Chapter 13.3 - 'This Used To Be My Playground'
Bears usually won't attack humans - but get between a mother bear and her cub, and she'll tear straight through you. Apparently, the same rules apply to human mothers. Threaten her husband/ child/ boyfriend/ cat, and you're in for a world of hurt. Never harm someone loved by a woman -- whatever the goal, it's not worth launching such a guaranteed Start Of Darkness. Losing her loved one may cause a drastic Face Heel Turn into villainy or Anti Hero-dom... anything if it will get her revenge. And not just on her own enemy, but on anyone who would inflict this same pain on others.
Or it may cause a dangerous devotion to a cause, culminating, as she fully expects, in Heroic Sacrifice. Either way, the ending is never pretty. Maybe sad and touching, but never pretty. Her first act might be to cut her hair. See also the non-human counterpart, Monster Is A Mommy.
Oftentimes, when a previously perceived meek mother goes into this mode, it's her Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
Heaven help you if an Action Mom invokes this trope.
Occasionally criticized as misogynistic, this trope is also known as the Uterus of Justice, because it often seems that only a child in danger can turn a woman into a Bad Ass, while males can become Bad Ass for any number of reasons. Well, other than being scorned, and revealing fury like hell hath not. Which doesn't help.
Sometimes overlaps with Apron Matron.
- The 'Mama Bear' trope, as defined by the Television Tropes and Idioms web site
(Ellen) Ripley couldn't have put it any better when she said, 'I say we take off and nuke the whole site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.'
Nobody thought Daria had it in her – except people she'd already met.
- Michael 'Mack' Mackenzie, on Daria Morgendorffer
"Okay. Let's go down the list. Quinn – you've got electrical powers. Sandi, you can create duplicates of yourself or other people – with some people, it's easier than others - and you have the combined physical and mental qualities of all of your own duplicates. Brittany, you can turn yourself and other things invisible. Charles, you can change into – wow. You can change into almost anything you can imagine – people, animals, things, and even imaginary creatures. Stacy, it's like you've gone – I guess the word is 'feral'. You're strong, fast, your senses are more advanced than normal persons – you can also fly VERY fast, and you have some kind of energy power, I don't know what yet, I haven't seen that before."
Jodie Landon drew wide-eyed stares as she walked around the Legionnaires seated in the main conference room of Legion Tower, briefly stopping at each teenager to hold what looked like a modified MP3 player close to their foreheads . "Mack, you've got the powers of a little sun – heat, light, gases, radiation – you can also drain any of those energies, and you can fly."
She stopped at Julia Carlyle's chair. "Hi. Julia, right? You've got some kind of powers that deal with sound. You also have some sort of mental power – I can't tell what, it doesn't work that well with psychic stuff, and you've – wow. Your body can regenerate from anything that happens to you, I guess – and it's also in your body fluids, too. Your blood, saliva, probably even in your tears and your-"
"Does she know what 'too much information' means?" Julia said, wincing as the collective stares of everyone present turned upon her. "That's why people with advanced healing powers keep it on the downlow; nobody wants to be stuck in a little room Night of the Comet-style with tubes draining blood and spit so rich people and their friends never die."
The newest Legionnaire gave her a look that clearly said you need to stop talking, right now, and Jodie took a step back. "Stop doing your Daria impression, Julia," Quinn spoke up, clearly impressed by what Jodie was doing.
"Oh, and you missed something with your little toy," Julia said, letting her wings rise from her shoulders. "Overall – it's not bad. It's a little crude, but it works."
Colonel Kyle Armalin (who was standing off to one side and gave Jodie a scorching glance when she brought out her scanner, ensuring that she didn't go near him with it) lifted himself from the wall he leaned against. "Put them away, Carlyle. You can turn that thing off, too, Miss Landon."
Both girls did as they were asked as Sandi sat up in her seat. "You made that? How? I knew that you were, like, smart, but I didn't know that you were that smart!"
"It wasn't that hard," she said pleasantly, looking around the room. "After the bird bomb, everything's been a world clearer and easier for me. Math, science, languages, all sorts of things-"
Her next sentence came out in Russian. <"It's as if my brain's been set on permanent fast-forward.">
<"If you're going to continue to speak different languages, you need to study your speech patterns and nuances, as well as accents,"> Armalin spoke up, drawing attention as he answered Jodie in flawless Russian. <"Right now, you sound like one of the better voice processors – lifelike, but no intonations that make it sound human. Have you studied any other languages?">
<"Well, I spent a day studying French-"> Jodie began, but was immediately cut off by a flurry of French from the table.
<"You can speak French? Wow – that is so cool!"> Quinn spoke up.
<"Yes, but the Colonel's right – you do sound like an answering machine,"> Sandi told her. "You sound TOO precise when you talk."
<"Her voice sounds so pretty when she talks in French, though – she sounds like the lady in charge of the French section down at EPCOT when we went on vacation last year!"> Stacy gushed.
<"Did you learn how to speak French in one day? Wow, Jodie, you're really, really smart - even smarter than everybody says you are!"> Brittany spoke up, twirling one of her ponytails in that way that had always annoyed Jodie.
<"There are a couple of other languages I went online to look up, >" Jodie continued, now speaking in a gentle tone that made Julia's head snap about before she switched into another harsh, sharp language, "<just for the fun of it.">
<"Now that's interesting – why did you pick Gaelic? My family has a serious Irish background, so trust me - I was speaking the language when I was very small."> Julia drew stares as she changed from speaking in Gaelic to very sharp, precise German. <"Have you come across any other languages that you speak? Oh, and for German, that's not bad at all.">
<"Have you heard this one, Jodie?"> Charles spoke from the far side of the table, catching the other Legionnaires off-guard as he spoke in very fast Klingon. <"I always speak Klingon when I want to freak my friends out.">
<"I can't believe that there are so many Klingon-language sites on the Internet, >" Jodie replied; Mack, strangely aroused by Jodie's speaking in German, found the sensation increasing as the rough, guttural sounds of Klingon spilled from Jodie's mouth. <"People are actually getting into it.">
<"That's because people have been looking for an acceptable artificial language since the 1800's to serve as a modern day lingua franca,"> the Colonel said, thoroughly surprising everyone as he spoke out in Klingon. <"Esperanto was an unsuccessful attempt, but ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek VI brought the language into the mainstream via pop culture, more people are looking to it as Esperanto's successor. Oh, and it's 'Klingonasse' – 'the language of the Klingon people', not 'Klingon'.">
As Jodie and the Legionnaires watched, Armalin crossed the room to the ever-present cart filled with snacks and drinks; he filled a large glass with ice water and downed it before turning back to them and speaking in English. "Talking like that for any length of time plays havoc with your throat," he growled. "Interesting side-skill, Miss Landon. Anything else?"
