It’s finally getting to me, all the scheming and paranoia and fear and frustration. We went to Ryo’s soccer match as planned, with Suzuka still clinging to Razmus even after their date was allegedly concluded. The ref at the game was Wash. I don’t know how it happened, but he was there, calling the game normally, as though he wasn’t a supervillain and didn’t have fifty cloaked robots on the field. When Raz went down there and tried to hit one with with his baseball bat (I don’t know why he bothers using those on non-squishy opponents when they always get bent without doing any damage) the robots started uncloaking. As the people fled, Glenn and I rushed over to Ryo, but he just vanished, another abuse of their cloaking technology.
While Razmus and Sam started tearing through the robots — which kept self-destructing every time they took any decent amount of damage — I transformed and went for the eye of the storm, where Wash stood, calm as usual, behind a force field. He was in his usual obnoxious bantering mood, and he gave us coordinates where he wanted us to come get Ryo, and I can’t remember the last time I got that angry. Part of me knew that hacking at his force field wouldn’t do any good, but I just didn’t care. He said that Ryo was involved in this now. I don’t know how, but Razmus teleported inside the force field and beheaded Wash. With an SDF jet circling overhead, I was having visions of another Swan incident, but worse, but Wash laughed off the beheading like everything else. He said he was immortal now. If only we could launch him into the sun. Nothing we did could even slow him down; he seemed to be able to change into an energy form, then restore his corporeal body, completely intact. He teleported away. By the time my grandfather came back from taking Suzuka and mom to the van it was all over.
We tried hard to think up a plan for entering the base. Wash and his associates seem to really like making us walk into traps. But absolutely everything we could think of was a dead end. Between the five of us we have a would-be biochemist (that’s me), two who specialize in stealth (Razmus and Jack), a veteran superhero (Glenn), and someone who until recently made a living by bluffing (Sam). And yet in the end we had to barge in there, because there was nothing we could do to gain any advantage of any sort. The power lines were buried (a rarity in Japan), there was only one entrance, and very little to explore. I want to fight a supervillain where it actually means something. I can live with getting injured even, so long as there’s a sense of accomplishment that goes beyond enduring yet another of Wash’s monologues. I want to fight a villain who actually feels pain; I can live with being hated, so long as it’s by someone who will see us as something more than ants in a terrarium.
By all accounts it was, as Wash had said, a rural Project Perseus facility. There were four fake buildings, no more than movie props, and the real base was carved directly into the rock. Glenn drove the van straight in, through the glass doors and offices, until we got as far as it would take us. In an office area we found folders with data on various people — including myself and Glenn. Each one had a detailed profile, some kind of complex formula, and at the end a “Suitability Rating.” For both myself and Glenn this was listed as “High.” Which makes it a distinct possibility that his inclusion in all this wasn’t accidental after all.
After the offices was a stone hallway lined with portraits. There was only one that any of us recognized, and of all people it was of Amalgam, Glenn’s nemesis. At the end was a T intersection. In the right-hand branch we found Wash again — and Wild Rider. At that point all of our frustration seemed to come to a head, because Glenn made it look like he was refusing to take the confrontation seriously. Before long we’d all joined in. He claimed we were boring him, but ironically enough words are apparently the one thing that can get to him. Wild Rider was just as reticent as last time, but I could see his clenched fist shaking with fury. And then they vanished again.
In the other branch of the corridor, we found a set of holding cells. In one, Ryo was sleeping peacefully, while in another there was a middle-aged man, very badly beaten. We took them both back with us. The man had an imprint on his right arm, as though he’d been wearing a brace, and Sam said he was dreaming of being Wild Rider. At grandfather’s insistence we brought the man to our house instead of a hospital, and the old man did something to stabilize him and teleported him up to the spaceship.
Once Ryo was in his bed — he didn’t wake up the entire time, and may have been drugged — I found myself explaining to my grandfather what had happened, and all the while wondering why he wasn’t helping. Instead, he had more bad news. The alien shapeshifters are coming to Earth, in about six months’ time. For the first time Jack managed to say something really offensive, which in turn got Raz even further into denial about the whole matter. In fact, grandfather recognized Raz’ mother from that photo he carries, as a rebel who defied her own race to protect innocent lives. That definitely sounds like someone who could’ve been one of Razmus’ parents.
The other thing is, the Rider Council is waiting to speak to me. According to grandfather, opinions are divided as to whether I represent heresy or evolution. At least I know it’s finally come. When I think about what I’ve seen and read about metahumans, the Riders’ boys-only club seems utterly ridiculous. The metahuman heroes of earth are men and women, and they come from every corner of the world, from every social class, every religion, every nation. There are Australian aborigines, wealthy businessmen, common street thugs, and starving, orphaned children who have realized they have power, and used it to make the world a better place.
Tomorrow. I need sleep, if I can manage it. I shouldn’t have had that tea. Tomorrow morning is the next hurdle put in front of me. I feel like I’m nearing my breaking point. I think I still want to do this thing, but I need to do it as myself, not as my father’s shadow, an agglomeration of childood memories. Everything before this was just going through the motions, trying to stall for time and combat the boredom that came down from the sky, pressing everything flat. I had all these things to say to the council, and right now they sound like childish excuses. I want to be the light in the darkness, but instead we’ve been trying to cope with the problems brought about by the circumstances of our origins, in spite of having so little to work with. We’re in the dark ourselves, with nothing to light the way, just hands to hold.
I’m not going to cry. Ryo is safe. I can deal with this, because I have to. I want someone to tell me what to do, but I don’t think I’d believe them.