Randy Davenport was running. It was Friday and, like many teenagers, he was racing to reach the favored hang-out he and his friends frequented. However, most teenagers didn’t run at 500 miles per hour, for Randy was also the teen superhero known as the Whirligig Jr. (Whirl to his friends), and the “hang-out” he was headed towards was the headquarters of the superhero group the Teen Templars, a group that he was proud to be a member of. Though just heading to the headquarters to hang for the weekend, it appeared that plans would change when the alarm beacon on his communicator watch went off; Polecat had sent out an urgent signal. It’s a good thing I changed into my costume before I left. Randy increased his speed and wondered what could be up.
After a few minutes, he arrived at Templar Terrace. He bolted through the ground entrance and sped to the command center where the team held their mission briefings; no one was there. Fearing their headquarters had been compromised by an enemy, he began a high-speed search of the facility. He checked the garage, the library, the lab; no one seemed to be around. Randy finally had success upon reaching the lounge. A large room, it had everything a group of teenagers could want. A widescreen television sat in front of huge bay windows, with a couch not far away for comfortable viewing. Iron Mantis was performing martial arts katas near the rear wall, while Polecat was out on the sofa, watching music videos.
“Hey, Whirl. What’s up?”
Polecat looked at his watch. “You got here quick. Didn’t you just get done school, like, a half hour ago?”
“Well, I do have super-speed….”
“Right. So, are you staying for the weekend?”
“Yeah. I told my mom I was spending the weekend with some friends, which is technically not a lie, I guess….”
“You just hanging out, or what?”
“No. I was gonna do some work on the computer; update the case files, organize the reserve member roster, and maybe run a diagnostic on the Terrace’s security system.”
Though he hadn’t turned away from the TV, Randy just knew that Polecat was rolling his eyes. “Wow, Randy, you REALLY know how to live it up on the weekend, dude.”
“Well, someone on this team has got to handle the administrative stuff. Unless you want to go ahead and have the team vote on a leader?”
“Hells no, man. We’re keeping the Templars like a commune. Everybody’s equal.”
Randy shrugged. “Suit yourself, P.C.”
“Damn straight, I will.”
An odd silence ensued for a few moments until Randy spoke up again. “So, are we the only ones here, or are Cosmic Girl and Mako around?”
“Oh, yeah, the girls are in the training room, doing that thing where they try to knock each other off those elevated platforms with those padded sticks. I was down there watching, but Mako kicked me out. She said I was making too many whistles and cat- calls. Can you believe that?”
“What, you making cat-calls? It’s very hard, considering your normally reserved demeanor towards the opposite sex, but I think I can manage it.”
Iron Mantis, who had been silent thus far, snickered.
“Oh, hardy-har-har, you two. Pick on the guy with no powers and take her side….”
With that, Polecat waved at his two teammates dismissively and turned back to the TV.
An awkward silence settled once more. Randy glanced around, scratched his head, and
then coughed, hoping to catch someone’s attention. When that failed, Randy decided to
speak up once more.
“There was, um, an alert?”
“Oh, yeah. Right. That.”
Polecat’s nonchalant response concerned Randy more than an actual emergency would have. Polecat patted the area on the couch to his right, gesturing for Randy to come over. “Dude, sit down here for a bit. You and I need to talk….”
Randy walked over and took a seat, confusion showing on his face. “What’s up?”
“Randy, we need to have a talk about Cosmic Girl….”
* * *
Mako and Cosmic Girl had just finished up their session in the training room and headed towards their rooms.
“Mako, how do you keep beating me? I mean, I’m stronger than you. This should be easy for me….”
“Well, it’s not all about strength; you need finesse as well. You can’t expect to win if you just rely on brute force. And I thought I’ve told you a thousand times- when we’re not publicly doing the hero thing, you can call me Lina.”
A look of remorse spread over Cosmic Girl’s face that, had it appeared on anyone else’s, would have smacked of mock sincerity. Cosmic Girl, however, didn’t have an insincere bone in her body.
“I’m sorry Mako, I mean, Lina. I shall endeavor not to again break our protocols of friendship.”
Lina smiled to reassure her teammate. “It’s okay. You know, we need to get you a secret identity. We can’t just keep calling you ‘Cosmic Girl’. You need a name, like….” Lina caught herself. She’d almost said “like a real girl”. Cosmic Girl, though to all appearances a normal teenaged girl, was not human. A mass of sentient cosmic energy that had taken human form, Cosmic Girl could be very sensitive of the fact that she was an outsider struggling to fit in, but that never stopped her from trying. “You need a name like everybody else.”
“I know. I’ve actually almost decided on a name.”
Lina grinned and grabbed Cosmic Girl by the shoulder. “Get out! What is it?”
Cosmic Girl frowned slightly. “I’m not completely certain it’s the appropriate name for me.”
Lina pouted slightly. “Oh, come on, C.G.”
“I just want to be sure it’s the right name for me. I’ll know when the time is right.”
Lina sighed. “I guess that makes sense.” She chuckled a bit. “After all, you don’t want to be stuck with a name like Gertrude….” Lina stopped, then looked at Cosmic Girl with concern. “It’s not Gertrude, is it? Because old ladies who own thirty-seven cats are named Gertrude….”
