Chapter 1: Making a Change
Fiona Fowler sighed as she opened up her closet and stared at the box hidden in the corner. It looked wholly innocuous, just a cardboard box as innocuous as though she hadn’t finished unpacking when she’d moved in. For effect, she’d even placed it nearby a clear plastic tub full of various cables, cords, and accessories she couldn’t bring herself to throw away but only occasionally found useful.
No one would guess that inside of that plain cardboard box, they would find the costume worn by the shapeshifting superheroine Figura.
“When was the last time one of my patrols really did anything of any lasting good for anyone…?” Fiona frowned as she pulled the plastic storage tub out of the way to open the cardboard box. “I’ve helped make a few people feel safer here or there for sure… I’ve helped deal with a few minor problems… Peaceful patrols are good, but am I wasting my time…?”
She reached down into the box and pulled out her mask. It was a simple thing, colored on the greener side of teal. While its shape was mostly designed to cover the area just around her eyes, it also flared out with points that faced away from her nose.
When it was in place, surrounding her brown eyes and resting under the bangs of her short black hair, it did a good job of obscuring just who she was underneath.
It helped that she was able to change the shape of her face when she put the mask on. She didn’t want to risk the mask only fitting when she was shifted—just in case something disrupted her abilities—but every little bit helped. The last thing she wanted was for someone to look too closely at her ordinary persona.
Nothing good could come from that.
Frowning, Fiona poked her eyes into the eyeholes and wiggled the mask around in her hand. “Maybe if I knew more about the stuff going on beneath the surface of the city…” Her mind filled with images of sewers and she shook her head with a roll of her eyes. “Figuratively… but I have absolutely no idea how to get in on that. It’s not like there’s some big, established super team out there. Even if they didn’t have active sign-ups I could still see about reaching out, but around here…”
Being a solo heroine was dangerous, and Fiona knew that. Not having backup put anyone at a disadvantage, but making connections wasn’t exactly easy. Sunford was one of the larger cities in Oregon, but its heroic community was incredibly decentralized.
She knew the city had other heroes, but there was no heroic hangout, and no hotline to get in touch with them. If she wanted to hit the streets?
She was all on her own.
With a frustrated sigh, Fiona tossed her mask back down into the box. “No city is overflowing with purse snatchers. Even if that doesn’t feel like a big deal to solve, it would be… I don’t know why I was so sure that this would be an effective way to save the world…” She looked around her room, various posters and knickknacks representing a wide variety of superheroes: Blue Fox from Midas City, Lady Lapis from Los Adalid, Omega Girl from River City, and even Hyperfast from Chanson.
It was impossible not to laugh, but that feeling was short-lived. In spite of herself, she grabbed her mask back out of the box, along with the small color-matched gloves that terminated at her wrists, the cuffs angled diagonally away from the center of her body. The boots were the same, small and flaring up just past her ankles.
The finishing touch was a sleeved leotard. It was primarily the same green-teal shade as the rest, but interspersed were sky-blue details, almost like scales, that made the whole of it faintly shine and catch the light.
When she’d thought it up, she’d been imagining taking some name that would bring to mind chameleons, but in the end she’d only been happy with Figura.
“Just go on one last patrol. If you hate it, then… then you can quit. You can find something else. There has to be something else you can do, right? Some other way for a super heroine to change the world…?” She shrugged as she slipped out of her clothes, her slender figure only remaining bare for the briefest of moments before she wriggled into the leotard, tugged on her gloves and her boots, and fitted the mask into place.
Standing in front of her full-body mirror she took a few moments shifting this-or-that. She made her lips poutier, laughing quietly before returning them to normal. She shifted the colors of her eyes from brown to blue to green to yellow to red. She swelled her breasts, giggling as she felt the fabric of her leotard strain.
She even spent a moment growing a little taller or shorter, stretching out her arms just a little longer or pulling them in. What she could do was fairly flexible, so long as she didn’t try to shrink or grow more than two feet.
Doing that hurt in ways she was sure weren’t healthy for any part of her body.
After changing the texture of her fingers a few times—very useful for grasping things—she felt all limbered up. Stretching before a run was important, and Fiona always felt like that went double for shapeshifting. The last thing she wanted to do was try to stretch out her arm to grasp at the ledge of a building and have her arm seize up. That had never happened before, but it was the sort of experience she preferred to proactively avoid.
