A Glow in the Darkness (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Story
A Glow in the Darkness
Liberty League Headquarters, Lake Michigan. Sunday afternoon, Aug 19th, 2007
The girl with the glowing blue hair stared into the mirror, into her own glowing blue irises. Her face…her entire body…was familiar and comforting, but at the same time, it felt strange and a little surprising.
“Who am I?” she whispered.
Glow was the one who stared back from the mirror, yet she thought of herself as James. Of course, she was James, or at least, she had been James. At the same time, she remembered being Glow. Still, the James part was definitely stronger than the Glow, at least mentally. She supposed that this was because Glow had less of a life than James, and had less opportunity to exist on her own. Her entire existence had been focused on protecting him.
For the first time since she could truly remember, she was one person. The two personalities had merged together, but they weren’t a perfect fit. She had two different pasts…two different perspectives, and it was just a little confusing for her. However, she still felt an incredible sense of rightness, at once again being whole and complete.
“Well, I look like Glow,” she said as she turned away from the mirror, smiling faintly to herself. “And if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”
Glow smiled, then on a whim, she teleported out of the bathroom. The burst of energy she felt as she teleported was incredible, though when she reappeared in front of Dinah, her sister let out a shriek and punched at her.
“Hey,” Glow warned she leapt back. “Watch it…”
“You watch it,” Dinah exclaimed. “You’re the one who suddenly appeared in front of me…”
“Sorry,” Glow told her.
Dinah nodded at that, giving her an odd look before blurting out, “This is so weird…” At Glow’s curious look, she said, “You look like Glow, but you don’t act like her…”
Glow nodded at that, smiling faintly since that observation was so close to what she herself had been thinking just a minute earlier. “Physically, I am Glow,” she said, gesturing down at her body, since that much was quite obvious. Then she tapped her forehead and added, “But up here, I’m still mostly James…”
“Mostly?” Dinah asked.
“I’m Glow too,” she pointed out. “It’s just… Well, I…that is…Glow me…didn’t exactly have a well-rounded personality.”
“True,” Dinah agreed, giving her a suspicious look. “But you…I mean…James you…had a lot of weird quirks too.”
Glow nodded agreement. “I think the Glow parts are filling in a lot of the holes and cracks…” Then she shrugged and admitted, “I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
Dinah stared at her with a strange expression that seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and worry. “Do you really remember…everything.”
“Yeah,” Glow responded with a sigh. Then chuckled faintly, adding, “I even remember making you and dad promise, not to tell me about me, because I’d forgotten and I didn’t want to freak me out…”
Dinah blinked in confusion for a moment, then shook her head. “I think you need to watch your pronouns. You’re getting a bit confusing…”
“Ooooh,” Glow teased. “Someone knows what a pronoun is.”
“Bite me,” Dinah responded, sticking out her tongue and then flipping Glow off. Then she grinned. “Yeah, James is definitely still in there…”
“I told you,” Glow replied, looking a little smug, which was an expression that Dinah wasn’t used to seeing on that face.
However, Dinah was giving her the odd look again, and there was clear concern in her expression as she asked, “Do you remember…?”
“Sinsear?” Glow responded after a few seconds. When Dinah nodded, she nodded as well, then let out a deep sigh and admitted, “Yeah. I…I remember everything.”
“Oh my God,” Dinah blurted out with a look of horror.
“They’re just memories,” Glow told her sister, trying to convince herself just as much as Dinah. “Memories can’t hurt me unless I let them.” Then after a moment, she admitted, “But I’m trying not to think about it.”
Glow closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, feeling a little sick as she thought of all those memories. Six weeks of pain, terror, and humiliation. There was a good reason why she’d repressed them for all these years. However, she also understood exactly why she had to take them back.
As Glow, she’d spent years protecting James, even letting him forget that she existed, just so that he could try to live a normal life. Unfortunately, a normal life wasn’t truly possible for someone like them, and she’d realized that ignorance couldn’t protect him. The best way she could truly protect him, was to give him the ability to protect himself, and she couldn’t do that until he was ready…until he was strong enough to face his own demons and nightmares.
Dinah threw her arms around Glow and gave her a firm hug, not saying a word as she did so. Glow was startled for a moment, but hugged back, definitely feeling better. Once Dinah finally pulled away, she changed the subject by abruptly asking, “How do you like being a girl?” From the look on her face, Glow suspected that Dinah was looking for an opportunity to tease her.
“Well,” Glow responded, considering the question. “The James part of me thinks it’s kind of weird, but not bad, and the Glow part of me has always been a girl, and feels perfectly normal.”
For several seconds, Dinah stared at Glow with a thoughtful expression, then an evil grin began to form. “You know,” she said with a look that made Glow a little wary, “I’ve always wanted a big sister to go shopping with…”
“Shopping?” Glow responded in surprise.
“And help me with makeup,” Dinah added cheerfully.
Glow blinked, not having considered that aspect of being female, and what it would mean for social expectations and her relationship with Dinah. As Glow, she might have been female, but she’d never been interested in shopping or makeup. Neither of those things had ever had much appeal to her, even after she’d manifested as a mutant and gained her own form. They had been…irrelevant.
“A shopping trip sounds great,” another voice said.
Glow quickly looked to where her mom stood in the doorway of a nearby room. She must have been in there working, when she’d overheard their conversation. Her mom ducked her head as she came out of the room, which seemed silly to Glow, since the woman had intentionally made herself large enough that the doorway was a problem.
“Mom,” Glow greeted her, feeling a bit awkward and self-conscious.
“When this is all over,” her mom said, looking at Glow and then Dinah with a faint smile on her face and a pleading looking look in her eyes. Once John and your friend are safe, “I would like to do something with you two. I…want to start spending more time with you…and get to know you better.”
“A little late for that,” Dinah responded, the bitterness clear in her voice. Their mother winced slightly, as though she’d been hit.
Glow frowned for a moment, not sure how to take that offer. Her old Glow self had always resented their mother, much more than her James self had. Of course, this was because her Glow persona was the one that had to deal with their worst memories, all of which had occurred because their mother had failed to protect them…and had then abandoned them afterwards. Glow still felt some of that anger and resentment, but she couldn’t forget that their mom had come running a few days ago, as soon as she’d learned that people were after them again. And at that moment, her mom truly seemed sincere about wanting to spend time with them.
“Maybe,” Glow responded cautiously, still not sure how much of a relationship she really wanted with her mom.
“Of course,” her mom responded with a scowl and a look of fierce determination. “Before anything like that, I need to rescue John and your friend.” Then she quickly added, “And we’re very close to finding them. I can almost guarantee that we’ll have their location today.”
“Good,” Dinah said, looking relieved, though still worried.
Glow nodded agreement. Then, she tried to keep her voice calm and even as she said, “The sooner they’re away from Sinsear, the better.” Dinah and her mom both gave her a sympathetic look.
“What should I call you?” her mom abruptly asked, looking down at Glow with a curious look. “You don’t look anything like a James anymore, and it seems silly to call my own son…daughter by a codename…”
“Glow doesn’t have another name,” Dinah offered, and looked as though she was about to say something else. Glow suspected that her sister was about to try giving her another name, perhaps ‘Jane’.
“I have another name,” Glow said quietly, getting a look of curiosity from her mom and one of surprise from Dinah. She looked at Dinah and gave a weak smile. “I…the old Glow me, had a real name but didn’t want anyone to know… I…she just didn’t want to use it.”
“Really?” Dinah asked, suddenly looking quite interesting. “Why not?”
Glow hesitated for a moment, considering the fact that her mom was right. She might think of herself as James, at least for the most part, but she certainly didn’t look like a James anymore. She needed a new name, besides Glow. A real name. And since she already had one that just wasn’t being used, that seemed the perfect choice.
“Rachael,” she stated, carefully not looking at her mother. “My name is Rachael.”
“But that’s…,” her mom started, then paused with her eyes wide in realization. “Oh…”
“Rachael,” Dinah repeated before flashing a grin. “I like it…Rachael.”
“I do too,” her mom added, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked just a little teary eyed, which made Glow…Rachael feel a little self-conscious.
Without saying anything, the three of them walked down the hallway together, and by silent agreement, ended up in the recreation room. Their mom went to the bar area and pulled three sodas out of the fridge, setting them on the counter before opening one herself. Rachael watched her take a drink, emptying half the bottle in a single drink. She wondered why her mom didn’t shrink down, just to make the soda last longer, if nothing else.
“It’s gonna be weird having a sister,” Dinah finally commented, giving Rachael a curious look. “I mean, you…the old Glow would show up every once in awhile, but you…she never acted like we were related.”
“I…she didn’t think of you as family,” Rachael admitted a bit awkwardly. “But she did like you, and thought of you as a friend.”
“Oh my God,” Dinah said with a worried look. “What’s Dad gonna say when he finds out? Or Mel?”
Rachael winced slightly at that, having a feeling that it would be a very strange and uncomfortable conversation. However, she desperately hoped that she could have it, because the alternative was too horrible to think of.
Before Rachael could think of a response, the Bronze Lady rushed into the room, calling out, “Sarah…”
The Bronze Lady came to a stop, and was breathing hard as it looked like she’d been running. She had a weapon in her hand, something that looked like a steampunk blunderbuss, though Rachael suspected that it might be something a little more powerful than that. However, the fact that she’d come running in with a clear sense of urgency, and had serious look on her face, ,made it clear that this was not a social appearance.
