October 13, 2012

4:21 p.m. PST

Rossville, Washington

"Sir, you should get out of here. This is a crime scene." I recognize Speedster's voice as I round the corner on my usual route home from Alecia's house.

"Buddy, I'm a journalist. It's my job to see what's going on here." I stop walking out of sheer shock. That can't be him.

"And it's part of my job to keep you from contaminating the scene and getting yourself on the suspect list." Speedster says.

The other guy laughs, and I start walking in the direction of the voices. "Okay then, kid, can you tell me what happened?"

"I'm not allowed to give out any information." Speedster sounds uncomfortable. "You can contact the hero organization directly."

"Fair enough," he says, "I'll keep my distance."

I feel a familiar buzzing of energy as I approach. It is him. "Sir?" Speedster ventures. "What did you just say?" I break into a run. Wait, I need a disguise. I dodge into the space between two buildings, barely four feet across and occupied only by trash cans. Perfect. I make my hair straighten out and duck behind a bin to morph my outfit. I change my jacket and shoes and make my mask appear. After a moment to consider, I summon my bow and quiver, as well. Time to finally see what the idiot's been up to.

My brother is way taller than when I last saw him, and his voice has changed, too, but his hair, face, and sorcery are unmistakable. I know that Hunter Jr. is definitely still active, so the journalist part is probably a lie. "This is so weird." I whisper to myself. "It's been years."

"Karate girl?" Speedster asks, then groans. "Not you, too. You shouldn't be loitering here."

"You didn't tell him anything, right?" I slip into a Russian accent, trying to signal to Griffin my identity. Griffin jerks out of whatever spell he's performing, eyes snapping open.

Speedster looks put off for a moment. "When did you get an accent?" He mouths, facing away from Griffin. "You didn't talk like this the other day, did you?"

"Friend of yours, младшая сестра?" Griffin smirks, regaining his bearings.

I ignore him. "He's not a journalist, and I've always had some accent."

"Since when? We were talking the other day and you sounded pretty American." He looks desperately confused, but I'm not giving him any hints.

I roll my eyes. "It becomes more obvious when I'm pissed off. Please tell me you didn't tell him anything."

Speedster shakes his head, still looking confused. "No."

"Good." I snap, dragging Griffin by his arm. He stumbles into motion, then just decides to go with it, seeming vaguely amused.

"Hey, uh. I don't think you can…?" Speedster's voice fades out as Griffin and I get further away from him.

"Where are we going?"

I drag Griffin into the alley I had changed in. "Tелекинез."

We end up in the clearing that I used to practice archery in. "What's your deal?" I say. "I know you're not a journalist."

"I could have a totally respectable job as a journalist." Griffin says, matching my accent with one of his own. "You don't know my life."

"You're what, nineteen? Don't you need a college degree?"

Griffin laughs. "Our dad could have gotten a degree forged for me."

"He's not my dad." I remind him. "Now what the hell were you doing there?"

"Ah… reconnaissance?"

"Yeah, right. What are you actually doing?" I cross my arms, raising an eyebrow at him.

"Reconnaissance." Griffin says. "Seriously. There was an unusual death among one of our member's subordinates. Dad usually wouldn't care, but there was a powerful exchange of life energy there, so it couldn't hurt to take a look."

"But you're investigating as a civilian? Doesn't Hunter have people to do that for him?"

"Yeah, me." Griffin says. "My sorcery specialty is seeking spells."

"So you're the creep that hunts stuff down."

"What?" Griffin says. "I mean, I guess, but..." He sighs, covering his face. "I really shouldn't be talking to you right now."

"Then why are you?"

"I don't know, you're the one who suddenly accosted me on the sidewalk while I was minding my own business and dragged me here." Griffin says. "And you're friends with the Speedster, Karate Girl?"

"Okay, we're not really friends, but we've run into each other a few times after I moved out and he's not awful. And the karate thing was a joke, sort of?" Griffin looks at me quizzically but doesn't push it.

"He's awful at giving you nicknames." Griffin says. "I have to get going, младшая сестра. I made plans to meet up with someone. Stay safe."

"Are you ever going to tell me what you're doing?"

Griffin shrugs, looking entirely too pleased with himself. "Maybe it's more of a who I'm doing?" Oh, god.

"You're disgusting."

"Don't knock it till you've tried it." Griffin says, winks (ugh), and then teleports away.

I trudge over to a rock and sit down, trying to comprehend my life.

October 15, 2012

12:03 p.m. PST

Rossville, Washington

"Did you hear the news? There's a new hero!" I hear from a few tables down in the cafeteria.

