... Martha remembers:
She's twelve, and sparring with her father in the Owl's Nest. It's been a rough and bruising session, because they're trying something new, but she's riding high on adrenalin and pride, and not minding it at all. Not much, anyway.
Pain means she's alive, unlike her brother, Mathew.
"Okay, and stop," her father says, putting his hands down and smiling at her: "How are you doing? Do you feel like you can go on?"
"I can," she says, rubbing her arms.
"Are you sure?" he asks, raising an eyebrow: "I don't want to break you."
"Okay then. But first, a question."
She sighs, hopefully not too audibly. He always does this to her, between workouts. If she answers wrong then he makes her change, read something appropriate from the Bible, and then go do her homework for an hour or two.
"Yes sir," she says, standing up as straight as she can.
"You're in pursuit of a criminal, and civilians have mistaken you for the criminal you're after. They're all over you, and not listening, and he's getting away. What do you do?"
She blinks. That's not something they've ever talked about.
"Um... I'd ask them to let me go one more time, and then..." she stammers, unsure.
"He's getting away, Martha," her father says, looming over her and speaking in that scary, booming voice he uses when he's in uniform: "You don't have time to think-"
"I'd beat them off me, and then continue pursuit," she says, quickly: "I can't let him get away."
Her father looks at her, and sighs, and she realizes she's made a mistake.
"You can't do that, Martha," he says, putting a hand on her shoulder, and getting her to look him in the eyes: "We protect the public. If we hurt the public, then we're no better than the people we're defending them against. You want to get away from them with as little damage as possible."
"I don't know how to do that, yet," she protests, weakly.
"No, but that needs to be your first impulse, honey. I'll show you how the next time we train."
Her eyes fills with tears, and he pretends not to see them: "In the meantime, I think you should read... hmm... "
"I think she's right, actually," someone announces from across the room, walking closer. Someone she does not recognize, at least not right away.
Martha immediately assumes a self-defense stance, ready to attack the person who's somehow invaded the Owl's Nest, and wondering why her father isn't doing the same.
"Don't tell me you did it again?" her father says, crossing his arms as the stranger walks closer.
"I told you, Joe. I have the greatest respect for your mission, but your security system needs some serious !@#$ing work."
"Ahem," her father says, indicating Martha.
"Oh, sorry kid. I keep forgetting I gotta keep it clean in here."
The stranger walks closer. He's large, well-built, and wearing a black leather uniform. As soon as he gets into the light, she sees he's wearing an eyepatch over one eye, and has a glass eye in the other.
And then she remembers him. He was at her brother's funeral, for a time. They weren't introduced.
"Are you SPYGOD?" she asks, relaxing her stance a little.
"That would be me," he says, smiling: "And I think I won my bet with your father, again."
"Is that the only reason you're in town?" her dad asks, walking up to him to shake his hand.
"Well, I wanted some real pizza, too, " SPYGOD answers, laughing and clapping her dad on the shoulder.
"Pie, (REDACTED)," Joe laughs: "It's pie here in Chicago. Someday I'll teach you that."
"Maybe someday," the glass eye winks: "And I did have a few other reasons for dropping by. I didn't get a chance to talk at the funeral, and it wasn't the right time anyway..."
Her father looks at SPYGOD, SPYGOD looks at Martha, nods, and looks back: "Still isn't," he says.
"Not here, anyway," her dad says, trying to smile: "But while I've got you here, SPYGOD, maybe you can help us reason out something."
"What might that be?"
"I presume you heard the entire conversation that Martha and I were just having about public safety and fleeing criminals," he says, walking towards his daughter: "If you were training my daughter the way you train your Agents, then how would you want her to answer the question?"
"You sure you want me to do that, Joe?" SPYGOD asks, putting his hands behind his back: "It's bad enough I showed up your security system. I don't want to make a hash of your ethics lessons, too."
"Try me," her dad says, clapping his daughter on the shoulders and walking off to the side: "I wouldn't be training her to be the Talon if I didn't think she could handle it."
"Well, okay," SPYGOD says, walking closer and looking down at Martha: "Dang, kid. You're four foot nothing and weigh about as much as that pizza... that pie I was going to have, tonight. You ready to kick criminal !@#$ for your hometown?"
"Ready, sir," Martha says, remembering the funeral they don't want to talk about, and her brother's face in the casket, and the oath she took not long thereafter. Somehow SPYGOD doesn't seem as sure of himself, anymore.
"Well, then let me give you some advice," he says, reaching to pull out a cigarette, only to be *coughed* at her father, and then abandon the idea: "You're pretty lucky. Unlike most people I oversee, you've got your whole family in on the team. There's someone there to pick up the baton if you fall, and, well... yeah., I guess I don't need to remind you of that, do I?"
(Martha tries not to tear up at that.)
"But there will be times when you may be all alone. There may be no assistant to come get you, no group to call for help, no wandering hero to team up with. There may be a time when someone's life depends on you catching that criminal, or maybe the whole city. !@... er, heck, the whole world might need you to save it, someday.
"And if you fail? If you fall? All your knowledge goes down with you. The answers are all down for the count, and even the best of your allies and friends might not be able to solve the case in time.
"And that means that innocent people pay the price. The bomb goes off. Hostages die. The water supply gets filled with cyanide. Whatever crazy garbage the idiots you're chasing have planned happen.
"And you're lying in a ditch, or a hospital ward, somewhere, and can't do a darn thing to stop it.
