Shimmer #26 – The Curious Case of Glimmer Gorilla (Part 1)
Her morbid curiosity had gotten the best of her – the larger than life world of superheroes had snatched another victim. “I’ve never met a real secret agent before,” Tanya mused. “Unless I have and you didn’t tell me.”
Tanya Truman, my best friend, the ever curious puppy dog when she had her guard down, earned another laugh. “Probably,” I shrugged. “There’s been so much crazy $#&% happening that it’s hard to keep track.”
She grinned wryly and leaned into me. “Good thing I know about your secret identity. Now you don’t have to juggle all those lies – at least with me.”
I bounced impatiently as the elevator climbed. It would have been easier to just fly, but Tanya insisted on coming along, meaning we had to take the beetle, meaning we were going to be late because of traffic. Probably not a good thing for a semi-official parole officer to fall behind schedule – Jason was going to let me have it, I just knew.
It figured that he would be waiting at the door when we showed up, just to rub it in. He completely ignored the nasty vibes Tanya was blasting him. “You’re late,” he said, as if I needed reminding.
“You want to maybe can the attitude so we can get this over with?”
Just over a month had passed since the nightmare with the Technocracy and things were only just beginning to settle. You wouldn’t even know that human civilization had almost come to an end – the only real change was that I was made responsible for my opposite sex parallel reality twin, who with his spiked hair dyed black didn’t look all that much like me anymore. He was crafting his own identity as Jason Stone and leaving Jason Cade behind.
The air was as thick as it was bitter as he and my BFF stared each other down. She still hadn’t forgiven him for locking me on a prison planet, and he thought she was a bitch for not getting over it. Me, I was stuck in the middle, not really wanting anything to do with their drama, wishing they would just get the hell over it.
“Nice dye job,” Tanya jabbed. “Now you just need the emo bangs to complete the look.”
“Hey, is that a new haircut?” Jason poked back. “It’s really great – it almost makes you not look like a fat douche.”
“Guys! Do you really have to?”
Salvation came in the form of a dark skinned woman. Her attention turned from the baby in her arms and to the gathering of teens looming in her doorway. She studied Tanya for a moment and finally offered her hand to me. “You must be Kaira,” she deduced. “I’m Agent Cameron Fox.”
I accepted her greeting with a bashful smirk. “Hi,” I all but blurted out. “This is my friend, Tanya. She’s cool – she knows all about Glimmer Girl and TASK and stuff. She just wanted to meet a real secret agent.”
The woman’s lip curled as she considered my words. “I hope you didn’t tell her too much,” she remarked, “or else I would have to kill her.”
My shoulders stiffened at her little joke, but Tanya wasn’t fazed. “And a sense of humor, too!” she cackled. “Is dry wit a pre-requisite for being a spy, and does it come with a laser pen that cuts through walls?”
Cameron shot Jason a knowing grin. Either she really liked the girl or she was planning something insidious. Should I have been worried?
“Why don’t you take Aiden while I show Tanya around,” the agent said, offering Jason the child. “You and Kaira can have your parole meeting on the balcony if you like.”
Jason took the boy who made happy blubbing noises in his arms. Already he seemed to fit in here and was safe, comfortable – gods, I was almost envious of him, a feeling that only intensified the more I saw of the apartment. Though it had all been baby-proofed the rooms bordered on the futuristic, with lights and plasma monitors kicking to life the second somebody entered. It was like something out of a lifestyle magazine which suburban girls like me could only dream of.
Sliding open the glass door Jason led the way out. A gentle wind whipped against us, bombarding our senses with the taste of the city. From up so high you could see it all – from the river to the InfiniTech building, and to the surrounding mountains in the distance.
“What do you think?” Jason asked.
“I think you really hit the jackpot, tiger,” I told him, hoping he’d get the reference. He wasn’t smiling – maybe they didn’t have Mary Jane Watson on his world, or maybe it was something else. “You okay?”
