by Doc Quantum
Amanda Martin suddenly woke from slumber in the dark, and — for a long, almost surreal, moment — she completely forgot where she was. She glanced around in confusion, searching for the table lamp before remembering she had her own source of light.
The star sapphire around her neck glowed as she thought about it, illuminating the room, and — as suddenly as she had woken up — she remembered where she had been sleeping. It was not her old, familiar dorm room at the Holliday Academy for Young Ladies, but her mom’s house, where her mom and dad lived.
All right, so Charles McNider was not her real dad — he was technically her stepdad — but Uncle Charlie, as she had known him until last year, was just like a father to her. She remembered loving her real dad, Bill Martin, but he had died when she was still young. It scared her sometimes when she could not recall his face, so she always kept a picture of him in her purse. She never wanted to forget from where she had come. Since last year, Uncle Charlie was no longer Uncle Charlie to her, since he had married her mom. Now Uncle Charlie was Dad, and it felt so good to be able to call him that. She knew her real dad would want it this way.
She looked around in the guest room her parents kept for her whenever she paid them a visit, as she had this Friday. It was very homey. There was a certain lived-in smell that had the unique ability to make her feel very much at home. Only, the room seemed somewhat darker than usual, even by the light of her sapphire.
“M-Mom?” she breathed in a voice barely louder than a whisper. A sudden chill had caught her in that wee hour when she was not yet her rational self. She was still afraid of the dark, especially since last summer. It still gave her nightmares sometimes to think about it, even though all her physical bruises had completely healed. It would still take some time to heal the bruises that no one could see. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Junior JSA: The Junior Injustice Society, Chapter 6: Final Warning.]
“Mom?” she called, a little bit louder this time, while pulling the sheets up protectively just a bit more.
It was then that she heard a creaking in the hallway. Probably just mom or dad, she thought. Although the creaking of the hallway floorboards was barely perceptible, she heard the noise coming closer and closer toward the bedroom door, which was open just a few inches. From her point of view from the bed, she could not see the hallway, but she could hear the creaking sound coming closer, until it finally stopped.
“Mom,” she said again, a crack in her voice this time, “is that you?”
No one answered her, but after a few long moments that felt longer due to the uncertainty of it all, her door began to slowly creak open, the hinges making a quiet but shrill sound as they moved. Her window was open next to her bed, she told herself; that was why the door was opening like that — it was just a draft. Somehow, the thought was not quite convincing enough.
“That’s it,” she said suddenly, her rational self kicking in, “I gotta get out of here.”
Amanda rose from her bed, still dressed in a long nightgown, the star sapphire glowing brightly around her neck as she floated out her bedroom window. She did not look back at her bedroom doorway — she did not dare. In the mood she was in, she was too easily startled. Some of her girlfriends loved the cheap thrill they got from scary movies, but not Amanda. She would rather get her adrenaline rush in her own unique way, thank you very much.
The star sapphire altered Amanda’s appearance to her working clothes as the Star Sapphire, member of the Junior JSA, as she rose into the air above New York City. It was up here in the night sky that she felt most free. She was a floating star amidst the twinkling, starry sky above. A full moon greeted her as she rose, unconsciously heading toward her hometown of Washington, D.C. Perhaps Jeff was awake. She knew he was an insomniac, and he was as likely as not to still be awake, even this late at night. Plus, there was that thing he was planning on telling her. She wondered what it could be.
Grant could not sleep.
He felt as if his eyelids were wallpapered with sandpaper at the moment, but he was not drowsy in the least. So he sat up in bed, watching an early morning replay of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was just a diversion to keep his mind occupied while waiting to become tired, but it did nothing for him. Occasionally he chuckled at one of Johnny’s one-liners, but he had to admit that he was more of a Letterman fan. That show, airing immediately after The Tonight Show, was what he was really staying up to watch. Or at least that was the reason he told himself.
The truth was more complicated. He was a teenager — that was self-evident. It made no difference that he was also Damage, member of the Junior JSA, and that he had powers and abilities beyond that of the ordinary individual. He was still a teenager, and that meant he was a confused, emotional wreck most of the time. And there was one thing he couldn’t stop thinking about — girls.
No, not really girls, plural — one girl in particular. Her long, blonde hair raced constantly through his thoughts, whether he was conscious of this fact or not. Amanda was special to him. He was sure that she considered him special as well. But sometimes he was not so sure about that. Other times he fully doubted that.
Yes, they had been out a few times together alone, but most of the time they saw each other while hanging out with the others. Most of those times, in fact, Grant wished he could somehow have just gotten rid of all the others and been with her alone. He was not a social person like Amanda, and while he only wanted to talk to her sometimes, she was often too busy being her social butterfly self. He knew she had not been acting that way to make him feel bad — that was unthinkable — but she also had no idea about the effect she had on him. Every glance, every word she said to him, every brush against her arm or leg — all meant so much to him. She literally had the power to destroy him if she willed it. That was how much Grant Pratt cared about Amanda Martin.
