"Calling all heroes," Amazing Girl read aloud in her airy voice for the umpteenth time since the higher-ups gathered us all in the auditorium. "The time has come to defend our planet from the Borgon menace. After the ruthless attack on Capital City, it is clear that no means of mediation will suffice. Action must be taken now!" She kissed the flyer, leaving a plump, pink smudge of lipstick behind. "And your hero is ready for action."
I heard a brazen groan from the row ahead over my withheld one. I didn't want a literal cold shoulder. T-shirts weren't meant for that.
"Give it a rest, would ya?" A dark skinned girl spun around, glaring. "We all read the friggin' notice!"
From two seats away the platinum haired beauty scoffed. "Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am?" She pursed her lips, blowing on the tip of her blue painted index finger. Her breath chimed like wintry bells and an ice crystal spun into life.
"Do I give a crap, Amazingly Lame Girl?"
I wedged myself as far into the cushioned seat as I could as a precaution. The second girl covered her face, sliding her gloved hands past her hair line and then over her kinky dark curls and purple bandana. Every place beneath her touch transformed. Skin lightened, hair straightened, colored and grew, humble cotton clothes stitched into a silver threaded dress. Two pairs of icy blue eyes sized each other up. My own eyes widened, which wasn't uncommon. Compared to growing powers, everyone else's powers were amazing. I couldn't believe I got the call. Clearly they were calling all heroes.
"You're Switch," I said, star-struck. Both girls turned to me and I instantly wished my dry mouth wasn't as big as my body could grow. "Sorry," I muttered. "I saw you before you went in for the try-out. Your powers are cool."
"Puh-lease!" Amazing Girl said.
Switch shook her head and her natural appearance returned, fierce brown eyes and all. "I don't hear nobody askin' ya, Ice Queen!"
"Nice going, dude!" Someone punched my back and leaned forward. "C'mon, girlies. Let's see some bikinis and mud!" His scraggly, blue pre-beard identified him. He sauntered into the audition room calling himself Monster Man. I would have told him his name was fitting for a creep, but the fact that my limbs could grow only meant his monstrous abilities could break them in more places.
"Shut up, perv!" both girls said, ignorant of their brief collaboration.
"Mindboggler wishes you'd all shut up!" came yet another voice, screeching in falsetto and sticky with phlegm. The boy at the end of my row rubbed his temples beneath a reflective helmet. "He can't concentrate with childish screaming and he must formulate a plan to stop the Borgons!"
"Mindboggler?" Amazing Girl raised a perfect brow and laughed. The others didn't look impressed either, but experience made me think otherwise. He looked like a typical braniac with coke bottle glasses, pimples and all, but I've seen my share of geniuses with mental powers; it wasn't smart to cross them. "The Guild must be desperate. I'm all they need, of course." Mindboggler shook his head and shut his eyes, clapping his hands together and humming softly. A dark visor slid over his face. "Actually, I wouldn't mind him giving me a hand." She batted thick lashes in my direction. I blinked, unsure of what to make of the sudden notice.
Bad idea. The heroes around me burst into a gale of laughter. At least I helped them find common ground.
"Hun, I don't even know you." Surprise, surprise, I thought. Mile High wasn't a well known name among young heroes. Action wasn't my scene. Growing powers were dumb. And maybe part of me was afraid, but if no one asked, I wouldn't tell. "I was talking about him." She pointed past me to a boy in flashy red spandex that left too little to the imagination for my taste. The girls flocking around him and those only able to lap him up with their eyes disagreed. "PowerPlay. He is so gonna be my partner."
"If you even make the cut," said Switch.
"I'm sure you're not worried, copycat. You could scare the Borgons with your own face."
"If you don't shut your trap, I'll shut it for ya, stupid princess!"
"Try it, slum trash!"
"QUIT IT!" a deep baritone yelled. Our seats rattled as the sound resonated through the floor and up into our bones, halting us. "We're supposed to fight alongside each other, not against each other. The Borgon invasion isn't a joke!"
The olive toned boy with the megaphone design on his layered shirt certainly had guts. We all looked at each other, unsure of how to respond. Amazing Girl found her voice and her attitude first.
"Excuse me! My dad is a Guild Leader and he gets all the information so I know how many people died that day the Borgons came. Millions. I know it's not a joke."
"Does your daddy on the Guild know or even care about the people in the slums that were killed?" he seethed. "Are they in his calculations or just the people with money to support the Guild? Guess what. I was from the slums and I don't just know the casualties; I saw them! My neighbors, my own folks, my kid brothers. Gone!" His hazel eyes glazed over and I could see he was lost in his own dark world. "And I couldn't do a thing. That's why I'm here. Not because my daddy will get me in. I'm gonna fight. The Guild has to take me so I can take revenge. Boom will be a name no alien menace will ever forget!"
