Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 8

“Sorry kid, haven’t seen anything?” The butcher down the street turns back to a customer as Ryaan Asfour asks again for any sign of the man in red who attacked the rally in Millennium Park. That’s the twentieth business he’s checked today but not a single employee or customer can do more than confirm they watched the rally on TV and they saw the guy there.

As way of thanks for saving the Chicago Aquarium the city held a rally to celebrate the Goggle Guys. A pair of vigilantes Ryaan can’t stand, they were in the right place at the right time and stopped a bombing. Celebrating them gets more complicated though when you take into account the totality of their record. They have no problem terrorizing and profiling minority communities. That’s almost all they’ve done since signing up under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act. This one action may have been great but many people were disgusted to be celebrating people for one good act while ignoring all the hurt they’ve caused. Ryaan certainly was.

He wasn’t alone apparently because a man in red attacked the rally, first with what looked like a bomb and when that failed he stormed the stage with a sword. Ryaan was put in the awkward position of stepping in to protect people who would gladly shoot him in the back if given the chance. He did the right thing and fought the man off. Now the whole city’s looking for this man in red. From the man’s comments he believes he’s from his community. It could even be someone he knows. If he gets caught he’s going to be publicly flayed. Ryaan wants to find him first and convince him to turn himself in. He’s not sure he can do it but he feels he has to try. He understands the mindset of wanting to take those guys off the board. He just can’t support murder.

Back on the street, faces follow him. A couple of kids whisper as he walks by. A little boy’s eyes go wide as they see him and they rush down the street after him. The boy’s dad swings him off the ground to stop him. The Rebel’s starting to gain a following in the neighborhood and more people recognize him. That should make him nervous as he’s not officially registered as a vigilante and he’s actually too young to register. With vigilantes popping up in every corner though nobody has time to track them all. Unless he gives the police a reason to dig into his background he can probably keep going forever.

Without any more shops to check, Ryaan’s out of ideas. He’s checked in the Mosques, he’s checked shops, he’s checked every place he thinks a middle eastern man would be especially likely to go. Without any other ideas he’s left spinning his wheels hoping something falls into place. There are still plenty of places outside his neighborhood he could check but this is too big a city for him to go over with a fine toothed comb. If nobody in his neighborhood, one of the areas of the city housing the most people from the middle east, has a clue there’s a good chance he’s never going to find the man.

Cutting down a side street, Ryaan’s glad nobody follows. A few times in recent weeks he’s had a hard time shaking a crowd. It’s hard to be a vigilante when people won’t leave you alone. Criminals see you coming. He does better at night but getting out of the house after dark’s a different challenge. He’s found a couple good places to lose a group when needed but they’re out of the way and when he needs to get home by dinner he doesn’t want to go running two miles out of his way. He certainly can’t lead them home though and he can’t change out of his costume with people around.

It’s a windy day which helps take the edge off the heat. It’s over ninety and his mask makes him feel like he’s in a sauna. He wants to take it off and stuff it in his bag but he has to retrieve that bag first. It’s stuffed in the dog house behind an abandoned house a few blocks from home. The place was foreclosed on last year so he knew it would be empty. He realized quickly that carrying the same backpack as the Rebel was a good way to tie them together so he’s been stashing it every chance he gets.

Nearing the abandoned house, Ryaan thinks he hears something behind him. He turns around but doesn’t see anything. It’s windy and that’s probably what he’s hearing but something doesn’t feel right. He gets back on his path but soon he hears it again. It sounds like a clanking of some sort but he can’t place it. He turns but again doesn’t find anything there. He wants to dismiss it as the wind but the wind generally doesn’t clank. His hand edges toward his knives.

For weeks Ryaan’s been terrified that a local gang he tipped the police off about are going to come after him. Their leader figured out who he is and threatened both him and his family. He’s worked hard to watch his back and he thought he had it handled. Following the advice of a Police Officer he knows, Ryaan sent them a letter advising he’d stay out of their dealings as much as possible if they don’t come after him. He also advised that he has a failsafe set up so that if he or any of his family is seriously harmed in any suspicious way he’ll have everything he knows about their operation sent to the news. It might not be enough for an arrest but it would certainly make the papers.

They’ve left him alone so far and he expected that to continue. Who would be following him though? Who would be good enough to avoid being seen twice when he thought he had them? Hearing the noise for the third time Ryaan doesn’t turn. He rubs his hand along his leg as he walks. Right as he hears a step he lifts his arm and grabs the staff from the holster on his back. His original model broke during a recent fight but luckily he ordered two when he got started. If anything that makes him more cautious. If he has to replace this one he’s going to have a hard time coming up with the funds. As he spins he presses the button to expand the staff, making it grow. The staff doubles in size as he turns and he ducks while swinging it. He lands a hit right in the knee of his pursuer.

As he turns Ryaan catches a glimpse of red and his eyes start to go wide. Did the man in red track him down? Is it because he thwarted his attempt to take out the Goggle Guys or because he keeps asking about him? As his staff swipes through the man following him’s legs he tumbles to the ground. Amid the red Ryaan sees flashes of light skinned flesh. A few parts of the robe like suit the man wears have brown stripes as well. The man at the rally definitely wasn’t white and his suit was only red. This is someone else.

Part 7

Part 9

Advertisements

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 7

They manage to get their dad on the phone right before he can get onto the highway to start driving downtown. Ryaan’s surprised to find the man never called his phone, so intent on calling Nadia.

As they get home a pizza delivery man is pulling away. Their dad comes out the door only moments later. When they walk up to the house he runs over, wrapping them in tight hugs and dragging them inside. The aroma of their favorite pizza place fills the air as they walk inside but before they can eat he has a million questions about whether they’re okay and what happened. He barely blinks when Nadia shows him her phone. He promises to order her another using their phone insurance the next day. She looks surprised but any shock disappears when they see the news.

A reporter outside the park jumped in to get on the air right after people started running. The camera’s not close enough to the stage to show the man in red well and thankfully not close enough to get a good look at Ryaan but it does catch Nadia being thrown to the ground and doesn’t show her get back up. Pointing at the TV, he has a silly grin on his face. “I thought you were dead or seriously hurt. I’ve never been happier than I was when you called and said you were all okay. Maybe the day you were born but even then. Why didn’t you call sooner?”

Ryaan gets ready to jump in but Nadia cuts him off. “We were so busy getting clear of the place that we didn’t have time. Really sorry if we worried you dad, we’ll be more careful in the future.”

“There will not be an in the future.” He turns to Ryaan. “I didn’t see you on the tape. Where were you?”

He tries to think of a good lie that might stand up to his youngest sister Lana’s terrible ability to lie and lack of reason to do so but Nadia again jumps in. “He was there, we got separated for a minute because someone pushed between us. He was behind the big guy next to me. He caught up after a minute, helped me up.”

Their dad turns to Lana who nods, though she doesn’t say anything. Ryaan gives the same nod which seems to be enough for the subject to be dropped.

They’re allowed to eat pizza on the couch while watching TV for once. Mina’s invited to stay but makes an excuse about needing to get home. Now that he knows his kids are safe, their dad has no further desire to watch the news. Instead he puts on some cartoon the girls enjoy. Ryaan’s not going to complain, most nights they wouldn’t get to watch anything.

After the last of the pizza’s gone, their dad runs around collecting plates and offering to do the dishes after the day they had. Lana’s falling asleep in their recliner while Nadia and Ryaan are curled up on opposite ends of the couch.

Turning to her brother, Nadia gives him a kick with her long legs. “You think all the pizza and dishes is his way of saying sorry for making us go to this thing?”

Having not even considered that, Ryaan suddenly feels guilty. “I hope not. It wasn’t his fault. No way he could have known that would happen.” He gets quiet for a moment, both of their attention returning to the TV. Ryaan glances toward the kitchen, hearing the water still running to tell him their dad’s still washing dishes. “Why’d you lie about me being there? I appreciate it but you didn’t need to do that.”

She shrugs, putting a hand on her chin. “You know how dad would have reacted if he found out you left us alone with Mina and then this happened, right? Not your fault, there’s no way you could have known what would happen either. If you needed the bathroom you needed it. I didn’t want you to get blamed for something stupid.”

He wants to hug his sister but she’s too far away and he’s too sore from his fight today so instead he rests a hand on her ankle for a moment and squeezes. “Thanks. Do you think Lana can keep it to herself though? She has a habit of squealing and I’ll be in more trouble for lying than if I come clean now.”

Nadia shakes her head. “I bribed her if she keeps her mouth shut for at least two months. She wants the game I promised to get her and by then we’ll be far enough out that it won’t come up.”

