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Arms Race - Chapter 1

Meet Judo Jess.
The hallways of Mils River High are alive with the commotion of students going back and forth. A blend of teenagers from all walks of life converges in the hallways, outfitted with red and green-colored lockers. Mils River High, home of The Lions, sits outside New Castle Pennsylvania. One of the schools brightest students repositions her backpack as she chats with friends entering the cafeteria.

Jessica is just like any other brown-haired fifteen-year-old girl; confused, self-conscious, smart, and shy. She isn't the prettiest girl, probably wouldn't stand out in a crowd. She's not boy crazy or infatuated with the newest gadget, just a normal girl. Until a few months ago she was just another student, now she is somewhat popular. Jessica made the evening news when she rescued a married couple from a sky-car crash.

The couple were traveling from Pittsburg to Cleveland but got lost after getting off the intra-state. Their sky-cars malfunctioning hover pad caused them to lose control, sending them crashing into the river. Jess used to go down to the old CSX train tracks near the Shenango River to walk her dog. She saw the accident, hearing the people's screams as the sky-car started to sink. Jessica dove in and was able to pull the two to safety. She never thought it was a big deal, but the emergency workers did, even the Mayor.

Everyone made a fuss about it, shocked that a young girl could accomplish such a feat. Some of the credit went to her single father, a local fireman; people say she is 'a chip off the ol block'. He teaches a self-defense class at the local community center and in like manner Jessica teaches Judo to young kids.

Her heroics made her the talk of the town, even more so at school. At first she hated it, and in a way she still does. She isn't big on attention, but she did get a taste of something that she has been yearning to feel again; power. It is weird to her, she does not fully understand it but she felt charged, in control. When she pulled those people to safety she felt powerful. She felt invincible, like nothing could ever hurt her. She wouldn't dare tell a soul about her secret power lust, but it's there.

Jessica chats with her friend, grabbing their food. They chat about the latest craze of vigilantes, pulling out their phones to share vids. Teens eagerly watch eyewitness sightings of the real-life heroes that the media says are a threat. Jessica sits at her usual table among friends feeling normal. The day's stress subside as the girls eat and chat unaware that their lives are about to change.

One of the girls relates her recent visit to Jessica's father's Judo class when a loud pop rings. The unfamiliar sound jolts the students. Out of reflex they begin to cover their ears as another three pops sound off, followed by screams. "He's got a gun." Someone yells sending a panic through the cafeteria. Jessica and every girl at her table duck, confused to where the threat is coming from. She makes it to her knees as another two shots are fired.

Jessica screams in fear as she furiously crawls, desperately trying to find safety. She picks her head up spotting the exit and begins to stand, but bumps into a fellow student. She instantly recognizes him, a quiet guy she shared a class with last year. His name escapes her memory but she is horrified to see that the object he is holding is a handgun. He finishes reloading the gun in the moment it takes Jessica to process what is going on. He raises the gun to fire but her reflexes kick in.

Jessica lunges for the gun, she successfully grabs his forearm turning it away. One round manages to go off, but the bullet harmlessly sinks into the ground. Jessica clinches onto his arm as she extends her leg in front of him, twisting her body. Her muscle memory kicks in, sending her in an defensive motion; she pivots her body in a way that sends him over her right hip. Before his back slams to the ground, Jess twists his hand so hard that not only he drops the gun but also breaks his wrist. The brave girl kneels cramming her knee into her assailant's neck, forcing him still; teachers soon come to her aid. The school shooting is over before Jessica realizes what she did.

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'Judo-Jess' is what the media have labeled the young heroine. Only one student was injured in the shooting thanks to Jessica's actions. She becomes a small celebrity in Pennsylvania, being on multiple news programs. She is again at the center of attention, all for something she didn't know she was even doing. It was all just reflexes, but it gave her a taste of something she has been craving.

The adrenaline and anxiety clouded things during the shooting; she was only thinking of surviving. When that cloud lifted, she saw herself towering over that boy. She was strong, where he was weak and because she was strong she saved her classmates. To her this was the most pleasurable part of it.

Then the reality of it all sinks in. She shudders to think how she could have been killed. Being face to face with the gun still scares her, sometimes giving her nightmares.

It has been two months since the shootings and today Jessica is at a special dinner in the Governor's Residence. The whole place is overtly fancy, white and bronze statues alongside historic art. It's a little too much for a fifteen-year-old tomboy. She uncomfortably sits through a long-winded speech, being given by some important person in a fancy suit. She is out of place and hates every minute, but she tolerates the fame because her dad revels in it. He happily stands besides her, gleaming with a proud joy. She shakes hands with the Governor in front of a couple hover-cams, smiling while wearing a stuffy dress.

The first moment she gets, she finds solace in the bathroom, but she's further frustrated by its opulence. Marble counter tops are offset by rustic white porcelain toiletry. Luckily there is a long couch that she plops down on. The whole experience is making her tense but it all fades when she is joined. A tall woman enters the restroom, glaring at Jessica. Jessica lowers her head not wanting to meet the woman's gaze. The woman steps towards Jessica making her more uncomfortable.

