Chapter 13.5 - 'Points of Authority'



Written by Brother Grimace and  Nightgoblyn




(NOTE: This chapter contains language and scenes that may not be appropriate for younger readers. It is rated TV-14-DLSV.)



Daria never really talked about it in detail to the rest of the Legionnaires – I don't know if she ever told Quinn the full story – and the only reason that I'm bringing it up now is that she (Daria) said that it was okay to talk about it.


She told me that the first time she met Fran (Lawrence) was also the first time that she fully manifested her power of psychometry – a power that she never really gained full control of, and because of it actually gained greater credibility and acceptance from the public. After all, the public expects 'psychics' to not be accurate all of the time, and for their powers to not always work. This time, it did.


The night when the Ringbearer attacked – and I did a little attacking of my own later, I'm embarrassed to say - Daria mindlinked with me to share some intel on Fran (Lawrence). Although she didn't mean to, she showed me a vision she had – a vision of an alternate past where we – Daria, Quinn and me – made it to Los Angeles, because a flat tire delayed Russell Stark, and he never made the flight which changed all of our lives. In her vision, we argued, she left us almost as soon as we arrived – and we never saw her again. That was because she ran into Fran, who was living in a locker at LAX – and William Appleton found both of them almost immediately. The bastard was very smooth...Daria had this look of total shame on her face, because in the vision - well, let your mind swan dive into the gutter, and it still would be much cleaner than what Appleton had them doing. After seeing that vision, Daria didn't think she had a choice but to help Fran – after all, but for the grace of God...


Considering what he'd done and the encounters we would later have with Appleton – and after finding out how he had affected the Morgendorffer family for decades before the Legion - that was only the beginning of Daria's hatred for the man.



-Jane Lane, as quoted in The Bedrock, by Lysette and True Barron




Let's talk this over
It's not like we're dead
Was it something I did?
Was it something you said?
Don't leave me hanging
In a city so dead
Held up so high
On such a breakable thread

You were all the things I thought I knew
And I thought we could be


You were everything - everything that I wanted
We were meant to be - supposed to be - but we lost it
All of the memories, so close to me, just fade away
All this time you were pretending
So much for my happy ending


- from My Happy Ending, by Avril Lavigne



"Let me be blunt, Mister Sloane. If you were wearing a U.S. military uniform, right now I'd be telling you that at this moment, this is your time to come to Jesus."


Tom Sloane managed not to look away from the death's-head glare Colonel Kyle Armalin gave him, and considered that he'd rather be standing up or sitting on a block of ice – anything so that he could focus past the waves of anger pouring from the man who sat at the desk before him.


He remembered the first time that he received such a look; it was just after he joined the Legion, at the end of the very first group run he'd participated in.


Tom recalled how he didn't want to look bad in front of the others, or come in last behind all of the girls – so he used his power of super-human endurance...



After Upchuck followed Stacy. Then, Tiffany. Then, Tom Sloane. Then, at the twenty-six minute mark, Brittany. The Legion applauded as Brittany crossed the line, but they were too tired to cheer much.

"Not a bad time," said Armalin to Tom. "Twenty two minutes and thirty seconds."

"Well...I try," said Tom.

Armalin pointed a finger at Tom. Tom looked at Armalin's fingertip, and before he could figure out what he was doing with it, Armalin reached up to Tom's forehead and drew the tip of his finger across it.

Pointedly, he walked over to Brittany, still gasping for air and sitting with her head between her knees. Armalin reached down and took a finger from his left hand and drew it across Brittany's forehead.

Without saying anything, he looked at the one finger, which was almost dry. He then flicked the sweat from the sweat-soaked finger at Tom.


"You and I need to talk," said Armalin, ominously. "I'm gonna make you way, or another...!"




Armalin stood up. "Before we begin, Mister Sloane, would you like something to drink?"


Tom blinked twice, a look of surprise creasing his face. "No – no, thank you."


The older man drew a can of root beer from the refrigerator on the far side of his office. "Are you sure? Water? Juice? A Positive, or O Negative?"


Tom gave Armalin a look that clearly showed he believed that the Marine had lost his mind. "I beg your pardon?"


"That's part of your problem, Sloane," Armalin said; Tom noticed how the 'mister' designation had dropped away. "I don't think that you've ever had to beg. I don't think that you've ever really had to put in any effort for anything that you've really wanted. I believe that anything you've ever desired has been placed in front of you for easy pickings, or that if it seems that you'll have difficulties getting it, you'll find a way to work whatever system is in place to smooth your way. You're a bloodsucker, Sloane. You're a leech. You exist and thrive because of the efforts of others – and you'll throw your friends under a bus if it gets you what you want. That's what happened tonight."


Disbelief mixed with outrage mixed in the young man's mind as a lifetime of privilege and status rose up in molten fury. I don't care what rank you have or how many medals you have, you, you fancy uniform-wearing, commonplace Marine- How dare you speak to me like this!


Abandoning all common sense, Tom rocketed out of his chair. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about – and if you want to call someone 'bloodsucker', then look in a damned mirror – or can you? You're trying to preach ethics, but you're nothing but a filthy damned vampire!"


Armalin placed the root beer back in the refrigerator.


"We all saw how you changed out there – what you looked like – why didn't you do that when Black Majesty was here? Because it wasn't nighttime?"


Armalin closed the refrigerator door.


"That's what happened to Stacy, isn't it?" Tom continued, his voice rising in tone. "I heard about you having to give her blood, and she developed powers afterwards – she's like an animal, what's she supposed to be, your familiar or something-"


Tom's voice was immediately silenced as Armalin turned to face the young man; he almost voided his bladder on the spot as the Marine locked eyes with him.


It was silent in the office for almost a full minute; Tom tried to look anywhere but at Armalin, who stood unnaturally still as he watched Tom without blinking.


The Marine officer's neutral demeanor terrified Tom even more; calmly, he walked back to his desk and circled around it to stand not two inches from Tom before speaking, his eyes never leaving Tom's face.


"This is the last time that you will ever raise your voice to me, or speak to me in this manner, " he said, his gaze holding Tom aloft as he spoke in a calm, even tone. "Do so again, and I will pen letters of resignation to Mister Stark and the Legion, take you into VR, and attend to you as if you were a red-haired Irish stepchild and I were Longshanks. If, during my time here, one of your teammates is injured or killed because of you engaging in any act that remotely resembles this asinine attempt of yours to instigate a fight with a Class Five SPB – we will not bother with VR. My commission will not mean a damn to me. The Bowman Acts will not mean a damn to me. The fact that SHARD Rangers will show up on my doorstep will not mean a damn to me."


Armalin leaned forward as he continued to speak, noting how the blood had drained so thoroughly from Tom's face that even his lips were changing color. "If you act out again and others pay for your mistakes in blood because of it - I will fuck you up for all time."


The Marine allowed absolute contempt to saturate his tone. "Oh, and one more thing. You will NEVER disrespect the United States Marine Corps in my presence, ever again."


Tom stood silently for a full six seconds, too stunned to move or speak, before he heard Armalin's voice in his ear. "Withdraw, Mister Sloane."


Attempting to maintain dignity with some difficulty, Tom nodded stiffly, and left without making a single sound.


The Marine looked out the window for several moments, and then walked behind his desk and took a seat. "There are no bad students – only bad teachers," he thought aloud, opening the bottom drawer of his desk to reveal a half-full bottle of Captain Morgan Private Stock rum and a trio of small glasses.


He took the bottle and a glass; pouring himself a healthy splash, Armalin held the glass and moved it gently, allowing the scented liquor to slowly swirl around before downing the entire amount. "I hate this part of the job."




"First that possum from Highland, then Tiffany, Jodie afterwards, and now this," Jane said, smiling as Daria gave Fran a pair of pajamas she recognized as Quinn's. "You do like taking in strays, don't you?"


Daria closed the bedroom door behind the new girl. "You know, I don't need the shovel or the taffeta dress anymore, Lane. I can just screw with that tiny brain of yours and make you think you're wearing it forever."


Jane couldn't help but twist the knife a bit more. "Ohh-kay. Mama Bear's in the house, taking care of her latest lost cub. You want me to scare up some milk, cookies, and a copy of 'Where The Wild Things Are?'"


"From what I saw coming in, I'd say they were out in front of the Tower," Daria responded, crossing the room and sitting down on a stool at the breakfast nook "I'll ask about that later, but first – did you find all of those bugs?"


Jane sat down on the loveseat next to the kitchen area, and then put her feet up before answering. "I put Charles and Mack on it right away – between the two of them, they can detect any transmissions going out and any power sources they have. Just one question: you wanted the bugs found, but not killed . . . why?"


"I have my reasons," Daria said, smiling thinly. "I'll explain it to the whole Legion, as soon as Fran is ready to face them."


"Yeah, about her . . . she managed to bug the entire place, and not even the Colonel and his security people noticed. You know he's going to be ticked off."


"Speaking of 'ticked off' – why was the Colonel so mad at Tom?" Daria asked. "For that matter – what the hell happened here? It looks like there was a war going on – but as soon as I got here, the place looks like nothing happened!"


Jane shook her head. "I'll give you the long version later, but the short version – we had a VERY hard-core type show up for the Soul Crystal. For a moment, it looked like Mack could talk her down – and that's when Tom showed up and picked a fight with her."


Daria's hand froze just as it was about to grasp the handle on the coffeepot she'd put on earlier. "He didn't."


"He did – and ticked off the Colonel," Jane said, sitting up straight as the scent of coffee filled her nostrils. "Coffee – smart girl... yeah. You made it strong – really strong. Is that for me, or the new girl?"


