In a World of Ordinary Mortals

Copyright © 2015 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

tiaraThis was a setup. You could tell by the way everyone was sniggering.

Well, everyone except Miss Green, our teacher. She just looked embarrassed as she stood there stammering and not quite meeting my eyes.

“So, er, Hunter. Welcome back.”

Again with the sniggers. I dropped my bag on my desk and looked around at my classmates, all of whom seemed to be dressed in superhero costumes of one sort or another. I recognised some of them, but I’d outgrown the whole Marvel DC scene in my early teens. I mean sure I go to the movies when they come out, but that’s different. Some of these were a little obscure to my eyes.

I turned my focus back to the nervously fidgeting Miss Green and waited for her to get to the point. From her manner, I wasn’t going to like it when she did.

“How’s, er, it’s Michael, your brother, isn’t it?”

“He’s doing okay, thanks. The doctors are talking about letting him home at the end of the week.”

Michael is my kid brother. He was diagnosed with Leukaemia a couple of years ago, and has been in and out of hospital since. He’s also the reason why I haven’t been in school for the past few weeks. He needed a bone marrow transplant, and it turned out I was a match.

It bloody hurt when they stuck the needle in; right through my thigh and into the bone. But they’d told me to expect that, and, well it was small potatoes compared to what Mike’s been through. That should have been it. A day or so to make sure everything was okay, and back to school. Apparently there’s always a small chance of infection whenever they stab you that deep, and guess who rolled snake eyes?

That hurt a hell of a lot more and lasted for a nearly week. The doctors dosed me up with antibiotics and pain killers, and while the latter didn’t seem to do much good, the former eventually did. Not a great week though. I have vague memories of hearing my doctor discussing with one of his colleagues whether or not they should consider amputation. That may just have been a drug induced hallucination though; I was pretty out of it.

In any case, they didn’t cut my leg off, for which I’m quite grateful, and a couple of days ago my fever dropped low enough for me to be able to go home. The infection hasn’t cleared up completely you understand, but they seem to think I’ll recover more quickly in familiar surroundings or something. Personally I think it’s because they needed my bed, but then I always did have a cynical streak.

So yesterday they propped me on a pair of crutches and sent me on my way.

And today I decided to see if I could make it through a day at school without them.

Which is how I ended up back in my class, doing my level best to ignore the painful ache in my left leg, and wondering exactly what this bunch of jokers had in mind for me.

School kids can be arseholes at times. Darwinian evolution at its worst. Not only survival of the fittest, but wilful destruction of anyone or anything that shows the least sign of weakness.

I heard of one school where a fourteen year old boy was in hospital for several weeks for quadruple bypass surgery. When he finally made it back, a fair representation of the school’s bullying population descended on him like a flock of vultures, and picked away at him mercilessly until a teacher noticed and intervened. I didn’t hear the end of that story, but I hope he survived.

So anyway, I wasn’t expecting any sympathy just because I’d hurt my leg. I had been hoping they wouldn’t be total tools though.

“Er,” Miss Green started up again, just as uncertain as before. “Er, Hunter. As you’re probably aware, today’s the Lord Mayors parade, and every form group in the school has put together a costume display of their choosing. Your classmates decided on The Justice League for themselves, so as you can see we have Superman and Batman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern is it? And a whole lot of other’s I don’t even pretend to recognise.

“Now since you haven’t been around, you almost certainly won’t have a costume of your own, and since you haven’t been involved, I’m not going to insist that you be a part of this. The thing is, the centrepiece of this display revolves around the original main characters in the Justice League, which involves all the characters I’ve mentioned…”

“And me, miss.”

“Oh, yes. And you are?”

“Martian Manhunter, miss.”

“Yes. Well, that still leaves us with one other main character missing. The, er, the student who was going to dress as this character hasn’t turned up today. I believe the office said something about an illness.” She frowned, constrained by propriety from saying what she really thought, but still unable to entirely hide her feelings on the matter. “I’ve tried suggesting that someone else in the class take the role, but everyone seems too invested in their own costumes to want to switch.

“Besides, er, you do seem to be closest in size.” A wave of snickers swept through the class, like a gust of wind passing through long grass. Miss Green glanced around angrily, glad of the distraction, but with no one individual to hold her focus, that was as far as it went.

This was excruciating; almost as painful as the leg had been at its worst. I’d been running through a mental register of the class anyway, and I could think of only one absentee, our resident mischief maker to boot, and was beginning to suspect where this might be heading.

“Don’t worry about them, Miss Green. Why don’t you just show me what you have in mind?” Why don’t you just get it over with? Somehow I managed to keep my growing frustration under control.

