This story is a sequel to The Dancer, which appeared in Spaceports and Spidersilk.
The little girl standing outside the bar was very cute. Her long red hair was braided and fastened with pink and black berets so that it encircled her head like a crown. She had marvelous quick-moving brown eyes. They studied the tall door as she gathered her courage. Her tiny dark hands fidgeted and yanked the hem of the blue shirt down over her jeans. Grasping the big brass door handle, she took a deep breath and heaved the door open. She marched right in and stared up at the huge man behind the bar. Her voice sang in the air with childlike squeakiness. “I know Powerman’s here. He’s my daddy and I have to talk to him.”
Bacchus planted his wide forearms on the bar and hunched down with politeness. “I’m sorry,” he said gently. “Powerman’s unavailable right now. And . . .” He glanced at a sign near the door. “You really can’t come in here. I’m sorry.”
A tennis shoe stamped impatiently in response. “You don’t understand,” the little girl whined. “They’re sending me to Milwaukee and I’ll never get to see him again! Oh please! Won’t you just tell him that I’m here?” Her eyes swirled with panic now.
Just then feet thumped over the stairs at the other end of the bar and the Dancer showed up. He skidded to a stop when he reached the bottom and stared for a moment. A smile hitched onto his thin face. “Who’s this?” he asked as he started down the length of the bar.
Bacchus sighed inwardly. “Please Dancer, don’t.”
But the young man was already at the little girl’s side. Hands jabbed onto his hips as he leaned over. “How are you? I’m Dancer.”
A loud sniffle came from the little girl. “Powerman is my daddy and I have to talk to him.” Her brown eyes glistened with moisture. “They’re sending me to my aunt‘s.” Her voice dissolved into a soft wail. “I just have to talk to my daddy.”
“Oh,“ the Dancer said sympathetically. “Get her something. A soda or something.”
“Please Dancer. You know she can’t come in here.”
“Here, come here.“ The Dancer guided the little girl to a table and sat her down. He snapped a frown at Bacchus. “Well, she’s here now. Would you please just get her a soda?”
“I-” Bacchus gave up, shaking his head angrily. He jerked open a cabinet door under the bar and yanked a can of pop off the shelf.
Just then the door to the bar opened up and a fair-haired woman dressed in tight black jeans and a yellow taffeta blouse came in. She was speaking to someone behind her, “. . . remember if it was my idea or the girls’, but that’s just what I did. And you know what?”
The man behind the woman suddenly sidled by her and zipped into the bar in a blur of red and white. He snatched the can of soda as he passed. Bacchus looked at his empty hand and frowned.
The woman near the door gawked at the empty space behind her. “I wish you wouldn’t do that, Mr. Quick. Not when I’m in the middle of a story.”
As he leaned over the table where the little girl sat, Mr. Quick shot a glance behind him. “The thieves were trapped and couldn’t get down and the car is still up on the roof of that restaurant.” He opened the soda and set in on the table. “I know who you are,” he said to the little girl playfully. “You’re Powerman’s daughter.”
Bacchus chuckled. “Gravity Girl, you’re not telling that story again, are you?”
Gravity Girl’s green eyes twitched at each of them and a flush of embarrassment covered her cheeks. “Well, she hasn’t heard it.” She started toward the table and the little girl.
“You’re Mr. Quick,” the girl said shyly to the tall man wearing the red outfit with the stripes of white adorning either side. “You came to my birthday party.”
Beneath his red mask, Mr. Quick’s dark eyes gleamed with delight. “When you turned eight.”
“You don’t know anything about children.” Gravity Girl had reached the table. “Hi, honey.”
“I know they play video games,” Mr. Quick countered. “Did you like the present I gave you?”
The little girl’s face fell. “Grandma wouldn’t let me play with it.”
Gravity Girl smirked and the Dancer hissed in Mr. Quick’s ear, “What game did you give her?”
“Death Knell 2.”
Shaking her head at him, Gravity Girl sat at the table. The Dancer started laughing and Mr. Quick let out an exasperated bleat of confusion, “What?”
