They say that all pizza is good pizza, but eating under threat of a cruel adept left it churning in Tanya’s gut. She would have opted out completely, but Laser Lass insisted at the point of a loaded finger gun. Hours later she was still on the verge of throwing up.
No sooner had the doppelganger left than Tanya ran for her car. She threw herself into the driver’s seat, slammed the door shut, and inhaled as though every breath were her last. Soon she slowed, anchoring herself in the present, just like her psychologist had showed her, and reason took hold.
The situation was screwed beyond comprehension. What was she supposed to do about it? Sure, she didn’t want anything to do with the world of heroes, but that was no longer an option. Now that life was touched by the supernatural there was no going back. Anything else was wishful thinking.
Tanya gripped the wheel. Kaira, or at least what passed for her in some distant nightmare, stared through her long after she was gone. There was no compassion to her, no wonder. Every word from her mouth was a misanthropes barb designed to cut; like a laser, she supposed. The Kaira she knew shone.
She turned the key and started to drive. Where, she didn’t know. Somewhere. Anywhere. Glimmer Girl shot like a comet over the skyline; bystanders caught sightings all the time. Chance were it was the same for Laser Lass. All Tanya had to do was follow the signs.
For hours she navigated the city streets, looking up at each set of stoplights. Her focus wavered, haunted by the dark vision from beyond the mirror. If that was Kaira, what would her other self look like?
‘She’d kick your ass,’ Laser Lass had said, as though the violence Tanya felt toward bullies had a much wider target. The thought disturbed her. She was comforted by that.
Her cell phone dinged a number of times, wild with activity. Tanya pulled to the curb and checked the messages, all warning her to stay away from her campus. ‘Fallen power lines,’ it said; ‘electrical disturbances’. Multiple roads were closed as the threat spread across the map.
It was Laser Lass. It had to be.
She was just about to re-enter the traffic when something caught her attention. Tanya opened the driver’s side door and climbed out. Her jaw fell slack at the radiant hue in the distant; not bright with wonder, but sharp like lasers. How could light be so dark and terrible, she wondered.
Jumping back into the beetle Tanya pressed down on the accelerator, and moved toward disaster as fast as the old bug would allow.
It was the result of months of searching. No sooner had Dr. Vortex vanished into the ether than the remains of his work followed. Though only a short time some spoke of him as myth; the sort of thing dreamed up by cave-dwellers who failed to understand the world around them. And all the while it was under their feet, squirreled away by government men with equally simple minds.
To think, all it took to reveal the doctor’s greatest work was the crossing over of two universes; a fantastical event for some, but the much expected unexpected in the mindset of The Red Wraith. Finally, a call to action! No more idling under the guise of a ‘crime lord’.
He stood at the maw of the underground storage facility with a team of men two dozen strong. They poured down the staircases, ready to dismantle the vortex generator – violently if they had to – the moment it settled. The great rings slowed to a stop, and already saws were cutting through panels and casings.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” he declared. Power; more than most could ever dream of!
A gaping tear in the ceiling opened the floor to the night sky, but the villain paid it little mind. Certainly it left them exposed, but it wouldn’t be an issue so long as the team worked fast. He’d paid a king’s ransom for fast, and effective. He’d pay more still, so long as the goal was met.
Rather he was curious about the goings on above; not so much to draw him from the operation at hand, but enough that his charcoal eyes would steal a glance at the searing flashes that dispelled the night. Glimmer Girl had returned to face Laser Lass, and along with a mysterious third joined into something greater than the sum of their parts. ‘Lady Lumina,’ or something to that effect.
Of course the luxury of rumination was his alone. Bursts exploded in the sky, and when they did his crew stopped to look. The Red Wraith was having none of it.
“Back to work!” he roared with a tamber echoing the chambers of Hell.
The Red Wraith regarded his underlings without flattery. They were men motivated by money, and remained loyal out of fear. The knowledge left a bitter taste. Such things did not inspire the passion he so craved, nor would these men ever value his outlook. How sad; how pitiful. But it was not for them that The Red Wraith made designs on the world.
Piece by piece they stole the heart of the machine and carried its parts through the exit. The Red Wraith stayed until the last, and stole a last minute grin at the machine’s carcass.
Too late for Laser Lass, he supposed, if somewhere in that monster she still lived.
