THE TEAM MEETING • by Teresa Koeppel

“I’m pretty sure my little Crystal has been Called,” Kate said mournfully, stirring her tea with a honey swizzle stick.

The Team made little sympathetic noises tinged with surprise, and Lady Vengeance patted Kate’s hand and gave a compassionate head-tilt.

Captain Tiger buried his face in his teacup. His own son had been Called recently, and the young hero had spent the past months taking his father on a wild roller-coaster ride with his newfound powers, eventually resulting in a drunk-driving arrest. The Calling was often fraught with danger, as The Team knew all too well.

“She’s so young,” The Flying Terror said with disbelief and then immediately fluttered her small plump hands in nervousness as if surprised at having spoken aloud.

“I know,” Kate agreed. “She’s only nine. I shouldn’t be dealing with this yet. Not till she’s a teenager, right?”

The Team nodded in agreement, their heads bobbing in colorful unison.

“Maybe,” Samuel America said, “you’ve misread the signs?”

Captain Tiger looked hopeful and bit into a blueberry scone.

Kate waved away the thought with a dismissive gesture. “She’s been throwing ninja stars for days now. The drywall in her room is probably going to collapse into dust considering all the holes she’s made. And she won’t tell me where the shuriken are coming from.”

Captain Tiger looked as though the scone had turned to ashes in his mouth.

Water Lad nodded. “Yeah, she’s probably been Called. Have you asked her about it?”

“Of course,” Kate said defensively. “I’ve tried to drop hints. ‘Where are you getting those weapons?’   ‘Are you a ninja?’   ‘Have you ever heard of The Way of the Ancient Order?’ But she just draws that hoodie of hers even closer around her and acts as though she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”

Lady Vengeance made a brisk tsk-ing sound. “Now, Night Ninja, this was going to happen eventually. We all knew it. A bright girl like Crystal was going to get Called, so there’s no use crying over it. After all, not everyone turned out like Captain Tiger’s delinquent.” Captain Tiger gave a choked cry and coughed scone crumbs onto the kitchen table, and Lady Vengeance shot him a silencing glare. “Well, it’s just a fact, Captain Tiger. After all, look at my Justin. He was Called three years ago, and he’s been a model hero ever since. He goes by Sir Retribution now, and his father and I couldn’t be prouder. You are The Night Ninja, Kate, so just pull it together. Crystal will make an excellent hero.” She looked around the table, daring The Team to disagree. None of them did, although Captain Tiger coughed again in what sounded like a vague protest.

The Flying Terror spoke up, her jowls jiggling as her reedy voice gained in strength. “This is the way of things, as we well know. We pass into middle age, and the younger generation gets Called. It is our job to ensure that they do not fail their Calling, that the world remains safe under their care as it continues to remain safe under ours.”

The Team stared at her in surprise. The Flying Terror rarely spoke so much. She blushed prettily, shedding pounds and years for a brief moment under the scrutiny, and then hastily started munching on a donut.

Kate sighed. “You’re right,” she said, giving The Flying Terror a weak smile. “I just wasn’t ready for this right now.”

“Hey, Night Ninja,” Water Lad said, his blue glove slipping over her hand protectively, “we’re a team. We’re The Team. And we’re here for you. Lady Vengeance is right–Crystal is going to be a great hero.”

The Team nodded in unison, their faces a picture of love and affection as they stared at their comrade in black who looked suddenly small and frail in her distress.

“I don’t know what I would do without you guys,” Kate said.

The front door slammed, and The Team started in surprise.

“She’s home early,” Kate whispered, and there was a flurry of activity as The Team collectively leapt towards the kitchen door. Kate reached for the bathrobe hung over the pantry door and drew it closed over her form-fitting black catsuit. “See you guys next Tuesday,” she called softly to the mish-mosh of spandex and capes that was currently squeezing its brightly-colored self through the back door. A rainbow of hands waved goodbye and then The Team was out in the backyard, flying and darting and stumbling away through the hedges.

Crystal entered the kitchen, her hoodie pulled low over her brow, her backpack slung heavily over her shoulder.

“You’re home early,” Kate said.

“Someone pulled the fire alarm, so we got a half-day,” her daughter replied, glancing at Captain Tiger’s half-eaten scone. “Were you having a party?”

“Not really. Bridge group.”

Crystal nodded, her eyes growing distant. She cocked her head as if she were listening intently to some unseen person.

“Mom, can we go to the zoo this afternoon? It’s important.”

“Oh? Why?”

“What?” Crystal said. “Oh, right. It’s… um… it’s for school. I have a… a project.”

“Let me just change,” Kate said agreeably. Crystal had definitely been Called. And the gods only knew what problems lay at the zoo that needed her daughter’s small hands and shuriken–but they were Crystal’s secrets and Crystal’s adventures now. She headed up to her bedroom to change clothes. In the depths of her dresser was the box of shuriken that had led to her own Calling so many years ago. She pulled it out and brushed the warm cedar lightly with her fingers, flipping it open with a quick flick of her wrist. Inside were the shining ninja stars, the beautiful shuriken, that she had once carried everywhere. After a pause, she slipped a few into her belt-case. After all, she was still The Night Ninja.

“Mom?” Crystal called impatiently.

“Coming,” she replied. My little Ninja Girl, she added to herself with a smile.

Teresa Koeppel is a fledgling writer and superhero living in Connecticut with her husband, who shares her love of fighting crime and eating scones.

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