Showcase: American Girl
A Family Christmas
The Race crossover
American Girl debuted during the presidential race, working alongside her stepfather Pat Dugan, alias Americommando. But as Courtney Dugan begins her own solo heroic career, she finds more than she bargained for when she’s forced to fight her biological father — the villainous leader of the Strike Force!
“No. You are not going to be my sidekick, and that’s final.”
Courtney Dugan sat across the kitchen table from her stepfather with a crushed look on her face. “But I thought, after the way we worked together during the campaign, that you’d be OK with it.”
Pat Dugan shook his head, laying down his fork. “Sure we did, kiddo. You did fine work out there. That’s why I’m saying no.”
“Huh?” The blonde teenager’s head tilted to one side, confusion now evident on her face. “That doesn’t make any sense, Dad.”
“That’s because you’re thinking small. I’m saying no because I don’t think you should be anybody’s sidekick. You’re good enough to do this on your own, or as part of a team.”
Courtney gulped. “Are… are you serious?”
“Hey, remember who you’re talking to. I was the only adult sidekick to a teenaged mystery-man, wasn’t I? I’m serious enough that I’ve talked to the JSA about adding you to the Junior JSA.”
“John told me about them. You think they would let me in?”
“They want you in there, honey. And now that we’ve moved to Gotham, it’s not like you have to travel far to meet them.” Pat pushed his chair back and stood, grabbing his breakfast plate and coffee mug from the table. “They won’t be meeting until after the new year, so you’ve got a couple weeks to wait. How are you settling into the new school?”
“OK,” said Courtney as she finished off her pancakes. “The science labs are a lot better equipped than the ones back in Blue Valley, and the social studies teachers make me want to scream. They’re all like, corporations are evil, and rich people are evil, and I’m some kind of monster for wanting to be an engineer like my mother. I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, the East Coast can be like that. You’ll survive.”
“You don’t know what happened to him? Isn’t it your department’s job to keep track of these guys?”
Robin Gage sighed as she listened to the speaker at the other end of the phone conversation. She hated making these calls, all the more so because they happened with a depressing frequency. “Yes it is, Mr. Hall, but the parole office can only check in on the parolees periodically. We can’t live with them and monitor their every movement. And, frankly, this one was considered relatively low-risk.”
“I understand that, Ms. Gage, and I did review his prison record when you asked for our recommendation. I was one of those who supported his release under parole, given his model behavior since he’s been at Gotham State Penn. So, how long has it been since you had contact with him?”
“He was released on the first of November. He showed up for his first meeting with me on the seventeenth. He called to postpone the meeting scheduled for the third by two weeks. When he didn’t show up for that one yesterday, I went to his last known address. It looks like he moved out a couple of weeks ago.”
“Up to a month. All right, then. I know you folks will continue looking for him. Please keep us informed if you find out anything, and we’ll check around as well. After all, unlike most parolees, we do have a family connection to this one.”
“But I thought he had gone out west with another group?”
“He did, but he is still a part of the Justice Society. And Sylvester Pemberton will want to know that his nephew Arthur is running loose again. Good day, Ms. Gage.”
In the JSA Brownstone, Hawkman hung up the phone and walked over to a file cabinet. He pulled a file out of the drawer and opened it, reviewing the contents. “Yes, Sylvester will want to know, and I’d best let Wildcat and Huntress know as well.”
“Wow, this is incredible, Mom.”
“Isn’t it? I had no idea Knight-Pemberton had facilities like this when they contacted me about coming to work here. I guess I should have let Pat talk me into this years ago.” Lynda Dugan walked through a robotics testing lab with her daughter Courtney. To either side of them, robotic arms and torsos were connected to lab computers and terminals. “And to think, your uncle Sylvester is the money man behind this.”
“Well, he’s fought his share of oversized robots; maybe he figured he could have his own for a change?” quipped the younger girl.
“Be careful about remarks like that. While his identity is public, most people around here don’t associate the Pemberton Family Trust with Patriot. And you don’t want them looking too closely at you. Especially if you’re going to be working here during school breaks.”
“I’ll try to remember that. At least the interview went well.”
Lynda smiled as she led her daughter into a smaller lab. “That it did. Mr. Higgins seemed very impressed with your understanding of math and physics. You’ll be able to start working next week when your Christmas break begins.”
“Oh, joy,” deadpanned Courtney, rolling her eyes in mock despair. “Working over the holidays.”
