Glimmer Girl #1 - "Between a Rock and a Hard Place"

Hey, friends. Some of you may not be aware, but before I posted here on BC I was writing an ongoing serial called "Shimmer." After ten years and several reboots, I think I've finally polished the idea enough. So as a special treat you get a first peek at Glimmer Girl's return.

* * * *

It started with a bang; not an explosion, but atoms accelerated toward infinity, shredding all things that stood in their path. They rended particles on the basest level, stretched the membrane of the universe to the limit, and reduced the east wing of InfiniTech Laboratories to a crater.

That was the end of my so-called ‘ordinary’ life. I was a senior in high school, whose biggest problem was how to tell my parents that I wasn’t a boy at all, that I was a girl.

Maybe it was fate that guided me into the line of fire, the same day a madman sought revenge for his bruised ego. All I wanted was to deliver food to my Dad at work, but instead fought with every fibre of my being to stay in one piece, literally. Reality shook, and all between me and oblivion was a sense of will I’d never known before.

Everything changed after that.

Flight. Energy projection. Invisibility, and more. Just by thinking it I was a living hologram, capable of impossible feats. It was only a matter of time before there was a costume, and a masked figure whose name became synonymous with Milestone City.

My name is Glimmer Girl, and this is my story.

* * * *

Two years had passed, and the changes didn’t stop. I was in college, no longer living with my parents, and my friends, plural, called me by the name I’d chosen; Kaira. It was more than I’d ever dreamed.

More of my days were in the back row of a lecture hall scribbling notes than they were fighting injustice. After all, even superheroes have lives to keep up with. Though it’s with no small sense of irony that I spent my days at the Milestone Academy of Technology, a college tied to the InfiniTech Corporation.

On a Monday morning I followed the path between buildings, coffee in hand, quietly absorbing old world and new. The academy was as old as Milestone City itself, with sandstone brick buildings, high arches, and gargoyles peering over each ledge. Between them and climbing like newborns were towers with tinted windows and abstract patterns; the product of a company breathing life into a once dying husk.

I was no longer a freshman, but I was still lost to wonder. This place was already shaping my future, both in and out of costume.

It was only ten thirty five, and there were already six missed calls on my cell, all from my Mom. If I didn’t answer the first time, she’d try, try again, give up, leave a message, and try a few more times for good measure.

‘I just wanted to make sure you remembered tonight,’ the message said, as though I could forget.

Sunday nights marked my return to the suburbs where, since moving out of home, they would stuff me with food, blast my dead name, interrogate me about why I didn’t have a job, and watch a movie before I returned to the dorms. A surprise business trip had thrown the routine; something my Mom could never abide. Though delayed, family night was still going to happen.

I curled under a tree and texted her back. It would take the end of the world for my not being there, and not just because I needed the meal.

Ten fifty-one; just over ten minutes until my Communications lecture. It was a day just like any other, and hopefully it would stay that way.

* * * *

That it was Monday had no bearing on the life of Leon Marco. In his world most days ran the same; eat, sleep, shower, use the crapper and, if he was on his best behavior, see the color of the sky for all of five minutes.

All he had to break the monotony was the prison truck into which he had been loaded; not that it was anything special. At the end of the road was a cell just like the last, and all he had for the journey were shackles and a steel wall.

There were guards, but they didn’t talk, least of all to him. The driver had music, not that Leon would have called it that.

“Change the friggin' station,” he groaned.

“Keep it down, inmate,” the guard barked.

Leon’s features contorted as he dropped his head against the wall. “Just listen to it. He’s not even singing, he’s talking!”

Rifles clicked as they trained on him. The guard snarled like a dog at the edge of a fence. “I said shut your hole!”

“Nobody’s playing guitar, the drummer’s a machine,” he said, “you might as well kill me, because this is friggin' torture.”

A flash of pain shot across his jaw and sent stars flying. Hot liquid copper washed over his tongue; the taste of Leon’s upbringing, up to the day he came into power most men would never grasp.

His vision cleared and he met the gaze of his keeper; and in his mind’s eye etched a map of every tooth he’d knock from the guard’s head. Revenge was only a pipe dream, but it didn’t stop Leon conjuring a psychic bloodbath. The noise from the driver’s seat only fuelled the fire.

The van skipped, only for a moment, but enough to jar them to alertness. Then, in the space between heartbeats, gravity turned on its head, sending the occupants tumbling. Bone cracked against steel, rolling them in agony for what seemed an eternity.

