Of Masks and Marvels (Part 5)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
A few days later, I was still a little achy. I always am after a big fight, and I'm starting to get used to it. Not quite, yet, but I'm getting there- maybe in a couple of decades. I got out of bed and put my pants on, one leg at a time, just like other superheroes.
Feeling a little muzzy, I pulled myself together to take care of the three 'S'es. I could hear Ma moving around doing her early morning stuff, so I took the precaution of putting on my phony beard and mustache. Oh, man, I gotta put on facial hair in order to cut off facial hair. Maybe someday it will all make sense. Fortunately, I use the same electrostatic adhesive for the lip-rug that I use for the wig and mask. I really do _not_ want to deal with stickum on my face first thing in the morning.
Y'know, the weird thing about denial is that you never see it coming until it's not only in your face, but trying to climb up your nose. I mean, I should have noticed it weeks ago. But I only had the slightest notion that anything was happening when the sensation of the shower against my nipples jolted me out of my torpor. I mean, after my fight with Ransack, my nipples were the only things on my body that didn't hurt!
I cut the shower and looked down at my chest. My nipples were the size of quarters, and under them there were slight but definite swellings. Almost against my own will, I reached up and tweaked one of them. Wow! How long had I been avoiding noticing that sensation?
Shifting my attention further south, I checked my groin. My equipment was still there. Now, here's the problem- I was never what you'd call X-rated Movie material down there. So, how much of what I'm seeing is real diminution of the tissue, how much is the power of suggestion, and how much is due to the fact that I just turned off a cold shower?
I reached around and gave my ass a squeeze (I've re-written this five times and that still reads weird!). Again, there seemed to be more material back there, but how can I be sure? Either way, it could be the power of suggestion or stubborn denial.
Quickly drying off, I stepped out of the shower and checked myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. From this slightly more objective vantage, the starter-set tits were still there, but the other issues were still kind of iffy. Then I noticed that somehow the amount of body hair on me had dwindled to almost nothing.
Peering closer into the mirror, I checked my chin. There was somebeard there, but it was like being 15 again, and it would take a couple of weeks to fill in. As for my lip, my Aunt Judith has more up there!
I willed myself to be calm. I could figure it out later. I stepped into the shower, and finished my morning rituals- well, with the exception of shaving, of course.
As I hustled myself back to my room, the thought kept bubbling through my brain that somehow, Reyes was behind all of this. I didn't know how she had managed it, but somehow it was all her. Because she wanted to be in charge. Yeah, that's it! She wants to be in charge of me, but if I bulk up and become a superhero, then she won't have anything on me. I won't have to come to her for all the technical shit about passing for a woman.
Rage was simmering through me all the way to the TV station. I managed to restrain my anger as I made my way through the departments. I thumped on Reyes' cubicle, but she wasn't there. I found her hanging out with a couple of other NewsDogs. I grabbed her by the arm and said, "There's an equipment problem that I want to talk to you about."
I hauled her through the station. Eli joined en route. I took her down into the NewsLemon. "Okay, Maxham, wha-"
I slammed her into the van wall, sparks of rage literally flying from my eyes. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?"
"Whaaat?" Her eyes were wide with fear. It is one thing to see a man lift several hundred pounds, smash through walls, and throw bolts of lightning around- it is completely another to have that kind of destructive power aimed at YOU.
I tore off my phony beard. "My beard- it isn't growing back. And Y'know something Reyes? I probably wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for THIS-" I opened my coveralls and pulled down the padding of the "fat suit" to expose my nipples.
Reyes took a long look, then realized what she was seeing. Her eyes bulged, and she said "Are... are those....?" She reached out and jabbed one with a fingertip. Out one corner of my eye, I was Eli staring, flabbergasted; I hastily covered up.
"How did you do it, Reyes? I already know why you did it!"
"What are you talking about? I don't know what's happening!"
"STOP LYING to Me! How do I reverse this crap? HOW?"
Eli tried to pull my arm off of Reyes. This is braver than it sounds; I tend to shed wattage when I get really upset. "Hey, BRO! Calm Down!"