“Hey it was your idea.” Lynda grabbed a coat that was draped over a desk chair and a purse from the desk. “Ready to go? I want to stop at the mall and do some final Christmas shopping.”
“Sure,” said Courtney, hauling a backpack out from under her mother’s desk. “What’s he–?”
Courtney didn’t get to finish her question, as the ceiling above them burst apart with a loud screech.
“Grab what you can. Use the gravity sleds to haul out the bigger ones.” The mechanized voice came from a man in full body armor, a blazing jet-pack on his back. There were a half-dozen others with him in similar armor, each with a number emblazoned on their chest, back, and the forehead of their helmet. The one who spoke first bore the number one. The others flew off an into the larger testing lab, hauling robots and parts off of the testing stations. One of them started disconnecting the test stations themselves from the computer network and power connections.
“Now, to check the files for — what? The lab was supposed to be deserted!”
“Sorry to spoil your plans!” yelled Lynda Dugan as she grabbed for her desk phone and punched a red button on it. The button lit up, and a voice came over the speaker on the phone base.
“Break in, lab 315. They’ve got armor and–”
“And weapons, miss. Don’t forget the weapons.” The mechanized voice of the leader choked off. “Lynda?”
“Huh?” said the startled woman, looking up from the smoking remains of her desk at the armored figure floating in her office. “Oh, no, not you!”
“Not who?” Bursting up from under a table, a lithe figure in red, white, and blue glanced first at Lynda, then at her attacker. “You know him?”
“Never mind. Just stop him and his team. And be careful!” Lynda dived for cover as the young girl rose up into the air. Her face was covered by a bright blue mask that matched the leggings and micro-skirt she wore over white tights. Her oversized red-and-white-striped jersey hung around her bare shoulders, and long, spiked blonde hair bloomed from her head, a red headband serving more as ornamentation than actually holding the mass of hair. Red and silver bangle bracelets circled her wrists, and as she rose up, one of those bracelets flared and sent a flurry of sparkling stars at the armored man.
“Oh, my, what are you supposed to be? Some poor imitator of my uncle?” The stars struck the armor and dissipated with no effect.
“Uncle? Ohmigod, it’s you!” Sending a pair of similar blasts at his head, the young lady dived back down toward the floor. “You got the lineage right, though. Call me American Girl!” She landed and grabbed a chair. Her hands and the chair glowed momentarily as she threw it upward with a speed belying the chair’s weight. The glow faded just before it struck the man as he maneuvered above her. “You’re the one they call Number One, aren’t you? With a new Strike Force?”
“Ooof! You’ve got that right, kid. And since your pretty lights don’t seem to bother me, all I have to do is keep a little distance between us and pick you off.”
“Sure, you just keep believing that!” The glow enveloped American Girl’s body again, and a beam shot out and impacted on Number One’s chest. This time, it drove him back, tossing him through the doors into the larger lab. She quickly followed and scanned the room as she used the manipulative energies of the cosmic converter belt to grab packing crates and chairs and hurl them at the Strike Force members. Glad I talked Mom and Dad into upgrading the belt so I could use it along with the gravity harness, thought American Girl.
“Never mind her! Just grab the prototypes and get going!” called Number One.
“I don’t think so!”
American Girl glanced over her shoulder and smiled as she saw her mother standing with a remote-control panel in her hands. Several of the robotic parts in the lab came to life, moving randomly and hampering the thieves’ efforts to grab them.
The force-field generated by American Girl’s gravity harness flared as it was struck by shots from a pair of energy weapons, and again as Number One fired a pistol at her. “Oh, now you’re just making me mad!” On a hunch, American Girl took careful aim, drew her right arm back, and made a throwing motion. A starburst erupted from her hand and struck one of the Strike Force members hands as he held his energy blaster. He convulsed from the electrical shock and dropped his weapon. “Yeah, I thought you might have to reduce the insulation in the gloves in order to control those weapons.”
Bursts from her neural disruptor bracelets took out a few more Strike Force members. She turned around, looking for more of them as Number One fired a blast at the ceiling. Steel, plaster, and fiberglass insulation cascaded down around the teen heroine. Her force-field protected her from harm, but it simply meant that she had about two inches of space between herself and the pile of rubble under which she found herself.