He let himself get lost looking at the drooling kid, as if he could escape his heavy thoughts. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.”
Jason looked even more lost, but still he smiled, shrugged. “What do you want me to say?” His chuckle was empty. “There’s a lot to get used to, I guess. Gods, I spent three years eating pellets and drinking from a tube. Whenever I’d escape I’d sometimes find cans of beans or stale candy bars. Now there’s fresh meat and vegetables, fruit, cereal, soda! I don’t have to sleep with my arms strapped to my side with machine parts sticking into my skin… and the people! Do you have any idea how long I waited just to go outside again? Just to have a conversation?”
It was hard to forget the kind of hell he’d been through – I’d seen it firsthand. Maybe that’s why Tanya wasn’t so forgiving, because she had no way of grasping the scale of what had been done to him. Remembering that put a halt on my jealousy – Jason deserved this life. This was his light at the end of the tunnel, and no way was I going to let anyone take that away from him.
“Things are better now,” I told him, and he agreed.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t regret how things went down,” he reasoned, “and on top of that I miss the hell out of flying. Some days I forget how grounded I am now, and almost jump.”
“That’s got to drive you crazy.”
I really did feel for Jason – I couldn’t help it. Like me, it’d been years since he was a regular human. Flying, dancing through the air, dashing at the speed of light was normal for us, and to suddenly have that taken away was the stuff of nightmares. I cringed at the knowledge of what TASK had done – inserting a nanomachine payload into his brain, blocking the very specific synapses required for transformation. They’d probably learned by studying me, and now he was theirs with gravity as his prison.
Sensing the need for a change in topic Jason nudged my arm. “Don’t let me get you down,” he laughed. “What about you? How are things with Mom and Dad?”
Gods, could he have asked any more complicated a question. “Good, I guess.”
I shrugged. “They’re still adjusting to the whole me-as-a-girl thing. Dad doesn’t exactly know how to talk to me all the time, so I have to keep prompting him whenever he’s curious. Mom and I, we keep fighting all the time, but it’s different now.”
Jason leaned closer. Aiden mimicked him. “Different how?”
“Well, instead of fighting about her not accepting me, now we’re fighting about how she thinks I should do things, like how I should wear my hair, or how I should co-ordinate what I’m wearing, or blasting me for either wearing too much or too little make-up. She thinks she’s helping, but she’s not.”
“Sounds like a normal mother-daughter relationship,” Jason snickered.
“And I think that’s what’s freaking her out. Hell, it’s freaking me out!” I admitted. “Neither of us is used to it yet.”
He shrugged and bounced the baby in his arms. “If it’s not one drama it’s another,” he mused. “But that’s the life of a superhero, isn’t it? It’s just a soap opera except with punching instead of kissing.”
I grinned. “Honestly, I prefer punching. It’s less messy.”
We stood and stared at the skyline, ranting about this thing and that. This was the new status quo – it was going to take some adjusting to.
* * * *
The beetle ride into the city was quiet, or at least I was. My thoughts carried me far away from Tanya’s ramblings about satellite footage and hacking the accounting databases of foreign national powers – all the stuff of a TASK desk jockey that she never knew could be exciting. I was in my own little world, not processing anything as much as I was lost in a feeling.
Things were balancing out again, but that wasn’t good enough.
“Earth to Kaira Cade,” Tanya whistled. “Are you in there, or do I have to call a SWAT team?”
My head rolled in her direction so I could rest my eyes on her. “Keep talking, I’m listening,” I told her, certain that the next thirty seconds could bring me back up to speed.
“What’s with you today? You’ve been a real space cadet.”
I shrugged. What did she want me to say? Even I didn’t know what was wrong. “Maybe I just need some chai,” I figured aloud.
Tanya grinned and flicked the indicator. “Right. Lovin’ Spoonful it is.”
“Not yet. I need to make another stop first.”