Our makeshift party fell silent. What was there to say? Just seeing the other's faces—even Amazing Girl gawked in unnatural humility—told me that the story hit them as hard as it hit me.
"Sorry about your family," MindBoggler said, peeking an eye open from his meditative stance. "Mindboggler saw it on the news and his parents were part of the rescue crew. They couldn't possibly hide all of the mental anguish from him. He felt it like he was there."
Switch nodded, unknotting her bandana and wringing it beneath paling knuckles. "We only just made it out. It was terrible."
"Dude," Monster Man said, picking at his frayed cargo shorts, "we could feel the attack from PowerMount thirty miles off. It was intense."
"Tch!" Amazing Girl clicked her tongue, face flushed, and turned her face towards the ceiling.
A nagging ache overtook me. I couldn't empathize. My home was on the opposite hemisphere from Capital City. I only saw news reports the next day. I claimed I wanted to fight—I had to fight—because my planet was attacked, but now my reasoning seemed childish in comparison. All of their emotions were raw and real. I didn't have that so why fight? Did I deserve to be chosen for the Guild? My heart couldn't be in it like theirs. I don't even like to fight.
Another rumbling distracted me and the other heroes. I thought Boom opened his mouth again, but sirens blared across the auditorium and red warning lights flashed. A projection screen dropped to show a row of men and women of multiple species sitting at a long gilded table. The Guild Leaders. It was just as intimidating to see them through the screen as it was in the audition room. Their mouths moved, but all we could hear were buzzes and choppy, distorted phrases. Their eyes held an urgency that betrayed their calm faces.
The ground shook, fiercer than before, until large pockets gave way including one beneath us. I didn't know what the Guild Hall's sublevels held, but I didn't want to find out that way. I scrunched my eyes and reached my arms up. Muscles and bones stretched like putty, scaling upward until I could grasp the light fixtures. In the hall, few were prepared to avoid the fall so few remained in sight; only their screams drifted up along with scattered war-cries and the click of pincers.
Soaring around me was an eagle with a purple bandana around its neck and Boom in its talons. Nearer to the crater that was once three rows of chairs, MindBoggler sat with his eyes closed, levitating himself, Amazing Girl, and Monster Man. Half a minute later, green shells peeked over the lip of the break. Three enormous shells that struck a fearful cord in my heart. I had never seen a Borgon in person and never wanted to again. Beady eyes landed on us. The bugs snapped their pincers, some stained red, rearing up on hind legs.
"No!" Boom said, shaking his head. "Not again! No one else will suffer!"
"You're goin' down, Borgon creeps!" shouted Switch.
"Mindboggler agrees. You will not hurt us again."
"I'm itching for a scrap." Monster man cracked his knuckles that thickened and turned blue as he transformed. "Right behind you guys!"
Their words gave me courage and I added, "I may not be too good a fighter, but I'll do whatever it takes to stop you freaks!"
"We're taking you down! Together!" All of our eyes fell on Amazing Girl whose fist was clenched into an icy block. "Let's go! Drop us, Mindboggler!"
He did and she and Monster Man dropped onto one of the hideous bugs. Amazing Girl blew hard on the creature and watched it freeze over before her partner hammered into it. It splintered to pieces. Beside me, Switch dive-bombed with Boom. He shouted at the top of his lungs and the focused sound rippled through the air, smashing into the second Borgon. Its body shivered and it stumbled back, screeching as webs of cracks blossomed across its exoskeleton. It fell back into the hole, still shattering.
The last Borgon leaped upward with powerful hind legs while the others took care of its cohorts. It pierced through my foot with its caustic venom-laden pincers and before long, I could feel a burning sensation coursing through my limbs. I bit back a shout, unwilling to let the others see me hurt when they could handle themselves so well. I pumped my legs, building momentum for a swing, and then let go of the steel bar, plummeting to the ground. Bits of Borgon splayed beneath my foot.
I shrank and collapsed in the muck. In moments, the others surrounded me, but things became hazy after that thanks to Borgon poison. I remember hands lifting me and feeling something good mixed with the dizzying pain. I was part of a team. For the first time in my life, I was in the action. I was a teammate. I was a hero.
Together we stood, our wounds healed and our passion strong. Together we stood, but not all of us could move on. The Guild Leaders were gathered on the stage in the war torn auditorium, calling names, awarding official titles and allowing the few chosen ones to proceed into the Guild. Pluto, formerly self-titled Amazing Girl, stepped forward beside the newly dubbed Poly, named for her many faces. They didn't step with true enmity, but with heroic rivalry. Beast, Mastermind and Bass joined them and I applauded them all from my place in the rows.
Would my name be called? Would I get a Hero's title?
I didn't know and I realized as the list wound down that I didn't care. The Guild would lead the offensive against the brazen Borgon. Someone had to stay home and defend the world from any other attacks. I would be honored to do either because I was part of a team. My friends smiled at me from the stage and I smiled back, waiting to see if I would join them in body or in spirit.