I’d decided. I had powers, and would use them for truth and justice. To do that there had to be a wrong to make right. The kind of injustice you punch doesn’t jump out waving a flag, so 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. We found nothing save a few bad drivers.
I sat in the passenger seat with a hoodie pulled over my head. It worked in place of a costume, at least for the moment. I hoped the disguise read ‘female’.
“We’re going about this the wrong way,” Tanya said. She pulled to the curb.
The day before we pooled our cash to buy a police scanner. It was in good condition for its age, and offered new insight into the city. Nothing on the band called for the presence of a heroine who could fly.
Ten minutes later she 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 don’t know. That’s the best I could understand.”
She turned the dial to hush the scanner. “What do you think happened to that guy? You know, the one who…”
My feet sat on the glove compartment. I pulled my knees to my chest. The underside of my skirt flashed passersby, but I was too fragile to care. Thinking about that day, and the maniac with the gun, sent shivers up my spine.
Tanya stared at the wheel. “Sorry.”
“I can’t stop thinking about him,” I said. “We were in the same place when it happened. What if he has the same powers as me? 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? Once upon a time we bagged comic books for their angst. Not anymore.
Tanya squeezed my shoulder. “You know you don’t have to do this. Playing hero was my idea. Other people 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 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 hard to follow. Most calls were for ID checks, plate numbers, or reporting traffic violations. Nothing interesting like, say, a bank robbery.
I considered the scanner. “Remind me where you found this again.”
Tanya shrugged. “I know a guy who knows a guy.”
“Who has stuff to let you spy on cops,” I said.
“This is America, remember? People take the law into their own hands all the time. Having powers gives you an edge on the competition.”
“Except I want to help people,” I said, “not scare them.”
Tanya twisted the dial in. A part of me dreaded what we’d find. The more I thought about it the more I figured that the conflict of others was never my business. I was better off at home. Though fate had other plans.
A voice on the speaker choked 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 moving who they can to the roof! Request immediate chopper lift!”
“Orange Grove Towers,” Tanya said. “That’s like eight blocks from here.”
I leaned into the seat. “Gun it!”
“It’ll be faster if you fly,” she said.
“I-I have no idea where Orange Grove Towers is!”
Tanya pushed open the passenger side door. “Fly up and you’ll see smoke. A three-alarm is not a small fire.”
Only a few days prior I discovered these powers. I could fly, but didn’t dare go too far into the air. Anything past the fourth floor meant vertigo. Images of street pizza flashed through my mind.
I steeled myself. “Go big or go home.” I pulled the bandanna pulled over my mouth. It was more vandal than hero, but it did the job.
“Are you sure about that disguise?” Tanya said.
“You don’t like it?”
“‘Needs work,” she said.
I scoped for cover. “Talk to my tailor,” if those existed for heroes. It was make or break time. “Wish me luck,” I said. With little grace I sprinted between the buildings. They stood like vertical runways ushering me to the next plateau.
“Break a leg,” Tanya said. “Save the world!”
Familiar warmth flooded my senses. In a flash gravity loosened its hold. Windows flew past as I propelled upward, further than was comfortable. Soon Milestone City soared by, and accelerated every moment.
Tanya was right. A thick column of smoke marked the spark. I arced around the skyscrapers. and cleared the way toward the inferno. Flames engulfed the upper levels of an apartment building.
“Save the world,” I said. That was a good place to start.
* * * *
White heat flooded my vision. Somehow I could breathe as normal. The inferno raged, but didn’t register through touch. These powers changed more than I could imagine.
Through the blackness I spotted the shapes of people gathered on the roof. The heat of their bodies lit up in neon. They paced like animals trapped in a storm.
Bright red licked the guts of the building. Windows shattered and supports creaked. The structure itself cried in pain.
I found a perch and landed. The trapped survivors backed away. Gods, what a sight it! I, an incandescent figure descended from the sky wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. What only happened in comic books came bursting into reality.
“It’s an angel,” they said.
I pulled the covering from my mouth. “No, I’m a hero,” I said. “I’m here to help.”
The crowd huddled with ill ease. The sound of crackling drew nearer beneath their feet. All they had was a girl in a bad disguise. Still, any port in a storm was better than none.
A woman in a tracksuit stepped forward and looked for someone to speak in her place. She folded her arms and cleared her throat. “Look, er… no offense, kid, but you look more like a mugger than a hero.”
