Pulse of the City, by Harper Kingsley [YA, superhero, amnesia]
Title: Pulse of the City
Author: Harper Kingsley
Genre: YA, superhero, drama
The first part of the story.
Summary: Finding out her real identity was hard enough, but now she has to deal with the idea that someone had purposely tried to kill her.
Her life had become a thing of rules and routines. A comforting kind of sameness of school and home as she fit herself into the life of a normal girl.
Her first memory was of the loneliness of the hospital and the uncertainty of knowing that she was no one and nothing. She was a blank slate with nothing to fill her and it had been terrifying.
Nurse French had named her, which had been a nice gesture, but the woman was the most unimaginative person in the world. Which was how the girl had found herself with the name of Susie Smith.
She had spent weeks in the hospital before it had been decided that there was nothing more they could do for her and she had been moved into foster care. She was officially part of the system.
Her foster family–the Petersens–were nice enough and she was glad that they had risked taking a strange girl into their lives. Especially since no one knew if she was a good person to have around or if she was going to be yet another “problem kid.” She didn’t know how she had known about problem kids, but there they were in her memory and she really didn’t want to be labeled one.
Which is how “Susie Smith” became the perfect girl.
She went to school and earned good grades. She made “acceptable” friends. And she happily helped out around the house and in the day-to-day lives of the Petersens.
She had no idea what kind of girl she had been before… but this was what she was now. A normal girl through and through.
Except that something in her drove her to do some fairly strange things. Like when she found herself sneaking out through her bedroom window so she could wander the streets at night, looking for something she didn’t know how to find and wouldn’t recognize if she did. Or the way she had taken to the ropes in gym class like they were her second home, frightening everyone by shimmying right up to the ceiling… and flipping off in a perfect landing.
There was some speculation that she might have been a gymnast. Laura–Mrs. Petersen–had suggested that they maybe look into some extracurricular gymnastic lessons for her, but she wasn’t sure.
She knew it was stupid, but something in her said that there was something different about her.
And more than anything, “Susie Smith” didn’t want to be different.
“Mr. Danvers is such a jerk,” Christy moaned, throwing herself in her chair.
Susie looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “What’d you do this time?”
“It’s not what I did,” Christy said, grabbing her slice of pizza, “it’s what I didn’t do.”
“That torturous English paper he assigned. I mean, geez, it’s like he thinks none of us have other stuff to do or something. It’s ridiculous.”
Susie glanced at Becky and they shared a laugh. Christy was well-known for her dramatic tendencies.
It was kind of nice to have friends and they were actually pretty understanding about the things she didn’t know… they didn’t treat her like the freak they totally could have. It made her glad ’cause they helped her fit into this strange life where everything was new and she didn’t know even half the things that she was supposed to.
Reaching out her hand, she snagged a French fry from Becky’s tray. “You’re kind of crazed if you really think your parents are going to let you get away with flunking English. They’re gonna have your ass going to summer school faster than Lightspeed taking a jog around Mars.”
“God, why do you have to be so frickin’ right?” Christy groaned, covering her face with her hand. “Little Susie Homemaker always making with the know-it-all-ness. It’s positively grotesque.”
Looking around the mall food court, Susie ignored the pseudo-insult. She knew Christy didn’t really mean it.
It was funny, but she knew they were catching quite a few looks from people around them. Three girls in private school uniforms–black and red plaid skirts, short-sleeved white blouses, and black and red striped ties. It was any lecherous man’s high school girl fantasy and it made her want to laugh uncontrollably.
There was just some part of her that couldn’t believe where she had ended up, though she couldn’t explain why it seemed so ludicrous.
Sometimes, she looked around her life and had to wonder why it all felt ridiculous. There was this feeling of cynical disbelief inside, and she didn’t know where it came from. It was just such a part of her, even though she couldn’t even recognize the voice in her own head anymore.
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
She turned her head to face Becky and forced a smile. “Nothing, I was just kind of daydreaming. I don’t know.”
Becky gave her a sympathetic look, but was nice enough not to say anything.
They both went back to eating and listening to Christy complain about Mr. Danvers and his evilness. She was so serious about it too.
Sitting there in the food court of the Peoria Mall, Susie Smith couldn’t help thinking back to when her short life had begun…
It had been terrifying, waking up strapped to a gurney, a scream still bubbling past her lips. Blood from where her head had been split wide open had soaked into the neck of her shirt. She would find out later that her brain had actually been exposed, that doctors’ had to pick shards of cement and glass out of her brain before closing her skull back up.
Her eyes had twitched frantically around and she would always remember the kind of flashing horror of the ER around her. A room full of screaming people, their bodies broken apart and ground into so much meat. Everything had been so surreal, yet there was no escaping what was happening.
She remembered hands touching her, cutting her clothes off of her, sticking needles into her flesh. She remembered the face of an emergency room nurse looking down at her with an outwardly blank expression, but pitying eyes. She remembered thinking that she was going to die.
It was only later, waking up in the still quiet of her hospital bed, that she realized that she didn’t even know her own name or where she was.
She had been found in the midst of a super battle gone awry.
Malice, a supervillain, had attacked Megalopolous with her henchmen, the Malcontents. They had blown up ten city blocks during the Arbor Day parade. Hundreds of people were killed either at that instant, or in slow agony while rescue personnel fought to extract them from the wreckage.
The Teen Demis had shown up and eventually stopped Malice, though she managed to escape. She had been cackling the entire time, taking vicious glee in the damage she had wrought.
Susie was glad just to be alive, even if she didn’t remember her own name or where she came from. Though she wondered sometimes if maybe she had had a family at the parade. If maybe they were dead and she was never going to know to even mourn them.
Eventually she went to live with the Petersens. She spent months in either the hospital or in a group home, then she was finally taken in by her foster family.
And no one ever came forward to say that they knew who she was. She was just another unclaimed victim of Malice the Malevolent.
