I always started early on Thanksgiving morning, since my sophomore year at U of M when I first volunteered to contribute my skills to the meal. In the early years, this meant making sure I was home in my childhood bedroom the night before and ready to start well before dawn in stepping and fetching for Mom. As I showed myself an able and enthusiastic learner, I worked my way up to preparing side dishes and eventually even the freedom to include my own recipes. After I moved into my own house, Mom and I started apportioning the dishes between us to make use of the two ovens.
At this point my perfectionist mother saw me as a full partner in the sacred rites of Thanksgiving Dinner. By the time the sun was up, there were three different electric dishes simmering away in my kitchen along with a double-stacked oven and a chopping board full of greens.
Stuffing is the most contentious culinary item on the family’s Thanksgiving menu, as Dad and Uncle Gil each have family recipes that differ from my maternal grandmother’s, and my generation hasn’t coalesced around one of the three. Fortunately Bateman family stuffing (really ‘dressing,’ I’m told) can be baked separate from the turkey, and so we buy two smaller birds and make all three varieties. I prefer Mom’s myself – the sweeter mix that includes cranberry sauce tends to infuse out into the bird more than the other way around – but I dutifully stuff my bird with the Donnell savory celery mix every year and receive Dad’s approval and thanks.
I was running slightly behind schedule as I slid the turkey from the oven and covered the dish, layering it in towels. When the doorbell rang, I picked up the bundle and headed for the door. “Open please!” I yelled.
The door opened and I passed through it, expecting to greet Laila or Kurt, but it was a pale girl in a jogging suit that opened the door. I kept most of my grimace off my face. I had known I’d have to deal with this later in the weekend.
“May, hi! Can you get the passenger door for me?” I stepped onto my porch and let her go ahead of me to open the way to my car’s seat. The dish was nestled safely against the seat back. I glanced across the street and confirmed that the Morris’s car was still empty, closing my car door and moving back onto the porch with May trailing me.
I turned to face May and hung my arms against the sides of the open doorway. Her whole face was pulled completely down, as though she had just dropped every muscle that she usually used to emote. Only her eyes were still bright, and it was a small glimmer.
“What can I help you with?” I knew from experience that my face, while technically smiling, did not look friendly. Without a synthetic voice and avatar to hide behind, I just don’t have a particular knack for hiding my feelings.
May crossed her arms in front of her, looking down and to the side, eyes occasionally flickering past me into the house. “Can I come in?’
“No.” The word felt like a slap to me as I said it, and her eyes widened a second before they turned to me in earnest.
“It’s cold out here,” she pleaded.
“Yes,” I said with a touch of apology. “What can I help you with?’
She looked around. There were no other people visible right at the moment, but cars passed down this street regularly. “We need to talk. I don’t think we should do it out here.”
“Better than letting you in my house again.” It sounded more flippant than I felt, and I shrugged as I said it.
May turned away from me, her arms still wrapped around herself. The jacket sleeves of her outfit were long enough to hide her hands. After a moment of staring at her back, I noticed her shoulders were shaking rapidly. She was crying.
I closed the door on her and locked it. The rest of the dishes took a few minutes to wrap up and would take three trips to the car. Closing my eyes for just a second to check on something, I made a quick call before stacking up two shallow glass dishes and opening my front door again.
May’s lips were pulled tight in determination and her eyes were brighter than before. I stepped around her to get to the car and place the dishes. When I turned around, she had moved into my kitchen.
I got no closer than the doorway between the foyer and kitchen. The college girl that looked half my weight and two thirds my age perched on a stool. “May, I need you to leave.”
She crossed her arms over her belly as she met my eyes. Her body language was vulnerable – more petulant than demanding. “No. Not until you explain why you did it.”
I shook my head. “I don’t owe you any explanations, May. I don’t want you in my house.” I stayed just outside the kitchen doorway, so she could walk past me and out the front door without us touching.
“Nobody talks to me now.” She was trying to work herself up to rage, but she couldn’t get past her self-pity. “Not just the guys I reported on. Nobody wants anything to do with me. Not even in my study groups.”
