[ASH] Coherent Super Stories #9 - The Secret Origins of Lady Lawful

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Thu Oct 18 20:40:52 PDT 2007

     Cover shows Lady Lawful 1 and Lady Lawful 2 standing back to back.  LL1
has an innocent expression, but whatever she's saying is mortifying LL2 in
the sort of way only a mother can embarrass her child.  The background is
split, a 1940s cityscape in sepiatones behind LL1, and a 1990s gleaming glass
and steel city behind LL2.

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                    #9 - The Secret Origins of Lady Lawful
        Featuring Lady Lawful 1 and 2          copyright 2007 by Andy Burton

[April 13, 1991 - Chicago IL]

     There was a knock at her door and someone was calling her name.
     "Jenny?  Hey, Jenny?"
     After a moment, she realized it was Doug, one of the students on her
floor.  One of the more eccentric students she knew.
     Jennifer took a deep breath and wiped her nose, using the extra moment
to compose herself.  "Go away, Doug."  She inhaled sharply.  "I'm not in the
mood for...whatever!"  Jennifer could hear mumbling outside of her door,
which was not what she wanted to hear.  What she wanted to hear was him going
     Without hesitating, Jennifer sat up in her bed and stormed over to her
dorm room door.  Once her hand was on the knob, she wrenched the door open
and opened her mouth.  "Just go away!"  It took her a full second to
recognize the older woman who was standing next to Doug's scrawny, unshaven
form.  "Mom?"
     June Hartworth-Blair, unfazed by her daughter's outburst, replied
immediately, "But, honey, I came all this way."  Jennifer knew "all this way"
meant, at worst, an hour.  "Have you been crying, Jenny?"
     For a moment, Jennifer felt very small.  She almost gave in and started
crying again, but caught Doug staring at her out of the corner of her eye.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she would have to apologize later
on, but at that moment she didn't care.  "Douglas Greene," she growled, "my
mom may not have to go, but you sure as hell do.  Go!"  Her arm snapped out,
     "S...sorry," he stammered, backing away.  Both blondes watched as he
sprinted away down the hall.
     When Doug disappeared around the corner of the hallway, June turned to
glare at Jennifer with a half-exasperated look on her face.  "Jenny, if
you're going to maintain a secret identity, you have to make sure when Lady
Lawful's upset, Jennifer isn't as well."  Jennifer gave her mother a
nonplussed look, which lasted until her mother broke the silence.  "So, may I
come in?"
     After another moment of stony silence, Jennifer stepped back and cleared
the way for her mother.  Once Jennifer pushed the door closed, she turned to
her mother and crosser her arms.  "What do you want, mom?"
     June didn't answer right away.  She took a lazy stroll around the dorm
room, setting her handbag down as she did.  There was a definite difference
between Jennifer's side of the room and her roommate's.  Jennifer's side was
marked by clothes and papers sticking out of dresser drawers, which presented
an opportunity for her mother to ignore the question while she tucked the
bits of shirts and pants back into place.  After a minute of straightening up
Jennifer's desk, June turned her attention to the rumpled sheets of her
daughter's bed.
     She didn't get too far into her impromptu bed-making before her hand
bumped against something hard beneath the sheets.  June reached beneath and
wrapped her hands around the object.  She knew by touch what Jennifer had
hidden, and was not surprised in the least when she pulled a familiar golden
belt out.
     "Another thing," June added, "if your mother can casually find where you
stash your equipment, so can a determined villain."  June took a moment to
put the belt around her waist.  She let out a dejected sigh when the clasp
fell a couple of inches short from closing the loop.  "It's hard to believe I
was ever this thin."
     "Did you just come here to criticize me for taking your belt?" Jennifer
asked.  Without waiting for an answer she stomped over to her chest and
yanked out a drawer.  After a bit of digging, she pulled out a red, leather
vest and a pair of old welding goggles, both of which she promptly shoved
into her mother's arms.  "You can have it back!  You were right.  I'm not cut
out for this."
     June carefully juggled the items in her hands until she had a firm hold
on them.  "I did not come here to criticize you, Jenny," June said in a tone
nearing the boiling point.  She caught herself and took a breath to give time
for her tone to shift.  "I saw you on the news last night.  I mean, I saw
Lady Lawful, but I knew it could only be you."  June carefully set the belt,
vest, and goggles onto Jennifer's chest of drawers, making sure most of the
belt was covered by the vest.
     "I came here today, because I remember my first time out as Lady
Lawful," June explained.  She stepped closer to Jennifer and wrapped her arms
around her daughter, embracing her in a bear hug.  "And I remember how much I
needed someone to talk to afterwards."
     At first, Jennifer didn't fully grasp what her mother was saying.
They'd argued a time or two about her using the Enhancement Belt to carry on
the legacy of Lady Lawful, and every time it ended with her mother vowing
she'd never let Jennifer risk her life in such a way.  Now, though, as the I
Told You So's she'd expected were mysteriously absent, Jennifer found herself
welcoming her mother's hug.  She reached her arms around June's waist and let
out a sob as she reciprocated the hug.
               *              *              *              *

