JUSTICE LEAGUE

59

Switched
 

"This is fantastically fabulous. Fortuitously felicitous." Eric (Hamlet) laughed. "You know what hell on earth is?"

"What?"

"Having a large vocabulary, an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater, and a cat's vocal cords."

Drew (Raven) blinked. "Uh, okay."

She pressed her hand down on the kitchen counter, trying to push it through.

"Huh. That takes getting used to."

Hamlet (Iso) yowled at her. She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Iso, we know you're upset about being a cat."

He yowled again.

"Where is everybody, anyway?" She peered into the party room. It was hardly empty-the Hall was never empty-but there were definitely people missing.

"Many of them-maaaany offf theeeem-are trying out their powers." Eric (Hamlet) said.

Drew (Raven) sighed. "Well, it looks like we're the only ones who haven't sworn off the party food. We have the kitchen to ourselves. And in the fridge we have..."

"Bupkis. Bupkisbupkisbupkis."

"Well, yeah. Wait, what's...what was this?"

Hamlet (Iso) sniffed it and gagged.

"I think it used to be pizza." Eric (Hamlet) commented. "Now..."

"Yecch." She tossed it into the garbage.

***

The sky was a dark, dusty blue by the time Violet arrived in Albany. She took a cab to the hospital and now, here she was.

The inside of the waiting room was painted pale cream. Blue chairs lined the walls, which were decorated with photos of various types of flowers spaced evenly on the surface. A bored-looking nurse sat behind a tall desk. Taking a deep breath, Violet approached the young woman.

“Hi.”

The woman looked up from her paperwork. She smiled briefly and folded her hands in front of her. “Can I help you?”

“I’m here to see my sister. Emory Ryan. She looks like me.”

“Right. Can I see some identification Miss Ryan?”

“Actually, it’s Graham. Victoria Graham,” Violet corrected the nurse and placed her identification on the counter. Balancing her backpack on one knee, she pulled out a blank folder and set it next to the ID. “I wasn’t sure what to bring, but I thought I should bring something. That’s a copy of our birth certificate and some other paperwork.”

Violet hoped that this was a different woman than the one she had spoken to on the phone. Happily, her hopes were met. The nurse took the folder and the ID and began typing at the computer. “All right, Miss Graham, you’ll need to sign a screening protocol, and I’ll ha-” The nurse stopped.

“Is something wrong?” Violet asked.

“I’m very sorry, Miss Graham, but your sister is deceased.”

“What?”

“I’m afraid she passed away a few months ago. Her affairs were taken care of by a family friend when the hospital was unable to reach you.”

“Oh.”

“Would you-Miss Graham? Miss Graham?” But the young woman was gone.

Several feet away, Violet sat down beside a fake potted plant and buried her head in her hands. Part of her screamed that it wasn’t her fault. Violet couldn’t have done anything. She couldn’t have done anything. And Violet wished that part of her would just go away. She wanted to cry. She wanted to throw things. She wanted to know why this happened to her. She wanted to be back in the nothingness, before whatever it was that brought her back meddled and made her alive. Victoria died. Emory died. Nothing was right.

And she cried.

Several passersby looked over when they heard the weeping, but all they saw was the potted plant.

Twenty minutes later, the plastic plant stopped crying, and Violet left the hospital. She called a cab and told the driver to take her out of the city and to a small town located just a bit to the south. The driver, a middle-aged man, didn’t ask any questions, even when his eyes widened at the sight of her bright, purple hair.

In forty five minutes, Violet stood in the driveway of a high ranch with brown siding and red shutters. An unfamiliar car was parked in the driveway. The house was dark.

Violet never broke into a house before, but she decided that in the scheme of things, this was hardly as bad as the things she did in the past. So, closing her eyes for just a moment, the heroine walked to the back of the house where the door to the laundry room used to be. She tried the handle: locked.

Grandmother used to hide a spear key under the welcome rug, Violet mused. She lifted it; there was nothing there except a couple of beetles and a slug. I don’t even know who lives here. I bet they auctioned it off when the League released my name. I should just go back.

