Sabrina Drummond had been pacing up and down her cramped apartment for days on end. Her best friend... one of her only friends she'd made since moving to New York City, was missing. Not only was the missing girl her friend, but, her IDOL - Valor Girl - the very reason that she'd gone into the superhero business, once she gained superpowers of her own. She wasn't worried that the mighty superheroine had gotten herself into some sort of super-trouble that threatened her life, she was worried that Valor Girl had gotten herself into a depression that was going to make her do something drastic without thinking it through.
Valor Girl, aka Charlotte Trent, had become very close to the girl who wore a star on her face to fight crime
. VG had taken Starlet, as Sabrina called herself when in 'uniform', under her wing. She'd introduced Starlet to so many super-people in the New York area, and made her feel like she was part of The Life
, as though born to it. Now, Valor Girl was gone. She'd sent Sabrina cryptic texts about 4 or 5 nights ago, claiming that she was going to get to the bottom of a few things, and that she might not be around as often as she had been. Starlet called and called her friend, but kept getting sent to voicemail. Texts went unanswered. Starlet, as Sabrina, had even gone to her friend's college dorm room while in civilian identity, looking for 'Charlotte Trent', but, VG's roommate, who didn't know that she was sharing space with a bona fide superheroine, said that she hadn't seen or talked to Charlotte in days.
Starlet had canvassed half the city via flying, looking for some sign of her pal, with no such luck. She was about to return to that activity for the third time that week, when there was a knock at her door. She opened it just a crack, with the chain still on. Superpowers or no, this was still New York City. Outside the door stood a slender girl with brown hair, not unlike that of Valor Girl, herself, but, her eyes were an odd and lovely shade of violet.
"Sabrina Drummond?", the visitor inquired.
"Yes?", Sabrina answered, not sure what to make of her. No one outside Sabrina's civilian job as a morning barista at a local coffeehouse knew where she lived. At least, no one who would call her by her real name. The thin girl handed Sabrina a little green card, or, rather, a ticket. There was an address, a bar code and a time printed on it. Friday Night, 9 pm.
"What's this about?", Sabrina asked the girl, who answered that there was to be a very special party for a very special person that Friday night. A person she'd been searching for, who was guaranteed to be there. Sabrina was gobsmacked. She looked back down at the ticket to memorize the address, which, from her recollections of the city layout, was down by the docks.
"How do you"-- was all Sabrina was able to get out, as, when she looked back to her visitor for answers, she had vanished as though she was never there. Strange. This whole thing could be some sort of trap! Of course, the real issue was: who was that girl, how did she know where to find her, and, if she was hinting at the return of Valor Girl, how did she know that Sabrina was even connected to Valor Girl?! Had her secret identity been compromised? Trap or not, this was the only lead to finding her friend. She would go to the address on Friday night, but, she'd definitely be on her guard.
Kent "Kenny" Milton was at the very end of a very long Mid-March school day. The end of the school year was over a month away, but, he could almost taste it, already. Algebra was twisting his mind into a pretzel. The Vallance High School cafeteria served their poor excuse for sloppy joes that always irritated his stomach. Gym class was brutal. Dodgeball. AGAIN. The coach was a sadist. It took all his control to dip and dodge at just the right speeds so as not to tip off anyone that he had superpowers. As far as anyone could tell, thus far, the lanky boy was a skilled amateur gymnast who was just a little bit faster than he looked. Still, he allowed himself to get tagged... BADLY, in the last round, so as to throw off suspicion. The only one in school who knew his secret was his best friend, Lily Loomis. Of course, that was not without its problems, as Lily seemed to be developing an unhealthy attraction to him, as well as an annoying obsession with trying to get him to don a tight spandex costume and play superhero - a notion that disgusted Kenny Milton to his core. Still, Lily was the best friend he'd ever had, and nothing would change that, no matter how her weird spandex fetish disturbed him.
The two of them were walking the long outer hall of Vallance High School toward the student parking lot. Neither of them had a car - few students did, in fact, but, adjacent to the lot was a shady wall by a row of dumpsters and recycle bins. Near that was the row of low-slung, rather anemic oak trees whose somewhat sparse foliage provided just enough cover that the fenced-in cul-de-sac provided the perfect launching and landing point for a certain flying student to come and go without too much of a chance of being seen. The duo's walk was interrupted when someone called out Kenny Milton's name. The tall lad looked back over his shoulder to see who would be addressing him. He wasn't unpopular, but, he didn't really have a 'clique', either. It was most often just he and Lily who socialized during school hours. One of the super-powered friends that he hung out with, a few evenings a month, atop Midtown Manhattan's Herald Building - Socrates "Socks" Walker - also went to his school, but, they didn't pal around much, there. Kenny, aka "Lord NightOwl", knew Socks, as, the speedster teen didn't really have a 'secret identity', he simply didn't use his powers publicly. Socks, however, had no idea that he was in such close proximity to his rooftop chum during the workaday week. Lord NightOwl never took off his mask, goggles and hoodie when on The Herald Building. "Ricky Roseman?", Kenny said, acknowledging the handsome and impressively built 16 year old high school senior
, "Uh, hey-- What can I do for ya, dude?"
