It was decided. I had powers, and would use them for truth and justice. To do that there had to be some wrong to make right, and seeing as the kind of injustice you punch doesn’t jump out waving a flag I had to go looking for it.
The beetle wasn’t built for city traffic, but Tanya made the effort. We scoured the backstreets for the better part of a Saturday, peeking into alleys, and hoping for the best. In all that time there was nothing, save a few bad drivers.
I sat in the passenger seat wearing shades with a hoodie pulled over my head. It worked in place of a costume, at least for the moment. My only hope was the disguise read as female.
Tanya bit her lip. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,” she said, and pulled to the curb.
The day before we’d pooled our cash to purchase a police scanner. It was in good condition despite its age, and offered insight into the city’s goings on. Unfortunately nothing on the band called for the presence of a heroine who could fly.
After sitting idle for ten minutes, she finally cracked. “So what was it your old man told you again?”
I shrugged. “Something about space, and something called the macroverse. Something to do with cosmic radiation, I think. I don’t know. That’s the best way I can figure it.”
She turned the dial to hush the scanner, and considered her words. “What do you think happened to that guy? You know, the one who…”
Leaning back I pulled my knees to my chest and sat my feet on the glove compartment. I was probably flashing under my skirt to passersby, but was too fragile to care. Just thinking about that day, and that maniac with the gun, sent shivers up my spine.
Tanya stared at the wheel. “Sorry.”
I drew a deep breath. “He’s all I think about, you know. We were in the same place when it happened. What if he got the same weird firefly powers that I did? I mean, that kind of power in the hands of that kind of person…”
We sat in silence. Who knew being a hero could feel so heavy? To think we bagged out comic books for their angst.
Tanya placed a hand on my shoulder. “You know you don’t have to do this. We both know that playing hero was my idea. There are professionals who can handle the world’s disasters. You’re not a bad person if you choose to walk away.”
The weight in my chest sunk into a pit. I forced a smile. “Yeah, but I’ve got this power now. What’s the point if I don’t use it for something good?”
She shrugged and turned the volume back. “Just giving you an out, KC. You know I’ve got your back.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The radio crackled with intermittent noise. Some of the voices were harder to follow than others, and most calls were for ID checks, plate numbers, or to report a traffic violation of some kind; nothing interesting like a bank robbery.
I dropped my feet and considered the scanner. “Remind me where you found this again.”
Tanya grinned. “I know a guy who knows a guy.”
“Who has stuff that lets you spy on cops.”
Her grin stretched from ear to ear. “This is America, remember? People take the law into their own hands all the time. Having powers just gives you an edge on the competition.”
“Except I want to help people,” I said, “not scare them.”
Tanya twisted the dial in search of anything. A part of me dreaded what we might find; maybe the conflict of others wasn’t my business, and I was better off at home. Fate, however, was set to deliver.
The voice on the speaker choked out a plea. “This thing’s at least a three alarm! It’s climbing up the sixth floor of the Orange Grove Towers apartment complex. Our boys are stuck on five; ladder crew is leading who they can to the roof. Requesting an immediate chopper lift!”
“Orange Grove Towers,” Tanya said. “That’s like eight blocks from here.”
I leaned in my seat. “Gun it!”
“It’ll be faster if you fly,” she said.
“I-I have no idea where Orange Grove Towers is!”
Tanya reached over, and pushed open the passenger side door. “You won’t have to. Fly up high and you’ll see the smoke. A three-alarm is not a small fire.”
In the few days since discovering these powers I’d only dared lift myself a short way. Anything past the fourth floor invited vertigo and images of street pizza. If I was going to take this hero thing seriously I had to lift my game.
I clenched my fists, and steeled myself. “Okay.”
Finally, I checked the mirror. With a bandana pulled over my mouth I appeared more vandal than hero, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
“Are you sure about that disguise?” Tanya asked.
“Sure. Who’s going to guess The Flying Sparkle-Babe spends her days as a guy?”