Susie bit a fry in half. She tried so hard to fit in, but not even knowing her real name made that nearly impossible.
She had had to start over with her life. Trying different things to find out what exactly she liked or disliked, from food to clothes to TV shows.
It had been kind of weird to be assigned to read “Brave New World” in English class, then to start reading it… and find out halfway through that the reason the story felt so familiar was the fact that she had already read it. At some point in her past life she had read the book and now remembered it.
It gave her the vague hope that if she only came across parts of her past life, some latent memory in her would be sparked and she would be able to find herself again.
But until then she was a brand new girl. She was Susie Smith, and she had to be the best Susie that she could be.
Whoever Susie was.
“Did you hear the news?” Christy suddenly asked. “Lunar Magazine has pictures of Lady Arcana and Bonecrusher making out. Can you believe it? She’s so pretty, and he’s just such a meat head.”
Becky snorted. “Please. Lunar Magazine is just some dirty old rag. I wouldn’t trust that those pictures weren’t Shopped for the money.”
“Still… wouldn’t it be totally crazy? He’s like this gigantic blob of muscle. And his face… ugh. She’s like a model, and he’s some gross mass of meat. Crazy.”
Susie rolled her eyes. “Come on. Who cares. Really.”
Christy shook her head at her. “I care. That’s like the craziest thing I’ve heard all week. And those pictures… they looked pretty real to me. They were all hugging and kissing and in some he had her like pressed up against a wall and even though they didn’t show his piece, they were like totally doing it. Gross!”
“Ugh, that does sound pretty nasty,” Becky agreed. She looked at Susie. “Admit it. Bonecrusher is like the ugliest member of the League. Yuck.”
“Lady Arcana is so beautiful. You would think she would be able to find someone better than that,” Christy said.
“Well, maybe he has a great personality,” Susie offered. “I mean, you can’t tell how someone is by pictures or anything. So maybe he’s a smart guy. You don’t know.”
“Come on, admit it. Would you let him touch you?” Christy asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Susie sighed. She had to be honest. “No, but…”
Christy wagged a finger. “Ah, ah, ah. You already admitted that you thought he was gross.” She grinned. “Looks like you’re a little more shallow than you thought you were, huh?”
“Oh please.” Susie took a drink of her Bolt Cola. “I don’t know the guy, and neither do you. For all we know, he’s this totally awesome dude and underneath all the ugly he’s the greatest guy ever born.”
“Way under the ugly,” Christy said. “Because ugly like that goes down much farther than skin deep.”
“God, you can be such a bitch sometimes,” Susie groaned.
Christy gave a delighted grin. “I know. Isn’t it awesome?”
Susie tried to be mad, but it was impossible. After a few seconds of trying to look all serious and severe… she finally had to break down and laugh. “Yeah.”
They sat there in the crowded mall talking about the latest gossip and laughing while they ate. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and she was honestly happy, something she had never thought she was going to be after waking up in the hospital.
Susie finished eating and rose to throw her garbage away. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
She was standing in front of the trashcan, her empty tray still in her hand, when there was a loud CRASH! then the blare of alarms.
She turned to see what was going on, and the tray slipped from her hand when she saw what was happening.
She couldn’t have moved if she wanted to. It felt as if her whole body had been turned to stone.
A man on a flying disc was hurling balls of light at different stores from his position high against the ceiling. He was dressed in a black and green jester costume and had a maniacal grin on his face as he watched the explosions.
Though she was sure she had never seen him before, there was a flash of recognition in her. His name was the Jester. He was a supervillain that had already killed a double handful of people during his short career. He was certifiably insane, had in fact escaped from an asylum so that he could start his career in senseless violence.
He was raising another ball of destruction in his hand when there was a rush of displaced air next to the Foot Locker. Suddenly, six figures in a lot of formfitting spandex and body armor were standing poised there.
“Stop, Jester!” the leader of the Demis, Powergirl, called. She stood with her hands on her hips, looking like a teen superhero poster come to life. Her boots were even spit shined.
He gave a cackle. “And what will you do if I just say NO?!” He flung the ball, not at her, but at a large storage crate nobody had seen in a shadowed corner.
There was a crack of shattering wood, then a rush of skittering feet and hungry growls.
Whatever the creatures were, they had a lot of fur and teeth and sharp cutting claws. And they were fast, almost too fast to see, as they flung themselves toward the Teen Demis.
“Oh crap!” Queen Midnight yelped, throwing out one hand. A wave of shadow whipped out to smack two of the creatures away. Which didn’t do a whole lot of good when there were about a hundred of the cat-sized monsters.
Susie whimpered and ducked down next to the trashcan. She could hear people screaming and running, but something kept her in her place. She just had to watch.
The creatures moved in a blur, their clawed feet clicking across the floor like a skitter of bugs. Powergirl gave a yell as they swarmed over her, their teeth nipping and biting, unable to break through her nearly impenetrable flesh. Though they seemed to be gaining strength with every second they were out of their prison box as she was unable to just throw them off even with her metahuman strength.
Queen Midnight rose up in the air, a few of the creatures leaping up with gnashing jaws to tatter the ends of her cape. She had a horrified look on her face and her hands were pressed against her mouth. “Get away!”
Shadows whipped around her, trying to shove the creatures back but they were swarming at her too fast and too strong. It was only a matter of time until she was completely overwhelmed.
Susie’s mouth was open in horror, but there really wasn’t anything she could do. They were superheroes, and she was just a girl, so what could she ever do to help them?
That’s when she saw Teen Steel flung across the mall to slam headfirst into a supporting pillar. The cement cracked and chunks of ceiling fell on top of him.
He didn’t get back up.
He lay there, limp and broken looking, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. She wondered if that was how she had looked when she was found.
A bunch of those horrible creatures began to gather around him, making an odd, chittering-clacking sound as they seemed to communicate to each other. Then they came swarming up over his legs and chest, drawn to the blood on his face.
