The limousine pulled in front of St. Gabriel the Herald. The chauffeur quickly stepped out of the the driver's seat and smartly walked to the door on the rear passenger side. Opening the door wide, he announced, "We're here, Miss Winters."
"Thank you, Jean," said a voice from inside the car. A pair of lean, stockinged legs swung out from inside the limousine. Jean reached down a hand and assisted his employer out of the car. Brandi Winters stood on the sidewalk as if she owned it, along with everything built around it.
"Are you sure this is where you wanted to be," asked Jean a bit timidly. Gothic style churches tended to spook him ever since he read Victor Hugo.
Brandi never even moved. "Jean, have you ever known me to be unsure of where I'm headed?"
"N-no, ma'am," sputtered the flustered chauffeur. He knew from her tone that he had made a career breaking mistake.
Brandi nodded. "Just you remember that. Always."
Brandi stepped forward and climbed the stairs to the doors of the church. She pulled on the handle and entered. Although the weather outside was humid, the church's interior was cool and dry. Brandi stepped across the foyer and entered into the main area of the church. Colonnades flanked the central aisle on either side. Multicolored light streamed in through the dozens of stained glass windows, each depicting a parable or story from the Bible. The bright primaries filled the room with a soft, quiet glow.
Since there was no mass scheduled until the Novena, the church was empty. Brandi's low heeled shoes echoed throughout the entire structure. Brandi practically winced with each step. The one thing she did not want was to make her presence known. Aside from the altar, a woman knelt before a stand of candles. She seemed to be praying silently. She was attired in loose fitting clothes, and she seemed to be wearing a cape made of brown and gray eagle feathers. Brandi slowly approached the woman, but stopped a few yards away and waited.
After a while, the praying woman crossed herself and stood. As she was about to walk away, Brandi Winters called out to her.
"Please, wait. I wish to speak with you."
The woman in the feathered cape paused a moment. "I am not supposed to talk with anyone," she stated.
"If you're concerned about me finding out who you are, you needn't worry," said Brandi. "I already know."
The caped woman turned and faced Brandi for the first time. "How can you know?" she asked suspiciously.
Brandi smiled. "I make it my business to know everything about anyone I plan on working with."
A puzzled look crossed the caped woman's face.
Brandi sat down on a pew and gestured for the other to join her. "I know you are an angel," began Brandi. "I also know that you only go out at night, but there is so much to do during the day. I know that you yearn to help more people. I want to help you with that."
* * *
"Excuse me! Pardon me! Skater comin' through!"
Trina Bell zig-zagged her way through the pedestrians of Monument City's busy downtown business district. People glared behind them as the flamboyantly dressed woman dodged mishap after mishap. She wore a bright orange strapless halter and purple bike pants. Eventually, passers-by decided it was better to simply avoid this callous youngster. Trina cruised the rest of the way to work on her in-line skates.
Braking in much the same fashion as an ice skater or a skier, Trina leaned sideways into her skates until she halted in front of the music store that was her place of employment. As she stepped through the entryway, an electronic beep announced her arrival to those inside the store. Inside, Trina came face to face with a very angry Sandra Rocque.
"You're late," she said flatly to Trina. "Again."
"Sorry, sorry," pleaded Trina. "My alarm clock didn't go off, and I had to make my own breakfast 'cause Mrs. Hadley had cleaned everything up, and..."
Sandra held up a forestalling hand. "Save it. Look, Trina, do you want to work here or not?"
"Of course, I do," said Trina.
"Then you've got to start showing more responsibility," said Sandra. "Getting to work on time is just one thing. There's also the matter of how you're dressed."
Trina looked down at herself. "What's wrong with how I'm dressed?"
Sandra raised an eyebrow. "You're kidding, right? Let me guess. You're color blind, is that it?"
Trina pouted. "Ha-ha. Very funny."
Sandra emitted an exasperated sigh. "Alright, we'll shelve that one for another time. But for right now, you need to start stocking shelves. And take those stupid skates off before you kill yourself. Or worse, a customer."
As Sandra turned back to the check out counter, Trina childishly stuck her tongue out at her annoying coworker. She liked Sandra well enough, but that was when they weren't working. She ended up here because her dreams of becoming the next female singing sensation didn't pan out. Especially, after her voice shattered the sound proof glass to the recording booth and fried all the equipment. Not to mention hospitalizing the sound engineer. She didn't know how she did it. It had never happened before, and as a result, Trina never sang a note again.
The electronic chime announce the entrance of a customer. Trina turned and saw a dark skinned woman of medium height and shoulder length black hair. She wore a deep blue linen suit and matching pumps.
Now, this woman has some style, thought Trina. Sure it's a trifle conservative, but...
"I'm looking for a Miss Trina Bell," said the woman to Trina.
Trina blinked as she realized that the woman was talking to her.
"Uhm, I'm Trina Bell," said Trina.
The woman smiled. "I've heard a lot about you, Trina. I'd like to discuss your future with you."
Trina hopes shot up momentarily. "Are you a music producer?"
The woman's smile dimmed. "Well, not exactly, but you could say that I'm a sort of talent scout."
"Talent scout?" asked Trina somewhat confused. "What kind of talent are you looking for?"
"The kind that you exhibited at your last recording session."
Trina's blood ran cold. Oh, no! she thought, they're gonna make me pay for all that stuff!
Brandi could see the fear running across Trina's face and decided to really turn on the charm.
"Not to worry, dear," said Brandi. "You're not in any trouble. In fact, I think you performance was outstanding."
Trina looked surprised. "You mean something survived and they got me on tape?"
"I wasn't talking about your singing, dear," said Brandi.
Trina's eyes narrowed. "Who are you, anyway. What do you want from me?"
Just then Sandra walked up to the two women. "Trina, you need to get started. I'll take care of...oh! Miss Winters."
"Sandra," responded Brandi with a nod.
Trina got the feeling that they didn't like each other. "You two know each other?"
"We've met," said Sandra. "Miss Winters wanted me to work for her, but I refused. My answer is still no."