Looking more embarrassed than I’ve ever seen her, Miss Green stooped to pick something up from the floor out of sight. She didn’t even dare look at me as she placed the small pile of clothing on her desk.

Harrison’s moment had arrived. You can tell when it happens with his sort of moron; the smile is so wide you expect the mouth to turn inside out.

“We thought since you’ve had your legs shaved, you’d appreciate having a costume that would show them off.”

The class completely lost control. The laughter was out loud and scornful with everyone joining in. Miss Green resorted to pounding on her desk with a paperweight she keeps there for the purpose.

“Quiet!” she shouted above the din, her voice sharp enough that most of the group fell instantly silent, the few braver ones – for which read more stupid – allowing their laughter to tail off into quite sniggers, and finally to silence under Miss Green’s baleful glare.

“Hunter, you’ll have to excuse me. I allowed myself to be talked into this, but it’s obviously a setup. As far as I’m concerned, this class isn’t going to take part in the Lord Mayor’s procession.”

The class’s mood, so recently bubbling away with hysterical merriment, gave way to groans and moans, as the sudden appearance of consequences brought their mass irresponsibility to an abrupt end.

“No, I’ve made my mind up,” Miss Green continued. “I don’t care how much time and effort you’ve put into your costumes, you can thank Janine and her idiotic boyfriend for orchestrating this stunt. Or yourselves for that matter. If just one of you girls had offered to take Janine’s place…”

“That’s not fair miss. Janine’s so much smaller than any of us, we’d never have fit her costume.”

This from Harriet Glow, who’s approximation of the Black Canary (I only know that one because she turned up on Arrow) owed a lot to wishful thinking, and involved considerably more spandex than any human being should be permitted to wear.

Janine may be about my size, but she’s not particularly small; it’s just that the other girls in our class were larger. Combination, for the most part, of low will-power and easy access to cake.

“I don’t care Harriet, you’ve all taken this too far. I’ve been thinking you could all benefit from a little additional time working on your algebra, and I’m sure none of us will be missed at the parade.”

Hard done by was rapidly turning into a brooding ugliness, and from the looks being directed my way, I was likely to be its target, unless I did something about it. I didn’t much fancy spending the afternoon trying to make x equal y either, so I didn’t need any further persuasion.

“Miss Green, I wonder if I could just try the costume on.”

“You don’t have to Hunter.”

“I know that miss, but you never know, it might be a bit of a laugh.”

I had to act nonchalant here. If I cracked even a hint that maybe this might be something I wanted to do, I’d be washed up. Some acts of social suicide have no come-back.

I picked up the costume and shook it out. It was sort of a cheap, ersatz party costume, but then that was Janine’s style. Red, gold, white and blue like that costume from the seventies TV series, but with a short dress rather than Lynda Carter’s tight shorts. That was just as well as I doubt I would have been able to hide enough of my bulge in those to fool anyone. The top was strapless, but Janine had sewn it onto an old pink leotard, which meant it would look more ridiculous than it originally had, but at least I’d be able to put some stuffing down there for added effect. Instead of boots, there was a pair of red stockings and again a suspender belt sewn into the costume underneath the skirt. For shoes, there was a pair of red pumps with about a four inch heel. Those would be interesting because, although Janine and I were similar in size, I sincerely doubted our feet matched.

I took the whole lot off to a nearby boy’s toilet, and set about changing. The main part of the costume was easy, just step into the top of the leotard, and settle everything into place. The stockings were easy as well. I’ll deny having said so if you try and tell anyone, but I’ve put on more than a few pairs of tights and stockings in my time, as well as skirts and dresses. Kind of a guilty secret of mine, and I mean guilty. I hate that I do it, but I have this need from time to time which I can’t ignore.

Pulling the tights up my recently shaved legs was amazing. I remembered it feeling similar when I was smaller and generally less hairy, but it had been some time since I’d found much pleasure in either the look or the feel of my legs in nylon. The fact that I had smooth legs was thanks to an overenthusiastic student nurse, who’d been asked to prep me for the injection, and a total lack of discouragement from me.

It was only supposed to have been one leg, and then only a small patch where the needle went in. I’m not sure if she was a little OCD and couldn’t stop once she’d started, or if she was genuinely a bit dippy and doing what she thought was right.

In any case, the hosiery felt and looked wonderful. The suspender belt didn’t require a degree to understand, and within minutes I was joined up and worrying a little about what might happen to my meat and two veg in the event of an elastic failure.

