Chapter 3: The Flash
"It was me again, Berry Ellen!" Dr. Helena Wells was saying on the TV screen. "Were you expecting someone else?"
"Man, this show is bullshit!" Pavitr pointed an accusing finger at the TV. "Berry ran all the way to a different universe, and the big bad is Wells again? Can't they just give her a fucking break for once?"
"It's still better than most shows theses days." Stacie said, only a little defensive. "Golden Age of TV, my ass. Half the shows are just Islamophobic propaganda written by white supremacist assholes."
"See, that's where you're wrong, bhagini!" Pavitr said. "When white men vomit up the racist bullshit they've been swallowing, it becomes art through intestine alchemy!"
"If it's such bullshit," Aunt Mei said as she turned off the TV. "Then you should go do your homework instead of watching it. There's no hero in real life, and even if there was, the Flash isn't one of them."
"Suit me fine." Pavitr shrugged. "I should prepare for the archery club practice tomorrow anyways."
After watching her brother going up the stairs, Stacie – the only person in this house who stuck with the show after the Flash fought the exact same villain not once, not twice, but three times – asked Aunt Mei:
"Why do you hate the Flash so much?" she frowned. "The person, I mean. Not the drag of a show."
"She gets too much credit." Aunt Mei said in a matter-of-fact tone. "After literally running around for years, she made less real progress than Weapon V did in a few months. She made the mistake of putting out fires as they arise instead of going after the root of the evils like Weapon V did. She had been a fool."
"You talk like you know her," Stacie said. "Personally."
"Me? Friends with the Flash?" Mei laughed, but there was no humor in her voice. "Absolutely not. Just some observation from a woman who grew too old long before her time, is all."
"You said there's no hero in real life," Stacie pressed on after a moment of hesitation, her heart hammering in her chest: "What about...Spider-Shen?"
"A wide-eyed bleeding heart in way over her head." Aunt Mei said simply. "It's only a matter of time before she gets herself into more trouble than she can deal with."
"Well, at least she's doing something more than sitting around!" Stacie said, angry despite herself. "With great power comes great responsibilities. What kind of person would she be, if she just sits by and watch the world burn with all that power she has?"
Aunt Mei fell silent. Stacie stormed off without waiting for an answer, sulking all the way back to the room she shared with her siblings.
"She would be a wise woman." Mei whispered as her wife came home and apologized for being late again and kissed her neck. "Much wiser than I ever was."
Stacie hated gym classes before she got her powers. She had always been more of a science nerd than an athlete; as a result, she bonded with Dr. Yakumo more than any of her siblings did. Did the influence of the doctor cause her fascination in science? Or did her scientific mind get her closer to Yakumo in the first place? It's more or less a chicken and egg question, bottom line is she loathed gym classes.
After she got her powers? Well, she knew better than to suddenly dominate the field with her newfound prowess; it would be way too risky, and not just because it might blow her secret identity: if people were to find out she's trans, they would just attribute her athleticism to her "being a guy", and the right-wing moral guardians would bring out the guillotine faster than the SJWs they whine about all the time.
But right now, the same physical actions that used to be taxing for Stacie mean absolutely nothing to her. Her P.E. grades were still crap, but instead of being the result of her trying her best and barely keeping up, now she's just waltzing through a charade to protect her identity, and it's so easy for her she could be thinking about homework or fanfics or whatever she want while feigning incompetence.
The one thing that didn't change, though, was swimming classes. While there are swimwear designed specifically for trans people, it's simply a risk she couldn't afford. So she would just happen to have her period or come down with something in every swimming classes, and due to her being a good student otherwise and respect for Yakumo - a famous alumni - the gym teacher turns a blind eye on it.
As a result, Stacie is always sitting around watching people hate on the one sport she actually liked.
"I'm bored!" she told Venom telepathically, having just finished the copy of Ananasi Boys she had downloaded. She would have bought it, in dead tree form even, but unfortunately all of the writer's books were banned by the Conservatives because they thought he's a gay man (he's not). "Nothing interesting ever happens!"
"Famous last words." Venom told her. "Don't tempt Destiny like that, Stacie. She might seem relatively nice compared to her siblings, but she can be a real hellhound sometimes."
