Of Masks and Marvels (Part 4)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
This chapter is dedicated to Steve; the boots are for you.
To be honest, I'm not really sure how Reyes charts my popularity. But she claims that the good airtime I got with the electrical fire definitely whittled off most of my 'bitch' points. She's holding off issuing a couple of posters of me in 'sexy' positions until my ratings are better. By 'sexy', I mean shots of me lifting an I-beam and one of me in mid-air with electricity discharging dramatically; I do NOT do cheesecake!
Most of the things anybody does, even superheroes, are too trivial to mention. Ironically, these are also some of the more satisfying. You know, I mean kitten-up-a tree, lost-pre-schooler, or carnivorous-blob-in-the-sewers stuff. And, when we showed up too late for a 'job for Lady Lightning', because another superhero got there first, I did the job that I'm actually paid for- taking care of the NewsLemon's broadcasting equipment. Eli and Reyes were up on a roof overlooking what had been a yuppified galleria-type shopping center, but currently looked a lot more like Berlin after the Red Army had moved in. Jig-jagging through the wreckage was Justiciar, probably our region's premier superhero, and Ransack, the wiseass who was responsible for the damage.
Now, remember for every person who gets super-powers and decides to become a superhero, there are at least ten assholes who go the other way. The reprobate in question was called Ransack. Now guys who can run 100 M.P.H. are bad, and guys who can lift 15 tons without straining are worse; those who can do both and are borderline psycho are Ransack. Now, besides being fast and strong, Ransack is obnoxious; I mean Punk died in the 70's, but he's still fighting the bad fight in a tattered leather jacket and neon purple Mohawk.
The buzz on the police band was that Ransack had breezed into the Galleria at top speed and emptied out a jewelry store. Not satisfied with several hundred thousand dollars worth of clear profit, he went on to amuse himself by causing a few hundred of thousand dollars more in damages by tearing up the place, and moving on to the rest of the galleria. Apparently the conspicuous affluence of the place offended his radical sensibilities; but then I get the impression that he enjoys both being offended and offending.
Justiciar showed up just when Ransack was getting bored and would have probably moved on. Ransack found the prospect of rumbling with the Big J more amusing than the dreary business of fencing his ill-gotten gains. While Justiciar is strong, and an experienced and savvy fighter, he isn't any-where near as fast as Ransack. Punk-boy was running rings around him, and obviously having a right jolly old time.
It was painful to watch a hero of Justiciar's stature being toyed with. But the real pisser was the fact that Ransack had injured 5 galleria customers and employees, and paramedics couldn't get in to treat them while the two of them were duking it out. When one EMT crew tried to get in, Ransack caromed off one of them, sending the rest back with an unnecessary casualty.
Finally, I got fed up. I shut the NewsLemon's doors and started to change. As I unzipped, I paged Reyes.
"Maxham, I'm busy right now." Her voice turned faint, and I heard her On Air persona-voice describe part of the carnage.
"Reyes, I'm going in."
"Justiciar's already here."
"And he needs help. I'll talk to the EMT crews and see if I can help them evacuate the wounded. It won't be very newsworthy, but at least those people won't bleed to death." I pulled out the boots. "Jeezus, Reyes, what did you do to my boots?"
"I had to replace them. You ruined the finish when you got slimed by that carnivorous blob."
I took a dismayed look at the boots. The old pair had a couple of sensible, if feminine heels; these had three inch long- at least!- stiletto heels made of gleaming stainless steel. If not for the steel tips at the end of them, they'd probably qualify as lethal weapons. "Where did get these things? Have you been shopping at that kinkywear place again?" Reyes maintained a pointed silence (Memo to self: double check her invoices- she's probably got something even weirder planned to stick me with the next time I'm in a hurry)
I slipped into the boots and tried to walk. Balancing on those needle thin heels was almost impossible. Damn, that woman has NO respect for my instep! No time to worry about- no doubt as Reyes planned- had to get put together and out there.
I finished my makeup, put on the mask and checked the scene. No one too close, but there were enough people milling around the general vicinity that just lifting off would be noticed. I slithered under the NewsLemon and, feeling very UN superheroic, crawled across the lot under several other units. I got up, Electro-pulsed the dirt off me and lifted quietly into the air. Oh yeaahhh, finally on the job!