"I'm not here for you, Sandra dear," said Brandi with a knowing smile.
Sandra blinked then turned toward Trina. "You're a meta?"
Trina had been following the conversation between Brandi and Sandra and was taken aback by Sandra's strange question. "A what? What's a meta?"
"She means a metahuman, dear," explained Brandi. "An ordinary person, such as yourself, with an extraordinary gift."
"Gift?" asked Trina. "I blew up a recording studio. What kind of a gift is that?"
"One that is untrained and untapped," said Brandi. "If you'll allow me, I can teach you to control your power."
Trina looked questioningly at Sandra. "Don't listen to her," said Sandra. "Brandi Winters is one of the wealthiest people in the world, and you've gotta wonder why she's so interested in people with enhanced abilities."
"She's a woman with her own mind, Sandra," said Brandi. "She can make her own decisions. Like your sister did."
Sandra rounded on Brandi and came close to grabbing her by the lapels of her jacket. "You leave my sister alone."
"Sandra, please," said Brandi soothingly. "Such theatrics. I am not the villain you make me out to be, and your sister chose to join me of her own free will. Just like Trina has a choice. If she decides not to take me up on my offer, then I'll look elsewhere."
Trina looked from Brandi to Sandra. Finally, she made her decision. "I accept your offer."
"What?" cried Sandra incredulously.
"Try to understand, Sandra," said Trina. "I've been walking around for the past year with vocal chords that are lethal. I've gotta find a way to control this. You said it yourself. I need to take more responsibility. Well, that's what I'm doing."
Sandra stared at Trina for a few moments. "Well," said Sandra, "if that's what you want to do. I just hope you realize what you're getting into."
Sandra refused to say good-bye to Trina and stood scowling from behind the counter as she watched Trina and Brandi step into a limousine and drive away. Though she refused to acknowledge them, tears slowly meandered down Sandra's cheeks and, eventually, settled on the glass counter top.
* * *
Gerald Davis hated these long airline flights. Usually. This time, however, was a real treat as it was his first time flying solo. He had spent the majority of his summer at his grandparents' big farm out in Nebraska. He had had a great time there and made some new friends. Still, it was nice to go back home.
As they neared Monument City International Airport, Gerald decided to make a pit stop before the plane landed. It would be next to impossible to try and get to a restroom in the crowded airport. After relieving himself, Gerald washed his hands. He normally didn't, but Matahn always insisted. They were her hands too, after all. It was an odd experience having two minds in one head. Sometimes, it got downright bizarre. Gerald was still getting used to Matahn's always being there. To relieve the stress of such a traumatic situation, they had both agreed a long time ago that since nothing was secret between them, they would always be careful about understanding that each thought differently from the other. They never criticized one another. It would would be kind of difficult trying to get away from the person you're mad at when they're inside you. Since, Matahn was the adult of the two, she occasionally filled in when Gerald's mother wasn't about. Even so, Matahn always tried to respect Gerald's decisions, just as Gerald respected Matahn's.
In truth, Gerald was somewhat in awe of Matahn because of the life she had led as the chief engineer of an interstellar space craft. Matahn, on the other hand, envied the simple life of a young boy in junior high school. They made a strange pair, but they learned to accept one another, and eventually, care for one another a great deal.
As Gerald opened the door, Matahn's mind became aware that something wasn't quite right. She felt a sudden change in air pressure that Gerald wasn't normally attuned to. Two men were standing in the front of the plane one was holding a small black box. The other had a makeshift rifle that appeared to have been put hastily together. The plane was being hijacked.
Gerald was frightened, but Matahn reminded him that they had to do something. He slowly eased the restroom door shut and locked it. Gerald then began a remarkable transformation. In a matter of seconds, the small pre-teen had become a very tall woman in a red, blue and white skintight uniform. Now, they needed a plan of action. Matahn assumed that the box was the trigger for an incendiary device. They would have to act quickly and decisively.
Should I zap 'em? asked Gerald.
No, thought Matahn. A muscle spasm from the shock might set off the device. Besides, electricity can do more things than just shock people.
* * *
It was the worst experience of her entire life. Susan Hu had been a flight attendant for fifteen years. She had heard all of the horror stories and understood all of the risks, but when it actually happens to you, it's an entirely different story altogether. The plane was being hijacked. How these men got past airport security, she didn't know. The point was moot, now. They were here and they were in control. There were three of them. One took over the controls in the cockpit, while the other two watched over the passengers. One of them had a detonator and constantly threatened destruction if he didn't get the passengers' cooperation. The plane was silent except for the occasional barking of orders from the hijackers and the muffled cries of a few of the passengers who were, quite rightly, scared out of their minds.
Since the flight attendant's seat faced the rear of the plane, Susan got the first look at the woman who came out of the bathroom. She was provocatively dressed in a skintight costume that covered nearly her entire body. It wasn't long before the hijackers saw her as well and told her to stay where she was. The woman raised her hands in the universal sign of submission. What happened next, Susan hadn't been expecting.
* * *
Maxima stepped out of the restroom cautiously. She stood and waited until she was noticed by the hijackers.
"You!" screamed the man with the gun. "Don't move." He aimed the weapon at Maxima.
Maxima carefully put her hands up in surrender.
You sure this will work? asked Gerald.
Trust me, said Matahn.
They don't look like Muslims to me, said Gerald.
That's a false view propagated by the media. Most hijackers in the states are like these guys. I'm guessing they're your radical, anti-government types. Ready?
Gerald mentally swallowed. Ready.
Maxima splayed her fingers apart and began to generate electricity between them. Then, she thrust her arms forward. Before the hijackers could react to this sudden movement, the gun and detonator flew out of the hijackers hands and into the grasp of Maxima, along with a few pens, bobby pins and paper clips.
Well, I never said it would work perfectly, said Matahn with some chagrin. Now, zap 'em!
Maxima sent a charged bolt of energy at the gunman who went flying bodily into the cockpit door. Quickly, she dispatched the other hijacker as well. Maxima then ripped the back off of the detonator and removed the battery. Then, she crushed the plastic housing and circuit board of the detonator into fragments.