“We have located our quarry,” the Bronze Lady announced.
“You found them?” Rachael’s mom demanded, suddenly growing another six inches.
“REALLY?” Dinah jumped to her feet in excitement.
“Indeed we have,” the Bronze Lady responded with a satisfied smirk. “Our contact tracked down that business logo we found in the photographs. It belonged to Bartrum Shipping, which went out of business over twenty years ago. Most of their holdings have long since been dissolved, but one of their primary transport facilities still exists, and has been abandoned for two decades. I believe we have found where Sinsear is holding his hostages.”
“Thank God,” Rachael’s mother exclaimed. “We found them…”
The Bronze Lady nodded. “Indeed. Now we merely have to rescue them.”
Rachael felt relieved and excited, and though she wanted to jump up and down the way Dinah was, she appeared almost calm as she commented, “I have a feeling that rescuing them is easier said than done.”
“She’s right,” her mom agreed with a grimace. Then she told the Bronze Lady, “I wish we could wait until the rest of the team returned, but time is of the essence…”
“Agreed,” the Bronze Lady said, raising her weapon “Then let us proceed.”
“You two will be safe here,” Rachael’s mother said as she started for the door. “We’re going to get your father back.”
However, Rachael immediately stepped forward and stated, “I’m going too.”
Her mother gave her a look of surprise before responding, “No, you are staying here where it’s safe.”
Rachael stared up at her mom, who grew a couple inches taller, as though unconsciously trying to make herself look even more imposing. However, Rachael didn’t care how big her mother became.
“I thought you were scared of Sinsear,” Dinah blurted out, surprised at the way Rachael had volunteered.
“I’m terrified of him,” Rachael admitted, not taking her eyes from her mother’s. Both of her previous personas had been scared of Sinsear, and that was one of the few things that they’d fully agreed on. “But I have to go…”
Her mother scowled, looking confused, worried, and frustrated at the same time. “You have no idea what Sinsear…”
“I know EXACTLY what Sinsear is capable,” she snapped in response. “And there is no way in HELL that I will let him do that to anyone else…especially not Dad and Mel. Yes, I’m scared of Sinsear, but I’ve been running away from him…from the very memory of him…for most of my life. Well, I’m not running anymore. Not now.”
“Holy shit,” Dinah blurted out, staring at Rachael with a stunned expression, but also one of respect. “Yeah, the old Glow is definitely in there…”
“I know you have powers,” her mom started to say, suddenly looking awkward and unsure of how to handle the girl who was less than half her size. “But this is far too dangerous for amateurs.”
However, Rachael clenched her fists in anger and continued staring at her mother with a fierce determination that made the much larger woman take a hesitant step back.
“I AM going,” Rachael stated as though this was a simple fact. “I’m going to help them. I HAVE to. That’s the reason I was able to pull myself together…”
The Bronze Lady watched this exchange with an unreadable expression. “Glow,” she said carefully. “Ginormous is correct. This is a job for professionals.”
Rachael was determined to help, but she knew that getting into an argument wouldn’t do any good. “I’ve already fought Bombastic and won,” she stated, holding up one finger. Holding up a second, she added, “I know what Sinsear is capable of, and have spent more time with him than anyone you are likely to find alive.”
Her mom suddenly had a guilty look at that and quietly started, “Ja…Rachael…”
However, Rachael wasn’t finished. “You’re outnumbered,” she added, holding up a third finger. “We know that Sinsear has three people working with him, but we don’t know if he has any more. That means, the best case scenario has you outnumbered two to one. You need all the help you can get.”
“I’m afraid she’s correct,” the Bronze Lady admitted with a wince. “We are outnumbered, and it would be foolish to underestimate our opponents.” She gave Rachael a pained look, caught between the realization that they needed help, but not wanting to risk a teenage girl.
“And last,” Rachael said, holding up a fourth finger. “I’m going whether you agree or not. If you leave me behind, I’ll just teleport there on my own.”
“What?” her mother gasped while Rachael calmly stared back.
Of course, Rachael was bluffing, since there was no way her power would let her teleport that far, even if she did know where the location was. Her maximum range, if she pushed it, wasn’t much more than fifty yards, though she was pretty confident that her mother didn’t know that.
For several seconds, Rachael and her mother stared at each other before the taller woman let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine,” she snapped. “But you’re going follow my orders.”
With that, Rachael’s mom turned and left the room, ducking through the doorway. The Bronze Lady gave Rachael a curious look, then followed right behind her.
“I can’t believe that,” Dinah blurted out. “That was awesome. I never thought I’d see you talk to anyone like that…”
Rachael gave a self-conscious smile and responded, “I’ve never had as much reason.”
“Be careful,” Dinah said, standing there with her hands on her hips and giving Rachael a firm look. “You’d better be careful, and bring everyone back.”
“I will,” Rachael promised her, trying not to show how nervous she actually felt about intentionally going to Sinsear.
Dinah nodded at that. “Good, because that’s the only way I’m gonna forgive you for leaving me on this stupid island all by myself.” Then she threw her arms around Rachael in a firm hug and quietly added, “And make sure you bring that overgrown showoff back too.”
“I will,” Rachael promised her with a grin before ruffling Dinah’s hair. Dinah tried to punch her arm, but Rachael teleported to the doorway and gave her sister a wink. “You’ll have to be faster than that slowpoke.” Then as Dinah flipper her off, Rachael laughed and hurried after her mom.
The sky above Michigan. Sunday afternoon, Aug 19th, 2007
Rachael scowled as she looked out the window of the Bronze Lady’s trithoptor, a strange machine that looked like Captain Nemo’s attempt to build a helicopter. The anachronistic aircraft definitely didn’t appear modern, and Rachael wasn’t even sure it followed the laws of aerodynamics, though she had to admit, it was actually very fast and quite comfortable. Still, as she watched the ground pass below, she was quite thankful that she’d been unconscious when the Bronze Lady took her to Liberty Island.
“What are you thinking?” Rachael’s mom asked from the next seat over. At that moment, she was six and a half feet tall, big enough to look imposing yet small enough to fit in the seat.
“That I never realized I was afraid of heights until now,” Rachael answered deadpan, hoping that whatever devisor power kept the trithoptor working didn’t fail, because she was pretty sure the whole thing would then drop like a rock.
Her mother chuckled faintly, apparently guessing what she was thinking because she said, “I’ve ridden in the trithoptors over a hundred times, and we barely ever crash.”
“Barely ever?” Rachael asked with a raised eyebrow.
The Bronze Lady, who was sitting in the pilot seat, sounded a little offended as she stated, “You know quite well those incidents were the direct result of attack or sabotage, not from any failure in my design or maintenance.”
“And how often do these ‘incidents’ occur?” Rachael asked, glancing out the window again.
Rachael’s mom put a comforting hand on her knee and assured her, “You don’t need to be nervous. This thing is actually pretty safe.”
Rachael just gave her mom a flat look and pointed out, “I’m on my way to see my own personal boogeyman. Trust me, that makes me far more nervous than this thing ever could.”
“You insisted on coming,” her mom pointed out.
“Yes, I did,” Rachael agreed. “And I haven’t changed my mind.” Her mother gave her a worried look, but didn’t say anything more about it.
A minute later, the Bronze Lady announced, “We’ve almost reached our destination. I’m beginning descent.”
Rachael immediately checked her belt buckle and looked out the window, not liking the sight of the ground so far below, but hoping she could see where they were going. She scowled, focusing on what she was about to do so that she didn’t have to think about the rapidly approaching ground, or how easy it would be for this large metal monstrosity to fall out of the sky.
Once the trithoptor landed, quite gently at that, Rachael didn’t bother climbing out of the machine. Instead, she looked out the window and teleported herself outside. She felt a small surge of energy as she did so, and knew that she’d need to jump a few more times if she wanted to gather enough energy to be at the top of her game.
As soon as the Bronze Lady had left the trithoptor, she opened a compartment on the bottom of the machine, and something began to emerge. A robotic spider appeared, unfolding its bronze legs, then standing on the ground beside the Bronze Lady, at its full height of 4 feet tall.
“Come Beatrice,” the Bronze Lady said as she held up an odd looking weapon, that vaguely resembled a blunderbuss. “We have a task to perform.”
“Now that I have some room to stretch,” Rachael’s mother announced, growing until she was nine feet tall. “Much better.” Then she looked down at Rachael and said, “Glow,” which immediately caught Rachael’s attention, since her mother hadn’t called her that since learning of her ‘normal’ name. “From this point out, we stick to codenames.”
“But they already know your real identity,” Rachael pointed out, curious as to why a codename would make any difference in that situation.
“True,” she responded with a deep scowl. “But the image is still important. Someone named Ginormous, who dresses in a uniform, is inherently more intimidating than someone named Sarah, who wears a skirt and blouse.”
“Understood,” Rachael responded, glancing down at her own blue and gray uniform, and briefly wondering if she should get a mask to go with it…not that it would do any good with her glowing blue hair.
“Be on guard,” the Bronze Lady announced she began walking off with her robot spider Beatrice. “They may have seen us arrive.”
