“So when do you want to meet my parents?” asked Jessica Wendell as she sat at the table with her husband-to-be. The pair had gotten engaged five days ago and were still informing people. Now they sat in a fine Greek restaurant enjoying some white wine as they discussed the near future as well as what to order for an early dinner.
“I'll be busy for the next couple of weeks since the FBI asked me to help instruct some of their local recruits in hand-to-hand combat,” replied Nathan as he poured his fiancée a glass of wine. “However since you're a superhero it wouldn't surprise me if this actually becomes local news, so we'll probably have to tell them by phone if you want to be the one to tell them. Being popular can make secrets tough, huh?”
“You're telling me,” chuckled Jessica as she took her glass from Nathan. “A toast,” said the heroine, raising her class and Nathan doing so in turn. “Here's to hoping our future is—” The woman known as Lady Justice never had a chance to finish her speech, as at that moment a magic bell was rung and immediately all within earshot were frozen solid, their senses and consciousnesses fading away as they became rigid like statues. Nathan and Jessica were both smiling, their right hands holding their wine glasses up. It looked as if Jessica was trying to make a W with her lips, her mouth stuck in the position. Nearby a waitress had been pouring water for another couple and it had completely filled the glass, the liquid now spilling out onto the tablecloth, not that the patrons noticed. The entire restaurant was silent save for the nearly inaudible rumble of traffic outside and the drip of water.
“Ah, how quaint,” snickered Nighttime as she emerged from her hiding spot near the kitchen. The avatar of the old god Shina-To-Be walked on air, hovering an inch above the ground as her magic bell dangled from her right hand. “You were foolish to think you'd be safe during the night from me, the mistress of darkness!” cackled the villain as she came to Jessica and Nathan. “Now you are facing a happy time in your life, but you will not pay tribute to the forgotten gods, and as such I shall destroy what you hold dear!” In Nighttime's left hand appeared a small cloud of glittering yellow dust. Just as quickly as it had appeared it flew from the villain's palm and landed in Nathan's wine glass, some traces also going up his nostrils. “You are now subject to the curse of avarice!” declared Nighttime. “Well, since you're temporarily unavailable to help the city, I think I'll go spread my message to the doomed people of the city!” With that the magical being departed, leaving the restaurant silent once more, no one having even heard the little speech.
While all this was going on, Judgement Girl and Lockdown were not four blocks away in New Oslo's FBI field office, the agency's heroine going over some files with Lady Justice's sidekick, though the two were not really focusing on the task at hand. They'd spent an hour just talking about the engagement between Nathan and Jessica, and now were on the subject of the Justice Force. “It's good that they're working to link us up with their network,” commented Judgement Girl as she sat on the edge of Lockdown's desk while the agent herself sat in her chair. “So tell me, how was Hyper Man in bed?”
“Vicky!” exclaimed Lockdown, her face red. “I don't kiss and tell!”
“But we're not talking about kissing, we're talking about sex,” replied Victoria. “Besides, you may be the local telepath but I can sense lies, remember? So come on, what was it like?”
“He's one of the fastest men on the planet, and in bed he's no different,” confessed Lockdown, causing both women to chuckle. “Don't get me wrong, it was amazing, but, well, you'd think he'd slow himself down...”
“Jess said it was the same way with Nathan,” Judgement Girl confessed. “These muscle men may be cute, but they've got no stamina. That's why I like Dan.”
“Yeah, a guy who's cute and a nerd, so he appreciates you,” commented Lockdown. “I read your mind after the conjugal visit day. I'm just glad he hasn't got his powers anymore, or I'd be more vocal in how much I disprove.” Shaking her head, Lockdown opened another file. “Okay, so here's a weird one. No one's targeted Robert Oliver's oil shipments since that stint we had a while back with Gorgun before we jailed her. Since he's the third-richest man in town, behind Anderson and Chavez, you'd think more people would be out to get him...” Judgement Girl opened her mouth to reply, her right arm extending outwards to help emphasize what she was going to say while her left stayed crossed over her chest, when a familiar bell rang and immediately both women were frozen on the spot. Nighttime had just immobilized the entire FBI unit stationed in New Oslo.
