Alternatively; buy me a coffee?
Captain Grace’s wings cut through the darkness as she struggled to keep herself aloft. Despite her best efforts, the burn on her back was too much.
To the few who witnessed this, she was little more than a smear of light falling down from the sky. A misplaced star that crashed into the asphalt, making a mockery of her very title. There was little grace to be found as she grimly picked herself back up and faced her foes. Wounds or not, she was a superhero and this was her calling. There would be no giving up, no backing down–not until there was no longer life in her to fight.
There was no smirk on her face, no boastful words that fell from her lips as she let her golden wings dissipate into the nothingness from which she’d called them. Captain Grace’s hands were clenched tightly as she glared at the semi-circle of Brites around her.
“Look at this,” Captain Grace said, indicating the wrecked city district. “This cannot be what you want for San Martín!”
Captain Grace couldn’t help but worry about what tomorrow’s news would say about this as one of the Brites stepped towards her. There were still flames circling the Brite’s hands. She knew those flames. This was not the first time they had fought, but she was determined to make this morning the last. She prepared herself when he raised one of his hands.
“Who are you to tell us what we should want for this city?” he laughed. “You keep fighting for these people, and for what? They’ll never accept you. They’ll never love you. You’re nothing to them.”
Captain Grace held her ground, one hand going to her side pocket as the Brites surrounded her.
“This is my home,” Captain Grace said, “this is all of our homes, and we must protect it. Why can’t you see that?”
“You want us to protect those who’d rather see us dead?” The flames wavered as the leader’s voice turned cold. He sighed and shook his head with a laugh. “No thanks.”
“Fine,” Captain Grace said. She pressed her distress button, knowing no help would come, and prepared to fight.
Miguel Locke Castillo took a seat in between his two friends, interrupting them mid-argument about Lucas’s tastes in fictional girls. Valeria snagged her Pepsi from his grasp and then ruffled his hair in thanks. Miguel shrugged her hand off of him, as Lucas pressed his orange juice to his forehead.
“I’m going to develop a complex,” Lucas declared, “if Val doesn’t learn to separate fiction from reality immediately.”
“Says the boy who wrote Starcrosser and Machina slash fics…” Valeria leaned back on the bench, narrowly avoiding Lucas’s orange juice lid. “Thanks, Miguel.”
“It was a dare!” Lucas protested.
“Valeria has a point,” Miguel said as he opened up his water bottle. “You’ve also written fanfiction about some of your favorite anime ships. Personally, I find it hard to believe those were all written on a dare.”
“Right?” Valeria said. “Just own up to the fact that your tastes are questionable, okay? I don’t think I’m the one that needs to be separating reality and fiction…”
“There is nothing questionable about my love for these people. I know you lack an understanding of the complexities of shipping–”
“Moving on,” Miguel said to Valeria as Lucas continued his rant, “when is everyone else showing up?”
“You know how funny May is for everyone,” Valeria said. “I think I saw in the group chat that Emilio got held up with reporters or something? They need to chill. Speaking of people needing to chill…” Valeria waved a hand towards one of the fountains in the park and Miguel followed to where she was pointing. Lucas had been so loud that he hadn’t noticed it before, but there was some guy yelling at an old homeless man across the way. Miguel nudged Lucas who stopped ranting loud enough for Miguel to clearly hear what the man was yelling at the homeless man.
“Get out of here! People like you make me sick! You think that people want to see pieces of trash like you lazing around? The police need to do their damn job!”
Lucas shook his head. “Does he think people want to see him yelling at homeless people?”
“Tell me about it,” Valeria said. “He has no self awareness, right?”
“Where are the police?” Miguel asked, looking around but the normally policed park seemed suspiciously empty of police as the evening drew closer.
Valeria rolled her eyes, “Probably out harassing teens, or ‘suspected Brites.’ You know cops.”
“Yeah,” Miguel said.
“Oh, wow, he just kicked him, did you see that?” Lucas said. The homeless man had rolled with the kick, and the other man looked like he was gearing up for another one.
“Ouch, that had to hurt–Miguel?”
