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Payback's a Bitch

Written by argonaut :: [Thursday, 21 May 2009 15:43] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 10 May 2014 11:23]


by Argonaut

The images are used with the kind permission of


The lunch-hour rush was in full swing at the Midtown Cafe.

It was the usual weekday crowd – bankers, businessmen, lawyers, and office workers, grabbing a quick lunch as they scanned spreadsheets, pored over contracts, studied briefs, and squinted at laptops. Waiters bustled from table to table, setting down plates of food and refilling coffee cups amid the clatter of silverware and the loud hum of conversation.

The street-door swung open and a woman entered the restaurant. She stood for a moment, turning her head slowly from left to right as she scanned the clientele. Lawyers looked up from their briefs, bankers from their spreadsheets, executives from their laptops, and sat gaping at the newcomer.

Tall and blonde and strikingly beautiful, she stood amid the noise and bustle of the restaurant with the haughty self-assurance of a Valkyrie. Her long, shapely legs were sheathed in a dark pin-striped miniskirt, and a low-cut silk blouse strained against her full, proud breasts. But there was a coldness in her eyes, a hardness in the set of her mouth, an arrogance in the way she carried herself, that made most of the men in the restaurant avert their gaze before her eyes could meet theirs.

A young woman at a corner table was waving her arm. “Stacie!” she called. “I’m over here!”

Stacie strode across the crowded restaurant toward the corner table and slid into a chair.

Sitting across from her was a pretty brunette with lively brown eyes and a ready smile. Unlike most of the other diners, whose attire ranged from business suits to office casual, she was wearing a baggy sweatshirt and a pair of faded blue jeans. Her chestnut hair was tied up in a careless bun, and there was a smudge of blue paint on her left cheek.

Hey, Jess.” Stacie opened a menu. “I wasn’t sure you’d make it. I heard about that hostage situation at the Capitol Bank.”

Jess shrugged. “No big. I just grabbed the guy’s rifle at super-speed, wrapped it around his wrists, and took off. I can give the police my statement later.” She picked up her tuna sandwich and bit hungrily into it.

Stacie shook her head. “Super-speed must be so convenient,” she remarked. “Speaking of speed …” She looked around the restaurant, frowning. “Who do you have to fuck to get a little service around here?” She summoned a waiter with an imperious lift of her eyebrow.

Bring me a garden salad with honey-mustard dressing,” she told him, without looking up from her menu.

The waiter scribbled on his pad. “Something to drink?”

Iced tea.”

Right away.” The waiter filled Stacie’s glass with water and hurried off.

Super-speed? Yeah, it definitely comes in handy sometimes,” Jess grinned. “And of course you don’t have to fight the downtown traffic when you can fly.”

Or worry about parking.” Stacie sighed. “I still can’t believe my best friend is Galaxy Girl. That is soamazing. The things you can do …” A wistful look came into her eyes. “The way I felt, when I put on your bracelet – God, what a rush. It was the most incredible … I mean … until … you know …”

Hey, don’t worry about it.” Jess patted her friend’s hand. “You didn’t know what the bracelet was. And gaining super-powers all of a sudden like that – it’s like finding yourself at the controls of a 747 without any training. No wonder you got a little … carried away. Anyway …” She lowered her eyes. “There’s a downside to being a super-heroine. It can really cut into your personal life …”

Oh, that’s right,” said Stacie. She jabbed her fork into the plate of salad the waiter had brought. “You were going to tell Brian about your secret identity last night, weren’t you? How did that go?”

Not very well. Of course, I knew it would come as a surprise, and he didn’t freak out or anything, but I could tell that he just … well, that he’d never be able to get used to the idea. So I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again.”

Aw, gee,” said Stacie. “I’m sorry, Jess.” There was a flicker of sympathy in her glacial blue eyes.

Jess shrugged. “It’s for the best, I suppose.”

So how many of your exes know about your secret identity?”

Well, actually – I kind of … make them forget.”

What, you mean like Men in Black? Look at the little red light?”

Jess grinned. “No, nothing like that. More like a … hypnotic suggestion. Brian will have woken up this morning with a vague recollection that we agreed to call things off. The details will be kind of fuzzy, but he’ll put that down to the wine he drank.”

Stacie scowled at her salad. “What a jerk,” she muttered.

Oh, no.” Jess shook her head. “Brian’s a really great guy. But it takes a very secure ego to be with a girl who can shrug off machine-gun fire and lift a tank overhead with one hand.”

Wake up, Jess. Stop making excuses for these guys. Men are jerks. Remember Dale? The guy I caught in bed with my own sister on our three-month anniversary?”

