From the author: Would you like to be the main attraction of a museum? Without your permission or knowledge....
By David Perlmutter
Usually, I’m not a morning person. I tend to exhaust myself during the day, and I need to get some sleep in the night in order to perform well the following day. That’s even more important when you’re a superhero like me. Your body not only uses more energy and power, especially in battles against evil, than those of mortal people, but it also requires more energy and power to sustain itself on a daily basis. So a good night’s sleep is as essential for the regaining of lost energy and power among we heroes as it is for anyone else.
Perhaps even more than that.
As a result, you can understand, very clearly, why I was so irritated when my bedside phone began to ring, at who knows what hour.
I was prepared to give a verbal volley to whomever it was that had woken me up, for good reason, if it happened to be someone trying to sell me something. I hate those people.
But it wasn’t.
In the form of a good friend of mine. Who informed me of an urgent need for my superhero services, and would I meet with her and our other friends to discuss it ASAP, at our normal rendezvous point?
Yes, I would.
Because nothing wakes a superhero up, even in the middle of the night, than a stated need or desire by someone else to perform their duty and use their superpowers, however it was they were acquired, in the name of the greater good.
It’s even better than coffee.
So, drawing myself out of my bed, I quickly changed from my secret identity- mild mannered, blue eyed eight year old Gerda Munsinger- to my superhero one. Muscle Girl, the smartest, fastest, strongest and most agile preadolescent girl in the universe. After donning my silver, pink and white monogrammed and caped uniform, I tiptoed quietly out of my house, so as not to disturb my sleeping parents. Then, once I was outside in the nearest park, I flew off into the sky.
When I first became a superhero, after I emigrated to Earth with my parents, I naively assumed that- other than the ones in the comics and movies, of course- I was the only one of my kind, and the only one to have the necessary burden of protecting the oppressed for exploitation and the decent from the threat of depravity. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are dozens of others like me, of all kinds of beings. And, while I don’t know all of them personally (contrary to what you might think), I am very close to a handful of ladies whom I befriended through working together closely with them. We call ourselves the International League Of Girls With Guns (meaning muscles, not firearms), or ILGWG for short.
I know. It’s not the best name in the world. Don’t blame me; I didn’t pick it. But the other options were just as bad, if not worse.
Anyway, I’m digressing….
Since it doesn’t take long for individuals with highly enhanced speed to get anywhere, we were soon assembled.
Most of us, anyway.
Present and accounted for were:
-Cerberus, the world’s mightiest puppy, whose permanently immature Dalmatian body hid enormous physical power and a highly wise mind;
-Candy Girl, the world’s most powerful teenage girl, empowered by a glowing emerald ring she kept steady on one of her middle fingers;
-and the Brat, an alien like myself, appearing to be a preschool aged blonde haired blue eyed kid, but, in reality, a formidable half-organic, half-mechanical from a planet full of same.
Absent was Power Bunny, the lagomorphian defender of Anthropomorph, the realm beyond the bounds of Earth, where all things not human in the world you know are quite obviously so. (Consequently, they supply the majority of what on Earth are called “cartoon characters”, which PB and her country-people look like to humans, to our content providers).
Her absence was the first thing I noticed when we convened in the night sky.
“Where’s PB?” I asked.
“That,” said Cerberus, as she adjusted her monogrammed white T-shirt uniform around her small chest, “is what we came here to talk about.”
“It’s been a couple of hours since any of us have heard from her,” said the Brat, similarly adjusting her patterned skirt, knitted blue sweater, and monogrammed white T shirt. “You know how she’s all over social media. It’s not like her to go silent like that.”
“She has to be all over it,” said Candy, crossing the arms of her all-purple sweat threads, whose utilitarian appearance only highlighted her sharp but beautiful facial features. “She’s a journalist. Remember? They really have to work for their money. What with she has to go through, I’m ruling it out as a job option.” She turned to me. “Have you got anything from her lately, MG?”
“I’m as much in the dark about this as any of you,” I said. “But I suspect foul play may be at work. It’s not like her to disappear without warning- like you said, Brat. And it’s certainly not like her to come and go without sending us messages about where and when she’s coming and going.”