I wasn't having any of it. Finally, Eli came up with a point of logic that I couldn't ignore. "Dan, even IF she did decide to, for some godawful reason, turn you into a woman, AND she somehow she got her hands on a hormone or enzyme powerful enough to overcome your body's resistance to toxins- it takes THREE six-packs for you to even get a buzz, remember? -, HOW would she get that hormone into your body in sufficient concentration to do the job without you noticing it?" Give the kid his due- his grammar stinks, but his logic works.
I let Reyes go, but kept my eyes on Eli. "Dan, the most logical thing I can think of- and, remember, I ain't a doctor- is that this is the natural progression of the effect of your powers on your body. Maybe this is just what happens with your condition."
Okay, I admit that I don't really have a clear recollection of what happened next. I'm relying on what Eli told me; he's my brother, and I trust him. Not with my Playboy collection, but that's a whole different thing.
Eli tells me that I threw my head back and screamed like a banshee, throwing kilowattage around like confetti. Eli threw himself and Reyes behind an insulation panel as the NewsLemon suffered a mysterious system-wide electrical surge.
The next thing I knew, I was in my bed at home looking up the poster of Lady Liberty up on the ceiling. The superheroine, not the statue- well, both, it's the one where's she's... Oh, never mind. I was in my bed, wearing my T-shirt and boxers, and that stupid fake beard. I felt like I was getting up after running a marathon. I didn't want to get out of bed, but I didn't want to sleep. Then the recollection of what had happened hit me. I didn't know what was worse, the prospect of a future using the lady's room or of a future with Reyes holding my spaz-out over my head. It's not like she doesn't have enough on me as it is!
I lay there without getting any appreciably better for the better part of an hour. Mom came in and did her June Cleaver impression. From what she said, the official version was that there had been a major short circuit in the NewsLemon, and that I had taken a nasty jolt while fixing it. The News Lemon was a complete loss apparently. I had been out for a day and a half, which was pretty much on a par for the electric shock story, and I had to provide a doctor's written authorization that I was up to the job. A doctor's Okay. This I did NOT want. Right now, I didn't want anybody I couldn't blackmail seven ways to Sunday looking at my body.
Night fell, and I still felt like seven miles of bad road. I reached up, switched on the light next to my bed, and felt I'd stuck my hand into a pool of cool water after a long trek through the desert. I got up, and on a hunch, turned on the biggest power-hog in my room, a 9" portable B&W TV. Oh, yeah, baby! I'll never feel the same way about appliances! Now that I could focus, it occurred to me that my body must have gotten used to having a certain charge, and that I'd depleted myself with my big shock-out. I was still tired, but at least I could recharge at my normal rate. Man, the things they don't tell you in comic books.
I don't like to dwell on personal humiliation, so let's just say that I apologized to Reyes, and leave it at that. Fill in any amount of, and variation on, groveling and toe-kissing that charges your battery. Okay, so she made me get my ears pierced. Now are you happy?!
Now, technically, altering the wreckage of the NewsLemon for the insurance adjuster wasn't wrong. After all, the Station does have Superhero Insurance for its vehicles, and I am a recognized superhero. So even if I wasn't in uniform when it happened, it's still covered, right? So it isn't fraud technically. And making it look like a more mundane accident isn't really wrong the insurance adjuster doesn't really have to know that a superhero was involved, right? Maybe if I say that to myself long enough, I'll start to believe it.
A couple of days later, I was back at work with a forged doctor's permission. I can just see the parents trying to explain that to the kids if this ever gets made into an animated series. It was seriously the weirdest experience that I have yet had. Did you ever get dressed up on Halloween as a girl, and go around weirded out that people might spot that you're not a real girl? Or were you more weirded out that they didn't? Anyway, it was like that in reverse. I was absolutely convinced that every guy was checking out my ass. I overreacted to every look, which of course, lead to more looks, which made me even more paranoid, and well, you know how it goes from there.
Later that week, we were on our way back to the station in the new, improved NewsLemon (now with Shag carpeting!). We had been taping Power Woman mopping up the railyard with an animated Michelin Man figure that had somehow been brought to life by a super-science weirdo called Crazy Lenny. Don't Ask. Then four cop cars came screaming past, lights flashing. There was either a Code Red emergency, or a 3-for-1 sale at the doughnut shop. I got into my togs and slipped out the door while the van was driving past a blank wall. _Do_Not_Try_This_At_Home_.
