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HERO WORSHIP
by Pete Milan

"We can be heroes...if just for one day."
David Bowie

LAST ISSUE: Jimmy Denton, late of Transverse City, was hired by Info Magazine to cover the Omega beat. He was partnered with William Lee, who used to be called Rapidfire... not that he's sharing that information with anybody. In other news, Eric Anderson and Rene Johnson got their shit together long enough to have a nice dinner and have sex off-panel, and by now you know what happened there... oh, and all this takes place before Invasions, natch. This is what happens when you don't post your stories for six months...


Some people will tell you that when starting a new regular column, you should introduce yourself to your readers. Let them know who you are, what you're all about, what you write about. Lay it all out, let them get the story like the first ten minutes of a movie.

My name is James Denton, and I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to tell you about someone I met this week.

Her name is Harriet.


Jimmy typed absently, notes on the story he was doing about Omega's influence on talk radio; specifically, a right-wing radio host who was having a war over the airwaves with a left-winger who fancied himself the Omega Howard Stern. His power, the ability to mimic anyone's voice with absolute perfection, was primarily used to mock anyone the guy hated.

Not that Jimmy was paying attention. He was surreptitiously watching Leigh Avedon.

He'd finally figured it out about a week in; this Leigh was not the same one he'd known in Transverse City. Rather, she was the homeworld version of the same woman. A rudimentary investigation had revealed the few differences. This Leigh was partial to flouncy dresses; his Leigh was slacks all the way. This Leigh drank bottled water constantly; his Leigh was a tea girl. She wore her hair long, his wore it short...

He shook his head. Concentrate on the story. On the radio, Bob "The Mouth" Morrison was doing a dead-on impression of Rush Limbaugh.

"...and I think Morrison is the greatest! I think—excuse me while I stuff an entire canned ham into my mouth—" There was a horrible sound effect. "—I tink Mowwison chould get mowe monny!"

"Better than Imus, anyway," William Lee muttered, walking up to Jimmy's desk and plunking himself down.

"You should hear this guy do Baba Booey," Jimmy said. "What's happening?"

"Well, I got some pics of the cleanup from the last Anne Benson fight." The high-profile Omega had been attacked by some kind of cyborg or other; reports were unclear if this had been Nicola Dare or some other weirdo with a Veg-o-matic wedged into his skull. It had taken out the front of an apartment building. "You gonna come get some quotes?"

"Yeah," Jimmy said, closing down the computer. "Nothing like asking anguished victims what they're going to do now that they're completely fucked."


"What will you do now, sir?" Jimmy asked a man in a sleeveless T-shirt who was sweeping the sidewalk.

"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do now," the man shouted. "I'm gonna sue that Omega bitch for everything she's got! You people, you got this notion nowadays that these friggin' Omegas are more important than normal people! I mean, we gotta work, we gotta eat, we got a right to come home at night without some friggin' cyborganism or whatever it is knockin' your windows in!"

Jimmy could feel his eyes glazing over as the man continued to rant. Sometimes it was the only way with these guys; let 'em piss and moan and eventually they'd give you a proper quote.

It wasn't forthcoming, unfortunately enough, as a bullet slammed into the man's chest, sending him to the ground.

Jimmy was in motion immediately, ducking behind some nearby trash cans. He looked up, got the situation; a clunker, bad paint but fast, headed straight for them.


As I was to find out earlier, the Looters were the latest gang to emerge on New York's streets. They were a bunch of opportunists, showing up at the sites of fires, accidents, any place where they could swipe something that didn't belong to them. And when there wasn't a disaster, they were always up to creating one of their own.

That day, the brownstone at 295 Carter Avenue was their target.


One of the Looters leapt from the car, a Tech-9 in his hands. He aimed at the few residents who were cleaning the place up.

"GET THE FUCK DOWN!" he screamed, letting loose a flurry of bullets for emphasis. Within moments, everyone was hugging concrete and praying like they'd never prayed before. It was dead quiet other than that. A short distance away, Denton could hear the steady whirr-click of Will's camera.

The Looters spread out in almost military formation. Tech-9 remained behind for crowd control.

"You movin'? YOU MOVIN'?" he screamed, shoving the gun into the neck of one of the residents. "LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE MOVIN'! DON'T PISS ME OFF, NOW, YOU DON'T WANT THAT!"

Mentally, Denton began rewriting his lead. Let's see...An already beleagured NYC brownstone became the site of violence when—

"Hold it right there!"