“You don’t suppose that she….” Candy started, before cutting herself off with an obvious implication.
“Now, don’t assume that,” Cerberus said. “We can never assume that the worst has happened until we have all the facts first.”
“But how can we get all the facts?” the Brat pointed out. “PB’s the only one who can tell us what’s up with herself. And if she can’t…”
This was interrupted by a loud ping from Candy’s pants, signalling an update from her cell phone.
“Sorry,” she said, sheepishly, retrieving the device and looking at the screen.
Her face froze in shock.
“You better come look at this,” she said, laying the device on the ground so we could look at the screen. “It doesn’t look good.”
There, on the screen, was the listing: VIDEO FROM P. BUNNY.
Gingerly, Candy pressed the PLAY button, and the video began.
The image showed Power Bunny in what appeared to be a very confined space. Sweat was running down the sides of her pink and white pelt, and onto the blue skirt and blouse of her uniform. By her diminished appearance, she seemed weakened. Possibly after losing a fight, which was likely how and why she was now confined.
“Girls,” she whispered harshly, “help me. Look- I know you’re going to think I did something stupid- and I did- but hear me out. Back in Anthropomorph, I signed up for this online dating service, seeing as things haven’t been going well for me love-wise lately. Everything-wise is more like it, but that’s beside the point.
“So I got a match. And, as Barbara [her secret identity], I go meet the guy, and he wants to go through the portal to Earth with me. Which is unusual, since not too many Anthropomorphians do that unless they have to. But I just figured the guy has some sort of fetish or something. Well, we get there, and it turns out he’s a regular old Earth guy pretending to be an Anthropomorphian. But, worse, he’s been hired by the Fans to lure me out of Anthropomorph. Before I have a chance to turn into PB, I’m jumped and trussed up. I get put in the truck of a car and driven off here to the Fans’ Clubhouse, which is where I am now.
“I’m locked up in one of their glass display cabinets, like I’m an exhibit in a museum. Four square walls of glass surrounding me on all sides, without any ventilation or food or drink or nothing! They want to kill me dead, no doubt. So I can be displayed in one of these things later on, taxidermy-style, or with my head on a trophy plate, the way the big-game hunters do with their catches. Trust me- these bastards would do that, no question!
“I got maybe half a day left by the looks of it, so hurry!
“Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “Why doesn’t she use her strength to break the walls down and escape?”, I already tried that. And it didn’t work!
“I gave it the old college try after I finally got enough privacy to supe up. But I don’t know what the hell this glass is made of, because all I got from punching it was a bruised paw. We got nothing like this in Anthropomorph, otherwise I could deal with it. It’d be a big help if any of you could throw a limb into it without wincing.
“The point is, I need your help pretty badly. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?”
The video ended at that point.
Suddenly, we knew we were face to face with a reckoning. With perhaps the most subtle and sophisticated villains any of us had ever encountered.
The idea of powerful people having admirers who fawned over them, for good and bad reasons, is as old as time, of course. And many jobs and fields, particularly artistic endeavors, have always had passionate aficionados. People who know the score better than anyone else, who can openly admire someone’s work, but also tear that person down if they suddenly stop living up to the high expectations placed upon them.
Our line of work is no exception. Superheroes typically have as many adult admirers as they do kid and teenage ones. Even though the kids and teenagers are more likely to lionize us (if that’s even done). Adult admirers are different. Some are of the kids-who-never-grew-up variety, and view us on the same terms- and with the same respect- as kids and teenagers.
But there’s another kind of adult who has an “interest” in our activities. They claim to follow and like our work, but they really either fetish-ize us in all kinds of rude ways, or they’re more interested in exploiting our good names for ill-gotten money without our involvement. In short, they’re exactly the kind of people that the word “fan” was originally derived from.
Granted, most of our enemies are also fanatics, but, at least with them, we know they want to harm or kill us right from the start. With these folks, admiration, possessiveness and a perverse sense of wanting to “own” us alternate as emotions predictably and uncomfortably. You don’t know whether they want to kiss your hand, or wrap you up in a life-size never-to-be-opened-again mylar bag.