Cosmic Girl shook her head with a smile, prompting a sigh of relief from Lina, glad to have averted a potential faux pas.The two female Templars continued walking, turning down the hallway to their rooms. Lina sighed. “I can’t believe Seahawk’s dragging me along with him on a mission to Atlantis. I need to change out of my costume. What about you?”
“I already did.”
Lina did a double take. Whereas mere moments before Cosmic Girl had on her black and gold costume, she now had on a pink blouse and blue jeans. Her blonde hair had changed slightly as well, going from straight to crimped. Lina shook her head. “It never ceases to amaze me how you do that….”
“It’s really quite simple. I merely use my energy powers to rearrange the hard light molecules of my costume, allowing me to alter my appearance in subtle ways.”
“I was speaking rhetorically, Cosmic Girl.”
“Oh. Sorry Ma- Lina. So, you and the Seahawk have a mission?”
“You’re lucky. I wish I had a mentor. You’ve got Seahawk, Polecat has the Red Archer, and the Iron Mantis has his sensei. I wish I had someone to teach me….”
“Well, first, Mantis is Chinese, so I think the proper term is ‘sifu’. Second, it’s not all fun and games. When they’re not training you, they’re making you do all the mundane
stuff that they don’t want to do, presumably to ‘build character’. Besides, Randy doesn’t have a mentor either, and he does alright.”
There was something about Cosmic Girl’s tone that made Lina wonder. She didn’t sound depressed, exactly… Thoughtful, maybe? With Cosmic Girl, it was hard to tell sometimes. Still, if something was bothering her, Lina knew Cosmic Girl wouldn’t hesitate to bring it up. Being effectively an alien, she had yet to master the concept of subtlety.
The duo soon arrived at their adjoining rooms. When the team was deciding on living quarters in the Terrace, Lina specifically asked for her and Cosmic Girl to be right next to each other. She knew that Cosmic Girl needed help fitting in, and while Lina didn’t live at the Terrace full time like Cosmic Girl did, she wanted to be nearby to lend an ear on the occasions she did stay the night. It’s not like she trusted the boys to help Cosmic Girl adapt. Certainly not Polecat, at any rate.
Before Lina could enter her room, Cosmic Girl spoke. “Lina, may I speak with you in my room for a few moments? I have something I need to… What’s the expression? Oh, yes. I have something I need to get off my bosom.”
Lina tried her best to keep a straight face and only marginally succeeded. “It’s ‘get off my chest’, but yeah, I’ve got some time. What’s up?”
Lina followed Cosmic Girl into her room. It was just like any normal teenage girl’s room or, perhaps more accurately, it was like what someone thought an average teenage girl’s room should look like. Pink was the predominant color on the walls, broken up with pictures of flowers. Stuffed animals adorned the dresser and night stand. On the door connecting the room to Lina’s was a picture of the two girls they had taken at the mall. Lina couldn’t help but smile. For someone who doesn’t really need to buy clothes, she sure does like going to the mall.
Cosmic Girl sat down on the edge of her bed which was, not surprisingly, adorned
with teddy bears and fluffy pink pillows. “What do you think of Randy?”
Lina shrugged. “He’s a nice guy. Kind of funny, in an offbeat way. Why?”
“I’ve noticed he looks at me differently than other boys do.”
Lina chuckled a bit. “Girl, he looks at you with respect.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Well, other boys, when they look at you, I’d imagine they’re thinking of you physically….”
Cosmic Girl thought for a moment, then realization dawned on her bright features. “You mean they have lustful aspirations towards me?”
“Not the words I would’ve used, but yeah.”
“And Randy does not harbor lustful aspirations towards me?”
Lina pinched the bridge of her nose as she thought about what to say next. She often did that when answering Cosmic Girl’s questions about human culture. “He probably does, a little, but there’s more to it than that. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s… emotionally invested in you.”
Cosmic Girl looked at Lina quizzically. “Do you mean he might see me as a potential romantic interest?”
“Again, not the words I would have used, but yeah. I definitely think he’s crushing on you in a big way.”
Cosmic Girl practically beamed at the statement. “That’s wonderful! I view Randy as a potential romantic interest as well.”
“Yes! He’s a valiant and stalwart champion of justice, and his hair gets tussled by the wind in the cutest way when he runs at super-speed.”
“That’s sweet, but do you really think you’re ready for a… ‘romantic interest’? Randy’s a nice guy and all, but….”
Cosmic Girl interrupted, her face growing serious as she cast her eyes down to the floor. “I know I’m not like everybody else. I can bend steel in my bare hands, my energy powers could level a city block, and, when I assumed human form, I may have made myself too pretty. When I’m around other people, I am acutely aware that I’m an outsider….” Cosmic Girl paused briefly, then looked up at Lina, a faint smile on her lips. “But when I’m with Randy, I feel like I belong here. He acts around me just like he acts around everybody else. I can’t express what that means to me.”
Lina sat down next to Cosmic Girl and put an arm around her in a friendly embrace. “Oh, sweetie, that’s adorable. For what it’s worth, I’m sure Randy likes you just as much.”
