THE HERHOINE DEFINED
[RECAP: Last issue, Kelly encountered Sullivan Green, the "Black Patroller." His Recharger's ethical dampers are damaged, allowing him to commit non-violent crimes for personal gain. Kelly was ordered by her Recharger to capture him.] To put it kindly, I was at a loss. I don't think like a "superhero;" that's why I came up with my consciousness-lifting art scheme in the first place. I also didn't know what a superhero would have done in this situation. Armed with vague childhood memories of the "Super Friends" show and the Justice League comics my mother bought me when I was seven, I bit back my pride and went to see a college friend I hadn't seen in a while. Kay reluctantly accompanied me.
Harmony Ryder's glasses began to slide down the narrow bridge of her nose as she reached the conclusion of her lengthy explanation.
"...Then the Guardians had to kill him, but because of the Korugarian thing the Power Battery blew up, okay? So most of the rings were destroyed, except for seven or so. Anyway, he stayed dead for a while, until a couple of years ago when his ghost came back. Oh, someone else has his ring now. That what you needed?"
I glanced at Kirstin, who looked sort of glazed. "I think so, Harmony. I'm not sure how much help it'll be, but it can't hurt."
Harmony slid out of her leather chair and gathered up the stack of bagged and boarded comics. "Any time you need a Silent Assistant, just call, okay? 'What Superboy doesn't know is that I accidentally learned his secret identity on that camping trip!' I won't tell anyone."
Kirstin very pointedly walked behind me and gripped the handles on my chair. "Harmony, we need to get going. Kelly needs to get ready for her broadcast."
"Fine. You two should come by more often, y'know." She held the door while Kirstin pushed me through.
Kirstin looked over her shoulder to see if Harmony was following, but she was busy replacing the comics in one of the dozens of long white boxes that filled the room. "She's flaked out a lot since college," she whispered in my ear.
"C'mon, Kay, she's got nothing to do with her life but spend her fortune and hang out with Fans. Of course she's flaking out. Maybe we *should* visit now and then, just to bring her back to reality."
"Grrreat. You've obtained powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal woman, and you think you can bring her into reality?" She slid me to a stop and punched the "down" button on the elevator. "I don't think so, somehow."
After wrapping up the six o'clock news, I drove back home for a war conference with my Recharger.
"I would recommend starting with a straightforward approach," said the voice in my mind. "Green can no more hurt you than you can hurt him. Since he will be on the defensive, you should have the tactical advantage of surprise. If he is taken off-guard in his illegal activities, he should not be difficult to apprehend. Taken to the police, he will be helpless once his Gauntlet charge wears off."
I scratched my chin thoughtfully. "I'm not wild about that idea, frankly. Understand that I'm not a great risk-taker."
"Kelly, I must remind you again of the importance of apprehending Green."
"Yes, I know that. Couldn't I just fly around and call the police when I see him?"
The Recharger is generally patient, but it can still take on a tone like my mother when it feels I'm stalling. "This requires the power of a Gauntlet, Kelly. The police will be at a severe disadvantage against him--if they even believe your message. I doubt the police have an official policy for dealing with the Patrol yet. Moreover, he is likely to interfere with you even if you are not disturbing him directly--remember how you first encountered him?"
"All right, all right, I get the idea, lay off. Um, how am I going to find him?"
"I will monitor the city for use of Gauntlet energy. When I discover it, I will alert you to his location; you will fly there and do your best to apprehend him."
"Okay. Let me know when you find him." I pushed away from the bedside table and rolled into my studio.
(I'd taken to keeping the Recharger in my bedroom; the flight powers of the Gauntlet are fabulous for levitating into bed, onto the toilet, and allowing me to take real showers again. There's a certain guilt factor in using great cosmic power for such mundane purposes, but the selfish part of me feels I'm entitled. My id and superego aren't on speaking terms these days.)
At midnight, the Recharger interrupted my work on a large piece tentatively titled "Seedling."
"Kelly, I have sensed Gauntlet power in use near Fifth and Garcia."
"Gotcha." I mentally reviewed my power usages, decided the odds of a twenty-five-hour battle were slim at best, and floated over to the closet to grab a jacket. I slid open a window, slipped through it, and flew out into the night.
Fifth and Garcia had four buildings: a restaurant (closed), an insurance firm, a Christian Science Reading Room, and a bank. Green probably wasn't here to see about his deductible or read up on his Mary Baker Eddy, and banks are usually noted for having more money than restaurants, so I decided to investigate the local branch of First of San Diego. Closer investigation revealed that the doors had been forced open somehow.
Remembering the billboard downtown with my face plastered twenty feet high, I pulled the hood of my jacket up around my head before floating into the bank. Faint sounds from further in suggested I'd made the right decision.
I came upon Green in front of the main vault. He'd oozed black force fields around the edges, and was apparently planning to pop it open soon. My experience with stopping criminals was very limited, so I had to consider my options for a moment; tie up his arms? giant bubble? try to gently knock him out?
