She lived in a world full of dollhouses.
That wasn't an observation to make aloud, of course. Suggesting that you saw the world and the people in it as toys for your amusement was a quick way to get shipped back to Area Fifty-whatever. General Monger might be happy with her right now, but she knew he wouldn't even blink if ordered to put her back into her cage.
The Seine river blazed past her as she ran along its banks. Her legs ate up enormous distance with every stride, and she clambered over the bridges she wasn't able to simply vault over. She could have run even faster, but there were people in the way... blaise Parisians, who didn't know or didn't care that a gigantic snail was rumbling toward the city. They couldn't see it, yet, of course, and the threat seemed too outlandish to be real. Seeing a fifty-foot-tall woman dashing down the river, often needing to do complicated dance-steps to avoid crushing people under her, probably had them re-evaluating what they considered real. The screams usually didn't begin until she was well-past, and the shock had faded off.
She certainly didn't see people as toys. Heaven forbid she ever start thinking like that! But she needed to remember how small, how delicate... and how precious everything was.
She'd had a dollhouse when she was eight. A small, pink thing, where she'd acted out what she'd thought was going to be her future. A Husband, a Wife, and the Two Children. It was a cheap dollhouse, nothing as fancy as her wealthy friend Clarissa had been given by her parents... but it was hers, just like the family that lived inside it was hers, just like her real-life family would eventually be, inside her real-life house that would be like her dollhouse, only bigger.
One day she'd accidentally stepped on the Wife. The set was cheap enough, her eight-year old body heavy enough, that the small woman had broken into three pieces. She'd been inconsolable, until Daddy had come home and carefully glued her back together.
She was acutely aware that there would be no gluing anything back together if she crushed anything now. There'd only be a prison... which she'd deserve.
She looked ahead, and saw what she'd been seeking. A barge was floating up the river, pushed along by a small towboat. She slowed, and the cries which had been behind her floated up and past as the French men and women of the city had a chance to see her approach. Shouts of "Mon Dieu!", "Monstre!" and "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" echoed around her.
Slipping into the water, she waded carefully toward the barge, trying not to cause too much of a wave. The Seine was a little under thirty feet deep at this point, and the water sloshed around her waist. The towboat's crew was shouting and pointing at her; in response, she gave them her friendliest smile. Five storeys tall or not, she was still very pretty – and, to be honest with herself, she had breasts the size of small cars, and was still wearing Gallaxar's skin-tight bodysuit. Men were still men.
Regardless of the reason, she'd reached the side of the boat by the time they'd put their eyes and tongues back in their heads. The screaming started again when she grabbed the towboat and gently pushed it aside, clearing the path to the barge... and its precious cargo of salt.
Monger hadn't mentioned that Escargantua oozed some kind of acid. You'd think a soldier would value intel. The big creature was too dumb to reason with, and it was very determined to slime its way toward the Eiffel Tower, leaving an icky trail of partially-dissolved destruction behind it. Even Bob wasn't immune, and the first real introduction to pain in his simple, fun-filled life had panicked him.
It was Doctor Cockroach – wonderful, clever Doctor Cockroach – who'd realized the proper way to fight a giant snail: with salt. The French Army had been very helpful, pointing them to a shipment of road salt that was being shipped up the Seine to be stored for the coming winter. Unfortunately the barge's radio was apparently broken, or turned off... and the cellphone network was shambles, from overload and towers broken in Escargantua's path.
It was relatively close-by, and Susan was the logical one to send after it. None of the others had the strength to tow it, except Insectasaurus... and she was too large to navigate the tight confines around the Seine. Link was guiding the gigantic butterfly, and Doctor Cockroach was building a trebuchet out of a flatbed truck with Bob's help.
"Excuse me! Pardonnez moi!" she called out. The crew's tone had changed, sounding less panicked and more enraged. She was thankful this was France; she was less likely to be shot at by the local population. If they didn't know what was going on, she wasn't able to explain it... the pidgin French she'd picked up in preparation for a honeymoon that never happened was only suited for asking where the nearest women's bathroom was, or bistro. Doctor Cockroach had been their interpretor, not surprising her at all that he had a perfect command of the language, and probably a dozen others besides.
She hoped they'd have time to really visit after Escargantua was defeated. The summer sun was climbing high in the sky, draining away some of her jet – butterfly? - lag and warming her California blood. Maybe they visit some of the famous French beaches! Link would certainly love that. She had no bathing suit, but they could probably rig something up for her. Link would certainly love that.
There would be no visiting the Louvre for her... she was too big. No climbing the Eiffel... she was too heavy. It made her sad if she thought about it too much. But they were just single items in a long list of things she'd given up. She'd never sleep in her old bed at her parents' again. Never enjoy the close comfort of a loving man's arms. Never a wife... never a mother.
It was worth it.
She'd known that the instant she'd made the decision to reclaim her power. She'd found her strength, and it had nothing to do with her muscles or quantonium. Meek little Susan Murphy, who always had the decisions made for her, had shrunk away even as Ginormica had grown. There was no way she'd leave her friends – her friends! - like that. How could she claim to be normal again, if she'd sacrificed her humanity to get it?