Rachael…Glow nodded, then teleported up ahead, deciding to scout their path while building a charge. About a hundred yards ahead, Glow could see a large building, which might have once been a factory or warehouse, but which now looked pretty old and broken down. Between them and the building, there were more than a hundred old cargo containers, scattered around and stacked two or three high, and most of which were covered with rust or graffiti. She could even see some old train cars as well, though it looked like they probably hadn’t moved anywhere since before she’d been born.
The three of them carefully made their way towards the building, with Rachael continuing to scout ahead. She teleported to the top of a stack of shipping containers, looked around, then teleported back. “I don’t see anyone else out here.”
Suddenly, a familiar voice cried out, “GLOW! Over here…”
“Mel?” Glow demanded, snapping around in surprise.
“Perhaps you should look closer,” the Bronze Lady commented wryly.
Glow teleported to the top of a nearby stack and looked down at the direction she’d heard her name being calling. Then she saw Mel, hiding behind one of the shipping containers and looking around frantically.
“Glow,” Mel called out again, looking up at the spot where Glow had been perched a minute earlier rather than where she currently was.
Glow grinned, disappearing in a flash of blue and reappearing a moment later next to Mel. “I found you,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around the surprised Mel. “Where’s my dad?”
“I would like to know that as well,” Ginormous said as she joined them. She was currently ten feet tall and using the height to look around with a deep scowl.
“Oh my God,” Mel exclaimed holding Glow tightly. “You’re here. You’re really here…” She pulled away, stared up at Ginormous with a look of surprise, then down again at the Bronze Lady.
“As you may have guessed,” Ginormous said, crouching down but not bothering to shrink. “We are here to rescue you…
Glow nodded at that, staring at Mel in relief. Mel was bruised up, and looked like someone had taken great delight in smacking her around, but other than that, she seemed all right. Considering what Sinsear could have done to her, a few bruises were nothing.
“What are you doing out here?” Glow asked. “And where’s my dad?”
Mel winced, her eyes watering up a little as she stood there with a guilty expression. “I got away,” she answered awkwardly, “but John…Mister Merrick was hurt too much to come with.” Glow and Ginormous both gasped at that, but Mel quickly continued, “I’ve been out here, hiding from them for the last couple hours…”
“A couple hours?” Glow asked in surprise, giving Mel another look and feeling impressed. She’d been Sinsear’s prisoner for six weeks, and hadn’t been able to escape even once during that time. Of course, she’d been a little boy at the time, but this was still impressive.
Mel nodded at that, then looked around nervously. “Ringleader is out here somewhere… He’s pissed at me…”
“We’ll protect you,” Ginormous promised, before repeating the question again. “Now, where is John?”
“There,” Mel finally answered, pointing to the building. Then she looked up at Ginormous again and gulped. “But they’re waiting for you…”
“We suspected that they would see our arrival,” the Bronze Lady commented.
However, Mel shook her head, looking extremely worried. “No. It’s a trap. Ringleader said that Sinsear was leading you here to trap you…” She pointed to the building again and quickly added, “He said there isn’t enough room in there for you to grow, so you’d be easy to catch…”
The Bronze Lady nodded at that, then told Ginormous, “Confined spaces do limit you.”
Glow focused intently on the building, feeling her heart race with a mixture of fear and excitement. That was where her dad was. That was also where Sinsear would be waiting. She held out her hand and used the energy she still had remaining to form a katana. She wouldn’t be able to keep it for very long before she burned away all the energy, but it made her feel more secure to have a weapon in hand.
“Fortunately,” the Bronze Lady mused, reaching out and putting hand onto her robotic spider, “confined spaces are of little concern to me. And now that we know these miscreants have been lying in wait, I suggest we spring their trap on our terms.”
“Good idea,” Ginormous said, standing back up. “Glow,” she said, looking down at her daughter. “You’ll need to stay out here, protecting your friend.”
Glow started to argue, then paused, realizing that her mother was correct. Mel might no longer be Sinsear’s prisoner, but she was hardly safe and clear, not until they were well away from the supervillains. She scowled, knowing that she needed to go rescue her dad, but that she also couldn’t leave Mel.
“I won’t have any problems in a confined space,” Glow started to point out, trying to convince Ginormous to be the one who remained behind to protect Mel. However, even as started to suggest this, she knew that it wasn’t completely true. In a confined space, she wouldn’t be able to use her teleportation very effectively.
Suddenly, Ginormous let out a loud yelp of surprise as her leg was yanked out from beneath her, and she turned upside down, being lifted into the air by a the glowing ring around one ankle. Four more golden rings appeared in the air, flying towards her other limbs.
“Ringleader,” Mel cried out in fear, drawing Glow’s attention to the costumed man who was floating in the air a short distance away.
“Since you have learned of our plans,” the Ringleader announced. “I thought I should spring our trap early…”
“Is it time to play?” a new voice asked, as Bombastic appeared on top of another shipping container. She looked around with a freakishly broad grin, her eyes gleaming with a twisted glee. “Ooooh. New toys to play with…”
“Play all you like,” Ringleader told Bombastic. “But we have to keep the big one alive. Remember, Sinsear wants to play with her…”
“Of course,” Bombastic agreed cheerfully. “I remember our deal.” Then she looked straight at Glow, adding, “And I remember you…”
Bombastic leapt straight at Glow, who raised her sword to cut the attacking villain. However, she’d burned up too much of her energy, and her sword was already starting to dissipate, so the teleported out of the way instead. Bombastic immediately charged at her, but Glow was quick to move again.
“BOOM,” Bombastic called out, right before she fired a concussion blast at Glow. Glow teleported out of the way, so the blast hit the side of a shipping container and smashed it in. “You’re pretty fast,” Bombastic said, sounding as though she approved.
“And you’re pretty slow,” Glow responded, suddenly appearing beside Bombastic and slicing at the supervillain with her energy sword. Bombastic immediately moved to the side, but not fast enough. The blade sliced several inches into her side, though Bombastic giggled.
“That tickles,” Bombastic stated, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Now it’s my turn…” She leapt at Glow, who teleported away. However, as Glow reappeared a short distance away, she was immediately hit with a concussion blast that sent her flying back. “Tag. You’re it.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Ginormous exclaimed, from where she was still hanging upside down in the air. She swatted at the rings that were swirling around her, though one of them snapped around her wrist while another went over her head, where it shrank around her neck.
Ginormous started to grow, but the rings didn’t grow with her, so she was immediately forced to stop. Then with a grin, she started to shrink out of the rings, however, they began to shrink with her.
“No,” Ginormous cried out, stopping at seven feet tall as she realized the trap she was in.
“Begone,” the Bronze Lady exclaimed, shooting at one of the rings, which exploded into sparks. She took aim at another of the rings that had yet to grab hold of Ginormous, firing two shots until she hit and destroyed that one as well.
Suddenly, there was a booming thud, right before one of the shipping crates was picked up by the massive metal figure of Ironworks. The armored man threw the shipping crate at the Glow, who saw it coming in time to teleport out of the way.
“What is that?” Glow demanded, though she remembered reading Ironworks’ file.
“I believe I may have a solution,” the Bronze Lady announced. “Beatrice.”
The robotic spider immediately dropped into a crouch, and the back of its bronze body opened up. What appeared to be a gatling gun popped up from the opening, like a slice of toast from a toaster. A second later, the gun opened fire, blasting Ironworks and sending deep dents all through his armored form.
Ironworks lifted his massive hammer, throwing it straight at Beatrice. In an instant, the impact smashed the spider, destroying it almost completely. The Bronze Lady winced at the sight, then glared at Ironworks before shooting at him with her own gun, which was no more effective than the spider’s weapon had been.
“Let me go,” Ginormous demanded, struggling against the rings that held her in the air, preventing her from getting any leverage or even growing.
“Continue to struggle,” Ringleader announced. “It will do you little good.”
Glow looked back and forth, suddenly caught between the realization that she needed to deal with Bombastic, help her mother, and keep Mel safe…all at the same time. But when she looked for Mel, she didn’t see her. The other girl had completely disappeared, or had at least run off during the distraction, which was probably the smartest thing she could do.
“You’re fun to play with,” Bombastic commented, right as she leapt at Glow again. Glow jumped to the side, using the energy from her sword to form a half dozen shuriken, which she flung at the insane mutant. One of the shuriken hit her shoulder and another grazed her leg, though neither slowed her down. Instead, she just flashed a broad and frightening grin, which would be enough to give most kids nightmares. “When we’re done playing, I’m gonna keep your head for a trophy.” She said it as though she considered that to be a great honor.
Ironworks slowly started moving towards the Bronze Lady, his feet thudding heavily and sinking into the ground a little with each step. The Bronze Lady shot at him again, looking worried as she backed away. Then the large armor figure stopped, bending over to retrieve his hammer from where is sat in the middle of clockwork debris.
“This is quite problematic,” the Bronze Lady commented.
A moment later, Ginormous yelled, “Let me go…” She still hovered in the air, held aloft by the glowing rings. Then she began choking, grabbing at her neck with her free hand.
“I believe a change of tactics is in order,” the Bronze Lady announced, turning and firing her weapon at Ringleader. She hit him in the chest and he dropped from the air, hitting the ground hard. However, the rings holding Ginormous didn’t vanish.
Glow paused, staring at her mother in worry, but a blast of force caught her from behind and sent her flying face first into the ground. She scrambled to get to her feet, only to feel a sharp pain in her side as Bombastic’s claws tore through her uniform. With a grimace of pain, she teleported, getting away from the lunatic, though Bombastic immediately fired another concussion blast at her, forcing her to teleport again.