“Alright… No more putting it off.” Figura took a deep, slow breath before heading to her window. It was difficult to use her shapeshifting to be effectively invisible—part of why she’d stopped pursuing the chameleon angle for her name—but she could pull it off just long enough to slip out onto the fire escape.
Looking out over Sunford from above, Figura tried her best to see possibilities where she could apply her particular set of skills to do the most good. Unfortunately, all she saw were the lights of the city. It was a pretty enough sight, but it didn’t speak to her.
Huffing, Figura made her way down the fire escape. If she wanted, it wouldn’t have been hard to leap from building to building, stretching out her hands to grasp at the next one long before she would hit the ground… but that was often very awkward and uncomfortable. Staying down at ground level made it quicker for her to interject if she was needed—not that it felt like that happened with enough regularity to justify a “patrol route.”
Figura wanted to be glad that Sunford was a safe place. She wanted to be happy that people weren’t actually monster, that the mostly just wanted to be happy and keep to themselves. That felt like the sensible reaction.
Instead, her hunger to make a change she could feel, to be like the heroines she admired, outweighed all of that logic.
She patrolled Sunford, moving through the same streets she’d moved through for years. It was a route that took her through much of the city, while staying near enough to the center to branch out if one reason or another gave her cause to expand her searches through a particular section of the outskirts. While she wasn’t the fastest heroine, lacking super speed or flight or any other impressive traveling techniques, she still wanted the widest range to impact the most situations that she possibly could.
There was nothing for her to find.
No one was hiding down a dark alley. No one was running off with a purse. Everything seemed to be the exact way any reasonable person would expect, and hope, to find it. It was a peaceful night, and the city streets offered good, but very little excitement.
When she was nearly about to head home, Figura caught the sight of something moving from the corner of her eye. It was down a dark alley.
She tried not to get too excited, but it was hard to fight that thrilling feeling when she’d been waiting, desperately, for an opportunity just like this one. No one needed to be hurt. Even breaking up something illicit but not especially dangerous would feel like it justified the effort to get dressed up and spend her night moving methodically through Sunford’s streets.
Breathing slowly and carefully, she approached the alley, steeling herself for what she might find. Even if this is just something small, something that’s not a big deal… If I don’t keep my cool, then I could make it into a big deal, so… One… She took a deep breath. Two… She exhaled. Three.
Quickly as she could, Figura dove into the alleyway to find… a newspaper moving across the top of a closed dumpster.
Scowling, she approached the paper, ready to throw it away out of spite, when she decided to take a look at the page instead. It wasn’t the front of a paper, but was instead from somewhere near the middle—the classifieds.
“Are you a metahuman looking for some cash on the side without a big commitment…? Beltran Connections is here to help you find someone looking for your special skills…” Figura blinked and looked between the dumpster and the paper. It would be easy to just toss the paper away and forget she’d ever come down the alley.
But instead, she ripped out the ad.
Then she threw the rest into the dumpster.
Contract work… She could have returned to her patrol. She could have moved on like nothing happened, with the ripped piece of paper tucked away in her belt. It would have been easy enough to do. Stopping a purse-snatching is a good thing, but what are the odds I’ll ever get a chance to do that? But if I could get money from someone rich enough to pay for a metahuman, and then funnel that money back into the community…
Odds were good that she’d still get opportunities to punish the wicked. Getting connections might even help her finally see what went on behind the scenes in Sunford, so she’d be able to do more good for the community in between her contract gigs. There didn’t seem to be a downside.
It’s not like I’m just going to stop using my abilities. They’re a part of me. I just want it to matter more than it does… and this could do that! This could really do that…!
Figura practically skipped her way home, growing taller and hopping up to the fire escape before pulling the same brief chameleon trick and slipping back in through her window. This opportunity was too exciting. The piece of paper was just an advertisement for contract work, but her mind had already unspooled an opportunity for a whole new life.
She pulled the scrap of paper back out of her belt and glanced down at the number. It didn’t feel too intimidating to dial the number. Even if things went poorly, it wasn’t like her life would be over. The rest of her life as Fiona Fowler was fine.
