Family Tree: A Nobody's Hero short
 
 This is the short story that I am taking to The 2017 Calgary Expo. I am producing it as a limited edition, handwritten book. The only way to get a physical  copy is from me at the expo or by ordering a copy from me privately. The final number of physical copies of this story will be determined by the orders I get. 

Thanks for supporting me, guys, I really appreciate it!

ONE

The Intervention left the mutant community shaken and distrustful. We didn’t think that Nightingale City was so fundamentally scared. Echo City has had mutants and vigilante superheroes for years. The Intervention proved that the military has been preparing for the inevitability of another Awakening for God knows how long.

It was just so unfortunate that scared and vulnerable teenagers were the ones who got caught up in the middle of the hysteria. The damage done by The Intervention, and the bold declaration of mutant supremacy from a known career criminal who called himself Rupture, left the mutant community even more divided than it had been in the first place. 

Mutants weren’t welcomed back into the community at large as easily as the more optimistic of us had hoped. When the civil war and the Intervention ran their course, the mutant community made themselves publicly known. My girlfriend, Lola, publicly outed herself as a mutant, and went on to make a very public statement that mutants aren’t all dangerous. She helped expose the military program that was trying to control and replicate our powers. She put herself at risk to help the rest of us.

Not everyone was so receptive to her ideologies of living together peacefully.

When Lola and her new ex-military friends built a commune in a burnt out military base, there were a lot of mutants who were convinced that the regular humans would never accept us, and that mutants were absolutely superior. This was an unfortunate, but inevitable, ideology left over from the civil war that almost was. The “dangerous mutants” who wanted superiority and dominion over humans. They were angry teens who felt hopeless and unwanted were finding solace with other like-minded mutants. Rumors of older mutants, boomers who had mutated in the 70’s and stayed quiet, joining the cause were circulating and just adding fuel to the frustration and rage the Awakening had caused. 

So after all of that exposition, you’re probably wondering where that puts me. Where do I fall into all of this drama?

My name is Rowan, and I am the third option for mutantkind.

TWO

My mutation was not spectacular or public. I can’t control minds, or breathe fire. I was given a much subtler and benign gift. My mutation allows me to be one with the earth and the living green that covers her. I was gifted the ability to grow and nurture plants. So far, I haven’t fully grasped what I can do, but I’m getting there. 

I’m technically the leader of the third option for mutantkind, not that I am the only other option. I provide a service and a place for wayward mutants to consider what they want to do. I’m the halfway point. I’m the safehouse. When I was kicked out of my parents’ house, I ran away. I found solace in an uninhabited lot. A concrete castle, long since forgotten by the march of capitalism and progress.

Since no one else was using it, I claimed it for myself. I built an oasis in the middle of Nightingale City’s abandoned business district and no one blinked and eye. From litter and broken glass, I pulled the sleeping seeds out of the ground around me, spawning life where there had been none and reclaiming the land once held hostage by concrete and pollution. I turned what was once a graveyard into a thriving green space, filled with plant life. It was attractive to a lot of the runaway mutants. They knew it had sprung up, one of the things we all were gifted with was the ability to identify another mutant in passing. It was just a tingle across the back of your neck, like when someone is sneaking up on you, but we all learned quickly to recognize that feeling. According to the first runaways I had taken in, they all knew that there was a mutant using their powers on a massive scale within the city. The oasis I had built called to them, pulled them in and they intuitively knew that it was safe to come.

I hadn’t intended to make myself an earthy motherly figure. I had intended to make myself a place where I could hide away and live quietly. 

And then the children started to arrive. Drawn to me by the innate pull all mutants have toward one another. They were scared, hopeless, homeless and unsure what else to do. During The Intervention, Lola wasn’t thrilled by the idea of me adopting everyone no matter how old they were, she was more worried about the fallout of a standoff with police than what a group of mutating teens with no control over their powers could possibly do. 

I didn’t care. They were my responsibility, they had nowhere else to go, and I knew that pain all too well. They had come to me, dirty, scared, starving and begging. Word got out that there was a safe place for mutants to go during The Intervention, and my family grew exponentially. 

This, I suppose, is really where this story begins, then. After The Intervention, when tension was the highest, and when my new family was threatened to be torn apart.

