A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Maiden Starlight 2: Starstruck
The Greene Residence
Sunday, October 16th, 2016
I woke up screaming and shaking, my heart clenching in fear from the nightmare that had driven me awake. The details of the dream faded to hazy shadows of the imagery that had driven me screaming into the waking world as I sat on my bed with my arms pulling my knees in close as sobs burned their way through my chest and forced their way past my lips. All too soon, the details of my nightmare were lost to the deepest recesses of my mind, and that allowed me to get control of myself.
It was probably better that I didn’t remember the details of the dream, I already had a pretty good idea of who was featured in it after all. It would be my parents, Feast, and Slider. Dr. Dunn said that I have survivor’s guilt and a deep-seated paranoia about people coming after me using those that I cared about most, like that would be some sort of surprise to anyone who knew me. Even I could admit that.
Dr. Dunn was someone that Darcy, our current guardian and the superhero known as Proteus, knew through her work with the Hollywood All-Stars. She worked specifically with mutants who had suffered trauma due to manifesting, or for a variety of other reasons. Since Darcy took me and Tresse in a month and a half ago, both I and my sister of the streets had been having appointments with Dr. Dunn online.
It was another thing to owe Darcy for, like room and board, clothes, the laptops for doing our homeschooling, and not just throwing us under the bus and sending us to child services in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, she never asked us to pay her back. In fact, she took it as expected expenses and part of her job as our guardian for the moment. She treated us like family and while Tresse, or rather Lily, seemed to be okay with the situation, I couldn’t help but wonder sometimes when the other shoe would drop.
I let out a sigh and tried to shake off those dour thoughts. A look at the alarm clock beside my bed showed the time to be 6:29 am, so rather than going back to sleep I got up and padded my way toward the bathroom down the hall for a shower. I probably wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep anyway. The nightmares had been getting less intense and haunted my sleep less often over the past month and a half, but they still shook me up every time.
It wasn’t just the nightmare bothering me this morning either. Something felt out of place, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what it might be. I tried to figure out what might be wrong as I stripped off my nightclothes and stepped into the shower, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through washing my hair that it hit me. It wasn’t that something was wrong, it was that something wasn’t.
Ever since I had mimicked the exemplar trait of the glowing girl in the hospital while trying to heal her for Darcy, my healing power had constantly felt there was something wrong with me because I didn’t match my newly imposed BIT. I had been trying to use my powers, and I often mimicked Lily’s regeneration to try to speed up the changes, and now it seemed like they were finished. My healing sense wasn’t constantly nagging at me and I didn’t have the constant ache of growing pains this morning either. I felt physically better than I had in a long time.
I was glad that it seemed to be over. Not only had the growing pains been uncomfortable, but also my constantly changing dimensions had made me awkward and clumsy at times, and getting clothes that would fit properly for more than a week had been troublesome. Lily had a full closet, but mine only had a few outfits that would fit, and Darcy hadn’t gotten anything too fancy or expensive since we had been expecting me to grow out of things as I changed.
Once I was finished in the shower and had brushed my teeth, I returned to my bedroom to check the full-length mirror in the closet. There didn’t seem to be any changes that were too noticeable since yesterday, but nobody was going to look at me and see Penny Jones, or Pulse. “Yeah, she’s definitely an Exemplar,” I said as I looked in the mirror and allowed myself to take in the whole image.
As Penny, I had been barely five foot one and blonde with blue eyes. I guess that I was kind of pretty, but I had been a short and fairly flat-chested tomboy, which was why I had first disguised myself as a boy when I went into hiding. I had turned fifteen at the end of August but still had some growing to do, so I guess I might have matured eventually, but I was average at best.
Now I was gorgeous, in an ethereal sort of way; porcelain white skin with ice blue hair with a slightly metallic sheen that glowed with its own light, matching glowing freckles scattered across the bridge of my nose and my cheeks, and big bright turquoise eyes that glowed brightly as well. My face was like a work of art with plump lips, a delicate nose and chin, high and well-sculpted cheekbones, and those big eyes with thick lashes. I looked around sixteen, though I was told that the girl whose BIT I had copied wouldn’t turn fifteen until December.
I figured that not much had changed since we measured me before bed last night though, so I was probably around five foot nine and I had that definite Exemplar physique. I had really filled out in the hips and chest over the past month and a half while keeping a very slim waist and developing some awesome abs. I had nice long legs too, and the whole overall package was both super-hot, and a little strange due to the glowing hair, eyes, and freckles.
Growing over eight inches in the last month and a half had been a little disconcerting while it was happening, and the same was true for my new dimensions. I was constantly bumping my hips or my growing chest into things, and damn that hurts. I figured that I was close to a D cup now and hopefully, I wouldn’t get any larger than that since they were getting in the way enough as it was. I was slightly taller and curvier than Lily now, and I was going to get attention, even without my glowing bits. If the girl in the mirror wasn't me, I probably would have been interested in getting to know her.
Hopefully, now that I was done growing into my BIT, I would be able to work out a disguise and get out of the house for a while. I had been stuck here since Lily and I moved in since Darcy didn’t want to risk me going out without a MID. We could probably get me one now, but I was going to need a new identity as well since Penny Jones had been connected to Pulse by at least one of the Vegas crime families that were after me for my healing power. But then, it would have been impossible to hide it from them after manifesting as publicly as I did.
Darcy was still trying to get me a new identity, but hadn’t had much luck so far with any of her old friends. I couldn’t really blame her for keeping me here until I had a new identity worked out since it was for my own safety, but I was starting to go a bit stir-crazy. I was way ahead on my homeschooling and I had taken to copying Darcy’s powers occasionally and tinkering in her lab for hours just for something to do.
The problem with that was that I couldn’t tell whether I had copied her Gadgeteer abilities or her Devisor abilities. Well, at least until things started exploding. Most of those were devises. I hadn’t created any stable devises yet, but my plan was to create some gadgets at the very least that I could use when I started going out as Maiden Starlight eventually.
When I was Penny, I had been quiet, shy, reserved, and a bit of a tomboy, and running around in costume would probably have been the last thing I’d be caught doing. I was trying to get into the role that I had decided to adopt for my new self though. Maiden Starlight would be perky, outgoing, feminine, and a little naïve though, and that was exactly the type of person who would run around using her newfound powers to try to be some sort of real-life magical girl. Between that and my new appearance, nobody would ever connect me with Penny Jones.
I managed to stop staring at my new self in the mirror and decided to get ready for the day and start making some breakfast since Lily would likely be up soon. I wasn’t sure about Darcy since she had been out late last night doing the whole hero thing. I finished drying my hair and brushed it and then threw on one of the few outfits I had that would fit at the moment, a pair of simple panties, a sports bra, a pair of yoga pants, and an oversized t-shirt that was a bit tight in the chest.
A hiss of pain escaped me as I hurried toward the kitchen and bumped my left breast on the doorframe, filling me with blinding pain for a moment. I hoped that I would get used to these new dimensions soon. Darcy figured that it was probably my constantly changing body causing my clumsiness and that I would likely get used to things quickly once my body caught up with my BIT. Taking a deep breath, I shook off the discomfort and headed for the kitchen, trying to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake Lily or Darcy.
To my surprise, Darcy seemed to be awake, and I paused at the top of the stairs overlooking the living room as I heard her talking with someone. She was probably on Skype or something and as I stopped, uncertain whether I should interrupt by passing through, I could hear an unfamiliar male voice saying, “No, Proteus. I’m not sticking my neck out for some cape.”
Darcy sighed but pressed on. “Reggie, come on, this is me. I’ve never told anyone what you do, I’ve never revealed any of my old contacts and you know it. You’re my last hope here, this girl hasn’t done anything wrong and she needs a new identity. You wouldn’t be doing it for some cape, you’d be doing it for me and an innocent girl. For old time’s sake, as a friend.”
“I don’t have any friends who are capes. You should have thought of that before changing sides. Lose my number, Proteus.” With that, the call ended, and peeking down from the landing, I could see Darcy collapse into her computer chair.
“Well, shit,” she muttered before letting out an exasperated sigh.
I moved as quietly as I could back to my room and then opened and closed the door loud enough for Darcy to hear before walking down the hall again and then descending the stairs. I didn’t want her to know that I had overheard the conversation. She had been doing her best to get me a new identity and it wasn’t her fault that it hadn’t worked out.
I did my best to look cheerful and oblivious as I made my way down the stairs, it would be good acting practice. “Oh… uhh… hey, Darcy. I didn’t think you’d be up. You were still out when Lily and I went to bed.”
Darcy looked exhausted when she turned to face me and the smile that she attempted wasn’t very convincing. “Yeah, I just got home an hour ago. Something big came up and we had a bit of a long night. I had some calls to make before I went to bed though. There was one last person that I wanted to contact from my old villain days about getting you a new identity.”
I allowed my eyes to widen and pretended to be surprised, “So… how did it go? Can they help, or are we back to the drawing board?” I tried to sound casual, even though I already knew what the verdict was. I was getting used to the disappointment since this was far from the first contact that had refused to help.
She tried another smile, but it fell flat and she aborted whatever she was going to say as she stood up to face me eye to eye. “Reggie basically told me to go fuck myself. I’m sorry, Cat. He was the last of my old contacts that I thought I could trust with this.”
A sigh escaped my lips. I had heard her saying it earlier, but even though I was expecting it, hearing her say the words aloud was like a punch to the gut. “I… see. So, what do we do now?” I said we, but I feared that it was more like, ‘what do I do now?’
I probably shouldn’t have been so disappointed since even before I overheard her earlier conversation I had been half-expecting this. Darcy’s other contacts hadn’t panned out either, giving her similar answers, so I hadn’t really been holding out much hope when she found Reggie’s new contact information. I was disappointed though, and for good reason.
While I was stuck inside hiding from the world and waiting on a new identity that would never come, Tresse and Asphalt were trying to get their lives back. Tresse had gotten her MID, Darcy had found her a good lawyer, and on Friday, she had started the ball rolling on what she could do to get her identity back. The first step was getting DNA tests done to prove that she really was Lily Pond.
She was pretty sure that her parents were going to have their lawyers resist this all the way and try to stall things in court while they tried to disprove her claim and make her look like some kind of gold digger. Her lawyer was going to petition the court for DNA samples for both her parents and was currently researching whether or not they had just claimed her dead to the public or had gone as far as to commit fraud by filing for a death certificate.
Asphalt had his day in court a couple of weeks ago and the judge approved a plea bargain since there was no evidence of him committing any crimes other than assault when he had attacked the gangbangers that had killed Slider and Feast and were about to kill Tresse. In that case, he had hurt them but been careful not to kill them, and he was defending someone who was injured and defenseless. So now, Az was doing six months of community service as a probationary member of the Hollywood All-Stars and living at their headquarters for the duration of that time.
They were able to do something about their situations while I was here hiding from anyone who might be after Penny Jones, getting used to the new face in the mirror, and trying to keep myself occupied. I supposed that I could still get a MID since I wouldn’t be legally required to give any personal information, but without a real identity, I would never be able to get things like a driver’s license, a job, medical insurance, or even legally attend a school. The enormity of that thought hit me and I fell to my knees.
I couldn’t breathe, my chest was suddenly tight with anxiety, and tears began to form in my eyes. Darcy was quick to drop to the ground beside me and wrapped her arms around me as she whispered, “It will be okay, Cat. I’ll…” She didn’t finish, instead gasping as she was hit with a realization. “I have an idea. I don’t really like it, and you’re probably not going to either, but I’ve exhausted all of my other options and this would work.”
“Wh… what?” I managed to stammer out through the burning lack of air from panic and being on the urge of sobbing.
“Gwen…” she hesitated before continuing to speak tremulously as she held me close. “The glowing girl in the hospital; you look just like her, and she hasn’t been taken off life support yet, so she still has a valid identity. I’ve been meaning to pull the plug for months, especially after you tried to heal her and told me that she was gone, I just… it would make it real.”
She sniffled and I could feel dampness on my shoulder as I started to put the pieces together in my mind. Proteus had switched sides when Bastion killed the glowing girl and her parents. She had tried everything to save the girl and she seemed heartbroken when I wasn’t able to do anything for her either. It was a moment before I regained enough control over my breathing to ask, “She was close to you, wasn’t she?”
“She was… my niece… my God-daughter too.” Her voice faltered, the words seeming to catch in her throat.