Maxima noticed a flight attendant who was trying to get her attention at the front of the plane. She quickly made her way to the attendant's seat.
She's being silent, said Matahn. That means there's another hijacker on board. Probably in the cockpit.
When Maxima reached the flight attendant, she beckoned her to bend down close to her.
"There's another man with a gun in the cockpit," whispered the attendant.
"Most likely he knows something's wrong since the trigger man hit the door," said Maxima. "I'll have to risk rushing him."
Maxima walked up to the door and attempted to turn the handle. When she did so she discovered that the door was locked. That was when the gunfire started. Immediately, Maxima charged her body with arms spread wide and feet apart. The bullets all embedded themselves into the invisible magnetic field in front of Maxima. She could hear the screams of the passengers behind her. No doubt they thought that this was the end of everything. After what seemed like hours, but in fact was only a few seconds, the gun fire stopped.
Since the door to the cockpit was pretty much done in as it was, Maxima ripped the rest of it off it's hinges. Inside, the last remaining hijacker was struggling with the pilot. The gunman got another shot off that hit the pilot in the shoulder causing the pilot to release his hold on the hijacker. Maxima grabbed the man by the neck and gave him a quick, short shock. The hijacker crumpled to the floor.
"Thanks, whoever you are," managed the pilot between groans.
"Are you okay?" asked Maxima.
"I think so," grimaced the pilot. "I don't think he hit anything vital."
Maxima carefully helped the pilot to his feet and called to the attendant for first aid. The flight attendant's training kicked in automatically and, in minutes, was attending to the captain's wound. Maxima, in the meantime, made use of a few pillow cases ripped into strips to truss up the three hijackers. Two other flight attendants appeared from their posts and began their job of reassuring the passengers that the crisis was over. Maxima went back to the cockpit and checked on the pilot.
"The name's Rupert," said the pilot. "Captain James Rupert. I take it you're one of Monument City's unusual inhabitants."
"Maxima," offered Maxima. "I'm coming back from vacation, actually. Think you can fly the plane okay?"
"Flying's not the problem," said Captain Rupert. "Damn things practically fly themselves these days. It's take-offs and landings where you need a skilled pilot and co-pilot."
"Co-pilot?" said Maxima.
She looked towards the co-pilot's seat and saw the body still strapped in place.
Oh man..., started Gerald.
Gerald! warned Matahn. Don't you fall apart on me, buddy. I still need you.
"Without a co-pilot, landing's going to be pretty tricky, not to mention dangerous," Captain Rupert was saying.
"I can help," said Maxima.
"You can fly a plane?" asked Captain Rupert a tad skeptically.
"Oh, I've flown more advanced craft than this," said Maxima with a smile. "You'll have to give me a run down on the instrument panel, though."
After they removed the co-pilot's body from its place, the captain quickly went over the more important instrumentation on the panel. As Matahn had expected, things were very similar to the controls of the hover skiffs she used to fly back home. Pretty soon, Maxima had settled comfortably into her new position. The captain was impressed with Maxima's advanced knowledge of aerodynamics and flight control. Soon, the plane was making its descent into Monument City airspace. That was when the explosion ripped through the plane. Passengers screamed in terror as flight attendants tried to keep order. Masks dropped from overhead as the cabin pressure began to drop. The plane began to descend rapidly.
"What the hell was that?" asked Captain Rupert. He was fighting the controls to keep the plane from nose-diving.
"My guess," said Maxima, "is that I screwed up."
"What do you mean?"
"I destroyed the detonator," said Maxima.
"That's good, isn't it?" asked Captain Rupert.
"Not in this case," said Maxima. "It looks like they had an altimeter switch put on their bomb, in case you decided to make an emergency landing before they got to where they were going. If I had studied the detonator, I could have figured that out and turn the switch off."
"I doubt you had any time to study anything," said Captain Rupert. "We've lost cabin pressure, and I can't control the ailerons. We're going down in a hurry."
They had cleared the cloud cover. Maxima got a good view of the ground below as it rushed to meet them.
"How far are we from Monument City?" asked Maxima.
"About thirty miles," said the captain. "No way we're gonna make it."
Maxima released her harness and half walked, half floated out of the cockpit.
"Where are you going?" shouted Captain Rupert. "I need you up here! There's a chance we can still pull out of this!"
Suddenly, without warning the nose of the plane began to rise.
"We're doing it!" cried Captain Rupert joyously. "We're coming out of the dive!"
The Captain glanced back and saw Susan Hu standing in the aisle directly behind the cockpit. Her gaze was turned upwards and her mouth was hanging open. The captain looked to were Susan was staring and saw Maxima flat against the ceiling of the jet. She had a terrible grimace upon her face and beads of sweat were starting to form. Well developed muscles which had not been apparent before were now bulging, as if straining to bear an immense weight.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm....holding....the....nose....up," managed Maxima in a grunt that was close to a primal scream.
Captain Rupert checked his controls. The ailerons were still nonfunctional. She really was holding them up.
"How long can you keep this up?" asked Captain Rupert.
"We'll....soon....see," grunted Maxima.
They made it all the way to Monument City International. When they were cleared for an emergency landing, Maxima instructed the captain to cut the engines and lower the landing gear. It was the first vertical landing of a commercial airliner in the airport's history. When the plane settled safely on the ground, Maxima dropped the rest of the way to the floor of the plane's cabin. Captain Rupert and Susan Hu both rushed to her side. She had literally fainted from exhaustion.
The first on board were ATF agents. Upon seeing that the hijackers were pretty well subdued, they began to haul the men off of the plane. Next came the medics, who removed the body of the co-pilot and carried Maxima off on a stretcher. Since Captain Rupert was also injured, he followed Maxima off of the plane and into a waiting ambulance. Susan Hu stayed behind with the other flight attendants to orchestrate the disembarking of passengers.
In the ambulance, Maxima regained consciousness.
"Well," she muttered while trying to rub away the headache that was threatening to crack open her skull, "I'll never try that again."
