Chapter 317

                He sat on the hood of the old sedan, both of them worn down yet still chugging along. As soon as his eyes fell on Phil, they lit up. “Glad to see you made it, kid.”

*             *             *

                “Hey kid, you in there? I asked if you need anything.” Phil glanced up to find a hard face looking back at him, framed by a stiffly starched white-collared shirt held down by a pair of suspenders. It took him a second to notice the badge on the man’s belt, and the instant he did Phil drew in on himself. He’d had enough talking for the day.

                The act didn’t deter this man, instead he hunkered down to meet Phil’s eyes. “Come on. I know you’ve got to be hungry, they’ve been running you through interrogation all day and you keep refusing to eat. CPS is going to be up our ass if you turn this into a hunger strike, and that’s just going to drag things out. Tell me what you want to eat and I’ll get you something close to it, at the very least. Don’t make your mom run out and deal with it.”

                Phil’s sullen stare wavered at the idea of putting anything more on his mother. It had already been a hard enough day. First dad fell over dead, and that had felt like a miracle, but then the police came and started staring at Phil suspiciously. They kept whispering the word “Super” like they thought he couldn’t hear them. Even now, with the autopsy confirming it was poisoning, they kept grilling the whole family, asking if this wasn’t all planned. At least Chuck was too young for them to really interrogate, a small comfort that he didn’t have to cope with all of this.

                “Anything. Sandwich, crackers, whatever you have.” Phil stood up a little straighter in his chair, lifting his gaze above this strange man’s. “And my name is Phil, not kid.”

                To his surprise, the man chuckled at that. “Well, my name is Detective Reynolds, but you can call me Jack. And if you want me to stop calling you kid, then I’d have to see you stop acting like one. Don’t let these other guys scare you, they’re just trying to get the truth. As long as you keep telling it, you’ll be okay. So chin up, eyes forward, and speak clearly. You’ve got nothing to hide.”

                “How do you know that?” Phil asked.

                Detective Reynolds hesitated for only a second before deciding to answer. “Because you’re not the only one to ever come out of a bad family situation, and I’ve seen plenty in my time on this job. I know what murder, right or otherwise, looks like when it’s in someone’s eyes, and you don’t have it. Whether you like the word or not, I’m a fair judge of character, and you seem like a good kid.”

*             *             *

                “He’s a good kid.” It was strange to talk with someone in a dreamscape, but it was also the only time Globe still had both of his arms, so he tried to savor the experience. Abridail was visibly relieved to get the news, even in this unreal space the report had visibly taken a burden from his shoulders. “You know how it is, young Super gets pulled in the wrong direction, starts letting the bad voices in. Thank you, for helping.”

                “Don’t thank me, I don’t deserve it. There was a time I could help people without asking for favors in return, but sadly those days are gone. I agree though, your nephew is a solid young man. A flat tire, one quick fight, and anonymous call to the cops made sure the whole gang is busted with none of it tying back to him. We never let him see us, but we ensured he knows this wasn’t happenstance. He got a second chance, I hope he uses it well.”

                Abridail gave a small, solemn nod. “I never had kids of my own, my power kicked in before I had a chance. Watching over the nieces and nephews is the most I can do from inside people’s dreams.”

                “Trust me, I get it. Watching from afar is painful in ways I never would have imagined.” Phil studied Abridail’s face carefully, scanning for any signs of falsehood as he posed the next question. “That does still leave one matter I’ve been wondering about. Why approach me? Even in my dreams, letting someone with my reputation know you existed was dangerous. Surely there were other people or Heroes out there you could appeal too.”

                The smile on Abridail’s was soft, genuine, and plainly unpracticed. “I came to you because I’ve seen much in my walking through dreams. Many hidden truths and untold stories. I know you are still a good man, despite what the world believes, and I trusted you wouldn’t be able to turn down a call from someone in need. Beyond even that, though, there was another reason. I think you and I needed to meet. There are things I know that you’ll need to be aware of as well. Things about a woman named Shelby.”

*             *             *

                “I still can’t believe Shelby said yes.” Chuck was staring in the mirror, tuxedo clad, looking more nervous than he’d been during any test or fight in the field. “Is that weird? Should I not be shocked she’d be willing to marry me this close to the actual event?”