"It's what I can do for YOU", Roseman answered, brandishing two green tickets in his right hand, "What're you doing on Friday Night?"
Shocked and shaken, Kenny waved his hands rapidly in front of his chest in a gesture of refusal.
"Uh, look, Roseman, I'm, like, flattered and all, but, um, I don't SWING tha--"
"No, smart-ass", Ricky shot back, cutting Kenny off, mid-stammer, "I'm inviting you - AND Loomis, here - to a PARTY on Friday! Here", said Ricky, passing the pale green card stock rectangles to the two of them, "Think of it as a RAVE, but, with a cooler dress code."
It was just in that moment that Lily Loomis - picturing in her mind's eye, her friend, Kenny, in a spandex leotard and Ricky Roseman, decked out in his "Thunderbird, the Teen Supreme" outfit, making out - developed the secret yaoi-fangirl-style fetish for hot boys playing tonsil-hockey with one another, into a full-blown obsession. It was a special day, indeed, but, she wouldn't divulge that particular thought to Kenny. She would, however be visiting the local comic shop's manga shelves before the day was out, on the hunt for yaoi.
Lily and Kenny took the tickets and thanked Ricky for his gesture. He was one of the cool kids, a Vallance High celeb... neither of them know why he deigned to descend from on high and invite them to a jam, but, they weren't complaining.
"Yeah, man-- THANKS! So, what SHOULD I wear?", Ken asked.
Ricky Roseman breezed past him, looking back over his shoulder with a sly smirk.
"It's informal", he said to Kenny, "Lily can wear a party dress. YOU can wear your LORD NIGHTOWL suit".
Kenny and Lily's jaws both hit the floor simultaneously. "HOW"?-- Kenny started to inquire.
"Dude. From what I understand, you've figured out who I am", Ricky Roseman mused, and added in a hushed tone, "The Boss'll have my BALLS for that, bee-tee-dubz".
Before either of his future party guests could cogitate on who "The Boss" was, Ricky continued:
"Speaking of 'The Boss', he trained me pretty well in the art of detection. I've known about your 'extracurricular activities' for almost a year, now. And about Socks Walker, Zed Hudson, that shapeshifter and the cute teleporter girl at The Herald Building."
Kenny was speechless, as was Lily, for whom this was the first she'd heard about hang-outs at the Herald Building. She knew Socks Walker. She had no idea that he had some sort of superpower, but, apparently, Kenny DID! What OTHER secrets was her best friend keeping from her?!
"Don't worry, though, they're all invited to the party, too. Though, I don't have a line on the shapeshifter, so, be a bro and pass that third ticket along if you see him... or her(?) before Friday, huh?" With that, Ricky Roseman strode out into the parking lot, got into his rather bad-ass midnight blue Dodge Charger, and roared off. Lily Loomis was both bothered by the fact that there were parts of his life that her best bud since third grade had neglected to share with her, and utterly elated that she was invited to attend some sort of superpowered party. Kenny went to his usual spot and launched himself skyward, headed for home, while she daydreamed about hot guys in tight spandex and capes while riding the subway home.
Lord NightOwl did, indeed pass the ticket to Friday's party to Drew Dane, later that evening at their usual meeting spot. Zed Hudson claims that he'd been approached by a smug, surly twelve year old in a bodega who gave him a ticket, and one to hand off to Jenny Everywhere. Socks Walker's uncle, Cole Stephens, who was secretly the member of the Order Patrol known as 'HardLight', had bequeathed him a similar ticket, but, wouldn't tell the young speedster what the party was for. It seemed odd to the speedy teen that his uncle, whom he idolized and nonetheless thought was a cool guy, would have a hot (literal) ticket to a mysterious rave down by the docks, and would be handing it to his high school aged nephew. The young metahumans all discussed this while partaking of bizarre, crispy wafer-like edibles provided by Jenny Everywhere, who claimed that they were mass manufactured in an alternate dimension by beings who resembled anthropomorphic pangolins.
It would seem that these tickets had saturated a good portion of New York City's metahuman and superheroic circles in the last few days. Along with Starlet and the Herald's Rooftop Round Table, local superheroes like Rush and Ionic Angel had also received the green tickets.
Random, anonymous delivery persons had also dropped off party invitations to the girls of Section P:
Neefa; the green-tressed precog, Cassandra; Lacrecia and Liath; Jeanette, along with Captain Perfect.
Even the teenaged guardians of Xailenrath City, Connecticut
were given invites, and a scheduled ride on a private plane to get them to NYC on Friday so that they could attend. Whoever was setting this up, somehow had sussed out the secret identities of Ben Campbell, Jenny Tanner, Vernon Long, Jaye Marcus and Lavinia Roman, aka, Orbit, UberWoman, Rev, Recoil and Plus, respectively - The ThrillSeekers, only one of whom, namely Orbit, had even MET Valor Girl previously.