Yeah, well, there’s no excuse for that,” Jess admitted. “But you’ve gone out with some nice guys. What about Derek? And what’s-his-name – Owen. Hewas nice.”

Stacie shrugged. “Be honest, Jess,” she said. “Don’t you ever want to get a little payback when a guy stands you up or dumps you for another girl? With your powers, you could have him groveling at your feet sixteen ways from Sunday. Think about it. You could-”

Jess shook her head. “Hey, I deal with people every day who do things a lot worse than forgetting your birthday. What you’re saying – that’s a line I can’t cross. I have to believe that there’s some good in everybody. Otherwise – well, look what happened to you when you put on my bracelet …”

Stacie nodded. “Yeah, I-I sure wouldn’t want to go through that again.” She looked up, smiling ruefully. “I guess you’re right. I’m sorry, Jess – I should be trying to cheer you up instead of laying a downer on you.”

Jess smiled. “That’s all right. It’s nice to have someone I can talk to about all this.” She stood up. “I’ve got to visit the ladies’ room. Keep an eye on my purse for me, okay?”

Sure thing.”

Stacie sat sipping her iced tea as Jess made her way toward the back of the restaurant. But no sooner had her friend turned down the passage toward the restrooms than Stacie reached around the table and lifted the purse from the chair. Casting a furtive glance around the busy room, she opened the purse and slipped her hand into it, feeling around for …

Aha! Her fingers closed around a smooth circular object. She took it out of the purse. It was a simple bracelet, silver in color but heavier than silver. Its outer circumference was engraved with an inscription in a strange alphabet, and it felt warm to the touch. Stacie gazed hungrily at it for a moment, resisting the temptation to slip it on right away, then dropped it in her own purse and put Jess’s purse back on the chair.

When Jess returned, Stacie was standing by their table.

Sorry to eat and run,” she said. “But I’ve really got to get back to the office.” She put a ten-dollar bill on the table. “Take care of the check for me, will you? Let’s do lunch next week sometime. Maybe things will be less hectic.”

Jess rolled her eyes. “Come on, Stacie. When have things not been hectic? But yeah. Give me a call.” She sat down. The waiter came hurrying over as Stacie turned to leave.

How was everyth – ?” But Stacie swept past him without a word and strode toward the exit.

The waiter shrugged and turned to Jess. “How about you, Jess? Coffee? Dessert? We have that poppy-seed cake you like.”

Jess smiled. “Sounds tempting, Nick, but I’ve got to be on my way. Just the check, please. And Stacie’s.”

The waiter tore two pages from his pad and set them down on the table. “Whenever you’re ready.” He hesitated. “Do you mind if I ask you something?”


It’s just that – well, you’re, like, the nicest person I’ve ever met, and your friend … well, she’s kind of a – kind of a …”

Rhymes with ‘witch’?” Jess smiled ruefully. “Yeah, I know. But Stacie and I go back a long way. She wasn’t always like this. She’s made a few bad choices, and some bad things have happened to her – things that weren’t always her fault. Deep down, I think there’s a nice person in there.”

A sad look came into her eyes.

Besides,” she added, “if I weren’t her friend … well, I’m afraid she wouldn’t have any friends at all. And nobody deserves that.”


Stacie tapped her foot impatiently as the elevator rose with infuriating slowness toward the seventh floor of the midtown office building. She could barely suppress her annoyance as the car stopped at the fifth floor … the sixth …

Finally! The door slid open at the seventh floor. Stacie shouldered her way rudely through the other passengers and strode quickly through the foyer and into the reception area of the law firm Dewey, Cheatham and Howe.

She swept imperiously past the desks and cubicles, her long strides carrying her toward the far end of the room, her $400 shoes tapping urgently behind her. It was all she could do to refrain from breaking into a run as she approached the door of her private office.

The receptionist at the big desk outside her door was talking to the new secretary. “I don’t want to be disturbed for the rest of the afternoon,” Stacie snapped as she strode past. “I have to finish the paperwork on the Patterson case by five o’clock.”

The receptionist nodded. “Yes, Ms. Lennox.” But Stacie had already slammed the door shut behind her.

I don’t get it,” said the secretary. “She’s just a paralegal, right? So why does she rate a private office?”

It was a perk for sleeping with one of the partners,” the receptionist explained. “Then Mr. Howe refused to get a divorce, so she told his wife about the affair.” She snorted. “Mr. Howe lost his house in the settlement, but she still has her office.”

Can’t one of the other partners take it away from her?”

I suppose,” said the receptionist. “But then she’d be out here – with us.”

The secretary nodded. “I see your point.”