The voice was high and chirpy and unmistakably female. Despite his best efforts, Denton found himself looking up.

She couldn't have been more than fifteen. Blond, shaggy hair, dirty-looking in fact. Scuffed hightops on her feet. Freckles. What struck Denton, however, was the costume. A mixture of reds and yellows that attracted the eye, with a bright blue O in the middle of it. It was an amateurish if passable variation on the Omegawoman costume Denton had seen in one of the comics, but this was converted into a short-sleeved top and short skirt.

"Omegagirl's here to take you down!"

The bizarre tableau lasted ten seconds. Then, Tech-9 burst into laughter.

"Aw shit, look at this," he chuckled. "Baby, you need to lie down right over here. Come on."

"I don't think so, creep!"

The silly if defiant reply sent Tech-9 into another paroxysm. Which was long enough for "Omegagirl" to break out into a run, flip herself over, and knock the gun from the Looter's hand.

Tech-9 looked at the girl completely shocked. Not for long. The girl elbowed him in the face. The Looter roared in pain and lashed out. A solid slap connected with her face, knocking her down.

"You little bitch, I'm gonna—"

WHAM. The kick connected with Tech-9's nuts. The color drained out of his face, and without a sound, he sunk to the ground, winding up in the fetal position.

"Yo, Stevie, whatchu—" The second Looter emerged from the building to the sight of a teenager aiming an automatic weapon at him.

"Tell your friends to drop their guns and come on out," she ordered. "Otherwise..."

Looter #2 dropped his gun, hands shaking.

"Looters!" He shouted. "We got an Omega! Drop your shit!"

Denton could hear murmurs of discontent coming from inside the building.

"She took out Stevie, man! Get out here!"

There was silence for a moment. Then, a third Looter appeared. His hands went in the air as he saw Omegagirl. One by one, the Looters filed out, hands above heads.

"Citizens," Omegagirl shouted. "I could use a hand here. If somebody could bind these thieves, and somebody could call the authorities..."

Within moments, the complaining Looters were bound with ties, aprons, and whatever else could be salvaged from the wreckage. When it was done, Omegagirl lowered the gun to the ground and saluted them.

"Thank you, citizens! My work here is done!" she said. She turned and ran, completely failing to fly off into the sun.

Everyone stared after her for a moment. Then Denton and Will broke into a dead run, shouting after her.

"Miss—Miss Omegagirl—James Denton from—oh, man..." Denton sat down, gasping. He instantly regretted it as he felt something squelch beneath his buttocks. He made a mental note: don't sit down on a New York sidewalk without checking first.

"That was...I don't know what that was. You ever heard of her before?" Will asked.

"Never seen her before. Hey—how come you're not out of breath?"

"I keep in shape. So who's gonna call Benson, me or you?"

"Me," Jimmy said, wiping off his pants. "You're gonna drive around and see if Whatsername shows up again. This feels like a cover story, big time."


Needless to say, she did show up again. And again. And again. Omegagirl foiled street crimes for the most part, keeping low to the ground. It took a couple of days, but Lee finally got the shot...a triumphant Omegagirl standing over the unconscious body of a mugger she'd cold-cocked with a salmon. (You had to be there.) I wrote up the story, and bingo bango bongo, there we were with a cover story.

But it felt wrong. I didn't know what, but...it just felt wrong.


"...no. No. No, she wasn't wearing an Overman costume. It looks like your costume. From the comics, I mean."

"I confess, I haven't been reading my own book," Anne Benson said. "Omegagirl, huh? What kind of powers does she have?"

"Hard to say. I'd say maybe enhanced strength of some kind, maybe enhanced agility." Denton was sitting cross-legged on his bed, chatting with the head of Omega House. "I'll tell you what. Are you on the net? I can have a picture of her sent to you tomorrow."

"I'd appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. Denton."

"Thank you." Denton hung up and thought. Powers. Something was nagging at him there, something he wasn't seeing...

Tap tap tap. Denton looked up. His bedroom window looked out onto one of New York's lovelier alleys. But now, crouched on the fire escape, he could see her. Omegagirl.

Not a little shocked, Denton stood and grabbed his robe. He opened the window.

"Uh...hi," he said. "How'd you get up here?"

"All things are possible if you set your mind to it," she replied. "Can I come in?"

"That's very Zen. Sure." He helped her hop over his desk and into the apartment. "Something to drink?"

