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Rebirths

Written by JKIJ :: [Tuesday, 31 May 2011 18:44] Last updated by :: [Monday, 06 August 2012 11:21]

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Pushing myself harder than I had ever done before, I flew towards the fourth skyscraper in my neighbourhood, hoping that I would still be in time. I had thought that each of the other three was a more likely choice, being taller and more dramatic, but my new adversary was not on any of them. If I wasn’t able to arrive before the deadline, people would die and it would be my fault for my poor decisions.

Fortunately when I arrived at the building, I found that I had just managed to make it before the clock struck one and that on the roof of this particular skyscraper was what I had been looking for on each of the others; a throne with an attractive woman sitting in it, surrounded by half a dozen nearly naked men, every one of whom was noticeably muscular and wearing around their throats a collar with a red stone set into it. The gemstone in each collar seemed to flash with a faint light every few seconds and I could sense an unnatural aura pulsing from them. I wasn’t exactly certain what the men were doing, but they seemed to be doing whatever it was with great speed and precision. In fact, I’m not sure that robots or computers could have done it any better than they did. Under other circumstances I might have spent some time ogling the attractive men, but not this time. I had an important appointment to keep.

“Ah, my dear Dark Lady,” the woman said, smiling as she did. Her smile sent a chill down my spine; there was something deeply disconcerting about the glint in her eyes and the very sharp teeth she was displaying. “I am delighted that you accepted my invitation.”

“Empress,” I said, inclining my head in acknowledgement as I landed, my frilly skirt blown slightly upwards by the air resistance. It was a measure of how much the collars had affected the men that not one of them glanced away from their assigned duties to even look at me. I know that I’m striking enough looking that almost everybody stares at me for a while the first time they meet me. The men’s reaction unnerved me even more than I already was, but I tried not to show it.

“You didn’t really give me much of a choice about it,” I continued, examining the woman on the throne while I slowly walked closer to her. Much of her body was hidden by the long, glamorous looking purple dress she was wearing, though the lack of sleeves certainly showed off a pair of suntanned arms that were a fair bit more heavily muscled than my own, while her almost carelessly crossed legs showed a glimpse of a large and practical boot that didn’t really seem in keeping with the rest of her attire. The Empress’s face was the sort of face that many a man would have dreams of, perfectly symmetrical , every bit as evenly tanned as her arms, framed on either side by her golden hair. She had a silver crown on her head with a red large stone in the centre that looked as if it was exactly the same type of stone as in the men’s collars.

“Oh, I left you all the choice in the world,” the Empress said, getting to her feet. “You could have ignored me and watched while I took control of this city, piece-by-piece and body-by-body until it became a part of my glorious empire. Though why don’t we get to the reason I asked for you to come?” The woman walked towards me with a grace that I could only envy and hope to imitate in the future. “I’ve followed your exploits with great interest since your first public appearance. I think you would make an excellent regent for this city when it becomes mine. Would you care to join me, Dark Lady?” she asked, extending her hand towards me.

I blinked, unable to believe what I was hearing. “You want me to join you?” I asked, dumfounded.

My disbelief must have shown on my face since she threw back her head and laughed. “Not what you were expecting, I see. I would have made you this offer just to see that face, but it is a genuine offer, I assure you. You see, women like us are special. We’ve been chosen to bring order to the world and that’s just what I’ve done, isn’t it my dear, men?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the men replied, their voices absolutely passionless. Throughout our exchange they had carried on with their tasks with every bit as much emotionless precision as they had when I arrived. I shuddered involuntarily.

“You see? These men would once have been unable to take their eyes off the two of us. Now they do the work that I need doing without distraction or complaint. That is how the world needs to be; perfectly ordered. We superwomen at the top, ordinary women and men below us, in that order. Just imagine what a glorious world we could create.” There was a mad sincerity in her voice as she said this. “Please, join me.”

Once this offer might have appealed to me, and it till tempted me a little; the chance to order the world as I wished was alluring. However all I could see was the horror of such a world as the Empress wanted to create; millions of emotionless men as slaves while the lucky men and women who were not wouldn’t be much better off. Indeed, there were rumours that her empire was exactly like that, large areas of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America being ruled by fear of her and by brainwashing, though her few apologists in other countries claim that she’s better than the alternative, and there certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from the lucky few women she’d elevated to the top after somehow giving them powers. Additionally the Empress’s vision left one group of people out. “What of the supermen?” I asked.

Irritation flashed across the Empress’s face. “Supermen are an abomination,” she spat out. “They must all die. Quickly, slowly, I don’t care, but they will die. Now, I’ll ask again, will you join me?”

Not too long ago I probably would have given her offer some serious thought, but I’ve changed a bit since then. Some supermen were really big pains, but I’d got one or two close acquaintances if not friends amongst them now. Plus those men accompanying her made me feel really uncomfortable. I took a deep breath then said “No, I won’t join you.”

The Empress shook her head sadly. “I wish I could say I was surprised, but you’ve been corrupted by the so-called heroes. I must knock some sense into you.” She snapped her fingers and without even blinking one of her men walked up to her. She calmly removed her dress and handed it to the man who carefully folded the dress and stepped away from her every bit as silently as he had arrived. Underneath her dress she was wearing a tight purple leotard that showed off every inch of her body. She was more muscular than me and the rest of her figure looked like the most idealised woman I’d ever seen. I know I’m a very good looking woman myself, but damn I wish I looked as good as her.

The Empress moved like lightning. Quicker than I could blink she had arrived next to me and then she drew her hand back and punched me harder than I’d ever been hit in my life. My feet left the ground and I was knocked over the top of the nearest building, landing flat on my back in the street below. It was a miracle that I didn’t land on top of anybody or any of the cars. Unfortunately I did land in front of a car, causing a crater in the road exactly my size and shape. The car didn’t have time to stop, so it just drove over me. Trust me when I say that even if you’re as nearly invulnerable as I am, getting run over is not a comfortable experience. Fortunately the next car was able to stop, giving me time to stand up.

After brushing as much dirt and dust off myself as I could I turned back towards the building I had come from, just in time to see the Empress land. It wasn’t the graceful landing that I’d have liked to make if I was in her position, but then I do have the advantage of being able to fly while she was only able to jump.

I didn’t take very kindly to being hit, so I thought I would return the favour.  I leapt into the air and flew towards the Empress at the quickest speed I could manage in the short distance, my right arm extended in front of me with my hand closed into a fist. My fist connected solidly with the Empress’s forehead, every bit of my speed and mass behind the blow, and sent her flying backwards through a tree which splintered, the trunk falling into the road causing more problems for the ordinary men and women who were driving that morning. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I didn’t even spare them a thought at the time; my only thought was Take that you bitch.

The Empress recovered from the blow I had delivered more quickly than anybody else I had ever faced. I had expected her to be disorientated for at least half a minute, but she was almost immediately running towards me, an insane grin on her face. “It has been a long time since anybody has hit me that hard,” she said. “You are every bit as worthy as I thought, but the Empress bows to nobody. I will make you beg to serve me.”

She stopped running when she reached me and threw another lightning fast punch at me. I was more prepared this time so I was able to try to avoid the blow, but even with that advantage she was too fast for me. I was only able to move enough so that she struck a glancing blow to my cheek. Even then, the punch was still solid enough that it would easily rank in the top ten or so hits that I’d ever taken. The Empress quickly followed the punch up with a left-handed one towards my stomach that I was barely able to fend off, using my right hand to deflect the blow so that it grazed my side as it passed.

I responded by feinting a jab at the Empress which she moved her head slightly out of the way of before I again took to the skies. I stopped flying when I’d reached the height of the top of the city’s tallest building and cut my flying power, allowing gravity to take its hold over me. I fell directly towards the Empress, using the occasional nudge of my powers to keep myself on course, planning to land with a double footed stomp on top of her head, hopefully driving the heels of my boots right into her eyes. Unfortunately, the Empress was too fast for me; she reached up just before I would have made contact and she grabbed me out of the sky. Twirling round like a hammer thrower she gathered momentum before letting go of me. I flew straight through the wall of the building the Empress had aimed me at, causing the people inside to scream and run away in terror. As I somewhat groggily got to my feet, I noted that if I was a hammer the Empress would have just set a new world record.

Just after I got to my feet, I saw out of the corner of my eye the Empress charging through the hole my body had made in the wall. She then jumped and aimed a flying kick at me. I tried to get out of the way, but my body didn’t react quite as quickly as it should have so the kick connected with my shoulder, spinning me into the nearby interior wall. The Empress quickly recovered from her jump and swept my legs out from under me, causing me to crash to the floor with a thump. Before I could get to my feet again, she walked over to me and placed her boot on my throat. “It is time for you to yield, Dark Lady,” she said. “There is no point in you trying to resist the inevitable. Either join me now, or die.”

All I could think as I lay there, the Empress’s practical boot on my neck was How the hell did I get myself into this situation?

 

*  *  *

 

My name, the name I was born with, is Lucinda Arabella Dee. I grew up fairly normally, in a home with a mother, a father and an older brother. We were by no means a rich family, but we weren’t particularly poor either. In fact, that was the story of my life; I never did stand out particularly. I was of slightly below average height, slim but not to the point of being skinny, with hair so solidly brown that it didn’t merit any other term and eyes that have often been described as being the same colour as a muddy puddle. If you had seen me, you would almost certainly have looked away from me without really noticing me; I really was a brilliant example of averageness.

That all changed for me once I had started working at the city’s premier research laboratory, Faraday Laboratories, although it took over a year for the change to happen. I was a very junior research assistant who was diligent without being brilliant. I was shifted from project to project without ever really being noticed by my superiors or my colleagues until the day of my first rebirth.

That day I had just been appointed to Dr Bond’s team. As I went to join the team in his laboratory, I wasn’t entirely clear what exactly he was working on. When I reached the laboratory I had to wait outside as there was a sign on the door saying ‘KEEP OUT! EXPERIMENT IN PROGRESS!’ I waited patiently for an hour, hearing odd sounds and seeing flashes of light through the door before I started pacing back and forth in front of the door. As I was pacing, there was the sound of a muffled explosion from inside the lab and the door opened, several people running out in panic. I don’t think any of them even saw me, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor after one of them, a fairly large man with the build of a linebacker, ran over me. Before I could get up, I heard a yell of “Look out!” and there was a second explosion, this time clearly larger. Some fragments of metal flew past me and clanged to the floor before I felt something sticky land on my left hand and my face. I instinctively tried to brush it off my face using my right hand, but I only succeeded in spreading the gloopy stuff across the rest of my face and getting my other hand covered in it.

I soon found that the sticky substance was clogging my nostrils, making it hard to breathe so I opened my mouth. To this day I don’t know whether I imagined it or not, but it seemed as if the gloop was just waiting for the opportunity to flow into my mouth. When it touched my tongue, I was astonished to find that the stuff tasted divine. I never tasted anything that comes close to it before and I haven’t since, so even though I knew it was an insanely dangerous thing to do I swallowed the stuff then licked the area of my mouth clear so that I could taste it again.

As the stuff flowed down my throat I began to feel pleasurable warmth which quickly spread to my stomach then faded. It was pleasurable enough that I had to feel more of it, so I again swallowed the gloop. The sensation repeated itself, and this time I closed my eyes, trying to make it an even more intense experience.

When the sensation faded, I opened my eyes to see the unmistakeable Dr Bond standing over me looking concerned. As usual, he looked every inch the mad scientist, his hair flowing out from his head at crazy angles while his eyes almost seemed to be popping out of their sockets even through the protective goggles he wore, though on this occasion there was clear concern in them. He wore gloves on his hands and a surgical mask over his mouth, while his usually impeccably white coat was covered with a black gloop that a glance at my hands and clothes showed to be the same stuff I was covered in. “Try not to move,” he said to me kindly. “Help will be here soon and take us to hospital where we can be looked over to see if we’re alright.” As he said the words, my head began to feel a bit fuzzy and the room started to spin. Soon afterwards, I blacked out.

 

I came to lying in a comfortable bed, my clothes having changed since I was last conscious. It took me a while to realise where I was, though when I saw the monitors linked to me and the young female doctor hovering by my bedside I knew that I’d been moved to the laboratory’s in-built medical wing. A few moments later, I realised that in the next bed to me was Dr Bond, wearing the same sort of hospital gown I was. He seemed to be fine, since he grinned at me as soon as I caught his eye.

