New Rourke Unmasked
Into the Middle of Things
Head First | Burnt My Bridges | Up Against It
People with the various forms of super powered self-propelled flight tended to be athletic. Even if not naturally gifted, they would gravitate towards athletics as a matter of course. Many equated it to riding a bicycle. Once you learned how it’s done, the motions became second nature, although you may still fall down and scrap your knees from time to time. Even Grey Vigil, who could only just float along at a leisurely pace, could take to the sky at a moment’s notice and easily stay aloft without putting much thought into maintaining altitude.
Springer, on the other hand, could not fly. She had the next best thing, which in this case was like comparing riding a bicycle to riding a unicycle with only one leg. With her tactile repulsion blasts, she could fling herself great distances to spectacular effect, but every time she had to gauge distance, height, wind, the integrity of what she would impact, orientation of her body, all of which culminated in a complicated mental arithmetic that had to be learned through a long process of often jarring trial and error. When going really far, or when under attack, coming to a stop meant a quick series of jumps, bouncing from one surface to another, so that it was less like plowing into a brick wall and more like tumbling down a flight of stairs without breaking her neck. She had not been able to pinpoint when she came into her power; only that it had gradually increased with age and use. She’d started gymnastics when she was eleven, and that had supplied her with the necessary equilibrioception for controlled falling. It had taught her to be bold, daring, and that too much over thinking often resulted in having a bad day.
She still had a bit of an issue with knee-jerk reactions though.
* * *
Today was going to be big. She knew it in her gut. It was officially her one year anniversary as a superhero. Well, not a year since she’d done any actual crime fitting, that was next month, but it was a year since she’d finished her original costume and had gone out on her first patrol of New Rourke. Her parents called from Albany, her step-brother sent a cookie bouquet, and she had finally finished a costume to replace the one that was destroyed fighting The Tangler. She snuck up to the roof of her apartment building and set out to show the city what she was made of.
By four o’clock all she’d done was helped defuse tensions at a minor fender-bender and arrived after the fact at a purse snatching that was resolved by The Amorphous Man. The poorly defined hero gave her something akin to a nod then returned to making a statement to a pair of beat cops. She had started out excited, but now the wind had just about gone out of her sails.
Her phone rang with the caller ID saying it was Akiva. Springer’s new helmet was not as fancy as her old one (she had to talk though the front vent and had snaked an earbud under the rim before she left home), but she knew it would be nice to hear a friendly voice.
”Hi, Akiva. How are you?”
”I’m fine. I was wondering how that dress I ordered for Calico Jones was coming along.”
”Er, yeah. I’m sorry. It’s mostly done, but the fabric I need to finish doesn’t come in till Thursday.”
Akiva sighed. “Elizabeth, her birthday is this Saturday.”
”I know. I’m sorry.”
”You told me it would be done this week.”
”I am just trying to help you out by showing people the good work you can do.”
”I know. I’m sorry. I will get it done. I promise.” Springer said, crumbling in the face of one of the most powerful forces in the universe: a well executed guilt trip.
”I’m glad to hear it.” Akiva said, changing to a more conversational tone. “If you aren’t too busy, could you come down to Candlebrook by five? There is something else I would like to discuss with you.”
”Yeah. Sure. No problem.”
”Alright. See you then.” Akiva said, and hung up.
* * *
As per usual for the time of day, the Candlebrook Tavern looked nearly empty. Peak hours tended to be early evening or slightly past dawn, pretty much whenever the quote/unquote shifts of the superhero community changed from day to night. When Springer came in the only people she saw were Akiva Shen, dressed in her usual schoolteacheresque fashion, and a Caucasian man who looked like someone straight out of a lawyer drama, but with greaser hair and large, high-end, sunglasses. His jacket was slung over the back of a neighboring stool, and the arms of his shirt had been rolled up revealing the intricate mosaic of his sleeve tattoos.
”I’m telling you, you don’t know what you are talking about.” the man said.
”Oh really?” replied Akiva, crossing her arms. “And you know this from your vast years of experience?”
”We can’t all be octogenarians.”
To Springer it didn’t sound like a fight, but rather a long running debate between colleagues.
”Hello?” Springer said, walking up to the bar.
”Springer, I’d like you to meet Rudolf Greaves. When he isn’t too busy being impressed with himself, he’s serving as campaign manager for Steven Varns.”
”Nice to meet you.” Springer said, shaking Rudolf’s hand.
”Tell me,” Ruldolf said with smile well practiced at charming crowds, “what do you think of the man who will be your next governor?”
”Oh, I don’t really follow politics.”
”That’s a shame. Akiva has been telling me about some of your exploits. A talented, charming, young lady like yourself is exactly the type of person we could use on the campaign trail.”
”But I’m a superhero. The whole secret identity and all.”
Rudolf waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, Varns is very progressive.”
Akiva waved a hand towards Rudolf. “Springer, I’d like you to meet my esteemed friend, Inkling.”
Rudolph rolled his eyes. ”I haven’t gone by that in years.”
Springer cocked her head to the side. “Inkling? You were part of that team in Lansing, right? How can you be here? There’s a city ordinance against illusionists.”
