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"You're such a woman."

Conrad Francis Blake - C.F. to friends - sat across from me, a plate of french fries between us that I'd gotten from the local burger shop. Conrad was a tall guy, with buzzed brown hair, in good shape. "Yeah, yeah," I muttered.

"I'm serious, man. You should just head on over to Lori's dormitory and woo her. Sweep her off her feet. A guitar should enter into it somewhere."

"The only guitar I can play has five Skittle-colored buttons on it, and sweeping a girl off her feet doesn't get you laid here. It gets you a visit from campus security."

"Such. A woman." Conrad plucked a few french fries. "Then again, I hear she's into that - "

"Yeah, yeah." I sat back, sounding a bit more pissy than I wanted to. "Rub it in, why don't you."

"Hey, dude, she might just be bi. Fine by me if she is. Means you've still got a chance once she gets bored with Christine."

"Christine's not a game of Halo, C.F."

"Hey, man. Just sayin'." C.F. spread his hands, and shrugged his shoulders. "But hell, man. If you don't want to head over there I won't make you. You got plans for tonight?"

"Programming, and more programming." I rubbed my eyes, which probably were bloodshot. They'd been bloodshot a lot lately. "Maybe a little NO."

Conrad rolled his eyes, and made what I can only assume was the sound of a hamster. It was his derisive taunt for people who played massively multiplayer online games like Novas Online. He said that it was because the games were like a hamster running on a wheel, spending all this effort on going nowhere. He claimed he came up with it. I didn't believe him.

All right, so maybe there's more productive ways to spend my time than playing an online video game where I pretend to be special. There was always school, which was where I'd met C.F. We were roommates, and while he more or less coasted through courses on the history of war, I struggled with every single assignment that I had for my programming juniors. Homework, I was convinced, was time wise the equivalent of a gas. It expanded and filled all available room.

I got into programming because I thought making video games would be easy. I also thought professional wrestling was real until I was ten, so yeah, I admit it, I'm a little gullible.

"Yea, well," I finally replied. "It's my fifteen bucks a month. Don't knock it until you're tried it."

"I tried it before I came to Calgary, actually." C.F. took a swig of his pop and swished it around his mouth. I pictured his dentist killing himself with his drill. "Just got bored, though."

"Yeah? What server were you on?"

"Cardinal. I was Donut Heal, Captain Knickers and sometimes if the group needed a mesmer I was Miss Melons - you okay?" C.F. stood up.

I coughed, having inhaled a chunk of fried potato instead of swallowing it. I waved him off. "Fine! Fine. I'm okay." I was lying, of course, my mind going through a list of names. Miss Melons. Miss Melons. Oh shit.

"You sure, man?"

"M'fine. See?" I drank my pop, and relaxed, wiping a few involuntary tears from my eyes. "Sorry, it went down the wrong pipe. What about you, any plans for tonight?"

"Oh, me? Probably go to the bar. See Stacy. Get shitfaced. Get laid, I hope."

"Would you mind getting the mail first, Don Juan?"

"Mail! Shit, right, I'm expecting something too. Be right back." C.F. got up from his chair and headed for the door, not stopping to put on sandals.

The door opened, and shut. I stood up, and beelined for my laptop that sat on my desk. I booted it up and started up Novas Online. The game loaded quickly enough, and then a video popped up in front of me.

It was of an overweight, greasy guy at a keyboard, the room dimly lit. I'd seen it already. It was a public service announcement from an advocacy group that held that VirGOG games were inherently addictive and that you should "Say No to NO." They'd bought advertising time on Novas Online, because hey. Target audience, right?

The announcer did his spooky voice bit. The fat guy slurped at his drink. I wondered if the actor believed what the PSA was saying or if he just liked getting paid. "C'mon," I muttered, hitting the spacebar. It never worked - I could never skip the ads - but I was nervous.

Finally the login screen displayed, along with the stirring instrumental musical score. "Hmmm hmm hmmmm, hm-hm-hm-hm hmm-hmmmm," I hummed, as I quickly logged in and selected a character.

