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Hail Columbia

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It was a beautiful Memorial Day in the Fens, a time for everyone in the neighborhood to relax and enjoy themselves. There were barbecues and parades, kids playing in the streets, and for a little while the troubled community came together to forget their poverty and celebrate those who had gone before to help build Freedom City and the nation that had fostered it. That made it all the worse when the woman appeared, right in the heart of the Stoneman Veteran's Cemetery near the edge of the Fens. The hulking figure in a strange version of Lady Liberty's uniform stood nearly seven feet tall, her platinum-blonde hair cascading down over a red, white, and blue costume shaped like a bathing suit that looked tight enough to be painted on.

The flash of light that signaled her arrival was nearly blinding, bright enough that no one could say for sure exactly when she'd appeared out of nothingness. "Fools!" she yelled at the horrified family members and veterans gathered to lay a wreath at the tomb of Sergeant Nicholas Stoneman, the Fens native and WWII veteran who had won a Medal of Honor in the Pacific in the Second World War. "There is no nation but his!" She flexed a hugely muscled arm and scooped up a headstone, hurling it at the big statue of Sergeant Stoneman. "Run now!" Something in her eyes, in the costume that was a bizarre parody of Lady Liberty, was enough to send even hardened combat veterans running and screaming.

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Lynn didn't have any major plans for Memorial Day; she wasn't really dating anyone, though there were a few prospects in that department, and Fleet Messenger was closed, so she decided it was a good day to goof off. For her, this meant hitting the street on her beloved bike, aka 'Commander Sparkle Pony', the used mountain bike she'd encrusted with every stupid sticker she could get out of a gumball machine, as well as duct tape, electrical tape, and scraps of faded fabric she scavenged back at the hotel. It looked like crap (as was the intention) but rode like a dream. The name was repulsively girly, but she couldn't think of anything better; at least the military rank demanded respect and confused people.

There were lots of pushcart vendors on the streets, so Lynn pigged out on corn-on-the-cob and those awesome Mexican rice pudding pops; eating while cycling is usually a bad idea, but due to her mad biking skillz there were miraculously no deaths or loss of limbs.

However the day took a darker turn when some mysterious super-slut appeared in the Veteran's Cemetery and started trashing the place; word filtered through the neighborhood very quickly, which lead to some folks running to the scene, and others running away from it.

Oh man, this sucks! How long till the cops get there? And of course the Fens have two protectors, but they only come out at night. Although...

Grimalkin was not usually the kind of heroine that people ran up to on brightly-lit streets to have her kiss their babies; sometimes she wondered if anyone other than the borderline riffraff she saved even knew she existed. But who said that had to be the case? Determined to use her powers in some way to help out, Lynn furiously pedaled her way south; when she was in sight of the cemetery, she quickly locked up her bike, ducked into a dark alley, and became..Grimalkin! By daylight!

"Excuse me, I need to get through. Excuse me! Hey, there's no need to shove anybody, pal!"

Short heroes get no respect. :evil:

It was just easier to hop from car to fire escape and then head up to the rooftops than make her way through the surging populace; once she had a good view, she decided to quickly take in the lay of the land, and at least try to guess what this psycho's deal was anyway.

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The star-spangled powerhouse in the cemetery was walking from monument to monument, casually driving her massive fist through every single headstone and memorial, shattering marble and concrete to so much powder. Grimalkin could hear police sirens, but the local cops weren't likely to rush to stop a super-criminal in the Fens. That was a job for superheroes, something the Fens had in few numbers...especially in a holiday weekend. "Your flags won't save you!" called the voice of the muscular woman in the cemetary, "don't you see? Your nation can't stop him! Your heroes can't stop him! Just like they can't stop Columbia!"

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Grim is both appalled and terrified by the behavior of this so-called 'Columbia'; clearly she's a powerhouse who could crush Grim flatter than a crepe, but there's also the disturbing possibility that she's what, Andrea Atom returned from the grave? And who is this 'he' she keeps referring to?

Ok, no way in hell I take this lady down in a straight fight, so it's a good thing I never try that. What if it is the missing mother of the Atom Family, confused or mind controlled or something? I should give her that chance.

The normally-darkness loving heroine wraps the, uh, bright midday around herself, and jumps back down to street level, doing her best to slip effortlessly through the crowd, which is largely successful. She gets as close she dares, ducks behind the tallest remaing headstone she can find, and shifts her form...into Victoria Atom! She steps forward, heart pounding in her chest.

The real Victoria would probably be scared right now, too; it's okay to show fear. Just not too much.

"Mom, is that...you? Why are you doing this? Everyone is scared of you!"

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The sight of Victoria Atom stopped the bizarrely warped version of Andrea Atom dead in her tracks, a look of dawning horror in her eyes. "Vicky? No, you..." She tensed her massive legs as if ready to leap right at "Victoria", then took a step back as if struck. "No. No, you're this Victoria Atom." Her voice was writ with horror deeper than the angst in her voice earlier. "Victoria" obviously meant far more to her than the monuments she'd been smashing. "I'm sorry, child, but I'm not your mother. Go home now, this is no place for you."

