happened, that at least sounded like something Thomas would do.
Still, I wondered why I ever talked to Jessica and Aidyn. Those girls had nothing in their lives lately except for gossip about the Wards. Frustrated, I finally stood up.
“Naomi? Is there something wrong?” Aidyn asked with genuine concern. I felt a little bad, but I really did not want to hear more.
“No, sorry. I just wanted to check something in the library before lunch ended,” I replied.
“Oooh, at least hear the best part!” Jessica said excitedly. “There were these five big thugs. And I mean big! All of these guys against Tank Buster out of his mech. He said ‘bring it on’ and beat them all with only four punches!”
I suppressed a groan.
“But how did he beat five guys with four punches?” Aidyn asked.
“He's just that good! Gosh, I wanna know what he looks like under that armor. He's always so badass.”
I finally turned around and walked away. I was so done with listening to that crap. And, they were so wrong on so many levels. I did not say that, and I only fought four thugs two nights ago. I was half tempted to just tell them that I was Tank Buster, just to see the looks on their faces after they were gushing about “him”, but they'd just see that as a joke. After all, to the world, Tank Buster was the boy leader of the Denver Wards for the past year and a half. It would be nice to be done with the whole charade.
Rather than walk to the library, I instead headed towards one of the back exits of the school. Today was only a half day for me, so I walked over to the RTD bus stop near the school. Conveniently, the 28 made its stop just as I reached it.
My name is Naomi Mitchell, also known to the public as Tank Buster. I'm a cape, specifically a Tinker cape, which means I build things. In particular, my biggest projects involve my mechsuits, though so far I've only deployed one. I am also definitely not a boy.
The bus stopped at Union Station, taking me out of my thoughts. The sky above was suddenly overcast, when just half an hour ago it was entirely sunny. Shaking my head to stop zoning out, I made my way through the aboveground part of the station and walked through the doors leading down into the lower section. Every line for the RTD light rail could be accessed below, but I ignored all of that in favor of a side door.
The Denver PRT headquarters was only a block north from Union Station. Few knew, but it was actually connected underground to Union Station. While the passage was mostly intended for evacuation purposes, given Union Station had Denver's largest shelter underneath, it was available for Protectorate and Ward members who felt they needed to be more cautious about their identity. Though really, I just preferred the side entrance to squeezing past the annoying tourists.
This entrance was as boring as it possibly could be, drab gray concrete walls with flickering fluorescent lights casting the whole thing in a dim light. It was even allowed to be a little dirty looking, within reason. I couldn't even see the cameras that I knew were watching. After punching in the key code by one of the doors at the far end, I stepped through.
It was still fairly nondescript on the other side, given it wasn't intended to have frequent foot traffic, but for a parking garage it was kept awkwardly clean.
I headed for one of the elevators, stepping inside and pressing the number for the sixth floor. I always wondered who built the PRT elevators, given they all seemed very much Tinker-built. I never stopped feeling disconcerted with how it never felt like it even moved. It seemed like such a silly thing to waste tech on. Was there a dedicated elevator Tinker? Did they spend their days traveling across the country fixing their fancy elevators? Who knew.
I stepped off once the doors opened, and took the first door off the elevator landing, which lead to the Tinker workshops. The PRT guard stationed outside gave me a bored look as I stepped through.
As much as the tinker part of me wanted to go to work, I had to push that away in favor of simply retrieving my light power armor. I spared very little for aesthetic. It was a dark blueish-gray set of armor with a tinted visor. Its most distinctive characteristic would be the heat-waves radiating off of it whenever I got into a fight.
After a sad glance at the uncompleted twelve foot tall Torunn mech sitting in the corner, I stepped out in my power armor, my footsteps now far heavier.
I found Red Light waiting for me outside. He wore a dark-blue bodysuit with a depiction of a traffic light on his chest. His mask covered most of his face, exposing only his brown eyes and a dark chin covered in stubble.
