223 - Kiss of the Spider Woman

It was a lot of effort, but Sablestar is pleased with the result. A duel! The destruction of an entire Schema! The release of a Moon Eater! All for the low low price of investing a little girl with a well-prepared Shard, constructing some child-proof fights, and juggling a few rainbow rubes’ emotions.

It’s time to gloat. She can report this coup to her fellow Collective members later.

Harry makes some very contrite apologies to Lisa Park about the loss of the Vanguard. She’s very understanding, and seems more interested in the details of how the team used the engines to neutralize the Concordance’s guardians. “It’s not supposed to do that,” she mentions with a smile, and Harry’s not sure how he feels about that.

Back at Captain Burger, nobody’s super enthusiastic about the rite of passage that is the double-patty danger zone. A10, Telekinetian, Armiger, and Mercury chew, and endure, and savor the sauce in thoughtful silence.

“The job,” A10 finally says.

Oh yeah, the job. Harry opens the ASIST app and marks the warehouse theft situation as “completed”. He doesn’t feel like filling in any details. The app does its little shower of particle effects and virtual confetti, and he smiles, but only for a moment.

Outside Captain Burger, Harry finds Adam, Jordan, and the Rainbow Warriors waiting for himself and his team.

“We didn’t really feel like contributing,” Kirk explains.

“Rest of 'em had it under control,” Erin adds.

“It’s just a Moon Eater,” mumbles Jack.

“Well uh, welcome to Earth, I guess?” Harry isn’t sure how to react to these three. He saw the duel, understood only the things he saw, and recognizes that an important shift in attitudes has occurred but not why.

“Yeah,” Kirk says, without enthusiasm.

There’s a period of silence.

Harry thinks he’s figured it out.

Jordan, also known as Princess Peri, practically jumped at the chance to be a hero. She didn’t think she was one, but she was determined to become one. And even though Jordan is seven, she did okay. She had some help, like her big brother’s example, and whatever her Shard is. He remembers Sol, and knows there must be a similar personality assisting her.

These guys started out being told they were heroes, and assigned to do heroic shit, and now Harry can see the devastation recent events have wrought on their self-confidence. Right now, they’re trying to figure out who they are now, what they’re supposed to do, what it all means, all that existential stuff.

Harry beckons to the Rainbow Warriors. “Come on. Let’s have some burgers, and I’ll talk to you about ASIST.”

A10, TK, and Armiger have taken off.

Adam orders a burger, and with knife and fork works on it bit by bit. Jordan gorges herself on the saltiest French fries on the planet. Harry works on his own burger, and watches the three Concordance agents do the same.

Finally he feels it’s time to talk. “You three got phones?”

The Agents look at each other. “… Yeah?” Erin says.

“Okay. Scan this.” Harry spins his own phone around, showing the QR code for the ASIST app. Reluctantly, the agents retrieve their devices, scan it, and start the installation process.

“Lots of people need something. They ask for help via the app. If you’re signed in, and you can help, you’ll get pinged. They have cool stuff you can get with points. You earn points by doing jobs. It’s a good way to fill time.”

Jack stares at their phone. “Huh.”

This is only the start, and Harry knows it. He tries to be careful. “Whatever went on, you’re a hero if you want to be a hero, and if you go do the work. That’s it.”

He thinks back to his team’s reaction to Peri, and how they struggled. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘official’ or whatever.”

He draws a breath. “It’s not complicated to just help people. It’s so easy. Figure out what they need. Figure out what you can do about it. Then just do it. If you three wanna be heroes, just do that. You don’t need anyone’s permission.”

Kirk’s eyes flick immediately to Adam. Harry picks up on it. “You don’t need Adam’s permission either.”

Kirk sits up in his seat. “But… we can’t, 'cause every time we try to do something, Adam…”

Harry stares at him. “Adam what?”

“Well… he’s always, y’know…”

Harry points at the kid working valiantly against the burger before him. “Is this Adam, the real Adam, stopping you? Is he interfering?” His finger swings to point at Kirk’s forehead. “Or is the Adam in there what’s stopping you?”