Susie looked around frantically, but the rest of the Teen Demis were on the other side of the mall. They were busy dealing with a bunch of the creatures that had somehow become three or four times as large as they’d been when they first came out of the crate. Jester was flinging those exploding energy balls whenever any of the Demis looked like they were going to free themselves.
Susie bit her lip. Teen Steel’s body was almost completely covered by the creatures and she could see them nipping and biting at his clothes and flesh, skittering and leaping toward his face. They were going to eat him alive and he couldn’t even activate his powers because he was unconscious.
Her head turned back and forth from the Teen Demis being distracted by Jester and his creatures, back to Teen Steel who was going to die without help. And there was nothing she could do because she was just a girl.
There was nothing she could do. She was just a girl. There was nothing she could do. She… was… just… a… girl…
Something fierce seemed to shift and move in her chest. It felt like a pressure was building at the back of her throat from deep inside, pushing and PUSHING, swelling up and out of her until…
“NO!” she yelled.
It felt as though her throat expanded impossibly wide and that something–whatever it was–deep inside of her was forced through. The sound escaped her in an echoing roar, like thunder caught in a soda can. It was just this burst of pressure and raw power.
She could almost see the waves of concussive force rippling through the air before striking the creatures, flinging them off of Teen Steel and high into the air before they were dropped to the ground, their bodies broken, their bones pulped and shattered. A few managed to survive, stumbling back to their feet after a second, but they seemed dazed and confused, their clawed hands scrabbling at their ears where their ruptured eardrums bled.
What… Susie was shocked by what she had done, but there was no time for lengthy introspection. She had somehow managed to stop the creatures attacking Teen Steel, but he could still be bleeding into his brain or something, dying because there was no one to help him.
No one but her.
The soles of her oxfords clattered against the floor as she ran toward Teen Steel, her skirt swishing around her bare knees. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but there was no way she could just let him die.
She knelt down next to him, reaching out to lift one of his eyelids and see if there was any reaction. His eyeball was rolled up so only the white showed. He was completely out of it.
“Dammit,” she muttered.
Carefully holding his head still, she laid him flat on the floor. She tried not to touch his neck too much and hoped he wasn’t going to end up paralyzed or something.
“You idiot, why didn’t you have your powers active?” she asked. If he had, then he wouldn’t have gotten hurt. A little throw like that would have had him bouncing right off the wall and back on his feet, ready to go again.
His dark blue mask covered his eyes and most of his nose, but from the shape of his lips she could tell that he was really good looking. Though why he bothered to wear a mask that didn’t have those weird lens things to cover up his eye color, she didn’t know.
Like there were all that many six-foot-four, brown-eyed, dark haired muscular teenagers running around the city. How hard would it be for some supervillain to go to the DMV and compile a list they could work their way through? So why make things easy for them by leaving your eyes and most of your face uncovered?
“You are kind of an idiot, aren’t you?” She shook her head. Good-looking, not-too-bright… he sounded like the perfect boyfriend for her foster sister, Natasha.
Almost as though he’d heard her, his fingers twitched and his eyelids fluttered.
Susie’s breath caught in her throat and she leaned closer. “Are you waking up? Are you all right?”
His eyes opened slowly. They were glazed and a little bloodshot, but he blurrily focused on her face. A faint frown pulled down the corners of his mouth. “Ashley?”
She felt a small jolt go through her. His voice was deeper than she’d thought it would be, but it sounded really good. “No,” she said, “my name’s Susie.”
He still frowned, looking at her as though he wanted to argue, but he didn’t say anything. After a few seconds, his eyes slid back closed. She hoped he wasn’t going to die.
Sitting back on her haunches a little–her legs were starting to cramp up–she kept watch over him. The Teen Demis were still fighting Jester and his things, and more than anything she wanted to be in a safer place, but there was no way she was moving Teen Steel.
Not only was he twice her size, but if she moved him and he ended up paralyzed from the neck down… There was a good chance the rest of his supergroup would end up killing her or something.
The fighting seemed to go on forever, though it was probably about half an hour. There were lots of flashing lights and feats of amazing strength, but she’d seen better on the news.
Jester was a B-class criminal at the most. He liked to show up and cause a scene, but he didn’t have that big of a power base to call on. His creatures, though… She had no idea where he’d gotten those things from–off the internet?–but they were crazy vicious.
The Demis were so into fighting the creatures that Jester managed to blow another hole in the ceiling and escape on his flying disc, cackling all the way. The little bell on the end of his jester cap tinkled merrily as he flung one last ball of energy at Pulsar’s back. The superhero cursed and ducked out of the way, only to nearly be gutted by one of the creatures that had grown to five-times its original size.
In the end, the appearance of Sunfire was what finally wrapped up the situation.
He came floating in through the same hole Jester had escaped from, his yellow cape rippling around him. His golden skin pulsated with pure, solar energy. He was beautiful…
Just looking at him made Susie sigh lustfully. He was like something right off the cover of one of those superhero romance novels. And that white bodysuit of his… did not hide a thing. And boy was he packing.
She had to cover her mouth with both hands to fight off a girly giggle. There was a life or death battle going on… But Sunfire was one of those guys that simply could not be ignored. And the way his blond hair was blowing around his head in some unfelt breeze, he looked like he should have been on a beach somewhere, all gleaming tanned skin and…
She shook her head. She’d heard the theories about Sunfire’s pheromone power, but she hadn’t put much stock in the idea until now.
Sure, he was probably one of the best looking men she’d ever seen in her life, but that didn’t mean she had to act like a total idiot over him. From some of the things she’d heard about him, he was about as arrogant as he was good looking. So definitely not the kind of guy that was even going to give her the time of day.
