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I, Hero: The Beginning

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I, Hero—The Beginning

by Jason Zandri

 

 

Published with the authorization of Jason Zandri, Connecticut 06492, United States of America

Copyright ©2015 by Jason Zandri

All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-4951-5953-4

The example companies, organizations, products, domain names, e-mail addresses, logos, people, places, and events depicted herein are fictitious. No association with any real company, organization, product, domain name, e-mail address, logo, person, place, or event is intended or should be inferred.

In the place where a real company, organization, product, domain name, e-mail address, logo, person, place, or event is intended, the ownership and copyrights of those aforementioned subjects remain with those owners.

PROLOGUE

Nathan stepped to the side of his ailing father’s bed. The cancer was about to have its endgame. Nathan did the best he could to keep a strong face forward for his father. If he opened his eyes again, he would want him to see that he wasn’t upset.

“When it’s your time, there’s nothing you can do to change that outcome. The only thing you can do is meet it head on,” Brian Devron had told his son the last time he’d been fully lucid. “I’ve done the best I could to teach you everything I know. A father does that his whole life for his children. Some have very little time. Others have decades. I don’t feel robbed having only twenty-three years of your life to do that. It’s not about the quantity of time, it’s the quality. That is what we’ve had. I don’t know what life has in store for you. No one really does. You move about it the best you can with the gifts you possess. Give back more than you take. Compete only with yourself. Live life by your own measure; no one else’s.”

Those would be the last words of wisdom that he passed along to his only son.

The son would bury the father on a Thursday and spend the next few weeks settling his estate and liquidating his assets.

He would spend the remainder of that school year finishing up his degree. Over that summer, he then moved from Connecticut to an apartment in the Kips Bay area of New York City.

With the following fall, a year later, came change.

Nothing was ever the same again.

CHAPTER ONE

Nathan made his way down Third Avenue with a bottle of water from his refrigerator in his back pocket and his backpack slung over his right shoulder. The early morning September sunrise beat along the high rises while he walked along the east side of the street, as he did each morning on his way to work. He ran his fingers through his short, sandy-brown hair, and then pulled out his cell phone. He checked the screen, read the current time, and a calendar message that read, “Autumnal Equinox begins at 8:06AM.” The time was 7:51AM, which gave him twice the amount of time he needed to get into work on time. Along the way, as per his routine, he stopped in the convenience store near 27th Street for a breakfast sandwich.

He smiled at the owner of the small shop and the girl that worked for him behind the counter, as he did most mornings.

“Good morning, Nathan,” the older, Middle Eastern man said as he picked up the bread knife. “The usual?”

“Hi Mahar, yes please.” Nathan pulled out his wallet and stepped up to Cindy at the register.

“Cindy, don’t ring him out today,” Mahar Niresh said as he worked on the sandwich for Nathan.

“I can’t do that, Mahar,” Nathan said, waving his hand. “I appreciate it but you can’t pay your rent giving me free food.”

“Yes, of course, but this is not your food, is it?” he asked with a smile. Cindy, slightly confused, looked over at her boss and listened to the exchange while she tightened up her blond hair in the elastic band. “I hadn’t realized it until the other day, but you don’t eat breakfast from my shop. You come in here and buy the sandwich for the elderly homeless woman.”

“Well, that’s a half truth,” Nathan responded, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I used to eat the breakfast every morning. It’s a great sandwich. But Cici needs the sandwich more than I do. I only have so much free money, so …”

“Then it is settled.” Mahar smiled and finished up working on the breakfast, and then came over with a slightly larger bag than Nathan was normally used to having. “Today, I will buy breakfast for both of you. There are two sandwiches here. From now on, I will always make you two and charge you for the one.”

Nathan left a couple of dollars in the tip jar at the counter then extended his hand to Mahar, who promptly took it and shook it firmly. “Thank you, that is very kind.”

“You are very kind. I am honored to try to be as kind.”

Nathan smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Good morning to you and Cici as well,” Mahar said.

Nathan headed out the door and turned north on Third Avenue. A few minutes later, up the avenue, he smiled when his friend, Lisa Cooper, waved him down at the next block.

Nathan waved back and moved up the block to meet her, with a slightly quickened pace.

“Good morning. I like your shirt today,” Lisa said, and her smile expanded even wider. The morning sun highlighted the lighter parts of her strawberry-blond hair. “Which hero is this?” she asked, pointing to his t-shirt.

“This,” Nathan said, “is Amalgam.”

“And his powers are?” she asked, turning to lockstep her pace with Nathan, along his left side. She gazed up at him from her five-foot-two stance to his six feet.

“Well, it’s really cool,” Nathan said, the excitement clear in his voice, as if he were a teenager with a new comic rather than a young man who’d just turned twenty-five. “The character can absorb the powers of whichever hero, or villain, he touches.”

“Really,” Lisa replied in an animated tone, apparently interested in the topic. “Is it permanent? Do the powers he absorbs stay forever? Are they permanently removed from the host?”

“No,” Nathan said, stopping at the corner to wait for traffic. He put his hand up and looked east toward the early morning sun as the sunlight poured down the street between the city high-rises. “What happens is his body absorbs the abilities, traits, and weaknesses in almost a mimic form. The hosts retain their original powers at their normal level, no diminishment, and Amalgam is able to copy them exactly with the same level of skills and execution. No learning curve.”

Lisa turned in the direction that Nathan was looking. “So, does he keep the powers to the next transference or do they dissipate over time?”

“He keeps them until he touches another hero, or villain for that matter, and sets off a new exchange. It’s an intentional effort exchange. So, for example, if he’s copied a hero that has the power of flight and carries another hero without that power, he wouldn’t suddenly transfer and lose that present ability.”

“What are you looking for?” Lisa asked, unable to see what Nathan was trying to see.

“Oh, it’s silly actually, because you can’t see it with the naked eye,” Nathan replied as the signal changed and they crossed the street. “There’s a celestial event going on right now. The Baxter—Zephram comet is in the sky, aligned between the Earth and the Sun right at this moment. I know there’s no way to see it because the brightness of the sun blots it out, but I had to look. At the same time, on the far side of the Sun, Jupiter is aligned directly opposite. Also, on the opposing side of the Earth right now is the Moon, and in deeper space, Saturn.”

“So, they’re basically all aligned in a row?” Lisa asked as they cut over towards Lexington Avenue.

Nathan pulled his phone out to check the time again. “Almost to the minute. Just a little more.”

As the two turned the corner to Lexington Avenue, they spotted two police cars and an ambulance. Nathan dropped the breakfast sandwich bag and darted toward them. Lisa scooped it up and followed at a jog.

Officer Jack O’Malley held up his hands. “Easy, Nathan,” he said, with sympathy warming his thick Brooklyn accent. “They’re taking care of her. A couple of thugs whacked her for her bag.”

“Is that Nathan?” the old, thin woman on the gurney called out. “I want to see him. I need to see him.”

“Cici,” the ambulance driver responded, “we really need to take you now. The cut is deep and you lost a lot of blood. We need to go.”

“Nathan! Come!” she yelled, taking a thin, tarnished and worn, open-sided copper bracelet from her wrist.

Nathan pushed past Officer O’Malley and went up to the gurney before they loaded it into the ambulance. “What happened, Cici?” he asked as he looked her over on the stretcher, and for a brief moment, remembered the way he felt seeing his father laying in his hospice bed during the last days of his life.

“Thugs. Wanted Cici’s bag,” the old woman replied. “Wasn’t going to get it without a fight.”

“Cici,” Nathan said, disappointed, “I could have gotten you another one. It wasn’t worth taking a beating for. Nothing is.”

“You’re wrong. It was from you,” she said as she reached out and grabbed his arm with great strength for a healthy woman, let alone an old, frail one that had been stabbed in the abdomen. “You are the only person to give Cici any consideration. I always remember your kindness. Daily. I wait for it. The beacon in the dark.” She slipped the C-shaped bracelet over his wrist. The attendants tried to load the gurney, but she wouldn’t let go of Nathan’s arm.

Cici opened her deep brown eyes wide, kept a death grip on Nathan’s arm, and reached across with her other hand to cover the bracelet with her palm. She took a large, deep breath and spoke. “Where there is darkness, you are light. Where others know fear, you will be brave. When there are setbacks, you will persevere. Where others find weakness, you bring strength.” She paused for a moment to take another deep breath, and closed her eyes. “Where there is despair, you are hope. Where cowardice falls, you rise courageously. Where others do not have the ability to believe, you have faith.”

Pain flared in his right arm, from the wrist up, and he felt incredibly weak. Where Cici’s right hand lay across the bracelet, it became hot to the touch. He tried to pull his arm back, but couldn’t break her grip.

“You will suffer,” she said. Her eyes snapped open, and she bellowed, “So that others will endure. You will triumph where others would fall.” Nathan pulled on his arm, hard, leveraging with his feet. He looked at the woman he knew as Cici, but could no longer recognize her as her eyes went completely white and her voice dropped to barely a whisper above the city sounds. Nathan couldn’t understand what she said. She spoke in Latin, and he tried in vain to catch at least some of the words.

Cici released her hold, and Nathan jerked himself back. Alarms on the monitors went off. The attendants jerked the gurney into the ambulance and worked feverishly.

Nathan stumbled backwards, into the hood of Officer O’Malley’s cruiser. He looked up into the eastern sky, directly at the rising sun. Flashes of light, brighter than the sunlight, filled his field of vision in his line of view in front of the sun. “Baxter—Zephram?” Nathan said, then blacked out and fell to the pavement.

CHAPTER TWO

Darkness. Warmth. Voices. The sensations invaded Nathan’s consciousness. He became aware of the needles in his arms and the tube in his nose. He opened his eyes a bit at a time, and then all in one go.

“What happened? Work?” he said weakly, and reached over to the small table he’d noticed to his right.

“I already called them,” Lisa said and moved a little closer to the bed. “I told them you were ill and had to come to the hospital. You’re all set.” Lisa reached over, touched his forehead, and ran her hand up lightly into his hair.

Nathan closed his eyes for a moment to process everything. Lisa worked in the same building as he did, but for a different company on another floor. However, she did know his boss. “What happened?” Nathan asked, without opening his eyes.

“As near as I can tell, you passed out. Cici had your arm and wouldn’t let go. She was talking to you, then she stopped, and when you fell back against the squad car, you blacked out.”

“How is she? She looked pretty bad.”

Lisa didn’t answer right away. A shudder ran through her. Nathan eased his eyes open when Lisa’s silence defined the unsaid for him. “She didn’t make it, did she?” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I’m sorry. The ambulance technicians did everything they could. The doctor called it here, but they are saying that the reason she stopped talking and let your arm go when she did is because she died at that point.” Lisa reached over and touched his arm when a few tears escaped. “Will you be okay?” she asked, her voice breaking on the last word.

Nathan said nothing at first, and turned his head a little to look out the window. After a few moments he sighed. “You know, when I finished closing up my father’s affairs, paying all the bills, settling the money, handling the estate, and then finally taking the job at Brumfield, I really didn’t know what to expect from the Big Apple. People say so many different things about working, and life in the big city, but I needed the change and this was an awesome opportunity. Between that and the apartment that fell into my lap over in Kips Bay, it was all like an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“Despite the good fortune, I had no friends at the time. Then I met this crusty old woman on the sidewalk who yelled at everyone that walked past her. I offered her my sandwich. She complained because it had cheddar cheese in it. Then she ate it, cheese and all, because she was hungry. She told me how thousands of people likely walked past her over the two prior days and no one gave her anything to eat.” Nathan took a long blink, turned to look at Lisa, who was crying steadily, and then looked back out the window. “I remember saying to her, ‘You have a cup full of change from all the people who have passed by. I’m sure there’s enough to get a sandwich.’ She answered, ‘Of course. I sit here and collect the change. A lot of people give. Some want me to the leave the spot because they don’t want me here.’ Then she went on about how other people, social worker types and such, wanted her to go with them to get help in a center or something. ‘They’re measuring their work or worth by how many Cici’s they get off the street. You’re the only one that took the time to do something different and offer me a sandwich.’ After that, I stopped every day; I would even head out on weekends, with some water and a breakfast sandwich. I wanted to make sure she ate at least once in a given day, the way she should. Now she’s gone. This is so sudden. Tomorrow won’t feel right, not buying that sandwich, and not grabbing that water from home.”

Officer O’Malley stepped into the quick care area that Nathan had been staged in. “You gave us a bit of a scare, dropping like that, Devron. I only want one flash of excitement per morning if you’d be so kind,” he said in a soft, but noticeably Brooklyn, accent.

Nathan smiled at the comment. He knew Officer O’Malley from his beat and, while he was a gruff man, his heart was in the right place.

“I really don’t need a statement or anything from the two of you. We pretty much know what went down there, but from the lack of anything more than the general description Cici gave us, these thugs were like anyone else hanging around and wandering the area.”

“So it’s unlikely you’ll be able to catch who did this?” Lisa asked.

“Not from a lack of trying, Miss Cooper,” he replied sternly, but in a friendly tone. “I personally will try. Cici’s been on that block from before I was on the force. Tough old broad. If it were ten years ago, those thugs would be the ones on the ground, battered around by the bag they tried to take.”

Nathan cracked the smallest hint of a smile. He could picture that scene in his head. He pulled at his right arm, found some play in the IV lines, and looked down at the copper bracelet attached to his right wrist.

“Yeah,” Jack O’Malley replied as he lifted and dropped his police hat. “She slapped that on your wrist while holding your arm. I heard one of the ambulance techs say it was hot to the touch when they were working on you.”

“Well, Cici did have a tight grip on it,” Nathan said in a monotone.

“What was it she said to you?” Lisa asked.

Nathan focused for a minute. “You know, it’s all a blur now. It was almost like a poem or something.”

“Barry Falxon, my partner, joked that it was a spell,” Jack said, and adjusted his gun belt.

“So Cici was a follower of the Wiccan religion?” Lisa asked.

“No, more like a real witch,” O’Malley replied. “Shop keepers would complain that she would cast ‘spells’ and ‘hexes’ on customers as they walked by.” He made air quotes. “Really freaked people out.”

Lisa looked at Nathan. He knew the old woman better. He gave the barest of shrugs at the comment, and then reached for the bracelet with his free hand. “Ah … that’s just Cici being Cici. She was harmless. No one took the time to stop and talk with her. Her comments were often odd, and she skipped from subject to subject, but I don’t think she was malicious.” The copper felt slightly warm when he touched it. When his fingers took on a “pins and needles” tingling, he released it, and then rubbed his fingers together.

“I’m going to head back to work,” Jack said, tipping his hat. “Adia asked about you when she heard you were in here.”

Nathan’s expression turned to a warm smile at the sound of his friend’s name. When he looked over at Lisa, she seemed agitated.

“She was going to stop by, but I am sure they’ll discharge you soon,” Jack continued. “I overheard the attendant, so I’ll let her know you’ll likely not be here. You might want to give her a call, or message her, or whatever it is you kids do these days. Beyond that, make sure you head home and rest the remainder of the day. I think you’ve had your fill of excitement.”

“Thanks, Officer O’Malley,” Nathan replied in a low voice.

Officer O’Malley turned to leave the area, but then turned back and smiled at the man young enough to be his son. “Why not call me Jack, from now on, Nathan? I think you’ve earned it.”

Nathan smiled a little more. Jack O’Malley was big on formalities, and offering someone to address him by his first name, especially in uniform, meant a great deal.

Jack said nothing further, tugged a little on his gun belt, which rested bellow a belly just a hair too large, turned, and left the room.

He called over his shoulder, “Take care of him, Miss Cooper, he’s all yours now.”

CHAPTER THREE

Nathan took his time opening his eyes, and then stared at his living room ceiling in his small one-bedroom flat. As he collected his bearings a bit, he realized that he was on his couch. He sat up, pushed the blanket off him, and looked out the window over his small dinner table. Darkness obscured the outside from his view.

He looked over at Lisa, just coming out of the kitchen area. The events of the day, and the medication from his hospital visit, made his thoughts a scrambled mess.

“Did you go to work?” Nathan asked as he dropped his feet to the floor.

“I took a personal day. I told them what happened and they were good, with it being last minute and all,” Lisa responded with a soft smile. She set a cup of hot chocolate down on the coffee table and took a hairband off her wrist. She pulled back her medium-length hair and tied it into a ponytail.

Nathan sank backwards into the couch cushions. “You didn’t need to do that. I would have been fine. Thank you all the same, though. I do appreciate it.” He tugged a little at the copper bracelet on his right wrist.

“Need to, is a relative term. The hospital wanted you checked in on for the next day or so. Beyond that, I wanted to.” She smiled softly and sat in the adjacent easy chair. “Besides, I can’t go off disobeying an officer of the law.”

Nathan looked up, genuinely puzzled.

“Officer O’Malley said,” she replied with a deepening tone. “Take care of him, Miss Cooper, he’s all yours now.” She grinned then returned to her normal voice. “There only so many laws I am willing to bend or otherwise break.” Lisa softened her tone and lowered her voice just above a whisper. “When it comes to you, I figured that was a good one to obey.”

Nathan smiled warmly at the words “take care of.” It had been a while since anyone had done that for him. He took care of his father while he was sick, along with tending to his own needs. And then there was the slight act of kindness that he would do daily for Cici. That effort was now no longer needed. The thought of that saddened him some, and he played more with the bracelet.

***

Lisa sat quietly after her playful but leading comments. At times like this, she resented saying them. She always had to reach and extend, trying to see if he had any interest beyond “just friends,” but he was always indifferent and non-committal. Sometimes it would bother her more than others. Like on the evenings when they would spend time on the couch watching a movie and he’d nod off. She would move to get more comfortable, or reach for a remote to turn the TV off, and that would wake him up. She would tell him to just stay on the couch and she would try to sit there with him and hold him, playfully, but he would invariably leave. Many nights, she would get up near the point when he would first start nodding off, to get a bathroom visit out of the way so as to not have to hold it all night because she wanted him to stay. She’d nearly reached the point where the one-way effort wasn’t enough anymore. She hated feeling that way. She wanted more.

Lisa pulled herself out of her thoughts. “That bracelet won’t come off, you know?” Nathan looked up as Lisa continued. “The nurse couldn’t get it off your wrist. It wouldn’t even turn. I tried myself while you were sleeping.”

Nathan tugged at it lightly and it slipped right off. He examined it, and then extended it towards Lisa. She reached out to take it, but before she could fully grasp it, she shouted in pain and released it.

“OW! It’s red hot,” she exclaimed, putting her fingertips into her mouth and then blowing on them, dropping the bracelet to the floor.

Nathan jerked in a reflex action and picked it up. Lisa stood, then walked into the kitchen to turn on the cold-water tap. Nathan put the bracelet back on his wrist and got up. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Lisa ran her fingers under the cold water. “I’m fine.”

“I don’t understand that reaction. Are you sure it was heat, and not something in the metal that your skin responded to?”

Lisa pulled her fingers out from under the tap and held them up—the heat blisters clearly visible. Nathan’s wrist appeared unaffected.

“I’m sorry,” he said and made his way over to the kitchen. His hand trailed from table to chair while he moved, so he could steady himself as he walked.

“It’s okay, it’s not like you knew it would burn me. Still, why isn’t it burning you?” Lisa looked down to the bracelet.

“I don’t know,” Nathan said as he touched it. “This is going to sound crazy, but sometimes it feels cool to the touch on my wrist, but warm to the touch with my hand.”

Inquisitive, Lisa reached over with her free hand while her other one remained under the tap. Nathan pulled his arm away in a protective move, but it was more to keep Lisa from getting burned again than to keep from being touched.

“It’s okay.” She gestured forward. “I’ll go lightly with a soft touch.”

Nathan extended his arm and she inched forward to touch it with the lightest contact she could manage. This time the metal only felt warm, so she laid her fingertips with more pressure.

“It’s just warm,” she said. “The nurse and I weren’t burned before when we touched it.”

“But you were just before, once I broke contact with it.”

Lisa nodded.

Both of them looked at one another, puzzled.

Nathan took the bracelet off and set it on the counter while Lisa dried off her hands. He reached down with just his pointer finger extended, and touched it. “It’s cool to the touch,” he said.

Lisa wrapped the wet paper towel around her fingers, and then touched it. Immediately, she jerked her hand back.

“Are you okay?” Nathan asked.

“I’m fine. The wet paper towel kept me safe, but it definitely felt hot.”

Nathan scooped up the bracelet, and he and Lisa looked at the counter. No sign of heat wear marked the surface of the counter top.

He walked over to the area near the stove, set the bracelet down, headed over to the freezer. Lisa called out, “Nathan, stop!” She pointed, wide eyed, to the bracelet. He stopped in his tracks and turned.

“It moved slightly,” Lisa said, astonished. “I swear. Step away slowly, but face it so you can see.”

Nathan took two small steps backwards and away from the bracelet, and it moved forward a smidge.

“Lisa, go over there.” Nathan pointed up and away from the kitchen area, and in the opposite direction from where he was backing up. Once Lisa moved all the way to the far corner of the living room, Nathan back-stepped toward the front door to the apartment. Without warning, once Nathan was a full six feet away, the bracelet flew off the counter and snapped into its former place on his right wrist.

They looked at one another in amazement.

“That was what? About two meters?” Nathan said, looking over, and then walking back into the kitchen. He repeated the same set of actions and got the same result, while Lisa simply looked on in quiet amazement. Nathan set the bracelet down and put his left hand around his wrist in the place where the bracelet had been worn, blocking the area completely. When he backed up, the bracelet flew to a higher spot on his right arm, above where his hand blocked.

Shock sent shivers rolling down Lisa’s spine. “How did it fit that high up on your forearm? The gap isn’t that wide. It shouldn’t fit.”

Nathan looked over at her, and then back down at his arm. “I think the metal expanded.” He let go of his wrist and the bracelet moved on its own to its original resting place, then decreased visibly in size and fit.

Lisa walked over. “How can it do that? It can’t just gain or lose size. It’s like creating matter. It’s just not possible.”

Nathan went to the closet and took out his bulky sweater and a heavy winter jacket. Back in the kitchen, he got duct tape out of the utility draw. Lisa watched while Nathan placed the bracelet on the counter then put the sweater on, and then the heavy winter jacket. Once he had them on, he secured the sleeve opening with the duct tape. He set the roll down and backed up with haste toward the apartment door. At the six-foot range the bracelet moved through the air. Nathan dashed an additional three feet to the right and crouched down. The bracelet tracked the change in his movements, changed in size, and attached itself to his right arm, above the elbow and over the sweater and coat.

“Holy crap.” He stood up and pointed to it, and where it rested on his right bicep.

Lisa shook her head in disbelief. She’d watched the events unfold, but could hardly accept what she’d seen. “I can’t tell what I’m in more disbelief over. The whole flying through the air thing, the size change thing, or the parasitic-like attachment the thing has to your right arm.”

Nathan took the bracelet off his bicep with minimal effort, and it immediately returned to its original size and shape in his hand. He set it down on the end table in the living room and removed the duct tape and, eventually, the jacket and sweater. While heading over to the closet to put them away, the bracelet automatically flew back to his right wrist.

Nathan walked back over to the couch and sat down. Lisa made her way back over to the easy chair. “Well, I think it’s safe to say you’re never going to have to worry about losing that thing.”

Nathan continued to look at the bracelet without acknowledging her comment. He glanced over at the clock, near the small stereo tuner. It read “8:49PM.” Nathan rubbed his face and groaned softly. Events had overwhelmed him, and he looked physically and mentally fatigued.

“Lisa, I’m beat. We need to think about this thing, but I can’t do it right now.” Nathan sank backward into the couch. “It doesn’t seem to be harming me, and it appears I can either sleep with it on, or remove it and leave it right next to me on the night stand. That’s close enough that it won’t move to my wrist. If what I want to do is keep it off me.

Lisa got up and grabbed his arm. “Come on, get to bed.”

Nathan got up slowly and wobbled a bit. “Here, I’ll walk you to the lobby,” he said as he pulled her toward the door.

“No,” Lisa said, letting go of his arm. “I’m going to stay here tonight, in case you need anything.” She smiled and took his arm again. “I can’t disobey a direct order from Officer O’Malley, after all.” For a moment she flinched on the inside, knowing she was giving in to her wants and desires again. As much as she yearned for a better reaction from him, and really wanted to stop playing into it, she also couldn’t resist her desires to try to let him know exactly what she felt and what she wanted.

“Look, I appreciate it,” Nathan said, as he made his slow way to the bedroom. “I just don’t want to put you out. Tell you what, I’ll grab a blanket and sleep on the couch.”

Lisa shook her head; surprised he hadn’t rejected her outright and completely and simply insisted on her leaving. She didn’t know how to take it. “I appreciate the chivalry, but you’re the one that had the episode. I’m a big girl. I can sleep on the couch. I’ll call Adrianne and let her know I’m staying here. She’ll be ‘disappointed’ that she’ll be all alone in our apartment, and will call her boyfriend to keep her company. I’ll go back in the morning and the whole place will reek of sex,” she said with a wry smile.

Nathan said nothing further in protest, but just looked at her.

“You help everyone, Nathan. You never seem to need any help of your own. At the very least, you never ask. Today you do. I’m going to help you, so just enjoy it.”

Nathan wrapped his arms around Lisa and hugged her. “Thank you,” he said in weak and tremulous voice, and held her softly.

CHAPTER FOUR

At a little after two in the morning, Lisa heard Nathan stirring about wildly in his bed. She got up from the couch and went in to check on him, and found him sleeping restlessly and drenched in sweat. She tried to wake him to ask if he was okay, but he was in such a deep sleep he never really came out of it.

Worry creased her brow. He seemed awfully hot and sweaty. The possibility of dehydration had her even more concerned. She went to the kitchen, where she got a large glass and filled it mostly with ice and the remainder with water. She took it and a chair back to Nathan’s bedroom, where she managed to rouse him just enough to drink some of the water, which he did and dropped right back to sleep

Lisa sat there for a while after, just watching him, unable to get back to sleep herself, despite it being just a little before four in the morning. The best thing to do would be to try to keep him cool with a cold, wet washcloth.

The heat was off in the room and, because of that, it was a cool sixty-six degrees. There wasn’t much more she could do from the environment side of things. With the covers turned down and Nathan in only a pair of boxers, she continued to do what she could to try to keep him cool and comfortable.

At one point, when Nathan settled entirely and it appeared his breathing had shallowed, she considered calling an ambulance, but he responded to her touch, and moved about somewhat, so she decided against it.

Just before sunrise, Nathan awoke suddenly and let out a yell, sitting upright in the bed and panting heavily. The abruptness startled Lisa, who was cooling him with a cold, damp cloth. She moved out of the chair and away from him.

“Are you okay?” Lisa asked in a moderate whisper while she settled herself and moved closer.

Nathan stared at her with a deep look, and then glanced around the room as if he was lost or out of place in his own apartment.

“Can you say something? You’re scaring me that something isn’t all right,” Lisa said as she sat back down into the chair.

Nathan, still panting, scanned the room. He opened his mouth as if to say something, and then closed it.

Lisa looked over at the nightstand and saw the copper bracelet sitting on top. She reached over to Nathan and scooped up his right hand in both of hers, then held it. “I’m right here. It’s okay,” she said in a comforting tone.

Slowly, over a few minutes, Nathan settled down, but muttered some speech to her. It wasn’t fully coherent at first, just a few random words that almost sounded like a response to a question that hadn’t been asked, but then it developed into a full conversation.

“I was dreaming,” Nathan said. “But it wasn’t one dream. It was dozens of them. Small snippets. I’m starting to forget them all now.” He turned to look at Lisa as opposed to staring at the far wall of the bedroom. “Wait. It was more than that. They were events, real events, from when I was a kid. Not dreams. Well, they were dreams, but not like a dream where it’s something that never happened or something imagined. This was like memory recall and as if I was reliving it. The dreams seemed like they were in exact detail.” Nathan shook her hand loose from his, hopped out of the bed, and headed for the doorway.

When he exited into the living room, and beyond two meters, the bracelet flew across and attached to his wrist. He barely flinched when it hit his right arm, but stood in front of his sofa and stared at the TV screen as if it was on and he was watching something. Lisa made her way out and stood to his side.

“In one of them, it was from when I was young; maybe six or seven,” Nathan said without moving his gaze from the turned off television screen. “I was in Wagmeyer’s. The neighbor’s kid, Billy, was shoplifting gum. I confronted him. He punched me in the mouth as I got louder and said I would tell Mr. Wagmeyer. It hurt. I remember. He took off and Mr. Wagmeyer got me a cold rag and cleaned up my split lip.” Nathan moved his hand up to his mouth, as if he could feel the injury.

Lisa turned a little more and tried, in the semi-darkness of the living room, to look into his eyes.

Nathan spoke again, still in that trance-like state. “I was a teenager helping my dad. We were collecting returnable bottles so we could cash them in. We were going to donate the money to the homeless shelter.” Nathan lowered his hand from his lip and a smile crept across his face. “We were both dressed up as The Patriot; not the t-shirts. He rented full costumes to make it fun. We looked ridiculous. We filled up a borrowed school bus with the cans and bottles.”

Lisa smiled, trying to picture a teenaged version of her friend with his father, dressed like one of the superheroes he always talked about.

The smile disappeared from his face when he continued. “A summer or two later, a young girl in a cancer ward—maybe aged around ten—had a last minute wish to meet Blue Scarlet and Kojo, and one of those nonprofit wish foundations was working on it. The lady called my father directly because they knew the girl’s time was short and that he always had those t-shirts and costumes. The lady wanted to know where we could find someone on short notice to help them out. I remember his response clear as day. ‘My son and I are on our way.’ We dropped what we were doing and left for New Haven.” Nathan sank into the center seat of the sofa. “We spent thirty minutes there in her room until she was too tired to stay awake anymore. As we left, the floor nurse asked us if we could go to the adjoining room. The little boy in there saw us come in and asked if he too could see Blue Scarlet and Kojo.”