“Hey, TB. Figured I'd wait here,” he said.
I nodded. “That's fine. It'll only be us two patrolling today, anyway.”
“Flash and Em call off or something?”
“They were held back for today. They weren't quite meeting testing standards.”
He rolled his eyes. “Figures. Where are we patrolling today?”
“Around northern Lakewood and Wheat Ridge. Apparently someone reported seeing an Imperium bot in the area.”
“Fun. Well, lead the way, boss,” he said with a wink.
I rolled my eyes as I walked by, knowing he couldn't see, and we made our way back down the elevator to the garage. We both had custom-made motorcycles, stylized mostly by PR. Red Light's motorcycle mostly differed in coloration from any other PRT issue vehicle, while my own was custom made to handle the weight and temperature of my armor. Traffic wasn't too bad this time of day, and we made good time. I tuned out the waves and camera clicking that was oh-so-common on patrol, settling into the routine.
“I'm beginning to think these reports are just made to keep us busy while crime happens elsewhere,” Red Light radioed, an irritated tone in his voice.
“Normally we at least see something going on. You might actually be right,” I replied.
“Oh gee, way to have faith in me.”
“Shush,” I said, smiling.
“Flashstep here,” I suddenly heard over the radio, his voice as hesitant as ever. “Umm, you know that unknown person sending us tips?”
“Yeah. We just got another one. Thought you'd like to know.”
I sighed. For the past couple of months, we had been getting some tips about the Ravens–one of the two bigger supervillain gangs in the area–from some unknown source who wouldn't reveal any personal info. The Denver Protectorate, who mostly went after the Ravens, wanted nothing to do with someone who refused verification. We, the Wards, mostly went after Imperium, the other major force in the city, so we'd never bothered acting on them anyway.
Honestly, I wasn't even sure why Bunker bothered passing them on to us. Maybe he got some amusement from wasting our time, however brief. I was about to tell him to ignore it as usual, but with how fruitless today's patrol was, it might be better to try to accomplish something.
I radioed back, “You know what? Sure. Let's check the source for once.”
“Huh. Didn't expect that. It's about time,” Red Light commented.
“Okay. It's, uh, apparently some exchange is going on tonight over on the east side. Want the address?”
I shivered a little, looking down at the street from my rooftop perch as drizzle poured down from the night sky.
I'd been there nearly two hours, and was beginning to think the intel I had received was bogus. The Ravens, one of the largest gangs in Denver, were supposed to be here, some sort of deal going down with people from out of town. But my source hadn't been wrong yet, and at the very least I had a chance to think while I waited for someone to show up.
I was a cape, a person who had gained superhuman powers. Some capes had cool abilities like strength, teleportation, time manipulation. Mine wasn't nearly as cool as any of that, though. I was a Tinker, a parahuman who could build fantastic pieces of technology. Or, well, some Tinkers could. Everyone had a niche, and mine happened to be body augmentation. Not quite death rays and time machines.
It was kind of a sick joke, really. I could make implants, artificial limbs, and such, but using them meant going under the knife. I didn't even have any idea if the stuff I made would work with anyone but myself. And there weren't exactly lines of people signing up to let a 17-year-old girl slice them open, so I wouldn't be finding out anytime soon.
At least I got to make kinda cool implants. After I'd lost one of my arms I'd fitted a mechanical replacement, even managing to pack a weapons system or two inside. Then there was my flight system, two wings with titanium feathers sprouting from my shoulder blades, with a pair of miniature jet engines to provide thrust. An implant in my torso filtered toxins and poisons out of my bloodstream before they could have much effect.
All that tech, and I was still just a girl sitting on a rooftop, shivering in a costume, soaked by rain.
Movement below caught my attention, and behind my mask I saw a car turn onto the street a couple blocks away, heading towards me. I knelt down, low to the rooftop of the rundown shop I was perched atop. The car stopped just below me, but the occupants didn't get out. With a mental command I switched my mask's vision to infrared, and the silhouette of two people popped out. I switched back to normal vision and leaned back.