As I was flying toward wherever the cops were headed, Reyes buzzed me on my headset. [Lady Lightning! (Wake up the Pope! A Miracle has happened! Reyes finally picked up on the concept of On Air Security!) The Cops are radioing for a SWAT backup. They say that somebody is using a flame-thrower and assault weapons! You can head to the pickup point if you want, but we are going in for the footage.]
Shit! I hate fire, and Reyes knows it. In case you slept through 4th grade Science class, intense heat disrupts electro-magnetic fields. It isn't exactly what you'd call much fun for me, either. But if someone were running around using a flame-thrower, odds are the only way that SWAT was going to stop them would be with a sniper. There's a lot of metal in a flamethrower maybe I can find a less final solution to the firebug problem.
It looked like a bubble-gum machine convention outside the site. I dropped down near the center of the wall of cars; even if the top-cop on the site tells you to get lost, it never hurts to drop in and ask nicely.
As I touched down, one of the cops, who was talking on the radio, said "Tell SWAT that Lady Lightning is on the scene. What's their call?" (Ooohhh! Name Recognition! Stroke my Ego a little more, Mr. Policeman!)
He waited a minute, there was the usual unintelligible squawk on the radio, and he gave me a thumbs up. Since he seemed to be the one in charge, I walked up to him.
"Good Evening, Officer. I understand that you have somebody in there with assault weapons and a flame-thrower. Can I be of any use?" Y'know, I think that Superhero-police relations would be a lot better if they made every guy who puts on a cape take a remedial etiquette course.
"G'devening, yer Ladyship! We got at least eight guys who were spotting going in, wearing some kind of flight packs, what the guys on patrol think was light personal armor, and toting rifles. When the first two units pulled in, one of them got toasted." He pointed to a burnt out hulk, around which a couple of firefighters were puttering, making sure. "Bryant and Hernandez got out with a couple of nasty burns, but just barely."
There was something wrong. I walked over to the hulk, nodded to the firedogs, and took a close look at the burn. I turned to the closer one. "Where's the gel-ring?"
"That's what we were trying to figure out. There isn't one." We exchanged an 'Oh, Crap!' look between informed parties.
I went back to the cop with the radio. "Call SWAT, tell them to get here with a set of power-restraint shackles, biased against a flame projector. That blast wasn't from a flame-thrower. Napalm is basically gelled gasoline. When it burns, it leaves a variegated burnmark with a congealed ring of inerts around the edge. That scorch is uniform." Hey, when you're studying to become a superhero, you learn these things! "Either they're using a state-of-the-art burner-"
"-Or we got a supervillain on our hands." he finished. He snorted angrily and slammed a fist on the roof of his car. "A supervillain, and a squad of high-tech henchmen. Shit! Every minute that they're in there undistracted is another minute that they can use to pull off something I really don't want to deal with. And SWAT says that it will be at least 20 minutes before they can pull out and get here. *heavy sigh* Okay, yer Ladyship, got any ideas?"
Professional courtesy! Sargent whateveryournameis, I want to buy you a doughnut when this is all over! "What's in there? It will probably have something to do with whatever their up to."
Sargent... Harrison, from his nametag (Memo to self: Sargent Harrison. File under Good Guys.) looked at his car computer screen. "It says that it's a warehouse for some electronics supply outfit out in the 'burbs. Further information pending."
Electronics. That could be good or bad. It would give me lots of material to work with, if things got really nasty. But I try to keep unnecessary damage to a minimum; I'm trying to build a reputation as a socially responsible superhero. On the down side, that much metal will badly confuse my 'radar', and five will get you ten that those 'high-tech henchmen' are packing light-amplification gear with all the rest of their doo-dads. Why is it that the bad guys never have to fill out an expense justification form?
I took a deep breath. "Okay, how about this? I go in as point, a squad of volunteers close behind, with vests and shotguns to keep property damage down. I short-circuit the flight packs on the goons, and you slap the cuffs on them. If it's only a fancy-schmancy flame-thrower, I take it away from 'em. If it's a supervillain, you guys handle the goons, while I keep the boss from roasting you. Sound like a plan?" There was some reluctant agreement. I shrugged. "Hey, it's a plan. I never claimed to be a grand strategist!"