"Well, there's my forcefield belt. It protects me from anything."
Jodie turned to glance down the table at Charles. "What's so funny, Charles?"
"You explained it without going into technobabble."
"If I tried to get technical, everybody would think I'm showing off, only you would be able to follow along - everybody else would have a 'dog-watching-'Jeopardy!' look on their face as they're thinking 'shut up, already.'" She flashed a big smile at him. "Besides - I'm saving that for when some lonely mad scientist or 'Nerd Herd' reject with a brain boost and funding captures me. All I have to do is let my hair down, show some cleavage and start with the technobabble – and I promise that you'll hear the sound of the whip cracking in the next area code."
Tom, Charles and Mack were all looking at Jodie with interest; Colonel Armalin, seeing the annoyed expressions on the faces of the female Legionnaires (Kids, he thought, shrugging inwardly) walked up to the table. "All right. Now, if everyone else could excuse us - Morgendorffer, Griffin and I would like to speak with Miss Landon in private."
The other Legionnaires began to shuffle out of the room as Armalin turned to Quinn. "Where's your sister – and for that matter, where's Lane?"
"Jane's getting things ready for her little dinner party with Mr. DeMartino and Miss Defoe – and Daria's off having one of her moments," Quinn said, brushing his comment aside as she turned to Jodie. "So, you can make and fix things, too? Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, go ahead," Jodie told her.
"You don't think that I'm a... 'nitwit'... do you?"
As Jodie struggled for an answer, Armalin walked over to Mack. "Command cadre only for this meeting – everyone else out. This means you, too, Mackenzie."
"I'm going to need a moment, sir," Mack said, reaching out for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of him. "Not feeling well."
Armalin sniffed the air; a look of sympathy crossed his face as he patted the young man on his shoulder. "Take your time, son."
Daria felt strangely comforted as she stood on the sidewalk in front of Schloss Morgendorffer, looking at the house that had been her home for less than two years.
Before the Legion, she thought. God, is it strange that it feels good just to be here?
Daria glanced back at the car she had borrowed, idly thinking that it might be a good idea to go out and buy one of her own. Maybe, if things had been different, I might have talked Mom and Dad into getting me a car for graduation – no. They'd have come up with something about not being able to have a car on campus as a freshman, and instead gotten Quinn something fast and sporty to show off around town during her senior year. Knowing the way Jane and I did things, though, we'd probably have come up with some scheme to get a car.
We were always doing crazy little things before – before everything changed. I wonder... I wonder what things would have been like, if Quinn hadn't seen that rabbit, or if we all hadn't run across that skunk?
We'd probably be oblivious to everything that we've come across the past year or so, except for the occasional shout out to the weirdness on Sick, Sad World. I can't remember the last time I watched that show – I guess living it kind of takes away the fun.
I wonder if I would have found a boyfriend?
Her face full of concern, Helen stood at the front door. "Honey, are you all right?"
Anthony DeMartino smiled as he held the door open for Jane Lane – and didn't even blink an eye as a trio of metallic boxes, each the size of an ice chest, floated in behind her. "You've been practicing, Miss Lane."
"I've got stories that I can tell you, Mr. DeMartino. Lots of stories."
Jane let the boxes float into the kitchen, and then turned to her former teacher. "Thanks for letting me come over. I've wanted to talk to you and Miss Defoe for a long time, but Legion business always kept popping up, and every time you turn around, something else unexpected shows up out of nowhere-"
"I understand that, Jane," a soft, familiar voice from behind spoke, and Jane's mouth went slack as she saw Claire Defoe enter the room with a glow in her face – and a soft, unmistakable roundness protruding in front of her. "All too well."
For the first time in a very long time, Jane was at a loss for words.
Sipping from her second glass of bourbon (she had known that she'd need something when she had looked out the window to see her eldest daughter standing in front of their home, looking both totally lost and glad to be there), Helen and Daria sat at the table in the Morgendorffer kitchen.
"Daria," she said, carefully thinking over what she wanted to say, "let me ask you a question. Do you want me to help you feel better, or help you get past your problem with the other kids?"
Daria gave her mother a cool glare. "What does that mean?"
"You have the responsibilities of a grown woman, Daria. Do you want me to treat you like a child, or talk to you like a woman?"
They were both quiet for a long moment. "Daria – stop acting like a child. You don't have that luxury any more."
Helen didn't even blink as Daria locked eyes with her. "You're no longer a child. With your responsibilities and your powers, you don't get to act that way. You say that you can't really think of any reason why you should stay with the Legion – Daria, have you even tried to talk to Jane about this? Have you talked to anyone about possibly leaving – even if you do now have that-"
She shuddered as she remembered the girl that looked just like Daria, except for the look of cold, calculating anger that seemed to pour from every inch of her – except for when she looked at me. It was as if she were burning my face into her memory, so she could remember me – but I didn't feel for a moment as if I were in any danger from her.
"Even though you have the option of that Academy the government has, if you want to go there."