Cosmic Girl smiled briefly, then frowned again. “Then why hasn’t he said anything?”
* * *
“She’s probably not interested in me in that way.”
Polecat shook his head. “Dude, she is SO into you. Remember that caper last week?”
Randy raised an eyebrow. “’Caper’? You mean when my estranged super-villain father tried to rob NOVA Labs?”
“Uh… I was trying to be discreet, but yeah, that one.”
Randy sighed. “What about it?”
“After we laid the smack down on your dad, Cosmic Girl was all ‘Ooooh, Randy, are you okay? Let me put my hand on your shoulder and kiss you on the cheek. Mwah!’”
“She was just showing concern. That’s her way of being friendly.”
“Dude, I’m your friend, and I’m not gonna kiss you.”
“Thank heavens for that.”
“Why don’t you just talk to her? Ask her out or something?”
“What if I do and she’s not interested? Then we’d both feel awkward and weird. I don’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position….”
“Well, if it’s positions you’re interested in, the Kama Sutra….”
Polecat stopped short. He noticed that Randy appeared to be glaring at him. Polecat looked over at Iron Mantis, who was shaking his head as if to say, Dude, don’t go there.
“Uh… The Kama Sutra is a book from India that has absolutely no relevance to this conversation whatsoever. A-hem.”
The anger faded from Randy’s face. Polecat had touched a nerve, he knew, but he pressed on. “Come on, Randy, you should, you know, just talk to her.”
“You don’t understand, Polecat. Girls like her don’t go for guys like me.”
“But what’s the harm in asking, just to be sure?”
“She becomes so uncomfortable around me that she leaves the team and we lose our most powerful member.”
“Way to look at the glass half-full.”
Polecat thought for a moment, then decided to change tactics. “Randy, in my alter-ego of Chris Connover, I have lots of success with chicks. And do you know why?”
“Because you’re the young, handsome, athletic ward of a billionaire playboy?”
“Yes. I mean, no! It’s because I have confidence.”
“I’d have confidence too if I were the young, handsome athletic ward of a billionaire playboy. Not to mention that I’d also be secretly the superheroic teen master of the quarterstaff.”
Polecat sighed in exasperation. “I just don’t get it, Whirl. You can face down someone like Baron Von Evil without breaking a sweat, but you fall to pieces with normal, mundane stuff.”
“First, it’s pronounced ‘Von Effel.’ Second, when I’m the Whirligig Jr., that’s not really me. It’s like I’m playing a character. It’s like… Okay, there’s this guy at my school who runs this Dungeons & Dragons game, and I play this 12th-level paladin who-”
Polecat pulled out his staff and lightly thwacked Randy on the top of the head, prompting a yelp from the young speedster. “Ow! What the heck was that for?!?”
“Dude, when we’re talking about girls, you are not allowed to talk about paladins, vorpal swords, half-elves, or anything else of that nature.”
“I still don’t see what the big deal is. Why’s it matter so much to you if I talk to Cosmic Girl or not?”
Polecat thought for a moment, then answered. “Because what we do in the Teen Templars can have a huge effect on the world. A lot of times, we go into life or death situations, and in times like those, every single one of us needs to have their head in the game. And if you freeze up over something as simple as talking to a girl, how do I know you won’t freeze up the next time alien invaders show up? Quite frankly, due to the people who depend on us, that’s a risk we can’t afford to take.”
Randy sat in stunned silence for a moment before finally speaking up again. “Wow… That was almost a good point.”
Polecat noticed that Iron Mantis nodded, being similarly impressed. Polecat merely shrugged and scratched his head. “Yeah, I’m a little surprised myself. Well, what do you say, Randy?”
“As inspiring as that was, you’re forgetting something. If Cosmic Girl’s as into me as you seem to think she is, then why doesn’t she just come to me?”
* * *
“Oh, C.G., I don’t think that’s a very good idea….”
Cosmic Girl frowned, growing frustrated. “Why not? If Randy’s too shy to say anything to me, then the logical course would be for me to approach him.”
“Well, in a perfect world, yes. But it’s not quite that simple. You see, judging from what I know about Randy, he doesn’t have many friends in his civilian life, and certainly not many female friends. When girls do talk to him, it’s probably to tease him or take advantage of him.”
Cosmic Girl was shocked and a little appalled. “That’s awful! Who are these girls? I would like to point out to them the error of their taunts, informing them of Randy’s valorous and kind-hearted nature.”
Cosmic Girl noticed that Lina was pinching the bridge of her nose again. She hoped that that was not indicative of some serious nose malady.
“I don’t know exactly who they are, but I do know how teenagers can be. I’m just saying that if you were to talk about this to Randy, he’d get scared and awkward.”
“But why would he be scared? He’s fought super-villains, aliens, and even a demon or two.”
“Super-villains are one thing, but sometimes, there’s nothing more intimidating to a boy than a member of the opposite sex.”
Cosmic Girl sighed and slumped her shoulders in frustration. “Earth courtship procedures are so confusing!”
“Tell me about it. Remember what I said earlier about finesse? Randy’s the kind of guy who needs a lot of finesse. You need to go his speed.”
