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(I decided I needed to give Gamma Girl a
full three-chapter storyarc, so we're backtracking a bit in Metro City
continuity. This story takes place soon after Gamma Girl's origin in
a hectic week I've been having. Only a few days ago, I was boring old Renee
Windler, Human Resources manager at Metro City Power and Light, stuck in the
hospital for treatment of a brain tumor. Now I'm also Gamma Girl, blue-skinned
radioactive superhero, completely healthy, and I can fly and punch out
supervillains and all kinds of awesome stuff.
got some extremely wonderful news a couple days back -- namely, that I was
definitely cancer free. I got some almost-as-wonderful news soon after that --
yes, I was radioactive, but it was that weird kind of metahuman radiation
that's not actually harmful to human beings, so I could go back home and live a
hopefully more-or-less normal life with my family.
that, plus I got my official superhero costume delivered the other day. The girls
had been hoping I'd get something garish and colorful, with a miniskirt,
butterfly mask, 40 yards of ribbon tied to my arms, and spikes on the shoulders.
Well, honestly, I'm too old for that stuff, and even if I wasn't, I'd say I was
anyway. I got something professionally tailored and designed, thanks to the
designers Daphne Diller sent me to. Anyway, it's a nice blue and white bodysuit
with cuff-top leather boots and gloves. There's a white metallic belt and a
white logo on the chest with the letters "GG" inside an atomic
symbol. The logo is similar to the one that the girls drew up right after I got
my powers, and I think they're pretty charged up about that.
is my first day back at the office. I was expecting a certain amount of
excitement and upheaval -- it's not every day that a coworker comes back from
medical leave with superpowers.
first person I see when I get in the door is the office secretary, Vanessa, who
is actually hiding behind her desk.
I ask as gently as I can. "Is there an emergency in the building, or are
you hiding from me?"
from you," she says quietly.
I'm glad there's not an emergency in the building," I say. I had my doctor
write up a note the other day saying that I was absolutely not a danger to
anyone, then printed off about a hundred copies. I put several copies on her
desk and say, "I've been checked out by plenty of doctors, and they say
I'm not emitting any harmful radiation. You don't have to hide from me. Tell
everyone else that they don't have to hide from me. And this could be construed
as coworker harassment, Vanessa, so please warn everyone, or I'll have everyone
re-take the harassment training workshop again."
boy, today is going to be all kinds of fun. I really hope I'm not about to get
fired for being radioactive.
I head down the hallway toward my office, a happy voice chirps up from over my
shoulder. "Your compatriots are awed to be in the presence of Earth's new
Radiation Elemental! This will be a day of glory!"
Sparky Isotope, the Spirit of Radiation, a glowing blue ball of enthusiastic
optimism who only I can see or hear. I'd hoped to be able to persuade him to
stay home, but it appears that was not to be.
I'm really, really going to need you to stay quiet all day," I said.
"It's one thing to talk to me at home or when I'm doing superhero stuff,
but here at the office, I don't want everyone thinking I'm talking to an
imaginary friend. I have to be professional, so you need to zip it and keep it
will do my best, Glorious Queen of Elemental Radiation!" Sparky says.
"But it is so exciting to be here learning about your life!"
stop by the mailroom to pick up any mail that's come in since I've been out.
Not too much -- a couple newsletters, a few forms that should have been
delivered to Diane or Rose, the other two HR folks, and the usual bundle of
my way to my office, I see only one other person -- Oliver from maintenance --
and he just makes a loud squeak, runs into his office, and slams the door.
is going to be a rough week.
finally get to my office, unlock it, move the dead flowers into the trash (I'm
glad my coworkers got me flowers to wish me well, but I wish they'd watered
them while I was out), and power up my computer. While it's booting up, I go
look for my supervisor, Wayne Hollis, the company veep.
is everyone in this building going to completely freak out at me?" I ask
when I get into his office. "Or am I about to be fired or something?"
Wayne looks surprised to see me -- not disappointed, just surprised. "Holy
damn, Renee!" he says. "I knew you were, well, blue now, but seeing
you in person is -- holy damn, that's amazing. Are you radioactive or
"You want to know what my doctor said?" I say, handing him one of the
notes I brought. "I am, but it's not harmful radiation. I'm completely safe,
if only everyone will stop running away from me."
He scans the note quickly. "So you are clean of the tumor, too? That's
fantastic news!" He comes around his desk, grabs my hand, and pumps it.
