Monday dawned bright and pretty.  The weatherman was forecasting a break in the heat, with highs in the upper seventies.  Oh, sure, heat doesn’t really bother me, but nice weather still feels nice.  Anyway, everyone else should be happier.

Zoe actually fixed breakfast, not just bagels, but bacon and eggs and hash browns and toast.  “Nice,” I said.

“I’m working on my domestic skills,” she said.  “Sometime or other I will move out, you know, and I may need to be able to take care of myself.”

“And I can’t?” I said.  “I’ve gotten along this long with no cooking skills.”

She set two plates of food on the bar, with forks and paper napkins.  “Yeah, well, that’s okay for you, but I’m about to be a starving student.”

“Oh, yeah, you go back to college in a few days, don’t you?” I asked, pouring orange juice for both of us.

She sat down, and I sat down beside her, handing her a glass of juice.  “Yes I do.  I’m going for it, Polly… I’m signing up for the nursing program.”

“Good for you,” I said, slapping her on the back.  “Going in to work with me today?”

“No, I’ve got an appointment at the college.  Mom, can I have the car?”

“Sure.  I’ll take the Triumph in to work today.”

Since I was riding to work, I decided to go kind of casual.  I put on jeans and a pretty purple V-neck, and my black riding boots; I stuck a pair of black pumps in my saddlebags, along with my costume of course.  I threw a leg over the bike, put on my helmet, and then patted the tank.  “Good morning, buddy,” I said.

I know it’s traditional to use female pronouns to describe vehicles, but my Triumph just seemed so masculine, with its deep rumble that could rise to a shout when I rolled the power on.  Made me feel sexy just going to work.  I had changed almost nothing after buying my bike, except to add the saddlebags.  I got them painted blue and white to match the bike… I figured, if I was going to give it a wide butt, I should at least make it pretty.  And they were removable, for times when I really wanted it to look nice.

As I rode across the bridge into San Francisco, enjoying the beautiful weather, I had no idea it was about to be one of my worst days ever.

I pulled up in front of my office only to find Frank and Sarah standing outside, looking at the building.  I parked the bike and jumped off… something about their body language warned me that there was a problem.  Before I could ask, I smelled the smoke.

“Polly,” said Frank, “there’s a fire.”

“I think it’s bad,” said Sarah.

“Damn,” I replied.  “Fire department?”

“On their way,” said Frank.

I looked at Sarah.  “All our sites are in the cloud now, right?  So this won’t put us out of business?”

“Our sites are,” she said, “but not the new shooting!  I came in early to work on a problem with the backups and discovered the fire.  The last five weeks of shooting, mostly not posted yet… I don’t think any of it is backed up.”

“Damn.”  I looked at the building… smoke was rising from the roof and pushing through the gaps in the front door.  “What do you need?”

“The storage server.  The blue box on the floor, on the right side of my desk.  If you can get that, I can rebuild the rest.”

I heard sirens.  “Well, if I’m doing this, I’m doing it now.  Watch my bike.”  I handed Frank my helmet and ran around to the back of the building; it looked like the fire was mostly in the front, so I hoped I could get down the hall to Sarah’s office and back again.  After my experience with the apartment building fire, I wasn’t too worried about myself… I was fireproof, right?

Before I went in, I hyperventilated for a few seconds, then took a breath and held it.  The door was locked, and my keys were in my purse in the Triumph’s saddlebags, so I just smashed the door open and ran through.

The break room was full of smoke, and the hallway was worse.  I ducked my head and ran, trusting that I knew my own building well enough to find the door without looking, and I did.  In Sarah’s office, I got down on the floor where the smoke was thinner and looked around, and I saw the blue box she was talking about.  It was bigger than I expected, a cube almost two feet on a side.

I crawled over to it and started yanking cables out.  I thought I broke some of the ports on the box, but there was no time to think about that.  My lungs were burning for air.  I picked it up… it was an awkward shape to carry in front of me, so I put it up on my shoulder at an angle, crouched a bit to fit through the door to the hallway, and trotted out the back door.

In the back alley, I finally took a breath.  I shifted the box down in front of me, more like a normal woman would have carried it, in case someone might see me.

When I walked out from behind the building, a firefighter saw me.  “Miss, did you go in there?  Do you know how dangerous that is?  You could have been killed!”

As he said that, I heard a crash.  Looking behind me, I saw that part of the roof had caved in.

I looked back at him and said, “Guess I was just lucky.”

