‘You will become…an A-list superhero!’ Ralphie said to 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 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 and shoved her Game Boy back in her pocket.
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 costume hoodie stood biting her nails.
Upon seeing her, Kazé snapped her hands behind her back and smiled. ‘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 before I lose my nerve!’
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 power 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 glasses came into being on her nose, and full size wireless headphones materialised over her head, one backwards-slanting antenna extending out of each earpad. An oversized green T-shirt then took shape atop the power armour, the chest displaying her symbol: a white video game controller with green buttons and analog sticks. Finally, layers of solid neon green light enveloped her joints with a low humming sound.
She lifted her arms. She could feel the 1000 pound weight of her mechanical exoskeleton as it moved in tandem with her limbs. Heat tickled her skin as the layers of superdense hard light expanded and contracted around her joints. A semi-transparent heads-up display blinked to life on the surface of her glasses: crosshairs, a mini map, and even the time of day popping up in luminescent green. Her antenna picked up a chorus of police radio chatter before the headphones shifted to their default siren detection frequency. Ralphie smiled to herself. She felt good; she felt powerful.
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, and the triple fan blade symbol engraved on the upper left of her breastplate gleamed in the sunlight. ‘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. Golden Boy and Best Girl 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. Even with her power armour on, she was still self-conscious. ‘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 in unison, pointing forward, ‘the Girl Scouts!’
Everyone in the street had stopped to watch them; even the cars had come to a standstill. Ralphie felt her throat go dry. A moment of silence passed. Then the people and the cars 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 dress can work so well on top of power armour.’
Confused, Ralphie looked down at her costume…and moaned. She had stretched and recoloured the default new player T-shirt in the Second Life clothing creator to try and make it resemble Link’s iconic green tunic from The Legend of Zelda; now that she was seeing at it in the harsh light of the real world, however, it was clear that what she had created was a mini dress. 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 looking for trouble for 30 minutes now. Her bum hurt.
According to Kazé, the four-road intersection before them was so infamous for its uncanny magnetism to hazardous forces that it had been dubbed the Danger Zone by local residents. Whether it was a supervillain, a natural disaster, or a simple car crash, something was always going wrong here. Except today. Today, the place was being boring just to spite her. The morning commuters power walked from pavement to pavement, the seagulls squealed overhead, the digital billboards above the shop-top apartments 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.’
Ralphie was about to climb down and get herself a can of Super Cola from one of the roadside stalls when something exploded out of the manhole at the centre of the intersection. The blur rose high in the air before coming down with an impact that cracked concrete. It was a canine—a big one, larger even than the SUV beside it (which it immediately urinated on). With its pointy ears, lean physique, and thin, curled tail, it kind of resembled the stray pariah dogs Ralphie sometimes caught eating the rubbish in her bin bags, 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 she realised they weren’t made of hair at all—the monster was coated in fangs. The Canine whirled round and round, its all-red eyes wide with alarm as hundreds of people abandoned their vehicles and takeaway espressos to get away from it. It started to whine, then growl, then bark at the fleeing masses. It was far shriller than she would have expected from a beast of its size, and strangely enough, its mouth looked to be completely toothless.
But it was still a monster: inherently dangerous to everything and everyone around it. This was her chance!
She summoned the Wooden Sword from Kingdom Hearts; the crude toy weapon manifested itself 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 exoskeleton absorb the fall.
Kazé was shouting behind her: ‘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 gummy mouth—and then swung her sword into its head. The blow sent the monster crashing into a van with a yelp. Several teeth on its cheek fractured and fell off.
Ralphie gazed at her sword arm, flexed it. ‘I’m…strong. Oh man! Being a superhuman is aweso—‘
The Canine’s tail whipped her off her feet.
Her energy shields activated upon impact, golden electricity sheathing her body as she flew through the air. A hot dog stand broke her fall, crumpled against her titanium alloy chassis. The monster was up and pouncing on her before she could shake the lettuce out of her hair.
A whooshing gust of wind threw it into a double-decker Super City tour bus. Car alarms blared everywhere. Kazé appeared and pulled Ralphie 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!’
The Canine had its head stuck in one of the bus’s lower deck windows and was trying desperately to pull itself free.
‘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 shop-top apartments.
‘Oh yeah.’ Ralphie smiled sheepishly. ‘Sure, no problem.’
Kazé made a face.
The Canine finally wrenched its head loose from the bus (destroying half the framework in the process) and 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 monster, Kazé emitted something between a war 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.