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The Big Time
by Michael Mendoza
PREVIOUSLY: Nyla Shapire, an American living in the French city Nice, found an alien artifact known as a Gauntlet. After spending a week learning how to use its energy powers, she accepted the duty to help prepare Earth for entry into a galactic Civilization. To do this, Nyla adopted the alter-ego of Aventine the Rosemaiden...
Under the moonlight and the neon glow of a bar sign, Marco brutally beat a thin man. The burly assailant wore a red leather jacket and a small crucifix which swung wildly around his neck as he pummeled his pleading victim. Marco paused as the thin man kneeled on the cobblestone street and spit blood.
"Max..." said Marco, "if you knew how I felt... when I saw your... pathetic, smooth, manicured hands... all over my wife-"
"Ex-wife!" screamed a woman whose expensive dress clashed with her nose ring and half-shaven haircut.
Marco looked at her sternly. All signs of rage fled her face. She meekly stepped away.
Marco resumed his one-sided conversation. "If you could understand my pain... you'd realize that nothing... I could do to you... would hurt as much."
He stepped forward, slipped, and fell flat on his back. Marco got up quickly. Looking down, he saw nothing on which he could have slipped. With a scowl on his face, he threw a punch at Max, who'd just barely managed to stand up.
Instead of hitting Max's chin, Marco's fist slammed into a large purple blob which appeared out of nowhere. He futilely tried to pull his forearm out of the soft, sticky material which floated in the air. The blob moved up Marco's arm and around his body until he was completely immobile.
The small crowd which had been watching Marco now paid him no heed. They watched a strange female form descend from the sky. She was dressed in red and silver and she was bathed in light. After touching ground, she said "Hello. I'm Aventine. Um, how are you doing?"
Marco just looked at her.
"Stupid question, I know. Okay, let's try this. What's your name?"
Aventine looked past Marco and saw two police officers approaching. "Okay, Marco. I want you to pay close attention before I take your 'friend' to the hospital. First of all, I want you to pay his medical bill. I also want you to stay away from your ex-wife until she's ready to discuss your... unresolved issues. Of course, that's assuming she ever wants to speak to you again. And please, get some kind of psychiatric counseling or something. That's a really unhealthy temper you've got there. Alright?"
Silence, then Marco nodded meekly. Aventine let the police take care of him. She turned to her audience and said, "Hope you enjoyed the show. You know, together you could have stopped this from getting out of hand."
One of the bystanders stepped forward. He was a balding man in his mid-forties who looked like he hadn't slept for days. "It's her," he uttered weakly. "It's one of them." He reached out to Aventine but dared not touch her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he cried.
Aventine regretted her spontaneous lecture. "I know. It's just that-"
"You're so beautiful," the man continued. "Too beautiful for this world." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handgun.
The shock of seeing a firearm aimed at her froze Aventine. The bullet hit her chest. Her Gauntlet-generated uniform protected her from harm, but the impact knocked her to the ground.
By the time she caught her breath and her bearings, her "admirer" had wounded one of the police officers in the shoulder. "No!" she shouted as she reached out. A red wall of force blinked into being and slammed into the gunman's right side. The unwounded police officer quickly disarmed the assailant.
Aventine gasped as she saw the balding man sprawled out in pain. His right arm jutted out in an unnatural angle. Frightened, she flew away. The wind dried her tears and obscured the voices of the police who shouted after her.
Despite her initial doubts, Nyla knew that she had done a lot of good in her few appearances as Aventine. She had broken up fights, prevented a mugging and stopped a mother from beating her child.
These forays as a Patroller were nerve-racking. Usually, she hid her insecurity relatively well. People were too awestruck by her lightshow to notice her stammering and nervous fidgeting. But last night her insecurity ignited into panic which put a mentally unbalanced man into the hospital. Fortunately, the news report of the event said that he'd eventually recover, at least physically.
Nyla's Recharger understood that she struck him in fear, not aggression. It invoked no penalties but warned that further carelessness would force it to seek a new Patroller. Nyla decided to take a break from crimefighting and spend time with her friends, who haven't seen much of her since she found her Gauntlet.
Her two closest friends, her housemates Lexi Holden and Jennifer Dwierlest, were cleaning up the living room of their small penthouse. Lexi was a graduate student studying architecture and Jennifer was a rising star in the world of professional modeling. Their parents lived in the same neighborhood in upstate New York, and they had been best friends ever since childhood.
Nyla was mixing strawberry daiquiris in the kitchen for a small party they were throwing. Around ten o'clock, the guests began arriving. Most of them were Lexi's classmates or Jen's fellow models. Nyla didn't know any of them.
She poured the daiquiris and set the glasses on a serving tray. When she brought the drinks into the living room, everyone was sitting around watching the new CNN program "Patrolwatch". She gasped as CNN broadcasted an amateur video of her flying.
"This Patroller," said Patrolwatch anchor Mark Kristing, "has stopped numerous small crimes in the French city Nice over the past two weeks. According to witnesses, she calls herself Aventine. In her latest sighting just this past Thursday, Aventine was assaulted by a fanatic admirer armed with a pistol."
The scene shifted to the volatile love triangle in which Nyla intervened that night. They sat in a Vielle Ville bistro on the east side of Nice. Max wore sunglasses which didn't quite mask his blackened eyes. On the bottom of the screen read the caption "Eyewitness Account". Nyla smiled, both because of the sight of them sitting together, and from relief that no mention was made of her panic.
After Max (and the translating narrator) recounted the night in question, the scene switched to a hardcover novel on a table. "Aventine," continued Kristing, "is the name of the main character in Frances Mikoney's novel 'The Rosemaiden'. The story is about a young woman who befriends and tries to emulate an otherworldly creature of light. Frances Mikoney jokingly dismisses speculation that she is the Patroller who has taken her character's name..."
"Don't you have that book, Nellie?" asked Jen.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. It was a gift from my sister Lisa."
"Ooh," said a photographer friend of Jen, "maybe I've found the next subject for my 'Women of the Patrol' calendar."
Nyla let the drink tray hit the glass center table with a loud clank. Without raising her eyes, she got a paper towel to wipe up the drinks that spilled. Jen shot her confused guest a disparaging look.
As she helped Nyla clean up, Lexi pointed at the television. "Look, it's Solar Flare."
Solar Flare was a tall Asian man. He wore a stylish red suit, a yellow shirt and black pants. His black head gear covered most of his face. A Gauntlet was clearly visible on his right hand. "I'm glad to see that I'm not the only Patroller who is not American. I just might take my TV show to France for an episode and meet this Aventine. Besides, I have not enjoyed an authentic French dinner in ages..."
Nyla regained her composure and contemplated her television coverage. The world was watching her now and she could afford no more mistakes. She needed to learn how to operate effectively as a Patroller, and she knew who her teacher would be...
NEXT: Flair For Theatrics
Copyright © 1995, 1997 by Michael Mendoza