His sister’s a genius. The urge to hug her’s getting stronger. “I can split the cost of the game with you.”

“That goes without saying.” She smiles and kicks him again. “You’re lucky you’re a good brother. You owe us. Tomorrow you play basketball with us.”

Ryaan groans at this. The idea of getting up jumpers while his body hurts this much sounds terrible. His legs are heavy and his arms feel like rubber. He nods in agreement though.

Their dad calls for him to come into the kitchen. Nadia gives him a concerned look but he smiles and tries to reassure her. Before he leaves he does finally give her the hug he’s been wanting to provide.

Leaning against a counter in the kitchen, his dad’s shirt is soaking wet. The faucet on the kitchen sink’s broken so it sprays outward. Despite this their dad hasn’t changed his normal dish washing strategy of leaving the sink running the entire time. He waves Ryaan over to him and wraps him in a long bear hug, holding him longer than he’s ever held him. Ryaan wants to push away because of his dad’s wet shirt but decides now isn’t the time. “Thank you for keeping yourself and your sisters safe today. I was so worried.”

Ryaan pats his dad on the back a few times, pausing between each pat. “No problem dad, I’ll always look out for them.”

The man pulls him away and stares him in the eye. Twice he starts to say something but pauses. After a deep breath he says, “I feel bad bringing this up after the day you’ve had, but your teachers put your chemistry test on the online portal today. You got a C.”

He nods, looking his dad in the eye. “Sorry, I guess I was distracted with the end of the basketball season and all. I’ll be more careful.”

“That was weeks ago. That’s not the reason you struggled here. Is anything going on? We can get you a tutor if needed.”

“No!” He pulls away strongly from his dad before realizing how forcefully he did so. He can’t afford the time or the extra people watching over his shoulder right now. The time after school and before his dad gets home is his best time to go out as the Rebel. “Sorry, scary day. Seriously though, I’m fine. One bad test, I’ll turn it around. I promise.”

His dad looks him up and down, clearly wanting to say more. If ever there was a day to get a bad test score though it was today. “I want to believe that so I will today. I shouldn’t take it into account since you didn’t fail today, but I will. You get this chance to turn things around on your own. You get one chance though. If you get another test back like this I’m going to come down on you and you will be getting a tutor. Is that clear?”

All Ryaan can do is nod. His dad’s known to put grades before everything else. That he’s giving him a chance to redeem himself is huge.

“Good.” The man pulls him in for another hug, this time not letting go until his son forces his way free.

Part 6

Part 8

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 6

Pushing the man’s hand away, Ryaan’s in no mood to deal with them. He tries to stand tall, projecting as much confidence as he can muster. “Attacker’s gone. What is it with Chicago and all of these terrible names?”

Looking to his partner, Jimmy’s shoulders slump a little. “What terrible names? Hope you’re not referring to us because we’re famous. People are running around wearing Goggles because of us.”

Nodding Ryaan leans forward. “Yet if they knew what you’re really like they’d be ashamed of you. Enjoy your crappy merchandise while you can. The rest of the city’s going to figure out what you’re like soon. Our area already knows.”

Billy’s hand goes to his gun but Jimmy turns to him and casually shakes his head no. They’re in a park filled with police and cameras. Shooting down the man who just saved their lives probably wouldn’t look good. Instead he turns to Ryaan and smirks. “Fine by us, if you take off we’ll get even more of the credit.”

Snorting as he walks away, Ryaan can only grin. “Not if they have eyes. Wonder how many cameras caught your part of the fight. Spin it all you want, but if they can watch it, people are going to know you didn’t do anything. I don’t have to stand around and tell them.”

Watching over his shoulder, Ryaan’s relieved when none of the police follow him. He ducks around a corner and finds the port a potty area abandoned as most of the people around have run away or sought shelter. He slips inside and locks the door. He quickly starts stripping out of his suit, stuffing it into his backpack. The awful smell he’s locked inside with makes him hurry to get his shirt and pants back on. He doesn’t bother changing his shoes.

Slipping out, he runs toward the city which looms over them. He pulls his cell phone from his bag and tries his sister Nadia’s phone. It rings only once before going to voicemail. He starts to worry. He raced off to try and keep everyone safe, including his sisters. Did he put them in danger instead? Another call to the number gets the same result.

Trying Mina’s phone number instead, the phone rings twice before he gets an answer. “Hello?” Her voice is ragged and worn out. It sounds like she’s been running.

“Where are you all? I’m near the buildings down toward the museum.”

Mina gives him directions to a sub shop about a half mile down the road. Slipping inside, he finds the three girls gathered at a table sharing a single medium drink. He rushes to the table and wraps his little sisters in a huge hug. While their faces are facing away he turns to Mina and mouths the words, “Thank you.”

She nods but doesn’t say anything. He pulls himself away from his sisters after a moment and turns to Nadia. “Why didn’t you answer when I called?”

Reaching into her pocket, Nadia pulls out her cell phone. It’s smashed and has no power. “I got shoved to the ground when everyone ran. The first time. Landed on it. Dad’s going to be mad, isn’t he?”

Shaking his head, Ryaan takes the phone from her and looks it over. “He’s going to mostly be glad you’re okay. What did he say when you called him?” The three girls quickly glance between each other, their eyes going wide. “Wait, you did call him, right?”

Part 5

Part 7

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 5

The next few minutes pass fast. The police haul the bomb away to be analyzed. Apparently unconcerned with any other attempts at attack, the crowds are called back so the festivities can resume. Food stands are repopulated and a group’s soon playing music in the background.

Ryaan tries to slip into the crowd and change but a police officer stops him. “Hang around. We want to question you after things are finished. Nothing serious but we need to go over a few things.” The man looks him up and down. Maybe it’s his imagination but it feels like his eyes linger on every piece of exposed skin. It makes him shiver. “In the meantime, stay close. You’ll get a great view of the show as a thank you for helping.”

With the presentation now set for an hour after the original time, the crowd start growing bored. Ryaan tries to catch sight of his sisters and Mina but they’re lost in the sea of bodies. The cops around him seem more at ease as a lot of the crowd seems to have calmed down since being allowed to return. It’s almost quiet, or at least as quiet as a Chicago festival can be.

A group of men start raising a screen at the back of the stage. Something seems like it’s about to start when the national anthem starts playing over the loud speakers spread around the park. Staring toward the aquarium at the end of the pier, Ryaan can make out movement. The crowd picks up on it as well. They start turning, jumping up and down, raising children into the air. Their earlier calm vanishes, replaced by shouting and cheering. Men are high fiving each other while women hug.

Armed police officers lead the way down the carpet that’s been set up for the event, leading all the way from the aquarium to the stage. The mayor follows behind, though he keeps glancing back at the line behind him uncomfortably. Near the back of the procession, followed only by a few more officers, come the Goggle Guys, each flanked by a tall blonde woman. Neither of the women seems dressed for the occasion but then, neither do the Goggle Guys. They’re wearing the same leather nightmares they wear every other day.

Every ten feet or so one of them stops to flex or try to pump up the crowd. Every time they do the cheers get louder. Ryaan can barely stand it with his hands over his ears. The women with them are hanging off their arms. They look like twins, each almost identical in height. That means the smaller of the men, Jimmy, has a girl on his arm who towers over him, while the taller of the men, Billy, towers over his date.

When the men stop, the women don’t seem to get the hint because each time at least one of them almost trips. In the process of steadying themselves they almost fall out of the tiny shirts they’re wearing. Neither seems to mind, the grins on their faces if anything get larger.

The mayor seems fed up with it. Ryaan notices an eye roll from him as he has to stop for the fourth time, unable to get too far ahead of the rest of the group without spreading their security dangerously thin. His hand slowly taps on his shoulder as he keeps his arms crossed but the rest of the crowd doesn’t seem to notice. None of them are staring at anyone but the Goggle Guys.

A woman in an American flag bikini tries to get close enough to grab them and the men seem receptive but their security detail steps in and pushes her away. The women they’re escorting glare at the newcomer, who has to be kept back by security, and after a moment she relents and slips back into the crowd. The men resume their march to the stage.

Even having to stay close, the mayor reaches the stage long before the Goggle Guys. He waits patiently as more eyes turn toward him, no longer showing his annoyance. When they get to the stage Jimmy rushes up the four steps while Billy leaps onto the stage without even using the stairs. Their dates aren’t allowed up with them but they’re escorted to the side of the stage, not far from where Ryaan’s standing. Jimmy looks over to his date and winks, causing Ryaan to try to shrink into the crowd. His costume and mask stand out here and he doesn’t want them to notice him.

