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by Marc Singer

Anne Benson was nervous.

Her mood improved a little when Richard Cage, her boyfriend of over a year, finally came running out of his apartment building and jumped in the car. "Sorry I'm running a little behind," he said, "I wanted to look good."

"You do look good." Anne started to drive out of the apartment complex. "And I left plenty of time. We won't be late."

"You look pretty nervous."

Anne forced a smile. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

Rich ignored the question. "Worried about me meeting your family?" He forced a smile, one intended to be more comforting. "Hey, your parents and I already get along fine."

"It's not my whole family. Just my grandfather. You really have to make a good impression." She sighed. "He can just be a little—strange, that's all."

Rich put his hand on her shoulder. "Honey, don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."

Neither one of them noticed the unmarked black car that was following them.

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear GraOtDadndpattody"—as various people in the room sang 'grandpa,' 'Otto,' and 'daddy'—"happy birthday to you..."

The birthday cake only had one candle, but that didn't fool Otto Blume one bit. He felt every one of his seventy-nine years. In his back which ached, his hands which froze up sometimes, his memory which occaisionally couldn't remember the events of the past week, but which had no trouble recalling, say, 1934 with absolute clarity.

1934. Today was also a sixtieth birthday, of sorts. Not that anybody else knew it, but the man Otto liked to think of as his other self was also born on this day, sixty years ago.

Otto's other self never aged. Never got corrupted. Never did wrong. And never lost a battle—not even a battle with death.

Otto blew out the candle.

"Open mine next, grandpa, open mine!"

Otto's family, and most of his still-living friends, were all gathered in his small house in Hyattsville, Maryland. Otto's youngest grandchild, ten-year-old Mary, was waving her small, flimsy present in the air to attract her grandfather's attention. He reached over, took the present from her, and carefully unwrapped it. A bright booklet spilled out.

The cover showed a muscular man in a red-and-blue suit resisting the gunfire that some white-costumed maniac was directing at him.


Otto grinned. "Honey, it's perfect."

Elsewhere in the crowd of Otto's relatives and friends, Richard Cage, who was neither of those things yet (and hoped to become both) craned his head forward. "Overman?" He grinned, and turned to his escort. "I didn't know your grandfather liked comics."

Anne Benson, eldest granddaughter of Otto Blume, smiled back at her boyfriend. "I guess some people never grow out of it. So there's no hope for you, huh Rich?"

"I hope not," Rich countered.

Anne smiled more and held Rich's hand. She actually found his love of comics very endearing (perhaps because it was an interest her grandfather also held?). Juvenile, but endearing.

Later in the afternoon, once the presents were opened, the small children settled down, and the older guests drifted off to sleep, Rich and Otto happened to strike up a conversation.

"So, Rich, Annie tells me that you read comics, too."

Rich perked up—he'd felt a little out of place all afternoon, but now there was something he could talk about with some expertise. "Yeah, Mr. Blume, that's right."

"Please, you can call me Otto. So do you read Overman?"

"Well, uh, actually I only started reading them once he died--"

Otto leapt up from his armchair and rapped his hand on a nearby table with surprising force. "That death was a joke! A cheap trick to get publicity!"

A few sleepers stirred, and the rest of the family came back into the living room.

"A sick stunt, getting people to watch a man die!"

Rich stood up, waving his hands frantically. "It's okay, Mr. Blume, I'm sorry I mentioned it."

"Did they think nobody cared? Did they think they could just kill off Overman like he was their property? Did they--"

Rich's first instinct was to say that Overman was the property of NP Comics, but he thought better of it. Instead, he sagely commented, "It's okay, Mr. Blume, they did bring him back to life..."

Otto calmed a bit at this. "That's true," he said, rubbing his hand. "They can't keep Overman down for long. Not even dead."

Otto's daughters began fussing over him, reminding him about his heart. Anne slipped over to Rich's side. "Maybe I should've told you that grandpa gets a little... upset... whenever anyone mentions Overman's death."

"Yeah," Rich said as he looked at the table Otto had hit. "I'd say he takes it pretty seriously." A crack ran down the center of the table, where there had been none before.

Outside the Blume house, Dan Carter sat fidgeting in an expensive, but unremarkable, black sedan. He played with his dark sunglasses, he occaisionally pointed a parabolic microphone at the house, he looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror and tried to ignore the flecks of gray dotting his hair.