Violet sighed and imagined the key to the basement door in her hand. She used to keep it on a key-chain with a little, plastic butterfly. Maybe if she willed it, it would appear. Violet laughed aloud. If only!

And then she looked at her hand. “Holy Sh*t!”

Violet shouted just a little louder than she intended.

***

"Whoo! I can predict the future! Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it- Okay okay!! Pick a number between one and ten!! Okay??" Practically hopping up and down, Claire (Xiao) had spent the afternoon capturing people and trying out her newly acquired superpower.

"Ummm..." X-Raytor (Scarlett) was a little disturbed by Claire's (Xiao) intensity.

Claire (Xiao) paused a moment, and a look of concentration (or possibly constipation) crossed her face. "OKAY!! THREE POINT TWO ZERO FOUR SIX EIGHT!!"

"......Yes." X-Raytor (Scarlett) sighed, having already played the Pick-A-Number Game for the last fifteen minutes. "Can I go now?"

"Wait! Wait! One more time! Okay! I predict that a....hey! Hey!! What are you doing to me???!!" Claire/Xiao shouted. She had just "Seen" herself (or, rather, her body) hit by a rogue flying trashcan. X-Raytor winced, and held his head.

"Do you have to yell in my ear??!!" Lasers just narrowly missed Claire, who jumped nearly a foot.

"Gah! Watch where you... shine those things!!"

"Sorry!!" X-Raytor apologized, grabbing Claire and steadying her. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Now you just owe me...three more games!! Yes!"

I have a better idea, Slave, Fred interrupted her. How about we put these new powers of yours to some actual use and see how I can assure my rise to Supreme Emperor of the Universe?!

Claire/Xiao paused, and tried to keep the disappointment out of her mental voice. Ummm....You're here too?

Of course I am! Now disengage yourself from this superfluous activity, and help me plot something devious with this...clairvoyance of yours!!

Sighing, Claire returned back to reality. "On second thought, X-y...Scarlett....whatever.....I just Saw (with a capital S!)something I have to do. So...umm... yeah. I'll be back..." She turned to head off to her room. "But don't think this gets you out of playing Pick A Number!!! I will get you!!!"


So, um, isn’t this supposed to be an imprecise science, Fred? I mean, how are we supposed to know what I...we.. See is going to be the only future? Xiao asked, as they made their way past several sprawling superheroes, who were struggling with their newfound abilities (and the absence of their old ones).

It doesn’t matter! Fred said, sounding eager to get on with the experiment. Shut the door…

Claire rolled her eyes as she complied. As if she was going to try to look into the future for her demon master where just anyone could walk in! Like, sure!! ...Then she sat carefully on her bed.

Okay. I’m still not sure exactly how this works, do we need like, something to look into? A crystal ball? Ice? A mirror?

Let me handle this! Impatiently Fred grabbed for control, which Ari gave. After all, he was the one with centuries of knowledge about this sort of stuff. Plus, didn’t his future involve her, too? So it was okay… Let’s see… He lapsed into a long silence, and Ari kept quiet too, not wanting to disrupt him if he was already Seeing.

Fred stared hard at the mirror across from the bed, eyes narrowed. Only once before had he managed to possess the body of one with the gift of clairvoyance, but he knew it worked differently for each person- some did need a clear, reflective surface. Others, simply by concentrating, were able to engage the extra sense. This girl’s body had an instinctive knowledge how to activate her gift, but it was more of a “Leave a message!” thing than a “Push here to see!” gift. But as his eyes slowly unfocused, he realized he could See something. It started quite suddenly, filling his vision. From Ari’s increased volume of silence, he figured she was Seeing too.

In fact, Ari was Seeing. What she Saw didn’t make much sense though: it was a wide, open plain- dirt and scrub as far as she could see (See?). Except for a girl, who, not to her surprise, turned out to be herself when she was able to look closer(in her regular body even, which was a good sign!). She seemed to be smiling and laughing, which was also a good sign, by general standards. Cool! My future may be in a barren wasteland, but at least I’m psyched about it!!