That was the first she’d heard of it, of course, and she let me know with an incredulous glance. We’re supposed to be sharing secrets, it seemed to say, but some things just needed to be kept private.
“I need to go to the zoo,” I told her.
“What’s at the zoo?”
The answer filled my stomach with dread. “So you know who Simon Simian is.” Of course she knew who Simon Simian was – countless jokes had been made about who Simon Simian was, and our… well, colorful history.
“Ah, so you’re finally having that second date,” she teased. Tanya laughed. I didn’t.
What part of ‘I did it to save the city’ was so hard to understand? It felt as though I’d told the tale a thousand times. He was a rampaging supervillain, I was the hero – he was trying to turn Milestone City into a jungle, I was trying to stop him, he fell in love with me at first sight… and the rest is history.
‘I’ll turn myself in,’ he’d said, ‘for but a simple kiss.’ For as long as I’ll ever live I’ll never forget that moment – the loneliness in his eyes, that glimmer of hope, and three hundred hostages that needed me to act. Do you really think I had a choice? I puckered up, smooched those leathery lips and in exchange he turned himself in. Sad, really, that someone would do something so drastic for the slightest affection, but that’s beside the point – Tanya was still being a jerk by dragging it up.
“They’ve got him working odd jobs,” I told her.
Tanya looked confused. “Wait, you mean they haven’t got him locked in one of the cages? Who let him out of prison?”
“Prison’s not about throwing bad guys away and forgetting about them. It’s about rehabilitation. Even supervillains get released for time served. Simon got out early for good behavior.”
“Yeah,” I told her sharply, “and I’m proud of him for it. From the sound of things he’s really turning it all around.”
She regarded me cautiously, as she probably should have, because I was in a mood. No more jokes – she got the picture, but still she had to ask “are you sure he’s not doing all this because he still holds a candle for you?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know.
* * * *
There were only a handful of people who knew Simon Simian’s origin, and I was one of them. Maybe if more people knew about what he’d gone through and where he’d come from they’d be more sympathetic, or maybe not – the world doesn’t spare much thought for the villains. That job is usually left to the heroes that put them away.
The way I’d heard it told Simon was the son of an old school, red scare era mad conqueror called the Apelord. Where did the Apelord come from? Well, that’s where the story gets a little fuzzy. Rumor has it that he was the product of an early Soviet rocket experiment in which Russian scientists thought it would be a great idea to shoot a gorilla into space. Crazy, right?
Of course the Russians denied it, especially when their experiment was bombarded with cosmic rays and returned to Earth with super-strength and enhanced intellect. Officially on paper it never happened, yet there were the heroes, fighting a very real threat.
Read any history book in the last fifty years and you’ll see Apelord’s name cropping up in the weirdest places. Most kids in class laugh about it, a megalomaniac gorilla, like it’s a cartoon or something, but it happened, and anyone who was around to remember knew to be scared.
Eventually Apelord got it into his head that he wanted to start a dynasty. Apparently his dream was to recreate the Planet of the Apes – a dream that fizzled when the world’s greatest heroes raided his compound and found new homes for his children. That’s where Simon comes in.
It couldn’t have been easy for a kid like Simon, to suddenly be stranded in a world where there was nobody like him. A foster family tried to raise him like a normal child, but not even they could get completely past his appearance. He was picked on in school, laughed at by girls, and even though he’d inherited his father’s incredible cognitive abilities he didn’t earn any respect.
Faced with that brand of daily hurt a lot of people would turn inward, become isolated, but not Simon. He made a choice to go the other way – to become every bit the villain his father was.
At least that was his plan at first. Simon didn’t have the same kind of fury in him that the Apelord had. He was just a kid who was acting out. All he needed was a push in the right direction. Somehow fate decided that push would come from me, Glimmer Girl, who somehow showed him that not all people were jerks.
