11.7 – 'Bright Lights And Darker Shadows'
"Daria's problem is that she needs to unplug her ass and jam something else up her tingly good parts for as long as she can stand it. Hey, I'm her best friend, so I get to say that, and help her find somebody to get that done!"
Jane Lane, as quoted in The Bedrock
There was a moment of silence. "Do you really think that Langston likes Upchuck?"
A familiar huff of supreme disdain.
"That's right - how could she? She's a girl!" Quinn echoed. "She's attractive – but she needs to get some new clothes, but her complexion is excellent, she doesn't need any work except to highlight some things and her eyelashes are PERFECT – how could someone like that like... Upchuck...? It's just not done. This isn't a movie or a TV show!"
"Maybe... she... noticed... that... he's... been... working... out," Tiffany drawled from the darkness. "Or... that... he... got... taller... or... let... his... hair... get... longer..."
"Oh, that," Quinn verbally waved away. "I was going to ask the Colonel if he was going to tell Charles to cut his hair, or at least comb it; nobody cares if it looks like that guy's in those Star Wars movies that married the princess and fell in the lava-"
"EWWWWWWWWW..." The four girls sounded off in unison.
"The... lady... pilot... seemed... to... like...him... too... and... those... girls... who... came... with... Tom's... sister... liked... him..."
"Well, they're simple little girls. They like Hannah Montana, so what do they know?"
"But... Quinn... the... girls... I... used... to... skate... with... called... and... want... to meet... Charles... when... they... visit..."
"The world's gone crazy. Girls who could have any guy they want... are looking at Upchuck!" Quinn huffed. "I just don't understand it."
In the second large tent, soft sounds of sleep filled the air; only Daria was still awake, and she turned and tossed in her sleeping bag. She glanced over to Jane's empty bag; she was standing watch, along with Charles – and Daria almost laughed aloud at the look on Jane's face when she saw how Langston smiled at the boy before she disappeared into the tent...
"Upchuck – hot?" She thought aloud, her voice low. "Not possible..."
She lifted her head and looked across the tent at where Langston was sleeping soundly. "I wonder..." she said, and lay back down. "I wonder..."
Daria closed her eyes and concentrated on trying to read the blonde girl's thoughts; suddenly, it was as if Daria was swept out of her body in a cocoon of the most crystal-blue water she'd ever seen! She began to move through a thick, glistening channel of that same blue water with her cocoon protecting her, allowing her to move with ease as if she were actually flying rather swimming, her every thought turned to action and movement as she swirled and spun down the channel...
It was the most natural sensation that she'd ever experienced in her life; more natural than breathing, or the feeling of her heart beating within her.
In an instant, Daria found herself standing at the edge of the most beautiful forestland she'd ever seen, with a long, wide runway aside the land and several buildings on the other end.
>>Where the hell am I?<<
Daria turned as she saw an airplane – a factory-new, gleaming and perfect P-51 Mustang with the insignia of the American Army Air Force – coming in for a landing. >>She doesn't look like the type to be into World War II airplanes – but then, I don't know anything about her...<<
She turned to watch the Mustang land, and sat a woman with blonde hair that could only be Langston emerge from one of the buildings. >>I need to get down there and see what's-<<
In the blink of an eye, Daria found herself at the other end of the runway, off to one side as Langston watched the Mustang taxi to a stop. She noticed the outfit that Langston wore; it was the uniform of a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the WAVES – the women's component of the U.S. Navy during WWII.
>>Someone watched Pearl Harbor a few dozen times too many.<<
The canopy of the fighter opened, and Daria blinked hard in surprise as Charles stepped out of the plane and, in something that seemed to come straight out of a movie, a slight breeze came in to gently tousle his hair as – also as if on cue – sunlight shone through the early morning mists to perfectly backlight Charles (dressed in the uniform of an Army Air Force officer, silken scarf and all) as he took off his aviator shades and looked down at Langston with an award-winning smile.
>>Oh. My. GOD. This has GOT to be a dream – and Upchuck must have slipped her some of those 'glitter berries' that got Mom, Dad and Quinn a couple of years ago.<<
With a subtle, yet dramatic motion, Charles stepped from his plane and walked towards Langston; Daria noticed that he was wearing the eagles of a full Colonel on his lapels.
I thought that I would never see you again.
We're fighting this war for freedom, Langston. Freedom, and the hope of a better tomorrow. We're fighting for a better world for our children.
Listen to me, Langston, Charles said, boldly stepping closer to her. Hitler and Rommel, Tojo and Yamamoto, the enemies facing our country and the traitors trying to destroy it from within – they want to draw a curtain of darkness and despair across out entire world. They want every man, woman and child to bow down to our evil masters in Tokyo, and Berlin, and in an occupied Washington, D.C. – and I won't let that happen. I won't allow my wife and my children to live in a world where they have to bow down before the Rising Sun... and the Nazi Swastika.
You... you want to marry me?
I want to marry you more than I want to fly. I want to marry you more than I want to wear this uniform and fight for the Red, White and Blue.
Charles, my love, I want to marry you, too. I want to wear that beautiful gown, and let the entire world know how much I love you! I want us to be together as man and wife – but I can't take you away from the fight for our freedom. I can't ask you to give up flying for our country.
Langston – what are you saying?
I'm saying that I can't marry you, Charles – not until the evil that threatens our country, our way of life – is defeated, once and for all.
With a dramatic flourish of the music playing in the background-
>>Where the hell did THAT come from?<<
Charles took Langston into his arms, and she gasped a dramatic gasp as she placed her delicate hands upon his manly chest.
I'll wait for you, Charles.
The music took another rise and flourish-
>>That's getting VERY annoying – but what part of this pulp romance isn't?<<
-As Charles stepped away from Langston, turning his head with a manly jut of his jaw.