Fred jerked at her outburst. His concentration was broken, and the vision he was immersed in slid away. He held back his anger at his slave, sensing that it was better for the girl not to know what he had Seen. From the sound of her, they hadn’t shared the same Sight, since she was so excited about it, but instead they Saw two different things- possibly from the same timeline, possibly different outcomes that would occur from a certain event. There was no way to be really certain. But if his had been any indication, the only one who was going to be psyched about the future he had just Seen would be himself....

Which was definitely a good sign,
he thought.

***

Claire was having an out-of-body experience.

Out of her body, at least. She’d never paid all that much attention to Jo Surf before; he was just one of the background characters wandering around the Hall. Now that she was him, however, she noticed how much smaller everything was. The mirror in the hallway, for example, reflected her whole face instead of just the top half. It was startling to look in the mirror and see someone else.

There was this whole weather thing, too. She could smell it. Not really smelling, but that was the closest word. The whole superpowered thing freaked her out. Was she going to have to fight crime now? She should’ve just got a boring internship at Merrill Lynch like everyone else in her class, but no, she had to be different.

Claire walked down the hall and tried not to think about the process. The moment she remembered she was larger than she should, she tripped over the empty floor. She walked into Scarlett’s room, crashing into the doorframe.

“Are you okay?” X-Raytor-no, Scarlett-asked. There was a look of concern on his face, and even though Claire knew it was Scarlett in X-Raytor’s body, her heart gave a little flutter.

Claire rubbed her shoulder. “This body’s too big. By the way, peeing standing up? Totally overrated.” Claire cleared her throat but that did nothing to raise the pitch.

“Tell me about it,” Scarlett said. She’d found some sunglasses to replace X-Raytor’s mask and some normal clothes to fit his body.

“How come you’re not wearing the costume?”

“Hat hair,” came the immediate reply. She ran a hand through X-Raytor’s short brown hair. “Besides, I don’t think X-y washes that costume as much as he should.”

“That’s what Miss Jasper’s here for. If he wants something washed he needs to drop it down a laundry shoot.”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

“For real,” Claire said. “Hey, do you know if anyone got turned into me?”

Scarlett shrugged. “Xiao, I think. She kept playing this weird guessing game with me. I’d think of a number and she’d know it. And I thought of some weird numbers.”

Claire hoped the panic didn’t show on her face. “Xiao’s always weird, dude.”

“Did you just call me dude?”

“No!”

“Anyway, I’m going to see if Oreo’s found a way to change us back.”

“Bodacious.”

***

In the kitchen, Oreo tried to reach the top shelf. One of the many disadvantages to transforming into Scarlett was now she was too short to reach anything on the top shelf, and that’s where she kept all her important stuff.

Another was that the girl didn’t own any pants. Oreo had to roll up the cuffs on her own pants so she wouldn’t trip over them. She reached for the shelf again, stretching as far as she could. Still too short.

“What did you do to my hair?” X-Raytor squealed just like a little girl.

It took her a few seconds to remember Scarlett had been turned into X-Raytor, and in those few seconds Scarlett slammed her against the cupboard, holding her in place with a hand around her throat.

“What are you doing?” Oreo choked out.

“I don’t know!”

“So could you let me go?”

“Right.” Scarlett stepped away from Oreo and spent a few embarrassed seconds brushing her off.

“Do you want some coffee?” Oreo asked.

“I’d love some.”

Oreo took two cups from the cupboard (fortunately the mugs were on the bottom shelf) and poured out the coffee. It was strange, but ever since she’d changed into Scarlett, she’d an unreasonable craving for coffee.

“Here.” Oreo handed a cup to Scarlett and took a long sip of her own. It should be disgusting, black and bitter as it was, but she felt calmer drinking it.

“So what did you do to my hair?” Scarlett asked again, her voice considerably deeper than before.

Oreo touched the short ponytail. “I cut it. I can’t work with all that hair weighing down my head.” She took another sip of coffee, trying not to think of how X-Raytor now towered over her. “Let’s sit at the table.”