Pratt — that surname would take some time to get used to. It was not all that long ago that he had discovered who his true parents were. While he kept his given name of Emerson as a middle name and as a tribute to his adoptive parents, he had adopted the surname of Pratt on the day that his biological parents, Albert and Mary Pratt, legally adopted him as their son. It was a fulfillment of everything Grant had wanted.
One day earlier that week, he had spoken with his dad about his feelings for Amanda. He would usually have confided only with John Garrick, but ever since John’s dad had begun running for the office of the President, John was harder to reach. So Grant’s dad was the next best thing. He confessed his feelings for Amanda and his continuing failure to tell her about them, and said how he was never quite sure whether they were dating or just going out as friends. Al Pratt just nodded his head knowingly as he listened. He seemed to know exactly what Grant was talking about. Al told him about the problems he had with Mary back when he was in college as a young man, and the conversation helped Grant — a little bit, anyway.
The father-son chat still could not help Grant get to sleep at night, though. He was a fairly sensitive kid, like his friend John, and he had gone to school on more than one occasion with red eyes, having tossed and turned in bed all night fretting about her.
“That girl’s gonna be the death of me,” he said to himself, chuckling. In truth, he felt privileged to simply know a beautiful girl like Amanda. She was not like the snobby girls at his school who stuck their noses up at a “shrimp” like him when he walked by. He felt like he could talk to Amanda about anything — well, almost anything — he still could not quite come out and tell her how he felt about her. But he figured she knew. She had to know by now, right?
Being a teenager was not easy.
“Wha–?” Grant mumbled as his TV flickered off and his bedroom was plunged into darkness. “Huh. Must be the fusebox again.”
Grant wandered out of his room and into the hallway, careful not to wake his parents sleeping in the bedroom across the hall. He grabbed a flashlight in the kitchen, turning it on as he began creeping downstairs into the basement. It was really chilly down there. His parents kept a wine cellar in the basement and had the temperature regulated. Unfortunately for him, the chilled basement was also where the fusebox was.
As he stepped onto the cold cement floor in his bare feet, he brought his flashlight up and shone it about him. This basement always creeped him out. The movement of the flashlight hardly helped much, either, as — whenever he moved it — the shadows would dance around as if alive. Whatever — he had come down here for a reason.
Grant walked over to the fusebox and pried it open. “Ow!” he cried, pricking his finger on something sharp. “Geez, that hurt.” He looked at his fingertip. It had drawn blood. “Shoot. I’m probably gonna have to have a tetanus shot now or something.”
Carefully pulling the fusebox door open, he reset the switch and shut it again. As the fusebox door shut, he heard a noise.
“Who’s there?” Grant said immediately, swinging his flashlight behind him, the light making dancing shadows behind the stairs. A clinking sound startled him, and his hand darted the light to the wine racks. “I can see you,” he bluffed, his quiet-yet-commanding voice shaking slightly. “Come on out.”
No answer. After a moment of waiting, Grant walked over to the wine racks, and as he neared them, he heard the rattling of bottles once again. “Where are you, you sonuva–?”
He jumped, startled for a second as a mouse ran across the floor. A moment later, he laughed at himself reproachingly. “You chicken — it was just a mouse.”
Grant smiled at his foolishness and creeped back to the stairs. As his foot landed on the first step, he literally jumped a foot in the air as he heard a CRASH followed by the sound of shattering glass.
“Oh, crap!” Grant muttered, knowing his dad was not going to be happy with this. He shelved that thought, though, for as he brought his flashlight up to the wine racks, he saw something.
His jaw dropped. In a split second, he caught a glimpse of something. No… someone. There was the figure of a man there, a hideous smile on a dark face with no distinguishable features that Grant could see in that split second it registered on his eyes before moving out of view.
A childish fear popped into Grant’s mind for a moment at the thought of a strange man in his house before he remembered who he was. He was Damage. He was a famous hero and the son of an even more famous hero, and he had no reason to be afraid of a burglar.
“Hey, you — stop!” was all Grant managed to say before the next wine rack was pushed over, shattering wine bottles all over the basement floor. The Atom’s temper — or lack thereof — was almost legendary. Dad was not going to be happy about this.
Grant thought he heard laughing amidst the shattering sounds, but the dark man always seemed impossibly one step ahead of his flashlight’s glare — he could never get a direct view of him. “Where the heck are you?” he shouted, jumping down to the basement floor and remembering only afterward that there were thousands of glass shards mixed with wine all over it. “Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!”
The teenager had not been a hero for all that long. He still had not fine-tuned his control over the powers he had. Thus, it was understandable that Grant Emerson Pratt’s instinctive reaction to the pain response from his feet was to do what he did best — he exploded.
It was not as bad as it could have been — it was certainly not like Atlanta, not by a long shot — but it was enough to do a lot of damage to his parents’ basement wine cellar. (*) After the smoke had cleared and his ears had stopped ringing, there was absolutely no sign of the intruder anywhere, no evidence that there had been any intruder. The only thing he could hear was the sound of his father angrily yelling his name.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 2, Chapter 2: Damage.]