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Presumption of Heroism
Josef Koelbl III
She walked off the ferry and stepped onto the dock in Talos Island. Jennelyn sniffed the air and frowned. So this is Paragon City, she thought. She sighed heavily. Here for less than a minute and she already didn’t like it. It was too bright, too clean, too…nice.
Not like home. Not like the Rogue Isles. There things were less…open and more to her fancy. She sighed again and walked on, down the sidewalk and under the overpass, up the hill that lead to the city proper. I can’t believe I’m doing this. She walked past the open storefronts, amazed at the absence of guards and caught her reflection in one of the gleamingly clean windows.
Jenne ran her fingers through her white shoulder-length hair, her frosted silver sunglasses catching the midday sun. A white veil covered the bottom of her face, a bodysuit of the same color hugged her athletic frame and bare legs peeked from the top of thigh-high boots.
He ran here to become…a hero, of all things. And she had followed. All because I got the hots for some guy, she shook her head at the thought. Well, I’ll find him and then he’ll love me, she thought. And if he doesn’t…? Jenne’s lips curled crookedly. I’ll make him.
She walked on, eyes widening behind her glasses as the citizens on the street smiled and waved at her. Jennelyn’s eyebrow rose in surprise and confusion. This type of behavior was…unexpected. It’s a different world, I suppose. She passed a café, people sitting outside to enjoy the weather and her hand went involuntarily to the compartment on her belt. It had cost more than she had expected to get this far. She would have to…acquire more substantial funding and soon.
She heard a muffled scream and looked down the alley on her left. Jenne grinned, watching as two men, members of the Warriors gang judging by the markings on their jackets, attempted to mug a young woman. The girl had the strap of her purse in a death grip and one of the Warriors was having an inordinate amount of trouble separating her from it.
“C’mon, lady,” he growled, “just give it up and we can all go home.”
“What? You gettin’ beat by a girl?” his buddy chided, hands on hips as he laughed.
Jennelyn smiled evilly. Two Warriors and a woman. She would take out the gang bangers, rob them and keep the purse for herself. She concentrated for a moment and her power flowed, a slithering menace scurrying toward its unsuspecting victims.
“Huh…,” one of the Warrior goons grunted, “I don’t feel so good.”
His partner gave a final yank on the purse and ripped it from the woman’s hands. “Maybe you swallowed a finger at the rumble last night. I hear Tsoo are kind of gamey.” He opened the purse as the girl backed away. Odd, he thought noticing now that his breath was coming in white puffs. He was able to exclaim “What the...!” before a sheet of ice spread over the pavement. Both criminals fell heavily onto the frigid concrete. “So heavy,” one grunted as he struggled to his feet only to slip and crash to the ground again.
Jennelyn moved quickly, rushing to her prey. She was no melee fighter but she knew enough about pressure points and nerve clusters to render the two men senseless and unconscious. She smirked as she gathered up the purse, her fingers straying to its clasp when she started at the sudden presence at her side.
“Oh, thank you!” It was the young woman who had just been mugged. She grabbed the handbag from Jenne and clutched it tightly to her chest. “This city needs more heroes like you!” she gushed. “I hope my daughter grows up to be just like you!” And with that she fled out of the alley and down the street…with her purse.
“I was going to keep that!” Jenne muttered indignantly and sighed. She remembered the two Warriors lying at her feet and grinned a crooked, cruel grin. The white haired woman knelt, ripping the pockets from the men’s jeans.
Jennelyn exited the alley, slipping nearly $500 into her belt. The Warriors had been having a busy day and she was happy to be their…beneficiary. She bit her lower lip and returned to the task at hand. How to find her…friend? The Rogue Islander looked over the street, past a grassy park that contained a huge boulder and grinned beneath her veil. The train station. The train, pride and joy of the Paragon Transit Authority, ran throughout the city. At the station she would at least find a map of her new surroundings and maybe a clue as to where to start her search. She quickened her pace, grateful now to have a plan of action.
