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First Time (Stef 2)

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Stef once again peered out of their hiding place at the mysterious dropship. Dusk was again approaching, and Stef had been on watch all night and day – well, ‘on watch’ was perhaps overstating things, but they had been present.

After some pondering the previous evening, Stef had decided that whatever was happening was unlikely to be an immediate major threat to the area, so had sent Coomy home, via Kress’s place, with a message to that effect but that it might be an idea to keep it off the nets – if something bad did go down, it would leave less of a trail if they used real-messaging. Kress had always had respect for Stef’s assessments (they had a knack of being accurate, although Stef was often at a loss to explain why) and the word went out.

As the tension relaxed somewhat, Stef continued to watch until Coomy’s replacement as messenger arrived. Kress had sent two, each in their late teens, probably intending them to replace Stef too and let them go home – but Stef’s curiosity had been roused. They eventually allowed the teens to ‘convince’ them to ‘go home’ - then eased a little further around the lot until they had a clear view of the access ramp. They knew Mom and Dad wouldn’t worry too much – now that they had completed their assignments, during the school holidays Stef was often out late, even overnight, and (since the Mr Creepy incident) everyone knew The Gophers looked after their own.

As little had happened, Stef set up their optics on the sill in front of them and curled up in their cubbyhole. Although the optics weren’t accessing the nets, they could run local functions like motion-sensing.

Nothing more happened through the night, and Stef woke as the optics buzzed late in the morning. A quick glance out of the window showed the dropship’s access ramp lowering, and a moment later a young redhaired woman stepped out and headed away across the lot, obviously with a purpose, and with no sign of the stealth that Stef had expected. As the ramp promptly closed, Stef decided to stay with the dropship and its remaining occupants. A moments surveillance showed that their message had got out – the few people visible were moving just as if it was an ordinary day.

The day passed. Stef waited to see if the other strangers did anything, reading their current book until the optics buzzed again. It was the red-haired woman returning, carrying a large bag and wearing a striking pair of purple galoshes. Why would she need galoshes given the dry forecast?

After the woman entered the dropship all went quiet and Stef returned to their book. The day continued to pass, and Stef dozed a couple of times before the optics buzzed again late in the afternoon as the ramp lowered again, this time revealing a blonde-bobbed woman who strode toward Raft City. After what they had seen the previous night, Stef wondered if this were the woman’s true appearance. Nothing more occurred until dusk when the red-haired woman reappeared, this time accompanied by the spiky-rainbow woman. The two walked away, disappearing down a side street, the spiky one striding confidently, the other seeming a little reluctant to be there. The ramp closed behind them and remained so until they returned a little under an hour later, the spiky one carrying several plates of food like a human waiter, and reminding Stef that they were low on snacks and would actually rather like a proper meal.

A while later, having finished the book and with hardly anything happening, Stef had just decided to go home for tea when the surroundings erupted with shouts of “Earthquake!” and there was the sound of people dashing out of their homes and offices into the open parking lot. Luckily they instinctively kept away from the dropship, because a moment later the engines lit up with a dull roar and the craft surged into the darkening sky.

Stef ran out, gazing up as their optics picked up the faint signs of the dropship banking away to the south. Then it was gone, and they concentrated on the immediate situation, mingling with the growing crowd of people that were congregating in the centre of the lot, as far from the potential rubble-zone as possible, and asked what was going on. Several people contributed to an explanation that a level 6-plus earthquake was due in the next few minutes, then one person activated their optics’ projector and a newsfeed was displayed across the wall of a nearby building. It showed an old transmission tower with some protestors waving and shouting from a platform near the top, apparently unaware of the incoming shock. There were sounds of dismay as people imagined what was about to happen.

A moment later the earthquake arrived at the parking lot, violent and nausea-inducing for some, but apparently causing little structural damage locally, and the crowd’s attention quickly returned to the image with a horrified fascination.