Finally the vehicle smashed face first into the ground, with all occupants inside flying into the wall. All thought was muted in their howls, sparked by shattered limbs on force of impact. Even Leon was grunting, fighting to climb over mangled humanity.

One of the guards had dropped their weapon in the inmate’s reach. A surge of adrenaline shot through his veins. The automatic rifle was awkward to grab with hands shackled together, but it was enough to give him leverage.

The guard growled. “What are y-!”

Blam! Blam! Blam! It wasn’t his fantasy ending, but it was enough for the bandit.

Suddenly, the hinges whined, and the door above flew open. A blue, cloudless sky, brighter than he could remember, smiled and begged him to grab for freedom. Leon climbed the length of the truck, fumbled against the smooth metal, and without grace dropped to the pavement.

The road sizzled his flesh, but even that was sweet as he powered to his feet. It was like a dream, though none was so excruciating.

To one side the flow of traffic was halted, and on the other was open freeway. Sirens carried from the distance, and were moving nearer.

Leon shifted on the balls of his feet, but stopped when his manacles fell away. They struck the asphalt in pieces. He leaned down, favouring the bruising on his left side, and sorted through the twisted remains.

“What the f-”

A familiar sensation reached from the Earth and pulled on Leon’s fingertips; power, the likes of which most men never dreamed of. Despite the neuro-blockers pumping through his veins it came to him like a hungry lover, begging for release.

The sirens were screaming, and Leon Marco walked, not ran, to salvation.

* * * *

A part of college was the four year marriage to my computer, most often consummated between classes and before bed. It was decidedly a one way relationship, with only a blinking cursor offered in return.

At the very least there was Tanya, and her barista girlfriend, Trixie, at the Lovin’ Spoonful. That meant half priced croissants, muffins, and soy chai lattes with a shot of caramel; in other words, the recipe for sanity. Between the food and the company there was a reason the cafe was like a second home.

I was nose deep in a book about semiotics when Trixie hovered over our table. She shone with lime hair and emerald lips that were not at all out of place in the bohemian surroundings. “Can I get you girls anything?”

For more than two years I’d been a girl, at least on paper, and the word still ran over my skin like a blanket from the dryer.

I beamed at her, “no, thanks.”

“More coffee please,” Tanya hummed. She pulled from her work long enough to lean back and give the other woman a kiss. Such a display would have been obnoxious if they weren’t so cute.

In all the chaos there was only one constant; my best friend sitting across from me. In grade school she was a bodyguard protecting a ‘little sissy’, and who made the bullies eat dirt. Taking to my new name was easy for her, and she was there when I bought my first dress. Heck, she also bought me a few others, just because.

Even without powers she was always saving me, and now that I could fly she could worry about saving others. That was why psychology was so right for her; that and ‘the world doesn’t need more cops right now, even one who’s a fat dyke.’

She leaned back from her textbook and frowned. “Did you know that smacking a child is classed as ‘positive punishment’?”

I furrowed at her. “What?”

“It’s not saying that smacking is a good thing,” she said, and loomed over the page. “‘Positive punishment works by presenting a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future.’ So it’s ‘positive’ in the sense that it’s introducing something, and ‘punishment’ because, well, because it’s a punishment.”

Maybe I would need coffee.

“So what’s ‘negative punishment’?” I asked.

Tanya searched the ceiling and clicked her tongue. “That’s when, uh… you take away a desired stimulus. So, like, if a kid misbehaves and they’re not allowed to watch TV… I think.” She peered back into the textbook, scanning it like a crystal ball.

I could still recall her face the first day of freshman year, and how eager she was to sink her teeth in, just like I was. That changed over time, and soon we were wading through information like it was swampland.

“There’s also positive reinforcement,” she said, “which is to introduce a desired stimulus as reward for enacting a desired behavior. So, giving a kid candy if they behave. And there’s negative reinforcement, which is to take away a negative stimulus in accordance with a desired behavior.”

“Huh?”

“So, like… sending your kid to their room, and telling them they can’t come out until it’s clean.”

I shifted against the sofa, and frowned. “Who thinks of this stuff? Why do they have to be so mean to kids?”

“Grown ups too,” Tanya said. “Kids were just the first example that came to mind.”

“You’re going to try some of this stuff on your sister, aren’t you.”

The tightness of her lips spoke volumes.