"Shouldn't it be 'tempting fate'?" Stacie blinked at the curious choice of words. "You speak as if Destiny is a person."
"Well…" Venom trailed off, but before she could interrogate them further, Stacie suddenly stood up and went toward the direction of: "Miles!"
Despite a full dozen of surviving students and teaching staff swearing up and down that Harry Osborn was the shooter and Miles was just helping Spider-Shen protecting them, the cops still saw it fit to hold the black kid for as long as possible as soon as they picked him up from his home, and grilled him in all the ways they could get away with before finally letting him go. Miles was just glad that he didn't get thrown into holding with some Nazi fuck.
"Stacie!" he beamed when he saw his girlfriend. "Man, aren't you a sight for sore eyes!"
But before the two lovebirds could have their long overdue embrace, someone stepped between them. Stacie's more startled by the fact that she's startled by the person than she's startled by the person; ever since the horror show with the Goblin, she had honed her "Spider-Sense" with the help of Venom, to the point that her prescience about dangers is borderline supernatural and she's hardly ever surprised. You'd think campus security would have noticed someone in weird costume since that Goblin fiasco, but in all fairness Sandman literally showed up out of nowhere, as if they materialized out of thin air.
"Can I help you...?" Stacie asked the person, their face hidden under a gas mask, as they reached into the pocket of their blood red leather apron and retrieved a pouch full of...yellow beach sand? "...Sandman?"
Sandman blew a grain of sand at Stacie's face, and she fell unconscious in their arms.
"Hey!" Miles growled and stepped up to the Sandman. "What did you do to her, you fucking creep!?"
Sandman pushed Miles into the pool, and then left with Stacie slung over their shoulder.
"They got her!" was the first thing Miles blurted out when Mei went to get the door. "They got Stacie!"
"What?" Mei blinked in confusion. "Who?"
"The cops! The villains! What's the difference?" Miles was almost having a panic attack. "Some creep in a gas mask just drugged Stacie and abducted her!"
"What?" Mei couldn't help but raised her voice. "...And why would they want to do that to my daughter, Miles?"
"Well, uh…" Miles averted her gaze.
"Miles?" Mei demanded, gently but firmly.
"Because...because Stacie is Spider-Shen!" Miles shut his eyes instead of meeting Mei's. "She's been at it for weeks! With the help from her little friend here!" he raised Venom, whom was in his arms.
"Oh my God." Mei covered her mouth with a hand. "I was right. She got in way over her head. And she's my little girl." she pointed a finger at Venom and said sternly: "I'll have a word with Hachiko about you once this is over.", to which the spider flailed their four forelimbs in acknowledgment.
After a moment of quiet contemplation and internal struggle, she set her jaw as she made up her mind and told Miles: "Wait here."
When Mei came back out, she was in full costume: a full-body jumpsuit of blue and silver, with the insignia of a single bolt of lightning on her chest. Her face was covered by a pair of heavy goggles.
"Wait, you - " Miles blinked in surprise. "You're the Flash?"
"Yes." the Flash said simply as she started walking.
"Um, not trying to tell a superhero how to superhero-ing here, but…" Miles ventured. "Since your power is super speed, wouldn't it be faster if you run ahead and save Stacie as soon as possible?"
"I can't." Mei said. "Using my super speed causes accelerated metabolism. Apart from requiring a lot of food to sustain, it also means I physically age sooner. I can't save Stacie if I die from my powers."
"Man, that's rough." Miles sighed. "So...subway?"
"I have a better idea." the Flash said as she showed Miles their ride: Takuya's salvaged motorcycle.
Sandman dropped Stacie onto a surgical bed without a word, before they reached out an open palm to demand the return of what's rightfully theirs, the payment promised for their service in this matter.
"I don't have it. Yet." Dr. Reed Richards said. Sensing that they might have been lied to, Sandman pulled a knife out of a pocket; the edge of the blade was red with heat. Richards threw his hands up in a placating gesture before continuing: "Kingpin has it. He promised to let me study it before returning it to you, but you can always try and get it directly from him if you're so impatient."
