Life In Four Colors Part 1: Strangers on a Train
Written by taliesan :: [Monday, 09 November 2009 12:40] Last updated by ::
Life In Four Colors Part 1: Strangers on a Train
Author's Note: So, here we go, new series, new girl. Or woman, to be more accurate. Once I had some basics going, the plot just poured out to me. Again, this story is more sweet and sentimental than sexual, so hopefully there's still an audience base out there. Enjoy and PM me here with any feedback. Also, go check out the screenshots I posted in the Champions Online thread in the video games section to see what the new heroine's costume looks like.
Notes on the Bay Area experience. BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit, a series of train lines that link the various cities of the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, all the BART stations are underground. Locals all call San Francisco 'The City'; never SF or Frisco or San Fran. There's four general 'regions' to the Bay Area: the North Bay (Concord & Richmond), the East Bay (Oakland & Berkeley), the Peninsula (San Francisco and down the coastline), and the South Bay (San Jose & the Silicon Valley cities). If you don't know what the Castro district is, well...come out here sometime for Halloween or the end of September for the Folsom Street Fair and see for yourself. ; )
The coffee didn't kick in until about 6:30, while Matt was at the platform waiting for the next train into San Francisco to arrive. The two cups he drank at home before he left had helped, but it was the venti double latte he picked up from Starbucks that finally let him fully wake up. Too many long nights with no sleep, he thought. When his friends and co-workers had asked him why he was always so tired when they saw him recently, Matt shrugged it off by saying he was getting less sleep because he was keeping track of the Asian stock markets when they opened. In a way, it was true, but it was only a symptom of Matt Truman's real problem.
The real problem was that Erica had left him.
Sure, it had been over a week since she walked out. And his friends kept trying to set him up with other girls to get him ‘back on the horse'. The issue wasn't necessarily that she had left him, but rather why she had and how it had all ended.
As the BART train arrived and Matt stepped in to take one of the few empty seats left, he tried not to think of that last night with Erica. He tried to shove to the back of his mind her angry shouts that he was too focused on his career (maybe I was?). The accusations that she needed more attention (had I really ignored her that much?) and the revelation she had started sleeping with another man; one that she was now leaving him for. And just like that, two years of his life walked out the door. And Matt was left with a week's worth of sleepless nights as he tried to bring things into perspective; or at least ignore things and dull the pain by vegging out on late night TV.
Matt gritted his teeth and shrugged mentally. Screw it, if Erica wants to be a cheating bitch, let her. He opened up the morning edition of the Chronicle as the train lurched forward with the hum of electric motors. The front page was decorated with pictures of the Bay Area's own Lady Vanguard and some of her teammates in the Protectors stopping one of Cyberion's robot armies from trying to occupy San Jose and Silicon Valley. No sign of the insane cyberneticist after the fight, but the bad guys always popped back up with a new scheme; Matt was sure the Protectors would have another shot. He opened up the Business section and was done with the first two pages as the train shuddered to a halt at its next stop in Concord.
"Excuse me, can I sit here?"
Matt looked up from the paper in response to the woman's question. In his opinion, she was cute in a kind of bookish way, with bangs of her auburn hair framing her face and complimenting her blue eyes hiding behind rimless ‘Palin' glasses that all the women that tried to look both stylish and professional seemed to wear now. A cream-colored blouse and grey skirt were complimented by her matching black leather satchel and calf boots with an inch or so heel; again, both being slightly stylish while still looking professional. Matt smiled pleasantly and nodded as he scooted over into the window side of the bench seat. "Sure thing," he replied. The woman returned the smile as she sat down.
Matt went back to reading the paper but would occasionally steal a quick glance at his traveling companion. He didn't know what it was, but there was something alluring about her. He didn't usually go for the secretary or librarian types, but there was just something about her that caused him to keep taking opportunities to check her out. She had taken a book out and started reading it, apparently not noticing Matt's sporadic attention. When Matt got a better look at what she was reading, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Huh …"
The woman cocked her head slightly to look at him. "Hmmm?"