Her expression turned when she looked to the corner. I followed her gaze to the screen mounted on the wall, and the birds eye view of a sedan tearing down the freeway, live on local news.

The scroll read in large, panicked letters ‘SUPERHUMAN FELON ESCAPES CUSTODY’, with captions of the report. “Three dead in a vehicle crash, one murdered via gunshot wounds, on the Bonnie Franklin Bridge…”

So much for study.

I flipped my laptop closed and slotted it into my back, then placed it down by Tanya’s feet. “Look after my stuff, yeah?”

“Want me to call your Mom and tell her you’ll be late?”

I was already halfway out the door. “Nah, this guy will be a cakewalk.” At least that’s what I always told myself before a battle.

* * * *

It was like something out of a comic book; a mild mannered girl heard the call, and dashed around a corner. Out of sight she tore off her clothing to reveal she’s more than Kaira Cade, but the holographic heroine, the lady of light; the one and only Glimmer Girl! Cue the fanfare and the waving flag.

Every cell buzzed with supernatural energy; the result of a maniac’s scheme gone awry. But while others were incapacitated I was empowered, and honor bound to use these abilities for the benefit of the world.

I took to the air and soared over streets. They say from up high people look like ants, though I saw drops running along an intricate web. Wind crashed in my face, gravity forgiven its hold, and I dashed north where the chaos unfolded.

Tracking Marco was simple enough. News helicopters circled like buzzards while police cars kept their distance. He owned the freeway up to the county border; that’s when things would get messy, if I didn’t stop him first.

A beam charred a line in the asphalt. More flash than substance, but it was enough to bring the sedan to a swerving halt.

I floated to earth and landed in a wide stance, the very definition of ‘power pose.’ It was me versus the con in the family car, with nobody else for five hundred yards.

“Looks like I’ve got the higher ground,” I jeered. “Ready to give up?”

Leon Marco climbed out of the front seat. Prison orange and a shaved head reflected the afternoon sun. His glare didn’t waver, and he wore the look of a man too driven to ever sleep. All that stood in his way was the plucky girl who wanted to save the world.

He said nothing. The sirens at his back were little more than white noise as he stretched out his arm. Suddenly, the earth trembled.

In a flash I moved to close the chasm between us, only to be met with asphalt jumping in my path. Chunks the size of my head flew like fists in every direction, and threw my balance.

The air became thick with dust and debris, enough to blot the sky. Sirens fell into obscurity, drowned by the impromptu tornado centering on the criminal. Leon Marco, like a maestro of carnage, opened his arms to the storm, inviting a thick, ash grey shell to form over him like a new skin.

“Glimmer Girl, huh?” His voice was a boulder tumbling down a cliffside. “Milestone City’s technicolor cheerleader. Well, let me show you why the call me the Carbon Man!”

Six feet grew to eight, then ten, as his mass quantified, and shoulders grew to the width of a tank. Exposed steel rods that remained of the street bent under every step as he lumbered closer.

Blast after blast bounced off his hide. Heat rays, force beams, bursts of super-high frequency microwaves; nothing touched him. His shell was too thick to pierce, and too dense to cook him out of.

He laughed, deep from his belly. “Doesn’t matter how hard you think you are, I’m harder!”

The force of his blows more than made up for his cumbersome form, and though I dodged his strikes he’d sent rubble flying like shrapnel. Were it not for a holographic body my skin would have been torn to shreds.

His gargantuan hand reached back to the getaway car, and gripped the axle. It’s windows were shattered and paint scratched to its bare chassis, but the frame still held. The Carbon Man wrenched it from the ground, seemingly without effort, and cast it into the sky.

It wasn’t until I stopped that I saw his target through the haze; one of the helicopters fighting against the wind.

I shot for the sky on a collision course with the projectile, with fists blazing and adrenaline crashing like a typhoon. The safety of the pilot and crew wasn’t measured in distance, but seconds, and dragged out in slow motion as I charged. I threw my arms forward, and lasers like knives bisected the car, sending pieces flying in different directions.

The crew were safe until one half grazed the landing skids. The force was enough to pull them into a tailspin. With a savage wind throwing them they were done for.

With only a fraction of a second to act I pressed the underside of the chopper and pushed with all my strength. The force of my power against the craft ached to pop my skull like an overripe melon, but not before I lifted them above the storm.

Sunshine and blue met us where the chopper evened out, and soon returned to ground level. I clung to the skids for dear life. It had taken every ounce of will to pull them free, but for the news team sitting inside it made all the difference.