“How are you feeling?” the doctor asked me when she realised I’d woken up.

“A little woozy,” I replied honestly. “My head feels as if it’s wrapped in cotton-wool.”

“Interesting, but not unexpected given what you’ve been through,” she said before checking the readings on the numerous machines I was hooked up to. While she made a few notes, I checked out the readings myself and, while I’m no doctor, I knew enough to be relieved that they were fairly normal. “You’ve been exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals and I’m almost certain that you’ve got a concussion from when you were knocked to the floor. I just need to confer with my colleagues, but I’m sure that we’ll want to keep you here overnight for observation, just to be on the safe side.  You should be able to go home soon enough, though.” The doctor put my notes back at the foot of my bed and walked out of the room, though a few seconds later she poked her head back in to tell Dr Bond “You aren’t to go anywhere either. There’s not going to be a repeat of the last time you were in here.”

“How are you, my dear?” Dr Bond asked after the doctor had left.

“Aside from a vague feeling of disorientation, I feel great,” I replied. “What happened, Doc?” I said, knowing that he preferred to be addressed that way, though why he wanted everybody to sound as if they were doing a Bugs Bunny impersonation I have no idea.

Dr Bond sighed before he replied. “I’m not entirely certain,” he said. “The experiment seemed to be going perfectly and it should have been impossible for the substance to explode. I was quite specific that there should be no exposed metal in the lab or on my assistants, nothing to cause a spark. I checked that thoroughly before we began. Now there will have to be weeks of enquiries at the very least before we can start again.” He shook his head sadly as he finished, seemingly more concerned by the delay in his work than by what had happened to him and to me.

“So what was the experiment about?” I asked. I could see that he was opening his mouth, probably to say that it was none of my business so I forestalled him by saying “I was going to be assigned to your team and whatever it was caused me to end up here, so I think I have a right to know.”

“Yes, Miss Dee, of course you’re right. I knew you were coming, but I just couldn’t wait to begin. As for the experiment,” he said, his eyes lighting up as he began to talk about his work, “it should be the beginning of a new age of clean, safe, abundant and, eventually, cheap energy. You see, for years I’ve been working on developing a substance that will release as much energy as nuclear fusion. Bond compound Q-7, as I call it, should do this. In fact, up until the explosion, the process was working even better than I predicted. And on the bright side, at least the accident shows that the compound is perfectly safe, even when it comes into contact with unprotected human skin. You’ve proven that and I thank you for being my guinea pig, however inadvertently on both our parts.”

“So that’s what the black gloop was,” I mused, inadvertently shuddering as I thought about how badly things could have gone if Q-7 wasn’t safe, given that the stuff had gotten in my mouth and was probably in my bloodstream by now. As I thought this, I felt a mild tingling sensation across my whole body and I’m sure that I saw abrupt changes to all of my readings, though the tingling stopped almost as soon as it began and when I looked at the monitors again the readings were back to normal, making me wonder if I’d merely imagined the changes.

“Yes, I suppose gloop is an apt description for how Q-7 looks once it’s been activated. Now, my dear, I think we should both try and get some rest. If we have a good night’s sleep like good little children, I’m sure that Dr Lewis will let us out tomorrow. And if she won’t, well we’ll just have to decide that we’re fine ourselves, won’t we?” Dr Bond smiled, seemingly remembering whatever incident Dr Lewis had mentioned as she left the room. Taking his advice, I settled into my soft, warm, comfortable bed, trying to sleep. I must have been more tired than I’d realised since to my surprise, I was soon fast asleep.

 

As Dr Bond had predicted, we were discharged the next day. Dr Lewis seemed glad to get him out of the medical wing, though she seemed more reluctant to let me go. Eventually she agreed, though I was given stern instructions to rest and ordered not to come to work for the next week.

My first day back at home was uneventful, though from time to time I felt a brief tingling, just as I had in the infirmary. I went to bed that night the same as I usually did. I woke up differently.

As the sun rose, I felt a wonderful feeling of warmth throughout my body that eventually caused me to wake up. As soon as I did, I realised that this morning was unusual. My bed was usually more than large enough for me, but even though my head was still resting on my pillow, my feet were hanging over the end. It took me a few moments to clear my head, but I soon enough realised that this was impossible. I’d stopped growing long ago, but even if I hadn’t nobody grows by a foot or more overnight.

I rubbed my eyes to clear the sleep from them in the hope that things would start making sense, but a glance at my hands proved that they wouldn’t any time soon; the hands were not mine. They might be attached to my body and obey my commands, but my hands had never looked that elegant, with unnaturally perfect nails and the palest skin I had ever seen. That skin colour would usually have looked unhealthy, but somehow it seemed to have an exotic glow that conferred exactly the opposite impression.

I sat up and swung my legs over the side of my bed. As I did, I felt for the first time my hair, but just like with my hands it wasn’t my hair. When I went to bed, my hair was reasonably short. Now I could feel it running down to the middle of my back in glorious silken waves. My hair had definitely never felt that way at any point in my life. A quick glance at my legs showed that they had changed too; underneath my nightdress they were longer than they had any right to be and they shared the same exotic paleness of my hands.

I unsteadily got to my feet and staggered to the bathroom. When I got there, I looked into the mirror and stared at the total stranger who was reflected at me. She was much taller than me, the top of her head just about level with the top of the mirror. Her hair was not my dull ordinary brown; instead it was black, the blackest hair I’ve ever seen. Her lips were plump and attractive, a dark red colour that somehow didn’t seem out of place on her pale face. Every inch of her screamed exotic elegance, her legs, arms, hands and feet demonstrating this excellently. Also, on her my sensible nightdress looked amazingly sexy, being short enough to show most of her legs and flaunting generous cleavage where her truly magnificent breasts pushed against it. As I’d walked towards the mirror, I could see that she had one hell of a sexy walk too, her every step flaunting her body and sending the skirt of my nightdress swaying provocatively from side to side. God, I was jealous of this woman. Mousy old Lucinda Dee would never have drawn an iota of the attention she would get just by walking. The only thing I wasn’t jealous of was her eyes.

Her eyes were every bit as shapely as the rest of her body, but they were creepy. Very creepy. As far as I could see, there was not one hint of a blood vessel in the whites of her eyes while the irises and pupils were completely indistinguishable, both being a solid black. I couldn’t meet her gaze for more than a moment, having to repeatedly look away whenever I glanced directly into those eyes.

I glanced behind me just to make sure that this stranger wasn’t standing there with me somehow having become invisible. When I was satisfied that there was nobody there, I pulled my hair in front so I could look at it; it was the same shade of black as the stranger’s. I then ran my hands over every inch of my body, feeling a wondrous sensitiveness that had never been there before. I lingered for a moment over my breasts, unable to believe that the large pair I could feel could possibly be attached to me (though I can only blame a sleep addled mind for my failure to notice them when I woke up). All the while, I carefully watched the mirror and saw that every action I took, the stranger took too. There was only one possible conclusion, though I could hardly believe it. “That can’t be me,” I whispered, seeing the lips of the woman in the mirror move at the same time. The breathy voice that came out of my mouth didn’t sound like me either; it sounded far sexier than I did. That didn’t change the fact that somehow the woman in the mirror was my reflection.

I spent the rest of the morning sitting down in front of the television, trying to absorb the amazing overnight change I had undergone. In the afternoon I decided that there was no point to spending the rest of my day just doing nothing. I’d somehow got the sexiest and most exotic body I’d ever seen in person, so I might as well go out and enjoy it. After all, I had no way of knowing if I would still have this body the next day.

It took me a while to find clothes that my new body could fit in without looking ridiculous since I was now about 6 foot 3 inches tall rather than my normal height of about 5 foot 3 and I had a substantially larger bust. Eventually I settled on a skirt that came down to about my knee on my normal body but that showed off a lot more leg in my new body and a top that was usually slightly baggy that I had to struggle a bit to put on, leaving my belly bare. Shoes were my biggest problem though, since none of my shoes really fitted the new me. I squeezed my feet into the largest pair I had, expecting to feel uncomfortable, though I was surprised that I didn’t. Looking in the mirror, I was pretty satisfied with my appearance, but I thought that the shoes looked ridiculous. I’d better do some shopping, I thought.

I went out on a shopping spree, buying shoes and clothes that fit and flattered my new body, spending money that I wasn’t really sure I could afford especially as I didn’t know if I would stay in this body or revert to normal. I was utterly unable to resist temptation, which had always been my biggest weakness at least since mom died, so I bought enough things that I wouldn’t have to wear the same outfit or pair of shoes if I went out every night for a fortnight.

Everywhere I went I drew appreciative glances from the men and a few of the women that I met, though many a woman glared daggers at me when I attracted the attention of her man away from her. I was loving every second of it, being the centre of attention for pretty much the first time in my life. I didn’t want the experience to end, so after I took my purchases home, I decided to go out again and see exactly what my new looks could do. To do that, I went to a bar (well, actually I went to several bars, but who’s counting?).

I went out with very little in the way of money, determined to see if just by being the new me I could get guys to buy me drinks. And you know what? It turns out that I can. Just by walking into a bar and sitting down in one of my new mini-dresses, cleavage on display for anyone who cared to look while my new shoes drew attention to my elegant ankles and long, sexy legs, I was able to attract a man who offered to get me a drink. Since it wouldn’t have been polite to refuse, I accepted. We chatted amiably for a few minutes before I politely brushed him off and moved onto my next conquest who was every bit as delighted to buy my drinks. For a girl who had never been that able to attract men before, trust me that was fun.

I carried on teasing men and drawing death-glares from other women through at least half a dozen bars, not feeling even the slightest bit drunk, before I moved onto the last bar I went to that evening. Things had gone so well and I was feeling so confident by this point that I didn’t mind that this bar had a dark reputation; I’d heard rumours of a few women who had woken up not knowing for certain what had happened to them, but from where they woke up and the condition they were in it probably wasn’t anything good, especially as they didn’t have any of their valuables when they awoke.

When I entered the bar, I thought that the place’s reputation must have been exaggerated. It wasn’t the seedy dive I’d expected. It was instead clean and in good condition, with plenty of good looking young men around and a fair few attractive women (though none so attractive as me, I’m proud to say) who seemed to have overlooked or been attracted by the place’s reputation. Once again I persuaded a few men to be me a drink without really putting any effort into it, until a very good looking guy came over to me. He was immaculately dressed, wearing a shirt that looked as if it cost a fortune without being too fancy for the place along with shoes and pants that looked every bit as expensive. He smiled a charming smile at me and said, “Would you like to have a drink with me at my table?” gesturing over to an empty table on the far side of the room. Since my policy that night was to accept every invitation I got and he was about the best looking man who’d ever approached me I cheerfully accepted.

He bought the drinks and we sat down at his table. I daintily sipped my drink, letting him make the first moves, much as every other man had done. “I couldn’t help noticing your eyes,” he said, something I’d heard plenty of times that evening, but somehow he said it more charmingly. Also, he was able to keep looking at my eyes without glancing at my chest too much, something which most of my other drinking companions had had a hard time doing. “Those are some unusual contact lenses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the effect of black eyes before.”

“You’ve never seen someone who’s been hit in the face before?” I asked with a smile, quirking one eyebrow up flirtatiously.

He laughed before replying. “If that’s how you got those eyes, a few more people could do with getting hit that way. They’re definitely a way to attract attention.”

“Thank you,” I said, smiling at his response. “So do you bring all the ladies to your table and buy them drinks?”

“Only the really good looking ones.” I blushed slightly, unused to getting such complements, though I think he took it as insincere flirting. “My name’s Howard, by the way. What’s yours?”

“Call me Arabella,” I said, having decided when I went out that I’d use my middle name if anybody asked.

The two of us spent quite some time flirting with each other while we finished our drinks and since he’d been so charming, I accepted his offer of a second drink. He came back from the bar with exactly the same drink as he’d bought me the first time, but this time it tasted a bit different to me, though not unpleasantly so. As I finished the drink I happened to glance at the clock on the wall of the bar and realised that it was nearly midnight. “I’d better get home,” I told Howard as I got to my feet. “I wouldn’t want to turn into a pumpkin if I’m out when the clock strikes twelve.” My tone was joking, but I was half serious. I had no idea whether my transformation would continue to hold for a second night and I certainly didn’t want anybody to see the old me in my new clothes; I’d look absolutely ridiculous if they did.

