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The Slow Roll

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June 10, 2017

Freedom City, New Jersey

Mid-morning
 
The day was warm, months of overcast days finally giving away to blue skies and summery weather. Liberty Park was full of groups enjoying the fine weather; a group of breakdancers showing their moves near a fountain while teenagers in paper hats hawked from food carts. A group of gray-haired women bent their legs and moved their arms in wide Tai Chi circles. A pick-up game of ultimate frisbee verged dangerously near a family group.
 
Warren Locke held himself in readiness to intervene anywhere. He stood under the shadow of the monorail line, across from the Kirby Museum, right where he had asked Mona to meet him, but he couldn't relax. Even on this bright and beautiful day he was constantly aware of his responsibilities as a hero-in-training. Part of that was his own choice, but he could also feel the static-electricity feel of the hologram projector making him look like a normal boy. It reminded him, subtly and at the back of his mind all the time, that he was different from everyone else out here.

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“Hi Warren!” Mona Simms was rather abruptly beside him, and maybe a little too loud. She absolutely had not been there a split second ago. There was something about the short, skinny girl that screamed she was almost constitutionally incapable of taking life seriously. And yet, she was as committed to being a superhero as Warren was. A short peek into the internet would find traces of her over half the globe. Last moment rescues and timely interventions by someone extremely fast (and in dark blue) who wasn’t spotted afterwards. Mona blurred for the tiniest fraction of a second, and she was suddenly holding an ice cream cone. Judging from the paper, the shop wasn’t in Freedom City. But who knew, really? It was a big city. She licked the ice cream (vanilla/chocolate soft serve swirl) idly. “So, what are we doing today?” Her outfit was classic Mona. Flowery oversized sundress, translucent enough below the waist to see the black bicycle shorts underneath. Old, beat up sneakers. She tilted her head while taking another lick and pushing up a sundress strap that had fallen. “Earth to Warren, please come back. We have ice cream.”

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Warren wasn't an easy man to sneak up on, unless you were literally fast enough to run between RADAR waves. Mona was one of the few people who could, and he still started when she appeared out of nowhere. He still smiled down at her, though, glad that she had decided to show up. "Sorry about that, I was just... keeping an eye on things." Even on the weekend, even on a beautiful day like this, even going out on a date, he still couldn't stop being a superhero.

 

"I thought today we could sort of slow down. There's supposed to be some brand-new pieces in the Kirby Museum today." He turned to face the entrance to the museum, a wide set of double doors flanked by multicolored sculptures, like rainbow waterfalls falling out of the side of the concrete architecture. "I thought it would be nice to walk through and look at some." He smiled at her and reached out to grab her hand.

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“Slow…down?” Mona just looked at Warren (not seeming to notice his hand about to take hers), a lack of comprehension written all over her face. “Why would…” The sentence was left hanging. The silence went on just long enough to become awkward, and then Mona…shrugged? “I guess we can do that.” If her brother had been present, he’d have gaped in shock. “I mean, slowing down isn’t my thing.” She looked away and put her hand in his. She was blushing, ever so slightly, and mumbled out another line. “But-I-can-try-I-guess.” How to put it? Warren was the first unrelated person to ever volunteer to spend time with her, just to do it. It…meant something. It wasn’t like she didn’t have friends. It was just…she was always the one reaching out. It made sense, she didn’t stay in the same place long, and could find almost anyone faster than they could find her. But…Warren had tried. Nobody else ever did. So…if he wanted today to be slow, then slow it would be.

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Warren was taken aback by Mona's reaction. Usually the girl was so... forward. So direct and powerful, so take-charge that the only way to keep up sometimes was to grab her skirt and be dragged along. All of a sudden she seemed to become so diffident and demure. "I just figured that you can go anywhere you want, as fast as you want. Maybe it might be nice to slow down a bit, you know?"

He took her hand and they crossed the street, walking up the slow incline to the museum. Warren showed his school ID at the door and got his hand stamped. He considered the ink mark on the back of his hand and the nanites he knew were just an infinitesimal distance below it. He could have them devour the ink or repurpose it into a dozen different designs. He could get into the museum for free anytime he wanted as long he knew that day's design -- though he didn't know if his nanites could replicate UV ink, which was probably what they used.
 