From the air, the scene was rather surreal. On either side was a large office building, more or less untouched. Between them, the galleria looked like a pocket warzone. Ransack had gutted the inside, turning it into a valley of debris, studded with support beams. Punky was zipping around, pegging Justiciar with passing blows while the Big J swung around wildly with his energy sword. Every so often, Justiciar would block one of Ransack's little love-taps with his energy shield and knock him into a wall. But, Ransack would just laugh it off. The local police, fire department and EMT services were all crowded around the street front of the wreckage, waiting for Ransack to get bored and leave. Ironically, Justiciar making the situation worse by keeping Ransack there.
I touched down and approached the EMTs. "Oh, lovely! Another costumed weirdo to make things worse!"
"Don't worry, I'm not here to fight, if I can help it. We have five wounded people in there, right? You can't get them out with that whacko playing dog-in-the-manger. If I go in with you and act as a buffer, you can get them out."
"Oh, right. We go in, and then you go off and start throwing lightning bolts around; rubble starts flying around and we have more wounded!"
"Oh, Please! First things first! We have to get those people out! I could go in there and haul them out, but I'd probably do them more damage than good! You can't go in there without whacko-boy pounding on you. If we go in there acting in concert, maybe we can get some of them out while they're still alive!"
The Fire Captain in charge of the site wasn't very happy with any of this. "I want it understood that the protection of my people is your first priority. Once the wounded and my medics are out, you freaks can pound each other into oatmeal for all I care."
I tweaked his cheek. "Such a sweet talker. Let's get to work."
There was some talk of me lifting a ridiculous looking arrangement of stretchers with EMTs riding them into the site, but common sense prevailed. In tricky situations, keep it simple. I would precede the EMTs into the site, and cover their entrance. They would come with stretchers, get the wounded loaded, and get out. I would stop Ransack if he tried to interfere again. We had more volunteers than I was comfortable covering for, so we whittled it down to six very athletic looking types.
Once all that was settled and we were set to go, I was faced with a rather ludicrous problem. How would I make my entrance? The pragmatic thing would be to blast Ransack on his blind side and let Justiciar handle most of it. But this insanity was being telecast, and sneak attack morality isn't the kind of thing I want Lady Lightning associated with. On the other hand, the classic semi-formal announcement of my arrival with posturing and declaration of conflict was not only stupid, but it was just giving that asshole a free shot at me.
I decided to split the difference. I shot up high in the air and came down in a thundering corona of surging electricity. I landed with the subtlety of an artillery round. Well, at least Ransack wasn't noticing the EMTs who I could hear scrambling in behind me.
Ransack's response wasn't what I'd hoped for. His wide stubbly face split into a wiseass grin and he shouted, "Ooohhhh, Baaaby! Did you come here lookin' fer Me?" Ignoring Justiciar, he charged straight at me.
Odd thing, I'd been watching him zip around for the better part of an hour on the monitor, but you really have to be up close to really appreciate how fast these superspeedster types are. One minute he was a good forty yards away from me over broken terrain, and the next he had my face in his hands and he was kissing me!
I reacted as superhero passing himself off as a superheroine would- I gave him a full-body shock with enough juice to crispy-fry an overweight hippopotamus. He almost broke in time, but I got him with enough wattage to send him flying. He went skidding through the kipple and righted himself with the same wiseass smirk.
"Hoooyaaasss! Now that's what I call a kiss! Pucker up honey, and give Daddy some sugar!" And he charged at me again.
This time I was better prepared for him. Like any self-disrespecting punk wannabe, Ransack was carrying around enough metal in his jacket to open up a small hardware store. I magnetically levitated him up off the ground and held him there, pumping his legs uselessly. Justiciar yelled out Ransack's name and went for him, energy sword gleaming like the wrath of God. I think that Ransack had really pissed off Justiciar big time.
Ransack ducked out of Justiciar's swing by the simple expedient of ripping his own jacket in two and slipping out of it. The energy sword ashed one half of the jacket and the other went flying into my hand. This was NOT what I had been hoping for. This brought both of them much too close to my EMTs. I checked over my shoulder. They had one stretcher out, another being loaded, and the Hispanic EMT with the buzz cut was prepping another for when the next stretcher would be brought in. They were much too vulnerable, and they couldn't watch their backs if they were paying attention to their patients. Shit.
Ransack and Justiciar were wrestling on a wicked looking pile of debris. I magnetically levitated the entire pile to send them both flying away from my charges. Then it hit me- Ransack had created an almost perfect battlefield for me. There was enough broken metal in that minor wasteland to tear that Road Warrior reject to pieces. I could create a 'tidal wave' of debris and bury him under it. But to do that, I'd have to throw enough of this junk to bury both Ransack and Justiciar, and I don't know enough about Justiciar to know if he could withstand that. Or if Ransack could withstand it, either.