Some of these “fans” make it a point of “crushing” on a particular hero, collecting all the media coverage of them they can find. Desperately trying to prove the hero and their secret identity (if they have one) are truly one and the same. Showing up every time the hero appears in public, screaming like a rock and roll groupie for them all the while. Advancing claims about how the hero is a perfect “type” for the physical “classification” they made up in their tiny little mind. Acting as if the hero is their personal property, and glorifying “our” achievements. In short, making such an ass of themselves that the hero is tempted to smother them in their sleep with a pillow.
Each member of the ILGWG had such a being pursuing us at this time. Logically, they decided to combine their interests as we had ours. So it was that they compiled their stores of “memorabilia” (as it were) into a museum-cum-shrine called the Clubhouse. Once that was done, they expanded their aims, not only collecting and “preserving” all sorts of gobbledygook related to us, but actually plotting to capture us ourselves and make us the centerpiece of their warped fantasyland!
And now, it appeared, the score was one down and four to go.
So we headed to our top secret, ex-space station headquarters, and tried to think of how we could get into the Fans’ Clubhouse and get PB safely out of there without arousing suspicion.
We were expecting that we’d have to slog through umpteen websites listings before we found the right one. Not so. As soon as Cerberus inputted a search for “Fans’ Clubhouse Superhero Museum” into the engine, it was the first thing that came up. Probably because it was the only one of its kind- unless there were others we didn’t know about.
The gall, nerve, capriciousness, avarice, and, above all, the audacity of the venture were as visible to us as they would be to any other potential patron of the place. As we made a quick once-over of the Museum’s layout and contents, we were absolutely convinced that our privacy had been violated. And that, if the venture was allowed to live and prosper unchecked, our jobs, our lives, even our very existences might be permanently in jeopardy.
Imagine, for a moment, that someone you know, that you trust, has taken it upon them to speak publicly about things you confided to them in private, with the expectation that they would be kept secret. And not only speak of them, but financially profit from them as well.
You would still not be close to the kind of anger we felt. For this was the case with us. Details of our adventures, unexpurgated, but so amended and modified that they resembled the truth in no detail at all. Supposed specimens of our bodies and hair. Full background research on who and what we were, and how we acquired our superpowers, and what we liked “doing” with them, so to speak- of dubious accuracy. And, in cases where it was applicable, salacious-but completely made up- details of our sex lives!
The only difference being, rather than being betrayed by people we trusted, we had been betrayed by people we never trusted to begin with!
And then, there was the gift shop.
Of course, there had to be a gift shop.
That was really made our blood boil over.
“What kind of “gifts” could they possibly sell?” snapped the Brat. “And who would buy them?”
“The same kind of people who would pay $40.00 admission to get in to begin with,” noted Cerberus.
“What?” snarled Candy.
“Unless you’re a kid or a senior, and then it’s $50.00,” I added.
“This is ridiculous!” Candy continued. “We’re being exploited.”
“We certainly are,” agreed Cerberus. “I am not in this occupation to be treated merely as a figure of commerce. None of us are! And they say that they’re doing this “for the benefit of mankind”. More like the benefit of their pocketbooks!”
“What’s really galling is that we knew nothing about them trying to build this place before they built
“They made sure we didn’t,” said Candy, “because we never would have agreed to it if they had. Or, at least, not if it resembled that!”
“Right?” said the Brat. “But what can we do about it?”
“Destroy it!” Candy exploded. “And then KILL THEM ALL!”
There was a very awkward and extended silence among us at that point.
Murder, for the majority of superheroes, is a bridge too far. While there is a group among us that doesn’t mind doing it as a means to an end, as opposed to just threatening people with death, most of us have lives that are complicated just by having superpowers, let alone committing crimes with them. Even displaying a small amount of bloodlust can be awkward if you express it among those who don’t believe it’s the right way forward. So I wasn’t surprised Cerberus became angry at Candy for doing what had been done.
“You….take….that….BACK!” she growled, shaking with rage.
“Sorry,” said Candy, wilting. “But you saw what they…”
“Certainly,” I added. “However, that’s no excuse for wishing people dead at your hands like that. You know how it is, Candy. We operate outside the law, and those inside the law will do anything to clip our wings if they feel we’re upstaging and mocking them. But, if we stay upstanding citizens and abide by the law, we’ll have their respect, and they’ll help us if necessary.”
