Written by Gincognifo :: [Thursday, 27 October 2016 00:49] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 29 May 2021 15:51]
(Written for the 2016 SWM Halloween Workshop)
Sapphire widened her arms to indicate the chaotic cul-de-sac below. “How is this not a crime?”
"I assure you, it’s perfectly innocent fun.” Harlequin’s voice boomed from a ring of speakers along the rim of the glossy black drone: she’d put more work into the sub-woofers than the propulsion system.
The curve of residential street was awash with hyperactive children, tired adults, and ghoulish decorations. “These infants,” said Sapphire. “Demand candy with threats of property damage: that’s textbookextortion. They disguise themselves to avoid identification: clearly a sign of a guilty mind. They’re little criminals.”
It’s tradition. The threats aren’t real. Besides, what harm could little children do?”
"Sapphire wrinkled her nose. “At their age I could throw a musk beast a mile and a half.”
"Being abducted as a baby by mad alien scientists is not life experience you can generalize from. None of these kids were bioengineered to be super-soldiers. I wouldn’t think.”
Sapphire pouted. She pirouetted in mid-air and pointed to where a dark Victorian mansion loomed on the far edge of the neighborhood. “What about that house? The trees are full of toilet paper and the door and windows are splattered with eggs. Somebody followed through on their threats.”
The drone bobbed up and down to concede the point. “Adolescents, not little kids. If you think petty vandalism is worth your time, please investigate. However, that house belongs to Miss Gurley: whoever egged her will regret it.”
Before Sapphire could ask what Harlequin meant, a flash of motion and glinting metal caught her eye from several blocks away. “Hang on.”
She rocketed through the crisp fall air towards the near end of Walker Street, where it ran alongside a small park. Further up, where the street was thick with packed bars and restaurants, a throng of costumed revelers packed the popular thoroughfare, waiting to get in or people-watching. By the park, a group of adolescents jostled and took furtive sips from paper-wrapped bottles. Two teenage boys with shaved heads and matching green jackets were in the midst of an argument.
Sapphire landed between them as one boy thrust a knife at the other. The blade struck her stomach, but the tip curved back on itself, unable to penetrate her steelskin tunic, or the hard flesh beneath.
The attacker’s hand and arm vibrated as if he’d tried to stab block of marble. He tossed his ruined knife aside and ran into the crowd.
“What the hell,” shouted the would-be victim. “I thought we were mates!”
Sapphire placed a strong hand on the remaining boy’s shoulder and looked him hard in the eye. “Don’t ruin the night for everyone else with your shenanigans. I’m watching.”
He tried to push her hand away and failed. “Screw you, super-lady.”
Sapphire shook her head and soared back into the sky to resume her vigil over the night’s festivities. Harlequin’s drone took station above and behind her left shoulder.
"Idiots,” said Sapphire.
"Same thing.” She scanned the intoxicated crowd on Walker Street and sighed. She dropped from the sky into the middle of the park and kicked up a clod of dirt with the wedge tip of one of her heavy boots. She flew back and rendezvoused with the drone.
"What the hell’s going on?” asked Harlequin. “You’ve been out of sorts all night.”
Sapphire rolled her head until she heard something crack in her neck. “It’s just… I’ve been back on Earth six months. I’ve saved Paradigm City three times. I’ve stopped crimes, saved lives, put out fires, prevented accidents, and everything.”
"No argument: you’re a committed superheroine. What’s your point?”
"Why doesn’t anyone want to dress up as me?” Her tone was peevish. “There are dozens of women down there in Nightshade costumes, but I haven’t seen one Sapphire.”
The drone was silent for a moment. “Good news: you’re reconnecting with human emotions. Bad news: you picked jealousy to start.”
Sapphire crossed her arms. “I’m not jealous, it’s just not fair. Nightshade is a villain: she robs banks and kidnaps rich playboys. Why do they want to be like her?”
"None of the kids are dressed as Nightshade,” said Harlequin.
"Yeah, but they’re not dressed as me, either. Don’t little girls want to grow up to be heroines?”
The drone’s speakers overlaid Harlequin’s deep sigh with static. “Introduction to Halloween: it’s a different event for every age group. Kids are about treats: get as much candy as you can and gorge until you throw up. A cute costume equals more candy. Your costume is not cute.
"We’ll gloss over the adolescents. They see Halloween as a chance for property damage and settling grudges while the police are distracted. They think they’re too cool for costumes.
"Adults also want treats, but sex and booze rather than candy. Too much booze also means throwing up. Halloween is an opportunity to try on an aggressively sexual persona, to play a role for the night, and see where it takes you.”
"That’s dumb,” said Sapphire, “and dangerous.”
"That’s what the media tells them, and young adults are highly suggestible. That’s why so many women dress up as Nightshade. She’s a sexy bad girl: that’s Halloween catnip.”
"You don’t think I’m sexy?”
