Morpheus’s Legacy Universe – Part 1
The Miracle Legacy
There was a faint humming that filled the air from the small room's air conditioning, as well as the many whispers. I frowned, stretching in my chair and glancing around me impatiently. There were 9 other people in the room, waiting just as I was and all of them seemed to be college students too.
I yawned, glancing at my watch and wondering when the show was going to start. Or more specifically, when it was going to be over so that I could collect my money. It wasn't cheap going to college, especially when you didn't have anyone to help you. There was no way that I could turn down the Ten thousand that they were offering.
I'd been bouncing around foster homes since I was 13 and you didn't really build a lot of financial resources that way. In fact, I'd frequently had to work almost all of my free time since I'd started college the year before earning more money for my continuing education. But it was never easy. That was why I'd jumped at this chance for some quick cash.
All I had to do was volunteer for some experiment with vitamin enhancements or some other such when they offered it to me. At the time, I'd thought that it was a little strange that they'd come to me...but I needed the money so wasn't going to ask too many questions. To my surprise, as soon as I'd filled out the paperwork and signed the nondisclosure agreement, they'd sent my by plane out to this building in California, giving me the most thorough physical that I'd ever had before sending me to this room filled with other people who seemed to be in the same situation.
After yawning again, I looked over at the girl sitting in the chair next to me. She was rather cute, with short black hair that had a white lock which dangled from her forehead. However, with the somewhat dark makeup and the ring in her nose...not to mention her dark clothes, I guessed her to be a goth...not exactly my type.
The girl noticed me looking at her and gave me a dirty glare. "Whatcha looking at perv?"
I shrugged, muttering, "Not much." as I turned away.
However, just then the door to the room opened and a man in a gray suit entered. He had dark brown hair, speckled with gray, and he wasted no time in going to the podium in front and staring at us.
"Hello." he said simply, "My name is McKenzie." He left it at that, not bothering to give any more detail. "And I suppose you are all wondering exactly what you are doing here?"
"That's an understatement." I muttered, earning a few dirty looks from those around me.
McKenzie slowly looked around the room, saying, "All ten of you have three things in common. You have all volunteered for Project Miracle, you are all college students of approximately the same age, and..." he paused dramatically, "None of you have close family connections."
I frowned, wondering why that sounded so ominous. "Great." I muttered to myself sarcastically.
"Do not take this the wrong way though." McKenzie continued. "This experiment does have potential dangers, but we believe that they are very minimal. We just do not wish to complicate matters with family involvement...just in case."
"Excuse me...sir...?" A rather gangly boy with glasses asked, "But what is this Project Miracle?"
McKenzie smiled at that, making me guess that he'd actually been waiting for someone to ask that question. "Remember..." McKenzie said in a serious tone, "you have all signed nondisclosure agreements. You are not allowed to repeat to ANYONE what I am going to tell you."
My stomach churned slightly at that but my curiosity level nearly jumped through the roof. "So what is it?" I asked aloud, "Did you catch a UFO with Elvis in it?" I asked sarcastically, "That would certainly be a miracle."
Several of the other volunteers chuckled while the others gave me dirty looks. McKenzie just glared at me for a moment before he stated, "I believe you are all familiar with her." And with that, McKenzie pushed a button on the podium and a picture appeared on the video screen behind him.
There was a picture of a woman on the screen, with long blonde hair and an unbelievable build. Tall, athletic and voluptuous at the same time. The kind of body that women envied and men drooled over. However, the most noticeable feature was the fact that she was wearing a red and gold spandex costume. I instantly recognized her, as did everyone else in the room.
"Ms. Miracle." I whispered. She was one of the most famous super-heroes ever...even though she had been killed 6 years earlier by some crazed super-villain called Baron Nevermore.
"As you are all aware..." McKenzie announced, "Ms. Miracle was killed in action 6 years ago.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “What you are not aware of is that our organization had acquired her body shortly afterwards to study the cause of her powers. In part, we failed.”
There was a whispering around the room at McKenzie’s announcement, but for once I was quiet, wondering what the point of this was. “However,” McKenzie continued after the room had quieted down, "our scientists were able to derive a serum from her blood. A serum which might potentially give enhanced abilities....super powers if you will, to some people."
I gulped, "He's got to be shitting."
"I assure you," McKenzie said calmly, "this is no hoax. But it has been determined that this serum is most likely to work on those between 16 and 20 years of age...which is why you are here." We were all staring at him silently in disbelief.
After giving us a minute to digest this, McKenzie said, this time with more emotion, "The world is becoming a dangerous place and there are many individuals with these powers against others...and they are slowly growing more numerous. The super-heroes are struggling to keep up...so we are attempting create our own."
For the next several minutes, McKenzie told us that there had only been enough 'materials' from Ms. Miracle's body to create 50 doses, which were to be used in 5 groups of 10. We were just one. Then he added that the process was theoretically safe, but that there were no guarantees.
"Now that you are all aware of the details," McKenzie said finally, looking around, "this is your last chance to change your mind. To go home with half the payment...as stated in the contract, or to continue and possibly develop enhanced abilities. To possibly become... super-heroes."
I stared at McKenzie for a moment in shock, then looked around the room, wondering what each of the others would decide. As for me...I didn't like the idea of being a human guinea pig, but the idea of maybe getting some kind of super power seemed so interesting. Finally, after several long minutes, I finally made up my mind. I'd do it.
After the meeting with McKenzie, we were all escorted to our rooms. All except for the 2 people in our group who had elected to leave. Apparently though McKenzie's people had expected something like that and had recruited more people than they needed, just so that they would have some back ups.
Several hours later, a man knocked on my door, directing me and my room mate to follow him. I didn't even look at the guy I was supposedly sharing the room with as I followed the man who'd come for us...wondering if I'd made the right choice.
The man led us to what was obviously the lab...though it looked like a large doctors office. A woman with streaked gray and brown hair that was tied back in a bun stood directly in the middle, dressed in a white lab coat.
"I am Doctor Alvere." the woman stated, looking at all 10 of us. "I will be administering the shots and will be monitoring any signs of development." She paused, then stated almost calmly, "Any developing abilities should appear within a 24 hour period. If there is no development within that time...then there will not be any at all. However, we will monitor you all for 72 hours to be certain."
"Let's get this over with." the girl I'd sat next to in the room interrupted. I could have sworn that she sounded a little nervous.
Dr. Alvere nodded, then reached for a syringe that was in a box on the table before carefully going over to the first person. She swabbed his arm with alcohol, gave him the shot, then moved on to the next person.
When Dr. Alvere got to the girl I'd been sitting next to, the girl turned her head, refusing to look at where she was being given the shot. I couldn't help but noticing that she had her eyes shut tightly and had a tense look on her face.
"What's the matter?" I asked, "Chicken?"
The girl glared at me, rubbing at her arm, "So I don't like needles."
I nearly choked at that. There she was sitting across from me with a nose ring...and from what I could see, a small rose tattoo on her arm...and she didn't like needles.
"Yeah, right." I snorted.
Next, Dr. Alvere stepped up to me with a fresh syringe. "Why do I feel like I'm in a bad sci-fi movie?" I asked her, just before she stuck me with the needle. "Ouch. I'd think you'd never done that before."
To my surprise, Dr. Alvere smiled, "Oh, I'm sorry...but my assistant Igor usually takes care of the shots." I grinned back at that, even as she pulled the needle back out. I was beginning to like the old gal.
Once the doc had finished giving all 10 of us our shots, she gestured for us all to move closer. After we had done that, she opened a box and pulled out something that looked like a watch, holding it out for us to see.
"This device is for monitoring your heartbeat and biorhythms for any changes. Should any occur, it will immediately alert me. And should you notice any changes or anything strange yourself, press this button..." She pushed in a red button on the watch. "This will also alert me."
"Great," I exclaimed, "I've always wanted a James Bond watch."
Dr. Alvere started handing out the watches. When I got mine, I stretched the elastic band for a moment then shrugged before slipping it over my wrist.
"Now," Dr. Alvere told us, smiling faintly, "you may go back to your rooms or remain in the recreation area. But DO NOT remove the monitors. Even to bathe."
After we'd all nodded our understanding, we all went our separate ways. I hung around my room for a little while before getting bored and going to the rec room that was just down the hall. It had a big screen TV, with a couple guys already watching it, a foose ball table and a pool table.
"What?" I ask loudly, "All this money and no Playstation?"
"Cheap bastards aren't they?" I heard from behind me.
Turning around, I saw the girl with the white lock in her hair. "Hey," I stuck out my hand, "I'm Dave."
She stared at me for a moment, then slowly stuck out her own hand. "Beth." Apparently she decided that I wasn't contagious after all.
I nodded, then glanced towards the guys playing pool for a moment before looking back at her. "So what's your story?"
Beth snorted. "What's yours?"
"I asked you first." I grinned.
For a moment Beth looked as if she was going to get angry, then a faint smile formed on her lips. "Oh, the usual. Dad was a one night stand and I've never met him and mom died of cancer last year." She shrugged. "Needed some extra dough for tuition."
"Oh." I responded, feeling a little embarrassed. I hadn't expected her to actually tell me.
"OK smartass..." Beth said, "It's your turn."
I sighed. "All right." I took a deep breath. "My dad died when I was a kid, killed in a bank robbery." I gulped, not looking at Beth as I continued, "And when I was 13, my mom went out to get dinner....and never came back." I winced, hating to think about that...trying not to let my bitterness show.
Beth just gave me a faint look of pity. "Ouch."
Shrugging, I muttered, "It was a long time ago." And, I couldn't help remembering, a long time in foster homes...some less than pleasant.
For a minute, Beth and I just stood there silently, then she finally broke the silence. "Pool?" She gestured towards the now empty pool table. I nodded, glad to change the subject.
Several hours after I'd been given my shot, I finally got to see the other groups. I was sitting in the cafeteria, which reminded me of the one from back in high school, but much smaller. It was also filled with what I guessed to be about 50 other college students, both male and female. The other groups.
I dug into my food with less than my usual enthusiasm, probably because it was less than the usual quality. However, I had to admit that it sure beat anything that they had in high school. At the same time, I glanced at Beth...then gave a much longer look at the hot red head sitting at the next table. I certainly wouldn't mind having my way with her.
"And just what are you looking at?" Beth asked, snapping me to. I gave her my best 'who me?' look, but she turned to see who I'd been staring at, then turned back with a faint grin. "OK, so she's cute."
I just grinned back, feeling a little bit embarrassed at having been caught in the act. However, that didn't keep me from giving the red head another quick look.
Suddenly there was a scream from the next table over. I jumped to my feet, wondering what the hell was going on, then gasping when I saw it. There was a black guy whose skin seemed to be covered with something that looked like ice or crystals.
"Oh shit." I gasped, seeing that everyone was jumping away from him.
Some guy several seats down yelled, "Call Dr. Alvere!" Apparently though she already knew because several seconds later she burst into the cafeteria.
"Calm down everyone." Dr. Alvere announced, rushing to the black guy and examining him. "This is just the initial manifestation of his powers. Everyone go back to eating." And with that, Dr. Alvere led the man out of the cafeteria, probably for more examinations.
I just turned to Beth and muttered, "Spooky. I wonder hyow you'd look with all that stuff." Then, I grinned, adding, "But you'd probably like it."
"You might be right." Beth told me with a grin, "You might be right."
Inside though, I couldn't help wondering just exactly what had I gotten myself into.
After kicking back in my room for awhile, I quickly grew bored and returned to the rec room. I looked around, seeing most of the people from my group, but not really knowing them. Then, I realized that the only people I knew from my group were my room mate...whom I didn't particularly like...and Beth.
"Hey," I said to an Asian girl that was sitting on the couch, watching TV, "Have you seen Beth around?" I figured that she was probably in her room, but I didn't know which one she was in.
"Who?" the Asian girl asked.
Sighing, I went on, "The goth girl. You know, with the nose ring and all."
From her expression, the girl realized whole I meant. "Oh, her." She nodded her head. "Yeah, she started spazzing out a little while ago so the doc took her away.
"Guess she's got super-powers now." a chubby guy sitting a short distance away said, sounding envious.
After thanking them, I turned around, figuring that I might as well practice on the pool table, trying not to think about Beth. I didn't know why, but I was actually feeling worried about her.
Fifteen minutes later, I was involved in a game of pool against myself since no one else wanted to play at the moment. Then I noticed that McKenzie had come into the room. I immediately put my pool stick down.
"So what's up?" I asked him.
McKenzie looked around the room then back at me. "I was just checking to see how the rest of you were doing since one of your group has already manifested."
"How is Beth?" I asked, trying to sound just curious rather than worried.
"She is doing fine." McKenzie told me. "At the moment she is still being examined by Dr. Alvere to verify that she is stable...and to determine the nature of her developing powers." He paused for a moment, adding, "If she does possess any that is. A reaction to the serum may not be any sort of guarantee."
Everyone else was looking at us curiously, and McKenzie nodded to me before walking around and asking everyone else how they were doing. I just sighed, deciding that I didn't really feel like hanging out around the rec room any more. Sure, I was curious to see if anyone else would have a reaction, but at the same time it felt sort of morbid. Like hanging out around a nursing home to see old folks die.
Once McKenzie had finished whatever he was in there for and left, I did the same thing, returning to my room. But even as I did so, I knew that I'd soon be bored out of my mind and probably return to the rec room before too long.
Later that night, I was asleep, having strange dreams when I suddenly woke up, feeling extremely strange, not to mention sick. Every muscle in my body was aching and I had the shakes. I sat up in my bed, groaning from the churning in my stomach.
"Oh God." I gasped weakly. Turning towards the other bed in the room, I called out to my room mate, "Richie..." However, once I opened my eyes and looked at a little more clearly, I saw that it was empty. He was probably out in the rec room or cafeteria.
I groaned as the shakes shot through my body harder. All I could do was curl up into a ball while my whole body went into spasms. Every muscle ached even more and I had to concentrate just to breathe.
"What did they do to me?" I whispered, vaguely remembering the band on my wrist.
My whole body felt like it was burning, but I didn't even have the strength at the moment to scream from the pain. Instead, I curled up tighter...or at least tried to as my body didn't want to respond. Instead, I just remained motionless on the bed, vaguely aware when someone else entered the room and shook me.
"Are you all right?" Dr. Alvere asked in a worried voice. I opened my eyes and saw her, looking rather blurry at the moment. "We're going to move you for better attention." she told me.
"Damn." I heard some man mutter as they moved me to a cart they'd brought in, "You'd think they'd give these guys their own rooms if they knew something like this was going to happen."
I had to agree with him. After this, nearly everything else was just a blur.
When I finally came back to my senses, I didn't know how much time had passed. I only sat up and looked around, seeing that I was all alone in a room with metal walls. Even the door looked extremely sturdy, and there were video cameras visible on the corners.
"I am not alone." I muttered, my voice sounding strange to my ears.
Freezing, I suddenly realized that I felt extremely weird. It wasn't just one thing either, it was EVERYTHING.
Gulping, I slowly moved my eyes down, seeing that I was in a hospital bed and covered with a large white sheet. And from the feeling against my skin, I knew that I was naked underneath it. However, what instantly drew my attention and made my eyes shoot open was that the shape of my body under the sheet was very wrong.
I hesitated for a moment, then threw the sheet back, gasping in shock at what was revealed. My whole body was obviously...and drastically changed. That was revealed with just the faintest glance and I was doing more than just that. On my chest were two big...tits.
"I've got boobs." I gasped, hesitantly touching them. They seemed rather big too.
For a moment I just stared at them, then at my hands which were nothing like my own. My fingers were more slender and feminine, even having a woman's fingernails. Then my eyes shifted, noticing the lack of hair on my arms...not to mention the rest of my obviously now female body.
"Oh shit!" I exclaimed, sitting upright and my crotch. "I'm...I'm..." I gulped, "I've got a fucking pussy." I hesitantly touched it with my finger and shivered at the pleasant sensation.
Then, I noticed the round circles that were stuck to my skin all over. Obviously monitors of some sort, probably connected to some of the machines I saw in the corner. I lowered my legs from the bed and sat there, staring down at myself in stunned disbelief. It couldn't be happening. It was impossible.
I grimaced and pulled the monitors off of my skin, feeling not the slightest pulling from them. Not like the painful removal of band-aids from my old hairy appendages. Then, after pulling off all of the monitors off of me, I hopped off the bed and stood there, feeling extremely uncomfortable and a bit off balance. Everything about my body felt wrong. But at the same time, oddly nice, though I couldn't understand how.
"This is fucking impossible." I muttered, reaching down and running my hands over my body. It felt good...and my body felt very firm under my hands.
After a moment of just standing there, running my hands over myself in shock, I realized that there was a lavatory off to the side, just as in almost any hospital room. I gulped then slowly started towards it, sure that I just had to be dreaming.
As soon as I was inside, I stopped in front of the mirror and stared at the reflection with my eyes about to pop out.
"Now I know I'm dreaming." I whispered.
The reflection in the mirror was entirely female...and an extremely hot looking one at that. Almost impossibly hot. Her body was the most erotic thing that I'd ever seen, and athletic looking as well. She...I had a generous pair of tits that seemed unbelievably firm at the same time, and the face of an angel. Then my eyes went to the long blonde hair that cascaded down her back, with my fingers reaching back to touch it at the same time, verifying that it was real.
"No fucking way." I gasped, staring at a familiar image, though one which I'd always seen dressed in red and gold. Somehow...I'd been turned into the spitting image of Ms. Miracle.
I was still standing there, staring at myself in shock when Dr. Alvere came in. At first, she just stood there at the lavatory entry, watching me silently. Watching me with mixed looks of surprise and curiosity running along her face, though she kept trying to cover them up with one of professionality.
"Simply amazing." Dr. Alvere finally said.
Slowly turning towards her, I gasped, "What the hell happened to me?" I grabbed my tits and in a spurt of near panic screamed, "I'VE GOT TITS!"
Dr. Alvere stepped back, and quickly explained, "You've been slipping in and out of consciousness for over 17 hours...and transformed to this in that time."
"I...I...I look like..." I stammered weakly, still too stunned to think clearly.
"Like Ms. Miracle." Dr. Alvere finished quietly. Then she looked down and froze, her eyes locked on the door. When I looked to where she was staring, I was startled to see the bathroom door handle was sort of dented. "And it appears you may have more than just her appearance." Dr. Alvere finished.
I just stared at the door handle, shaking my head and gulping nervously. I was dreaming. I had to be. I know that I'd volunteered to get super powers, but this was nothing like what they said to expect. And why the hell did I look like HER?
"Why do I..." I whispered, staring straight into Dr. Alvere's eyes, gesturing down at myself in the same time.
"I don't know." she answered me gently, "But I am going to find out."
