The second story I had over at HelixSF, "The Super Secret Origin of She-Man."
The Super Secret Origin of She-Man by Michael H. Payne The Control Room door whooshed, and the metallic tang of Captain Vigilant's cheap cologne told She-Man who it was even before that basso voice asked, "What...what are you doing here?" She-Man turned slowly in the big chair at Main Control and, knowing how the yellow spandex leotard clung to hir abundant curves, shook hir head to let hir dark blue hair cascade around hir broad shoulders. "Just keeping your seat warm, Bill." S/he gave Captain Vigilant as smoky a look as s/he could, and a little wriggle of hir hips made the chair's solid steel foundation creak, Bill's eyes moving down, then ricocheting back up: the spandex emphasized all She-Man's curves, after all. Bill was blushing, his attention on the monitors that showed various views of Megala City, but somehow She-Man didn't find it as funny now as s/he had a year ago when, hir powers less than an hour old, s/he'd broken up a bank robbery and been invited to join Justice Central by a stammering Captain Vigilant. Then the extent of hir changes began sinking in, the only looks s/he got from anyone either shocked or lecherous, and Grammar Girl had retrofitted those awful pronouns into the language — what the hell kinda word was "s/he," anyway? Even the way Bill's sweat always made his cologne edge over to smell like dill pickles just made hir suddenly feel like a bratty schoolkid. "That's, uhh, very good of you, She-Man," he was saying, "but I'm here now, so why don't you, uhh...run along and do...whatever it is you do when you're off duty." S/he coughed a laugh. "This is what I do when I'm off duty. You'd know that if you didn't weasel out of your turn at the monitors every week." Captain Vigilant's jaw tightened. "I don't—" He stopped. "You mean you spend your off duty hours here?" She-Man shrugged. "What else am I gonna do?" A stern look came over his face. "If you don't rest, you might not be at your fighting peak when the city needs you." "Peak?" She-Man bunched up a fist and flexed, biceps bulging huge under hir indigo skin. "Looks pretty good to me." Captain Vigilant folded his arms. "She-Man, as leader of Justice Central, I'm ordering you to take a night off." His glare softened. "It'll do you good, Shem." S/he bunched up the other fist. "Don't call me that." "Well?" The shrug made his cape flutter. "You never have given us a name we can call you." She-Man glared at him. "Fine." S/he pushed hirself out of the chair and stomped across the Control Room, glad for once that floors usually shook under hir feet. A look back showed Captain Vigilant eyeing the seat of the Main Console warily, the impression still visible where She-Man had been sitting. "It's not gonna bite you, Bill." He snapped his eyes over. "I...I prefer to stand." "Uh-huh." Of all the liars s/he'd known, Bill was the most pathetic. "You don't care about me taking time off. You just want me gone 'cause I creep you out." "I...I didn't...I don't—" But She-Man had already turned away, hoping he hadn't seen the dampness s/he felt on hir cheeks. ***** The floppy hat was She-Man's favorite, the way it made hir look like some femme fatale from an old movie, but the overcoat had never been anything but shabby, not even stylish in a grungy way. Still, it was the biggest s/he'd ever found, tight as it was around hir chest and shoulders. Not that s/he needed a hat and coat — s/he hadn't noticed hot or cold in the year since hir change--but the disguise saved a lot of hassle. And the mood s/he was in, hassle would not have been a healthy thing for anyone wanting to engage hir in it. S/he wandered past Megala City University into the part of town where everything was either a darkened office building or a brightly lit bar. Yeah, drunk sounded good tonight, except...not around here. A hole-in-the wall where s/he couldn't see the color of the swill they were serving, where s/he could keep sucking it down till this damn invulnerable body started feeling it. That's what s/he wanted. Bar after bar didn't fit the description, all music and laughter, so s/he just kept trudging, a head taller than the couples that washed around hir like river water around a rock. God. Now s/he was getting poetic. S/he clenched hir fists in the overcoat pockets, heard cloth tear, swore under hir breath. Happy anniversary, hero. Or heroine. Or whatever.... Eyes fixed on the pavement, She-Man was crossing 6th Street when something tickled the back