Brushing her hair back, Daria poured two generous cups of coffee and held one out to Jane. "She's going to need a good night's sleep, Jane. That hell-brew I made is for the two of us; I figured that we'll need to stay alert during the things she's going to talk about."


"Oh, I'll drink your coffee, Morgendorffer." Jane raised her hand, and a small sphere of magnetic force surrounded the cup, levitating it into her other hand. "But maybe we should just let her rest, and do the big Q&A session tomorrow with our Fearless Leader."


Daria lowered her cup from her lips. "Yeah – about that. Where did Quinn disappear off to, Jane? I thought she'd be up here first thing."


Jane took a sip of coffee. "Yeah, about that. The weirdest thing happened during the fight. The Ringbearer seemed as if-"


"WHOA." Daria's eyes went as wide as saucers. "Wait a minute. A Ringbearer showed up here?"


Jane's eyes also widened. "You've heard of those people before? You've heard of Ringbearers before and you never bothered to tell us about them? What the hell's wrong with you, Daria?"


Daria sat her cup down. "It's not like that, Jane. Back at the Academy, I spent some time with that boy, what was his name – Martin! Martin Peters."


"Oh, yeah, I remember him." Jane waggled her eyebrows as she calmed down immediately. "How did Charles used to do it – 'Rrrowwllll.'  Why haven't you called him to come and visit your Chamber of Secrets?"


Daria shook her head. "Stuff it, Lane."


"That's the spirit!" Jane exclaimed, hoisting her cup up in a salute. "I knew your inner tramp would come out to play sooner or later!"


"Do you want me to hit you with a bear claw?" Jane looked at Daria with a questioning gaze as the latter spoke; she almost laughed as Daria held up a pastry from a small tray on the other side of the coffeepot. "Anyway, he was showing me how he could use his powers to get TV shows from alternate Earths – it's like, a show that's huge on our world didn't make it past its first season on another world, or how stories that people just write on-line in one world are huge TV franchises in another world."


The way Jane leaned forward clearly showed her interest. "Yeah? Like what?"


"Well, like in at least three universes, there are shows about us. There's an animated show on MTV in one universe, and in another, there's a spin-off franchise called Falling Into College."


Jane's eyes went wide. "No.  You're kidding me.  I went to college?"


Daria nodded.  Jane smiled.  She had always wanted to go, and it looked like some version of Jane Lane somewhere did it, even if that Jane Lane was only a fictional character.  Jane, Jane told herself, you rock more than one universe.


Daria nodded. "In that reality, the shows are as big as 90210 is here. It's about you and me in college. In another universe where there's a Showtime cable series – ready for this one? - called Tales Of The Ringbearers.."


Jane suddenly felt a cold chill go through her. "Whoa. You're kidding."


They spun it off from a couple of Outer Limits episodes that they redid into a three-hour movie called A Little Vacation.  I can't think of a creepier show to spin off from, and they had Roger Carmel playing the  'Ringwearer' in that original Outer Limits episode - ol' Harry Mudd himself.  Anyway, they did a remake with Liev Schreiber and Rachel Bilson in the Showtime version of the series, and then, they did a ten-hour miniseries with him called The Cynic and The Defender," Daria said. "They started Tales the next year."


Daria was suddenly aware that she had totally diverged from her original topic.  "You guys actually saw a Ringbearer?"


Jane smiled.  "You must love that boy to memorize all that trivia. So in all that television watching, did your young cadet tell you how to fight Ringbearers?  We could have used it."


Daria set her cup down. "Oh, my God. You guys fought a Ringbearer – and you beat him? How?"


Jane shrugged. "Well, it's a 'her' – and you tell me. Sounds like you're the expert."


"Well, I just saw a few episodes-" Daria blushed a deep red as she saw the doubting look Jane gave her – the look she gave when she knew that Daria was lying. "Okay – I did a mind link with him, and saw all the episodes they've made so far!"


"So that's where you became a fountain of excess knowledge. I seem to remember that you were gone long enough to link more than your minds, Morgendorffer," Jane said, deciding moments earlier that a tension-breaker was needed. "But we'll talk about you, the handsome cadet, and practicing safe linking later. What about the Ringbearer?"


"I think I need to take a look at the Ringbearer you guys have locked up," Daria said, standing and making a beeline for the bathroom; she knocked gently on the door. "Fran? I'll be back in a few minutes, okay?"


In the large bathtub, Fran soaked in huge mounds of bubbles. "Okay!"


Outside the door, Daria turned to Jane. "Where do you guys have her?"


Jane rose from the couch. "The security section on the ninth floor. Oh, and there's something else you should know... it's about Quinn, and the Ringbearer, and the way she acted during the fight."


Daria followed Jane to the door. "What did Quinn do?"


"Not Quinn," Jane echoed, "The Ringbearer. Call me crazy, but out there, she was blasting away at the rest of us but really took pains not to do anything to Quinn – and Quinn wasn't blasting her anywhere nearly as hard as she could have. It was just, I don't know... weird. Like neither of them really wanted to hurt the other one."




"Hey, Quinn."


Quinn Morgendorffer looked away from the observation window of the sealed detention room, where Danielle Todds lay restrained on a small cot with a Mark 40 dampener on her left wrist, and a breathing mask covering her face.


"Hey, Mack," the slender redhead replied, turning back to watch Danielle. "I just don't understand. She could have walked all over us – she only started getting tough after the Colonel-"


Mack stood silently as Quinn just stared at the woman.


"Why didn't she just kill all of us and take-"


She cut herself off, and Mack took a step forward. "She said something about a crystal of some sort, Quinn, and she was willing to kill to get it," he said. "What was she talking about?


Quinn sighed. "I'm really not supposed to talk about it, but I guess secrecy is a moot point now, isn't it?"


Mack frowned and remembered Jane's comments about building security. "Why don't you tell me about it later? Let's get you into the dining hall and we'll grab some soup or something. You don't need to be in here moping."


"Yeah, ok. It's just that..." Quinn's eyes glazed over for a moment, and when she shook free she saw Mack blinking and rubbing one temple.


"Is your sister always that loud?" Mack asked.


"Only when she's upset about something," Quinn said. "We better go see what she wants, or we won't hear the end of it."


The Legionnaires turned to walk away, and Quinn paused for just a moment to stare at the woman on the cot again. I'll be back, she promised silently.




The door closed behind Daria, leaving Jane alone with her coffee and her thoughts. Now that the crisis of the moment was over, and Daria was no longer distracting her, the angry thoughts started bubbling back up from the pits of her mind. She remembered the saccharine words the Ringbearer had used, taunting Tom before the fight had started.


"Why, young Master Thomas! Are you still annoyed about that? Why, with all the favors you collected traipsing all about that wide, wide world while you and your gallant friend Michael were there, I am just so surprised and so, so flattered that you'd take offense to my declining your . . . generous offer of a place to rest for the evening."


Jane slammed her coffee cup down on the counter, failing to notice the scalding hot coffee that sloshed out across her hand. She started pacing a small circle around the table in the center of the room, her face set in a hard frown and a far-away look in her eyes.


How long were they gone, from their point of view? Months? Close to a year? Now I know why Tom was evasive on details about that little outing, and it apparently had nothing to do with not wanting to talk about shambling hordes of ravenous undead. Too bad one of those zombies didn't rip his invulnerable, cheating nuts off.


How many girls was he with? Did he think he was freaking Flash Gordon or something? Save the girl and you get a reward? Has he stayed with me all this time just because I haven't given it up yet? I've caught him scoping out Stacy . . . boy, now that was a fight. He's been checking out Julia, too – I ought to make a call to his little friend David Allen about that. Hell, I've even noticed him exchanging glances with . . . no . . . never happen, not a million years. She'd never do that to me.


Jane remembered flashes of nights spent with Tom, things they'd done and things they hadn't done but she'd fantasized about. She remembered the steady, very polite pressure Tom had kept on her the last couple of months. The little hints he'd dropped that he was ready to do more, to have a deeper relationship. Her stomach flipped and she pressed one hand to her midsection.


A deeper relationship. The only thing deep around here is the bullshit, and it's already too high for waders. I need to run. No . . . I need to FLY.


Half a thought opened the suite's balcony door. A full thought and Jane was gone, a red blur and a vortex of wind and magnetic force strong enough to knock the furniture around. A few seconds passed and the bathroom door cracked open, showing only a thin slice of Fran's face as she peeked into the room.


"Oh, dear."


The door clicked as the tiny girl pulled it closed and locked it. The bath was probably a safe place to stay until Daria came back. Probably.




Jane flew.


The first sonic boom rattled the windows of Lawndale and set off car alarms all over town. The second thundered over an empty park outside the town of Swedesville, causing the scaffolding hanging over an old stage to shudder and collapse. The others were lost over fields of wheat and corn.


God, how could he? Am I just another rich boy's toy? I really liked him . . . I think I might have loved him.


The wind howled around her, but everything was quiet inside the bubble of force Jane had surrounded herself with. No breeze ruffled her hair or blew away the tears that ran unnoticed down her heart-shaped face.


I don't know why I'm hurt or surprised, this is the story of my damn life. Amanda and Vincent abandoned me as soon as I was old enough to feed myself. Summer, Wind, and Penny got the hell out as soon as they had a driver's licence and a direction to run. Hell, even the kids I grew up with dumped me as soon as we hit middle school. I didn't have the money to hang out with the popular kids, and the outcasts didn't want me because I wasn't interested in bombing my body with drugs, booze, and STDs.


The only people that ever cared about me were Trent and Daria. I abandoned Trent for the Legion, God knows why he forgave me for that. And Daria . . . hell, I dumped her for Tom. Bad choice, Lane. Yeah, so what if she's clingy, neurotic, and bitchy . . . at least she cares. Or she did . . . I'm all grown up now and she's got a new stray to care for.


