Ben Altair watched the nightly news with little enthusiasm from over his steeped fingertips. The press was becoming more and more familiar with the New Vindicators given their exploits in recent months. They had been the ones who had saved Chienne Bedford from Tide. They had stopped Suicide Dave. Now Ben’s peers had not only rescued their teacher but they had apprehended five of the criminals who had escaped Alcatraz Island just months prior.
“I’m here with Rumble, the young woman responsible for bringing down both Tooth and Nail tonight. This young woman, still in high school, single-handedly bested two super-powered serial killers tonight.”
Ben changed the channel, only to find another reporter interviewing Adonis. Once more, Ben surfed up, passing by a reporter inquiring if Hourglass’ codename was because of her powers or figure. He clicked again and found himself staring eye-to-eye with Lodestone. He clicked again and landed somewhere safe… QVC.
“I probably wasn’t the only one who missed tonight’s mission,” Ben said softly. That Katie had no roommate was a liberating thing; it allowed Ben to speak freely about his secret life as a New Vindicator, without fear of who might overhear from the bed adjacent. “Two weeks ago, a little after Valentine’s Day, they found Deimos. He’d been missing for four days, actually. He said his aunt abducted him and his girlfriend and tortured them. He figures she was trying to leave him for Bogart to find… He won’t say why, but this guy apparently wants Deimos dead. I guess he wouldn’t need a reason though. I mean, I figure a lot of people probably want Deimos dead.”
Ben forced himself to grin down at Katie. “You know what else? Ever since he came back, nobody’s seen this mystery girl of his. He said he’s talked to her since but… he’s never left the school. I bet he’s probably making her up. I mean, who’d want to be with a guy like Deimos? It’s kind of sad really… having an imaginary girlfriend.” Ben sighed and shook his head. It wasn’t the only thing that was sad. The events of the last few weeks were news to Ben—he had only found out about their misadventures were Bogart was concerned yesterday. In the two months since Katie had been admitted to the hospital, he rarely left her side. He was out of the loop were things were concerned at home.
He had found out that Lex and Jacque were back together but he barely registered that they had broken up. Magnus was dating Maria and Adonis was not dating Cassandra. Life had gone on without him and no one else seemed bothered by his lack of a presence at the institute these days.
“I really wish you’d wake up,” he admitted. “I—I never really mattered to my mom but my dad… he was always great. I got my powers from him, actually. You know—most of the kids at school… they got their powers from their parents. Well, they’re Neo-Sapiens; they’d have to get them from their parents. Well, most of them… their parents either didn’t realize they were Neo-Sapiens or they tried to hide it. Take Adonis’ dad? He was a lawyer and he’d been using his powers subconsciously to win cases. Some were more like Lex’s mom and hid their powers. My dad though… he knew about his powers and he didn’t hide them. Well, he did… but he stopped. He stopped right around the time I was born.
“He used to tell me I was the kick he needed to be a man. He’d say stuff like, ‘I wanna protect this world, because my little man is in it.’ He never called me a boy—I was a little man. It always made me feel big, you know? Dad was just a musician… but if he saw a way to help people by using his powers—he jumped on it. Some people were thankful for him helping them and some weren’t. People—people treated us pretty badly. I mean, I can remember my mom hugging me, hiding behind a chair while people banged on the windows—screaming that they were going to kill us. That—that was probably why mom was so happy when he died… and why she was so upset when my powers kicked in.
“I had just turned fifteen a few months before and… well, I was detasseling. I grew up in the Corn Belt and it’s kind of like a rite of passage for us there. It was my first job: just going through the fields tearing the tassels off corn. It was really hot that year and… well, my powers kept me cool. I know, it’s a lame way to manifest powers. I mean, it’s not as dramatic as Magnus or Adonis—or Drew even—but… it’s what I got.
“It’d be really nice if you woke up, because these one sided conversations are kind of boring.”
Ben spun around, shocked to find a man a few years older than him standing in the doorway. A growth of hair trailed from his bottom lip, straight down his chin and a mop of shaggy brown hair hung in his eyes. He wore a leather coat over his simple white shirt and jeans—his comfortable style accented more by the open-toed sandals. “‘Ow’s our girl doin’?”
“How—how much did you hear?” Ben asked, worried what this man might now know about his other identity.
“Nottin’ I ‘adn’t ‘eard before,” he said, his Australian accent more apparent now. The man advanced at a casual pace, letting his hands relaxed in the pockets of jeans as he swaggered up to Katie’s bedside. “I can ‘elp y’out there, Ben. I can ‘elp y’with y’powers.”
Ben blinked in surprise but attempted to hide his sudden shock. “Powers? Who said anything about-?”