I climbed out, and scoped for cover toward an alley. “It’s as good a name as any. Make or break time. Wish me luck.” With all my speed and grace I sprinted between the buildings, and prepared for take-off.
“Break a leg,” Tanya said. “Save the world!”
As soon as I was out of sight the familiar warmth flooded my senses, and in a flash of light gravity loosened its hold. Windows flew past as I raced upward, further into the sky than was comfortable. Soon Milestone City was soaring by, and accelerated with every moment.
Following the smoke was simple from that height. My path arced around the skyscrapers, eventually clear the way toward the inferno. Flames engulfed the upper levels of an apartment building, and even in daytime lit up for miles.
“Save the world,” I said. That seemed like a good place to start.
* * * *
I flew into the smoke and the white heat flooding my vision. Funny that I was breathing normally, if I was breathing at all, and that the inferno for all its rage barely registered through touch. How much had I been changed by these powers?
Through the blackness I could see the shape of people gathered on the roof; the heat of their bodies lit them up in neon. They squirmed and paced like animals trapped in a storm.
Bright red licked the guts of the building from the inside out. The heat must have been intense. Windows shattered and supports creaked as though the structure itself was crying in pain.
Finally, I found a perch, and brought myself down. The gathering on the roof backed away. What a sight it must have been; an incandescent figure descending from the sky, wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. It was the kind of thing that happened in comic books.
“Maybe it’s an angel,” they whispered.
I pulled the covering from my mouth and shot a hopeful smile. “No, I’m a hero,” I said. “I’m here to help, if you’ll let me.”
The crowd huddled with ill ease. Could I really blame them? The sound of crackling was drawing nearer beneath their feet, and all they had to rely on was a girl in a bad disguise. Still, any port in a storm was better than none.
A woman stepped forward from the others, and looked around for someone to speak in her place. Tentatively, and with arms folded, she tightened her lips and spoke. “Look, no offense, kid, but you look more like a mugger than you do a hero.”
I balled my fists. She had reasons to doubt; inexperience was painted all over me. Gods, even I wasn’t sure of myself, but something had to be done.
“The building’s going to go,” I called over her head. “It’s going to collapse any minute! Anyone who wants to stay here and wait for a rescue helicopter, fine! Meanwhile, I’m going to be over here carrying people across the street! Who’s with me?”
Maybe I was making a mistake, but it was better than doing nothing. No regret was bigger than the choice to do nothing. What’s that saying about responsibility? I read it in a story once.
Another woman, dressed in an old t-shirt, track pants and flip-flops, broke free of the cluster and made her way to the ledge. “All y’all can stay here as long as you want, but I’m out of here,” she said. She paused to look me up and down. “You really can fly, right?”
I nodded, and called back to the group. “I can carry one, maybe two at a time to the next building.”
The woman grabbed my arm and pulled it around her side. “You can take me wherever you want, so long as it’s away from this death trap!”
I scooped another arm under her legs, and hoisted her from the ground. She was lighter than I thought she would be, though flying with her took more focus than it did to fly alone. We hung over the yawn between rooftops, thirty floors above the ground. Gravity pulled at our toes and tempted us to fall. My eyes were married to our destination, away from the chasm that could swallow us a thousand times over.
One of her flip-flops slipped from her foot, prompting her to look down. “You’ve done this before, right?”
“Nope. First time.”
She clung to my neck, and trembled. “Girl, you’ve got some cojones! Usually I wouldn’t trust you to deliver a pizza. I don’t care how sparkly you are!”
“Thanks,” I said. Some debut this was turning out to be.
The final yards closed in a desperate moment. We made it onto secure ground, and my first rescue was a success. All that remained were the fifty or so others whose time was running short. Only once they were safe would there be time for accolade.
I threw myself back the way I came with more certainty than before, gliding faster. Elation and anxiety melded into a giddy high that carried my body through the air. It felt good; almost as good as the confirmation of my girlhood.
My first rescue called back, and I smiled. “Thanks for the help, Super-Babe!”