When I found him he was in the tiger enclosure, pruning branches off a tree. Dressed in khaki overalls he was a far cry from the villain I knew. He was just an average Joe now – that is if Joe was a six hundred pound gorilla wearing wire rimmed glasses. At a glance he looked happy enough, but this was a social call. If he’d gone to all the effort to reform the least I could do was say hi.
“Please don’t tell anybody I didn’t pay the cost of admission,” I joked.
Simon turned, not even a little surprised to see a masked girl floating beside him. Like the children below who were excited to see a real, live hero he beamed. “Oh my goodness gracious! Glimmer Girl! It’s been a very long time!”
“It’s only been a year and a half, but I suppose time’s a lot slower on the inside.”
“Only if one has nothing with which to occupy one’s self,” he mused. “Despite its cold and gloom the Chamber brags a very impressive library. I have had ample opportunity to become reaccustomed with the greats – Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Gogol, Shakespeare, Dickens…”
“Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer.” Simon was not at all impressed. “Kidding! Kidding! You think I read that trash? Gods, I don’t even have time for good authors.”
“Perhaps, then,” the gorilla suggested, “you should ‘make’ the time.”
“Knowing my luck I’d get to page three, then the world would blow up.”
Simon chuckled and swung to the next branch. “Your sense of humor has always been your most admirable trait, though I think a little more optimism would not go astray.”
“Hey! I’m all about optimism,” I protested. “Just because I expect the worst doesn’t mean I don’t hope for the best, and there’s always a silver lining. Crisis is Chinese for opportunity or something like that.”
“You mean that the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’,” Simon snorted. “Which is exactly why you are here, isn’t it? To see how I am adjusting to my new role in human society.” Ever astute, Simon was. He furrowed his brow and sat himself on a branch. “It is sometimes difficult. While I do believe that most humans mean well they are very poor at demonstrating the fact. I have been the recipient of many types of look…”
My heart went out to him. Poor guy – he was all alone in the world. It took everything I had not to fly closer and give him a comforting hug, but it probably would have sent the wrong message. “I know what that’s like,” I told him. “I mean, it’s not exactly the same. People see me and they see another human… most of the time.”
If there was one thing Simon and I could relate on it was the number of people who called us ‘it’. Who would have thought that transgender girls and gorillas would have something so tragic in common?
“You are the only one who truly understands,” he sighed.
“I-I don’t know about that.”
Simon paused and looked up the same way a lost child might. “While I was in the Chamber I had a lot of time to think – you were in my thoughts often.”
Okay, definitely didn’t like where this was going. “Simon, listen…”
“I understand if you don’t feel the same way,” he lamented sadly. “Love that only goes one direction is no love at all. I only meant to say that you were the first person who ever showed me kindness, and for that I am grateful, and it is for you that I am trying to make an honest living.”
“That’s really sweet…”
“Yes, it is, rather,” he interjected.
I smiled and flew in closer, again careful not to send the wrong signal. This was going to take every bit of diplomacy I had. “You’re a really great friend,” I nodded, “and I’m proud of you. I know that none of this is easy, but you – you’re taking the first steps toward something amazing. Most guys don’t have the stones for this.”
Yeah, I know – putting a lonely villain in the friend-zone is a fast-track ticket to a rampage, but there was no other way it could go down. Besides, I had more faith in Simon than that. Even if he was disappointed he would move on and grow, because he really did care about doing the right thing – or at least that’s what the parole board had determined.
Simon fumbled. Despite the awkwardness he still tried to face me and smile – his pride wouldn’t let him be upset. “My shift ends soon. Maybe we could go for coffee.”
Ugh, of all the times. “I’d love to, but I’ve already got plans,” I told him, “and a ton of homework! A lot of classes have to cram since the whole Technocracy thing brought the city to a halt, meaning no social life for me.”
“I could do your homework for you.”
“That would be awesome,” I laughed, “but I think the teachers would notice if I suddenly developed super-intelligence. Brilliant as you are, I don’t think you could play as dumb as me.”