Miguel ignored Valeria calling out to him and walked towards the fountain. “HEY!” Miguel reached the fountain and the two men. The homeless man was picking himself back up, his blanket all tangled around his legs. “Why don’t you leave him alone?”
The two man looked startled at his interruption. The attacker rolled his eyes.
“Back off, dude. This isn’t your business.”
“Maybe not,” Miguel said, “but anyone who can just walk past you harassing this old man is just as bad as you!”
“Listen, you meddling piece of shit. We don’t need hobo trash dirtying up our streets or piece of shit kids staying out past curfew. Don’t make me call the cops on you!”
“I’m almost 17!” Miguel snapped. “C’mon, this is Unity Park, and it was made for everyone!”
Miguel jumped back enough to miss the spit the other man aimed at his feet.
“Talking about unity when we have bitches like Jimena running things and got disrespectful brats like you–”
“He’s hardly the disrespectful one!” the old man said. “I didn’t fight for this country for disrespectful meddling piece of shits like you to come bothering me–”
“Then get off the damn street!” the man turned back to the older man, “Maybe you shoulda have died for the country, you worthless piece of shit.”
This guy is nuts. Miguel looked back at the bench where his friends had been, but found no sign of them. As he looked back, the man was going back to kicking the old man. “Hey! Stop that!” Miguel grabbed at the man and tried to pull him back as he yelled at the homeless man, “Why aren’t you running away?”
The old man just looked at him and tugged up the blanket covering the lower half of his body to reveal a lack of legs with which to do that.
“Let go of me!” The man broke free of his grip, kicking at Miguel’s shin as he did so. Miguel winced and stumbled back. The man rammed his fist into his face. Miguel stayed on his feet, positioned himself in front of the old man, and held up his fists. Years of schoolyard fights had taught him that much at least. The man went to hit him again, so Miguel ducked down and rammed his head against his stomach. He felt something like victory when the man went down.
When the man tried to get back up, Miguel plopped down on his chest and held him down. The man might have a few years on him, but Miguel outweighed him. The man was shouting about the police and lawyers and making threats when help arrived. Valeria and Lucas had found the rest of their friends –among them were a pair of police officers who quickly called their on-duty coworkers to come and arrest the man.
While the cops did that, Miguel turned to the veteran and asked how he was doing.
“I’ve experienced worse,” the old man said.
“Can I help you with anything?” Miguel didn’t want to just leave the old man alone, but the old man shrugged.
“I’ll live, I’ve been living far longer than you. Don’t worry about me.”
“If you’re sure…”
“Just go out and leave this old man in peace.”
“I don’t want to just do that–”
“Miguel! Are you okay?”
“Isn’t that your girlfriend calling you? You better go and see what she wants.”
Miguel sighed, “Yeah, sure. I hope you’re able to stay safer, all right?” He went to offer the old man some of the change in his pocket, but the old man waved him off, so Miguel pocketed it. After that, he went and let Valeria fuss over him and he quickly nursed his bruises in peace and laughter as the setting sun gave way to quiet, balmy dusk.
There was a lot of catching up to be done, especially since most of those gathered hadn’t seen each other since last year. Valeria and Lucas were both due to graduate at the top of their classes, a fact that many of their older friends cheered them about. Of course they weren’t able to pass a night gathered together without rehashing the latest news in the superhero circles: who was who, who was up and coming, and who wasn’t living up to their potential. No one talked about Captain Grace, by implicit agreement. Talk turned instead to the romantic entanglements of superheroes instead. Like how Machina and Starcrosser had been visiting orphanages together; the tabloids were predicting that they would be adopting soon. Lucas led the conversation on that, fiercely standing for the rights of people who had been cybernetically enhanced while Valeria’s crush of the evening argued against him. Miguel wandered from group to group in silence, letting the fragments of conversation he overheard carry him through the evening.
It helped that he had his phone to distract him, and that it allowed him to check on some of his favorite blogs. On this particular day, quite a few of them had updates and memorial posts. Today was the fifth anniversary, after all, of the fire that had killed Scarlet Avenger and Lady Jewel, the celebrated superheroine icons of San Martín’s Brite community. For him, a non-Brite, Scarlet Avenger and Lady Jewel had been his ideals given flesh.