* * * *
The mood of the crowd changed. In the space of a journey their reluctance had evaporated, and by the dozens were clamouring for my help. Were it not for the woman who’d approached me before they might have charged like lemmings off a cliff.
She waved them back, and took a moment to acknowledge the rising flames. Mirages cooked the air following the ledge. “Alright, you can help,” she said, “but remember, if you screw this up, you have to live with that failure.”
“It’s like another hero says-”
“Don’t,” she said, “even.”
The older woman brought the residents into line. Who was she to them that she wielded that kind of authority? Not that I was complaining; she herded the children first, then the elderly, then the parents, and the rest. They came two by two, and wrapped their arms around me in wait of rescue.
I crossed the chasm back and forth at least ten times. Each trip failed to dull the looming threat. All it took was one slip for an innocent to meet the pavement, and it would be my fault. I faced ahead, determined not to let that happen.
Most of the roof had been cleared by the time the helicopters arrived, and just in time. The far corner of the roof collapsed and opened the hellish insides to the sky. The woman, who I’d since learned was the owner of the building, took my hand while the rest poured into the rescue vehicle.
“I guess we’re going to be seeing a lot more of you,” she said.
We launched into the sky, and crossed the divide in seconds. Flying wasn’t second nature yet, but it was getting there. I tried to hide the goofy smirk. “Maybe. Who knows?”
The landlady set feet on solid ground, and climbed out of my arms. “Don’t get cocky,” she said; “and kid, if you’re going to take this hero thing seriously, you’re going to need a better costume.”
“I’ll make a note of it.”
A panic cut through the gathering. At first I could barely hear over the cutting of helicopter blades until a man in a striped shirt clasped onto my shoulder. There was terror in his eyes, and it shook through his bones.
“I can’t find Mr. Geong,” he gasped. “Please, you’ve got to help. He’s an old man. He’s on the twenty first floor; he’s got to still be in there!”
So much for the day being saved. I turned to the fire and stared it down; the fire roared back, daring me to jump down its throat. Certain death waited inside, or at least it would have if I could feel the heat. There was a good chance my powers would protect me, though any number of things could yet go wrong.
There was no room for hesitation. It was what I had come for. I steeled my nerve, sprinted to the edge, and shot toward the nearest window. It was me versus the inferno with an old man’s life hanging in the balance.
* * * *
The grains in the cup of instant soup were as irritating as the need for sustenance. Theodore Fellows stirred idly as he wandered from the kitchenette and to the lounge of his motel room opposite the television.
After completing his initial work he’d succumbed to the calling for a proper bed, and checked himself into an establishment with an hourly rate. A day and a half later and he had tamed one beast in favor of another; hunger consumed him from within, and would not be left waiting.
Every sip was bland on his tongue, and not even the boiling temperature helped to disguise it. ‘Tomato’ the packet had said, though it was nothing of the sort. However, given the limited effort the doctor was prepared to offer in the name of his appetite he opted to distract his senses instead.
He grabbed the remote control, and turned the television to one of the news channels. Immediately he was greeted by a curious sight, of a young woman floating back and forth between a building and its burning counterpart.
“This is the scene in Milestone City where an unidentified adept appears to be moving residents to safety,” came the report. “Authorities are baffled, and still scrambling in their own efforts to evacuate the tower-”
Dr. Fellows ruminated upon the news. “An adept,” he muttered. It was the term used by academics and media to describe individuals with extraordinary abilities, ranging from intellectual genius, to telepathy, and beyond. Such events were becoming more commonplace, but for it to occur in his native city was something of interest.
He leaned closer, as though to do so would sharpen the image. There was no telling who this young woman was – perhaps an intern, or a student – but he was determined to know. This sudden appearance, mere days after the InfiniTech incident, was simply too remarkable for coincidence.
Abandoning his seat and instant slop, Theodore Fellows took strides toward his luggage and removed a device from a duffle bag. It hummed to life with purple energy rolling at its core.