A few minutes later, another car pulled up across the street, and a lone man got out, unfolding an umbrella and walking to the center of the otherwise-deserted street.
I performed a habitual check of my systems. My wings, mask, arm, shoes, all reported no issues. My arm only had the taser and shotgun modules in it tonight, not that I really needed the latter for this job.
The two figures who had arrived first got out of the car, meeting the third in the street. This was it.
I spread my wings and glided the thirty or so feet down, slamming into one of the men with a crash.
He fell to the ground, pinned under my weight. He lifted his head, and a hydraulically-assisted punch slammed it back down. I clambered up and turned to face the other two.
The one with the umbrella backed up, unsure. The other, though, grabbed a bat from his car, running towards me. Too easy , I thought to myself. With a mental command I opened a panel on my prosthetic arm, and a pair of electrodes shot out. He fell down, writhing as electricity coursed through his body. After a few seconds I turned off the taser, letting the electrode wires fall out of my arm, and turned to the umbrella guy.
He had backed up, a fearful expression on his face, holding the umbrella in front of him like some sort of shield. “I'm not armed!” he shouted at me in a distinctly Minnesotan accent, his voice quavering.
“Why are you here?” I asked, the mask distorting my voice.
“I–my boss sent me, to pick up a shipment from these guys,” he replied in a panicked voice.
“So you have money?” I asked.
“Y-yeah, you want it? I'll give you everything I got, just don't hurt me.” This guy's kinda wimpy for a criminal, I thought to myself.
“Sure,” I said, gesturing towards his car. He walked over, slowly, and popped open the trunk, pulling out a duffelbag. “Set it on the ground,” I commanded. He did so, kicking it towards me before backing up.
I stepped forward, keeping my arm pointed at him, ready to tase him if he did anything. I knelt and unzipped the bag. Bundles of dollar bills were stuffed inside. I smiled to myself, and pulled a bundle out, tossing it in the air idly.
“You don't look like a hero,” he said, unsure, “but you don't seem to like these Raven fellows.”
“I'm no hero, at least, I'm not with the Protectorate, if that's what you mean,” I said. “But it doesn't matter. You go back to wherever the fuck you came from, tell your boss to stay the fuck away from this city. Understand?”
The guy nodded, and I gestured towards his car. He moved slowly towards the driver's seat, careful not to come to closely to me, before jumping in and driving off in a screech of tires.
I rolled my eyes and looked through the other car. Nothing noteworthy in the trunk, but there was a small wooden box, small enough to fit into a backpack. I pulled it out and opened it.
Inside were four vials wrapped in foam padding. I pulled one out, tossing the padding to the ground, holding it up to the light to get a better look. A clear, pink-tinted fluid. Heartbreak . One of the signature drugs the Ravens produced, nasty shit and very addictive.
I grimaced and pulled the other vials out to verify they were the same. Yep. All this cash, for four little vials of Heartbreak.
I pulled the stoppers off, pouring the contents of the vials onto the rain-soaked asphalt, before tossing the empty containers back into the thug's car.
I heard a splash behind me, and I froze, mind racing. I'd been so caught up in looking through the car I hadn't been paying attention.
I spun around, charging the taser. A figure stood there, dressed from head to toe in some sort of power armor. The rain sizzled as it fell on him. Except for the obvious heat radiating from it, the dark blueish-gray armor didn't have any distinctive characteristics.
Great, a fucking cape.
I got off my motorcycle, leaving it parked in the alley. Raindrops sizzled off my heated armor as I poked my head out enough to get a look at the scene. Three figures stood in the center of the street. I keyed my comms, “Hey, it looks like that source might have been onto something.”
“See, I told you we should have listened to them before,” Red Light, radioed back. “I've got PRT standing by if you need them.”