The whole thought flashed through his head in an instant and then he dropped the hand to his side, smiling at Mona as he took her by the hand again and led her into the museum. The open space in the middle was taken up by an angular statue of brushed metal and curved plastic, like someone took a picture of half-cooked spaghetti falling onto a plate and tried to render it at five times the size. "Well that looks... interesting," Warren said lamely. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel while looking at it but he was pretty sure it wasn't bewilderment.

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“I like going fast. I like it more than anything.” Mona licked her ice cream and looked at the statue. “But it’s hard for anyone else to keep up.” Mona liked that. It made her feel freer than anyone else. “I don’t like slowing down. It’s not any fun.” She liked her ice cream again, a bit faster than a normal person could. “But maybe that’s because everyone else who ever wanted me to told me to do it?” She looked at Warren. “You just asked.” Well. Kind of. Meh, close enough. She shrugged and her ice cream vanished from the cone. “"I dunno. Does this look like spaghetti to you? It does to me.” Deep, Mona Simms was not.

Edited by EternalPhoenix

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For some reason that statement struck Warren as unbelievably funny. He doubled over in silent laughter, doing his bed to hold in his mirth; he had a feeling that the museum staff wouldn't care for kids coming in just to laugh at the exhibits. "It, uh, yeah, it does kind of look like a pasta dinner." A wobbly smile spread across his face and he glanced over to the side to see a docent giving the pair of kids a hard look. "We should, uh, probably move on." He grabbed Mona's hand and hustled her away from the double-story structure.
 
There was a gallery of paintings just off the main hall that was almost deserted on this lovely day, giving the pair of them plenty of privacy. The works themselves were an eclectic mix of styles; Warren found himself most drawn to a few that were nothing more concrete than splashes of color on white canvas with suggestions of motion. Mostly, though, he was focused on talking with Mona. "I was surprised you wanted to go to a museum," he said. "I didn't think this sort of thing would be up your alley. I thought, like, you'd suggest checking out the Great Wall of China or something."

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The impossible happened. Mona, irrepressible impulsive never at lack of confidence Mona blushed furiously and carefully observed a framed blotch of blue and orange on the opposite side of her from Warren. “Stupid China. Stupid Wall. Stupid superheroes.” Her words were both embarrassed and furious at the same time. “How was I supposed to know their secret base was under it? I was eight, not smart.” She stamped her foot in irritation, and it was completely adorable. “So mean. No sense of fun. None of ‘em. I. Just. Wanted. A souvenir. ”

 

Mona snorted, and then in a heartbeat, calmed down. “Tch, whatever. Todaiji Temple’s better anyway. Taj Mahal, too.” She spun back around. “You wanna go? We could go. We could go right now.” Her brain caught up to her mouth. “Oh, right. Nevermind.” She pondered for a instant, then shrugged. “I dunno. You asked, so here we are. Seen most of this stuff before, but never in stallmode. It's different, I guess.”

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Warren smiled at Mona's sudden impertinent moment, a flash of white teeth. "Man, that sounds amazing. Just running off to China -- because." He turned towards Mona, putting a hand on either of her shoulders. "Mona, I... I would like to see those places. They sound like a lot of fun. But I asked you here because I wanted to be with you. I..." He licked his lips. He was tense and anxious all of a sudden, like this moment was made of precious crystal, like if he said the wrong thing it would shatter and he'd be back in bed or something. "I asked you out here because I want you to know that I want to spend time with you. I don't want to go to exotic places because you can take me there. I want to be somewhere where you are, because you want to be there with me."

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Mona just looked at Warren. And looked. And looked some more. It rapidly became obvious she wasn’t processing information very well at the moment. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. However, a block away a dog howled. And just like that, she disappeared. One moment she was warm under Warren’s hands, and the next he was only holding air. Five terrifying seconds later, a very small voice (like from a very small girl) came from behind Warren. “Why?” It was the first real question Mona has asked him. The kind that mattered, anyway.  “I’m not pretty. I’m not smart. I’m not charming or witty. I’m just fast. That’s all.” There was something vaguely sad in her summing herself up that way. As if she had no noticeable personality traits and there was nothing at all special about her aside from her speed. “My brother, my aunt and my uncle are mi familia. We have to be there for each other.” She wasn’t speaking sadly, however. She was simply matter of fact about it. “So why? I don’t understand.” She was, however, completely baffled and totally confused. “Why would you want to spend time with me?” The unspoken question being, why would anyone?

