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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 27: History

War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 27: History
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

History

 

I was intending to ride the rest of the way in silence, not wanting to get into specifics about what I had done, and more or less tuned out everyone else. They had switched back to using German to talk and I didn’t even care. I really should have been paying attention though, because a few minutes later Lauren put her hand on my shoulder, startling me to looking up at her.

“You’re not all right,” she said firmly, clutching her lightning-crown headdress in one hand.

“Seriously, I’ll be fine,” I told her shortly, trying not to snap.

“Bernadette and I grew up in a house with seven pyrokinetics. We know a bad power reaction when we see one,” she pointed out.

Busted, I thought.

“I know this is perhaps not the best time, but Tobias will want to see you when we get in,” she added. I nodded numbly, knowing already this was going to go badly. My temper was always the south side of unmanageable after something like this, and I knew I was going to be inclined to snap someone’s head off. Well, at least I know it now. Control… I can do this, it just takes control. Crap, what kind of control am I supposed to have when I can’t even control my own powers?

At least they gave me enough time to get cleaned up and changed, and a very hot shower did a lot for the vague feeling of cold within me. The last of the shaking had stopped finally and I realized I wasn’t nearly as tired as I could be. That fight hadn’t lasted very long, and even as tiring as healing was, I could probably go another round or three if I had to. And some days, I might. The thought wasn’t necessarily comforting for me personally but… How many more lives or livelihoods could you save? my conscience pointed out.

Right. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up for this job. Sure. I just needed to keep telling myself that.

There was loud talking coming from the other side of Tobias’ office door as I approached it, and Lauren cracked it a bit as I came near and waved me inside, putting a finger to her lips for silence.

“…we don’t need their help!” Tobias was saying heatedly.

“Ridiculous! You do realize we’re probably some of the oldest active superheroes in the world, right? It’s only because of our indestructibility that we’ve lasted this long,” Reginald snapped. “The only reason we’re not the target of geriatric jokes is because we don’t lose!”

“I’m well aware of that,” Tobias growled.

“Father, you hit the genetic lottery with us. Eight children, all with hero-class power? No other patriarch or matriarch has had such luck. Four active at one time is our average, not eight, and that’s with mixed generations. We’re going to need help eventually, and I for one am delighted that they were willing to step up today,” Reginald said with cool logic.

“We haven’t exactly been high up on the list for help for that last near two decades, and it’s about high time someone was willing to break that taboo and help us out when we needed it. I’m not going to apologize for thanking them, and I’m not dropping them a letter to tell them to back off next time. Besides, they were young, and the last thing I want to do give new heroes the impression that us older ones won’t accept their help,” he finished, crossing his arms. Tobias glared at him with a stormy expression.

“It gives the impression that we can’t do the job we were hired for. There are nine of you active now, ten if Warren’s here, and that should be more than enough. We shouldn’t be implying that we’re so incompetent that we need aid from raw, young heroes. And particularly not those clowns!” Tobias said more calmly, though with an underlying anger that didn’t bode well.

“Father, that’s blatant snobbery and you know it,” Reginald said.

“I don’t like the message it sends. It’s bad for our image,” Tobias said finally.

“They did not have to save us. We were holding fine on our own. They simply wanted to help, just help, not take over,” Reginald said very calmly.

“It looked ridiculous,” Tobias said finally, sighing explosively.

“Anthony thought it was funny,” Reginald said, repressing a smile.

“Cheerleading a supervillain into submission isn’t funny, it’s stupid!” Tobias snapped, throwing his arms up in complete exasperation, pushing out of his chair to pace.

“Well, she did help distract Dark Spring, and the fast kid did help put Dark Summer down fairly effectively. It’s always hard to know what to do with someone else with fire powers,” Reginald said.

“And what about that other boy pulling Wind Demon down from the sky? That was actually extremely useful,” Lauren added. “I saw the news footage on the flight back from Munich.”