"The docs say you're safe, that's good enough for me. Welcome back. Sure
you're not running a fever? Feels like you're burning up."
"I run a temperature of 133 degrees now," I say. "Or higher, if I want
to. I can almost cook my own lunch without the microwave now."
we'll put you in charge of reheating the coffee then," Wayne says with a
like to say the rest of the day went swimmingly, but of course, it didn't.
There were too many people who dodged me everywhere I looked. A couple of
secretaries came to my door just to gawk at me. I got a half-dozen e-mails from
people, including a couple of people I always considered close friends, telling
me to never visit their offices again. One woman threw a religious tract on my
desk and ran away. One of our meter inspectors came in, took some pictures of
me, then walked out.
So a lot of my day is taken up with sending e-mails to employees reminding them
about harassment and tolerance policies within the company. Not particularly
fun, and not something that will endear me to people who've decided they don't
want to like me anymore.
Of course, it's not all bad news. There are plenty of people who come by to
tell me they're glad I'm back or to marvel over how things have changed for me.
But it's so depressing that so many have gone full-on metaphobic over me.
little after 12:30, I leave to take my lunch break. It doesn't go
well. I end up attracting too many crowds at every place I stop by,
the little hole-in-the-wall Italian place where almost no one goes. I
having to go to a grocery store deli for a grab-and-go sandwich, and I
grab-and-go sandwiches. I guess I'll have to start bringing my lunch
from now on.
I've been back at the office for ten minutes, still finishing up the last of my
sandwich, when I get a call from the Chrome Cobra. Yes, I've already met her.
Like Defender predicted, she paid a late night visit and was entirely unnerving
and terrifying. You can really feel that disapproving glare all the way through
those goggles of hers.
Anyway, the Chrome Cobra calls me and says, "Renee, I need you to help take
care of a small problem downtown."
"Oh," I say. "Oh, well, okay, Ms., um, Ms. Cobra. What time will
you need me down there?"
"Let's say ten minutes," she says. "Metro Federal Credit Union
"Um, ten minutes from now? Or ten minutes after quitting time?"
There's a short pause on the other end of the line. "Ten minutes from
"I really don't think I can do it," I say. "I'm really
"You don't think you can do it," she says. It's not even a question, just
completely flat delivery.
"I just started back on the job this morning," I tell her. "And
I just got back from lunch. There's already a certain amount of freaking out going
on with my coworkers, and they really won't react well if I leave again. Isn't
there someone else you could bring in on this?"
"I suspect there are plenty, Renee," she says. "But I asked you.
You do want to be a superhero, right?"
"Well, yes," I say. "But I also need to keep my job. I've got a
family to help support, you know."
"Part of being a superhero is being willing to drop what you're doing so
you can take care of crises," she says. "We can't have you prioritizing
your TPS reports over the rest of the city every time we need to hit the Panic
no one's hit the Panic Button," I say. "We're not talking a major
emergency -- there's not an alien invasion or time warp or demon outbreak. This
is just a bank robbery, right?"
I haven't gotten a chance to see how you do in action," she says. "I
need to know what sort of tasks you're going to be able to do, and what things
you'll need assistance from the rest of us. This is for your benefit."
I can't just tell my boss I have to skip work unless there's a really good
reason for me to leave," I say. "I don't know what kind of
arrangement the rest of you may have with your employers, but I haven't even
had time to discuss that with mine yet. I mean, I'll help you guys as much as I
can, but you can't ask me to jeopardize my job, or keep me away from my family.
You just can't."
can discuss this later," she says and immediately hangs up. Just great,
now I've got the Chrome Cobra mad at me.
an hour later, one of the local news sites has a blurb about the Cobra,
Defender, and Gearbox stomping on some of Johnny Staccato's gang while they
were robbing the Metro Federal Credit Union.
you know, I'm sorry I wasn't able to help them out, but -- well, for goodness
sake, how can these people just take time away from their jobs to go stop bank
robberies? I'm sure I'd be able to convince Wayne to let me leave the office to
deal with serious emergencies, but if I did it too often, he'd have no choice
but to fire me. Do none of these people have jobs? Are they all independently
wealthy? I realize that crime can happen any time, but is this really going to
come down to me making a choice between being a superhero and keeping a job?
the end of the day, I'm exhausted. All the stress has just been intense almost
all day. Not as bad as chemo, but still
stop by the grocery store on the way home. I'd been thinking of making
spaghetti for dinner and was out of noodles and tomato sauce, and running low
didn't make it any farther than the produce section before the crowds just
coalesced out of nowhere. One moment, there was the normal after-work crowd --
the next, there were dozens of people surrounding me. It wasn't like at work,
where half the people in the office seemed afraid of me -- everyone here was
enjoying a celebrity sighting.
Isotope had been pretty good about being quiet all day, but having a crowd this
big was too much for him. He started in on a sermon on the wonders of radiation
and how radiation will lead Earth to a golden age and all that. It didn't
matter that no one else could hear him -- he was just enjoying making his
speech. I doubt he would've listened to me, even if I tried shushing him. Which
I wasn't about to do while I was surrounded by gawkers.
tried a couple of "Excuse me's" that everyone ignored. It was clear
that I'd be lucky to get to the onions, much less to anything else on my
shopping list, much less to the checkout counter. It was only a matter
before someone started taking pictures of me, or a news crew showed up,
someone got trampled while they were trying to catch a glimpse of me.
I took off. We'd have to settle for baked chicken. Dan can't get enough
chicken, but Becky and Melanie are both at a stage where they hate it. And god
knows what we're going to do for groceries in the future. I can't ask Dan to do
all the grocery shopping from now on. Hell, I'd attract the same crowds
wherever I went, and I certainly don't want to spend the rest of my life hiding
inside the house to avoid sightseers.
call Dan from the road, so by the time I get home, he's already thawing the
chicken. The girls are both sullen -- they had lousy days at school. And it
turns out, it's my fault.
spent the day getting bullied by other kids in her class. They started calling
her a mutant freak, and one of the kids dumped blue chalk dust on her. Charming
kids she's stuck hanging around with. She's gone from being wildly enthusiastic
about my powers to wishing they'd never happened so she wouldn't have to be
tormented at school.
the exact opposite with Melanie. Her teacher sent a note home with her because
she'd been acting out all day. She hit four different kids in her kindergarten
class because she was pretending to be a superhero. And she threw an eraser at
her teacher when she told her to behave. She spent half the day in time-out.
dinner isn't a whole lot of fun. The girls aren't getting their favorite
and they're having to listen to lectures about being nice to classmates
fighting except when it's pretend. And then they have to listen to Dan
undermine everything we'd just said when we start talking about how much
hated bullies when we were in school and fantasizing out loud about what
want to do to bullies now that we're grown up and supposedly mature.
By the time we've finished dessert, I'm really not sure whether Melanie is
going to try to beat up Becky's classmates, or if Becky thinks her parents are
going to show up at school to shoot radiation blasts at her classmates.
And the evening doesn't actually improve much after that. After Becky's gone to
her room to do homework and Melanie has gotten on the computer to play Dora the
Explorer games, Dan and I start washing the dishes.
got a call from Edgar Vane this afternoon," says Dan. "You remember,
the associate professor from the mechanical engineering department?"
we're having dinner with him and his wife next Friday, right?" I say.
we're not having dinner anymore," Dan says. "His wife insisted he
don't tell me it's because of what I'm afraid it's because of," I say.
a class-conscious social climber," he says. "Apparently, she thinks
superheroing is low class. And I think she's afraid of radiation."
is never a need to fear radiation!" chirps Sparky Isotope. "Radiation
is our best friend and will lead us into the glorious future!"
will you shut the hell up?" I bark.
no need for that," Dan says. "Don't shoot the messenger."
wasn't talking to you," I say. "I was talking to Sparky."
no need for that, either," Sparky says sulkily. He drifts out of the
kitchen making exaggerated whimpering noises.
I wish you'd talk to a doctor about Sparky," says Dan. "I don't think
it's healthy to talk to him, and it feels like you're using him as an excuse
for other issues you've got with these new powers."
I'm not going to see a psychiatrist," I say. "Sparky isn't a
hallucination. He's apparently a package deal with the powers. He's a bit
irritating, but he's not a delusion."
can't possibly know that," Dan says. "In fact, that's exactly what
I'd expect to hear a delusional person say."
you start saying crap like that," I say.
do you want me to say?" he asks. "What would you say if you saw someone on the street talking to people no one
else could see or hear?"
random people on the street, and there's your wife," I say. I'm trying not
to get angry, but it's been too rotten a day to have this kind of discussion.