“But he can break the sound barrier. Why does he need to go slow for this?”
Lina was quiet for a moment. Cosmic Girl was afraid that she had become annoyed with the many questions she’d been asked. Lina tapped her chin with her finger for a few moments before she finally spoke again. “You know how Randy sometimes spins around while he’s running?”
Cosmic Girl was quick to answer, glad that she hadn’t upset her friend. “Yes. When he spins, he’s nearly impervious to physical attacks.”
“Right. But it takes him a few seconds to do that. And when he runs and spins at the same time, he rarely goes in a straight line. He kind of zigzags around. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“You’re drawing an analogy between his movements and his personality.”
“Bingo. The key with Randy is that he’s got to be more comfortable around you before you can move forward.”
Cosmic Girl brightened. “Ooh! I believe I know how to make him more comfortable! Would you like to hear it?”
“Sure, as long as it doesn’t involve candles, lingerie, and one of Polecat’s Barry White albums in some half-baked scheme to seduce him.”
Cosmic Girl frowned again. “Never mind.” She pouted a bit. And she could morph her outfit into the cutest negligee, too. “That wouldn’t work?”
Lina giggled. “Randy would probably faint. You just need to take your time and be subtle; he’ll come around eventually.”
“Thank you, Lina. I shall take your advice to heart.”
“No problem. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get changed.”
As Lina went to the door to her room, Cosmic Girl spoke up again. “Lina? You’re my best friend.”
Lina smiled warmly. “Thanks C.G.”
“I shall have to inform Polecat that he was mistaken in his assertion that you were not warm-blooded. He said you were a… ‘cold fish’.”
Lina’s smile grew pained, and when she spoke, it was through clenched teeth. “Oh, he said that, did he?”
* * *
Randy noticed that Polecat had stopped his speech, a rambling tirade about how anyone can be “money” with “the foxes”, to shudder briefly.
“Polecat, are you okay?”
“I just got the distinct impression that Mako wants to kill me.”
“How’s that different from normal?”
“This is more recent. And, on that note, I should be going.”
Randy was somewhat disappointed. “You’re not staying for the weekend?”
“No. The Red Archer and I are going on a stake-out. What do you care, anyway? I thought you were going to work all weekend?”
“Well, yeah, but I thought you were gonna hang around, give me someone to talk to while I was doing that stuff.”
“You’ve probably had enough of me talking already. Besides, the girls will be here.” Polecat then smiled and winked. “Later!”
With that, Polecat left. Randy looked over at Iron Mantis, who merely shrugged and stood from his seated position on the floor. “I too must now depart.”
“Oh, man. You too?
“Yes. My sifu wishes for me to train with him this weekend. Before I go, however, I would like to tell you a story….”
Randy was surprised, to say the least; if the Mantis, who was the epitome of the “strong and silent type” had something to say, Randy felt that he’d better listen. “Okay. Go ahead.”
“There once were two caterpillars. The first did not want to become a butterfly. He was afraid that the wind might destroy his wings, or perhaps he would be snatched out of the air by a hungry bird. No, he thought, it’s better to stay hidden down here among the grass. The second caterpillar, however, decided to take a chance. He went into his cocoon and soon became a butterfly. And though he was scared, when he unfurled his wings he found that the reward was at least equal to, if not greater than, the risk, for when he flew, he knew freedom, and when people looked upon his colorful wings they were happy. Do you understand?”
“Kind of. That was… That’s beautiful. Is that an ancient Chinese parable?”
Iron Mantis smiled. “No. I actually read it on some girl’s web journal.”
“Oh. That makes it slightly less impressive.”
“Perhaps, but a dollar found in the trash has the same value as a dollar resting in a bank vault, does it not?”
Randy contemplated for a moment. “Maybe. I guess it’s something to think about.”
“Indeed. Have a good weekend, Randall.”
The Mantis gave a slight bow and made his exit. Randy sighed as he walked over to the lounge’s computer desk. Caterpillars have it easy. He turned on the computer, then ran to his room and changed into some street clothes he had stashed at the Terrace for days like today. Five seconds later, he was back at the computer, ready to get to work. While ostensibly an excuse for Polecat to goof around on the internet, the lounge computer was connected to the Templars mainframe located in the briefing room, meaning he could do some work in relative comfort. He began pulling up an odd string of case files reported by some of the area’s other heroes. A female voice called out from behind.
“Hey, Randy, did Polecat leave?”
“Hey, Lina. Yeah, he rolled out.”
“Damn. What are you doing?”
“Reading over some police reports. Apparently there’s been a rash of crimes being committed by C-rate super-criminals. They’ve somehow gotten a hold of some fancy tech, but these guys are total scrubs, so they’ve been caught really easily. Dr. Pogo, the Mulcher, Captain Sammitch… In fact, I think we’re the only heroes in the area that hasn’t run afoul of one of these jokers yet.”
Randy swiveled the chair to address Lina and noticed she was dressed in a fancy sweater and slacks. “You look nice. What’s the occasion?”
“Seahawk’s taking me on a diplomatic mission.”