“Damn,” Glow winced, grabbing at her injured side with one hand and holding an energy sword with the other.
Bombastic leapt at her again, and Glow responded by dodging to the side and swinging her blade. However, Bombastic just laughed maniacally and fired another concussion blast right into Glow’s face. Glow saw it coming, and just barely managed to teleport in time.
From the corner of her eye, Glow saw Mel, emerging from behind a shipping container with a metal pipe in her hand. A moment later, Mel swung the pipe like a baseball bat, hitting Ringleader from behind and sending him face first into the ground. The glowing rings holding Ginormous in place vanished, and Glow’s mother dropped to the ground, where she immediately began growing.
“Thank you ,” Ginormous told Mel, while gasping for breath. “Now, get away from here and find a safe place to hide until this is over.” The twenty foot toot tall woman stood up to her full height, looked around the area, then grew even further and stomped on Ironworks.
“And thank you,” the Bronze Lady exclaimed, turning and shooting at Bombastic, who dove to the side.
“Missed me, missed me, now ya gotta kiss me,” Bombastic taunted back. Then with a manic gleam in her eyes, she charged straight at the Bronze Lady.
Glow knew that the Bronze Lady couldn’t avoid Bombastic’s attack nearly as well as she could, so she teleported to an open space right beside the hero, and released every bit of energy she had gathered. The blue glow around her body vanished as a burst of blue energy exploded from her hands, catching Bombastic in the stomach and sending her flying back.
“Well done,” the Bronze Lady commented, giving Glow a nod of approval.
“Idiots,” a new…yet terrifyingly familiar voice exclaimed. “You were supposed to lead her inside…”
Glow’s heart suddenly felt like it had jumped up into her throat, and cold chills shot all through her spine. She knew that voice. She could NEVER forget the voice of the monster that had haunted her nightmares for most of her life. She slowly turned to face Sinsear.
The sight of Sinsear, her own personal boogeyman, filled Glow with shock and confusion. She remembered him as huge, powerful, and absolutely terrifying, but the man she saw a short distance away, didn’t fit that description at all. The first thing she noticed was that he was sitting in a motorized wheelchair, which caught her by surprise. He was wearing his familiar costume, but he’d lost a lot of weight, becoming skinny and almost gaunt, so the fabric hung loose on him. Since he hadn’t bothered with his mask, she could see his face, the one she immediately recognized, even as gaunt and haunted as it had become. However, the look of twisted cruelty that burned in his eyes was exactly as she remembered.
“Are you gonna play too?” Bombastic asked, giving Sinsear a curious and almost eager look.
“Idiots,” Sinsear snarled. “We had a plan…”
“A plan that failed,” the Ringleader responded as he got back to his feet, looking pretty shaky. “Your little hostage escaped…”
“And whose fault is that?” Sinsear snapped, looking up at Ginormous, who towered over him.
“Sinsear,” Ginormous stated, staring down at the supervillain with a look of rage…of pure hatred on her face. Glow had never seen that expression on her mother’s face before and would have been surprised at its intensity, if she didn’t feel the exact same way herself.
Without saying another word, Ginormous stomped down on Sinsear as hard as she could, though the massive Ironworks rushed in and caught her foot. The armored figure twisted Ginormous’ foot, forcing the superhero to slam into the ground. Bombastic immediately leapt on Ginormous, slashing out with her claws, while Glow watched, once again frozen into inaction.
“Begone, mad woman,” The Bronze Lady exclaimed, shooting at Bombastic, who jumped out of the way.
“You missed me,” Bombastic called, turning and firing a concussion blast at the Bronze Lady. “You’re bad at this.”
Ginormous slammed her hand down between them, taking the concussion blast in her palm and then yelping in pain. She clenched her hand and began to sit up, but Ironworks charged straight at her, swinging his hammer.
Sinsear watched this from his chair, seemingly forgotten about by everyone except Glow. “Enough,” the villain snarled. “I had hoped to save my strength until it was needed, but it seems now is that time…”
Before the words had even finished leaving his mouth, flames started to flicker over Sinsear’s body. He burst into flames, then began to float up into the air, out of his chair. His legs dangled lifelessly beneath him, no longer necessary to support him.
Glow stared up at Sinsear, feeling the old fear returning until she was drowning in it. She’d thought she was done with it…that she’d beaten the fear. However, the sight of Sinsear floating in the air, suddenly seeming just as powerful as ever, was enough to bring it all back.
“Not again,” Glow whispered, her voice shaky and weak.
“BURN,” Sinsear yelled, throwing out his hand and firing blast of flame straight at the Bronze Lady. The devisor dove to the side and just barely avoided being hit, but dropped her weapon in the process.
Ginormous snarled in anger and threw herself at Sinsear, trying to swat him out of the air. However, Ironworks leapt up, slamming into her stomach with enough force to knock her back and off her feet. Then the armor clad villain immediately swung his hammer at the large target, forcing her to defend herself against his assault.
Suddenly, Glow noticed something coming at her from the corner of her eye, and she snapped out of her paralysis just in time to teleport, avoiding the claws that would have torn through her side, right where she’d already been injured. Bombastic immediately changed course and charged Glow again, looking as though she was enjoying this ‘game’, which only annoyed Glow. However, Glow was also thankful for Bombastic’s attack, since it distracted her from the flaming demon that was floating above them.
As Glow dodged a concussion blast, she saw the Ringleader floating up into the air, forming a half dozen glowing rings which orbited his body. Instead of focusing on the fight, he seemed to be looking for something. “Where are you hiding, girl?,” he called out, suddenly making Glow realize, that he was looking for Mel, probably because she’d nailed him from behind with that pipe a short time earlier.
“It seems I will have to kill you much more quickly than I’d intended,” Sinsear told Ginormous, who was still trying to get Ironworks off her. “But rest assured, after you are gone, I will go for your husband and children… I promise you this, that they will die, cursing you were ever born…”
Sinsear fired a blast of flames at Ginormous, but she grabbed Ironworks and lifted him up, using him as a shield. Once the flames stopped coming, she threw the armored figure at Bombastic, who barely managed to avoid being hit. Then with a grimace of determination, Ginormous picked up one of the shipping containers and held it in front of her like a shield to block Sinsear’s next attack.
“You’re getting boring,” Bombastic complained, glaring at Glow, then abruptly charging straight at the Bronze Lady.
“I don’t think so,” Glow responded, teleporting above Bombastic, and dropping down to slice through the villain’s back.
Bombastic fell face first into the ground with a loud yelp of pain. However, she immediately rolled over and began getting to her feet again, grinning broadly as a manic glee filled her eyes. “That’s more interesting…”
The Bronze Lady held out something that looked like bronze baseball, and commented, “Traditionally, lunatics are kept in straight-jackets.” She threw the sphere at Bombastic, and it exploded into a mass of metal wires that engulfed the villain, entangling her in a net that Glow immediately recognized. “Hopefully, that should contain you.”
Bombastic snarled as she struggled with the net, growing more frantic when she couldn’t tear her way out with her claws. Then she released a concussion blast, which shattered the ground, sending shards of stone everywhere, and which tore some of the strands of the net. Bombastic began to giggle, and was obviously about to continue her plan of blasting herself free. Suddenly, a giant foot kicked Bombastic, sending her flying into the side of a shipping crate hard enough to leave a large dent. Bombastic remained motionless afterwards.
Glow saw that Ginormous was still trying to fend off Sinsear’s attacks, while dealing with Ironworks at the same time. The armored figure was going after her legs, trying to hit her knees with his massive hammer. Ginormous alternated between kicking him back and stepping out of the way, but she couldn’t do much more while Sinsear continued blasting her.
Glow winced at the pain in her side, though it was almost nothing compared to what Sinsear had put her through. She pushed it aside, trying to ignore her growing exhaustion as well. Physically, she was fully charged and ready to go, but while teleporting might recharge her body, it took a different type of energy to use that power. She’d never fought or used her powers for this long, and she knew that she couldn’t continue at this pace for much longer. It wouldn’t be long before she could no longer teleport, and shortly after that, the rest of her abilities would fade as well.
“I’ve got to help Mom,” Glow told herself, taking a deep breath and teleporting behind Ironworks. Without any hesitation, she slashed out with her blade, slicing a deep gouge through the metal of his back. Unfortunately, that merely drew his attention to her and he turned around, raising his hammer. Glow looked up at the massive weapon and gulped, “Not good…”
Glow was still bursting with physical energy, courtesy of all the teleports, but she wanted to hold back on teleporting any more than she had to. She lunged forward, slashing another gash through his stomach, then dodging to the side when he slammed the hammer down where she had been. The energy from her sword was already burning away, and she only had one or two more strikes with it before it was gone, and she wanted to make them count.
Ironworks didn’t say a word, though his armor creaked and groaned as he moved. He started to raise his hammer again, but that took time, and for a little longer, Glow was fast enough to take advantage of that opening. So with a grimace of determination, Glow rolled to the side, leapt into the air, and struck with her sword as hard as she could. The glowing blade sliced through Ironwork’s neck with surprising ease, completely severing his head. For several seconds, the armored figure remained standing, almost as if he hadn’t yet realized he’d lost his head, then his body fell and crashed to the ground.
