The Legion Encounters – Part IV

Not So Different

A Legion of Lawndale Heroes 'Mini', featuring The Alliance

Written by Brother Grimace

(NOTE: This fic is part of the 'Judith Strikes!' shared-world continuity. It takes place at about the same time as LLH 13:9.)

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
        -Anne Frank

Dear George: Always remember that no man is a failure as long as he has friends! Thanks for the wings!


-          from Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life


"You're not supposed to hit girls." David Allen Farrington said, the tone in his voice kind but firm.

That wasn't enough for the eleven-year-old that sat next to him. "Why not, if they hit you first?"

David Allen sighed, and took a moment to look around the area from his spot on the stage of the Kuznov Auditorium – because of circumstances (namely, having lost a bet), the place where he and a fellow Cadet First Class were having their weekly 'campfire'.

"You're not supposed to hit girls – and you're not supposed to make fun of them, either. It's the way things are."

The boy persisted. "Why?"

An exasperated sigh escaped from David Allen. "Because."

The kid just wouldn't quit. "Why?"

David Allen looked at the kid – God, was I ever that small, or this annoying? – as he held his hand to his forehead. "Okay, there are a few reasons why you shouldn't," he spoke up. "First – because it's not right. Second - because hitting someone is a LOT of demerits. It means that you get serious punishment detail, too, and let's see – what else?"

Looking around the circle of nine eleven-year-old boys - each wearing the uniform of USAES First Academy cadets (white uniform shirts and jet black slacks with baby-blue striping on the outside of the legs) as they sat on the stage, David Allen trundled on. "Well, you like getting that four-hour block of free time on Sunday, after chapel services, right? Extra ice cream and cupcakes, a GOOD movie on that 400-inch screen TV, and you get to wear civvies... One little girl starts crying because you put your paw on her, and that all goes away for a few weeks."

The young cadet looked as if he were about to cry. "You'd do that because some girl hits me and I hit her back? You're mean!"

The other young cadets all grumbled their agreement, and David Allen felt the touch of a telepathic signal brush against his conscious mind. +Damn, Farrington – they're still little kids – more that than cadets at the moment,+ the voice spoke clearly into his mind. +They're not programmed yet for constant rules the way you were when you came in. Tell them about the good things that come from being nice to little girls when you're a kid yourself.+

[Some of us weren't always trying to get some girl off alone – 'Chaser',] David Allen mentally returned. [Some of us were concerned about more important things – like learning how to stay in control.]

On the other side of the circle, Jackson Chaisson - a slender, fit young man with close-cropped black hair who wore the jet-black uniform of the Phantom Eagles - looked across to his opposite, who wore a dark scarlet uniform shirt. "Um, Davy – tell them the good things that happen when you don't make fun of girls, or hit them back when they hit you?"

+Yeah – and how's that 'stay in control' thing working?+ Jackson thought-cast to his fellow Cadet First Class over his verbal speech. +That's why you bounced me around the simulators like a beach ball after I asked Julia to come with me to the Kentucky Derby, back when we were all Fourth Class – and gave that poor girl the silent treatment for the rest of the year. It's not as if you can't officially ask her out yourself – and now that she's with the Legion, you can probably score a nice place to sit at the Preakness next May for the both of you... unless you'd rather it be Chandni, or Susannah...+

[Telepaths,] David Allen flashed back to Jackson. [Nothing but drama – and FYI – I already planned to talk with Julia when I run up to D.C. next week to see my mother. Why am I telling you this?]

+Well, if you'd had the common sense to date another telepath, this wouldn't be a problem – and it's not as if you don't have... plenty of choices,+ Jackson flashed back, his psi-speech far faster than David Allen's – not that it matters, he mused, careful to shield his thought from the other cadet. Bastard's like the psychic version of a hovertank. Slower psi-speech than almost everyone else here, but far, far better armor, lots of secondary weapons - and then, he starts shooting with that big gun... + Our resident hillbilly-girl Destiny wouldn't turn you away if you looked in her direction – neither would Jordan, Fiona, Chi Ling or even Christine, if you played it right – and if you're feeling a bit like Captain Jack, you know that Mike Bethke likes to go watch when you're doing the acrobatics thing... But no pressure.+

Jackson laughed at the expression on David Allen's face – and his laughter died in mid-guffaw as a flicker of regret crossed the Black cadet's face. [Chi Ling. Yeah, like I need to have Yanni-boy pissed at me for yet another thing I've supposedly taken that he deserves by right of birth. Why do you think I never tried out for the Eagles? Can you imagine how people would treat me if I were in one of those uniforms? No, thank you.]

