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My name is Lena Gomez, and my debut as a superhero is really not going well.

I expected some rocky moments. But I wasn't really planning on having to fly around the city without my dad backing me up. I didn't expect to get the drill-sergeant routine from the most intimidating superhero in the city. I didn't expect to get shadowed by another superhero because no one trusted me yet, and I didn't expect for that other hero to get his ass kicked on my behalf. And I definitely, totally, 100 percent never expected I'd have to deal with someone like Penny Dreadful trying to beat me to death.

I should start from the beginning, shouldn't I? Not that I've got anything else to do while Penny tries to stomp my brains out of my skull.

I guess I should mention that my dad is a superhero, too. He's Lamont Gomez, but his superhero name is Atlas. He's superstrong, super-tough, and he can fly. My mom's name is Audra Gomez, but she doesn't have any powers.

Both of my brothers, Malcolm and Gerry, inherited my dad's powers, just like I have, but I'm the oldest, so I'm stronger than both of them. And I can fly, too, which they can't do yet.

Dad used to be in the Assembly of Order until they fired almost everyone. So we moved here to Metro City, which is pretty much a disaster compared to how things were back home. Detroit doesn't have the best reputation, but all my friends were there, all the best hangouts were there, all the best everything was there. Metro City is a larger city, but there is nothing going on here. Mom is always going, "Oh, aren't the parks nice, let's try a new restaurant, wanna go to a museum," and it makes me wanna scream! No one cares about that stupid stuff!

Anyway, as for me, I'm 16 years old, only about 5' 4" tall, short brown hair, a total Jane Average. Dad is Hispanic, Mom is African-American, so me and my brothers are mixed-race.

I've worked really hard over the past few years to keep my powers a secret. Dad used to think I was trying to keep his secret identity safe, and I was kinda. But mostly it was because superpowers are embarrassing. I don't care what they tell you on TV or in the magazines. Being able to flip a bus over just means people are going to stare at you and call you "Musclehead" and "She-Hulk" and "Steroid Girl." I keep my powers secret because I don't want to be a total outcast at school. God help me if I ever start to grow super-tall and musclebound like Dad did.

But I'm not totally opposed to using my powers. And once I found out I could fly, I started thinking it was time to learn how to be a superhero. This lead to a lot of arguments -- none of which I was actually involved in. Mom and Dad went back and forth for a few days -- "I'm not gonna have my baby risking her life fighting supervillains" vs. "She can't hide her gifts forever, let her learn the ropes now" arguments. What was funny was the way they'd both switch positions every day. Took 'em a week or two to settle that debate.

After that, Dad gave me as much training as he could -- it's not like we can go to a public gym and spar. There's some extra judo training -- I took some classes a few years ago, but I hadn't practiced in ages -- and a couple boxing lessons. Dad starts me working out with the gravity weight kit he keeps in the basement -- I'm a little less than half as strong as he is, but he thinks I'll get a lot stronger over the next few years. And Mom teaches me everything she knows about first aid. Never know when you'll have to patch someone up -- or yourself...

The whole family started taking long walks around Metro City, just like we'd do when Dad was getting ready to start superheroing here, so I can get familiar with the city's streets, buildings, neighborhoods, and landmarks. Mom and Dad started quizzing me every day on where to find streets and businesses -- even Malcolm helps out a little, and though his questions are a lot more trivial (Where's the biggest toy store in town? Where does the coach of the Metro City Falcons live? How many swimming pools are there, and when do they open?), they're also more fun to research.

Gerry tries to be helpful like Malcolm, but he mostly asks me about stores we can go to find cookies, or about cartoons he's seen on TV.

I finally decide to call myself "Calypso" -- I looked up some mythology stuff online, and it said that one of the daughters of Atlas, the guy who held up the world, was named Calypso. That's not real common knowledge -- Mom says most people will think I'm a ska fan. Dad suggested a red and white costume that had a design scheme similar to his. Mom nixed that and said to go with a red and black bodysuit instead, with a completely different design. I went with Mom's idea and added a cowl that covers up my hair, along with a black jacket over it. Like I'm gonna run around in spandex without something to cover it up a little? I'd totally feel self-conscious all the time.