It wasn't long before watching the old man's birthday party completely eroded Dan's patience. He pulled out his mobile phone and made some calls—the first one to harass Agent Moulder out in Chicago. Not that Moulder really deserved it, but Dan had to bust someone's balls, or he'd go insane.

Then Dan called the man who'd sent him on this time-waster. He dialed the confidential number; after only one ring, the other end picked up.

"Yes?" The voice was cultured and smooth, and maybe just a little bored. As if anything were more boring than watching some geezer blow out his candles.

"Carter here. I've been watching a goddamn birthday party all afternoon. Why couldn't you have sent one of the rookies on this job?"

The voice sighed, as if explaining why were a chore, one that he'd done a thousand times before. "The girl is extremely important. I need to know if she's already been triggered, or have agents ready the moment she is triggered."

"Maybe so. But why the hell does it have to be me? I'm too important for this stuff."

"I would hate to think that you've overestimated your importance, Daniel." There was a brief, nasal intake—the voice had been planning to berate Dan further, but then it changed tactics. "This Benson girl isn't just a run-of-the-mill Omega, if there is such a thing. Our precogs say she has a tremendous potential. I can't trust anyone else as her monitor."

"You mean, you don't want SIRECOM to monitor her through legal channels."

A slight chuckle from the voice. "Precisely. Your nominal superiors won't know about Benson until it's far too late."

Dan grinned. If this was a covert job, then it just might turn out to have some kicks after all. "Just so you know that I'm not disposable on this penny-ante observation shit. I hope this isn't your way of putting me out to pasture." Dan couldn't help but notice his gray hairs again.

"My friend," the voice replied, "you and I both know that old warhorses aren't put out to pasture. They're just shot. Now do as you're told."


Anne and Rich's ride home was silent. For a while.

Finally, Rich dared speak. "So, uh, did you enjoy the party?"

Anne wrenched the steering wheel hard to the right as they rounded a turn. A little too hard. It was just starting to rain, and the tires squealed on the slick, dirty streets.

Rich tried to interest himself in the dashboard, then said, "I, uh, I'm sorry about getting your grandfather all riled up."

Anne honked the horn repeatedly as a small red sportscar cut them off. Kept honking it, long after the car vanished off in the distance.

A moment later, she anwered Rich, though without looking at him. "It's not you. It's my family. And my grandfather."

She seemed to be waiting for a response, but Rich had nothing to say. For a moment, the only sound was the whine of windshield wipers. Then Anne continued. "It's like he runs everybody, you know. He got angry at you over those stupid comics, and so now everyone else thinks that they have to dislike you. Just because grandpa gets anal about Overman."

"What about your parents? I've gotten along with them before... surely they won't start to hold a grudge just because..."

"Just because of my grandfather and his comics?" Anne laughed bitterly. "Oh, you just wait and see. He runs everyone in that family. Now you have major bad karma to work off before any of them treat you with any respect again."

"You mean, before your grandfather does."

Anne slammed hard on the breaks, just barely coming to a halt before a red light. "Yeah, once he respects you, the rest of the family does."

"It's funny, he seems like such a nice guy." Then Rich remembered the cracked table. He'd checked it later—it was oak. Thick oak, too. And the crack went straight against the grain. "Anne, how does he, uh—how does he keep such a tight grip over your family? I mean, does he, uh, you know --"

"Do I, uh, know what?" The light was green again, and Anne floored the old Ford as fast as it would go.

"Does he—did he ever—hit anyone?"

Anne looked at Rich, for the first time in the car trip. Her eyes bulged wide with surprise. "Jesus, Rich, he's my grandfather, not Hitler! He never hit anybody!"

Rich held his arms up in defense. "Sorry, Anne, I just wondered. I mean, he's a big guy, even at his age--"

"Yeah, but he hasn't killed anyone," said Anne, with an air of finality.

"Beg pardon?"

She turned to face Rich again, a little more compassionately this time. "If my grandfather ever hit anyone, they wouldn't get up."

"Oh." That ended the conversation for a while, until they got closer to Rich's apartment and he decided to ask a few more questions that were nagging at him.

"So how exactly does your grandfather still manage to run your family?"

"I don't know," said Anne, as if the thought of how her grandfather ran things, that there was a reason for this beyond Natural Law, had never occurred to her before. "He just has this way about him. Maybe it's his imposing presence, I don't know. And it's not just the family, either. You should see him bargain with people. He always rips 'em off. Always gets his way with people, that's my grandpa."