                Phil suppressed a chuckle and brushed some lint off his brother’s shoulder. “I think it’s a good sign that you’re still so grateful and surprised to have her in your life. She’s a damn fine person, and I’m proud to see her joining the family. Mom would have been, too.”

                It had been over a year since their mother passed, yet Chuck still winced slightly at the mention of her. “First Detective Jack, then mom. We’re running short on family these days.”

                “Good thing you’re about to expand it,” Phil reminded him. “And don’t think I’ll be happy with just Shelby. I expect the two of you to give me some nieces and nephews to play with soon.”

                “You could always expand the family yourself. I have a feeling Clarissa wouldn’t say no to a dance. Actually, everyone has that feeling, because the two of you have obviously been into each other for years now. Weddings are romantic, make a move already. I officially give you permission to use my wedding as a platform for ending your bachelorhood.”

                Phil tried to laugh it off as usual, but the chuckles wouldn’t quite come. “I think Clarissa can do much better than me. Besides, my role in the team is dangerous, I’ve got the highest chance of getting taken out. I don’t want to abandon people counting on me if my end comes unexpectedly.”

                “People die, Phil. Not always in the field. We lost Jack to a heart attack and mom to a stroke. Nobody is promised another day on this planet, so it’s a bad excuse to use for not living your life. It is, however, an excellent excuse for making each day count.” Chuck straightened his tie once more in the mirror before finally turning away. “Now let’s go make this one matter like hell. Maybe when we’re drunk later we can come back to all this self-doubt. Because you deserve to be more than a Hero, Phil. You’re the best man I know, that’s why you’re literally my best man. I know what you’re really scared of, and you shouldn’t be. Having a family isn’t going to turn you into Dad.”

*             *             *

                “Dad?”

                “It’s fine, Vince. Go back to sleep.” Phil didn’t wait for nature to take its course, instead he willed the boy unconscious as the black-clad figures strode into view. He and the boy were tucked away, down an alley and out of sight, but somehow they’d still been found. Whether this was a group of people who hated Supers, transients, or were sent by Charles was irrelevant. They had come to do harm to him, and by the sin of association, Vince.

                “This is the one chance you get. Run. Run away, right now. I don’t enjoy violence. I don’t like hurting people. But you will find my distaste for seeing anyone trying to harm my son vastly outweighs those sentiments. So please, I beg of you, run away. If you don’t… we all know there’s only one way this can end. For all of us, don’t force my hand.”

                Ignoring him, they came in closer, foolishly putting themselves in his sphere of influence. They were hanging back, thinking themselves safe, but it had been a long time since the Hero named Globe was in public, and like all Supers his power had continued to grow. Not by a huge amount, but enough to make those extra steps they’d taken a serious mistake.

                “So be it. Choice made.” With one snap of his fingers, Phil ripped all of them inside out. They didn’t even have the chance to scream, not that he’d have let their noise travel far. It was bloody and horrific, however soon the bodies began to burn, smoke vanishing as it started to rise. Come morning, there would be no sign that these people ever existed.

                The bigger issue was that he’d been found at all. It wasn’t the first time, however it seemed to be happening more frequently. Charles was stepping up his efforts. Slowly, Phil walked back over and set a hand on Vince’s sleeping head.

                “I’m starting to become afraid, son. Afraid I can’t stay with you much longer. I won’t let this thing between Charles and I spill onto you. You deserve a bright future, but the longer you’re with me the harder your whole life will become. I love you, Vince, and that’s why I have to…” Phil choked back a sob that tried to bubble up, forcing it down. “I have to keep you safe.”

*             *             *

                “There is no ‘safe’. No job out there promises I’ll live to old age. It’s a big world, with lots of dangerous people out there in it. A world that needs Heroes, Mom.”

                Finally, she looked up from the frying pan where she’d been staring at the now over-cooked eggs since Phil announced he’d gotten into Lander’s HCP and the fight began. “Yes, honey, I know the world needs Heroes. But why does it have to be you?”

                “Because…” Phil balled up his fists. It was the question he’d known was coming. She didn’t want this for him, didn’t want to see her son put himself in harm’s way. Maybe if it was just him, but they both knew Chuck would follow his big brother. The poor woman had endured so much, it was hard to deny that the idea of losing her children might be more than she could still bear. “Because I’m powerful. Because I can make a difference. I know what it is to feel helpless, trapped, like there’s no hope or way out. Somewhere in the country there are more people, more kids, who are going to feel like that. People who will be hoping, praying, for someone to swoop in and save the day. I can be that person, that Hero. If I have the potential to do that, and I turn away from it, what kind of man would that make me?” Phil didn’t wait for a reply, instead he walked out of the house and onto the street. Not far off, his eyes fell upon the  familiar form of Detective Jack’s car.