Kirk sits back like he’s been struck. But Harry can tell he’s hit a nerve. “What’s the problem anyway?”

Jack speaks up. “It’s… well, it’s like… Adam interfaced with a keynome, which is strictly off limits for us. He’s had two broken shards. He doesn’t seem to care about the Concordance and how we’re supposed to do things, but he keeps…”

“…Getting away with it,” Harry fills in, and he sees Jack’s face confirm his guess.

Harry smiles with sad familiarity. “My uncle leaned so hard on the Irregulators team. Never let them out in the field, just kept pushing them into training sessions. They had some beef with the JHHL, which was the golden-boy team, who got to go out and do cool shit. But it’s not like the JHHL was keeping them down. So the resentment was real, but it wasn’t real, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” Erin says glumly.

A thought occurs to Harry. Adam has never seemed the most eager of heroes himself, unlike Jordan. What if…?

“Hey, you three. What if Adam kinda faded into the background and became like a secret mentor or advisor or something, and you three graduated up to be Earth’s badass Concordance agents?”

The Agents look at each other, like whaaaaaaaat?

Adam looks up curiously at Harry.

“We don’t need a leader,” Kirk says firmly.

Harry holds his hands up. “No, no. Not a leader. Just… someone who knows what you’re going through, who understands you, and can give advice or just listen. Someone who can handle stuff behind the scenes, like maybe rating your powers on ASIST. He wouldn’t tell you what to do. But he might be able to tell you how to do it.”

The Agents look at each other again, and Harry takes time to gauge Adam’s face. Adam, too, seems unsure.

Harry doesn’t think he’ll get an answer soon, but they aren’t shutting him down immediately either. Maybe…? The future will tell.

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Adam and Jordan take the Halley Hovercraft from Captain Burger, transfer to the RookRail Yellow Line, then get on the 49 bus to get the rest of the way home.

Jordan kicks her legs impatiently from the bus seat. Adam sits in silence, thinking about everything that happened. The rest of the bus passengers ignore the siblings.

Jordan finally speaks up. “You’re gonna tell me I can’t be a princess, aren’t ya.”

Her voice is sad, and resigned, and it hurts Adam to hear his sister express that feeling. But there’s no denying the power she has is dangerous, both because of who gave it and because of who got it.

He finds a way forward. “I think you’ve been a fine princess, Jordan.”

She sits up excitedly in the bus seat, looking at him with wide eyes. “Ya mean it?”

He sticks to the truth. “I don’t know that I could take your Shard away from you if I wanted to. The Concordance probably could, but I don’t think they want to talk to us very much right now.”

“Yeah, those guys are stinky.”

You’re not wrong. Adam smiles past his own uncertainty. “I am your big brother, which means I have to look after you. And that might mean keeping you from getting hurt. And that might mean…”

Jordan’s eyes pinch. She knows what he’s going to say.

“… Telling you that maybe using that power is a bad idea.”

Jordan scowls, but Adam knows it’s unhappiness and not anger she’s feeling. “It’s not fair. I was a good princess.”

He tousles her hair gently. “You can be a princess in other ways, you know.”

“I know.” Jordan leans back in her seat, and crosses her arms tightly. “Anty said it. I said, can I be a princess without the power, an’ it said yes, I always could. I thought ‘bout that a lot. But it’s not fair. I wanna be a cool princess with a sword an’ a horse an’ go fight evil an’ stuff.”

“Maybe you can do that when you’re older?” Adam suggests.

“That’s forever from now!”

“Well, what if you waited until, uh, like, high school?”

Jordan counts years on her fingers. “Yeah, that’s forever,” she concludes glumly.

“But you’d listen if Mom and Dad said not to use powers, right?”

Jordan glares at Adam. She’s clearly displeased by his invocation of the nuclear option. “Yeah, 'cause I have to.”

Adam nods. “Welllll, what if I said I’d look after you, and we’d figure out when a time was right? Because I think they’d tell me to find a way to just take Anty away from you.”

