This story appears in the March/April 2017 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

“If you could have any superpower,” she says, resting her hand on his chest and curling his chest hair, “what would it be?” She’s a journalist through and through, Pete thinks. Even in bed. All the times before when they had played this game, it was as a prelude to another bout, another frenzied round of lovemaking. She’d grab his cock and he’d say, “Always be hard,” in hopes of hardening.

But today, on the pallet of sheets and blankets they made on the floor of the one safe and shielded room in the universe, he says, “If I could have any power, it would be to take away superpowers.”

“What, like steal them?” she says.

“No. Take them away. Forever.” From where he rests, spent, he looks at the blank face of the ceiling, its dull black surface made of alloys and elements he cannot even begin to fathom. A bower constructed of alien material to hide a wife’s private hours, her secret thoughts—and deeds. “Create a world where all men are equal,” he says. He doesn’t mean for it to come out sullen.

“Men?” She removes her hand from his chest and stands, nude. “Is this about Chris?” She looks around, a reflexive habit, checking to see if anyone is watching. Outside of the “blackbox,” it is possible. Her husband, Chris, the leader of the League of Heroes, can hear any heartbeat anywhere in the world, peer through walls, see through flesh. He can translocate—can travel anywhere—almost as fast as thought. But not in the blackbox. It is shielded. Liza insisted on it when they moved in. She needed her privacy, her sanctuary.

Pete rises with her, pulls on jeans and buckles his belt. He slips on worn loafers and stands before her, shirtless. He’s not heavily muscled or especially handsome. His body has a compactness, a dense angularity that hers does not, even though he stands no taller than she does. She is foam and he is wood. She captures but cannot hold him.

He buttons his shirt, taking his time to make sure he gets each one. It’s a white shirt, rumpled slightly from their first embrace, its sharp lines and starched collar softened from the heat of their coupling—in the act, moisture sloughed off into the air to dampen everything contained in the blackbox. Condensation beads on the metal walls. 

His dressing angers her. In their previous trysts he’d lounged about unclothed, watching her dress. She’d liked that, he thought, his unabashed nakedness. She enjoyed his willingness to be vulnerable in a way he sensed but could not explain. Once before, after having sex, she’d dressed, put on her pumps and then placed her heel on his privates. A light pressure intimating more. The sentiment was clear: She could unman him, destroy him. Pete simply watched her, giving nothing back, his head cradled on crossed arms, his red chest and pubic hair blazing, and smiled at the sensation of cold leather on his most assailable part.

But today she’s angry. “This thing between us,” she says. “It’s just a thing. It’s not for real. I will never leave Chris.”

Pete looks at Liza, the soft roundness of her face, her long neck. He closes his eyes. A sweat drop had hung from the tip of his nose as he crashed into her open body, falling in the hollow of her throat as he came. It was her hair that first drew him. Long, black. A stark contrast to his red. Lustrous, as the television commercials said. He’d imagined how it might fall toward the small of her back. How it would move.

“I don’t want you to leave Chris,” Pete says, observing her face. “The Scourge is still out there. The world needs Chris—the world needs the Blade—and he doesn’t need to be distracted by you.” He turns to go. “Or me.” He pats his pockets, checking to see if he has all his things: phone, wallet, keys. The fastidiousness of adultery. “Show me the leaking faucet, Liza,” he says. “You know, the reason I’m here? I’ll take care of it before I go.”

They call it Hind Park, where the League of Heroes make their homes, keep their families safe. He doesn’t think on Hind Park much—tries not to think on it—or the fact that he is his wife Vivian’s greatest weakness. Sometimes he misses his parents, and his home of North Carolina: baseball games, barbecues at the park, kayaking the Nantahala and Chattooga, hiking the Appalachian Trail. The Scourge took that life, that history, away from Pete—his parents, his brothers and sister, all gone, targeted one by one, held for ransom and then killed. The League worked hard to save them but for all its extranatural power, for all its near-godlike technology, was stymied at every turn. The Scourge outmaneuvered and overmastered them. 

