Ms. Victory was among the most powerful beings on the planet, possessing paranormal strength and invulnerability on an epic scale. No bullet ever pierced her skin; no knife ever cut her flesh. Behind the mask, though, she was still Jennifer Wayne Burke, a woman, like everyone else, with a heart, like everyone else, and with feelings, like everyone else.
Ms. Victory tossed and turned all night, restless in her bed as she awoke breathing heavily with a cold sweat again and again. It was 3 AM, and nothing worked. Warm milk, sleeping pills, and soothing music did nothing for her as she restlessly lay in bed, tossing and turning. Ms. Victory’s heart raced, as she wanted to scream but cried on her pillow.
It was a little after 5 AM when Ms. Victory finally got out of bed, barely sleeping more than fifteen continuous minutes at a time the night before, evident in her visibly bloodshot eyes. This was the day she dreaded more than anything other in the world, and was already sick to her stomach before the sunrise.
It was her son Jason’s birthday.
It was a little over a year since he died that fateful day. At the time her own mother, Joan Wayne, was corrupted into being the villainess Rad, with Jennifer leading the FemForce to restore her back to her true form. In the ensuing battle a stray piece of rubble fell, killing the young Jason Burke. It was a tragedy that wasn’t her fault, but was something that still haunted Jennifer Wayne Burke.
Jennifer took a long, hard look at the arrangement of photos she had framed on her wall as the first morning’s light trickled inside and shone on the display. Her son Jason was a good kid who always tried to give more than he took, and had more dreams than stars in the evening sky. Jason was everything Jennifer wanted in a son, the embodiment of her love, hope, and faith. It all came to a halt on that tragic day.
Jennifer still missed his smile in the morning. Whether he was two or nine, Jason always awoke with a smile on his face, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Regardless of how rough a time Jennifer had at work the day before, seeing Jason shining smile revitalized her. There was something special about him that made people around him want to become better, a unique trait that made its way to his little league team, going from 2 wins and 10 losses to 9 and 3 and in the championship game the following season. Jennifer remembered that game and more importantly, what happened afterwards. She remembered walking back with him to the car; he was covered in dust and was feeling down in the dumps after losing 4 to 3 in the final inning of play. Even though he went 3 for 3 that day and made a spectacular catch to prevent a run from scoring, Jason was still down since the team lost but didn’t blame anyone at all or make excuses like some of his teammates did; Jennifer was never more proud of him than that moment.
It really didn’t seem all that long ago he was still in diapers, or when she was chasing him as a toddler around the house for bath time, or his championship little league game. Jennifer missed those simpler days, and wished she could have them again, if only to remind her of how special those times were.
But wishes weren’t reality, as Jennifer reflected somberly as she showered and then changed into a simple long sleeve blouse and jeans. Breakfast was quick, some toast and orange juice as she headed out the door, barely saying a word to fellow members She-Cat and Stardust as she passed them abruptly in the main entranceway.
“What’s gotten into her?” blurted out She-Cat. “Does she have a stick up her…oh, wait…”
“I know. I had almost forgotten, too,” commented Stardust. “We threw a surprise party for him in this same building two years ago.”
It took Ms. Victory a little over an hour to reach the cemetery where her son was buried. Ms. Victory parked her car and walked to his well kept gravesite, placing a birthday card, a small U.S. flag, and a happy birthday balloon around his grave.
“Hello, Jason,” said Ms. Victory quietly. “Happy Birthday.”
Ms. Victory wiped away her tears and took a deep breath. “Your cousin Bobby’s due to rotate back home from Enduring Freedom soon…not sure where the Army’ll send him next. Hurry up and wait some more, I suppose. Your cousin Samantha is halfway through freshman year in high school, and will make honor roll. Not much else has happened in the family since I was last here.”
She thought back to Jason seeing his cousin Bobby after he finished Army basic and advanced individual training, decked out in his formal green Class A uniform. Bobby was a brand new Private First Class with a shiny Expert marksmanship badge and the Army Service Ribbon on his chest, and remembered how Jason looked up to him and wanted to be like him rather than some conceited professional baseball player on television.