“Okay,” I replied, watching. My eyes widened as I saw a silhouetted figure standing on top of a rooftop above the three. I was about to radio it in, when the figure jumped down, crashing into one of the thugs. I saw now that they had wings sprouting from their back.
“Hey, what was the name of that cape we were talking about the other day?”
“Oh, Icarus? With the wings?” Red Light asked.
“Yeah. She's here.”
“No shit? Do you need backup?”
“No, I don't think so. Stand by,” I replied. From what I recalled, Icarus was either a villain or a vigilante, who had started popping up a few months ago. A Tinker possibly specializing in flight. Or maybe not , I thought as I watched her shoot electrodes from her arm into one of the thugs.
The fight was over quickly, and after a brief conversation I couldn't hear from my position, the last remaining thug got into his car and drove off. “There's a dark-colored sedan heading east from my location,” I radioed. “See if we can stop that.”
“She just took out two of the Ravens' thugs, and let some other guy go after getting something from him. Now she's going through the other car.”
“Looking for something?”
“I don't know. I'm going to go say hi,” I said, stepping out of the alley and walking down the street.
“You're doing what?”
“We hardly know anything about her. Seems like a good time to fix that,” I radioed as I approached, stopping a short distance away.
Suddenly Icarus spun around, sparks flying from her arm as she leveled it at me.
From this distance I could get a better look. Her right arm was metal, a gunmetal gray that matched the wings that were currently folded against her back. She wore a mask shaped like an inhuman skull, its eyes glowing a faint blue. The rest of her costume was an elegant-looking black dress reaching down to her calves, and a pair of impractical-looking high heels. I didn't move, and after a few seconds Icarus spoke, her voice sounding as if several people were speaking at once.
“You're not a Raven,” she said, tilting her head to the side as she looked at me.
“No,” I replied.
“Then who are you? Kinda creepy, just standing there.” This coming from the woman with a skull mask.
“Tank Buster, I'm the team leader of the Denver Wards.”
Icarus paused at that, and after a few seconds she lowered her arm, the sparking taser folding away into it. “Wards don't fight the Ravens. Hell, the Protectorate barely does anything about them either,” she said, leaning against the car. She was still tense though, as if she were ready to leap away at the slightest motion. “So what's ‘Tank Buster, the team leader of the Denver Wards’ doing out here?”
“I was about to ask the same about you,” I said. “You've made a bit of a name for yourself over the past few months.”
Icarus snorted, and I got the impression she was rolling her eyes behind the mask. “If you ‘heroes’ were doing your jobs, I wouldn't be a name at all,” she said bitterly, walking over to the bag she had gotten from one of the goons. She dropped it on the hood of the car and unzipped it, pulling bundles of cash out and sorting them into piles. If she didn't occasionally glance up at me, I would have thought she had forgotten I even existed. There had to have been at least twenty thousand dollars sitting on the hood getting wet.
“What do you plan on doing with all of that?” I asked.
“What does it look like I'm planning?” Icarus replied, “I'm not standing in the rain counting it for fun.”
“Well, see, we're not really sure what to think of you, to be honest. We know almost nothing about you and your motives. A lot of people believe you to be an independent villain, and your costume hardly refutes that, no offense.”
“What you or anyone else thinks of me is not my problem. I'm just doing a job that needs doing, and nobody else will step up and take care of the Ravens. So, here I am .”
I paused before replying, “To answer your earlier question, a source we weren't sure of has been sending tips that the Protectorate never touched. I decided to take a look while Imperium is quiet, but you beat me to it.”
“So the heroes are finally stepping up to the plate? I'll believe it when I see Bloodletter in the Birdcage, no offense.”
“You don't have very much faith in the heroes,” I observed. “I was going to offer you a place in the Wards, but I suspect I already know your answer.”
“Oh, so this is a recruitment attempt? I've already turned down ‘offers’ from half the groups in this city. Are you going to send me death threats when I turn yours down too?”
