The 87 Pound Heroine

Sister Bertrille stood on the roof of the Convent San Tanco and watched the stars twinkling overhead. She would one day see them all close up with their planets twirling around them. She looked forward to it. To fly the heavens unfettered by mortality or physical laws was only a dream now, but one day, perhaps not.

Since she was apparently destined to become Mother Superior here, she had much to do before that day would arrive, however. She failed to see how her supervisors had come to choose her as the most likely successor for this monumental task. Handling all the problems of administration would require a heroine of a caliber far beyond her meager abilities.

"Please, God," she prayed silently. "Help guide those placed over me to choose someone else, someone better suited. I am not as selfless as I should be, nor am I able to make the sacrifices necessary. I would never make a good Mother Superior."

The Lord God was busy with another dilemma at the moment when Sister Bertrille's prayer interrupted Him. Since He was outside of time, He could easily postpone His decision, however, so He paused to listen to the prayer. That it was from His little flying novice nun surprised Him a bit. Normally, by now, Sister Bertrille was fast asleep.

He listened, and when she finished, He began to put things together in His vast consciousness. "I think, Sister, that you will be going on a trip. Yes, to New York," He said.

He began to work the myriad of wonders that would facilitate His Plan. A document was lost, a car broke down, and a plane was grounded because of a flat tire. A prostitute on 42nd Street paid the cab fare for a drunken soldier, losing a ball-point pen in the process. The number three cylinder on an antique Ford flathead V8 misfired three times. Sister Bertrille became hungry and went down to the kitchen to have a bowl of ice cream. All was now in readiness.

Morning found Sister Bertrille inexplicably in Mother Superior's office. She hadn't done anything wrong, so far as she knew, so was a bit mystified as to why she had been summoned. Mother Superior wasted no time, however.

"Sister Bertrille," she said. "You will leave this morning on a flight to New York. You will go to a hotel there to meet a young woman who has decided to become a nun. She has certain concerns. You will answer her questions and accompany her back to the Convent San Tanco."

"But Reverend Mother," said Sister Bertrille, "I can't do that. I'm only a novice myself!"

"That has not escaped me, Sister Bertrille," said the Reverend Mother wryly. "I would go myself, but there is a problem with my travel orders. Sister Sixto can't make it as she is on the other side of the island with a broken down automobile. The task falls to you, Sister. We go and serve where we are sent and do the tasks we are given. That is the job of every nun, indeed, that of every Christian everywhere. Your paperwork will be ready in an hour, and as the plane will not be leaving on schedule, you should just make the flight."

So it was that Sister Bertrille found herself in New York City inside a cab on a bridge stopped in traffic working on a lesson plan for next week. Some screaming interrupted her work. She looked out and wondered what she had gotten herself into. New York, she knew, was home to many men and women of great abilities. The one now holding a blond woman in one arm she recognized as an evil creature called The Green Goblin.

Spiderman, one of the so called "super-heroes" who lived in New York, swung down on an almost invisible thread. That the woman would die if dropped, there was no doubt. Spiderman couldn't catch her, and even if he could, most likely the sudden stop would crush her frail human form. She picked up a ball-point pen from the floor of the cab, turned her lesson plan over to the blank side and began to figure angles, wind velocity, and air-speed, then to estimate weight of the woman, velocity of her possible fall, inertia, and all the other things that went into calculating an intercept course. She finished and got out of the cab to walk to the railing. When the woman was tossed into the air contemptuously, she was ready. To the horror of the by-standers, she hurled herself from the bridge to a certain death.

Spiderman shot a steel-strong web toward the same point Sister Bertrille had calculated her intercept for, knowing that even if his aim was true, the woman's frame would not survive the sudden stop. Still, he had to try.

Sister Bertrille angled her cornet just so, and began to gather speed. In the mere seconds available for calculation, she did not even consider her own mortality and had that to consider on her way to the impact point. When she had gotten to exactly the correct point, she changed the angle on her cornet again and her course changed, slowing a bit, and began a steep climb.

She struck the woman face to face, and her 87 pound frame got the worst of the impact, breaking three of her ribs and collapsing one lung. She grabbed the woman with both arms and crushed her to her chest. The impact was slightly off axis, causing a spin that Spiderman had failed to compensate for. Thus, before his disbelieving eyes, the web snagged, not Gwen Stacy's ankle, but rather the middle of Sister Bertrille's back where the heavy cloth habit provided a built-in shock-absorber. That, plus the velocity bled off by the collision with the lesser mass of Sister Bertrille's body, the greater inertia of the total mass of the two women, and the inherent flexibility of the web, was just enough to prevent Gwen Stacy's neck from breaking.

Pain was all that Sister Bertrille was aware of. She clung to the green-clad woman as they hit the end of the web and then the pain really got bad. As the extra weight now added inertia, the web snapped, and both women hit the water. Hard.

Spiderman raged at the Green Goblin, then swung down to the water and dived beneath the surface as the Goblin laughed maniacally, riding his glider off into the distance, having not seen the daring rescue.