I... I can't ask you to do that.
I don't care. I'll wait for you, Charles. I'll wait for you – even if it takes until every one of America's enemies has been brought to justice. I swear to God that I'll wait for you... even if it takes a lifetime to hold you in my arms again.
>>I swear to God that I'm going to be sick to my stomach for the rest of my natural life. I swear that it'll take a lifetime to get the bad taste out of my mouth.<<
The music in the background began to build as Charles turned back, took Langston's right hand in his own as he reached into a pocket with his left, and Langston gasped as Charles went down on one knee and opened the small box to reveal a beautiful silver ring with a stunning diamond.
"This was my great, great grandmother's ring... and every Ruttheimer wife since has worn it. It would be the greatest honor I could ever imagine if you would consent to wear it, as well. Langston Nicole Chambers – will you marry me?"
Tears of joy began to flow from the blonde's eyes as she nodded, and the music began to build in dramatic intensity as the ring was slipped upon her finger-
"Yes. Yes, Charles, I will marry you."
The orchestral music reached its zenith with a dramatic crash of cymbals as Charles rose to his full height, took Langston into his arms for a passionate kiss as the sunlight haloed them both.
>>This is the biggest piece of horse crap that I've EVER had to endure – including that 'Academic Imprisonment' paper Quinn got everyone think was so great-<<
"Who the hell are – Daria? Daria, right?"
"How dare you use that kind of language in front of my Langston, you Fascist trollop?"
>>What did you just call me-?<<
Langston turned to Charles, fear in her eyes.
"The Furher sent her, Charles. He sent her to keep us apart, and to destroy our way of life!"
Charles put his hands upon her shoulders and looked her directly in the eye."
"That, my dearest – will NEVER HAPPEN."
It was at that moment that Daria glanced down at a puddle of water – and noticed that she was dressed – rather smartly, she allowed – in the uniform of an SS officer, and held a riding crop in her left hand.
"Protect me from her!"
"With my life – and to the very end."
Charles turned to Daria, drawing a .45 automatic from his holster, and as he aimed it at her-
>>Time to wake up!<<
Daria found herself rushing outwards within the channel of cooling, soothing blue water – and a moment later, opened her eyes in her own body! "Oh," she gasped, breathing deeply. "That... that was new..."
Even in insanity, there are patterns and moments of lucidity.
As a precaution – just in case – Janet had placed a great amount of money in her fiancé Timothy O'Neill's bank accounts... all of the money that she had earned legally from her employment at the Sloane Foundation, and as Angier had said – it was easily many, many times what she'd made in her entire career as a teacher.
It should be more than enough for Skinny to live off of for a long, long time... he's so delicate, and he won't be able to work for a long time...
As Janet sat back in her seat, the only passenger in this private jet, she smiled as she thought of the hefty sum that represented her severance pay and the complete settlement of her contract, now safely in her account in an overseas bank. (Angier, eager to be rid of her, told the people in human resources to 'expedite her departure regardless of the difficulty involved,' and to that end, they had wired half of her money to the new account, and the other half to O'Neill's account. The woman assisting Barch was actually stunned when she heard that Barch was engaged.)
It was almost sad that she'd never get to see him again, but she was going to get new work. A new possible employer had contacted her, and she had called the number left for her six months ago – in case she ever changed her mind about a job. A plane had been waiting for her at the Greater Lawndale Regional Airport, leading to a private flight to the Midwest – all in the greatest of secrecy...
She would meet her new employers soon... and they would be happy that the Sloane Foundation would be set back for some time to come because of the radiation accident that forced them to seal off an entire building for all time to come... and unfortunately, resulted in the death of a prominent and promising local athlete, who was overcome by the radiation when he stopped by to deliver a package. Oh, and the poor, poor scientist working there – she must have been actually vaporized by the heat and energy of the initial accident, and she had just resigned to start a new life and get married... what a shame.
Janet Barch was about to disappear...
"Okay... first, didn't the Colonel tell you NOT to use your powers around her or this Hank guy?"
Daria looked about the area, first at the tents, then to Charles (standing on the other side of the camp with a bottle of water) before glancing back at Jane. "It's not like I was doing anything big – I was just curious about if she was really interested in Upchuck, or if she was just messing with his mind-"
"The way that you apparently messed with Quinn's, hmn?" Jane spoke in a soft tone, barely audible, but the touch of anger was all too easy to hear. "Daria... we need to have a talk. A REAL talk... because you're doing things with your powers that, well..." Her voice trailed away for a moment.
"You don't understand... that guy – remember those three that tried to get us after that Cypher guy? He... he was going to... he was touching her-"
"And YOU decided to 'fix her' instead of letting her deal with it on her own – by getting the help she thought that she needed, or talking to her friends, or just keeping it bottled up? It's her life, her pain, and HER choice on how to deal with it? You decided on what she needed to do, and how it should be done? Where the hell do you get off playing God with someone's head, Daria, just because you can? Don't you see how wrong that is? Don't you realize that's why, in the movies, people hate psychics so much?"
A part of a conversation that her mother had with her some time ago filtered back through Daria's mind...
"This is a wonderful power you have," said Helen.
Daria was taken aback. She didn't think so, herself.
"And a deadly one."
It was not what Daria expected Helen to say. And it sank it, quickly. Daria had never thought of her power as 'deadly' before, just a massive inconvenience.
"Daria...I want you to listen to me very carefully. You have to listen to me as if your life depended on it. Your life, and Quinn's life, and everyone's life."
Helen now had Daria's complete attention. "You have to hide this power, as much as you can. I know that there are a lot of people who know about what you can do, and there may be more in the future, but you have to hide this power, Daria. You're not an ordinary human being, Daria."
"I know," said Daria, unhappily.
"When people really understand what you can do...if you aren't careful...they'll hate you, Daria."