Everything is smooth sailing until the evening before I'm to make my debut. It's one of Dad's days off from patrolling, so he's been hanging out listening to Mom sing along with old Marvin Gaye records and trying to teach Gerry how to play chess. Mom gives Malcolm and Gerry an extra large meal of cheesy macaroni and milk, then ships 'em off to bed an hour early once they start acting drowsy. And about an hour after that, while Mom, Dad, and I are sitting at the kitchen table reviewing my math homework, I hear the back door open and close, and then the Chrome Cobra walks into the room.

I'm not a big fan of the Chrome Cobra. The first time she was ever in the house, she hit me and my brothers with sleep gas to keep us asleep, then used a neural paralyzer on my dad so she could talk to him without worrying about him getting up and starting a fight. He's gotten over how angry that made him, but I still don't like her. Doesn't mean I don't respect her -- my mom thinks she's great, and Dad says she's the superhero who all the other superheroes go all fanboy-squee over. But I don't like her, and I don't trust her.

"Cobra, how are you?" asks Dad, without even turning around.

"Mr. Gomez, Mrs. Gomez," she says. "A pleasure to see you both."

"Ms. Cobra," says Mom. "I'd like you to meet my daughter, Lena."

I just kinda sit there and seethe. No, not seethe, really -- I'm not angry, I'm just really embarrassed. It bugs me that they went and set up this quote-unquote meeting, like it's something really clever or important or something. And they're trying to act all nonchalant about it. Why not just tell me, hey, Lena, the Chrome Cobra wants to talk to you before your first patrol.

"Lena, it's good to meet you," the Cobra says.

"Hey."

"I understand you're not a member of my fan club," she says. "I hope you understand that incident a few months ago was important for making sure your mom got out of that hostage situation safely. It was important for me to talk to your dad without any interference from anyone else."

"Okay, whatever."

"Lena," Dad says warningly.

"What, what do you want me to say?" I groan. "Yes, I'm not a member of your fan club. Glad we got that out of the way. I have math homework to finish."

"Lena, you need to mind your manners," Mom says. "I'm not going to sit here and listen to you offer disrespect to a guest."

"Whatever."

"Fine," says Cobra. "I'll take over from here, alright? Lena, why do you want to be a superhero?"

I roll my eyes at her, and I don't care if Mom and Dad complain later. "Well, I've got powers, you know?"

"Is that all? You got powers, so you're going to be a superhero now? What makes you any different from Rageface or the Black Baron?"

"Well, duh, I'm not a supervillain, and I'm not going to rob banks or commit crimes."

"Why aren't you going to rob banks or commit crimes?" she asks. "Why not do that instead of fighting bad guys or trying to stop disasters?"

"For one thing, my mom and dad would kill me," I say.

"Oh, is that all?" she replies. "If they weren't around, you'd commit crimes? The only reason you want to be a hero is to avoid parental disapproval?"

"No, that's not it at all," I say. "I want to do it because I want to do what's right. I want to help people. I want to learn how to use these powers the right way."

"This isn't a job-training program," she snaps back. "You want job training, go talk to Orange Julius in the mall. People are going to try to kill you every night. A kid your age should be focused on staying safe and being a normal person."

"But I'm not a normal person. I never will be. I've got powers I can use to help other people."

"Not many metahuman powers are all that useful for helping people," she says. "They're only good for beating people up, for causing pain and injury. And your powers are probably the most dangerous. You can kill people with one punch. You're an accidental mass-murder waiting to happen."

"That is not true." She is really making me mad now. "I've been strong all my life, and I've always been super-careful. I've never hurt anyone with my strength. Never, never, never."

"I'll take your word on that, at least for now," she says. "How are your grades?"

"They're fine," I say. "And they're not any of your business."

She turns to my mom. "How are her grades?"

"Solid B average," Mom says.

"Mom!"

"Hush. It's a good question, and I'm tired of your attitude tonight."

"B average is good," Cobra says. "What are your favorite classes?"

"Science, band, and choir," I say. I'm pouting, and I can tell Mom wants to yell and is keeping quiet for the sake of company.