"That'd be good." Omegagirl rubbed her arms. She looked cold. Denton put a kettle of hot water on the stove and rummaged around in his cupboard for a packet of cocoa.

"So...what's the story?" Denton asked.

"Which story is that?"

"Why are you here? Why the costume? Just why?"

"I'm Omegagirl. I've come to New York to fight for justice and battle the ever-encroaching forces of evil."

Denton thought about that for a moment.

"Uh...yeah. Okay. Well...I guess what I'm looking for is..." He thought for a moment. "Your secret origin."

"Ohhhhhh! Okay." The kettle whistled; Denton poured hot water into two mugs and gave one to Omegagirl. They sat at his kitchen table. "I used to live in an orphanage. My parents died in a car crash when I was only a baby...at least that's what I was told."

"Uh-huh." Denton was scribbling as fast as the girl could talk.

"I always knew that I was different. Even as a child, I was faster, stronger...like the engine of power inside me was just waiting to get out."

A puberty-related comment came to mind, but Denton thought better of it.

"Then, last year, there was a fire at the orphanage. I was helping some of the smaller kids get out, when a burning beam fell right on top of me! I couldn't move!"

"That'll do it."

"I thought I was done for...and then she came.

"Omegawoman. Anne Benson. She swooped down out of the night sky and saved me from certain death. Once she'd gotten everyone out, and everything had calmed down, we talked...we talked all night long. It turned out she'd been in the area because she was trying to find me!"

Denton noticed the dreamy look in the young girl's eyes whenever she mentioned Anne Benson. Hero worship, bordering on zealotry by the sound of it.

"Fifteen years ago, she told me, one of her cousins had been kidnapped from her cradle...taken in the night, never to be seen again. Until now. She explained to me that I, too, was heir to the legacy of power! And I had strength, agility, speed, beyond those of mere mortals!"

"'Mere mortals'?" Stuff like that had started to annoy Denton almost immediately after he'd arrived back in his home dimension. Omegagirl seemed to notice this and blushed.

"Sorry. Not to say that I'm better than anyone else. Anne explained that to me too. She told me that since we were stronger than anyone else, we had an obligation to use our incredible powers to help those in need. Like I did today!"

"Yyyyyyyeah," Denton muttered. He jotted down some notes while she sipped at her cocoa. "So...where do you live now? Are you operating out of Omega House, do you have friends in town..."

"Oh, no," she said seriously. "I cannot allow myself the luxury of friends, since my life of extreme danger puts them at risk every minute of the day."

Denton nodded. "That'll put a strain on things, sure."


I could have done more.

I could have stopped her right there, tried to get her some help. I mean, look at that stuff. Does it sound even remotely rational to you?

But I didn't. All I did was see her off into the night...then take her empty mug of cocoa and put it in a plastic bag. I'd made contacts with NYPD already; the next day, I sent the mug to the forensics lab. They told me they'd run any prints they found.

What happened next comes second-hand. William Lee, my photographer, was working some charity event in town, one of Senator Reed Graves' projects. Anne Benson was there, out of uniform. Somehow, Lee managed to pull her into a corner...


"A burning orphanage? What burning orphanage? I've never saved anyone from a burning orphanage," Anne Benson said incredulously. "Who told you all this?"

"Not me; my partner, Jim Denton. Omegagirl claims she's your long-lost cousin, superpowers and all." Lee ran a hand through his spiky hair, nervous about this interview.

"I hate to tell you this, but my entire family is accounted for. Unless there's something Harvey didn't tell me about...which is, unfortunately, a likely prospect." She sighed and cast an eye back towards the reception. "Look, I'll stick around the city for an extra day, see if I can get anything out of Harvey. But if I were you, I'd keep an eye out for this 'Omegagirl'."


Denton coughed slightly as he passed the antiseptic stench of the morgue, between him and the forensics office. He walked through the swinging doors and saw his contact, Meeks, seated at a table looking through a microscope.

"Hey, Meeks," Denton called out. "You rang?"

Meeks looked up and blinked, as if confused where he was. Then recognition slowly moved across his features.

"Hi," he said simply. "I found her prints."

"So who is she?" Denton replied, a twenty moving skillfully from his pocket to Meeks' hand.

"A runaway. Harriet Hauptman, no relation," Meeks said, cutting off the next question. "Only one 'n'. Former resident of the New England Home for Little Wanderers, until a fire late last year...says here she helped get a bunch of kids out. After that, she just disappeared. What else...psychological problems, too. She's got some kinda Omega fixation. Check it out."