With that, Dr. Alvere handed me a bundle that I hadn't even realized that she'd been holding. I unfolded it, seeing that it was a gray jumpsuit, which made me suddenly realize that I was standing in front of Dr. Alvere completely naked. I blushed horribly as I climbed into the jumpsuit, my embarrassment being dulled by my shock but not completely overridden.
Once I was dressed, Dr. Alvere gently told me to follow her so that we could find out the answers to the questions that we both were filled with. I gulped, hating the idea of other people seeing me like that but even more afraid of being stuck.
Several minutes later, Dr. Alvere had led me to another room...another lab, but definitely not the one that I'd been given my shot in. This one was filled with a lot more expensive looking equipment that I had no idea what it was all for.
First, Dr. Alvere weighed me and measured my height, surprising me with the fact that I was now 6 foot 2, about 2 and a half inches taller than I had been. Then she put me through several other tests, using more of the monitor pads and a number of the big and confusing looking machines.
"Interesting." Dr. Alvere kept muttering, nearly driving me crazy with that word.
Throughout the tests, I tried as hard as I could not to look down at myself, even though I was burning with curiosity to do just that. It was especially hard since she made me take of the jump suit for most of the tests. It was bad enough being seen like that in front of her, so at least she'd locked the doors and was doing everything herself.
"None of the other subjects have demonstrated anything like this." Dr. Alvere finally told me, sounding a little thrilled. "I have no idea as to why your reaction was so...extreme, but I promise you that I will find out."
"Thanks." I responded, not looking at her. Instead, I was staring at my completely unfamiliar hands.
"What about the others?" I asked her, trying to distract myself.
Dr. Alvere hesitated for a moment, then told me, "Approximately 30 percent of the subjects had some sort of reaction to the serum, though most of those seemed to be allergic reactions with no development. There were 4 subjects who developed what could be considered to be minor super powers." She paused for a moment, giving me a faint smile. "They developed almost completely useless abilities which I believe might fade in time."
"Useless?" I prodded.
"Can move a quarter across a table with his mind." Dr. Alvere told me, "But not much else. Can change her skin color to blue and back to normal. One can blow soap bubbles out of his mouth..." Dr. Alvere said, then paused looking rather sad. "And unfortunately, one young man developed the ability to explode...but only once." She said the last in a near whisper.
I gulped, looking down at myself again with an "Oh."
"But there have also been several successes." Dr. Alvere told me before quickly changing the subject. "Now let's get a blood sample."
A minute later, Dr. Alvere stuck a needle into my arm...or at least she tried. The needle didn't want to go in and bent when she tried forcing it. She cursed and tried again with similar results.
"Come here." Dr. Alvere told me, directing me to another room to the side of the lab. Once I was in, I could see a treadmill and something that looked sort of like a nautilus machine from the gym. "Let's see how much you can lift."
I grimaced, wanting to get back to normal, but Dr. Alvere insisted. I looked down at my tits and then, after putting the jump suit back on, climbed into the bench press to do what she asked. At first the weight was extremely light, but it quickly started to get heavier. Once It got the point where I could no longer lift it, Dr. Alvere told me to stop.
"How much was that?" I asked, then gasped when she showed me a digital readout. "Four hundred and seven pounds." That was well over twice what I'd ever been able to lift before.
"Interesting." was all Dr. Alvere would say before having me start on some other tests, including running on the tread mill. I had to have those stupid monitor patches on me for all of them though and grew more and more frustrated as the session went on for over another hour.
Finally, I spat, "No more. I just want to be me again." I glared at her as if it was all her fault, though about to burst into tears at the same time. "What the hell is wrong with me?"
Dr. Alvere gently set her clip board down and gave me a soft look. "I am trying to find out." she told me in a quiet voice, "But I need your help." After this, she just watched me for a moment until I nodded understanding. I didn't like it, but I'd try to stay calm. "Now look at this." she told me, turning towards the digital readout for the weights which she'd made me lift again, after all the other tests.
My eyes went wide as I saw it. Last time it had read just 407LBS, now it read 439LBS, and after all the other tests and running that she'd made me do.
"How....?" I started, feeling confused.
"You ran for thirty minutes at Olympic speeds...and barely even raised your heart beat." Dr. Alvere told me in a serious voice. "Your reflexes are simply amazing. And with this..." she looked thoughtful. "I know that this is nowhere near what Ms. Miracle was capable of...but if I am correct, you will continue to develop until..."
"No fucking way." I whispered, interrupting Dr. Alvere. I didn't believe her...or more accurately, I couldn't believe her. There was no way that she could possibly be right. I was a normal guy...not some Ms. Miracle look alike. I knew that I might get powers from that shot, but this was impossible.
Dr. Alvere just nodded and promised to keep looking for what caused my extreme reaction to the serum...and if it could be reversed. However, from the excitement I kept glimpsing from her, I wondered if she was really going to give it her all. I certainly hoped so.
For several minutes, I just stood there, staring at my figure through the jumpsuit, still unable to believe that it was mine. That I actually looked like the famous Ms. Miracle. That I had actually turned into a woman.
Suddenly Dr. Alvere set her hand on my shoulder, saying, "I know that this must be very difficult for you." I nodded, knowing that she had no idea. "Perhaps it might help to meet the others."
The thought of meeting other people in my new body terrified me. I felt so...ashamed. So embarrassed. However, from the look in Dr. Alvere's eyes, it was obvious that this wasn't just a suggestion.
A minute later, we were standing in front of another door and Dr. Alvere gently told me, "They don't know about..." She paused, chuckling slightly before adding, "They don't know who you are...only that there had been one more person who was developing."
With that, Dr. Alvere opened the door and stepped inside, saying, "Everyone, I have someone to introduce...your final member."
Then, the doc gesturing for me enter. I stopped just inside and looked around, seeing that it was a fairly small room, but occupied with 4 other people. I recognized the black guy that they'd taken from the cafeteria, though he no longer had the stuff on his skin, as well as the hot red head I'd seen there. There was also one guy, a tall skinny white guy with glasses, though I didn't recognize him, and finally...
"Beth." I whispered, half in surprise and half in relief. She was OK.
At the same time, I noticed the look on her face. On all of their faces. The two guys were staring at me with what was obvious lust...making me even more self conscious and uncomfortable than before, which I hadn't even thought possible. Beth and the red head had envy in their eyes, but I didn't miss the flash of recognition that passed over several of their faces.
"What the fuck?" the black guy gasped, "That's..."
"Another volunteer like you." Dr. Alvere interjected, "Just having a much stronger reaction to the serum than expected."
They all still stared at me until Beth gasped, "How did you know my name?"
I looked at Dr. Alvere, knowing that I had to be blushing badly. How the hell could I tell her who I was? I gulped nervously.
"It's your choice." she told me, patting me reassuringly on my shoulder before she left the room.
For a minute, I just stood there silently, staring at the others, feeling their eyes on me. finally, I gulped and moved towards Beth, who was now standing up and watching me suspiciously. "It's me." I told her, forcing the words out, "Dave."
Beth just stared at me in confused disbelief before spitting out, "No fucking way. Who the hell are you?" She was beginning to look angry.
"It is me." I protested, holding my hands up. "I...went to bed and woke up like this." I gestured down at myself. "The doc doesn't know why yet." This last was said in a near whisper.
"Dave?" Beth whispered.
"Dave?" the black guy echoed, staring at me as though I'd just grown a bunch of slimy tentacles. "You're a fucking guy?"
The red head just muttered, "Wow. And the serum did THAT?" She shook her head, muttering, "Can I get another dose?". The other guy just stared, not saying a word.
Then, feeling extremely embarrassed, I sat down, watching the others nervously. All except Beth who sat down next to me and softly grabbed my hand, holding it to comfort me, much to my surprise. I felt at least a little more confident because of that.
Taking a deep breath, I looked at the others...remembering the purpose of the experiment. To create super-heroes. Then they...and myself were the results, so I decided that I had better get to know them just a little better, as Dr. Alvere had obviously intended.
I squirmed a little in my chair, feeling uncomfortable, not only in my own body but with the way the others kept looking at me. It was bad enough when they'd thought I was all woman, but now that they knew it seemed a little worse. But on the other hand, I also felt as if a little weight had been pulled from my shoulders.
Beth, I already knew, and had just been introduced to the others. The black guy was Mike Green. The tall skinny guy who'd barely said a word was named Allan Everson, and the hot looking red head was Sabrina Shaw.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled my hands from where they'd been crossed in my lap and gripped my chair, trying keep from showing the others how uncomfortable I was. Hell, I had tits hanging off my chest and was missing my cock. My whole body felt wrong and sitting there chatting was the last thing that I really wanted to do at the moment.
"So..." I finally said, "Since you've all developed, what exactly do you all do?"
Beth suddenly grinned, jumping out of her chair. "Watch this."
And with that, she walked straight to the door and paused, giving me a cocky look before she suddenly put her hand up flat against the door, obviously concentrating. To my surprise, her hand started to look sort black and sparkly at the same time, sinking right through the door as if it was nothing more than water. A moment later, Beth pulled her hand back out and it returned to its normal appearance.
"Cool huh?" Beth said, looking rather smug.
"Wow." I muttered, staring at her in surprise.
"Found out I could do that after they hauled my ass away." she told me.
Allan frowned, adjusting his glasses. "But they said that we weren't supposed to use our abilities outside of a controlled environment until we have better control."
"She can move water by thinking about it." Beth told me. "Aquakinesis." Sabrina waved at me.
"I have some sort of electrical ability." Allan said quietly
"And I can kick all your asses." Mike responded, though from the grin on his face I could tell that he wasn't too serious.
But before I could get anything more out of him, the door opened and McKenzie stepped in. He looked at me with a curious expression, then shook his head faintly. "Simply amazing." Then he sighed, getting to the point. "It appears that there are no more who developed significant abilities and it seems extremely unlikely at this point that there will be. According to Dr. Alvere, the serum will have already passed through the rest of their systems and if they haven't developed as of yet, they will not develop at all."
"So it's just us." Mike muttered. "I can handle that."
McKenzie nodded, then said, "We'll be moving to another location. One which is more secure since too many know about this place."
Then, just as McKenzie started to turn away, I couldn't resist asking, "How do you know none of us will become super-villains instead?"
"We knew that there was a faint risk of that." McKenzie answered slowly, "However we minimized that by selecting people who we believed had a high enough moral character to avoid that."
"Yeah," Beth burst out, getting into the spirit of it, "and why did you guys want people with no families? Wouldn't people with families have more to keep them from going bad? I mean, who'd want to take over or destroy the world when they might hurt their families."
"We hadn't considered that." McKenzie answered after a minute, sounding rather embarrassed.
"Don't seem like they thought of very much." Mike muttered. "I mean, moving us from room to room. And check out the security of this place."
"Kind of disappointing ain't it?" I grinned, feeling a little more like my old self. We were all still laughing when McKenzie escaped from the room, obviously embarrassed.
Dinner was very quiet compared to eating at the cafeteria. It was just the five of us eating, and the room was much smaller, not to mention the food better. Dr. Alvere, McKenzie and whatever other people they had helping them had apparently already eaten or were eating elsewhere.
"What's it like?" Allan asked me, sounding rather embarrassed to be asking the question. But not as emberassed as I was to hear it. "I mean, turning into a girl. Looking like HER."
"Yeah," Beth said, looking at me with a worried expression, "are you all right?"
For a moment, I just sat there, thinking about it. Finally, I answered, "It's...strange. REALLY strange." Taking a breath, I looked down at my tits and gulped, "It's all so sudden...I guess I'm still in shock."
With that, I grabbed for my glass of soda, trying not to think about it. However, almost as soon as my hand closed around the glass, it shattered in my hand. I stared at, then at my hand which didn't have a single scratch on it.
"Clutz." Mike muttered, grinning faintly.
Sabrina just asked, "Are you all right?" I held my hand up in response, showing the others that I was alright.
I stared at it again myself, a sinking feeling in my stomach. "I've got to go." I told the others, quickly getting to my feet and wincing as my chair bent where I'd grabbed it.
There was no way that I could be that strong...even looking as I did, but there was no doubting the damage I'd left behind. With that, I rushed out the door, being extra careful not to break that too, though I wasn't sure if there was a new dent in the knob or not when I left.
After leaving the others behind, I immediately went to find Dr. Alvere, not knowing why, but suspecting that she was the only one who could help me. If I kept going the way I was, I'd soon be breaking everything that I touched.
A short while later, Dr. Alvere sat in front of me with her clipboard in hand, an unreadable expression on her face. She looked at her clipboard and then at the results of the tests she'd had me take again before finally looking directly at me.
"You just lifted over eight hundred pounds." she said in quiet amazement. "Double what you did earlier."
"But what did you find out?" I demanded impatiently, freezing when I realized that she was stepping back nervously. I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down. "Why the hell am I like this when everyone else just got powers?"
Dr. Alvere looked at me intently for a moment before reaching over to her desk for a file. She looked inside it with a strange expression before she finally turned her eyes to me with a very curious expression.
"None of the tests revealed anything." she said, "Except...that you are physically a woman. Completely. Even down to your DNA. I believe that you are even capable of getting pregnant."
"Oh." I whispered, gulping nervously. So my changes were a lot more than just skin deep. But then again, after seeing what I'd done with my strength, I'd already suspected as much. Just as I was beginning to suspect that I would never be myself again. "Can you turn me back?" I asked anyway.
"I'm afraid not." Dr. Alvere told me regretfully. "There was never any research or intention to reverse the serum...and even so, I believe that the changes wrought in your bodies would be irreversible anyway."
Groaning, I turned to leave but Dr. Alvere called out, "Wait." When I looked back, she had the strange look in her eyes again. A thoughtful...almost confused look. Her hand was absently rubbing along the surface of the folder. "I did find something." she said quietly.
"What?" I asked, feeling both nervous and curious at the same time.
Dr. Alvere just stared at me silently for several seconds before announcing, "I did some blood tests. I compared your blood sample and DNA from before your injection to that of Ms. Miracle, to find what might have caused your transformation."
"And?" I gestured impatiently.
She sat back in her chair, still staring at me. "They were...very close." At my confused look, she said, "Extremely close. As in there being a ninety-seven percent chance that you are closely related to her." At that, she gave me a piercing curious look, as if demanding that I give her the answers.
"Related?" I whispered, feeling confused. There was no way that I could possibly be related to Ms. Miracle. And after a minute, I told Dr. Alvere as much.
"Perhaps." Dr. Alvere whispered, still staring at me strangely. "But please tell me about your family."
"What family?" I snarled back, angrier than I'd intended. It wasn't until then that I realized that the metal counter I'd been leaning on was now mangled beneath my hand. "I was an only child. My dad died when I was a kid and my mom ran out on me 6 years ago." I was shaking as the memories of all those years in foster homes came back.
Dr. Alvere gasped, "Wait!" She was obviously nervous as she set her hand on mine. "What month was it?" She paused, asking, "What month did your mother...leave?"
I stared at the doc, getting angrier. I didn't want to think about it. I couldn't. Then it suddenly hit me what she meant. My mom had left 6 years earlier...around the same time that Ms. Miracle died. I suddenly shuddered at that, remembering now. I'd been watching all the news about Ms. Miracle's death while I was in the social services office.
"No..." I whispered, staring at Dr. Alvere in disbelief and horror. "No way." I gulped, shaking again, though this time not from the bitterness. "My mom was around five foot seven, damn near flat chested and had brown hair...like mine." I gestured down at myself and spat, "I sure as hell would have noticed if she looked anything like this." I glared at Dr. Alvere, finishing off, "No...she left me."
For a minute, though it seemed much, much longer, Dr. Alvere and I just stared at each other. I was trying to keep calm, though it wasn't easy. I'd been turned into a woman...even if it was my own damn fault for volunteering, and now this garbage. I didn't need old ghosts being brought back. Not like that.
"It is possible." Dr. Alvere finally whispered, trying to be gentle. "Even likely. There are a great number of skitzomorphs among people with developed abilities."
"Skitzomorphs?" I repeated, wondering what the hell that meant.
"Shapeshifters." she explained. "People with two or more stable forms, often accompanied by the developed abilities in one of these forms." At this, Dr. Alvere gently laid her hand on mine again. "Sometimes when people develop their enhanced abilities, their body changes drastically, taking a new form that can hold those powers. And sometimes...sometimes they can revert to their original form and back."
I just stared at Dr. Alvere, no longer quite so sure. Hell, I was confused as hell, torn between my 6 years of bitterness and the faint hope that maybe she hadn't just run away from me. But if that was the case... "No." I whispered.
"I'd always believed that if Ms. Miracle had started as a normal human, than her whole body was likely changed during her development." Dr. Alvere still held my hand as she continued, "It would have been impossible for her real identity not to be identified otherwise as she never wore a mask. There were also things to indicate that she had another life...and I believe that the only way she could have lived another life without being discovered, was if her form changed." Then, Dr. Alvere said the final piece, "DNA doesn't lie...nor does your reflection."
Then, Dr. Alvere finally let go of my hand and stepped back, watching me with a sympathetic look in her eyes. I just stood there, too stunned to speak. Ms. Miracle was...was my mom. I didn't want to believe it...or at least not completely, but a part of me did. Then I wasn't just abandoned...I was orphaned.
"Thank you." I whispered, leaving the lab and heading towards my newest room.
Everything was so...confusing. So changed. Not just my body, but my entire life. If what the doc said was true...which I was strongly beginning to believe...then my entire life might have been a lie. Whatever else though, I knew that I had a LOT to think about.
My finger slowly moved across the cool glass, tracing features in the mirror. Pulling my finger back, I continued to stare at my reflection, as I had for the last hour, filled with mixed...and confused emotions. Ever since I had come to my room, examining my naked body was nearly all I had done. It was my first chance to truly do so since I had woken up, or at least without being in total shock.
I gulped, stepping back a little, not quite sure whether to be disgusted by my reflection or turned on. The truth was, as uncomfortable as it made me, I was also getting horny at the same time. After all, I had an extremely sexy woman standing in front of me, who just happened to be naked as well. The only problem was that it was me.
"Or my mom." I whispered, still finding that part hard to swallow. But still, even though the evidence wasn't completely solid, my gut told me that it was the truth.
Finally, I just stretched my body, amazed at how good my muscles felt. I was a little surprised at that, realizing for the first time just how strong I felt. Until that moment, I had been so overwhelmed by the strangeness of my changed body that I'd completely overlooked it. Or perhaps, it had only become more noticeable since I was actually getting stronger. I shuddered at the thought of how strong I was...and how strong I'd become, partly from fear...and partly from anticipation. That only made me even more nervous.
After another minute, I turned away from the mirror, still feeling pretty weirded out about the whole thing. I wasn't sure what I was going to do...especially since it looked like I'd be stuck like that. Then I quickly forced my thoughts away from that, not wanting to think about it any more.
