A Tale of Daylight, by Brother Grimace
NOTE: This fic takes place during the Desperate Seasons portion of Daylight, roughly about the beginning of the Mass Extinctions section.
"Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil..."
- Hebrews 6:19
Seventeen months after the events of Zero Hour, the view of the planet's surface from space was surprisingly clear, given the worldwide disasters that had polluted the atmosphere and darkened the skies, increasing the severity of the holocaust that had already wiped out over five billion people.
It would probably make little difference to the people alive on Earth that the solar disturbance that had effectively destroyed human civilization was coming to an end, and with a quickness that would have surprised any surviving astronomers.
The blistering illumination that had heralded death for most of humanity was fading; the sun was returning to normal.
One month later, the solar system appeared as it had for millions upon millions of years.
No human eyes saw the small vortex in space appear.
It was there only for a moment, visible as it formed three hundred and fifty miles above the northeastern Caribbean – long enough for an object to appear and pass through.
The object was some sort of heavily armored space vehicle, or perhaps a very large satellite. About one hundred and twenty meters in diameter and circular, with eight metal spheres attached on hard-points around the full circumference of the vehicle and a large, lozenge-shaped container attached securely below, the vehicle was slightly larger than the International Space Station – hanging lifelessly in space directly ahead.
Firing maneuvering thrusters, the vehicle altered course to travel over the drifting remains of the ISS, casting a shadow over the Colbert module and the pair of carbonized bodies that stared lifelessly outwards as it passed above.
After five minutes of travel beyond the orbiting carcass that had somehow managed to avoid falling into the Earth's atmosphere, the vessel fired its thrusters in select bursts – first, to slow the vehicle down, and then, to rotate into a position that aimed the under-slung container towards the Earth's surface.
Inside the vehicle, four figures – each wearing what appeared to be heavily shielded versions of the NASA EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) continued to operate controls after taking a brief look at the world below them.
"It doesn't look as bad as I imagined," one man said. "The cloud cover caused by the fires and pollution seems to have dissipated faster than we thought."
"That's because of the metahumans, I'll bet," another man spoke up. "They came up with some manner of clearing the air – that would have been a priority to lessen the long-term effects to the planet's animal and plant species. Enough sightseeing. Are we in position yet?"
A woman's voice was heard. "We're on top of Position Tango, sir. The gateway was more accurate in setting us down than we thought." The woman was silent as she checked several instruments."We're getting a reading on Beacon Twenty-One, sir. The site is still intact and active."
"Good," the second man replied. "Damn kids are harder than anyone thought. Launch Messenger One – and do one final check on 'the package' before we make the drop."
Ten minutes later, one of the spheres silently separated from the circular craft. It drifted slowly away; thirty seconds after separation, the sphere separated, revealing a circular satellite. The satellite seemed to turn itself slightly, and three mast-sized protrusions telescoped outwards from manhole-sized iris portals at the two-, six- and ten o'clock positions on the satellite.
The satellite moved off to a distance of about one mile, and tiny maneuvering thrusters fired in short bursts, allowing the satellite to hold its pre-set position. Massive solar panels began to unfurl from the masts, and ninety seconds later, the Space Age began anew for humanity as a wide-band signal from the satellite registered aboard the space vehicle.
Inside the craft, the fourth person watched a series of screens.
"Messenger One is coming on-line," she said. "Solar panels have deployed... she's adjusting speeds to assume geo-stationary orbit over Drop Zone Lima-2 – primary systems are online."
The first man spoke up again. "From what the earlier probes showed before they were destroyed, Drop Zones Lima-2 and Auxiliary Drop Zone Tango are the only viable zones to aim for. I'm getting a strong signal from Beacons Six and Twenty-One now, but Drop Zone Foxtrot is very hot."
"And General Trainor would rather check in our people first," the second man told him. "Transmit the signal – and prepare to drop 'the package'."
Legion Tower – Lawndale, Maryland (First U.S. Military Section)
"Hey, fearless Leader."
Quinn Morgendorffer lifted her head and turned around in her chair as the door to the Communications Center closed behind Danielle Todds, who carried two Styrofoam cups and a thermos. "Standing watch over the area... keeping us all safe from the wolves and barbarians at the gates?"
The Leader of the Legion smiled, turning in her chair and watching as Danielle sat the cups on the table on the other side of the room, and then turned to hold the thermos up. "Guess what I've got...?"
Danielle smiled that wonderful smile at her. "Nope."
Quinn ran through the list in her mind of the things Danielle loved to drink. "Hot tea? You got hold of some Earl Grey tea?"