“Besides,” the Brat put in, “it’s not like any of us has the power to kill people by snapping our fingers, or anything like that.”
“That is something heroes can do without,” said Cerberus. “There is such a thing as being too powerful. But what we are powerful enough to do is rescue PB. And we’d best hurry and do that while we still have the time to do it!”
That being said, we jetted off to where we knew we had to be.
There was no mistaking what the building was when we first approached it. A museum it was meant to be, and a museum it looked like. The exterior was made of white marble and glass, with a cupola dome of the same material on top. Clearly, the owners were trying to put on a good show outside, to compensate for the relatively meagre unimportance of what was contained within.
“This would explain the high ticket prices,” said the Brat. “Overhead. And low profit margins.”
“They shouldn’t have any profit margins on our lives,” I answered.
“Damn right,” added Candy.
We expected that, perhaps, there might be guards, or, at the very least, booby traps. The whole idea of the museum, in and of itself, might have been designed as a lure, and the building itself as a decoy. One of us had fallen into that trap already- were the rest of us to suffer the same fate?
But there was none of that. The hallway entrance we passed through led to the museum, and nothing else. It was partitioned into two galleries, labeled A and B. Candy and the Brat volunteered to look up A, while Cerberus and I examined B.
Since we knew what the contents of the museum already were, we didn’t look upon them with the kind of awe that gullible people coming in off the street- who the villains were likely counting on as customers- might have viewed them. Rather, it made us even more disgusted with the idea than we had been before.
That is, until we got to the end of the gallery.
“What in the…?” I gasped.
“Holy Sirius!” exclaimed Cerberus, at the same time.
For, right in front of us, were five display cabinets, made of seemingly unbreakable glass. And, at the base of them, like the nameplates used to identify animals at zoos, were our names!
And there was PB, practically suffocating in her cabinet.
So this was what they had in mind for us. Taking us out of action permanently by making us permanent museum exhibits instead! For their own enjoyment and profit!
We got as close as we could to PB.
“Are you all right?” I shouted into the glass.
She shook her head, and mimed looking at her wrist as if a watch was on it. As if to say: time is running out.
“Don’t worry about that,” Cerberus shouted. “We’ll have you out in a moment.”
“Undoubtedly”, I said, preparing to throw a fist at the glass to release her, when Cerberus intervened.
“No!” she said.
“No?” I repeated, baffled.
“You remember what PB said about the glass? How she couldn’t break it with a punch?”
“Well, we all have about the same level of super-strength. If she wasn’t able to break that glass with a fist, what makes you think any of us could do the same?”
“Are you saying that none of us are strong enough to….?”
“The last thing I want to do is to cast aspersions on our potency. But what I am saying is that it might not be the greatest solution for this quandary. After they got PB, they believed that we’d come here, full of braggadocio, on the assumption that we could easily free her with our strength. But what joy it would give them to see us expend our power on that- when it could easily lead to us weakening ourselves, and therefore making us vulnerable to capture like PB.”
“But is there a way we could bust her out without doing that?”
“Certainly. For one thing, they underestimated my abilities, like they always do. Stand back!”
Cerberus stood in front of the wall of glass and took in enough air to turn her chest into a toy balloon. Then she uncorked one of her massive Sonic Barks, thousands of times louder than an average dog’s, and loud enough to create permanent damage to a non-superhero’s eardrums.
And, significantly, full of such acoustical power that it can create even greater force than one of our punches. Especially if it’s aimed at a stationary object- like a sheet of glass.
Sure enough, the glass cracked in several places, and several seconds later, all of the sheets fell down together. All that was left for PB to do was walk over the fallen sheets- and become herself again.
“Gee, but you’re swell,” she said to Cerberus affectionately. “They always underestimate the animal heroes the most, don’t they?”
“They sure do,” said Cerberus.
“And we’re lucky to be on her side, aren’t we?” PB said to me.
“We sure are,” I agreed.
“So,” said PB. “Did you two come by yourselves, or…?”
“No,” I said. “Candy and the Brat are in the other gallery. They…..”