“Ah, there you two are,” greeted Nighttime as she floated into Lockdown's office, though neither heroine could speak, move or think. “Well then, with you two out of the way as well I'm free to send a message to the people of the city. But where to attack...” The villain floated around the desk, coming between Judgement Girl and Lockdown, eying the folder held in the FBI agent's hands as she faced her frozen companion, her face showing hints of curiosity. “Ah yes, oil,” thought Nighttime, placing her free left hand on the agent's shoulder as she read the file. “Humans value their black gold more than they should, so perhaps stopping a few shipments will get their attention?” Pleased with the idea, Nighttime rose and floated towards the office door. “Thank you for your help!” cackled the avatar of Shina-To-Be as left, leaving the frozen heroines behind.
During the next few hours Nighttime would arrive at the docks controlled by the Typhoon Foundation, the oil company run by Robert Oliver. At the docks the workers quickly found themselves getting sleepy and collapsing as a fog washed over them, it being Nighttime's own fog of one thousand dreams, guaranteed not to have the victims awaken for at least one thousand minutes. Without anyone to receive the ship, the oil tanker that was supposed to dock ended up sitting not far from shore where it weighed anchor. This made the ship isolated and Nighttime then used the same fog as earlier on the ship's crew. It would be some time before the lack of a report on the oil shipment made Robert Oliver even think to contact the authorities.
* * *
“—full of prosperity!” exclaimed Lady Justice, finishing her earlier thought. All at once she, Nathan and everyone else in the restaurant recovered from the effects of the bell, suddenly curious as to how the area had changed in what had appeared to be a single second. While the water that had been spilled earlier had all dried up, it still raised the question to where it had gone. The day had also gotten darker, the sun now lower as it was six o'clock in October. Chefs in the kitchen cried out as they realized their food had become charcoal. Jessica, however, was more concerned as to why Nathan's wine glass was now made of solid gold. “What the?!” she gasped as Nathan looked at his own glass in surprise. The wine itself had also been turned into the glittering yellow-like metal.
“Oh boy...” muttered Nathan, suddenly getting a sinking feeling. As he put his glass down Nathan's hands touched the tablecloth and immediately the white fabric became a solid gold mass unable to flex or bend easily. In confusion Jessica reached out to touch Nathan's glass. “No, don't!” shouted the Silent Dragon, but it was too late. As her right arm had stretched out, her face alive with wonder as her mouth hanged open, Jessica's hand grazed Nathan's own and there was an instant transformation. Faster than a wink of an eye every molecule in the body of Lady Justice as well as her clothes become made up of nothing but atoms of gold, instantly changing the beautiful woman into a beautiful statue of pure gold. “Dammit!” cursed Nathan, glancing around in anger. Unfortunately he was looking for a villain but found none, leaving him to stare at his own hands in disbelief.
“What the hell did you do?!” shouted a waiter, causing everyone in the restaurant to look in Nathan's direction. At this point many screamed and people began to flee, being all to familiar with villains in the city that could turn people into lifeless statues.
“Whoever did this is going to get one hell of an ass-kicking,” muttered Nathan, his hands clenching into fists. “Okay Nathan, think. You've got some sort of golden touch, making you a real world version of King Midas. You know Elsa and Claire can help, but you'll need to bring Jessica along otherwise some creep might try to sell her. You also can't take your car because it'll just became priceless if you touch it, so you'll have to walk.” Unfortunately Elsa's lab was around an hour away on foot. Sighing again, Nathan gently picked up the statue of his fiancée and used his foot to nudge open the door of the restaurant and stepped out, managing to turn the frame of the door into gold as he left.
