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art by Melissa Mead


Bill Glover has the usual collection of strange jobs and odd interests that you would expect from a writer and confirmed geek. He has published one very geeky nonfiction book about RFID as well as fantasy, horror, and science fiction short stories which are more fun to read, but just as geeky. He is currently writing a historical science fiction web serial, The Farthest Legion, at thefarthestlegion.com. It's narrated by an ancient geek.

"All things come round to him who will but wait." --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So here I sit, staring at a small portion of baked chicken with a side of carrots and potatoes in some sort of vinegary sauce. I have been coming to these things for ten years, and they always serve chicken, and always there is some odd flavored but nonetheless bland sauce on the vegetables.
I look up from my plate in time to see Captain Power make his way to the podium for the opening speech. The Nth Man, current president of the Society for Persons of Power (SPP), manages to help our founder and chairman emeritus up the low step with decorum. There's a long pause while Power shuffles his notes, so I take the opportunity to dump my chicken off onto the Checked Avenger's plate. He hasn't been eating well lately, and I try to be a good sidekick even if he's rarely aware I exist. When I first hooked-up with the Avenger last year, I had hoped that with his metaphysical bent and some time we might make a good team. But his powers are limited, and my own special ability is just too pervasive. About now I should probably explain that yes, the Checked Avenger does have a partner, a sidekick, but it's not common knowledge because of my own power. My power is the ability to be unnoticed, not invisible, not hidden, simply unremembered and unremarked. My name is Edward Smith. I'm toying with calling myself "Unremark-Ed" but it would only be for my own amusement.
"Good evening, and welcome, defenders of justice, to our twenty-third awards banquet." Captain Power's voice booms across the room without the aid of a microphone. His once imposing, but now wasted, frame seems to have surrendered all of its strength to that rich voice. He can pull off a phrase like "defenders of justice" even in days like these, and no one feels like snickering. "While we gather the ballots for the SPP Defender of the Year, I want to take a few moments to thank some very special people among us and share some of the highlights in what has been a difficult, but inspirational, year for us all."
The Nth Man, one of the wait staff, comes by and picks up our attendance and voting form. We fill them out every year. He grabs mine with the others since my power doesn't extend to paperwork. Whereas my mother and father and the family dog might not recall I exist between visits, the I.R.S. and various junk mail lists seem to know me well. I'm even in the phone book.
"Let me start by thanking the Nth Man for providing the catering, wait staff, and security this evening. I have to say he is worth any ten of us, however many of him there are at the moment." That draws the expected chuckle from the audience and Power lets it roll just long enough before frowning and gripping the podium, his eyebrows drawn together with gravity and concern. "I don't have to tell this group of people what a trying year it has been, what a devastating year." He gestures to the three wreaths in empty chairs on the stage. "We have lost dear friends, and others have suffered hurts that will not soon heal. But it is not for us to dwell on loss, my friends. It is ours to set things right and to help when others are hopeless. And for his very embodiment of that ideal, I would like to award this years Best Newcomer award to someone who not only arrived in the time of need and did what had to be done, but was in fact summoned by this need itself from beyond our world. I present this year's Best Newcomer award to the Checked Avenger."
The Avenger isn't much for displays of emotion, but I can tell he is surprised from the way his eyes widen. He rises, nodding to well wishers and somberly shaking hands as he walks to the podium. Even among this crowd he stands out. His dignity and refined, race-blended features make what would have been a shabby checked shirt and jeans into robes of office. When the murders began last year, and the Boston cab drivers began to disappear one-by-one, their terrified, multi-ethnic prayers for deliverance summoned help somehow in the form of the Checked Avenger. He simply appeared one evening with a driver's license covered in arcane writing that hurt your eyes and a cab deposit. He started driving the night shift for a different company each night. No one could ever recall his name or what he looked like exactly, just that he wore flannel, so they called him the Checked Avenger. The night he stopped the murderer he was in a yellow Checkered cab. All that ambiguity interested me, naturally. I figured we would make a great team, so I started hanging around with him. No sense trying to do anything more direct. We never talked.
The applause is deafening as he steps up to the podium. Even though the Cabbie Killer was no super villain, the Avenger's first collar has just the right mix of wonder and pathos to win the respect of even the SPP. The Checked Avenger's first sidekick, a beat cop named Tony Snow died that night before the Avenger could save him. The Avenger's powers are only in his perception and his spirit, his ability to see the hidden evil in someone and drain it away. He doesn't have any sort of super strength or agility of his own, but when he drains a bad guy, they are as weak as an infant and their minds just as blank. The Cabbie Killer is still nothing but an empty husk in a straight jacket at Bellevue.
"Thanks be to each of you, certainly." The Avenger looks out at the audience. He seems tired. "The lack of evil in this room is truly remarkable for a group so large." There's a smattering of confused applause. "I am flattered by this reward, but I must clarify a misunderstanding between us. I am not a newcomer. I have always been here. Thank you."
There's some subdued clapping and murmuring as he steps down. I'm thinking this is the strangest acceptance speech since that crazy karaoke thing the Sonic Sisters did a few years back.
Power steps back to the podium under his own steam. He looks a little flustered. "Thank you, Checked Avenger. And now we have a new award which will be given out for the first time this year. We want to recognize the kind of quiet dedication that often goes unnoticed in our profession. This year's inaugural Perfect Attendance award goes to a member who has, according to our records, faithfully attended every meeting and function sponsored by this organization for ten years. This year's winner is Mr. Edward Smith."
I am too stunned to move. An award. I've never even won an argument, let alone an award. The walk to the podium feels like I'm in slow motion, in a dream. People are clapping. I can't imagine how but people seem to be looking right at me! I take the dais and hold up the golden star on its black base. My name is inscribed at the bottom. "Thank you. You can't know how much this means to me," I say, but people are already talking amongst themselves. Captain Power is obviously already impatient for me to move out of his way so that he can continue. No one is looking my way except for the Checked Avenger. He's staring me straight in the eye with a thoughtful look, like he's trying to place a familiar face. I take a deep breath and swallow, then let the air out slowly. "Thanks. Just Thanks," I mumble, then I make my way back to the table--unnoticed.
"Edward." The Avenger looks at me and for a moment his features settle into those of an elderly black man with care lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. "Congratulations, Edward." He makes an effort that tightens the muscles of his jaw. "I won't forget, Edward. I promise."
I can't speak, so I just nod and sit down next to him. I know it's only a gold star for perfect attendance, but just now, I can't imagine a better reward.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 19th, 2013

Author Comments

I wrote "Recognition" for all of us who have endured the yearly award ceremony for our professional organization and for those folks who don't win awards but make the whole business work.

- Bill Glover
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