"I'd expect you to have some kind of trust in me."
trust you implicitly," Dan says. "And you should trust me when I say
you've gone through too many changes in only a few days..."
you saying you want me to change back?" I ask, good and angry by now.
"Don't know how I'm going to manage that."
know what I mean."
"I sure as hell don't," I say. "All these changes have been for
the better. I don't care if I have blue skin and white hair and radiation powers
and glowing eyes and an invisible sidekick. 'Cause at least I don't have a
fucking brain tumor anymore."
"Don't you even start," he says. "You know I'm as overjoyed
about that as you are. But you know there are downsides, too. The girls are having
the first real school trouble they've ever had. Our friends are afraid to be
around us. And you now spend half the night flying around the city risking your
life fighting supervillains. Do you have any idea what that's like for me and
"STOP ARGUING!" shouts a voice from the hallway. I barely see Becky duck
her head back into her bedroom.
Dan and I shut up for a moment. Maybe more than a moment. I'm still not happy.
He's not happy. And obviously, the girls aren't happy either. What a terrible
The phone rings, and Dan picks it up as quickly as he can.
"Windlers," he says. He listens a moment, makes a face, and hands it
to me. "It's for you."
Renee, it's Daphne Diller," says the voice on the line. "I know it's
a little early for the regular patrols, but we had something interesting come
up and thought you might like to come check it out. You free?"
a second," I say. "Dan?"
don't have to ask my permission," he says. But he turns right on his heel
and heads for the home office. God, I wish this day was over. I wish this week
do I meet you?" I ask.
come pick ya up," says Daphne. "Look for the sweet black SUV."
minutes later, I'm in my costume, I've said my awkward good-nights to Dan and
the girls, and I'm sitting on the curb next to the mailbox. The rest of the
neighborhood probably thinks I look completely surreal.
Isotope hovers next to me. It's weird to think that his weird blue glow is
completely invisible to everyone. To me, he puts off enough light to read by,
but to anyone else, it would be completely dark.
don't have to hate me all the time," he says.
come on, Sparky, not you, too," I say.
always tell me to shut up, to leave you alone," he says. "And when
you're not shouting at me, you're just ignoring me."
kinda have to," I say. "People think I'm crazy when I talk to
something they can't see."
rude, and you have no good reason to be rude to me," he says. "I am
the Spirit of Radiation, and I exist only to serve the Earth's Radiation
Elemental. It is my only real purpose, and to be repaid with rudeness and scorn
is a terrible thing."
well, getting Earth's Radiation Elemental locked up in the loony bin would be a
pretty terrible thing, too," I say. "Try to have a little
understanding for how that could affect my life, okay?"
me," he says with surprising vehemence. "Do you have any
understanding for what my existence is like? You're the only person in the
world who can hear me. I have no one else to talk to. No other of your species
can hear what I say, and none can speak to me. I praise you as my reason for
being, and you respond with... hurtfulness."
sorry, Sparky," I say. "I can try to be nicer, but you've got to know
there are some times when I just can't chat."
never chatted," he says. "And in the days since you've gained your
powers, you've had nothing kind to say. Am I such a burden?"
I... don't guess so," I say awkwardly. "I just haven't had time to
have time to lie," he says. "I cannot leave you, Mistress, at least
not permanently, but I can stay away from you for this evening. I will watch
over your family -- at least their silence to me isn't a product of
come on, Sparky," I say, but his light disappears, and the neighborhood
goes from a blue-lit twilight to just another dark, sleepy suburb.
don't have to be that way, Sparky," I say, standing up. "We can chat
right now if you -- Sparky, are you out here at all?"
SUV pulls up next to the curb. "Hey, girl, you ready to go?"
Daphne says as she rolls down the
I guess so," I say.
okay?" she says. "Did you need to go back inside for something? You
look like you forgot the oven was on."
it's okay," I say, opening the car door. "Let's get rolling."
jump in the passenger seat, knock fists with Daphne, and get introduced to the
passengers squeezed in the back seat -- Iota, the gadgeteer shrinker, and Miss
Mega, the insanely tall, immensely strong woman who fights the villain Splatter
every time she comes through town. They're both entirely pleasant and nice, but
I feel completely intimidated by Miss Mega. Really kinda terrified.
mean, let's face it, superheroes are kinda scary -- they've got bizarre powers
and abilities, they're all designed to dish out incredible amounts of damage
and destruction, and they're just not quite
human. And Miss Mega is someone who can punch down a skyscraper -- that's a
tornado, an earthquake, a nuclear missile in a human-sized package.
to take anything away from Iota. He's got his neural stunners and worlds of
inventions, and he wouldn't be a superhero if he couldn't handle himself in a
fight. But it's hard to be afraid of someone whose power involves shrinking.
yeah, I'm one of them now. It's going to take a huge adjustment in my
It's going to mean I have to start remembering how other people think
to call you out for the patrol early," Daphne says after we get settled
in. "Hope you got in at least a little relaxation time before this."
think I'm kinda looking forward to getting to zap some bad guys," I say.
