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Chapter XXI

12/06/10

Chapter XXI

 

            Colonel Courageous hated the sky over Los Angeles.  The heavy smog blocked the bright rays of the sun and seemed to cast the entire city in grey.  In all honesty, he had a general dislike of the city as a whole.  Though it was similar to Future City in many ways, to him, the people came across as more self obsessed and less progressive.  LA had all the same benefits as Future City, for the most part, but the people didn’t embrace them in the same way.  The citizens of Future City took pride in the technology and advancements that they had.  They looked forward, and moved and worked in a manner that would carry them into a bright and shining future.  To him, the people of LA lived in the moment.  They had no sense of the future and what marvels it may bring.  They were merely concerned with what they could get right now. 

            None of this, though, meant that the Colonel cared for them any less.  If they were in danger and needed help, he would use all of his abilities to save them, even if that meant sacrificing his own life. 

            All that aside, this wasn’t a social visit; Colonel Courageous was there on business.  He made a couple of quick passes through the city.  He moved just slow enough to be seen, but didn’t dawdle.  He flew through Bunker Hill and landed atop Two California Plaza.  He knew that it wouldn’t be long before the word got out that Colonel Courageous was in their city.  Soon she would be there to greet him. 

            The Colonel didn’t have to wait long.  She was there in a matter of minutes, Astronima.  Colonel Courageous couldn’t help but be captivated by her beauty.  He had seen her numerous times in person, and fought beside on several occasions.  There was hardly any place in the world that he could go without seeing her face in print or on video.  Even still, he was caught off guard every time. 

            Astronima hovered before the Colonel for a bit, letting him get a full view of her form before landing next to him.  If there was anything in the world that was close to being perfect, she was it.  Astronima had long blonde hair with blended highlights of orange and red on the ends that made it look like her hair was on fire.  Her hair came down to the middle of her back, and flowed with her every move as if it were alive.  She had the physique of a fitness expert and the looks of a fashion model.  Both of which she openly flaunted and exploited. 

            Astronima had started her career as a junior leaguer along with Kid Paladin and the others.  Back then, she was known as Astro Gal, sidekick to Mistress Meteora, before the senior hero retired.  No one knew where Meteora got her powers, or how she able to give Astro Gal abilities like hers.  Wally speculated in his book that Mistress Meteora was a manufactured hero, and pointed a printed finger at Dr. 253. 

            Wally said a lot of stuff in his book about Astronima, devoting almost a full chapter to her alone.  It was the most incoherent section of the book, filled with nostalgic longing, animosity, and emotional ramblings.  He revealed a short term relationship the two had which last only a few weeks.  It was apparent that Wally had invested a lot of himself in their short time together and was filled with many regrets.  He was overly critical of her, which many attributed as jealously, and her transition from sidekick to full fledge hero; something Wally and many others had failed to do.  He accused her of undergoing body modification to have her nose changed and breasts augmented, among other things.  Astronima denied all of it, and publically expressed her anger at Wally for accusing her in a public forum.  None of this stopped her from being accepted and embraced by the public the world over.  She was able to parlay her popularity into a business, making her a celebrity as well as a hero.  She went from being just a hero to a model and business woman almost overnight. 

            Astronima had her own line of clothing, fragrance and cosmetic line, and merchandising.  Even now, her face graced no less than four magazines a month, not including her own woman’s magazine, Astro.  She even played herself in a movie about her life.  It was no wonder why she located herself in Los Angeles.  She was as much a part of that world as the other residents. 

            Astronima landed next to Colonel Courageous.  Her outfit was little more than a glorified one-piece swimsuit with knee high boots and other accoutrements.  The suit accentuated her body, especially her breasts, making the invulnerable woman seem exceptionally feminine.  She put her hands on her hips and posed for the Colonel’s lusty gaze. 

            “You can stare, I don’t mind.” Astronima said. 

            “Huh?  Sorry.” The Colonel replied, snapping out of his trance. 

            “It’s okay.  Do you think I’d dress like this if I didn’t want to be stared at?” Astronima asked.  “It’s one of the advantages I have over the male heroes.  Distraction.  Showing a little more skin wouldn’t help you much at all.” 

            Astronima looked down at the people below.  A crowd had started to gather on the street beneath them.  Onlookers, tourist, and paparazzi aimed their cameras and cell phones in their direction.  Astronima could see people rushing into nearby buildings to gain higher ground for better pictures.  Nearby helicopters changed their routes and began moving towards the skyscraper.  Even though Astronima had a very strong presence in the city, there was still a lot of excitement whenever she made an appearance.  With Colonel Courageous standing next to her, the enthusiasm was multiplied by ten. 