Power. Every cell of her body crackled with it. To have once been kissed by eternity and transformed into an adept paled in contrast to this experience. The core of her being quantified with the substance of her other selves; a ‘Glimmer Girl’ and a ‘Blitz Boy’ who fed the smouldering photonic heart that exploded from her chest.
Three became one, and at the forefront sat a maniacal will. She called herself ‘Lady Lumina’ – a new title carrying the same theme – and though just born she had designs on the world. What better place to make her introduction than at the entrance of Number One Police Plaza?
Her body crackled and sparked like a one-woman fireworks show. Arc lightning seared the air as it cascaded toward her feet. An androgynous composite rippled beneath her suit, shifting from one form to the next, lit up in red, gold and molten amber. She flew between the buildings, suspended by the same unseen force that only she could command.
Morning rolled into sunrise as Laser Lass closed on her target. Her form reflected from the hundred mirrored windows, beating out the first slivers to day from the east. She shone ever brighter, radiating heat that made pavement sizzle.
A brave few dared to approach the glass. Others scrambled into action. All buckled under the wave of hate projecting from the meager, human sized body. Whether she was friend or foe nobody dared question, but Laser Lass removed all doubt.
She lashed out at the building with a wave of concussive force, so great that it took her by surprise. Lady Lumina inspected what she had wrought. It was as though a storm had blown through the building, shattering glass and throwing furniture clear to the other side.
Lady Lumina smiled. First blood. They would soon bow to her strength.
My name is Kaira, and I’m twelve years old… I think. I remember being older, or was that a dream?
I was wearing a patterned green dress, black tights, and a denim jacket. Plain, but pretty; plain enough to avoid attention, but pretty enough to make dressing up worthwhile. My hair was short and messy, but a flowery clip made it seem deliberate. Lip gloss added just the right amount of sheen.
Why are clothes so important? How do scraps of fabric liberate my soul the way they do? And why – why, why, why – do people laugh when I make them my own?
It was the weekend, and I was alone. My parents had their own lives to worry about. Good. I could get along with mine. I draped myself in the sacred fabric and caught the bus to a different part of town. The city was too hot; there would be too many questions, so a dirt mall would have to do.
The clothes were unimportant. They were a part of me, and I more than anyone was unimportant. What was the big deal?
I wander between the storefronts, and find the courage to duck inside. There were looks; real or imagined, it’s hard to tell. I shuffle between the racks. ‘Twenty five percent off’, one says, then fifty, and seventy five. The painted letters on the window read ‘ALL STOCK MUST GO’. I didn’t have my own money, or I’d take advantage. Most adults didn’t have money, either.
Across the dusty courtyard was a movie theatre. Eight dollars for a golden age blockbuster that public TV played between reruns. I remembered my Mom saying it was worth it for the big screen experience, but cowboys conquering the frontier just weren’t my thing.
Adrian Dempsey was bored enough to give it a try – he and his posse of neanderthals. I stopped, as though stillness would remove me from their scope. The last thing I needed was twenty questions about why a ‘boy’ was wearing a dress.
He looked up, and my panic became his. Shame flushed his cheeks as he backed away and waved his friends toward a taco stand. By then it was too late.
One of them laughed. “Is that a guy?”
“Wait, I know that kid,” said another.
They flocked in my direction, and kept pace as I walked. They cried out with questions. ‘Just being friendly,’ said one. My eyes fixed forward as I powered toward the exit, but there was no escaping the rough hands pulling back on my jacket.
“We just want to talk,” they lied. I’d read the stories, and how they ended.
Adrian pried them apart, but not really. Guilt restrained any real effort on his part. He fought just hard enough to make no impact. If he fought too hard they would know, and the’d trap him as well. I guess make-outs behind the school gym weren’t worth sacrificing his standing among thugs.
Wait… something wasn’t right.
Adrian Dempsy, the same kid who turned high school into my own personal hell? He’d sooner drop dead than fall for a girl like me, let alone frown in that sorry excuse for an apology. And yet it felt so real. How was it possible? Unless-
“These aren’t my memories…”
“What did you say?” The scrawny kid pushed me into a wall of his friends. I knew him from junior high – Jordan, I think – but he wasn’t like this, and neither were his friends. Something about him, and this place was different; meaner.
I fixed my eyes closed, ready to take the beating of a lifetime. It wasn’t the first I’d endured, and wouldn’t be the last. They got bored if I didn’t resist. Best to get it over with quickly.
