2: New Leaf
Frogg watched as Red and Voltar wandered off to go get the V-Mobile, chattering and going on excitedly about sweets. Then he turned to face Firecracker, his skepticism in full bloom.
"What are you up to?" he demanded.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You were just mind controlling the neighborhood and now...you're treating us to pastries?"
"Yeah," she said, nodding. "What, do you think I have some sort of ulterior motive?"
"I have every reason to think so!" Frogg replied, folding his arms.
"That, you do." She shrugged, then she just stared at him, her expression blank. It was apparent that she wasn't going to offer any other response.
"And why did you ask me to help rebuild that device?" Frogg pressed. "What were you going to do, use it to take control of Metrotown through dancing? Make the city denizens your personal slaves?!"
With each suggestion, Frogg could see the possibilities play out in his mind and he felt his heart start beating faster. His claws whirred as he suddenly fixed Firecracker with an expectant, almost rabid stare. "We could be the tyrannical king and queen of Metrotown! With an army of mutant dinosaurs!"
Firecracker just stared blankly at Frogg for a long minute, frowning. "Um, Froggy...You're getting really carried away. For one thing, I barely know you. For another thing, I wasn't asking to team up to conquer Metrotown."
Now Frogg was disbelieving. "You're not...trying to take over Metrotown?"
"No," she replied. "I just really enjoyed the thought of torturing people with cheesy 80s music. And...I thought it might be fun to team up with another mad scient-"
"Would you ever consider using your invention to take over Metrotown?" Frogg asked hopefully.
"No," Firecracker answered without hesitation.
Just that one little "no" echoed through Frogg's mind. Vaguely, Frogg remembered attending classes at Evil Kiddy College; one of the most major lessons was: "always aspire to dominate." And, with every scheme he came up with, Frogg always tried to think of ways it could be expanded upon, how much more evil potential it'd have. Of course, most of his and the League's ventures were failures in terms of reaching the potential they could, but Frogg took pride in knowing he tried to go the extra mile...most of the time.
For a moment, Frogg was about to argue with her. The words were rolling in his mouth, but they were lost as "La Cucaracha" ripped through the air. An eager, disillusioned Voltar was in the driver's seat, honking the horn. "Come on, Frogg! Come on, Meal Tick-I mean, Firecracker!"
Firecracker doggedly raced towards the V-Mobile, hopping into the back seat and landed in-between Red Menace and Doomageddon. As soon as she saw the doom hound, she was squealing; she pulled back Doomageddon's hood and started scratching the top of his head.
"Hey, I didn't say you could touch our doom hound, woman!" Voltar griped, turning around in the seat. "You're getting cooties all over him!"
Firecracker just blew a raspberry at Voltar as she scratched Doomageddon under the chin; the doom hound was basking in the attention, making low whining noises.
"Awww." Red Menace reached over and started petting Doomageddon, too. "I think he likes you!"
"I guess you forgot that she made you dance uncontrollably and almost blew you up?" Frogg said pointedly, disgruntled as he climbed into the front seat next to Voltar. "You obviously don't have your priorities in order, Volt-"
"That's a good point, Frogg," he said, then pointed at Firecracker and declared: "I demand you get me three cookies instead of one!"
"You're really pushing your luck, Martian Man!" she replied.
"The name's Voltar," he cried indignantly.
"Mmm, I prefer Martian Man," Firecracker said, chuckling.
"Five cookies!" Voltar spewed.
Rolling his eyes, Frogg edged around Voltar and buckled in. He took over the role of driver, feeling like he was carting a bus full of kids instead of full grown adults. The entire trip through Metrotown, Firecracker and Voltar bickered back and forth. From what Frogg could tell, at first Firecracker was just bating and teasing Voltar, which entertained him to some degree as well. Though, by some point, Voltar had actually gotten under her skin, making her curse and shout furiously.
Feeling like his mouth needed to be scrubbed out with soap, Frogg was relieved when he finally pulled into a spot in front of the local bakery. He climbed out of the car, dazed, and watched as a distressed Red Menace tried to calm Firecracker and Voltar; Doomageddon looked on bemusedly, chuckling.
"...Hannah Montana: the Movie is not what I'd consider a cinematic masterpiece, endorsed by Primadena or not!" Firecracker howled. "Could you be any more of a mindless fanboy brat?!"
"I'm not a fanboy!" Voltar hollered back.
"Yes, you are!" Firecracker snarled.
"Stop it, you guys!" Red Menace sighed. "Can't you just respect each other's opinions-?"
"No!" Voltar and Firecracker snapped at the same time.
