Chapter 1: New Horizons –
Ethan observed the bustling city as it flashed past the greyhound bus – his forehead resting against the cool window pane. He had always felt slightly uncomfortable when entering the city. Any city really. Chicago was no different; it’s towering skyscrapers thrusting into the cloudy atmosphere; its streets crowded with the millions of people who called this sprawling metropolis home.
Sighing, he began to imagine once more that by some chance he had been accepted into Lander University in California, instead of here at Sizemore Tech. Not only was the Lander campus closer to his home in Wyoming, it was also reported to have a significantly smaller city surrounding it. Still, Dean Jackson was the only school director who had been willing to give an him an applicant interview; the only one willing to hear him out before automatically dismissing his application. Ethan knew that on paper he didn’t look like much; his grades average, his resume boring, his powers necessarily toned to minuscule levels. He had expected the initial rejection, but after two and half years, he had begun to growing increasingly worried they would simply never accept him. Thankfully the long wait was finally behind him; he was heading to university! Better yet, he was heading to the Hero Certification Program and everything that might entail! The place where men and women become hallowed myths, and where the origins of legends had their beginnings.
Shaken from his reverie as the bus started to slow down, Ethan began the short process of gathering his few worn bags (and one frayed and quite ragged looking suitcase) together. He then waited patiently as the massive transcontinental machine pulled into the awaiting station and finally shuttered to a halt; it’s brakes and gears hissing with familiar protest. Joining the common bustle and maneuvering as the passengers made their way out the sliding doors; Ethan took a deep breath and stepped into the cool fall air of the Windy City.
Chicago lay sprawled out before him; its expansive skyline dominated only by the shining waters of Lake Michigan. The city’s architectural style had changed drastically in the many decades since the Great Fire; it’s various downtown and urban buildings noted more for their originality rather than their antiquity.
Ethan continued to walk among the bustle of the city’s native populace, having decided to spare the cash of a taxi for the moment; and simply take in the many sights lying before him. Seeing a worn and aged sign depicting the start of Route 66, he turned to follow the route into Grant Park. He paused to enjoy the sight of the Buckingham Fountain, a tower of water spilling a hundred and fifty feet into the air, lying between the expanse of Lake Michigan and the swathe of downtown Chicago. This city was truly beautiful in its own way, he considered silently. There was no way of telling what might await him in the future; though these next four years would undoubtedly be quite the test of endurance and fortitude. At least the locale was decent enough.
Sighing contentedly, he finally turned from the beautiful sight of the lake harbor; and began making his way to a street that seemed likely to contain a taxi. No use putting it off any further – university awaited! Granted, he was quite a few weeks early; but at least now he had a chance to find a job before school started. “Hmm. I wonder what might be available?” he began to ponder.
Delphia (called Del by anyone sane enough to know her) stared at the idiot in front of her. She was sure his mouth was still moving, but for some reason, no sound emerged. Perhaps he was a mute. No, that wasn’t right. He had been ordering something, no different from a thousand other daily customers; but then he had to go and smirk at her hair. It wasn’t the smirk that irritated her as much as it was the completely unsubtle grab of the crotch and the comment concerning her mother, and who she must have fucked to get that color. That had been the strike of a match to fuse – culminating from what had just been a sucky day in general. Her junk heap of a truck had died again this morning, and she had been late to a doctor’s appointment; which in turn had caused her to clock in late at work. A job she frankly loathed; though her co-workers weren’t too bad.
Ok, to be fair, her hair was alternating blends of fiery red and snowy white; so ya, it was quite the unusual sight. It was also a bit of sore subject for Del. She had been fired from no less than half-a-dozen jobs over the last 2 years, and almost all were because of her hair, or at least the attitudes they held. Anger and Peace, Fire and Ice, she liked to think of them. Emotions personified, given life by the power within her.
Since her abilities had manifested as a child; her parents had done everything possible to train and support their daughter. It hadn’t been easy, and for quite a while everyone had assumed she was simply a Powered; tossed to and fro on the vivid and hazardous emotional waves her powers emitted. It hadn’t been till high school, and the excellent martial arts instructor her father managed to find before she had finally begun to gain some semblance of control. After years of meditation and learning to harness the right emotion at the right time, her life began to settle into a more manageable neutrality.
But even the strongest of wills can be overcome by the comments of a dumbass, and Del was no exception. It probably didn’t help that there were quite a bit of Humanity First supporters in the area her family lived; and that her hair pointed out her Super status with extreme prejudice.