“Are you really going to take that, new girl?”
It was hard to imagine Tanya ever being so young, or maybe she wasn’t. She had the swagger of an older kid; maybe even a high school senior, though we were the same age. Even then she had the proportions of a tank, with equal amounts of muscle to match her portly stature. Her hair was clipped short, like someone who’d just escape from juvie.
“That’s a boy,” one of the posse told her.
She sneered, and looked past him. Her eyes were filled with disgust, but not for how I was dressed. “Are you one of those queers out there giving us a bad name by sitting back and taking it?” she asked. “You going to go home and cry about how everything is so hard, or are you going to do something about it?”
The bulk figure shared Tanya’s voice, but little else – definitely not her regard for the helpless. The way she glared daggers challenged me to rise up, no matter the personal cost.
Maybe it was me, or maybe it was the memory, but the words found their mark. Laser Lass and I were as one, throwing our fists with indignant rage. Bones cracked as they collided with Jordan’s cheek. Pain surged into adrenaline, and into a second furious blow. The boys fought back, but what did I care? We would not be helpless anymore!
If there was one thing about Tanya Truman that held true in every universe it was this; the girl had no chill. For what other reason would someone to charge toward disaster in an imitation beetle twice their age.
She held fast to the wheel and pressed the accelerator down. Though worn and rusted with experience the vehicle survived everything from cold mornings to earthquakes, and once carried her across three states with only half a gallon in the tank. This machine could carry her to Hell and back, and through the firestorm of an evil Glimmer Girl. Of that she was certain.
Fire lit up the sky in a beacon of terror. Tanya’s frown solidified, as did the trembling in her hands. She steeled her nerve, drawing on every ounce of courage she had, and padded it with bravado. There was no way she could stop Laser Lass with brute force, but she knew Kaira and the words that cut her.
She pulled the car to the side of the road and wandered toward the plaza. There was no resistance; the police evacuated the building and had yet to mobilize on the ground.
Laser Lass hung in the air, cackling as she took lazy pot shots at everything that moved. This wasn’t a fight as much as shooting fish in a barrel; not that the difference mattered to a sadist like her.
Tanya moved across the open lot in front of the building, and stopped to examine the adept. There was something wrong, whether it was the sickly glow radiating from Laser Lass, or the way she convulsed between giggle fits. Something writhed beneath her holographic shell that only made her more dangerous.
Whatever. She wasn’t going to think on it. Tanya had set a course, and was determined to see it through.
She bellowed the word from the bottom of her lungs, like every two-bit would-be thug looking to push her in the dirt. Some had succeeded, but she always found her feet again. Would this time be different?
Laser Lass turned, eyes flickering. The ill hue of her aura was painted across her face, presenting a body as sick as her soul.
“What do you want, pipsqueak?”
This was the moment of truth. Tanya may have been above posturing, but she’d seen enough toxic macho BS to know how it worked.
“Just watching you have a sissy tantrum, like some whiny little girl,” she said.
Kaira had one red button, and it was ‘sissy’; the most insulting word in the English language, weaponized by brutes who thought of femininity as weakness. A sissy was feeble, a sissy was pathetic, a sissy was less-than; Kaira was none of those things, and neither was Laser Lass.
She roared. “What did you call me?”
“You heard me,” Tanya said. “You think you’re tough because you can fly and shoot lasers? I remember when you were a tiny little princess, crying because all the boys hated you; because Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t love you if they knew. Boo hoo hoo.”
Every word was wrong, twisted. These were the worst fears of her best friend, and turning them on her put Tanya on the same level as her foe.
Laser Lass charged her fists. “These powers are justice,” she said. “They’re my revenge against every bully, every foul-mouthed bigot…” The villain trembled, not with fear, but something beneath her skin wreaking havoc on her senses.
“You think you can beat me with words?” Laser Lass roared. “I am a goddess of death! With one finger I could turn you into a smoking crater!”
And she could; of that there was no doubt.
Tanya drew a sharp breath, and spoke with all the defiance she had. “And I could still kick your ass!”
Peering down with faux-divine wrath Laser Lass raising a crackling palm to what was once her best friend; the woman who’d encouraged her to be strong when she was her smallest. No, that was a coward’s sentiment. She crossed her, and for that there would be pain. Yet she couldn’t blast her.