“Let me walk you home,” Howard said, moving to get to his feet as well. “It might not be safe for a pretty young woman alone on the streets.”

“Thank you, but I think I should be fine on my own” I said, smiling at him to lessen the disappointment of my refusal. “Maybe I’ll see you around.” I turned and left the bar, ecstatic at how the evening had gone. I wished that I’d had my new confidence and looks back when I was in high school.

As I walked back home, I thought I could hear somebody following me, but every time I glanced behind me there didn’t seem to be anybody there. Initially I shrugged this off as just an over active imagination brought on by too much alcohol, but as the quiet footsteps seemed to get steadily closer I decided to take a detour since if I really was being followed I definitely didn’t want to lead my pursuer to where I lived. I turned the corner into a road that headed directly away from my home when, preoccupied with my potential pursuer, I didn’t look where I was putting my feet and I tripped. I’m not sure exactly what I fell over, but when I did I certainly made a lot of noise.

Just as I was starting to get up after my fall, I felt a pair of hands shove me back down. I was grabbed and turned over so that I was able to see who had hold of me. It was Howard. “It took long enough to take effect. You must have the constitution of an ox. But I’ve got you now.” He pulled his pants down then tried to hike my dress up, but to his considerable surprise, I resisted him. I squirmed underneath him and, using my free hand, I gave him a solid shove. I wasn’t expecting the shove to have much effect since he was bigger than even my new body, but he was flung back a few feet and forced to let go of my arm. He landed on his backside and looked pretty comical since his pants were around his ankles and his jaw looked as if it was trying to hit the floor in shock.

I thought about trying to run away from him, but with my new confidence and seeing him flung backwards like that I decided to stay and challenge him, especially since the shock on his face made me think I might actually be able to deal with him. “How dare you!” I screamed at him. “We had a nice, enjoyable night with a couple of drinks and now you feel like you can just have your way with me? Not on your life, not now, not ever!” I walked over to him, planning to give him a good kick. He tried to grab my ankle with his hands, but he seemed to be moving in a clumsy slow-motion, so I was easily able to avoid him. I brought my right foot back and kicked him right in the ribs, the pointed end of my shoe making a solid connection. He flew backwards through the air another few feet before landing, and I was sure that I heard a crack, probably from his ribs.

Howard unsteadily got to his feet, breathing heavily and wincing in pain. “What are you?” he managed to say through gritted teeth. “I’ve never been kicked so hard in my life and there’s enough of the drug in you to knock out an elephant. You shouldn’t be able to stand, much less resist me.” He pulled his pants up with one hand, holding his ribs where I’d kicked him with the other. “I won’t let you get away with this.” He reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a flick-knife. In the gloomy night, the blade looked menacing, especially as there seemed to be a look of murder in his eyes.

He came towards me unsteadily, though I backed away from him since he had a weapon and I didn’t. I’d never even been in a fight, unless you count the odd bit of hair pulling when I was a lot younger. Unfortunately, soon enough I wasn’t able to retreat any further since my back was literally against the nearest wall. I’d foolishly let myself be pushed back to where I had nowhere to run. There was now a sinister grin on Howard’s face. As he came into reach of me, he feinted with his knife, trying to make me react. He still seemed to be moving in slow-motion, though, so I was able to follow his movements with ease and I didn’t react until he actually thrust his knife at me. If I’d been a more experienced fighter I’d probably have tried something different, but as the knife crawled towards me I reached out with my left hand and grabbed the blade. I expected to feel pain from the blade biting into my hand, but I didn’t. Instead I merely felt the knife make contact with my hand and then, with a loud snapping sound, the knife blade came loose. When Howard brought his knife back to look at it, all he could do was stare in disbelief at the tiny bit of blade that was still attached.

Before Howard could recover from his shock at what had happened to his weapon, I swung my right hand at him and delivered a backhand blow that sent him flying off his feet once more, though since I’d put more into it he went further than he had the first time and at least as far as he did when I kicked him. Howard very gingerly got to his feet and, staring at me in shocked horror, he turned away and fled as fast as he possibly could, which wasn’t all that fast since he was in a lot of pain from his broken ribs and his unexpected flights.

I opened my left hand expecting to see a bloody mess with several deep cuts. In fact, there were no cuts at all. Instead, there was a sharp blade that was not in the best of condition anymore and a hand that was every bit as elegant and perfect as it had been when I had woken up. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, though I was clearly a lot stronger and tougher than I had any right to be. I didn’t give this too much thought as I didn’t want Howard to escape, since I was sure that if he did he would just try the same trick on more women. I’d never been much of a runner, but I knew I could easily keep up with him at the speed he was able to make, at least if I was in different shoes, so I took off my shoes and set off in pursuit.

I was surprised that I didn’t keep pace with Howard, or even gradually overtake him. As I ran, everything seemed to blur in front of me. Within mere seconds I could tell from what I could see through the blur that I’d ran quite a considerable distance, though I wasn’t sure exactly how far I had gone. I stopped running to try and get my bearings, and as I turned round I saw Howard come shambling round the corner, obviously in a great deal of pain. I smiled as soon as I saw him. I waited a few moments to allow him to catch sight of me before I calmly put my shoes back on and walked towards him. It was very satisfying to see his jaw drop again. The gormless look on his face was something I will never forget. “Hello again, Howard,” I said as I walked towards him.

Howard, still staring at me in frightened disbelief, tried to back away from me. He wasn’t really paying attention though, so he tripped and fell on his backside. Before he could get back up, I decided to see if my body had any more surprises in store for me to add to my newfound speed, strength and toughness, so I jumped into the air, planning to land right on top of him. Unfortunately, I’d misjudged exactly how high I would go, so I quickly found myself at the top of my jump, higher up than the surrounding houses and falling fast towards the ground. Terrified that I would be seriously hurt when I hit the ground, I closed my eyes and started to scream. I carried on screaming for several seconds before it dawned on me that at the speed I was falling I really should already have hit the ground. I cautiously opened one eye, not entirely sure what I would see but still dreading the thought of hitting the ground. In reality, it turned out that I had no need to worry since I had stopped falling about six inches before I would land feet first on top of Howard. Somehow, utterly unsupported by anything and in total silence (apart from the echoes of my screaming), I was hovering just like a helicopter.

Seeing me suspended inches above him seemed to be too much for Howard to take. His face even paler than mine, he started to shiver in uncontrollable fear while his pale pants got quite a bit darker around the crotch as he wet himself. Recovering my composure long before Howard could, I said “Not quite how you expected the night to go, was it? I take it that I was to be the latest of your conquests, waking up tomorrow having been raped and relieved of anything remotely valuable.” Howard mutely nodded his agreement. “How unfortunate for you, but lucky for me and your future victims. Now, Howard, how will this night end? Do I fly away with you and leave you where no one will be able to find you? Or do I let you go home and think about what you’ve done?”

“Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me,” Howard quietly mumbled in reply, his hands raised to try and defend himself, though by now I think we were both convinced that he would be utterly unable to prevent me from doing whatever I wanted to him “If you let me go, I swear that I’ll never try anything like this again.” He was shaking even more by this point, far more frightened than anybody I’d ever seen before.”

“Hmm,” I said, stroking my chin in feigned contemplation. “I did enjoy my evening up to this point, and it would be a pity to end it with a murder, so I think I will let you go.”  Howard breathed a huge sigh of relief as he heard me say this. I didn’t want him to ever forget what had happened though and I was eager to see how much control I had over my new abilities, so with a thought I landed right by his side and drew back my right hand, fist clenched ready to punch. “Though I want this very clear; if I ever hear of a woman being raped in your style, I will find you and you’ll be lucky if I only hit you this hard.” I brought my fist down in the hardest punch I’d ever thrown, cracking the concrete beneath us. “Now, get out of here.” Howard got to his feet gingerly and ran away from me as if I was the most terrifying thing in the world which, to him at that moment, I probably was.

After Howard had run off, I walked to a nearby park where I could do a few experiments to see what I could do. The park’s gates were locked, but I quickly solved that problem by tearing the gate off its hinges with almost no effort. Even though it was gone midnight by now and the moon could scarcely be seen in the sky, I could see quite clearly, my eyes seemingly having adjusted to the dim light. I spent at least thirty minutes proving to myself that I had pretty ,much perfect control over my body so at least I wouldn’t accidentally wreck my home, though I found that I wasn’t yet particularly good at flying. In order to get some practice in, I took off and flew around the city before landing at my home. I landed then opened and closed my door as quietly as I could to try and avoid attracting the attention of my neighbours, before I went to bed and fell asleep pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

I woke up the next morning unsure if the entire previous day had been a dream; it’s not every day that a girl wakes up in a sexy stranger’s body and finds out that she’s become a superwoman, after all. A glance at my body proved that it wasn’t though, as I could see that my skin was still that pale colour and I was still taller than my bed was long.

I got up and got washed and dressed before I headed over to my phone to check for messages. There was one message from my father reminding me that we would be going out that evening with my brother to celebrate my birthday. In the excitement of the previous day I’d completely forgotten about this, and I panicked a little since there was no way I could go out with my family looking like I did now. They won’t believe it’s me, I thought. I’ve either got to change back to my normal self or I’ve got to tell them that I’m still not recovered from the accident. Trying to persuade my brother the nurse I wasn’t recovered would probably backfire, though, since he’d be over as soon as he could to look after me, which is why I tried never to tell him I was ill if I could possibly avoid it.

As soon as I’d thought that I couldn’t see my family in my strange new body, I felt a tingling sensation and the clothes I was wearing began to feel less comfortable. I raced to the bathroom, the intervening distance passing in a blur, where a glance at the mirror showed a strange sight; I was changing. My skin had in places changed back to its normal colour while my black hair had a few streaks of shorter brown hair clearly visible. Less than a minute later the tingling stopped and I had changed back to my normal unremarkable body, my eyes having been the very last part of me to change. I now looked ridiculous since the clothes I was wearing were sized for a much bigger woman.

Interesting, I thought, the scientist in me intrigued by the possibilities of what had happened. If a thought can turn me back into a mouse, can it make me a goddess again? No sooner had I thought this than I began to tingle again and my eyes almost instantly turned black. I watched my transformation with great interest, seeing my legs and hair gradually grow longer and change colour while my breasts seemed as if somebody was pumping air into them since they looked as if they were being inflated. The changes seemed to be taking forever, but when I glanced at my watch I could see that less than a minute had passed. So my body will change according to my thoughts. Can it change into anything else?  I spent the next hour thinking of different shapes and looks, trying to get my body to change. I had no luck except when I wanted it to change between my exotic new look and my plain old look. Clearly I now had two and only two forms. Out of curiosity I repeated several of the tests I had done the previous night, this time in my old body. I found that while I was still stronger, faster and able to fly, the abilities were not as powerful as they were in my other form.

That evening I went out with my dad and my brother, Thomas. The evening started out enjoyable enough, but things went downhill after we had finished eating and the two of them had had a few drinks since, as they often did since mom died, the two of them began to argue. I don’t think Thomas has ever really forgiven dad for being the driver and surviving the crash that killed her, and I don’t think dad has forgiven himself either, so they sometimes take their grief and pain out on each other.

It was very tempting for me to get up, lift both of them off the floor with one hand and bash their heads together. Unfortunately, that would have caused a scene and meant that I would have to answer some questions I really didn’t want to. Instead, as I had done on several other occasions, I tried to be the peacemaker between them. “Look you two,” I said quietly, “this is meant to be an enjoyable night for me. It’s my birthday, remember, and I don’t want your argument to ruin it. Mom wouldn’t want to see you arguing either. Please can you just remember that you love each other and forget your differences, even if it’s only for tonight?” I didn’t hold out a lot of hope that my pleading would work since I’d seen it fail more than once before. On this occasion, as I spoke I could feel a pressure building up behind my eyes that needed to be released. I looked both my brother and father in the eyes and felt the pressure vanish. Their eyes glazed other and they were both silent for a moment before they looked at each other and turned to me with a shared smile.

“You’re right, sis,” Thomas said. “I’m sorry we came close to spoiling your day. Let’s just be a happy family for the rest of the night.”