After another moment the picture shifted, as if the newscopter had been struck, but the terrified reactions of the people on the platform showed that it was the tower that was moving. There were gasps of horror, and a few small screams as the crowd watched helplessly as the tall structure began to tilt, no doubt taking the screaming protestors to their deaths. Then, just as all seemed lost, the picture shook again as the base of the tower slammed into the eaves of the control building and came to a swaying halt. There were sighs of relief all around, before someone screamed as a bolt of electricity shot up the structure, closely followed by another, then more, until the whole tower was outlined in sparking blue-white.

The audience watched in horror as the protestors screamed for help, but it was risky for the newscopter to get that close to the tower – even if it wanted to, muttered the more cynical - spectacular mass death could get good ratings.

For a few minutes all seemed static but hopeless, but then there was a glimpse of blue-white jetblast as something approached from the dark. The newscopter’s spotlight searched it out and the dark bulk of a dropship similar to the one that had just vacated the parking lot came to a halt, hovering a short distance from the tower as if examining the scene. Some of the watching crowd cheered as they anticipated a rescue. Stef heard one of the oldest whisper “International Rescue. Thunderbirds Are Go”, and they glanced up at them quizzically, but the elder’s tearful gaze remained fixed to the display. Then the dropship dropped to the ground, and there were angry cries at such cowardly action. But the dropship did not leave. Instead the access ramp opened as it fell, and Stef watched as the red-haired woman stepped out, looked back into the shadowy interior, then strode determinedly toward one corner of the tower structure. The news camera zoomed in on her, then searched ahead to find where she was going. It found a huge snaking power cable that was thrashing against the metal leg, electrifying the tower.

What was the woman doing? There were mutterings of confusion as she stopped a few metres from the cable, rolled her shoulders like an athlete before an event, then strode forward and grasped it.

There were screams as screen went white and the parking lot was lit up like day for a second before the picture went dark. There was consternation and sobbing as the image slowly recovered – and a blurred humanoid shape was visible slightly off-centre. A few seconds later, and the world changed forever.

The woman was standing there, legs braced, writhing cable clutched to her chest, her head thrown back and teeth gritted as her eyes blazed white. Sparks crackled around her form, but no longer on the tower as she held the cable away.

There was stunned near silence across the lot. The few sounds were slow gasps of astonishment, and muttered “That’s not possible”s – and a woman nearby was calmly reciting in detail the known effects of such power on living flesh, as if trying to persuade their eyes what they should be seeing.

The view suddenly swung up, searching for the dropship, and found it near the platform, ramp open as two women launched themselves across to the platform attached to some sort of elastic bridge device, although something about it seemed familiar to Stef. Then it dawned on them just before the camera zoomed in to catch the reality.

The bridge was the same colour as the stretchy man’s coat. And a few seconds later everyone could see a grimacing face partly visible over a strangely distorted shoulder. The first to climb back to the dropship was the blonde-bob woman, accompanied by two young boys. Then the others made their way across slowly, the last being the spiky woman – carrying a large man across her shoulders in an unlikely fashion.

Something seemed to happen, and the bendy man held onto the railings longer than seemed wise, before suddenly snapping free and drawing back into the dropship, which pulled away from the tower as it finally continued its fall, crashing down in a cloud of dust and wreckage. From the murk appeared the dropship as it dropped toward the red-haired woman, who had moved a few feet away from the cable, which now lay unexpectedly quiescent on the ground nearby. A moment later, and the protestors were disembarking from the interior, and then the engines flared, the ramp closed, and the dropship was gone.

The lot erupted in cheers and back-slapping, and in the midst of it a tearful fourteen-year-old whispered to themselves “They are super heroes,” and broke away, dashing home to check Mom and Dad were okay, and to see if the nearly new optics were still on offer. Stef had gently refused them because the teal accents did not suit their purple aesthetic, but they were higher spec, and also would actually connect to the nets.

And Stef needed access to the nets. They had a new project...