“Well that settles it, Miss Liberty. I’ll tell Vigilante and Street Ronin your new handle, and they’ll make sure to leak it to the Press.”
“The hell you will!” Jenny knows Red Shift is joking, but the constant needling is starting to get to her. It doesn’t help that she’s going stir crazy: the bunker wasn’t designed to hold three metahumans, especially when two of them have spent the last two weeks training. The entire place smells like a gym, and the rest of the bunker feels cramped since the main living space was converted into a sparring room. “I’m not refusing to take a name, I just can’t think of one.”
They’re all sitting around the little table in the kitchen drinking coffee: Red Shift and Jenny sit across from each other—something they’ve been doing more and more, as their teacher/student relationship grows steadily more adversarial, and CB sits a bit back from the table, an amused spectator, watching them exchange barbs.
“It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to your situation, Miss Liberty, but we’re running out of time. Eventually you’re going to go into the field, and when that happens you don’t want me calling you ‘Miss Forrest’ while we’re fighting the bad guys.”
“I get it,” Jenny says, “really. I get it. And it’s not like I haven’t been trying, but I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound stupid, or wrong, or both.”
“It can be a pretty big step,” Red Shift agrees. “Sometimes it’s a matter of trying something for a while, just to see if it works. The danger is that if you don’t establish a name before the Press picks one for you… well, usually the one they pick sticks. Remember our previous conversation about ‘Desire.’”
“Yeah,” Jenny grumbles.
“And if the Press comes up with a name for you,” CB adds, “you’re screwed.”
“Why me, specifically?” Jenny asks. “I thought they were universally bad at this.”
“Not really,” Red Shift says. “They’re the ones who named me. I suppose I got lucky—they zeroed in on the red glow that my force field creates when it’s discharging energy as I run, conflated it with some half-remembered facts about the Doppler Effect, and the result was a name that I didn’t hate.”
“But he’s a guy,” CB points out. “You will get screwed. You are an attractive young woman with superpowers, and I promise you one of two things will happen: if they know who you are, and that Liberty was your great-grandfather, they will call you Miss Liberty and that will be that. If they don’t know who you are, they will come up with a name that objectifies you so hard that any time the papers write anything about you, half the column will be devoted to what you were wearing at the time and whether it ‘worked.’”
“I hate that,” Jenny says.
“Well I don’t blame you,” CB says. “So I’m going to agree with Red on this one: come up with a name.”
Jenny stares down at the table.
CB narrows his eyes. He leans forward, elbows resting on the edge of the table, and watches her carefully. “Jenny.”
Jenny looks up guardedly.
“Do you want to be the next Liberty?”
Red Shift raises an eyebrow.
Jenny stares at CB, expression blank. “What?”
“Do you want to be the next Liberty? Honest answer.”
Jenny looks back down at the table.
“You need to decide that before you decide anything else,” CB says. “Look, I don’t really think we’re going to be able to build a ‘secret identity’ for you—too many people know you’re traveling with me, too many people know you’re related to Alex, and your abilities are a little too on the nose for people not to make the connection.”
“Yeah.” Jenny keeps staring at the table. Her voice is tight and unhappy.
“The Press is going to go with Miss Liberty because it’s just too obvious not to use. They’ll go with ‘Miss’ Liberty because one, they’re still mostly a pack of sexist assholes, and two, it’s a little too soon to be passing on the name for most people. But you could decide to pick up the torch on your own, if you wanted. You could claim the name—just ‘Liberty,’ no ‘Miss’—and you could probably make it stick. If you wanted.”
Jenny doesn’t answer.
Red Shift looks from CB to Jenny, and nods thoughtfully. “Could work. It would be polarizing.”
“It would be very polarizing,” CB agrees. “Some people will love the idea of his great-granddaughter picking up the name, others will hate it. But Jenny—look, I don’t have any experience with legacies, OK? But you’ve got one, and it’s a hell of a thing. You have to figure out how you want to approach that, and the first step is to decide whether you want to take up his cause. Because if you take his name, Jenny, you damn well better take up his cause.”
“I don’t…” Jenny shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be Liberty.”
“OK,” CB says. “So who do you want to be?”
“Don’t think about this from an adult’s perspective,” CB says. “Think back to when the Guardians were still doing their thing—you were, what? Eleven? Twelve? You ever think about what your life would be like if you were in the group?”
Jenny blushes slightly.
“Well what did you think of? Who did you see yourself as?”
“Doesn’t work,” Jenny says. “I always wanted to be like Gladiator. Powered suit. High-tech gadgets. I came up with names like ‘Aegis’ and ‘Silicon Justice’ and ’Möbius.’ None of those really—”
CB bursts out laughing. Jenny’s blush deepens.
“Sorry,” CB says. “But there’s already an ‘Aegis’ and ‘Silicon Justice’ sounds like a Crossfire reject.”
“And ’Möbius’ is a villain’s name,” Red Shift says. He’s deliberately not smiling, which Jenny finds somehow more uncomfortable than CB’s undisguised mirth.
“He was a German mathematician!” Jenny protests.
“That just makes it more villainous,” Red Shift says. “German name plus metahuman plus post World War II equals villain. Unless you’re actually from Germany. Then it’s all right.”
“That’s completely unfair,” Jenny says.
“Yep,” CB says. “Still a villain’s name, though. On the other hand, it’s definitely a boss villain. You’d be the one in charge… at least, you would until we showed up to kick your ass and put you in jail.”