The kid in front of the register might have missed the quickly rising tide of anger, but no one could ignore the steam beginning to pour off Del’s pale skin a few seconds later. A girl, that Del had only minutes ago been training, screamed as flames began to lick along the floor where she stood; and another customer fainted as a slick layer of ice started to inch its way across the counter. Things would probably have gotten a lot worse very quickly; if not for the sudden and abrupt entrance of the restaurant manager. He took one look at the situation and immediately began to take charge. “Delphia! I need to see you in the back, NOW!” He then spun to a young employee standing in shock with one hand still holding the fry cooker. “Roy, take over for Del at the register.” “Sara, you go help with the assembly at the moment. Alright everyone back to work!” Quickly turning to the worried crowd of customers, he gave a bright smile; and with years of experience in bullshitting his way through any situation imaginable, said with absolutely no hesitation, “No worries folks! Your orders will be on their way momentarily. And don’t forget, any kid under 12 gets a free dessert if you show your meal receipt!” He gave them another megawatt smile, then quickly maneuvered a still distracted Del away from the counter and back into the building office.
After sitting her firmly down in a chair, he paused a moment. And began to think. And sweat. His collar seemed awfully tight at that point, so he loosened his tie and sat down behind his desk.
“Um… Del.” he started, then coughed and tried again. “Look, Del, I know…”
“Don’t worry, I quit.” she interrupted, then raised her head slowly. “It was just some stupid kid. I overreacted. Again.”
“Now don’t do that to yourself,” he stated angrily. “I knew your situation when you applied for this job, and you’ve done good work in keeping it under control till now.”
She sighed and waved him off from saying anything else. “I know Phil, and I appreciate it, I truly do. But my time here was almost finished anyways. I should be getting a response from college soon; and regardless if I’m accepted or not, I’ll be leaving Troyten. This town just isn’t enough for a gal like me, ya know?” she gave a deprecating chuckle. “Thanks again though. Especially for keeping me from doing something I would have regretted.”
“Sure kid. I’d do it for any of you guys here, you know that. And… well, good luck. With college that is. I’m guessing you’re going to try to get into an HCP, right?” Del nodded. “Well, if my two cents is worth anything, then you should know I think they would be idiots not to accept you. You got what it takes to go all the way.”
Delphia Tealson grinned at that. “Thanks, Boss.”
“No problem kiddo.”
The internet wasn’t helping. Rubin sighed, rubbing his aching neck. The sad truth of the matter was that any research done on Hero Teams around the USA was usually either gossip or propaganda. Sure, most teams had a good PR front, but it was just that… a front. Any solid information was locked away behind security measures and safety clauses produced by the DVA and their cronies. He sighed again.
He knew there really wasn’t any point to his analysis. “Good grief,” he thought to himself. “What am I doing? Even if I do get accepted into a school, that’s four years of pain and suffering with only the slimmest possibility that I graduate. If by some miracle, I actually get past that point, I’ll still have at least two more years of internship before I can even begin to search for a team to join; much less try to join Dad’s group.”
He rolled his desk chair back and tilted it on two legs. He had gotten fairly decent at holding this position after a summer of constant practicing, and by now it had become his default introspective pose. For, after all, if there was even one skill that Rubin Randall could lay claim too, it would be introspection. He had always been this way; for as long as he could remember the most critical observer of any of his actions in life had been himself. Perhaps it was a side effect of his abilities or more than likely it was just genetics; but regardless of why he felt compelled to consider his existence objectively, no one could deny its effectiveness.
He had already completed high school several years early (and without a genius level intellect as confirmed by the specialists) and had continued right into college level material. He was on track to receive his bachelor’s degree next summer, an achievement he accomplished without ever stepping foot in a university classroom.
He could achieve almost anything he set his mind to, but he was always very deliberate about what he actually spent time doing. A minute wasted was a minute lost forever, in his opinion. Of course, most people who didn’t know him often confused calculated action with laziness and careful consideration with timidness. Self-confidence was one area in which he had never lacked even the slightest bit in; which in turned prompted him to watch, just in case his attitude turned towards cockiness. Overconfidence could easily kill you or your teammates in a battle scenario; his father had drilled that into him time and again.
His father was really the driving factor in his life, he had to admit. Known in the greater Cincinnati area as the hero Wrap-Out; his dad was a master of illusions and confusion. He had been operating in the area for over 30 years, and was well-respected and feared by both sides of the law. And (unbeknownst to any but his closest friends and colleagues) he had managed to accomplish this feat while simultaneously supporting a rather large family of five boisterous kids. Ya, that was quite the legend to live up too.
