It took some doing, and a lot of passing-of-the-buck, but eventually Wo-Man got Projector handed off to the LAPD's Stronghouse for the Dangerously Powered. She had to give a statement, too, and discovered just how pushy the police could be when they wanted your "real name." Twice, when she turned around she'd accidentally knocked someone over with her rocket pack. Oddly, in all that time, with all that moving around, she hadn't aggravated the injury to her right side. It hardly even felt sore. If she'd been a normal human, that beam would have sliced open her intestines, and she'd be going into septic shock right now without emergency surgery. One more bonus of this alien-built body, she supposed.
When she finally stepped back out into the sunlight, it was already late afternoon. Allison the Anti-Projector was long gone, but in her place there was a TV reporter and her cameraman. (Just one, though. Superpowered goings-on were par for the course here in Los Angeles.) She strode up to Wo-Man like a woman on a mission, and said to both her and the microphone she was holding, "What's it like being the only female super-hero in Los Angeles?"
Wo-Man stared at the microphone in her face, dumbfounded. The only female super-hero in Los Angeles? That couldn't be right. There was . . . no, everyone in the League of 250 Point Characters was male. Unless you counted Tsybd, but she was in Wisconsin, not L.A.. Oh! What about Tree, Rachel Stowe? . . . No, come to think of it, Tree hadn't been sighted in L.A. for over two years. Huh. She really was the only super-heroine in the city. Slowly, she spoke into the mike at last: "You know, I hadn't really thought about it before."
"Sounds like you haven't been a super-hero for very long," the reporter said.
"No, just —" Wo-Man began, "Actually, today was the first time I've been on patrol."
The reporter asked, "Even so, you haven't considered your potential impact as a role model?"
A role model? Her? Like, with people . . . imitating her?
The reporter took her momentary silence as a cue to prompt her. "There's not a lot of heroes for girls to look up to. Who were your role models when you were a little girl growing up?"
She took a deep breath. "I've . . . never been a little girl."
And she instantly regretted it. Ohhh no. She was not going to tell them she was a little boy growing up. No hints about her secret identity! "This body," she gestured at her armored torso, "Isn't from Earth. More than that, I'm not really comfortable discussing."
The reporter's eye almost twinkled at that. "I'm sure our viewers would like to hear your origin story."
Wo-Man folded her arms, and smirked. "I was bitten by a radioactive spider. There. How's that?"
The reporter did her best to hide her disappointment, and changed the subject. "Can you deflect bullets with those metal bands on your forearms?"
Wo-Man frowned. She thought back to the car thief those days ago, who'd shot her. No combat instincts had kicked in to move her forearm between herself and the bullet. At 500 miles per hour, she couldn't even see the bullet, much less move her arm fast enough to get in its way. "No," she said. "I'm not Wonder Woman. But my body armor is bulletproof."
"Speaking of Wonder Woman," the reporter said, "Even if she isn't real — how strong are you?"
"I can lift six-and-a-half tons," Wo-Man answered.
"And you can fly with that rocket pack, right?"
"Yeah, but —" Wo-Man hesitated. "Now that I think about it, I don't think I could actually carry six-and-a-half tons while I'm flying. Even if my muscles are strong enough to lift a delivery van, my rocket probably can't." She looked almost wistful. "I should try that some time."
The reporter asked, "With all those powers, do you have any plans for what's next?"
Wo-Man shook her head. "I'm taking it one day at a time, just like everyone else."
The reported turned to the camera. "Well, there you have it, L.A.'s new super-heroine. Back to you, Chuck." Her cameraman took the cue and stopped filming, and she lowered her mike. "That's wrap, let's go," she said, and headed for her news van as though spending another minute here would waste her time.
As Wo-Man watched them clamber into their van, she heard a man's voice behind her say, "Can I have your autograph?"
She turned. It was . . .
"Mark!" she said in surprise.
Mark Robinson looked equally surprised. "How do you know my name?"
Uh oh. Think fast, woman. She put on as much of a commanding air as she could in a half-second, and said, "A super-hero's gotta know these things."
She couldn't tell if he bought it or not. He was showing his poker face. His . . . whoa. His very handsome poker face. This was . . . dang. As Steve, he'd never taken much note of how Mark looked before, not even after Mark had clearly started working out. But to herself, right now, Mark was . . . gorgeous. All over. Every beautiful, well-built inch of the man.