A small tear escaped from Nathan’s left eye; small in comparison to the ones streaming down Lisa’s face, as she took a seat next to him on the couch, listening to him tell his memories.

“We spent the next three hours that Sunday visiting every child on the sixth floor. It was so surreal for me at the time. I remember. My father said afterwards how powerful he felt. The doctors couldn’t save any of them. They were all terminally ill. But we had the power that one day to make them all smile.” Nathan slipped backwards into the couch and Lisa dragged him towards her. “Not even the doctors could do that anymore.”

Nathan shifted position to get more comfortable. “‘These costumes and t-shirts,’ I remember my father saying, ‘I actually feel for a brief moment that I have the ability to channel the energy of the hero and put it to my own use.’ He said it that day, and repeated it over the years, as we did things together.” Nathan closed his eyes and leaned a little more into Lisa. “So many wonderfully inspiring things that could be done if that were only true. If only for a brief moment, we could harness those powers.”

Lisa nudged forward just a little to see Nathan drift off to sleep. He seemed cooler to the touch. She closed her eyes as well, to rest some, so that the next day of work would be a bit more bearable despite the lack of solid rest.

CHAPTER FIVE

On Friday morning, Nathan headed out from his apartment around the same time he always did, but the walk today would be very different. Lisa had left a short while before to head back to her place to shower and get a change of clothes. Because of that, she wouldn’t be meeting him part way and then walking with him.

Nathan made his way uptown, sad to realize that he wouldn’t need to stop in at Niresh’s for a breakfast sandwich for the same reason he’d left the bottled water at home; there was no longer the same need as before for either of them. Cici was gone.

As he turned onto Third Avenue, he took a deep breath of early autumn air. A mix of city smells filled his nostrils and he stopped for a moment and stepped aside to allow other pedestrians to make their way around him. Always mindful like that, if he needed to fish through his smartphone for something or respond to a text, he would step backwards and away from the rushing pedestrian traffic.

While standing there and taking in the morning air, he reached over and clutched the bracelet on his right arm. It felt warmer than his skin and a feeling of tingling ran up both his arms, and almost felt as if it was crossing his heart as the two sensations met in the middle of his chest, directly below the Sapphire Speedster symbol on his t-shirt.

Without warning, a horn sounded from the south and Nathan whipped his head around to see a panicked driver of a small delivery box-truck run a red light, crossing 24th street, barely missing the cross traffic cars in pattern, and all the pedestrians that moved quickly out of the way. At the same moment, the initial horn blast dissipated, and everything seemed to slow to a crawl.

Nathan turned at normal speed to the north to see people effectively motionless at the intersection of 25th in the active crosswalk, and the sounds of the city faded into an indefinable warble.

“Hey! Look out!” Nathan yelled on instinct, while waving his arms. With no response from the people, Nathan ran towards them at the next block.

When he reached the pedestrians, he realized they couldn’t respond to him. They moved much slower than he did. Although still in motion, they barely moved at all. Nathan looked back at the truck inching its way toward the active intersection, where just moments ago it was moving at least thirty miles an hour. People walked over the road in the east-west crosswalk, and the matching automobile east-west traffic pattern was active as well. Nathan also noticed a car stopped at the northbound red light with a woman and a preteen passenger.

“Run,” came out of Nathan’s mouth and, again on instinct, he moved. His conscious mind reacted automatically. Nathan ran over and set about clearing the crosswalk of pedestrians by picking them up, leveraging their slow momentum versus his speed, and putting them onto the destination corner. While he did this, and with what seemed like more automation to him, he noticed traffic barrels and saw-horses in the excavation area at the corner construction site, where a building had been demolished and a new foundation was being dug out. He grabbed the barrels on each trip back to block the sidewalks. Anyone attempting to step off, he presumed, would see them blocking their path into the crosswalk, and that would hopefully force them to pause and see the truck before getting into its path.

Nathan continued until he’d fully cleared the street area. He then turned his attention to the stopped car and the two occupants as the truck neared at its unnaturally slowed pace.

Nathan attempted to get into the car, but the locked doors stopped him. He found a rock nearby at the construction site, then shattered the back door and driver’s-side window, and manually opened the locks. He leaned in and set the emergency brake on the already stopped car, and put the automatic transmission into “park.” After that, he took the two occupants out of the car and seated them on a bench at the adjacent coffee shop.

The out-of-control truck had nearly reached the stopped car. Nathan pulled the driver from the truck cab and sat him down next to the occupants from the car. He then climbed into the seat, and attempted to break the vehicle and apply the emergency brake. The regular brakes wouldn’t engage, and neither would the emergency brake, and since the vehicle was in motion, he couldn’t get the transmission into park. The parking pin just clattered, slowly, against the automatic transmission. All he could think to do at that point was to downshift the vehicle into first gear. He then turned the steering wheel towards the construction site and turned the key for the ignition into the off position. For what to him seemed like minutes, the truck trajectory “slowly” adjusted to the new heading. Nathan did the best he could to visually assess the speed and distance of the crossing automobile traffic. As near as he could estimate, the cross traffic was going to miss hitting the truck, given its present speed and course. Once firmly headed for the foundation pit, Nathan jumped back out of the cab and removed workers from the construction site as the truck headed straight towards the work area.

While he removed the last worker off the site, the box-truck hopped the curb and moved towards the small pedestrian barriers between the sidewalk and the site.

Nathan moved quickly to verify he had all the people out of harm’s way, and then dashed up the block and towards the back of a group of people that had turned towards the sound of the truck horn.

Once he had come to rest, now with the group, Nathan’s vision returned to viewing everyone at regular speed, and all the sounds around him became audible and intelligible again.

The box-truck careened into the open and now-empty construction pit, with the transmission screaming wildly in first gear. People became aware that they needed to adjust their bearings, as they were disorientated, finding themselves along the sidewalk and away from the intersection where they’d been just moments ago.

The mother and daughter, from the car at the red light, stood up and looked at their parked car in the middle of the road as other vehicles came to rest all around the four corners.

The truck driver, now seated next to them, also stood up, totally disoriented from having been relocated out of the vehicle that now sat on fire at the bottom of the construction site.

The construction crews that Nathan had relocated to the sidewalk responded to the accident and prevented people from entering the area. The foreman called 911, and two construction lads tried to get closer to the truck to see if anyone was hurt and needed help.

Nathan took a few moments to try to absorb what had just happened.

As people around him moved towards the scene of the fire, he stayed put for a minute, and then slowly made his way up 26th Street to Lexington. While he walked, he again placed his left hand, palm down, over the copper bracelet on his right wrist. This time it felt cool to the touch and his skin felt warmer than the metal.

Still not completely certain of everything that had happened, Nathan turned the corner and tried to run as fast as he could up Lexington Avenue, but he only managed a normal speed for himself. He pressed on and continued to run, past 27th and 28th streets, at full speed. By the time he reached 30th Street, tiredness plagued him and he felt fairly certain that no matter how fast he’d moved before, he was now back to doing the average top speed for someone his age.

A small bus stop nearby had a bench, and Nathan walked over and sat down. He closed his eyes and spent several minutes listening to the echo of the city sounds around him. He then took his phone out and called into work to let them know he had been on his way, but suddenly felt unwell. They told him to rest it off and come in on Monday.

He put the phone away and sat for several more minutes before he got up and headed home. He tried to convince himself that none of the events happened the way they actually did, as if it were a daydream of sorts. Since it seemed so surreal, he nearly convinced himself until he got back to the area of the event and saw all of the emergency responders on the scene and the news crews that had started to show up.

Nathan was forced across the street along with all the other pedestrians. Officer Jack O’Malley saw him and waved. Nathan nodded back to him and crossed the street to head home.

CHAPTER SIX

Nathan put his wallet and keys on the small table to the left of his apartment door, and pulled his cell phone out. He dialed the number in his quick contacts for Lisa and let it ring while he walked into his bedroom.

“Nathan? Hi, how are you feeling? Are you okay?” Lisa asked the second the phone connected. For a few moments Nathan didn’t respond; he stood in his bedroom, and then sat on the near edge of the bed. “Nathan? If you’re talking I can’t hear you. We might have a bad connection,” Lisa said.

“No, I’m here,” Nathan responded in a quiet and meek voice.

“Is everything all right?” she asked with a concerned tone. “You don’t sound like yourself. Are you okay? Did anything happen? Is there anything new regarding the bracelet? Please, talk to me. I’m worried about you.”

Nathan paused before answering. He had no real explanation for what had occurred and he wasn’t even sure what to say to her. “No, I’m fine,” Nathan said eventually, with a little more vigor in his voice. “I was on my way to work and … well, to be honest I’m not really sure what happened.”

“Did you go by at the time of that accident? It’s right along your route, down the avenue before you reach my cross street,” Lisa exclaimed. “No one is really sure what happened there.”

Nathan frowned. “How did you know about that already? You’re farther north—you wouldn’t have seen that.”

“I read it on NEWSTICKER; a bunch of eyewitness interviews were up there already,” she said. Nathan moved to his desk, set his smartphone to hands free, and fired up his laptop to see what Lisa was already reading.

“It says here a delivery box-truck careened out of control in the area of 25th on Third Avenue and, by some stroke of luck, wound up in a construction site without harming a soul. People on the scene were saying they heard the horn, the commotion, and people scattered around the street. A few reported high bursts of wind and flashing lights and it was over as quickly as it began.”

As soon as the laptop was powered up and online, Nathan read over the same report. It made no mention of people saying they felt as if they’d been picked up and moved, or anyone that identified someone moving at high speed. Nathan assumed that was either because the people couldn’t properly identify the sensation or didn’t want to be labeled as crazy. He assumed at that point that he was going too fast to be seen or identified.

“Nathan? Are you still there?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I was reading the article you pointed me to,” he said as he leaned back in the chair. “I came back home. I was on my way to work and I still felt things weren’t fully ‘right,’ so I called out. Work was fine. They said to take the day and come back in on Monday.”

“That was good of them, and I’m sure you could use another full day of resting,” Lisa replied. “Did you need me to swing by with anything at lunchtime?”

“No, I think I’m good,” Nathan answered as he closed the lid on the laptop. “Say, I was wondering, do you think you could come by after work for a little bit?”

“Oh … well, if you need me to for something I can, but I sort of have plans. They’re tentative and informal and all came together at the last minute; I can cancel, I don’t need to go.” She sounded uncomfortable and embarrassed.

“Oh no, don’t do that. I’m fine. I was going to ask you to come by if you weren’t busy, but if you’re already engaged with plans then that’s fine. Friday happy hour with the group?” Nathan asked in all innocence.

“Well, they are going out, and I was asked, but I have plans with Kevin, that guy from the purchasing department. I mentioned him to you a couple of times, back when he and I had lunch together. He sort of asked me to join him and a few of the people from that department tonight, and I said yes.” Nathan couldn’t quite tell if she was hesitant because she felt embarrassed, or for some other reason.

“Ah, cool. Well, enjoy and have fun. Let me know how you make out, Lisa,” Nathan said.

“Are you sure? Look, I can come by at lunch and check in?” Lisa now sounded concerned. But what for? Was it about the possible wedge that might form in their friendship over her deciding to go out with Kevin? For Nathan, this was a total non-issue.

“I’m good, really. If it’ll make you comfortable, let’s check in around noon and, if I need anything, you can swing by. How does that sound?”

He heard the smile in her voice when she answered, “Of course. Please, get some rest.”

“I will. Bye, Lisa.” Nathan ended the call and stood up. Then he turned around and slid his desk chair back under the desk. As he turned to make his way out of the room, he noticed a shirt on the corner of his bed. He picked it up and walked over to the half-length mirror between his desk and dresser. He studied the shirt he had on, the Sapphire Speedster, and the one he’d just picked up, Power Arc. He continued to stare, and thought back to that morning—when he’d gotten out of the shower and stood in his towel, pulling the clothes he planned to wear.

“I was going to put on Power Arc,” he said aloud to his reflection in the mirror. He remembered thinking about it several times. He just stared into the mirror. He could remember thinking about putting on the Power Arc shirt, but he couldn’t recall when he changed his mind for the Sapphire Speedster one. He also couldn’t remember the act of doing it, either. He looked away from the mirror and tossed the shirt onto the bed, then turned back to the mirror and looked at himself in the Sapphire Speedster shirt.

“I didn’t plan to pick this shirt to wear today,” he murmured, and then turned to look at the Power Arc shirt again. He gazed down at the bracelet on his arm. Realization dawned. “I mimicked the shirt’s powers. When Cici put this on me, I was in my Amalgam shirt, and Amalgam can mimic other powers.” Nathan walked out of the room, uncomfortably conscious that he was talking to himself. Oh well, you know what they say: it’s when you argue back that you’re in real trouble.

Seated at his small kitchen table, he looked at the bracelet on his arm. There is some magic to this thing he thought. I can’t leave it off and walk away. If anyone touches it while it’s off my arm, they get burned. Cici wasn’t burned by it. She actually wore it. The thing flies across the room and will morph to fit its surroundings, like it did to get over the jacket sleeve.

Nathan took the bracelet off and looked at it closely. It appeared completely without markings on the outside, but upon closer examination, he could see tiny etchings on the inside. He had to really focus as they were barely visible to the naked eye, and he only managed to see them due to the volume of sunlight coming in through the window, and the way it shone on the metal at the angle he held it.

Nathan set the bracelet down then stood and walked away. When he neared the small closet, the bracelet shot off the table and back onto his arm. Startled, he mumbled aloud, “I’m going to have to get used to that, I guess.” Then he opened the door to the cupboard. He rummaged around until he found what he was looking for: a strong magnifying glass.

Once again seated at the table, Nathan shifted the chair some more to maximize the sunlight and his viewing angle on the bracelet. He took it back off his wrist and turned it over to where he’d seen the slight markings. Using the magnifying glass and the bright sunlight, he managed to make out ten distinct markings on each side of the bracelet opening. Each marking seemed to be duplicated in order on both sides of the bracelet opening, paired up with itself. They almost looked like dots to the naked eye and a casual glance, with ten on one side of the opening and ten on the other.

Nathan set the magnifying glass and bracelet down on the table and went to fetch some paper to sketch out the markings. As before, the bracelet flew to his arm once he was about two meters away from it. As he rummaged around the draw and it snapped itself around his wrist, Nathan shook his head and thought, Still not used to that.

Once he’d sketched down the markings, he went to his bedroom and brought out his laptop. He sat for a moment and thought about what he was going to do and how he would go about it. For a brief moment, the bracelet warmed on his wrist. He looked at it, not exactly sure what it meant, but then a compulsion to get up overcame him, and he willingly gave in to it.

He got up from the table, walked into the bedroom, and changed out of his Sapphire Speedster and put on the blue Power Arc one. While he felt somewhat in a trance about the action, at least he was aware this time that he was doing it.

Back at the table, Nathan spent the next couple of hours using the drawings and, once or twice checking back on the bracelet, he researched everything on the internet. When he’d finished, he felt fairly confident that he’d identified all the symbols.

“The Greek gods,” he said aloud, and tossed the pencil onto the table.

On the pad next to the scrap paper with the sketchings, read the ten names he’d identified on either end of the bracelet: Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, and Hephaestus.

What the hell is this? Nathan wondered, as he remembered that Cici also rattled off something to him in a language he didn’t understand, just before she’d let him go. And why these particular ones? Why would Zeus and Hera, king and queen of the Greek gods, be missing?

Nathan went to lie on the bed for a few moments to collect his thoughts. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Nathan woke up startled, and looked around. He had nodded off but wasn’t sure for exactly how long. He glanced over at the alarm clock: 5:15, and popped out of bed. He’d dreamt again. Like before, the dreams cleared quickly from his thoughts—even faster than they had the last time. The topic remained the same as well—all about things he had actually done in his youth, both alone and with his father.

Nathan wandered into the living room and sat in the single easy chair. His mind processed everything that had happened. He’d run at super speed, just like the Sapphire Speedster in the comics. He had to presume it had something to do with the bracelet that Cici had put on him. It had all happened since then. And all the things that had happened since then pointed back to the bracelet. The powers went away afterwards and he couldn’t run that fast anymore. The emergency over, he lost his power. In an active situation, the powers manifested, but when the issue ended, they went away.

While he made his way about the apartment, gathering his keys, phone, and wallet, he realized that the recall was more memory than dream. He didn’t understand why the recall occurred during his sleep as dreams, but then again, he couldn’t really comprehend much of the events of the past two days.

He paused a moment before leaving through the door, and pulled out his smart phone. A couple of missed calls form unknown numbers showed, but Lisa hadn’t left a check in call. This bothered Nathan because he’d said he would check in around lunch, but had slept through it. At the same time, he felt that the check in was supposed to work both ways, in the event he needed something and was unable to respond. A bit of disappointment came over him that she hadn’t called on her own. While that issue niggled him to a degree, he put it behind him for the time being.

I have to figure out what’s going on, Nathan thought as he pulled the apartment door closed behind him and headed out to see if he could track down Officer O’Malley. He wanted to find out if anyone had claimed Cici and if any arrangements were being made.

Somehow, he’d been granted the powers of the character whose shirt he’d worn. When he exited his apartment building, he looked up at the threatening storm clouds and decided to head a few blocks south to catch the subway for the ride to the precinct. It might actually take a little longer doing that, but if the rain did start it would be a drier trip.

He entered the stairwell for the subway and his thoughts drifted to Lisa. He wondered what she was doing out on her date and if she was enjoying herself. He smiled at the thought, and reached the platform. As much as there was a little twinge of jealousy over the situation, he also felt genuinely happy for her. Nathan’s thoughts drifted and he recalled the events from the morning, while moving about the passengers entering the platform area. He wondered what to say to Lisa, if anything at all, regarding what had occurred in the morning and what he’d uncovered regarding the etchings.

He needed to think these things through. To have these powers, presuming they returned, meant to have a huge responsibility. Some announcements came over the public address system regarding delays and emergency track work, but Nathan mainly ignored them, as there always seemed to be delays on the subway lines when he needed to ride them.

His mind continued to drift around and he thought back to the events of the morning, then a stray thought ran through his head: such a shame he still couldn’t run like the Sapphire Speedster, then he’d already be where he wanted to go. Another announcement came over the public address system, while he moved around the platform. Crews were working the track and the trains would soon be running again. Somehow, he doubted the purpose of having the ability was for self-serving purposes like getting across town quickly. A slight smile lit his face. No. He would have to make sure that, should they return, he used them sparingly and for just cause. That’s what Captain Delta and The Patriot did—always for the greater good and never for a personal gain. He could do that as well.

The subway train rolled up and Nathan got into the second-to-last car with some of the other passengers, and the train moved off from the platform. Nathan and some other people held onto the handrail, while most of the others seated themselves. When the acceleration picked up, he held on a little tighter. The speed seemed to him to be a little faster than normal. His thoughts went to Cici—he still wasn’t used to the idea of not seeing her on his way each morning. He smiled at the thought of the “crazy lady” that everyone avoided, that he somehow seemed to understand on some level so well that he could actually carry on brief conversations with her. Many of the times, regardless of the topic of conversation, the discussion would totally degenerate as she would go off into a rant that he would barely understand. Still, he remembered listening to her, always wondering what she would say next.

As the subway car continued, it picked up more speed—enough to jolt Nathan out of his thoughts. While he much preferred to walk around Manhattan as often as time and conditions allowed, he knew the car was still accelerating and that something wasn’t right.

When the subway entered a turn, a loud metal grinding sound erupted, followed quickly by a loud banging sound. The train lurched hard and ripped into a dragged out deceleration, but with a sudden stop, and the lights flickered out.

The people who weren’t holding on were tossed about the car, and they gathered themselves when the dim emergency lighting came on. Two of the four lighting units had stopped functioning, but some illumination reached them. Passengers firing up flashlight apps from their phones, or from just the screens themselves, further aided their vision. A loud humming noise surrounded the car, and didn’t seem to come from any one particular spot.

In the relative darkness, a low glow emitted from Nathan’s bracelet and sudden warmth wrapped his wrist. People in the cars talked to one another about the sudden stop. One man walked toward the further car, as it appeared to have better lighting. Nathan looked up and called out, “Sir, it’s usually not safe to go between the cars, especially in an emergency. Until we hear an announcement, we should stay here.”

The man politely, but firmly, waved back towards Nathan and ignored his comment, reaching for the door between the cars. Upon contact, an electrical spark arced and threw the man to the floor. Other passengers stepped back, while Nathan moved forward. A woman backed away further, and when she touched the main exit door to one side of the subway car, she too jolted and dropped to the floor.

Nathan called out as he checked for a pulse on the first victim, “Don’t touch the exterior walls. The car is electrified.”

The car lurched forward, but it didn’t move far, more grinding metal could be heard, and sparks arced around the outside of the train.

“What was that?” a passenger asked.

A man dressed in workman’s clothes approached the woman down on the floor, and tried to help her. “The car is still energized, the system is probably stuck in forward motion, and the safeties and fail safes are blown. They need to cut the power to keep the cars from re-engaging and to get us out of here,” he said as he knelt down.

“Anything from her?” Nathan asked.

The man nodded. “I have a pulse, but she has a nasty burn.”

“Him too.” Nathan indicated the prone man. “At least they’re both alive.”

A smell of smoke wafted through the car, and the passengers looked to the rear of the subway train.

“Hey, a fire’s started in the last car,” a woman near the back called out.

The screams and panic of the people in the other car drifted into theirs. A couple of people approached the doors that connected the cars, but they were hit with electrical current and fell to the floor. Nathan stood and looked back to the third car, then yelled to the passengers on the other side, “Can you hear me?”

One woman on the opposite side nodded.

“The cars are electrically charged. Stay back.”

The woman nodded then turned around to the other nearby passengers.

Nathan walked back towards the last car. The man in the work clothes followed. Flames flickered in the car as it filled with smoke.

“We have to do something,” Nathan said.

“We have to wait for the crews to disengage the power, or we’ll end up on the floor too.” The man shook his head, and looked at Nathan’s shirt. “Too bad Power Arc isn’t real; he could save the day.”

Instinctively, Nathan turned to the side-exit doors at the rear and grabbed them. Electricity sparked and arced right through him, but he remained unaffected by it. The workman stared in awe while Nathan forced the doors open and jumped down. “I see a way to ground the power. When I call out, help the passengers out of the last car, and move everyone out of this one as well.”

“You’re insane,” the man yelled out.

“Maybe, but I can help. But I need your help too.”

The man nodded and looked nervous. Passengers trying to see out the windows of the cars got too close to the sides. “Everyone! Stay off the walls of the cars, it’s still not safe!”

Nathan saw the rail he believed he could use to ground the electricity and grabbed onto it with his right hand. He then touched the second car on the outside wall. Electrical current ran through him. He could feel what he believed was the amperage and voltage going through him to ground, but it didn’t cause him any harm.

“Now!” he yelled. “Carefully, try the doors.”

The nervous workman swatted his hand at the door. On this slight contact, he noticed no discharge, so he grabbed the handle and opened the doors. The heat from the fire, and the smoke, poured out of the car. Some of the smoke escaped out of the open exit doors from the second car into the subway tunnel. Passengers helped and hustled their counterparts from the last car, through the second, and into the third.

When the last of the people had evacuated the car, the workman looked out of the door to Nathan, who said, “Go. I’ll be okay. I’ll join you in the third car in a moment.” He saw the disbelief in the workman’s eyes, then the man turned and made his way to the third car.

The cars would become energized again the moment Nathan stopped grounding the power, and that would be a constant danger until the crews could cut the power. He concentrated, and suddenly, he was adding voltage and amperage to the system from himself. More, he thought, see if the safety system will trip out.

Nathan focused as much as he could. He could feel self-generated power escaping him and going into the rail system. He reached down and grabbed onto the third rail instead of the one he had used as a ground, and concentrated—hoping to back feed the system. The lighting in the tunnel flickered. A little more, Nathan thought while looking backwards in the direction from where they came. That’s the closer station stop, Nathan thought, that’s where help will come from. He turned his headed to the end of the block right, to look past the damaged rail and the lead cars, in the direction he needed to go.

A loud bang resounded through the tunnel, and power went out. Nathan had been successful in tripping the circuit. He stopped his energy release, and touched the cars. No power fed them. He leaned into the car and took a look towards the third car, where the workman waited, and he smiled at him.

The workman called out, “Hey man, I don’t know what or how you did what you did, but it worked.”

Nathan looked at the first car, now fully on fire. He could hear the crews coming down the track. He jumped up into the car and called out, “Sir, I don’t know your name.”

“It’s John, John Washburn.”

“John, can you help me get those people up another car? In case the fire spreads further?” Nathan said, taking a half step forward.

“Of course,” John replied as he called into the car for people to move further forward.

Nathan slipped back out of the open subway-car exit and along the body of the train, close enough for it to be nearly impossible to see him.

While John and a woman directed and helped the people forward into the fourth car, Nathan slipped past the lead car and disappeared down the tracks in the direction towards the Lexington Avenue stop.

CHAPTER EIGHT

With the chaos behind him, and the platforms at Lexington mostly cleared except for police and emergency personnel, Nathan managed to sneak up into the station undetected. As he walked up the stairs to street level, he could see the officers blocking people from entering the station and the platform area.

“Hey! Where did you come from?” a familiar female voice called out. Nathan turned around to see Officer Adia Santiago working crowd control at the entrance. “We swept everyone out of the station already. What were you doing down there?”

“Making my way out,” Nathan said, trying to recall the station and a possible location he could have been that they’d missed. “I guess I’m slow.”

“In so many ways,” Adia said playfully, as her dark brown eyes opened a little wider, highlighted by her soft but darkened Puerto Rican complexion. “I’ve been saying that since the day Jack introduced you to me.” Adia turned a little more towards him, as the people were maintaining the distance with her and the three other officers all at the entrance. “But you’re still on my ‘okay’ list … you know, for a young White guy,” she said with a smirk.

Nathan decided to play into the conversation to keep his friend from asking why he was coming out of the station late, after it had been swept. “Come on, I’m not that much younger than you. I just turned twenty-five, and you’ll be what? Forty?”

“Ass,” Adia responded, taking a friendly swipe at him with her hand. “I’ll be twenty-eight and you know it.”

“Yes, November 7th. I remember.”

“Well, where do you plan to take me?” she asked with a coy smile.

“Wouldn’t that be a more suited responsibility for Luis?” Nathan asked and shuffled his feet a little.

“Out of the picture. Couldn’t keep it in his pants. I gave him everything he wanted in the bedroom. Wasn’t enough. Now he can play with Missy What’s Her Name all he wants,” she replied curtly and with her usual defensive indifference. Nathan knew her better than that. She was hurt. But, until she wanted to talk about it, the topic was off limits.

Three additional squad cars rounded the corner and headed toward the impact station. Nathan caught a glimpse of Officer O’Malley in the second car.

“Maybe I should see what all the fuss is about with the white bread,” Adia said, back to her playful tone.

Nathan looked at her with disapproval. “You’re better than that. If you want to date someone, you do it for yourself and on your terms. You’re too good a person, too good a woman, to play it like that.”

Adia smiled. He’d managed to break things down nicely and make her feel good about a bad thing. She nodded, and said, “You’re right and I am just playing. You know that. Still, this does make me free for my birthday. Do you own any nice shirts that aren’t superhero shirts?”

Nathan grinned. “Do they have to be mutually exclusive?”

Adia smiled. “So, you actually have nice dinner shirts with hero logos and emblems on them? Figures.” She smiled even more.

“Of course I do. Besides,” Nathan continued, “I am sure by November you’ll be all grabbed up by someone. A good woman like you doesn’t stay on the market very long.”

“Maybe I’ll choose to not be grabbed up for a while,” she said. “Maybe I’ll do the grabbing up myself.” She took a step closer to him.

Adia was always a little flirty with him, but he never knew how to take it. By the time he felt comfortable possibly suggesting the two of them do something together, he would find her already involved with someone else.

“I’m not sure how I should take that,” Nathan responded with just a little bit of nervousness.

“With both hands,” Adia said seductively, as she took another step forward.

“WHEW! Keep it in YOUR pants Santiago,” Office Brent said as he walked past the two of them and continued on. Adia and Nathan both burst out laughing at the comment. Nathan looked into Adia’s dark brown eyes, and the tension returned for a moment until he glanced over her shoulder and out across Lexington.

Adia followed his movements and turned too. Across Lexington, Lisa Cooper walked into a tavern with her date.

“So what’s up with that?” she asked, turning around with a tone of contempt.

Nathan felt taken aback by her response at first, but made a quick recovery. “Oh, she had a date with a co-worker.”

“And why does that bother you?”

“It’s not the date, really. She’s free to do what she wants. We’re just friends.” Nathan looked away. “I guess it maybe bothers me a little, to be honest. I always felt there was something there. I liked knowing she thought that way. I enjoyed spending time with her. But my feelings were never the same back—not totally romantic, despite the physical attraction to one another. I didn’t want it to be like that with her. I wanted other connections to her. If I couldn’t be that man for her, then I have to let her find someone who could be everything.”

Adia continued to look at him. Nathan continued, “We were supposed to sync up around noon. I fell asleep and didn’t call her, but then she didn’t call me, either.”

“So the girl didn’t call. Maybe she got tied up at work and then ran out the door late for her date.” Adia looked away from the tavern. Nathan didn’t turn his gaze or answer her. “Noon? So wait, you didn’t go to work today?” Adia asked, stepping into Nathan’s field of view.

