Sacramento, California; home of Sutter’s Fort - the first colonial community in the Central Valley, the Crocker Art Museum - the oldest establishment of its kind west of the Mississippi, and perhaps most prominently the Anointed Heart Megachurch.
The cascading glass ceiling of the complex became home to three thousand parishioners every Sunday, filling the air with sermons and songs in tribute to the glory of God. Though on days removed from the Sabbath the church fulfilled another role, serving as headquarters for the premiere team of born again crime fighters, The Ministry.
Rays of morning sun shone down on the meeting room, where in the heart sat a round table decorated with the cross. Nine chairs were positioned around it; seven for members, and two for guests. The Ministry halls bragged several visitors over the years, from celebrities, presidents, to other heroes aiding their cause.
At one end of the room a man stood with bare arms crossed, looking over the wide lawn of the church. He was lithe, toned, and wore a skin-tight mauve bodysuit with a pale golden cape hanging to his calves. As always when nobody was looking something heavy weighed on his brow; something he couldn’t name. It was only in the company of others that he ever smiled.
Silver doors opened to his teammate; equal parts man and beast, and carrying himself with greater majesty than both. He plodded toward the centre of the room, and grinned in a distinctly feline way.
“Voice, my brother!”
The other man shook his paw, and fell into a platonic embrace. “Gold Lion. It’s good to see you, brother.” He pulled back and patted his friend’s bicep. “I’m guessing it’s not urgent, or the rest of the team would be here.”
Gold Lion moved toward the extra-large chair at the head of the conference table, and gestured for his friend to sit. “Not ‘urgent’ exactly, but I feel a stirring in the spirit. There’s a young hero in Milestone City. Have you heard of a ‘Glimmer Girl’?”
“Heard of, yes,” he said. “She’s in the middle of some scandal.”
“Which is why I believe it is the time to offer her fellowship,” Gold Lion continued, “and that you’re the ideal person to reach out.”
The Voice bit his lip. Experience dragged on him as though wading through mud. No matter how far he pushed through it, there was always more ahead; and though God had graced him with the strength to press on, it was often only just enough.
Gold Lion laid a paw on his shoulder. “You seem perturbed, brother.”
He shrugged, and laughed it off. “Ministering to this community is difficult in ways I can’t begin to explain. A lot of them are set in their ways.”
“So were you,” Gold Lion beamed, “but through God, all things are possible. Cast your cares upon the Lord, brother, and trust in Him. He has a plan for us, if we are but brave enough to follow.”
The Voice smiled. “Hallelujah.”
* * * *
It was supposed to be my day off. The stars were in perfect alignment; there were no classes, I’d managed eight hours of sleep, and my hair had chosen to behave. By late morning I was in a cafe with friends, sipping on a chai latte, and laughing about internet memes. To have that kind of freedom was a mid-semester miracle.
Then someone turned on the TV.
“-Belford County, just twenty miles out of Milestone City, where a tunnel collapse along the Gary Webb Expressway has trapped, and potentially injured dozens-”
The pictures from the news chopper were just as grim, with a stretch of road running through a mountain buried under rocks and debris. The safety rail following the shoulder had been twisted and thrown so it dangled over the slope, and the rapids at the bottom.
Maybe it was wrong to groan in the face of disaster, but I did. With another day came another crisis; a girl just couldn’t catch a break.
The sun was high as I touched down, and the asphalt sizzled under my boots. Deputies in khaki, wide brim hats, and aviator glasses had taped off the site, laid down cones, and were directing traffic the way it came.
Everything seemed to stop as I inspected the barrier. Drivers and deputies alike stood with their jaws hanging open. It was only natural; it’s not very often a superhero makes their way to the sticks.
I stood with hands on hips. “Who’s in charge here?”
The deputies looked at each other, and snapped back and forth. Finally, the taller of the pair stepped forward; he looked like a gangly kid with acne scars. His voice had barely cracked. “I am, er, ma’am - at least until the Sheriff gets back.”
Poor kid. This was new for him. “Where’s the Sheriff?”
“Back at the station, arranging drills and equipment.” He swallowed. “You’re here to help us, right?”
