Nerves of Steel (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Story
Nerves of Steel
Wisconsin, Wednesday Sept 26th, 2007
I was sitting in my room, AKA my cage, which was where I’d been for the last couple days. The place was a lot nicer than any bedroom I’d ever had before, but not exactly a luxurious five-star hotel suite.
Still, I couldn’t complain about the food. I stared down at my dinner, which consisted of lobster, asparagus, and a rice dish, that was really good. And then, there was the dessert, a big bowl of banana pudding. I loved banana pudding, and suspected that Mary was the one who told them that.
I scowled as I thought about Mary and the way she’d betrayed me and Falkner. Then again, was it really betrayal when she’d been working for Paradigm the entire time? What I did know, was that it still pissed me off. If it hadn’t been for Mary, then Paradigm never would have found out about me, and Falkner would still be alive.
“He died because of me,” I whispered to myself, feeling guilty as I did so.
Falkner had fixed me…had saved me, and I hadn’t been able to do the same for him. He’d been counting on me, and I’d failed him. If I’d met him when I was supposed to, then he’d probably still be alive now.
However, in spite of how bad I felt about what happened with Falkner, I was even more concerned with my own situation. I’d been kidnapped by a supervillain, and I was pretty sure that she had no plans to ever let me go.
I looked around my room, remembering a conversation that I’d had with Paradigm yesterday. She’d promised that if I help her, I’d be rewarded with better accommodations and treatment. And though she hadn’t said anything that time, there was still the unspoken threat of that EMP thing, hanging over my head. I shuddered at the very thought of it.
Fortunately, Paradigm seemed to prefer the carrot over the stick. She’d come in to talk to me several times since I’d woken up here, and had been very polite and friendly, though she talked a lot about how I could help make the world a better place. The scary thing was, it would be so easy to forget that she was a dangerous villain.
This morning, Paradigm had even sent a masseuse in to give me a massage. I’d been pretty hesitant at first, but Tina, the masseuse, was really good, and I’d felt a lot better afterwards. While I was getting the massage though, I’d taken advantage of the opportunity to read Tina’s mind, or at least what she was thinking at the time.
Tina didn’t seem to know a whole lot about what Paradigm had planned, or if she did, she wasn’t thinking about it then. What I did get from her, was that she really respected Paradigm, and thought it was great that I was going to help ‘save the world’. It was almost enough to make me feel guilty for not wanting to help.
“She killed Falkner,” I reminded myself. “Paradigm is NOT a good person.”
Once I was finished with my dinner, I took the opportunity to walk around my room again and look for anything I could use to escape. I’d already tried escaping, but it didn’t do any good. Paradigm had told me that she’d protected the walls, and she hadn’t been lying. When I used my PK power, I punched the walls and door, without making even a dent. I tried using my telekinesis to see if I could just open the door from the other side, but my power couldn’t pass through the door, not that it would have worked, since I can’t move anything without seeing it.
After a few minutes of looking around and trying to get an idea, I flopped down on my bed in frustration. I could have turned on the TV, because I had cable with a LOT of channels, but if I was going to just sit here and watch TV all day, I might as well be paralyzed again.
A short time later, the door opened up, but I remained where I was, warily watching. At first, I’d thought that I could rush the door and get out, but then I’d learned yesterday, that Paradigm kept a guard outside, armed with that EMP thing. If I tried to get out that way, I’d only get zapped, which was the last thing I wanted. I expected Paradigm to come in again, but to my surprise, it was Mary.
“Nina,” Mary greeted me self-consciously.
I just glared at her, not saying anything in response. She’d betrayed me and Falkner, and Falkner was dead, partly because of that. I was locked up in here, because of her.
“I understand why you’re mad at me,” Mary said apologetically. “And I’m sorry that things went this way…”
“So, you’re sorry for drugging me and having me locked in a cage?” I asked sarcastically. “Or maybe for getting Falkner killed…”
Mary winced. “I wanted you to come to Paradigm on your own. She’s a good person and wants to make the world a better place…”
“A good person?” I blurted out in stunned disbelief. “Kidnapping, murder, and mind control aren’t things that a good person does…”
Mary’s expression turned into a deep scowl. “You don’t understand. You’re too young to understand, Nina.”
I glared at Nina, growing angrier at the way she was defending Paradigm. “What I understand is that she murdered Falkner and is trying to turn me into some kind of slave…”
“Gerald was an accident,” Mary argued. “He never should have pulled a gun on Paradigm…” Then she paused to stare at me for several long seconds. “Paradigm paid for Gerald’s research and your treatment. You owe her… All she’s asking is that you pay her back…”
“Falkner is the one who fixed me,” I yelled at Mary. “Not Paradigm. I don’t owe her anything…”
“You’re being selfish,” Mary accused me. “You have the power to make a difference and you’re refusing to do so…”
“ME being selfish?” I snarled angrily. Several smaller objects around the room began to float up into the air, though I barely paid attention. “You KIDNAPPED me…locked me up in a cage like some kind of criminal…and are threatening to make me paralyzed again…all so you can make me turn other people into your mind controlled puppets too… What is WRONG with you people? My powers don’t even work like that…”
“You just need training,” Mary stated, completely ignoring everything else I said.
I just glared at Mary for several seconds, getting control of my telekinesis in the process and dropping everything that I’d been levitating. Then, I made a show of turning my back to her, refusing to even look at the woman who’d betrayed me. Tears were running down my cheeks again.
“I thought you were a nurse,” I whispered. “I thought you helped people.” I wiped the tears away, adding, “But you’re just another bad guy.”
Mary didn’t respond to that, and a few seconds later, I heard the door open and close again. I didn’t even need to look to know that I was by myself again.
Wisconsin, Wednesday late evening, Sept 26th, 2007
It was in the middle of the night and I was asleep, or at least, I was trying to sleep. I’d woken up a short time ago from a nightmare, where I’d been turned into a statue. It didn’t take a shrink to figure out what that one meant. While I was tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable enough to go back to sleep, I heard the door open.
Almost immediately, I reached out with my telepathy and heard the thought “I hope I don’t scare her…”
A second later, I sat up in bed, pulling up my PK shell to protect myself. Then, the lights came on and I saw the woman standing at the doorway. “Mary,” I said, surprised and confused about why she’d be sneaking in on me in the middle of the night. “What do you want now?”
“I’m helping you get out of here,” Mary answered with a nervous glance behind her. “Hurry up and get dressed.”
I scrambled out of bed and began getting dressed, though that didn’t stop me from giving Mary a suspicious look and asking, “Why are you helping me?” After all, the last time I’d trusted her, she’d drugged me and turned me over to Paradigm. I was here because of her.
Mary grimaced, looking guilty. “I liked Gerald, and the last thing I wanted was for him to get killed. It didn’t have to happen. What I wanted, was for him to come work with us…” She shook her head sadly before giving me another look. “I think you can do a lot of good with your powers, and you can help us make a difference, but I won’t be a part of forcing you…or taking away your implants.”
I was actually pretty glad to hear those words, though I remained a bit skeptical. “And what does your boss think?”
After hesitating for a moment, Mary explained, “Paradigm is a great woman, and can do amazing things for this world. However, she tends to look at the big picture and sometimes loses sight of the individuals who make up the world. I just hope that she’ll forgive me for this.”
I nodded at that, not wanting to say anything that might make Mary change her mind. So, I bit my tongue and finished getting dressed.
“Your implants were the last thing that Gerald ever created,” Mary said, staring at me with a sad look, that suddenly made me realize that she’d really had feelings for Falkner, even if she was spying on him. Then again, I really liked hanging out with Glow, and I’d been spying on her too. I felt guilty at the memory, and sad at the knowledge that I’d lost my new friend for good. “I don’t want his last accomplishment to be destroyed, and…I can’t bear the thought of doing that to you. I know what you went through…and what your life was like before he gave them to you.”
With that, Mary led me out the door. I hesitated a moment before following, remembering that there was supposed to be a guard with that EMP thing waiting outside. Once I stepped out, I saw that there was a guard, but he was sprawled out on the floor, snoring. I was surprised by that and gave Mary a curious look. I would have read her mind, but I wasn’t about to drop my PK shell until I was safe.
Mary began leading me down the hallway, though we hadn’t gone far before we ran into someone. He was tall and thin, with thick glasses and badly receding hair. In fact, he looked more like an accountant than a supervillain’s henchman.
“Mary,” the man exclaimed, giving me a look of worry. “What’s she…”
Before he could finish, Mary held up what looked like a can of pepper spray, and blasted him right in the face. The man’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground.
“Sorry for that, Charles,” Mary apologized to the man.
A minute later, we reached a thick metal door with some kind of key code lock beside it. Mary entered in some numbers and the door opened up, letting me see outside.
“This is the exit,” Mary told me, unnecessarily. “We’re just outside of Hartland, and Milwaukee is almost straight east of here.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling a bit awkward.