There were different kinds of monsters. She'd chosen what kind she was going to be.
She was still smiling as she reached under the stern of the barge. The towboat made life easier – she was worried she'd have to pull something with a spinning propeller. Her skin was a lot tougher (although still pleasantly soft and silky, she was pleased to note) than in the first few hours of her change... she hadn't even split a knuckle as she'd punched through bulkheads in Gallaxar's ship. But sticking your hand into a ship's propeller was just stupid, no matter how big you were.
"Look, I'm sorry!" she protested to the crew. "Je desole. But we need the salt! Call the Army, they'll explain!" They appeared to have figured out she was American, probably from her California accent. Cries of "géant Américain" rose up to her. She rolled her eyes, wondering which was worse to them... a giant stealing their cargo, or an American stealing their cargo?
She turned and began pulling the barge and the load of salt up the river. The wind blew at her, pushing her platinum blond locks into her eyes. She huffed, blowing them away... maybe it was time to think about the logistics of getting her hair cut? Pulling the barge was surprisingly easy. There was close to five hundred tons of salt loaded onto it, and she had no idea how much the barge weighed on its own.
Could she lift it? Probably. She pondered trying, but decided against it. She was no engineer, but figured the fragile boat would crumple, and all she'd accomplish is dumping hundreds of tons of salt into the Seine, and then everybody would be mad at her. But the thought that she might, along with that strange, still-alien confidence that she could, had her grinning again fit to outshine the late-morning sun.
That new confidence had her thinking of so many things... things she'd never thought of before, or things she'd thought of and dismissed as impossible or impractical. Her whole life was impractical now... what was a little more? And `impossible' meant a lot less to her than before she found herself fifty feet tall, grouped with a talking blob and a fish-man.
Maybe she should try to go back to college? Not finishing her degree had certainly always bothered her, and certainly her parents, although they'd never been so cruel as to dwell on it. It just hadn't seemed important enough, when everything was about Derek, who'd finished his degree, and didn't want to "miss his opportunity". But now there was no Derek the Dork... there was only Susan the Single, who happened to be Ginormica the Giantess, and even if she wasn't on par with Doctor Cockroach she didn't want to lumped in as mindless muscle-
A scream shook her out of her daydreaming. Screams weren't unusual in her presence, but this one had been higher, softer, triggering something more primal and protective in her brain.
She spun, and gasped. A little girl had wandered too close to the shore, seeking a better view of the spectacle, and fallen into the water, dangerously close to the barge and almost caught between it and the riverbank. She splashed and sputtered, her clothes soaking through and dragging her down. A woman, probably her mother, had to be held back by a pair of men before she flung herself into the water herself. Another couple of men were shedding their jackets and shoes, preparing to do that very thing.
"Oh no!" Susan moved faster than any of them. She dragged the barge aside, preventing it from coming near the girl. Then she reached out and scooped her up, the water sluicing through her fingers.
The child coughed and gasped, spitting water out into Susan's palms, but it didn't look like she'd swallowed too much. Her jeans were soaked, as was the small blue sweater she'd been wearing to ward off the morning chill, and she'd lost one of her shoes. But eventually she stopped sputtering, noticed where she was, and sat back on her knees. Small hands – Susan guessed she couldn't have been more than twelve – pulled aside wet brown locks to stare up at her, amazed.
"Are you okay?" she asked, softly. "Est-ce que ça va?"
The girl blinked at her long enough for Susan to wonder if she'd mangled the question. Then, slowly, shivering, she nodded. The giantess responded with a gentle, reassuring smile. Then, carefully, she reached out, gently depositing the child onto the bank where her mother waited while growing more and more agitated. Within seconds the girl was buried in a coat and her mother's arms and kisses, simultaneously adored and reproved in rapid-fire French. All the while, she stared up at Susan.
Quietly, Susan took hold of the barge again, suddenly very aware there was a number of people watching her... all along the riverbank, and even from windows from the surrounding buildings. They weren't screaming, but she wondered if that might have been better than the incredulous stares. She felt a blush ignite her cheeks, and pointedly busied herself with the task of retrieving the barge.
She had to duck under a bridge, and a few steps – to her – beyond it, something made her stop to glance over her shoulder. A car had stopped, and the little girl was being trundled into it by her mother. But she resisted, and she and Susan locked eyes for a moment.
There was no fear there. Only friendliness, and Susan wondered if she perhaps saw a little adoration. The little girl waved timidly, and Susan waved back... and was surprised as a number of other men and women, watching her from the span of the bridge, responded in kind. And then the girl was gone.
Susan turned back to the river, her burden feeling as light as her heart. She felt stronger than ever, and new energy drove her legs, a wake forming behind her, although she was careful not to let it wash up over the riverbank.
The houses lining the river flowed past her. Dollhouses; small, precious. Irreplaceable. Some of those dollhouses had little girls living inside them. Some of those little girls had dollhouses of their own. And maybe after today, she wondered, some of those little girls would stop dreaming about growing up to live inside a dollhouse... and instead dream of growing up to be the giant outside it.