Stacie shut the door behind her with a sweep of her arm. She opened her purse and began groping inside with trembling fingers. Snarling impatiently, she turned the purse upside-down and shook its contents onto her desk. Eagerly, she reached out and grabbed the bracelet from the jumble of keys, coins, and other items scattered across the desktop.

She held it up, staring at it as an alcoholic might stare at a shot of whiskey. Her heart was racing, and her breath came in quick gasps. At last … She had intended to savor this moment, to prolong the exquisite anticipation of what was to come, but the craving was too strong. She pulled the bracelet over her wrist …


She threw her head back, releasing her pent-up breath in a long sigh as the feeling swept over her. An incredible strength was surging through her muscles, a fantastic energy was invigorating her entire body, the shackles of gravity were bursting asunder. Her senses drank in everything with a preternatural intensity: Every color was more vivid, every contour sharper, every sound clearer …

Oh … my … God, she thought. This is better than sex!

Payback 1She eyed her reflection in the full-length mirror she’d hung behind the door. She was wearing the blue and red costume of Galaxy Girl. Ugh! She thought, regarding the colors with distaste. I’ll definitely have to do something about the outfit. Maybe something in black leather …

She strolled over to the window, gazing scornfully down at the pedestrians on the sidewalk seven stories below – ordinary people, with gravity-bound bodies, so weak, so fragile … Why, a mere puff of her breath would sweep them away like so many autumn leaves, a mere glance of her laser-vision would transform the street into a river of molten tar, a mere stamp of her foot would split the ground asunder and topple tall buildings …

Turning from the window, she pulled open the top drawer of her desk and took out a black address book. She began flipping through its pages, scanning them at super-speed. Jason … Aaron … Stuart … Kevin … Ian … Cody … Warren … Where to begin? She felt like a kid reading the list of flavors at a Baskin-Robbins …

A grin spread slowly across her face as she turned the pages. So many men … so much time …

They say payback’s a bitch,” she muttered. “Well, so am I!”

A name caught her eye: Derek Jameson. She paused, considering. Derek worked nights at the television station, and he was usually home in the middle of the afternoon … She picked up her cell phone and entered a number.


Hello, Derek,” Stacie purred. “This is Stacie – Stacie Lennox. Remember me?”

There was a pause. “Er-hello, Stacie. Listen, I don’t think we should be …”

Please don’t hang up, Derek,” Stacie said pleadingly. “I’m calling because – well, remember when you broke up with me and I told you I could change and you said you didn’t think that was possible? Well, you were wrong, Derek. I have changed. I’ve changed a lot.”

Stacie suppressed a giggle as she slid her free hand, palm up, under the desk and lifted it off the floor. She stood holding it effortlessly over her head, raising it up and down, up and down …

You’d be amazed at how much I’ve changed.”

That’s great, Stacie. I’m glad to hear it. Listen, I really have to …”

Wait, Derek. Can’t I come over – just for a few minutes? I want to show you the new me.”

Stacie, please.” There was a note of desperation in Derek’s voice. “I don’t think that would be such a good …”

Standing in the living room of his condominium, Derek was speaking urgently into his cell phone. A sudden breeze blew some papers off the coffee table. Startled, he spun around.


The tall blonde in the blue and red costume sauntered toward him, smirking maliciously.

Hello, Derek,” she murmured. “Long time no see.”


Back in the apartment that was her home and her studio, Jess sat at a cluttered workbench, typing an email:

Dear Mr. Levitz:

I’ve made the changes you asked for. Here’s a scan of the revised logo. Let me know what you think. If you like it, I’ll forward the specs to the printer and your brochures should be ready next week.



She clicked on “send” and leaned back in her chair, savoring the satisfaction of a task completed. It had been almost a year since she had quit her job at the advertising agency and set up as a free-lance commercial artist. She enjoyed the independence, she liked working directly with her clients – and when she needed to go into action as Galaxy Girl, she didn’t have to make up some lame excuse for her co-workers. She could work at home, keeping her radio tuned to the police frequency, staying alert for any emergencies that might require her assistance …

She sat up suddenly. Something on the radio had caught her attention.

“… domestic disturbance in progress at 2915 Waverly Drive …”

Jess frowned. Another bully taking out his frustrations on his wife or girl-friend. Jess tried to look for the good in people, even the criminals she regularly encountered as Galaxy Girl, but when it came to domestic violence … Sometimes she had to suppress the temptation to give wife-beaters a taste of their own medicine.

Jess stood up. She’d left her purse in the bedroom when she got back from lunch. Then she remembered the spare in the top drawer of her desk. She pulled the drawer open, took out the bracelet, and slipped it over her wrist …

The next moment, Galaxy Girl was flying up through the open skylight of the loft.