“I did it,” Glow gasped, a little surprised as she hadn’t really believed that attack would work. She felt a moment of triumph, which crashed a moment later when she suddenly realized what she’d done. She’d just cut off a man’s head and killed him. “Oh God…”
“Good job,” Ginormous called down to Glow, which startled her since she hadn’t expected that reaction after she’d just killed a man. Then again, Glow quickly reminded herself, Ironworks was working with Sinsear…and had helped to kidnap and beat her father and Mel. That immediately helped to ease the budding sense of guilt.
Ginormous took advantage of the fact that Ironworks was no longer a problem, by throwing the warped and melted shipping container she’d been holding, right at Sinsear. However, Sinsear flew out of the way and responded by sending a blast of flames at the ground, forcing everyone to jump back, even Ginormous.
Suddenly, Ringleader exclaimed, “I found you, you little rat…”
Mel’s scream filled the air, and Glow snapped around to see her friend floating up into the air, held aloft by a glowing golden ring around her waist. She scrambled and struggled to get free, but was helpless as Ringleader pulled her closer to where he was levitating.
“You’d better let me go,” Mel yelled at him defiantly. “I come from a long line of ninjas, so you don’t want to piss me off…”
“You are an annoying little pest,” Ringleader told Mel. “I actually considered killing you quickly, as an act of mercy, but now I’ve changed my mind.” He looked over to Sinsear and asked, “Would you care to finish her?”
“Of course,” Sinsear responded with a cruel laugh. “Unfortunately, I do not have time to enjoy this properly, but I shall still take some pleasure in the act of killing this vermin. Now girl, burn for your sins…”
For a brief instant, Glow froze with a renewed surge of terror…and in horror at what was about to happen. However, burning rage pushed the fear away, and with a furious scream, she teleported. Glow no longer had her sword, and a single teleport didn’t give her enough energy to reform it. When she reappeared in the air next to Sinsear, she ignored the intense heat and punched him as hard as she could. Sinsear and Glow both dropped towards the ground.
“NO,” Ginormous screamed, diving for Glow and catching her before the girl hit the ground.
Glow gave her a weak smile as she was gently set down on the ground. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Mom?” Sinsear demanded, from where he’d caught himself before hitting. He rose back up into the air, glaring at Glow with the darkest of expressions. “So, you are the other child…the daughter…”
“Enough,” Ringleader called out, holding Mel in front of him, where he indicated the golden ring around her throat. “Fall back, heroes…unless you wish to see the girl die.”
“You were gonna kill me anyway,” Mel pointed out bitterly, trying in vain to hide her terror. Ringleader glared at her and the ring tightened, choking her into silence.
“This endeavor is a failure,” Ringleader told Sinsear. “I think it is time to cut our losses and depart. You’ll have another opportunity for your revenge…”
“NO,” Sinsear yelled, suddenly blasting his ally. Ringleader was engulfed in flames, then screamed in agony as dropped from the air, along with Mel.
“I’ve got her,” Ginormous called out, already diving for the girl and catching her the same way that she’d caught Glow a minute earlier. “You’re safe…”
“None of you are safe,” Sinsear exclaimed, the flames around his body burning even brighter. “I will sear the flesh from your bones and you will all die screaming in agony.”
“LOOK OUT,” Ginormous warned an instant before Sinsear seemed to explode.
Ginormous threw herself over the others, using her own body to shield them from the waves of flame. She yelled but held still until the heat was gone.
“MOM?” Glow blurted out in worry.
“I’m fine,” Ginormous responded with a wince. “Just a little singed.”
“Holy shit,” Mel gasped, staring up at Ginormous. “That was intense…”
Glow nodded agreement, looking up at her mom in relief. “Yeah.”
The Bronze Lady nodded as well, commenting, “It is fortunate our uniforms are fire resistant, or you might have been seriously injured.”
“Maybe,” Ginormous responded with a deep scowl. “But it was too spread out…too dispersed.” Her eyes suddenly went wide and she snapped around. “It was a distraction.”
Sinsear had taken advantage of their distraction to leave, but not to escape. Instead, he’d flown straight to the building, and as they watched, the supervillain fired a massive blast of fire at the roof, setting it on fire.
“DAD,” Glow yelled in horror as he realized that his dad was still locked up inside.
“He’s trying to kill John,” Ginormous yelled with a note of panic, already running towards the building, which Sinsear was still blasting.
Glow stared at Sinsear with a swirling mass of fear, worry, and absolute fury. Sinsear had tortured her, had broken her, and now he was trying murder her dad. She snarled in determination and teleported.
Glow teleported once, twice, and a third time, gathering energy with each leap. Physically, she was fully charged and ready to face anything, but with each jump, she used up another energy, one which was leaving her teleportation powers exhausted. Then with an act of pure determination, she made one final teleport, appearing in the air above Sinsear.
“What…?” Sinsear gasped, turning around in the air to stare at her in surprise.
With a scream of rage, Glow released every ounce of energy she’d just gathered, pushing it out from her hands in a single burst that exploded right through Sinsear’s chest. The villain was blasted back, dead before his body fell onto the burning building.
“RACHAEL,” her mother yelled, diving to catch her before she hit the ground, just as she’d done a short time earlier.
“You’re making a habit of this,” Glow said, suddenly feeling completely and totally exhausted.
“I’m not going to fail you again,” her mother promised her with tears in her eyes. “Not again…”
Glow smiled faintly at that and whispered, “He’s gone… He’s finally gone…”
“Yes he is,” Ginormous told her with a faint smile as she carefully set Glow on the ground.
In spite of barely being able to stand, Glow stared at the burning building which was quickly being engulfed in flames, gasping out in horror. “Dad…”
She started to stagger forward, but giant hand was suddenly blocking her path. “NO,” her mom said with a look of fierce determination. “I’ll take care of this…” And with that, she began shrinking, becoming small enough to fit through the door.
“Ginormous,” the Bronze Lady called out as she ran to catch up. “I’ll come with.”
Mel, who’d been following a short distance behind the Bronze Lady, stopped, gasping for breath. “That way,” she managed to get out, pointing to the door she’d escaped from. “The left hallway…halfway down.”
Ginormous nodded, already running into the burning building. Glow watched in fear, knowing that she should be going in too, that she had to help her dad. However, she’d pushed herself too far and couldn’t continue.
“Please,” Glow whispered, her voice shaking. She was stuck, helpless and unable to do anything again, and she absolutely hated it. All she could do was hope…and have faith that her mother would be able to save her dad…that they’d both come out safely.
“They’ll be fine,” the Bronze Lady insisted. “Ginormous will bring him back.”
A minute later, a wall suddenly exploded outward as Ginormous rammed through it with her own body, still growing in the process. She kicked at the wall, then shrunk enough to come through the hole, carrying a man in her arms.
“DAD,” Glow exclaimed in relief.
“He’s all right,” Ginormous announced, setting Glow’s dad onto the ground and then shrinking until she was seven feet tall. “Just banged up…”
Glow threw her arms around her mom, hugging her tightly and tearfully saying, “Thank you…”
“Glow,” her mom started to respond with tears running down her own cheeks. “Rachael…”
Rachael smiled at her, then pulled away and said, “Dad…”
“What?” he responded with a confused look, since Glow had never called him that before. “Glow…?”
Without saying another word, Rachael grabbed her dad in a tight hug, crying tears of joy into his shoulder. The confused man hugged her back, not sure why Glow had suddenly become so affectionate, but being more than happy to hug the girl he’d always thought of as his second daughter.
Abandoned shipping yard. Sunday late afternoon, Aug 19th, 2007
The massive metal form of Ironworks was sprawled on the ground, his decapitated head resting a five feet away from the body. In spite of this grievous injury, there was not a single drop of blood, either on the body or the ground around it. Suddenly, Ironworks’ chest cracked and split open, and a moment later, a girl began to climb out of the hollow cavity within his torso. She was petite, with long magenta hair, pointed ears, and fine delicate features that some might call elven.
Once Maxine Granger was standing on solid ground, she stood up to her full height of four foot eleven and brushed off her dress. She slowly looked around the scene of the fight, then at the burning building and tower of smoke that poured out if it, shaking her head as she did so. In a soft lilting voice, she commented, “Well, that was a fucking waste of time.”
Maxine turned her attention back to the massive armored form on the ground and frowned. Ironworks was her creation, having been formed and animated entirely by her ferrokinetic powers. The damage to her armor was entirely superficial and could easily be repaired in less than a minute, including the severed head, which was merely decorative. She could have easily continued the fight had she wanted, but she’d seen no point in doing so, and had taken the opportunity to play dead.
After a moment, her thoughts turned to her father, who was the entire reason that she’d been there in the first place. As always, thinking about him stirred up feelings of grief and anger. Maxine had no illusions about her father. He’d been a career criminal, who’d spent most of his life working as a thug, a legbreaker, and professional henchman for a string of different supervillains.
Her father had not been good man, but he’d been good to her. After her mother had run off with another man, her father had done everything he could to protect her, and to show her that she was both loved and wanted.
When Maxine had first manifested as a mutant, a little more than a year ago, instead of being afraid, her father had been excited for her. “One day,” he’d told her proudly, “you’re gonna be the bigshot supervillain, ordering around a bunch of mooks like me.”