of hir mind. And looking up, there was the Liquor Barn just as s/he remembered. Yeah. A couple vodkas back in hir room at HQ. That way, s/he could get drunk without having to worry about snapping some guy's head off 'cause he looked at hir funny. The door pinged, and grabbing a dozen bottles of vodka — enough for a little buzz — She-Man took them to the counter. The clerk, dark hair buzz-cut on one side, long and silky on the other and hanging over his cute little face, gave hir a big smile, his eyes the deep, dark brown She-Man always liked, damn it. "Whoa." He rang the bottles up, his hands swiftly and steadily stacking them into a bag. "Heavy duty party, dude." He looked up at hir and blinked, his smile fading. "I mean, uhh...ma'am?" She-Man gritted hir teeth against the tingle of arousal; s/he did not need to see another cute kid's eyes go wide in horror as he or she realized who s/he was. Keeping hir overcoat pulled closed over the growing bulge in hir pants, s/he slapped some money onto the counter, grabbed the bag, and got back onto the street. No way was s/he walking past all those damn bars again, so s/he headed up 6th Street toward the back alleys, figured s/he could wend hir uptown to HQ while sucking down the first four or five bottles. In fact... s/he pulled the top bottle from the bag, was twisting the top off when— "Please!" From the mouth of the alley ahead, a male voice pinched tight with fear. "That's all the money I have!" "Ten bucks?" This was a sharp voice, hard and soiled. "What kinda jerk walks around with only ten bucks?" "A poor jerk?" Another voice, a sneer in it. Several snickering laughs — five of them, She-Man was sure — and the sharp voice said, "Yeah, well, maybe we can sell his blood or something...." Four steps brought She-Man to the alley, five punks with knives standing around a short chubby guy in a tweed suit. S/he set the bag down carefully, drew hirself up to hir full height, and cleared hir throat. The punks all snapped their heads over, the biggest one pointing his knife and saying in that sharp voice, "Something you want, buddy?" "As a matter of fact..." She-Man slowly took off hir hat, tossed hir head so they could see the blue cascade of hir hair in the glow of the streetlight. "I was looking for something to take my mind off my troubles." Just as deliberately s/he removed the overcoat, dropped it, took a stance that she knew would let them see all hir bulges: muscles, breasts...and otherwise. S/he took it easy, but, hell, two of the punks didn't even put up a fight, just fell to the ground after s/he'd bashed them into the wall. One turned and ran — obviously the brains of the organization — but the two biggest actually tried to stab hir, a feeling She-Man always enjoyed, the little tickle knives gave hir when they snapped trying to penetrate hir skin. The second biggest s/he grabbed by his greasy denim jacket, hauled him off his feet, and held him suspended, hir lips inches from his. "What do you think?" s/he asked, making hir voice extra throaty. "A guy like you and a, well, not a gal like me, but still..." S/he moved hir pelvis against his. Sure enough, the guy's eyes rolled back into his head, and he went limp in hir grip. She-Man dropped him to the blacktop and stepped toward the biggest of the punks. "How 'bout you?" s/he asked him. "Get away from me, freak!" the punk shouted. "Y'know? That was just exactly the wrong thing to say...." He flew pretty nicely for such a big guy, though s/he'd meant for him to go sailing clean across 6th Street and slam into the side of the Laundromat. But no, the jerk had to flail around, kick as he arched out the mouth of the alleyway, his boots slamming right into the bag as he passed over it. "No!" She-Man started forward, but it was too late, the punk's momentum giving his kick an extra oomph and tumbling the bag across the sidewalk to the sound of glass shattering. She-Man heard the punk hit the street, scramble to his feet, boots thumping away into the night, but all s/he could do was stare at the bag upended in the gutter, the liquor splashing and gurgling down the storm drain. Damn. Next time, plastic bottles. "Wow." A quiet voice beside her. "I mean, thank you." Tearing hir eyes from the carnage, She-Man turned to see the guy in tweed looking up at hir. Right. The victim. "You OK?" Not that s/he really cared at this point, but still... "I'm fine, thanks." He smiled, his face broad and plain — not even remotely cute, thank God. "I mean, I've read about Justice Central