I woke up again a few hours later, and it was sunny outside.  For a moment I didn’t remember what had happened, but then I had a sudden vision of Plasma firing at me and I sat up and squealed.  I was breathing hard, and shaking, and the memory of the pain seemed almost real.

The moment passed, and I shook myself.  “Get ahold of yourself, girl,” I said quietly.  Zoe wasn’t in the room; I listened, thinking she might have heard me squeal, but when she didn’t come running in I decided she either hadn’t heard or wasn’t in the house at all.

Then I wondered… which powers did I have now?  Mine, or hers?  So I did the only logical thing I could do… I went to the kitchen, grabbed a paring knife, and slashed it across my palm.

The wound closed as I watched.  I wiped the blood from my hand and from the knife, shrugged my shoulders, and started getting ready for work.

Zoe hadn’t heard my squeal earlier, but she came running when I screamed in the shower.  I was so accustomed to showering in straight hot water that I just turned it on and got in.  I jumped out of the shower and bumped into Zoe, who caught me.  Thankfully, the pain abated almost instantly.  “Oops,” I said, and she giggled.  I got my feet under me, adjusted the shower, and stepped back in.

“Oh, Zoe!” I said, and she replied, “What?”

“My wounds, from the fight with the murkenegras… they’re gone.”

“Yeah, nice feature about my powers,” she replied.  “No scars.”

“I don’t have to give up working!  I mean, in front of the camera.”  I laughed then, and enjoyed a shower that was hot enough for the first time in ages.  Maybe taking a break from being Mystery Woman wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

It was only as I was drying off that I remembered… I had no work to go to.  No office, anyway.  I threw on a robe, found my phone and called Frank.  “Hey, Polly,” he said, “how are you?”

“I’m fine,” I said.  “Better than fine.”  I still felt a little shaken from the dream that woke me, but I didn’t say anything about that.  “I was thinking about going to work when I remembered I don’t have a work to go to.”

“That does seem to be a problem.  I’m suffering from it myself.”

“So let’s get together here, you and me and Sarah, and figure out our plan going forward.”

“Sounds good, dear.  You want me to call her?”

“No, I’ll do it.  See you in a while.”

I hung up, called Sarah, and basically repeated the same conversation.  I had called Frank first, but Sarah showed up before him.  “How’s our blue box?” I asked, as she came in the door.

“It’s fine,” she said.  “Wow, look at you!  You look great!”

All I had done to myself was to put on shorts and a T-shirt, so I knew she wasn’t talking about my clothes or non-existent makeup.  “Yeah, I have all my parts.”

She hugged me, then looked me in the eyes, a little sad.  “What is it, Sarah?” I asked.

“It’s… Ashley and I… I think we’re breaking up.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.  “What happened?”

“She kept asking me where I was yesterday, and why I wouldn’t tell her.  When I left to come to the Guardians building, I was crying, and when I came back it was late and I wasn’t, and when I wouldn’t tell her what was going on she said she was leaving.”

“Sarah, no,” I said.  “My secret’s not worth your happiness.  Tell her.  Tell her everything.  Don’t let me ruin this for you.”

She pulled away, shaking her head, and I noticed there was no sign of tears in her eyes.  “No, it’s better this way.  She’s not the one, you know?  I think I knew it all along, but if she wasn’t Ms. Right she was at least Ms. Right Now.  You know?”

“I do know,” I said.  “I hope you find Ms. Right someday.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Zoe had ordered pizza, and it showed up about the same time as Frank.  We sat down in the living room to eat and talk about the situation.

“We need a building,” I said.

“The insurance investigator warned me that it will take at least a week to get a settlement agreement, maybe two or three, and as much as another week to get a check,” said Frank.  “We could rent a place, though.”

“We don’t need a building,” said Sarah.  “The storage server is happy at my apartment.  I’ve got backups going again, and I can edit pics and video on my computer there.”

“But we need a studio,” I said.

“Naw,” she said, “just call your realtor friend.  We can get by with one mansion shoot a week for a while… we have a lot of material in the can, just waiting for final edits and distribution.”

“Well, I guess that will work,” I said.  “So Pollychrome Productions will be homeless for a while.”

“Not the worst thing that could happen,” said Frank.  “Ask the realtor to show you buildings when you call her.  I bet she can find us something nice.  Something with a lot of open space, no walls to get in the way of shooting, and maybe a skylight or some big windows so we can shoot more natural light.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  “I’ll give her a call right now.”  My purse was on the bar in the dining area, so I went to get it, but as I reached for it I heard my G-comm ring.  “Okay, I’ll call her later,” I yelled as I pulled it out.  “Duty calls.”

“Mystery Woman,” said Gina, “Doctor Hyde has requested you to come in for a checkup.”

“I guess I can do that,” I replied.  “Gina, I still don’t have my own powers.”

“I understand, and I’ll pass that information on to Doctor Hyde.  Shall I tell him you’ll call when you’re ready?”

“Yes, that’d be good,” I replied.  “Goodbye.”  I heard the beep that indicated she had cut off the connection.  I went back to the living room.  “Seems I need to get to headquarters.  Hyde wants to examine me.”

“Can you do that in costume?” asked Sarah.

“Not really.  Not like I did before… I’m not strong enough to parkour like I did.”  I sighed.  “I’ll figure something out.  Frank, would you mind calling the realtor?”

“No, dear,” he said.  “I’ll take care of it.”

I went upstairs to my bedroom, put on my costume, then put my riding leathers on over it.  Unfortunately, my riding boots were still on a rooftop; I found another pair of boots that would work, though they weren’t as good a match as I would have liked.  I grabbed my mask, hero boots, and helmet and went back downstairs.