It hadn't occurred to me before that some bank vaults have polished metal doors, until Green noticed my reflection and turned around.
"Oh, it's you again," he rasped, raising his right (black- Gauntleted) hand to tip his tweed cap. "I hate to do this to such a lovely lady, but..."
Suddenly my world went dark.
A moment of quick panic subsided when I noticed that I still had peripheral vision. I wasn't blind or anything--there was just something obscuring my eyes.
I reached up to feel my face, and soon found what the clever bastard had done. My glasses were coated on both sides with a thin black field--totally opaque. I'm horribly nearsighted, and removing them wasn't much of an improvement over being blinded.
There was a movement over in one corner. I hastily erected a barrier there, hoping to catch Green before he escaped, but I seemed to have missed.
"Damn," I muttered, floating in the direction of the exit. I had two options; I could leave now and fly blind to my apartment, or I could wait around for the field integrity to break down. That would give me plenty of time to find a way to tell the nice policeman why I was hovering in the bank after hours. Clearly, getting the hell out constituted the better part of valor in this situation.
I fumbled my way back to my apartment somehow. The thought of trying to smash his force fields crossed my mind, but the fear of shattering my lenses put it out of my mind quickly. My sense of direction was good enough to get me back, however.
The bed creaked below me as I dropped onto it. I pulled open a bedstand drawer and poked around in it blindly until I found my spare glasses. They're an old prescription and badly scratched, but better than nothing.
"I perceive that things went poorly," said the Recharger as I put my hand on it.
"Oh, you could say that. I think we can scratch plan A, no?"
"You may be hasty in giving up, but your frustration is understandable. You are very fatigued; I recommend rest before we plan the next approach."
"Fine by me." I willed the Gauntlet to flow back into the Recharger and exhaled in relief as some of my tension left with it. It had been a terribly long day, I ached all over, and I was glad to see it over. Dry-swallowing a couple of aspirin, I was practically asleep before my head hit the pillow.
A variety of aches and discomforts the next morning reminded me why I hate sleeping in clothes. (Note to the non-handicapped out there: No, I'm not totally numb below the waist. I've lost a lot of feeling, but there's a little left. Enough to get sore muscles--imagine sitting down all day and not being able to stretch, ever.)
I stretched my arms widely and reached out to the Recharger. "Morning," I thought to it, as the silver metal flowed over my left hand. "I'll fill you in after breakfast."
After a shower and an English muffin, I returned to my bedroom. "All right, Charger. I tried the straightforward approach and got my head handed to me. He's got the physical advantage. What's Plan B?"
"Last night I traced the fields coating your glasses back to his Recharger. If you can capture it, he will cease to be a threat in the long run."
"Beautiful plan. Just great. How will I get it? Drive a cart outside his door and shout, 'New Rechargers for old?'"
"Please do not take that tone, Kelly. Although you must go without your Gauntlet, there is little reason to think you will find it difficult."
That brought me up short. "Whoa. What's this about not using my Gauntlet?"
"Green undoubtedly has instructed his Recharger to warn him if a Gauntlet approaches it. You will have to find his Recharger by yourself, and take it to the authorities to be disposed of."
"Um, okay." I had a lot of reservations, but this wasn't a good time to argue.
We decided that I should head out at night again, since he'd probably be out committing another robbery or something, and my Recharger could tell me when he was active (and therefore out).
I spent the rest of the day working on some pottery. "Seedling" had degenerated some from my heavy Gauntlet usage last night, and there was no point on working on it again if I had potential heavy Gauntlet usage coming up.
Kirstin called mid-afternoon for an update, and to let me know that her magazine wanted to do a piece on me. Apart from that, there were no interruptions until eleven o'clock, when the Recharger told me it was time to go to work.
I drove down to the address I was given and examined it in a slow drive-by. It was an old, abandoned warehouse, surrounded by other old, abandoned warehouses, and decorated by a rusty sign proclaiming that it would soon be a mini-mall or something. There wasn't much chance of getting caught, but I was still going to play it prudently. I pulled the pickup around behind a neighboring warehouse, got out, and wheeled over to the back door.
There was only one back entrance that I could conceivably enter (all the others were truck entrances, and chained over). It was right there in front of me, a wooden door, not in great shape, and in front of it...
...three stone steps going up.
I'll spare you the harrowing account of my struggle to get the chair and myself up the stairs, and cut straight to the moment when I finally had a chance to look around.
Green had good taste, I was forced to concede. He'd taken over one corner of the building as a living area, and decorated it with prints of great paintings. The whole effect was surprisingly classy.
Semi-classy, I amended as I rolled over an issue of "Cherry Blossom Girls." The noise reminded me that I was an intruder and should hurry. On a small table, beneath a Dali print, was an object that was probably a Recharger. I rolled over to examine it.