THREE

Lola was away. I hadn’t seen her for weeks. Her new school, because that’s what it had become essentially, in the military base had seen a massive influx of students. We talked on the phone as much as we could, my family were clever little rogues, always figuring out how to get around social constructs, like paying for internet, and I did enjoy the creature comforts they brought with them. There were five of us left; Solstice, Tempest, Pyre, and the youngest, Hound. Pyre was pyrokenetic, and he had come with Solstice. Solstice created optical and auditory hallucinations, which made for some interesting stories about escaping from the Intervention. Tempest controlled wind and I think rain, but we weren’t sure as she didn’t have very good control over her powers yet. Hound was a shapeshifter with dog-like abilities when she wasn’t shifted, so she had heightened hearing, a killer sense of smell and boundless energy. 

The Intervention had been over for almost six months. The weather was changing from the heat of summer to the crisp autumn that threatened an early snow. The mutants who were deemed docile and not a threat to the community at large were allowed back into society. Perhaps it was the need to feel normal again that spurred them to go, but even the thin veneer of peace and tolerance wouldn’t hold the next time someone sneezed lava in the cafeteria. School was starting again and the world of Nightingale City just wanted to move on, to treat the vigilante mutant crime as a statistic and a number. They didn’t want to be involved, but they certainly didn’t know how else to deal with it. It wouldn’t hold, we mutants knew it. It was only a matter of time before someone would claim that the Intervention had been mishandled. We could all feel it coming, we just weren’t expecting it to happen so soon.

Hound bounded into the Garden one night when we were preparing our evening meal with two new mutants I’d never met before in tow. The children were dirty and scrawny. They were dressed in ripped jeans and shirts that hadn’t been washed in a month. They were gaunt and looked like they were starving, holding hands when they walked in with eyes wide and mouths hanging open. 

“Rowan!” Hound called, her voice high pitched and full of joy. “I brought friends!”

Hound’s call brought us all out to meet the children and my heart broke when I saw them. “Where did you find them?” 

“Downtown in a box,” Hound said. “Exactly where you found me.” She smiled brightly and pushed the kids a little closer to me. “This is Eric and CJ, they’re siblings, and they’ve been homeless for a while. I said they could come here and you’d feed them and fix them up.”

“Where are your parents?” I asked weakly, crouching so I could get a better look at them. They were small for their age and their skin was speckled, like scales that hadn’t fully come through yet.

Eric shrugged. “They were mutants, too.”

Were. 

I didn’t need to know anything else. I wrapped my arms around them both and pulled them close. “You’re safe here, now. Don’t worry anymore.”

Dinner that night was more somber than it should have been. The twins ate like they’d never seen food, but they didn’t talk much. Solstice pulled me aside after dinner while Tempest and Hound took the twins to get cleaned up.

“Are you keeping them?”

“Of course I am,” I replied. “Do you think it’s a bad idea?”

Solstice shook her head and smiled. “No, I think it would be a bad idea to send them to Lola.”

I nodded. “How many more do you think there are out there?”

“A lot,” Solstice said with a sigh. “I know you don’t follow a lot of the goings-on in the mutant underground, but there’s a huge population of mutant kids who are coming here from elsewhere. Echo City may have embraced the mutants and the superheroes, but most of the other cities where this is happening haven’t. There’s been a lot of kids coming here from everywhere, and if they’re not coming to Lola, they’re coming to band with the Superiors.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “You’re kidding.”

“I wish. The Superiors are building an underground resistance to humankind. They’ve found a new leader when Rupture was…” she stopped and bit her lip. She knew I didn’t like to talk about it.

We killed Rupture. There’s no two ways about it. I was there when it happened. He had been inciting violence and riots and had killed the mayor and most of the city officials in City Hall. The Intervention had originally been the military operation to stop people like him, but then when the Awakening happened, it had become corrupted. It wasn’t so much about rehabilitation as it was about experimentation. They’d wanted to manipulate and reproduce mutations and the kids who had been their victims… If they’d been saved, they were likely at Lola’s now. Some of them though, they weren’t so easy to find forgiveness in their hearts. And I knew that some of them had grown angry, an violent and were causing trouble for the rest of us. 

“So how do you know so much about the Superiors?” I asked.

“I told them I wanted to join.”

“Does Pyre know?”

“That I’ve been moonlighting as a spy? No.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game, Solstice.”

“I know, but think of how many people we could help if we knew what was going on with them! We wouldn’t have to keep picking children up off the street and fighting with the Superiors. We could reach out faster.”

I smiled and patted her shoulder. “You’re doing what you think is right, and I’m proud of you for it. Tell me what else you know.”

FOUR

What Solstice knew shook me to my core. I felt nothing but rage and a vague sickness in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t even want to call Lola, but I knew I had to.