I looked at the shoes, but I wasn’t going to try them on until I was wearing the rest of the costume. This included a lasso, made from one of Janine’s old skipping ropes and attached to a thin golden belt, a pair of bracers, which might well have been made from aluminium foil, and a tiara.

The tiara was something else. Not particularly attractive, but oddly realistic. Sort of a half crown, roughly cut form a lustrous metal which didn’t look much like silver or gold, and with a red, star-shaped gem set in the front of it. Compared to the rest of the costume, it looked out of place – oddly real in the presence of the overwhelming fakery of everything else.

I slid my feet into Janine’s shoes. As predicted, they pinched horribly, her feet being at least a size smaller than my own. If I stretched her shoes out of shape, it would be her own fault, but in the meantime, I was going to have to mince around in these things.

I found a mirror and settled the tiara on my head. I wouldn’t need a wig, my hair already being shoulder length. Just not quite the right colour though.

Something felt weird about the tiara. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but once it was on my head, everything seemed more right, like it fit better. Even the shoes didn’t seem to pinch so much.

I picked up the clothes I’d worn into school, and headed back towards the classroom.

“He’s coming. Get ready.”

It was unmistakably Harrison. If I hadn’t recognised his voice, I might still have guessed him from the lack of subtlety.

I opened the door, fully expecting laughter and ridicule. “I’m only doing this to get out of algebra guys.” I had my excuse full and ready. I didn’t need it.

A hush fell over the classroom as I stepped through the doorway, and a looked around at row after row of open-mouthed astonishment. I was about to ask what was the matter when a footfall faltered behind me.

“Hunter?”

I turned to find Miss Green with a double armload of algebra text books. It didn’t seem like she’d been expecting much from me.

“Yes. What do you think? I mean do I look alright?”

“You look… Hunter, where did you get those boots?”

I looked down at my feet. Somehow I wasn’t wearing the pumps any more. In their place was a pair of knee length boots in dark red leather, with gold trim around the top. The stockings weren’t red anymore either. They were a sort of warm golden colour.

“I’m not sure miss. I put the shoes on that you gave me. Look, do we have to do the maths? I kind of like the idea of the parade, and, you know, I don’t think this looks half bad.”

“Er, sure. How’s your leg? There’ll be quite a lot of walking.”

“Actually it feels pretty good. Barely twinges.”

“Well class, it seems you have a reprieve, for which you can thank Hunter. If he wasn’t such a good sport, you’d all be sitting down to an afternoon of quadratic equations.

“Miss, we already did those.”

“Define ‘did’ Mark, because while I ‘did’ already teach them, I remain to be convinced as to whether or not any of you ‘did’ learn them. You know, it’s not too late. We could still stay behind and work on them, because it may just be my hearing, but I don’t think I heard anyone showing their appreciation.”

Just what anyone wants: the begrudging thanks of one’s classmates.

Miss Green led the way, with me following close behind, then a trail of quietly muttering fellow students. They seemed to be talking about me, which I guess was kind of natural since I was a guy dressed in a skimpy girl’s costume, but it wasn’t that they were making fun of me. If anything described their mood it was sort of confused and awe struck.

“Hey Hunter.” Mark, our resident maths genius, currently sporting a Green Lantern costume, and not looking half bad. “Hey, Hunter, what happened to you hair?”

“What do you mean? It’s always like this.”

“I thought it was brown. I mean did you dye it or something?”

Like I’d had time to dye my hair in the ten minutes it had taken me to change.

I reached around the back of my head and grabbed a handful. It seemed thicker and oddly curly, or wavy or something. Usually my hair just hangs kind of limp and straight. It was also longer, down between my shoulder blades. I pulled it to where I could see it, and somehow it was jet black.

“What the f…”

“You know you’re weird man. No guy should look as good as you do in a Wonder Woman costume.”

“Eat custard, dick.”

No? Weakness of the Green Lanterns? The colour yellow? Never mind, he didn’t get it either.

He dropped back with the rest of the class leaving me staring at my hair and wondering what was going on with me. It wasn’t just the hair either. With every step I felt better. Not just my leg hurting less, but fitter, stronger in myself.

The car park at the front of the school was filled with milling young bodies in just about every costume you could imagine. One class from the lower school had painted themselves orange and looked like a bunch of Umpa Lumpa clones. The costumes were amazing, and perfectly matched. Some very well coordinated and hard working parents there I guessed. The cast from Frozen were there, including snowman and reindeer fighting over a carrot. There was a Shakespearian cast – not so difficult to arrange given the drama department’s props and costumes – a bunch of geeky inventor types, a group of woodland animals from another younger group, making good use of the recent trend in animal onesies. I could go on, but it would get boring – more boring than it’s already been I mean.

