Chapter 13:9 – 'Candle In The Wind'
Shanghalla. Ever since there were metahumans working for the government, there was Shanghalla – the final resting place for the heroes. There are sick people in the world, people who would do anything to get hold of a metahuman's body – especially a famous one, or someone who was really powerful – and then, the bad guys would trash the place on general principle. Because of that, it became one of the most secure places on Earth.
Shanghalla is a place that, thank God, I rarely had cause to visit. It was unavoidable, though, if you were going to be in this line of work.
When it comes to sex, they say that you always remember your first time. I guess that sex and death really are similar – because I've never forgotten my first visit there.
I'll never forget who we buried there, either. He was never a superhero, he never did anything of the sort, he wasn't even human – but if it hadn't been for him, none of this would have ever existed. A hero's funeral, and the Torn Cape Ceremony, was the least we could do for him.
-from The Collected Diaries of Anastasia Rowe, Legionnaire
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
- from Candle in The Wind, by Elton John
Daria vomited the second that the elevator door opened.
"What the hell-?" Jane shrieked, she and Quinn catching Daria before she fell against the wall or the elevator. "Daria, what's wrong?"
Daria began cleaning herself off as Sandi's voice rang out, colder and sharper than Jane had ever heard it before. "Come and see for yourself, Jane."
"It was – it was like a knife was just rammed into my head," Daria whispered, fighting to suppress the avalanche of pain exploding through her mind as Jane and Quinn helped her off the elevator – and into a nightmare. "There were all of these thoughts... oh, God, Jane, they're all screaming..."
The three girls stepped out into a corridor that consisted of two levels, the second with walkways accessible by staircases and electric lifts. The corridor was thirty yards wide, and easily the length of a football field...
The area was full of holding cells that ran the entire length of the corridor on both levels – and each enclosed cell held an animal.
As Jane, Quinn and Daria walked to the spot where the other Legionnaires were congregated – at one of the 'supply stations' (there were six, with two at the mid-point of the corridor, and the remaining four positioned opposite one another one-quarter of the way from either end of the corridor – Jane noticed something that was truly frightening.
Even though there were literally hundreds of animals held in the area; dogs and cats, raccoons, squirrels, groundhogs, owls, foxes – and the majority of the ones that were able to move about seemed to be trying to catch their attention...
...but there was no sound. The corridor was dead silent, save the sounds the Legionnaires made.
The Legionnaires, including Charles and Fran (and Daria felt a slight swell of anger as she saw them – why didn't you take her back to the Tower?), were at the station nearest to the elevator on the right-hand side of the corridor, barely acknowledging the arrival of the three original members as they looked about the area with increasing horror...
"Oh, God," Brittany said, crossing herself as she saw a badger inside one holding cell writhe in pain as it exploded into blue-white flame, its eyes showing that it was beyond insane from the pain even as the hideous burns it suffered healed instantly, and its fur grew back at a frightening rate-
The badger's mouth opened wide with a soundless howl of pain as it arched itself and exploded into a larger fireball. As the Legionnaires watched, it rolled about in agony as the flames filled the holding cell, briefly illuminating the area in front of the cell as the unfortunate creature's fur and flesh were seared from its body once more.
"This isn't right...this is so – so mean! It's Evil!" Brittany cried out, unable to turn away from the sight of the badger as a third flash of blue-white light lit up the holding cell and it continued to undulate with unending pain. "Who would do this to these poor animals?"
"Someone who I'm going to enjoy snapping handcuffs on," Julia growled, fingering the thigh pocket where her provisional FBI badge rested, and momentarily nursing the thought of taking her service pistol (in the closet safe in her quarters, back at Legion Tower) across the temple of anyone who could walk even once down this corridor and still call themselves human.
Don't fool yourself, Carlyle, she thought, as she saw a tiny brown streak in a holding cell stop for the briefest of instances – it was a squirrel, bone-thin, unable to remain still, moving so fast (even while attempting to stand still) that it took the use of her enhanced vision to perceive that it actually was a squirrel.
The squirrel stood still, in normal speed, for less than three seconds – and then, blurred out as it once again shifted into hyper-speed. Each and every one of those bastards resigned from humanity when they stepped out of this area, and didn't go directly to the police and the media.
I might learn to like her after all, Daria observed, as she passed by Julia and caught her thoughts.
"They soundproofed the entire damned place," Sandi said, unable to take her eyes off a large Persian cat with sparkling, snow white fur... a cat that simply sat primly and watched them with unblinking eyes.
Daria, supported by Jane, approached the cat's holding cell. "Oh, God, Daria," she said, moving closer. "The cat ... it's crying."
"That's impossible," Jodie said through the link "Cats do not shed tears as an emotional response!"
"This one does," Mack said, reading from one of several thick three-ring binders he had found at the supply station. "Subject FW-CF-117 – 'Powder'. Species: Felis catus. Breed and gender: Persian/male. Approximate age: one year at time of procurement. Means of procurement – purchased from independent contractor after random sweep for feral animals. Paranormal activation protocol: genetic augmentation procedure 0012 – mental enhancement. Subject shows signs of exhibiting uninterruptable empathic ability allowing subject to monitor of emotional states of all beings within a 100-meter radius; subject shows signs of exhibiting tactile-activated empathic ability, allowing subject to initiate viable communications with other species. DO NOT COME IN CONTACT WITH SUBJECT UNLESS WEARING PSI-RESISTANT COVERINGS. AVOID ALL DIRECT CONTACT WITH SUBJECT UNLESS NECESSARY."
As Daria turned to face the cat, her autonomic power of immediate language-fluency kicked in; a soft, desperate voice rose up in her mind.
==You can hear me. You hurt – you hurt, too, but you can hear me.==
Daria knelt down in front of the cat. >>I can hear you.<<
The cat's voice was clear, and desperate; she suddenly remembered how she felt in the first days of having her powers, hearing voices – and how she felt when she found that her parents wanted to have her committed. ==I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home.==
Oh, God. This is what it would have been like for me in that place, Daria thought, remembering how, after her telepathic power had manifested, her parents wanted to institutionalize her for observation and tests to check and see if she was schizophrenic. They would have locked me away like this, in a little room. I would have sat there, hearing everyone's thoughts, and I would have slowly gone crazy.
The cat continued in mind-speech. ==Nobody touches me. Nobody pets me. They took me out of the yard. They took me. I want my family. They stick me with the sharp things. They pick me up with the cold metal hands. They hurt me. They hurt everybody. They hurt. Everyone hurts. Make it stop. You can hear me. Make it all stop. Make them stop hurting. I want to go home. I want my family. I want to go home. I want to go home.==
Daria looked into the cat's eyes; refusing to give way to the tears that Brittany and Quinn had allowed - even as the cat put a single paw against the clear observation wall, quiet desperation in its eyes.
She placed her hand to his paw. >>If I can,<< she told the cat, >>I'll see that you go home. Tell me everything that happened.<<
The cat's irises began to glow with the same brilliant blue witchfire that filled Daria's irises as Daria's mind opened up to the cat's power – they missed that he's also a telepath, too, she thought – as the furry prisoner's lifetime of memories flowed into her head.
>>Let me help you,<< she told him. >>Do you remember the fence in your family's backyard, the solid one of wood that kept that collie out? Think of that fence in your head. Think of your family putting it up for you; every single piece around the basket that you slept in. Go and lay down in your basket; let them put the fence up around the basket. Every time you feel the hurt, watch them put up another part until all of the hurt goes away.<<
"What's she doing?" Stacy asked, drawing back from the sight of Daria and the cat with identical, glowing eyes.