“No,” he replied, turning towards her. “You know, on account of what happened with Cici.”

“The crazy lady in Kips?”

“O’Malley didn’t tell you?” Nathan asked in a soft voice.

“I don’t see him every day. Why, what happened?” she asked, softening her tone as well.

Nathan turned to look at her. “She died. Stabbed in the stomach over her bag. Thugs could have just taken it and ran. They had to stab her first. Stupid.” Nathan wrung his hands together.

“I’m sorry, Nathan.” Adia put her hand on his arm. “I didn’t know.” She looked down at his hands. “Is that why you were home today?” she asked, looking back up into his eyes.

“Well, yes, to a degree. I was talking to her as they loaded her into the ambulance. I can’t exactly tell you everything that happened. I’m not sure of some of it myself. She said something to me in a foreign language; Latin, I think. The online translator indicated it as such on auto detect. I didn’t understand it, and I can’t remember enough of it to look it all up and translate it. All I remembered that I could translate was, ‘universe, balance, power, corruption, and responsibility.’ She held my arm when she said it. Then she put her old bracelet on me.” Nathan held up his arm. “And then she died; right there. I didn’t feel good at that point, and passed out.”

Adia reached up from her short stature and hugged him. “I’m sorry. I know you tended to her and spent time with her. I am sorry for your loss, and that she was taken from you.”

Nathan pulled in a deep breath, steadied himself from getting too emotional about it, and then spoke, “She was like a grandmother to me. My father’s mother died a long time ago. When my mother died, her mother sort of lost touch. I don’t even know if she’s still alive at this point. My father had her last address and now he’s gone, so …”

“I’ll ask O’Malley,” Adia said, letting go and stepping back. “Find out where we are with the investigation. I know you realize how that goes and all, random violence and no leads, but I’ll ask him anyway.”

“Thanks.” Nathan reached down and took her hands. “That’s where I was headed. I wanted to find out what the process was for her remains, especially if no one calls for them. I don’t know what I can do or afford, but she deserves to be laid to rest properly. If there’s no one to do it, I will.”

“I’ll ask that for you as well.” Adia tightened the grip on Nathan’s hands. “Since he’s still on duty and just headed off, it’ll be a while. I might not catch him tonight.”

“That’s fine. Tomorrow works too.” Nathan released her hands, and then fidgeted with the bracelet. “You know,” he said, looking up at the clouds, which still looked as if they could threaten rain. “I think I’m going to take a walk and clear my head.”

Adia smiled. Nathan’s phone rang. He pulled it out and looked at it.

The display showed: Lisa Cooper. Nathan looked up at the tavern and saw her standing outside with the phone, and looking up the avenue away from them. Adia turned and looked as well. Nathan declined the call and smiled at Adia. He put the phone away, leaned in, kissed her on the cheek, and walked in the opposite direction.

***

Nathan headed to the end of the block and rounded the corner and Adia turned to her partner. “Stay here a minute, I’ll be right back.”

Emotions ran through Adia, despite her doing her utmost to suppress them. She had feelings for Nathan, and felt nervous of them surfacing. She crossed the street quickly and called out, “Cooper” before Lisa headed back inside.

“Adia,” Lisa said, wide eyed with surprise. “Hi. I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.” Her response was cool and guarded.

“Look, I’m not big into formalities or beating around the bush. You and Nathan are just friends, right?” Adia asked.

“Good friends. He’s a great guy. Is he okay?” Lisa shifted her tone from one of defense to concern.

“He’s fine,” Adia responded, slightly annoyed. “Had you called him at noon, you’d know that. I just spoke with him. He’s fine. That’s not why I asked.”

“Excuse me. I didn’t call him at noon because I figured if he wasn’t calling he might be resting and I didn’t want to bother him,” Lisa responded, hands on hips and a hard frown on her face.

“And when he still didn’t call, all the way to the start of your date, it didn’t dawn on you to call him? You and I, we have more friends and plenty of family. We two and O’Malley are just about all he’s got,” Adia scoffed and looked away from Lisa.

“I tried to call him just now. He didn’t answer,” Lisa said, in a slightly less combative tone. “We were slammed after lunch and I didn’t have the time. This was my first real chance. I stepped away from the date to come out here to call him and see if he was all right.” Lisa got a little more upset. “How did you know I was here on a date?”

“We were across the street and watched you walk in,” Adia replied, a little smug. “And he didn’t answer because he declined the call and headed off for a famous Nathan walk.” Adia paused briefly, then continued, “Because I don’t like messes, I wanted to approach you. You’re just friends, so if I have an interest, I’m going to pursue it.”

Lisa looked unsure of herself, and took a while to chew over her words. “He’s single, so he’s an open play.” After she finished, she flinched and scowled. Was she angry at herself or at Adia?

Adia retorted, “I don’t play with people.”

“That’s not how I meant it,” Lisa said, back on the defensive.

“It’s fine. If he’s unencumbered by you, then it’s like I said.” Adia cocked her head.

“He has no interest in me that way, so there’s nothing stopping you,” Lisa said then shrugged.

Adia shook her head once in disbelief and held up her hand as if to stop the conversation. She mumbled something inaudible as she turned to walk away.

“Hey!” Lisa called out, taking a step toward the tavern door.

Adia stopped and turned back to look at her.

“Look, depending on how things go, I know you’ll try to be good to him. At the same time, I don’t know if you’re good for him. If you hurt him, you’ll be dealing with me,” Lisa said coldly.

“Funny, those were my thoughts about you all this time. Looks like I was right.” Adia pointed up at Lisa’s date, through the windows. He’d watched the conversation from the largest window.

A light drizzle began to fall and Lisa headed inside.

CHAPTER NINE

The weekend passed without much further incident, and the following workweeks came and went. By the time late October came about, Nathan barely remembered that he had the extraordinary gifts, because the powers stopped manifesting. He hadn’t been in further instances where they seemed to be needed, and any minor out of the ordinary day-to-day situations seemed not to trigger them at all. As much as he could tell, only extreme situations brought them to the surface, and he needed to be nearby to such situations. Other than that, the few times it did manifest, it was random and without apparent reason.

About all he had to remind him of the powers, was that he still couldn’t remove the bracelet and move too far away from it, as it would still fly to his wrist. Another unusual circumstance was that Lisa had been around much less than usual. She was the only one who knew about that small part of what the bracelet could do. He’d hoped for the right opportunity to bring up the rest and bounce some thoughts off her about it. But with her spending more and more time with Kevin, that wasn’t likely to happen. He felt happy for his friend, but missed her presence.

With the lack of additional manifestation, perhaps things played out the way they needed to with respect to her, and maybe the powers were some sort of magic that faded the longer Cici had been gone. All the changes happened on the day she passed.

Nathan took in the late October afternoon. The days had become cooler and shorter. He prepared to head out and donned his Patriot shirt, then grabbed the matching over-jacket.

About to head out the door, he decided it had gotten cool enough to check the heat settings in the apartment. As he did, he glanced over at the couch. The crochet afghan that he kept in the winter months wasn’t there, and he headed over to the small closet where he kept it in the summer months. He looked around for it, only for a moment, before he remembered giving it to Cici in the early spring, when a late cold snap had come on. He closed the door to the closet and leaned up against it, while he remembered giving it to her.

Lisa had come by the apartment that morning and had carried it for him, so that he could get the breakfast sandwich like he always did. By the time the two of them arrived at the usual spot that morning, where Cici would sit and panhandle, the usual commotion between her and the shopkeepers played itself out. Cici would usually be okay until someone started a conversation with her, and then she’d talk and talk and basically not let them go. She would often talk in jumbled phrases that almost sounded like undecipherable clichés. Nathan learned that if you listened to her long enough, she would express some of the things she said over and over again; at times sounding like she was speaking in nothing but metaphors.

Nathan sighed a little. He didn’t care about the afghan all that much. He missed the time he used to spend with Lisa. Cici being forever gone as well didn’t make matters much better.

Nathan turned and headed out of his apartment, and then out of the building. As he made his way towards Madison Square Park, his thoughts drifted back to Cici. Officer O’Malley, Adia, and the Coroner’s department had all worked with him last week to make so that she could be cremated early and buried, rather than stay in the care of the Coroner’s office for the standard ninety days. Nathan had hoped Lisa would go with him to the ceremony last Saturday, since she had stood with him and spoke with Cici on many mornings, but she’d been spending a lot of time with Kevin, and it had taken up all of her free time. He didn’t even walk to work with her anymore.

“Hey, this isn’t Kips Bay. Madison Square Park is out of your jurisdiction,” Adia called out to Nathan playfully as he crossed the street near her squad car.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Nathan asked, and turned to walk toward her.

“Oh, you know, community outreach.” She stood at the back of her squad car with the trunk open. “We talk to the kids about stranger danger and what to do in other emergencies and such.”

“Did you lose a bet or are you reprimanded for something?” Nathan asked, trying to be funny.

“I like kids; I don’t mind doing this at all. Better than busting a smelly drunk and having them throw up all over you,” Adia replied.

Nathan was a little more reserved than normal, despite the attempt at humor and Adia picked up on it right away. “Penny for your thoughts?” she asked as she moved a couple of items around in the trunk, and then looked back up into his eyes.

Nathan shook his head and replied, “It’s nothing, something stupid.”

Adia seemed about to say something when a small child walked up to her and Nathan. “Excuse me, Officer, is this The Patriot?” The small boy pointed to Nathan.

Nathan looked at the little boy and noticed he also had a Patriot shirt on. Adia smiled and watched for Nathan’s response.

“Well,” Nathan said, stepping back from the roadside to the sidewalk. “I’m not actually The Patriot, but like you,” he continued, pointing to the little boy’s shirt. “I like to dress in his uniform.”

“Does that make us more like him?” he asked.

Nathan turned and looked at Adia, who simply raised her eyebrows and motioned her hand back to the boy.

“I like to think,” Nathan said, clearing his throat. “That we all have a little something in each of us that makes us like The Patriot. That extra little something, that causes us to choose right over wrong and to make us push ourselves. For our own good, and the good of our friends, neighbors, and country. Like that solider over there.” Nathan pointed to a man wearing fatigues, who was coming across the park.

Adia’s attention switched to the man, and Nathan followed suit: they watched the man as he came down one of the crisscross sidewalks that cut through the park. He wore a lot of tactical gear and had munitions clipped to his belt and shoulder straps. He also sported a reinforced helmet, a raised flak jacket, and a protective over collar. Adia grabbed her radio. “Dispatch, 10 –10 F! I repeat, 10 –10 F, 10 – 34 W! Military fatigues but not, repeat, NOT military!” She let the radio go and turned to Nathan. “Get him behind the car.”

Nathan moved the boy to the rear of the squad car without asking why. Once there, he peered around the open trunk. Three officers moved across the park to intercept the man in the fatigues, who ran flat out away from them and directly towards Adia. They must have already been in pursuit before Adia gave the alert.

Shots rang out, Nathan ducked, and pushed the boy behind him. Automatic fire sounded, and then smaller rounds of single shots. He grabbed onto his bracelet. It felt cold to the touch. Nothing, Nathan thought, shoulders slumping. No combat knowledge gain. No feeling of enhanced strength or speed. The bracelet didn’t grant me the powers of The Patriot.

As the sound of gunfire stopped, Nathan took the chance to look up again. People screamed and ran. Traffic screeched around the park and resulted in more than a couple fender benders. Adia was down, but stirring a little. The other officers that had been on approach were also down, but they were too far away for him to get a good look. The combatant still stood. He looked around at the erupted chaos.

Nathan looked into the trunk, and found a riot shield and two bulletproof vests. He reached in and took them out along with the bag of zip ties. With the angle of the car, the assailant couldn’t see him. He grabbed at the bracelet again. It was still cold to the touch. Damn it, Nathan thought as he wrapped the upper part of the riot shield with the vest and fastened it together at the rear with the zip ties.

“They sure don’t make cops like they used to,” the man called out as he approached Adia slowly. “Nope.”

Nathan couldn’t see Adia while he was working on reinforcing the riot shield. He also realized with a jolt that he’d lost track of the little boy. He turned to find him, but he wasn’t on the street, and there were so many people running away from the park it was difficult to recognize a small child he’d just met. He hoped he’d run away, and continued to work on fastening the second vest over the first one.

“Stay where you are,” Adia called out, and her voice shook.

Nathan stopped and risked looking up, pulling the last zip tie tight and slipping his arm into the bands of the riot shield. In one last move of desperation, he again grabbed the bracelet. It was still cold to the touch.

“Well, you’ve got some spunk there, woman,” the attacker called out. “Won’t be enough to save you, but I like putting out a bright fire.” He raised his weapon to shoot her again when shots rang out of Adia’s service revolver. All hit center and they knocked the wind out of the heavily armored attacker. Blood seeped from under her vest and onto the asphalt.

“See,” the attacker said as he regained himself. “It’s a shame you’re not using the same shells that I’m using, or that might have worked out better for you.”

“You attack us in broad daylight? How are you expecting to get away with that?” Adia asked.

“I didn’t come here to get away with it. I came here for things to end in a very public way and take as many of you with me as I could,” the attacker said, then sneered down at her.

“You leave her alone,” a small voice cried out.

Nathan looked farther forward and saw the little boy, partly hidden behind a tree in the park.

The attacker paused to turn his attention and then laughed. “Ha! A miniature Patriot is here to save the downed officers of the NYPD.” He flicked his thumb in the direction of the small child, then turned to look at Adia. The armored man gestured back to the boy, but turned away as sirens closed in. The attacker moved forward. “Come on out, little Patriot! Save them. Show me.”

Nathan edged around the vehicle. Adia waved him off.

“You won’t, little Patriot,” the attacker said, as he slowed his pace and raised his gun at the boy’s tree. “That’s because you can’t. There’s no more heroes left in the world.”

The words had barely finished rolling off his lips when Nathan plowed into him with the riot shield and knocked him down. Police cars blocked every access street around Madison Square Park.

Nathan didn’t hesitate with the man down and off balance; he jumped into the air and came crashing down full body weight against the shield on the attacker’s grip hand. Nathan stood quickly after the drop and kicked the assault rifle away from the broken right hand of the man. He spun quickly and slammed the bottom edge of the shield onto the ballistic throat protection three times as officers swarmed the park.

Nathan re-looped the shield over his left arm, hustled to the tree, scooped up the boy, and moved him out of harm’s way.

The attacker choked hard and tried to sit up.

Nathan got the boy into Adia’s car and slammed the door shut. Officers yelled from multiple directions. Nathan turned to see the attacker fumble a handgun with his left hand. He dashed towards Adia who was still down. Shots rang out from all around; the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once. Nathan felt a sharp pain as he knelt down between Adia and the attacker, and dropped the shield to the pavement.

“You’re an idiot,” Adia called out, weakly.

“Are you okay?” Nathan asked, holding the shield up and looking backwards at her.

Manual gunfire impacted the riot shield multiple times. Nathan tucked his head more and braced himself.

“I’m going to be fine, and when I’m better I am going to smack you for not listening. I waved you off. Backup was coming.” She tried to lift her head to look up, as the shots stopped and the yelling diminished. No further impacts hit the riot shield. A number of “10” calls came over Adia’s radio and “officer down” comments. He looked up when police came over.

Nathan tried to move to give them access and allow the emergency medical personnel in, and that’s when he realized he was in a lot of pain. He pulled his arm free from the shield and let it drop.

Officers checked on Adia, and Nathan rolled to a sitting position.

“You’re hit,” Adia called out, trying to point, but she was too weak.

Nathan looked at his leg, where the pain intensified. It dawned on him that he’d been shot, and that it must have been the adrenaline that initially didn’t allow him to realize he’d been hit.

A medic came over to assess him. Nathan leaned back, onto the ground, as they brought a stretcher over for Adia. In a measure of desperation, he grabbed at the bracelet one last time and realized it was still cold to the touch.

Nathan unplugged, he thought, as he took another worried look in the direction of his injured friend.

***

Hera moved across the field to where Athena stood looking into the reflecting pool on Mount Olympus. She continued to observe the scene of chaos at Madison Square Park, then moved her hand into the water in order to disrupt it and change the view. It now moved in much closer to Nathan and Adia. She waved her hand again and the view focused onto Nathan’s bracelet. She focused her energies onto the vision in the water and watched as the visibility of the bracelet faded out of view.

“Do you have what you were looking for?” Hera asked, and stopped alongside the daughter of Zeus.

“I have it,” Athena responded with a stern look, as she changed the view again to pan out further to watch other events unfold. “The mortal made several gestures to detect whether or not any powers had activated and were granted to him through the enchantment. He was certain there were none. He acted anyway. That was what I required.”

“You’re interfering with the will of your father,” Hera said.

“I am making sure we do not have another situation again where we need to lose more brothers and sisters in an effort to atomize another mortal who has been given powers too close to our measure,” Athena said, now more defensive than stern. “Cymopoleia, Heracles, and Perseus, and perhaps a couple of the others; they were the exceptions to the rule.”

“Perhaps this Nathan is also an exception?” Hera questioned.

“Perhaps.” Athena turned. “But the only way to know for sure is a test like this. There are reasons why so many millennia have gone by without any new demi-gods or heroes.”

“A test like this will not show whether the powers will corrupt him. It could have gotten him killed.” Hera sounded frustrated.

“It didn’t, and I wanted to see how he responded,” Athena said. “I need to know if he was worthy of the powers to be granted as needed.”

Hera raised her eyebrows and mocked, “And if he had been granted the power of flight, would you remove it mid-use to see how he handled falling?”

“As part of agreeing to be a member of the twelve, we were all given the right, by Zeus, to only allow the right and proper candidate to access these abilities. None of us want part in another Ahzeem Ama. Some of us are not entirely settled on this Nathan.” Athena looked back into the reflecting pool.

“The balance of the scales is too far out of alignment,” Hera said, also looking into the pool. “Almost to a tipping point, where recovery may not be possible without direct intervention. That is almost as unpalatable as discharging another mortal in a fire fight on Olympus.”

“We will not have that again,” Athena said. “The mortals can have all their free will; I will not be party to advancing one of them, over all of them, and have it turn out like before. They can come to an end if need be.”

“Father Zeus would disagree with you. Having said that, there are no guarantees of anything, but there is a reason why at the end of her life, rather than let the next Watcher take over her duties, she chose this Nathan,” Hera said.

“We will see now that this has been set into motion. I am not ashamed to say ‘once bitten, twice shy.’ This may be the mortal saying …” Athena shook her head. “… but I will not be bitten again.”

“You say you need to know if he was worthy of the powers to be granted as needed,” Hera stated as the wind blew her dress slightly. “Did you get your answer?”

“I did,” Athena replied, standing tall with confidence. “Of the mortals The Watcher could have selected, I do not believe she could have found a better choice.” Athena stepped away from the reflecting pool. “Some of the others also need reassurance. They will have tests of their own.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

Nathan rested as comfortably as he could in the hospital bed. His leg felt raw from the gunshot, and then the cleanup and stitching. Nurses had been coming and going, checking on him, since he’d woken from surgery. He had a chance to speak with the doctor, who’d explained what the procedure would be from here regarding care, watching for infection, and he also answered the questions Nathan had.

Nathan dozed off and on, and his mind drifted to the bracelet. He grabbed at his wrist, in a sudden panic, only to discover it was still there. It had become of great concern to him that one of the medical personnel might have tried to remove it, and then been burned by it; or worse, actually seen it move about the room. But no, it remained safe on his wrist.

As he fidgeted with it, Officer O’Malley entered the room. Nathan looked up and sort of smiled. He was happy to see his friend, but he knew he was about to get a lecture.

Jack looked at the three balloon bouquets and get-well gifts decorating the room. One had been sent from Nathan’s workplace. Another, Jack himself had brought. The last one came from Lisa and Kevin.

“So, I hear Adia is awake and doing better,” Nathan said.

Jack sat down slowly in the visitor seat and put his hat on the small table. He breathed in long and deep, then let the air back out. With a glance at his hands, folded in his lap, he said, “I’m supposed to come in here, especially with people I know, and tell them something like, ‘the department really appreciates what you’ve done, we really need the public to be involved, but we need to remind you how dangerous it was for you to directly engage as you did.’ The rhetoric goes on, ‘you could have been killed and risked the lives of other people and the responding personnel. While we are grateful, we really hope for restraint from citizens and allow the professionals the ability to do their jobs.’ So there, I’ve said it,” Jack said in a low voice.

“I’m sorry, Jack.” Nathan, uncomfortable, still not used to calling Officer O’Malley by his first name, fidgeted. About to continue, he stalled when Jack raised his hand then lifted his head to meet his gaze.

“What you did was dangerous, and foolhardy,” Jack said in a distressed voice. “Having said that, I am afraid of what would have happened if you hadn’t acted. The guy was armed to the teeth. He had a semi-automatic rifle, ammo, and a small handful of handguns tucked about his body armor. The guns were all legally licensed. The body armor wasn’t; it was above grade. Heck, some of our troops overseas don’t have what he was wearing. Between the armor, throat guards, helmet, and so forth, only a chin to eye-line face shot could have taken him down. That or something above the caliber handguns and ammo we regularly carry. They are executing a warrant on his residence right now, and I’m sure they’ll find more weapons and a manifesto or something to that effect there.” Jack paused to collect his next thought.

“He had armor piercing rounds. It’s why it went through the vests. The reason you’re standing is because you doubled up on the vests on the riot shield. He hit the shield four times right where he expected the view-plate to be, beneath the vests. All four shots were grouped tight. It also distracted him. He was so hell bent on you, because you disabled him the way you did, he laser focused on you and that gave the men the chance they needed to take him down physically. They never would have gotten that close to him in a gunfire fight with them around the park on approach. So maybe I am supposed to tell you the standard line, but I also have to tell you that your actions saved countless lives. Adia, the other three officers, they’ll all make it. With him that close to Adia, he certainly would have executed her. I’m sure he would have taken a couple more officers down in a gun battle. All his body armor absorbed the initial volley with no effect. He was there on a suicide run, but his intention was to maim and kill on the way out.” Jack looked down at the ground near his feet, and then stood and stretched. Then he stepped closer to the bed. “Thank you for saving everyone, but don’t ever give me a scare like that again.”

Nathan smiled. “Yes, sir.”

“The news is travelling fast. There’s a throng of reporters outside,” Jack said as he stepped around the chair and moved towards the door. “If the series of events weren’t enough, on top of the officers that you helped, that little boy you shoved into Adia’s patrol car was U.S. Senator Kelly’s son. He was at the park with the family and the nanny. No one was aware they were even in town. They had a detail, but they were trying to blend in and enjoy a family day. The Senator was talking with a few businessmen in the park, over coffee, at the time, and the child’s mother was with the nanny when the boy wandered off in your direction. We couldn’t keep a lid on this if we wanted to. So I hope you’re prepared to talk with the press at some point. Did they indicate when you’d likely be allowed to leave?”

“The doctor said at least three, if not five, days.” Nathan tried to let everything Jack had said sink in. “They want to make sure there are no muscle tears or infection issues before allowing a discharge.”

“Sounds about right.” Jack flicked his thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to see Adia and the others. Any message for her? I am sure it’ll be a day before you can get down there on your own.”

“I can’t get an answer really on how she is, do you know?”

“I’m going to get an update now. She got hit three times. Went through the vest. The blood loss was decent, but they got to her in time. She got it the worst, being the closest hit.” Jack said in a somber tone. “So, any message?”

“Tell her I’m sorry I wasn’t faster and now it looks like she’ll spend her birthday here,” Nathan said with disappointment in his voice.

“Hey,” Jack said, stepping back towards the bed. “Because of you, she’ll celebrate that birthday after all.”

***

Only at the end of the following day could Nathan could leave his room. It was difficult for him to walk and the nurse advised against doing it for extended periods, and left him a wheelchair to use. His cell phone had discharged completely, and he had no way of contacting anyone, until he saw Jack again who promised to bring over a charger. He had asked several times at the nurses’ station if he had any calls. Dozens of calls came in from reporters, newspapers, magazines, and television personalities from the New York metro area and beyond, but no return call arrived from Lisa. Other than her first call to see how he was, he hadn’t seen or heard from her. Nathan got himself settled into the wheelchair and just sat in it for a while. He wanted to go and see Adia, but felt worried about seeing her injured. He always saw her as such a strong person, and wasn’t sure what to expect.

He sat for the better part of an hour, thinking about how (and what) to respond to the media. He really didn’t want to, but they would keep at it until he spoke with at least one of them. Nathan looked at the newspapers sitting on the food tray. Jack had stopped in earlier with the big newspapers, and each had varying phone-camera shots of him charging the shooter, shield in hand, with article headlines that read, “The Patriot Lives,” and “The Patriot Saves New York’s Finest,” along with others, each trying to be more grandiose than their competitors. Nathan let out a sigh and decided to make his way to see his friend.

When he rounded the corner in the area of Adia’s room, he saw all the family and friends in the waiting area, as only so many could go into the room at a time. Officers and Detectives waited there as well, some on a break, and some from off shift, all to see Adia and the other three officers.

Nathan backed the wheel chair up and bumped someone. He looked up to see whom he’d hit. “I’m sorry, I’m not used to driving one of these things yet,” he said.

The older man, with graying hair, smiled and moved aside in one large step. “You’re that fella that took on the attacker.”

“Yes, sir,” Nathan said quietly, almost lowering his eyes. He felt proud of what he’d done, but he felt badly about the people that had been hurt. He kept trying to reconcile and justify things as Jack had expressed to him, but still had trouble with it.

The tall man, who looked very robust for someone who was as gray and older-looking as he was, thrust out his hand. “Former NYPD Captain Brosnan, retired. Nice to meet you, son. Officer Brosnan, one of the officers you saved, is my son. Thank you.”

Nathan smiled and shook the man’s hand. Captain Brosnan’s grip seemed formidable, and he felt relieved when the man let go.

“Were you all done visiting?” he asked, stepping in front of Nathan’s wheelchair.

“I only know Adia—Officer Adia Santiago. I’d intended to go over there, but she has a lot of family to see her and I don’t want to take up their time.”

“Son,” Captain Brosnan said with a light tone, “they have someone to visit in that room rather than a stone to look at in a plot mainly because of you. They will give up time for you, believe me.” Captain Brosnan got behind the wheelchair and pushed Nathan down the hallway. “It’s my understanding from Doug, my son, that she’s been asking for you anyway. Don’t disappoint a woman that’s looking for you to call on her.”

Nathan said nothing and just smiled as Captain Brosnan made his way down the hall with him. As they got closer, the families recognized the man in the wheelchair from the photos on the news and in the papers, they all clapped and cheered, reached out to shake his hand, and kissed him, for saving their loved ones.

As Adia’s parents and siblings said their thank yous to him, they exited to the waiting area so he could go into the room to see his friend. Balloons, flowers, get well cards, religious items, and other charms from nieces and nephews, packed Adia’s room.

“Ah, it’s nice to finally be called on by The Patriot,” Adia said, weak, but in as much of a spirited tone as she could muster.

“I’m sorry. I really couldn’t get around until today. That and I figured you’d need your rest. You’d have a ton of visitors, and well, you know.” Nathan stood slowly. He winced in pain, trying to put all the weight down on his uninjured leg.

“Hey, go easy. You’ve been shot, hero,” Adia said.

“I’d kind of noticed.” Nathan grinned. “They told me to stay off it for the most part, but I needed to exercise it a little.” Nathan hobbled towards her and she looked past him out the window. Curious as to what it was, he turned to look as well. Adia shifted her view to his hospital gown, which was now more open behind him.

“Is there someone out there you want to have come in now?” Nathan asked in all sincerity.

“No,” Adia said with a smile. “I have you here. That’s what I wanted for now,” she said.

Nathan sat down on the edge of her bed. “I asked Jack; sounds like you’ll be here past your birthday.”

“It is what it is. I still expect my date from you, though. I don’t care where it is. Due to circumstances, it’ll be here, and that makes no difference to me.” She smiled and some of her Puerto Rican accent became more pronounced.

“I’m good with that,” Nathan said. “So long as you’re okay.”

The two sat in silence for a moment. Nathan looked over at Adia, who looked directly at him. A tear escaped from one of her eyes, and her bottom lip trembled. Nathan had never seen her softer emotional side before.

“Thank you for what you did at the park. You saved my life. I am certain of it.”

Nathan didn’t know what to say. Every possible response he could think of sounded conceited and arrogant to him. So, he just smiled, reached over, and touched her face.

***

Finally, the time came for Nathan to leave the hospital. Officer O’Malley arranged for himself and a couple of additional officers to escort him out past the throng of reporters to his patrol car.

Nathan didn’t know what they would ask or how aggressive they might be. He’d seen news reports on the TV where people got swarmed, and he’d seen it once or twice as it occurred about the city.

Whatever the questions would be, it would likely be so loud they’d overlap, so there wouldn’t be much of a chance to answer anyway. But, if a pause did occur, he’d have to say something.

U.S. Senator Mackenzie Kelly and his wife Donna had both been heaping thanks and praise on him in the news, so there would be little chance of this dying down by the next news cycle.

“You okay?” Jack asked. The elevator hit the ground floor and they wheeled Nathan out. “You can just smile and not say a word.”

“I hope, if the moment arrives where something has to be said, that I manage to say something smart.”

The reporters clamored when they identified the exiting patient as Nathan, in a pair of jeans and a new Patriot polo shirt. In a desperate motion, Nathan took his left hand and wrapped it around the bracelet. Okay, it didn’t want to fire up for the event, but perhaps it could help him think of an intelligent response if he needed to answer something.

***

The action attracted the attention of Aphrodite and Hermes, who stood near the reflecting pool in the near fields of Mount Olympus.