Helen refilled her glass – and to Daria's surprise, poured a small amount of bourbon into a second glass before placing it across the table in front of her daughter. "If you need to think of a reason to stay, then maybe you shouldn't – but in your case, Daria, you need to stop acting childish, and wanting to cut and run whenever something doesn't go exactly your way. Yes, you had problems socially when you were younger because you were smarter than most and others didn't know what to make of you – but the door swings both ways, Daria. You have to make an effort, too – and except for Jane, have you ever really tried to reach out to anyone else?"
Daria felt the cool smoothness of the bourbon glass on her fingertips as she stroked the glass. "I know that you can be warm and caring, honey – I remember you and your little pet Opie-"
The older woman watched her daughter's eyes widen a touch at the mention of the pet opossum she had when she was a child. "Yes, I remember him. You can be so forceful, so strong, and you've always been able to do so much when you choose to care about something – Daria, why can't you find a reason to care about the Legion?"
"I don't know."
Helen reached over to hold Daria's hand. "Honey - if you need to think of a reason why you should stay with the Legion, one that makes you actually want to stay instead of feeling as if you're being compelled to stay... then think of all of those young women who are just like you, and who need to see someone like you. If you want to make a difference, then be yourself - as a member of the Legion."
Daria sat quietly for some time. "Sometimes, it's like we're all back at Lawndale High."
"Not according to the legal aides at the office, ever since they saw your photos in that magazine." Helen actually enjoyed the light blush that colored her daughter's cheeks. "Yes, they all thought that you were quite attractive. I've got a drawer full of phone numbers for you from promising young attorneys – but apparently, it's my understanding that you like young Marines."
The sound of a forehead hitting the table echoed slightly through the room. "You saw the poster I signed for Gunny Swisten's son."
"Honey, the nation has seen the poster you signed for the boy. Apparently, it's been given a place of honor over at Camp Victory – the entertainment shows were buzzing when that story got out." She looked over at Daria. "Didn't you know?"
Daria lifted her head from the table. "Hadn't heard. Things are, well..." She shrugged.
Helen took another drink before answering. "Daria - you need to stop thinking of yourself as a high-school girl from Lawndale. That's not you anymore. It's not you, no matter how much anyone else wants to shoehorn you into staying the Daria they know, because it makes them feel comfortable. Change unnerves a lot of people, honey, and those photos – everything about you – shows that you're changing. If things had gone differently, right about now, you'd either be in some very good college or working your way through the acceptance letters... and we'd all be worried about Quinn managing to graduate, not to mention where she'd manage to go to college."
The kitchen suddenly rang out with the laughter of mother and daughter. "Oh, my," Helen gasped, wiping her eyes. "By the way – since both of my daughters have seemingly forgotten how to use a telephone – how is Quinn?"
"Oh, she's fine. She's getting along with everybody, including our newest Legionnaire-"
"Daria – stop that."
Helen was silent for a moment, remembering the conversation that she had with Quinn all those months ago, when she warned her younger child about the way she used her power – and the possible repercussions...
"Quinn - your father and I have a job. We didn't do a very good job of it, I'm afraid, but our job was to protect you. If you made a mistake, we corrected it. We punished it, or we paid for whatever you broke, or whatever. We wanted you to grow up happy and healthy."
"Quinn," said Helen, "you've reached the stage where we can't help you. You have too much power and not enough judgment. If you make a mistake with this power, then Jake and I are going to be powerless to deal with the consequences. Oh, we'll help. But if you burn someone's house down we can't rebuild it. If you kill someone, we can't bring them back to life. And if some...force...out there, some mob decides to hunt you down...and kill you...then...then...."
Helen wiped tears from her eyes. "Then, Quinn, then I can't save you," she whispered. "I can love you...but I can't save you."
"If this Julia can act as a good influence on Quinn and help her become more responsible, then her being around is a good thing." Helen sat back for a moment, mulling over the description of Julia that Daria had given her. "What did you say this girl's name was again? Her last name."
"Carlyle. Jane said that she's supposed to be really rich. Her family's supposed to go way back, and they're better off than even Tom's family-" Daria caught the look on her mother's face. "Do you know them?"
"I don't think so," Helen said, brushing the question aside. "By the way, Daria - how's Jane? You haven't really mentioned her..."
"She's having dinner with Mr. DeMartino and Ms. Defoe," Daria replied. "She's really worried about her, and – HEY!" She looked her mother directly in the eye. "What did you mean when you said, 'How's Jane?' You made it sound like – I mean-"
"What?" Helen's voice couldn't have been more innocent as Daria felt her face flush scarlet with sudden anger.
"You were – you sounded – I like boys - I'm not going out with Jane!"
Helen visibly deflated with relief. "Oh, thank God!" she said, sliding back in her chair. "For a while there, I wasn't certain if I was ever going to have grandchildren-"
She caught herself in mid-sentence as Daria, slack-jawed, sent a look of stunned curiosity across the table.
"What is THAT supposed to mean?"
Helen shrugged. "I'm not blind, Daria – and I actually did pay some attention to my girls... of course Quinn leans that way."
Daria almost fell out of her chair.
"You're her sister. You've seen it, too." Helen sipped from her drink as Daria reminded herself to not fall over, grasping the table to hold herself steady. "Look at the way she's always carried herself, and the people she's surrounded herself with! Come on, Daria – she could have been a cheerleader, in the Pep or Glee Clubs, Student Council, any number of activities where she could have become incredibly popular and gotten much, much more attention than she received at Lawndale High – but instead, she took a do-nothing position in a do-nothing club where she's always surrounded by beautiful girls, so she can be popular without people looking too closely at her... and without having to do all the things that popular girls do to stay popular."
"But she's dated – she's constantly on a date with some boy – she's got to have – I mean, I don't think she's done, I mean, Quinn's still a-"
"Daria – stop. It's sweet that you're trying to protect your sister's image, but you're digging that hole a bit deep." Helen leaned forward, sighing as her fingers skimmed the edge of her glass.
Daria refused to surrender to the cliché of slamming down the drink in front of her. "You really were paying attention, weren't you?"