"She's in a mindlink – probably helping the poor cat put up his mental shields," Julia answered, remembering how more than a few Academy telepaths ended up in the hospital after having a 'breach' – a failure of their basic mental shields, the ones that protected a telepath from the overwhelming thoughts of everyone in the area around them. "The poor furball developed psi-powers, and didn't know what was happening to him - let alone how to control any of it."
The glow in Daria's eyes faded. The cat's eyes lost their shimmer as well, and he rubbed against the wall where Daria's hand had rested before lying down against a wall in a soft ball, the tension and pain seemingly gone from his tiny body.
Daria rose from the front of the holding cell. "Before this is over... I – am - going – to - make – someone – hurt – for – this."
"Yes," Sandi said, looking at the resting animal, and remembering her own pet. "Oh, yes."
As Daria brushed off her knees, Mack – having flipped through several pages in his book, was walking towards the halfway point of the corridor, counting off the numbers on the clear front walls of the enclosures. "Guys. Look at this. Jodie – can you get a feed off any of the cameras in this area?"
"They're running 24/7 camera surveillance throughout the entire complex, except the sleeping quarters in Kansas City," Jodie's voice rang out in all of their heads. "I've been running live feeds to MTAC for the past six minutes."
Mack's voice was sharp and bitter as he looked directly at the small, plastic sphere at eye-level in the wall beside him; with a sense of disbelief, he suddenly noticed what had been obvious all along – that he was looking into a camera, and that the entire corridor – the ceiling, the walls the interior of every cell – was lined with cameras, giving complete and constant coverage of everything that was happening there.
Back at Legion Tower, the men and women in Legion MTAC were beyond angry at the images coming through of the abused animals.
"Focus, everyone!" Tom barked, surprising everyone (including himself) at his tone. "I don't want to hear anyone hissing 'evil animal researchers' again, either!"
A young woman – a part of the Legion training cadre, Tom remembered - flushed bright pink as Tom looked directly at her. "'Voice of reason', everyone. This is something entirely beyond 'normal research' – right?"
The woman rushed out of the room, and Tom shook his head. "Sergeant Nemec – she's about to do something stupid. Do you mind?"
As the former marine NCO left Legion MTAC – an overly pleased look on her face as she took off the headset she wore and headed for the exit – Tom turned back to the screen. "What did you just say, Inferno?"
"They're all part of the same litter," Mack said as he pointed out several holding cells, each holding a puppy several months old. "Subjects H-S2-201 though 211. They were chosen for this test simply because their mother had a larger-than-normal litter."
Mack turned a page in the folder and looked directly into one of the multitude of cameras, managing to rise above the anger he felt as he watched one of the puppies standing up on its hind legs, wagging its tail furiously as it tried to get his attention. "They're testing some sort of formula that reduces the body's need for food and water. Their test deals with giving most of the dogs given different amounts of the formula after they were weaned off their mother. Two are control animals. One was fed normally and given no formula, they gave another nothing but the formula - and then, they starved and denied water to the rest of the litter for five days in order to record the levels of -- 'physical distress'."
Mack put down the folder. "This is the eleventh round of tests with this formula. And the eleventh litter of pups. Ultra – tell the Colonel that we could use some backup down here to deal with this. Remember?"
"Roger that, Inferno. I'm on that."
The dam behind Quinn's emotions burst fully at that moment. "We have to let them go!" she cried out. "We have to get them all out of here – we have to let them all go!"
Daria's voice rang out through the corridor. "We can't."
Julia looked at Daria as if she were insane. "Daria – I know that you can be cold, but not even you can think that this is a good thing and-"
Daria ignored Julia as her right hand rose from her side. "Quinn. Resemble anyone you know?"
Julia fell silent as her gaze followed Daria's pointed finger to the first holding cell, past the last of the litter of puppies (a brown and gold hound lying listless on the floor of his cell, his ribs showing through his skin) to see a skunk inside. "It's a skunk," she snorted. "What's so special about a – oh, my God."
As Julia remembered the meaning behind the small animal, Quinn – not even realizing that she had walking over to the cell - found herself kneeling in front of the skunk that looked so very familiar. Her heart nearly jumped up into her throat as she recalled that morning, so long ago:
"Why the hell are you here?" said Daria.
"Mom wants you. She's been trying to call Jane for the last fifteen minutes, and someone picked up the phone but she couldn't understand what he was saying. Something about boats."
"That was Trent," said Jane. "Probably dreaming about being a submarine captain again."
"Why does Mom want me home so badly that she sent you over here?"
"She figured you had been gone too long."
"This is Saturday," said Daria.
"Yeah. But Mom has a day off and she's decided that she wants the whole family together, and God knows why. Hey, look!!"
Everyone turned. A rabbit was chewing on the overgrown grass at the edge of the Lane back yard.
"It's a rabbit. We have those every now and then," said Jane.
"It's so cute! We never have anything in our back yard! Here bunny bunny bunny!"
Quinn leaned in closer, her eyes blinking as she saw not the interior of the cell, but some bushes in the thickly wooded area behind Casa Lane:
There was one bush, it was moving, and the rabbit had to be near it.
"Oh, you're so cute! Here little rabbit! I have some grass for you!!" When Quinn began to resort to baby talk, Daria and Jane began to sneak up quietly behind Quinn, to scream at the most appropriate moment.
Quinn got closer to the rabbit. Daria and Jane got close to Quinn.
Daria and Jane screamed! Quinn leapt two feet in terror!
The interior of the holding cell exploded with light – exactly the way it had happened so long ago, on the day that changed her life forever - as the skunk, looking for food, saw Quinn's face close to the wall...
...As the skunk, looking for food, decided that he was now under attack... and should defend himself.
Quinn fell away from the holding cell, sat back on the floor and simply stared at the enclosed skunk –
-Who was happy that the threat was gone, and chose that moment to resume his foraging for food.
"It's him," she said, her voice barely audible, even in the eerie quiet of the corridor that was 'Topeka'. "It's him."
Mack, having heard the story of the 'electric skunk' before and still (even after what he'd seen and been through) a little skeptical, looked as if he had just seen a UFO land in front of him. "It's true. It's the skunk."
Jane was a bit calmer as she looked at the animal. "Yeah. That's the one who got us."
Daria slid the folder Mack had from his suddenly loose fingers, and began flipping pages. "Yes - and no. 'Subject #71282005-1:09 – 'Fuzzems'. Fourth-generation genetic replicate of 'Subject #71282005-1:05 –'Cuddles'. Paranormal activation protocol: augmentation method 0004 – energy generation. NOTE: ALL subjects in this genetic strain display evidence of augmentation methods 0003, 0004, and 0014. IN ORDER TO MINIMIZE RISK OF ACCIDENTAL GENETIC AUGMENTATION, SUBJECT SHOULD BE HANDLED THROUGH REMOTE ACCESS ONLY."
Daria felt herself go cold. "It's a clone. Julia – Jane. Go get Appleton – and bring Tiffany with him."
Jane looked into Daria eyes – and without another word, nodded, and started towards the elevator as Julia turned to Daria.
"Daria-" Julia began.
"Go with her - Archangel."
The tall redhead looked around the corridor at the suffering animals, and then, turned her gaze back to Daria. "Okay."
Colonel Armalin stepped into the room on the ninth floor of Legion Tower, and closed the door behind him. "Mackenzie considers you 'backup'", he said, looking at the figure bound to the bed by sturdy restraints.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath – and when he opened his eyes, his pupils were glowing with a bluish hue – a sign that his telepathic power was active. "Let's talk."
Jodie shuddered as William, a piece of duct tape covering his mouth, began to struggle as he saw Tiffany, a black drawstring bag in hand, prepare to put it over his head.
