Written by julievelor :: [Tuesday, 05 July 2005 15:56] Last updated by ::
Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great,
Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
--- William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will
Some people are just an accident waiting to happen.
Alighting from the bus, the teenaged blonde stood on the sidewalk for a moment and looked up at the gleaming steel and glass edifice rising into the sky across the street from her. She'd often seen pictures of the building – who hadn't? – but it was something else actually standing before it, looking at it with her own eyes.
Not that there was anything particularly distinguishing about the building's exterior. From the outside, it looked like any other modern office tower in downtown Urbana, with luxury condominiums on the upper floors. Nothing to make it stand out from any of the other office towers filled with stockbrokers and accountants, or lawyers. But in reality this was no ordinary office building. And the suites upstairs did not house ordinary people. It was the headquarters of SuperHeroes, Inc., the government-chartered umbrella organization that oversaw the activities of the world's superheroes in their never-ending battle against crime.
SuperHeroes, Inc. also engaged in various fundraising activities. Like everyone else, superheroes had to have a place to live and food on the table, and crimefighters, unlike entertainers and professional athletes, didn't get paid for doing what they did. Certainly not enough to make a good living.
Tied in with the fundraising, SuperHeroes, Inc. also undertook various public relations activities. It made arrangements for superheroes to appear at publicity functions, some in conjunction with charitable activities.
That was why the high school senior was here on this weekday morning, having blown off the day's boring classes, instead having spent half the morning suffering through a long boring series of train and bus rides. If livening up the South Palisades High School prom coming up next month wasn't a charitable cause, what was? It was definitely going to need livening up. Everything about SPHS needed livening up, but especially the prom. Otherwise, what would be the point of being elected prom queen?
And the beautiful blonde was determined to be elected Prom Queen. She'd had a good shot at becoming head cheerleader until a bad fall the second basketball game of last year had torn a knee ligament and prematurely ended her cheerleading career. And then having been beaten out for Homecoming Queen by a hated rival the previous fall, the prom was her last chance to finish high school as royalty. To go out with a bang, as it were, to leave her mark on the world. Or at least the tiny insignificant part of it that was SPHS. Then she planned to move down the coast and leave her mark in Hollywood.
She, Stephanie Stewart, was going to the prom with Mitch Hawkins, her boyfriend of two years. Mitch, as the quarterback, had led South Palisades to the league championship game the previous fall and been selected as the team's Most Valuable Player. Who better to serve as consort to the Prom Queen?
She studied her reflection in the glass and smoothed out her clothes. She'd dressed for the occasion, wanting to make a good impression. A conservative beige top that didn't show any of her cleavage, with a muted pink business suit. A matching pink skirt that went down almost to her knees. Silver spiked heels accentuated the shape of her legs without being too high and making her wobbly.
Definitely Prom Queen material, she thought, giving her golden hair a final pat. Anybody could see that, even in these frumpy clothes.
All she had to do was convince someone here to send one of their members to the prom. Once the other kids learned who had arranged it, she would be sure to be elected Prom Queen.
At least if she could get them to send one of the cool superheroes.
It would be great if she could get Star Man. Having come to Earth as an infant from the doomed planet Notpyrk, the man was nearly a legend, the world's mightiest superhero and the founder of SuperHeroes, Inc. He'd laid the cornerstone for this building himself, using nothing more than his bare hands. He had nearly unlimited strength, was all but invulnerable, and he could fly through the air like a jet plane. Nearing retirement, he was probably too old for the high school prom scene. Still, a lot of kids would enjoy getting one last chance to see the great Star Man before he hung up his cape.
Wondrous Woman wouldn't be too bad, either, though she was even older than Star Man. A lot older, though just how old, she'd never said. And she certainly didn't look it. A member of a race of nearly immortal female warriors from an island magically hidden from outside eyes, she and her daughter, Wondrous Girl, were probably the two mightiest female members of SuperHeroes, Inc., though neither of them were quite in Star Man's league. Although if she were to come, Wondrous Woman would probably end up making one of her long and boring speeches about feminine empowerment and all that crap. Who wanted to be empowered? As far as Stephanie was concerned, a woman's place was to be pampered by her man, having him at her beck and call, seeing to her every want. What woman would want to go out and work for a living, when she could have a man working for her?
