...Part of The Solution
A Legion of Lawndale Heroes 'Mini', by Brother Grimace
Oh, and the social conservatives did howl! In the days of the 2008 American Presidential election campaign, almost every candidate tried to get face time (at least) with the Legionnaires – but the Legion wisely didn't campaign for anyone. However – people are people, and individual Legionnaires did make their preferences known.
Even when the Legion tried to officially remain unaffiliated, there were those who still tried to use them – and their pasts – as political fodder, especially after the way the Legion went public - and still refused to get involved with politics. The attitude that several groups took was 'if you're not with us, you're against us' – and considering how the Legion dominated the news (almost eclipsing the historic campaign and election itself), they decided to try and strike back hard.
To be honest, there were many people who – to put it mildly – had a problem with the Legion. More to the point, they had a problem with young people 'not having anyone to look after them', 'someone to watch out for them' or 'to keep them from getting into trouble'. These were individuals and groups that were quite vocally opposed to a group of kids who were (at the time of joining, for the majority) too young to even sign contracts without parental approval or purchase a drink, yet had unmonitored access to 'bleeding-edge' technologies, effectively unlimited finances, the means to travel anywhere on Earth at will (or even off-world, which caused a minor furor when first done), and superhuman powers which made them the equal of a small army.
These voices of dissent almost exclusively took on the soft, politically correct mantle of paternalistic concern with a solid core of authoritarian need to 'guide and give advice' (laced thoroughly with the desire to have control of the Legion, or at least a sound check on their activities). After the revelation of Chapter Number One's status as not just the flagship chapter, but the only Legion chapter (at that time) to feature members with metahuman powers, those voices rose to a fever pitch – especially when Kyle Armalin stepped away from Legion Advisor status. For many, that was the last straw.
The surprise was the reaction of some of those who the naysayers decided to strike at for their perceived 'pro-Legion stances' – and the way those accosted chose to respond. One response in particular was so unexpected that news of it not only made global headlines, but also made the Legion itself feel obligated to respond publicly...
-from Chapter Number One, by Hank Stewart
That's all right - that's
okay - you never loved me anyway
And I think it's time for you, to just move on
That's all right - that's okay
I bet you never thought you'd hear me say
That I think it's time for you to find another dumb blonde
'Cause it's not me - no, no
- Another Dumb Blonde, by Hoku
The intercom on the desk sounded.
"The representatives from the Society are here," the voice spoke up. "Shall I take them to the conference room?"
A woman's voice responded. "Yes – and make sure that they are comfortable."
Fifteen minutes later, the woman known only as Val – dressed surprisingly business-like in a matching herringbone jacket and skirt (one that went a respectable length below the knees – these people are pains in the ass about that kind of thing! she growled inwardly), walked into the main conference room in the New York headquarters of Val magazine.
Oh, great, she thought, seeing who was waiting for her and not even flattered that the three men in the group of five stood up as she entered the room. The heads of the Prick Cavalcade are here, for my viewing pleasure.
The older of the two men, a fifty-something gentleman who radiated charm, sincerity and an aura of friendliness – none of which touched his eyes, Val noted; she had dealings with persons like him all too often in her professional lifetime – came around the table to shake her hand. "Good afternoon, madam. Doctor Aethan James Brantly. I'm the President of the Human Achievement and Traditions Society."
Val let a touch of uncertainty appear in her eyes as she shook the man's hand (noting that he pronounced his name as 'Ethan' – definitely of Mormon background, she thought, recalled her reading about him), and made certain that her handshake was overly strong. Contradicting symbols, to make me look uncertain and potentially weak. Let's set the honey trap and make it sweet, so they'll play their hand strong and try to overwhelm me with their perceived power and 'the fact that they have the high ground'. "Yes. Good afternoon - to all of you. I have to say, I'm honored that an organization with representatives such as you, Senator Washingtine, would bother to come and speak to someone like me. After all – I only run a magazine for teens."
