‘You will become…an A-list superhero!’ Ralphie told the skinny little blonde in her bedroom mirror.
She looked dubious.
The bunker exploded in front of the Hero. This was it: the aliens had zapped through all of her cover; now the only thing standing between Earth and extra-terrestrial domination was her and her hover tank. From out of the starless sky, a fresh phalanx of crab monsters, mutant squid, and giant octopi zig-zagged down, bolts of plasma spewing from their mouths. Go time. The Hero propelled her tank sideways, lined up a shot on the nearest xeno, and—
Someone bumped into Ralphie’s shoulder, knocking her back into the real world, back into the crowd of pedestrians shuffling across the high street. It took her half a second to refocus on the Game Boy Colour in her hands, but by that time the aliens had already blasted her hover tank into a cloud of fine particles. Two words typed themselves onto the top of the screen: GAME OVER.
Ralphie looked in all directions for the criminal who had robbed her of a world record-breaking Space Invaders high score, found only chirpy Downtown shoppers and zombie-like office workers, too lost in their own little worlds to care about hers. She took a deep breath, pushed her Game Boy back into the kangaroo pocket of her Legend of Zelda hoodie.
Arcadia’s lightless neon sign came into view over the heads of the crowd. She squeezed her way free of the throng and jogged to the derelict video arcade, where a familiar raven-haired Asian girl in a Captain America jumper stood biting her nails.
Upon seeing her, Kazé snapped her hands behind her back. ‘Hey! Hiya, sweetie! Are you…are you ready?’
Ralphie shook her head, rubbed the dark circles under her eyes. ‘I feel like I’m going to vomit, and piss myself, and shit myself too.’
‘Oh.’ Kazé wrinkled her nose. ‘That’s gross, Ralphie.’
‘Ah, let’s just do this!’
They ran around to the arcade’s back door and shut themselves inside. Then, in the semi-darkness, they stripped down to their underwear.
Ralphie summoned her costume. White, edgeless powered armour appeared on her body from out of thin air, covering everything below her head except her joint areas. In the same instant, a pair of rectangular white glasses came into being on her nose, and full size, white, wireless headphones materialised over her head, one backwards-slanting antenna extending out of each earpad. An oversized light green T-shirt then took shape atop the powered armour, the chest displaying her symbol: a curvy, white video game controller with green buttons and analog sticks. Ralphie hit the image with her palm, and layers of solid, neon green light enveloped her joints with a low humming sound, illuminating the nearby arcade cabinets.
Ahead of her, Kazé slipped on her high tech chainmail, her pale flesh caught in the sunshine coming through a broken high window. After zipping the grey catsuit up to her neck, she then overlaid it with pieces of smooth silver armour on her torso, arms, hands, groin, legs, and feet. Finally, she pressed a miniature fan grill onto the hair bun at the crown of her bob cut.
Kazé turned to face her, causing the triple fan blade symbol engraved on the upper left of her breastplate to gleam. ‘Great! We should totally do my intro routine!’
‘No,’ said Ralphie. ‘I’m not embarrassing myself in front of the entire bloody street.’
‘It won’t be embarrassing; it’ll be cool. The Girl Scouts did one for their debut.’
‘I am not a self-confident twenty-something with the body of a supermodel.’
‘Oh, please please please?’ Kazé clasped Ralphie’s arm. ‘I’ve been dreaming about this for years.’
Ralphie ran her fingers through her long, messy hair, sighed. ‘Fine…let’s go make fools of ourselves.’
Kazé hugged her tight.
They shoved their civilian clothes into their backpacks, wedged the bags behind a Pong cabinet, and pushed the front doors open, startling the passer-byes.
‘Watch out, world!’ they said simultaneously, standing back-to-back with their arms crossed. ‘Here comes!’
‘Gamer Girl!’ said Ralphie as she raised her fists.
‘And Fangirl!’ said Kazé with a thumbs-up.
‘And together we are…,’ they said together, pointing forward, ‘the Giga-Geeks!’
Everyone in the street had stopped to watch them. Ralphie felt her throat go dry. A moment of silence passed. Then the people and the cars exhaled and resumed their motion. Nobody gave Ralphie and Kazé a second glance, so they lowered their arms.
‘Well….’ said Kazé. ‘That was….’
‘A bad start to what I’m sure will be a worse day,’ said Ralphie. ‘I think we arrived a few decades too late to impress anybody.’