The way the game was organized, you could create ten characters per server. Cardinal had three of mine. One I hardly ever used and was just me playing around with outfits and the other was only for when we were down a healer. My main - the one with high double digits in the Hours Logged value - was Knockout.

Knockout was a brick, as the term goes - really strong, really tough. I had a few secondary powers like x-ray vision - which displayed giant CENSOR bars over other characters unless you paid extra for a patch, as I had in a moment of weakness. Stun rays from the eyes. Faster speed. And of course, the ability to fly. Sometimes I just put the VirGOGs on and flew around the cities and out into space. It was worth fifteen bucks a month just for that.

Knockout was also a female character. I'm hardly the only one who does this.

I logged in, and immediately set my IAO flag, which meant I would be in and out. I checked my friends list, typing M-I-S-S in the search box, and then I groaned.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. There it was. "Fuck me dead," I said. "I cybered my roommate."

I logged off, and suddenly felt like wiping the laptop's hard drive. Sure, I'd lose all the progress I'd made on my final project - a crude revival of Space Invaders - but it'd make me feel better. Then I remembered that all data was stored server-side and I felt bad again.

The door opened. I heard C.F. let out a holler, and I turned to see him, trying to keep Miss Melon's computer-generated body out of my head. "What is it?"

"My drugs arrived!"

"Drugs?"

"My nova drugs!"

"Oh," I said. "Of course."

* * *

Let me tell you a bit about C.F.

The first time I met C.F. was at orientation, when they gave us directions to campus housing. When I entered the dorm room we'd be sharing, he was jumping off of his couch and then climbing back on. I asked him why he was doing this. He said, "Baby steps, dude."

A week later he jumped off a bridge and into a lake. After the pneumonia subsided, he decided that maybe jumping off something high wasn't the best way to erupt, and so he took to endurance tests. Running, staying up late, doing jumping jacks until he couldn't any more. Then he graduated to other dangerous activities, such as smoking ten cigarettes at once and bicycling without a helmet. Once I caught him watching the American Ninja movies on Opflix, but in fairness it might not have been a test of mental endurance and more just terrible taste in films.

Lately he'd decided to try chemical stimulation. "It's less what you do than what you eat," he'd say after polishing off two double-decker hamburgers. He found a site offering 'cheep oversees farmacutials' that were guaranteed to increase 'eruptive potency' by 25%. I thought eruptive potency meant something else but the website was difficult to navigate so I remain unsure.

Someone told me that C.F.'s nickname was short for clusterfuck. I believe it.

'So why do you hang out with him?' says you. That's just how it is sometimes. You and a buddy just click. And I guess I like having someone around who's an even bigger schmuck than I am.

We cleared a space in the living room, and C.F. set the box down on the coffee table. He opened it and took out a bottle of pills. "All right, man. This is it. I can feel it."

"That's what you said about the LSD too."

"Yeah, but I was wrong then. I'm right this time. You wait and see. The next time that front door opens someone is gonna be flying out of it."

"Uh huh."

"You heard of 'East Beats West?' The exhibition show between the XWF and the Japanese show 'Most Excellent Super Fight?' It's gonna be at the hockey arena in less than a week and I'm gonna be there."

I hadn't heard of 'Most Excellent Super Fight.' C.F. was a little more versed on nova culture than I was. "So you got your powers all picked out?"

"I dunno. Basic stuff, I guess. Really strong, death lasers in my eyes, really tough... oh, and flying. Gotta have flying. And some kind of mega-you-want-to-fuck-me powers, too."

I rolled my eyes. A while back, we found an old RPG book called 'Novas' that used the words 'quantum' and 'mega' before every descriptor. If you've never played an RPG, they're like Dungeons and Dragons only without the dungeons or the dragons. Anyways, we started calling everything 'mega-something,' like 'it was a mega-exam,' or 'this game mega-sucks.' I got bored with it. C.F. didn't. "Mega-I-want-to-fuck-you powers?"

"No, like, in general sexual prowess. Of course it's tough to improve on what I got already - "

"Uh huh."

"You wait and see, man. I'm gonna walk into that stadium with a gorgeous babe next to me." C.F. popped the top off the bottle and shook out four pills. "Here we go."