“Hey guys, you look amazing!” Kirsty Allen bounded over to us, resplendent in a bunny girl costume. I wondered which teacher was going to end up with a reprimand for allowing that one through.

“Hey, who’s your Wonder Woman, she looks amazing.”

“Hey Kirsty.”

“Hey, Hunter? O…M…G… You look,” wait for it, “Amazing!!” Not known for her vocabulary, our Kirsty, but with her other assets, it’s generally agreed that she won’t really need one. “Hey, what’s with your boobs?”

“It’s just a pair of socks. I had to improvise a little. I know they don’t look very good.”

“No, they’re amazing. Just a little lumpy. Do you mind?”

It’s as well I didn’t because she went ahead and plunged her hand down the front of my dress, rummaging about one side, then the other before pulling out my woolly foot warmers. The feeling of having her cold hand down my chest felt surprisingly good; breath-taking almost. As a result I didn’t react to her intentions until she’d re-emerged with her prizes.

“Hey, I need those.”

“I don’t think you do, girl. I mean, you know I could actually believe those things were real, especially in that costume. I mean talk about amazing!”

I looked down at my front, and found myself facing a sizeable cleavage. I mean just what was going on here? Last time I’d looked down there had been a pink leotard with a couple of smallish sock shaped lumps. This lot was definitely skin, and definitely larger than your average pair.

I did what anyone would have done under the circumstances; I grabbed a double handful, letting out a gasp at the response of my own body. I mean these things shouldn’t even be there, let alone feel like that.

“Hey, can I have a go?” Harrison’s lecherous grin advanced from behind two outstretched hands.

I reacted without thinking. Honestly, I’m usually not a violent person, but the sense of violation a touch like that would have brought was too much. I snapped out a left fist, directly between his own advancing hands, and caught him on the side of the chin.

It hurt. I mean of course it hurt. You hit someone on the chin with your bare fist, you’ll be lucky not to break your fingers. The thing is it didn’t hurt that much, or if it did, I didn’t feel the pain as much as I’d expected.

The same can’t be said for Harrison though as he literally flew off his feet, landing on his backside five yards away.

“What do you think gives you the right?” I asked him, planting my fists on my hips, and staring down at him – Superman with a bloody nose.

There was a smattering of applause, and I looked around to find every girl nearby clapping her hands.

“Hey, I only wanted to feel how real they were.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You let Bunny Girl.”

“She didn’t give me much of a choice, besides it’s different with her; she’s a…”

“Another woman? Man you are one sick pervert.”

That was what I had been going to say. The bit about another woman, not the sick pervert bit. I wasn’t a woman though. At least, no I wasn’t was I? I’d have thought that having the chance to wander around in public dressed as a girl would have brought about a potentially embarrassing reaction by now. If not that, then having Kirsty groping about in my bra, or even me fondling my own boobs, but there was nothing from down below. Or at least that wasn’t entirely true, I felt this warm, soft velvety glow spreading through my middle.

What was happening to me?

The costume had changed as well. Not only was the leotard gone, but the dress was different too. The colours were more subdued and the material different; gone were the lurid primary reds and blues, instead the fabric was heavier, darker, more practical somehow, at least as superhero costumes go it was.

The bracers were different as well. No longer cheap aluminium foil, these were thicker and considerably heavier. They’d added to the momentum behind my punch, I knew that, and as I tapped them together now, I could feel their strength.

This couldn’t be happening. I was changing, the costume was changing. What was causing it?

The tiara! The only thing that had seemed out of place. I whipped it off my head and looked at it. The star in it was glowing. On impulse I threw it away, as hard as I could. It headed up and away in an almost straight line. Now all I had to do was figure out what the full damage was.

Some sixth sense triggered and I spun towards a gently increasing whirring sound in time to catch the tiara as it spun back towards me. It was probably just as well. If this thing had done this to me, then it was hardly the most responsible thing in the world to throw it away for someone else to find.

I turned to Harrison, now back on his feet.

“Where did you get this?”

“What makes you think it was me? It’s Janine’s costume after all.”

Vague memories were firing off in my brain. Wonder Woman’s tiara could be used as a sort of boomerang weapon. Hardly difficult to work out at this stage, but the memory was there. There was other stuff too, to do with the bracers and that stupid loop of rope.

Which was now golden and glowing gently. What did they call this thing? The Golden Lasso. What a dorky name, but a quote from a film or TV show I’d watched some time ago filtered across my memory.

“This is the Golden Lasso. Besides being made from an indestructible material, it also carries with it the power to compel people to tell the truth. Use it well, and with compassion.”

