Jason waited as he watched Harry and the kids stand up from their chairs and make their way out of the room. To no surprise, Sabrina was the last to leave. He stood up from his chair—trying his best not to wince at the pain it brought throughout his entire body—and moved to intercept the teenage girl before she could leave.
“Sabrina,” he called to her when they were the only two left in the room. She stopped and turned toward the much older hero.
As Jason approached Sabrina, he found that he towered above the young woman. His body may have been older, but it still conveyed that of a once powerful man. His chest was broad and his arms were thick—even larger than Harry’s though Jason never had the bionic strength to compete with Major Justice—and standing below him was the tiny, yet very capable figure of Sabrina Bower.
“Would you like to go get a cup of coffee with me?” He proposed to the young lady, sounding almost nervous as he did so. It had been a long time since he’d interacted on such a personal level with a teenager—or any person for that matter.
“You going to try and talk me into joining the Society?” She asked pointedly.
Jason chuckled. “No, I just want to learn a little bit more about you—about your training.”
Sabrina looked down to the side and considered her answer. She had clearly become accustom to pushing herself away from people—something Jason understood very well.
“I know you don’t have anything else to do,” Jason said with persuasion.
Sabrina looked back up at the much larger man. “Fine. But I’m not opening up.”
Jason again laughed as Sabrina turned and started to march out the door. He followed her out of the room.
Neither spoke a single word until they gave their orders to the barista at the coffee shop. Once they’d finished ordering, Sabrina went to save a table by the window while Jason paid and waited for their drinks to come up. A few minutes later Jason brought their coffee to the table and took a seat across from Sabrina.
He decided now was as good a time as ever to try and crack the girl’s tough exterior. “So…”
She cut him off before he could go any further. “So what’s the real reason you left the Assembly?”
Jason turned away and curled his lips over his teeth.
Sabrina continued, “I could tell what Major Justice was saying wasn’t the real answer—at least not for you. You didn’t look too happy about the question either.”
The corner of Jason’s mouth curled up in a smirk. Sabrina was perceptive. She was also testing him to see how much he was willing to trust her. He had felt uncomfortable discussing the reasons for his retirement while surrounded by a bunch of people with powers, but now that it was just the two of them he was much more open to discussing it.
“I’m an old man now,” he stated. “Don’t get around like I used to.”
Sabrina appeared unsatisfied with the simplistic answer. “Aren’t you only like, fifty or something?”
“Only fifty?” Jason retorted. “Listen, maybe if we were talking about some job sitting behind a desk fifty might not seem old, but I’ve spent most of my adult life running around beating people up and jumping off rooftops. Do you have any idea the toll that takes on your body after almost thirty years? The broken bones, the bruises, the concussions. I may only be fifty but my body doesn’t work the way it needs to for me to be able to go out and fight off twenty thugs at a time like I used to.”
Sabrina seemed satisfied rather than embarrassed by his response. For a homeless orphan teenager she had quite a lot of confidence.
“Why did Major Justice quit then?” She asked.
Jason glanced at her in a way that let her know he was well aware of the games she was playing. “Harry left the Assembly because the gig beats up your soul as much as it does your body, and he’s been doing it even longer than I have. After too long the mind needs a rest or you risk going insane.”
“I know there was another reason you left.” She was determined to get the answer she was looking for.
“Fine. I was ashamed,” Jason admitted. “In the beginning we were there to help fight the bad guys wherever we could. As time went on, the bad guys started getting bigger and badder, and the Assembly’s stock suddenly began to rise. But eventually we had taken down just about every so-called supervillain, and I took that to mean we would go back to helping the little guy. The Assembly disagreed. They decided that we needed to save our resources for only the most dangerous of enemies, and let the world’s governments, militaries, and police forces handle the rest.
“That was about the time they started worrying about image and ‘profitability.’ They started accepting sponsorships and agreeing to have movies and TV shows made about us. We were suddenly appearing on talk shows and late night sketch comedy. It had become more about saving the world as an object rather than saving the people who were actually living in it, all for the sake of recognition.
“It wasn’t until later that I realized the reason behind all of the madness was that the rest of the team wanted to buy a remote island and build a city so they could round up all of the people in the world with so-called superpowers and stick them in one place, away from the rest of the society. And on top of that, the Assembly decided they should be the ones to govern that city. They built that monstrosity as a monument to their egos.”
Sabrina now looked as though she were invested in Jason’s response and less like she was trying to prove a point. “Why didn’t you just stay on as an advisor or ambassador like Harry?”