Maybe she should hook up with Tom. She could use her telepathy to keep him in line, because that's apparently what it takes. Hell, maybe they've already . . . NO, don't think that. The Fashion Whores might have made a play for him, and you better bet I'm having a talk with them about it. I've seen Stacy watching him like she was a cat and he was a bowl of cream . . . and Sandi could be a one stop shop for every man's number one fantasy . . . and don't get me started on Queen Quinn.


Be serious, Lane. He hasn't spared more than a couple of glances at the Fashion Drones and you know it. I could even forgive him ogling Julia and Maryann - after all, any man is going to look if you jiggle at him. At least, that's what I've heard, not like I'll ever know. No, you know who he's been slipping around with if he's been tapping anything at Legion Tower.


Daria wouldn't do that to me . . . would she? She's been more outgoing since we got back from the AXE, still private but less snarly. Maybe she's been getting a steady supply of vitamin O . . . I always thought that's what she needed anyway. And he stares at her when he thinks no one is looking, God only knows what he's thinking. Well, I guess Daria knows . . . for all I know they were having psychic sexcapades in the library yesterday while they pretended to read.


Yeah, she's just bitchy enough to do that. To teach me a lesson about dumping her when a pretty boy came around.


<Jane? Are . . . are you ok?>


Get the hell out of my head, Morgendorffer.


Jane slammed to a halt, her magnetic bubble protecting her from the hurricane force winds that swirled around her. Down the psychic link, she could feel Daria physically recoil from her anger before the connection was severed.


Jane's attention was drawn downwards; she peered between her feet at the ground, and then looked around. She was floating over the largest junk yard she'd ever seen – it looked like it was over a square mile, and the flattened cars were stacked three stories high in places.


Slapping an invulnerable ex-boyfriend is a waste of time. I need something that'll get his attention.


Jane reached out to the junkyard, hooked her hands in the air, and pulled. Nothing happened for a second, and then everything started trembling as if there were an earthquake. Then the piles of cars started to collapse, and the screech of metal-on-metal filled the air as the scrap all began to fall . . . up.


The metal followed Jane's gestures as she lifted it into a loose sphere around her and started spinning it. Her bright blue eyes were iron hard with concentration as she ran her magnetic fingertips across every piece of metal in the cloud. As abruptly as it begun the swirling stopped, leaving Jane floating in the center of a motionless tangle of debris.


She brought her hands together and used her mind to squeeze. The tortured shriek of metal filled the air again, and redoubled as the cars and other random scrap folded in on each other. After a minute the noise stopped, and floating in front of Jane was an object that looked for all the world like an aluminium baseball bat.


Jane wrapped one hand around its base and smiled quietly. In an instant, she was gone: rocketing across the countryside back the way she'd come. A tattered sheet of newspaper drifted across the barren earth below, and then, everything was quiet once more.




Daria leaned against the wall and pinched her nose with one hand. "So angry," she muttered. "What the hell did I do to piss you off, Lane?" Daria checked her hand and found it pleasantly, if surprisingly, free of blood, and then turned her head sideways as if she was considering something. A second later, she turned away from the hallway leading to the infirmary and hurried in the direction of the elevator.

Sandi stood patiently, waiting for her opponents to make the first move. They were standing in a dirty alley, dimly lit by a cloudy sky. The man on her right carried a switchblade. The man on her left was holding a length of metal pipe, and occasionally he swung it through the air. One of them would move, one of them would break under the tension, and whichever one broke first would be crushed without mercy.

Suddenly, the scene froze and the computer announced, "VR Suite doors opening, program suspended. Please acknowledge."


"Acknowledged," Sandi said, reaching up to pull off her goggles. The room was empty and featureless, with a smooth white floor and matching walls. Daria Morgendorffer stood in the doorway.


"I need to talk to you."

Sandi nodded, indicating that she was ready to listen.

"What did you see happen today? I sort of missed most of the excitement, and I'd like your point of view on it."

Sandi quirked an eyebrow, wondering why Daria had tracked her down to ask her for a situation report. Of course, she thought. I'm the deputy leader, and Quinn is notoriously unreliable. I'm surprised Daria doesn't come to me more often with her problems, it's not like she's been talking to Jane much recently.

Daria's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. "Maybe I should have gone and asked Stacy, she has an eye for detail, right?"

"We were attacked by some girl, with a magic ring or whatever," Sandi said, sounding annoyed. "She was after the you-know-what crystal."

Daria reached under her glasses to rub her eyes. "Well, I guess that could be the reason why Jane is so pissed. We went to a lot of effort to keep that thing hidden and secret, with this being one of the results we were hoping to avoid."

"No, Jane is . . . pissed . . . for completely different reasons," Sandi said, suddenly flashing a catlike grin. "It turns out that Tom and Mack know the girl, and they went on some kind of alternate reality tour with her, and Tom propositioned her and she totally turned him down."

"What?" Daria asked, her voice suddenly becoming icy.

"Yeah, apparently he was sleeping with anything that'd have him. Typical guy," Sandi said, rolling her eyes. "Even rich guys, you dig deep enough and they're no different. I mean, I pretty much knew what kind of person he was by the way he was slumming it with . . . ."

<Be very careful what comes out of your mouth next, Griffin.>

Sandi's eyes got wide for a moment, and then narrowed with anger. "How dare you . . . ."

<You see, it doesn't count until it you say it out loud. That's my rule . . . that's how I deal with having everybody's worst impulses shouted at me all day long. It doesn't count until you say it out loud.>

"Yeah, I can see that," Sandi said quietly. "I'd sort of wondered what it was like."

"Pray you never know," Daria said.

"I'm not apologizing," Sandi said. "You're a stone bitch, Daria, you're miserable and you bring most of it on yourself. I said it out loud, so what are you going to do about it?"

"Graciously accept the compliment, one stone bitch to another." Daria sighed. "Look, I'm not apologizing for anything either. Everything I did, I did it because it was the best thing I could think of to do at the time, even if it did end up costing my own happiness. If you people don't like it, then you can collectively take a leap."

Sandi rolled her eyes. Same old Misery Chick, right? Even Charles grew away from his 'Upchuck' thing, got a little bit cute and started dating that blonde from Alaska  - but you...


The Deputy Leader shook her hair out, and then gave Daria look of pity. "For God's sake, Daria. You don't just sacrifice your own happiness - you wallow in misery, and think it makes you a better person. News flash: it doesn't, it just makes you miserable."

Daria stood firmly atop her soapbox. "I still think it makes me better than a person that sacrifices other people to the altar of her own ego - or are you going to try to convince me that Stacy came pre-packaged with all those neuroses?"

"Like I haven't watched you reduce people to tears with just a couple of sentences, back when we were at school," Sandi said scornfully.

Daria barked off a derisive laugh. "Is this the part where I realize that we're not so different after all, and we go get facials together and be best friends forever?"


Oh, fuck you! "Well, I'm glad we had this heart-to-heart chat," Sandi said, turning away. "Is there anything else? I was in the middle of a really interesting mugging when you came in."

"Actually, yeah - I came down here with a purpose. Jane is very angry, and I bet she's about to break up with Tom. I'd like to give them a little privacy – and it just so happens that we need to have a meeting to talk about the Ringbearers."


Sandi suddenly went pale. "That was a Ringbearer?" A moment passed, and her expression crossed the spectrum from pale to proud. "Like, we kicked a Ringbearer's ass? Cool!"


Daria continued, annoyed by the indecently proud look on Sandi's face. "As I was saying – we need to talk about the Ringbearers and what just happened - and about the girl that was with me when I showed up earlier. I was thinking of calling an emergency meeting, but I figured it might have a little more oomph if you did it."

"Why not ask Quinn?" Sandi said, the words escaping before she could catch them.

"Because she'd want to play twenty questions just to needle me, and then she'd refuse to help because of something I did to her when we were in Elementary School," Daria said dryly.

"She's not that childish." Well, not as much as she used to be.

"Maybe, maybe not," Daria said. "Maybe I'm not as riddled with self-loathing as you think I am. Maybe you're not as self-centered and clueless as I think you are. Hell, while we're at it, maybe Upchuck isn't really a perv."

"People change," Sandi said, looking away. "Even you, Daria. How can you walk around with the ability to see right inside somebody, and not be able to know how much people can change? How much people have changed?"

Daria stared at Sandi for an endless moment, and then rubbed her eyes again. "I can't believe I heard that from the Queen of Superficiality."

Sandi put her hands on her hips and glared at Daria. "Excuse me?"

"That's my line," Daria said, smirking; her face hardened as she continued. "I haven't forgotten about you folding on that group running idea because you were afraid you'd lose face in front of your Fashion Flunkies."

Sandi waved her off. "Gee, Daria. Too bad you didn't grow up in Lawndale, because then you'd be able to, like, complain about things I did even further back than that. Like Elementary School, maybe?"


Sandi's hand flinched towards the PFT on her belt, and Daria suddenly looked guilty. "I didn't mean to . . . mean to . . . lose my temper." Daria's voice drifted away as she followed a train of thought, remembering something her mother had told her once while they stood under the stars in the yard back home.

"I have to be the bedrock," Daria muttered, and Sandi looked at her sharply. Then abruptly as it came, the moment passed and Daria refocused on Sandi. "I'm sorry."

Sandi blinked in surprise. "For what?"

"For not thinking of you as a human being," Daria said. "Look, are you going to call a meeting or not?"

"Sure," Sandi said, still watching Daria carefully. She pulled her Legion phone out, flipped it open, and then glanced down at it with a frown. "I'm not getting any bars. This thing gets bars everywhere."