I grinned, and patted his shoulder. “That’s the idea. Just tell me where you need me, and I can take it from there.”
He paused, and turned back to the other deputy. When all he got was a shrug his expression contorted, unable to decide how to sit. “We were, uh, hoping you could point it out to us, ma’am. I mean to say, you’re the one with experience and all.”
Captain Ortega screamed in the back of my mind. What would he say if he knew I’d been so casually placed in charge of a rescue operation?
“Perhaps I can also be of some assistance!” The words rattled the air, like some kind of divine presence. I couldn’t make him out at first with the sun against his back, but then I only had to recognize his uniform; purple, with a cape light as tissue paper. His holy ring - future tech; not magic, divine or arcane - guided him gently to the ground.
There was that feeling; the one that ate at me through Sunday mass as child, back when that meant something. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe...
The stranger smiled, and threw his fiery hair to the wind. “They call me ‘The Voice.’ I’m here to help.”
* * * *
Two heroes are better than one; at least in theory. We all want to do the right thing, but have different ideas about what that means.
The Voice beckoned me into the sky to “get a lay of the land.” He was all smiles and gallantry, eager to make friends, like the handsome yet non-threatening boy next door, give maybe ten years. Clean shaven, smooth skin, and shapely eyebrows made him out like the star of some high school TV drama.
“Sorry if I startled you,” he said. “I was just in the neighborhood, and thought I could lend a hand.”
My eyes remained glued to the scenery, and scoured the area, just in case I missed something the first time. “How do you want to do this?” I asked, but didn’t.
The Voice eased back and looked over the hillside. “I picked up a hollow passage under the tunnel,” he said. “Probably a storm drain. We can use it to access from underneath, and if the tunnel is too unstable lead people back out.”
I forced a smile, but was sure not to meet his gaze. “Sounds like a good plan.”
He stopped, and leaned into my line of sight. “Are you alright, Glimmer Girl? You seem distracted.”
Gods, if only he knew the half of it. My fingers raked along my scalp as I inhaled and shook back to reason. I was being an ass, and I knew it. “Yeah, fine,” I lied. “It’s just been a rough couple of weeks.”
“I know how that goes,” he said, and meant it. “Listen, this might sound strange, but before we go on it would mean a lot to me if we prayed together.” The Voice offered his hands, palms up, and beamed. “Please.”
He might have asked to rob a bank with him, and I would have given the same expression. It was only out of some strange obligation that I took his hands, and let him do his business.
The Voice closed his eyes, and prayed in earnest. “Dear Lord, we ask that you guide us through this day. We ask that you keep those people in that tunnel safe, Lord, until we can free them in your name. Your will be done, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“Amen,” I said, but not really. Who the hell was this guy?
* * * *
Near the base of the mountain, and just above the raging waters, we set upon the mouth of a concrete pipe. It yawned wide enough to swallow something twice our collective size, and warned us away with steel bars fixed like teeth across the entrance.
It only took a few minutes for sustained laser blasts to cut through. “Remind me why they bother with these again,” I said.
“To keep idiots like us from accidentally killing themselves,” The Voice said.
The river below hissed with elemental fury. To think how much worse it could be with storms feeding it from above, and excess water spewing from the pipes. I was suddenly glad for the cloudless sky.
We were welcomed by darkness that stretched for miles. “I’ve got this,” I said, and ventured inside. All it took was a little extra concentration, and my holographic luminescence shone like flashlights from every pore.
The Voice smirked, and took the lead. “Impressive!”
“Thanks,” I said. “Now, where we do we go from here?”
He drew breath deep into his diaphragm, and lifted his head high. Then, The Voice hummed in a tone that crawled under my skin, and opened his mouth for it to roll down the tunnel. The resonance seemed to run forever, and danced between my bones.
“We go straight for two hundred yards, then we take a right. There should be a ladder going up from that point.”
I shook the freaky vibes, and upped my glow. “Was that echolocation?” I asked, though it was like none I’d encountered before.
“Similar, but not quite,” he said. “I’ve been working on it.”