Mary nodded, then held out a small back pack for me. I took it from her, feeling a little confused.
“There are some things in there that might help you,” Mary explained. “Including a little money.”
“What about you?” I asked. “Are you coming with.”
“No,” Mary shook her head. “We’re doing important work here, and I’m not going to abandon it. However,” she gave me a wry smile, “just so you know, I am telling Paradigm that you mind controlled me and made me help you.”
“Of course,” I responded with a grin of my own.
For a moment, I just stood there, staring at Mary and remembering all that she’d done for me. Falkner might be the person who’d fixed my nervous system, but she’d been the one to take care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself. She was the one who taught me to walk again, and who pushed me through all that physical therapy and exercise, even when I was tired and frustrated, and had wanted to give up. Mary had helped me, almost as much as Falkner, and even though she’d betrayed me, I couldn’t forget what she’d done for me too, especially now.
“Gracias,” I told Mary with a nod, before I hurried out the door, then flew up into the air and away from that place.
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Thursday late morning, Sept 27th, 2007
I was sitting on a street corner in Milwaukee, looking at my surroundings and wondering why I’d come back here. I didn’t have anything for me in Milwaukee, not anymore. What I should be doing, was looking for a way back home to Sacramento. I hadn’t seen my family in way too long, and I missed them all, even that jerk Miguel.
“When I get back,” I told myself with a smile, “I’ll be able to read Julia a bedtime story.”
Of course, my little sister was a bit too old for bedtime stories, but over the last three years, she’d read for me a lot, and I wanted to return the favor. I wanted to tell her with my voice how much I appreciated what she’d done for me, and that I loved her.
With my eyes starting to tear up a bit, I turned my attention to the backpack Mary had given me. Mary had definitely thought ahead, because not only had there been some food and water bottles, but also a sweater and a hundred bucks in cash. That would definitely help me, since I could afford to buy a cheap cell phone and call home.
I let out a loud yawn and thought about my late night. Last night, I’d flown all the way from Hartland to Milwaukee, which wasn’t easy. For one thing, I could only fly for a limited distance before I had to stop and rest, though admittedly, all that practice was really making me better. By the time I got to that last hop, I’d been able to fly twice the distance of my first one.
“Maybe I should find a motel or something,” I thought aloud, though I knew I’d be really lucky if I could find a place that would let a girl my age stay there alone.
I still wasn’t sure why I’d even come back to Milwaukee in the first place. But when I thought about it a little more, I knew. I wanted to apologize to Glow, for hurting her the way I had. That hadn’t been my intention, but I’d still betrayed her. After Mary had betrayed me, I knew what that felt like. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to find Glow, since I didn’t know where she lived, and I hadn’t memorized her phone number. That had been saved on my cell phone, which I no longer had.
“Idiota,” I muttered in frustration, wishing that I’d bothered to memorize the number. Then with a sigh, I said, “The first thing I should do, is find a phone, so I can call home…”
After waiting another ten minutes, just long enough to finish off a sandwich and half a bottle of water, I finally got up and was on the move again. Flying was kind of fun, as well as kind of scary, but I didn’t want to attract attention, so decided to stay on the ground. Besides, I still got a huge kick out of just being able to walk again, and was quite happy to do so.
At first, everything seemed to be going great, but then, I noticed some guy following me. He was kind of short and stocky, not to mention way too old for me. He had to be forty, at least. This guy worried me a bit, because I didn’t know if he was a creeper who got his jollies from following girls around, or worse. Honestly, I kind of hoped he was just a creeper, because otherwise, I was in trouble.
When I turned the corner, this guy continued following me, which made me a bit worried. Unfortunately, he was too far away, so I couldn’t read his mind to find out what he was up to. So, my choices were either to slow down and let him catch up, enough that I could read his mind, or to try losing him completely. With a grin, I knew what my choice was.
“So long, perv,” I called out as I activated my PK shell and floated up into the air, leaving the guy behind.
I came back down again about two blocks away, where I figured that I’d gone far enough to lose him. With a grin, I continued on my way, cheerfully humming to myself in the process. At times like this, I REALLY liked having these awesome powers.
For the next couple minutes, I felt really smug and pleased with myself. However, I’d only gone about half a black, when I heard a familiar voice exclaim, “Ah, there you are…”
My heart jumped up into my chest and I snapped around, only to see Paradigm, floating in the air, about twenty feet above the ground. She was staring down at me with a firm gaze and an expression that seemed to be a mixture of annoyance and disappointment.
“My wayward young associate,” Paradigm said. “I’m afraid that your rebellious period has come to an end.”
“How did you find me?” I blurted out fearfully.
Paradigm smiled in amusement. “I suspected that you might return to Milwaukee, so I had my people searching here for you…”
“Great,” I grumbled bitterly. “That creeper wasn’t just a creeper…”
“Now, come along quietly,” Paradigm told me with a scowl, “and I’ll forgive your poor decision.”
“No way,” I responded, nervously backing away. “You’ve got another thing coming, chica, if you think, I’m just going to go back without a fight.”
Paradigm looked even more annoyed. “Let me put this another way,” she said, holding up a familiar looking gadget, the EMP thing. “You will come with me and fulfill your obligations, or I will repossess the technology that I paid for.”
I gasped in horror, unable to tear my eyes off that thing in her hand. With one push of a button, she could take away everything that Falkner had given me, and send me right back into hell. I couldn’t go back to that. Never. Even if it meant…
Then I froze, as something occurred to me. Paradigm wanted me…needed my power for that evil mind control scheme. Sure, there were other telepaths out there, ones who were a lot more powerful than me, and who probably had powers better suited for that kind of thing. However, I was the only one she had, and I didn’t think she’d throw that opportunity away just because of a little inconvenience. Once she fried my implants, I’d be completely and utterly useless to her, and I was pretty sure that she still wanted me too much to do that. But was I sure enough?
“I’d better be,” I muttered, deciding that I was sure enough to call her bluff. Or at least, I prayed it was a bluff, because if it wasn’t…
Before I could chicken out, I reached out with my telekinesis, grabbing a chair that was sitting right outside the small café I was standing outside of, and flung it right at Paradigm. She didn’t see it coming until it smashed into her.
Unfortunately, my moment of triumph turned into one of surprise and disappointment. Paradigm was surprised, but didn’t look like she was hurt in the least. She was a lot tougher than I’d thought.
“Oh shit,” I gasped, before I turned and flew up into the air, deciding that my best bet would be to just run away as fast as I could.
Suddenly, Paradigm was in front of me, and she certainly hadn’t flown there. I was caught by surprise, though not as much as I was a few seconds later, when I suddenly found myself stopped and being held in place.
“You’re a telekinetic too,” I blurted out, never mind the fact that she’d actually teleported in front of me.
“I think this has gone on long enough,” Paradigm said, looking as though she was out of patience with me.
“I don’t,” I argued, pushing against the invisible hand that seemed to be holding me as hard as I could. After a few seconds, I broke free.
“Enough,” Paradigm snapped. “I tried doing this the gentle way, but you leave me little choice…”
“You’re crazy,” I yelled at her. “Totally loco…”
“I dislike having to use brute force,” Paradigm said, “It’s so…uncivilized. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of doing so when pushed to it.”
Then as if to prove this, Paradigm held out her hand and fired some kind of force blast at me. It hit me like a giant hammer, and if it hadn’t been for my powers, I would have been splattered like a bug. As it was, I was sent flying back down to the ground, where I landed in the middle of the street, cracking the pavement. Even with my powers, I was gonna be bruised.
I barely got back to my feet when Paradigm appeared on front of me, then back-handed me. This hit nearly as hard as that blast, sending me flying back to where I slammed into the side of a parked car.
“Are you ready to come back with me now?” Paradigm asked me in a calm and even tone.
I just stared at the villainess, feeling sore and scared. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized just how powerful Paradigm really was, and now that I did, I kind of wished I didn’t.
Out of pure desperation and near panic, I stretched out my telekinesis again, which meant that my power was no longer concentrated close to my body. I lost my PK shell for the moment, and my protection, but this was my only chance.
With that, I grabbed Paradigm in my telekinetic grip and threw her back, right into the middle of the street, where an oncoming car crashed into her. She was knocked down, and seemed a little hurt, but not nearly enough. Instead, she mostly looked angry.
Pulling my power up close to me again and reforming my PK shell, I took advantage of Paradigm’s distraction to fly straight at her, and punched her as hard as I could. That knocked her back a little, but didn’t hurt her as much as the car had.
“Vete al infierno,” I spat out at her, which basically meant, ‘go to hell.’
Since I didn’t have any delusions about being able to beat a supervillain like Paradigm, I turned and flew off as fast as I could. But just when I thought I’d lost her, she suddenly appeared in front of me again, and blasted me with one of those force blasts, sending me flying into the side of a building.
