"She Hulk of Earth 2," Chapter 10

Green goddess Sheila Huckaby faces an equally powerful adversary. By Eegore (eegore959@yahoo.com)


The tires of Vincent Huckaby's bullet-gray Lincoln screamed as he turned off Main Street and onto the highway. He squinted his eyes against the morning sun and against another onslaught of angry tears.

"Stupid old man," he muttered. "Stupid, stupid, stubborn old man." It had been a half-hour since the phone call between himself and his daughter had ended with strained, confused words. It had required all the self-control the grizzled warhorse could muster to stride quietly from the convenience store and into his car, ignoring the men in the dark Chevy across the street.

He cursed himself for being so damn secretive, for giving in to every paranoia that had crossed his Cold War-hardened mind. Sheila didn't have a cell phone because he thought it would be too easily traced. He also didn't ask where she was calling from, for basically the same reason.

And now he wasn't paging him, either. Damn it. Was he unable to keep up with her? Hell, how could I have expected him to be able to?

The Lincoln sped south. Huckaby set his jaw. He couldn't believe it had come to this so quickly. He knew, however, that every minute that passed without hearing from Sheila meant she was further from his grasp. The safety net he had weaved for her had been deftly ripped to shreds.

"By them," he growled quietly. "Soulless bastards."


The Triumph rumbled between his legs as he looked back at the town, its low rooftops peeking just above the sage. His heart leaped as he saw a bright green plume rise from the buildings and into the sky. The jade contrail, and the small, angular shape ahead of it, curved across the horizon, heading vaguely east.

He noted there were no sounds of gunfire as she took off. She either took them out or scared the crap out of them, he thought. I hope it's the latter, Sheila - for your sake. No one wants too much blood on their hands.

He thrummed his fingers against the helmet in his lap. I don't think I'll be able to keep up with with you this time. You're in one helluva hurry, aren't you? Well, at least you're safe. He looked at the small, silvery device in his other hand. Liquid numbers changed steadily on a display screen. Incredible. Still working. How was Blonsky able to create a chip implant that could withstand those gamma surges? You're a scary man, doctor.

Lt. Chris Diamond put on the helmet and gunned the motorcycle back onto the highway, heading east. He knew he needed to give the colonel a call, but wanted to see how long he could stay in visual contact with Sheila. Time stretched in his head as he thought about loyalty to a man instead of a uniform, and about the decisions he had made. His career was probably over, considering all he'd done, the regulations he had shredded, the technology he had stolen. No turning back. And he didn't harbor a scintilla of regret. His path had always been driven by the forces of loyalty and honor and doing the right thing. His loyalty to Vincent Huckaby had never wavered. His efforts to preserve Sheila's liberty, even if they put those soldiers in harm's way, are stamped with honor. And helping the colonel take care of his daughter, keeping her out of the hands of those bilge rats, is doing the right thing.

Diamond allowed a grim smile, then goosed the throttle.


The cells of fluorescent light along the hallway threw glittering reflections off the sweat on Emil Blonsky's forehead. He walked as fast as he was able, his bowed legs turning his haste into a half-hitch limp. Four men also dressed in long labcoats followed in his wake.

He knew he hadn't heard it all. He knew he had heard enough. The sound feed became useless as the strike team scattered, leaving their quarry behind. He had remained at the monitor console just long enough to note that the vectors from the tracking chip in her left shoulder showed her heading east - and slightly south.

She's coming. Coming here. I probably have only a few minutes. An hour at the most-His sallow features were drained of color. His clockwork brain had been jangling for several minutes, ever since he watched, via four of the six cameras on the soldiers'visors, as little Sheila Huckaby was struck by a gamma beam (Damn it! Who fired that thing?) and blasted, once again, into a towering physiological anomaly.

He continued his goosestep waddle, trailed by his silent think tank, still astounded that he was forced to do what he was about to do. No other options. No time. The most fearful weapon on Earth wants me dead.

