There were a lot of great things about being a super hero. Sure there was fighting bad guys and putting them in jail, but while that’s what I’d always wanted to do, I still kind of sucked at it. No, the thing I most enjoyed, and was best at, was doing for kids what the Guardianship had once done for me.
“Alright guys, who wants to go next?” I cheerfully asked the children living in a local orphanage.
“Me! Me! Me!” A bunch of the younger ones shouted.
Between my abusive dick of a dad, and my negligent mom, I’d had to look to super heroes for role models. These kids didn’t have parents to look up to either. Obviously I was no substitute for a loving family, but a visit now and then from a local super hero certainly helped raise their spirits.
“How about…you,” I said, pointing to Lucy, a four year old girl with blonde curly hair, and bright red cheeks.
“Yay,” she cheered climbing onto my lap.
With that confirmation, I charged up my pointer finger with electricity and tapped her on the cheek a few times with it, each instance of contact making her giggle.
“That tickles,” she laughed.
I loved seeing the smiling faces on these kids. Whenever I came to visit them, I always asked Raina and Malcolm if they wanted to come with, but they always had an excuse not to. In this case, Raina was following Malcolm’s orders and getting bed rest, while Malcolm was out bowling with Shay.
For the sake of everyone involved, I sincerely hoped Malcolm didn’t try shooting the pins.
“Come on, Lucy,” a five year old African American kid named Dylan said. “It’s someone else’s turn.”
“Shut up, Dylan,” Lucy replied. “I’m not done yet.”
“Come on, Shay,” I said 14 years ago. “I want to talk to King Power!”
“Be quiet,” she whispered. “I was the one who won the contest.”
Looking at all of the happy kids, I smiled myself.
“You’re really good with them,” a familiar voice said, entering the room.
Turning my head around, I saw it was Badrah.
For a moment, I forgot how much exactly she knew about me. She knew I was friends with Queen, and she might have known I had powers, but I was pretty sure she still didn’t know Carter was Lightning Bee. Unless Takato told her that is, but I doubt that happened.
“Oh, hello there Ma’am,” I said to her. “Do you work here?”
“Come on, Lightning Bee!” Dylan shouted, tugging at my leg. “Shock me!”
Badrah, who had an odd state of calm about her, looked down at all of the children.
“Kids, why don’t you go have some juice in the other room?” she asked. “I think Mr. Lightning Bee could use a short break.”
A bunch of the kids moaned, but Lucy just smiled at me as I put her down.
“OK, but my turn when we get back,” Dylan whined as all of the kids exited the room.
Badrah walked up to me, her hands folded behind her back.
“To answer your question, no, I don’t work here,” she said. “But I do like to volunteer here on my days off.”
“That’s really nice of you,” I said, reaching out my hand. “I’m Lightning Bee…but, you already knew that.”
She giggled, apparently finding my brain fart funny.
“Tights and goggles aren’t exactly casual wear.” We shared a small laugh. “I’m Badrah.”
Should I keep this casual? Or should I bring up Takato? If I did the latter, we might be able to find out what Takato was up to before it was too late. I didn’t want to use a kind woman, but people’s lives were at stake.
“Look, um, Miss. I know who you are. Queen told me about the situation with the teenager you’re caring for.”
“My husband and I thought she might tell you and Decker. Please understand, he’s not a bad kid. He’s just been through a lot.”
“I completely get that. That’s why he needs all the comfort and love he can get right now. But he also made it clear when he talked to my friend Carter that there’s no way he’ll ever forgive Queen, or anyone who associates with her. So, if you think he needs someone to vent with about us, you should be that person.”
“That may work in the short term, but I’m not sure that’s what it will take to help him get better. I know it’s unlikely that you’d go along with it, but I don’t feel his condition will improve until Raina Davenport faces punishment for what she’s done. Either that or…”
“Or what?” I asked.
“Or the two of you come to him, and “admit” to him that you’re monsters. Maybe pretend to attack him. Deep down, I don’t think even Takato knows if his rage is justified. Once he’s sure, the healing can begin.”
“I don’t…but we’re super heroes. We inspire people, not scare them.”
“I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on super heroics, but sometimes, you have to do bad things to people for their own good.”