* * * *
I flew between the jags of the former window pane. The smoke was no obstacle, but the infrared spectrum was flooded with searing red. Layer upon layer lined the maze of the apartment building. How was I supposed to find one man in all that chaos?
The search continued, past what was once a bedroom and into the blazing kitchen. Tiles cracked like egg shells and shards of glass littered the ground. Wooden stakes like spears toppled across the main hall, then withered in the intense heat.
Apartment numbers seared like branding irons on the doors. Each fell with a clumsy blast from my finger cannon, and I called into them one after the other. “Mr. Geong! Mr. Geong, are you in here?” I was screaming over the blaze, but there was no sign of him.
I scoured the other side of the hall, soaring through each of the apartments. The floor beneath was fragile at best. Suddenly, the roof collapsed. I jerked the way I came, narrowly avoiding the living room contents from above. A porcelain bowl split beside a melting polyester sofa.
My search was taking too much time. What if I missed him? Maybe he was unconscious, choked out on fumes. I had to keep looking.
Somewhere in the maze there was a voice. I searched for a human shape that it belonged to. The words weren’t in English, but there was definitely a man calling from the flames.
I cried out to be heard, over and again. “Mr. Geong! Where are you?” Did he even understand me? Gods, what a time for communication to break down.
“Yes! Yes! Here!”
The voice was clearer, only a couple of doors away. Squinting through the heat I could make out a figure curled in a bathtub. Mr. Geong was tucked away, safe, but but only for as long as the surroundings held.
I followed the wall to his apartment, flew past the front door, and blasted into the bathroom. From there it was a matter of finding the nearest window, and making our exit.
He was small in my arms, and light enough to carry without much effort. “Try and save oxygen,” I said. “Keep your head down!” He seemed to understand, and did what was instructed.
The inferno rolled through the entrance and sealed the way out, just as it did through the main area of Mr. Geong’s home. Moving him along either path would roast him alive. The only remaining option was the third wall, risking collapse.
My nerves steeled and my shoulders arched. I placed the old man down, pointed to the wall, and readied a blast. Eyes set on my target as I let loose a shot that tore a hole through the brick, which then threw me back so my body bounced off the wall.
Pain cracked my skull like a pike. I fell to the floor and was engulfed by the heat. Sweat evaporated from my skin in an instant. Before I could lift myself another force beat down, crushing my back and forcing the air from my lungs. I struggled to take regain my breath, but gagged as I drew in smoke.
When my vision cleared there was blood; my blood, dripping from my forehead. “How…?”
It was my own fault. I wasn’t concentrating on my powers. They were a muscle that needed to be flexed, and I’d let go. It was the cost of being careless, if only for a second.
I heard struggling, loud enough to stir me back to life. How long had I been out? The fire was still raging, more furious than ever. All down the hallway were the screams of the structure, bending with the rising temperature.
Then I saw the tiny, balding man in a bathrobe trying, and failing, to lift the weight from my back. He was saying something in his native language I knew wasn’t for the ears of children.
If only I had some kind of practical power; enhanced strength, anything! I was supposed to be a hero, and not the one being saved by a senior citizen.
I closed my eyes to centre myself through the pain. All I had to do was concentrate and the weird energy would come back; except it didn’t. The weight pressing down made it impossible to grasp, like a handle that was just beyond reach. Each breath pulled more smoke, sending me into a coughing fit.
Mr. Geong leaned down beside me. His eyes swirled with fear and anger, but behind them was determination. “You be okay,” he said matter-of-factly. The tears running down his cheeks told a different story.
This wasn’t the end. No matter what, it wouldn’t let it happen that way. Whatever took place in that lab made me powerful, and that power was still buried somewhere. All I had to do was look inside and find it. I strained against the beam, struggling to grab hold. It was just there, just past the pain.
The roof groaned and depressed. Splinters tore through the paint like a makeshift mouth opening for the first time. Mr. Geong doubled back, while I lay pinned and helpless.