Pete doesn’t know where exactly Hind Park is, and he’s been here for seven years now. Abstractly, he understands he is here to keep the world safe from the Scourge and his minions, so his wife in her official League persona of Mesmera is not compromised. For those with great power, love is vulnerability. More intimately, he knows Hind Park as home now. It feels like Michigan, maybe, judging by the blueberries at the edges of Miller’s Field, or the copse of maple and beech trees standing like sentinels beyond, at the foot of the Wall. The winters are cold and bring heavy snow; just last December Sylvester Childress in mere seconds raised his hands and grimaced, shaping the earth into a hill for sledding. Springs are temperate and the summers are mild. Had Pete a better mind, more suited to science, he might be able to discern his location by the movement of the stars. But his hands are rough and suited for woodwork and maintenance. And, most recently, the care of children.

It’s fall now and Pete walks down Arbor Lane toward the market square. The oaks have turned yellow and orange and begun giving up their leaves. Acorns crunch under his feet. There’s a store at the nexus of streets, a grocery. A library and beyond, protruding from the Wall, the school. If you ignored the electric face of the Wall and the air-defense missile turrets and oscillating radar antennae, it could be any town in America. The houses are large and well-appointed, midcentury modern, colonial, Tudor. Each has a wide expanse of lawn, manicured gardens. Swimming pools and Jacuzzis to unwind in after long days of airborne combat and crime-quashing in the cities. Of the hundred homes, most are empty.

In the square, a soldier in civilian garb unloads boxes from a refrigerated truck. When Pete and Vivian first moved to Hind Park, soldiers were everywhere, but the uniforms and guns bothered the community’s kids, and so they changed protocol. 

Pete trots up and pitches in, placing boxes of pork chops and fish fillets, oranges and heads of lettuce, crates of milk and juice, on the dolly. They go inside. The market is empty, bright fluorescent lights shining on full blast above untended rows of canned goods and other groceries. He doesn’t know the soldier, but it doesn’t matter. They cart the frozen goods to the meat freezers.

“I’ve got this,” Pete says to the soldier, waving him off. “Something for me to do.”

The soldier chuckles. “You’re married to one of the League, huh? Which one?”

Pete shrugs. “Mesmera.”

The soldier gives a faux shiver. “Holy smokes. You must be a saint. If my wife could read my thoughts, there’d be hell to pay.”

Pete says, “It keeps me honest.” He pulls out his phone and sends a group text: Meat delivery is here. Nice chops. Some salmon. Lemme know what you want and I’ll have it wrapped and waiting for you at the market. A few League responses return immediately. Salmon! from Beth. Any steaks left from Sunday, bro? Chris sends. Brandi Childress responds: Six chops and some brats 4 kids, please! And can you walk M&M home for me? We’ll be back at 4

He answers each, dutifully, staring at the glowing face of his phone. When he looks up, the soldier has returned to the truck. Pete spends some time packaging and labeling the meat orders and placing them in a glass-front cooler. When all are in place, he collects the chops and spinach for his family’s evening meal, bags them, claims a potted orchid—a white phalaenopsis—and wanders back out into the street. He checks his phone again for the time.

At the school, he sits on a bench and waits. There are two parts to the school in Hind Park—the section extending outside the Wall for kids who have not yet “bloomed,” or shown extranatural abilities, and the inner area for the rest of them.

Pete’s son, Hank, barrels out of the school’s front door, whooping and swinging his backpack. A good sign—like his mother, Hank is prone to dark moods. Vivian tells Pete that their son exhibits telepathic hallmarks. Precognition, empathic senses, second sight. He’ll be moving to school inside the Wall soon. Bryce and Lizzie follow their older brother. The eight-year-old twins have a complicated relationship; it’s thought that they share a consciousness. To what end, what powers, Pete could not say.

He ruffles Hank’s hair and scoops up the twins and swings them about. 

“You’ve been with Mrs. Blade,” Lizzie says. 

“She’s pretty,” Bryce says.

“That she is,” Pete says. He doesn’t bother correcting them on her last name. “How was school?”

“We won,” they say together.