I shrugged. “That makes sense.”
She looked up into my eyes and a flash of anger gleamed past the glassy tears. “You don’t care that you ruined my life? You won’t even give me a reason?”
I met her eyes with my own. “So your angle here is, what? The problem wasn’t you spying on your classmates? You weren’t betraying your friends? The real betrayal is that someone told them what you were doing?”
“It didn’t hurt them!” She spat. “Nobody got hurt as long as it stayed secret.”
“Yeah, that’s the first thing everybody learns about the government spying on its citizens… how harmless it all is.”
“They weren’t criminals. They were being monitored for recruiting.” She said the words as a prayer, clung to them as a talisman.
My stomach knotted up in anger and frustration, as almost reflexively I grinned. It was a grin of irony, of overwhelming frustration – there was no joy in it. “Poor little suburban white girl,” I growled softly. “So free with the secrets of others, so indignant when your own are bared.” Her lips quivered as I continued. “Never considering anyone else for even a second. Never saying, ‘Gee, I wonder if helping the CIA gather information on a black man could put him in danger?’ They have such a stellar civil rights record, you know.”
I had looked away, watching the street, but I felt May’s eyes on me. “Hector, I -”
“Your ride’s here.” I nodded to the cruiser that, lights flashing, had pulled up to the curb. May didn’t move as the two uniformed officers approached the door. I held my license out to them and spoke first. “Good morning, gentlemen. This is my house, and this woman won’t leave. I need you to take a report, please.”
The officer who took my license looked to be 35, white, and more than a head taller than me. He squinted at my ID and leaned forward through the door to see May. She was crying in earnest now, head in her hands while still perched on the stool. “Ah, geez… Son, the DPD don’t take emergency calls to handle messy breakups.” He handed me back my ID. “I’m sure she’ll leave quietly when she calms down a bit.”
I sighed. “Sir, the young lady lives down the street. We’re not dating. I didn’t invite her in, and she’s refusing to leave.”
He rose an eyebrow and stepped onto his back foot, looking at me. “You couldn’t handle this on your own?”
I returned his look. “Without ending up in handcuffs myself?” He turned and looked to his partner for that one. “I’m not much for identity politics, but I just don’t see how I get in a fight with an angry white girl and come out ahead.” He nodded. “She’s been making trouble for me. I don’t want to deal with her anymore. Write this up so I can get a restraining order.”
That finally got through to May. She sprang up from the stool and marched out of my house. The three of us watched her go.
The other officer, who looked closer my own age, pulled out a pad and paper. “Name and address?”
By the time the report was written up, Kurt was waiting in my driveway. It looked like Laila and Deb were already in their car and ready to go.
I got another mumbled warning about “misusing police resources” as the officers headed off and I turned my attention to the day’s invitees. It had surprised me when the Morris family had taken me up on the offer to join us for Thanksgiving. They were unable to make the trip to California with Kurt’s work obligations, and seemed genuinely touched to have been invited.
I owed Laila Morris. According to my attorney, Harold Crum Jr., it was her sealed testimony (under her super name Polarity) that gave us enough evidence to get a preliminary injunction. Until the lawsuit went to trial, government agencies were explicitly prohibited from monitoring or pursuing information on Delphic and Hector Donnell.
The Morris’ car easily followed mine out into the Detroit morning, which was sunny and dry despite the biting cold. I took us around town rather than through since it would be easier for them not to lose me on the highway loops. Like many cities, Detroit’s character completely transformed from night to day, into something welcoming and friendly. It was a good ambience for a meal with extended family.
Cars lined both sides of the suburban street where the purple Donnell house sat, but a small space just next to the drive was clear thanks to the intimidating presence of a tall young black woman standing protectively next to the mailbox. My sister Paris looked striking in a red and yellow leaf-pattern dress with a dark police windbreaker left open. She sternly stepped back and pointed me to the space, gesturing my follow-on to take a place of honor in the driveway.