I shook it off as best I could, but my heart was racing with fear and my body was really starting to hurt. Paradigm floated in the air, holding her hands out to fire another force blast. I saw it coming in time to fly away, but once again, she teleported in front of me, then punched me hard enough to send me flying back into another wall.
“You are the one who forced me into this,” Paradigm stated with a deep scowl. “Are you ready to give up this nonsense and come back with me, or will I have to drag you back, unconscious?”
This time, I didn’t waste my breath by responding. Instead, I simply tried flying away as fast as I could, even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I couldn’t escape someone who could just teleport in front of me.
“Very well then,” Paradigm announced. “We will continue doing this the hard way.”
Just then, there was a suddenly flash of blue light, and a familiar voice exclaimed, “I don’t think so…”
“Glow,” I gasped in surprise, as she appeared in the air, right in front of Paradigm.
Glow used a glowing blue energy sword to slash at Paradigm, who actually yelped in pain. A moment later, Glow vanished in another flash of light, only to reappear on top of a nearby rooftop. She vanished again, teleporting back into the air near Paradigm, where she threw several glowing blue throwing stars, though this time, Paradigm was the one who vanished, before she was hit.
Paradigm reappeared in the air a short distance away while Glow teleported too, popping up back on that rooftop. Without a word, Paradigm fired a force blast at Glow, though Glow easily leapt out of the way.
“I’m the one you want,” I yelled out, terrified that Paradigm would hit Glow.
“Yes, you are,” Paradigm responded in a cold tone, as she turned her attention back at me.
Suddenly, I was afraid that I’d pushed her too far, and that she’d decide I wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. When that happened, she still had that EMP thing.
“Well, you aren’t going to get her,” Glow yelled out. “I won’t let you lay another finger on Nina.” She held out her hand and another sword made of blue energy appeared there.
“How amusing,” Paradigm commented. “Two children, who think they can overpower me… I haven’t been this entertained since I took Mouse Girl away from her mentor.”
“Then how about facing someone your own size?” a new voice called out.
I looked down and saw an enormous woman in a red and white costume with a mask that covered the top part of her face. She had to be nearly thirty feet tall, but as I watched, she grew even larger, only stopping when she was about forty feet tall.
“Or larger,” the woman added.
I was so surprised by this giant woman, that it took me a couple seconds to realize who she was. This was Ginormous, Glow’s mom.
“I have little interest in fighting the Liberty League at this time,” Paradigm commented, before looking at me. “We will continue this another time.” And with that, she teleported away.
With Paradigm gone, I lowered myself to the ground and let out a sigh of relief. I’d been pushing myself as hard as I could, and couldn’t keep it up any longer.
As soon as I landed, Glow appeared beside me in a flash of blue, giving me a concerned look. “Are you okay?” she asked.
For a moment, I just stared at Glow with tears starting to form in my eyes. I barely even noticed Ginormous shrinking down to a somewhat more reasonable height of eight feet tall. Then, I finally cried out, “I’m sorry…”
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Thursday afternoon, Sept 27th, 2007
I was sitting on a couch, in the middle of a nicely decorated living room. After Glow and her mom had saved me, Ginormous said that she knew a place where I’d be safe for the moment. To my surprise, she meant her own apartment.
Glow sat on the other end of the couch, which made me feel self-conscious, especially considering how mad she’d been at me the other day. However, she didn’t seem angry at the moment, or at least, not at me. Now, Paradigm on the other hand, still seemed to piss her off a bit.
A short distance away, Glow’s mom sat down in an oversized chair, that looked like it was built for someone who was eight feet tall. She was currently at six and a half feet tall, but still had plenty of room to grow. She took off her mask and let out a sigh.
“Um…Ginormous,” I said, feeling silly for calling her that, and a bit uncertain about proper superhero etiquette. “Thank you for saving me…”
“You can call me Sarah, since I have my mask off,” she responded with a smile. I was startled at that, until remembering that her secret identity had apparently been blown by some villains.
“Well, thank you,” I repeated.
“Rachael and I saw you were being chased by Paradigm,” Sarah said, giving me a sympathetic look, “and she ran off to help, without even waiting for me.” She gave her daughter a look that suggested they’d talk about that later.
I looked at Glow in confusion. “Thank you. But after the other day, I’m kind of surprised…”
Glow grimaced at that while her mom gave a curious look. Apparently, Glow hadn’t told her mom about what I was up to, or about how she’d chased me off.
“I was pretty pissed,” Glow admitted, looking almost guilty. She didn’t look at me as she continued, “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized you didn’t really have a lot of choice. I mean, I know what this Falkner guy did for you, and if he would have done that for me, I would have done just about anything to pay him back…”
I nodded sadly at that. “And now he’s dead…”
“Nina,” Sarah started in a gentle but firm tone. “What is going on, and why did you have someone like Paradigm after you?”
After hesitating a couple seconds, I let out a sigh, then stared at the floor in shame as I began to answer. I told her about my burnout and how Falkner had fixed me, which she already knew. Then, I quietly admitted that Falkner had asked me to spy on the Liberty League, so he could try to buy himself a little more time. Of course, that hadn’t worked at all, and instead of getting Paradigm off his back, she’d only become interested in me.
When I was finished, I couldn’t look Sarah in the eyes. I was too ashamed of what I’d done. If it had worked, and Falkner had still been alive, then I probably would have been able to justify it to myself a bit better. As it was, I felt like crap.
To my surprise, Sarah came over and gave me a hug, and I started to cry. I hugged her back, wishing that I could hug my own mom. I hadn’t been able to do that in three years, and at that moment, I wanted to do it even more than ever. Sarah’s hug was nice, but she wasn’t my mom.
“So,” Sarah finally said as she returned to her seat. “Paradigm wants you to try mind controlling people for her. I’m not really surprised.”
“You know that villain?” Glow asked.
“The Liberty League ran into her a couple times before,” Sarah answered with a look of annoyance. “Whenever we showed up, she just teleported away, without bothering to fight us. But some of the things she did today, I’ve never heard of her doing before. Somehow, she’s gotten more powerful.”
“She told me she recently got more powerful,” I responded. Then, I smiled faintly as I offered, “I know where Paradigm’s secret base is.”
That seemed to get Sarah’s attention, though her expression quickly turned to one of frustration. “That information could be useful, but we can’t do much with it yet…”
“Why not?” I asked.
Sarah shook her head faintly. “Unfortunately, the Liberty League is out of town today, chasing down a supervillain who kidnapped a boy.”
“Yeah,” Glow agreed. “And apparently, this villain is Super Star’s archenemy or something, because she’s taking it really personally.”
“She and Pinball do have a history,” Sarah agreed. “Though admittedly, I don’t know all the details.”
I nodded at that, though I also scowled in frustration. “By the time they’re back, Paradigm might have moved…”
“True,” Sarah agreed, and I could see that she didn’t like this either. “But there is absolutely no way that I’m going there alone, or even with two teenage girls. That would be a good way to get people killed…especially since we don’t know the extent of Paradigm’s new powers.”
“But,” I started to protest.
Sarah gave me a steady look. “Once the League finishes up their current business, we’ll deal with Paradigm. Until then, you need to keep a low profile and wait.”
After this, Sarah got up and went to make some phone calls, leaving Glow and I alone. We sat there for nearly a minute in silence, both of us being a bit self-conscious and hesitant to start first.
Finally, Glow broke the silence by saying, “I was kidnapped by a villain once.”
“What?” I asked in surprise, noticing the haunted look in her glowing eyes, and the way her voice shook just a little.
“When I was really little,” Glow continued, not quite looking at me, “a villain kidnapped me to get to my mom.”
“Oh my God,” I gasped, suddenly remembering that brief glimpse I’d had into her thoughts.
“He...did some horrible things to me,” Glow admitted, clenching her fists together as she did so. “He broke me…up here.” She tapped her temple. “I was really messed up, and after twelve years, I’m only just starting to get better.” Then, she gave me a wry look, admitting, “But I still have a long way to go.”
I stared at Glow for a couple seconds, really feeling for her but not being sure what to say. I wanted to give her a hug, but wasn’t sure if she’d really appreciate that at the moment.
Glow just gave me a weak smile. “I recently lost all the physical scars, but I’ll have the mental ones for the rest of my life.”
This time, I leaned over and gave Glow a big hug anyway. She looked like she needed one.
“Thanks,” Glow said a few seconds later, once we pulled apart. It was a little awkward, but not much. “I just wanted you to know, that I know what it’s like…and that things could have been a lot worse.”
“Gracias,” I told her, nodding my understanding. “I appreciate it.”
“No problemo,” Glow responded with a chuckle.
Since I didn’t know what else to say, I looked around and said, “So, this is where you live…?”