I wasn’t sure about compassion, but it could do with a test drive. I unhooked it from my belt and with a deft flick that was nine parts instinct I didn’t know I had, I tossed a loop of it around Harrison.

“Where did you get this?”

“We found it in a flea market about a week ago. It’s what gave us the idea for the Justice League theme, and rigging it so you’d end up as Wonder Woman.” His eyes were wide with panic as he realised how little control he had over his mouth.

“Why me?”

“Why not? You’re just an easy target.”

“Did you know it was going to do this to me?”

“No, I swear. It was just part of the costume.”

Half a dozen questions presented themselves, the answers to which would be delightfully embarrassing to this dribbly turd, but something about those words seemed to speak to me. Use it well, and with compassion. This had been a prank as far as he was concerned, and who would have believed that something like his could actually happen.

Besides, whatever the motivation, wasn’t he actually giving me something I’d wanted all along?

I freed him from the loop and coiled the lanyard up again, replacing it on its hook on my belt.

Freaky though this was, I did actually want it. I settled the tiara back on my head. For better or for worse, I actually wanted to see this through.

“Hey, look at the pervert, he actually wants this.” Now that he’d been released from my control, Harrison fell right back into his usual obnoxious habits.

“You know, I think I actually do. I mean given the choice, wouldn’t you prefer the idea to being female to being like you?” I was taking a chance here. If this was anything other than a complete and permanent change, I wouldn’t be able to go back to my old life.

“Okay kids, let’s line up,” Miss Green had missed my most recent exchanges with Kirsty and Harrison. She was giving me odd looks, but maybe the older you get the more adept you become at denying the impossible, even when it happens right in front of you. “Let’s have the main characters at the front, shall we? Okay, that’s you Harrison – are you alright? What happened to your nose?”

“It’s alright miss, I just tripped.” He wiped what blood there was away with the back of his hand.

“Right, Michael, Peter, Darren, Kyle, Warren, and of course Hunter. Hunter, I can’t believe how good you look in that costume. I think we’re going to have you in the centre at the front. You’re leg still okay?”

How could she not see it? I took my place in the lead, with the others forming either side of me in a sort of arrow formation. The rest formed a second V shape behind us. For the most part, they looked a little pathetic. Underdeveloped wannabes wearing cheap costumes. Most of the girls in our group were giving me sullen and unfriendly looks, but then I was rapidly becoming more attractive than them. Harriet, our black canary looked more like a black turkey, complete with wattle, Shannon, as Hawkgirl, was tucking into a mid-morning doughnut and more or less ensuring that she was going to remain as earthbound as the canary. Chantelle as Zatanna was also overflowing her costume in all the wrong places. It was kind of a female magician’s version of Kirsty’s bunny girl costume, but made for someone half Chantelle’s size. Looking at them, I had to wonder why I had worried about looking like a prat.

The only girl in our class who might have squeezed into the Wonder Woman costume was Madison. As Vixen she looked pretty stunning in a golden spandex catsuit. All sass and attitude, she was probably a little too tall to fit into what I was wearing, besides, Wonder Woman was a white person, and what did she want with that?

The guys looked okay for the most part, although there were a few nerdy beanpole types. The only one who seemed to fit his costume was Wayne who, at six foot three and skinny as a rake, made a quite convincing Elongated Man.

I continued to change. I could feel it. Only subtle things now, but my skin hair was smooth and hairless, my waist pinched and wasp-like, my hips broad. Fortunately my breasts had stopped growing. They seemed more than adequate from my vantage, and were causing more stiffies than my class mates would care to admit to, but then their cheap costumes didn’t do much to hide what was underneath.

I wanted to check my own anatomy in that regard, but it would hardly be seemly to stick a hand under my skirt, especially with the number of people who were looking at me now. I changed my stance, bringing my legs together, and certainly I couldn’t feel anything there. That was perhaps the freakiest thing about all this. Part of me was definitely having a hard time coming to terms with losing that bit of me in particular, but there was also a larger part of me, I realised, had been resting dormant in me until now, and she was waking up and taking over.

She’d always been in there. Filling me with some degree of disdain for other men. I realised I’d always hated being one, largely because I had no time for the idiocy most of them showed. Either there were arseholes like Harrison who were so full of themselves they didn’t seem to have the first concept of how to relate to other people, except to expect them to behave like adoring servants, or there were the idiots who let them run the show. It seemed I’d always been on the fringe of being a guy, and now I knew it was through choice. I hadn’t been permitted to shift totally across, but here I was with the opportunity to do so. Maybe there was a bit of guy inside me, in which case let him whimper and cower in the corner. This was the real me, and I was taking control.

I’d been worried about the shoes – now boots – because of their high heels, but as I embraced the changes, I felt a growing poise which allowed me to walk with increasing grace and confidence. Slowly, very slowly, I was accepting that this impossible thing was actually happening to me, and as I allowed the acceptance to wash through me, a joy flowed in behind. I guess I’ve been more than a little sullen recently. In part I know it was worry about my brother, Mike, but there’s also been a lot of feeling myself growing into something I never wanted to be. Now that was all gone, and I couldn’t help but smile.

By the time we reached the City Hall, with its grandstand full of businessmen and dignitaries, it was like I was walking apart from my class mates. They were like children playing dress up, and I was, or at least I felt I was, the real thing. My costume was markedly different from the one I’d put on just a few hours earlier, except for the tiara, and I was as much changed from the lonely kid I had been. It wasn’t ego, but I felt bigger inside; more me. A smile I knew without looking was radiant as the sun spread across my face as I prepared to walk in front of or community leaders.

Every eye was on me as we walked passed. I didn’t mind, in fact I exulted in it, because here was power. Here was my place in the world. Women stared at me enviously or with interest, while men turned my way, slack faced and drooling. If anyone needed proof of the superiority of women here it was. Something I’d heard once floated up from my deep memory. ‘The weaker sex is really the stronger sex, because the weakness of the stronger sex is the weaker sex.’ I didn’t need superhuman strength here, even though I was convinced I now had it.

I needed just one thing more to make this day perfect, because after all, what is a superhero – or heroine – without a villain to fight.

Almost as if on cue, an alarm sounded from down the road. The city’s central bank was about a mile away on the main street. It was closed, as were all other businesses, for the procession, but the local bank robbers apparently had not read that particular memo. Or maybe they had. Maybe that was the problem.

I broke ranks and started to run. I was fast, but a mile is a mile, even at superhuman speed. Acting more on instant than anything, I threw myself bodily forward, and somehow found myself flying just above the ground at rapidly increasing speed until I felt a wall of pressure building in front of me.

I didn’t want to break the sound barrier, I told myself. This was only a bank robbery, and the city wouldn’t be impressed with the bill for all the glass, not to mention the burst eardrums. I eased off on the speed. I was nearly there anyway. Destination in sight, I slowed and settled back onto my feet just as half a dozen masked men came running out with bulging hold-alls and a variety of firearms.

“What the f…”

“Now, now,” I said in my politest voice, now a pleasantly husky contralto. “I was hoping to keep this PG rated.”

“Who the…” I glared a warning at him. “Who do you think you are lady?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m your nemesis.”

“I like my nemisises with holes in,” one of them said, raising an automatic pistol to bear, and squeezing the trigger.

The gun’s retort elongated into a roar as adrenaline pumped into my system and I spun to face my attacker. The bullet was moving so slowly I could have dodged it with ease, but there were other robbers behind me who could have been in the line of fire, and a crowd less than a mile away, and stray bullets had been known to travel that far, even from pistols.

I gauged the angle and brought my right arm up to block, the bracer deflecting the bullet with a flash of sparks. I judged right and the small projectile headed back almost along its original path, striking the pistol in the top of the barrel. The weapon spun satisfyingly out of its owner’s hand.

Time returned to normal.

“Can I suggest no-one else try that? I’m not sure I can maintain that level of accuracy.”

No-one was listening. My most recent assailant had fallen to his knees holding his firing hand with the other. Three of the robbers were running for a nearby car – a BMW or Mercedes I think. I’ve never been that good with cars – and the other two were crouching and firing at me.

Again the rush of adrenaline and again time slowed to a crawl. One of my new attackers was using a shot gun with the barrel cut to a stub. His shot was spreading wide enough that I had no chance of dodging it.

I bunched my knees under me and waited for the first bullet, deflecting it towards the more dangerous shotgun. Then I powered myself upwards with all my strength.

I hadn’t figured on what all my strength was. I was through the sound barrier and halfway up the height of the bank before time started to speed up again. I could see the shock wave moving away, spreading and dissipating as it went. It was a long way down, but I willed myself to slow as I fell, and landed gently amidst the shards of broken windows my leap had just caused. All six of the robbers were on their knees, the closest with hands over bleeding ears, the further three regaining their feet and staggering for their car, windscreen crazed and windows shattered as it was.

“Oops, now look what you made me do.”

I ran for the two who had just attacked me, plucking their weapons from the ground and throwing them out of reach. Next I turned to the three in the car. One had used a foot to kick the near opaque windscreen out of its housing and was frantically trying to start the engine. I ran over and leaped up onto the bonnet.

