My name was Rachel.
I said was.
In the future, the world was destroyed.
How are you supposed to conjugate a future past tense?
I was recruited – drafted – to fight against Brainiac.
Against the machine that is attempting to ensure the future remains unchanged.
This is my story.
I've lied about parts of it. Don't complain to me that the geography is off. This is intentional. There are people I know, people I love, that I don't want to see hurt.
At least I didn't put parking lots around Wrigley.
I knew there were people with powers and technology beyond anything I understood, or even was expected to understand. Supers, they were called. Whatever the power, whatever the source, they were forces to be reckoned with. Some fought for personal gains and were labeled villains by the greater non super society. Others fought against them because it was the right thing to do. They got called heroes.
Even I, out in the sleepy 'burbs of Chicago, had heard of the big ones – Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman. Gotham City wasn't even that far from here, just a straight shot north up the interstate. That is, close enough that Joker was considered just local enough to be worried about, but not quite close enough that one had to constantly look over their shoulder.
Supers in my everyday life, though? Not so much. Most we would ever get is the occasional interview from Vicki Vale in Gotham; or Lois Lane from Metropolis from Daily Planet Online.
It all changed one January afternoon.
I worked, most evenings and weekends at a little restaurant known as the Noodle Bar. During the day, I attended the local junior college – the College of Lake County. I had been taking classes with an eye toward being a graphical artist.
It was cold, and there was a light snow coming. This being the upper midwest, we were used to snow. We would complain about it, of course, but in the end it would take a real blizzard to shut us down.
I was coming back in from the local grocery store, walking to my apartment when it stung me. At the time, I wasn't even sure what it was. It left a nasty red welt the size you wouldn't believe. I looked around for the wasp (in a Midwest January?) and unsurprisingly couldn't find it. I did see the two bright shiny pieces of metal near my feet and pocketed them.
Let me pause a moment, and talk about exobytes. I know you've heard of them. They were small piece of metal, no bigger than the old film canisters, each one held a digital version of an alternate Earth meta. They were released over the atmosphere of the world. This doesn't sound like much, I suppose, but it meant that everyone who came into contact with those exobytes were granted the powers – transformed really – into the hero or villain they contained, only the mind remained intact.
From the reports on the news, you may have thought it was instant. It wasn't, quite. I think it took about ten, maybe fifteen minutes before it began. Once it started, though, the change itself took no more than thirty seconds.
It was painful. Excruciatingly painful. I felt my body stretch and contort, grow and change. I thought I heard screaming. No, that was me screaming.
When it was over, I was on the floor gasping for breath. I didn't even remember falling on my hands and knees. My eyes watered down my fur-lined face.
I pulled my fingers up to my face, and the shocks continued. My fingers hadn't changed that much, they were always a bit on the stubby side. They were, as well, covered with with fur of a light orange color.
My breath caught.
I rose to my feet, stumbling briefly, my body felt tighter, more agile. I was completely unused to it. I stumbled over to the bathroom, almost tripping twice over my own feet.
The shock I was feeling came to a crescendo and I fainted. Not perhaps, what you might expect of a Super, but like I said, I hadn't had much experience in the world of heroes.
When I woke up, I had a bit of a headache, I think I had hit my head on the sink. I stared back up at the mirror, my yellow eyes staring back at me.
Let me repeat that. My yellow eyes.
Unbidden, said yellow eyes scanned the rest of my body, seeing what I all ready knew. I was covered with an orange fur, matted with black stripes. A tiger.
I looked like a freak. A freaking tiger. Both, really.
I know what you're thinking. The first one of you that makes some reference to the scientific improbability of this, I'm going to find. Then I'm going to smite you. As I understand the concept, it will be self defense.
It didn't take me much more staring to realize I was unclothed. Perhaps not as obvious at first, given that I didn't have as much bare skin as I would have a few minutes ago, but still somewhat distressing. With my new height (I think I grew a good six inches), I didn't even have anything that would fit.
With this distressing thought, I collapsed into the chair in the main room of my apartment and covered up with a blanket. My tactile sense prickled a bit, and I automatically shifted a bit. I winced as I realized I had, quite literally, just rubbed my fur the wrong way.
Hell's Bells. (Have I mentioned I'm an avid reader?)
Something else was bothering me, but I couldn't place the sensation. After a few minutes of staring at the TV, I eventually realized it wasn't on. I corrected the problem, flipping on a local station. If I had been in shock before, I was mesmerized now. I wasn't the only person to have this sudden metamorphosis come over them. All over the city were reports of people who had undergone, well, not dissimilar transformations.
Most of the ones shown on camera looked like they'd stayed human, on the big side of humanity perhaps, but nothing as inhuman as I looked.