“Diplomatic, huh? Your outfit suddenly seems a tad informal now….”
“Well, it’s in Atlantis. The fashion sense there is like a weird cross between a toga party and The Little Mermaid. So you could say I’m overdressed.”
“Atlantis, huh? Weird.”
“You’ve been to outer space, Randy. How is Atlantis weird?”
“Well, you read about space in science textbooks, but Atlantis? You might as well tell me the team’s going on a mission to Narnia or Oz….”
“Oh, we already went to Oz a few weeks ago. It was that weekend that you were visiting your grandmother.”
“Oh, yeah. It was fun. Mantis wrestled a winged monkey.”
Randy felt like one of the kids who had to stay at school on a field trip day. “That’s… That’s great. It sounds like it was a good time.”
Lina immediately started giggling. “Randy, I’m so totally messing with you. How could you not realize that?”
“Well, first off, you have a killer dead pan delivery. Besides, last month, we teamed up with the Ghost of Abe Lincoln to fight time-traveling dinosaurs. I tend to keep an open mind about the outlandish….”
“And that’s not funny. I want to wrestle winged monkeys.”
“You’re weird, Randy. But you’re a good guy.”
“Thanks. You’re really not staying either?”
“Nope. It’s just going to be you and Cosmic Girl.”
Randy’s mouth went a little dry, and he swallowed. “How about that?”
Lina gave him a strange sort of smile and a light punch on the arm. There was some kind of subtext going on, but Randy couldn‘t figure it out. “You really are a good guy, Randy. Have a good weekend.”
And with that, Randy found himself alone. He turned back to the computer, but found his thoughts drifting. Maybe he should go say hi to Cosmic Girl, let her know he’s here. No, that’s kinda creepy, isn’t it? But, we’re teammates. She’d maybe find it reassuring to know I’m here in case an emergency breaks out. No! That’s dumb. She can fight an army by herself. Just be cool, Randy. Sit down, get some work done, and try not to think about her. Don’t think about her blonde hair, those blue eyes, that graceful neck that slopes down to those beautiful…
Randy slapped himself to get off that train of thought. Those kind of thoughts were not productive.
Just then, he heard footsteps coming from the dorm area. He swallowed again, and he found that his foot had started tapping erratically. Cosmic Girl called out from down the hall.
“Randy, are you out there?”
“Yeah, C.G. I’m here.”
“Oh, good. I have something I want to ask you.”
Randy suddenly noticed that, despite there being a light breeze running through the lounge thanks to the buildings ventilation systems, he was perspiring in a variety of places. He focused on the computer screen as Cosmic Girl entered.
Randy didn’t turn right to look at her right away. One thought was racing through his mind: Be cool, be cool, be cool…
“I’d like to ask your opinion on something.”
Randy slowly turned in the computer chair, trying to look calm and not like the spaz he feared he was. “Sure, what’s… up…”
He stopped. Cosmic Girl looked different. Instead of the bright blond hair she usually sported, she now had a brownish-blond look going on, her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. She was wearing a black t-shirt beneath a flannel shirt and baggy blue jeans. The whole affair was topped with glasses covering her face.
“I know my normal appearance can sometimes be distracting, especially when we’re in our non-heroic persona, so I’m trying something that might blend in a little better. Do you like it?”
Randy wanted to say she looked amazing. That probably wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but that’s how he felt. Randy was, at heart, a huge nerd, and the one way to make a cute girl even cuter to a nerd was to put her in glasses. Still, he had to say something.
“I like it. It’s… subtle.”
Randy initially cursed himself. Subtle? Smooth Randy, real smooth. But then he noticed that Cosmic Girl was smiling happily.
Randy didn’t get it, but it made her happy, and that was the important thing. Cosmic Girl was like that; some things that others took for granted would give her great satisfaction.
“So, what are you up to, C.G.?”
“I was about to go into the city to perhaps do some shopping.”
“Would you perhaps like to accompany me? I’d hate for you to stay here by yourself.”
Randy’s heart started to beat a little faster. He was torn by indecision. Finally, he found some random part of his brain had taken control of his mouth.
“I’d love to.”
Randy was simultaneously relieved and filled with anxiety.
* * *
After a few hours wandering around the Philadelphia area, Randy and Cosmic Girl found themselves sitting across from each other at a table in a small café in South Philly.
“How’s you caffeinated beverage, Randy?”
“It’s good. And, uh, how… H-How’s yours?”
“It is most enjoyable.”
Randy felt like he was about to burst. He had managed to successfully small talk his way throughout the afternoon and into the early evening, but his already limited social skills felt like they were draining away.
“Randy, may I ask you a personal question?”
“Do you like me?”
“Well, yeah. We’re teammates, and friends besides.”
“Good. Because I enjoy your company as well.”
Randy smiled. “Good.”
“Do you think you might ever like me as more than a friend?”
Randy was glad he hadn’t taken a sip of his drink when she asked this, because he would probably have spit it out over the entire café. “What do you mean?”
“If you liked someone, would you not ask them out on a date?”
Oh, crap, Randy. Think fast. Be cool! “Well, hypothetically speaking, there are so many variables to take into account before a young man could ask such a thing…”
“Uh, well you see, it… um….”