He looked hurt on my behalf. “You are not dumb.”
It was hard not to be taken by his outward nature, but then you had to remember this was the same guy who tried to destroy Milestone City once. Of all the wonderful, great things I had to say about Simon Simian they were all tempered by this fact – well, that and I didn’t feel the lightning attraction he did for me, which always makes things weird.
“Sometimes I am,” I told him and lifted higher into the air. “Listen, Simon, I’ve really got to jet. I’m glad you’re doing okay. I’ll probably stop by again in the next couple of days. Cool?”
“Cool,” he said, and raised his thumb in approval.
I felt guilty about how glad I was to get away. Somehow it didn’t seem fair, to him or to me. It pained me to know how alone Simon felt, but I couldn’t be the solution to that, especially while I was juggling three secret identities – Glimmer Girl, Kaira Cade and her former persona, Justin, who was quickly becoming a ghost of the past. To drag someone else into that nightmare just wouldn’t be fair.
* * * *
One tall chai latte, served before I’d even ordered. The ‘Norse God of the Bean’ had sensed my arrival, and for that I thanked her. That was the great thing about the Lovin’ Spoonful – they never kept you waiting, and after the day I’d had I really needed the pick-me-up.
Tanya beamed as I approached our usual spot. I just knew there was a crack waiting. “So, did you get lucky?” Like that one.
I flopped on the leather seat, tired of the jokes as I was of everything lately. “Can we not even go there? Please?”
“Yeah. By me. Now drop it.”
Her eyes hardened – the disapproving glare like that of an older sister was in full effect. Whatever. What did I care? She was the one being a jerk. “You’ve been really pissy with me lately, young woman,” she observed.
I leaned in and whispered harshly, “you ever think that maybe I’m pissy because I don’t like it when you joke about me kissing gorillas?”
“It’s got nothing to do with gorillas,” she tutted. “KC, usually you can roll with it when I’m trolling you, but for like the past month you’ve been in a freaking mood. Everything sets you off – you’re on a hair trigger. Whatever it is you’re sitting on, you need to deal with it.”
“I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”
Tanya almost laughed – almost. “Bull you don’t. Ever since you kissed… what’s his name? Mark? You’ve retreated into yourself. You were on such a high after coming out, so sure of yourself, and now… I don’t know. You’re moping, I guess.”
You know how some people know you so well that they’ve always got you pegged? Gods, I hated her for that, but she was right on the money.
“Nothing’s going to happen with Mark,” I told her.
“Because,” I continued, as if it needed explaining, “guys as a habit generally don’t like girls who aren’t really girls, and freak when they find out after they’ve kissed them.”
“Kaira, don’t be a moron. You are a real girl.”
“Now is not the time to be the super-supportive best friend in the whole world,” I groaned.
“I’m sorry, you’re right. Let me just flick the bigot switch in my brain that’s kept me from saying all the horrible transphobic things I’ve been meaning to say all this time. Seriously, KC, you’re doing this on purpose. I get that you’re scared of being rejected, but I doubt you’d have let yourself like him if you thought he was one of those types of guys.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t fair not to tell him,” I said, “and it’d be even more unfair to keep fooling around while keeping him in the dark, so I’m going to stop. Quit while I’m ahead.”
Tanya frowned. Yeah, I was being stubborn, but there was a reason for it. “Why don’t you just tell him now?” she offered.
Did I really need to spell it out? “Because even if I do that changes everything. Even if he doesn’t freak out he won’t want me. Why spoil a good thing?”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“I’m not going to take the chance,” I told her. “Besides, who has the time for boyfriends? It’s not like things aren’t complicated enough already.”
Her stink eye said it all – this discussion wasn’t over, but I didn’t care. I was still right, wasn’t I? That and I really didn’t want to worry about relationships. Everyone I ever knew that had one under the age of twenty was the subject of rumor, gossip, judgment – who needed that? Not me.