"Wait - uh - " I looked, paralyzed, as he popped them in his mouth. "How high's the dose supposed to be?"

"They say that one pill increases eruptive potency by 25%, right?"

"Right...?"

"Well, 25% times four pills equals 100%. Dude, I thought you were good with math being a programmer and all."

"Uh..." The words died in my throat. He sat back on the couch. "How long does it take?"

"I read that an eruption takes place in, like, no time flat, dude."

"But how long does no time flat take to get here?"

"Uh, I dunno. Hmmm." C.F. drummed his fingers. "Geez, I'm bored. Anything good on TV?"

I turned the TV on. 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' was on, as it was every hour of the day on some channel somewhere. Ben Stein was calling the attendance, and repeating 'Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?' in that Ben Steinian monotone that made you wonder if he was blind.

C.F. giggled. "Bueller?" he said. "Bueller?"

I shifted in my seat. I looked over at C.F. and watched as he pitched forward, landing on the floor on his hands and knees. "Uh..."

I turned off the TV and nudged him. He was still. I began to panic and then he spoke, through frozen lips. "Danny?"

"C.F., I'm going to take you to a hospital."

"No. No hospitals. They sterilize you at the hospital."

"C.F., you overdosed. I have to - "

"I'm not high. I'm not high. But I think I can shapeshift."

"Oh. Uh. Why do you think that?"

"Because I've turned into an ottoman."

I stared at him. He stared at the floor, unmoving. "You're an ottoman."

"A mega-ottoman. That'll be my nova name. 'Ottoman!'"

"I think it's taken. I remember there being a show with that name."

"Dude, that sucks."

"Uh. You don't look like an ottoman to me."

"Wicked, I got mega-don't-look-like-what-you-turn-into powers too! Motherfuckin' kickass. Listen, I'm gonna try to turn back. Leave the TV on, I like Ferris Bueller."

"I dunno if I can - I mean, I should really call - "

I don't wish to recount the rest of this conversation. Suffice it to say that I did what C.F. wanted me to do and didn't call 911, because I read the bottle of pills and they said 'non-toxic' and that was good enough for me.

I watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off and to my shame I put my feet up on C.F.'s back. Hey, I didn't make him into an ottoman. That's what ottomans do, they hold feet. He complained a little, but I pointed out that ottomans couldn't speak. He was quiet until he claimed that he had mega-make-ottomans-talk powers and then we got into a semantics debate over at what point do you stop calling it an ottoman. I'm sure that it's not the stupidest debate I ever had in university but I can't name any other contenders.

Eventually C.F. fell asleep and fell over. I watched what had come on TV, a documentary on the history of Team Tomorrow. I watched Slider demonstrate her powers by playing tennis with herself. I saw Caestus Pax take a cream pie to the face and wondered why everyone was laughing. I watched Skew lifting carloads of people out of a flood zone, that smile of quiet joy on his face, that look of 'today's gonna be better because I'm here.'

I thought about it, and yeah. That'd be a good feeling to have, wouldn't it?

I turned the TV off and put C.F. on the couch, making sure he was on his stomach so that he wouldn't choke on his own vomit. Then I stood up and looked at my laptop, and felt depressed, and I had a headache from too much TV so I took some aspirin.

I poked at the code to my project a little, and that's when I had one of those moments of clarity, one of those things that his you when there's no one else around and nothing to distract you. I realized that I didn't like programming. I wasn't very good at it and I didn't see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I sat back in my chair and felt even more depressed, asking myself "what do I want to do?"

Nothing came. I was twenty-one years old, had no idea what to do with my life, and was terrified. It's not like my parents were going to kick my ass if I dropped out, but I had an older sister, Elizabeth, who'd become semi-famous as an artist who painted chairs. I felt like standards were set very high and that there was no way for me to live up to them.

I'm not a node chaser - one good look at C.F. showed me that it wasn't how I wanted to live. But I thought back to that T2M documentary, and I wanted to be a part of that world. The closest I'd gotten was a VirGOG MMORPG, and I wanted to get closer. I wanted to do what I could in the game.