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Warren was shocked when she disappeared, and was left gaping and blinking until she suddenly reappeared again. He could 'see' her standing behind him, picking her up with his RADAR, but he still had to suppress the instinct to turn and face her; it was still awkward to have a conversation with someone who was behind his back. "I don't think that's true," he said. "You are smart, and you're brave, and you are really fast too but you're also really clever. I like that you know what to get and you just go and... get it." Warren's words petered out slowly. He was just a teenager, with a lot less life experience than even most other teenagers. "I... I didn't have a chance to see a lot of places when I was growing up, but you've been everywhere. Like, in the whole word. I think that's really cool." He paused, and let his hands fall to his side. "And I don't know what other people think, but I do think you're cool." He reached a hand behind himself; he didn't take Mona's hand, but just reached out towards her.

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“Oh.” Mona was silent. She vanished from Warren’s RADAR, but only for an instant. She ran into his chest fast enough to throw off his balance and send both of them to the floor. Getting up was impossible, as he had a tiny girl’s arms wrapped around him in a tight hug and the rest of her pretty much in his lap. Mona was (almost literally) glowing with sheer happiness. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes were certainly moist. “We could go anywhere, but I want you to meet Grandma. She’s in history books, you know.” Indeed she was, but as the Silver Streak instead of Holly Wood. Not that the secret identity of a long retired Golden Age superheroine mattered much anymore.

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Warren made a sound as Mona impacted with him and they fell to the ground in a tangle of arms. He tried to sit up, realized it would mean crushing Mona, and fell back on the ground instead. Mona certainly seemed to do everything at breakneck speed, but he was still surprised that she would go so fast to wanting to introduce him to family! "Sure, I'd like to meet your grandma." If she was anything like Mona... "Is she more like you or, uh, more like your brother?"

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Mona just looked up at Warren. “…neither?” She resituated herself in a instant, so that she was sitting on his lap instead of laying on it. The hug, however, somehow remained just as tight. Did she snuggle a bit? Mmmmaybe… “I dunno. She’s just Grandma.” She abruptly realized where they were, and what she was doing. She was on her feet fast enough for her loose sundress to cause a small sonic boom, another embarrassed blush on her face. She pushed up a fallen strap again. “Uh, sorry. I got excited.” She held out a hand to help Warren up. “Our-me and my brother’s-power come from our mom. And she, Uncle Frank, and Aunt Francine got them from Grandma. She’s fast, strong, tough, and smart all at once, but not a lot anymore.” She suddenly had a picture in her hand. It was…very old, and in black and white. There was a smiling, curvaceous girl standing with what seemed like the entire 40s Liberty League. Her costume was a silver bodysuit and domino mask. She was dark enough that even in black and white one could tell she wasn’t Caucasian. She was shorter than all of them, barring Arrow. “Grandma was a hero. The Silver Streak.” Mona started telling a story. It matched what they’d learned in history class, but with a few more details.

 

The Silver Streak, in 1942, was a 15 year old Puerto Rican girl living in New York. She had powers, she could help. End of story. She didn’t know where her powers came from or how powerful she was, and she didn’t care. The problem wasn’t that she was Hispanic, female, or young. It was that she was opinionated, headstrong, and loud. She never once wasted an opportunity to voice how she felt about something. This would’ve been bad enough, but she was smart and perceptive, so she was technically correct most of the time. She’d earned a good deal of respect by the war’s end for her work on both the home and war fronts, but it was hard to say that any of the war’s other heroes actually liked her all that much. Joe McCarthy, when he summoned her to testify, certainly didn’t. She told him exactly what she thought of him, his allies, and even most of Congress. Just like that, the Silver Streak’s heroic career came to an end. This, however, was not the last the heroes of the world would hear of Holly Wood. Those were, however, other stories.

 

The way Mona told the story suggested a deep level of pride in her Grandma. She clearly adored the old woman. Tired of waiting, Mona pulled Warren upright with a strength that belied her tiny form. She was borrowing from her brother. She gripped his hand tightly, pulled him forward, and (for Warren at least) the world turned into a flashing blur of colors. Running with Mona was a heck of a thing for the uninitiated. But they weren’t running that long at all. New York City is a hour or two’s trip from Freedom by car, but at Mach 13? Seconds. The colors resolved into a quaint little single family home in Queens. And a woman whose smile matched the girl in the photograph, but looked like she’d barely aged half as much as she should have for a person who fought in WWII. “Hi, Grandma! I brought a friend!” Mona was, once again, excited.