The new arrival moved through the busy streets, marveling at the sheer multitude of garishly clothed super powered beings that jumped, flew and ran by her. Wentworth’s Consignment House was particularly active, heroes buying and selling items picked up during their battles and adventures. It had recently been discovered that combining some of these articles would, in some cases, augment an individual’s power or accuracy or even their endurance. Jennelyn made a mental note to “visit” the store later and liberate a few things.
She walked on, smiling beneath her veil at the insipid heroes. I’m a wolf in a henhouse and the hens are too stupid to realize it! The thought barely left her mind when she practically froze in her tracks. Jenne stepped quickly into the shadows and peered around a pylon supporting the station. There, across the pavilion stood Bastion or Citadel or whatever he was calling himself these days. On the other side of the station, near a long planter filled with a fragrant hedge, stood Luminary.
Jennelyn tried to remember what she had learned about the two, which amounted to “not much.” She had been more interested in freezing people and extracting the life from them than learning about Paragon City heroes she assumed she would never meet. The woman knew they were both robots, that they were both self-aware and that together or singly either of them could ruin her day.
She frowned mightily, trying to calculate the distance between them and the entrance to the station, and wondering if she could make it in. Then Jennelyn smiled and shook her head, silently calling herself an idiot. They didn’t know who she was. To the two heroes she would be just another adventurer and if she needed references, Jenne was certain she could track down that foolish mugging victim.
The villain stepped away from the huge blue support and calmly made her way through the courtyard, up the ramp and into the sickeningly clean station. She pursed her lips and nodded, her sunglass covered eyes roaming over the huge map that made up an entire barrier wall, blocking her view of the train platform.
Well…I have absolutely no idea where to go, she thought, white eyebrows coming together in consternation. The map showed every zone of Paragon City, what train to take to get to them and where one would be when they arrived. The problem was that Jennelyn didn’t know where to begin her search for the…misguided object of her affection. She knew she was in Talos Island…beyond that…
Her eyes fell on a bulletin board. She crossed over and gazed at the multitude of flyers and adverts covering almost every inch of the corkboard. She sighed, feeling more lost than ever when a brightly colored poster caught her eye.
Do You Want To Make A Difference?
Are You Ready To Accept The Challenge?
Register Now In Atlas Park
And Live The Adventure Today!
The thing had a background of red, white and blue. An American flag flapped on its right and on the left Statesman himself pointed at the reader, his stern, confident expression filling whoever paused to read with an urge to sign up immediately.
Jennelyn stared at the poster, head cocked to the side, considering. A small grin formed under her veil. Hero Registration. She moved to the train gates and waited for the animated sign to say Atlas Park. The train arrived, the gate opened with a hiss and she stepped on board. If he’s going to be a hero, he’s going to have to register. I’ll just…look him up, she thought. There has to be some kind of database. The train accelerated out the station and the Rogue Islander sat amongst the gaily costumed heroes, her hidden eyes slits of venom; her lips cruelly curled.
She stood motionless on the raised platform outside the station in Atlas Park. Jenne’s jaw dropped at the sheer multitude of heroes in the city zone. Hundreds zipped past, running, flying, jumping. Most seemed to congregate near City Hall in the huge courtyard beneath the immense statue of Atlas, the globe he shouldered gleaming white in the afternoon sun. Steady, she told herself. Remember…they think you’re one of them. She took a tentative step, then another, moving closer to City Hall and the Registration office. Figures they’re all where you want to go, she mused as a red-skinned figure clad in a short, sleeveless black robe flew overhead, the fire flowing from his eyes wafting through his spiky blonde hair. She started as he burst into flame and rocketed like a comet over and out of the zone. “Son of a…,” she muttered, regaining her composure. Jenne climbed the building’s stairway and turned to take a last look over the courtyard and its gaggle of adventurers. She shook her head and pushed open the glass doors to City Hall.
Jennelyn stepped into the sparkling lobby and paused, her eyes and mind adjusting to the sight. In the Rogue Isles a government building like this would be dark, foreboding and teeming with weapon laden guards. This was just…an office building. Directly ahead, across the polished marble floor inlaid with the Paragon City seal, was a long curved wooden desk behind which administrative personnel assisted a few heroes. To her right small stairways lead downward. On her left a huge elephantine woman sat behind a podium tall desk.
