“I hope my personnel files made entertaining reading,” I told him.
“Listening,” he said. “And I didn’t do it simply to invade your privacy. I needed to know how you’d handle it if the unexpected came up. It happens frequently around here. Now though, I need your answer. We’ll need more people in the next fight and I have an idea about how your specific power can help us.”
Ideally, a journalist reports the truth and nothing more. Everyone knows that perfect objectivity is impossible, but you try your best because the alternative is worse. I knew that, and I also knew that I could never be truly objective about people I’d fought beside.
These are people you have to trust with your life.
I said, “Yes,” anyway, but I’d be lying if thinking through big questions about objectivity and truth played any part in my decision.
I couldn’t have said anything else. When your childhood hero asks you to help him save humanity, you say yes.
“But we can’t use my old codename. I don’t know what you’ll call me, but using that name will only cause problems.”
C nodded. “Do you have any ideas? We don’t have time to have a brainstorming session now, but we’ll need a name, and I don’t want to call you Temp if we don’t have to. You know you don’t want the press to name you.”
I laughed. “No. I wouldn’t want that. Journalists on deadlines make for terrible names. I’ve given a few that stuck.”
Gravity Star stepped closer to the two of us. “We could help. If you tell us what your powers are, assuming you’ve got powers instead of training and devices, we might have ideas.”
I met her eyes. “I’ll do you one better. There’s a name I’ve wanted to use since my powers manifested, but it might not be available.”
Gravity Star grinned at me. “What?”
I took a breath and let out the name. “Critical Mass.”
In my ears it still sounded like the me of ten years ago, the person who still thought that I could become a superhero instead of artillery.
My mind flashed back to my senior year of college, seeing the mugger fly backward from my punch and hit the brick wall. He’d been lucky. In the moment that I’d punched him, I’d felt the smallest trickle of energy, and I used it the instant I felt it.
If I’d let it build, he would have died. I knew that because in the army I’d let it build, leaving craters behind me. I’d also fought beings who could take my punches. There weren’t many of them.
Gravity Star looked at me. “Isn’t that something from nuclear weapons? What do you do?”
There was no reason to be shy. “I explode.”
Even through her costume’s mask, I could see her eyes widen.
Around us, the conversation became more quiet. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. I can control the direction of the blast and how powerful it is—within limits. The minimum blast will kill a normal person and it only gets worse from there. But however powerful the blast is, I don’t get hurt.”
“Wow,” she said.
“It’s a good powerset for war, but nothing else,” I told her.
“Which means,” C said, “that right now, and right here, it’s exactly what we need.”
“Technically,” the Rocket said, “Critical Mass doesn’t make that much sense because it’s all about the amount of material needed to start fission going and keep it going. There’s no denying though, that it’s a much better name than Voluntary Energy Release Threshold, right? That’d be more accurate though.”
Storm King said, “What about Boom? Boom would be cool.”
Control stood back at her station, shaking her head. “Boom’s already taken, but I just registered Critical Mass on Nadia’s behalf.”
I stared at her. “Why?”
C answered before she did. “I don’t know all the details, but she’s following standard procedure for us. Even if you only do this once, it will make it easier to control merchandising of yourself as a super and avoid fights. You don’t know how many first time heroes used a name without registering it only to find that someone else already had it, or registered it after the hero used it. You don’t want that kind of legal hassle.”
“I’ll trust you,” I said, and tried to get my head back in the game. With as many people here as there were, I could interview someone about their feelings as they waited for battle.
I didn’t get to. Control announced, “The League jet’s nearly into the airlock, and Gunther’s in the base with… Doppelgänger. Did anyone else know she registered it? I knew she was talking about it, but I didn’t know she’d done it.”
“Never mind,” C said. “Critical Mass, Shadow, Voice, and anyone who wants a redesigned League suit, report to the Rocket. He’ll give you one. If you need a fancy color scheme, wait for Ghost, but if you’re in a hurry, I’ll do it.”
Accelerando looked over at him. “Seriously?”
C shrugged. “I was hoping that would get more of a laugh, but if you want me to be serious, I am. Change into the new uniforms if you haven’t. After that, we’ll do a quick briefing. We’ve got a plan to end this. I’m just hoping we’ll get to roll it out before they attack.”