Fortunately for Nathan, by the time he and the restaurant had unfrozen, Robert Oliver had called the docks and, upon receiving no answer, called the police. The city's finest were currently investigating the docks, and since the FBI agents were still frozen themselves Nathan only had to worry about the citizens of the city. Luckily on the walk to the lab Nathan only managed to turn a few things to gold, the only living creature being a stray cat that had nuzzled against the exposed skin around his on his left foot. What confused Silent Dragon was that his clothes hadn't changed but everything else he touched had. At one point Nathan had touched the shirt he wore with his hands and nothing had happened, leaving the hero all the more baffled.
The reception at the building where Elsa's lab was located knew Nathan well and was also used to people coming in with others who were statues, thus they immediately let the martial artist in without giving him any trouble. Overall Nathan was pleased that he'd managed to make it to the lab without serious incident, using his foot to knock on the door to the lab. “Hey Nathan,” greeted Claire as the door opened and she saw Nathan standing there with Lady Justice in his arms horizontally. “Gold huh? Who did it?”
“I don't know,” he admitted. “Be careful don't touch—” before Nathan could finish his warning, Claire had attempted to take Lady Justice from Nathan's arms, touching his skin and instantly transmuting the woman into solid gold, effectively blocking the entrance to the lab. “—”me,” finished Nathan. “Shit. Hey Elsa! I need you to come move Claire, but don't touch my skin! It seems someone gave me the Midas touch!”
“Great, as if things weren't bad enough,” sighed Elsa as she appeared behind the new statue of Claire, wrapping her arms around the statue of her assistant. The younger scientist had her head bent, having been examining Lady Justice, her arms outstretched with her palms up to take the other statue from Nathan. “There's just been a report from Chief Meyers that the Typhoon Foundation dock workers have all been put to sleep and that the tanker that was supposed to arrive is now anchored about a third of a mile away. Judgement Girl just called a moment ago to say that she's... on... her... w...”
“Elsa?” asked Nathan, looking at the female scientist in alarm. It was then that Nathan realized no one but him had touched anything or anyone that had been turned to gold except him, and now he was seeing what would happen. Elsa stood in place, her arms around Claire's waist, her mouth trying to form an 'a'. It took a few seconds, unlike the other transformations, but Elsa's body and clothing began to take on a metallic tint as the wide array of textures became the single shiny one that was gold. Before long the golden statue of Claire was now being held by the golden statue of Elsa while Nathan held the golden statue of Jessica. “Well... shit!” roared Nathan, putting down Lady Justice. “Okay, time to talk to ourselves again Nathan. Claire and Elsa can't help you, so you need to find the source. Time mysteriously skipped ahead in the restaurant, meaning either you were frozen of time did actually skip ahead. This means some villain with freezing powers did it, which pretty much means either Tick and Tock, Nighttime or Jason. Since Jason's freezing powers require touch, I doubt it was him, and since stuff inside the restaurant changed, it can't of been a time-bubble. People at the docks are asleep too... It has to be Nighttime. I guess I'm walking there! Maybe while I'm at it I'll stop talking to myself like this...”
While Nathan left the lab and hurried to the docks on foot, Judgement Girl, Lockdown and Lilly sped towards the crime scene themselves in Lockdown's black Humvee. “Kind of a waste to drive one of these in a city, isn't it?” commented Lilly in the back seat. After learning that Jenny's father's business was in trouble and being unable to get in touch with Vicky, Lilly had headed to the FBI office only to find everyone frozen. Luckily before she had too much time to worry the effects of Nighttime's bell wore off and the Anderson girl was able to brief Lockdown and Judgement Girl on the situation. Lilly had insisted she come along to help, citing the times she'd been of use, though not admitting that concealed in her shorts was the ray Gorgun had once carried. Luckily for her Lockdown couldn't read her mind, her aura of karma acting as a mental shield, making her only able access the less important parts of Lilly's thoughts.