Danielle's smile got even wider. "Strike two."
The slender young woman leaned forward, brushing wayward locks of her medium-long carrot-colored hair from her eyes as she tried to hit her girlfriend with an annoyed glare.
Danielle let a tinkling laugh flow from her. "You know, you're the only Morgendorffer that I know who can't do that."
"Do what?" Quinn asked.
"Intimidate with a glare," Danielle said, pouring a measure of the thermos' contents into a cup and bringing it over to Quinn. "You're like that kitten that Captain Adler's wife gave your sister; trying to look all tough... it makes you look even more adorable."
Quinn thought dark and unholy thoughts about Bump – her sister's adopted kitten (although she still wasn't sure who adopted who). As far as she was concerned, the Adlers – Derek and Karen – didn't give that little hell-spawn to Daria... that furry, white-pawed wraith simply brought a new manager onto its staff.
I can't believe that Daria actually pulls favors to get that cat a fish every Sunday...
Since that – cat – and the Adlers had arrived in Lawndale, Daria had all but made them members of the Morgendorffer family. Quinn thought of how fast Karen Myerson (a Raft University major in veterinary medicine before everything went to hell), had become part of that tiny, exclusive club that had once only been Daria and Jane-
Quinn put that thought aside – quickly.
No Legionnaire had heard from or seen Jane Lane in almost five months.
Danielle ran her fingers through Quinn's hair. "I know that look, copper-top," she said, seeing a familiar look of sadness mixed with concern. "Anything Daria-related makes you think about Jane. You couldn't do anything about what happened – or about Jane deciding to leave. You can only take care of – well, what you can. The past year and a half has taught all of us that lesson."
"Talking like a doctor, again, Danny - Being all reasonable, but not sugar-coating anything." Quinn noticed how Danielle managed to still hide the cup's contents from her view. "What's in the cup – hemlock? You know, you have to actually join the Legion like Sidney did before you can try to get me out of the way and become Leader."
"I've already got a standing offer to join the Marshals anytime I'm not happy with my Major's commission in the USMC, thank you very much," Danny quipped. "Besides – you Legionnaires don't seem to do very well with intramural dating, and I know just how much you love seeing me in my uniform... not to mention out of it..."
A smile re-emerged upon Quinn's face. "So... what did you bring me?"
Danielle aped Quinn's smile. "Close your eyes."
Her left eyebrow raised just barely, Quinn did as she was asked; Danielle hesitated for a second, lowered her lips to Quinn's, and parted moments later after a slow, lingering kiss. "Okay, that was nice," the redhead said, licking her lips after Danielle had lifted away, "but I can get that anytime. What's in the cup?"
Danielle shook her head, lowered the cup to Quinn's lips – and her smile broadened as Quinn's eyes flew open.
"Diet soda?" Quinn sat up straight and grasped at the cup. "Diet orange soda! Danny! Where did you find this?"
"Are you sure that you want to know?"
Quinn wrinkled her nose in that certain way that Danielle found adorable. "What I want to know is where the ice cubes are."
"If you want ice, you know who to go looking for."
The redhead turned her head from Danielle – but held onto the cup of soda for dear life.
Danielle couldn't help but smile. "Fine. Be that way."
Quinn turned back to give Danielle a look that combined equal parts pouting and glare – and how she can do that, I'll never know, the dark-haired young woman thought quite loudly. "Okay, I'll tell you," she said, letting go of the cup as Quinn downed it quickly before holding it out for a refill. "You remember a few months ago, when those guys brought that tiny herd of cattle in, in exchange for a safe place to stay? Well, long story short – when they took some of them down for meat, I got hold of some of the sheep intestines and bladders. I treated them, figured out a way to mass-produce – well, more or less – the material, and I've been making condoms."
Quinn's shriek of surprise and disgust rang out through the room. "EWWWWWW!"
"Come on, Quinn," Danielle said, pouring her more soda. "You're a big girl – and there's an important reason to make them, too. There's been a big rise in STD's, and it's not as if I can synthesize all of the antibiotics and inhibitor drugs they had before Zero Hour. A lot of them – well, if I actually knew what they were, or had samples, it would be a different story. If I were Sherrie Klein, it would be a whole new story, because she could just create new ones – but they have her sequestered at Zero Area, coming up with things to bring humanity back up on its feet. Fighting the clap isn't high on the list."
She stroked Quinn's hair as she continued. "There's also the matter of birth control. With al the pollution and contaminants in the environment... well, having babies isn't exactly the safest thing to do – at least, not for a while. Those condoms are saving people from a whole world of heartbreak, and medical problems no one really wants to think about. The birth defects that could – that have been occurring now, with the way things are..."