"It's been a rough day."
heard you had one of those discussions
with the Cobra," says Miss Mega. "You did the right thing, trust
"What?" says Iota. "What happened?"
"You heard about the credit union robbery this afternoon?" says Miss Mega.
"Cobra tried to get Renee to leave work early to help take care of
"Oh, hell," Daphne says, rolling her eyes. "She's tried that
with me a few times. If I don't have time, or if it ain't an emergency, she
gets the same answer from me every time -- Show me the money, and I'll pencil
got suckered in by her a couple of times," says Iota. "Granted, the
nature of my work means I can take time away to help out with lots of stuff,
but she called me away from several time-sensitive experiments to take care of
minor robberies and other incidents that she or the police could have handled
perfectly well without me. In fact, the cops thought I was trying to grandstand
them for a while."
"She tries it with everyone," says Miss Mega. "Sometimes, you'll
get someone who'll go along with her a few times, get in huge trouble at work
about it, then realize they can tell her to buzz off. Makes her furious every
time, and it's really kinda funny."
"Yeah, if you were able to hold up against Cobra's superhuman powers of
guilt-inducement, you're gonna be alright," says Daphne.
"So I'm not in trouble over this?" I ask. "I don't think I want
her mad at me."
"I wouldn't say you're completely in the clear," says Daphne.
"Cobra holds a hell of a grudge, at least over the short term. She'll give
you the cold shoulder for a few days, but she'll get over it."
I can live with the cold shoulder, I guess," I say. "I'm getting that
from everyone today. Work, home, you name it."
can be tough," says Daphne. "Well, I assume they are -- I've had
powers all my life, so I don't guess I'd know. What about you, Doc?"
difficulties, I'm afraid," says Iota. "I'm not often recognized when
I'm in my civilian clothes. And even if I am, it's easy to avoid crowds when
you can just shrink small enough to be overlooked. I've been working in the
hard sciences since I was a kid, and discovering my mutant powers was pretty
uneventful, too. My parents thought I'd invented a shrinking device, so they
barely noticed. What kind of trouble did you have, Mega?"
afraid I've still got my secret identity," she says from the back seat.
"I've had a few physical adjustments to make, but nothing yet on an
interpersonal level. Maybe you should talk to Express? He has a public ID. Maybe
Hypothermia or Squid Kid..."
no, not Hypothermia," says Iota. "I really don't think you'd want to
talk to him about this, Renee. He's a worst-case-scenario for superheroes with
public IDs. I love the man like a brother, but talking to him about this would
probably just depress you even more."
come to think of it, Squiddie's still in college," says Daphne. "I
think your situation is probably way too different from hers."
yeah, that's true," says Miss Mega. "Well, maybe Express can help out
some. He's been a public hero for ages. I'm not sure about other married
assume there are some married heroes in town," says Iota. "But I have
no idea who they are. How 'bout you, Daph?"
not really sure," says Daphne. "I don't know everyone's secret identities, but the ones I do know aren't
married. Sorry, Renee."
should probably start including you and your family in some of the Metro City
superhero social scene," says Miss Mega. "You think so, Daph?"
have a social scene?" asks Iota. "Why didn't anyone ever tell me
about this? Who does a guy have to kill to get an invite?"
don't know anything about a superhero social scene," says Daphne.
"You mean something other than punching bad guys? When did we start a
I just kinda assumed everyone else had a social scene," says Miss Mega.
"I was really hoping to get an invite, too."
a great idea," says Daphne. "But I don't know of any superhero social
scene going on in Metro City. And I'm not volunteering to start one either! I
don't have enough money to host any damn parties for people who'd kick out the
walls on my apartment!"
not sure I'd be into superhero parties anyway," I say. "I think Dan
is already upset about people cancelling on our dinner dates -- I don't think
he's ready to start exchanging our old friends for a bunch of
maybe," says Daphne. "But isolation won't do y'all any good
I hope this isn't a dumb question," I say. "But it's something that's
kinda been preying on my mind for the past few days."
are no dumb questions..." says Miss Mega.
lying," says Daphne. "I've been an investigator long enough to know
that. But ask it anyway."
do I need to start doing any worrying about my family's safety?" I say.
