Among the display cases, I found the first known photograph of the Skull. The plaque said "1884: THE SKULL GOES WEST". It was a fuzzy black-and-white image of a man in a black bowler hat and coat, wearing a white jawless skull-mask. He looked savage and fierce, with a pair of six-shooters in either hand. Behind him was a train station.
That's the next thing that struck me as wrong: The Skull was a man, not a woman. He'd been around for a long time, but he was always male. Not only that--he was supposed to be over a century old.
I'm not a superhero buff, and even I know his story. An immortal crime fighter and brilliant detective. Singlehandedly stopped the Dreadbot menace back in the 30s. Saved the Society on at least three separate occasions. Reputed to have personally punched the Fuhrer in the face.
The simultaneous revelations that he was A) Not immortal, B) Not always a guy, and C) my mom--well, it was a little much.
But some of it did make sense. My mom was always peculiarly strong; she also had some strange habits. When some girls were attending dance recitals, she was driving me to self-defense classes. While some mothers were teaching their daughters how to knit, she was showing me how to dress a wound.
I always figured she was just looking out for me; she wanted me to survive. She was never mean or nasty about any of it--just insistent.
But a lot more still didn't add up. She didn't want me to take up the mantle; I understood that much. But why did she expect me to try? I wasn't super material. I was a little stronger than most girls my age--I couldn't remember the last time I had a cold, or didn't pass a physical exam without flying colors--but I was a long way from throwing Pintos at time-traveling Nazis.
It wasn't until I started exploring the bunker that I found the answer. The place had everything--a locker room, an equipment room (stocked with all sorts of dust-coated gear--hang-gliders, laptops, grappling hooks, even what I could have sworn was a harpoon gun), an exercise room--and a laboratory.
It was there that I discovered the Skull's dirty little secret. It was inside a fully stocked research facility; I didn't recognize much of the machinery, but it all looked incredibly expensive (how the hell did mom afford this stuff, anyway? And where had all the money gone?). The most important bit was near the back, set apart from the rest of the laboratory.
Eight vials that looked like they had come straight out of an 18th century alchemy set--jawless metal skulls serving as their stoppers. Five of them were empty; three of them were filled with a thick red substance. Above them was a framed letter written with an elegant, careful hand--the paper had turned yellow and crinkled with time. It read:
My dearest daughter,
I bequeath to you my most precious possession: Eight vials of my Elixir. Imbibe one, and you shall gain the strength of Heracles, the speed and grace of Hermes, and a hardiness of body that would shame Zeus himself.
I have used this formula to stand against the countless iniquities of society. I leave the fight to you, with the knowledge that should you not find this mantle to your liking, you shall seek out another who will.
My final advice to you is only this: Never apologize for who you are or what you desire.
With love and pride,
Trembling, my fingers touched the skull caps on the vials. There had been five Skulls; five empty vials. But the original Skull had said he left my grandmother eight elixirs--which implied that they had all been full. Had one of the elixirs been lost?
Well, it hardly mattered now. Here I was--Sue Daysdale, sixteen years of age, mild-mannered high school girl--sitting before three samples of Instant Hero-In-A-Bottle. Just add angst.
I felt a temptation to drink one. What the heck, I thought. You only live once, right?
But I stopped myself--my mother didn't want me to have this. It probably would have been destroyed with everything else. There had to be a reason, I thought.
Yeah, a voice in my head said, sure, there was probably a reason she didn't want you to be able to run up buildings and punch through walls. But do you give a flying crap?
Did I have any right, though? I wasn't going to fight crime. And these potions--my great grandfather clearly intended them for that purpose. So if I drank one, wouldn't I be obligated to--I don't know, do something with that power?
Suddenly, the fact that I had just been one keystroke away from completing my mother's master plan of destroying everything here struck me as the perfect excuse to do whatever the hell I wanted with her stuff.
The hell with it.
The stopper popped off with a light squeeze. The potion had a copper odor--like what you'd expect a penny to smell like. I brought it to my lips and tossed it back.
It burned on the way down. My eyes watered as I swallowed it. I shook my head, grimacing.
Several moments passed. I felt a dull stab of pain in my stomach.
It was followed by an indescribable agony.
I fell to the floor, screaming.