‘That’s okay. We’ll amaze them with our superheroics!’ Kazé gave another thumbs-up, her big black eyes sparkling. ‘I know a place that’s sure to need our help!’
‘Whatever….’ Ralphie frowned. ‘I look really silly, don’t I? I knew I shouldn’t have made my costume in Second Life.’
‘Nooo, you look incredible! I’m actually surprised a mini dress can work so well on top of power armour.’
Ralphie moaned. The stupid T-shirt was supposed to look like a Link-esque tunic. A bad start to a worse day….
‘Anything?’ called up Kazé.
‘Nothing,’ said Ralphie, resting her head in her hands. She had been sitting atop of the traffic light for thirty minutes now. Her bum hurt.
The four-road intersection before her, dubbed the Danger Zone for its uncanny magnetism to hazardous forces, was, as it happened, danger-free. The morning commuters power walked from pavement to pavement, the seagulls squealed overhead, the digital billboards on the Neo-Victorian buildings switched slowly through advertisements for the Museum of Supernatural History…and a super soldier careers fair…and the Super Speed Monorail.
Ralphie yawned. ‘Just my luck.’
Kazé pointed at the intersection. ‘Look, Gamer Girl! That old lady needs help crossing the road! Wait, no: she’s good.’
‘Tsk. Teasing cow.’
A blur burst out of the manhole at the centre of the intersection. It rose high in the air before coming down with an impact that cracked concrete. The monster was a canine, and slightly larger than the SUV that it took to urinating on. With its pointy ears, lean physique, and thin, curled tail, it resembled a pariah dog, only its fur looked wrong. The yellowish white hair seemed to be clumped into hundreds of spikes running along its body. When people started shrieking, the spikes went erect, and Ralphie realised they weren’t made of hair at all: the monster was coated in fangs. The Canine growled and barked and whirled on everyone.
Having become sluggish in the warmth of the summer sun, Ralphie shook herself awake. Then she summoned the Wooden Sword from Kingdom Hearts. The toy weapon manifested in her palm, and she clenched hold. Just like that, she was in the zone. ‘Game on.’
She leapt from the traffic light as those below bolted in the opposite direction. Landing on her feet, she felt her powered armour absorb the fall.
Behind her, Kazé shouted: ‘Gamer Girl! What are you doing?!’
‘Saving the day!’ said Ralphie over her shoulder.
The Canine bounded towards her. She ran to meet it, coming within inches of its toothless mouth—and swung her sword into its head. The blow sent the monster crashing into the SUV with a yelp. Several teeth on its cheek fractured and fell away.
Ralphie gazed at her sword arm, flexed it. ‘I’m…strong. Oh man! Being a superhuman is aweso—‘
The Canine tail-whipped her off her feet.
Her energy shields activated upon impact, golden electricity sheathing her body as she flew through the air. A burger stand broke her fall, crumpled against her titanium alloy chassis. The beast was up and pouncing on her before she could shake the lettuce out of her hair.
A whooshing gust of wind threw the monster into a tour bus. Car alarms blared. Kazé appeared and pulled her up; the girl was clutching her electric fan by its pistol-like grip.
‘Are you okay?’ said Kazé. ‘Did I get it? Is it hurt? Oh no, it looks angrier!’
‘Relax,’ said Ralphie. ‘I’m fine. This one’s tough, but it’s still just a big dumb dog. We should be able to defeat it if we work together. I’ll draw its aggro with my video game summons while you keep it off-balance with your Megafan, alright?’
‘O-Okay. Let’s try to keep the fight in the intersection, away from the civilians.’
‘The civilians….’ Kazé gestured to the surrounding space.
There were screaming men, women, and children stuck in human traffic jams on all four roads leading out of the Danger Zone. Many less optimistic civvies were taking shelter in the local shophouses.
‘Oh yeah.’ Ralphie smiled sheepishly. ‘Sure, no problem.’
Kazé made a face.
The Canine let out a piercing howl that ruptured shop windows.
Wincing, Ralphie pressed her headphones to her ears to muffle the sound. ‘What’s it doing?!’
‘It’s calling other monsters!’ said Kazé.
‘To bloody hell with that! Let’s go!’
As they sprinted towards the Canine, Kazé emitted something between a battle cry and a wail.
Video game summons Ralphie uses in this chapter:
Gamer Gear powered armour, headphones, glasses, and T-shirt from Second Life.
The Wooden Sword from Kingdom Hearts.
Energy shields from Halo: Combat Evolved.