“If it helps, I would say yes.”
Randy blinked in disbelief. “Really?”
“Yes. You are enjoyable to be around, and you always think of others before yourself.”
“Wow. Um, thank you.”
“Now do you think you might be able to ask?”
“Uh, well. This is a little new for me. I mean, what would a girl like you see in a guy like me?”
Cosmic Girl looked confused. “Didn’t I already tell you?”
“It’s just… When I’m around you I get so nervous. I’m worried I’ll scare you away.”
“Well, now you know I like you as well. Isn’t that enough to make you not nervous?”
Randy was quiet for a moment. “Loneliness is scary, but it’s a comfortable kind of scary. It’s a scary I’m used to. Same with rejection. But if we’re to be more than… than friends… I mean, what if I broke your heart? Or you broke my heart? O-or, what if we just stopped liking each other for no reason?”
“Those are scary things, Randy. But as superheroes, don’t we have an obligation to stand up to scary things?”
“Maybe. It’s just… My parents split up, and it’s terrible. You wouldn’t understand. You….”
Cosmic Girl looked down at her coffee. “I wouldn’t understand because I don’t have parents.”
Randy’s eyes went wide as he realized what he had said. “Oh, God! I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry! See, this is why… I’m no good at this stuff. I just mess everything up.”
“No, it’s my fault. I thought opening with a line of questions would be subtle…”
Randy was about to ask about this somewhat odd statement when their dialogue was cut short by a clamor across the café. A news story broke across the t.v. hanging above the counter, and one of the waitresses turned up the volume.
“We go live to a breaking story where tonight’s Friday night Eagles game has been taken over by an as-yet unidentified super-villain….”
Cosmic Girl turned to Randy. “The stadium’s not far from here. We must go and help!”
Thankful for an end to the awkward conversation, Randy muttered gratefully, “Oh, thank God.”
Randy tried to think of a quick cover. “Oh, dear God, those poor fans! Let’s go!”
“Yes, we must make haste.”
The two left enough money on their table to cover the bill and dashed into a nearby alleyway to change. Randy started spinning, his features a blur as he changed into his red and blue costume, while a brilliant glow enveloped Cosmic Girl, restoring her familiar appearance. The two quickly made their way through the South Philadelphia, Whirl running and Cosmic Girl flying close behind. Whirl briefly wondered how far away from the old ECW Arena they were, but then figured he should maybe wait until after the battle with evil was over before thinking about sight-seeing. The pair raced down 10th St. and soon arrived at Lincoln Financial Field. Instead of trying to navigate the fleeing crowd, Cosmic Girl grabbed Whirl and flew skyward in a graceful arc, then descended on the football field.
The young heroes were greeted by an image of a man in a rodent costume with a large ray-gun looking type weapon. The Eagles fans in attendance had already shown their disapproval for the villain by peppering the field with glass bottles and batteries. Whirligig Jr. rolled his eyes.
“Oh, lordy. It’s the Killer Shrew.”
“You know him?”
“Only by reputation, if you can call it that. He’s a two-bit criminal who… who has the powers of a shrew.”
“Do you mean the entirety of the mammalian family Soricidae, or one of the many individual species of shrew?”
The Killer Shrew finally seemed to take notice of the arrival of the two heroes. “Behold! Some of this city’s finest champions come to test their mettle against the Killer Shrew. You, boy, you I shall defeat most soundly, and your nubile companion I shall make into my concubine! Mwa-ha-ha!!”
Cosmic Girl looked over at her teammate. “Ra-Whirligig, what’s a concubine?”
“It’s best you don’t know, you’ll only want to hit him more.”
The Shrew gestured with the weapon he was holding. “You mock me, but, thanks to my new benefactor, I now have a weapon to make me the equal of any hero!”
The Whirligig Jr. held up the gun that had a second before been in the hands of the Killer Shrew. “You mean this?”
The Killer Shrew looked down at his now empty hands in shock. “What happened? My weapon…”
“I took it away at super-speed, you dope.”
“No matter! I still have my INCREDIBLE shrew-like powers at my disposal!”
“Whatever. He’s all yours, Cosmic Girl.”
The Shrew’s eyes went wide with fear. “T-t-t-that’s Cosmic Girl? I… Guh… Ohh…”
The would be villain the fell to the ground in a heap. Cosmic Girl slowly walked over to where he lay. “He fainted! He must’ve been terrified at the prospect of a physical confrontation with me….”
The young speedster merely shrugged. “Eh. A win’s a win in any case. Still, it’s a little anticlimactic.”
“Yes. In fact, it almost seemed-”
Whirl quickly cut her off. “No! I know what you’re going to say, so don’t say it!”
“Because if you were going to say what I think you were going to say, then that’s always the cue for something worse to come along….”
“But I was merely going to comment that this was almost too easy…”
At that moment, as if on cue, a loud voice boomed from down field. “Finally, after a century of waiting, my time is at hand!!!”
The two young heroes turned towards the unknown speaker as Randy muttered softly. “Crap. I knew something like that would happen.”