[May 2, 1941 - Chicago IL]

     June Hartworth rapped her knuckles against the smoky glass pane.  She
could see a light on in the office, but was afraid she might be too late.
Tense moments ticked by, and just as she was about to knock again, the door
swung open.
     The man behind the door looked exactly as June imaged someone who's
office door read "Calvin Kirby, Professional Scientist" would: he was no
taller than she was, balding slightly, but made up for the missing hair on
his head with a thick, walrus mustache.
     He stepped aside as June barged into his office.  "Excuse me, miss,
but...."  He stopped and made a grumpy coughing noise as June grabbed his
coat and hat off of a rack.  "Now see here...!"  She thrust the coat and hat
into his arms.  "Madam, please."
     "Mister Kirby, I know you don't know me, but you have to trust me," she
pleaded.  "There are two very bad men on their way over to abduct you.  I
tried to call the police, but no one would listen to me.  I tried to call
you, but your building's operator wouldn't put me through."
     "Yes," Kirby nodded, "I told her to hold all my calls."
     June took a breath.  "I promise, sir, I overhead a phone conversation,
you're in danger.  They'll be here any minute."
     "We're here now," a voice said from one back rooms of the office suite.
The man was about as nondescript as June could imagine a person might be.
His partner, who was half a head taller, was equally as bland, save for a
scar that ran across the bridge of his nose.  Both men were wielding pistols,
aimed at Doctor Kirby and herself.
     June knew this routine from enough movies.  She slowly raised her hands
into a surrendering position.  Doctor Kirby, who obviously didn't get to the
cinema as often, put his fists against his hips.  "Now see here, I demand an
     The shorter of the two men, Boss, smirked at his partner, Scar.  "The
little lady is right, Doctor.  We're here to...appropriate you for the
benefit of an interested third party."  Boss motioned at Scar, and the taller
man moved toward Doctor Kirby.  "It would be in both your best interests not
to try any funny business."
     June wasn't sure any sort of "funny business" would do much good.  She
wasn't bullet-proof, and doubted she could run faster than Boss could pull
the trigger.  Even if both men weren't armed, she doubted a teenage girl and
an elderly scientist would stand much of a chance in a fight.  She truly
doubted it was in her best long-term interests to cooperate, but for the
short-term she didn't see any alternative.
     When Scar reached Doctor Kirby, he didn't waste any time before spinning
the man around and grabbing both of his arms.  With both of Doctor Kirby's
arms gripped in one of his vice-like hands, Scar used his other to pull a
short length of rope from his jacket.  June looked away, feeling even more
helpless at the prospect of being even further trapped.
     "Now her," Boss told scar.
     "I only brought enough for the Doc," Scar answered back.  "Just go on
and shoot her, boss."
     June squeezed her eyes closed.  She fully intended to scream for help,
but instead she heard herself talking in a rushed, matter-of-fact tone, "If
you shoot me, someone will hear.  Do you think you'll be able to get out of
the building with a bound man if you have to go past everyone who heard a gun
     June didn't expect the argument to work.  It was after five in the
evening.  The building was probably mostly empty.  Her body wouldn't be found
until the captors and captive were long gone.  She held her breath, waiting
to hear Boss's gun go off.
     "Okay, grab her;" Boss told Scar, "I got an idea."
     June realized she wasn't going to be shot when she felt Scar's hands on
her shoulders, guiding her along with Boss toward the back room where she
first two the two exit only a few minutes before.  Upon entering the room,
June realized that it was probably Doctor Kirby's main laboratory, which was
the impression she got from the work benches with beakers and various
machines set out on them.
     "Here we go," Boss said.  He stopped in front of a large, metal safe,
big enough for a person to walk inside.  The safe could have been mistaken
for a closet if he had been built into the wall, instead of freestanding as
it was against the wall.  "In you go," Boss told June.
     Before she could protest, Scar answered for her with a shove that sent
her stumbling forward.  June caught herself against the back wall of the
safe, managing to avoid disrupting the contents of the small built-in shelves
too badly.  Once steady, June turned around.
     "Not as loud as a gun, but I think you'll agree it's *safe* to say you
won't be going anywhere," Boss explained.  He and Scar chuckled at his pun as
they pushed the door shut, locking June in a manmade cave of complete
darkness.  One of the two tapped something hard against the safe before they
left.  After that, she was blind and deaf to everything, save the sound of
her own pounding heart.