Tiffany turned William's head so he could look into her eyes; she held his gaze for a few seconds, turned to look at the bag, and then, turned back to him. "Orrrrrrr...elseeeeee."
Having learned how to accurately read people over the years, William recognized the signs of a person who meant exactly what they said - and immediately stopped moving, remaining still so that Tiffany could slip the bag over his head.
"No... sounds... or... move... ment," she said. "No... sigggggg...nalssss... orrrrr... elseeeeee."
"As much as I'd love to see the 'or else' part – Daria wants Appleton downstairs," Julia said, stepping from the elevator. "She wants you down there, too, Tiffany. After you see what's down there – she may let you have him as a scratching post.
As the Legionnaires took Appleton into the elevator and the doors closes, Jodie turned back to the computer terminal.
A panel in the ceiling behind her slid open silently, and Elijah Russell watched from his perch as the young woman worked at the terminal.
"Look at them."
Daria, the mental screens of her Mark 30 active to protect her from the overwhelming thoughts of the animals, watched as a Sphinx cat with gills swam around in its water-filled holding pen, the environmental reprocessors filling the pen with bubbles. "These animals have no place in the world."
"What do you mean, Daria?" Brittany sniffled, wiping hard at her tear-streaked face.
"What she means is that the last time some 'do-gooders' like you blew in here, they released hundreds of test animals into the open."
The Legionnaires turned to see William, flanked by Tiffany and Julia, as they exited the elevator. "Why isn't he gagged or something?" Jane asked, as the three approached.
"Because I'm not a fool," the man spoke up, shooting a sideways glance at Tiffany, who never took her eyes off him. "I plan on walking out of here on my own power."
"Tiffany, heel," Jane said, noticing how even Sandi was slightly unnerved by the predatory gleam in Tiffany's eyes – damn, she really wants him to try something. It'll give her an excuse.
"Plans change," Daria said simply. "Talk."
William sized Daria up, and some of his bravado returned. "On what subject, my dear? Female undergarments? I must admit, you don't seem the type to sport anything in the V.L. Riley 'Mystique' catalogue... but those photos show that you wear it well."
His view was suddenly blocked, and he looked into a pair of wild brown eyes he'd seen once before, long ago. "Answer the woman," Stacy growled, "and without being funny."
"What you're doing here is worlds beyond simple drug or product research," Daria said, noting how William immediately focused on her instead of Stacy and Tiffany, who were giving him looks that dared him to glance in either direction. "This entire place is worlds beyond simple research."
Daria took a step forward. "You're developing ways to create powers – a world of powers, it looks like – but you haven't gotten it down yet, or you've got a lot of failures-"
"Or you aren't thinking anywhere nearly as big as you need to," the man said with disdain. "You want to know why I'm doing all of this? Turn to your left."
The Legionnaires (except for Tiffany; William suppressed a shudder as she continued to start at him) watched as Daria turned to her left – and came face-to-face with her reflection in a highly polished metal panel on the wall beside her. "That's why I'm doing all of this... because of all of you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Mack asked, moving closer to William. "What do you mean, 'because of us?'"
"I'm not talking about you, mutant," William said, dismissing him without preamble as he turned to look Julia in the eye, "although a family line such as yours is worth studying. You're in one of the Twelve Clans, aren't you? The Clan Carlyle; your appearance and wings are like fingerprints to my people."
Charles stopped Julia before she could speak; as they talked quietly, William turned back to Daria. "I assume that you can't scan me – because you would have already, if you could. I'm not telling you little bitches and punks anything, except this: you're trespassing. You've violated God knows how many laws including felony destruction of property, computer espionage, kidnapping, unlawful search and seizure, unlawful restraint, mob action, felony assault, God knows how much property destruction-"
The man didn't even flinch as Brittany all but screeched "And you've been torturing animals!"
A sigh escaped from William. "Performing research on test subjects legally acquired. You don't have a leg to stand on, none of you have the legal authority to do a single thing to me, and since you-"
Charles cut him off as he glanced in Julia's direction. "I believe that the lovely Miss Carlyle has something that she would like to show you."
William let a lecherous smile cross his face – one that dropped away as Julia brought out her FBI credentials. "I never leave home without it," the redhead said, her smile hard. "You probably know your Miranda rights, you bastard. Let's hear them!"
The glare he threw in Julia's direction could have melted the Arctic. "You bitch, I'll have my-"
"Threatening a federal officer," Julia snipped. "That's going to be another lump of coal in your stocking. Let's take it from the top."
William scowled at Julia, than spat out, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"
"Very good," Julia said, and William winced as Julia grasped the upper part of his left arm. "Keep going."
William looked as if he could chew through diamonds. "You can decide at any time from this moment on to terminate the interview and exercise these rights."
"Very good," Julia said, mocking him. "What else?"
The man looked away from Julia as he snarled, "Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you? Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?"
"Wow, you should have become a soulless lawyer, instead of a piece-of-**** corporate head who doesn't mind causing widespread pain and suffering to get profitable products out there on the market," Julia replied. "Now – our bonus round! Do you understand each of these rights that you have just explained to us? Come on, be honest..."
I am so going to buy her a beer for this, Jane thought, smiling as she watched William - wincing in pain from the way Julia held his arm – at which point Julia released him and repeated her question
"Yes," William hissed. "I understand."
"Great!" Julia said. "Now, having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now about exactly how much of an animal-abusing, underage girl-molesting, hell-blowing-open-once-you-get-there, absolute bastard you really are?"
William looked Julia directly in the eye; any sense of composure vanished with his retort. "Go fuck yourself, Bureau whore."
"You're about to hurt my feelings," Julia replied. " Am I too old for you? I'm arresting you for multiple violations of Article Seventeen of the 1982 Bowman Act, at least one confirmed violation of Article Five of the 1985 Bowman Act - unlawful confinement and experimentation upon living beings afforded sentient or near-sentient status on the Keller scale; that cat probably hates you, by the way - God knows how many violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2257 – the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988, and all related multiple felony charges that causes me to invoke 2257... and last but not least – conspiracy to violate Titles One and Ten of the USA PATRIOT Act. You might end up losing this entire facility – those federal asset forfeiture statutes are a bitch."
As Julia spoke, she undid the plastic restraints William wore – and as the Legionnaires watched with approval, William grunted as the redhead pressed him into a wall and snapped a pair of handcuffs on him. "A girl should always have a real set of charm bracelets on hand – oh, almost forgot," she continued, "there's also conspiracy to attempted murder, conspiracy to multiple attempts of kidnapping, and Title Eight of the USA PATRIOT Act. That's for listening in on my friends, and trying to bag them."
William grunted as Julia turned him back around to face her. "That's better. You're going away for all time. Ultra – do me a favor."
Tom's voice came through to her loud and clear. "I'm listening."
"Get on the line to FBI Headquarters in D.C. and ask to speak to the Director," she said. "Pull rank and have the Colonel do it, if you have to. Tell the Director what's happened, where we are –that they need to send a PELT-certified Special Agent along with him – and that they need to keep their trip in quiet. I know that's a joke, but still..."
William laughed in her face. "Stupid bitch! I'll never see the inside of a jail cell - Ooooof!"
He grunted with pain as Julia kicked his feet out from beneath him, making him drop on his bottom. "I'm sorry - my foot slipped," Julia replied smoothly. "Tiffany, would you and Stacy take him back to his quarters, and wait with him there for the FBI? I'll be back up in a bit."