Oreo walked carefully to the table, cradling the mug near her body. All her care was for nothing when she stumbled over an uneven tile and fell. The mug skittered across the floor, coffee marking its path across the floor.

“Are you okay?” Scarlett tried to help Oreo up.

“How can you stand it? All this gravity always pulling down on you all the time!” She sat down, Scarlett next to her. “Ugh, it never stops! It’s like-like-are you looking through my clothes?”

Scarlett’s head snapped up. “Maybe!”

“It’s your own body! You can see it naked whenever you want!”

“I can’t help it! I look at something and then I look through it. Besides, I’m totally hot.”

Oreo leaned close and looked Scarlett right in the sunglasses. “Have you ever noticed that X-Raytor never never looks through my clothes? You’d be wise to follow that example.” Oreo cleared her throat. “But hopefully you’ll change back to your normal self before it becomes an issue. A day or so, maybe. A month, tops.”

“A month?”

“I hope not. You’ll be too used to your transformation that it’ll be hard to change back to your real body. You have to understand, I can’t just give everyone an Oreo to change back because we all ate straight Oreo crème. The only one who’s done that before is Midnight Chatter, and he turned into a giant canary for a couple seconds before changing back. But that was with matured crème, and we all ate the raw stuff. It makes an unstable transformation. As long as no one eats any more Oreos, the effects should wear off on their own. I think. It could be an hour or it could be a year. I’m trying some stuff out to speed up the process, but it’s not going very well.”

“So, what are you saying?” Scarlett asked.

“We have to wait it out,” Oreo said. “However long it takes.”

***

The first thing Drew noticed about RWM was not that he was a guy. It wasn’t that the familiar weight of her cornrows was gone. It wasn’t even that she was several inches taller and super strong. No, the first thing Drew noticed was that she could no longer divide large numbers without the aid of a calculator.

And that sucked. Like, really sucked.

After about five minutes of picking up heavy objects and setting them back down, Drew was bored with RWM's body. She missed her own. Drew went back into the Justice Hall where only a few of the League members remained.

Full of envy, Drew saw herself (or rather, Raven) escape to the lab, muttering something about Princess Maker 2. Drew followed her. She paused at the doorway.

“What are you doing?” RWM (Drew) asked. The much deeper voice shocked Drew, and she gasped. Raven looked up.

“Reassembling Iso’s laptop.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Actually, I can. I even know what this little plastic wiry thing is called!”

“Leave the…the…the plastic thing alone. The plastic thing needs to stay out so the other computer can finish…looking over it.”

“Relax. I’ll put everything back the way it was when I’m done.”

Drew wondered if that is what condescension felt like from the other side, but only for a moment. She suddenly had the strongest urge to listen to news radio.

Shutting the laboratory door behind her, Drew went to look for Netic. The door slammed harder than Drew intended, and she winced. She heard Raven shout something after her.

***

Jo Surf kicked the sand as he stood at the shoreline of the City, looking out into the Atlantic. "This bites," he said to Hamlet, who was picking up seashells to decorate the sand castle he'd sculpted a few yards back. "This body's all wrong."

Hamlet raised his eyebrows, then grinned. He had eyebrows! "You're just upset your super surfing skillz rely on your powers."

"They do not! This surfboard's just too big. Swift doesn't have enough muscles."

"Then get another surfboard, dude." Hamlet walked back to his sand castle and began carefully arranging the seashells, using his thumbs (his opposable thumbs!) to press them in better. The spiked collar he'd found under X-y's bed gleamed in the sunlight.

Jo looked at Hamlet aghast. "I can't do that to Barbara Ann!"

"Jo...look, I think I know what we need to do about this."

"Get drunk, find some hookers, and stumble back to the JL, creating a publicity scandal that will make Boyd Billeh give up all hope he could ever change the Justice League's image?"

"No...well, yes, but let's save that for later." Hamlet stood up from his sand castle, now an almost exact replica of Neuschwanstein, save the use of seashells in place of windows. "Come on, I have an idea."

******

Scarlett, meanwhile, was enjoying her new powers. And trying to enjoy the lack of her old powers.