But I couldn't. So I went to bed instead.

* * *

I just want to say, before relating this next part, that I'm legally a retard for a half-hour after waking up.

I got up early - I had to clock time in the lab. I rolled out of bed, and walked into the bathroom. I flipped the lights on and started brushing my teeth. I remember thinking that something was off as I did my teeth, but nothing clicked right away.

Sometimes I'm clumsy with a brush and I dribble a bit of toothpaste on my chest. I went to dab it off, and that's when I noticed I had breasts.

I stared. Well, wouldn't you? Besides, as breasts go, these were championship standard. Absolutely perfect. I poked at one, feeling the skin distend. Then I looked at my hands, which were slimmer and less hairy, and then I looked up at my face.

My face was perfect. Perfect blue eyes. Perfect blonde hair. Perfect nose. Perfect ears. Perfect jawline and cheekbones. Perfect skin. Perfectly feminine. And I recognized it, as an image on a UHDTV screen.

I took a step back and looked over myself. My proportions were perfect. Perfect waist, perfect hips, perfect legs, perfect feet... I was a knockout. I had my boxer shorts on, but somehow I could see what I had underneath them. And that was perfect, too.

I don't know how long I stared at myself. I do know what caused me to stop, and that was C.F. opening the door.

I have to say something here. This goes out to every woman I have ever met in my life. I have to apologize, for every time you've bent forward in front of me, or wore a v-neck sweater, or sat across me on the bus as we hit a pothole. I know exactly what it feels like now that someone did it to me. I'm so very sorry.

I crossed my arms. C.F. continued to stare, looking me over. He said two things.

"Holy shit."

Then:

"All right! It worked!"

"Uh..." I held up a hand to my mouth. Even my voice was perfect.

"Woo!" C.F. danced around the living room. He tried to lift up the couch, and didn't get far. "Ugh. Okay, heat vision! Pow pow pow - " He stared intently at a spot on the wall. "Shit. Ah! Flying! Yeah!" He hopped up on the couch, and swan-dove gracefully into the floor.

I walked over to him as he stood up. "Dammit! Are mega-attracts-the-hot-chicks and mega-ottoman powers all I get?"

"Hey now - "

"Ah, fuck it, I'll take it. Heya, I'm C.F." He slicked back his hair and held out his hand for me to shake. I almost shook it until I realized his ulterior motive.

I stared at him hard, and then... I'm not sure how to put this. There was a flash of white light, and he fell over, stunned.

"Ah! C.F.! Hang on, man! I'll take you to a hospital - " I scooped him up. "Jesus, he's light."

I ran for the front door. At least I started out running, but my feet left the ground at some point. I collided with the front door. It flew off its hinges in a shower of door bolts, and by the time I realized what I'd done I was halfway across the field that the dormitories surrounded and bobbing fifteen feet off the ground. Or five meters, if you want to be a metric Nazi.

No one else was around, thankfully. I darted back into the dormitory, and laid C.F. down on the couch. He began to stir, groaning softly. I decided that priorety one was getting a shirt on before he woke up all the way, so I went and grabbed a shirt out of my closet, and came back just as he got up.

"Shit, that was a weird dream. There was this smoking hot chick and she was wearing Danny's boxers and..." He looked up at me. "Danny's favorite T-shirt. Holy shit."

He looked at me, understanding dawning. I was relieved. It was the last thing I wanted to explain. "Yeah, I - "

"Way to GO, Danny! You scored! Awesome! I knew you had it in you! Where are you?" C.F. got up and barreled past me, opening the door to my room. "Not in here. Is it cold in here? Why's the front door open?"

"Yeah, that was me."

"Jeez. Pretty strong for a girl. So where's Danny?"

"I'm Danny."

C.F. burst out laughing. "Yeah right. Danny's a girl and you've managed to keep it hidden all this time."

"No, seriously, C.F. It's me."

"All right, 'Danny.' Tell me something only Daniel would know."

"Your throat makes a clicking sound because you got in a fight with Beefy Bob trying to erupt."

"Pfft. Everyone knows that."

"You like 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'"

"Lady, who doesn't?"