Gravity Girl rolled her eyes. “You don’t give a child of nine a game like that.”
“She was eight.” Mr. Quick said, but then he noticed the Dancer’s amused expression and corrected himself, “Nine!” He threw up his hands and shambled towards the bar. “Oh, I don’t know.” As he sat down Bacchus set a cold mug of root beer in front of him and offered a sympathetic smile.
“Did you come here alone, honey?” Gravity Girl asked the little girl.
“I took the bus all by myself. I had to make two transfers.”
“You live with your grandmother, don’t you?”
“Yes. Grandma’s really nice. But . . . She’s going to live in the place for old folks and I have to go to Milwaukee.” The little girl’s lower lip trembled and the despair in her voice was impossible to miss. “I’ll never see my daddy again.”
“I’m sure he’ll come visit you,” the Dancer said.
Gravity Girl scooted her chair close and draped an arm around the little girl’s shoulder. “Does Grandma know where you went?”
A tiny voice answered, “No.”
“Won’t Grandma be worried about you?”
The little girl nodded slowly.
“I think we should call her so she won’t be worried.”
“I-I guess so.”
At the bar, Mr. Quick asked Bacchus, “You have any kids?”
“Two. My eldest, Charon, he’s a sailor. The younger boy you may have heard of. Hercules?”
“Sure. But I thought he was Zeus’s—”
“Stepfather.” Bacchus shook his head. “Zeus married my ex, Hera.”
“So Hercules is your boy.”
Bacchus grinned proudly. “Greek Olympic champion seven times.”
“That’s really something.”
Suddenly the door to the bar opened and an evil laugh rang out, “Ah hah hah!” A horrid-looking figure clad in a long dark cape stood in the doorway.
The little girl let out a frightened yelp.
“Reaper.” Bacchus scolded. “Can’t you see we have company?”
Gravity Girl gently stroked the little girl’s hand. “It’s okay honey. He’s just wearing a costume.”
Mr. Quick flicked his eyes up toward the ceiling. Were there bats or something flying up there? He blinked. Now there was nothing but flat black ceiling tiles. It must have been the light playing tricks.
As the Reaper moved into the bar he saw the girl and mumbled, “Uh, sorry.” How was he to know that there was a child? What was she doing there, anyway? He sat down next to Mr. Quick, who whispered, Powerman’s kid.
Gravity Girl was trying to call the little girl’s grandmother on her cell phone. “So, where’s Powerman?” the Reaper asked Bacchus as the bartender placed an orange soda before him.
“I think he went to beat up on Son-of again.”
“Why won’t he just leave those lizards alone?” Mr. Quick moaned. “He’s been hassling Godzilla for years and now he’s screwing with Son-of-Godzilla. I’m telling you, he’s going to get sued for harassment.”
“He‘s obsessed,” agreed the Reaper.
“So, how’s it going over there?” Bacchus asked.
The Reaper’s eyes widened and one of them threatened to hop out of its socket so he pushed it back. “It’s great,” he said enthusiastically. “Being the host of a weekly TV show is really a lot of fun.”
“You know I was thinking—” Mr. Quick took a sip of his root beer. “Maybe I could give you a hand with that thing.”
The Reaper’s jaw creaked as he gave his friend a frown. “It’s called Fright Night. You have to be scary.”
“You’re wearing a costume. I could wear something too.”
Bacchus rolled his eyes and moved away. He focused on the group at the table. Gravity Girl hadn’t been able to get a hold of the girl’s grandmother and she and the Dancer were trying to decide what to do.
The Reaper undid his long black cape and laid it on a chair. That was the extent of his costume. The rest -the shrunken sallow cheeks, the unnaturally pockmarked skin, and the spindly frame- it was all him. “Now who’s scarier?”
“I thought we were buds.”
“Ah.” The Reaper murmured, “Maybe I can let you help the cue card girl. Cindy, you’ll like her. She’s nice.”
“Now you’re talking!”
“What’s that?” The Dancer rose from his chair. He was staring out the big tinted window.