“Naw,” Glow answered, shaking her head and giving me a wry smile. “Dinah and I live with our dad, though Mom set up a guest bedroom for us here, for whenever we want to stay.”
“I’m glad my parents never got divorced,” I commented, thinking about how horrible it would be to have to choose between them. Then again, I’d probably end up with Mom, while Miguel would go with Dad, so I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. As Mom liked to say before my burnout, there’s a bright side to everything.
“My family has enough drama for a soap opera,” Glow told me with a grin. “But enough of that. Let me give you the nickel tour.”
Liberty Island, Friday Sept 28th, 2007
Adonis was dead.
It was hard to believe. Adonis was a bit of a jerk, and a total man slut, but he’d also been really strong and tough. In spite of that, someone had killed him, and it wasn’t just some angry father, brother, or husband, which is who I would have expected to have done the deed.
I hadn’t been there when it happened, of course, but I overheard enough to have an idea of what occurred. Apparently, yesterday, while the Liberty League had been chasing after the kidnapper, Pinball, they ended up in a fight with a whole group of supervillains. And then, as if that wasn’t troublesome enough, the MCO showed up and began shooting at everyone, hero and villain alike. In the end, Adonis had been murdered by the MCO, while the villains all escaped.
At the moment, I was at Liberty Island, for my own protection. I was sitting in some kind of briefing room, surrounded by the members of the Liberty League. Needless to say, they were all in a foul mood, and my admission of spying on them, wasn’t well received. I just sat there with my head hung low, feeling guilty and scared. I half expected them to throw me into jail, though so far, Super Star was the only one who’d actually suggested it.
“Nina was put into a bad situation,” Sarah, or Ginormous, since she was in costume, told the others. “She did what she thought she had to in order to save a friend.”
“Why are you even here?” Super Star asked her with a clear note of bitterness. “You aren’t even with the team anymore… You left, remember?”
“Star,” Force Majeure said in a warning tone.
Super Star glared up at Ginormous, who was currently seven feet tall. “Maybe if you’d been there, Adonis would still be alive…”
Ginormous winced at that, but before she could respond, Twist pointed out, “If Ginormous had been there with us, then she wouldn’t have been there to save Nina.”
I scrunched down a little in my seat, wishing that invisibility was one of my powers. Glow was sitting beside me and put her hand on mine, to remind me that I wasn’t alone.
“And what is she doing here?” Super Star asked, pointing to Glow. “She’s just a kid.”
“I’m here for moral support,” Glow answered in an even tone. Then, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t mind Super Star. She’s just full of herself.” That was enough to make me chuckle faintly.
Ginormous looked around the room, stating, “I took my leave of absence, so I could spend more time with my family, and it’s because I was spending time with my daughter that I’m involved…” She put a hand on Glow’s shoulder. “Nina is my daughter’s friend, and she’s in trouble. If you think that Rachael is going to just ignore that, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention. And you can be certain, that I am going to help these girls however I can…”
“Of course we’ll help,” the Bronze Lady said, giving me a reassuring smile.
“Whatever Nina’s original intentions,” the Gentleman added, “she did save Adonis’ life…and she needs help.”
That made everyone go silent for a moment, as they remembered that Adonis was now gone. I’d saved his life, not that it had lasted long afterwards.
“She was spying on us,” Super Star argued. “She was working for Paradigm…”
“And this is why I protected everyone’s mind from intrusion,” the Gentleman said calmly. “She never read any of our minds…”
The Bronze Lady looked at me and pointed out, “And according to Nina, she never told Paradigm anything about us anyway… Not that she learned anything useful.”
“The fact of the matter is,” Force Majeure said, looking around the room. “Whether or not Nina was spying on us, isn’t important. What is important, is that she needs our help. And in case any of you forgot, Paradigm was already our problem.”
“Until now,” Ginormous commented, “she was more annoyance than active threat. However, she’s gotten a lot more powerful…and more daring.”
The Bronze Lady nodded at that. “From what we’ve heard, this new level of power she possesses, is emboldening Paradigm. Who knows what villainy she may attempt next, especially now that she’s made clear her goals…”
“There are a lot of telepaths and mind controllers out there,” Twist said. “Even if she doesn’t have Nina, it’s only a matter of time before she finds someone else.”
“Yes,” the Gentleman agreed. “There are also numerous devises, artifacts, and spells that might serve her needs as well. As Twist says, it’s only a matter of time before Paradigm finds what she needs to advance her plans. We must stop her mad schemes now, before they come to fruition.”
“Then it’s a good thing that Nina knows where her base is,” Glow pointed out, making me want to sink into my chair even lower. The truth was, I’d already told Ginormous everything I knew about the base, so they didn’t need me for that.
Force Majeure looked at Ginormous. “Then, I assume you want in on the raid.”
“Of course,” Ginormous responded with a deep scowl. She glanced to Glow, obviously wanting to see her reaction.
“Good,” Force Majeure said, not needing to point out that their team was currently short a member.
Super Star stood there with a scowl on her face. “After yesterday, I’m in the mood to hit someone really hard. It’s nice of that bitch Paradigm to volunteer.”
“Yes, it is,” Force Majeure agreed.
It was around this point that the Liberty League began to actually make their plans, and where Glow and I were politely asked to leave. I was happy to leave the room, though Glow was more annoyed by it.
Once we were out of the briefing room, Glow admitted, “I don’t like being cut out of things. I mean, I…we actually fought Paradigm, and that should count for something.”
I nodded my agreement, though the truth was, I was quite happy that they didn’t expect me to fight her again. “I’m just surprised that they didn’t ask me more about her base.” Then I shrugged. “Not my problem anymore.”
“That sounds more like you’re trying to convince yourself,” Glow pointed out. She might have a point.
“So,” I asked, partly to change the subject. “Is there a phone around here I can use?” With a sigh, I admitted, “I haven’t called home in almost two weeks, and I bet my mom is really worried…”
“Sure,” Glow told me with an understanding smile. “It’s this way…”
A minute later, I made the call and waited nervously for Mom to pick up. What was I going to tell her? I didn’t know how to tell her about Falkner being murdered, or about my being kidnapped by a supervillain. And then there was the whole thing about trying to spy on the Liberty League.
“I am SO dead,” I moaned.
When the phone picked up, a familiar voice said, “Hello,” from the other end. However, it wasn’t my mom’s voice.
“Paradigm,” I squeaked out.
“Since you’ve refused to cooperate,” Paradigm said in an almost pleasant tone, “I’ve been forced to find other means of motivation. I don’t like having to do this, but remember, you are the one who forced my hand.”
My eyes widened in horror and my stomach felt like it was trying to force its way up into my throat. “No…”
“You know what I want,” Paradigm told me. “Now, come back and do as I so reasonably asked, and my new guests will continue to remain comfortable.” With that, the phone went dead.
I just stood there for several seconds, horrified by this new development. Just when I thought I was done with Paradigm, she pulls this, making everything even worse.
“What’s wrong?” Glow asked, giving me a worried look.
With tears running down my cheeks, I blurted out, “Paradigm has my family.”
Wisconsin, Friday afternoon, Sept 28th, 2007
I nervously looked out the trithoptor window, at the ground that was quickly coming closer. This wasn’t the first time that I’d ridden in one of these things, but they looked far too weird for me to feel comfortable in. They were part helecoptor, part plane, and looked like they were inspired from Jules Verne. Yes, they looked kind of cool, in a real old-fashioned, retro sci-fi way, but not exactly safe.
Ginormous was flying the trithoptor while Twist sat beside her, acting as the co-pilot. That left Glow and myself in the back, with the rest of the space all to ourselves. Of course, there was another trithoptor flying ahead of us, and carrying the Bronze Lady, the Gentleman, Force Majeure, and Super Star. There wasn’t quite enough space to fit all of us into one machine, so we’d been forced to split up and travel in two of them.
“How are you doing back there?” Ginormous called back.
“Fine,” I lied.
The truth was, I couldn’t stop thinking about my family, and wondering if they were all right. I didn’t even know which of them Paradigm had, or if she had everyone. What I did know, was that she’d answered my mom’s cell phone, which was a really bad sign.
“We’ll get your mom back,” Glow promised from beside me. She had a pretty intense look on her face, the kind that might have intimidated me a bit under other circumstances.
“There is no WE in this,” Twist said, looking back and giving Glow and I a look of warning. “You two are staying with the thoptor.”
I merely nodded at that, since we’d had this conversation before. The Liberty League hadn’t wanted me and Glow coming along on this mission, and it had taken a bit of arguing from both of us, to even get this much.
There were a lot of reasons for me to come along on the trip. I knew Paradigm’s base better than any of them did, and if they had any questions for me, it made sense for me to be close enough for them to ask. My family was probably in that place, and if I was close at hand, I could be reunited with them all the sooner. And most importantly, I wasn’t safe on Liberty Island. While they were gone, Paradigm could simply teleport there, and grab me while I wasn’t protected. At least this way, I was close enough that they could come running to help me if they had to.
