The Scarlet Panda

Episode 1: The Scarlet Panda Arises

"Did you hear about how Mayan Man busted that huge drug chain yesterday?"

"And Thunder Claw stopped The Dogcatcher from kidnapping like twenty kids at a party on the South Side."

"And Miss Masquerade stopped the Dragonfly from robbing about three million dollars from the mint."

"I swear I saw Lightning Shock last week in Atlanta."

"So?" Am had always been an outcast. She never acted like she should be a loner; it was just that all the girls she met would rather flirt with her brother, Jase, and the boys would rather show off for her sister Alice. Am knew it was pointless for the others to obsess. Jase was two years older than she was, and Alice four years older.

Am was five three. She was fairly pretty with dark brown hair with natural light brown highlights, and cinnamon eyes. Her sister Alice was much taller, and had blonde hair and blue eyes. Jase also had blue eyes, but his hair was darker than Am's.

It wasn't like she was totally alone; it was just that most kids in eighth grade had more than two friends. But, they were the best friends she could have wished for.

Kat was very sweet, and she got Am involved in the only sport she was in, running. Kat was about the same size as a stick, which is why she was about the best runner at the high school. Am and Kat had known each other since Am was ten days old, and were best friends for life. Kat told Am everything, and Am had only one secret from Kat.

Lynn was Am's other best friend. They met in sixth grade, and immediately became friends. It was with Lynn that Am shared her big secret. The two of them were the Blue Panther and the Red Panda, Clinton's north side's very own super heroes. The Blue Panther could almost always be counted on to catch the mastermind behind the big crimes, while the Red Panda seemed to be a huge screw up.

Am and Lynn knew that Am wasn't a screw up. It wasn't her fault that she didn't know how to diffuse a bomb, or that she couldn't take out fifteen ninjas at once. In fact, it was quite amazing that she could fight one ninja and survive considering she was fourteen years old and never took a martial arts class in her life.

"So?" Jen asked standing up to challenge Am. "Have you ever seen a super hero up close?"

"You'd be surprised," Am said casting a glance at Lynn. Lynn was a very Japanese girl. It couldn't be mistaken that she was anything else. Black hair and a round face always gives it away.

"Whatever," Nicki said walking out of the cafeteria towards the classrooms. The bell had just rung.

Jen was the same height as Am. She had black hair and green eyes. Nicki, on the other hand, was shorter than Am with bright blonde hair and gray eyes.

As usual, Am breezed through her first four classes of the day. She knew it, once they said it, she wouldn't forget it. She didn't do her homework unless it was a large project, and those she did at the last minute because of her busy schedule of running and fighting crime.

"I'm going to down town Clinton tomorrow to see all the super heroes entering the new court house," the boy in front of Am began the conversation in Am's English class about ten minutes before the bell rang.

"That is so cool," Jen chirped, "but you're going to need to be there at like six to get a chance of seeing a hero."

"What's the big deal?" Am asked, "Mayor Kilbourne is just going to hand out a few awards to the heroes who put police out of jobs."

"The police are grateful for the heroes," Nicki rejected Am's view.

"And they're getting fatter every day," Am said.

Am sat talking to only Lynn during lunch as she did every day. Kat was already in high school, so they didn't have the chance to have the same classes. Lynn was excited about the next morning. Being the big hero in town, Lynn was sure to get an award. Am, however, doubted whether or not she would. What was so special about the Red Panda?

"Maybe it'll be for smallest hero?" Lynn wondered.

"Power pooch," Am reminded Lynn of the fighting canine.

"Best known in Clinton?"

"Mayan Man is the best known in the world."

"Best powerless fighter."

"Cause I can only mess up." Am was a better fighter, she just got all the blame for the things that went wrong.

"Most likely to be oriental?"

"Everyone knows you are, even with the mask."

"I don't know," Lynn cried.

"Most photogenic."

Lynn nodded. The newspapers did love to put pictures of her on the front pages, even for the little stories.