"Not even a night!" William laughed. "I'm going to hold a huge press conference, and oh, I'm going to scream to the entire world about-"
Quinn jabbed William in the neck with her left index and middle fingers, and the man squealed, jerking and wetting himself as a tiny arc of electricity enveloped him. "What?" she said, looking up at the other Legionnaires. "He just kept going, and going, and going..."
The Leader of the Legion focused her attention on Fran, who (she had just noticed) had returned to normal size; apparently not wanting to be noticed by Appleton, she had shrunken down and hid. "Chameleon," she said; Charles turned to her. "Take Fran back to the Tower. Have Sergeant Nemec stay with her; I suddenly have a bad feeling."
Stacy hefted Appleton over her shoulder and followed Tiffany down the corridor, with Charles and Fran following a good distance behind; Daria had already dismissed the unconscious man from her mind as she returned her attention to the imprisoned animals.
"We got him, Daria," Jane spoke out, as she walked over to her best friend. "Don't pay attention to what that jackass said. For everything that he did to Fran alone and the videos that he made of it – he's going away, and not to a country club prison."
"That doesn't help any of these guys... does it, Jane?" Daria moved down to another holding cell - this one containing a Tufted Capuchin monkey who was keeping himself occupied by projecting broadcast-quality holographs of various places – lightly wooded enclosures, pools of water, a home with a thirty-something man in a wheelchair...
As they watched, Daria and Jane noted the way the monkey seemed sad as he stared at the image of the man; the monkey created solid-light versions of objects that, six seconds after creation, became real – an orange, a urinal, a flyswatter – but every time he offered it to the man, the projected illusion shattered, and the offered item also disappeared.
"Now that's a handy trick," Jane said.
The elevator doors opened to admit Stacy, Tiffany and William to his quarters – and the Legionnaires chose not to even bother asking about the unconscious, bound form of Elijah Russell on the opposite side of the desk, or why he looked as if he'd been trampled by a herd of buffalo.
"I've been going through the files, and roughly two years ago, they had a major security breach here, just as Appleton said earlier," Jodie continued, nodding to her teammates as they sat William back on the couch and placed the black bag over his head again. "Some activists apparently got in here and released hundreds of animals, including the skunk that got you. They ended up getting killed for their trouble. "
Jane's voice came through clearly. "These bastards killed them?"
Jodie's response sent shudders through the Legionnaires. "They didn't get the chance. The activists had just begun letting the bigger animals go when they caused a lockdown, about thirty minutes in – the security they had back then was pathetic, if they could go a full half-hour without being noticed. They got locked in, and, well... it's not pretty."
Stacy, coming up to the desk where Jodie was working, saw a glimpse of the autopsy photos of a young woman – almost a third of her body had been eaten - and turned away. Quickly.
Jodie glanced up at her teammate's reaction, shrugged, and continued on with her report to the others. "Apparently, the animals that didn't make it out were more in step with the realities of nature then the animal activists were - and didn't share their uninformed feelings about the rights of all creatures, great and small, to 'live and let live'."
She clicked over to a photo of a Lawndale State University student ID, several pinpricks of blood still visible on the young woman's photo. "Apparently, they never saw the cautionary tale for animal activists that is the film Grizzly Man."
Mack let a whistle escape his lips. "Damn, Jodie, that's cold." Guess it's a good thing we broke up – I'd have frozen 'Air Jordan' off if I'd have taken a dip in there. She's definitely her mother's daughter, especially after she got her powers.
Daria's eyes went wide as she caught Mack's thought, but brushed it off as Jodie continued to speak. "I'm looking at the autopsy reports. They didn't die well – and what was left of them is stored over in 'Lawrence' – the human experiment wing."
Jodie's words caused the Legionnaires to snap into focus. "The what?" Daria asked.
"Subject Containment Area Alpha," Jodie's voice rang out. "Head out the main door, and turn to your right. They store the remains there, and keep the others in cryo-suspension. Hmm - they've managed to work out the crystallization issues. I'll have to download those files for later-"
"JODIE!" Jane's voice was an explosion that actually rattled Jodie. "They have people locked up in there – like this – any reason you're NOW just mentioning it to us?"
"Because they have a number of bodies in cold storage, six people in cryo-stasis – and because people seem to have a stronger sense of moral outrage when they see other animals in torment than their fellow humans," Jodie replied. "No one there is in dire need of anything. These creatures, however, need immediate help."
Mack spoke up. "Speaking of which – Ultra, that backup I asked about-"
As if on cue, Danielle Todds – the Ringbearer that the Legionnaires had fought days earlier – appeared in a disappearing flash of light.
"Hello – Master Ringbearer," Mack said – instantly noticing that the Ringbearer's eyes were now a brilliant, ocean blue, that her skin was pale, her hair was a homey-brown shade - she was also a good four inches taller. She's using a 'glamour' – so Quinn won't connect her with her counterpart here. "Are we good?"
Danielle turned in a slow, complete circle, taking in the area, before directing her attention back to Mack. "We're good for now," she said, her Defender Ring leaping from Mack's hand and coming to rest on her right ring finger. "Another Appleton Industries lab, eh? Talk about 'the fruit of the poisoned tree'."
The entire area was awash with a blue light that flowed from the Ring. "This company is starting to become a real pain everywhere we turn," she thought aloud. "They're not at the level of Weyland-Yutani, Aztechnology or God forbid, those bastards at Roxxon – at least not yet - but still..."
The blue light faded, and Mack walked up to the Ringbearer. "Find something?"
Danielle nodded gravely. "Yes - I did. Do you remember Canberra – just after the Great Zack Walkabout began?"
Mack visibly shuddered as the Ringbearer pointed to a holding cell on the upper level, near the far end of the corridor, where a blue glow illuminated the interior. "These people are very lucky," she continued. "Up there."
The Ringbearer started to walk towards the holding cell; the Legionnaires began to walk after her, but Mack held his hand out to stop them. "If you don't have a very strong stomach – you don't want to see this," he told his teammates. "You guys don't – you shouldn't have to see this."
Mack looked Jane dead in the eye. "This is what Tom had to deal with, Jane. This is what he had to see on a daily basis."
Jane didn't back down. "Then I need to see it, too."
Jane walked past Mack, and Quinn started after her. "My team," she said, before Mack had a chance to protest. "Daria – take the others and go see the other wing ... the one with the people."
Ninety minutes later, heavily armed federal officers, along with an army of others wearing the iconic blue windbreakers with 'FBI' in large, bright yellow letters, were swarming all throughout the Appleton Industries facility.
Supervisory Special Agent Tobias C. Fornell stood in the center of the Badlands, Julia at his side. "Pretty big score for an agent – let alone a probationary agent who's technically still in college and isn't even old enough to drink legally," Fornell said, watching as a line of researchers and security personnel were led outside, where several prisoner transports were waiting. "You sure that you don't want the credit for the bust?"
Julia shook her head. "Sets a bad precedent – and there would be entirely too much publicity focused on me and the Legion."
Fornell looked her over. "Yeah – I kind of figured you'd want to be low-key after I heard that we needed to bring someone PELT-certified to this hole in the wall. After I heard you were involved, I figured that something bad had gone down."
Another line of prisoners was led past the Legionnaire and the Special Agent; Julia noted that members of the famed FBI Hostage Rescue Team escorted them. "That's why you brought the Wild Bunch up, hmm?"
"Don't get smart, kid," Fornell shot back. "Some of them have calluses older than you are. So – you're a meta-active, right? Kind of figured that, too, after I heard that you'd been picked for that Legion Liaison spot. Yeah – news travels fast."
Julia was silent as she digested that news. "We'll keep your name out of it – but the right people will know what happened, and it'll go in your jacket – in the Confidential section. Also – remind your little buddies that in the future, they don't have any authority to bust heads like this, only you do. If they want to pull this kind of stunt again, it might help if they got some sort of legal status. Only the fact that you've got a badge gives you – oh, hell."