Though we flew through the tunnel we made sure to pace ourselves. I was our light, he was our guide, and there were a million ways to get lost underground. The air grew thicker the further we delved, as though pressed by the building mass over our heads.
All was quiet, save for the fading echo of the rapids, until The Voice decided to speak. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
I was set to answer ‘hipster briefs’, but thought better. “Sure,” I said.
“The things they say about you; are they true?”
I stopped, and looked him over. The Voice reeled like a suspect under a heat lamp, which up close I definitely was. Surely this wasn’t what passed for subtle in his world.
“You’re not a chaser, are you?” I asked.
“A chaser,” I said. “As in a guy who chases after trans girls; or at least the ones who have a-”
“Okay, and no,” he said, and turned a bright shade of pink. “I promise it’s not like that. I’m… straight.”
“You can still love a trans girl and be straight,” I told him.
The Voice forced a chuckle, and collected himself. “No. No, I promise it’s not like that. I only ask because I’ve seen your name being raked through the mud, and…” He pursed his lips, and frowned. “I know what it’s like to live under that kind of scrutiny.”
I floated to the ground, and he followed. My luminescence dimmed slightly; enough so that I could lock his gaze. “I’ve seen your uniform,” I said. “You’re a member of the Ministry, aren’t you?”
“Last time I checked, the church wasn’t particularly fond of girls like me.”
“Not all Christians are like that,” he said. “Gold Lion, the Ministry, we don’t hate anybody. Our Lord says in the book of Matthew: ‘love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.’ We live by those words more than any others.”
I hardened my stance. “Why are you really here?”
The Voice sighed. “It doesn’t take a genius to see that you’re at a crossroads,” he said. “It would have been unchristian of me not to reach out.” His words were gentle, but something about them made me shiver.
“You want to help me,” I said.
I drew a sharp breath. “Does this help somehow involve my living as a man?”
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said.
“But do you think that’s what God wants?”
His silence was damning. We both wanted to do the right thing, but had different ideas about what that meant. No matter The Voice’s reasons, his path could never be mine. Whether I could respect that was another story.
I flew from the ground and lit up the cavern. “Come on. There are people waiting for us.”
* * * *
Maybe I should have been more thankful. With The Voice at my side hours of searching were boiled down to minutes. Soon we found an access passage, then a ladder, and soon a maintenance door opening into the tunnel.
Motes of dust fell over the amber lights along the ceiling. The air had become thick and musty, bottled between the half mile from one end of the tunnel to the next. A handful of cars had gathered to one end, while the drivers and passengers huddled in wait of rescue.
The kids were the first to notice. “Mom! Mom! Look!”
We came down at the rear of the cavalcade, and were immediately besieged by their desperation. “Don’t worry. We’re here to help,” I tried to explain, but no sooner had I set down than an older man grabbed my arms and pulled me toward the dirt.
“There’s somebody trapped in there!”
Both he and the others were in a panic; not for themselves, but for another car caught during the collapse. They all but screamed out over each other with pieces of detail, and pushed us toward the rock laden slope. Bare hands could only dig so far, and boulders had no consideration for who they sat on.
The Voice nudged me to one side with a decisive smile. “I’ve got this,” he said, and inhaled until his lungs could hold no more. Before I could protest he opened his mouth, and shrieked at the wall in a pitch that shook the air. So great was the intensity that rock split apart in its wake, and collapsed into pieces of rubble.
I grabbed him when he stopped for breath, and whispered not to be heard. “What are you doing? You could have brought this whole place down!”
He shook his head. “Look at the damage. This collapse sealed the tunnel, but came from topside. The structural foundation is sound.”
His words made sense, but I didn’t have to like them. “Still, some warning next time would-”
I stopped. From under the debris there was crying; not gentle sobs, but the furious wail of a baby, buried, and probably struggling for air. More pressing was the silence; there was no parent to soothe them.
Instinct threw me to the dirt, where I shoveled tiny rocks with my hands. The Voice did the same, equally desperate, and helped carve the way through the rubble he created. For minutes we scooped with bystanders joining in, until finally we struck something solid; metal, painted ruby red and covered in scratches.
