The Los Angeles Women's Auxiliary Superhero League
By Elana Frink, illustration by Dylan Meconis
3 April 2006
Camille is twenty-six when she first discovers she has superpowers.
It happens when she is escorting a rock legend down the red carpet of an awards show, and the photographer from Blaze is yelling at her to get out of the way so he can get a clear shot of The Legend's pants (which are made out of sky-blue ostrich skin).
Camille can't move the other way because then she'll bump into an aging movie star who can only be photographed from her left side, and Camille doesn't want to do that. This particular aging movie star threw a cup of tortilla soup at a friend of hers two weeks ago because it arrived with actual bits of tortilla in it.
So Camille closes her eyes and thinks about being not there, or at least not right between tortilla soup woman and the man in the blue ostrich pants. And when she opens her eyes, she's disappointed.
Because she's still there. And the flashbulbs are still going off. And the photographers are still yelling to get the aging movie star to look at them, and all around them the publicists are hovering.
But no one sees Camille. She can't explain it, and she doesn't know why she's so sure that they don't see her, but there it is. She's invisible.
Cool, thinks Camille.
It's less cool later on, when she goes back to the start of the red carpet, and her boss, Ari, ("The most powerful Armenian in Hollywood") starts yelling at her for vanishing.
Camille says: "Ari, how could I vanish? The crew from ET was right on top of me, you want me to pull the tape?"
Ari glares at her suspiciously, but backs down and tells her to take his next client down the line. This one is a girl who was on a recent season of Road Rules and then released a tape of herself making out with a dwarf. Ari reps her for free, because she's hot. (Ari is actually gay, but feels compelled to represent really attractive women for some reason Camille doesn't understand.)
Camille makes herself invisible again while the dwarf girl is chatting to someone from Spike TV. Whoosh, she thinks, and closes her eyes.
Camille's best friend is a girl she met at the convenience store at four in the morning the week she moved to LA. Her name is Sharla, and Camille thinks she's the smartest cookie in the universe.
"Sharla," Camille says. "I have to tell you something."
"Okay," Sharla says, looking at her horoscope in this week's Us Weekly. "Dammit, I'm going to experience a complex interaction with my loved one this week. Do you think that means Josh is cheating on me?"
"Sharla, I think I might be a superhero."
Sharla looks at her.
"Really," she says. "A superhero?"
She's not mocking her, which is what she likes best about her friend. Camille feels like she gets mocked a lot, so Shar is a nice change.
"Yes. I can make myself invisible."
Sharla closes the magazine and sits back on the couch Camille found by the side of the road a few months ago.
"Okay," Sharla says. "Let's see it."
For a second, Camille worries that maybe it won't happen, but she closes her eyes and thinks whoosh, and Sharla says: "Oh my God!"
Camille wills herself back to normal.
"You totally are a superhero," Sharla says. "You bitch. I'm so jealous."
One of Camille's other close friends is Jane, a junior copyright lawyer who hates her job. They both work in Beverly Hills, and the following Tuesday, they meet for lunch at the overpriced designer pizza place where everything comes with eggplant and goat cheese.
Camille looks around to make sure none of the literary agents are eavesdropping, and then tells Jane about the powers of invisibility. She expects Jane to think she's full of crap, because Jane may be a lawyer who hates her job, but she's still a lawyer, and prone to disbelieving people.
But what Jane does is lean in over the goat cheese and broccolini pizza and look at her intently.
"Yes," Camille says, a little hesitantly. Jane is kind of scary when she gets all focused.
"What're you doing after work?" Jane asks.
"I was going to go to the gym," Camille says.
"Meet me at the bottom of Runyon Canyon," Jane says. Jane is very commanding, and Camille is an assistant, and used to doing what people tell her to. She agrees, and Jane takes a slice of pizza and goes back to the office.
Camille thinks about calling Sharla, but doesn't. Her best friend is very laid-back, but this is getting a little weird, even for her.
To her surprise, when she shows up at the bottom of Runyon Canyon, as ordered, Jane is already waiting. With Sharla.
