Chapter the First; In Which our Hero Relates a Perplexing Event.
[This story takes place between Descendants Special #2 and Descendants #23]
He stood like an Adonis of prelate-dom on atop his vanquished foe, resplendent in his red, padded shirt and darker breeches, encircled by a gold belt covered with compartments and pouches. His yellow cape billowed dramatically in the wind, showing off the infinity symbol emblazoned upon it in blue. The same symbol, contained within a yellow triangle sat proudly between his rippling pectorals. His dark, shoulder length hair was tied back in a ponytail that also caught the wind just perfectly.
On the ground below him, an unconscious man; who before being soundly dispatched had gone by the name Death Claw (obviously for the outsized, electricity conducting claw he’d grafted to his left arm) lay senseless. He’d been beaten before he’d even been aware that a high speed flying punch was coming his way.
But he wasn’t the focus of attention. Well, honestly, he had been; seeing as how he’d held the mayor hostage and all; but that was before the Champion of the Boroughs, the Defender of the Metropolis, New York’s Prelate: John Harding, AKA; Infinity had hit the scene. Now, Death Claw would be lucky if someone paid him enough attention to arrest him.
“No need to thank me. No need to record my deeds for prosperity.” The man of the hour said, looking directly into the nearest camera. He seemed to have the knack for finding and identifying local news provider cameras and reporters as part of his fabled powers. “I’m just doing what this fine city has asked me to do, that’s all. And remember kids; you can be a hero too: by working hard and volunteering; not by illegally modifying yourself.” The last part was accompanied by a pointed look at the camera.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” He continued, floating upward. “I have to get ready for my big appearance tomorrow at the Big Apple’s first Koshiki Megastore (noon ‘til six pm).” With that, he turned and flew away.
If I have actually been there in person rather than watching it on TV from my girlfriend’s couch, I can only wonder if I could have restrained myself from booing loudly and throwing things. As it was, I merely gaped at the shear enormity of his ego; my jaw dropping so wide open that I think I hit my knee. I really, really hated that guy.
“I really, really hate that guy.” I said.
Lying on the couch beside me, legs across my lap, my girl, Janine Kazhdan, surreptitiously shifted her head to better cover up the Infinity symbol embroidered on the throw pillow it was resting on. It was one of many pieces of Official Infinity Merchandise (ten percent of all proceeds go to The World Children’s Charity) that littered the apartment she shared with her friend, Kirsten Troy. She’d been a big fan of not just him but prelates in general even before finding out that I was one of their ranks; the legendary, oft unappreciated Whitecoat.
Her collection of prelate themed items had only grown sense that revelation (heavily favoring Whitecoat merch, of course; which is not official, give me no royalties, and is generally made on home 3d printers or by someone with an overly active knitting habit). At the moment, My own head was resting on a pillow with Sister Sacred emblazoned on it – which is odd in and of itself, sense I’m a something of a colleague of hers and I’ve never seen her, yet someone had dutifully knitted a caricature of her anyway.
“It is the dimple again?” Janine asked with a playful smile.
“No.” I replied. That was true; I’d learned to hate that damn dimple on Infinity’s chin as a separate entity entirely.
This only made her smile more. “So is it the blatant pushing of City Hall’s anti-interfacer propaganda?” For reasons I couldn’t fathom, Janine is a staunch supporter of the basic human right of a man to graft/implant/insert whatever cybernetic components into himself that he wanted. I just don’t care if being a spark jockey was illegal or not, though considering that my own powers stem in part from an accidental version of the same process, maybe I should.
“Eh,” I grunted, “I always knew he was Mayor Raymond’s tool… okay, I just call him a tool a lot, but I’m still not surprised.” Sarah Raymond, New York City’s current mayor thought all prelates were her private army to command as she saw fit. Among the street level, non-Infinity prelates, she was known as the wicked witch of the Bronx.
Janine wriggled around on the couch, trying to get into a more comfortable position and accidentally landing a knee in my stomach. “Oops, sorry, sweetie. So what got you so riled up this time?”
I made a sour face and sank back further onto the couch. “I was going to go to the Koshiki opening.” I groused.
“What? You were going to make a special appearance? And you didn’t tell me?!” She sat up and gave me a half hearted sock in the arm.