"I think you can tell the kids the answer to that," David Allen replied. "Tell them about how you treat girls... or, you could tell them about last year's Spring Break trip to South Padre Island."

Jackson turned to David Allen with a look cats usually reserve for birds and rodents. "Why don't we tell them about your week out at Sequoia National Park - just after Halloween, when we were Second Years?" he chuckled. "Better yet – why don't we tell a certain number of young women around here, including a tall redhead, and the hot number who runs the crew I'm with?"

The Black cadet's eyes went wide as Jackson smiled and continued on. "So, what's this about a necklace of real pearls you've been collecting, and putting together piece-by-piece since the beginning of First Year-"

"Oh, we're getting real, huh?" David Allen huffed, all the while thinking This is what happens when you spend ten years with fifty-three other telepaths - not to mention all of the others in the Academy – the other cadets, and the ones on the Academy staff. You have to work to keep a secret – and even then...

He sat up straight. "Ostrich Day - last year. A hot tub - filled with sparkling mead."

Jackson drew himself up straight. "The day after we graduated from the First Academy. The Academy woods – in that grove of walnut trees. Paying off the bet you lost – remember?"

The younger cadets watched, smirking at the impromptu show (of course, even little kids gossip, so they knew things already) as the Deputy Cadet Commander-of-Corps cracked his knuckles.

"Nothing happened - much - and you know it," David Allen shot back. "The day you left for your internship year – in the Commandant's office – in the Commandant's own chair."

Jackson wasn't about to quit. "Last year. Maine. Beachfront property. The afternoon of that big storm."

David Allen pointed an accusing finger. "That doesn't count. I didn't have a choice. You know the rules don't allow us to use our powers when it isn't life-of-death."

The Phantom Eagle scoffed. "Yeah, well, someone who wants to be a doctor shouldn't have needed that long to perform mouth-to-mouth."

David Allen laughed in his face. "This from the future Secret Service agent who took two hours to learn the proper way to put handcuffs on a subject? Strange, until you find out the instructor who helped you after hours got second runner-up in the Miss America pageant?"

"That's always been your problem - Pins," a familiar voice rang out, and the group turned as one to see the young woman in red cloak and catsuit as she walked down the main aisle, her gait casual. "You're always so – judgmental. It's why you have problems around people – why they're always on pins and needles around you. Isn't that why all your little rich friends always called you 'Pins'?"

All of the young Cadets Sixth Year backed up slightly as David Allen turned to the front of the stage, his eyes growing cold. "Don't call me that."

Jackson smiled as he watched the young woman's smooth gait as she came closer to the stage. "Hey, isn't she that Daria Morgendorffer chick who did the poster last year-"


Jackson's comment was cut off in mid-sentence as the woman punctuated her scream of rage with a white-hot energy bolt from the energy weapon that she drew in a blink of an eye from nowhere – a bolt that lifted the cadet off his stool and threw him a good ten feet backstage!

The young woman reached the stage. "My name is Judith," she said, the evil looking weapon rock-steady in her grasp as she pointed it at David Allen. "I need to have a word with you."

Seven bolts of energy, each one exactly identical to the one Judith's weapon fired, speared out from backstage, poised to punch directly into her left eye – but the line of energy bolts actually stopped an inch from her face, suspended in an aura of blue light. "Nice shooting," she snarked, tilting her head slightly to see Jackson emerge from backstage, his uniform undamaged, with both eyes and all ten fingernails glowing with the same energy that Judith's weapon fired. "Good accuracy. Now you die."

A cocoon of energy began to swirl around Jackson as the glow in his eyes grew bright enough to light up the stage. "Ladies first," he growled.

"HOLD YOUR FIRE!" David Allen barked off, his mental shield now active, the younger cadets safe inside as he stepped into the line of fire. "Cadet Chaisson – escort the Sixth Years back to Centurion Hall, and apprise the Commandant's Office of the situation here."

"David Allen-" Jackson blurt out.

"Cadet Captain Chaisson, you have your orders!" David Allen spoke sharply. "I have the situation under control."

Derek gave him a glare of sharpened steel as the glow faded. "Yes, sir. Cadre – fall in."

"Oh, brave boy," Judith purred, as an opening appeared in the back of the force field; Jackson herded the wide-eyed tweens off stage quickly as David Allen never took his eyes from her. "Can you make all those cadets sit up, roll over and fetch your bone?"