"Come on," Lynn said looking at the clock. "The bells going to ring in three minutes and I don't want to be stuck in the lunch crowd outta here."

Am and Lynn were in their seats for history when Nicki walked into the room, escorted by a boy neither of them knew. Who was he? Why was he at the school? Why did he have to have the absolute perfect face?

"Do you know him?" Am asked Lynn.

"Only seen him in my dreams," Lynn replied and both of them smiled.

The boy was talking to the teacher. The teacher pointed right at Lynn, but directed the boy to sit in the seat diagonal from Lynn, right behind Am. Am and Lynn tried their best not to squeal as the new boy approached. He was just beautiful, with dirty blonde hair and a bright green eyes.

"Hey," the boy said extending a hand. "My name's Mike Masters. I just moved here from Central City."

"I'm Lynn Kimi," Lynn said with a smile that couldn't have gotten any bigger if she tried to make it.

"I am Am," Am said trying her best to smile, but not in a ridiculous way like Lynn.

Mike waited a moment and asked, "You are…?" Like most people, he assumed she was stuttering with her name.

"Am," Am repeated. "Well, Amelia Wilson, but I prefer Am for short."

Mike nodded. "So, I hear the big hero in town is the Blue Panther," Mike said after a moment of silence.

"That's what most people would say," Am said. "I rather like the Red Panda myself. She's more like me, always getting blamed for mistakes."

"I heard about her," Mike said. "Apparently she is most likely to not get an award at the court house opening tomorrow. I wish I could go to that. I find heroes fascinating. I lived by Butterfly Girl in Central City. It's really cool, but heroes have saved me eight times. My mom thinks I get into too much danger. I say, what's the big deal?"

Am and Lynn couldn't help but smile for the rest of the day. They had just met the hottest guy in the world, or at least they assumed he was. And he was nice to them, even Am. That was a very new thing for Am to experience.

"He gave me his screen name!" Am screeched when she got home that afternoon. Track practice was over and she had to prepare for the next day. Because she needed to be at the court house by ten in the morning, she needed to leave her house early enough to catch the train and get to a place where she could change into her super hero costume, and finally get to the court house.

"Who gave you his screen name?" Sam asked. Sam was Am's younger brother. He and his twin sister, Beck, were born three years after Am. However, he was the general genius of the family. Am couldn't count all the times that she had been to his science fairs or citywide spelling bees. He was a mini wimp of a clone of Jase.

Beck, on the other hand, was one of the most musically talented people Am knew. She had a beautiful voice, and could dance like the wind. However, unlike Sam, Jase, and Alice, who flaunted their talents and looks, Beck was very timid about her voice and body. She was the only one in the family with light brown hair, rather than blonde or dark brown hair. She also had sad blue eyes.

"The new guy," Am said, shoving Sam out of the office chair so she could use the computer. "He's so hot."

"Be sure not to let him lay an eye on Alice," Sam snickered, "or he'll start sending love poems and crap like that to her."

"He's not stupid," Am said, "and Alice is going off the college. This obsession guys have with her has to wear off sooner or later. And Mike is really into super heroes."

"So what. You don't like them, do you?" Sam asked.

"Of course she does," Beck said entering the room, "she has this huge box of articles about super heroes. Every time they're in the paper, she snips it out."

"How long has this been going on?" Sam asked, surprised there was something he didn't know.

"About a year," Beck said, "since she stopped doing her homework."

Am signed online and entered Mike's screen name to her buddy list. To her surprise, and excitement, he was on. She couldn't help but talk to him. At three o'clock in the morning, Am finally signed off and went to bed. She totally forgot about the courthouse opening the next morning.

"Wake up already," Alice yelled pushing Am to wake her up. Am was the only person in the house who could have an alarm clock in her room and not worry about waking up another individual unless she let it ring for a long time.

"Why?" Am asked.

"Your alarm clock has been beeping for an hour now," Alice said, "or longer."