                He sat on the hood of the old sedan, both of them worn down yet still chugging along. As soon as his eyes fell on Phil, they lit up. “Glad to see you made it, kid.”

                “Did we have something scheduled? And don’t call me kid.”

                “Damn right we’ve got something scheduled.” Digging into the small cooler at his side, Jack produced a pair of beers, handing one over to Phil. “I heard you made it into Lander, that seemed like something worth celebrating. Figured you should taste one of these before college.”

                Slowly, Phil accepted, making his way onto the hood next to Jack as the old cop kept talking. “As for calling you kid, that’s what you get for fighting with Carol.”

                The first sip of the beer was rough. Jack had chosen a sour blend with a tart aftertaste that really made sure the drinker knew what they were putting down. “She doesn’t want me to be a Hero.”

                “Mine said the same when I got into the police academy,” Jack replied. “But fighting won’t make her feel better. Instead, you march back in there when this is done and tell her you’re going to be safe. You’ll make the smart calls, keep yourself alive for the sake of all the people still counting on you. Then, and this is the really key part, you have to actually do all that. False promises ring hollow, and Carol is a smart cookie, she’ll be able to tell the difference. Especially coming from you.”

                Neither man said much as they sat on the hood of the car, watching the sun go down. Phil muscled through his beer, more for the experience itself than the taste. It was supposed to be a celebration, after all.

                Only when the drink was done did Phil speak again. “What do you think about me being a Hero?”

                “I’d rather have you on the force, but given all the restrictions they put on Supers, I can’t blame you for going that route.” Jack drained his own beer as well and tossed it into the cooler. “Heroes are… complicated. We need them, or something like them, given all the Supers popping up, yet I can’t help feeling wary of handing anyone that much power and responsibility. However, if someone has to be trusted, it does take some of the worry off my mind to know they’re picking people like you.”

                “Yeah, well, I had some good role models.” At eighteen, it was the best Phil could do to try and tell the man who’d looked after he and his brother for so long how much he meant. Thankfully, Jack Reynolds was a man who understood subtext.

                “You had a great role model, and me, who probably cursed too much and let you see gory action movies before you were ready.” Jack let out a long sigh as he slid off the hood. “But even that little bit, don’t ever forget to pass it on. Remember: kindness and decency are like an energy all their own, they never vanish, only change their shape. The only difference is that humans, Super or otherwise, do have the ability to create kindness. We can put more goodness into the world with what we do to, and for, others. If you want to be a Hero, then I know you’ll be a damn great one. Probably known worldwide. So never forget how many people are looking to you, what your words and actions can do for them. You’ll have the opportunity to put a lot of good into the world, Phil, a chance almost no one else gets. To be honest, I can hardly wait to see how it ripples out from you and affects others. Whatever you do, whatever impact you have, I tell you one thing right now with absolute certainty: if you keep thinking about all the people counting on you, then you’re going to grow into damn fine Hero. Maybe the best one our planet has ever seen.”

*             *             *

                As Globe’s eyes opened, he was surprised to find himself looking into a stranger’s face. Then, with a few blinks, he recognized her from photographs. Camille Belden, Vince’s friend, maybe more by this point. Seeing her was an unexpected shock, but that was nothing compared to the sudden headache that seemed to slam like an icepick between the eyes.

                “You’re going to feel a lot of mental fatigue right now,” she said. “I healed your body and got rid of the physical exhaustion symptoms, but healing still takes a toll. I’m sorry, I wish I could give you more time to rest, but Vince is out there fighting to protect us. He needs you now, Globe. He thinks you can save us all.”

                Sitting up slowly, Globe admired the orange dome he was surrounded by, noticing the near-collapsed Super who was struggling to hold it in place. These kids, these damn kids. They couldn’t just let him go, could they? No, they had to get themselves right in the thick of things. With a grunt of effort and willful ignoring of the pain in his head, Globe got to his feet.

                “Well, if my son needs me then I shouldn’t keep him waiting. After all, I’m a Hero. Saving people is what we do.”