I must have been standing there weighing the points for too long, because Ransack apparently broke away from Justiciar and came at me full throttle. He nailed me clean in the breadbasket and sent me flying into a column of as-yet-unbroken masonry and girder. Mildly stunned, I heard the buzzsaw-through-sheetmetal noise of him running through the kipple fade and then grow louder. He'd circled to build up speed and was charging again. Semi-instinctively, I levitated a loose field of metal shards around me. I heard him sneer loudly "Oh, yer one of those, hunh? Y'make out like yer all hot, and then get coy when a guy gets too frisky, hunh, bitch?"
Bitch? Did he just call me Bitch?
I exploded the floating wall of metal bits outwards at him. I followed up with a barrage of electric jolts, intending to drive him back towards Justiciar. Instead, he managed to grab a long piece of rebar and came speeding at me. Idiot.
As he swung the rebar at me, I used my magnetism to parry it and turned the power of his own swing against him. I aimed him at Justiciar. "Hey, Justiciar! VILLAIN VOLLEYBALL!"
Justiciar braced himself and leaned into Ransack's incoming form. His fist hit with a smack they must have heard in Peoria. Ransack came flying back. I maneuvered to intercept, but my timing was wrong, and he fell right on top of me, forcing us both down into the rubble. Never the gentleman, Ransack slammed an elbow into me and got off.
As I got up, I could hear the buzzsaw sound of Ransack circling again. Relying more on the sound than on sight, I waited until he'd committed to a charge. When he was a few seconds from impact, I created a blinding flash from an arc between my two hands, and flew out of his path. Blinded, he blundered into a pile of rubble.
Finally, a shrill three blasts from a whistle sounded from the edge of the wreckage. I turned around just in time to see the last of the stretchers being pulled out, and the EMT scrambling after it. Oh, yes! I could finally cut loose on this asshole!
As long as the wounded and medics were in the line of fire, I had to stay on the ground to deny Ransack even accidental access to them. Now that they were out of the way, I could take the fight into the third dimension. I powered up to about 25 feet and took in the layout of the kipple.
Ransack was zipping around, sifting through the wrack. I started a dangerous game of Go with him, sending bolt after bolt just in front of him, herding him toward Justiciar. Give the slimeball his due, he seemed to pick up on this. He also picked up a slab of concrete and chucked it at me. I tried to deflect it magnetically, but it seemed that the thing he'd been looking for in the refuse was a piece of concrete without any metal in it. I took the chunk clear in the chest and was knocked against the wall of the abutting building. I slid down the wall and landed on my ass with a thump. This was bad- he was starting to fight smart.
Through the pain I heard that damn buzzsaw whine of his coming straight at me. More out of sheer mule stubborn-ness than any real hope of defense, I kicked at him as he closed. Ransack slammed into me and yelped in pain at the same time.
Punko was nose to nose with me, his face stretched out in a yawp of agony. I looked at my foot. Sometime in the fight, the metal tip of that god-awful heel had been knocked off, making it an actual stiletto. The idiot had driven it through his own shoulder with the force of his charge, and it was lodged in tight. "Okay, Daddy, y'want some sugar?" I grabbed his face with one hand and ran a nasty jolt through the metal heel.
It seems that I'm DC, 'cause the force of it knocked him back, dislodging the heel from his shoulder.
He skidded back and gave me this weird look. A feral grin spread across my face- I could see that he was spooked. 'Tough guys' like him tend to lose some of their starch when they take actual damage.
Still grinning, I beckoned him closer with my finger. "C'mon- what are you waiting for?"
I think I was too much of a woman for him, 'cause he suddenly turned and ran at top speed. Which wasn't a very swift move. Justiciar, who must also play a mean game of Go, had blocked the crucial path. Ransack was so busy getting away from me that he plowed right into Justiciar's energy shield, which stopped him cold. Justiciar took advantage of Ransack's atypical lack of hypermotion to haymaker him into a construction pylon.
It struck me that Ransack was through having fun, and would split the first chance he got. And he'd caused too much pain and damage to profit from it. He was carrying a knapsack over one shoulder. He'd gone through a lot of hassle to keep it when he shed his metal-studded jacket. You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that he was probably carrying the loot from the jewelry store in it.