Even five years later, it was still hard to believe that they were just gone–casually erased from existence by a fire. The absence of the two heroes had not been so easily filled. Many had tried to replace them, but few had lasted. The longest lasting one was Captain Grace who was almost universally hated in the San Martín region due to her many failings. In fact, thanks to her, the Fronteras Ciudadanas party had gained power to push through laws to make it illegal for Brites to be heroes. It wasn’t unlike what had occurred in the North with Nella and the International Heroes Force in 2016. Miguel paused at a post calling for more signatures on a petition against the Fronteras Ciudadanas party’s recent move to turn create an anti-vigilante law. He saved the post so that he could sign it when he got home to his desktop. For now, he made his way to his favorite blog: thesaddestnerdworld. As expected, the blog owner had posted that she would be spending the day drinking and would be responding to all the waiting hatemail in her inbox over the next few hours.
As I must now do annually now or some shit lets get this over with. I’m drinking so answers might start getting messy. Apologies in advance.
Q: why do u hate heros????
A: I do not hate heroes. Heroes are a necessary additional part of society as it is now. However, I do not think that the currently accepted standard sacrifices heros make are at all acceptable.
Q: Why don’t you go seek out a therapist for your obvious depression instead of whining online about it?
A: I do seek out therapy, and my therapist has suggested that blogging about my day and experiences can also be therapeutic.
Miguel glanced up from his phone to check on his friends. Valeria was chatting up the older white girl who had argued against cybernetics earlier. The white girl looked disinterested in an eighteen-year-old, but Valeria was giving it her all. Lucas was trading superhero cards with some middle school kids from their school district. Miguel would have joined them, but he had left all his cards at home. He swiped down to refresh his screen, and his eyes met someone across the way.
Miguel saw himself reflected in the boy’s glasses–until the boy’s phone screen dimmed, and then he could clearly see the boy’s face highlighted softly in the lamplight. In the five years that had passed since he had first seen him, the other boy had grown to become one of the most attractive people Miguel had ever met. It was if God himself had hand selected each feature of the boy’s face to be perfect. Miguel stared for several long seconds, but the boy either didn’t notice or didn’t care; his eyes flickered downward back towards his phone before he tapped the screen and it came blazing back to life. Miguel turned back to his own phone, and noticed that thesaddestnerdworld had updated a few more times since he had been distracted. As promised, each of her replies had become steadily more messy as she got more intoxicated. The 20th of May had hit her the hardest, it seemed.
It tended to hit a lot of people hard. That was why they were here. Someone from the organization in command of the gathering–Citizens for New Hope–called for them to form two lines. Volunteers went down the line handing out lit candles for the walk to the graveyard. Miguel could see ahead of him the mysterious boy whose name he had never learned, all those years ago, at the funeral.
Candle firmly in hand, he posted a photo on Mariposa and then pocketed his phone. He wasn’t a religious person, but he still found something comforting in the short prayer that Emilio offered up before they began their quiet walk towards the graveyard. Unlike earlier, no one offered up anything to say. They were deep in mourning for idols long since past.
Miguel set his candle down next to the others. The tombstones simply read the heroine’s superhero aliases and 01/01/2000–20/05/2020 to mark the dates when the two had first caught public attention and when they had died. Their civilian identities had never been known. Miguel couldn’t imagine a sadder fate than that. That lack of history, no one ever really knowing who they were or what efforts had been made by those two to keep saving the world… He stood to leave, and noticed that the beautiful boy from earlier was taking photographs of the gravestones, muttering underneath his breath. Miguel couldn’t help but remember the funeral, how closely the boy had been allowed to stand to the grave compared to all the other mourners, and he wondered who he was.
As the last mourner placed their candle and left, Miguel approached the boy and cleared his throat.
The boy didn’t respond.
The silence turned awkward and heavy and Miguel wasn’t sure what to do, so he settled on waving a hand in front of the boy’s face. It took a few moments, but the boy finally looked up and said, “What?”
“What are you doing taking photos? You’re not a reporter, are you?”
The boy blinked, and lowered his phone, “Am I a reporter? Do I look old enough to be one?”