"It's been a long day." I told myself quietly, even though I hadn't been awake for the whole thing.
With that, I crawled into my bed and pulled the covers tight. I couldn't help but noticing how much further out my chest was than before, but tried not to dwell on it. It didn't take me long before I drifted off to sleep, vaguely wondering what surprises the next day would bring.
The next morning passed in nearly a blur. Dr. Alvere tested me again, showing that I had continued becoming stronger...and tougher. It was now official, that I could lift over a ton...which scared and surprised me at the same time.
Then, as McKenzie had told us, we were moved to the new facility, while all the other volunteers were left behind for further monitoring, just in case one of them developed late. However, Dr. Alvere seemed pretty sure that this wouldn't happen
As soon as we got to the new facility, McKenzie gave us all a tour, leaving me impressed. At least we were each given our own apartment, and mine was bigger than my old dorm room. However, it only made me wonder what I...or any of us was going to do about college since we'd suddenly all been thrown into the roles of 'super-heroes in training'. I almost laughed when I thought about that. I might look the part, but I sure as hell didn't feel it.
"Get settled in." McKenzie told us all after the tour. "You can all start your training in a little while and learn to control your new abilities." He paused and gave us all a thoughtful look, staring at me for a moment before adding, "I know that this is all new for you, but we're counting on you."
"Aye aye sir." I snapped in a sarcastic salute, earning chuckles from the others.
McKenzie sighed, shaking his head. "What did I do to deserve this." Then he left, leaving the rest of us to explore our new surroundings for a little while.
"So what do we do now?" Sabrina asked. "I mean, it's not like we can go shopping around here or anything."
Mike grinned at that and leaned over, "How about you and I get to know each other a little better?" From the grin on his face, I knew that he was just messing with Sabrina, but I wasn't so sure that she knew that.
Beth just came over to me, looking a little curious. "You doing all right Dave? I mean, the way you ran out yesterday..."
"I'm all right." I told her, forcing a smile. "It's just that everything is so confusing right now. This body, my strength, my mom...."
"What about your mom?" Beth asked.
I stared at her, not having meant to say anything. "It's just that..."
But before I could say anything, the room we were in suddenly exploded with blue sparks. I snapped around and saw that they were all coming from Allan.
"Sorry." he sputtered, just as the sparks stopped. "I didn't mean to."
I groaned, knowing that I certainly couldn't blame him. After all, I kept breaking things when I wasn't too careful. Our powers were all too new, which explained why we needed to learn to control them.
"Let's go look around our new home." I suggested impulsively, already starting off. The others quickly followed me.
It was some hours since we'd moved into our new facility and McKenzie had come back, telling us that it was time to practice with our new abilities. I sighed, having been doing just that ever since Allan's earlier...incident.
As it was, we were all standing in this gym type room that we were supposed to practice in. There were all sorts of things scattered around it for our training.
I looked down at the egg that was in my hand, then back at McKenzie. So far I hadn't broken that egg while holding it, though I'd broken numerous others before I started getting the hang of being gentle. It was getting easier.
"All right then." McKenzie said, looking us all over, "I suppose now would be a good time to demonstrate your abilities...if you haven't done so already."
Mike grinned, proudly announcing, "Me first." Then, Mike moved away from us, stretching his arms out. "Get a load of this."
Suddenly some sort of crystal started to form around Mike, quickly spread outwards. It was the same stuff that was on his skin in the cafeteria when he developed, but this time there was a hell of a lot more. Within seconds, Mike's body was completely enveloped in the crystals and several seconds later they stopped growing. In Mike's place was what looked like some sort of creature made out of bluish white crystals, humanoid in shape and standing nearly 8 feet tall.
"Wow." Beth exclaimed, "Pretty impressive." I had to agree. He did look pretty nasty, especially with the spikes that were sticking out of his body...or at least the crystal armor that surrounded him.
"Kinda cute." Sabrina purred. "It might make for an interesting necklace too, though I think that I prefer diamonds."
McKenzie nodded, "Please continue."
With that, Mike went to a heavy brick wall in the middle of the room and smashing through it with his hands. He was obviously very strong within that crystal armor. Then, he turned away towards another similar wall and, to my surprise, he exploded from his chest. Or at least he seemed to while a mass of crystal spikes shot out, shattering against the wall but making chips in it.
"Cool." I muttered, watching curiously as the crystal around Mike seemed to shatter and then vanish, leaving him standing there with a cocky grin.
"Very good." McKenzie said, smiling faintly. "Might I suggest Quartz as a code name?"
Mike grinned at that. "Cool. I can live with that."
Next, Sabrina stepped forward. She moved over towards a swimming pool that was off to the side and stretched out her arms, a look of concentration on her face. A moment later, the water in the pool actually started to move, to stretch up and out as if it was alive, then actually pour out of the pool. The whole scene reminded me of the movies The Blob and Abyss.
"Shit." I whispered, staring in amazement while Sabrina made the water change shapes and move around.
However, a moment later, the water suddenly collapsed to the ground in a messy splash, sending water all over the floor.
"I lost it." Sabrina told, sounding disappointed.
"It will come with practice." McKenzie assured her.
"With that display," Allan mused, "I suppose that the name Splash might be suitable." Sabrina just grinned at that, apparently liking it.
"Guess I'm up." Beth muttered, glancing towards me with a weak smile. "I never did like showing off."
A moment later, Beth quickly strolled across the room, her whole body turning sort of black and sparkly as she neared the same wall that Mike had thrown the spikes against. However, she didn't stop as she neared it...but walked straight through it as if it wasn't there. It was pretty spooky.
"Like some kind of ghost." I muttered.
"Might make a good name." Mike suggested. "Or maybe Wraith."
"How about Casper?" Sabrina asked. From the look on her face, I didn't think that she was actually joking.
"Not bad." Beth said as she walked back, her skin having reverted to normal. "I kind of like Wraith."
"But I believe that there is already a man named Wraith." Allan said thoughtfully.
McKenzie nodded, telling us that there was. Beth looked a little disappointed at that. We ran through several more names, each of us suggesting possibilities, more than I expected being turned down from already being used by someone. Finally, Beth settled on Rumor since she could turn as insubstantial as one.
Next, Allan stepped into the middle of the room and took on a look of concentration. With that, the air around him sparkled with blue static, all of it seeming to go between his hands which were held in front of himself, palms facing each other. A blue ball of energy formed, then shout out at high speed, hitting the brick wall that had been used twice already...and exploding. There was a burst of sparks and a small charred hole.
"An electron bomb." Allan commented. "According to Dr. Alvere, I gathered electrons from the surrounding area, focus them into a sphere and then fire them. They should be much more destructive on other items."
"Awesome." I grinned. He'd sure put on a great light show if nothing else, and I could just imagine what one of those 'electron bombs' could do to a human.
"I believe that Surge would be an appropriate alias." he said, looking a little embarrassed.
The others turned towards me and I stepped back, feeling uncomfortable. However, McKenzie held up his hand, saying that he didn't think that would be necessary at the moment since my powers were still developing. The others looked a little disappointed but nodded acceptance.
A minute later, McKenzie instructed us to separate and practice with our abilities, however he put a hand out to stop me. "I have something else for you." he told me. Then, in a quieter and softer voice, he added, "I'm sorry you had to find out like this."
For the next several hours, I was in a room, watching all of the video recordings that they had of Ms. Miracle, specifically of her using her powers. It stood to reason that if I was so much like her, that I'd develop all of the same powers. As frightening as the strength and toughness alone were, the rest left me even more surprised.
And at the same time, I performed varying exercises to control my strength better. By the time I finally left the room, I had near perfect control over my strength, not to mention a very clear understanding of all that Ms. Miracle had been capable of, and if Dr. Alvere was correct, what I soon would be as well.
I sat on the edge of my bed, looking across the room to my reflection in the mirror, wondering if I was becoming narcissistic. In the last two days, I'd spent more time staring into mirrors than I normally did in a month. But then of course, I normally didn't have an impossibly gorgeous woman looking back either.
"Man this is weird." I muttered, reaching my hand into my bath robe and touching my breasts. I shivered at the sensations, slightly embarrassed that my nipples were hard...not to mention curious.
Suddenly there was a loud knock from the door, nearly making me jump. And just as I stood up to answer it, I was surprised again to see Beth suddenly walk right through it, smirking somewhat as she looked at me.
"Hey." she said, moving towards me, "I was wondering where you went."
"Just sitting here." I responded, sitting down on the bed again and gesturing for her to do the same. She nodded and did so. "This is so weird..."
Beth nodded, and I noticed that she wasn't wearing the heavier and darker makeup that I'd come to expect from her.
"I..." She took a deep breath, looking a little nervous, "I've been worried about you. And I couldn't help noticing that you've been kind of...well zoned out today. Do you want to talk about it?"
I stared at her silently for a moment, wondering if I should...or for the matter, if I even could. Everything was still so new to me...so confusing. I didn't even know how to explain it all to myself much less her, nor was I really sure that I could trust her with something that personal. Finally, it was the sincere look on her face that decided me.
"This is pretty hard to get used to." I told her, "But I guess it's something else too." I paused a minute, then asked, "Do you remember when I told you about...about my mom?"
"Yeah." she responded slowly, looking a little confused.
"Well..." I paused, licking my lips slowly, "I found out what happened to her."
Beth stared at me, then said, "Isn't that good news?"
"She didn't abandon me." I whispered, beginning to shake again. "She...she died."
Beth put her hand on mine, looking sympathetic. "I'm sorry. How?"
I forced a smile, feeling a little better with her there. "She was...murdered. By a super-villain." Beth looked surprised, then even more so when I said, "By Baron Nevermore." I paused again, gulping as I whispered, "My mom was...was Ms. Miracle."
For a long minute, Beth just stared at me in shock. I could see the doubt flicker across her face at first, but then it was replaced, and I knew that she believed me. I still wasn't sure that I believed me.
Suddenly, I remembered a bedtime story that my mom had once told me. I remembered it now because it had been strange...and she had an odd look on her face at the time. It was a story about a woman who was taking a drive in the country while her son was at camp. A falling star had fallen to the ground in front of her, nearly hitting her car, and creating a hole in the ground. One in which she had been unable to avoid driving straight into.
I remembered the strange look on my mom's face when she told me that the falling star had disappeared when the woman touched it...and how it had given her a special gift that she would use to help people. She never said what that gift was though. Was that her way of trying to tell me?
"Wow." Beth whispered, snapping my mind back to the present. Her hand squeezed mine more gently. "I...I guess that explains this."
I nodded, forcing a smile. "At least now I know." And as I thought about my mom's old bedtime story, I realized that I did know.
After this, Beth and I talked for a bit longer. I told her a bit about my childhood, feeling much better as I got it off my chest. Then we talked about how I felt, having suddenly turned into a gorgeous woman and the spitting image of one of the most famous super-heroes ever.
"You don't like guys now, do you?" Beth asked, grinning.
I nearly choked at that, but thought about anyway. I certainly hadn't felt anything odd...at least other than embarrassment around the guys I'd seen since my change. Then of course, I still thought Sabrina was hot, that Beth was cute, and got turned on by my own reflection.
"Nope." I answered, "Not at all."
Beth got up and laughed, "That's good I guess. One less thing to get used to."
I grinned back. "Yeah, I guess it is." Then, I stared at her for a moment, glad for my talk with her. "Thank you." I told her, quietly but meaning it.
For a moment, Beth just looked at me, then to my surprise, she lunged forward and kissed me quickly on my lips. I was too stunned to respond, then she stepped back again, smiling.
I choked out, "Are you a lesbian?"
"No, I'm not a lesbian." Beth responded, walking towards my door and opening it. Then, she turned back with a smile and added, "I'm bi." before vanishing through the door, leaving me in stunned silence.
I took a deep breath and looked around the training room where we'd all been practicing for hours. Mike was in the corner, all crystaled up while Sabrina was standing 15 feet off of the floor...supported only by a pillar of water. I was amazed at how good she was getting at controlling the stuff. Allan was practicing his aim while at the same time Beth was standing around, smirking since her powers seemed so much simpler. McKenzie though had already made several comments about having her learn more hand to hand combat techniques.
"I guess we're getting better." I mused, looking down at the heavy iron bars at my feet, all bent like pretzels. It had been so...easy. My strength had increased beyond what I would have believed possible, letting me lift several tons without much effort. And it appeared that I might still be getting stronger.
Pausing for a moment, I stretched my muscles, marveling yet again at just how unbelievably healthy I felt. How strong. I never would have believed it possible. Even my senses all seemed to have become much sharper, not to mention the fact that I could bench press a tank and bullets bounced off of me. Of course I'd been more than just a little scared when that last had been tested earlier that morning.
"Impressive." Beth commented, walking towards me. However, from the way she was eyeing me, I wasn't sure if she meant my strength or something else. Then again, she could have been just messing with my mind. "Wish I could do that." She sighed, kicking at one of the bent iron bars.
"Well, I think I'd rather be back to normal." I told her, then sighed as I muttered, "But it doesn't look like that's going to happen."
Beth nodded, then grinned. "Hey, wasn't Ms. Miracle supposed to be able to fly?"
"Yeah..." I nodded, then realized what she was getting at. I sighed, not really sure that I wanted to admit that heights made me a bit nervous. "Just because I look like her..." I started.
However, Beth just glared at me, looking a little annoyed. Even though I was bigger...not to mention MUCH stronger than her, I couldn't resist taking a step back.
"All right." I said, "I'll try it." Pausing a moment, I muttered, "If I can even figure out how."
For a moment, I thought about the recordings that I'd seen of Ms. Miracle, though they hadn't given me any idea of how she did it. I gulped, trying not to think about her being my mother. Not at the moment.
With a shrug, I just jumped into the air, 'willing' myself not to come back down. And to my surprise...it worked.
"Holy shit." I gasped, "I'm floating." I was only several feet above the ground...but there was no sign of my coming back down.
Beth was grinning. "You're glowing too."
"Huh." I muttered, then noticed a faint golden glow from the corner of my eyes. It reminded me that every time I'd ever seen Ms. Miracle flying in the recordings...she was always glowing slightly. "Wow."
Then, taking a deep breath, I 'willed' myself up, smiling as I started rising. I was aware of Beth watching me...as well as the others. However, I didn't let that distract me as I went higher, then started to slowly fly around the room, trying not to look too closely at the ground as I did so.
"You go girl!" Sabrina called out from below, then a moment later, she was no longer below, but standing several feet in front of me...on a pillar of water. "That looks like fun."
I just waved at her then flew another circle around the room. Whenever I looked down towards the ground, I couldn't avoid thinking about falling that far. Then I had to remind myself that nothing would happen. Before...the fall would have broken half the bones in my body, but now...now I doubted that I'd even get a bruise from a fall 10 times that distance.
After several minutes, I was really getting the hang of flying...and beginning to even enjoy myself a little and wish that I had more room so that I could cut loose and really fly. As it was, I was beginning to feel like I was swimming in circles around a kiddy pool when I really wanted to be in an ocean. Funny considering how nervous I was at the same time.
Finally, I landed back to the ground, getting a round of clapping from the others. Beth especially looked pleased...almost smug. Mike on the other hand was trying to look unimpressed...but not really succeeding since he was no longer armored up.
"Very impressive." McKenzie's voice said from the door. "I had wondered how soon your abilities would develop to that level."
"Nice to see you too." I said, waving towards him. "And I was wondering when you'd show up to watch us work our asses off."
McKenzie didn't respond, though he stepped forward and set down a cardboard box. "I believe that these should help you." And with that, he pulled something out of the box and unfolded it, revealing a black and white spandex costume...and tossing it towards Beth. "Your uniform Rumor."
"Gee thanks." Beth snorted sarcastically. "I didn't know you were so kinky."
"Quartz." McKenzie said, ignoring Beth as he handed Mike his black, green and white uniform. Sabrina's was blue and dark blue with white trim while Allan's was blue and dark gray with gold trim. After he had passed the others their uniforms, he turned to me and I could almost swear that there was a twinkle in his eyes. "And here is your uniform...Ms. Miracle."
I choked at that, especially when he unfolded the familiar red and gold costume of Ms. Miracle. Somehow, I knew that it was obvious...but I still hadn't considered that I was to take HER place. It seemed wrong to impersonate her...as if I hadn't already been doing just that.
"Thank you." I told him quietly, not sure if I meant it or not. As I accepted the uniform...it seemed unbelievably heavy in my hands. Not with the weight, but with what it meant. With what it represented...and all the responsibility that went along with it.
A minute later, I whispered, "I'm through for today." With that, I turned and left the room, feeling the weight of the uniform in my hand...and my memories.
I leaned back in my chair, staring at the uniform that was still folded on the table, thinking about my mom. It was obvious now that I never really knew her at all. She'd lied to me when she was alive...and now she was gone...never having even said goodbye. My mother...the hero. My mother...the stranger.
"My mother the car." I snorted, getting up and glancing around my room. It was still bare...lacking in anything of my own. It felt more like a hotel room than anything. "What did I get myself into?" I whispered.
Looking down at myself, I frowned, wondering if I could ever get used to having a pair of tits. Of being the hottest woman in nearly any room. And having to piss sitting down.
"At least I don't need a bra." I told myself with a faint grin, knowing that my tits were firm enough that it would be completely unnecessary. Another aspect of my mutated body. "No sag here."
Suddenly I heard a loud, insistent knocking coming from my door. It was quickly followed up with an, "Open up right this minute." A second later, Beth called again, "I'm coming in one way or another...and you know I'll do it."
"All right already." I called back, hurrying towards the door before she could walk through it again.
When I opened the door, I was slightly surprised to see Sabrina standing there next to Beth, and both of them dressed up hot...ready to draw attention.
"Hello." Sabrina said, giggling slightly.
Beth rolled her eyes, then announced, "We've decided to have a girls night out, and you're coming with us."
"What?" I gasped, half sure that I was mishearing her.
"You're coming with us wether you like it or not." Sabrina added, looking rather smug.
"And we're not going to take no for an answer." Beth told me, crossing her arms as if daring me to argue with her. "Come on Dave, you really need to get out and loosen up a bit. Maybe even learn that it's not so bad being a girl, so..."
I gulped, standing back as they both walked in. I realized that they were both carrying some bags as well, making me curious...and nervous. What the hell was Beth up to? And with Sabrina at that? I mean, Beth was sort of goth while Sabrina was more like the prom queen crowd. Like water and oil, those types usually didn't mix together.
For a moment, I just stared at them, then sighed. "Why not?" I didn't have anything else planned, and if anything else, it should at least be interesting.
"Great." Beth and Sabrina grinned at the same time.
"Now we've got to get you ready." Sabrina told me, obviously enjoying this.