The long week dragged on, and soon, Friday Night arrived.
They came from all corners of the Tri-State Area. The address was, indeed, down near the dockyards of New York Harbor, but, far enough away that the background noise of boats and foghorns was a non-issue. The address was a warehouse that the outer gate proclaimed was owned by the Vayne Enterprises Corporation. Outside the sliding gate stood two men and a woman, each of rather impressive stature and musculature. The two male slabs of beef stood to either side of the gate, while the amazon in bright red dress with her hair in a tight, no-nonsense bun took the tickets from those who arrived at the gate. Some of the party guests had come, decked out in costume, choosing to wear their "work clothes" in order to preserve their secret identities. Others - friends, guests and some supers who were not necessarily concerned about such things wore snazzy suits and tight, sexy party dresses in accordance with the 'party' mood. Still, some were concerned that this whole thing may be some sort of trap, or doomsday plot to take out as many of the city's heroes as they could in one fell swoop. Folks like Max Atom were still wary of the entire situation, but, passed his invite to the imposing gate guards and entered anyway, but stayed frosty, just in case. Noting the other partygoers, Max also bristled at the fact that he was among the oldest to attend... by a good margin. He felt a bit more at ease when he spied Centennia on the other side of the room, having a quiet conversation with the superhero called HardLight.
One by one and two by two, the city's most powerful and prestigious filed into the warehouse on that cool mid-March evening. Music blared, but, could barely even be heard 30 feet beyond the suspiciously thick, titanium lined doors, as the entire building had been expertly soundproofed. This struck a suspicious chord in the back of the minds of many of the heroes in attendance. Just outside the gate, the last stragglers among the guests had arrived. A sleek, black stretch limousine slithered around the corner from the outer road, and slid across the drive before the front gate. There seemed to be a thick fog bank rolling in, keeping in time with the vehicle. In its slow, deliberate crawl, tinted window after tinted window passed the steely gaze of the trio of gate guards. Almost a full minute went by, and the long car was still stretching by. The guards, puzzled, looked to the left at where the car was coming from, but could only see fog and polished ebony. They looked to the right, but, the nose of the eerie motor vehicle had already disappeared into its homemade cloud of cool, dark grey, haze. After 77 seconds or so had gone by with no end to this crazy carriage in sight, Murphy Brock, the 6' 8" man-mountain on the left side of the gate, began to lumber forward, thinking, perhaps foolishly, that he would, somehow, stop the car with his bare hands and brawny frame if he had to.
Just as he was going to take hold of the next handle to one of the many MANY car doors that lazily made its way across his field of vision, one of the onyx-hued tinted windows was actually down. A soft brown hand held up what looked like a cue card from behind the camera of a scene from Saturday Night Live. On it, in dark green letters, were printed the words: "SCREWY, AIN'T IT?!"
All three of the gate guards were utterly puzzled as the longest limousine in the world kept on rolling past them. They looked at each other, then back at the car as, six windows later, the end of the monster-mobile finally rolled into view. The last black window of the impossible conveyance slowly rolled down. Murphy leaned forward, peering into the inky interior, trying to find out who the hell was IN this thing.
Monroe Coyote leaned out of the car, booped Murphy on his rather large pug nose and loudly yelled into the meaty guard's slack jaw, as though he were talking into the clown-faced mascot of a drive through fast food restaurant.
"Yeah, I'll have a double bacon cheeseburger with maple fries and a vanilla shake! Two orders of chicken poppers, an apple pie... you guys want--? Make that THREE apple pies and a diet soda!"
Murphy Brock jumped back as if electrocuted. The limousine door swung open, and out stepped Monroe Coyote, Quinn Anansi and Bjorn Loki - The chaotic demigods know as The Misfits of Mischief
- each sporting a rather glittery black tuxedo with bowties and cumberbunds in their signature colors of green, purple and blue respectively.
"We're here!", they screeched with an almost unhinged glee, passed their invitations to the gobsmacked gate guards and strutted up the walkway to the party atop a magically manifested red carpet that unfurled itself not two feet in front of them, ever edging toward the heavy doors of the warehouse. The trio walked along, waving and blowing kisses to a loudly cheering throng of invisible adoring fans who were not actually there. Flashbulbs from nonexistant paparazzi cameras cleaved the darkness on either side of them in short, sharp bursts, as The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" boomed loudly from some mysterious origin other than the giant speakers within the warehouse until the last of them entered and the doors shut behind them with an audible 'THUNK'.
"What tha FUCK was that?!", cried Sheila Dermott, the amazon gate guard to her equally bewildered compatriots. They shot each other a quizzical look then turned back to the impossibly long limo, which had disappeared in a puff of its own haze, as though it was never there in the first place. Not even tire tracks remained. Reno Boyle, the third guard at the gate reached into his jacket pocket, and grabbed a quick nip from the flask of rum he kept there. Dealing with these metahuman jobs would be the death of him. He was sure of it.