”Stage illusionists.” Rudolf corrected. “And there hasn’t been a successful case against any real practitioners in the last fifty years. It’s too hard to prove anything and harder to catch us. Anyway, I traded getting punched in the face for a nice marketing position. I’m just glad I could be here today.”
”Why? What’s today?”
”You don’t know?” Akiva said with mock aghast. “My, my, my.”
A woman popped up from behind the bar in a spray of glitter. A least it looked like a woman; the same height and body type as Springer, wearing a long-sleeved, pink, cocktail dress with tights, an opaque hood that covered the head, and a sticker that read “Hello! My name is RICK” over the right breast.
”Happy anniversary, Springer!” Rick shouted with Springer’s own voice.
”Oh my god!” Springer said, taking a step back. “I didn’t think any of you remembered.”
”That’s the whole point of a surprise party.” Rudolph said. He reached out a hand, seemed to grab the air, and with a deft twist he pulled away the illusion of an empty room and slide it back onto his arm with the other tattoos. Almost every table and booth in the Candlebrook Tavern was occupied. Heroes from all over the city applauded.
Springer grasped the bar to steady herself. “Thank you all, so much. I don’t know what to say.”
Akiva pulled Springer into a hug. “Congratulations, dear. I’m proud of you.”
”Please don’t tell anyone I’m crying in my helmet.”
”Never.” Akiva said giving another squeeze. “Now, let’s make some friends.”
* * *
The party went on for several hours. Springer met generations of heroes, some current, some retired, some in costume, some not. A few of them ducked out early to go on their usual patrols, but most stayed. It was like a very colorful family reunion. A few of them rubbed each other the wrong way, but that was to be expected, and the open bar helped smooth out the rough edges. There were accolades, and advice, and jokes, and endless stories. Springer was in heaven. Flitting around the room to different groups, she was asked diplomatically a if she was going to reveal her secret identity that night, but each time she politely declined and the topic was dropped.
While starting in on a discussion of the differences between ethics and morality, which usually weighed heavy on the minds of costumed vigilantes, some very unexpected guests arrived.
Candlebrook Tavern’s door eight was very rarely used. It was a wall sized sliding door which opened into a warehouse that used to be owned by the Castille Ice Company but now stood empty. At that moment however there were two SWAT trucks parked in the warehouse surrounded by armored officers. Oscar Guerra strolled in, followed by his partner Kendra Wellers, and closed the door. A sharp-eyed Latino, Guerra was a short man, but his military cut, salt and pepper, hair and tailored, blue, suit belied his muscular frame. Wellers was the younger in her late thirties, a fit, African-American, woman in a grey suit with neat dreads hung loose. She was at least a head taller than Guerra, and her demeanor was calmer, but their authoritative walk made it clear to everyone that this wasn’t a social call. The atmosphere in the bar noticeably tensed, as all eyes turned to the cops. The superheroes and police of New Rourke had an amicable relationship, and sometimes one would call on the other, but the police making a house call was unprecedented.
”How can I help you officers?” Rick said, insinuating himself into their path.
Guerra looked Rick up and down. “That’s a new look for you.”
”Well, we are having a bit of a party. A private party.”
”What a coincidence. Because we’re here on business.”
Axiom stepped up, the seven-foot frame of his chrome and white power armor taking on an orange hue in the bar’s light. “What’s this all about?”
”It’s not your concern.” Guerra said narrowing his eyes. “Step aside, please.”
Rick’s voice lowered to a heavy tone. ”Anything that goes on in my bar is my concern.”
”Excuse me.” Wellers said, waving her hand slightly. “Yes. I may be new here, but I thought that the Candlebrook was open to anyone who could open the door.”
Since bars in pocket dimensions only accessible to those who had been there before generally don’t occupy any physical space in the real world, let alone posses an address that could be pointed to on a map, land ownership was a very hazy notion.
”That is true.” Rick answered. “But that doesn’t grant carte blanche to bring just anyone you wish into my bar.”
Guerra nodded. ”You know what? You’re right. I’m sorry.” He held up his badge. “This gives me that right. We’re on a case.”
”Then tell us.” Axiom said, making full use of his imposing stature.
”Like I said, it’s not your concern. We’re here for Springer.”
”Me?” Springer peeped from across the room.
”Why her?” Axiom asked.
”She’s a person of interest. Now step aside.”
”You roll up with Gestapo tactics and want to take away one of us? That’s not going to happen until you explain what’s going on.”
Guerra stepped within inches of Axiom. ”You think I’m stupid enough to come into a cape bar and start flinging around information about an ongoing investigation? That’s gotta be really dumb. Like if I started making a big deal about how shape shifters like Rick here, or even…Chamelia back there, don’t have any anything in the way of legal identification, so their citizenship is questionable. Or you know what else would be really stupid? Walking up to the bar, sitting down, having a drink, and start telling some stories about your past, Axiom. Is that how stupid you think I am?”
”Jesus Christ! I’ll fucking go with them.” Springer shouted walking over.
”Thank you, Springer.” Kendra said, as she placed a hand on Guerra’s shoulder and pulled him back. “We’ll let the rest of you get back to the party.”
As they left, Rudolph sidled up to Akiva. “You see that? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Typical non-super discrimination. Steven Varns is—“
”Oy Vey! Shut up, Rudolph. Oscar is one of us.” she said, then add to herself, “Or at least he used to be.”