The daughter would be a much better choice. Wondrous Girl had the same powers as her mother, and she was more of the right age for a high school prom, or at least she looked and acted as if she were. And, she wasn't known for making speeches like her mother.
Then there were the twins, Flame and Frost. One of them was a living incinerator, able to generate tremendous heat within her body, even set her own body on fire without taking any harm. The other was a living freezer, able to absorb heat into her body, chilling her surroundings. But could Stephanie convince them to send two superheroes to the prom? As important as the prom was to Stephanie and her schoolmates, she had to admit that it couldn't possibly be that important to the people at SuperHeroes, Inc.
The other "twin" might be cool, too. Not only did Gemini look like some kind of Greek god, but he wasn't much older than the kids in high school. Although his superpower was kind of weird, the ability to split himself into two identical bodies. He wasn't particularly strong or anything like that, not beyond what most of the superheroes were, but he'd be able to dance with two girls at a time. Hmmm. That might cost me the male vote, Stephanie mused. But I sure wouldn't mind having a dance with him. Both of him.
There was one superhero Stephanie most definitely wouldn't dance with. Star Man's teenaged son would probably cost her the election. Being half human, Star Lad had only a small fraction of his father's great powers, though rumor had it that Star Man would somehow pass his powers on to his son when he was finally ready to retire. But powers or not, Star Lad was a total dweeb, a couple of slices short of a loaf, and everybody knew it. Everybody, that is, except for Star Lad himself and his father. If he wasn't always working with his father, who was always bailing him out, he would have been dead long ago.
She would have to try to make a special request that they not send Star Lad to her prom.
The light changed, and she crossed the street along with a dozen or so other pedestrians and turned toward the front doors in the middle of the block, clutching her purse in her left hand, still thinking about which superhero she'd like to see at the prom. What about Big Betsy? Dolphin? Dragon? Lady Pendragon? There were so manyof them, with such diverse powers and abilities.
What about Raptor?
Now there was a thought. South Palisades High was the home of the Fighting Eagles. And who among the superheroes was a better embodiment of that than –
"Look! Up in the sky!"
"It's a bird!"
"It's a plane!"
Stephanie had made it about halfway to the doors when the excited shouts interrupted her thoughts, making her stop in midstride and turning her head to look up toward the sky. It only took her a moment to spot the source of the sound. And once she'd found it, she found herself unable to tear her eyes away. It was as if she was mesmerized by the sight.
Stephanie wasn't the only pedestrian to stop and look up, drawn by the spectacular sight. Even right here in front of Superheroes, Inc, pedestrians had stopped and were looking up, some of them with fingers pointing upward, others with cameras pointed upward and clicking away furiously.
It was definitely a sight worth watching, and photographing. Stephanie didn't need to refer to the SuperHeroes, Inc. brochure in her purse to recognize whom they were seeing. It was almost as if Stephanie's thoughts about the Fighting Eagles had materialized into solid form.
High above their heads, great wings flapping majestically, Raptor swooped over the street. The winged alien warrior girl dipped once and waved as if to acknowledge her audience, then caught a rising thermal off the sun-warmed asphalt and climbed higher into the azure sky, wings now spread wide to catch the thermal. Stephanie watched enthralled until the first superhero she'd ever actually seen with her own eyes instead of merely on television or in newspaper and magazine photographs disappeared from sight behind some high-rise office towers.
Now that Raptor was out of sight, normalcy began to return to the sidewalk. Cameras were lowered and people began going about their business again. Stephanie let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
Wow, that had been an experience. There were other superheroes who could fly under their own power, of course, but none with that magnificent wingspread. Too bad the prom wasn't an outdoor event; Raptor would make a spectacular visitor. Now Stephanie was even more determined than ever to make arrangements to have a superhero – any superhero – put in a personal appearance at the prom.
Well, she wasn't going to get anything done standing here on the street looking up at the sky like a gaping tourist. Taking a deep breath as she again checked her reflection in a window, gave her head a quick toss to settle her hair in position, then tucked her purse under her arm and resumed her walk toward the front doors.
Mounted on the building beside the door was a big gilt-edged gleaming black plaque with gold lettering reading:
The door slid open with a soft electronic hum as Stephanie stepped onto the rubber mat. She walked into the air-conditioned interior, taking off her sunglasses and putting them into her purse.