“The coding competition?”

“Yes. It was simple,” they say.

“One voice at a time, kiddos,” Pete says.

“It was an app that took in information and wrote to a database,” Lizzie says. Bryce’s mouth moves sympathetically.

“Hey! That’ll be handy,” Pete says. He waves to Marcus and Mykaela, Brandi and Sylvester Childress’s kids. Mykaela runs to Pete in the adorable, ungainly manner children have. Marcus strolls over, giving Pete a high five. He smiles and the younger kids join hands. “You guys have everything?” Pete asks. “Ell-ee-tee-ess gee-oh.”

They accompany the Childress kids to their house. Sylvester and Brandi aren’t home yet, so Pete leads them inside. There are no locked doors in Hind Park. Pete makes peanut butter and jelly on crackers for a snack. Even though the leaves are changing, it’s warm enough to swim, so the kids put on suits and jump in. Marcus is 13 and can breathe underwater and create riptides, so Pete is content to leave the kids long enough to find a suit. He moves through their house, up the stairs on thick carpet, down silent halls. He enters Sylvester and Brandi’s bedroom and stops, looking at the bed. Then he enters the walk-in closet and opens drawers until he finds a swimsuit. He strips and changes and returns downstairs, his clothes neatly folded under his arm. Using the long pool skimmer, he removes the elm leaves from the surface of the water before jumping in. Pete scores the twins’ dives—7.2, 7.8, 8.3—tosses Hank into the air to squeals of laughter and wrestles with Marcus underwater until he has to tap out for breath. 

Pete leans into the pool’s wall, arms outstretched, watching the children splash, when Sylvester and Brandi show up, smiling.

“Hey, Pete!” Brandi says. “Thanks for getting the kids.” 

“No problem. Didn’t have much else to do.”

“Uh, man, you in your underwear?” Sylvester asks.

Pete shrugs. “Nope. I borrowed some of your trunks.” He looks down at his water-distorted waistline. “Little big on me, though.”

Sylvester looks puzzled and glances at Brandi. Sylvester’s thick ropey muscles cord his arms, heavy neck and shoulders. They call him Rockfall, and Vivian told Pete that when he was given that call sign, he shrugged and said, “Sounds about right.” He can manipulate any mineral to his will. 

A look passes between husband and wife and there’s some irritation on Brandi’s part, Pete is sure. 

“I put the chops and brats in the fridge,” Pete says. Sylvester goes inside. Brandi follows her husband but returns in minutes wearing a one-piece that flatters her muscular physique. She’s carrying three beers and places one near Pete’s head before lowering herself into the pool near him. 

“You’re pushing it,” she says. “Sylvester is very touchy about his stuff. Too many brothers and sisters.”

Pete takes a long swallow. “Ahh. I was an only child,” he says. “It was an open landscape with me a lone figure. A Heathcliff on the open plain.”

“It’s the moors, Pete. If you’re a landscape, it’s not an open plain,” she says. “That’s for damn sure. More like a cow pasture, you’re so full of shit.”

“Me?” Pete says. He raises his eyebrows, smiles and takes a pull from his beer.

“I’ve read your dossier,” Brandi says. “You’ve got brothers and a sister.”

“I have no brothers and sisters now,” Pete says.

She has something on the tip of her tongue but reconsiders, closes her mouth and spreads out one of her arms and sinks down, wetting her hair, her breasts peeking above the surface. No one talks about the losses, the failures.

Pete places one wet finger on her hand. There was nothing there, nothing in the touch. Except for one night years ago, a Christmas night, when everyone had gathered at Greason’s house for eggnog and drinks. Vivian was called away to the command center; later he would learn the Scourge had found his parents only hours before. Christmas carols droned on until Beth Meyer, at her wits’ end, cried “No more Burl Ives!” and hijacked the stereo. “Let’s get this party started,” she said, and went to kiss her wife as Al Green began to play. Everyone laughed. Sylvester and Greason chatted in the kitchen with the Guerins, and Brandi, hips swaying, had taken Pete’s hand and tugged him into dance. He had had enough scotch to be extremely conscious of her body, the heat pouring from her. The heat was mirrored in him. With one glance downward, she knew. She did not pull away.

