“No problem, I’ll watch for it,” Vaughn said. “The thing is about business is that it’s all about people in the end. Get in bed with the wrong people and you get crabs or something. I mean, seriously, Uncle Russ made a deal with the Nine and he’s going to be paying for it for a long time even if he doesn’t go to jail.”
Ignoring the cascade of memories of Russell Hardwick and his father, Sean said, “Yeah. I’ll keep it in mind. I don’t want crabs.”
Vaughn laughed and after a little while they hung up.
Sean slid his phone back into his pocket and sat on the couch, remote in hand, not turning the tv on and breathing quietly.
He’d called Russell Hardwick “Uncle Russ” too back when he was a kid. The man had seemed like a superhero to all of them, “them” being all of the descendants of Red Lightning’s superpowered army. He’d told them what they all knew, that the Cabal was hunting for them, but that he’d keep them safe. Red Lightning had taken the fruits of the Cabal’s breeding program and added his own efforts to the mix, activating their powers with power juice and eventually the power impregnator that had made his own powers permanent.
The Cabal wanted the results, but Uncle Russ kept his father’s followers’ sons and daughters secret, gave them jobs, helped them learn about their powers, and organized a defense against the Cabal when they showed up.
His father had worked for Uncle Russ, had trained with Uncle Russ, and helped him keep their small group of the descendants of supervillains safe—for a time. In his senior year of high school, the Cabal had shown up again, killing Sean’s father during his class’ graduation ceremony.
Sean still remembered turning after hearing a muffled pop to see his father slumped, head partially gone from Ray’s gunshot.
Sean had run out of the stadium to see if he could find the assassin in the parking lot around the stadium, but he hadn’t seen him anywhere.
In the weeks that followed, he’d blamed a lot of people for his father’s death, Vaughn for telling him that Ray was not only his team’s trainer but also an escaped criminal, forcing his team to try to attempt Ray’s capture during a training session. He’d blamed his own team for not being fast enough to capture Ray then, and his father for not helping. He’d been watching, after all.
For a time after that, he’d settled on blaming himself. Ray was an experienced assassin and he’d been a high school student. How could he have thought a spur-of-the-moment decision to take the guy down would work?
With some help from the therapist he’d been assigned in the Stapledon program, he’d come to see the bigger picture. He did have some responsibility for what had happened. It was his decision to attack Ray, but it was Ray’s decision to kill his father in response and beyond that, it was Russell Hardwick’s decision to hire Ray, an escaped criminal famous for murdering superheroes, to train and protect Sean’s group of beginning heroes.
They shouldn’t have ever been put in that position in the first place.
If Russell Hardwick spent years in prison and lost his reputation due to working with the Nine, good. The man deserved it and more.
Sean looked down at the remote in his hand and up at the tv. The screen was still black. Thinking he could use the distraction, he pressed the “on” button. To his relief, the screen lit up. Combining magnetic powers and strong emotion had led to the accidental death of so many electronic devices, he tried not to think about it.
The first image on the screen was of a woman pulling a mask off of an unconscious man and looking at his face in horror, saying, “Bobby?”
The next scene showed her running as a man in the same purple and green mask with a matching costume chased her. Over the scene, the announcer’s voice said, “Stalked by a Stranger in a Mask. Friday night on Lifetime!”
As the voice faded, the commercial ended with a picture of the man and woman together, the woman saying, “I’m pregnant…”
Sean changed the channel, flipping until he reached SuperTV which appeared to be showing, “Fifteen years of the Hamsters. No longer teenagers, America’s furriest martial artists joined the Detroit Unity team last year. Let’s remember the most exciting moments since their founding. Named after Dutch artists, the Hamsters seem to be the product of a radioactive accident involving a Van Gogh painting…”
It was better than nothing, he decided. Besides, from what he could see, they were good fighters.
He watched for a good fifteen minutes before the door opened. He heard Sydney’s voice first, “Mom said Sean was coming home today. I wonder what he’ll think of the condo?”
He turned in time to see Sydney step out from the entrance followed by Camille, who said, “Why don’t you ask him?”