I had expected her to be someone close to Darcy, the kid of a friend or something, but this was worse than I thought. No wonder she hadn’t said anything. How in the world could she even stand looking at me? How could she bear having me in the same house as I slowly turned into a copy of her dead niece? “I… I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have come to stay here with you, I can’t imagine…”
Darcy took a deep shuddering breath and pulled away from the embrace that she had been holding me in, gripping me tightly by the shoulders as our teary eyes met. “No. I chose to do this… knowing that your BIT was changing you, Cat. You and Lily needed me and my memories of Gwen aren’t of her laying in that bed, they’re of the times we shared before she manifested.”
She told me everything then, how it all went down. She had been starting to make a name for herself as Proteus, a supervillain focusing on high-profile thefts. She wasn’t in it for the loot but for the thrill of it and as a way to field-test her various gadgets and devises. In fact, those who had been robbed usually found their stolen goods mysteriously returned the next day unless they were criminals and Darcy only ever kept a small keepsake for herself. She had plenty of patents for new equipment in her real name, with more to come, and she was well off because of it. She had faced off against several capes because of her heists, but her nemesis turned out to be Bastion.
Bastion had been building a solid reputation in his field as well and had joined the Hollywood All-Stars. Back then, quite a few of the team members were still focused on money and fame; it was mostly a collection of huge egos. Bastion fit right in; he was arrogant, self-righteous, and loved the media attention.
So, when they faced off the first time and Proteus not only escaped with the loot but also left him humiliated on live television in the process, he held a grudge. He made it his mission to take her down, showing up whenever he could manage to catch up with her as she fled a heist. They fought several times, but each time Proteus was the winner. Not because she was more powerful, but because she outsmarted him and used creative devises and gadgets.
Then, one day it all came to a head. In a battle that spread across half of downtown Los Angeles, the pair threw everything that they had at one another. He was angry enough to try to kill her, and when a PK Superman rated at a five wants to kill you, it isn’t easy to stop them, even with the right technology. During their fight, her power armor was seriously damaged and he pried off her faceplate and was able to get a look at her face before she used an emergency teleportation devise to escape.
It was a one-in-a-million fluke that he knew her, that they had a history. She didn’t find out until much later when they captured him, but under that PK shell was a guy she had gone to college with. A guy who she had dated. Things had ended badly between them; he had tried to push their relationship further than she wanted while they were at a movie and she had freaked out, dumped a tub of popcorn over his head, and stormed out of the theatre to walk home alone.
She was still repairing her armor when she got the call that her older sister and brother-in-law were dead, and that her niece, Gwen, was in emergency surgery. Bastion had dropped out of the sky, destroyed their home, and murdered them in broad daylight. At the scene of the crime, he had left the mangled remains of Proteus’s faceplate.
At first, Darcy didn’t leave Gwen’s side during visitors' hours. She desperately clung to the hope that since Gwen had apparently manifested in the attack, she might have some power that would help her to bounce back. The doctors tried to tell her that the only reason that her body continued to change was that the machines were keeping her alive.
Darcy was determined to save her niece though and when she wasn’t with Gwen during visitor hours, she was in her lab working on medical gadgets and devises to try to save her. She barely slept, and when she wasn’t working on medical countermeasures for Gwen or sitting at her bedside, she repaired and improved her armor and worked on things that could help to take Bastion down. Then, nearly a month later, she found him.
The other members of the All-Stars had condemned Bastion’s actions but only a few of them began a manhunt for the fallen hero as the rest jumped ship, hoping to salvage their reputations by going solo well away from the media blast radius. The team’s reputation was suffering from Bastion’s actions and they were starting to lose sponsorships. Even the toy company that they were contracted with to make and sell their action figures were considering pulling out.
Only Psi-napse, who had recently joined the team, and one of the more experienced team members, Superstar, had stuck it out and both seemed determined to salvage their reputation by bringing Bastion to justice. They tracked him down and their battle with him allowed Darcy, as Proteus, to locate him. The trio worked together and while the other two had him distracted, Proteus was able to contain Bastion’s powers with a pair of inhibitor cuffs that she had built.
“… and that’s when I discovered the connection,” Darcy finished sadly. “Bastion got sent to the Rock, but Superstar and Psi-napse took me on as a member of the team and convinced a judge that I could do some good as a free woman since I had helped them stop Bastion. I never really stole anything either, since I always returned my loot, except for a little keepsake that had no real value. Technically, I helped the companies involved improve their security in the process too.”
“So you’ve been working with them since?” I asked though that much was obvious.
“Yeah, what can I say, being a cape is more rewarding than what I was doing before, and my sister and Gwen would have been happy that I’m helping people,” she replied with a sad smile. “For a while, it was just the three of us, but we’re expanding again as we find the right people. We brought Hydrax on about three months ago and we’re hoping that Asphalt will work out too, his heart seems to be in the right place. The All-Stars have a new direction now.”
“Didn’t you just last week complain about having to make some changes to your armor and change the paint job for Happy Fun Toys? And you just made that new exo-suit to wear under the armor too,” I pointed out in a teasing tone. I knew full well that the exo-suit wasn’t just to market another toy. It would keep her and her identity both safer if anything managed to seriously damage her armor again; I had been learning some things from her for when I borrowed her powers.
“Okay, sure, we still have the toy contract, and some new sponsors have come on board since we’ve started our comeback,” she admitted, “but it’s not about the money or fame. Those sponsorships and the royalties from the action figures and stuff contribute to our operating costs and help those of us who don’t have dozens of patents to make a full-time job of being real heroes. Like Asphalt, when he’s ready to join the team officially. Besides, I can’t wear my power armor everywhere, and the remote link to autopilot it to me via the HUD in the suit’s visor was a stroke of genius.”
I blushed since I was the one who had suggested that feature. Then I sighed as I remembered what had brought us to the topic in the first place. “Darcy, I can’t… pretend to be your niece.”
“You wouldn’t have to. She sustained major brain damage, so if she were to wake up suddenly, nobody would be surprised if she had memory issues. You just need to appear disoriented and confused and you’re going to have problems responding to her name at first, so that will help sell it,” my current guardian replied.
“No, Darcy, you know what I mean. She’s dead and I don’t think it’s healthy for you to have me around, let alone using your niece’s identity while doing it,” I countered as I looked away. Yeah, it could solve my identity problem, but I couldn’t put her through that.
Darcy looked me straight in the eyes. There was sadness there, and her voice quavered slightly, but she didn’t balk as she said, “She’s dead, Cat. I know that, and I need to bury her and be done with it. That will be my closure. Nevertheless, she has an identity that she won’t be using and you need one, and I know that she would want to help you as much as I do. She was a kind girl and she had big dreams. You can use her name but you’ll never take her place in my heart, you’re making your own there. You and Lily have grown on me, and I was thinking of taking you both in on a more permanent basis anyway. This would give me legal grounds to do it with you and give you a valid identity.”
As much as I liked Darcy and was starting to care for her too, I didn’t feel good about this idea. It was fine when we were talking about creating a new identity out of nothing, but this was different somehow. I already felt like I was putting Darcy and Lily in danger by staying here, and taking over somebody else’s life just felt… I wasn’t really sure how it felt since there were so many conflicting feelings running through me about it.
How could I just become someone else, somebody who had a life, even if she was no longer with us in any palpable way? Should I live the life I was planning for myself or try to follow one of her dreams? No, all of her dreams had died with her. If I did end up taking her name though, I would at least want to be someone she would be proud to have bearing her name.
Darcy seemed to realize that I needed to process this and she just sat there patiently across from me, gripping my hands in her own. It was something that she had warned me about when we had first come to live with her that finally decided me though. Even the best fake IDs aren’t bulletproof. There is always a chance that someone will run an in-depth background check on you, and then the jig is up. With an established person with a real history and the documentation, photos, and relationships to back it up, that wouldn’t happen, especially if Darcy was willing to pretend that I was the real deal.
“What do we have to do?” I asked, still uneasy about the idea.
“Don’t worry, I have a plan on how we can pull the switcheroo and convince the doctors that you have amnesia when you wake up. First, I’m going to need a nap, and then I’ll need to prepare some things if we want this to go smoothly. I should be ready to go by tonight though.”
I took a deep breath and nodded in acknowledgment as my stomach fluttered nervously. Trying to sound calm, I forced myself to swallow the lump that had lodged in my throat and say. “Okay, Darcy. I… ummm… I think I’ll try to keep myself busy while you’re napping.”
I said busy, but I meant distracted from what was to come. I was thrilled that I would finally be getting a new identity, but I still worried about how this plan might affect Darcy… and me. At least I wouldn’t have to call anyone Mom or Dad. I couldn’t make myself do that, my memories were all that I had left of my parents and I didn’t want anyone trying to take their place.
“I have a few bruises from being bumped around in my armor that you can heal if you want to borrow one of my powers,” my guardian said with a knowing smile and shaking me from my dismal thoughts.
“I… thanks, Darcy. That would be great.”
Three and a half hours later…
I came to my senses in Darcy’s lab with a gadget or devise sitting on the workbench in front of me. It was strange, I had never blacked out like this before when borrowing Darcy’s powers, and the last thing that I could remember clearly was healing her bruises and her heading off to bed. I had seen something in Darcy’s souvenir cabinet that had caught my attention, the shiny blue bauble that she had swiped during a fight with some rival thief who called himself Haunt.
I felt a bit guilty now that I could see that the marble-sized, translucent blue sphere was now attached to whatever it was that I had built in my dazed state. It looked like a metal staff of some sort, silver in color and maybe five and a half feet in length, with the blue sphere securely embedded at the center of that length. At one end was a star-shaped ornament that glowed in the same shade of ice blue as my hair. “Did I just make myself a Starlight Staff?” I wondered aloud as I just stared at it for a long moment.
I had no idea why I had put the sphere in there, but it didn’t look like I would be able to remove it without completely disassembling the staff. I decided to show it to Darcy later and apologize for using the sphere without asking. Maybe she could help me figure out what it could do if she didn’t tell me to take it apart.
The staff was resting in what looked like an induction charger that had been modified to act as a docking mechanism as well, to prevent it from rolling off. The light on the induction charger was currently green, so it probably had a full charge. Curious, I reached out to pick the staff up off the charger and it came free with a slight clicking sound.
It was heavy, but not quite as heavy as I would have expected for something its size. That could have been because of the whole Exemplar thing though since Darcy had been testing me and believed that I was now around Exemplar 3. I was quite a bit stronger and faster than a peak human and my reflexes were really good, but I wasn’t going to be throwing cars and shit around. Between that, my healing ability, and not knowing what powers I might mimic, my offensive options would be limited in a fight.
That was why I followed Darcy’s example and turned to technology. If I was going to do this magical girl fan girl with super powers shtick, then I would need a few tricks up my sleeve to deal with other mutants. Hell, I was probably going to need them anyway with my new look.
Until now, I hadn’t really built anything of note. I was working on a few gadgets with Darcy’s advice, but my actual knowledge of engineering and electronics was limited. My gadgets were fairly basic as a result, and up until now, all of my devises had exploded. I was going to guess that this was a devise since Darcy had mentioned sometimes ‘getting into the zone’ when working on one and then the next thing that she knew a completed devise was sitting in front of her.
The staff devise had six barely noticeable indents in the metal surrounding the blue sphere, and I was looking them over thoughtfully when my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and it was now almost lunch time. My plans to make breakfast for everyone hadn’t materialized due to the talk with Darcy and then being compelled to work on the staff. Figuring that I should probably eat something, I left Darcy’s lab to go to the kitchen with the staff in hand.
Lily was chilling in the living room and reading something on her new phone when I got upstairs. Her hair was getting pretty long, so I figured that she must have woken up and cut not long after I went down to the lab. As she noticed me, she pocketed her phone and followed me into the kitchen. “Finally, you’ve been down in the lab since I got up, Cat. You were completely zoned-out and didn’t hear a word I said when I found you there. So, is that what you were working on?”
“Yeah, I think it’s some kind of staff-type devise?” I replied uncertainly as I leaned the staff in question on the counter and started gathering some things from the fridge to make a sandwich. “I’m not sure what it does yet, but I might head back down to the lab to test it once I’ve eaten something. Hopefully, Darcy should be up soon, she said she was going to take a nap about four hours ago but she has some preparations to make so she can be ready for tonight.”
“What’s tonight, Sis?” Lily asked with a perplexed look on her face as if trying to recall if she had forgotten something important.
As I made myself a sandwich, I summed up what had happened with Darcy this morning, and her plan to swap me with the glowing girl. I told her that the glowing girl was actually Darcy’s niece and Goddaughter, Gwen, and how Bastion had attacked her and her parents as revenge against Darcy when he snapped. I finished making and eating my sandwich before I finished the explanation.