Maxine smiled bitterly, thinking about the fact that it had been almost an entire year since he’d died. Afterwards, she’d been left all alone, and had done the only thing she could think of. She took care of her father’s unfinished business, settling old grudges and paying off old debts. And now, there was only one outstanding debt left. She would have to get revenge on the superhero who was responsible for his death.
Though she had a great deal of power, Maxine hadn’t been confident in her ability to deal with an experienced superhero by herself. That was why she teamed up with several other people who had similar goals. They all wanted revenge against a superhero, so it made sense to work together.
“Fat lot of good that did,” Maxine muttered, thinking about how Caster had broken the agreement, and then Sinsear had drawn too much heat. “I guess I’m on my own again.”
As Maxine stared at the severed head from her armor, she remembered one of the most important pieces of advice her father had ever given her. “When things go to hell or the boss starts going batshit crazy,” her father had often told her, “don’t fight to the end out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. Take advantage of the distraction to haul your ass out of there, because it’s easier to find a new boss than it is to get out of prison or the grave.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” Maxine stated as she turned away from the armor.
Maxine suddenly noticed movement from the corner of her eye and snapped around, staring at the wrapped up bundle that was Bombastic. Bombastic was awake and moving again, and obviously trying to get out of the net. There was an explosion as Bombastic used her concussion blast, followed by two more. Finally, Bombastic tore her way out of the shredded net, grinning broadly.
“I hate getting put in timeout,” Bombastic complained to herself. “But it was an interesting game. I just might have to demand a rematch sometime…”
Bombastic paused as she noticed Maxine, giving the girl a curious look. Maxine gulped, suddenly realizing that her ally had never seen her outside of her armor before. None of her allies had. And at that moment, Maxine was quite aware of the fact that outside of her armor, she was vulnerable.
“Ooooh,” Bombastic purred, slowly starting towards Maxine with a curious expression. “Are you a new toy to play with?”
Maxine fought the urge to run, reminding herself that even without her armor, she wasn’t helpless. “No,” she answered carefully, knowing that she could easily set the crazy mutant off. “I’m not a toy. I’m a player.”
“Do you want to play with me?” Bombastic asked, her eyes lighting up with eager anticipation.
“Not today,” Maxine told her with a forced smile. “This game is over and I’m tired.” Then seeing the disappointed look on Bombastic’s face, she quickly added, “But we can play another time. Maybe even team up. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Bombastic hesitated a moment, watching Maxine with a thoughtful expression. “Maybe,” she reluctantly agreed. “But I don’t know if I want a little girl on my team...”
“I’m not a little girl,” Maxine protested, standing up as straight as she could to stretch out what little height she had available. She looked Bombastic straight in the eyes and proudly announced, “I’m thirteen…”
Bombastic nodded at that. “That’s different then…” She suddenly held out her hand, announcing, “I’m Bombastic.”
Maxine hesitated for only a moment before she reached out and shook Bombastic’s hands, being wary of the clawed fingers. “I’m…Lodestone.”
“Lodestone,” Bombastic repeated the name slowly, as if trying it out. Then with a broad grin, she said, “I look forward to playing with you, Lodestone.” And with that, she turned and ran, leaving Maxine behind.
“It looks like I have a new name,” Maxine mused as she considered the codename she’d just made up on the spot. It might be useful, since she didn’t want people to know that she was Ironworks.
Maxine glanced back towards the burning building, realizing that she would have to hurry if she wanted to be gone before the heroes returned. Though it would be quite easy for her to climb back inside her armor and simply walk away, Maxine thought that it would be more useful remaining where it was. After all, two members of the Liberty League could confirm that Ironworks was dead, which would end the trail for anyone trying to follow ‘him’.
The young mutant turned and stared at her discarded hammer, focusing all her attention on it until the large weapon crumbled away into a gray metal sand. With a little more effort, the sand began to shift and move, taking a new shape before once again hardening into a solid piece of metal, a flat disk that looked much like an oversized manhole cover. As soon as she stepped onto the disk, it rose from the ground, held aloft by her ferrokinesis.
“Oh yeah,” Maxine exclaimed, staring down at Ironworks’ armored form. “I can’t forget to lock the car.”
Maxine concentrated on her armor and the chest began to close back up, so that mere seconds later, it looked as though it had never been opened. She smiled faintly, knowing that this empty armor would confuse anyone who tried to investigate, since there was little evidence that a body had ever been inside. Let them wonder who or what Ironworks had been.
With a faint nod of satisfaction, Maxine willed the disk to carry her away from there. The alliance had been a failure, and Sinsear’s revenge a disaster, but whether or not she had help, she still had a debt to collect. Once she was ready, Ironworks would return.
Hapsburgh, Michigan. Sunday, Aug 26th, 2007
Melissa Terrance sat in her bedroom with the door closed and her music playing loudly. Mel barely listened to the music though, or at least not to the lyrics. Her thoughts were on other things, such her best friend James.
The house next door, where Mel’s two closest friends had lived, was now empty. A supervillain had burst into the house and caused a lot of damage, but it was the aftermath of that attack which had forced the Merricks to move. Because of what happened, half the town was asking why supervillains would attack them, which meant there was a lot more attention than they were comfortable with.
And then, there was what had happened to James. It had been shocking enough to learn that her wimpy friend had another personality, that there was a Hyde to his Jekyll, a Hulk to his Banner, but then to discover that the two personalities had somehow merged. Mel was happy for James…for Rachael, but confused as well.
Mel wasn’t sure what to think of Rachael. Inside, she was still the same James that Mel knew, but she was also quite different. The new Glow…Rachael was far more capable and confident than James had ever been, and much more personable than the old Glow.
Though Mel didn’t want to admit it, she felt uncertain as to her role in their friendship. She’d always been the brave one, the confident one who pushed James to stand up for himself. Now, she felt like she was the wimp in comparison, and that if Rachael was now a hero, that pushed her into playing the role of damsel in distress. She’d already played that role once, and she absolutely hated it. Mel NEVER wanted to go through anything like that again.
Mel closed her eyes, shuddering at the memory of what had happened to her. She’d been kidnapped and beaten, suffering a couple of the worst days in her life. And that had only been two days. She couldn’t even imagine what six weeks with Sinsear would have been like.
“But Glow came after me anyway,” Mel reminded herself, knowing just how scared her friend had been of that monster. No matter how much James…Rachael had changed, he…she was still Mel’s friend, and that rescue certainly proved it. They would just have to figure out how the balance of that friendship had changed. “Maybe we can talk about it the next time I see her.”
James…Rachael and her family had moved away, but that certainly wasn’t going to be the end of their friendship. Between e-mail, the phone, and the ability to make frequent visits, they’d be able to stay in contact, though it wouldn’t be the same…and not just because of the distance.
“I guess I’ll just have to get used to having a badass mutant girl for a best friend,” Mel told herself with a chuckle. “If nothing else, Rachael won’t be boring…”
Mel suddenly imagined what it would have been like if Rachael hadn’t moved away, if she had to go back to school in James’ place, when it started up again next week. The image of Todd, Mike, and Steve running into Rachael in the middle of the school hallway was enough to make her burst out laughing. She was pretty sure that when she told Rachael, she’d laugh about it too. After all, James would.
While Mel thought about this, chuckling even more as she envisioned the look on Todd’s face, she picked a round piece of amber off her desk and began to absently roll it between her fingers. It was smooth, vaguely shaped like an egg, and was her souvenir from her damsel in distress experience.
“I got kidnapped by a psycho supervillain, and I all I got was this rock,” she weakly joked. “Sounds like a t-shirt.”
Mel held up the stone, remembering how she’d found it. After everything was done and over with, and they were just about to leave, she had found it sitting on the ground, just a short distance from where she’d nearly been burned to death. It immediately caught her eye, so she’d picked it up and kept it.
Suddenly, a ring of golden energy appeared in the air in front of Mel, looking like an angel’s halo. As soon as she saw this, she let out a shriek and jumped back, dropping the stone in the process. The ring instantly vanished, and when she looked around, there was absolutely no sign of the Ringleader.
“What the…?” Mel started, still looking around nervously, but growing less worried and more confused. Her eyes settled on the piece of amber and she gasped. “No way…”
Mel cautiously picked the piece of amber up again, and when she focused on it, another glowing ring appeared in the air in front of her. Her eyes widened at the sight, but this time she felt amazed instead of afraid.
A wicked grin began to form as she mused, “No more damsel in distress for me.”
Chicago Illinois. Monday, Aug 27th, 2007
Rachael settled back into her comfortable chair and silently looked around the office she found herself in. A large bookshelf was set against the wall, filled with titles that ranged from Alice in Wonderland to Zubacker’s Analysis of Neurosis. Several diplomas were hanging on the wall, along with paintings of natural scenes. There was a desk on the other side of the room, but at the moment, no one was sitting there. And of course, the woman who probably should have been sitting behind the desk, was sitting across from Rachael instead, in an identical chair.
Doctor Caroline Brooks was a beautiful woman, with long platinum blonde hair that was pulled back into a long braid that went all the way down to her waist. She wore a pair of glasses, which Rachael suspected were more for image than because she needed them, and she was dressed in a professional suit and skirt. At the moment, she was watching Rachael with a friendly smile.
Rachael frowned, not happy about having to see another psychologist, though admitting to herself that she probably needed it. In spite of the fact that her personalities had finally reintegrated, it hadn’t been a perfect mesh and occasionally she’d get momentarily confused from two conflicting past perspectives. However, it was getting easier, and she was starting to see herself as a new person…as Rachael instead of the old James or Glow. That helped a great deal.
