I skimmed in low over the black water at almost midnight. Despite the number of ships, there was still a path for a Storm Rider cloud surfing into New York City. I had never been here before, though everyone knew that skyline.
I made land easily enough, going right up to the property as indicated by my phone’s GPS, which clearly marked out “Wally’s Pad” in bright, festive letters. I let my board dissipate, the breeze enough to disperse it without more mass, and knocked on Wally’s back door. I had expected a large number of people here, but it was quiet.
After a few moments, Wally opened the door. Instead of his usual business suit, which were all tailor-made to repel the onslaught of the storms, he wore a polo shirt and loose jeans, his feet bare.
“Hey, Reilly, thanks for coming,” he smiled.
“Yeah. I guess I’m early. I expected more people to be here by now.”
Wally shrugged and waved me in.
He gave me the tour of his place, which was enormous, but then he had made a killing on the stock market. He gave me a couple of good tips and offered to help me with some investments after showing me his home theater.
I was a bit overwhelmed, not just because of the size and wealth of the place, but because he was a Storm Rider. I hadn’t been back to my fleabag apartment in weeks. I spent my time in hotels, too exhausted to ride lightning home after defusing a tornado over Topeka, St. Louis, or Des Moines.
Wally led me out back again, where we kicked back in some lounge chairs by the pool, looking at the Manhattan skyline. Since he lived on Staten Island, we had a great view of Lower Manhattan. He offered me an ice-cold beer from an ice-filled steel tub.
“Great view, huh?”
“Yeah. Bet this doesn’t get old. Hey, where’s everyone else?”
“Never does. I love it. You ever been here before?”
I shook my head.
Why didn’t he answer my question?
“I’ll show you some highlights, tomorrow, unless you need to get back.”
“Weather’s pretty calm in Tornado Alley. I can take a day. So where is everyone? They’re missing the beers.”
“Good. Good.” He nodded, still looking at the skyline.
“You see that one?” He gestured at the tallest building closest to us. I could recognize the Chrysler Building easy enough, and the Empire State was decked out in Red, White, and Blue, but I didn’t immediately know the squarish building he pointed out.
It does look familiar, though.
“That’s what’s here, now. I like it, but it feels wrong to me.”
“There should be two, next to each other.”
Oh. That’s the building they put up to replace . . .
“No one else is coming, Reilly. I can get the newbies here, sure. But everyone else knows it’s not really a party for me.”
“Why. . . . ?” I faltered.
“I was right here. Well, I was inside. But I was here when it happened. I saw it on TV. Well, I didn’t know it happened at first. I was too busy looking at the stock ticker, but I caught the replay. Then I rushed out here and watched. And that was when the second plane hit.”
He drained the rest of his beer, and grabbed a second one.
“You know, we can do some pretty amazing shit. Ride lightning, surf clouds, even bend the wind into knots however we choose.” He used a bit of windwalking to twist off the top to his bottle and took a swig.
“But I stood here watching. The second plane hit, and I couldn’t do a fucking thing about it. I mean, really, what the hell good are our powers against that? For a few minutes I thought about going over and seeing if I could put out the fire, but I’m not a Hothead. I can’t do anything to fire, directly. And throwing wind would just make it worse, more oxygen for the fire. Lightning wouldn’t do a damn thing, and it’s not like I could perform mass rescue operations. So I stood here, like an idiot, watching it because I couldn’t do anything else.”
He took another swig, then blindly passed me another beer. I took a quick swig.
“And they came down, and I felt like even more of an idiot. I had friends in there. I had used offices in there. I used to laugh as I took a morning commute via lightning bolt. That giant antenna was perfect for me to send a bolt too. Since it was so close, it didn’t even need to be high powered, and most people missed it if they blinked. News would sometimes call it a static discharge because it wasn’t big enough to be normal lightning. I was just skipping the subway.”
He smiled, and I returned it, but the mood was still somber.
“I just . . . you know, Reilly, we can do some fucking amazing things. But we’re not gods. We can fix things wrong with the weather, but we can’t fix everything. And on that day, I watched real heroes go to work. The FDNY charged in, with no powers, no nothing, and saved the day. People donated blood, donated their shops, their lunches, everything, to help out on that day.”
He sniffed, and I could see silent tears rolling down his cheeks. He wiped them away, only for them to be replaced by more, following the same path down.
I looked back at the tower, where once two stood.
“Think I can get an FDNY hat tomorrow?” I asked.
“You’re God-damned right you can,” he grinned, and clinked my bottle.