“Yes, I’m sorry too,” Dad said. “Both of you come over here and we’ll all have a hug, then we can spend the rest of tonight drinking and reminiscing.” We did exactly that, and this turned into one of the happier times I’d spent with my family in years. As I left Dad and Thomas at the end of the night I wondered Did I make them do that? I resolved to see if I could influence people’s minds so they would do what I wanted them to as soon as possible.

 

I spent a month or so practising with my powers, learning everything I could about them, their limits and discovering new abilities. I found out, for instance, that I can use a ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ on people so that, unless they are particularly strong minded, they will do what I want them to. Even the strong minded are susceptible to this power if I ask them to do something that they wanted to do anyway. While I was testing my mind tricks, I also found out that my mind can see anything I want within quite a large distance. I closed my eyes while trying to influence a particularly strong minded individual and I found that with just a little mental focus, I could ‘see’ everything. I literally mean everything since I could ‘see’ 360 degrees around me and, with a bit of thought, I could ‘see’ through solid objects, a vague outline of the object being left so that I can tell where it is. If I really concentrate on using this power, I can push my ‘sight’ out to at least a mile, though when I do that I can’t really tell what’s right next to me and I have difficulties using any other power at the same time. Finally, while testing my mental powers, I found out that I have the ability to disrupt electrical signals when I accidentally shorted out everything electrical in my house for an hour. After further experimentation I could short out specific systems while leaving others operational.

I also spent a lot of time in the gym, testing out both my old and new bodies. Most of the time I wasn’t able to go flat out since I was usually being watched, especially in my new form, but on the few occasions I was able to I really cut loose. I lifted weights that no ordinary man or woman could and I ran at superhuman speeds for more than a marathon’s distance without tiring. Interestingly, I found that my old body did have its limits, though the odds were against me ever running up against them since it could lift over 3 tons and could run at just under the speed of sound more or less indefinitely. However hard I tried though, I was never able to find any limits my new body couldn’t exceed; I suppose the equipment just wasn’t strong enough to give me a challenge.

Now that I’d got my powers more or less under control, I decided that it was time to go public with my existence. At work after eating lunch with the rest of my colleague’s working under Dr Bond, I made my excuses, saying I needed to visit the bathroom. Instead, after shorting out all the security cameras with the most powerful mental burst I could manage in my original form, I went to my locker and removed a bundle of clothing before entering the bathroom. I swiftly changed out of my clothes and switched to my new body before putting on the boots and the tight leather top and pants I had brought with me for the occasion. After using my mental sight to check that nobody who had seen me go in was watching, I sped out of the bathroom, pausing just long enough to hide my clothes before I ran to Dr Bond’s lab.

As I had expected, the scientist was alone, none of his assistants having yet returned from their lunch break. When I opened the door he turned to look at me, a surprised look in his eyes. “Who are you?” he asked me. “I’ve never seen you around here before.”

“Who I am is not important, Doctor. What is important is your work with compound Q-7. I want all of the compound that there is in this laboratory. And you are going to give it to me.” I pushed at his mind, trying to influence him. I was surprised when I was utterly unable to find any purchase. Since he’d never struck me as having a particularly strong will, I suppose that his single-minded focus on his work helped him to resist me.

“I will do nothing of the kind. Young lady, I don’t know how you found out about the compound, but it’s the world’s future fuel source and I will not allow anyone to disrupt my work on it. Now, get out.” The doctor moved towards me and tried to take hold of my hand and drag me out. The man was surprisingly strong for somebody in his fifties who rarely if ever went to the gym, but he had absolutely no effect on me.

“I can see you’re reluctant to help me,” I said. “In that case, I’ll just have to get what I want without you.” Breaking his grip, I took hold of Dr Bond and lifted him above my head before gently throwing him out of the door since, although I may have decided on stealing what he’d been working on for years, I didn’t want to hurt him physically.  I swiftly jammed the door shut behind him then moved on to obtaining the Q-7. Since I actually worked in the lab, I had the advantage of knowing exactly where to look so it only took me seconds to get my hands on it. I scooped up as much of the compound as I could with my hands then I brought it to my mouth, determined to repeat the divine experience I’d previously had. The taste sensation was every bit as intense as last time, though this time the warmth persisted long after I’d finished consuming the stuff.

I turned back to the compound where I had an unpleasant surprise. The stuff was now glowing and I could feel an intense heat being emitted from it. The glow continued to get brighter while the compound grew hotter. I quickly devoured more, but this only accelerated the reaction of the rest of it. I realised that there would soon be an explosion, probably much like the one that had happened before I got my powers, only there was now far more of the compound so it was probably going to be a more violent explosion; if Dr Bond was right about the stuff’s potential, perhaps even big enough to devastate a large chunk of the city. I may have decided to go public for the entirely selfish reason of indulging my taste buds, but I couldn’t stand by while potentially hundreds if not thousands of people were hurt.

I quickly assessed my options before I decided on a plan. The best thing I could come up with was to fly the compound as far away as possible before it blew up in my face. I closed my eyes and used my ‘sight’ to work out the shortest route out of the lab and into the sky. Without even opening my eyes, I gathered up all the Q-7 I could find at super-speed then took off, flying straight through the floors and walls that were in my way all the while being careful not to fly into anyone. I pushed myself harder than I’d ever done before, flying at much greater than the speed of sound until I was a long way above the city. I planned to fly a thousand feet higher then throw the Q-7 as high as I could, but I never got the chance as the compound chose that exact moment to explode. It seemed that I’d been right about the violence of the reaction as I was flung back down towards the ground at immense speed and for a good few seconds I couldn’t see anything other than the light from the explosion. I hit the ground hard and was briefly stunned by the impact and the force of the explosion.

When I had got my head straight again I examined myself closely to see what effect the explosion had had on me. I already knew that I was tougher than the average human since a sharp knife had not even scratched me, but I was still surprised to find that I was undamaged from the explosion and subsequent fall. I couldn’t say the same about my clothes since they had been ripped to shreds.  My top had pretty much ceased to exist, one breast, both arms and my midriff now being completely bare while the other breast was only just covered by the little that remained. My pants were not quite in such bad condition, but they were now full of holes and showed quite a bit of leg. I was a bit annoyed at the state of my clothes since I’d spent a fair few dollars on them and now they were virtually unwearable.

After I’d finished checking out the damage to myself and my surroundings, I flew back to the lab as fast as I could so that I could be seen as Lucinda. I didn’t want to have to answer questions about where I’d been, so I was hopeful that I could avoid them entirely. The entire building had been evacuated due to the damage I’d caused, but a brief mental search showed me that there were still a few people who hadn’t yet left the building. One of them should be able to give me my alibi, I thought as I quietly re-entered, being careful to avoid anybody spotting me. Now I just need my clothes so I can change back to my other self.

To my amazement, no sooner had I thought this than I saw my clothes floating towards me as if summoned by my thoughts. That’s new, I thought, but I didn’t take the time to investigate since I wanted to get outside as soon as possible. I quickly stripped out of my ruined clothes and into my sensible blouse and pants. As soon as I had finished I made my way towards the nearest emergency exit. Almost immediately, I literally bumped into the large dark-haired form of Matthew, one of my colleagues who was also working with Dr Bond, probably the one who had knocked me over on the day I was exposed to Q-7 for the first time. Matthew was surprised when on this occasion he didn’t knock me over or move me even an inch in spite of his size advantage. Instead he ended up on his backside as if he’d run straight into a solid wall. Seeing a large man bounce off me pleased me, but now wasn’t the time to dwell on that.

I reached down with my right arm and helped Matthew to his feet. I think he was in a bit of shock about what had been going on that day. “Lucinda?” he said, looking at me as if I’d just sprouted a second head. “What are you doing here? I thought I was the last one in the building.”

Taking advantage of his disorientation, I decided that now was the time to use my Jedi Mind Trick. “Don’t you remember? After lunch I went to the bathroom before returning to Dr Bond’s lab. I was on my way there when the evacuation began. We met each other and now we’re on our way out of the building.”

“We’re on our way out,” he said, his eyes slightly unfocused and his voice a little off. He shook his head and immediately seemed to return to normal. “OK Luce,” he said and I grimaced at the shortening of my name since I’d always hated being called anything other than Lucinda, though nobody ever seems to remember that. “Just a little bit further now.” Matthew led me through the building to the exit and we were soon outside with the rest of Dr Bond’s team. The doctor himself was crying and mumbling things like “That bitch,” and “All that work, ruined”.

“It’s not the end of the world, Dr Bond,” said Kelly, a pretty blonde woman who had been his assistant longer than the rest of us.  “You’ve still got all your notes. We can go on with the project.”

“And perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise,” I said kindly, trying to cheer up the man who I’d hurt emotionally if not physically. He glared at me but I continued, gesturing up at the sky. “Q-7 has been involved in an explosion twice now. Perhaps you need to work out why so that it can be the safe fuel you’ve dreamed of.” I stopped talking a little abruptly, realising that I probably shouldn’t know that the compound had blown-up in the sky, but to my relief either I’d been subconsciously using my powers to influence everybody else or the situation had caused them all to overlook it since nobody questioned my knowledge of what had happened way above their heads.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Dr Bond said, though he still sounded a little broken. “Thank you for trying to cheer me up and you’re right, the work will go on, though it will be a lot slower now. I swear though, if I get the chance I will show that bitch what she’s done and make her pay for it.” I shivered involuntarily at his icy tone as he made his vow, realising that I’d gone a lot further than I’d intended.

Everybody waited outside until the emergency services announced that the building was safe for us to go back in, though we were advised not to use any of the rooms I’d punched a hole through until they’d been repaired. I was relieved when I found out that nobody had been physically hurt by my actions, though that still left the man whose work I came close to ruining who would never forgive me for what I’d done.

 

*  *  *

 

The next year saw me building quite a reputation as a super-powered criminal, at least locally. I would frequently use my spare time to rob a bank or burgle a rich person, though I made it a rule to not rob anybody or any business that I didn’t believe could afford to be robbed. Because of this, a small number of people dubbed me Robin Hood, though I didn’t do much in the way of giving to the poor. Instead I kept the majority of the money for myself, though the fences and money launderers I forced my ‘friend’ Howard to introduce me to took a sizable cut.

My actions naturally brought me into conflict with the police on multiple occasions, though as time went on they became more reluctant to intervene in my crimes, probably because I wasn’t physically hurting anybody and they clearly couldn’t do anything to stop me. To be honest, this disappointed me a bit since I enjoyed the feeling of superiority that comes with flipping cop cars over and shrugging off the bullets from their guns. Even when they called in SWAT teams to help them, they didn’t have much more luck, though on those occasions I left the scene more quickly since their heavier weapons felt less pleasant when they hit my body while most times I encountered them my clothing got completely shredded.

 At the end of one of my bank raids I was surprised to leave the place and find that there was a television crew but no police. The young female reporter who I recognised as Vanessa Velazquez, one of the more prominent local reporters, took advantage of this to ask me “Would you care to do an interview?”

I was taken aback by this offer. “You want to interview me?” I said, nearly dropping my loot in surprise.

“Sure,” she said, turning the dazzling smile that had helped her get noticed on me. “You’ve been hot news every time you appear since you first showed up at Faraday Laboratories, but nobody knows anything about you. It would be a hell of a scoop to be the first person to find out more about the city’s only known superbeing.”

I was intrigued by this offer so I nodded my head in acceptance. “Not here and now though. The cops will show up sooner or later and it would be inconvenient for us both to try and chat while I’m being shot at. If you and your crew are at Memorial Park this evening with no police tagging along I’ll pick you up and take you someplace we can talk.”

“You’ll pick us up?” she asked, looking a little confused.

“Oh yes,” I smiled. “Just bring the one van and you’ll see what I mean.” Before she could reply I took to the skies as I could hear sirens approaching. The police could be a fun distraction, but I didn’t want to deal with them when I didn’t have to.