"I certainly hope that's not the case," said Captain Rupert. "I may need your help again someday."
Maxima blinked. "Oh, hello. Where are we?"
"In an ambulance," said Captain Rupert. "We're headed to County General."
"Oh, man," groaned Maxima. "My folks are gonna freak."
Hush, Gerald, admonished Matahn. You're delirious.
Maxima undid the straps that held her to the gurney.
"Hey, what are you doing?" asked Captain Rupert.
"I don't do hospitals, and someone's waiting for me back at the airport," replied Maxima.
She grasped the captain's hand and smiled. "It's been real."
"It's been about as unreal as it can get, for me," chuckled Captain Rupert.
Maxima opened the rear doors of the ambulance, floated out and shut them behind her, all while the ambulance was traveling down an access road at a speed of fifty-five miles per hour. She flew up high into the sky to get her bearings, then headed back toward the airport. The other passengers were still on the tarmac waiting to be bussed to the airport terminal. Maxima quickly located an unobserved spot near the terminal and landed. Satisfied that no one was around, Maxima changed back into Gerald David.
Gerald cautiously waited for the first busload of passengers to appear, then he carefully intermingled with them as they entered the terminal. Gerald spied his parents and waved while jumping up and down to get their attention. They spotted him and immediately made their way through the crowd of people toward their son. Gerald soon found himself buried within a smothering embrace from his mother and a bone cracking bear hug from his father. The last thing Gerald wanted to do was answer a barrage of questions about the hijacking incident, but he was sympathetic to his parent concerns and fears. As they headed toward baggage claim, Gerald suddenly remembered that there probably wasn't any. The bomb had apparently been in the cargo hold, from the sound of it. When they reached baggage claim, Gerald's supposition was corroborated by an airport representative who told the passengers of his flight that all baggage in the cargo hold was spread across the Adirondacks. They would have to file claim reports for reimbursement. Gerald wasn't to upset about the loss of his suitcase. A couple of favorite shirts and a box of chocolate pralines could easily be replaced. Gerald was more happy about his role in preventing a far worse tragedy.
As they exited the airport, they and others from the flight were swarmed by television and newspaper reporters barking out questions. Gerald and his family were able to squeeze past them unscathed. Still, Gerald heard some of the reports being made about Maxima. Some of the more hysterical ones were saying that she was one of the hijackers. Matahn raised a mental eyebrow at that. Others were saying that she nearly caused their destruction by trying to stop the hijackers. Still others, and Gerald was happy to note the majority, were proclaiming the amazing abilities of the strange woman who had rescued them from certain doom. Although their stories were somewhat exaggerated, they remained pretty faithful to actual events.
Wonder how long that will last, thought Matahn.
Gerald and his family piled into their mini-van and quietly made their way home.
* * *
Marie walked into the imposing edifice of the WinterCorp Aerospace Technologies headquarters. The main lobby was an impressive display of etched glass and brass fixtures. A skylight that rested several stories above illuminated everything. There were a few miniature palm trees and some ferns surrounding a natural looking waterfall. In almost hidden alcoves to either side of the lobby were security stations. The reception desk sat squarely in the center of the lobby. Marie shouldered her duffel bag and headed toward it. Before she could say anything, Brandi Winters stepped out of an elevator located behind the waterfall. Every WinterCorp employee immediately stopped what they were doing to acknowledge her presence with either a stiff bow, a nod or a polite, "Good morning."
Brandi notice Marie at the reception desk and glided up to greet her.
"So, you finally made it," she said smiling brightly. "How was the trip?"
"I must say, it was very smooth," said Marie Rocque. "I've never flown in a Lear jet before."
Brandi took Marie by the hand. "Come, dear, I want you to meet some people."
Marie found herself led into a private elevator which had an express route to the topmost level. In a matter of seconds, they were stepping out into what looked like a parlor. Sitting in seats across the room were two other women. One was a fashion nightmare. Her long hair was pulled back into a queue. For some reason she didn't seem as cheerful as her wardrobe suggested. The other woman wore plain, loose fitting clothes, on top of which she wore a feathered cape. She seemed to be meditating as she sat erect with her eyes closed and her hands folded palms up in her lap.
"Everyone, I want you to meet Marie," announced Brandi.
The woman in the loud clothes sat up and made an attempt to look cheerful, but Marie could tell that it was with an effort. The woman in the feathered cape opened her eyes, smiled politely and nodded.
"Wow, very enthusiastic folks you've got here," said Marie sarcastically.
"They're still adjusting," said Brandi. "Make yourself comfortable, and I'll be right back."
Marie walked over and sat down near Trina. "So, what's your story?" she asked. "Get into a fight with a paint truck and lose?"
Instead of getting angry, Trina merely smirked. "Yup, you're Sandra's sister, alright."
"You know my sister?" asked Marie.
"We worked together for a while," said Trina. "We'd hang out sometimes. Though, I doubt that'll happen again."
"Ah, don't worry about Miss Bossy Boots," said Marie. "She's always getting her panties in a twist over something. Give her a week, and she'll forget why she was even mad at you."
"I'm Trina," said Trina, truly smiling this time with very little effort.
"I'm Marie," Marie responded. The two shook hands.
"So, what's your story?" started Marie as she turned to Monica. "Get tarred and feathered in the last town you were in?"
Monica looked at Marie with a perplexed look.
"Uhm, you have to be straightforward with Monica," offered Trina. "She's not big on sarcasm. Hasn't gotten the hang of idioms yet, either."
"A little slow, huh?" Marie stood and proffered a hand to Monica. "I'm Marie."
Monica stood up and accepted the handshake. As she did so her wings spasmed slightly in an attempt to alleviate the cramped feeling that was growing in them.
"Holy...," whispered Marie.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it up," chuckled Trina.
"You...you're a freakin' angel," cried Marie.
"Oh, that's good," laughed Trina. "Swear at an angel. Your final reward is in jeopardy."
"I didn't swear," snapped Marie. She looked back at Monica. "Not exactly," she moderated.
"Believe me," spoke Monica for the first time. "I have heard worse."