But now, she withdraws her hand and stands. 

“Word is, a new couple will be moving in,” Brandi says. She finishes her beer and begins drinking the extra. Sylvester will have to get his own. “They’re calling her Plasmacoil and him Doctor Helios, which is kind of histrionic, in my opinion.”

Pete smiles. “They could use a good editor. Just Helios would be fine. God of the sun. He shoot lasers or something?”

“No idea,” she says. “Mesmera—I’m sorry, Pete, I mean Vivian—is inducting them now.”

“So she’ll be late.” He sighs. “Kids?”

“Almost. She’s got one in the oven.”

“That’s good.” Pete falls silent. Brandi watches him. 

“Don’t get any ideas,” she says.

“What are you talking about?”

“You can act like you don’t know,” she says. She looks inside and then back to Pete. “There’s always talk at the League Hall.”

“Some things never change,” he says and pushes himself out of the water. “People talk. Even superheroes. Thanks for the beer. Tell Sylvester I’ll bring his trunks by in the morning.” He turns to the pool. “Kids!”

Pete’s house is a modern colonial, the most traditional in Hind Park and the oldest. The Captain lived here, from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, before the Syndicate—the organization that gave rise to the Scourge—managed to push him into the Nth Dimension. To remind Pete of this, a portrait of the Captain stares out from above the mantel, painted by none other than J.O. Buckley. It has been appraised for more than the house. As if the house could ever be sold.

Pete showers and changes into athletic shorts and a Chapel Hill tee. At the dining room table, he helps Hank with his algebra homework—Bryce and Lizzie are better at most abstract subjects than Pete, but his son refuses to be tutored by his younger sisters—and then they play a quick game of Ping-Pong in the garage. Pete’s current project—a massive white-cedar canoe kit—dominates the space. There are no cars in Hind Park, so Pete cannot understand why there is a garage. However, Hind Park has streets too, so maybe at one time it was meant to be part of the world, not locked away like the Captain in the Nth Dimension. Most of the League members can fly. Greason, the League’s administrator, once offered Pete a golf cart. “So, what you’re giving me is a glorified wheelchair?” Pete had said. “I can get a Muggle tattoo, as well. How’s that?” Greason had stammered and blushed while Vivian made outraged expressions at her husband.

Pete sautés the spinach in butter and garlic and brines the chops. He makes risotto for Hank, who has a gluten issue that leads to eczema, and pesto noodles for the twins. He drinks another beer as he starts the grill. On the patio, he watches the elms and oaks shift in the dusk, follows the passing clouds lit by the sun, already past the rim of earth. He watches geese on high, flying south through blue-gray twilight skies, the halls of play of the League, and Pete’s wife, but never for him. He will not be carried. Leaves fall, and one of Beth Meyer’s golden retrievers barks hoarsely into the failing light. Inside, he serves the kids dinner and reads them books (though they’re all very capable readers) and bundles them into bed with kisses, taking their phones and iPads as he goes. 

“Will Mommy be home soon?”

“Of course,” he says. 

“Will you send her in to kiss us?”

“Of course I will,” he says.

He picks up laundry and turns off lights. He starts a load and then pours a scotch and drinks it in bed, naked. When Vivian comes in, he sits up.

“Long day?”

She kisses him and wrinkles her nose at the smell of scotch. “Yes. New couple. Greason and I had to induct them. They’re moving three houses down, in that monstrous old Tudor.”

“So I heard from Sylvester and Brandi,” he says. “Did you eat?”

“I had a smoothie.”

He sweeps his hands along her thighs and nestles into her backside.