That evening I got dressed in one of the sets of clothes that I’d bought so that I could wear them in either of my forms without looking ridiculous. The skirt and blouse looked slightly baggy on Lucinda but when I changed shape they fitted perfectly. I walked to Memorial Park where they still hadn’t repaired the gate after my early experiments with my powers. I closed my eyes and reached out with my ‘sight’ to make sure that everything was fine. I quickly spotted Vanessa’s van with her and her camera crew standing nearby and was soon satisfied that there were no hidden police cars nearby. Taking advantage of the fact that nobody could see me, I took off my sensible shoes and changed shape. As soon as I was finished I took a pair of ridiculously high heeled shoes out of my bag and put them on, putting my smaller pair of shoes in as their replacement.

I took off and flew the short distance to the van, landing in front of Vanessa who gasped. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!” she said, clearly annoyed. I just grinned at her. “You’re still going to do the interview then?”

“Oh yes. I’m looking forward to it. Not here, though. I wouldn’t want us to be interrupted in the middle of the interview.”

“What do you have in mind then?”

“I thought we’d go somewhere of my choosing and do the interview there. You and your crew had better get back in your van.”

“What if we don’t go where you want?”

“In that case,” I said, my face going grim, there won’t be any interview and I’ll just fly off.”

“All right,” Vanessa said, clearly unhappy at the idea, but unwilling to do anything to jeopardise her story. “We’ll get back in the van and go wherever you want us to. Come on, boys.” She and her crew packed their equipment away as quickly as they could before getting into the van and fastening their seatbelts. “So where do you want us to go?” Vanessa asked as she stuck her head out of the window.

“Hold on tight and I’ll show you,” I said, grinning at the thought of what I had planned. “You’d better close the window, and I hope you’re not afraid of flying.” Vanessa’s face went pale as she began to realise what I had in mind, but I didn’t give her a chance to reconsider. I was confident that I could do it, but I’d never done this before and if she had enough time she might make me doubt myself, and that could be catastrophic, at least for everyone inside the van.

I closed my eyes and began to concentrate on the van my right arm extended in front of me palm facing towards the sky. As I concentrated, I lifted my arm up slowly and the van was also raised off the ground. As soon as I had used my new telekinetic abilities to lift it over the height of my head I sprinted underneath, catching the van carefully with both hands to absorb the weight and minimise the effect on those inside. I then kicked in my flight powers and took off, taking care not to fly too fast since I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep the van stable if I did, and even if I could it probably wouldn’t have done the people and equipment inside it much good.

After a brief flight, with me throwing in a few course changes in so that hopefully my passengers would have no clue where they were, I landed, putting the van down as gently as I could. Vanessa and her crew got out immediately. She looked fine, if angry, but one of her crew looked a bit green. He breathed deeply and if he’d decided to get down on hands and knees to kiss the ground I wouldn’t have been surprised. Vanessa walked over to me, glowering all the way. “You didn’t need to do that. Your lack of trust isn’t a promising way to begin.”

“Perhaps I didn’t,” I admitted, trying to placate her. “I’m a wanted criminal, though, so I don’t really trust anybody.”

It took about ten minutes to set up the equipment. As soon as we were ready, Vanessa nodded to her cameraman and began the interview. “I’m here with the woman who’s been in the news a lot lately, as she’s been responsible for many of the most spectacular thefts and robberies of the past year. Thank you for joining me, but if I might ask, what do we call you? Some people have dubbed you Robin Hood, but I doubt that’s your name.”

I laughed. “No, I’m not Robin Hood. I’ve stolen from the rich, but I’m afraid I’m keeping the proceeds mostly for myself. You can call me Dark Lady.” I’d given the name of my alter-ego a lot of thought before finally settling on just the right name. It actually identified me, though it would take a bit of knowledge to realise this; Mom had always called me ‘Little Lady’, I think because of my initials as much as my size and gender, and I was letting my dark side out to play. I do think the name suits me, if I say so myself.

“Very well then, Dark Lady, would you care to say why you’ve been acting the way you have?”

“For fun and profit. I’ve enjoyed every minute of taking what I want when I want to.” I smiled into the camera every bit as ingratiatingly as I could. “I’m living the dream of so many men and women.”

“What would you say to the people who consider you the most dangerous menace in the city?”

“Well, Vanessa, I’d have to say that they’re mistaken. I’ve only stolen from people and companies who can afford it and I’ve never killed anybody, or even seriously harmed anybody.  I’ve beaten up a few people, but they brought it on themselves.” I scowled as I finished my sentence, thinking of Howard and the few like-minded men I’d encountered and the gangs that I’d taken great pleasure in persuading to move to other areas. “I have in fact cleaned up some neighbourhoods.”

“Yes, I had heard the rumours. But your actions are driving up the cost of insurance for everybody in the city. And if you decide to start taking from those who can’t afford it, or to start hurting people who don’t deserve it, who will stop you? The police? The army? Even if you aren’t a menace yet, you could be whenever you decided.” Vanessa leaned forwards, clearly wanting to see how I would respond.

“I suppose it’s just as well that I have no intention of becoming that menace then. I swear here and now that I will not change my methods for the more harmful. The city will just have to get used to me, though, because I’m not going anywhere.”

“In that case we will just have to hope that you keep your word, or that somebody who can keep you in check decides to come and help out. I’ve heard that a few of the Global Council’s members are interested in you.”

I paused to think about that. The Global Council is the foremost superhuman organisation in the world with many of the most powerful superheroes as members. If there’s a menace to the world, they will fight it, if there’s a natural disaster they will intervene to help and they have carte blanche to go wherever they are needed. If one or more of them decided to get involved, things could get interesting for me. “I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. If the Council decides to stop my fun, then I’ll just have to see how I compare to the best in the business.”

“Indeed we will. Thank you for your time, Dark Lady.” Vanessa extended her hand for me to shake. I took it and she squeezed as hard as she could, though the pressure was only slight as far as I could tell.

“Thank you Vanessa. Do you need a lift home?” I asked, smiling mildly.

“I think that well be able to make our way back on our own,” she replied, a flash of irritation passing across her face.

“Suit yourself.” While the camera was still rolling I leapt into the sky. The cameraman moved to keep me in shot as I flew away.

 

*  *  *

 

It wasn’t too long after the interview that I first came into contact (and conflict) with a member of the Global Council. While working with Doctor Bond’s team on the new, more stable compound Q-8, we all heard rumours of a special shipment that was being brought into the lab for testing by one of the other teams. None of us were able to find out what it was, but one rumour in particular piqued my interest. “I’ve heard that it’s some sort of weapon for use against superpowered people that’s going to be tested here before being generally released,” Dr Bond told us when he heard our speculations. “I hope that it’s true. If it really is a weapon, perhaps the police will finally have something they can use to deal with that damned Dark Lady.” As he spoke of my alter-ego, the usually easy going doctor’s face contorted with rage. He’d never come close to forgiving or forgetting my first appearance, and I knew if he had the ability he would tear me limb from limb.

Several of the other rumours were also interesting, including as they did a way to change substances from one thing to another, for example changing anything into gold, and indestructible armour. I decided that I would have to take a close look at the convoy that was bringing the mysterious object in and, if it did prove to be a danger to me, that I would either take it for myself or destroy it so it couldn’t be reproduced.

On the day that the shipment was due to arrive at the lab, I made my excuses and slipped away to change forms before flying in the direction of the convoy. It didn’t take me too long to find it since I knew roughly what route it would take, though when I did I was surprised by the scale. The convoy was absolutely massive, consisting of half a dozen large trucks and an escort composed of several police cars and what I thought were military APCs. This could be interesting, I thought, smiling to myself as I considered the potential for adventure and increasing my notoriety.

I flew lower and closed my eyes in order to use my ‘sight’ to pear through the trucks. Most of them seemed to be containing electrical components or machinery of some sort, but one of them was very interesting, not because of what I could ‘see’ but because I couldn’t ‘see’ anything inside. In fact, I could barely ‘see’ that the truck existed. Interesting, I thought, Ithink I’ll start my investigation there.

Flying still lower, I concentrated on using my powers to shut down the electrical systems of the trucks at the front and rear of the convoy. As I’d hoped, they quickly stopped working and the other trucks had to break sharply to avoid ploughing into each other. They also would now have difficulty reversing or manoeuvring around the obstacles caused by the two immobile vehicles. I was also pleased to see that it took the police cars and APCs in front of the trucks a while to realise what was going on behind them so they sped on for a while before they started to turn around and head back to the convoy. This would give me a few minutes to deal with the rest of the escort and start my investigation before they could return.

I landed next to the truck that was opaque to my senses and tore open the rear of its trailer so that I could have a look at what was inside. Inside I found a machine of some sort, though I wasn’t absolutely clear what it did. The machine looked a bit like a massive computer, though it was hooked up to several weird looking contraptions. As I got closer to it, I began to feel a little disoriented. It wasn’t a feeling I’d experienced before, at least not since I got my powers, and I didn’t like it so, since I was convinced that the machine was the cause of it, I looked for a way to turn it off. I started pressing buttons at random (I know, not really a good idea, but in my defence I wasn’t mentally at my best at the time) and fortunately one of the buttons must have had the desired effect since the machine stopped making the soft humming noise it had been making and all the lights on it went out at once. Either that or its batteries ran out.

My head cleared almost as soon as the machine stopped working and I left the trailer by the quickest way I could; I smashed a hole in the wall big enough for me to walk out of. As soon as I was outside I saw several cops walking towards me. “It’s her! She’s here!” I heard one of them shout before he and several of his colleagues drew their guns and opened fire on me. I’m not really sure why they bothered, since in all of my previous encounters with police officers their bullets just bounced off me. As I expected, exactly the same thing happened here, though as usual to my irritation the bullets did a good job of tearing holes in my shirt and pants. I wish I could get my hands on some clothes that can stand up to this sort of thing. That way I wouldn’t need to buy nearly as many, or to get rid of them so often.

Soon after the cops opened fire I heard a different sound and felt the impact of heavier ammunition. A quick glance showed that some soldiers had got out of their APCs and opened up with their assault rifles. Once again the effect of their fire was minimal, so I simply walked towards the next truck so I could investigate that. I paused for a moment when I heard a larger bang. Moments later I felt an impact that was larger and more powerful than anything I’d experienced since the explosion of the Q-7 high above the city. This impact actually stung me a little, though the effect wasn’t really any worse than an insect bite feels to a human. It took me a few seconds to realise that one of the APCs had fired its cannon at me and scored a direct hit. I looked down at the large hole in my shirt caused where the round had impacted on my chest before ignoring the fire of the vehicle and continuing my walk towards the truck.

My implacable walk seemed to unnerve the cops and soldiers since they decided that it was pointless trying to stop me. First one individual stopped firing and fled back to his car then groups of two or three decided to follow his example and it wasn’t long before the rest of them fell back in a panicked retreat. The APCs kept firing as often as they could, some shots resulting in hits and some missing, but soon enough even they began to withdraw, presumably not wanting to see if I could open them up as easily as I could the truck trailers. I reached the next one and tore it open, thinking that I’d have as long as I wanted to investigate the insides of the others when I felt a gust of wind swiftly followed by a series of blows to the side of my head rapid and solid enough to knock me off balance.

I shook my head to try and clear it, but even before I’d finished I felt the gust of wind again followed by yet more rapid blows, this time to my stomach area. Individually none of them were powerful enough to cause me many problems, though each one of them was more powerful than the shots the APCs had fired at me, but when they were combined with such speed they took their toll. I hunched over slightly and moved my hands to try to defend myself. I actually managed to intercept some of the strikes, though most of them still got through. To try and buy myself a bit of time I took off into the sky, looking around to work out what was going on. I looked down and saw a masked man in a tight white costume that showed off an impressive figure. He was moving much faster than even I could follow, his arms a blur as they punched the area I had just flown from. As soon as he realised what I had done, the man looked up at me then began to run in a large circle at the same unbelievable speed. Soon enough this caused a swirling wind that buffeted me from side to side until I found it impossible to remain hovering where I was. I fell to earth with a bump and the man stopped creating the wind, running over to me and planting his foot on my chest to hold me down. “Hello, Dark Lady,” he said cheerfully. “I saw your interview. You know, it’s not wise to attract the attention of the Council. We can do many things to interfere with your fun.”

I looked closer at the man and realised who he was; this was Faststream, one of the relatively few men to have multiple powers and one of the Global Council’s senior members. He was also the one based closest to me since he operated in Harbor Bay, a coastal city about 200 miles away from my city. This explained what had happened, since he was well known to be by far the fastest person in the world and that to go along with this he was stronger and tougher than an ordinary human. This could be interesting, I thought. Taking advantage of what I believed to be me superior strength, I moved my hand towards him as fast as I could. Faststream naturally reacted faster and moved out of the way, but in doing so he had to take his foot off me, allowing me to get back on my feet.

