A Woman And A Lady
Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the oil platform as tongues of flame shot up toward the top of the derrick. A series of explosion rocked the structure and it began to lean until the tops of the waves washed over the deck.
Clinging onto the tattered – and quickly flooding – remains of the deck, a handful of workers exchanged grim looks. They were all going to die. All of the fire and smoke made it impossible for the helicopter circling the oil platform to reach them, and the choppy seas meant that trying to swim to the ship a few hundred yards away was nothing short of suicide.
"This was supposed to be an easy job," one of them muttered. Half the deck was underwater now. "Spend a few months at sea and make a pile of cash."
"Oh, shut up!" one of the others growled. "You started last week. This was supposed to be my last day." He gulped and shimmied further up the deck in a bid to keep his boots dry. "Screw it, I think I'm going to jump."
"Are you nuts? You won't get twenty yards before you drown."
"It's better than staying here." He clenched his jaw. "One way or another, this thing is going under. I figure I'll jump now while I've still got some strength left. Sure, I'm probably going to die, but if we wait any longer we'll be too tired to swim for it when we do go under. I'll take probably dead over definitely dead any day of the week. Now come on, we'll go on three. One. Two –"
Deep below the deck, something in the oil platform snapped and the workers went flying off the deck. Only they never hit the water. There was a sound like thunder – a sonic boom – and then a blur of black and blue. Then they were shooting toward the ship held in their rescuer's hands, tucked under her arms or flung over her shoulders.
"What… just happened?" The man who'd proposed jumping looked back and forth. He was flying not falling and the wind was tearing at his cheeks. Swallowing thickly, he turned to the right and came face to face with one of the world's most famous superheroes.
"Sorry about the hold up." Emerald eyes twinkled and full lips curved into a smirk familiar the world over. "But I had some business in Nautilus to take care of." Ultrawoman angled toward the deck of the ship and handed the dazed workers over to the crew. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got one burning oil platform to deal with and –"
Fire consumed the derrick and the tall metal structure gave a hideous screech before it snapped in half and toppled toward the helicopter circling the oil platform.
"Honestly." Ultrawoman sighed. "You'd think people would know not to circle the giant burning metal thing full of oil." She grinned. "Oh well, back to work then."
She tensed in the air for a split-second and then burst into motion. In her wake, the ship rocked to one side, buffeted by the winds of her passage. The hundreds of yards between her and the oil platform went by in the blink of an eye, and she threw herself against the collapsing derrick. Metal screamed and she gave a low growl. The stupid thing wasn't heavy at all, but it was bulky, and it was coming to pieces all around her and that stupid helicopter still hadn't backed off.
In fact, the helicopter had actually come around for another pass. Wait. Was there a cameraman in there? Her eyes narrowed a fraction and the metal exterior of the helicopter vanished in the face of her x-ray vision. Yep, there was a cameraman in there along with someone she recognised from one of the major news channels. How on earth that they gotten here before the search and rescue people?
Never mind. There was nothing the media loved more than catching a superhero in action, and although she normally humoured them, she needed to get them out of danger. Taking a breath, she blew just hard enough to push the helicopter away before she tossed the burning derrick into the ocean.
The derrick kicked up an enormous spray of water, and she drifted over the oil platform to assess the damage. It took her less than half a second to find the problem: a fire had broken out below decks and had spread to almost every part of the oil platform. Her lips curled. Nothing for it then, she'd have to freeze the whole thing or they'd have one heck of an oil spill on their hands when it finally blew up or broke apart.
She took a deep breath and blew again, harder this time. An icy blast of air shot forward and the oil platform was soon coated in ice several inches thick. It would take about a day for it to thaw, so it wasn't totally ruined, but that would give repair crews and emergency services more than enough time to get over here and fix things up. Just to be safe, she could always come back in a few hours to check on everything.
"Ultrawoman!" The shout came from the helicopter where – surprise, surprise – the reporter was hanging out one of the doors with a microphone. "Do you have anything to say about this disaster and your role in preventing it?"