On the stage the men lock arms and do a bit of a dance to the cheers of the crowd. They separate and run to opposite ends of the stage, then run back to each other and high five in the middle of the stage. The mayor starts to say something but he’s drowned out by the roaring crowd. Unable to be heard, he makes his way to the Goggle Guys and whispers something in Jimmy’s ear. The man nods and makes a quiet down gesture to the crowd. A good chunk of the crowd listens to him. Ryaan notices Billy reach down and adjust his gun, realizing for the first time the man actually brought it with him into a crowd this size.

The mayor returns to the microphone stand in the middle of the stage grinning from ear to ear. “Hello Chicago.” The crowd roars their appreciation, though between his background and the crowd’s makeup very few of them likely voted for him. He lets them get it out for a minute, running his hand through his hair. “We’re here today to honor a pair of heroes, responsible for saving the lives of everyone in our great aquarium two days ago. These brave men stepped forward in our hour of need, risking their own lives to protect others. The group nearest the bomb were on a school field trip. Children. While I don’t want us to forget the sort of evil that would target such people, I want to make today a positive day. A day about honoring these great Americans. Let’s show them our appreciation.”

He throws his arms in the air and the Goggle Guys do the same, their stomachs hanging out as their shirts rise. The crowd doesn’t need any further encouragement. Jimmy rushes to the microphone as the mayor’s eyes go wide. “Thank you so much for the love Chicago. It means the world to us.” Ryaan can barely hear them.

The mayor fights his way past the man and gets the microphone back. He laughs as he does so but it sounds fake to Ryaan’s ears. “We appreciate all you give to us and the city loves you back. I have a bit of a surprise though.” He turns to gesture at the screen. “We have a message from a very important person who I think you’ll all be big fans of. If everyone will watch, I think you’ll be pretty happy with this.”

At first the crowd starts to get louder but then the face of President Richard Hughes appears on the screen. He’s squinting and for a moment his hand moves to shield his eyes but after a moment a huge smile spreads across his face. “Hello Chicago.”

The cheers go up and the mayor steps forward to address the crowd. “The president has agreed to join us live in order to give his thanks to our heroes today. If everyone can keep things down and allow him to speak that would be greatly appreciated.”

Chuckling, the president turns his head as if to look at the mayor but he looks the wrong way. “Thank you Mr. Mayor. Thank you to Chicago as well. I don’t want to take up too much of your celebration but I did want to thank the,” he pauses and tries to focus on something in the distance, “Goggle Guys for saving the day. I know they put themselves in danger to make sure others would be safe and that’s the mark of any real hero. From the moment I came up with the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, I knew how much potential it had to protect people. When I heard about a moment like this, I felt like I was there shielding those beautiful children from those tremendous bombs. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Polite applause follows his declaration but some people in the crowd start looking at each other with confusion on their faces. The president says, “We are going to make our communities and our cities safe and the way we do it is with vigilantes. They can get in there where police can’t and they can shut down danger.” A hand can be seen passing something to the president and suddenly he’s putting on a pair of fancy goggles. “Today we’re all Goggle Guys. And girls, some of you I’m sure are women. I’ve arranged for goggles to be handed out to everyone at your party today. They’re my gift to the people of Chicago to help us remember what saved the day today. Thank you all and God bless America.”

The camera blinks off and the crowd breaks into applause. That goes up in volume when a group of women start jogging down from the aquarium with boxes filled with goggles. Even from the far end of the crowd Ryaan can tell they’re the sort of cheap junk his school handed out to everyone the day before to celebrate the so called heroes from their neighborhood. Nothing like the expensive pair the president wore on camera.

Already Ryaan feels ill. He can only imagine what Mina’s feeling. With the city and even the president’s direct blessing, these two are going to be unstoppable going forward. There won’t be anyone standing against them. Any attacks on them or their actions will be taken as direct attacks on the president. It seemed like they could do whatever they wanted before but now they definitely will be able to.

The mayor steps to the edge of the stage, his free hand which isn’t holding a microphone extended outward. “Isn’t that exciting? We have the president coming live to Chicago to endorse how the VMUS Act is going in our city. I had a long discussion with him last night and he’s even interested in coming here to meet with some of our top vigilantes. We look forward to it. For now though, I know you didn’t all come to hear me talk. I present to you, the heroes of the hour, the Goggle Guys.”

The two repeat their running apart and then running together into a high five routine. Apparently they’ve only practiced the one move. Billy starts to move toward the microphone but Jimmy puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him away. He grabs it himself. “How’s it going Chicago?” The crowd erupts, the loudest they’ve been yet. Ryaan covers his ears again but it isn’t enough. “Chi Town! It’s our honor to be here in our home town, helping to keep the streets safe. That’s what we do all the time over in Bridgeview but it’s awesome that we happened to be walking through the aquarium on our day off when this happened. Awesome that we got to save a bunch of little kids. That’s what we’re all about. Keeping people safe. We’re going to keep on keeping people safe as long as you’ll have us. Will you have us?”

The cheering just keeps getting louder and both of the men put their hands to their ears. The mayor’s retreated to the back of the stage, whispering something to a man off to the side. Right above his head, something shoots into the screen at the back of the stage which still hasn’t been raised. The crowd notices and people start looking nervously between themselves. Ryaan tries to get a good look at it but the sun’s in his eyes and those of everyone on this side of the stage. It’s fine when you look straight ahead but looking up at where the item is makes it hard to focus.

A whistling noise fills the air and Ryaan sees a flash of red flying over his head. It’s gone in moments but he looks back to the stage and sees it again as it reaches the screen. There was some sort of line attached to it and something came sliding down. The noise stops and the red form drops to the stage. It looks to be a man in a skin tight metal suit. They’re wearing a mask which covers their entire head with only two small eye holes. The suit features black highlights throughout. It covers every inch of their body other than their eyes.

The appearance of this unknown force should be enough but seeing the sword on his hip turns Ryaan’s concern to panic. He starts to run toward the stage but feels an officer grab for his shoulder. “Stay out of this, I’m sure the Goggle Guys can handle it.”

Before they get the chance a number of bullets bounce off the man’s helmet and suit. They don’t seem to slow him down. He moves toward the Goggle Guys who both scrambled to the far side of the stage when he started to descend. The mayor’s escaped the stage and is already being lead away by a crowd of police officers. After seeing the snipers fail to do anything to him the rest of the group seems determined to watch his next move. With such a huge crowd they’re limited in what they can do.

The Goggle Guys don’t seem to have any such concerns. Billy grabs for his gun and Jimmy’s right behind him. Before either can open fire, the man in red draws his sword and lashes out. He slashes at Billy’s gun first and knocks it loose. He turns to Jimmy and slashes again but the man’s still moving forward. He gets him right in the arm, drawing blood and causing the gun to fly off the stage.

Until this point the crowd stayed relatively calm, maybe thinking this was all for show or at least thinking the authorities had things under control. They no longer seem convinced and people start to run. He hears a gunshot go off. How many of them are armed and about to start shooting wildly? Before he can consider that a voice comes over the speakers around the park. “Please refrain from firing around so many civilians. Please move as orderly as possible away from the stage.”

Some people sprint away, pushing past each other. Others try to stay orderly. A lot of the crowd doesn’t move. They seem transfixed as the man in red follows the Goggle Guys around the stage with the tip of his sword. They both keep staring at the one gun which is still on the stage but any time they make a move toward it they’re chased back. They consider jumping from the stage but there’s too many people around and nowhere to go.

The man in red with his free hand picks the microphone up from the ground. His voice sounds distorted. “Chicago, these are the sorts of men you choose to worship. Murderers, bigots, men who assault children. They are truly evil and you would forget that based upon one action which fit your needs. This is unacceptable. Every one of you who has gathered here today to worship these men is worthy of my vengeance. If you stay back though the only people I intend to have vengeance on are them.”

He drops the microphone and starts advancing again. Ryaan hates these men but he doesn’t want to see them cut down before a crowd. Before his sisters. He notices one other worrying detail. He recognized the man in red’s voice. Not specifically, he doesn’t think he knows the man. His accent’s familiar though. It’s Iraqi. It’s subtle, as if the person’s lived here a long time, but it’s close enough to his father’s accent that he’s confident in what he heard. If they’re cut down that’s one more thing they’ll try to blame on his community. If he can stop it, that’s something his community can get credit for.

He shoves the officer’s hand from his shoulder and weaves through the crowd. He worries people will think he’s in on it and open fire but by getting people between him and the cops he’s fairly certain they won’t be able to. He’s near the stage and he keeps pushing forward until he’s at the stairs. Rushing up them in two steps, he finds himself staring the man down.