“No. I just wanted to let you know that door is open, especially given how hard it is for a Tinker to remain solo. Parts aren't cheap, and everyone wants what one of us can offer. We would certainly rather you be with us than, say, Imperium.”
“Fat chance of that, his gang is nearly as bad as the Ravens. Tell me this, Tank Buster ‘Team Leader of the Denver Wards’. If you were in my position, watching the heroes of the city do next to nothing against these criminals, and some guy in power armor walked up to you and said, ‘hey, how about you come play hero with us instead of taking out the Ravens’, would you say yes?”
I shrugged. “Probably not,” I responded, as I took off my helmet.I wore only a basic mask underneath. Enough to hide my identity, without disguising my voice and gender. “Though, I'm not exactly a guy.”
“Some girl, then.” Icarus paused for a moment. “Tell you what, I'll give you the same deal I gave Imperium. Give me one good reason to join you, that isn't money or power or safety in numbers, and I'll consider it.”
I paused for a moment, considering my response. “Even as a hero myself, I have my own problems with the PRT and the Protectorate. They aren't anywhere near perfect. Some of them I don't like personally, even. I guess I could puke up some PR garbage for you, but I doubt that would look at all appealing to you.” I paused before continuing, “I just have a question to ask. How are you doing?”
“Me?” Icarus asked with a snort, “I'm cold, and wet, and hungry, and irritated. But I just stopped these fucks from drugging some innocent women in god-knows-where, so I'm pleased with that. What's your point?”
“I was thinking in general,” I said, looking up at the rain. “Being a parahuman kinda disconnects us from everyone else. More than just having powers. The things that we go through? Normal people just have a hard time understanding.” I looked back at Icarus. “It's nice to be able to connect with others who know what it is like. Being part of a team is more than just safety in numbers. We could be your friends, too, so you don't have to go it alone. Ultimately, it's up to you. If you say no, we'll basically just stay out of your way unless we hear that you've gone too far. The door is open, though, and it'll take a lot to close it.”
“Hmm.” Icarus paused. She didn't speak for some time. “Okay, I guess.”
“Okay? Is that for considering, or have you already decided either way?”
Icarus began stuffing the wet money back into its bag. “I'll consider it.”
“Okay,” I said as I placed my helmet back on. “Good night, Icarus.”
“Yeah,” she replied, throwing the bag over her shoulder and walking away.
“Well,” I said into my radio. “I figured out a little more about Icarus.”
With a sigh, I closed and locked the door of my apartment. It was mundane, something I had done countless times since moving out of my parents' house nearly two years ago. This time, though, there was a strange finality to it. I was sure I'd be coming back, but still.
Oh, stop being so melodramatic , I thought to myself as I walked down the dingy hallway to the elevator. The flickering fluorescent lights were just bright enough to glint off my mechanical right arm. The elevator ride was short, if no less terrifying than usual. The building was not very well-maintained, but it was cheap and it had had top floor availability. Being eight stories up did had its advantages.
The thought made me smile, thinking of the wings on my back, hidden under a loose-fitting t-shirt and a backpack. They were one of my first inventions, and certainly my favorite. Unfortunately it had come with a price–constantly struggling to find ways to keep them hidden, keep my alter-ego Icarus safe.
Mistakes added up. I'd tried to keep a low profile with my powers, limiting testing to late at night, my missions confined to the less dense areas. It was hopeless in the end. First, somebody had snapped a picture of me on their cell phone, sent it off to the Post. Then a thug got away, letting his bosses know about my existence. Little mistakes. But the end result was that everyone knew there was a new cape in town, and that they were a Tinker. Then the recruitment attempts started coming, while I was out on missions. Everyone wanted a piece of that pie, they didn't even know my abilities but...Tinkers were versatile.