He stopped in front of a windowless door. His hand shook as he punched the keys on the entry security pad. He fumbled once and had to re-enter the sequence. The door clacked open. He went inside. Motion sensors kicked in the lights. The other scientists followed. One of them came alongside Blonsky, whose hands were shaking.

"Doctor?" he said. "What are we doing here? There are no subjects prepped for -"

Blonsky turned and glared at him. "No turning back, Derrick. - Yes, there's much we still don't understand. But we're made some great strides, haven't we. Well?" Blonsky said in a strangled growl, his voice rising. "Haven't we?"

"Derrick" could only stare back, looking at his brilliant colleagues with new eyes, seeing the obsession gripping Blonsky's mind and clouding his judgment. "Emil, you couldn't possibly be considering-"

"I'm all out of "considerations,' Derrick! All out!" Blonsky screeched. "It's a zero-sum strategy now. There is no existing defense against her physically. Our only hope was to cut through her soft mental defenses, depower her, and lock her down." A little color was returning to Blonsky's cheek's. He was becoming angry. "Well, that brilliant little plan just WENT TO HELL, DIDN'T IT? And now she's coming here, and I'll be DAMNED if I let that green freak get the upper hand!

"She was the key to immortality in our field, Derrick, to be known as the creators of an unstoppable machine of destruction! Our names would be hardwired into military history! And now -" his voice lowered, as did his eyes, "now, if we don't do this, we'll be known as village idiots or, worse, as Cro Magnons who seared their hands playing with fire.

"The subhuman hulk that used to be Sheila Huckaby wants to tear me down, Derrick. It's not going to happen. We are going to achieve our goal today, and I'm going to survive."

Blonsky took a long, deep breath, then began striding toward the center of the room. "Strap me in."


The air rushing past Sheila's ears mixed with the low thrummm of the emerald beams belching out her hands. The desert landscape rushed under her. She shrugged her long, thick shoulders and shifted her hands, kicking her body into a corkscrew spin, closing her eyes and letting the anger wash over her again. Her thoughts were sharp and clear and, for the first time, uncluttered. She wanted only one thing ' her freedom -- and she knew what she had to do to get it.

Can't believe I allowed myself to get jacked around as long as I did. Why I continued to run, to look to others for safety. Her brow tightened above the brilliant gems of her eyes. She moved her hands and cocked one leg, making its muscles swell and dance under her velvety skin. She slowed the spin, then stopped it. OK, I do know; it's the way I've always been. For years and years, I depended on Daddy to take of me, to bear me up when I was feeling sorry for myself, which was pretty darn often.

Old habits are tough to break -and that habit was very old. It's been only a few months since I got this body and these abilities, and three of those months were lost to me while Blonsky poked and prodded and kept me unconscious at the base. So I shouldn't expect my brain to have caught up with these muscles. This has required one heck of an adjustment, even when some of the things I've done seeming to occur instinctually, as if I've done them all my life-

She looked down again. The two-lane highway she was using as a compass was bending north. "Oh, maaaan." She suddenly realized this was the first time she had ever covered ground in her Amazon form with a long-distance destination in mind. "I don't know how to get there. How am I going to -aaahhh." Her eyes shimmered. "I need to visit a new friend."

She gave herself a mental nudge, and the jets of gamma energy thickened slightly. Her stomach fluttered under the rush of acceleration. She stretched her left arm forward, its carved sinew slicing the air perfectly, as she veered north.


The cell phone rang in Vincent Huckaby's Lincoln. He snatched it from the cradle. "Hello?" he snarled.

"She all right, colonel. She had a scrape with some of Blonsky's trolls in a little Utah town, but she got through it."

Huckaby exhaled in relief. "Where is she now?"

"I lost visual contact about three minutes ago when she, uh, disappeared over the horizon, heading northeast. The tracking chip is still working, though. She's using her energy blasts for propulsion now. Can get up quite a head of steam."