Of course, reintegration hadn’t healed her entirely, though it had been a large and important step. Her mind was no longer broken, but it was still chipped and a bit cracked. She suspected that after everything she’d been through, she’d never been fully healed, but hopefully, Dr. Brooks could help her repair a few more of those cracks.
James had spent years working with Dr. Simmons, their previous psychiatrist, and it hadn’t done much good. As James, she’d seen him as a constant reminder that she’d been broken, while as Glow, she’d seen him as meddlesome and intrusive. Though she knew that he meant well, she was just thankful that she didn’t have to deal with him again.
Her mother was the one who’d recommended Dr. Brooks, and who’d arranged the appointment. Apparently, Dr. Brooks specialized in working with patients who had powers, and she frequent acted as a consultant for the Liberty League, whenever they needed help profiling a villain. So far, she seemed all right, but the appointment had only just begun.
“It’s nice to meet you, Rachael,” Dr. Brooks said pleasantly. “Your mother has told me a little about your unique situation.”
“I imagine she has,” Rachael responded in an even tone and a controlled expression, which Dinah and her father would have immediately recognized as belonging to the old Glow.
Dr. Brooks didn’t seem bothered by Rachael’s guarded response. Instead, she gave Rachael another friendly smile and said, “In the name of fairness and disclosure, I think I should tell you a little about myself. Like you, I am a mutant. I am a low level exemplar and I have enhanced senses.”
“Enhanced senses? Rachael asked curiously.
Dr. Brooks smiled again, gesturing towards her office door. “If I focus, I can hear the receptionist from two doors down, complaining about a client.” Then Dr. Brooks tapped the side of her nose and added, “And I can smell her perfume.”
“That sounds…useful,” Rachael commented, though she thought that power sounded better for invading other people’s privacy than anything else.
“It can be,” Dr. Brooks agreed before continuing. “Let’s see… I briefly tried my hand at being a superhero, until I realized that I didn’t like being shot at, and decided to help people this way instead.”
Rachael gave Dr. Brooks a curious look, trying to imagine her as a superhero, and wondering what her codename was. However, she just said, “Being a hero is pretty dangerous.”
Rachael absently felt her side where Bombastic had sliced her open, though fortunately, the wound was now completely healed. The Bronze Lady’s husband, who was a magic user called the Gentleman, had used some spells to heal all the injuries caused by their encounter with Sinsear and his people. Even Rachael’s dad, who’d been in pretty rough condition, had quickly made a full recovery.
Dr. Brooks said a little more about herself, mostly about where she received her degree and what her professional qualifications where, then she gently asked, “What about you? Can you tell me a little about yourself?”
“Everything?” Glow asked, becoming a little defensive.
However, Dr. Brooks gave her a gentle smile and replied, “Only what you’re comfortable with.”
Rachael hesitated a moment, then slowly started, knowing that Dr. Brooks probably already had a good sized file on her. She started telling Dr. Brooks about being kidnapped as a little boy, which didn’t seem to surprise the woman in the least, though Rachael kept it very vague. Dr. Brooks listened intently, making it perfectly clear that she was giving Rachael her full and undivided attention. That made it easier for Rachael to continue talking.
Though Rachael couldn’t bring herself to give any details about her time with Sinsear, or about any of her real problems, she found it much easier to talk about her current situation. She was quite happy to tell Dr. Brooks about her involvement in the rescue attempt, though she did gloss over how she’d killed both Ironworks and Sinsear. Somehow, she didn’t think it would be a good idea to tell the shrink, how happy she was to have killed a man, even one like the monster.
“Because of all this,” Rachael complained, happy to get past all the awkward conversation bits, “We had to move to another town. I mean, it would be really weird trying to explain why James disappeared and I showed up instead.”
“I can imagine,” Dr. Brooks responded, giving Rachael a nod to continue.
“And because of this,” Rachael added as she reached up to touch her glowing blue hair, “I can’t even go to a normal school anymore. My parents are trying to find some tutors so I can be homeschooled…”
Rachael let out an exasperated sigh, not wanting to admit it, but she was actually going to miss school. As James, she’d never done very well in school, not with her tendency to freeze up under pressure. That had made her the target of bullies and mockery, though as Glow, she’d done her best to deal with that. What she was really going to miss, was being able to talk with Mel between classes…and sometimes in the middle of them. On the plus side, a couple of the tutors being lined up sounded like they might be interesting.
“Apparently,” Rachael continued, feeling a little self-conscious. “The Bronze Lady offered to tutor me in math and science, and her husband, the Gentleman, said he could help with English and history.”
“That sounds quite interesting,” Dr. Brooks said with an amused look. “Not everyone can be tutored by superheroes…”
“I guess not,” Rachael responded with a shrug, then reluctantly admitted, “But Mom said she’s also getting me a tutor for my powers.”
Rachael scowled at that, feeling offended that her mom actually thought she needed someone else to teach her how to use her own powers. It wasn’t like she’d just gained her powers either. She’d had them for three years, and had spent a lot of time learning how to control them. However, after that fight last week, her mom had firmly insisted that she get some real training, whether she wanted it or not.
“I already know how to use my powers just fine,” Glow grumbled.
Dr. Brooks nodded at that, giving Glow a sympathetic look. “I can understand how that might be frustrating for you.” Then, she looked at the clock and said, “Well, I’m afraid that we’re out of time for today. The next time you come in, perhaps we can talk about this tutor.”
“Um…thank you for listening,” Rachael self-consciously told Dr. Brooks.
To Rachael’s surprise, she actually felt a little better after talking about some of those things, and almost in spite of herself, she was actually looking forward to coming back. It was nice, just being able to talk to someone who really listened to her, and who didn’t seem to be judging. Rachael left Dr. Brooks’ office with a faint smile, and made her way down to the lobby.
Rachael’s mom was waiting for her in the lobby, sitting down with a book in her hands. She looked up at Rachael’s return and smiled, then carefully put her book away before standing up. Rachael gave her a self-conscious smile, then realized that Dinah and their dad were missing. Though she had to come to Chicago for her appointment with Dr. Brooks, and her mom had been providing transportation, her dad and sister had tagged along, mostly so they could do a little sightseeing around Chicago.
“Dinah and your father went for a walk,” Rachael’s mom told her. “We’ll meet up and have dinner together.”
“Okay,” Rachael responded, running her hands through her hair and nervously wondering how well the restaurant liked mutants. After all, unlike her mom, even when she wasn’t using her powers, it was still quite obvious that she was a mutant. Normal people just didn’t have glowing hair or eyes.
Then Rachael suddenly noticed something and stared at her mother in surprise. Her mother didn’t look quite as tall and imposing as normal. In fact, if it wasn’t for her mom’s heels, they’d be the same height.
“You’re…short,” Rachael blurted out in surprise.
Her mom blushed, looking self-conscious and a bit awkward. “Your sister dared me to stay at my base height for twenty-four hours.”
Rachael just stared at her mom for a moment, still a bit stunned since she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her mom this short. She NEVER went below six feet tall, even when trying to pass as a normal person. It wasn’t until then, that Rachael realized just how uncomfortable and nervous her mom actually looked, which said something about why she’d agreed to Dinah’s dare. Rachael was certain that her mom wouldn’t have shrunk like that for just anyone.
For most of Rachael’s life, in both of her previous incarnations, she’d been dealing with the severe mental and emotional damage that had been left from her time with Sinsear. However, it wasn’t until that very moment, that she truly realized she wasn’t the only one who Sinsear had left with emotional scars.
“That height looks good on you,” Rachael gently told her mom, right before grabbing her into a tight hug. Her eyes began to tear up a little as she thought about how good it felt to actually have a mom present too hug.
“Thank you,” her mom responded with her own teary eyes. Then, once they’d both regained their composure, she gave Rachael a gentle smile and suggested, “Let’s go meet up with John and your sister. Your father made reservations at a very nice restaurant, and I’m getting a bit hungry.”
“I know,” Rachael responded with a faint smirk. “You have a ginormous appetite.”
Milwaukee Wisconsin. Tuesday afternoon, Aug 28th, 2007
Sarah Coleman stepped through the doors of the Flying Stag, a brewery and restaurant that was known in certain circles as being welcoming to mutants. Several steps behind her, Eliza Morgan followed, pausing to look at what appeared to be an antique pocket watch.
“The area is clear,” Eliza stated a moment later. “We should be able to speak freely.”
“Thank you,” Sarah responded with a nod.
The last time they’d come to the Flying Stag, three of the tables had been bugged with listening devices. Later on, she’d learned that some gadgeteer had bribed one of the waiters to plant them, hoping to get blackmail material from some of the customers. Of course, the restaurant’s owner had NOT been happy about that and had taken steps to ensure it didn’t happen again, though it always paid to be careful.
“We’re a little early for our meeting,” Sarah commented, gesturing to a table in the corner. “Let’s get some drinks while we wait.”
“A very good idea,” Eliza agreed with a smile.
A minute later, they were sitting at the table, sipping their drinks and glancing at the door. Sarah let out a sigh and shook her head, hoping that this worked.
“You’re worried about your daughter,” Eliza observed, taking a sip of her Guinness.