“Put the sword down. There’s a lot of innocent people here who might get hurt.”

The man lunges at the Goggle Guys, causing them to stumble backward and fall to the ground. Seeing the motion and afraid he’s about to finish his attack, Ryaan draws a throwing knife and sends it right at the man’s back. It bounces away without doing any harm. With his targets momentarily not a concern, the man turns his body so he can watch both sides of the stage. He turns his head to Ryaan. “I’ve seen you. You go by the Rebel, right?”

Nodding, he puts his hand on another throwing knife. “That’s me. If you’ve watched me you know I protect people. I’m not going to let you hurt anyone.”

The man raises his sword. “I’ve seen plenty to know you don’t have what it takes to really help anyone. You could have stopped these guys a long time ago if you really wanted to. You wouldn’t so I’m left to do so. We don’t have to be enemies but if you don’t stand down we will be.”

As an answer Ryaan flicks two more knifes at the man, both of which bounce away. Running his eyes up and down the costume, the only opening he can see are the small eye holes. His knives are larger than that so he can’t get them in there. He might get the tip through but he’s not sure he’s that good an aim. Even if he is, he’s not sure he’s ready to go stabbing someone in the eye. Without another answer to stop this guy, he starts to get nervous. He rests each of his hands on another knife.

“Can’t do that. I don’t want to hurt anyone but you’re putting too many people at risk.” He turns to look at the crowd. Despite being urged to get away far too many people are still gathered. Cops have the stage surrounded but aren’t firing. What are they waiting for? “Get the crowd out of here.” Why can’t they at least make sure the civilians are safe? There’s far too many people more concerned with getting a glance at the action than protecting their lives.

“If you survive this, remember that I gave you a choice.” The man’s running at him at once, raising his sword. Ryaan circles, throwing a few more knives as he moves. The man moves his sword fast enough to knock most out of the air. They weren’t aimed at anything they’d get through anyway but apparently he’s not taking chances.

“This isn’t a game.”

“You’re absolutely right. I take this far more seriously than any game. Any risk to people today is more than made up for by the lives which will be improved by taking these two out of the picture.”

“That’s not your call.”

The man crouches slightly, his armored suit showing it moves easily. “That’s not up to you.” He turns back toward the Goggle Guys. Moving toward them, Jimmy shoves Billy into the man’s legs. Not expecting him to be so low, the man can’t react in time and has to leap to avoid tripping over them. Billy goes for the gun, now on the far side of the stage.

The red armored attacker turns to swing his sword again, about to plunge it into Jimmy. Ryaan rushes forward, pulling his staff free as he runs. If his knives can’t hurt this guy he’s going to have to try something else. The sword comes down but Ryaan manages to step under it just in time, deflecting it with his staff. The man stumbles back but stays on his feet. Gathering himself, he swings again. Ryaan steps in with his staff gripped between both hands, ready to block the shot again.

His staff splits right down the middle, cleaved in half by the heavy sword. His block deflects the blow well enough that he avoids being cut in half but only barely. Glancing desperately between the pieces of staff in each hand, Ryaan starts moving away. Jimmy’s had time to get to his feet and scramble behind Billy who recovered his gun. Fighting alongside these two makes him ill but the alternative isn’t any better.

Opening fire, Billy starts aiming at his attacker. The bullets bounce away with no effect. Ryaan turns to the man, throwing his hands up. “Careful where you’re shooting, those aren’t doing anything and you might hit someone in the crowd.” If anything being told what to do by the Rebel makes Billy start firing faster. If there wasn’t a bigger threat he worries the bullets would be aimed at him.

Moving both sides of his staff into one hand, Ryaan tries another knife, aiming for the hand the sword’s clasped in. If he can’t get away he can at least try to disarm the man. It bounces away as well. His gloves are as tough as the rest of his suit. Every minute they buy matters. Sirens can be heard in the distance and glancing around the edge of the park, the roads are lined with flashing red and blue lights. Eventually they’re going to overwhelm this guy.

With the man in red rushing the Goggle Guys again, Ryaan nervously steps between them, hoping he’s not going to get a bullet in the back as a thank you. They’re the targets and every moment he can stop this guy from getting to them is time for more help to arrive.

Red targets suddenly appear on the man in red. Ryaan’s first thought is sniper fire but bullets don’t appear. Instead a whistling sound cuts through the air and small hooks stick to the man’s suit. He looks down at them, not overly concerned. Ryaan backs away, unsure what’s happening. Then they start to blow up.

The explosions are small, contained, but they’re forceful enough that the air from them knocks Ryaan further back. He tumbles to the ground, trying to keep his staff in his hands. He ends up at the feet of the Goggle Guys. The man in red gets it worse. He’s thrown through the air, landing in a heap on the ground. He quickly gets back to his feet with his armor undamaged. Whoever this is though, they’re able to push him back.

He turns to face them while Ryaan’s still trying to get to his feet. Billy takes the moment to kick him forward, almost sending him sprawling again. The man points at the Goggle Guys, almost ignoring Ryaan. “My crimson cry will be your end. You get a reprieve for the moment but only for the moment.” He runs to the screen at the back of the stage where whatever he shot into it’s still sticking out of the screen. He pulls something loose from his waist and attaches it to the cable. In seconds he’s shooting up the cord, hanging on tight. Several officers try to shoot him as he zips back up the line but their bullets continue to do nothing.

He ends up on a nearby roof. A lot of the cops give chase, running in the direction of the building. Seeing a chance to slip away, Ryaan starts to run toward the port a potties, hoping for a chance to slide out of his costume and back into his regular clothes which are stashed in his backpack. He feels a weight on the bag and turns to find Jimmy holding onto it. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Part 4

Part 6

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 4

“Attention everyone in Millennium Park. The ceremony to honor our vigilante heroes the Goggle Guys is being delayed for a short time as a few issues with our presentation need to be worked out. We ask that everyone move to the far end of the park while things are handled. Officers will guide you. Please move quickly but stay calm and avoid any pushing or shoving.”

The crowd starts to grow restless as the police lead them away. Ryaan Asfour barely takes his eyes away from the countdown on the bomb in front of him. He’s gathered with a group of police officers as the bomb squad tries to disarm it before it can blow them all away. When he looks at anything else he scans the crowd for any sign of his sisters or his friend Mina. If something happens he’ll feel especially responsible for her. She’s only here today because he asked her to be. She wanted to stay as far away as possible.

There’s a part of him that feels guilty about stopping this. The Goggle Guys are going to be on that stage at some point behind honored if the stage doesn’t blow up. If someone wanted to take a shot at them, they might have a good reason. These guys are the worst of the worst, using the power the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act gives them to torment people. He’s been on the end of their torment himself as has Mina. They haven’t earned a death sentence though and as much as he’d like to see them gone, using a bomb in a public park’s far too dangerous. He still doesn’t know how dangerous this bomb even is. It looks dangerous.

One of the cops turns to him. “You should probably clear out of here kid. Thanks for the tip but if that goes up, we don’t know how big the blast’s going to be.”

He shakes his head, crossing his arms. “Which means there’s no guarantee I can get far enough away if I wanted to. Might as well stay and see what comes of this. Hopefully your bomb squad has time.”

The clock goes under two minutes. The officer wipes his forehead with a napkin. “You might not be able to get far enough, but you might. Why not try?”

“Are you running?” When the man shakes his head, Ryaan says, “Then I’m staying too. Hopefully if it goes off it doesn’t work. We’re going to find out soon.”

They watch the clock nervously, staying silent as it ticks under one minute. They’re a good hundred feet away but Ryaan starts to wonder if he should be even further. He glances behind him to see how much open park there is, how far he could run. If the timer gets under ten second he vows to at least drop to the ground and cover his head. When the timer hits the thirty six second mark it stops. Cheers go up from the small crowd and people pat each other on the back.

Part 3

Part 5

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 3

The train ride’s bumpy and all four of them are thrilled when they finally reach the stop closest to Millennium Park. Climbing the filthy stairs to the street, Ryaan holds Lana’s hand tight while holding his backpack over his opposite shoulder. It’s filled with all the gear he couldn’t wear without giving himself away.

Reaching the street, they’re immediately swept up in a crowd heading toward the park. The streets are closed and people fill not only the sidewalks but the road as well. The three girls stay close to him. Looking through the crowd he notices that there’s almost nobody who looks like them here. Most of their neighborhood doesn’t seem to be on the same page as his dad.

