For Christine, of course.
Dr. Fiche rounds the corner, flickering and twisting in the air like a grade school test in June, but her hands remain attuned to gravity. She spirals gracefully into her seat, but she does not spill the tea.
Christine, determined more than ever to make her role model proud, to set standards for the teens assembled in Granny's parlour, minds her manners despite her raw emotions. "Thank you," she says, careful to modulate the blue glow of her body when she picks up her dainty cup and saucer. She suddenly feels wrong, improperly dressed in her action outfit, uncertain if she's in the right place anymore. "It's good to see you again, Dr. Fiche.... Despite the circumstances. And thank you all very much for including me."
"Please, dear. Only academics and the New York Times call me 'Dr. Fiche.' Call me Sarah." A subdued giggle rounds the room. "Or by my sobriquet. Even just plain 'Granny' will do nicely." She settles into her chair, her body swaying slightly in the breeze. She's pouring Yorkshire tea for two. Three of the kids take coffee. Aly drinks cream. Sara Okamura sips an oversized Red Bull.
Sara looks impatient, tries to be a female Masked Owl but hasn't the experience or the chops. She's what, fifteen? Younger than Scooter, this whole gaggle Granny's gathered around her. GammaGirl scopes the room. Granny Flat's adopted granddaughters can do cute with their outsized, emotive eyes, but they've got the criminal element quaking. GammaGirl has seen them with animal passions inflamed; the Masked Owl comes across as cuddly by comparison. Aly "Cat" Fiche and Little Sarah "Wolfchild" Fiche are descendants of Moreau's original progeny, young enough when they were found that Fiche felt they could be integrated. The jury's still out. A few weeks ago, a serial rapist who'd been prowling the back streets of Centropolis, someone who'd eluded the Owl and frustrated GammaGirl, turned up looking like he'd lost a fight with a pride of rabid lions. As a bonus, a certain part of his anatomy had been lodged in his throat. DNA tests confirmed his guilt-- but someone with either girl's olfactory sense could have determined that from the scent they'd picked off his victims. GammaGirl looks up at the pair. Wolfchild smiles through a face full of teeth. Aly Cat cleans shortbread crumbs from her claws, long tongue casually lapping spread fingers.
The police couldn't prove anything, but the League took note that Granny Flat removed both of her adopted brood from active duty.
Today they are back on.
Robert "Ace" Sera still looks cocky in the face of grim news, hasn't taken off his leather jacket to sit at Granny's table. Maybe it's his idea of an action outfit, something this open-face, never-by-the-book generation eschews. Only Aly Kat and Wolfchild even bother with lifestyle names, and neither have a specific costume. They wear protective Kevlar and leather, sometimes, and occasionally make ironic use of the schoolgirl uniform. Masks and capes are right out. The whole crew likes black, though; the Masked Owl seems to have set the tone for the next generation as much as Metaman and Lady Amazonian did for GammaGirl's. "Ace" strikes her as an odd match Sara Okamura, but young love rarely makes much sense. He reposes alongside the only other male, Sa'raa, who looks, GammaGirl thinks, as though he needs a smoke or use of the washroom. She finds it difficult, of course, to really read the expression in reptilian eyes, or across his trachodontic bill.
The pair of them sit together, share some bond despite special differences. She nods and understands. It was like that in the League, she and Lady Amazonian invading the Boys' Club, a part but apart. Is like that, she tells herself. They'll find her. Demeter can't die. Demeter can't be dead.
"We are all very happy that the League has agreed to work with us."
GammaGirl draws a breath. "Thank you, Granny Flat. We... We hope to coordinate our efforts. This concerns us all and.... I know I'm concerned for my friend, but this is something we've never seen before, and I don't think it needs to be said, the fate of the world may well hang in the balance."
"Yes. Of course," says Sara. She keys her laptop. A holographic image appears, Buckeye Boulevard that morning, taken by a passing spy satellite and expanded, augmented. This kid's developed technology the military doesn't have yet. The Wade Foundation's definitely keeping its eyes on this little girl. Christine has met her before, when Granny's girls blundered into—or helped her with, depending on who you asked— her clean-up of the Barbie Lobster Gang. An easy matter, and she resented the girls feeling they needed to get involved. Of course, Demeter could have taken that view the first time they fought together. Lady Amazonian could have taken that view about all of them, every man jack down to Meta and the Owl, as far as GammaGirl was concerned. She'd been there at the beginning, fought in the war alongside Captain Destiny and outlived that whole generation, never aging in any sense that mere mortals understood. So Metaman and the Masked Owl dominated press and merchandising. Lady Amazonian would always be the ideal to which Christine aspired, as she'd been long before Christine started calling herself GammaGirl.
She catches with eye a photo on Granny Flat's piano, Sarah Fiche the elder as a little girl, at a war bonds rally, next to Demeter. Lady Amazonian, two generations ago. Lady Amazonian, who disappeared that morning, evaporating, or so witnesses said, with a nuclear flash and an ear-piercing scream.
She wouldn't have screamed. GammaGirl feels certain. Adamant. Not her Lady Amazonian.
The smoke from falling rubble cleared and Christine saw her, a vision of female power standing astride the Humonguloid, her face defiant and triumphant. Gradually, her male compatriots revived, learned the battle had been won for them. Mere yards from where Christine was standing, she saw the Star-Nosed Mole crawl back up. The League's sole female had helped save the world more times than anyone could recall, but the Humonguloid really had been her show. The Masked Owl's dark, strategic genius could not stand up against the vast space-crustacean. The Mole had been downright useless. Metaman and the Green Panjandrum both had their considerable powers turned against them, and faced imminent death.