Down below the dust started to settle, and a more diminutive Carbon Man made for another getaway car. The small victory turned bitter as he ran. Ultimately I had to admit, taking him down was going to be harder than I thought.

* * * *

The helicopter came down atop one of the hundred warehouse roofs south of the river. It was a rough landing, but one you could walk away from.

I clutched my ribs, trying to quench the fire between them. Every gasp was like breathing through concrete which, given what I’d just survived was probably true. Pain, fatigue; these things usually came later, after the battle was done. Pushing through was going to be agony.

No sooner had the engine died than I was assaulted with a camera and a microphone. “Glimmer Girl, that was an amazing rescue! How are you feeling?”

The answer came as a long groan, pained enough that they cut the feed.

“Seriously, are you okay? Do you need a doctor?”

I coughed, and forced a smile. “That’s what I should be asking you.”

The reporter was the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome; in other words, perfect for television. On any other day I would have been the one vying for his attention, fishing for a door into the world of journalism. It’s funny how masks turn things upside down.

It might have been minutes or even less before the police arrived. Armored trucks surrounded the building below as a black chopper descended on the nearest clearing.

He might as well have come with his name in flashing lights.

The door opened, revealing a mountain in a tactical vest, aviator sunglasses, and a moustache so thick you could climb it. “Glimmer Girl,” the captain barked. Even as blades sliced the air his voice carried authority. “You mind telling me what you call that stunt you just pulled?”

I pulled myself upright, and ignored the pain. “The job you deputised me for, sir.” It didn’t mean to sound like sarcasm, but the costume never helped.

If there was a reason for my freedom then it was Captain Ortega. If not for him and the sway of his Super-Crimes Division I might have been a ‘vigilante’, not a ‘deputy.’ It was a privileged position for hero types, but there were limits.

“You stepped into an active operation without consulting a field officer,” he growled.

“The area was clear. I had a shot!”

Ortega furrowed his brow. “The area was not clear,” he said, tilting his head to the camera crew, “and you blew your shot.”

My teeth ground together. “They’re safe, and I’m ready to try again.”

“Give me one good reason why.”

“For the good of this city,” I said. “It’s about protecting people, and yours as well. I’m strong enough to put down Marco, if you’ll just give me the chance… sir.”

Fire twisted in my lungs; he must have seen that. Did he see a girl, old enough to be his daughter, in pain, or did he see more?

“Your funeral,” he said.

Captain Ortega was a gruff man to all, including those who knew him; but he was not unreasonable. Perhaps that was why we tolerated each other, and sometimes more than that. He turned back to the helicopter, and gestured for me to follow.

Time for round two.

* * * *

Rays of judgement blared from his sunglasses, in which my reflection clutched her knees together. I could smell the words on the captain’s tongue; ‘shelve the costume, get on with your life, leave it to the professionals’, but they never came. Two years of silence, however, was still far from approval.

My stomach churned with gravity’s pull. A million things separated aircraft from flying under my own power, none of which sat right. If not for Ortega’s authority I would have been out there among the clouds, and not behind a door.

The pilot's voice crackled over the headset. “Just two clicks from our objective.”

Marco continued down the freeway, seemingly unfazed by the wall of force waiting for him. There was even talk of the National Guard getting involved. More lives at stake, more pressure; my ribs continued to scream in spite of it.

Captain Ortega frowned as he leaned in. “Ready?”

I drew a sharp breath, and dropped my shoulders. This would be my final chance.

The door opened to razor winds and a one mile drop. From so high people weren’t even ants; they weren’t there at all, and the freeway was a pencil scrawl running from the city. A banshee wail was calling, and with only my own strength behind me I stepped into freefall.

My nose turned, and air whipped by my ears at speeds of fifty-three metres a second; terminal velocity. Adrenaline surged as the ground swelled, growing nearer by the second.

While others were barely a speck in my vision, Leon Marco was a blight. Swirling dust painted him like a bullseye on the road, and I was on a collision course.

Cells exploded into light; pain became numb, and human became superhuman. Glimmer Girl was reborn in a cascade of fire, radiating with resolve. This time the Carbon Man wouldn’t have the chance to fight back.

I roared, lancing into his body with precision blasts; knees, elbows, shoulders, anywhere that required movement was a potential soft spot. Moving parts, small as they were, gave way to weakness.

“You again!”

The Carbon Man turned like a drunk swatting flies. His fists collided with the air, moments short of my location, prompting bellows hot with humiliation.