The party was going well. The tense supers looking for an ambush had finally relaxed a bit. Old friends met new friends as they all co-mingled. Lily Loomis positively drooled over the spandex-clad physiques of mighty, meaty men like HardLight, Captain Evening and Orbit. Monroe Coyote and Captain Perfect bristled at one another, but remained civil, each remembering the last time they'd encountered one another. Centennia chuckled, remembering when she and her beloved, belated Kate Five had met the Misfits and they used their magic to re-tell the story of said tense encounter, live, inside a reality warped flashback.
Lord NightOwl had gravitated to his usual group, and introduced Lily to Zed Hudson and Drew Dane. Jenny Everywhere gleefully reunited with Quinn and Bjorn, playfully punching the one in the arm and giving noogies to the other. The three of them ambled toward the drink station, past the green-haired precognitive, Cassandra, whose irises briefly went white. She turned to the small crowd she was socializing with, consisting of Rush, Taki, The Phantom Pistoleer, Rhys and Ultimate Power. Also with the group was Neefa, the cat-woman, who had attended the party in the all-together, though, anyone here who didn't know her personally, never gave it a second thought, as they probably thought she was wearing a sheer leapord-print bodysuit or something to that effect.
"I know who this party is FOR," Cassandra said, smirking at her compatriots. This is actually gonna be a fun night!"
The young speedsters, Socks Walker and Rev, of the ThrillSeekers, raced each other around the outskirts of the room at unimaginable speeds, gauging each others' power-levels and had hour-long conversations about speed and superhero philosophies in less time than it took most of the party guests to finish doing shots. To the outside observers, the two boys seemed to stand in one spot, vibrating and chittering like electrocuted chipmunks, only to disappear and reappear elsewhere, repeating the eerie squeals that no one else in the room could decipher, save Rush. The lightning-fast lady would occasionally pop off from her own group to join the hyperspeed debates, and to make sure the younger speedsters were behaving themselves appropriately, only to race back to her own group between words - her friends often barely registering that she'd been missing.
Within the next few minutes, the hostess of this gala affair of the powerful from near and far took to the impromptu stage. The DJ turned the music off and a spotlight shown down from above, illuminating the visage of the leggy, pale-skinned blonde with the pink highlights in her wavy hair. Claire Jones thanked everyone for coming to the party
, raising a glass to her mother, Centennia. The mighty heroine smiled at her future-born daughter and tipped her own glass in return. Claire thanked everyone for coming, smirkingly performing a mild, off-the-cuff roast of some of the party guests to break any lingering tensions.
She teased Captain Perfect and Jeanette, her two closest friends and playmates, saying that since this warehouse didn't have a firehose, that if anyone had water powers, they should stick close to the two lovers, as they may need to be hosed down if left alone for 5 minutes!
She directed everyone's attention to Rush and Socks Walker, then at opposite ends of the room. The engineers in the rigging above the stage directed the two auxilliary spotlights at the two speedsters as she spoke.
"I've been wanting to get these two together to see what it's like when two speedsters have se--oops, we just missed it!"
The crowd laughed. Socks looked a bit mortified, but, Rush took it in stride. Still, for the rest of the evening, Socks did his level best to stealthily make his way across the room into the orbit of the sexy speedstress and rather pronounced junk in her not-inconsiderable trunk.
"I see Max Atom in the crowd!", The sassy hostess continued, "Good evening sir! From what I hear through the superhero-slash-reality show grapevine, Max can still 'swing it' like a man one-third his age... so, in effect, he makes love like a 60-year old!"
This brought a slighter smattering of laughter, and a few "ooooh"s from those assembled. Max took the teasing with grace, opting to finish his drink with the cocked eyebrow of a man who'd just been put on the spot.
"Oh, come now-- I expected a bigger laugh. If you're gonna be that kind of audience, I'm gonna drag the Misfits of Mischief up here and let THEM host -- and NONE of us wants that! The audience roared with laughter at that remark, prompting Monroe Coyote to snap his fingers, manifesting a red rubber clown nose onto Claire's lovely face and transmogrifying her stylish high heeled pumps into gigantic clown shoes. The assembled superheroes and guests positively howled.
"We love you, too, sweetheart!", Quinn Anansi yelled over the rim of a comically outsized fruity drink housed in what looked like a punchbowl with a stem.
The evening was going swimmingly as Claire told all and sundry that the guest of honor was about to arrive at any moment and then she and all of them would find out what this whole thing was about.