Interesting concept. I didn’t quite understand it, but still. Besides, much as I cared about Takato’s welfare, there was still the matter of him promising to summon more demons.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, feeling more and more uncomfortable as this conversation went on. Scratching the back of my head, I asked, “Have you noticed Takato doing anything…mystical in nature?”
“Thankfully no,” Badrah answered. “He’s mostly just been sitting in his room, crying.”
Damn it. Hurting him couldn’t be the only thing I could do for this kid.
“That’s good to hear at least,” I said.
For a few moments, there was an awkward silence.
Badrah than perked up.
“Come on now. The kids are probably done with their juice by now, and I’m sure they all want to see more of their favorite super hero.”
Yeah, I thought to myself. At least I can make them feel better.
I get that I’m a super hero, but those kids really should have been able to tell from looking at me that I couldn’t give them all piggy back rides…simultaneously.
Much as their weight had hurt my back, what Badrah had said to me was even heavier. Doing something bad to someone for their own good? How could hurting someone help them?
To get my mind off that, I decided to get some late night gelato. Everyone had been wanting me to eat healthier, but yogurt was gross, so I figured gelato was an okay substitute for ice cream.
I mean, the internet said it was more healthful, and its never lied to me before.
Entering a store close to the orphanage, and for that matter, the always intimidating Grasshopper, Gelato Potato, I saw that the walls were white and neon pink, and the whole place was circular, with round tables surrounding a bar in the center.
Aside from the two girls working behind the bar, the only people in the restaurant were myself, two dudes who were making out, and an older woman who from the sound of it, was screaming at her grandson over the phone.
As I walked over to the gelato bar, I could hear over the lady’s howling that J-pop was playing from a speaker. J-pop + gelato = a good time for Carter.
“Excuse me,” I said to one of the teenage girls behind the bar. “Can I try the mint strawberry?”
“Sure thing,” she said with an obviously fake smile. Not too sure why her smile wasn’t genuine. It’d be awesome to work at a place like this.
She took a tiny pink, tasting spoon, and handed it to me. It wasn’t the best thing I’d ever tasted, but it was worth getting for the sake of having something different.
“I’ll have a medium cup of this please,” I said, ready to satisfy my sweet tooth.
As she started scooping up the gelato, a bald, latino man entered the store. From head to toe, he was covered in cobra tattoos. Odds are he could probably turn into one. People who could transform into animals loved getting tattoos of said animal.
He got in line behind me and, for some reason, introduced himself.
“Excuse me,” he said. “My name is Edwin Bosques.”
You know, I could actually get behind this guy’s attitude. I was always telling Shay she should introduce herself to more strangers. “You never know who’ll be a friend,” I’d say. But then she’d bring up the fact that I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t have a counterpoint to that.
“Carter Myers,” I replied shaking Edwin’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” he said with a striking lack of a smile on his face. “There’s something we must discuss,” he continued as the girl, whose name tag read “Ricky”, placed my gelato on the bar.
I paid her what I owed, took my gelato along with a spoon, and asked, “You aren’t trying to sell me anything, right? Because as of buying this gelato, I literally only have 13 cents to my name.”
“No, nothing like that,” he answered. “I’m going to keep this brief. Stay away from Takato Sakuraba.”
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
This guy was going to ruin Carter’s gelato and j-pop fun time. No way was I gonna let this guy do that, after I spent the entire morning cleaning a pool and getting bossed around and sexually harassed by Stella.
But this was more important than my fun.
“Excuse me,” Ricky said. “There’s a customer behind you.”
Edwin and I faced each other.
“Lets sit down,” he said.
I followed him to a table, and upon sitting down, with as dignified a look as I could keep, I ate a spoonful of gelato.
“What do you know about Takato?” I asked.
“I know that he is a very powerful young man,” Edwin answered. “A young man filled with rage and confusion. And with a strong connection to Hell, that is a very dangerous combination.”
Okay, this was no time for gelato. But I’d just spent all my money on it , so rather than throw it out, I just slid it down the table.
“How do you know any of this?” I asked.
“My partner and I have a deep interest in Hell. Any leads that could help us unleash it and raze the Earth as we know it, we follow. As such, we’ve been watching Takato very closely.”
This was starting to get freaky.
“I’m sorry. Can we get back to the whole, “you wanting to create Hell on Earth”, thing?”
For the first time in this encounter, Edwin dawned a small smile.
