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My name is Lenore Pittman, and I'm a superhero.

And yes, my name actually is Lenore. My mom and dad are both English professors, and they're complete Poe junkies. They'd read those poems to me over and over when I was a kid. I was so lucky the other kids didn't know, or school would've been even more embarrassing.

Worst day of my life? I come home from school one day, wearing black clothes, with some black eyeliner and lipstick I'd borrowed from Susie Petrosen. My mom looks at me and gasps, "Lenore! Are you... a goth?"

"Oh yes, Mom," I say. "Your little angel is a dark and dreary vampire-loving goth with a closet full of black trenchcoats, fishnet hose, and Marilyn Manson CDs." Hey, I hated school and was tormenting everyone with withering sarcasm. And it backfired completely.

Mom called Dad. Dad rushed home. They both took me to Hot Topic and bought out the store.

Hyoo. Mill. Lee. Ating.

It's not like I wasn't trending that direction anyway. But having parental approval for it was the worst. I considered going bowhead to get back at them. But by then, I was already halfway through "Carmilla" and was burning a hole in the Type O Negative discs. We had a little bump on the road when I decided I liked Lovecraft more than Poe, and even then, they reacted by buying themselves some Lovecraft collections and getting me a bunch of Elder Sign jewelry.

Supportive parents are the worst thing in the world.

Anyway, I got through high school as the weird Cthulhu goth and graduated to Metro City University as the weird Cthulhu goth-punk -- mainly 'cause the mosh pits at the goth clubs are way too tame. I'm majoring in Developmental Psych -- I never thought it would appeal to me, but I just love the coursework.

A while back, I ran into some other students who decided they wanted to summon some spirits. Now I love spooky, gothy stuff, but I'm no sucker. I'd already figured out that you can just move a Ouija board pointer anywhere you want, and everyone will still believe ghosts are doing it. So I tagged along for some lulz. And there really were gonna be some epic lulz, too, 'cause I checked out their summoning rituals beforehand -- tragically mistranslated stuff from a cheap copy of the Necronomicon. I mean, there were invocations to Cowthulu and Nyarlathosteve.

So there we were, standing in a circle, chanting "Ia! Ia! Costcothulu fhtagn!" And I'm having trouble keeping from laughing. Everything's going hilariously, 'til we get to the point where we're passing a dagger around the circle (and we couldn't find a real dagger, so we're using a steak knife. No, seriously!), and I go and jab myself in the hand hard enough to draw blood. And like instantly, bam, I pass out. And when I wake up, everyone's freaking out. Not about me -- they're hallucinating and speaking in tongues and all kinds of crazy shit. I end up having to talk everyone down. Rotten way to end a summoning, isn't it? Not even one appearance by Nyarlathosteve.

So, long story short, I make sure everyone's home safe, go back to the dorm, hit the hay, and wake up in the morning to find that my arms have turned into oily black tentacles. I'd love to tell you I reacted with sensible aplomb, but to be honest, there was a bit of screaming and flailing going on. But I soon figured out how to change them back into arms.

And after a little experimentation, I figured out how they worked a bit. Basically, I could turn my arms into hyper-elastic tentacles that are part solid matter and part inky black horror-juice. I can also grow six more tentacles out of my back. They can stretch a few hundred feet, but I can't reshape them much -- I can hit people with them, I can wrap them around stuff, and I can stick to walls with them. I can't turn them into hands or claws or hammers or anything. I can even see through them, so I can have 'em chase bad guys around corners.

I've gotten a bit of X-ray vision, too -- not too much, just enough to let me see through clothing. Yum yum. I can heal up from almost anything -- I once lost a finger to Painkiller, and it completely regrew itself before the end of the night. I have creepy black blood, though, and everyone says I start to look scary if I use my powers for too long without a break, but I've never actually noticed anything different. Not saying it isn't so -- just that I can't perceive it.

Oh, and of course I checked on the other folks who were in on the summoning. Nothing unusual about any of them. If they manifested any powers, I sure never heard about it.