“You weren’t there! That boy had elastic powers, for the love of God! That has to be one of the sillier powers in the entire history of-.”

“Just because it looks silly doesn’t make it any less effective,” Reginald said primly.

I had been suspicious at the beginning of this argument, but now I was certain of it. And Reginald was right. This was funny. This was funny as hell. I just wish I had been there to see it. I started to laugh, and finally collapsed into a chair, doubled over and trying to get control of myself. Lauren was looking at me as if she wondered if I had just snapped.

“Warren? What’s going on?” she asked.

“Those guys… Penny, Speed, and Lash,” I got out.

What? Those classmates of yours you were protecting last fall?” Tobias said, and Reginald and Lauren choked down laughter behind their hands.

“I should have recognized them, I suppose,” Reginald said very neutrally. “I didn’t expect to see them in Paris.”

I just shrugged as Tobias’ face began to fade from its spectacular purple color.

“Never mind,” he said finally. “I don’t suppose Lauren called this meeting so we could argue about our image.”

“No, and this is actually fairly serious,” she said. I sobered up immediately; taking a deep breath before Lauren finally broached a subject I’m sure Tobias would find much more interesting than the family's image.

“When we were fighting today, Warren and I were together fighting Hydro and Cascade while Winter Court dealt with Meltdown. Warren was trying to lure them into coming straight at him, I think,” she looked over to me for confirmation, and I nodded. I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t taken a half-second to explain to her what I was doing. We could have avoided this whole incident if I had just said something to her.

“I didn’t know what was going on, and when I turned to ask him what he was doing, they lunged for us. Cascade got herself around me, and I had to power up and touch her to get her off. But it didn’t entirely work; she left enough of herself behind to drown me. I would have died, if Warren hadn’t healed me.”

Both Tobias and Reginald sat straight up and stared at me. I stared straight back this time. No matter how much it discomforted me to see the look in their eyes, I didn’t think I would make a good impression by trying to shrug this off.

“Healed her? Blast, did you get the security tapes?” Tobias asked quickly.

“Yes, I got them taken and sealed before we even left the plant,” Lauren said with a nod, and I felt a bolt of fear shoot through me. Crap, I didn’t even think of that. Crap, crap, crap!

“Relax Warren, there wasn’t even anyone in there to view them at the time. No one saw them, and it’s not unusual for us to take the tapes. Or disk, in this case, it was digital. At any rate, it’s under seal at the Bureau now, same as the rest of classified material,” Lauren added to me. I forced myself to breathe a little slower.

“But you had a bad power reaction after we left, didn’t you?” Lauren continued relentlessly, and I nodded, staring at my hands to avoid to having to look them all in the face.

“That wasn’t a long fight. Is healing that hard?” she asked.

“It takes a lot out of me,” I tried to explain.

“How much?” Reginald asked.

“It’s like heat channeling, but ten times worse,” I told him after a second, trying to find a parallel they’d understand, and saw both Reginald and Tobias wince. “I thought you all saw the tapes from the Gauntlet… I nearly killed myself the first time I used it.”

“Seeing it on tape and watching your reaction in person are two different things,” Lauren pointed out.

“That wasn’t what I was shaking about,” I told them softly. “I couldn’t go after Cascade. I… can tell when someone’s hurt, if they’re close, and when you were hurt, it stopped me in my tracks. Literally.”

A barrage of glances flew around the room, and Tobias had a quick, fierce conference with his children in German. Tobias finally stood behind his desk after several long minutes.

“Warren, I believe I can say without conceit that our family knows nearly everything there is to know about our powers. We know every weakness, every strength, every quirk and trick that there is. The reason we know is because our powers breed true and clear. We don’t often marry others with superpowers, but when we do, any superpowered children have Battle family powers, not another’s. My wife Elizabeth is a cryokinetic, and her cryokinesis is a little different than what normally shows in our family. Yet Bernadette has Battle cryokinesis.