The soft spoken voice made Marie jump a little. At that moment, Brandi Winters returned with another young woman. Both were carrying garment bags.
"Alright, everyone," announced Brandi. "I've got something to show you."
Brandi laid out her garment bags in the middle of the parlor, then she retrieved the other bags being held by her companion.
Katrina waved hesitantly once she had been relieved of her burdens.
"She's a bit shy, but she'll warm up to you shortly," commented Brandi. She was busy opening the garment bags. "I've tried to design something the reflects your varied personalities."
"Design what?" asked Trina.
"Our costumes, silly," said Marie.
"Costumes?" asked Trina confused. "We going to a party?"
"Hardly, dear," said Brandi as she pulled out a green shirt with an orange trimmed collar along with a pair of purple pants. In the garment bag were yellow gloves, orange boots with bright gold buckles and red leggings.
"Call me psychic," said Marie with a wry smile, "but I'm guessing that one's yours, Trina."
Trina was ogling the outfit with envy when Marie's comment sunk in. "This is for me?"
Brandi smiled. "Of course it is, dear."
"I...I don't know what to say."
"How about you go into the next room and try it on," offered Brandi.
After Trina had left, Brandi pulled out another outfit. "Here is your costume, Marie," said Brandi with some distaste. "Just as you specified. Although, I still think it is most unprofessional, not to mention unladylike."
Brandi held up a red latex halter with a zippered front and a pair of black latex briefs in one hand, while in the other hand she held up a pair of red latex thigh high boots. Still in the bag, was a pair of white cotton gloves. Upon seeing this outrageous ensemble, Monica's eyes went wide.
"Now look what you done," said Brandi, "you've shocked our angel friend."
"She'll live," said Marie callously as she eagerly took her costume into another room to try on.
Brandi shook her head as she watched Marie leave the parlor. Then, she turned toward Monica. "You, I'm afraid, were most difficult to design for. I had originally envisioned flowing garments, but then realized that would be impractical. After all, I didn't become a powerhouse in aerospace engineering because of my sweet disposition."
She bent down and pulled out another costume. "Although I disagree with Marie's choice of work clothes, she did give me a few ideas." Brandi showed Monica an ochre colored shirt with a V-neck trimmed in black. Next she presented a pair of brown short pants, followed by gloves, belt and boots of a sky blue color. The boots were lined in rich brown fur and the cuffs were inverted to reveal this.
Monica looked the clothes over. "They're very pretty."
"Don't worry about the fur," said Brandi. "It's faux. The V-neck should allow you to step into the shirt since you can't pull it over your wings."
Monica stood and stared at the garments.
"Is something wrong, dear," asked Brandi a trifle concerned.
Monica shook her head. "I was thinking of my friend, Kismet. She may be angry at me for doing this."
"Why should she be?" asked Brandi. "You want to help people, just as she does."
Monica hesitated a moment longer, then went into
a third room to change her clothes.
Brandi turned toward her assistant. "Well, Katrina,
looks like it's our turn. I think you'll love what I've designed for
* * *
Marie and Monica were the first to return to the
lobby. Monica couldn't help but stare at Marie's outrageous uniform. Marie
made a show of modeling for Monica.
"So what do you think?" she asked mischievously.
"Pretty hot, huh?"
"It's...unusual," said Monica a little unsure. She
was surprise by the amount of skin that was exposed, especially around Marie's
hips. "Are you sure you can wear that in public?"
Marie looked at Monica. "Of course I can," she
said. She appraised the angel's new outfit. "I must say, you look pretty
Monica simpered a little at the compliment, but
was still uncomfortable with her bare legs. Marie tried to build her confidence.
"You look fine," Marie assured her. "I know you're
used to really covering up, but why should you? You don't have anything
to be ashamed of or embarrassed about."
"Pride goeth before the fall," replied Monica.
"This isn't pride," said Marie. "This has to do
with accepting who you are. Being happy about being you."
Monica blinked. "I think I understand," she said.
Marie gave her a beaming smile. "Good."
At that moment, Trina stepped into the lobby. "Well,
what do you guys thinks?"
Marie slapped her hand over her eyes. "Whoa, I
forgot to bring my sunglasses."
"Ha, ha," mocked Trina with a smirk. She was beginning
to get used to her new wisecracking friend. "What do you think, Monica?"
The angel smiled serenely. "You remind me of a
rainbow," she said softly.
"Thanks, Monica," said Trina. "That's sweet of
you to say."
"Are you sure it was a compliment?" asked Marie.
Before Monica could object, Marie turned and cautioned, "That was a joke,
For the first time, Monica frowned. "I don't think
For the first time, Marie was left without a comeback.
Trina stepped up to Monica. "It's fine, Monica.
Marie's only trying to lighten the mood."
"I do not like her making statements at other people's
expense," said Monica.
"I'm sorry, Monica," said Marie, "but this is how
"We're all just a bit nervous," added Trina. "None
of us really knows what to expect from Ms. Winters. We should try our
best to stick together, no matter what."
Monica nodded then went and sat on a lounge chair,
careful not to crumple her primaries. Marie bit her lower lip. She really
didn't know if Monica was a real angel or merely a woman with wings, but
she did know that she wanted to stay in Monica's good graces. Just then,
Brandi returned with Katrina. Katrina was in full costume. She wore a
shoulderless top with matching knit pants. Both were bright red. The
outfit was accented with blue gloves, boots and belt. A blue stripe running
down her right breast stopped at the waist where the belt was. The stripe
and the belt together formed a stylized letter L.
"Wow," breathed Trina. "You look smashing."
Katrina smiled but said nothing.
"Now, I want you girls to get to know one another
better while I go out and bring in our last member," said Brandi.
"Who's that?" asked Marie and Trina simultaneously.
Startled, they looked at one another then giggled.
"It's a surprise," said Brandi.
* * *
After the wild experience on the airliner, Gerald
found that he couldn't relax. He was still on an adrenaline high. He
told his parents that he was going to the courts to blow off some steam,
grabbed his basketball and headed out. Gerald trotted the whole way to
the public basketball courts, dribbling the entire time. Usually, the
dribbling got on Matahn's nerves, but even she felt like she needed to
get out and do something.