“Will you assist him? If he should need it?” Aphrodite asked, stroking the water in the pool to refocus the view. “He hasn’t actually asked, or prayed, for help outright, but he is clearly in distress over it.”

“It’s at the extreme edge of use for what we have granted to the wearer of the Watcher Bracelet. No matter. I will not interfere. I will not need to; the Watcher’s choice in a bearer is beyond reproach,” Hermes said proudly. “The Watcher knew instinctively that this choice in the man called Nathan was the correct one. Let’s observe.”

***

The throng of reporters pushed forward as Jack eased Nathan outside and towards the car, while the officers pressed open enough space for them to get through.

All of the questions overlapped until the voice of one female reporter came in over the others, which caused the group to grow silent, waiting on Nathan’s response.

“The Mayor and U.S. Senator Mackenzie Kelly are citing you as being largely responsible for stopping the carnage in Madison Square Park; they are calling you the embodiment of The Patriot. How does it feel to be a hero?”

Nathan let go of his bracelet and raised his hand so that Jack would stop pushing. Any remaining din came only from the city traffic; the reporters had fallen dead silent.

“I can’t take credit for being a hero. You want to say I took a big risk, that it was a heroic action, and that is something I could agree with,” Nathan said in a steady, conversational demeanor. “I was lucky; lucky that a foolhardy action, versus a dangerous and violent set of circumstances, resulted in the best possible outcome. But all I feel like I did was respond to a situation. That doesn’t make me a hero.”

Nathan took in a deep breath and looked up beyond the reporters and the cameras, towards the sky, and continued. “You show me a fire fighter, an EMT, a police officer, or members of our armed forces, who put their uniforms on each day, kiss their spouse and pat their kids on the head, and then go out and put themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life and to serve our great nation, up to and including the ultimate sacrifice, you show me that person, and then I will show you a hero.”

Jack pushed the chair on cue and the officers moved through the crowd of mostly quiet reporters.

Nathan got settled in the car, Jack got into the driver’s seat, and they pulled away.

“I have no idea how that came out or how it sounded,” Nathan said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back, as the words repeated over and over in his mind in a swirl. “I’m repeating it in my head; it sounds stupid and grandstanding.”

Jack rubbed his eyes a little to dry them out.

“It was perfect.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

A week later, on Friday evening, Nathan returned to his apartment from work and looked over his mail. He wanted to look it over quickly, and then pay Adia a visit. She had at least another week, to ten days, to remain at the hospital, and with her birthday being tomorrow he wanted to make sure he could be there to see her. A formal-looking letter from Senator Mackenzie Kelly’s office caught his attention, and he opened it while walking over and checking the thermostat in the apartment. The cooler days and nights had already demanded he turn up the heat.

While Nathan read the letter over, the intercom to his room from the lobby entry system buzzed. Still reading the letter, he walked over to answer it.

“Hi Nathan, it’s Lisa. Can I come up?”

Nathan stared at the intercom for a moment. He had barely heard from her, save a short visit while he was at the hospital, and he felt taken aback that she was now in the lobby.

He pressed the response button. “Sure, come on up.” He buzzed her in. He continued to review the letter and the enclosures in the envelope. A few moments later, she knocked on the door and he walked over to let her in.

“Well, as I live and breathe, to what do I owe this great honor that you come here to visit me at my humble abode?” Nathan said, with a bit of humorous sarcasm toned in his voice when she walked in.

“Ha, ha. I know, I know … I haven’t been around much lately, and I’m a terrible friend.” Lisa entered the apartment and took off her coat. “I’ve been busy with work. You know how things get as we go into November and the end of the year; tying up all the work before we shut down for the final part of the holiday season; the people that are out sick or using up their remaining vacation time that they cannot roll over, and so on.”

“And Kevin?” Nathan said, putting the paperwork down on the small table.

“Well yes, there’s Kevin too.”

“Where is he tonight—Friday night of all nights—that you’re here without him?” Nathan said as he walked into his bedroom to change his shirt, mindful of the time.

“He went to see his family in Connecticut this weekend. He left right after work on Metro North and won’t be back until Sunday evening,” Lisa called out to him from the living room.

Nathan came back out in a deep blue polo shirt. “Sapphire Speedster is a favorite of yours, isn’t it?” Lisa asked, looking at the small emblem on the shirt.

Nathan stopped walking for a second, and then looked back at the black shirt sitting on the corner of his bed.

“Something the matter?” Lisa asked when Nathan turned around and went back into the bedroom, taking the blue shirt off for the black one.

“I didn’t mean to take this one out of the closet. I set this one out to wear,” he answered and swapped shirts, then hung the Sapphire Speedster one back up. It took a few moments for Nathan to re-enter the living room, as he continued to be slightly confused about the change in shirts. He tried to keep his confusion to himself, but Lisa observed him when he came out with a somewhat dazed look on his face.

“Something bothering you about the shirts?” she asked, and walked over to the windows near his small kitchen table and looked out.

“Honestly, it’s a strange thing,” Nathan said, and grabbed his wallet and keys.

“Stranger than your bracelet? Speaking of which, anything new with that? Still gravitating to you?”

Nathan paused for a second. Although Lisa was aware of that part of what the bracelet did, she was totally unaware of the rest. He felt like he needed to share the additional details with someone, even if to only have a sounding board. He figured he could trust her to keep quiet, but he felt somewhat uncomfortable too. Having read enough comic book storylines, he understood the risks of sharing the secrets with close friends and family. He didn’t want to put her into any potential jeopardy with the information. Since the powers seemed to only manifest under particular situations and hadn’t recently at all, he decided to not add any additional information.

“Well, the bracelet still does the same thing as before; it will fly across the room when moved too far away from me. I’m not sure about burning someone else’s hand; I obviously haven’t tested that out on anyone else yet. I didn’t presume that was an ‘only you’ thing, but I guess I do need to see if it affects everyone else the same way. We just assumed that at the time.”

“You know, I meant to ask you …” Lisa said as she turned away from the window and walked towards him. “… What happened to it at the hospital?”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean what happened to it? It was on my arm the whole time. I presumed the hospital employees just left it alone.”

“It’s usually standard practice to remove jewelry and other items from admitted patients. It wasn’t on your arm the whole time you were there, or at least when I visited you. I guess it could have been next to you, in the small drawer with your personal items, close enough—but how did the nurses remove it without getting burned like I did?”

Nathan looked at her, confused. “Lisa, it was on my arm. I checked as soon as I woke up. It was one of the first thoughts I had. I was concerned it could have burned someone and I’d need to explain it.”

Lisa walked closer and took Nathan’s hand hers, and then reached over and tapped the bracelet lightly with her fingers. It stayed cool. She then laid her hand over it, with caution. “I’m telling you, those same thoughts were on my mind, too, when I came into the room. I made it a point to look for it. It wasn’t on your arm.”

“How could it not be there for you and yet be there for me?”

“How can it fly across the room?” Lisa added with a wry smile. “The mystery of the bracelet continues.” She let his hand go and stepped backwards a little and out of his personal space. “Was something else on your mind?” she asked him, walking over to the couch to take a seat.

“Well, the thing with the shirts just now.” Nathan walked over and sat in the single oversized chair. “It’s not the first time that’s happened either. I hadn’t noticed it before the events with the bracelet, but there have been a couple of instances in the past, before Cici died, where I would set one shirt out from the laundry or before I got into the shower or something, with the express intent to wear it, and I’d end up putting a different one on. I never really fussed with it before and sort of marked it up to being absent-minded, although I’m not prone to that. To me, it almost doesn’t matter which shirt I wear, as just about all of them go with my jeans or khakis.” Nathan stopped for a moment and looked back at the bedroom. Then he stood with sudden urgency and turned.

Lisa watched him for a moment until he sat back down. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s the oddest thing. I just realized that I’ve never done this before. Whenever I put the ‘wrong’ shirt on, I just left it on. I never gave it a thought; I was totally indifferent to it.”

“Are you headed somewhere specific tonight that you wanted to wear the plain shirt? I know that I generally almost never see you in a plain one, and a lot of the polo ones with the small emblems on them like the one you just took off are so inconspicuous that it doesn’t matter.”

Nathan again stood up then sat down. “No, I was just going to visit Adia in the hospital tonight.”

Lisa rose from the sofa. “I didn’t know you were busy. I should have called first.” She looked uncomfortable.

“It’s okay. I’m going to visit just for a bit. She has a lot of family coming and going and I don’t want to take up all of their time. Are you going out tonight or just heading home?”

Lisa made her way towards the door. “I thought it would be a good night for us to maybe catch up. I’ve been busy and I feel like not a very good friend for seeing so much less of you in general, and specifically with you in the hospital and all.”

“Look, I’m game, but I want to stop and see her first. Do you want me to walk you down to 515? You can grab a drink and I can meet you there in an hour or so?”

Lisa stopped and turned to look at him. “I’d like that. I don’t want to feel like I’m intruding on your time, if you made other plans.”

“It’s not an intrusion. Did you want to come with me to visit? We could go straight from there.”

Lisa brushed the thought off. “No, that’s okay. Walk with me to 515 and you can head over and meet me when you’re done.”

“Perfect.” Nathan opened the door to the hallway and motioned his hand toward the elevators.

Lisa stepped out and Nathan pulled the door to his apartment shut. Lisa stepped over to the elevator and called it. Nathan remained in front of his apartment door, taking just one simple step away and making a pivot motion with the planted foot.

“Is anything the matter, Nathan? Did you forget something?”

“I don’t know. I feel like I have. I feel like I have some sort of apprehension at this very moment about something, but I can’t figure out what it is. It’s like feeling that I’ve forgotten something.”

The elevator arrived at the floor and Nathan still hadn’t moved from the door of the apartment. Lisa walked over toward him as the elevator closed and descended to other floors.

Nathan put his hand on the doorknob to the apartment for a moment, and then let go as Lisa touched his arm. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Nathan said, sounding confident but feeling less so. “Let’s go,” he said and walked over to call the elevator back.

They left the building and headed towards 515. On the third block down, they waited for a change in the traffic signal to get across the street. Nathan flinched when he felt the heat about his right wrist. A feeling of static electricity tingled his skin from head to toe.

“What’s the matter?” Lisa asked yet again.

Nathan jerked his head all around, trying to locate what had set off the bracelet, when it struck him: he was wearing a plain black shirt. If everything was equal to the prior situations where he felt this way, he would draw powers from his shirt, but he wasn’t wearing a shirt to draw powers from.

In normal time, Nathan noticed a small girl step off the perpendicular corner to Third Avenue, ahead of her mother, and just slightly into the street area. His head jerked around to the sounds of car horns as two cars, jockeying for position between one another, headed northbound. Instinctively, he pulled Lisa backwards away from the curb area on the eastern side of the road and stepped forward, glancing up at the changing traffic light. He looked back at the western-most car, a blue Hyundai. The pedestrians crossing Third Avenue picked up the right of way as the traffic light cycled and they entered the street. The Hyundai was still moving at speed, committed to beating the intersection’s changing light. The driver banked to the western edge of Third Avenue because he’d lost the light, but could still make the intersection with the cars heading in from the east just starting to move.

Nathan’s body screamed, “move,” and the bracelet turned hot on his wrist. His muscles tightened, but he couldn’t channel any powers. He’d gotten the Sapphire Speedster’s powers before. Nothing slowed down within his field of vision. He could tell his body hadn’t inherited the powers this time. Worse, he suspected he knew why. “RUN! LOOK OUT!” he screamed across the avenue as tires squealed.

The sound of the impact was unmistakable. Nathan had been in the city long enough to witness more than one of these hits. The feeling in the pit of his stomach was also unmistakable, and the sounds of people yelling “call 911” became distinct over the rest of the city sounds.

Nathan and Lisa headed over with many of the other pedestrians, and traffic in all directions came to a halt. Lisa stopped short, turned away, and tucked her head into Nathan’s shoulder. All he could do was stare at the scene while bystanders moved in.

I could have saved her. I have these powers. I resisted the urge to leave the Sapphire Speedster shirt on. I made a conscious choice to grab this one, Nathan thought as the tingling in his skin dissipated. I couldn’t channel anything because I wasn’t wearing a shirt for my originating power, the power from Amalgam, to draw from.

The sounds of sirens drawing closer snapped Nathan out of his reverie. Lisa still hadn’t let go, and remained tucked into his shoulder.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Some time later, after giving a statement to responding officers as witnesses to the events and then walking Lisa home, Nathan could finally start on his way to the hospital to see Adia. After everything that had occurred, they both decided to rain check the night out.

Because of all the events, Nathan arrived a lot later than he’d planned, and he wasn’t even sure Adia would still be awake, or if they’d even let him in, since visiting hours were likely over. But he did want to make the effort, regardless. He hoped to catch a sympathetic nurse or, if nothing else, he could at least leave the six-pack of donuts with the nurse’s station for her.

He smiled while he crossed the street, as his gift of donuts for a police officer was rather stereotypical, but it would make her laugh when she saw it.

The brief smile faded fast. Nathan’s thoughts drifted to the girl he couldn’t save. While it was impossible to tell at the scene, and there was no information on the news as of yet, he felt fairly certain from the type of hit and the responses by the emergency personnel, that the little girl was likely lost at the scene. The thought of that weighed heavily on him, knowing with a certain amount of awareness that had he left the other shirt on, he likely would have inherited the powers of the Sapphire Speedster and could have saved her with minimal effort.

Nathan sighed, the next traffic signal changed for him to walk, and he noticed himself pause uncharacteristically after the signal change before putting his foot into the road and continuing on his way. I know I can’t be everywhere at once, even with the powers, he thought. I’m smart enough to realize that I cannot count on these powers every time. I don’t exactly know how they work, or why they work the way they do. I don’t know when they stop or why. I don’t even know why they didn’t work that day at Madison Square Park when they surely should have. What I do know is that they attempted to work this evening and I affected that outcome. I’ve become more aware of the occasions where I put a shirt on subconsciously, even before the bracelet, but today I used free will to override that. The worst part about that was that I kept getting that uneasy feeling about it. It was almost as if something was trying to alert me, warn me, and make me aware of that, and I ignored it more than once. Never again. For whatever reason, I’ll let those types of things happen in the future. I’ll submit to the fate of what feels like the guiding of my actions. I never again want to feel the way I do tonight. That I could have made a difference if only I’d chosen differently.

Lost in his thoughts as he walked along, Nathan realized that he had walked past the entrance for the hospital and nearly onto the next block. He turned around to head back to the entrance then went in.

Visiting hours were over, but he’d become somewhat friendly with the particular admitting worker that was at the desk on this evening and she let him in. “You won’t be able to stay long, and I’m sure one of the nurses doing rounds will ask you to go as soon as she sees you,” she said as she buzzed him in.

“I understand. Thank you for the exception. I appreciate it. I’ll try not to abuse it.” Nathan said.

The young woman nodded. “Thank you.” She looked about Nathan’s age. Nathan paused for a moment and turned to look at her. Her “thank you” confused him, and without his asking, she explained, “I heard what you said, to the news crews, when you left the day you were discharged. At this point I have to imagine everyone has. My dad served in the U.S. Army. He’s an officer now. I Skyped him last weekend to catch up. He said that some of the guys he serves with overseas heard the news reports and the story about your comments. They know a lot of us citizens appreciate their service, and some are quick to offer lip service about it, but he said to me that most of the enlisted and even the officers always feel the comments are polite but empty.” She wiped a tear away from her face. “He said to me, ‘That boy, his comments, sounded honest and heartfelt. There are people that think a statement like that came out of a person prepared and rehearsed, for the cameras. I could see how people could think that, but when you look into his eyes and listen to the way the words came out, you know it was genuine. Beyond our own self-serving reasons, the opportunity for our future, and for protecting our friends and families, it is for citizens like that one that we serve with unrelenting desire.’ His words keep echoing in my head. Thank you for giving your spirit to my father, justifying his sacrifice away from our family, and his dedication of service to our country.”

Nathan just stood there for a moment, without saying anything as she wiped another tear away from her face. When he finally spoke, it was the only thing he could muster. “I don’t even know a proper response for you telling me all of this. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

She smiled. “You don’t need to say anything, just keep being Nathan.”

Nathan nodded. He didn’t know she knew his name. He glanced at her badge and saw “Christie.” He turned to depart, but then looked back. “Maybe you can tell him, the next time you speak with him, that you spoke with me and I said ‘thank you’.”

“I will,” Christie said with a smile and a short sniff.

Nathan smiled back and turned to head for the elevators. The weight he carried regarding the child who’d died felt lighter.

He arrived on Adia’s floor to discover no family members there. Nathan presumed that with visiting hours over, and Adia just recuperating and out of danger that they had left for the evening. He approached the doorway of the room quietly and noticed that she was sleeping. He stepped in on soft feet and placed the half-dozen donuts on the small table. More cards, balloons, and religious items now lived in the room, from friends and family. Some the same as before, and other items had come and gone.

A nurse stepped into the room, about to say something, but when Nathan turned around she stopped. With a glance at the clock, she pointed and smiled, then held up her hand with all five fingers stretched out. Nathan nodded, understanding she was giving him a few minutes. He found a small pad and a pen and jotted down a note.

 

Sorry I was here so late and that you fell asleep, but I’m glad you’re resting. I’d planned to be here earlier, but my life is anything but boring these days.

Jack told me you’ll be out next week, but that’s after your birthday. I’ll be sure to come on the big day, and whenever you’re ready after, you will have that birthday date you wanted.

I know it’s cliché to bring you donuts, but it’s creatively cliché, as I’ve brought you two pairs of your three favorites.

Rest up—I’ll stop by tomorrow.

Nathan

 

Nathan tore the note off the pad, set it next to the box of donuts, and then turned to look at her. A rush of emotions came over him and caught him off guard. He’d dated girls in school, and women in college. Things had changed the first year after his father died; the girl he was seeing couldn’t handle the emotional baggage that came with the death of Nathan’s father, and his having to settle out all of the bills, his father’s estate, selling the house, and the other legal matters. After she left, Nathan closed up on feelings like that in favor of finishing school and getting the job in the city.

With Lisa, there might have been some additional feelings there, but the timing was never right. When the timing became more right, Kevin stepped into the picture.

Nathan shook all of it out of his head. He felt something for Adia, but wasn’t sure what. He didn’t know if it stemmed from the risk of losing her or meant that he felt something genuine.

He also felt that fate was guiding him more than he would have otherwise thought. He’d been in the “right place” for four events now. If he was going to be called upon to act on situations, he did not want to put Adia in the crosshairs of the risks that went along with them.

He stared at her face and opened his mouth to whisper something aloud, but decided against it, and touched her hair lightly instead. Then he picked the note up and read it again. He fought with himself, wanting to both leave it for her and to remove it and just leave the donuts behind, thinking that it might be a smart thing to put some distance between them.

He took a moment to focus on what he honestly felt, and then put the note back down for her to find when she woke up.

“I’m starting to feel things for you I haven’t felt for anyone in a long while,” he whispered. “I’m not going to fight them anymore. Good night, Adia.”

Nathan walked out of the room.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Adia had been out of the hospital for the better part of two weeks. Nathan was happy to be taking her out for her birthday celebration. They’d missed the birthday date by a couple of weeks, and instead got together a week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but he felt happy that she was better rested and more likely to enjoy the evening.

It was a quick subway ride to the Loisaida area of the lower east side of Manhattan, where Adia lived with her roommate. The night felt crisp but not so cold that Nathan couldn’t enjoy the half-hour walk. He spent the time thinking about his new feelings for Adia, and how he found it difficult to read her. She clearly felt things for him too, but she kept her thoughts guarded. He couldn’t understand why, because he was still getting to know her better on that level, but he figured that if she didn’t want to be with him, she wouldn’t be. She’d been pretty no nonsense about things like that.

At her building, he paused for a moment, and his thoughts drifted to his bracelet. He’d been “called to duty” three times in the past two weeks, basically for minor emergencies that might have been equally well handled by the city’s emergency services. For whatever reasons, his powers had activated. Nathan no longer resisted which shirt to wear. He went with whatever gut feeling he had on any given day, even on the days where nothing happened. On the days he suddenly realized he was wearing something different than he had planned, he left it on. The death of the small child that he could have prevented, had he not changed shirts, still haunted him.

Nathan reached over and buzzed the intercom for Adia’s apartment. No one responded through the speaker, but the door buzzed open and Nathan walked in.

As he arrived on the 18th floor, he stepped off the elevator and looked around for apartment eight. At the door, he knocked lightly and the door opened a little, because it already stood ajar.

“Adia?” Nathan called out and pushed the door the rest of the way open.

In the short hall area, Adia’s roommate, Melinda, stood with a huge smile on her face, and came over with soft steps. “She’s still in her room,” she whispered in Nathan’s ear, taking him by the arm and leading him into the living room, where Adia’s mother sat. That made him uncomfortable. He hadn’t planned to meet her mother formally. Although the two had met and spoken briefly a number of times at the hospital, meeting at the scene of a date seemed different and somewhat formal to him.

Melinda broke his immediate tension by seating him on the couch. “She wanted to go in slacks and a sweater. Her mother insisted on a dress,” Melinda said as she pointed.

“Mrs. Santiago doesn’t speak English, correct?” Nathan said as he looked at her, but then turned his attention back to Melinda.

Adia’s mother shook her head “no” as Melinda replied, “She understands some of the words and can figure out what someone is saying sometimes, but no, she doesn’t understand for the most part.”

Adia’s bedroom door opened up and Nathan stood up, wondering if he would end up underdressed in his Khakis and collared polo shirt. Adia entered the living room in a black flowing dress. It wasn’t anything over-the-top fancy, but Nathan always saw her in her police uniform, or in her softball uniform when she played on the police league. He’d suspected that an elegant woman might live under that rough exterior and all that bravado, and looking at her long, flowing black hair down about her shoulders, and the touch of make-up that highlighted her face, he now felt certain of it.

“Well, say something,” Adia said in a sharp tone. “You hate it. It’s too much.”

All three women looked at Nathan, who responded, almost trance-like. “I’ve never seen a more beautiful woman in my entire life.”

Adia smiled widely, and Melinda went over and gave her a hug. “I told you he would love it,” she said in a near squeal.

“I can’t believe I said that out loud,” Nathan mumbled to himself. He was concerned about the comment, overplaying his hand with Adia, and admitting too much of his feelings for her too soon. They’d been friends for some time, and had drawn close since the events in Madison Square Park, but it wasn’t smart to be overly casual with his feelings.

Adia grabbed her things, ready to go, and Nathan shrugged off his uneasiness. What he’d said couldn’t be taken back, and he even if he could, he wasn’t sure he would, because that’s what he felt. As with the other things in his life these days, he would just live with the outcome and roll with it.

Nathan noticed the height difference the shoes made, as Adia now stood taller alongside his six-foot height, but she still ended up well shorter than him. She came up alongside him when her mother stood up and smiled, with her hands pressed together and up to her lips. She said something in Spanish to her daughter, and Melinda snapped a picture with her phone. She then stepped up to Nathan, placed a hand on each of Nathan’s shoulders, and spoke directly to him in Spanish.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” he said then turned to Adia for help.

Melinda spoke up, as Adia had been overtaken emotionally by her mother’s comment. “She said, God granted me such a beautiful daughter. Thank you for saving her from being called to Him too soon.”

Nathan smiled, a little uncomfortable, then nodded and turned to Adia. “Shall we go? We’ll need a cab, with the shoes you’re wearing—you won’t be able to walk far in them. They look nice and elegant, but they can’t be comfy.”

Adia smiled. “I’m all set to go. Thank you for taking me out for my birthday.”

“Anything for you,” Nathan replied as he extended his arm for her to take.

 

Over the course of dinner, Nathan and Adia had the opportunity to get to know one another better. Despite being friendly with one another over the past year, neither knew the other very well, as the time they spent together had generally been quick and casual.

Adia told him about her family, coming to New York City from Puerto Rico, the time she spent in school, and then all about her police training. With a little playful prodding, she also discussed some of her mishaps in prior relationships, as Nathan was aware of a couple of them.

In turn, Nathan told her about his family life. He talked about the death of his mother when he was very young, of his father becoming sick a couple years ago, and ultimately dying as well. He spoke about his decisions to finish school, sell his childhood home, and the ending of his “dating” relationships in favor of the possibility for something serious.

Dessert arrived, and he spoke a little of his friendship with Lisa. Nathan stirred his ice-cream in the tiny dish it came in, and spoke of Cici. Adia looked like a child listening to a wondrous story. His empathy for this woman, otherwise a total stranger off the street, showed that she had also become an important friend.

Just as Nathan finished up his talk of Cici, a loud commotion came from the kitchen area and a loud sound shook the room.

Adia’s training took over and she stood up. The bracelet warmed on Nathan’s wrist. He mentally checked the small insignia on his shirt: Captain Delta.

A fire alarm in the building went off and the sprinklers turned on.

“We have to help clear the restaurant,” Adia yelled, as people milled around in confusion, and then became startled when they got wet.

Nathan said, “Do it. There are apartments upstairs. I’ll go up the back.”

Adia nodded. “Okay, but hurry, and be careful.”

“Don’t follow me upstairs. It’ll be a quick in and out. You’re in heels and you’re not a hundred percent. I know you’re better trained than I am, but please …” Nathan had to yell over the alarm.

Adia stared at him for a moment. Other than commanders at work, she’d never had someone tell her what to do, and the few times she ever did, her instinct was to do whatever she felt at the time. For some reason, coming from Nathan, she wanted to do it.

“I will,” she said and turned to the panicked customers. “PEOPLE! I’m Officer Santiago. NYPD. Please, exit the building. There is an emergency.”

Nathan headed to the floors above the restaurant, where the apartments were. He banged on doors to rouse anyone who might be at home, to get them out of the building and onto the street.

Nathan continued up to each floor and, in short order, arrived on the fifth and final floor of the building. When he rounded the stairwell he looked through the windows facing Second Avenue. He could see down the avenue, and that the fire trucks were on approach. He also looked down to Adia, who helped marshal people to the far side of the street. She looked up at him and yelled, “Hurry! The fire is active.” He marveled that he’d even managed to hear her over all the commotion and through the closed window. He again thought about Captain Delta.

Nathan gave a thumbs-up and ran down the hall. The apartments on the fifth floor were all vacant and undergoing renovations. He double-checked for people by going into the vacant unit, as he knew from his time with Cici that sometimes the homeless would squat in those spaces. Then, as the fire trucks pulled up, he headed back to the window facing Second Avenue. He looked out to Adia, who looked up. He flashed an “OK” gesture when, suddenly, he felt a shimmer around his entire body. A huge explosion rocked the building, which sent a fireball up through the structure, and then it collapsed upon itself.

***

The police on duty reacted and backed everyone up, and the fire trucks also pulled farther back to a better station-keeping position. Utility crews up the street turned off the natural gas main, which immediately dropped the fire down. The only fuel source was now the burning remains of the building.

Adia froze. An officer had to help her out of the street. She continued to stare up towards where the fifth floor used to stand.

More calls went out to raise the alarm to get other units involved.

Jack O’Malley made his way over when he saw Adia in the road.

“Adia? Are you okay?”

She didn’t respond.

“Officer! Status!” Jack yelled, shaking her a little.

Slowly, she drifted her view to Jack and reported in a low voice, “There was a disturbance in the restaurant. The alarms went off. The sprinklers came on. I cleared the dining area and the kitchen. … Nathan.”

“What about Nathan?” Jack asked, frantic.

“He was getting people out of the apartments.” She pointed to the sky, where the fifth floor no longer existed.

Jack let her go and got on the radio. As communications went out over the Police and Fire bands, more and more personnel listened in. The communications went out with additional details and updates, and the message became personal specifically for the police department.

“The Patriot was on scene. The Patriot is missing.”

Officers started to roll with personal vehicles, and through public transport, while additional fire units arrived to suppress the inferno. Some officers arrived almost immediately, and yet more over the half-hour that the fire crews battled the fire. They came dressed in their home work-gear and gloves, coming to help any way they could, and standing by for whatever was needed.

Because of the communications over the emergency channels, news crews clued in to the fact that the Madison Square Park hero had gone missing in a fire emergency, and they headed to the scene in droves.

Adia stood with the rest of the bystanders—partly in shock over what had happened, and partly due to the fact she wasn’t dressed correctly to help, and all she could do was watch. The scene played over and over in her head as she looked up. One minute Nathan was signaling “OK” and the next, fire had erupted in an explosion, and the building, and Nathan, were both gone.

***

On one of the lower floors of the structure, tons of debris trapped Nathan in place. A pocketed area allowed him minimal movement. The only thing protecting him from the weight of the collapsed building, and the heat from the raging fire, was the personal force-field provided from Captain Delta’s powers.

Nathan maneuvered around a little and tried his cell phone. No signal. Likely the force-field, Nathan thought. The same thing protecting me from being crushed and burned is blocking the signal.

Nathan spent several minutes assessing his options. He could blast his way out as part of Captain Delta’s powers, but he’d never be able to do it with enough stealth to not be seen. The fact he’d survived the building collapse would be hard enough to explain. But the more pressing problem was that he’d nearly run out of oxygen. Despite his powers, Captain Delta needed air to breathe. Much less air than a normal human, but the force-field trapped only so much oxygen around his body, and he’d nearly consumed it all. Nathan estimated that he couldn’t lower even a small segment of the force-field to allow in more oxygen, as the fire-heated air would likely burn his lungs.

Water seeped in between the debris. Looks like the fire fighters are putting out the fire. Anything I’m going to do, I need to do quickly. It’s either that or try to telekinetically shift this material around to make a larger debris pocket, and let them find me. That’s provided the air lasts that long and doesn’t force me to take other actions.