Am looked at the bedside clock. It read eight thirty.

"Oh no," Am yelled, "this cannot be happening to me." Am pushed Alice out of her room. It wasn't even a full minute later that Am was out of the room, fully dressed with a bag packed for the day. She grabbed an orange from the refrigerator and ran out of the house. She jumped on her bike, almost forgetting to unchain it from the fence. She used all her energy to bike to the train station to catch the eight fifty train at least.

After realizing she left her money at home, Am had to sneak onto the train and into the back where she wouldn't be yelled at.

She had just finished eating her orange when she arrived at her stop in Clinton. She peered around and then jumped off the train without anyone looking. She needed to find a place to change, but where? Usually, she used a secret underground system to travel to and from the city quickly and discreetly. This had been developed by the Creeper, and could transfer her and Lynn to Clinton in three minutes or less. But it was currently under construction after a bomb destroyed the first exit into the city.

Finally, Am decided she would just use a back alleyway a few blocks away from the courthouse. She really only had to put her hair into two buns and take off her top layer of clothing, which was over her super hero suit. Then there was just putting on the mask.

Am ran out or the train station. The ceremony was supposed to start in five seconds. The crowd was dense and she had trouble moving. She could hear reporters naming everyone who had gone inside already.

"And Mayor Kilbourn is nearing the building. But wait, what is this? The windows and doors are slamming shut."

The crowd was gasping, but Am couldn't see a thing. She could hear it though. It sounded like engines headed for space travel were starting up. Then the screams came. Now the ground was trembling beneath every one's feet. But it wasn't a natural earthquake. Am's heart stopped beating as she saw the courthouse begin to rise up, over the crowd. It was headed for outer space. And she was supposed to be in it.

Her watch began beeping. Now, she somehow easily wove through the crowd and ducked into an alley. She flipped up the top, and a screen of the Blue Panther appeared.

"Red, where are you? What's happening? There is some sort of alloy that this building was made out of and we're stuck inside."

"You're headed for outer space," Am replied.

A man in a black leather suit and a black detective hat appeared behind the Blue Panther. It was the Creeper. "You're the only one left Red. We're all here. Don't reveal that you are around. Give it up. You can't do it alone. The Red Panda from this day forth is no more. This was a trap, and there weren't supposed to be any super heroes outside of this ship in the world. Destiny chose to let you live, so live."

"Promise me you won't continue fighting crime," the Blue Panther pleaded.

Am looked down. Her whole reason for fighting was so she could get a bit of attention, even if no one knew it was she. She nodded. "I promise."

"It's gotten so bad," Am reported to the heroes everyday about the Earth's current condition. "You've been gone for two months, and the crime rate has tripled. Alice is afraid to go to college because of the crime. I am of course encouraging her as best I can. Oh, and Jeff, your dog had some fleas, so I took him to the vet. He's better now, but you can't continue to call him fluffy."

The Creeper looked at Am. He didn't know how she figured out who he was, but he didn't like it. He lived not far from her actually, and Am had found a secret passage in the secret passage to the city. It took her about three seconds to figure out what it meant.

She spent a lot of time in his computer room, using his computer designs for his own suit to make a high tech suit for herself and Lynn for when the heroes would return, if they would return. Because she didn't have any powers, a suit would help a lot. The fueling system the Creeper had designed would give her jet boots to fly, and if the need came for it, a jet pack for super fast flying.

"So, Blue, you parents are still convinced that you have been kidnapped, but are still alive," Am reported, "and the kids at school still believe that you grand father is sick and you went to Japan to be with him."

"Have you been working out?" Lynn asked.

"Of course I have," Am replied. She was currently lifting weights as she talked to them. "I don't want to get fat. Oh, so try-outs for the high school cheer leading squad were the other day, and I made it."

"Since when did you want to cheer?" Lynn asked.