Washingtine was an incredibly well dressed Black man in his early forties – he was a founding member of the American Spiritual Society, and a big draw on the church-and-values circuit. Val would have pegged him as a 'metrosexual', except that her 'gaydar' had never been wrong.
The Black senator cleared his throat as he followed Doctor Brantly around the table. Yeah. You're not fooling anyone with your 'playah of the year' style or 'culture warrior' attitude, Senator. I bet I know some of the guys you've bedded.
"Which is exactly why the Human Achievement and Traditions Society wanted to have this meeting," Anton Washingtine spoke up, also to shake Val's hand. "Now, I'm not a member of the Society – but I do share many of their beliefs, and I've only come along today to extend my support of the Society's goals."
Val suppressed a groan. The Human Achievement and Traditions Society – the "HATS" as they called themselves – would generally show up wearing Stetsons at their press functions, pressing the name for all it was worth, denouncing whatever was deemed worthy of denouncing. They felt like they were cowboys cleaning up the town, and Val knew that there wasn't a camera that Washington wouldn't hurl himself in front of; no podium that he wouldn't climb.
"Of course, Senator," Val agreed – a little too quickly, the two men thought, suppressing their smiles as the exchanged a quick glance before sitting down. This should be easier than we thought.
The hell it will, you pricks, Val thought, her face revealing nothing as she took her seat. She had seen that shared glance before.
"I'm certain that you're aware of what our organization does," Aethan said, opening his attaché case and drawing several copies of Val magazine from within. "These are troubling times for out country – as a proud citizen of New York City, you know this better than anyone."
Val simply nodded, and Aethan continued. "Our country faces danger from all corners, both great and small, from forces and threats both foreign and domestic, madam. It is not enough that they strike at the symbols of American pride and accomplishment, but they also seek to strike us in ways we dare not think of but that we must – because they strike at our future, at the most vulnerable and most precious of all our resources – our children."
Time to bait the hook, Val thought. "Again – what does this have to do with me? I run a magazine dedicated to the best of American teenagers – good, wholesome, decent girls who'll grow up to be proper women and honorable American citizens!"
The woman directly across the conference table from Val – a tall, leggy, neutron-blonde in her late twenties with huge aviator glasses and a snug, belted white sweater dress (an outfit that displayed her impressive charms) - snorted off a loud, derisive laugh that sounded more like a sneer. "That's a laugh."
"Rene – please," Aethan said, his disapproving tone playing false to Val's ears. "We came to speak as friends."
Val almost broke out laughing – and covered it up by taking a sip of the excellent coffee that one of her nameless, faceless interns (until I need to remember – then it all comes back like lightning, she thought) had placed on the table beside her. You guys came up here to shake me down for blood-money donations and the chance to start pushing your 'purity for teens as WE see it' dogma through my magazine – and 'good cop, bad cop' is the best shtick you could come up with? It's no wonder that the cable news shows roast both of your organizations on a weekly basis!
Rene Raeder-Harde, Val thought, watching as several male employees took their time passing down the hallway – and the glass wall of the conference room – so they could get a good look at Rene's incredible legs... and the quite remarkable 'rest of her'. You're a bona-fide professional 'blonde Republican sex kitten', and hardcore attack dog for the conservatives. Oh, yes – a 'True Believer in The Cause'. You'll be the easiest to manipulate, Ms. 'Ride-Her-Hard' I know all about you, too.
Aethan continued. "Unfortunately, Val – may I call you 'Val'? – Mrs. Raeder-Harde does have a reason to be upset. Your magazine has always had many good points in advising the young women of our society on being demure, feminine and conservative in their dress – well, conservative for our society; your summer style issue for last year promoted more modest swimwear and made a solid argument against string bikinis and thongs, which we felt was a courageous step."
The leader of the Society pushed several copies of Val across the table towards their namesake. "In the past year, you've run several issues with articles and photo essays that we feel are morally questionable in the message that's being sent to your readers."