Fornell rolled his eyes and let off a particularly vile swear as he watched a group of seven men, all wearing immaculate suits and trench coats, as they made their way through the people working in the area... directly towards him and Julia. "George Williams. That malignant prick doesn't ever stay dead."
Julia looked the nondescript man over as he approached. "You know him."
"Perennial attendee at the 'absolute bastards' World Cup," Fornell growled. "Evening, George."
The man known as 'George Williams' gave Julia an appreciative once-over before turning to Fornell. "Not bad, Tobias – but don't you think that you should get them off the Puppy Chow before you put them in the field?"
"He's just baiting you, Carlyle," Fornell said, cutting off Julia's response. "What are you doing here, George?"
'George' pulled out an envelope, and handed it to him with what – in any other circumstance – would have been a perfect, charming smile. "An amended directive," he said, passing the envelope to the Supervisory Special Agent-in-Charge. "You get everything else, and full credit for it – but Appleton comes with us. Homeland Security has dibs."
Fornell's expression didn't change as he read the letter he'd drawn from the envelope. "Homeland Security's your dodge now, right? I'd call you an ankle-biting, head-bobbing son-of-a-bitch - but that would insult every dog in existence," he replied, folding the letter back into the envelope and handing it to him – an action which seemed to surprise Williams' entourage, who had been expecting a less pleasant response. "He's in his personal quarters on the top floor. Take him and go."
The entourage began to move off; George nodded gracefully as he put the envelope away. "As always, Tobias – a pleasure," he said. "Oh, and Agent Carlyle – when next you see your Legion Advisor, say hello to him from me. It's been a while."
"Where are your Legion buddies, anyway?" Fornell asked, ignoring the smirks on William's people as they left. "I'd like to talk to them."
"Most of them left already for the Tower," Julia replied. "They were getting a lot of static from your people-"
"Our people,'" Fornell corrected her sharply. "From what I understand, this is just a new way for you to get some additional field experience before you graduate next May. You need to remember who you're working for."
Julia nodded. "Yes, sir."
Fornell's expression lightened a bit. "It's not your fault, really," he told her. "I've got experience handling federal personnel who've been, well, influenced by working with former Marines. They get a bit of the 'cowboy' in them when it comes to working the system."
Looking around the area, Fornell let his eyes rest on Julia – not in an untoward manner, but as if he were studying her. "Do you like this area in general, Carlyle?"
Julia shrugged. "It's not bad."
"Well, depending on how the rest of your time with the Legion goes – perhaps we can keep you in the area for a while," he told her. "I don't have a problem poaching talent, and starting your career at Headquarters in D.C. is a nice way to move up the ranks quickly –especially with contacts like your Legion friends. Think on it."
Fornell had started away, but Julia's voice turned him back. "What is it, Carlyle?"
"They're going to cut him a deal, aren't they?"
The senior agent's silence, and the look of quiet disgust spoke worlds. "Sir – he's got a collection of recordings he's made up there," Julia said, managing to control her rising anger and own sense of disgust in a cool manner that Fornell quietly approved of, seeing how angry she was. "He's molested and physically abused God knows how many underage girls over the years!"
Julia felt the eyes of several people on her, but kept going. "I personally know one of the girls that he's been sleeping with since she was fourteen, not to mention that he's been using a unregistered drug on her for the past two or so years, and I just found out tonight that on least one occasion, he beat her so badly that she nearly died-"
Fornell and Julia both went silent as 'George', William (still in handcuffs) and the other 'agents' entered the area. "And now you see why Justice is blind," the older agent spoke, "because sometimes, you have to bear witness to things that you'll never un-see."
William took great pleasure in undressing the redhead as he passed Julia – and suddenly whimpered in pain as 'George' slapped him directly in the mouth. "Have some respect for women, you prick," the man said, not breaking stride as two of the 'agents' had to catch William before he fell.
"Yeah – that's why I've never followed through on my initial instinct to shoot him every time he pops up in the open," Fornell said. "If it's any consolation, Carlyle, you've probably saved a lot of lives by helping to bag that jackass and tapping this place."
"Yeah," Julia responded, a sudden pang of curiosity arising as she wondered what Danielle Todds and Mack had done to the hundreds of research animals. "Thank you, sir."
If the government had gotten a hold of them, nothing would have changed for them, she thought, as she watched a pair of agents call out to Fornell, and him start over to join them. Obviously, none of those animals can be released in the wild, and I can't see Mack allowing someone to euthanize them out of hand, let alone wanting to do it himself. I saw how he was looking at those puppies; that's a dog person, through and through.
Julia brushed her hair back, not exactly noticing an agent who had walked over to her as her thoughts turned to the subjects below. What did Daria and the others do with those animals? What's going to happen to the people in cryo-storage?
Fornell's shout turned Julia to face him. "What did your people just do with the 'popsicles'?"
Julia's face showed her confusion. "Sir?"
The senior FBI agent went to her. "Agent Sharp says that less than a moment ago, all six of the subjects frozen down in cryo-storage just up and vanished! They disappeared right in front of my agents – containers and all! Did your Legion buddies get them?"
"Nobody in the Legion has that ability, sir," Julia said, "and why would the Legion sneak them away?"
"Yeah, well, you tell your people that we're going to need to speak to them." Fornell growled
"Well, I guess he's pissed," Julia thought aloud, as she watched him walk away. "Great. Just great."
Danielle's Todds' DRADIS and Heads-Up Display were visible to the Ringbearer (and her Legionnaire companions inside her force-field as they stood (hidden by Danielle's invisibility 'glamour') atop a hill covered with prairie grass, and watched the badger they had freed several minutes earlier find a meal by the light of a full moon.
==Temporal Position - 01:55:23 – 20 October 2007
==Dimensional Location – D-152
==Spatial Location – 40° 43′ 9″ N / 89° 36′ 34″ W
==Contaminant saturation level:
==No mutagenic agents detected in area
==No biochemical anomalies detected in area
==No meta-active potentials detected in target animals
The pain was all gone.
Nibbles (the name given to the badger by the research staff) enjoyed his first taste of real food in several months as he sat at the edge of what was a vast field of maize growing wild on both sides of a large river, and happily munched away on a fresh ear.
As he ate, he noticed the appearance of several other badgers out of a burrow, who worked together to bring down a stalk, but dismissed them as he continued to eat.
He was drunk on the scents and the feel of the outdoors – and for the first time in a long while, his small form was free of the unending sensations of continually burning himself.
The self-combustion ability he had developed, due to the formula the Appleton Industries scientists injected him with, was flawed in that Nibbles never developed any means of controlling the power, or resistance to flame – but instead, a fast-acting healing factor that didn't cancel out the pain he suffered from being continually being burned alive.
He finished his ear and noticed a badger, slightly smaller than him, trying to bring down another stalk of maize; Nibbles meandered over, and helped to bring the stalk to a level where the other badgers were able to take the ears off.
Nibbles began to peel away at the husk, comfortable in the presence of his new, adopted family.
"This Earth is almost identical to most Earths - with the exception that when the dinosaurs went under, humans never developed here," Danielle observed, her Ring's linguistic endowment allowing her to speak to Daria, Jane and Mack through their flight rings' telepathic link. "No form of humanity at all. The Corps of Ringbearers found it a century ago, and it's a 'protected world' – no human colonization allowed."
"But it's all right to bring animals here?" Daria asked. "Animals from other worlds?"