"Mm. Point. All right..." No. Think of something else. Anything else. "You played a character named Miss Melons on Novas Online. You told me yesterday."

C.F. blinked. "Danny?"

"Yeah."

"Holy shit. What happened?"

"I don't know."

"... shit, I know what happened. I have mega-make-my-roommate-a-hot-chick powers."

"Listen, could you stop calling me a chick? I - I don't like it."

"Sorry, bro - uh... sister."

"Gah! Thats even worse. No gender-related descriptors, okay? Jesus." I sat down on the floor. "So what, you're saying you did this?"

"Well..." C.F. thought it over. "You gotta admit, if either of us is gonna be the nova it's me. I worked at it more."

"You don't 'work at it,' C.F. It just happens. It just happens and now it's happened to me and, and, Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to me?"

"I dunno, man. What can you do?"

"I think I can fly. I think I'm strong too. Maybe I can see through stuff. And when I looked at you hard you fell over."

"No way. You ripped me off! Those were totally gonna be my powers, dude."

"Yeah, well, sorry I..." Sorry I created an MMORPG character with these powers and by the way, I think I cybered with you using her. "Sorry I did that."

"Aw, it's okay. This is still awesome. How strong are you?"

"I don't know."

"Well, wanna go find out? We can take my car or fly or whatever. Drive out into the country."

"I have classes - "

"You gonna go like that?"

I felt embarrassed, and folded my arms. "No, I... I guess not..."

"C'mon. This'll be great. After we figure out what you can do I know exactly what'll happen next."

"Which is?"

C.F. dug a piece of paper out of his pocket. He unfolded it and showed it to me. It was a promo for the 'East Beats West' exhibition.

"No."

"They have a half a million up for the prize purse, just for winning one fight."

"No."

"It's American money."

"No - what, really? Huh."

"Do you know what we could do with half a million bucks U.S.? We could pay off our student loans! This is our big break! All we need is to give you a really awesome nova name, like, uh..." C.F. tapped his chin.

"Do I need a name?"

"Yeah. Something that tells people what you're all about. Let's see... you look hot as balls, and you knocked me out by looking at me, so... I got it! Miss Melons!"

"Not in a million years."

"Huh, okay. All right. You look like a knockout. You knocked me out. Knocked out. Knockout. Knockout. Hey! Knockout! Awesome. ... I think I've heard it before, though. Maybe it's taken."

"I don't think it is." Because NO's copyright filters never gave me shit...

"Knockout. Yeah. Knockout it is! I'm sure I've heard that before but whatever. Take it from me, Danny. Big things are ahead of us." He looked at my chest. "Two of them to start with."

I didn't kill him.

Looking back on it, maybe I should have.

* * *

The week went by fast.

We took the day off and after reattaching the door, went out to the countryside, where he set up a video camera and I flew around, lifting boulders and juggling rocks. I had everything in real life that I'd had in the game - even the eye beams, which didn't do much to a tree but knocked out every squirrel inside of it.

It was around this time I discovered that C.F. had a gun. I don't know the caliber or the make or the whatever, but it did have a laser sight because he waved it in front of my eye by accident. I told him that no, no, no, and once again, no: I was not going to let him shoot me. We talked and I agreed that I wouldn't let him shoot me at first; we'd try his Swiss Army knife first.

I could just about break the skin if I thought to myself, let it through. Otherwise, the blade would bend. Slamming a rock into my hand didn't even hurt. Satisfied, I almost let C.F. shoot me until he asked me to take my shirt off first.

I asked him why.

"Because we don't want to ruin the shirt, right? What if you don't have mega-the-shirt's-as-tough-as-me powers?"

I looked over at the video camera, and shook my head. He argued that we had to record it for medical reasons and scientific ones, so that future generations of Canadians would be able to make advances that would be all traced back to this moment that I, in my selfishness, wanted to snuff out. And in the meantime, if East Beats West didn't work out we could sell video of bullets bouncing off my boobs in slow motion over the OpNet. You know how I said that the ottoman debate wasn't the stupidest debate I'd had in university? I'm pretty sure this one was.