“Brenna!” I was shocked out of my thoughts by one of my neighbors entering the lobby as I got off the elevator, which had just started shuddering and vibrating like an out-of-balance washer. “What is a girl like you doing up this early on a weekend, hmm?”
“Morning, Mrs. Gonzales,” I replied, holding the elevator open. Mrs. Gonzales–whose first name, as far as I was aware, was Mrs.–lived across the hall from me. Her and her swarm of screaming children. “Just heading downtown for errands.”
“Hmm. Well be careful,” she said as she stepped into the elevator, dragging bags of groceries and two children with her. “Those shitheads are planning something, my cousin says. You don't want to be caught in any fighting.” Part of me wondered which gang she was calling shitheads, another part wondered how this cousin came across the info. Better not to ask.
“I'll see what I can do. Take it easy,” I said with a smile, heading out the door. It was maybe seven in the morning, the sun had just come up. Not a cloud in the sky. I took a breath of the morning air, dropping some envelopes from my backpack into a mailbox as I walked.
For a weekend things seemed busy; I wondered if there was an event or something I didn't know of. Probably a football game or something, who knew. I strode down the sidewalk with purpose, my destination only a mile or so away. As I got closer, my heart began to thump hard in my chest.
Hey, Dad. Just thought you should know I'm a cape? No, that probably wouldn't go well. I sighed. I wasn't sure what to do, but with the way things were going, I just needed to talk to someone about what to do.
My father's job was one of the reasons I was so hesitant. He was a state senator, and with his record he had a good chance of ending up as governor, or even ending up being a real Senator. I wasn't sure having a cape daughter would suit his ambitions very well. But, with the way things were going, the other option was ending up dead, so...
It was a quick fifteen minute walk, plus a few minutes to grab some breakfast sandwiches for us, and by the time I arrived at the east entrance of the state capital building and entered, I still had no idea what to say.
Inside the building, there was no line at the security checkpoint, which was nice. Not much business on a Saturday. “Hey Stan,” I said to the guard seated by the metal detector just inside the doors.
“Brenna! What are you doing here?” He asked in surprise. “It's a weekend, shouldn't you be out having fun?” Stan was probably in his mid-forties, a balding, slightly fat man who'd been a security guard at the capital as long as I had been visiting my father there.
“In the area, thought I'd bring Dad some lunch. You saw the new episode?” I asked excitedly, tossing my keys into a plastic bin. Not that it would make a difference with my arm (or wings, not that they knew about them), but the head of security was a stickler who apparently spent all waking moments watching the camera feeds.
“No, not yet, I had to cover a shift last night. Don't spoil me!” He replied. I nodded and walked through the detector, as usual setting it off. I reached out for her keys, pausing in surprise when Stan didn't hand over the plastic bin. “Sorry Brenna, they got a new policy. Have to check your backpack.”
“Your boss being a hardass again? Good thing I left my pipe bombs at home,” I quipped, slipping off my backpack and tossing it at him, adjusting my posture to try and minimize the bulge of the wings under my clothes.
“Yeah, sorry, hate to bug you with this stuff, but rules are rules...hey, what's this?” he asked, pulling something out of my pack. I felt my heart jump into my throat. I hadn't been sure if Dad would believe me when I said that I was Icarus, so I'd brought the costume just in case. And Stan was holding the mask.
“Oh, uh, that's just for a cosplay I'm working on.” I stammered out.
“Looks kinda like that new vigilante cape that started showing up a few months back. They gave us a briefing on her a few weeks ago.”
“That's the idea...one of my fans suggested I try it out.” What's this about briefings? Am I really getting that much attention?
Stan squinted at it, clearly trying to recall his briefing. He shrugged. “I guess it looks kinda the same. Keep at it, I'm sure you'll get it right soon enough.” He tossed it back in the bag and tossed it at me.