"Yeah, they're calling her Teen Archer, but I'm pretty sure it's just a dumb kid in a mask." I frown at the skeptic's response.

Teen Archer? I stop chewing and put down my apple. I didn't ever shoot anyone.

"She caught a criminal before Speedster did. You can't be just a dumb kid in a mask to do that." It fully registers that they're actually talking about me. Oh no. That name is stupid! How do I change it?

"Yeah, but how many times has anyone seen her? Twice?"

"Three times, I think? Someone got video of her doing parkour or whatever." Shit!

"What are you doing?" Alecia gives me an odd look. "You're going to have to throw half of your lunch out if you don't eat now."

"Shhhh" I hush Alecia, trying to see if the people I'm listening to will start talking about my alter-ego again.

Alecia waits a moment before holding my apple to my mouth. "Eat." I think about it for a moment before complying. No sense in wasting it.

"Yeah, she dragged some journalist off somewhere, so who knows if she's a hero or not."

Well, that 'journalist' is my brother, who works for the league of assassins, so I was doing Speedster a favor there.

I don't know why it dawns on me now, but suddenly it's all I can think about. My brother, who I haven't seen in seven years, suddenly turning up near me. We had an actual conversation, but now I barely know him. I might actually be angry at him for working for Hunter, even though I was doing the same thing as a kid. I don't really know how to feel about any of it.

"Owen? You're drifting off again."

"Sorry," I say, "um . . ." I trail off, not exactly sure how to explain my predicament. "Just the stress of school and comp, I guess."

"You know, we do meet up to do homework basically every other day, and you only really join once a week or so. Why don't you join tonight?"

"I'd have to ask for permission." I say.

Alecia's face falls, knowing that that's basically a "no." Then she brightens. "Here," she says, fishing her cell phone out of her bag, "Call your foster parents now and tell them you have a group project to do after school and will go home on the late bus."

"Alecia. You know I'm the worst liar ever. It's not going to work!"

"Okay, then just tell them you'll be home at six. Someone's parents will give you a ride home, and we actually have a group project to do."

"It's not due for three weeks, and it's just the two of us, not John and Richard."

"Yeah, but your parents don't know that. They never know anything about your life because they don't really care." Alecia shoves the phone into my hand, Jane's number already entered on the screen. "C'mon, you know that John's mom or Richard's dad will give you a ride. They won't care as long as they don't have to do any work."

I think about it for a bit. Richard could probably give me some more information on Speedster since he works at the Heroes Memorial Center. Well, that and he's a major nerd. "Okay, sure." I press the call button and wait for a response.

"Hello?" Jane answers the phone like she always does, sounding annoyed that someone decided to disturb her.

"It's Owen. Can I go to a friend's house after school to work on a group project?" I ask, trying not to sound too meek. Only Mart or Jane make me feel this nervous nowadays.

"As long as it's not one of those rowdy boys. They don't even go to your school." Jane says, her voice sounding like a shrug.

"It's just a project with Alecia. I can be home by six." I say. "I really do have to get this work done."

Jane huffs. "Well, I don't know why you couldn't manage it sooner, but since you've got a ride it should be fine. Just know that you'll still have to practice after dinner."

"Thanks. I'll see you later tonight." I say, waiting for the line to go dead before returning Alecia's phone.

"See, it wasn't that hard."

October 15, 2012

2:43 p.m. PST

Rossville, Washington

"You know about heroes, right?" I ask as Richard drives us to his house after school. I immediately regret asking, because his face lights up and he starts rambling so fast that I can barely understand him.

"Eyes on the road!" John yells, "Jesus. You should let me drive."

Richard swerves back into his lane from the middle of the street. Thankfully there are no other cars around. "We're fine, aren't we?" Richard is way too calm about this situation before returning the conversation to me. "Owen. I can show you all my research I've been collecting if you want? I've got notes on almost every active and inactive hero in the area."

"Okay. But not now, you need to focus on driving."

Richard rolls his eyes but doesn't argue. The rest of the drive passes in relative silence. As soon as he parks in his driveway, he turns to face me with a very ecstatic look on his face. "So who all are you interested in? You know I teach people about heroes at the HMC."

"Um…" I say, trying to gain my bearings in the face of his enthusiasm. "Speedster, I guess?"

John groans. "Goddamnit, now he'll never shut up."

Richard is actually blushing, and he connects a solid punch with John's shoulder. "Speedster is a great hero, you're just jealous that Owen didn't ask you."