Faststream came at me with his insane speed again, but now that I knew he was there I was able to partially block some of his blows and even get in one or two of my own. My punches were more telling, since he slowed down considerably whenever one landed, but the sheer number of attacks he landed on me combined with the force created by their speed and power had an effect. I was sure that he would leave some bruises behind as a result, the first bruises I’d had in over a year. Suddenly, just as I aimed another punch at him, Faststream vanished from directly in front of me and I immediately felt a flurry of blows to the back of my head. I hadn’t even seen him move. Surely he isn’t that fast, I thought.

I decided that I’d had enough of this fight. Faststream was ready and prepared for me. I decided that if he wanted to fight me, it would be on ground of my choosing. I flew off into the sky again, once more leaving Faststream punching thin air, but this time rather than hovering I flew back towards the city confident that he couldn’t touch me while I was airborne and moving since he couldn’t get that cyclone thing to hit a moving target. I was right about the cyclone but wrong about his ability to get me. I hadn’t flown very far when I suddenly felt an extra weight on my back which almost instantly began raining blows down on me. The flurry of punches caused me to lose concentration and we crashed to earth, Faststream being flung a few feet away from me. He got to his feet a bit groggily, but he was still clearly in shape to carry on.

“I’m not going to let you go just yet, Dark Lady,” Faststream said to me. “I have one more thing to show you first.” I took up a fighting stance, expecting him to race at me and start punching again, but he surprised me by blinking out of existence for a fraction of a second before appearing next to me. No wonder he could still get me up in the sky, I thought, he can teleport. Faststream grabbed my arm then closed his eyes. The world around us blurred for a moment, then resolved into surroundings completely different to where we had been just a moment ago; the open countryside had turned into solid whiteness. Looking up into the sky I couldn’t even see the sun, just a slightly different shade of white to the ground we were standing on. “Where have you taken us?” I asked trying to keep a tremor out of my voice. I didn’t want Faststream to know how unnerved I was by our surroundings.

“I call it The Stream,” he replied, his tone of voice grim. “One of my lesser known powers is to bring myself and other people or things here. In here, there is no time so far as I can tell. When I need to travel a distance faster than I can run and if I can’t see it to teleport to, I come here since I can step out of The Stream to where I want to be and almost no time will have passed. Nobody else seems to be able to know where they are in relation to the real world though, or to be able to cross between the two. Which brings us to you.”

“To me?” I said, my voice tiny.

“Yes. So far you haven’t gone far enough that I or any of the council can get involved. Our charter lets us go anywhere, but we can’t arrest someone until their actions cross a specific line. You’ve skated close to the wind with your mental control of people but you’ve not gone too far. Yet.”

“But I don’t control people,” I protested. “I just persuade them to do what they want to do anyway.”

“Tell that to the bank clerk who still has nightmares about your voice in her head. You could have opened the vault yourself, but you decided to make her do it. She was terrified of being fired or arrested for helping you so she resisted with every fibre of her being, but you still forced her. You’re just lucky that the control was temporary and that she can be treated or I’d be tempted to be considerably less merciful.” Faststream’s voice was absolutely implacable as he spoke and he brushed aside my attempted protest that I’d never meant to hurt anyone. “Your intentions are irrelevant. What matters are your results and you haven’t yet crossed the line. I think you can still be redeemed, which is why I’m warning you now. This convoy is going to get through, so your city’s police officers will soon be armed with weapons designed to be used against you. One of the Council will be watching your city nearly round the clock and we are allowed to stop a crime in progress and hand the perpetrator over to local law enforcement, so if you commit any more crimes one of us might just be there to stop you. If you do cross the line, we will stop you and we will lock you away in our secure facilities for superhuman threats. And if you go too far, I might just bring you here and leave you. If I do that, I’m not sure you’d even see me again, let alone be able to get back to the real world. I’ve never yet left somebody in The Stream. Don’t make yourself be the first.”

While I was digesting Faststream’s words, he grabbed my arm and took us back to where we had just been. I could clearly see the still stranded trucks in the distance. Mindful of his words about handing criminals over to the police, I decided that I wouldn’t give him the chance to turn me in to the cops that I could hear approaching, probably the convoy’s escort returning. I gave Faststream a solid kick sending him flying through the air before he landed several yards away from me. Before he could recover I flew away, abandoning the convoy and leaving whatever weapons they had for use against me. I’d had enough excitement for one day and I wanted to be sure that the reward was worth the risk when I acted again.

I changed back to Lucinda and returned to work trying to feign attentiveness, though it was obvious to everybody that my mind wasn’t really on what we were doing. Everybody went outside to see the convoy and a few people cheered, Dr Bond loudest of all. I couldn’t see Faststream anywhere nearby, but I’m sure he was around keeping an eye on the convoy. Well, I thought, trying to console myself, at least I’m in the right place to find out what these weapons do. The day had certainly been interesting, though from my perspective much more in the way of the ‘Interesting Times’ curse than I would have liked.

 

*  *  *

 

After my first encounter with Faststream I encountered him or one of his fellow Council members on a few occasions when I was indulging in a spot of crime. As usual the police were unable to stop me since none of the weapons being tested at the lab were ready yet, but as often as not I had to fight to get away with my ill-gotten gains. Sometimes I was able to defeat Faststream, though more often he stopped me. The same was true of his colleague Sky Knight, an African-American woman who wore a set of winged armour that she claimed had once belonged to Joan of Arc. The armour somehow gave her the ability to fly and strength to match my own, while nothing I threw at her seemed able to dent it, much less hurt her. I was usually able to get away with my loot when Bloodhound tried to stop me since he wasn’t nearly as strong as the other two Council members, but I had great difficulty getting him off my trail. However far or fast I went, he was able to track me, whether on the ground or through the air. Only when I changed form to Lucinda was I able to lose him.

I didn’t think I could carry on escaping by the skin of my teeth for too much longer, especially as I knew from colleagues at the lab that the weapons were nearing readiness. In fact, the police had already been provided with an anti-psionic device based on the computer like machine I’d seen before. The first time they used it on me, it was disconcerting enough to nearly let Sky Knight capture me. The weapon left me unable to use any of my mental abilities while I was within its field, though fortunately all of my physical powers were still in place.

Worrying about the increasing probability of getting captured and locked up in the Federal prison for supercriminals underneath Mount St Helens, I decided that it was time to retire from my life of crime. I would miss the excitement of being Dark Lady, but I’d already stolen enough to make me rich and I certainly didn’t want my family and colleagues wondering what had happened to Lucinda when Dark Lady was arrested. Before I retired, however, I decided that I would indulge my reckless taste for adventure by going out with a bang; I was going to rob every bank in the city, though I would only take a few thousand dollars from each one. This decision would leave me in just the right place at the right time for my life to change for a second time.

The first three banks I was able to rob without any problems since I shut down their security cameras before they could see me and I was able to ‘persuade’ everybody in them that they didn’t want to call the cops. That was very draining, since it takes a lot of mental effort to use my mind tricks on that many minds at once. At the fourth bank I tried the same trick again and, while I’m certain that I took the security cameras down the same way as before, I think that I wasn’t able to influence everybody since as I was flying towards the fifth bank I saw several police cars speeding towards the bank I had just left. At the fifth bank I repeated my ploy, once again taking out the security cameras and influencing most if not all of the people inside while I got my hands on the money I’d been after. My methods must have been worked out, though, since as soon as I stepped outside of the bank I heard mocking applause. Following the sound to its source I found Faststream leaning against a lamppost, clearly waiting for me. “This is ambitious, don’t you think Dark Lady?” he said in a slightly mocking tone. “Robbing five banks and it’s not even lunchtime yet.”

“It’s not over yet,” I said, smiling pleasantly at him. I’ve got a lot more to do before the end of the day. Stop me if you can.” I hadn’t expected to be able to rob every bank without seeing one of the Council, and if I’m honest I was hoping that one or more of them would show up since I was doing this series of crimes as much for the challenge as for the notoriety.

I leapt into the sky, flying as fast as I could towards the next bank I had chosen, making continuous unpredictable changes in my flight pattern to try and prevent Faststream from teleporting right on top of me. It seemed to work since he didn’t even try that trick, but he was still able to keep up with me just by running, even when I accelerated through the sound barrier. I’d never seen him run that quickly before, but I wasn’t surprised since everybody in America has seen him in action on numerous occasions, on television if not in person. When I reached the bank and began to descend for a landing, Faststream was hot on my heels. He surprised me by not using his teleporting ability to come within range of me; instead he jumped into the air, aiming a flying kick at where he expected I would be. His aim was good, since he struck me a solid blow, the full force of his velocity and body mass behind the kick. The impact knocked me off balance and sent me sprawling to the floor in a heap.

While he was still in the air, I saw Faststream’s head turn to face me and a moment later he was on top of me, obviously having teleported himself since he was still at exactly the same angle he’d been while he was flying through the air. He managed to twist his body back to a more normal angle just before I could begin getting to my feet and he began to rain down his usual flurry of punches. I absorbed them as best I could, blocking a few of them, but most of them still got through my guard. I knew that I would come off second best in a straight punch-up, but I had a trick or two up my sleeve. Using my telekinesis, I broke a substantial branch off of a nearby tree and propelled it straight at the back of Faststream’s head. He must have heard the crack of the snapping branch, but he didn’t react until the branch landed exactly where I’d been aiming it, knocking him off balance. Before he could recover, I was on him, raining my own punches down on him. He was able to block far more of my punches than I could his, but being as I was much stronger than him every punch I landed did more damage. If it wasn’t for the toughness of his suit, I’m certain that I’d have broken several of his bones.

After taking this beating for a few seconds, Faststream recovered his wits enough to teleport himself away from me. It took me awhile to realise where he had gone, which gave him time to run at me at speed, launching himself at me in a tackle that left both of us sprawling. We got to our feet at about the same time and returned to trading blows, though there wasn’t much effect other than tiring each other out. Usually I’d have tried to get away from Faststream by this time, but on this occasion, my retirement day, I wanted to see how well I could actually stand up to one of the world’s best heroes. It turned out that I was sufficiently powerful and skilled to do quite well; we were fairly evenly matched, his speed versus my strength, his teleporting versus my telekinesis. Every time one of us gained the upper hand, the other was able to use their abilities to escape. In the end, the fight came down to which one of us would make a serious mistake.

As it turns out, I was the one who made the mistake. Not surprising, I suppose, since Faststream was a veteran of dozens of fights against superpowered foes while I was still a novice. The mistake I made was out of desperation. Having seen that there was no way I could beat him unless I could land a blow that knocked him unconscious, I tried to go too far with my telekinesis. Already mentally tired, I tried to lift and aim dozens of rocks, branches and even a couple of cars at Faststream, hoping that one of them would connect and do serious damage. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to control them. Everything was raised into the air, but very few of the objects went where I’d wanted. In particular, I was horrified to see one of the cars speeding directly towards the bank which still contained quite a few people despite the superpowered fight going on outside.

Some people might say they deserved what they would have got for the idiocy of staying near such a battle while others would perhaps have deliberately aimed for them, relying on the superhero stopping the speeding vehicle in order to give them an advantage. I’m not of either persuasion, so I completely ignored Faststream while I flew towards the car as fast as I possibly could. Arms outstretched above my head, I flew into the side of the vehicle, pushing with all my might. The side of the car caved in under the pressure and I was able to alter its course just enough that when both the vehicle and I hit the pavement we’d missed the bank. The tree just next to it wasn’t so lucky, being toppled into the road by the force of the car and me flying right into it.

As I lay sprawled on the ground, panting a little at my exertions, I heard the clanking sound that I had come to associate with the armoured form of Sky Knight landing nearby. Sure enough, when I looked up I could see the woman having landed a couple of feet away from me, her winged plate armour looking as incongruous as it always did. “So I got here just in time eh, Speedy Gonzalez?” she said to Faststream who had moved to within a distance of few yards too. There was an amused smirk on her face that was matched by the smile I could see through Faststream’s mask.

“I think that I could have handled things well enough. Did you bring them?” he asked.