Teenage hands opened doors and grabbed dishes even as I exited my car. I was left with free hands to help Laila with her toddler and her own fare. Her dishes were covered by cloth only; I smelled something tangy and a pleasant green scent of cooked vegetables.
The Morris’s were immediately pounced on by my relatives as Mom yanked me back to the kitchen. “Good morning, dear. You’re twenty minutes late,” she said as she took a long pan out of my arms and lifted the dish towel. “Spare ribs. Korean?”
“Laila’s mom’s Korean, yeah. Hi Aunt Nessa.” I stepped around my tiny mom to give a quick squeeze and peck to her even tinier sister who was pouring filling onto a pie crust.
“Well, neither of those smell like kimchi, thank goodness,” mumbled Mom as she pulled a sheet of rolls out of the oven. “Toss the salad, dear, and make sure the plates are set. Prayer in five.”
I brought both bowls of salad out to the dining room where Kurt Morris stood speaking with two older men. My Dad and Uncle Gil looked a matched set despite their obvious physical dissimilarity, the white policeman and the black construction worker. They both stood a head taller than anyone else and carried bulk that was mostly muscle, showing the reserved strength of confident family men.
“Prayer in five,” I announced as I moved through into the sitting room. A second table had been set up in place of the room’s usual furniture, and my college-age twin cousins fawned over Deb as her mom looked on.
Everyone gathered around the dining room table and Dad spoke. “It’s always an honor to have so many loving people join us for this meal,” he beamed. “Welcome to the Morris’s, away from their own family in California. Consider our home and family to be yours for as long as you are in Detroit.” Nods all around. “Let’s pray. Father, we have much to be thankful for. Good food and good friends, warm homes and full lives. Guide us to greater generosity with what we have been blessed, and greater courage to serve and protect others. In the name of Jesus…”
The room echoed with half a dozen voices saying “Amen,” and Mom took charge. Bodies moved through the kitchen to scoop sides onto plates buffet-style, while meat and stuffing were added to plates at the table. As usual, Paris had vanished during the prayer and returned once everyone else was seated, avoiding the chaotic jostling of bodies.
Paris’s secret, her physical invulnerability, wasn’t something she could turn off. It meant any accidental collision with her would feel like bumping into a concrete wall. Her aversion to physical touch was well-known, and she was careful to avoid crowds or situations where her status as a super might be revealed.
The first few savory bites were taken in relative quiet. Conversation resumed with a question. My fifteen-year-old cousin, Jake, youngest person in the house other than Deb, opened with, “So I think Peregrine could take Aurochs.”
The volley was mostly directed at me. When Jake and I had first spent any time together, years ago, we had bonded over a shared enthusiasm for prominent superheroes. My fandom flame had been quenched somewhat by personal interaction, but Jake had no way to know that.
Jake’s parents were proud of him, and so was I. He was a black boy growing up around other boys who no doubt glorified elements of gang culture, just as I had been. Like me, and millions of others, he was dedicated to making something better of himself then many people thought a black man was capable of, in spite of failing schools and bad influences. He was playing to his strengths, studying, preparing for college – following a path laid by his older sisters who were already in college.
The two biggest reasons for his attitude were sitting farther down the side of the table. Gilliam and Vanessa Bateman listened to Jake, gave him advice, encouraged him, disciplined him. They were real parents – the kind my Mom and Dad were, and I hoped to be one day.
“How d’you figure?” It was my Dad that rose to the bait first, giving Kurt a side wink to let him know the discussion was in fun. “He’s called The Indestructable for a reason. Remember that time he jumped in front of a missile and just stopped it?”
“We actually covered that in my Mech-E class on friction. What he did isn’t possible,” said my cousin Dee, bouncing little Deb on one knee. She was bubbly and outgoing and I had trouble remembering she was on a five year accelerated track to get her Masters in Chemical Engineering.
“How do you figure out if it’s possible,” Jake replied, “if we don’t even know what the limits to super powers are?”