A minute later, I was naked, my clothes having been practically torn off of me. Beth and Sabrina went in great delight, pulling item after item out of the bags that they'd brought, mostly consisting of clothes.
"We thought these would look good on you." Beth said.
"And Dr. Alvere gave us your sizes." Sabrina added. I just groaned.
Before I'd realized it, I was all washed up, had my hair done and wearing the sexy outfit and skirt that they'd given me. I was even dressed in the shoes and thankful that they were rather low heeled as I didn't think that I could handle anything more at the moment. It was all I could do to keep from screaming and tearing the clothes off. I felt like some kind of human sized barbie doll...and knew that I probably looked the part as well.
"But aren't people going to recognize me?" I asked nervously. "I mean, I've got a rather famous face."
"Already thought of that." Sabrina answered, pulling up a bunch of makeup. "Ta da." I just groaned, realizing that it was about to get even worse.
Then, after a long and torturous period of getting makeup put on me...with explanations and lessons each step of the way, I was pronounced finished. At least until they gave me some jewelry. Some clip on ear rings since my ears wouldn't pierce...and Beth did try but the needles wouldn't go through, a nice gold bracelet and necklace to match.
"Now we're finished." Beth said, sounding rather proud.
Sabrina giggled and shook her head. "Not completely. There's one last thing..." And with that, she rubbed a little perfume behind my ear. "Now we're finished."
Beth gave a wolf whistle and exclaimed, "Damn you're hot."
I just blushed in embarrassment, then moved to get a full view of myself in a mirror. My fingernails were painted and I had lipstick on, not to mention all of the other stuff. It wasn't needed since my face was naturally sexy, but it did make me look very hot. And more than that, it served to change my appearance some so that I wasn't going to be recognized as Ms. Miracle...or at least wearing her body.
"Wow." I whispered, getting extremely turned on. Damn I wanted to fuck that woman. Too bad I was that woman. "I finally find the girl of my dreams," I mutter, "and it's myself."
"Be still my heart." Beth snorted. "Now quit staring at yourself and come on. I want to get going."
A minute later, we were on our way. We left the facility and for the first time, saw that we were in the middle of nowhere...or at least close to it. And, according to McKenzie, we were at least half an hour from the nearest population center.
"So what are we going to do now?" I snorted. "Hotwire the helicopter or do you guys expect me to carry you."
Sabrina frowned, looking offended. "I don't need to be carried."
"Naw." Beth grinned, "I've got it taken care of."
At that, Beth's whole body turned black with the white sparkles again, just as when she walked through walls. I was confused at this though since there were no walls to go through. Then, to my surprise, the black stuff around Beth suddenly exploded outward.
"What the hell?" I demanded, looking around as soon as the black stuff had faded, realizing that we weren't at the facility anymore. We were standing next to a building...in the middle of a city.
I looked back at Beth, who was back to normal and looking extremely self satisfied. "I learned a new trick today." she told me. "I can teleport."
"That was totally awesome." Sabrina gasped excitedly. "And my hair didn't even get messed up."
"Bet it beats flying." Beth grinned. "No travel...just snap my fingers and I'm there."
"Show off." I grinned.
Sabrina giggled, "And I bet it really saves gas money."
Several minutes later, we were all inside of a nightclub and sitting at a table sipping beer. We might have been underage and had no identity...well at least the others were underage since I looked just a little older now, but we still had no problem getting the drinks.
I just looked around, feeling extremely uncomfortable but trying not to let it show. There were MEN staring at me. I knew that I would be doing the same thing if I saw someone who looked like me, but it was pretty damn embarrassing. I wasn't used to being a beautiful woman.
"I think he's got the hots for you." Beth whispered, gesturing towards one guy who was staring at me.
Sabrina sighed, muttering, "I'm jealous. Why do you get all the attention?"
Beth just snorted, saying, "Well...duh." We all chuckled at that, even me.
Just a minute later, the man that Beth had pointed out was suddenly standing beside our table. He was about my height...my new height, or just a little taller, with dirty blonde hair and an athletic build.
"Hi, I'm Randy." he said, looking a little cocky as he stared at me. "I was hoping that you'd dance with me."
I gulped in surprise, but before I could say anything, Beth burst out, "She'd love to." Then she just grinned smugly at me while I glared back.
Seeing as how I'd already been volunteered, I groaned and stood up, trying not to show Randy my discomfort. "I can do this." I told myself silently. "I'm..." I paused, realizing that I certainly couldn't tell him that my name was Dave. My mind raced, then I spat out the first decent name that came to me. "Amanda." It was the name of the first girl I'd ever kissed.
Then with that, Randy and I went out to the dance floor, with me silently promising to get even with Beth for embarrassing me like that.
I danced with Randy for awhile, several times having to pull his wandering hand away from my ass. The thought of breaking that hand was tempting, but I held myself back, knowing that it would be far too easy to do so. Then after Randy, I was quickly caught up by another one of my admirers, which seemed to amuse Beth to no end from where she and Sabrina were also on the dance floor.
When I finally returned to the table, I saw that Beth had returned, though Sabrina was still out dancing. Beth just grinned at me, sipping at her beer.
"You know that I'll have to get you for that?" I told her, quickly glancing to where Randy was still watching me from another table with some of his friends.
"I wouldn't expect anything else." Beth responded, just as Sabrina came and sat down as well.
"You lucky girl." Sabrina sighed. "He was like...SO cute." I groaned while Beth just laughed.
Then, as Beth took another long drink from her beer, I warned her, "Slow down why don't you. You're the one driving." Beth just grinned at that.
A short while later, Randy returned to our table, grinning with that cocky grin again. "Come on." he said, holding his arm out, "Let's dance again."
"No thanks." I responded, not interested in the least. "I'm danced out."
Randy looked annoyed at that but his face quickly snapped back into the cocky grin. "They why don't we go to my place for a little nightcap?"
I glared at him in disgust. "I don't think so." I said, clenching my fists and making sure that my voice was as icy as I could make it. After a moment, he finally got the hint and left, much to my relief.
"Can I have him then?" Sabrina asked me. I wasn't sure whether she was joking or not. I just snorted and told her to go ahead, though she made no move towards him.
For the next fifteen minutes, the three of us just sat there talking and drinking, with me quickly realizing that I wasn't feeling the least bit of a buzz. Apparently, my new metabolism prevented me from getting drunk. I wasn't quite sure whether to count that as a plus or a minus.
Finally, I got up and started towards the bathroom, silently reminding myself to use the womens one. Otherwise, I just knew that I'd walk into the wrong one out of habit and embarass myself...as if I hadn't already been doing that all night long.
It was the first time that I'd had to use the women's bathroom in public, but I knew that it probably wouldn't be my last either. It was about what I expected though, and after I did my business, I started back towards my table.
Just as I was walking past one of the pool tables, a figure suddenly stepped in my way. It took me a second to realize that it was Randy...and that he had his cocky grin on again.
"Hello there Amanda." Randy said, a bit of an edge in his voice. "Why don't we go for that nightcap now?"
"Get...out...of...my...way." I told him slowly, beginning to get really annoyed with the ass hold. I'd seen guys like him before, though I had certainly never been one.
At that, Randy lost the friendly look on his face, which was replaced by one of anger. "Listen here you overgrown bitch..." he snarled, grabbing at my arm, "I don't think you understand."
"Let go of me you asshole." I told him in a quiet voice.
"SHUT UP BITCH!" He snarled, slapping me across my face as hard as he could. I barely felt a thing though he started grabbing at his hand with a look of pain on his face. "Fuck!"
I knew that I should have left it there, but I was pissed off. I reached down and grabbed at his balls with one hand, then reached over and grabbed a pool ball off of the table with my other.
"Don't fuck with me." I told him in a low voice, "And if I ever catch you fucking with anyone else like this you limp dicked asshole..." I held the pool ball up in front of his face, then crushed it to powder with the slightest effort. The look on his face at that...and the implication, nearly made me smile.
Then, I let go of Randy and turned around, smiling faintly to myself. I couldn't believe how confident my new powers made me feel at the moment. Suddenly something hit me over the head, and it wasn't until I looked down at the broken pool cue that I realized what it was.
Snapping around, I saw Randy standing there with a half broken pool cue and a look of shock on his face. I glared at him, tired of dealing with the asshole, then took a step towards him. However, Randy turned and ran as fast as he could. I just let him go.
Suddenly I realized that nearly everybody close by was staring at me. I gulped, trying to ignore them as I hurried back to Beth and Sabrina. I had a feeling that it was definitely time to collect my friends and go.
It was half an hour since I had come back to the facility from the little 'girl's night out' that I had been coerced into, and I sat alone in my room, smiling faintly to myself. Other than the incident with Randy, it had been rather fun. I had gotten to know Beth and Sabrina much better, not to mention being able to have a little fun for the first time since my rather unexpected transformation.
Then, as I remembered Randy, I wasn't sure whether to smile or scowl. It had been different to dance with a guy, though I had no real interest in doing it again. I might have been wearing the body of a woman, but Randy had done nothing for me...even before he'd pulled that shit. At least he wasn't any kind of problem for me, but I worried slightly that he might be for some real woman that he ran into.
"At least I've got these." I said, flexing my arm and looking at the bulge at my bicep. Unfortunately, the much larger bulges on my chest came with it, and those I would gladly do without.
Sighing, I turned to my clothes, starting to take them off before catching sight of myself in the mirror.
"Damn I look hot." I said, feeling a mixture of shame and pride.
The very sight of my reflection turned me on. It excited me in a way that I'd never been excited before. For a moment, I just stared at myself, then I smiled faintly and on an impulse, slowly started to strip my clothes off...literally. I swayed in place, moving as sexily as I could, turning myself on even more as each piece of clothing came off.
Once I was almost completely naked, I heard something from my door, snapping around only to see Beth standing there, staring at me.
"I...I'm sorry I didn't knock." Beth whispered, looking embarrassed for what I think was the first time.
I gulped, blushing in embarrassment at having been caught, not to mention feeling a little annoyed at the unexpected intrusion. For a moment, I looked around for something to cover myself up with, realizing at the same time that it was a little late for that.
"I had a lot of fun tonight...Amanda." Beth said, slowly stepping towards me.
"I did too." I responded quietly, still embarrassed...not to mention horny. "But please don't call me Amanda."
Beth smiled, stopping just in front of me. "We can't keep calling you Dave. You need a girl's name."
She was right, and I knew it. I'd already been thinking the same thing, not liking it but knowing that it was practical. "Daphne." I whispered, feeling embarrassed as I said it out loud. "Call me Daphne." It was my mom's middle name...and I thought that it was appropriate.
"Daphne." Beth mused, testing the name aloud. "Honestly, you strike me as more of an Amanda than a Daphne...but it is a nice name." She practically purred the last, moving even closer to me.
I gulped, "Beth..."
"Shhh." she put a finger to my lips. "I had a great time...but I don't want it to end yet." she whispered. "I want you."
For a moment, I just stood frozen, a little surprised by her statement, but more surprised that I wanted her too. Finally, I bent down so that we could kiss, marveling at the way Beth's tongue snaked inside my mouth.
Then, we moved to the bed, still kissing passionately, with me being extremely careful of my strength. Our kisses quickly escalated, with us both becoming completely undressed within minutes. And in the hours that followed, Beth and I got to know each other MUCH better.
I woke up with a smile, immediately noticing the person lying in bed next to me. Beth was still asleep, looking surprisingly innocent like that. For several minutes, I just stayed where I was, listening to her breathing and thinking about how great the night before had been.
Then with a slight groan, I sat up, accidentally waking Beth up in the process. She looked up at me and smiled, looking rather satisfied.
"Morning lover." Beth purred, sitting up and hopping off the bed. "So, how did you like it? As a girl that is?"
"I've had better." I told her, trying to keep a straight face. At least for a few seconds. Then we both started laughing. "It was definitely different." I admitted, blushing a little, "But nice. Very nice."
"Just nice?" Beth gasped in mock horror. "I guess I'll have to work at changing your mind." She started to move towards me at that.
After we kissed, I sighed, "I'm afraid we don't have time for this now." I looked over at the clock, adding, "They'll want us for training pretty soon."
With a groan, Beth muttered, "Sometimes it sucks being a super-hero in training."
"You're telling me." I muttered, glancing down at my tits. Then I smiled faintly, remembering that even they weren't all bad. Especially not with what Beth had been doing to them the night before.
Then, once we had kissed again, Beth said, "See ya later." just before turning black and sparkly...then vanishing.
I just shook my head. "Wow." I hadn't seen her do that teleporting trick from that angle before.
A minute later, I started for my bathroom to clean up, realizing that I definitely needed it. I only wished that Beth had stayed around long enough for us to do that together. But that wasn't to be...at least not this time.
Once I had finished washing up, I returned to the mirror, staring at my reflection for what had to be the ten thousandth time since my change. And still...every time I saw myself, I had that initial shock. That brief moment of surprise. I stood there for several minutes, then glanced towards my clock, realizing that it was nearly time for training.
"Shit." I sighed, knowing that I had to get dressed.
I looked over to my table, gulping as I did so. Sitting right on top of it was the bundle of red and gold. The costume. The very sight of it sent slight chills through me...not to mention the thought of putting it on. After a moment more of hesitation, I slowly reached out for it.
When I was finally dressed, I grimaced, still feeling nearly naked. The costume covered my entire body below my neck, but it was skin tight and left little to the imagination. Turning to the mirror again, I wanted to get my first look at myself in costume, freezing as soon as I did so.
My long golden blonde hair cascaded down my back and my body filled out the costume perfectly. The costume itself was a mix of red and gold, with red being slightly predominant, though the gold covered part of my inner legs and arms. There was also a stylized golden M of sorts on my chest. All in all, I looked fantastic...and exactly like Ms. Miracle.
"Oh God." I whispered in amazement, running my hands down my side, still staring at my reflection.
I was filled with a barrage of mixed emotions, hardly able to sort them out in my head. Part of me was completely shocked at the sight of Ms. Miracle in front of me, part of me shamed and embarrassed to pretend to be her. However, what surprised me the most was that it felt...right.
The sensation of the costume pulled tightly against my body felt strangely right. Almost as it belonged there. I could feel the weight coming from it...not literal, but emotional, all bearing down on my shoulders. But at the same time, I felt a part of something bigger than just myself. And...at that moment I felt closer to my mother than I could ever remember. Somehow...it actually felt as if I belonged inside that costume.
Without consciously realizing it, I struck a serious pose in the mirror, smiling to myself. I couldn't believe how good I actually felt at that moment...both physically and oddly enough...emotionally.
Then with a sigh, I turned away from the mirror, cheerfully saying, "Time for training."
After fifteen minutes of practicing with my powers in the training room, I was already getting bored. My strength had obviously increased some more, though it seemed to be slowing down. I was nearly at my full strength...and felt awesome. The training room however didn't give me much of a challenge and I was dying to cut loose.
Pausing for a moment, I looked over at the others while they were still practicing their powers, smiling faintly at the memory of their reactions when I'd come into the room. They'd all stared at me with their mouths hanging open, obviously as amazed by the resemblance as I was.
"This isn't getting me anywhere." I finally tell McKenzie who was watching closely. "I need to get out where I can cut loose. To see what I can really do."
McKenzie nodded, "I know." He paused for a moment, then said, "This afternoon we will start you all working together so you can practice your teamwork. Then I'll also have you all start looking at files on some of the people you will likely encounter."
Beth had come over at that, shaking hear head. "Yeah, but that sounds pretty boring. Can't we just go out and kick their asses?"
"Not unless you wish to have yours being the ones kicked." McKenzie told her, nearly smiling. "You may possess powers now, but you still lack the experience and teamwork that many of your enemies will possess."
"Party pooper." Beth snorted. Then she demanded, "And what makes you the expert?"
For a few seconds, McKenzie just stared at her, looking rather annoyed. Then he let out a sigh, quietly saying, "Years of experience. I used to be a super-hero."
"Say what?" Mike demanded, coming closer. The others were right behind him. "Did you just say what I thought you said?"
McKenzie nodded faintly. "I suppose you would all have found out sooner or later, but I used to possess powers myself. I lost them several years ago and had to retire from action."
We all looked at him and each other in surprise. It was Sabrina who asked what we were all thinking. "Like...who were you?"
"I was called the Shrike." McKenzie told us, smiling faintly.
I nodded, vaguely remembering a guy called the Shrike. Not too clearly though since he was never one of the extremely public heroes, but I thought I could remember him being able to fly.
"But that is beside the point." McKenzie announced a moment later. "You all need to get back to your training."
We all groaned at that, but I said, "Well, I need to get out of here then." As I stepped towards the door, McKenzie looked as if he was about to protest, then he just shut up and gestured for me to go.
Several minutes later, I was outside the facility and flying straight into the air...higher than I'd ever gone before, no longer trapped by the confines of our training room. And I loved it. My fear of heights was immediately gone as I shot up into the clouds, marveling at the complete and total freedom that I had in the air.
"I love this." I screamed, flying higher and faster.
I was soon lost completely in the thrill of the flight, gathering my courage and trying loops then diving towards the ground. Everything I could think of, I tried, loving every minute of it, smiling at the unbelievable speed in which the ground was moving beneath me.
When I arrived at some mountains, I laughed and couldn't resist landing near a boulder that was over three times the size of my old car and lifting it with only a little bit of effort. I held the boulder over my head, surprising even myself with that, then tossing it nearly 50 yards, surprising myself even more.
"Damn I'm strong." I gasped, turning around and punching at an even larger boulder. It nearly exploded from the force.
I spent about two hours playing around and testing my new powers. And though I was a little embarrassed to admit it, I was thrilled as hell to do so. Finally though, I decided that I had better get back to the others so started the return flight, quickly realizing that I should have paid a little more attention to which way I'd come.
Leaning back in my chair, I sighed, paying little attention to the TV that played in the background, nor to the others who were making noise as well. We were all sitting back and taking a break from our training, having spent a good part of the morning at it. I was getting more than a little tired of all the training of every sort that McKenzie had thrown at us, but I wasn't the only one. And I was getting more than anyone, and not just from him.
It had been several days since Beth and Sabrina had taken me out, but that hadn't been the end of their attempts to help me adjust. It was bad enough when they'd hauled me along to go shopping the day before, even if I really did need a new wardrobe, but the makeup lessons they insisted on were far worse. I refused to let Beth touch me, remembering just how much makeup she wore the first time I saw her. Besides, Sabrina seemed to be the expert in that area anyway. And to top it off, even Dr. Alvere had gotten into the act, insisting on giving me some 'feminine hygiene' lessons. Talk about embarrassing.
Then I smiled, glancing towards Beth and remembering how fun she was in bed. Of course, I still would have rather had a cock to use, but it sex was definitely great. Even if I was now a confirmed lesbian...as strange as that seemed to me. Somehow, I don't think that the real Ms. Miracle was.