Satisfied with the good doctor's answer, Sandman put the knife back in their pocket and disappeared.
"What a creep." Richards spat before he went to undress a teenage girl for his human experiment, completely failing to appreciate the irony of his own hypocrisy. "Now, what's your secret...?"
Richards had always been jealous of women in science, they got it so easy. All they have to do is twice as much work for half of the pay and none of the recognition, all the while being attacked by "leftists" who claim they care about workers and abhor misogyny but mercilessly beat down on anyone in STEM because all scientists are New Atheeists and all coders are techbros to these "Communists" and "Anarchists". Abused by their colleagues, tokenized by Liberals, abandoned by the leftists: truly an envious position!
Still, they have achieved much: Dr. Walters with her Super Soldier Serum, Dr. Isley who went on to be the leader of the Inhumans, and Dr. van Dyne who made strides in Project Goliath before the confusion surrounding Dr. Foster's death allowed that snake Pym to steal the credit from both of them, to name a few. But none brings out the green-eyed monster like Dr. Yakumo Hachiko – Reed's college sweetheart whom went on to become the leading expert in transgenic biology, the same field Richards specializes in. Not so long ago she even wrestled a Mutant arachnid away from him for the sake of animal rights or something; Reed wondered if this girl's powers have anything to do with that. His curiosity in Stacie is purely academic and had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she's Yakumo's daughter. Really.
This girl was to be his big break. If he could crack the genetic basis of her Mutation, he would be able to create an entire army of soldiers or cops with her powers. Unlike what the leftists would believe, he did think about if he should as much as whether he could, and it all came down to this: neither matters because if he doesn't he'd lose his grant and perhaps even his job, then the higher education his parents worked to death to give him would go down the drain. If only he can get some of that bribe money the corps give out for fabricating evidences of climate change, or the Communists would show him some worker solidarity. Every scientist is just one rejected research grant away from becoming a supervillain.
"Well, this is…" Reed blinked in surprise when he finally fully undressed Stacie, and it only took him a moment to figure out what's going on with her. "…Unexpected."
"My heart goes out to you, young lady; truly, it does." Richards said, as much to the unconscious Stacie as it was to himself. "I know a little bit of what you must be going through; growing up as a Mutant is tough." but it didn't stop him from reaching out with an elongated arm to grab a sampling syringe. "But growing up trans is harder. It's hard enough to understand why people hate those Mutants whom barely have powers; it's harder still for people to comprehend why anyone would hate trans people when they have no power at all." he turned Stacie on her back and placed the syringe on her spine. "So they assume the hate and oppression aren't real, and rationalize it from there. Religion, ideology...it doesn't matter what their excuses are." he started to stab the syringe into her bone marrow. "At least I'm honest with you and myself. I don't pretend to be any more or less than who I really am: just another man."
"A man who is about to die," a tired and jaded voice came from behind him, where there wasn't anyone just seconds before. "If he doesn't remove his filthy hands from my precious little girl at once."
Richards dropped the syringe and turned around, and his heart leapt into his mouth when he saw whom was there: the Flash, the Silver Lining, the Fastest Person Alive, the right-hand woman of Magneto.
"That's a lot of bravado," Reed said as he reached his hands toward Mei, arms stretching to impossible lengths. "For someone long thought dead, buried in the same mass grave as her magnetic master." but he was trembling, knowing that he was completely outmatched before an experienced combatant. "Then again, Magneto came back from the dead, so I suppose it's no surprise that you did as well."
"That's a funny power you have there." The Flash said without moving or even raising her voice while Reed's arms surrounded her like thick tentacles. "Like an octopus. They should call you Dr. Octopus."
"And they would call you the Fastest Person to Have Died," Richards raised his voice out of fear and adrenaline, as his arm-tentacles wrapped tightly around her body. "Once I dissected your corpse!"
"Oh, sweetheart…" Mei sighed as every molecule inside her body began to vibrate with unimaginable speed, allowing her to phase through solid matter...such as Reed's flesh and bones. "You have no idea what you're dealing with." her tone was almost pitying as she reached out a vibrating hand toward the good doctor's head. "I'm going to make you watch as I take your internal organs out of your body."
