David stared into the face of the man who had mentored him for the last thirty years. In death, Bob Ward looked more peaceful, a splash of contentment peeking out of the edge of his lips.
“He looks a lot better in death than he did in life, doesn’t he?” Alexis said. She gave David the look: the kind of look you get when someone catches you with your hand in the cookie jar.
“Yeah. Zoe did a great job putting him back together.”
“She had to, given that she doesn’t come cheap. Oh look, who’s here,” Alexis said, notioning towards the doors of the chapel. A hale elder man stood in front of the door, holding it open, three others entering after him.
“Alan! Glad to see you,” David said, smiling widely, his arms wide, primed for an embrace. Alan smiled, warmth breaking through his gruff exterior as he hugged David. David nodded at Edith, extending his hand towards her. “You look good, Edith.”
“David Waid,” Edith said, grinning as she shook his hand. “You look even better now that you are older. When was the last time we met each other? ’96?”
“98, probably. The last time Cranium attacked New York. That was pretty crazy.”
“It was. Henry, look at uncle Dave. He’s still pretty handsome, isn’t he?”
Henry grinned, in nearly the same way as his mother did. He shook David’s hand with confidence, though his eyes told a different story. After all, he didn’t get to shake Ascent’s hands everyday.
“Cranium? He’s one of those really old school guys, isn’t he?” Henry said. “Didn’t he try to turn New York into an actual snow globe?”
“Yeah. Definitely not the most friendly AI out there. Thankfully we had your parents to help us out.”
“Please, Dave, we were old-timers even then,” Edith said as she took her seat, signalling Henry to join her. “It was you and the rest of Legion who pulled heavy duty. Speaking of which, great to see Alexis up there too. This must have been hard for her, especially since he was a close colleague and all.”
“Yeah. She’s holding up well though. She put together most of this, actually.”
“She had, to didn’t she?” Alan said, his expression dangerously close to frowning. “This is a big blow to Pantheon. If its shares were for up for sale, I can tell you that it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight at the stock exchange. Anyways, I will go and take a look at old Ward up there.”
Alan checked his watch. There were still thirty minutes left. He wondered if Nate would make it. He had heard from Leah that he had arrived back on Earth yesterday. But David wouldn’t believe it until he saw his son with his own two eyes.
Moments like these, David regretted teaching his kids how to refract electromagnetic waves. It didn’t occur to him back then that they were going to use that same trick to hide from his own prying eyes once they became teenagers.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in. Waid, you are doing fine, I see,” Bannon said, stonefaced as usual. Although he was almost a whole foot shorter than David, his full head of spiky hair reached out to David’s nose. Orin stood behind him, waving gleefully at David.
“Bannon, Orin, you guys are a sight for sore eyes. Glad you made it here. I see that Rhea is still busy with a meeting though.”
“Figures, that you would still keep an eye out for her, even after all these years,” Bannon said, scoffing, as he took his seat. “Just like she keeps an eye out for Hunter. You Sirellians need a better understanding of the concept of privacy.”
“Come now, let’s not rekindle our former rivalries,” David said, smiling sheepishly.
“Yeah, a funeral’s a pretty bad place to start a fight,” Orin agreed. “We should go somewhere better, like a desert or a canyon. That sounds a lot better.”
“All in good time. I will catch up with you guys after the funeral. I am going to check up on Leah and Alexis.”
David withdrew to the edge of the seats, where Alexis was talking with Leah. Leah waved half heartedly at Dave, her other hand busy tapping away on her phone. “Hi, dad. You look…well, like you usually do. That, plus a suit. The tailor must love you though. That’s a great, great fit.”
David laughed. Sometimes, he forgot that his daughter was an adult, fully mature woman. When he looked at her, he still saw traces of that innocuous, curious child who rode on his back. And then he saw the woman she had become, and it broke his heart, even now. She didn’t have to go through half the things she did. But she went through them anyway. He wondered who she got that from, himself or her mother.
“You holding up alright, Dave?” Alexis asked. “We can head over to the Canyon afterwards. If it helps.”
David shook his head, smiling. “We are still divorced, aren’t we? We don’t want to give people ideas.”
“Aww, you still care. So nice. Always the true gentleman, aren’t you?”
David looked into Alexis’ eyes, his sight boring past her iris and optic nerve, zooming straight into her brain. He could see that spark of divinity inside her, jostling with life, firing in tandem with her neurons, flowing to and fro, with a rhythm that was almost circadian, but not quite. And not for the first time in the day, David wanted to hold her, like he had first held her in Colombo.
But he couldn’t do that anymore, and thus he pushed the thought away from his mind.
“What can I say, Alex? Old habits die hard. By the way, did any of you meet Nate?”
“Yeah, dad,” Leah said. “He should be here pretty soon. We were together last night, jamming in my pad.”
“Oh! Now that should be something,” Alexis said, clasping her hands with excitement. “You two work so well with each other. You could go on a few tours, open for a couple of bands.”
“Yeah, I guess?” Leah said, looking away, peering at the gathering crowd. “I mean I am up for it, but I am not sure that Nate would be thrilled about it. He seems a bit more…withdrawn than usual. Maybe give him some more time?”
“Sure. Whenever things are good for you two. I am going to go and start the proceedings soon. Say hi to Nate for me when he comes, will you?”
“Yeah, sure. Good luck, mom.”
Alexis nodded, beaming with empathy. “Thanks, kid. I will need it.”
David hung back for a few minutes, talking to attendees sporadically. He wasn’t sure if he could keep this up for much longer. He had barely gotten any time to grieve. He could feel the knot forming in his chest, twisting at his heartstrings.
