Just a quick note before I let you dig into this short story (only 5400 words). This was originally written with the intention of being a standalone short story about Charon. I’ve thought about it for a few weeks now and it looks to me as though this could actually be the full–blown prologue to an entire serial about the latter years of Angela DeSoto. However, I have taken on a new job that works second shifts. It really is hard to get used to. So, this might just end up being the only thing I write on this subject.
The silent alarm had been triggered at the branch bank located inside the MegaMart grocery store a couple of minutes ago. The police placed a call to Dispatch for Hero assistance, as the location of the bank office was a long ways from the front of the store. In the past, this had caused some really ugly hostage situations and the lead on this case wanted a quick resolution. Hence, the reason
he and all his fellow responders were over a block away being as invisible and silent as they could be. All traffic was quietly being rerouted away from the area. They were guaranteeing no one was escaping the scene today.
At the exterior of the loading dock, a couple of Heroes have just been deposited. The elder, shorter female in a dark purple with blood– red streaks costume was staring up and her taller, just–graduated apprentice who was quite literally bouncing on her heals. Unseelie shook her head and growled at her intern, “Will you stop doing that and just stand still, child? You’re giving me a headache and it’s not even lunchtime. Focus, child…focus!”
“Quit calling me that!” responded Charon. She did quit bouncing around. “I may be a rookie, but I am no way a child, old woman!”
“Just for that, I am so going to trounce you…AGAIN…as I have done EVERY DAY since you arrived last week,” Unseelie emphasized by jabbing her pointy finger into Charon’s chest. “Only this will make it for the second time today, already. Keep this up and I’ll go in there myself and handle this while I make you stand in that corner over there the whole time.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t make me stand this one out. I need the practice anyways,” Charon said with the small voice of a scolded child. She even made the puppy dog pout with the great big sad eyes. Not that it did her any good as her face was completely enclosed in its gold metal helmet. But some habits die hard. She had developed that particular habit as a child when she wanted “Paw Paw” to end the training session a little early. Once in a while it actually worked.
Angela DeSoto, a.k.a. Hero Charon, could adjust her total–body encasing armor to appear any way she wanted. She had spent much of her senior year at Lander trying to finalize its appearance. It had lots of stylish extras decorating the exterior. However, the moment she went into her new training room with all of the Wayward Wraiths looking on, it was unanimous that the feminine look would be a detriment to intimidating the heavy–duty bad guys who will refuse to simply surrender to a girl (It’s bad for their image). However, they did state that later on, after she was thoroughly established as a first class badass, she could adjust her appearance to what she liked. If she really wanted them to drop down and surrender, they informed her that her look would have to be more robotic, alien even. It also occurred to Angela that her having a well pronounced chest (okay…boobs) could cause her more work, as the bad guys would be too busy trying to figure out if they wanted to ask her out and forget to take her seriously.
With her armor, she can even change the timber of her voice so that no one could ever guess what she really sounded like. Right now, she sounded more robotic than human. She originally got the idea from watching the original Star Wars trilogy. She really liked Darth Vader; he reminded her of her brother, Shane, who manipulates shadows. She was always teasing him about how he controlled the Dark Side of their grandfather’s powers, while she had the Light. But she did steal the idea of the altered voice from Vader. She even duplicated it for a while, until Alex and Hershel had caught her doing it in the halls one day. They almost died from laughter—so ended Darth Vader.
“Okay, this is the way this one is going to play out,” said Unseelie who was all business. “You go in first and I will be five seconds behind you. You walk briskly and with purpose. Don’t make too much noise back here. You don’t want to give them too much notice. You can make all the noise you want when you get to their half of the store. And above all, remember that they are probably not norms! Even after you’ve settled things down and everyone is one the floor, that’s when you can most expect things to go south. Ready when you are, Charon.”
Immediately, Charon takes off and walks at a fast clip. She has even removed the Sunlight Steel from the soles of her boots just until she gets into range so she doesn’t make too much noise. After three seconds, Unseelie runs in using a different route so she can observe the scene from the far sidelines. You never know how things will play out with rookies.