Quinn took Danielle's hand, knowing that as part of the few persons at Legion Tower with actual advanced medical training – and the only metahuman with healing skills within a couple of hundred miles of Lawndale – Danielle had seen some hideous things since the day that humanity had almost died out... especially in regards to childbirth and infant care. A normal, reasonably safe delivery and a healthy child afterwards was actually a reason for celebration now – and the makeshift cemetery at the far end of the quarry was occupied by far, far too many tiny occupants...
"How many of those can you make?"
"A lot more than you'd believe. It's just synthesizing the original samples from the sheep, and then – oh, you don't want to hear the gooey details." Danielle brushed her hair back 'It's not as if I'm profiteering, Quinn – and the fact is, the ones I synthesize are actually safer than some of the older ones... We've been giving them out as part of the pay that workers get, if they want them, and they're also a hot trading item."
"So you traded for diet soda? For me?" Quinn reached out to take Danielle's hand in her own. "Danny... you got it for me?"
"Well, I was talking to that trooper that you knew in school – Sergeant White – and he was talking about all the dates he took you on." Danielle smiled at the look that appeared on Quinn's face. "He was part of the detail that escorted me to Camp Defiance, just outside Langley, and we talked a bit. Boy, did he have a thing for you."
Quinn finished her second cup of soda as images of Jaime White flashed through her mind. "Had? Well, isn't that something? I didn't realize I was that easy to get over."
"I think he just realized that competing with an officer for the hand of an attractive Legionnaire wasn't a fight he wanted to get into," Danielle said. "Or maybe it's the fact that all of those young women that see him as their strapping young hero have distracted him. You should see the girls he's pulling in now – I mean, if I wasn't seeing someone, I'd be out there chasing after the girls with him! He's an excellent wingman, and funny-! He can keep any best friend occupied while you seal the deal with someone you're interested in..."
Quinn pulled her hand back, crossed her arms and gave her girlfriend a glance that should have left powder burns on the wall behind Danielle, who laughed at the Legionnaire's attitude. "Oh, come on! I'm talking about the first night we snuck off together! Don't you remember how the sergeant started doing that comedy routine, doing jokes about everything and everybody in sight? No one even noticed we had left!"
Danielle saw how the jealously flowed out of Quinn – but she wasn't about to let her off the hook yet. "It's a good thing, too, Quinn, because you're entirely too loud. I don't mind at all, when we're in your nice, soundproofed room – but do I have to remind you of that time when we were in the medical center that night and the General came charging in with the security detail, because they thought someone was killing us both?"
The deep, burning blush that covered Quinn's entire body made Danielle laugh out loud. "So you do remember. Anyway – he got four two-liters of diet soda and a case of root beer from a scrounger who works the area around the camp for twenty condoms, two magazines for a M9 pistol, and a box of 9mm ammo. He gave me half of the diet soda and a six-pack or root beer for fifty condoms."
Quinn tried not to fixate on the idea of cold soda with her dinner in a few hours. "So that's why the General's been so happy the past week."
"The General told Jaime – I call him that off-duty – that if they run across anyone else with root beer for trade, to offer them a PFT if they have it in bulk," Danielle replied. "Basically the same deal we've been making for viable medical supplies – ammo, light weapons, or even a full-power M2. He really wants more root beer."
"So, that's how you kept him from screaming bloody murder after he shooed me out of the medical ward," Quinn said. "You gave him that bag of root beer candies you had!"
"And, I promised him that I'd talk David Allen into digging up a case of root beer." Danielle almost laughed when she remembered how she did so. "Of course, being a complete and total bastard, he's been teleporting two cans of the stuff in every Friday night for the past six weeks – and to top it all off, he sent the empty box first. Kind of explains why he and Julia get along so well."
"If you could manage to get the two of them to go ahead and head down to Australia for a fun weekend, they'll both be happy enough to just give you an entire case right off," said Quinn. "Maryann told me that with everything that's happened, they rarely get any time together."
"I'd be careful about gossiping with her," Danielle shot back. "She's the one that told your former Leader that we were a couple, just before you beat him in the election. Yes, we got to share the dinner Mack got for tattling, but gossiping - it's just - you'd think with the end of the world, that people would have more important things to deal with, but-"
Quinn was about to reply when a shrill, constant beeping sounded from the computer display. "That's the LIDAR tracking system – there's an object coming into the atmosphere, on a course for the quarry," she said, turning away from Danielle to look over the long-distance display console. "It's big, whatever it is. "
"'Whatever it is?' Is it a meteor, or a satellite?" Danielle asked. "They started dropping out of orbit about six months ago..."