The Ringbearer counted to seven before she spoke, and Mack nudged Jane, motioning for her to keep Daria quiet. "The Corps has a standing arrangement with another organization-"
"The Agency – I know about them, too," Daria interjected, sending a wave of shock through Danielle, a wave that smashed into Mack when she continued. "I know about the Nova Valdris Accords, too – Oh. Ringbearers use this world for animals in the way that Agency people recruit people who were going to die in their own dimensions."
Danielle's mouth dropped wide open as Daria continued. "You use the decontamination thing your Ring does to clean out any traces of the formula the researchers used on the animals, and it also takes away their powers to make it just a normal animal again."
Jane and Mack looked at Daria in astonishment, and Danielle was so caught off-guard that the 'glamour' she had raised to render herself and the Legionnaires invisible had dropped. "By altering their memories, you allow the animals to live out normal lives here, without any thoughts about the horrible things done to them, or about humans in general," Daria continued.
"And still, she has no idea on how to talk to a boy without falling over her boots," Jane deadpanned.
"I don't know – with photos like hers, she doesn't need to speak," Mack said, earning a cross look from Daria.
For her part, Danielle savagely repressed the sensations that she felt rise up whenever she though about having seen the images of Daria's Val Magazine photo spread – it's Quinn's sister, you idiot! Get a grip! – as she quickly raised her 'glamour' once again.
Daria growled at Jane. "Why are you even here, art girl?"
Jane smirked in Daria's general direction. "Because everybody else has gotten to travel all over time, space and different dimensions – and not only is it my turn, but I wanted my first trip to be something nice, instead of a monster stompfest."
Danielle laughed softly. On almost every world, those two are so close that they're practically sisters.
"All of the animals who can't be returned to their owners, or don't have any, will come here," she told the Legionnaires. "I need to take you guys back home – but we need to make one stop first. There's still the matter of why I was sent to visit you in the first place."
John Dynell stood in front of the open door of an airplane hangar, checking his watch as he looked towards the road that led to the Lawndale Regional Airport from town.
Inside the hangar, three young women and two twenty-something men paced back and forth in front of a Gulfstream 550 business jet; Dynell felt a slight sense of relief as he looked the ultra-long range aircraft over.
At least this runway in a cornfield has some advantages, such as expedited border pre-clearance. It allows this to be swept under the rug quickly.
William, William, William. You let your ego and your alleged manhood override your common sense – and my directions – and now, I can't even clean up your mess, because the Legion's effectively ruined your worth for us as a legitimate operation.
For the foreseeable future, you're of no use to us – but having you killed deprives us of a valuable asset. I have no other choice in the matter, do I? I have to help you disappear quickly and quietly... because it serves my interests as well.
A small caravan of three vehicles appeared in the distance; three minutes later, the trio of SUV-class vehicles came to a stop in front of the hangar, and Dynell watched 'George Williams', one of his men, and William emerge from the middle vehicle.
"Mister Dynell – I have that package you requested," the man said, gesturing towards William. "That 'finders' fee' we discussed-?"
Dynell turned towards the limousine at the side of the hanger. "Dina."
A leggy Black woman stepped out of the limo; as Williams went to her, she opened the hard-shell case she carried with her to reveal seven gold ingots, nestled snugly inside. "Thank you," George said, nodding to his man, who took possession of the case and started back to the truck as Dina returned to the limo. "I need to run along now – oh, and Mr. Appleton-"
William accepted the outstretched hand – and grasped it tight as 'George' lashed out with a hideous left hook. "I have a fourteen-year-old daughter. John – a pleasure," he said, hefting an unsteady William back to his full height. "See you at the Christmas party in Santiago?"
"Only if you have the missus bake an extra cinnamon-raisin rum cake just for me," Dynell told him. "You'd think that grown men and women would act their age – fine. Tell Cheryl that if she makes one just for me, I'll send her a bottle of 'Black Day' rum."
George released William's hand, his face covered with surprise. "Then it's true? You actually have five gallons of Royal Navy rum from 1970?"
"Fifteen," Dynell said, "and no, you can't trade back an ingot for a gallon. Have Cheryl call this weekend."
Rubbing his jaw as the other men talked, Appleton turned his attention to the three young women next to the plane - all dressed in fashionable clothes, seeming to be between fourteen and sixteen years of age.
One of the young women – a trim, athletic beauty with jet-black hair that fell to her waist and black, liquid eyes, looked terrified as she saw his eyes fall upon her. The other two – a luminous Vietnamese girl, and a busty, bespectacled girl with masses of shaggy, golden-blonde hair that fell over her shoulders like a cape - didn't take their eyes off the airplane carpet.
"Who are they, John?" William asked, as Dynell joined him inside the hangar.
Dynell gave him a cool glare. "They're going to be your companions while you take your 'vacation'...and let me assure you, William... they don't like it one bit."
Appleton smiled. He could afford to wait, after all. He would have to send Dynell a card for such a wonderful housewarming present.
The three of them are just to keep you occupied, Dynell thought. This way, you'll be too busy to try anything stupid as you head off on exile. I already have enough to clean up on your account.
"One more thing, William." Dynell took what looked like a simple, black digital watch from his coat pocket. "Put this on."
The cold steel in Dynell's voice helped William to slip the watch on quickly. "That's part of your punishment, William. You've caused a great deal of trouble for us – and the only reason you're still here is that Morgendorffer has no idea about how to work a 'trip box'."
As William put the Mark 50 'suppression band' on, Dynell thought nasty thoughts about the last problem his people had come across in relation to the mental traps known as 'trip boxes'. Damn Cassandra's boy. I had plans for Sloane, too. I can't even get back at Farrington for flipping the game – I'd be dead inside of a day.
Dynell drew a small metallic case from his coat pocket, and William looked at it in what – especially for him – was perfect awe. "Is that-?"
"It's time for you to become one of us," Dynell replied. "Take it. Now."
William took the pill, swallowed it, and washed it down with a drink from the offered flask – which, to his delight, he found full of his favorite single malt Scotch. "Keep it – and get on the plane," Dynell said. "For the foreseeable future, you're no longer of any use to us here in North America. You're being taken to a place where you may find yourself being of use – and in any event, you'll be able to keep yourself occupied."
William's tone as he spoke led John to turn back as he left for his limousine. "John – what kind of power will I generate?"
The look William received was totally devoid of concern. "It really doesn't matter. You're Elite now. Your main consideration now is to regain any semblance of faith that I once had in you."
Dynell walked away without a backwards glance; after watching the limo leave, William turned and walked towards the plane, already planning on what he would do with the raven-haired girl...
"The call you were expecting, sir," Dina said, waiting until Dynell had fastened his seat belt and the car was in motion, before handing him a cell phone.
"Thank you," he replied, taking the phone. "You retrieved them all, yes? Excellent. For now, keep them at the Edmonton base, and let them remain in cryo-storage. No research - only monitoring. Thank you, Alejandro. Your generosity is appreciated."
Dynell passed the phone back to his assistant. "Dina – take us back to New York."
The countryside was suddenly lit up with bright orange light as a shining orange portal, some five meters across, formed in the air in front of the limousine
The vehicle passed through the portal – and then, the area was dark and silent once more.
In the maximum-security vault, seventy feet below the surface of Legion Tower, Colonel Armalin (dressed in his Marine combat uniform) along with Daria, Quinn, Jane, Tom and Mack watched as Danielle opened up an inter-dimensional portal. "They understand – now - that you want to keep the Crystal under your guardianship," the Ringbearer said, as a massive block of golden-hued metal came through the portal. "This is to help neutralize the threat that the Crystal possesses."
"Why – why is that block vibrating like that?" Tom asked, noticing how the metallic cube vibrated wildly as it hovered in the air. "What kind of metal is that – is that Salazarium?"