“According to the dossiers, y’s’posedda be able to generate ice and shape it to y’will. Codenamed Frostbite, y’were born on February 10, 1989 to Alan and Alison Altair. Yer eighteen-years-old, six feet an one inch, two-‘undred pounds.” The man flashed Ben a wide grin from atop the pocket notebook he read from. “Porker.”
“Shut up,” grumbled Ben.
“I’m kidding. Based on y’BMI, y’only about fifteen pounds over.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Files from the New Vindicators Academy, mate. Like I toldja, I can ‘elp y’with y’powers.”
“What makes you think I need help with my powers?”
The man pointed to Katie. “‘Ow’s it feel to know that, you spent a semester at a school who’s stated purpose is to ‘elp Neo-Sapiens rejoin society with the knowledge an ability to protect themselves and their loved ones from the backlash what goes ‘and-in-‘and with bein’ an NS and y’still couldn’t protect the s’posed love of y’life?”
Ben said nothing, he only bit his bottom lip and was hardly surprised to taste blood.
“Up until now, y’ve… what? Y’ve gone an covered y’self in ice. Sure, it protects y’smidgen and ‘ides y’identity an’ all but…” The man flipped a few pages back in his notebook and shook his head. “It took Drew Jenkins usin’ y’powers to teach y’to use them to bind y’enemies? ‘Ow’s it feel to ‘ave someone else use y’powers better’n y’ever could?”
Ben bit harder.
“I’d like to ‘elp y’learn more about y’powers, mate… if y’let me?”
“Lead the way,” Ben grumbled.
The man grinned and lead he did. The pair spoke not a word as their procession slipped out of the hospital and through the streets of Roosevelt Island. The man took Ben out towards the island’s east shore. This time of night, there were relatively few people around—the man seemed to find these the perfection conditions for their training. “Why didn’t we just go to the Wreck Room?” Ben asked timidly.
The man nodded and watched as Ben casually coated himself in a thin frost. “Right… now, freeze the water I send up.” With a wave of his hand, the stranger evoked a wind from the east and hammered it down at the surface of the East River, sending a spray outward towards Queens. Ben reacted, aiming his arms out for the spray and freezing the surface. “Now flatten it.”
“What’s the point?”
Ben concentrated on the ice and the man nodded as the surface leveled out once more, forming a still image of an ice flow. “‘Ow precise are ya?”
“Sculpt y’girlfriend’s face.”
“Look—what’s the point of this?”
“Y’armor is still on.”
“Y’mean to tell me you can armor up and sculpt ice… but y’never thought to sculpt the armor?”
Ben froze, unsure what to say to that. He had never considered sculpting the armor he coated himself in. “Y’could ‘ave so many applications of y’power but y’never thought to use them to ‘eighten y’melee performance though… didja?”
“What do you mean?”
“Add spikes—make it ‘ard for an opponent to punch ya! Add density to the thickness and y’increase your strength. Who knows, maybe y’can even use it to grow, Ben? All y’ever thought about was ‘iding who y’are. What would y’dad say if ‘e could see y’now? ‘E didn’t ‘ide… not when ‘e ‘ad somethin’ worth protectin’.”
Ben concentrated. He formed the image in his head. He imagined the frost armor, thicker and denser; he imagined Lex’s physique then—but covered in spikes. Suddenly, the crystallization snapped him out of the stupor and he looked down at himself.
His shoulders and back had become a wall of quills and his arms and chest seemed more impressive than he ever dreamed. He stared at those arms again and was shocked when his body responded to his thoughts, erecting blade-like spikes from the elbows and wrists. “I’m Wolverine!” he exclaimed, looking down to the three ice-claws jutting out from the back of his hands.
“More like a porcupine,” the man said. “I’m ‘appy for y’Ben… I am… Listen to me though: my name is Nor’easter. Don’t even start on me bein’ from the southern ‘emisphere either. My powers are focused on the wind but… they’re weather based. That’s why while I was at the New Vindicators Academy, I learned everything I could about meteorological phenomenon an’ the role wind plays on the world. My powers can do more than a little gale force vorticity—I can can create floods or erosion… even blizzards if I like. Point is… it’s not enough to just use y’powers—y’gotta know about ‘em.”
Ben grinned as he turned back to normal. He was sure with these new tricks, he could be a hero; he could be Katie’s hero if she ever woke up. Nothing like this would ever happen again. He looked up and was surprised to find Nor’easter walking away. “Hey!” Ben called after him. “Aren’t you going to come back with me to the school?”
“I’m not from the school,” Nor’easter said coldly, a hint of hesitation in his voice as he offered the truth. “I’m from the Affiliation, Ben… We’ll—you’ll be hearing from us again soon.” Averting his eyes from Ben’s wide gaze, he offered one final piece of advice: “Stay by your girl, Ben… and enjoy the time you still have.”
To Be Continued... wrote:Playing pretend.