She strips and he watches her. Vivian, the daughter of a doctor and the granddaughter of an Episcopal priest, a descendant of Puritans come to America for religious freedom. An air of aristocracy hangs about her, from her fine, patrician nose to her delicate jaw. There’s an abundance to her, the lush curve of hip, the elegant arms, expressive hands. They met at college and it was Pete who discovered the talents of levitation, telepathy and mesmerism that she had been hiding. Pete who pushed her to contact the League. He had fallen underneath her abilities; he had succumbed, but never enough to not understand what was happening. She was what made him special; everything in her was rebounded by Pete, a sounding board, a mirror. Everything extraordinary about Vivian was matched by everything ordinary about Pete. 

When she gets into bed, he sweeps his hands along her thighs and nestles into her backside. 

Vivian says, “No, Pete. I’m so tired.”

“Of course, hon.”

“Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not. You’ve got a lot on your plate.”

“You’ve got your hands full here too. The kids? How are they?”

“I told them you’d give them kisses when you got in.”

“I did,” she says. “I’m not that absent.”

“They’re good. Lizzie and Bryce won their coding competition.” He pauses. “Do you want to read me? See how my day went?” There are two intimacies offered here—the second comes with so much more weight. 

She turns in the circle of his arms and touches his face, his mouth. Her elegant, aristocratic fingers trace the flesh there. “Oh, Pete. There’s so much going on and I just need sleep. The Scourge kidnapped a Belgian nuclear scientist and stole some spent plutonium rods. I’ve been scrying all day.”

“Dirty bombs?” he says.

“Possibly.” She kisses him. The comfort of the familiar reassures him and he feels as though he is falling into her. A raft lost on the sea of her body. He opens his mouth and their tongues meet. They make love without her reading him.

He forgets to tell her about the orchid before falling asleep.

In the night he wakes to the silent house, monochrome-dark and quiet. His wife snores softly, something Pete has always found charming. Outside, the radar antennae rotate constantly, sweeping the skies. The missile turrets pan and scope the heavens, ever vigilant.

He rises and goes downstairs. 

Naked, Pete pads through his home in Hind Park. The world sleeps around him. He opens the door by the kitchen and enters the garage. Here is the canoe Pete has made from white cedar. Taking up a fine-grain sandpaper wrapped around a wooden block, Pete begins sanding the tapered curve of the craft. Soon he will begin staining the canoe and then sealing it with fiberglass, and he will be dressed then. But for now it is just his hands moving across the fibers of cedar, the smell of it rising to his nostrils. Sawdust nestles in his leg hair, his crotch.

There is no open water in Hind Park.

Late in the afternoon that Saturday, Pete and Vivian dress casual—he in a camp shirt, faded jeans and loafers, she in a sundress with a light sweater tied around her waist. The kids wear bathing suits, towels slung over their shoulders. The sun shines, watery yellow, and the air blows mild with a hint of winter yet to come.

The party is for the Whitmans, the new arrivals to Hind Park. Pete and Vivian walk over, she with an air of distraction, repeatedly checking her phone. To Pete’s questions, she gives half answers—“Things are happening; strange extranatural readings in Prague; AI gleaned spikes in coded surveillance”—but puts the device away as they near the Klerks’.

The Klerks’—the Blade and Liza Lynne’s—door stands open, and Vivian and Pete walk in without knocking, move through the foyer into the big white kitchen and place their food alongside all the other offerings: broccoli salad, fruit salad, arugula salad with vinaigrette, potato salad, twice-baked potatoes, kale chips, bagel chips, wedges of Gouda and Brie. Dimly Pete is aware that below him, in the basement, is the blackbox, now containing only possibilities.

A blender screams from the backyard. They walk out onto the Klerks’ expansive patio to be hailed by many; Pete is more popular than Vivian, and the Guerins call him over to where they’re playing badminton beyond the pool. Marcus and Mykaela wave, along with Beth and June’s children. The grill smokes, perfuming the air with charcoal. There are the Littlesmiths, the Childresses, and June and Beth. 

“Here he is,” Steve Guerin—Spitfire—says. “Hell on the court, Pete Salzburg.” He tosses Pete a badminton racquet. Pete snatches it out of the air.