“I miss you, Jason,” said Ms. Victory. “I miss your smile. I miss your imagination. I miss having you there to cheer me up. Your father and I loved you so much…I’ve never been the same without you.”
“Are you expecting him to say something?” said a voice.
“WHO SAID THAT?” exclaimed Ms. Victory as she immediately sprang to her feet, seeing nothing around at first.
“ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!” asserted Ms. Victory.
“Just an old friend to say hello,” said Alizarin Crimson, emerging from behind a small stone monument. “Nice to see you again with your little boy pushing up the daisies.”
“HIS NAME WAS JASON!!!!!” roared Ms. Victory as she delivered a devastating punch that hit Alizarin so quickly that she couldn’t raise a force field in time, sending her flying across the cemetery as she slammed hard onto the ground.
“My, my…aren’t we a little miffed this morning,” teased Alizarin as she dusted herself off and activated her magical force field. Ms. Victory pressed her attack, delivering another two punches that were absorbed by the field.
“Are you going to cry now, Ms. Victory? Are you?” mocked Alizarin as she fired a magic blast at Ms. Victory, knocking her to the ground. “You should thank me; in a few moments you’ll be joining your dead little brat.”
“RAAAAAGHHHH!” screamed Ms. Victory as she grabbed a hold of the magical force field, shredding the mystical energy apart with her bare hands. Ms. Victory grabbed Alizarin and piledrivered her into the ground, picked her up again, then slammed her hard on the ground a second time before straddling over her to pin her down. Ms. Victory’s hands reached around Alizarin’s throat, as fear echoed in the bruised and bloodied Alizarin’s eyes.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t shatter your spine,” said Ms. Victory bitterly.
Another magic blast surged out of nowhere and struck Ms. Victory in the back, knocking her off of Alizarin as the evil sorceress Gorgana emerged. Alizarin Crimson was not alone, and had come with backup.
“The Fear Force is back,” cackled Gorgana. “And we’re taking out the FemForce, starting with you.”
“You want some? Come get some,” retorted Ms. Victory as she dodged Gorgana’s magic blast and delivered a well-placed kick, sending her reeling. Alizarin was still too weak to stand, let alone cast a spell as Ms. Victory tracked her down and delivered another hard kick.
“Where’re the rest of you?” replied Ms. Victory bitterly. “You picked the wrong day and the wrong woman to mess with.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Right, Valkyra?” commented Darkfire.
“Ya, Darkfire,” added Valkyra as she slammed into Ms. Victory with a shoulder tackle. Darkfire fired a psionic blast from her helmet at Ms. Victory, striking her down as Valkyra continued pummeling her. Ms. Victory, outnumbered four to one, could only hold up her arms in defense to shield herself from the onslaught.
“POUR IT ON!” yelled Alizarin as she and Gorgana bombarded Ms. Victory with a deadly volley of magic blasts. “WE HAVE HER NOW!”
Seraph by Fed Wong“ENOUGH!!!!” echoed a voice from the sky above. Gorgana, Alizarin Crimson, Valkyra, and Darkfire looked up, seeing what appeared to be a winged warrior in futuristic armor hovering above them.
“Who’s he?” asked Darkfire.
“Who cares, just shoot him up and let God sort the mess out,” replied Alizarin as she blasted him with a spell. Surprisingly, the spell had no effect.
“My turn,” replied the winged warrior as he hurtled a spear of lightning at Alizarin Crimson, shattering her mystical defenses. Darkfire attempted to fire a psionic blast from her helmet, but was struck with a shard of lightning first. Darkfire’s helmet shattered in two, leaving her powerless.
“BAH! I WILL FIX THIS!” roared Valkyra as she leaped into the air and grabbed him, bearhugging him around his waist in an attempt to drag him down on the ground. The winged warrior flew higher and higher into the sky as Valkyra punched his kidneys again and again, but had no visible effect on him.
“I said, enough,” said the winged warrior sternly as he touched Valkyra, searing her with a flame that forced her to let him go. Valkyra fell several dozen feet before impacting on the ground below, knocking herself out.