My thoughts were interrupted though as McKenzie stepped into the room, a serious look on his face.
"Is it time to continue training?" Allan asked, standing up.
"Yes...and no." McKenzie told us, confusing me and the others too I was sure. "I have your first mission."
"Really?" Beth exclaimed excitedly, though quickly covered it up with a sarcastic, "What is it? Fetching the newspaper for you?"
I couldn't resist grinning and adding "Arf arf." since that sounded like something I would have said.
McKenzie gave us an annoyed look before explaining, "Two enhanced criminals have gone on a looting rampage in the middle of a crowded city." He paused for a moment, then said, "They're robbing stores and destroying anything in their way...and endangering innocent lives."
"Finally," Mike exclaimed, grinning broadly, "some action."
"No shit." Beth muttered.
I nodded, definitely excited by the prospect of finally getting out and doing something...but extremely apprehensive as well. This was what we were supposed to be doing...but I would have to be seen in public for it to happen and that still made me a bit nervous.
With that, McKenzie turned on the news, showing us the scene while filling us in with what little was known, which unfortunately wasn't much. Once our rushed plans were made, we all stood together...at least those of us with powers did, while McKenzie stood back and quietly wished us luck. A moment later, Beth's...Rumor's powers had taken us away.
Suddenly, I was standing outside, glancing around quickly to gain my bearings and realizing that we were on a roof top.
"We're here." Beth said unnecessarily. "I saw this building on the TV."
At that moment, I heard the smashing of glass and ran to the edge of the building to look down. It was obvious that we were up about 5 stories...and just as obvious as to what was causing the noise. There were two people standing down below who were dressed in strange costumes. Obviously the super-villains.
One of them was somewhat thin, dressed in a costume of reddish orange and brown, having long brown hair. The other was huge...about 8 feet all and built like a human tank, covered with green and gray armor to match. He was mostly bald...but with faint white hair around the sides and back. He at least looked dangerous.
"I guess we found them." I exclaimed, turning to the others, only to see them vanish. "Damn!" I didn't really like the idea of being left to sit on the sidelines while my friends were going to fight.
I turned back to the two below, grimacing as they grabbed stuff out of a shattered store window and stuffed it into a large bag that was already half fun. There were people inside the store screaming, as well as a few on the street who were staring or running away in terror. A number of people were watching the scene from windows in nearby buildings. I even noticed a TV cameraman who was keeping his distance.
"Business as usual." I snorted, wondering what it said about someone who's job was to follow super-heroes and villains, recording their fights.
Just then, I saw the others stepping forward, Beth still in her black sparkly mode while Mike was armoring up in crystal, looking pretty menacing as he did so. Sabrina stood off to the side, looking around almost frantically for water...at least that was what I assumed she was looking for since she couldn't do much without it. Allan however seemed almost calm, making no move to use his powers just yet.
"Stop that right this instant!" Allan...Surge called out. "We're here to stop you."
The two costumed strangers turned towards them...laughing. "I think not little man." the big one said, his voice rumbling deeply. "Who are you to try stopping us?"
Surge paused at that, looking a little surprised. "I guess we need to come up with some sort of team name." I muttered. Then I chuckled softly, adding yet another thing that McKenzie and whoever else was behind us had forgotten.
Looking back at them, the smaller criminal called out, "It us unimportant. Let us introduce ourselves before we turn your lives into a world of hurt." He paused dramatically before exclaiming, "We are Divide and Conquer."
Suddenly the smaller guy spit into two identical versions of himself...then several more. Obviously he was Divide then. Without any further warning, they charged straight at my friends. The big guy howled, slammed through a car with one punch while a dozen Divides ran around.
Quartz charged straight at Conquer, punching him with a large crystal fist. However, Conquer didn't even seem to notice it. With a single backhand...Quartz was thrown straight into a building with a loud crack. I could almost hear the crystal cracking.
"Watch out Mike." I muttered, grabbing into the ledge and feeling it crumble between my fingers. However, much to my relief, Mike climbed back out of the wall, repairing his armor and covering it with more spikes. "Nasty."
One of the Divides had grabbed Splash, who seemed helpless at the moment without any water. Surge was glowing with static and throwing balls of it Conquer...who staggered back slightly at each explosion but seemed otherwise unhurt. Rumor was fighting with one of the Divides and proving that he could do little against someone he couldn't touch.
An explosion of crystal shards shot at Conquer, bouncing off his tanklike hide...just as Surge's electron bombs were, even though they were doing plenty of damage to other things when they missed. Obviously, Conquer was extremely tough...and by the way he was picking up a car to throw, strong as well.
"Get lost you fools!" Conquer screamed. "This is none of your business."
"Fraid we can't do that big guy." Rumor snapped back, standing there while he punched through her...without touching her at all. "We're here to stop you, and that's what we're going to do."
One of the Divides sarcastically called out, "I'd like to wish you luck, but I'm afraid that I can't."
Suddenly, one of the cars that Conquer through, hit into a fire hydrant...bursting it and spraying water everywhere. A moment later, Splash was lifted into the air with a pillar of water, directing it like blasts, taking one Divide after another out. However, after a minute, I realized that this wasn't doing much good as every time one lost consciousness...they vanished, but other Divides continued to split.
"Come on." I growled, getting angry.
Quartz was punching at Conquer and blasting him with spikes while Surge continued to fire electron blasts at Divides since they weren't doing much against Conquer. Overall, it seemed to be holding in a stalemate.
Then I noticed one of the Divides sneaking up being Surge, calling out, "LOOK OUT!" But he couldn't hear me and a second later, Surge had been hit from behind and fell to the ground...stunned, but obviously not dead. At least not yet.
"Surge!" Quartz called out, turning slightly. But while he was distracted, Conquer blindsided him, sending Quarts into a wall again, making me shudder.
"Damn it." I growled, deciding that enough was enough. With that, I jumped into the air.
"STOP!" I called down, hovering in the air above the fight.
Suddenly, everyone did stop and all eyes moved to me. Every Divide stared with his mouth open and Conquer looked totally shocked. Even my friends were staring at me in amazement...as well as relief.
"It can't be her." Several of the Divides exclaimed, while others said similar comments.
"It's a trick." Conquer gasped. "Has to be. Ms. Miracle is dead. Everyone knows that."
"Apparently she doesn't." Rumor added with a grin.
Then, with a loud growl, Conquer grabbed yet another car and threw it straight at me. I was caught by surprise and hit with the car, thrown a good distance backward before slamming into a wall. A moment later, I fell to the ground along with the car...feeling somewhat stunned and embarrassed, but not really hurt.
"Damn it." I muttered, "What does he think this is...football?" I paused, staring at the Divides and Conquer before grinning, "Then I guess it's fair to tackle."
With that, I charged forward as fast as I could. I hit Conquer with my shoulder and grunted from the impact...but he did go down. Unfortunately, he was back on his feet again several seconds later, looking surprised and rubbing at his arm for a moment, but not looking hurt.
"I like it rough." Conquer growled, grinning faintly.
Then Conquer came at me, punching with his massive fist. I dodged to the side and punched him back, making him grunt slightly but not much more. It didn't take more than a few seconds before he swung again, this time hitting me. I actually felt the impact of his fist and wondered if I'd get a bloody nose or black eye because of it, but immediately punched back, launching into a series of punches and kicks.
While Conquer and I were trading punches, Quartz was slowly pulling himself out of the wall and Surge was struggling to get to his feet, not helped by the Divides who were kicking at him. Then with a massive surge of static, they were both knocked away and vanished while Surge got back to his feet. Rumor and Splash were both still going at Divides one at a time, to little overall effect.
Conquest and I continued trading punches for several minutes and knocking each other into walls, but I knew that this wasn't going to do much good. As strong as I was...he seemed to be just as strong. Possibly even stronger. Not to mention the size and leverage advantage that he had over me.
Then, as I noticed my friends fighting the Divides, an idea suddenly occurred to me. "You have to take them all out at once!" I screamed. "Sab...Splash, take them out!"
My friends seemed to get the idea at that and each of them started targeting multiple Divides at once. Surge was blasting at them and making them vanish, just as Quartz shot crystal shards at them and punched at the ones closer to him.
"Don't worry about him." Conquer growled, his hand grabbing around my throat. "Divide can take care of himself. It's me that you've got to worry about."
I knew that Conquer was right about one thing, he was the one that I had to worry about at the moment. And with that, I kicked him between his legs as hard as I could with my super-human strength, smiling as even Conquer collapsed to his knees.
"Don't underestimate your opponent. Any guy can be taken down that way." I said with a grin, knowing that far too well. A scrawny nerd that I'd once tried bullying in junior high had painfully taught me that lesson.
Then, I moved behind Conquer, putting my arms around his throat...then flying straight up and dragging him with me. Higher and higher I went, still holding Conquer firmly in my sleeper hold. And after taking a deep breath, I went up higher still, past the clouds till it was too thin to breath properly.
I held Conquer that way, moving sideways as well until I could make out below that we were no longer directly above the city. I waited until it was just the empty desert, and with a grin, dove straight at the ground, throwing Conquer ahead of me then veering away.
"That ought to do it." I gasped, watching the big man hit the ground.
Suddenly there was an explosion where he hit, sending clouds of dust and grit into the air, making it hard to see what was below. I waited for a minute, then slowly went down inside the crater. Conquer was laying motionless on the very bottom, badly bruised and unconscious...but still alive.
Without a word, I turned and flew away, confident that Conquer would remain where he was once the cops arrived. After all, they had a lot of experience picking up super-villains, but sadly, they seemed to have little ability to keep them in the prisons once they were put there.
I quickly returned to where my friends were fighting, smiling as I saw Splash send a wall of water straight at all of the remaining Divides who'd been herded there by the others. A moment later, only a single Divide remained...on his hands and knees, gagging for breath.
"No more." he gasped, surrounded by my friends. There was no way for him to divide again without immediately having both of them attacked.
"Sort of like shooting monkeys in a barrel, isn't it?" I asked, landing in front of the others.
Rumor grinned at me, no longer all black and sparkly. "So, where's the big guy?"
"He had to take a little trip." I told her with a faint grin myself.
Suddenly, I realized that people were coming out of the nearby buildings and surrounding us. Including the cops...though I immediately wondered what the hell they'd been doing while we were taking care of the criminals. However, now that Divide was neutralized, they wasted no time in handcuffing him and hauling him away.
But even as the police took Divide away, they stared at me so much that I was half sure that their eyes were going to fall out. It was all I could do just to bite my tongue and keep from saying something that would have ruined Ms. Miracle's reputation. And the cops weren't the only ones staring at me either. It seemed as if EVERYONE was, making me feel a little uncomfortable.
After I'd told the still staring cops were to find Conquer, I turned to Rumor and said, "Five to beam up Scotty." A moment later, we were gone.
Frowning, I changed channels on the TV, then did so again. It was no use though as the same thing was on nearly every channel. Me. Or at least Ms. Miracle and the story of her triumphant return. I was getting more than a little tired of seeing it on every channel.
"You'd think that we weren't even there." Mike complained. "They barely even mention us." The bitterness was clear in his voice and I felt guilty, though it was no faulty of mine.
On one channel, the female reporter continued, "And the famous Ms. Miracle has proven the appropriateness of her name, but performing the ultimate miracle. Returning from the dead."
"I wish." I sighed, looking down at myself with a frown. But then again, I doubted that the reporters would believe the truth even if they did know about it.
Beth leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on my neck, whispering, "You're all over the news lover."
"I know." I groaned. "I know."
Finally, the reporter on TV said, "And the returned hero was not alone in dealing with these criminals..."
"Finally." Mike exclaimed.
"A small group of new heroes who seemed to be following Ms. Miracle also dealt with the criminals..." Pictures of the others were shown on TV while the reporter continued, "But these unidentified Miracle Men, if you will, were sore pressed to hold their own until her arrival when she took charge..."
Suddenly the TV was turned off, and Mike stood there with the remote in his hand, cursing loudly. "Lucky I didn't blow that damn thing up." he growled, glaring at me as if it was my fault before leaving the room.
"Mike..." I called out, but it was too late.
"Don't worry about him." Allan said, gently putting an arm on my shoulder, "We know that it's not your fault."
"I just wish we'd get some credit too." Sabrina sighed. "Anyway, that was a good idea for taking out Divide."
Nodding, I thanked Sabrina and Allan, getting up to leave the room myself. "See you later." I said aloud, though with a wink towards Beth, I let her know that it was really directed towards her.
As I walked through the halls, thinking about the events from hours earlier, I couldn't help wondering how the real Ms. Miracle would have handled it. However, that only led me to wondering more about her...the person that I never really knew...even though she was my own mother. How could she have lied to me like that?
Suddenly, as I thought about what the reporter had said about Ms. Miracle performing the ultimate miracle, something struck me. "The experiment." I whispered, trying to remember exactly what McKenzie had said during that briefing. And as soon as I did, I rushed straight towards his office purposefully.
A minute later, I was at McKenzie's door, barely pausing before I knocked...knocking the door in as I did so. But I barely paid attention to the damage that I'd accidentally done before stepping through and furiously demanding, "Where is she?"
McKenzie stood up from his desk, looking angry at the intrusion. "Where's who?"
"My mom." I said in a cold voice. "You have her body." I was beginning to shake at this, filled with mixed emotions. "She deserves a proper burial."
For a moment, McKenzie stared at me, looking thoughtful. Finally, he said, "Follow me."
I did as McKenzie asked and followed him down the halls, towards the lab area. We arrived, just as Dr. Alvere was looking at something through a microscope while simultaneously writing something on a pad of paper next to her.
"What's up doc?" I called out, feeling a little better since McKenzie seemed willing to help.
Dr. Alvere looked up and put her pad away. "Can I help you with something?"
"Dave...Daphne would like Ms. Miracle's body." McKenzie told her, his voice betraying no emotion.
With a look of surprise, Dr. Alvere said, "Oh my."
"What?" I demanded, trying to keep calm.
"I should have realized that earlier." Dr. Alvere said, sounding apologetic. "One of the reasons that we acquired her body in the first place was that there were no known relatives to claim it." She paused, looking embarrassed before whispering, "It was taken from her public monument... I'm sorry. I should have thought..."
Then, without another word, Dr. Alvere started off, gesturing for me to follow her. She led me through yet another hall until we got to an elevator, then we rode down two levels...which I hadn't even realized where there.
A minute later, we stopped in front of another door, just long enough for Dr. Alvere to enter something on a keypad and open it up. And as we stepped inside, she said, "Here she is."
I immediately saw a tube on the other side of the room, laying on a table. It was about 7 feet long and about the size of a coffin. The very sight sent chills through my body, especially when I moved closer to it. I could almost feel her presence inside.
"This is her." I whispered, slowly opening it up.
A bit of steam came out of the canister...but it was from cold rather than heat. I waited a few seconds, then stared at the contents. It was her. Or at least what was left of her. It was a naked body...in very good shape for being dead for 6 years, but obviously dead. This was no sleeping beauty.
"It's her." I gasped, gulping as I slowly reached out to touch her. I could barely bring myself to do so...thinking that I looked like her. That she was my mother. That she really was dead. "Mom..." I whispered, dropping to my knees and crying. Truly crying for the first time in years.
I don't know how long I was on my knees crying, but when I finally got up and turned around, there was no sign of either McKenzie or the doctor. I was relieved at that, as well as embarrassed that they'd seen me cry at all. However, I didn't spare much thought to that, focusing instead on my mothers coffin.
"I'm sorry mom." I whispered, feeling a little guilty for all those years that I'd been bitter towards her, thinking that she'd just abandoned me. The figure in the tube was that of Ms. Miracle...not the much smaller woman that I knew as my mom, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were one and the same. "Let's get you out of here."
Fifteen minutes later, I was outside of the facility, holding the canister in my arms. Then, after only a moment of hesitation, I took to the air, deciding that it would be best if I didn't take her to the monument that had been built for her. Instead, it would be a much better idea to give her a burial where no one else would dig her up to use like THEY had. I had just the place.
A short while later, I was flying over a place that I hadn't been at in a long time. Since shortly after my dad had died. The mountains were just the way I remembered them, filled with trees and gorgeous scenery. We used to go camping up there, but after dad died, mom hadn't had much heart in doing that anymore. Nor did she seem to have the time...though now I knew why.
"Such happy times." I whispered sadly.
With that, I landed at a likely spot, near the top of the mountain where the view was the best. I gently set down the canister...my mom's coffin, and looked around. Perfect.
A moment later, I picked up a large boulder, slowly moving it to the side. Without a word, I started digging at the ground beneath it, finding that it was easier than I expected with my powers. Certainly quicker than a shovel would have been.
After setting the canister into the hole I made, I said sadly whispered, "Good bye mom. Rest in peace."
Then, I covered the canister up with some of the dirt before setting the boulder back on top. That would prevent anyone from finding her, much less messing with her. However, I couldn't resist scratching something into the rock face with my unbreakable fingernail.
'Here lies a mother and hero...she is missed.'
I stood there silently for a long time, crying once again. Then I looked down at my changed body and the costume that decorated it, feeling just a little closer to her because of it. As if she hadn't completely left me.
"I'll try to make you proud." I said quietly but firmly.
And then, I jumped into the air, not looking back.
It was two days after we had made our public debut with Divide and Conquer, with Ms. Miracle making an official return, though no one knew that I wasn't the original. Of course there were speculations, but overall the public opinion seemed to be that Ms. Miracle had just returned from the dead...as several other heroes had done before.
During the time since, we had made several more public appearances to stop criminals, though none as dangerous as Divide and Conquer. Most of the ones that we faced during that time were fairly small time, not even requiring the full team. And much to Mike's annoyance, the name Miracle Men had stuck and that was what all the reporters and newspapers were calling us.
At the moment though, I barely thought about that, instead cuddling up next to Beth on my bed and wondering what the others would say if they knew about us. Beth was all for telling them, but I wasn't quite as ready to go public as that. Besides, I told myself, it was our business, not theirs.
"Very nice." I told Beth, sitting up looking at the vibrator that she'd just introduced me to.
However, I knew that it wouldn't take the place of my own missing equipment. Sure, my new parts felt great in bed, but I still would have preferred my old ones. Then at least I'd be able to do to Beth what I really wanted to do to her.
"Just wait until I bring in the strap-on tomorrow." Beth purred. I winced, not sure to be looking forward to it or dreading it.
I sighed, "I hope Mike isn't still mad at me."
"Why should he be?" Beth asked, "I mean, it's not like we didn't know that you were going to be the star. Not looking like who you do."
"Yeah, but I don't really like being the star as you call it." I reminded Beth. "I like being able to help people with these powers, but I could really do without all the attention. It's kind of embarrassing."