"Are there going to be supervillains coming out of the woodwork to try to
kidnap or kill my husband or kids?"
not," says Miss Mega. "That's not a guarantee or anything. But
say there is a chance for kidnappings," says Iota. "My last
girlfriend was kidnapped twice while we were dating. She came out of it
completely unharmed, but she was not amused by the experience, and it's why we
broke up. Talk to your husband and kids about it, get them some martial arts
training. I'll get you the contact info for a consultant I know who specializes
in teaching people how to deal with kidnappings. You may want to get some guns
and teach the family how to shoot."
guns in my house 'til the girls are older," I say. "Maybe I'm a
softy, but I don't want my kids playing with guns."
enough," says Daphne. "I think kidnappings of metahumans' family
members are getting more rare. Blackmail possibilities are actually pretty
limited -- you kidnap Captain Justice's kids, and you might be able to persuade
him to leave you alone as long as you have them, but the moment you let them
go, he's going to be after you relentlessly. And the longer you keep them, the
higher the risk that you might hurt them, even accidentally, and then you're
really up the creek."
come?" I ask.
ever heard of Mr. Ultimate or Professor Panic?" says Miss Mega.
I'm not sure," I say. "I don't think I know all the superheroes I
should at this point."
this was all the way back in the '60s," says Daphne. "Early '60s,
actually. Mr. Ultimate was pretty prominent in Los Angeles, and Professor Panic
was his arch-nemesis. Panic had found out Mr. Ultimate's secret identity before
he went into prison, and when he broke out, he went right out and shot
Ultimate's girlfriend dead."
two days later," says Iota. "The guys in the Federation of Injustice
show up at their supposedly secret hideout to find Professor Panic nailed to
their front door, with all of his ribs removed."
my god!" I gasp.
of 'em quit immediately," says Iota. "The whole Federation had to
junk every scheme they were cooking up and look for a new hideout. No one heard
from Mr. Ultimate again."
most importantly," adds Miss Mega. "Word spread around the
underworld. And there haven't been more than a handful of cases since then
where supervillains or other criminals did serious harm to a superhero's loved
kinda messed up," I say. "If someone hurts my family, I'm just allowed to go out and kill people?
That's kinda anti-heroic, isn't
that's the funny thing," says Daphne. "The bad guys who've harmed
superheroes' families tend to get the crap beat out of them and turned over to
the cops by other bad guys. The same thing happens when it's heroes who target
villains' families. Hell, when Nightscourge went rogue, bombed Mindhammer's
home and killed his grandmother, the Assembly of Goddamn Order were the ones
who -- kinda sorta by accident -- broke Nightscourge's trigger fingers before
turning him over to the cops."
turned into one of those rules you don't break," says Iota. "You can
go after each other all we want, but no one hurts family or loved ones. It's --
it's rude, for lack of a better
heroes, we go after criminals," says Miss Mega. "We don't attack
others just because they have a relationship with a criminal. It's unfair, even
while the bad guys tend to be more cruel or even psychotic," says Iota.
"There is a certain... fellowship among thieves, I guess you'd call it.
They'll hold each other to a certain level of honor, even if a lot of them
don't want to be held to that standard. And they recognize that they benefit
from not having superheroes so fearful for the well-being of their families
that they embrace Mr. Ultimate's methods."
want me to get you that consultant's name, Renee?" asks Daphne. "He
can check your house out for weak security points, review your family's routes
to and from work or school, point you toward some good martial arts
instructors, you name it."
let's talk about that after patrols, alright?" I say. "What's the big
here's the deal," says Daphne. "Phantasmo got word from some of his
"Or what we like to refer to as his 'underworld contacts,' har-de-har-har,"
says Miss Mega.