“It's a company standard,” retorted Lockdown, trying to forget Lilly's strange fantasy about Nathan. “No word from Lady Justice?” she asked Victoria.
“Elsa said her signal was faint, meaning she's been turned into something,” replied Judgement Girl, uneasy as she rode shotgun. “What worries me is that it wasn't far from where we were. Do you think Nighttime got to her and Nathan?”
“Most likely,” admitted Lockdown, knowing Vicky would tell if she was lying. “Well, there's the docks now and... oh crap.” All three women in the car let out a groan when they saw what awaited them. Police cars were parked all over the area, and there were officers present too. Unfortunately they were all standing around motionless, some in middle of doing things like getting out of their cars or examining the sleeping workers. More than half of the cops in New Oslo were now frozen solid. Lockdown pulled up beside a white limo, next to which stood Jenny Oliver and Wanda Meyers. The chief and the young daughter of the oil tycoon had been having some sort of conversation that required hand gestures, the Chief's arms out in front of her with her hands wide and her mouth open while Jenny rested her left arm on her hip and her right was raised up in the air beside her, her mouth closed but her eyes showing frustration.
“Definitely Nighttime,” sighed Lockdown as she pulled out her paralysis ray. Lilly, just to make sure, waved her hands in front of Jenny's face, but the young woman remained as she was.
“Sense anyone?” asked Judgement Girl as she scanned the area. There was well over one hundred people in sight, all of whom were either asleep or frozen in place.
“Not here, but over in that warehouse,” declared Lockdown, pointing to a nearby building. “You go in the back, Lilly and I will go in the front. With any luck we'll catch her by surprise and she won't be able to use that damn bell of hers. Move!” At once Lilly and Lockdown hurried towards the main doors of the warehouse while Judgement Girl took the long way around. Unfortunately the younger heroine didn't currently carry a weapon, instead being forced to rely on her martial arts training to fight. The reasons Lockdown had elected to have Lilly go with her instead of Judgement Girl were that a pincer move would be their best bet, and because Lilly would make ideal bait, given her passive genetic mutation which made her a living bullseye.
As Lockdown led Lilly into the warehouse, not noticing that the younger woman was carrying a ray of her own, she once again had trouble sensing Nighttime. The problem was that the woman was possessed and as a result two minds had become one, making it twice as hard for her to read the woman's mind. Lockdown kept concentrating on Nighttime, also making an effort to stay out of Lilly's head after the previous experience. Judgement Girl was already inside the warehouse and hiding behind some cliché wooden crates often seen in dockside storage facilities. Apart from the crates there were three doors, two human-sized and one meant for vehicles, and a large sunroof which showed Nighttime, floating several inches off the ground with no bell in sight, clearly concentrating on something. Below her feet a cloud of glittering yellow gas was forming, and the avatar's eyes were closed, clearly in concentration. Lockdown carefully slid out from behind her cover, training her ray on the villain. Judgement Girl had emerged from her hiding spot on the other side of Nighttime, but Stephanie was certain she wouldn't hit the other heroine, given her training.
“Take this, you psychotic bitch!” cried Lilly, surprising Lockdown and Judgement Girl. Right before Stephanie was going to fire the Anderson girl had drawn her own weapon and fired it at Nighttime. Had Lilly been a trained shooter, this would have been fine, but instead the blast missed and struck a surprised Judgement Girl, immediately changing her from flesh to marble. Her head was leaning past the floating villain, her hands in front of her in surprise and alarm, her eyes wide in confusion. This was enough to make Nighttime suddenly awaken in surprise.
“Crap!” cursed Nighttime as she fired her own ray, silently cursing Lilly as she did. Unfortunately the villain had moved and the paralysis blast instead stuck a harmless crate, doing nothing.