               *              *              *              *

[April 13, 1991 - Chicago IL]

     After Jennifer had gotten the tears out of her system, June had insisted
she go find and apologize for yelling at the young man who'd been kind enough
to show her to Jennifer's room.  A stern look from June had cut short any
thoughts of protest or procrastination.  She slouched out of the room in
search of Doug to apologize.
     While she was alone, June made herself as comfortable as she could on
Jennifer's bed, leaning back against the wall and a small cushion of pillows
she'd arranged.  With the bed pushed lengthwise against the wall, she didn't
have to worry about falling off, which meant she could slide over a bit to
leave Jennifer room when she returned.
     "I apologized," Jennifer huffed as she reentered the room, closing the
door behind her.  "He said it was fine."  She paused for a minute before
adding, "He asked if you were married."  To that, Jennifer made a face.
     "That's awfully flattering," June replied.
     "Says you," Jennifer said.  She shuffled over to her bed, and took a
seat next to June.  "I happen to find it very creepy, but then..." she
paused, "never mind."
     June wrapped an arm around her daughter's shoulder and squeezed.  "I'm
sure if he knew I was pushing seventy he wouldn't have asked."
     "I'm sorry, mom," Jennifer sighed, "I'm being weird today."  She looked
June in the eye, trying to figure out how to ask.  "How did you get used to
everything being so...freaky?  I thought it would be fun to put on the belt
and the suit.  It looks so exciting when the others do it.  Even if they do
tend to get kicked out of cities every so often for all the property damage,"
she amended, recalling ASH's recent exile to Milwaukee.
     "Oh, Jenny," June answered, sounding as if she wasn't even sure how she
felt on the subject.  "I won't lie to you; it can be fun and adventurous at
times.  It can also be terrifying.  The last time I ever went out, I couldn't
stop worrying about what if I never got to see you or your father again.  The
year after I stopped being Lady Lawful, every time I heard about some
emergency, I felt my adrenaline rush, getting excited about going out.
     "And don't you dare say anything silly about being sorry, I dealt with
your father putting up with me that year.  Retiring and getting to watch you
grow up is the best thing I ever did," June continued.  "But if it hadn't
been for Lady Lawful, I would never have met your father, never had you."
     Jennifer raised a curious eyebrow, "So...what are you saying."
     June let out a small sigh, "I'm saying...you learn to deal with the
freakiness of it all, because while there is bad to this business, there's a
lot of good to it as well."  June let her answer hang for a minute, taking
time to digest what she's said.  After a moment, she continued, "Tell me
about that thug you took out last night?  The news didn't have many details."
     Jennifer shook her head.  "There weren't many details," she admitted in
a flat tone.  "I was doing patrols...I guess that's what you call them," she
continued, "and I saw a couple of police cars surrounding a building.  Then I
heard gun shots.  It's all kind of a blur after that.  I saw him shooting at
the police, so I decided to surprise him from above."
     Jennifer went on to describe how she rappelled from the top of the
building and crashed through the window.  She talked about fighting and
disarming the gunman, whose name she never discovered, and how the police
used the distraction to raid the building.  Then her voice cracked.
     "He was holding these kids hostage," she explained, "He'd been
kidnapping them, and kept them locked in this big room.  He was going to
sac...sacrifice them or something.  I didn't notice it when I broke in, but
the place smelled like gasoline.  He was going to burn them, mom."  Jennifer
buried her head in her mother's shoulder.  "He was going to kill those kids."
     June hugged Jennifer tighter.  "You stopped him, though, Jenny.  Those
kids wouldn't be alive now if it weren't for Lady Lawful...for you."
     Jennifer shook her head again.  "I can't do it again."