Jane is wearing a designer sweatsuit with "FRUITY" spelled out across the butt. Sharla is wearing a designer sweatsuit with "YOU KNOW IT" spelled out across the butt. Camille feels sort of awkward in the textless and pretty unsassy jeans she wore to work.
"I brought Sharla," Jane says.
"I can see that," Camille says. Sharla nods at her, all business.
"Come on," Jane says. "We need to get to the top before it gets dark."
Dusk in Los Angeles always makes Camille feel melancholy and sweet, like she wants to learn to play Gordon Lightfoot songs on a guitar she doesn't yet own. The canyon smells like dust and dry brush. A few dogs and their humans pass them on the way up, but the canyon trail is mostly deserted.
It's fire season: the higher they climb, the more Camille can smell the smoky tang in the air. At sea level, it's lost in the regular blend of smog.
They're approaching the last curve in the trail now, and all three are breathing hard. Runyon is a good hike even when you take it slow, and Jane has set a brisk pace. It's almost dark as they come up over the rise and onto the uneven plateau that looks out over the Los Angeles basin. If you bring a dog, this is the spot to rest and socialize a little before heading back down, but the dogs and their humans have left for the night, and it's just Camille and Sharla and Jane now.
"Are you sure this is legal?" Camille asks. She's pretty sure the park closes at nightfall, and she can just imagine some cranky park ranger jumping out at her from behind a bush, and lecturing her about public safety.
"Shh," Jane says. "You have to see this."
She turns in the direction of the Angeles National Forest, and Camille thinks she can see the faint glow of wildfires in the far distance.
"Okay, Sharla," Jane says. "Do it."
Beside Camille, Sharla begins to make disturbing noises. It almost sounds like—
"Sharla, are you okay?"
"Shh," Jane says, again, and she sounds a little irritated. "Let her work."
"But she's crying!"
"Give her a second, will you?"
Camille shuts up. Around them, the thick, still air starts to move; Camille can feel it on the bare skin of her arms. Slowly, starting at her toes, a tingle rises over her flesh.
This time, Jane just looks at her meaningfully. As Sharla sniffles quietly, the air moves more quickly. Camille is sure she's not imagining the charge in the breeze. And there's a certain scent on the wind, something you never smell in Los Angeles in the summer—
"She's going to make it rain," Camille says, astonished, just as thunder rolls in the distance, and the smell blooms stronger on the night air.
"Yes," Jane says, satisfied, and the sky breaks above them. They're soaked to the skin in seconds, and the dull glow in the Angeles Forest seems to dim.
Slowly, Sharla stops sobbing.
"She made it rain," Camille says, again, and it's so much of a better trick than invisibility that she doesn't speak all the way back down to their cars. The rain has tapered off by the time they get to the bottom, but she can hear thunder rumbling in the distance, and somehow she knows that Sharla has pushed her storm over the wildfire.
Sharla looks a little puffy, but Camille isn't sure if that's from sobbing her eyes out, or from controlling the weather, and she thinks asking might be sort of rude.
"That was amazing," is all she says. "When did you find out?"
Sharla and Jane share a look.
"Camille," Sharla says, "Jane and I have known about our powers for months. We were just waiting for you to find yours."
"Oh," Camille says. And then, after she thinks about it for a moment: "Why?"
"For the League," Jane says, brusquely. "We need a third to form a League. Otherwise we're just a crimefighting duo."
"You fight crime?" Camille squeaks. Jane is pretty tough, but she has a hard time imagining ladylike Sharla stopping criminals in their tracks.
"Not yet," Jane says. "But now—"
Camille looks at her stupidly. "But, Jane, what's your power?"
Sharla and Jane share another look, and Camille immediately feels that she's stepped on something better left alone.
Jane mumbles something.
"The power of nice," Jane snaps. "I'm nice, okay? I stun my enemies with niceness."
Camille blinks, once, twice, and then she stares.
"Okay," she finally says. "I'm invisible, Sharla controls the weather, and you're . . . nice."
"Yes, okay? I'm nice!"
Sharla coughs, and Camille looks away from Jane.
"Um," she says, "what kind of crime are we going to fight, you guys?"