I got six volunteers fool enough to go in behind me. It was agreed that they would split into two 3-man teams. Five-man teams would be more along the classic SAS model, but there weren't enough fools around to pad it out. "Okay, guys, when we go in, stay as close behind me as possible. I don't stop bullets, I deflect them magnetically. I don't want you catching a round that was meant for me."
Knowing that Eli was filming by now- and probably a couple of other news crews- I advanced on the door head high, at a dignified stroll. This wasn't just for the media. It allowed my backup to advance in a more guarded SWAT-style crouching run.
When I reached the door, I told the guys, "I'm going to kick in the door. Do a three-count, avert your eyes, and thenIN."
I kicked in the door. 1-2-3- *Flash!* I ran an arc of electricity between my hands, creating a blinding strobe effect. When your enemy has an advantage, like light-amplifying gear, try to play toward whatever defects that advantage may have. We went in.
I heard some cursing off to one side, and one of the blinded thugs let off a salvo, which missed me by a mile. Using the muzzle-flash to guide me. I magnetically snared him. His rifle came out of his hand and crawled toward me, followed at a slower rate by the goon's flight-pack, which he was frantically trying to remove. One of the 3- man teams was on him like a heavy sweat, two binding him, the third covering them. God, I love working with professionals!
The other team swung off to one side, and found the light switch. Suddenly their light-amplification gear wasn't such an advantage. Unfortunately, the inside was one of those storage facilities that's one huge cavern filled with towering stacks of metal shelving, so their flight packs were still very much a major advantage. Several of the goons were in the air, and opened fire. Man, those flight-thingies were quiet!
I knocked two of the flying goons out of the air, and was aiming at a third, when I heard something land right behind me.
Y'know, I only let Reyes talk me into this cape because she pays the bills. But, I am never going to change that particular feature, no matter how many times we change the outfit. Because, there is a very good chance that it saved my life. I felt a razor-like slash against my back. If not for the chainmail lining, it probably would have severed my spine.
Not bothering to look, I spun around and thunder-charged the back-stabber with everything I had. I knocked us both a good ten feet into the cinderblock facility wall, and straight through it.
As part of my regular training, I spent a lot of time smashing through brick walls, so I knew how to brace with the impact and roll to recover. I was up on my feet- no thanks to these stupid heels! - and ready. For a marvel, so was my opponent.
Now, I would expect any supervillain capable of running what so far appeared to be a pretty competent operation, to try to attack immediately, taking the fight to me, or at least opening up with some fire-bursts. Not my opponent, though, she just stood there trying to look impressive.
Not that she wasn't worth looking at, mind you. She looked like something out of a beer commercial. She was average height and curvy. Her 'costume' looked like it was red-and-black liquid latex poured over her. She had at least D cup tits, each standing out on it's own, a 20-inch waist, and 36- inch hips, with a butt-man's dream out back. A long twitching forked tail snaked out from her rounded derriere. She had long, slender legs that blended into long black boots with 5-inch stiletto heels, which were tricked out to resemble cloven hooves. Protruding from her back were a large pair of red bat-wings. The ends of her long elegant fingers tapered into the long deadly claws that had recently been trying to carve out my back. The only part of her ensemble that was obviously not part of her body was her black half-mask, which featured a long pair of horns swept back across her hair. Her face strongly reminded me of actress Helena Bonham Carter, except for the dancing- if not entirely sane- green eyes. Her hair was flame red, and flickered down to her waist. Hell, if she were on the cover of a girlie magazine, I'd buy it!
She stood there for a minute, looking amused. In that instant, I recognized her 'costume'; nowhere on it was there a seam, hem, or closure- it must have been a dermal symbiot, like Berzerker had. What, were they holding a sale on them, down at Evil-Mart?
In the back of my mind, I just knew that back at the Station, ol' Schroeder must be creaming in his jeans- I mean, Lady Lightning versus the Bimbo from Hell? He'd probably be running promos with clips from this fight every 10 minutes until the 11 o'clock segment.
I smirked, "Gee, I didn't know that Hugh Hefner had branched out into supervillainy! What do they call you? Hell-Bunny?"