The interior, with its marble floor, high ceiling, and stately columns, made Stephanie think of a bank lobby. Without the row of tellers, of course. There was just a single desk, just slightly smaller than a basketball court, with a PBX, a bank of video monitors, a computer keyboard, and another bank of lights and switches.
"May I help you?" the woman behind the desk asked, flipping a page of a magazine and looking up.
Stephanie approached the desk, trying to be calm, as if she did this kind of thing every day. "Hi. I'd like to talk to someone about arranging a personal appearance by a superhero."
"That would be Public Relations." the receptionist said with a perfectly bland expression, flipping another page of her magazine. Unlike Stephanie, she did do this kind of thing every day. "Do you have an appointment?"
The receptionist's hair was obviously bleached, and her dress, cut a little too low as if to compensate for the cleavage that wasn't there, looked like last year's. The lines around her overly mascaraed eyes were even older. It's obvious she doesn't do "public relations," thought Stephanie.
"Uh, no," she answered. It had never occurred to Stephanie to phone ahead for an appointment. It wasn't as if superheroes only worked by appointment; even she knew that the bad guys never made appointments before tangling with them.
"Let me see if someone is available." The receptionist picked up the phone, spoke into it, listened for a moment, then hung up. "Mr. Firth in Public Relations will be with you in a couple of minutes. You can go ahead and wait in his office. Second floor, third door on the left. You can take the elevators or the stairs." She gestured to the bank of two elevators on the far side of the lobby beside a door marked EXIT. Then, having performed her duty, she returned to her magazine.
"Thank you," Stephanie said as she turned toward the elevators. She figured it never hurt to be polite, and it didn't cost her anything.
"Mr. Firth, second floor, third door on the left," she repeated to herself as she pushed the elevator call button. There was no point in walking when she could ride.
Jonathan Samuel Clarke, alias Star Lad, could barely contain his excitement as he rode the elevator down to the third floor. He'd been waiting for this day for years, the fulfillment of his fondest desire. In a sense, he'd been preparing for this day for his entire life.
This was the day his father, mighty Star Man, the greatest superhero the world had ever known, was stepping down and bequeathing his great Notpyrkian powers to his only son so that he, in his civilian guise as Kent Clarke, could step into the vacancy created by the retirement of Whitney Perry, the long-time editor-in-chief of the Urbana Globe. Both of Star Lad's parents – his mother Lainie Lewis-Clarke was human – worked as reporters for what was probably the most respected newspaper on the West Coast, if not the whole country.
Star Lad could barely wait for the elevator to reach its destination; he felt as if he could almost have flown under his own power, for the power of flight was one of the Notpyrkian powers he would soon be receiving.
The leadership of SuperHeroes, Inc. was also going to be passed on. That was going to Star Man's current second-in-command, Wondrous Woman. But Star Lad knew that it was only a matter of time before that, too, would be his.
Finally, the elevator reached the third floor, the chime pinged, and the doors slid open. His feet barely touched the floor as he stepped out into the hallway and turned toward the room containing the Power Receptacle.
In his excitement, he forgot to retrieve his card key from the slot.
"This is the big day, huh?"
Turning around, Star Lad saw the object of his second fondest desire, a smile on her face and her hands on her hips.
Dinah Duke, better known to the world as Wondrous Girl.
A full-blooded Amazon – only the Amazons themselves knew how a race comprised exclusively of females managed reproduction, and they weren't telling – she looked like she was in her late teens, yet that slim body possessed the strength of a thousand men.
The two of them had become something of an item over the past couple of years. It was only natural, perhaps, that the offspring of two of the world's greatest superheroes would be drawn to each other.
"Yeah, this is it," Star Lad replied, his smile widening to matching hers.
"Are you ready?" she asked as she stepped toward him, hands outstretched. On her wrists gleamed the magical golden bracelets that allowed her to deflect bullets. Unlike Star Man – and unlike the way Star Lad would be soon – the Amazons weren't invulnerable, though much tougher than any ordinary human.
"Been ready for years." Meeting her halfway, he reached for her hands.