"They hate me already."
"I'm not talking about being unpopular, Daria. You're not as old as I am. When I was young.... No. That's not the right thing to say. It's too condescending."
"You might as well say it," said Daria.
"When I was young, and in college, and met your father, we were of a generation that thought we could change the world. It was a much different world than you're used to. Anything out of the ordinary was despised. When people saw your father with his beard, and his sandals, they hated him. And I'm not using that word lightly, Daria. They hated him. When we would flash a peace sign, we would get looks ...sometimes, I felt that if these people had rope, they would burn us at the stake if they could.
"They hated me, too, Daria. I once got into a fight with a policeman. He said something that I don't care to repeat, even between me and you. The reason he said it was because Jake and I were different from him. He didn't like what we represented."
"Was that why you were in jail in Boulder, Colorado?"
"Yes, Daria. I had a run-in with authority. And a run-in with an authority figure that is filled with hatred can be very dangerous."
"And people will hate me?"
"Yes, Daria. They will hate you, because you're different. You already know that. Sometimes you bring it on yourself."
Before Daria could protest, Helen interrupted, "but you have the right to say what you feel needs to be said. Or to wear the clothes you want to wear. But one thing that you will not be able to control is that when you use this power, people will be terrified of you. And people hate the things that they're terrified of. Do you understand?"
"So what you have to do is whenever you use this power, Daria, you must always be justified in using it. It must always be used for something better than yourself. When that hatred stares you in the face, Daria, then you'll have the right to tell it to go to hell. And you can look the world in the face and be proud that you have these powers and that you used them the way you did.
"And I'm sorry to say, Daria, that you can't use this power for entertainment. Or to make a point. Or to dazzle someone with it."
"Why not? Why can't I use my power to make a point?"
"Because then, you'd be a clown. You'd be just like every other authority figure who thought that having power gave them the right to do whatever they wanted to do with it."
"You're not saying, 'with great power comes great responsibility', are you?"
"No. I'm saying that the stronger you are, the greater you are – then the harder life becomes. From what little I know about history, being powerful never freed anyone of hardship. And the more power...the more heartache."
Daria sighed. "Then...there's no hope, is there? Things aren't going to get better, ever, are they?"
"There's always hope, Daria. Never lose hope. But I have one more piece of advice for you."
Daria waited. Helen spoke.
" Keep your temper under control. With your power, a loss of temper could cause horrible consequences. Do you understand, Daria? You have to be the most disciplined of all of your friends. You have to be the bedrock. You have to keep your head about you when everything is going crazy."
"Okay." Daria didn't know what else to say.
"Think of it as self-training. You're keeping track of your blood pressure. You've helped Tiffany learn to control her powers."
"Keep trying. Don't give up. Daria...I wish I had done a better job with you. This is my fault."
"For not turning me into another version of Quinn?"
"No. Because you have the responsibilities of an adult woman now. If things are going to get better, if you're going to have hope...you're going to have to act as a woman twice your age. You're going to have to make decisions that I could never make, that I would never know how to make.
"It was my job to lead you there, to prepare you for adulthood. It was my responsibility. I was never here. I was never home. I wasted my opportunity, Daria. I wasted it. And now, I've left you with nothing, no good advice, no example that can help you in the future. You and Quinn were far too important for that. And it was my fault that you never felt it. I'm so sorry, Daria."
Daria looked down at her boots, unable to look at Jane's face.
This is exactly what Mom was talking about, she thought. I have this power... and instead of thinking and acting responsibly with it, I...
"Don't apologize to me." Jane's response was curtly given, as if she were more disappointed with Daria, rather than angry. "I was hoping that you would be bigger than this. I guess that I was wrong."
"I... I think that I should apologize to Quinn."
"Don't. Not unless you mean it – and I'm not sure if you do. That's what scares me about you, Daria."
Being hit by a baseball bat couldn't have rocked Daria, or hurt her as much as hearing those words come from Jane. "I don't think that you are sorry. I think that you're sorry that Quinn found out."
Daria still couldn't look in Jane's direction. "I have the feeling that the Colonel is going to lose his mind when he finds out," Jane continued. "You really need to just call him, right now... and tell him what you did."
She passed over the satellite phone that Sandi had brought with them, and stood up. "You should probably be alone when you do."
Mack Mackenzie was not exactly a fan of the beach.
Oh, sure, he had no problem whatsoever with it being a place where girls wore next to nothing – and most of them wore it so well – or with surfing, either. He wasn't that bad on a board, although he'd rather play football...
The nighttime was best, as he loved campfires, clambakes and generally any and all things 'Surf 'N Turf', as well as the chance to snuggle up to an agreeably soft and warm female form beneath a couple of those tarp-sized beach towels, or a blanket... he especially liked to reminisce about that one time, the summer before sophomore year, when Jodie had to beg off an overnight campout at the beach because she'd caught a bad cold the night before but insisted that he go. There was a sudden downpour just after one of the best clambakes, and he'd run for cover with his oversized sleeping bag (he never went to the beach without it, and besides, it was MORE than big enough for two). He ended up underneath the boardwalk with a thoroughly soaked and shivering Sandi Griffin, who had a talent for finding the best places to seek shelter (his bag was waterproofed); about fifteen minutes later, he also discovered that she was nowhere nearly as bitchy as she seemed... and that she was a far, far better kisser than Jodie could ever hope to be. She had a nice little rack, too...
Of course, he and Sandra (he always called her that) NEVER mentioned making out that night to anyone else; he wanted to avoid 'death by outraged Black woman' by any means necessary, and he KNEW Sandi wasn't saying anything (especially to the FC – God knew that they couldn't keep secrets about each other).
Despite that – he just wasn't a sun-worshipper. He just wasn't into 'soaking up rays' or 'being out in the sun' just to do it. He just hated that sensation, as though he were just soaking up more and more sunlight, as if it were just soaking into him as if it was just an annoying tickling all over his body...
As Mack lay on the floor less than thirty feet from the breached Outer Containment Chamber of the experimental miniaturized Tokamak fusion reactor within Energy Research Lab Delta, he felt that sensation that he always felt when he was out in the brightest of sunlit days... but now - much, much more intense...
It wasn't a tickling, but poking, prodding... a HARD prodding, as if something was sticking him with hundreds of drumsticks all over his body, trying to punch into him, harder and harder, over and over in a smothering blanket of pressure, increasing from discomfort to painful and approaching excruciating-
Pull it in, a little voice from deep within him seemed to say, almost like the way Coach Gipson used to tell him and the other players to drink in the fatigue and pain when they were doing laps or having an especially rough practice. Drink it up, man! Pull that damned pain in and walk it off! Is THIS what they made you the captain of the football team for – hell, that idiot Thompson had more guts and will than you! He's dumber than a truckload of assholes farting 'Dixie' - but he'd get up off that floor! What are you – the poster boy for a bunch of silky lace panty-wearing Nancy-boy faggots from New England? PUT YOUR BALLS IN GEAR AND SUCK IT THE HELL UP, MACKENZIE!!
Rising up on one knee, Mack began to concentrate, forcing himself upwards as he focused on driving past the sensations and sucking up the pain... literally, he thought, as he thought he could actually feel himself absorbing the pain and the prodding and poking... now, it was starting to ebb back town to an annoying sticking...
Somehow, he managed to open his eyes, and he saw a world of unbelievable color infused within everything in the area – the furniture, the floor and walls, the lab equipment, even his clothes – with a floodlight of color so strong that it almost had – it did have – a physical force, like a blowtorch the size of a spotlight, so strong that it felt as though he was in hurricane-force winds and he should be blown away, flapping away on a Technicolor gale-
Mack came to his feet, and somehow, impossibly – he began to drink the color in. More and more of it, every bit of it – there was so much light and sensation that he knew that anybody else would have been torn apart like balsa wood and rice paper... but he stood firm in the rainbow storm, feeling strong – strong like he'd never felt in his entire life. He became a waterfall, a grand river that the light crossed over and just poured down deep somewhere within him, to a place so deep and endless that he knew that he could take every bit of it and send it into that chasm of light...
All of it, the voice inside him seemed to say. You have to take all of the light away...
Mack concentrated, raising his left hand, and the light seemed to funnel towards his palm, streams of energy swirling from points all about the room, filaments and thin tendrils angling and dancing across and away from the walls and equipment in the room, spinning through the walls – if that were actually possible, what the hell does that mean? Mack thought – and in a thick, waterlike gout from within the other room...
He drank it all in.
The room was suddenly dark. Very dark. The kind of Dark that Mack had actually feared, ever since he was a little boy-
Light exploded across the room – a pure, absolute, all-consuming light that drove away every shadow from every corner and crevasse in the room... and as Mack realized that his eyes were not in the least bit harmed by the light, he suddenly reasoned out why.
He was the source of the light.
A loud, grinding sound spun Mack around, and as he turned to face the source of the sound – something just outside the pair of double doors leading into the lab – he saw a trio of hulking, vaguely human forms just outside the first set of doors. They meandered outside the doors, and moved back; as Mack watched, another form walked into view and through the doors, stopping just in front of him.
"Hello, kid," the man said, and Mack recognized him as the guy who worked with Jane, Daria and all of the others in the Legion – Major Arminton, or something like that-
"Armalin, kid," the man said, smiling at him. "Armalin – and I'm a Colonel, now, too. I'm glad that you're friendly with Jane, Daria and the others..."
The man walked away from him, lifting his right hand as he moved, and it was only then that Mack realized that he was holding something, moving it around as he walked about before he took the radio from his belt and spoke into it. "It's reading cold in here – not even background radiation or traces, even from the chamber. It's safe for you to enter."
An awestruck voice echoed out of the radio. "Are you sure, sir? I mean, we were picking up indications that the Tokamak had-"
"It's cold – and as for being safe, there's a teenager standing five front of me and he's very alive. One Michael Mackenzie, I believe."
A second, equally awestruck voice came on the line, but Mack recognized this one. "Mack's in there with you, Colonel? What the hell is he doing in there – and he's alive?"
"He's very alive, Mister Sloane – although, he is a little sour-smelling," Armalin said, flashing a grin in Mack's direction. "Come on inside and see for yourself."
Clicking off the radio, Armalin turned back to Mack and almost laughed as the boy moved behind a counter as he realized he'd completely soiled himself. "I'd say that's the least of your problems, Michael... how do I say this... you do realize that you're glowing, don't you?
Even though he already knew that, Mack held up his hand to see the pure white light that poured from his hand, and from every point on his body. "What... what's happened to me?"
Armalin smiled again as a number of people began to walk into the lab, shading their eyes from the radiance bursting away from Mack – and it was only then that he realized that only Armalin wasn't affected by the light. "I don't know, Michael... but if you're interested, after we get you checked out – and find you a shower and clean clothes - we're going to find out."
Six hours later, Mack sat in an examination room at Cedars of Lawndale Hospital, sipping from a large cup of Sparkle Zero soda with crushed ice as he watched Soaper Central (the soap opera channel) as they played the Halloween episode of Fandemonium, which featuring Angelinhel and Vlad...
"Before we went off on this tangent, we were talking about your daughter. You always commented on how she had your eyes..."
Mack cringed and took a big drink of soda as Angelinhel set one of the two small boxes she carried down in front of Vlad, who also cringed at the sight of it.
"Well, now you can have them back."