As more water poured around him, he continued to try to think of a way to get himself out and onto the street. He debated on how many different sides they might try to work the fire. They were on the corner, so certainly they’d be on Second Avenue and 26th Street. Bellevue South Park was nearby, too, as far as trying to get away, but he doubted he could get all the way there and not be seen. He’d also been all turned around in the debris. I could force my way out, Nathan thought, and maybe I could come up on the back side of the building or near the one next door, if it’s still standing. Damn it, there’s just no way to be sure. I can’t be spotted making my way out on my own. It’s bad enough that I’m going to get out of here without a single injury. Escaping could justify that. I could say I got out before the building dropped. Adia was looking at me, but it would be somewhat easier trying to convince her she didn’t actually see me up in the window.

Nathan decided that time was up, and that he had to do something. The fire crews still worked on putting the fire out, and no way could they mount a rescue of the debris field before he ran out of air.

If I blast my way straight up and out, everyone will see. I might also injure the fire fighters. I don’t think I can go out to the side, to the buildings next door, because I’m not sure which way that even is. Nathan paused for a moment. They would have evacuated the residents. In all directions. If I shift the debris upwards slightly, and then allow the pile to topple, they’ll back the crews up. If I can get my bearings, I can collapse the debris more as I move towards another structure, the building next door… I have to take a guess on which way, but it’s all I can do.

Nathan exerted his muscles, using Captain Delta’s super strength and his telekinetic powers, and moved the debris upward. He then concentrated to add a plank of force-field above his head, and then caused it to expand outward, allowing him to slice through the debris, which made the piles of rubble unstable, and it shifted. He then focused on flight, another of Captain Delta’s powers. He felt himself lift slightly, despite all the weight above him on top of the force-field. As the debris lifted, the piles of rubble also shifted above, and it collapsed around him towards the direction he’d tipped in.

The gas lines are likely shut off by now, Nathan thought. It’s one of the first on scene actions. I’m out of options. I’ll have to risk it and let the fire inspectors explain it away.

In a series of rapid actions, Nathan shoved the debris up and over even more, so they’d raise, tip, and collapse more rapidly. As they were momentarily above and off him, he sent a power blast out forward, hoping it would cut into a building to the south or west and not have him suddenly appear out in the street. He was prepared to keep flying if that was the case. The power blast hit and carved a hole, and Nathan propelled himself through it.

He found himself inside the partly demolished adjacent building, so he stopped flying once totally inside. He could see out on Second Avenue now. His actions had scattered everyone, and dust filled the air, obscuring a lot of the view. He looked around at the damage of the building he stood in. He could see two definitive building types.

The explosion partly damaged this building, and the building collapse from next door added to it. I might be able to say that when the building fell, the upper floors collapsed here, sideways, rather than straight down. There had to be so much chaos that no one is going to be able to correctly recall.

About to head out of the building, Nathan decided that he needed to not come out unscathed. He lowered the force field that protected him, dropped to the ground, and got as dirty as he could. He also made his way over to pieces of debris and intentionally tore his clothes, and scratched his arms and face on the jagged tie rods and brick surfaces. They would look like superficial wounds of just cuts and scrapes, but that would be better than nothing.

After he’d banged himself up as much as he could, with one deep additional cut on his forehead, he staggered outside.

A medic saw him come out and immediately went over. “Hey! I have someone!”

Emergency personnel nearby turned to see what the EMT was calling out about. Across the street, Aida stood and tried to see around the dust and the emergency vehicles. Duty officers tried to hold her back on the opposite sides of the barricades, but Jack let her pass, and the two of them headed over. Once she saw Nathan at the ambulance, she ran over as fast as she could in her heeled shoes.

Radios squawked, “The Patriot has been located; he escaped the second building under his own power,” and the crowd buzzed over the news. People with cell phones snapped pictures, and social media instantly lit up.

“Oh my God, Nathan,” Adia called out as she reached him and grabbed him tightly. He moaned to make it sound like he was sore, but Adia’s strength surprised him. “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re hurt. How did you end up in that building?” She asked as she let go and wiped her eyes quickly.

“I don’t know,” Nathan said, trying to sound confused. “There was an explosion, the floor shifted to one side and I woke up inside that building.” Nathan looked back at the building he’d come out of, at three stories high. “I guess I’m lucky the building collapsed partly to one side.”

Adia looked back at the building where they’d had dinner, and then out to the street where she had her vantage point.

Nathan held a gauze pad to the scrapes on his forehead. “Is something the matter?”

“I watched you from the road. You were in the upper window. The building came almost straight down. I know that other building took on damage, but I could have sworn it was its own collapse damage from structural failure from the explosion, and not debris drop from one building to the other.”

“So you’re saying it happened wrong, and I should have fell straight down and not to the side?” Nathan said, trying to be funny with a slight smile on his face. “I don’t think I’m going to get a do over.”

Adia sniffed, then cried openly. “I thought I saw you collapse downward. I thought you were trapped. I just found you. I thought I lost you.”

Nathan pulled her close and held her. He hadn’t given consideration to any of the consequences that these new powers might have on those closest to him. For him to continue to allow fate and circumstances to drive him, he would have to think some things through.

That would come another day. Right then, making sure Aida was okay and comfortable, was all that mattered.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Lisa made her way to the block where Nathan’s apartment building stood. At the same time, Adia got out of her squad car. She leaned in to say something to her partner, and then made her way across, and at that point noticed Lisa also.

“Fancy running into you here,” Lisa said politely, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“It’s not that fancy at all,” Adia replied in cool tones. “To be blunt about it, I haven’t been able to reach Nathan at all since the weekend, and I’m concerned about his well-being.”

“So you’re here in an official capacity?” Lisa said, as they both turned toward the entrance of the building.

Aida gave her a sharp look. “No, this isn’t a welfare check. Nathan is my friend as well. Maybe a little more so. We haven’t had a full chance to see where all that might go. Regardless, we are both here because we’re concerned, I presume. Let’s go find out what’s going on.” Adia hit the buzzer for his unit.

Lisa stayed quiet for a moment, until the door buzzed and they both stepped through. “Work let him go,” she said quietly. “It’s not that he wasn’t working—he was doing well. It was all the distraction from the press. First Madison Square Park, and now this past Saturday. They were unable to find a decent way to address the disruption to the work environment.”

Adia grinned with a small hint of sarcasm. “Oh, wait until social media gets a hold of that. They’ll have a field day with it.”

The two stepped into the elevators and Lisa continued. “They were all hush-hush about it there, but the way it was described to me was that it was a mutual decision. He had to agree to some terms, but then so did they.”

“What the hell? What’s he going to do for work?” Aida asked as the elevator stopped on Nathan’s floor and the two of them stepped out.

“I don’t know. That’s partly why I’m here,” Lisa said. “I need to know if my friend is okay, and I can’t reach him anywhere. Phone, email, text, social media, you name it. I’m worried.”

The two said nothing further as they stepped out of the elevator and approached Nathan’s apartment. The door to the apartment stood open just slightly. Lisa opened it ahead of Adia, and they both stepped in.

Nathan looked over from the single seat in the living room. Adia closed the door behind her and noticed a packed bag near the door.

Lisa walked over, reached down to hug her friend, and then sat on the couch. Adia followed behind at a slower pace.

“Hi Nathan,” Adia said, cautious. “I guess it’s just easiest for me to come right out and say I was really worried about you. I hadn’t heard from you since our dinner, but then I figured you might need a day or two to absorb another short hospital stay.” Adia took a seat at the far end of the couch and continued. “I went down right after my shift on Sunday and heard you had released yourself and were gone. I thought about coming by, but I figured I’d let you rest. On Monday, I called you late in the day but there was no answer. Last night, I am not so proud to say, I patrolled by and checked your apartment from the ground. I saw lights, and then later didn’t, so I figured you were home and then asleep. I called you earlier and you didn’t answer then, or my texts, so here I am in the middle of my shift.”

“I’m sorry I worried you. Both of you. That wasn’t my intent. I’ve had so much happen since Sunday in the hospital. Some of it I don’t even know how to discuss.”

Lisa smiled, leaned over, and touched his leg. “We’re you’re friends. You can count on us for anything. Talk to us.”

Adia leaned back. She wasn’t exactly sure if she should take Lisa’s genuine response at face value, but decided to for the time being. She wasn’t used to a non-adversarial situation with another woman when a man was involved, and her feelings for Nathan were strong. So much, in fact, that it had caught her off guard.

“If you’re not sure where to start, how about work? What happened?” Lisa asked.

“Well,” Nathan said, as he eased up from the chair and walked over towards the windows. “Basically, with all the interruptions from the media trying to make appointments it became a work disruption; my own work that I needed to do and the work of others. The firm is small enough for it to have an overall impact. They already went through this before, with the Madison Square Park event, so they measured this event against that one and it was a bigger deal and more of a problem.”

“They legally couldn’t do that—just let you go like that,” Adia replied.

“No, not just from this.” Nathan walked behind the couch. “But they could make an ongoing case. Co-workers could complain they feel there’s favoritism because I’m this sudden minor celebrity. Some could argue they feel unsafe at work, and that I’m a retribution target for a whack job trying to get into the news. They could measure the amount of work that’s not getting done due to the interruptions and so on.”

“So what’d they do? Just fire you outright? What are you going to do?” Lisa asked.

“Well,” Nathan said, flushing a little. “I was upset at first, but decided to be responsible about it and take the blame. I also considered the fact that with the sale of my father’s home, and the fact that I didn’t use the cash for anything, I am basically sitting on five years’ worth of salary anyway. If I needed to let things fall, I could.”

“It sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere,” Adia said, then stood briefly and adjusted her gun belt, and then returned to sit.

Nathan smiled, but then cleared his expression. “Their HR person just chafed me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but she acted like the company was doing me the favor of letting me go, when it was just the opposite. I could have stayed for six months or so, and forced them to spend time, money, and effort making their case, and then they’d try to discharge me with cause and whatever argument they came up with. Instead, they offered me my vacation and a couple of weeks’ severance, so basically a month of salary, and they continued it for one more week to take it to the end of the year. They offered to carry my health insurance that long too. It was the way they came across, or more so, the way she did. Like they were doing me a favor or something. It just rubbed me the wrong way.”

Nathan sighed and looked away for a moment. “It’s like I said, though, I was all set to give up, own it, and give them my signature. Then I thought about it and the HR reps’ demeanor and I started to ask a few questions about working in the same field, and if I could call on them for a reference because the parting was agreed to and so forth.” He paused again, and went off topic a little as he turned to look at Adia. “I remember when I got the final face-to-face interview and they extended the offer to me. I was in the only business suit I owned. The gray one, and it was a tad wrinkled. I was up on the observation deck of the building. They wanted an answer from me before I left. It was a final offer and I was so happy to have it. I remember looking out over the city and thinking, ‘It’s all beginning; the whole city is there for me to leverage however I can, and it all starts with an opportunity. This one.’ I couldn’t believe where I’d found myself.”

Nathan moved about the room again, more animated. Lisa looked at Adia quickly, and then back to him. It was a rare occasion when Nathan got upset and riled up about anything.

“So, anyway, where was I? I’m almost ready to sign, but then she got, I guess you might call it, tactically belligerent. Basically it was like ‘we’re doing all we are going to do here, so sign.’ Something about that just set me off, so I told the HR rep to let Mr. Brumfield know that I wasn’t going to sign off and agree to the separation. I would do my job until they could build a case to fault me. Then I added, ‘if you think there’s been a lot of press around here, wait until I tell the press I am being let go because I am a human interest story and the firm didn’t want to deal with it and they fired me. See if you like the negative press over the positive press you’re receiving with my name in the news on and off for the past month.’ … They’ve given them a ton of free, positive press because I work there.”

Adia smiled and looked back at him, “How did they handle that?”

“Their lawyer decided it was time for a break,” Nathan said with a slight smirk. “What they came back with, I can’t legally discuss, but the math would be correct if I were to say I had to sign a non-disclosure, non-compete agreement, ‘ten times’ over.”

Lisa and Adia looked at one another, as they both read between the lines.

Nathan came back around and sat down. “It was never my intent to try to pressure them into something larger. I just didn’t want to be unfairly punished by them for doing something civic and responsible outside of work. Yes, I realize what happened was out of the ordinary, but they should realize that too. They could have hampered some of the press access. At first, they enjoyed it. As I mentioned, once it became an HR issue with other employees and then a possible safety issue, only then did they want it to back off, but it’d already taken on a life of its own.”

Adia looked back over to the bags near the door. “Are you planning a trip?” She motioned over towards them. “I noticed them on the way in,” she said, softening her voice.

Lisa hadn’t noticed them when she walked in.

“Yes,” Nathan said quietly, looking down and away from the two of them. “A lot has happened. Some of the things you know. I lost my job, obviously. You both know about Madison Square Park, and the other day on Second Avenue. Neither of you know about two other incidents—although, Adia, you saw me come out of the subway for one of them.”

Adia recalled the event and said nothing. She thought about that day and the reports. “You were the man in the subway,” she said, wide eyed with surprise. At that point, he looked up at them, but mostly at her. “You went outside the car that was on fire. You grounded the electrical system manually. No one could figure out who did it or how. The eyewitness reports all described a man about your age, but when we questioned people at the other station, no one could identify you. You came out of the next station.” Adia stopped for a minute and stood. “I thought you were in that station boarding or disembarking late, on the final train through. You came up the tracks.”

Nathan said nothing for a moment, and was about to speak when Lisa chimed in. “You were the one who stopped the box truck in the construction site. On the news a few weeks back. Everyone said it was a miracle no one was injured. That was you.”

Nathan nodded and looked down. “Yes.”

“Is it something with the bracelet?” Lisa asked. He looked up at Adia, who was confused. “She doesn’t know?” Lisa asked.

“Doesn’t know what?” Adia said, angry.

“No, I didn’t speak with her about any of it. I told you nothing further, Lisa, because I feel like you already know perhaps more than you should, and I don’t want to endanger either of you with what’s going on.”

“And what about yourself? You’re not impervious to harm,” Adia said, more frustrated.

“No, not all the time,” Nathan said coolly, with a tight smile on his face.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Lisa asked in a serious tone.

“I need more answers myself. I can’t explain everything right now. There are days like Madison Square Park where it’s just ‘all me;’ it’s how and why I ended up injured. Lisa, it’s why with the little girl and the car, she was hit and killed. I had no ability to act and do anything. At the same time, under other circumstances, it’s why I was able to ground a train and escape a building collapse.” Nathan stood and looked at them both. They got out of their seats as well. “Like I said, I don’t understand everything. It’s part of the reason I’m going away this weekend. I feel like I’m being called home. So I’m going to follow where my instinct is telling me to go.”

“Home,” Lisa said. “Back to Connecticut? There’s nothing left for you there. Your family is gone. We’re your family now.”

“I know. And yet I can feel myself being called home. I have to go,” Nathan said softly.

“For how long?” Adia asked as she walked around the couch and towards the door, stopping just short of exiting.

“I honestly don’t know. Until I get the answers I’m looking for. I don’t have a job keeping me bound here anymore.”

Lisa closed her eyes as the words finished rolling off Nathan’s lips.

Adia stepped toward him, just slightly. “Well, I’m glad that you’re now relieved of the only thing holding you to the city. Travel safe.” She didn’t wait for a response, but turned and headed out the door.

***

Lisa looked over at Nathan. “Well, that could have gone better.”

“Why is it that women tend to take something that can be meant more than one way and automatically assume it to be the worst of possible meanings or outcomes?”

Lisa shrugged. “Years of disappointment, I guess.”

“Women don’t have a full claim on that; disappointment goes both ways,” Nathan said, visibly upset. “Should I go after her?”

Lisa paused for a second. She had an opportunity to give a self-serving answer if she wanted to. “I would stall for a minute at the elevator to see if you came out,” she said.

Nathan dashed from the apartment, and caught Adia at the elevator before the doors closed all the way. When they opened back up, he took her by the hand and led her back out to the common area outside the elevator.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.”

“Nathan, when were you going to tell me you were leaving? After you left? What if you don’t come back for whatever reason, good or bad? I might not ever know what happened to you.”

Nathan understood a little better why she was upset. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I only thought about this urge to do this task, and not how it might have affected you. I have tunnel vision on it.”

***

Adia said nothing, but looked up into his eyes. Emotion overcame her, and she hated feeling that way—that feeling of being out of control. She relished the strength she felt being in her police uniform … like she could do anything.

Nathan took his hands and touched her on both sides of her face. “I’m sorry. I should have discussed it more with you. I can really go at any point. Can you stop by after your shift is over?”

“Yes,” she replied softly, completely overcome by the way he held her. “It will be late; my shift isn’t over until midnight.”

“I can wait, I can take the last train out of Grand Central or I can leave in the morning. What I am doing isn’t time sensitive.”

“What are you doing?”

“I honestly don’t know. I have this urge to go home. So I’m going. The last time I fought an urge, a little girl died. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but I grounded a train and saved people. Had I not resisted that urge and done something different, an action that I know forced fate to take a different course, that outcome would have been different.”

“I’m not clear on everything, Nathan, but you can’t save everyone,” Adia said in a slightly worried tone, as she took his hands down from her face and held them.

“I know that, but something’s changed. I know I cannot save everyone but I feel like I’m meant to save some. I’m meant to interject and intervene. I know it sounds self-centered and arrogant, but I have to figure it out. Something called you to be a police officer. I don’t know what’s calling me, but I have to answer.”

Adia only nodded. She didn’t know what else to say. She was also aware that her partner had squawked her twice now. She grabbed the radio to signal she was on her way down, “10 – 12, on my way.” She’d barely gotten her radio back into place when Nathan kissed her deeply. She responded, kissing him back and falling into him.

Nathan stopped and pulled back to look at her. “I meant to give you that on Saturday night, but I got a little blown up.”

Adia smiled and pressed the elevator button to call the car. “It was nice. I was hoping that was dessert.”

“Well, I had ice-cream,” Nathan said with a chuckle.

The elevator car arrived, and Adia leaned to whisper into his ear, “I’m ten times better, and zero calories.”

Nathan said nothing in response, as she kissed his cheek, and then backed into the elevator with a smile.

“I’ll expect you for after midnight,” Nathan said as the doors slid closed.

***

He stood there for a moment and watched the car descend to the lower floors, and then turned to head back to his apartment where Lisa still waited.

He walked back in to see her gazing out of the window, near his kitchen table. She turned her head, and then looked back out the window as he closed the door.

“So, you never told her anything about the bracelet?” Lisa asked, without looking back.

“No,” Nathan said in a firm voice. “To be honest, if you hadn’t seen certain things yourself, I probably wouldn’t have said anything to you, either.”

“Why not?” Lisa turned her attention back into the room and looked at him. “You know you can trust me implicitly.”

“I know, it’s not a matter of trusting you or not.” Nathan walked into the small kitchen area. “Look, I’m a big enough comic book—slash—superhero fan to know how dangerous it is when someone has something someone else wants. Be it power, or money, or prestige, or whatever. I don’t know everything this bracelet does, but you’ve seen what you’ve seen and that’s a lot. There’s more. A lot more. It’s all connected. I have to find out the rest. I feel like I’m being called home to find out more about it. But I feel like I can’t involve you or Adia. And it’s about your safety, not about any lack of trust.”

Lisa thought about what Nathan said, and then responded after a moment, “I’ll trust you on that, but I’ll also expect that if you need us, you come find us. Even if you can’t explain all of it. No man is an island. You’ll need to lean. You have people waiting—wanting to help you.”

Nathan smiled and said, “I know. Thank you.”

Lisa stayed for a bit longer with him, but the two said little else to one another. She didn’t know what to say and Nathan wasn’t sharing all that much.

 

Nathan woke to the sound of his door buzzer. As often as he heard it, it would startle him once in a while when he was wide-awake, let alone when he dozed off on the couch. He got up and went over to the phone, “Yes?” he asked as he pushed the intercom button.

“It’s Adia; can you buzz me up?”

Nathan didn’t hesitate and buzzed her in. He glanced over at the clock: 2:30. He unlatched the door and walked away from it. Aida must have gotten hung up at work or something. But she said she’d stop by and she did. He’d just take off in the morning, instead. Nathan stepped back into the living room, scratched at his hair, and got his bearings. It would be too late to catch a train back to Connecticut now, and he’d rather rest up. He could chat with Adia, sleep some more, and leave later that morning.

Adia edged open the apartment door, and then walked in. She placed a small travel bag near Nathan’s on the floor.

“What’s that?” Nathan asked, pointing to the bag.

“It’s my travel bag,” Adia said, looking over at Nathan for his response. He opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “This isn’t a negotiation. I have my regular two days off, and I asked for three vacation days. I have them to use and I’m not going anywhere else anyway, so I have them to burn.”

Nathan was a little unsure of what to say, and that bothered him. He prided himself on always being able to respond and follow up on most things quickly in general, but he acknowledged that Adia always seemed to find ways to knock him off balance.

“I have no idea what I’m doing, or really where I’m going for that matter, other than back home, at least as a start,” Nathan responded finally. “It’s like I said earlier, I instinctively, for lack of a better term, feel like I need to head home, and I am. I don’t know why, what for, what I’ll find, or where I’ll go next.”

“I know.” Adia closed and locked the door to his apartment. “I have this time, and I decided this is how I’m going to use it. Spending it with you. Unraveling your mystery, with you. It’s important to you. You’re important to me. With that, this is important to me, too.”

“And what if I end up with more questions than answers?” Nathan asked her solemnly. “What if I end up needing to travel farther or for more than your allotted time off?”

“Those are critical questions,” she said, walking away from the door and coming closer to Nathan. “I can’t answer those yet, either. I suppose if it takes more time than I have off, then perhaps I need to come back on my own and get back to work and my life here.” She stepped into Nathan’s personal space. “At the same time, my life here, it won’t be the same without you now that you’re in it. So, perhaps I make another decision. Those answers will come as time reveals some of the details.”

Adia put her arms around Nathan’s neck and pulled herself into him.

“Tonight is for revealing other things.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The sounds of the city filled Nathan’s ears as he awoke slowly. Quickly, he became aware of Adia lying next to him, as his senses acknowledged the warmth of her body against his.

Nathan moved a little to reposition himself and Adia moved closer while still fast asleep. He lifted his head just slightly to see the digital clock on the dresser as it turned to 7:31.

Nathan’s thoughts were all over the place as he lay in the bed. It was comforting to lay there with her and that made it so that he didn’t want to get up. Technically I don’t have to, I can catch any train, Nathan thought with a smile.

Nathan spent close to the next half-hour lying there with her, just enjoying the warmth of her body next to his and how it made him feel. His thoughts would drift to just how much had changed in his life recently. From the day the Baxter—Zephram comet arrived and Cici died, everything had changed so radically and in so many inexplicable ways for him. Despite all of those changes and the situations around them, he’d managed to handle and address them quite well. It felt surreal to him at times. There’s no other way to address the supernatural. Boy, Dad, if you could see me now and what I’m managing. It would exceed your biggest expectations.

As the clock ticked past eight o’clock, a smidge of uneasiness came over him. As if he needed to get up and begin his travels. Nathan took in the feeling and decided again he would not resist an urge, as it had consequences in the past, so he got out of bed to head for the shower.

***

Adia peeked her eyes open as Nathan walked away in his birthday suit. She smiled at the rear view she enjoyed while he disappeared into the bathroom. She lay in the bed quietly for a few moments, listing to him rattle about the bathroom. Her thoughts drifted back to the end of the evening and how the night unfolded, which left her in the warm hold of the man she’d fallen in love with. Once she heard the shower start, she eased out of bed and made her way into the bathroom.

The shower curtain waved slightly against the motion of the water and Nathan’s movements. Adia set her hands on her stomach and took a step toward the shower, but then the copper bracelet on the sink drew her attention. She’d seen it on Nathan’s wrist, but this was the first time she’d ever seen it off him since he’d started to wear it.

She wanted to get a closer look and began to reach over for it. As her hand neared the bracelet, she had an instinctive urge to back away, which she didn’t ignore. She instead lowered her face closer to get a better look, rather than touch it. At close range it seemed like a plain band of copper. She lifted her hand to pick it up and examine it, and again felt overwhelmed with the urge to back away. She stood upright, slightly confused by the feelings.

The sound of Nathan dropping a bottle of shampoo startled her, turning her attention away from the bracelet and towards the shower. She drew the far side of the curtain back and climbed in.

Nathan said nothing at first and just looked at her up and down as she got in and closed the curtain. Then, as he put his head back under the water, he smiled. “I never took you as an environmental,” he said lightly as he ran his fingers through his hair to take out the remaining shampoo.

Adia just looked at his wet body and stepped in right against him. “Conserving the water wasn’t the main draw, but it’s a nice fringe benefit.” She wrapped her arms around him and drew him down for a kiss.

***

The water cascaded over the two of them while they kissed. Nathan realized he was getting excited and had no protection with him in the shower, so he backed off. Adia turned up the heat on him by running her hands down the length of his back and past his backside.

Nathan pulled away a little. “We have to stop.”

“No, we don’t. And I don’t want you to,” Adia responded in a short pant.

Nathan felt fully stimulated, but as much as he wanted to remain in the shower with her, he was under the feeling that he really needed to get going. He had no easy way to explain the feeling to Adia. At the same time, he presumed she would see it as a rejection.

“We have a long train ride ahead of us,” Nathan said, kissed her deeply, and then backed away again. “I’d like to save something to look forward to at the end of the day.”

“Why can’t I have you now and then again at the end of the day?” Adia said, pulling him by the hips into her and grinding.

Nathan had a difficult time keeping his stance; everything about her enticed and allured. She kissed him again, passionately. Nathan allowed her to finish then kissed her lightly and moved her away in a slight spinning motion. He smiled as he broke away in the changed position to exit the shower. “You are so seductive. Probably used to getting your way too,” he said as he watched Adia run her hands around her neck and down the front of her body. Nathan watched every inch of movement until her hands stopped at her upper thighs, and then she allowed them to drift to center.

“I am used to getting my way,” she said sensually, but then allowed her tone to turn more serious. “I spend a lot of my waking hours following orders, under high pressure, and maxed out ‘on the edge’ of whatever a given situation is. When it’s time for me to unwind, I fully unwind. It has meaning. It’s not a casual thing.”

“I know. That’s what has my attention.” Nathan’s smile grew wider.

Adia grinned, and then began to clean up.

***

Nathan looked out of the windows of the M8 train car as it rolled out of West Haven station and towards New Haven. Adia had fallen asleep on his shoulder and stirred slightly.

It had been quite some time since Nathan had been back home. With his father gone and the estate resolved, he had little reason to go back to Wallingford at all, but that was where he felt compelled to travel.

He thought about some of the conversation he’d had with Adia until she began to nod off somewhere around Stamford. … About growing up in a large town and having many friends. All the things he did, with them and with his father until he became ill, and how the end finally came. Adia listened intently for a while and was interested in his life. She resisted the urge to fall asleep, but in the end succumbed, and Nathan let his voice trail away, happy in the knowledge that she trusted him enough to fall asleep in his arms.

The train stopped in New Haven, and while the other passengers exited, Nathan took their two carry-on bags down off the overhead rack, and then they made their way off the train towards the car rental pick up.

“So now you know about as much as anyone does about me,” Nathan said. “No more mystery, so I am sure you’ll get bored of me now.”

“Oh I don’t think so. There’s more to you, even still, than meets the eye. I’m not going anywhere until I see it all,” Adia said lightheartedly. “And even then, at least at this point, I don’t see myself going anywhere.”

It took a nearly minute for Nathan to fully appreciate the side of Adia that he was seeing. It felt totally different than her “officer” persona, and he found it interesting and refreshing. As tough a cop as she was, and as head strong as her heritage governed, she was ultimately a soft, sensual woman, with a surprising depth to her.

They walked together the rest of the way to the rental car pick up. When they got to the car, Nathan loaded the bags into the trunk then the two of them headed onto Interstate 91 towards Wallingford.

***

Adia initially looked about the highway as they traveled, but soon noticed how quiet Nathan was, and how the demeanor of his face changed as they got closer and closer to the town line. He fiddled more consistently with his copper bracelet as they got closer to town. She recalled Nathan’s story about how Cici had put it on him just before she flat-lined and he passed out, that fateful day. She surmised that all of this had come back to him now, while they got closer to the hometown where his father was buried. Instinctively, she reached over, took his right hand, and held it. Nathan smiled and his nervousness seemed to fade to the background as they exited the highway.

Nathan turned the car northbound at the end of the long exit ramp labeled “13” and headed up Route 5.

“I thought you said you took a hotel on Route 68. Why wouldn’t we keep on the highway to exit 15?” Adia asked as she looked around at the businesses that lined the passenger side of the road.

Almost as if he’d come out of a daze, Nathan looked around at where he was driving. “Thirteen was always my exit,” he said with a light shrug. “Old habits, I guess. As long as we’re in the wrong place, I suppose we can stop downtown and grab something to eat.”

Adia nodded, and they traveled to where Center Street intersected South and North Colony roads. She felt a little concerned at the comment. Despite his defense, she had never known Nathan to slip on a detail. When the traffic signal cycled through the intersection, Nathan turned the car right onto Center Street and parked along the Center Street Cemetery wall.

Adia looked out the driver’s-side window and the windshield at the small stores and shops. They paralleled the storefronts on any of the streets of New York City, but they fit more appropriately with this large town over the large population of the city.

“How many people did you say live here?” Adia asked as she opened up the passenger door.

