Captain Maven looked out at the city below him.
He didn’t need the light that shone from his staff, or his cup, to see the city at this time of night; Ottawa was full of its own light. Streetlamps shone like fireflies in the black sky, and he could see the yellow glow from the headlights of the many cars that zoomed below him. He could hear the honking of horns, the squeal of tires, and the voices of citizens as they went about their shopping. In the distance, there was the sound of carols being sung.
A door opened behind him; Maven didn’t turn. He recognized the sound of those footsteps, and he waited for her to come closer. Her heels clacked loudly on the thin coating of ice. Soon the footsteps stopped, and Finley was standing beside him, her red hair flowing around her like fire. “Jesus, aren’t you a pretty picture?” She said lightly. “You’re looking melancholy as fuck.”
Turning to face her, Maven took in her pale skin, red hair, and matching red spandex outfit, accented with flames that curved to her body like fire. “You always know just what to say, don’t you?” Maven replied. “Always a ray of sunshine.”
“That’s me,” she said. “Why are you standing out here in the cold? Everyone else is looking for you. I love the purple spandex, by the way. Really makes your nipples stand out.”
He made a face, but didn’t rise to the barb. “If everyone else is out looking for me, then why are you here?”
“Because I knew where you were. Why are you standing out here?” She clicked her fingers, and a little spurt of flame filled her palms. She held it in her hands to warm herself. “I still don’t understand why you’re standing here like a sad sack, instead of being with everyone else.”
“I felt like being alone for a minute, okay?”
“Why? We took down the Tornado when he tried to destroy Ottawa, and were rewarded by the mayor with the key to the city. We should be celebrating! Besides, it’s almost Christmas.”
“I know, but it’s like the eighth key to the city that we’ve received, and I just can’t get away from the feeling that something bad is going to happen.”
Finley gave him a look of exasperation. “Maven, of course something bad is going to happen! I mean, you’ve lived here all your life, have you ever known it to be quiet? It’s a freaking metropolis, there’s always someone doing something they shouldn’t.”
He shook his head. “Look, I know that, but don’t you feel like it all gets to be too much sometimes?”
She snorted. “No, I fucking love it. Kicking ass and putting bad guys in jail are my jam. Plus, I look damn good doing it.”
“But, doesn’t it bother you that no matter how many bad guys we put in jail, there’s always another one to take its place?”
“You’re a superhero. That’s kind of in the job description.” She reached out and rubbed a hand along one of his arms. “You miss him, don’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’ve been spending a lot of time looking into your cup. You’re not trying to find bad guys; you’re making sure that he’s okay.”
“I don’t know who you mean.” Maven said quickly.
“Maven, I know you. How long have we worked together? Like, ten years? You can’t fool me. You know, you could just pick up the phone and apologize. You don’t want to hang on to all of the things left unsaid.”
He let out a snort of his own. “Maybe the problem is that too many things were said before. Besides, I have nothing to say to him.”
“Have it your way, but if you want my opinion-”
“It’s neither wanted nor asked for,” Maven said.
“I think you’re being fucking ridiculous. Just talk to him. I know you miss him.”
Maven said nothing but crossed his arms and turned his back to Finley, as he heard her snort. “You’re such a drama queen,” she said. “Now come on, we’re wanted downstairs.”
“Says Tara, but you’d know that if you hadn’t shut off your communicator. There’s been trouble.”
“All right,” Maven gave the city one last look and followed Finley. They went in through the rooftop door, and instead of taking the stairs down, they got into the elevator. “So, who is it this time?”
“Who is it every time?” Finley said. “It’s the fucking Cracklepuss again, except this time it looks like he has some help.”
Maven turned on his communicator while they rode down in the elevator, and it beeped at him. Looking down at his wrist, he saw the words DANGER on the screen. He sighed. When was the city of Ottawa not in danger? “What’s happened now?”
“I’m going to let Tara lay it all out for you as there are details that I don’t know.” Finley actually looked worried.