"Man, AiH always was one of the big draws," Mack said to himself, reaching for another steak fry from the small basket of fries brought to him by one of the nurses earlier. "Wonder what's going to happen when she goes up against this new NightGoblyn person, especially since he became an Angst Lord – and speaking of them, who' have ever believed that the Supreme Angst Lord was the –"
There was a soft knock at the door. "May I come in?"
Dr. Hanley Phillips walked in, a clipboard in his left hand as he offered his right to Mack. "Hello, Michael. I'm Dr. Phillips. How are we feeling?"
"Just fine, doc," Mack replied, setting his soda aside as Dr. Phillips turned the TV off.
"Well, Michael, I'll have to say that you're absolutely fine – no problems that I can see, and you're healthy as the proverbial horse. No signs of... any unusual problems, but I do want to ask you about those bruises on your back."
"What bruises –oh," Mack said, gasping slightly as he pressed his back against the bed and winced slightly. "Yeah. I don't know what that's from- wait a minute..."
Memories flooded back into his mind. "I was just about to leave Miss Barch's office – she'd just paid me for that package – and there was this pain in my back that went all through me. Next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor, and..." He looked up at the doctor. Did I fall on something and hurt my back?"
"I don't think so – but we'll check that out, too," the doctor told him. "Like I said – 'healthy as a horse."
"I hope that you tell that to Mr. Sloane and my parents – as well as that Colonel Armoire guy," Mack said, catching how the doc said the last words. "They've been freaking out – well, my parents were..."
"Don't worry about the costs of the tests – apparently, our resident rich guy is quite concerned about you, and he's covering everything," the doctor chuckled. "He's out in the waiting area with your parents... are they always that loud?"
Mack actually blushed; the sounds of his parents' combined yelling for answers about their son and why they weren't allowed to see him had penetrated through two sets of heavy ER room doors and all the way to the back section of the ER, where his examining room was located. His mother had a voice that was especially capable of being heard at a distance... "They're not used to hearing the word 'no' when it comes to me."
"I've seen a parent or two like that before," Dr. Phillips grinned. "Look – I'm certain that there's nothing wrong with you – but I'd like to do one more test on you. It'll take a couple of hours for the test results to come back, but aside from the length, there shouldn't be any more problems. I'm going to have a nurse come back in and draw another blood sample, and I'm going to let your parents come back now-"
"Yeah – why wouldn't they let them come in before, and why were the nurses and the ambulance drivers all wearing those big yellow suits – the HAZMAT suits the firemen wear when there's a toxic spill or something?"
Dr. Phillips hesitated for a moment, and then looked up at Mack. "Has... did Mr. Sloane talk to you about what happened at the laboratory?"
"No... nobody has – nobody talked about what happened," he said. "It was weird... I saw all of these weird, lights, and the entire place was glowing, and what was really weird – it was, I mean... it was like the light was solid, like it was a really strong wind, but-"
Mack stopped talking and looked up into the doctor's face, afraid that he'd have an expression on his face that gave every impression that he was talking to a crazy person; a very real sensation of cold, however, swept over him as the doctor gave him a probing, examining look... a look that seemed to say that he'd seen things like this before.
"Dr. Phillips – what exactly happened to me over there?"
"Michael... I'm not certain if I'm the one that should talk to you about this..."
"Talk to me about what?"
The doctor walked to the door without answering. "We'll let your parents come back now to see you, Michael. I'll be back when your test results are ready. Oh – let me turn the television back on for you."
Mack had a sour expression on her face as the door closed behind the doctor. "Great."
"Is he throwing a fit, freaking out, or taking everything calmly?"
"He's just confused, and a little anxious," Hanley said, not even looking up from his clipboard as Armalin fell into step besides him as he walked down the hall towards the nurses' station. "I'm sending a nurse in to draw a blood sample for the metagene test battery. You'll have results within ninety minutes."
"It's not as if we even need to do the tests, except for confirmation... and because it's procedure," Armalin said. "And before you make any rude comments about 'being a chicken-hawk'... I'm not working for that part of the government anymore."
"I heard," Hanley replied. "The Academy's been in Indiana since the mid-1980's, and the SSC opened ahead of schedule – their first class began a few years back. There's really no need for you even to act as a recruiter – both schools have their own."
"I know," Armalin told him. "They've already come up with a school cheer at the SSC... and the kids at 'the Axe' hate it already."
"Definitely a sign of a good school cheer." Hanley slowed down his pace. "One unusual thing – the boy was tasered. A powerful one, too – but it's as if the area's healed itself up with superhuman speed. From the reaction you said it had – it caused his bowels and bladder to release – there should still be the puncture wounds from where the darts hit him, as well as slight burn marks, and I'm surprised that he didn't go into cardiac arrest. He was hit with a lot of voltage."
Armalin's face grew somber. "Somebody tried to kill the boy?"
"If they did, they really screwed it up – between that jolt and the amount of radiation that was supposedly in that area, I'm surprised that the government hasn't evacuated the city and lost several hundred people in the process... as for Mackenzie, he shouldn't even be a radioactive skeleton on the floor there," Hanley told him. "Why would anyone want to kill a high school football player?"
"For someone, it made sense," Armalin responded. "Especially if that test comes back positive. Poor kid. I hear that he's got major schools scouting him for football."
"You haven't talked to him about considering Navy – one ex-football player to another?"
They reached the nurses' station, and Hanley passed his clipboard to a nurse. "I need another blood sample from the patient in Exam 19," he said, and then turned back to Armalin. "Not looking for a new member for the kids' club?"
"It was a matter of happenstance that I ended up there in the first place," was the reply. "Sloane's boy is a member."
"Oh, that's right. You pay the pizza guy when he arrives, and enforce the curfew, right?"
"How about I tell these nurses the story of you at Niagara Falls...?"
Hanley turned an impressive shade of pink. "I'll have your results ready in roughly an hour or so. You can tell Michael's parents and Mr. Sloane that they can all go in to see him now."