"Someone get the lights!", she shouted into the crowd, and with a snap of his finger and a spark of light blue energy, Bjorn Loki instantly plunged the entire warehouse into a shroud of darkness that was altogether too dark. Though the all-but full moon could be seen through the skylight, its smirking Troll Face 3/4 visible to the naked eye, the room itself was so pitch dark that even those, like Lord NightOwl, with superhuman night vision capabilities could barely see past a foot from the end of their own noses. In the obsidian gloom, The Misfits shuffled through the crowd, copping feels from Jeanette, Ultimate Power and Jenny Everywhere, and deftly lifting Captain Perfect's wallet, just to annoy him. He'd be absolutely livid, hours later, when he'd try to buy breakfast at a local diner for himself, Jeanette and Claire.
A back entrance to the warehouse yawned wide as the petite figure stepped inside.
"Hello?" she called out into the darkness, "Who's in here?! If this is some sort of dumb ambush, I'm warning you - I am NOT in the best of moods right now!"
"Maybe we can change all that!", a voice called back.
With that, and the snap of a sparking finger, the lights came up and all in attendance yelled out "SURPRISE!!"
Valor Girl, for a split second struck a defensive pose, ready to strike, but, soon realized what was happening here. It was a surprise party for her twenty-first birthday! Her dear friend, Claire, had thrown a bash in her honor! She had been so preoccupied with her mission to find out about her past, and so damned angry at her Uncle Chuck that she'd completely forgotten what day it was! Claire rushed over to her, restored high heels clicking loudly enough on the concrete floor of the warehouse to be heard over the cheering and well-wishing, and threw her sinewy arms around her friend. With a big kiss on the cheek, she wished Valor Girl a happy birthday!
"OMG, Claire! Did YOU do this?! Knight Raptor sent me here to stop a terrorist plot!"
"Ol' Buzzard-Beak set it up, but the planning and details were all ME!", Claire answered, still beaming over the thought that she'd actually pulled off a surprise, "How else were we gonna get you here and make it a surprise, Char'?! Those super-senses of yours make it real difficult for a girl to pull together a surprise birthday party! As much as I missed you these last few days, your, um, 'issues' actually provided a decent distraction."
Charlotte Trent realized that she had, at least, accidentally been avoiding all her friends during the current ordeal of existential crisis she'd been going through. She glanced around the room and took in the roster of party-goers: Her friends from Generation P; The kids from the Herald Building; Jenny Everywhere and Zed... Max Atom, with whom, while actually trying to take her mind off her troubles, she'd most recently spent a romantic evening that started with trouble at an award ceremony and ended snuggled up in Max's bed...
Her good friend and ersatz protege', Starlet, who literally flew over to her and gave her a huge hug!
"Hey, Sabrina!", Valor Girl cheered, "Look, I'm so sorry that I've flaked on you this last week, I--", before she could finish, Sabrina hugged her good and tight, saying that all was forgiven. She was just glad that Valor Girl was safe and sound and hadn't left town, or anything! Charlotte felt a twinge of guilt. She WAS going to leave town. She had recently been awarded with her mother's old diaries in the form of an android monkey called Pipsqueak. She hadn't even broken the surface of the knowledge that he carried, but, she'd wiled away many an hour over the last few days, reading and listening to her mom's journalling. She'd only stopped to take a break when Max Atom reached out and invited her to the award ceremony. She said yes just for the sake of getting out and socializing with other people before embarking on what she was sure to be a life-changing quest.
In a sudden fit of self-awareness, Charlotte realized that she would hurt and worry a lot of people - people who truly cared for her in BOTH her identities - if she suddenly disappeared from their lives.
The party was a hit! New friends were made and new connections were forged. Valor Girl did her very best to get face-time with each and every one of the people at the soiree', whether she knew them or not. She met with heroes, anti-heroes and demigods. Veteran heroes and newbies who hoped to be great someday, as well as some who were 'Sick of Superheroes'. She found that the people in her life were more connected than she knew.
Jenny Everywhere had spent a bit of time on Earth-K, from which Max Atom hailed. Monroe Coyote, one of the reality warping demigods in the room, was the father of an alternate reality future daughter with Jeanette! HardLight's brother-in-law, Earl, who was Socks Walker's father, was a security guard at the Tiburon Enterprises Building. Tiburon Enterprises was the technologies and science corporation that helped build the Hall of Order back during the days of the original Order Patrol, before eventually being bought out by Vayne Enterprises, the company owned by Bryce Vayne, secretly Knight Raptor. Charlotte noticed that, aside from HardLight and Mr. Mars (whom, she would find was in the shape of a rather handsome Latino gentleman, not dissimilar to Antonio Banderas, circa his 'El Mariachi' days), no other members of the Order Patrol were present at her party. This was fine, in essence, as she wasn't particularly fond of any of them outside of HardLight and Mars, anyhow. Still, she thought that at least her Uncle Chuck would have shown jup for her birthday. Claire explained that, not knowing exactly where she stood with her vaunted uncle, it was decided that he wouldn't be invited until checking with Charlotte herself, AT the party, whether or not she even wanted him around.