“Got ‘em right here,” Sky Knight said, producing a pair of handcuffs from somewhere, though I really don’t have a clue where she could have put them in her armour. The handcuffs had some sort of energy field crackling around them. “Want me to put ‘em on her?”

“Go ahead, though don’t be too rough with her. Dark Lady didn’t have to ignore me in order to stop that car, even if she did create the danger in the first place. We should respect her for wanting to keep bystanders uninvolved if nothing else.”

As soon as he finished speaking, Sky Knight walked the short distance between us and pulling my hands behind my back before putting the handcuffs on me, easily overcoming my tired attempts at resistance. I immediately felt the disorientation I feel when I enter an anti-psionic field and sure enough when I tried to use my mental powers I couldn’t. As soon as Sky Knight released my arms I tried to snap the handcuffs, but to my horror I couldn’t. These handcuffs were as impossible for me to break as ordinary handcuffs would be for an ordinary woman. Seeing the look on my face Faststream nodded. “Yes, we thought they would be too strong for you. We tested them on Major Terror herself, and even she wasn’t strong enough to break them.” I knew then that I was in deep trouble; if even the strongest superwoman known to exist couldn’t get herself free from these cuffs then I had no chance, especially with my mental abilities blunted.

“What are we going to do with her?” Sky Knight asked.

“She’s never crossed the line, so we have two options; let her go or turn her over to the police. What happens next will be a matter for them and the court.”

Sky Knight nodded her agreement. “The police it is then.” The two superheroes began marching me towards the nearest police station, Faststream leading the way while Sky Knight clanked behind. Just as we neared the police station, there was an immense screeching noise from the sky almost immediately followed by a massive explosion. The police station we had been heading to was now little more than a ruin, smoke pouring from what was left of the building.

All three of us stared up into the sky, though I think I was alone in my utter disbelief at what I could see; from the look that they shared Faststream and Sky Knight seemed to almost have expected it after the screech and the explosion. I couldn’t be that blasé about seeing what looked like a monstrous 30-foot long dragon. “Tell me that that isn’t a dragon up there, tearing the hell out of my city.”

“I’ve got good news and bad news for you, Dark Lady,” Faststream said sardonically. “The good news is that isn’t a dragon; the real dragons are twice that size, though usually they’re a bit friendlier.”

“Yeah,” Sky Knight put in, “dragons’ll usually ask permission before they try and eat you or burn your house down. And they don’t wake up very often.”

“The bad news is that it is a combat drop-ship, some sort of techno-organism used by the Devils.”

“The Devils?” I said, my disbelief clear on my face. “You can’t expect me to believe that Satan’s directing that thing.” As I spoke, the drop-ship unleashed what I suppose was another fireball, once again directed at a police station.

“Not Satan,” Faststream said seriously, what little I could see of his face grim. “They’re a group of violent aliens who seem to arrive at a planet without warning, wreak havoc and then leave with whatever people and materials they’ve been able to collect. We don’t know their real name so we call them Devils for reasons that should be obvious quite soon.” Even as he spoke, previously hidden hatches opened up in the lizard-like side of the drop-ship and dozens of tall creatures spilled out, some seeming to have jetpacks on their backs while others descended down on lines until they had their feet on the ground. As Faststream had said, it was obvious why they were called Devils; you try to come up with another name for creatures that are over six foot tall with horns and cloven-hoofed feet. “We need as many Council members as we can get here now.”

“No can do, I’m afraid,” Sky Knight said, shaking her head regretfully. “According to what Recce’s telling me there are at least another five drop-ships in different parts of the globe. The rest of the gang and the associates are too busy dealing with them to send us any help. The cops aren’t gonna be much help either.” As if to give her words additional emphasis, the drop-ship blasted another police station. “Significant army and air force units will be here within an hour, but until they do we’re on our own.”

“Just great. Well, we’ll just have to do as best we can. You want the ones in the sky while I take the ones on the ground?”

“Man, you get to have all the fun. There’s twice as many on the ground.” Sky Knight’s voice was playful despite the grim set to her jaw.

“True, but there’s that drop-ship up there too,” Faststream bantered back. “Surely that makes it even.”

“I guess it does. Well, let’s get on with it then.”

While the two superheroes were talking, I wanted to wave my arms at them to remind them I was still there. Eventually I just shouted “Let me help! You two aren’t sure you can take them all by yourselves. I can help even the odds a little.”

Faststream and Sky Knight looked at each other before responding. “She is strong enough to be of use,” Sky Knight said, “but can we trust her?”

“You’ve fought her. You know she’s never used people as hostages and today she more or less let herself be captured by choosing to protect others. I think it’s worth the risk. Do you agree to follow our orders?” Faststream asked me. I nodded my agreement. “Okay, let her loose.”

Sky Knight undid the handcuffs and as I rubbed my wrists I could feel my head beginning to clear. “Right then, let’s kick some alien butt. What do want me to do?” I said.

“You stay down here and help me for the moment,” Faststream replied. “We need to keep the Devils as far away from the ordinary humans as we can. Sky Knight can keep those ones equipped with jetpacks busy for the moment.” As he spoke, some of the Devils on the ground opened fire with energy rays, leaving some poor innocent people dead. “Let’s get to it before they can kill too many more people.” As soon as he finished speaking, Faststream sped off towards the nearest Devil, landing several punches before it even knew what was happening. I could see the creature was tough since it didn’t go down even under his rapid blows, but he seemed to have things under control.

Sky Knight tapped pressed something into my hand. “Put that in your ear,” she told me. I did as she said and instantly heard a computerised voice say “Welcome to the Council Radio Net, Dark Lady.”  “It’ll let you hear any orders from us,” Sky Knight continued. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with some ugly flying guys.” She leapt into the sky and began to engage the jetpack Devils in a ferocious dogfight. While she always looked a little clumsy on the ground, in the sky she danced gracefully The devils fired energy rays at her, but the few that she wasn’t able to dodge seemed to have no more effect on her armour than my punches ever had. In return, Sky Knight seemed to summon some sort of lance from nowhere which she used on the Devils as if it was a sort of aerial jousting match. I saw one jetpack Devil fall from the sky, his jetpack neatly holed by Sky Knight’s lance.

Taking my eyes off the battle above, I sprinted after Faststream. While I was watching Sky Knight he had finished rendering his opponent immobile and moved onto another Devil. Trusting that he knew what he was doing, I saw a Devil preparing to blast another bystander. I flung myself in between it and the poor man, taking a full on blast of whatever the energy weapon fired. It hurt a great deal, knocking me onto my backside and it completely disintegrated my clothing, leaving me pretty much naked, but I had at least protected one person.

Before the Devil could fire again, I picked myself up off the floor and flew at it. I landed a blow right in the centre of its forehead, but the creature shrugged it off as if it was nothing. Shaking my hand, I decided to try something else when I heard Faststream’s voice in my ear saying “Forget the head, it’s pretty much unbreakable unless you use one of their horns.” That gave me an idea, so before the Devil I was facing could react, I bodily lifted it off the floor and threw it head first at the one Faststream was fighting. I yelled “Duck!” just as I threw the Devil and Faststream was able to react just in time, flinging himself to the floor. My aim was absolutely perfect and the alien Faststream had been fighting went down, the horn of its comrade having gone straight through its head and out the other side. I smiled grimly. Two for the price of one, I thought, since the Devil I’d thrown was having so much trouble in trying to get back to its feet that Faststream easily incapacitated it.

“I’d prefer not to have to kill them, but good work.” Faststream said before moving onto the next enemy. Given what they’re doing to my city I’dprefer to kill them, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud.

Over the next half hour the two of us methodically worked through all the aliens on the ground, either killing them or rendering them unconscious. When there were only about two of them left active on the ground Faststream ordered me to go and help Sky Knight. She’d been doing a good job against the jetpack Devils; about half a dozen of them were lying sprawled on the ground, though there were still that many flying around taking pot-shots at her while their colleagues swooped down and carried as many bystanders as they could to their drop-ship, which had by now seemingly finished raining fire down on the police and was turning back towards us. I flew towards Sky Knight, accelerating all the way until I ploughed into one of the Devils that was trying to fire on her. The Devil, its jetpack damaged but not fatally so, instantly turned away, trying to coax itself back to the drop-ship. I let it go so that I could concentrate on those that were still fighting. “Need a hand?” I asked, a grin on my face as I looked at Sky Knight.

“Not especially,” she replied, returning my grin, “but I suppose you can help out. Do your best to stop them abducting any more people.” As I’d said I would, I followed her orders, leaving her to fight the ones who were interested in her while I zoomed across the sky, barrelling into any Devil that looked as if it wanted to land. I incapacitated some of them with my fists while others I used my telekinesis to swat with objects such as cars or the rubble left from buildings that had been hit by their attacks. While I was in the middle of doing this, I suddenly heard a warning from Faststream. “Dark Lady, take evasive action!” he yelled into my ear via the radio device I’d been given. Reacting immediately, I rocketed straight up in the air, narrowly avoiding being hit by one of the massive fireballs that the drop-ship had been flinging around. Given how hot even that near miss was and what the hand weapons of the Devils could do, I don’t want to think what would have happened if I’d taken a direct hit.

Nearly being hit by a fireball annoyed me and I decided that I would have to do something to try and get my own back. Spotting a bus that had been abandoned during the attack, I swooped down and grabbed the back of it. With a bit of effort, I lifted the bus off the floor and threw it at the drop-ship as hard as I could, using my telekinesis to give it an extra shove. The reptilian looking thing seemed to see it coming and tried to evade the bus, but it was too large to get completely out of the way. The bus hit the rear of the drop-ship, tearing a reasonably sized chunk off of it. I might have been imagining things, but I thought I heard a cry of pain coming from it.

The drop-ship turned its head upwards and began to streak skywards, running away from us. I was irate that it was leaving while there were still human captives aboard so I followed it up wards, the air growing ever thinner. I would have carried on following if I hadn’t heard Faststream say “Dark Lady, forget the drop-ship …”

“What?” I cried cutting off the end of his sentence. I was unsure if he could hear me, but I was still outraged. “They’re getting away with their prisoners!”

“I repeat, forget the drop-ship and catch me.” Looking closer I could see a small object falling from the back of the craft. It didn’t take me long to realise that Faststream must have teleported aboard but was now jumping out before it left the atmosphere. I was briefly tempted to forget about him and keep pursuing the drop-ship, but I had promised that I would follow orders and I do pride myself on being a woman who keeps her promises, so I broke off my pursuit and caught him, though I wasn’t above being less than gentle to show my dissent at his order. “Thank you,” he said as soon as he’d caught his breath. “If you weren’t here, things might have been worse. I’m not sure that I’d have had the chance to get aboard the drop-ship otherwise, and certainly neither Sky Lady nor I could have damaged it that much.”

“But they’re getting away with their captives,” I said bitterly. To my surprise there was a smile on his face. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he said. I started to ask what he meant, but he waved his hand to silence me. “I’ll explain when we’re on the ground.”

Somewhat impatiently, I flew us down into the city. Sky Knight joined us after a few moments. I was none too gentle when I set Faststream down as I was still bitter at the escaping aliens and, looking around at the damage my city had taken, I was even more annoyed. “So why did you let them go when they’ve done this to the city?” I asked, gesturing at the buildings that had been reduced to rubble and the countless crashed cars. I didn’t have a clue how many people had died, but I was sure that the answer was far too many.

“You don’t have to worry; I left a homing beacon on the drop-ship. When they return to their mother ship, they’re going to find that the rest of the Council is going to be paying them a visit. And Major Terror is certainly not going to treat them too well.” He smiled nastily, thinking of the fate that would await them, and I could understand why; Major Terror was not known for being kind to those she fought. The rumours I’d heard said that she was a soldier who had gained her powers as the result of some secret project or accident and that she might be slightly insane. She was certainly powerful, and there were hardened criminals who had been known to turn themselves in merely at the suggestion that she might be hunting them. I did not envy the Devils their fate when she and the rest of the Council caught up with them.