I sat with the laptop I’d brought from my parents’ house on my lap. I’d climbed my favourite tree and settled in my usual spot in the canopy. Staring at the blank screen, I weighed my options. Lola was still my girlfriend, but she was so busy with her own things that she didn’t have time to worry about the Superiors. We talked every night at the same time, which is why I knew she’d be calling me. I just didn’t want to talk to her. Her love for humanity and her belief that we could all live together in peace was starting to seem like a pipe dream. I was rapidly losing what little faith in humanity I had scrapped together in my heart. Between finding the twins and hearing what news Solstice brought, I didn’t think I had it in me to be kind anymore.

It wasn’t the military moving in, like I thought it was going to be, the government wasn’t sure what to do. Lola’s school was definitely a force for good, and the government knew where to find them all, if they decided a registry was the right thing to do. 

According to Solstice, the Superiors were ready to mobilize.

With a sigh, I turned on the computer to call Lola.

I was met with the face of a woman who was tired beyond comprehension. Lola was always kind of a lone wolf, and she’d originally had no intention of becoming a figurehead for this movement. She wanted nothing to do with the mutant community at large and had begged me to run away more than once. Now, seeing her through the video call, looking as exhausted as she was, I wished I had taken her up on that. Her short hair was messy and the dark circles under her eyes suggested that she was over-caffeinating and not sleeping enough.

“Don’t lecture me on how rough I look,” Lola said immediately, though she was smiling through the computer screen. “I had a sick kid up all night last night, puking his guts out, and Christian was having a meltdown and there was a literal meltdown when a latent electrokinetic spontaneously mutated as a secondary mutation on top of it.”

“Send Christian here,” I offered. Christian was a mutant and he called himself Rift. He could make gravity wells and crush things with his brain. It was a relatively harmless power, but Christian had trouble controlling his temper. He was getting better, Lola’s school was able to get some funding so he was able to get medication to control his mood swings, but sometimes it just didn’t take. “I adopted two ten-year-olds today. He can come and be a big brother again.”

Lola smiled and nodded. “I’ll tell him you’ve invited him. He thinks he’s not welcome there anymore, not after the incident.”

Christian had been on the wrong side of things when the civil war and the Intervention happened. I may have been a little harsh on him. Admittedly, for a while, I was terrified of what he could do. Then I realized that I was stronger. “He always has a place here, no matter what. You know that, Lola. And I sure hope that your kids know that this is a safe place for them, too.”

“We do,” Lola agreed, sighing. “What’s wrong?”

She knew me too well. “Solstice says that the Superiors are planning a coup.”

“What kind of coup?” Lola asked, suddenly alert and tense. 

“She’s not entirely sure, but they’re recruiting from out of town. They’ve built up their numbers something fierce and they’re looking to prove that you’re wrong.”

“That I’m wrong?”

“That we can’t be peaceful so long as we’re shunned.”

Lola frowned. She didn’t like the sounds of that any more than I did. “I’ll have to warn Hawke and Pixie.”

“Don’t do anything reckless,” I asked. “I…” I stopped. I could feel it before I could see it, and before anyone started calling for me from downstairs. “I have guests,” I said. “A lot of them.”

“What?” Lola asked. 

“They’re outside. They’re scared, I need to go, Lola.”

Lola didn’t get a chance to answer me before a klaxon started going off in her compound. She sat bolt upright and I could hear the screaming kids from through the computer. “I gotta go.”

“Be safe. I love you.”

“Love you more.” Lola shut off her computer.

My heart was hammering. Something was wrong, and now I had two dozen visitors milling around outside. All mutants. All scared. I could feel their fear, it was more than just the knowledge of mutants in my vicinity. It was pheromones and electric discharges from their bodies, passing to my plants, and on to me. I hurried out of my greenhouse and to the main floor where Tempest and Solstice were trying to calm down the group of kids outside. 

I immediately recognized most of them. They had either been here during the Intervention, or shortly after. They were kids from foster homes, from halfway houses, from shelters. There were a few kids who were able to make it on their own. They were crying and there were a few injuries among them. They were good kids.

“What happened?” I demanded.

“The Superiors,” one of them said with a shake of their head. “They’re making raids. They’re demanding loyalty. We said no and they’ve been hounding us.”

I clenched my jaw. My blood was boiling at the thought. “If you are truly uninterested in joining with the Superiors, then you are welcome in my house,” I said flatly. “I do not tolerate their ideology. You are all aware of my rules, so if you’re willing to follow them…”

I didn’t have time to finish my speech before the first attacks from the Superiors blasted through the fence. 