“I guess I should get used to calling you Gwen,” Lily said thoughtfully before reaching out and taking my hand in hers. “Look, Sis, I know that you probably don’t want to hear it, but maybe you should embrace this fresh start. I’d be a bit leery about taking over someone else’s life too, but if you’re going to be pretending to have amnesia then you really wouldn’t be doing that. Darcy has tried all the other options she had to do this without getting the government involved and she was thinking of keeping us around anyway, so this is your best option. Darcy wouldn’t have suggested it otherwise.”
She made valid points. There were ways to get a new identity through the government, but I trusted Darcy more. I also couldn’t be sure if one of the Vegas crime families might have informants somewhere at the government level. Yes, I was being a bit paranoid, but I would rather be paranoid, alive, and free than trust the wrong people and have Frankie Salvatore, or one of the other family heads, able to pay off some government stooge for my location. It was probably the first place they would be looking for me.
“I… yeah, I guess so. It’s just… I’m a little nervous about this and I’m worried that it might not be healthy for Darcy… or me,” I admitted.
“It’s a lot healthier than letting the people after you find you,” Lily pointed out candidly. “I think Darcy can handle it too. It’s been almost two and a half years since the thing with Bastion, and I think that she’s grieved for her family long enough. She’s known that the real Gwen isn’t coming back for a long time, she just couldn’t admit it to herself until that night you tried to heal Gwen and couldn’t.”
“You’re right, and the whole thing was Darcy’s idea. She feels bad that she couldn’t get any of her old contacts to help. I’d rather not think about all of it until it’s time to pull the switch though, it’s kinda why I was in the lab. So, how was your morning, Sis?”
“Quiet,” Lily replied with a shrug at my change of topic. “There’s not much I can do about the legal stuff until my lawyer gets back to me, but I talked to someone earlier who is willing and eager to buy all the hair I can sell them.”
I shook off my confusion enough to ask, “Sell? I thought that you’ve been donating it to one of those charities that make wigs for cancer patients.”
“Yeah, I was, but earlier this week they wanted to know where I was getting all of the hair that I was donating. It turns out they don’t want ‘mutant hair’ and kindly told me to fuck off and never contact them again. So I’ve been looking for other charities and stuff that might want it. I talked to a local agent for a new company called JustMe, and she buys various supplies, chemicals, and even hair for her boss,” Lily replied.
“I dunno, Lily, usually when something sounds too good to be true, it is,” I offered. It sounded a bit sketchy to me.
“I thought so too, at first,” she admitted, “but I’ve been researching them. “JustMe is a new start-up, but the company specializes in personalized help for people who need to cover up GSD, scars, prosthetics, and stuff so they can feel more like themselves. They do wigs, artificial skin, masks, and makeup products. I guess they do custom masks and prosthetics for movies, costumes, and pranks too, but their main focus is on helping people who just want to live a somewhat normal life.”
“Okay, if you’re sure about this, I’ll have your back no matter what,” I offered.
“I knew you would, Sis,” she replied as she stood up and came around the table to wrap me in a brief hug. “Seriously, I think this will work out and I’ll be helping people who need it and making a little spending money on the side. At least my lawyer is working pro bono until we can hit my parents where it hurts them most.”
“Their bank accounts, right?” I suggested.
“Got it in one,” Lily responded with a grim nod. “Now let’s go down to the lab so you can show me what that staff does.”
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles General Hospital Intensive Care Facility
Sunday, October 16th, 2016
I did my best to remain quiet and kept my breathing slow and steady as I waited in the darkness of my hiding place. Okay, it wasn’t that dark since my hair and other glowy bits provided plenty of light, but it was tight and uncomfortable on so many levels. The devise attached would muffle any noise on my part, in addition to its main purpose, but muffled wasn’t the same as silence.
A clear and feminine voice called out, “Miss Greene, you haven’t come by in a couple of weeks.”
“Unexpected business trip,” Darcy’s voice explained. “I took a cab here right from the airport. Has… there been any change…”
“Well, that does explain the suitcase,” the other woman laughed. Then her voice became more serious. “No, hon, we’ve been taking good care of Gwen, but…” She too trailed off, probably uncertain of how to finish that sentence.
“… but after this long, there isn’t much hope. It’s only the machines keeping her alive.” Darcy finished, obviously repeating something that she had been told countless times before. “I… was hoping that the Healer that Proteus brought in at the beginning of September might have changed things.”
“I don’t care what the press says, that Proteus is a saint. She and the other All-Stars have been doing everything they can to help Gwen. I know that you’ve been doing your best too, but if Healers, Proteus’s devises, and the new medical tech that you’ve been working on haven’t helped…” Another awkward pause permeated the conversation.
I had to admire how Darcy kept her life as Proteus and her civilian identity separate. Proteus was only known as a Devisor and she tried to limit herself to mostly devises as Proteus. Anything that could be reproduced by someone else, she patented as Darcy. If she did use something that wasn’t a devise as Proteus, she always made sure that she either retrieved it or ensured that not enough was left of it to determine what it was when she was finished with it.
“I… I’ve been thinking of pulling the plug lately,” Darcy admitted. The grief that I heard in her voice made me feel even more uncertain about this plan. “If she’s not better by the end of the year…”
“I’m sorry, hon. I’m not trying to influence your decision or anything. We’ll take care of Gwen for as long as you need us to, and the All-Stars are covering the medical bills so you don’t need to worry your pretty head over it. Go spend some time with her. Visiting hours end in ten minutes, but you stay as long as you need to. Who knows, maybe talking to her will help,” the woman who I assumed to be a nurse offered. I had to wonder whether she thought talking would help Gwen or Darcy though.
Motion resumed and several minutes later, I heard a door closing. One zipping sound later, the large suitcase was opened and Darcy helped me to awkwardly extract myself. It was a damn good thing that I was so flexible now, or I would have broken some bones in there. Thanks to the devise attached, the suitcase looked about half the size it actually was, so fitting inside had been merely uncomfortable rather than impossible, and it looked way too small from the outside to keep a body inside.
Darcy moved the suitcase closer to the bed and then extracted a small devise from her purse. Apparently, the devise would ensure that the nurses’ station would continue to get steady readings from the heartrate monitor and other equipment while we pulled the switch. She attached the devise where it needed to go and removed the covers from Gwen.
Beneath the covers, her niece was wearing a blue and black bodysuit that covered her from her neck to her toes. It was actually a devise that cleaned her body regularly and constantly stimulated her muscles so they wouldn’t atrophy. It also had certain medical monitors and stuff like a catheter built in and ready to connect to standard hospital equipment. I was wearing a copy of it and it felt really weird.
Darcy’s hand hovered haltingly, hesitating as she reached out to start disconnecting Gwen from the various machines. I put a hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Darcy… I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me, but we don’t need to do this. We can…”
She shook her head, a determined look on her face even as tears ran down her cheeks. “No. I need to let go of her. She’s dead; she has been for a long time now.” She began to remove the various tubes and monitor leads and finished with the IV and ventilator tubes. I was glad that she was going to be knocking me out before putting those in because I hated needles and being intubated would probably be very uncomfortable.
Once she was all disconnected, I paused a moment to look at my BIT twin as she breathed her last and say a silent thank you to her before gently picking her up to put her in the suitcase and close it. A feeling of dread settled over me as I realized that this girl was more than just someone I had seen in a hospital bed, she had a life once, a life that I was taking. I would have to try to make it a good one. I didn’t ask what Darcy planned on doing with the body, I didn’t want to know. That was between Darcy and her niece, but I was sure that she had something special in mind.
With that done, I took her place in the bed. “Okay, this is a special Devisor cocktail that I cooked up,” Darcy told me quietly as she brandished a syringe. “This is going to knock you out for at least eight hours and when you wake up, you’ll probably be disoriented and your memory may be fuzzy for a little while. It’s temporary though, so don’t worry. I expect that sometime tonight or in the early morning, I’ll get a call to tell me that Gwen has woken up or that there’s been a change in her condition.”
I looked away as she injected me, and holy crap that stuff hit hard and fast. I barely even felt the prick as she lined up a small hole in the arm of my bodysuit with a vein and inserted the needle for the IV a moment later. I was unconscious before she could do anything else.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles General Hospital Intensive Care Facility
Thursday, October 20th, 2016
Darcy had been right about the drug she had given me making me disoriented and my memory fuzzy. I couldn’t remember my own goddamn name when I woke up, and ‘disoriented’ was a massive understatement. It took like six hours after I woke up for me to completely shake off the effects and my concentration was shot the whole time. On the positive side, at least my memory loss and reactions were realistic when they woke me up and attempted to figure out what state I was in after what they believed was over two years in a coma.
Waking up with no memory was weird and came with good and bad aspects. The weight of guilt and loss that I had carried since I had left my mother behind outside Kingston Arizona, and since the deaths of Slider and Feast was gone for a time, and I didn’t realize just how heavy that mental weight had been until it all came back to me. It helped to put everything in perspective too, even more than the counseling had so far.
On the other hand, waking up with people telling me that my name was Gwendolyn Carter and that I had been through a traumatic experience was scary. Especially since I couldn’t remember anything, not even my memories as Penny Jones at first. There was an uncertainty that settled over me about who I was for that first couple of hours, and I wasn’t sure if I was more scared of the possibility that I would never remember anything, or that I would.
The hospital staff spent the past three days poking and prodding me while trying to figure out the cause of my miraculous recovery. It was probably a good thing that they were so focused on my physical and mental health that they didn’t think to take any blood tests until the next day. Darcy didn’t seem worried about the possibility of the drug being detectable by standard blood tests though, especially once I could concentrate well enough to use my healing power on myself to metabolize it faster, and actually remembered how to do that.
The working theory of the doctors was that I wasn’t brain dead, but rather in some more of mental hibernation from the brain damage as my body and brain both tried to heal toward my BIT. They even theorized that the Healer that Proteus had brought in might have jump-started the process with my brain but that it had taken time for it to do some healing naturally as well. I knew they were wrong, at least I did once I started to actually remember things and was only pretending to be amnesiac, but I figured that whatever helped them sleep at night wouldn’t bother me.
Apparently, I was in perfect health, something that they attributed again to my BIT, along with the bodysuit that had been keeping my muscles from atrophying. They very gently told me that I might never regain my memories though, that the brain damage that ‘I’ had when I was brought in meant that my brain had to rebuild itself from the ground up. They encouraged Darcy, who had barely left my side for the past three days since I woke up, that perhaps familiar faces and sights might help.
At the start, I just pretended to be confused for the most part, especially when asked questions or doing something for the ‘first time’ to keep up appearances, and they attributed my fast learning to exemplar mental abilities. I spent much of the time when I wasn’t being prodded by doctors with Darcy ‘teaching’ me things and talking to me. She kept to safe topics that would allow her to do most of the talking and would be believable if anyone happened to interrupt us. Mostly that consisted of telling me about herself, Gwen’s parents, and what Gwen was like growing up.
I wished I hadn’t agreed to this. Going through those motions and talking to me as if I was Gwen about those kinds of things while I sat in a hospital bed was hard on Darcy, I could see it in her eyes. She was far closer to Gwen and her mother than the aunt that I had been imagining too, just listening to her as she told me some of those stories was enough to break my heart, enough to make me wish that it could be the real Gwen waking up for her instead of me.
Darcy had been an unexpected child but was very close to her sister, Kiley, even though they were born nearly a decade apart. Kiley had practically raised her since their mother was a junkie and neither had known their fathers well, Kiley’s father had died when she was very young and Darcy’s had been a deadbeat who wanted nothing to do with her. So, when Kiley was old enough to get out of the L.A. slums and worked hard to make a good life for herself, she took Darcy with her.
Darcy never saw their mother again, but Kiley had told her that she had died of an overdose when Darcy was eleven. Kiley worked hard at a shitty job as a waitress to keep a roof over their heads, and that was where she met her future husband, Andrew, a recent college graduate who was trying to make the most of his business diploma by opening a gaming shop he called Critical Sh!t. It was a passion of his and he had barely enough capital to start it up.
Andrew knew from the start that Kiley and Darcy were a package deal, and he managed to win Darcy over by the time he became her brother-in-law. Darcy had been almost fifteen and had recently manifested when Gwen was born a year into the marriage. Gwen was like a baby sister to her, she doted on her and watched over her when Andrew and Kiley were working weekends at the store or needed some alone time together.
She didn’t go into her time as Proteus since there was too much chance of us being interrupted, but she did mention that her first few patents helped her to give Kiley and Andrew more financial security and start a college fund for Gwen. It had all been for them, and Bastion killed them to make her suffer. It was no wonder this was so hard for her, these wounds ran deep and me sitting here, looking like Gwen, and being called by her name was brutally tearing them open again.