For a moment, Huckaby flashed on an image of her daughter mimicking in F-18. It was all still a bit hard to believe. "OK-thank you, Chris. Thank you. Keep an eye on her as best you can. I'm going to see what I can do on this end."


"It's time I paid these dunderheads a visit."


"Open this door. Get me in there!" Gen. Zaponian tapped his foot as an MP fumbled with the keypad, tapping in override sequences. After 15 interminable seconds, the door opened. Zaponian bulled his way inside ' and was met by an unholy combination of sounds: a throaty, mechanical hum and throat-rending screams. He jogged to the nearest manned console, unable to pull his eyes away from a hellish scene unfolding 15 meters away.

"Shut this down! Now!" he barked to the scientists, who all were wearing dark visors and murmuring to each other. One turned to him.

"Can't do that, general, unless you want to bring this complex down on our heads. The settings are too delicate and erg level too high." The scientist turned away, looking again into the green ball of angry energy. "He said the Sheila thing is coming. He said this is what he wanted."


The knock was insistent. Sammy Stearns couldn't ignore it anymore. So he pulled himself away from his color Gameboy, slumped out of his chair and walked to the door of the little cashier hut at Fast Eddie's Gas & Dash. He opened it and was met with a wall of green, shimmering flesh. He had been spending the past weeks vacillating between whether his last encounter with this woman was real or a very, very nice dream -

"Hi, Sammy," she said. He continued to look straight ahead. She was more magnificent than he remembered. Her stomach was washboard-tight. Her hands rested on impossibly wide hips that opened into thighs that made numerous thrusts and shifts of muscle before tightening down to perfectly shaped knees. He looked up, and saw shredded strips of red cloth fluttering over her high, full breasts. A breeze pushed the cloth aside, giving him a full view of-

"Excuse me? Hello?" Sam shook his head and looked higher. Her voice was not as light-hearted as last time. And her expression poured some cold water on his ramping-up hormones. She wasn't happy. And she wasn't wearing glasses this time. His first view of the swirling glows of her eyes unnerved him.

"I need a map," she said in a clipped tone. "One that covers the Southwest. Or southern Utah and New Mexico, at least. Got one? I don't have any money, but I promise to pay you right back."

"Uh-uh, yeah. I've got something like that." He stumbled backward, not wanting to take his eyes off her, and returned seconds later with a folded map. The woman was bending over, looking into the hut.

"Is that your jacket?" she said, gazing at the brown Land's End zip-up hanging from a hook. Sammy nodded silently. She turned to him. "Can I have it? Again, I can pay you back."

Sammy nodded numbly, handing it to her. The woman swiftly tore off both sleeves, then slipped it on. She engaged the zipper, cinching the bottom of the jacket around the small of her waist. She pulled up the zipper a few inches, stopping where it pressed against the long crevasse of her cleavage. Sammy watched. Say something to her! he thought. It's your only chance -

"You're very pretty."

Sheila looked up from the jacket. A thin smile crossed her face. She reached out and stroked his cheek with her finely carved fingers. "Thank you, Sammy. Very much. I'll be back. I promise. Stand back, now." She dropped her hands to her sides and turned her face to the sky. Emerald energy poured out of her like a waterfall, spilling against the concrete. Her feet left the ground. She looked down at Sammy. "Bye."

A tear rolled down Sammy's cheek. "Bye."


Sheila's father slowed his car at the main gate of McNair Air Force Base and flashed his pass at the MP, who waved him on. He parked in front of the administration office, got out of the Lincoln, took a second to steady his anger and his nerves, and strode to the front door. C'mon, Zapper, you old coot, don't dodge me again. I need some allies, and I need them now.



Gen. Zaponian stared, struck dumb. One of the scientists fainted.


Chris Diamond pulled over the motorcycle again. He stared, dumbstruck, at the tracking device. Merciful heaven, I never thought she could go that fast. The swiftly changing GPS coordinates told him Sheila was rocketing southeast, heading back into New Mexico. Maybe she's going home. Maybe. But her vector puts her well west of White Rock. She's either a crummy navigator or -

Suddenly, Diamond blanched. The base.