"And they said there was a disturbance underneath
the cemetery," Daphne continues. "We were a little worried we might
be looking at another zombie uprising or an invasion by the Underearthlings,
but Phantasmo had some of his ghosts prowl around, but it turns out it's just
"You mean that giant flytrap monster that tears up downtown every couple
of years?" I say. "Are just the four of us going to be enough to
"I don't think we'll have any serious trouble," says Iota. "Not
every villain in Metro City is going to require us to hit the Panic
"Besides, it takes some time for Flytrap to grow back to his maximum size
after we prune him back," says Miss Mega. "I could probably handle
this one solo if I had to."
sure enough, 20 minutes later, I was watching Miss Mega disappear down
I need to back up any? Well, we were all inside a cavern underneath Gaines
Cemetery, and Flytrap wasn't as big as the last time he'd trashed the city --
but a 50-foot-tall Venus flytrap inside a 60-foot-tall cavern is more than
large enough for anyone, thanks. No, I have no idea how a giant plant monster
could grow inside a cave with no exposure to the sun, but it's not like I know
how I got radioactive powers either.
the four of us got into the cavern, we were shining flashlights around and
talking about how pretty it is in there, and Flytrap just rose up in front of
us. Things really didn't go very well after that.
Apparently, Flytrap ends up with a different personality every time it regrows.
Most of the time, it's pretty chatty -- I remember when we first moved to Metro
City, it tried to knock down some buildings downtown, and it kept singing songs
from "Little Shop of Horrors." But it definitely wasn't like that
"hhhhuman ffffilth," it rasped like a broken branch. "you pester
me. pester like ants. i'm going to eat you so
I certainly didn't have any snappy comeback for that -- partly because there
was a vine wrapped very tightly around my throat.
And experience wasn't making it any easier on the rest of them either.
tied up like I was, and Miss Mega had gotten a faceful of tranquilizing pollen
and was drowsing away. Iota was the only one of us who hadn't been
and that was just because he hadn't grown large enough to be tied up
"Come on, Flytrap," said Daphne. As the only person in the room with an
indestructible throat, she was still able to talk just fine. "This is not
a road you wanna go down. You don't want too many superheroes deciding you're
too dangerous and demolishing you down to your cells, do you?"
"wwwhy should i care about what mmmmeat wants?" Flytrap hissed.
"and you ssssuperpowered animals have nnnnnever managed to destroy me before.
i doubt you even hhhhhave the power. maybe thhhhis is the time for me to
sssscrub you chordates off my planet once and for aaaaall."
that's when it flipped Miss Mega into the air, opened its mouth, and swallowed
couple of bright sparks flare off of Flytrap's -- what is it, a mouth? Petals?
A muzzle? -- and I hear Iota's amplified voice shouting "Let her go,
Flytrap! This is your only warning!"
make me laugh, hhhuman," it growls. "i don't have nerve cellssss like
you. that neural ssstunner doesn't even tickle."
vine is constricting tighter around me, crushing me, choking me. I can't
breathe at all now, and my vision is already swimming.
I can still burn. I can burn pretty damn hot.
vines surrounding me twitch away quickly, but not quickly enough not to catch fire,
a very pretty blue fire that spreads slowly up Flytrap's extended branches. It
sheds the burning vines -- a nice trick -- and flings them against the walls of
extends another couple of vines, topped by brilliant red and green flowers.
This is how Flytrap got Miss Mega with the pollen, but by now, I'm surrounded
by an aura of heat and radioactivity that withers and burns the flowers before
they get into range.
thinking I got it beat by now, but it lashes out with a flurry of vines, wraps
itself around some of the thick stalactites in the cavern's ceiling, and bares
a mouthful of thorny teeth at me.
down, or i'll brrrring the roof down on all of ussss," it says. "i'll
sssurvive. dafffffodil will survive. everyone else will die. and i'll sssstill eat
whateverrrr is left of your corpses."
really don't know how to respond to that. If I power down, he'll eat all of us.
If I don't power down, he'll start a cave-in, then eat us. I'm not getting paid
enough to make these kinds of no-win decisions.
a new entrant to the ssssuperhero club, aren't you?" Flytrap asks with a
gleeful rasp. "yes, i think i'd remember a blue-sssskinned radiation
blaster. if i were one of my more talkative incarnations, i'mmm sure i'd expressss
some sort of regret that your end would come so earrrrly... but really, i don't
care. i guess i'll get to find out how ssspicy radioactive meat is. maybe i'll
even get to mutate into a more powerful form. won't that be interrresting?
won't that krrrikk!"
just like that, Flytrap turns bluer than I am and freezes solid.
fly buzzes near my ear, then abruptly expands into Iota -- not full-size, but
about a foot tall.
can you get out of those vines now that they're frozen, or do you need my
help?" he asks.