Here she was, opening those wounds and sharing her past with me and I couldn’t even take the time to apologize for it since I couldn’t afford to drop the act. The plan was for me to be understandably confused and disoriented at first, but then start living for the present and future and exploring who I wanted to be now rather than dwelling on a past I couldn’t remember. It was meant to sell the whole perky, outgoing, feminine, and slightly naïve personality that I had decided to adopt to distance myself from my old life as Penny Jones.
With each story Darcy told though, with each personal detail she revealed, my heart tightened further. She had been through so much, even more than I had. She hadn’t been exaggerating on the night we met, when she told me that she had been where I was. She was making this sacrifice for me; she had taken Lily and me in and treated us like family. So I made myself two promises in that hospital room.
The first promise was an extension of the promise I had made to Lily, about never leaving my family behind again. Darcy was becoming family to me, just as Lily, Slider, Feast, and Asphalt had before her. Now I was even her niece and goddaughter on paper. I couldn’t be the real Gwen or the family she had lost, but Lily and I could try to be the family that she needed.
The second promise was that if I ever met Bastion, I would make him pay for what he had done to Darcy. He was on my list, right after the four Families in Vegas. Nobody was going to get away with hurting the people that I cared about. Never again.
The doctors were finally letting me go home with Darcy and she had brought me some clothes that would fit. Not from home, but rather from the stores and she guessed at my new size. I had outgrown most of the stuff at home and would need new stuff anyway, and the same would have been true for the real Gwen regardless if her home hadn’t been demolished by Bastion years ago. I had just finished dressing and reached out to hug Darcy before we left.
The physical contact took her by surprise. I had been trying to sort all of this out in my head and to avoid making things awkward for both of us since she had come back from filling out the paperwork to get me discharged. “What’s wrong… Gwen?” She hesitated, but it was the first time she had called me by that name when there wasn’t someone nearby. She had been trying to avoid names when we were alone, for both our sakes.
“Nothing… I just… thank you… Aunt Darcy.” The words caught in my throat for a moment and tears stung my eyes as I tried to push the words out. “Thank you… for everything. I know that I’m not the Gwen you helped to raise, but you’re family. That’s… important to me. You are important to me. I can’t be her, but I’ll try to be someone that you can be proud to call your niece.”
Darcy practically crushed me in a return hug, and considering that I’m an Exemplar and she’s not, that’s saying something. “I know you will. You and Lily are good kids, and as I said, you’ve grown on me. It’s going to take us both some time to adjust to this, but…” As luck would have it, that was when Darcy’s phone rang and she had to cut the tender moment short as she stepped back to look at her call display and frown. “It’s work, I should take this, it’s probably something important,” she said with a cautious look toward the open door.
Work meant that it was probably one of the other All-Stars calling. She stepped away and after a hushed conversation, with a lot more cursing than I’d come to expect from Darcy, she disconnected the call with a deeper frown on her face than when she had answered it. “What’s wrong?” I asked, suddenly very worried.
“That was Superstar. We can’t leave yet; we need to wait for the team to get here,” she replied in a quiet and carefully controlled tone as she tightly gripped her phone in anger. She took a deep breath and then stepped away to search through the contacts on her phone and make a call. After another hushed conversation, she disconnected the call and let out a frustrated sigh.
“Do I want to know why all of the All-Stars are coming here?” I asked uncertainly. “Well, except for Proteus, of course.”
“There’s a big crowd outside,” Darcy replied, looking pissed off enough that it made me take an involuntary step backward. Darcy stepped forward so that she was close enough to whisper, “Lily is going to pilot my Proteus armor remotely so it will look like the whole team is showing up. I’ve had her practicing the last couple of days whenever I was at home, in case Proteus needed to be seen somewhere while I was here with you. She’s not comfortable using the weapons systems yet, but it’s not like we’re expecting a fight, Superstar just wants the whole team here in a show of solidarity.”
I wondered what could be bad enough that Superstar wanted the entire team to show up at the hospital of all places. I was starting to get a little worried about Darcy’s reaction. “Some kind of protestors?” I guessed, my voice quavering slightly in uncertainty.
“Worse, the press,” Darcy spat bitterly as she clenched her fists tightly at her side. “Someone in the hospital leaked that you survived Bastion’s attack two years ago, manifested, and just woke up from a coma. Someone was paid a lot of money for this, there’s a picture of you in your hospital bed on the front page of the fucking Times. They published your fucking name, Gwen!”
“Oh… oh shit.” I was barely aware of Darcy catching me in her arms as my knees went weak. This was very, very bad. My unique features were already going to make me stand out without a proper disguise, but this? If my public identity was blown, I was never going to get a moment’s peace.
I was nervously sitting on the bed in my hospital room and Darcy had plopped down into the visitor’s chair after making sure that the curtains to the window were closed and anti-surveillance devises were active while we waited for the other members of the All-Stars. From what she had seen by reading the article in the Times on her phone, there wasn’t anything to hint that I might not be the real deal, and she wanted to keep it that way since we were already committed to this charade. She let me look at the article on her phone and a full-color picture of me in my hospital bed, glowing in the dark, accompanied it, along with a huge headline. Light in the Darkness: Girl believed braindead after Bastion's attack awakens from a 2-year coma.
The article rehashed the events of June 5th, 2014, when Bastion had dropped out of the sky with no warning, destroyed the home of Andrew and Kiley Carter, and killed them and their daughter Gwendolyn in cold blood. Then it went on to say that Gwen had been resuscitated, but was believed to be braindead and was being kept on life support until suddenly waking up three days ago. Everything was there in black and white; I had manifested in the attack, I had no memory, theories that I had survived and healed because I was an Exemplar, and I was now physically healthy enough to leave the hospital.
I got to the end of the article and sighed. “Dammit. They might as well have called me ‘The Girl Who Lived’ for all the attention this is gonna bring down on me. And how the hell is it fair that they mentioned me by name like six times, but their source gets to remain ‘unnamed for their privacy’?”
“This is why I hate dealing with the press,” Darcy agreed morosely. “If I find out who leaked this information…”
The door to my room opened, cutting off what Darcy had been about to say as a curvy blonde woman who was obviously an Exemplar stepped inside. She was drop-dead gorgeous and even though I knew she was in her late thirties, she didn’t look a day over twenty-five. She wore a form-fitting navy blue bodysuit, gloves, and boots, with white stars along her outer arms and legs and a white circle on her chest that contained a starburst in the center. Strangely, she wasn’t wearing a mask though. “The others should be here soon, how are you both holding up?” she asked as she entered the room and hugged Darcy.
I had never met Superstar in person before; she had been taking time off when Lily, Asphalt, and I had met Proteus and the others and had been mostly out of the picture for eight months by that point, taking some personal time, and had left Psi-napse in charge for a while. The gossip that the media had been throwing around was that she was on long-term injury leave after a rescue gone bad. Her real identity as Piper Blake had been exposed a couple of years before the Bastion incident, so if anyone would be able to sympathize with my situation, I figured it was probably her.
“As well as can be expected,” Darcy replied before giving the other woman a stern look. “You’re not supposed to be back on duty for another month, Piper, you should be with the baby.”
“I figured that you might need me for moral support when I saw that article, Darcy, so I’m coming back a bit early. Sarah is two months old now; she’ll be fine without me for a few hours, David will probably dote on her the entire time, and I’m recovered enough to return to light duty,” the statuesque blonde retorted. Then she released Darcy and turned to me with a sad smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Cat… or I guess I should be calling you Gwen now.”
My eyes went wide as I sputtered, “Wh… what?”
Superstar laughed and came over to hug me as well. “Darcy’s been keeping the team up to date on how you and Lily have been doing since she took you in. We’re friends, and we trust one another to cover each other’s backs in life-and-death situations; do you really think we don’t talk about our families? So, of course, she let us in on this plan of hers. It was something that the team needed to know about anyway. I wish we could have found another way, but it gives you a valid identity that can’t be connected to your old one and maybe Darcy can finally…”
“She’s been telling me that I need to let go of Gwen, and the guilt, for over a year now,” Darcy admitted while looking at her clasped hands in her lap.
“I… didn’t think any of you were that close… the media…” I began awkwardly.
“Reporters say whatever will get them attention and money and most don’t care who gets hurt in the process, just look at your current situation, Gwen. Trust me, I’ve been there. We all try to maintain a professional image when working, but we three core members of the team have become close friends since the shitstorm that brought us together, we’re practically family. It’s a nice change from the egos of the old team, and it looks like Hydrax and Asphalt are both going to be a good fit with us, they’re good kids.”
“I guess that I never really pictured you all hanging out, or having families,” I admitted.
“Well, most of us wear masks for a reason, but it can be hard for people to see past the masks and costumes, to there being a real person underneath. I have David, and now little Sarah. Darcy has had you and Lily recently, and Psi spends most of his time mentoring Hydrax and Asphalt now. He doesn’t have much family that he’s on good terms with and he’s not in a relationship, but we both know why that is, don’t we, Darcy?” Superstar said with a smile toward my ‘aunt’.
To my surprise, Darcy went bright red. “There’s nothing going on between us, Piper!” she protested, perhaps a bit too much.
Piper made a show of rolling her eyes. “Only because you’re both too scared to make a move. I swear, for a super genius and a mind-reader you’re both so thick sometimes. Darcy, I’m telling you this as your best friend, you need to…”
That was when there was another knock at the door, “Oh, thank God!” Darcy exclaimed as she went to open the door, revealing Hydrax and Asphalt in their costumes. The former’s costume had changed slightly since I had met him; the primarily aqua blue costume now had white gloves and boots with a pattern of white bubbles up his outer arms and legs. On his chest was a large white star with a blue water drop inside.
I guess it was a theme for all of the All-Stars to have a star somewhere on their costume because Asphalt’s new costume continued that theme too. He wore a grey bodysuit with black trim and boots over his onyx-hued PK shell, along with a black leather jacket that I later found out had a large silver star on the back. “We came as soon as we could,” Asphalt said as he came over to my bed and practically crushed me in a hug. “Everything okay, Cat?” he whispered.
“I’ve been better,” I admitted with a sigh as I tightly hugged him in return. “I guess it’s Gwen now though since there’s no backing out of this with my picture all over the news. Lily and I have missed you, Az, how do you like being a cape?”
“It’s good,” he replied as he released me and took a step back. “I feel like I’m doing something positive with my powers now. The team has been good to me, and it was nice of Darcy to make me something to help me turn off my PK shell when I want. I feel like I can breathe again, though they’ve been keeping me busy with training and the community service thing. I’ll try to make some time to visit you and Tre… Lily soon.”
Speaking of Lily, that was when the Proteus armor that she was remotely piloting showed up along with Psi-napse. The latter’s mask was still white, standing out starkly against his dark skin, but his costume was now mostly black with a wide strip of white down the center, black boots and gloves, a utility belt with a golden star on the buckle, and a black cape with a gold inner lining. Proteus’s armor had some new external weapon packs and a new paint job of cobalt blue with gold accents and a constellation of gold stars over the chest and shoulders.
“Phew, I got it there in one piece, Psi-napse kinda helped with that though,” Lily said once they were inside my now very crowded room, though it came out as Proteus’s distorted feminine voice.
“Thanks, Lily,” Darcy told her once the door was securely shut. “You shouldn’t need to do much except have the armor stick with the team and then you can set the autopilot for headquarters after.”
“Well, since Piper asked us to gather here, and she’s coming back to work early, I’ll let her do her job as team leader and tell everyone the game plan,” Psi-napse said, turning to the blonde Exemplar with a smile.
“Thanks, James, I really appreciate that,” she teased back before turning serious. “Okay, everyone, I know this is personal, but we keep on our usual media faces for this. I’ll take the lead and everyone else try to look supportive and professional out there. Asphalt, this is your first time meeting the media as one of us, but you’ll do fine. You and Lily just really need to stand there so we can show a united front on this. Gwen, you look nervous, that’s okay, it’s to be expected. This is ambush journalism and you don’t need to answer anything unless you want to. That’s why we’re here to have your back.”
It was almost noon when Darcy removed the anti-surveillance measures and we were ready to go face the outside world. Most of the things in my hospital room, such as the medical bodysuit I had been wearing, were already packed earlier this morning so we were ready to leave. I took a deep breath to get myself under control and get into character and then we left the room.
I was nervous and not looking forward to going outside to face a media circus as I walked with Aunt Darcy down the halls with the members of the Hollywood All-Stars forming a defensive perimeter around the pair of us. Superstar was taking the lead while Hydrax and Psi-napse were to our left and right respectively. Asphalt and Proteus had my back. Asphalt might be new to the hero thing, and sure it was Lily remotely piloting Proteus’s armor, but they were family and there was nobody else who I’d rather have watching my back.