“It was pointless,” Jason explained, “they had me outnumbered. I know Harry is against a lot of it in principal, but when it comes down to it he wants this new society to be a success as much as anyone. I hung in for as long as I could because I was afraid of what they might try and do without me, but I realized that it didn’t make any difference what I did or said—they were going to do what they though was in the best interest for them and others like them. I was too old to fight and no longer had any influence, so I finally just gave up.”
They both sipped their coffee in silence for a moment, before Sabrina decided to ask another question. “Did you ask Major Justice to find someone else without powers to replace you?”
Jason chuckled a bit. “No. Believe it or not that was entirely his call. I think a part of him has always wished that they hadn’t turned him into the super machine he is today. Part of him wishes they had just left him to die in Vietnam like the rest of his squadron.”
“But why?” Sabrina countered. “He’s practically indestructible.”
“I think that makes him feel weak in a way,” Jason explained. “He relies too heavily on his abilities, and I believe he feels as a result he’s lost touch with the rest of humanity. That’s why he’s always had such a great respect for me and always been a firm believer that the Assembly needs someone who doesn’t have a superpower.”
“He seems wiser than he gives himself credit for,” Sabrina observed.
Jason nodded with a lopsided grin. “Always has been.”
There was another momentary pause as the two parties sipped their coffee and watched the city move past them outside the window.
“So you’re from the city?” Jason asked, breaking the silence.
“All my life,” she responded plainly.
Jason sat and calculated for a moment. He was wading into rough waters and knew that he needed to tread carefully.
“Harry said he saw you taking those guys down in the Bronx. You living out there?”
Sabrina pursed her lips, growing slightly more uncomfortable by the second. “I was staying at a friend’s place out there, but for now I’m staying with some friends downtown.”
Jason nodded solemnly. “Must be tough always moving from place to place. I read your file—running away from every foster home you’d ever been placed in. I’ve heard a lot of things about the system and how it operates, so I can’t say I blame you. It probably felt nice to get out on your own.”
Sabrina rolled her eyes at Jason’s lame attempt at empathy as though she had heard it a million times before. “Some are better than others,” she explained, “but in the end you’re not their kid, and they’re only taking you in because the state’s paying them to.”
Jason took another sip of his coffee. “Now there must be some people who truly want to help.”
“There are,” Sabrina conceded, “but those people are almost worse. They’re always smothering you and asking about your feelings, trying to understand you and relate to you—they completely overdo it. When you’ve grown up on your own you don’t want to feel like part of a family, you just want the essentials to survive and to move on with your life. So many people just don’t get that.”
The more Sabrina spoke the more Jason noticed a New York accent developing in her speech.
“Now come on,” Jason interjected. “Deep down everyone wants to feel like a part of a family—to feel loved and cared about.”
Sabrina shrugged as she continued to stare out the window. “I guess when you haven’t really felt that in your life you don’t know what your missing—don’t know how to recognize it. So you refuse to believe it exists.”
For the first time Jason truly felt sorrow for the girl. He knew she was a hard ass, but he hadn’t realized just how critically wounded she had been.
“I grew up in the inner-city projects,” he said. “My father was a scumbag drug dealer—ended up getting locked up when I was just a baby. My mom raised me and my sister in a one-bedroom apartment. She had to work all day long which left us on our own. My sister ended up falling in with some bad people…”
“Is this some lame attempt to relate?” Sabrina interrupted.
Jason dropped his head and laughed. “I suppose so.” He glanced up at her with his brown eyes hoping that she was as amused by it as he was.
She smiled and turned her attention back out the window. “Well at least you had a home. And my parents weren’t scumbags, they just went missing.”
Jason nodded in understanding, ready to move on to the next subject. “So why I really brought you here was because I wanted to know more about your training. How does an orphan girl in the city end up being a bona fide ass kicker?”
Sabrina laughed at the question before turning her gaze down to her coffee. She seemed to be deciding whether or not she wanted to give an answer. Jason sat silently watching, waiting for her to make the first move.
“It sounds ridiculous,” she said.
“You do realize what it is I do,” Jason quipped.
She chuckled before beginning her story. “When I was fourteen I ran away from my foster home—one of the bad ones, not people who actually cared.”
Jason nodded slowly and continued looking at her as she glanced up in his direction.
She continued, “So I ran over to the Brooklyn Bridge—I don’t know why but whenever I run away from a foster home I always go to the nearest bridge first. Maybe it represents wanting to escape—I don’t know.