"What kind of science?" she asks. "Biology, chemistry, physics?"

"All of them, I guess. We haven't really done much physics yet."

"You're an alto, right?"

"Right."

"And what instrument do you play?"

"Clarinet."

"Nice. That's what I played in band. They wouldn't let me in the drumline. What chair?"

"Fourth chair. I tried out for drumline, too. Too many other people trying out, though."

"Okay, least favorite subjects."

"PE and English."

"They make you take PE when you're in the marching band?" she says. "I thought marching counted as a PE credit."

"It does, but they make you take one other PE class anyway."

"What do you like least about it?"

"I'm not big on team sports. Push-ups, pull-ups, exercising, running are all fine, but I just hate having to act competitive."

"What's so bad about English?"

"I hate the teachers, and I hate reading boring old stuff."

"When's your curfew?"

"Current curfew? Or proposed superhero curfew?"

"Hmm. The second."

"I can only patrol four days a week, and I have to be home by 1 a.m., barring emergencies, late-breaking situations, or if I'm giving statements to the police."

"What happens if her grades drop?" she asks my dad.

"I'm not expecting that," Dad says. "She knows we expect her to keep her grades going."

"Huh," she says, looking like she really disapproves. "Okay, you can have your rules, but I have my own. If her grades drop, she only patrols three days a week, and her curfew drops back to 11 p.m. Sorry, I'm a stickler for school."

"I really don't think that's any of your business," I say.

"And I really don't care what you think," she replies. "Now let me ask you about this Calypso name you've picked out for yourself. Are you a big fan of reggae? Or of John Denver's music from the '70s? You liked that one character from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies a lot?"

"Why does anyone pay any attention to you? You are so not a serious person."

"Did you pick Calypso because you wanted to make it easy for anyone with a classical education to figure out who your father was? Were you just trying to draw a map straight to your own door for any supervillain who can look up Greek mythology on Wikipedia?"

"Dad, aren't you going to say anything?"

"No," he says. "Not right now."

"That's right," the Cobra says, leaning over the table. "This is all you and me now. This is me wondering if you're too weak to go out there and be a superhero."

"I know I'm stronger than you, lady, so back off!"

"You're not strong at all," she sneers. I can see the sneer through that mask, and I wish like hell I could slap it off her face. "You're flustered, you're off-balance, you're a little scared, and it's taking all your willpower to keep from crying. And I'm not doing a thing to you. I'm just talking. You haven't met your first supervillain yet, and you can be damn sure they'll do a lot worse to you than talk. You haven't even met Jonni Rotten yet, and if you can't handle a little rough talk from me, you're gonna fold like origami once she unleashes on you. She's as merciless as any supervillain you'll ever run into. And she's on your side."

"I'm strong enough," I say, probably not as loudly as I should. "You don't even know me."

"I can't stop you from going out there," she says. "I won't even try. Your mom and dad seem pretty smart, and I'm willing -- for now -- to trust their judgment."

"Thanks, I think," says Dad.

"But I don't think you're ready," she says. "I think you need another year or two to get your head together. That's my advice."

"Cobra, I'd better keep quiet," says Mom. God bless her for fuming for me.

"Fair enough," Cobra says as she turns and heads for the back door. "I never seem to bring anything but stress to your home, so sorry about that."

"Whatever," I say. "Don't come back any time soon."

She spins around toward us just before she gets to the door. "One more thing. If you guys decide she can go out there, I'm going to insist that she doesn't patrol with you, Atlas."

"I don't know about that, Cobra," Dad says. "It'll help me make sure everything is going smooth."

"No, she patrols by herself," says Cobra. "None of the other heroes in this town had the advantage of having a minder to watch over them. She has to learn the ropes the way the rest of us did. Besides, the more you two are seen together, the more people are either going to figure out that you're related or jump to the conclusion that Atlas has picked up an underage girlfriend."

"Ewww!" I say.

"Exactly," she replies. "You two keep your distance while you're in costume. End of discussion."

And she vanishes out the back door.

I keep it together for a few seconds, and then I guess I flip out. "Did you know she was coming here? Did you know she was going to say those things?"

"We knew she was coming," says Mom.