The rest of the day was a slow-motion nightmare.  By the time the fire was out, the building was a total loss.  Sarah took the storage server to her apartment, while Frank stayed to help me with the man from the insurance company.  He had a lot of very annoying questions, and my patience got short very quickly, so I was glad Frank was with me.

Somewhere in the middle, Bill had showed up with fast food, which I ate without much interest (and I can’t even tell you what it was now).  I thanked him and promised I’d pay him back, and he just said, “No problem, boss.  Just let me know when you have an office for me to come in to, and I’ll be there.”  His camera equipment had been with him, which was wonderful; sadly, my cameras (including the ones Frank used) were in the building and were destroyed.

It was late afternoon by the time everything was over, and I was wrung out.  I looked at my phone to see what time it was.  “Oh, hell,” I said.

Frank said, “What is it, dear?”

“I was supposed to meet Shawn right about now.  He wants me to go to St. Louis with him.”

“Oh.  Are you going?”

“Yeah, I am.  I don’t want to… it’s such a sad situation, and I don’t know what I can do to help, but he asked and said please and everything.  So yeah, I’m going.”

“Well, dear, you stink.  Smoke, I mean.  Call him and tell him you’ll be late, and then come over to my place and take a shower.  It’s a lot closer than your house.”

“Thanks, Frank, you’re a lifesaver.”

“I know, dear.  What would you ever do without me?”

I was on the Embarcadero, taking a long shortcut to GHQ from Frank’s place.  Shawn and I were to meet in civvies at a new pizza place not far from headquarters, so he could walk there.  But as I approached Pier 39 I saw flashes of light brighter than the sun coming from the pier.

I pulled over, took off my helmet and put my G-comm earpiece in; pressing the button, I said, “Gina, I’m near Pier 39, and I’m seeing really bright flashes.  Is there something going on?”

“Mystery Woman, we have a report of energy weapon fire from Pier 39, as well as multiple reports of either a man in armor or a robot.  Can you investigate?”

“Will do.  Is anyone else close?”

“Micron and Lightning have been alerted.  Lightning is on his way and reports he’ll be there shortly.  Micron is also on his way, but I estimate ten minutes before he arrives.”

As I was listening to all that, I was also getting the bag with my costume out of my saddlebag.  I secured my helmet on my bike, then found an alley to change in.  Fortunately, whatever was going on at the pier had everyone’s attention, so no one saw me.

When I was ready, I took to the rooftops.  I dropped the bag with my civvies in an out-of-the-way place, then ran across to the the pedestrian overpass that crossed Embarcadero to the pier.  From there, I could see more flashes of light, and smoke rising from some of the structures, but I couldn’t see the source of the lights.  I dropped down to the overpass and started to run across, but then looking over the side, I saw him.

It was a man, I was sure.  He was wearing a white suit of what I guessed must be powered armor with a mirror-faced helmet.  In each hand he held a large handgun with a fat, short barrel; heavy cables ran from the grip of each to a large white backpack.  I pulled out my G-comm and pointed the lens at him.  “Gina, who is this guy?”

“Unknown,” came the reply.  “His armor resembles that used by several different villains and a few heroes.  He is not listed or described in the Guardian’s records at all.”

“I guess I find out the hard way.”  Putting my G-comm away, I jumped down to street level maybe twenty yards behind him.  “Hey, Whitey,” I yelled.

As he turned toward me, I saw that the barrel of each of his guns had a circle of smaller holes at the business end.  “Mystery Woman,” he said, his voice sounding metallic yet somehow dripping with self-satisfaction.  “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.  They say you can’t be hurt by bullets or fire.”

“That pretty well covers it,” I replied, putting my hands on my hips and facing him, unafraid.  “So who are you?”

“I call myself Plasma,” he said.  “You might have heard of my father… he was known as Power Claw.  The Guardians put him away, and he died in prison.  So you might say I have an interest in meeting you all.”  With a flick of his right hand he opened fire; brilliant bolts of white light flashed out of the gun, striking the steel pole of a streetlight near the base.  It looked like each hole at the end of the barrel fired one after another, causing a swirling effect.  He only fired for a second at most, but the streetlight immediately began to fall, the cut ends glowing redly.  It crashed to the ground between us.

“Now the question of the hour, Mystery Woman, is this… are you invulnerable to the power of the Sun itself?”  Before I knew what he was doing, he swung his arms in a scissors motion toward me, firing with both guns.  I leaped as fast as I could; as I did, I heard a man’s voice calling out “Mystery Woman!”

Then there was nothing in my world but searing pain, followed by merciful unconsciousness.