Jordan recoils. “No!”

Truth has served Adam faithfully in all his time as a Shard-holder, even when he didn’t want it to. He falls back on it now. “Jordan, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I know what Mom & Dad will probably say, but maybe they won’t. All I know is, the shard can be dangerous, and you can get hurt if you have it. I’m older and I’ve been hurt by having one too. So I’m just gonna keep doing my best to keep you as safe as I can.”

Jordan subsides, and goes back to kicking her legs in impatience.

“Maybe you could ask Summer,” Adam prompts.


Adam isn’t sure where he’s going with this, but presses on anyway. “You wanna be a princess because you know about Summer, don’t you.”

Jordan wrestles emotionally with that before nodding. It’s the defeated monotone of someone who’s been found out. “Yah, guess so.”

Adam finds the point he was struggling to make. “So, Summer works at a coffee shop. She does stuff like go to school. Do you think she’s a princess when she does those things?”

“I… guess?”

“So maybe she can give you ideas about how to be a princess, without having a sword and a horse and fighting evil like you’re imagining.”

Jordan’s mood lightens noticeably. “Yeah. Yeah! I can ask her about princessin’. I mean, I’m a princess now, so it’s okay to ask, right?”


“An’ I can drink coffee with her!” Jordan claps her hands excitedly.

Adam smiles weakly. “Mom might have something to say about that.”

Adam comes into the kitchen to find his parents trapped in force fields, frozen with expressions of fear still on their faces. Before he can act, a wellspring of energy carefully concealed beneath the house rises up, and forms its own trap around him.

He can move, to some extent, but he feels his connection with Tau and his powers pinned in place, like a wrestler grabbed hold of him.

Sablestar is in the living room, her hand on the shoulder of a terrified Jordan.

“Leave her alone,” Adam shouts automatically.

The Void Shadow’s web-weaver actually laughs. “Do you imagine I’d hurt her, Adam? After all the work I put into her?”

“I don’t know what you want, but leave Jordan alone. If you have a problem with me, make it with me!”

“My problem is the Concordance you serve, dear Adam,” croons Sablestar. “You’ve been a thorn in my side, but only that. It’s only poetic that I reduce the mighty with such meager instruments.”

Jordan isn’t sure what’s going on, but Adam can see her fear fading into anger. “Adam can kick your butt any day!”

Sablestar turns in surprise to look at Jordan. “Oh? Not like this, my dear. His power’s been grounded into the eight-fold ether. All he has left is fists and words.”

“Yeah? Well–”

Adam can sense Jordan start to draw on her own power. “Jordan, don’t do it!”

Sablestar’s smile shows amusement, but not concern. “Antares Alpha-One, disengage all functions until further notice.”

Jordan finds her mouth taken over. “Antares Alpha-One complying.” She returns to herself and shouts furiously. “Hey! Whad’ya do to Anty?”

“The Shard is mine to do with as I wish, child.” Sablestar flicks a finger, and Jordan is levitated into the reclining chair. Sablestar herself takes a seat on the couch.

She folds her hands on her lap, draws a breath, and smiles at Adam. “Young Adam Amari, I know about your battle on Orion Schema. Surely you’ve seen by now that the Concordance are not the champions of goodness you believe them to be. You’ve seen their tactics, their methods, the people they become when pushed to the wall.”

Adam won’t give her the satisfaction, but privately he knows what she wants him to think about. The trial by empathy. The lengths the Coordinators would go to in order to preserve themselves.

Sablestar knows that he knows, and smirks a bit. “Keep your silence, then. You’ve at least dignity enough not to attempt to deny it. Yet you still serve them, though perhaps not as faithfully as they’d like. Delightful! Whether through hypocrisy or impotency, you hold fast to masters who have long since strayed from the path of virtue.”

Adam grits his teeth. “And you’re the hero of this story, is that it?”