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"I'm sorry, child, but I'm not your mother. Go home now, this is no place for you."

'This Victoria Atom'? What did that mean? Grim tries to remember everything she can about the Atom Family from that stupid movie she saw over at Carmine's place.

I struck a cord; she seems more sad than angry now. Maybe I can push this just a bit farther and not die. Some of my other powers might help sell the illusion, if I have to. Dear God, don't let me or anyone else die today.

She took another step closer, never taking her eyes off the woman who could be either hero or villain.

"Mom, I don't understand! What happened to you? What happened to Dad?"

Columbia's profound sadness touched Grim deeply, and her eyes watered just a bit.

Use it, use it all.

"Where did you go?" :cry:

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"He said your mother and father died fighting Omega," replied Columbia, her eyes wide as she stared at her daughter. "I know they were real heroes, honey. I'm sorry, but I don't have any answers." Tears shone sharply in her eyes as she spoke, her voice suddenly cracking into a scream, her hands rising up to pull at her black bouffant hair. "I was a good mother too! I saved my children! Wanting to live with your babies isn't so bad, is it?! IS IT!?!"

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"I was a good mother too! I saved my children! Wanting to live with your babies isn't so bad, is it?! IS IT!?!"

Dear God, the poor woman was in anguish! Grim kept telling herself that as long as she kept Columbia talking, she wasn't hurting any innocent bystanders, but it didn't make her feel any less like a kid pulling the wings off a fly.

And sooner or later, I'll take it too far, and then she'll really let me have it; the cops and fire department better be using this time to get people clear, so my inevitable death won't be in vain :(

'Victoria' took two steps closer, until she was within twenty feet of the tortured heroine, who seemed to be from a parallel world. She held her hand out in a reassuring gesture.

"Look, I don't know what you did or to who, but I can tell...you still love me, Mom. And if you did something bad, like really, really bad, you did it for a good reason...even if it doesn't feel that way now."

When Grim played a role like this, when she was in real deep, it was barely like acting anymore; it was like she touched something that touched every other soul on Earth, a place where every emotion was pure and true.

"No matter what you did...I still love you, Mom."

And in a way, I really do. :cry:

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Columbia stared into her 'daughter''s eyes, reaching out a massive hand to her. Columbia was a solid seven feet and well-built; she could probably have palmed Grim's face without too much trouble. "All I ever wanted to make a better world for my family. That's why I did everything. That's not such a bad thing, is it?"

And then the bullet caromed off her head.

"Stay away from our veterans, you #(@!" The crowd of angry locals as been gathering for some little time now outside the cemetery gates, and one of them has a gun.

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"All I ever wanted to make a better world for my family. That's why I did everything. That's not such a bad thing, is it?"

Victoria shakes her head, smiling through her tears as she takes a few steps closer.

I'm actually reaching her; this actually might work after all! Now I just need to-

"Stay away from our veterans, you #(@!"

Grim's anger flared, and for a moment she even saw red.

F#@ing idiots and their stupid guns!

In a flash, 'Victoria' bounds over to the guy with the gun, claws barred.

"Do you mind?! I am trying to resolve this situation peacefully! You and your stupid gun are not helping, jerkwad!"

Oh crap, does Vicky Atom ever use claws? I think she's just stretchy! :shock:

The claws disappear as quickly as they appeared, and Grim pushes herself, harder than she has before; both her arms start to stretch, not too far, more like four or five feet each. Holding her arms outward as if to block the crowd, the faux Atom turns back to her 'mom', her brow dotted with sweat.

"Mom, run! I can't hold all of them back!"

I can track her invisibly, and then I can talk to her away from these panicked morons.

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Andrea Atom threw her hands up to the sky and screamed wordlessly before suddenly leaping into the air, very, very high indeed! Grim could just track her arc as she disappeared over the low buildings of the Fens, heading somewhere for the Theatre District. That left her alone with a crowd, and an angry crowd to boot. "Hey, what do you think you're doing! You're supposed to be a superhero!" One of the people in the crowd yelled. An old woman with a sad face cried, "She broke my Lenny's tombstone! I hope Captain Thunder punches her into space!" The crowd was mad, and getting madder as the sirens got louder, the police getting closer and closer. Something had to give! "Hey, wait a minute! Since when does Vicky Atom have claws!"

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Oh man, she could be anywhere now! Dammit!

Turning her attention back to the crowd, Grim drops her Vicky Atom persona and stands before them as Grimalkin, for the first time facing her 'public'. Anf she is not happy with them.

"For your information, the name is Grimalkin; I was trying to use a familiar face to calm down that woman who just leapt away, who I think was a version of Andrea Atom...though I don't know why her hair kept changing."

Grim climbs up on top of one of the few intact headstones nearby, and raises her voice.

"Look, I know your all very upset about what she did here; this is a sacred place to all of you, as it should be, and I respect that you're angry and want justice."