“Everyone get inside!” I demanded. Pyre and Tempest were at my side in a heartbeat while Solstice and Hound ushered the scared kids in. The Superiors were blowing up the chain link and concrete fence that lined the edge of the lot where I’d built The Garden. There were a lot of them, dressed in denim and leather. They weren’t all local, but they were all mutants. No uniforms, just street level gang thugs who wanted to prove that mutants were superior to humans in every way. 

“Give us back our new recruits,” one of the mutants drawled, producing a fireball from thin air and holding it in his hand. 

“Or what?” I asked. “You’re going to hurt us?” I stepped forward, my simple linen shift dress rustling against my legs as I moved. I was barefoot, barely dressed, and I was angry. “You will not take my kids, and your kind are not welcome here.”

“Our kind?” he laughed. “You’re just like us, sweetheart.”

“I’m nothing like you,” I snapped, blowing out the flickering ball of fire in his hand. He sputtered in disbelief. No one was supposed to be able to do that. “You’re weak, and scared, following the orders of a mutant whose brain has boiled in his skull. I am free, and I answer to no one.”   

“We… we outnumber you,” he stammered, balling his fists, like he was just going to hit me. “We’re here to take your Garden, and to take your kids.”

“You will not take my Garden, and you will not touch my kids,” I replied. “I know your group is attacking the school. You want to terrorize the rest of mutantkind into joining your cause, but I guarantee that you’ll always meet resistance. If not from the others, then at least from me. You have until the count of three to get out of here. One…”

A quick hand motion from the supposed leader and the rest of the mutants unleashed their powers in a tidal wave of mismatched blasts and noise. Fire and ice and wind exploded all around me. The earth shook, and Tempest and Pyre stood their ground. The walls of vines and thorns that fortified the garden shivered and withered where the fire and ice had touched them, but the damage was so minimal that only a few singed leaves fell to the ground.

I stared deep into the leader’s eyes and a wicked smile touched my lips. “My turn,” I whispered.

He bolted, and I didn’t blame him. Tempest and Pyre knelt, steadying themselves for what they knew was about to happen. They weren’t there to fight; they were only there for backup in case I wasn’t strong enough to do what I was about to do. The ground shook beneath my feet, a tremor much larger than the one caused by what I supposed was a mutant who could cause earthquakes. The difference was that the quake that rippled out from all around me wasn’t the earth moving, but rather the things that slept within.  I stepped forward, dragging the earth with me as whip-like vines exploded from the ground. With a wave of my hand I roped down the first few mutants who had attacked me, smothering them in choking vines. A curl of my fingers and the holes they’d blasted in the fence were covered by thick bushes with thorns dripping poison. 

There was no escape.

“You dare to attack me?” I shouted, calling forth another batch of thick and ropy vines. This time, I grabbed the invaders and hug them by their feet well above the ground. “You dare to bring this violence here?” 

The few mutants I hadn’t grabbed had lined up against the wall of thorns, including the leader. I walked forward, hands curled into claws as the ground shook and trembled beneath me. “You will not have my kids. And you will not have the loyalty of anyone under my protection.” 

The leader threw a fireball at me and I swatted it away. He was weaker than Pyre and our practice sessions had left me with worse burns. I curled my fingers and the poisoned thorn bush wrapped itself around the mutants who were standing there, carefully so as not to poison anyone, but waiting for me to crush them.

The leader screamed and tried to run. He scrambled over the thorn bush where it had bowed to capture the others and made a run for it. There was very little green outside of my lot and I’m sure that anyone who attempted to storm my Garden thought they were safe. I shook my head and snapped my fingers. I was rewarded with a distant scream, and I knew that I had caught my prey.

“Pyre, if you don’t mind, can you please call the authorities?” I asked.

“The police?” Pyre echoed. “Do you really think that they can handle mutants like this?”

“No,” I replied with a grimace. “I want you to call The Doctor and his authorities.”

Pyre’s face suggested that he didn’t like that idea very much, but he knew we didn’t have much of a choice. The Doctor, as we called him, was a means to an end. He was an old mutant, and he made himself known after the Intervention. He had no intention of harming the mutants, but he kept them safe, in a place where they could no longer hurt anyone. I hadn’t told Lola about him, and I didn’t think I would. Not yet. He was my faith in humanity, the only thing that kept me from turning these invaders into mulch. The Doctor and I had spoken at length about the oncoming war. I refused to participate and he had given me the best third option we could hope for.

No one else would know about it, no one else would know the details of the invasion. The kids would spread rumors about how I fought of a gang of thugs with a bunch of plants, and the Superiors would be down a squad. I saw no loss.  Pyre would call The Doctor, and he would round these invaders up within the hour.

For now, I had a new family to reassure, and a house to warm.