"Oh hell," Daria swore. "Ok, I'll do it - but you be ready to do a better job of backing me up than you did last time."

Sandi nodded, and Daria did something that she found difficult to describe to the mind blind. Of course, there was no need to describe it to a fellow telepath, but that was beside the point. After a moment, she'd pinpointed exactly the minds she was looking for in the tower.

<Please assemble in the secure meeting room on the second floor of the Tower for an emergency Legion meeting. This is not a drill, and this meeting is called on the joint authority of myself, a founding member, and Deputy President Alexandra Griffin. Meeting is to begin in three minutes.>

"I need get some things from my quarters," Sandi said. "But just in case I don't make it before you seal the room . . . ."

". . . I'll be right along behind you," Sandi 2 said, stepping away from her twin.

Daria nodded and headed for the elevator. Sandi 1 quickly stripped off her VR gear and stowed it, and then jogged to the elevator. When it reached her floor she stepped out, leaving Sandi 3 behind as the doors closed and the elevator headed further up the tower. All three Sandis wore the same thoughtful expression as they went about their duties.


-Do you think we had a breakthrough?- Sandi 1 asked.

-I think that's what the Colonel will call it,- Sandi 3 replied. -I didn't think Daria would ever open up, and especially not to us.-

-Yeah, but that's not what I meant. Do you think that we had a breakthrough?-

-Oh . . . hmm . . . the three of us should get together and discuss it when we have time.-

Sandi 1 chuckled and shook her head. -Talking to yourself doesn't make you crazy.-

"But answering does," Sandi 2 replied quietly. If Daria overheard the comment, she chose to overlook it.




Tom had changed clothes and was headed out of the Tower, totally unaware of the meeting being called in his absence. His current plans reached no further than getting a fast car out of the motor pool and heading out to trawl some of the seedier bars in town.


Whenever things got bad – really bad – Tom could always sink.  He always used the phrase epater la bourgeoise...but then he learned from Elsie that he was using it wrong.  Slumming it was what they called it at Fielding, where you would go some where for the purpose of meeting and talking to people not of your social class.  Tom no longer had a name for it.  During the bad times, he just wanted to go somewhere where he wasn't reminded of himself and could dump all of the baggage and expectation that came with being Thomas Lyman Sloane.


In the back of his mind, a vague idea was forming about making a few calls . . . perhaps his father; maybe he could get Tom the hell out of the Legion. Of course, that might mean running into whoever it was in the Elite that monkey-wrenched his brain - and that probably wouldn't end well.


What he chiefly knew was that he was never, ever going to be able to live down what had happened today. Armalin thought he was worthless, thought that he, Thomas Lyman Sloane, the heir to the Sloane fortune and blessed with the prowess of a young god, was worthless. Mack had obviously written him off as well, almost taking Todds' side in the argument before the fight started.


It must be a black thing, Tom thought with a sour smirk. No, that's not it - and that was never it.  Mack watched everything I did when I was gone with that disapproving eye of his.  I mocked him to his face for his loyalty to Jodie – he was always honest with Alyssa about Jodie, and told Jodie about what happened over there.


 Some partner I was.  No wonder he took Todds' side.


No wonder he and Jodie are still friends after they went their separate ways.


No wonder the Colonel looks down his nose at me.


Tom headed toward the parking lot. He looked over his jet-black Aston Martin Vanquish (his 'graduation' gift into the Legion and The Elite from his parents), and then started towards the line of 'company cars' that were avaliable for use by Legionnaires. Better grab one of them if I don't want to be noticed driving around.


Of course, the situation might have been salvageable if that holier-than-thou carpet-muncher Todds hadn't dropped the bomb about his goings on while off-reality. He was in a war zone, fighting for over a year, and there were times he wasn't sure if he'd ever make it back.


I still have nightmares about the Great Zack Walkabout. Besides, those girls needed all the comfort they could get. It was one more service I could provide, keeping up the general morale. If they needed a body to turn to, well - who was I to turn them down?


The smile that formed on Tom's face evaporated as he suddenly recalled the look Jane shot him when Todds made her little wisecrack. He'd also seen the looks some of the other Legion girls had given him after the fight, and Trent's expression was unmistakable. Not that Tom was worried about a normal like Trent Lane. If Trent thought he was man enough to step to Tom Sloane, then he was welcome to try.


Even with that hand-cannon of his, the one that Klein babe rigged up for him after he screwed her brains loose seven different ways from Sunday. It's okay for that wannabe to get some, but not me, right?

Tom shook his head. Whatever.
I'd even be careful not to do any permanent damage, just as a favor to Jane.


Debris flew up in a storm as a sudden down blast of wind scoured the area around Tom. He blinked the dust out of his eyes . . . and Jane was in front of him, floating a few inches over the ground.


 She carried a baseball bat in a loose grip in her right hand.


Tom tried to give her a smile. "Oh, hi."


"Oh, hi," Jane repeated, her tone mocking. "Go to Hell!"


A wave of force blew Tom off his feet as Jane gestured with her left hand, sending him skidding across the parking lot.


Tom's eyes went wide as he realized how Jane was able to affect him with her powers. She's grabbing onto the iron in my blood. "Hey, stop that!"


Jane's eyes were aflame with anger. "How could you?" she screamed at him. "How could you?"


The Legionnaire shrugged, fighting down the part of him that wanted to say, 'I've tried to show you - several times - but you're saving yourself for your first day of college, remember?'  "I didn't mean to," Tom said, rising to his feet. "It just happened."


"How can you 'not mean to?' What happened - the wind blew, you got a hard-on, the blood rushing from your head made you fall over and your dick just happened to land in some girl?" Jane snarled. "How many times did it 'just happen' Tom?"


Tom shrugged. "I don't know - I wasn't keeping score."


"LIAR! All guys keep score! Stop lying to me!" Jane screeched. "How many were there, Tom? Were they good? Did any of them look like me?"


Quite a few, Tom admitted silently. Especially Melinda - she has the same eyes you do, the same hair color and cut, and she's got nice, strong legs like yours... having her wrap them around me was like getting crushed by a machine press ...


Tom snapped back as Jane continued to yell at him. "Did you get checked for any diseases you might have picked up? You're not out spreading zombie-AIDS while you're spreading legs, are you?"


Tom closed his eyes and let the tirade wash over him. He had, up until very recently, cared deeply about Jane . . . and part of him still did, but there was no way on God's green Earth he was going to tolerate this kind of verbal abuse twice in one day.


"Shut your damn mouth," he said. "I am sick to here with you people and your sanctimonious platitudes."


Jane's eyes narrowed; her hand gripped the bat so tightly that it was turning white. "'You people... you people?'"

Tom was just as oblivious to the signs from Jane as he had been earlier with The Marine. "
You don't like what I did, fine. I shouldn't have done it, or at the least I should have told you I did it as soon as we got back. I didn't, and if you want to break up, then we will. But I'm damn tired of catching attitude."


The sudden wave of calm that washed over Jane would have terrified a more observant person. "Attitude? Rich Boy - I'm going to show you all kinds of attitude before you leave here. You cheated on me, Tom - and you didn't even have the decency to admit it. I had to find out from some extradimensional hussy with a bone to pick and a magic ring."


Tom rolled his eyes. "The rings aren't magic-"


"I don't care what they are!" Jane screamed.


"Don't be a harpy," Tom said. "Hell, even Daria treats me better than this and she's loathed me from day one."


"Oh, I'm sure Daria has been treating you really nice - and you've been working things to get even better 'treatment' out of her." Jane growled. "I figured that one out all on my own, Rich Boy. You better believe I'm talking to her when I get done talking to you."


"What in the hell are you insinuating now?" Tom asked, scowling at his now ex-girlfriend. This bitch has lost her mind. "You know what? Never mind. I don't have to stand here and listen to this trash." He lifted off the ground, giving her a wave of dismissal as he prepared to fly away and leave this whole nightmare behind.


Jane, pushed to the snapping point, shot forward while torquing the massive baseball bat directly at Tom's head. The swirling vortex of magnetic power necessary to swing the weapon yanked a thunderbolt down out of the rapidly ionizing air above the Tower. Lightning struck the bat, turning it red-hot just as it impacted, the excess electricity arcing and skittering across the magnetic field protecting Jane's body.




Hundreds of millions of miles away, in an orbit around the Sun just outside the orbit of the planet Mercury, the United Nations station Starcore One stood watch over solar activity... and for possible extraterrestrial incursions into the Sol system, through the naturally-occurring hyperspatial nexus that existed between the orbits of Venus and Earth.


On the Primary Observation Deck, a man hunched over a sensor station with a deep frown on his face. After recalibrating the sensors for the second time and receiving the same data, he leaned over and pushed the button on his intercom.


"Dr. Corbeau," the man said in a thick Russian accent. "I have discovered a most disturbing anomaly."


Dr. Peter Corbeau, the station commander, turned from his monitors and spoke into the intercom near his station on the Command Deck. "Solar activity kicking up unexpectedly, Colonel?"


"Nyet, it is from Earth. Something is happening to the magnetosphere; I've never seen readings like these before."


"Are we recording this?" the doctor asked, his voice full of excitement. "This may be our chance to observe the theoretical pole swap."


"We are recording, but I do not think it is a pole swap," Colonel Kutuzov said. "The disturbance is centered on the east coast of North America...United States...  near your New England states. I cannot pin point it closer than that, as there is too much electromagnetic interference in the ionosphere."


Corbeau was all business as he spoke. "Put all our sensors on it, and make sure we're transmitting this back to Earth. I'm on my way up there."




"Sarah, you've got to get out here and see this."