"I’m not saying… Gah! You’re too wholesome for the “putting it out there” costume brigade. You don’t show any skin below your neck, and steelskin armor doesn’t hug your curves.”
"This uniform was designed for warfare in a variety of hostile planetary environments, not for dancing in a bloody nightclub.” Sapphire stabbed her finger at the golden spiral emblem above her left breast. “This is the symbol of the 3rd Gravity Shard, the most feared fighting force in this galactic sector.”
"From which you are currently AWOL.”
"I came back to help, not to shake my ass in a skintight leather leotard.”
"Then why are we having this conversation? It’s not a bad thing to be the good girl.”
Sapphire frowned, unsure of her emotions. “I don’t belong here. I spent twenty years out there,” she gestured at the vast dome of the night sky. “It might be nice if people thought I was... Sometimes I wish I was more like Nightshade.”
"Stop. Don’t say another word.” There was an edge of panic to Harlequin’s amplified voice.
Sapphire twisted her head around, but saw no crisis. “What’s happening? Did I say something wrong?”
The drone circled around to face Sapphire and butted up against her face. In a low voice, Harlequin said, “We do not use the W-I-S-H word on Halloween. Especially… How far are we from Miss Gurley’s house? Don’t point! Be cool.”
"Half a mile. What the hell’s going on? Start making sense, or I’ll punch your stupid drone into orbit.”
"Magic,” said Harlequin. “Miss Gurley is a powerful witch.”
Sapphire glared at the drone. “Magic isn’t real.”
The drone wobbled from side to side: the remote-controlled equivalent of a shrug. “It’s not common, but it exists, and it has more power on some days than others. Halloween is one of those days, something those idiots who threw eggs at Miss Gurley’s house will have discovered already.”
"Why is it bad to say “wi-” to use the “W” word?”
"It’s a lightning rod for magic. Making a W-I-S-H on Halloween is like standing on top a mountain during a thunderstorm, holding a copper rod and calling mother nature a bitch. Fast tracks a response.”
Sapphire’s heart beat faster. The only things she was frightened of were those she didn’t understand: magic had jumped to the top of a small list. “Why didn’t you warn me?”
"What could you possibly W-I-S-H for? You’re young, pretty, and you can fly!”
"Who’s jealous now?”
Sapphire’s cheeks flushed as she imagined Harlequin lying in her hospital bed, a tiny broken thing lost in a nest of plastic tubes and life-sustaining alien machinery. “I’m so sorry.”
"Don’t fret, pet. Let’s hope the old crone didn’t hear you..”
A flash of violet light burst from the attic window of the dark mansion. Sapphire was engulfed in a glowing cocoon of purple energy. The air stank of ozone and sulphur. A cracked voice floated on the breeze. “I would have let it go if you hadn’t called me a crone, you stupid girl.”
"Oh shit,” said Harlequin. The drone backed up until it was several meters from the ovoid of purple light around Sapphire.
Sapphire couldn’t move, blink or talk. Warm tendrils infiltrated her brain though the top of her scalp and rummaged around.
"Wish you were more like Nightshade, eh?” said Miss Gurley’s disembodied voice. “Let’s see how that goes.”
Her blue tunic grew tight around the chest and shortened to expose her midriff. The sleeves disappeared and the heavy steelskin transformed into a thin, figure-hugging, glossy material. In place of her heavy, laser-blasted tunic, she now wore a thin, divided halter tap, held together against the pressure of her bosom by the gold spiral emblem of the 3rd Gravity Shard, shrunk to the size of a quarter and barely equal to the task.
Her blue and gray battle kilt became a short, gauzy miniskirt. A slight gust of wind blew the light material up to expose a pair of shockingly tight shorts. Her leggings retreated to to become knee socks. Her heavy combat boots morphed into thin leather, graced with a pair of sharp stiletto heels.
Sapphire laughed with an edge of hysteria. The purple light vanished and she regained control of her body.
Harlequin’s drone flew around her in a wide circle. “Being more like Nightshade means dressing like you’re in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show?”
Sapphire looked down at her body, more on display than it had ever been. She surprised herself when she put her hands on her hip and struck a Sports Illustrated swimsuit pose instead of covering her exposed chest with her arms. “Am I sexy now?”
"Oh my god,” said Harlequin. “This is a nightmare.”
"It’s not that bad.”
"I didn’t mean the costume, which is terrible. I just hope the changes are cosmetic. Do you feel any different? Do you have an urge to rob a bank or destroy a national monument?”
"Yes. The effects of the wi... thing you asked for will wear off at midnight. Return to base and stay out of trouble until then.”
"You’re not my supervisor. Trouble is my middle name. Also my first and last names. Sapphire is no more, call me Trouble Trouble Trouble!”
"Are you drunk?”
A glint and a flash of motion caught Sapphire’s eye. “God-damned sons of bitches. What is wrong with those kids?”