All four of Rubin’s siblings had abilities as well, but neither of the older children had shown any interest in hero work, and the twins were still too young to decide for themselves. This left Rubin smack down in the middle; with quite a lot of pressure and not a few expectations to live up to. He didn’t mind. He would simply perform the impossible, develop whatever skills he might need; and hope that it all worked out to be enough.
His pondering was interrupted at this point by a loud ruckus coming from the living room downstairs; and with his curiosity peaked, he wandered out to the stairwell.
“Hey Rub, get down here! Where is that genius brother of mine?!” his older brother called out from the floor below. At 28 years old, Benjamin was currently working in the entertainment business as a CGI specialist; and from what the reports seemed to say, was gaining quite the reputation due to his particular skills.
Making his way down the stairs, Rubin started at noticing his older sister in the kitchen talking with his mom. Was everyone home? That meant… well, that could probably mean a lot of things actually.
His sister was glamorous, as usual, which was actually quite the contrast to her natural attitude. To the unseen eye, it would have seemed Lynnette Randall was nothing more than spoiled, rich, and slightly ditsy. Oh, she was beautiful, to be sure; good genes made that a non-issue. She was also extremely smart, quite witty when the need arose, an excellent shot, and her daddy’s girl. These combinations resulted in the perfect attitude necessary to infiltrate and become affiliated with high society; while feeding the information so casually mentioned in the various social circles back to her stockbroker. It was a very profitable method of work; but due to the nature of her associates, she wasn’t often able to visit the family.
Her being here today boded well, and the excitement that was beginning to fill the air was quickly becoming an almost palpable force. This was suddenly and violently enforced by the sudden torrent of limbs and laughter that spilled out into the living room; as both twins jumped on their favorite brother. “Rub! Come catch us!”
“Ya, Rub, you gotta find us! Hide and seek, hide and seek!”
Grinning at his younger siblings, Rubin shook his head. “Not at the moment guys, at least not until I can say high to Ben and Lyn. Maybe later, ok?”
Little Emmaline pouted, sticking out her bottom lip for as long as it was possible; but she was only barely able to succeed before bursting back into a giggle.
Rubin just smiled and strolled into the kitchen; casually dragging Colton, who had absolutely refused to relinquish his prize. Even now he appeared to be delightfully gnawing on Rub’s leg, perhaps hoping the savagery of the move would cause instant paralysis. While his little brother continued contemplating his utter doom, Rub smiled and gave Lynnette a bear hug. “I’ve missed you, sis.” “Ya, well, I couldn’t miss the big day now could I?” she smiled back. “Big day?” Rubin inquired. “Sure, this is the day you get accepted into Dad’s alma mater.”
“Well…” he began but got no further before the sound of the front door opening announced his father’s arrival.
Kenneth Randall was a big man, not necessarily at Strongman levels of physical fitness, but certainly in the upper tier of most standard Supers. Which is probably why most of his enemies were confused when they adversely met the famous hero. Illusions and deception might be the core of his abilities, but it was his swift intellect that caught most of the villains on the street.
By virtue of the passage of time and such a well-earned reputation, it was inevitable that he become something of a legend and quite the boogeyman to any individuals with nefarious intentions. To his family, he was something else entirely. He was their rock, the foundation of their training, the light in their mother’s eyes, and the best man any of them had ever known.
He entered the kitchen and smiled broadly at seeing his oldest children already waiting. After greeting them both with hugs, he turned to pick up his wife of 30 years and counting; giving her a wet smooch on the cheek, during which she appropriately squealed and demanded to be sat down.
He looked to Rubin then, and said with barely any pause and a wide grin, “I picked up your package from the post office on the way home. Want to see it?”
“Of course,” Rubin said. “I’ve already waited two weeks past the normal due date. I’d rather not wait any longer.”
As his entire family gathered around in tense anticipation, Rubin slowly broke the seal on the rather large packet and began pulling out files and school information. In large bold letters on one of the very first pages, the phrase Acceptance into Sizemore Tech was written in bold letters. Rubin nodded, he hadn’t been worried about his credits transferring. He quickly sifted through the rest of the papers, before freezing for a moment, then quietly sighing. “What?!” everyone demanded at once.
He gave a small smirk then, before swiftly pulling the last paper from the package. There it was, an unmistakable acceptance letter into the Hero Certification Program at Sizemore Tech. As his family whooped and hollered, he couldn’t seem to get rid of the grin that stretched from ear to ear. Within seconds his mother seemingly whipped a cake out of nowhere (with CONGRATULATIONS written in icing across the front) and began laying out plates and silverware as the rest of his family kept excitedly talking over each other.
Rubin just smiled and leaned against the counter, absorbing it all in; and recognizing the simple fact that this… this was what made life worth living.