“It’s always gone that way, for as far back as we have records. Our powers always show the same, no matter what kind of other powers are introduced into the bloodline. Until you. I thought we would be able to help you with any oddities that might crop up… but I was wrong. Never in our knowledge have we had any case of powers controlling their owner. We simply don’t have the knowledge or experience to help you control what you have.

“You need to talk to your mother’s people.”

I cannot handle this right now, was my first panicked thought. I was beginning to understand how Ethan felt. He was an only child, but had this huge extended family that was simply everywhere. I had barely managed to wrap my head around the idea of dealing with my dad’s relatives, and I didn’t think I could deal with trying to talk with my mom’s family as well. At least not right now.

Though one thing I did know was that I wasn’t going to find any answers staring at the rug.

“I… need to go call her,” I said, and stood. Everyone watched me as I walked out of the room, far less than steady in both body and mind.


“And that’s how it went?” Mom went silent for a long minute, closing her eyes. I waited for a moment, then another. I had gone right to my room and put in a video call to my mother, time zones be damned. She hadn’t looked particularly sleepy, and had listened to me with a kind of detached concentration that was very disconcerting.

“Mom?” I asked, and she put a finger up for me to wait. It was a long five minutes before she opened her eyes again.

“I think I know where I can find what we need. I’ll call you back. I love you darling.”

She disconnected, and I stared at the blank screen for a few seconds.

“Well, that was useful,” I muttered to no one in particular. Either this was going to turn out great, or the floor was about to drop out from under me. At this point, it was a complete toss-up of which was going to happen.


I must have dozed off, because the inevitable Chester was shaking me awake, telling me I had a call. I was so out of it I forgot to be snappy to him when he tried to straighten out wrinkles in my shirt. I just powered up one hand and told him to get out of the room before suffering unspecified fiery consequences. He was unimpressed, and just left the remote on my bed. It was like arguing with my cat, I swear.

When I finally connected the call, Mom had adjusted the video so it showed her worktable in her sanctum, now cleaned off and covered with a line of small, yellowed books. A dusty box was off to one side, carefully labeled “Margaret Peace.”

“Who’s that?” I asked her, already having an idea.

“Margaret Peace was my great-great-grandmother, born at the turn of the nineteenth century. She was also the last strong healer,” she said simply. “These are her diaries.”

I gaped at the box, then back up at Mom.

“Where were they?” I demanded. Where were they last September? I wanted to ask, but by the look of doom on my mom’s face, it was better to keep quiet.

“They were in my mother’s attic. I had to go get them. I’ll tell you about it later, I promise, but right now it’s what’s in them that’s important, not how I got them,” she said, and I nodded as she slowly walked down the line, touching each cover in turn. “Can you stand some family history?”

“I better, because I don’t think I have a choice,” I told her, holding up one hand, flexing it slightly like I’d never seen it before, then meeting her gaze again. Mom nodded solemnly.

“All right, then this is what I’ve found out. It wasn’t the rule for women to learn how to read and write back then, but Margaret did a lot of volunteering for the church, and learned from the priests. She did a lot of charity work, mostly amongst the poor, and that’s how she found out about her powers. These people couldn’t afford to see doctors, and Margaret just wanted to help. Then she powered up and realized she could heal them. She actually uses the words, ‘chase the demons of illness out of them, by gifts granted from God.’”

“She had no idea what was happening to her,” I said softly, feeling a pang of compassion for my long-dead ancestress. Despite the fact that I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, at least someone had figured out that it was part of my powers, and not some kind of curse. Mom shook her head in agreement.

“None at all. At first she thought she was being granted some kind of ability to perform miracles… But she soon learned that her strength was very limited, and she could only heal so much injury or illness at a time. She pushed herself very hard, and suffered a lot of fainting spells before her brother started protecting her from excessive demands. Theodore was some kind of dock laborer, from what I can pick out, and he basically went to bat for her.”