Gus Everson was a tough young man in his late twenties. Average height, but lots of muscle and an intellect that has managed to keep him out of prison. Yes, he had been in the system since he hit puberty, but who in his neighborhood wasn’t? It was the story for most kids in northern Port Valins. The city was one of those new “designed cities” that sprung up from a need for more beachfront property. It has become the second Miami Beach as it is located on the very southern coast of Florida. And like Miami itself, it has a huge section of poorly paid populace supporting the beachfront, living in the northern section of town. This came with the usual smattering of gangs and drug lords fighting it out for imagined wealth and control. In other words: Lots of crime and lots of Heroes who enjoy pounding on bad guys.
Up until now, Gus had managed to do other peoples’ dirty work. This was his first foray into the big time, which meant he would end up keeping most of the money from this job. He had spent a lot of time planning this one; he was in no hurry to go to prison. It’s only been a little over three minutes into the job and the money was coming over the glass partitions—almost home free. He and his two partners would be on their way out to the car in less than thirty seconds and out of the area in less than a minute from now.
Just as he was reaching for the first of the money bags, Gus could swear he heard a clanking sound coming from the aisle behind him. It sounded like one of those medieval knights from the King Arthur movies he loves so dearly. He has a cold chill go down his back and yells, “Just toss all the bags you have right now over the wall. Don’t be neat about it, just toss them now. Guys we need to run now!”
A chilling robotic voice lacking all emotion says, “So what’s it going to be: An old–fashioned smackdown or the ever reliable slice and dice?”
Gus freezes, the cold sweat of fear running down his back. He turns at the same time as his two lackeys, almost appearing as synchronized dancing. One of the whimpering lackeys say, “What do we do, Boss?” No one in the area is taking their eyes off of the shiny gold “robot.”
For some reason, Gus’ intellect kicks in and probably saves his life by asking in a quiet voice, “Who, or more importantly what, are you?”
“I am the Hero Charon of the Wayward Wraiths. I’m new in town, but surely you’ve seen some of my work on the news the last couple of days.”
“I remember seeing you on the news just last night. I was hoping to never run into you…EVER! What you did to that drug lord and his minions were truly stuff of nightmares. It was just you against thirty of them, and ‘them’ lost. Only a handful came out alive and the place was completely obliterated. Oh by the way, thanks for doing him in. I hated his guts.”
That partner of his, again, asks, “So what do we do, Boss?”
Gus replies with a sigh and an apologetic look at Charon for associating with such an imbecile, “Guns don’t bother robots, Dumbass, but if you think you can beat up that tank, be my guest.” Gus pauses for over a second while the idiot actually mulls over the possibility and then says, “What do ya think we’re going to do?” He holds out his sawed–off shotgun and slowly lays it on the ground, away from him. Then he follows up by slowly laying on the ground and placing his hands over his head. Not even for a second does he take his eyes off of Charon. His lackeys follow suit.
“Dispatch, this is Charon.”
“Dispatch recognizes Charon. Are you done yet?”
“Yes, ma’am. You can send in the police to cuff these three. They appear to be norms.”
“Congratulations on another successful venture. No violence can be a good thing. Dispatch out.”
Wonder what she meant by that? And how did she know that there wasn’t any altercation? Think I’ll ask Unseelie. It seems as though Dispatch was being a bit catty with me.
Several police officers come in to cuff the perps and cordon off the area for the evidence gathering, as well as round up all the witnesses. While this is going on Unseelie comes up to Charon, taps her on the shoulder to get her attention, and tells her with the authority of a teacher, “I want to show you how to handle the police reports and the CSU. I will expect you to handle this chore by yourself the next time, so pay close attention because I hate repeating myself.”
After what seemed an eternity for Charon (She hates paperwork!), but was in actual fact way less than half an hour, she and her mentor begin to make their way out front to meet with the press. Unseelie instructs her, “Try not to spend too much time with the press this time. After all, this was just a plain and ordinary bank robbery that you foiled. Not even a Powered was involved, let alone a Super. Making a big deal out of this situation is a total rookie mistake, and trust me, the press will lock onto that and make you regret it. It’s better to leave them wanting more.”