As Gerald reached the courts, he stopped dribbling
and watched the apparent activity that was going on. The place was crowded
with people. Gerald had forgotten about the community three on three
intramural games. There'd be no basketball for him today.
Why don't we go flying, offered Matahn.
That always relaxes you.
Gerald was a bit surprised. Matahn never made
a suggestion that required him to become Maxima. Gerald suspected that Matahn
was starting to enjoy the life of a superhero. Gerald found a wooded
place to both hide his basketball and change into Maxima. The change
became more and more effortless each time he did it. When he first started,
he had to concentrate hard to alter his physical form. Now, he barely even
had to think about it any more.
Quickly and quietly, Maxima launched into the sky
through a gap between the trees. In moments, she found herself zipping
around office buildings and enjoying the startled looks from passers-by
below. Maxima enjoyed flying more than anything else she could do. Both
Gerald and Matahn found the experience euphoric.
The sound of an engine having difficulty starting
caught Maxima's attention. Down below, an impressive looking limousine
seemed to be stalled in an intersection. Traffic was beginning to build
and tempers were starting to flare. Maxima decided to go down and offer
her assistance. Circling the limo, Maxima descended until she landed in
front of the car. It's hood was up and a tall, wiry looking man dressed
in a chauffeur's uniform was bent over the engine.
"Anything I can do to help?" asked Maxima.
"Oh, thanks," said the chauffeur turning around.
"I think I just need..." He stopped short as he caught sight of Maxima.
"Something wrong?" asked Maxima.
The man shook his head. "No, not really. It's
just that I didn't expect you to appear to quickly."
Maxima narrowed her eyes. "You were expecting
The man nodded.
"Then this stall was faked to get my attention?"
Again the man nodded.
Just then, the rear passenger door of the limousine
opened. Out stepped a smartly dressed woman wearing a navy linen suit.
Matahn's hackles went up, but Gerald was curious to know why someone would
go through such a ruse just to get Maxima's attention.
"Hello, Maxima," said the woman. "My name is..."
"Brandi Winters," finished Maxima, "founder and
CEO of WinterCorp Aerospace."
Ms. Winters was taken aback. Good, thought
Matahn, we've surprised her. She won't underestimate us again, I'd
It's lucky you have me read all those engineering
magazines at the library, thought Gerald.
Well, I may be part of you, but I'm still an
engineer, returned Matahn.
"You know who I am?" asked Winters.
"You're only the most brilliant aerospace engineer
on the planet," said Maxima. Which is quite a compliment coming from
me, added Matahn.
"Well," said Ms. Winters still a little off kilter.
"I must say that I'm flattered. I had no idea you were interested in
"It's something of a hobby," said Maxima casually.
Ms. Winters smiled. "I think we're going to get
along famously, dear. I have a proposition for you. I think it's one
you'll find to your advantage."
"You could have found a better way to contact me,"
"Unfortunately, unlike most of the costumed wonders
of this city," said Ms. Winters, "you are very hard to keep track of."
And we intend to keep it that way, commented
Should we take off, asked Gerald.
No, replied Matahn, let's hear her out.
"What exactly did you have in mind, Ms. Winters?"
"If you please, I'd like you to return with me,
and I will explain everything," said Brandi Winters.
Maxima appeared to give it some thought. Then,
without saying a word, she stepped into the limousine.
Excellent, thought Brandi, and she too stepped
in after Maxima.
Jean closed the hood and quickly stepped around
the limousine to close the door behind his employer. Just as quickly,
he returned to the driver's seat and started up the limo without incident.
The large car sped off down the street as angry motorists threw curses
and horn honks indiscriminately.
* * *
"Ms. Winters told me that I'm a metahuman," said
Trina. "Whatever that is."
"Meta is Greek," offered Monica. "It means
'that which comes next.' Metahuman implies that you are the next possible
step in human evolution."
Trina stared wide-eyed at Monica not so much for
what she had said as for the fact that she had said it.
"Wow," said Marie, "our angel friend is very heavy."
"I don't weigh much more than most women my size,"
Marie chuckled. "No, I meant you are very smart."
Monica's brow furrow. "Oh. Then where does the
term heavy come into play?"
"I'm no expert on the history of idioms," said Marie.
"I just use 'em."
"If Monica is right," said Trina, "then that means
you all are here for the same reason."
"So, what is it that makes you so extraordinary?"
"It's my voice," said Trina a trifle glumly.
"Well, I'll admit it has its nuances, but I don't
see what's so special about your voice," said Marie.
Trina shook her head. "Not my speaking voice, my
singing voice. When I sing, things blow up. Literally."
Marie whistled. "Impressive."
"It's horrible, is what it is," groused Trina. "I
almost killed a man with my voice."
"Then, what you need," offered Monica, "is a little
training and some self-confidence."
"Or a muzzle," said Marie.
Monica turned and glowered at Marie.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," protested Marie as she
put her hands up defensively. "Sometimes I can't help myself."
Trina went into fits of giggles.
"It's okay Monica," she managed. "Marie's just
trying to cheer me up."
"Geez, if looks could kill," complained Marie.
"What about you Marie?" asked Trina. "How come
"Well, super powers kind of run in my family,"
said Marie. "My sister and I both developed special abilities."
"Sandra is a metahuman too?" asked Trina a bit surprised.
Marie nodded. "Yup. She can create some pretty
realistic illusions. People can actually feel, taste and smell things that
she generates. I guess it's all in their heads."
"The human mind is a very power persuader," said
"Exactly," agreed Marie. "Now, me, I can alter
Monica's eyebrows raised. "In what way?"
"I can alter probability fields in a limited area,"
said Marie. "I can change the likelihood of an event either positively
or negatively. Within reason, of course."
"Wow," said Trina. "That's pretty amazing."
"It has its uses," admitted Marie. "I mean, I can't
do anything drastic, like have the president of the United States streak down
Penn Avenue, but if something is about ten percent likely to happen, I can
make it a hundred percent likely, or vice versa."