"He doesn't seem to get his way with you."

"I know. That's why I'm his favorite." At last, a smile began to appear, slightly cooling Anne's temper.

"You're not just his favorite." They pulled up by Rich's building, and as he started to get out of the car, he thought of giving Anne a quick kiss. But something in her demeanor told him that would be a bad idea.

From hard experience, Rich knew that Otto wasn't the only one in the family who always got their way.

The drive home calmed Anne a little more. Without Rich to bounce her anger off of, Anne quickly realized that there was no good reason to be angry. Her family was just being her family, and nothing would change them any time soon. And Rich hadn't really screwed up, although if he'd just shut up about those comics, maybe grandpa wouldn't have thrown his tantrum.

Then again, Grandpa had always found excuses to dislike Anne's other boyfriends. (Then again again, Anne had eventually found excuses—very good ones—to dislike them as well.) He would've found something against Rich, sooner or later. That was the price of being grandpa's favorite, Anne supposed—nothing and nobody was good enough for her.

Well, screw him. It wasn't any of his business. It was hers, and there was no point in worrying about what he and his family of followers thought. Or in being angry at them.

Unfortunately, while Anne had decided to stop being angry, she kept driving like it. As she rushed around another corner, there was a small booming noise, like an explosion, and the car lurched. Anne could see pieces of blackened rubber trailing behind her as she careened across the road and into a ditch on the other side.

Anne climbed out of the car, unhurt. She'd been wearing her seatbelt, but Anne was still a little surprised that she wasn't even scratched.

She investigated the car. The right rear tire had blown out completely. The fenders were crumpled from the spill into the ditch. Otherwise, she could probably drive it home once she put on the spare.

Then came the day's latest disappointment—her jack was gone. Wonderful. Anne looked to the gray, overcast heavens and wondered if Someone had it in for her.

Next she scanned the immediate area. Residential, but not too many houses around. A couple of parked cars, but nobody in them. And nobody was out in the light rain. Probably safe.

Anne slipped one hand around the side of the car and lifted it up. Then she had to squat down and brace the car under her shoulder while she slipped the spare into place. After that, it was a lot harder because she had to fasten the tire while holding up the car, but she still managed to do it in a blur of motion lasting no longer than a minute.

Anne got up, made a feeble attempt at brushing some of the mud off of her knees, and took another quick look around the road. Something told her it was risky, but unless she wanted to call a towtruck, wait for it, and (worst of all) pay for it, she'd have to take the risk sooner or later.

Anne crouched down under the car, planted both hands firmly on the chassis, and lifted it out of the ditch.

Lifting cars wasn't something Anne did often, but it wasn't wonderful or miraculous, either. Super-strength was just one of her natural talents. Kind of like playing the piano—which was also something Anne could do, and do well, but never did in public.

Once her car was back in working condition, Anne took one last look around and drove away, satisfied that nobody had witnessed her natural talents.

In the unremarkable black sedan across the road, Dan Carter smiled. His grin was wide and feral, for he was elated. He'd been filming the girl the whole time, but she hadn't noticed. Naturally. If Dan Carter wanted to hide himself from someone, he stayed hidden, whether they were some fancy Omega or not.

Once the car was out of sight, he sat up and grabbed the phone. He dialed quickly and happily, so happily in fact that he got the number wrong three times.

When he finally did get it right, his unofficial boss picked up the call immediately.

Dan spoke first, before the voice could blurt out any more insults. "Good news, the girl's a confirmed Omega. Already triggered, and comfortable with her powers, too."

"What?" the voice barked. For once, he seemed to be taken by surprise. "Are you sure? What did you see?"

Carter could barely keep from laughing. "Super-strength. She lifted a car like it was her ironing board. Probably super-speed, too. I got her on film, so we can time her and see if she can beat twenty-four frames per second."

"Fascinating..." the voice said. "My information led me to believe she wouldn't trigger for another day or so... how did you observe her, Daniel?"

"She had an unfortunate accident. Well, unfortunate for her, anyway." Dan chuckled briefly, then regained control. "I was able watch her repair her car. Very convenient."

"Carter, you idiot! Did you set something up?"

"Watch the name-calling," Dan taunted. "Don't worry, she won't suspect a thing. It looked like a simple blowout."

"You'd better be damn sure," the voice chided. "Remember, this woman"—he calls her a woman now that she can lift cars, Dan thought—"may have ways of perceiving reality that you can't understand."