“So how is this going to enhance my future crime–fighting capability? Don’t I need to give a tremendous interview to build up my image? I want the bad guys to drop immediately and suck carpet fibers.”
Unseelie sighs and shakes her head, “Your image is already where it needs to be for an intern. Am I not mistaken, or did you not just have the bad guys lay down and ‘suck carpet fiber’?”
Angela smiles and says, “True. I guess my rep has been established, at least for the norms.”
“Just give it time, Charon. You will be every super villain’s nightmare before your internship is up. You’re already mine.” All Charon does is growl as they are now coming up to the press.
The press is gathered near one of the police cars, so that’s where Charon heads towards. The Port Valins Police Department likes to send a ‘paddy wagon’ when there are multiple perps for the same crime, makes the in–processing more efficient. Hence the reason the three villains are sitting up against the side of a cruiser. The photographers have Charon setup for a number of shots with her and her catch in the shot, also some by herself with dramatic poses. She tries to follow her mentor’s advice and keeps her answers short as she can, trying to not make a big deal out of something so small.
As the noise level drops and the reporters start to turn away Angela hears this quiet, sincere voice coming from below her, “Um…Charon…sir?”
“Yes, what is it perp?”
“I was just wondering,” Gus gulps and then continues with as much sincerity as he can muster. “Can I have your autograph?”
Everyone freezes. The press, the police, and even Unseelie stand in muted shock waiting to see how Charon will handle this strange twist. “Say what?” asks a confounded Charon.
“I just wanted to know if you would give me your autograph.”
Charon scratches her head in contemplation of an answer, and then reaches for her left side where a compartment opens and a special pen comes out. Grasping the pen with her right hand in front of her she states, “This is a pen made especially for me. My grandfather gave it to me as a graduation present and said to use it for all my autographs. Looks like you are going to be the first one. What’s your name?”
“Hey, Office Grieves. Can I borrow your ticket pad for a minute? I promise to return it.” He hands over his pad and Angela rips off a ticket and turns it over. “Since this is the first one I’ve done, I decided to make it a bit special.” When she is done, she hands it to Gus who reads it and bursts into a huge grin. It reads:
To Gus Everson
You may not be my first capture but you are getting my first official autograph as the Hero Charon. Try to become something better with your life.
She signed it and even dated it.
The press goes nuts! Everyone is trying to take a picture of Gus holding up the autograph. Questions fly rapid–fire at him, but he waits for them to calm down and says in reply, “I will not be selling this memento. Believe it or not, this means a lot to me and I will hold onto this the rest of my life.” The press is eating this up and so goes the rest of the press conference. In the meantime, a line of people has formed up in front of Charon for her autograph.
During all this, Unseelie has been practically thrown to the curb as they mob Charon, not that Unseelie doesn’t mind. After fifteen years of Hero duty, she really doesn’t crave the limelight anymore and prefers to let someone else take the heat. After all, how often can she get upset over maligned and worked–over sound bites if they aren’t hers? Best to leave that to the rookies and their agents. After watching her student with the press, she is already feeling sorry for Lenny. Maybe I’ll send him a very good bottle of Scotch with a sympathy card. “Unseelie to Dispatch.”
“Dispatch recognizes Unseelie. How may I help you?”
“Do you know what brand of Scotch Lenny likes?”
“He prefers ‘The Macallan 25YO’ and don’t forget the sympathy card.”
“I already had one picked out for him after my first day with Charon. While I have you on the line, anything else you have for me, Dispatch?”
“You need to train your intern in how to retrieve messages left for her in the system. She has one from Lenny…oh wait…now she has two. I take it that this will cancel out the need for the healer for this afternoon’s trouncing?”
“Definitely. This is waaayy more important,” said Unseelie with a smirk and her voice dripping sarcasm. “Although I think she is going to get her afternoon trouncing after all. I just don’t think we will need a healer for this one.”