I couldn't imagine I'd ever figure out anything I could use the tentacles for (Ahem, mouth closed, please.) (I mean it, shut up now.), until a few weeks later, when a couple of cars pancaked near my dorm. Everyone was standing around waiting for the EMS guys to get there, but one of the cars caught fire, everyone started panicking, and almost before I knew it, I'd stepped up, torn the car doors off with my tentacles, and pulled everyone to safety.

One of the TV stations tracked me down a day or two later and sent a camera crew after me. "Ms. Pittman, are you a superhero? Are you trying to give misguided goth kids a role model they can look up to?"

I hate being ambushed by news crews with stupid questions. So I smiled real big, popped all my tentacles, and said, "Don't call me Ms. Pittman. The name is Squid Kid!"

Then I flipped off the reporter. I love live TV!

Aaaaaanyway, skipping forward a bit, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, which brings us to last night when I finally got to have my "pleased to meetcha" meeting with the already-fairly-famous Gamma Girl. Everyone but me has already met her by now -- every time she's been free, I've had classes or mid-terms, and every time I've been free, she's had family stuff to do. Every time there's been a crisis, one of us has shown up but not the other.

I'd kinda been dreading the meeting anyway, to be honest. Nothing against Gamma Girl -- I guess I've just gotten attached to my status as the newbie hero. Even El Phantasmo has been doing this stuff longer than I have, and I'm pretty sure he's still in high school. And being the hero with the newest debut date has certain advantages. Namely, it gives you permission to screw up. Not that I enjoy screwing up -- it makes the Chrome Cobra sigh and pinch the bridge of her nose. And not that I even screw up very often. But ya know, when it happens, everyone says, "Aw, give her a break -- she's the newbie."

Okay, actually, that part isn't really all that great either.

But it's fun to be able to goof off and have fun while superheroing. It's like, when you're the newbie, you've got special permission to be the Fun One -- seems like the seriousness gets highlighted for everyone else.

I mean, everyone else has fun and goofs off some -- except Chrome Cobra. And Hypothermia, 'cause man, he's serious and grim. And Jonni Rotten, who goofs off, but is still scary about it. But Wheelman and Defender and Penitente are laugh riots, and even Atlas, Star, and Express crack some wise.

Heck, Miss Mega's a complete sports fanatic and always gets into huge arguments with everyone about sports stuff. And the one time the Mustangs invited her down for one of their Superhero Days, she got told to leave early 'cause she got worked up about the game, over-did the aggressive trash-talk, and punched out a length of railing. Only time I have ever seen her lose her cool was bellowing at the umpire, and it was so awesome.

So yeah, everyone else gets in some fun while superheroing, but I've got the rep for having more fun than anyone.

Did I just go off on a tangent? I think I did, didn't I? What was I talking about anyway?

So the thing is -- Gamma Girl is now the newest superhero in Metro City, and she doesn't really come across as a screwup or goofball. She starts off by punching out Strych-9, then beats Professor Kaboom's ass over the city, follows up by scamming a bunch of time-traveling dinosaurs, takes down the Grouch, and then clobbers Terrordactyl and Devil Wasp solo. I mean, I've gone up against my share of supervillains, but my powers don't really lend themselves to serious badassery, ya know? I'll never be the type who soars through the air and punches out the bad guy on live TV.

So the upshot is -- the Star finds out we haven't even met yet, and he calls us both, makes us pick a time, and makes us stick to it. This really kinda pisses me off. I would've shown up to meet Gamma Girl eventually, but getting ordered into it? It's not like I was avoiding her on purpose -- it was just a matter of schedule conflicts. So to hell with it -- I was going to show up and be as rude and pissy and unprofessional and not-even-a-little-fun-loving about the whole thing.

And then Gamma Girl gets there in her fancy blue-and-white bodysuit and professionally-designed atomic "GG" logo and hits me with her secret weapon. She brings her daughters' autograph book and asks me to sign it. It's not like I can refuse my adoring public, right?