“Just about 47,000; at least that’s what it was when I left. When my Dad was here as a kid, I think he said it was in the low thirty thousands. It’s not designated a city like Meriden, to the north, which has just about 60,000 residents, but it’s not a small Connecticut town either. It’s one of the larger ones.” Nathan got out of the car and stepped around to the passenger side. He stood for a moment and looked at Adia.

She looked up the entire length of the block, which seemed to be mainly three blocks compared to the north side of the street. The large cemetery wall ran the whole length up and around the corners at each end.

Nathan turned his view away from Adia and raised his hand slowly and touched the cemetery wall.

“Is everything okay?” Adia asked.

Nathan responded in a hushed tone, “I haven’t been back here, to Center Street, since the day we buried my father.”

“I’m sorry,” Adia said as reassuringly as she could. She took a quick peek over the wall as best she could by stepping back a little. “It seems like an old cemetery; like the ones that buried people from the 1800s and then were closed,” she said, hoping to distract Nathan a little from the way he felt.

It partly worked, because Nathan turned and faced Adia again, and became a little more animated as he responded. He enjoyed when he had the opportunity to share something about Wallingford with someone new. “The Center Street Cemetery has been the free public burying ground of the Town of Wallingford since the town was established in 1670. It’s true that many of the people buried beyond the walls here were the ones that laid the original foundations for the present day town, but anyone who’s a resident for at least one year can still be buried here, regardless of nationality, race, and religious belief. If it’s their desire to be laid to rest here, it’s done at no cost, for the plot anyway. The burial costs, the families have to pay.”

Nathan turned away again, reached up, and placed his right hand on the stone and masonry wall. “Many of the citizens of Wallingford fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and so on, and were buried here too, if that was the wish of the families.”

As the words rolled off his lips, he rotated his head to the right where the driveway entrance to the cemetery lay. Adia watched him intently, and his behavior shifted from what she’d initially viewed as vulnerable and sentimental to something different.

A small glint of blue light refracted off Nathan’s copper bracelet and he dropped his hand from the wall. Clearly visible to Adia, the refraction surprised her, because she’d looked at the sun and didn’t think its position would have allowed for that. Nathan turned to walk to the entrance of the cemetery and Adia followed him and said nothing.

Part of the way across the cemetery, a man stood observing a gravestone. Nathan made his way over towards him at a slow but steady pace.

Adia looked in the same direction, to the empty area of headstones. She again looked at Nathan, who seemed to be staring at one particular headstone. She assumed it to be the resting place of his father. She reached in for his hand. The second she touched him, the man came into her view a few yards ahead of her.

She gasped, startled by the figure’s sudden appearance, and nearly let go, but Nathan’s reaction was to grab on. Calm, he turned to her and pointed to the small “The Reaper” symbol on his polo shirt, with almost no additional emotion as the man turned around.

“Hi Dad,” Nathan said, still calm.

“Hello son,” the man responded in kind.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Adia’s head spun. She tried to understand everything that transpired, but about all she could process was that somehow, a man who hadn’t been in front of her a moment ago, had suddenly appeared out of thin air and was the deceased Brian Devron.

Nathan stood in the pathway between the graves, holding Aida’s hand as his father turned to face him fully.

“I don’t know where to start. I never thought I would have the ability to ever communicate with you again,” Nathan said to his father, who said nothing in response. A moment passed before a look of comprehension overtook Nathan. “Of course,” he said, raising his free hand in a slapping to the forehead motion. “The spirits arrive and can only answer questions. They can’t answer all of them and are otherwise mute. They are a partial shell of the person who left this plane of existence.” He turned to Adia, as if continuing to finish an explanation to her, which was as much a confirmation to himself that he understood what was going on. “The soul of the person has moved on, but the essence is still partly here, accessible to The Reaper’s powers.”

Adia struggled to understand what Nathan was talking about. She knew of the anti-hero, The Reaper, but only in name. She was somewhat familiar with some of the details with the better-known heroes of the comics, like Captain Delta and Miss Liberty. But she didn’t understand the correlation of any of that to what she was witnessing.

“So I don’t suppose there’s any way to speak to Mom, too. I doubt this situation is ever going to happen again,” Nathan said as he turned his attention back to the apparition.

“Far too much time since her passing has occurred for any remnant of her to still be tied to this realm.”

Nathan nodded in understanding.

“Why are you here, Dad? The spirits tend to linger and be available to The Reaper only when there’s unfinished business that needs to be addressed, or something that needs to be communicated.”

“That’s correct. I’m here because the full and true soul of Brian Devron needed to tell you how proud he was of not only what you had become on your own, but to also tell you that the tasks to be laid out before you will place you at great peril. Despite the peril, he wanted you to know that he was confident you would rise to the occasion. He is concerned for your safety, but he also knows this must occur.”

Nathan shuffled his feet as he tried to deal with the weight of the words. They echoed in sentiment with what Cici had said to him at the moment of her passing. “Even The Fates cannot predict the future according to the lore I reviewed.” Nathan responded. “Mankind’s free will causes such randomness that even they cannot see all outcomes.”

“This is true,” the apparition of Brian Devron said and took a step closer to the two of them. “However, the path you are on is clearly set. This much can be seen.”

“And what is that path?” Nathan asked.

The apparition said nothing.

“Why is he just standing there as if he couldn’t hear you?” Adia whispered.

“If the spirit cannot answer the question, it just doesn’t respond. If you continue into a line of questioning it cannot respond to, it will ‘flicker on and off’ like a bad T.V. signal. Enough of that can cause the spirit to leave the area. It’s the nature of their fragile temporary existence in our realm—the world of the living. They want to be here to communicate what they feel they need to, but are bound to the laws between the planes of existence to not reveal too much of the potential future. They aren’t supposed to change the intended course of the living or directly influence it.”

***

He looked at Adia, who seemed to be processing things fairly well on the surface, but he could tell she’d become confused. “Think of it like an animated speed limit sign,” Nathan said, trying to break it down more for her. “The animated sign can say ‘the maximum speed limit is fifty-five,’ guiding you to what maximum speed you should go, but it can’t say ‘there is a speed trap ahead’ and cause you to not go seventy where you otherwise might under free will. The spirits that try, run the risk of disruption and being blown out of continuity, rather than slow dissipation.”

Nathan turned back towards the apparition and continued, “What is this path I’m on? And what are these tasks set out before me?”

“I cannot answer this,” the specter said. “But The Watcher can.” The embodiment of Brian Devron pointed behind the two of them, where a young woman approached up the walkway.

Nathan focused his eyes. The woman looked to be about his height, and wore an elegant and flowing golden dress that seemed to absorb and amplify the sunlight that streamed through it. He continued to focus on the woman. Her young face looked familiar, but he had trouble accepting whom it looked like.

“Cici?” Nathan finally asked, as the phantom stopped short of them.

The woman smiled. “I was concerned that coming as the younger version of myself, not so beaten by the elements and the ravages of time, would make it so you would not recognize me. I am pleased to see that your soul was as I saw it, so genuine that it sees things as they are, beneath the surface and where it matters.” Cici stepped to one side in front of Adia. “Adia Santiago. Interesting. I am surprised. Little surprises me.”

“I don’t understand,” Adia responded, partly to Cici but also to Nathan. “How have I surprised you?”

Cici smiled and addressed them both. “I am a Watcher. I am one of the few born into each generation. Charged to observe the ebb and flow of mankind. We are meant to witness and not interfere, with the exception of when The Fates or the gods demand; neither of who wants to directly meddle in the affairs or free will of mankind. For the most part. When the scales of balance fall too far out of alignment too often, we are then tasked to find indirect ways, through people, to restore, if not balance and parity, then at least the return swing towards it.”

“Why are you able to discuss with us in a freer flowing manner than the remnant spirit of my father?” Nathan asked, then turned to see his father’s ghost standing and listening.

Nathan was unaccustomed to hearing Cici speak so softly and with such a clear voice that it almost sounded like a child singing. He’d grown accustomed to the rough and abrasive sound of her gritty verbalization of random words and sentences. Hearing her speak clearly and definitively, in the soft female voice that she now had, was a huge departure from what he’d come to know as normal.

“I am bound to a different set of rules when I’m on this plane of existence. My entire soul is here in this embodiment, rather than a lingering remnant.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Adia asked.

Cici smiled. “While I am a Watcher and tend to see much, I do not see everything. Nathan stated it earlier: the free will of mankind does tend to make for gray areas. I did not see Nathan on a path with you. I saw him on a path with Lisa Cooper.”

Nathan and Adia looked at one another. Nathan then turned and looked back to Cici. “Why shouldn’t I be with Adia?”

Cici raised her hand slowly. “This area has been affected by a change from free will. It does become clearer. While it is evolving, I will not discuss it.”

“Fair enough,” Nathan said. “What happened to me? What did you do to me the day you died? My whole life turned upside down.”

Cici’s body morphed into the tattered, worn down form of the bag lady they both knew, which was much more slight in stature and hunched over. “Another charge of the Watchers is to keep the Talisman of the gods.” Cici’s old shaky hand reached over to Nathan’s. Upon reaching it and taking it, she became the younger version of Cici again. “In times gone by, when the pendulum swung too far, or too often, or too radically, the gods would restore the balance.”

“Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Ares, Athena…” Nathan murmured.

“And Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, and Hephaestus,” Cici finished. “Their powers are at their height on Mount Olympus, but when mankind worshiped them and prayed to them, the gods could very successfully channel their energies from Mount Olympus through Mother Earth for their use in this realm when they were here.”

Cici grew quiet for a moment and looked up to the heavens.

“I know of only one God,” Adia exclaimed, agitated at the discussion of false gods.

“This is true, child,” Cici said, turning her attention back to them. “There is only one total Creator. The Greek gods are powerful beings from another realm of existence. When they spent their time here, from a time in history before the one true God became known, they were worshiped as gods, and that allowed them to exist the way they did.”

“I thought you said the gods don’t like to directly intervene,” Nathan said.

“This is more of the way they exist today,” Cici said, as she again seemed to absorb the sunlight and redistribute it. “When the son of the one true God came, more and more people cast aside the false gods. Despite being cast aside, these beings still loved and cared for mankind. Because the people no longer worshiped them, their ability to funnel and channel their extraordinary powers in this plane of existence waned and they retreated to Mount Olympus.”

Nathan held Adia’s hand a little more tightly. “Okay. So what does all of this have to do with me?”

“While the gods cannot easily intervene directly anymore, they still do, very infrequently. Some are of the opinion that the one true God is too allowing of mankind’s free will and too absent a deity, which sends Earth and her people in and out of too much chaos. Since their powers here are greatly diminished, they created a way for special people, when the need is great enough and the correct person is found, to do for them. As a proxy, if you will. Sometimes these were true demi-gods born of man and god, and other times they were just heroes. I’m sure the names Heracles and Perseus are familiar to you.”

“All that power,” Adia said quietly, beginning to understand the gravity of everything. “If the wrong person was chosen, that could go horribly wrong for mankind.”

“That has occurred,” Cici exclaimed with a sigh. “It is why, once the error was rectified, that millennia have come and gone without a new hero or any other type of intervention by the gods. Until now.”

Cici looked at Nathan, smiled, and reached over to touch the bracelet.

“Is that you?” Adia asked. “Is that how you were able to save all of us at Madison Square Park?”

Nathan opened his mouth to begin an explanation, but Cici interrupted. “Interestingly enough, Athena blocked the power of the talisman that day. It was her test. To rob Nathan of any special abilities to see if he would still take action, and risk himself for the sake of others.”

Nathan nodded. “It was just me that day. It’s why I couldn’t actually channel the powers of The Patriot and it was simply me. No real combat skills. No super strength and agility. Just me.”

“And the night of the fire and building collapse?” Adia asked.

“Captain Delta. I was at the top floor and the building did come straight down,” Nathan said quietly, as he could see Adia getting annoyed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be honest with you.” Nathan moved so he stood in front of her and held both her hands. “What could I tell you that you would believe? It’s happening to me and I barely believe it. I’m still struggling with this. It’s an awesome and frightening responsibility. I figured it made sense to keep it quiet from you until I needed to, or until it came out on its own.”

“Does Lisa know?” Adia asked with a bit of jealousy in her voice.

“She only knows about the bracelet and some of the characteristics. Nothing else,” Nathan said, then turned his attention back to Cici. “Speaking of which, why the bracelet? And why a tie into superheroes?”

Cici turned so more of the sun was to her back. “The gods needed to be convinced by Hera and Zeus to do this. So much time has gone by. Mankind has long abandoned them. They all grew weary and worried that another Champion like Ahzeem Ama, the last bearer of the talisman, who had become corrupted by the powers, would be more than they all could bear. That is why Athena tested you. Aphrodite inquired to Hermes if he planned to. She had some doubts. He did not. You have won the three of them over already. The others are coming around.”

Cici turned and approached Nathan’s father and stood next to him for a moment. “When it came time for me to leave this plane of existence, I needed to pass on the talisman to the next Watcher, or assign it. I chose to assign it to you. It is time for some restoration of hope. You will be that hope. The gods wanted ways to control and shut down the powers, so they set them through the incantation to only be available in times of dire need. They are not supposed to interfere, but as you saw at Madison Square Park, they do.”

“What of the small girl that died?” Nathan asked, feeling bitter and partially expecting the answer he already knew. “I was right there. I could have saved her.”

“You used free will to change what you wore that day,” Cici said in a soft voice. “The talisman had nothing to interact with. There were no powers to bestow. It was an unfortunate situation, but it isn’t as though the talisman came with a set of instructions. This was the will of the gods. As for the end of Christina, the small girl that perished in the accident, it was her time. She wasn’t meant to be saved; she wasn’t meant to continue forward in this existence.”

“That lesson to me cost that little girl her life. That family will never be the same,” Nathan said, trying to better control what he felt. “That would have been a day to interfere to my favor and rebalance that scale from the day I acted without powers and made a difference.”

Cici looked upward again. “The Fates may know why that was the will of the Creator; I do not. The scales were in balance with that result. Not all losses are what they appear. Certain things occur because they must for other things to follow.”

“So there’s only fate, and things must fall the way they must fall?” Adia asked.

“As I said …” Cici turned to look at the two of them. “It was the free will that Nathan used that changed the course of events from the way they might have otherwise unfolded. Having said that, The Fates do press for certain truths to unfold. Because she wasn’t meant to carry on in this realm, she would have likely still met her end in some other manner. Better a quick end like an accident than some other prolonged way.”

Nathan listened to the clearly and articulately spoken words while Cici looked at him and then turned her gaze back up to the crystal-blue sky. “Where there is darkness, you are light. Where others know fear, you will be brave. When there are setbacks, you will persevere. Where others find weakness, you bring strength. Where there is despair, you are hope. Where cowardice falls, you rise courageously. Where others do not have the ability to believe, you have faith.” Cici turned her attention back to Nathan. “Do you remember me saying all that to you?”

“I do,” Nathan said with more confidence.

Cici walked away from Brian Devron, over towards the grave that held him and his wife. She stood there for a moment and looked at the two headstones. After a brief moment, she continued, “You will suffer, so that others will endure. You will triumph where others would fall.”

“I remember it all. You said something in a foreign language, Latin I think,” Nathan said in a quieter tone.

Cici only smiled at the comment. “My time was ending. I needed to pass the bracelet on, the artifact that would host the incantation and channel the powers, or I needed to assign it.” Cici turned to face both Nathan and Adia. “An assignment was needed, and it was time to make a choice. I chose you, Nathan.”

“Why? I am no one.”

“You were always someone; far more than most. You have a kindness and consideration to the core that most others do not possess. If you say, ‘I am no one,’ I can only answer, ‘not anymore.’” She smiled a sad smile. “People have become directionless. They are without hope. They cling to money, power, and possessions. They segregate themselves and ostracize others. Most care little for their fellow man or for the future. The gods, short of Ares, do not want another war to reset the populous. Some believe too much of all civilization will be taken out. That too little would remain should it get to that.”

“Couldn’t one all-powerful being cause that same harm?” Nathan asked, stepping forward.

“One almost did, once before.” Cici continued to look away. “It is why the gods have set your powers and limited them in the manner that they have. Restricting their scope and scale so you cannot leverage them at all times. Varying which ones you will receive and when, so that they cannot corrupt you.”

“I still don’t understand. There are so many other people that would be a better fit,” Nathan said, unsure of himself. “Better skilled. Better statesmen. Better leaders. With so many other viable choices … I still cannot see why I have this blessing and curse.”

Cici only smiled, then turned to Adia. “Why do you believe I chose Nathan?”

Adia looked at Nathan, confused, and then at Cici. She really didn’t know how to respond.

Cici walked over and touched both sides of Adia’s face with her hands. “Open your heart, let truth, wisdom, and passion guide your thoughts.”

Adia closed her eyes and after a moment, spoke, “The full power could corrupt the most brave, the most honorable … even the ones with the best intentions. You’re not perfect, Nathan, but your motives are pure and from the heart. You have the best chance to resist all that would lead to ruin.” Tears streamed down Adia’s face. Never had Nathan seen her allow herself to be so open to her feelings and vulnerable. The sensitivity of what she’d just revealed had overtaken her like a wave.

Cici turned to Nathan as she slowly let Adia go. “The gods see this too. For the first time in millennia.”

Brian Devron walked up to Cici. “It is time.”

“Time?” Nathan asked. “Time for what? I don’t understand.”

“We need to leave. Our message is delivered. Even though I am subject to different laws of the plane, I am still affected. We are both being pulled away. There are other forces at hand.”

“Other forces?” Adia asked.

“What do you mean?” Nathan pressed.

The remaining spirit channeled through the embodiment of Brian Devron and looked at his son. “Have faith, Nathan. You have more strength and ability than you realize. You will persevere.”

“I leave you with this.” Cici said. “You must realize you cannot be everywhere at once. You cannot save everyone. Some people cannot be saved even when you arrive on time. Some are not meant to be saved. You should not surrender your free will and stop making your own decisions. Right and wrong choices have costs. You still must make them and they must be of your own choosing. If you fail to take action, then failure is certain. You need to take leaps of faith and trust what you feel. That is how you set direction and offer hope.”

Cici and Brian stood side-by-side, and glowed brighter in the sunlight, until they became the light itself. “No one is destined for greatness, Nathan,” Cici said as the light reached its peak and they dissipated into nothing. “That should not deter you from attempting to achieve great things.” Her final words drifted on the light breeze.

Adia and Nathan stood looking at where Cici and Brian had been, and then they looked around, and finally at each other.

“What does this all mean?” Adia asked. “Where do you go from here?”

“I don’t know,” Nathan said, unsure of himself. “I don’t know the answer to either question.”

Nathan looked around the cemetery a little more, and then wandered around to try and collect his thoughts.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Nathan finished the last of the food on his plate and slid it away from him toward the center of the table, while Adia pushed the half-eaten meal around on hers.

“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Nathan said, halfheartedly. He wasn’t exactly sure where Adia’s thoughts were and that bothered him.

“You seem to take it with so much more stride than I do,” Adia responded, without looking up. Her Puerto Rican accent seemed a little more pronounced than Nathan was used to. That seemed to be the tone she adopted when she felt upset or otherwise distressed.

“I might seem as if I’m taking it in stride, but it’s still difficult for me as well. There’s a lot of moving parts here, for lack of a better way to describe it.” Nathan turned to look out of the windows of the diner, and across the street toward the cemetery. “Then there’s the fact that my entire personal life outside of this is in chaos too. I did just get let go from work. Severance and savings account notwithstanding, I need to find gainful employment.”

Adia sighed and pushed her food away. She looked at him. “There’s no way in a million years I would have presumed an outcome like this when I decided to travel with you.”

“I know,” Nathan said softly, reaching across the table and extending his hands upward. “I’m glad you’re here. As difficult as this is, your being here makes it easier.”

Adia didn’t immediately put her hands in his, but eventually relented. “How are you able to handle this so well? I would have completely broken down over all of it. Certainly after this and seeing two dead people. That is all I’ve had to endure so far, and I’m feeling real unsteady.”

Nathan thought about his response for a moment, and then looked at her intently. “Probably the best way I can describe it is like this …” He shifted in his seat, and continued, “You believe in Jesus Christ, right?”

Adia looked taken aback by the question, but recovered quickly. “Yes, you know that.”

“Okay, so follow me here with my line of thinking,” Nathan said with a small smile. “I don’t really believe in him myself—certainly not to the extent you do. I allow for the possibility. There are millions of people that don’t. If Christ showed up here, you’d be shocked but would handle it so much better than those that completely deny his existence. Additionally, you would see the second coming as a good thing, where others would believe it was the end of days in a bad way.”

Adia loosened up her hold on Nathan’s hands a little. “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not exactly following.”

Nathan smiled and continued. “I knew, well I thought I knew, that superpowers were improbable to impossible. At the same time, I always believed certain people could push the limits of what the majority could do. Maybe they’re not superpowers, but some can hold their breath much longer than an average person. Others can lift so much more. Some can tight rope walk anywhere. I always felt that a leap to ESP or precognition or even a three-minute mile was still in the realm of human possibility through natural evolution and small evolutionary advances. This just takes it out a lot farther.” The look on Adia’s face changed, as if she had begun to grasp some of Nathan’s points. He squeezed her hand, and said, “As part of comic book collecting, especially as a kid, I always believed in beings like the Greek gods. The Roman, Norse, and Greek gods were my favorites. If you read each of the myths, you discover that many overlap. One sun god here, one sun god there.”

“But those people, or I guess I should say, supreme beings, how could they exist? They are from fiction books from thousands of years ago.”

Nathan sat backwards in the booth bench seat, sliding his hands out from underneath Aida’s. “Isn’t the Bible also just a book?—Transcribed and re-written from language to language, from thousands of years ago? The people that transcribed the things they saw, even if they never exaggerated a thing, might have thought anything Christ did, or Aphrodite for that matter, as super-human and extraordinary. I’m sure facts changed from transcriber to transcriber. Meanings lost. Translations confused. Something meant figuratively taken literally. Who isn’t to say these gods weren’t real beings from another plane of existence that visited here? Who’s to say they couldn’t do all the things as told by legend? Perhaps they age differently and are still around. Perhaps time moves in their realm much more slowly than it does here, and that just compounds their longevity. Science and technology are making many things possible today that just a hundred years ago would have been taken for sorcery.”

Adia didn’t respond. She only sat there, quietly weighing Nathan’s words.

“The reason I can accept this more easily,” he said, chuckling a little, “or seemingly more easily—as I am honestly pretty frightened on some levels about all of this—is because I really believe in the possibilities. I believe that, on a personal level, people can make huge differences in peoples’ lives. I look at this situation as a way to do more, so much more, than humanly possible.”

Adia leaned forward and spoke, her voice filled with concern, “Nathan, you’re putting yourself into harm’s way without a complete knowledge of how these powers work, or even what it is you’re supposed to be doing.”

Nathan pulled back on his smile and excitement. “Yes, that’s true. I have some more knowledge and details now, but some of it is still ‘in the dark.’ At the same time, too, now that I have some information, I have new questions as well.” Nathan sounded somber and spoke in a practical, matter-of-fact tone, “I somehow doubt I’ll ever have all the questions answered, but let’s look at what we know now. I did get these powers from the enchantment and the talisman. Cici said as much. They were tied to the original Amalgam shirt I wore that day. The enchantment took on the power factor of that hero. They’re being bestowed in that manner by the major Greek gods, save for Zeus and Hera. I cannot use them at will, so to speak. A situation needs to be occurring, some sort of clear and present danger, or some level of emergency that allows the powers to manifest. Once active, I’m able to use them to combat a situation.”

“That’s the Achilles heel too, Nathan,” Adia said with a note of distress in her voice. “You might be in a situation and save someone, let’s say. And perhaps that’s all you’re supposed to do, save that one person. Everyone else to that point were just recipients of that dividend—that you were there and saved them first before some perverted, fate-driven directive. What happens if saving that person makes for ‘task complete,’ and you run back into a burning building and the powers deactivate because your objective has been reached?”

Nathan thought for a moment, and then responded, “I guess I have to have faith that the Greek gods don’t discriminate like that. That one person is above others. That if I’m supposed to make a difference and have an impact, I’ll need to keep the powers until I’m done. If they want the scales tipped back or moving back to center, they’ll need to let me work things all the way through to the end that I see. I don’t know much about the other fallen champion that Cici discussed, but I’m going to see if I can research the name some. It sounds like they’re gun shy with doling out powers again to a new champion. If that’s who I am to be, then I’ll work hard to show them that they’re not misplacing their trust and that I’m worthy of this gift.”

“I worry that will be too difficult for you,” Adia said, and tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m concerned it could harm you, in action perhaps, or by simple corruption. Great power can have that effect on people.”

Nathan leaned forward and took Adia’s hands again. “If I have you, to pull me back to that center, I’ll be fine. You’ll ground me. You’ll keep me honest.” Adia cried openly but didn’t respond.

“Can you be that for me? The place I can anchor? The place I can go when I need to feel safe and come back to the reality of just being Nathan? Will you be that person that fills me back up and makes me whole when I’m completely wiped out and empty?”

Adia nodded, and whispered, “Yes.” She sniffed a little. “My God, I hate feeling like this.”

“Like what?” Nathan asked, realizing that his emotions were weighing on him and getting harder to keep below the surface. He felt some need to be stronger and show his feelings, as if that would help Adia recover her composure. At the same time, he knew how stupid and chauvinistic it was that he felt most comfortable trying to repress what he felt.

“I hate feeling like a little lost girl,” she said, almost angrily. “I’m pretty tough. I grew up with a lot of male influences and I was a Tom Boy for a long time. I’m an NYC cop. And yet when I’m with you, I’m this soft woman. Up until now, I thought it was okay to be that way.”

“I don’t understand what you mean. Why can’t you be that way with me any longer?” Nathan said with concern.

“Do you understand what you’re taking on?” Adia said, and her Puerto Rican accent got even more noticeable. “Did you listen to everything Cici, or whatever that was, repeated to you from the day she passed? ‘You will suffer, so that others will endure.’ Do you remember her saying that? I didn’t like the sound of it at all.”

Nathan tightened his hold on Adia’s hands, then loosened them and held them lightly again, and said, “She also told me, ‘You will triumph where others would fall.’ That gives me hope that whatever I go through will be worth it.” Nathan stared into her deep brown eyes for a moment. “You took on a responsibility as a New York City police officer not because it was a simple and safe career. You did it because you wanted to help others. You wanted to be part of the effort to make people’s lives better. I never had the same grand plans, but I did my little things where and when I could. Right a small wrong. Feed a hungry soul. Listen to them and make them feel like they were important still.” Nathan let go of Adia’s hands altogether and turned to look out the window towards the Center Street Cemetery once more. “It would seem that I now have the chance, and the ability, to do much, much more.”

Adia sat quietly and let everything Nathan said sink in. She finally followed up. “Applying to be a cop, going through the training, getting the job, working the beat … I’ve had a healthy respect for everything, but I’ve never felt afraid. I can’t shake that feeling now—thinking of you and what all this might mean.”

Adia rushed from her seat, headed to the door, and burst outside. Nathan scrambled with his wallet to leave money behind for the food, and then followed her. She crossed the street and headed back to the area of the cemetery where they’d been before.

“Adia, stop!” Nathan caught up just short of the first row of headstones.

Adia turned and looked at him. “Cops and bad guys. Drugs and guns. Sometimes some seedy underworld types. I can count on certain things, oh I don’t know, like physics. What if you’re flying around with your superpowers after saving the day and they ‘go out’ and you fall out of the sky? The more I try to recall just the little bit I know about the superheroes and their powers, the less I believe I can deal with this.”

Nathan stood right in Adia’s personal space but didn’t touch her. He felt unsure whether that would make her worse. After a moment of just letting the cool November breeze blow between them, Nathan turned into the sunlight. “Would it be better for you if I kept you away from all of this?”

Adia studied his face for a moment, and then responded, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I would worry more knowing or not knowing. If I said I didn’t want you to do this at all, would you throw it away and stay safe for me?”

Nathan took the bracelet off his wrist and threw it as hard as he could toward the rear of the cemetery. The moment it reached the short, two-meter distance mark, it snapped back to his wrist. He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s an option.”

Adia stared, not believing what she’d seen. “I guess that shouldn’t surprise me after seeing two spirits here in a cemetery.” Her tone sounded somewhat sarcastic and a little comical at the same time. “You said you needed me to be your anchor, something to keep you grounded and to bring you back to center. If I couldn’t deal with this, if I needed to beg off, what would you do?”

“I’d persevere, as Cici said. It would be much more difficult to do. I really do believe that.” Nathan said quietly, slowly reaching for her hands.

“Maybe Lisa …” Adia said quietly, but her eyes said otherwise.

Nathan immediately shook his head, no. “Lisa is a good friend. I have a deep admiration for her. She can’t do this. She’s not you. I’m in love with you. Only you can do this for me. Even if you can’t be an active part, I’ll keep you in my thoughts as I do what must be done. It’ll have to be enough.”

Adia cried again. “Why do it at all? You could simply not respond to ‘the call’ when the emergency occurs.”

“Could you?” Nathan asked, confident of her answer. “If a car crashed in the street over there, you’d race right out into the road, throwing caution to the wind. You’re trained for that, but it’s in your blood too. You have this desire to help. You can’t resist it. This may all be new to me, and the scope of how and what I can affect may be huge, but I feel like I can’t deny it. I feel like I was chosen and I must respond. I hope you can understand that. I hope that if you can’t be involved with it that you could at least support me in it.”

“I do,” Adia answered immediately. “I meant what I said. I felt what I said. The full power that could be available to you through this gift; it really could corrupt the most brave, the most honorable. I truly do believe you are that rare person who has the best chance to resist all that would lead to ruin. Forgetting everything else, all the things that worry me, and that make me afraid, I will stand behind you on this. I will offer you whatever help I can.”