Mom had taken on a lecturing tone, a little like Ethan when he got wound up, pacing back and forth, touching one or another of the diaries as she walked to make a point.

“She eventually married a man she healed from a terrible illness and had three children with him. Everything was fine, then Theodore was killed in an accident, run over by a wagon, and everything fell apart. She doesn’t say why, but I think her husband was a little intimidated by everyone that came looking for her to heal them. People kept pushing in to see her, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them out. And she literally healed herself to death.”

I took a deep breath, able to feel it somewhat in my mind’s eye, the feeling of cold expanding out from my core, of giving away all my fire until there was nothing left. A shiver ran through me and I shoved aside the mental image. Margaret hadn’t been a pyro, but it couldn’t have been any less frightening to give away everything you were until there was nothing left for yourself…

“Warren?” she asked, and I opened my eyes. “That’s just her history. And she didn’t know what was happening to her, but she wrote down everything she could. At the end… she began to call her powers a ‘test from God.’ I think she was getting a little cynical there in the last few months, because she called her powers her ‘compulsion.’

“I think there were several times she tried to turn away from healing some people, but there were some things that made it harder for her to stop, and other that basically forced her to help,” she said, and I sat straight up on the bed. This was it.

“Severity of injury, physical proximity, and blood relations,” she said very calmly, touching the second-to-last diary on the cover. “Think of all the times when your power just seemed to be pulled out of you. What were the common factors?”

That was easy enough to round down. The four worst injuries I had ever healed were also the ones where I hadn’t even had to concentrate very hard to bring my fire up.

“Zack, Penny, Magenta, and Lauren,” I said slowly.

“Each one you were close, each one you didn’t have to concentrate to know something was wrong because they were badly hurt,” she said nodding.

“Penny…” I said, and trailed off. Penny hadn’t been in any immediate danger, and of the four, she had had the least hurt.

“She already died once. Everyone else had a life-threatening injury and was also very close physically,” Mom pointed out, and I nodded slowly, thinking hard.

“What about you? When Tobias burned you I could feel it outside the house!”

“Blood relations. I can tell what a normal person’s feeling from maybe… fifteen or twenty feet away if I concentrate really, really hard. I’m usually much better at it if they’re only four or five feet away, and it’s easiest if I touch them. But I can tell what you’re feeling from nearly a quarter-mile away without even concentrating,” she said, and I nodded in understanding.

“You had a trifecta there with your aunt. A blood relative was dying nearly at your feet. I bet if you had been ten feet further away it wouldn’t have hit you so hard,” she said finally, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It wasn’t a curse or some kind of aberration, just a logical extension of what I had. Not that I would have abandoned by aunt, and mom knew it, but…

“Cutter…” I started, and then shook my head. “Not life-threatening, right?”

“That, and I think part of your power is you have to want to,” she pointed out. “That sadistic little… Anyway, she didn’t deserve it. And you certainly didn’t want to help her.”

“What about Will? I couldn’t break my trance when I was trying to help him… and when I was trying to learn how to use it, I kept scorching everyone,” I asked her. She pursed her lips slightly in thought.

“I think… with your power it’s going to be very much a balancing game between concentration and need. When you tried to heal Will, your concentration was a lot better than when you first tried it. You hadn’t had Ms. Olsen’s class before then, you had been working on your mental walls, you had been meditating… I know when you put your mind to something, you don’t go halfway.”

“So… how do I unconcentrate?” I asked. Figuring out my triggers for my healing powers was a huge weight off my shoulders, but it was pretty clear if I attempted any non-essential healing I could be taking a risk on someone else’s behalf, if not my own. That would mean no practice for me, ever.

“I don’t think you can. I honestly would say, you either need to not heal those not in dire need of it, or have someone nearby that can shake you out of it when you need to,” she said with resignation. Well… ok, that was probably wise. Anyone that didn’t have a life-threatening injury I actually had to concentrate to realize they were hurt in the first place.