“Oh no.” Bacchus slapped a hand over his broad forehead. The silver cigar-shaped vehicle lumbering down the street was wide enough to cover both lanes and whenever it came in contact with a car its retractable wheels edged up and crushed the other vehicle. Bacchus had seen the strange tank before. “It’s the Robo Squadron,” he announced dismally. The group of android arch criminals was a rough bunch to deal with. Why did they have to show up when Powerman—one of the Brigade of Superheroes most powerful members—was out of town?
Mr. Quick dashed to the window for a look and then back to his stool. He gave the Reaper a fearful look. “I don’t want to mess with those robots again. Not without Powerman. No way.”
The Reaper had a pained expression on his face. “My power won’t even work on those machines. Maybe I should wait here. After all, I am a celebrity now.”
The silver tank stopped and several figures emerged from a door in its side. The Dancer had only been with the Brigade for a little over a year and he asked, “What are those things?”
Gravity Girl said, “One of Professor Q’s experiments gone very, very bad. He made the first one, Cyber, who got away and started building his own robot army. They’re bad news, Dancer.”
“Look!” Mr. Quick flashed across the room, looked out the window, and then he was back on his stool. “There are more than a dozen of them out there. We don’t stand a chance.”
“Every time we face Cyber he’s got more of them,” Gravity Girl moaned.
“I’m scared,” the little girl said.
“It’s okay honey,” Gravity Girl reassured her. “You wait here with Bacchus. He’ll take care of you.”
Mr. Quick glanced above his head. The bats, or whatever those things were, were back. Some kind of shadow creatures fluttered just under the ceiling of the bar. He ignored the distraction and looked at the window again. They had more important things to worry about.
The Reaper was staring at the little girl. There was something strange about her. He had the impression that she had some kind of power. It seemed logical, after all she was Powerman’s daughter.
He tried to concentrate, but all his psychic power would reveal was something about her ability to imagine things. It made no sense. He looked at the dark face across the bar. “Bacchus?”
“I know,” Bacchus answered somberly. “But don’t even think about it.” He voice grew firm and loud. “Well, are you going to do something about those robots before they destroy the city, Brigade?”
“You wait here, honey,” Gravity Girl said. She walked toward the little door next to the bar. Bacchus handed her a white sports bag as she passed.
The Dancer was scared. The robots were shooting missiles that tore large chunks out of buildings and the street was already filled with rubble and dust. He very seriously doubted if the robots would be susceptible to the mesmerizing power of his dance, but he’d been practicing martial arts and he had to try and do something to stop the Robo Squadron. He wouldn’t let the Brigade down. He began unbuttoning his shirt.
Mr. Quick nudged the Reaper. They both saw that the kid was getting ready to go out there. They couldn’t let the Dancer and Gravity Girl face Cyber and his goons alone. The Reaper groaned,
“You’re not going to make me—“
“What was that thing you used to say? Brigade Ho?”
“That was from some movie,” the Reaper griped. “And it was wagons ho.”
“You used to say something.”
“Where the hell is Powerman? That’s what I always say.”
Mr. Quick’s voice rose in surprise. “Oh, yeah.”
Now the Dancer’s shirt was gone, revealing the T-shirt with his patented tuxedo emblazoned on its front. It wasn’t his regular uniform, but at least it was something. He verified his CD player was ready, even though it might prove useless. He took a deep breath. This might be his toughest fight yet.
The door near the bar opened and Gravity Girl floated out wearing her uniform, a lacy white top and skirt and silver stockings. “Are we ready, Brigadiers?”
“Come on,” Mr. Quick said and then he was gone in a flash.
The Reaper fastened his black cape in place as he walked toward the door. “Maybe I can scare them away.”
As they left the bar, Gravity Girl floated toward the right and the Dancer dashed left. “If we can get inside that thing and take out Cyber maybe the rest of them will quit,” Gravity Girl shouted.
Mr. Quick was already far ahead of them, zigging and zagging among the robots, screaming that silly, “Brigade ho!”
The Reaper’s cape fluttered up as the breeze from a missile passed over him. He strode down the street and called out his own familiar battle cry, “Where the hell is Powerman!”