Ultrawoman flashed her trademark smirk. "Not really. I was just doing my bit. You know, making the world safer and all that." She waved lazily for the camera. "You might want to close that door though."
"Close the door?" The reporter closed the door but shoved the microphone through the window. "Why?"
"Because of this." Ultrawoman vanished into the distance, leaving the helicopter floundering back and forth in her wake before it finally stabilised.
The reporter wiped some sweat off her brow. "All right, get us back to shore now. I can practically taste the high ratings!"
X X X
Ultrawoman – better known to the world as Oerba Yun Fang – yawned and lay down on the back of the blue whale. The animal beneath her gave a low, keening cry, and she reached over to pat it on the back.
"Easy there, big fellow." She grinned. "I'm not that heavy, and it's not like you're in a hurry. Besides, I thought you might like the company."
The whale made another sound and then calmed, drawing another lazy yawn from the superhero. She was at the tail end of her shift. In an hour or two it would be Vanille's turn to deal with any impending global disasters. Right now, however, there wasn't anything going on that demanded her immediate attention. True, there were probably hundreds of cats that needed saving from trees, but there were more than enough aspiring heroes to handle that. Cat saving wasn't the most glamorous part of the profession, but every superhero needed to start somewhere. And if a superhero couldn't get a cat out of a tree, they probably weren't ready for the big leagues – super villains, natural disasters and the occasional war.
But after hours on the job, she could use a break. This was the life, way out here with nothing but the sky above her and nothing but the sea – and a blue whale – beneath her. She wasn't moping or anything, and she loved being around other people, but it was nice to have some time to herself when she didn't have to pretend. Only Vanille and the matron knew her secret identity – she had to lie to everyone else. But whales didn't care too much about superheroes, and they certainly weren't about to tell anyone anything.
Suddenly, the whale beneath her picked up its pace and dived below the surface. Underwater, a wave of sound washed over them. The whale's pod was close.
"All right." She patted the animal on the back. "You'd better get going and try not to run into any trouble." She paused, wishing she had Vanille's telepathy. "Try not to go too far north. I've heard there might be some illegal whaling going on that I haven't had the chance to stop yet."
As the whale vanished into the deep, a silly smile slipped over her face. How many people could say they'd ever sat on top of a whale? Not many, that was for sure. Now what to do? There wasn't any trouble nearby, but there was always trouble somewhere. It was just a matter of finding it. And she knew exactly how to find it.
"Time to stretch my legs a little."
Ultrawoman closed her eyes and the water around her began to churn. She wasn't entirely sure how she flew – it was enough for her that she did. Vanille had tried to explain it to her once, but after listening for more than an hour, she had sort of tuned the younger woman out.
Whatever it was that let her fly, it felt almost like a muscle, one that went over her whole body. The tension inside her rose and she let it build and build until there was nowhere left for it to go but up, up into the sky. Then she was moving, and the surface of the ocean exploded outward as she ripped right through it and streaked up into the clouds.
A grin tugged at her lips as she poured on the speed. Every nerve in her body was on fire, but in the very best way. This was living. But it wasn't enough. Faster. She needed to go faster. Every now and then some superhero came out claiming to be faster than she was, but when it came right down to it, she'd never met anyone who was faster than her. There wasn't a person in the world who could catch her when she got going, not even Vanille, and there wasn't a thing in the world that made her feel as good as pushing herself to the limit.
She flew up until the waves beneath her turned into a single mass of blue and the continents and islands became blotches of brown and green spread across the surface of the planet. From up here, she could see everything even the curvature of the planet as it spun through space. At her back there was only a great, black emptiness lit by twinkling stars and the large, pale face of the moon.
What a view. Half the world was lost in shadow; entire continents dark save for the shimmer of millions of electric lights. There was Nautilus, a blaze of light along the coast, and further down was Bodhum, a gigantic storm forming several miles away. Elsewhere, the sun still lit the world, warm light playing over mountain ranges, forests and cities. As she watched, several rays of sunlight slipped past the edge of the planet and into her eyes. Beautiful.