"Only if it's slowing down and adjusting its course as it comes in," Quinn replied, focusing her attention on her flight ring. Tom! Bai Zheng! Tori! I need you to-
They're already in the air, Quinn, a surprisingly calm voice informed her, through the mental link Legionnaires could access through their flight rings. You should calm down and tell the General and everyone else about this. Tell them to be down by the other end of the quarry. It's going to come down on the beach.
Quinn allowed herself a moment to fume at her Deputy Leader's actions. I hate the way Andrea only tells us about things she's seen in her visions 'when she thinks the time is right.'
Don't complain, Quinn – and bring Danielle with you. She'll like this a lot. Everyone will. You two can make out later – and this time, lock the door of the communications room.
Don't worry, Quinn. This is a good thing.
"We have to go down to the beach," Quinn said, setting her cup down. "Our visitors are going to set down on the beach."
Tom Sloane, Bai Zheng Bo and Tori Jericho – the three most powerful Legionnaires - soared through the air in formation with the lozenge-shaped container as it slowly descended through the clouds.
Don't do anything stupid, Tom! The blonde-haired young woman cast, streams of anti-energy flowing from where her feet normally would be and propelling her alongside the vehicle. Andrea said that it was safe to let this land!
She said that about the Metal Intelligence, too, Tom shot back, a little miffed that the 'newbie' Legionnaire would have the nerve to give him orders.
Tori felt the flash of heat around her as Tom's snotty attitude flowed through the Ring-link; even with the trio of Psychon Mark 70 'quantum stabilizers' she wore as gauntlets and a belt that allowed her to keep her human form, a multitude of shifting razor-thin lines begin to flow across the surface of her body, radiating with the brilliant, signature copper-hued shade that only anti-energy held.
Victoria. Be calm. Thomas is incorrect – and we have work to do.
Tori glanced over at the short, yet muscular Chinese youth flying just above her, his usually serious demeanor diluted by a look of concern and affection for-
The 'Tron lines' that tattooed her entire body seemed to explode with burning anti-energy as Tori took the lead position
I know my job. Oh, and since you seem to keep forgetting – when we're on duty, don't call me by that name.
The skies above the Maryland shoreline lit up as Tori shut off her stabilizers with a mental command and shifted over fully, her body now composed of pure, deadly anti-energy.
The Legionnaire spiraled downwards in a boiling corona of energy, sealing her thoughts off totally from her teammates as she passed through the clouds.
And I don't need anything from you.
A crowd of several hundred people watched from the cliff overlooking the beach as the container – a series of ten garbage-can-sized devices attached to the sides, all pulsing with light – came in for a soft landing on the beach, followed in by Tori, Bai Zheng and Tom.
Led by Quinn and Daria Morgendorffer, a group of Legionnaires walked down the beach as a group of USMC troopers, led by General Kyle Armalin and Sergeant Major Brenda Nemec, went along side-by-side.
"I'll be damned," the Sergeant Major said, moving close to the vehicle. "Shades of Thunderbird 2."
"What?" Daria asked. "You recognize that thing?"
"She should," a voice from behind spoke up, and Sidney Simon - looking annoyingly appropriate in her Legion uniform of black with shining gold trim and undershirt (or so both Morgendorffer sisters thought), stepped to the front of the crowd. "This is a Project Starseed re-supply drop."
"She's right," Nemec said, shouldering her weapon as she looked over the container – one large enough to hold two or three semi-trailer trucks. "It's a Class Three general-relief drop container – and someone put a lock on the doors, too. Look at that."
The Sergeant Major walked to the end of the container, where two identical handprint scanners were revealed as panels on both sides of the doorway slid upwards. "Yes, someone wanted to be sure that only people who were meant to got in here. Trinary security release – voice-recognition, retina-scan and heat-sensitive in the handprint scanner, too. People got wise to the movie trick of cutting off or pulling out body parts in order to fool the scanners."
"Hey, look at that!"
Everyone turned as Mack Mackenzie, being curious, looked into the retina scanner on the right side of the door – and the machine beeped before sending a message across the small screen below the scanner:
RETINA SCAN CONFIRMED – MACKENZIE, MICHAEL JORDAN – THE LEGION
COMPLETE ID CONFIRMATION-
VOICEPRINT – ID CODE
"Whoa," Charles Ruttheimer said, stepping in close. "It recognized – it's programmed to recognize Legion members."
Mack glanced around at the faces all staring at him; Quinn stepped up. "Well – finish what you started, Mack."