Using the same skill that allowed her to deflect bullets with her bracelets, she evaded his hands to rest her hands on his shoulders. Then her powerful arms were pulling him to her, her firm breasts pressing against his chest hard enough to make breathing difficult.
Not that he usually had an easy time breathing in her presence.
"I can't wait, either," she whispered and then, before he could respond, she slid her arms behind his neck and pulled his face down to hers to press her lips against his.
"Easy," he gasped out when she finally let him up for air. "I'm not invulnerable yet, you know."
"But you will be, soon," she replied, then kissed him again. Even more fervently than before, her arms pulling them together, her breasts now pressing almost painfully against his chest. Even though he was half Notpyrkian, the full-blooded Amazon was still significantly stronger than he was.
The elevator arrived momentarily, and the doors slid open.
"Mr. Firth, third floor, second door on the left," Stephanie Stewart said to herself as she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button marked 3. She didn't notice the green light beside the staff card key in the slot giving her access to the floors above the second.
The elevator was surprisingly smooth and fast. In almost no time at all there was a musical ping and the doors slid open. She stepped out, turned left, and almost collided with a young couple locked in a passionate embrace.
Get a room! Stephanie muttered to herself as she edged around the oblivious couple and into the hallway.
Lost in each other, neither of the young superheroes noticed the young civilian emerging from the other elevator and edging around them into the hallway.
Into a restricted hallway. Civilians, other than staff, normally were not allowed above the second floor without an escort. Without an authorized card key, they couldn't take the elevator this high up, nor could they have gotten out of the stairwell.
Stephanie Stewart passed the first door on the left, then a drinking fountain, and came to the second door.
The door mounted a brass plaque reading PR. "PR. Public Relations. This must be it," Stephanie said to herself, pushing against the door. The door was surprisingly thick and heavy, and she had to lean her weight against it before it opened and she could step inside.
The door closed behind her with a soft but ominous thud.
She'd expected the Public Relations man to have something a little fancier. For one thing, there was no desk. No computer, no file cabinets. There was no carpeting underfoot, only bare concrete. The room simply didn't look like an office, Public Relations or otherwise. Well, maybe perhaps a dentist's office.
Stephanie had always hated going to the dentist. Fortunately she had good teeth and most of the visits were just routine checkups and cleanups. Still it was with some trepidation that she approached the large padded chair in the middle of the room. However, as that was the only chair in the room, there was no other place for her to sit while she waited for Mr. Firth as the receptionist downstairs had instructed. At least there wasn't anything that looked like a drill. And none of the little tools the dentist used to poke between teeth. Nor did the chair have the padded headrest to hold her head still. She sat down and looked around the room.
It really was a strange office. The walls were a plain institutional beige. Where was Mr. Firth's desk? There was no furniture at all. Just the chair in which she sat. She looked more closely at the chair.
As she shifted to try to make herself more comfortable, she decided that it wasn't like a dentist's chair after all. There was no little tray for the dentist to keep his little instruments of torture, and there was no basin of swirling water for her to spit into.
This chair was also more uncomfortable than the one at the dentist's. She continued to fidget, trying to find a comfortable position. As she tried to adjust one of the padded armrests, her finger triggered a switch on its underside.
The lights immediately dimmed. A low-pitched humming sound began, seeming to come from the chair itself. The lights went out completely as the sound got louder. Then the lights came back on, brighter than before, a brilliant pure white. So brilliant that Stephanie was forced to close her eyes.
Even that wasn't enough. She covered her eyes with her hands.
The humming grew lower, until Stephanie could feel it in the pit of her stomach. Not just in her stomach, but all over. It caused her teeth to grate, and her head felt as if it was ready to explode or fall off or something. Her chest felt tight, as if all the air was being sucked out of her lungs. She clenched her jaws hard and held her hands tight to her face.
The light dimmed a little more and then brightened, turning a deep, bright red. It seemed to shine right through her hands and closed eyelids, directly into her brain. Then the light went through the entire visible spectrum to violet and beyond. The humming grew higher in pitch. The light returned to violet and began to work back down the spectrum toward red, and the sound lowered in pitch to match. The light went to infrared, and the sound dropped below the audible range into the subsonic range. But even if she couldn't hear it, Stephanie could feel it, deep in the pit of her stomach. It felt as if the sound was trying to turn her inside-out.