“Taste my wrath!” laughed Nighttime, extremely amused that the heroines had botched a perfect ambush. Nighttime's hands gestured towards the two ray-toting women and the golden gas shot towards them, transmuting the nearby crates into gold as it did. A moment later it engulfed the pair as Lilly raised her arms in a vain form of protection while Lockdown timed her dive wrong, bent low while preparing to dodge the mist. Just as with Judgement Girl, the two were frozen on the spot and immediately transformed into statues, only they became a nearly-pure gold instead of a nearly-pure stone marble. The mist then moved beyond Lilly and Lockdown and passed through the door, turning it to gold as it moved. “Soon the golden mist of avarice will consume this entire port!” declared Nighttime, cackling as she floated over to the two beautiful golden statues. “Then it will not stop here, but grow and expand until the entire city suffers for the greed of mankind!”
As Nighttime had declared the glittering mist continued to advance when outside the warehouse and floating menacingly towards the helpless workers and law enforcement officials. Everything the touched, flesh or otherwise, was turned into solid gold, even the ground. Nighttime floated up to the top of the warehouse and opened the sunroof, eager to watch the mist consume the gathering of frozen people by the dock gates. “Hi there, Saeko,” came a surprising voice that caused Nighttime to suddenly panic. Unfortunately for her, by the time the avatar had thought of a reaction Nathan Goldwin's hands grasped her shoulders and immediately her entire body began to turn into what was effectively twenty-three karat gold, as the remaining traces of human DNA within her prevented the gold from being pure. Her mouth still sneering with triumph, her arms floating at her sides freely with her bare feet pointing downwards, Nighttime became frozen in this position as the transformation completed and her magic faded.
“Woah, bad idea!” cried Nathan as he realized he shouldn't be hanging onto Saeko's arms, as without her magic to support her the golden woman fell straight back through the sunroof, causing her and Silent Dragon to crash into the ground. Nighttime appeared undamaged but Nathan heard a crack and quickly determined it was a rib. It suddenly seemed prudent that he lie there until someone got him a doctor. Fortunately with Nighttime's magic gone everyone touched by it was being freed. The golden mist dissipated and those asleep groaned and awoke. Inside Elsa's lab Jessica, Claire and Elsa were all restored to their proper flesh and blood, the first of the three a bit disoriented. Lockdown and Lilly also regained their proper coloring and both stared at their hands for a moment, letting out sounds of happiness as they saw that they were normal again.
“Nathan!” cried Lockdown, running over to the fallen Silent Dragon and touching his shoulder. “What happened?”
“I have her a taste of her own avarice,” chuckled Nathan, dimly aware that Lockdown was touching his exposed skin and not turning to gold. A small piece of gold rolled towards the heroine's heel as Lilly stood nearby, examining the golden statue of Nighttime.
“It looks like you broke her bell,” observed Lilly, picking up the fallen instrument. A large crack now existed on the side of the instrument, and internal part was what had just rolled up beside Lockdown. It seemed the people of New Oslo didn't have to worry about the freezing bell chiming again.
“Yeah, and it looks like you managed to turn your best friend into a statue!” snapped Lockdown, moving to stand beside Lilly and snatching the gorgon ray away from her. “I think it would be fitting if she be the one to use it from now on, since you've proven a lack of skill in using it!”
“What?!” cried Lilly, dropping the broken bell as she stamped her foot. Unfortunately it seemed the instrument still had some power in it, as when the bell hit the floor and shattered a familiar ringing sound was heard, causing everyone within the warehouse would could still hear to suddenly freeze in place. Lockdown was waving both rays at Lilly while her arms were spread to indicate dissatisfaction, both of them being cut off before being able to shout, anger in both of their eyes. Nathan, also affected, lay nearby and seemed to be at peace for once. The dock workers found the group a while later but, unfamiliar with the methods for unfreezing people, were forced to wait until those within the police collective were mobile once again so that they could get help.
to be continued in 'Fashion Has Stiff Competition'...