Sablestar’s laughter is alive with amusement. “Hero? My boy, there are no heroes! There are those with the vision to understand real virtue, and those with power to enact their will. The Void Shadow Collective seeks to unite such visionaries with the power they require. We will undermine the Universal Concordance, expose its falsehoods for the universe to examine, and strike it down for the sake of those it has wronged in its misguided search for ‘order’ and ‘harmony’. Men like Velasco understand this, and have wielded the Prime Shard of Honor in the past. We will help him do so again.”

She leans forward on the couch, staring hard into Adam’s eyes. “The Concordance, you see, are just parents who’ve given up on their children. They took the burden of adjudicating Virtue in the universe, then crumbled beneath the weight the task laid upon them. They dare not confess their weakness, so they conceal it behind rules and protocols and stuffy arrogance. Their tools - the Weapon of Final Compassion, for example - aren’t about rectifying wrongs, but erasing mistakes.”

Adam stares back. “So you’re the rebellious teenagers, I guess. I’ve been lucky to have friends who helped me see that just when you think your parents are wrong, you may not be right either.”

Sablestar rises from the couch and approaches Adam, looking down at him with pitying eyes. “I’d hoped you’d understand. You’re halfway to joining the Collective yourself, you know.”

She glances over at Jordan. “Well, if you aren’t ready, perhaps someone else here doesn’t mind using her powers the way she wants.”

“Have you anything to say about that, child?”

Blah blah blah blah. Jordan knows the term for this, from reading comics and villain stuff online. It’s called “monologuing”. It’s where the bad guy thinks they’ve got the hero cornered, so they just talk and talk and talk and talk.

She can feel Anty, but she can’t communicate any more. It’s like someone is asleep and they won’t wake up, even if you shout at them.

What can she do?

She remembers the future, somehow. It’s her older self that appears when she’s Peri, a Jordan that’s from ten years in the future. A Jordan that lost her brother Adam.

It’s this moment when that happened. It’s right now.

She reaches for the one move she always insisted on doing herself, instead of trusting to Anty. She reaches for the thing most important to her in the world.

She reaches for the ability to free someone of their negative feelings.

“Have you anything to say about that, child?”

Jordan stands up. “Yeah. I got somethin’ to say.”

Sablestar beams. “By all means.”

Jordan feels the energy rising, feels the ambient power Sablestar’s trap has left here, and pulls it together. “PERFECT–”

Sablestar’s face twists and contorts into fearful recognition of what’s about to happen. She struggles to erect a defense. It’s not fast enough.


Waves of power surround Sablestar, tearing at the emotional armor around her Shard, prying away every negative emotion that powers her, neutralizing or encasing every bad feeling she’s ever drawn on. Streamers of light reach from Jordan’s outstretched hands to take possession of the isolated energy fragments.

“No powers inna house! Mom said!” she shouts.

She can see that Adam is free, and to her immense joy and relief, she sees Dad come barreling out of the kitchen, ending in a leaping tackle that knocks a very surprised Sablestar to the ground.


The villain is interrupted by a very angry cop. “Sablestar! You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. If you waive that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in court.”

Dad yells over his shoulder. “Honey! Get my cuffs and piece!”

Mom has shown up from the kitchen with a frying pan in one hand, her biggest kitchen knife clutched in the other. “Where are they?”

“Closet, Top drawer, left side.”

“On it!”

Mom takes off. Adam rushes to Jordan’s side, hugging her and checking on her in that instinctive way big brothers do.

Nassir Amari has hauled Sablestar off to be processed. Adam isn’t sure how Perfect Purification actually works, so he’s notified the Rainbow Warriors that they should probably come pick her up.

“She was responsible for all this stuff,” he adds, via text with Kirk.

“Probably look pretty good if we’re the ones who bring her in. Is that the idea?”

“I just want her gone. She was in my house.”

There’s a pause, and lots of typing indicators, before he gets a message from Kirk again. “Is Jordan okay?”

“She’s doing good,” texts Adam, with a glance at his sister, sitting at the kitchen table.

“Okay. Tell her… We’re all sorry for that stuff,” comes the last reply.