Beth just chuckled. "Too bad. After all, if you've got it, flaunt it."
"Easy for you to say." I mutter. "You've always been a girl."
Not to mention the fact that she was, or at least had been a goth. The baggy clothes and heavy makeup had definitely not been designed to flaunt her attractiveness, though she had avoided both since we got together. I wasn't sure if I could even call her a goth anymore, though she was definitely a lot cuter.
I let out a sigh as Beth ran a finger around my nipples, loving how that felt. It amazed me just how quickly I could get used to that at least, but then again, Beth and Sabrina had been doing just about everything that they could to welcome me to the 'girl club' as they called it and help me adjust.
Then suddenly there was a beeping sound, making us both jump up and look around. It was coming from our beepers, which were sitting on my night stand.
"Shit!" we both cried out at once.
Beth frantically grabbed at her clothes on the floor, then with her arms full, ran towards me. I bent down and gave her another kiss.
"See you in a few." Beth whispered before turning black and sparkly then vanishing.
I sighed, then kicked my own clothes to the side, reaching instead for my costume which was draped over a chair. It was time to get to work and I knew that I'd have to hurry. Lives could be at stake.
Several minutes later, I stepped into the briefing room, seeing that Beth...Rumor, Surge and Quartz where there ahead of me. Splash came stumbling in a few seconds later, apologizing for being late and saying something about having to finish her makeup.
"So what's happening?" Mike asked, getting to the point.
McKenzie looked around the room, a serious expression on his face. "I had hoped that you would get more experience before having to face something like this."
"Like what?" I asked jokingly, "Is there a giant plaid panda with purple pom poms pillaging Pittsburgh?"
"Preposterous." Beth chimed in, grinning broadly.
Surge just smiled faintly and added, "Possible."
Mike just glared at all three of us, muttering, "Punks." However, I couldn't miss the faint chuckle that he tried holding back.
"What's so funny?" Sabrina asked, looking a little confused.
Beth grinned, then whispered in my ear, "Maybe she ought to be the blonde."
"Ahem!" McKenzie said, trying to get our attentions back. Once we were looking back at him, he pushed a button on the console and the large screen came to life. "This...is your target."
I stared at the screen, nearly choking at the scene. Or particularly, the huge figure that was the central part of the scene. He was huge, standing at least 12 feet tall and looking monstrous. The creature was vaguely humanoid in shape and had dark blue skin, with long dark blue hair and patches of it on his shoulders. There were several spikes sticking out of the creature at it's shoulders, elbows and down it's spine. It's fingers were clawed and it's face was stretched out into a snout...filled with sharp looking teeth.
"Grendel." I gasped in horror.
Everyone knew of Grendel, the giant monster that was reputed to be one of the most strongest and unstoppable creatures on the planet. It was said that he had no real mind, just a bad attitude and a desire to destroy nearly everything in his path. His very name was oven used by mothers to frighten their children into behaving.
However, Grendel was also a mystery. He often appeared out of nowhere without warning and vanished just as quickly. At least that was the story since frequently he would appear destroying things in the middle of a city without anyone having seen him go there, then disappear again shortly afterwards.
As I stared at the picture of Grendel, I remembered a rumor that I'd once heard about him. That he was once a woman scientist who's experiments in biological mutation had gone horribly wrong, turning her into a creature that became named after the monster from an old story. However, I never put too much stock in that explanation, figuring that it was just rumors and such.
"We can't beat Grendel." Surge said. "I mean, almost nobody beats him."
"You'll have to." McKenzie said. "Or at least find some way to stop him. He's in the countryside now, but he's slowly moving towards a highly populated area. If he gets there..."
I gulped, knowing that anything...or anyone that got in Grendel's way would be destroyed. Super-heroes, villains and the military had been trying to do that to him for years without any permanent success.
"Great." I mutter. "Now all we've got to do is play Beowulf."
"I wish that I didn't have to send you." McKenzie told us quietly. "I know what he's capable of. I've faced him once myself...and barely escaped with my life. But lives are depending on you. All I can say is...be careful, and good luck."
Several minutes later, we were all standing in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Rumor. I glanced over to her, seeing that she was still all black and sparkly, ready to protect herself from any danger. Quartz was fully armored up and looked dangerously impressive, though I still didn't think that he'd be any match for Grendel by himself. I doubted that any of us were.
Then I heard a loud, thundering roar, turning quickly to see the giant blue creature just a hundred yards or so away. Grendel was stomping away from us, towards the buildings that I could see in the distance.
"Oh shit." I exclaimed, quickly adding, "Get him!"
With that, we all rushed straight towards him. Splash was nearly flying, projected by a wave of water that she'd actually brought with her since we didn't think that there would be too much once we arrived. I on the other hand, actually was flying.
As soon as we got within range, all five of us opened up with everything that we could, hoping that we could stop Grendel before he realized what was happening or could think to defend himself.
Quartz punched at him with everything that he could, sending blasts of crystal shards at the monster simultaneously. Splash send a highly concentrated blast of water at the creatures face, Surge was building massive electron bombs and blasting him while I dived bombed him and hit him as hard as I could in his ugly face. Only Rumor held back as her power wasn't of much use at the moment.
However, our initial attack seemed useless as Grendel just howled and lashed out with his fist, not hitting any of us but coming close to me. I grimaced, punching him again with everything that I had. For a moment, Grendel actually flinched, but nothing more. None of our attacks were doing anything but pissing him off.
"Shit!" I screamed, flying out of the way, "This isn't doing any good." Then I paused, remembering all of the other heroes that had faced Grendel throughout the years. "Damn, I wish the Protectorate was here." They were the group of heroes who had the most experience with the monster.
Suddenly a voice called out, "Ask and you shall receive!"
I snapped around, surprised to see a man floating in the air nearby. He was a black man, wearing a costume that was black and blue. A red cape fluttered behind him, held to his costume by two white broaches, one on each side. There was also a white metal belt and white metal wrist bands, as well as a blue mask that covered part of his face around his eyes.
"Vigil." I gasped in amazement. There was no doubting the identity of one of the worlds most famous heroes, and the leader of the Protectorate...though I saw no sign of the others at the moment.
"You...you look like her..." Vigil said, sounding impressed "but I'm not as sure as the media."
I forced myself to keep from staring at him, asking instead, "Where are the others?"
"Far from here." Vigil answered. "I came alone." And with that, he flew straight towards Grendel, hitting the monster in the face, and calling out, "I'll draw him away from the town."
Vigil's plan seemed to be working as Grendel turned and started chasing him...while my friends and I stood back. I was a little impressed, but annoyed at the same time. After all, we were the ones dealing with Grendel.
"Look at him go." Sabrina sighed, obviously impressed. Mike on the other hand was standing there with his arms crossed, looking rather angry at the interference.
"Let's give him a hand." I suggested after a moment. And with that, I dove at Grendel again, making sure that he noticed me and then following behind Vigil. That was sure to make sure he followed us.
For the next several minutes, we all too turns attacking Grendel, then running, trying to keep him after us. He kept growling and stomping the ground, making it shake with every step as he chased after us.
"It's working." I called out, feeling relieved.
However, just as Vigil slammed into Grendel and took off again, the monster let out yet another roar. But this time...this time it wasn't just sound that came out. A massive blast of green energy shot out of Grendel's mouth, catching Vigil in mid-air.
"VIGIL!" I cried out, watching in horror as the hero fell to the ground in flames. "Splash!" I yelled quickly, "Put him out!"
Grendel roared again, then stomped the ground where Vigil was...or had been a second before. Rumor pulled him out just in time, while Splash put him out. But the monster didn't seem to like that and started smashing at the ground randomly, the shockwaves of each impact knocking my friends over.
I landed by Vigil, looking at his horribly charred costume and gulping. However, he was still alive. Wincing badly, he tried sitting up...but couldn't manage it.
"He got me good." Vigil gasped, wincing from what had to be an incredible pain. "I'll survive..." he said, looking straight at me, "but I won't be much good for awhile."
I nodded, knowing what he really meant. It was up to us now. And from the way Grendel had returned to his march towards the town, I knew that our work was going to be cut out for us.
"We'll stop him." I promised, turning away. I felt guilty for leaving Vigil laying there injured, but I knew that I'd feel a hell of a lot worse if Grendel made his way into town.
"How?" Rumor demanded. "I mean, he just took out Vigil." Beth was scared and I couldn't blame her. I was too.
"We don't have a choice." I whispered, charging at Grendel again.
A minute later, I managed to get close to Grendel again, this time having a plan. I nearly grinned to myself as I remembered how effective it had been against Conquer...then punched the monster in his crotch as hard as I possibly could. Grendel just let out a deafening roar and grabbed at his crotch, but didn't fall to the ground.
"That's gotta hurt!" Quartz exclaimed, running up and attacking Grendel at the same time.
Grendel just roared again, swatting at Quartz and knocking him a good distance away. However, Quartz almost immediately got back to his feet and charged at Grendel again, though he obviously knew that it wouldn't do any good.
I flew into the air above Grendel and prepared myself, knowing that there was one more thing that I could do and hoping...praying that it would be enough. I'd seen the real Ms. Miracle do it and had practiced it several times on my own, but this was not practice.
"Clear the area!" I called out, gesturing for my friends to get out of the way.
A moment later, I took a deep breath and gathered my concentration. I could feel my power building, seeing the golden glow around me getting brighter. Then with a grimace, I gathered all of the energy I could and pushed outwards. A blast of golden energy shot out of my hands, hitting Grendel dead on...and I kept pushing.
"Damn it." Rumor gasped.
"I didn't know you could do that." Surge exclaimed, obviously surprised.
I just looked down at where my energy blast had hit, forming a melted crater in the ground, with Grendel sitting at the bottom. For a moment, Grendel was motionless, then he stood up and started climbing out of the crater. He was charred and no longer had any hair at all, but that didn't seem to bother him in the least.
With yet another roar, Grendel spat another burst of energy out at me, though I avoided it...barely. And to my horror, char marks on the creatures skin vanished and even the missing hair started growing back. Within less than a minute, there was no sign that I'd hurt him at all.
"Fuck." I growled, "Doesn't ANYTHING stop him?" And he was getting closer to the town with every second.
I landed next to the others, muttering, "Any ideas?"
"None." Quartz admitted.
Splash shook her head, Rumor shrugged and Surge admitted that he couldn't think of anything either.
"He's got to have some weakness..." I exclaimed in frustration. Suddenly, it dawned on me. "Splash, I have an idea..."
A moment later, I carried Splash to Grendel, growing extremely uncomfortable at how close he was to the town. Even if this worked, I wasn't sure that we could stop him before he leveled the entire place.
Once Splash was close enough, she looked at me for comfort, obviously being extremely nervous. However, after I nodded at her, she gestured towards him, sending her entire supply of water straight at Grendel's face again. However this time, it wasn't just to blast him. This time, the water remained, forming into a large bubble that nearly covered the entire monster.
"Now lets see you breath." I muttered.
Grendel grasped at his face, but even though his hands went through the water, he couldn't move it away from his head. And he was obviously trying. But even though Grendel grasped at his head, trying to get his head clear, he didn't slow down in his march towards the town. In fact, he slowly started to speed up.
"Oh shit!" Quartz shouted, "He's not slowing down!"
"No shit sherlock." Rumor spat back.
Surge looked at me, a worried expression on his face. "Maybe he'll run out of air before he gets there."
I nodded, not willing to count on it though. For some reason, Grendel was determined to get to that town, though I had no idea why.
For the next several minutes we tried to divert Grendel. To blow the ground away in front of him. To try forcing him to change course. Even repeating Vigil's plan to lead him away, but Grendel ignored everything. It was almost as if we weren't even there.
By the time that Grendel reached the edge of the town though, he was finally slowing down. Finally beginning to show signs that sealing off his air had worked. He even stumbled to the ground several times, smashing through one building then forcing himself forward again.
"I don't know how much longer I can hold it." Splash gasped, obviously exhausted.
"Just a little longer." I encouraged her, then yelled at the others, "Get the people out of the way!" However, it looked like most of the citizens had already started evacuating the moment Grendel was sighted heading in their direction. Most...but not all.
Suddenly, after falling to his knees again, this time looking as if he might not get up, Grendel opened his mouth as if to roar, then fired a blast of green energy out of it once again. To my horror, the water all immediately exploded into steam while the blast continued, smashing through the side of a building and leaving a horrible burning wreckage in its wake.
"Oh fucking shit!" Rumor cried out, and at the same time, Splash looked as if she was about to collapse.
Then there was the screaming, drawing my attention to another building...one that was partly caught in Grendel's blast and was in the middle of burning. To my horror, there was a woman hanging out one of the window's, smoke billowing out from behind her.
"I'll get her!" I yelled to the others, turning my back on Grendel as I rushed to pull the woman out.
As I was setting the woman to the ground, Rumor yelled, "I'll teleport that bastard to Antarctica."
I smiled faintly as I took to the air, turning towards Grendel, yelling back, "Good idea."
Then I froze, realizing that Grendel was no longer where he'd fallen to his knees. And as I frantically looked around, I couldn't see a single sign of him. This left me totally confused since there was no way that a monster that big could just vanish into thin air.
"What the hell?" I whispered in confusion.
I took one more look around...then to my surprise, for a brief moment I thought that I caught a glimpse of a naked woman turning the corner around a building and out of my sight. But before I could go for a better look, there was another scream from behind me.
Quartz pointed to the building that had taken the brunt of Grendel's blast, calling out, "LOOK!"
As I did so, I gasped. There were people crying out from one of the windows, just before the wall started to collapse. People were still in that building...and the still burning one that I'd pulled the woman from. With that, we all rushed to save them.
I flew through a window and rushed through the flames that covered the floor. A minute later, I found two kids, grabbing them and making my way out, having to avoid the flames or breaking through a wall since that would have hurt them. Finally though, I found a clear area, punched a hole through the outside wall, then flew the kids to safety.
Once I was outside, I saw Rumor walking through the wall with a teenage girl clutched tight. There wasn't much that Surge could do without making the situation worse, but he was obviously doing his best with helping to lead the people out of the burning building.
Splash had been bad before, but now she looked even more exhausted. However, she still stood there with a look of fierce determination on her face while she used her powers to help contain the flames...with much more effectiveness than any fireman.
"They're all out of this one!" Rumor called out, rushing out of the burning building empty handed. "Quartz is getting the last ones from the other building." She gestured to the one that had taken the direct hit.
Just then, I saw a faint gleam of crystal from the doorway. Quartz was on his way out. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion from several floors above, and everything crumbled inward. I could only watch in horror as the building collapsed right on top of Quartz...and the innocent people that he was trying to save.
"Oh God!" I gasped, rushing towards the building, knowing that it was too late.
Rumor ran straight to the pile of rubble, obviously intending to go through and try finding them....or...I gulped, what was left of them.
But before Rumor even touched to rubble, everything started shaking, then to my surprise, a chunk of wall was thrown to the side, revealing Quartz. Without a word, he continued throwing rubble out of his way, then working his way back, generating walls of crystal to keep everything else from collapsing back on.
"Glad you're all right." I told him, glancing at the crystal walls he was generating with surprise. I hadn't realized that he could do that. "But what about..."
"They're safe." Quartz answered, gesturing backwards through the path he had cleared and revealing a crystal bubble with three people inside. A mother and her two kids.
A short while later, we had finished with all the rescues and were relieved that the real firemen and medical help had arrived. Fortunately, there weren't too many injuries. Several broken bones, some smoke inhalation and even a few burns...but nothing fatal.
"Damn I'm tired." Rumor muttered. I nodded, not really feeling too tired myself. However Quartz was still armored up and holding a nearly unconscious Splash in his arms. "And the bastard still got away."
"But you did slow him down." another voice said from behind us. I turned around to see Vigil walking towards us, limping slightly. His costume was still torn and charred, but he looked all right. "I know very well how difficult it is to deal with Grendel. The whole Protectorate can barely do any more."
I was impressed at what Vigil said since that was a high compliment indeed. "Thank you." I said, still not feeling too much better about losing Grendel.
Vigil nodded and slowly came towards me, stopping several feet away and staring at me intensely. I just stood there, staring back and forcing myself not to flinch. After all, he was one of the most famous people on the entire planet...and perhaps the most respected hero still alive.
After a moment, Vigil nodded, smiling faintly. "I don't know how..." He paused for a moment before continuing, "Welcome back Ms. Miracle. We've missed you." And with that, he saluted me, catching me by surprise.
"Thank you." I responded slowly, saluting back before gesturing to Rumor. "It's good to be back." A second later, we were gone.
I stared at the TV, frowning thoughtfully as I watched through yet more recordings of Ms. Miracle, trying to learn as much about her as I could. It was strange...very strange to do so, giving me mixed feelings. She was my mother and I wanted to learn as much about her as I could...yet I felt a little morbid about doing so at the same time. Of course it was also to help me pretend to be her and learn to use my powers like she did...but that wasn't the real reason I was watching them. Just a rationalization.
Turning off the video, I watched the news for awhile, smiling faintly as I remembered Mike's reaction. He was definitely happy when he was called a hero on the news after rescuing those people several days ago. However, the reporters didn't spend too much time on our dealings with Grendel before moving on to something else. After all, that kind of stuff did happen nearly every day.
"Too bad I never really knew you mom." I mused to myself, looking at the picture of her that I'd started keeping on my dresser. Not a picture of Ms. Miracle, but a picture of the much less impressive looking woman whom I remembered from my childhood. "You should have told me. You should have trusted me." Once again I felt a wave of bitterness and sadness, thinking of those years I'd spent in foster homes, thinking that she just didn't want me anymore.
For about ten minutes, I stared at that picture, then glanced at myself in the mirror I'd placed nearby. It was strange, thinking of that reflection as me...but nearly as strange to think that my mom looked like that as well.
"God I'm beautiful." I sighed, tearing my eyes away as I started to get turned on. It almost never failed to excite me when I saw my reflection. "I'm turning into a real narcissist." However, I smiled at that.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me. It was one that had come to me several times before, but only vaguely formed and at times when I was easily distracted. I looked back at my mom's picture thoughtfully, remembering Dr. Alvere's comments about her probably being a skitzomorph.
"And...and I have all her powers." I whispered, looking down at my hands in amazement, wondering if I might have that power as well.
After a minute, I knew that I had to try. I stood up and closed my eyes, not sure how to use that ability but figure that concentrating would be a good start. Then, I tried willing myself to change. Willing my powers to go into an imaginary box in my head. Several seconds later, I started to feel a tingling.
"Is it working?" I whispered, feeling my whole body starting to change. Feeling my powers rapidly receding as my flesh reshaped itself.