“Stand back.” A laser beam, focused through the tip of my finger, sliced through the trunk like a surgeon’s knife. As it came free the screaming exploded into the tunnel, and after kicking through the back seat I crawled inside.
The car was in ruin, with the roof collapsed and the windows shattered. There was hardly room enough to move. In the back, strapped in their booster seat, the child continued to wail. Save for the layer of dirt covering them they appeared unharmed.
Meanwhile the driver, a young woman in a black and white striped shirt, had been knocked back, and had blood congealing on her forehead. I held my breath as I checked her pulse, and jumped when she groaned.
“There’s someone alive down here,” I called back. “She’s hurt!”
After squeezing beneath the seats I took her hand. Even the slightest movement caused her to wince, though she was unaware as my ungloved hand loomed over her mouth to gauge her breathing; it was slow, but shallow. The roof was half collapsed, and no doubt struck her as it came down.
I crawled out with the baby seat and its passenger to a captive audience. The Voice tightened his jaw and pulled close, while a woman swept in to take the child. “The kid’s okay, her Mom’s not,” I said.
“Concussion, bleeding, worse,” I said. “She’s not fully conscious, but is in a lot of pain. I don’t think it’s safe to move her by ourselves.”
“And it could be hours before a rescue team breaks through,” he said. The Voice scaled a knee-high rock, considered the rubble, and pressed against it. “Ordinarily I’d suggest moving everyone out through the tunnels one by one, but this is an emergency.”
“What are you saying?”
He jumped back down, and waved the people back. “I want you all to move as far toward the other end of the tunnel as you can. What we’re about to do is going to need a lot of space.”
I blinked. “Are you suggesting we force our way through?”
The Voice frowned. “Unless you’d like this poor woman to wait,” he said. “I may believe in miracles, though try not to rely on them.”
As much as I hated to admit the fact, he was right. We planted our feet, as I recalled some other words; ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ No matter my beliefs, divine intervention was always welcome.
Sonic force and laser blasts came together to chip away at the collapsed wall, grinding up toward the sky. Tremendous heat and numbing vibration tested the limits of our endurance, even as the rocks started to give way. It must have been minutes, but seemed an eternity until finally we burst through the other side.
Without stopping to collect myself, I jumped for the exit and flew into the open, where the afternoon sun was beginning to wane. There, stood in shock, where the same two deputies, failing to register what to do.
“Call an ambulance!” I screamed. Time was running out.
* * * *
The woman’s name was Debbie. She was a hairdresser on maternity leave. “You got her to us just in time,” the paramedics said; the concussion was the least of her problems. Some may have even been permanent, but at least she’d outlive them.
Once the chaos had died down, the road was cordoned off, and the band of liberated commuters set for home I turned to the sky. Maybe, if I was lucky, Tanya and Trix would be up for a movie. If all else failed there was my parent’s house, assuming they had no plans, which they rarely did.
“Believe it or not, it was great to work with you,” The Voice said.
He sauntered along the side of the road with his hands on his hips, and turned to the sun setting over the hillside. It would have made for a great poster; the kind you see on the wall of convention centres where millionaires talked about the miracle of life. The way he stood appeared rehearsed; artificial, like it was all for show, or maybe it was those teeth that were just a little too perfect.
“Yeah, you too,” I said, but wasn’t sure I meant it.
The Voice leaned against the railing, or at least the portion not twisted over the edge. “Before you go, there’s something I’d like to talk with you about.”
And so it began.
“You’re not going to ask me to pray with you again, are you?”
He smiled easily. “No, not if you don’t want to.” He beckoned me to the ground, and I went; close enough so that he didn’t have to call out. “I meant what I said about wanting to help you. What you’re going through right now is hell. It’s not hard for a person to lose themselves in that.”
“Yeah,” I said, and looked away.
The Voice continued. “I’ve been a crime fighter since I was your age, and from the very first moment I put on the tights I was fulfilled. Fighting the good fight was exhilarating, and it still is. However, it also took me to a lot of dark places that on the surface seemed right, even though I knew deep down that it wasn’t.”