“Hey guys, leaving so soon? The party’s just getting started.” I reached in a grabbed the steering wheel, tearing it off the column with nonchalant ease. “Would you mind not fighting anymore? We’ve caused enough of a mess here, don’t you think?”

There’s a point beyond which even stupid people will stop fighting. They climbed out of the ruined car with hands raised. I ushered them all together, then used my stretchable golden rope to tie them into one bunch. I figured I’d have a few more seconds before the authorities reached me, and I wanted a few more details.

“So, which of you nice gentlemen is the ringleader?”

A general cacophony of noise followed, the gist of which seemed to indicate that he was still inside. A tingling in my sixth sense had me spinning on the spot, just as the wall of the bank exploded outwards and a metal figure, roughly shaped like a man and standing about twenty feet tall, leapt out onto the street. A canopy in the front opened up to reveal its occupant.

“Well what do we have here?” he asked, smiling down on me with a surprisingly gentle expression.

“I think I already told your minions.”

“Hah! Minions indeed! They’re free agents my dear. More sort of partners in crime, if you’ll allow me the conceit.”

“It seems a little uneven as partnerships go; you in that thing, and them, well, not.”

“Ah, but that is in the nature of partnerships. We join together because we have common goals, but we agree to allow one another autonomy on how we operate. Their preference is a little more conventional than mine.”

“I see that. However they do seem to regard you as the man in charge.”

“That’s their prerogative again. I’ll admit the raid was my idea, my plan, achievable because of my equipment, but we still needed to work together to pull it off.”

“I don’t understand why you’d do this. An intelligent and resourceful individual such as yourself could surely find gainful employment. Why steal?”

“Oh, I tried the employment route. It didn’t take. I worked for a number of corporations here in the city, came up with quite a few innovative ideas. Each time, they took my concepts and used them to make millions, and none of them offered to share their profits with me.”

“So instead you decide simply to take other people’s hard earned wealth?”

“Hah! Don’t make me laugh, please. None of this wealth is hard earned. You want to know who the real criminals are? Why don’t you talk to the mayor, to the chief of police, to the CEOs of all the fine corporations we have scattered around this grand city of ours?

“My colleagues here. The reason they were so keen to join me in this venture is that each of them has fallen victim to the greedy and the power mad. John here had his home repossessed. Andrew and Peter worked for thirty years for the same company – faithfully, diligently – only to be laid off because the company needed to reduce the size of its workforce. Disposable human beings. Phillip, James and William were in business together. The bank foreclosed on them, not because they were late in making payments, but because the bank decided to call in the load early. Part of the loan agreement. The reason? Their company was doing well, turning a profit. It had good resale value, so the bank acquired it, legally but nor morally.”

“You know all of that would be so much easier to believe if they hadn’t shot at me.”

“Ah, but you have to understand that we are all in part the products of our environment. Mistreat people long enough and they will become bitter and resentful; maybe even enough to raise weapons against anyone who seems to be on the side of the oppressors. My dear, you’re on the wrong side.”

“I’m on the side of every man, woman and child who’s prepared to work together for the greater good. I stand against anyone who opposes that, and that includes you at the moment. You have the potential to be of untold value to the people of this city, if only you wouldn’t act so very much in your own self-interests.”

“Then I’m sorry for you. You have a disappointment waiting for you if you side with the establishment. I’ve put in my service, and I will take what I’m owed.”

“Even if you take it from someone who doesn’t owe you anything?”

“That’s not for me to decide. Let your enlightened city leaders decide who should pay for this theft, but don’t be surprised if they choose not to contribute to the loss themselves.”

“I can’t let you go.”

“You could. All it would take would be for you to do nothing.”

“All that’s required for evil to triumph is for good men – and women – to do nothing.”

“Then I suppose we have little else to talk about.”

“I suppose not. I’m sorry.”

“Likewise.”

The canopy came down and the machine took what can only be described as a fighting stance. I settled onto the balls of my feet and prepared myself as best I could. This would be a real test of my newfound strength.

I don’t know quite what I expected. Perhaps for the machine to rush forward and grapple with me, or to try and pound me into the ground. Perhaps I thought my agility and speed would give me an edge. Perhaps he was right and I was naïve. I certainly didn’t expect brackets to open up on either side of the machine and a barrage of missiles to fill the air.

I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to survive the blasts, and I wasn’t ready to find out. I was also aware that my existing prisoners would be killed outright if even one of those missiles landed nearby. I launched myself into the air, willing myself to fly as I had before, and desperately hoping the missiles would follow me. From their erratic flight path, they seemed to be seeking something. I looped around to make sure they had picked up on me, then I headed straight up.