"If you were anyone else, I'd turn you into steam and ant food," the Black cadet replied. "But I know that I can't touch you – that nobody can touch you with a hand towards stopping you – and that you have to escape with your prize. My mother told me all about you."

Judith raised the hood of her cloak, and David Allen looked into the eyes of an exact duplicate of Daria Morgendorffer. "Good," she said. "Then you know what I can do to this place – and to you – if you don't give me what I came for. Now."

David Allen looked at Judith as if she were fresh guano on his polished shoes. "The Daria Morgendorffer of this reality is a world-class metahuman. She's one of the five strongest primary telepaths on the planet right now, and she fought me to a standstill in full-on mental combat. If she were more experienced or I wasn't sneaky, she'd have probably cleaned my clock."

He took several steps towards the front of the stage and stood over Judith. "You... are a malignant little girl with enough issues to start your own reading room, a problem with your own reflection, and a rep as the Multiverse's newest doorknob. Even with what you did on The Habitat – or more to the point, because of it - the High Council of the Arete sends you this message: 'We are not impressed'."

Her eyes suddenly filled with icy rage, Judith drew a volleyball-sized metal sphere from within her cloak. "This is a Blinovitch reversal sphere – set with a fifteen-mile effect radius. You know what that'll do, smart-ass?"

David Allen nodded. "Yes, I know. Jeffrey's got all of the New Universe comic books in his collection. I know the story of The Pitt."

Judith's voice was a defiant snarl. "Impressed now, fancy boy with two first names?"

The cadet shook his head. "By someone who can kill a million people without trying, or trying to make fun off my name? Lady, I could do the former when I was five - that's the reason I was placed here in the first place - and I've been verbally abused by people doing the latter who drew a salary for doing it."

Biting back both the urge to curse and to castrate the young man in front of her with her toenails, Judith let her eyes fall upon the digital watch-like device that David Allen wore on his left wrist. "Your Mark 31, please. Before you make me angry."

"No." David Allen told her, as he pulled a small jewelry box from a pocket in his slacks. "This is what you came for, and what you have to leave with. The only thing you have to leave with."

Judith caught the box in her left hand; as she opened the box to see what was inside, David Allen saw the cloak shift slightly, revealing the slightly-grotesque sight of a locket embedded in the skin below her neck, just above the distracting sight of her cleavage.

"So, this is why your Earth didn't get scorched by Van Mannen's Star," she said. "Nice."

"Adriaan's Eye," David Allen told the woman, as she looked at the translucent globe the size of a 'shooter' marble. "All the power of a supernova detonation, and its potential effects upon a solar system... rolled up in a tiny sphere."

The young woman's head shot up in actual surprise. "The entire solar system? You mean - your people didn't just save the Earth?"

Judith blinked again – and then, looked up, a crafty look on her face. "So, soldier boy... just how many Eyes are there?"

The cadet remained silent. "Fine," she snapped. "I'll find out for myself, thank you very much. That fancy regulator. Get it off your wrist. Now."

"No." David Allen stepped off the stage, and landed in front of Judith. "If you want something from me, though – I'll give you something that you want."

He looked down, and Judith felt actual surprise that she was offended by the way he stared at her chest – until she realized that he was looking at the locket embedded in her flesh. "The only thing that you want."

"I've read up on you, Farrington," she said. "The 'meaningful stare' - that's your twin's thing, isn't it?"

"If Colin were here – well, that's another story," David Allen sighed. "Oh, and I wouldn't visit him at the HIVE. They're not as friendly there as we are. As I was saying – I can give you the one thing you want."

He held out his left hand. "Take my hand."


Judith looked down at the extended hand. "Are you insane? Are you really that fucking past all common sense?"

The cadet smiled – a response that would have shocked most of the individuals who knew him, or scared them. "Are you afraid of me? Are you really so afraid of what I can do to you?"

The young woman looked at him with total contempt, and turned away. "Be thankful that I don't kill you where you stand. I know how to deal with telepaths."

"You see, that's one big misunderstanding that everyone has about me," David Allen said, straightening his tie. "One thing that 'mundanes' don't really get is that not all of us are alike – they think that all people with psi-powers are alike."

"You all die just the same," Judith huffed, thinking 'Why don't I just kill this bastard and just go?'

"Because a part of you really is curious," he said, holding out his hand. I'm not a primary telepath like Daria, or the other Class Fives here – I'm a primary empath. Let me show you a different way."

He extended his hand further. "Trust me."