“Finley, what is it?” Maven finally noticed how wide her eyes were.
“It’s bad, Maven. It’s really bad.”
The elevator doors opened, and they rushed down the hallway towards the main meeting room. It was on the tenth floor, and as they ran, Maven could see the stars outside the window and wondered if he was somewhere down below looking up at them and thinking of him, too. Maven tried not to think of Gregory, and the way his eyes would light up when he looked up at a sky filled with stars. He shook his head to quiet those thoughts as they entered the meeting room.
They were all there waiting for him.
“Nice of you to show up,” Tara said. Her black hair looked as if it were made of the night itself. It seemed to take in all the light around her, and framed her pale face in a riot of curls. Her green spandex outfit hugged every curve of her body, and it was covered in a fine dust that made the entire outfit sparkle. Every time she moved, more of it shone.
“I had stuff to do,” Maven said, with a little bite to his voice.
“I bet you did,” Sandoz said. He made an obscene gesture. “You’ve been spending all your time alone lately, what else is there to do?”
“Har dee har,” Maven said, taking his seat at the table. “How is it you’re so witty?”
“Must be my animal magnetism,” Sandoz said with a grin. He was dressed in another of his suits today. He owned countless suits, all cut the same way but in different colours, with the top hat to match. Todays was a plum colour that made Maven think of a boil that needed to be popped. Sandoz had curly blond hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks which, if you didn’t know him, made him look innocent; he was anything but.
“No, Sandy, that’s what keeps us away,” Tara said. “Can we get on with it, please? There are people in trouble, and I don’t have time for your showboating.”
Sandoz looked abashed. “Sorry,” he said.
Tara tapped the screen in front of her, and the room was cast into darkness. Maven watched as the scene in front of them changed. He was looking at the street outside of the headquarters. He recognized the local deli; he’d eaten there many times. He watched as a child walking along on the sidewalk took a step and was swallowed by darkness. The scene switched, and they all watched a young woman walking with her child in hand. They took a step, the shadows reached out from the ground – and the child was gone, leaving just the mother standing there, crying out.
“People all over the city are losing their children.” Tara said. As she spoke, they watched as other children were pulled into the shadows. “There one moment and gone the next.”
“Is there anything specific about the children being taken?” Dez asks. Wearing a suit of blue spandex lined with silver, he makes the water in his glass dance in small waves, even though his green eyes are looking at Tara. His silver hair flashes as if it were made of water. “Politician’s children or kids from well to do families being held for ransom?”
“You would think so, but no.” Tara said kindly. “It’s just all children. There have been over one hundred children taken in a handful of days.”
Maven watched as another child was taken, a look of terror upon the child’s face as the shadows receded with him. Maven wondered what had become of the child, and knew in his heart that he would not rest until he found him.
“Who is it this time?” Tianado asked. His chiselled face was serious and grim, eyes black as pieces of coal, and his face framed by a mane of dark brown hair that hung past his shoulders. “Is it the Toadman? Or maybe the Ice Machine? Or the Red Devil, she’s fucking twisted. Oh, maybe it’s the Swamp Guy again!”
Maven remembered what Finley had said up on the roof. “Is it the Cracklepuss again?” he asked.
“It’s always him,” Sandoz said with a loud sigh. “Wish he’d get a fucking hobby.”
Tara gave Sandoz a look. “Yes and no,” she said.
“What do you mean yes and no?” Maven asked.
“This time, it looks like he has someone helping him.” She said grimly.
Sandoz scoffed. “The Cracklepuss never has anyone helping him. He’s always like it’s my war and I will win it.”
Tara looked at the footage again and then back to all of them. “We don’t know who it is,” she said. “They keep mostly to the shadows. We don’t even know what they look like.”
“How are we supposed to fight someone who is invisible?” Maven asked.
There was the click of flame, and Maven turned to look at Finley. She snapped her fingers and the flame died. “How indeed?” she said.