“No, I mean, like,” Dee took a second to collect her thoughts. “It doesn’t matter how strong he is. He was standing on asphalt. So at best,” she gave Deb a bite of mashed potato, “he should have left big deep tracks in the road, you know, to push against him as much as he was pushing against the missile. A hundred and fifty meters, is what we calculated I think.” She shrugged. “There were two little potholes – footprints – and that’s it. Most of the missile’s momentum didn’t go anyhere.”
“Why are people so obsessed with supers these days?” Aunt Nessa threw in. “They don’t address any of the real problems.”
Mom rose to this one. “They help more than they hurt. Supers are much more racially diverse than the underlying population.”
“Really?” asked Jake.
Mom nodded. “Around one out of four supers are biracial, as opposed to around three percent of Americans.”
“So Paris or Hector are more likely to have powers than anybody else here?” Jake seemed amused by the idea.
“Just Paris; I’m adopted remember,” I noted. “I have the same chance as you guys.” I could see my parents were a bit uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. “Laila, your parents are white and Korean, yes?”
Her smile, at least, seemed genuine and not at all nervous. “Yep. Dad’s family was from Oregon, and Mom is first generation from South Korea.” She added, “Kurt’s about a sixteenth European too, and the rest is Chinese.”
“So he would have the higher chance, too?” Jake asked my mom.
“Maybe. I think it depends on how recent the mixing is.”
Aunt Nessa shook her head. “Even if this is true, it’s just like with pro players. The athletes are diverse but the managers, where the real money is…”
“Nobody makes money being a superhero,” Paris contradicted.
“Delphic is,” said Jake. “He got five million for taking down Ambush, right?”
Nessa pressed. “A white guy behind a desk makes bank. The stooges in costumes get concussions.”
“Delphic isn’t white,” I said.
Paris and Mom both snapped to me with fearful looks; I saw Dad’s eyes widen as well although he kept his gaze on his plate. Aunt Nessa just asked, “Why would you say that, baby?”
I could hear my blood rushing thunderously around my head as I tried to come up with a glib response. Nothing publicly known about Delphic implied his race, or even what race he would have been before his ‘accident’ left him without a physical body. Seconds passed as I blanked on an answer.
Mom supplied a response. “You know Hector’s talk about robots and civil rights. He wants Delphic to be a test case, I think.”
Nessa scowled. “A white man doesn’t change to a different race just because he loses his body in some accident.”
“We don’t know if he was white before. Or a man,” Jake remarked.
“He sounds like one on TV,” said Dee.
“That’s a program he uses. The voice files are actually public domain; there are some videos out there where people take the interviews he’s done and dub in different answers.” Jake grinned. “Some of them are pretty funny.”
Uncle Gil’s softer, deeper voice sounded next. “I think the problem with the idea of super teams,” he said, “is that it pushes this idea that success is genetic. Excellence is an accident of birth. Not an American idea.”
“Well,” Mom said, “Jefferson wrote about a natural aristocracy. There’s a long American tradition of God-given genius and self-made men.” She shrugged. “Supers are hired and revered based on what they add to the team.”
“Peregrine could drop Aurochs into the ocean. That was my point,” Jake said with unconcealed annoyance at the adults’ tangents.
I thought about leaving it alone, but… “Actually, he floats.”
“Aurochs? No way.” My cousin’s look was scornful.
“Yeah. Remember him jumping into the Potomac and back out to join the fight on DC a few weeks ago? His feet never hit the bottom. Enough positive buoyancy to shoot up onto land.”
Jake considered that. “But, he fought the Ritualist on an oil rig, like, a year and a half ago. He stepped off the side and sank like a stone.”
“Maybe he varies his personal mass?” Laila suggested. “It would explain how he can absorb force, and control whether he sinks or floats.”
That was, I knew, the Doc’s explanation for Aurochs’ unusual abilities. But bringing up Doctor Stevens to this group wouldn’t earn me any points; even Paris openly disliked him. I let the speculation pass without comment, and conversation drifted to topics with less personal interest to me.
The Morris’s left after dessert with a sincere invitation from my parents to return soon. While most of the extended family gathered in the den for football and afternoon naps, Paris joined me in my car for a trip back to my house.