“Maybe… maybe not. Dispatch out.”
Twenty years later:
Port Valins is a city experiencing mixed emotions today. The Civic Center’s main hall has been filled beyond capacity for this event. The Mayor and the entire City Council has been joined by the Governor, Senators, Congressmen, and a whole slew of heads in the DVA. Today they celebrate, and commiserate, the retirement of the City’s very own, Hero Charon. The Wayward Wraiths and Port Valins have been the home of Charon since her career began all those decades ago. The people of the city want to celebrate her stellar career and also the fact she survived the entire time. However, they are also very sad to have to miss out on her unpredictable antics and often very entertaining interviews. They have to admit, she made life a whole lot more entertaining. In honor of her life and her love of the limelight, the media had actually gotten together and released a DVD with all her favorite moments as voted on by the populace at large.
Angela, in her golden armor personality of Charon, is seated up on the raised platform positioned to the right of the lectern. All the main dignitaries who will be speaking are seated on either side of her along it. However, because of her past history of acting up when the spotlight is on her, most of the dignitaries have been slowly inching their chairs away from her just in case she decides to be ‘spontaneous’. Angela notices this and places her hands, fisted up, on her hips and says to them, “You can all just get your butts back over here. I want this ceremony to go off without a hitch. So if you behave yourselves, I’ll rein it in just for tonight. Okay?” Her neighbors shake their heads in agreement and begin to inch their chairs back.
I am going to make this event as dignified as I can because I am going to bury Hero Charon under my new life. After this, there really won’t be too many more times for Hero Charon to show up in public, except maybe for parades or some such. Yuck! Okay, no parades. I’ll keep her around for the few criminals that irritate me.
After all these years, Angela has managed to keep her true identity away from the public and from most of the hero world as well. When you get right down to it, no one in those domains knew for certain what gender Charon was. She has always maintained her appearance as genderless, if not slightly male. Same with the different voices, though for the most part, she found the robotic–like voice the most intimidating of them all. So she stuck with that most of the time. It had worked out so well, that she even managed to keep an alter ego going on a beachfront condo in Port Valins just so she could get away from it all, even if it was only for a day or two.
She is really going to miss that condo. Very upscale and walled off so you could imagine yourself being secluded on a pacific island sucking down drinks with tiny umbrellas. There were many evenings and nights spent out on her beach drinking in the atmosphere of it. Even some nights spent sleeping outside.
There had been a couple of times, early on in her occupancy, when the neighbors would intrude with really loud music. She handled these with her usual level of diplomacy—by shorting out their electrical service with some minute Sunlight Steel tools she designed for just such occasions. A couple of technopaths that hung out at the local “hero bar” gave her instructions on how to pull it off so it looked natural.
Angela is sitting back watching the different speakers go up to the lectern, paying just enough attention to know when to nod or acknowledge what was being said. People would not believe that the impassive face of Charon hid a relaxing Angela, with a smile of contentment on her face. Not that anyone can see her. She is going from here straight to what she considers her real hometown, Lander University, where she will commence her next career as the new Weapons Instructor for the Lander HCP. All it took was one phone call to the dean…
The Dean of Lander’s Hero Certification Program’s phone rang in with a special ringtone that he reserved for old friends. With a smile he picked it up and saw it was Angela DeSoto and happily answered it.
“Hey, Angela. Been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of hearing your voice. Are you planning on adding an intern to your workload, or are the rumors true?”
“Well Dean Thomas—” she started to reply but was interrupted by the bark of a laugh from the dean as he sat up straight in his chair.
“Whoa. Hold on now. This must be serious if you addressing me as ‘Dean’ Thomas. Is the campus coming under attack?” asked the dean pouring on as much sarcasm as he could manage.
“Very funny,” she sighs rolling her eyes, “Come on, Thomas. Cut me some slack. The rumors are true. I am retiring this summer and I am coming to you with my hat in hand asking for a job. You don’t happen to have the Weapons Instructor position still available, do ya?”