So all three of us head back to her home and meet the family. Star hangs out and drinks some coffee with Gamma Girl -- okay, Renee -- and her husband Dan in the kitchen. I play Wii Boxing with her kids Becky and Melanie, which is far cooler because they're much more into treating me like a rock star. Especially after I play against myself using my tentacles.

And yeah, fine, I go hang out with the grownups, too. The Windlers got this awesome Brazilian coffee. Definitely beats the convenience store coffee I have to live on during most patrols.

So okay, Gamma Girl is just fine with me.

I would've liked to have stayed at her house longer, but we got a call from Penitente. He just got word that Shakedown busted out of the pen and was holed up in a warehouse on the south edge of town. He can take on the properties of anything he touches, so he's not usually someone you want to take on solo. I mean, he's not particularly strong, but who wants to try to beat up a guy who can turn his body into bricks just by picking up a piece of busted masonry? Luckily, he's entirely unorganized and a bit dumb in general -- he just can't deal with it when you have a bunch of people attacking him.

So we meet up with Penitente on the roof of a warehouse across from Shakedown's hideout. El Phantasmo shows up a minute or two later with his usual entourage of spooks and spirits.

We're waiting to see if any of the other local heroes are going to show up when we got a nice little break of good luck -- Shakedown comes out of the warehouse on a cigarette run.

Unfortunately, he comes out with Mr. Punch, Judy, Big Earl, and Black Sunshine -- Punch's Boys, who he'd apparently just joined up with. And they see us.

Punch's Boys aren't the worst bunch of bad guys you'd want to fight. I mean, we've beaten them plenty of times. But I'm not sure we can beat 'em with our current crop of super-people.

And in a bit more bad news, the Star and Gamma Girl go charging at the exact wrong people. Can't really blame 'em -- both of them are pretty new to the hero biz in Metro City. But they pick the wrong people to fight with, and it's gonna mean trouble for all of us.

Gamma Girl flies right at Black Sunshine and starts shooting. Granted, he seems like an easy target -- cranky headbanger in a White Zombie T-shirt surrounded by black-colored flames -- no obvious defenses. Only thing is, the guy absorbs energy from almost everything he's exposed to and uses that to power himself up. He absorbs all kinds of radiation, plus heat, negative energy, cosmic energy, psionic energy, sonic waves and vibrations, electricity, lasers, magic, and plasma blasts. About the only stuff he can't handle are cold attacks and straightforward kinetic energy -- which means that Penitente probably should be taking him on, not Gamma Girl.

The Star, meanwhile, makes a beeline for Judy -- another mistake. I'm willing to bet that her entry in the Assembly of Order's databases boiled down to "electricity-slinging supervillain girlfriend" -- but she's not someone to underestimate. She's definitely the most ruthless person in the gang. And all that electricity in her veins makes her really fast and agile. She's no speedster, but she's definitely quick enough to avoid most of what Star can throw at her.

Phantasmo throws himself at Big Earl. Seems a bit of a mismatch -- Phantasmo's a skinny kid, Earl is almost seven feet tall, superstrong, and moderately dim. But Phantasmo's probably the only one of us who'd have a chance against Earl. He won't be able to beat Earl up, but all those ghosts will at least slow him down a little. I hope.

Penitente gets stuck with exactly the thing he wanted to avoid -- taking on Shakedown solo. Shakedown kicks off his shoes so he can turn himself into asphalt, which Penitente doesn't have much of a good way to punch through. So his best bet is to try to keep his distance, try an occasional judo throw, and hope Shakedown doesn't get in any lucky punches.

And then there's me. Lucky, lucky me. I got stuck dealing with Mr. Punch.

I don't like Mr. Punch. It's not so much that he's a clown. It's more that he's a complete douchecanoe with a nasty giggle. And that he's a clown. A creepy dumb stupid clown. With an electrified dumb clown hammer.

"Heya, Squiddie," he says, swinging his dumb clown hammer at me. "How's stuff going?"