Richards didn't try to back away; he knew he couldn't outrun her if she meant to pursue him, and she did. When he looked at her, he no longer saw a woman cladded in silver and blue; he saw a shadow of creation, millions and millions of stars exploding in a burning and dying cosmos...and her name was Death.
But suddenly, Mei's legs gave out and she collapsed onto the floor. The vibration of the molecules in her body stopped; in fact, every motion of her body stopped. Suspecting a trick, Richards slowly and carefully walked toward her and checked her pulse and breathing: weak and shallow, alive but barely.
"...Ha!" Reed couldn't help but let out a nervous laugh. "Hahaha…" he laughed as tension went out of his body along with the adrenaline, his arms and legs bending and folding in uncomfortable angles.
"Not bad for the first battle of Dr. Octopus, eh?" he chuckled hysterically. "Well, time to get back to - "
His voice trailed off as he felt a sting at the base of his skull; he turned around and saw Stacie, naked but for the syringe in her hands, which contained powerful tranquilizer meant for animals. "Oh shit."
Then he too collapsed onto the ground like a heap of worn-out towels, just in time for Miles to come in.
"Stacie, are you - " Miles began, but his voice went out when he saw Stacie's naked body. "The fuck?"
As it turned out, Aunt Mei had foreseen her eventual collapse and told Miles exactly who to call and what to say. A nondescript van arrived at the Baxter Building carrying people wearing the purple-on-red version of hammer and sickle on their armbands: symbol of the Brotherhood, the Flash's former comrades. They discreetly applied first aid to Mei while changing her into civilian clothing, before they loaded her into the van and took her to a hospital affiliated with them, sparing her from uncomfortable and likely loaded questions from the police. They told Stacie and Miles to go home and wait.
The two spent most of the walk in uncomfortable silence. When they finally got within a few blocks from Stacie's place, she finally decided to rip the band-aid off and broke the silence: "Well?"
"Well what?" Miles said, avoiding her eyes. In fact he wouldn't look at her at all.
"Something on your mind?" Stacie pressed on, obviously hurting. "Just spit it out."
"Oh, nothing big." Miles said with forced nonchalance. "Just thought you'd have told me you're trans."
"Why?" Stacie asked, still trying to remain as calm as possible. "How does it matter to you anyways?"
As a trans girl, Stacie's used to not express negative emotion in any way except crying, lest transphobes would use it as proof that she's "actually a guy", because in their "logic" anger is an essentially male emotion that women never have, and the only way a girl can use to express their pain is through crying. Such misogyny. Much transphobia. Very Feminist.
"You know I'm totally cool with trans people and everything, right?" Miles said, "I just can't believe that you trust me enough to make your costume, but still not enough to tell me that you're trans!"
"Trust has nothing to do with it!" Stacie cried as tears began to swell up in her eyes. "Do you just tell everything about yourself to every girl you've ever dated? Is that how these things work for you?"
"Well I've never dated a girl before so - " Miles realized how lame that sounded and bit his tongue. "I'm not asking you to tell me everything; but since we're dating don't you think I deserve to know this bit?"
"How so?" Stacie asked as she wiped tears away from her eyes. "I thought you dated me because you think I'm cute and funny and smart and a superhero, not just because you want to get into my pants."
"Of course I dated you for those reasons too!" Miles said. "But I'm just a guy here; obviously I also want ta get naked with you eventually. Surely you get that! So why you gotta lay that trap on me?"
"Lay that - " Stacie blinked and finally lose her temper, and her rage was cold and sharp and horrible. "...You know what? You're right. I didn't trust you enough. And you've just proved it's the right call."
"Stacie, I - " Miles reached out to try holding onto Stacie before she stormed off, but his hand flinched at the last second as he set his jaw. "Whatever, man. Stacie probably isn't even your real name."
"Something on your mind?" Vulture asked as she kissed her lover on the head. "Just spit it out, love."
"This has gone too far, Carol." Karen shook her head in Carol's bosom. "It has gone too fucking far."
"That's not for us to decide, honey." Carol held Karen by her chin. "We're paid to do a job, that's all."