               *              *              *              *

[May 2, 1941 - Chicago, IL]

     Time lost all meaning after a while.  There was no light, so June
couldn't check her watch.  At first, after being locked in, she tried
counting the seconds, but that only lasted until the first time she thought
she heard a noise and called for help.  After that count was lost, she didn't
much see the point of trying to keep up.
     She did know she had been locked in the safe for a while.  A long enough
time had passed that she could feel the air in the safe growing stale, which
might not have been that long.  It was impossible to tell, something that
made the situation even more unnerving.
     "Just stay calm," June told herself, not speaking aloud for fear of
wasting what little air was left.  "There must be an emergency lever or
something, in cases where people get them selves locked in.
     Slowly and methodically, June began to feel her way around the safe.
There was nothing lever- or knob-like on the front door.  "But that doesn't
mean anything," she told herself, "I've got three more walls to check."
     It was as she began to examine the second wall that her hand brushed
against something laying on the shelf.  It wouldn't have been very noticeable
in the light of day, but as her hand touched the solid object, it began to
glow faintly, giving off a slight pulsating aura.  It was just enough light
so June could make out the shape of the object; it was some kind of belt.
     The belt, golden in color, seemed to...like...June touching it.  It
glowed brighter as she ran her hands along its length, giving her enough
light better examine the wall.  Unfortunately, it seemed to dim whenever she
let go of it to feel around.
     Picking up the belt wasn't a difficult choice to make.  She needed the
light if she was going to escape.  However, trying to maximize contact with
the belt and feel for a release switch became awkward.  The belt both was too
thick to completely wrap around her arm and too stiff to wad up in her palm.
The next best thing she knew to try was putting the belt around her waist,
and hoping that would maximize its glow.
     As June snapped the clasp on the belt, she nodded her approval as it
kept glowing.  It seemed to like being around her waist, at least as much as
it liked her holding it.
     After that, it didn't take much longer for June to finish her search of
the innards of the safe.  There was no emergency lever.  No escape switches
to release her.  Fear and panic set in as June realized she was utterly
trapped in the safe.
     "I don't want to die!" she sobbed.  In desperation, June beat her fist
against the safe door, hoping someone would hear her.  She pounded on the
metal as hard as she could, which to her surprise, seemed to be enough to
bend the door a bit.
     June gaped at the indentation for a long second.  She knew the air was
thinning, but it wasn't to the point of hallucinations...was it?  June shook
her head, and touched the warped door.  No, it was real.
     Maybe her situation wasn't as hopeless as she feared.