The answer to her question leads them to an all-night diner in Los Feliz and so many cups of coffee that even when Camille finally makes it to bed, she can't sleep for hours, and it's only the return of Sharla's rain, gentler this time, that finally lulls her to sleep.
Camille wakes to find Jane standing at her door, holding a cup of coffee and a binder.
"This is for you," she says, handing over the binder, but keeping the coffee, even though Camille stares at it longingly. "I had one of the interns at work throw these together for us. Potential targets for the League's activities."
The binder's cover reads "Los Angeles Women's Auxiliary Superhero League" in raised type. Camille looks up.
"Why are we 'auxiliary'?"
"Because Sharla liked the way it sounded," Jane says, and Camille thinks that's a decent reason.
"You better come in," she says. Jane sprawls on the couch and reads back issues of Variety while Camille works her way through the binder.
"What about this one?" Camille points to the tab labeled "Mr. SMOG." "He seems pretty evil."
"Mr. SMOG?" Jane says. "Oh, yeah. He is. He's sabotaging development of the LAX leg of the subway."
Camille looks at the page on Mr. SMOG doubtfully.
"But . . . is he really a supervillain, though? It says here that his name is Jerry Rutherford."
"So he says," Jane says. "But we know better."
"Does he have a lair?"
Camille, having been the kind of girl who didn't know about comic books, has a vague idea that the defining characteristic of a supervillain is the possession of a decent lair. And possibly some henchmen. When she hesitantly expresses this to Jane, her friend is dismissive.
"Get with it, Camille! This isn't Batman! In the real world, superheroes have lame powers like niceness and villains are trying to sabotage public transit and there's nothing you can do about it!"
There's a long pause. Camille closes the binder, carefully.
"Jane," she says, "are you embarrassed about your superpower?"
Jane avoids her gaze. "It's just not very good," she finally says. "Not like yours or Sharla's. I'm not sure it even counts."
Camille isn't sure, either, but she wants to be supportive of her tough friend. "I'm sure it comes in useful when you're battling criminals who are, er, rude," she says. It doesn't sound as good out loud as it did in her head. Jane glares at her.
"Let's go see Sharla," Camille suggests, a little desperately. "She'll know who to fight."
Sharla opens the door and immediately hands them a clipping from a recent issue of the Times.
"Professor Albert Brown," she says. "He's our guy."
The picture is of a man who's clearly a mad scientist, standing in the desert, next to some sort of device.
"It says that he's an earthquake researcher," Camille says, scanning the article. Secretly, she's starting to wonder if her friends are insane. When she discovered that she could make herself invisible at will, this was not one of the things she worried about.
"Whatever! His secret identity is Admiral Razor," Sharla says, and hands her a printout from a website Camille has never heard of, superheronews.com. The article claims that a supervillain named Admiral Razor is working on the means to induce devastating earthquakes at any major fault line around the globe.
"This is Los Angeles," Sharla says, with a businesslike edge in her voice. "Three things we've got plenty of. Smog, waiter-actors, and fault lines. I figure he's planning to strike in a week, when the UN Environmental Conference comes to town."
"Camille," Jane says, "he doesn't need a reason! He's a supervillain. The UN probably refused to fund his research or something, so he's plotting to take them all down."
"Don't you—don't you think we should call the cops?"
Jane and Sharla are looking at her like she's grown a few new heads, and under the pressure, Camille accidentally fades out.
"Camille," Jane snaps, "don't do that! We know you're there!"
"Then don't glare at her," Sharla says, practically. "Just like you shouldn't make me cry unless you've been praying for rain. We've discussed this."
Camille swims back into sight. "Sorry, Jane. I'll try not to do it again. Or to accidentally trigger your superpower."
Jane looks like she might cry, and Camille feels terrible.
"Jane," Sharla says, "you need to stop feeling weird about your superpower. Remember last month when you almost got mugged leaving that club downtown? If you hadn't been able to stun them with a powerful cone of niceness, what would have happened?"
Jane is not mollified, but she folds the article on Admiral Razor into a small square.
"I say we go for it. We strike tomorrow at midnight."
"I can't do midnight," Sharla says. "I have to get up early."