“I still have my interim instructor filling in, but he would love to get back to straight Hero work. He keeps whining about missing out on all the action while stuck babysitting children. So, if you want it, you got it. Pleeaassee tell me you’re serious about this.”
“Dead serious. I am so sick of Hero work. I need some time off just to enjoy life again.”
“Alright, then it’s yours. While I’m batting a thousand, how would you like to be the freshmen’s Alternative Course Instructor? My interim detests freshmen and refused to accept it, so I was forced to put my Focus instructor in that post. Mary Smith is not happy about that arrangement and made it mandatory that the next Weapons Instructor would take that post. So how do feel about it?”
“Yay,” replies Angela jumping up and down with her fist shoved up in the air. “I was going to ask if I could do that. This is great! I can’t wait to start torturing, I mean tutoring, those slackers. Guess I owe Mary a good dinner, huh?”
Dean Thomas Castillo laughs and starts rocking in his chair at the thought of having his staffing problems handled. “I guess you do at that. When can you start…”
The DVA had already moved her stuff from her quiet beachfront condo where her “Angela Desoto” alter ego lived in quiet solitude. She also had a lot of professional stuff for her “Charon” identity moved from its longtime apartment at the Wayward Wraiths stronghold. It was a nice apartment, especially after she had finished expanding and redecorating it. No doubt about it, she was going to miss the condo. It wasn’t Tahiti, but it could sure feel like it when you needed it to.
The second she is done with this event, the DVA–provided teleporter would whisk her to her new house just off the Lander University campus. She had already spent the previous few days saying her goodbyes to the current Wayward Wraiths, as well as her other hero friends who hung out at the local “hero only” pub. Not to mention the fact that the owner of said pub hunted her down and settled her tab, that had been quite large due to her generous nature when drinking.
Her new house was in a neighborhood that was occupied by half of the HCP staff. They are all connected by an underground tunnel that was added after “Lander’s Crucible.” As a matter of fact, the DVA made it mandatory that all the HCP staff live in a couple of different areas away from campus. If there were another attack, there are now a couple of backdoors into the campus.
The mayor of Port Valins was the final speaker of the evening. As he finished up, he held out his hand for one final handshake with his favorite hero. Charon got up and received his heartfelt handshake. She could tell it was in earnest and not another political glad hand that she had gotten used to after years of these events. It kind of choked her up as he had been her favorite mayor and even voted for him. It was reassuring to know that even heroes could have normal people they admired. “And with this handshake, we now come to the time in our event for Charon to be handing out autographs. Please note, Charon has stated that this will be the very last set of autographs he, or she, will sign. That’s right; no more Charon autographs will be signed after this event. So get them while they’re hot.”
Angela groans quietly to herself as she sees the huge line wrap around the room. This is going to take a really long time. I better just focus on the person in front of me or I’ll freak out. I soooo want to get home to Lander. I can still get there in time to enjoy some personal party time with Mary and Dean Thomas. That will take some getting used to—“Dean Thomas.”
As the line finally gets down to the final few, a tall, nice looking, middle–aged man steps up to the end of the line. He looks like a kid on Christmas morning. Charon couldn’t help but notice and gives him a polite nod in greeting. Finally, he is in front of her and Charon comes out of her fugue. She realizes that this is it! This is the very last Charon autograph she is ever going to give out. Before she does it, she stands up and addresses those left in attendance, “Okay, everyone. This is it. This is the last official Charon autograph to be handed out.”
She is going to do this one up right. She sits back down and asks, “So, what name do you want me to put on this?”
He just smiles and says, “Gus…Gus Everson.”
Charon freezes for a second as that name seems to mean something to her, but she just can’t put her finger on it. Always running off of her intuition, she asks, “That name rings a bell, but I can’t seem to place it. Do I know you?”
Gus smiles and responds, “You crossed my path thirty years ago. I was robbing a bank inside a MegMart and you stopped me. Before I was hauled away, I asked you for your autograph,” as he pulls the original—her first autograph out of his suit pocket. ”and I still have it.”