and all, but, well, I didn't think I'd get to meet one of you my first week in the city!" She-Man sighed. "OK, important safety tip, newbie: back alleys off 6th Street are not safe this time of night." "I'll make a note of it." He gestured down the alley. "I just bought the old Canal Street Bakery, and I've walked home this way every night all week without any trouble." A shake of his head, a few wispy strands of mouse-brown hair flairing around his oversized ears. "Ah, geez. And it looks like you lost your groceries, too." "Groceries. Yeah." Now s/he'd have to face that cutie back at the Liquor Barn again. "Look, I, uhh..." The guy cleared his throat. "I don't know the drill, but if that was your dinner there, can I, well, can I treat you? To make up for it?" She-Man stared at him. "You, uhh, you do know who I am, don't you?" His eyes didn't move from hirs. "Well, judging by your size and blue skin, I'd say you're She-Man." He shrugged. "If you're on duty or something, I can take a raincheck. But I'd like to, y'know, pay you back a little." S/he gave another few blinks. "I thought these guys said you only had ten dollars." He bent to pick up a wallet lying on the ground. "I got plastic." He smiled up at hir, a pleasant, friendly smile. Something She-Man didn't see all that often. So what the hell? "OK, sure. I know a couple places around the University that aren't bad." "I can do better than 'not bad.'" He tucked the wallet into his jacket. "The place I live upstairs from is fantastic." He held out his hand. "I'm Lester Bowland, by the way." ***** It turned out to be a tiny storefront off Pershold Square, the red and white tablecloths slightly stained, the chairs plastic and rickety; She-Man lowered hirself carefully into one, more than a little surprised when it didn't collapse. The place was empty except for four old men playing cards at a back table. One of them stood up, came over, nodded to Lester and asked, "The usual?" "Yeah, Gino." Lester grinned at She-Man. "The spaghetti special's to die for." "Great." She-Man took off hir hat. "I'll have three of 'em and three bottles of chianti." S/he nodded to Lester. "You want anything to drink?" Lester turned to the old man. "Just milk for me." The old man shrugged, waddled to a swinging door in the rear wall, and Lester looked back at She-Man. "I suppose you burn a lot of calories in your line of work." "Oh, yeah." She-Man took a deep breath, the air all garlic and tomato sauce and freshly-baked bread. "Not that tonight was much. I mean, sure, punks are fun, but they're nothing I break a sweat over." "I can believe it. It must be fascinating, working for Justice Central." He had a look of sincere interest on his bread-dough face, something else She-Man didn't see very often. It unnerved hir a little, but s/he was saved from having to think up a reply by the old man coming back, a basket of breadsticks in one hand, a bottle of chianti in the other. He set them down, produced a large wine glass from his apron, and filled it. She-Man took the glass, downed it in one swallow. "Mmmm." S/he nodded to the waiter. "Very good." S/he poured another glass, drained it, poured a third. The waiter shrugged. "I'll bring the next bottle." He turned away, Lester grinning that friendly grin again, and whether it was the wine, the wonderful aromas, the easy ambiance of the place, or Lester's refreshing lack of guile, She-Man found hirself relaxing for the first time in... S/he forced hirself to scowl as s/he took a breadstick. "Don't get all starry-eyed on me, Les. Justice Central's just like any other job." Lester shrugged. "Not a job everyone's qualified for." She-Man gave a snort. "All you need's a talent for beating people up, a willingness to save the city every week or so, and a complete lack of fashion sense. I mean, look at Captain Vigilant." S/he downed the wine, its warmth spreading through hir. It was good stuff... "Oh, come on." Sincerity was like a scent around him even as he gave out with that grin. "What about a driving need to see justice done? An ironclad sense of good and evil? Powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men?" "Powers..." She-Man tipped the bottle up to catch the last drops. Did he really want to know? Did s/he really want to tell him? S/he'd always thought it would be more a "third date" sort of story, but, well, she hadn't had even a first date since before— The old man came back, the next bottle in his hand. She-Man gave him the empty, watched him open the new one, waited till