But the star-born menace had made one fatal error. In scanning Earth's armies to learn humanity, uncover our weaknesses, it had taken soldiers as the norm. Those soldiers were male. Demeter's sex made her immune to the Humonguloid's most dangerous weapons. In battle with Lady Amazonian, it had two Xs against it from the start, and she scored the third with her preternatural punch.
To the teenage Christine, it had been revelation, inspiration.
Two years later, radiation bathed Christine in a trillion-to-one, impossible-to-replicate accident that left her with a certain glow. No more would she be the princess guarded by dragons, awaiting rescue. The next dragon that crossed her path would find itself microwaved and served with chips. When she soared through the air (by as-yet imperfectly-understood means) or took out catastrophes and criminals with her gamma bolts, she hoped her blue iridescence shone half as brightly for the men and women and boys—but, most especially, the little girls—as Lady Amazonian did for her.
The League soon came calling. Demeter, more than anyone, helped Christine find her fit. Mentor and pupil quickly became best friends, a Gynamic Duo within the Super Boy's Club. More than a few cape-watchers had a good laugh over GammaGirl's first reported battle—- with the Troll. Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Moriarty, but Sherlock Holmes also had John Straker, the jackass who brought about a criminal investigation by accidentally getting himself killed by a horsie. In a world of supervillains, Dustin Clery, aka the Troll, was a John Straker, with a loser status that seemed to taint everyone he encountered. Villains risked arrest to avoid him. Heroes ignored the Troll, left him to the police or the local school crossing guards, rather than waste time on his pathetic crimes. Between planning his inept master plots, he was fond of spraying graffiti, crude and truly sick images of superheroes engaged in the bizarre fetishes he attributed to them, and personal tags that likely caused committed graffiti artists to get respectable jobs, lest they be associated with the Troll. Demeter just laughed, however, told Christine that she'd actually handled the situation with more decorum and finesse than even that overgrown boy scout, Metaman, would have managed. Christine could picture her now, her Lady Amazonian top loosened, the thigh-high boots piled atop each other on the rug, as they kicked back in the League's lounge with glasses of retsina.
The League gathered within an hour. Those who hadn't heard answered a summons sent by their sidekick and mascot, "Scooter" Simmons, who'd been on watch duty at the Tower. They sat in their stark hall with its metal walls. Their analysis of the data didn't look good.
A few hours later, in a cozy parlour stuffed with a lifetime of photographs and keepsakes, another group wonders at the data and wanders around the same conclusion.
"Granny and I have borne out the Masked Owl's analysis,” says Sara, matter-of-factly. "The organic matter found at the site belongs to De—to Lady Amazonian. Charred matter."
"A small amount," GammaGirl says.
"I understand. We don't know for sure if her entire body was affected. But concentrated heat levels this high could have reduced her to vapour. Along with the"-- she does not even check her notes-- "1.7 square metres of sidewalk. We're all upset, of course, but we also have to consider if whatever did this will strike again."
Sara gestures to Aly and Little Sarah. "We smelt, like, burned flesh," says Aly Cat. "Different, like. Metahuman. Ask Sarah. She smells more than I do."
"But not enough, not enough to, like, know if someone died or just got, like burned, right?" says Wolfchild.
"The girls say there was no scent of any of the bigger-named supervillains," says Granny. "You know, such as the Organist or Doctor Charybdis."
"No. Like, no, right? No one we've smelled before. No one in the, like, police records. Scented fabric samples. Like that." Wolfchild looks about. Her adopted sister sits back, enigmatically smug.
"The League confirms," says GammaGirl, "that any supervillains likely to have this sort of tech are all accounted for in their cells. Charybdis and the Organist were the first ones we double-checked. Charybdis hasn't escaped, and the Organist has totally lost his mind. Dementia."
"Yes," says Sara. "But examine the hologram."
"Quite right, dear. Sara and I found something interesting over lunch."
The spy satellite, augmented, shows a piece of paper a short distance from where Lady Amazonian had been standing. "That wasn't found at the site, not by the police or the League"— Sara Okamura looks up at GammaGirl—"unless you have information you're not sharing with us?"
"We are being open, girls," she replies. "I resent your implication. It's paper. It could have just blown away." She feels herself wince. She hopes her two-dimensional hostess won't take offense.
"Perhaps you could explain what we found," says Granny Flat.
It's a piece of paper with writing and images. I can't magnify or enhance the image enough to see exactly what's on it, but still...."
"Eh, give yourself another month, babe," says "Ace."
Aly Cat's green eyes flash disdain. Wolfchild smiles with sympathetic affection.
"Like a movie storyboard," says GammaGirl.
"Or a comic-book script?" says "Ace."
"But we can sort of make out this one image. A Rorschach blot sort of a thing."
"Or a graffiti tag!" says GammaGirl. She feels something dark and dank in the pit of her stomach. "Can you get any clearer?" she asks.
Sara tweaks around on her laptop. The group leans in. "I can't guarantee it's accurate. The program fills in information gaps...."
Sa'raa's beak-like jaw falls agape. "Is that...?"
"Great Gamma Rays!" says GammaGirl.
"I'm afraid I'm missing something," says Granny Flat.
"Graffiti tags belong to, uh, specific taggers," explains "Ace."
"I see. Would we know to whom the 'graffiti tag' on that comic book script belongs?"
GammaGirl blinks hard and exhales deeply before she answers: "The Troll!"
NEXT: For Whom the Bell Trolls