Claire was a good friend, indeed. Charlotte decided that maybe it would turn out to be improper and a bit hurtful not to invite the only parent she's ever really known to the birthday party that really cemented her adulthood.
"Oh, that's RIGHT", Claire declared with a beaming smile, "NOW you can DRINK!" The two shared a knowing look for a beat, then, both added "LEGALLY" with a simultaneous giggle.
"I'll go find Uncle Chuck a little later", Charlotte said, as Claire and Starlet escorted her to the bar.
"I gotta wonder, though, if all these heroes and heavy hitters are HERE, whoopin' it up, who's watching the CITY?!
"That's simple", Sabrina "Starlet" Drummond replied, "We did find a USE for the rest of the Order Patrol... among OTHERS."
New York City was well covered that night. Knight Raptor had seen to it. He called in all of his lieutenants from NYC to Geisthaven: The Swan, ThunderBird, Raptor Woman, Black Talon, Blackbird, Condora, Beacon and Eaglet - all trained by Knight Raptor to become the baddest vigilantes on two legs, had each landed at Laguardia Airport the previous day and prepared to wage a one-night-only canvassing of The Big Apple to make sure that one young girl didn't have to worry after the safety of her city on her special night. The Feathered Fighter had mobilized the other members of the Order Patrol and their own far-flung legacies, subordinates, sidekicks and agents to converge on the outlying areas of the 5 Boroughs to keep them as crime and danger free as was possible. He'd even gone so far as to funnel a metric shit-ton of cash to the "villainous" organization of SCARR to utilize their own resources against other villains, as well as to spread the misinformation that there was a clandestine movement of a newly formed black ops super-vigilante army out to vanquish as many villains as they could, leaving no evidence, so as to scare the more cowardly lawbreakers off the streets that night. Even other heroes from surrounding areas were invited to NYC to keep the night safe.
A fantastic time was had by all. New friendships forged, as well as many a session of canoodling initiated in the shadowy corners of the frantic warehouse party. For a good seven hours, Charlotte Trent's mind was taken far, far away from her troubles. She didn't once think about her mother's diaries, her Uncle Chuck, or the quest she was planning to embark upon, alone, at the end of the coming week. The newly twenty-one year old heroine drank, danced, smiled, laughed and loved, finally realizing just how many people she had in her life that truly cared for her and her well-being.
This had been the best night of her life.
The first among the assembled began to trickle out of the party sometime around 3:45 am. Centennia flew off for home, having begun thinking of Kate Five and how much more fun this party would have been with her love present. She carried Cassandra along with her, as, she was having similar feelings regarding Lacrecia.
The handsome Not-Antonio Banderas and an equally lovely Chinese woman in a lavender party dress bearing a striking resemblance to Lucy Liu, and wearing an ivory necklace in the shape of two eels entwined to form a heart, who were, in fact, Mr. Mars and Drew Dane, respectively strode up to Charlotte, Claire and Sabrina Drummond. They thanked them for a lovely time. Mr. Mars gushed, as, this was the first party he'd been invited to since migrating to this planet.
Claire leaned in and nudged Drew with her elbow, asking if s/he and Mars were dating. Drew stated that this was A date. They had not arrived together, but, as non-human shapeshifters, they had some things in common. Drew was simply keeping a fellow lonely outsider company. Apparently, Charlotte Trent wasn't the only member of The Order Patrol with deep-seated issues of alienation that originated in the orbit of Commander Valor. Claire hugged her friend and most recent playmate and wished them good luck and a good night. Leaning in close, she whispered in Drew's ear that the next time they met, she wanted all the juicy details of any metamorphic love-making techniques that Drew may learn from the alien superhero. They laughed and as they parted company, Claire gave Drew a quick pat on her shapely bum as she rejoined her date for the rest of the waning evening.
The ThrillSeekers all filed back to the airport to take the waiting private jet home, each hoping that they could somehow sneak back into their respective homes without any encounters with worried/angry parents. Rev opted to run, of course, with new friends, Socks and Rush running along for company, all still discussing speedster matters, and happy to have made new friends their own age (in Socks's and Rev's case, at any rate) who could keep up.
Zed Hudson ambled up to the birthday girl and scooped her up into his brawny arms for a hug and a quick peck on the lips. Both remembering their night together, lo, those months ago with a warm mutual affection.
"Y'have a good night, shorty?", Zed asked.
"The best ever", Valor Girl answered with a light in her eyes that Zed had not seen since the night they met.
"That's what I like to hear!", The Brooklyn Brawler answered with a beaming smile that was, similarly, unlike him, "Happy Birthday, girl. Gimme a call sometime. I'll give you your 'birthday present'."
With that, Zed floated to the open warehouse door, then, shot skyward, headed back to his apartment. Claire Jones and Sabrina Drummond shot their friend a look of pure astonishment.
"Um, d-did you and that guy?--", Sabrina stammered, wondering how such a relatively petite superheroine like Charlotte and the hulking hunk of chocolate thunder that was Zed would even begin to do the deed.