Inside the bar, Bacchus told the little girl, “Let’s get back from the window. Where it’s safe.” He led her to the other end of the bar.
“I can help them,” the little girl said softly. “But I’m not s’posed to.”
“We’ll let them handle it.” Bacchus watched through the window as the four superheroes attacked the throng of robots scattered over the street outside. The gleaming silver carapaces of the enemy towered three meters high and several of the robots carried missile launchers. He hoped his friends would be okay.
Mr. Quick’s ran circles around the robots and they were hitting each other with their missiles. In the tank Cyber was firing but Mr. Quick was too fast for all of them. He dodged and weaved like a red zephyr, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.
The Dancer wasn’t having much luck. The CD player clipped to his belt was blaring Bon Jovi and he was in rare form, moving with dazzling speed and grace. But the robots were machines and they weren’t susceptible to the hypnotizing power of his dance. He’d have to change tactics if he wanted to survive the fight. He didn’t know how effective his limited martial arts skills would be against the metal giants, but he had to at least give it a try.
The Reaper tried touching two of the robots, but his ability to disable an opponent with a brush of his fingers was useless against the machines. There was only one thing he could do. He strode down the middle of the street and drew fire away from his companions. He was hit several times but he kept moving forward. One of his arms was gone. It didn’t matter, he would find it later. A white missile from the tank came zooming toward him and at the last moment it veered and flew over his head. The hot blast of air tugged at his cape.
Gravity Girl breathed a sigh of relief as she saw that she’d been successful in diverting the missile away from the Reaper. He was going to get himself clobbered out in the open that way. Another of the metal monsters came running toward her and she focused her power and lifted it into the air and sent it crashing onto the pile of robots she’d already disabled. It landed with a huge crash and flailed for a moment. She panted for breath. Gravity Girl was doing fine destroying the robots, but they were awfully heavy and it was hard work. She didn’t know how long she could keep it up.
Bacchus saw Gravity Girl take another one out and he counted four robots down, ten more to go. And Cyber in that tank. Without Powerman, the Brigade was outgunned. He spotted Dancer trying to fight one of the huge metal robots hand-to-hand. The Dancer went flying into a wall and Bacchus cringed. The kid was tough though and a moment later he was up and leaping back into the fray. Bacchus glanced at the little girl, who was transfixed by the scene outside. No, he told himself. He wasn’t going to take a chance with her safety.
The Dancer knew he had no chance fighting them physically. He had to use his brain! As four of the behemoths converged around him, he noticed the two closest ones were damaged and had wires dangling. It was worth a try. He ducked a huge metal hand and grabbed both sets of wires and held them together. The two robots began doing their own jerky dance as the shock shorted out their circuits. The Dancer was thrown clear and he ended up in a heap on the sidewalk. He groaned and tried to lift his head, but everything went black and he passed out.
Mr. Quick dashed back to the bar for a breather. “I checked out that tank. There’s no way inside that thing. How we doing?” he asked Bacchus.
“Dancer’s down and Reaper—” Suddenly a missile exploded in front of the Reaper and a huge gash opened in the street. The Reaper disappeared into the hole. “You better get back out there,” advised Bacchus. “It’s just you and Gravity Girl now.” There was a breeze and Mr. Quick vanished.
“Let me help them.” The little girl’s face was drawn. “Daddy says I shouldn’t except in an emergency. Isn’t this an emergency?”
Bacchus shook his head. “Not yet.”
Zipping through the enemy forces, Mr. Quick ran back to the tank. He had an idea. He stopped for a moment and three robots fired their weapons at him. Mr. Quick became a blur and rushed to the side just as the missiles hit the tank. There was a tremendous explosion. As he surveyed the damage, Mr. Quick saw that the vehicle was dented but still operational. Not good enough. He dodged another barrage from the tank and suddenly the street collapsed around him. Cyber! That metal monstrosity had fired several missiles all at once and created a huge hole and Mr. Quick was falling! He flapped his arms with such tremendous speed that he was okay even after landing on his back. Mostly okay. He sat up with a groan.