"Well, I think we know what's special about Monica,"
said Trina with a smile. She turned and looked at Katrina. "How about
"I'm not sure she talks," said Marie. "She hasn't
said a word since we met her."
Monica stood and walked over to Katrina. Katrina
watched Monica and smiled. Monica took Katrina by the hand and began to
lead her to a sofa there in the lobby. Katrina mutely follow Monica. Monica
sat first, then patted a spot beside her.
"Sit by me," she said encouragingly. Katrina sat
down beside Monica. "Now, you are a very special young lady, aren't you?"
Katrina nodded. "Why are you such a wonderful, special person, Katrina?"
"I'm good with numbers," Katrina said softly. Marie
and Trina had to practically strain to hear her.
"You like math, don't you?" asked Monica. Katrina
nodded vigorously. "Katrina, what's pi?"
"That's very good, Katrina," interrupted Monica
with a broad smile. "You really are good with numbers."
Katrina smiled back, apparently pleased with herself.
"What was all that?" asked Trina.
"She was computing the value of pi," replied Monica.
"So far it's been computed to about four hundred billion digits. No doubt
Katrina would have been able to recite all of them, and probably continue
"Holy crap," breathed Marie.
"Indeed," said Monica with a smirk. "I believe
that Katrina has a special kind of autism. One that incorporates the genetics
of a metahuman."
A chime rang as the elevator doors opened. Out
stepped Brandi Winters accompanied by a tall woman in a tight fitting uniform
of red and blue with white trim.
"Whoa!" exclaimed Trina. "You're Maxima!"
Maxima took in the brightly dressed Trina and smiled.
"It's nice to meet a fan," she said.
"Who?" asked Marie. "You know her?"
Trina looked at Marie as if she had grown a second
head. "Maxima! She's on the news more than Kismet these days."
"I'm an out-of-towner, remember?" said Marie.
Maxima spied the angel on the sofa. "Hello, Aquilia.
It's good to see you."
Trina blinked. "Who's Aquilia."
"That would be Monica, dear," said Brandi. "Aquila
is Latin for eagle."
"Everybody knows these dead languages but me," said
"It helps if you're involved in a scientific field,"
commented Brandi. She turned to Maxima. "This is the team I'm putting
together. I'd like you to join us."
"Wow, working with Maxima," exclaimed Trina. "Now,
that would be stellar."
Maxima got an eyeful of Marie in her costume and
blushed. Marie couldn't help but notice her reaction.
"Looks like somebody is a touch prudish," teased
Maxima cleared her throat. "So what are all your
Brandi interceded. "I haven't had the chance to
give them their names yet. Our angel, as you said, is known as Aquilia.
My assistant is called Logos."
"Very apropos," commented Marie.
"Our colorfully dressed member is called Muse,"
continued Brandi without skipping a beat. "And our provocative member is
called C'est La Vie."
Marie's eyebrows went up at that. Then, she grinned
like a Cheshire cat. "I like it."
"Quite an interesting bunch you have here, Ms. Winters,"
"Please, dear, call me Brandi," said Brandi.
Maxima shook her head. "Not if you're in charge
of this shindig," she said. "I believe in giving people their due honorifics.
I was a chief engineer in quantum mechanics, and I damn well made sure
I got mine."
Brandi gave Maxima a measuring look and smiled.
"As you wish."
I don't think it was a good idea to push that
thought out, Matahn, thought Gerald.
I had a point to make, replied Matahn. It'll
So, we're joining? asked Gerald.
I think it would be to our advantage, said
Matahn, but we'll have to lay down some ground rules.
"Does this mean you'll join us?" asked Trina as
if she had read Maxima's mind.
"I think it could be interesting," said Maxima.
There's an understatement, thought Matahn.
"So, what's your real name?" asked Trina.
For heaven's sake don't tell them you're a kid,
"Matahn," said Maxima.
"I'm Trina," responded Trina. Maxima couldn't help
but smile at her enthusiasm.
She's like you in a lot of ways, Gerald,
I do not dress like that, complained Gerald.
She could get a job as a traffic light.
No, I mean she's young, energetic and very new
to this whole hero nonsense, replied Matahn.
Marie's brow furrowed in consternation. "Matahn?
Is that African or something?"
Maxima turned to Marie. "Kateran, actually."
"Uh-huh," answered Marie. She clearly didn't understand,
but had decided not to pursue the subject further.
How dense are these people? asked Matahn.
I'm throwing hint after hint, that I'm an extraterrestrial and they
just aren't getting it.
Betcha Ms. Winters knows, said Gerald.
That goes without saying, said Matahn, and
Aquilia already knows.
"This is Marie," continued Trina undaunted. Maxima
nodded in her direction. "I guess you know Monica already, and this is
Katrina. She's a little shy."
Maxima nodded in Katrina's direction.
"Space girl," said Katrina with a smile.
Maxima smiled at Katrina. "She catches on quick,
though," said Maxima.
"What did she mean?" asked Trina.
"Goodness, I thought you knew," said Maxima. "I'm
not from your planet."
Trina's jaw dropped prompting Maxima to laugh.
"Well, now that we've gotten to know one another,"
began Brandi, "I'd like to show you exactly what I have in mind for us."
* * *
The six remarkable women stepped out of the elevator
into a cavernous room. Monica sighed with relief at the high ceiling which
was several stories above the central floor. The angel immediately took
flight and gave her wings a good work out.
"Wow, look at her go," commented Trina.
"Yes, she was feeling a touch claustrophobic," said
Brandi Winters. "It's one of the reasons I brought you down here."
"What are the other reasons?" asked Marie.
"To familiarize you with your new facilities," said
Brandi. "You'll be training here in the central area, while around along
the walls are your living quarters."
"Hold on," said Maxima. "We have to live here?"
Brandi turned toward Maxima. "It would be the best
thing. Of course if it's an imposition..."
"It's simply out of the question," said Maxima.
Brandi frowned a little at Maxima's tone of voice,
but quickly rallied herself. "If it's a matter of getting out of a lease,
I could pull some strings."