“Not really, but–”
“Don’t ask stupid questions,” the boy said. He pocketed his phone. “You shouldn’t linger in graveyards alone.”
“I wasn’t planning on it! I just–wait, are you leaving?”
With that the boy walked off. Miguel shook his head and hurried on after him.
Miguel didn’t catch up with the boy, but he did find his friends waiting for him at the entrance to the graveyard.
“We were wondering when you’d come back,” Valeria said, “but we figured we’d let you mourn your only love in private.”
“My only love?” Miguel asked.
“Scarlet, you know, the only woman you’d ever go bi for?” Valeria shook her head, “Keep up, Miguel.”
Miguel rolled his eyes, “She was probably old enough to be my mom. Plus, she was gay.”
Lucas rubbed Miguel’s shoulder, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
“Stop reading slash fic, Lucas,” Miguel said. He looked around and noticed that most of the other people from the vigil had wandered off. He didn’t see the boy from earlier. “Did you guys see another person come out of the graveyard? A bit before I did?”
“Oh, that pretty black boy with glasses?” Lucas asked, and when Miguel nodded he continued, saying, “He got into a car with some girl…”
“That wasn’t a girl, Lucas.” Valeria shook her head. “It was a boy.”
“Wearing that dress?”
“I have a sense for these things. Trust me. It was another guy.”
“Okay, okay, so…he left, huh?” Miguel said quickly. “Thanks. What should we do now?”
“Oh, well, there’s that new restaurant by the–no, wait,” Lucas said. “Why do you care about that pretty boy, Miguel? Are you into him?”
“Um, no. I just thought he was weird and wanted to make sure he wasn’t hanging around is all.” There was no need to explain about the funeral five years ago. Lucas reluctantly accepted that, so the three of them made their way to dinner.
Lucas and Miguel traded gossip on the latest superhero news while Valeria busied herself on her phone. Before Lucas could start waxing poetical about Machina’s virtues, Valeria set her phone in the center of the table and tapped on the screen. On the phone was a blurry image of several masked robbers escaping from the police after stealing from a bank. Only one thing was clearly visible, and that was the flames coming from one of the thieves hands towards the photographer. The headline read–
“El Príncipe Rojo strikes again!”
“Do you see my eyes rolling? Because they just did,” Lucas said. “Of all the names they could’ve come up with…”
Miguel shrugged. “You know how the media is. They were calling Scar the Mistress of the Night for ages until she corrected them.”
“Doesn’t this make you mad? It’s guys like this that’s making it so Brites have such a bad rep right now!”
Miguel tapped on Valeria’s phone, and the image of the Brite using their fire powers popped back to life on-screen. “I don’t know Val, Brites have always been using their powers however they want, for good or bad reasons. This isn’t anything new?”
Valeria scoffed at him. “Of course it’s not. But try telling that to like Blanco and his whole ban on Brites using their powers publically.”
Lucas raised an eyebrow. “And Val thinks I’m the one living in a fantasy world.”
“No,” Valeria said, “He was like also this when that Machina versus Starcrosser stuff was happening in the United States. I just thought he would have learned a lesson by now. Jesus, Miguel, go learn how to research. Learn how to be a proper nerd! You are bringing shame to this family!”
“Fine,” Miguel pulled out his phone, “Let me check on something first and then I’ll go do that.” He checked on his various social media profiles (only fifteen likes on his Mariposa picture so far), and then on thesaddestnerdworld to see if she had answered his yearly question. It wasn’t really a question–just something that he liked to send her year after year, to remind her that she wasn’t alone.
Q: It’s the 5th year now. Do you think it’s easier or harder now that they’ve been gone for so long? In any case, I wish you a nice and safe night. Respectfully. -M
A: i don’t think itll ever be easier or ever be harder. time dulls all wounds, i do know that. thanks for the well wishes. -A
“…In the aftermath of the tragic attack at La Lux we must not come apart as a community, but come together. We cannot allow the hatred of a few to tear apart our city, our nation! That was what Mayor Salvador had to say after the attack yesterday at La Lux. Police Chief Santana has stated that she thinks it was not related to the recent uptick in Brite gangs.”