Angela is glad she is in her suit of armor because she would hate to have her picture taken right at this moment. Her jaw has hit the ground and seems to be stuck there. She has been struck dumb. It can’t be. What are the odds? But there it is right in front of me, the very first one! Looking at it brings back such vivid memories of that day.
She smiles at the recall and says, “I now remember that day quite clearly. You certainly appear to be the same Gus Everson, only older and much more dignified. So what has happened to you since that day?” In the meantime, the once lethargic press has moved in and is eating this like candy. Those that had been in the process of packing up are acting like maniacs trying to get a piece of this action. This is so like Charon—always having the unexpected turn up when you thought it was all over.
“Well, I went to prison for ten years, but got out on parole for exemplary behavior. I then went on to work various construction–type jobs until I finally saved up enough money to open a little bar of my own. It is right here in Port Valins; called the Second Chance Bar.”
“Wow. Who would have thought it would turn out this way? Ever get married?”
“Yes I did. And we have two wonderful children who have grown up to be wonderful adults and rabid fans of Charon, Deliverer of Death,” he emphasizes the last part and is simply grinning from ear to ear.
“I am so glad that things have turned out so well for you, Gus. And now for your reward. Here is the last official Charon autograph,” as she hands it to him. Written on a simple index card so it would kind of match the first one’s awkwardness:
To Gus Everson
You were my first autograph and now you are also officially the last.
With her signature and date.
Gus holds up both autographs for the press who are hungrily snapping up photos of the collection. The questions start flying: Are you going to sell the collection? This has to be worth a ton of money. What are you going to do with this?
Before he can answer, Charon clears her throat very loudly. Everyone goes silent; all eyes are focused on Charon. She says with authority, “Since this is the last official autograph, it seems that I am no longer in need of my autographing pen. Which many of you know, was given to me by my grandfather for the explicit purpose of signing autographs. Since I am now officially retired, so is this pen.” She reaches over the table and places it in Gus’ hand saying, “Now your collection is truly complete.”
The hall bursts into applause and cheers as they all celebrate the momentous occasion that has just unfolded.
Once it quiets down, Gus makes one last statement before heading out the door, “To answer you’re previous questions as simply as I can, I will NEVER sell this collection…EVER. It will be a family heirloom for generations to come.” He turns one last time to Charon and shakes her hand, and then leaves.
A few short years later:
It’s the very early hours of the morning and the tiny sound of glass being broken comes from the backyard of an average–looking house in the suburbs. The two thieves, dressed in all black with hoods covering their faces climb through the bedroom window.
Once they are both in, the taller one whispers, “You sure there isn’t anyone home?”
“Of course I am, you idiot! I’ve been watching this house for some time, just waiting for the owner to go on a trip. I saw him leave with his bags this morning. Now keep quiet so the neighbors don’t accidently hear us.”
These two know what they are looking. They head to the den and go right up to it. On the wall is a strange looking glass–enclosed metal case. There appear to be two pieces of paper and a strange gold pen in it—it’s Gus’ Charon autograph collection.
The tall guy whispers, “That has to be worth at least a hundred thousand.”
“Several hundred more than that. Our take alone is going to be over a hundred thousand.”
“Doesn’t it seem strange to you…?”
“What? Does what seem strange to me? Come on and hurry up with the questions. I have it put away properly and we’re ready to go,” says the leader as he gently puts the display away in a special felt–lined metal case.
“Doesn’t it seem strange that for something this valuable that there isn’t any alarm system. Shouldn’t someone have stolen this years ago?”
“I told you already, I’ve checked this place out thoroughly. No alarms. Nothin’. Now let’s get out of here and celebrate.”
The tall, dull one says, “Do you really think this is such a good idea? I mean, once Charon finds out about this, don’t you think he might come after us?”
A somewhat cheerful robotic voice startles them with, “Yeah, that really would piss me off. So what’s it going to be: An old fashioned smackdown, or the ever reliable slice and dice?”