“I still don’t see how Möbius is a—”
CB presses on, ignoring Jenny’s protest completely. “Look, thinking up a hero or villain name is a lot like thinking up a name for a band. It doesn’t always matter what the words really mean—you’re essentially labeling your sound, and that label will be affected by how people perceive that label. When I turned hero I was able to keep using ‘Curveball’ because my ‘sound’ didn’t really change. I just switched record labels.”
Jenny rolls her eyes. “You would figure out a way to make this about music…”
“Hey, it works. A band tries to create a sound and an image that people respond to and the wrong name can hurt that. I mean, if the Beatles called themselves ‘We Can’t Play’ it wouldn’t have worked in the 60s.” CB breaks into a grin. “Might have worked in the 90s, though.”
“Well that’s settled,” Jenny says. “I’ll just hop onto the web and look for one of those random band name generators. Problem solved.”
Red Shift and CB laugh.
“They have superhero name generators too, you know.” Red Shift nods gravely. “Street Ronin stumbled across one once, and we wasted three days clicking the refresh button over and over again. My favorite was Commander Rapid Catman.”
CB chokes on his coffee.
“There were also a lot of names with variants of ‘fist’ in it. Stone Fist—which is actually being used, I think. The Crimson Fist…”
“Villain name,” CB says.
“Villain organization,” Red Shift says.
“Yeah, OK, I can see that.”
“Final Fist almost worked, but we decided it sounded more like a video game title. Master Fist and Fist Master sounded like cartoon villains…”
“This isn’t helping,” Jenny says. “Once I start laughing there’s no going back.”
“OK, OK,” Red Shift says. “I’ll be good.”
“You don’t want to be Liberty. You’re not comfortable with taking up his mantle, and that’s fine. So maybe we don’t choose a name linked with an ideology. We’ll focus on your abilities. What do you do?”
“What Liberty did,” Red Shift says. “She’s pretty much right where he was in terms of strength and reflexes.”
“OK,” CB says. “So Jenny, you basically put world-class athletes to shame. And you put athletes who use performance enhancing drugs to shame.”
“Apex,” Red Shift suggests.
“No way,” CB says. “That name is—”
“Cursed?” Red Shift shakes his head. “Didn’t think you were that superstitious.”
“Five guys with that name,” CB says. “All dead within a year. It’s the Scottish Play of hero names.”
Jenny wrinkles her nose in disdain. “I think it’s a bit over the top. I mean I’d basically be calling myself ‘the highest point.’ How much more arrogant can you get?”
“Of course it’s arrogant,” Red Shift says. “That’s the point. There’s no such thing as a modest hero name.”
“He’s right,” CB says. “You never hear about ‘Polite Man’ and ‘No, After You’ teaming up to rid the streets of crime.”
“So arrogant is good,” Jenny says.
“Regiment,” CB says. “Guy named himself after an entire freaking army.”
“What about ‘Athena?’ Greek goddess of war, wisdom, and justice. I could get behind that.”
“Athena is an excellent name,” Red Shift says. “If you’re OK with being sued.”
Jenny narrows her eyes. “Why would I get sued?”
“Yeah…” CB shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, as it turns out, there are two entertainment companies who create…”
“…entertainment…” Red Shift supplies.
“Right,” CB says. “Entertainment. About godlike beings in capes and spandex who go around saving the day.”
“They’re very protective of their properties,” Red Shift says. “And if you’re interested in operating in even a semi-legitimate capacity, you do not want them targeting you.”
Jenny shakes her head. “You guys get sued by comic books?”
“Very protective of their property,” Red Shift repeats.
“And one of those properties is a woman of Greek origin. She’s not Athena, but comparisons will be made—and they’ll sue you in a heartbeat.”
“They’d lose,” Jenny says.
“You’d run out of money first.”
“Why would they even care? They don’t do anything with that character.”
“No they don’t,” CB says. “And they spend a lot of time making sure absolutely nobody else will, either.”
“Fine!” Jenny throws up her hands. “I give up. No Athena. So I need to choose a grandiose name that will resonate with people that isn’t cursed and that won’t get me sued.”
CB thinks it over. “Yeah,” he says. “That pretty much sums it up.”
They lapse into silence again. Jenny stares into her now-empty cup of coffee and restlessly drums her fingers on the table. Red Shift watches her, looking almost serenely patient. CB gets up and claims the last of the coffee.
“The problem is I don’t have a ‘sound,’” Jenny says.
CB tilts his head to one side. “Who’s making this about music now?”
“I am,” Jenny says. “Don’t change the subject. My name is Jennifer Adele Forrest. It has been all of my life. When I think of who I am, and what I represent, that’s the name I come up with, time after time. A woman who’s spent a lot of time trying to become really good at her job. A job she loves. A career she just torpedoed because some asshole murdered her—”
She breaks off then, ducking down as her voice catches.
“My sound is who I was before this happened. I’m a blank slate. Five, ten years from now I might be like my great-grandfather was. Or I might be an unpredictable pain in the ass like you, CB. Or I might be a surprisingly likable but ultimately really terrifying monster like you, Red Shift. No offense.”
“None taken,” Red Shift says.
“The point is, there is nothing about me to base a name on. I don’t have a cause, I don’t have a theme, I don’t have a context, and I’m not going to use my great-grandfather’s just because we’re related. He deserves better than that.”
She stands up, chair scraping loudly against the floor as she sets her coffee cup on the table with a loud clack. “Call me ‘Zero,’” she says. “Got that? Zero. That works as well as anything else.”
She storms out of the room. A moment later, they hear the door to her room slam shut.
Red Shift and CB sit in silence. CB sips at his coffee.
Red Shift pushes his coffee cup away and turns to CB. “I thought she was too young for Schoolhouse Rock.”
“She is,” CB says.
They lapse into silence again.