All of the other Legionnaires glanced quickly at their rings before returning their attention to the giant metal block. "Because it'll solve all of our problems – yours and ours," Danielle agreed, nodding in Tom's direction as the portal dissipated, but the block kept flickering – no, vibrating quickly, as if it were out of sync with reality.
"What does that block being of the same metal as our Rings have to do with anything?" Quinn asked. "I don't think that we need that much of the metal around, unless you want to make rings for all the kids in the country who are in the Legion – do you?"
"Well, if you'd studied more things at the Academy besides the boys in running shorts," Daria cracked, "you might have a clue."
"At least I didn't study the tonsils of every mind-reader I came across from the inside," Quinn snapped back.
"Sloane – why don't you share with the class?' Armalin said, shaking his head as Jane kept Daria from slapping her sister in the back of the head.
"Salazarium has several specific qualities that make it really useful," Tom told the others, "especially in dealing with things like the Soul Crystal – something we know is a magical artifact of some form. In large amounts – like this – it resists inter-dimensional movement, including teleportation. It's resistant to the effects of direct contact with anti-matter – but the big ones for us – for thirty-six hours after it's synthesized, you can form it into any shape you want... and it has innate anti-mystical properties. Even a little bit of Salazarium disrupts magical effects – and with a block that size-"
"We can stick the Crystal inside it!" Quinn blurted out. "We stick the Crystal inside it, and when it goes completely solid, nobody can get it out – but better, it can't be detected or do anything itself because the magical energy's all scrambled up by the metal, and nobody can sneak in and try to get it out – especially anybody like Black Majesty, whose powers are all magical!"
Quinn turned to she sister. "'Never studied' – next!"
Jane turned away so Daria couldn't see her smile. "Well – let's get this over with." she said, tapping in a set of numbers on one of the large safes on the back wall. "There it is. Let's seal this thing off forever."
Using her telekinetic power, Danielle removed the Soul Crystal; extending her force-field to envelop the artifact as the Crystal, sensing its impending fate, began to lash out at random with electrical discharges. "It's having a tantrum," she said, smiling as she used her TK power to push the Crystal firmly into the resonating block of metal. "There. And now that this is taken care of..."
The block of Salazarium was enveloped in a purplish field, and the vibrations seemed to increase to a speed that made the block all but blur out for ten seconds – and then, stop moving entirely. "It's done," Danielle said, with a tone of finality in her voice as the energy field disappeared and the block dropped to the floor. "That thing will never cause anyone any harm, ever again."
Letting out a deep breath, the Ringbearer turned to the Legionnaires. "I've already apologized to Mack, but I just wanted to say to the rest of you that I am sorry for the way I carried myself.," she told them. "I know that it's perhaps the lamest excuse ever used, but I really am just doing my job."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that it's such a lame excuse - if you actually believe in what you're doing and you're not trying to convince yourself of it," the Colonel said, causing everyone to look at him.
"Oh, you're so sweet," she said. "I could almost see going out with you, but I just don't date younger men. They're, well, they're just not experienced enough."
The colonel gave her a smirk, and they both broke out laughing. "No hard feelings, Master Ringbearer?" the Colonel asked, extending his hand.
"None at all, Colonel," Danielle replied, taking his hand in hers. "I have to leave now – but I was authorized by the bosses to compensate the Legion for your trouble."
"Come on, greedy girl," Daria said, putting her hand over Jane's mouth as she pulled her towards the exit. "We need to order a lot of pizza to help cheer Fran up. Ringbearer – we'll just say that you owe us, and leave it there."
As the Ringbearer vanished, Mack looked in Daria's direction. "Pizza to cheer Fran up? After the guy who did all of those horrible things to her - and God knows how many other girls – got to walk away scot-free? Daria, do you think that's-"
Everyone in the room shuddered at the look of divine retribution that appeared on Daria's face. "The pizza's just for eating. The news I have will cheer her up perfectly"
Daria remembered the day that Charles joined the Legion – what she had told him in his very first meeting there – and her traditional thin-lipped, 'Mona Lisa' smile began to form on her face, causing even Jane to step away from her with a touch of fear:
>-:: Just remember, Upchuck. I have mental powers. And I was always immune to your greasy charm. If I find that you've been taking advantage of anyone – girl or boy, woman or man – using your changing skills, I'm going to mentally program you with permanent erectile dysfunction and complete loss of bowel control. And if you peek on any of us...well, what I do to your mind is going to make a Lemarchand box look like a Fisher-Price Toy Camera....!::-<
"I think that she'll be quite happy with my news..."
He had never felt so humiliated in his entire life.
William Appleton took another shower, letting the steaming water flow over him as he scrubbed himself clean.
What the hell is happening to me-? What's going on?
It had begun a half hour ago. The other girls - Nhung Lam (the fifteen-year-old Vietnamese girl, who possessed the power to alter her mass, becoming ghostlike or superhumanly dense and strong) and Tia (the dark-haired fourteen-year old, whose power allowed her to transmute small amounts of material into any element she wished, as well as control the material she transmuted) were getting ready to go to sleep in the front of the plane.
William took Christine (the busty fifteen-year old blonde with glasses) with him into the back of the plane. It had been converted into a comfortable bedroom, complete with shower and a personal toilet (there was another bathroom for everyone else in the forward section of the plane – the Elite had the best).
He ordered Christine to disrobe; as she did, William thought over the nature of her power. Hyper-breath; she can create hurricane-force winds with her breath or create vacuums in enclosed areas, causing them to implode – not to mention blowing hot or cold; she can freeze a pond or a small lake, or set a mansion on fire...
Yeah. I'll bet that she gives a blow job that could suck the blue from a clear, mid-morning sky in the middle of July – and look at just how firm those big tits of hers are-
The former CFO of Appleton Industries leered unashamedly as he watched Christine's surprisingly chaste brassiere fall to the floor; tears began to fall from the girl's eyes, but she didn't speak or even make a sound as she continued to disrobe-
A horrid sound seemed to ooze from William's abdomen, a vile, roiling, fleshy sound that seemed to mushroom out from the man and fill the cabin-
It was then that his bowels fully released.
Christine shrieked, not even stopping for her blouse or brassiere as the bedroom compartment filled with the hideous scent of a fresh bowel movement; William himself started to stammer between exhortations of disgust and curses of absolute fury as he simply couldn't control himself, soiling himself completely and all but ruining the carpeting as he rushed to the personal toilet.
After an hour of total humiliation, in which he kept continually having bowel movements (and constantly going between the toilet and the shower), William, wearing only a bathrobe and totally drained of energy, managed to crawl into bed. (He had stopped having bowel movements only because he simply had nothing left to excrete.)
Tia had used her power to clean the entire area; she
had transmuted the stool (even the molecules of stool in the air) into gold
dust, and then, fused it all together into a small shower of cold coins.
William was thankful that she had removed the stink from the air; he was far too drained, however, to demand the gold for himself.
About an hour later, William was feeling strong enough to call for the co-pilot to come back and help with his power. The co-pilot, recently brought onto Dynell's personal staff as one of his 'on-call' pilots, possessed the unique ability to control time around one person at a time. One of the things he could use it for was to restore a person's endurance, by speeding up time for them, as if they had rested for several hours, or even up to a full day.
Christine was ordered to his bed ten minutes later. She removed her clothing and went into the bed with William...
Over the next hour, William discovered (as did all three girls) that he was totally incapable of performing sexually – complete and total erectile dysfunction, occurring within fifteen seconds after he felt himself becoming aroused. He would feel himself becoming aroused, he felt his manhood becoming erect – and then, it was as if a switch was flipped, and he became flaccid again, with no amount of encouragement could change that he simply could not perform in bed.
