The Adventures of Supermom
by D. A. Madigan
[Copy editor’s note: This story is a surprise for Bewildering Stories’ longtime friend, D. A. It took no convincing at all to include it as well as the lovely fan letter that comes by way of a preface.]
Almost exactly two years ago, I had the good fortune to run across a novel written by D.A. Madigan. It was Endgame and it was the first piece of his work that I had the pleasure to read.
Now, two years later, I’ve read all seven of his novels (if you can find Universal Maintenance, buy it!), his memoir, all of his short stories (“No Time Like the Present” was included in issue 149 of this publication and is my personal favorite) and (shamefully, only) most of his articles. Hey. I work and have three kids. Sue me.
I have found his work to be delightfully captivating and deliciously humorous. Of course, being the ultimate groupie, I found him to be the embodiment of the same qualities I enjoyed in his work. The piece you are about to read is something he recently composed especially for me.
Since his birthday coincided with the release date of this issue, I talked Don Webb into complicity in publishing the story as a surprise. I hope all of you join me and Bewildering Stories in wishing D. A. Madigan a very Happy Birthday! And if you aren’t terribly familiar with his work, I’d urge you to check his bio here as he has quite a few pieces that Bewildering Stories has published, and they are all well worth the read!
From the deck of the Coast Guard cutter Vantage, Hurricane Katrina was huge — a vast black funnel of swiftly churning clouds lit from within by strobe-like flashes of lightning. Even at a distance of 300 miles, the enormous storm nearly covered the horizon from left to right.
“At least she’s a slow movin’ beast,” Lt Commander Charlie Sharps said in his heavy Louisiana drawl. “And she’s only Cat 2, for all her size.”
“Yeh,” Commander Tilburne agreed succinctly. A native of Maine, “Red” Tilburne never used a full word where a single syllable would do. “Still do a mought o’ damage, though, when she hits Florida.”
“Pity nunnadem dere sooper-doopers wanna b’dder wit her,” Lt. Commander Sharps went on. “Guessin’ dey got mo’ impo’tant t’ings t’do —”
“Or not,” Commander Tilburne added, drily, pointing to a red and blue streak hurtling down from the edge of the sky at an angle directly towards the heart of the storm. “Which one is that?”
“Jesu in a zamboni,” Lt. Commander Sharps said with breathless reverence. “I t’ink dat’s —”
“SUPER-MOM!” came the ragged cry from the remainder of the cutter’s crew, down on the main deck, followed by a united cheer.
“I t’ought she was still in Iraq helpin’ rebuild the electrical grid,” Lt. Commander Sharps gasped, as the red and blue streak disappeared into the vast whirling funnel of destruction.
“Apparently not,” Commander Tilburne said grimly. “But I don’t know what even Super-Mom can do about something that huge—”
In the center of the storm, the red and blue clad heroine known to the world as Super-Mom went still for a moment, scanning with her hyper-human senses the winds raging around her. Then, narrowing her eyes, she began to fly into the teeth of the gale, whirling around and around counter-clockwise, rapidly picking up speed until she had exactly matched the velocity of the Cat 2 hurricane’s strongest winds.
NSA analysts watching through an observation satellite later noted, in a brief to President Nader, that apparently Super-Mom’s strategy had been to create a sort of anti-hurricane moving in exactly the opposite direction of Katrina, right at the very center of the storm. The two apposite storm fronts had met, fused — and canceled each other out. A wall of heavy, rain-laden wind blew out of the storm in every direction — and then the skies were clear, the waves were settling — and the crew of the Vantage was cheering wildly as Super-Mom flew slowly overhead and threw them a salute, her long blonde hair rippling in the breeze of her passage, her long red cape snapping like a flag behind her.
Then she once more vanished in a blur of hyperspeed.
Dropping down out of the stratosphere again, Super-Mom alighted at invisible hyperspeed in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Faster than the human eye could follow, she darted into a building just off South Eighth Street. By the time the revolving door stopped whirling, Super-Mom was apparently gone — and only Tammy Brantley, attractive operations manager for Rupert & McElroy, mother of three, remained behind, smoothing her skirt down and thinking, not for the first time, that her hair was probably a godawful fucked-up mess. It usually was after she took off the long blonde wig she used as a disguise in her Super-Mom identity.
And she still had to head over to the new condominium project and look at some poured concrete foundations that afternoon — assuming the world let her actually get some work done.