Sunfire hovered about ten feet in the air, surveying the situation for a moment, then there seemed to be some kind of shift in the air around him. The rippling of his cape doubled and the glow around his body brightened–brighter and brighter and brighter until it was impossible to look directly at him and she had to turn her face away, her eyes squinting closed.
There was a sizzling whip-crack sound, then a singed burning smell that made her nose wrinkle.
The skin of her face felt tight and hot, and Susie wondered if he’d managed to give her a sunburn. Which was exactly what she needed on top of the whole amnesia thing–skin cancer.
When she was fairly sure he wasn’t going to suddenly decide to burn out her retinas with his power, she turned her head to see what had happened.
All of the creatures were gone. There were black smears of ash and grease burned into the floor. Everything else was untouched.
The idea that he’d vaporized a bunch of living creatures so easily made her skin crawl. He could kill anyone he wanted, sweep up the evidence, and no one would ever know what he’d done. It was frightening.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Pulsar screamed. He was standing protectively close to his twin sister, Solar. “You need to give a little warning before you do that crap. I think you’ve blinded her!”
“Sorry,” Sunfire said, shrugging. He still gleamed, but that was just his natural glow. He settled his yellow booted feet on the floor soundlessly, his cape swirling down around his ankles. “Is she all right?”
Pulsar worriedly touched his sister’s face. “Can you see me? Are you all right?”
Solar waved her hand. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’ll be seeing green blotches everywhere for awhile, but I’m pretty sure there was no permanent damage.” She pushed her brother away and stood up. She smiled at Sunfire. “Thanks for the save, by the way. I was pretty sure that thing was going to try and eat me or something.”
“You’d have given it indigestion,” Sunfire said, smiling back. There was a note of fondness in his voice.
Pulsar gave him a suspicious look.
“Thanks for coming when you did,” Queen Midnight said. The shadows she’d been using to fight off the creatures crept under her cape and melted back into her body. She shuddered a little, her head tipping backward for a moment and her lips falling open. When they were all gone, she hissed in a breath and gave a satisfied smile. “Things were looking a little grim for a minute there, since those things just kept getting bigger.”
“You should have answered your communicator, though,” Powergirl complained.
“I would have, but I was in the middle of class,” Sunfire said. “It took me awhile to escape.”
Susie felt as though she was listening in to a bunch of stuff she wasn’t supposed to hear. “Um, excuse me?” she called. “I think he’s really hurt.”
They turned to look at her.
She felt incredibly small, and they were giants in her vision, looming over her ominously. The masks they wore made it hard to read their expressions, but she felt as though their eyes judged her and found her wanting. They were like gods come to life and she was just a girl awkwardly hunched on the floor, still wearing her school uniform and with her hair messy from the day.
It was almost a relief when that attention passed right over her to focus on Teen Steel.
“Steel!” Queen Midnight clacked across the tiled floor in her high-heeled boots. Her legs were long and slender and she had a body that Susie could only envy. She didn’t really look like a teenager; she looked more like she should be modeling or something.
The rest of the Demis gathered around Teen Steel. Queen Midnight knelt by his head, carefully checking his wound. Her hands were gentle as she felt around his neck, then fitted him with a blow up neck brace. “This doesn’t look good, but it doesn’t look that bad either,” she said. “I’ll be able to find out more with a CT scan.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Pulsar said, rubbing his forehead. Then he looked at Susie with a distant gaze. His eyes went wide and suddenly she had his full attention. “Pulse?” his voice cracked.
“What?” Susie felt stupid and slow. The way he was looking at her… it made something clench tight in her chest. It felt like there was very little air in the room.
Suddenly, there were arms around her and she was being tightly hugged against a skinny little body. “I thought you were dead!” Solar shouted.
“What are you talking about?” Susie asked in confusion. She didn’t know what was happening, but these strangers were looking at her like she was a ghost and Solar’s tears were soaking into her collar uncomfortably.
Powergirl was pale and unsettled looking. Her eyes almost burned against Susie’s skin. “We looked everywhere for you. Why didn’t you come home?”
“What do you mean?” Susie asked. “You looked for me? You know me?”
“What do you mean ‘Do we know you’? Of course we know you,” Pulsar said.
Susie shook her head. “But I don’t even know me.”
They looked surprised. Solar pulled back a little to gaze into her face, her mouth falling open and her tight grip loosening. “You don’t know who you are?” she asked. Her voice was high and sweet. Her lower lip poked out adorably.
Susie just looked at her. Here was one of the world-known Teen Demis practically sitting in her lap with her arms wrapped around her. It was one of the strangest things that had ever happened to her.
“Come back to base with us,” Powergirl said. “We’ll figure this out.”
The others started gathering up Teen Steel and making sure they didn’t leave any weapons or anything behind. They acted like the decision was already made.
Susie just stayed where she was. Probably wouldn’t have moved until they were gone if Solar hadn’t grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet.
She didn’t know what was going on, wasn’t sure if she wanted to go anywhere with these crazy costumed people. She didn’t know them, and even if they acted like they knew her, what did that really mean? Maybe they were just confusing her with someone else.
Then she heard Teen Steel’s voice, “Ashley?” And there was something in it that had her following the others dumbly out of the mall.
If her name really was Ashley–and it did feel kind of familiar–then the Teen Demis really did know who she was and that was a good thing. But there was no way she was focusing on that other name they’d called her. Because even if she might have been an Ashley, there was no way that she ever could have been Sonic Pulse.
That was just crazy.
She’d never really thought about how superheroes got to the scene to stop the bad guys. If she’d been asked, she probably would have said they just flew.
So when she stepped out of the retrofitted mini-bus with its jet engines and crazy rocket fins, she really had to fight to keep her legs from going out from under her. That thing was fast, and the way Pulsar drove pretty much defied all of the conventional laws of physics. He barely slowed down for stop lights, and one look at his fierce grin practically had other drivers swerving off the road to get out of his way.
Susie was just glad to be alive.