There was nearly visible steam pouring from Vincent Huckaby's ears as he strode out of the building, slamming the door behind him. "JEEZUS!" He's in a meeting? In a motherlovin' meeting? In a pig's eye. I come all the way to the base, and he still avoids me. Damn it. -Well, I thought that it would come to this anyway. He got into the Lincoln and slammed the door. Got to take it to the source. He pulled out the parking lot, spun the car left, and starting heading to the large, gray pillbox that housed the weapons lab.


Again, Zaponian tried to speak, but managed only a constricted rasp. So he turned to the two MPs who had accompanied him in the gamma lab, jabbed his fingers toward their semiautomatics and frantically mouthed the word "FIRE." The officers responded instantly, seemingly energized by the fact that they take action against the impossible. Both emptied their clips. The bullets had absolutely no effect.

And the screams continued.


Sheila lost track of time as her sleek, muscular frame became a missile one-half mile above the arid terrain. She concentrated instead on the roads and on the occasional patch of buildings. Eventually she came upon the highway that, in which seemed like a lifetime ago, she had driven numerous times with Daddy or by herself. It was the link between White Rock and the base. She was almost there.

The buzz had been building in her head for a few seconds before she became conscious of it. She blinked as it began to massage her cortex, spreading warmth to her forehead. Two seconds later, an thunderous wave of near-carnal heat shot through her. She lost airspeed and a couple hundred feet of altitude as her body shuddered and tensed, making her taut limbs bulge. She gasped sharply.

The sensations continued to grow as she approached the base. Her head spun with noise and pleasure. She struggled to regain control. Concentrate, damn it! Concentrate! She felt the fog lift slightly from her brain. As it did, she realized that those sensations were familiar. It's what I feel when I change into -what I am. When I'm being hit by -

- by gamma rays.

Sheila stopped in mid-air. She was no more than a mile from the base. I can feel them. Even from here, I can feel them. Someone's using - but why?

Suddenly, Sheila couldn't get to the weapons lab fast enough. She bowed her neck, tilted forward and shot into motion. The gamma energy wafting from the base touched her like a slow-handed lover, urging her forward. She shut down the gamma beam in her right hand, then swung the arm forward. Her senses were now fully given over to the surges of radiation pulsing in the gray building just before her. She didn't slow down. A ball of immeasurable jade power spat from her right hand as she reached the outside wall and plowed though it, crushing reinforced concrete and steel to powder and splinters. She angled downward, slamming through roof and floor, roof and floor, actually increasing her speed. One last blast-through found her in a cavernous, dimly lighted room. She turned in mid-air, her eyes adjusting quickly to what appeared to be auxiliary lights.

The ambient gamma energy in the room was almost stifling. It seemed to come from everywhere, assaulting her senses, making her head spin.


Sheila, still bobbing in the air, spun to the direction of the voice and saw Gen. Zaponian on his knees next to an instrument console.

She frowned. "Uncle Zapper?"

"DUUUCK!" Zaponian bellowed.

"Hu ' " Suddenly Sheila was rocketing sideways, slicing through six database towers and striking a wall, punching a hole though it. She lay on her back, dark spots bobbing into front of her spitfire eyes, vaguely aware of a numbness in her face. She tried to sit up, but a wave of nausea kept her down.

She heard it first. Like sandpaper against sandpaper. Like big branches snapping. And a wet, low huff, huff that sounded like a huge, caged bull.

Then she saw it, emerging from the shadows, not so much walking as dragging itself along. A particularly loud crrrack was followed by a rumbling, pained bellow. The thing step-dragged, step-dragged itself until it stood inches from her long, muscular legs. It bellowed again, then was silenced as another snap led to a strangled gurgle.

Even in her stupor, Sheila's eyes drew wide. "H-holy god."