The woman being addressed glared at the radio for a second, and then put down her book to answer. "This doesn't have anything to do with those penguins you were watching yesterday, does it?"


"No. Just come out here, and bring a video camera."


Sarah grumbled to herself about arctic waterfowl, obsessive biologists, and why she'd ever wanted a posting at the South Pole in the first place as she suited up to leave the station. She grabbed the requested camera as an afterthought, and headed out into the cold.


Three steps outside the door she stopped, staring at the sky in slack jawed amazement. From horizon to horizon the heavens were filled with ribbons of shifting light. Even now, in the middle of Antarctic night, the illumination was bright enough to read by.


"I've never seen the aurora this bright . . . or so much of it," she muttered. Lifting the video camera, she began recording the incredible sight.




Standing watch is a time-honored crap detail at military academies all over the world. Pulling watch duty on a Friday night is very nearly the king of all crap details, being narrowly beaten out by Saturday night and, worst of all, Sunday morning.


Cadet First Class Rafael Vargas wasn't too concerned about it, since he tended to avoid situations that some people would call 'shenanigans.' More importantly, he knew how valuable it was to set an example for the other cadets. So he found himself without complaint, sitting in the large, comfortable chair in the middle of the USAES Overwatch Command and Control Center – a room usually referred to as the 'War Room'.


He was staring up at the main screen, frowning at a real-time map of the Eastern Seaboard. Specifically, he was frowning at what looked like a hurricane spontaneously forming near a small suburb named Lawndale. The storm was centered directly on top of an icon resembling a loop of red ribbon.


Rafael directed his attention to the cadet in front of him, who wore a black uniform that identified her as a member of the elite cadre known as the Phantom Eagles. "What have you got for me, Cadet Blum?"


Cadet First Class Christine Blum – who subscribed to the same theory of setting examples Rafael did – tapped away at a keyboard at her console. "Hard to say, sir," she said, as information appeared on the screen. "From the size and speed of the bogie – it's definitely a high-powered SPB."


The attractive, red-haired cadet – long past being annoyed at being told that she was a dead ringer for the actress Kirsten Dunst - swiveled her chair to face Vargas. "Space Command picked up the SPB near Chicago and traced it back to Legion headquarters. Less than a minute later, that mess started up."


She gestured at the screen. "Electromagnetic backwash, atmospheric ionization, weather pattern deformation, and more."


Vargas gestured for the cadet to continue. "Looks like someone's having a tantrum."


"Very," Christine informed him. "NORAD's getting reports of record breaking aurora effects from both poles, even showing up hundreds of miles closer to the equator than normal. Off-shore stations are detecting tidal shifts, there's been sporadic disruptions of the continental power grid across the entire Eastern Seaboard, and the people over at the US Geological Survey are going nuts."


She flashed Rafael a grin. "I'd bet a steak dinner it's either Lane or the younger Morgendorffer, and somebody is catching the beat down to end all beat downs."


"Probably Quinn, she's the one with a temper," Rafael said. "I assume nobody's answering the phone over there?"


"We can't establish contact, but that's not surprising with all the interference. I . . . uh . . . I took the liberty of trying to contact Daria Morgendorffer directly, sir," she added with a slight blush.


The leader of The Alliance raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know you had that kind of range, Blum."


"I don't, but she does - and I thought she might hear me anyway," the young telepath said. "If she did - she's not answering either."


"All right." Rafael shifted in his chair as he put on his Cadet Commander face. "We've got a Class Three event going on. Better send it up the chain of command ASAP."


"Class Four, sir," a willowy, dark-haired female cadet spoke up from the other end of the console. "The disturbance is growing more powerful, and its effects are spreading rapidly."


In any other circumstance, Rafael would have laughed at the look Christine tossed at Cadet First Class Sidney Simon – he knew the two young women weren't on the best of terms, even though they were in the same training cadre coming up - but there wasn't any time for that.


"Convey my apologies to the Admiral, and get him on the phone," Rafael said. "Then get a hold of Farrington. Tell him I want the team suited up – tell him to try and contact Morgendorffer with his powers - and have Klein get the Foo Fighter warmed up. The Admiral is going to want eyes in place if this goes Class Five, and we might have to deploy."


Sidney's long eyelashes fluttered as she looked him over, and then turned back to her panel. "And we might have to deploy'," she said softly. "Please. Looks like somebody thinks they're special."


"You secure that crap, Cadet Simon," Christine snarled, reaching for a phone.




Gouka Ryuu's eyes went wide as Jane made her first swing at Tom.


The man known as 'Mr. Veggie' took a drink of his iced tea. "Wow. Home run."


Within seconds, the area was filled with random lightning strikes; moments later, lashing sheets of rain struck down from the sky. In spite of the generally poor visibility, Jane and Tom could still be clearly seen due to the bright visual effects produced by their powers.


"Where the hell did this mess come from?"

The Arcana operatives stared out the window of their 'duck blind' – a top-floor room in an abandoned office building in Lawndale's Shopping District, which faced the quarry and Legion Tower. "I didn't know they had instant hurricanes in Maryland!" Veggie said.

"This obviously isn't a normal hurricane," Gouka replied, checking the secured tripod and the expensive-looking video camera mounted on it. "That girl is Jane Lane, one of the founding Legionnaires. I guess she was having an argument with Sloane, and now, she's-"

"About to kick his rich, arrogant arse," Mr. Veggie said, his sleepy demeanor disappearing as he looked through his binoculars to see the two Legionnaires hammering each other, and smiled as he took in the wrathful beauty of the young woman smacking Tom around the parking lot. "I knew I liked that girl. Attractive, feisty, and good taste in men and women."


He looked away from the brawl, a smirk on his handsome face. "Hey, if she's this pissed at lover boy - I guess that makes her single now. I should slip over there in a day or so and-"

Gouka cut him off with a snarl. "Stop thinking about bedding everything in sight, set that second camera up, and begin a live feed to Samuel out in Vegas. They should know about this."




"Jodie, please seal the room," Daria said, taking her seat at the Legion council table.


As the security doors slid shut and the barriers powered up, Daria surveyed the room. All the active Legionnaires were present, with the exceptions of Jane and Tom. Fran was sitting in Jane's chair, looking around nervously and trying to be inconspicuous. A slightly puzzled looking Trent leaned on the back of Tom's chair, occasionally giving Daria a questioning look.


"Madame President, may I have the floor?" Daria asked, smirking at her sister.


Quinn, uncharacteristically absent-minded, blinked hard as she heard her name called a second time. "What? Oh, sure Daria. Your meeting, so talk."


As Daria stood and cleared her throat, Mack leaned over and nudged Quinn. "You ok?"


"I guess," Quinn answered, giving him a half shrug. "I'm just worried about that girl that attacked us. Is that weird? I shouldn't worry about an enemy, right?"


"She's not your enemy," Mack said quietly. "Think of this as a jurisdictional dispute. She's the FBI and we're the local cops; she came in waving her badge around and got smacked down for it. She'll be fine, you'll see."


Quinn nodded but didn't look convinced.


"Ok, I have two things I'd like to move through quickly before I get to the 'meat' in the 'meeting.' The first is why we're in the secure meeting room with full defenses in place."


"You have evidence, or believe you have evidence, that the Tower is no longer a secure information zone," Jodie said.


"It's going to be hard getting used to the idea that I'm not smarter than you anymore," Daria said with a smirk.


"It shouldn't be too hard," Jodie said, returning the smirk with interest. "Since you never were to begin with."


"Jodie's first statement is correct," Daria said, addressing the group once more. "The entire building has been compromised top to bottom, including every major computer and communications system. They even found Ruttheimer's secret stash, and I understand they're very impressed."


A nervous chuckle rolled through the room and Charles blushed slightly.


"Who are these people?" Sandi asked.


"In a moment," Daria said. "I am aware of this infiltration because the spy turned herself in to me, in exchange for asylum and medical treatment. I want everyone to meet Fran Lawrence."


It was all Fran could do not to shrink away to nothing as every set of eyes in the room turned to her. "Hi," she whispered.


"Fran is suffering from the effects of injuries she sustained in a car crash when she was much younger," Daria continued. "She was being blackmailed by her employer, who provided her with a drug that was able to temporarily regenerate the lost and damaged tissue. Apparently, her system has built up a tolerance to the drug, and her employer had planned to kill her before she found out."


Fran stared silently at the tabletop as the room filled with angry muttering. Daria glanced around the room, confirming her personal prediction of the Legion's reaction to the story. Stacy and Charles looked particularly upset, Mack was practically thunderous, and both Brittany and Sandi's faces held the cold, calculation expressions she'd seen on her own mother's face... when she had a court case that she took personally.


"I believe that coming clean with what she's done goes a long way towards evening the balance sheet, even if she does nothing else to help us," Daria said. "I also believe that we, as Legionnaires, have a responsibility help her, if we can."


"I'll take care of it," Julia said. She had already noticed the terrible facial scars that Fran kept hidden behind her hair. "We're going to talk more about this infiltration issue, but I'm not going to let her suffer over it."


Daria felt a touch of respect for the new Legionnaire bubble up inside her. "Thank you - Julia."


Fran looked up at Julia, the shock and fear on her face quickly replaced with hope. "You . . . you can fix me?" she whispered.


Julia nodded and it was all Fran could do not to launch herself across the able and beg the redhead to start immediately. I've been Fran-kenstein this long . . . a little longer won't kill me, she thought to herself.


"Um . . . Daria?" Trent asked. "Not that I'm not cool with this and all - but why am I in here? This is Legion business."


"We're going to talk about Ringbearers in a minute," Daria said. "You picked up a weapon and stepped up to defend the Tower; you deserve to know what you defended us against. You may not be a Legionnaire, but you've earned a place in this room, Trent."