“No, not that me, I mean just me. The Megastore is going to be holding a drawing for all sorts of Koshiki products, including a Koshiki Motors Genokaze.”
“Those awesome flying motorcycle things?” Janine asked, excited, “I heard they cost more than a whole car would.”
“It’s truth.” I nodded, “plus, I figured, I could at least pick up Heaven’s Code: Galactic Peace on the cheap.” It may seem odd for a true to life superhero to use video games as a form of escapism, but I’ve found that after a hard week of being punched through walls, fighting some evil that can’t hurt me back is catharsis. Also, it’s something I can do with my girlfriend as beating up muggers and gangsters isn’t as romantic as one would think.
“And you’re not going because Infinity’s going to be there?” Janine asked. Her voice took on that quality all women’s voices take on when they want to tell you that you’re being stupid without actually telling you. She scooted closer to me and put an arm around my shoulder. “You’re never this randomly petulant – even when it comes to Infinity. Something else is up. Want to talk about it?”
Sometimes, I wonder if Janine doesn’t have some sort of psychic affinity or something with me. Especially since she found out about my ‘night job’, I can’t seem to keep anything from her, even that stuff that doesn’t really concern her at all.
I leaned back and checked the hall clock. It was just past four. “Uh, what time is Kirsten going to be back?”
“Oh, it’s prelate stuff.” Janine said with her usual understanding. “Well, it’s Thursday, so she’ll be going to her economics class, which won’t even let out until five thirty, so we’ve got time… if you feel like it.” Sometimes, there are things I don’t want to tell her because it’d just worry her. Sometimes, there’s things I can’t tell her because it’d be dangerous for her. I’m thankful every day that she accepts this.
Luckily, the thing that was on my mind that evening was neither… at least at the moment. I put my arm around her and drew her close. “It’s kind of a long story.” I explained, “But here it goes.”
Every year since I gained my powers, I’ve made it a point to pay special attention to the local parks and back lots of the borough on the first day of summer.
Specifically, I’m not referring to the first day of meteorological summer. I’m talking about the ‘summer’ every kid in the city dreams about through the fall, winter and most of the spring. The summer that starts precisely at four o’clock on the last day of school and is announced by a last bell of the year.
Not for nothing, but it’s probably the most dangerous day of the year for a kid in the Big Apple. Some is it is the kids’ fault, their enthusiasm leading them to forget ‘look both ways before crossing the street’ and pursue courses of action that even a lemming would call suicidal. Then there’s the predators; gangers recruiting, drug dealers looking for fresh customers, or even worse. They tend to recognize the lemming factor the day brings on and try and exploit it.
It helps kids learn how to just say ‘no’ when a prelate drops out of the sky and delivers a punch in the face to a guy who obviously didn’t. Lessons on safety, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, are also enhanced by being delivered by guys who are known to be resistant to physical harm. Go figure.
In any event, I was on my yearly job as guardian angel for children of astoundingly lax parents when I heard someone shouting.
There are a lot of stock phrases you hear all the time in movies and see all the time in comics. It’s common, it’s in our culture and we expect that somewhere, in some place, people really do hear them all the time. But I’ll be damned if I’d ever heard a woman shout “Eek! My purse! Someone Help! Purse snatcher!” in my entire life. Even if I wasn’t a prelate, and I was just a man on the street, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have instantly given chase to the ne’er-do-well if only for the sheer novelty of responding to that kind of call.
As it was, I snapped the cap closed on my thermos of coffee and looked down from my perch on the tenth story balcony of a hotel overlooking the main entrance to Prospect Park. Sure enough, there was one tiny speck down below shouting her head off and a definite disturbance in the pedestrian traffic that was most likely the purse snatcher trying to bolt between people on the street.
I tipped the brim of my hat down and adjusted some controls on my right wrist. I’d installed a video display in the brim of my hat once it became obvious that the thing wouldn’t stop slipping over my eyes and over the years, I’ve upgraded the imaging equipment a dozen or so times. Magnifying my bird’s eye view was cake.
Not cake I enjoyed though. My purse snatcher was a kid; probably around ten years old. I hate busting kids for crimes. With grown-ups, you feel good for punishing them because you can justify that they’re jerks who deserve it. Granted, some kids are also jerks who deserve it, but you feel bad for calling them jerks.