As we stepped out the front doors, I had to shield my eyes against the sun and mentally grumbled about how I would really need to invest in some sunglasses. We had discovered while I was still changing that I had developed a sensitivity to sunlight, not that I had dared go outside much, and certainly not where anyone but Lily or Darcy could see. I sunburned easily and my eyes couldn’t handle it well, especially on bright sunny days with no cloud cover. Gwen had spent over two years comatose in a hospital though and wouldn’t be expected to know that about herself.
We barely got out the doors when the media tried to swarm us and Superstar took charge. “Miss Carter is still recovering and has a lot to adjust to. We would appreciate it if people would give her the space and privacy to do that. With that in mind, we have extended an invitation for her and her guardian to stay with us at our headquarters under protective custody, where they can remain secure and have whatever resources she may need.”
‘Invitation’ made it sound like we had a choice, not that I could blame Superstar for that. I blamed the media. Even with Aunt Darcy’s security system at home, with my new identity outed as a mutant, we were going to have problems if we remained there, and there was too much chance of Darcy’s identity of Proteus being exposed too. With that in mind, Superstar had suggested that we and Lily come stay at their headquarters, where we would be a lot safer and have some more privacy. They had plenty of space, and Aunt Darcy was the only member of the current team who wasn’t already living there anyway.
Someone tried shoving a microphone past Hydrax toward Aunt Darcy. “Ms. Greene, will you take this offer? How do you feel about the team responsible for your niece’s current situation and her parents’ deaths trying to make up for it now?”
Oh shit, Aunt Darcy looked pissed. “I have accepted their kind offer for my sake and Gwen’s. Let me make one thing perfectly clear; neither Gwen nor I, blame the current team of Hollywood All-Stars for her condition or the death of her parents. Bastion was the one responsible, and Superstar and Psi-napse helped Proteus, a former supervillain, to bring him to justice when their former teammates placed more value on their own reputations and abandoned them. They took responsibility and have been helping me with Gwen’s medical expenses and attempting to aid in her recovery since. They have supported me through the hardest time in my life, and I am grateful. Now, I just want to get on with my life and help Gwen do the same.”
“What do you have to say about this Miss Carter?!” another reporter shouted causing me to flinch.
“I… I don’t really remember anything, but… umm… I’ve been told that I died and I’m lucky to be alive. Nobody expected me to wake up. I just… want to put all of that behind me, try to figure out who I am, and embrace this second chance at life. My parents didn’t…” I trailed off, biting my lip and turning away from the microphone and cameras to let Aunt Darcy wrap me in her arms. At least I didn’t have to pretend to be nervous and upset, I was. This whole situation was freaking me out and I’d barely managed to say what we had planned.
“Gwen is still recovering, she’s not used to crowds, and she has a lot to get used to, please give her some space,” Aunt Darcy practically growled as cameras and microphones threatened to close in.
“Has she discovered any powers yet?! Will she be joining the All-Stars?!”
Superstar immediately took control again as she said, “Miss Carter has been awake for three days, if she had displayed any powers during that time, I’m certain that they would have already been leaked by the same unnamed source who has exposed her and made her life and recovery unnecessarily public and difficult. Should she wish to pursue a career as a hero, we would be happy to support her in preparing for that goal, but that will be her choice. Even if she does decide to join the All-Stars someday, we will not be adding a minor to our team roster, now or ever. We will not be answering any further questions at this time. Miss Carter’s privacy has been invaded enough already.”
The team rushed us toward the parking lot, covering us until we got to Aunt Darcy’s car, and then I collapsed into the passenger’s seat to let out a sigh. Aunt Darcy got inside and, without a word, put the car in gear. I couldn’t blame her since I was mentally drained from putting on a show for the past three days and then being ambushed by the press. “Do we really need to go to get me tested today?” I complained.
Aunt Darcy let out a long exasperated sigh. “Unfortunately, yes. With your identity made public now, it’s even more important that we get you tested right away and get you a MID. We can do that at the Anaheim office since it’s close to home and less likely for a media circus to be waiting there for us.”
It was a long and quiet drive back into Anaheim. I expected us to head straight to the MCO office or get something for lunch first since it was after one and neither of us had eaten since my early breakfast before being discharged. To my surprise though, Aunt Darcy took us to the cemetery.
I felt both awkward and depressed as we stood in front of the graves of Gwen’s parents. Bile churned in my stomach and there was a tightness in my chest as tears threatened to run down my cheeks. I hadn’t known Andrew or Kiley Carter but they and Gwen had been Darcy’s family and the grief I saw on her face as we stood there made me wish that it was the real Gwen standing here by her side and not some sick pretender.
Aunt Darcy spoke quietly to her deceased sister and brother-in-law and discretely pulled a container from her shoulder bag, spreading the real Gwen’s ashes over both graves once she was certain that nobody was watching us. A lump had lodged itself in my throat and tears were running freely now as I choked out, “I wish I could have saved you. Rest in peace.”
We had barely stepped out of the cemetery on the way back to Aunt Darcy’s car when the flashing of cameras and shouted questions began. Did they follow us, or were they just camping out at the spots where we would be likely to go? I wasn’t sure which option was more discomforting. Neither of us said a word as we made our way back to the car and drove off to our next stop.
That afternoon, the paparazzi dogged us everywhere that we went, snapping photos and shouting out questions. After the cemetery, when we stopped for lunch at a fast food place, they were there. When we emerged from my testing at the MCO office, they were there. When we went shopping at the mall for some essentials for me after that, they were there too. They were even there when, on the way home, we stopped to pick up a couple of pizzas for dinner.
Between the paparazzi, all of the people constantly staring, and having to keep up the recovering amnesiac act the whole time, I was getting really tired. I felt like I was constantly under a microscope and having to keep up the act like some sort of circus animal. As tiring as it was though, the past three days and then spending the whole afternoon after being released from the hospital under the eyes of the media were helping me to get into character. Even I was almost starting to believe it; I was even starting to think of Darcy as ‘Aunt Darcy’ in my head sometimes from calling her that since I awoke with no memory.
I was exhausted by the time we got home and found more people with cameras camped outside the house. I was glad once we were safe behind the security system. Not that it would be home for long since we would be moving into the All-Stars headquarters ASAP, though they hadn’t really mentioned the how or when of that.
At least I had a few sets of clothes that would fit properly now, and I no longer had to worry about being caught without a MID. My new MID was under the name Maiden Starlight, of course, and showed me as Healer 4, Exemplar 3, and Power Mimic 3. I had briefly considered hiding my healing power, but my mimic power needed it as a conduit to be used.
In addition, Aunt Darcy pointed out that with me being so high profile now, and under the protection of the All-Stars, only an idiot would try to make a grab for me. It wasn’t like anyone was going to connect me to my former identity anymore now either. Besides, it wouldn’t be too hard to get people thinking that the healing power had been subconsciously mimicked while I was still comatose and Proteus had brought in a Healer.
Lily already had all of the curtains closed for privacy and practically suffocated me in a hug once we were inside with the front door closed behind us. “I missed you, Sis. Are you doing okay? You look stressed, not that I can blame you, dealing with the press sucks.”
“Yeah, it was just an exhausting day, but I’ll be okay. I’m going to have to get used to it, I guess,” I replied with a half-hearted smile in an attempt to reassure her as I returned her embrace. “I’m kinda worried about the press coming down on you too though; it’s inevitable that they’ll see you with me and Aunt Darcy.”
Lily didn’t seem at all fazed, shrugging it off as she let me go. “If they do, then I can use the exposure to my advantage. My parents are using their lawyers to try to keep my case buried so they can get it quietly dismissed from court with the public none the wiser. They figure that as long as there’s no publicity or a face to put to the claims, they can keep it swept under the rug for as long as it takes, but if I can make my identity public too…”
“You’re going to make things a lot harder for them,” Aunt Darcy finished for her with a thoughtful expression as we headed to the kitchen to eat. “It might help take a little of the heat off of Gwen too. Are you sure that you’re ready to do that?”
Lily was quiet for a moment, a pensive expression on her face as she sat down at the kitchen table. Finally, a sigh escaped her, and she shrugged. “I need to do something, and the media is going to try to figure out who I am sooner or later if they keep hounding Ca… Gwen. I don’t care about notoriety or even the money, I just want to make my parents hurt as much as they’ve hurt me. I guess that doesn’t make me a very nice person, but…”
It was my turn to wrap Lily up in a hug, and then I took a seat beside her and gently squeezed her hand. “It makes you human, Sis. You never told me what they did, but I’ve seen you waking up from the nightmares.”
“They were… abusive,” she said hesitantly, her voice quivering. “Mentally, emotionally, and physically. Since I was in diapers, they pushed me harder than anyone should expect of a child. They wanted me to be perfect, but I was never perfect enough, there was always something for them to critique. If I gained weight I was fat, if I exercised too much it wasn’t ladylike, if every hair wasn’t in place in a photo then I was slovenly, and they would never let me live it down. And whenever I failed to meet their impossible expectations on something, I was punished.”
Lily’s expression darkened from whatever memories that talking about it had brought up, but she pushed onward, her hand trembling as she tightly gripped mine, and her eyes glossy with tears as she looked down at her lap. “Usually, they tried not to leave evidence, at least not where it could be seen in public. I manifested after my father lost it when I got only ninety-seven percent on an entrance exam for some fancy boarding school. If it hadn’t been for my regeneration kicking in… Anyway, I knew that no baseline healed that fast, and it wasn’t hard to figure out how they’d react to me being a mutant, given the H1! rallies they used to drag me to. So, I bolted.”
She hesitated and then shuddered as she spoke again, her voice tremulous and barely audible. “I… didn’t get very far. I was stupid and used my credit card to get money. One of my father’s lackeys tracked me down and brought me home and I was… punished. Healing up before my parents' eyes sealed my fate. They were too shocked to react and I ran again. This time, I was smarter and destroyed anything related to Lily Pond. I lived alone on the streets for a few weeks before I met Slider and the guys took me in.”
I knew it was bad from the nightmares Lily had, and some of the things she had said before, but I didn’t think that it was that extreme. Yeah, the Ponds were being added to the list. I wanted to help Tresse get some payback against her parents even more now and, from the look on Aunt Darcy’s face, she was considering it too as she took Lily’s other hand. “Lily, whatever you want to do about your parents, the All-Stars have your back. I’m glad that you’re trying to hurt them in legal ways, so if you think that intentionally exposing yourself will help your case, then we’ll support you. We need to eat and start packing our things though.”
Once Lily had calmed down, we made quick work of the pair of medium pizzas and then Aunt Darcy sent us to our rooms to pack up anything important to us. She would be coming back with a moving truck the next day to put most of the furniture and stuff in storage, but she wanted us to get all of our clothes and personal possessions packed and ready to go. She had bought a pair of luggage sets for me and Lily while we were at the mall and braved the press outside to collect them from the trunk of her car.
She warned us to hurry since we would be leaving later that night so we were just packing up the important stuff right now, stuff that couldn’t be replaced if someone decided to try to destroy the place while we were gone. While we were packing our things she was going to pack up her various trophies, personal items, gadgets, and devises as well.
I didn’t have much to pack since the few comfortable clothes I had were either on me or still in shopping bags. With that in mind, I threw those shopping bags in the largest of the suitcases, followed by some personal items like my birthday gifts from Tresse, Feast, Slider, and Asphalt and a picture of me and my parents, my real parents. Those keepsakes didn’t immediately bring me to tears like looking at them would have a month earlier, but there was still an ache in my heart as I thought of the people who had been taken from me.
The only other things that I had to pack away were some half-completed gadgets that I had been working on when borrowing Aunt Darcy’s powers, the laptop and phone that she had gotten for me, my Starlight Staff, and my old MID for Pulse. The latter I planned to burn as soon as possible, now that I had one for my new identity. I unplugged the docking/recharge station, added it to the suitcase, and then took the staff in hand, trying to remember which groove I would have to press to compress it into scepter mode so I could put it in the case as well.
Before preparing to sneak me into the hospital for the switch, Lily and I had discovered several of the Starlight Staff’s features. First, it had built-in security. The first time I activated it, the staff scanned my facial features, DNA, and biorhythms and if anyone other than me tried to use the staff, they would be in for a nasty shock, literally. That shock feature could be used offensively like a cattle prod too. It also had a spear mode and the scepter mode for different combat situations.
The final two features were the ones that I would rather not accidentally set off in the confines of my bedroom. We were guessing that the first one was some sort of anti-gravity flight mode that I had no idea how to control yet. The second projected hundreds of tiny holographic light particles that rapidly flashed in a way that probably would have temporarily blinded us if we hadn’t been careful, and did give us both a massive headache. I wasn’t ready to try using that again until I had something to shield my sensitive eyes.