“Anyway when I got there I found this old abandoned building and figured it would be a good place to chill out and rest for a while. So I went in, found a nice corner on the second floor that a homeless person hadn’t peed in, and sat down to think about where I was going to go next. At this point I had been all over the city, so I knew what I was doing.
“But then I heard noises coming from the floor above me. Most normal people would have taken that as a sign to get out, but something told me I needed to go check it out, so I did. That was when it got weird.”
She looked to Jason again to see if he was prepared to hear the next portion of the story. He was indeed.
“So I climb the stairs, and when I get up there the entire floor has been converted into this Japanese looking pad. Like there were those sliding doors, ya know? There was tiny furniture on the floor and a little table, and on the right there was this giant Buddha statue and some smoking incense or something.”
Jason cocked an eyebrow. This was interesting indeed.
Sabrina continued, “So I walk in slowly to try and see what’s going on and suddenly this old Asian voice calls out from behind me. It scared the crap out of me. I jumped and turned around, scared for my life and there was this old Japanese man looking at me.”
As she got further into her story her pacing grew more rapid.
“I knew that I should have been scared—I should have ran but I didn’t. For some reason I didn’t want to. Instead I decided I had to hear what the man was going to say—find out who he was. He told me he was some ancient Japanese ninja trainer or something and that he had been looking for me. He told me that he’d let me stay in his home if I let him train me in the ways of the ninja. He said it was my purpose—that I was ‘The Heir’ or something like that.”
“Wait,” Jason said intently, cutting Sabrina off. “Did he say his name?”
Sabrina shook her head and scrunched her face. “He just told me to call him Master Shinobi.”
Jason let out an audible breath and threw his hand over his mouth.
“Do you know him?” Sabrina asked suspiciously.
Jason dropped his hand onto the table and tried to gather himself. “We’ve crossed paths before, yes.”
Sabrina stared at Jason with suspicious curiosity, but ultimately decided to save that conversation for another day. “So anyway, I agreed to let the creepy guy train me and he taught me all about the history of the ninja and how they wanted to make up for all the bad stuff they’d done by teaching me to use it for good—blah, blah, blah—then he taught me ninjitsu and ever since it has been a lot easier to escape foster care, avoid cops, and defend myself from creepy dudes on the street.”
As she finished, Sabrina casually took a sip of her coffee as if her story were of no significance.
“That’s unbelievable,” Jason remarked, still trying to wrap his head around the idea that his old master—who he had seen disappear in a cloud of dust—had somehow reintegrated himself in New York City so that he could train a young orphan girl the same way he had trained Jason.
The Heir, he thought to himself. Could Master Shinobi have meant that Sabrina was to be Jason’s heir now that he had become too old to carry on? Was Harry’s discovery of Sabrina not merely coincidence but an act of fate?
Sabrina bobbed her head in full agreement. “What was really strange was that when my training was finished, he turned on the news—the entire time I was living there I didn’t even realized there was a TV—and we saw a report about a hostage situation at a bank uptown. He sent me out to rescue everybody and take down the bad guys and when I got back, he and everything else was gone—all of it. The floor looked bare and abandoned just like the rest of the building.”
Jason shook his head and breathed a sigh of disbelief. Then he noticed that his cup was almost empty.
“So are you going to be at the rest of the meetings?” Sabrina inquired, sensing that he was about ready to make his exit.
Jason smiled. “Does that mean you’re going to stay on?”
“For now,” she stated carefully. “We’ll see how I feel about it when the week is up, but I figure I owe it to the world to at least try and represent the rest of the population in the Superhuman Society with my amazing non-super abilities.”
Jason laughed. “Super is a relative term my dear. But sadly no, I won’t be around for the rest of the meetings, but I will be going with you to the island on Saturday. I wouldn’t make you go through that experience alone.”
That was when he saw Sabrina smile honestly for the first time. He hoped she felt as though she had found a friend.
“And go talk to Harry,” he added. “I’m sure he’d be happy to have you stay at the embassy. Overjoyed, even.”
Sabrina again laughed as they stood up from the table and prepared to head back out into the crowded city streets. “Why an eagle?” She asked as she threw her jacket on over her shoulders.
“I was in Scouts growing up,” Jason replied earnestly. “Scouts was where I learned about duty to others, and it played a huge role in making me the man I am today. So back when I was still keeping my identity a secret, I decided there was only one thing the public needed to know about the mysterious urban ninja—something that pretty much said everything about me as a man without saying too much.”
He paused and grinned wide. “I’m an Eagle.”
Sabrina smiled in admiration, and upon walking out of the coffee shop the two super non-powered individuals went their separate ways.