Spiderman managed to find the badly injured nun still clinging to Gwen's seemingly lifeless form and brought them to the surface. Amazingly, though rasping out labored breaths between fits of coughing up blood, the little nun still managed to swim, adding her effort getting the unconscious Gwen to the river bank.

"Who are you?" asked Spiderman after they had gotten Gwen out of the water. "An angel?"

"No," answered Sister Bertrille. "Just a woman. Nobody special."

"Nobody special?!" exclaimed Spiderman. "Lady, do you know what you have done? I could not have saved her. Without you slamming into her like that, slowing her fall, her neck would have been broken when my web went tight."

"I have done nothing," said Sister Bertrille, starting to cough up bloody chunks. "What was done here is God's doing. You and I were merely the tools he used."

Spiderman paused to consider her words. This had certainly been a miracle... any mathematician would confirm that by simple calculation of the odds. He called to the policemen now gathering on the shore. "Get an ambulance!"

"On the way, Spiderman," said a young officer. "Now, you're under arrest."

"I have to go, Sister," said Spiderman. "When Gwendy wakes up, tell her I'll be in touch."

"Gwendy?" asked Sister Bertrille incredulously. But Spiderman was gone, swinging off into the canyons of New York City.

As the rescue squad clambered over the rocks to them, Sister Bertrille reached into her pocket to retrieve her travel orders. There, in the middle of the blood-stained document surrounded by Latin text was the name of the young woman she had come to New York to meet; Gwendolyn Stacy. She let the document fall away from her nerveless fingers.

Spiderman watched the ambulance drive away with Gwen and the mysterious Sister Bertrille. He supposed that she was yet another super hero type he hadn't heard of yet. Then again, her words came back to him. A nun with no apparent super-normal abilities had flown down from a bridge to facilitate the rescue of a young woman.

Perhaps, Spiderman mused, miracles really do happen. At that moment a gust of wind (side effect of an old Ford misfiring earlier in the day) blew a scrap of paper almost into his face. He caught it deftly and looked at it. The paper was covered with figuring, lift, drag, weight, thrust, angles, and things that he could not quite grasp out of context. He turned it over and looked at the other side.

"Sister Bertrille," he read from the top of the lesson plan, "Convent San Tanco, San Juan, Puerto Rico. She's just a nun, a novice nun at that!"

Spiderman's faith in things unseen was greatly strengthened that day. He came to accept that he did not always have the Big Picture, something that most people never learn. When Gwendy told him of her decision to leave the city and go into a religious order, he was strangely contented, as if he had known that this was how it was to be.

As the medical people began to work on Sister Bertrille, she wondered at God's Plan. Never, not even during her long convalescence, would she ever question His judgment again.

Years later Reverend Mother Bertrille and Sister Stacy sat in the reception area wondering how to solve the problem of the collapsed foundation under the new school building. There was simply no money to pay for repairs, and yet the repairs must be made. The damage done by the hurricane had been widely publicized, but none had stepped forward with the funds to repair the hundred-year-old building.

"Is there no way to lift the building so that the foundation can be repaired?" asked Sister Stacy.

"I'm afraid not," answered Reverend Mother Bertrille. "The contractor said that the machine needed to lift such a heavy structure would not fit into the basement, even if it could be paid for. When the ground became saturated, the weight just pushed them in. There are huge boulders down there, big enough to need a heavy construction machine to move... if we could get one into the basement. I've been praying since I read the contractor's report, but there has not been an answer yet."

"Well, we both know that miracles happen," said Sister Stacy.

A knock sounded sharply just then and both women went to the door. Upon opening it, they beheld a group of Franciscan Friars, right out of the middle ages, complete even to the rope belts and coarse scratchy hooded robes.

"Sister Bertrille?" inquired the lead friar.

"I am Sister Bertrille," said the petite old woman.

"Sister, we are here to repair the foundation to your school building," said the man in the lead.

"Brothers," said Reverend Mother Bertrille, "are you also construction workers?"

"We are not... exactly... what we seem to be," said the man behind the leader in a gravelly voice. He reached up with a gloved three fingered hand and lowered his hood just enough to show craggy orange features.

"Bug Man say he need strong men to help nice ladies," said a third hulking figure. "Hulk is strongest there is. Where work for Hulk?"

"Bug Man?" asked Sister Stacy.

At last the lead man lowered his hood just enough to show Spiderman's mask.

"As you once reminded me," said Spiderman, "we are all God's tools. Now, Sandman is outside working with the soil dynamics. Tony Stark is bringing in some steel beams so that the rest of us can lift the building and repair the foundation without cracking the masonry. Hulk and Ben should have no trouble carrying the boulders out of the basement. We should be finished by morning. We ask that you not tell anyone exactly how the work was done, however. Construction is not our regular line of work, as you know, and others would want their work done as well."

"But how will we explain?" asked Reverend Mother Bertrille. "There are inspectors who will want to know."

"Sister," said Spiderman. "Keeping secrets is your specialty."