"This would be easier," she muttered, "if I didn't have the urge to sing Vertigo every five seconds."

And then a salesclerk walked up to her. "Are you finding everything okay?" the girl asked Scarlett, blushing. Good God, another fangirl? But Scarlett had figured out how to handle it by now.

"I'm just fine," Scarlett mumbled, then stared pointedly at the male salesclerk. "Yep. Definitely fine."

The girl turned away, mouth gaping, and Scarlett overheard as she spoke to the other salesgirl. "OhmyGod, did he just check out Alan?"

Scarlett smiled to herself, and went to the men's dressing room to find more clothes to add to X-Raytor's wardrobe. He might not mind the sub outfit, but the spandex itched too much for Scarlett.

Besides, X-y looked so much better after falling into the Gap.

***

"An amusement park?" Jo asked as he and Hamlet walked in. "Cotton candy and roller coasters? This is what I need?"

"Well...actually, I've just always been too short for the roller coaster."

Jo sighed.

"I've never had people move aside for me like this," Hamlet commented. "When I was a cat, I was lucky not to get stepped on."

"Hamlet, you're in the body of a man who's walking around in the buff, save for a pair of socks and a spiked collar." Jo left it at that, not making the obvious connection, not because he couldn't, but because he was out of breath from toting Barbara Ann around the amusement park.

"And you're in the body of a girl who has super speed powers. Why don't you make use of them instead of whining about not being able to surf?"

"If I could concentrate on something other than Swift's complete lack of muscles--"

"Jo. Just leave Barbara Ann for once in your life."

"No."

"Fine. I'm going to go ride the Scrambler, and you can stand there eating cotton candy."

***

Claire walked through the Hall of Justice, sobbing.

“Jo Surf!” she yelled. “Dude, where are you?”

A little rain cloud hovered about a foot above her head, helpfully soaking her.

She paused in the deserted rec room by the new addition on the wall. It was a poster with “BODY SWITCH” written across the top, with two columns below, one titled “Person” and the other “Changed Into.” The handwriting was unfamiliar, but Claire thought it was Rosma who made the poster, if only because her name was at the top. Claire ran her finger down the list (leaving a damp trail in its wake) until she came to Jo Surf changed into Swift. Great. The guy she wanted to find was a chameleon who could move faster than light. If he was testing out his powers she might never find him. And then she’d be stuck with that dratted rain cloud forever.

“Joooooooo!” she wailed. She ran out of the rec room and straight into Isomorphix (who was really Midnight Chatter), almost knocking him over.

“Isomorphix! Have you seen Swift around?”

Isomorphix paused, his face taking on a thoughtful, or perhaps constipated, expression. “Body or soul?” His mouth stayed open after his brief sentence, but when nothing further came out, he closed it.

“What are you talking about?” The rain from her personal cloud increased, little bolts of lightening joining them. Isomorphix stepped backwards out of the splash zone. “I need to find Jo Surf!”

“And Jo is in Swift’s body.” Another one of his thoughtful pauses. “I saw him by the pool.”

Claire sprinted to the pool without a backward glance, leaving a silent rain-spattered Isomorphix behind her. Her rain cloud trailed a couple feet behind her.

Jo Surf sat on the ground by the pool, just as Isomorphix said. His yellow surfboard was awkwardly balanced on his lap. He tried to polish is, but then it slipped and he had to toss aside the rag and lunge for the board before it hit the tile. The surfboard, which normally looked like a natural extension of his body, looked oversized and ridiculous with Swift.

“Jo Surf!” Claire yelled. “I’ve looked everywhere for you!” The rain cloud caught up with her and resumed its downpour. “How do I turn this off?”

Jo Surf looked up from his board. “What?”

“The rain cloud! Above my head! It’s been there forever and I’ve tried everything and it still won’t stop! I asked it politely and I hit it with a broom and it just won’t go away!”

“Sit down,” he said, motioning to the ground next to him. When Claire was seated, he said, “Dude, you need to chill.”

“Chill?” Claire repeated. “There’s a cloud above my head like a scene from a bad cartoon and you want me to chill?”