"Ain't telling!", Charlotte chuckled, her dancing eyes and lascivious smile telling her two friends all they needed to know, regardless of her previous statement.
One by one and two by two they all filed out of the warehouse into that cool mid-March dawn. The last of the general guests to leave were the Misfits of Mischief and Jenny Everywhere, who had formed a druken conga line with some of the other guests in the waning minutes of the celebration, complete with wearing actual lampshades on their heads (which they had conjured from thin air). The other guests eventually broke off, thanked the hostess and the birthday girl for the wonderful time, and left the transdimensional troublemakers still shuffling, one after another, to the conga beat. The foursome had to literally be ejected from the dying party by the trio of musclebound giants who had spent the evening guarding the warehouse entrance. Quinn drunkenly tipped each of them with actual bars of gold, and he, his husbands and The Shifter, phased out of that reality, headed to parts unknown. Again, the super-strong trio of guards each took a swig from Reno Boyle's flask of rum and lamented their bizarre life choices.
The Vayne Enterprises cleaning crew showed up at the warehouse just as the sun was peeking through the concrete canyons of the city. Claire, Charlotte and Sabrina exited the edifice, arm in arm, each a bit more tipsy than they'd intended to be, but sobering quickly.
"Ya wanna keep the party going, Char?", Sabrina asked, "We could go crash at my place and watch some movies. Popcorn for breakfast?"
"No, Bree. I'll get with you guys later. I'm... I'm gonna go find my Uncle Chuck before I pass out. I MAY have beedn a little harsh toward him for the last... like, YEAR. I wanna bury the hatchet with him. Or, at least, TRY to, as my first act as a proper adult."
Claire reminded her friend that, technically, her first act as a proper adult was to get blitzed and twerk with Captain Evening in a warehouse full of onlookers. The girls laughed and said their goodbyes with hugs. Valor Girl rose off the dockyard concrete and flew back toward the Hall of Order. Claire, ever in search of a good time and new friends in this time period, so far before the year of her actual birth, accompanied Starlet back to her apartment for a marathon of cheesy Fast and The Furious sequels, in the effort to bond with her friend's friend.
Charlotte Trent landed on the roof of the vaunted Hall of Order and used the fingerprint/retinal scanner to gain entrance. The place was trashed. While there was no structural damage to the outside, the inside floors all seem to be under reconstruction after what looked to have been an interior hurricane. She called out. No one seemed to be home. She hadn't been to the Hall in almost a week. She'd only crashed here once in the last eleven days, or so. She caught a few winks at her dorm room. She'd stayed over at MAx Atom's place after the awards ceremony, and taken a spare room at the Fortress of Evening once. In order to avoid her problems and responsibilities while working with Pipsqueak, she'd crashed in a cheap motel in Long Island. Now, back for the first time, she was worried that whatever happened here could possibly have been avoided if maybe she'd been around.
She hurried to Uncle Chuck's quarters and pried the doors open with her bare hands. There he was, sitting on the edge of the bed, looking forlorn, dejected and defeated. He raised his head and cast his red, glowing eyes to the niece that he'd missed for so many days. He was unsure of how to act. Was she still angry? Would she accept an embrace from a worried elder who, he finally admitted to himself, had treated her so porrly with his smothering brand of 'tough love'?
"Chuck? Wh-what HAPPENED here?"
"Knight Raptor happened", Chuck answered, "He happened hard enough to... to knock some sense into me."
Charlotte took a good look at her uncle and noted the black eye he sported on the left side of his face, and the missing front tooth. Charlotte had only seen her uncle take lasting physical damage from only two assailants in her entire life. Whatever Knight Raptor had done to him must have been cataclysmic! Suddenly angry, Charlotte's own eyes began to glow, just as her uncle's always did. Her anger was palpable. Despite their vast differences, Chuck Trent was her own flesh and blood. As infuriating as he ALWAYS was, he was HEr family! Her ONLY family, and she wouldn't brook anyone harming him on her watch!
"Where is Knight Raptor?!