When we landed, Ginormous and Twist climbed out of the trithoptor in order to join the rest of the Liberty League, who’d landed about fifty yards away. “Remember,” Ginormous warned us. “Stay here.” Then she looked to her daughter and added, “And look out for Nina.”
“I’ll keep her safe,” Glow promised.
I felt a little annoyed that Ginormous was asking Glow to protect me, as if I was helpless and couldn’t take care of myself. However, I had to grudgingly admit, that she did have a point. Twist had been training Glow, and Glow apparently had some experience in real fights against supervillains. I was a rookie, both with my powers, and when it came to serious fights.
Once the heroes were all gone, I glanced at Glow, wondering how I was going to get past her. In spite of what I’d agreed to, there was no way I was going to just sit back and do nothing, when my family was in trouble.
Before I could figure anything out, Glow said, “Here,” and handed me a bundle of clothing.
“What’s this?” I asked, unfolding the bundle and seeing that it was a costume, which seemed similar to what Glow was wearing, but all in grey.
“It’s a blank training uniform,” Glow explained. “It’s mostly kevra, with a little padding inside for extra protection. The League has a few of these in the supply room, and I thought this one would fit you.”
I blinked at that. “How’d you know…?”
I gave her a suspicious look, wondering which of us was the mind reader. As tempting as the idea was, of reading her mind, I already knew that would be a bad idea, not to mention, even worse than the whole spying thing.
“Last month,” Glow said with a grim expression, “Mel and my dad were kidnapped…by the same supervillain who took me…”
“No way,” I gasped. Whoever that villain was, I knew that he’d messed Glow up pretty good, so this had to be like a nightmare come true for her. “What did you do?”
Glow gave me a wry smile. “I went after them.” She gestured to the suit she’d just given me. “There was absolutely no way that I was going to just sit back and wait for someone else to rescue my family for me, and I figured that you’d feel the same way.”
“You figured right,” I admitted. Then, holding up the training outfit, I grinned. “Thanks.”
It took me about five minutes to change clothes, mostly because that one-piece training outfit was a little trickier than I would have guessed. Still, once it was on, it fit almost perfectly. Now, I had my own superhero costume, even if it was just a boring gray color.
“This is probably going to be a rough fight for the League,” Glow told me as I finished up. “They’re still all sore and tired from the big fight yesterday, not to mention, what happened with Adonis.”
“So, you think we should help them?” I asked.
Glow shook her head. “In spite of all that, they can handle themselves.” Then she grinned, though it seemed a little forced. “The way I figure it, while the adults are charging in the front and drawing all their attention, we can use that distraction to just slip on in.”
“Works for me,” I said, nodding my agreement.
We left the Trithoptor and hurried towards the large warehouse that served as Paradigm’s base. It was completely remodeled inside, with hallways and lots of rooms, so that I had absolutely no idea it was a warehouse until I was on the outside and looking back.
“I can see them,” I said, once we were a bit closer.
The Liberty League was in the middle of fighting Paradigm, though it was obvious that they were having a hard time of it. While I watched, Twist fired some kind of energy blast at Paradigm, thought the villainess vanished, reappearing right in front of Ginormous, and blasting her in the face. To my surprise, Twist’s energy blast, changed direction in mid-air, and came back at Paradigm, hitting her in the back. Not that it seemed to do much more than stun her for a moment.
“We don’t have time to watch the show,” Glow reminded me.
“Yeah,” I agreed, tearing my eyes from the fight and running towards the side of the warehouse, well away from where the fight was occurring. “This was the door I left from…”
“Good thing it wasn’t the front door,” Glow commented wryly, gesturing in the direction of the fight.
“Really,” I agreed.
I tried to open the door, but it was locked. There was some kind of fancy electronic keypad next to it, but I had no idea what the combo was. When I’d left, Mary was the one who’d opened it.
“Not a problem,” Glow said.
With that, Glow teleported away, reappearing an instant later about twenty feet away. She teleported two more times, before reappearing right next to me. Then, she held out her hand, and the glowing blue aura that now surrounded her, melted down into her palm, where it formed into a katana made of the energy. Glow swung it at the door and sliced right through it. With a smug look, she kicked the rest of the door open.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, definitely impressed.
“I can cut right through the engine block of a car,” she bragged. And with a smirk, she added, “And I have.”
While I’d been here as an unwilling ‘guest’, I hadn’t left my room, so wasn’t all that familiar with the layout. However, I was pretty sure that I could find my way back to my room from here, just by reversing the path I’d taken while escaping. If that was the area where Paradigm kept her ‘guests’ locked up, then there was a really good chance, that this was where my family was being held.
To my relief, the hallway was empty, and when I glanced through an open doorway, things looked…abandoned. It looked as though someone had packed in a hurry, then ran off, leaving the furniture and a couple half-packed boxes.
“I think they were already starting to evacuate the place,” I commented.
It made sense. Paradigm told me, that she’d recently lost her main base and had been forced to move into this place, as a backup. And then, after I escaped, this place was no longer all that secure either. I bet that pissed her off, almost as much as my escaping, if not more.
“Here we are,” I said when we reached the hallway where I’d been locked up.
There was an armed guard in the hallway, which I took to be a good sign that we were in the right place. Before he could do anything more than notice us, Glow teleported to him and began hitting him in the face and stomach. He dropped to the ground a couple seconds later, where he curled up and moaned in pain.
“Ouch,” I exclaimed with a wince.
A moment later, I focused all my power into my telepathy, and could suddenly ‘hear’ the thoughts around me. There weren’t very many thoughts within range of my power, and other than Glow and the guard, all of them were coming from one room.
“They’re here,” I blurted out excitedly.
As soon as I opened the door, I was immediately faced with the sight of my family. Mom, Dad, Miguel and Julie, were all there and scattered about the large ‘hotel room’. At first, they were watching me with nervous expressions, then recognition and surprise flashed over their faces.
“Hola,” I said, waving self-consciously.
“Nina?” Mom gasped in surprise.
A second later, Mom ran over and threw her arms around me in a tight hug. I hugged her back, with tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d hugged her like this.
“You look…healthy,” Mom said, looking me over in amazement.
“My Nina,” Dad said, grabbing me with a hug of his own. “You’re walking again…”
With a broad grin, I announced, “Falkner fixed me…” But then I paused, my good mood draining away as I remembered what happened to him.
Then, Julia came up and just stared at me for a moment, obviously unsure of what to do. She’d only been seven years old, the last time I’d been able to talk to her with my own voice.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” I stated, grabbing my little sister into a hug as well.
After I let go of Julia, I looked at Miguel, who was watching me with an odd expression. “I’m glad you’re better,” he finally said as he came closer, though he made no move at going for a hug. As soon as he was within range, I punched his arm as hard as I could. “Ouch,” he exclaimed, stepping back and giving me a look of surprise. “What was that for?”
“That was for all the times you were a jerk to me,” I pointed out.
Miguel just shrugged. “I probably deserved that.”
“You definitely deserved it,” Julia said with a grin. Then she looked me over and asked, “Are you a superhero now?”
I glanced down at the training uniform I was wearing. “Not really…”
“Of course she is,” Glow said from the doorway. “Her codename is Psyber…”
Everyone turned to look at Glow and gasped in surprise. Between her costume, and glowing hair and eyes, she was quite distinctive.
“Are you a superhero too?” Julia blurted out.
“This is Glow,” I said, introducing her to my family. “She’s kinda, sorta, a member of the Liberty League.” Then I gestured at my family and told Glow, probably unnecessarily, “This my mom and dad, my brother Miguel, and my favorite sibling Julia.” I stuck my tongue out at Miguel while Julia laughed.
“Nice to meet you,” Glow said politely. “But we should probably get out of here while we can.”
Dad nodded agreement but gave me a look that clearly said, that once we were out of here, he wanted an explanation about what was going on. I imagined they were all pretty curious about why a supervillain had kidnapped them. I knew Paradigm enough to know that she’d probably given them some kind of explanation, but there were doubtlessly a lot of questions anyway.
Glow and I led the way into the hallway while everyone followed behind. Both Dad and Miguel seemed offended by the idea that a couple teenage girls were protecting them, but they were too shaken by the situation to make a big deal of it, at least yet.
We hadn’t even reached the end of the first hallway when two guards turned the corner and came into view. Glow didn’t immediately teleport and take them out, the way she had the previous guard. Maybe she just wanted to give me a chance to show off in front of my family. Whatever her reason for hesitating, I took advantage of the opportunity. I reached out with my telekinesis, yanking the guns right out of their hands, and then, I used my power to throw them back until they slammed into the wall, then dropped to the ground.
“Holy...,” Miguel gasped in stunned disbelief. “Did you do that?”
“I have my powers back,” I bragged, feeling rather smug.