“So really, you don’t remember any of us?” Solar asked. Under the orange lights of the parking garage her white tights sparkled with glitter. She should have looked ridiculous–pink unitard, large attachable fairy wings instead of a cape, and a pink crystal tiara nestled on her head. Instead, she looked almost sickeningly adorable, short and sweet and younger than she really was.
Susie looked into those big gray eyes and shrugged. “I know who you guys are, but that’s just from the news and magazines and stuff.”
Solar frowned. “That’s sad. We were such good friends.” She reached out and took Susie’s hand, squeezing it tightly.
“I’m sorry,” Susie said.
Solar shook her head, her pale blond pigtails flying. “Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t your fault you got so hurt. I’m just glad you’re back now.”
There was so much happiness in her voice that Susie didn’t have the heart to tell her that she wasn’t really back. She still didn’t remember knowing any of these people and there was no way that she was a superhero. She was just a very confused kid that probably should have been home an hour ago.
Frowning a little, she glanced at her watch. The Petersens were probably worried about her. They really were some incredibly nice people.
“Look, maybe I should go home,” she said, starting to pull her hand away.
Solar tightened her grip, clasping her hand to her chest. “No! You have to come in and talk with us. I… we have to know everything that happened with you and where you were and why you didn’t come home and why you don’t remember me or any of us and…”
Susie didn’t think about it. She pressed her finger against Solar’s lips, silencing her. “Sh, it’s all right. I’ll go inside with you. But I’ve really got to get home soon.”
Solar’s face drooped, but she forced a smile. “Okay!” she said in her bubbly voice. “Come on!”
Susie let herself be dragged toward the metal elevator doors. Queen Midnight and Sunfire had already gone up with Teen Steel, but the others were waiting. Pulsar was patiently holding the door open with his hand, his eyes locked on his sister.
When Susie stepped into the elevator, she felt her cheeks burning and didn’t know what to do with her free hand. They were all looking at her, examining her and trying to find the person they thought they knew.
The fact that Powergirl and Pulsar were so tall made her discomfort worse. They were kind of looming over her, staring down at the top of her head. She felt like they were trying to gaze into her damaged brain.
She shifted uncomfortably in the silence. She really didn’t know why she was here with these people. They had made some gigantic mistake and there was no way she was who they thought she was. No way.
Except she remembered the way her scream had sent the creatures flying off of Teen Steel, even killing some of them. There was no way that was normal.
“We missed you,” Powergirl suddenly said.
Susie darted a look at her. “Huh?”
Powergirl’s eyes were resolutely on the numbers counting up on the wall. Her broad shoulders were tense and her jaw was firm. “We really thought you were dead when we couldn’t find your body. There was a big memorial ceremony and your name was added to the List of the Fallen. Your dad…” She bit her lip. “Your dad gave your eulogy. It was really beautiful.”
“My dad?” Susie’s breath caught. “I have a dad?”
“Do you have a dad? Of course you have a dad,” Pulsar nearly shouted. “Your father is the Flame Burst!”
“Bu-bu-but… He’s in the League of Superheroes!” her voice cracked.
“Yeah. You’re totally a legacy,” Pulsar said. “And when you died he went totally around the bend. You should have seen him. He killed Malice and half her Malcontents. They had to pull him away and put him in confinement to keep him from frying anyone else. He was on fire, like his whole body just turned into flame and he was screaming and there was…”
“Pulsar, shut up!” Powergirl ordered. She’d seen the way Susie had paled and how her eyes had gone wide with horror. She made her voice gentle, “It wasn’t that bad, really. He just really loves you. He was always visiting when you were here, and you always went to see him, and… well, he took your death hard.”
Susie looked at her. She felt her lips twist and knew it wasn’t a nice expression. “If that’s true, then why didn’t he find me? Why did I spend so long in the hospital with no one even bothering to look for me? If anyone missed me so much… why didn’t anyone come for me?”
Powergirl shook her head with a troubled expression. “I don’t know. We looked in all the hospitals and anywhere else you could have been taken. There were some bodies that matched your description–and believe me, we checked out every single one–but you weren’t there. I don’t know how we couldn’t find you, but it’s something I promise will be looked into.”
Solar’s hand tightened on Susie’s, reminding her that she was there. “We really missed you,” Solar said. “I don’t know how it happened, but I’m just glad you’re not dead.”
Susie looked at the ultra-friendly superheroine and felt her frown easing. “I’m glad I’m not dead too,” she said.
Powergirl punched something into the elevator keypad to get the door to open once they reached the top floor. There was a “clunk” sound and a panel peeled back to reveal a retinal scanner.
She lifted the edge of her mask to peer into the scanner. There was a strange hum as a red line tracked over her face. “Powergirl, ID number 7648469-A32.”
“Identity: Powergirl. Confirmed. Welcome home, Powergirl,” a melodic voice said.
The doors slid open and Susie had to blink at all the light.
She hadn’t gotten a good view of the building when they’d driven into the underground parking garage, but she’d gotten a definite impression of low-level dinge. Even the elevator looked kind of grimy, just a metal box with dirty grommet flooring and walls she really didn’t want to brush up against with her bare skin.
She didn’t know what she was expecting the base of the Teen Demis to look like, but she was definitely surprised.
She stepped out of the elevator into a large living area with high ceilings and white walls. To the right there was a giant screen against one wall with a ten foot long black leather couch and some sectionals in front of it. To the left there was an open kitchen with all steel appliances and dark granite counter tops.
In front of her there was a balcony that opened out onto the entire city. She hadn’t even realized the elevator had taken them up so many floors, but they had to be pretty high up.
Sunfire was framed in the open balcony, his back to them. He’d taken off his cape and slung it over the arm of the couch. Every single muscle was visible down the line of his back and down his legs.