Fortunately, I remembered the proper indentation, and with faint clicking and whirring sounds, the length of the staff compacted until it more closely resembled a baton with the glowing star-shaped ornament at the tip. Once it was placed with my other meager belongings, I closed the suitcase and took the other two from the set to help Lily pack anything that she couldn’t fit in hers.
The Greene Residence
Thursday, October 20th, 2016
Since we just had to throw Lily’s clothes and a few personal things into suitcases, it hadn’t taken long for us to do and we moved on to helping Aunt Darcy with packing up her trophy cabinet and clothes. Thankfully, she had some plastic storage totes in the lab for that and we were able to finish that while she carefully packed away her various gadgets and devises. It was around quarter to midnight when she finished packing things in her lab and came back up to her bedroom to join us.
“Except for my specialized household devises and gadgets, which can be moved as is, everything important is packed away. So let’s finish the rest of this up quickly,” she told us with a quick glance at her phone once she had our attention. “Our ride will be here any time now.”
“Our ride?” Lily asked with a raised eyebrow.
Aunt Darcy tried to reply casually, but I could see a faint smile touch her lips. “Well, we do have a lot of stuff here, and it’s not all going to fit in my car. Piper and James wanted to make sure that we get there safely too, so we decided to use the new team transport, the S.T.A.R Machine. I’ve been working on it since joining the All-Stars and we’ve been itching to unveil it since I finished it last month, but I wanted everyone to finish flight sim training on it first. Now is as good a time as any to show it off, with all of those newshounds camped outside.”
We redoubled our efforts, filling totes with the last of her clothes and then moving everything that we had packed to the living room, where Darcy already placed over a dozen large plastic totes containing various gadgets, devises, and other things from her lab. Only once we were done did I ask, “It’s close to midnight, do you think there are really people still out there? Shouldn’t they have given up by now, Aunt Darcy?”
“Some might have,” she replied with a shrug, “but you’re big news right now and I guarantee that there are still people outside waiting to try and get a piece of the action for themselves.” She paused as she turned to Lily and gave her a long and thoughtful look. “We can do this one of two ways once the S.T.A.R Machine arrives. We can avoid the press by moving our things out via the back door and in the privacy of the back yard, or the three of us can go out front, let them see Lily, and give them something to report about.”
A quick peek out the window confirmed that there was still a good-sized crowd of paparazzi outside and I quickly closed the curtains a bit before letting out a sigh. Lily watched me with a concerned look on her face before emitting a sigh of her own. “If it were just me, I’d say let’s give them something to talk about, but they’re going to be mostly focused on Ca… err… Gwen. They might not even notice me at first. She shouldn’t have to go out there and be treated like some kind of zoo exhibit for my sake if she’s not comfortable doing it. She needs time to get used to the attention.”
She was holding off, for my sake. I could feel the anxiety building up in my chest at the mere thought of facing the media again so soon, but I took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to squash that feeling. I was going to have to get used to this, now that my adopted identity had been leaked to the press. I couldn’t expect to hide behind Darcy and the other members of the All-Stars forever, and this would only be for a few minutes. If Lily succeeded then she would be able to take their attention off me for most of that time. “Let’s do it.”
A scant few minutes later, the doorbell rang and Darcy went to check the exterior cameras before opening the door to reveal Asphalt and Superstar standing there in costume. The latter gave us all a big smile and offered, “Good evening, ladies, if you’re all packed and ready to go then your chariot awaits.”
Darcy nodded, her reply careful, probably in case any of the newshounds outside had a parabolic mic or something. “Yes, we’ve got everything that we’ll need all packed and waiting, Superstar. Thank you to you and the other members of your team for inviting us to stay with you.”
“It’s our pleasure,” the other hero agreed. “We promised to support you and Gwen in any way that we could, and we appreciate you taking Lily in for us and trying to give her a normal life for a while. Anyway, let’s get the three of you safely inside the S.T.A.R Machine and I can tell all of you what to expect while the others come down to bring your belongings aboard.” I noticed that both of them were being very careful to keep what the media might hear while the door was open to the story they were feeding the public and to protect Darcy’s identity as Proteus.
We stepped outside and, while Asphalt guarded the door to the house, Superstar led us to a large ten-by-ten-foot metal rescue basket in our front yard. The cable extended upward a good hundred feet above us to an opening in the massive ship that hovered overhead. It was hard to make out details that high, especially so late at night, but I had very good night vision. It was a large armored craft that dominated the sky above the house, similar in length to a small 747.
It was nothing like a passenger plane in shape or appearance though. For one thing, the tube was a lot wider and the entire craft looked heavily armored. It also didn’t have fixed wings, instead bearing four massive VTOL turbines, two at the rear and another two at around two-thirds of the way toward the front. The result was that it looked like a star-shaped flying bunker.
We had barely gotten to the rescue basket when the half dozen desperate newshounds who were still around swarmed us, firing questions at all four of us that I had trouble following as they all tried to speak over one another. I partially hid between Superstar and Darcy, giving a vague statement that I was thankful to the All-Stars for everything that they were doing for me, and then, as Superstar helped me into the rescue basket, one of the media vultures asked, “Who is the other girl?”
Darcy jumped onto the question that she had been waiting for. “This is Lily, a mutant girl who the All-Stars found living on the streets and asked me to take in a couple of months ago.”
Lily’s posture suddenly became a lot more confident as she faced the cameras. “Hi, my name is Lily Daphne Pond, and reports of my death eight months ago haven’t just been exaggerated, but are entirely false. Mutant terrorists didn’t kill me, I manifested. I’m tired of hiding, and I want my life back.”
Despite the eruption of questions that caused, Darcy was quick to shut them down after Lily’s statement. “If you’ll excuse us, it’s been a very eventful day and we’re all a little tired.” They were still attempting to fire questions at us as we got into the rescue basket and were raised toward the S.T.A.R Machine.
As soon as we were onboard the massive aircraft, Darcy practically jumped into her Proteus armor to help Asphalt and Psi-napse bring our stuff up to the ship while Hydrax stayed at the pilot controls and Superstar showed Lily and me to the passenger area and got us strapped in. She also told us what we could expect at their headquarters. I had been expecting an office building or something, so I was a little surprised when she told us where we would be heading once all of our belongings were loaded and the S.T.A.R Machine was underway.
Their headquarters was a massive mansion in Hollywood Hills that had been given to the team a few years before the Bastion incident and had ten bedrooms, a dozen baths, a pool, a tennis court, and a lot of other luxuries that I had never thought I would be able to enjoy. With us moving in, all of the team members would now be living there, along with me, Lily, Superstar’s husband David, and their infant daughter, Sarah. We all had our own rooms, even our own bathrooms, and we would be welcome to take advantage of all of the amenities that All-Star Mansion had available.
The security system that Darcy had made for the mansion and its surrounding grounds put the one that she had at her modest home to shame. In addition to the twenty-foot tall security fence surrounding the grounds, there was a goddamn EM shield over the whole thing. Anyone living there and wanting to enter by the main gates or the few secret tunnels would have to be confirmed for entrance by retinal, fingerprint, and DNA scans in addition to the subcutaneous implant that we would get to identify us. The only one exempt was little Sarah, who would usually be with one of her parents, and the only other way in was to temporarily turn off the EM shield like we would be doing when the S.T.A.R Machine landed.
Soon the others had finished bringing up our stuff and the ship was underway. It was a surprisingly short flight and I struggled to hold back my curiosity about the ship we were on and the mansion that we were headed toward. “So, Star Machine? I guess that makes sense with you being the All-Stars and all,” I said as I looked around the passenger area and completely failed at that holding-back thing. This ship could have been a headquarters in and of itself.
“S.T.A.R is an acronym,” Aunt Darcy… err Proteus offered. “It stands for…”
Whatever she was about to say was cut off as Superstar offered, “Sudden Terrible Aggravated Rage.”
“You know that’s not what it stands for,” my armored ‘aunt’ countered, her electronically tinged voice sounding annoyed. She didn’t get to tell us what it did stand for though as the others all offered several other acronyms, each worse than the last, until we arrived at our destination. Even Asphalt teased her with a few, and he was the new guy. I wouldn’t learn until a month later that it actually stood for Special Tactical Armored Response Machine.
When we arrived at the mansion and the S.T.A.R Machine landed on its dedicated landing pad, the All-Stars led us into the humongous and opulent home, promising a proper tour the next day. Then the masks came off and we headed to the sitting room to let the members of the team get to know us, and vice versa. They didn’t all wear masks since Superstar had stopped wearing one when her real identity had been exposed and Asphalt didn’t need one with his PK shell, but the others removed theirs since they tried to keep things fairly relaxed when at home, almost like a big extended family.
The family part was kind of reinforced as we got to the room in question and were greeted by a man holding a fussing infant who Superstar introduced as her husband David and their two-month-old daughter, Sarah. He seemed nice, but Sarah was apparently hungry and was passed straight to her mother for feeding. It was kind of surreal, sitting in a huge mansion with a team of superheroes while one of them breastfed her infant daughter.
The awkwardness of that moment didn’t last long as Superstar turned to smile at me and Lily. “Okay, girls, family meeting time. I know you’re both really new to this and only really know Darcy’s real name at the moment, and maybe mine if you follow the news, but when we’re at home and not in costume, we’re like family. You’ll need to get used to calling everyone by their real names when we’re out of costume, and remember to use codenames when we are. So, let’s start with introductions. You’ve been introduced to Sarah and David, and I’m Piper when not in costume.”
Psi-napse looked far less serious and imposing without his mask on and gave a smile of his own as he offered, “I’m James.” His smile broadened but he seemed to get a bit self-conscious when Aunt Darcy sat down on the couch beside him, making me think that Piper might be right about the two of them being into one another.
Hydrax followed by introducing himself as Cameron. Without his mask, he looked to be in his early twenties with brown hair and eyes, a lot younger than I thought when I had seen him in costume. He was a bit of a beanpole and seemed like the quiet type, but he was still very friendly and welcoming.
Asphalt’s real name was Adam. It was a little weird learning their real names, especially Asphalt’s since Lily and I had known him long before meeting the All-Stars and never knew his real name until now, or seen him without his PK Shell other than briefly when the All-Stars first took him into custody the night that we had lost Slider and Feast. He was slightly taller than James was, not quite as muscular, and his skin was a bit lighter than James’s coffee hue, more of a dark cocoa.
Piper’s husband David was a tall man of mixed ancestry, though I thought there was probably a bit of Latino in there from his features and his dark hair and eyes. We learned that he wasn’t just living here because of his relationship with Piper. He had actually come as part of the deal that had granted them the mansion and worked for the team as their butler and chef, and he and Piper had just clicked when they met.
The pair hadn’t actually gotten married until last year, but it was a small and private ceremony and Piper hadn’t changed her last name legally to protect David’s identity since hers was long since exposed. Sarah had been born in the mansion with a midwife attending rather than a doctor to avoid just the sort of ambush at the hospital that I had experienced earlier today. The midwife was actually one of David’s cousins, and aside from having to register the birth legally; the team’s secrets were safe with her. David still did most of the cooking and oversaw the housework, aided by Darcy’s household gadgets and devises, and more recently, he had also started handling the team’s social media, press releases, and such as well.
We stayed up late talking and getting to know the team as they got to know me and Lily. They tried to make us feel welcome and safe and David produced some snacks and hot cocoa for everyone as we talked. After a very long and stressful day, it helped to ease some of my anxiety over my current situation. I was living with genuine superheroes now, and I knew that they would have my back no matter what came my way.
Los Angeles, California
Monday, October 31st, 2016
The last week and a half was crazy. Once we had gotten unpacked and could find our way around the mansion, I had a lot of shopping and other things to do. I had managed to add to my very sparse wardrobe and get a few personal items over several days, with Lily and Aunt Darcy accompanying me, and often one of the more visible All-Stars for protection. Every time that I left the mansion though, the paparazzi somehow managed to find me, it probably didn’t help that I stood out so much in a crowd. I didn’t dare leave the mansion by myself yet.
Lily didn’t have it quite as bad, at least, not when we weren’t together, but even she was being hounded by the press, and frankly, I was getting tired of seeing myself damn near every time that I looked at a newspaper or television. After Lily dropped her little bomb, the media wasn’t just hounding her, but her parents as well, and they were talking big about how she was a gold digger. The problem for them was that there was no footage of her corpse, no reliable witnesses to her death, no corpse, and no death certificate. Lily may have gotten a bit prettier since manifesting, due to being an Exemplar, but she still looked very much like her old self, and between that and their lack of proof that she wasn’t who she claimed to be, her story and her court case were starting to gain traction.