"Okay," Jane says. "We strike tomorrow after work. And, Camille?"
"Do you have a suitable outfit for this kind of thing?"
Camille is fifteen minutes late to work. Her boss, Ari, is already pacing and pretending that her absence is a huge inconvenience to him. She knows it's not, and that he doesn't actually do any work for the first hour of the day. But for some reason it's important to Ari that Camille be at her desk when he walks in, and for almost two years, Camille has been.
"Camille, I need you here by nine on the dot, or it totally messes up my whole day! Where were you?"
"It's nine-fifteen," she says. She'd been staring at various outfits laid out on her bed, trying to figure out what Jane meant by "suitable."
"That's fifteen minutes of my day you wasted, Camille. Don't let it happen again."
Camille is about to apologize, but instead she stands up straight and looks her boss in the eye, and says that she'll need to leave an hour early.
"Camille," Ari says, "are you thinking about leaving me?"
"We're not married," Camille says, crossly. "And no, I'm not looking for a new job."
"You've seemed very distracted recently," Ari says. "There was that incident on the red carpet, you're coming in late, you're leaving early—what's going on?"
Camille knows she should sit down and shut up, but everything is so strange and she suddenly wants to tell someone about it, someone who won't respond with a plan to use their powers to save the world.
"Well," Ari says, when she's gotten to the end of the tale, "I know what you girls need. Representation."
That night, the way Jane looks at Camille's outfit makes clear that it's completely inappropriate. Camille wasn't sure what superheroes wore on a mission, so she opted for her gym-going clothes: sneakers, sweatpants, snug T-shirt, and a Dodgers hat. She didn't feel very superhero-like, so she also added black stripes under eyes, like a football player.
Jane and Sharla are dressed in sharp Spandex suits with impressive utility belts. Jane is sporting a half-cape, and both wear masks over their eyes.
"A Dodgers hat, Camille?" Sharla sounds disappointed.
Camille, embarrassed, suggests that since she'll mostly be invisible, it won't really matter.
"All right," Jane says. "You're new to this. We can go shopping later. For now, let's roll."
The three of them climb into Camille's Civic and head for the Valley.
"I'm sorry I'm late," Camille says. "Ari kept talking to me about endorsement deals and product placement and Entertainment Weekly interviews."
The other two are silent. "I kind of told him. About us," Camille says, a little sheepishly. "He kept trying to make me sign with him."
Another silence. Finally, Sharla speaks. "Ari wants to rep us?"
"Yeah," Camille says. "I told him about the Los Angeles Women's Auxiliary Superhero League and our powers and Admiral Razor and everything."
"What'd he say?"
"Well, he wants us to change our name to Team Omega."
"Not an option," Sharla says. Camille has already figured out that their name was mostly Sharla's doing, so she isn't surprised.
"And he thinks we'd be perfect to cross-promote this new Leonardo DiCaprio movie he's working on."
"Really?" Jane squeaks. Jane has seen Titanic almost a hundred times, but will deny it if asked.
"Yeah," Camille says. "He wants our missions to go through his office, though. No more freelancing, he says."
They're getting close to Admiral Razor's top-secret facility now, so they stop talking about Ari's plan to make them LA's top female superhero team, and Jane starts explaining what she calls her "mission blueprint."
To Camille, it sounds like the blueprint involves, pretty much, just walking up and demanding to be let in.
"Sharla will take out the guards and we'll slip in," Jane is saying. She and Sharla adjust their masks, and Camille pulls the Dodgers hat down low. She's scared, but she also feels kind of like a badass. Camille has never been a badass, and this feeling is so enjoyable she sort of wants to pull over and find a biker bar and start some fights or something, but she parks behind a boulder as directed by Jane, and then goes invisible.
The mission is the easiest part of her whole week. Camille sneaks up to the door and switches off the security lock, and then Sharla rolls the two guards off into a distant ditch with a concentrated gust of wind.
Once inside the facility, it's remarkably simple to get to Admiral Razor's secret lab.
"It would be much harder to find your secret lab if it didn't have a sign on the door," Jane tells the supervillain, who turns out to be a slightly paunchy middle-aged scientist. Aside from his crazy-eyed stare, there's not much about him to indicate his evil status.