Inspector Durkin stood in the living room of 2915 Waverly Drive – a condominium in one of the city’s more upscale suburbs – rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he surveyed the wreckage surrounding him.

Payback 2Hello, Inspector.”

He turned around. It was a voice he knew.

Galaxy Girl was staring at the devastated room. “What on Earth ?”

Inspector Durkin grunted. “What a mess, huh?”

The room looked as if a tornado had passed through it. Furniture lay overturned, broken debris littered the floor, the stucco walls were pockmarked with craters.

Inspector Durkin glanced at his notebook. “Condo belongs to a guy named Derek Jameson. Thirty years old, unmarried, works as a program director at KSUN. Neighbors heard a ruckus around 1:20, phoned the police. Patrol car happened to be just a quarter of a mile away. They got here at 1:24, and found – this.” He gestured around the room.

Jameson was lying right here,” the Inspector continued. He pointed to a spot on the floor by his feet. “Someone really cleaned the guy’s clock. He was in no condition to tell us anything.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “The medics just took him outside. We’ve talked to some of the neighbors, but none of them saw anyone coming or going.”


Inspector Durkin turned over a page in his notebook. “According to the neighbors, Jameson was a nice guy. They can’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing. No money problems, no trouble with the law – long story short, no sign of a motive. His name did come up on our computer in connection with an assault charge last year, and we’re checking it out, but it looks to me like a dead end.”

Tell me about it.”

Jameson was going out with this girl. A real looker, by all accounts, but …” He twirled his forefinger in little circles by the side of his head. “She was his date at a neighborhood cook-out last Labor Day. Apparently Jameson just said hello to a girl who lives next door to him, and his girl-friend went ballistic. Called the other girl some names I won’t repeat, then went at her with her claws out. Jameson managed to restrain her, but she made a big scene, threatened to have him arrested for assault. Of course, nothing came of it.” He shrugged. “Anyway, there’s no way one girl could have done all this.”

Galaxy Girl was only half-listening. She was examining an object she’d picked up off the floor, just beneath a fist-sized crater in the stucco wall. It was a trophy of some sort, mangled out of shape and bearing several long, deep impressions. They were slightly larger than her own fingers, but they had clearly been made by a woman’s hand …

Inspector Durkin looked up from his notebook. “So what do you make of …?”

But Galaxy Girl was gone.


An ambulance was parked in the driveway. Its back doors were open, and two paramedics were preparing to load the gurney that held Derek Jameson – his right arm splinted, his head and neck sheathed in a cervical collar, his face a mass of purplish bruises.

Excuse me.”

The paramedics looked up. Galaxy Girl was striding toward the ambulance. “Can I speak with him?”

You can try,” one of the paramedics replied. “We haven’t been able to get much out of him. His jaw’s broken, and he’s had about six teeth knocked out. And he’s still in shock.”

Thank you. I just need a few moments.” Galaxy Girl leaned over the gurney, gazing anxiously at Derek’s bruised, swollen face. “Derek,” she said. “Can you hear me?”

Derek opened his eyes with an effort. His gaze rested on the red and yellow emblem on Galaxy Girl’s chest. She saw a flicker of fear pass across his face.

It’s all right, Derek,” she said reassuringly. “I’m not – who you think. Tell me, Derek – who did this to you?”

Her super-acute hearing caught a feeble sibilance coming from his lips. “S-s-s-s …”

Stacie?” she asked. “Was it – Stacie?”

She heard a soft grunt of assent, she saw a nearly imperceptible nod of his head, before his eyes closed and he sank into a merciful oblivion.

Galaxy Girl sprang skyward, full of misgivings. She cast her super-vision toward her apartment, several miles away. A quick glance confirmed her fears: The bracelet was missing from her purse. Stacie had taken it; and now, endowed with the powers of Galaxy Girl, she had embarked on a vendetta against her ex-boyfriends, exacting vengeance for every grievance, real or imagined.

And Derek Jameson had been one of the nice ones …

Where was Stacie now? She wondered desperately Which if her exes would she track down next? Dale? Aaron? Steve? Kyle? …

Suddenly her super-hearing, constantly on the alert for emergencies, caught the blast of an air-horn and the squeal of tires on the highway running west of the city. Turning in mid-air, she cast her super-vision beyond the city, across miles of asphalt … and heaved a sigh of relief.

The next moment, she was hurtling westward, a streak of blue and red against the afternoon sky.


Owen Randall was grinning happily behind the wheel of his Audi. The city was receding behind him, the open highway stretched before him, the flat desert landscape was rushing past him, the weekend lay ahead of him – and best of all, the woman he loved was sitting beside him.