“Okay, dude, try this.” The polishing of his surfboard slowed. “You’re in Australia just off the Reef and there’s just the sun and the water and you, and you know a truly righteous wave’s heading your way.”

“Are you talking about surfing? ‘Cause I’ve never done that before in my life.”

Jo Surf’s rag momentarily went still. “We need to get you on a board as soon as possible.”

“We need to get rid of this rain cloud first,” Claire said.

Jo Surf fell silent in thought, the singing of the birds, the pitter patter of little raindrops, and the occasional explosion from the Hall the only sounds. “I think you need to meet Barbara Ann,” he said finally.

“Who’s she?”

He stroked the surfboard on his lap. “Barbara Ann. She’s still a little sticky from the cotton candy, but I think you’ll like each other. Here, take her. Be gentle.”

Claire solemnly took the surfboard from Jo Surf, clamping her teeth against the laughter building up inside. It was just a surfboard. He blinked rapidly, the board shaking in his hands.

The moment Claire touched Barbara Ann, the rain stopped, and the tiny dark cloud shredded in a gust of wind.

“You-you can hang on to her if you want,” Jo said, face pale. “At least until we get our bodies back.”

“Thanks,” Claire said. “But I think she’s better with you.”

Jo smiled, the color returning to his cheeks. “Okay.”

“She’s a beautiful board,” Claire said, handing it back.

“Barbara Ann’s my girl,” said Jo.

***

Xiao felt a little tired. Apparently forcing a vision wasn’t the best idea. Or maybe Claire just had low stamina. Or maybe she was still recovering over losing her own body and being thrust into another. Either way, it was so weird, being in someone else’s body, seeing a different reflection in the mirror, hearing a different voice… Not to mention confusing, dealing with multiple personalities as it was. Of course, it could’ve been worse. Like if Fred had been left behind with her body for Netic to deal with. The thought almost made her wince.

But she also didn’t want to miss out if anything entertaining might occur, so she had parked herself in the living room. MC/Iso was hovering by one wall, apparently studying the art of posing, as he tried various positions that cast dramatic lighting upon his face and caused him to look even more mysterious… or maybe he was just in shock, since he didn't have anything to say anymore, and was making up for years of incessant noise.

Scarlett came into the room, carrying a box of cheerios, and sat on the sofa next to Claire/Xiao, and turned on the TV. “Anything good on?” She asked.

“Not that I know of,” Xiao answered. It was weird, because Oreo was Scarlett and Claire was Oreo's sister so Xiao was Oreo's sister because Xiao was Claire, or something, all the transitives were making her head hurt, but she was pretty sure they had managed to up the ante on the weirdness level yet again.

“Let’s see if we’re being blamed for anything today,” Oreo decided, landing on the news. They listened in silence for a moment while the narrator of the day gave an update on some break-in in a residential area. She sat up though, when the view suddenly switched to the museum.

“Oh boy,” Xiao muttered under her breath. Fred…this might interest you, she warned, drawing him out of his plotting session, or whatever.

“A valuable ancient artifact was discovered missing at the Shuster Museum of World History. The current head of the museum, Dr. Daniel Shuster, gave this report.”

Cut to middle-aged, nerdy-looking science authority. He ran a hand through his stereotypically messy brown hair. “We have tightened museum security as a result to this heinous act, but will remain open so that the public may continue to enjoy the lasting pieces.” He went on to give a small commercial for the museum- the hours it was open, some information on new pieces they had just received.

Switch back to regular narrator. “Unfortunately, the police have no suspects yet, due to the lack of evidence. If you have any information regarding this incident, please call the museum hotline number, which is on the screen, or our own crime-number. I’m Al Rewmein, live.”

What did I tell you, Slave? I knew we’d be safe. He laughed to himself, but Xiao couldn’t help but feel nervous. She had checked several times already to make sure the staff was still in place, even though it must look suspicious for her to go through the closet on an almost daily basis.

“Huh,” Oreo said, surprised. “I wonder what was stolen. There hasn’t been a successful museum robbery in years, ever since Bo Powers donated all that cash for them.”