"I'd heard about the new crew in town," Admiral Razor says, reaching for his Psionic Staff and aiming it at the three of them. Camille prepares to go invisible to sneak up and wrest it away from him, but instead, Jane finally trots out her own power.
"You don't really want to do that," she suggests, and the sound of her voice is so soothing that Camille finds herself smiling happily at her friend. "You want to use your knowledge for good, Admiral Razor. You know you do."
Admiral Razor drops his Psionic Staff and beams at Jane. He's drooling a tiny bit from one side of his mouth.
"Gross," Sharla whispers, picking up the Staff.
"Sorry," Jane replies. "I think I overdid it a little."
"Jane," Camille says, awestruck, "that is the best superpower ever."
Jane looks at her, a little shyly. "Yeah?"
"Absolutely," Camille says, and thinks for a moment. "If it bothers you, you don't have to call it the power of niceness. We can call you, like . . . Hypnotique."
"I told you having a publicity assistant in the League would be great," Sharla says. "See how she thinks?"
"Hypnotique," Jane muses.
The three of them leave Admiral Razor tied to his Quake Generator and take the Psionic Staff to the nearest police station, where Camille, invisible, drifts in and leaves it on the front desk with a note explaining the plot they just foiled, and directions to Admiral Razor's whereabouts.
Back at Camille's apartment, they find a reporter from the Times on her doorstep.
"My name's John. Ari sent me," he says, before they can say anything. "Listen, I'm not out to expose you. But I'm doing a feature on LA's new superheroes, and I'd love to get Team Omega's take, for the female perspective."
Sharla steps in front of the reporter. She looks glorious and tough, her hair streaming down over her broad shoulders, her dark skin gleaming in the light.
"We're the Los Angeles Women's Auxiliary Superhero League," she says. "None of this Team Omega bullshit."
"We're old school," Camille hears herself agreeing.
"All right," the reporter says. "Don't you think that's kind of long?"
"Don't you think 'Team Omega' is sort of pretentious?" Sharla counters.
The reporter considers it for a moment. "Yeah," he finally says. "I actually do."
He and Sharla shake hands.
"I'm Sharla. I control the weather. That's Camille. She has the power of invisibility. That's . . . that's Hypnotique," she finishes.
Jane offers him her hand. "Actually, it's Jane," she says.
The reporter's taking notes. "Clean, simple—you ladies have got a real retro-chic sensibility thing going on. I like it. So, Jane, what's your power?"
Camille tenses, waiting for Jane to answer. Jane, though, lifts her chin, looks the reporter in the eye, and says:
"It's the power of extreme niceness, John. I'd demonstrate, but I'd reduce you to a quivering pile of goo."
John, scribbling notes, grins. "Goo, or good?"
"That too," Jane says.
John laughs. Jane looks a little surprised. People don't usually laugh at her jokes, and she doesn't usually make them.
As Camille watches, Jane's model-thin, angular form relaxes, and her shoulders slide forward slightly from their regular ramrod-straight position.
"I'm going to quit my job," Camille suddenly says, surprising herself. The other three turn to look at her.
"You are?" Sharla says. "Camille—"
"No, I am," Camille says. "I'm going to be a full-time superhero consultant. John, you actually happened upon us on the first night of our professional availability."
Sharla and Jane turn to stare at her, but neither contradicts her assertion that the League is available for the fighting of crimes great and small in the greater Los Angeles area.
As she continues to talk, John scribbles busily, and she can hear Ari's turn of phrase in her language. She resolves to thank him for the experience in the resignation letter she'll be putting on his desk in the morning.
John has a few more questions, but eventually, Camille feels that they've been talking long enough.
"John," she says, with a perfect note of apology in her voice, "sorry to cut this short, but we actually have to debrief now."
"Of course," John nods. "I guess you'd have to, after saving Los Angeles."
"Good night," Camille says, ushering him off the porch.
"Camille," Sharla says when they're inside, "are we really going to do this?"
"We really are," Camille says, and she hardly feels afraid at all.