Asshole! I resisted the urge to give him a piece of my mind. ‘Kinda the same?’ Fuck off. “Well, all I've had to go off of is newspaper clippings, so...anyway, I'd better get going,” I replied, keeping my irritation bottled. I put the backpack back on and wandered through the building to Dad's office, irritation at Stan put aside while I panicked more about what to say.
His office was up on the third floor. I entered with a knock and slipped in. His secretary, an older gray-haired woman named Linda, smiled warmly as I entered. “Miss Brenna, if I knew you were coming in I would have moved some things around. He's in a committee meeting now.”
“Oh, no, I was just in the area and thought I'd bring breakfast,” I replied, gesturing with the bag of food. “What's he doing in committee on a Saturday?”
“Oh, they're trying to push through the PIRA again. It won't pass, but you know how he is,” she said with a tired, knowing smile.
“Well, maybe next session,” I replied in a tone that suggested it was wistful thinking. The Parahuman Incident Recovery Act had been my father's pet project for ages, designed to set up state funding to supplement PRT dollars in the event of damages from capes. It was one of the reasons I was so worried about today–I could hear the opposition in my head now: of course the father of a cape would want the taxpayers to foot the bill for his daughter's damages.
I sighed. “Is it okay if I wait inside?”
“Of course,” Linda said, “He should be back within fifteen minutes. I'll page him if it takes longer.”
I nodded and slipped through the inner door into my dad's office. It was a familiar place, I remembered basically growing up here, and it hadn't ever changed much. Dark wood paneling everywhere, and a mural of the mountains dominated one of the walls. An area to the side had a coffee table and a handful of comfortable chairs. I slid my backpack off on one and paced around the room for a few minutes, racking my brain for ideas.
I was startled by the door opening “Brenna! Sorry if I kept you waiting, things ran late.”
“It's fine, dad,” I said with a smile. He entered and closed the door behind him. His hair was almost entirely gray, but he wore his aging appearance with pride. He'd managed to keep in shape, with regular visits to the gym when not working. Today, though, he seemed tired.
“Bastards don't even want to compromise on this bill. It's going to be difficult,” he explained, his voice carrying a twinge of a Norwegian accent, before I had a chance to ask. “But that's not important. How is my favorite daughter?”
I rolled my eyes, “By virtue of being the only one, maybe. I was...in the area and thought I'd drop in. Here, catch, I brought lunch.” I tossed him a sandwich before grabbing mine and unwrapping it at the coffee table.
He sat across from me. “It's good of you to come visit. Your mother and I don't see much of you since you moved out.”
I shrugged. They'd never understood why I'd moved out when I was 16, and I'd never given them a real answer. “Sorry, I know I haven't kept in touch as much as I could. I haven't even seen Mom in...a couple months?” she was spending more and more time abroad, for her work. Something with the stock market, I had never really wrapped my head around it, but it involved a lot of money and a lot of client meetings.
“Well I'll be sure to tell her you said hi when I call her tonight. She's in London for the next few weeks,” Dad said with a smile.
I swallowed the bite I was on and set down my sandwich. “That would be nice...There's not really a good way to say this, but there's probably some other stuff you'll want to pass on that I need to tell you.”
He paused before speaking, clearly choosing his words carefully, “You know your mother and I love you know matter who you want to be with.”
“What! No, that's not it, I'm not a–I mean–I don't even know what's...okay, let's just do it this way.” Oh god. I dug through my bag, trying to ignore my blushing, until I found the mask Stan had noticed. With a deep breath I pulled it out and set it on the table, facing Dad.
He raised an eyebrow, confusion on his face. “Is this from one of your cartoons? I'm not sure what you're getting at here.”
“I watch anime, not cartoons, and it's not. Well, I mean, it is, but that's just an inspiration. See, there's this guy, who everyone thinks is a big bad evil guy and he is at first, but only because he made a vow and got deeper in it that he expected and–”
“Ugh. Anyway he becomes a good guy in season 14, okay? I mean I know it's a skull and looks kinda creepy and all but really it's not like an evil icon or anything except at the first glance and anyway that's why I picked it out, you know, I always liked that show and I figure it would scare the villains and all that, so...” I took a deep breath, “I'm rambling. Sorry. Let me try this again...So, I'm a cape.”