As she rode up in the elevator, Tammy routinely used her hypervision to scan around the globe. Back when she’d first gotten her powers through exposure to that strange meteorite, she’d been kept busy every minute of every day helping people, — fighting crime, preventing natural disasters, cleaning up various messes — but since that time, her efforts and those of several other superheroes, had calmed the world down considerably.
Of course, the series of freak accidents that had turned the real world into something out of one of her boyfriend’s beloved Silver Age comic books had also brought various superhuman threats into existence, and not all of those had been as easily dealt with as Saddam’s nuclear-powered battle armor.
Still, for now, things seemed calm — oh, well, okay, a gang of masked men was about to try to hijack an armored car in New York City, but she noted her fellow United Hero, Moonbat, lurking on a building ledge a few stories above them and knew she could safely leave that particular problem in his capable hands.
She stepped out of the elevator, and the firm’s receptionist Marilyn immediately looked up. “Tammy, you’ve got a one o’clock meeting with the representatives of the Sneeron Hegemony in the conference room,” she said, brightly.
“The Sneer — what?” Tammy asked, momentarily confused. She’d never heard of any Sneeron Hegemony, and was sure she didn’t have any appointment scheduled with anyone from there.
Then she noted the bright sheen in Marilyn’s eyes — an odd sort of psychic glazing she hadn’t seen since her ex-husband had built a device to mind-control every kid in the Metro Louisville area and make them all go to Catholic school. Thank God the Voucher King, as the newspapers had dubbed him, was safely locked up now... but still, Marilyn had that glassy look she’d seen in the eyes of all her kids, when they were insisting that they had to go to St. Luke’s Academy to learn how to be proper, decent young ladies.
“Okay, Marilyn,” Tammy replied soothingly. “In the conference room? Fine, I’ll go in now —”
Inside the conference room lurked two annoyingly good-looking men, both clad in extremely expensive business suits. One was sitting on the edge of the conference table looking bored and impatient; the other was over by the small table in the corner, drinking from an upended coffee pot. It was pretty obvious from the noises he was making that he was enjoying the brew enormously, which was more than Tammy had ever done.
“Did you guys mind-control our receptionist?” Tammy asked, preparing to kick some evil mentally enslaving ass at hyperspeed. “She will remember nothing,” the first one, leaning against the conference table, said, straightening up. “I am Haw-Tee, of the Sneeron Hegemony. This is my assigned project-partner, Snar-Key —” He gestured to the coffee swiller.
“Nice to meet you,” Snar-Key simpered, putting down the empty coffee pot. “Nice blouse. I really think that style is going to make a comeback.”
Tammy cocked her head slightly to one side. “Okay, tell me why I shouldn’t just kick both your asses back to your native galaxy, and make it good.”
Haw-Tee sighed and made a slight, contemptuous gesture with one index finger. The building around the three of them vanished, replaced by an endless vista of airless, star-sprinkled outer space. Tammy noted that, had she not been completely invulnerable, her lungs would no doubt have just ruptured.
Haw-Tee gestured again, and they were once more in Rupert & McElroy’s conference room. “That was no illusion,” the Sneeron sneered, “for brief seconds, I had actually transmitted our physical beings to intergalactic space. And that is only a tiny sample of the power at our command.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Snar-Key said consolingly. “It’s not that you are powerless compared to us, or that you just suck, or anything. It’s just —” He stopped. “Well, no, that’s pretty much the deal.” He grinned hugely. “I really like this coffee stuff you guys have, though. I’m going to hate destroying that.”
“We of the Sneeron Hegemony have long since mastered manipulation of every aspect of the energy continuum — what you foolish, ignorant human animals think of as the physical universe,” Haw-Tee went on. “We can do anything you can imagine, with a casual ease inconceivable to your pathetic minds.”
“And, you know, we’re gonna blow you all up,” Snar-Key added. “Nothing personal. Well, no — it’s personal, actually, because you guys are all ugly and stupid and we don’t like you.”
Tammy frowned, then pulled out a chair and sat down. “Okay, this is all fine, but let me know when we get to the part where I pull your arms and legs off, because that’s what I’m looking forward to,” she said.
“There will be no dismemberment, foolish human female,” Haw-Tee said loftily. “These bodies are merely husks made of momentarily hardened energy. They are even more indestructible than the fusion-charged physical form you wear, and even if you could harm them, it would do nothing to our essential vitalities. Physical combat will not avail you.”
“And we’d just beat the snot out of you anyway,” Snar-Key added.
“So —” Tammy waved her hand around. “You’re just here to gloat, or what?”