"Have you forgotten my track record? I've done a lot worse to guys who were a lot more clever and powerful. Trust me, she doesn't suspect a damn thing," Dan said as he played with the jack from Anne's car. "So, do you want me to grab her or what?"

"Keep watching her for now. We'll make our move tomorrow, I think. You should have a full team when you grab her."

"A team of people who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut?"

"Naturally," said the voice. "Uncle Sam doesn't need to know about this one."

Perhaps stimulated by his strange conversation with Otto Blume, Rich decided to read through some of his comics that night. Tales of men and women (men, mostly) who were gifted with powers and abilities far above those of the mere mortal masses whom they were constantly saving. Four-color individuals who gained these powers from stumbling across nuclear test sites, or having their friends and relatives slaughtered, or getting bitten by radioactive bats, or any combination thereof.

Although Overman was never one of his favorite characters, Rich decided to look through his OVERMAN comics, just to see what got Mr. Blume so excited.

He couldn't really find anything. But then again, it wasn't the OVERMAN comics of today, centered around media events and marketing blitzes, that got Mr. Blume hooked. It would've been the old ones of the 30s and 40s...

Something wrong with the math. If Mr. Blume is 79 today, and Overman first appeared in 1938... he would've been 22 or 23 when the first comic came out? That sounded a little old to start reading comics... This caused Rich to wince, since he was himself 23; yet comics were different back then, more juvenile... weren't they?

(If that's true,) it occurred to him, (then what does that say about the comics that are still working from their concepts to this date?) Rich dismissed the thought quickly—that way of thinking wouldn't lead him anywhere he wanted to go.

Rich tried another approach. He picked up one of the comics (the Prestige Format series OVERMAN/GOTTERDAMMERUNG: HUNTER/HUNTED, in which Overman tackled the beast that killed him) and tried to look at Overman, really look at him, not as a buyer of comics but as a young man infatuated with a hero. What was it about him? Why did he still have so much appeal...

So much power...

Last son of a dying race. Raised by the foster-parents who found his spacecraft adrift among the bullrushes. Hiding behind his glasses, his facade of being an everyman. Then, in times of crisis, the glasses are whisked away...

Faster than a bullet train. Tougher than a bursting shell. Able to hurdle skyscrapers.

The overman.

Rich still didn't get it.

When she got off work the next day, Anne decided to drive out to her grandfather's house and have a few words with him. Maybe she could nip this problem in the bud, before he convinced the rest of the family that Rich was an evil boy and not worthy of Anne's affections.

No, that wasn't the real problem. Getting grandpa to accept Rich would mean nothing, compared with getting him (and therefore the rest of the Blume/Benson clan) out of her life.

No, that wasn't the problem either. The problem was she didn't want to go home. Really didn't want to go home. Or to Rich's.

Just like she really didn't want that black car to keep driving behind her...

There were three brief, forceful knocks on Anne's apartment door. Since neither Anne nor her roomate, Maureen, were home, the only beings to hear the knocks were Anne's fish.

The fish ignored the knocks, of course, and the yelling that accompanied them, just as they ignored it when the door came crashing open.

Dan Carter ducked into the apartment, sweeping his very large, very non-regulation Ruger Super Blackhawk around the room. The three men who accompanied him swept through the apartment, searching every room for occupants.

"All clear, sir," reported Agent Tyrell Wilson. Like Carter and his two partners, Wilson was dressed in black suit, white shirt, sunglasses—not that SIRECOM required all of its agents to dress like that, just that most of them thought it was really cool. And it usually scared the hell out of any scrubs unlucky enough to cross the black suits' path.

"Okay, gentlemen," Dan announced, "we're just gonna sit tight until Little Miss Benson comes to us. Sloane, fix the door, will you?" Sloane rushed to do so. Carter liked these three, and always used them on his little "side missions." Because they would kick everyone else's ass, while kissing his. "Now remember folks, this is a powerful Omega, but not a hostile one. Our best bet is just to pull rank and b.s. her into coming with us--"

Dan's phone rang. He pulled it out of his jacket, opened it, and barked, "Carter here. Talk to me."

His face contorted and his jaw dropped, an expression of disbelief. "She's going where?" Then he thought for a moment, moving his lips silently. "Hyattsville... the geezer's!"