Then it was over, the light went back to normal and the sound was gone, and the room was back the way it had been before. But not everything in the room was back the way it had been before.
Stephanie felt her head spinning. She was gasping for breath. Her stomach was more than a little queasy from the subsonics. She didn't want to face Mr. Firth this way; she wanted to be at her best. Remembering the drinking fountain in the hallway, she pushed herself up from the chair.
Her head still spinning, Stephanie's vision went black. Reeling, she fell to her knees beside the chair. Instinctively trying to stop her fall, her hand came down on one of the chair's footrests. The chrome-steel tube flattened under her without any appreciable effect on her descent. Then it snapped off completely as her hand continued its journey to the floor.
Her face came down on the padded armrest. The padding perhaps saved the armrest from meeting the same fate as the footrest; the armrest remained in one piece as the support was bent over until it lay pressed down into the seat.
Forcing her eyes open, Stephanie lifted her head from the mangled remains of the chair and gave it a quick shake in an attempt to clear it. Her golden hair whipped around, slashing the vinyl cover on the back of the chair to ribbons. Regaining some sense of balance, she pushed off against the chair as she rose back up to her feet.
The chair had been attached to the floor with four heavy-duty bolts. The two half-inch-thick bolts immediately sheared off as the girl pushed herself against the chair, causing the chair to cant over, almost bringing her back down to the floor again. Then, as she continued to push against the chair, the two bolts on the other side gave way, and the chair toppled.
Somehow, Stephanie managed to avoid going down with it. Pulling herself upright, she headed toward the door. Another wave of dizziness struck her as she crossed the room, making her head spin yet again. She put a hand out toward the door to steady herself.
The door was designed to open in. Coming into the room, Stephanie'd had to lean her weight against it to push it open. Now though, a mere touch of her palm was enough to open the door. The wrong way, the hard way. Tearing loose from its frame, the massive door flew out into the hallway.
A low-pitched humming sound filled the hallway, rose in pitch, and then went back down. Breaking off their kiss, Wondrous Girl and Star Lad looked at each other, then at the door of the Power Receptacle Room.
"What the ---?" Star Lad began, taking a step toward the door. He was supposed to be receiving his father's Notpyrkian powers today. Was something going wrong with the equipment in there?
The young superhero never reached the door. Instead, the door reached him, flying out into the hallway and smacking into him with enough force to send him staggering back. Only Wondrous Girl's tremendous strength and fast reactions kept him from immediately ending up on the floor flat on his back with the door on top of him.
Deprived of her support when the door flew out into the hallway, Stephanie Stewart stumbled out after it.
The door came to a momentary stop against some obstruction in the hallway, wobbling against whatever was behind it.
The door continued to wobble. So did Stephanie's head. And so did her stomach. Spying the drinking fountain just on the other side of the wobbling door, she put her hand against the door to steady herself and then started to walk around it, only to have the door topple to the floor.
Wondrous Girl had seen the door blow out of the Power Receptacle Room and smack right into Star Lad, knocking him back into her. She was just able to catch Star Lad with one hand and the door with the other. She was just starting to swing the door around and out of the way when something struck the other side with enough force to send even the powerful young Amazon staggering back against the wall.
She bounced off the wall, lost her footing, and went down. Thus Star Lad did end up on the floor flat on his back, with Wondrous Girl on top of him, and the door on top of her.
As the door toppled to the ground, Stephanie Stewart lost her balance and fell on top of it, landing on her hands and knees.
As Wondrous Girl tried to push the door aside, something pressed down on it hard enough to force much of the air out of her lungs.
It was even worse for the young man under her. Her Amazonian body could only cushion so much of the force for him. All of the air was forced out of Star Lad's lungs, and he blacked out momentarily.
Picking herself up off the fallen door, Stephanie Stewart half walked and half crawled toward the drinking fountain. Nearing it, she reached up, grabbed hold, and tried to pull herself back up to her feet.
The fixture came out of the wall, and she fell back down to her knees. A stream of water gushed out of the broken pipe, just missing her and jetting out into the hallway behind her.
As the pressure eased, Amazon Girl finally succeeded in pushing the door off of her, only to be hit in the face by a stream of water.