     No one heard the sound of warping metal as the door to Doctor Kirby's
safe groaned.  Likewise, no one heard the resounding "sprang" as the hinges
and locking mechanism gave way.  Even the crashing thud, as the door fell
forward onto the floor went unnoticed by anyone, save for the person who
caused it.
     June was still a bit flabbergasted as she stood up from the floor of the
safe.  It had taken every ounce of her mysterious, new super-strength, not to
mention positioning herself in a rather unladylike manner, to open the safe
door.  In the end, it had opened for her.  With enough pushing and kicking,
she'd escaped from her steel prison.
     "It's the belt," a voice inside June's mind whispered.  She couldn't
disagree either.  Up until being trapped, she never knew herself to be even
remotely strong enough to bend metal.  She heard stories of people in life-
threatening situations gaining extra strength, but even that seemed unlikely
given the durability of the safe.  Even Minuteman, the perfected human,
didn't have that kind of strength.  June told herself to ask Doctor Kirby
when she...
     "Doctor Kirby!" she cried.
     In her panic and later escape, the poor doctor'd slipped her mind.  As
she began to pace around his lab, it all started coming back.  The phone call
she'd overheard down at her station on the switchboard.  Someone in the
penthouse wanted a private audience with Doctor Kirby, the same someone whose
thugs had kidnapped him and tried to kill her.
     June snuck a peek at her watch, and was surprised to find less than half
an hour had passed between her being captured and her astonishing escape.
Doctor Kirby might still be in the building, and if he wasn't she still knew
where he was being taken.  She fretted for a moment, trying to think who else
to try alerting.  The police had already turned her away once, and by the
time she could summon them to the lab and explain everything, Doctor Kirby
might be lost forever.
     Incredibly, June found herself thinking about saving Doctor Kirby by
herself.  Maybe...if she could pry open a safe, she might stand a chance in a
fight against Boss and Scar.  It was a crazy idea, one that seemed to go
beyond the bounds of foolhardiness.  However, the notion that June Hartworth
could extricate herself from a safe had seemed just as impossible a few
minutes before.
     June's pacing slowed as the idea sunk in.  Maybe it wasn't so crazy.  If
she called the police and let them know there was a fight going on, then all
she would need to do is hold the criminals in the penthouse long enough for
the police to arrive, and maybe cause enough of a stir to have someone
corroborate her story.  Even if they were gone, she could still show the
police Doctor Kirby's lab.
     It wasn't a good plan, it might not have even been a sane plan, but it
was the only thing she could think of that might save Doctor Kirby.
     June resigned herself to the plan and briskly headed to find Doctor
Kirby's telephone.  As she was stepping though the laboratory, her eyes fell
on a pair of welding goggles.  They were the kind that looked like a pair of
diving goggles with a dark, hinged cover on the front.  Instinctively, she
picked them up as she went, looking them over she continued for the phone.
     "Well," she decided, "it couldn't hurt to wear a mask.  Maybe no one
will recognize me."

               *              *              *              *

[May 2, 1991 - Chicago IL]

     "You shouldn't give up so easily, Jenny," June said after Jennifer
calmed a bit.  She felt Jennifer's head rising up off her shoulder.  "Hear me
out, okay.  It's your decision, but just let me say this."
     Jennifer nodded slowly, and June slowly maneuvered until she was on the
edge of the bed, within arm lengths of her purse.
     "Ever since you were a little girl, and we learned just how special you
were, I was always afraid you'd try to be a super-hero."  June paused,
thinking back to the first time Jennifer fell out of a tree without injuring
herself.  It had been a miracle, but even then she suspected Jenny was
blessed, or cursed, with some form of powers.  "So it's not easy, and I
imagine a bit confusing...I'm confused, and I'm saying it...for me to say
that I think you should be Lady Lawful."
     "You certainly have the natural gifts for it.  According to your father,
as a baseline you're as strong and invulnerable as I ever was wearing the
belt...and with it, even stronger.  You're smart too, Jenny, which is
something that's in short supply with some of these modern heroes.  You're a
natural at it, honey."
     Jennifer shook her head.  "I can't, mom.  It's too much."
     June paused from searching through her bag.  "It is now, but this was
your first time.  I was a mess my first time, and believe me the men I faced
weren't trying to sacrifice children."  June paused, and looked in Jennifer's
eyes.  "Don't go back out tomorrow, and if you decide not to do it again, you
won't have anything to be ashamed about.  You've already done more good than
most people do in their entire lives.
     "In a couple of days, though, if you change your mind, then give it
another try.  The next time won't be as bad.  The time after that won't be
either.  In time, Jenny, I think you're going to remember why you stole my
belt in the first place."  June smiled and reached into her purse.
     Jennifer mumbled a half-hearted, "Maybe."
     "And, if you go out again, I want you to have this."  June pulled a
small bundle from her purse.  It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with
string; it looked big enough to hold a thick book, maybe.  Jennifer took the
package from her mother, and slowly began to unwrap it.  At the first sign of
red fabric, Jennifer abandoned all patience, and tore into the bag.
     It was a costume.  There was a blue mask stuck down with a rolled up
piece of tape, but aside from that, the costume was one piece.  Most of the
costume was red, from the stirrups on the leggings to the peak of the
triangle that ended where her chest would fit.  From there up, and out to the
finger tips, it was a light, navy blue.  The only other color was the white
logo in the middle of chest, a pair of scales, which Jennifer recognized as
the unofficial logo for Lady Lawful.
     "Mom?" Jennifer asked slowly, "when did you..."
     June smiled, feeling her face turn a bit red.  "When I realized you took
the belt a couple of weeks ago, I remembered an old design I'd drawn up for
myself, right before I retired.  I'm not sure if it looks modern or not, and
you'll want to get some boots you're comfortable in," June was almost
babbling, "but...I knew how stubborn you could be, and didn't want you being
the new Lady Lawful just wearing my old things."  June sniffed, wiping away a
little moisture from her eye.
     "If my little girl is going to be a hero, she's going to do it in