 

“Is that so? She must like you, then. She never brings any boys to see me. I was starting to get worried I might not get great grandchildren.” Holly Wood’s voice still had the twang of a lifelong New Yorker. “Well then, young man.” Warren did catch her move with his RADAR, but she was in front of him in a flash of motion. She shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Mona’s grandmother, Holly. Would you like some tea?”

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Warren wrapped his arms around Mona and tried to listen to her story, but it was very distracting to have a cute girl in his lap. He knew there were plenty of folks around in World War II who didn't join either the League or the Allies. Holly was a new name to him, but he did his best to pay attention while Mona told her story. It was obviously important to her and he didn't want to disappoint her. Afterwards the story turned kind of dark but it was still fun to hear about what good she tried to do after the War.

 

And then suddenly Mona was pulling him along. It was slowly getting through Warren's metal head that if he was going to hang around her things would be happening fast, but he was still surprised to see things going so fast around him that they outpaced RADAR. Before he realized that they had left the museum they were standing in front of a house in... His GPS kicked in a moment later. Queens? New York City?

 

He straightened up as Mona introduced him to the wrinkled woman in front of him. His mouth went dry when she started talking about great-grandchildren and he made the connection, but the one thing a military brat learned was how to talk with respect. "Hello, ma'am. It's very good to meet you. I'd be happy to have some tea with you."

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Holly Wood threw back her head and laughed. “You’re such a serious young man. How on Earth did you manage to corral my rambunctious granddaughter?”

 

“Grandma!” Mona was indignant. “He’s nice to me.”

 

Holly looked at Warren with new eyes. “Really? Patience and kindness. Reminds me of Mark. He was always kind to me, even when I was being a loudmouthed brat.” She looked vaguely sad for a moment, and then it was gone. “Mona, be a dear.” The tiny speedster was already gone. “And she’s gone. Well, we’ve done this a lot. Tea in the afternoon. She knows what kind I like.”

 

Mona was back, pushing up a dress strap. She had three glass bottles of iced tea. The language on it was decidedly not English. “Your favorite, Grandma.” She turned to Warren. “See, she’s a real person who was really there. People don’t believe me when I say my Grandma knew everyone back then. But she did!” She repeated the adorable annoyed foot stamp from earlier.”

 

Holly opened her tea and took a long swallow. “I wouldn’t say everyone, nieta.” She gestured to her lawn, with its table and four chair ensemble. “Please, sit down.” Mona was seated in a heartbeat, but Holly took her time. Unusual, for a speedy type. “Don’t make too much of her bringing you to see me, eh? I’m more of her best friend then her abuela. She is…not so good with people. Mickey, my twins, they are fine enough. But Mona, I worry she is too fast for the world. My Hannah, her mother, was like that.” Then they were in ear shot of Mona again. "Nieta, did this young man invite you out on a date? And you bring him here? Shame on you. Go, enjoy yourselves. Be young. Let an old woman have her peaceful retirement." Mona frowned and would have objected, but Holly beat the speedster to it. "Do as I say, Mona. Don't forget your tea."

 

Mona gulped her bottle down in a flash. "Okay. I know where we can go." In an instant she was by Warren's side and taking his hand again. She had that incredible strength in it. She pulled him along, and (for Warren at least) the world blurred. They went far enough that it actually took a few minutes to arrive, even at Mach 13. When she stopped, his GPS informed him that he was on a highway in Virginia. Skyline Drive. Shenandoah Valley Overlook, to be precise. Several miles from Front Royal, Virginia. "This is one of my favorite roads. It's always so pretty." They weren't exactly alone at the overlook, but it was far from crowded. "There's a few other roads I like. That highway on California's coast. There's one in the mountains. Nepal, I think? Maybe it was Pakistan. No, wait. It was both. And that one in Italy. They're all far away, though. I can't get there quick pulling you along." She faced him, smiling impishly. "So you get this one."

Edited by EternalPhoenix

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