Dad nodded, slowly, setting down his sandwich, his face expressionless. He looked up at me, “Okay. Um...sorry, that was a bit to digest. You're not a villain, are you?” I shook my head. “Okay, good...This is going to sound dumb, but are you keeping safe?”
“As safe as I can be,” I replied. “Anyway, I'm sure you've heard Icarus on the news...that's me, I guess.”
“I...how long? Since your arm?”
I sighed. “Before. When I went missing.”
“You never told us what happened, you just came back to us one day.” Yeah. Not really a conversation you want to have with your parents.
“Dad, I love you and Mom a lot, but I don't know if I'm ready to talk about that right now...or ever. Anyway, no. My arm was...a mistake. I thought I would...let's just say it didn't work out so well. I'm less stupid now, don't worry.”
“I...” he trailed off, looking at me with worry. “What are you going to do?”
“I don't know. Part of that's why I wanted to talk. I've been working solo the last few months, taking out thugs, getting info, that sort of thing. But...I'm not sure how long I can keep going by myself.”
“The Wards?” he asked.
“Maybe. They offered, but...I don't know. Villains get away with too much in this city, you know? At least now I'm making a difference. If I committed to being a Ward–I just don't want to have to stand by while these assholes keep doing what they're doing.”
“And what happens when you fight them by yourself and lose? Christ, Brenna. You've always been headstrong,” he replied. “I don't want to see my daughter hurt or killed. At least with the Wards, you have safety in numbers–”
“I'd have ‘safety in numbers’ with any of the other groups that have been harassing me, Dad.”
My father rolled his eyes at my remark and continued speaking. “Safety in numbers means you last longer than a year or so. You said it yourself, you can't keep doing this alone. At least the Wards and the Protectorate are the good guys.”
I sighed. “It just feels like giving up, though...”
Neither of us spoke for a bit after that. I finished my sandwich and leaned back, thinking. Joining the Wards was basically giving up on everything I had done so far, everything I had worked on to take down the Ravens. And yet...I was still unsure.
My father stood and walked over to one of his bookcases, sighing. “I doubt you'll remember something as silly as this, but...when you were growing up, you spent a lot of time here. One day I came in from a meeting and you'd scratched your height into this bookcase.”
“I remember. Every time I visited I would see if I had grown any, and you'd mark it for me if I had.”
He nodded. “It's silly, but it always put a smile on my face when I saw those marks. It was a reminder of my little girl, even after you moved out...Last month some maintenance workers came in and replaced that bookcase while I was away. I was furious, I had the head of maintenance hanging up on me, so I went down there myself to find it. Never did. And now this...” He trailed off, and I didn't have to look to know there were tears in his eyes. “I'm sorry. It's just hit me that you're not that little girl anymore.”
“Well, I'm still your daughter and I always will be,” I said with a smile I didn't really feel.
He shook his head. “I just can't see it, my daughter wearing that mask.”
“Well, here.” I grabbed the mask and slipped it over my face, brushing aside my hair and allowing it to clip into connections on the back of my neck. A second later it initialized, and I saw Dad looking over at me through the thermal filter. With a mental command it switched to standard vision. “Still me, just with a disguise,” I said, my voice modulated slightly by the mask, just enough to make it sound unfamiliar.
“That's...really creepy. You'll strike fear in your enemy's hearts, I'm sure.”
“Kinda the point,” I said with a laugh. Before he had a chance to respond, however, the door opened.
I didn't have time to take off the mask before my father's secretary saw me. Linda's eyes went wide at the sight of me, her boss's daughter, wearing a skull mask just like the one that was in the newspapers occasionally. “Oh my,” was all she could say.
“Hi Linda,” I replied.