My lack of impression with her bountiful bodaciousness surprised her. The smirk slipped right off her face." What? Do you not realize the terrifying force and majesty that you face?" My sense of the ridiculous was further tickled by her thick Hungarian accent. I mean, it is a little hard to be intimidated by a third-generation Zsa-Zsa Gabor knock-off! "Curse your fate, little lightning bug, for you have buzzed into the path of Hell's favorite Daughter, the Bringer of Woe and Destruction, the Queen of Hellfire! I AM SHE-DEVIL!" She paused for effect.
Oh, _Hell_. She was a talker. If I didn't shut her up, she'd probably keep yammering all night! "Ah, Sheila, is it? Can you hurry this up, a little? Green Acres is on in a few minutes, and I suddenly have this irresistible urge to watch."
She-Devil didn't take that very well. She launched into this long, involved diatribe about how I should be groveling at her feet, and pray that she didn't yadda yadda yadda.... So, I did the only thing I could do, given the circumstance- I hit her.
Please, I am not a misogynist; I don't approve of hitting women, but if I hadn't she just would have kept talking!
She reeled back, stunned.
I stepped up, held up a finger for attention, and said, "Just ONE little thing, Sheila, exactly how do you walk in those heels? I mean, the ones I'm wearing damn near tear my feet off, and I'm flying half the time!"
Involuntarily, she looked down at her feet. So, of course I hit her again. Hey, if I hadn't, she just would have started talking again!
This really pissed her off, and with an inhuman hiss (Hallelujah! She isn't Talking!), every inch of her delectable skin caught on fire. She cradled the fingers of both hands into braziers, and formed fireballs in them. And then, oh God, she started talking again! As she was throwing fireballs at me, she was going on and on about how she was going to fricassee my soul, etc., etc., etc.
This lead to an involved semi-aerial fight with me throwing lighting bolts at her, which her flame-shield mostly disrupted, and her throwing fireballs at me, which I mostly deflected with my cape. (Memo to self: Add fire- retardant to exterior of cape, and heat shielding to interior.) As the fight wore on, the chainmail of my cape was completely exposed, and I was spending a lot of time waving it to extinguish the flames that stuck to it. And through out it all, she was yammering on and on. Jesus! What is it with these supervillain types? Do they hold "How to Win through Intimidation" and "Evil Elocution" seminars at the Villainy Annex?
I was getting tired, and there were still sounds of gunfire from inside the warehouse. I was letting my guys down. Then I noticed the firefighters breaking out a fresh case of extinguishers to keep She-Bimbo's misses under control.
I started with another blinding arc-strobe. While SD was shaking the blue dots out of her eyes, I magnetically snagged two extinguishers.
"HEY, She-Dimbulb! Catch!" I threw one of the extinguishers at her, helped along by magnetism.
Now, most people don't realize that most supervillains are just as big fans of comic books as most superheroes. Talking about our four-color counterparts is one of the few neutral topics we share. I understand that the latest Amazing Spiderman is worth beaucoup in the lockup. And, like superheroes, supervillains tend to copy the better moves of the better characters. I guess that She-Devil reads X-Men more than she does Fantastic Four, 'cause she shredded the incoming canister with her claws instead of slagging it with heat. Not that it matters, the outcome was the same- the extinguisher exploded and sprayed fire-fighting foam on She-Devil from head to toe.
Despite her wings, it appeared that the Pest from Budapest needed her fire to stay aloft. She hit the ground with a truly heart-warming *Smack!*. She managed to teeter onto those ridiculous heels, and stood there swaying, the foam, dripping, off those, those luscious curves, moving over those heavenly mounds........
Sorry! I'm back!
Actually, considering what's going on with me, I'm rather glad that I'm still having those kinds of reactions. If I start having them around Justiciar or Iron John, then I'll know that I'm in trouble. Even so, I can still see legions of drooling Fanboys taking J.PEGs from that news footage.
As she stood there, my adrenaline was working harder than my testosterone, so I pressed the attack. Realizing that Reyes would need every inch of good footage to shift the emphasis from Miss Thang to me, I warmed up my Thunder-Punches, which leave these really cinematic lightning trails as they move. I hammered her again and again in the face. Really newsfootage- worthy, the face was the only spot on her that I wasn't sure that the dermal symbiot was protecting, and they almost guarantee that she won't start talking again!