"Well," Am replied, "I figure it couldn't hurt to learn how to properly flip and stuff like that, considering I eventually plan to join you when you guys return. I've used Jeff's computer to figure out exactly the path you were supposed to travel, but because my one hundred ten pounds of weight isn't on that thing, I have a feeling that it might be off course. But I can't figure out how far off or what you need to do to get back. Oh my God, look at the time. The graduation dance is in like three hours. I got to go get ready."

Am ran home as quickly as she could. In two hours, she was ready. She showered, changed, and had her hair and nails done, by Beck nonetheless. She only had to wait for her parents to get ready to drive her to Mike's house. She was ecstatic when he asked her to be his date for the dance.

"Wow," Mike said when she arrived at his house. She was the last to arrive. Mike's friends and their dates were already there and pictures were beginning. "You look amazing."

"Thanks," Am replied, "you look good too."

"Smile for the camera," Am's mom said holding a disposable camera to her eye.

Am rolled her eyes. She didn't want to flaunt in front of a camera and have a bunch of pictures for the future. One or two would be good. But then she remembered how Lynn was missing it all. Maybe pictures would be a good thing to help her to catch up on what she missed.

"Fine," Am said as her mom persisted to get a picture of her and Mike.

"I don't know," Mike said to Am as they entered the junior high school after Am's parents dropped them off. "Your family seems really nice. I don't understand what you have against them."

"It's not so much my parents as it is my brothers and older sister," Am replied.

"Ah yes," Mike agreed, "my sisters are a pain. My older sister is a bit of a whore and my little sister wants to be both me and my older sister."

"Well, my parents have something to be proud of for my siblings, but not me," Am explained. "My brother Jase is athletic, Sam is super smart, Beck is the most musically talented person in the world, and Alice is beautiful."

"I don't know," Mike began, "if anyone could be more beautiful than you right now."

Am smiled. Mike led her onto the dance floor for the first slow song. Am let Mike lead her during the dance. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder.

Not long after the dance had begun, Am began to feel bored. Every fifteen minutes or so, Mike and his friends would disappear into the gym for a round of basketball. Eventually, one of the other guys' girlfriends would intrude on them and drag her boyfriend off to dance.

Just after Jen had pulled her boyfriend Rob for the third time in a row back to the dance, Am decided she would ask Mike if he wanted to return so they wouldn't miss the balloon drop. She walked up to him and just as she opened her mouth to talk, screams began to sound in the gym.

Nicki came running into the gym, screaming her lungs off. "It's the Dogcatcher. He escaped from the penitentiary."

Am gasped. She knew that none of her peers had ever actually seen the Dogcatcher in real life besides herself, and that no one would know how to fight or escape from him. She realized Mike had run to see and help people out of the dance. She ran off to find him.

As Am entered the dance room, she immediately knew what the Dogcatcher was after. Anyone who seemed brave was already tangled up in one of his nets. Everyone except Mike that was. However, the Dogcatcher was closing in on Mike.

Every step the Dogcatcher took closer to Mike, Am felt more tension. She couldn't let her date be captured. She was the Red Panda… the screw-up. Am pushed that thought from her mind. She knew that she didn't need a costume to save Mike. She took off her right heel and chucked it with all her might at the Dogcatcher. It missed him.

"Mike watch out," Am yelled. Mike saw how close the Dogcatcher was to him. The Dogcatcher looked at Am for a moment. "That's right," Am yelled at the Dogcatcher, "Stay away from him."

She took off her other shoe and this time it hit the Dogcatcher square on the nose when she threw it. Am felt a wave of satisfaction come over her, for a split second, until she realized that the Dogcatcher was now approaching her instead. She panicked for a moment, trying to decide what to do. She waited a second too long, because as she ran into the hallway to her classrooms, the Dogcatcher followed her instead of going after Mike again.

Am barely dodged the first net shot at her. She had to jump into the guys' bathroom to do so. Very uncomfortable, Am ran back into the hall and towards the nearest exit. Just as she reached the handle, she heard another blast from the Dogcatcher's infamous net blaster. She was captured in metal strung net.