This was a small affair, and only Bob’s closest friends had been invited. But still, it felt too public. Too grandiose. It distracted him from the crux of his dilemma.
Why in the world would Jupiter kill himself?
Alexis started off the proceedings in somber fashion, standing a few feet away from the open casket. “Thank you all for coming here. I am sure Bob would appreciate your presence. His last few days weren’t easy, and I am sure he had many of you on his mind during his final moments.
Most of you know Bob Ward as Jupiter. I still don’t know if this was his blessing or his curse. I am sure he saved many of you. He saved me, too, and then he saved my children. We will always be indebted to him for that.
Bob lived through many, many days. He was the face of America’s heroes for almost fifty years. Some of you know him as a mentor. Others were fortunate enough to call him your colleague. There were times where it felt like he was my brother, and other times, he was cranky enough to be my father. But most of all, I knew Bob as a friend. He will be dearly missed at Pantheon.”
Alexis paused, craning her neck to steal a glimpse at Bob’s serene features. “Thanks, Bob. I am sorry if things didn’t always work out between us. And I forgive you too, for some of the things that were better left unsaid.
The next speaker is none other than Alan Parsons. Alan, please come up here.”
Alan walked towards the casket with slow, measured steps, keenly aware of his own mortality. “Thanks Alexis. You are a sweetheart, and old Bob would be a fool to hold anything against you.
I can’t really say much about Bob Ward. I would like to say we were friends, but we didn’t even have a cup of coffee with each other. And that’s a shame, considering that we knew each other for almost fifty damn years.
We fought a lot, so that’s something. Sometimes we even fought each other. Thankfully most of that was in sport, or else he would have knocked my head clean off. I am a super soldier, but even I ain’t kidding about my chances in a clean fight with Jupiter.”
Alan paused, chuckling quietly, winking at Edith, who winked back with aplomb.
“I was gone for a couple of years after the war, as you guys know all too well. When I came back, everything was so… different. It was a world filled with powers. Filled with people like us. And it wasn’t really clear for a while, what that meant for the rest of the world.
Of course, George, Barry and I got together and formed our own group back at the West Coast. Even then, the Union seemed a tad too on the nose, but hey, if the shoe fits!
The Union and Legion kept to their own corners of the world. But everytime we would meet, I could always tell that Jupiter was…elsewhere. I mean, his body was swinging mean right hooks, but his brain wasn’t there. Maybe that’s what a god is supposed to be like?”
“Hey now!” Thor said, raising his hand, his voice echoing from the edge of the pew. “That’s speciest. Not all gods are like that. I am very present in both body and soul, as I am sure my good friend Sophie can attest.”
Sophie smiled awkwardly, wiggling in vain as she tried to create more space between her and Thor’s arm. “Thor, stop, you are kinda embarrassing us.”
“Pssht,” Thor whispered. “Don’t speak like my dad now.” He looked back at Alan and beamed. “Please! Do continue.”
Alan nodded. “Right. As I was saying, the world looked up to Jupiter. Even us. But something changed, in those few years I was trapped in Avalon. Jupiter had seen things in the war. We all did. But something happened, between Korea and Vietnam. Something broke him. And I will be damned if I knew what it was.”
Alan looked at the crowd, searching for David. “Well, looks like the next speaker isn’t here for some reason. Fortunately, that means you get to hear some of my old war stories. Care to join, Graves?”
Graves rose from his seat, metal arm clasping his cane. He looked at his wife, Claire and sighed. “Here we go again.”
David was standing outside the chapel. He could tell that Nate was going to arrive. The air was sizzling with static electricity, and high up in the sky, a human-shaped bullet had just pierced through three different clouds.
“Hi dad,” Nate said, landing softly in front of David. He was also dressed in black, but his suit and trousers were slightly disheveled, probably due to turbulence. “Sorry for being late.”
David nodded, holding in his sigh. There was no use chiding Nate for…well, just being Nate. “I am up for the next address, son. We will catch up once the funeral’s done, yeah?”
“Yeah. You look good by the way.”
Dave smiled. “I am glad you think so. Glad to have you back, Nate.”
“Glad to be back. Just one question though.”
“Yeah, I know what you are going to ask. Ask your mother, once this thing’s done. She’s probably leading the investigation back in Pantheon.”
“Right. That makes sense.”
David placed a hand around Nate’s shoulder, guiding him through the chapel doors. “Now come inside, will you? I am sure your mother will be thrilled to see you.”
David shrugged. “I guess so. It’s just that…well, I am going to sound like an asshole, but I kinda wish Uncle Bob didn’t off himself. Like maybe a day or two later would have been good.”
“Let me guess. You had a date?”
Nate scoffed. “You can’t see as far as Andromeda, can you? I mean, I am pretty sure you can’t.”
“I am your dad, son. I don’t need galaxy-range vision to know what you have been up to. Anyways, I am sure you can get back to her someday.”
“Maybe? I was pretty out of it, the last time I was there. Don’t even get proper coordinates.”
“Well, we Waids have great luck with women, so don’t count yourself out just yet.”
David took his position, as Alan and Graves returned to the pew. As he stood, he surveyed the attendees in the room, all two hundred and twenty of them. He took in their vitals, their pacemakers and every other tiny detail that made them who they were. And he wondered if what he was going to was going to make them feel any better.
What could he really say? What could he really do? He was Ascent, the strongest Sirellian in existence. But at the end of the day, even he too was too human.
He looked at his family, and found his resolve.
He could get through this address. He still had Alexis, Leah and Nate. As bad as things were right now, things were going to be okay.
Because David didn’t really know what he was going to do if they weren’t.
This is an original multi-chapter story that will be updated periodically.