We find Florence Collins in the most unlikely of places: a dive bar called Tyko’s Haunt on the edge of Sea City’s factory district. Gone is her silver spandex, shimmering like frost, her white leather boots and gloves, the blue crystal necklace nestled in the hollow of her neck. She stands behind the bar slinging drinks, a dark flannel shirt hanging loosely over a stained black t-shirt, her jeans held up with a wide leather belt and a massive Sea City Stags belt buckle. We make sure to get some closeups.
‘‘Nothing to say to you,’’ she grumbles after we tell her about this project. ‘‘Watch the broadcasts if you’re that obsessed with tragedy.’’ We’ve already done that, of course. We have most of them memorized.
Ice Flo used to chuckle and grin and make puns with the word ‘‘hot.’’ Now she growls and grunts at the bars patrons and curses them out when they forget to tip. Her hair, once white and sleek and imitated in every hair salon in Sea City, is now dyed a musky brown. Limp, dry, and unassuming. It has no memory of its former glory.
Maybe she loosens up some nights. Starts talking. We start to interview some regulars and the bar grows cold. We’ve worn layers, not sure how this would go, but the chill seeps into our bones.
‘‘Go,’’ Florence says, and when she lifts her arm to throw a frozen bottle of beer, we see it across her abdomen, under the ragged hem of her shirt.
Kyle Ko is easy to find at his law office. He’s gone back to life as a trial attorney, a career he excelled at before his run-in with an escaped mutant falcon. We stand in the waiting room with his assistant Jeremy while Kyle finishes with a client. He won’t argue any cases in front of a jury now, not since the Main Street Debacle. Everyone knows him. Everyone has an opinion about what he did or didn’t do. They only agree that he should have done something different.
His eyes scan us as we enter. He sees how fast our hearts are beating, if any of us are sick, what we ate that morning for breakfast based on the stains on our shirts. And yet, he missed all the important signs during the Debacle. He didn’t spot Trigger until it was too late. He never even knew there was a bomb.
Our meeting is thorough but dull. He knows how to answer questions in a way that tells us nothing about him. After everything he’s been through, we’re simple and easy to manipulate. Only when we begin to pack up our equipment and leave, does a glimmer of the old Kyle Ko shine through.
‘‘Are you going to see Miguel next?’’ Kyle asks. ‘‘It’s his birthday tomorrow. Tell him happy birthday for me.’’
There was a time when Kyle Ko and Miguel Gonzalez were inseparable. Peregrine’s eyes, Mercury’s flight and speed. They were always scouting ahead, always calling the scene for the others. The mayor of Sea City herself officiated their wedding.
Now Miguel runs a homeless shelter in Sea City’s version of Skid Row. He’s a big man. The muscles in his shoulders and back are softening into gentler curves. Dark scruff covers his neck and cheeks in uneven splotches. He’s thirty-six today, but looks closer to fifty, his curly dark hair already tufting white at his temples. Captain Catalyst made him a new eye and a shiny new arm to replace the ones he lost in the Debacle, but Captain Cat never figured out how to give Miguel what he loved most—what he loved even more than he loved Kyle Ko—the ability to jump into the sky and keep going.
‘‘You folks need a bed for the night? We’re full up, but I’ll see what I can do.’’ Miguel laughs at his joke and clasps our arms and tells us to sit, sit, sit. We do. It’s hard not to look at his new eye, but we keep it professional. He’s happy to replay the events leading up to the Debacle, but it’s the same story told in the same way, as if the tale dug grooves in his brain and now he can’t slip even a syllable out of line.
Does he miss being able to fly? ‘‘As much as I’d miss being able to breathe,’’ Miguel says. ‘‘But those not gifted with power can still be super.’’ He motions to the shelter, slowly filling up for the night. It’s the same slogan on all of his charity campaigns. That, and ‘‘Everyone has super inside them.’’
We wish him happy birthday for Kyle, and his smile wavers, but doesn’t break. ‘‘Stay safe out there,’’ he says.
In the graveyard, fresh flowers mound over the bodies of the Main Street victims. Jayce Henderson’s marker, simple white stone with elegant chiseled lettering, is free of all such displays. People say they love the truth, but they rarely love the truth tellers. We pop the lid off a pizza and eat it in the grass, rescuing gray mushrooms from the gooey, still-warm cheese. Jayce hated mushrooms and no one rescued him.
We find the Captain deep in the heart of her personal research facility, five curved computer screens surrounding her like a shield. She points to a different monitor with each phrase: ‘‘Mercury’s power recovery. Inoculation against Trigger’s regeneration—he’s dead, but who knows for how long. Power boost serum. Time travel possibilities. I want a second chance.’’ She was a brilliant game developer once, and maybe it gave her the wrong idea; that you could try the same battle over and over until you figured out how to beat it.
Cat looks at us, her black hair now shaved to a crew cut, her black skin sallow from lack of sleep. She has a scar on her cheek, but it’s small. Too small. She would have traded for Miguel’s injuries in a heartbeat. She nods to the last monitor. ‘‘And of course, you already know all about my highest priority project.’’
She turns the screen toward us, but we turn the cameras off. We look away.
‘‘You’re doing well,’’ Cat says. She counts us quickly. ‘‘Only a few more shards today. Not many people could sustain such a mental and physical fragmentation. It bodes well.’’
We change the subject. Ask her about the Debacle again. Distract her with questions about her other research. This, we record. We want to hear everything again. Where we all were. What we all did. Where we went wrong. Again. Again. Again.
If we hear it enough, maybe the data, the fragments, will start to make sense. Maybe we’ll find a way to put ourselves back together.
Jenn Reese writes science fiction and fantasy adventure stories for readers of all ages. Her first novel, Jade Tiger, is an action-adventure kung fu romance for adults. She’s currently at work on a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Book one, Above World, was a Norton Award finalist, and book three,Horizon, will be released April 8, 2014. Jenn lives in Los Angeles where she studies martial arts, plays video games, and dreams of rain. www.jennreese.com