Rene drew a manila folder from her own attaché case, and slid it across the table. "'Twenty Tips for the Perfect Pre-Teen Summer Sleepover'," the woman said, an acid edge on her voice. "Your article is practically a guide for young girls on how to engage in – tawdry behavior – after the parents have gone to sleep."
Val looked at the woman as if a dunce cap had just risen through her masses of flaxen hair, and a miniature dragon were sitting on top as he ate a Chicago-style hot dog. "Excuse me – 'tawdry?'"
Rene's voice held the low, focused timbre of the true fanatic, reciting their manifesto, as she locked her huge, sparkling blue eyes on Val and began to speak. "Your article all but tells your readers how to engage in fondling, petting behavior and – other activities – that could lead to sexual experimentation of a sort that invites demon-spirits in and allows them to manifest, driving these innocent young girls to the most immoral of activities... sexual contact that could never be sanctified in a marriage bed – the godless twisting of two women, possessed by demon-spirits to seek sexual congress together."
Val sat back in her chair. If it's true that you should never sleep with anyone crazier than you are, then every single story I've ever heard about this psycho heifer being a championship bed-warmer is dead wrong. Someone get this bitch some Thorazine - and switch her to decaf.
Rene's upper lip twitched, and Aethan's eyebrows rose as Val took on an air of being totally oblivious to everything just said. "So, you don't like 'mani pettis?' Don't tell me that you didn't like the double-devil's food and peanut butter cake balls – we had over a million hits on our website for that recipe and the printable coupon for a free baker's dozen at any 'Smarty-Mart' bakery!"
Aethan held up his hand, and Rene – about to speak – fell silent. Oh, wow, Val thought. If I were Black and back in the Eighties, I'd say 'this fly brotha knows how to keep all his bitches on the leash!'
"Your magazine has published several – questionable items – but this issue is the reason why the Society felt that we had no choice but to take action," he said, pushing a very familiar issue across the table. "You see, there's this impression among our supporters that Val Magazine is a purveyor in borderline pornography. Now I don't know where this impression comes from, but it exists. So the question that we have – and the question that our supporters have – is that we have no way of knowing that this is not true. I feel that Val Magazine can put a rest to this line of speculation with direct action."
Val picked the issue up – the January 2007 issue; the only issue in the history of Val magazine to have only a single subject featured on the cover – a photo of Daria Morgendorffer, one of the three mounding members of the kids' organization known as the Legion - and a tagline promising exclusive photos of the Legionnaires in Alaska. The single best selling issue in our history – we actually sold out, copies are on 'eBay' for up to three hundred dollars, and that full-length pull-out of Daria Morgendorffer was the second biggest download off the Internet this year. That issue put this magazine back on the A-list.
She idly flipped through pages, seemingly unaware of Anton reaching out to calm Rene down. The download of Ruttheimer's photo with that blonde in the bikini was number seven. Our servers crashed four times, the Legion's Grace Island photo essay is the single most requested reprint in the magazine's history – and that young Marine whose mother got the girl to sign the fold-out poster of her got a firm one million dollar offer for the issue. So did his two brothers.
Val let her thoughts drift back to almost two years ago. The winner of the 'Win a Day With Val!' contest winner was Daria – but after a background check (after the 'Welcome the 21st Century In With Val!' debacle, they put all winners through a background check before they were contacted or announced to the public) which revealed that Daria's parents had arranged to admit her to the Shady Acres facility for observation and the possibility of schizophrenia, another winner was chosen. Quickly.
Of course – when the Legion appeared on the scene, Daria's essay immediately came to mind, but that was small potatoes... filler. Val wanted something more – and when she got word that the Legionnaires were going to be heading up to Alaska for some sort of survival training, she got that stringer Stewart up there fast.