Another consequence of her outing herself was that we were both quickly reaching celebrity status, and in Hollywood, that’s saying something. We weren’t just featured in local news though, somehow my story and Lily’s had gotten legs and gone national, probably because it was such a scandal for Pond Technologies. So much for finding some quiet place where I’d never been heard of to live a quiet life.
The mansion’s phone was ringing off the hook with people requesting interviews with us. Even Hollywood Tonight with Dan Szilla wanted to book me, and I had finally agreed to an appearance on the show just to hold the wolves at bay by throwing the public a bone. Hollywood Tonight is a late-night talk show, obviously hosted by the comedian Dan Szilla, which was currently fighting tooth and nail with The Tonight Show for ratings.
It probably said something that they had asked for me to be on tonight’s episode. Sure, put the visible freak on the show on Halloween. I had been nervous as hell, but Dan seemed nice and tried to make me relaxed and comfortable before we started filming. The interview went fairly well too. Aunt Darcy thought that I played the part of the recovering amnesiac who was trying to embrace her second chance at life and thinking about becoming a hero very well.
I was getting very good at my fake-genuine smile and I made nervous little jokes with Dan and the other guests while admitting that I was a bit self-conscious about all of the attention that I had been getting since I woke up from my coma. I told him how kind the All-Stars had been since I woke up, how Aunt Darcy had never given up on me, some things that Aunt Darcy had told me about my ‘parents’, and how Lily was becoming like a sister to me. I also told him the codename on my MID since there was no use in hiding it, but I was deliberately vague about my powers, saying that I was still trying to get a handle on them.
I couldn’t believe it when he joked about ‘Maiden Starlight’ sounding like an anime character. I was so stunned about him having hit the nail on the head that my expression was totally believable when, like a good amnesiac, I asked what anime was. He explained it and with the help of audience members was able to suggest a few for me to watch, like Sailor Moon. And here I thought it was going to be hard explaining an amnesiac’s sudden interest in magical girls when I eventually started doing my thing.
I had just gotten home from filming the episode, which would air later tonight, and now I was mentally and physically exhausted. We had been delayed leaving the studio for over an hour due to the paparazzi, a group of Humanity First protestors, and another crowd that wanted my autograph. I really hoped that this whole celebrity thing would blow over soon.
I had barely made it through the McDonald’s drive-thru and eating my meal on the way home without collapsing into a trembling mess. This was the one night of the year when I could possibly blend in, but just then, I was too tired to try to take advantage of it. I was about to flop into my comfy queen-sized four-poster bed to relax and chill for a bit when I noticed something very strange, even for me.
My Starlight Staff was floating through the air, stopping to hover just shy of the bed when a beam of light shone from the star ornament on top, projecting a translucent image of a life-sized fox on the floor in front of me. The fox was mostly black but had a sort of nebula pattern in the fur with white pinpricks that resembled stars and the tip of its tail and belly were the same ice-blue shade as my hair. “What the…” I muttered in tired confusion, wondering if I was maybe hallucinating.
Then the fox spoke, with a slight lilting accent that I couldn’t be sure was Scottish or Irish. “I have been waiting for you, child. I am Caoimhe, and I have chosen you to fight the forces of evil that plague our world.”
“Kweeva?” I carefully repeated the name in wonder before suddenly shaking my head to clear it and narrowing my eyes in suspicion at the holographic fox. “Wait a minute, who are you and how the hell are you messing around with my staff?”
“I’m your… uhh… virtual magical girl companion? You… programmed me when you built the staff,” the fox replied.
The slight hesitation and thinly veiled uncertainty failed to convince me so I crossed my arms and glared at the projection. “I’m not as naïve as I pretend to be in public, so you get one more chance, and this time, it had better be the truth,” told the projection, putting all the steel that I could summon into my voice.
The image of the fox shifted, becoming that of a young woman who didn’t look much older than me with pale blue eyes that matched the sphere in the staff, long and bright red hair, fox-like ears atop her head, and a very bushy red fox tail tipped in white. She sighed and rolled her eyes expressively before replying, “Oi, fine! I’m a fox spirit, and you’ve managed to bind my pearl to this bloody creation of yours so I figure that we should work together, aye?”
“Huh?” I less than cleverly replied.
What followed was a very long explanation that I only barely managed to stay awake through. Caoimhe was a type of Celtic fox spirit, and the blue sphere that I had placed in my staff was what she called her pearl, a magical item tied to her that stored essence and served as a hallow that allowed her to maintain a connection here on the prime and to view, materialize in, and interact with our world. Not that she could do that much since she was still relatively young and fairly weak at a mere hundred years old and didn’t have much essence squirreled away.
When I had built the staff around her pearl though, she had noticed a slight increase in the amount of essence that her pearl was absorbing. More importantly, over the past couple of weeks, she had discovered that she could observe me through the staff with less effort than her pearl alone and had been learning how to control its functions, such as the holo-projector that she was using to make herself known and interact with me. For her, it was a way to interact with the world without sacrificing any of the essence stored in her Pearl.
Since the staff was completed, she had been watching me, and whoever was with me, whenever I had the staff nearby. She had heard me talking of my plans with Lily, watched while I was doing magical girl research, and listened whenever possible to get a feel for the type of person that I was. She apparently liked what she saw so tonight, she had decided to help me with the magical girl hero shtick.
Caoimhe was bored, seldom able to spare the essence to interact with our world, and she thought that the idea would be fun for both of us, not to mention terribly entertaining for her. I told her outright that I didn’t sign up to be some spirit’s reality TV show, but she said she would help me. She could control the staff and had been figuring out how to use all of its various functions, so I wouldn’t even need to be holding it for those functions to activate, and that could be good for a surprise in a tight situation. She could act as a second set of eyes as well, and if we were truly desperate, she had a few tricks of her own as a fox spirit.
I wasn’t sure. She probably hadn’t told me everything, but she had volunteered far more information than I would have expected. What little I had heard about fox spirits painted them as tricksters, but except for her original and somewhat clumsy attempt to trick me, she seemed genuine, lonely, and a little desperate for interaction. While she did say that watching me would be entertaining, I got a distinct feeling that she was also the type to keep her word when it was given, and she had promised to help me and keep me safe to the best of her abilities if I let her be my partner-of-sorts.
To be honest, I think she was far more enamored with the idea of me being a magical girl type hero than I was. Once I finally, and reluctantly, agreed to her offer, at least on a trial basis, she was talking about how we could sell the whole image based on the research I had done by watching some of the more popular shows in the magical girl genre while she had been watching me. She was talking about things that I had barely given a passing thought to, like my future costume, poses, what to call certain attacks, catchphrases, and even magical transformation sequences.
I had to splash her with the cold water of reality with some of those elements, especially the last one since I had no idea how to pull it off. I also doubted that the criminals would kindly grant me the time to go through a whole transformation sequence without just attacking me or running off. Still, she was very enthusiastic and it was a couple of hours before I was finally forced to call a stop to the discussion.
For one thing, constant and continual use of the staff’s holo-matrix was quickly draining the power. We would need to either keep our future conversations short when not near the charger, or I would have to hope I could get into the zone to make some upgrades to the staff’s power supply or add some other means of communication with the fox spirit. I also didn’t want her to show herself in public unless it was important.
While I would probably end up telling Lily, Aunt Darcy, and the members of the All-Stars about the Spirit of the Starlight Staff, I still wasn’t sure if this partnership would be long-term or not. I needed to know whether I could really trust her, and she wanted to learn more about my plans and master the staff’s more difficult functions so there wouldn’t be any mistakes on her part. Besides, she was an ace up my sleeve that I didn’t want to publicly reveal unless necessary.
The other reason that I was ending the discussion for the night was that it had been a long day and I was very tired. I stifled a yawn and looked at the projection of the fox-girl tiredly. “Look, Caoimhe, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I think that we both need to rest and recharge. First, I need to know something. Why are you willing to go along with this? Why are you encouraging it? What’s in it for you?” I didn’t want to sound like I was accusing her of anything, but I felt that I needed to put all of my cards on the table.
“Honestly?” she asked, seeming a bit self-conscious.
“Honestly,” I repeated with a look that was a bit sterner than I had intended.
“Well, there are three reasons, I guess,” she admitted, the projection of the fox-girl squirming slightly. “First, it sounds exciting and interesting, and I’ll be able to see more of the world than whatever room you store my pearl in. Second, you’re in possession of my pearl, and it’s commonly known that a fox spirit must serve the one who possesses their pearl. I mean, I could always create a new one, but that would take a lot of essence, and I don’t really want to. Third, you are very striking, and from what I have seen while watching you over the past few weeks, you are a very interesting person. I think that if we get along you might make a good…”
Caoimhe’s cheeks appeared to redden as she quietly mumbled the end of the sentence, which sounded like it might be a Celtic word, but nothing that I recognized. I wondered if the body language was something she was consciously adding to the projection to toy with me or if she was even aware that she was doing these things. I sensed some double talk in there, especially when she mentioned the pearl, but nothing that seemed dangerous. That last mumbled term as she stared at the floor left me uncertain though, so I pressed, “A good what, Caoimhe?”
“A good… umm… companion!” she suddenly blurted out after some hemming and hawing, nervousness giving way to another blush. “Yes, you would make a good companion, which is why I think we would make good… partners.”
I suspected that it was another partial truth, but more like it was something private than dangerous. At the moment I was just too damn tired to think too deeply about it though. It was also making me believe that her use of the projection was mostly instinctive, possibly a projection of her real self, and that she wasn’t able to consciously control the tone and body language any more than she could have in person. I decided to take her word for it, for now at least.
“We should get some sleep then,” I finally announced. The fox spirit reluctantly agreed, and once the staff returned to its charging dock I changed into my nightshirt and climbed into bed. There was this brief moment of uncertainty and embarrassment before I shrugged it off.
She had been watching me since I built the staff, so it wasn’t like it wasn’t something she hadn’t seen before. We were both girls here anyway, right? I mean, sure, that fox-girl projection was really cute, and if she were flesh and blood I would probably be interested, but she was essentially a ghost as far as I knew, so it wasn’t like anything could or would happen there. I shook off those thoughts as I got cozy under the covers and it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.
The next morning at breakfast, I told everyone about the fox spirit, and what little I had learned. I felt it best to have that conversation without the staff present so that the others could try to wrap their heads around the idea without Caoimhe around to potentially complicate things. Lily was intrigued and Aunt Darcy was wondering just how in hell I had managed to create a devise that was able to allow the spirit to control it, and if it could be repeated. She was fairly certain that the nature of the pearl had something to do with it, but she didn’t even have a theory of how the interaction was possible, but then, such is the nature of devises.
Completely aside from that though, Darcy and the other members of the All-Stars all felt that I should be cautious until I was certain that I could trust Caoimhe. Unfortunately, they knew as little about spirits as I did, so they wanted to meet her to try to get a read on her. At their request, I retrieved the staff and made the introductions.
For her part, Caoimhe seemed eager to meet and interact with my new sort-of-family and patiently answered many of the same questions that I had asked her the night before, along with a few others that I hadn’t thought to ask. The general consensus was that she didn’t seem dangerous, in fact, she seemed very much like a somewhat spastic and socially awkward teen girl who wasn’t used to interacting with others much. It was kind of endearing actually.
The result was that the team had decided to be cautiously optimistic with her, with a little emphasis on the cautious part. If she was going to stay with me then she would have to follow certain rules, just like Lily and I had to. Some of those rules would be unique to her though, since her needs and situation were quite a bit different. It all seemed fair enough to me and it didn’t seem to bother her any since she seemed to want to stick by my side as much as possible.
That somehow segued into another important topic though. While Caoimhe tried to master the staff and its functions Lily and I would be doing some training as well, some of which would focus on me using the Starlight Staff. With our newfound celebrity status, the All-Stars thought it prudent that Lily and I both learn to properly defend ourselves. Since I had the staff, and was planning on being a cape someday, I would have to learn to fight not only unarmed but with each of the staff’s various forms as well.
While each of the all-stars would be able to help us with learning some basic self-defense and hand-to-hand combat, I would likely be on my own learning to use weapons since Aunt Darcy was the only one who used any, and hers were built into her armor, mostly long-range, and something that she herself had designed. Still, I wasn’t going to turn down a bit of training and, with my staff in hand, Lily and I eagerly followed the team to their training room.
Los Angeles, California
Friday, December 2nd, 2016
I observed my opponent carefully before quickly jumping in on the attack. “Pthththtbt!” I scored a raspberry on her bare tummy, causing her to giggle. I think it was a giggle anyway, for all I knew she could have had gas. She counterattacked by grabbing a tiny fistful of my glowing hair. Sarah seemed fascinated by it every time that I was close and always seemed to make a grab for it, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise.