“I knew you were a superhero,” Julia blurted out, looking rather pleased with herself.
“We need to hurry,” Glow reminded us. “I don’t know how much longer the League will keep everyone distracted…”
Once we retraced our steps and were back at the exit, I let out a sigh of relief. We were almost out. After this, we’d just go back to the trithoptors, call the League on the radio, and let them know that my family was free. After that, the only thing they’d have to worry about, would be, catching Paradigm.
Almost as soon as we left the building, I suddenly realized that, while we’d been inside, the fight had moved. It was now taking place almost right in front of us, and we’d walked right into the middle of it.
“I should thank you,” Paradigm announced, from where she was floating up in the air. “For providing this opportunity to test the limits of my new power…”
Ginormous was currently living up to her name, and was about forty feet tall. She tried to catch Paradigm from behind, though the villainess turned and blasted her with one of those force blasts, knocking her back and onto her butt. Glow stiffened beside me, and I saw from the grimace on her face, that she really wanted to go help her mom.
“What’s going on?” Dad demanded.
“No way,” Miguel gasped, staring at the superheroes and the villain with a look of stunned disbelief.
“Come on,” I urged, wanting to get out of there before things got worse.
The Bronze Lady used some kind of weird rifle to shoot an energy blast at Paradigm, though the villain simply teleported out of the way. Force Majeure had the glowing image of an angel surrounding him, as he flew straight towards Paradigm, while Super Star flew at him from the opposite direction. At the same time, Twist was helping the Gentleman up off the ground, where he’d apparently been knocked.
“I’ve had enough of this fight,” Paradigm announced. “There’s no need to waste any more time fighting you. My people have had time to finish evacuating, so…” Suddenly, she paused and stared down at us with a look of surprise.
“Uh oh,” Julia whispered, hiding behind Dad. “I don’t think that’s good…”
“It isn’t,” I responded in a shaky voice.
Paradigm didn’t take her eyes off me, but she still used her telekinesis to fling Force Majeure and Super Star away. “You,” she announced. “You still refuse to cooperate…”
“She’s the one who kidnapped us,” Mom exclaimed as she grabbed hold of Miguel and Julia, and tried to push them back, further away from the danger.
Paradigm held out her hand, and suddenly, Mom floated up into the air and towards her. “It seems that I’ll have to use my leverage, here and now…”
“MAMA,” I cried out in horror.
At the same time, Dad yelled, “Sophie… Let her go, you puta…”
I began yelling a long stream of profanity at Paradigm, all in Spanish of course, because Spanish was the best language for swearing in. However, Paradigm only stared at me with a flat look, which pissed me off even more.
“What are you doing here?” Ginormous demanded with a look of worry. “I told you two to stay with the thoptor…”
At that moment, I wasn’t paying attention to Ginormous or any of the other heroes. I was focused entirely on Paradigm, while feeling a swirling mass of fear, worry, and rage. Finally, I reacted, without any real conscious thought.
Pulling my telekinesis back close to my body, I formed my PK shell and flew straight at Paradigm. There was no clever plan, only anger, fear and desperation. And as I reached her, she swung and punched me, putting her force blast into it at the same time. It hit me had and send me flying right into the ground, where I smashed into the concrete and left a body sized hole. My entire body hurt, even worse than yesterday. But in spite of that, I slowly got to my feet.
“Nina, no,” Dad cried out. Miguel just stood there, staring at me with his mouth open.
“Are you all right?” Glow demanded as she appeared beside me.
“No,” I answered honestly, staring up at Paradigm, and at my mom.
While this was going on, the heroes hadn’t been sitting on their thumbs. Force Majeure flew up high into the air, then the angel image vanished from around him, and one of a samurai appeared instead. He dropped right towards Paradigm, swinging his ghostly sword. When Paradigm turned to block him, Super Star flew straight at her, hitting her in the side and forcing her to drop her guard…and Mom. Ginormous caught my mom and returned her to the ground.
Paradigm teleported away from the heroes, only to reappear a short distance away from me. “You’ve become more trouble than you’re worth to me,” she stated, pulling out the EMP thing that she’d threatened me with before. The very sight of it sent a surge of terror through me. “Unfortunately, you’ll be more useful as an example.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Glow exclaimed, teleporting to Paradigm and throwing several glowing throwing stars right into her face.
The villainess yelped in surprise, but reacted fast enough to avoid getting hit by all but one of the stars. That one hit her shoulder, making her cry out in pain. Glow tried another attack, but Paradigm back-handed her, sending my friend flying back with a grunt of pain.
It took me a moment to shake myself out of my shock enough to react. I reached out with my telekinesis and yanked the EMP thing right out of Paradigm’s hands, then I tried to fling it away as far as I could. Unfortunately, Paradigm used her own telekinesis to catch it and pull it right back. But before it fully returned to her, Twist appeared behind her and blasted her from the back with an energy blast.
“Enough of this,” Paradigm exclaimed with an angry snarl.
She held her hand out, gesturing towards a small car that was parked next to the warehouse. I didn’t know if it belonged to her or one of her henchmen, but I suspected that she didn’t care. A moment later, she used her telekinesis to throw the whole car, right at the Bronze Lady and her husband. Super Star flew into the car, slamming into it in mid-air and knocking it off course.
Ginormous came up at full size, looking like she was about to stomp on Paradigm. However, Paradigm snapped around and blasted her foot with a force blast, knocking Ginormous back. Force Majeure and Twist tried taking advantage of this to come at Paradigm again, only to be flung back with her telekinetic power.
“How did she get this powerful?” Super Star demanded. “She’s never been this tough before…”
“Nina,” Ginormous called out. “Glow. Get out of here now…”
With that reminder, I turned my attention back to my family. It looked like they were already trying to creep back away from the fight, and the only reason they hadn’t tried making a real run for it, was because they were waiting for me. I felt guilty for that, for forgetting them for even a moment and risking their lives because of it.
“Come on, Nina,” Dad called out, frantically waving at me.
I ran over to join them while Glow suddenly appeared beside me in a flash of blue. “Come on,” she said with a nod. “If they can keep Paradigm distracted long enough, that is.”
A mere second later, Paradigm appeared in front of us, holding the EMP gun in her hand again. “Before I leave,” she said in a grim tone, “I have some unfortunate business I need to finish…”
But instead of attacking me, she held out her hand and Julia suddenly floated up into the air and towards Paradigm. “NO,” I cried out in horror.
I reacted almost instantly, out of desperation rather than any thought or plan. Using my PK shell, I flew straight at Paradigm as fast as I could, trying to reach her before Julia did. There was no way that I was going to let Paradigm grab Julia. NONE.
Paradigm snapped her attention back at me. There was a flash of light from the EMP thing in her hand. My entire body suddenly exploded in an indescribable agony. Then, I slammed into Paradigm like some kind of human cannon ball, and smashing her right into the ground.
I was sprawled out on the ground, completely dazed from what had just happened. I was only vaguely aware of what was going on around me.
“Paradigm is down,” Force Majeure exclaimed. “Secure her before she recovers…”
Twist yelled, “She’s getting up again…”
“Take that, you vile woman,” the Bronze Lady called out.
Then, the Gentleman announced, “This sleeping spell should take the fight out of her… It’s done.”
At this point, I’d recovered enough to realize that I didn’t hurt anymore, which was a good thing. However, a moment later, it suddenly struck me that not only was the pain gone…so was everything else. I couldn’t feel ANYTHING.
“Nina!” my mom cried out, sounding like she was right beside me. “My Nina!”
I tried to answer, but couldn’t. So instead, with a growing sense of desperation and panic, I screamed out in horror, inside my own head.
Liberty Island, Lake Michigan, Monday afternoon, Oct 1st, 2007
Somewhere nearby, a radio was turned on, and I’d been trying to distract myself by listening to the music. At the moment, it was playing ‘Hell is for Children’, by Pat Benatar. I used to like that song, but now, it hit far too close to home.
After three years of being paralyzed, I’d finally been fixed. I’d finally been free of my own personal hell. And then, after only a few weeks, I was right back where I started from, and it was driving me crazy with frustration. If I’d been able to, I would have smacked my head against the wall. Then again, if I’d been able to do that, I wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place.
At the moment, I was strapped into a wheelchair, where I’d been parked in the middle of the room, right where I was in the way. I felt like I was on display, put here so everyone could see me. I screamed in silent frustration, though it all remained in my head.
There were plenty of people around, and not just the Liberty League. My whole family was here, though Miguel and Julia were on a tour of the island, being kept out of the way of the professionals, who’d spent the whole day examining me.
My parents were on the other side of the room, talking to the professionals, namely the Bronze Lady, the Gentleman, and Dr. Keller. Dr. Keller was a slender black man, who wore a nice suit instead of the usual doctor’s outfit. From what I understood, he was some kind of mutant doctor, who actually did house calls for various superhero groups. Fortunately for me, the Liberty League actually called him in to see if he could do anything about my condition.