"Oh, just noticed what you were reading." He gestured to the book in herhands. "Supergirl graphic novel or collection or something, huh?"
The woman closed the book up and looked at Matt. She didn't seem embarrassed and the tone of her voice was more teaching than defensive. "Trade paperback. It's a collection of issues re-printed in a large book format. What's so funny about me reading it?"
"Oh, just … you don't see a lot of adults or professional types reading stuff like that. Definitely not a lot of women. I mean, isn't it supposed to be sexist and exploitative and all that?"
She gave a shrug of her shoulders. "That's all a matter of personal opinion. I'm a veterinarian. I'm a woman. And I like reading Supergirl comics. I liked reading them when I was a girl and I like reading them now that they brought the character back."
"Okay. You're right that there's nothing wrong with being a comics fan. But still, wouldn't you rather read about superheroes that actually exist?" Matt held up the front page of the newspaper for emphasis. "I mean, you have Lady Vanguard, Quasar, Thermatic, and Kestrel beating down robots in the South Bay last night. Lady V has her own comics line and so do the Protectors as a whole and individually. Why not read comics about them?"
"Because that's real life," she responded with an amused smile and a soft laugh while pointing at the newspaper. She pointed at the Supergirl book and continued. "This is fantasy. If I want to read about Lady Vanguard or any other hero, I can pick up a newspaper. But along with the action that you read about, there are also real-life consequences. Like the dozens of people that were left temporarily homeless because of that fight last night. Sure, they'll get paid the insurance money to replace homes and belongings, but it's still sad. When Supergirl or Wonder Woman or Ms. Marvel has to smack a bad guy with a car to stop him, it looks cool. When Lady Vanguard has to do the same thing, it means someone has to walk or take the bus to work until the insurance pays for a new car."
Matt's cheeks flushed a bit from the lecture. "Huh. I guess I never thought of it like that before. But still, having to take public transportation for a week or two isn't that bad considering the alternative of what would happen if the villains won."
"I didn't say the fighting wasn't necessary. Just that the collateral damage is something real."
Matt nodded thoughtfully for a bit before extending his hand. "I'm Matt, by the way. Matt Truman."
The woman paused, like she was taking time to consider the introduction. "Rebecca Larson," she replied as she shook the offered hand.
"Nice to meet you, Rebecca. Do you work in the City? I can't remember ever seeing you on the commute to San Francisco from Concord before."
"Oh, I don't live in Concord. I'm just … housesitting. For my parents. And yes, I run a small clinic up near the Castro."
"Nice. As a vet, I bet you make good money up there with all the ‘surrogate children' in the area."
"I do okay. Enough to pay the bills and get by. I didn't become a vet to get rich. I did it because I like to help others."
Matt smiled softly at Rebecca's comment. "Something Supergirl would probably say?"
"Something like that, probably." Rebecca was both laughing a bit and blushing. "What about you? What do you do for a living?"
Matt brushed aside the question with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Totally mundane. I'm a money-grubbing securities broker."
"Ouch. How have you been handling the economy?"
"I'm hanging in there. Of course, it helps that I never got greedy enough to do some of the stupid crap that led to the mess. I mean seriously, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that giving loans to anyone breathing and able to sign their name is just plain idiotic. So I kept away from the easy money. Lost a couple of years worth of retirement in the fallout, but that's a lot better than some people came out with. And my clients are happy they still have retirement accounts because I didn't cave in to ‘all the cool kids are investing in repackaged loans …" Matt chuckled as he realized he was rambling on. "Sorry. I know not everyone's interested in the fast-paced world of finance."
Rebecca smiled and shook her head. "It's okay. It's kind of refreshing, really. All you hear in the news is ‘bankers and financiers are evil and should be shot'. It's nice to meet someone in finance who's actually responsible."