Trent nodded, and then sat down in the empty chair he'd been leaning on. "That's cool, Daria."


"I'd like to finish up this topic by nominating Fran Laurence for membership in the Legion," Daria said. "She's got a distinct power none of us has, she's of membership age, and she has skills that we're going to need very soon."


"She was spying on us," Stacy said. "How can we trust her?"


"And if those bugs are still in place it could be a serious problem," Sandi said. "Daria, do you know what kind of information we share over those secure lines? This could be a national security crisis. We have to cut off communication, now."


"It's taken care of," Daria said. "I had a quick conversation on my way here with a few of the techs. If any information is flowing out of the Tower, I can assure you that it isn't information that will do anyone a bit of good . . . and at this point, I don't want the rat to realize there's a trap attached to his cheese."


"But what about her?" Brittany asked. "If she betrayed her boss, why won't she betray us?"


"I have to agree with Brittany," Charles said, a note of reluctance in his voice. "While her résumé is impressive, I don't appreciate having my privacy violated."


"I know that, Charles - but I'll point out three things that might help allay everyone's suspicions. First of all, we aren't likely to threaten to kill her, which was the final nail in the coffin for her last job. I think I can also guarantee that her living conditions will be much better than what she's used to. Secondly, she's already told me that she could have already downloaded everything in the computers – but she didn't - and if she had, all of our secrets would already be in Appleton's hands."


Daria paused, and looked around the table. "Most important of all is that I trust her. How many times have you heard me say that? I . . . know things about her."


"Like what?" Julia asked, the investigator in her overriding the slight sense of jealousy she felt towards the other girl. I've been thinking about how I'd do a B&E of Legion Tower ever since I've heard about the Legion – just to say I'd done it, of course – and I haven't found a good way through their security system yet!


The scarlet-haired Legionnaire leaned forward and made what looked like an innocent gesture on the table; she smiled inwardly as Fran turned several shades paler than she usually was and made a similar gesture. Ah-ha. You've been trained by the Thieves' Guild, just like me – and you're a better thief than I am.


"I'm not at liberty to discuss Fran's private details," Daria said, arching an eyebrow as she felt Julia's Academy training kick in. "But it wouldn't be the first time we took in a less than ideal candidate."


Julia smiled as she gestured at herself. "Moi? I'm flattered." Now, that's the Daria all the telepaths at 'the AXE' lined up to love and know. Bitch.


"I second the nomination," Sandi said.


Daria looked surprised for a moment, and then raised one hand to draw everyone's attention. "Thank you, Sandi. However - I'm not going to dismiss everyone's concerns out of hand. Fran has earned my trust, and I think she deserves the chance to earn trust from all of you as well. I'd like to table the actual vote until the next regular meeting."


"Fine with me," Quinn said absently. "Motion tabled, or whatever."


"I won't let you down," Fran said quietly. "You won't regret this, I promise."


"Okay. Our second order of business today is the Ringbearers. You'll find a great deal of information on their history, operational standards, and other minutia in our databanks; I strongly suggest everyone go read up on them. If you don't have the clearance to read it, talk to Quinn or Sandi and they should be able to get it for you. This isn't high school, people: failing a test against the Ringbearers can get you killed, or worse."


"You make them sound a lot worse than they are," Mack said. "The Ringbearers isn't like that-"


"No. If I were talking about worse - I'd be talking about Ringwraiths," Daria said. She smiled thinly when Mack looked surprised at her knowledge. "It's true that the Ringbearers aren't villains - but they are serious business, and I intend to treat them that way."


Daria's eyes flicked down to the Ring that adorned Mack's right hand. "You obviously have more personal experience with Defender Rings than I do. Why don't you take the floor and tell us a little about how they operate."


Mack stood - after shooting Daria a mild glare - and began describing his experiences with the Corps of Ringbearers. Daria glanced around and noticed that a few of the Legionnaires were taking notes, and all of them had their attention firmly directed towards Mack.


Keep talking, Daria thought. They need to know this, and it gives Jane plenty of time to calm down and go deal with Tom. I'm not going to like the fallout from this, but at least she's under no pressure while she blows off steam. Hmm - not my best mixed metaphor.




Daria glanced over at Sandi and quirked an eyebrow as she caught the thought directed in her direction. <What?>


The Colonel and I are on our way down to the meeting room, and he is not happy with you.


The young telepath shrugged. <What's he got a bee in his bonnet about this time?>


-You'll know soon enough. I just want you to know that I'm not going to undercut you again . . . but don't expect me to cross the Colonel.-


<Fair enough, thanks for the warning. Wait . . . you're in contact with your other selves outside the room!?>


-Yeah, so?


Before Daria could send a response the double doors leading into the room opened, the computer giving a resonant chime to remind everyone that the room was no longer secure. Quinn's head immediately snapped up, and she stared down the hallway past Armalin and Sandi 3 as they entered.


The redhead bristled in her seat, her hair standing out a little from her head as small arcs of electricity skittered across her face and hands. "What the hell is going on out there?"


"That's exactly what I'd like to know," Armalin responded. "Lane and Sloane are out there tearing up the scenery - and when I inquired as to why none of you are doing anything about it, I'm told that your elder sister has called an emergency meeting in a hard shell room."


"Jodie, please reseal the door," Daria said quietly. As soon as the door closed, she looked up at the colonel and said, "The building's security has been turned into Swiss cheese. Discuss nothing of importance outside this room."


*Griffin and I were discussing it in the hallway,* Armalin thought-cast to Daria, making her eyes go incredibly wide as she realized what he had just done. "That issue would normally be priority one," he spoke aloud. "However - what's going on outside is going to have to take precedence."


"Jane is very angry," Daria said.


*You think?* Armalin shot back mentally.


Daria continued. "I'm pretty sure she intends to break up with Cheating Bast . . . I mean Tom, and I'd like her to have some privacy while doing so. The Legion needed to discuss Fran, her employer, and the Ringbearers so I decided to kill two birds with one emergency meeting."


"When the hell did you learn subtlety, Morgendorffer?" Armalin asked, a note of mild respect creeping into his tone. "And just when I'd given up all hope, too."


"Self improvement is my life's work," Daria said dryly.


"Still, this isn't about your friend dumping her boyfriend anymore," the Marine said. "We have a Class Four SPB event happening on our doorstep, Morgendorffer."


He paused a moment when Julia gasped at the words 'Class Four', and waited for the muttering to die down. "We need to handle this in house, people. That makes it your problem. I didn't deal with teen drama when I was a teen, and I'm sure as hell not dealing with it now."


"I'll go," Daria said, standing. "It was my idea to give her space, it's my responsibility to clean up the mess she made in it."


"I'll help," Trent said. "I know how to talk Janey down when she's mad, plus I'd like to get a shot at that smug little bastard myself."


Daria paused a moment as she looked Trent over. "No. There is no way in Hell that Jane would forgive me if I let you walk out into that and something happened. Mack - can you continue your lecture, please?"


Trent flushed, suddenly angry. "But-"


"Trent, all your parts are currently attached." Daria blushed slightly. "I happen to like them that way. Stay safe, for me? Please?" She turned away before he could answer, and hurried out of the room.




Daria was barely clear of the doors when she winced in pain. <Cut that out!>


[Sorry – but you've been a hard girl to get a hold of. What in the world is your sister doing?]


Daria rolled her eyes as David Allen Farrington's voice rang out clearly in her head. [I saw that, Lawndale. What's happening there?]


<It's not Quinn – it's Jane.>


The surprise from the cadet's mind flowed out easily over the hundreds of miles between southern Indiana and Maryland. [Lane? Miss Cool-Under-Fire? What would make her – Oh. Him.]


<Not a fan of the Family Sloane, are you?> Daria said, reaching the stairwell.


[Not really, Lawndale. Get your friend under control – quick. They're picking us her lover's spat all over the world. Showing out like this is a violation of Article Two of the 1982 Bowman Act – no use of powers to cause global scale effects except in the case of emergency, even if you're registered to use your powers. You guys are registered-]


<But no one's going to say this is an emergency,> Daria finished for him. <Thanks for the warning. Tell your people we're sorry for the trouble, and we're taking care of it.>


[Speaking of 'my people' – how's Julia? I was in Colorado when she did her tests last month... just curious, is all.]


Daria smirked as the stairwell door closed behind her. <I'll let Carlyle know that you're interested in her. Everyone else already knows that.>


[Funny. You know, Leda still thinks – literally – that you're the best kisser she's run into so far.]


<You win.>





As the conference room doors closed, Stacy leaned over to Quinn. "When did she learn to do that?" she whispered.


"I guess she was watching me this whole time," Quinn answered, beaming with pride. "I always knew she could do it."


"You can't let her go out there alone," Trent said, looking around the room. "She's got mind powers, but she's not super tough or anything, she could break as easy as I could. My little sister is out there, getting beaten up by a guy strong enough to lift a mountain."


The room was uncomfortably silent for a moment; Sandi 2 spoke up. "I think Daria can handle it, she deserves the chance to try."


She shared a wicked grin with her duplicate standing next to Armalin, and then continued. "Besides, Jane is doing a better job of holding her own than you think - and if Daria needs back-up, I'm already in place."


"Are you?" Armalin asked, quirking an eyebrow.


"Yeah. I'm on the roof of the Tower with a sweet set-up - and my Hammer all primed and ready to go." Sandi smiled the sort of smile a young woman usually reserves for handsome young men or especially large bowls of ice cream.


"Would you be referring to the PFT-5 'God Hammer' sniper configuration?" Armalin asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Because that would be a weapon that I am certain you do not have clearance to draw from the armory and maintain for personal use."


"Uh," Sandi 2 said, suddenly looking crestfallen.


"All weapons in the armory logs are present and accounted for," Sandi 3 said. "If you'd care to do an inventory check-"


"No, I'm sure they're all there," Armalin said. Kids! "I'm also sure that there's going to be an extra one down there by tomorrow morning."


"Yes, sir," the Sandis said in chorus.


Stacy's head suddenly jerked up, and the girl sniffed the air. "Where's Trent?"


"Based on available evidence," Jodie said, pointing at a second empty chair, "I'd say he's with Brittany."




The ball bat impacted, tons upon tons of ultra-compressed steel and iron slamming into Tom's left cheekbone at over two hundred miles per hour. The skin on his face split, blood immediately flowing from the wound and spattering Jane. The lightning bolt that followed the bat in turned his uniform to ashes and dazed him for a second, allowing the force of the strike to propel him seventy feet across the parking lot into a two-ton military truck.

Tom staggered out of the huge dent in the vehicle and looked around for Jane. Between the stars dancing around his head and the sudden heavy rain he couldn't see much of anything. He took two steps forward before he heard the rushing noise and looked up - just in time for Jane to slam him with the bat again. This time she hit him from above,  and drove him into the asphalt parking lot up to his shins.

"T-ball!" Jane screamed, torquing around for a grand-slam swing. The bat arced around and landed in the palm of Tom's left hand.

"No," he said calmly, yanking the bat away from Jane.


As soon as she lost contact with her weapon, the magnetic fields Jane was using to control it dissipated, and Tom's eyes widened as he felt the full weight of the bat as it began to fall. He managed to get his other hand under it, and lifted it in a two handed grip, one hand at each end.

His arms flexed and the bat exploded, sending shrapnel flying across the parking lot. The military truck flipped over behind him, and several other cars were knocked onto their sides and skidded away. Jane snagged the largest chunk in midair and swung it around, catching Tom right in the crotch with the jagged steel missile.

"Why do girls always go for the balls?" he asked, his voice tight with pain.

"They're what got you in trouble," Jane snarled.

"I was taught that it's bad manners to hit a woman," Tom said. "So how about this?"


He brought his hands together in a single clap, and the force wave from the impact blew a few more cars out of the parking lot, spider-webbing the asphalt for nearly a hundred feet in front of him. The windows on the first couple of floors of Legion Tower shattered, spraying glass into the air.

Tom's eyes widened as Jane remained airborne; a cruel smile spread across her face, and her force field sparkled as bits of debris bounced against it.

"No, Tom. You don't get to just wave your hands and send me away," she hissed; holding her hands out in front of her, she caused the air to grow thick with shards of metal. "That must be a shock to you. Here's another."

The fragments of metal began to coalesce and spin about Jane's body in two thick rings that whirled about her body in separate directions with frightening speed - and as Tom's mouth dropped open, a massive stream of bluish-white electricity leaped from Jane's chest!

The hell-bolt burned across the space between the two Legionnaires, causing the asphalt directly beneath it to boil like water as Tom screamed, lightning exploding out of his mouth!

Tom dropped to his knees, gasping for air and tasting ozone in his mouth. He looked up, and made his decision.

"Sorry, Jane."

In less than an instant, Tom accelerated to the speed of lightning - one-third the speed of light itself - then lashed out with one mighty, invulnerable fist just before he made contact with Jane's force field!

A crash like thunder shook Lawndale as Jane was knocked out of the air and bounced across the broken ground, gasping with pain each time she hit the ground. When she sat up, her mouth was busted, blood was slowly dripping out of her nostrils and both ears, and her left arm was bent back at an obscene angle. Screaming with anger, pain and frustration, she motioned with her right arm and started pelting Tom with broken cars.

Tom slapped the flying vehicles out of the sky as he started walking towards his ex-girlfriend. He waited until she drew her good arm back and glared at it; blue beams from his eyes quickly speared out to punch through Jane's force-field and strike at her arm a few inches above the wrist - but Tom drew back in surprise as the beams struck what had to be a second force-field, rotating inside Jane's outer field!

"What - you thought you were the only one studying Maryann Lyter back at 'the Axe'?" Jane growled. "You think I didn't learn anything fighting The Alliance? Jackass! You think I'm going to let someone pull the same trick on me twice?"

A hovering Tom dropped to the ruined asphalt and raised his hands in exasperation. "Are we done here?"

Jane glared flatly and Tom suddenly felt nauseous as his body began to ache all over. He seemed to feel heavy, so heavy it was hard to stand, and fell to his knees as the impossible weight kept piling on.

When Tom's eyes rolled back in his head and blood started running from his nose, Jane walked towards him, standing over him like a monument to tranquil insanity.

"Not... even...."

A few seconds later, Daria jogged through the broken front doors of Legion Tower and hurried over to her friend.


Jane was staring wordlessly at Tom, and her eyes shone with a flickering blue light. Tom was leaning backwards, still on his knees, and blood was running from his eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. His whole body seemed to tremble slightly.

"Jane," Daria said softly. "Come back, Jane. You don't want this, I know you don't."

"And you can go to hell," Jane said, her voice sounding rusty and broken. "You can die and go straight to hell."

Daria blinked and glanced nervously at Tom. "Jane, please. I know he's a jerk, but I can't let you kill him."

Jane barked off a laugh filled with condescension. "Like you could stop me? Oh, yeah . . . you need him around so you can screw him. He's screwed with my mind already - you should get the fleshy stuff."

Daria cocked her head. "Excuse me?"

Jane slowly turned her head, looking at Daria instead of Tom, and Daria could feel the power washing over her. "You think I haven't seen the way he looks at you? You think I haven't seen the way you look at him? If you aren't fooling around with him, it's just a matter of time."

Daria struggled for an answer, but luckily one was provided for her.

"You know Daria wouldn't do that to you, Janey."

"Trent?" Daria glanced around, but the musician was nowhere to be seen.

Trent's voice seemed to come from all around the raven-haired girl. "Come on, Janey. You defended your honor, but we both know this jerk isn't worth killing. They'll kick you out of the Legion, and you'll have to go to jail," Trent said. "You know what kind of food they serve in jail?"

Jane tried to remain angry. "But . . . but he . . . ."

The one voice that could always calm Jane Lane continued to speak. "I know what he did, Janey. He's just another jerk. If you want to punish him, there's better ways. Let it go."

Jane blinked once, and the glow faded from her eyes. She blinked again and the tears started falling; she staggered forward into her brother's arms, and winced slightly as she hugged him.


Daria glanced over and glared briefly at Brittany, who shrugged sheepishly, and tried to martial a warm smile for the shorter Legionnaire.

Rolling her eyes, Daria turned to check on Tom, who had collapsed to the ground in fits of twitching and spasms of pain. She knelt down to check his pulse - but before she could touch him, one of his random jerks brought his arm into contact with her leg, knocking her several feet into the air.

"Daria!" Brittany squeaked, running over to check her for injuries.

"I'm fine, I'm fine. My stupid fault - I actually forgot how strong he was for a second," Daria said, staggering to her feet. "God, that's gonna leave a mark." <Miss Carlyle, if you would be so kind as to join me in the parking lot I could use some assistance. Tom's brainwaves have been scrambled, and he's having a seizure.>

"Screw him," the curt reply came back. "Let the bastard writhe in pain."

Daria's eyes narrowed. <Miss Carlyle – obviously you misinterpreted my polite tone as a request, so allow me to rephrase: get your million dollar ass out here and patch together our other million dollar ass.>

"Ah, so we're going to roll like that."  Daria could hear the smile in Julia's voice. " I'm on my way."

"Are you sure you're going to be ok?" Brittany asked.

Daria took a deep breath. "I'll live, keep an eye on Tom until Carlyle gets out here. Don't get close enough to touch him."

Brittany nodded vigorously as Daria limped over to where the Lanes were standing. Jane had pulled away from her brother and the siblings were smiling at each other. When Daria stepped up, Jane flashed her a guilty look.

"I'm sorry about all the crazy accusations."

"He was attracted to me. I had a crush on him. I'm sorry," Daria said, seeing Trent wince out of the corner of her eye.


"I never acted on it, and whenever the thought popped up I crushed it," Daria said. "I'm just . . . I'm just not going to lie to you, Jane."

Jane nodded slowly. "I need some time away. There's this artist's colony, and Mom knows some people there. It'll help me clear my head - and if you still want me on the team, I'll be back in a couple of weeks."

"When does the next session start?"

"Anytime," Trent said. "People come and go all the time, it's pretty cool."

"So you won't mind waiting a day or so?" Daria asked.

"Um," Jane said with a frown. "I'm not sure if I'm going to pack a bag before going. I just wanted to let you know before I got some medical attention and then flew away."

"Please stay a little longer," Daria said.

"What the hell did you do to him?" Julia exclaimed, looking down at Tom and then back to Jane with a look that said she was clearly impressed. "Never mind, I don't want to know. Nice work, though. Do you want him completely patched up, mostly patched up, what?"

"I'm pretty sure nobody over here cares," Daria said dryly. "Suit yourself."

"Right," Julia muttered, recalling the stories that David Allen Farrington told her about the Sloanes when they were children in the First Academy. Snooty jerk. You made my friend cry. "Then 'will live long enough to reach the infirmary' it is. Bastard. Maybe he can share a room with other-Todds."

As Julia picked up Tom's arm – and stopped the other from hitting her with a grip that demonstrated that she also had some measure of super-strength – Jane looked over to Daria. "Why do you want me hanging around?"

Daria stepped forward. "It's a bit long to explain. Can I just show you?"