“So… no more little stuff,” I said with some relief.

“I know it’s not really comforting that you can’t practice, but now that you know why bad injuries trigger your power. And you can fight against it… if you need to,” she said, the last a little sadly.

Mom knew about hard choices, and she knew that there might be a situation, some day, some time, where I would have to make a choice between healing a life-threatening injury and going after the person that caused it. That would suck. That would suck a lot. And the real bitch of it was I knew sometime it was going to happen. We didn’t have those Moral Dilemma classes in school for nothing.

“At least I have my friends,” I pointed out. “They’ll help.”

“I know they will darling. I’d hate you see you have to make that choice though. You know I’m always here if you need me,” she added.

“Thanks. Mom, how did you get the diaries?” I asked her finally.

“It’s a long story, and trust me, at some point I’ll tell you, but not today. I’ve been through a little too much today to go through this twice,” she said, sighing and hanging her head forward. I really wanted to hug her right then, because however she had gotten them couldn’t have been easy, and it had obviously cost her a lot. But she was over three thousand miles away, and I couldn’t do anything but talk.

“I love you Mom,” I told her simply, trying to put everything I was feeling into my voice. Relief that I wasn’t going crazy, my love and support for her for daring such pain to help me, my admiration for her courage… It seemed to help, and she smiled back at me.

“I love you too Warren. You’ll be fine, and don’t let this hold you back,” she added sternly.

“I won’t,” I promised.


I didn't exactly tell my relatives what Mom had told me, but I made one or two oblique references to having "taken care of it," and that was all I was willing to tell them. For some reason, they didn't press, and for that I was grateful.

The next few days were busy, and I was getting a hard crash course in what my life was going to be like once I really got into the swing of things. I wasn’t working at my cover job, instead I was teaching Thomas alongside my uncles. I wasn’t training with the gang, but with my relatives. And I wasn’t going after supervillains solo, but with the rest of the Battle family. But it was still a pretty good approximation. Though I still had questions, and life going how it was, I sometimes had to ask them when I could. Even when it might seem less than convenient.

Sometime around mid-week Fire Knight and I had ducked down behind a low brick wall as Mastermind’s Destructo-Bots rampaged through the streets of Moscow. We were taking them down at a pretty steady pace, but we had to wait until they were close to strike.

“So, are you guys always this busy?” I asked him, turning to see the ‘Bots were almost in range.

“My turn,” Fire Knight said, popping out of cover to fling a short volley at its face, melting its electronic brain and sending the twenty-foot-tall ‘Bot tumbling to the ground.

“Busy?” he said with a laugh as he ducked back down. “Phoenix, this has been a light week so far. We sometimes get two or three calls a day, and rare is the time where more than three of us get to go together.”

At the look of panic on my face, he chuckled.

“Don’t worry, it’s only because there are so many of us active that we get so many calls. Relax, the Bureau won’t try you beyond your strength more than once,” he said, and then it was my turn to fry the next ‘Bot.

“Why more than once?” I asked, after the next one had crumpled.

“When the Bureau makes a mistake in gauging someone’s strength, someone usually dies, you know that, right? It’s part of the reason we haven’t joined the European branch. That and we’re a stubborn bunch of old fogies,” he added. “I think that was the last of the ‘Bots there.”

Hmm… that hadn’t come up in class, I thought. Then again, why should it? The Bureau sure wouldn’t admit to that except under pressure, and really, what good would it do to admit it, except make everyone afraid and too wary?

“Just don’t be too afraid to tell the Bureau where to stick their requests if they try you beyond your strength. Even if you personally have no intention of joining Fire Court, you could always use that as a club to get them to straighten out their act if they try something stupid,” he told me, and held a hand to his ear. Apparently the elaborate headdress concealed communications gear, amongst other things, and I had privately resolved to copy it as soon as I got back home.