So there I sat, Kaira Cade – forever single. It was probably for the best.
* * * *
There was dignity in his work, or so he continued to tell himself. Simon remembered the words of his rehabilitation officer and what he’d been told time and again, ‘none of this is going to be easy, but ultimately it’ll be worth it.’ It was an idea upheld purely by faith and the promise that he would no longer be seen as a monster, but the equal of humans – that it would be kindness that vindicated him, not malice.
However, such thoughts did not come naturally to one such as Simon. Having spent years under the careful watch of the Apelord, his father, he was indoctrinated with radical teachings that were far divorced from such notions as justice or compassion. ‘Respect is the product of fear,’ he could remember him saying. ‘It is not earned, but taken. Dash the head of a human, or any creature, against a rock, and you may watch the rest bleed respect for you.’
For a portion of his life Simon had thought it the truth of the world, until he saw those who would not bow to fear – the heroes. Apelord, and Simon too, had made attempts to overcome their power, and each time were put down, imprisoned, and isolated from the world. Though while the Apelord raged from behind bars Simon learned a lesson in humility, and for that reason vengeance did not fully take root in his heart.
Scaling the wall of the gorilla enclosure Simon removed the sack of assorted fruits from his shoulder and did his best to ignore the curious eyes above. Human beings – they did love to stare. At least the other members of his relative genus had the sense to keep to themselves, at least until it was their turn to be fed.
Simon plodded through their ranks and considered their position. Like him they were imprisoned – they in a pen, he in the constraints of a human society to which he did not belong. Yet they seemed content with their lot. So long as these simple creatures received regular meals and room to play what need did they have of worry? In that Simon took both envy and pity on them.
“Whoa, check it out! One of the monkeys is wearing clothes!”
In the few days that Simon had held his current position he had been frequently been bombarded by similar remarks, and each time he would correct them the same way. “You mean to say that there is an ape wearing clothing,” he said pointedly.
The youth, of course, was not interested in being educated – rather he and his friends were more taken with this new spectacle. “The monkey can talk, too!”
“He just said that he was an ape, dumbass,” one of his friends pointed out.
“Ape, monkey, whatever! I want to know if he can sing.”
Was this what his existence had been reduced to? In the far echoes of the subconscious his super-ego roared with the voice of his father. Smash their heads, break their skulls – it would have been so easy to bring them to their knees. Did they not know who he was? How dare they disrespect his birthright! The son of Apelord, however humble, was still above such ridicule.
With strength and agility surpassing that of his brethren Simon pounced and landed on the stone ledge above the enclosure where he sat eye to eye with he who would mock him. It brought him great satisfaction to see the boy tremble, though his scowl revealed only the fury he nursed.
“It would only be fair to inform you that my former opinion of humanity has been waning of late,” he snarled, “though the actions of individuals such as yourself are slowly tipping the scales toward the negative. This would be an unfavorable conclusion for you, agreed?”
The boy didn’t answer, at least not directly – the way in which he quivered was enough to satisfy Simon’s beastly urges.
As it was not befitting to leave a former super-criminal completely to his own devices the zoo had employed a chaperone, who until that moment had not yet seen the event transpiring. When she saw the aggressive stance that Simon had taken she sprinted through the crowd, pulled the boy away and placed herself between them.
“Simon, what the hell?”
Of course Simon was beyond discussing the matter. “Ms. Jackson, thank you for employing me. It was very kind of you, but I did not take this position with the understanding that I would face belittlement on a daily basis.”
“Simon, come on. It was just another dumb kid.”
Plodding to the exit on all four limbs Simon grew more impatient when his supervisor tried to block his path. “I tried to be polite,” he explained, “but since that failed allow me to evoke a modern idiom. ‘Take this job and shove it!’”
Another tremendous burst of strength launched Simon into the air past all reach. To live the life of a normal person – what a farce that turned out to be.
* * * *
To be continued…