By maternal fiat, Thanksgiving was the one holiday that Paris could not volunteer to work. As a single woman, she stepped forward to take shifts at Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s, Independence Day, and all of the other days that people usually take off to be with loved ones. I did much the same, taking expedited repair jobs no one else wanted. But on Thanksgiving alone, Mom insisted we book no paid hours all day to allow ourselves the full pleasure of food and family.
Still, Mom didn’t begrudge the two of us making an excuse to go discuss our secrets, the same as we did any normal day. The car was filled with the good smells of leftovers, a half dozen dishes to repackage and repurpose upon arriving home.
“The inquest is over already?” I asked.
Paris nodded. “It was a really bare-bones investigation, like Randy predicted. They confirmed the physical evidence with forensics, called me in to corroborate Randy’s story, and that was it.”
“There wasn’t a separate inquest on your role in the shooting?”
“My gun didn’t fire, so no need.” She shook her head. “I guess I already knew this was how it works. Cops see so many awful scenes, we’re just looking to match the facts up and move on. If everything fits the pattern, there’s nothing more to do.” She coughed once, twice in the conditioned air. “We save our full scrutiny for when something seems out of place. A good enough alibi, and you never get there.”
“You sound disappointed.”
She sighed. “Not for this case, not really. More for the other cases where we might be getting it wrong because of the same attitude.” My sister shook her head as though to clear a memory. “How is the coverage of the bank robbery?”
“Every bit as bad as you’d expect.” I gave a sigh of my own. “Half a dozen dead can’t be spun into a good outcome.”
“I get that, but… taking supers into custody? That seems a little much.”
“I agree. Whisper and High-Cap each killed a bank robber. One of them was in the process of shooting hostages. It all seems pretty open and shut.”
“Is it true that Lady Liberty told the supers not to go in… but, ah…” Paris was uncharacteristically hesitant.
“But Delphic said the opposite and they listened to him instead? No,” I said. “Liberty agreed with the plan after I shared my intel. I wasn’t overriding a much more experienced super.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, that didn’t sound like you. So, what went wrong?”
I made the turn into my neighborhood. “That’s the worst part of it: I still don’t know. The robber panicked and opened fire, and I’m not convinced there is anything we should have done differently.”
As we pulled into the driveway, Paris asked, “What did the message from Spinner say?”
“I don’t know. My phone informs me with a disguised notification when I get an urgent message, but I can’t access it directly from the phone.”
I headed straight downstairs while Paris carried in the dishes. The message itself was content-free: just a missive from Spinner to call him right away. I obliged.
The video call came up with Spinner’s visor view. It showed the enclosed walls and close-together seats of a small airplane. The ambient noise, even through Spinner’s filter, told me he was in the air.
“Delphic. Happy Thanksgivin’,” the super said in his exaggerated Boston accent.
“And to you, Spinner,” my synthetic voice replied smoothly. “What’s up?”
“Liberty called me in to help with the bank robbery situation. She, ah, didn’t want to call you about it. I don’t know why, and I figured you’d want to know, so.” If I could see him I’m sure there would be an expressive shrug. As it was, the airplane bulkhead didn’t provide much visual cue.
“I appreciate that.” I wasn’t sure why Lady Liberty wanted to exclude me, but it was nice to have a friend who wasn’t afraid to go against her. “What is the situation? I had heard that Whisper and High-Cap were being detained while the deaths were investigated?”
“Yeah, and apparently Whisper… you know her? I haven’t met her.”
“We haven’t spoken.”
“Yeah okay. Anyway, she took it hard, y’know? Liberty said they needed to let her out, go home to recover. NYPD insisted on doin’ it by the book. Put her in a holding cell and everything.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Paris said from behind and above me. I hadn’t noticed her standing next to my chair.
“Was there an incident with Whisper?” I typed and asked.
“You could say that. Cell’s empty. Video footage shows nothing.”
Paris cursed. I felt the same way.
Spinner didn’t sound any happier than either of us as he announced. “They’re bringing me in to find her. We have a fugitive super on our hands.”