Val closed the issue, and then, let her fingers run across the magazine cover. I've always used Stewart when I need the good stuff, and he always delivers – but never more than he did on that trip. Once I saw that full-length shot of Daria in the soaked clothing, it was nothing to offer him a million and a half for the photos on the spot. Oh, they mocked me in Vanity Fair for paying Michael Jackson money, but that shot was a Monroe-on-the-grate moment. Laugh now, bitches.
She realized that Aethan was speaking to her. "Excuse me, Doctor?"
"You understand our position," the man repeated. "The images in this magazine – the photos of Mr. Ruttheimer with that girl -"
He spat out the words as if they were poison; Val noticed that the Senator sat up a touch straighter at the mention of Charles Ruttheimer's shirtless photos. "-With him half-dressed and her in a - string bikini – as if they were stripping each other naked and are about to start fornicating like animals out in the wilderness! Also, as if THAT wasn't bad enough-"
He reached over the table, and flung the magazine open to pull out the four-page foldout poster of the full-length photo of Daria. "She might as well be – naked!"
The room was silent for a full minute as Aethan gathered himself; Val calmly folded the poster back into the magazine and closed it. "The Society has begun an effort to reach to those media outlets which we feel are providing our children with improper messages. We feel that good, upstanding Americans with strong morals would be ready and willing to help us in this effort, and to send out a proper message to our youth. As a respected individual who is instrumental in shaping the minds and beliefs of young women in our country, you obviously understand how important it is to give them proper guidance."
Val raised an eyebrow. Time to end this. "So... what are you suggesting?"
Aethan went on. "Your magazine is quite popular – but you must admit, popularity is a fleeting thing. As you mention in several issues, 'The wrong step at the wrong time can exile you to social Siberia'. Also, we feel that there's a sizeable audience of young women whose needs are not being met by your publication – and many more who do read it who could, perhaps, benefit from a, shall we say, more defined focus on how they should carry themselves and what they should be involved with."
Rene had managed to rein herself in; the fervor in her eyes had been damped down but she still spoke with a noticeable conviction. "Your magazine needs to stop showcasing the many liberal actors and personalities from the Left Coast who give a voice to the more... distasteful... behaviors out there – and we understand that you're thinking about doing a follow-up issue on the Legion."
Val looked the woman directly in the eye, and coldly decided on the spot that before the day was out, she would find the bottom-feeding bitch or bastard who was leaking company info to this blonde harpy – and put on a good pair of gloves before bitch-slapping that traitorous person all across the lobby and out the door. "We've been thinking about it."
"We've made – overtures – to the Legion, but they have chosen to not get involved with our efforts. You can surely see that these – children – need our guidance; they're running around, influencing other children – they have millions of dollars-"
"Billions," Anton interjected; Val imagined the scent of sour rapes coming from the Senator's seat.
"-They can do as they want without any adult supervision-"
Val cut into her diatribe. "Pardon – but I was under the impression that the Legionnaires – the Lawndale chapter, of course - had a decorated Marine Major as an advisor."
The revulsion that rose from Aethan was almost physical in the way his face tightened at the mention of the Legion's advisor. "Armalin," the man spoke, somehow managing to keep the venom from his voice. "Colonel Kyleton Armalin. He's part of the problem."
"I was under the impression that he's a decorated officer, an excellent pilot – and that he was knighted by the Queen of England for saving hundreds of British soldiers back in the Gulf War."
"He's also worked closely with far too many undesirable elements on the Left Coast," Rene hissed – however, the fact that she was obviously aroused by the mere mention of Colonel Armalin was immediately apparent to anyone with eyes.
Might want to wear a padded bra next time you rail on about the Devil, sweetheart – because it looks to me as if that particular one flips your switches on, but good, Val thought; she wanted to laugh out loud at the way Anton also shifted in his seat at the mention of the Marine officer. Flips more than a few switches on, eh, Senator? Now I see why you're so pro-military.