She could use her bracelets to deflect bullets. A stream of water was a different story. The best she could do was to shield her face and move to get out of the way.
Stephanie Stewart was now completely disoriented, her head still spinning. Getting back up to her feet, she staggered down the hallway away from the stream of water.
Rolling off of her boyfriend and wiping the water from her eyes, Wondrous Girl looked around. What remained of the drinking fountain lay on the floor, more water spewing out of the broken pipe. And beyond, a figure staggering away toward the elevators.
But surely that slender form in the stylish pink outfit couldn't have been responsible for the damage, ripping the drinking fountain out of the wall after having knocked down the door. She and her mother were the only Amazons off their island, and while there were other superheroes with that kind of strength, what reason could any of them have for vandalizing their headquarters?
"Hey, you!" Wondrous Girl shouted, scrambling up to her feet. "Stop!"
When the figure in pink continued, staggering past the elevators, she took off in pursuit.
Stephanie Stewart heard the voice behind her but the words didn't penetrate the spinning of her head. She continued down the hallway on unsteady feet, holding her head with one hand. Reaching a door, she put out her other hand and pushed.
The door had been locked but it swung open at her touch, the jamb splintering as the lock tore loose. Not even noticing the damage, Stephanie stepped into the unoccupied conference room.
The big table looked inviting. If she could only lie down for a minute until her head stopped spinning. Grabbing a chair and pulling it aside, she started to climb up onto the table.
Wondrous Girl reached the door to the conference room only to be met by a flying chair. She instinctively brought up her arms, but her bracelets couldn't protect her from a projectile that large. Not when it was moving with all the velocity of a high-velocity rifle bullet. The impact flung her back across the hallway.
Flinging the chair aside as she bounced off the opposite wall, she again approached the conference room.
Stephanie Stewart's head was still spinning as she climbed up onto the table, lay down, and closed her eyes. That didn't seem to stop her head from spinning.
Reaching the doorway to the conference room, Wondrous Girl carefully peered in. No chair came flying to greet her this time.
The only sight that met her eyes was a young girl, a teenager, stretched out supine atop the conference table.
"Hey, you!" Wondrous Girl called as she stepped into the room.
The other girl gave no sign that she'd heard. She could have been asleep for all the response she gave.
Wondrous Girl approached the table. "Wake up," she said, taking the girl's shoulder and giving it a gentle shake.
Still no response.
"Wake up!" Louder, and accompanied by a more insistent shake.
The girl finally reacted. Her arm swept up, catching the young Amazon under the breasts and lifting her off her feet. It was all Wondrous Girl could do to grab hold of the girl's arm as she went hurtling head over heels over the table.
Wondrous Girl's back slammed against the plate glass window but did not stop there. The glass shattered as if it had been struck by a cannonball, and like a cannonball the Amazon went flying out over the street amid a shower of glass.
The Amazon did not go alone. She was still holding on to the other girl's arm. As Wondrous Girl flew out the window, the girl was pulled out as well.
Spinning through the air, the Amazon lost her grip. The two young females plummeted separately toward the street below as gravity took over.
Maybe it was the fresh air, as fresh as outside air ever was in a big city. Or maybe it was the physical spinning of her body through the air. In either case, Stephanie Stewart's head finally stopped spinning. She opened her eyes just in time to see the roof of a passing bus.
Just before that roof smashed into her face.
The metal caved in under the impact of Stephanie's slender body. Then, as the bus slewed into the next lane and lurched to a halt, she bounced back up into the air.
The driver of the car behind the bus was unable to stop in time. Even as his front bumper crashed into the rear of the bus, something slammed down upon his roof, pushing him against the door as the roof caved in under the impact. The metal ripped apart and that something dropped through into the passenger compartment. For one brief moment he had a glimpse of a beautiful young girl upside down in the passenger seat beside him, a pink skirt falling down about her body to show off a gorgeous pair of legs on either side of the seat back. Then the airbags deployed, cutting off the view.
The airbags pushed Stephanie against the seat back. As she twisted her body in an attempt to free herself, her legs ripped the seat from its mountings. She fell against the door. The door gave way, clattering to the pavement. The girl followed, tumbling out to the street.
Fortunately for her, the other plummeting female missed the traffic completely. Unfortunately for her, that simply meant she had an extra few feet to fall before coming down on the sidewalk.