"Shut up, dumb clown," I say, dodging just barely out of the way.

"Aww, Squiddie, you're gonna give me a complex," he giggles. "I'm gonna start thinking you don't wanna hang with me."

"I don't like to hang with people who dress up as clown puppets that kill their wife and babies and crocodiles," I say. I'm all about the snappy banter. "You got your fancy hammer, why didn't you go with more of a hammer theme instead of the dumb puppet clown?"

"Hey, I'd already picked out my theme," he says. "Made sense to go with someone everyone would recognize. People really enjoy the familiar, ya know?"

"Why are you even bothering trying to justify your fashion choices to me?"

"No reason. Just small talk. Fills the time before I hit you with the mallet."

And then he goes and hits me with the mallet.

It's not as bad as it sounds. I mean, the mallet is about the size of a sack of potatoes, but it's not designed to do much more than hurt like the dickens and make you look like an idiot. Hell, remember what happened to that Bloodblayde guy after he killed the Minuteman? The Notorious Nine grabbed him, broke his arms and legs, and dropped him off in front of FBI headquarters, just to make sure no one associated him with any other villains. Only the serious psychos want to get reps as hero-killers.

I guess I should feel lucky that Punch actually cares about non-lethality in his equipment... but all I'm really able to think about doing is curling up in a ball and wishing my teeth and joints would stop hurting.

I don't think anyone else was doing much better. I caught a glimpse of Penitente just barely staying out of Shakedown's reach, of Big Earl pushing his way through a wall of ghosts as he chased Phantasmo, of Black Sunshine knocking Gamma Girl back with flame blast after flame blast. We were getting thrashed.

"Alright, guys, we don't have all day. Let's get this finished up," yells Punch. He stands over me and raises his mallet, crackling with electricity.

I'm in the perfect position to see something high above us, something big, something falling fast. I don't even have time to yell a warning for anyone or brace myself. There's a thunderous "Kra-THOOOM," like someone just dropped a bomb on us, and we all get bounced in the air.

Miss Mega's finally made it to the fight.

"Aw, hell," says Black Sunshine. "She's wearing headphones."

"Who's playing tonight?" asks Judy. "Please tell me it's someone with a good record."

"It's da Falcons," rumbles Big Earl. "Dey ain't won a game since last season."

"Oh, hell," moans Black Sunshine. "We're all gonna die."

Miss Mega looks around and smirks. She swings around, locks on Big Earl, and smiles -- a seriously dangerous smile. "Earrrrrl," she says, like a cat getting ready to bat a mouse around.

Earl isn't the smartest supervillain around, but you sure can't question his bravery. He's the only one of Punch's Boys who has a chance of holding her off -- and they've done this dance often enough for him to know he's about to get stomped.

Punch's Boys have forgotten about the rest of us. Fine with us -- makes it the perfect time to switch opponents.

Phantasmo is freed from having to deal with Earl, so he makes a beeline for Judy. Sure, she's fast, but she can't avoid all those ghosts. So before long, she's been pinned down by ghosts while invisible poltergeists throw trash cans at her head.

Star throws some of his cosmic snares on Shakedown and starts flinging cosmic blasts at his skull, while Gamma Girl starts pouring the radiation blasts on, trying to see how hot asphalt has to get before it melts.

Penitente is the only one of us who stands a good chance of putting any hurt down on Black Sunshine, so he wraps his whip around his neck and kicks him in the stomach every time it looks like he's about to fire off any flame jets. Still, it doesn't look like it's much fun for him to be that close to a heat source that hot.

I'm the only person who doesn't switch dance partners. But I've recovered enough by now to get some tentacles around Mr. Punch's mallet and take it away from him. I hit him with it a couple of times, but I don't know how to activate the electro-shock charge, so I just fling it away and tie him up with as many tentacles as possible.