Then came a violent and profanity-laden cacophony from the other gallery which was practically daring us not to go there and see what was going on.
So, of course, we did.
We arrived at a fortuitous occasion. The Brat and Candy had found the bad guys, and were holding them at bay. PB, Cerberus and I joined them for a united front.
The quintet we faced were well-known to us individually, so it wasn’t a surprise that they’d try to grab us together.
To begin with, there was Delany, a xenobiologist specializing in the area where my home planet exists. Once he discovered I was from there, he started peppering me with requests for information on a regular basis. Valuing my privacy, I refused. Finally, when I alerted the police, they got a restraining order against him, but that wasn’t enough to stop him. Then, he tried to blackmail me into talking, and that eventually led to his being arrested and jailed. Until then, I thought he was still there.
Cerberus had a similar relationship with Pinsker, a zoologist whose academic career was derailed when she tried to prove that the Perros, the alien super-canine race to which Cerberus belongs, were a genuine biological entity, and not the urban legend most Earthlings think of them as. Cerberus felt Pinsker was out for her own good and not the Perros’, and stymied her efforts. Again, the same pattern: threats, clashes, restraining orders and imprisonment, and the inevitable vow of revenge from Pinsker- of which this was clearly part.
Candy’s tormentor was Watts, a hot-headed Canadian from Vancouver. He’d become intrigued by her after seeing her in action online. He claimed to be interested in exploring the history and exploits of the Rangers, the intergalactic police force Candy became part of after inheriting her super powers through her emerald ring. But she knew immediately that his interest in her was not of a professional nature. She rebuffed his advances, and, when he wouldn’t desist, accused him of stalking her. That led to his being deported back to Canada and prevented from ever crossing the U.S. border again. But somehow, he was here.
The Brat met her idealizer in the form of Kessel, a spec fic novelist who saw her as an ideal subject for a project when their paths crossed. He approached her about the idea, but she turned him down. Nevertheless, he went through and wrote a novel about her, anyway, but he couldn’t get it sold. That was because he was a no-talent hack, but he still blamed her for its failure. Consequently, he’d popped up once in a while in her life in an attempt to blackmail her with the “knowledge” he had of her and her life. That didn’t work, of course. Until then, she thought he had vanished.
Finally, Power Bunny’s hunter was Kiernan, a fellow Anthropomorphian journalist in the form of, appropriately, a vixen. Kiernan recognized early on in Power Bunny’s superhero career that she bore a strong resemblance to her hated rival, Barbara Bunny. But, when she tried to expose the truth, it was laughed off as a sham and she was dismissed. Kiernan never gave up attempting to ruin PB, however. Even to the point of trying to stage a supposed lesbian menage a trois with PB, Barbara and herself for a sex rag. For that, she suffered PB’s wrath, along with imprisonment. She was clearly here because she was as out for revenge as her partners.
So here we all were. Five heroes with secrets to hide about ourselves, despite our seeming invulnerability, and five opportunistic jerks, who, thinking only of mammon, had ruined their lives and reputations, and were trying to ruin ours. How was this stalemate going to be resolved?
We heroes were outraged, of course, and, had we been capricious enough, we could have murdered them all right on the spot. But that wasn’t our way. Yet it took all we had within to master our tempers.
“Listen carefully,” I intoned, speaking for our side. “Either you take this whole thing down, or we’ll bring it down on your heads.”
“That’s typical of your kind,” Delany snapped. “Dictate all the terms, and force us to comply. You know absolutely nothing about being decent towards….”
“Shut up!” I ordered. “You’re not in a position to talk to me about “decency”, Delany. Not when you’ve built this glass house you threw stones into.”
“Lay off!” interjected Pinsker. “Don’t you foolish kids get it? We’re trying to help you. Nobody knows more about all of you than all of us. We can make this work. You just be good little girls, and go off and do your jobs for us, and we might cut you in on the profits we’ll make…”
“Excuse me,” Cerberus growled at her. “We are not your employees, and you will not speak to us in that condescending fashion again!”