“Right, Fire King got the last one, we’re in the clear,” he said, standing slowly.

“I don’t think I’m disillusioned with the Bureau yet,” I told him, and Fire Knight shrugged.

“Good for you. Let’s hope you never eat those words,” he said with a little smile.


During my week’s “vacation” we fought against Destructo-Bots, shapeshifters, cyborgs, and sentient blobs, as I found myself drawing on nearly all my lessons from Sky High, as well as picking my relatives’ brains for anything I didn’t know. Apparently what had happened with Meltdown was a freak accident, because I honestly didn’t feel in any danger from most of them. There was no doubt that they were powerful, far beyond what a normal policeman or soldier could handle, and if a superhero weren’t on hand to stop them, they could cause a lot of damage indeed. But they were often incompetent, greedy, cowardly, overconfident, or just plain stupid.

These were all the weaknesses we had been told to exploit at Sky High, and I could see how the Battle family went after them with a will. Throw a little bit of tactics at them, and add a superhero or two that wouldn’t run away at the first sign of conflict, and most of them folded fairly quickly. It almost seemed like we weren’t needed, not really, right up until I listened, really listened, to some of the newscasts.

Superbattles from around the world were rattled off just before the sports scores on most broadcasts, but usually just at the end were the kinds of scores that made most heroes’ blood boil. It was a sad fact that supervillains outnumbered superheroes. And most of them escaped from custody with annoying regularity. Supervillains waged battles of attrition against us. If ten villains were defeated one day, at least two others had gotten away with their schemes. If that hadn’t been the case, I doubt anyone would even bother becoming a supervillain. Who would want to put all that work into just getting caught after your first caper? If superheroes hadn’t been willing to put in as much work as we did, the world would be overrun with supervillains within a week.

The one redeeming grace was that supervillains hated each other almost as much as they hated us. There was luckily no equivalent of the Bureau for supervillains, for which I think all of us were very lucky. I couldn’t imagine how much more of a menace supervillains could be if they had anything like the coordination we did.


On Saturday though, the day before I was supposed to come home, we got our strangest call of all. This time I was just going through my workout routine with most of the rest of Fire Court when Reginald pulled out the cheeping red phone. It was making a rather odd noise, though, not the usual ring for emergencies.

What other kinds of calls can you get on an emergency phone? I thought as I put down the weights I had been using.

Reginald listened carefully to it for a moment, and then took the phone away from his ear and caught everyone’s attention. Tobias was looking at him with an oddly knowing expression.

“We have a call off-contract,” he said. “It’s specifically for all of Fire Court, and Phoenix.”

He wasn’t saying something… but what was he holding back?

“It’s from the Peacemaker,” he continued, pressing a few buttons on the phone to connect it to the speakers in the gym. I blinked at him in astonishment.

“Thank you Fire King,” my mom’s voice echoed out from the sound system.

“We don’t usually take off-contract business, unless it’s an immediate threat. And considering it’s you, I doubt it’s urgent,” he said. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the concept that my mom was calling her ex-husband’s family. For help.

“I know, but it could become urgent in short order. I’m organizing a treaty in eastern Palestine. There’s a border dispute I’ve been working on for two months, and I have to push it through today or it all falls through,” she explained.

“I certainly hope you don’t need us though. Unless one side or the other has hired supervillians?” he asked.

“No, nothing like that. As part of the signing, the militia on each side is going to destroy their weapons. I know they still have others in depots, but the symbolism of melting down their guns is a very powerful statement to each other of their commitment to peace. Normally I would just have equipment brought in to do it, but the roads are bombed out, and I can’t afford to wait anymore. Will you do it? I just need you there to get the weapons to the point of uselessness, just so they can fulfill the letter of their treaty. They’re very touchy about it, I’m afraid,” she said.

“And they won’t see our intrusion as-.”