All right,” said Jenna, unable to contain her curiosity any longer. “What’s the big surprise?”

If I told you,” Owen said reasonably, “it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”

Can you tell me where we’re going, at least?”

You’ll find out soon enough.”

Just promise me it’s not another paintball tournament, okay?”

Owen’s grin widened as he took his eyes off the road for a moment. Jenna was gazing up at him with a look of cool appraisal in her large brown eyes, her dark hair waving in the hot dry wind that streamed through her open window.

Come on,” he said. “You enjoyed that.” He was remembering how adorable she had looked in her camouflage fatigues, her face smudged, her hair in disarray, her eyes shining with the thrill of combat …

The corner of Jenna’s mouth twitched for a moment; then she broke into a smile. “Okay,” she admitted. “It was kind of fun. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it everyweekend.”

Don’t worry.” Owen turned his attention back to the highway. It was practically empty. He’d managed to beat the Friday-afternoon traffic. “This weekend, we’re doing everything you like.”

It was true. He’d made reservations at a resort near Sedona; yesterday he’d phoned Jenna’s roommate and asked her to pack a suitcase with the clothes Jenna would need for the weekend. Tomorrow they’d swim and play tennis and go horseback riding … they’d watch the sun set over the desert and dine by candle-light … and then …

Owen patted the lapel of his jacket, making sure that the big surprise was still there …

He was startled out of his reverie by the blast of an air horn behind him and a piercing squeal of tires. Jenna was squirming around in her seat to look back through the car’s rear window.

Omigosh!” she cried. “There’s a big truck blocking the road.” They could hear the honking of automobile horns behind them. “The driver must have lost control – spun sideways-”

Maybe he blew out a tire.” Owen’s eyes were still fixed on the highway ahead.

Jenna was fumbling in her handbag. “Turn around!” she said. She took out her cell phone. “We’ve got to go back – the driver might be hurt-”

Okay,” said Owen. “Just let me-”

He blinked. One moment, the road was empty; the next moment, a woman was standing in the middle of his lane. Tall, blonde, attired in a costume of blue and red, she stood calmly, hands on hips, chin lifted defiantly … Owen slammed on the brake; tires squealed; time slowed to a crawl as the Audi skidded toward the woman …

She stood unmoving as the front of the car crumpled against her legs. Shards of glass flew from the headlights, sparkling in the sun as the car’s hood oozed like soft clay around her thighs. The impact threw Owen and Jenna forward in their seats, straining against their safety belts. A long moment went by as the car ground to a stop. Thigh-deep amid the mangled wreckage of its front end, the blonde woman stood glaring at Owen through the cracked windshield.

There was a moment of stunned silence.

Sweetie?” said Jenna. Her voice quavered, but she spoke slowly and quietly, never taking her eyes off the tall blonde. “Why is Galaxy Girl looking at you like that?”

Owen’s mouth was dry. “That’s not Galaxy Girl.” He, too, spoke in a low murmur, keeping his eyes on the woman, as if he were facing a wild animal. “That’s Stacie – Stacie Lennox.”


Stacie Lennox. I told you about her …”

The psycho? Oh my God. You never told me she had super-powers.”

She didn’t – not as far as I knew, anyway.” He unfastened his seat belt with trembling fingers. “Listen, Jenna – I’m going out to talk to her. I want you to get out of this car as quietly as you can and get the hell away from here. Wait till her back is turned-”

Owen! No! I’m not going to run away and leave you all alone-”

Don’t argue.”

He was fumbling with the door handle when Stacie suddenly turned her head to look behind her. A streak of red and blue had plunged from the sky like a thunderbolt and landed in the middle of the highway.

Oh, thank God!” Jenna gasped, grabbing Owen’s arm.

Galaxy Girl was striding resolutely toward Stacie.

Stacie!” she cried. “What are you doing?”

Stacie laid a trembling hand upon her forehead and turned toward Galaxy Girl with anxious eyes.

J-Jess?” she stammered. “Thank goodness! You’ve got to help me. It’s the bracelet. It’s making me do horrible things. Please, Jess!”

It’s okay, babe,” said Galaxy Girl. “I know. Listen to me. I’ll do everything I can to help, but first you’ve got to give me that bracelet.” She took a step forward. “Come on, babe – it’s me, Jess. Your friend. I’m here to help you. Just take off the bracelet, okay?”

Stacie nodded. She began to slip the bracelet off her wrist, then stopped. “I – I can’t!” she wailed. “I want to, but I can’t. The bracelet – it won’t let me.”