Being up here always made her heart beat a little bit faster. She hadn't been born here, but this was her world now, her new home, and from here she could see very part of it. But it was more than seeing, so much more. It had taken her years to work out how to properly control her super hearing, but now she could pick out all the countless radio signals and other bits of information that raced around the planet.
Yes, she thought as she closed her eyes. She could hear everything. At first, there was only the grim silence of space and then, as she honed her hearing onto a specific range of frequencies, she started to hear the rest. The radio stations came first – in countless languages and playing everything from historical dramas to heavy metal – but right behind them were all the mobile phone conversations.
"Happy birthday!" A young man calling his four-year old son from half a world away.
"I'm at the airport. Where are you?" A middle-aged woman arguing with her sister.
"Do you think your mother likes me?" A newlywed wife asking her husband about their extended family.
There were thousands of voices scattered in the ether, millions, billions and she could hear every one of them. But that still wasn't enough. Her hearing sharpened until she could make out every single individual heartbeat on the planet below her, a strong, steady pulse that mirrored the one in her chest. And then she opened her eyes and with her superhuman vision, she matched sound with sight.
"Come on!" A mother and father waved at their toddler in a park filled with green grass and half a dozen ducks in a nearby pond. "Come here! You can do it! Walk over here!"
"Careful with the clutch!" A teenager stalled their first car on the way up a hill, much to their father's exasperation and the horror of their siblings in the backseat. "Quick, you're holding up traffic!"
"I'm Ultrawoman!" A pair of little girls ran around in their front yard with black and blue towels draped over their backs. "No, I am!"
There were other sights and sounds, of course – war, disaster and misfortune – but even amidst all of those, there was hope: other superheroes; ordinary men and women doing the right thing, the good thing. No matter how hard things were or how tired she was, coming up here always put things into perspective. This world was far from perfect, but it was wonderful despite that – because of that – and it was so, so alive.
A long time ago, the matron had asked her if she and Vanille ever felt like gods. It was a fair question. There was probably nothing in the world that could kill her except maybe Vanille, and the red head had come close a few times with some of her inventions. But compared to most people she was a god. She could throw a building like it weighed nothing at all, fly from one side of the world to another in a matter of moments and even shoot heat from her eyes.
But she'd never felt like she was better than other people, like she was worth more than they were. And whether the matron knew it or not, it was all thanks to her. After Fang and Vanille had lost everything – their family, their planet and their whole way of life – the matron had taken them in and loved them like they were her own flesh and blood. Long before they'd decided to become heroes, the matron had been their hero. She shook her head and grinned. Who would ever believe it? A middle-aged woman with a touch of arthritis was her inspiration, her reason for being a hero. That, more than anything else, made it clear: being a hero was about more than having muscles.
And no matter how strong she became, she knew that to the matron she would always be that kid she found in a field one day. She'd looked through the crystal – Vanille had decoded almost all of it over the years – and her father had wanted her and Vanille to help the people of this planet, to give them something to admire and aspire to. He'd gotten it wrong. The matron was the one who gave them something to admire and aspire to. The matron didn't have super powers, but she'd helped them and cared for them even if she didn't have to because it was the right thing to do, the good thing to do. The matron had taken two children with the power of gods and made sure they'd grown up with the most human of hearts.
"You always wanted to how we could bring ourselves to protect all of this, matron." Ultrawoman looked at the planet below her. "The better question is: how could we not?"
She lingered there for a few more moments, enjoying the view, before her eyes were drawn back to Bodhum. The storm had grown much larger and had begun to approach the coast. Time to get back to work.
X X X
The storm front advancing on Bodhum was something that impressed even Ultrawoman. The clouds formed a gigantic black mountain that spanned the horizon and went from just above the surface of the sea to several miles into the air. From within the seething mass of water vapour came the flash of lightning, and every few seconds the sky went from pitch black to bright as day. As the storm neared the shoreline, the winds kicked up and the sea beneath it swelled to pound against Bodhum's world famous beaches.