But again, everyone's paying most of their attention to Miss Mega and Big Earl. Like I said, he's not the sharpest yellow-pushpin-in-the-cork-bulletin-board, so he knows how this is about to go down. But he still goes in and swings his punches. I don't know if he thinks maybe he'll have a shot this time or if it's machismo or if he's just doing what he thinks is right. He dances around her and throws a punch at her face. She blocks it easy, as well as the next two he throws. She catches his fist after the fourth punch and squeezes -- not as hard as she can, but hard enough to make him groan, no matter how hard he's trying to keep up his manly facade.

After that, she grabs him by his shirt and tosses him about 20 feet in the air. Then as he's coming down, she punches him, overhand, almost casually, and he smacks into the pavement at her feet. There's a crack that's probably mostly from the concrete, and the shockwave blows traces of pulverized asphalt into everyone's faces.

I love Miss Mega like a sister, but ye gods, whenever she does this stuff, she makes me nervous as hell. For someone so nice, she sure as heck knows how to intimidate the hell out of people.

She picks Earl up again, tosses him lightly in the air a couple of times, and says, "What do you think, Earl? Think I can punch you clear into near-earth orbit? Or just the upper atmosphere?"

"Okay already!" yells Punch. "We give!"

"You sure?" Miss Mega shouts back at him. "I've just barely started on Earl!"

"Don't try to play the hardass, Mega," Punch says. "Everybody knows that's not your thing."

"You want some of this, clown boy? You sound like you want a free translunar voyage?"

"You got a clean surrender, and you still wanna trash talk?" says Punch. "Take the win and be done with it, alright?"

Miss Mega shrugs. "Okay, fair enough." She sets Earl down on the ground and says, "Do your part."

"Settle, boys, we're beat fair and square," says Mr. Punch. "Not worth putting Earl in the hospital."

And believe it or not, that was it, or pretty much it. Judy was pissed about it, but she followed the order. Black Sunshine tried to put a good face on it and joked that he almost had us all beat. Earl just sat down and looked miserable. Shakedown tried to make a run for it, but Star held him off the ground with his cosmic snares so he lost contact with the asphalt and turned back to normal.

After Penitente called the cops in, we all ended up sitting around. None of us heroes actually relaxed much -- what if Punch decided to try to escape after I unwrapped my tentacles? Punch and his crew were probably calmer about the whole thing than we were.

"Tell me something," I say to Punch while we wait. "You say you knew Mega wasn't going to punch Earl into orbit. You say you knew it was just tough talk. So why surrender? Earl could've taken the hits, and she wouldn't have hurt the rest of you that badly."

"Yeah, but again, she'da put him in the hospital easy," says Punch quietly. "And I wanted to save him the humiliation."

"So?" I say. "What if the rest of you could've gotten away?"

"Hey, kid, not all supervillains are the Legion of Malevolence, ya know?" he says. "Earl's part of my crew, and I do what's best for my crew."

Finally, the guys from the Special Operations Squad show up, bag up the bad guys, and take off. After that, we all go home and enjoy some Hot Pockets and a snifter of brandy. No, of course not, we stand around and argue. The Star's pissed off at Miss Mega, so they yell at each other for a while.

"You crossed the line, Miss Mega!" he says. "You can't threaten to kill people. That's taking things too far."

"Come on, Star," she says. "I had no intention of doing him any serious harm. Big Earl can take a lot worse than that. It was more about persuading the rest of his pals to stand down and surrender. Which, you'll note, they did."

"I'm still not comfortable with that level of aggression, especially from someone strong enough to knock over a skyscraper. And that you were listening to the Falcons game suggests to me that you were purposely trying to make yourself angry."

"I wasn't listening to the game, Star," she says. "How crazy do you think I am? I was listening to Flogging Molly. They jumped to the wrong conclusions, and I figured I'd play along so they'd surrender faster."

"Seriously?" says Star. "Why were you listening to music at all? You could've tuned that in to the police bands and kept track of crime instead of listening to music."

"Well, because the police bands are boring and mostly useless," says Miss Mega. "And because it's boring jumping around the city so sometimes I wanna listen to some tunes."