We drove home, no shots fired. C.F. let it go pretty quickly, and by the time we got back to the dorm room we were making jokes again. I agreed that yeah, I'd give East Beats West a shot. He phoned them up and set up an appointment, and then he asked me what I was going to tell my parents.

I admit it. I'd been taking the whole "what the hell happened to my penis" thing well up until that point. But at the thought of telling my parents, I freaked out. C.F. said I should just get some rest and not to worry about it. I tried to, but I had terrible dreams that Team Tomorrow was chasing me with a pair of gardening shears.

I woke up to discover that my mom and dad were in the living room and that C.F. had taken the initiative in talking to my parents.

"... so really it's all my fault. My gifts are hard to control. I gave the ottoman superpowers and the first thing it did was switch our minds. Then the ottoman flew away which is why you don't see it in this room, and it also sprayed water on the carpet which is why there are no furniature marks. Then I suppose while I was in the throes of a fitful rest I kind of turned your son into a girl, and I really feel bad about that, but not too bad 'cause Danny's really hot now and also he can fly. Hi Danny, your folks are here. Do we call you Danielle now, or what?"

They took it well, for a given definition of 'well.' They didn't disown me. Dad said that I was still his son, and that this wouldn't be the end of the father-son insightful chats we'd have, and that any time I wanted to go to a ball game or a monster truck show I could just ask. My Mom said she was glad to finally have another daughter so she could apply all the lessons she learnt from the mistakes she made with Elizabeth, and that if I ever needed to talk about girl things all I had to do was ask. Then we had a group hug and I tried to keep C.F. from copping a feel. Then they left and I played Rock Band with C.F. until he got pissed off at me beating him when we had a guitar duel.

The meeting with the East Beats West people went well. I had no formal martial arts training, but was a 'natural' - even on my first day I could block C.F.'s best kicks and punches, although I had more fun just standing there and smiling while he wore himself out. It turned out that one of the other 'newcomer' novas, Mister Needles, had to drop out after his wife sued him for being a prick, so we fit well into their promotion: they were going to feature the public debut of three new novas at the show.

They set me up with a dressing and bed room, and I trained. We figured out how fast I could fly (about 200 kph,) how much I could lift (25 tons deadlift) and how damage resistant I was (I needn't have worried about C.F.'s gun at all.) My stun beams worked well on normal people but not as well on novas. My x-ray vision wasn't going to give anyone cancer, although my mom said she'd kill me if I used it on any girls. Around this time I realized that I still liked girls, which according to C.F. was "totally hot."

I also tried dorming, since one of the trainers told me that you'd return to the way you were prior to eruption. It didn't work out well for me - the most I could do was change into a less well-endowed, kind of mousy blonde who was still really tough. Still, it meant I could go out without causing a car accident. That was a plus. I would go out with my hair tied back and a pair of glasses on my face, because really: why mess with what works?

I met one of the XWF novas before the show. I totally geeked out on Duke 'Core' Baron. Then he asked me if I wanted to have a Core Meltdown™ of my very own and I said no and he called me a dyke bitch. I didn't do anything because he could kill me with one hand - or at least, I didn't want to find out if he could.

So I stuck with C.F. One thing I admired about him was that he was never, ever afraid of me. Part of that was because C.F. wasn't afraid of anything, but I think most of it was because he knew me so well. He liked the friendship we had, and when his dick wasn't doing the thinking and he knew he didn't have a chance in hell with me, he wouldn't do anything to wreck it, and he knew I wouldn't either.

No man - or woman - is broke, so long as he or she has friends.

* * *

The big day came, and the MC for the main event was MC Resplendent Watermelon, a Japanese rap star who rose to fame on a rap song about the difficulty of finding underwear in his size in a vending machine. I have to admit, his song was catchy. He sang a new one, a techno filk remix of the Muppet Show.

It's time! Start the music!

It's time! Light the lights!

We must promptly get things started

On 'Most Excellent Super Fight!'