Maxima shook her head. "It's not that simple, and
quite frankly, I'm happy where I am."
"I'm afraid I too must decline you offer of accommodation,"
called voice from above.
Brandi looked up and saw Monica hovering over their
"How the heck can she hover like that?" asked Marie.
"Aquilia be reasonable," said Brandi. "You live
in a belfry, for heaven's sake. You're an angel, not a fruit bat."
Monica shook her head, "I have promises to keep,
and I always keep my promises."
Brandi realized that arguing with these women was
useless. In addition, she didn't want to dissuade them from staying with
the team. "Very well," she sighed, "but if at any time you feel you need
a place to stay, even temporarily, you will always be welcome to join us."
"Me, I'd love to get out of that boarding house,"
"Well, seeing as how I don't have a place to stay
at all," said Marie, "and the rent is reasonable..."
"Don't be silly, dear," said Brandi. "You don't
have to pay a cent."
"Exactly," said Marie with a wink.
Monica landed among her new compatriots. "What
"Normally, she stays with me," said Brandi, "but
I want her to live here and develop a camaraderie with the rest of you."
Katrina turned toward Brandi with a look of horror.
Brandi reached out and patted Katrina on the arm. "It'll be fine, dear.
You know I would never ask you to do anything I didn't think you could accomplish.
Besides, you'll be making new friends."
"Yeah, it'll be cool," added Marie. "We'll have
a blast." She put her arm around Katrina's shoulders and gave her a sisterly
hug. Katrina looked up at Marie and smiled.
Satisfied that things were beginning to gel, Brandi
took the others on a tour of the underground facilities. After the training
area, there was the library. Monica was quite pleased at the sight of it.
Next, was a computer room that held state of the art components. After
that, were the living quarters, the kitchen, the dining hall, a game room,
and a spa.
"Now, this is what I call living," said Trina.
"You will, of course, spend most of your time training
and staying at peak condition," said Brandi.
"What about you?" asked Monica.
Everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Monica had
asked a question that had been on everyone's mind at some point, but she
was the first to ask.
"Oh, yes," said Brandi. "That was the other thing
I wanted to show you."
She led them out into the central court once more
and followed a path that led to several large hangar doors. Brandi placed
her palm again a hand recognition plate. The device immediately scanned
her palm print and subsequently opened the doors.
"You will all have your prints digitized for access,"
"That's gonna be difficult for me," said Maxima
with a slight grimace.
"Why?" asked Brandi. "Don't you have prints?"
"Normally, yes," said Maxima. "But these gloves
don't come off. None of this does."
Everyone looked at Maxima.
"But if your costume doesn't come off," asked Trina.
"How do you take a shower? Heck, how do you use the bathroom?"
Gerald's mind raced to come up with an answer.
Just keep it simple, said Matahn.
Maxima shrugged her shoulders and said, "I just
Good one, Gerald, approved Matahn. That'll
really keep them guessing.
Trina tried to bend her mind around this cryptic
"We'll work something out," said Brandi confidently.
She led the others into a massive room which held
strange vehicles and other types of unusual equipment.
"A lot of this is still experimental, mind you,"
said Brandi, "but I'd like us to give them a try."
Finally, they stopped at the back of the hangar
where a large, bullet shaped, glass booth stood. Inside the booth was what
looked like futuristic armor placed on a mannequin. At the mannequin's feet
was an odd, metallic backpack.
Trina pressed her face to the glass to get a better
look. "Keen," she enthused, "what's this for?"
"That, dear," said Brandi, "is my costume."
Everyone turned to stare at Brandi Winters.
"Then you're a metahuman, too?" asked Monica.
"Unfortunately, no," sighed Brandi. "As a result,
I must resort to a more technological means of empowerment. Allow me to
Brandi stepped forward and keyed in a numerical
code on a panel at the front of the glass booth. With a hydraulic hiss,
the glass lifted itself above the suit of armor. Brandi stepped up to the
"This is a material I invented myself," she said
proudly. "It's tougher than Kevlar, yet it is as light as cotton. The suit
itself is designed to respond to my reactions."
"Galvanic skin response," guessed Maxima.
Brandi nodded, "Exactly. A direct brain interface
is not possible and quite dangerous. Reading the electrochemical activity
in my skin allows the suit to react almost instinctively. For offensive
purposes, I have a grenade launcher on my wrist which uses non-lethal concussion
grenades and smoke bombs."
Brandi turned and bent down to pick up the back
pack. "Then, there's this." With a touch of a hidden switch, two wings
unfolded from the backpack. At each wing tip was what looked like booster
rockets. "This will allow me to enter the domain of the air."
"Three in the air, and three on the ground," mused
Marie. "Sounds fair."
Maxima stepped forward to closely examine the suit.
She looked up at Brandi. "Have you tested this thing?"
Brandi smiled. "Not yet. That is why I will also
be training along side you."
Maxima seemed to mull things over in her mind. Finally,
she said, "I think I can help you with a few things. There are, shall we
say, some conventions from my world that you haven't discovered yet. I would
be glad to incorporate them into your suit, provided that you make me a promise."
"And that would be?" asked Brandi.
"That you tell no one about the technology I present
to you. Also, that you make no attempt to manufacture it for anyone else
except the six of us."
Brandi looked Maxima straight in the eye. "Agreed."
Brandi proffered a hand, and Maxima accepted it.
"Alright!" shouted Trina excitedly. "We're going
to be a team." She ran over to Maxima and Brandi and clapped her hand on
top of theirs.
Seizing upon the moment, Katrina did the same. Monica
soon followed. Everyone turned to look at Marie, who stood with her hands
on her hips and shaking her head.
"You guys have absolutely no idea how Saturday morning
cartoonish this looks."
Maxima looked at Brandi with raised eyebrows.
"Ah, what the hell," said Marie. She walked up
to the others and added her hand to the pile. "Go team," she said sarcastically.
"My friends," announced Brandi, "welcome to Onyx."
T H E E N D
Return to The Document Library.