            “So, what brings you to the City of ‘Angel’?”  Astronima said, referring to herself.  Many celebrity news shows and magazines had dubbed the city that because of her. 

            “It’s Doc.” Colonel Courageous said directly. 

            Astronima’s smile faded slightly, but did disappear.  Her years of being in the press had taught her how to guard and hide her emotions and never let her true feelings show.  The Colonel noticed, but said nothing. 

            “Let’s go someplace private.” Astronima suggested.  Her feet lifted from the roof of the building and she began to soar up into the clouds.  Colonel Courageous followed her.  He could hear the disappointed calls and sighs as he flew away. 

            Astronima led the Colonel to a remote forest just outside the city.  She landed on an overlook and waited for the Colonel. 

            “You come here often?” the Colonel asked.  It was obvious to him that she did.  The cliff had an incredible view of the city.  The area was inaccessible to hikers, and could only be reached by the most experienced of climbers.

            “From time to time.” Astronima answered.  “I cleared the spot myself.  Sometimes I need to get away from it all.  It’s quiet up here, gives me a chance to think.  The solitude can be refreshing at times.  Probably the most important thing that I learned from my time with Doc.” 

            “I’m sorry for asking, but I never got it.  The two of you are so different from one another.  The recluse, and the extrovert.  What was the attraction?” The Colonel questioned.  He could understand from Dr. 253’s point of view, the physical attraction, if the Doc even thought that way, but her…  Dr. 253’s dedication to logic and reason made him incapable of affection. 

            “I’m an extrovert by design, not nature.  When you’re in the public eye as much as I am, you have to pretend you like it.  But then you know all about that, don’t you?”  Astronima threw the Colonel’s question back at him without answering it. 

            “True, but, I don’t have nearly as many cameras flashing in my face.”  Colonel Courageous stepped to the cliff’s edge, moving closer to Astronima. 

            “You didn’t answer my question.” The Colonel said.   

            “Honestly, I loved his mind.  Most people can’t see the love he has because he expresses it in a way different than they do.  You can’t do the things he does without a passion for it.  There is a love for science in him that drives him.  Every new invention, every improvement on an old design is his expression of that love.” 

            Astronima pushed the hair from her face and dabbed at a tearing eye, careful not to smudge her makeup. 

            “You know for yourself how brilliant he is.” 

            “I do.” 

            “When Bethany, Mistress Meteora, retired, I was scared.  Her powers had started to wane in the months preceding her retirement.  Unfortunately, the process that gave her powers wasn’t permanent.  The same process was used on me.  I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would lose my powers, too.  With Bethany’s powers already receding, there wasn’t anything Doc could do to stop the process.  Doc knew it was too late to help her, but he did all he could to help me.  That’s when I fell in love with him.”  

            Astronima smiled as she reminisced on the good times with Dr. 253.  In the distance, the sun had started to set.  The sky turned a beautiful shade of orange with an undercurrent of purple sweeping across the horizon. 

            Astronima looked over at Colonel Courageous and smiled.  It was genuine, not the plastic one she put on for the public. 

            “You’ve seen him in the lab, working feverously for days.  I would actually have to stop him and force him to eat.  There’s such passion in his work.  He said that I inspired him.  And he would create new inventions based on some of the things I would say.” 

            Astronima couldn’t help but cry now.  The tears rolled down her face.  She didn’t try to stop them.  Colonel Courageous wondered if this was the first time she had seriously thought about the Doctor since their breakup. 

            “It wasn’t your conventional love, but I felt it.” 

            “I’m sorry.” whispered the Colonel.  He hadn’t realized just how deep her feelings were for the Doctor.  He knew that they shared some form of bond, but likened it to the one he had with him. 

            “It’s okay.  I had to leave him.  I realized that there was something missing, something else that I needed in addition to what he gave me.  My looks had no affect on him.  Can you believe that?  I mean, most women want a man who sees them for who they are on the inside, but for me, it was the opposite.  He helped to make me the way I am.  He reengineered my physical appearance to make me beautiful, and it meant nothing to him.” 

            Astronima pulled a compact out of a small pouch that hung off her waist. 

            “Everyone wants to know what I keep in these pouches.” Astronima said with a laugh.  “A girl’s second best friend, makeup.”  Astronima dried her eyes and touched up her makeup. 