Jane nodded slowly and looked into Daria's big, brown eyes . . . becoming lost in them for just a moment before suddenly seeing a series of flashing images...

Fran being given the Cinderella drops for the first time... the thrill she felt as William Appleton slowly unbuttoned her blouse for the first time as he told her that he loved her, wanting so badly to believe that someone could, and that someone could want her like this... the training she received from various sources...  living in the locker at LAX... screaming out William's name as she gave herself to him in the back of a limousine...

Fran performing multiple acts of espionage for William culminating in her infiltration of Legion Tower... feeling as if she wanted to kill herself as she lay beside a sleeping William... the way she felt, as if she were less than nothing the entire gym class laughed after little Kimberly Liu called her ''Fran-kenstein' for the first time... holding her sister's hand just moments before the crash that changed her life...

Crying for hours as she slept beneath a pair of wool socks in a closed department store on the night she ran away from home, the overheard conversation in which William calmly planned Fran's death, the way fear and desperation fell away from her as Daria invited her inside the Morgendorffer home... how jealous she felt as she watched from inside a heating duct as Jane and Tom made out in his room, her shirt and bra off as she moaned with pleasure... watching as the Quest Foundation personnel and USAES tech-support cadets wired up the hardware in the monitor room, and planting her bugs so that they were part of the normal system...

Daria's eyes flickered, and Jane saw something that she knew Daria hadn't intended to share:


She saw herself, along with Daria and Quinn, not meeting Russell Stark on the plane when they'd fled Lawndale two years before, and hearing about his death in passing days later.


A bitter argument in the Los Angeles airport and the three girls going their separate ways... living in a crappy Motel 6 and using her powers to control people to get the things she needed...being in the back of a convenience store when three guys came in to rob it, and mind-controlling everyone there in order to take their cash.


Daria almost dying because she couldn't get her blood pressure under control, the bodies of the three robbers slumped where they dropped in her hotel room, their brains leaking out their ears and noses, twitching from the effects of the very first mind-blast she had ever projected... meeting Fran and then, William Appleton, and being promised a way to curb her telepathy... Fran in a massive bed, her nude form glistening with sweat and backlit by the New York skyline, her undamaged face awash with passion as she turned away from William and pulled Daria in for a blistering kiss-

Daria pulled away from the link, looking away in shame.

"What was that last part?" Jane asked. "Oh, my God..."

"Something that came one flat tire away from becoming reality," Daria said quietly. "He's after the Legion, and he's after Fran, and he could have been after me too. Maybe he is, and hasn't gotten his chance yet."


"Let's give him one," Jane said coldly, holding out her undamaged arm.

From a score of places around the parking lot, chunks of super dense metal pulled themselves free and floated to their mistress. Without looking, Jane began to mould herself a new weapon... a war hammer with a head the size of a mailbox, and an eighteen inch handle.

"I thought Quinn was the thunder god," Daria smirked.

"When she can lift it, she can have it," Jane said. "In the mean time, let's go plan a surprise party."


"Let me see that arm," Julia said, walking over to her. "He did a number on you, Jane. I'm surprised you're still standing."


"I'm not," Trent said, his voice warm with pride.


The four Legionnaires, along with Trent, picked their way through the rough terrain and went back into the Tower. A team of EMTs passed the teenagers on their way out, hurrying to get Tom on a stretcher and to the infirmary.




"A moment, Miss Lane."


Jane fell away from the other Legionnaires as she saw Armalin standing in the just inside the main foyer. "Yes, sir?


The Marine looked her over. "Interesting moves, there – putting down a Class Five meta and surviving the experience."


Jane had been around Armalin long enough to begin to understand his style of dealing with people. "Sir, I just want to-" she began.


Armalin cut her off. "I don't hold Mister Sloane wholly responsible – yet – for the way he carries himself, because, apparently, he hasn't been taught any better."


Jane could have sworn that she felt a touch of regret in the Marine's voice as he continued. "A dog isn't committing vandalism when he urinates on a fire hydrant. He's just being a dog."


He looked the Legionnaire directly in the eye. "I expected more of you. I've seen the people who have been in your life, and the way that you carry yourself. Don't allow people who have less class and breeding than you drag you down to their level, Miss Lane. You have always been better than that."


Jane blinked at the compliment she had just received.


"Two more things, Miss Lane," Armalin said, as he turned to leave. First, ask Mister Mackenzie to go outdoors and clean up your little mess, since he's apparently had some experience at that – and I'd hate to have to bill you for the damage."


Jane winced. "Yeah. I can do that."


"Also," Armalin continued, "The next time you feel the need to punish young Master Sloane for what he did off-world – go and find a lamp. Turn it on, and then look at it from different places in the room."


The Legionnaire looked slightly puzzled. "I don't understand-"


Armalin smiled slightly. "It's the same light - but depending on where you stand, it casts a different shadow. You would do well to focus not on all of the women he bedded, but on all of the millions of people whose lives he saved by staying there to fight. Even the gods have feet of clay... and many great men have done things in their youth they have always regretted. Things they've done out of the ignorance of youth, things because no one took the time to teach them better, and some things... some things they do because they're scared that there won't be a tomorrow. Words to consider, as it were."


Armalin took a couple of steps away, and then turned back. "Something else you might also consider, Miss Lane," he said, after examining her for a moment. "After finding out about Mister Sloane's indiscretions, you could have just broken up with him. You could have punished him in a multitude of ways – but you chose to hurt him as much as you felt he hurt you. It's also time for you to consider your true feelings for the boy."


The Marine walked away.


After a moment of quiet reflection, Jane also walked from the foyer.





"Sorry about being late," Jane said, as she walked into the secure meeting room.


"Well, taking care of a pet does take up a woman's time," Sandi joked, no malice in her tone; everyone in the room looked at Sandi in slight shock as they realized that she had just made a joke.


"Yeah, it's my fault," Jane said. Her smile and cheerful demeanor contrasted sharply with her torn, bloodstained uniform. The dried blood on her face looked like war paint, just marred here and there where she'd tried to rub it away while entering the room. "Next time, I housebreak him right away."


Mack muttered something about opening a dry cleaning store as he raised his right hand and focused the Defender Ring he wore on drawing the filth and blood off Jane; her eyes went wide as her fellow Legionnaire transfigured the drawn muck into a strawberry-sized diamond that dropped into Jane's hand. "So you'll have something nice to remember from tonight," he said.


Jane found herself bathed in a soft blue light; moments later, all the rips and tears in her clothing mended themselves.


"Why, Mr. MacKenzie!" Jane exclaimed. "You do have a soft touch, don't you? I'm tingling all over, awash with delight. What else can you do with that thing?"


Mack's face darkened as he blushed from Jane's blatant flirting. "Actually, you missed the lecture on that. Somebody else will have to loan you their notes."


"No need," Jane said, walking to her seat. "I'll just watch you in action – as you clean up the new mess outside with your new bling. There'll be no more unauthorized sharing around here – oh."    


She paused and raised an eyebrow at Fran - who immediately stood and moved away from the table. " I didn't mean you, tiny."


"No, it's ok," Fran replied – but a slight murmuring went around the room as the new girl immediately shrank down to the size of a bird and fluttered across the room, landing on Daria's shoulder.


This will do nothing to curb the rumors, Daria thought. "If everyone could take their seats," she said aloud. "We still have a third order of business on our action item agenda."


"Who sent Fran to bug the tower?" Charles asked. "What do they want with the Legion?"


"Not they," Daria said. "He." She tapped a few keys on the table's control panel; a holographic image of a fit, handsome man in his forties with black hair appeared above the center of the table, and began rotating slowly. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to William Appleton, of Appleton Industries."


"I know him," Julia said, her voice icy as she recalled William's efforts to get her alone after a formal Washington Christmas ball she attended with family the year before. "Appleton Industries is one of the companies licensed to manufacture 'flush' – and that – person – he's a...."


"Disgusting, spiteful lecher," Jodie said, cutting Julia off mid-sentence. "I met him at one of Congressman Sack's fundraisers. I've never had that much small-talk directed at my breasts before or since."


"You're lucky," Julia said, her voice almost a growl as she remembered the girl Appleton disappeared with from the ball "He's very smooth, he knows exactly how to smooze and charm someone, and he likes teenage girls. He must not have really wanted to bed you – or you'd have woken up the next morning in a hotel room wondering 'how did this happen?' I've heard stories."


The room filled with a chorus of 'eeewwwww!" from the Fashion Club girls, Daria looked slightly ill, and Fran's face went scarlet with shame.


"He also intends to use the Legion as guinea pigs," Daria said flatly. "He's actually responsible - at least in part - for the animal encounters that gave many of us our powers. He's working with others on something called 'Project 33.1' - the purpose of which seems to be finding a way to 'deal with' metahumans."


"Wait . . . what?" Sandi asked.


"We don't have a lot of information on it," Daria said with a shrug. "I'm sure we'll have more after we raid his lab. That's the third thing I wanted to talk to everyone about: we need to plan this raid carefully."


"Fieldwork," Brittany said, a slow smile spreading across her face. She glanced across the table at Stacy and saw the same smile.


"Before we get into that, what are we going to do about the Ringbearer?" Mack asked; Daria glanced over at her sister as she felt the sudden spike of emotion from Quinn. "They're going to send somebody to check on her eventually."


"One thing at a time," Daria said. "After we deal with Appleton, we'll decide what we're going to do about the Corps. Now, I'd like to pass the floor to Fran Lawrence. Fran - can you tell us everything you know about Appleton's plans, his lab, and his security set up?"


Fran expanded back to her normal size. "I'll tell you everything you want to know."


Good," Daria said, smiling. "Then let's get started. After all, we should have all of our affairs in order... before we go to meet our maker."