Whirligig and Cosmic Girl saw before them a large alien creature- a humanoid in bulky battle armor. He had green skin, and his head, cylindrical in shape, was dominated by a wide mouth. Whirl stepped forward. “Here, I’ll handle this.”
The alien spoke. “Foolish human! You would dare to approach me?!?”
“Uh, maybe. I’m the Whirligig Jr. Who might you be?”
“My true name would be unpronounceable to your fleshy tongue, but you may call me the Planetarian.”
“Dude, that’s one of the worst names I’ve heard, and I just got done with a guy who calls himself the Killer Shrew.”
“Cease your prattling! For millennia I traveled the space ways, for I could take control of the forces that govern the celestial bodies themselves! Planets, moons, and even stars were mine to command. I would go from planet to planet and amuse myself. Some days, I would tilt a planet’s axis so that the poles were suddenly shifted to the equator. Others, I sent planets careening out of orbit, sailing adrift through the void of space. It was a good life.
“And then, one day it ended. A century ago, my vessel’s star drive burned out, and I crashed on a pitiful, backwater sty of a planet. THIS planet. I couldn’t even amuse myself. While I could’ve wrecked havoc with this planet’s magnetic or gravitational forces, that would leave me with nowhere to go. So I waited. And then, as if by divine providence, I found a way out. For delivered unto me was news of your ally, Cosmic Girl. Her energy powers could fuel my vessel indefinitely, and her very nature makes her the perfect puppet. After all, she’s a living star, and who better to take control of her than the Planetarian?!?
“But first, I had to draw her out. I armed some of this world’s so-called ‘villains’ with some trinkets from my ship in an effort to draw out you Templars. And lo, you have finally taken the bait! Cosmic Girl is in my clutches, and the hour of my exodus is at hand!!!”
The teen speedster clapped his hands in a mocking fashion. “Wow. I have heard some long-winded egomaniacal drivel in my day, but that was a work of beauty! Great exposition, by the way. Now, I hate to rain on your parade, but you don’t seriously think we’re just going to let you take control of Cosmic Girl, do you?”
The Planetarian smiled cruelly. “Pitiful human. I already have.”
A chill went down Whirl’s spine. He turned to look back at his teammate, who he just now realized hadn’t said a word since the alien had arrived. She was suspended several feet off the ground, floating motionlessly. Her head lolled backwards. The only signs of life was the brief twitching of her fingers.
Whirligig turned back to the Planetarian, rage and fear etched in equal measure on his young face. “You let her go. NOW!”
“Okay, pal, you want to do this the hard way, we’ll do it the hard way.”
Whirl started to run. He was going to use the simple tactic of building up a head of steam and running into the guy really hard. Crude, yes, but never underestimate the effect of a hundred-and-sixty pounds suddenly slamming into something at 500 miles per hour. He was running, but something was wrong. He didn’t appear to be getting any closer to that smug alien bastard. “What the hell?”
“Oh, yes, I’ve given your dear Cosmic Girl a gravitational field. Not a very large one, mind you, just extending a couple of yards, but enough to rein you back away from me.”
The young hero looked up and saw the bottles already on the field begin to fly in an orbit around Cosmic Girl. “She can manipulate gravity?”
“You’d be amazed at what she’s truly capable of. Too bad you’ll never have a chance to learn.”
Whirl tried to run even faster to escape the pull, but the Planetarian made but one simple gesture, and he felt the resistance increase. He looked down; he had made huge grooves in the ground, but he was no closer to taking out the Planetarian. This attraction, this pull was real. He couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t fight it; all that that would accomplish would be to wear himself out or get torn apart. It was time to change tactics.
He turned and ran away, trying to get caught in the orbit around Cosmic Girl, trying to become a human satellite. He had to work with the pull and use it. After a few seconds of circling, he got the hang of it. Once you stop fighting it, it was remarkably easy to be a part of. He found he barely needed to exert effort to maintain his speed as he circled her; that was good, because the plan he was working out in his head depended on that.
He could hear the Planetarian call out to him. “Trying to spirit her away in a man-made tornado? It shall not succeed!”
Jeez, this guy likes to talk. He probably even narrates what he’s doing…The good news was that the blowhard wasn’t on to what he was planning. Whirl himself was amazed how well this seemed to be turning out. In fact, with the way the gravity was working, he could see himself cycling Cosmic Girl forever, close, but just slightly out of reach.
Dammit, Randy, focus! You need to act soon or you will lose her. A brief, pained moan from Cosmic Girl helped to strengthen Whirligig’s resolve. It was time to put the final phase of his plan into motion.
As he cycled again, with the Planetarian coming into view once more, he put on as much speed as he could. Like a rocket, Whirl blasted free of the field. His sudden acceleration coupled with the momentum from orbit allowed him to reach the perfect speed- escape velocity.
A sonic boom rocked the stadium as The Whirligig Jr. barreled into the Planetarian, sending him flying across the field toward the end zone. Whirl looked back towards Cosmic Girl; she was on her knees, on the ground. He did it! His musings were cut short, however, as he felt an unseen force left him off the ground and send him flying backwards. He went crashing into the goal post and fell to the ground hard.