"You've got to have some more sense of responsibility," says Star. "People rely on us, you know."

"Don't you deride my sense of responsibility. This isn't the Assembly of Order, and you don't get to imply I'm not a good superhero just because I'm not a gung-ho cartoon like Madame Ultimate!"

Ya know what? This is a wildly stupid argument. The Star is completely ignoring the fact that Miss Mega saved our butts. Miss Mega is ignoring the fact that casual use of her really extreme superstrength makes heroes, villains, and civilians nervous.

And at the same time, the Star should know by now that Miss Mega is an overprotective mama-bear who gets to cut loose on superstrong supervillains about once a month, if she's lucky.

And not to come off as a Little Miss Rules Lawyer Stick-in-the-Mud, but even I listen in on the police and emergency bands. It'd be great to get to listen to music during the slow parts of the night, but I'd feel so guilty if someone needed me and I was too busy messing around with my iPod.

Luckily, it didn't fall to me to jump into an argument with two fantastically powerful people who could probably knock me clear into the next county, 'cause Atlas showed up around that time, and everyone settled down.

Atlas is a really likeable guy, and he's got a real knack for getting everyone calmed down and friendly with each other. Sure beats the way the Cobra does it -- manipulation and occasional threats. Anyway, it's hard to believe that Atlas was considered a third-stringer in the Assembly of Order -- he seems like the kind of person who should've been leading the whole group.

Anyway, our group is breaking up, heading off to do their own patrols, and Atlas calls me over before I can leave.

"You know the Alpha Alliance, right, Lenore?" he asks.

Duh, of course, I know about the Alpha Alliance. They're one of the big three superhero teams, along with the Liberty League and the Liberty Squadron. And the Assembly of Order, if they were still around. They're based out of Los Angeles, but they operate on a global and galactic scale.

"One of my old teammates from the Assembly is the new leader of the Alpha Alliance," says Atlas. "Aegis owes me some favors, and the Chrome Cobra and I decided we should try to get you an internship with the Alpha Alliance."

"A -- a what?!" This is a bit much for me to take in. "Since when do superteams do internships? What makes you think I need an internship?! I don't have time for internships -- it's the middle of the semester, man! How the heck -- ?!"

"Hold it, hold it," he says. "The Alliance is starting a new internship program, part outreach, part training for younger heroes, part recruitment. We figured you'd be a perfect candidate 'cause none of us have the time or skills to help give you any real training. And the internship wouldn't start 'til summer -- you could even get university credit for it. They just want to interview you for now."

"Interview?" I'm still going a little crazy about this. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? "I'm not ready for an interview. I don't have any good interviewing clothes. What are good interviewing clothes anyway? How long do I have before this interview? Do you know how much I hate interviews, Atlas? Why didn't you guys ask me first?!"

"Seriously, Squid Kid, slow down, or I'm calling Defender in to trank you down," says Atlas. "Aegis says the interview is a formality -- it's a competitive thing, but there weren't many applicants, and with me and the Cobra vouching for you, you're a shoo-in. They'll just wanna review your past history and experience, ask you a few questions to make sure where you'll fit in as a teammate. Don't worry about interviewing clothes -- wear your costume. And the interview's scheduled for the day after tomorrow."

"The day after tomorrow?! Atlas, how am I gonna get to L.A. in two days? Plane tickets are gonna be super-expensive!"

"I promise, we got it worked out, Lenore," he says. "Iota has an experimental jump-jet that can get you to Los Angeles in just a few hours. He's heading out there for a conference anyway, and he said he'd be glad to give you a ride."

"My professors are going to have a cow," I say. "A complete 20-megaton plutonium cow."

"No, they won't," he smiles. "The Cobra's already contacted 'em and cleared it with 'em. Even if they could resist her persuasive skills, they'd never want to stand in the way of the Alpha Alliance, right?"

And at that point, I give up. So I'm going to L.A. in two days. I better go buy a bucket or two of sunblock.

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