This was a problem. I balled my fists. She had reasons to doubt. My inexperience shone like a warning siren. Gods, even I wasn’t sure of me, but I had to do something!
“The building’s a goner,” I said. “It’s going to collapse any minute! Anyone who wants to stay here and wait for a rescue chopper, fine! Meanwhile, I’ll be over here carrying people across the street! Who’s with me?”
Another woman broke free of the cluster. She wore an old t-shirt, track pants and flip-flops. Making her way to the ledge she paused to study my frame. “All y’all can stay here as long as you want, but I’m out of here,” she said. “You can fly, right?”
I nodded and addressed the crowd. “I can carry one, maybe two at a time!”
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 her into a fireman’s carry, and together we hoisted from the roof. She was lighter than I thought she’d be. Flying with a passenger required more focus than it did alone. We hung over the yawn between rooftops, thirty floors above the ground. Gravity pulled at our toes. My eyes were married to our destination. The chasm could swallow us a thousand times, and then some.
One of her flip-flops slipped. It fell out of sight. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
“Nope. First time.”
She clung to my neck. “Girl, you’ve got some cojones! I wouldn’t trust you to deliver a pizza. I don’t care how sparkly you are!”
“Thanks,” I said. Some debut this turned out to be.
The final yards closed on us. We made it to solid ground. The first rescue was a success! Then there were the others, fifty or more. Their time ran into sudden death. Once they were safe I could pat myself on the back, not before.
I threw myself back with growing confidence. Elation and anxiety melded into a giddy high that carried me through the air. It felt good, as good as the confirmation of my girlhood.
The rescued woman waved to me. “Thanks for the help, Super-Babe!”
* * * *
The mood shifted. In the space of a journey their reluctance evaporated. They clamored for help by the dozen. They were like lemmings ready to charge off a cliff. It was thanks to the woman in the track suit they held back.
Mirages cooked the air on the ledge. Despite that she waved for calm. “Alright, you can help,” she said, “but remember, if you screw this up, you have to live with it.”
“It’s like another hero says-”
“Don’t,” she said, “even.”
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.
I flew back and forth until I lost count. With each trip came looming disaster. One slip meant an innocent striking the pavement. This while flames swallowed their home. It hungered for those I’d left behind.
Most of the roof had was clear when the helicopters arrived. The far corner collapsed and opened the hellish insides to the world. The woman in the tracksuit took my hand. The rest poured into the chopper.
“I guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of you,” she said.
We launched to the sky. This time we crossed the divide in seconds. Flying wasn’t second nature yet, but I had a feel for it. “Who knows?”
The woman 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.” They couldn’t let it go.
A panic cut through the crowd. At first I couldn’t hear over the cutting of helicopter blades. A man in a striped shirt clasped onto my shoulder. His eyes filled with terror.
“I can’t find Mr. Geong,” he said. “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 saving the day. I turned to the fire and stared down its throat. The fire roared and dared me to jump. Certain death waited inside. My powers would protect me, but any number of things could still go wrong.
There was no room for hesitation. 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 as he wandered from the kitchenette to the lounge of his motel room. It sat opposite the television.
After completing his initial work he succumbed to the calling for a proper bed. He 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 wait.
Every sip was bland on his tongue. The boiling temperature helped to disguise it. ‘Tomato’ the packet said, and failed in its promise. He opted to distract his senses instead.
He grabbed the remote control and turned to one of the news channels. Immediately he came upon a curious sight. A young woman floated between a building and its burning counterpart with no support.
“This is the scene in Milestone City where an unidentified adept appears to be moving residents to safety,” said the reporter. “Authorities are 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 to describe individuals with extraordinary abilities. They ranged from intellectual genius, to telepathy, and others that defied explanation. Such events were becoming more commonplace. For it to occur in his native city piqued his interest.
He leaned closer, as though to do so would sharpen the image. Who was this young woman? An intern, or a student. He pledged to find out for certain. This sudden appearance came days after the InfiniTech incident. It was too remarkable for coincidence.
Abandoning his seat and instant slop, Theodore Fellows took strides toward his luggage. He removed a device from a duffle bag. It hummed to life with purple energy rolling at the core.
* * * *
I shot between the jags of the former window pane. The smoke was no obstacle, but the infrared spectrum flooded my senses with searing red. Layer upon layer lined the maze of an 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 a blazing kitchen. Tiles cracked like egg shells. Shards of glass littered the ground. Wooden stakes like spears toppled across the 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. I called into them one after the other. “Mr. Geong! Mr. Geong, are you in here?” But there was no sign of him.