She blinked and shook herself at this new feeling. This was all different. Was she still . . . she thought about Georgina, about the most intimate times Steve had kissed her, but as before these memories now felt alien. Georgina didn't interest her romantically at all. But Mark . . . !
She forced her attention back to the moment. "You, uh, wanted my autograph?"
Mark seemed equally distracted. "Oh! Yeah. Uh, all I've got to write on is this old college notebook, though." He folded the spiral-bound notebook to its first blank page, and took out a ballpoint pen for her.
She figured she'd better write something trite, lest she give herself away. "To Mark," she wrote, "Keep fighting the good fight." Then she made up a new signature on the spot and wrote "Wo-Man" with a big flourish on the W. She was half afraid her alien body wouldn't be able to write without crushing the pen, but thankfully Steve's handwriting muscle memories were still as much a part of her as the aliens' combat reflexes were.
"There you go," she said, handing the notebook and pen back to him. When she did, her hand touched his, and the sensation was almost electric. She must have let her hand linger there — or maybe Mark was in no hurry to take his own hand away, because he noticed it too.
"D-dang," he stammered, "It's not every day I get to meet a, uh, gorgeous super-hero like you."
She felt her loins tingle at this. Her alien body was certainly responding like a human's would. Like a human woman's would. . . . Like a heterosexual human woman's would. Just how humanlike did they make her? Was . . . every part there? Did the sensation in her loins mean she had . . . she cursed herself for not having checked. Regardless, these feelings were certainly there.
A hint of nervousness came into her voice as she replied, "You're not so bad-looking yourself." And available. Steve knew all about Mark's lack of a dating life, or course; but Wo-Man figured she'd better keep pretending that she'd just met him. She asked, "Are you single?"
Mark's eyebrows rose. "Very much so. And you?"
That was . . . a more complicated question, wasn't it? Steve certainly wasn't single. If she did with Mark what she was thinking about doing with Mark at this moment, would she be . . . cheating on Georgina? Were Wo-Man and Steve the same person? Their bodies were clearly distinct. Her mind was probably housed in an alien-built brain that only mimicked a human one. Did that even count as the same mind as Steve's, or a separate mind that happened to share Steve's memories?
She could have dived into philisophical hairsplitting for hours, but right now, looking into Mark's handsome, alluring face, none of it mattered.
"Yes," she said. She took his hand and held it deliberately this time, gazing into his brown eyes.
Mark blinked, then swallowed. Wo-Man couldn't be quite sure if it was because of the intensity of the moment, or because the eyes looking into his were big blank yellow triangles. "Um," he hesitated, "I do kinda need to get back to . . . to my place."
Wo-Man felt crestfallen for a moment. Darn it, had she rushed things too fast and scared him off? Then she thought about his words for a split-second and realized that he'd actually given her an opening. "I can give you a lift home."
Mark winced, as though he'd just blundered. "Oh, uh, I, uh, came here in my own car. I need to get it home, too."
Wo-Man smiled broadly. "I meant a literal lift."
"Hm?" Mark puzzled.
"It's pretty close to rush hour," Wo-Man explained. "It'd take you a while to drive through all this traffic. What say, you get into your car, I get under your car, and I fly you home in it?"
Mark's eyebrows shot up. "You can do that? You can fly while carrying a whole car?"
Now it was Wo-Man's turn to hesitate. "Uhhh . . . I'm not really sure if I can. But I won't know unless I try."
Mark started leading her away, presumably toward his car. "Just promise me," he said, "That if it feels iffy you'll put my car right back down. I don't want your super muscles or your rocket pack giving out on me when we're a thousand feet off the ground."
Mark had parked a couple of blocks away, on the street. Finding a parking spot was always a struggle in L.A., and even being this close had been a lucky stroke. As Mark unlocked his driver-side door, Wo-Man sized up his 1982 Chrysler K car. A 4 door sedan model. Probably weighed around a ton-and-a-quarter, not including its gasoline supply or the contents of its trunk. Or its new passenger. Lifting it while she was standing on the ground wouldn't be a problem, at least.
Mark got in, shut the door, cranked down the window, and leaned out to look back at Wo-Man. "All right, show me what you've got!"
She clacked her elbows against her armored flanks, activating her flight systems; but she willed herself to stay on the ground for now. Then she crouched down, slid underneath Mark's car, placed her hands on what she hoped were the strongest support points under the chassis, and pushed upward. The car easily left the ground. It shifted and lurched as she positioned her legs below herself and stood up, but it didn't fall.