Helen nodded, a touch of sadness crossing her face. "Your grandmother thought you were, but I knew different - I always thought that it would be a surprise if you brought anybody home at all... anyone except Jane, of course." She ignored the cross look from her daughter. "Let's be honest, Daria – that's part of the problem you're having now. You wouldn't let anyone in but her, but even then, I couldn't see that happening. I can't see you getting physical unless you felt totally safe with someone, and you don't let anyone get that close."
Daria finally managed to force words through her lips. "You think that Quinn is gay? You didn't think that I'd ever bring anyone home, and you think that Quinn would bring home some girl?"
"You make it sound like she'd pick out any girl walking by. If the girl Quinn brings home doesn't look like a supermodel, have serious brains and an attitude that keeps her spellbound 24/7, I'd be surprised." Helen laughed, and then stopped to think. "You know – for some reason, I can't see Quinn with a blonde. For whatever reason, I just can't see Quinn getting together with a blonde. Dark hair, shapely, probably more than a bit exotic looking, I could see her going that way – but Quinn's not going for a blonde, and not a 'girl next door type', either. Her little friend Stacy will just to have to accept that... or maybe not, with the way she comes across lately. She certainly has a bit more fire in her eyes now, doesn't she? Quinn likes the forward, direct type, I think..."
Daria stood up, went over to the refrigerator, brought out a can of Ultra-Cola and drained it in five gulps.
"You know, your father's always known, too," Helen continued, reaching past Daria into the fridge for a particularly large chicken drumstick. "Remember that time when Jane's brother stayed over, and that girl came by? Jake thought that the girl was here to pick Quinn up for a date, and he didn't freak out." Helen finished her drink. "I was rather proud of him that day."
"Uh, yeah. Where is Dad, anyway?"
"At a business meeting with Andrew Landon –who's certainly trying to become the big business tycoon, isn't he? He's supposed to announce his resignation from the Mayor's office any day now."
Daria reached into the fridge, and pulled out a plate of leftover microwave lasagna. "Hmm. You didn't know that I was coming this way, did you?"
"That's the funny thing, Daria. You give birth to someone, and you get an urge to keep tabs on them."
As Daria took the lasagna over to the microwave, Helen smiled, silently thanking Colonel Armalin for his phone calls...
Mack sat on the enclosed observation deck that encircled the fifteenth floor of Legion Tower, looking off into the fading rays of sunlight as Jodie walked off the elevator. "I'll bet that Sandi and Quinn had something to say about you wearing that, once everyone else left the meeting," he said, looking in her direction. "We don't even get the new uniforms until tomorrow."
"I... found a way to get one before the Christmas rush."
The young man shook his head. "Yeah – but knowing those two..."
"I have a way with convincing people to do things my way, remember? Colonel Armalin kept things focused, though. Sandi and Quinn were really eager to ask me about joining."
The way Jodie smiled somehow raised his spirits, even with the conversation he wanted to have with her – the one he'd spent the past couple of hours by himself on the observation deck practicing for. "Along those lines, Mack - let me let you off the hook, okay?" she said, walking over to him. "You and me as a couple – it's been fun, and we also like each other as people. It's okay if we stay friends, even if we're not dating."
She eased herself down upon a bench. "It's okay if we're not a couple. You're a nice guy, and even before that bird dumped brain-boosting poop on my head, I was smart enough to know that we wouldn't have lasted past high school anyway."
"You make it all sound so easy, Jodie."
Jodie took Mack's hand in her own. "It is. We like each other – but if we'd tried to stay together, we'd have resented each other. I'd have resented you for keeping me in a relationship simply because we're the same race and it's expected – let alone what would have happened if we'd slept together and I'd gotten pregnant-"
The two teenagers both shuddered at the thought. "See? As for you, Mack - you'd always be angry with me because you'd feel like I kept you from opportunities with other girls. Right or wrong, you're young, and guys and girls look at sex differently. Guys regret all the girls they didn't get a chance with, and girls regret the guys they let all the way in. I like you, Mack. I think you're wonderful, and special, and I love the way it feels when I run my fingers over your arms - God, the weight machines did you a world of good – but we're both eighteen, you're in this Legion and maybe they'll let me in, too – we can't be a couple. It would get in the way of so much for both of us."
Mack sat quietly for a moment.
"Mack, are you all right?" Jodie's eyes filled with concern. "I don't want to hurt you-"
"You didn't," he replied, looking her over. "I've been thinking for hours about how to say all of this, but then, you say everything I wanted to –and you make it sound so – so reasonable."
"What – we should act like 'Tittany and The QB', letting everyone in sight know just how idiotic we really are?" Jodie shrugged. "Okay, that was a bit mean – Brittany's actually nice, and Kevin... This was one of Polk High's worst years ever in football, and he did horribly in class because he's not getting any slack from the teachers – he wasn't the 'Great White Hope' they expected to give them a name in football like he did with Lawndale - so no benefits, and no graduation. He started working in his father's contracting business, and the rumor is that Kevin's father might not even bother letting him try to repeat his senior year."
Mack felt a slight bit of pity for his former schoolmate; it was common knowledge that the only reason that Kevin Thompson had gotten as far as he did was because of Mack paving the way in many areas. "So, that's that. We can still be friends, we don't have to tiptoe around each other if I get into the Legion – and if you want, you can go out with Brittany or Sandi Griffin... I'd add Jane Lane in there, too. She probably won't be with that Tom Sloane guy for too long, anyway."
"How do you know stuff like that?"
"Well, as much as I'd like to say it's because I have an IQ that's so far off the scale that it has its own area code, its mainly because I know you, Michael. Not to be mean – but when it comes to reading people, you're not exactly the Necronomicon ex Mortis in the original Lemurian text." She gave him a brilliant smile. "You and Brittany would have been dating since freshman year if you and Kevin weren't always good friends and you didn't want to hurt his feelings..."