Laser Lass floated to the ground and balled her fists. Action deserved reaction; and for slighting her, punishment – bare handed if she had to. She frowned at the pale imitation of her friend whose buttons she knew as well.
“Bring it, fatty.”
The walls of reality shook, jostling me to my bones. I opened my eyes as though coming out of sleep. My body was my own again, or so it seemed; free from the confines of someone else’s memory.
Another tremor tore through the air, and with it a flash of pain. I floated through the haze toward a world outside a dream. The fury of Laser Lass was made manifest swirling around my feet like an ocean rip; but I continued to push against the current and closer to awareness.
A cry rang out through the mist. He was calling my name; not the name of a hero, but the girl underneath.
I reached through the murky ether, certain of another’s presence, and sure enough found a hand to latch onto mine. The mist lifted, and there smiling back at me was the reflection of another life; Kevin – Blitz Boy – eager as I was to fly back into action.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“Taking a walk down memory lane,” I said. The visions of her adolescence were fresh in my mind. Her rage, her hurt; they were a part of me now. “Laser Lass… she’s messed up for a reason.”
Blitz Boy frowned. “We’ve seen the world she came from, but she’s made equally bad choices.”
“Maybe she didn’t know any better.”
“Maybe,” he said, “but I’m still going to kick her ass.”
I hated to admit how much I relished the opportunity. More than reflections she had made us a part of her, robbed us of strength and twisted it to her own means. Evil or misunderstood, Laser Lass was going to answer for what she did.
The air shook again, followed by another wave of agony, but Blitz Boy and I held tight. We pushed and pushed with all our strength, and like a pane of glass the ether shattered. Together we blazed, swallowed by the light as much as we projected it, until I drank in the cool morning air over my cheeks.
With feet planted on the asphalt I examined up to the scar along Police Plaza. Laser Lass made short work of them. To one side was Blitz Boy, still finding his feet, and on the ground before us was… Tanya?
I dropped to her side and propped her up. She was a mess, covered in bruises and scrapes. Her left eye was swollen like an overripe grape, and her knuckles were weeping with blood. Despite that she grinned from ear to ear.
She groaned as she lay across my lap. “Am I glad to see you!”
“What are you doing here?” Not that I wasn’t glad to see her as well.
Tanya peered across the clearing to where Laser Lass was recovering. She was a long way from the powerhouse that tore through us at InfiniTech and spat a mouthful of red goop onto the tar. With the same hate that swallowed us she glared with murderous intent. The fight was not yet over.
“Go get ‘em, Tiger,” Tanya said, grinning with irony.
Side by side with Blitz Boy we bore down on the evil triplet with authority. This was my world, and Kevin my ally. No imitation was ever going to change that.
“Think two against one is enough?” she seethed.
Her eyes screamed anger, but what I saw went beyond that. Where I should have seen a villain I saw a scared girl in pain, lashing out the moment she had the power. In her mind she was still that child, fighting the inner demons that grew larger as she did. Maybe if she had some hope…
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “You can have a better life. If you commit to that, I’ll let you stay.”
Both Laser Lass and Blitz Boy reeled like I’d lost my mind. Maybe I had. So much had happened over the last few days that not much made sense. The facets of my being bounced through the prism of fate, and through it revealed depths I’d never known. And through it all only one thing stayed true; that there was no justice in suffering.
“You can’t be,” Blitz Boy said.
Laser Lass sneered. “You really think you can win me over with some softcore hippie ‘be true to your feelings’ wank?”
I shrugged. “If you open yourself up to it, sure.”
Her eyes turned, and for a moment she seemed to consider it. She answered in a photon blast that left a smouldering pothole at our feet.
“You think I want any part of this ridiculous reality of cowards, pretending that weakness is strength, patting each other’s backs while the real villains take advantage? The two of you make me sick.”
I hoped, and was prepared for disappointment. Perhaps, I wondered, this was inevitable.
The fight was short lived. Laser Lass charged like a banshee from hell, but had already given us the edge we needed. Blitz Boy and I roared to life, flying through the hail of blasts she threw indiscriminately in our direction. She was rage incarnate with no focus, and an easy snare as we weaved to either side.
Pulling her arms taut we dragged her into the sky. Laser Lass kicked and screamed, but proved helpless as we took her into ourselves. Her energies divided, she soon collapsed into furious sobs. Then, when she could no longer hold herself up, we lowered to the ground and let her body drop.
So much for Laser Lass.