Miguel was sitting at his desk, listening to a replay of the local news via its YouTube account. As usual, things were not looking good in the least for his city. Since the deaths of its two heroes it had slowly been falling apart. Something had to be done.
Miguel sighed, and went on rocketpunch’s forum for San Martín. He posted on the open discussions page about the ongoing violence and asked what they thought could be done about it. Lucas, under his handle of memelution, had an immediate response to that.
memelution: humans suck and they only start paying attention when there’s someone to keep them in line! i’m praying that m&m from san josé comes here cuz we really need her.
His door opened, and his sister Camila came in. “Hey nerd, what do you want for lunch?”
“Are you offering to cook?”
“What? No. Not with your weird diet. I’m offering to pay. Guess who got all As on her last semester’s finals?” Camila leaned against the doorjamb and played with her hair even as she grinned at him.
“Congratulations. I want a vegan pizza from that one place. Number’s on the fridge. Thanks.” Miguel got up and ushered her out from his room. “Oh, where’s Bianca?”
“Downstairs, catching up on all her telenovelas. Then she has to do her lesson plans…which is so sad. Homework over breaks should be illegal.”
“Tell me about it.” They shared a sigh of long suffering and parted ways. Miguel shut the door and then looked around his room. Ever since he could remember he had been collecting paraphernalia relating to his favorite heroes. He had an original signed poster from Scarlet Avenger before her death above his desk. There was a collection of superhero action figures on his bookcase along with superhero guidebooks and encyclopedias from various years and countries in English and Spanish. All this time, he had been following their lives and wishing he could be one of them.
To be a hero meant that a person was better in some way. Super smart. Super gifted. Super other something. An alien. A God almost amongst humans. A Brite probably. Yet, Miguel wasn’t any of that. He was just Miguel Locke Castillo, seventeen-year-old biracial chubby gay kid.
However, that would have to be enough. Miguel decided that he was going to save his city even if he had to do it alone.
That in mind, he remembered something he had seen a few years ago on thesaddestnerdworld. She’d referred to it as Guidelines On How To Not Meet An Early Death and included a link to it on the main menu of her blog, but Miguel thought he had a better title for it. The Rules Of Being A Hero. There were eight of them in total. He had just some minor corrections to make as he read through her list.
Don’t Be a Hero.
You fucking idiot, fucking listen to me.
Third Rule: Tell your people.
Fourth Rule: Healthy communication or
No to BFFs.
Fifth Rule: Love
is for idiots.
Sixth Rule: Trauma Conga Line.
Seventh Rule: To err is human. To kill is not the devil.
Eighth Rule: Live no matter what.
Miguel could probably come up with more rules along the way, but these were some pretty decent guidelines. That in mind, if he was going to do the hero thing, he should probably come up with a good name. The name was everything. He looked at all his action figures and hero posters for inspiration, but none came. Finally Camila called him down for lunch–he went down wondering if he should tell his sisters before or after he started being a hero. Probably after, so they wouldn’t try to talk him out of it.
As a new hero, Miguel made a list of things he needed to do: coming up with a name for himself (hard), getting a costume (maybe ask Valeria?), telling his loved ones (that could wait), and keeping himself and his family safe (priority number one). Due to recent laws against teenage vigilantes, he would have to be careful about when he did this.
Miguel spent four hours looking up materials for a costume before noticing the time. He decided to just finally go out and do something– costume or no costume–and went to bed.
Lucas: miguel i know you can see this why aren’t you answring?
Val: maaaaybe he’s in the bathroom and his com’s just on the chat window?
Lucas: val that is legit annoying doesn’t he understand i have vital memes to import on him and he is ignoring me int this time of my need???
Val: you just want to show you what you showed me which is your “sick anime girls.” miguel won’t care.
Lucas: no one appreciates the fine arts anymore.
Miguel ignored his phone buzzing and kept running after the purse snatcher. The San Martín streets were crowded with people who kept stumbling into his path, but he forced his way past them. Miguel kept up with the purse snatcher who kept turning corners in an attempt to lose him. Miguel kept running. They were leaving the commercial area behind, heading into the residential areas. The man tripped over the uneven sidewalk, and Miguel was right there behind him. A quick, rough yank on the man’s arm sent them both to the ground. The man wiggled away from Miguel, and there was a moment when Miguel got a clear look at his face. They had to be the same age, he couldn’t help but think. What had shifted, flipped to change them to what they were?