A lot better friend than he deserved, if you ask me. We won't talk about Brittany – she's nice and everything, and we'll just have to let the fact that you two smiled at each other way too much go. Mack and Brittany have been friends all of their lives, and if things had been different – if he hadn't been decent enough to never do anything to embarrass either of us – well, never get caught, or so he thinks.
Jodie gave Mack a look that reminded him of the way cats looked at cornered mice. "That reminds me – did you really think I wouldn't find out that you and Sandi Griffin made out at the beach that day?"
She laughed aloud at the look on Mack's face. This could be fun. Just because I'm hyper-intelligent doesn't mean that I can't act like a normal girl every now and then.
"Jane – you can stop staring. The baby won't be arriving anytime soon."
The raven-haired Legionnaire had the good grace to look sheepish as she looked up from the bulge under Claire's dress. "I remember when Summer had her kids," she said, easily resisting the urge to reach out and touch the woman's stomach; her sister had forever cured her (and many others) of the need to do that. "She wasn't as calm as you are."
Anthony reached over to take Claire's hand with a gentleness that stunned Jane. "The baby's due in early November," the former teacher said, taking Anthony's hand and pressing it to her cheek. "Oh, and before we forget – Anthony, would you mind?"
Claire reached out for a honey-corn muffin as Anthony left; she devoured it with a gusto that made Jane smile as she reached for another. "That reminds me of Summer, too."
"They just taste so good – everything tastes so good," Claire told her, spearing an unusually large piece of ground beef from her plate of lasagna. Earlier, Jane was surprised when Claire chose the regular lasagna instead of the vegetarian, but Anthony just chuckled as she quickly demolished her serving and helped herself to more. "Ever since we found out about the baby, she's gone carnivore," he laughed – in and of itself something that made Jane's eyes widen, and kept a smile on her face.
Jane looked up as Anthony reappeared, handing her an envelope that, to her mind, screamed 'wedding invitation'. "We're sending them out this weekend," he said, smiling as his eyes moved back upon Claire. "The first Saturday in October."
"Wow. Congratulations!" Jane sat up in her chair. "So, where are you planning to go for your honeymoon?"
The two former teachers looked at one another before turning back to Jane. "Well, with the baby being due so close to our wedding, we were going to wait-" She started again. "I've always wanted to go to Argentina to see the waterfalls there, and then to Brazil. Sugar Loaf Mountain, the 'Christ of the Andes' statue... we'll wait until the baby's old enough to travel."
A flurry of thoughts flashed through Jane's mind. "You don't mind if I get you an early wedding present, do you?"
Claire's face took on an awed expression as Jane, taking out a ten-pound iron ingot she'd brought for the purpose of showing her powers to her former arts & crafts teacher, fashioned the ingot into an attractive statuette of Anthony and Claire, a baby in her arms and happiness in their faces. "A Jane Lane original," she smiled, as Claire ran her fingers over the figures.
"It's beautiful," Claire spoke up, looking it over with a critic's eye. "You've improved your craft – and your... powers... this is amazing."
"You didn't know?" Jane looked surprised, glancing over to Anthony. "You didn't tell her?"
"It wasn't my secret to tell, Miss Lane."
The rest of the evening was filled with small talk; stories about how Anthony and Claire became a couple intermixed with some of Jane's Legion adventures (she was careful not to tell any secrets, or scare them with stories about things like Black Majesty).
As they spent time together over coffee and tarts, Jane watched the soon-to-be DeMartino family and how happy they were when a sudden pang of sadness and guilt filled her as she began to think about her own family – and how, with everything that had been happening, she had been ignoring her own brother, even though they were in the same building every day.
First thing I do tomorrow – I spend some time with my brother. I am not going to start acting like the rest of the family – or I should say that I'm going to stop acting like them, right now.
Armalin sipped a cup of coffee as he read through the report that Tom Sloane had prepared and turned in earlier. Not bad for a first effort, rich boy. You must have learned something, watching the way the family used information as a weapon since you came out of diapers.
He had given Tom an assignment. Determine who - in your opinion - the four 'weakest' members of the Legion are. Think up a number of scenarios in which they could use the weaknesses of the remaining Legionnaires, and their own powers, in order to defeat them in a similar combat situation to the one they faced at USAES. Be totally dispassionate in doing so.
The report was eleven pages long, and concise in a manner that pleased him. The boy took the assignment seriously - I'll give him that. He may actually be worth more to the Legion than I thought, after all – if I can break that aristocratic touch that's hard-wired into him. Mack told me how that officer from the other world had an immediate dislike of him, and that 'you will yield to me because of who I am' mentality almost got him his ass kicked over there several times – not to mention that Black Majesty was severely unimpressed.
A knock at the door made him look up from the report. Ruttheimer. Well, at least this is a problem that I can deal with quickly. "Come in, Ruttheimer."
A wary look on his face, Charles entered the office. "Sit."
The young man took a chair in front of the desk, uncomfortable with the glare that the Marine was giving him. "So, you're thinking about leaving the Legion. Why?"
Charles was suddenly at a loss for words as the Marine stared at him with that expressionless manner that made him want to soil himself. "Please tell me that you're not seriously letting a bunch of stuck-up, self-centered teenage girls drive you away from the opportunity of a lifetime when everyone knows that in two or three years, they'll be fighting through the masses of other women and each other just to get your attention. You do understand that's what will happen, right?"
Armalin sat forward. "You're not stupid, Charles. Yes, you were a bit of a – well, your father's influence upon you wasn't as beneficial as it should have been. I know what you were like toward women – toward life in general – but you've turned yourself around in the Legion. I know how you've behaved toward the young women who've thrown themselves at you, not to mention that you've also behaved like a gentleman with Miss Rowe. You've taken full advantage of everything here, from the physical training to the advanced education we've made available to Legionnaires, and done very well."
The red-haired young man sat still, in a touch of shock at the Marine's words. Armalin continued to speak.
"If I thought that you were interested, I could possibly be persuaded to begin the process for you to try for admission at the Air Force Academy. I could see you attending Annapolis, but I've the feeling that Colorado Springs would be more to your liking. In any event – if you want to leave the Legion, that's your choice – but I would personally find myself disappointed if you left because of the attitudes of the young women here – or the opinions of any one woman."
By instinct, Charles caught the small box tossed in his direction; looking inside, he saw a very nice watch inside. "That's a Mark 60 psionic dampener – without the details, it keeps telepaths from reading your mind or using their powers on you. If you feel uncomfortable about being around Morgendorffer – take it and use it. It's also a very nice sports watch."
Charles looked at the Mark 60. "Take a day or two to think about leaving – if that's what you really want. Oh – and a personal observation. There's a difference between the person that you were and the person you are now, and you worked hard to get there. There's nothing wrong with you spending time with someone who likes you for what you've become. It's called 'getting a second chance'. Don't waste it on people who can't see past what you were and won't even try – and don't waste this opportunity by punishing yourself, or being alone. Dismissed."
The Legionnaire rose from his chair; as the door closed behind him, Armalin took a drink of coffee. "I was never this much trouble to the Professor."
He glanced over to a photo of Jodie. Speaking of which – the Legionnaires want Landon to be one of them. Now, she has to tell her parents. From what I've read about the Landons – that should be fun...
Fran Lawrence awoke, feeling her stomach rumble. It had been several hours since she had overheard William, and for some reason, she had decided to make her way back to Legion Tower.
Using her powers, Fran raided the cafeteria when no one was looking. Ten minutes later, hidden inside Living Quarters 'C' on the unoccupied 25th floor, the waif-like young woman wolfed down a pair of large chef salads with Thousand Island dressing and crackers, a rib-eye steak sandwich, three bananas, four slices of banana bread, and a half-gallon of milk. (When she was doing her bugging of the Tower for William, she rewired the sensors to show that this room was empty, and sealed the doors – she could get in easily enough by shrinking and slipping between the gap, as if she meant for this to be a hideout.) As she savaged the feast, she knew that she'd pay later – she learned through painful trial and error that some foods would cause her trouble – but it all smelled so good, and she was so hungry...
After she'd finished eating, she curled up on the bed and managed to fall fast asleep.
Sitting up, she looked at her watch. Early evening. William's going to be expecting me in a couple of hours, and he'll want to- Fran grimaced as she ran her fingers over the mask she wore, feeling the scars on the lower half of her face. He won't kill me yet – just make me wish that I were dead. Every time that he touches me – and the way that I always react when he does, because I know that he's probably the only man who'll ever touch me like that - I feel that way.
The young woman curled up in the bed, holding the pillow close. When I think of the places I was in after I ran away – things were hard enough on Uncle David and Aunt Beth, it wasn't as though I could go everywhere with them, look at my face – and going to school... The scar tissues over those wounds were just as jagged as the ones on Fran's face.
I tried. For all of seventh and eighth grade – I tried. Three hundred and sixty days of being 'Fran-kenstein', or 'baby butter-face', or 'Lawrence of Transylvania'. No one would talk to me unless they had to – after all, the scars and being the school freak show might rub off on you, and then you'll have to get a bag lunch and eat outside every single day, or in the bathroom or on some stairwell when it's snowing, because you got caught one time leaving, and the principal's afraid that the district will get sued and she'll lose her job.
No friends, nobody to talk to on the cell phone Aunt Beth got me, no boys to think about, being so hungry that it hurts because I couldn't get anything extra to eat and they always broke into my locker and trashed anything I'd put in there, like energy bars, having to act like I'm crazy about sports so my aunt and uncle will think I'm crazy about gym and not ask too many questions about all of the bruises from school from the 'pitchfork and torch parties' they'd have in the locker room after the coach left...and every time they came to school, the other girls would go after me that much worse – I hate those girls. I hate every last one of them. Three hundred and sixty days - and nobody my age ever bothered to call me by my real name.
Every day, I wanted to just shrink away and just disappear – and then, God heard me. It happened three days before the last day eighth grade. I asked for a bathroom pass... I was trying to figure out how to slip out, and then, right there in the bathroom – it happened.
I came out of the stall, and suddenly felt so light-headed, so I leaned against the sink...it felt like I was twisting inside out, the way it does when I haven't eaten all day, but worse, and it was so bad I couldn't even scream, like anybody would come looking for me if I screamed anyway – and then, it stopped.
I felt myself floating in the air, looking in the mirror at my reflection, the wings on my back – and the soap dispenser next to me that was the size of the office building Uncle David works in. I think that was the first time in years that I actually smiled – I guess I did, my face felt strange – and as I was buzzing around, about the size of a fly, I heard some of the girls laughing as they came into the bathroom... laughing, about after school, and their end-of-the year ' torch party' for me. I flew back to my class – nobody saw me, I was too small - waited until the bell rang and the room was empty-
That's when I found out I could shrink things, too.
Fran felt a rumbling in her stomach, and reached for another of the steak sandwiches she'd pilfered - when raiding the cafeteria, the young woman had taken enough food for five people. She took a bite and chewed slowly, enjoying the taste of the sourdough bread and steak sauce with medium-rare rib-eye...
Flying home had to be the happiest moment in my life since the accident – and getting there, the worst. I heard Aunt Beth telling Uncle David the news that she was pregnant - I guess he came home for lunch. Twins. They were talking about how it was going to be a little tougher on everyone now because lots and lots of people would be coming around. They danced around it, but I knew that they were thinking about the pretty little twins they'd have - and then there's me, with the Phantom or the Opera's face, and what would people try not to say when they came around?
I just flew away. I haven't seen them in three years – I don't even know if Aunt Beth had twin boys or girls.
She reached for another bottle of water. The first year was the worst.
Summer in Los Angeles. Couldn't show my face during the day, God himself would be afraid of the people who come out after dark, and nobody wants to have anything to do with a fourteen year-old, except the weirdos and the serious pervs – and the ones who want to hear you screaming as they use you in every hole and get off on how much they make you hurt. One day, God may forgive me for all the money I stole just so I could live –he's already punished me enough by letting William find me.
She finished her sandwich as she flipped through her memories...
It was almost two years ago. I was hanging out at LAX – there's always lots of good stuff that you can swipe from the luggage area and pawn later, or you can take money from the wallets and purses of flight crews and VIP-types in the lounges, and you can always get something to eat. You can even wash up there, or sleep - you can live there, if you have to; I saw that Tom Hanks movie, it was like a survival guide for me.
I had gotten one of those lockers off the main area – I was living in it for about six months, like in Men in Black 2, by shrinking stuff down and swiping it from anywhere I could find - a four-post bed, all sorts of nice stuff, even soundproof material to put on the walls, a battery-powered TV with a DVD player and a laptop with wi-fi, so I could watch stuff online...my own miniature apartment
I was in the VIP lounge. Somebody had just put out lunch for somebody important, and I'd loaded up on everything in sight when I saw it – a really nice laptop computer – so I swiped that, too. An hour later, I was in my locker, eating the last of the food, when the door swung open, somebody sprayed something all over me, and when it turned into goo that covered me from head to toe, keeping me from flying away or even moving much, because I felt like I could barely stay awake...
When I woke up, I thought I was dead. I was in a nice bed, wearing nice clothes, and the view of the ocean from the room was so nice...I couldn't shrink, and I can't fly unless I do, so I was stuck, but there was a table with lots and lots of different foods...William came in, and talked to me. He was so smooth, said he understood everything – he wasn't mad about my swiping his laptop. It was a shock me when he said that he knew about my powers, and said that the trick with the locker was kind of clever... but wasn't it time for something better? God, he was so smooth...
He gave me food, a place to stay, and helped me learn how to use my powers. He had those people teach me how to do so many things – and nobody looked at me like I was weird, or a freak – and last year, on my seventeenth birthday, William gave me the best present I'd ever had. He brought the Cinderella drops.
For the first time in a long time – I looked just like everyone else. I thought I looked like everyone else, until I saw the way he looked at me. I've seen that look before – on TV, at school, on the streets, the way Uncle David looked at Aunt Beth before they'd go to their room and lock the door – but I didn't ever think anyone would look at me like that, or want to do that with me.
Rising from the bed, she stopped to look at herself in the full-length mirror next to the bed. It must have been the ones who called themselves the Fashion Club that wanted these mirrors in every room, she said, idly playing with a lock of her long, soft, black-brown hair that spilled out over her shoulders from beneath the mask she wore. They don't know how lucky they are...
Fran felt sick as she removed her mask and looked once again at the image in the mirror - a tiny, shapely girl, with exotic gray eyes flanked by long lashes and perfectly arched brows. If not for the disfiguring scars that remained across the young woman's lower face, even after the miracles of corrective surgery, she knew that she would attract just as many boys as any of the female Legionnaires did. I've seen how guys look at me when I've had the drops and look normal – and how they look at me when it's worn off. None of the girls here would understand what it's like – would understand what I've had to do for the past year with him...God, what I wanted to do, because it meant that somebody really wanted me for me. They'd never understand.
A look of realization flashed across Fran's face. No. There's one who might understand.
"Where are we off to now, Mackenzie?"
"Oh, I'm giving Jodie a ride home," Mack said, looking a touch smug behind the wheel of the 1969 Corvette as Armalin's face looked at him from the outer monitor next to the guards' station at the edge of the quarry. "We'll probably stop for ice cream, or something."
"Or something." The young persons admired the way he made those two words heavy with meaning, even though his tone was almost bored. "Have fun out there – and no showing off."
Armalin looked away from the monitor. Kids. He didn't waste any time getting a cool car, did he?
He began flipping through a thick loose-leaf folder entitled Project Fast Forward: Metahuman Power Sequestration for Public Consumption (Briefing 0026/Psionic Operatives) - Project Summary and Objectives, Focus Group Overview and Recommended Operations Protocols when Stacy walked into the office. "Is there a problem, Rowe?"
"I don't know, sir," the lanky young woman said, a look of unease on her face. "I just feel – I'm not sure, but I just feel on edge for some reason."
A lifetime of hearing similar words immediately put the Marine on alert. "Word of advice, Rowe? Go with your feelings – they'll keep you alive. Go find your friends, gather them all together on the first floor, and be quiet about it."
As Stacy left, Armalin pushed a button on the underside of his desk, which activated the silent alert signal for Legion Tower's security detail – then slipped a micro-transceiver into his ear. "Nemec?" he said, hitting a button to reveal the hidden weapons locker in the wall behind his desk. "We may have a possible Crimson Access situation."
A grim female voice reverberated in his ear. "He's back?"
"Get to the armory and load your team up for bear. Use red ammo. I want you positioned on Subfloor A in case you need to get out and flank the bastard – don't move until you hear the go from me, I don't want you freaking the straights with artillery like that in plain view - and get ready to power up the N-C field generator."
Armalin looked at the red stripes that circled about the long, thin round of ammunition in the magazine he drew from the weapons locker in the wall behind his desk, then inserted it in a strange, bulky pistol and grasped four more magazines. "If Black Majesty's come back for round two, we're lighting the bastard up."
Helen looked up at the sound of the gentle knocking on the front door. "I wonder who that could be?"
Leaving Daria to the last few bites of lasagna – I guess people will do anything, if it helps them reconnect in some manner – she walked through the foyer and opened the door. "Oh, Daria? I think you have a visitor..."
Daria rose from the table, came to the door – and stopped as she saw Fran, shrunken down to two feet in height, hovering in front of the doorway.
Helen turned to her daughter, her arms crossed "Is this going to become a habit, Daria?"
"Bringing your work home with you."
"Mom – better jump out of the way. The giant karmic bus of hypocrisy is about to round the corner and run you down." Daria looked back at Fran, whose look of quiet desperation spoke volumes, and swept her with a quick psionic scan that only confirmed the girl's feelings of inner fear and self-loathing and gave her details on what the girl was up to. "So – you've been spying inside Legion Tower, got my address – Oh, God. I guess you do need help."