"Ow. Ow ow ow. Why do bad guys keep throwing me into things?!?"
Whirl had no time to dwell as he once again was lifted into the air. The Planetarian, one hand outstretched, marched furiously towards him.
“Insolent wretch! You dare strike me?!? You will suffer for that….”
* * *
Cosmic Girl groggily rose to her feet. Whatever Whirl had done, it had worked. She was free. She looked around quickly. Where was he?
She saw him down at the end zone. He was floating in midair, screaming in agony. She saw the Planetarian standing in front of her; clearly he was the cause of her comrade’s current predicament. She slowly approached him and tapped the large alien on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, but that looks quite painful.”
The Planetarian didn’t even turn to address her. “I should hope so. I’m using the Earth’s magnetic field to send him skyward while simultaneously increasing the Earth’s gravitational pull on him. I must admit I’m curious as to whether he’ll be torn apart or crushed by the conflicting forces.”
“Either would most likely kill him. I’d ask that you please let him go.”
“Of course it would kill him, now away with you!” With that, the alien gestured dismissively with his free hand.
He doesn’t even realize I’m awake; he must think he was talking to some bystander who wandered onto the field. What’s more, he was very rude. And I asked nicely too.
Cosmic Girl cocked her left fist back, and tapped her would-be captor on the shoulder once more. “I said let. Him. GO.”
The Planetarian started to turn. “Who dares defy me in- Oh, fu-”
He didn’t get a chance to finish before Cosmic Girl’s punch found it’s mark, knocking him back a step. He raised a hand to what she assumed was his nose, finding a viscous black fluid there. His face swarmed with fury, but then quickly went blank as his eyes rolled back. He fell face forward, hitting the ground with a resounding thud, prompting a rousing ovation from the fans in attendance. Cosmic Girl smiled; it may not work all the time, but brute force can be satisfying. Her smile quickly faded as she saw Whirl drop to the ground. She gasped and quickly flew over to where he lay. She slowly lifted him up and tried to see if he was alright.
“Randy, can you hear me?”
His eyes fluttered open, and he shook his head vigorously. “President Roosevelt, I’d be honored to aid the war effort!”
Randy shook his head once more, seemed to get his bearings and locked eyes with Cosmic Girl. The two were quiet for a while; when they spoke, they wound up speaking at the same time, saying the same thing. "Are you okay?" They both blushed and turned away will quick. After a moment or two, they looked at each other again. They once more spoke at the same time, again saying the same thing.
“You saved me.”
* * *
Back at the Terrace, Randy and Cosmic Girl sat on the couch, looking out at the night sky through the bay windows. Randy yawned. “What a day, huh?”
“Yes, it was most eventful.”
After defeating the Planetarian, P.R.I.D.E. had arrived to escort the alien and the Killer Shrew to a government holding cell. The two heroes were invited to stay and watch the game. After that, they had signed some autographs for the fans in attendance before retiring back to Templar Terrace.
Cosmic Girl looked at Randy. “One of the girls I signed an autograph for seems to be under the mistaken impression that you’re a courier of some sort…”
Randy raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yes. She commented to me that she feels you should wear spandex like Polecat does to better show of your ‘package’. I informed her that despite your speed, you have yet to involve yourself in the delivery business.”
Randy nearly choked as he fumbled about for words. “Uh… Well, she wasn’t talking about… Ermm… You see, in the vernacular, ‘package’ refers to… uh… male anatomy….”
Cosmic Girl began to giggle. “I know what it means, Randy.”
“I was engaging in some good natured teasing. I find it cute when you get flustered explaining things like that to me.”
Randy leaned back. “Oh. So how much of this ‘naïve space-girl’ thing is an act?”
“Most of it is sincere. But I am learning.”
“Yeah. Um… About earlier, in the café? I’m sorry I was such a jerk.”
“Your apology is accepted.”
“I… I was thinking about what you said earlier, and I came to a decision.”
“If you’re about to say what I think, then now seems like a good time to announce that I’ve come to a decision as well. May I go first?”
“I’ve finally decided on a name. Now seems like the right time to fully accept it.”
“No way! What is it?”
Randy said the name out loud, trying it out as it were. “Karen. I like it. Did you pick out a last name?”
“I need a last name too??”
Randy chuckled. “Yeah.”
“Hmm…. Kirby. I shall be Karen Kirby.”
“I like it.”
“Your turn, Randy.”
“What? Oh! That makes this all the more appropriate. Uh, yeah, well, Karen, I was thinking about what you said earlier and I think maybe we can be more than friends, if you want.” Randy laughed a bit. “That is, unless you’ve changed you mind since earlier today.”
Randy’s face lost it’s humor as he contemplated the full ramifications of what he said. “Y-you haven’t changed your mind, have you?”
Cosmic Girl, or rather, Karen just giggled. “No. I haven’t.”
Randy sighed with relief. “Oh, that’s good.”
Randy sat back in the sofa. He reached over and took her hand gently in his. She smiled at him. Randy smiled back.
The two sat in silence for a while holding hands. Karen finally spoke. “So how long do we have to wait before we kiss?”
Randy grinned. “Subtle. Real subtle.”
Karen grinned back.