Then, as soon as I felt the changes stop, I opened my eyes and looked down in amazement. I was me again. I was a guy. My hands quickly patted at my flat chest, almost finding it strange after getting used to having tits. Then I grabbed between my legs, verifying that I was indeed all the way back to normal.
"YES!" I cried out in relief, "I'm ME again."
However, as I stood there, I knew that I wasn't as comfortable as I should have been. Not as comfortable as I'd expected. I felt...weak. Tired. Looking around, I frowned, noticing that everything seemed duller. Less clear. It took me a moment to realize that I was just back to normal. I'd lost all of my enhanced powers...all of my unbelievable strength and my senses had just gone back to a normal human level as well. However, it still felt like some sort of major comedown.
"Weird." I muttered, slowly walking around my apartment, trying to get used to my balance again, especially when I felt like I was just going to blow away. I couldn't believe just how weak and helpless I felt at the moment. I had definitely grown used to feeling more...solid.
After several minutes, I stopped in front of the mirror, staring at the brown haired guy in amazement. It was a reflection that I'd been afraid of never seeing again. And as I stared at myself, I smiled faintly, having half expected to turn into a brown haired woman...a clone of the mother that I knew. This was definitely a relief.Then, with a grin, I nearly ran towards my closet, digging out the clothes that I thought I'd never wear again, yet kept out of shear stubbornness and hope.
Once I was dressed, I hurried out of my apartment, bursting to show Beth. Of course, I knew in the back of my mind that I'd have to talk to Dr. Alvere and have her give me a detailed physical, but I had higher priorities at the moment.
I was in such a hurry as I rushed down the hall that I didn't see Allan until I nearly ran into him. "Sorry." I told him, stepping back for a moment, my mind still on Beth.
Allan stared at me for a moment with a look of surprise. "Who are you?" he demanded, "How did you get in here?"
For a moment, I stared at Allan, wondering what he was talking about. Then it dawned on me. He'd never seen me like that before. "I'm the new janitor." I told him with a smirk, trying to keep from laughing. Holding out my hand, I said, "I'm Dave."
"Um..." Allan looked confused at that, obviously wondering if I was lying to him or trying to infiltrate the facility.
But before Allan could make up his mind, I looked down at my watch and muttered, "Damn. I've got a backed up toilet to clean." And with that, I left Allan behind, laughing to myself.
When I got to Beth's door, I hesitated for a moment, feeling nervous though I wasn't completely sure why. But after several seconds, I forced myself to knock.
The door started to swing open with Beth asking, "Who's there?"
"Pizza delivery." I called back with a grin. As soon as Beth stuck her head out, I said, "Howdy."
Beth just stared at me. "Daph....Dave?"
"Yep." I grinned, "It's me. You like?" And with that, I did a little pirouette, making Beth chuckle.
"But how...?" Beth asked, stepping out of her apartment.
I hummed to myself as I bent over to kiss her, feeling much happier when she kissed back with her customary passion. I'd been a little afraid that she wouldn't want to keep it up with the real me.
"Let's go out for pizza and a movie." I suggested. "I can tell you while we eat."
"Hmmm." Beth mused, looking thoughtful. "Tell you what, if you take care of the food and the movie, I'll pay for the transportation."
"But that's not fair." I complained half-heartedly, "You can teleport."
Beth just grinned back. "Who said life's fair?"
Then, after another, slightly longer kiss, Beth and I started on our way to our first real date.
"Gotcha." I announced excitedly, snatching Beth's last checker on the board and winning the game. Then again, out of the last seven games that we'd played, this was only my third victory. "Wanna go again?"
Beth shrugged. "Naw, I'm sick of checkers. Let's go out and find something else to do."
"I don't know." I responded with a grin, "I can think of a thing or two to do right here."
I grinned at Beth, then quickly glanced down at myself just to double check that I was still a guy. It had only been the night before that I'd discovered the ability to change back, and I still had a hard time believing it. Maybe when lunch came around, I'd take the time to show Dr. Alvere, but for the moment, I was still satisfied to just hang around with Beth.
Then, just as Beth and I were starting to kiss, our beepers started going off, causing both of us to burst into streams of profanity. Fortunately though, it wasn't the higher priority beep of a real emergency, just the kind that said McKenzie wanted to talk to us pronto.
Several minutes later, Beth and I stepped into the briefing room and I noticed that the others were already there, though McKenzie was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly all sound died for a second as everyone stared at us...at me, reminding me that I was a guy again...and none of them had ever seen me like that.
"Who the hell are you?" Mike demanded. "How did you get in here?" From the way he was clenching his fists, I was sure that he was about to crystal up.
"He's the janitor." Allan explained, sounding a little weak.
Beth just smirked. "Relax. He's with me."
With a look of surprise, Sabrina gasped, "But I thought you were seeing Daphne."
I gulped, turning bright red with in embarrassment as they all stared at Beth. Beth and I had been trying to keep our relationship quiet since it was none of their damn business. Apparently though, Beth had decided to at least tell Sabrina...much to my current regret.
Then, before anyone could say anything to Sabrina's comment, McKenzie's angry voice came from behind us, "What do you think you're doing bringing unauthorized personnel here?" However, as soon as I snapped around and McKenzie got a look at me, his eyes went wide in recognition. "Oh."
"You know who he is?" Mike half asked and half demanded.
"Of course." McKenzie said, trying to regain his composure. I just smiled at his reaction while he continued, "He is a member of this team." The others all looked confused but McKenzie asked me, "How...?"
"Didn't the doc tell you her theory about skitzomorphism?" I asked with a smug grin. With the look of comprehension that appeared on his face, I knew that she had.
"But who are you?" Mike demanded, sounding just a little nervous. He obviously wasn't about to just let it go. And then to McKenzie, he asked, "And where's Daphne at?"
"Right in front of you." I snorted. Then at Mike's look of confusion, I gave my most feminine pose and asked as girlishly as I could, "You like my new makeoveer?"
Mike nearly choked at that while Allan hesitantly asked, "You're Daphne?" Doubt filled his voice.
Then, feeling a little smug, I said, "I told you that I used to be a guy. I just figured out how to go back."
Mike and Allan looked completely stunned while a look of understanding finally appeared on Sabrina's face. "Then you must be Dave."
Beth looked at me with a grin, rolling her eyes. It was all I could do to keep from laughing, even though a part of me was rather embarrassed by the situation.
"You can socialize later." McKenzie told us, turning towards the computer. "You're all here for a reason. An hour ago, there was a massive breakout from Mount Prometheus."
We all froze at that and stared at him. Mount Prometheus was the most secure prison in the world, designed to hold the most dangerous criminals of all. Ones with enhanced abilities. Super-villains. It was built inside of a hollow mountain somewhere in the Rockys and rumored to be nearly inescapable. It was the Alcatraz of the super-powered set.
"A report of the prisoners who escaped will be arriving in several minutes." McKenzie said seriously. "I expect that you will have to deal with some of them very soon."
Several minutes later, the report started coming in through the fax and we all waited silently for it to finish. Finally, McKenzie picked up the paper and started to read.
"There were 23 escapees." McKenzie announced quietly. Then a moment later, he read more and added, "But it seems that the Protectorate and Faction Zero arrived in time to stop most of them."
"That's cool." Mike exclaimed. "Guess that's less work for us."
McKenzie frowned as continued, "It says that the only prisoner not yet accounted for is..." He suddenly froze, his face going pale and he glanced over at me nervously. "Never mind." McKenzie quickly told us.
"Who is it?" Beth demanded.
However, McKenzie just started to turn away, clutching the fax firmly in his hand. I frowned, wondering what the hell was wrong. And why had he looked at me like that. It sent a chill down my spine.
"Who?" I asked quietly.
"It's not Divide or Conquer is it?" Allan asked nervously.
"Or Grendel?" Sabrina added, sounding just a little afraid.
"It's not important." McKenzie said, not sounding too convincing.
I gave him a calm stare before saying, "If you don't tell us, you know that we'll find out anyway."
For a moment, McKenzie just stood there, staring at the ground, his hand clenched tightly on the fax paper. Finally, he looked up, straight at me before whispering, "Baron Nevermore."
The sound of that name sent shivers straight down my spine, freezing me where I stood. Baron Nevermore was a man to be feared, being some sort of powerful sorcerer and having been one of the most dangerous villains on the entire planet. But more than that....he was the one who'd killed Ms. Miracle. The one who'd killed my mom.
I clenched my fists in rage, barely even aware of my body changing and my clothes tearing. "No." I whispered.
The others all stared at me silently until Allan gasped, "But isn't he supposed to be in a coma or something?"
Shortly after Baron Nevermore had killed Ms. Miracle, over half the heroes in U.S. went after him. And by the time they were through, the Baron was barely alive...having been put into a coma. It had been all over the news.
"He awoke nearly 3 months ago." McKenzie said quietly.
"And you didn't tell me?" I growled, furiously grabbing McKenzie by the front of his shirt and picking him up.
McKenzie didn't answer. Instead, he just looked me in the eyes for a minute and I thought that I detected a hint of apology. "That was the past." McKenzie finally told me, his voice gentle which surprised me since I still held him up. "And you have enough to deal with right now without dredging up old grudges. Especially when he was still locked up."
I grimaced and dropped McKenzie. I knew that he'd only meant to protect me, but that didn't make me any less angry. Angry that the man who'd killed my mom was still running around. Angry that I hadn't even been told about it. And at the same time...scared. Terrified that this monster might come after me too.
Then, with an angry growl, I turned and started for the door, knowing that I had to do something. I was so lost in thought that as I left, I didn't even hear Beth calling after me.
When I got back to my apartment, I glanced in the mirror, seeing that my clothes had been shredded in my transformation and my tits were hanging out. I'd been giving everyone a great view, but at the moment I didn't really care. I just tore the shreds off of me and got into my costume as quickly as I could.
"Baron Nevermore." I whispered, hating the very name.
I couldn't just ignore him and hope that he'd go away. What would my mom think? I'd been trying so hard to honor her memory, to do what she would have done and there was no way that I could just let her killer go. I was a super-hero now...wasn't I? Then why didn't I feel like one then rather than a boy who'd lost his mother.
Then I heard a gentle knocking at my door. At first I ignored it, but the knocking didn't go away. Finally, I opened the door and was a little surprised to see Beth there, looking concerned.
"What?" I asked, "No Casper routine?"
Beth just forced a smile and put her hand on my arm. "I know that this has gotta be hard for you." she said quietly, "But I want you to know that I'm here for you. We all are."
"I...Thank you." I responded in nearly a whisper, hugging Beth and once again crying. My being turned into a woman seemed to have had that effect on me. Then, I looked up and silently made a promise myself, "And I'm here for you mom."
I spent two days looking for any sign of Baron Nevermore, but there were none. After his escape from Mount Prometheus, he seemed to have vanished completely. However, I knew that this wouldn't last. His sort always seemed to come back...as he'd already proven.
At the moment, I was sitting in front of a computer, still in female form and going through everything that McKenzie had on Baron Nevermore. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be much. The Baron seemed to be a mystery, wrapped in an enigma. Whether he was a real Baron or not was completely unknown. The only things that could be said for certain is that he had some sort of magic powers, he thrived off of creating terror and he was very dangerous.
"Nasty piece of work." Beth's voice came from behind me.
"Yeah." I responded, "Real nasty. According to this, he has 19 confirmed murders under his belt, dozens more suspected, not to mention the other stuff."
For a minute, we were both silent, then Beth gently said, "You don't have to do this. Not alone at least."
I nodded but didn't give an answer. Instead, I just turned off the computer and held Beth's hand.
"Now shut up..." Beth ordered, "and pass the popcorn."
Mike just looked at her, then made a show of taking a large handful from the bowl before handing it over. Beth snorted in response before turning back to the TV.
"Cheer up man." Mike told me, then chuckled, "Or girl...or whatever."
I snorted, attempting to cross my arms but it wasn't as easy as it used to be with my prominent chest in the way. I had stayed in my girl form ever since I'd found out about the Baron's escape, feeling much more confident that way. Or at least with the powers that came along with being a woman.
It had been several hours since Beth pulled me away from the computer, determined to help me 'lighten up'. The others had quickly gotten in on the act and before I knew it, we were all piled together, ready to eat popcorn and watch A Scary Movie. After all, it was guaranteed to give a couple laughs.
"We haven't even put the movie in yet and we're almost out of popcorn." Allan complained, taking a healthy handful himself.
Sabrina giggled, "Oink oink." That earned a faint, though embarrassed smile from Allan. Then, she got up to put the movie in the VCR, sticking her tongue out at Allan and making me wonder if something might be developing between them.
I just smiled faintly myself, then looked over at the TV screen, suddenly freezing as my eyes shot wide. On the screen was Baron Nevermore. I quickly grabbed for the remote and turned up the volume.
"...criminal known only as Baron Nevermore..." the newscaster announced, "has appeared in the heart of Los Angeles to create untold havoc and take dozens of hostages."
"Fuck." Mike exclaimed.
For a moment, I just stared at the screen in shock, barely noticing that I'd crushed the remote to pieces between my fingers. My mind was filled with conflicting emotions. Fear for one. And anger. Hatred. And most of all, a growing determination.
"No." I whispered, standing up.
"Daphne..." Beth cried out, the concern evident in her voice as she grabbed my arm. "Wait..."
I just stood there, staring at the TV, my fists clenched in rage. "No." I whispered, grimacing. "No more."
"Listen to me..." Beth demanded.
However, I barely heard her. Instead, I growled, "No. He's mine." And with that, I turned, pulling my arm away from Beth with no effort as I started for the door.
As I left the room, I barely heard Beth call out, "Please...be careful." Several minutes later, I was in costume and flying to L.A. as fast as I possibly could.
I arrived in L.A. much quicker than I would have expected, knowing at the same time that it would have been even quicker if I'd had Beth bring me. However, I quickly forced that thought away, reminding myself that this was personal. I wasn't going to get the others involved in my business...especially knowing how dangerous this one was. I couldn't bear the thought of him killing them like...
"Mom." I whispered.
Shaking my head, I frantically looked around for any sign of the bastard. It only took me a moment to find one. A pillar of black smoke rose in the distance, pointing to the Baron like a bright neon sign.
"I'm coming for you bastard." I growled, flying in that direction.
When I got to where the pillar of smoke was coming, I stopped and stared down at its source. There was a huge dark hole in the middle of an intersection, a faint reddish orange glow emanating from its deepest depths.
Then I looked around in horror and disgust at everything else. The Baron's touch was obvious, covering at least a whole block. Buildings were covered with dark green slime and vines. Things that looked like venus fly traps grew from the sides of the building and the sidewalks, some of them open as if awaiting pray while others were closed...with human arms or legs hanging out.
"Oh God." I groaned, trying to keep my stomach from coming up.
Statues lined the sidewalk in one area, extremely realistic looking ones of people. Too realistic. The looks of terror on their faces was unmistakable, almost proving that these were real people before the Baron had gotten to them. There were people in the area as well...with chains around their necks, holding them to the ground and each other.
However, they were even in number with the THINGS. Creatures that had obviously once been human and had faint signs of it showing through, but now remained half alien creatures. Like part cockroaches or slimy tentacled creatures out of my nightmares. They were stumbling around or fighting each other like the mindless monsters they appeared.
Then I noticed it. A huge pile of skulls that had to stand at least 12 feet tall. There was no way that there were that many people around when HE showed up, but there was no doubting that it was there. And on top of the pile was a small platform, marked by a throne. But most important...the throne was occupied.
I froze in the air and stared at the figure on the throne. He was dressed in a costume of purple and black, marked with some gray metal parts. A gray metal skull adorned his belt, while a chain hung loose from his side. A black cloak was wrapped around him, it's hood draped over to obscure his face. Two metal broaches in the shapes of skulls held his cloak close to him.
"Baron Nevermore." I gasped, staring in horror.
I was filled with mixed emotions. I was burning with rage...with hatred. This was the man who'd killed my mom. Who'd destroyed one of the worlds greatest heroes. And I was terrified that he would do the same time me. But I was also burning with a need for revenge. Revenge on this man who'd caused me to go into several hellish foster homes. Who'd taken away my mom and destroyed my life.
At that, the figure looked up at me, giving me a view of the man's face. He had a well trimmed black beard, but eyes that seemed alive with a dark malevolence. Then, he stood up, starting straight at me. It was then that I noticed the two black birds that were circling around above him. Crows. Then, after a moment I realized that they weren't crows...they were ravens.
"Ms. Miracle." Baron Nevermore called out, "I had heard of your return. I know not how you accomplished that, but I did know that you could not refuse this invitation." His voice was much smoother than I would have expected. Almost...charming.
"Invitation." I gasped. "You...you did this just to get me here?" At his nod, I screamed, "YOU MONSTER!"
"You do not know what a true monster is." Baron Nevermore commented, adding, "Yet."
With that, I let out a scream and flew straight at him. However, the Baron gestured with his hands and muttered something and suddenly dozens of slimy tentacles shot out of the ground, straight at me. I screamed as they wrapped around me, more and more, threatening to strangle me.
"No..." I growled, fighting with the tentacles. But there were too many of them...and they were too strong. They were pulling me to the ground, leaving me helpless while the Baron just watched.
Once I was pulled almost all the way to the ground, Baron Nevermore looked up for a moment. "Edgar...Allan..." he ordered, "Come here." And with that, both ravens flew down, one landing on each shoulder.
For a long moment, Baron Nevermore just stood there, watching me struggle with the tentacles with an unreadable expression on his face. "You have interfered in my plans too often in the past." Baron Nevermore commented, sounding almost as if he was talking about the weather. "That was why I had to kill you before, and that is why I must do so again."
I just screamed out, "You fucking bastard...!"
Baron Nevermore looked surprised at that. "Such language." He blinked for a moment, adding, "I have never heard you use such before."
"And it'll be the last thing you hear before I shove my foot up your ass!" I yelled, suddenly tearing free from the tentacles and shooting up into the air.
"What is it with you guys wanting to take over the world?" I yelled, fighting off the tentacles that were reaching up for me again.
"You know that has never been my goal." Baron Nevermore responded. "I seek power of a different sort. A higher sort." Then he grinned evilly, "I do not care how you have returned Ms. Miracle, but it gives me the unique opportunity to kill you again. And this time...I shall do it MUCH slower."
I growled, gathering my energy and firing a blast of energy at the tentacles, frying them all. Then, once I'd taken care of them, I turned my attention back to Baron Nevermore, who stood there with his hands held out, chanting something that I could not hear. Both ravens flew around him, squawking loudly.
Suddenly, red light formed around his hands, then moved between them, forming into a shape. The shape of a red demonic looking full face mask, with openings for the evil looking eyes and grinning mouth. He pulled his hands back and the mask remained floating in the air...but only for a second. Then it started to move forward, a black mist forming around it at the same time. The mist or smoke grew darker and thicker...then gathered together into the shape of a human body, with the mask where the face would be.