One glance was enough to realise that the storm surge would probably wipe out most of the buildings along the shoreline. She could use her freezing breath to make a wall out of ice or she could tear up some of the ground, although the locals probably wouldn't appreciate all the property damage. She was still running through her options when she caught the tail end of a conversation relayed along the police and emergency services channels.
"We've got another fast mover headed this way…"
Another superhero? She turned and her eyes widened as a flash of red streaked in from the horizon. She'd know that costume everywhere. Vanille had quite a few posters of the superhero in question and, apart from her and Vanille, this particular superhero was the matron's favourite. It was Lady Lightning.
She'd seen the other superhero on television a few times, but this was her first time seeing her up close. As much as it bugged her, she could kind of see what all the fuss was about. The other woman cut a dashing figure: long legs, toned body and blue eyes that seemed to burn right through anything she looked at. There was also something about the woman that made it hard to look at her. Was it a device of some kind or maybe it was magic? But what was up with her skirt? The cape she could understand, but who thought it was a good idea to fly around in a skirt?
But what really caught her eye, what made her stare and grin like Christmas had come early was how fast Lady Lightning was. She was fast, really, really fast.
"What do you think you're doing here?"
Ultrawoman flinched as Lady Lightning came to a stop a few yards away. Yikes. The words themselves weren't that bad, but the other superhero seemed to snap each of them out like a whip.
"I thought I'd drop by and help." Ultrawoman flashed her most winning smile. "I heard you'd moved to Eden City, so I thought I might help out here and then spend the day at the beach."
Lady Lightning's eyes narrowed and Ultrawoman felt a pleasant frisson of tension run through her body as little bolts of electricity formed in the air around them. "Bodhum is my town."
"Oh?" Ultrawoman knew she should back off. Superheroes tended to get possessive – each of them had their own turf – but she was dying to know what made Vanille and the matron such fans of Lady Lightning. The other superhero wasn't that cool. "Bodhum is big enough for both of us and this is quite a storm."
Lady Lightning turned – Ultrawoman couldn't remember the last time anyone had turned their back on her – and tossed her next words over her shoulder. "Just leave this to me."
"Really? What exactly are you going to do?"
Lady Lightning didn't bother to reply and Ultrawoman had to brace herself as a crack of thunder rang out and the other superhero raced up into the heart of the storm. Okay… not exactly friendly, or about as friendly as a brick to the face. Still, she was kind of curious to see what Lady Lightning would do, so rather than do anything, she decided to hang back and watch.
Lady Lightning made her way up into the centre of the storm and there, she raised one hand. To Ultrawoman's disbelief, the storm answered the gesture. Lightning tore in from every direction, a continuous, unrelenting barrage of electrical energy that shattered the sky and sent out a single, unbroken peal of thunder. She had to steady herself in the air against the shockwave and for a moment, she felt a stab of concern. Even she couldn't shrug off that much lightning.
But Lady Lightning didn't look the least bit bothered by it. In fact, unless Ultrawoman was mistaken, the other woman seemed to be absorbing it, her whole form glowing as brightly as a star before the barrage of lightning began to slow and the glow faded. As the lightning ceased, the storm began to collapse. The clouds split and the wind died, and within a few moments the sea had grown eerily calm.
Ultrawoman gave a low whistle. Okay, that was impressive. It was time to go have a chat to Lady Lightning then, maybe even get that autograph that Vanille had been looking for. But as she reached the other superhero, Lady Lightning gave her another withering look and then turned on her heel and… flew away.
For a second, Ultrawoman could only gape. Then her lips curled. So she wanted to play things that way? Well, nobody but nobody outrun her. Eyes narrowed, she gathered her strength and then shot after Lady Lightning.
She caught up to the other superhero in a few seconds, but before she actually reach out and grab her, Lady Lightning put on another burst of speed and pulled away. That woman! Ultrawoman growled and upped her speed. If Lady Lightning wanted to run that was fine, but she was going to get caught.