"Oh, I'm not all that responsible. I'm just not stupid and greedy." He looked over at Rebecca again, trying to not be obvious about checking her out. As the train pulled out from another platform, Matt realized that they had been talking for so long, they were at the last station before taking the tunnel under the bay to reach San Francisco. He had to get off at the first stop in the city, so his commute with Rebecca was coming to a close. She was smart, funny, cute … Matt had to admit to himself, he was interested in her. And she seemed to be interested in him. Something inside him told him to go for it; after all, he really didn't have anything to loose. "Hey, I've got to get off at Embarcadero. It was really great to talk with you, though. Maybe if you're free for lunch sometime …?"
Rebecca looked a bit stunned. Maybe she doesn't get asked out too often, Matt thought. "Well … I …" The howl of the train increased as they entered the bay tunnel, forcing Rebecca to raise her voice. "Sure, why not?" She smiled at Matt and started digging around in her satchel. "Let me get your phone number …"
Matt reached into his jacket and pulled out a small case, opening it up to take out his business card. "Here you go."
Rebecca smiled as she reached for it. "Thanks. I …"
Her reply was cut off as the train lurched forward suddenly, jostling the standing passengers in the crowded car. From the increase in the intensity of the train's echo, Matt could tell they were speeding up. He looked over at Rebecca. "What was that?"
"I don't know …" she replied cautiously, looking around. Their bodies pitched forward a bit as the train started to slow down again. A feeling of nervous relief seemed to pass through the packed train car. But the relief was short lived as the train spasmed again, throwing people back into their seats and causing several standing passengers to fall backwards amidst screams of terror.
The lights inside the car flickered and the smell of ozone started to seep in. Over the intercom, the conductor gave the announcement that Matt was dreading in the pit of his stomach. "Attention, passengers. We are experiencing a technical emergency. As a precaution, all seated passengers should lean forward and cover their heads. Standing passengers should lie down on the floor of the cars and cover their heads as well …"
Matt didn't hear the rest of the announcement. The scene was sheer pandemonium as people started shouting and moving around. Some tried to comply with the crash instructions, others tried to fight for seats. But Matt figured any crash positions would be just about useless. BART trains could get up to 70 mph, which was probably what the runaway train was doing. And there was the added factor of 9 cars in the train, all fully packed. Matt seriously didn't think anyone would survive this. He looked over to Rebecca, only to find she was now standing. At first, he thought she was giving up her seat for one of the other passengers, but then he noticed she was standing in the rear well of the car, where the doors that normally link train cars together were. But since they were riding in the last car of the train, the doors only opened out into the tunnel.
Before Matt could say anything, the lights flickered again and then went out. The screams of panic increased until they were drowned out by the howling sound of the train's echo suddenly filling the car.
Just like someone had opened the rear doors.
Rebecca knew she had little time to act. As the lights in the car started flickering, she sighed in relief inwardly. If I can time it, I can exit with no witnesses, she thought. Standing up as the conductor was making the crash announcement, she backed into the rear doors, sliding her fingers in between the rubber that lined each of the sliding doors. When the next flickering happened, she shrugged open the doors, casually overcoming the locking mechanism, and fell backwards into the dimly lit tunnel.
Rebecca turned the backwards fall into a controlled flight and began spinning in mid-air rapidly. In the blink of an eye, the clothing of Rebecca Larson, veterinarian, had been discarded into the leather satchel and replaced by the white and light blue costume of Lady Vanguard.
Tossing her satchel to the side, Rebecca put on a burst of flying speed to catch up to the train, cape fluttering rapidly behind her. She tapped the com-unit now nestled in her right ear and immediately got a response. "Technik, here. What's going on Lady V?"
"Claire, I've got a bad situation developing." Rebecca poured on the speed and threaded herself through the narrow space between the roof of the train and the concrete roof of the submerged tunnel.
"The commuter train in San Fran? I was just about to call you for that."
"I was on it. Just slipped out of the train." From ahead, her super hearing picked up on panicked screams as station agents and police tried to evacuate the platforms and the train. Coming up to the front of the train, she matched its speed and lowered herself into position.
"Heck of a day for you to not fly into work, huh? What'cha need?"