“Yeah, really,” Xiao gulped, hoping Oreo wouldn’t notice anything wrong. “So…when do we get our bodies back?”

“Don’t look at me!” Scarlett bristled. “Just because it was my recipe, everybody expects me to know exactly when we’ll be back to normal! Well! If you had listened to my warning, this wouldn’t have happened! Would it?!”

“Sorry!” Claire shrank back from the other girl’s anger. “I was just wondering.”

“Don’t mention it,” Scarlett said, losing her anger, clicking to another channel. “I’m as upset as anyone about this, you know.”

“Yeah, well, besides Hamlet is anyone really excited about having a new body?”

I’m certainly not. You’re just as worthless in this one as you ever are. You couldn’t have the decency to get someone with actual powers could you? Could you, Slave? Instead you keep setting back my plans… Fred growled.

Hey, lay off. I don’t see you doing any of the hard work here! Like, umm… well…Okay, if I think of something, you’ll be sorry. Because without me, you’d still be in that vintage coke bottle. So there.

Which managed to shut him up, for once.

***

From here, the trees stretch out like a mammoth briar patch, bare limbs twisting and entangling, going on for so long, before being broken by the pale, smooth roofs of the developments, like alabaster palaces springing up from some African savage-land. I can see where the road winds away, tire-streaked asphalt, out until it meets the highway, and from there, far off, almost into the borders of my imagination, the bridge, and then the glittering glass and steel of the city.

But that is too far away to be of concern. My eyes are drawn back to the trees, and there are so many of them out here, it’s like a carpet, a plain of gray twigs and branches. I can see the crater, which is only now beginning to sprout new life, the crater that Studmuffin made a few years ago, they say. I even imagine that I can see the broken, twisted path that my SUV made through the trees on the day of my own arrival.

Surely the Authority smiled when I reached for that Oreo dip and said, “Here, Mattias, take this reward, in appreciation for all you have done.” Truly, what better body to be in than that of the one woman worthy enough to catch my attention, and truly, what better sign could there be of our destined partnership? For here I am, dwelling within the incomparable flesh of Oreo Avenger, my soul and mind joined to her body, the best of both of us, a precursor to that day soon coming when we join in true hieros gamos.

Of course, I mean hieros gamos in the literal sense of the “sacred marriage,” or sex, as opposed to the coupling of the divine and the mortal, for clearly Oreo Avenger has her own share of divinity.

Yes, the only body I would rather be in would be my own. And even then, I’d still like to be “in” her! Ho ho!

The only disappointment is that I find myself somewhat adverse to talking. I’m usually more cerebral than vocal, yes, unless you count how rowdy I get on Super Bowl Sunday, and, truly, I have not been completely mute. In those rare moments that I have to myself I have often spoken, hearing her voice, slightly distorted within her own ears, speaking my name. “Mattias,” I say, and she says, “oh, Mattias. Mattias. My Right-Wing Man.”

But those moments are rare indeed. Raven-or Rosma Galak, since nomenclature should be based on the soul, not the flesh in this instance-, who seems to have nothing better to do, follows me around at all times, and will not let my have a moment alone, and indeed forbids me to shower or bathe at all, or change my clothes. She watches over me as I sleep, preventing any under-the-covers exploration, and indeed stands beside me, eyes narrowed like some hungry raptor, as I use the bathroom! Trying to escape from her is an act in futility, for she has quickly mastered Raven’s phasing powers. Clearly she is a Sapphist, and her protectiveness is born from jealousy.

Still, to return to my initial point, my greatest disappointment with speaking as Oreo Avenger is, quite simply, the limited vocabulary. Yes, I know, education in a woman is a sign of radicalism, and I should be proud that Oreo, my sweet Oreo, has not fallen for the myth of “sexual liberation,” and yet I find myself hard-pressed to express even the simplest of ideas without severely dumbing down my language. For example, I attempted to explain my President’s bold vision for Social Security to Raven/Rosma, and while I believe that I did an admirable job of articulating this grand strategy with my current linguistic handicap, Raven/Rosma still seemed mystified as to the true beauty, or even beneficence, of the plan.