Summer was notified about the situation as well, and when admitted via the front door, rushes to Jordan’s side and fusses over her for a few minutes. Adam watches Jordan relate the story of how she took down a villain, all on her own. He smiles, proudly, despite all of his lingering terror about how it could have gone so wrong. And he watches Summer makes promises about ice cream, blintzes, and other rewards for such princess-like heroism.

At the end of it, Adam sits down and tells Jordan what he’s thinking about doing.

“Sablestar said some stuff I have to know more about. So I’m gonna go back into space, and do some investigation. I’m gonna ask William Eddison to come along, 'cause he’s got a sword that’s connected to this too, somehow.”

Jordan nods quietly.

“And if Anty comes back online, or you think about using other powers, I want you to talk to Mom and Dad and Summer first, okay? Don’t do something without asking them. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Jordan says quietly.

Adam hugs his sister, and she squeezes him back. She’s still scared, but she’s recovering. Adam feels bad about leaving her like this, but also knows that if there’s more danger waiting for her, it’s going to be out there. Better to go face it first.

He smiles at her. “Listen. All of us are connected by bonds of emotion. Even without Anty, you should be able to feel that. And I can feel you too. So if you’re ever in need, tug on that string, and I’ll feel it, and come running back home. Okay?”

Jordan beams through teary eyes. “I will. But I won’t have to. 'Cause Imma princess, and when ya come back, I’ll be the best princess there ever was. I’ll show ya!”

Adam grins. “I look forward to it, your highness.”

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So that’s where we stop with the Princess Peri story. Jordan’s powers are (temporarily) sealed away, Adam’s got a plan, he’s done a good turn for the Rainbow Warriors, and has a plan for where to go next. Maybe everything’s okay?

What do we think?

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Well that zoomed through quickly. Thought we were just going to have a denouement to wrap things, but nope we’ve got another climax and a few more story threads to wrap up before this story ends. :slight_smile:

The whole Princess Peri storyline was a hell of a ride and while I’m sad to see it come to a close, that just means possibilities can play around in the back of my head. I would like to think that Jordan is still going to talk at Anty even if the shard can’t talk back. It will be very interesting to see how that affects Anty if they become unlocked at some point in the future (presumably years from now when Jordan is a teenager).

I am probably going to be thinking back to this story and coming back to read it for quite a while, which is all I can ask out any story. :slight_smile:

I have my doubts there. Nothing is ever okay with any of these kids for very long. :laughing:

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Anything you wanted to see more of? Less of? Anything that was confusing or weird?

I would need to do a full reread to be certain, but I don’t think so. Admittedly, I’m also really easy to please when it comes to stories, so I tend to be bad at reading critically. I saw everything I could have wanted out of this story: Jordan with superpowers, learning a lot of the same lessons Adam did (with the benefit of possibly learning from those mistakes but definitely a good support group), a team up between Adam and Jordan (though with Armiger was a part of it too, but it made sense in context), and a showdown with Sablestar.

In hindsight, I probably would have liked a bit more interaction with the parents and Jordan after they found out about the whole “both our kids have superpowers” thing, but given the order of events it makes sense that there wasn’t time to delve into that before Jordan’s abilities were sealed away. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity, but I don’t think it would have been critical for the story and it works well without it, so that is just a nitpick.

Again, excellent job.

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I think I missed not seeing a bit more interaction with the 'rents after Sablestar was taken down. Even with Anty locked down for however long, Jordan having that interaction with them would be helpful for her and for them both. And that then goes double for Adam talking with them before heading back into space. I think Dad (and Mom) may even be more supportive about it than one might think – as a cop, he understands about both institutional and individual responsibility and the need to follow through on it, and having actually seen his kids in action and how they handled it … well, just narratively, I wanted to see that.

It was nice seeing a bit more motivation from Sablestar – “We’re not the bad guys, we’re just pointing out that the good guys are hypocrites and self-serving and we’re going to put a stop to it” lines up with the “everyone’s a hero in their own story”.

Overall, good stuff, Bill. Sorry it took me eight months to catch up on it. :slightly_smiling_face: