Legion of Lawndale Heroes – Volume Two
Chapter 13.1 - 'Where Do We Go From Here?'
(NOTE: This chapter contains language and scenes that may not be appropriate for younger readers. It is rated TV-14-DLSV.)
Hi, diary! It's been three weeks since I've had a chance to write anything – we've been at the Academy learning about our powers. You should see what Quinn does with her powers NOW-! We've been having lots of fun with the cadets - Jeffrey's so cute, and his arms are SOOOOOO big-! He doesn't even mind if I'm taller than him– he's 5'5 – and some guy at the House of Blues (we snuck off to Chicago to go clubbing – don't tell!) was teasing him. He told the jerk 'it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.' The guy left us alone. Hee-hee! Oh, yes. Four words – 'The USAES Commencement Ball.' You should have seen us dressed up – you should have seen Mack and Charles in their evening suits! Who knew the Colonel could dance like that?
There's all sorts of new stuff in the Tower now, and it's SO COOL!! The government came in while we were gone – they sent lots of engineering and computer majors from the Academy (one of the girls said it's part of some' financial aid program' they're in., There's another pool – it's one of those TIDE-pools, just like the ones they have at the Academy – and we got a VR simulator to go with it. (The Colonel says it's cheaper, takes up less space and is easier on the scenery than a 'Danger Room'. Wonder what that is?) They did LOTS of work under the Tower, along with the people from Quest International – there are a couple of new sub-levels, and the bottom one is so HUGE!
Tiffany left for the Academy today - and Sandi's thinking about going, too. (They made her an offer – Mack, too, but he said no – and they want Sandi to be a Phantom Eagle!) It's almost like a trade, because Julia Carlyle – she's the one with the wings – they want her to be a Legionnaire! Daria, Quinn and Jane (they're the Committee on Standing Matters) said they'd think about it (especially since Julia's eighteen). From the way Julia acts (when David Allen's not around, mostly) – it'll be like Sandi never left, if she goes. Daria said that she can already see how Julia and Quinn are going to be jockeying for the number one spot – or that they'll both just walk into the room and expect everyone to just know that they're the one with the scepter. Well, they call Julia 'Duchess', and Quinn's always been treated like she's the Queen of Lawndale High... well, before it blew up. I've got a feeling they'll become best friends – so, what happens to me? At least Julia's nice to me, and she seems like she'll miss her friends in The Alliance... if she joins, it'll be the first time she's been away from them for a long time since she was little, except when they all had to go off by themselves, for all of last year. From what Jeffrey told me, Julia didn't take it well when their Admiral asked her to come here. I think Daria will have problems with Julia – and I also think that Julia likes Charles. Not crushing hard or anything like Langston was, but she still likes him.
Mack's been spending a lot of time with Jodie since we got back – no, he hasn't told her about his powers. You probably heard how Jodie's dad became Mayor – well, the word's out that he's about to resign. Tom and Charles were talking; Tom said that EVERYBODY is trying to get in good with Mr. Landon because of something new with his folding cups – and he's going to make BILLIONS and BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars from it. The people from McDonalds went to see him last week – Tom said they wanted him to give them the rights to the new cup, and tried to get tough – but he laughed them out of his house, and told them that they'd now have to pay TRIPLE what everybody else would have to pay to use it... for the first year, of course. After that, he'd have the entire world by the – well, you know. Mack brought Jodie over and she mentioned that her dad finally became a member of that country club he always wanted to be in. It was sad, though – a couple of days later, the place burned down while the Board of Directors was having a meeting. It was on CNN how the fire got all but one of them – Tom's dad was out of town– and it spread so fast that they never had a chance. Something else happened that was weird. Jodie – well, she's always been smart – she heard two of the instructors and Sergeant Nemec talking about working a math proof. I didn't know that the Sergeant was that smart (turns out that she's got a couple of degrees in math, but she likes being a 'gropo' - what's that? - and that's why she didn't become an officer) but Jodie listened to them talk for a minute, then went over to the table, borrowed a pen and wrote something out on an instructor's sketch pad. The Sergeant and one of the instructors just stared at Jodie – and the other one had to run to the bathroom. Spooky.
Charles' parents were waiting for us when we got back, along with the police and a couple of FBI agents – his mom couldn't let go of him, she was crying so hard... They knew that he was alive, but not much else – until somebody showed them the 'Val' issue with Charles in it. The Colonel and Miss Hall took everyone into his office, and they talked for about an hour before they came out, and that was that.
Charles' dad – Eeewwww. Remember what I wrote about Charles long ago - how he was always trying to hit on every girl he saw? Now I see where he got it. He was looking all of us girls over (you know what I mean), and he was REALLY looking at Daria, Brittany and me – he saw the pictures of us. Everyone was so blown away by Daria's pictures that nobody really mentions Brittany; she had her hair down and it actually looks better. Not so much like a bimbo – when she doesn't have her eyes open so wide and doesn't speak, she's got a Jeri Ryan thing going on. Not that I was looking at her like that. I mean - I wasn't looking at her like that. Besides, if I was, I think short hair looks better, along with a hard body, a really flat tummy and boobs that aren't so big, but really firm - you know, somebody like that Maryann girl in The Alliance. Wow... I mean – if I was looking at girls like that. I'm not looking. Really. I'm not. Anyway, Brittany looks better with her hair down. I heard Daria and Jane talking later – thank you, enhanced senses! – And Daria said that he was thinking about the three of us at his place in the mountains, and all of us- Eeewwww. She said that he couldn't stop thinking about what he wanted to do with me. Eeewwww. ) He made a mean comment on how Charles 'actually looked like a man now' – and I HEARD him ask Charles 'how many of us he'd been porking'. EEEWWWW. Charles looked at him, and then - just walked away. It made his father so mad, because I suppose he expected Charles to tell him all sorts of stories about what he did with us girls – ' like the ones I've always told you!' Later on that day, I had to give Charles a little kiss on the cheek for that. Jeffrey told me about what Charles said to him and Ian, not to mention how Charles stood up for Jane in the cafeteria when that Phantom Eagle got fresh with her.
Oh, yeah! We're going to have a big ball soon – right HERE, at Legion Tower! We get to wear designer gowns and all sorts of famous people are coming, like really big-name actors (the CUTE ones, too)! We're getting the key to the city, getting INTERVIEWED on TV - and that's another thing!
-from The Collected Diaries of Anastasia Rowe, Legionnaire
"How many burgers do you want, Mack?"
"Four – double 'em up on the buns, Charles," Mack Mackenzie said, his hands aglow with yellow-red flames as he used his powers to make the campfire he and the other male Legionnaires sat around leap higher. "You could just let me broil them with my powers-"
"And ruin the ambiance of the true camping experience? Au contraire!"
"We're on the other end of the quarry, Charles – anybody on the top floors can see us."
"Yes – but why ruin the illusion, my fellow former Lawndale Lion?"
"That's another thing I wanted to ask you about – you got your GED from school? Why not just give you your diploma?"
"It's going to happen," Charles told Mack and Tom Sloane, who were gathered around a merrily blazing campfire Tom had ignited with his heat-vision as Charles grilled up several burgers on the grill the Legionnaires had taken with them to Alaska. "Miss Li – not wanting to besmirch - say it with me-"
"'The HONOR of – Lawndale High!'" the two former Lions said in unison, breaking up in laughter as Tom looked at them both with an expression that said he was glad that he could become invulnerable.
"Oh, man, I haven't heard her say that in a long time!" Mack wiped at his eyes before continuing. "You know she's still a hard case – a couple of weeks back, she took a girl down a whole grade for not knowing what a gerund was – no. That girl got extra homework for a week. One of the asshats on the team got his score reduced by a grade for 'misusing ellipses.' Man, he's strict! Almost makes me glad for when they open the new Lawndale High and she goes back to being principal. Shame I'll have graduated by then."
"The Colonel could swing that for you," Tom spoke up. "You've got, what – another semester?"
"Yeah – thanks to Miss Barch screwing me and the rest of the guys in her class over," Mack said. "Even though we all knew the stuff because we had to or she'd scream at us, that psycho gave us all bad grades in her science classes that screwed our transcripts – and it turns out that we're actually ahead of the stuff they're teaching at Carter County! The thing that really sucks is that all the guys who she screwed over applied for grade changes, using out tests as proof that we know the stuff – but because she went and got herself nuked, they said that they can't change the grades because they have to assume that she was giving us the appropriate grades." He shook his head. "Boom. I could always go to the Academy, but that means that I'd be working for the government for the next twenty years or so, or going into the service. I don't know exactly what I want to do yet, especially now, with these powers, but I don't want to lock into anything yet."
Tom nodded. "I can understand that."
Charles passed a plastic dinner plate with two cheeseburgers and a healthy serving of fried potatoes over to Mack. "Anyway, Ms. Li heard about the GED, went to the Board of Education and had them change that over to a diploma – for Daria and Jane, too. They're giving them to us next week at the graduation ceremony at CCHS - oops. I guess somebody should have mentioned that."
"Yeah – especially since Jodie's in the graduating class... and I'm supposed to be." He looked down at his plate and sighed. "They made her 'co-valedictorian'; the girl who would have been CCHS valedictorian was actually a quarter of a point behind Jodie, but people were saying that it wouldn't be fair for either of them to be cheated out of the number one spot, since they would both have had it free and clear at their own schools if Lawndale High hadn't gone 'boom'. They're giving us former Lions LHS diplomas instead of CCHS – they decided that, because of the time of the year when the school got it, we were going to be seniors, so asking us to be considered Jaguars wouldn't be fair to us. They're going out of their way 'to be fair'. When it doesn't mean admitting that they allowed someone to be unfair for her entire career, that is. "
"Talk to the Colonel about it. He's got some pull," Charles said, as he handed Tom a plate. "If he can straighten out things for you, he could fix things for a lot of the guys from Lawndale – hey, wait a minute. I thought the city couldn't afford to rebuild Lawndale High."
"Quest International," Tom said, his voice muffled as he took a bite of his burger.
"Damn, man, take it easy on that burger," Mack said, smiling as Tom tore through the sandwich. "Nobody's going to take it from you."
"Sorry... Charles knows what he's doing with the outdoors food... and when my family would go camping, we still had to be all prim and proper." He wiped a long streak of grease from his face. "When the news came out that they couldn't rebuild the school, one of Mayor Landon's first official acts was to call Quest for help... seeing how they spent all that money building Legion Tower. They're promoting it as another part of Russell Stark's dream of 'saving the world of tomorrow through the youth of today'. Miss Li's been dancing on air – and if even a fraction of what I've heard about the security they're putting into the new Lawndale High is true...'
Tom's words trailed of as he continued to eat, and Charles turned to face Mack. "I wanted to ask you something, Mack. Where did you hear that insult – 'Asshat?"
Mack laughed. "That's what Mr. Vitale calls people that he doesn't like – one of the other partners, Eric Schrecter, I think. Man, he can't stand Schrecter!"
"He can't," Tom said through the last bites of his burger. "I think it's partly because he's a total dick – but mostly because he's really not a good lawyer and got the partnership as a 'legacy' thing to keep the family name in play. Oh – and everybody in the office knows he's trying to find a way to get Daria and Quinn's mom in bed without getting slammed with a sexual harassment lawsuit or giving her a partnership."
"I never did like those Schrecters much," Mack said, shaking his head. "Eric Schrecter's a total jerk. Jodie's dad absolutely refuses to use them for anything – he said that if Mrs. Morgendorffer wasn't with them, he'd hire her in a heartbeat."
Mack poured a stream of ketchup over his potatoes before digging in, savoring the taste of the fried onions and pepper; he took a drink of ice water before speaking. "All I know is that I personally wouldn't piss off anybody who not only looks like James Woods, but – from what I've heard – acts like him in that new show that starts in the fall. Have you guys seen the commercials for 'Shark'? Man! I wonder if they used Mr. Vitale as the inspiration for the character?"
"Couldn't have. Mr. Vitale would never have a conscience attack. You have to have a conscience first. That's why my dad likes him."
Charles stared at Tom as he spoke; Mack thought for a moment, and nodded in agreement.
Mack took another bite of potatoes as Tom turned in his direction. "About Jodie – you haven't told her yet? About your powers, I mean."
"All I've told her is that I'm better, and that I'm in the Lawndale chapter of the Legion now. Not looking forward to telling her; she hates it when people keep things from her – it reminds her of the way her parents are always trying to tell her how to live her life." Mack finished his burger. "She's taking the car they promised her for graduation because she got the perfect GPA and accepted to Crestmore – like her parents wanted – but I've got the feeling that it's the last thing she's going to take from them."
Charles and Tom were both silent for a moment; each thought on how their own parents tried to exert influence over their lives. Charles was lost in thought, then realized that there was an uncomfortable silence and someone had spoken. Was it to him?
"This thing about 'choosing special training' – that's how you started flying?"
Charles nodded. "I always wanted to fly. You're thinking about flight training? Becoming a 'Top Gun?"
"No," Mack said, taking a bite from his second burger. "Watching Jodie's dad, Mr. Vitale and a lot of the other guys around here – I've got an idea about what I want to do."
Tom almost forgot to swallow as Mack spoke. "I want to learn how to fight in the boardroom."
Daria Morgendorffer, Jane Lane, Sandi Griffin and Stacy Rowe were all silent as the lights in the conference room came up, and Adonis Wyatt turned to face them. "Questions, comments, opinions?"
The tall African-American (so obviously gay that only the blindest of people wouldn't notice) felt a painful throbbing building behind his eyes as the tiny, auburn-haired young woman held up a finger.
"What's wrong with this one, Miss Morgendorffer?"
"Aside from-" Daria stopped abruptly when he put his hand out.
"What-ever. You complain about everything, nothing's good enough, and the Lord God Jehovah Himself would have a difficult time measuring up to your standards. Talk to the hand, and I'll talk to your friends. Anybody else have questions, comments, opinions?"
"Why are all the girls in the commercial attractive?" This comment came from Jane. "I mean, the Legion's supposed to attract all sorts of kids – not just kids who look like they're the bikini stunt doubles for 'Laguna Beach'? Shouldn't we show them instead?"
"Okay... everyone with postgraduate degrees in mass communication, sociology and hard knocks, raise your hands. Miss Griffin – not so fast. Just kidding. Everyone with postgraduate degrees in mass communication and sociology, raise your hands. Now, everyone who's spent any great amount of time actually hanging out with and talking to those average-looking kids over the past year that you're concerned about not thinking there's a place in the National Legion for them because of these commercials and found that those commercials are bringing in new kids by the trainload - raise your hands."
The girls looked among themselves, slightly taken aback by what Adonis was saying, and the uber-show-stopping, super-stereotypical gay manner he carried himself in as he spoke. This has to be an act, all of the girls were thinking, something he does just for work – because no one can be this gay in real life!
The consultant continued on with his baby rant. "Finally – everyone who thinks that I'm going to listen to any uninformed, trite opinions by petulant young ladies with semi-hard bodies, six-o'clock asses, lips so thin they could slice bread by kissing the loaf and an urgent need for a trip to the nearest branch of the Optique Boutique for a new pair of glasses that won't scare off the Hunchback of Notre Dame simply because they have cash – please. Honey, I am not the one."
Daria was so stunned by the way Adonis carried himself as he spoke that she was momentarily speechless; Stacy raised her hand.
Adonis looked her over before speaking. "Yes?"
"What you said about six o'clock and her – her – I mean..." Stacy's voice trailed off, and Jane cut in.
"Up and down. Straight. Flat asses. What all of you have." The room grew quiet; Adonis looked at Jane with a sense of appreciation, and the girls – even Daria – stared daggers at Jane. "Hey, don't hate because mine's small - but nicely defined."
"Is there a problem in here?"
The Legionnaires and Adonis turned to see Colonel Kyle Armalin in the doorway, a cup of coffee in hand. "It seemed the volume had gone up a bit in this room."
Adonis didn't even flinch as he looked across the room at the Marine officer, resplendent in his Marine Corps dress uniform - adorned with several rows of medals on the left side of his formfitting dress coat, rows of ribbons on the right side and a medal adorning his neck, white gloves, black shoes so shiny that it almost hurt to look at them - and wearing a Sam Browne belt... from which his Mameluke sword was carried on his left side.
"There's no problem," he said, managing to keep his lifelong attraction for men in uniform firmly lashed down. "I just let people understand that if they have something to say, then at least have something to say."
Armalin looked around the room, and then took a sip of coffee. "Works for me. Carry on."
Sandi wisely kept the smirk off her face – even though she knew Daria could pick up the rolling laughter in her head.
"Hey, Colonel?" Jane asked, a tone of curiosity rolling off her in sheets, causing Armalin to turn and face her. "Why the dress uniform?"
The slight hesitation before he answered spoke worlds. "I had a previous engagement this evening – if you must know. Mayor Landon held a special meeting earlier this evening, and I was invited to attend. Good night, ladies."
"He met a girl there!" Stacy squealed, somehow managing to keep her voice down after the Colonel left the room. "They went dancing – I can smell her perfume on him – and I don't know how I can tell, but there's something about the way his body's scent is going now that tells me that they were making out!"
"Miss Rowe – I'll thank you to keep your overly sensitive nose out of my affairs, pun not withstanding," the Colonel's voice came from the far end of the hall. "Remember, we still have the Wagon Wheel – and you can ask Mister Sloane how super-strength has no bearing whatsoever on your performance within."
Chastised, Stacy slid back into her seat as Adonis – still slightly mesmerized by the sight of a Marine in dress blues – shook his head clear and focused on the Legionnaires. "Oh, my... okay! Now that we've had that little pick-me-up to keep us going – let's go over what we have for your new daily wear uniforms. I have the preliminary final design here, and the designer wanted to know how you felt about it."
"What's wrong with the ones we have now?" Daria asked.
"What you're wearing is nice. Just 'nice'. It's loose and doesn't bind, it lets you move and it's good for rough-and-tumble – but what you want is a nonverbal statement of intent. You want 'We're serious about doing this.' You want 'Hey – we just hit the scene.' You want 'We know what we're doing, we represent something real that you have to pay attention to – and by the way, we do look good doing it."
Sandi and Stacy looked at Adonis and nodded, newfound respect in their eyes. "He sent three of the new uniforms," he continued. "He used the measurements for Miss Lane and the Morgendorffer sisters, because he heard that you three would make the final decision. Would you like to try them on now?"
Quinn Morgendorffer walked towards the front of Legion Tower when she heard a slight cough from just above her, and an annoyed expression crossed her face as she looked upwards. "What – were you following me?"
Julia Carlyle floated down from the night sky with an ease that Quinn – although she hated to admit it – was slightly jealous of. Not even Tom or Jane's that good at flying.
Quinn watched as Julia let her wings flutter a bit, then folded them close to herself as she started towards the Legionnaire. Well, she's been flying almost all of her life – of course she's good at it. She has wings, too – duh!
"Don't worry – you'll be flying soon, too," the tall redhead said, towering over Quinn. "It's kind of fun, flying all over the place-"
"Were you following me, Julia?"
"I was curious," Julia admitted, her wings fluttering a touch; she reached out and picked a tiny pebble from between several feathers in her left wing. "Ow... I hate that. That's the fifth time I've gotten a rock in there since I've been here. Putting your HQ in a quarry? God... couldn't you guys at least dump a few metric tons of dirt around the place, throw down some grass, put in a fountain so there's the sound of running water, put a couple of trees and a bench or two in - and make a little nice little pocket park?"
"Piece of advice, then," Quinn exhaled, motioning towards the beautifully manicured circle of lawn Legion Tower stood on. "Next time you fly in – aim for the grass."
Ignoring the dig, Julia walked in a slow circle as she let her wings extend to their full width, and a small cloud of dust swept past Quinn's ankles. "I guess I'm a bit spoiled, with the excellent landscaping on the Academy grounds."
Julia turned, the look on her face reminding Quinn of how Daria looked just before she'd deliver a blistering comment; the look went away as quickly as it appeared. "Yeah."
She walked up to Quinn. "I saw what you did for that little boy at the hospital. That was... that was decent. It's not what – you know, I don't know how to describe you. You're supposed to be a ditz, but you can think on your feet and you're crazy about shoes. They said that you're not supposed to be that tough – but you went one-on-one with David Allen... and that's saying something."
"I stared you down – right before I got tested for the first time."
Julia ignored the comment. "You were listed as the number two of your club in high school, but from what we heard, you were really in charge – you just knew that it's better to let someone else be up front and take the heat. That shows brains."
Quinn looked deep into Julia's eyes, then nodded.
"I thought that you thought we were all losers - all of us? Isn't that what your friends in The Alliance think of us?"
Julia thought for a moment; she pulled a packet of spearmint chewing gum from a pocket of her Alliance jacket, and offered Quinn a stick before slipping one in her mouth and chewing slowly. "As competition... we were told to take out Grif- Sandi." She was still getting used to addressing the Legionnaires by their first names. "We were told to get Sandi and Tiffany first, before anyone else. Stacy took me out without my even seeing her, and she managed to evade David Allen in the air. He's a hell of a flier and our heavy artillery, and he didn't take her down – well, she managed to keep him interested enough so that he didn't just blast her out of the air, like he was supposed to. As for you... like I said, one-on-one with David Allen. That's a resume credit."
Quinn smiled at Julia's comment. Julia continued to speak. "As people – I don't know you yet, just like you don't know me. All I know about you is what you let me see, and vice versa – and what I saw tonight told me a lot. You can be a bitch, Quinn, if you have to, and sometimes because you can be – but you care about people, too."
They were both silent; Julia glanced off into the distance, where she could see the three male Legionnaires sharing a sweet potato pie. Eating it with their hands. Boys! Use a saucer and a fork – that's what those opposable thumbs are for! "So... want to give me a tour of the place?"
"Why are you here, anyway?"
"Oh – what am I doing here now, halfway across the country from the Academy?" Julia's wings gently fluttered as she shrugged her shoulders. "School's out for the spring semester – they're doing 'special entry' students now, like your friend Blum-Deckler, so they can spend a few weeks getting used to the place without much pressure before the summer session kicks in... and that's stress in spades. I don't even want to think about what's going to happen to them all come second week of June – that's the start of the 'Summer of Light'.
Quinn gave her a questioning look, and Julia continued to speak. "Summer session for cadets - Second Years and Fourth Class - is mandatory; eight weeks when they throw everything at you. Literally. Advanced survival training, your first solo and cadre full-power, live-fire tactical exercises, our major comprehensive exams on all of the major subjects, individual and cadre psych evaluations, our individual metahuman ability development boards, which includes our metagenics comprehension and usage examinations – written, orals, practical applications trials and the active/passive defenses exam – basically, if you survive, you pass, you don't, you fail. Not even remotely as easy as it sounds. Oh, yeah... can't forget that during the first two weeks of the Summer – you take your Level One physical exams – don't ask. You do not want to know – and we have to go through it twice."
"Why do they call it the 'Summer of Light'?"
The taller girl brushed a lock of hair from her eyes. "Think of all of the stuff I've just mentioned. It's really, really hard work, it's demanding physically and mentally, you're always kept at a high level of stress, and they find ways to keep you going constantly, to see just how far they can take you – then, they push past it. You'll always be tired, you'll never have enough time to do anything – and your body keeps reminding you that you have to sleep. You'll barely have enough time to close your eyes. That's why they call it that. It's designed specifically to wash cadets out of the program."
Quinn gave her a curious gaze. "What happens to the cadets who wash out?"
Julia shrugged. "The ones who may actually be worthwhile someday go to the SSC in Georgia and might get to come back to the Academy. The others get sent to NCO Special Powers Training at Camp Gregory in Alaska or Tolnai Air Force Base in Puerto Rico. The real screw-ups get sent to 'The Well.' Don't ask."
She looked around the area, as if she were looking for prying eyes; Quinn decided not to ask. "Anyway, I went home to see my family in upstate New York for a while, and I thought I'd swing by to say 'hello' before I did the official 'checking in'. I saw you heading off all sneaky-like, so I thought I'd follow along... you know, see what kind of boy you're into."
"You were peeping?"
"You need to think of it the way they teach us – it's not 'peeping' or 'spying', it's 'intelligence gathering'," Julia said, smiling. "You never know what little piece of information may be of use someday – 'Praemonitus, praemunitus'."
"What's that – Greek?"
"Latin – it means 'forewarned is forearmed'. Something I picked up from... my extracurriculars at school. What's up with the boys and their little cookout – male bonding?"
"Something like that." She saw the mischievous twinkling in the cadet's eyes, and for some strange reason, felt an immediate kinship with Julia. "What are you about to do to them, Julia...?"
Julia gave her hair a little toss, and winked before she turned towards the spot where the male Legionnaires were sitting...
Yelling and a very unmasculine shrieking rang out faintly from the campsite, followed by a sudden flash of yellow flame. "That second pie never had a chance," Julia giggled, and Quinn stared at her with a touch of confusion as the taller redhead turned to her. "An offshoot of my sonic powers allows me to throw my voice to anywhere I can see – and yes, I've got great eyesight. It's a bird thing. I'm Death itself as a ventriloquist."
"What did you do?"
"That pie they were about to bite into told them it was Satan - and was here to suck them all into the bowels of Hell to be used as panty floss for a four-headed pig demon. Wanna disappear before they change their diapers, realize they just got 'punked' and come looking for payback?"
"Pranking is an art form at the Academy," Julia said, following Quinn into the Tower. "You have to know when to quit, though. Back when I was a second-year, one of the Cadets Second Class who could create isomorphic projections-"
"Really good holograms. They seem real in every way - touch, smell and even body warmth... and even better, he could project one of himself that allowed him to do anything he could do in reality, without getting hurt in the process. Anyway, he created one of some guy this girl who was a Cadet First Year was really crazy about, and she thought she was going on her dream date. She was dancing with him when at the exact stroke of midnight, just as he was about to kiss her – he dissolved into a rain of sparkles, and the cadet and his three friends started laughing at her." Julia actually shuddered. "Thank God she wasn't a psychic. You'd think those dummies never watched any horror movies."
They walked across the foyer, Quinn leading Julia to the elevator. "How did she get back at them?"
"Opened up an idiot-sized wormhole on the spot - and dropped all four of them right into the living module of the International Space Station. The Commandant was not amused. People had to do some very fast talking to keep from getting thrown out, and they all got a serious refresher course in the Bowman Acts... not to mention the four guys losing liberty privileges for their entire final year and getting enough punishment hours of PT to put them all in great shape by the time they graduated – I kid you not."
"They didn't punish the girl cadet?"
"They pranked her at the Commencement Ball that year. It happened in front of her family, her friends, and Colonel Cooper – she was the faculty advisor for the Phantom Eagles then, and the girl was one of them." Julia shook her head. "I heard somebody say that Colonel Cooper said they were lucky she didn't drop them all into the middle of the Earth's core or into the Marianas Trench, after embarrassing her like that."
The elevator door opened, and the girls stepped inside. "So... how did you and Sherrie get along?"
"Sherrie Klein? The girl I stayed with while I was at the Academy? Ugh," Quinn said, rolling her eyes. "I mean, I'm grateful that she upped my powers and all that, but she was so full of herself, and she called me a 'nitwit'! Like she's so special and all that..."
"She said to say 'hello' before I left."
Quinn's inner voice screamed 'Danger!' as she turned to the cadet. "You know her?"
"Sherrie's my roommate," Julia said, smiling the sweetest of smiles at Quinn. "We've been roommates since I was eight years old – went through both First and Elite Academy together. She's closer to me than my own sister is, and she's a member of The Alliance in all but name. She's the one that made our jackets and all of the wonderful toys that we use."
Quinn's eyes went wide as saucers as Julia hit the 'close' touchpad, and then turned back to her. "So, Quinn... Sherrie told me that you executed my hair dryer the first morning that you spent in my room..."
"John... this is incredible."
John Dynell smiled as Andrew Landon let the golf ball, awash with tiny, swirling arcs of electricity, drop from his hand... and watched as it passed through the desktop, and then disappeared through the floor.
"It's known as 'ionization'," John spoke up, sipping his drink. "You now have the ability to use your mind's energies to change the state of energy within a target. You can cause any non-living target to generate electricity, heat, or you can even disintegrate it – also, as you just saw, you can cause items to become immaterial. You can also change your own body, so that you can personally generate those effects or become immaterial – that process, by the way, is called 'phasing'."
"It feels... good."
"The power – or baking those bastards at the country club in their own boardroom?"
The smile fell immediately from Andrew's face. "That... was an accident. I didn't realize that I had – what you gave me..."
"Of course it was," was the reply. "I guess I should have told you that I'd given you – well, a little something special while we were playing golf. Besides the formula. It doesn't have a name; it's a compound based off a drug that the American Government's had for, oh, a touch over four decades called 'Prinean Fluid.' It gives persons, well..."
He let his words hang in the air for a moment. "It gives them 'gifts', Andrew. Exceptional gifts, if you will – powers beyond the reach of mortal men."
"Roasting thirty men in their seats and burning a multi-million dollar facility around them is your idea of a 'gift'?"
John smiled inwardly. He had known that Andrew's power was going be impressive – but instantly immolating everything within the main complex of that country club with white-hot flames, and then walking out of that flaming cauldron unscathed – he didn't expect that. You may have been a bit shocked about them dying – and the way they went - but you're really not sorry about it, are you?
Not bad, Andrew, he remembered thinking, when the report of the fire was first delivered to him. Not bad at all. I knew you had potential.
"Andrew... you and I both know that those men deserved far more than that. If anything, you showed them a kindness." John finished his drink. "Given your powers, I'd have fused them together into a solid lump of flesh... or disintegrated them slowly, from the soles of their feet up. They were racist bastards that only allowed you in because they knew an old maxim to be true: 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.' They never wanted you in their inner circle – but considering the fact that you'd have the power to destroy them at a whim, they wanted to placate you. Victoria."
Victoria Todds - the spectacularly beautiful young woman in her early twenties who sat at the other end of the couch in Andrew's office - took his glass, rose, and went to fix another drink for him. "Do you really think you were ever going to be one of the insiders here, in this insulated little community? Let's face facts, Andrew. Turn around."
Andrew did as he was told – and found himself staring into his own reflection, in a mirror on the wall. "It doesn't matter what you see there; in this community, in this milieu, regardless of your bank account or your mind – you are a Black man. That's what those men saw. That is all that they were ever going to see – and you were never going to be a member of any 'inner circle' they have."
He sipped his drink. "You're not their kind. You never were – and you were foolish to think that these people would ever see past the color of your skin."
"Why are you talking to me like this?"
"Because it's past time someone did, Andrew. Where your road will lead, my friend - you need to move past such petty concerns."
"Where my road leads...?'" Andrew looked at him with a bit of scorn. "And where would that be?"
John rose from the couch. "When we talked before, you may remember that I said something... specific... about my own personal goals."
Andrew nodded; when a man like Dynell – a man who gave you the means to make your dreams come true almost as if on a whim – said I want to rule the world... one tended to remember. "Yes."
"No one man can rule alone. It takes – a consortium; a group of like-minded individuals from all corners of the globe, working in unison and in harmony, to benefit all."
"Then you understand that a petty concern such as racism due to skin tones is beneath you. Why should you concern yourself with what these-"
"The word you're looking for is 'grubworms', Victoria said, her fingers soft and yet electric against Andrew's hand as she placed a drink in his right hand – and allowed her hand to linger a touch longer than necessary. "Don't concern yourself with them."
"You have – you have a gift, too?"
Victoria looked at him with large wet, brown eyes, and he took her entire appearance in – luminous olive skin, long, dark hair (which she kept in a formal, yet stylish manner) and a physical form that a supermodel would kill for, cloaked in a simple, albeit classic outfit that easily cost more than everything in his office – and yet still made her look amazing. "I have a gift."
Andrew locked his eyes with hers. "Show me."
Victoria's eyes sparkled with mirth; she barely glanced in John's direction, and he sipped from his glass before he spoke.
"Do as he says, Victoria."
She smiled, then turned to Andrew – and before he could say a word, stepped into his arms and kissed him...
She pulled him to her; they shared a fiery kiss and writhed together, Andrew enjoying every moment, every inch of her sculpted form – enjoying the freedom, the release, the lack of restraint... the way Victoria made love, it was worlds apart from the joyless, automaton-like coupling that had characterized the years of physical intimacy with Michelle. Ambition was her aphrodisiac; Jodie and Rachel were conceived in that fashion, after stunning professional triumphs that aroused his wife in a way no touching ever could – and Evan was conceived in the same manner. Once she realized that she was pregnant and needed to leave her position in the corporate world – oh, that conversation still rang in his ears! – a full quiver's worth of the arrows of Eros could not have aroused her, and night after night, she would lay beneath him in their bed, her desire and feminine needs seemingly dormant as he mounted her. She tolerated his body entering her own, demanding that he use protection every single time - and after he finished, she would simply turn away from him and go to sleep.
Long limbs slid about him, and Andrew's hunger for Victoria expanded outwards like a stellar detonation as her own hunger for him drove her onward and beyond reason. Neither knew anything more than the sensation and the moment they were in, her dark eyes taking him in and returning everything that she was as they chose one another, choosing to become one, searing together on every imaginable level as a single, perfect being. Their bodies imploded and collapsed in unison – but their minds, their souls intermixed, united...the light pierced through them both, combining and burning forever as one perfect point.
"I can psychically see – and move - through space and time," she said, slightly breathless as her lips left his own. "I can see the probable futures surrounding anything, any person, any event, and move forwards or back up to seven days in time in order to manipulate events, and make those events happen."
"Then – what I just saw – what happened with us-"
"A possibe future - three days from now," Victoria said. "British Columbia. There's going to be a meeting – but afterwards, you and I will have the entire weekend to go over many of the things you'll need to learn. That is, it's the most possible future timeline that could exist - if you say 'yes.'"
"Yes to what?"
"A simple request, Andrew," John spoke; Andrew had actually forgotten that he existed, let alone was in the room. "Join us, Andrew. Be one of us."
Andrew felt Victoria's hand on his own as she brought his drink to her lips and drank, then placed it back to his own lips. "I chose you, Andrew. Choose me. Be with me."
He looked into her eyes, soft and deep, with a touch of uncertainty and yet hope within.
Andrew Landon drank.
"If I ever find the sadist who caused me to torch a sweet potato pie..."
"You're still worrying about that pie, Mack? There's more in the big fridge in the cafeteria!" Tom snapped, looking like a wet, singed cat as he tromped through the front door of Legion Tower, his clothes thoroughly scorched and soaked. "Warn us before turning into water next time, Charles – remember, we're not girls, so you won't get any thrills from us in wet T-shirts!"
Charles looked as if he were about to say something, but instead turned and walked quietly towards the elevator. "That was a cheap shot," Mack said pointedly as he turned to Tom. "Yeah, he was a bit over-the-top in school – but hasn't he cleaned up his act since he's been here?"
Already surly because of earlier, Tom's response could have been better. "Yeah, well - I've heard from Daria and Jane what he was like at Lawndale High."
Mack bit off the first thing that came to his mind – especially as he recalled how Andrea Hecuba-Thorne had specifically pointed out to him how having to go to a new school with Daria and Jane as another reason to hit the road for New York after Lawndale High School was blown to shreds. "No thanks. Being around Scylla and Charybdis in a new feeding ground? Pass – I'll hit the Big Apple. Friendlier people and less judgmental."
"High school is supposed to be yesterday's news for you guys – and 'member of the team', remember? You could have been nicer to him."
"You didn't have to melt down the pie, the grill, the entire damned campsite and nearly us, either!"
Mack stared at Tom coolly: while he was very fond of Angier Sloane, he recalled that he never cared one way or another about Tom... and he always tried to stay out of Elsie's line of sight, because she made it very clear that she was interested in him – and he had no interest in having Jodie kill him and give the remains to the state's attorney for statutory rape.
"One – it was an accident. Two – it was a sweet potato pie that suddenly screamed that it was Satan – and you didn't hear that part about flossing a demon's butt-crack? Three - I've already started reading reports about the things that have attacked the Legion right here – how the hell was I to know any different – and you were the one screaming like a little girl!"
Mack turned and walked through the doors to the cafeteria just as Trent passed the other way, a stack of magazines in hand. "Hey, Trent!" Tom said, going up to him. "Look – about what happened at the Academy and what I said about when I first saw Jane. I wanted you to know that I wasn't being offensive."
"Dude – whatever." Trent's voice held a noticeable chill. "People say what they mean when they're in the moment. It's out there... and that's how you feel."
Trent turned and walked away without another word; Tom watched him go, and then headed off towards the stairwell.
A moment passed, and Brittany Taylor appeared to normal sight as she sat on one of the couches in the foyer, sipping the remains of a milkshake. "I wonder what they were arguing about?"
"She'd never go for David Allen, Martin, Jefferson or any of those guys we met at the Academy anyway - after all, none of them have a name beginning with the letter 'T'!" Quinn said, sitting with Julia in the commons area on the 23rd floor of the Tower.
Both began laughing, and for that reason didn't notice as Daria – wearing her new Legion uniform (black, with blue trim throughout the uniform, and the white turtleneck undershirt complimented by white gloves) - emerged from the elevator. "I was wondering about that – Jane's brother is way cute, and I heard that she used to have a thing for him," Julia said, crossing her legs as she sat back "I've got a story for you about what he was doing while all of us were playing in the virtual Romper Room – with my roommate. She's such a trollop... I'm so proud of her."
"Sherrie and Trent?"
"She's always had a thing for that type. Don't worry – she didn't damage the merchandise. You know, something else that I heard while you guys were there – people were saying that your sister's got a crush on someone else."
Quinn's ears perked up. "Who – that really hot Jewish guy that was sparring with Brittany all the time, or that Australian guy who does stuff with computers? Tell me that he always jogs without his shirt on!"
"You should see him when he goes swimming, or has to do his time in the TIDE-pools. So many girls always seem to lose their way to the right pool whenever he's been doing time in VR cyber-training. Mmmmm... you could bounce a cannon ball off that rock-hard butt of his."
Quinn's eyes were as round as saucers. "Did you ever?"
"Okay, I'm going to say this so it'll never come up again, and so you can know the truth when people start being petty – but you have to promise not to say anything." Quinn nodded her agreement, and Julia leaned forward before whispering, "I've never done it."
"Really? Never?" Quinn noticed that Julia actually looked offended by the tone of surprise in her voice, and the carrot-topped girl backpedaled with all the skill that the former Fashion Club had afforded her. "I never thought that you were a girl like that. I mean, you've got a guy like him interested in you, and I thought that..."
The look Julia gave her clearly said keep digging that hole deeper, sister. "I mean you and David Allen - did you two ever do it?"
Julia totally surprised the Legionnaire by actually blushing. "It's not like that between us – I mean, 'with us' – you know what I mean! We're like family – I mean, someday, maybe, I like him a lot, I don't know, but well..."
Quinn speared her with a look. "Have you ever kissed him?"
The older girl glanced away, and Quinn playfully punched her arm. "Come on – you already said that you haven't done that, so anything else doesn't really matter!"
Julia flung the question back over the net at Quinn. "How far have you let some guy get with you?"
"I don't let guys even slow dance with me – Gawd, they wait for a slow song, pull you in close, start rubbing against you and trying to get a feel, and sometimes, things start popping up on them – eeewwwww!"
Julia's eyes widened as she laughed. "No – really? At a school dance?"
"I went to my cousin's wedding, a boy at the reception asked me to dance, and it came up against me - ugh! Can't they control those things?"
"My mother always said that God gave men a way to think, a way to have sex, and not enough blood to run them both at the same time," Julia smirked. "She also said that young boys can't control anything - and older men are worse."
"I know. Dad and Mom are like – ugh. Every chance they get, all over the place. Once, I came home early because they had a teachers' conference at school and let everyone out at eleven. I ran upstairs when I heard Mom screaming, I ran into Daria's room and saw Dad jamming Mom in the back with an ax handle - I thought it was an ax handle - it wasn't an ax handle!"
Quinn shuddered as she spoke, Julia rolled off the couch with laughter, and Daria looked as if she were about to be sick. "They were doing it in Daria's room, holding onto those handicapped bars the people who used to live there put on the walls in there. I almost went blind. It's a wonder we don't have a houseful of brothers and sisters – or lots of cousins. My aunts are the same way. When Daria finally gets a boyfriend or gets married, I've got the feeling that her husband is probably going to be so happy – and so knocked off his feet..."
"It's always the quiet ones," Julia agreed. "If things were slightly different, Kelly and David Allen would probably be together – and everybody would know when they were doing it."
"Stacy's the same way. Some guy is going to be really happy when he hooks up with her."
"Stacy? Guys?" Julia gave her a dubious glance as she climbed back upon the couch. "I don't know; I was under the impression that Stacy played both sides of the fence. Not that I care or that it's my business; there's more than a few gay and lesbian cadets at the Academy. I was under the impression that she was really into you."
Quinn caught the way Julia's comment trailed away. "And-?"
Julia immediately disproved Quinn's evolving belief that she possessed a subtle nature. "I thought that you were playing for the other team. From the outside looking in, it sure looks like you two are a couple – she's all into you, and you certainly don't seem to mind one bit the way she practically worships at your feet."
"No – I like boys." Quinn looked at her closely. "Why? What did you hear? I didn't do anything – well, nothing anyone else wouldn't, and it's not like other people haven't played 'spin the bottle' at a sleepover and it's not really like you really are, you know, like that, if you do it on a dare..." She giggled nervously.
"Well, you can't tell me that Stacy doesn't like both boys and girls. She's crazy about Jeffrey – at least he's got common sense to realize that she's only sixteen and not do anything stupid that'll get him shot!"
"The Colonel made a mistake when he said she was seventeen." Quinn added. "She turned sixteen. We gave her a nice party when we got back, though. With everything going on, everyone forgot." Also – why didn't Stacy remind anyone about her birthday? Why didn't she remind me?
"Oh? I'll have to say something to the guys, so we can all chip in on a present for her. Anyway – I caught a few times when she was giving Maryann the once over – Lindy, too, and me-" Julia seemed to sit up a little straighter and prouder as she spoke the last part of that sentence, a smile on her face. "Who could blame her? I do look good – but she seems like she's way more into Maryann's look."
Quinn gave her an inquisitive glance. "You seem to know an awful lot about stuff like this – and you're really comfortable talking about it..."
Julia brushed her hair back and snorted. "You should see the human sexuality courses we have to take at the Academy. Everybody has to take a sixteen-week course - either as a Third Year, or in your first semester if you don't come in as a Sixth – and then, five-week refresher courses that you take at the start of your first semester as a Second Year, as a Fifth Class and as a Second Class."
She stopped and shuddered as memories filtered back through her mind. "By the seventh week of the course, you'll wish you'd never even heard of puberty. Thursdays are the worst. During the even-numbered weeks, they show - films. You WILL blush. During the odd-numbered ones... mandatory group round-table discussions on current topics related to human sexuality. The year I took the class, the topic the instructors started off discussing – I forgot to mention, they teach the class in teams of two, it's a way to protect everyone involved – was gay marriage. Like I wanted to talk about that, especially with the way it was a big thing during the elections."
Quinn looked at her. "How come?"
"My mom and Paige were together since college, back in the late sixties." Julia shrugged. "They both loved me and took care of me, and I always knew my dad, so I never thought anything about it. Anyway, they make being a Cadet Second Year as harsh as humanly possible; they drop the world on your shoulders, and then, remind you that you have hormones, too."
"But that's not fair."
"You were trained by Colonel Armalin, and you can still let stuff like that come out of your mouth? That's why so many people are afraid of you," Julia said, leaving a look of wonder on Quinn's face. "Anyway, we have counselors who are actually good at their jobs, so you don't feel all that uncomfortable talking with them – well, not any more than usual, I mean, it is sex we're talking about – and besides, everybody's done something crazy at a slumber party. Someday, we'll share stories. Hey - even your sister's probably gotten off the leash and over the fence playing 'spin the bottle' or 'ten minutes in the closet' at a sleepover somewhere."
Quinn's perky laugh rang through the room. "Daria? Not possible."
"What – she doesn't have hormones and doesn't get crazy?" Julia laughed. "Right. Five words. All telepaths are eternally horny. Two more words. Leda Calavicci."
Quinn drew back, Julia nodded, and Daria felt herself getting angry. "It's true. Leda and David Allen? Same exact style. Good kissers. Strong kissers. Lots of tongue. Long fingers. They both have very quick hands, and like playing with your hair. Details get around."
Quinn realized she was holding her breath, and let it out slowly. "Whoa. No. Really? I was teasing her – I was just messing with her, I didn't think anything really happened with her or anybody else there - Daria actually made out with Leda?"
Julia made a dismissive wave with her hand. "Don't read anything into it. Leda would try to smack lips with Shamu the killer whale if he ever got close enough, and from what David Allen said, she's not into Daria anyway – well, besides kissing her twice. Leda messes with everyone's head that way if she gets half the chance and within touching range – she asked your friend Lane if she wanted to make out. Doesn't mean she's gay. Jeffrey took a dare and tongued some guy to win a thousand bucks – but then again, he'd have done it just to gross everyone out and mess with their heads. As for Daria – I doubt if she's even curious about it."
A sound that was almost orgasmic with relief escaped from Quinn, and Julia brushed her hair back. What – I'm supposed to tell her that Leda said Daria was totally into the moment when they were kissing? Not in this lifetime.
Picking up Julia's thoughts, Daria went almost purple with anger. How DARE you?
Quinn counted to ten before she spoke. "She told you? You talked to Daria about her and Leda – about – ugh - SEX?"
"No," Julia replied, honestly, as she leaned in close to Quinn. "She gave Sherrie the Evil Eye when she saw her all up-close to Lane's brother just after our heads-up in VR. The word for your sister is 'territorial'."
"Gossiping about a member of the committee that's going to decide if you're going to be allowed into the Legion is a really stupid move," Daria said, making Quinn jump – but she noted that Julia didn't even bat an eyelash as she stepped into view. "Quinn – if you're finished, they want you to come down and try on the new uniform."
Not saying another word, and trying not to look into her sister's angry eyes, Quinn rushed off to the elevator – but as Julia sat up, Daria turned to her. "Nice threads," the leggy redhead said, looking up to Daria. "I especially like your footwear. Smarty Mart carries Doc Martens now?"
Daria gave Julia the coldest of stares. "Don't bother learning your way around the place."
"Bet you've got the way to Tom Sloane's room memorized." Julia winked at her. "Yeah. David Allen and I talk about everything."
One foot in the elevator, Quinn froze in place as Julia's comment echoed through the area.
"Not from what I heard."
"Listen to something more than the FOX News Channel. Which would tick you off more, Daria – my pretending not to have something with David Allen, actually having something with him and keeping it on the downlow – more or less - or even though we don't know what's coming because things do happen, we don't play mind games with each other – or ourselves?" Julia sat back, and smirked at the other girl. "He's my friend – he's always been more than a friend, and I don't mean in the romantic sense, either – and I think I know what really ticks you off, Daria."
Julia bounced up from the couch, and snickered at her. "I'm not gonna tell ya," she said, her voice – and hair - bouncy like Quinn's as she actually skipped away towards the elevator. "And – you - can't – make - me!"
Daria's eyes flared as Julia pressed the button "Well, you could... but you wouldn't do that to an innocent person."
She stepped into the elevator, and turned back. "Or would you? See you later, D."
The elevator door closed, leaving the two girls with an incredible smile - and a rock-shattering stare - as parting gifts to one another.
Julia had taken barely a dozen steps outside the doors of the tower when a beeping came from her watch. Rolling her eyes, Julia touched a tiny button on the side. "Yes?"
Rafael Vargas' voice, totally free of pleasantness, echoed from the watch. "Full display, Julia."
Sighing, she touched the button again, and then held it in place for three seconds; a moment later, the holographic image of her teammate appeared before her. "Tell me why I shouldn't tell the Commandant that you're screwing this up, Julia."
Jade-green eyes flared wide with shock and anger. "You were monitoring me? You were spying on me?"
"No – I was engaged in the process of 'intelligence-gathering'." Rafael gave Julia a cool glance that immediately settled her down. "Zoey was curious about how you were doing getting along with the Legionnaires."
"And so you opened the circuit without telling me?"
"Very thin ice, Julia. Let it go."
Julia gave Rafael a sharpened glare, and then looked away. "Fine."
"I'm being nice to Quinn – she is nice, really," Julia shot back. "I followed her to the local hospital, where she was reading to a sick little boy – eleven years old. He's got only a few days left, so she showed him her powers – the kid's a fan of the Justice Guild movies, so she gave him a little show... it was something the kid really liked."
Rafael's eyebrows rose accusingly. "You did the 'angel' thing again, didn't you? Julia, you've been told about that!"
"Plausible deniability, Rafael, that's what we've been told – and if you think that I'm going to let cancer eat a little boy alive when I can do something right then and there, you're very wrong." Julia took a deep breath. "The Professor always said that we wouldn't be able to help everybody, but when we could help, we should."
The hologram nodded after a moment. "Please tell me that you at least used the sword."
"Of course. Wings, a flaming sword, and flowing robe – they never pay attention to my face. One little kiss – he'll be in full remission by sunrise, if he isn't already. I asked him to not say anything about Quinn's powers, and he said yes." Julia laughed. "Between Quinn and me, I think the kid'll be into redheads for the rest of his life."
"I'm happy with the rest of you, back at the Academy."
Rafael's hologram mimicked his pacing, a thousand miles away. "Julia – this is important. This is the beginning of something that could help a lot of cadets in the future – and by being there, you could help the Legionnaires out, too."
"Come on. You know that if I start showing off -"
"Then don't. Yes, you're better trained than any of them, but they have things that none of us do – things we could learn from. You need to find a way to make yourself a part of the Legion, Julia."
Julia folded her arms over her chest. "Daria doesn't want me around."
"Then stop being a bitch to her and apologize for whatever you've already done. Yes, I know you. I expect more of my Executive Officer, Julia."
"She didn't want me even before this!"
"I know. It's not entirely your fault – like you said, she's territorial - and look at how easily you and her sister were talking about very personal things. She probably feels like you're trying to push your way into the Legion and her out of the way by acting like a 'big sister' to Quinn as soon as you walked through the door. You still didn't need to make it any worse."
"I hardly said anything to her!"
Rafael shot an accusing look at her. "Okay – I tweaked her buttons just a little, but she didn't want me around anyway! Why can't you send Kelly, or Maryann – send Jeffrey!"
"They're being asked to waive the Legion rule requiring applicants to be under eighteen. You're the only one of us that's still a teenager – hey, it's true, don't pout – and as you're actually eighteen, it's not much of a stretch to let you in."
Julia stared down at her shoes for a long moment, her voice almost pleading. "But I don't want to come here. I don't want to be a Legionnaire. I'm already part of a team, and if I do this - I give up my last year with all of you."
"You'll always be Alliance, Julia. It's not as if you're making a choice between them and us. You're doing your duty – and it's not as if you won't see us all of the time, anytime that you want. You can fly around the world how fast?"
"I'll try to behave." Julia sniffled. "You know, if they decide not to accept me tomorrow, I can fly to Rome and pick up one of those pizzas that you like so much, along with that ice cream."
"You can get me a pizza – after you get your own Legion ring," Rafael told her. "Oh, and one other thing."
Rafael gestured – and Julia turned, her eyes narrowed in anger as Brittany, looking incredibly surprised and very guilty at being found out, suddenly appeared as she sat on the steps of the tower! "Taylor – don't spy on my people again. Wait until she becomes a Legionnaire – then, she's all yours."
Suddenly numb, the busty young blonde nodded as she slunk away, and Julia, her anger evaporating, looked back at Roman's hologram. "Just try to be nice, Julia, and let them get to know you, so they can accept you for who you are."
"You could send Ian."
"Fabian would try to tear through the female population – and do well, you know him – so that's a no. You're the right age, you're the right temperament – when you put your mind to it, you have a skill set that will mesh well with the other Legionnaires, you have a distinct power none of the others possess, and you're the only one of us that's been trained for extended contact with civilians in the manner of the Legionnaires as part of your primary training. If things were different, you'd be working undercover on college campuses a year from now – after a year with the Legion, who knows what you'll get to do?"
Julia knew she was beaten. "Well," she said, forcing a smile, "at least they're getting new uniforms. I won't have to wear one of those things they wore in the simulation."
"That reminds me. Sherrie said to call her when you do get your uniform design – some of the other Legionnaires were asking around on campus about outfits made of unstable molecules, so when she sends their things-" Julia raised an eyebrow. "Yes, she has her machine working overtime, churning out stuff for them. Your fellow red-haired Legionnaire's spending a few bucks on what she wants – and seeing as the Academy's getting a cut because of the program, nobody's complaining much about waiting in line. Anyway, she said that she'd send you a couple of Legion uniforms with Alliance gear installed."
"Tell Sherrie to send me a couple of nice swimsuits and 'little black dresses', a few more sets of pajamas – and a good coat. I'll let her know what else I'll need."
The hologram nodded. "I'll tell her, Julia. Give this your best shot. All anyone's asking of you is that you try."
"Don't forget that we're going to all meet up at Zoey's parents place in California – second week of August. You can tell us all of your Legion stories – seeing as the rest of us are going to be bored out of our minds."
"Right. I know you too, Rafael. Remember to plug your IPod into the charger before you fall asleep, or you won't have it for the flight home to L.A."
Rafael smiled at her. "We'll miss you, too, Julia."
The hologram blinked out of existence. Julia took a deep breath, stretched her arms out, and wiped at her eyes, trying to keep tears from falling on her blouse. "Yeah," she said, looking out over the quarry and the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean visible from where she stood. "I need to get away from here for a moment."
With a thought, Julia let her wings grow out from her shoulders; seconds later, she extended her wings fully, letting them beat gently against the cool night air. She looked upwards, and with a single movement of her wings, was carried aloft into the darkened sky, moving into the distance and disappearing from sight.
Jane looked up, surprised, as Brittany's head poked through the doorway of her room; it was the first time the former cheerleader had ever come to her room. "Jane?"
"Can I talk to you?"
Quinn did a slow turn in front of the full mirror in the new Legion design, admiring the pink trim that accentuated the black material of her new uniform. "I was wondering – can we have these fitted – you know, to highlight some of, well, our 'better features?'"
"I think we can do that – and the best part is that it won't affect the functional nature of the uniforms," Adonis said, looking up as Daria walked in. "Excuse me."
"Annoy someone else, Daria?" Quinn giggled, brushing out her hair as she gave herself a good once-over in the mirror. "I can't believe it – this actually makes me look good!"
"It's got a 'NASCAR meets Power Rangers' feel to it," Stacy injected, earning her a scornful look from Daria.
"Power Rangers?'" Daria snorted, unable to keep the disdain from her voice. "Get real, already. Somebody's been spending far too much time with comic books – or with Upchuck. There aren't any such things – that's just another urban legend." She turned to Quinn, and condescension blazed from her eyes. "Tell me that you're smart enough to not believe in 'Power Rangers'.
Quinn started to blurt out, "Zoey's battlesuit-" when Stacy cut her off.
"It's as hard to believe as a bunch of kids from a suburb on the East Coast who all have super-powers?"
Stacy returned the look Daria gave her with interest – and without any warning, something snapped inside her mind. "You BITCH! You look down your nose at everybody – but somehow, you never notice what's right in front of you! Oh, and about Charles – he hasn't acted creepy, or disrespectful, or done anything but behave like a gentleman for months. He even stood up for Jane at the Academy, and kept- well, kept a couple of guys from making dirty comments about you and Quinn! His dad's the real pervert – he could have made major points with his dad by telling him lies about doing things with us – but he didn't say a thing AND he didn't do it because you threatened to do horrible things to him – yes, he told me, because I asked him why he's never gone out with any of the girls that are interested in him!"
Quinn looked at the expression on Daria's face, and a single thought went through her mind: Stacy's not making it up. Daria actually threatened Upchuck with something horrible. I can see it in her eyes.
Daria stepped back, away from an advancing Stacy, who continued to rant. "He did it because he knew it wasn't the right thing to do to people with his powers – unlike somebody else I could name! He's done all that - and you still act like he's a creep! "
On the other side of the room, Adonis looked up from a clothing bag, interest on his face, as both Morgendorffer sisters watched Stacy unload on Daria with a slight sense of shock. "Well, he is! He's – he's – 'Upchuck!'"
"How would YOU know who he is? When is the last time you ever talked to him? When is the FIRST time you ever talked to him – a real conversation? You showed up in Lawndale and bought right into what everyone else says about him without even getting to know him or even trying! Well, what do you think people were saying about YOU before you were part of the Legion?"
Stacy turned away and began to do a dead-on impression of a depressed Daria – head-down, shoulders slumped, and eyes half-closed as she went over to a corner and put her head down against the wall - that made the auburn-haired young woman burn scarlet with embarrassment from her scalp to the soles of her feet, had Quinn turning several shades of red with horror, disbelief and a barely-controlled urge to laugh, and caused tears to flow from Adonis as he valiantly kept from laughing aloud.
"Hey. I'm the Misery Chick. I'm smart, I'm pretty, I've got super-powers – but life... sucks... anyway. Nobody is as smart as me, so I have to go around with just one person so we can cut all of the stupid people down. I've got control of billions of dollars – but nothing's good enough for me. I could have all sorts of cute cadets and hot Marines and movie stars and all sorts of other great guys drooling off my every word – but the only boy I want is one that I know I can't get, and if I try, I'll run off my only friend. My world is black. My world is cold. God, somebody just kill me now. Just throw me under a train already. End my pain. None of them deserve to have me around, anyway."
Stacy lifted her head from the wall and turned back around.
Quinn felt rooted to the spot she was standing on, her mouth and eyes opened cavernously wide.
Daria had suddenly gone so pale that her auburn hair seemed to explode into a mass of gleaming color around her head, like a flaming halo, as thoughts began to explode through her mind:
David Allen. I can't believe that you'd take anything out of my head and – no. It couldn't have been you. Leda - you... you slut. Great. You go around spreading lies about me – I like Martin, he's cute and he likes me I do NOT like – Look! Yes, he looked through my clothes and yes, I promised that I'd do horrid things to him – but he flashed his thoughts out to me and it was so loud that he might as well have come up to my ear and shouted right in there! Now everyone knows that I think Tom is really cool – I DON'T think that – the way he looks at me sometimes – he's no more special than anyone else around here - I CAN'T believe I hid that little part away from Jane and HOW did I do that because there's nothing to hide! You sneaky bitches and bastards better not tell Jane or so help me GOD what I'll do to you all-! Besides, Tom and I will never hook up. Why would we? We CAN'T! He doesn't like me – he's a little rich boy who lucked into the COOL superpowers - I mean, he likes my friend and I love Jane I could never hurt her like that It just won't happen be serious who really wants to see me naked those guys acting like that about those pictures that's just hormones I'm just the flavor of the day and they'll all forget about me tomorrow or as soon as QUINN walks past somebody with a camera nobody's ever kissed me in real life except LEDA you little heifer and I KNOW David ALLEN wanted to what do you think about THAT miss well excuse me for walking on your continent Duchess Julia I can't believe David Allen told her it HAD to be him but I see the way he looks at her it's the exact way that Tom looks at me and oh God help me I like it-
The entire room was silent – then a single sound rang out, loud, perfect and clear.
PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING PINGPINGPINGINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPINGPING
No one else moved or even spoke as the sounds of Daria's monitor bracelet echoed loudly all the way down the hallway, and disappeared into one of the stairwells.
Daria opened the top drawer of the desk in her room, and looked down at the Psychon Mark 30 psionic augmenter that lay unused since she had returned from the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies.
She stared at the device for along time; the PING sound of her monitor bracelet rang out through her room for several minutes until a hand closed upon her shoulder. "Daria! What's wrong with you?"
Realizing where she was, Daria turned to see Jane looking at her with frightened concern on her face; she caught a glimpse of Quinn rushing into the room out of the corner of her eye. Ignoring Jane's worried questions of concern, she reached down and picked up the device, placed it around her left wrist, and fastened it down.
Instantly, a wave of calmness flowed over her as the augmenter's ultrasonic function automatically kicked in, and she felt the slight pressure on the top of her wrist as the integrated micronized mist syringe delivered a burst of Delmitrium-157 – 'flush'- into her system, dampening her psychic abilities for the next thirty minutes. "Daria! Can you hear me?"
"I'm all right, Jane. Let me go – I'm okay."
"What the hell happened? You're white as a sheet!"
"Stacy," Quinn said, leaning against a wall. "She yelled at Daria about Upchuck, and then, did her impression of Daria."
"I am not suicidal." Daria's eyes flared dangerously, and even Jane winced at the expression of anger and hurt on her face.
Jane made an immediate mental note to have a talk with Stacy and Quinn later. "Nobody believes that – come on!" she said, punching Daria in the arm. "Besides, you know that Stacy's always had a soft spot for the guy - and now, with her animal nature coming out more because of her powers, she'll react more aggressively. It's that 'momma bear' or 'protect the mate' kind of thing; she didn't mean anything by it."
"It's must be the 'mama bear' thing," Quinn interjected quickly. "I mean – who would want to date Upchuck – EW! I mean, we know him!"
"Do we?" Jane said, drawing strange looks from the sisters. "I mean – do we even talk to the guy? Do we know anything personal about him, even after all of this time – stuff beyond 'ew, he's Upchuck, and he dreams of getting into our pants?'"
Quinn looked at Jane with a sense of disbelief and frightened awe. "Do you like him, Jane-?"
"NO!" Jane said quickly. "I just remember him from before high school - before he became a walking hormone and people tagged him as 'Upchuck'. He's always been weird, but he's always been nice – and scary smart... he's smarter than you, Daria. He probably could have gone to Grove Hills if he'd wanted to – I always thought it was strange that they didn't invite him along when you and Jodie went – and he could have taken valedictorian from Jodie or you easily if Lawndale hadn't gotten nuked... or if he'd really wanted it."
"She said that everybody calls me the 'Misery Chick'."
"Not to speak ill of the dead, but I'm surprised that anyone remembers anything that Tommy Sherman said besides 'Hey, I'M Tommy Sherman!' and 'Wanna come back to my hotel room and show me what kind of school spirit you've got?'" Jane brushed the comment aside with a wave of her hand. "I can't believe that you let anything people around here say bother you, Daria."
Quinn cut Daria off as the older Morgendorffer was about to speak, realizing what Daria was about to bring up: "Jane, you looked like you wanted to ask Daria something. That's what it looked like when I came in."
"Oh. Right. I talked to Brittany."
Daria turned to Jane. "Brittany? What did she want?"
"Well – she wanted to ask about whether we were going to let Julia in, and why she thought it would be a good idea."
"Well, we can kill that idea right off," Daria snapped. "The Legion Constitution says 'under eighteen'. End of story. Fly away, birdie. Fly away, home."
Jane sighed. Thank God I talked with Stacy already about this. She knows the Legion Constitution just as well as Daria does. "Not so much, amiga. With the three of us here, together – the Committee on Standing Matters – we can vote right now to waive the age requirement if she fits the other qualifications."
Daria let a huffing of air escape her. "Not of good character. Pass."
Jane turned away from Daria - Julia's just as much of a bitch as you are, just taller, friendlier, dresses better and smiles more, so what's the problem there? – as she looked in Quinn's direction. "That little boy you visited tonight? She followed you there, and after you left, she healed him."
Quinn almost lost her balance, and steadied herself against the wall. "Riley-? He's not going to die?"
"That healing power she's got. He's going to be okay. She also covered your showing the kid your powers, too." Jane shot a look back at Daria. "I'd say she's probably not that bad."
Daria remained unmoved. "I don't like her."
Exasperation flooded out of Quinn. "Big surprise, there, sis." If she was going to spill about Tommy making goo-goo eyes at you and you not minding, she'd have done it so she could go home! Gawd, even Tiffany and Brittany can tell she's not happy about coming here and leaving her friends – Julia's not flaming your friendship with Jane with that says worlds of good about her – not to mention that outfit she was wearing. It all worked so well – even the shoes were cute – and it was all put together so that the jacket works with it!
Jane couldn't help but smirk. "Call for a vote. All those in favor of waiving the age requirements for the girl with the wings and the magic lips, raise your hands." She lifted her hand in unison with Quinn. "All opposed, raise your hands."
Daria crossed her arms. "Does it even matter if I raise my hand?"
"Oh, come on, Daria! One man, one vote! You want this to go by the rules, right?"
"I don't understand why they couldn't send someone else from the Academy."
"They could have sent Martin – but they expect the person to come back ready for duty, and we all know that you'd use the poor boy up if you ever got him alone... you saucy wench," Jane snickered, and Daria's shell cracked just a touch as she glared at her. "That's my girl. Save your frustrations for when you can really use them – when you're alone with some hot guy, and he can help you work them off in the proper way."
"Ew - gross!" Quinn bleated, as Jane waggled her eyebrows in the direction of bouncy, carrot-hued hair.
"Now, really, Quinn – what else do you think God made boys for? Opening the lids on jars and getting you diet sodas?" Jane turned back to her best friend and winked. "Woman does not live by soap operas and 'D' batteries alone, my innocent compadres. She must journey to the Boardwalk of Love, there to partake in 'Sausagefest', the ritual choosing of sturdy male flesh whereupon a young woman finds – if she is fortunate – the 'means for screams'."
Quinn turned several shades of green as Jane, not noticing, continued to speak. "That is why it has to be Julia. If they sent a boy – he would be fresh meat, and you would eat him alive."
"Lane – you're a sick puppy."
"Yes – and you haven't voted."
Daria sighed. "Fine. It was a good thing to save the little boy. She gets my vote to waive the age requirement – now; the entire chapter has to vote to let her in."
"See? Now that wasn't so hard - right, Quinn? Quinn?"
The two drew back as the sounds of vomiting echoed from Daria's bathroom. "Another satisfied customer," Jane snorted.
"Lane – for that alone, the rest of the night may have been worth it."
"I knew you'd come around, Morgendorffer. Hey! I see you're wearing your wrist-mounted vibrator!"
Charles sat at the desk in his room, looking at the thick stack of legal-sized envelopes that were piled over a foot high in front of him.
College acceptance letters – some of them from the best schools in the country. Despite the length of time he had been away from normal life – before life got freaky, he thought – his father had gone ahead and sent out applications for him to over a hundred colleges, and he had been accepted to all of them.
Of course, Dad tossed what he considered the second-string schools and only gave me the letters for the cream of the crop. Harvard. Yale. Oxford. Cambridge. MIT. Notre Dame. Renneslaer Polytechnic. USC. Georgia Tech.
If things were the way they were before I got my powers, and I'd have gotten these letters, I'd be jumping up and down – I'd be thinking about how good it was going to be getting out of here, going off to college and think about how lucky I was going to get with all of those college girls... when the truth is that I probably wouldn't have gotten a date all the way through school. I'd have become – I don't want to think of what I'd have become. I was a freak, a porn junkie, and the things that I did with my powers before I joined the Legion -
Standing up and moving away from his desk, Charles crossed the room and stood in front of his mirror, looking at the reflection and becoming lost in thought. After several moments, he took off his shirt - and then, closed his eyes...
Months of training kicked in, and his hair receded to the length that he wore it when he first approached Sandi Griffin about possibly being included in the Legion; he opened his eyes to see the pair of antennae that had become the symbols of his new life. When I want to be reminded, he mused. Otherwise-
The antennae disappeared, to be replaced once again by his new length of hair. For the rest of my life, I'm going to have to hide who – and what – I am. I'm never going to be able to really talk to anyone about what I used to be.
I can't go to any of those schools; I'd slip up once, and then, they'd call me freak – all these girls that act like they're so interested... I wonder how fast they'd run if they saw these things on my forehead. Besides – why would I want to go to any of these schools? I'm starting to fly jet aircraft, and within the year, I'll be flying one of the most advanced aircraft on the planet. I'm getting to work with some of the most sophisticated tech around.
If I stay here, though, with the Legion – someday, they'll find out just what an absolute slime I was. That's not me, anymore – but I know these girls. Even after everything that's happened, they'd never let it go – especially Daria. She waits – no, she lives for moments like this; the moment where she can just decide that you're less than human and can kick you off to the side of the road. She'd stir all of the others up, get them to throw me out and then, just to get even, put all of the media on my trail. She'd make it so that no woman would ever want me within a mile of her – she's petty that way – and that's without mentioning to anyone that I have powers. I won't be able to stay here much longer, either, because my parents – definitely my father – would figure things out, and that takes me back to why I ran away from home in the first place.
Charles thought of the $2000-per-week stipend that all Legionnaires received, and how he'd made sure to store almost all of it away. He had a pair of manila envelopes in his bedroom, deep in a special bag he created to grab in case he ever needed to immediately disappear, with twenty thousand dollars in used twenties and hundreds – the preferred denominations for doing business under the radar. Between that and my powers, I could start a new life. No one would ever find me, and I could hide in plain sight – but knowing Daria and her powers, I'd need to get far, far away. South America would be good – Brazil. Brazil or Chile.
Why the hell am I thinking about taking off?
Simple. I'm coming to the point where I'm going to have to start making serious decisions about what I want to do with my life. The Legion – it's where I came because I needed help. I didn't want to come here, and they certainly didn't want me here.
The thought of Daria's ultimatum filtered back into memory:
>-:: Just remember, Upchuck. I have mental powers. And I was always immune to your greasy charm. If I find that you've been taking advantage of anyone – girl or boy, woman or man – using your changing skills, I'm going to mentally program you with permanent erectile dysfunction and complete loss of bowel control. And if you peek on any of us...well, what I do to your mind is going to make a Lemarchand box look like a Fisher-Price Toy Camera-! ::-<
I've been walking on eggshells for months because of her and her threat – and it's no wonder that she's got no respect for me, because how can you respect someone who's terrified of you? Granted, I'm a slimeball – I was a slimeball. I want to try and get past that – but with someone like Daria around with her Inspector Javert on, how can you? I mean, she thinks so little of me that she went into the mind of a complete stranger simply because the girl said that she liked me! If she's capable of doing that – imagine what she'd do if she ever thought I did something remotely wrong – God help me if some girl lied on me; Daria's the type to lobotomize me and turn my body into a permanent prison before anyone found out the truth... and then, she'd do a George Bush and rationalize it by saying that even though I didn't do anything to THAT girl, it's still better that I'm not able to try and do anything to any other girl!
I've never let it come out and said it like that before, either. She terrifies me. Daria Morgendorffer terrifies me. She has mental powers, she has no respect for me, and – the moment that she finds out about those things I did before the Legion took me in-
My powers are stable as long as I don't go overboard and try to change into somebody with powers like Tom or David Allen Farrington – the simulation they let me see about what could happen if I overload still squicks me out big-time. I'm getting into shape like I've never been before in my life. I like lifting weights, and running – I'll never be a long-distance runner like Jane or even Sandi, but I can sprint like crazy; I doubt Mack could catch me running...I wonder if I could have played football for Lawndale, if I was built like this when I was there? Whatever. The girls in the Legion can't stand me – and the worst one is a psychic who specializes in controlling people's minds. The only guys here – well, one's a rich prep school jerk who looks down his nose at me AND who's thoroughly whipped – both by the girl he's dating, and the one who he's really interested in. The other – well, he's nice to everybody, but nobody's ever stood up for me. Yeah, I never deserved it – but he'll listen to all of these girls and he'll think I'm lower than gutter slime, too.
The only reason that I came to the Legion was for help – and now, I know that there's a school for people like me. They probably have therapists – people who've heard and seen worse than I've ever dreamed of doing and whom I can talk to about everything. I can start with a clean slate – there are probably kids there who've done worse, but the people there aren't constantly reminding them of what they used to be. Here – I'll have to hide everything from my father, and that won't work because Daria'll spill out what a loser I was at LHS... let's be honest, she lives for that kind of character assassination, not that I didn't deserve it.
Tiffany's going – but if I'm there, they won't pay much attention to what she says about me, because they'll get one whiff of how she looks down on people and ask her how she's any better than me now. I can't believe I went along with their plan to get Quinn elected – am I that desperate to get close to a girl? I mean, was I?
A phrase from Ferris Bueller's Day Off rang out in his mind: 'And of course she won't respect him, because you can't respect anyone who kisses your ass.'
That's what I've been doing all of this time. I haven't been doing anything but trying to get in good with all of them – and what they see it as is me trying to kiss ass and slither up against them. Standing up for them at the Academy, showing them I know my way around a camp grill, not going near any of those girls that were trying to get my attention – and lets be honest, if I wasn't in the Legion, would any of them even notice me? – And what do I get for it? They still think I'm some weird high-school walking hormone who they don't need to respect – even that jerk Sloane, and the only thing that he's got over me is looks and a bigger bank account. I remember hearing about your grades, Tommy boy. You'll go to school somewhere nice and maybe graduate – but it'll be mainly because of your name. I'll walk out of any school on the planet with honors.
Whatever I end up as ten or fifteen years from now – it'll be because of my own brains, and not because someone bought it for me... either because it's a family thing, or because a billionaire happened to drop in my lap. I can do it with some help, but it'll be my own work – just like these muscles. The Colonel helped me – but he made me do it myself.
So why am I even a part of all of this? Barring Stacy – and she kind of liked me long ago, but even I know she's a bit unstable – none of the other Legionnaires have ever said 'good job' or even 'thanks' for anything I've ever done! I can't even mention that Stacy gave me that little pity-peck on the cheek - the moment I even look in her direction with anything resembling affection, the Fashion Club, Daria and God knows who else would come at me like a swarm of killer bees. I'd still like to go on a date with her – a real date, not that thing I went on with Tiffany – but they'd throw me out of the Legion if she accepted, saying that I did something horrible and underhanded to get her to accept. God only knows what they'd have done if I'd have even remotely looked like I was interested in Langston. These girls act like I'm never going to be someone a girl could be interested in – and if I stay around and keep listening to them run me down any longer, I'll start buying into that, too, no matter how much help the Colonel gives me.
Why am I taking this off these people who don't even like me?
Charles went over to the telephone. He picked the receiver up, hit the speed dial, and waited for the connection. "Hello – Colonel? This is Charles. Sir – I'd like to talk to you about what I'd need to do in order to attend classes at the Academy of Extranormal Studies."
Tom was caught up in his copy of How to Read a Book as the sound of knocking on his door drew his attention back to the here and now. "Come in."
Mack entered the room. "Got a minute?"
Tom looked at his book, then marked the page and set it aside. "What's on your mind?"
"I wanted to-"
Mack's statement was cut off by a flash of purple-white light that erupted in the air near the far wall of Tom's apartment, and both Legionnaires drew back as a solid, handsome man of Samoan descent stepped through a large, gleaming purplish-white ring of energy that hung in the air! "Mackenzie! Jackpot – you're one of the two Legionnaires I was hoping to find!"
"Who the hell are you?" Tom barked out, instantly switching his invulnerability on as he spun upwards from his chair.
"Sloane. You're not the youngest Morgendorffer or Jericho – but you're good enough," the Samoan man said, looking him over with a touch of distaste. "Legionnaires – we need your help! Let's go!"
"Wait a minute – we're not going to just pick up and go with someone who just appears out of thin air – who the hell are you?" Mack spoke up, a corona of flame exploding into life around his body.
"I wish you people would all stop saying the same exact damned thing!" the man said as he held out his hand, and the Legionnaires noticed the ring he wore. "Home portal!"
Neither of the Legionnaires got another word out before a ring of energy flashed outwards from his ring at an unbelievable speed, expanding in mid-air and sweeping over them both!
They were gone in an instant, and the Samoan man stepped back through his own portal.
Fifteen seconds later, a second ring of energy appeared just below the ceiling in Tom's room; Mack and Tom – both dressed in skintight bodysuits covered by mesh-based armor - both grunted as they fell through and hit the floor. "You know Archangel did that on purpose," Mack said, groaning as he lifted himself from the floor. "I wish you would remember that it's not just what you say, but how you say it."
"I had to spend most of my time over there invulnerable in order not to become Zack or a Zack snack, all right?" Tom was already angry enough. "All you did was spend time flaming those things from on high and getting every decent girl in sight - they stuck me in a cage and dropped me into every Zack-infested place they could find on four continents because I wouldn't get infected, no matter what happened! You didn't get to see the Great Zack Walkabout, because while I was dealing with over three million of those things moving across the Australian Outback, you were partying in Jamaica with a TV star!"
"Stop complaining – I saw the way you dated before you ran into Jane," Mack pointed out as Tom eased himself into the chair he'd left – by the time frame they were back in – less than a minute ago. "Every guy in the city saw how you dated."
I also saw the way that you were looking at Daria every now and then, before we left, and how you were looking at her counterpart there – and if I saw it, only being around a few weeks here, you KNOW most of the girls have noticed. That's going to be a bad scene if somebody doesn't do something about it before one of them slips up and something – happens.
Mack leaned against a wall. "I told you a thousand times, already – Jodie and I were already talking about breaking up and being civilized about it. She's going off to college – God knows where, now that her dad's rolling in real cash – and that would have been it for us anyway, because we were really only together because we're 'the popular Black students at Lawndale'".
And if I'd looked at Daria seriously even once back then, you bastard, she'd never have given a guy like you a second glance. You think she'd even turn her head in your direction if a REAL man walked up into her life – someone who'd treat her right, with the love and the respect the lady and the woman she is deserves, but has enough heart to tell her every now and then, 'You need to sit down and shut up,' – because she learned entirely too much of the wrong stuff on how men and women relate by how her mother plays her father with zero respect and kicked his manhood all the way out to the curb? You think that I haven't heard the stories about 'Tom the Sex Bomb' - and how you'd play that Tom Jones song out of that crappy car of yours whenever you got laid the night before – just to show off to the other guys at Fielding Prep? What do you think Jane would think about that if she knew? Punk-ass bitch, do you know what I could lay out on you if you ever even THINK of trying to run that weak game that you only think you've got on Daria-
Whoa. Back it down, Mackenzie. She's not your girl.
Yeah. That was my choice.
Still - you have no place dogging Charles out about what he was like in high school. Glass houses, bitch. You live in one – you die in one.
Oh, man. I've been sending far too much time around the other Jaguars on the team. I sounded just like them.
You don't deserve Jane or Daria.
"I'll tell Jodie the truth about what happened. I won't disrespect her by lying, or holding back about Alyssa – especially since she could pop up at any time with her Ring. By the way – love the rocket belt they gave you. Are you going to keep using it?"
Tom looked down at the hydrogen-powered flight belt he wore, and sighed.
"Like I said – you annoyed Archangel because it looked like a kid was constantly questioning his authority in front of his troops," Mack smirked. "If you'd just followed his orders without sounding like you were dissecting them every time the man opened his mouth, he'd probably have let you have better assignments and an S-implant, or at least a flight collar. At least you're good at flying with the thing – and it does help lure Zack packs in fast."
A cross look seeped onto Tom's face. "Yeah – and you know that I can't wear a Defender Ring. Not all of us can be Ringbearers."
"I said no, remember? Even after Phoebe – I mean, Alyssa - offered with her ring, I said no."
"That's the only time you said 'no' to her."
"Being jealous doesn't look good on you, dude." Mack yawned, and ran his hand over the wristband he wore. "Well – at least we won't have any need for Zack-detectors here. Thank God."
"I'll never watch another Romero film again," Tom said, taking his wristband off and tossing it onto the desk. "Shall we go and tell the others?"
"I don't know about you – but I'm going home," Mack said. "I haven't seen my parents or slept in my own bed in months. We can tell them about this tomorrow."
"Hate to break this to you, but the Colonel will get mad like you can't believe if we wait," Tom told him. "We have to tell him about this now."
"He's not going to be happy when we tell him that they told us all about DELPHI," Mack groused, "or Project Uatu." Wow. All of those other universes – and in a lot of them, there's a Mack Mackenzie, something like me.
"You think he's going to be smiling when we tell him that we just spent seven months on an alternate Earth as part of a multi-dimensional superhuman strikeforce saving the remnants of humanity there from a zombie apocalypse?" Tom put his hand to his forehead. "They don't make aspirin in big enough amounts to kill the headache we're about to get – especially when he asks 'why didn't we come and get him?'"
Mack looked at Tom with a stare that made him wince. You asshat. This is why Archangel and the others in charge never really gave you anything important to do. "Simple. We couldn't risk letting anything come through on this Earth to possibly infect anyone here."
They were both silent for a full minute, then Tom looked up with a satisfied expression on his face. "That'll work. Let's go tell him what happened."
A small bank in Ada, Ohio – the next morning
The scream of the bank guard changed into a frenzied, gurgling death-shriek as his entire torso exploded across the length and width of the area in a gory, steaming spray of burning flesh, chunks of bone and flaming fragments of clothing that splattered across the twenty-three men and women inside!
The young guard's severed head rolled over to the counter and stopped, his lifeless eyes looking directly up into the eyes of a college freshman - a perky raven-haired girl just arriving back in town and about to cash in a couple of saving bonds to finance her summer vacation - who immediately vomited and fainted dead away. "She's got the right idea – on the floor NOW!" Odell Jones called out, his voice echoing through the area. "Listen up! Anybody gives me lip, doesn't do what I say right off or decides to be a hero – everybody here DIES! You all behave - you all go home tonight! If even ONE of you bastards steps halfway out of line - the mortuary in this town's going to have a damn good month!"
The people saw how Odell's right hand burned with energy, searing the air with sweltering heat up to twenty feet away, and immediately began lowering themselves to the floor.
"Good thinking! YOU! The chunky redhead!"
The thirty-something woman looked up from the floor and went pale as Odell pointed a finger flaring with power directly at her. "You're the bank manager here? GOOD! Open the vault and take that 'snack-pack'-sized blonde on your left with you to fill those bags on the floor! ANYBODY in here even THINKS of pulling a gun or hitting a silent alarm, I swear on a stack of Bibles I'll turn this place into a barbecue pit and grill up every damn one of you like a mess of fresh catfish!"