It looked like my Recharger, except for the color. The surface was mostly black, but with a roiling dark red swirl somewhere deep within it. Every now and then the red pulsed, on-off.
I reached out to grab it, and was hit with a wave of revulsion. Like my Recharger, touching it brought on a low-level awareness of the intelligence within; but unlike mine, the mind within was definitely... disturbed. It felt like a mind clinging to the edges of sanity by its figurative teeth. I held back a shudder and dropped into the sack I'd brought along.
It was much quicker getting back; I was able to make it down the stairs without too much effort, just a lot of caution. I wrestled myself and the chair into the pickup and drove off, feeling trapped between a need for haste and a worry about attracting attention.
Knock, knock, knock.
"Kay, wake up. This is important."
"Kelly? Hang on."
There were a few clicks as Kirstin unlocked her door and pulled it open. She stood behind it, wearing a bathrobe and bleary expression.
"Kelly, I hope there's a good explanation for this, or that I'm just having a very sadistic dream. Come in and let me know."
I pushed myself in and closed the door behind me. "I got Sullivan Green's Recharger, Kay."
"Oh, really?" She dropped onto her overstuffed couch and gave me an "is that all?" look.
I held up the sack and patted it gingerly. "Right here. The thing is, I need your help with something."
"What is it?"
"Well...I need to turn it in to the police, and I don't want to use my real name. And I want to use a disguise. Do you still have that motorcycle helmet?"
Kirstin rolled her eyes. "For this, you wake me? Isn't this the sort of thing Harmony would eat up?"
"Yes, but she doesn't have a helmet, as far as I know. C'mon, you know this is important, and I need to hide my face. God knows how many policemen watch KQEX, but I don't want someone to recognize my face."
We rummaged through Kirstin's closets while I brought her up to date. Eventually we'd accumulated a small heap of stuff, and I began to load it into my knapsack.
"Why a costume, Kelly? Why not just a ski mask?"
"Well, it'll help my image if I claim to be a 'superhero' type. The police probably know that Green's not your average criminal, and they're likelier to believe an unusual person bringing him to justice. Also, I don't intend to use this stuff after today, so it'll through them off the track."
Kirstin absently stirred her coffee. "You're awfully concerned about secrecy. Why?"
"Well, I don't know how the government's going to take to us Patrollers, and I'd rather play it safe until I do."
"What would the government do to you? They're not too likely to arrest you for having a Gauntlet."
"My grandfather didn't think they'd intern him for being Japanese, either. Call it a complex he gave me as a kid." I stared into the empty face of the motorcycle helmet for a moment before continuing. "The other reason is that I don't want my art tied to the Gauntlets too quickly. I'm being cagey about how they're made, and I think revealing the truth might take away some of the mystery."
Kirstin suppressed a wide yawn. "I'd love to chat about paranoia for hours, but I have a meeting with my editor tomorrow, and he likes me to be at least coherent if not brilliant."
"I understand. I need to get the Recharger to the cops before Green comes looking for it."
I drove home, changed into my "costume," put on the Gauntlet, and flew to the police station as quickly as I could.
About my costume. Part of the problem I had with the Justice League comics, when re-reading them later, was the outfits the women wore. Wonder Woman was bad enough (patpatriotic underwear?) but what really threw me was another character, Black Canary. Her outfit was obviously designed by a man; not only was it utterly impractical for anything but prostitution, she'd have to take off two-thirds of the thing to use the bathroom. I'd resolved that I'd dress better.
Despite my many arguments about Kirstin with this (she thinks I have a lousy self-image), I remain convinced that I'm too skinny to wear skintight clothes effectively. Since that let out most superhero fashions, we decided to go the other direction: leathers. I had on a black leather jacket and leather pants (loose) that Kirstin had around from her brief days as a biker, leather work gloves, and the aforementioned motorcycle helmet to hide my face. And boots. The effect was to mask my identity fairly well (to anyone who knew me, at least), but I don't have the physical presence for leather. Oh, well; I wouldn't be wearing it again.
"Can I help you, ma'am--oh!" said the man at the police station desk. The final remark of surprise came when he saw I was floating a foot off the ground.
"Listen well; I'll only explain this once," I said, trying to deepen my voice below my usual newscasting pitch. "My name is, um,"-- I thought quickly--"the Sculptress, and I am a member of the Patrol. I have been fighting Sullivan Green, the man responsible for the mysterious crimes around the city.
"He lives in a section of the warehouse on 1911 Twelfth Street. This"--I held up the sack with Green's Recharger--"is necessary for his special abilities to work. He is currently in the vicinity of Alvaro and Williams; his abilities should run out relatively soon. Please keep this device well away from him."
I dropped the sack on the desk, turned, and flew out before they could ask anything too awkward. I don't know much about police procedure, but this should at least help in slowing or stopping Green.
Well, I thought, so much for your venture into superheroics. Once these clothes go back to Kay, that's the end of it for you. Stick to art.
The Patrol created by Michael Montoure