That flight was the longest flight of William Appleton's life.
Daria couldn't perform the mental horrors upon William that she had promised Charles Ruttheimer because of the mental protection the 'trip box' provided – but as for the rest...
Fran Lawrence – and many, many other young women around the world – had only just begun to have their revenge on the man that had used them.
"Hey, Daria – what are you doing out here?"
Daria, sitting alone on a bench in the Legion's 'pocket park', glanced over to one side as she saw Jane and Quinn walking towards her. "The lady of the hour – sitting out here all alone, even though everyone wants to kiss up to you for how you got that bastard!" Jane continued, having called out to Daria earlier.
"Come on, Daria," Quinn urged, sitting down on Daria's left as Jane took the spot to Daria's right. "You're the 'badass of the hour'! You should hear Tiffany and Sandi in there, trying to come up with ways they would have topped what you did to Appleton if they had had your powers!"
"Never happen," Jane shot off. "To have mental powers, you have to have a mind. Tiffany doesn't count."
"This time last year, I'd have said the same thing about Sandi," Quinn joined in. "The thing is – she's changing. I mean, she's still sneaky and conniving – but not as much as she used to be, and she's... she's not as mean about it as she used to be. She's not as 'end-all, be-all' competitive – remember how all of us in the Fashion Club got into defensive driving? That was Sandi's doing. Now, she's all into her own training, her own stuff, and she hasn't even said a word about wanting to get into explosives?"
Daria glanced over at her sister. "You're really going to do that?"
"I'm leaving in two days for Utah," Quinn told them. "I'm going to drive out there, and stop at the Academy to take care of a few things – like asking about that class that teaches them to fight us – and basically put my car to the test."
Daria and Jane both remained silent; Quinn finally broke. "Okay –I'll tell you! I'm driving with Upchuck – I mean, with Charles!"
"What sort of bet did you lose where you suffer by spending a couple of days in a car alone with the former faux lounge lizard?" Jane asked
"Funny," Quinn said. "He has to go out to Utah, too – they're going to start him off training to fly the Gridrunner, and after he's learned, they're going to let us have one here in Lawndale!"
"Yeah, that's going to be something to see," Daria mused. "Upchuck – Charles – with flight wings. The girls are going to be all over him."
"That's another reason I said 'yes' when he asked to ride along," Quinn said. "When he joined up, you couldn't have paid me to sit within ten feet of him, because he'd have been trying to paw on me; now, he's got girls all over trying to get him alone-"
"You heard Jodie's 'booty call count', too, eh?" Jane remarked.
"-and he hasn't taken advantage of a single girl. Not one – and you know that with him being in the Legion, if he'd had tried something, everybody in the world would have known," Quinn finished. "I'm not saying that he's a nice guy, or that I really like him – but I think that he's earned a little bit of trust."
Daria looked at her sister with a touch of pride, and Quinn, rarely seeing that look on her sister's face directed at her, basked in its warmth. "Damn. Someone else has matured around here."
"And guess who's turn it is to act mature now, amiga?"
Her eyes moving to look at Jane first, then Quinn and back to Jane, Daria moved back a bit on the bench. "What are you two planning?"
"Well, Daria – I was thinking that I'd like to do some other stuff, like making things go 'boom', and well, I don't know, 'dating," Quinn said. "There's all of these cute celebrity boys out there, as well as all the normal ones who want to take me places and buy me dinner and gifts – well, the Legion Constitution says I can't take the gifts, or I have to donate the gift's worth in cash to the National Legion if I want to keep it-"
"Well, normally no, but we will make a deal," Jane said. "It's actually why we came out here to talk to you."
"What I was saying earlier, about wanting to do other things, Daria?" Quinn lifted her head from Daria's shoulder. "Well, I was thinking... I've been Legion Leader for almost a year. Jane did it first, and maybe – just maybe – we should all have a shot at it before anyone else does it."
Daria sat up straight. "What – me be Leader?"
"We'll be your campaign managers!" Jane said. "All the guys will vote for you – Charles because he knows you can lead, Tom because the bastard owes us, and if Mack's on the fence – you can always make a 'personal appeal' to his better nature. Wear something clingy, too."
Daria looked Jane directly in the eye. "Jane, I will find a time-traveler, go back in time, get that taffeta dress Ms. Li was trying to sell, bring it back to the present, and bury you in it."
Jane's response was equally full of snark. "Yes, yes, Morgendorffer. You and your power of bending horny men and women to your will. Now, about that idea of running for Leader..."
"Hey – hey, guys – did you see that?"
Daria and Jane looked up to where Quinn was pointing; a spot just on the tree line, near the edge of the quarry where the Tower sat. "I saw something...sparking!" she said. "I saw something small, and I saw a little-"
Quinn squeaked in excitement as another spark – this time, Daria and Jane could also see it, even in the twilight before dawn; no one had slept this night, and the celebrating had gone on and on – and leaped to her feet. "I FELT it that time! I did!"
Before either Jane or Daria could say a word, Quinn sprinted off towards the spark that she had seen – and her fellow Legionnaires shot off across the quarry after her.
Cuddles was tired.
The skunk – aged prematurely by the research treatments he had endured – was physically past the age than any skunk usually survived to in the wild.
Through weakened eyes, his joints causing him pain whenever he moved, Cuddles foraged for something to eat, to take the edge off the hunger he'd had for several days, after finding nothing to sustain him.
His nose twitched; even though it caused him pain, Cuddles was glad, and he trundled through an open patch of grass, allowing his nose to guide him to a patch of wild berries.
Each bite the skunk took was both wonderful and painful; somehow, Cuddles knew that this was his last meal, and he kept eating...
A strange sensation traveled through Cuddles; a sensation that, in a human, would have been déjà vu. The sensation was so strong that it turned him around, away from the berries, even though his empty stomach squealed for more and he hurt so much as he turned...
There were three of them. It was strange; Cuddles felt a connection with the three figures – the creatures, the ones so much like the ones that had hurt him, so very long ago.
He wasn't afraid. He just stood, looking at them, watching as the light in the morning sky became brighter oh, so slowly, and the figures moved towards him, coming closer and closer.
They were the ones, something in his little mind decided. Most of the creatures – and he had seen many - always ran away from him, but these had been different, He had been looking for food, behind a bush, and he could see them coming closer, and closer, as if they weren't like the others and not afraid-
Just like before – the world exploded in light, and the figures disappeared.
For a moment, before the light, Cuddles felt a... connection, a kinship with the figures, especially the one closest to him; his nose twitched, and he wanted his nose rubbed... maybe that creature could rub it for him.
Maybe that creature could rub my tummy, and keep me warm...
The light grew brighter, but it didn't hurt Cuddles' eyes; he felt as if he were moving, and yet, his joints didn't hurt... he didn't feel any pain at all....
He could see only one figure now. Even though the Light was moving around him, going faster and faster, moving as no light should until he realized that it was lightning that engulfed him, moving as no lightning could...
Cuddles felt no pain, and he wasn't afraid as the figure stopped in front of him.
He felt himself being picked up by strong hands, hands that radiated light and warmth that filled him with life, and strength, and a sudden, wonderful happiness that filled him and made him feel as if he were so young and strong again...
A sound reverberated in the skunk's mind, and he could understand the sounds clearly as they resolved into understanding:
"Hello, Cuddles. Welcome home."
Cuddles, feeling full, warm and happy as if he were once again a tiny kit snuggled against his mother, closed his tiny eyes for the last time and surrendered.
END VOLUME TWO