“If someone tries to put you in a box,” Abuela had said, “that makes them a boxer. If someone wants to box with you, you get to punch 'em in the nose.” Andromeda Fairchild had to stop punching boys in the nose around the time her strength really manifested itself. By then, it didn’t matter. The boys had lost interest in picking fights they never won. Girls still mouthed off, but obliquely and out of sight, after Andromeda showed them she was willing to punch anybody of any sex.
By the time she’d reached high school, her fellow super-teens had elevated cruelty to an art form. Words were a game Andromeda didn’t feel like playing at first. It was the price of going to a good school, and she made a few discreet examples of the kids who refused to leave it alone. But she discovered that she got a bigger thrill from beating bullies on their own turf. She didn’t have to talk much. She just needed confidence and authority to say the right thing.
“She’s a 10,” one of the boys - Larry, “the Texas Tank” - would say loudly and repeatedly in front of his gang. As she was passing one day, he repeated it. Andromeda had grinned. “No, that’s A-10. The Thunderbolt aircraft, better known as the Tank Killer.” She walked away, proud of the research she’d done into her own call sign, and prouder that it had shut that buffoon up. Skyhawk? Skylark? Pff. Who cares what plays well with the media. She’d made her own box. A few of the gang had then tried “Warthog” as an insult, but she was too popular with most of the boys and not a few girls for that to really work.
“Hardly Here Harry.” “Hairy Girl.” “Blow-hard.” “Jerkury.” Some speedsters have a rogues’ gallery of people who work hard to bring them down. Most speedsters, A10 imagines, don’t start theirs in high school. Harry is a golden boy - the authentic pedigree, the real deal, super-teen royalty. He carries himself well, uses his powers to help around the school, is cool without acting cool… is he good looking? A10 never lets herself think about that too much. With so much going for him, of course the jerks at this school will dislike him. Jealousy is a strange thing.
After Harry leaves the dance floor, A10 overhears what a gaggle of girls are whispering. “Who’d want to dance with A10 anyway? She may as well be a boy.” “Oh, haven’t you heard? Harry likes boys.” “I saw him the other day, making eyes at a barista–” “What were you doing in that part of town?” “Oh? So you know the place, hmmm?”
“He just wanted to cut class. He’s so lazy. He’s never on time for anything.” That one stings. A10 saw Mercury at that moment during the dance, recalls the impression. He’s getting a message from somewhere. The defocused eyes. The shift in attention. That’s the sign of the team telepath relaying something. A10 had been on the receiving end of such messages plenty of times. She knows what they always mean.
She saw his eyes narrow and focus in determination. It was the look of a man on a mission. Harry Gale is a real hero, and A10 knows it. She’s known it ever since the fight with Iconoclast. The gossips know nothing. Of course, she could tell people, like how he’s always busy because he’s always doing something for others. Then the gossip would shift to her, become all about some imaginary relationship she has with the great Mercury. People all around the school would think A10 has a crush if she leapt to the handsome prince’s defense.
Well…… Would that really be so bad?
author: Bill G.