“No, they understand you’re just substituting for the equipment I can’t get.”

“We’re a substitute for a furnace, how flattering Peacemaker,” Tobias drawled.

“Don’t,” I warned him, heat flashing involuntarily along my arms.

“Please, I need your help. You know how bad things are here, and one single treaty could lead to more if it holds. This has to happen now, today, and I don’t have time to fly anything in to do this normally,” she said.

“Yeah, we’ll do it,” I said, the look on my face daring the others to say no. Reginald didn’t look at all cowed, but nodded anyway.

“Certainly Peacemaker. Send us the coordinates, we’ll be there within the hour,” he said calmly. I started to get up, and Reginald reached over and clamped down on my arm. He was a hell of a lot stronger than he looked, I realized belatedly.

“Do not ever agree to something for the rest of us. We have other responsibilities, and if we get a call in the middle of this mercy mission, we may have to abandon it to aid those that have already engaged us for our help,” he said sternly. “I don’t object to aiding the Peacemaker, but her work is not our work. We’re superheroes, not border guards, and our presence at a political treaty could be damaging if not handled correctly. Do you understand me?”

I pulled away, and Reginald let me.

“Yes,” I said tightly.

“I have a few things that I resent Warren. Being told what to do is one of them. I am responsible for this family,” he told me.

"I know that," I said, a bit resentful, but not uncomprehending. If, say, Thomas had suddenly burst into the room and accepted or declined my mom’s offer on all our behalves, I probably would be feeling the same right now. This was the same stuff, on a different level, that I would be dealing with in a couple years’ time with my own group.

"Look, it's my mom," I explained, unwilling to fold. "She knows you have other responsibilities. This is a good mission; so what's the problem with going?"

Reginald's jaw worked slightly as he took that in.

"There is no problem Warren. I simply do not like being overruled on my own grounds," he said, his tone sounding final. "Let's get going everyone."

Get consent before you go promising stuff you can’t deliver, my brain snapped at me. Right. Engage brain first, then open mouth. Do not alienate your fellow heroes; you can’t afford it, Peace.


 

The Fire Court jet circled above the dusty field where the treaty was to be signed, throwing up whirlwinds that tugged at two canopied-covered tables, coating the uniformed men under them with dust, and tugging at the white dress of the lone figure in the middle. Two tables, two sets of leaders, two large groups of armed men, and at the periphery, two groups of women and children, silent and waiting. The scene had a surreal quality about it, enhanced by my mom’s presence in the exact center of the field, right between the two canopied tables.

Fire Knight landed the jet without a flourish, and we quietly filed out, Mom coming over to meet us. We didn’t need to make an intimidating entrance, but I also doubted that making an overly familiar greeting to Mom would go over well. This was business, and it was a little strange to see how very elegant Mom was acting.

“Phoenix, Fire Court, I’m glad you could come,” she said formally, making a little bow.

“We’re glad we could help Peacemaker. This is a far sight better than flaming Destructo-Bots or frying sentient blobs,” Fire King said with a small smile.

“Sentient blobs?” Mom asked with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s been an interesting week,” he said, carefully not smiling, considering the gravity of the situation all around him.

“Apparently. Please, just stand here and look dramatic. If things go as planned this should take less than an hour.” The Peacemaker moved back out to the covered tables while the rest of us stood and soaked up the sunshine. Considering how it felt perfectly fine to me, I hoped this wouldn’t take very long at all, because a normal person would probably start to fry in this heat.

The Peacemaker walked down the center of the invisible line dividing the two forces and raised her arms high, calling out in what I guessed what the native tongue of the area. I had no idea what she was saying (I hadn’t even known she knew any other languages), but from the blank looks on Fire Court’s faces, neither did they. Whatever she was saying was making heads begin to nod on both sides, and when she reached the end of her speech, both sets of leaders stood and gathered around her.