Jenne smiled. The sign in bright golden letters above the big woman read simply “Hero Registration.” There were three new arrivals in line and she fell in behind them. She hoped her man had decided to use the same name otherwise her search would be more difficult. Oh, well…he’ll just have to make it up to me. The new hero in front of her stepped to the side and Jennelyn took her place at the desk. Before she could make a sound the woman practically barked at her.
“What?” Jenne asked, eyes widening behind her frosted glasses.
“It’s not that tough a question, sweetie. What’s your name?” The rough voice sounded like cigarette smoke marinated in cheap bottled beer.
“Um…Jennelyn,” the villainess answered suspiciously.
The fat lady typed rapidly, her eyes glued to the monitor jutting over the top of the tall desk. “Hmmm, that’s available,” she grunted and a ping sounded from her computer. “What’s your powers?”
“My powers?” Jenne stammered. “Um…I can freeze things and I can draw energy and endurance away fr…”
“Ice. Kinetics,” the woman interrupted. She clacked merrily away on her keyboard, breathing out “Ice/Kin” under her breath. Not looking up she said, “What’s your origin, sweetie?”
“Err…my origin?” Jennelyn managed to squeak. All she wanted to do was ask about her friend and this ogre was taking down her life story. “Look…,” she began but was interrupted again.
The fat woman finally looked up, her chins jiggling as her eyes settled on the obviously mentally challenged girl at her desk. “Sweetie, I ask the questions, you answer ‘em, we keep the line movin’. Now, where’d your powers come from?”
“I was born with them,” Jenne answered, cursing herself for the little girl tone that had crept into her voice.
“Mutation,” the woman grunted and typed. “Hold still, dear.” There was an audible click and the woman place a small object on the desk. “Here’s your medical transponder unit,” she said in a dull monotone, repeating the same speech several times daily until it had become rote. “If you ever get into trouble and your vital signs drop below acceptable levels this little darlin’ will automatically transport you to the nearest medical facility for assistance.” She placed a card next to the med unit and said with the same lack of enthusiasm, “This is your hero I.D. and bank card. The thousand dollar weekly stipend is deposited into your account every Friday. The first installment should be available by end of business today. Report to the Genetic Investigation and Facilitation Team down the stairway to your right for your first contacts and missions. Welcome to Paragon City and good luck. Next!”
Jennelyn held the objects in her hands but didn’t move. What just happened here? Did she just become a registered hero? “Excuse me,” she said to the big woman, “but I’m not…”
“Sweetie, you’re all set. Step to the right, you’re holding up progress.”
Jenne moved slowly away, holding her hero identification card and medical unit. She looked at the card then back to the desk, a frown deepening on her lips. Fat cow, she thought. Who does she think she is? I have half a mind to freeze the nose right off her face and feed it to…Wait! Her eyes grew wide under her sunglasses. Did she say a thousand dollars…a week?!?
The Rogue Islander stared at her card, imagining the image embossed on the pale yellow card bearing a smug grin. She smiled under her veil. A thousand dollars a week…just for being a registered hero! Well…perhaps she would stay in Paragon City for a bit. She would look for her friend and all the while be doing…research…yes…research and report her findings to Lord Recluse. Jennelyn was certain the great villain would be most interested in the inner workings of Paragon City’s heroic citizenry. Looking for her…boyfriend would be a plausible enough cover.
She gazed at the desk again and saw the fat lady taking the information of a young man, a boyish face topped by unkempt short brown hair. His muscular athletic body was clothed in a vest with no shirt and tight jeans. His boots were folded over like a pirate and her eyes were drawn to the exaggeratedly defined muscles of his abdomen, his wide shoulders and thick chest.
Yes…research. Jennelyn turned and walked slowly down the stairs to meet her first contact, hoping Lord Recluse would be able to find someone to feed her pet turtle.