Pushing beyond the downtown buildings, they’re forced toward the park where they have a great view of Lake Michigan. The place is packed full with vendors and stands all over the place. Near the entrance a man with dark glasses and a support cane’s trying to sell shirts with the Goggle Guys’ pictures on them. They seem to be going fast. When she sees them Mina cringes and pulls away.

Across the road from the park Ryaan sees a diverse crowd gathered holding signs protesting both the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act but more specifically the Goggle Guys. He hopes he’ll recognize someone in the group but none of them look familiar. A cry goes up every few seconds, “No justice, no equality, vigilante law can’t bring us peace.” A few police officers are protecting the group but a ring of those celebrating the festival have gathered around and are trying to drown them out with cries of their own. One of the counter protesters throws a soda at the group which splashes them. A police officer escorts him away but lets him leave as soon as he exits the crowd.

Their attention’s pulled away when Lana sees a food cart selling carnival treats and rushes there yelling about wanting an elephant ear. The rest follow, desperate not to lose her in the crowd.

All four of them get a snack. Lana’s enjoying her elephant ear that’s bigger than her head. Mina grabbed a thing of donut holes on sticks. Nadia grabbed a grape snow cone while Ryaan went with a corn dog. They walk around enjoying the food while exploring.

The mayor went all out for this. Food vendors are everywhere and beer’s flowing from designated booths. Country music blares from a nearby stage and a huge crowd’s gathered around it dancing along. Ryaan doesn’t recognize the singer but a lot of people here are wearing shirts with his face on them. Ryaan starts to wonder whether the real attraction here is the Goggle Guys or the music.

The aquarium’s visible in the distance, standing watch over everything and keeping everyone focused on why they’re here. A path between the popular attraction and the park is lined with the families of the kids who were at the aquarium yesterday. Ryaan walks up to one of them in a baseball hat with a giant beard. “What’s going on with the line?”

With a look of suspicion, the man raises an eyebrow. “This is where the vigilantes are coming from when the ceremony starts. They’re going to honor them in a half hour. Why do you want to know?”

“No reason, just curious I guess.” Before the man can ask any further questions Ryaan slips into the crowd, pulling the girls after him. Nadia and Mina look uncomfortable though Lana seems to be having a great time. That is until she has to use a bathroom and finds the only options at the festival are port a potties. The rest of the group stand guard outside while she loudly complains about the smell.

Their next stop’s the stage. It’s a flat platform about five feet off the ground with some quickly erected metal stairs leading to it. Draped with a flag that goes all the way over and around the stage, he can’t figure out what its made of. A podium and microphone sit at the front while several giant American flag banners wave proudly above. One of them has a picture of a flag with eyeballs wearing aviator goggles. His stomach churns when he sees it and he’s not sure if it’s from the sight or the corn dog.

Pulling them closer, Lana wants to find a view near the stage. Mina puts a hand on her shoulder. “I think we’re close enough Lana. We can see from here.”

Stomping her feet, Lana throws her head back and lets out a mini howl. “I can’t. I’m shorter than you. Let’s go to the front.”

Ryaan’s about to jump in but before he can Nadia kneels down to get eye level with her younger sister. “I’m sure Ryaan will hold you up when things start. We don’t want to be rude and push people who were here before us out of the way.”

The park’s full of easily spotted security guards today but looking around the area, Ryaan notices there aren’t many near the stage. The area’s not that busy with the speeches still half an hour from starting but he can only make out one guard anywhere near the stage and they’re busy working crowd control.

People throughout the crowd are holding up flag banners of their own as well as signs proclaiming their love for the Goggle Guys. He doesn’t see anyone openly against them here which is probably a good thing. This crowd would descend on anyone who isn’t on their side.

Watching the group, Ryaan notices someone with dark black hair getting to their feet on the other side of the stage. Something about that seems wrong. He can’t make out where they came from and it’s possible they were laying in the grass, or maybe they leaned down to pick something up and Ryaan didn’t notice it. He doesn’t remember seeing them walk up to the stage though. Putting his hands in his pockets, they slowly makes their way away. Other than the hair he can’t make out much but they seems like one of the only people in the group who isn’t white.

He should let it go. He’s here to enjoy the festival with his family. Strange looks have followed them throughout the crowd but nobody’s been openly rude and carnival food and games make almost anything better. This isn’t his problem. He looks down at his sisters though and he knows that’s not the case. That could have been something serious. Probably nothing but he needs to make sure.

Leaning down to Mina and Nadia, he taps them both on the shoulder. “I need to run to the restroom, keep and eye on Lana. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Nadia nods but Mina continues to stare at him. Once Nadia stops paying attention he gives her a small nod to confirm something’s going on. She closes her eyes and grabs Lana by the shoulder but doesn’t say anything.

Changing in a place like this is going to be difficult. He searches for any privacy but the closest buildings are too far. He can’t reach them and get back for at least fifteen minutes and by then things will be getting ready to start. The solution presents itself but he isn’t happy about it. Those same portable toilets Lana used lock and he’s changed in one before so he knows he can manage it.

Climbing inside, this seems smaller than the last time he changed in a port a potty. The walls are closing in and the awful smells don’t help. He resists the urge to investigate what he’s smelling. He doesn’t want to know even if there’s a sort of morbid curiosity. Banging an elbow trying to get his shirt off causes a yelp and he hopes nobody thinks to investigate.

Knives slide into the various slots he’s carved out throughout his suit to hold them. His holster for his staff goes over his shoulder and the staff slides into place. Unwilling to leave his bag sitting here and knowing there’s nowhere else safe, Ryaan can only throw it over his shoulder and hope it doesn’t get in the way.

Emerging into air he can actually breathe, he expects to find even more eyes on him. Strangely, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Pushing through the crowd, nobody gives the masked man with knives the time of day. It probably helps that with his costume on not much of his skin’s visible. Someone would have to look closely at his hands to notice.

Even a few minutes closer to the Goggle Guys’ arrival, the stage is largely unguarded. One more guard did show up but they’re also on crowd control as the people in the front are being pressured to move up until they’re practically hanging on the stage. The guards are focused on keeping the walkway clear so the guests of honor will be able to get through.

Moving around the stage is easy but he doesn’t get too close. He’s not ready to draw attention to himself and he’s enjoying the anonymity. He scans the crowd for any sign of the girls but there’s too many tall people around. They don’t stand out wherever they are. Once he’s behind the stage he searches the area he saw the mysterious stranger emerge from but nothing gets his attention. Sneaking closer, he sees a few people in the crowd watching him but none of them seem that focused.

Reaching the stage, he doesn’t see any way up or anything interesting but the flag curtain that covers the entire thing reaches the ground. He kneels down and lifts to see underneath.

He freezes. Right under the center of the stage he sees a device with a clock on it. It’s ticking down and has twenty one minutes remaining. The device it’s attached to looks like some sort of metal box. He’s not an expert but that looks like a bomb to him. He starts to crawl through the grass to reach the device but stops himself. What’s he doing? He’s not a bomb expert and he can’t defuse the thing. He wouldn’t even dare to touch it.

Climbing out from under the stage and standing he sees the cheering crowd before him. Sweat’s pouring from his face under the mask, causing the cheap plastic to stick to him.

Every instinct he has says to run. He wants to find the girls and get them as far away from here as possible. Who knows how many people might get hurt though. Who knows if they can even get far enough away in time. He doesn’t know what this thing does. Should he get away and anyone notices then they’re Muslims seen running from a bombing site. That won’t end well.

Screaming and telling everyone to run doesn’t sound any better though. People will panic. They’ll be trampled underfoot. He needs to keep calm and make smart decisions. There’s over twenty minutes left. There’s still time to stop this if he keeps his head on straight. Searching the crowd for police officers doesn’t do much. The security guards seem busy but he notices they each have a radio on their hip. Maybe they can reach somebody in time.

He rounds the stage and comes up on one of the guards from behind. Tapping the man on the shoulder he almost jumps out of his clothes. Turning around red faced, the man puts a finger in Ryaan’s face and starts to speak but then notices the mask. “Who the hell are you? You aren’t supposed to be back here. Get back into the crowd.”

The man grabs for his shoulder but Ryaan pulls his arm back and puts it up. “I need to talk to you sir. Can we step away from the crowd for a moment?”

“I have a crowd of hundreds that’s growing by the second, I don’t have time to sneak off so you can tell me something. Nobody’s supposed to be behind me.”

Reaching for him again, Ryaan wants to shove him away but lets the hand land on his shoulder, hoping the man will listen if he gives him some control. Lying might help too. “Listen to me for one minute. That’s all I ask. I’m a registered vigilante and I discovered something. I don’t want to yell it out because I don’t want to panic the crowd. It’s serious though. Why don’t you follow me behind the stage.”