“I don’t think it’s a court,” Mahrinda Guerin says. “It’s a pitch. Hey, Pete.” She air-kisses his cheeks. A normal, just like Pete, she’s one of the few spouses along with Liza who have found gainful employment with the League. Mahrinda, having been raised between Bangalore and London, speaks seven languages and spends her days translating intelligence and acting as a communication liaison. She is not very good at badminton.

Chris appears before Pete with a displacement of air, wearing an apron. “Here, bro,” he says and hands Pete a red Solo cup brimming with light green froth. “Too much tequila?” The Blade metabolizes alcohol differently than regular humans. Pete swallows some of the mixture. “You’re right on the money, Chris,” Pete says. Chris smiles and translocates back to the bar.

Brandi and Pete play the Guerins in a badminton match, sipping from their margaritas between points. In the air above the house a quartet of older kids plays an aggressive game of tag, occasionally punctuated by adults rising to intercede when tempers flare. Pete finishes his drink and walks over to where Liza stands near a tall blonde woman and an even taller man. The woman’s belly bulges beneath her form-fitting dress.

Pete kisses Liza on the cheek, a familiarity allowed close friends. As hostess, Liza feels a pressing need to be everywhere at once and all things to all guests. It takes only a glance for Pete to know she’s in a heightened state of politeness and formality. An empty drink or a bare plate is a fire to be extinguished. Two un-introduced guests, a travesty. “Pete, this is Dr. Jeff Whitman and his wife, Georgiana.” Pete shakes hands with them both and looks over the taller man, wondering why his call sign is Doctor Helios. 

“Hey, that’s great, Doc. I think I’ve got a rash developing. Could you take a look?” Pete says.

Liza appears outraged, while Georgiana and Jeff laugh. 

“Not exactly that kind of doctor. More along the lines of particle physics,” Jeff says.

“Pete is our resident comedian and handyman,” Liza says.

“That’s my call sign,” Pete adds. He spreads his hands as if outlining a vaudeville marquee. “The Handyman.” 

Liza’s face darkens.

“Well, I’m Doctor Helios,” Jeff says, spreading his hands in the same manner as Pete. “Though I thought prepending the call sign with ‘Doctor’ a bit much.”

Chris appears beside them. “But there’s Hellion, and Herniac—that guy is totally fucked-up—plus Hesphatos and Hecate and a whole slew of similar-sounding call signs. You need brand compartmentalization.”

Pete turns to Georgiana and says, “And you are…?”

“Pregnant, obviously,” she responds.

Pete, caught off guard, stammers. The Whitmans, and especially Liza, laugh at his predicament. Chris gives a yelp—“Burgers!”—and disappears again.

“Your call sign is Plasmacoil? I don’t know if I understand that.”

She’s a titan of a woman, towering and expansive. Eyes large; mouth generous.

Georgiana puts her hands on her stomach. She’s a titan of a woman, towering and expansive. Her eyes are large for her face and her mouth is wide and generous. Pete cannot help but appraise her body. She’s athletic and muscled, but her frame does not exhibit her strength in outward and coarse ways as with Brandi—biceps, triceps, quads, glutes, all bunched up and massive—nor can he see her reflected in the abundance of Vivian. She is unlike any woman he’s ever encountered.

“We’ll have to stay busy,” Georgiana says, glancing at Jeff. She looks back to Pete as if to evaluate his true intentions. “This is easier when I’m pregnant,” she says. She draws her palms away from her stomach, pulling threads and ribbons of pure energy. The air begins to crackle. In her hands she holds a pulsing ball of plasma, and within it Pete imagines he sees the electric ghost of an embryo. Georgiana rises into the air, just a few feet, her blonde hair splayed around her as if suspended underwater.

“I think I see,” Pete says. Looking at her, Pete knows nothing is promised—not one day, not one life. But here, contained in this crackling electric being, he can see mapless territories of love and pleasure. Love and pleasure enough for him too, maybe. Guilt had died in him when his parents and family died—a little spark, snuffed out. He had not missed it. But in Georgiana, the vastness of her body—more than her body, truly, for she seems limitless—he senses a counterweight to the empty part of himself. If he could gain her, he would swell, grow. The diminution would cease. 