A dark shape shuffled toward him and Mr. Quick heard water splashing. He was in the sewer. He recognized the approaching figure and said, “Hey Reaper, how you doing?”
“Have you seen an arm?”
“Naw. Just got here.”
“If you see one, it’s mine.”
“I’ll keep my eyes open.”
Gravity Girl was starting to falter up on the street. She had a pounding headache and every time she flung one of the big metal bodies it got worse. Everyone else was out of the fight and she wouldn’t last much longer. She had only enough stamina for one last ditch effort. She’d given up floating to save energy and now she hunched over and concentrated. Her face contorted into a red mask and she suddenly flung her arms out.
All the remaining robots were tossed away like rag dolls. They flew through the air and hit the tank with a tremendous clatter. Sagging to her knees, Gravity Girl keeled sideways and passed out.
Bacchus took a step toward the window, squinting to see what had happened. The tank looked like it was wrecked but several of the robots that Gravity Girl had thrown were still moving. They were getting up and they looked mad. They started down the street.
Bacchus glanced up and saw the cloud of pale smoke and the butterflies and bats flocked overhead. He knew what was happening and looked at the little girl. Her dark eyes weaved frantically and she begged, “Please let me help!”
Bacchus would never forgive himself if something happened to her. But the Brigade was down and he didn’t have much choice. “Go ahead,” he said softly. “Use your imagination.”
An eerie yellow glow emanated from the little girl’s eyes as she began to concentrate. Splats of water began falling outside on the street. It was raining. The deluge fell in thick sheets.
The robots heading toward the bar stopped. They craned their necks upward and exchanged fearful looks. What was happening? They were deathly afraid of water. They would rust! Suddenly they began scrambling and running away as fast as they could. Within moments they were gone.
The little girl sagged over the table. The rain outside faltered and stopped. “Did I do good?”
“You did just fine, honey.” Bacchus nodded with approval.
But it wasn’t over yet. A door clanged open on the tank and Cyber leapt out onto the street. He was furious. “Look what you’ve done to my beautiful tank!” He had one of those missile launchers and he raised it toward the first target he saw, the Dancer.
The Dancer had woken and he saw Cyber and the missile launcher. He was still groggy and he could barely move. There was nothing he could possibly do to save himself.
Bacchus saw what was happening and his heart grew cold. Dancer! Suddenly a streak of blue came out of the sky. Powerman! The superhero hit Cyber with a tremendous crash and the robot went careening into a building.
Cyber was up immediately and looking for his weapon. He spotted it a few feet away as Powerman’s boot crushed it into junk with a loud crunch. “P-Powerman,” the robot stammered. “Where did you come from?”
Striding forward, Powerman answered casually. “Been out of town.”
“Well, ah . . .” Cyber’s red eyes glittered with confusion. “Good to have you back!”
Powerman yanked at Cyber’s arm and the robot was forced to stoop over. “Not the face!” he begged.
A blue-gloved fist jerked back and smashed Cyber’s mouth with a crash. Metal parts tinkled over the ground. Powerman slugged Cyber again and again until the robot’s red eyes dimmed and went black. Powerman dropped the big metal body to the concrete with a loud clank.
Bacchus smiled as he watched the little girl run out of the bar to her father. Powerman’s daughter was a very special young lady. Her ability to project her thoughts was impressive and he was sure that one day she’d be joining the Brigade of Superheroes. He already had a name picked out for her. Imagination.
He moved behind the bar. A glance outside told him that the Reaper and Mr. Quick were back on the street and Gravity Girl was up. They would be thirsty. He began setting up sodas.
Bacchus would be there when Imagination and the new generation of superheroes took over. Maybe Gravity Girl’s eldest daughter would take her place when she retired. Oh, her ability to glow in the dark was only keeping her sister awake at night now, but someday she’d learn how to harness that power and take her place in the Brigade. Superpowers weren’t the most important thing in fighting arch criminals anyway. They came in handy but what it really took was guts and the desire to do what’s right. He chuckled. Even a little Imagination could go a long, long way.