Susie couldn’t help checking him out, then had to blush and look away when he turned to see them. “Hey,” he said. “QM took Steel to the infirmary. He woke up and remembered Pulse was back, but she made him go anyway. Said something like she didn’t want to be responsible if he was bleeding into his brain and died.”
“Did she call Dr. Vasquez?” Powergirl asked, striding toward the kitchen.
“Yeah, Dr. Jorge should be teleporting in in a little while.” Sunfire smiled at Susie. “It’s good to see you again.”
She felt her heart flutter and couldn’t help a nervous giggle. “Oh, yeah, sure,” she said, then winced. She sounded like an idiot.
He smiled at her again. “Welcome to the Demi Lair.”
“The Demi Lair?” she asked.
“That’s what we call the place.” Solar giggled and pulled her toward the couch. “Come on, sit with me.”
Susie let herself be pushed down onto the comfortable couch. She only felt a little awkward when Pulsar, who’d been trailing after them, sat down on her right side while Solar squeezed in close on her left. They acted like they knew her, but she just felt strange.
Sunfire sat in one of the larger leather chairs, propping his feet up on the coffee table. “We really thought you were dead,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot.” Susie felt a surge of relief when Solar finally let her hand go, then felt bad about it. Solar was so sweet and nice and just really seemed to want to be her friend.
Powergirl walked around the end of the couch with a tray of drinks and a bowl of chips. “Here, I thought we all could use something.” She put the tray down on the table and started passing out the sodas and juice with an easy familiarity.
Susie blinked at the Bolt Strawberry-Kiwi Soda she was handed. She’d never had it before, yet Powergirl hadn’t even asked her if she wanted anything else. She looked around at the others, but they didn’t seem to find anything weird.
She fiddled with the can in her hand. “So the Flame Burst is my dad,” she said slowly. “Are you sure I’m really, um, Ashley, that was the name Teen Steel called me? Is that my name?”
“Yeah,” Powergirl said, sitting on the coffee table in front of Susie. Her black leather skirt, which was really just strips of leather, fell loosely around her thighs, showing off the dark green leggings underneath. “Your name is Ashley Ross.”
“You’re Sonic Pulse!” Solar cried excitedly, clapping her hands.
Susie chewed on her lip. “I don’t know,” she said. “I think maybe you guys made a mistake or something. I don’t think I’m who you think I am.”
Powergirl leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. Susie had to fight to keep from looking down her black corset top. “Look, we know who you are. We’ve been your friends and teammates for a long time. We know you, Ashley.”
“But I just don’t think that I could be a superhero,” Susie said.
“It’s really not all that hard,” Pulsar said. He reached forward to scoop up a handful of chips. “You just go out and beat up the bad guys. Pretty simple.”
“I don’t…” Susie felt tears filling her eyes and wanted to smack herself for being so weak. But she’d been looking for who she used to be for so long, and to find a bunch of people that were so sure that they knew her was kind of painful. Because what if they were wrong? What if she wasn’t who they thought she was? What if her dad came and took one look at her and said that she wasn’t his daughter? What then?
Did she just go home to the Petersens as an unnamed orphan again? Did she just keep being “Susie Smith” that had to get her name from a nurse at the hospital? Was that what happened?
“We know you’re Ashley,” Powergirl said. “And your dad is probably already on his way here right now.”
“How?” Susie asked.
Powergirl made a sound in the back of her throat, her lips twitching upward. “Come on, he’s in the League. He’s either going to have someone teleport him here, or fly him, or maybe he’ll just strap himself to Lightspeed’s back and make the guy carry him. But he’s going to be here soon and he’s going to be so happy to see you.”
Susie ran a hand over her sleeve, then tried to twitch her skirt straight. Her dad was coming. Her dad was coming. Her very own dad. It was an exciting, yet incredibly daunting thought.
“What if he doesn’t like me?” she asked.
“You’re crazy,” Pulsar said, shaking his head. “It’s your dad. The man loves you so much it’s almost stupid.”
“Yeah,” Solar said, giggling. “He’s going to grab you and hug you and never let you go. He might even lock you away forever.”
“The guy was really torn up about your death,” Sunfire said. He raked a hand through his hair. “We all kind of were.”
“You know who felt really bad, though?” Solar asked, her eyes big. She leaned closer to Susie, who fought to keep from moving away a little. “I saw Tony crying.”
“Tony?” Susie asked curiously. “Who’s that?”
Solar covered her mouth with her fingertips, then laughed. “Oops, I meant Teen Steel. Tony’s his real name.”
“Which you shouldn’t have told her until her memories come back,” Powergirl said disapprovingly.
Solar shrugged and tossed her pigtails. “Oh pooh. We all know she’s Sonic Pulse. As soon as she gets her memories back she’s going to be out on patrol with us again. I just thought she should know that Tony was really upset about her death.” She looked at Susie. “Really upset.”
“Why would Teen Steel be so upset about me dead?” Susie asked. She didn’t know why, but her palms were sweating a little.
It was Pulsar who answered with a snort, “Because he was in love with you.”
“What?” Susie’s eyes popped open.
He grinned, showing off a crooked eyetooth. “Come on, the guy’s been crazy in love with you from the moment you first met. You guys went out and it was like true love… then you broke up with him and it was the end of his world. And about two weeks after that we’re digging through rubble trying to find your crushed body. Probably the worst day ever.”
“And now everything’s good again,” Solar said cheerily.
Susie’s face felt stiff and strange. These people really thought she was Ashley Ross, which she could kind of accept. The idea that she was Sonic Pulse was too disturbing for her to focus on. Now she had supposedly been dating Teen Steel and broke his heart.
Separately she could kind of accept things. But to find out all at once… It made her head spin. And the Flame Burst was coming to see her. The Flame Burst, her dad.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” she said, jerking to her feet.
“Oh, it’s that way!” Powergirl pointed toward a hallway just off to the side of the big screen. “First door.”