he'd headed back for the kitchen. "All right," s/he said then, pouring hirself another glass. "Imagine this, Lester. "A girl named Sheila McBroom, a boy named Manny Tevis. They grow up right here in Megala City, meet in grade school, start dating in high school, live together all four years at University, graduate, and line up a couple pretty good jobs. "A week after graduation, they drive out to Moonlight Point, wander hand in hand down the beach, kiss, cuddle, yada yada yada. Then Manny takes the ring out, pops the question. Sheila squeals with delight, rushes into his arms...and that's when the truck dumps the glowing blue sludge onto them from the cliff above." "What?" Lester's eyes went wide. She-Man sipped from her glass. "I've searched the files of every research lab in the city, hacked into all the government databases, threatened a paper-pusher or two..." S/he shook hir head. "I can't find who or what it was. But the stuff fused the two together, pumped the half-and-half body full of muscles, made the skin a lovely blue and nearly impenetrable." Another swallow of wine, and She-Man gave Lester hir half-lidded stare. "But you know the worst part? It fused their minds, too. That's when Manny realized that Sheila had three other boyfriends she had every intention of keeping after snagging Manny. And Sheila saw how Manny had only proposed to her after calculating how much she'd be worth in a couple years when he could hire her killed and collect on the insurance." Plates clattered, and Lester started back from the table, the old man staggering up, four plates of spaghetti in his arms. He set them down, said, "I'll get your milk and your other bottle," and headed back for the kitchen. She-Man took a big whiff of the spaghetti, grabbed a fork, had dug through hir first plate when s/he noticed that Lester hadn't started. "You OK, Les?" "You...you mean they were...they were both—" "Lying, cheating, murderous scum? Oh, yeah." She-Man dabbed hir mouth with hir napkin, took another slug of wine. "Believe me, I know." S/he turned back to the spaghetti, had worked hir way through most of the second plate before he cleared his throat. "Well," he said, setting down his milk, "it seems to me you've been given an opportunity to start over in a way no one's ever even dreamed of before." That made her blink. "What do you mean?" He shrugged. "You're somebody new now. You don't have to be those people anymore. Not if you don't want to be." S/he blinked at him some more. "But their memories, everything they did, all the lies they told each other—" "Were theirs, not yours." He shook a breadstick at hir. "You're a good person. I can tell." He swirled the breadstick in the sauce on his plate and took a bite. She-Man couldn't stop a smile. "And how, pray tell, d'you know that?" Lester swallowed his mouthful. "Well, for one thing, I'm sitting here with you instead of bleeding in an alley off 6th Street." He leaned back in his chair. "And I imagine you'd be quite the master criminal if you set your mind to it. But no, you work for Justice Central." He spread his hands. "So either those two jerks were better people than you're willing to give them credit for, or you're a better person now." That grin lit up his plain face. "So, did you save room for tiramisu?" ***** She-Man pulled hir door closed, was down the stairs and into HQ's front hall when that cologne hit hir from behind. "Sorry, Bill." S/he grabbed hir new coat from its peg. "I can't fill in for you on monitors tonight." Captain Vigilant's snort made She-Man turn. He had his arms folded across his chest. "This is the third night this week you've taken off." She-Man gave him a half-lidded look. "Have I missed anything important?" "Well, no, but—" "Then shut up." S/he felt too good not to smile, though. "Besides, you're the one said I should get out more." His mouth went sideways. "But this has been so sudden." "Yeah. Isn't it great?" S/he started for the door, then stopped, turned back to Captain Vigilant heading for the Control Room, his shoulders slumped. "Oh, and Bill?" S/he stepped over, held out a hand. "As soon as I figure out what my name is, you'll be the first to know." Captain Vigilant blinked, reached out gingerly, took hir hand just long enough for half a shake, pulled back like he was expecting to get shocked. But She-Man didn't care. Lester was gonna show her how to make cinnamon rolls at the bakery tonight. S/he pushed open the front door and walked out into what s/he could tell was a warm, sweet night.