Shrugging, Mack turned to place his hand on the scanner, and remembered the security code he chose when he joined the Legion. Damn, Charles. You watched entirely too much Star Trek – and I think the only reason they all agreed to go along with your idea for security codes when the Tower went active was just to annoy Daria-
Mack actually jumped when a chorus of voices in his head all spoke in unison.
We can all hear you, Mack.
Yeah. We REALLY need to work on NOT projecting when we're wearing these things.
Mack scowled, jerked his ring from his finger, and stuffed it into his pocket with one hand as he placed the other on the scanner. "Michael Jordan Mackenzie – Active Member, Legion Chapter One. Authorization code – um, ah... Mackenzie Omega zero-zero-two-three."
The screen under the scanner went green, and the General moved over to the other scanner before anyone else could. "Colonel Kyleton Isaiah Armalin," he said, looking into the retina scanner as his hand rested on the palm-print scanner. "DELPHI Special Assignment Officer. Authorization code Starhound, Starhound - five-one-seven-slash-Trinity-break-Psi-Upsilon-break."
Stacy Rowe, standing directly in front of the doors, hissed and leaped back in surprise as they immediately hissed open. "Oh, wow," Brittany Taylor piped up, her eyes almost bulging as she saw the contents of the container – three large semi-trailer containers sitting side-by-side, and a large number of blue fifty-five gallon plastic drums – each clearly marked 'FRESH FRUITS' in large orange letters, loaded in front of the trailers.
A cheer went up from the crowd on the ledge. "This is definitely someone's idea of a morale-booster," Nemec said, smiling broadly. "God bless that person for the rest of their days."
General Armalin turned to Quinn – a small smile on his face as he glanced over at Danielle – and cleared his throat. "Morgendorffer, would you kindly assign a few Legionnaires to crowd control before people start hurting themselves and each other trying to get down here? It looks like someone's sent enough fruit for everyone here to have a taste – and a few more things – but I am not going to have a mad stampede to rummage through these containers."
He glanced back towards the wide-eyed group of USMC troopers. "Lieutenant Molyneux, Lieutenant Herman – put your eyes back in, and go assist the Legionnaires in calming the people down. Let them know an announcement is forthcoming. Lieutenant Blum!"
The red-haired telepath in fatigues stepped forward. "Yes, sir!"
"You and the Sergeant Major organize a detail to inventory the contents of this container. Have Sergeant Connarubias and the Legion's flying bricks move the container up to the Tower, and put guards around it 24/7."
"Here's the manifest, sir," the Sergeant Major said, stepping out of the container and handing him a loose-leaf binder. "Like I said, sir – standard Project Starseed re-supply drop. There's also this."
She held up a hardshell case; on the side, also in orange letters, was the message OPEN AND PLAY IMMEDIATELY. "No beating around the bush about that, is there?"
Daria soundly ignored the stares leveled at her as she spoke. "It's safe," Tom said, looking through the case with his 'shape-vision' as he stepped forward and stood beside Daria. "There's a laptop computer in there, and a DVD in a jewel case."
"Well, we're not going to play it right out here in the open," Quinn said; behind her, the General gave a tiny nod of approval. "Tom, Tori, Bai; you stay with the Sergeant Major and get everything taken care of – and if there's anything important like hair shampoo and conditioner or makeup – let me know right away."
The Asian Legionnaire exhaled a tiny breath of exasperation. The young woman, despite everything she had done and was capable of (including a relationship that actually seemed to work), could be – well, fixated on the mundane didn't begin to cover it.
His expression changed dramatically as Quinn nudged him gently. "Just kidding. Everyone else – conference room."
Bai Zheng let a flicker of a smile cross his face as he watched Quinn and several others walk away.
One would think that, after a thousand years, very little would surprise me. Yet, that one does so consistently.
Jodie Landon inserted the DVD in the laptop, already connected to the giant screen in the Legion's Main Conference Room, and sat back as it booted up.
Danielle, standing next to Quinn, glanced around the area; there were over a hundred persons in the now-SRO Conference Room – mostly the USMC officers and local citizens cleared for the Tower, like Jake and Helen Morgendorffer, but also members of the U.S. Marshals Service, and people from USMC Central Command, the Academy and Echo Base – all of whom had ways of near-instantaneous travel over hundreds of miles...
She glanced over to where Carolyn Field of The Alliance and Lt. Amorette Molyneux – both Canadians – stood and listened to a woman with glasses and thick red hair (tied back in a heavy ponytail) as she spoke to General Armalin. That's Heather Hudson – head of Department H after her husband got killed during Zero Hour. She's the one who got the field super-generators running that absorbed the energy of the EM surges and kept that shield up that saved Ottawa-
"Hey! Everyone! SHUT UP!"
