In the Open Air (Epidermis)
Flight: superior (rank 2)
Baker had encountered the convenience store girl the first time (in her other occupation) when he, confronted with a long Saturday, had ventured to the shopping mall to hopefully cure his considerable ennui. The day was a profoundly gloomy one, with a thick ceiling of gray clouds obscuring the sky and a vague fog creating a cataract over the entire city; the scientifically optimal kind of day to go to a 3-story temple of capitalism and spend hours looking at books, electronic equipment, and beds constructed of material that remembered your body shape in much the same way one's handprint was left behind in a mischievously prodded slab of freshly poured concrete.
In a Sharper Image store, Baker had been perusing the various gadgets that only the very extravagant could possibly purchase, or, for that matter, desire in the first place, when the plate glass at the front door exploded inward, punched by a robotic experiment-gone-wrong known as Xoskeleton. It still mystified Baker that he hadn't heard anything before the destruction of the windows; there doubtlessly had been screaming and sounds of destruction before Xoskeleton's assault upon the gadgetorium, it hadn't been as if Baker had been enthralled by the laser clocks and other thingamabobs...but, he would later suppose, none of the other patrons had noticed the chaos going on nearby either.
Several voices screamed. Baker found himself caught the crowd of people streaming out of the store in the manner of mice swarming out of a hole punched in drywall—a profoundly illogical act, given as the 10-foot tall Xoskeleton would be unable to squeeze into the shop, if the AI had even wanted to. In the back of the mob, Baker was jostled by a fleeing customer, and he dropped to the worn carpet. His knee howled in pain. He rotated onto his back, stared up at the glass optics and the empty face of Xoskeleton.
And then, suddenly, he was aloft, levitating briskly six feet above the well-walked mall floor, firm supports like iron struts under his knees and back. Baker stared in shock at the rapidly translating ceiling far above him, then cast his eyes to his left, seeing the determined, masked visage of the superheroine who had lifted him up like a sack of potatoes that, for whatever reason, rated a gentle carrying method Here, of course, was where Baker's dermatologist's eye espied what would be the telltale spots of melanin, just above the latex strap keeping her mask in place, spots on a smooth plane of skin, like oases in a epidermal desert.
The superheroine that was the convenience store girl let him down behind the counter of a smoothie place, near a man trembling and praying in Hindi, and to Baker's immense surprise, she inquired about his condition, a virtually casual, “Are you okay?”
Baker instinctively took quick stock; his limbs and extremities were all present and accounted for, no wound he could find bled or seeped, and his patellal pain was already receding, being nothing more than his nerves' complaint at the impact. “Yes...” he finally uttered, “er--” but of course the young woman he would come to think of as the convenience store girl was gone, off to continue the combat.
Baker was wise enough to stay where he was, behind the counter and its vats of yogurt, until Electronica, one of the convenience store girl's teammates, ultimately managed to power down Xoskeleton.
Cushioned From Trauma (Dermis)
Armor: superior (rank 2)
Baker found himself fascinated by the convenience store girl; it was not everyone who knew that an acquaintance one of the paragons of being, those with powers Beyond Normal Man. Sadly, she worked at a gas station and not a bookstore or coffeeshop or one of those other modern fora, where one could loiter for hours and not rate a second glance. A balding, forty-something dermatologist footling around a convenience store for more than a few minutes, however, would surely raise a few hackles, no matter how benign his motives. Thus Baker had to restrict his observation of the girl to just brief moments as he vacantly browsed the store. Baker gleaned the convenience store girl's schedule, and soon was making almost daily trips to the store, for gas, drip coffee, snacks, and the occasional frozen ice drink. Being not superpowered himself, he was amazed at the ease and casualness she carried herself with, as if her abilities were the same as any other teenager, that she didn't possess the capacity to fly upward through the ceiling at any moment, leaving plaster and broken fluorescents to shatter on the floor. At one point Baker brought a small radio tuned to a news station into the store, and watched her covertly as she simultaneously attempted to surreptitiously listen to the radio; and sure enough, when the breaking story of a murder of harpies descending on a convention downtown came over the airwaves, the girl asked her coworker for a short break and promptly vacated the store; by the time Baker had paid for his purchases and exited, she was nowhere to be seen.
As for the girl's alter ego, while the probability was low Baker would see her in costume again (and in any case, being nearly flattened by a supervillain was not a experience he cared to repeat anytime soon, even to view the convenience store girl in action), Baker did research her extensively on his underused computer at home, reading news stories and the superwikia, studying her victories and defeats, her allies and rivals, her tactics and her abilities.
She could fly, that he already knew, of course, and she was deceptively, supernaturally, strong. Strength-wise, she was either a 3 on the Kaufenberg scale, or a “superior” on something called the Smith-Walters scale. What he did learn from reading the fanpages was of her skin's (ah, but it kept coming back to skin! Only for a dermatologist.) resistance to damage. Naturally, all evidence was anecdotal, as the girl didn't grant interviews, a fact which pleased Baker for some reason. Best estimations gave her a defense on the Smith-Walters scale of, once again, superior ('superior' to what, Baker wondered). Baker was reminded of a time, once when she thought that no one was looking, when the convenience store girl, noticing a hot dog on the heater skewed and close to plunging into the burner below, picked up the frankfurt bare-handed and quickly returned the meat to its Sisyphean journey on the roller.