Lasers cut into his shell, but never deep enough to reach the man. As soon as I landed a blow a flesh layer of dirt rolled over the opening, while the rest of my blasts bounced clean off.

“I control some of the hardest stuff on this planet,” he said. “You think you can touch me?”

He threw his arms wide; wider than I could reach, and pulled with incredible might. Gravel and debris climbed my limbs with a vice grip and began to solidify. If the Carbon Man had his way this would be my prison, or my tomb.

Struggling against him was futile; his hold was too firm. There was no running, or flying.

“Give up now and you might live through this,” the villain sneered.

The light dimmed, drowned by debris until it was snuffed out. His hold tightened, so much that I could no longer draw breath. The air was thick with gravel and cut my cheeks. My head was swirling, and strength dwindled, like water spiraling down a drain. Of all the close calls it was the nearest I’d been to death; if I let go I would never wake up again.

Suddenly I was seventeen again, and the universe was coming undone. Piece by piece the void pulled my body apart, but I was still awake, I was still aware; I was alive.

Like a woman possessed I clasped the Carbon Man’s shell, and blazed with everything I had. The transformation passed beyond my flesh and into the dense layers that held me. The fire inside, everything that made me Glimmer Girl, swallowed the villain from head to toe. I had transcended into light, and so had he.

In a flash it was over. I doubled onto the ground, sucking air like it was the first time. My ribs were wrenched with agony, but that was second to feeling nothing at all.

Leon Marco stumbled under the gail force, removed from the carbon shell frozen like a statue behind him. It would be no time at all until he found his feet, and even less before summoning the elements again.

He roared over the gusts. “What did you do, you b-!”

THWACK!

One punch, an uppercut to the jaw, putting him out long enough for Ortega’s men to rein him in. My knuckles swelled with satisfaction, riding the wave until the pain turned cold.

The dust began to settle, and grey faded into blue. Sirens blared from the end of the highway, with four lanes of cars charging for the epicenter. My work had just finished, and theirs was just beginning.

From a circling chopper there was something else; a man with mirrored glasses and a thick moustache radiated over the battlefield. Maybe it was a smile, or maybe just my my imagination.

* * * *

I pulled the curtains closed and lay in the empty dorm. It didn’t take the end of the world to cancel dinner plans; only a broken rib, several gashes, and more bruises than I could count. The paramedics had offered a ventolin inhaler to treat the effects of dust inhalation, and urged me to go to a hospital.

Instead I sprawled across the blankets and allowed the mattress to drink me in. More than the pain I thought about class the next day, and how well I could pass for a girl in better shape. Make-up helped, and long sleeves; the limp would be harder to explain.

By the time I reached my phone there were twenty missed calls, mostly from my Mom, and one from my Dad with a text reading ‘call your mother.’ Maybe they deserved the truth, but they worried enough without supervillains in the mix.

Silence and dark were the only friends I needed, even if sleep was too painful.

I don’t know how late it was when the door came open, and Tanya shuffled inside with a set of containers in her arms. Through the plastic I could see them steaming, and filled with something moist and gold.

She closed the door and smirked. “How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t sleep in your costume. What if I’d brought Trix home?”

“Tell her it’s for Halloween,” I moaned.

“Going for realism, I see.” She set the containers down and sat on the bedside. “You doing okay?”

I grunted in response, best I could manage.

“Well, you’re not dead, so I guess that’s a start.”

She stood up to putter around the room, throwing off her bag and slotting one of the containers in the mini-fridge. The other she placed on the bedside table, and removed the lid. Steam permeated the room. It smelled creamy and rich; mustard chicken with mash, everything my body was missing.

“This is from your Mom, by the way,” Tanya smirked.

I sat gingerly, and reached for the container. “You had dinner with my parents?”

“It was a free meal,” she said. “Besides, she was calling me, trying to work out where you’d gone. She even threatened to come over herself to get you.”

I shoveled the meal into my mouth as fast as I could swallow. Gods, it was good.

“Thanks for taking that bullet,” I said.

She rolled her eyes, grinned, and shrugged. “Thanks for saving the city, I guess.”

In all the chaos there was still one constant; my best friend. Even without powers she was still saving me, even if it was just from being alone.

* * * *

NEXT ISSUE: Enter the world of Simian Simon, and his plans for ape supremacy. What does he have in store for Glimmer Girl? Stay tuned for #2!



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