Like everyone else, Danielle turned to where Jeffrey Brace stood next to Jodie, who looked at him with a cool expression reserved for animals urinating on a person's shoes. "There you go," he said, smiling at her in a way that made her briefly consider knocking him through a wall with her force-field belt. "You can go ahead and start it up. They're paying attention now."
Julia Carlyle slapped Jeffrey in the back of the head and pulled him over to where David Allen Farrington stood; Danielle turned back to the screen as the image of a black woman, dressed in the uniform of a four-star Air Force general, appeared on the screen.
As the camera angle pulled back to show a group of four men and women standing behind the Black woman and the desk she sat at, Danielle's head whipped back around to Quinn as she gasped in shock, and nearly fell over.
"What?" she asked, keeping Quinn from falling to the floor as the redhead stared at the screen. "What's wrong?"
"It's – it's Aunt Amy!" Quinn squeaked, in that way Danielle knew meant that she was beyond surprise or excited. "She's alive – Aunt Amy's alive!"
Out of the corner of Danielle's eye, she saw Quinn's mother and father hugging Daria close as they stared at the screen; tears flowed down Helen Morgendorffer's face as she silently wept with joy.
"Hello," the Black woman said, her voice echoing through the room. "If you're watching this, you must either be members of the United States military, one of the Federal law-enforcement agencies, or with the Legion. Let me introduce myself. I am General Paula Trainor. I am the Director of DELPHI. I am a fellow American."
"She made it out," Armalin said, remembering the text message that allowed him to save the Legionnaires and so many others. "She made it off-world."
"Since the events of Zero Hour occurred eighteen months ago, the DELPHI forces that evacuated to another Earth have been making every effort to monitor the situation at home. Once a month for the past seventeen months, we have deployed shielded probes into low orbit to observe events; obviously, because of the conditions, we have been able to gain very little information."
General Trainor paused. "That has now changed. Today, with the generous assistance of the governments on this world, we have sent a space vehicle through, which even as I speak, is deploying a network of ten communications satellites around the globe. The Messenger Network will allow us to establish and maintain communications with all surviving facilities on Earth, as well as reestablishing the means for global communications for you. This is a vital first step; in order to facilitate this, we have sent enough portable satcom transceivers for your forces to set up ground stations around the world. We have also sent medical supplies, stores of ammunition and weapons, portable power generators, a supply of food, water purifiers – and it was suggested that some morale-boosting supplies would be appreciated. A supply of – non-essential items - was also included in the shipment."
A cheer went up through the room. "There is someone else who wants to speak to you," Trainor continued. "Ladies and gentlemen – the President of the United States."
Everyone went silent as the image of General Trainor dissolved to the Presidential Seal, which dissolved to a wide shot of a slender, distinguished African-American man in his late forties, sitting at his desk in the Oval Office.
"Hey – that's Senator Obama," Jeffrey said, his face full of awe. "He's our Senator – I'm from Chicago – he's the junior Senator from Illinois. He became President? Cool."
"Shhh!" Julia Carlyle hissed. "Let's hear what he has to say!"
The man began to speak "I am Barack Obama – and on this Earth, I am the President of the United States of America. At this time, I wish to extend greetings to you, in the name of all of your brothers and sisters, your mothers and fathers; those men and women from your Earth who have sought and found sanctuary upon our shores. We have welcomed them into our homes and into our hearts, and yet, we recognize the pain and sadness each and every one of them have felt upon leaving the world of their birth in the hour of its greatest need, even if only to return someday with the assistance needed to help those left behind."
Jeffrey chuckled. "Yeah. That's Senator Obama, all right."
The President continued. "I will not seek to lessen your trials, your suffering, or your losses by saying that I understand what you have lived through over the past eighteen months, for all of you listening have been witness to an event unimaginable by any who have not experienced for themselves what can only be described as the death of cultures, of nations, of a world forever lost. I will not demean that which all of you now endure as your way of life by suggesting even for a moment that I can somehow envision those struggles; I will not patronize any of you by saying that things for you will be better, now that the solar disturbances have ceased, for we all know that is not to be – not for years, not for decades or centuries, and perhaps, never again. The lives you once had are now a part of history. The world that you once knew now belongs to the ages."
The sound of deep silence was broken only by sporadic sniffling, the shuffling of feet, and the quiet weeping of many who were listening to President Obama's address. "I speak of these things not to reawaken wounds old and new or to revisit the horror of your recent past and your present, but to remind all of you listening now that despite everything that you have suffered through – you have survived. Through unspeakable cataclysmic events, through the burning of continents, though the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have walked the lands you call home unchecked and touched each and every single one of you, forever changing all that you know and that which you are – you have survived. At that place where the road to Perdition forever ends, at the blackened gates of Hell itself, you have all stood and held the line. With a profound determination, with courage beyond imagination, you have chosen to stand and begin life anew – and today, I am proud to tell you that we stand with you. Let it be known that on this date, the Untied States of America and her allies have chosen to stand with the men and women of your world, and provide any and all forms of assistance that we can."
The Conference Room exploded with cheering, but others quickly quieted them down as President Obama continued. "This is only the first of many, many excursions to your world, which will provide humanitarian relief for you and yours. We will provide the means for you to rebuild areas in which you may restart safe, secure communities, free from disease, the climactic changes affecting your world for decades to come, and from the collapse in society which has allowed the worst in humanity to rise from the darkness and thrive. We will assist you in every way imaginable in order to begin to shape your world in the visions that you and your people have chosen, rising from the ashes in order to build a future that pays tribute to those lost; one that gives hope to your children and all those yet to come afterwards that your sacrifices were not in vain, and proves to one and all that this race of Man shall not perish from this Earth. On this day, on two worlds, let these words ring out so that all may hear them and rejoice: 'You are not alone anymore.' From this day forth and forevermore – you will never be alone. God bless you, and God watch over you all."
The Presidential Seal reappeared and hung on screen; Jodie turned off the monitor, and as the lights came up, an explosion of sound filled the room as almost everyone began to talk.
Danielle wasn't aware of any of that; she felt Quinn's arms tight around her, and felt the wetness of Quinn's tears as the smaller woman cried in her arms. "Aunt Amy's alive..."
She held Quinn tight to herself, beyond caring who was watching; all that mattered was that one of the holes her Quinn had – one of too many, to be sure - was suddenly healed. "It's a start, Quinn," she whispered into the redhead's ear, unsure if Quinn had even heard her speak. "It's not even a light at the end of the tunnel... but it's something."
Danielle was surprised as Quinn lifted her head and looked into her eyes. "It's hope," she said, a soft smile on her face. "It's hope."
Asia Vogel lay back in the recliner in the living room of her refurbished suite, which was situated near the top of the Luxor Las Vegas hotel.
The long-limbed, exotic fifty-something woman of German-Malaysian descent was sound asleep, deep in R.E.M. sleep and yet still holding tight to a remote control in her right hand.
As she slept, the offensively large plasma-screen television that took up the entire wall in front of her recliner illuminated the entire room with the image of the Legion's Conference Room...
In the center of the poorly lit, stonewalled chamber – in actuality, a temporary, secured 'pocket' of the Dream Dimension that served as the secured meeting area for the Major Arcana – Asia stood with the 'remote control' in hand, and looked around to see figures standing in the shadows all around the chamber.
"So... the USMC will be getting help."
Asia nodded. "It seems that way, sir," she said, addressing the man who spoke to her from the end of an elevated seating area that looked like a judge's bench... a bench at which the man who spoke and nine others (their faces hidden in shadow) sat. "The USMC and the Legionnaires received a supply of various items. Small arms, ammunition, sat-com transceivers, medicines, food, water purification equipment – and non-essential items such as books, toys for children, toiletries, chewing gum..."
She hesitated for a moment. "They were even sent a supply of AM/FM solar-powered radios, and a library of various music selections in MP3 format – the basics to start a radio station and broadcast across the planet – with that network of satellites and transceivers, they can establish worldwide communications in a matter of weeks."
"The first step in re-establishing the United States as the dominant power on the planet," came a woman's voice from the bench. "We thought that with the solar events that erased the U.S. Government, we would be able to move past their destruction and remake the world as we chose. It appears that goal must now be put on hold."
"Our main concern must be the Marshals," Peter Morgan said, leaning forward so that his face was visible, "As well as the Legion – and The Alliance. Regardless of what Cassandra says, we must find a way to neutralize them - because the moment we decide to attack either Legion Tower or the Academy of Extranormal Studies, they will call for assistance."
"The children are a minor annoyance," a very familiar female voice said, and Asia took a reflexive step back as she saw the face of Ann Coulter as she sat forward. "After all, we need them – they're all young, trained superhumans, and they're who we've always been fighting for in the first place. Even Cassandra will understand that what we're doing is creating a world where her son and his little friends will be in charge, and where they won't have to hide who or what they are. I agree with Peter - we should focus our efforts on the Marshals, and as soon as they landing forces, we should also attack the U.S. troops from the other Earth."
At the left end of the table, the person spoke from the shadows, their voice disguised and coming out as a gravely bass rumble. "This is not a good idea – attacking the new forces. I propose that we begin our plan to mark out and secure what we claim as our territory, and begin an all-out push against the U.S. Marshals to remove them."
The person took a long moment, as if winded and catching one's breath, before continuing to speak. "We must declare our independence from all former United States ties or control. We can do this. One of the two remaining cities on Earth is under our control – legally so, as you are all fully aware – and we have the capability to muster an army that can sweep away any resistance and allow us to hold and defend our new homeland. If the Arcana Federation is to become a reality, then the time to act is now."
"The Leadership has heard motions," Peter said. "You may now vote."
Asia watched as the eyes of the ten members all glowed white for a moment as they conversed through a private telepathic link. "We have decided," Peter spoke. "In forty-eight hours, we will send a broadcast up to their Messenger Network. They may have North America – but everything from the former Canadian border, to the Eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, to the former Mexico/U.S. border save the territory of Baja California – now belongs to us. In forty-eight hours, we will declare the formation of the Arcana Federation."
Peter rose to his feet. "All foreign nationals and military forces will have six days to remove themselves from our borders, request asylum in our territory, or petition to begin diplomatic relations with our government," he continued. "Any foreign nationals, including former 'U.S. citizens' found on Arcana land will be subject to summary expulsion – and the presence of any foreign military forces will be considered an act of war. This meeting is adjourned."
In the center of the chamber, Asia closed her eyes and began to count-
When she reached ten, Asia opened her eyes again - and found herself back in her penthouse.
"You took your time getting back," Peter said, and Asia turned her head to see the member of the Major Arcana standing in the door to one of the bedrooms. "Come on – I want you to see how she's doing."
Shaking her head, Asia rose from the recliner, strolled across the penthouse floor and whisked past Peter with an air of total dismissal. "You're not that valuable," he sneered, as he followed her into the room. "Just because-"
"I can duplicate and use any powers that I'm exposed to for up to thirty days, and also transfer them into other people for seven days," Asia snorted, leaning down towards the huge four-post bed – where Tainn Reynolds, dressed in a pair of camel-colored silk pajamas that matched her bronze skin quite well. "Because I can duplicate anyone's powers is the 'Because' you're looking for – just the same as the 'why' you can't just have your way with this poor girl. You need us both – and thankfully for her, Kroger's psi-analysis revealed that she's got a low threshold - so you don't get to have your way with her. She'll totally snap if you rape her – and then, her power's effectively gone."
Peter's head snapped up, and his eyes flared. "I never said-!"
"She's not giving in to your charm, the luxuries, or anything you're putting in front of her, Peter. She's been trained quite well – and the fact that you had many of her friends killed when you sent our people to wipe out USMC Central Command and capture as many of them as possible..."
Asia shook her head. "The best you can do is continue to let me keep using my stolen sleep-power on her, and using her power to spy on the few remaining telecom systems still in existence. That means, dear boy – no caliente meal for you. Go have some fun with that little Greek tramp that can't keep her... hands... off of you."
Peter's angry stomping as he left faded as Asia let her eyes run over the incredibly beautiful Native American woman. 'Pity that he's such a bastard," she said, as her eyes began to glow with an electric-blue hue, and the pajamas Tainn wore seemed to flow like water as the material fell away from her. "I could have used that boys' astral 'pocket' dimension to let him seduce her from there. In the meanwhile..."
She held out her left arm, and dozens of thread-thin, glistening tendrils of energy began to slowly flow from the palm of Asia's palm and dance across the length of Tainn's sculpted, unclothed form. "You won't mind if I use your body, do you?"
The tendrils retracted into Asia's body, and the fabric of her own clothes flowed over her and fell to the floor as she changed form; several seconds later, a perfect, nude duplicate of Tainn stood next to the bed. "I didn't think you would," Asia/Tainn said, looking down as she ran a slender, graceful hand over her perfect torso. "Do you mind if I borrow some clothes? I'm going over to a party for some of the 'Family' that's seen the light and joined up... and there are a few people who I'm going to have so much fun welcoming back into the fold."
Ten minutes later, Tainn's doppelganger stood and looked at her reflection in a full-length mirror. "It's a shame that you won't probably see things our way," she said, admiring the way the sheer gown highlighted her body before heading for the door. "In the meanwhile – thank you ever so much for the loan."