Suddenly I erupted. Supernatural light shot from my fingertips. With one push I grabbed the old man, scooped him up, and blasted through the wall. Daylight and fresh air greeted us both, as did the rooftop of survivors who cheered from across the way.
In my arms Mr. Geong kicked, half trying to collect himself, half trying to cover his open boxer shorts. “Who… what…?”
“Relax,” I said. “I’ve got you.”
Pain wracked my body, but was numb with the strange energy I controlled; it didn’t overwhelm like it did when I wasn’t using it. I focused on our flight path and brought us down to where his concerned neighbors had gathered.
The power waned and the aching returned. There were burns, scratches, and a headache I wasn’t going to live down anytime soon. Adrenaline surged through my veins, and kept me from shaking apart.
I waved to the landlady as she approached from the crowd. She pulled me into an unexpected hug, and said something even stranger. “You changed your costume.”
When I looked down there was no hoodie and skirt. In its place was an orange and gold dress with strips of white. There were leggings, gloves, boots, a belt, and a strange emblem on my chest that I’d never seen before; it was the letter ‘G’ wrapped around an orb, ticked with a streak that grew like a beam of light.
The landlady grinned. “Does it stand for ‘Glimmer Girl’?”
I smiled back at her. “Yeah, that’s exactly what it stands for.”
* * * *
Like Sisyphus before her Dr. Cameron Fox was weary of her labors. Every morning a fresh stack of papers appeared on her desk, waiting for her signature. It was only with the aid of coffee and a ginger cat waiting at home that she was able to drive through it with her sanity intact. Her work of late had proved a particular challenge, calling for extra hours in light of the laboratory disaster.
As the final remnants of the afternoon sifted away she found herself alone in the office. Others had lives to continue, and her cat knew how to work the automatic feeder. Besides, each task she completed was an investment in her future self, so that the Cameron Fox of next week could rest that much easier.
She sauntered into the staff kitchen and put on a fresh pot; she was going to need it. With only herself to share it with it seemed a good opportunity to open the exotic grounds, as in the kind reserved for the CEO and other corporate guests. In lieu of any fiscal bonus it was a reward she deserved.
Dr. Fox took her time in returning to her station. There may not have been rest for the wicked, but the least she could do was pace herself. When she arrived it was to a shabby figure combing through her drawers. His appearance was enough to make her drop the mug.
The stranger jumped, and glared daggers through her chest. He was disheveled and unshaven, and from where the doctor stood was in severe need of a bath.
“You don’t belong here,” she said. Instinct traced a mental path to the main floor and the first intercom she could reach. This was a job for security.
Before she could take a first step the stranger threw up the shimmering, purple gauntlet and threw her from her feet. The world upended and dropped into freefall, prompting a guttural scream. She couldn’t have known what was happening, and in human tradition leant on fear to drive her on.
Suddenly she collided with a liquid wall. Cold soaked into her clothes and every crevice of her flesh. Once finding her bearings, Dr. Fox pulled her head above water, and scanned the environment around.
There was no mistaking the salty taste, or the shadowy depths below the surface. More terrifying was the fact that wherever she looked there was no signs of land. From the east the first slivers of night crept, ready to draw darkness over her plight.
She screamed. “Help!” Her second cry was even more desperate. “Somebody help me! Please!”
No response was forthcoming. Her voice echoed to the horizon. How had she come to this place? How would she get back? Without land to support her she would surely die. Panic rattled in her chest.
Once again the world turned, and Cameron Fox was pulled underwater. She whipped in the brine in search of air, but stopped when she was thrown to the worn carpet of her office. Salt water dripped from her pathetic frame between chokes and sobs. Despite her surroundings she had yet to find any sense of security in it.
Clawing her way back to her desk she stumbled upon an unusual absence. Her papers and files had diminished considerably, no doubt in the hands of the intruder. She rose to her feet, and flicked through documents. Nowhere among them could she find reference to the laboratory incident of a few days earlier.
Sprinting from her office, she entered the main floor and found she was painfully and profoundly alone.
To be continued…