               *              *              *              *

[May 3, 1941 - Chicago IL]

     The headline read: LADY LAWFUL SAVES SCIENTIST!
     The picture below the large, bold font showed June standing with Doctor
Kirby.  "Cosmo" Kirby, as the caption called him...clearly a tale hung upon
that nickname.  She was wearing the embarrassingly rural blue jeans she'd
brought to change into after work that day, the golden belt, a leather vest
she borrowed from Doctor Kirby's lab, as well as a pair of his gloves, and
the welding goggles, minus their darkened lenses.  Doctor Kirby looked a bit
ruffled, but the photographer had caught June when she was smiling and
patting him on the back.  In a strange way, it made her look almost
heroic...or at least not as frightened as she felt after surviving the gunmen
holding Doctor Kirby hostage.
     "I must ask," Doctor Kirby said, setting down the newspaper he was
holding up for June's benefit, "When did you name yourself Lady Lawful, Miss
     June half smiled.  "I didn't.  That was what the papers came up with...a
mysteryman, or woman, needs a colorful moniker, I suppose.  But as far as I'm
concerned, there is no more 'Lady Lawful.'  Now that you're safe, I can give
you your belt back and..." she offered the golden belt back to Doctor Kirby,
but he refused to accept it.
     "Miss Hartworth, I would like to talk to you about your borrowing my
experimental Enhancement Belt."
     "I'm sorry about taking it without asking, Doctor Kirby," June
     "Nonsense," he interrupted.  "There is nothing for which you need
apologize.  I am in your debt, which makes it all the more awkward for me to
ask...Miss Hartworth."
     "June, please."
     Doctor Kirby nodded, "Very well, but in turn you must call me Calvin."
June nodded.  "June, I have a favor to ask of you.  Would you continue
wearing the Enhancement Belt, at least long enough for me to conduct a few
tests?  You are the first person who the belt has given strength or any other
ability, despite my research saying it should be capable of so much.  I would
like to study it...and you...to find out why.  I'm afraid I cannot offer you
much in the way of compensation, but..."
     "I'll do it," June blurted out.  "I mean...I'll help you with the
experiments, that is."  She blushed slightly.  "I don't think I'll be
dressing up like that 'Lady Lawful' again, but I got a real kick out of being
a strong-woman."
     Doctor Kirby chuckled.  "I can only imagine."
     June smiled, her thoughts drifting off, thinking about "Lady Lawful,"
which she kind of thought was a silly name.  It had a nice ring to it.  "Not
that I ever plan on becoming a hero again," she told herself, "Imagine, me,
as Lady Lawful.  What a notion."


Next Issue:

     Back to Dave!  He's got a few ideas for #10, but hasn't settled on one
quite yet, but it'll involve the First Age...in one way or another.


Author's Note:

     The Secret Origins of both Lady Lawfuls have now been told.  We return
you to the domestic bliss four years hence [over in LL&DD - Ed.].  Douglas
Greene is Utilitarian making a secret cameo appearance.  You'll never see him
again.  [Is it really that secret if you admit to it? - Ed.]

Editor's Note:

     The cover is based on a piece of art Andy commissioned recently:
http://profnano.org/andy/misc/img/LadyLawfuls.jpg (albeit with a different
background and no speech bubble).


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and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

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