The Dogcatcher had only had one person escape from that net of his before, and it had taken that person over an hour to do so. He left Am where she was, deciding to finish capturing the rest of the courageous people first.

Am hit the ground in a fury. How could she have let herself get captured? She didn't even have heels like last time she had been in this kind of net. Nothing she had could break the lock. She had used her heel to break the lock last time.

She opened her purse. At least she could make sure that she looked nice for when the Dogcatcher would come back to take her away. But, sitting just underneath her camera was something she forgot to leave at home. The prototype of the suit she was making. She had never tested it, and it could be dangerous. She didn't even know if it would work at all. But, what if it did?

She pulled out the mask and put it on. All she had to do was press the buttons and she could transform into the Red Panda again. She took a deep breath and pressed the buttons on either side of the mask. She couldn't hear a sound, but she felt the suit instantly form over her. It redid her hair into her double half buns. Her make-up was redone. Right over the dress, the suit formed. She couldn't even tell that there was a dress on underneath. The gloves zoomed down her arms forming over her fingers. She watched as the last bit of the suit went down her legs and created boots over her feet.

Just like she had last time, Am used the heel of the boot to break the lock of the net. It took her about five seconds this time. She sprinted down the hall toward the dance. She got there just in time. Apparently Mike had cut the ropes of the fiber nets while the Dogcatcher had been chasing her. The Dogcatcher had just recaptured the last of the victims. All that was left was Mike.

The metal net was pulled out again, and was flying at Mike. With a click of her ankles together her jet boots were activated. She could feel the net brush against her feet as she flew with Mike across the room.

She landed with Mike where the Dogcatcher wouldn't be able to capture him. Then she ran across the room at the Dogcatcher. She dove under the first net, dodged to the right of the second net, and the used all her might and landed a kick on the Dogcatchers face.

Now that he was on the ground, Am pulled a pocket knife out of her belt. She flicked it open and opened the nearest net to her. Jen and Rob were in it. Rob freaked out and ran out of the room yelling. Am handed the knife to Jen and asked her to free everybody else as she continued to fight the Dogcatcher.

Now, the Dogcatcher had loaded his net blaster with an explosive. It flew past everyone and hit the wall, making it blow up. Once the smoke cleared enough to see again, Am felt a knee in her stomach. The hand around her neck began to squeeze. She couldn't breathe. As much as she kicked and hit, the Dogcatcher wouldn't let go. Then it dawned upon her. She clicked her ankles together again and blasted the fire from the jets in her captor's face.

As his mask began to melt Am was released. The police were coming, but she still couldn't leave. With one last kick on the head, the Dogcatcher rolled onto his back unconscious.

The first of the policemen came running in. Am began to make her way towards the exit, but a classmate asked her, "Are you really the Red Panda? Because, if you are, I've been wrong about you for a year now. You are a hero."

Am looked at the boy, and at everyone looking at her. What could she say? She shook her head; "I'm not the Red Panda. She wasn't a hero. I'm the Scarlet Panda."

Am smiled. Why had she ever used red instead of scarlet? Or crimson was a nice color too. Why hadn't she thought of that? She ran out of the door into the fresh air. She flew around the building and back into the entrance she had been captured in the net. She pressed the buttons again and the suit disappeared. It was amazing. She couldn't tell that she had been in it. Her dress wasn't wrinkled. Her hair lost all traces or red, and was even back the way that Beck had fixed it with the curls and stones. Even the Scarlet Panda make-up was off her face. She crawled back into the net and tried her best to make it seem like she hadn't been out of the net.

A minute later, she heard Jen yelling, "Nicki, are you down here?"

"No," Am yelled, "but I am."

Jen looked at Am and smiled. "No one I guess."

Am was so mad that Jen said that that she tried to charge at her. But, she couldn't escape from the net again. Apparently she was better at this than the Dogcatcher.