We Are Family

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Ascendant

Previous Story in the Arc: The Proposal by John Murdock (Wednesday, October 05, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Retrieving Blaze by John Murdock (Tuesday, November 08, 2005)

(posted Thursday, November 03, 2005)

It was a most unusual situation for Seraphic Flame. She had toned down her costume a bit and had worn the most modest of the three, but she still felt odd sitting in the hard chair across from the weary-looking clerk in the Adoption Bureau.

He read her papers aloud.

"Prospective Father: John Murdock. Licensed Hero, hero name Blaze Phoenix. Affiliation CCCP. Kheldian fusion with human declared legally dead."

It had taken a while, but Flame had finally tracked down young Ratt. She and John had discussed this before he left on relief efforts in Florida after Hurricane Wilma. But listening to Ratt's desperation in trying to find the young boy, Joey, that he had met in the hospital and become freinds with. Joey was terminally ill, and orphan, yet incredibly cheerful. He was the one who had befriended Ratt rather than the other way around. And now he was missing, kidnapped from the place by "men in suits." The loneliness in Ratt's voice---and feeling a fear that without some sort of lifeline, he might tip over from "hero" to villain---that had made her decision that much easier..

"Prospective mother: Seraphic Flame Murdock. Licensed hero: hero name Seraphic Flame. Affiliation: CCCP. Former Seraphim, now metahuman, no birth certificate." The clerk raised an eyebrow. "Former angel? Don't see that very often."

Flame nodded. That was an understatement.

He needed help on Striga, which was where he thought the Family had taken Joey, and Thea was already there; a quick comm call to Thea assured that the kind-hearted mage and vampire-hunter would not only be willing to assist but insisted on it and was beginning the hunt for the missing child. But Ratt needed so much more than that....

"Prospective Adoptee: Right Hand Ratt. Licensed hero: hero name Right Hand Ratt. Metahuman, origin, Praetorian Earth. Praetorian version of villain designation White Hand Ratt. Presumed age between 14 and 16. No birth certificate." Once again an eyebrow raised. "You have retinal scans and fingerprints to prove they are two people?"

"On file," Flame said quietly. Bella had taken care of that. Not even identical twins had identical retinal scans.

The clerk looked them over and smiled. "Yep. Two distinct individuals."

"Ratt," she had said at last. "We share a great deal, you and me and John." After all, it had been John who had rescued the child from PE. Ratt had helped to sustain her in the dark days. "John and I have talked about this at some length and---and---would you like to join us? Be part of our family?" And she added into the stunned silence, "We would like to formally adopt you, if that would be all right. You can join us without being adopted, that's perfectly all right, but we would like to make it official."

After the shock, the joy had blasted its way even through her shields.

"Well," said the clerk with a very big smile. "If he's from PE there won't be any claimants on him. And the rest is all covered by the Metahuman Identity Protection Act." He rubber-stamped the papers. "The judge will sign these in about an hour. Congratulations Mrs. Murdock. You're a mother. Good luck and---he's not only a teenage boy, he's a teenage fire tank. Lay in lots of food."

She laughed, all her apprehension and worries vanishing. "This, I have learned already! He has eaten everything but a box of wheat crackers and the mustard, and I fear for the mustard in my absence!"

She left the building with the papers tucked into her belt, and lifted into the sky. Vickie had promised a grocery delivery; she had better get there to pay for it. Her heart sang. So did John's. He had come home last night and had been as happy with her impulsive decision as she was.

"What should I call you, Sera?" he'd asked, after dancing around for a moment, whooping a bit, and finally saying yes.

"Whatever you like. Whatever seems comfortable to you"

"OK." He'd smiled the biggest grin she had ever seen on him. "Mom."

She had been the right hand of the Michael Azir, the Archangel Michael. She had faced and defeated the wiorst that Croatoa and Striga Isle could muster. The minions of Arachnos could not stand against her in Siren's Call. She had lost all and won all that mattered back again.