By now, Frogg couldn't really take anymore. Irritated, he walked over and opened the front door to the bakery. Enticing aromas sailed out: fresh doughnuts, cookies, bread, and various other things. As if on cue, both Voltar and Firecracker stopped arguing, heads perked up and noses sniffing.
Firecracker was right on Voltar's heels as they ran in; the door slammed Frogg right in the face. "Hey guys, wait for me!" Red called out, following the other two inside.
Crumpling like an accordion, Frogg danced around on the balls of his feet before collapsing to the ground. He groaned when Doomageddon grabbed him by the ankle and dragged him inside. Next thing he knew, Frogg was spreadeagled across a glass counter, Doomageddon hovering over him with sprinkles and a can of whipped cream.
-Metrotown: Metrotown Tech
All Serenity could remember was getting off of a plane and meeting Metrotown's MT "representative" that was going to transport her to the MT campus. But, then she'd discovered that the representative was a ditzy superhero named Wow Woman. That in and of itself had raised Serenity's suspicions, but she hadn't had any opportunity to speak to the woman other than finding out what her name was.
For forty-five minutes, Justin Bieber's voice had poured out of the car's radio. Wow Woman was enjoying every moment, but next to her, Serenity was cringing, her fingers in her ears. Yet, despite Serenity's best efforts, she couldn't block out the god-awful music.
Wow Woman reached out and cranked down the volume. Then she looked at Serenity, her smile turning into a confused frown. Immediately, Serenity pulled her fingers out of her ears and smiled sheepishly.
"So, what's it like being a super hero in Miracle City?" Wow Woman began, looking expectantly at Serenity.
Serenity felt a slight tug at her heart strings. "Crazy," she replied. "The villains keep getting more powerful and more bizarre. I've dealt with villains that make living, breathing guacamole monsters, that can bend space-time, that can control the shadows...Lots of crazy, crazy stuff."
Wow Woman's eyebrows raised. "Wow...Have any of them had any official schooling?"
Serenity smiled. "No. Miracle City doesn't have any official institutions for that kind of thing like Metrotown does. All of the heroes and villains either started up on their own accord or are following a family legacy of being heroes or villains."
"I've always wanted to meet a homegrown superhero!" the older woman mused. "I actually volunteered to bring you here for that exact reason. How long have you been a superhero?"
"Two years," Serenity said, smiling. "Feels like a lifetime, though. It's hard to get over that I'm going on hiatus..."
"Hey..." Wow Woman frowned. "Do you know who offered to pay your way through Metrotown Tech?"
"No," Serenity replied, looking at Wow Woman, confused.
"Glory Guy," she said with a wide smile. "He was impressed by how many different big name heroes you've worked alongside with in Miracle City. White Pantera gave you a glowing recommendation, too!"
Serenity felt herself blushing furiously; she remembered having an intense crush on White Pantera as a little girl. And to think, she'd grown up into the superhero she never expected to be, but somebody who not only got her previous idol's attention...but his praise? Her heart fluttered in her chest, a crazy and spastic butterfly. She'd barely been out of Miracle City for three hours, but the homesickness was already settling in.
"You don't have to give up being a superhero while you're here, Serenity." Wow Woman looked absolutely ecstatic. "How would you like to work as one of Metrotown's operative sidekicks while you're attending college here?"
The offer floored Serenity. Part of her was tempted to take the offer; it could assuage her homesickness, at least somewhat, right?
"Would I be able to get my schoolwork done?" she blurted.
"Of course!" Wow Woman said with a brush-off hand gesture. "There's lots of college kids that are part time superheroes here. There's actually a program set in place that makes sure you guys have time to get your work done!"
That alone made Serenity's eyes almost pop out of her head. But still, something held her back. Program or no, there was no way a superhero couldn't be a superhero full-time. Serenity wondered how she got through high school with the grades she did considering how spontaneous and erratic villain attacks were.
"There's one drawback to the program," Wow Woman warned, as if reading Serenity's mind. "You get assigned low level villains only. Shoplifters, neighborhood hoodlums..." She rolled her eyes as she muttered under her breath: "...the League of Super Evil."
"What was that last one, again?" Serenity asked, wondering why they were noteworthy enough not to be put in a generalized group.
"The League of Super Evil," Wow Woman groaned, looking like she was going to be sick.
Serenity tried to stifle back laughter. "I've heard some pretty lame villain names: Dr. Chipotle, the Mighty Cheetar, the Mustache Mafia, but this one takes the cake! How lamely pretentious can you get?!"
"They're as lame as they sound," Wow Woman agreed. "Creepy, too. Their mad scientist keeps trying to ask me out...Ugh!" She cringed visibly.