I can manage," she says. She flexes and stretches, and the vines crumble
like delicate glass. "I assume that was you, Doc, or did we smuggle Hypothermia
in when I wasn't looking?"
it was me," says Iota. "That instant cryonics kit was just a
prototype, and I doubt I'll be able to get it to work quite like that again,
but it served its purpose. Think you can get Miss Mega out of that monster's
me to burn her out?" I ask.
not," Iota says. "I want to leave Flytrap under hard-freeze
conditions as long as I can. I don't want to give it any opportunity to revive
or regenerate if we thaw it out, at least not until we can all get out of
ain't kidding," says Daphne. "Flytrap's not much fun when he's giant,
destructive chatterbox comedian -- but I sure prefer him to this murderous
Daphne steps up to the frozen body of the plant and
delivers a few hard kicks to its main stalk. After a moment, it shatters open
like a crystalline vase, and she reaches inside.
I'm gonna need some help now," Daphne says. "Mega's frozen to the
inside of this thing, and she's too heavy for me to move on my own."
and I hurry over, and the three of us spend a few minutes breaking Miss Mega
out of Flytrap and dragging her a dozen feet away. She's not completely frozen,
like Flytrap, but she's covered in green-tinted frost, and her breathing seems
shallow. It feels like she weighs a ton.
has me turn up the heat to thaw her out, and we start to carry her out. But we
haven't gotten far before there's a flash of light behind us. We turn,
half-expecting to see that Flytrap has somehow activated some unknown weapon,
despite being frozen like a popsicle. But instead, there's a large octagonal
window of light that's opened up in midair about five feet away from Flytrap.
figures step out of the window. They're wearing heavy yellow and green armor
and carrying high-tech weapons. They're all dinosaurs, swear to god. One is a
ten-foot-tall Tyrannosaur, one is a seven-foot-tall Stegosaurus, and the third
looks like a five-foot-tall velociraptor.
T-rex holds a blinking metal and plastic scanner up toward Flytrap and says,
"Tracking data confirmed, commander. That's extra-chronal fugitive K794EX-8DK2,
right where we expected it."
"Is that ice?" says the velociraptor. "How the hell did this
thing get frozen like that?"
"Hey!" Daphne yells. "Who the hell are you?"
velociraptor spins around at us in surprise. "Commander!" he shouts.
"The native species in this juncture is... Neanderthal?!"
closer, cadet," says the T-rex. "This juncture's Neanderthals went
extinct about 25,000 years ago, local time. These are Cro-Magnon
stegosaurus steps forward. "Field Commander Zilbert Hozich," he says.
"My associates are Lieutenant Broozh Zagden and Ensign Zizzik Zipkins.
We're with the Time Patrol, Sub-Division Level Earth Quantum-Vector 43-KT-566.
In English, we're from approximately 9,000 years in the future, from an
alternate earth where what you call the dinosaurs never died out."
wait a minute," says Iota. "I've met members of the Time Patrol, and
none of them were dinosaurs."
expect they were from your own Quantum-Vector," says the T-rex.
"Members of the Time Patrol don't often venture outside of their own
universes, but in this case, we were sent to apprehend a fugitive from our time
period and Quantum-Vector -- namely, the frozen plant right here."
doubt we've got any objection to you guys taking him with you," says Iota.
"But I've got my doubts that's the one you're looking for. Flytrap comes
up with a new personality every time it regrows -- and as far as I can tell, if
you leave even a few cells behind, it'll probably regrow here again."
see what we can do about that," says the Stegosaurus. "But in the
meantime, there's --"
he (or she. How do you tell gender on a dinosaur?) is interrupted when another
octagonal window of light opens in the air nearby. Another three figures step
out, this time wearing purple and red armor. All three look like cavemen --
barrel-chested, long arms, heavy brows, face on a slope.
fugitive K794EX-8DK2," one of them says. "We are prepared to offer
you sanctuary in exchange for -- oh hell, he's frozen."
the Tempus Fugitives!" shouted the velociraptor, and they all started
shooting at each other. And more time portals start opening all around us, with
more time-traveling dinosaurs and Neanderthals pouring out, all shooting
turn and run as fast as we can, dragging the still half-frozen Miss Mega behind
us, as blasts from energy rifles spatter the cave walls around us.
a hectic week I've been having. Don't know how much worse a time war is going
to make things.
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