John doesn't even bother to hit back, cackling like a madman. Even Alecia dissolves into giggling at Richard's expense.

"Speedster is Richard's favorite." Alecia explains over her laughter.

"I like Sprint just as much!" Richard protests.

John gasps. "Daddy!" Then he and Alecia collapse into hysterics.

Richard's face goes completely red as he stomps into his house, giving John and Alecia the bird. I look over at the two on the ground, trying to make sense of this whole mess. They're not in the state of mind to give me proper answers. I turn away and go inside, hoping that maybe Richard can offer an explanation.

"What happened out there?"

Richard sighs. "Can we please not talk about that? I don't even know. I can't explain exactly what happened."

"I'm still curious, but I can wait. I'll find out eventually." I'm sure it's something stupid.

"Well, yeah. Just maybe a few years down the line." Years? What the heck does he mean, years? "Uh, so. You still want to learn about Speedster?"

Years!? "Yeah. I've been hearing a lot about him lately."

"I mean, he is a pretty cool guy, so I can see why you'd want to learn about him." Richard goes to lean against his kitchen counter, but he misses and barely catches himself to keep from falling.

"Sounds like you have a man-crush on him." I laugh, smiling at Richard. He's such a dork.

Richard sighs again, pours a glass of juice for each of us, and sits down at the kitchen table. "I don't know why I talk to any of you." He gripes. "Anyway, Speedster's been active for eleven years, starting when he was five."

"Isn't it kind of a terrible idea to have a five-year-old risk his life like that?"

"Yeah . . . there are a lot of laws against that now. You can start training as a hero as soon as you demonstrate powers or abilities or whatever, but you can't actually patrol or anything until you're fourteen, and child labor laws apply."

"Then how did Speedster do anything before that?"

"The heroes thought it might be good to have a kid of similar age to go against the Psycho. People think she thought of Speedster more as a buddy, and that's what kept her from ever starting a battle with him."

"Oh. And that's all he did?" I ask. "That's not what I expected."

"For only, like, four years." Richard says. "Then Psycho disappeared off the face of the earth, and they kinda only used Speedster to connect with other kids when there was a fire or something. Sans bad guys."

"That's actually kinda lame. When did he start doing cool stuff?" Does Richard know anything the whole world doesn't already know?

Richard looks mildly offended. "The dude has superspeed! That is cool by itself. But like, actual patrol? When he was twelve, and accompanied by an adult. They worked him up to being an actual adult-level hero over a few years, and the laws got passed about a year and a half ago, so child labor laws pretty much apply to what he can do. There's a lot of insurance and stuff around it, my dad's friend is a lawyer and he could explain it better. But yeah, kid heroes can be something like a liability. Speedster's got really fast healing because of his powers, but he's not really invincible."

"I don't want to hear about the legal stuff, Richie. I want to know stuff like… what his favorite color might be? Who he is as a person. I'm sure you have some theories on that all."

"You want me to, what? Tell you the inner thoughts and feelings of a public figure who has a secret identity? So you can identify him? That's kind of low."

"I mean, I don't need to know his identity. I more just… kind of admire him and I wonder what it'd be like to be friends with Speedster." I feel awkward now. That sounded like I was saying I have a crush on Speedster or something.

Richard gives me a calculating look. "Is this about Teen Archer? The Karate girl?"

"Do you know anything about her, speaking of? And why she was given such a stupid name?" I ask, trying to act like Richard hadn't come inches away from dismantling my secret.

Richard laughs. "Let me tell you. There's a long, old tradition of giving heroes stupid names describing their powers and abilities. Because Teen Archer is a teenager and carries a bow and arrows, that was the simplest code name to give her that made her easily identifiable. And now it'll be stuck unless and until she makes the decision to officially register with the heroes."

"Why's Speedster called speedster, then? Other than the obvious. He could've been Fast Boy." I say.

Richard sets down his glass, swallows quickly, and starts laughing. "Oh God, now I understand what you mean about Teen Archer being a terrible name. No, Speedster was a childhood nickname and he would respond to it, so they used that." Richard shrugs. "I imagine it would be difficult to get a five-year-old to learn a whole new name right away."

"Have you… ever spoken with Speedster? You know a lot to have not met him." I can only imagine Richard being a total fanboy.

"A few times, because I work for the HMC. He's pretty cool," Richard says, "But most of what I know is because I spent a lot of time at the HMC reading like, everything."

"Nerd." I scoff, smiling at him as Alecia and John finally make their way inside.