"So you need to remember that the mission comes first. Always. And if that means you have to beat down a few civilians who don't read the darn newspapers, and can't tell the Talon from the Troublemaker, then so be it."
"And what if they're policemen?" her father asks from across the room: "Two beat cops, late at night? They've got you in your sights, and if you try to beat them down, bullets are going to be fired, and someone is going to get killed."
"Then you overpower them as quickly as possible, and send them flowers in the hospital," SPYGOD says, without missing a beat: "I remember this one time-"
"Not possible," her dad says: "Bystanders are in the shooting zone. If you move, they fire. If they fire, they're going to hit innocents."
"Well, then you kill them before they can shoot," SPYGOD says: "Quickly, efficiently. You can apologize later."
Martha blinks. The two men look at each other, and her father nods.
"Martha, I need to talk to SPYGOD about something that's strictly between us, as men," her dad says: "Homework, and then... Colossians, I think. 3:12 to 17. It might help."
"Yes, sir," Martha says, nodding to him, and then looking at SPYGOD.
"Are you Christian, sir?" she asks.
"Martha!" her dad exclaims, shocked that she'd be so rude.
"The answer's classified, young Talon," SPYGOD replies, winking at her: "But if I might suggest some readings? Romans 13. Whole !@#$ thing."
"Sir?" Martha asks, looking at her dad. He sighs and nods: "Homework, young lady. We'll talk about manners later."
With that, Martha wisely heads off to shower and change, not stopping to look back for fear of seeing two grown men argue over the word of God.
Later, when her father comes up to her room to see how she's doing, she doesn't get the expected lecture. He asks her what she thought of the two things she read, and seems satisfied with both her answers, and her confusion.
"Well, let me put it to you this way," he says, sitting down on her bed and look at her: "Do you remember what I told you about how the government looks into what superheroes do?"
"Yes. They have them all under orders, and can come in and tell them what to do at any time. They can even tell them to stop."
"That's right. And you know that the man who was just downstairs is the person who makes those decisions?"
She gulps: "I... I didn't get us into trouble, did I?"
"Oh no," her dad says, smiling: "Everything's fine. We have a special understanding with him. We always have. It goes back to the days of my Grandfather, who you never met. You see, when SPYGOD was growing up, as a child, he was a big fan of The Owl. He cut clippings out of the newspaper when he made the news out East, and just loved him.
"So when they met during World War II, when my grandfather helped train him and the first superheroes America made, it was like a dream come true. And when they made The COMPANY, and put SPYGOD in charge, he promised him that we'd be a special case. Can you guess why?"
"Is it because we're Christian?"
"No. And you always want to remember that just because someone disagrees with you, it's not because they're not Christian. Being Christian is between you and the Lord, but what really matters is what you do with other people, and what's in your heart. So maybe we shouldn't ask people who they pray to when we disagree with them?"
"Yes, sir," Martha says, properly chastised.
"I think the reason he trusts us is because we're a family. Reading between the lines, I think he came from a big family, himself. And when you're in a family, you look out for each other, and keep each other on the straight and narrow. Because you love your family like yourself."
"So why is he willing to kill people like that?" Martha asks: "The whole world is one family."
"That's right. And I'm glad to hear you think of it that way. But he..."
Her father looks like he's about to say something, and then looks askance, and doesn't.
"Dad?" Martha asks, getting up from her chair and walking to him: "What is it?"
"He walks a darker path than most of us, honey," her dad says, taking her hands in his: "He sees things we pray we never have to see, and does things that we never want to hear about. I think it's changed him. I fear for his soul, sometimes. But he is a good man, under all of that. I just wish I could help him the way he's helped us."
"Maybe I can pray for him?"
"I think that would be a wonderful thing," her father says, taking her in his arms and hugging her tightly: "Just don't tell him, okay? He gets a little weird about that."
"Yes, sir," she says: "He goes right on the list, right after..."
She doesn't say it. She doesn't have to. He smiles and nods, and just knows.
The next time she sees SPYGOD is a few months later, when she officially puts on the uniform and becomes the Talon. He's there at the handover ceremony, at the Owl's Nest.
(This time he doesn't succeed in sneaking in.)
"So, did you think about Romans?" he asks her, shaking her hand.
"I did, sir," she says: "And I think I have to go with life rather than death."
"Really?" he says, kneeling down so he can look up at her: "Every time?"
"Well, the Owl Line can get me out of most pile-ups, and screechers can paralyze most policemen before they fire."
"I hope so," he says, tapping her on the forehead: "But just remember. If you ever run out of tricks and toys, and the world's leaning on you? You have to go with the needs of the many over the few, or the one."
She raises an eyebrow, just like her dad does: "You got that from a movie."
"That's classified, kid," he chuckles, slapping her on the shoulder: "Go make me proud."
As he walks away to talk with her younger cousin, Rachel -- who's clearly upset about something -- she wonders why she'd want to make him proud, rather than her father and family. But as the years go on, and they encounter each other again and again, she realizes that it's actually a good thing that he's proud of her. Good, but sad.
For she realizes that he's on the outside, in the dark, looking in at a brighter world that he cannot be a part of, anymore.
And now, at this moment -- with death staring her and Kaitlyn in the face, and not nearly as many tricks and toys as she'd like -- she realizes that the darkness has come upon her, and she must put the many over the one, or the few.
God forgive me, she thinks, wondering how she'll send flowers, and to what hospital.
(SPYGOD is listening to Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky, by way of William Orbit) and having that shake, !@#$ it)