", she shrieked. Uncle Chuck bid her to calm herself. All that was water under the bridge. It was over. He was actually fine, despite how battered he appeared. Besides, Knight Raptor got as good as he gave. He was currently laid up in his private medical cubicle in the sub-sub-basement of the Hall, in traction, most likely monitoring this entire conversation from the info hub he had connected to his hospital bed. Apparently, earlier in the week, Commander Valor had found out that it was Knight Raptor who told Charlotte where to find Pipsqueak - whom Knight Raptor himself had gotten a hold of and had been in possession of for all these years - and had also known Charlotte's whereabouts, sending Chuck on a wild goose chase while she was off searching for answers. He told her of his encounter with her friends, Claire, Starlet and Drew, at the bar called "Pineapple". That ended with him bulleting his way back to the Hall of Order in a blind rage. Knight Raptor was waiting for him - wearing a very sturdy juggernaut of a battle armor, powered by some bio-reactive radiation that seemed to sap his powers. The Marshall of Midnight had given The Red-eyed Ranger a serious thrashing and a simultaneous talking-to, claiming that getting his head kicked in was the only way that Commander Valor would take ANYONE else seriously enough to listen to what they had to say. Chuck didn't go into long-winded specifics over what was said, only that Knight Raptor had pointed out how he'd been very overprotective of his niece because he'd lost his twin sister, and that Charlotte deserved better. That Chuck's efforts to keep Charlotte safe were smothering her, and that, in time, the resentment she felt at being treated thusly would read irreversible levels. Chuck was insanely powerful, but, contrary to popular belief, he was no god. He couldn't stop time from going forward, and Charlotte was an adult, whether he liked it or not. She would eventually leave the nest - possibly sooner than later - and his behavior would dictate whether his only family would return to him. The only thing that Chuck resented more than being psychoanalyzed while simultaneously having his ass handed to him was the fact that that smug bastard, Knight Raptor, was absolutely right. Of course, once Chuck got his head out of his posterior, he began to fight back. In the end, Chuck had an arm broken and a serious shiner above that mustache of his, but, Knight Raptor had his mech suit destroyed, both his legs broken, as well as a concussion, two fractured vertebrae, and a punctured lung. The Hall of Order was all but destroyed in the melee, but, it still stood. The end result was the best birthday present Charlotte Trent would receive that day - Her Uncle Chuck's finally understanding that she wasn't a little girl anymore.
Chuck Trent wished his niece a happy birthday with a warm hug and passed her a present - a box containing a checkbook. Uncle Chuck had set her up a trust fund when she was but a child, to be accessed on her twenty-first birthday. It contained three million dollars - all monies that Chuck obtained by selling off some of the less dangerous trinkets and trophies from his decades of adventure to both private collectors and museums worldwide. Also within the box was a strange device that looked like something Professor Hubert Farnsworth would use as a back scratcher. It was, in fact, a transplanetary communication device. Plug it into just about any normal human comm device, and, in just a few minutes, it would be able to open a channel across the galaxy to M'Narxas IV, home planet of her deceased biological father, Jackal Nosib. It would connect her to the other side of her heritage. Jackal Nosib's family had been told of her existence by Chuck Trent, and they wanted to meet her. Also included was everything that Knight Raptor had dug up concerning the fate of her believed-deceased twin, Charmaine. Between all this and the information that resided within the android monkey, Pipsqueak, she had a better-than-average chance of finding her sister.
"I know that you're going to go searching for your past", Chuck said, choking back salty tears that began to evaporate in the constant onslaught of the red ionic energies that permanently cascaded from his eyes, "I won't stand in your way, but, I won't be going with you, either. This is your mission. I owe you that much - to stay out of your way from here on. You're a woman now. Just promise me TWO things. Promise me that you won't do it all alone. You've made some good friends. Powerful friends who care about you. Take at least one with you. Someone to watch your back. I've a feeling that this quest of yours won't be as quick or as easy as it promises, and I don't want you to be alone out in the world."
The heart-felt sentiment from her usually closed off and reserved uncle genuinely moved Valor Girl. Maybe she wasn't the only 'Valor' in the room who'd done some growing up in the last month or so.
"Sure, Uncle Chuck. I promise", she said, hugging him. "What's the other thing"
"Change your outfit", he said. Charlotte wasn't sure what he meant. Her uniform was a lot like his own... sorta. She had worn it for so long, that she'd actually forgotten that she created this tight, short, somewhat sexualized version of his own suit just to tick him off so long ago. She was almost disappointed, initially thinking that he was expressing displeasure with her suit in that context, but, he continued, telling her that she had outgrown being "Commander Valor's Niece". She shouldn't have to wear a version of his suit, anymore. She was her own woman - her own PERSON, now. She should design a costume of her own to reflect her individuality as a hero and as a woman. Charlotte had never loved her uncle more. This was his way of apologizing for everything he'd put her through, and she took it as such. She decided that she WOULD create herself a new suit - but, she'd keep the 'Valor Girl' name to honor her Uncle... and her mother.
Flying back to her dorm room, just after 1 pm, having spent a long, happy day, talking with Uncle Chuck, deeply and honestly, for the first time in a long time, Charlotte Trent felt lighter than the flight her superpowers afforded her. She had so many plans to make. She had to pack, and formally drop out of college, at least for the time being. Ideas for designs of a new outfit swam through her mind. She decided that she would, indeed, take Chuck's advice and bring along a super-powered partner to watch her back on whatever adventure she would embark upon. Claire Jones was up to her neck in her own issues, what with what became of her mother, Kate Five, and helping her other mom, Centennia, through this heart-wrenchingly difficult time. Perhaps she could talk Starlet into coming along. Sabrina would have to quit her barista job, but, three million dollars would definitely keep her and her protege' comfortable while she looked for answers.