Dan cursed and slammed the phone shut. "Well, fellas," he said, his face reddening, "our tail says that Miss Benson has suddenly decided to drive over to old grand-daddy's. That means we have to hustle, and we have to work around an eye-witness or two when we get there." Dan was gripping his Ruger so hard that his knuckles were whitening.

"Are we gonna haveta change our tactics?" Sloane asked.

"No, we'll still approach her nice and polite. And if she resists, we still grab her nice and rude." Dan was pacing around the living room, looking for a place to vent his anger. "And if the geezer gets in our way, he goes down hard. I spent all yesterday watching his 79th birthday. I'm not watching his 80th."

As if to stress his conviction, Dan slammed his Ruger into the aquarium. Hard. Repeatedly. It cracked and toppled, sending the three fish tumbling out.

Dan and his fellow agents quickly retreated from the apartment, being careful to close the door behind them. But the fish did not notice this, as their bodies were flopping violently on the wet floor, and their gills were desperately fluttering in and out, in and out....

"Of course Richard is a nice boy! It's just that he doesn't have any appreciation for a real hero!" As if to demonstrate just who was a real hero, Otto Blume waved his brand-new, well-read issue of ACTION COMICS.

"Grandpa, I have some news for you. Overman is about as real as Mickey Mouse." Anne was sitting in her grandfather's kitchen, drinking some late-afternoon coffee. Nobody else was around that day, making it easier for her to talk about Rich. But also making it easier for Otto to talk about his damn superhero.

"What's real is that he's an inspiration to everyone. An example of morality--"

"Grandpa, please." Anne tried to take the edge out of her voice - - she'd been feeling ill ever since she left work, and it was making her irritable. "I wanted to talk about you and me, not about Overman, okay."

"Okay, just you and me—no Overman." Otto chuckled, but put down the comic. "So what about us?"

But before Anne could answer, the doorbell rang. Otto jumped up to answer it (he was never one to let the young do his work for him, and he was plenty healthy besides), while Anne just lifted her eyes skyward. Someone had it in for her, all right.

"Annie," Otto called from the hallway, "some gentlemen want to speak with you."

Anne walked to the front door. Two men in black suits stood on the other side of the screen—Otto wasn't opening it for them. "Can I help you?" Anne asked.

The older, white man pulled out a badge. It had some kind of meaningless acronym, over a Greek letter omega. "Miss Benson, I'm Special Agent Daniel Carter from SIRECOM. This," he nodded towards the black man, "is Agent Wilson. Would you mind if we had a few words with you?"

"Howcome you're a Special agent and he isn't?" asked Otto. "That ain't because he's black, is it?"

"Grandfather! Please!" Anne took another look at the badge. She had a queasy feeling, kind of like when she was driving over here... "Uh, what exactly is SIRECOM? I've never heard of it before."

"I don't expect you have, Miss. It's a national security agency. You're not in any trouble, we just want to ask you some questions. May we come in?"

Anne said, "Well, I guess so..." but before she could move Otto placed his arm over the door.

"Show me a warrant or else you can leave." Anne couldn't remember seeing him so... serious. Sure, he was always an uncompromising old guy, but Anne had never seen him look as if... as if the stakes were so high.

Anne was feeling sicker by the minute, but said, "Grandpa, these guys are just doing their job--"

"I know. And they aren't going to do it on you." To Carter he said, "Show me a warrant or get lost. Now."

Carter stood silent and motionless for a moment. Then he opened his jacket, to show the gun holstered inside. "This is my warrant, geezer. And believe me, you'll see plenty of it." He lifted his right arm, and spoke one word into his jacket cuff: "Go."

Beside them, another agent burst in through the kitchen's side door, while behind them a fourth agent crashed through the rear patio door. Both were leveling guns. Agent Wilson also drew his gun, while Special Agent Carter kicked his foot against the door, which was held shut only by Otto's skinny, veiny arm.

Carter's kick sent the agent flying back into the yard. Otto didn't budge. "You bastards just broke into my house," he screamed. "You have no authority!"

"My authority is right here, old man," said one of the agents. He obviously meant the gun.

Anne was on the verge of nausea, and leaned against the wall for support. "Don't you guys have any other comebacks?" she stammered. "Always falling back on your guns for answers..."

"Both of you lie down on the floor now," countered the agent. Anne started to sink down, not that she wanted to, she just couldn't help it... Otto just stood there, holding the door to keep the other two from entering. Wilson was now pointing his gun—a mighty impressive thing, too, long and steely—directly at Otto.