"Jessica D. Tucker." The woman says, reading the young girls name tag.
Her heart jumps, awkwardly nervous of the stranger before her.
"What's the 'D' stand for?" She asks nicely, but Jessica remains silent. "Speak up kid, I won't bite."
"D... Diane." Jessica quietly answers, finally looking up and doesn't look away.

The woman introduces herself as 'Gina' and she is bigger than any woman Jessica has ever seen. She looks as if she's a body builder with long dark blonde hair and golden-tanned skin. Her casual attire is not really appropriate for this black tie event, but with the air of confidence that she has, no one would say anything. Most men would find her pretty, despite her distaste for wearing makeup, dresses, high heels or anything traditionally feminine. Even though they have no resemblance Jess feels they are a lot a like.

Jessica slowly stands before the woman and shakes her hand. She can't help but stare, tilting her head like a puppy.
"Stop that, you're freaking me out a lil."
"I'm sorry" Jessica whispers, looking away.
"Don't apologize either. Figured the famous Judo Jess... would be tougher." Gina says folding her toned arms.

"I just wanted to say I heard about what you did and I'm impressed. It took a lot of balls to do that."
Jessica only smiles in response raising her head, again staring in wonderment. This woman fascinates her, she seems so dominant and 'in control' everything she secretly wants to be. She notices the woman's gloved right hand, making her more mysterious. Jessica is overwhelmed with curiosity. Who is this Gina, what does she do, where is she from?

She nervously clears her throat, deciding to speak up. "Are... you a ... cage fighter? Or one of those... movie stunt ladies? Why are you here at the Governor's..." She asks staring at Gina's left hand, wondering why it is gloveless.
Gina gives the teen a playful tap on her shoulder, waking her from her thoughts. "Why are we so talkative all of a sudden?"

"Sorry, your... just not... I've never seen a woman like you before." Jessica says rubbing her shoulder not caring if the comment was rude.
Gina nearly breaks out in laughter. "That was the intent. 'Blending in' isn't my thing."
Jessica next question blurts out before she realizes. "Have you ever killed someone?"

Gina only smiles at the comment while turning away. Now she is the one speechless and for the first time since she entered this bathroom, she is not in control.
"What would you say if I have done such a thing?" Gina playfully asks.
Jessica's eyes dart, trying to locate the right answer. "I... I don't think you're bad person or anything, so I guess if you had..."

"I'm frakking with you kid. I'm not a maniac killer. Why would you ask a total stranger that?" Gina laughs.
Jessica is slow to respond. "You seem like the kinda person that is tough enough to do so. Not saying you kill people, just... powerful enough to do so."
"I am powerful." Gina proudly says, rubbing her hands.
Jessica's innocent stare becomes envious, she wants what Gina has. She stands a little taller pushing her shoulders back. She sucks in her stomach wanting to be like her.

"You are one weird kid."
"I... I want to be... tough. I want to be a bad ass."
Gina sighs while taking a seat on the couch, rubbing a hand over her face. "No, you don't kid. If you only knew what I have given up to get these powers."

Then something calls out to Gina from deep within. She sees something in this young teenage girl, something familiar, something that she can help this girl with.

"What would you do with this power?" Gina asks.
Jessica stands before the mirror, no longer posturing. She is slouching, lazily content with what she sees before her.
"I don't know really. I just... don't want to be afraid. I want to be strong enough, so that I don't get hurt." She responses but thinking of how helpless she felt about her absent mother.

The words strike a cord with Gina, tugging at her heart. Jessica then composes herself, knowing she has said too much.
"I guess I would help people, like in those vids of those fighters. Those masked fighters... there's one that can fly, and another that can toss a sky-truck!"

She speaks of the countless vids of a group of vigilantes that have hit the net. The media have labeled them a threat, but most feel that they are helping. Young people love them the most, building fan vigilante blog sites and forums, calling them 'Heroes'.

"...flew from the fire. Oh... and one of is a woman!" Jessica excitedly says. Jessica chats as if she and Gina are best friends.

Gina begins to blush, standing up.

"You're already a hero kid. You saved your classmates, you don't need powers." Gina says walking to the mirror, adjusting her hair.
Jessica lowers her head again, searching for an answer.
"I... I did save them I guess. A couple people... but I could save a lot more. Plus, it would be really awesome to like... smash through a building!"
Gina laughs, pleased with the young girl. She asks for Jessica's phone and inputs her number.

"Hit me up if you ever need that power you're looking for."
Gina walks towards the door grabbing the handle, glancing back. "See ya around Jessica D."

Jessica reels from the experience. She glares at her phone excited, feeling pumped up. She stands proud in the mirror for another couple of minutes, poking out her chest, flexing her non-existent arm muscles.

When she leaves the bathroom, she notices the door handle. It's silver handle is mangled. She gets real close to inspect, wondering how it go that way. The once solid curved handle is crippled, twisted, seemingly as if it were... squeezed.
Later that night, when she was home, in bed the image of that woman Gina, holding the door replays in her mind.

Jessica smiles knowing that it was Gina who did that. "Now that's the kind of power I want."
By
Published: 8/19/2014
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