“You’ll stand beside me. We’ll do it together.” Nathan said, and smiled. Adia hugged him.

“I love you, Nathan.”

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Hera stood at the reflecting pool, looking down on New York City. Her long ivory gown streamed behind her as a steady wind blew.

“Watching for the winds of change to blow and stir up the calm waters?” the commanding voice of her husband Zeus boomed, on approach across the field. A nearby clap of thunder punctuated his words.

Hera looked up briefly to smile at Zeus, her mood pleasant. “It would seem The Watcher did in fact make an excellent choice in this Nathan. These past few weeks he has responded to needs above expectations. Even now, not knowing why the talisman has activated his gift, he works diligently and passionately to complete tasks. He has no understanding of what he is preparing for, but he is preparing with dedication and a sense of urgency. He’s pushing to make a difference. He believes he can.” Hera loosened her hair and let it down so the warm breeze could move it.

“Isn’t that what we wanted so many millennia ago when we walked alongside mankind?” Zeus said, as he stopped to look into the reflecting pool.

“We’re kidding ourselves if that’s the way we remember it. We wanted to rule even if it were benevolently. To a degree, we required it to funnel our powers and birthright from Mount Olympus, but in the end that was the desire.” Hera sounded apologetic.

“Hades had grander plans,” Zeus said with a level of agitation, again punctuated by a mild rumble of thunder.

“Of course,” Hera said, turning away from the reflecting pool. “And yet to do all of this in the manner we did, tying Nathan’s abilities to us and Mount Olympus by way of ancient magic, we needed to have the balance of the good with the evil to bind it.”

“There is concern in your voice, Mother Hera. You are still concerned about the chances of another Ahzeem Ama?” Zeus questioned.

“I am more concerned about Ahzeem Ama himself. Was he really vanquished in totality?” Hera turned to face the breeze again. “That was our first attempt to tie into those ancient scrolls. How well do we know what total ends are to our powers? Even those of us that have fallen, the mighty and the half-breed demi-gods, have all found ways to still be present without necessarily having presence.”

“Ever the more reason to have a new champion in the man called Nathan,” Zeus said, standing tall while he made his boast. “The Fates have seen the path. The road is becoming dark and treacherous. A beacon is needed. For hope and to light the way.”

“And you’re certain Nathan is this champion?” Hera asked, stepping forward.

“He must be. The remaining time is short.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

A light dusting of snow fell outside the precinct offices, where Adia was wrapping up her shift paperwork.

“Looking forward to the three days off?” Officer Thompson asked, while making his way past her work area.

“You know it.” Adia smiled. “The overtime is nice, but two double shifts in a row … and over the weekend no less, you know how that is.”

“Yep,” he replied, and then went through the doorway to the outer hall. He called over his shoulder, “See you Thursday.”

Adia smiled at the response, and then lowered her head to finish up the last of what she was working on. She kept one eye on the phone for Nathan’s response. She’d texted him sporadically as her shift neared its end, to ask about going over to his place to see him when she was done with everything. He’d responded to her, but the replies had been simple with not much in the way of detail or conversational tone, which had her worried. It had been three weeks since they’d returned from Connecticut, and everything that had occurred there. His powers were being activated more and more often since that day, and he’d been engaged in responding to incidents and emergencies continually. Her experiences as a police officer meant that she understood the personal impact of first responders; Nathan was that and more.

Adia picked up the cell phone to call him. Enough with the dissatisfactory texts already. After the fourth ring, he answered.

“Hi Nathan,” Adia said in a light tone.

“Hi Adia,” he responded. Adia could hear light shuffling and scraping noises in the background.

“I was thinking to come by, like I mentioned before. I haven’t seen you in basically three days, and I’ve barely talked to you in the past two because of work and sleep. I know it’s nearly eleven, but I’m hoping to see you.” She pushed her paperwork back into the manila folders on her desk. “I miss you,” she said, hoping to elicit a response from him.

“I know,” Nathan said in a cold tone. “I miss having you here as well. Luckily, I’ve been busy and that’s consumed some of my down time.”

Adia felt certain something must be going on, or that he had something on his mind. His responses were too cold and indifferent. She tried to brush it off. “I know you had a final interview on Friday morning. Did you hear back on an offer, or is that going to Monday?”

“No, not yet. For right now I’m fine. With the dividend monies I’m getting from the cash I invested from the sale of my father’s property, and the severance payout from my old job, the combination is more than enough to sustain me just now.”

“Well, there’s always next week,” Adia said, as she headed into the locker area to change into her civilian clothes. “The way you described it to me, it sounded like a great fit.”

“It’s a financial data analyst position. I’m basically responsible to fact check the data information and its integrity. The position is in Jersey City, but I have the flexibility to come and go from the small offices there. I can work remotely as desired; I just need to get the work done they need done.”

Adia smiled, grabbed the phone off the bench, and took it off speaker. “Well, that’s great, considering all things. You know … the things you do of an unusual nature.”

Aida could hear Nathan shifting things around on his desk. When he spoke, she picked up the smile in his voice. “Yes, well, I’m sure you’ve seen on the news a few strange reports here and there.”

“I have,” she said, smiling. “I feel a measure of pride. The press may not know what’s going on, but I do. You’ve been able to keep out of sight, but more and more people are talking, you know.”

“I know,” Nathan said with a hint of stress in his voice. “I’m trying to honor ‘the call’ and answer it. Half the time the powers come online and it’s not even obvious what it is I’m supposed to respond to. I’ll tell you, other than sleep last night, as near as I can tell, they’ve been fully active for the past thirty-six hours. I complete a task just to feel compelled to come home, change shirts, and leave for the next effort.”

Adia smiled more as she exited the precinct and began the moderate walk to Nathan’s place. “Well, it’s been a full moon. People do get crazy around it, I swear,” Adia said in a light manner, trying to get Nathan to warm up a little. She still felt unsure if he was stressed or just tired. She hoped that’s all it was, and that the constant activity of the powers weren’t affecting his mind or personality.

Adia could hear him moving about his apartment and shifting things over the sounds of the city traffic. “Do you have a lot going on right now?”

“Actually, I do. I’ve been leveraging my powers for six straight hours now, and I can’t figure out what the objective is. I’m doing a lot of prep work for something, but I’ve no idea what. I’ve been wearing my Doctor Tech shirt and using a lot of his abilities, but I seem to be just about finished, and now I feel a compulsion to change into my Captain Delta shirt.”

Adia quickened her pace a little. Captain Delta was one of the most powerful heroes. She had been spending her breaks reading about their origins, powers, and weaknesses, since Nathan had been tapping all of their abilities. She felt concerned that if he felt compelled to change into that shirt that something major might be about to occur. “I’m worried. You’ve been so active lately and, as you said, effectively non-stop for two days. You’ve worked hard at keeping a low profile and your identity a secret. If we have too many major things close together, or you’re seen doing something super human, you’ll be outted. Even if they can’t identify you directly, they’ll make indirect ties and that might allow them to put the pieces together.”

“What do you mean?” Nathan asked. The sounds of movement stopped.

“I mean that some of the departments, police and fire as an example, talk amongst themselves. They arrive on scene after you leave or just as you’re wrapping up. They might never actually see you, but the way things are when you leave, they can’t be explained easily. I’ve heard more than one cop say, ‘I wonder if this is The Patriot again?’ And that persona is tied directly to you from the Madison Square Park incident and all the press play. Don’t think reporters won’t connect the same dots.”

***

Nathan nodded, despite the fact that Adia couldn’t see his reaction. He set the phone down to change his shirt. Since his hearing ability was going to increase due to Captain Delta’s powers, he decided he didn’t need to engage the external speaker. He looked in the mirror as he pulled the shirt all the way down. His physique had been affected by the constant charge of being powered up. His muscles looked more distinct, thicker, and sported more definition. He also noticed that it wasn’t reverting back during the downtime between changes.

“You’re too quiet, Nathan—uncharacteristically. Is everything okay?” Adia asked.

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” he said, concerned. “I feel fine, and like I have full control, but I’m realizing some changes appear to be taking hold and not reverting away when the powers change or fade out.”

“I’ve noticed your personality has become somewhat subdued. It’s not that it’s taking on any of the personalities of the characters in the comics, from the little I’ve read, but I’m noticing the ‘sterilization’ of yours, for lack of a better term.” Adia said. “Maybe it’s just with everything that’s been going on the past couple of days and I’m reading too much into it.”

“I don’t know for certain. I’d like to think maybe I just feel overwhelmed and am tensing up over the responsibility. Given some of what Cici said, I feel like I’m being tested each time the powers come online. Now that they’ve been on for the second day straight, I’m more concerned.”

“So, what changes are you noticing on your own?” Adia asked.

“I’ll let you kiss me and touch my abs and see if you can tell me yourself,” Nathan said, feeling a little mischievous and replying with a widening smile.

***

Adia felt a small wave of relief wash over her as some of Nathan’s personality returned in his response to her. The comment itself excited her a little. She missed his touch and wanted it. “Really, now?” She said, hitting the buzzer for his apartment. “Maybe I won’t wait for you to open the door and I’ll superhero crash my way through to see you.”

“Please don’t,” Nathan said in a light tone, buzzing her in. “I kind of need to stay in this rent and I don’t feel like having to explain my superhero girlfriend to the super of the building.”

“Only because you asked me so kindly,” she said with a giggle.

Nathan set the phone down and unlatched the apartment door. A couple of moments later, Adia stepped in. She looked at Nathan and right away could see the physiological changes he’d mentioned. She felt compelled to touch him. Nathan was always tall to her at six feet, but a little on the scrawny side. Not any longer. His entire frame had grown larger, more definition showed on his arms, and his shoulders seemed broader. Even his face appeared to have filled out a little. He looked less like a boyish man and much more like a mature one.

Nathan stepped up and kissed her deeply and passionately. Adia’s excitement rose. When she touched him, she could feel just how much bigger and more solid he felt.

A moment later, when the two stopped and broke their embrace, she peered around him and noticed all the computers and electronics equipment.

“What’s all this?” She asked, stepping away and walking towards all of it.

“Actually,” Nathan said, with a little more inflection in his voice, moving toward the living room where the bulk of the equipment was set up. “When the powers kicked in earlier, I started building this setup.”

Adia looked around at all of it. “Where did you get all this equipment?”

“I had to go buy it.” Nathan shrugged. “It ran me just about ten thousand dollars in total, across everything here. Machines, monitors, cables, router, switches, the whole nine yards.”

“And this was because you wore the Doctor Tech shirt?” Adia asked, coming back around to where Nathan stood.

“Yes, and I’m not really sure why. I felt like this was the shirt to wear, so I did, and then I just felt compelled to put together this compute clustering setup. As soon as I finished setting up and configuring everything for the news video and data feeds that you see running on the sub-screens of the two monitors, I changed into the Captain Delta shirt.” Nathan turned to walk away. “And before you ask me, I don’t know why the change either. I just felt I needed to.”

“Something must be ready to happen. Something you needed to be ready for, hence all the equipment, and if you need to react to it, Doctor Tech won’t be the man for the job.”

“It’s likely why I felt compelled to change shirts,” Nathan said, and sighed. “It would be so much easier to just be given one set of powers and master them.”

Adia looked at him; the comment overwhelmed her and she laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Nathan asked with a puzzled frown.

Adia snickered a little bit and responded, “I know that was a genuine comment, and I understand how it would be easier, but you effectively just complained about having too many random superpowers and you wished to have only one set.” Adia moved closer to Nathan and hugged him. “It was a dose of humor I needed with all of this going on,” she said, looking up to him. “Whatever’s about to happen, I’m sure I’m going to be worried about it in some major way. I worry about you in general.” The lighthearted feeling left and her mood turned subdued. “Captain Delta is one of the strongest of the heroes; if his powers are needed, over all the others that could be donned, then the situation must be dire.”

“It is,” Nathan deadpanned, looking over Adia’s shoulder at the changing sub-displays on the two computer monitors. “The feeds; they’re all changing to the same story.” Nathan let Adia go and stepped towards the end table, where he unlocked one of the retrofitted smartphones. “Computer Central,” he said into the device.

“Enabled,” the soft female voice responded over the speakers in the room.

Adia’s look turned to surprise at Nathan giving voice commands to a computer connection.

“Computer, enlarge World News on monitor two, full screen, volume five.” He set the smartphone down and transferred control to the system tied into the living room.

“Executing.”

“… again, for those of you just joining us on World News, I am Mark Daniels and we are receiving reports from the International Space Agency that an emergency has been declared on Station One, the scientific orbital platform that is in orbit around Earth.” The scene on the screen changed to stock footage of Station One. “We are getting some live streams from long range ground telescopes showing the debris field around the station.” The scene changed to an amateur stream, showing Station One wildly out of orbit and spinning out of control.

“My God,” Adia said. “I remember reading about Station One. It’s not designed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. When its useful lifespan comes to an end, its orbit will just decay and the whole station would burn up on re-entry.” Nathan turned and stared out the window for a minute. Adia pulled herself away from the news report. “What’s wrong, Nathan?”

Nathan held the retrofitted smartphone. She looked at the screen-grab he’d pulled up. “This is it,” he said. And any animation he had in his tone earlier had now gone. “It all changes tonight. Anything I do tonight, at a minimum, is going to at least expose the world to the existence of a meta-human. Keeping people from knowing it’s me might still be possible, but if I take direct action, hiding in the shadows is over.”

“Fourteen regular crew; three passengers, including the Speaker of the House of Commons from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and U.S. Senator Mackenzie Kelly,” Adia said, looking at the small screen.

“The passengers arrived today,” Nathan said, as he walked over to one of the command consoles, and pecked away at the keyboard. “It was all a part of the opening of the next phase of the station and a stepping-stone towards commercial and civilian use; a forerunner to commercial and civilian space travel.” Nathan stepped away from the station and lifted the smartphone to confirm it was on the in-room Bluetooth connection. “Computer Central,” he said, setting the device back down.

“Enabled,” the feminine voice of the computer responded.

“Extrapolate from the inputs I just entered from Console Alpha and tie it into all of the news feeds available and all the data streams you can access. I need to understand as much as possible about what most likely occurred, so we can assess the damage to the station. I also need to formulate a rescue plan before Station One burns up on reentry.”

“Executing.”

“This will take a few minutes,” Nathan said, walking to Adia and taking her by the hand. He took her over to another console. Nathan had almost fully taken on the entire commanding personality of Captain Delta, which showed in the confidence he delivered regarding the situation. A small wave of concern washed over Aida.

“Please say, ‘the quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,’ ten times at varying speeds into this microphone,” Nathan said, while he performed some setup on the keyboard.

“Sure, but what is this for?” Adia asked, but got into place in front of the work console.

“If I need your help, I’ll need you to access the computer by voice command. I need to set you up so the system will respond to voice input and level one and two commands. I’m setting up the command level permissions, but I need voice input for the computer to base its learning from.”

“I’ve seen this computer hardware before, at least types of hardware like all of this, but never the rest of it like the software and the small tech here … where did this all come from?”

“Doctor Tech, and his powers,” Nathan said. “While I harnessed his powers, I retrofitted the devices and wrote all the code.”

“Good Lord,” Adia said, in shock at how much had been done in such a short time. “I know Doctor Tech was extremely intelligent and efficient, but in the time you had … even he can’t work that fast.”

Nathan stopped for a moment and stood completely upright from his partially slouched over position at the keyboard. “You’re right,” he said. “I had unnatural speed even for him.”

“Is it possible you channeled two powers at once?” Adia asked.

“I guess anything’s possible, but I can’t wear two shirts at once, that’s for sure. And I don’t own any other type of clothing paraphernalia like socks or undergarments … I don’t know how that could have happened.”

“Assessment complete,” Computer Central’s voice response indicated over the speakers.

“Here,” Nathan said, finishing up at the terminal. “You’re all set to do the input. Watch the screen for any errors. I’m going to look at the data on that terminal.”

Adia got started on the voice recognition task and Nathan stepped over to review the results. He continued to study them for a couple of minutes. Adia completed her task, and then walked over. “Okay, that’s done. What’s the assessment?”

“Computer Central,” Nathan called out.

“Enabled.”

“I’m going to read this situation report aloud. I need you to interject as needed for clarification. I’ll also need to formulate a response.”

Nathan made his verbal review of the situation that Computer Central pieced together from the news reports and communication and data streams that it could access online. “It appears there was some level of structural integrity failure at or near the docking and cargo bay area. An internal explosion of some sort, likely an onboard power plant, according to the schematics of what is near that area, aggravated the ensuing rupture and initial damage. The explosion not only destroyed the docked ship, but it also wrecked access to the passageway to the escape pods.”

“High probability of the pods being destroyed regardless of the condition of the passageway,” the computer responded.

“Continuing. … It looks like a combination of the force of the decompression from the structural integrity failure and the explosion, which knocked out the stabilizing and station-keeping thruster system. The combination took the station out of orbit into a decay pattern. Time to atmosphere?”

“Sixteen minutes.”

Adia looked over at Nathan. “Sixteen?”

“Computer Central.”

“Enabled.”

“Formulate hypothetical rescue attempt. Cross-reference the powers and abilities of the comic book character Captain Delta of the US Command Force. I need a solution that can save the members of the station. The station itself is expendable.”

“Executing …” the computer voice said, and then came trilling sounds, which lasted for a few seconds. “Best scenario, with highest probability of success, is to envelope the entire station in a force-field bubble to protect the occupants from the ravages of reentry.”

“Captain Delta can only form flat shielding or a personal force-field for himself; he can’t form a protective bubble around an object,” Nathan said.

“US Command Force issue number sixty-six, published November, nineteen-ninety-four; Captain Delta extended his personal force-field around a presidential motorcade to protect it.”

The color washed away from Nathan’s face as he remembered the details of the comic book. “What’s the success rate of saving all remaining occupants, including the life of Captain Delta?”

“Four percent.”

Adia dashed over to him. “That’s the best solution?” she asked, gravely concerned.

“Affirmative,” the computer voice responded.

“Well, I guess the voice programming worked,” Nathan said.

“I don’t know the comics and the hero.” Adia said with a frown. “Why are the chances for success so low?” Adia was upset.

Nathan turned and took her into his arms. “In that issue, the strain of extending a personal force-field around the motorcade to project it from the assault injured Captain Delta critically. It was touch and go for a while. His forward shields are meant to take a huge pounding. His personal-force field is meant to protect him tightly. The further he extends it, the more of his powers are drained to keep its protective force up. I have his powers and I have his limitations.” Nathan held her tighter, and then pulled his head back to look at her. “If I have to extend my personal shielding around Station One to protect it, and by proxy the occupants, it will quickly drain my powers. I’ll sustain the damage first, once my power levels drop low enough. If my power depletes, then the station is totally unprotected and from there, it—and I—free-fall to Earth, as it also has no landing thrusters. I could save it for the most part through the atmosphere, become unconscious, or worse, and be unable to touch it down softly enough.”

“You can’t do this,” Adia said, crying.

“I have to try,” Nathan said, with a look of steel in his eyes. “There’s nothing else that anyone can do. Everyone is watching the station fall out of the sky. I have fourteen minutes.”

He kissed Adia passionately. Then he stepped away and opened the window. He sat on the edge for a moment. “I love you, Adia Santiago.” He leapt from the building and flew upwards without looking back.

Adia rushed over to the window. While the cold air spilled into the room, she watched him fly upward and out of sight. Tears streamed down her face. “I love you, too, Nathan.” Once she could no longer see his outline, she closed the window.

“Computer Central,” Adia said, shakily.

“Enabled.”

“Please lower the volume for monitor two. On monitor one, can we track Nathan?”

“Re-tasking DoD satellites.”

“No, no, no … you can do that? They’ll detect it,” Adia said, worried about being found out.

“The Department of Defense is already aware of this system’s presence on their networks. I have re-tasked IP addressing, network connections, and port assignments per my programming. If this connection is kept linked for seventeen hours, forty-four minutes, it will be uncovered back to this host system.” Computer Central responded.

“I don’t know what half of that meant, but it sounds like they know we’re here but not where we’re from. Okay.” Adia looked over at monitor one as the information and telemetry displayed on the left and right sides of the display. The center remained mostly dark as the satellite attempted to render images.

“Computer, are we able to get readings on Nathan’s health status and power levels?” Adia asked as she looked over the equipment, trying to get comfortable with the components. Computer Central redrew the data on the display and formed a primary bar chart of Nathan’s vital signs on the lower section of the screen.

“Power levels will be difficult to properly project. I can scan for output levels based on known references from the fictional details, but those are not comparative enough to form a baseline.”

“Well, you’ll have to take a guess then,” Adia said, but her sarcasm didn’t translate to computer speak.

“Basing estimates versus current output, averaging for time and variable burn rate.”

Adia looked at the graphical representation of Nathan’s image on the screen. “Computer, the green line is Nathan and the station is the blue dot; what are the six red lines?”

“Air Command has scrambled fighter jets to intercept unknown bogey headed toward Station One.”

***

Nathan flipped one of the controls on his forearm bracer and looked back at the fighter jets chasing and attempting to catch him. They fell away, because Captain Delta’s cruising speed was much higher, and this wasn’t even his top speed.

“Air Command, I am not a hostile; disengage pursuit,” Nathan said, and then turned forward to adjust his heading to meet the falling station.

He had last flown a little less than a week ago, but only a short distance, as the hero Frostbite. That seemed different than how this flying felt. Not only was it based on a different type of power; it was at a much higher rate of speed.

“Unidentified bogey,” screeched over the onboard speaker from the lead fighter, “this is Red Leader, FoxFire one; you are on a restricted network, on a restricted communications frequency, and in restricted airspace. You will reduce speed and we will come alongside. You will break off and follow.”

“Negative, Red Leader, I am going to continue on approach. My intention is to attempt to soft-land the station.”

“Say again, bogey?”

“I am going to attempt to soft-land the station.”

At first, no further communications came from the pilot, and radio silence settled on the frequency. Nathan made more adjustments to the bracer. “Computer Central?”

“Enabled,” the soft voice of the computer responded over the coms. The apartment speakers relayed the conversation as well.

“Calculate rate of decent versus deceleration. I need to know what course and speed to go to, to minimize jostling the crew around. Put the status on my coms unit. Chart trajectory; I’ll need a soft place to land, too.”

“Executing.”

“This is General Westmartin,” the booming voice announced over the same frequency. “Who is on this communications band, and what is your business in our airspace and with our space station?”

Nathan felt taken aback by the presence on the frequency. He wasn’t certain how to respond at first. “I don’t have a call sign. I intend to soft-land the station.”

“Trajectory completed. Course takes the station down outside Adirondack State Park,” Computer Central said.

“That’s where I’ll be, General.” Nathan said. “Computer Central, send the General the information and data as a live stream. Whatever data we are pulling, make sure they have it.”

“Who is this? How do you plan to soft-land a station that was never meant to land at all?” the General growled.

“Today, I am Captain Delta, and I am going to bring the station down by hand. Computer Central, co-join the frequency and unscramble the encryption. Station One, come in. Can you please give me a status?”

No response came from the station.

“Computer Central, tie into their systems. Pull the data and give me a status update from any recent logs or communication entries.”

“Station One, information coming through. Station is entering the upper atmosphere,” Computer Central responded.

Nathan poured on as much speed as he could. Parts of Captain Delta’s powers were derived from willpower, so he focused hard and concentrated.

“All hands onboard survived the structural integrity failure and the ensuing damage. There were injuries. None fatal. The crew and visitors are clustered in the main science work bay at the center of the station.”

Nathan turned his attention back to the station, adjusted his course, and increased his speed.

***

Back at the apartment, Adia folded her hands and prayed, as she listened to the communications on the protected frequency.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said in a shaky voice. “But Nathan has mentioned that Zeus and Hera are the king and queen of the gods tied to these powers. I don’t know how to pray to either of you like I do my own God. If it’s the same to a degree, then I will just ask that you watch over him and protect him.” Tears streamed steadily down her face. “Cici, the one that is called The Watcher, or was, I guess, did make a fantastic choice in Nathan. Perhaps she, and you, see the amazing man I see. He can do this, if you allow him the chance. If you can protect him and grant him the power he needs, he will make a difference. Today and when needed.”

***

Hera looked over at Zeus, as the two stood over the reflecting pool. “I think that’s the closest thing I have heard to a prayer to us in a very long time.”

“I would agree, wife. No matter, we will not respond,” Zeus said.

Hera looked rather puzzled.

“We will not need to. We will not need to gather the family and close the circle. The gifts Nathan has, in the way that he has them, and within himself and his own strengths, should allow him to complete his task.”

***

News of the emergency, and the VIPs onboard the station, spread. Everyone who could, tuned into the news. Network hackers pulled apart the communications and data connections and posted information in real time on the internet. The major news outlets re-broadcast the rogue feeds. In the apartment, Aida listened in on the coms, and watched the news feeds.

“I can see it,” Nathan said, with the excitement of a child.

“One-hundred-seventy-two miles, mark. Kármán line estimated reach in one-hundred-ten miles in twenty-five seconds. Velocity, Mach 25.” Computer Central announced.

“Computer, review the schematics for the hull and give me its maximum hull temperature as seventy-five percent of its rating. I want a little insurance. Give me an audio reading on the fives; I’ll be too busy to look.”

“Affirmative. Actual rating for one-thousand degrees Fahrenheit; set to seven-hundred-fifty degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Enveloping station in personal force-field,” Nathan said, then took in a deep breath and released the energy.

Adia looked on the monitors for the conversion rates, and found the miles per hour reading just before re-entry at a little under 17,500. She glanced over at Nathan’s vital signs, which were now beginning to climb because he was under exertion and duress. She looked at the graph marking the full temperature at reentry, listed statically at 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Computer Central?” Adia asked, looking more closely at one of the graphs.

“Enabled.”

“On the display below the vital signs, there’s a sloping graph and a power percentage reading, and it’s in flux. What is this measuring?”

“Attempting to collect a reading on Nathan’s power output and available remaining power.”

“Using what as a reference? Have you tested and measured his output already?”

“Negative. Computational database and processing abilities fully enabled four hours, twenty-eight minutes ago. Testing of computational databases and processing abilities running for seventy-one hours and eighteen minutes. Computer extrapolating all available data from the fictional references for the Captain Delta character. The data is in fluctuation because it is an estimate of fictional information that is being corrected in progress as Nathan uses the abilities.”

“So this is a live measurement and you’re trying to average in his total power available versus output and expenditure?” Adia asked, as she looked over some of the other readings.

“Affirmative.”

“That leaves a huge margin of error.”

“Affirmative. True quantities unavailable.”

The computer finished its reply and Adia was about to respond when Nathan let out a blood curdling scream that ripped across the speakers on the internal communication frequency.

“NATHAN! What’s going on?” Adia called out, turning to the visual display, which showed all the newsfeeds worldwide in silence. All of his vital signs had doubled and his power consumption had hit a maximum reading. Computer Central would have to re-calibrate the top line to allow for a higher maximum. On the consumption side, the amount available dropped precipitously.

“Computer, at what low power level will Nathan’s shield drop?” Adia asked.

“Unknown. No zero power level point to make a low power level comparison.”

“In the comics, how weak would Captain Delta get before he was rendered powerless?” Adia asked, frantically looking at the displays.

“Unknown. No history of measurement output.”

“It’s like having a conversation with a Vulcan,” Adia said with a scowl.

***

Nathan could feel the energy output tear through him as he maintained the full extension of his personal force-field around the station. Every pore in his body bled energy to keep the field intact, and Nathan could feel the sheer effect through the force-field as they entered the atmosphere.

He continued to concentrate and focus all of his energies on the shield. They continued to fall, but began to slow as the atmosphere cut the velocity down. He made no attempt to slow the ship, with his singular effort being on keeping the station from burning up on reentry. If he could manage that, then he could worry about slowing it for a soft landing. Once fully within Earth’s atmosphere, the air friction would slow them down much more, and he’d only need to counter gravity and the mass of the station.

The energy output continued to feel overwhelming to him—on a level with extreme physical exertion. As much as he focused on the effort to keep the personal force-field extended around the entire mass of the station, he felt equally challenged to stay conscious. He felt as if his very essence was being drained out of him, and had difficulty in staying with it. The heat grew unbearable and he perspired profusely, despite the protection of the energy shielding. Nathan attempted to look over at the dropping external temperatures, on the readout on his bracer, but the display had been damaged.

“Computer Central,” Nathan said, weak. “I feel almost out of power. I can’t maintain the shield. What’s the external temperature? Can the hull withstand it?”

“Five-hundred-fifty degrees,” the computer responded.

“Time to impact?”

“Twelve minutes, fourteen seconds.”

“Great. Wake me up in ten minutes,” Nathan said as he closed his eyes and the shielding dropped.

***

“Nathan!” Adia yelled. “Oh my God, he’s unconscious.”

Adia watched on the large monitor as Nathan’s body drifted away from the falling station in the grainy, long range, amateur video. Tears streamed down her face as she turned up the volume on the news report.

“…at this time. We are still trying to get you the most relevant and accurate information as we can here at World News, but some of this is simply indescribable. In my thirty-two years of reporting I have never been, the world has never been, a witness to something like this,” the aged anchorman reported on screen.

A man that, by all reports, hacked into the telemetry, information, and communication networks of the International Space Agency, as well as the Air Command, flew up to the station and protected it from the heat of reentry with some kind of generated force-field. As you can hear on this feed loop of the communication with Air Command, he identified himself as the fictional superhero Captain Delta.”

The audio rolled up from a prior recording, “… send the General the information and data as a live stream. Whatever we are pulling, make sure they have it.”