The severely beaten, bruised, and bloodied Alizarin crawled over to Gorgana. By themselves, they were too weak to summon a spell, but together they had enough strength remaining to create a dimensional portal through which to escape. The winged warrior threw another lightning spear that missed as the four villainesses disappeared.
Ms. Victory got back to her feet and began dusting herself off, as she sustained a few cuts and perhaps some bruised ribs. Her blouse was covered with dirt and grime, and was soaked in sweat.
“Are you all right?” asked the winged warrior.
“Yes, thanks,” responded Ms. Victory. “I’m Jennifer Burke. Who are you?”
“I am Seraph,” said Seraph. “I am sorry that I allowed them to escape, for they will strike again once their regain their power. Do you need medical assistance?”
“No, I’ll be all right,” replied Ms. Victory. “I guess I’m tougher than I thought.”
“Good. I am sure that I will be seeing you soon,” said Seraph cryptically as he took to the air and flew away.
“Wait! I….I…” added Ms. Victory as Seraph disappeared from sight.
* * *
Hours later Ms. Victory had cleaned up, bandaged, and had finished her debriefing with the other FemForce members. It was only a few weeks since they defeated Fear Force and imprisoned their leader, Proxima, but even leaderless they remained a deadly threat.
“I wonder who’s calling the shots with Proxima still locked up in prison,” commented Rayda. “Alizarin Crimson maybe?”
“She’s too individualistic,” said Nightveil, who had fought her on many occasions and knew her powers and tactics inside and out. “Based on what you told us, there was no direction or teamwork in their attack. They all sorted of piled on you.”
“I’ll say,” said Ms. Victory. “I think I was beaten within an inch of my life.”
“Proxima’s ruthless as they come, but she is well educated in the science, and art, of war,” added Stardust. “I never would have guessed she was so vital to that group’s ability to function as a unit.”
“Well, who ELSE do you know is strong enough to stomach Gorgana’s ugly face and be willing to shave Valkyra’s back on a regular basis? Not me, that’s for sure,” replied She-Cat sarcastically.
“Well, hygiene and appearance notwithstanding, I’d like to know a little more about this ‘Seraph’ individual who helped Ms. Victory,” said Colt as she inputted the description Ms. Victory gave into her portable laptop computer. “There’s no record of him whatsoever in any database.”
“A new hero?” said Rayda.
“I don’t know,” said Ms. Victory. “He didn’t maneuver like some rookie, more like a seasoned veteran. He was so calm, and yet so forceful during the fight. I mean, he shrugged off shots from Alizarin Crimson and Valkyra like a gentle rain.”
“Was he cute?” asked She-Cat.
“I didn’t really get a good look at his face, but he did seem familiar in a strange way,” recalled Ms. Victory. “Are you sure he’s not listed anywhere? Somebody that powerful doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Colt checked again and shook her head ‘no’ as she replied, “No, nothing. The other heroes, and even ex-villains I came across, don’t fit the description at all.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” commented Nightveil.
* * *
At a seedy hotel room across town, Fear Force members Alizarin Crimson, Gorgana, Darkfire, and Valkyra were nursing their wounds with plenty of antiseptic spray and bandages. Darkfire was repairing her helmet, soddering the circuitry while also using Krazy glue to re-attach some components.
“What just happened this morning?” cursed Alizarin Crimson, wincing as she sprayed some antiseptic mist onto her scrapped and cut legs. “We had Ms. Victory right where we wanted her, like a babe to the slaughter, and came up empty handed.”
“Ya, we got our butts kicked,” replied Valkyra as she applied another ice pack onto her shoulder, which was her third as an ice pack was already on her knee and another on her lower back.
“It was because of that winged freak,” cackled Gorgana. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“Nor have I,” added Alizarin Crimson. “But we will have our revenge on him soon enough.”
“WILL YOU THREE KEEP IT DOWN!!! I’M TRYING TO WORK, HERE!” yelled Darkfire as she accidentally Krazy glued her fingers together.
* * *
“How you holding up?” asked General Robert Strock.
“Excuse me?” replied Ms. Victory.
“I was asking how’re you holding up,” reiterated General Strock politely.
“Fine, I guess,” answered Ms. Victory.
“Do you have some time? A walk outside, perhaps?” offered General Strock.