Susie clamped her hand over her mouth and quickly stumbled her way into the bathroom, where she fell to her knees in front of the toilet and began to gag, but nothing came up.
She could hear them talking about her worriedly in the other room, but was relieved that no one had followed her. If there was one time when she appreciated privacy, it was when she was kneeling on the cold tile in front of the toilet, her head throbbing and her stomach heaving fruitlessly.
When she was sure she really wasn’t going to be sick, she sat back on her heels and pushed her hair back from her face. Her head still spun a little and her throat kept that weird rippling thing going that it did when her body was trying to gag, but she thought she was going to be okay.
It was harder than she thought it should be to climb to her feet. Her knees felt wobbly and she was a little lightheaded and strange.
Susie carefully walked to the door, pushing it closed and flipping on the light. She looked at herself in the mirror, frowning a little at how pale she was. Her usually caramel colored skin looked a bit gray.
Shoulder-length brown hair, an oval-shaped face, and brown eyes. She wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t beautiful. She was just a girl.
She thought about all of the pictures she’d ever seen of Sonic Pulse, trying to see herself in the image of the superheroine. She just couldn’t do it.
Sonic Pulse had worn a full-face mask–a red leather mask that covered her entire face and had creepy black lenses where her eyes should be. The rest of her costume was a black spandex bodysuit with red body armor to protect her body and red knee and elbow pads. She wore a black cape that had a hood she kept pulled up to cover her hair.
In all, there wasn’t much that Susie knew about Sonic Pulse. From the little she had seen, the superheroine had gone out and gotten the job done and not done the playing around that a lot of superheroes indulged in. She didn’t show up on magazine covers. She didn’t pose naked in any magazines. She rarely gave interviews to the press. And she died in the same super battle that robbed Susie of her identity.
Susie stared at her own face, wondering if she could really be Sonic Pulse. It would be nice to have a name of her own and a dad that loved her, but to be a superhero…
She turned on the faucet and stuck her face directly under the cold water gushing out. She could see the little makeup her school allowed her to wear swirling down the drain and she didn’t care. If she could have washed her entire face off she would have.
Blowing out a breath and sending water all over the sink, she quickly scrubbed her skin clean and switched off the water. She dried her face on the towel hanging from the rack, hoping it wasn’t dirty.
She looked one more time at the reflection of her clean face, then straightened her shoulders and left the bathroom. She wasn’t going to let herself freak out like that again.
The others were still waiting for her in the living room. There was a laptop opened in front of Pulsar.
Susie felt uncomfortable with them all looking at her, but what could she really say? She sat down at the end of the couch, fighting to ignore the sad face Solar made when she didn’t sit back down next to her.
“Hey, I got out some stuff to show you,” Pulsar said. He lifted a remote control he had sitting next to his leg and switched on the big screen. He quickly tapped at his computer and images popped up on the screen.
Against her will, Susie found herself fascinated. It was her, but it wasn’t her.
It was Sonic Pulse.
The girl on the screen wore her face, but she wore it with a kind of casual confidence that Susie had never imagined possessing herself. Her shoulders were back, her chin was up, and there was just something about her–some invisible air–that just kind of screamed out “I am important and you will respect me.” In some of the more relaxed photos, she had a careless kind of smile that Susie had never seen before.
“That’s me,” she said slowly, her eyes glued to the screen.
“Like we said, you’re Ashley Ross. You’re Sonic Pulse,” Powergirl said.
“I’m Ashley Ross,” she said. I’m Sonic Pulse, but she couldn’t say that part out loud. It was too surreal to think of herself as being a superhero, out there risking her life to save the world. But she could accept that she had a normal name, a normal girl’s name, just like everyone else.
“Yeah, you are,” Solar said, laughing.
Susie couldn’t tear her eyes away from the images on the screen. Pulsar had set the pictures to slide show and she could see image after image of her own face slide past the screen. Hundreds of pictures of herself with people she didn’t know.
There were the pictures of her with people she didn’t know, with superheroes she’d only read about in magazines or seen on TV. The final picture was of her wearing the Sonic Pulse outfit without the mask and standing next to her with his arm wrapped around her shoulder was the Flame Burst.
She stared at him. He was supposed to be her father but she really couldn’t see it, couldn’t even imagine it.
The Flame Burst was tall and lean, wearing a flame hued bodysuit that showed off every line of his body, every muscle and bend. He didn’t wear a cape, but he wore orange-red body armor to protect his vitals–chest, stomach, pelvis. His mask was an incongruous black that was maybe a little jarring against all the red and orange.
He didn’t look like he could be someone’s father. Except the expression on the exposed portions of his face…
From everything she’d ever heard about the Flame Burst, he didn’t seem like he would be very paternal to anyone. There were rumors about the things he’d done–terrible things that were only spoken of in hushed whispers on the internet–but she had never heard anywhere that he had any children. She’d never heard that he was Sonic Pulse’s father.
So now she was supposed to believe that she was Sonic Pulse, her father was the Flame Burst, and that he loved her?
“It’s so weird,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Solar asked. She could barely stay seated, and Susie had the feeling that if given the opportunity she would be across the couch and squeezed in next to her in a blink.
Susie shook her head. “None of this feels real,” she said. “I can look at those pictures and see that it’s me, but I don’t remember any of it. That doesn’t feel like me at all.”
Powergirl sighed. “But it was–is you. Eventually you’re going to remember who you are.”
“You have to remember!” Solar yelled. “Even if we have to call in one of the League psionics, you’re going to remember who you are.”
“What if I don’t like who I used to be?” Susie asked. Her stomach was churning again, though really it hadn’t been completely settled since she’d first seen any of the metahumans.
“But you’re Sonic Pulse,” Solar sounded honestly confused. “You were a legend before I even joined the Demis. Your dad is the Flame Burst. Why wouldn’t you want your life back?”