“I can’t leave here and I’m not following you anywhere. Whatever you have to say, you can whisper it to me but that’s it.”

With no alternative Ryaan puts his face inches from the man’s ear. “There’s something under the stage that I think is a bomb. It’s on a timer. We need to get the police here right away.”

The man’s eyes go wide. He marches around the stage without another word, Ryaan right in tow. Lifting the covering, he looks under it and the color drains from his face. Fumbling for his radio, he manages to press the button. “This is Davidson on stage duty, there’s something under the stage. We need to get the bomb squad in here now. Someone tell the mayor and the speakers to stay put. Over.”

Part 2

Part 4

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 2

Over dinner Ryaan can’t stop staring at his sister. Should he tell her? Being the Rebel has been easy recently. This could be a massive change. Having someone to talk with would be nice though. Mina’s great but she isn’t here and they mostly text. The crush he’s been developing on her complicates what he wants to share as well. Because someone could easily find one of their phones they can’t write anything specific which further limits how much he can tell her. Beyond that, there are certain things he doesn’t want to tell anyone but maybe he should. How it feels when you snap someone’s head aside with a staff, or how his hand slipped and his knife went a few inches to the right last week. That wasn’t a problem but if it’d been a few inches to the left he may have killed a man. He compensated by scaling back how often he uses his knives but doing that at the wrong time could get him killed.

More than anything there’s the fear Mrs. Grant will come back into their lives. Nobody’s showed up to reveal to the world that he’s a vigilante and despite watching over their shoulders for the last month nobody has come after either him or Mina. He followed the advice of Officer Alvarez and sent her a note promising to reveal her if she came after him. She knows who they are though and until she’s out of the picture he’s going to worry.

Nadia’s chicken and biscuits are good. The biscuits are a little overcooked but the sauce does a nice job of softening them. Their dad ignores this and snaps into them as they are but everyone else seems to be enjoying them too. Finishing a story about her history class, Nadia turns to her brother and seems to notice him staring. “Everything okay?”

Shaking his head back and forth to snap himself out of it, Ryaan blinks a few times. “Sorry, kind of distracted tonight. Big day at school.”

Dad leans forward and stares at Ryaan. “Are you getting enough sleep?”

“Ya, I’m great dad. Long week but I’ve got all weekend to catch up.”

Leaning back, their dad’s head leans to one side as he seems to be processing something. “Get your test back yet? Its not uploaded to the web site.”

The web site he’s referring to is a place where teachers at his school upload their test scores and grades for parents to keep an eye on. A kid trying to hide their grades’ nightmare. Ryaan’s glad to hear they aren’t up yet. If they aren’t up now they likely won’t be until Monday. A stay of execution. “Not yet, maybe they’ll upload them over the weekend. If not we’ll probably get them back Monday.”

Analyzing his son’s face, the man lets it go. “What are you planning this weekend?”

“Dunno, was thinking of maybe getting a game in with the guys on the basketball team. Jesse’s been talking about putting together a weekly game so we can get better.”

“What about the big party downtown tomorrow?”

It takes a minute for Ryaan to realize what his father’s talking about. It comes over him and his jaw drops. “You know what that’s about, right?”

With her mouth still full of food, Lana goes wide eyes and looks to her dad. “I want to go to a party. Can we go dad?”

He nods before turning back to Ryaan. “It’s for those vigilantes who saved all the kids. They work around here, the neighborhood should go out to support them.”

“I don’t think so dad. You’ve heard about these guys, right? We’ve talked about them before. They harass a lot of families, they tried to make someone kiss their gun recently. Why would we want to support them?”

“I’ve told you before I don’t want to hear talk like that. People do the best they can. Maybe they aren’t perfect but why would they be risking their lives if they didn’t want to help? If they have problems with us, we need to show them why they’re wrong. How can they have problems with us when we’re there cheering them on?”

“Dad, I’m— not—”

Dad raises his hand in the air and the table goes quiet. “This isn’t open to further debate. You will take your sisters to the party and support these men. We are part of this community, never forget that.”

Screaming in his head, Ryaan wants to stand and let his father have it. He wants to jump up from the table and storm to his room. That’s sure to lead to another grounding though and if he’s grounded he can’t be the Rebel. He can’t protect his neighborhood from the people his dad’s demanding he honor. Instead he shuts his mouth and finishes his chicken. Making an excuse about having to finish his homework he excuses himself from the table and heads upstairs.

Shutting his door, he puts his headphones on and blasts the Rolling Stones as loud as they go. He throws himself face down on his bed. He feels his phone buzz and sees it’s an email. It gives him an idea. He almost sends a text but decides this is something he can’t ask in a text.

Mina picks up her phone on the third ring. “What’s up, are you going out tonight? You didn’t say anything earlier.”

She sounds out of breath and her nerves make him feel nervous. “No, think I’ll take tonight off. I actually have something to ask you though. Something I completely understand if you need to say no to but it’d be a huge help.”

All he can hear on the line is her breathing for a few seconds. “You’re kind of scaring me. What’s up?”

“Well, my dad’s making me take my sister’s to the festival at Millennium Park tomorrow. For you know who.”

“WHAT!” Ryaan pulls the phone away from his head but he’s not fast enough to avoid ringing in his ear. He can hear her in the background apologizing to her parents and telling them there’s nothing to worry about. When she returns to the phone she’s barely speaking above a whisper. “What? Why? Why would he possibly do that?”

“He thinks the community needs to support them. I know it’s crazy but he didn’t give me a choice. I can’t get grounded again so I’ll have to go.”

“You want me to go with you, don’t you?”

“Well, I mean, maybe…” He clutches his phone tightly, his knuckles turning white. “I know it’s a lot to ask and you hate them, but this place is going to be a target. So many people hate vigilantes. I might need to get involved but I can’t do that if I have to watch my sisters. I could really use your help.”

Her breathing’s heavy and Ryaan’s almost certain she’s going to say no. “We could just say we went and find something else to do. How are you getting there?”

“Train probably. I can’t do that though. Lana can’t keep a secret to save her life. She’ll tell my dad the second we get back about what we did. I have to go. You don’t though. I shouldn’t even ask but I could really use your help.”

“I guess I can’t tell my parents about what happened to me after all, at least not yet. They’d never let me go.”

He hesitates, not wanting to assume her answer. “Is that a yes then?”

“It’s a yes. You owe me so big.”

Part 1

Part 3

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 1

His dad’s going to kill him. Looking down at his chemistry test, Ryaan Asfour can’t take his eyes off the large, “C,” circled several times in red pen. It’s easily the worst grade he’s gotten this year. When his dad checks the web portal to see his newest grades and sees it he’s likely to end up grounded, again.

Something had to go wrong. Things have gone too smoothly the last few weeks. He’s settled into a routine that’s helped him consistently get out in the neighborhood and try to keep it safe. People have started talking about the guy in the green mask. It’s still a weird wrestling mask that looks awful but if his friend Mina does what she’s promised his costume’s going to be a lot better very soon.

Chemistry class is dismissed and he’s excited to get to lunch. Today’s taco day and he’s starving. Caught in the stampede out the door, Ryaan almost doesn’t hear his teacher say, “Can you stay behind for a minute Ryaan?” He considers pretending not to hear her and getting out but with a sigh he peels away from the pack and walks to his teacher’s desk.

“What’s up?”

Her eyebrows go up but she doesn’t say anything about his address. “I wanted to check in after that test. That’s your lowest score ever. By a lot. One C isn’t the end of the world but I’m used to you pulling in way better grades. Anything going on at home?”

Cringing, Ryaan doesn’t want to get his dad involved. “Thanks for asking but I’m okay. Struggled a little with the thermodynamic stuff but I think I’ll be good going forward.”

She frowns. “If you think so that’s fine, but we have an excellent tutoring program if you’re interested. It’s helped a lot of students who needed an extra boost. You have another test coming up at the start of next week and it’s a big one.”

“I’ll be okay. I’m going to put more time into studying.”

She seems to realize he isn’t going to take the bait so he’s dismissed with a warning to study harder. Ryaan usually would stuff his bag in his locker before lunch but there’s no time. The lines for the taco bar are already going to be huge. Charging toward the lunch room, he turns the corner to the seating area and his jaw drops.

Hundreds of students are separated into their little cliques at various tables. Almost all of them have a set of goggles either on their head or sitting on the table next to them. A large, cheerful hall monitor sees Ryaan coming and jogs over to press a pair into his hand. Turning them over a few times, they’re a cheap plastic set but they’re definitely goggles. The monitor’s already moved onto other students entering the cafeteria so Ryaan follows, tacos now the furthest thing from his mind. “Hold on, what’s with all the goggles?”