“Well,” Dad demanded. “Can you fix Nina or not?”
My chair was positioned so that I could see them, and I paid close attention to what they were all saying. Dr. Keller had given me a pretty thorough checkup, and had then run me through an MRI and several other machines. I didn’t know what half of them were for, only that they probably would have been real uncomfortable, if I’d still been able to feel anything.
“I am a healer and a bio-gadgeteer,” Dr. Keller carefully explained to my parents. “And unlike some of the costumed types who call themselves ‘doctor’, I actually have a medical degree.”
“We’re well aware of your impressive credentials, doctor,” the Gentleman responded. I hadn’t been aware of them, and was pretty sure that my parents weren’t either.
Dr. Keller nodded faintly, and looked straight at Dad. “I’m telling you this, so you understand that I do know what I’m doing. I have an understanding of human biology and an ability to repair it, that most doctors can only dream of. If I’d treated Nina before she’d received these implants, I might have been able to do something for her condition. Unfortunately, I can’t tell for certain, because these cybernetics have fused with or replaced most of her nervous system.
“What are you saying?” Mom asked, looking worried. She’d heard a lot of different doctors and specialists tell her that there was nothing they could do, and she was obviously expecting that answer again.”
“Most of her body is in perfect health,” “Dr. Keller explained. “And from what I can tell, the current damage is entirely within these cybernetics. Unfortunately, my specialty lies entirely with biology, so there is little that I can do for her now.”
“My attempts to treat Nina with magic, has encountered similar problems,” the Gentleman admitted. “With this technology in her body, any spells I cast on her, would likely result in unpredictable and dangerous outcomes.”
“And so it comes to me,” the Bronze Lady stated. “As a devisor, I would seem the most logical choice to repair Nina’s implants, but unfortunately, they are of a technology I am not familiar with. You might as well ask an auto mechanic to repair her spine. I am very good at what I do, but this technology is beyond my skills.” She shook her head at that. “The truth is, as these implants are devisor technology, only the one who created them could truly be capable of the necessary repairs.”
“But, Mister Falkner is dead,” Mom said with a look of despair.
“Gerald Falkner is dead,” the Bronze Lady agreed with a note of obvious sadness. “However, the nurse who assisted him during the implantation process, has made herself available to answer any and all questions. She is quite eager to assist Nina in any way possible.”
If I’d been capable of nodding, I would have done so at that. The other day, Mary had contacted the Liberty League, asking if there was anything she could do to help. She’d told them everything she knew about Falkner’s techno-organic technology and the implant process, which wasn’t really all that much. However, she’d also volunteered to take care of me, the same way she had before I’d been fixed. No one was really sure if they could trust her, but she’d convinced them to let her help anyway. It was pretty obvious that she felt guilty, and blamed herself for my current situation.
“So, there’s nothing you can do?” Dad asked hopelessly.
“I’m afraid not,” the Bronze Lady said in an apologetic tone, while her husband and Dr. Keller made similar noises. “However, I will see if I can locate a devisor with a similar specialty. There is always the possibility they may find a solution we cannot.”
At this point, I wanted to insert my own comments into the conversation, mostly sarcastic and bitter ones, but it was no use. I couldn’t talk again, and they were all too far away to hear my telepathic projection, which was once again, all that was left of my powers.
My parents came over and gave me a quick hug, with Mom gushing, “I’m so sorry… We’ll keep looking for some way to make you better again…”
I didn’t bother responding to that, because I was pretty sure that there was no way to fix me. I’d been given one chance, and I lost it. The only thing that made this tolerable, was the fact that Julia was safe. I took comfort in the fact that I’d saved my sister, because that was about the only saving grace from this.
“At least we captured Paradigm,” the Bronze Lady said, though she didn’t sound very thrilled by that.
“Nina paid a high price for that,” Ginormous pointed out grimly.
I was startled at that, because she’d come into the room from the other door, and I hadn’t even known she was there until that moment. Once she walked over to join the Bronze Lady, I could see her, and I also saw that Glow and Dinah had come in with her. They all looked at me with pity in their eyes. I hated that look.
“I know,” the Bronze Lady responded with a sigh while her husband put a hand on her shoulder.
“I should be going,” Dr. Keller said. He came over to me and apologized, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t help you Nina. I truly wish I could.”
A few seconds later, the Bronze Lady and the Gentleman escorted Dr. Keller out, leaving with Glow and Dinah. They stood back for several long seconds, giving me looks of pity and obviously not sure of how to treat me. Then, they finally moved closer.
“I’m really sorry this happened,” Glow told me, looking guilty. “We should have stayed at the trithoptor like we’d been told. If we’d done that…”
“This isn’t your fault,” I projected.
Glow and Dinah both jumped a little at that, especially Dinah. This was the first time we’d talked since Paradigm had fried my new nervous system. She didn’t really know about my telepathy.
“What was that?” Dinah gasped.
“Projective telepathy,” I answered. “It’s the only way I can talk now…”
“Holy shit,” Dinah blurted out, giving me an odd look. “You seem to be taking this kind of calmly.” She looked a little skeptical.
“I was like this for three years,” I projected, trying to keep the despair and frustration out of my mental voice. “I’ll be like this for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t say that,” Glow insisted. “Eliza will find a way to fix you.”
“Yeah,” Dinah agreed. “She’s really smart, even if her fashion sense is WAY out of date.”
Then, in an obvious attempt to change the subject, Glow said, “Your brother is…something else.”
“I’ll say,” Dinah agreed with a snort.
“He hit on me a couple times,” Glow told me with a look of disgust. That was no surprise though, because I knew my brother. “I think he’s trying to get his nerve up to hit on Twist…”
“Probably,” I agreed.
“That might actually be pretty funny,” Glow commented with an evil chuckle. I wondered why, until she explained, “Twist isn’t into guys. She prefers girls.”
If I’d been able to, I probably would have laughed my butt off. Instead, I just projected, “Miguel probably would have gotten along really well with Adonis.”
We continued talking for a few more minutes, which was kind of strange. Before Falkner had fixed me, I’d barely talked to anybody for three years. A short time after my burnout, all my old friends had stopped coming by to visit, and I even made my own family too uncomfortable to sit with me for very long. Well, everyone but Julia.
The conversation turned to the members of the Liberty League, and I found myself asking, “What’s the deal with Force Majeure?”
“What do you mean?” Glow asked.
“Well, I thought he was supposed to have some kind of spirit,” I responded. “But it looks like he’s got more than one. I mean, I’ve seen a samurai, a bear, an angel, and some kind of lion or something…”
“I asked him the same thing,” Dinah told me. “He said he’s only got one spirit, but it likes showing different faces…”
“Personally,” Glow added with a strange expression. “I think his spirit might have multiple personalities or something.”
“You’d know,” Dinah teased her sister, before suddenly glancing at me and going pale.
“Dinah,” Glow said carefully. “Do you mind getting me something to drink?”
Dinah gave her a knowing look but shrugged anyway. “Sure. I’ll be back in a minute…or ten.”
“What’s that about?” I asked curiously.
Glow hesitated a moment, then blurted out, “I used to have multiple personalities.”
“What?” I projected, feeling a little confused.
“I don’t like to talk about this,” she admitted, looking embarrassed. “I told you that I was kidnapped when I was just a kid…” I tried to nod at that, momentarily forgetting that I couldn’t. “And I told you how he messed me up…” This time, I didn’t bother trying to nod.
“You mentioned that,” I said instead.
“Physically, I got a LOT of scars,” Glow continued, giving me a forced smile. “Even after the healers were done with me, I still had some pretty good ones. But mentally… Severe trauma, PTSD, and more issues than a magazine stand. The worst one though, was that my mind…broke. I developed another personality.” She paused at that to lick her lips self-consciously. “I spent the last twelve years as two different people…James and Rachael.”
“Your other personality is named James?” I asked, feeling almost amused by that. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, having some other personality, much less one that was a boy.
“Actually,” Glow responded with a blush. “James was my original name…”
“What?” I projected in confusion.
“I was originally James,” Glow quickly explained. “And I was born a guy. When my mind broke…part of me became Rachael. Then, when I manifested as a mutant, Rachael was the one who got all our powers…and whenever that part of me took over, I actually turned into a girl physically too…”
I blinked at that, which was the only physical reaction I could give. However, I didn’t say anything since I was still trying to absorb this.
“Last month,” Glow said with a deep sigh, “when Dad and Mel were kidnapped, my two personalities…merged. I’m…James and Rachael both. I remember being both of them.”
Unable to think of anything else to say, I pointed out, “But you’re a girl... You said you were a boy…”
Glow still looked embarrassed, though she gave me a faint smile. “When I merged, I came out looking like this, instead of like James.” She shrugged at that. “My shrink think’s that it’s some kind of subconscious defense mechanism. That I felt weak and vulnerable as James, but was powerful and confident as Glow. So…” With that, she gestured down at herself and gave me a wry look.