For some strange reason, Judith reached out and grasped the extended hand-

David Allen found his astral self beside Judith's translucent form, as they both viewed a moment out of Judith's life:

"So what – you gonna make a scene about us being in here?" Judith said, giving the manager a cool stare as several Lawndale High students fled from the Good Time Chinese restaurant, most not even bothering to leave in their cars.

"No," the manager said, bringing them a basket filled with crab rangoon, won ton, and miniature spring rolls. "What you do and who you do it with is your own business. This is on the house – for your trouble."

"What's this supposed to be – a cheap bribe, to keep the gays from starting up trouble?" Jane growled. "Okay – more trouble?"

The manager – an overweight Black man in his fifties with a perpetually sad look in his eyes, held up his left hand. "What do you see on this hand, ladies?"

Judith and Jane shrugged and said as one, "Nothing."

The manager nodded. "That's right. Nothing. No wedding ring. That means I'm not married, and I don't have kids. That means I don't have anyone – and if you think I'm going to say anything about anyone finding someone who can be happy with, no matter who they are, so they don't have to feel the way I do every single day-"

He reached down to sweep the used napkins and packets of sauces off the table into the small trash can that he held in his other hand. "In my house, what you do and who you do it with is your own business. That's all I'm saying. You want to be bitchy to other people – you need to find another reason here, besides who you're with."

The universe shifted about them both is a psychotic moment of shifting images; and they were looking down at a crying African-American child in a crib, as four persons moved close.

One of the four, a slinky, distractingly beautiful brunette in her early twenties, spoke in a voice that screamed 'country girl' as her irises began to glow bluish white. [Don't worry, little David,] she thought-cast to the child, barely a week old. [We're not going to hurt you. Just go to sleep, and dream of warm blankets, dream of your belly being full, and your mommy holding you. Just go to sleep, little David...]

The four telepaths mindlinked, and as one, they sent a whisper-thin mental probe into the infant's brain, moving slowly yet gently as they moved to close of the portions of his mind that allowed him access to his active psi-abilities-

One of the four telepaths – Judith could feel her mind, her powers, everything about her pouring away from the now-dying woman, letting go with one unholy death-scream as she exploded into a blue-white human bonfire as the child's eyes suddenly flared to life in bluish light...

Sujata Varma. She was twenty-six years old, and was the second youngest daughter of the Deputy Security Director for Asia. She asked to be part of the binding ceremony because she was very good with children, and had helped in the binding ceremonies of over two thousand children in the years since her powers had been unbound at age seventeen. She was a nanny by profession, and more than anything else, wanted her own family. Her primary power was telepathy, but at an unusually low communication speed...

One of the men died next, exploding into several body fragments that caught fire...

Robert Berg. He was twenty-one years old, a graduating senior and fourth-generation student at Princeton University – and would never know that his fiancé, who he had planned to marry a year from his graduation date, was carrying his daughter. A primary empath – and the first psionic healer that the Elite had seen in a generation, not to mention the most powerful one they had seen in over two centuries - Robert was the first member of the family in four generations to be allowed access to his powers. This was his first inclusion in a Binding Ceremony.

The other woman simply dropped to the floor as if she were a marionette with its strings all suddenly severed; she lay there, twitching, her mind gone, and her body simply running on automatic pilot...

Carey Phillips-Bethke. Twenty years old, and the newlywed bride of Magnus Bethke, the Executive Director for North America. The most powerful empath the Elite had seen in a thousand years, with such power and control over her abilities that she could manipulate and control the populations of cities, if need be. She had given birth to her son Mike only two months earlier, on her family's farm in Kentucky, and was looking forward to a lifetime of her children (she wanted a houseful of kids, to make up for being an only child) on the huge ranch she had talked her husband into buying and living on, despite his love of the metropolitan lifestyle.

The child turned his attention to the last of his 'attackers'...

Gunther Schultz. Forty years old, he was the head of personal security for the Executive Director of Eastern Europe. A master of psionic combat, he was also a primary telepath with a noted skill in shielding; his skill and power allowed his shields to protect him from even physical and mystic attacks...

He screamed as he was engulfed in fire from all angles, from the physical and astral plane, unceasing, unholy flame that seemed alive, blowing down his shields as it drained his powers and tried to consume his life-force...


The flame-effect that surrounded the child's crib ceased immediately as Günter dropped to one knee, fighting back blinding pain as he looked at his left arm, now blackened and charred; fighting to stay conscious, he watched as Cassandra Farrington, wearing the uniform of a U.S. Navy commander, had rushed into the room (followed by a swarm of others) and had gone to her child's crib...