And now her tone is much sharper.

"What I don't respect is firing a gun at a woman who was putting her fists through freakin' headstones! What were you thinking?! You put me and everyone else here in danger, and now she's all mad and just took off for the Theater District, when the cops were probably on their way over here! Thanks a lot, thanks for helping! Make sure to yell 'jump' the next time you see someone out on a ledge!"

She stops, then shakes her head before she continues.

"Look, I'm sorry I yelled; that was mean and unfair, but I don't like when people shoot at me. I find it upsetting. If anyone wants to stay here with me and start cleaning this up, I'd appreciate it it, because I'm not all that strong, and some of these look pretty heavy."

She jumps down and starts trying to figure out the names on the nearest damaged grave markers.

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Eventually Grimalkin's efforts proved sufficient to win over even the dubious Fens crowd, and they joined her in cleaning up the mess left behind by Columbia's rampage. Unfortunately, she had a pretty good idea that they would get hostile again if she left them to their work and pursued the fleeing powerhouse out of the neighborhood. If she wanted to keep the Fens crowd on her side in general, she'd need to stick around for the cleanup effort. No one had been hurt by Columbia, but a lot of damage had been done to some important monuments, and the crowd wasn't very happy about it.

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Grim did her damnedest to make the best of a bad situation; she made sure to get any nearby kids involved with gathering up the broken stone into neat piles, challenging them to work their hardest but making sure they treated the monuments and the grounds with respect. She talked to the moms about drawing up a list of which stones where damaged and how badly, and put the dads to work with the heavy lifting.

The whole time, she moved among the people of the neighborhood, encouraging them, joking with them, and patting the occasional shoulder, and one in one instance playfully slapping a butt (what, he was cute!). But she didn't shy away from the physical labor either; whenever an extra hand was needed, she lent it, frequently using her claws to get a better grip with some of the more awkward stones. And lastly she also blew the last of her spending money on buying as much pop and ice cream from the pushcart vendors as she could afford for her thirsty crew.

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While she's buying her first round of Cokes for the thirstiest of her volunteers, Grim flicks out her pay-as-you-go phone and hits Avenger on speed dial.

"Hi, Venger? Sorry to call you during daylight hours, when you're doing...I dunno, whatever you do during the day, but we have a sitch here in the Fens. Are you free-ish?"

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"Yes. Yes, will be there shortly. What situation?"

Grim winces as she fetches money out of a fold near the waist of her costume.

"Did I wake you up? I woke you up, didn't I?"

She shakes her head as she takes her change.

"I'm sorry, dude." ("Thank you!")

She stuffs the coins back in the fold as she looks off in the general direction the crazed heroine/villain leapt.

"Well, a woman who looked a lot like the late Andrea Atom in a sleazy Lady Liberty costume showed up in the Veteran Cemetery here in the Fens, on Memorial Day, no less. She called herself 'Columbia', rattled on and on about some mysterious 'he', and put her fist through a lot of headstones. Drew quite a crowd, too."

She smiles and nods at the volunteers, raising her Sprite in salute.

One guy pulled a gun, for all the good it did him; bullet bounced right off her skull. Some other weird stuff, too, in the way of possible clues: I addressed her in the form of Victoria Atom, which released like a lot of guilt and all this weird emotional stuff, about how all she wanted to do was save her family. Also she changed her hair color and style at some point during our confrontation, no idea why."

Grim takes a swig of her pop and places the cool can alongside her neck.

"She took off with single bound in the direction of the Theater District, so I have no idea where she's at right now. I'm leading the clean-up effort back here at the cemetery until people cool off."

The young heroine takes a seat on a shattered pedestal, shrugs and runs a hand through her spiky hair.

"So I dunno, parallel universe, Grue invasion or something else? I doubt it's a coincidence her hitting a veterans' cemetery on Memorial Day."

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"Actually...best if you meet us at Wading Way. Similar situation has developed here." He told Grim how there'd been a battle in Lonely Point a few nights earlier and now one in by the Pyramid Plaza, frightening conflicts with powerful individuals who bore the faces but had very different powers and personalities of some of Freedom City's greatest heroes. "Crisis big enough for all the Knights to deal with. Could use your help."

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"Crisis big enough for all the Knights to deal with. Could use your help."

"Okay, that's cool."

In the middle of her next swig of Sprite, a thought strikes Grim

He said 'all the Knights', and that he needed my help; does he really think of me as a Knight now?

She looks around at her neighbors, sweating and struggling to make things right, and she smiles.

"Alright, give me a little time to finish up here, maybe appoint a few deputies to make sure the job gets completed after I'm gone. Call me when you know exactly when and where, and I'll be there. Grimalkin out."

The young heroine flips her phone closed and turns her attention back to the task before them, clapping her hands like a high school gym coach.

"Okay people, let's go! I wanna see some hustle out here! You, the kid in the Yankees cap, hit the showers! You look like you're about to drop!"

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