“I suppose,” agreed Ms. Victory.
General Strock and Ms. Victory took a leisurely walk outside, with the warm sun and cool breeze blowing by them. The lush, green trees surrounding FemForce Headquarters had an aura of serenity amidst a world of growing instability as the two walked under the shade along the sidewalk.
“It never goes away, does it? The pain. The loss. It’s a like a hole in your chest that can’t be filled,” said General Strock. “I lost some close friends during Desert Storm, and have lost some more as Iraqi Freedom continues. I miss them still, and always think about them when I hear ‘Taps’ being played.”
“So what makes you keep going?” asked Ms. Victory.
“Pride, I think, or maybe arrogance,” described General Strock. “People always argue about not wanting soldiers dying for nothing, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I didn’t follow politics about U.S. policy back then; I just led my men as best I could to keep them alive and strong on the battlefield. We didn’t bleed or lose our friends over oil, or for making the world safe for democracy; my men and I fought and died for each other against an enemy that wanted us dead. I believe that, because I choose to believe that. It’s about faith.”
“Faith…” said Ms. Victory. “I can’t remember the last time I had such a thing. I mean, I believe that Jason’s in heaven, but I just don’t understand why he had to die, or why did I fail him like that. I mean, I’m his mother…I brought him into this world and I couldn’t even protect him. What good am I to anyone?”
“Jen, no one blames you for what happened,” asserted General Strock. “No one. And you shouldn’t blame yourself. You’ve sacrificed more than anyone should endure, and through your strength we became stronger as well.”
“I don’t feel very strong right now,” admitted Ms. Victory quietly.
“I’m attending services at my church tomorrow,” suggested General Strock. “Why don’t you come along? It might bolster your spirits.”
“I’ll pass, thanks,” replied Ms. Victory.
“Suit yourself, but the invitation’s still open,” said General Strock as the two continued walking.
* * *
Three days later an emergency alert resonated in FemForce Headquarters. Ms. Victory called in She-Cat, Nightveil, Stardust, and Colt. Rayda, Tara, and Synn were unavailable, committed to another case outside Florida.
“What’s up?” asked Colt as Ms. Victory powered up the tactical display, presenting a three dimensional computer schematic of a hotel building.
“We’ve received a tip from law enforcement in Tampa that the Fear Force has been hiding out here, in room 202, at this hotel,” explained Ms. Victory. “They’re quietly isolating the area and evacuating the guests using undercover police, leaving them open for us to take them down.”
“Ugh, that dump’s in the armpit of Tampa,” muttered She-Cat. “I’ll bet they feel right at home…”
“She-Cat, I want you on the ground with Colt,” ordered Ms. Victory. “If they make a break for it, intercept their escape route as we converge on them. Nightveil, you and Stardust fly overwatch above the hotel. They’ll be flushed out like roaches and be itching for a fight.”
“And where will you be positioned?” asked Nightveil.
“I’m doing the flushing,” stated Ms. Victory.
* * *
“There, it’s done,” said Darkfire as she finished the last of the repair on her helmet.
“It’s about time,” commented Alizarin. “I’m surprised you didn’t start using duct tape.”
“You have a problem?” threatened Darkfire.
“Yes, I do,” retorted Alizarin. “We’ve been cooped up in this smelly hotel lying low for over three days, eating cheap pizza and Chinese takeout. I want VENGEANCE! I want CONQUEST! I want it NOW!”
“Ya, time for hiding is over. Let us strike the FemForce and crush them like worms,” agreed Valkyra.
“And who put YOU in charge?” blurted out Darkfire. “It was YOUR idea to try to take out Ms. Victory first and got us into this mess to begin with! As for you, Valkyra, you can’t even remember to leave the $%^^%$@ toilet seat down!”
“I agree with Darkfire,” hissed Gorgana.
“Oh, and I suppose we’re supposed to follow an uncharismatic bore like you, Gorgana?” retorted Alizarin. “It’s no wonder she doesn’t want to leave, she’s right at home amidst all this filth! And as for you, Darkfire, I don’t know why we still allow you to remain; without that silly tinker toy on your head you’re about as strong as a used Kleenex!”