Galaxy Girl took another step forward. “Fight it, Stacie. Be strong. You can do it.” She held out her hand …

Psych!” Stacie’s hand darted forward. Her fingers closed around the bracelet on Galaxy Girl’s wrist. Yanking it off the super-heroine’s arm, she flung it to the ground. Owen and Jenna blinked in the glare of a sudden flash of light …

Stacie stood smirking as she dangled a young woman by the throat – a brunette in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She was clutching Stacie’s forearm with both hands, gasping for breath as Stacie’s fingers tightened around her windpipe.

Fool me once,” said Stacie, “shame on you. Fool me twice …”

She flung the woman aside with a casual sweep of her arm.

“… shame on me.”

Owen winced as he watched the woman land about a hundred feet down the highway. She lay motionless, one arm twisted awkwardly behind her. Owen stared, horror-struck. Was she – ?

Oh my God!” Jenna quavered. “She killed Galaxy Girl.”

Owen tried to speak calmly. “Maybe not.” He reached for the door handle. “I’m going out now. Remember what I told you …”

Owen! No! That woman’s crazy! She killed Galaxy Girl – she’ll kill you!” Two large tears were rolling down Jenna’s cheeks.

Everything’s going to be all right,” said Owen, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. “She just wants to talk with me, that’s all.” He gave Jenna’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

Oh, Owen,” she whispered. “I love you.”

Owen leaned toward Jenna and kissed her, wondering if it was for the last time.

I love you, too …”

The car gave a sudden lurch, then tilted sideways. Jenna let out a stifled shriek. Stacie was glaring at them through the passenger-side window as she lifted the right side of the car off the highway. Owen slid against the door, banging his shoulder. Only Jenna’s safety belt kept her from tumbling on top of him. The car rested on its side for a moment, then began toppling over with a loud groan. The next moment, it lay upside-down on the highway, a mangled wreck. Owen was wedged awkwardly between the seat and the steering wheel; Stacie was hanging from the safety belt, grunting as she fumbled with the release …

Owen squirmed into a crouching position. Through the window he could see a pair of red boots. There was a loud snapping sound as Stacie ripped the door from its hinges. The next moment, a loud thump told him that she had dropped it to the asphalt. Praying that Jenna would be able to free herself from the safety belt and get out of the car, Owen began crawling forward. A slender arm reached down and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket. The next moment, he was being yanked out of the car. Breathless, disoriented, he found himself dangling from the end of Stacie’s outstretched arm, blinking in the desert sun as he looked into her icy blue eyes.

So,” she sneered. “Who’s the little tramp?”

Owen felt a flush of anger. Stay calm, he told himself. Keep her talking. Keep her focused on me …

That’s Jenna,” he said. “My – girl-friend.”

Oh? Since when?”

About eight months now.”

Stacie shook her head pityingly. “Oh, Owen,” she said. “I know you were on the rebound – but couldn’t you have done any better than that?”

Again, Owen swallowed his anger. “Jenna’s – Jenna’s great. You’d like her. The two of you have a lot in common.” In fact, Owen couldn’t think of anythingthe two had in common …

Hmpf!” Stacie tossed her head. “What does she do?”

Owen cleared his throat. “She’s a nurse. She works in the emergency room at Phoenix General …”

How convenient,” Stacie murmured, lifting Owen another few inches off the ground. “So you’ll be seeing a lot of her in the next few months.”

Owen wanted to look aside, to see whether Jenna had gotten out of the car, to see whether she was getting away, but he didn’t dare to risk it. He forced himself to keep looking steadily into Stacie’s cold eyes.

Listen, Stacie,” he said. “Just put me down, okay? Let’s talk about-”

Talk?” Stacie snarled. “Now you want to talk? It’s a little too late for that, Owen. After you wouldn’t return my calls-”

I returned lots of your calls!” Owen protested. “But you were calling me twenty times a day – at home, at work … I almost got fired! I had to change my phone-numbers, my email addresses-”

You poor baby.” Stacie’s lip curled in contempt. “You men are all alike. You’re just want one thing – and as soon as you get it, you-”

For Heaven’s sake, Stacie!” Owen sputtered. “We went out once for drinks and once for dinner. We never even-”

But Stacie wasn’t listening. She was staring at the lapel of Owen’s jacket – or rather, using her x-ray vision to look at something behind it. She reached into the inside breast pocket with her free hand and drew out a small black box. Flicking aside the hasp with her thumb, she pushed the top open.

A diamond ring, nestled on plush maroon velvet, sparkled in the sunlight.

An engagement ring?” she growled. “You were going to propose to her – Mr. Afraid-to-Commit?”