"Hack into the train's security recording system." Lady Vanguard glanced over her shoulder, giving the ashen-faced train conductor a reassuring smile to let him know things were going to be alright. "The trains are all on a wireless network. I need you to erase the recordings from the last car. I don't want to risk the camera catching me making my exit. Also lock onto the transmitter in my satchel and teleport it to the base. I'd rather not have to go back for it."
"You got it, hon. Looks like the platforms are cleared and they emptied out the trains ahead of you. They're keeping them moving. And the hospitals are already on alert for a mass casualty event."
"That's not going to happen …" Rebecca began flying backwards, slowly increasing the resistance she was putting up to keep the train from derailing suddenly. Reaching back to brace the front of the train with her arms, she gritted her teeth and continued her effort.
"Hey, who's the cute guy you were sitting next to? Looks like you two were chatting it up pretty well."
"Claire …" Rebecca growled as sweat started to form on her brow from the strain of trying to stop hundreds of tons of runaway steel. Muscles capable of tearing through steel began to stand out like cords on her arms and still, the train was hurtling towards a seemingly inevitable impact.
"What? I'm just saying he's cute and you two looked like you were hitting it off before the whole ‘train of doom' thing. And when was the last time any guy, much less a cute one, talked to Rebecca instead of Lady Vanguard, outside of asking you to give a puppy or a kitty a checkup? Oh, and you've got about a minute and a half before you get to the first station, by the way."
"You're really not helping here, you know that?" Bunching up her legs, Lady Vanguard slid down the front of the train a bit, getting herself into position. Flight alone wasn't enough; it was time to switch tactics. "Where's the nearest train ahead of me?"
"Two stations down, at Powell. And they're still moving the trains so you've plenty of space."
"Then why are you trying to worry me about crashing?" While still pushing back with her flight, Rebecca lowered her feet until her boots made contact with the rails. With a screeching and grinding sound, she applied pressure and used her feet as brake pads, the enhanced material of her costume standing up to the intense friction burn.
"Just thought you'd want to know since there's probably a lot of passengers that wouldn't want to miss their stop." Rebecca had to laugh in spite of herself; Technik's comments had helped to keep her relaxed instead of worrying about the hundreds of lives she was holding in her hands right now. She applied more pressure to the rails and sparks began to fan up and behind her, giving the tunnel an eerie glow combined with the sodium lamps already providing dim illumination. Using her super-vision, she could see that the next train up was indeed fairly far ahead of her.
And the train she was pushing against was starting to slow down.
Each second seemed like a minute, but slowly, surely, Lady Vanguard was halting the motion of the train. With a final squeal of protest from the rails, the train came shuddering to a stop halfway down the underground platform of the Embarcadero station. Rebecca allowed herself a moment's sigh of relief to calm down before she flew up from the tracks to the platform. Striding confidently to the first set of doors, she pried them open to the sound of cheers and applause from the passengers she just saved. "I think this is your stop, here …" she joked with a smile.
Police officers, firemen, paramedics, and other emergency service personnel rushed down the stairs to begin the process of unloading the shaken commuters. Seeing the situation was well in hand, Lady Vanguard waved to the cheering crowds that were gathering on the platform as she flew up the stairwells and into the crisp morning air of San Francisco.
Matt placed his hand over his chest, feeling his pounding heart slowly returning to normal as the train came to a stop. He helped the paramedics move some of the less seriously injured passengers and listened to some of them talk excitedly about how Lady Vanguard had saved them all. Matt was retrieving the last of his things form the seat when he noticed the book Rebecca had been reading lying on the floor. He scooped it up and covered it by folding his jacket over his arm. He was still in shock; both over nearly dying in a train wreck, and over the realization of just whom he had been sitting next to.
Just whom he had made a lunch date with.
After giving the police his statement, he headed up the stairs to face his day and briefly flipped through the book. Seeing images of the blonde girl in the blue and red costume performing feats of strength and fighting evil on the pages brought a smile to his face. Rebecca was right, he thought. Seeing this stuff in comics is totally different than living it. Smiling as he closed the book back up, he knew that even with all the dangers, he still preferred the reality to the fantasy.