"And I had a general idea of what she was going to talk about," says Dad. "Didn't really expect her to phrase it that way, but I guess I should've expected her to say something similar."

"Oh my god, I'm going to bed," I say, standing up. "And possibly never coming back out."

"No," says Dad. "Sit. I disagree with the way she spoke to you. I'm not even sure whether she really believes that stuff she said about you. But she's right that this is a rough business, and we do want you to ask yourself if you're really sure you're ready to deal with it."

"Right," says Mom. "I'm pretty angry with the Chrome Cobra right now. But I think she wants what's best for you. I doubt she's got any real objection to you going out and fighting crime, but the last thing she wants is for you to get hurt in any way -- physically or emotionally or whatever. There are a lot of evil, evil people running around as supervillains -- and honestly, it scares me just thinking about you having to go fight some of those people."

"And she ain't kidding about Jonni Rotten either," Dad says. "That woman's got a tongue like a razor, and she loves cutting people down."

"Listen, I know you're stronger than hell, physically, emotionally, intellectually, in every possible way," says  Mom. "If you say you're ready to go out there, then that's good enough for me. But I won't think any less of you if you want to put it off for a while either."

"Just think about it," says Dad. "For as long or short as you want, but at least overnight. I don't want you to doubt yourself, 'cause you're my butt-kickin' baby girl, but think seriously about the challenges ahead, and about how you're going to face 'em."

"Fine," I say. "I'll think about it. Still pissed. And what about that stuff about not having Dad around to back me up?"

"You know, I'd never thought of it before," says Mom. "But I hate to say she's probably right. You two are going to have to keep your distance from each other when you're in costume, just for the sake of your secret identities. You don't have to hide from each other, but you're gonna have to treat each other like people who just happen to be superheroes in the same town, right? Gotta call each other by your super-names, can't go crying on each other's shoulders. You gotta treat each other like professionals, not family. Not that I want her going out there without a communicator, Lamont. You get the Cobra to get an extra one for her, or I'm gonna beat that bitch down all by myself."

"Only thing more intimidating than the Chrome Cobra," Dad says drily, "is your mother. Go hit the hay, baby girl. Think on this stuff overnight. I figure one way or another, tomorrow's going to be a really busy day."

I head upstairs for my bedroom (and shoo Malcolm and Gerry back to their beds -- the little pillbugs were eavesdropping on everything!), then get under the covers and seethe for a while. They didn't have any right to invite her back into the house and just give her permission to attack me. My dad has been superheroing longer than the Chrome Damn Cobra. She's got no excuse for criticizing his judgment or mine. Dammit, so mad.

And I completely reject the idea that I'm not emotionally ready to be a superhero. I realize that supervillains are assholes. I was there when my dad came home with injuries, up to actual broken bones, inflicted by supervillains. I hate the hell out of them, and I don't expect to meet any who are going to be nice to me or who will play fair or anything stupid like that. I'm not looking forward to having to deal with Jonni Rotten, but she can't be any meaner than Jamie Finson in PE.

If she meant to try to talk me out of this, she was a great big giant pail of fail, 'cause I'm more convinced than ever. But dammit, I'm still furious. And it takes two hours for me to finally fall asleep.

I kinda sleepwalk through most of the day at school. I keep second-guessing stuff that made perfect sense the day before. Is Calypso really a good name? Does the costume do enough to disguise me? Am I shallow enough to get rattled if a supervillain says I have a fat butt?

By the time I get home after school, I'm still a bit angry, but mostly at myself now. I get inside, toss my books on the couch, and go get a pop out of the fridge. I go sit with Mom, who's sorting through the mail while Gerry and Malcolm eat some ice cream.

"How was school, Lena?" Mom asks.

"Completely uninteresting," I reply. "How 'bout it, Mom, is this something I should do, or should I put it off another few years?"

"Did that talk last night bug you?"

"A little," I say. "Maybe a lot. What do you think?"

"I honestly think you can do it," she says. "Doesn't mean it'll be easy. I bet it'll be really hard sometimes, and that won't be any different if you start now or when you're a senior or after you've started college."