Over the past four months, Blonsky's research team had done themselves proud. Faced with one woman's inexplicable reaction to their otherwise deadly M37 Gamma Cannon, they had retrenched, refocused and researched. They wove their samples of Sheila's DNA into video evidence of her transformation and knowledge of her diet and medications. They isolated the mutative factor in gamma energy and amplified it. Almost two months ago, they began the experiments. Subjects armed with skin grafts, cloned organs and various injections of fluids based on Sheila's physiognomy were immersed in gamma tests. The first few were atomized. Several others died instantly. Still others swelled up like grotesque balloons, then exploded.

Earlier this week, the research team was confident it had isolated the cause of the cellular ruptures. They were sure their next subject would maintain tensile integrity. The only thing they couldn't control-

Sheila felt something wrap around her ankle, then she was flying again, the room a blur as her limp frame bored through a control console and tumbled into a darkened corner.

"Sheila! Honey!" She could barely hear Zaponian's voice through the ringing in her ears. "It's Blonsky-"

Sheila stared through the dizzying haze, bug-eyed, as the thing shuffled up to her again, blotting out the overhead lights.


He was huge. At least 8 feet tall, and nearly as wide as he was high. He also was grotesquely - wrong. His massive bulk was twisted and uneven. Thick, sandpapery folds of mottled, green skin dripped down his face and chest and legs. His left leg buckled outward, the thigh less than normal size but the calf and foot monstrously developed. His left bicep, twice the size of his head, twitched furiously. The right bicep was a withered twig that gave away to a ballooning, Popeye-like forearm riddled with oozing sores. He opened and closed the long, thick fingers of his left hand, making bones snap and crack. Two fingers had fused. Strange, steaming scabs covered skin stretched tight over his misshapen skull. A thick precipice of flesh obscured his left eye; his right eye, alight with green fire, seemed to be dangling out of its socket. Skin pulled up and away from the left side of his mouth, giving him the permanent expression of a hideous leer.

- the only thing they couldn't control was the quality of the transformation. They knew Sheila Huckaby had essentially become a human battery for gamma radiation, sucking in immeasurable ergs until they rewrote and reshaped her DNA, allowing her cells to attain hyperstrong levels of efficiency and power. The one ingredient they could never attain was locked in the 27-year-old woman's head: her deeply etched fantasies of being beautiful and strong, fantasies hewn from the frustration of being trapped in an overweight, arthritic body. Over the years, the fantasies were unleashed in dreams and ' she never revealed these to anyone ' sketches she would do late in the evening, and keep under her bed. On that night in the weapons lab when the Gamma Cannon unleashed itself at her, Sheila's fantasies corralled the growing power, giving it form and purpose. She became a 7-foot-2, big-breasted Amazon instead of a grotesquerie because her deep longings would have it no other way-

The misshapen mouth opened. His voice was like a serpent's hiss.

"Bih-biiiiish. Li-liddle biiiish-"

A thick, lumpy hand grabbed her jacket and lifted her off the ground. She was too dazed to fight back, still reeling from the attack and still intoxicated by the gamma radiation filling the room and leaking from the mutated hulk. The abomination that once was Emil Blonsky cocked its free hand and unleashed a screaming piston of blows to Sheila's face. In a motion faster than the eye could follow, it swung her up and heaved her to the ground. Dark blood poured from Sheila's nose, which was broken. The thing swung its foot into her ribs. She felt, and heard, a crack.

Snorting and puffing like a rabid beast, it grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her again. Her feet dangled in the air. Swimming in and out of consciousness, she saw flashes of Blonsky's patchwork head in front of her. A diseased mouth twisted into a demonic smile as the monster tightened the grip on her upper arms and began to squeeze its hands together. Sheila coughed and choked as air was forced from her lungs. She began to black out as some unholy semblance of a laugh rose from the Blonsky beast.

Then it screamed. It dropped Sheila, who crumpled to the cold floor. Then it spun around, growling with pain and anger, pawing at the air. Sheila, for the moment, had been forgotten.