All right, she thought, Let's see how much thrust this rocket pack can really make. UP!
The rocket on her back pushed up on her only slightly — yet it was enough to lift both herself and the car she was carrying off the ground. Together, they crept skyward at a few inches per second.
"Oh my gosh!" Mark called out from his driver's-side window. "We're really airborne! I'm impressed!"
You and me both, she thought. It clearly wasn't the rocket pack doing the heavy lifting here. Her gravity-nullification must, somehow, be affecting the car too. But then, why was she still pushing? Why did she still feel the car's full weight pressing down on her arm muscles? There was still an effort involved in holding the car over her head, despite the obvious weightlessness of the two of them taken as a whole. There must be some weirdness about the way her alien body's gravity control worked, which required this awkward combination of pushing and floating. Maybe gravity nullification only applied to some outer periphery surrounding them both, and within it gravity still held sway. Maybe. She couldn't tell.
And right now, her mind was on the more . . . intimate matters to come, anyway. She commanded herself to fly up faster, and her rocket pack obliged. In a quick moment she, and the car, and Mark in the car were hundreds of feet off the ground. Time to fly over to his place and —
Oh, woops! Wo-Man was supposed to have just met Mark a few minutes ago, and he hadn't told her where his place was, yet. "Where do you live?" she called out.
"Echo Park!" he answered over the wind. "1365 Kellam Avenue."
"Oh," she said, "I know that neighborhood!" She was telling the truth, of course, but not for reasons that Mark would've guessed. She angled off and headed northeast, picking up speed.
Her arms ached by the end of the 13-mile flight. Who knew that holding a ton-and-a-half car over your head for that long could be fatiguing? Having to look out for the airliners coming in to land at LAX didn't help, either. She was amazed that the FAA hadn't started imposing strict rules on flying super-heroes yet.
At last, she arrived at Kellam Avenue, and thankfully none of the other super-hero admirers from downtown had followed her. Kellam was one of those older suburban throughways, only two blocks long, which housed tract homes built before the modern fad of Homeowner's Assocations. She paused briefly in front of his house, to make it look like she was reading its street address, then set Mark and his car down in his driveway. "Thanks!" he called out to her. "That was the quickest I've ever gotten home from El Segundo."
Now that he was parked, she hoped he'd get out and . . . well . . . thank her properly. In anticipation, she brushed the dirt off her hands, and was surprised at how easily it came off. Every time Steve had worked on his own car, his hands would be covered in greasy black grime that required pumice soap to get rid of; but Wo-Man's hands were clean again after only brushing them together three or four times. Score one more point for her alien skin, she supposed.
Instead of getting out of his car, though, Mark reached up and pressed a stud on his windshield visor. The door to his one-car garage cranked open. Unlike most garages in the area, this one wasn't jammed to the rafters with old boxes; it actually had enough empty space to be used for its intended purpose. She could also make out, near the back of the garage, a side door leading into his house. Before she could even say "You're welcome," he'd started his car, pulled in, turned off the car, hopped out, and pressed the button on the wall to lower the garage door back down.
Damn. It looked like he was going to just go into his house, and leave her without giving her his phone number or even saying goodb— No! The instant he released the wall button, he made a mad dash for the still-open garage door and, like Indiana Jones, ducked out under it just before it descended. He trotted to a stop right in front of her. She went from disappointed to suprised to nervous in the space of a few beats of her alien heart.
"Well, um," Mark began with equal nervousness, "Thanks again."
"You're welcome," she said at last, and reached forward to cradle his elbows in her hands. His hands reach up and surrounded the sides of her armored waist; the supple armor yielded to the gentle pressure, and let her feel his touch as though she were wearing nothing but shiny, metallic fabric. He gazed straight into her triangular yellow eyes, unfazed by their alienness. She couldn't wait any longer. She leaned forward, bridging the few remaining inches between their faces, and kissed his lips.
He kissed her back sensuously. It felt electric to her, new and exciting, similar to Steve's memories of kissing women but magically different. And, as far as she was concerned, better. She felt the barest hint of stubble around his mouth as she kissed him, and caught a whiff of his natural male scent, both of which sent separate surges of desire through her. She pulled him close and pressed him up against her, and as with his hands, her armor let her feel every inch of his manly torso.
On the other side of that short, beautiful eternity, they broke the kiss and Mark muttered a quivering "Wow." Without letting go of her, he asked, "D-do you want to come inside?"
She took an equally-quivering deep breath, then said simply, "Yes."
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