I tuned out the rest, and adjusted my bodysuit, which was bright red and black. Emma Peel style. Synthetic eufiber. It didn't leave much to the imagination, but it was this or a collection of string that they'd tried to pass off as a bikini. I asked why the men never had to fight in fig leaves. No one gave me a straight answer, but I knew what the answer was anyway.

MC Resplendent Watermelon started to sing my praises. The idea was that the hatch in the floor would open up and I'd fly up out of it when he called my name. We'd agreed on 'Knockout' - they told me the only claim to the name was someone on Novas Online, and I said I didn't foresee it being a problem.

From home and native land of here

The next contender will appear

She will beautifully punch you out

Say hello to nova KNOCKOUT!

I looked up at the hatch. It stayed closed. The crowd was roaring, and suddenly I felt nervous. I'm the type of person who, when something goes wrong, automatically assumes I had something to do with it. I looked at the hatch with x-ray vision and wondered what a golf ball was doing in there.

"Screw it," I said, as I heard the nervousness in MC Resplendent Watermelon's voice. I flew straight up, ripping the door off its hinges. It flew end over end straight up as I burst into the air, in the middle of the arena.

The crowd went wild. I was overwhelmed. So overwhelmed that I forgot about the hatch, so I forgot to dodge it when it came back down and hit me in the head.

I wobbled in midair as it slid off, falling to the floor. People laughed. I felt embarrassed, but all that was hurt was my pride.

I looked across the arena as a nondescript man walked into the arena, normal clothes, smoking a cigarette. I knew who it was.

Now from USA he comes

To fight to be the number one

Our fiery flaming gladiator

Say hello to BURNINATOR!

The man was engulfed in flames. He rose up on a column of superheated air. The crowd went wild - I think they liked him more.

On the giant plasma screen overhead, headshots and profiles appeared. I don't know why they rated our various attributes on a scale of one to five, using dots. But I felt a little pride at knowing that I could probably put him down in a couple of hits, based on our offensive and defensive abilities.

The bell rang. I swooped straight in, swinging... and I missed, as he dodged out of the way.

I spun around, and tried again, and he outpaced me easily. He threw a gout of flame at me, which missed by inches - I could feel the heat as it streaked by, and splashed off the superglass confines that separated us from the crowd. I tried a blast of stun rays and they didn't even make him falter.

Down in a couple of hits. Of course. Assuming I could hit him...

I zoomed in again, and he dodged out of the way. I slammed into the superglass and bounced off, a swath of people behind me rearing back in apprehension. I fought to stay upright, and that's when it happened.

He hit me full force. Fire was everywhere. I couldn't even see. I tumbled end over end, and hit the ground. The announcer started the countdown, and then stopped for some reason.

I stood back up as the flames went out. The Burninator was staring at me, flummoxed. I should have noticed what had happened right then and there, but I was too pissed off. I sped upwards, and hit him square in the jaw. He tumbled end over end, hitting the glass and melting it slightly, then sliding off and falling to the ground.

I knew he could withstand the impact, but I flew in to catch him anyways. I set him down gently, and then looked up. Every single pair of eyes in the stadium was focused on me. Then I looked up at the plasma screen and down at myself, and I saw why.

* * *

DIS-ASS-TER!

Nova Newcomer Knockout's Nudity Nukes Networks

APRIL 8TH, 2008

CALGARY - Nova fighting fans watching the East Beats West exhibition got more than an eyeful, Tuesday night.

During a matchup between novas Burninator and Knockout - both of whom were making their public debut on th program - Burninator hit Knockout with a blast that burnt off her clothing.

Knockout seemed to not notice, and hit Burninator hard enough to knock him out and win the fight.

The XWF and Most Excellent Super Fight, the two promotional organizations behind the show, have been hit with a lawsuit from federal authorities. Knockout herself is being sued directly by seventeen people claiming "significant heart trouble" began after seeing her unclothed.

A spokesman for Most Excellent Super Fight denies that Knockout's suit was insufficiently insulated or that Knockout herself was under-trained.

The XWF has condemned the incident.

"Nudity has no place on our program," said Gregory Wynn, Director of Public Relations for XWF Inc. "People expect the best, bloodiest and most bone-crunching nova-on-nova contests imaginable and we have always prided ourselves on our dedication to keeping such content family friendly."