Jeff laughs. “She has that effect on me too,” he says. “She has that effect on everyone.”

“Pete,” Liza says, placing a hand on his elbow. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

Pete looks at Jeff and Georgiana apologetically. “Pleasure to meet you both.” He lets Liza draw him away.

In the kitchen, she says, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Liza, this is absurd. You introduced me to them. What do you think I was doing?”

“I’m not an idiot,” she says. She stops herself and looks out onto the patio. Chris is simultaneously grilling burgers, blending a margarita and tossing a Frisbee with the older children.

“He’s going to burn the burgers,” Pete says. “Maybe I should——”

“Shut up, Pete. Chris never fails at anything,” she says. 

It takes a moment to restrain himself, but Pete does not mention his parents.

“Maybe we should discuss this in the blackbox,” Pete says. He places his hand on her hip. She allows it to remain for only a moment.

“Not now,” Liza says. Something in her hardens. “Not ever again.”

“All right,” he says, smiling. “We can talk about this later.”

“Never,” she says, her expression awful.

Pete walks back out onto the patio, surprised to find many faces already turned toward him. Chris stands still at the grill, burning the burgers, his infallible and penetrating awareness fully upon Pete. At the edges of his perception, Pete senses Vivian probing, a minnow wriggling into the net of his consciousness. The children quiet in their play—the pool stills, the teenagers wheeling in the arteries of air cease their movement and hover.

A keening sound begins, arcing across the vault of sky. A siren. Phones begin chirping, issuing alarms. Chris’s gaze lingers on Pete before he takes out his phone and disappears. The spatula falls to the ground. 

The Scourge, again. This is what Hind Park was built for. Beth and June lift into the air, yelling at their kids to stay with the adults. 

Vivian appears before him. “I——,” she begins and stops herself. “Get the kids home,” she says. “Helios and Plasmacoil, you can be more help here than out there. You haven’t had time——”

Jeff says, “Understood.” He takes Georgiana’s hand and leads her out to the front of the Klerks’ house, in the street. His skin becomes mottled, emanating light. His clothes combust and fall away. He rises above the treeline, a newborn star. Georgiana conjures a plasma ball from her womb and carries it before her. “Come on, kids!”

“I’ll hang back too,” Brandi says to Vivian. “A full League member should stay.”

Vivian nods, not looking at Pete. “Good. Guard the Park.”

Steve Guerin gives the rallying cry of the League—“All as one!”—beckoning the flightless members to come close enough to touch. They converge, dropping cups and plates where they stand on the lush grass of Chris and Liza’s backyard. As one, they flash and disappear. Teens descend from the sky and gather up their younger siblings and usher them home. 

Pete watches his wife rise into the air and arc away, her hair and clothes rippling with the speed of her exit. He stands on the lawn, among the litter of false suburbia, and begins picking up plates and cups. He takes the burgers off the grill and closes it. He stands there, charcoal smoke curling around the rim, burning his eyes, and stares toward the Wall, where the radar and turrets seem to whirr and turn ever faster.

“Come on, Pete,” Brandi says. “The kids will need us.”

He turns to gather his children, the twins and Hank. Marcus and Mykaela have them waiting and ready to go home. Pete enters Chris’s house and begins to call out for Liza, but Brandi places her hand on his arm.

“Haven’t you done enough?” Brandi says.


“Goddamn you, Pete,” she says. “You’re a bigger threat than the Scourge.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Brandi sets her shoulders. The air around her begins to warp and distend. Her displeasure is the open door of an oven. Incendia, they call her. “Every garden needs a snake. And you’re a fine one,” she says. “Cloaked in helplessness and vulnerability. You think Chris or Vivian is going to be totally focused on the Scourge? When you’re here at home?”

Pete laughs, but it doesn’t feel right, and his children wait for him. He tries to walk away. Her grip tightens on his arm, beginning to burn, stopping his forward movement. 

“It’s true, then,” she says. “I always thought it was a cliché. But all villains think they’re the good guys.”

She leaves him standing in the white kitchen, staring after her, near the banquet table of food that will never be eaten.