Meeks reached into his desk and removed a manila folder, sliding it to Denton. He opened it up.

It was a picture of a small room; nightstand, bed, one window with chicken wire in the glass. The girl he'd come to think of as Omegagirl was lying on the bed, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.

And every inch of the walls was covered with Anne Benson- or Harvey Hauptmann-related pictures. Every inch.

"Oh, hell," Denton murmured.


I told them what I knew. She was delusional, a danger to herself and maybe others...thought she had super-speed, super-strength. They put out an APB, and I hit the streets, stopping to pick up Lee.

Neither of us had very much to say to each other. When we looked back on it, it was so obvious...we hadn't seen her do anything a normal human couldn't do. But still, we saw the suit, we heard the words, and we bought right into the myth...


"Costumes," Lee muttered.

"You see one?" Denton asked.

"No. I'm just thinking. Costumes, uniforms...why do we believe them? Jesus, that girl's just some screwed-up runaway, and half this city thinks she's the next Tempest..."

"Let's kick ourselves until we're sure there's nothing we can do about it." Denton turned up the volume on the police band, listening intently.

"FZZZZHHHHT Possible 231 in progress at 7th and Stewart FZZZHHHHHT Car 74 headed for the scene FZZZZHHHHHT This is car 32, got a possible identification on that APB at Charles and—JESUS CHRIST!"

The sound of gunfire ripped across the radio. Denton put the pedal to the floor and performed an amazingly illegal U-turn.


They spotted the burning cop car from three blocks away. Charles had only been a few streets over, so they'd even beaten the cop cars to the scene. And it was a scene out of a Renny Harlin film.

The bullet-ridden bodies of two cops lay in the street next to their car, which was now an exploded husk. The building itself looked like it had been raided by Visigoths; windows smashed open, door off its hinges, and tagged with Looters symbols.

Lee snapped pictures while Denton surveyed the scene. He was checking the cops for pulses—an utterly useless gesture, they were ice-cold—when he heard the coughing. He looked around, saw a leg sticking out from behind some overturned trash cans.

Omegagirl—Harriet—was lying in a widening puddle of blood and urine. She'd taken a bullet in the stomach. A thin ribbon of blood ran from the corner of her mouth. She seemed to be saying something.

Denton took off his jacket, pushed it into the wound to try and stop the bleeding.

"WILL! GET ON THE RADIO, GET AN AMBULANCE! GET—"

"—got one—"

Denton looked down and saw that she was looking right at him.

"...I got one," she said raspily. "I got him in the head, I got one..."

She tried to motion. Denton followed the general direction and saw an unconscious Looter lying face-down, bleeding from the head. A two-by-four lay by his side.

"Tell Anne I got one," she whispered.

"I will, Harriet," Denton said. "Just take it easy, you're going to be okay."

"...how'd you know my...secret identity?"

"I'm a reporter," Denton whispered. "It's my job."

She smiled at him.

"Tell Anne..." she husked out, even as the light slowly faded out of her eyes. Her head lolled forward, like a marionnette with cut strings. No, better, Denton thought, an action figure without batteries.

He sat back and kept an eye on the unconscious Looter. He wanted to make sure at least one bad guy wouldn't get off scot free.


You know, I'm new to this Omega stuff. It's a new ballgame for me, I admit. But still, I ought to know better. We all ought to know better. We served you a hero on a silver platter, and no one bothered to look past the symbol on her chest...no one saw that she was just as lost as anyone else.

I'm not often ashamed of my job.

I'm ashamed of it now.

Denton sighed and swallowed the dregs of the coffee. He saved the file and E-mailed it to Lucinda Schenkman's desk. He had no illusions, of course; it wouldn't see print. He'd been a reporter long enough to know. He picked up a copy of th eprevious week's cover; Harriet Hauptman, looking for all the world like everyone's cartoon fantasy of a spunky heroine.

Omegas. A whole new world, a whole new species of possibilites, and people still suck.

"Hey," Lee said, stepping up to his desk. "I just got a hot tip that the Seekers are in town. Up for it?"

"Yeah, sure," Denton said. He opened up a drawer and filed the magazine away. He was still a reporter. And he had to find new news.


NEXT ISSUE:
Another Legacy crossover. How bad is John Potts?

Anne Benson is copyright, trademarked, and probably genetically coded to Marc Singer. All other characters copyright Peter Milan.

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