By day, she might not be anything special—working a simple desk job in front of a computer for forty hours a week—but she wanted her life to be more than that, too. If this doesn’t work out, then I’ll just keep my eyes open for the next opportunity. Maybe it will be even bigger and better than this one. Maybe, if I can’t find anything else, I can look into some classes for community organizing, or… I don’t know. I’ll figure something out!
She dialed the number before she even took off her mask.
“This is Beltran Connections, matching your talents to our clients’ needs!” Hearing such a bright, chipper voice filled Fiona with another powerful burst of hope. She knew that people with phone jobs were paid to sound that enthusiastic, but something about the woman’s voice sounded so… genuine.
Maybe I’m just looking for good signs, but I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. If I didn’t want to believe this would go well, I wouldn’t even be calling… right…?
“Hello… My name is Figura, and I’d like to see who might appreciate my services.”
“Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice.” Behind a large, fancy wooden desk stood a woman dressed impeccably in a crisp, well-tailored suit. It wasn’t anything special, just standard black, but it fit her perfectly. Her blonde hair was kept short and neat. Her piercing green eyes looked thoughtful and warm. “Figura, I presume?”
“Miss Spence…?” Figura smiled as she made her way towards the woman’s desk. Her office was in the heart of the city. That felt like a good sign.
At least the pay should be enough to make a difference…
“Please, call me Denise… sit…!” The powerful woman motioned to a seat, waiting for Figura to settle down before she lowered into her own large, plush chair. “I’m not exactly the most famous woman in Sunford, but I have money—more money than I know what to do with, if I’m honest. I contacted Beltran because I wanted to put that money to a good use.
“Our city has a problem—one that’s hidden from much of the public, even people such as yourself. The people who are the most vulnerable are often those the most easily looked past… and I’d like you to help me make a difference for those people.” Denise reached into her desk and pulled out several manila folders, setting them down in front of the waiting heroine. “None of this should be very strenuous. It won’t be very glamorous, either… but someone needs to make these things change, and if I want that to happen, and I have the money… I should be seeing to that myself, shouldn’t I?”
Figura blinked, staring blankly at Denise. This was exactly what she wanted to hear. Was there no catch? Could this woman really be so genuine? She tried to stop a suspicious expression from emerging on her face, but it was a worthless effort. Yet nothing about the woman seemed false or artificial.
Looking through the folders all but confirmed Denise’s good intentions.
After looking briefly through each, Figura cleared her throat. “You want to pay me to make regular rounds through these homeless communities… help protect known sex workers from harassment and legal abuses… work to solve a local groping problem on public transit… and help protect the public from known problem cops…?”
“As a start, anyway!” Denise quietly laughed. “Obviously, this is a lot of work, and you don’t need to worry about any… deadlines… I just want to be sure I’m not sitting on my throne looking down at the city as everything keeps getting worse.”
Maybe it was too good to be true. Maybe Denise’s kindness was an act to lower her guard so she wouldn’t be ready for some nasty twist to the offer.
Maybe I’m just suspicious of rich people?
Figura couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Miss Spence—Denise? Unless your contract has me signing over my soul… I think we have the start of a very successful partnership. I was looking for contract work expressly so I could give to causes that would help people in need.”
“Excellent!” Denise smiled brightly as she reached into her desk and set down a simple, one-page contract. “Please, read it over. Feel free to take it home, or have it looked over if you’d like. I respect that one needs to be careful in these times not to fall prey to offers that seem too good to be true, but I really am very genuine about this opportunity.”
Reading over the contract, Figura was amazed by how readable it was. There was no complex legalese. Everything was incredibly cut and dry, with very favorable pay. There was no set end date, but if her employer wanted to end the contract, she would have to warn her weeks in advance.
There was even a clause for declining tasks she felt didn’t serve the public good.
If I put this off… who would I even ask to look over this contract? What would I even want someone to tell me? Figura frowned. It doesn’t sound very smart to take this at face value, but what good will it do to be so paranoid that I’m not willing to accept the exact opportunity I was looking for? There’s cautious… and then there’s stupid.
Once she’d read over the contract twice, Figura grabbed up a nearby pen and signed her superheroine alias on the line at the bottom.
“When can we start?”