"Why, Hanley – most men would be proud of the fact that they won a Porterhouse Challenge... and by such a wide margin, against such a distinguished field of contestants! Of course, I couldn't enter, being the previous year's winner, but you... you won with style. Style, grace - and sheer, raw endurance... what was it that Hawaiian girl said that got you the standing ovation in hour seventeen?"
Hanley grasped Armalin's arm as a couple of nurses looked up with interested expressions, and walked him away from the nurses' station. "Oh, yes. 'Ah – ah – ah – AH –AH – Hanley For President!"
"Why, thank you for coming in, Colonel – and as long as you keep taking that medicine, those cold sores should be no problem."
The nurses' heads all jerked up, and Armalin gave his friend a sharp look. "Oh. That's low."
"Well, you don't know what it's like here! Everyone's expecting my to nail everything in sight, and always making 'Dr. McDreamy' cracks – I've never even seen that damned show, either!"
"Well, at least you get to chase women – I have to comport myself in a dignified manner."
"I think you'll find out that they'd be very happy for you if you found someone," Hanley said. "I could set you up..."
"Thanks – don't think so." Armalin headed for the doors to the waiting room. "I'll get the kid's parents."
"Okay, what we'll do after breakfast is simple," Quinn said, her voice especially perky as she sat on a stool, four silver dollar pancakes (lightly brushed with syrup) on her plate. "After breakfast, we'll move our camp to that old lodge that Stacy spotted yesterday – well, everybody but Daria, Charles and Brittany. You three will go ahead and continue searching for flags. Head straight down the stream, and give us a call in two hours to check in, while the rest of us move our stuff."
"Wait a minute," Daria said, alarm in her voice as she looked up, her eyes wide. "I thought that the Colonel-"
"I'm Legion Leader, not the Colonel. I'm making a change. Mr. Ste- Hank," she said, correcting her as Hank looked up at her and smiled. "You came up here for some pictures of us, and us grunting and sweating as we move things around won't look that good on camera."
"I know," Sandi echoed.
"We'll get all – grungy!" Stacy whimpered.
"Ewwww... we'll... all... sweat," Tiffany drawled. "Why... can't... the... boys... do... it...?"
"I'll tag along with your little search group," Hank said, drawing smiles from everyone except Daria as she spoke. "Moving a camp site sounds boring-"
"You just don't want to do any heavy lifting or anything that resembles real work," Langston drawled, and Hank winked at her.
"Hey – I've gotten away with doing any so far; why break the record?"
"Fine with me," Quinn responded. "Make sure you get plenty of good shots of my sister falling into the water again – something that I can blow up to mural size and hang on the front of Legion Tower for our next Open House."
"Ooooh," Jane faux-purred, and Daria flushed pink at the look her sister gave her. "Someone's got her little kitten-claws out this morning."
"Jane," Quinn responded tiredly, scowling in her direction. "Okay. Hurry up and finish eating.
"Um... I think I'll tag along with you, Daria," Langston said, not fooling a single person there as to the real reason she wanted to go. "After all – I was hired to lead him around, and keep him from getting eaten by something-"
"He' has a name – remember?" Hank blurted out, sounding miffed.
"-So I could show you Legionnaires around, also..."
"We know who you want to show around what..." Daria muttered under her breath, and Langston whirled around, a look of mingled shock and anger on her face, but Quinn cut off any reply she would have made.
"For somebody so smart, Daria, everybody would think that you'd keep your mouth shut around somebody who could kick your butt up one side of that stream and down the other," the slender redhead growled, leaving no doubt that if Langston wanted to make something of it, that no one had better get in the way. "Hurry up and finish eating, so you can wash up and get moving."
Daria looked at Quinn, her eyes wide, and then turned away; she looked about, and her heart sank as everyone there refused o look in her direction. "Fine," she said, feeling put out and beginning to rise. "I'll just-"
"Sit down, Daria," Jane snapped; Daria, stunned, looked over to see eyes looking at her with disgust." "Sit down and shut the hell up."
Daria hesitated, then slowly lowered herself back town upon her stool.
"Tony – why would the police call us and ask up to come over to Janet's house?"
"I don't know," Tony DeMartino said, gently squeezing Claire DeFoe's hand before opening the door of his car. "I just hope it isn't because Janet's finally lost it and we have to identify the bodies... it's far too early in the morning for anything else..."
The two former high-school instructors stepped from the car and walked up to the house where a Black woman in street clothes, and the gold star of a LPD detective hanging on her lapel, was waiting for them at the door below the burning entrance light. "Mr. DeMartino – Miss DeFoe?" the woman said. "I'm Detective Riker – LPD. You're friends of Timothy O'Neill, right?"
Clare's breath caught in her throat, and Tony actually felt himself go cold. "How is – is he-"
"No, sir – Mr. O'Neill's okay. It's his fiancé – a Ms. Janet Barch...?"
Claire gasped in alarm. "What happened – she's-"
"There was an accident at the Sloane Foundation, sir. The lab where she worked – I don't have much more information than that. I'm sorry," Denise Riker said – sincerely enough that she actually could have been, Tony thought. "My partner's inside with Mr. O'Neill... he's not taking it well, and we thought that having a couple of friendly faces might help..."
"Thank you," Tony said; behind him, Claire began to weep softly, and he put his arm around her and led her inside.
Detective Melinda Hadley rose from her position besides Timothy's chair as Tony and Claire entered the front room, followed by Riker. "You're Timothy's friends, right?" the tall, slender blonde said, extending her hand to Tony. "I'm Hadley. Timothy's... not taking this well."
Tony nodded, and walked over to kneel down besides his friend. "Timmy."