“Both of them,” Sarah admitted with a shake of her head. She was silent for several long seconds, then continued, “Dinah is easy to understand. She’s angry at me…resents me for being gone for her entire life.”
“You’ve been doing important work,” Eliza said carefully.
“I was running away from my family,” Sarah responded quietly. “Dinah is a fourteen year old girl, and she doesn’t care that I was saving other people’s lives. All she cares about is that I wasn’t there for her.”
Eliza nodded sympathetically. “This hasn’t been easy for her, but I know she’s happy that you’ve been around.”
“But she doesn’t trust it,” Sarah pointed out with a sigh. “And she doesn’t trust me. If I want to earn her trust, I’m going to have to work for it.” She hesitated a moment before adding, “Rescuing her friend and her father was a big step.”
“Is that why you’re still at your real height?” Eliza asked curiously. “I’ve never seen you stay at this size for very long.”
Sarah looked down at herself, feeling self-conscious and a bit vulnerable. “I feel a bit like a midget,” she admitted. “But Dinah dared me to stay at my base height for a full day, and time isn’t up quite yet.”
“So, you’re humoring her,” Eliza commented with an amused smile. “Well done.”
“Dinah is easy to understand,” Sarah repeated. “Earning her trust won’t be easy, but at least I can understand her. Rachael… Rachael is a lot more complicated.”
Eliza smiled wryly. “That is an understatement if I’ve ever heard one.”
Sarah chuckled at that. “I…I’m not sure what to do with her.”
Eliza took a sip of her drink, then offered, “There is a school for young mutants like her…”
“Whateley,” Sarah said with a faint smile. “I’ve heard some good things about that place, but it isn’t an option.” At Eliza’s curious look, she explained. “For one thing, Rachael is a little too old to start there. If I’d known James was a mutant when he’d first manifested, then maybe…”
“But now you think it’s too late,” Eliza said with a nod of understanding. “But you just said ‘for one thing’, which suggests you have other reasons.”
“I’ve just started to reconnect with my children,” Sarah admitted, “so there is no way that I’d send one of them away just when I was getting to know her, even if I could get her father to agree. I’ve spent too much time away from them as it is.”
Eliza took a drink of her beer before responding. “I see.”
“Saturday,” Sarah abruptly said, “I took Rachael to the DPA for power testing, and to get her MID. As we already knew, she’s a warper and energizer, with her energizer abilities tied directly to her warping.”
“I knew you were taking her,” Eliza said, giving Sarah a curious look. “But this is the first time you’ve spoken of the results. What of her shifter abilities?”
Sarah hesitated for a moment, then answered, “She didn’t show any sign of them during the testing.” She shook her head. “John and Dinah said that the only time they’ve seen that power, was when they changed back and forth between James and Glow, and Glow’s form is obviously based off her own self-image. She hasn’t changed since her integration, and during her power testing, she couldn’t change again.”
“She lost her power?” Eliza asked in surprise. “How is that even possible?”
“Caroline thinks it’s purely psychosomatic,” Sarah said, letting out a long sigh. “From Rachael’s perspective, James had always been weak and helpless, while Glow had been the one who was strong…who could fight and take care of herself. Caroline thinks that this is why the integrated personality has Glow’s form instead of James’, and she’s pretty sure that Rachael has subconsciously locked herself into that form.”
“That…makes sense,” Eliza responded with a thoughtful look. “She’s avoiding the form that makes her feel weak and helpless.” She gave Sarah a knowing look.
Sarah scowled, recognizing the similarities to her own situation. For years, she’d avoided her original size as it made her feel weak and vulnerable, while Rachael seemed to be subconsciously avoiding her original form for the same reason.
“I…I talked to Caroline about Rachael’s session yesterday,” Sarah said. “Of course, she didn’t tell me any details of what they talked about, but she did say that Rachael isn’t concerned about her gender change, and acts as though it is no big deal.” She gave a wry smile as she added, “Caroline thinks that Rachael may be in denial.”
Eliza nodded at that. “That shouldn’t be surprising. Rachael has…many issues. I know that she’s made quite significant progress on her own, but…”
“She won’t go through it on her own,” Sarah stated firmly. “I won’t abandon her to deal with it by herself. Not again.”
Eliza looked at her pocket watch, then glanced to the door again. “It seems our appointment has arrived.”
Sarah turned and saw the young Asian woman who’d entered the Flying Stag. The newcomer looked around, so Sarah held out her hand to get the other woman’s attention. With a faint nod, the woman started coming straight at them.
“Hello,” the Asian woman greeted them pleasantly. “I’m Twist.”
“I am the Bronze Lady,” Eliza responded and gestured to Sarah. “And this is Ginormous.”
Twist gave Ginormous a curious look, then admitted, “With a name like yours, I was expecting someone taller.”
“I usually am,” Sarah responded with a wry smile. “But today, I’m keeping a low profile.”
Eliza gestured for a waiter to come over, then told Twist, “Order a drink, and we can begin.”
“I’m afraid that I’m still underage,” Twist admitted with a shrug. “I’ll have to make due with a soda.”
Once Twist had ordered her drink, Sarah shifted gears and got down to business. “I asked you here for this interview, because I am taking a leave of absence from the Liberty League, and I would like to nominate you as my replacement.”
“What?” Twist asked in surprise.
“You are one of three people who recently applied to join the Liberty League,” Eliza explained. “One is a girl named Wraith, who just graduated from Whateley Academy, and one is an experienced solo hero named Powerfist. Ginormous thought that you might be the best match for the team, and I agree.”
“Um…thank you,” Twist responded. “I know that I don’t have much experience, at least not compared to someone like Powerfist, so I’m a little surprised.”
“Powerfist is moderately powerful,” Sarah agreed. “And he does have years of experience, but he has his own way of doing things.”
“He also has a poor record of working with others,” Eliza added with a faint smile.
Sarah smiled faintly at that understatement. “In your application, you said that you graduated from Whateley two years ago, and have been going to college since…”
“At the University of Wisconsin,” Twist agreed. “After two years, I decided that it wasn’t for me. I want to use my powers to make a difference.”
“I understand that completely,” Sarah told her in an approving tone. “You don’t have much experience, but you do have a character reference from Cornflower of the Sioux Falls League.”
Twist smiled at that. “We went to school together, and even lived in the same dorm.”
Sarah nodded at that and watched Twist closely for a few seconds before saying, “Admittedly, your powers were the deciding factor. Your mobility and offensive abilities on the battlefield could be quite useful for the League. And…I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but they caught my attention on a more personal level.”
Twist gave her a curious look. “What do you mean?”
Sarah hesitated, uncomfortable with talking about such personal issues with someone she’d only just met, but considering what she was about to ask, Twist would have to know. “I recently discovered that my son…daughter is a mutant, and…”
“Wait a moment,” Twist interrupted, giving Sarah a sharp look. “Aren’t you sure of the kid’s gender?”
Sarah winced at that, then quietly admitted, “He…she changed gender as part of her mutation. It’s…complicated.”
Instead of being shocked or horrified by that, Twist suddenly looked even more interested. “So, she’s a changeling?” At Sarah’s confused look, she quickly continued, “I’m…I was friends with several changelings back at Whateley. That kind of thing isn’t unheard of.”
“Thank you,” Sarah responded, relieved that Twist was taking the information so well. It made the rest of this easier. “Well, like you, she is an energizer and a short range teleporter. When I saw the video you sent us with your application, I was surprised, because your fighting style is also similar to my daughter’s.”
“Really?” Twist asked, giving Sarah a thoughtful look. “Why do I have the feeling that you aren’t just telling me this, just because?”
“It seems that you have good instincts,” Eliza commented.
Sarah bowed her head in acknowledgment. “I took these similarities as a good omen,” Sarah admitted. “And perhaps, as a sign that this was meant to be. You see, I’m not only interested in you as a prospective new member for the League, but I was also hoping that you might be interested in helping my daughter with her powers.” Then, to make sure that Twist didn’t get the wrong idea, she quickly added, “Of course, your membership nomination is not at all contingent on this. If you aren’t comfortable with this, it isn’t a problem.”
“I’d be happy to work with her,” Twist said, her eyes gleaming with interest. “A changeling and a teleporter… I look forward to meeting her.”
“Thank you,” Sarah told her, smiling in relief. “We still have to introduce you to the rest of the team, and take care of a few more formalities, but as far as I’m concerned…welcome to the Liberty League.”
“Quite right,” Eliza agreed proudly. “I look forward to working with you.”
Sarah gave Twist a welcoming smile, then let out a sigh of relief, thankful that this had gone so well. In fact, her interview with Twist had gone even better than she’d hoped, and she was suddenly certain that she’d made the right choice in picking her. For some reason, she was sure that Twist was the perfect choice to help train Rachael.
As Sarah though about Rachael, she felt a little worried for her daughter. Rachael’s life had not been an easy one so far, and she’d survived things that would break most adults. And though Sarah desperately hoped that Rachael’s troubles were over, she knew better.
Rachael had a history of getting involved in dangerous situations, and Sarah was certain that this wasn’t going to change, especially since her glowing eyes and hair marked her as an obvious mutant. Sarah knew that her daughter would never be able to live a safe and simple life, and there was no way that she could protect her from everything that was to come, no matter how hard she tried. However, Sarah could prepare her…could make sure that she had the training and tools she needed to face those challenges. This time, Sarah would not fail her.