Vincent Huckaby allowed himself a grim smile of satisfaction as he pulled the trigger again on the L17 Laser Disruptor rifle, sending a red beam into the behemoth's neck. It stumbled backward as smoke belched from the wound.

"Sheila!" her father cried. "Sheila, honey, you've got to fight it! C'mon!"

The sound of her father's voice bored through the heaviness in her head. She reached for the voice, pulling herself toward the light. "Duh-daddy?"

Huckaby knew he was running out of time. He also couldn't believe his passkey still got him into the weapons lab and its experimental arsenal. But here he was, firing another burst that caught the Blonsky thing in the left shoulder and sliced across its chest. Its screams, already loud enough to burst eardrums, rose a bit higher. It began advancing on Huckaby.

"Sheila! I'm telling you right now to get up! I need you!" The creature closed the gap between it and Huckaby, snarling all the way. Sheila, struggling to focus on her father's words, pulled herself up so she could see him. The monster's arm swung backward as the Disruptor sliced across its face, kicking up sparks against its teeth. Sheila, her muscles aching, saw the creature looming over her father. Her senses snapped to attention - just as the monster's hand swung forward, catching Huckaby square in the chest and sending him tumbling across the room.

Huckaby lay in a motionless heap as the creature bore down on him again, blowing green spittle from its sliced-up mouth. Suddenly, the creature stopped moving forward. It was walking in place, then it was rising, its club feet leaving the ground.

The creature flailed its arms and legs as it rose into a horizontal position, facing the ceiling. Long, powerful fingers dug into its mottled hide as Sheila held the half-ton beast over her head with one arm. Every muscle in her magnificent body twitched with anger. Her eyes were a green inferno, her mouth pulled into a tight grimace. With her free arm, she drove a light-speed uppercut into the small of the beast's back. Her fist sank into its flesh, and she heard and sickening crrrunnnch. She tossed the behemoth into the air. As it came down, she met it with a two-fisted backhand that launched it through the steel and concrete separating five adjoining labs.

Sheila, her breathing labored and raspy, took a step toward her father. Zaponian was kneeling at his side. He turned to Sheila. "You can't think about him now, little one. It's not what he would want. You have to stop this thing. Now."

"I-" Sheila stared at her father's motionless figure, then at the gaping hole through which the beast had exited. She tightened her fists, and spinning whirls of energy erupted from her hands. "OK. OK. But - I'll be right back."

She lifted off the floor and shot through the hole, flying through one room and another and another and - the meaty fist met her chin before she knew it was there. The blow spun her out of control and into a row of desks, covering her with shards of metal and wood. She struggled to maintain consciousness and to regain her feet, but the thing was on her at an ungodly speed, screeching and bellowing, pinning her back to the floor. One hand enveloped her neck like a vise, and began to squeeze.

The hideous mouth moved again. "Yuh-yoooo looosh, zzsheeeluh.."

Sheila, choking and coughing, reached up and dug both hands into its thick chest. She didn't panic. She felt fear, but it was more for father's welfare than for her. She felt pain, but she was determined this son of a bitch would feel even more.

"I s-said would end this, Blonsky. And I will, s-somehow." Green fire swirled from Sheila's hands, dancing over the beast's mottled chest. Tendrils of energy spread from her hands and seemed to dive into Blonsky's hide. The flow thickened and grew, entering the monster at numerous places along his torso. Then - the flow seemed to reverse course, sliding from the Blonsky thing to Sheila. Suddenly, two gamma-spawned beings shuddered as one. Sheila began to emit a low moan. The Blonsky thing screamed.

"Ohhhh, god," Sheila cried, staring at the creature, which was now struggling to get off her. "Ooooohhhh, gaaaaaawd-" She shifted her long legs side to side, rubbing her thighs together. The energy flow was coursing down her arms and dancing over her chest and stomach. The Blonsky beast shook as if it were being electrocuted. Emerald wisps caressed Sheila's thighs and calves. She closed her eyes involuntarily as she felt the wave building ' taller, wider and more carnal than anything she had yet experienced.