“But what do you think?” I asked, getting the impression that she had her own ideas.
After hesitating for a moment, Glow answered. “I think that a part of me has always been a girl, and that when I…split…that part went with Rachael. That’s why she was always a girl, even before she had a girl’s body.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I responded, not sure that I really understood. “But why tell me all this? I mean, this is like, really personal stuff…”
For several seconds, Glow just stood there in front of me. And just as I was starting to think that she wouldn’t answer, she did.
“I wanted you to know,” she told me with a serious look, “that I know what it’s like being trapped in a hell you can’t escape from. I know what it’s like, having a condition that makes it impossible to have any kind of normal life. And I wanted you to know…that there is hope. That things can get better.”
There were tears in Glow’s eyes, though I barely had time to notice them before she came in and gave me a hug. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel it, though I still appreciated the gesture. If I’d been able to, I would have been happy to hug her back, and cry on her shoulder.
A moment later, without any warning, something seemed to switch inside of me. Suddenly, I could feel Glow’s arms wrapped around me. Somehow, I could feel her… I could feel EVERYTHING.
I threw my own arms around Glow, much to her shock, and even my own. I didn’t know what Glow had done, or how she could even have done anything. All I knew was that tears were running down my cheeks as I gasped, “Thank you…”
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Saturday Oct 6th, 2007
“You can’t get past me,” Glow announced, giving me a look that dared me to even try. “You can’t beat us.”
By ‘us’, she meant her and Mel, while I had Dinah on my side. We were at the basketball court just outside Sarah’s apartment, playing a little game of two on two.
The four of us were the only ones playing at the moment, but we weren’t alone. Half the Liberty League was present for the little party. Ginormous, or Sarah, of course, since she was the one holding the party, but Twist and the Bronze Lady where there too, dressed in normal clothes.
Mom was there too. Two days ago, Dad went back to Sacramento with Miguel and Julia. They all still had work or school to go to, so Mom stayed behind with me, while I got checked out a lot more, to make sure I didn’t have a relapse.
The Bronze Lady thinks that when Paradigm’s EMP thing hit me and fried my implants, that they kept working just enough to keep me alive, and to begin some kind of self-repair. Apparently, the MRI and other tests probably caused them to ‘reboot’ and start working again.
I wasn’t sure why my implants started working again, only that I was unbelievably grateful that they did. Whatever the reason, I’d been given a third chance, and there was no way I was going to waste it.
With that in mind, I spun on my heels, did a fake-out, and then slipped past Glow enough to make a basket. A triumphant grin formed as the ball went in.
“Are you sure you didn’t use your telekinesis with that one?” Mel asked.
I just stuck my tongue out at her. “I don’t need my powers to beat you two.”
“Yeah,” Dinah added with a broad grin of her own. “We’ll kick your butts…”
When we finished playing a short time later, Mom came over and gave me a hug. “You have no idea how happy it makes me to see you playing like this…”
“And you have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to,” I pointed out with a grin.
As we went inside to eat, Mom said, “I’ve been talking with these heroes, especially Sarah…”
She smiled at that, reminding me that the two of them seemed to have been hitting it off pretty well. I guess that they had a lot to talk about, since both of them had daughters with a lot of problems.
“I know that you’ve made some nice friends here,” Mom told me.
“Yeah,” I responded with a broad grin.
I didn’t have any friends back home, not anymore. After my burnout, I lost all my old friends, which was no surprise since I wasn’t very fun to hang around with. But now, I’ve got Glow as a new best friend, but Dinah and Mel were both pretty cool too.
“And you seem happy here,” Mom continued in an odd tone.
Giving her a curious look, I wondered what she was up to. I was tempted to read her mind and find out, but that would have been really rude. Besides, if Mom realized I was reading her mind, I’d probably get grounded or something.
“It’s awesome,” I told her excitedly. “Glow is really fun to hang out with, and I get to hang out with real superheroes too.” Then I shrugged, “And there are other people with powers, so they’re helping me learn to control mine a bit better…”
Mom laughed at that. “And that is what I wanted to talk to you about. How would you feel about staying here, so they can help you with your powers?”
“What?” I asked in surprise. “Are you kidding me?”
Mom let out a long sigh and admitted, “I’m not really thrilled by the idea of leaving you here, but Sarah made some good points. You need to learn how to use your powers, and this is probably the best place for that. And, you also need someone to look after your…medical issues. Eliza promised that she’d do that…and that Doctor Keller would come back for regular checkups.”
This all came out of nowhere and kind of caught me by surprise. I’d been looking forward to going home, and to reconnecting with some of my old friends…if they still wanted anything to do with me. But on the other hand, I didn’t really want to go back just yet. All my friends were here.
“But where would I stay?” I asked, feeling a little concerned.
“My spare bedroom,” Sarah said, coming into the conversation. She gave me a gentle smile. “If you wouldn’t mind staying with me, that is.”
“Really?” I asked in surprise. Then I looked over to Glow and Dinah, wondering what they’d think of me staying with their mom, when they lived with their dad.
“That would be great,” Glow said, while Dinah seemed pleased as well.
“We could hang out all the time,” Dinah added with a grin of her own.
Sarah chuckled, commenting, “And it would give me an excuse to have my daughters visit more often.”
“You don’t mind me staying in your room?” I asked Glow, remembering that she and Dinah stayed in the guest room when they stayed with their mom.
“I have a third bedroom that I’ve just been using for storage,” Sarah told me with a smile. “It won’t take much to convert it into a room for you, so you’ll have your own.”
For several seconds, I looked back and forth between Sarah, Glow, and Mom. “You don’t mind?” I asked Mom and Sarah both, not wanting to intrude or anything.
“Of course not,” Sarah responded with an amused look. “If I did, I wouldn’t have suggested this…”
“Then, I take that as a yes,” Mom said, while I nodded agreement. “Of course, I expect you to call home, and I’ll be coming here to visit quite often.” Then she hugged me again, saying, “I do want you back home, but I think that this might be best for you, at least for now. You have opportunities here that you just won’t have back in Sacramento…”
“Yeah,” I said with a chuckle. “I can avoid Miguel.”
We began talking about how this would work, and how Mom would mail my stuff to me. Not like I really had a lot of stuff anymore. Being paralyzed kind of meant that I hadn’t had any hobbies, other than listening to music, and I hadn’t been able to do any shopping. I felt giddy at the realization that I could go shopping and finally get some new clothes.
But then, I was dragged out of my thoughts by Mom saying, “Of course, you’ll need to go back to school…”
“Wait,” I blurted out in surprise. “What.”
“Nina,” Mom said, giving me that parental look that said there wouldn’t be any argument. “You haven’t gone to school in three years, and now that you’re healthy, it’s time you go back…”
“But,” I protested, suddenly scared by the idea. All the kids I’d gone to school with before had moved on, leaving me behind. If I went back to school, I’d be in class with a bunch of kids a lot younger than me, and I’d look like I was stupid or something.
“We’ve been homeschooling Rachael,” Sarah pointed out. “And she has several tutors helping her…”
“Kind of hard to go to school with this,” she pointed out, touching her glowing hair.
“And this is any better?” I responded with a grin, turning around and lifting the back of my shirt up just enough to show off my metal spine.
“At least you don’t glow in the dark,” Dinah offered with a grin. “I live with a living night light.”
“I’ve already talked to Super Star,” Sarah said, looking at me. “She’s a PK Supergirl, and can help train you how to use your own PK abilities more effectively. She’s already agreed to mentor you.”
“Great,” I replied, without much enthusiasm. I hadn’t forgotten the way that Super Star had been pushing for me to be locked up, because of the whole spying thing.
While I was still dwelling on the idea of being ‘mentored’ by Super Star, Mom and Sarah had already moved on with the conversation.
“Okay,” Mom was telling Sarah. “I like this idea of hiring a tutor to work with Nina, and getting her caught up…”
“Rachael can use a classmate for her studies,” Sarah said, glancing over at her daughter. “Trust me, Nina will be in good hands…”
“It looks like we’ll be hanging out together even more,” Glow told me, looking rather pleased by that, while I nodded my agreement.
Needless to say, I was less than thrilled by the idea of having to go back to school, especially with all the work I’d have to do just to catch up on everything I’d missed in the last three years. And then, there was the fact that Super Star was apparently going to be my mentor, and she was the member of the Liberty League I wanted as a mentor, the least. In fact, the only one I would have wanted less, would have been Adonis.
But in spite of these problems and annoyance, I couldn’t complain. Compared to what I’d already been through, and the challenges I’d already dealt with, this stuff was nothing. In fact, all of that and more, still would have been a small price to pay, just for the chance to really live again.