A section of rollercoaster track exploded into twisted metal and wooden splinters. The computer immediately detected a section of track out, and activated the emergency brake. Even so, the lead car stopped with its front wheels just inches from doom.
“What was that?!” Terri’s seatmate screamed.
“Looked like one of Psiwatt’s drones,” she yelled back, fighting to be heard over the panic.
As if on cue, the section of track immediately behind them exploded in like fashion, triggering more screams. The people in the back car clutched their heads, having been hit by the debris. The cars were now isolated, with no good path for human rescuers to reach them . And Psiwatt was back after months of seclusion.
Not that Terri was worried. She had long since learned to filter her fear into her senses, so she could write great on-the-spot pieces for the Galaxy. She was an ace reporter, after all. And Captain Defender would be along soon enough to save her, as he always was, as he always did.
A roar of rocketboots to her right, and Psiwatt hovered into view. More screaming now, Terri thought dismally. The crowd didn’t disappoint her.
“Behold, Miss Terri Tate!” Psiwatt jabbed a finger at her. “Prepare to meet your fate.”
“Psiwatt,” she sighed, “do you always have to rhyme?”
Red-gloved hands suddenly appeared around Psiwatt’s neck, and tossed him away. Terri started to smile — and then she froze. It wasn’t Captain Defender in his familiar red and blue. The uniform was red, purple, and green, and its wearer was female.
She smiled oddly at Terri, then slithered down the JokeRope.
“Psiwatt!” Jape shouted. “Leave her alone!”
Terri just had time to wonder why Jape was doing something good for once. Then Psiwatt grinned, as much as his metal face ever could, and waved forward five of his seemingly infinite Cyberlegion. They raised their PulsArms and fired.
Jape dodged their attack and threw a handful of Rose Petals back at the droids. Three of them were hit. The Petals ate through their shell in seconds, and the droids drooped.
Psiwatt, who had been hanging back, dashed forward. “Why have you intervened? And those droids cost millions, fiend!”
“So bill me, you metallic moron.” And the other two droids were immobilized quickly, one by a Whoopi and the other by a Bananafana.
Terri couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Care to step up yourself, Psiwatt?” And Jape preened.
“I’m afraid I do not deign,” said Psiwatt, backing up. “But I’ll be–”
“Back again, we know, we know,” Jape sneered. “Find a newer rhyme. You use that all the time.”
Psiwatt growled metallically…but left.
Jape ran over to the base of the coaster, and pulled the JokeRope out of nowhere. It immediately straightened up directly into the air. She climbed to the very top and waved at the passengers to climb on. No one moved. Jape glared. “Do you not know help when you see it? Anyone not on the ground in five minutes is welcome to stay here until the fire department arrives.”
Then everyone moved.
Terri was one of the last off. She walked directly over to Jape. “First time I’ve ever been saved by a supervillain before.”
“Yes, well. First time for everything.” Jape folded her arms and shifted her feet.
Terri asked the obvious question. “Why?”
Jape looked down. “Because a long time ago, I made a promise to your mother.” She looked up, mouth tight and thin. “But don’t expect it every time.” She walked over, yanked once on the JokeRope, tucked it away, and then ran into the night.
Terri gazed after her, dumbfounded. Could it be…?
A sonic boom overhead, a roar of approval from the crowd. Captain Defender had arrived. No sooner had Terri thought that she would be the first person he sought out did his hand close on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Terri? Who do I need to save? Who do I need to fight?”
“Well, nobody actually,” Terri replied. “Mistress Jape took care of it before you got here.”
“Mistress…” And even Captain Defender was at a loss for words. “She helped? People?”
Terri nodded. “She said she was protecting me.”
“Well,” Captain Defender said with a note of uncertainty in his voice. “Good for her. I suppose that doesn’t leave a lot for me to do here.”
Terri shook her head, turned away.
“Anyway, as long as I’m here, I suppose I could clean up these droids and help repair the rollercoaster. Unless,” and there was the hand again, “there’s anything I can do for you?”
Terri didn’t respond for a few seconds, and then the hand was gone. She turned around to reassure Captain Defender that there was always something he could do. But he was already headed for the nearest of the droids, waving half-heartedly at the crowds.
Jape chuckled softly to herself as she opened the door to the Harlecave. The best joke she’d ever played. She would have to thank Psiwatt for sacrificing so much on her behalf.
Terri was a born reporter, Jape knew. She would search through her mother’s old journals and find that Jape’s story was plausible. That once, long before Jasmine Abrams had fallen into an odd mixture of clown makeup and cirillic acid and been reborn a villainess, she had been friends with a young woman named Linda Tate. Best friends, actually.
Everyone would wonder whether the feared Mistress Jape was reforming, whether at least one citizen was safe from her wrath. And this was just the beginning.
Next week, Dollboy would kidnap Terri and “try” to turn her into a mannequin. Two days later, The Outlaw would hold the Galaxy Building hostage. Intolera was still finishing her scheme, but she promised it would be devastating. There were half a dozen more lined up as well. Even Psiwatt would probably be willing to come back for another round with his Cyberlegion. And every single time, Jape would rescue Terri.
Before Captain Defender arrived.
“That’s his weakness,” Jape chuckled to herself. “He has to help.” If he didn’t help, he would feel useless. And if someone began to usurp his role of protecting the one mortal dearest to him, that feeling would only magnify. A few months of this, and Jape thought he would be almost completely dispirited. That would be the perfect time for N.A.S.T.Y. to strike.
And the beauty of it was, Jape reflected as she slipped out of her costume, she actually had made Linda a promise once to protect Terri. That should be the tipoff she was up to no good. Every comedian knew that the best jokes were based in truth.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.