There was no time to take stock before the sirens turned the corner. Just what we needed; the boys in blue to rain on our parade. There would be more questions than I could answer on my own, but someone had to face the fire.
I turned to Kevin and Tanya. “You two get out of here. We’ll meet up later.”
Seems like they both had the same idea, as moment’s later Tanya was draped over his shoulder and the two shot into the dawn. I watched them go, and raised by arms for the circus forming a perimeter around me. Gods, I could already see Captain Ortega bearing down on me, nostrils flaring.
Laser Lass rested in a heap. I only hoped she didn’t cause too much damage to clear.
The last time I was in handcuffs I was afraid of what came next. Not this time. I sat in a holding cell six by six wide, modified to accommodate adept abilities, and held my chin high. In the whirlwind of chaos I was, without question, innocent; and with my doppelganger next door I could prove it.
I don’t know how long it was before the steel door opened – maybe an hour. Time has a way of stopping in lock up, perhaps in the hope that one might use it to reflect. That’s what I did at any rate.
Alternative dimensions? Cosmic twins? My biggest problem used to be right-wing pseudo-feminists following me into the bathroom. It was a heck of a jump, even in my atypical life.
Captain Ortega lingered in the doorway. He wasn’t in a bad mood, per se; the ferrets under his nostrils weren’t twitching in the usual fashion. He shook his head and leaned against the wall.
“I’m not going to like this story, am I?”
So I told him everything, leaving out the parts that revealed my identity under the mask, and with each further detail he soured. I almost felt bad for him. Being a hero didn’t come with a mountain of paperwork, but his job did. Gods knew how he was going to explain dimensional jumps to his superiors.
“If you don’t believe me you can ask Laser Lass,” I said. Her existence was all the proof I needed.
“I would,” I said, “if she were still here.”
No, it wasn’t possible!
“Where is she?”
“Your guess would be as good as mine,” he said. “One minute she was on our cameras, and the next she was a ghost.”
Remember the part I said I wasn’t scared? Scratch that. Panic welled at the back of my chest.
Ortega sensed my mood, and beckoned me to relax. “Don’t worry. You’re still in the clear. A ‘friend’ of yours from InfiniTech has corroborated your story, and so has the US government.”
That must have been Dr. Storm. Thank the gods.
The captain reached down and unshackled my wrists. “With any luck Laser Lass is back in her home reality, never to be heard from again.” He winced. “I hate every word of that sentence…”
Truthfully, so did I.
After a long night that stretched between universes I was ready to crash, but not before tying up a very important loose end.
There’s a place where kids go to be alone. It’s not hard to find if you know the way. I climbed through the hole in the chain-link fence by the third post after the housing estate, dropped to the embankment and followed it to the end. There, under the bridge was Tanya, kicking gravel as she waited.
She smiled through the bruises. One eye was swollen shut, and her cheek was bandaged. Laser Lass did a number on her, not that she seemed to mind.
“Took you long enough,” she said.
I told her that I needed to change, that I’d been wearing the same clothes for three days, and changed into rags in that dark and miserable reality; or I tried to. I’d pushed through hell, and words didn’t make sense.
Tanya pulled me into a hug and held tight. She exhaled into my neck and pressed as close as she could. “I missed you,” she said.
It had only been three days, but was also much longer. There was no point hiding the tears.
“I’ve missed you too.”
And in that moment things were as they’d once been; two freaks against the world, watching each other’s backs. Adept or not, we needed each other, and there was no walking away. What a relief.
I pulled back. “You okay?”
Tanya grinned. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it felt great to kick your ass.”
If anyone else had said that…
“You know I’m not Laser Lass, right?”
“She’s the worst parts of you,” she said, “so it was cathartic, I guess. But I’m still glad to have the regular ‘Kaira’ back.”
I paused. “So this whole thing about keeping your distance…”
“Being a hero is a part of you,” she said, “and so am I.”
“Do you know how gay that sounds?” I laughed.
Tanya shone her teeth. “The most gay, I hope!”
At last, the universe was back in order. Kaira Cade and Tanya Truman; the double act that endured through all realities. No matter our morality, our sex, or who knows – maybe even our species – we were two of a kind. Thank the gods.
“Listen,” she said. “There’s one last thing I need to tell you.”
Dread stirred in my gut. Of course there was a complication.
Tanya steeled herself. “It’s about Trix…”