There was no question of outrunning them. I may have been fast, but they were faster. I barely noticed my adversary trudging away in his armoured machine; I was too busy trying to survive. I thought of directing some of the missiles into the surrounding buildings, but I’d glimpsed faces in some of the windows; people who, for whatever reason, had chosen not to go to the procession. I couldn’t risk them either, so my only hope was to get as far away as possible.

I’m not even sure how far that was, or even if it was far enough. It felt like seconds, but it might have been considerably less. When the missiles started to explode, I felt myself tossed around like a leaf in a gale, like flotsam in a turbulent ocean, and ultimately I was falling, even as my consciousness slipped away.

I awoke to the sound of beeping and opened my eyes to find my mother sitting beside my bed.

“Oh hunter, you’re awake! I’ve been so worried. You’ve been unconscious for days.”

“I couldn’t stop him Mum. He fired missiles at me. I had to get away so they wouldn’t hurt anyone else.”

“Missiles? What are you talking about?”

“Why I’m here. Why I’m in hospital. Mum it was amazing, I changed. Miss Green had a costume for me for the procession, but the tiara was magical or something. It turned me into something wonderful. But I wasn’t quick enough. Did everyone survive? I tried to get away from the city so the explosions wouldn’t’ hurt anyone else, but I don’t know if I was fast enough.”

“Hunter, you’ve been here all along.”

“But my injuries. Why do I hurt so much?”

“The infection, sweetheart. The doctors were so worried. I’m sorry darling, but they had to operate.”

Cold fear spread through me, and fuelled by panic, I managed to sit up in bed, to reach down to my legs. They were both there, but the exertion had its consequences. Every muscle in my body seemed to be burning, and my head hurt so much I thought it would explode. It would have been a mercy f it had.

Mum caught hold of me and lay me back down.

“You shouldn’t move dear. The infection spread pretty much everywhere. You’re going to ache for a few days the doctors say, but they managed to save your leg. What they couldn’t save. What was worst affected though. I’m not sure I can say it Hunter. I’m so sorry, that had to remove your… your… your man bits. I’m so sorry dear.

“They say it was because when they injected you to take your bone marrow, it was so close to the top of the leg. The infection spread into your, er, your groin. The leg survived, but not your… I’m so sorry.”

I reached out a hand to take hers. She was crying, but I wasn’t. Maybe this was for the best. No superpowers maybe, but at least I might have something I’d always wanted.

“Mum, it’s okay. There’s something I think I need to tell you anyway.”

Recovery has taken months. The infection really took its toll, and I lost a lot of weight through it. That was okay though, I didn’t particularly want all that muscle anyway.

The chat with Mum ended up turning into a chat with the doctors who’d saved my life, if not my manhood, and that in turn led to some lengthy discussions with various shrinks. It was an unusual circumstance, but since I had no gonads to dose me up with testosterone, I needed some form of hormone supplement. I managed to persuade them that I’d be better off with oestrogen, which meant that along with the recovery, I started to change. No wahuge melons, but I do have breasts of my own now, and I’m happy enough with their modest size.

The hormones have had other effects as well. My face has softened into a pleasing shape. It’s still me, but decidedly feminine, and I don’t grow body hair anymore. I was only beginning to sprout on my face, and that stopped along with hairy arms and legs.

Michael’s been in to see me a few times recently. His own treatment worked and he’s now officially in remission from the leukaemia. He thinks I’m nuts for doing this, but he’s cool with it anyway. I think he kind of likes having a sister. Either way, going through a whole messed up experience like this has done wonders to knit our family together.

I’ve even had visits from some of the people in my class. A lot of them were kind of freaked out by the changes, but one in particular has become a close friend. Janine stops by twice a week with school work and we go through it all together, so I’m not falling behind. She wants to be a teacher eventually, and I think she’ll make a really great one. Who’d a thunk that the person my freaked out brain cast in the roll of class bitch queen would end up being my closest friend?

It’s as well she’s helping me keep on top of my work though, because I’ve aspirations now. I want to be a lawyer, or failing that, a journalist. I know, they sound worlds apart, but they have something in common. I may never be able to kick anyone’s ass the way I could in my hallucination, but there are other ways of fighting corruption, and I’m determined to do my bit to make sure the high end businessmen and politicians don’t get too greedy.

I go by Diana now. Not because it was the name of Wonder Woman’s alter ego, though that did give me the idea. Diana was the Roman Goddess of the hunt, so it kind of fits with both my old name and my new vocation.