I scoured the other side and soared through each of the apartments. The floor was fragile at best. Then the roof collapsed. I jerked the way I came, avoiding the living room contents that fell. A porcelain bowl split beside a melting polyester sofa.
What if I missed him? He could have been unconscious, choked out on fumes. I had to keep looking.
Somewhere in the maze came a voice. I searched for a human shape to whom it belonged. The words weren’t in English, but there was definitely a man calling from the flames.
“Mr. Geong! Where are you?”
“Yes! Yes! Here!”
The voice was clearer, only a couple of doors away. Squinting through the heat I could make out an arm reaching from a bathtub. Mr. Geong tucked himself 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 rocketed into the bathroom. I searched a window, but there was nothing. We’d have to make our exit the old fashioned way.
He was small in my arms, and light enough to carry without effort. “Try and save oxygen,” I said. “Keep your head down!” He seemed to understand, and did as instructed.
The inferno rolled through the entrance and sealed the exit. It moved through the main area of Mr. Geong’s home. Running him along either path would roast him alive. The only remaining option was the third wall, risking collapse.
My nerves steeled and shoulders arched. I placed the old man down, pointed to the wall, and readied a blast. My eyes set on my target, and I let loose. The shot tore a hole through the brick. The force threw me back, and my body bounced from the wall.
Pain cracked my skull. The heat engulfed me before I hit the floor. 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 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. My powers were a muscle that needed to flex, and I let go. Being careless cost me.
I heard something. It was loud enough to stir me to life. How long was I unconscious? The fire still raged with more fury than ever. The structure bent 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 said something in his native language that wasn’t for the ears of children.
If only I had some kind of practical power; enhanced strength, anything! My job was to save the senior citizen, and not the other way!
I closed my eyes and worked through the pain. All I had to do was concentrate and the energy would come back… except it didn’t. The weight made it impossible to grasp, like a handle that was beyond reach. Each breath pulled more smoke, sending me into a coughing fit.
Mr. Geong leaned beside me. His eyes swirled with fear and anger, but behind them was determination. “You be okay,” he said. Tears ran down his cheeks.
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. All I had to do was find it. I strained against the beam, struggling to take hold. It was there, 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.
My body erupted. Supernatural light shot from my fingertips. With a push I grabbed the old man and obliterated the wall. Daylight and fresh air greeted us, as did the rooftop of survivors in the distance.
Mr. Geong kicked in my arms, 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 the strange energy made it numb. It didn’t overwhelm like it did when I powered down. I focused on our flight path and brought us down to where concerned neighbors gathered.
The power waned and the aching returned. There were burns, scratches, and a headache I wouldn’t live down anytime soon. Adrenaline surged through my veins and kept me from shaking apart.
I waved to the woman in the tracksuit as she approached. 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. It was the letter ‘G’ wrapped around an orb, ticked with a streak that grew into a beam of light.
The woman grinned. “Does it stand for ‘Glimmer Girl’?”
I smiled. “That’s exactly right.”
* * * *
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 at home that she was able to drive through it with her sanity intact. Her work of late proved a particular challenge. It called 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. Not only that but each task completed was an investment in her future self. The Cameron Fox of next week could rest that much easier.
She sauntered into the staff kitchen and put on a fresh pot. With only herself to share with it seemed a good opportunity to open the exotic grounds. They were the kind reserved for the CEO and other corporate guests. In place 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 glared daggers through her chest. He appeared disheveled and unshaven, and from where she stood 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 taking a first step the stranger flailed a shimmering, purple gauntlet. An unseen force threw her from her feet. The world upended and dropped into freefall. She couldn’t have known what was happening, and in human tradition leant on her fear to survive.
Without knowing how she collided with a liquid wall. Cold soaked into her clothes and every crevice of her flesh. Dr. Fox pulled her head above water and scanned the environment.
She recognized the salty taste and the shadowy depths below the surface. More terrifying was that wherever she looked there was no sign of land. From the east crept the first slivers of night, ready to draw darkness over her.
She cried to the distance. “Help!” Over time they grew more desperate. “Somebody help me! Please!”
No response came. 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 die. Panic rattled in her chest.
Once again the world turned, and an unseen force pulled her underwater. She whipped in the brine in search of air, but stopped when she collapsed on the worn carpet of her office. Salt water dripped from her pathetic frame between 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 by a considerable margin, 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. There she found she was painfully and profoundly alone.
To be continued…