For some reason, that offended Serenity on an internal level. She remembered when she first became fascinated by mechanics and mechanical parts; her very first crush had been a mad scientist: Dr. Chipotle, Jr. Even though her crush had long since faded, Serenity still had a soft spot for creative and intelligent mad scientist types; she wanted, desperately, to believe that they were lost, kindred souls that could be guided to the good side with enough coaxing.
"Maybe you should give him a chance?" Serenity suggested, lost in her own thoughts.
"Not in a million years!" she scoffed. "Never! Never! You'd agree if you saw him and he acted like the same brand of lovesick idiot around you!"
That comment launched Wow Woman on a tangent about how creepy she thought some guy named "Doctor Frog" was. How he'd asked her for her number a few times, even offered to go out on dates. All behind his boss' and fellow minion's backs.
Serenity shrugged and looked down at her clenched fists; she couldn't say whether the older woman was justified or not. At one point in time, she never would have imagined that she'd end up in a romantic relationship with Felix Suarez. As a kid, she'd absolutely despised him: she'd hated how mean and obnoxious he could be, that he was a shameless and petty thief, his wannabe womanizer persona, his long, matted red hair. But then, he'd approached her, on his knees, asking for her forgiveness, wanting help to change. Reluctantly, she'd taken him on as her sidekick and, she'd discovered that there was a completely different side to Felix.
Felix was kind and he did care about things, he just had a complicated view on life; he'd seen his original image as the only way to get the attention he wanted. As he kept continuing to turn over a new leaf, Serenity found herself falling for him: he was loyal, brave, confident, and everything she'd always wished she could be. They brought out the best in each other: she encouraged him to be moral and just, while he encouraged her to be confident and passionate...
Thinking about him, Serenity closed her eyes and sighed; he'd probably find a way to come to Metrotown sometime soon. The clever guy was just biding his time in Miracle City, hoping that he'd be the one to convince her to return to Miracle City.
Closing her eyes, Serenity touched the diamond ring on finger and smiled while part of her soul ached. How long would he stay in Miracle City waiting?
Wow Woman led Serenity towards the rectangular, glass topped buildings that were Metrotown Tech. When they walked through the front doors, Serenity couldn't help ogling all of the impressive machines and inventions just in the front foyer. Excitedly, she walked across the entire area, taking in everything, trying to capture and absorb the details of every invention. There were tags next to most of them, listing the name of the invention, the inventor, and the year they graduated.
But of all the inventions in the room, one very specific one really caught her eye. She raced over to it, almost tripping over herself in her flats. It towered over her, a cube shaped infrastructure of intertwining copper pipes with a glossy sphere in the middle. Looking at it for a few moments, Serenity took a few steps back, close to squealing with excitement. This machine...could easily be the predecessor to a cold fusion generator. But...there was no tag?
When she turned around, a middle aged professor with a salt and pepper beard was standing there. She looked at him with wide, curious eyes, pointing at the invention. "Who. Built. That?" she asked in an awed whisper.
"Archibald Frogg," he replied evenly, somewhat sadly.
"Of all the inventions in here, this one's, undeniably, the most well-crafted and has the most potential!" she gushed. "Why did the inventor want to remain anonymous?"
"Actually...Archibald never graduated," the man replied somberly. "He dropped out of college for full time pursuits as an evil mad scientist."
That caught Serenity off-guard. "Docktor Frogg!" she gasped.
"Yes, that'd be him," the man said, eyes closed as he seemingly swam in his lost memories.
Despite herself, Serenity felt her heart start beating a bit faster. Frogg seemed to be popping up everywhere and the mystery of who he was fascinated her in ways she didn't want it to. Biting down on her lip, Serenity took a step back and walked away from the invention, making a point out of forcing herself not to look at it.
She wandered across the campus, looking at everything, and kind of noticing the other students walking by. She stopped when she walked back outside. Blond brick dormitories stood off in the distance; there were more groups of students just milling around, working on different things.
Did they know who Archibald Frogg was...?
That name...It was wandering around the maze of Serenity's mind. And while part of her knew she shouldn't even indulge the thoughts, she smiled and giggled, letting herself indulge the thoughts of asking Frogg what his inventing secrets were.
Firecracker waved as the League of Super Evil drove away in the V-Mobile. For the strangest reasons, she felt like they'd taken a chunk of her heart away with them. She thumbed the lid of the box of doughnuts she was holding under her arm as she turned to face the Starbucks building. Despite stuffing her face with cookies in a foolhardy eating contest against Martian Man, she still couldn't resist the allure of a freshly baked chocolate doughnut...