“You’re an optimist, aren’t you? You believe that this world is a good place, and that people, deep down, are good?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “I’m guessing you don’t.”
Edwin shook his head.
“This world is corrupt. Filled with greedy, horrible people, who care about nothing but themselves. Animals, plants, even other people; nothing matter to them.”
“I’m not blind enough to say that ALL people are good. There are some monsters out there.” Though in some cases, the monsters were incredibly powerful demons named Smog. “But there are more than enough good people here to justify protecting the world.”
Edwin had been keeping his calm, but slamming his hands down on the table, he got angry.
“Really now?! If people are so good, why have we had three world wars? Why were non-whites forced to be slaves till the laere people without powers forced to be slaves till the late 1800’s, and non-whites treated as second class citizens till the 1950’s? And why did Earth’s protectors, the super heroes, abandon us 14 years ago?!”
With that, he swung his arm, and violently knocked my gelato off the table.
I scowled at him, deciding to get to the point.
“You don’t seem like you have any intention of hiding what you’re doing. What do you want with Takato?”
“The boy has the unique ability to summon demons. My partner believes that if we can bring enough raw emotion out of him, we can use him to summon an army to lay waste to the Earth.” No way Edwin’s only power was turning into a cobra. If he was this willing to share his plans, he was either crazy, or incredibly powerful. “All I want from you is not try and coddle him. We don’t need him feeling good about things.”
Like he had done before, I now slammed my hands down on the table.
“Here’s a different idea. You stay away from Takato, or I report you to the police.”
Edwin’s scowl disappeared and he sighed.
“Are you saying you plan to continue seeing Takato?” I just stared at him. “Very well then.”
Edwin threw a punch, and despite not making contact, it still hurt like Hell, and sent me flying across the restaurant. Edwin stood up, and everyone else started to flee.
“Using melee attacks without having to make contact? That’s Punchline’s power!”
Well, close at least. If he was actually as strong as Punchline, I’d be unconscious right now.
Electricity engulfed my arms. There was something frightening about a guy who seemed proud about trying to end the world.
“You don’t want to do this,” I said, still wanting to end this peacefully.
“Don’t worry, Carter,” he said. “With your death, the Earth shall be one step closer to being purged.”
Before I could get up and blast him, Edwin backhanded me from across the restaurant, launching me into the rose colored wall.
Even with my uncanny ability to not be recognized by people, if he knew I’d talked to Takato, then he also knew I was friends with Fencer. If I shot lightning at him, he’d be able to figure out I was Lightning Bee.
I took a deep breath, focused, and made the lightning go away from my arms. I was going to have to put my trust in Malcolm’s training.
Getting up, I formed my hands into fists and ran at Edwin. Edwin drew his arm back, getting ready to strike me again, but something intervened before we could attack each other.
Out of nowhere, a super skinny ginger in a baggy, five sizes too big ,green and white jersey, along with a matching backwards baseball cap, appeared, grabbed both of our arms, and stopped us in place.
The mysterious man threw both of us to the floor, and took a bite of the hamburger he was holding in his mouth, the remainder of the burger falling into his hand.
“Who the fuck are you?” Edwin asked.
“Well,” he said, chewing his food. “I’m Gordon. And I gotta say man, I’m with Carter. Earth is pretty great.” He finished swallowing his burger. “Especially the food.”
“Uh, do I know you?” I asked Gordon.
“No, but I know you,” he answered. “And boss’s orders is that you don’t die.” He turned to Edwin, taking another bite of his burger. “Now I could kill you now, but I just bet Salaran that the black guy was gonna be the one to get you.”
“Black guy?” Edwin asked, sounding just as confused as I was.
“So scat and continue trying to end the world,” he said swallowing. “I’ve got more food to try.”
And just like that, Gordon was gone.
Edwin stood up and spoke. “You may have powerful friends, but you are just an ordinary man. Heed my warning and stay away from Takato. My partner isn’t as friendly as I am.”
As he departed the restaurant, I muttered to myself, “Yeah, real friendly.”
What was Edwin’s deal? Who was his partner? What the Hell was with that Gordon guy? And who was Salaran?
I’d come here looking for a good time, but instead, all I got was a minor beating, a new enemy, and lots of questions.
And I didn’t even get to have my gelato.