My breath caught when I saw all of them were armed, and the only thing standing between my mom and a bullet was her ability to convince others. If I had been in her position, I don’t think I could have kept my composure. I might not have been as up on the political situation down here as she was, but I did know the earth here was soaked with blood from countless conflicts.

We watched tensely as each person submitted to the Peacemaker touching him briefly on the temples, then walk back to the tables. Papers were laid out for them to sign, treaties and cease-fires and who knows what else. There were a lot of them, and I was amazed at how patient everyone was being. How much work had my mom put into this single day, that not a single voice was being raised in argument?

Unlike the Stronghold’s secret sanctum, which was part game room and part trophy room, Mom’s sanctum was thickly strewn with maps and newspaper articles, geography and anthropology books, political reports and results from top-secret spy missions. Will’s dad armored himself with his super-suit. My mom armored herself with knowledge. And ceremony.

One of the classes we had in Sky High was Theatrical Heroics. Intimidating poses, clever quips, stop-villains-in-their-tracks commands, that kind of thing. For people like Will and I, that stuff was mostly gravy, because we had plenty of power to back up anything we said.

But lower-power heroes, and people who worked as non-aggressive heroes, like my mom, used it all the time. This entire treaty signing had been organized with all the pomp and circumstance of a religious ritual; each gesture and word my mom made seemed to be filled with significance. I had never actually seen her at work at this level, and it was fascinating. She was carefully soothing tempers, making sure no one felt slighted or cheated, keeping people from making inopportune comments, and generally smoothing the way.

After a lot of reading and signing, the two groups of leaders went amongst their fighters, speaking earnestly to them, and I could see suspicion and anger slowly leaving peoples’ faces. I snapped my eyes back to my mom. She was still standing in the middle of the field, apparently staring at a middle distance, but I could tell she was concentrating hard. Her powers worked best through touch, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t do anything from a distance; it was just harder.

Soon the two groups of leaders met face to face again, clasping hands, then taking their weapons and casting them into the melting pit, which I had my suspicions was actually just an evened-out mortar-crater. Slowly the fighters from each side filed forward, tossing their weapons away, some approaching my mom afterward, seeming to ask for what looked like a blessing.

I watched with curiosity as Fire King signaled for us to start channeling our powers to him. The women and children came forward from the periphery to embrace the disarmed fighters, their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons, and to begin to walk away. As the last of the fighters threw away their weapons, Fire King turned up the heat, and soon the weapons were melted into uselessness. The leaders stayed long enough to make sure we were done, and finally bowed to my mom before taking their own leave.

Mom signaled for us to wait until everyone was out of sight, and we were standing completely alone on the empty field, the smell of scorched metal and plastic in our nose, the dusty wind rustling our costumes.

“Thank you everyone. That went much better than I had hoped,” she said quietly, wiping her forehead.

“You’re very welcome Peacemaker,” Fire King said formally, giving her a little bow, the rest of his brothers following suit.

“Phoenix, thank you for coming too,” she added, coming up to me and giving me a hug.

“That was great Mom,” I told her quietly, and hugged her back hard enough to lift her off her feet for a moment.

“Oh! Put me down,” she scolded, and I complied, smiling slightly. “I thought you’d want to see how I do things,” she added.

“Thanks,” I told her.

“And I couldn’t resist being a meddling mother and seeing how they’re treating you over there,” she added in an undertone. I looked sideways at Fire King for a minute.

“Decently, I guess. They’ve been pretty nice. Tobias wanted me to stay though,” I added. Mom pursed her lips thoughtfully.

“Do you want me to talk with him?” she asked finally. I shook my head.

“Don’t. I’ve… I already talked to him once,” I told her, and Mom gave me a knowing look.

“All right. I’ll see you on Sunday night. Brian Coopman from Medic-Co called the house and reminded me he expects to see you for your night shift on Monday,” she added, and I sighed a little. No rest for the wicked. Or not-so-wicked.


 

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