Of course, that could just be because she’s a woman.

But there are other things about Oreo Avenger’s body that make it the most desirable. And that is why I’m here, wind-bitten and breeze-blistered, at the edge of the Hall’s right wing.

There is no sun today; the clouds block it from view. I think I will go up and see it.

I breathe in, and my lungs swell, my breasts, firm and lovely as they are, raise slightly. My cape, a different texture and material from my cape but still familiar enough, snaps and billows behind me. I push through the barriers of fear and doubt, pushing my consciousness into that sphere where I have already made my decision. And still, at the last moment, I close my eyes.

I step off of the roof.

For a moment nothing happens; I hang suspended in the air, in the lower sphere of the conscious. I imagine that I feel gravity tug at me, and then, effortlessly, inevitably…

… I ascend…

Wind-kissed and weightless the Earth falls away from me, her womb bloated with gravity, and I feel the last of my chains, the last of the weights that the world makes me wear fall away.

I’m flying.

Up, up and up, my heart racing, blood flooding to every extremity. I feel that soon my heart will burst and become golden, and my veins will grow thick and dark with ichor. I throw my arms out to either side, flingers splayed; an eagle, Christ resurrected and resplendent, and isn’t it fitting? For I am going to see my Father, going to pay tribute, in this supplicant form.

Studmuffin, Xiao, even Oreo, they all take flight for granted. For them, it is merely a means of transportation, another supernatural ability, a source of entertainment. They do not realize its significance, its full complexity. And that is why I have been given this opportunity. Because I understand.

Flight is not simply defying gravity; flight is the ascension, in every sense, of the individual. He rises from his subconscious, traveling upwards until he achieves full self-knowledge, full self-determination, resplendent in the light of the Super-Ego. He rises above society, above the muck and the mire, the selfishness of those who would have him chain himself to save them from taking responsibility; the jealousy of those who say he has a responsibility to the unmotivated and immoral. When one learns to fly, he is a true Individual, a transcendent Individual. He is the Ego.

He is God.

We are born of the Earth, rising as lumps of mud and clay, shaped by the bloody tides of our mother Moon; it is our Father, the Sun, that dries us, that gives us life, that makes us Men. These celestial bodies remain with us always; the Sun in our left brain, our masculine side, our strong, rational side; the Moon in our right brain, our feminine side, our darker, irrational, creative half; the Earth in our shit and our semen. It is the Sun that gives us our laws, our governments, our machines and inventions, our wonders and our horrors; it is the Moon that holds us back, that makes us weak. Those who would rather let their lives be dictated by the cycles of the moon, it’s waning and waxing, its seasons of blood, and those who would rather lie in the tide, eating and screwing and shooting up, all belong to a bygone time, a weaker time, a time of caves and ghosts and madness, and they- must- be- kept- down.

I look down upon this world that man has made, the cross-hatching of streets, the glistening, phallic towers of the City, and out there further, the patchwork expanses of farmland. This is civilization. This is the world. And I will not let it fall to the weak and immoral. I will guard this world with every part of me, and I will do your work, Father, until you call me to my reward.

I am shrouded in clouds briefly, my costume and hair immediately becoming damp, and then I am above them, and the Earth is gone now, and I am surrounded by mountains of shifting white and gold, and above me, always above me, is the great, golden disc of the Sun.

This I promise you, My Father. This I promise.

My heart beats faster, faster, and there is suddenly pressure growing beneath my waist. I toss my head back, and gasp in a too-high octave, as the muscles between legs contract and spasm, faster and...

From inside. I know the feeling, yes, but never… from inside…

The Sun heats my face, my hair, my body, and my wonder passes as I recognize my reward.

I am purified and renewed; my mission is confirmed. I am ready now.

With a final prayer of thanks, I descend.

***

"Attention please!" Claire stood in the doorway, fists on her hips. She tossed her surfer's hair out of her face. "I have just written my name in the snow!"

Scarlett, the room's sole occupant, looked up from her book. "I'll have a plaque made up immediately."