"Good, good... now hold that... and good."
Rick Howell snapped another half-dozen pictures
of the gorgeous blonde NYC Seen had
assigned him to photograph. This girl was a little different than most of the young women he took pictures of for the hip magazine -- Sarah Steiner was not an actress, musician, author, or professional model, though she certainly could have passed for the latter. Sarah Steiner,
soon to be better known to the world as Knock-out, was, of all things, a super-heroine. Well,
a would-be super-heroine. She'd come to New York City to see if she could make it in the big
leagues, and while Rick didn't know much about her metahuman abilities or background, he did know one thing -- she had the look down.
The girl was in phenomenal physical condition. Excellent muscle definition in her legs, shoulders and arms combined with her rounded hips, tiny waist and large, well-formed (Not to mention fake, Howell thought) breasts made the young woman look like she'd just stepped off the pages of a comic book. Her face, as well, was utterly flawless. Almost too flawless. Howell took pictures of a lot of beautiful women, and very few had perfectly straight noses, high cheekbones, full lips, perfect teeth, flowing blonde hair and dazzling blue eyes like this girl did. He found himself thinking she looked a bit like an airbrushed photo; she was almost so pretty she looked plain. It just seemed that there was a certain mystery or magic that was lacking for a girl this gorgeous; part of it may have been her insufferable mother barking orders from behind him.
"Are you getting the skyline? Make sure you get the skyline. These pictures might get picked up nationally, and people need to know where she's based," Lili Steiner commented sharply. "Make sure you get the skyline, Mr. Howell."
Mildly annoyed, Howell paused and turned to face the nattering woman. "I'm getting the skyline, Mrs. Steiner. I've shot from this rooftop before. The skyline is the whole reason we're shooting here."
Lili's brow creased. "Well, good. But don't you think that--"
"Mom!" Sarah interrupted, exasperated. Holding
a slightly awkward pose while the photographer moved in for a close-up,
she continued, "Let Rick do his job. I'm sure these will
look just fine."
Howell finished off a roll of film. "And relax
for a minute," he said, busily rewinding and
reloading his camera. When Sarah did just that, her mother stiffened and stepped over to where she'd plopped down into a folding chair to take five.
"Don't slouch. Shoulders back," the middle-aged
woman reprimanded, reaching out to adjust
the shoulder straps of her daughter's tight, sport-style midriff-baring tank-top. "I've told you
before -- you don't know where and when people will be taking your picture. It certainly won't
always be with your permission, and we do not need unflattering photographs of you floating
around." Her eyes hardened. "I've got enough of those at home, and don't need to see any more after all we've been through. We've all worked too hard for that."
Sarah looked quietly at her mother and bit back
a heated retort. Instead, she straightened her
posture and sighed. Forcing a smile, she said, "Right, mom. Sorry. Won't happen again."
Just as Rick was about to tell Knock-out to resume
her prior position, the sound of a blaring
bank alarm sounded distantly from the street below, twenty-plus stories down. The crackle of
gunfire followed, echoing off the skyscrapers lining the street, and Sarah rushed to the edge of the rooftop to get a look at what was happening. Lili was at her side with surprising speed.
"A bank robbery!" the older woman exclaimed with
excitement. "Sarah, this is your chance!"
Pointing down at the tiny people running out of the bank, her eyes flashed. "Stop those robbers! Jump down there and show them what Knock-out can do!"
Sarah blinked and looked at her mother. "Jump
down there?" she asked, incredulous. "I'll
break both of my legs! I'm tough, but it's not like my bones can't break..."
"You'll be fine," Lili countered. "And besides, you can heal any injury in a matter of hours -- you know what the doctors said."
Sarah backed away from the edge as the gunfire intensified. "Mom, it still hurts! Jeeze, I am not jumping down there!"
Moving in close to her daughter's ear, Lili Steiner
whispered her next words harshly. "You get
down there right now, you ungrateful little bit-" Lili stopped herself and lowered her voice
further while Howell looked on with interest. "Look, If you don't start cooperating, we may as
well go back to Greenvale right now. You want to prove you're more than some stupid, ugly girl from the backwoods of South Carolina, then you get down there and get to work. Now."