Faststream, Sky Knight and I spent the next hour doing our best to help the emergency services. We did some heavy lifting and I used my ‘sight’ to look for people trapped inside the ruins of buildings. When I did find them, Faststream used his teleportation ability and my descriptions of their surroundings to go in and get them out. After that hour had passed, there was a loud cracking noise much like thunder and the Global Council suddenly appeared. I didn’t recognise them all, but I certainly knew Major Terror in her army-style clothing and skull face mask, Bloodhound with his drab brown clothing, large teeth and wide nose, and Flamer, the bald pyro kinetic who was even now juggling fire between his hands. Along with the Council were several ordinary looking humans who were very dishevelled and had a haunted look on their faces, obviously the unfortunate people who had been abducted by the Devils.

“Did you get all the captives, Major?” Faststream asked the tall forbidding woman.

“Everyone who was still alive we brought back with us. We also taught those aliens a lesson or two. I think it will be some time before they come back here, and maybe we’ll finally be able to learn more about them from the captives you’ve taken here.” The skull mask seemed to become even grimmer as she smiled and her voice sounded to me as if it was coming from the grave. It would be very easy to be afraid of this woman, I thought. “You did well.”

“We couldn’t have done it alone,” Faststream said. “Dark Lady here was very helpful to us.” Sky Knight nodded her agreement to every word.

Major Terror turned her gaze on me and I involuntarily shivered. “I see. And what would you recommend we do with this criminal?” As she spoke about me, her voice was chilling. I got the sense that she would quite cheerfully have killed me on the spot.

“So long as she returns what she’s stolen,” Faststream said, his eyes meeting mine momentarily, “I think we should make her an associate of the Council on a probationary basis. She’d be confined to this city unless we ask for her help, but I do think she could do a lot of good.”

“And do you agree with this?” Major Terror asked Sky Knight who seemed to stand to attention immediately after being spoken to.

“Yes ma’am,” Sky Knight said, her gauntleted fist clanging across her breastplate in a form of salute. “I think that she has got some honour. In time, she could be a good recruit.”

“I don’t like it. Once a criminal, always a criminal, but since both of you are in agreement, we’ll see what we can do.” Major Terror turned to me and I got a good look at her eyes, a cold grey with more hardness to them than steel. “We’ll be watching you closely Dark Lady. Don’t screw this up.” She extended her hand to me and, when I took it, she squeezed so hard that I thought my bones would break. I had no doubt that if I didn’t reform, she would find me and break me.

Most of the Council left soon after to take captives back to their home cities and to help the clean-up operations around the world. A few helped me with cleaning up my city and, once I had returned as much of my loot as I could, I received a Presidential pardon and Associate membership of the council. “You’ve earned it,” Faststream said as he shook my hand and gave me my uniform to the cheers of several of my fellow citizens. My uniform is really just a set of clothes that won’t be destroyed as easily as what I had been used to and that would change according to my mental command. I’ve taken advantage of that since, changing my outfit pretty much every time I appear in public and since whatever the uniform’s made from seems limitlessly stretchable and shrinkable, I wear it all the time unless I’m having a bath or shower.

Six months after the Devil incursion, I’m a semi-respected superheroine who has gone on a few missions with the Council and stopped more than a few crimes closer to home, which is of course how I came to be where I was now, lying on my back with the Empress’s booted foot on my throat.

 

*  *  *

 

I desperately looked around for some way out of this predicament. I could clearly see that the Empress was stronger than me and better trained in combat. I suppose you don’t get to be the dictator of a reasonable portion of the Earth’s surface by sitting on your backside. I also knew that I wouldn’t be getting any help from the Council any time soon, since when I’d asked Faststream had told me they were busy keeping an eye on the Empress’s superwoman underlings, since she seemed to have sent at least one of them to the border of each of her countries.

In the end, I settled on two plans, neither of them I held out much hope for. Firstly, I was going to try a mind trick on her. “You want to take your foot off my neck,” I said, putting every ounce of my willpower behind the suggestion.

The Empress reacted exactly the way weak-minded people do to a Jedi’s suggestion, giving me a little hope. “I want to take my foot off your neck,” she said, sounding a little confused, though she didn’t make any move to do so.

“Yes, you want to take your foot off my neck. You also want to surrender to me.” I was slightly hopeful that if she was in two minds about following my suggestion, a repeated request would work. Unfortunately, rather than removing her foot, the Empress laughed before pressing down even harder.

“Do you really think mental commands will work on me?” she asked. “I’ve been keeping men and women in line using them for years, my dear. You have amused me, though, so you get one last chance. Join me, or die.” The increased pressure of her foot was making it difficult for me to breathe, so it wasn’t unbelievable that my reply was indistinct. In reality, I was being deliberately incoherent, but I achieved the desired effect when the Empress leaned in closer to better hear what I said. “What was that, my dear?” she asked, smiling pleasantly at me.

“Go to hell, you bitch,” I choked out, mentally summoning a filing cabinet towards us using my telekinesis. The flash of anger on the Empress’s face at my words was satisfying, but not nearly as satisfying as the sound of the impact the filing cabinet made on the side of her head. It didn’t hurt her, but it did disorient her enough for me to escape from underneath her boot. Not wanting to get into a fight in such a tight space, I flew out of the building, the Empress following close behind me, screeching obscenities at me. I’m amazed that worked, I thought, but now she’s angry with me. Can I make that work to my advantage?

I gave the matter careful consideration as I flew away from the enraged woman who was managing to keep pace with me, seemingly without even working up a sweat. As far as I could see, I didn’t stand much chance of beating her in a straight fight since my only advantages were my flying powers and my mental abilities, neither of which had done me much good so far. Suddenly, I realised that I knew of one place in the city where I might be able to use them decisively. I activated my Council com-link and called up Faraday Labs. Speaking as quietly as I could to avoid the Empress overhearing I said “This is Global Council Associate Dark Lady. I’m headed towards you with trouble on my tail. Please evacuate the area as quickly as possible and clear a path to the Dark Room.”

“How do you know about the Dark Room?” the man on the other end of the line asked.

“It doesn’t matter, please just do it. I’ll be there within the next ten minutes.” Altering my flight path slightly, I flew on towards the laboratory complex, glancing behind me every so often to make sure that the Empress was still following. To make sure that she didn’t break off her pursuit and to hopefully prevent her from thinking clearly, I threw a few insults at her, saying things like “How are you going to kill me if you can’t catch me?”

As I’d predicted, about ten minutes later we arrived at the lab, the Empress hot on my heels. I was pleased to see that my instructions had been followed to the letter; my planned route was clear, some doors wedged open to make it even clearer, while I could hear the sounds of an on-going evacuation. Soon enough, we arrived at the Dark Room, a laboratory that is set up specifically to prevent any light getting in from outside. I hope I’m right about this. If I’m not, I’m about to be locked in a dark room with an angry madwoman who can probably tear me apart.

Without pausing, I flew straight into the room. As I’d hoped, the Empress followed behind me. When she saw that I’d flown into a room with only the one exit, the one we’d both come in by, she let out a triumphant laugh. “You’ve found a dead end now, girl. Now you die.”

“Not if I’m right,” I said, trying to sound more confident than I really felt. “I’m sure your eyesight is better than mine, as befits an Empress.”

“Of course it is,” she said, irritated. “What of it.”

“Well, the thing about eyesight is that you need light to see. At least, everybody else does, so I’m hoping you’re no different.” I closed my eyes and used my telekinesis to yank the door closed, deliberately shorting out the lights at the same instant. I immediately kicked in my ‘sight’ and as I’d hoped, I could ‘see’ everything in my mind just as clearly as if I was in a brightly lit room with my normal eyes.

The Empress didn’t appear to be so lucky, however. She whirled around and tried to pace back towards the door, her arm stretched out in front of her, blindly groping for the exit. Now that I had the upper hand I was determined not to let her get away so, taking care to stay below the sound barrier to reduce noise as much as possible, I flew towards the Empress and landed a blow that sent her flying across the room away from the door. I was lucky on this occasion, since I’d hit her a bit harder than I’d intended but she hadn’t been thrown into one of the walls; if she had been, she’d probably have just torn it open and escaped.

Taking care to be as silent as possible, I flew circles around the Empress, darting in to land a blow then out again before she could retaliate, each blow precisely aimed to do as much damage as possible to one of her arms or one of her legs. I repeated this dance countless times until I was sure that I’d done enough damage to be able to win a fair fight, although of course it still wasn’t fair since I could ‘see’ and she couldn’t and she was already limping from the blows to her legs. Why should heroines have to fight fair when villainesses don’t after all? I landed just behind her and swung a huge right hook at the back of her head. I connected solidly, causing her to stumble and sending her crown flying away. The crown hit the wall of the room, shattering the gemstone inside and briefly illuminating the room in a flash of intense red light. The Empress cried out in rage, but before she could retaliate I threw a flurry of punches aimed at taking her down as soon as possible.

I’ll say this for the Empress; she was a tough woman, since she more or less shrugged off every one of those blows and turned on me, trying to land one of her lightning fast punches. She was handicapped by her lack of sight though and she’d been slowed down by the punishment I’d inflicted. In the end, the outcome wasn’t in doubt; no matter how much harder than the other person can hit, if they are able to see you and you have no way of working out where they are you are going to lose sooner or later. This time was no different and I was eventually able to knock the Empress unconscious. “Dark Lady to Council,” I said into my communicator, “the Empress is available for pickup. Get here as soon as you can please.”

Tired from the beating I’d taken and from my own exertions, I walked towards the door a little unsteadily when suddenly my ‘sight’ stopped working. Panicked, I raced towards the door and tried to pull it open, but my strength had suddenly deserted me. The slit in the door that could be opened to allow somebody to peer in was pulled back and I could see Dr Bond grinning at me, his smile appearing absolutely insane. “I always knew this day would come,” he said. “Now I can kill you for the delays you’ve caused in my research. We’d already be using my energy if it wasn’t for you.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what he had planned until I heard the fans sucking the air out of the room. Soon enough I was having trouble breathing due to the lack of oxygen left and I blacked out.

 

When I came to, I wasn’t sure how long had passed, or even where I was. A quick glance around showed me the Empress, still unconscious and I remembered. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t dead until I looked towards the door and saw Faststream kneeling over me looking concerned. Major Terror was holding Dr Bond with one arm, though I wasn’t able to tell what she was thinking. “How are you feeling?” Faststream asked me.

“Okay,” I croaked, taking deep breaths. “What happened?”

“We got here and found him outside along with two of the weapons that were delivered here for testing before general use,” Major Terror said, her tone matter of fact. “He said that he was going to kill you. We couldn’t let that happen.” I wasn’t entirely sure whether she sounded regretful that I couldn’t be left to die along with the Empress.

“You did well today,” Faststream said. “The Empress crossed the line in invading the United States, so now we’re going to lock her up in our prison. Her empire seems to be collapsing already though. Lots of people just seemed to wake up and start rebelling. Something you did?” I shrugged. “In any case, you certainly stopped her from doing whatever she planned.”

“She wanted to recruit me,” I said. “That may have been the entire reason she came here.”

“In that case it’s just as well you weren’t tempted.” Faststream helped me to my feet. I didn’t want to tell him how tempting the offer of my own principality actually was; making things better for myself and others, even if I have to force it down their throats was something that I had thought of doing more than once since I got my powers. I’ve never really been sure why I haven’t gone out and done it.

“What do you want to do with him?” Major Terror asked, pointing at Dr Bond.

“Let him go. He has good reasons to hate me, and there wasn’t any harm done. His work could be very valuable for the world.” I smiled sadly as I looked at the brilliant doctor who had made me what I am today. “Perhaps one day I’ll be able to persuade him I’m not a threat.”

“Not likely,” Major Terror said. “Remember, I’ll be watching you closely.” She let Dr Bond go before scooping the Empress up in her arms and flying off.

“She’s not so bad once you get to know her,” Faststream said. I snorted in response, causing him to grin. “Be seeing you around.” He quickly sped off back to his own city.

As I went to bed that night I pondered my future; perhaps one day I would earn my place as a full member of the Council, being a respected heroine despite my time as a thief. Or perhaps Dr Bond and Major Terror were right and I would end up as a menace to the world. Right now, I was having more fun and helping more people by being on the right side of the law.

Next year, well that’s another matter. Who knows what the future will bring. I just know that whatever happens I’m going to be noticed when I do it, which is more than I’d hoped for before my rebirths. Whether as a mistress of crime, a superheroine, a scientist or a future dictator, the future's looking good for me.

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