The large man has goggles running up and down his arms. A box overflowing with them sits on the floor a few feet away. “It’s Goggle weekend, the mayor made the announcement a few hours ago. We’re honoring the Goggle Guys. They saved the aquarium yesterday.”

Lost for words, Ryaan stands there staring at the man. He has to shake his head, wondering if this is a dream. Can he mean the Goggle Guys? The same ones from their neighborhood? The same fools who inspired him to become a vigilante because they were doing such an awful job? He starts to walk away before turning back. “To be clear, you mean the Goggle Guys from around here? Pair of guys wearing aviator goggles, tons of leather, always have shotguns on them?”

Grinning ear to hear the man says, “They’re the ones. That’s why the school decided to celebrate today. Not very often we get to celebrate local celebrities in Bridgeview.” The man digs through his pocket and pulls out a crumpled page from the morning paper. This was in the paper? He really needs to start paying more attention to the news. Unfolding the page he reads:

Hundreds of students on a field trip were saved from certain death yesterday when local vigilantes the Goggle Guys located a bomb set to explode at Shield Aquarium. Authorities are investigating the bomb but so far have no leads.

The Goggled vigilantes were at the aquarium enjoying the exhibits but their leader Jimmy was still ready to take action when they noticed something seemed off. “We don’t get days off. That’s okay I guess, we brought our guns for a reason. We’d have blown right up along with everyone else. Important thing is everyone’s safe and sound.”

Mayor Blaze has declared this weekend Goggle Weekend and will be honoring the heroes at a special festival in Millennium Park Saturday afternoon.

President Hughes tweeted his support for the pair. When asked about it during a meeting with the press last night he said, “Terrible that people would target a place where families have gone to spend a nice day with their kids. We’ll find whoever’s behind this. I’m giving the authorities in Chicago whatever they need. Terrible as it is, this is another example of how the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act works. Those men were prepared and able to help in time to avoid disaster.”

He’s read enough and hands the paper back to the hall monitor who already is back to tossing goggles at students. Turning them over in his hands, something seems off. “Don’t they wear aviator goggles? These are swimming goggles.”

The man shrugs and keeps handing them out. Between students he tries to juggle the goggles but keeps dropping them on the floor. “Aviator goggles are expensive. We’re on a budget. We want to get the point across, not spend a fortune.”

The line for tacos stretches twenty students deep by the time he gets there and too much of his lunch period’s already wasted. Not hungry at this point, Ryaan shuffles over to the empty pizza line and grabs a slice of cheese pizza. After paying he scans the cafeteria for his basketball teammates and finds them sitting at a table in the back corner by the fire exit. A few seats remain at their table so he plops his trey down at one and slumps into a seat. The sight of every one of them having a taco platter makes his stomach grumble. He knew his hunger would return.

Of the six guys sitting here only two are wearing their goggles. Three pairs are tossed on the table while one of his teammates doesn’t seem to have a pair. His friend Jesse’s got his pair on and he looks at Ryaan’s pizza. “Since when don’t you get tacos man?”

He shrugs. “Line was too long. Why are you wearing those things?

Taking the goggles off, Jesse spins them on his finger. “Dunno, they were free. Did you hear what these guys did? Someone was gonna blow up the aquarium and they stopped it. Someone told me they blew through three guys.”

James, one of their senior teammates throws a piece of lettuce at Jesse. “Don’t go spreading that, the news didn’t say anything about blowing through anyone.”

Jesse grabs the lettuce and tosses it back. “You believe everything the news tells you man? They keep a lot of stuff quiet. Probably don’t want people to know how dangerous it was. We’re lucky the vigilantes were there.”

Biting into his pizza, the crust is so grease soaked that it actually squishes. The cheese has a nice crust at least. Ryaan wants to push it away but he’s too hungry for that. “What do you all know about these guys? They’re always running around my neighborhood and I’ve heard nothing good. Apparently they’re harassing a lot of people and shoving guns in people’s faces.”

Shrugging, Jesse tears into his tacos. With a mouth full he says, “Can’t believe everything you hear. These guys may not be angels but I’m glad they’re around. Better than hundreds of people blowing up. They’re heroes.”

Awkward looks circle the table. James runs his hands through his long hair and shakes his head. “Man, I’ve heard too much for it to be nothing. Someone down the street from me was stopped and frisked because they looked suspicious. They weren’t doing anything but the guys still threatened them before letting them go. Of course they were middle eastern.”

“Hold on,” Jesse says. “I ran into them a couple weeks ago and they were cool to me. I think you’re all blowing this up.”

Finishing his tacos, James starts to get up, snorting as he does so. “Of course you wouldn’t, you’re never going to have trouble with them. These guys are bad news though.” Walking away, Ryaan notices he doesn’t take a pair of goggles with him.

Jesse looks back and forth between his remaining teammates with confusion painted on his face. “How do you guys know they’re bad? Have you seen them? Have they done anything to you or anyone you know well?”

Tossing his goggles on the table, Ryaan starts picking the toppings off the pizza since the rest isn’t edible. “I have actually. They hit me with their gun after threatening me. A girl I know was chased into an alley and they wanted to feel her up. These guys are gross and its gross people are celebrating them because they did one good thing.”

Silence fills the table. People at the closest tables to them shut up as well and Ryaan can feel their eyes on him. Jesse’s jaw drops and he puts his hand over his face. “I’m sorry dude, I didn’t know. That’s messed up. Who’s the girl?”

He looks at the ground. “Not my place to say, that’s her story.”

“Fair enough man, is she okay though?”

Is she okay? He hasn’t even thought of how Mina must be handling this. She’s terrified of these guys and now their school’s a shrine to them. He stands and grabs the remainder of his food. “She’s alright, but remember who these guys are.”

Darting away from his table, Ryaan searches the cafeteria for any sign of Mina. She has a group of friends she usually eats lunch with but when he finds them she’s not there. He ducks down at the end of the table. “Any of you seen Mina?”

A tall blonde freshman smiles at him, flashing a set of colorful braces. “She was in class earlier but I haven’t seen her since lunch started. Maybe she went home sick?”

Another girl at the table shakes her head. “Seemed fine last period.”

Nobody knows where she is so Ryaan thanks them and heads out of the cafeteria. Pulling out his phone he decides to text her.

Where are you?

It doesn’t take long to get a reply.

Leave me alone.

Where are you?

I’m in the girls room, leave me alone.

Come talk to me.

No.

Meet me near Bushman’s class.

There’s no further response which he takes as acceptance. He walks to Mr. Bushman’s class and waits outside. A hall monitor walks by and gives him a smile but they don’t bother him. Mina doesn’t show up after a few minutes. He considers texting her again right when he sees her pass by the next hall over. She’s unable to resist glancing his way and when she sees him waiting her shoulders dip and she throws her head back. Ryaan jogs down the hall to catch her.

Deciding not to run, Mina waits for him but crosses her arms while doing so. “I told you to leave me alone Ryaan.”

Coming to a stop, Ryan puts his hands up in a show of surrender. “I know, and I will. First I want to make sure you’re okay though. When I saw all the goggles I thought about how you’d be doing and then you weren’t at your normal table.”

“Well I don’t much feel like sitting around celebrating those jerks. Figured you’d get that.”

“Absolutely, I didn’t either. You know what they did to me. I can’t even imagine those guys stopping a bombing.”

Closing her eyes, a small smile forms on Mina’s face. “The only way I can see it is if the big one sat on it.”

They both laugh but it doesn’t last long. “Are you handling things okay? Any problems with other vigilantes lately? Things are running smooth but you haven’t told me much.”

“You haven’t asked.”

“I’m asking now.”

Sighing deeply, tears start to form around the edges of Mina’s eyes. “Well I’ve had like five nightmares about them. I’m afraid to go home any way except on the bus. Even then I see them at least once a week and feel like I have to run every time. If they notice me though they’ll use that as another reason I’m suspicious. I don’t know what to do. I can’t talk to my parents about it without telling how you helped me. I don’t know who I can talk to.”

He wants to hug her but they don’t have that sort of relationship. Instead he pats her on the shoulder which feels more awkward. “You can talk to me. If you want to talk to your parents you should do that too. Don’t worry about them figuring out who I am. Don’t tell them if you don’t have to but that’s really my problem to worry about.”

Uncrossing her arms, Mina wipes the last tears from her face. “What if I was to talk to Nadia about it? I don’t want to make things weird for you but she’s one of my best friends and I know she won’t sell me out.”