“Now just a fucking minute,” Watts shouted. “Just who the hell do you think you are, interfering with free enterprise when you know that’s a crime! I mean, goddamnit, we could report to you to the police and have them put you on trial for this, for Chrissake! And what good what that do you? Or us? You wouldn’t know about that ‘cause you don’t think about nothing but yourselves…”
Candy grabbed him and shoved him against a wall, with his face to the wall.
“Shut up, you IDIOT!” she roared. “If you think you can get us arrested for violating your right to “free enterprise”, you got another think coming! What’s more likely to happen is that you all get sent up the river for invading our privacy…”
“PRIVACY?” Kessel snorted contemptuously. “Rim ram goddamn sonofabitch fuck to THAT! You all know damn well “privacy” got murdered when social media spread its wings like the giant unstoppable bird it is! It’s no more a thing to be “invaded” than the “privacy” of the Ohio Blue Tips in my car’s glove compartment is “invaded” when I light one of them up!”
“You’d know about treating my privacy like one of your damned Blue Tips, wouldn’t you, you backwater hick!” said the Brat to Kessel. “You invaded it, no question, full stop, when you went and invented that fairy tale about me without me even agreeing to it! Besides, you forget that, with social media, you can choose to opt out if you don’t like it any more. And we’re plenty prepared to opt out of you guys breathing down our necks all the time!”
“Oh, for the love of…” snapped Kiernan. “Such priggish self-righteousness! You “heroes” all have your heads so far up your asses that your farts smell like toothpaste!”
“You’re one to talk!” retorted an outraged PB. “I don’t need to be accused of being self-righteous from a rotten crook like you, Kiernan. You’re the one whose head is in her ass!”
“Ugh!” said Delany. “Such vulgarity! Is this why we idolize them?”
“No. You know perfectly well why we’re in this game,” said Pinsker. “We all thought they cared about their fans, and they didn’t, and they punished us. We’re getting back by punishing them. Because, in my case, if it weren’t for Cerby over there…”
“Don’t call me ‘Cerby’ again,” said Cerberus, “if you want to live!”
“Big talk, you bitch!” Watts taunted, with a laugh.
“I’m warning you, Watts…” Candy threatened.
“Man, this would make a fine story,” said Kessel. “Where’s my notebook?”
“Go fuck yourself!” the Brat shouted at him.
“Maybe the rest of you morons want to risk our grubstake on calling them names and such,” said Kiernan, trying to leave the room, “but I have better things that I could be doing…”
“GRUBSTAKE?” exploded PB, as she blocked Kiernan’s path. “That’s all this is to you? All we ever did, and thought of? HOW DARE YOU!”
“Well, what the hell are you going to do about it, cotton tail?” Kiernan countered.
PB threw a punch at her nemesis, knocking her to the floor. The other villains took that as a cue to try to attack us likewise, and they did. It was a short battle. With the exception of Kiernan, who was a supernatural being, they did not have the kind of power to go against us in a physical fight, and were quickly knocked unconscious by blows to their stomachs and karate chops to their heads. Kiernan was strong enough to battle PB equitably, however, and their fight lasted longer. It only ended when the rest of us, freed from confronting our own fanatics, converged upon her. At which point, she requested we be merciful, and we allowed her to return to Anthropomorph on the condition that she stop harassing PB.
“Well,” I said, “what now?”
“Let’s get out of here,” said Cerberus.
“Wait!” said Candy. “What about all the stuff in the museum?”
“Brat,” said Cerberus.
“What?” said the Brat.
“Didn’t Mr. Kessel say he had matches in his car?”
“You want me to go get them?”
“If you wouldn’t mind…”
So, after binding the unconscious Delany, Pinsker, Kessel and Watts to a sturdy oak for the police to find, we used Kessel’s Ohio Blue Tips to turn their precious “museum” to ashes. Now, we could finally all go home and get the sleep we’d been denied that night.
When I got back home, I saw, blessedly, that I still had a few more hours left before I officially had to “get up” as Gerda, so I changed back to her and headed back to bed to sleep.
Then, my phone rang again….
This story originally appeared in Medium. com (2019).
Are the world's mightiest girl superheroes about to let an intergalactic cabal buy and sell Earth under the citizen's noses? Not likely! But it'll be a lot tougher to stop them than they thought....
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