I reached out with as powerful a magnetic field as I could muster and snagged the knapsack, hoping that there was enough ferrous materials in the jewelry settings to manipulate. The knapsack almost leaped off of his shoulder, but he managed to grab it with both hands. (Memo to self: never shop at that jewelry store chain- they must be devaluing their gold and silver with a LOT of alloy) There was a brief tug of war, with Ransack harriedly splitting his attention between keeping his swag and the freight-train approach of Justiciar. The knapsack split at it's seams, with almost half of the jewelry flying into my hands, and the other spilling out in a glittering hail over the rubble. He gave an inarticulate cry and started hysterically scrambling around trying to pick up as many gems as he could, which was cut short when Justiciar powered through him.
I set the cut-rate sparklies down and mag-lifted the half of Ransack's jacket that I'd snagged earlier over to me. Like every rebel-without-a-clue, the Punkinator had at least one set of handcuffs dangling from his jacket. The cuffs were bullshit gift-store pot-metal things, but they'd do for what I had in mind. I quickly magnetized them for greater control.
Ransack managed to get away from Justiciar, and gave up the jewelry as a lost cause. I braced myself for what I knew to be a one-shot try and focused everything on the raised 'pass' out of the rubble. He zipped through the wreckage, up to the 'pass' and stopped. Yes! You wonderful predictable sonuvabitch! He turned and flipped one finger in the fuck-you salute. I threw the handcuffs at him, guiding them with magnetism. One of the cuffs wrapped and locked itself around his raised wrist. If he'd had any kind of leverage, Ransack would broken free of those 'cuffs like they were paper, but I didn't allow him any. While he looked stupidly at them, I lifted Ransack off of his feet by the 'cuffs, and floated him down toward a waiting Justiciar.
Justiciar spent what I'm sure was a very cathartic few minutes using Ransack as a speedbag.
While Justiciar finished up with Ransack, I piled the jewelry I'd snagged from the knapsack next to the scattered- and better quality- jewels in the kipple. I paused to look around at the damage. Everywhere, broken metal, shattered glass, broken concrete, tacky faux marble, and shredded chrome in the remains of a convenience store. Among the chrome in the convenience store, I spotted a piece of inventory, improbably still intact. I smiled evilly- I wasn't quite through with Ransack just yet.
The media was clustered around Ransack, filming him as he was being fitted in the bulky power-shackles they use to hold super-strong prisoners. The EMTs had been more professional than they might have been, as the shoulder he'd rammed my heel through had been bandaged, and his broken nose- courtesy of Justiciar- had been splinted. I flew down among the media types- close enough to give Eli a good shot without making a point of it- and approached Ransack. He gave the obligatory snarl of defiance from the safety of the shackles and made a token attempt to get at me.
I smiled sweetly, and said, "Ransack? About that kiss?" I pulled the green bottle of mouthwash that I'd liberated from the wrack out from behind my cape, and handed it to him. "Take it. Keep it. Use it. Please!"
There was some snickering as they hauled Ransack off to the hoose-gow. I'm pretty sure that they got that newsblurb in the jug, and I hope that he got all the shit he had coming for it. The mouthwash company loved it, and it became their slogan for a few years. And I never saw a cent for it.
Then it was time to pay the bills. "Lady Lightning, why did you feel that you had to save Justiciar?"
"Save him? The best ol' thundertoes ever did was stay out of MiLord Justiciar's way. Everytime Justiciar got a decent grip on him, Ransack turned from a tiger into a bunnywabbit. The only reason I went in was so that the EMTs could get the wounded out. After that, well, a lady never lets herself be kissed on the first combat."
"Lady Lightning, isn't it true that you and Justiciar merely aggravated the damage that Ransack already did? Wouldn't Ransack have just left if Justiciar hadn't come along to provide more entertainment?"
"Hey, I saw how much damage ol' doggybreath" *grimace* "had already done. All we did was pound a few big chunks of rubble into smaller chunks of rubble. besides, Ransack's the type that gets bored easily- he'd just keep upping the scale of damage he does if he wasn't stopped, just because trashing the immediate site was getting old."
"Why do you think that Justiciar was so ineffectual in this fight?"
"Hey, _Do NOT_ put words into my mouth! I never said that 'cause it isn't true! Everybody knows-" I gave the NewsHead a withering look-" at least everyone with a reasonable knowledge of these things, that super- speedster types are harder to handle than a buttered eel. Even over the TV I could tell that Justiciar was performing a holding action until he could get backup. Once we got our signals worked out, I may have been the hammer, but he was the anvil."