"You know what I wish?" I say. "I wish I was able to do this back home. I wouldn't feel all confused and worried if I could just be a superhero back in Detroit."

"Girl, you are crazy," says Mom.

"No, I'm not! Detroit Steel lives in Detroit! Dad lived in Detroit! Azure Angel and Psi-Jet and Dynamox and Dr. Digital live in Detroit! It would've been so cool to be flying around back home instead of in weird, dorky Metro City."

"Better here than there," says Mom. "There are more heroes here than there were in Detroit, and that means more backup if you get into trouble. And Azure Angel doesn't even live in Detroit anymore -- she moved out to L.A. when the economy crashed out. You have over-romanticized that city. It was good to us, but your dad wasn't happy there. And we're doing better here than we ever did back there. Start living for the present, not the past!"

"This city is lame, Mom."

"That's because you've talked yourself into seeing nothing but lame stuff," Mom says. "The whole world is full of great stuff, but you don't know it, 'cause you focus all your attention on the imperfections. This is a nice city. And your dad is very happy to be helping defend it. And you will be, too, if you ever open your eyes and really look at it."

"Okay, fine, whatever."

"Ask me what I think," says Malcolm.

"Malcolm, do I have time for this, or are you gonna say something I'd expect some fool first-grader to say?"

"I'm in fourth grade, Lena!"

"But you act like you're in first grade. Out with it, Mal!"

"Okay, I think you should do it, 'cause you're way strong, and you can beat up anyone but Dad or Miss Mega."

"Ask me now!" says Gerry.

"Okay, Gerry, should I go be a superhero, or should I wait another year or two?"

"You should do it," he says. "Sometimes everyone is on the jungle gym, and I don't like the jungle gym, 'cause it's so high and I keep falling off. But sometimes you just have to try it, because sometimes you don't fall off, and then it's cool 'cause you can be on top of the jungle gym. And after that, you get some juice."

Well, I suppose that settles it.

Dad gets home from work an hour later, we eat dinner, I get my homework finished as fast as I can, and Dad shows me how to work the new communicator he got from the Chrome Cobra. We review the route I'll be taking for the evening's patrol (it's basically Dad's patrol route, but in reverse, so we don't get seen together but maybe once), then we go get into our costumes, Mom takes some pictures and has us say a family prayer together.

Then, once it's dark enough to leave the backyard completely in shadow, Dad and I go outside and take off. He flies north, I fly northeast.

I fly almost straight northeast 'til I hit the city limits, then come back toward the center of the city, angling in a generally southerly direction. I'm trying not to get too high, so I can pay attention to anything going on at ground level, but I also don't fly too low -- I'm not all that accustomed to flying, and I'd rather not blunder into any high-tension lines because I'm not used to keeping an eye out for them.

I pass over McCloud College and make a sharp turn to the west. After a couple minutes, I hear an ambulance siren and start heading toward it, but about the time I make visual contact with it, I realize it's just two blocks from Metro City General -- I watch 'em just long enough to make sure they make it to the emergency room safely, then return to my pre-planned patrol pattern.

It seems like a pretty slow night -- which was actually the way Dad intended it. The early part of the workweek are the days that are the least busy for police, fire, and EMS, so we figured starting me out on a Tuesday would give me two days to get used to the general pattern of things. I'll be taking Thursday off because I've got a monster test coming up on Friday morning. Then I'll be on duty Friday and Saturday for what I guess will be my official baptism of fire.

Or, you know, maybe it'll come a lot earlier. Another few minutes pass, and I fly over a patrol car that's stopped next to the curb on Moore Court. Both officers are out of the car and are confronting some old homeless woman backed up against the wall.

This is the kind of thing that Dad says always makes him angry. He thinks the cops are always after everyone who isn't a cop. Maybe they've got a reason to be confronting this woman. I don't really want to have my first public act as a superhero be something where I'm getting up in a cop's face. Still, I don't want to just fly past -- I'd feel terrible if something bad happened to this woman.

I start hovering slowly downwards and call out, "Can I offer any assistance, officers?" I've got my arms out at my side as I descend, partly to help with balance, partly to show everyone I'm not armed and to let 'em know they've got nothing to worry about from me.

