Stacey Park has been a superhero since she was nine.
When she was a little girl growing up in Busan, the daughter of an American diplomat and a Korean industrialist, she was once exposed to a radioactive meteor, or she was touched by the spirit-power of a mischievous Dookaebi, or she met a future version of herself who made her drink a bubbling serum. Stacey’s recollection is unreliable, riddled with suspiciously-timed gaps. She has learned to live with the ambiguity.
She has been a superhero her whole life, so as Madame Carmilla’s neural probe sizzles through her brain on a full-spectrum deep scan, she relaxes. This isn’t the worst jam she’s even been in. As far as she recalls.
She began her vigilante career under the name Rocky, sneaking off the balcony of her mother’s apartment balcony at night, wearing a grey hood and a handmade face mask. With extraordinary strength and an uncanny inability to suffer harm, Rocky fought street gangs, railway ghosts and the monsters that regularly emerged from the harbour. The mysterious “monster-punching-girl” enjoyed modest celebrity in the news and social media, but when Stacey’s parents decided to relocate to Colossus City in the United States, Rocky went into permanent retirement.
Stacey found herself in her element in Colossus City. Quick-witted for a ten year old, she soon deduced her classmate, Shelly Ness, was secretly Princess Silver, a probationary member of the Super-Scouts. She and Shelly became fast friends – their favourite joke. (Princess Silver’s top speed was once measured at over Mach 3). Stacey created a new persona called Kid Anvil, the Unwreckable Girl, and stayed with the Super-Scouts for several years, until a successful litigation forced the organisation to change its name.
The invasive scan has pulled this story from the recesses of Stacey’s mind and projected it as a glowing purple and red hologram for Madame Carmilla’s consideration. “All this time,” muses the masked villain. “You’ve been right in front of me for so long.”
Rebranding as Hammerteen and Silver Skater, Stacey and Shelly co-founded the Teen Rangers, who met on weekends and after school to deter alien invaders, unethical scientists and rogue artificial intelligences. It was during the Ranger years when Stacey made a startling discovery: instead of sleeping for the past several years, she had adopted yet another late-night crime-fighting identity, Midnight Owl. Though she had absolutely no recollection of her nocturnal adventures, internet research revealed a longstanding partnership with the teen avenger Tyrannosaurus. To her shock, some enthusiasts believed they were a couple, shipping them as M.O.A.T.
“You and Tyrannosaurus? Really?” Madame Carmilla sneers in disbelief and twists the dial on the neural probe. Stacey bites down on a scream. “All he ever did was grow twelve feet tall and chase cars. I expected you’d have higher standards.”
By the time Diabolus Cruz and his Diabolic Crew settled their longstanding grudge by blowing up Ranger Central with a nova detonator, Stacey had already moved on. Too restless to settle on just one codename, she joined Bastion Command as Anvil Girl (later Ms Anvil and finally just Anvil), the Battle Gurus as Flintlock, and Team Infinity as Diamondstrike. Shelly, now calling herself simply Silver, rose through the ranks of Bastion Command, and for years would chide Stacey to devote herself more fully to the paramilitary defence company. Stacey always declined with a laugh. “Me, get a career? Do I look like my mother?”
Though she was by now fully aware of her parallel occupations, Stacey was unable to clearly pin down how and when she moved between them. Whenever she paused to ponder her improbably intense schedule, her memories clouded over and she lost focus. She decided it must be a temporal slippage effect from her frequent dimension-hopping, time-travelling exploits with Team Infinity. That sort of nonsense would confuse anyone.
Come to think of it, Stacey’s been Madame Carmilla’s prisoner for over an hour. Team Infinity’s standard procedures when one of them is taken hostage is to mount a time-rescue within fifteen minutes of the capture. Maybe they don’t know she’s been caught?
“Maybe they’re not coming at all,” says Madame Carmilla, as if she can read Stacey’s mind. She smirks to show that’s exactly what she is doing.
As she finally left her teenage years behind her, Stacey began to learn that she was not the only one who kept secrets in her family. It was after one bruising encounter in which the Smoke Society almost got the upper hand on Bastion Command. A minor acrobat called Spring-Heeled Jack, trading information for leniency, revealed his previous career as a certain Korean business tycoon’s personal art thief.
Stacey, horrified to find her father criminally implicated, created yet another identity. Determined to uncover the truth and expose her father’s corruption, she went undercover as the industrial spy-for-hire.
“And there it is,” gloats Madame Carmilla. “I knew you had it in you.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“Night Shrike is wanted on for burglary, sabotage and industrial espionage,” says Madame Carmilla. “Not to mention you put Aeronaut in traction for six months. Did I miss anything?”
Stacey fumes. She says nothing.
“So you committed all these crimes pursuing your father’s shady business dealings, and you thought you’d find the ultimate proof hidden in my office?”
“Something like that.”
Madame Carmilla pulls off her mask at last.
“Your father and I are very disappointed in you, dear. With your abilities you could have been such an asset to the family business. If only you hadn’t kept all these secrets from us.”
Stacey frowns. “I wish I’d been wrong about you, Mother.”
“Don’t worry dear. Once I’ve switched the neural probe settings, you’ll be a loyal daughter.”
“I know,” says Stacey. “I’m sorry.”
She drops the false memories she’s been projecting, letting her mother glimpse the truth just as the timewave opens and Team Infinity steps through.
“Really Stacey?” says Captain Silver, aka Shelly Ness. “This is how I get to meet your parents?”
A return to Colossus City, because I’ve been dying to get back to Night Shrike all year. She first appeared in Flyers, and got a fleeting mention in Tock Tock. She might come back again. There’s a real temptation with the Colossus City stories to build a continuous narrative out of them, but I’m conscious I don’t want to serialise too many of the flash fiction worlds.
I’m emerging from a very busy few weeks blinking and bleary-eyed, very conscious that I haven’t even talked about the book I helped launch at Conflux yet (nearly three weeks ago). I will get to it soon, I hope – and to make up for the delay, I will be running a contest. For books! More news soon.
Hello new readers!
My weekly flash fiction project appears here every Friday, but you can also get my short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales for free just by signing up to my newsletter: