11.6 – 'Truths Known, Spoken and Undone'
Mackenzie was the first real 'white hat' among us Legionnaires. It was the trait that defined him throughout his time in high school – play it straight, get good grades, be the best at whatever you do, don't show any negativity – be an outstanding example... 'an Ambassador for the Black community'. That overwhelming pressure lessened with the destruction of Lawndale High School and Mackenzie's transfer to a school with a larger minority population – and returned with a vengeance once he gained his powers and became a Legionnaire.
Is it any wonder, then, that the enemies of the Legion often cited him as the one that they most despised, or that he was the first Legionnaire to gain an arch-enemy of his own? There was something within Michael Mackenzie that inflamed the Legion's enemies, as well as those on the side of Good who weren't as devoted to the cause as they should have been.
What was that innate quality? He was a hero. The other Legionnaires – including myself - would have to find that quality within. In Michael, it was always there, and as visible as he himself was when using his powers.
-The Collected Diaries of Anastasia Rowe, Legionnaire
"Sir... Miss Barch is here to see you... again."
Angier Sloane sighed; this was the fourth visit this week from Janet Barch. The woman's a walking time bomb, and if Dynell hadn't specifically asked me to have the Foundation's Special Projects facility give her a job...
Barch was intelligent, without a doubt – she was actually wasted teaching high school science classes, he thought – but that thought was quickly quashed by memories of many blistering tirades from the woman over the past year. I'll bet those kids at Lawndale actually thanked God for nuking their school, because it got them away from her... especially the boys...
It took less than two days for a blanket refusal to work with her to be delivered from the combined men on staff at the Sloane Foundation's Special Projects Annex, which took up a good third of the Halcyon Hills Corporate Park. The researchers there were handpicked from around the world, paid salaries that would make A-list actors gasp, and were afforded luxuries that rivaled several royal families from across the globe. There was a small recreation center in the facility; an entire floor dedicated to any pleasure or comfort needed to keep the men and women who worked there happy, relaxed, and working hard. Several of the researchers there were big fans of a certain pair of daytime dramas on the #2 network, and there were several crushes afoot; as a surprise for Valentine's Day one year, the Foundation managed to lasso a decent number of actors and actresses from the shows to attend the company V-Day party. At least four actual relationships developed because of that party – and there was a lot of sneaking off to different parts of the facility ('showing people where they work') that day...
Only the fact that John Dynell himself had made the request for Barch to be considered for employment caused Angier to allow the Director of the facility to even interview her – and only a second call from Dynell, specifically requesting that she not be fired – kept him from showing her to the door when that same Director (the entire male staff crowded into the office behind him – and Angier blinked hard in surprise when he saw that the facilities' cafeteria workers, child care assistants, drivers and the entire cadre of janitors crowded in as well) and laid a simple demand down: 'It's her or us.'
The entire staff got an immediate 5% increase in pay, three extra personal days and the 'below-the-board' people won a promise that if she ever attacked any of them, that person (or his family) would receive one million dollars in compensation – tax free. (Of course, provoking her was strictly forbidden, and in a surprising move, Angier didn't have to stress that point, and no man there was that desperate for money.)
Janet was given her own lab (with full living quarters directly connecting to her lab, for when she didn't want to go to her own home), an all-female staff, and was specifically told that if she touched even one person, regardless of what that person did or said to her, she would be terminated on the spot. The way the message was delivered – by a surly female member of the security staff handpicked for her size and her ability to intimidate even Barch – left just enough ambiguity to make her wonder if that was to mean 'just her employment contract'.
He was almost certain that he knew what she wanted to talk about, and shook his head slightly as he sat back for a long, full minute. Too bad. You designed the rough concept on your own, but you fully realized it and took it to its current prototype using Sloane Foundation resources and funding. That makes the devices – and the patent – the property of the Sloane Foundation...
"YOU CAN'T DO THIS!"
"You're not getting an individual design credit – the NetCell and the energy collector/transfer unit are the result of a team effort - and your name will not go on the patent."
"You can't do this to me."
"Janet... besides the fact that I'm the only person who's allowed you to actually use your talents and intellect as you've always wanted, I'm the only person who's actually wanted to have you work in my company. I've bent over backwards to have you here, especially considering what happened your first week in the company, but I'll just say it straight out: You are not going to get your way and everything you want – and it has NOTHING with you being a woman or my being a man."
"It's MY design! It's MY power cell!"
"No. You came up with a rough design, but after eleven months, seventy million dollars and the combined efforts of a number of world-renowned scientists working in concert with you, the Sloane Foundation Special Projects Division came up with the NetCell. You've been more than adequately compensated for your initial designs, your salary for this past year has been AT LEAST twenty-five times the amount you made in your entire career as a high school science teacher, and if you believe that this company is going to just sit back and hand over billions of dollars in potential earnings just because you're a loudmouthed, flame-tempered woman who believes that every man is out to hold her down, back or in some for of restraint that you don't happen to find pleasurable... your belief system needs to be seriously revaluated."
Janet stood before Angier's desk, her mouth opening and closing, but nothing coming out. 'This meeting is over, Miss Barch. Please return to your duties."
"I WON'T LET YOU GETAWAY WITH THIS!"
Enough is enough, Angier decided, sitting back at his desk. I've paid this woman more than enough money –and it'll be worth paying off her employment contract just to get rid of the screaming harpy. "That will be quite enough, Miss Barch. I've put up with your attitude and your actions for far too long. If you want to continue working here, you will begin to carry yourself in a different manner."
"If you are no longer interested in being employed here, please submit your resignation at your leisure. I can assure you that we will pay off your employment contract and all other financial outlay immediately – and of course, you are aware that your nondisclosure agreements are still binding. Good day."
Janet looked at him, aghast at being dismissed so callously, and spun about to leave Angier's office.
The small group of women talked and enjoyed their lunch in the comfortable lounge designated as a 'Women Only' lunch area by the directives Angier had laid down a year ago – what the staff referred to as the 'Barch Act' – when Janet rushed past the glass walls towards her lab, fury all but pouring off her as she slammed the doors shut behind her.
"Now that's one woman who needs to run down to somewhere like Vegas or New Orleans, get a hotel room and some young college boy who wants to stick it into anything female and moving, and get screwed really hard for a week or two."
Everyone turned to face the female cafeteria worker – one Tamara Rose, a part-time worker whose job duties circled around bringing the lunch menu for the day to the women's lunch area, serving the female scientists... and generally being the connection to reality for a lot of the women, who, to a person, had spent their entire academic careers in libraries, labs and classrooms with very little time out for romance or even dating.
Tamara (who was more than staff or even a co-worker, but a friend to the group of scientists), sat back on the couch next to a plain young woman with brown, bushy hair and a taste for scarlet and gold in her outfits, and took a drink of the especially strong tea that the ladies had all come to enjoy with their lunches. "Okay – maybe she should find some hot little co-ed who wants to 'experiment' one time when she's supposed to be young and crazy, before some guy comes along to 'make an honest woman of her."
"I don't know," the bushy-haired young woman said in a proper English accent, "seems that she's too insane for any woman who wants to go for a test drive down that lane – unless they're already into the 'kill all men' department."
"But she's got a man!" a reed –thin woman with a rich, almost charcoal hue to her skin spoke, her tone the neat-stereotypical Colonial British accent most Americans associated with men and women from the African continent. "Well – he has the correct genetalia, he does, but as for the rest..."
"No, she's found a lesbian born into a man's body – the perfect mate for her," laughed a thirty-something Korean woman as she sat next to a tray of donut holes; the smallest woman in the room at four-foot-ten, she was as stunning and brilliant as she was petite. "It's the only reason she allows someone with a Y chromosome into her house, let alone her bed."
"Look, all of you women are messed up – that's why you're all big-time scientists instead of – well, whatever else you could have been!"
Tamara ducked the barrage of good-natured jeers. "You all watch 'House'; you all know what I'm talking about," she continued. "But at least all of you know that there's more use for a man than as a test subject for 'Ball-Cutter Barch' and the latest Castrator Machine from her Evil Lair of Weird Science..."
All of the women shared a good laugh at that, and none of them noticed the way that Janet watched them from the slightly opened doorway...
"Ooooh, yeah..." a curvy Black woman with thick, gold-brown hair thought aloud as she sat forward in her chair. "What about that Dr. Armalin, who's working with those Legion kids? I heard that he's available, right?"
Tamara fielded that one. "When I took some sandwiches up to the Director's office last week, I heard him and Mr. Sloane talking about some big formal thing they're planning for Christmas for the Legion – ever since his son joined, he's been really big on getting in good with them, and you know that the Doctor will be so in...!"
"If you're lucky," the Korean scientist laughed. "He's been so busy with the kindergarten class that he hasn't been talking to anyone around town."
"How do you know?" asked the bush-haired Brit. "Checking him out?"
"Well, he does jog several miles every morning, rain or shine," was the reply, "and he just happens to jog past the place where I pick up my coffee every morning..."
"Is THAT why you drive all the way over to the other side of town every morning – just to watch some guy jog past?" a Nordic blonde mock-growled, turning to face her with ice-blue eyes peering through glasses with extremely thick lenses. "I thought you were just crazy about that coffee, but now...!"
"O.S.C.' has the best coffee in town," she retorted, holding her ever-present 'O.S.C.' mug up. "It just so happens that he jogs past there every day between 7:45 and 8:05, unless he's got some major business at Legion Tower - and then... he jogs past between 6:00 and 6:20."
As the women planned out a schedule of who would go out on coffee runs for the next month, Janet closed the door to her lab...
"I figured that you'd have something like this ready," Colonel Armalin said, smiling as he sat at the desk in his room, looking down at the speaker telephone. "So, you've met the media people?"
"It's only a photographer from Val magazine and his guide, sir," Sandi said, walking slightly away from the campsite with a satellite phone in hand. "They're a little freaked out by Stacy – she thought they were-"
Armalin shook his head sadly. "What did Rowe do?"
"Nothing – just picked them up both with one hand. I think he liked the fact that she's stronger than him."
"I see. Well, just give him every courtesy – let him ask questions and take photos, and tell Morgendorffer to not say or do anything to tick the guy off; he'll be gone in a day, and then you guys can finish up."
The sound of Sandi giggling gave him pause. "Did I say something funny?"
"Earlier, I think the guy caused Daria to get knocked into the water – they were coming out of the woods and taking pictures when Stacy heard them, and when she sun around, Daria took a quick bath. The guy got pictures of her going in, and I think-"
"Tell her that if she even – no. Tell her that I'd like to speak to her. Now."
Smirking, Sandi called out for Daria, who looked up from her dinner and walked away from the large campfire. Hank caught the lingering glance that Tom gave her, even as he was snuggled close to Jane, but said nothing. "You know your way around a campfire grill, Charles," he said, taking another bite of fish. "You've been doing this for a while with your father, right?"
Charles stood next to a large camp grill, and nodded slightly as he gently turned a fish before taking the lid off the large pot of boiling water and ears of corn. "Since I was a kid – my father wanted me to have memories of doing things with him. His job takes him all over the world - I don't get to see him as much as I'd like – but when he's here, we get to do things. Oh, and before you ask – he calls... well, he called our principal about how I was doing every week. He'd call around to my teachers at random; that was fun. I couldn't get away with anything in school."
"One thing that I don't understand – I thought this was survival training for you guys. Not that I'm not loving the spread you set out... but is this what you call 'roughing it?"
"See her – Sandi?"
Hank looked over to see Sandi, laughing as she sat with Langston and Brittany as the two blondes compared hair shades and their 'blondes have more fun' stories. "She's got a knack for planning stuff – I think she had an idea that the Colonel was going to send us somewhere like this, and she had a LOT of stuff ordered and set up so that, no matter where we were going, we'd have the necessary equipment to operate effectively. She must have known that people get agitated and don't work well if they're hungry, cold and miserable – and yes, someone could say that we're cheating..."
"What do you say?"
Charles laughed, and then did a passable Clint Eastwood impression: "Sandi didn't cheat. She improvised, she adapted - she overcame."
He laughed as he remembered the look on the Colonel's face in the conference room as Sandi pulled sheets of paper from a folder she had and passed them out. Twenty minutes later, after several members of the Legion support staff had loaded four large crates onto the transport out to the exercise area (where the Gridrunner was to land and pick them up), the Colonel had gone up to Sandi and Quinn; the look on his face clear that he was going to protest.
Sandi dispelled that with a wave of her hand. "You said to get whatever equipment we needed, and you told us where we were going. See the numbers on those crates? They're all marked with a '2', because I had some of the other Legionnaires help me figure out where we might need to go and what we'd need to get work done there – and this is the stuff we need for working in a Type 2 biome."
Remembering that he was actually impressed that Sandi had known what a 'biome' was – and even more so that (even though she still acted like she'd die if she came in physical contact with him) she came to him for help in putting together lists for the things that they'd need if they were to go into any of the fourteen biomes – types of climate – across the planet, and set up a short-term base of operations. Thank God the Colonel didn't send us up to Point Barrow... not looking forward to breaking out the Type 1 equipment or how it would feel up there before we got it set up...
The Colonel looked, for a moment, as if he were to say something; he gave Sandi a look of slight respect and said, "I gave you a mission, and you've an idea of what your people need to get it done. Carry on, Griffin."
"Sandi had a plan. The Colonel said that this is a survival exercise, and Sandi figured that the best chance of survival is to first set up a base camp and take care of the immediate needs that the people have. Once that's taken care of, then you can start thinking about how to get out of the place you're in, because you'll have some measure of safety and a means to keep your people warm and fed.'
"Sounds like you've learned something, too."
"Oh, that's old news for me – I did my fair share of gaming before I got into the Legion, so I had an idea of the stuff you'd want... and I also know from camping with Dad that 'roughing it' – eating berries, using leaves, is unnecessary. If you can do it, yes – but why do it if you don't have to?"
"Some people would say that, with the money of the Quest Corporation backing the Legion, you have an unfair advantage."
"GOOD. The Colonel would say probably say that's the best kind to have."
Hank turned at the sound of Sandi's voice, and saw everyone else turned towards him as they listened in on his and Charles' conversation. "People should be sportsman-like at the Olympics – everywhere else, as long as you don't break the law, anything goes."
Despite the way he talked to the Legionnaires, Hank had done his homework on them before coming up on the off chance he would run into them and get to talk – and as he looked at Sandi, he remembered what every source he'd come across had said.
Special training, she went with Armalin to Washington when he got his Navy Cross and she was allowed to be there at the ceremony when he was knighted... yeah, they've been calling Sandi Griffin his 'Padawan-learner' – and it sounds like it.
Hank nodded. "Let me ask you kids something – and if you don't want to tale about it, I'll understand – especially you, Miss Taylor – Brittany. It's been six months since Lawndale High was destroyed... I won't ask how you feel about that."
"Thank you," Jane said, her face suddenly sullen. "I got SO tired of reporters always sticking microphones in my face and asking 'you nearly got blown up with all of your friends, all of the people you've grown up with and, oh, yeah – all of the memories of what are supposed to be the best times of your lives are now bits and tiny pieces of ash floating all around the world and if someone hadn't been making out in a closet – not only would you be dead, but there wouldn't be anything left of you to have a funeral, so do you think your family members would come to the memorial service, because we've done a background check on you and it seems that since you began high school, your parents have only been in the United States to visit you only twice – so, how do you feel about that?"
Langston noticed how all of the other Legionnaires sat silently as Jane spoke, and Daria, who came up from behind Jane, put her hand on her friend's shoulder as she sat down besides her. "I still remember that jerk reporter from the National Inquisitor who asked me that."
"The one that I remember was when that guy asked me if Mr. Stark was-" Hank turned to where Quinn and Stacy sat, and the look on her face made him think dark and evil thoughts about the staff of the Inquisitor. "They were making up stuff about Mr. Stark, and me and my sister, and Jane – They were trying to say that he was some sort of pervert!"
"I know that the people in the media have a job to do – and I understand that, because of who Mr. Stark is and everything the Legion is supposed to stand for... and because of who some of us are... the news can get a bit sensational," Tom said. "The problem is that the media's focusing upon only the sensational, and not the good things that the Legion is doing. There's been coverage – but not enough - of the 1.3 million dollars that Legion chapters across the nation have collected so far for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in the Gulf region, or how individual Chapters have been doing some fascinating things in their own areas. Like the Bronx chapter of the Legion, and how they've been supporting a homeless shelter by getting donations, corporate assistance and just getting the word out – in the past six months, the work they've done has allowed the shelter to quadruple the number of people that they've been able to help. There's the Colorado Springs chapter, which has a cable-access program called All Things Legion, where they cover things that the other chapters are involved in. I heard that The Youth Channel is probably going to pick them up for syndication sometime next year."
Everyone stood or sat silently, slightly stunned, as Tom continued. "About fifty colleges from around the country with Legion chapters of their own joined together to send a large group of volunteers to New Orleans to help in any way they could. The Quest Foundation donated a couple of million dollars for relief efforts and to pay their expenses, and about a thousand Legionnaires spent three weeks helping out in any way they could. Granted, the people in trouble down there were the real story, but it would have been nice if they had gotten credit from the national media."
"Yeah, it would have been."
Attention switched over to Quinn, and Daria's eyes narrowed. "I know that tone," she said, staring at her sister. "What did you do... no, you didn't. How did you – Why didn't you tell any of us – How did you get away with it?"
Quinn turned cool eyes upon her sister. "What one of the Founding Members SHOULD have done – been where people could see us doing what Mr. Stark wanted. Yes, I did. I went with the college chapters – the Middleton chapter, actually. Because the rest of you needed a vacation –" She looked Daria directly in the eye. "-But I needed to do something. I told the Legion Leader-" Jane winced openly as Daria's glare fell upon her, then swung back upon Quinn like a targeting laser. "-And Colonel Armalin after I got back. I didn't – he yelled at me for half an hour. Gawd – now I know how the boys felt when Miss Barch was in a mood."
Langston and Hank's eyes met; they both felt suddenly very uncomfortable, as if they were at a family Thanksgiving dinner when a really big fight had just begun. Both sat silently, and glanced around the group of silent young people...
Daria shifted her gaze back to Jane and Tom. "That means you both knew where she went." Her eyes found the other members of the Fashion Club. "All of you knew, too."
Her eyes flickered across both Charles and Brittany, who were looking at Quinn with undisguised admiration. "I guess you two didn't." Her eyes came to rest upon her sister once more. "Why didn't you tell me, though? I would have gone-"
"Daria – you think too much, and you always go straight to the worst case scenario. The people down there needed people to help them and bring their spirits up they needed people who were there to say 'We're here to help you get back on your feet – because we know that you'll be able to make it after that. If you'd seen the things that I saw... you couldn't have done that."
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. I know that because I'm strong enough to see it and get past it – but just because you're not doesn't mean that I'm not, either, and HOW DARE YOU –"
The redhead turned to see Sandi looking directly at Hank; he gulped audibly as the eyes of the entire Legion were upon him. "When bad things happen to me, no matter how bad, I can at least try to get past them on my own," Quinn continued, nevertheless catching Sandi's reminder that outsiders were around. "I don't need you to nursemaid me, or decide that you need to 'take care of my problems for me', or that I need you to get into my head and fix things around for me!"
Daria went white as a sheet as her sister locked an angry pair of eyes on her, and Sandi dropped down on one knee besides Quinn.
"It's an expression – and she's been doing it all of my life, because next to her, I'm Quinn the Dummy – Quinn Know-Nothing, Quinn with the little label behind her ear that reads 'inflate to 50 p.s.i.'!" Quinn all but screeched. "Just because you got a 36 on the P-CAT doesn't you know everything, or everything about me! I met a guy down in New Orleans who's better at getting into people's heads that you'll EVER be, and he said that I'll be just fine, no matter what happens, as long as I believe that I can be and I just face it head-on! I don't need anybody to fix me up the way they think I should be! My name's Quinn, not Heather! I already have a mommy, so I don't need two!
Daria stood up without a word, and Jane began to rise and follow. "No," Daria said, her voice suddenly hollow. "I need to be by myself for a moment."
She started off. "Stacy."
The Legionnaires were all startled by the tone of Sandi's voice; she spoke in that command voice Armalin used when he expected to be obeyed instantly and without question. "Go with her. Take your bear spray. Don't let her wander far or into the woods."
Langston gave Hank a 'well, check that out!' glance as Stacy darted off, and Charles, surprisingly, hadn't let any of the food burn during the entire conversation. "Okay," Hank said, looking up at the delicious fish Charles had ready for someone's plate; he had managed to finish his large fish during the argument while not missing a word of what was said (a skill honed from many years of attending celebrity and high-society functions - one could go hungry by simply paying attention to the goings-on and not stopping to finish one's plate). "That one looks good – may I?"
Everyone looked back at him, and he smiled that annoyingly wonderful smile at them while accepting the fish and a second ear of corn. "Of course, I have to file all of that in the 'off the record' file," he continued. "Don't worry – I've never been a fan of the Inquisitor's style of journalism, either. People have the right to the expectation of privacy to some personal matters, no matter how much of a celebrity you are."
The tension through the small group began to disperse. "It sounds like you've been keeping up on Legion comings-and-goings, Mr. – Tom. And you, Quinn – you were actually helping evacuees in New Orleans. That's got to be quite a story. How did you get involved with the effort?"
"Well, it's actually because of Up- Charles," Quinn said, standing up and getting in line behind Langston, who was getting her dinner from Charles - and giving him a smile that made all of the female Legionnaires seriously wonder what her actual IQ was. "I remember him reading the report off the Internet about how bad the hurricane was going to be, so I went online to do some checking, and I came across the Middleton Legion Chapter's MySpace page; I read about the effort, and I decided that I needed to go – but that I needed to do it as just another Legion member, and not as one of the Founding Three, because that would be too much publicity. I used my mother's maiden name – the Leader of the Middleton chapter knew who I was – but as far as everyone else was concerned, I was 'Quinn Barksdale."
"What's the one thing that sticks out in your mind about being down there?" Hank asked; Brittany nodded, as if she were about to ask the same question herself.
"There's a couple of things," she said, helping herself to some of the crispy fried potatoes Charles had cooked in a large, heavy skillet, and then getting a bottle of water. "The first thing is the way the city looked in several parts. There were a couple of times I had to let someone in charge know who I was to get things done for people; one of those times led to me going on a helicopter with the Governor of Louisiana over the city. We came in really low at one point... it - it looked like something out of a movie. Like someone had dropped a huge bomb on the city, and then poured water and things in just out of spite."
She sat back down and everyone's attention was on her; she had never talked about what she had seen, even with the people who knew that she'd gone in. "Something else that sticks out was the people. They were happy and more than grateful for everything that we were doing and getting for them – for all of the stuff that everyone was doing for them – but the one thing that everyone I worked with kept getting asked was, 'When is the government coming in? When will the government help us?"
Quinn stopped for a moment; she looked down at her plate, and for a moment, the others thought that she would set it aside. Instead, she took a big bite of potatoes, chewed slowly, and washed it down with half the bottle of water before she continued. "I also went to the Superdome."
"What... was... it... like... there?"
The red-haired young woman sat and chewed a piece of fish for a long time. "You know how the news said it was bad...?"
Tiffany blinked once before answering. "Yes...?"
"It was worse."
Quinn finished her bottle of water. "That's the last time we're going to talk about it. It's also the last time I'm not going to listen to the Colonel about something like that."
"That's something else I wanted to ask you kids about," Hank said, and everyone was surprised to see that he'd finished his second fish – his second plate, actually. "I've heard about Colonel Armalin. Naval Academy graduate, a Marine pilot, Gulf War veteran, he was awarded the Navy Cross – the D.C. scuttlebutt says that he should have been awarded the Medal of Honor except for some pretty nasty internal politics that actually went international, and that's why the British Monarch appointed him Honorary Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Oh, and from what I understand, whenever he's over there, the word 'Honorary' truly doesn't exist – he's 'Sir Kyleton' over there, and the Brits take that stuff seriously. I don't even have to mention the 'psychologist to the stars' think he's done over the past few years..."
"What do you want to know about the Colonel?"
"Well, what's someone like him doing helping out a 'high-priced kids' club' set up by an eccentric gazillionaire?" Langston shot him an alarmed look, and he just shrugged."No offense."
"He's helping us to bcome prepared," Sandi's voice rang out. "He's getting us ready."
Hank turned around to face Sandi. "Prepared – ready for what?"
"To do what Mr. Stark founded the Legion to do, Mr. Stewart."
Hank felt a chill of cold fear – no, a sudden thrill of expectation roll up the length of his spine as he turned fully to face Sandi. "And what is that, Miss Griffin?"
"To help make a choice. About our future... for the future of our planet."
She walked up to him. "It's simple, Mr. Stewart. If you don't choose the future you want... you don't get the future you want."
Many, many years later, Hank Stewart would look at the photograph he took the morning after that discussion with the original members of the Legion – well, nine of the fourteen members that comprised the group in the days before the world became aware of them.
The fourteen that fought in what the history records referred to as the Battle of Legion Tower, but what the news media loved referring to as the Quarry War, in reference to the location of the first Legion headquarters – well, before it was destroyed and rebuilt. I always hated that phrase. It always seemed too flip - especially since one of them died there, that day...
He smiled as he sipped at the sparkling cider that Langston loved so much, and ran a finger over the youthful face of his wife of so many decades... Founder of the first Alaskan chapter of the Legion... and she did it with just four days to spare, because she was about to turn nineteen and wouldn't have been eligible to get in. Yeah, I know that she had a crush on Ruttheimer – damn, but how many women didn't? Boy could have cut a swath that would have shamed the Kennedys, the Martin Sheen family and maybe even those Wyatts – but even after he realized that it wasn't a huge joke by all womankind on him, he never did the rampaging man-whore thing, and that got him a hell of a lot of respect.
Who the hell would have known that I was standing right in the middle of history... that I'd become a part of history?
"Grandpa, did you want me to being your cane in for you?"
"Yes... that way, I'll have it to swat you with later."
The bubbling laugh of the young woman made him smile. Delia (God, he loved his wife, but her side of the family and those damned Southern names for women!) was to have her seventeenth birthday five weeks from now, and she was the mirror-image of her grandmother when he first met her, all those years ago in a sad little office up in Anchorage, him with his cameras (including the Leica, which he still had and which still worked beautfully) and her with her rifle and that expression that suggested that he crawl back underneath whichever rock he had the nerve to crawl out from beneath in the first place...
"What is it, girl?"
"Everybody's waiting downstairs for you!"
"Honey – when you're my age, people can wait. I'm taking my time."
The girl began to pout. "There's some more people that want to do interviews with you."
"Tell them to kiss my-"
"Grandpa! Being old doesn't mean you forget your manners!"
"Yep... you're just like your grandmother."
The teenager was about to leave the room when she looked back and saw a glint of light off something on the table next to her grandfather's chair. "Grandpa – you forgot the ring!"
"No, I didn't."
"But the people wanted to see the ring, too!"
"I took that ring out just to remember the Legionnaires, not to steal their- or anyone else's -thunder today," Hank said, turning his granddaughter back towards the door. "This is 'Heroes Day' – not 'Guy who wrote a book about the heroes' Day, all right? It's a memento, not something you show off to all comers. I thought that I'd made that clear last time... it's like that jacket you're wearing. That jacket means something, girl... it means that you've made a choice."
"Like the story in your book – the one about the day you met the Legion, and you talked to Myrmidon?"
"They didn't use code-names back in those days, and she could only triplicate herself back then, so they didn't call her 'Myrmidon' then – you should know this from your Legion history handbook!" the old man said disapprovingly. "Once they did start using code-names, for a while some people called her 'Duo Damsel', because she lost one of her bodies."
"I thought that in the Quarry War-" She saw the look on her grandfather's face. "-At the Battle of Legion Tower, she lost-"
"No, that's an urban myth. She would have lost that body if she hadn't absorbed it back. She had borrowed Calavicci's Mark 30 augmentor – she had gotten injured, and Farrington was watching over her so he'd given it to Griffin. He helped to boost her powers - by the way, this was before he became Hellhound or the government started up the Eagle Guard or Strikeforce; America – and that was the first and only time she was able to perform hyper-fusion evolution, which is how she was able to go toe-to-toe with Val-"
A woman's voice from below made the teenage girl jump. "Delia! Where's Dad?"
"Coming, Momma!" The young girl looked up at her grandfather, and smiled. "Ready for the Heroes Day celebration, Grandpa?"
"Every year, Delia. Every year."
They headed towards the door. "You know, Alaska has always had one of the best Heroes Day celebrations in the nation, and since Grace Island was declared a national monument, they've put up memorials at both the campsite and the old lodge."
"I heard that they've made a wall of your photos and put them up on the wall in the visitors' center," the girl replied, and then giggled. "I can't believe that you actually took a picture of Grandma in that white bikini, or that she actually did it..."
"She did it only because she wanted Ruttheimer – Chameleon..." The old man smiled a wan smile. "Charles... she wanted him to get a good look at her, so he'd notice her. Your grandmother was a lot like you – I heard about your idea for making money for the local chapter."
"Come on, Grandpa – lots of people have car washes where they only wear their swimwear!"
"Yeah, yeah," he allowed. "So anyway, your grandmother's boss was a mean old woman who would have given her problems if she didn't do a few shots – and she was eighteen, attractive and working in a 'man's job', so people gave her enough problems already,"
Hank reminisced aloud as he allowed Delia to help him along. "Your grandmother ended up doing a bit of modeling after that and saved up her money – of course, by then, she decided that I might be worth something as a person..."
"Be careful, Daria... there are wild animals out here."
Daria paid no attention to Stacy, continuing to walk towards the sound of running water. "Daria – there's a stream about seventy-five yards from you, and as dark as it is, you won't see it until you're right upon it..."
"Just go back to the camp with the others! "
"Why are you doing this, Daria?"
The plainly-spoken question stopped Daria in her tracks. "If there's something that you can do, you don't look around for anyone's help, you don't care what anyone thinks and you do whatever you think has to be done, no matter what happens to anyone because of it. When it's something you can't handle, you just run away – even if there's someone who you could turn to for help or if your running off means that you're putting other people in danger. Why are you like that?"
Daria was silent in the darkness for a long time. "I don't know what you mean."
"Why won't you let anyone be your friend, Daria? Everybody thinks that you're a lesbian or that you just have a huge thing for Jane-" The lilting voice suddenly took on a chipped tone with a edge of pure steel on it. "Don't do that."
Daria suddenly realized that she'd just send a telepathic command for Stacy to go back to the others – and not only had Stacy instantly recognized it for what it was, but ignored it completely. "Why would you do that, Daria? Especially after the Colonel specifically told you not to use your powers on those two, no matter what photos of you he took -"
The exact quote, she remembered, was 'I don't give a damn if he took photos of you that would make you Ellen Degeneres' eternal crush, or of you in positions undiscovered outside of a GOOD season of a Star Trek program – you do not use your powers on either of them! Is that clear, Morgendorffer!'
"Why would you do that to someone who just wants to make sure that you're okay?"
There was a moment of silence from the darkness, except for Daria's breathing. "I'm sorry."
"Don't say it unless you mean it."
Her enhanced vision allowing her to see the twilight world around her as if it were high noon, Stacy saw the dismissive half-wave Daria tossed in the direction of her voice as she started away. "There's all other sorts of people, Daria – the ones from Lawndale... well, they're at Oakdale and Polk now – the thing is, there's lots and lots of nice people our age out there! You only let Jane in, push everybody away and there's other nice people who would want to be friends with you if you let them! Not everybody's bad, or dumb, or mean just because they're popular, or wanted to be past of something at school, or because they want to date somebody like a cheerleader or a football player – that's just the way they are! Why can't you just accept people for who they are, they way they'd all do for you?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"I don't have to," Stacy responded. "All of your friends don't have to be as smart as you are, or be interested in all of the same things that you are, or even like every single thing that you like! I mean – none of the other girls like Charles-"
She stopped, and caught her breath. "They all still call him 'Upchuck' – even you and Quinn do, and you two haven't even known him as long as the rest of us. You just started calling him that because you didn't bother trying to get past what the rest of the crowd does and just fell in with the pack. Isn't that funny, Daria? You joined in with the crowd on something instead of being an individual and seeing for yourself... and like everyone else, you say only want you wanted to see and after a while, what you always expect to see when you see him."
Silence. "What does THAT mean...?"
"Didn't you see the way the pilot was looking at Charles on the way up here, or how Langston-"
"Hank's guide... the blonde girl with the photographer from Val magazine! Anyway, girls who haven't grown up around Charles look at him like he's been rolled in catnip, given a sponge bath in champagne and served up to them in an evening suit on the beaches of the French Rivera in a really good soap opera!"
Stacy could see Daria turn to face her, blinking hard at her words. "You've really got a thing for him, don't you?"
"I like him as a friend. You can like someone as a friend. You can have more than one friend – but you have to be a friend to them, too." Stacy walked up to Daria, and held out her hand. "Come back to the rest of us, Daria. Whatever happened between you and Quinn... you can talk about it later, and you'll be safer there with the rest of us."
Daria hesitated, and then started back towards the camp, pointedly refusing to take Stacy's hand. "Maybe."
A smile broke out across Stacy's face; a small concession from Daria was like a tennis bracelet from a rich boyfriend. "Great! Besides... we need to get back before Hank eats up all of the fish – hey, maybe I should get a few more from the stream before we go back!"
"Maybe you should come back with Tom or Up – Charles," Daria said, her voice having lost its edge and harshness; she remembered seeing the marks from Stacy's claws on one of the fish grilling earlier... "I'll just go back and get some sleep..."
Stacy smiled as Daria continued back towards the rich, tantalizing scents coming from the camp; Charles had begun to grill more fish, and sliced up more onions for the fried potatoes. Her mouth began to water as the scent of strawberries, cream and warm, fresh pound cake filled her nose, thanks to her enhanced sense of smell... Charles really does know how to rough it, she thought, smiling as she thought about how he outdid any efforts any of the others could have made at making dinner for everyone. And they probably won't even give him credit for it. Stupid... I guess thinking about girls and what they want in a guy all of the time, and learning about all of that stuff, finally paid off in the real world for Charles – if the look Langston gave him is a good example. I bet they are; that Hank guy was definitely trying to pick up cooking tips from Charles.
I wonder if Charles knows anything about the way they used to cook food on those cattle drives back in the old west – that 'chuck wagon' cooking... get it? Chuck Wagon?
Stacy giggled, and followed Daria back to the others.
"Oh, hello, Michael! Can I help you?"
"Uh, hi, Mr. O'Neill," Mack said, his tone slightly wary as he took in the sight of Timothy O'Neil at the front door of Janet Barch's home, dressed in his traditional attire of a pink button-down shirt and dark-blue slacks... now joined by a frilly pink-and-white apron that read 'Real Men CAN cook' across the front. "Uh... I must have made a mistake – I'm working as a bike messenger, and I was told to pick up a package here-"
"OH! There's been no mistake –Janet – Miss Barch – had a package delivered here instead to her new job, and she said that she'd have them send a messenger over to pick it up and deliver it, so that must mean you!"
Fighting an instinct to go screaming off into the night – and remembering that each delivery he made was an instant two hundred and fifteen dollars (plus serious tips that he got each time, and never less than fifty bucks), Mack stood his ground on the front porch, and looked inside the doorway to see a home so clean and perfectly kept that it should – could – be in a magazine. "Oh, come in, come in!" Timothy gushed, walking past to see Mack peering inside. "Janet just LOVED how neat and clean I keep the house – well, she wants it kept a certain way, and I'd love to add some of my own personal touches, but she says that there's a look that she wants so my things would just RUIN the entire look she wants to have..."
Mack effectively tuned him out as most Lawndale High students had learned to do, watching as he went to a closet and brought out a package the size of a box of cake mix. "There we are!" he said triumphantly, closing the closet door and bringing the package to Mack. "So... I hear that you're at Carter County High School now, is that right?"
"Um... yes, sir."
"I'm glad that you're continuing your education – I'm just sorry that I couldn't be a part of it, or that you couldn't do it at Lawndale High... oh, what could have happened if all of you hadn't been warned about those bombs – who could have done something so evil...?"
Timothy immediately broke down into a storm of tears He dropped to the floor and curled up into a fetal position, sobbing as he rocked back and forth; Mack, looking at his former teacher curled up on the floor and crying as if he were a child, felt an equal wave of pity and disgust pass through him.
No wonder he wasn't able to get another job teaching anywhere, he thought, closing the door behind him as he left, if the slightest mention of Lawndale High getting nuked makes him curl up like that. That's pitiful, though. You'd think one of the bombs blew his nuts clean off – that is, if you didn't already that he probably lopped them off himself, or Miss Barch doesn't keep them and his Johnson in a Mason jar for when she needs him to snap it back on for her. Damn – haven't seen anybody that badly whipped since that pretty-boy in Starship Troopers...
Screw him. I have to get this over to the Sloane Foundation lab, so I can get home, cleaned up, and ready to take Jodie out to the 'Jaguar Jam' tonight...
"Gotta say one thing about you Legionnaires – you make 'survival training' into a better experience than I had when I was in the service."
"You were in the Army?" Stacy asked, through a mouthful of strawberries and cream.
"No – I'm not crazy. Navy. Three years of Special Services – which is a fancy way of saying that I took photos of bigwigs and celebrities at USO functions and events all over the Pacific. After I got out, I started freelancing, and here I am."
"Well, I guess that's all well and good being in the Navy. I mean, if you couldn't be a Marine..."
Hank tossed Langston a cross look at her remark, and the Legionnaires – even Daria, who only chuckled – laughed at the remark. 'Miss Chambers – one of these days, if you ever get the chance, you have got to meet the Colonel," Tom laughed, setting his bowl down to the side. "Let's say that he probably wouldn't think much of the way Charles is cooking... well, he doesn't mind, since we made it through 'basic-"
"Charles, can I have another piece of cake?" Langston asked, her tone going from snarky to demure with a speed that raised the eyebrows of everyone in camp. "Sure," Charles replied, totally oblivious to the way the attractive young woman looked at him as she walked over to him for a second helping.
"So, you actually baked pound cake yourself... up here... with this equipment...?"
"I learned a lot of tricks about cooking – I watched a lot of the Cuisine Channel. Strawberries?"
"Okay – now I'm going to be sick to my stomach," Daria said, and for once, the Fashion Club all shook their heads in agreement. "Me, too," Hank echoed, slightly miffed and not in the least blinded to the fact that Langston hadn't paid much attention to him since they got into the Legionnaires' camp a couple of hours ago – well, she hadn't paid any attention to him at all...
Tom smirked – a little too loudly, and Hank turned his eyes upon the young man. "Okay. It's time for the guys to have a little guy time - alone. You – get up."
Hank picked up one of his bags, and Stacy caught a glimpse of a bottle inside as he pointed at Charles. "Let's go, Iron Chef 'Trail Mix'. You, too."
Tom grabbed his knapsack, and leaned in for a kiss from Jane before he got up. "Don't worry – I'll keep the piece up here in the wild."
"Still believing that self-esteem is something that everyone should have, huh, rich boy?" she smirked, her words dissolving beneath a kiss that made the FC girls and Brittany sigh, Daria scowl, and Langston toss a glance at Charles that sent jealously searing through Hank.
"Well... he does do that well," Jane said, leaning back as Langston came back to sit in the warmth of the campfire. "Hey... Langston. You can crash in the tent with me, Daria and Brittany, okay?"
"That's... that's nice," the blonde said, her eyes still full of Charles as he, Tom and Hank wandered off into the darkness. "Where are they going, anyway?"
"They're guys – and I saw a bottle in your friend's bag," Stacy laughed. "They're probably going to go off and do what guys in the wilderness think they're supposed to do."
"Drink and talk about women," Daria deadpanned, which brought giggles from the FC girls and made Brittany smirk. "In Upchuck's case, it'll be an epic fantasy that'll make The Lord of the Rings look like a fairy tale."
"I don't know," Langston observed, "I could see giving him some real-life material to work with..."
Daria shot her a look that could knock down a bear from a half-mile out. "Do they even have optometrists in Alaska?"
"They're a hell of a lot better than the ones on the East Coast, if none of you have taken a good look at Charles," she shot right back, and even Jane couldn't help but to chuckle at the way Daria turned bright pink and struggled for a moment to find the words to answer.
"Wait a moment," Sandi said, her eyes and tone all but suggesting that Langston had just told them that she'd seen a pink elephant and a blue bear waltzing in the treetops just before sundown. "You think that Upchuck is... cute...?"
"No." the blonde said, matter-of-factly, and the girls all breathed a sigh of relief, as if she'd played a big joke on them.
"See?" Quinn blurted out. "I knew that-"
"I think Charles is HOT."
Stacy alone didn't turn towards Langston with a look of absolute shock on her face; she held her head high, her expression regal and approving, and she toasted Langston with her water bottle as the other girls struggled to find their way back to reality.
"I see you boys know your way around a bottle," Hank said, pulling a bottle of Pusser's Rum from his bag. "For... special occasions."
"Being up here's a special occasion?" Charles asked, his eyes widening even more as he saw the color of the label.
"Oh, yeah," Hank said, actually having a bit of admiration for the two young men and the speed in which they managed to get a decent campfire going. Yeah, everything wild avoids fire like the plague. Thanks, Prometheus." You've had it before?"
Both Charles and Tom shook their heads, and Hank looked truly amazed. "But you're a Sloane..."
"Yes, but my father was big on situations and occasions holding a certain amount of gravitas," Tom said. "His attitude was that if you're going to experience something, then there should be something meaningful behind it. He thinks that it cheapens the moment, otherwise."
"Well, then you've got more than enough reason to have a drink with me," Hank said, breaking the seal on the bottle. "I am certain, more than certain, absolutely certain, that today... I took some shots that are going to sell for more than I can imagine... and I can imagine a lot. That, and probably writing a story about you guys, which I can all but name my price for... the bidding war'll probably start when they hear that I'm on my way back down to the Lower 48..."
"I thought that you were working for Val magazine – that they were paying your way up here."
"You don't know the woman who runs that rag," Hank said, pouring a generous amount into a cup for Charles, and then Tom. "Her photo staff is almost entirely freelancers – college kids in their last years, or grad students earning extra money... I freelance for her and four or five other rags, but when something really big comes in – or she thinks it'll come on, she'll pay out mad money on the off chance it'll pay off. Your Legion's PR people called the main office to tell them you guys were coming up some time this week, and I've been up here bouncing around for three days waiting for you guys to show – if you ever did. Try riding coach on the cheapest series of flights from New York to Anchorage, and having to pay all of your own expenses."
He held up the bottle. "The tradeoff is, even though they paid for the flight, they don't have the rights to the shots. They get to make a first offer, and if I don't like the offered price – if they've made a reasonable offer – I can shop them anywhere I like. To great shots of cute girls."
Tom and Charles raised their glasses: Tom sipped cautiously, while Charles took a good swallow of the strong, fragrant liquor. "Don't try to prove your manhood, Chuck – just enjoy it," Hank said, taking another drink as he watched the look on Charles' face. "Speaking of which – I like the 'totally indifferent' thing you've got going whenever Langston looks at you. That's one of the better ones to get a woman's attention."
Charles' eyes were full of confusion. "What do you mean?"
Tom chuckled as he took another sip of the rum. "You'll have to excuse him, Hank. He doesn't realize that he 'possesses the power of the Glow".
Hank started to laugh, and Tom smiled. "The funny thing is, things have reversed for him. A year or so back, he was trying to chase after anything in a skirt, and they didn't even notice him. You notice most of the girls back there called him 'Upchuck?"
"Yeah – I noticed that. What's that all about?"
"As in 'what they'd do if he ever kissed on of them," Tom replied. Now, he's been hitting the track and the free weights, getting some proper supervision and training, getting into some stuff that he likes doing – he's got his pilot's license and does solo flights... and he used to do this thing where he tried to talk to girls..."
Charles turned scarlet, and drank so he wouldn't have to talk. "His 'Casanova routine'. Jane – that's my girl – told me about it. Thing is, he doesn't do that anymore."
"The Colonel and me talked," Charles said simply; Hank poured him another splash of rum.
"What, don't you like girls anymore?"
The look Charles gave him was enough to convince him that he'd asked a dumb question. "I like girls... they just don't like me."
"Come on – eventually you'll meet a girl who'll like you for who you-"
"Don't..." Charles spoke; one of Hank's eyebrows rose in surprise at the plain, unemotional manner in which the word came out. He knew when in vino veritas was the rule of the hour; this, however, was someone who just had something they wanted to say, and finally had a platform from which to speak. "That's what people say when they're looking down their noses at you because they think that you can't find someone and they're trying to be positive, but what they're doing is just throwing it back up in your face. It's the nice way of saying 'lower your expectations of who you want to be a part of your life, because you can't seriously expect to get normal, or average, or decent- or even good-looking' - depending on their own yardstick. It's what they tell you when they're too nice to say 'beggars can be choosers."
Hank began to speak. "You don't think-"
"No - but they do. The thing is... they forget there's another choice. I can choose not to play the game at all. I can be alone."
Tom looked over at his fellow Legionnaire. "Charles-"
"Don't make me hurt your feelings, Tom."
There was something in the way Charles spoke – and the way that Tom reacted slightly – that reminded Hank of the film version of the old TV Western Maverick; it was the scene of the first poker match that Mel Gibson was in, where the young tough who was a gunfighter jumped from the table, hand going for his pistol, and Gibson tried to calm him down by pointing out how he was only a gambler, while the kid was a gunfighter, a good one, from reputation, and if they were to have a gunfight, what chance would he have?
Everyone around the table winced when, as if by magic, Maverick's six-gun was in his hand, the hammer back and pointed directly at the tough's heart; the stammering, semi-cowardly man was gone, instantly replaced by a harbinger of Death with light-green ice for eyes and no emotion whatsoever as he spoke the answer to his own question... a question, however, which everyone in the room knew the true answer to immediately.
Maverick sat down, joking and goofing about afterwards, but the lesson was learned; they gave the man his respect from that point on. Hank saw the way Tom nodded almost without moving his head as he drank to cover it, and he saw the slight change in Tom's eyes...
Perhaps for the first time, Hank thought, Tom saw Charles as an equal... no – a rival. Someone who was in the game – but with a different style of play... someone who could compete by giving the ladies a clear choice, one that he'd picked for himself rather than one placed upon him by what life and Lady Luck had given him...Someone who decided that he's not going to play the game anymore – and by doing that, has probably made himself a bigger player in the game than he's ever imagined. Tom just realized exactly what that means. He probably thought he did before, but now – young Mister Sloane just realized that Charles doesn't care about any women that would want Thomas... and that he probably has no chance whatsoever with any woman who would want Charles – because there's nothing that a person wants more than what they can't have.
Oh, yeah. This should be interesting to watch. From a distance.
After an uncomfortable silence – for Tom, anyway, Hank noted – Tom coughed and spoke up. "Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister and several of her friends came out to the Tower – Legion Tower, that's our building back in Lawndale. Turns out that they didn't want to bother much with talking to me..."
" I remember that," Charles said. "These girls just kept following me around, giggling and squealing. I finally just hid in my room until they left; I get enough of the 'let's make fun of Upchuck' thing from the girls I know without taking it from all of the new ones around, too."
Hank's eyes were wide as he digested Charles' words, and Tom smiled a small, sad smile. "See? You friend all but says 'You sure look like a Master to me...'- but he doesn't get it. This is what happens when you hit a puppy too many times – it grows up to be a big dog, but it runs from even the ants."
Charles looked back and forth between the two of them, his face blank. "He's going to have some girl teach him the lesson," Hank said, his tone not entirely without sourness as he realized Charles didn't even realize Langston's flirtations for what they were – and that, even if he did, he's just mark it down as another pretty girl trying to play a cruel joke on him. "You know – not all girls think the way the ones you grew up with do-"
"Yes, they do," Charles said, drinking again. "The girls all want the BBD – 'the bigger, better deal.' They want the whole package – looks, money, somebody that they can show off to their friends and have their friends be all happy that they landed a guy like that... they want somebody who looks like him."
Tom stopped in mid-sip as Charles jerked a thumb in his direction. "He's the money. He's got the looks, the background and the whole package – and man, have you seen the way that Daria looks at her friend Jane when she sees them together? If a guy like Tom can make a girl like Daria Morgendorffer jealous of her best friend – and man, those two really are BFF – man, what chance does an average guy like me have with the ladies? When they're dreaming about a guy to sweep them off their feet, there's no way that they're thinking of somebody like me. They're thinking about guys like him."
Charles turned to Tom. "I'm not jealous of you. It's just that, you know, being in the Legion's shown me something. I needed to make a change, before I got a chance to make too much of a fool of myself – so I'm making that change. I'm getting myself in shape; I'm learning new skills... I'll do a couple of more years in the Legion, and then, who knows? I always wondered about what it would be like to fly an F-15, or one of the new F-22 Raptors...now, that's gotta be cool..."
He finished the last of his rum. "I'm not doing the stuff in the Legion to try and get girls. I figure that maybe someday, I might meet somebody – I might, it could happen... but hey, whatever. I don't need to have someone in my life to do this. I'm doing this for me."
Tom just sat between Charles and Hank, a confused expression his face. "Daria is jealous of Jane because we're dating...?"
"Most of the girls in the English-speaking world are jealous of Jane because you two are dating," Charles observed, holding his cup out with an amused, unforced levity that made Hank think that Charles just might be sincere with everything he'd said. "Yeah. Sucks to be you."
"Grass is always greener, boys," Hank wryly observed; he had excellent vision, and noticed how a small head with blonde hair would turn and look off in their general direction with a regularity that made any lingering thoughts of hitting it off with Langston Chambers walk sullenly towards the 'EXIT' sign in his mind... "Always greener..."
Mack waited at the empty Reception Desk in the lobby of the Sloane Foundation Special Projects Annex; a touch of apprehension began to build around the edges of his brain... shouldn't this place have security guards around, all of the time...?
"Mackenzie...? Is that you, Mackenzie?"
Mack turned to see Janet Barch, her eyes narrowing, as she stood in a doorway on the side of the Reception Area and held the door open with her left hand. "You're the delivery boy?"
"Bike messenger'. I do it after school two or three nights a week, for extra money."
"Oh. Oh, well, yes, come with me – I suppose you have to be paid; come along..."
Mack followed Janet into a place that looked like something out of a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie-
"Oh... just thinking aloud, ma'am," Mack said quickly, putting a counter full of electronic equipment between himself and his former science teacher. "Looks like a movie in here..."
Janet ignored the comment as she went to the door of her office, connected directly to the lab, and pulled her chair out as Mack came to the door. "So, how did you become a messenger? I thought you were playing football for your new school – I've seen the articles on you in the paper."
"I still play – this is just a part-time job, so I can pay for school expenses and save money for college," Mack said, side-stepping her comments on football and the number of scholarship offers that he and his family were already considering. If there was anyone who hated the idea of 'men getting ahead because they were muscular brutes', it was his former Science teacher... "Two or three times a week... nothing much, I still have to keep up my GPA..."
"They're looking out for you..."
"I was lucky, ma'am. Mr. Sloane is a fan, and he recommended me for the job."
Janet's expression didn't even change as she fished four crisp, new $100 dollar bills from her 'petty cash' envelope, and drew a pen from the drawer as she put the envelope back into the desk. "I need you to sign this," she told him, holding out a clipboard with a sign-in sheet attached. "Make sure you mark down the date and time... yes... and here's your money."
Another man getting over... worthless, muscle-bound barbarian... I remember how Jodie Landon did all the work... student council – the yearbook – tennis team she would have been valedictorian at Lawndale High this year... while this ape with a football gets pampered and carried down Easy Street because he can run, and catch a ball, and because he smiles...
Sloane gives him advantages... he gives him things that he doesn't even deserve... I worked for almost a year here, and for twelve years in my basement, on something that'll help the world, and he won't give me what's mine... he won't tell them that it was ME that did it... he's going to let people think that a MAN did this – came up with the biggest breakthrough since the battery was created...
At that moment – Janet Barch snapped. Whatever fragile threads were holding her sanity intake had been shredded irreparably during Angier's callous dismissal of her from his office earlier, and hearing this, at this moment, after everything...
She looked up at Michael Mackenzie, and Janet Barch's hold on sanity simply snapped.
I'll show you...
"Uh, thank you," Mack said, his voice almost a stammer; he was a bit shocked that she'd given him a tip of over a hundred dollars. "Thank you, Miss Barch..."
Mack turned to leave when blue-white agony punched through the small of his back and exploded out of his mouth; his knees unlocked, and his bladder and bowels immediately voided as he dropped to the floor, his limbs twitching with feeble spasms as he thankfully slipped into unconsciousness.
The young man twitched again as Janet calmly placed the taser weapon she'd modified back into the top drawer of her desk and then stood, her outer features surprisingly calm in relation to the burning fury that seemed to build with each step closer that she took to Mack...
"Worthless, freeloading, do-nothing man," she spoke, only a slight edge to her voice as a release to the emotions roiling within her. "I'll show you... and I'll show him... and I'll show you all..."
Ignoring the scent that had begun to rise to her nostrils, Janet dragged Mack out of the room with surprising strength, and began to move him towards the far end of her laboratory. "I'll show you all..."
She pulled him towards a thickened, heavy door; on the wall next to the door, the universal symbol for radiation was clearly placed just above a sigh that read:
Energy Research Lab Delta
- DANGER – RADIATION HAZARD -
– Level Six Access or higher REQUIRED for entry -
– NO ENTRY WHEN RED LIGHT IS ON -
Michelle Landon knew that something was wrong.
She wasn't exactly fond of Mack Mackenzie – not that there was anything wrong with the boy; it was just that she saw her own marriage (at least over the past couple of years, or since Jodie had begun high school) as parallel to her daughter's relationship with him, but in reverse. She loved Andrew, and she would kill to protect her baby son Evan – but she hated to admit that she resented giving up her career track just to have a child and to raise him... as though she were just an average wife.
Along those same lines – she wasn't exactly sure that she approved of Jodie dating the boy just because he was the most eligible of the horribly small pool of eligible African-American young men in Lawndale, and even then, spending only cursory amounts of time with him. She wondered if they were sexually active, but doubted they were; from what she had gathered, Mack was the type who wanted to have a real relationship, but like Jodie, was simply with Jodie because it was just easier on everyone involved than to get involved with someone else of another race.
She was also – at the moment – more than a bit annoyed at her husband. Apparently, he'd had a conversation a few months ago with some of the local movers and shakers, who'd floated the idea that he'd make an excellent candidate for Mayor.
As if he'd give up the chance to make money to be 'a servant of the people', she huffed in her mind. Ever since Andrew had told her about the unofficial feelers that he'd been putting out about the possibility of a Black candidate as Mayor of Lawndale, she'd unconsciously been feeling more than a bit resentful that she'd allowed herself to be bullied into giving up her job at V.P. of Operations position at U.S. World to have her son, and then again when she wanted to try to return, only to have Andrew tell her that he didn't want to see his son in daycare... And now, he's thinking about becoming Mayor, while I get to sit at his side with Evan in my arms, a perfect matching ornamentation for his campaign posters and TV spots...
Michelle had long thought about her own qualifications for a political career, never even mentioning it to Andrew, even in the days when they were just dating; she was a slightly conservative Democrat, with views that would stand her in good stead with the majority of Democrats but make her appealing to Republicans as well. For example, she was a steadfast Second Amendment supporter, but believed that a seven-day waiting period and background check to purchase weapons was a compromise that everyone could accept. She also found the idea of abortion (particularly as an 'alternate form of birth control') to be personally distasteful, yet firmly stood by the notion that Roe vs. Wade was The Law of the Land, and had to be adhered to as such until it was changed in the rightful manner – through the courts.
She was (well, had) a rep for being able to work back-alley deals and boardroom compromises with people from all walks of life and commerce, as well as build coalitions in order to assure that everyone that associated with her would benefit from that association. You may not get everything you want dealing with her, the general wisdom went, but you certainly won't leave empty-handed, knowing that you got something worthwhile.
Of course, being a woman – a Black woman – was also a major point in her advantage over her husband, not to mention that she had a talent for seeing the overall picture, while Andrew was somewhat goal-oriented. Imagine – 'I want to integrate the Country Club! – And he said it as though he felt that was actually important!
That's your grand plan – your Prize at the end of the race? Being able to go to the Country Club? That's not going to make them accept you if they didn't want to as a person or as a friend in the first place – and you DO know that they don't, because if they did, you'd have been a member long ago! Right? RIGHT?
I love you, Andrew, but you – both of us – have got to get past this attitude of allowing our race to define us; not to others, but to ourselves and the way we do things. I remember how overly sensitive I was to Helen Morgendorffer when we were at Grove Hills with our daughters... and I'm embarrassed when I think about how I acted. She was trying to reach out, and I threw it back in her face. That was stupid.
Michelle remembered reading up on Helen, on how she was once a college-aged activist who had actually gotten into law as a way of trying to change 'The System'... but had instead been caught up in it, only to slam up against the 'glass ceiling' at her law firm. They're never going to give her a partnership there; it would take away any power they have over her, and the bastards know it – she's easily one of the best sources of money that they have with the clients that she brings in... and if she can bring in even a touch of money from the Quest Corporation, or the Legion...well, they'll just give her a profit-sharing package, a nice bump in salary and buy her a new car, but not her name on the letterhead. Not even if she was sleeping with one of them – and I've seen the way that rat-bastard Schrecter looks at her a few times. He's the type to actually dangle the partnership over her head for a weekend of bouncing around in a hammock in Aruba – and then screw her over again when they got back.
I need to think about repairing some fences, and build a coalition of my own. I need a power base – and from there, start slowly branching out, getting my name out there...
Yes, maybe this town does need a Landon in the Mayor's office... just not the one the old boys' network had in mind...
Michelle ran a finger across the top of her copy of Global Finance magazine and looked up as Jodie walked into the living room from the kitchen, looking very nice in her new outfit of black and gold. She's probably have been a lot happier seeing that French boy from Middleton that she met last year during her summer class – she certainly talked a lot about him, the older woman thought, but Andrew - but I, let's be honest - would never have let her hear the end of it. Nevertheless, Mack's not the type to duck out on a date, let alone not call if he had to miss it for some reason...
"Jodie – has Mack called you yet?"
"No," the young woman said. "I don't understand what's happened. Mack isn't like this."
"You called his house?"
"They said that he hasn't come home from his job yet."
Michelle reached over to pick up the cordless phone. "Who are you calling, Mom?"
"The police," she answered quickly. "Better safe than sorry – and I don't like what's adding up in my head."
Angier had just taken his second bite of exceptionally good vegetarian lasagna when Kay led a trio of men – one, a man from the Special Security Section, from the uniform he wore – into the study.
The uniformed man wasted no words. "Mr. Sloane – the cooler's broken."
The lasagna was immediately forgotten as Angier rose from his desk. "Plan Epsilon is now in effect. Kay – go with that man-"
He pointed towards one of the other men. "Get Elsie, and do exactly what he tells you. No arguments."
As Kay and the man left the room, Angier turned to the man in uniform." Go to Legion Tower. Talk to Colonel Armalin and have him evacuate my son from this area."
The man disappeared in a pinpoint of light as Angier reached the remaining man. "Take me to the facility."
The two men disappeared in identical pinpoints of light.