            “Valerie.” the Colonel said, calling her by her real name.  “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think it was important.” 

            “What’s wrong?” Astronima asked.  She closed her compact and slid it back into the pouch. 

            “I don’t know, to be honest.  I went to see him a few days ago after an… incident back in my city.  He seemed somehow distracted.  Not himself.” 

            “Distracted how?” Astronima inquired. 

            “I don’t know.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he just wasn’t himself.”  Colonel Courageous continued.  “He hadn’t eaten in days.  His lab was unorganized. His workstations were littered with half completed projects.  Even his thoughts seemed muddled.  Like he was having trouble concentrating.” 

            Colonel Courageous held his chin between his thumb and forefinger.  His casually ran the finger along the curve of his chin.  His mind drifted as he once again tried to figure out what was wrong with his friend. 

            “I assume you want me to talk to him?”  Astronima asked nervously.  The thought of seeing Dr. 253 again after the past year and half made her a little apprehensive.   

            “If you could.  Even though I never fully understood your relationship, he let you into a place that I was never privy to.  If anyone could get him to open up, it would be you.” 

            “Yeah, I guess so.” Astronima said quietly.  She wasn’t prepared to have to confront her feelings for the Doctor all over again. 

            Suddenly, Astronima’s head snapped to the side.  Her eyes squinted as she began to concentrate.  She moved her left hand up to the base of her ear, just behind her earlobe.  Her middle finger pressed against the cartilage, increasing the volume on the micro transmitter/receiver implanted under the skin. 

            “Trouble.” Astronima said with mild delight.  She was happy to have something to take her mind off of Dr. 253. 

            “There’s a crisis in Japan.  Sun Dragon is on the scene but it sounds like he’s going to need help.” 

            Astronima had already started to take flight, even as she was relaying the message to Colonel Courageous. 

            The Colonel didn’t hear the alert.  He pressed the area behind his ear to activate his device.  The transmitter remained silent. 

            “You sure?  I’m not getting anything.” The Colonel questioned.  He started following after Astronima as she flew away. 

            “Yeah.” she answered back.  “I’m not so Hollywood that I hear voices yet.” 

            “Japan, huh? What area?”

            “Shinjuku.” 

            “Okay.  I’ll take the lead.  Try and keep up.” Colonel Courageous taunted her. 

            “I think you forget.” Astronima fired back at him, flying away before he could reach her.  “You may be stronger, but I’m faster.” 

            With that, Astronima flew off at top speed.  Her fire colored hair gave her the appearance of a speeding comet blazing through the upper atmosphere.  Colonel Courageous flew off after her, but knew that he would never catch up. 

            She was fast, the Colonel had to admit.  The Doctor did good work. 

*****

 

Excerpt from the book I’m in the League

Chapter 6

The Prettiest Star

 

            Of course, and she has denied it on numerous occasions, we kissed.  We actually dated for a few weeks.  It was odd, to say the least.  Not to say that the time we spent together wasn’t enjoyable, but it’s not the same when you’re a sidekick.  I can’t say I’ve ever been in a real relationship.  When you live a life like I once did, you don’t have time.  The two things you need are time and trust; both of which are in short supply. 

            The majority of the public sees Colonel Courageous and thinks that’s what it’s like for all heroes.  Women constantly coming and going like Metro Station.  Not quite.  Not for me.  The only reason Valerie and I got together to begin with, was because we were the only “real” people we knew.  When I say real people, I’m talking about people that knew us for who we are.  We could drop our guard around them and didn’t have to put on a fake persona. 

            At night I’d go around with the Holy Avenger, fighting crime and beating up bad guys.  By day, I was a nobody at school; trying not to fit in, or stand out.  I’d have to turn a blind eye to the bullies and misdeeds to hide my secret identity.  Girlfriends and boyfriends didn’t fit in that puzzle.  You could never be honest with them, always hiding who you were, or where you’d been.  Lying about bruises and broken bones, days missed from school, and broken dates.  It wasn’t an easy life.  At times you would forget which you was you, and wonder if you were either of them. 

            It was easy for us sidekicks to understand why Quarrel, Skirmish’s sidekick, committed suicide.  He couldn’t take it anymore.  The longer he tried to play both roles, the more he realized he didn’t want to be either one. 

            All this aside, Val and I weren’t just together simply for a lack of options.  There were other sidekicks, and “real” heroes that she could be with.  Obviously, due to her current relationship with Dr. 253, she has no problem with older men.  We did share something, even if it didn’t last.  Unfortunately, the thing that held us together also forced us apart. 