Crouched behind the overturned car, Jenna’s hand flew to her mouth. Omigosh! She thought. He was going to propose to me! Her eyes grew misty, then hardened with resolve. All right – that wack-job is going down!

But how?

Galaxy Girl was still lying motionless where Stacie had thrown her. At that distance, Jenna couldn’t tell whether or not she was breathing, but she refused to believe that the super-heroine was dead. She must be unconscious. If I can run over to her, wake her up, she can save Owen from that

Payback 3Something caught her eye amid the shattered glass from the car’s headlights – something round and shiny. Cautiously, wincing as the rough asphalt dug into her knees, she crawled forward and picked it up. It was a silver bracelet, simple in design but engraved in a mysterious script, and oddly warm to the touch. She felt a strange compulsion to slip it on …

Stacie’s eyes gleamed with cold fury as her fingers tightened on Owen’s throat. “How could you?” she demanded. “After everything we meant to each other


Still dangling Owen from her outstretched arm, Stacie slowly turned her head. Owen tried to follow her gaze, but his chin was locked in her steely grip. It didn’t matter, though – he recognized the voice.

His heart sank. Jenna, he thought. Why didn’t you run away? Why didn’t you get away from here while you had a chance? Now we’re both going to

Stacie’s fingers suddenly released their grip on his throat. Owen tumbled to the asphalt, gratefully inhaling lungfuls of air. Head swimming, he lifted himself with an effort onto his hands and knees and raised his eyes …

Jenna was standing in the middle of the highway, one hand propped on her hip, her other arm extended straight forward, her finger pointed accusingly at Stacie. Owen blinked incredulously as his gaze ran up along her red calf-length boots … her short red skirt … and the snug blue top, emblazoned with the red and yellow emblem of – Galaxy Girl? A red cape billowed dramatically behind her in the hot desert breeze as she glared at Stacie.

Leave my boy-friend alone, you crazy psycho super bitch!”


Slowly, deliberately, Stacie sauntered over toward Jenna. Arms akimbo, chin raised, she stood looking down at the petite brunette.

So you’ve got super-powers, too,” she sneered. “Big deal. I can still kick your ass. I’m bigger – I’m stronger-”

Oh, yeah?” snapped Jenna. “Well, I ‘m more pissed off!

Her fist shot forward at super-speed, slamming against Stacie’s midriff with a resounding smack. “Oof!” Doubling over, Stacie hurtled backward, straight into the side of the truck blocking the highway. The steel panels crumpled under the impact. There was a moment of silence, followed by a loud metallic groan as Stacie freed herself, snarling with rage.

You’ll pay for that!” she bellowed. Stooping, she reached behind her and dug her fingers into the truck’s grille. “I’ll crush you like a bug, you – you pipsqueak!” Eighteen tons of steel leapt off the highway as Stacie swept her arm up and forward, swinging the truck overhead in a wide arc and slamming it down on the spot where Jenna was standing.

The highway heaved and buckled, knocking Owen off his feet as wide fissures spread through the asphalt. The truck burst apart in a deafening cacophony of tortured metal. Its fender flew skittering down the road, its doors fell from their hinges with a heavy clang, and broken glass cascaded from the windshield.

Jenna!” Forgetting Stacie, Owen stared in horror at the mountain of scrap that covered the spot where the woman he loved had been standing.

But already the wreckage of the truck was beginning to stir. Stunned, Owen watched as it rose wobbling off the surface of the highway, then shot straight upward into the cloudless sky. Jenna was hovering triumphantly thirty feet above a jagged crater in the middle of the road, covered in dust and grime, holding the mountain of metal overhead on the palms of her upraised hands.

She smiled reassuringly down at Owen. “It’s okay, sweetie!” she shouted. “I’m all right!”

She lowered her arms slightly, then pushed upward, flinging the wreck hundreds of yards, onto the scrubby terrain that stretched beyond the highway. Turning, she glared down at Stacie.

Who do you think you are?” she demanded. “Owen bought that ring – he was finally going to ask me to marry him – he had a wonderful romantic weekend all planned out – and you had to come along and spoil it! What’s your problem? Can’t you …”

Stacie laughed scornfully. “Don’t kid yourself. He’s not in love with you. He’s using you to get back at me. Don’t you get it?. It was never about you. He just can’t admit-”

Hey, you know something? You talk too much!”

The next moment, the air exploded in a furious whirlwind of blue and red. Jenna and Stacie were flying circles around each other, punching, dodging, feinting, all in a blur of super-speed. Owen squinted into the maelstrom. Who was winning? He couldn’t tell. Now and then he caught a fleeting glimpse of a fist, a boot, a face – only to see it vanish into the whirlwind as suddenly as it had appeared …

Ha!” Stacie’s voice rang out. “Gotcha!”

