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Dispensing Justice - Chapter 3 - Penny Drops In
Chapter 3 — Penny Drops In
I swiveled the high-backed command chair around to face the east entrance to the lab. With the bank of monitors behind me all I needed was to shave my head and get a white cat to complete my Blofeld-in-his-lair look. Penny, completely unimpressed, was framed by the lab's eastern doorway, the tunnel corridor that ran under her house stretching out behind her. She had her hands on her hips, and was giving me that gimlet eye that Diana, her mother, had invented, patented, and been liberally applying to everyone she had an issue with since before Penny and I were born.
I suppressed the impulse to grin evilly and steeple my fingers. It didn't look like she was in the mood for my criminal mastermind schtick. Instead I watched silently as she crossed the open center of the lab, skirting the sunken and faintly glowing conference room table.
Also like Diana, Penny had copper-red hair, which she kept trimmed much shorter than her mother's. She looked relaxed in her two-sizes-too-large sweatsuit with the Roman warrior mascot of Centurion High School glaring out from her chest. While its bagginess went some way to concealing her very feminine figure, it did little to conceal her athletic grace. I'm reasonably physical. I've been playing soccer and running cross-country since middle school, and I started serious martial arts training late last spring. But Penny takes it to the next level. Or the one after that. She has gone out for, and excelled at, more sports than I bothered to keep track of. She'd be the star player on the football team if Diana would let her.
I doubt it would surprise you to find out that, as long as I've known her, she's been kicking my ass whenever she felt I'd gotten out of line, which has happened more often than I like to admit. I particularly remember the first time she gave me a bloody nose. It was not long after her family had moved in two doors down. We were both four; I had found out that her full name was Penelope Diana Riggs-Armstrong, and used it. Suffice to say, I've been calling her Penny ever since.
She stopped in front of me, a faint hint of vanilla arriving with her. I gave her my most welcoming non-evil smile. "Ah, so you got stood up, too." Which was a good thing, as far as I was concerned, given who had asked her to the dance. I wanted to say more, but as much as I disliked Dave Sweets, it was Penny's decision about who she dated. She probably had a reason that she wasn't sharing with me.
I hooked a backless ready-seat from under the desk with my foot and spun it out in Penny's general direction. Its wheels whirred briefly across the dense plastic of the lab's floor.
She ignored the ready-seat. "No, I stood Dave up."
I felt a cool smile of relief starting to form, but I put a stop to it and said, "Sweets won't like that."
"Let me worry about him. Look, Michael, I know it's been a hard six months, but you have to tell Liz some time. The sooner, the better."
I sighed. I don't know why I even bothered. Distracting Penny from her chosen course was like trying to deflect a monorail. That was something else she inherited from Diana. "My mom isn't ready to talk about it yet."
"You mean you aren't ready." She glanced meaningfully at the chess set sitting out on the command counsel not far from the work tray. All its blue and red pieces occupied the same board positions that they had six months ago.
Feeling a coil of frustrated anger form, I stood. "Yes---No! Okay, neither of us are really ready to confront Dad's death, particularly together. It didn't help that she didn't trust me enough to give me the straight story last spring. She just played along with Agent Sellers when he showed up and oh-so-smoothly took Dad's place."
"I sympathize, Michael, I really do---"
"Yeah, I know you do." And I meant it, even if I didn't sound as if I did.
"---But you have to get over this. Sellers was just doing his job, and you know that your mom didn't want to hurt you."
"So instead, she was going to wait to tell me until after Sellers' faked his own death? Making it look like my father was killed in a car crash or something? Yeah, that wouldn't have hurt."
"Be fair, Michael, it didn't end that way. Besides, do you really think she had much of a choice? Liz was cooperating with the government in order to protect the two of you from your father's enemies. It's standard operating procedure for them to---"
"---Cover up superheroes' deaths. I don't care about their S.O.P. My father deserved a hero's funeral!"
"That's not what I was going to say. And yes, he did deserve a hero's funeral."
What really hurt was that Dad hadn't shared so much of what he felt was important in his life with me. We never had a chance to talk about what it was like to hunt criminals, to bring them to justice. Now that he was gone, we never would. I guess it's one of those things that's been driving me to put his suit on; to find out what kept him going back to risk his life over and over; to experience his secret-super-life first hand.
I felt my anger with my father mutating, shifting, looking for a living target. It bubbled up as a rant, and, despite knowing full well that Dad's enemies would have come looking for Mom and me if they had discovered his secret identity, I let it happen. "They must have thought, 'Oh, he's only fourteen, he'll be easy to fool.' Well, I discovered Dad's secret when I was eight! I've been sneaking down here since then. No shape-shifting government super-agent was going to fool me into believing my father was still alive, with or without Mom's help!"
"Slow down, Michael. I'm with you on this."
"It's different for you, Penny, your family has always embraced its superness. I've had to grow up being lied to."
She held up a calming hand. "Michael. Remember? I'm on your side. I'm not the one who---" She stopped, looking up at one of the monitors. "You better take a look at that, Michael. I think tonight might be the night."
I thumped back into the command chair and whirled it. She hadn't been looking at the SNN coverage of the Nova League;, instead she was pointing to one of the live web-cam feeds that had become ubiquitous in Galacticity and the Greater Metro area during the last couple of years. An armored car had driven into a pit that had somehow appeared in the middle of the road. Its rear doors were at an acute angle, while its red tail lights flashed helplessly. Several supersuited figures were assaulting it. I recognized them immediately. It took the Silhouette and Supersuit Recognition Agent program slightly longer, but before I could say anything, identification labels popped up and started following the four supervillains around the screen like comic-book word balloons.
"The Demolition Squad," I said through clenched teeth, a new flame of anger erupting to life on my already raw emotional landscape.
"All of them," Penny added. "Including Chainsaw."
I clenched my fists as the flame roared up into a momentary conflagration of hate.
"Okay, let's get you suited up," Penny said.
- Chapter 2 - Friday Night in the Lab (Watching the Superhero News Network) -- (linked)
- Chapter 3 - Penny Drops In -- (linked)
- Chapter 4 - Zircon Man vs. the Demolition Squad -- (linked)
- Chapter 5 - The Suit -- (linked)
- Chapter 6 - 1947A -- (linked)
- Chapter 7 - I Saw You Die
- Chapter 8 - Penny Keeps Her Cool
- Chapter 9 - Mom Burns a Roast
- Chapter 10 - Diana to the Rescue
- Chapter 11 - The Twins Are Ejected Before Dinner
- Chapter 12 - The Vow
- Back to Dispensing Justice preview chapters.
- Back to Dispensing Justice
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