Video of the incident has reached over six billion hits on YouTube. When contacted, a spokeswoman for Google stated "it must be a glitch because there aren't that many computers on Earth."

Knockout herself was unreachable for comment. Her manager, Conrad Francis Blake, spoke on her behalf.

"You guys better leave my buddy alone, man. She won't even let me see the goods and I'm her roommate at the University of Calgary. She's had a lot to deal with since I accidentally turned her into a girl and she doesn't need any more."

BREAKING - New Nova Knockout a Transsexual?

RELATED - Antaeus: "I'd Hit It"

* * *

"I wanna DIE!"

I buried my head in my pillow, and sobbed. They'd put guards up outside my dressing room, telling me I wasn't to be disturbed. Looking back on it, it could only look like the queen of prima donna moves, but I was so miserable I didn't care.

I remember thinking: it was going out live. He burnt my jumpsuit off live on TV. Everyone in the whole world has seen me naked.

I couldn't help but think about karma. About how bad luck follows good. I'd lucked out, and I knew it - I had super powers. So it followed that I'd be getting a proportional amount of bad luck, too - that everything bad would choose to pile down on my head. I'd never believed in karma before, since I saw the lucky people who became novas get nothing but good fortune. Now I was starting to think there was something to it.

I bet you that Alejandra never has days like this.

I heard C.F. talking to the guard, who was with the MESF team. "I am sorry, but Knockout does not wish to be disturbed."

"I'm her pal."

"I have my orders, sir."

"Jeez, you speak English? I'm her pal. Or bishonen yuri fuku, Nippon kobyashi maru as you say it in moonspeak - "

"Let him in," I called out. Then, remembering my manners: "Thank you."

The door opened. C.F. entered. "Uh. Hi, Danielle. You decent?"

"I don't wanna be Danielle. Danielle sucks. I wanna be Daniel. I want my name to be two letters shorter. Ad the first thing I did was put on clothes and I want my old ones back."

"C'mon. So your suit got burnt off live on TV and it's been uploaded to YouTube - "

"It's on YOUTUBE? Oh God."

"I can put up a 'leave Danielle alone' video if you want."

"Won't work. Fuuuuuuck." I buried my head in my pillow. "Why me?"

"Look on the bright side! You and I are splitting half a million dollars, U.S. And you get ninety percent of that."

"Is it enough to confiscate all the computers in the world?"

"No, but, uh... they say it'll be enough to pay off the indecency fines."

"Indecency fines? Arrrghh..." I thumped the bed. "Shit!" I yelped as the boxspring gave way, and the front side of the bed collapsed.

C.F reached out for me as I scrambled to sit up. "You okay?"

"Don't touch me!" I shouted. He leapt back, and I looked at him, and I just sagged. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, dude."

"It's not okay. It's not fair. You should have erupted. You'd be great with nova powers. You read all the right books and you know how things are done and... and all I do is suck." I buried my face in my hands. "I suck."

I sobbed for a minute or so. He didn't say anything at first, and I was too miserable to care about how awkward it was for him. I felt worn down. I felt broken.

Then he spoke up. "C'mon. You don't suck. You won the fight."

"He was staring at my boobs and his guard was down."

"You'd have hit him anyway. Danielle, look at me. You don't suck, all right, man? You just... had an off day. Listen, I'm gonna make it up to you. It was my out-of-control eruption that did this to you after all. I should have been thinking 'don't turn my roommate into a mega-hot chick with mega-boobs who can mega-pick up a car,' but I must have anyways and there it went. I'm gonna stick by you until I make it up to you, all right? Things'll get better."

Part of me wanted to just shout at him that he hadn't erupted and he was an idiot and an egomaniac and that he could just piss off. It was beaten down by the part that wanted to give him a hug, so I did. He didn't cop a feel, either. Progress.

We played Rock Band. I didn't beat him in a guitar duel because I went with the microphone instead. I sang and he played old Queen songs until we had to leave the building, then we went back to our dorm room and tried to figure out what happened next.

No man - or woman - is broken, so long as he or she has friends.

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