“Take that back…” said Darkfire sternly.
“Make me,” threatened Alizarin.
Without warning two gloved hands penetrated up from underneath the floor, grabbing hold of Darkfire’s ankles as they pulled through to the level below.
“HEEEEEEEEEELP!!!” screamed Darkfire as the dust clouds filled the room.
“THE FEMFORCE!” yelled Valkyra as she ripped apart a section of the floor below and jumped down. Standing in front of her was Ms. Victory, holding Darkfire’s helmet while Darkfire was pinned against the wall, wrapped up in extension cords and metal frame of the bed. Ms. Victory compressed her hands, crushing Darkfire’s helmet like a used soda pop can.
“DON’T JUST STAND THERE GAWKING AT HER, YOU IMBECILE!!!” yelled Darkfire. “GET HER!!!”
“BRRRRAAAGH!!” yelled Valkyra as she charged Ms. Victory. Ms. Victory jumped out of the way and delivered a hard back hand punch followed up by a fierce uppercut, stunning Valkyra as she threw her out the window.
“Now, what?” cackled Gorgana.
“We run,” said Alizarin as the two sorceresses scurried out the door and jumped outside to the fire escape. Outside hovering the air before them was Nightveil and Stardust, who greeted them with a blinding volley of magic blasts and star bolts.
“HEY!!! COME BACK HERE!!! HELP ME!!!!” protested Darkfire.
As Nightveil and Stardust rained energy beams over Alizarin Crimson and Gorgana, the battle between Valkyra and Ms. Victory was reaching fever pitch. Valkyra ripped out a lamp post and connected with a wild swing, knocking Ms. Victory into a brick wall. Ms. Victory sprang back and delivered a spinning kick, forcing Valkyra back as she dropped the lamp post.
“It’s over, Valkyra, surrender,” ordered Ms. Victory.
“BAH! YOU AMERICANS TALK TOO MUCH!” bellowed Valkyra as she caught Ms. Victory off guard, tackling her onto the street and began choking her. Ms. Victory coughed and gasped as she kicked Valkyra off, then rolled to the side before returning to her feet.
Ms. Victory picked up a lead pipe as she replied, “C’mon, let’s go.”
“By all means, let’s…” said Valkyra with a grin as she picked up a tire iron.
Strength met strength as Ms. Victory and Valkyra delivered blow after blow against each other. Seconds later they discarded their makeshift weapon, as Ms. Victory slammed a garbage dumpster onto Valkyra. Valkyra lifted it off her body and threw it away, picking up an old car and hurtled it above Ms. Victory, striking the side of a building. The rubble from the dilapidated building and car instantly collapsed onto Ms. Victory, pinning her down as she strained to escape underneath the massive weight.
Valkyra, covered in dirt, blood, and garbage, sauntered over towards the helpless Ms. Victory, and picked up a long piece of twisted metal. Valkyra’s right eye was swollen eye as blood trickled down from her neck and mouth.
“I have waited so long for this moment,” said Valkyra.
“NNNRRRRRR!!!!” yelled Ms. Victory as she strained to push off the massive rubble.
“And now, the death blow…” boasted Valkyra as she raised the metal shard. Lightning then struck the metal, using it as a conductor as the stream of rampant electricity surged throughout Valkyra’s body. Valkyra’s screams echoed throughout the city street as the lightning flashed and swirled around her. As the electrical fury subsided, Valkyra dropped the metal, her face covered in black soot with her golden blonde hair singed down to her roots.
“Gott,” muttered Valkyra as she collapsed on the street unconscious.
Seraph descended from the sky above to the street below, removing the excess rubble as he pulled Ms. Victory free from it.
“S-Seraph…” said Ms. Victory as she slipped unconscious.
Meanwhile, back inside the hotel Darkfire managed to wiggle out of the improvised bonds Ms. Victory put her in earlier and snuck out through another fire escape with a small duffel bag. It was full of the remaining cash the Fear Force had, a little over $2000 in small bills.
“Those backstabbing **!!^@@ losers, leaving me trapped like that,” thought Darkfire as she ran down a dark, unlit alley. “If I can make to the other lot, I can steal a car and slip out from underneath their noses.”