She’d managed to grab Jenna by an ankle. Poised in mid-air, she wrapped both hands around Jenna’s boot and began to spin, slowly at first, then faster and faster, like an athlete in a hammer-throw, swinging Jenna round and round in helpless circles. Jenna kicked with her free leg, but to no avail. Stacie let go, chortling in triumph as Jenna sailed upward, dwindling to a speck in the glare of the afternoon sky.

Stacie descended slowly to the highway. Owen stood, watching helplessly as she strode toward him, her eyes gleaming with cold fury. With a flick of her wrist, she sent him tumbling; he landed face down on the highway with a bone-jarring thud that knocked the wind out of him. Groaning, he pressed his bleeding palms against the asphalt and rose painfully to his hands and knees. But before he could stand up, Stacie had slid her foot under his chest and flipped him over onto his back. The next moment, her boot was pressing heavily against his sternum as she gazed scornfully down at him.

Like the view?” she snickered. “You know, Owen, I could crush you like a cockroach, and serve you right. But I’ll let you go – if you’ll just admit you never loved that tramp. It was all a pathetic ploy to get back at me … because you know deep down that you’re just not good enough for me. Isn’t that right?”

Owen said nothing. Stacie pressed harder against his chest. “Isn’t it?” she repeated.

Teeth clenched, eyes narrowed, Owen shook his head. “No,” he said evenly. “I … love … Jenna.”

Stacie’s lip curled. “Your funeral,” she sneered …


Stacie looked up. Jenna was hurtling straight toward her – a mere speck against the sun, but growing larger and larger with every passing instant.

You again?” bellowed Stacie. Lifting her foot off Owen’s chest, she planted herself squarely on the highway, fist clenched, arm drawn back. “This time I’ll knock you into orbit!” Her arm shot forward with a sound like the cracking of a whip. Owen winced, unable to look, bracing himself for an ear-shattering blow …

But there was silence. Owen opened his eyes. Jenna had dodged Stacie’s punch at the last moment. Now she was gripping Stacie’s right forearm, just below the elbow, while with her other hand she was sliding the bracelet off Stacie’s wrist …

NO!” Stacie’s eyes were wide with panic as she tried to wriggle free. But it was too late. The bracelet dropped to the ground; there was a flash of light; and when it faded, Stacie – now wearing a pin-striped miniskirt and silk blouse – hung helpless in Jenna’s grip.

Stacie scowled at Jenna. “You – bitch!” she snarled, swinging her free arm and slapping Jenna’s face. She winced as the palm of her hand struck Jenna’s cheek. Tears of pain and frustration welled up in her eyes, but she wouldn’t give Jenna the satisfaction of whimpering out loud.

Do your worst,” she muttered.

Jenna regarded the blonde woman appraisingly. Slowly she raised her free arm; she drew it back; she held it poised for a moment … then she let it drop to her side.

You have some serious issues,” she said, releasing her grip on Stacie’s arm. Stacie stumbled backward on her high heels and fell to the ground. “Why don’t you do us all a favor and get therapy?”

Stooping, Jenna picked up the bracelet, then turned and ran to Owen, who was rising gingerly to his feet …


Hi. I’m Owen Randall.

So that’s it?” I asked Argonaut. “You’re just going to stop there?”

He shrugged. “I know – I should tie up some loose plot threads. But I’m afraid the effect would be anti-climactic. Besides, I have to send in the story. Admin’s not going to wait much longer. I think I’ll just let the readers use their imaginations, make up their own endings.”

Come on, that’s a cop-out. What about Jess? Are you just going to leave her lying there? She’s not dead, is she?”

No, but she’s badly injured. Jenna offers to fly her to a hospital, but Jess asks for the bracelet – the one Jenna took from Stacie. She slips it on, and she’s transformed back into Galaxy Girl, with all her injuries healed.”

And what about Jenna and me? Do I ask her to marry me?”

Sure you do. Jenna finds the ring with her super-vision and returns it to you. You get down on one knee, right there on the highway, and pop the question.”

And does she …?”

Yes. Congratulations. You’re a lucky guy.”

Wow. Thanks. What about the bracelet – I mean the one Jenna put on? I suppose she has to give it back to Galaxy Girl?”

Argonaut grinned. “No. Galaxy Girl is really impressed by the way Jenna handled her super-powers – so she tells Jenna to keep the bracelet. She figures the world can use another super-heroine.”

Cool. And do we live happily ever after?”

Sure, why not? Now run along. It’s 11:38, and I promised Admin I’d send this in by midnight.”


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