Just as she was going to enter the coffee place, loud shrieks and screams tore through the once-pleasant cerulean blue afternoon. A red sports car went flying, followed by the top of a fire hydrant. A black plume of smoke swiveled into the air; a giant geyser of water sprayed from a now topless fire hydrant Sirens wailed off in the distance.
Eyes wide, Firecracker let the door slam shut and walked into the parking lot. She was kind of surprised by the turn of events, but at the same time, she wasn't.
Skullossus appeared in the parking lot, seemingly out of nowhere, looking absolutely furious. Fists clenched and pupils burning, he made a beeline for Firecracker, stopping right before he crushed her with his mechanical foot. For a second, she just stared dumbly up at him, feeling her heart floating in her stomach. Clutching at her chest, Firecracker felt a sudden on burst of heart burn; she could swear that her stomach acid was cooking her heart.
"Hiya...Bossman," she said, uncharacteristically timid.
Snorting like a bull, Skullossus reached out and swiped away the box of doughnuts, then he unceremoniously attached a pink sticky note to her forehead. Written in all caps and red ink were the words: "YOU'RE FIRED!"
Sighing, Firecracker reached up and peeled the sticky note off, then ripped it up into a bunch of little pieces, watching Skullossus stomp away the entire time. From the beginning to the very end of her career, he'd never said more words to her than she could count on one hand. He couldn't even manage to say anything to her now?
Looking down at her shoes, Firecracker felt a mixture between relieved and upset. It might not hurt so much if he'd actually said the words to her face... maybe?
Firecracker had been waiting for close to two hours in a mile long line of mad scientists, all of them wanting to work for Skullossus for one reason or another. In front of them was a large hexagon shaped teleporter pad that transported whoever was standing on it directly to some undisclosed part of Skullossus' floating space lair. Firecracker shuffled back and forth on her toes, playing with the feather in her hat; she was next up and she was getting kind of antsy.
Suddenly, a dejected looking man with an afro appeared in a white crackle of light; he stepped off of the transporter pad, muttering under his breath. Giggling like a maniac, Firecracker raced up on the pad and blew a raspberry at her competition before she disappeared.
Mere moments later, she was standing in front of a wooden desk, being scrutinized by the eery, glowing eyes of Skullossus himself; he wasn't even sitting behind the desk, just standing there awkwardly. Hastily, Firecracker collected herself and pretended to poke and prod at nonexistent lint.
Skullossus reached down and tapped his fingers on the desk, staring at her for a long, agonizing moment. Firecracker tried not to outwardly show just how much that bothered her. Then he held up a series of papers, rifled through them and smirked.
"I already like the potential of hiring you," Skullossus commented as he reached up and tapped the glass of his helmet thoughtfully. "You're a dirty, rotten little traitor!"
Then he pulled open a desk drawer and pulled out a colorfully illustrated children's book titled Pretty Kitty. He thrusted it right in Firecracker's face, making her cringe as it just about bopped her in the nose.
"Read this!" he commanded.
Tentatively, she reached out and took the book. Pulling open the cover, she projected her skepticism at the bright and happy cartoon illustration of a smiling kitten. But, she shrugged and did as instructed.
"There was once a skeleton kitty named Skeel," she started in a clear, slightly childish voice. "He lived in a UFO shaped like his head. He liked to play with yarn as well as using it to tie up his worst superhero enemies, Glory Kitty and Sergeant Sparkles..."
She read through the entire story, feeling more and more embarrassed. Partway through, she wondered if this was just a sick prank on the part of Skullossus; if so, she definitely admired his devious brilliance. Yet, at the same time, she knew there had to be some ounce of seriousness to it, considering how many different parts and elements of it were undeniable self-indulgence on the part of Skullossus.
"...and, so our story ends with Skeel shooting Glory Kitty and Sergeant Sparkles into the dark, airless vacuum of space, where they shriveled up into a pair of wrinkled, tiny prunes" she finished.
Then she looked up and, was absolutely surprised when she saw Skullossus smiling and satisfied.
"You got the job," he said, giving a double thumbs up. "Just make sure there's an audio recording of you reading a bedtime story on my desk everyday and you're set. Well...there's more to it than that, but the other candidates didn't really quite grasp the core understanding of being my employee."
"What's that?" Firecracker asked, blinking and astounded.
"Number 1,"-he held up a finger-"You never mess with or question my authority. Number 2: I never go to bed without a bedtime story."
"...You never mess with or question my authority..."
The words echoed through Firecracker's mind as she slumped down the alleyway. She'd broken that rule so many different times, just in small, unspoken increments. Mistakes that she could easily fix or cover up.