What surprised Miguel most was that the snatcher was fighting for air and Miguel wasn’t even that winded. They rolled around on the ground, Miguel fighting to get the purse back and the snatcher trying to keep it, until suddenly there he heard someone say they were calling the police. The snatcher dropped the purse and took off running. Miguel looked at the bag, and then at the other boy, before heading back the way he had come. He found the owner of the purse leaning against a lamp post. Miguel handed her the recovered purse and walked another way before she could thank him for too much longer (or call the cops).
He felt good. Like he had really done something.
Miguel: While I do appreciate the fine arts, I can’t appreciate giant breasts on fox girls, sorry, Lucas!
Lucas: these are a endangered species miguel
Val: why am i friends with you again?
Lucas: you kind of adopted miguel and i came along as a package deal. twin deal two for one! you know you love me val~
Miguel went to respond in the group chat about how much Valeria truly did love Lucas when he noticed that he wasn’t alone. There were about half a dozen, maybe more people total closing in on him. A few of them had Brite traits that made them stand out as non-human, such as spikes lining their arms and horns. The leader stepped up to him and looked him up and down.
“You lost?” She was one of the non-human Brites.
“Kind of? I just was heading back to my bus stop, though.” Everything in him was screaming that he needed to get away. I do not have enough experience points to be taking her on, he couldn’t help but think, and he must have smiled at the thought.
“Did I say something funny?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, I just haven’t see you in this area before. You have to excuse me if we found your presence suspicious.”
“Sorry, I’ve had some misadventures tonight and was just going to go home now.”
She tilted her head, “Misadventures? Of what sort?”
“Getting lost, mostly.” Miguel said. Out of the corner of his eye, Miguel could see one of the gang members answering his phone with a grimace.
“It’s Rafael,” the man said. Several of the others started grinning, before the leader shook her head.
“That brat…” The woman frowned. “Someone, escort this kid to the bus stop.”
“I don’t really…” Miguel went to protest but then one of the larger Brites clasped him on his shoulder, and squeezed hard.
“You need me to see him home, too, Julia?”
The blond woman shook her head. “We have work to do.” She stepped up to Miguel and looked down at him, even though he was taller than her. “Past time for children to go home.”
Miguel was silent as he looked at her. He hadn’t ever realized that someone’s eyes could be as dead looking as hers, and yet the person still be living. They were going to do something, he was right here and yet was powerless to stop it. What kind of hero couldn’t even stand up to a few gangsters?
“Bus stop,” Julia said, and then turned away from him. The larger Brite gripping his shoulder, squeezed again, and Miguel winced as the pain registered. The Brite man stayed next to him until he got on the bus, and his face, and Julia’s cold eyes were all he could see as he made his way home.
Miguel realized something important.
He could not do this alone.
ICYMI: Recent News in San Martín
Captain Grace Continues to Fall from Grace? $40 Million in Property Damaged!
By Alano Ortiz Soto
Click to read more
Popular host Cortez Ortega Gil fuels flames that President Martinez Diaz is a Brite after her veto on an anti-Brite law…
Click to watch full video
Victim’s families demand lawsuit against Captain Grace! Estrellas’ Superhero League is Silent!
By Alano Ortiz Soto
Click to read more
Hot New Forum Topics You Missed:
5 Years Later: Is San Martín Doomed?
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Issue #02 should be posted next month.
Translations of Spanish used
Note: as stated in my detailed AN some phrases just do not translate!
Fronteras Ciudadanas: Citizen borders.
El Príncipe Rojo: The Red Prince.
La Luz: The Light.
Telenovelas: Shorter running but way more complicated form of dramas/soap operas.
Fun Fact #01:
What is Mariposa?
Mariposa was created as an alternative to other popular photo/video sharing apps/social media platforms that is specifically targeted at teens like Miguel. The creators also wanted to fight against how other popular apps cameras wouldn’t be able to “sense” or “detect” darker skinned people properly.
Thanks for reading!
Feel free to leave comments with your thoughts below~