“Ah — no,” Haw-Tee said. He sighed. “As we are very advanced evolutionarily over you chemical-strand beings, we feel morally obligated to provide each race —”
“No matter how smelly,” Snar-Key interjected.
“EACH race,” Haw-Tee went on, momentarily giving his project-partner a murderous glare, “a chance to prove our judgement of them wrong. And as you are the most evolved member of your race, we have decided to provide the test to you.”
“A test?” Tammy echoed. “Is it open book? Can I use a calculator?”
The two aliens exchanged confused glances. Haw-Tee blinked in an irritated fashion, then shook his head. “Whatever,” he said. “The test is this: you must outwit us.”
“Your shoe’s untied,” Tammy said immediately, pointing down.
“Feh,” Haw-Tee feh-ed, “we have no shoes, those are hardened energy husks. Now listen, female. If you can pose a task to us that we cannot accomplish, then we will concede that your race has some intellectual potential.”
“But you can’t,” Snar-Key said, snidely, “because we can do anything.”
Tammy’s head whirled. “So — wait,” she said. “I can tell you to do anything, and if you can’t do it, or if you refuse to do it, then I win and you guys leave us alone forever, right?”
“Never happen,” Snar-Key jeered. “We are omnipotent.”
“You cannot,” Haw-Tee added, “require us to destroy ourselves, or the entire Sneeron Hegemony, or require us to do anything that would cause us any sort of actual harm. We are not stupid or suicidal. Nor can you simply require us to refrain from destroying your race. These things are much too obvious and are prohibited as valid proposals. However, any other physical task you suggest we must be able to accomplish within instants, or you win.”
Snar-Key folded his arms across his chest in anticipation, his lips curled into a Sneeron sneer. “You may, if you wish, think of this as us granting you a last request. Once we provide whatever you ask for, though, we will then instantly destroy your entire race. So, you know, don’t ask for a roast beef sandwich or anything. You won’t have time to eat it.”
“I’m on a diet,” Tammy said absently, her mind busy with the problem the Sneerons had given her. “Hmmm — okay, so how does this work — suppose I tell you to do something you COULD do, but don’t want to. Would I still win then?”
Haw-Tee laughed contemptuously. “We are highly evolved and have no primitive cultural taboos or inhibitions,” he said. “The only thing you could require of us that we would not willingly do would be to destroy or harm ourselves. Otherwise, we have no limitations.”
Two really good looking guys, saying they would do anything she wanted, no limits... Tammy let her mind roam over the possibilities for a moment. But, no — she had a boyfriend. And a pretty busy afternoon before she got to see him again. She wished these guys would just fuck off —
“Ah HA!” Tammy said. “So — anything I say, as long as it doesn’t kill you or hurt you, you have to do instantly, or I win. Right?”
The Sneerons scowled in unison, suspecting a trap — but then, Haw-Tee shrugged and Snar-Key nodded.
“There is nothing you can require of us other than self-harm or self-destruction that we would not do, and NOTHING you can imagine that we cannot do,” Haw-Tee said.
“Hit us with your best shot,” Snar-Key said, with a nasty chuckle. “Whatever it is, we will do it instantly — and then, you and all your pathetic race will die!”
Tammy smiled... and spoke two words.
The two Sneerons eyes opened wide as they heard her demand. For a second, shrieks of horror echoed in the conference room.
Then they were gone.
When Tammy got back to her desk (Marilyn, as promised by the Sneerons, remembered nothing at all of the one o’clock appointment, or even Tammy’s stepping out of the elevator), her phone was ringing. She picked it up and was pleased to hear her boyfriend’s voice on the other end.
“So, babe,” he said, “how’s it going today?”
“Oh,” Tammy said, “you know, the usual stuff — well, I had a couple of losers show up at work who were kind of pains in the ass, but I dealt with it.”
“Yeah?” Her boyfriend sounded amused. “Did you, like, hurl them into the sun or something?”
Tammy sighed. “I have hurled, like, ONE guy into the sun, ever. And he was this indestructible planet-eating humanoid robot from the dawn of time, and it didn’t hurt him, he just isn’t powerful enough to escape the solar gravity well again. But every time I talk to you, it’s like, ‘So, did you hurl anyone else into the sun today’. Like I wouldn’t get all kinds of shit from Captain Virtue or the Protectress if I started hurling people casually into the sun, anyway.”
“Okay, okay,” her boyfriend said placatingly. “So, what did you do with the two losers?”
Tammy grinned. “Oh, I just told them to get lost...”
Copyright © 2005 by D. A. Madigan