Of course, they whirl around and point their guns at me. "Who is that? Identify yourself!"

"I'm new in the city," I say as calmly and as reassuringly as possible. "I'm called Calypso. I'm here to help you."

"We've got it handled, hero!" one of the cops shouts. "Go away and leave us alone!"

"I can carry her to a shelter, and she'll be out of your hair," I say. "Or I can help take her to the police station or hospital."

"No, not the jailhouse!" screams the homeless woman. She's younger than I thought she was, now that I'm closer to her. "I can't stand the jailhouse! I'll go crazy!"

"Oh, shut up!" shouts one of the cops. He spins, pulls out a taser, and shoots her with it.

Well, great, this is going completely out of control. I dive down to her, yank the electrodes out of her, and hold her while she convulses so she won't hit her head on the concrete.

There's a flash of light in the air in front of the cops, and suddenly, a guy wearing a red and blue armored costume is standing between us.

"Gentlemen, stand down, please," he says. "You know me, right? I'm Iota. I'm here to vouch for Calypso. Everything is just fine -- I've got all of this under control."

The cops are yelling at him to get out of the way, and he shouts back at me, "Don't worry, I was trailing you to make sure nothing bad happened to you on your first night. The Cobra was worried you might need some help if you got yourself in trouble."

"I didn't get myself into trouble," I shot back at him. "Some cops tased a homeless woman for no reason. That doesn't count as me getting into trouble!"

Then while we're distracted, one of the cops tackles Iota, and the other steps up and fires the taser at the homeless woman again. One of the electrodes hits me -- but if I'm tough enough to bounce a bullet, there's no way some little dart is going to stick in. But the other electrode hits the woman again and blasts another shock into her.

She starts screaming, I tear the electrode out -- and then I realize that her eyes have turned a bright, angry red.

Iota and the cops aren't even watching us anymore. Iota seems pretty angry with the cops -- and vice versa, I guess. They're all shouting at and threatening each other. I get away from the homeless woman as quickly as I can and hurry over to Iota.

"Iota, sir, we need to get the cops out of here fast," I tell him.

"No kidding!" he shouts. "What's the matter with you guys?! You got some bizarre vendetta against homeless people and superheroes?!"

"Just walk away!" one of the cops yells. "Walk away and we won't pursue this!"

"You won't have to pursue anything!" Iota yells back. "I've got a helmet camera! I've got everything you've done on video!"

"Listen, we need you to go away now," I say. "Go away and try to find some place safe."

"Keep your hands where we can see them, or we will shoot to kill!"

"I've got armor!" yells Iota. "And Calypso is bulletproof!"

"And actually," I add, "I bet she is, too."

Well, they finally notice her now. It probably helps that she's seven feet tall and hyper-muscular, with red skin and green hair. And kinda bellowing at us all. Hard to believe she'd be hard to notice, isn't it?

"PENNY DREADFUL WILL DESTROY YOU ALL!" she howls.

Dad has mentioned Penny Dreadful before, but he never had me study her as a potential opponent -- no one had seen her in months, so Superpedia had been speculating that she'd died or retired -- and she normally frequented the Southwest and California anyway. She's completely not smart, but she's furiously angry and a little stronger than Dad. No one had ever figured out who she might be -- I guess it turns out she's been disguised as a normal homeless woman 'til something makes her transform.

The cops start shooting at her, and of course, they have no effect. Wow, can you believe it, giant superstrong people are bulletproof. Was this not in the "How to Be a Cop" guidebook?

"Get out of here, Calypso," says Iota as he starts rapidly shrinking. He's completely invisible to me in less than a second, but I can still hear his electronically amplified voice. "I can handle this overgrown menace."

"PENNY DREADFUL REMEMBERS SHRINKY SUPERHEROES!" Penny roars. "PENNY DREADFUL WILL GIVE YOU THE CLAP!"

What the what?!

And while we're all staring at her in surprise, she opens her arms wide, then slams the palms of her hands together. The resulting shockwave knocks both of the cops backwards over their squad car. And Iota suddenly appears, grows to his normal height, and falls into my arms.

"P-Pretty sure I can still h-handle her," he says weakly. "Soon as I can hear again. And when my head quits s-spinning. And when..."

And he passes right out while I'm holding him.

This is turning out really bad. And it just gets worse when the cops pop back up behind their car and start shooting at Penny again. And hitting me just as often as they hit her!

"What are you doing?!" I yell. "Stop it! She's just going to --"

And Penny bats me out of the way one-handed. I go bouncing a good 30-40 feet down the street. Looks like Iota's armor kept him protected -- when we finally quit rolling, he mumbles, "I wanna go on the tilt-a-whirl again, Mommy," and goes back to sleep.

Meanwhile, Penny has lifted the cop car up over her head and is getting ready to use it to hammer on the cops.

I fly off and hit her so fast, I barely realize I'm doing it. I slam my shoulder into her side, and she falls over and drops the car. It smashes over onto its side, then rolls back down onto its tires. The cops finally wise up and take off running.

Then a fist a little bigger than a breadbox slams into my head, and I find myself embedded through a panel truck on the other side of the street.

I'm trying to pull myself out of the truck when a hand closes around my leg, tears me out, and flings me back to the other side of the street. I smack into a wall and drop flat on my face with bricks crumbling around me. Probably a good thing she didn't throw me hard enough to go all the way through the wall, right?

I push myself to my feet. She's a lot stronger than I am, but it takes more than that to really hurt me. "Calm down, Penny. Remember me trying to keep the cops from shooting you with the taser? I wanna help you. I can be your friend, right?"

"SHUT UP, SUPERHERO!"

I see the punch coming, and I get both hands up to block it, but the impact still blasts me back against the wall. More bricks flying everywhere. I hope she doesn't keep doing this, or she's going to knock the whole building down eventually.

Lucky for the building -- but unlucky for me -- Penny then grabs the back of my head with one hand and slams her other fist into my face as hard as she can -- and it really hurts this time. I mean, getting thrown against a brick wall is no big thing -- I'm tougher than bricks, you know? But getting my head slammed between a hand and a fist that are probably more indestructible than I am? Owie.

Then she does it again. And again. Seriously, owie.

I manage to get one hand up, grab her pinkie finger, and force it back as far as I can. So lucky -- pinkies are weak and sensitive, so she howls and lets go of me. Unfortunately, she then knocks me onto my face with her free hand. And then, before I can even think of getting back up, she stomps on the back of my head.

Well, again, the sidewalk is more fragile than I am. But this still hurts like hell. And I've got a mouthful of shattered concrete, too. So not delicious.

Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp.

I think this is where we came in, right? Yeah, definitely getting my skull pancaked by a woman with the IQ of a three-year-old, and I kinda think I'm hoping she finishes me off before we hit a sewer line, 'cause there's pain and indignity, then there's pain, indignity, and a faceful of sewage, and I'd rather not have to die that way. And then, finally, she quits stomping on me.

I know I'm not unconscious, 'cause I can still hear her yelling, and the back of my head is still sore, and I'm still tasting municipal-grade pavement. I pull my head out of the crater I'm half-buried in and force my eyelids open through the concrete dust my face is caked in.

The Star is on the scene, along with Defender. He's got his teeth gritted as he holds Penny up in the air with a few cosmic snares around her head, neck, midsection, and legs. And Defender has both hands pointed at her, though she isn't shooting any of her neural stunners.

I stagger to my feet, spit out as much concrete as I can, and line up a punch at her stomach. I still don't know if I can even hurt her, but I really want some payback.

"Wait right there, darling," says Defender. "Don't hit her. If you do, you'll break Star's concentration, and Penny'll be able to break free. Plus you'll infuriate her even more, and that'll make it that much harder for me to put her to sleep with my pacification burstcasts."

"S-So what do you want me to do?"

"Sit down, my dear," she says. "I believe you've earned a few moments of rest, don't you think?"

So I sit down. I spit out some more concrete (There is just so much concrete. And I'm worried I swallowed some of it.) and try to get the rest of the rocks and dust out of my face. And after another couple of minutes, Star sets Penny down on the ground. She's fast asleep, but it doesn't look like she's going to change back to normal, at least not right now.