Nothing certain and truthful could be said about the origins of the convenience store girl's powers, but the online rumor mill pointed out (as Baker had already deduced) she was the right age to be one of a generation of children affected by yttriphalene, a poorly-tested maternity vitamin pill that turned out to induce superpowers in the fetii of the expectant mothers who took it. If the girl was in fact a yttriphalene baby, she was one of the fortunate ones; many of the children had large-scale mutations in addition to any powers they received.
He would have continued his research, but his girlfriend, a tawny-skinned grad student who had a proclivity for walking around his condo in nothing but lingerie and a open bathrobe, observed his reading material and asked, “Ooh, should I be jealous?” They both laughed about it, but she was unusually demanding and hard-to-please that night, and thus his home-based studies were discontinued.
As the weeks went on, the girl began to recognize Baker, and Baker became as familiar with her as we ever get with any customer servicepeople, the clerks, waiters, and baristae we see often but rarely exchange words with. There was, of course, that moment of shock when she first called him by name, until Baker recalled that he occasionally paid by debit card. She started greeting him as he walked in the door; he started returning the greeting. They never chatted much beyond the casual inquiries of how each others' day was going, with the automatic almost obligatory response of “Fine.” Life went on, as it always did.
Beneath Everything (Subcutaneous tissue)
Empathy: standard (rank 1)
Baker wasn't perturbed much when, one day, the girl wasn't waiting behind the counter to receive his cash and member's card. She was ailing (if she could get sick), or taking a vacation, or merely relaxing on a personal day. He didn't give another ounce of thought of it, until that evening, as he shaved. The grad student, watching television in her black, lacy underthings, called to him, “Hey, isn't this that one chick?” He emerged from the bathroom and saw the news displayed on his plasma-screen, a picture of the convenience store girl, smiling and bright, displayed for the world. The sound of his television was muted, but the captioning presented the story—she had been kidnapped midway through a super-melee by a superbaddie known as Doctor Demented (Baker always felt mildly sick at supervillains being called 'doctors').
For the next few days, Baker kept a portable television in his private office, to go to whenever given a moment, to keep to the news network and watch for further details on the convenience store girl and her disappearance, but found information scant; other issues kept coming up, breaking stories continued to develop, and, most disturbingly, additional, though seemingly unrelated super-kidnappings occurred.
Finally, the situation reached its head on a Tuesday morning. As Baker monitored the news, changing the channel occasionally to receive the most accurate information he could, a squadron of SLJ capes assaulted a secret underground island base, only to find out that the attacks, kidnappings, and even the base itself was part of a plan by the master tactician and supervillainess called Web. Only by the virtue of a young superhero with fourteen exceptionally dextrous fingers were the SLJ able to escape the trap...but initial reports said over half of the kidnapping victims had been killed by Web's machinations.
Baker canceled the rest of the day's appointments. He went straight home and continued to monitor the news stations, waiting for the dreaded casualty reports, that terrible list that would tell him if the convenience store girl still drew breath.
He watched until the early morning, then fell into a coma-like sleep, dreamless and dark. He woke up, mouth dry and stomach empty, just before noon the next day. And as he straddled the border of somnolence and wakefulness, he finally heard her name. Baker's heart stopped, and he listened again, then a third time to be sure.
The convenience store girl was alive.
Baker entered the convenience store the next day, and had to take a lacuna of a second to ponder how silly he was for fancying that she would be there. She was still in questioning or debriefing, in all probability. However, when she wasn't behind the display of scratch-off tickets on the next day, or the next, Baker began to realize that perhaps the thought he would ever see her again was far too optimistic. She had, after all, been kidnapped and held by a madman for the sheer purpose of advancing another madman's schemes; not to mention the terror she must have felt, must still be feeling, seeing her teammates and fellow victims die, knowing that she could have died in the exact same way...
Life went on. Baker still continued his ventures to the convenience store, more out of inertia than anything else. His relationship with the grad student finally reached a long-foreshadowed end. And then, on a hot afternoon three weeks after Baker got the news of her heart's continued beating, the convenience store girl reappeared in her spot behind the counter, as if she had never left.
Baker's mouth ran dry. He quickly walked into the store, attempting not to stare at her, unsure whether perhaps she was an illusion. He picked up a, once again, providentially placed donut, filled a plastic flagon with root beer, fumbled (she was here!) with the lid and straw, and brought his satiations to the counter. She took a quick look at him, at his purchases, and punched a few buttons on the register. “$1.68,” she said quietly.
Handing the two bills to her, Baker saw something in her eyes, as if he was staring into her soul, something he knew he would have never seen had he not noticed that cluster of moles on his rescuer's cheek all those weeks ago. An eternity ago.
She offered a hand, a quarter, a nickel, and two pennies on it. “Thirty-two cents is your change.”
Baker placed one of his hands on top of her extended one, one below. Her skin was soft, impossibly soft. She gave a start of surprise and met his eyes.
“Thank you,” Baker murmured. “Thank you so much.”
He withdrew his hands, dropped all of his change into the waiting plastic cauldron, and left the convenience store.