I finally had her on the ropes, and delivered a takedown punch that Jack Kirby would have just loved!
Then it got weird.
Now, your average hench-goon, when they see their super-villainous boss on the ropes, says to themselves quite reasonably, 'Gee, prison grays really aren't my color', and splits.
Not She-Devil's goons. While they were still shooting it out with the boys in blue inside the warehouse, one of the goons yells out to his compadres that She-Devil was hurt. The ones who are able to broke off, flew out the hole and opened fire on the crowd. A couple pulled the pins out of fragmentary grenades and threw them at the line of cop cars. Oh, Shit!
I magnetically hurled the grenades at the wall of the warehouse, and threw up as wide and powerful a wall of magnetic force as I could. The grenades blew, and blasted two new holes in the warehouse wall.
Two of the air-worthy henchmen grabbed She-Devil, draped an arm over their shoulders, and flew her off. The one last air-worthy henchman and two of the grounded guys were covering her escape with full-auto fire. The four still-combat worthy cops that I had gone in with came out of the warehouse, and caught them in crossfire. They still didn't give up. The cops cut them down one by one, but they still didn't surrender. One tried to pull the pin on another grenade, but I magno-snagged it out of his hand before the pin was out. He still didn't surrender. When he ran out of ammo, I had to pull the rifle he was using as a club out of his hand, and the cops had to dog-pile him.
Man, She-Devil must have some great benefits plan! What, does she have thirty-one flavors of ice cream in the rec room at her evil lair?
I flew after them as best I could, but after my prolonged battle with She-Devil, both my ti-... gel-packs were drained, and I wasn't much better. I had to stop ontop of a powerline to recharge, and could only watch as the lights of their flight-packs in afterburner mode faded into the darkness.
Of the ten men to go with She-Devil into the warehouse, one was D-E-A-D dead, two were severely injured, four were wounded, and the guy with the grenade had to be sedated. All the cops took varying amounts of damage, and two had to be hospitalized.
When I got back to the scene, the weirdness continued. Both the cops and the Media were completely flabbergasted that I had dared to face She-Devil more or less alone.
"Lady Lightning, what kind of secret technique did you use to overcome such an obviouslysuperior adversary?'
"Lady Lightning, was it sheer desperation that drove you on?"
"Lady Lightning, how does it feel to have overcome such an awesome enemy? Are you afraid that she may come back and seek revenge?"
My answer to these and the other questions along the same lines was the all the same: "What are you talking about? She wasn't that tough! If anything, her henchmen were what concerned me! Those guys were nuts!"
I could understand the Media wanting to build this up into a David and Goliath battle; after all they are less in the business of facts than they are of drama. But what floored me was that the cops, who I expect better of, were just as impressed.
I lifted off, and met the NewsLemon at the pickup point.
The weirdness continued unabated.
"ELI, I thought you had better taste than that! I know that you have a thing for redheads, but talk about overdone! And that mouth! Yapyapyap! We could have her deported as a Noise Pollution hazard!"
I looked to Reyes for a little sanity in this craziness. Instead, all I got was, "It was like looking at an Angry God."
The Media types that weren't there, but saw the video footage, seemed to agree with me. I guess that She-Devil, despite her curves, just isn't one of those people that the camera loves.
I visited the cops who got hurt, in the hospital. I was even asked for an autograph by one of their kids. I think my stock with the local PD is going up. For some reason, the cops who were there definitely think that I'm hot stuff for taking She-Devil down. I wonder why?
One last piece of weirdness. The guy with the grenade? It turns out that Eli and I know him, slightly. He lives over a couple of blocks from our house. Aside from a couple of juvenile infractions, he had no real criminal record. And he while he was between jobs, he was a union construction worker; it was only a matter of a couple of weeks before he'd be on the job again. As a matter of fact, only one of the hench-goons was what you'd call a career criminal. Most of them were blue-collar workers, between gigs. And not one of them so much as made a peep about their boss. Ever.
To Be Continued in Part 6 of Masks and Marvels