My fists clenched, though I held them under folded arms. “What sort of things?”
He took a deep breath. “I lost myself… in the arms of a man.” He laughed, “actually, many men. Not all of them were good, but I wanted to believe they were. So I stood up for them, for us, thinking that I was a part of something greater. I told myself over and over I was doing the right thing, but the moments when I was alone, when I had no choice but to be honest with myself, I only ever saw people hurt.”
“And then you found God,” I said, flatly.
The Voice nodded. “I found salvation through Jesus Christ, yes. I was born again in the blood of the lamb, and was utterly transformed.”
“And he told you to be straight.”
“‘Straight’ was simply what I’d become,” he said. “I don’t make it my business to tell people who or what they should be, but I do believe God intended for us to be a certain way. It makes sense if you think about it.”
“I have thought about it, and it doesn’t make sense. Not to me.”
He was quiet for a moment; we both were. If he wanted me to feel bad it was working, though probably not for the reasons he was hoping. When he stepped closer I backed away, and scoffed.
“You don’t know the first thing about me,” I said.
“I know more than you might think.”
“No, you really don’t,” I hissed. “Like you I found salvation; except instead of a church I found it in a costume. When I became Glimmer Girl it was the first time I lived without hate pouring from every direction. People even kind of liked me! But that doesn’t matter. All I wanted, and all I still want is to be myself without complication. But there’s no going back to that, and now I get to be ‘a girl with a history’ if strangers acknowledge my girlhood at all.”
The Voice nodded. “That must be very difficult.”
“It is, and it will continue to be ‘difficult’ until the world wakes up and realizes that as trans people, we are exactly who we say we are; but who knows when that will be?”
I kicked the dirt and growled. Gods, it would have felt so good to punch him. Instead, I sighed.
“Listen, your heart’s in the right place,” I said, “but nothing’s going to change. You’re only here because what I am caught everyone’s attention. You only care now because you see a problem to fix, where I don’t see a problem at all.”
“Please, Glimmer Girl, you’re oversimplifying-”
Whatever. I was done. One burst later and I was in the sky, moving faster than his flight ring could travel.
* * * *
Milestone City was beautiful at night, especially from the rooftops. Above the sea of humanity were countless works of art stretching toward the sky, with bodies lit sparsely on multiple levels, or at the very least reflecting others. Cars and chaos and clutter and chatter rang out as a song without melody, celebrating the lives of all that passed through it.
More than that it was Glimmer Girl’s home; I was as much a part of it as it was a part of me. In two years I’d gone from nerdy victim to proud heroine, and it couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Then the wave started to fall. People learned a truth they didn’t want, and somehow I was lesser for it.
Across the street was a rotating billboard. On it, between a touring ballet company and the debut of a chicken sandwich were the puffed, furious cheeks of Race O’Halloran. Sadly, he was as much a part of this city as I was.
I checked my cell for updates, though for why even I didn’t know. Sure enough, Race was on another rant. I clicked the link open in a new window.
“We see now that there are boys who think they’re girls, just like this ‘Glimmer Girl’ that’s flying around. How’s that any different to those people on the internet who act like animals? They have sex with children’s plush toys. This is real! Look it up! They’re called ‘Fuzzies’-”
Gods, it was like a train wreck.
My gloves crunched between my fingers. They were like brand new, and in a way they were; same costume, but new photons every time I changed. It always held a female shape. Wasn’t that miracle enough?
The words echoed in my thoughts - ‘Glimmer Girl was my salvation’ - and Tanya’s; ‘you’re lost because Glimmer Girl doesn’t feel free anymore.’ Saving the world was just an excuse, and suddenly it was gone.
Light particles flaked from my skin and burned out in the breeze. No more mask, no more tights; alone against the city lights was an ordinary girl, or at least as ordinary as Kaira Cade could be. The hero faded until I was all that remained.
One last flight took me back to the dorm room, and then I was grounded for good.
* * * *
NEXT ISSUE: Take a trip back in time, and learn the secrets origins of our heroine in “All That Glimmers”...
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