I made sure that Reyes got a question in, and then I lifted off. I flew a few blocks, and settled down on a rooftop to wait for Eli to call with the location of the pick-up point. I relaxed, and steeled myself for the adrenaline to fade and the aching that follows every tough fight to set in. Oh, joy.
I was enjoying those first stabs in the ribs that I earned when Ransack threw that chunk of concrete at me, when I heard something land softly on the tarpaper roof. I looked up quickly. It was Justiciar.
I straightened up. He approached. "Are you okay?"
"Sure, I'm okay. Ah, if we're gonna talk, why don't you take off that helmet? I can barely understand you."
He pulled off the gleaming helmet. Under it he was wearing a royal blue half-mask that showed his curling ginger hair and a short beard that gave him a sort of Richard the Lionhearted kind of air. From his shoulders flowed a white cape, which was a bit tatty from his battle with Ransack. His main outfit was gray chainmail, over which he wore the kind of sleeveless tunic that merges with the trunks, suggesting a knight's tabard, in a royal blue that matched his mask. Where Superman has his red 'S' and Batman has his bat-in-a-gold-circle, Justiciar had a stylized white horse's-head knight chess-piece. His belt, gauntlet gloves, and buccaneer boots were white, matching his cape. Under the costume, he was at least 6'2", with the wide, wrestler's physique that does _not_ come from doing reps at the gym. From the gray eyes that showed from behind the mask shone the bluff, honest, fearless, honor that I knew from so many TV interviews. He was _The Man_. He was Justiciar; he was what I wanted to be when I grew up.
With a wide smile, he offered a hand to help me up in a most gentlemanly manner. My hand felt uncomfortably small in his. When the hell am I going to start bulking up?
I'd forgotten that the tip of that damn high heel had been knocked off, 'cause I slipped when I put my weight on it. I fell onto Justiciar's arm, which was solid as a rock- hell; the rock of Gibraltar should be so solid! I gave the treacherous footwear a vicious glance, and regained my footing. How embarrassing! Gawd, I hope he doesn't think that I was flirting with him!
Justiciar laughed, "Why do you wear those things? Are deadly weapons the latest thing from Milan in lady's wear?"
"Silly boy! Women's wear have always been deadly weapons- haven't you noticed? But, seriously, these are _not_ my idea. My backup got them for me to replace my regular boots, and foisted them on me at the last minute. And Now I'm gonna have to wear them on a regular basis, since they're part of my 'arsenal'. Ohhhh, my aching arches!"
"Oh, Lord, what you women put yourselves through!"
"Oh, yeah? And what about you?" I poked his chainmail. "Even with the kind of hide that you must have, that's gotta chafe!"
He rubbed his side, obviously in remembrance of rashes past.
"Okay, you obviously didn't follow me just to trade fashion tips. So?"
His smile tightened. "I came to thank you, for what you did."
"With Ransack? No Biggie! All you needed was a little backup, and I was just close at hand. Any member of AEGIS woulda done the same, and the press wouldn't have made such a big thing of it."
"I agree, but that's what I want to thank you about. How you dealt with the press. For defending me like that, and for the style and humor that you did it with. Whenever the cameras are pointed at me, I get all pompous and start talking like Dudley Do-Right."
"I know how that feels- I think it's the helmet. You just have to start pontificating if you're wearing a helmet. But, honestly, you do a LOT better than you think you do. Heck you can actually make Dudley Do-Right sound cool. Gawd knows I can't!"
"What about Captain America?"
"Okay, Helmets and outfits patterned after the American flag."
Our little kaffeklatch was cut short by a buzz in my ear. [Maxham! We're off site, and we'll pick you up in the alley between N____ and G___.]
(Memo to self: Get Reyes to understand the concept of On Air Security even if I have to tattoo it on her forehead!)
"Well, sorry, gottago! That's my ride calling."
He stopped me by gently grabbing my hand. He pulled me a little closer, kissed my hand in his most chivalrous manner, and let me go. I lifted off, heading at a slight angle from N____ and G___, just in case. As I flew, I tried to handle that minor panic attack. I am _Not Used_ to big guys with major reps kissing me, even on the hand. It's okay, Danny-boy, the gallant knight schtick is all part of his superheroic persona, and it doesn't mean anything. Besides, he and Power Woman are supposed to be a big Item, aren't they?
Oh, well, at least I don't have to worry about passing as a woman in front of a real superhero anymore.
Why isn't that as reassuring as it might be?
And my feet still hurt from these gawddamm heels!
To Be Continued in Part 5 of Masks and Marvels