Rene continued to speak. "Surely, you can see that good, upstanding people need to make sure that these Legionnaires aren't allowed to send the wrong messages to our kids! If even outstanding students - grade-A model students like Daria Morgendorffer and Charles Ruttheimer the Third can be – twisted – into exposing themselves for an international audience, imagine what they'll possibly do in the future if they continue to have a forum to speak from, and aren't guided towards the proper ways of behavior!"
Val suddenly sat up straight up in her seat, and Anton – a little faster on the uptick than the others – actually moved back a bit from the table.
SNAP. You just hit my 'act out' button, bitch! "Are you insinuating that I am in some way damaging young people with my magazine, Ms. 'Ride-Her-Hard'?"
Rene's face blossomed into scarlet. "What did you call me?" Liberal bloggers called her that all the time, but no one had ever called the "Demon Tongue" that to her face.
Val sat back in her chair. It's time for this to end. "A cab. This joke of a meeting is over."
Rene's eyebrows went up as Val crossed her arms. "American Spiritual Society? Human Achievement and Traditions Society? I'm just going to combine both names! You – ASSHATS are even crazier than your rep if you think that I'm going to let you dictate one single thing that goes in my magazine."
Rene's eyebrows went up as Val focused her gaze on her. "Oh – and you're even crazier than your rep if you think that I'm going to let you dictate one single thing that goes in my magazine."
The anger that coalesced behind the blonde's eyes was nothing short of volcanic – but she relented as Aethan's hand came down on her left wrist. "I see," he said. "Then-"
"You can pedal your phony, tight-assed attitudes out of my office – and don't ever come back," Val told them. "Even if I thought that what I was doing was wrong, the fact that you think it's bad shows me that whatever else we're doing, we're doing something right!"
Rene's anger exploded. "You wrinkled, pathetic, bleach-blonde fifty-year-old adolescent, how dare you-!"
Val actually kicked her chair back as she rocketed to her feet. "Say another word, bitch! I've got good lawyers, friends in the D.A.'s office, and every single 'Tae-Bo' DVD on the market! I'll kick your round ass all the way to Times Square, and then grab a soft pretzel with honey mustard! Say another word! I'll fuck you up!"
The five people stood in a state of shocked, absolute silence; their eyes locked on Val as they collectively wondered how the vapid simpleton they were expecting to steamroll into submission could come at them like a rabid tiger.
"Before you go, two things," Val continued, her tone back to the 'fifty-year-old adolescent' that the Society members had been expecting. First, we will be running a second Legion-only issue – if they're willing to let us get new photos and stories – and the feature story will be on Miss Morgendorffer."
Val looked a barely-restrained Rene directly in the eye. "I'm thinking of calling it 'D – the Ultimate Teen'. Second-"
She turned her attention to Aethan. "Welcome to the Big Apple."
Without another word, the Society members gathered up their things and departed, leaving through a surprisingly vacant hallway as Val sat back in her chair.
"That put me in the mood for a steak."
Five minutes later, Val stepped out into the 'bullpen' of Val magazine – only to find it empty. "Where the hell is everyone?"
Suddenly annoyed, she headed to the stairwell, to the main floor of the magazine's offices, and flung the door open as she hit the bottom step. "Debbie! Where the hell is-"
An explosion of sound greeted Val as she stepped through the door; she looked around to see almost the entire staff of the magazine – as well as many persons that she recognized from other offices around the building.
As she stood in slight shock over the standing ovation she was receiving, she motioned one of the assistant writers – a girl named Debbie Cawthon – over to her. "What's this?" she asked.
"Your assistant piped audio of your meeting with those people all over the building." Debbie said, her eyes still glazed over a bit in awe of what her boss had hone. "! So, where can I get the 'Tae-Bo' DVD's that you get?"
Through the applause and the cheering, Val stood, unsure (for the first time in a long while) of what to say.
So – this is what it's like when you do... the right thing.