A solid minute passed before Timothy, his face a whitish-gray usually reserved for the dead, seemed to notice Tony's presence. "Hello, Anthony, he said, his tone horrifyingly neutral as he looked from Tony to Claire. "Hello, Claire."
O'Neill turned back to Tony. "Janet's gone."
"I know, Timmy."
"There's no body," he said, and a fresh stream of silent tears flowed down Claire's cheeks. "There was an accident at her laboratory tonight. They said that she was just vaporized. Her body's gone. There's no way that she could have survived whatever happened. They won't tell me that."
O'Neill's head turned to face him, and it was as if he was looking into an automaton with the form of Timothy O'Neill. "She died without pain. They said that – whatever it was – it happened so quickly, that death must have been instantaneous."
The room was silent for a long moment. "Don't cry, Claire. I'm glad she died without pain. She lived her live in so much pain... it was a blessing that, when it was her time, she went so quickly... as if she opened a door, and stepped into Paradise."
The two female detectives shared a look, and Riker slipped out the front door, her hand reaching for her cell phone. "I wonder what life will be without her."
"We'll be here for you, Timmy." Tony said, putting his hand to his friend's shoulder, and almost recoiling at the tough; even through his shirt, he could feel how cold and clammy O'Neill's skin was... "We'll help you through this."
"I know you will." O'Neill looked from Tony to Claire, and then, into the empty space of the living room. "You and Claire are good people."
Riker appeared in the foyer, and motioned for Tony and Claire to step outside. "Hey – I'll be right back, Timmy."
"That's quite all right, Tony. Take your time." The sound of O'Neill's voice had obviously bothered Hadley, who had her hand resting lightly on her Asp telescoping baton. "Life must go on... even as it must end. It is the Circle of Life."
Riker waited until the two teachers cleared the entranceway to close the front door, and then spoke. "Your friend's suffered a serious mental collapse," she said without fanfare, and Tony noticed that she was keeping an eye on the front window, where O'Neill was clearly visible, and her hand upon her Glock service pistol. "If we leave him here, with or without others, I'm afraid what he might do."
"I can tell," Tony said, shooting a telltale glance at her weapon before answering, and Riker didn't bat an eyelash.
"I've already called into dispatch, and we're going to escort Mr. O'Neill over to the psych ward at cedars of Lawndale for a seventy-two hour safety hold. I don't want him to injure himself out of grief."
"I'm going to go with you," Tony said. "It might help. Claire, will you-?"
"I can stay here, and make some calls."
"Thank you," he said, kissing her on the cheek before turning to the police officer. "How long – how long before the-"
"The transport should be here in ten minutes."
The first hour had not gone well for Daria.
First, Brittany had found a flag, deep within the upper branches of a tree; she climbed up the tree, retrieved it and sauntered back down with the agility and speed of a bobcat after a mouse. Hank took several shots of her, including a shot of her as she landed in a crouching position she must have learned in martial arts, which led to a ten-minute conversation on the seven forms of martial arts she was fluent in (Tae Kwan Do, Krav Maga, Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do, Hapkido, Savate and Aikido), as well as a quick demonstration of several moves with Charles as the throwing dummy (which earned him several dewy-eyes looks from Langston and much eye rolling from Daria). That was caped off with a story from Charles of an especially energetic sparring match between Brittany and the Colonel ("It was like the subway fight between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix!" Charles gushed).
That was followed up by Charles finding two more flag. (actually, Daria seethed because Langston had to take a bathroom break and found one; she then pointed out that Charles should perhaps take a nature break as well, and all but forced him to the spot where the flag was located). To cap that off, Hank stopped at an especially pictoresque location on the way, where the stream met with another to form a series of beautiful waterfalls, and Hank asked for each of the Legionnaires to pose for shots there. Daria posed, begrudgingly, not wanting to hear Quinn or Jane complain about her not not being helpful, but Charles and Brittany really got into the spirit of things.
With the waterfalls as a backdrop, Brittany performed a eye-popping pattern from her Tae Kwan Do learnings (she had to correct Hank, politely, that 'katas' are in karate and judo) that made even Charles' eyes go wide. He caught a disapproving look from Daria; remembering her threats, he quickly turned his attention elsewhere.
Langston caught the exchange of looks; a wicked gleam in her eye, she took Charles' hand in her own. "Come on – I want to take a picture with you!"
Leading him to the shot where they were framed by the waterfalls, Langston asked Charles to remove his tunic and roll up his sleeves; when he protested, she coyly said, "Tell you what – I won't ask you to do anything that I wouldn't do!"
As four sets of eyes bugged out and four mouths dropped open, Langston slipped her coat off, slid out of her heavy denims and pulled her thick sweater over her head to reveal the tiny pink bikini that she was wearing. Hank almost dropped his beloved Leica and Charles' resolve to put girls down as a secondary priority evaporated as she walked up to him, wrapped one arm around him and said, "So – wanna take a few shots with me...?"
Even Hank couldn't begrudge the speed at which the Legion tunic – and unsurprisingly, the turtleneck beneath it – flew through the air and landed, in a case of poetic justice, in a rumpled heap at Daria's feet.