“Ahem,” said a voice. Darkfire turned around and saw She-Cat and Colt standing nearby, with Colt’s machine pistol pointed squarely at her.
“And where do you think you’re going, bub?” asked She-Cat.
Darkfire dropped the bag and held her hands up.
“This isn’t a stickup, is it?” said Darkfire begrudgingly.
Within the few minutes the police moved into the area en masse, while Nightveil, Stardust, Colt, and She-Cat reconsolidated in the general location of where Ms. Victory and Valkyra fought. As the four members of Fear Force were being taken into police custody, the FemForce members searched around with the underlying thought, “Where’s Jen?” .
* * *
Ms. Victory stirred. She remembered seeing Seraph save her again and Valkyra collapsing, but everything after that seemed like a blur to her. Ms. Victory awoke and opened her eyes, finding herself at what looked like a small baseball field. Ms. Victory checked herself out, finding her costume ripped and dirty but oddly enough, she had no wounds and the light injuries she sustained three days earlier were completely gone. She looked around and saw a large bread roll that appeared to be half eaten.
“The bread of life can heal all mortal wounds,” stated Seraph. “You are healed, yes?”
“I…I believe so,” said Ms. Victory awkwardly. “Thank you for saving me, again.”
“You are welcome,” said Seraph formally.
Ms. Victory scanned around, a bit perplexed on her new surroundings.
“Why did you bring me here?” asked Ms. Victory.
“I haven’t been here in a long time, and wanted to see how much of it changed. I told Gabriel and Michael that I used to hit close to .600 here, but they didn’t believe me,” explained Seraph. “I guess it’s because we lost the championship game 4 to 3 at this same place.”
Ms. Victory was speechless. Seraph’s voice, once so formal, had softened, but not to just anyone’s, but to Jason’s.
“You…are you…?” gasped Ms. Victory.
“Yes,” said Seraph. “It’s me, Mom. I’m Jason.”
An aura of light shimmered around him, as Seraph’s once commanding form changed into that of her young son, Jason Burke.
Ms. Victory immediately hugged him as tears rolled down her eyes.
“H-how…?” asked Ms. Victory.
“I can’t explain how it all works, Mom,” said Jason. “So for the sake of time, let’s just call it a miracle.”
“Yes…yes!!!!” said Ms. Victory as she hugged him again. “Jason, I am so sorry for what happened…I am so sorry I failed you…”
“No, Mom, you didn’t. You never, ever failed me,” said Jason as he hugged back. “What happened…it was all part of a bigger plan…it just gets kind of hard to understand at times.”
“Are you staying?” asked Ms. Victory.
“You know I can’t,” said Jason, a little saddened over that reality. “But I’m always with you, Mom, just like you were always with me.”
“Thank you, Jason, I love you,” said Ms. Victory.
“I love you, too, Mom,” replied Jason as the two stood up. Jason again shimmered in an aura of light, transforming back to his warrior form as Seraph.
“So what’d you think of my moves? Pretty neat, huh, Mom?” asked Jason.
“Very impressive, Jason,” said Ms. Victory with a chuckle. “I think you can go ten rounds with Paragon, but I still don’t think you can beat Rayda at video games yet.”
“Well, that’s because she knows all the cheat codes and programs them in to give her guys a million lives,” replied Jason humorously as he briefly looked up to the night sky.
“I need to go, Mom, but I’m glad I had the chance to see you in person one more time,” said Jason as he hugged her one final time. Ms. Victory warmly embraced her son as he shimmered and bathed them in a globe of light before fading away and disappearing.
“I love you too, Jason,” said Ms. Victory. “And thank you.”
* * *
The next morning General Roberta Strock entered her sedan, dressed in a conservative spring dress as she put her Bible near the dashboard as she prepared to depart for church. After allowing the car to warm up for about a minute, General Strock backed out of her parking spot and started to slowly drive past FemForce Headquarters on her way out, and saw Ms. Victory standing along the curbside in a simple, conservative outfit. General Strock pulled up along the curb, and rolled down the car window.
“Room for one more?” asked Ms. Victory.
“Always,” said General Strock. “Hop in.”