"Better do as he says, old fella. I'd hate to waste a bullet on you."

Otto smiled. "I'll save you the trouble." He punched through the flimsy screen, connecting solidly with Wilson's jaw.

Wilson tumbled backwards through the air, until he hit a tree in the front yard. Then he fell to the ground.

Carter, who had only been standing inches away, mouthed "Oh, shi--" and pulled out his gun.

He and the other two agents fired on Anne's grandfather. He was ducking away from the door, and away from Anne, trying to draw their fire. Anne knew he was going die.

Anne's head was on fire.

There were five or six tiny explosions in midair, as each of the bullets shattered before it hit its intended target. Then there was a much larger explosion, knocking all three of the agents off their feet, but leaving Otto and his house unharmed.

"I'll be damned," Dan muttered as he picked himself up, "the girl didn't trigger until just now." He realized he didn't have his gun, and began searching the yard for it. Just as he found it, the house door crashed open and Otto Blume came stalking out.

"Young man, you are in serious trouble." Dan dived for the gun, but somehow the geezer got to it first. He snatched it up and crushed it in one hand—not without some effort, but it still impressed Dan.

"Y'know, old man, I think I'm gonna go get that warrant you wanted." Dan turned tail and ran.

Back in the house, Anne felt good. Really good. Her head was clear, perhaps clearer than it ever had been before.

The two agents were back to their feet, shooting at Anne—no, they were going to shoot at Anne. They hadn't done it yet.

And they wouldn't. Anne bowled them over again. It was easy; you just turn your mind like --this-- and it happens. Now the two agents were panicked, and one was running to safety. No, he would run to safety, if he could. Anne didn't want him around, so she was more than happy to let him go.

The second one (Sloane?) had a more Spartan character. He was pulling the pin of a grenade... I'm taking this Omega down, dammit.... Anne bent her mind, and the grenade went flying out of a front window. Sloane, either too dedicated or too stupid, wouldn't let go.

Dan Carter was physically fit. Fit enough to survive in a business where "second-rate" or "out of shape" would've killed him a long time ago. But the old man was gaining on him. Where the hell was the car?

Suddenly, Sloane came flying out of the Blume house, screaming "Incoming!" Dan instinctively hit the dirt and rolled, while the old man kept charging forward.

There was an explosion.

Sloane, or what was left of him, was decorating the once-quiet street. But the force of the explosion had knocked the geezer flat...

An unmarked black sedan squealed up to Dan. Thank god, it came, thought Dan. Screaming at the driver to not slow down, Dan ran alongside it and opened a door to slip inside.

But the geezer had gotten up, and was coming after the car. Dan stuck his head through the door, while trying to wriggle his body inside. "Floor it, damn you! DON'T SLOW DOWN FOR ME!" The pavement was scraping Dan's legs as he tried to pull them up into the car, but they couldn't slow down. They didn't dare.

Anne walked out the front door. The smell of burning flesh nearly made her gag, but she still felt better than she ever had before. She was glad she'd stopped reading Sloane's mind before the grenade went off.

Out in the street, Anne saw her grandfather chasing after a black car (not the one behind her that afternoon?), while the last SIRECOM agent tried to jump inside. And grandpa was making really good speed, too!

Otto actually did catch up to the car, and he grabbed onto the rear fender. Then he dug his heels into the ground in front of him and strained... the car actually started to slow down. Otto had to stumble along to keep up with it, but he was slowing it down!

Then the agent leaned out his open door and fired a shot at Otto. Anne concentrated, and the bullet flattened before it ever reached her grandfather. But the noise and the flash were enough to startle Otto, causing him to let go of the fender and fall down on his rear.

As the car hurtled down the street, Otto picked himself up and walked back toward his granddaughter. Neighbors were peeking out of their windows and staring at him.

Otto hugged Anne. "Not bad for an old man, eh?" he asked. "Still, I should've stopped that car... I remember when I was more powerful than a loco-"

"Don't say it, grandpa," Anne said as she hugged him back. "Don't say it." Anne was looking at the black SIRECOM agent, sprawled under the tree at an unnatural and painful angle. What was it she'd told Rich just last night? "If my grandfather ever hit anyone, they wouldn't get up."

Anne had a hard time imagining her grandfather in the red-and- blue suit, the crimson cape, and the trademarked golden "O" that was, in a sense, his rightful property. His legacy of power.

And her birthright.


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