She stepped aside. "Okay – Fran. Come on in."
"You're going to WHAT-!"
Jodie's mom has always been a little scary, Mack thought, backing slightly away from Michelle Landon as he focused on keeping his powers locked down, but she looks like she's about to lose it.
"Before you decide to try and blame Mack for this, you should know that we're not together anymore," Jodie informed her mother as they stood in the Landon living room. "Friends, yes, but that's it. He's not a part of the decisions I'm making."
"Jodie Abigail Landon, you have worked far too hard and sacrificed too much to get an excellent education and continue it at one of the best universities in the country – and I will be DAMNED if you're going to toss it away by getting any deeper in some-"
She almost spat out the words as if they were a bad taste in her mouth. "Non-profit organization, instead of going to Crestmore! You WILL be going to college – you WILL be giving up any other connections with the National Legion - including you-"
Michelle spun around and snarled the last two words at Mack. "And THAT will be the last we're going to talk about on this!"
"Not because it's your choice, Mother."
The imperious look that crossed Jodie's face made Michelle visibly wince and Mack suddenly very glad that he and Jodie were only friends. "There's nothing that ANY university on Earth can do for me now besides giving me a degree, Mother. I can't – I'm not going to waste time trying to explain to you why – but there's nothing that those professors could teach me. They may give me ideas on how to move in different directions on problems I've already solved, which isn't a bad thing – but spending four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piece of paper that says I'm only ready to begin to scratch the surface on learning things I can figure out now during a ten-minute shower? That's not happening."
She went over to the dry-marker board that her baby brother played with trying to write, and scribbled for a full minute before handing it back to Michelle, who gasped at the complexity of the rows of tiny mathematical equations. "You find a professor who can solve that equation, and I'll gladly attend the school he or she teaches at. I'm almost eighteen, I'm graduating soon, I've got my 4.0 GPA and graduating valedictorian, I broke up with Mack and I'm not pregnant – so you can let that go, too – so if I want to take a year off to work with a non-profit organization, I'm going to do just that."
Michelle's eyes blazed with unholy fire. "You ungrateful little heifer! I should-"
"For once in your life - sit down, shut up and listen, Michelle!"
All eyes in the room focused on Andrew Landon – who had come into the house unnoticed, John Dynell standing silently several paces behind. "Michael - we need to have a family meeting. Do you mind?"
Grateful for an escape, Mack made a hasty exit as Andrew looked at his family. "If you want to do a year of public service in the National Legion, Jodie – that's your choice and I'll respect it. It's an excellent idea – and it'll look good on your resume."
Andrew turned and focused his eyes upon his wife. "As for you, Michelle, me and John would like to talk to you. Jodie, please."
Jodie darted out of the room as John stepped forward. "Mrs. Landon – Michelle – Andrew and I would like to speak with you about your future. Your political future, to be exact."
The new Lawndale High School was nearly completed and ready for students.
Built with state and federal funds, as well as a very generous grant from the Quest Foundation that allowed for the purchase of more land, the new LHS was fully one and one-half times larger than the original. It was intended to be a temple of education for high school students... and one of the most security-conscious facilities outside of a maximum-security prison.
A special system designed to lock down the entire building, and every single room in case of emergency, was a cornerstone of the school, as was the system of broadcast-quality security cameras that were emplaced to not only provide near-total coverage of the entire school, but in such a way that if a person wasn't on screen, there could be only a handful of places where they were. Face-recognition software for the new mainframe computer that all of the school terminals (each with its own video camera) linked into, as well as the security cameras – with a direct connection to the local police department that no one outside the security staff and the Principal would ever know about.
Unfortunately, the opening of the new Lawndale High School would have to be delayed for a couple of months...
The new Metalworking Arts classroom was built on the room, in the old LHS building, where Timothy O'Neill had taught his much despised, often-ridiculed Self-Esteem Workshop. It was already equipped and ready for the many classes of students; desks waiting, equipment silent but fully operational...
The room suddenly stank of ozone as a monofilament strand of light split the air inside the room, thin arcs of electricity flowing out from the strand that leaped towards everything with an electrical circuit and immediately shorted it out.
Within thirty seconds, every single piece of electrical equipment in Lawndale High School was irreparably burned out or destroyed outright, melted down or set aflame, only to be extinguished by the sprinkler system that activated throughout the entire school.
The artificial rainstorm inside the metalshop class continued as the energy strand expanded outwards into a large, gleaming purplish-white ring of energy that hung in the air; moments later, a young woman sheathed in a forcefield fell through.
"I hate these directed reality jumps," the young woman thought aloud, grateful that her telekinetic shield was up. "Time to go to work."
She disappeared in an instant, a rapidly disappearing point of darkness hanging in the air where she stood.
Moments later, the attractive young woman reappeared in the air over Legion Tower! "It's here, all right," she thought, the ring on her right hand flashing with a blue hue as she lowered herself down to the ground. "Now, let's-"
"Hello, Ringbearer," a pleasant voice said; the woman saw Armalin, a huge rifle in hand, standing just inside the front doors of the Tower, the Legionnaires spilling through the doors as Sgt. Nemec and her team of security guards poured around the sides of the building. "I had a feeling something bad was going to show – just didn't realize that it would be this bad. State your business!"
"My-my name is Danielle Todds," the woman said, her voice catching in her throat for a moment as her eyes fell upon Quinn. "I represent the Corps of Ringbearers. I have a special authorization from the Council – our leadership – to locate and secure a specific nexus of hostile supernatural power and intent in this reality and location. It's referred to as a-"
"No," Quinn said, her power flaring to life. "We know what you're talking about. We've taken care of it. Go away."
"I have my orders," Danielle said, her shields going active. "Return to the Council of the Corps with the Soul Crystal in my possession – by any means necessary."