Daria didn't even need to use her power to hear the thought broadcasting from Hank's mind like a stadium speaker system:
Oh God oh God oh God I am going to make so much money from this shoot it almost makes up for the fact that the Ruttheimer kid's scooped Langston out from under me but I can always call her later because look at that kid with that boy next door thing going hes going to end up tapping more ass than a proctologist on the last day of a cheese convention because girls can see taking him home to meet the parents I mean she likes me I know she does but that kid's got something I bet he's snagged every single one of the girls except that snotty redhead with the glasses Daria she probably wants it more than all of the others and she needs it more why is she so mad at everything and everyone she's got big bucks and she could have any guy she wants but I see how that Tom guy looks at her and she doesn't even realize it and she's pissy at her friend because she got to him first when the boys see the shots that I took of her that problems vapor they'll be beating down the door to get to know her and maybe she'll lighten up then when she has some boy toys to just play with maybe she just needs some sex like tracy ullman told ally mcbeal that she tried not to judge people by her own vomit because of the I'm looking for a soulmate someone to read me dickens over the phone scam when she really wants to have someone ram her a couple of times and not feel guilty about it afterwards because she really is just like everyone else and she comes off as someone who just cant have that what the hell did she do to her sister to piss her off like that oh my god langston really is into ruttheimer look how everythings sticking up on her like its zero degrees out here kaching kaching kaching what is her problem now this is my job don't you dare look down your nose at me I actually have to work for a living what do you do
Daria suddenly found herself down on her hands and knees, retching out her breakfast in giant, heaving motions; even after her stomach, she kept having dry heaves, as Brittany held her hair out of her face and Hank picked her up from the ground, wiping her face clean with a rag Langston wet in the cool waters.
"I guess the pancakes didn't agree with you, Miss Morgendorffer?"
"I'm... I'm okay," she said, moving away from Hank and tugging at her tunic, pulling it off as she sat down on a rock and leaned forward-
Daria looked at her wrist; a small light was flashing on her Mark 10, and suddenly, she felt a wave of calm flowing through her.
"What's that?" Langston said, slipping back into her denims as she glanced over at the sound of the beeping.
"Oh, nothing," Daria lied, "just a reminder to take a vitamin pill."
"Okay," the other girl said, pulling her sweater back on and them brushing her hair out from under the collar. "Maybe you should just sit down there and rest for a few moments."
"Colonel Armalin – there was a call for you from the Legionnaires," the voice on the cell phone said, and his face took on a sour expression. "Morgendorffer, D."
All they had to do was spend a few days together in the wilderness with some manner of unit cohesion, and find a few flags...
"Patch me through on the sat-phone link to Morgendorffer, Q."
Forty-eight seconds later, a familiar voice spoke. "Hello?"
"What's the problem, Morgendorffer?"
A silent sigh. "What did your sister do this time – no. First, tell me of any good news that you have."
He listened to the girl talk, and then cut her off. "All right – at least you were all able to act reasonably civil around the civilians – it's just an expression, Morgendorffer – yes, I know. Fresh fish does taste better in the wilderness. Yes, I still think that you skirted the whole point of the exercise with that equipment – yes, I probably will drug you all and drop you in the middle of Siberia."
He grimaced; she obviously hadn't understood. "That was a joke, Morgendorffer – but if I send you out again, you'll go without a press escort and without Bobby Flay's camping equipment. Yes, I'm glad that you recognize the difference between a grizzly bear and a Kodiak bear. I'm glad that you were able to scare him away from your camp without hurting him. No – you don't need to mention to Sloane that having him police the area and clean the latrines with his heat vision was my idea."
Armalin listened to the disembodied voice. "Okay. I'm sending the transport for you –it'll be there at six p.m. your time. There's something I have to take care of here, but I want you Legionnaires to clean up and get back here to Lawndale... and tell your sister that we will have a talk when we get back."
"Hello," the twenty-something man spoke, rising from behind his desk and crossing the seeming gulf that was the living room of his opulent mansion. "I'm glad to see the rumors of your demise were exaggerated."
Janet shrugged, and the man continued. "You didn't have to nuke the facility, though – or I should say, you didn't have to try."
A look of modest annoyance stole across Janet Barch's face, and she looked the man directly in the eye. "Try?"
"Apparently, whatever little parting gift you left for Angier Sloane didn't go off the way that you'd planned," the man said, fixing himself a drink. "My sources tell me that there were reports of a serious nuclear incident, with a massive release of radiation – but then, the source later reports that the entire facility is free of radiation and the reactor which was the cause is totally inert, as is every last bit of radioactive material on the premises."
Janet blinked once, then again. "That's not possible. No one should be able to walk within a mile of the Sloan Foundation facility."
"Once again, you're wrong, " the man said, pouring a second glass of the amber-colored liquor. "Not only were people able to walk in, but also a young man by the name of Michael Mackenzie was able to walk out. Now, how do you suppose that a seventeen-year-old football player managed to survive what should have been a dose of radiation lethal enough to wipe out the entire population of that little suburb – and also rid the entire area of that radiation?"
For one of the few times in her life, Janet Barch was at a loss for words. "I... I don't know."
"I have an idea."
The bald-headed man walked back to his desk, and waved Janet forward. "One of the reasons I wanted you to come and work for me was because of your work with radioactive materials – for example, the radioactive gold you used for the NetCell."
"In 1989, there was a meteor show that showered this town with meteor fragments. Ever since, Smallville has become a literal haven for individuals with unusual abilities that are usually generated after some form of exposure." The man opened a file on his computer, and moved to allow Janet to read the information on the screen.
"This... this is incredible."
"Yes, it is. Your Michael Mackenzie may actually be one of these individuals affected by the meteor rock radiation... but in any case, if our information is correct, he has the ability to drain massive amounts of radiation. He could drain the radiation out of every single meteor fragment in this entire area."
"Do you want me to kill him?" Like I thought I had the first time...
"No," Lex Luthor said, picking up the glasses of liquor and turning back. "I have a special project... a project that studies such subjects. You see, there are many such people like your Mister Mackenzie out there – and they may just become a threat to the human race itself. There's only one hope for the Earth – and I'm glad that you decided to come aboard, Miss Barch."
"I'm not going to use that name again," Janet hissed, accepting the glass from Lex. "It's as dead as my marriage to that bastard... and I have a doctorate in nuclear physics. I'm using my maiden name now."
"Understood," Lex said, raising his glass in a toast. "Welcome to 33.1... Doctor Regulus."
TO BE CONTINUED...