"We were hired to break up the BLM movement." Karen pointed out. "Not to ruin teenagers' lives."
"Big words," Carol said with a thin smile. "For someone who just killed a high-schooler for Kingpin."
"That murderous loser had it coming and you know it." Karen spat. "Don't change the subject, Carol."
"Look, this will break up the movement." Carol threw her hands up. "So, mission accomplished."
"And those two kids are just...what? Collateral damage?" Karen sat up in the bed so she could look her girlfriend in the eyes. "Like the Arab children bombed by drones just to get to one suspected Jihadist?"
"I don't support that any more than you do and you know it." it's Carol's turn to raise her voice and point fingers. "I didn't sign up for that anymore than I signed up for all the sexual harassment."
"What did you sign up for, then?" Karen asked. "What made you join the air force in the first place?"
"That's irrelevant now." Carol shook her head. "I got kicked out for blowing the whistle, remember?"
"And I was kicked out of Washington Post for asking one too many pointed question at their biggest investor, that bald bastard Xavier." Karen gritted her teeth at the memory. "So we both got burned for trying to do the right thing. That doesn't mean we have to start doing the exact opposite, Carol."
"Look, the point is that we're here now." Carol turned her back on Karen to hide her face from her lover. "And this is what our lives had became."
"Carol, I've loved you before you enlisted, I've stuck with you after you got discharged, and nothing will ever stop me from loving you." Karen said as she got out of bed. "But when I became a journalist, I wanted to expose the corruption of those in power, not to ruin innocent lives to keep assholes in power. I've always tried to support you as best I could, but...this has gone too far, Carol."
"This has gone too fucking far."
It all went to hell.
Daily Bugle got hold of the footage showing the argument between Miles and Stacie from Karen the Huntress. Through some choice editing, sensationalized headlines, and the general game of Internet telephone, suddenly Stacie is a "white-passing racist bitch" to the left and "insincere black ally" to the Liberals. She can't go to school now that she's been outed against her will. Girls wouldn't let her use the girl's bathroom since she's "actually a guy", and the boys leer or snort at her when she uses the boy's room. She had the words "tranny faggot" painted over her desk and locker. Even her family is getting heat for it, with her siblings also getting picked on and Dr. Yakumo coming under scrutiny.
But that's not even the worst of it. The truth is, Stacie expected all of the above. She always knew they would happen if she's outed to the school. What she didn't expect was its impact on the movement. For people who claim to want justice and equality, they sure do turn on each other faster than they ever rise against their oppressors. Some cishet black people attacked white trans people during a protest. White trans people demanded the cishets to acknowledge that trans lives also matter. The protesters refused, saying it'd dilute their message as much as "All Lives Matter", so the white queers renounced them.
"Listen here girl, you sound like you're young, so I'm going to give you some free advice:" Vulture's voice echoed in a corner of Stacie's mind, her expression hidden beneath the heavy goggles. "Nobody cares about justice, not really. All those people down there? They only care at all because it's their blood that's been shed, and it's their justice they're demanding. You're their hero because you work for them, but the moment you don't – for whatever reason – they're going to turn on you as well."
The world hates her. Not because of who she is or what she does, but because of what she is. She's not black, so she might as well be a privileged white woman. She's not a cis girl, so she might as well be a cross-dressing boy. White people think she's part of the "overpopulation problem", while black people believe she doesn't suffer from racism. Cis people think she's a deluded pervert, while non-trans queers couldn't understand how hard it is to grow up trans, prisoner in her own skin. No one gets what it's like to be a trans person of color: oppressed by the powerful and abandoned by other marginalized people.
"I...I can't do this...Aunt Mei…" she hugged her legs in a fetal position as she cried in a corner of Mei's hospital room. She held out her left arm; the scars are faint and barely visible. It wasn't always like this between her and her Moms; she's their first child to come out as trans, and Mei especially spent a lot of effort trying to convince her she won't be able to deal with all the hate in the world. But what choice did she have? She could either die as a trans girl buried in her best dress after finally being herself for however short a time...or she could be buried as another sissy boy, another victim, another statistics.
"I can't do this...anymore…"