Her hips slid to and fro on the cold floor as the wave rose higher. The Blonsky thing was bucking and flailing like a whale on a hook, its screams shattering flasks at a nearby table. Sheila couldn't hear it. All she could perceive was the energy building inside her and the barely discernable grinding and squishing sounds as Sheila's muscle-laden body swelled even more. Her carved biceps surged and her sculpted back widened. The sweeping curve of her thighs opened wider, and her stomach shivered and tightened against higher peaks and lower valleys. Her tall, luscious breasts pressed outward and upward, straining the jacket zipper until it tore open.

As Sheila's frame swelled and the wave rose higher, the Blonsky behemoth shook as if it were lashed to high-tension wires. Gashes opened across its back and legs, which continued to buck and wriggle like a thing possessed. Meanwhile, Sheila felt the wave crest, carnal steam blowing across its tips. She pulled her hips off the floor, threw her head back and tightened her grip on the creature. Shards of emerald light shot out of the Blonsky thing, erupting from widening gashes in its flesh. Sheila let out a loud, rumbling yell as the volcanic eruption of pleasure washed over her. The light spraying from the monster became all-enveloping as it let loose a scream laced with terror. A bone-shattered spasm ripped through the misshapen, superhuman thing that once was a mad doctor, then it exploded into atoms, bursting outward into a green cloud that was quickly sucked into Sheila's perspiration-slicked flesh. Just as suddenly, thick columns of energy shot out of her extremities, roaring from her fingertips and toe and eyes and nipples, blasting everything in their paths. It lasted for five seconds, and during that short span Sheila felt her limbs relax and, to some degree, return to their original girth.

Then her arms dropped to her sides. Then she fell asleep.


"Welcome back, little one."

She opened her eyes. The light in the room hurt. Too bright-

"Good to have you back. It's been a while."

She blinked. She looked around. A hospital bed. She was in a hospital gown. Gen. Zaponian stood alongside her bed. -been a while. What-?

"How long?" she rasped. "Was it earlier today that-"

"You've been out cold for four days, Sheila. Your, um, body must have the ability to heal quicker, because all your broken bones have mended."

It hit her like a shot. "Daddy! Omigod! Uncle Zapper, how's Dad?"

Zaponian's face clouded over. "He's right over there, honey." Sheila followed Zaponian eyes to a nearby bed, where her father lay amid an array of machines and tubes. Her eyes burned a cool jade as she looked at him. The measured rise and fall of his chest gave her a glimmer of comfort.

"It's an induced coma, Sheila, to allow his body to heal. That was one helluva blow. But he's one tough sumbitch, little one. He'll pull through, I'm sure."

Sheila, still looking at her father and listening to the monitors around him, said, "What happened? To Blonsky, I mean."

"Well, the experts ' the ones I didn't ship to Nome ' says you somehow ripped him into subatomic particles and then absorbed all the ambient gamma energy from him into you." He smiled. "A rather handy trick, young lady."

"Yes," she said absently. "Handy -" She flung the sheets off herself, swung her long legs off the bed and stood up, fighting off a twinge of wooziness. "I can't believe Blonsky did that to himself just because of - me."

She hadn't taken her eyes off her father. Please let him be OK. Please - Her knees began to feel rubbery; her hands started to shiver. Then, through the haze, memories of the battle began to return to her. She remembered feeling terrified when she first saw the Blonsky thing. She also remembered that she didn't back down. She set her jaw and fought the thing because she refused to run away and hide again. And he helped. Daddy helped.

We're quite a team, Sheila thought with a bit of a smile.

She walked toward her father's bed. The hospital gown they had found for her reached only a few inches below her hips and had been cut open at the sleeves. The cottony material slid side to side with each leonine step. She stopped alongside the old man's quiet form and cupped a leathery, pale hand in her long, slender fingers. With her other hand, she gently stroked his silvery hair.

"Don't worry, Dad," she whispered. "From now on, I'm going to take care of you."