“If that works for you then talk to her. Nadia’s a good listener.”

Mina frowns. “I know she is. Mostly I’m afraid she’d figure out you’re the vigilante who saved me. Especially with us talking a lot lately.”

“She doesn’t know that, we mostly do it by text or here at school. The only time we hung out anywhere else she came along and my dad made me go. Even if she figures it out, that’s for me to deal with. Might not be the worst thing.”

Mina’s eyes go wide and she looks like she wants to jump up and down, smiling for the first time since they started talking. She grabs him by the shoulders but when she realizes she’s done so her hands shoot back and go rigid at her sides. Her grin doesn’t go anywhere. “You should tell her. You should totally tell her. She wouldn’t sell you out and she can help with your dad. Plus then you’d have someone to talk about this with.”

“I have you.”

Blushing, Mina looks down at the floor. “That’s sweet, but you need someone else to talk with. She’s a good choice. At least think about it.”

Bells ringing signal the end of lunch. They’re on the clock with only five minutes to reach their next classes. Ryaan promises to consider her suggestion before the pair say an awkward goodbye and head to their next classes. Should he let his sister know what he’s doing? He’s terrified she’d run to their dad but she’s kept secrets for him before. If he’s going to take a risk on anyone, she might be the best choice.

Part 2

Rebel Rebel Vol. 1 Define Success Part 21

As soon as the police go running out of her warehouse Mrs. Grant gets down to business. “You idiots have a lot of work to do. We need to get all of the product out of this warehouse in the next fifteen minutes. They may come back. Technically with that idiot,” she says gesturing to the man who was stabbed, “getting attacked, this is a crime scene. Plus, the kid might show them the pictures he took if they catch him. We can’t take any chances.”

Four of her five men, including the injured one, start tearing open crates and digging drugs out. The fifth runs outside to pull their transport truck up to the side door so they can load it and get out of here. Walking back in he starts directing traffic. “Don’t forget the broken crates. There needs to be nothing here that proves anything. If they come back, this needs to be nothing but flower storage.”

Mrs. Grant goes into her office and shuts the door behind her. She takes a deep breath and circles her desk. Pulling a bottle of gin out of the bottom drawer, she pours herself a small paper cup full and downs it in one drink.

She sits and picks up her phone. She dials a number she knows by heart and is glad when the call’s answered quickly. “I know it’s late but this can’t wait. Two of your officers stumbled upon my warehouse tonight. Someone broke in and they may have found some evidence, which they may give to your officers. In case those officers come back, I’m getting this place completely clean. They may not come back and if they do they won’t find anything. If they push this though, I need you to kill it. Do you understand?”

After listening to the voice on the other side of the line for a moment she says, “Look, you owe me. You know I can put you out of your job if I need to. Don’t make me do that. The product will all be secured at one of our other facilities. I’ll ship flowers over there in a few days and we’ll get it all packed back up. It won’t mess up our timeline at all.” Waiting on the voice on the other end of the line, she pours another glass. “You won’t have to tell her. I’ll do it myself. She’s my next call.”

Hanging up the phone, Mrs. Grant pours herself a third glass of gin. She drinks this glass in one gulp as well before picking the phone back up. Finally she dials and waits for an answer. After a moment she says, “Hello ma’am, I hope you’re having a good night. I’m sorry to bother you so late but we may have a minor issue and I wanted you to hear it from me. Someone snuck into our main facility tonight and they may have found evidence of what we’re doing. It’d only be evidence of drugs and nothing that can be linked back to you or anyone else in power but I wanted you to know.”

The other voice starts in and yells so loud Mrs. Grant has to pull the phone away from her ear. Once the other voice stops she says, “I understand why you’re upset. I should have protected things better. I take full responsibility. I don’t know that we need to take action against the person who broke in. Even if he takes it to the police, I’ve already squashed it. We’ll have no trouble there. I think they may leave us alone going forward, they probably think they’ve already done all they can. Going after them could lead back to us though.”

The voice again starts in and after a moment Mrs. Grant ends the call by saying, “I understand, I’ll send their information over to you. Look it over and let us know what you want to do. We’ll handle them any way you decide. Have a wonderful night.”

Part 20

Volume 2 Heroes of the City coming January 16th, 2019.

Rebel Rebel Vol. 1 Define Success Part 20

A short text to his dad saying he found his debit card and he’ll be home soon is his first order of business. Once that’s done, Ryaan Asfour gives Mina a call. She answers her phone on the first ring. Talking way too fast she says, “I’m so glad you’re okay. What happened? How’d it go down? Tell me everything.”

So he does. Mina hangs on every word. She audibly gasps when he tells her he got caught by Mrs. Grant. She worries when he mentions the woman knows who he is. She’s excited when he tells her how the cops believed him and let him go. “Alvarez sounds cool. Can I meet her?”

“I don’t want anyone to meet her. I don’t want to meet her again. I am going to give you her email in case Mrs. Grant comes after me though. Only use it for that. Please don’t email her because you think she’s cool.”

Mina clearly doesn’t like it but she agrees. By the time he finishes his story, he’s turning onto his street. “I’m almost home, I need to go before I get there. My dad’s probably going to be mad because I took so long. I’m going to lay low for a little bit, at least until I’m sure nobody’s coming after me. We did some good for the neighborhood though. It may not be enough but at least the cops will be watching her. That’s going to make it harder to move her product. I’ll see you at school.”

Saying their goodbyes, Ryaan hangs up the phone in time to walk up to the house where his dad’s waiting on the porch. “Hey dad, sorry it took me so long to get back?”

Standing from his chair, his dad crosses the porch with his hands on his hips. “It’s been over two hours Ryaan. It only took you an hour earlier. Where have you been?”

A lie comes to his lips far too easily. “I went right to the flower shop dad. It took so long because the cops showed up. Apparently there was a fight or something in their warehouse.”

His dad’s anger fades away, morphing into concern. “The police? Is everyone okay? Are you okay?”

He puts his hands up to show he’s not injured. “I’m fine dad. Really. They just wouldn’t let anyone go until they asked us all some questions. I think everyone’s fine. Cops might have arrested someone back in the warehouse, I don’t know the details. Just that there was some sort of commotion. Before that started I got my card back though, so that’s one bit of good news.”

His dad walks over to him and puts a strong hand on his shoulder. It’s still hurting but he fights off a cringe. “Look, I know I’ve been hard on you lately. Maybe I haven’t been fair. I don’t know how to deal with you giving me trouble though. You kids have always been great but lately you’re staying out late, not calling when you’re supposed to, I get worried. I have to do this on my own Ryaan. It’s a lot harder than I thought it’d be. I’m trying.” His face doesn’t reveal much but his eyes blink a few times in rapid succession which he only does when he’s nervous.

“I get it dad. It’s alright. I’m going to go hang out in my room.” He motions toward the house.

“I have a better idea. What if I were to end your grounding? I just have two conditions.”

Busting out laughing, he can’t answer his dad when he asks what’s so funny. He doesn’t know. Things just seem to be breaking his way tonight. “Sounds good to me. What are the conditions?”

“First, you still come straight home from school for the next two weeks. You can go out later if you want but I want to see you until dinner. Does that sound fair to you?”

He shrugs. “Sure, better than being grounded. What’s second?”

“You’ve been promising for weeks to help your sisters with their shots and you haven’t done so yet. I want you to do it. Tomorrow. Actually, I have a third condition too. We all spend the rest of tonight as a family. We’ll play a game or something.”

It stings to hear he’s been letting his sisters down but he knows his dad’s right. “I’ve just had a lot going on, but I’ll make sure to help them. You have a deal.”

Walking into the house, his little sister Lana runs up to him excited. “I found a spot in my room for the flowers you got me. Want to come see? Please?”

Picking his little sister up, he spins her around as she lets out a light yelp, a giant smile dominating her face. “I’d love to. I need to make sure my gift’s in a spot where everyone can see it.”

Looking around, his other sister Nadia’s sitting on the computer. His dad sits at the kitchen table, crossing his arms. “Hurry up and have your look. Nadia, get off the computer, we’re all going to play a game.”

Nadia looks up. “Can we play Catan?”

Scoffing, their dad says, “I don’t understand that game. We’ll play Monopoly.”

Lana stops her mad dash to her room. “Why don’t we play Chutes and Ladders. That’s my favorite.”

Ryaan asks, “Why don’t we play Apples to Apples?” This gets a groan out of the whole family. He grins and follows Lana to her room. They’ll probably spend half the night figuring out what game to play but that’s half the fun with his family.

Part 19

Part 21