Who is this? How do you plan to soft-land a station that was never meant to land at all?”

Today, I am Captain Delta and I am going to bring the station down by hand. Computer Central, co-join the frequency and unscramble the encryption.” …

As you can hear on the audio communication, the unknown man said, ‘Today, I am Captain Delta.’ What that could mean is anyone’s guess, but at this point, unless there is some other explanation, he has displayed that he possesses those powers and abilities. The issue now is that all contact with him has been lost. While there are communications occurring on other frequencies, the one the media outlets were following, via a feed on the internet, has gone silent.” The news anchor shifted his position in his seat and turned from one camera to another and continued. “At one point, a visible yellow energy enveloped the station, but that is now gone from view. That clearly has something to do with protecting the station from burning up on reentry. The craft is now free-falling and taking on some atmospheric damage, as you can see in the video images as parts of the craft are sheering off.”

The view on the screen shifted from the news anchor to an external view of the station. “We know from earlier reports that the crew and passengers sheltered in place in the center of the craft, but the station was not meant to land and does not have the capability to slow itself nor survive impact. Additionally, the identity of the super-human who flew unassisted to the damaged station and protected it from reentry is still unknown. As we have mentioned, all communications from him have ceased and it appears in this segment of the video that he is incapacitated and has fallen away from the station and its deteriorating altitude.” A small digital outline enhanced an area on the screen, showing Nathan falling away from the craft. “At this point, there is nothing further that can be done to save the station. Nothing short of a miracle. This is something we indicated at the beginning of the broadcast, when we first reported the accident and the sudden and critical orbital decay. It would seem, now, that it may have only been a delay in the inevitable and that a miracle wasn’t enough.

Adia jumped at the sound of multiple alarms going off on the systems.

“Computer Central,” she called out in a panic.

“Enabled,” the female computer voice responded.

“The alarms. What’s happening? Nathan’s power levels that you were measuring and recalibrating. … What’s wrong?”

“No power output remains. All levels rest at zero. All vital signs have ceased.”

CHAPTER TWENTY

Nathan eased open his eyes, but could see nothing but white. His body felt weightless and it moved as if suspended in water.

After a few seconds, a man walked toward him through the field of white. Nathan looked for his own hands and feet, but couldn’t see them. It felt almost like a disembodiment. He couldn’t see any surface contours at all, and the man seemed to simply walk on the whiteness.

The man stopped where his field of vision allowed Nathan to see him from head to toe.

“Hello, Nathan, I am Kratos,” the man said.

“The Greek deity who is the personification of strength and power,” Nathan said.

“I am flattered you are aware of me. Most humans are not, any longer,” he said with a calm demeanor.

“To be honest,” Nathan said, still disoriented. “I only know that because I recently did some research on the Greek myths.”

“I am familiar with your research and I am again flattered by the openness and honesty,” Kratos said in a hushed tone, then turned to look behind him. “My turn to be honest with you: I’m not supposed to be here,” he said with a smile.

“Then why are you here?” Nathan asked, still attempting in any fashion to look around for his hands and feet.

“Well, for one thing, I can tell you that you can stop looking for your body. It isn’t here. You’ve died. Or rather, you’ve ceased to exist on your plane of existence,” Kratos said matter-of-factly. “I guess it depends on how you want to look at it.”

Nathan tried to accept what he heard. The last thing he could remember was attempting to keep the shielding around the station, and hearing Adia’s voice on their communications array. “Adia …” he said.

“Ah yes,” Kratos said, looking down at his feet in such a manner that he appeared to be looking down past them. Nathan looked as well, but could only see the whiteness. “The woman you are involved with.”

“The last thing I remember was reentry; how long have I been … gone?” Nathan asked.

“Dead,” Kratos said. “It’s okay to say it. You are, after all. Your spirit and energy is all here. Your body is as dead as you understand it.”

“For how long?” Nathan asked, as he tried to grasp everything.

“Time here moves much more slowly, and it’s really not all that linear,” Kratos said, still looking around.

“What are you looking at?” Nathan asked, agitated. “There’s nothing to see. Everything is plain white.”

“Yes,” Kratos said, with some amusement in his voice. “I can see what you see.”

Nathan paused for a moment. “You see something different?”

Kratos said nothing, and just looked at Nathan with a slight expression of wonderment.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” Nathan said definitely. “I went through the trauma, my body ceased to function and my spirit left, but it isn’t my time. Or it is, but I’m at a gateway. My powers …”

“I’ll stop you there,” Kratos said. “You have it all correct up to there. Where you were about to go, was wrong.”

Nathan stopped his line of thinking and mulled over Kratos’ words. “It’s not the powers,” Nathan finally said. “It’s me.”

Kratos looked back up where Nathan’s spirit had been and was now suddenly gone as Hera entered his field of vision, and the surroundings became the garden area around Mount Olympus.

“He is so wonderfully innocent of how truly extraordinary he is,” Hera said, and laid her hand on Kratos’ shoulder, then smiled to him warmly.

“They all are, actually. They have no idea what they are capable of,” Kratos said as he turned to walk with Hera. “But you are, of course, correct, Mother Hera; he will go so much farther and do so much more. So long as we help and guide him.” Kratos spoke in a tone of concern.

“We must not directly interfere,” Hera responded. “There is, of course, no harm in keeping him on the path he is already on.”

***

“NATHAN!” Adia yelled, as the monitors maintained their zero level readings. “Oh my God. There’s nothing we can do. He’s just going to keep falling to Earth,” she said as the warning alarms continued to sound due to the zero power level and the flat line on all of his vital signs. Adia went from readout to readout, looking for any type of fluctuation.

“Station One Orbital Platform to international control, come in control. This is station Commander Cadman. We are on battery power and broadcasting on emergency frequency beta two; can you read us?” the British accented voice crackled over the speakers.

Adia focused the volume control to that audio stream to listen in to the conversation. She could hear a lot of background noise. It all sounded to her like distress on the station as it came apart in the atmosphere. It was difficult to properly hear all of the accompanying sounds, as the alarms still sounded on the system in the apartment. Adia looked for a way to mute them.

“This is General Westmartin from the US Air Command; we read you. We are working with the British Air Guard and the International Space Agency tracking your descent into US airspace,” the general responded.

Computer Central’s alarm notifications ceased. “Thank you for silencing those. I couldn’t find the settings and they were getting annoying,” Adia said, then shut up as Commander Cadman responded to the general.

“Yes, well, about that, not that we’re unappreciative that we’re alive and have somehow survived reentry, we realize that it’s an unprecedented miracle. We were curious if you had one more miracle regarding a landing,” Commander Cadman asked in a flat tone, but evidently trying to inject a little humor into his comments.

“I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you how you survived reentry,” General Westmartin responded in his standard booming voice. “We’re not at all quite sure of it ourselves, and we watched it on the monitors with our own eyes.”

“How much time to impact?” Commander Cadman asked.

“Deck Officer Murray here, time to impact fourteen minutes, fifty seconds. Correction, fifteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds.” A pause descended, then: “This calculation, the computer keeps lengthening it.”

Adia turned to the display that had Nathan’s vital and energy readings.

“Computer Central,” she said.

“Enabled,” the female computer voice responded.

“Can you confirm Nathan’s present status?” she asked and closed her eyes.

“Power levels at twenty two percent, estimated. Heart rate, one-hundred-sixteen beats per minute. Blood pressure one-hundred-seventy-nine, over one-hundred-eleven. Brain activity …”

“Stop. Can we open a frequency to him?” Adia choked the words out over her tears.

“Negative. Showing equipment failure on his end.”

“Can you give me a communication opening into the Air Command frequency?” she asked, nervous.

“Affirmative,” the computer responded.

“Please allow me to broadcast to them,” she requested, realizing that all commands to the system had to be literal and definitive.

“Channel open.”

“Um, excuse me,” Adia said. “Can you hear me?”

The sound of wrenching and groaning metal nearly overpowered the response. “This is Commander Cadman, can I ask who this is?”

“This is General Westmartin,” boomed the general. “This is a restricted communications frequency. You are in violation …”

“General,” Adia countered boldly, with her Puerto Rican accent becoming quite clear. “I heard your fighter pilot earlier when Nathan outran him. You can arrest him, and myself if you want as well, after he soft-lands the station.”

“This is Commander Cadman, once again,” he said, breaking into the conversation. “Might I inquire how this Nathan proposes to do that?”

“Well, it’s a little hard to describe,” Adia replied, as she looked at her display of the amateur zoom feed on the World News broadcast. It showed Nathan under the station with a force shield extended across the bottom length of the station and him pressing up against it.

“At the risk of throwing a spanner in the works and sounding off my trolley,” Commander Cadman said, “I wouldn’t mind you giving it a try. If we don’t make it after all, I would really like to know what was attempted.”

“Well,” Adia said, trying to figure out the best way to describe it to him. “You wouldn’t happen to be a fan of EarthWorld comics?”

A short pause descended, and then a soft, static-filled reply came. “On your side of the pond or ours?”

Adia smiled. It sounded as if Commander Cadman was shyly proud regarding his interest. “I don’t know any of them from Europe, but I think Captain Delta is well known on either side of the Atlantic.”

“Of course,” Commander Cadman said. Deck Officer Murray spoke on the secondary communication frequency to the chase fighters, and said that the station descent speed had slowed to less than one-hundred-fifty miles per hour.

Adia looked at Computer Central’s display to see the identical reading. She also glanced over at Nathan’s vitals, which all ran high, but no worse than before. “Nathan presently has the power and capabilities of Captain Delta. Computer Central?”

“Enabled,” the computer responded.

“Please engage on the open frequency and outline in layman’s terms what Nathan is attempting,” Adia said, as she realized via the closed captioning on World News that the entire conversation was being broadcast live via the internet feeds displaying on screen.

“Nathan is presently flying beneath the station with a self-generated force shield cutting across the entire lower surface of the station. It has reduced the effective atmospheric damage to the station by eighty-three percent. He has slowed descent to one-hundred-three miles per hour and is bringing the station down, on its current trajectory, to latitude: 43.334178, and longitude: 74.222215.”

“Near Northville, New York,” an unknown voice indicated in a background conversation at Air Command.

“Well then,” Commander Cadman said. “Given that is the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever heard and yet the only plausible explanation of why we’re still alive, I guess all we can do is secure in place and hope for that soft landing.”

Adia smiled. “I can understand how it takes a leap of logic to comprehend the situation, Commander. I am in the thick of it and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s real, too.”

“See you on the ground then?” Commander Cadman said.

“I believe in Nathan,” Aida said.

“Then I will borrow your faith.”

***

Nathan strained harder as the bulk of the station weighed down on him. In addition to the sheer mass, he needed to maintain his concentration to keep the shield up and maintain upwards flight compression to continue to slow the station as altitude diminished.

He continued to watch below him as he and the station drew closer to the open field and the few mixed trees. In his mind, as he focused, he pictured how he might set the lumbering craft down and get out from under it. He had seen enough superhero cartoons in his youth and, while he knew the science and physics were never much considered into them, he hoped that by attempting to lower one side of the station down by tipping it while he thickened the shielding on his end, this would allow him to wedge his way out and safely set the ship to the ground.

His other active concerns were the military jets that had escorted him the half-mile to ground altitude and all the news helicopters that had fixed his position and shown up. With all that activity, Nathan had safety concerns. Additionally, he felt weakened. His power was diminishing from over-use. He believed that he would have enough power to get the station to the ground, but felt less confident about having power enough to get away from everyone. He needed to get away from the press and the military once he was sure everyone was safe.

“Computer Central,” Nathan called out, but received no response. “Yep, no less broken than it was before.”

As he neared the ground he teetered the ship towards the heavier end and played into the off-center of gravity’s pull to lower one side of the ship. Without warning, it began to slide off the shielding and head faster toward the ground. Nathan did his best to compensate the sudden final descent to landing, but it was rougher than he’d hoped for. Rough, but down and intact.

Nathan continued to lower the near side of the station and increase the wedge thickness of the shielding. He could feel that draining his power levels even more quickly, so he flew backwards to get away from the near edge and lowered it towards the ground. Once the force shield touched down, he shrunk it until the station rested on the ground.

Nathan lowered himself to the ground as news helicopters swarmed overhead, and ground emergency vehicles forced their way into the open field from the main road. Before the ground vehicles arrived, Nathan heard the sound of an emergency hatch being blown open and he raised himself off the ground to fly over. From overhead, at about one-hundred feet, he watched everyone emerge from the station wreckage.

Senator Mackenzie Kelly stepped out after most of the others exited the craft, just before Commander Cadman and Mission Specialist Diana Blair. All of them looked up to see Nathan floating above the ship, and recognition lit the senator’s eyes.

“This is extraordinary,” he said, looking up at Nathan. “This was you? When you saved my son?”

“That was different, to a degree,” Nathan responded. “I didn’t have my powers then. Six of one … half a dozen of another. Here I am, anyway.”

“We all owe you our lives. And so much more,” the Senator said, and his voice wobbled with emotion.

Nathan looked at him for a moment. The cameras aren’t here for him to play to. This is a genuine emotion. Interesting. And here I thought politicians didn’t have them. “I have the letters you sent,” Nathan said, as he felt himself lowering to the ground slowly. He realized his exhaustion was going to do him in, and he had to get away now or he would be unable to. “You asked me to pay you a visit.”

“Yes,” Senator Kelly said, and cleared his throat. “Yes, I wanted to privately and properly thank you for saving my son.”

Privately. There’s that ray of hope again in an honest politician, Nathan thought.

“I’m out of work now, so it’ll be a bit easier to take you up on that visit offer,” Nathan said, and moved slightly higher and away.

“I look forward to it,” Senator Kelly called, as all the others looked on in silent amazement.

Nathan waved and raced away as fast as he could. The news helicopters were caught off guard and left in the dust. The jets dove in from higher altitudes to attempt to give chase, but not before Nathan dove into a deeper and more densely wooded area of Adirondack State Park.

Once safely out of sight, Nathan landed, harder than he’d planned, as exhaustion overtook him completely. He walked his way into a small glade area and lay down. It was only then that he noticed his jeans and shirt had been burned and torn from the ravages of reentry and atmospheric damage, despite having been protected by his shields.

As he closed his eyes, he caught a momentary glimpse of someone as part of a memory. Was I engaged in a conversation? Sleep began to overtake him and take its hold. “It’s not the powers, it’s me.”

 

 

EPILOGUE

The light spring rain ran down the pane of the apartment windows. Adia sat in her nightgown with her drink, and stared off into the dark silhouette of the city against the night sky.

Adia’s roommate, Melinda, came out of the bedroom.

“Are you sure I can’t talk you into coming out with us?” Melinda asked, as she put on a light jacket.

“No, thanks,” Adia said quietly. “I’m not feeling up to being a fifth wheel.”

“It’s the three of us girls, so you’re technically the fourth wheel,” Melinda said with a slight smile, trying to improve her friend’s mood.

“Thanks. Thanks for trying. I’m sure I’ll be back to myself in short order.” Adia said, and continued to look out the window.

“Look, Adia, I don’t profess to know anything about anything, but what else could Nathan do? He’s done so much good, but he’s starting to work directly with law enforcement on major issues. Here and in other large cities. That makes his friends and family a target. He only really had you and Lisa, and Lisa already managed herself out to the fringe before all of this on her own.” Melinda pulled a chair closer and sat next to Adia. “He had to say goodbye.”

“Did he have to leave the city?” she asked, as the tears began to flow. “Then I could at least chance upon him once in a while like I always did. I always liked that. In a city of eight-and-a-half-million people, somehow, even when he was just plain old Nathan, he would suddenly come around a corner and just be there.”

Melinda tried to find something she could say that would comfort her friend, something she hadn’t already said in the past four weeks since Nathan left and ended things.

“No,” Adia said as she sniffed, and took a sip from her glass. “He had to pack up everything and go to parts unknown. He asked me to be his anchor, his center. I said I would. Despite everything, time and tide, I hope he realizes that if he needs me that I will be there.”

“Adia,” Melinda said. “You’re my girl. I’ve got your back. He made it so the two of you could stay in touch, from a distance. He wanted to. You said no. Just like it was your right to say no, it was his to decide it wasn’t safe anymore. Despite the ‘no’ I think he realizes that if he really needs you for something that important that you will have his back. If you need him, he’ll have yours.”

“I get to decide what’s safe for me,” Adia said in a voice so rough it sounded like a bark. “He doesn’t lord over me.”

“I didn’t say ‘safe for you,’ I said ‘safe.’ And you’re in law enforcement. You know it wasn’t.” Melinda softened her tone and continued. “He loved you. Enough to let you go. That’s a rare thing today. He’ll find a way back to you someday, I’m sure. I hope by then you’re ready to let him in.”

Adia didn’t respond to the comment, and refocused her attention on the night sky outside the apartment window. “I keep looking out there. I swear I can feel him. I keep expecting to see him floating in the sky. He’s never there.” Adia broke down in sobs, and lowered her head. “He’s never there.”

A quick flash of lightning and a faint rumble of thunder filled the sky over the Loisaida area of Manhattan as Nathan flew away.

***

U.S. Senator Mackenzie Kelly stepped outside of the barn on his rural property and looked up at the darkened night sky.

“Looks like rain is coming,” Nathan called out from the sky behind him as he lowered himself to the ground.

Slightly taken off guard by the sound of Nathan’s voice breaking the quiet, the senator responded, “I think you’re right and I think you mean in more ways than one.”

“I do,” Nathan said as he reached into the small pack he wore. He took out two smartphones and extended his hand to give them to Senator Kelly.

The senator looked them over. “What’s this?”

“They’re retro-fitted smartphones,” Nathan said, and drifted upwards. “They operate on a high-end frequency via triple encrypted traffic, and are direct to one another and my devices. Think of it as a closed network on top of being encrypted.”

“And this is to reach you?”

“For when you need me. My powers are restricted. They’re not ‘on’ all the time. They seem to be for times of need. And I’m not the judge of that need. The source of the powers controls that.” Nathan drifted in place a few feet below the roof of the barn.

“And who, or what, is that?” The senator asked, as he took a couple of steps over to a rusting pickup truck and leaned against it.

“The Greek gods from Mount Olympus,” Nathan said.

“I have to take your word for it that they are real beings. I wouldn’t normally believe it otherwise, but I’ve seen what you can do firsthand. Do you trust them and their judgment?” Senator Kelly asked in an honest tone.

“It’s not like I have much other choice in order to have the powers. They trust me with them. A return courtesy is mandatory at a minimum.” Nathan replied. A flash of lightning shot across the sky, almost on cue.

“Zeus?” Senator Kelly asked, in a humorous tone.

“I never met him, but it wouldn’t surprise me.” Nathan said with a slight smile. “Little does anymore.”

Senator Kelly nodded. “So a phone for me I presume, and …”

“One for the President. Call when you need me. If I am able, and the cause is just to the people, then I will help and do what I can.”

Nathan drifted away some more, intending to leave if the senator had nothing further for him.

“Have you ever wondered ‘why me?’ Why did they choose me?’” the senator asked in a serious tone.

“I used to. I’m realizing slowly that I’m doing the gift justice. What’s that old saying? ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Whenever I question things, I think of that saying and I say to myself, ‘If not me, then who?’”

Senator Kelly smiled. “To the good of the country, then.” He watched Nathan drift away.

“I understand your sentiment. I love my country too. The call is larger and louder. It’s all right. I can hear it.”

With a flash of lightning and a loud rumble of thunder from a proximity hit, Nathan disappeared.

Nathan is back in New York City in “I, Hero: Nathan Returns[
Now available for ordering for the Amazon Kindle
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B011AOPE64/

 

ABOUT JASON ZANDRI

Jason has been working in the information technology field in one form or the other since 1996. He is currently employed full time at Bloomberg LP as a Systems Engineer in the R&D group. Jason lives in Wallingford Connecticut, with his wife Renata. He is the father to four children, three boys and 1 girl—11 years (Andrew), 9 years (Angela), 7 years (Adam), and 6 years old (Alex).

 

Social Media links

Twitter – @GUNDERSTONE https://twitter.com/gunderstone/
Facebook Author pagehttps://www.facebook.com/jzandri
LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonzandri
Google+https://plus.google.com/+JasonZandri/
Author blog – The GUNDERSTONE Review https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/

Books and links

[+ Before Another Sunset (The Sunset Series Book 1)+][
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T11GKYE [
**
**]Another Sunset (The Sunset Series Book 2)[
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QD2FQU8/ [
**]

[+ I Hero: The Beginning+][
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y3LA41M/ [
**
**]I Hero: Nathan Returns[
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B011AOPE64 [
**
I Hero: Phases (Expected first half 2016)
I Hero: Untitled Book 4 (Expected second half 2016)
I Hero: Untitled Book 5 (Expected first half 2017)]

[
**]

[+ As Life Goes: Elementary+][
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ZXVB7SK/ [
**
**]As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence [
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017TBSD42/ [
**
As Life Goes: The Reunion – (expected April 2016)
As Life Goes: The Wedding (expected July 2016)
As Life Goes: The Funeral (expected October 2016)]

Another Sunset

David Stephenson is a kind drifter who comes to settle in the small Texas town of Westville. His sense, empathy, and awareness are well received by the residents of the failing town as they welcome and befriend him. During his stay he helps a small local girl try to realize her dream and while doing so excites and energizes the whole town to help out. Lives change as fate takes a critical turn. The local would-be reporter, tasked by David’s longtime friend, takes off on a mission to unravel the mystery of his travels, where he came from, and discovers why he is on his journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Sunset Reviews – (see all on Amazon.com) http://amzn.to/1RHrdES

 

“The author has a nice way of weaving together a touching story that definitely tugged at those heartstrings”
http://www.amazon.com/review/RE23H0HC4YBXY/

 

“Endearing characters, well-paced dialogue, and valuable lessons…all the components of fantastic book”
http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KETK9GVPLVIV

 

“Instead of the fast pace of stories that tell too much, too soon, Another Sunset moved its pace along with detail that helped really form its characters. It gave plenty of time to delve into the story and not be able to fully discern where the story was going (which I like – I don’t like to be able to script out what’s going to happen! Surprise me!)”
http://www.amazon.com/review/R3DJBKJG5DVFM1/

 

I, Hero – The Beginning

The story that started it all

 

An everyday man, living less than ordinary life in New York City, simply makes his way about his work life and one at home. A kind heart and an empathetic soul, who tended to think of others before he thought of himself.

 

With his childhood totally left behind and gone with the final resting of his father, Nathan has come to terms with his past as he forges his life in the present, unaware of what lies ahead.

 

An unlikely friendship, a random act of violence, a budding romance, all part of a life changed.

 

“When it’s your time, there’s nothing you can do to change that outcome. The only thing you can do is meet it head on. You have to hope that the life you had with others, while you were here, has made a positive impact.” – Brian Devron

 

“Where there is darkness, you are light. Where others know fear, you will be brave. When there are setbacks, you will persevere. Where others find weakness, you bring strength. Where there is despair, you are hope. Where cowardice falls, you rise courageously. Where others do not have the ability to believe, you have faith. You will suffer, so that others will endure. You will triumph where others would fall.” – Cici Johnson

 

“This is it; it all changes tonight. Anything I do tonight, at a minimum, is going to at least expose all of this to the world.” – Nathan Devron.

 

 

I, Hero: The Beginning [– Order on Amazon
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y3LA41M/

“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt I

http://bit.ly/1MKrwsF

[[“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt II
http://bit.ly/1CCp4Sl]] [[++
++]]
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt III [
**]http://bit.ly/1HlZEYo

“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt IV
http://bit.ly/1CwNg3l [
**
**][All my free excerpts from my books can be found on my blog via
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/category/excerpt/

I, Hero – Nathan Returns

Nathan is back in New York City; the place where it all started, nearly one year later. While he has been away, he has been establishing a base of operations and trying to follow the direction his life has taken – making a difference and answering the call for help where and when he is needed.

He has returned to this birthplace of his powers with more questions of why he is on the path he is on and what is expected of him.

During a dangerous rescue, his powers dissipate, and leave him critically vulnerable.

He connects back with old friends who help him rediscover the man he used to be to in order to help him be the man he has become and the man who he must be.

Magical forces come into play, pulling on nature itself, which introduces an unexpected challenge to Nathan while he is at this perilous juncture.

The pendulum swings even farther out of alignment; it is up to Nathan to respond before forces are set into motion that cannot be countered.

I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Order on Amazon[
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B011AOPE64/

I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt I[
**]http://bit.ly/1PKdbiD[[++
++]][
**]I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt II[
**]http://bit.ly/1j3gXqy[
**
**][All my free excerpts from my books can be found on my blog via
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/category/excerpt/

 

 

As Life Goes: Elementary

“Every new beginning starts from nothing. Understanding that you can have everything in the love of one person, isn’t that worth the risk of personal capital? Isn’t that kind of love worth it?” – Diane Wakeford

 

“Have I ever told you, you’re the nicest boy I’ve ever met?” – Melissa Bancroft

 

“I will have the friends I want. I don’t care what boy likes me or what boy I like. You’re an awesome friend. I am not giving you up because we’re going to different schools or for any one person either.” – Elizabeth Wellsworth

 

Mark Sanford returns to his hometown with his son Matthew in tow to rebuild their lives. Recently divorced, and with the mother totally abandoning her parental responsibilities, both father and son are beginning their fresh start together.

 

Matthew begins to make new friends in the neighborhood and at school while he tries to find his place among people that have been friends with one another for years at elementary school.

 

Mark takes over the reins of the former family corner store with the help of a young woman looking for work. The ability to love and trust that woman entering his life is difficult for him because of all he has lost. For Matthew, that “first love” is difficult to understand without a motherly influence and with a father that has been deeply hurt.

 

As Life Goes: Elementary[
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ZXVB7SK/ [

  • – Links to Excerpts*]

 

[+ As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt I+] [
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-i/ [
**
**]As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt II [
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-ii/ [
**
**]As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt III[
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-iii-author-jason-zandri/ [
**
**][All my free excerpts from my books can be found on my blog via
**]https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/category/excerpt/

[As Life Goes: Elementary – Links to Reviews
**][
**]FIVE STARS A refreshing read – touching and very inspiring![
**]http://www.amazon.com/review/R2585J9HGG45TQ/[
**
FIVE STARS] Touching and very relevant[
**]http://www.amazon.com/review/R30MV63ZF0VILI/ [
**]

 

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence

“You have to let things happen and be there for the ones you care about. When they slip, you try to catch them to break their fall. You can’t always be there for everyone; when you’re not and if they should fall, you help them back up.” – Matthew Sanford.

 

“Now and for the rest of my life, I want to spend the time trying to make you as happy as you’ve made me.”

 

“There’s no way to know all things with absolute certainty. If you want to love that much, if you want the chance to be Matthew’s entire world, and have him be yours, you’re going to have to risk everything.” – Diane Wakeford.

The one constant in the universe is change.

 

Matthew, Tim, Melissa, Liz and the gang come to the end of their youth as they turn eighteen and prepare to leave high school.

 

Old friends and new come together as their lives shift from the moment they are in to the future that is coming at them.

 

One love is discovered and then lost. Another is never fully revealed. Others are put forward to stand against the tests of life, time, and circumstance.

 

At a time of letting go, they do their best to hang on, realizing that yesterday is gone and what they have to look forward to is everything that tomorrow offers.

 

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence[
**]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017TBSD42/ [

  • – Links to Excerpts*]

 

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I

http://bit.ly/1knbsVe

 

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt II

http://bit.ly/1MycCaG

 

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt III

http://bit.ly/1M4duT0


I, Hero: The Beginning

FIVE STARS - A must read By Catherine Grainger on September 6, 2015 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase Hero: The Beginning by Jason Zandri At any moment, any tiny, seemingly insignificant event can, and often does, change our life forever. How we react and deal with the consequences of that event, is what develops, and defines our character. Author Jason Zandri uses his amazing writing talent to help us understand that reality in this first book of what is certainly going to be a phenomenal series. Hero: The Beginning is more than just a science fiction, supernatural suspense story, but also a philosophical journey not just for main character Nathan, but for every reader as well. Like each of us, Nathan is an ordinary person, living his life as best he can. But, like each of us, he must one day make a choice, to become the person he was meant to be (whether he likes it or not) or to ignore his conscience and forever change the direction of his life path, and that of everyone around him. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- An everyday man, living less than ordinary life in New York City, simply makes his way about his work life and one at home. A kind heart and an empathetic soul, who tended to think of others before he thought of himself. With his childhood totally left behind and gone with the final resting of his father, Nathan has come to terms with his past as he forges his life in the present, unaware of what lies ahead. An unlikely friendship, a random act of violence, a budding romance, all part of a life changed. “When it’s your time, there’s nothing you can do to change that outcome. The only thing you can do is meet it head on. You have to hope that the life you had with others, while you were here, has made a positive impact.” – Brian Devron “Where there is darkness, you are light. Where others know fear, you will be brave. When there are setbacks, you will persevere. Where others find weakness, you bring strength. Where there is despair, you are hope. Where cowardice falls, you rise courageously. Where others do not have the ability to believe, you have faith. You will suffer, so that others will endure. You will triumph where others would fall." - Cici Johnson “This is it; it all changes tonight. Anything I do tonight, at a minimum, is going to at least expose all of this to the world." - Nathan Devron. ------------------------------------------------ ---- I Hero: Nathan Returns ON SALE NOW http://www.amazon.com/Hero-Nathan-Returns-Jason-Zandri-ebook/dp/B011AOPE64/ ----

  • ISBN: 9781311054531
  • Author: Jason Zandri
  • Published: 2015-11-19 18:50:17
  • Words: 52654
I, Hero: The Beginning I, Hero: The Beginning