Fighting back tears, Sarah bit at her full lower
lip and nodded. Swinging one leg over the low
wall that separated the trio from a dizzying fall, she scanned the street for a good place to land.
"Jesus Christ!" Howell exclaimed. "Get back from there! Are you crazy!" As he rushed forward, however, Lili Steiner intercepted him and seized his arm with a claw-like grip.
"Let her be," the woman warned. "This is who she is. This is who she was meant to be."
Howell looked from mother to daughter, trying to fathom the situation. He wasn't able to squelch a cry when Sarah jumped.
* * * * * *
The long-distance falls Sarah Steiner had experienced
during her metahuman limitation tests were nothing like this. Those falls
were two, four and seven stories -- this was over twenty.
Tears streamed from the girl's eyes, and the wind that whistled in her ears also took her breath away. At first, the ground seemed to remain distant, but after a second or two it raced at her with alarming speed. Tucking in her flailing limbs, Sarah prepared to hit the sidewalk.
A number of nearby pedestrians -- many of whom
had already taken cover because of the
shooting -- saw something streak straight into the ground at sickening speed. The impact caused an explosion of sorts, showering those nearby with dust and debris from the pulverized concrete. When the air cleared, a beautiful woman lay crumpled in the middle of a shallow, human-shaped depression.
As the bank-robbers' car squealed away, a small
crowd gathered beside the downed metahuman. "That had to hurt," someone
in the back commented. Those gathered gasped
collectively when the woman stood up, brushed herself off and shook her head as though to
clear cobwebs. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of her mouth, her shorts were torn, and
she sported a number of painful-looking abrasions, but Knock-out looked truly glorious as she
stood before the amazed onlookers.
Self-consciously checking her ripped shorts to
make sure she wasn't exposing herself, Knock-
out then cleared her throat and sheepishly offered, "Uh... hi everyone. Where are those bank-
A young man of perhaps twenty, slack-jawed from
the young woman's entrance and her stunning appearance, pointed down the
street at a snarl of traffic. "D... d... down there," he
"Thanks," Knock-out returned, turning and taking
off in the direction he'd indicated at a run.
Her long legs pumping furiously, she covered the distance in a handful of seconds. One car
ahead of her was weaving its way dangerously in and out of traffic, side-swiping cars here and
there as its driver fought to break free of the congestion. Gritting her teeth, she tried to ignore
the throbbing pain in her knee -- she had indeed injured herself in the fall, but it wasn't serious, and the adrenaline now coursing through her veins pushed the wound to the back of her mind.
As she approached the car, Knock-out pulled out a pair of heavy brass knuckles and put them on. They weren't actually brass, of course -- they were titanium. But 'titanium knuckles' didn't sound right to Sarah, so she'd always simply referred to them as her brass knuckles.
A forty-foot leap carried the heroine over the
car, but when the driver saw her come down in
front of him, he floored the accelerator. Her costume and super-bound marked her right away
as a costumed crime-fighter of some kind, and while the crook didn't recognize her, he decided he wasn't going to stop and ask her name.
Spinning around to face the car, Knock-out laid
into the vehicle with a crushing right cross just before it slammed into
her legs. The results were spectacular. Knock-out was staggered
a few feet backwards by the impact, but the car -- its front left side completely pulverized by the blow -- spun around in a series of gut-churning 360s until it slammed into a city bus and
screeched to a stop against the curb.
Knock-out straightened her hair as she approached
the smoking vehicle. Glass and broken plastic littered the street, and
the car's horn blared in agony. Pulling the driver's door off its
hinges, she looked in at the car's occupants, who were alive, but dazed and injured. Sirens
blaring in the background told her that emergency vehicles and the authorities were on their
way. Noticing a few camera flashes, Knock-out knew that in just a few moments she'd be
faced with a small army of reporters and their questions. Strangely, the thought of it made the
girl's heart race faster than it had during her pursuit of the criminals. She'd prepared for this
moment extensively, but now that it was here, she was terrified. What if she fumbled over her
words? What if she said something inappropriate? What if one of the bank robbers died
because of her actions? Taking a deep breath, she tried to put such thoughts from her mind and focus on the moment.
Knock-out had arrived in New York City. Her climb to the top had begun.
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