She hit the park like a meteorite, leading with her feet: the flimsy heels of her boots snapped off. She swore and tossed the boots aside. The gaggle of teenagers had reconvened: the two boys she’d separated earlier had resumed their standoff, roles reversed. The former victim now threatened the other boy with a dented gray utility knife. She marched over, snatched the crude weapon, and then jabbed the razor-sharp blade into the palm of her hand until it was mashed to uselessness. She tossed the knife over her shoulder.
"Stay out of this,” said the boy she’d disarmed. “This is between me and- whoa!” He drank in Sapphire’s new look with teenaged lust. His eyes leveled off at her cleavage.
"What are you two idiots fighting over?” she asked. “And stop ogling my tits.”
Giggles erupted from the surrounding teenagers. “It’s funny because she said “tits”,” said one.
"Sally,” said one boy. “She’s my girl.”
"No, she’s mine,” said the other..
Sapphire grabbed the two boys by the wrists and twisted them to their knees. “Have either of you spoken to Sally about this?”
The boys shook their heads. “She doesn’t know we like her,” said one. “Got to sort it out between us, like men.”
She snapped their wrists. “You’re children, and Sally isn’t a piece of candy to can fight over. She’s a person.”
She released the boys. They yelled in pain, clutched at their broken hands, and cursed her. Still on their knees, they looked up, but only got as far as the view beneath her short skirt. Their mouths hung open like goldfish at feeding time.
Sapphire wagged a finger. “Eyes are up here, assholes!” She grabbed each boy by the throat and lifted. Their legs squirmed like jellyfish fronds as she tightened her grip on their windpipes. “I’m going to teach you to show respect. Or kill you. I’m really just making this up as I go along. Isn’t this fun?”
"Release those boys, evildoer!”
Sapphire turned to face a new arrival, but maintained her death grip on the boys’ throats. A woman floated a few feet above the ground, dressed in a chunky black and gold armored suit. The outfit was as unfamiliar as it was unflattering, but the wave of white and purple hair was not.
The armored women did a small double-take. “Sapphire?”
"I suppose you’re here to ruin my fun.”
"Let those boys go and we’ll say no more about it, you scantily-clad ne’er-do-well!”
Sapphire threw the boys to either side. They landed with a pair of soft thuds. “I was getting bored with them anyway. I’d much rather bitchslap you for a while.”
She hovered up until she was level with Nightshade. The two women glared at each other and turned their noses up in matched sneers.
Harlequin’s drone dropped between them. “Ladies. Let’s not do anything rash.”
"Your robotic minion speaks wisely,” said Nightshade. “You would do well to avoid antagonizing the Mistress of the Night in her lonely quest for justice.”
Sapphire blew a raspberry. “I’ll kick your ass up, down, around, and across the city, Mistress of the Farts. I’m the baddest, the sexiest, and a third thing I’ll think of later!”
"SHUT UP,” Harlequin had turned the amplifiers on her speakers to their deafening maximum. “I know what’s up with Sapphire. Nightshade: did you, at any point this evening, express a desire to be other than you are?”
Nightshade raised her jaw with pride. “I may have wi- wanted to be more like Sapphire. Unwise on tonight of all nights, but it has been said I lack impulse control.”
"Bladder control as well,” said Sapphire. She raised her hands in mock surrender. “Just saying what I’ve heard.”
"Why would you do that?” asked Harlequin.
Nightshade pointed to the throng on Walker Street. “The masses don’t take me seriously. They dress in sexed-up versions of my costume and prance around like harlots, because they think I’m nothing but T&A.”
"You can say “tits and ass”,” said Sapphire. “The kids seem to like it.”
"Irregardless. I wi- wanted them to see me as-”
"A sexless scold?” asked Sapphire.
"-someone to respect. And fear.” She flicked an armored gauntlet in Sapphire’s direction. “What’s her story? She asked to be a cheerleader with a drinking problem?”
Harlequin laughed. “She expressed a desire to be more like you.”
"God’s blood,” said Nightshade. “This is exactly what I was talking about!”
"What about you?” asked Sapphire. “Your version of me isn’t flattering, either. You’re more bulldozer than woman, and you talk funny.”
The superwomen flew closer. Nightshade raised an armored fist and Sapphire matched her gesture.
Harlequin’s interjected her drone between them. “Ladies. You both have valid points. Sapphire: it sucks you feel ignored and out of place, but dressing like a stripper is not going to help. Nightshade: it sucks you feel objectified because you’re hot, but burying yourself in a metal box is an overreaction. Both of you are so much more than the image you present to the world. Clothes do not maketh the hero, or the villain.”
Sapphire and Nightshade nodded as one, then punched the drone to scrap from both sides.
"You want to fight?” asked Sapphire.
"I think it’s important we do.”
"Happy Halloween, joyless shrew.”
"Happy Halloween, vile wench.”