"Destroy her." Baron Nevermore commented, gesturing as if he was doing nothing more than asking a servant to bring him a glass of wine.
The mask creature jumped straight at me with incredible speed and I barely managed to avoid it. A moment later, the creature landed on the ground, next to several of the monsters that had been people. It lashed out with its clawed fingers, tearing through the former people as if they were nothing. They collapsed to the ground, almost instantly dead.
"Not good." I whispered, seeing that the creature was about to jump at me again.
However, Baron Nevermore just called out something in a language that I couldn't understand, then the creature turned and started towards a man who was chained to a car...screaming to be let out. Without the slightest hesitation, the creature ran a hand through the man, killing him as well...all to my horror. I was even more horrified when it started towards the next chained person.
"NO!" I screamed, diving straight at it, then pulling aside and landing instead. It was waiting for me to attack it that way. I could feel it. "You bastard." I growled, knowing that I had to protect the innocent people that were still hostages.
Since I was on the ground, I approached the creature a little more cautiously, but it wasn't content to wait for me. It charged straight at me, it's clawed fingers extended. I just grimaced, trusting in my invulnerability as I punched at it. To my surprise, my hand passed straight through the creature, but it's claw tore at my side, causing me to scream.
"God damn it!" I kicked at the creature, but again my foot passed straight through it's side as if it really was made of smoke.
Baron Nevermore laughed from his throne. "My assassin can not be beaten in such a manner."
I didn't take the time to look at him, focusing my attention on his little assassin instead. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't human. But then again, I already knew that.
The creature charged at me again, and again my attacks had no effect on it, but I did manage to stay out of claw range this time. He turned for another charge, and I knew that I couldn't keep that up forever, so I grimaced and took to the air again. But to my horror, the creature followed me...flying with a trail of black smoke behind it.
I looked back and spat, "Doesn't that thing ever give up?" A quick burning on my calf where it's claws scratched me was my answer.
Suddenly, I snapped around, forcing my energy towards it in another blast. But to my annoyance, it's body dispersed like smoke where the blast went through, then quickly formed back up. That was another idea that was no good.
Instead of charging at me though, the creature just hovered where it was, mocking me with the cruel grin from the mask. Then it's arms shot out, stretching at least ten feet to lash out at me again. I tried blocking it's arm with my own, but it passed through my arm and it's claws struck on my side.
I grimaced at yet another painful gash, knowing that if it wasn't for my invulnerability, the claws would have completely torn through me, probably killing me instead of just giving me the painful gashes. However, I knew that at this rate, it wouldn't be long before those gashes went beyond merely painful and became fatal. Especially as I had no way to defend myself against the creature.
Again, it just mocked me with that stupid grin, making me even angrier. Finally, I screamed out and flew straight at him, knowing that I might not be able to do anything against him, but I might be able to disperse his smoky body a little. And at the last moment, I lashed out with my fist, hitting him as hard as I could in the face. The red mask completely shattered as I hit it, the pieces all crumbling to dust as they fell away. And to my surprised relief, the smoky body faded away, vanishing completely.
"Damn it." I muttered in surprise.
Then, shaking my head, I turned my attention back to the real threat. Baron Nevermore, who stood by his throne, his arms outstretched as he chanted something.
I flew towards him, yelling, "You're through now ass-hole."
Baron Nevermore looked up at me and frowned thoughtfully. "No my dear, it is you who are through. I knew that my assassin would have provided a distraction, long enough to complete my spell."
"Spell?" I gasped, staring at him. "What the hell are you up to?" I glared at him furiously, trying to keep myself calm, though it wasn't easy.
"Your manner is different." Baron Nevermore commented thoughtfully. Then a look of surprise appeared on his face. "You are not her. You are but an impostor." He seemed almost disappointed by that.
I grimaced and flew straight towards him, "What spell are you talking about?" However, I bounced off an invisible wall and was thrown backwards.
Then I heard it. A low rumbling coming from the direction of the smoky pit. I turned towards it, horrified to see a massive tentacle come out of it, followed by a second, then a third.
"Oh shit." I gasped, staring in horror as the rest of the creature slowly pulled itself from the pit. The smell of sulfur was in the air, nearly burning my nostrils, giving me a damn good clue as to where the thing had come from. "No fucking way..."
A moment later, a massively huge thing straight out of my nightmares arose. It wasn't like anything I'd even imagined before, looking like a cross between a dark green slug and a piranha, covered with hundreds of slimy tentacles, eyes and other things that I couldn't make any sense of . There were at least three mouths of sorts that I could make out as well.
"I thought this guy was obsessed with Poe..." I whispered, "not Lovecraft."
Baron Nevermore just chuckled. "I do not know who you really are, but as you are here and it is too late, I will commit the cardinal sin of super-villains, as that is what I seem to have been labeled." He paused and crossed his arms. The ravens hopped to the back of his throne and stared at me with glowing red eyes. "This world shall soon be turned into a living nightmare. I shall feed upon the terror and my power shall grow infinite."
"And..." I gestured at the monster, terrified myself.
The Baron just smiled coldly. "This my dear, is the nightmare beast. A creature from the darker realms whom I have summoned." He paused and added, "And once he feeds upon my sacrifice of an innocent..." Baron Nevermore gestured towards the innocent people chained in the streets, "his grip on this realm will be solidified...and the world shall be thrown into the darkness."
"You're...you're fucking insane!" I screamed.
"No my dear..." Baron Nevermore answered calmly, almost sounding amused, "I am merely ambitious. As you...your predecessor knew, my power comes from terror. The more terror that exists, the more powerful I become. And after the nightmare beast unleashes Hell on Earth, my power shall grow. I shall become even more powerful than the nightmare beast."
I just screamed, charging at him again, punching into the invisible wall that protected him. Furiously, I lashed out, blasted at it, anything to get through to him. However, none of it worked.
"You monster!" I screamed, almost frantic as I lashed out uselessly, "You've already turned my life into hell. YOU KILLED MY MOM!"
After a minute more, I finally stopped, knowing that it was useless. Baron Nevermore was safe behind his invisible wall while the rest of the world was going to be destroyed. Grimacing, I turned towards the alien monster, gasping as I realized that it was slowly creeping towards the first victims. I'd been so obsessed with Baron Nevermore that I'd given the creature more time than I should have.
"I've got to stop it." I whispered, nearly overwhelmed by the sudden thought that my actions might either save or doom the world. It was not a burden that I liked...but it was what my mom would have done.
With that, I charged straight at the creature, punching at it as hard as I could. It barely seemed to notice it, though several tentacles and one of it's mouths snapped at me. I tried again, this time by pulling off it's tentacles. One of them came off with some effort, but as soon as it hit the ground, the tentacle squirmed and grew, taking the form of some sort of slimy apelike demon. And another one had grown back where I'd pulled it from.
"Damn." I growled, flying up and gathering all of my energy. I focused everything that I had into a blast.
The creature screamed as my blast hit it, turning one of its eyes and mouths into a puddle of green goo. However, it immediately started to bubble, growing three new tentacles from that spot. One of them had vicious looking mouth with snapping teeth on it while another one had what seemed to be some sort of crab pincher.
"Oh shit." I gasped, realizing that this thing was like that Hydra thing from Greek mythology. Cut off one head and two more took it's place. However, from the looks of it, burning off the damaged area wasn't going to do any good.
The creature slowly kept moving toward the people, making me gasp. A quick look back verified that Baron Nevermore was watching with a fascinated expression. A hungry expression. Then as I looked back at the chained people, it dawned on me.
"No innocent..." I gasped, "no stay."
With that, I flew down and tore the chain off of a man who was closest to the creature, yelling at him to run. He wasted no time in doing just that. If I could free all of the people and get them away...
However, Baron Nevermore didn't seem to like that idea, because the next thing I knew, he was throwing balls of fire at me. One exploded at my feet, then another one where I'd been standing, just before I'd dodged out of the way. From the cold look in his eye, I had no doubt that he meant to kill me this time.
"The real Ms. Miracle may have interfered in my plans..." Baron Nevermore growled, "But I shall not brook any interference from you. You will share her fate." Another ball of energy formed in his hands and shot straight towards me.
I flew up, avoiding the blast easily, however, it turned and started following me. I flew higher, changing direction several times, but it was no good. The thing was like a damn heat seeking missile. But that gave me an idea, causing me to nearly smile since I remembered seeing it in dozens of movies and TV shows. I dove towards the creature, making sure the ball of energy was close behind, then changed my direction at the last second.
"Gotcha!" I grinned, watching the ball hit the creature and explode.
There was a bubbling mess in the middle of the creature, but like before, it didn't stay that way. The damage was quickly repaired and it returned to going after the chained sacrifices. I gulped, knowing that this was not good. If the Baron's powers couldn't stop it either...
Suddenly I heard a voice call, "Here I come to save the day...!"
I snapped around, seeing Beth and the others. They'd come after me. And Beth was holding a mean looking gun that she must have taken from McKenzie's armory.
"And don't you dare say that this is personal." Beth...Rumor growled, "or I'll kick your ass girl."
Forcing a smile, I honestly answered, "Glad to have you."
Then, everyone cut loose on the creature at once. Rumor started blasting at the beast with her energy gun. Quartz fired massive shotgun like blasts of crystals straight at it. Splash was blasting it with highly pressurized blasts of water, the kind that can cut through concrete. And Surge was throwing electron bomb after electron bomb, some of them bigger than any I'd seen him ever make before, but none of that did much to the creature. It just kept regenerating the damaged areas and acting as if it hadn't felt it at all.
"We're not getting anywhere this way." I growled, "We have to save the victims." I'd already managed to pull several more out of the way while the creature crawled towards them. but I knew that I couldn't do it forever. Especially with Baron Nevermore still there.
"No." Surge commented thoughtfully, "We need to get him IN the way." He gestured towards Baron Nevermore. At my look, Surge quickly explained, "If he's in danger, he'll have to help us stop this thing."
"Good idea." I said, looking towards Beth. "Rumor..."
She nodded and a moment later, had vanished. I watched as she appeared right beside Baron Nevermore, then vanished yet again, dropping him unceremoniously on the ground in front of us. He looked completely surprised.
"What...?" the Baron stammered.
"You're going to send him back." I told the Baron, "Or else you'll be one of his victims too."
However, Baron Nevermore laughed. "I think not. I welcome the beast's nightmares. I thrive on them." Then, the Baron screamed something and both ravens attacked Rumor. "Edgar, tear her eyes out. Shred her throat Allan."
"What?" Surge gasped, obviously thinking that he was the one being addressed.
I didn't even bother to worry about Rumor since I knew that the birds couldn't touch her unless she let them. A quick glance verified this. She actually seemed to be having fun tormenting them instead.
Then I noticed the mindless monsters. They were still all over the place, or at least the one's that hadn't been killed in their fighting. Several of them were coming towards us, while several more seemed intent on charging the monster. It was only then that I realized that in spite of their appearance...at heart, they were innocent victims too.
"Shit!" I screamed, "Splash, stop them!" She gave me a confused look and I had to yell, "Don't let those creatures near the monster. If he eats any of them or any other innocent, he'll be here for good." She nodded her understanding and a moment later, a wall of water threw them back out of the way. "Thank God for fire hydrants." I muttered.
Baron Nevermore just grimaced and muttered something under his breath. Then, he started to lift off the ground, obviously planning to escape. At the same time, he threw a ball of white light at me, missing but when it hit the ground, the concrete melted into a puddle of white slime. Tentacles began to creep out of it.
"Oh no." I grimaced, not waiting around long enough to deal with more tentacles. Instead, I shot straight up after him.
"You are no match for me." Baron Nevermore snarled, beginning to sound angry. "I destroyed the real Ms. Miracle, so who do you think you are to try stopping me?"
I just growled at that, burning with anger. "I'm her son." For a moment, Baron Nevermore paused in surprise, which I used to catch up to him, grabbing him firmly by his shoulders. "SHE WAS MY MOM!" I screamed, feeling the bones crack beneath my fingers. I hadn't even intended to do that.
"What...?" the Baron gasped, looking at me in pain.
"You killed my mom." I spat, nearly shaking from rage. "I'm not going to let you get away. And I'm not going to let you destroy the world." I forced myself to keep from strangling him like I wanted, forcefully ordering him, "Stop that fucking creature NOW!"
There was a look of surprise in his eyes again, but he spat, "No. I can't." He almost sounded smug about it. "And I'll destroy you the same way I destroyed your MOTHER!"
Baron Nevermore's free hand was glowing green and he reached for me. I knew instantly that I didn't dare let him, not knowing what would happen but knowing that it wouldn't be good. And at the same time, I saw the monster getting too close to yet another innocent.
"NO!" I screamed, reacting out of instinct more than anything and throwing the Baron as hard as I could towards the monster.
Suddenly, the creature snatched Baron Nevermore out of the air with one of it's massive mouths, and the Baron vanished inside with a loud, sickening crunch.
"Oh God." I gasped.
"Ew, yuck." I could hear Splash exclaim, "I think I'm gonna hurl."
At that, the nightmare beast stopped moving. It stood where it was, tentacles still waving. Then suddenly it started to go backwards, not like it was moving itself, but as if something was pulling it. I watched in amazement as the creature slid across the road, through it's own slimy trail and heading straight back for the pit.
"What's going on?" Quartz demanded.
"I..." Surge gasped, "I think we won."
I just stared silently as the creature was pulled back into the pit, waving it's tentacles around. Then it sank in, making a horrible screaming sound that I knew would fill my nightmares. But once it was gone from view, the smoke stopped billowing out of the hole. There was a strange rumbling sound, then suddenly it seemed to explode from within. Splatters of lava shot up, but when it all cleared away, there was nothing but a rubble filled crater in the middle of the intersection.
"How the hell did we win?" Rumor demanded. "I mean it got it's sacrifice."
"But not an innocent one." I whispered, setting down next to them. "An innocent victim would have given him stability..." I muttered quietly, working it out in my own mind, "but Baron Nevermore was the opposite of that..."
"And the guy who cast the spell." Rumor added quietly.
"So he got exiled." Surge finished, sounding a little satisfied.
I just stared at the crater, gulping. Baron Nevermore was finally gone. The man who'd killed my mom. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that. But I thought that I felt better. At least a little bit.
Looking around, I noticed that Baron Nevermore's ravens were both on the ground, lying motionless as their feathers dissolved, leaving only two skeletons behind. I shivered, wondering what the hell Edgar and Allan really were.
"Look." Splash exclaimed excitedly.
Then, I noticed it as well. The horrible plants and tentacles everywhere were vanishing. As was Baron Nevermore's pile of skulls and throne. The people who had been turned to statues were starting to move, life returning to them. I knew that they'd be back to normal within a few minutes. Another quick look around had revealed that even the monsters were turning back into humans while the chains were vanishing off of those who had them. Everything was returning to normal.
"Thank God." I whispered, letting out a sigh of relief.
"No..." Rumor said slowly, quickly grabbing me in a firm hug, "Thank you."
I shook my head and smiled faintly. "No...thank you. All of you."
We'd done it. We'd stopped the bad guy, avenged my mom's death and saved the world. And at the moment, all I really wanted was a long hot bath, a nice steak dinner and then...spending some good quality boy time with Beth. That last especially made me smile, but I knew that I'd appreciate it a hell of a lot more after the others were taken care of.
I was in my apartment, standing in front of my mirror, staring yet again at the gorgeous woman in front of me. It was a sight that I never grew tired of. Nor ever failed to get horny from. I had definitely become a true narcissus, and not only knew it...but reveled in it.
Several weeks had passed since my fight with Baron Nevermore, and I still had nightmares about it. Fortunately though, they were coming less frequent and not nearly as often when Beth was sleeping with me.
In that time though, I had also become even more well know to the public. Everyone was aware that Ms. Miracle had returned and almost no one even guessed that I wasn't the original. Even the other super-heroes whom I'd met since. Ones who had known her. It filled me with an odd sort of pride, knowing that I was carrying on her legacy so well. And I was determined to keep doing it to the best of my abilities. I was going to do my mom proud.
"Nice." I sighed, turning away from the mirror and glancing towards the clock. I had to get ready for another 'girls night out'.
As I looked at the identity papers and drivers license that were on my table, I smiled faintly. McKenzie had thought they'd come in useful. A full set of legal papers all made up for a Daphne Amanda Walker. With those, all I had to do was change my hairstyle and makeup, and I could walk around town as a woman without being recognized. It had surprised me at first, but I'd quickly learned that when I'm in costume, people pay much more attention to the costume itself...not to mention what was revealed beneath it than they did to my face. That just made it easier for me.
I smiled, thinking of Beth. We had definitely grown even closer in the past weeks. And to even my own surprise, I had lately been thinking about popping the question. But for someone as powerful as I'd become, it was amazing just how scared a little question made me. How weak at the knees.
For a moment, I paused and slowly ran my hands over my body, over my nice curves. Then I smiled, thinking how ironic it was. I'd finally gained the ability to turn back into a man again at will, but I'd barely used it ever since. Of course I'd still rather be a man than a woman, but there was one catch. One that I'd discovered very quickly.
"Funny." I commented to myself with a wry smile.
I had grown used to my strength and my stronger senses. So now, whenever I turned back into a man, I felt incredibly weak and dull. I hated that feeling, so usually didn't bother changing back into a guy. At least not when I wasn't spending very personal time with Beth, when I tended to go either way, depending on my mood. There was no denying that I had grown to love my powers and wanted to keep them...even if it meant staying a woman. Even if used for good, power was addictive.
The memory of Baron Nevermore and his hunger for more power made me nervous though. Afraid that such a thing might happen to me. However, Beth assured me that it wouldn't since I had no desire for more power. That made me feel better, but there were still the nagging fears. The fears that I suspected would keep me from that path.
Once I was finally dressed, I stood in front of the mirror admiring myself again, silently thanking Sabrina for her makeup and fashion lessons. I looked hot. And if I could, I'd fuck myself in an instant. That just made me sigh faintly.
I picked up my purse with an ironic smile, thinking about just how drastically my life had changed with a simple choice. Simply saying yes to the experiment. If not for that choice, I never would have met up with Beth. I never would have gained my powers or my incredible body. I never would have met my friends or saved all of those lives. Instead, I would have continued through college, struggling for grades and the money to keep me there.
But the greatest thing that I'd gained from the choice was the truth. The truth about my mother. A chance to put away all of the ghosts that had been haunting me for six years. To avenge my mom's death and most of all...to keep her legacy alive. For myself...and the world.
Then with a smile, I looked at the dual pictures of my mom, one of each incarnation. I fought back the tears that threatened to come, silently giving thanks for what had happened to me...and the honor of continuing her legacy. And in a whisper, I added, "Life really is full of miracles."