On the other hand: "The chaos continues on the roadways, one of these newly empowered supers has managed to bring traffic to a halt by someone managing to fling a tree onto the Northbound lanes near Route 60. Surprisingly, there was no real injuries."
I was pretty sure I hadn't lost my intelligence like that. Drunk adolescents perhaps?
The newscast continued. "The Fifth Third bank," the next story began, and I instinctively face palmed. "was the site of an attempted robbery today."
"...by one of the new supers with some sort of telekinetic powers. He was stopped by a young man who was able to shoot some sort of concentrated flame. While he successfully knocked out the aspiring thief, he also manged to set the bank on fire. Seven were treated for minor smoke inhalation and released, two others have been hospitalized in serious condition with first degree burns. One woman, moving to clear a child out of the firing line, is listed as in critical condition with second degree burns."
She should have been the one who got superpowers, I sighed. Not me. Not them.
"And finally," went the newscast, "There's the story of the young lady who jumped from the balcony of the upper level of Northbrook Mall, saying that she could fly. No, she didn't fall to ground. She really could fly. She was so excited about what she was doing, however, she failed to see she was approaching the opposite railing, and crashed headlong into it. She broke it, and collapsed on the second level. She's been treated for a mild head trauma and released."
Yeah. I suppose I should be glad that she didn't hurt anyone but herself. Still.
"It's been less chaotic in Chicago proper," I was told. "As experienced heroes have managed to keep anyone from hurting themselves too badly. Please tune in at 7:00 PM for a message from the Justice League of America to the world, regarding these new developments."
So I wasn't the only one who's life had suddenly changed. With the number of people all ready doing crazy things, it sounded like other people had gotten their powers earlier in the day than I had. Or, I thought, looking at the clock. It was almost half past five. I think I'd stared longer at that blank screen than I realized.
I stood and about fell over again. I finally realized what had bothering me. I had a tail.
My day was just getting better and better.
Once I realized I had the tail, balance became much easier. Or at least I realized what was throwing me off. I considered taking a shower. Then I considered the idea of damp cat fur. All around me. I sighed. I was going to stink either way, I supposed, and I'd rather temporarily stink of damp fur then never take a shower again. This fur wasn't that thick.
My blow dryer was getting a work out once I got out. The wet fur matted against my skin, and was very uncomfortable. It was when I was making dinner that I noticed another to change to my body. It started simple, dropping a piece of silverware. My reflexes had improved so much, that instead of needing to pick it up the floor, I batted it clear under the fridge. In frustration, I lifted the fridge in frustration, and was shocked when it came up easily into the air.
I should have expected that, shouldn't I?
This new body was going to take some getting used to.
I gently put the fridge back down, not seeing anything obviously unplugged. If I had managed the same trick with the freezer, I'm sure I would have snapped the water line. That would've been a mess. I managed dinner without further incident.
There was still about half an hour before the broadcast was scheduled, and gritting my teeth, I returned to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror, to look past the fur.
I wasn't just taller, I was all around bigger and more muscular.
I'll answer the obvious questions: Yes, I flexed, and stared at the true force of feline power in display in the mirror. No, I didn't do anything stupid to test my strength, even if I'd heard a feline's muscle was much denser than a humans.
What had I become?
At seven o'clock, every TV, every radio simulcasted the same announcement:
"My name is Superman," his voice was the same confident tone it always had been. "In the past few days, an alien machine has launched an attack against the major cities of Earth. Brainiac stated goal is the complete assimilation of Earth's technology and people into his databanks. Anything he deems unneeded is destroyed. We slowed his advance, halted it for a time, but we could not reverse it."
"We needed reinforcements, and we got them. Lex Luthor, from a future where Brainiac had won, found a way to steal back the powers of those Brainiac had captured, from our worlds and beyond. He released them, giving rise to a new generation of people who, with courage, could fight Brainiac's tyranny."
"Many of the people so changed, especially in cities where his invasion had all ready begun, Brainiac recaptured immediately. Combined forces of major heroes, and even some you might think of as villains, united against a common foe. Brainiac prisoners were freed in Gotham, Metropolis, Keystone City, among others. These people have been taken to the medical wing within the Watchtower, and Star Labs, for treatment as needed."
"In these days, the Earth needs new heroes. We know not all with these new powers will uphold themselves in manner in a just and lawful way. The Justice League stands ready to help you learn to control your powers. For those of you who have the courage, we can help you become heroes."
I wasn't ready for that. Not that I had any powers that needed to be controlled. It turned out, I wasn't done learning, both about my new powers, but about enemies I didn't even know I had.
I never thought Luthor's lackeys would come after me. As Jack Ryder would say: I was wrong.