Still, that lady needed her purse and that kid needed to learn that stealing is only cool in movies, music and television. So I gathered myself up and jumped, fanning my signature white coat out to control my fall.
Eight stories and change later, I landed feet first on the arm of a traffic lamp. The thing bent beneath my weight as I made ready for a horizontal leap. For a brief second, I saw a sea of faces looking up at me, but before anyone could say anything, the lamp bounced back up, giving me an unsolicited boost as I leapt toward the fleeing mini-crook.
In case anyone was wondering; while I’m able to leap modest buildings in a couple of bounds, I don’t actually have any ability to time my jumps or target them. Being an engineering student helps, but honestly, most of it is luck, especially if you’re jumping off a shaking light pole. I missed the kid by a good five feet and have to chase him on foot.
That wasn’t hard. My strides are longer than his entire body. I reached out and grabbed the trailing end of his goofy headband to signal him that the jig was up. Of course, the knot slipped and the junior fashion accessory came free in my hand. Typical.
What wasn’t typical was the kid coming to a screeching halt half a step later. It took considerably good reflex to jump over him and even then, I was forced to do an awkward cartwheel to avoid slamming into some guy carrying groceries. There was an odd crunching sound under my hand when I did this.
I glanced down, noting that the kid was frozen in place in surprise. The lack of blaring agony meant that sound wasn’t my wrist breaking. And I knew my gauntlets could take the pressure. The scarf? I looked at it. Fabric shouldn’t crunch. But then again, fabric shouldn’t have a piece of broken circuitry sticking out of it either…
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a mystery. But first, I needed to deal with the kid, who was staring at the pilfered purse like it had just appeared in his hands.
“Okay, kid.” I said, “Show’s over. Let’s just go give that back to the lady and if you apologize real nice, I’m sure you won’t get in much trouble.”
“What lady?” the boy asked fearfully. He did a double take at the purse and dropped it like it had suddenly become a pile of snakes. “I-I didn’t!”
I’m not stranger to the blatant lies people make up on the spot after being caught red handed (“Honest, sir, I was locked out of my apartment, so I climbed twenty stories using neko-te with a handgun tucked in my pants – you know, to protect myself from the pigeons.”) and the kid’s story was pretty hard to swallow given the purse lying at his feet. But either something wasn’t quite right here, or the kid was a spectacular actor.
I glanced at the headband and the exposed circuitry therein. The part of my brain that’s entirely too comfortable with the fact that I dress up in a costume and kick the crap out of criminals started jumping to conclusions. The kind of conclusions any idiot who’s ever seen a sci-fi movie can jump to, but rational people discard instantly.
Sighing, I turned against the tide of my responsibilities as an upstanding citizen. “Go home kid.” I said, trying to sound gruff and intimidating. Turns out it wasn’t necessary. Given express permission, the boy tore off into the crowd of onlookers that had formed to watch the spectacle. I didn’t even take the time to watch him go before I picked up the purse.
“Hey, you just let him go?” Some guy in the crowd demanded. He was maybe a few years older than me, but had that sort of sharp, rodent-like look to him that suggested that he was permanently a forty-something busybody. “What kind of message does that send?”
“That I’m merciful toward children?” I hazarded.
“You let him get away with a crime!” the guy shouted, shouldering past people like he was going to confront me. “You’re supposed to punish crime!”
“Hey!” I said, drawing myself up and tipping my hat down to look more intimidating. “Who’s the prelate here, you or me?” that caught him off guard. “I’m only empowered to arrest people, not required to. You want to take down jaywalkers, get the neighborhood watch.”
The crowd rippled with laughter at that. Chances were that there would be a story in the papers the next day with an eyewitness saying that I said something much more witty and/or nasty. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again c’est la super-vie.
With a quick leap to the side, I was up and over the crowd, boots firmly anchored to the side of the building. I nearly gave the onlooker whiplash when I pushed off that and leapt back toward the poor victim of the purse snatching.
Usually, I tend to return stolen goods with a flair for the dramatic, but the headband was bothering me. While I know the basics, I’m not the best when it comes to high technology without moving parts. I’d need help if I was going to figure out what I’d just run into. Luckily, when the lesser known prelates of New York have technical troubles, there’s only one man they can depend on – at a cost.
To Be Continued…