“This is how I’m doing it,” I said, unzipping my jacket so they could see my costume.  “I’ve found several places near GHQ where there are no cameras and people aren’t likely to see me; one is an alley, so I’ll just walk in, change really quick and walk out the other end.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Frank.

Zoe waved from the kitchen as I turned to walk out, and Sarah said, “Good luck with the bad doctor.”

“Thanks,” I replied.  “I might need it.”

Things worked more or less the way I planned.  I had a plain backpack in my saddlebags, so I took it with me into the alley with my costume boots and mask inside; I put them on, then shoved my riding leathers into it.  Then I just walked into GHQ.

Thunder was right inside the door.  “Mystery Woman, how are you?”

“Fine, sort of,” I said.  “Hyde wants to give me a checkup.”

“Can I talk to you first?”

“Sure,” I said, wondering what was up.

He turned toward the elevator, and I followed him; he led me to the conference room and turned on the privacy system.  “Mystery Woman, I’ve got some news for you that I’m afraid you aren’t going to like.”

I sighed.  “Lay it on me, boss.”

“After you left the meeting with the Wanderer, Nightwind raised a ruckus with the others.  Said she didn’t think you were reliable enough, that you just kind of do whatever you want.”

“Bitch,” I said.

“Kind of.  She didn’t try to get them to expel you again, though… instead, she argued that you shouldn’t be trusted with access to Codename Ascent.  Also that our Vault should be off-limits, which I thought was funny because only Lightning and I have access now.”

“And she got her way, right?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

I was irritated, I can’t deny it.  Pissed off, really.  I pulled my G-comm out of my boot and tossed it on the table.  I took a deep breath before speaking… this was someone I looked on as a mentor, after all.

“Thunder, I’m not equipped to be a Guardian anymore.  I don’t even have my powers, I just have my friend’s regeneration, and I have no idea when this thing will wear off.  If ever.  This is probably my last time here anyway.”

I found the G-comm was back in my hand, and his hand was on top of it.  I knew he still had lightning speed from the waist up, but I had never really seen him use it before.  “Keep this,” he said.  “I’ll put you on reserve status.  Someday you may want to come back, and I want you to know you’re always welcome here.  Never mind what Nightwind says.”

“Thanks, Thunder,” I said, trying to sound like I cared.  I really didn’t… I didn’t want it anymore.  Being a Guardian, I mean, not the G-comm.  I had put my heart and soul into being a hero worthy of Guardians membership, and for what?  To be branded as a loose cannon after I cleaned up a mess that senior Guardians had made?  But like I said, Thunder was someone I cared for, someone whose opinion mattered to me, so I held back my anger and made myself be pleasant to him.

We stood there for a long moment, his hand on top of mine, and then I said, “Well, I guess I’d better go see Hyde.”  He said something, I don’t remember what, and I picked up my bag, turned around and walked out of the room.

Hyde was in the infirmary, and his nurse was with him; they were talking when I entered, but they stopped quickly.  Probably something I had no business knowing… maybe something about Ascent.  I frowned, then made an effort to smooth my face.

“Mystery Woman, hello,” he said.  “How are you feeling?”

“Perfect,” I replied.  “I just don’t have my powers.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  Are you still regenerating?”

“Yeah,” I said.  He motioned toward an examining table, and sat down where he was indicating.

He picked up a scalpel from a tray of surgical tools, held out his other hand and said, “May I?”

“Sure,” I said.  I slipped off my glove, then held out my hand and he cut across the heel of my thumb in one easy motion.  Blood welled up, and he wiped it away with a gauze pad; the wound was already closed, leaving a thin white line that slowly faded.

“Amazing.  Did it hurt?”

“Yeah, but it’s no big deal,” I replied.  “I got cut up by murkenegra last week.  Murkenegras?  Whatever.  Anyway, that hurts a lot.  A little cut with a scalpel just doesn’t compare.”

“I see,” he said.  “How are you feeling otherwise?”

“Fine,” I replied, not really knowing what he was getting at.

He turned around and went over to a cabinet.  “Nurse, have you seen the Decker reflex analyzer?”

“No, Doctor,” she replied.  “Did you leave it in Thunder’s quarters this morning?”

“Perhaps,” he replied.  “Be a dear and get it for me, would you?”

As soon as she left the room, he walked quickly over to me with a syringe in his hand.  “Polly, I’d like your permission to take a blood sample for analysis.”

“Why?” I asked, a little surprised he had used my real name.

“I don’t have time right now to explain.  I have to ask you to trust me… I know you don’t, but remember, I did save your friend.  I promise, if we can arrange to meet somewhere else, I’ll tell you everything, but I need to take the sample here.”

I held out my arm, and he drew a little blood.  He practically ran across the room to one of the many strange pieces of medical equipment that had accumulated in the infirmary over the last several months.  He put my blood into a sample vial and tucked it into the machine, then pushed a few buttons.  Finally, he dropped the syringe in the disposal box and ran back over to me.

The nurse came in just then.  “Here it is, Doctor.”

“Thank you,” he said, pretending to be examining my eyes.  He was wearing those goggles, the weird ones with all the extra lenses, and it was a little like being examined by a spider.  Creepy.  He lifted up the goggles, took the hand-held scanner thing from her and pointed it at me.  He picked up a reflex hammer and tested my reflexes, but he was looking at the scanner rather than my response.  I wondered what the little box saw that he couldn’t see with his own eyes.

But then, I knew it was a ruse.  He had obviously left the scanner thingie in Thunder’s quarters so that he could get the nurse out of the room and talk to me alone.  I would be visiting him soon, out of costume, that much was certain… he was up to something and I was involved, and I needed to know what it was all about.