She sat in a hard plastic chair and clasped her hands tightly together, as wide-eyed and dry-mouthed, she waited to hear the verdict of the teachers and Principal of Positron Junior High in Atlas Park.

"Well, Mrs. Murdock," said Elaine Barber calmly, as she looked over the top of her reading glasses, "You have certainly presented us with a unique situation. Roughly half our student body is metahuman of one sort or another, but this is the first time we've been asked to enroll a pupil from Praetorien Earth."

Seraphic Flame nodded as the principal continued to peruse the records of Right Hand Ratt's career in Paragon City--and everything else Bella and Vickie had managed to dig up.

"I rather doubt," said Thomas Algernon, one of the math tachers, "That they are likely to present us with his grade-school records."

Flame swallowed. "I fear his schooling has been--sketchy at best," she said carefully. She was not about to tell them that until last night the boy had been illiterate. That she and John had taken him to the Angelic Guardian of Memory, and had John's own knowledge of reading and writing transferred into Ratt's mind.

....and a few more things....

---flash. A vision: hands, filing out a form; "Last Will and Testament."---flash---those same hands, tearing up a letter and envelope...glimpse: "Death Certificate", "Steven James Murdock"---

---her own remembered anguish, despair, her own voice crying out---ALONE---

She shook off the memory, blinked, and hoped she had not looked inattentive. "No, sir," she murmured. "It is not at all likely."

"Well, your son's teachers and I have come up with a plan, one that is a variation on what we have devised for other metahuman students though---" Once again, that look over the top of the reading glasses "--very, very few of them are licensed heroes. The city does not generally grant licences to adolescents."

"I understand," Flame murmured.

"Still....he's part of the system now, and it is incumbent on educators to accommodate themselves to that system. So, first we need to test him, to place him in classes.." Suddenly the principal looked a little less than assured. "I assume you have a computer and an internet connection?"

Flame nodded with relief. It was one of the things that Victoria had taught her how to use and set up for her, when she first became fully incarnate. At first she had timidly picked out only a few things, one key at a time, but now it was a familiar tool. "Our email address is on our address form," she said confidently.

"Good. We'll send you a link to the testing site. He can use whatever aids he likes so long as you and your husband don't actually help him---" the principal hesitated.

"Aids?" Flame felt out of her depth again. "I---please forgive me, but my own background---I never precisely had---formal schooling myself---"

There was a quick consultation among the teachers and the principal, another glance through the papers.

The principal coughed. "In that case---I'd like your husband to supervise him however. I'm sure Mr. Murdock will be able to tell what is cheating and what is not."

Flame nodded.

"When he finishes the tests, we'll know where to place him. Now, we think he will do best with a combination of a private tutor and some formal classes; we'll be trying to mainstream him so he can attend high school normally."

Again she nodded, although she only the vaguest idea of what "mainstreaming" was. But to attend high school normall---that was most desireable. On that score, she and John were both as one mind. Ratt should have as much contact with others his own age as possible. "The CCCP has a tutor," she ventured. "Professor Tempest. He teaches Sister Shuma and Shen Fai-Long."

"We also understand that he will need to miss classes as ugent missions come up. But we will require that if that happens, and he misses a class, there be a note from you or Mr. Murdock, his team leader if he has one, and the leader of his SG verifying that he was on a mission and not simply skipping class."

Her mouth went a little drier; was all of this reasonable? She didn't know---"Might I take a moment to consult with my husband?"

Out in the hall, she comm-called him and explained the situation. To her relief, he sounded as if he found it reasonable. "Makes sense. I doubt he'd be willin' to stick with his schoolin' lest he could keep bein' a hero. It's part of him, now."

He also seemed to find the rest of the requirements to be reasonable, so feeling much more confident, she clipped her comm back to her belt and returned to the office. The arrangements were swiftly concluded, and she returned to their apartment to undertake the one possible problem with all of this.

Because the leader of Ratt's group was not People's Blade of the Young Champions as the principal probably supposed.

It was Red Djinni of the Alliance of Champions.

Dear Red, she slowly and carefully typed into the email program. I fear I must ask you for yet another favor.....