Wow, what hit me? thought American Girl as she got her bearings. She couldn’t feel the material pressing against her force-field, but she couldn’t move any farther than the field allowed. “This is a fine mess,” she said, mentally commanding the cosmic converter belt to send out tendrils of force, probing through the pile of rubble and shifting it away. As she felt the weight shift, she burst up through the pile and continued on up into the air. “Nice try, but that’s your last shot!” she cried, flying directly at Number One.
He brought his arms up, firing with a pistol in one hand and an energy-blaster in the other. She stopped mid-flight and twisted in midair, arcing up and over the path of both weapons. She dropped down in front of Number One and, before he could react, grabbed his head and slammed his face down on her knee. The visor of his helmet shattered under the impact, and as he realized what she’d done, he also realized that her fist, crackling with a silvery, spiked energy signature, was right under his nose. “Please,” she said. “Give me a reason. Or order your men to drop their weapons and surrender.”
“Strike Force. Stand down,” replied the criminal leader as he dropped his own weapons. Looking over his shoulder, American Girl saw her mother’s approving smile.
Three days later, Christmas Eve:
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yeah. I’ve wanted to do this since you told me about him. The timing just makes it more… interesting.”
“You sure you don’t want your Mom or I in there with you?”
“I’m sure. Don’t worry. I’m not heeled.”
Pat Dugan chuckled. “That’s what we get for pairing her up with a mob princess during the campaign.” He looked up as a guard entered the waiting room. “Looks like they’re ready for you.”
Courtney Whitmore stood and walked to the doorway. The guard took the bag she was carrying and examined the contents, then handed it back to her. As Courtney and the guard left the room, Lynda and Pat Dugan exchanged glances. “Are you sure we should let her go in there?” asked Lynda.
“No. But she is. And she’s the one that has to handle this.”
Moments later, in the visitation room of Gotham County Jail, Courtney sat at a counter, looking through the wire mesh-reinforced plexiglass window separating her from Arthur Pemberton, the Strike Force’s Number One.
“I remember you. You were at the lab, weren’t you?”
“Right. With my mother,” she replied coolly.
“Your mother? Well, that’s nice to hear, that Lynda found someone and started a family. Who’s your father?”
Courtney just stared at him for several seconds. She could see him looking more closely at her face and trying to estimate her age. Finally, it dawned on him. “Well, I’ll be damned. She never told me — you understand that, right?”
“Oh, I do. And don’t worry, I’m not looking for anything from you. We’ve done just fine on our own.”
Pemberton leaned forward toward the glass. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. But if you’re not looking for anything, why did you come down here?”
“Well, you might not have known about me, but, hey, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. So, I guess I just wanted to say thanks, for that at least.”
Arthur smiled, his mustache turning up at the ends. “You’re welcome, I suppose.” He shook his head, then looked at her once more. “Hey, was that you in the red, white, and blue get-up at the lab?”
Courtney stood up and started toward the door. “Are you kidding? Do I seriously look like the type to put on a screwy costume and fly around like that?” He looked at her in her navy blue khakis, her soft, fuzzy red and green Christmas sweater, and her short bobbed hairstyle.
“No, I guess not. I’m glad you and your Mom didn’t get hurt there.”
“Yeah. Good thing, that. Oh, and the guard has something for you, too. Merry Christmas.” The teenaged daughter of the criminal flounced out of the room as the guard on his side of the barrier approached with a brightly colored bag.
Arthur took the bag and reached inside. “What do you know?” he said to the guard. “A daughter, and she actually cares enough to bring her old man a Christmas present in jail.”
“Yeah, how about that?” replied the guard as he watched the older man pull a sweatshirt out of the bag and unfold it. “Heh.”
Arthur held the shirt up so he could see the design. It was one he’d seen in stores, printed with the words World’s Greatest Dad. But this one was customized. Painted above the pre-printed words, it said Definitely not the.
Back out in the waiting room, Courtney joined her mother and the man who had become more of a father than she’d ever expected to find. “Let’s go. I’m ready for lunch, and I imagine old Art is getting a little steamed in there.”
Lynda looked up at Pat, then at her daughter. “What did you do?”
“I just gave him a little present.”
“Courtney, what did you do?”
“C’mon. I’ve had enough of this place.”
Pat laid a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Give it up, dear. She’s got your stubborn streak, remember?”
As they walked toward the exit, the guard who had taken the gift in to Arthur came into the room. Courtney spotted him and waved. “Merry Christmas.”
He grinned and gave her a wink. “Yes, ma’am. And a Merry Christmas to you and your family.”