Had the Amazon been in control from the beginning, a drop from a third-floor window would not have posed a major problem. However, Wondrous Girl's uncontrolled tumbling changed the picture completely. Only her tremendous physical abilities and excellent Amazonian training kept her from bashing her brains out on the pavement. Still, as she tucked and rolled in an attempt to ride with the impact, the back of her head hit the pavement hard enough to knock her unconscious.
Star Lad regained consciousness to find himself lying on his back, water pooling around him on the carpeted hallway. The water was coming from a jagged hole in the wall. The twisted remains of the drinking fountain lay beside it.
On the floor beside him was a heavy door. The door to the Power Receptacle Room.
The Power Receptacle Room …
Everything came back to him in a flash. All the preparations for the power transfer. The humming sound. The door flying out to hit him. Had somebody been in the room, receiving the powers that were rightfully his?
He looked around again. There was no sign of Wondrous Girl.
Just then, the sound of shattering glass drew his attention to the conference room at the other end of the hallway. Scrambling up to his feet, he rushed over.
One of the chairs was sitting in the hallway. The door had been torn off its hinges.
There was nobody inside. The big window overlooking the street was shattered. Circling the table, he went to the window. Careful of the broken glass, he peered out. Almost immediately, his gaze went down.
Down below on the street, a bus stood skewed across two lanes, a car smashed against its rear end. Closer, on the sidewalk, he could make out the form of a young girl, sprawled face down and motionless on the pavement.
Even from the back, he had no trouble recognizing her. "Wondrous Girl!" he shouted uselessly, then turned and dashed out of the room. He didn't bother to wait for the elevator. Dashing into the stairwell, he all but flew down the stairs, taking four steps at a time.
"Lady, are you all right?"
Stephanie Stewart blinked open her eyes to see an unfamiliar man leaning over her, a hand on her arm, where her purse strap had slid down from her shoulder and caught some of her hair in the process and pinned it against her arm. He was trying to free her tangled hair from the strap, but of course she didn't see it that way. Seeing only a stranger trying to relieve her of her purse, she quickly shook her arm free.
The shake of her arm sent the man flying. Not as far as she'd just flown, nor as fast; he merely flew into the gathering crowd and bowled them over like, well, like a bowling ball over bowling pins.
Stephanie hadn't bothered to watch his flight. Nor had she seen how her hair had sliced through the leather purse strap. Grabbing her purse and crambling up to her feet, she ran in the opposite direction. She barreled through the crowd on that side, sending four more people sprawling to the pavement. She didn't even slow down. Nor did she look back.
The walk signal was flashing amber as she sprinted through the intersection and continued down the block.
She wasn't so fortunate at the next intersection, vehicles turning left made it impassable for pedestrians. She turned and ran down the cross street. She did catch the light at the end of this block, and raced through.
She continued running, and then slowed down as she reached the end of the block. She then stopped and sat down on the vacant bench at a bus stop as if to catch her breath.
Not that she really needed to catch her breath. Despite just having run for more than three blocks – at a pace that was somewhat faster than the cars moving on the street, and in high heels at that – she wasn't the least bit out of breath. Nor was there even a twinge from her knee, the one she'd injured last year and had made running any significant distance painful ever since.
No, Stephanie wasn't out of breath and she wasn't in any pain. She just needed to think, and she'd never been good at doing that on her feet.
Not that she was all that much better at doing that off her feet. Or in any other position, for that matter.
Bursting out of the stairwell, Star Lad sprinted past the startled receptionist and out onto the street. Barely sparing a glance at the stopped bus and the smashed car behind it, he rushed to Wondrous Girl's side just as she started to push herself up off the sidewalk. Dropping to his knees beside her, he helped her to sit up.
The young Amazon was shaken up but not seriously injured. "Did anybody get the number of that truck?" she asked, wiping the damp hair from her face and holding her head.
"What truck?" Star Lad looked out into the street. There were no trucks in sight. Just the bus and the car behind it. People were climbing down from the bus; some seemed to be nursing minor injuries, others seemed to be in shock. Sirens heralded the arrival of emergency crews, most of whom probably had never in their wildest dreams imagined that their services would be required at the headquarters of SuperHeroes, Inc.