The cops come back, with a whole bunch more tagging along, with extra squad cars and a couple police vans. If they thought they were going to take Penny into custody, though, they're way wrong. Iota finally gets mobile again -- and he's mad as hell. He's uploaded his helmet-cam footage directly to the Internet, and Boing Boing and Reason are already running discussion threads on Metro City taser abuse.

And Iota has even called in the feds. The Department of Metahuman Affairs has been after Penny for years, and they're already scrambling some helicopters with sedation pods to the city.

"I don't really trust the damn feds not to abuse her," Iota rages at them. "But I already know you're going to, because I got to watch you shoot her, shoot me, and shoot Calypso! PUT THAT GUN AWAY, SERGEANT, I WILL MAKE YOU EAT THAT GUN, YOU RANCID LITTLE --!"

And then Express shows up and whisks Iota away so he won't get arrested.

I give my statement to the cops while Defender and an EMS tech check me over and give me a clean bill of health.

When I finally get permission to leave (and the cops give me a very grudging thanks for taking the brunt of Penny's fury so they didn't have to), I'm about an hour behind on my patrol schedule. As I'm just starting to take off, Gamma Girl flies up to me, gives me a really warm smile (the first one I've seen tonight), and says, "May I accompany you for a while, Calypso?"

"Sure, I guess so. It's, ya know, a free country."

"Good," she says, and we both fly up higher, angling off toward the west.

"I was asked to pass along some messages for you," she says after a minute or two. "The Chrome Cobra suspected you'd hang up on her if she called you directly."

"I -- I guess I might've," I say. "I'm not really in the mood to get stomped on anymore."

"She didn't want to stomp on you," she says. "She thought you did a good job, in especially trying circumstances. She did have some ideas for how you could've done better, but I think there will be time for that discussion another day."

"Oh. Well, I guess that's good and unexpected," I say. "I didn't know she did encouragement -- just abuse."

"She is a pretty prickly personality," Gamma Girl says. "But you'll get to know her better. I think you'll eventually get to like her, though that may take a while."

I can't really tell if she's serious or joking. It's a little hard to get a read on someone when you can't see their eyes. I mean, I can see her eyes, but they're all weird and smoking and white, instead of, you know, like normal eyes.

"We'll see," I say. "I wouldn't hold your breath too long, though."

"I also had a note to give you from your father," she says.

"Wait, you know who my father is?!"

"No, no, Calypso, I'm just passing on the message I got from the Cobra. She said your father called her and said he was really proud of how you handled yourself, and he's sorry he wasn't able to be there, but he really wanted to be. He said you could cut your patrols short for the night if you want to go home and talk with your folks about it."

"Maybe," I say. "I might take off a little early. But I can't go running for home every time there's trouble, right?"

"It's not like having a paying job," she says. "You don't have to worry that your boss is going to fire you from flying around the city in fancy spandex."

"Well, they might fire me," I say. "I completely screwed things up back there."

"Not likely," she snorts. "You got your butt kicked by someone stronger than you, but you willingly took it so Penny wouldn't do worse to Iota or those cops. In my opinion, that's something you can mark in the Win column, young lady."

"Yeah, but it might've been more fun if I coulda flown over the city and punched her lights out in front of the news cameras, right?"

"You'd think," she says. "But all that attention I got when I debuted meant I got attacked by too many villains wanting to make a name for themselves. It may be better for you now. It means every supervillain who comes through town will underestimate you. Some may be stronger than you, but that means you'll learn to fight smarter -- and I bet you're going to get stronger as time goes by. There may be a lot of hard work ahead, but it's all for the best, I promise."

She tilts her head to one side for a moment. "Are you picking that up?" she says.

"Are you hearing something?" I ask. "I don't really have superhuman hearing or anything like that."

"No, I'd heard you had a communicator," she says. "No one told you how to tune it to the emergency channels, did they?"

"No, they didn't. Sorry."

"Don't worry," she says. "The Fire Department just hit an alarm for a small apartment complex on East 38th and Moldoff. That's about five blocks from here. Feel like helping evacuate a burning building?"

And actually, I think I really do wanna help with that. What the heck -- I got tons of time before my curfew...

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