I hammed it up. “Okay, you win, Sarah! I surrender! You’re just too strong for me! Oh, woe is me, I am at your mercy… or not.” I leaned in for another raspberry, causing another giggle, and her hold on my hair was relinquished. I quickly got her little onesie back on and properly disposed of the cloth diaper and cleaning cloth in the sonic cleanser and then got back to the very serious business of playing with the baby.
With the team having to go out on a public appearance, David out grocery shopping, and Lily off at a planning session with her lawyer, I had volunteered to take time out of my busy schedule to babysit Sarah for a bit. I didn’t mind much since she was adorable and watching over her and playing with her gave me something to do. It wasn’t like I really went out much anyway since every time I did I inevitably found myself with a trail of paparazzi following me.
Most of my free time for the past month had been spent doing my schoolwork, occasionally swimming in the pool, hanging out with Lily, getting to know Caoimhe, and hanging out with her sometimes as well. When I wasn’t doing any of that, the All-Stars were teaching me to fight or I was in the lab, creating some gear and occasionally getting into the zone to make a new devise or give the staff some upgrades. It had a sword mode now too, a more efficient power source, and I had created a bracelet that would let me send an emergency signal to the staff from anywhere in the city as well so that Caoimhe could find me if I needed her.
It was around twenty minutes later that David returned from his shopping excursion, and by that time, Sarah was settling down for a nap. “Thanks for watching her, Gwen,” David offered with a smile as he looked down at her drifting off in the playpen.
“My pleasure, David,” I replied with one last look at the little cutie as well. “I’m gonna head up to my room to change and then I’m going out to field test a few things. If the others ask, I’ll be back before ten. I’ll call if I’m gonna be late or if I’ll need a ride.” Ten o’clock was the curfew that the team had given Lily and me when we had gone over the rules.
“Sure thing, Gwen, I’ll let your aunt know so she won’t worry too much,” he responded with a laugh as I headed toward my room. Aunt Darcy had been becoming even more of a parent figure for me and Lily since we had moved into the mansion and how much she fretted for us when she wasn’t around to protect us was fast becoming a running joke for All-Stars.
I sighed at the thought and told myself that she wasn’t taking my parents’ place, she was an aunt that I cared for a lot, who cared about me and Lily, and who just happened to be my legal guardian. I still missed Mom and Dad and, while the nightmares didn’t surface quite as often now, the memory of their sacrifices for me was a constant reminder of my goals. I needed to be able to protect myself and make the Vegas crime families pay for what they had done to my parents, other innocents, and me in their quest for power.
For that, I needed power of my own. I had one last power slot that I could use to copy a power permanently, and I wanted it to be the right power. As much as I copied Aunt Darcy’s powers, I could have just made one of them permanent, but Devisors and Gadgeteers were a fairly common power expression and, at the moment, I could copy them whenever I wanted. Unfortunately, none of the other All-Stars seemed to have the right power to fit what I wanted either.
Piper only had her Exemplar trait, stronger than mine, but I couldn’t copy a power that I already possessed. James’ psychic powers just gave me a massive headache and were hard to control despite his attempts to help me learn. Cameron’s water manifesting and hydrokinesis worked best hand-in-hand and the results when I could only randomly copy one of them were less than stellar. Adam’s powers were cool, but the PK shell just felt wrong somehow, like it was pressing in all the wrong places, and the one time that I had copied his laser eyes had been a near disaster.
I wanted something that could go well with my whole Maiden Starlight image, preferably a long-range attack. I figured that once I had picked a power for that last permanent slot, I could probably fill in my weak spots with good old technology like Aunt Darcy does. First, I needed a power for that slot though, and it had become apparent that I wasn’t going to find it here at the mansion.
That was why I was going out. I sighed again as I entered my bedroom, where the staff was docked and ready to go. I had discussed the plan with Caoimhe earlier today and she had agreed to keep the Starlight Staff charging so it would be topped up for when I was ready to go. I headed straight for the closet as I shed my casual black leggings and white poet’s blouse and then opened the door, revealing the costume that I would wear as Maiden Starlight.
At my request, Piper had taken me to the team costume designer a few weeks ago; I guess they needed one as often as they changed costumes for their toy company contract. The resulting costume had been delivered yesterday and was made of kevra, which would offer me some decent protection from small arms fire, at least where it covered me. I had to admit that it really suited the whole magical girl image that I was going for too.
The form-fitting navy blue dress had a very poofy skirt that covered me to mid-thigh, and a low neckline with a large silver bow with a pink gem at the center that seemed to draw more attention to my cleavage than hide it. It had slightly poofy shoulders with silver accents but no real sleeves to speak of. Blush pink laces crisscrossed down my midsection beneath the chest, giving the appearance of a corset meant to cinch my already slim waist. Silver stars were scattered all over the skirt and at the rear, a bow similar to the one on the chest, but slightly larger, was positioned just above the butt.
Paired with it would be a pair of silver elbow-length gloves with navy trim and a pair of knee-high navy combat boots with blush pink laces, which would be worn over silver thigh-high stockings. I planned to wear my long and glowing ice-blue hair in a pair of side pigtails and the star earrings that I had gotten from Slider to complete the outfit. It was girly, a bit too sexy, and something that I would have never worn as Penny. Good thing I was Gwen now, I guess. There was also a pair of goggles, but I had made those myself.
The goggles were simple with silver-colored metal plating, meant to keep my sensitive eyes safe from bright sunlight during the day. The round lenses had been treated with a special chemical that Aunt Darcy said would protect me from most bright light and were tinted dark blue around a clear star shape in the center. If I wore them at night, the star shapes would glow with the turquoise light from my eyes. I could also change vision modes on them to night vision, infrared, or various degrees of magnification via a button on the right side.
Unfortunately, that was not the costume that I would be wearing tonight. Instead, I reached for a simple and modest gray ankle-length hooded robe and similarly simple gray gloves and shoes. The robe was covered by a patchwork of roughly done stitches that were meant to be obvious, honestly.
Before putting any of that on though, I put on the mask. It was basically a sack made of a thick gray material that would block out the glow from my hair and freckles with a pair of dark lenses that would do the same covering the eyes. There was a small hole for my mouth so I could breathe, eat, drink, and talk easily, with what looked like a poorly stitched creepy smile around it and mostly covering the lower half of the mask. I carefully pulled it over my head and once I had it properly in place and all of my hair stuffed inside, I secured it firmly in place with a black leather choker.
Once I had placed the hooded robe over top and put on the gloves and shoes, I looked in the mirror. I was creepy, but nobody was going to mistake me for Gwen Carter. The mask did its job and the robe obscured my figure. I still looked like a possible Exemplar but there were no distinctive features to give me away. I grabbed a large gray leather shoulder bag that had some money in it, and little else except for a change of clothes and a burner phone, then took my staff in hand and opened my bedroom window to make for one of the secret exits/entrances.
I was glad that Caoimhe and I had practiced using the staff’s flight mode a few times already or I would have been terrified as I clung to the staff and we zipped through the sky toward my destination. Roughly twenty minutes later we hovered above an alley, ensuring that the coast was clear before dropping down beside the graffiti-covered steel door. I shrunk the staff to scepter mode with a whispered apology to the fox spirit inside and placed it in my shoulder bag, obscuring it among the change of clothes. Then I took a deep breath before stepping inside The Drunken Valkyrie as Caoimhe’s lilting voice whispered, “Be careful,” in my earpiece.
I attempted to get into character as I approached the bar where a familiar and large blonde woman was mixing drinks. I didn’t want to be too much like Penny or my new Gwen persona so I had decided on something that would hopefully fit right in at a villain bar; quiet, creepy, and mercenary. I stepped up to the bar and Valkyrie nodded toward me, “I haven’t seen you around here before, I’m Valkyrie and this is my place. What can I get you?”
“Call me Stitchessss,” I replied in a lispy half-whisper. “I’ll have a Pepsssi, if you have it… I don’t drink while I’m working, and I’m here to offer my servicesss.” My heart was beating a mile a minute and I was trembling under my costume, but I firmly told myself that I could do this. I had to do this.
The large barkeep raised an eyebrow but filled a glass as she asked, “Services?”
“Yesss, I’m here to offer my servicesss as a healer to your patronsss, for a price.” I practically hissed the final word before taking the drink and depositing a bill on the bar to pay.
If I was going to find a power that would work for me permanently then I would need to try out a variety of them, and where better to heal people with powers than a villain bar? And there was no way they were going to trust a very recognizable mutant teenager who was well known to live with a bunch of capes. I was hoping that I would have more luck as Stitches. I wouldn’t get caught up in anything illegal, just heal the occasional person and make some money doing it, at least, that was the plan.
Los Angeles, California
Friday, December 2nd, 2016
Vera Webster watched room 109 of the Notel Motel from her perch atop an office building two blocks away, her eyes scanning the motel and surrounding area for not only her contact but possible threats as well. She saw nothing that wasn’t immediately dismissed until the door to the room in question opened and a man dressed in a dark hoodie and jeans stepped outside and lit a cigarette, which he didn’t bother to smoke.
It was the agreed signal. She knew very well that he wasn’t a smoker, and that that was not his usual manner of dress. He was trying to blend in, and doing a poor job of it. His posture and body language were all wrong and he was visibly nervous in this part of town. The cigarette shook in his hand.
She knew all about Vincent Lansbury, she had been following and watching him since his clumsy attempt to reach out and request her services. He was a middleman for Humanity First who had fleeced his friends into thinking that he was tougher than he was. He did have some history, but not as much as he claimed, just enough to know where to look for people offering services like her own and to know to read between the lines.
Vera wasn’t impressed. He hadn’t even realized that he was being watched for the past three days. He lived a boring life and the only real interesting moment was when he met Arthur Pond, the CEO of Pond Technologies, for lunch at an outdoor café and had a painfully obvious conversation about Pond’s need to hire an exterminator. Pond arrived with a briefcase but Lansbury had left with it.
She let him stew for a few minutes before dropping off the side of the building and into the alley, landing on the concrete hard enough to crack it. It didn’t damage her though, all systems were still working at one hundred percent. Project Damocles had rebuilt her to survive far more than a little three-story drop after all. They had rebuilt her to kill mutants.
She had her employer, Mr. Steele, to thank for that. He was an investor in the project and without his offer, she would still be partially paralyzed in that hospital bed with no memory and no idea who she was. He told her that she was one of his people and that he took good care of his people. All he asked was one small favor, to hunt down the mutant freak that had left her for dead and bring her back to him, alive. She had escaped from some of his rivals in Vegas, and he wanted her.
All that he had done for Vera was well worth the price of something that she planned on doing herself. She would have preferred to kill the bitch, but if Mr. Steele wanted her alive, then he’d get her alive. Maybe not in one piece, but alive. So as soon as her modifications and training were complete, Vera was sent to Los Angeles, where the girl was believed to be hiding. She was free to take on side contracts while searching for the girl though, which was why she was now approaching that dingy little motel.
This would be her first contract since her modifications were complete. She wasn’t worried, Mr. Steele had told her that it wouldn’t be the first time that she had killed a mutant, and if she had any problems then her combat programming would take over once she found the target. She walked up to the man, still standing in the doorway with the cigarette hanging limply from his hand, and asked, “Do you have an umbrella?”
Lansbury was shaking in his boots and stared at her for a long moment before stammering a reply. “W-w-what would you n-need an umbrella for? This isn’t Seattle.”
“I’m expecting a storm,” was Vera’s calm, almost emotionless reply.
Lansbury practically folded in on himself, bracing himself against the doorframe for a moment and shaking before finally collecting himself and leading the way into the motel room. He really wasn’t very good at this. Only once they were both inside with the door shut behind them did he reach under the room’s double bed and extract the briefcase that he had gotten from Pond two days ago. “H-here it is. One h-hundred grand now, and another hundred when the mutie is dead.”
He placed the briefcase on the bed and Vera opened it to count the money and look over the photo that had been included. She was a pretty girl, possibly an Exemplar. Vera had seen her before on television, a self-proclaimed mutant with unknown powers except for rapid hair growth who was currently making Arthur Pond’s life miserable. His daughter. “Lily Pond,” she muttered. “You didn’t tell me that the target lives with superheroes.”
“You s-said that you hunt and kill mutants. If you can’t kill the freak…”
Whatever feeble threat Lansbury was about to make was cut short as Vera’s metallic arm shot out with blinding speed and she lifted him casually into the air, her grip choking his words away. “Her living with capes complicates things; I’ll need to wait for an opportunity. Don’t get your panties in a bunch; she’ll be dead by the end of the month.”