Sighing sadly, she looked up at the sky, watching the clouds slink by. Right now, she was alone, barred in by looming brick walls. Dumpsters and trash cans stood to either side; papers and other trash rolled and skittered by, setting the mood in a strangely theatrical way.
As she walked along, Firecracker mused over her position: She was the daughter of Metrotown's underground crime boss, Leo Sernara. She was one of the Cougar's unknown, but rumored about, grandchildren. She'd even been briefly employed by Skullossus, the world's most powerful super villain. On paper, she should be one of Metrotown's deadliest and most revered super villains. But, in reality, she was far from it.
In reality, she was barely a public nuisance; she committed petty crimes and disruptions. Even when she'd been employed by Skullossus, it wasn't to be one of his accomplices; she'd barely been his "mad scientist." She'd been more of a grunt, running around on inane errands, attending to his IT and technical related issues, and sometimes, she built machines for him. But he never gave her credit; never praised her for her work. He didn't respect her. By now, she knew that the only reason he'd hired her was to "stick it" to her father. Of course, Leo was infuriated, but he was the only one who knew that she'd been working for Skullossus...She'd just been a frivolous decoration on Skullossus' wall.
The thoughts stopped and she scowled. The realization made her insides burn, filled her with molten magma. All she could do was glare at the sky while she dragged her fingers through her hair and yanked at individual strands. Tears started collecting at the edges of her eyes when she stopped pulling out hair.
Next thing she knew, she had several thin strands of yellow hair clasped between her fingers. She gritted her teeth and let go of them, watching them fly away.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she imagined Remus standing there. Good old Remus, the man she'd always call "father" before her own biological one.
In her mind, he looked the same as he always did: the portly middle aged man with gray eyes and gray streaked dark hair, an eternal smile, the cheesy Hawaiian print shirt, and the tan khakis. His arms were wide open and she ran into him, letting herself fall apart and explode. When she opened her eyes again, she found herself back in that same alley. What she'd never understood was how somebody with a heart made of gold could love a villain like herself so unconditionally.
Despite how much loss she'd experienced, it was because of Remus that Firecracker was able to pick herself back up and keep going. She smiled in a sardonic way, reflecting on how strange it was that she could take so much comfort in exactly what probably caused Remus grief. She knew she'd always have a place to stay with Remus, that he'd always take her in no matter what, but they both knew that she wouldn't return. That she just couldn't.
Biting her lower lip, Firecracker pushed the thoughts back as she turned around and started wandering back into the city. Shop fronts passed by, as did people. A few times, Firecracker noticed a superhero flying by overhead; one of them had probably heard about this morning's evil scheme by now. Yet none of them stopped or apprehended her. She kind of wished that they would...
She stopped walking when she reached the city park and sat down on the edge of the fountain, staring forlornly at her reflection in the water. Feeling a strange, childish urge overcome her, she reached out and touched the water's surface, feeling tingles run down her spine as ripples appeared. Her thoughts routed back to the eclectic League of Super Evil. The ghost of an idea started swimming in the back of her mind and she furrowed her brows, leaning in closer to the water until she was almost kissing her reflection.
"What sort of impression did I leave on you, Martian Man...?" she mused, smiling.
-Metrotown: Metrotown Tech
Serenity laid on the bed in her new dorm room, arms spread out to either side of her as she stared up at the ceiling. Her cell phone was right next to her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Felix's smiling face on the screen. And she could just imagine him hanging out with Zeo at the local arcade, digging around his pants pocket. Probably digging out his cell phone and checking for messages.
She knew she should call him and relay the news; that all of the problems she'd discussed with him at length that very morning had magically disappeared. Yet, she still felt something nagging at her. Somehow, despite how perfect this arrangement seemed, she was still doing something wrong.
A huge part of her felt like she should get up, pull out the superhero belt she'd sneaked into her suitcase, put it on, and then take off flying. There was something strangely liberating about being up in the clouds, so close to the stratosphere that medieval people would tell her that she could see heaven. The thought made her smile, but despite the urge, she knew that as soon as she reached the skies, she'd be tempted to try flying all the way back to Miracle City.
Her heart panged: Her home was thousands of miles away. How could she leave so much behind? Why did she do it...?
That was when her phone rang. Without even looking, she picked it up and answered. "Hello?"
She could hear the wishy-washy desperation in her own voice...
"Serenity, have you thought more about my offer?" said the voice on the other line.
Serenity rolled over and felt like a disembodied spirit when she heard herself reply: "Yeah...And my answer is yes."