Only… that wasn't what happened.
Lady Lightning was faster than anyone Ultrawoman had ever chased and as they raced through the sky, punching through the clouds before diving to skim the surface of the ocean, she realised that for the first time in her life, she wasn't gaining ground. The other woman was actually staying ahead. Wait… it was more than that. Lady Lightning was actually pulling farther and farther away.
Ultrawoman grit her teeth and willed herself to go faster. This wasn't about talking to Lady Lightning or even getting her autograph anymore. No, this was about who was faster and Ultrawoman hated to lose. Below them, the sea gave way to the white ice of the South Pole and Lady Lightning dove into a winding canyon cut by a pair of titanic glaciers. Ultrawoman could have just smashed right through the ice, but that wasn't the point. She was going to follow the exact same path as Lady Lightning and she was going to catch her.
Up and down, left and right, the pair of them wove through the maze of jagged ice with an agility that no plane could ever hope to match. The canyon trembled as their pace quickened and the shockwaves of their flight rippled through the glaciers. But Ultrawoman wasn't making up ground, and as a sharp, hard right turn loomed up, she made her first mistake.
And slammed into the wall of the canyon face first.
"Damn it!" Ultrawoman growled as she clawed her way out from under the rubble. She wasn't hurt – it took a lot more than that to hurt her – but she'd definitely lost time and…
And Lady Lightning was just floating in the air above her with a smirk of her own.
"Stop trying to keep up. I don't think you can."
Then she was gone and Ultrawoman could only stare into the space where the other superhero had been.
"Well…. damn," Ultrawoman whispered. "I think I get it now." She chuckled. Vanille had started over at Eden City University. Perhaps it was time to pay her sister a visit and if she happened to run into a certain pink haired superhero… well, coincidences did happen.
Far to the north, she saw a flash of light and she homed in on it with her superhuman vision. There was a space shuttle coming in to land and by the looks of things they would need her help. After all, it wasn't easy to land a space shuttle when its wings had broken off.
X X X
As always I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
So… it's been a while. I won't try and make excuses (I'm fresh out), but I thank all of you for putting up with the delay. I recently saw the trailer for Man of Steel (the new Superman movie) and once I saw it, I just had to write this chapter. Superman is one of my favourite superheroes and the chance for him to be in a movie that isn't terrible is almost too good to be true.
With regards to this chapter, I took bits and pieces of it from all over the place. The oil platform rescue is a nod at the Man of Steel trailer. Fang's time listening to all of the radio signals and phone calls is a nod at Superman Returns (it's probably one of my favourite scenes ever when it comes to superheroes, even if the movie itself isn't that good). And of course, the whole idea of a superhero with godlike powers having a distinctly human heart is taken from the Superman mythos.
What I wanted to do in this chapter is to try and get into Fang's head a little bit more and I thought the best way to do that would be to follow her during a 'typical' day as a superhero. I decided to throw Lightning in there because it's about time those two met and there's nothing quite like competition to get someone's attention. Fang is stronger and faster than Vanille, and she can't remember the last time she's lost to anyone when it comes to superpowers. Well, Fang, when it comes to speed, you may just have met your match.
And don't forget that little bit of information at the end. Vanille goes to Eden City University – the same university as Serah (see Chapter 1). How will Lady Lightning deal with having Ultragirl on her turf? That was supposed to happen in this chapter, but I decided to go with this. Rest assured, we will find out.
Finally, for people wondering where Hope is rest assured, I haven't forgotten him. He will be in this story, but I do need to lay a bit of groundwork first.
Also, you can find links to my blog and deviant art in my profile, along with links to eBook versions of Ordinary Heroes. I would also like to mention redkid11 who has a comic of Chapter 12 of Whispers of the Gods up on her deviant art. Head on over and take a look (there is a link to her deviant art profile in my profile). Finally, I would also like to mention denebtenoh who has a picture of Lightning from Of Gods and Demons up on her deviant (link in my profile).
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.