Susie didn’t know how to answer. She had wanted a name and a family from the moment she’d realized she didn’t remember either. She’d dreamed about who her parents could be and what they would be like. She’d stared at her reflection in the mirror and tried out name after name on that face she didn’t recognize, her frustration and despair growing with each name that simply would not fit her.
So why would she be nervous about the idea of remembering who she used to be? Why was her stomach aching with uneasy fear?
What if I don’t like her? an inner voice whispered. What if I can’t be her?
She looked at the others: Powergirl, Sunfire, Solar, Pulsar–her supposed friends–and hated the thought that she might disappoint them. The way they were looking at her now, so hopeful that she would remember who she was and go back to being the person they knew, it made her scared.
Sonic Pulse wasn’t just another superheroine. There had been articles in magazines and biography programs about her on TV. Even with no one ever seeing her bare face, everyone in the world knew who she was and how she had died–murdered by Malice.
Sonic Pulse had had parades in her honor. She had received medals and keys to the cities she’d saved. She’d shaken hands with the President and saved the world. She was a legend, not just for the things she’d done with the Teen Demis, but for some of her solo heroics.
So how was Susie supposed to live up to something like that? She was just a normal girl that had a hard time catching up to her age group in school because of all the things she simply didn’t know. She had a normal boring face, she had a hard time talking to strangers, and half the time she felt so awkward in her own skin that she just wanted to curl up and cry.
“I don’t know what I want,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to want.”
“Well, you better make up your mind quick,” Sunfire said, “because your dad’s here.” He was looking out the window behind him.
Susie felt her throat go tight and her head felt too big.
She’d dreamed about meeting her real family, but now she was too scared to even move. Thoughts scrambled through her brain: What if he doesn’t like me? What if he wants his real daughter back more than he wants me? What if he takes one look at me and decides I’m not good enough? What if he hates me?
“Come on, you should wait for him over here,” Powergirl said, standing up.
Susie didn’t move. She felt frozen in place.
She was going to meet the man that was supposed to be her father… It was the most terrifying prospect she had ever faced.
She looked up at Powergirl, wondering how she could possibly think that she was a superheroine. She couldn’t even face the man they said was her father. How could they possibly think that she might be able to go out and risk her life saving the world?
“This is insane,” she said, hating the way her voice shook. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Do what?” Powergirl asked, frowning. “Your father is coming right now to see you. Get up and go over there to meet him.”
“But…” Susie licked dry lips. “I don’t know him at all,” she said. “What if he hates me?”
“That’s not going to happen.” Powergirl rolled her eyes. “He really loves you. You were all he talked about for forever. You’re the only reason he ever gave the Teen Demis any kind of backing. He was so proud of you being Sonic Pulse.”
“But I’m not Sonic Pulse,” Susie said. “I’m Susie Smith.”
Pulsar snorted, bouncing up off the couch. “Yeah right. That’s just the name you took on when you couldn’t remember who you were. Once you get your memory back…”
“You’ll be Sonic Pulse again,” Solar finished, grinning brightly. “You’re just a little… um, broken right now. But I’m sure you’re going to be fixed right up once your dad finds out what happened to you. He’s been so sad since you’ve been gone.”
Susie looked at them, hating that they couldn’t understand what she was going through.
To them, she was Sonic Pulse with a problem and needed to be fixed. They didn’t understand that she was simply Susie Smith, an amnesiac that hadn’t yet found her real identity. She didn’t remember any of them or the person she used to be.
They didn’t understand why she was so afraid because they had never known fear.
“Come on,” Powergirl said again, holding out her hand.
Susie looked at it for a long moment–wanting to smack it away–then reached out and took it. She let herself be drawn to her feet and led across the room to stand a few feet in front of the elevator doors.
Her stomach wanted to flip inside out and her throat felt terribly dry. Her eyes locked on the elevator, counting the seconds until the door would open.
It seemed like forever but was only a few minutes. There was a “ding” and the doors slid open.
She drew in a gasping breath and had to wonder if she was going to faint.
Framed in the open doors was the Flame Burst and Blue Ice. They were larger than life and she felt incredibly stupid and small.
The Flame Burst’s eyes were glowing as he looked at her with a terrible hope. His mouth fell open and he drew in a gasping breath, his throat working. “Ashley!”
She barely had time to realize what was happening before he had rushed forward and wrapped his long arms around her, lifting her off her feet with the power of his embrace. “Ashley, Ashley, Ashley,” he just kept saying the name over and over again and she felt his mask scratch against the side of her neck, but she didn’t care.
The smell of him wrapped around her, achingly familiar even though she couldn’t name it. She didn’t recognize his face or his voice as someone she knew, but that smell… “Daddy?” she whispered.
“Ashley!” He pulled away enough to look into her face. She had the strange sensation that he was trying to absorb the memory of her, trying to capture her forever. It should have been frightening, and maybe was just a little, but mostly it felt like something she’d been looking for.
Staring back at him, she had to wonder how she could have missed someone so much without ever knowing who they were. He was her father, the warmth in her chest told her so, but she didn’t know anything about him. He was a complete stranger, yet she knew he was her dad.
His voice was rough when he said, “I missed you so much.” He stroked her cheek with one gloved hand, the leather smooth and warm. “I can’t believe you’re still alive. We looked for you for so long, but I didn’t want to believe that you could be dead. And you’re not. You’re back. You’re alive.”
She swallowed and pulled a little away. She didn’t want to ruin this, but she knew he had to know the truth. “I don’t remember anything,” she said. “I have amnesia from a serious brain injury. I don’t remember you.”
He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t care. I’m just so happy that you’re alive. We can do whatever to get your memory back. I’m just…” He drew in a shuddery breath, unable to go on. His eyes burned against her.
Susie didn’t know what she was supposed to do next. She felt confused and afraid, yet a wild elation was growing inside her. This was her father. He knew her, had memories of her before. And even though she couldn’t remember a single thing about him, she knew that she loved him.