            We were able to talk to each other and share things about who we were and what we felt.  Because of our situation, we had a lot of the same problems.  No friends.  No free time.  No time to be teenagers.  We gave all that up when we decided to put on the mask.  In the end, that was really all we had.  There was no social time for us.  We didn’t go out to dinner, go to the movies, or just hang out.  We only saw each other during battles, or while on patrol.  We never learned who the person was behind the mask.  There was no time. 

            Our first kiss though, that was special.  It wasn’t just our first kiss, it was my first kiss.  God, how awkward that was.  I had no problems rushing into battle against just about any adversary, powered or not, but to make the first move and try to steal a kiss – I was petrified.  She was too, or at least she said she was.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I still remember – it was like the first time I had put on the suit.  I was lightheaded, and thought I might pass out. 

            I still hold on to that memory of Valerie from then, back when she was still Astro Gal.  Back when she was still innocent.  I’ve always believed that Mistress Meteroa was responsible for our breakup.  It wasn’t even a real breakup; she just didn’t come around anymore.  She never approved of Astro Gal and I spending time together, even going on patrol, because she had abilities and was stronger than I was.    Meteroa never looked at the Holy Avenger and I as real heroes.  We had no powers, just our wits, some gadgets, and fighting skills.  She would call us irresponsible and reckless. 

            To me, the Holy Avenger and I were greater heroes than the rest.  We were greater because we had no powers.  We stood up against villains with what we had.  You can’t say that Clockworx is braver or better than a police officer just because he has abilities.  I’ve seen Clockworx take a hit from an electro-magnetic photon blaster and get back up.  A normal police office could get killed by an underage punk with a knife.  It’s not the same.  

            Even still, how dare Meteroa look down at us!  The Holy Avenger and I were doing what we thought was right, and for the right reasons.  We weren’t manufactured heroes like Mistress Meteroa and Astronima.  We didn’t have someone give us powers to be famous and become celebrities.  For us it was about fighting crime and making our part of the world a safer place.  We weren’t trying to become rich and famous.  We didn’t go to Dr. 253 and ask him to make us super heroes.  We worked with what we had, and we did it for the right reasons.  I certainly wouldn’t be in this chair right now if I had.  No, I’d have my own club like Colonel Courageous.  I would be entertaining women, giving interviews, posing for pictures, and occasionally fighting crime.  That wasn’t why I got into the business.  I wanted to make a difference, dammit.  I wasn’t looking to be famous, or infamous.  I wanted to do something great with my life, and inspire people to do the same. 

            Or, maybe that’s just the way I feel now; at least from the waist up. 

            Do I know that Dr. 253 gave them their powers?  No.  No, I don’t.  But ask yourself, who else could?  Who else would?  Neither Mistress Meteora nor Astronima have ever told where they got their powers from or how they came about them.  The two aren’t related, but they have the same powers?  Meteora claimed to be from a hidden island off the coast of Australia.  When she retired, she said she was going back there to lead her people and that she could be of no more use to the regular world.  Are we supposed to believe that?  Astro Gal wasn’t from your island.  How did she get her abilities?  They’ve never said, and we’ve never seen this fictional island or anyone that has ever lived there except Meteora.  Too convenient for me.  No.  Dr. 253 had to have had a hand in that. 

            What about Astro Gal’s transformation after Mistress Meteora’s retirement?  She seemed to have “developed” overnight.  Why is it that we never see any older pictures of Astronima, back when she used to be Astro Gal?  Back when she used to be shorter,  had less pronounced cheek bones, and was a lot less buxom.  All we ever see are pictures of her as Astronima.  It’s like she’s trying to erase the memory of who she used to be and what she used to look like.  I REMEMBER.  I remember, and I’ll never forget. 

            If I’m being unclear about what I’m saying, then let me make a statement right now.  I believe that Mistress Meteora obtained her powers from Dr. 253.  When it seemed that every hero had a sidekick and that was popular, and profitable for extra merchandising, she found a girl and had Dr. 253 give her powers, too.  When Meteora retired, Astro Gal went to the Doctor and had him augment and modify her body into something more pleasing to the public eye so that she could step out of her hero’s shadow and step into the hero spotlight. 

            I remember one night when we were on patrol and she said to me: “I sometimes have regrets about becoming Astro Gal.” 

            I never knew what she meant until after she became Astronima.  I have regrets, too.  Where did you go, Astro Gal?  I miss you. 

End of Chapter 6

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