I hope they kill that little monster, Günter thought, before the pain mercifully took him into darkness...

Judith cringed as the blurring of images took them flashing into her mind once more...

"You didn't have to introduce all of them to 'Clownie', Jane," Judith said, looking slightly sick and yet still impressed at he way Jane had come into the LHS football team's locker room to rescue her and make short work of the three player before they could gang-rape Judith 'in order to make her straight again'. "My God – they've all gone catatonic..."

"Who knows, Daria?" Jane said, smiling as she stomped on the still-twitching hand of a player – almost as an afterthought. "Maybe they'll live to spend the rest of their lives shitting in bedpans and eating through tubes. It's actually more than they deserve."

"Just – just leave them alone," Judith said, rolling up her black t-shirt (torn from her by one of the players) and putting it in her jacket pocket before zipping the jacket up. "Hold on a moment," Jane said, lowering the zipper down enough so that Judith's cleavage could be seen. "Hmm... I like that look. We'll have to remember that for another time."

"When some freaks haven't been listening to that hardass O'Neill about 'traditional family values' in the books he wants people to read." Judith snarled. "That dumb bastard is the only person too stupid to get that he should back off – no, he thinks that if he force-feeds us 'the right books' – he can 'change us to what women are supposed to be'. I'm really starting to dislike him."

"I can't believe he called me a 'clam-diving circus freak' in his 'Self-Esteem' class," Jane echoed. "Someone should teach him that he's not the baddest dude in the whole damn town..."

The look that appeared on Judith's face effectively killed off the smile that had begun to creep across Jane's face. "We have got to find you another hobby, Jane."

The flashing of images continued, despite David Allen's trying to pull out, and he looked over to see Judith smile wickedly at him...

"David Allen – you know that I know you're in here, so you might as well come out," the voice of a little girl said, and she opened the door to the closet. "Why are you hiding in here?"

Julia Carlyle, all of ten years old, leaned against the doorframe as David Allen, dressed in a very nice charcoal-gray suit, wiped his tears away. "What's wrong? People are wondering where you went – its kind of obvious when your family has a birthday party for you and your brother, and one of you isn't there!"

"Let Colin have it," David Allen said, his face now impassive." I didn't want to come back home for this anyway – my mom made me-"

"But she invited all of us in 2996, and we get to spend the weekend here at your grandmother's mansion," the young girl said, playing with a lock of her long, scarlet hair. "There's so much to do here – granted, it's not like Mom's house out in Colorado, or Nana Miranda's place in the Hamptons, but-"

"Let's sneak off and go hang out there," the boy blurted out suddenly. "Either one. They won't miss me –I only come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, anyway – and I'm never coming back here after today. I hate it when he comes around. I hate him so much..."

"That Tom Sloane?" Julia's face turned into a grimace. "Little Mister Perfect? He's a goat turd – he thinks that he's so cute and he's so special – like your family and mine can't both buy his family and give them away!"

David Allen looked up. "Don't you mean 'buy them and sell them'?"

Julia flipped her hair back. "No. Mommy Paige was always into tax stuff before she became a judge. She always says that you can get tax deductions for giving some stuff away!"

"What's a 'tax deduction?" David Allen asked.

"I dunno – some money they give you so you can buy school stuff or stuff for a farm. That's what Sherrie says that her family does when they get one," Julia answered.

The boy looked down at his highly shined shoes, and a tiny point of pride sliced through him that he was able to get his own shoes so perfectly shined. "Are you paying attention to me, Cadet Farrington – or are you still smirking that you got honors for best uniform presentation for seven weeks in a row?"

"No – he was making fun of me for the way I dressed." came the answer.

"He wishes he could dress that nicely," Julia waved the comment away. "When was the last time some tailor came to his house from Italy to measure him and fix his clothes right at his house? Don't even pay any attention to him, David Allen – he's a jerk face, and he always will be."

"That's one of the things he always reminds everybody of, every time he sees me or whenever they start talking about me," David Allen said. "He said that the reason why my mother always calls me by my first and middle name is because I killed those people when I was little, and they always call mass murderers by their first and middle names."

He looked done before continuing. "In a way, he's right," David Allen told Julia. "Mom said that I need to be formal with people, and they need to be formal with me. She said that I'm the 'Dolphin', or something like that, and when I grow up, it's going to be very important."

"You being a dolphin?" Julia's eyes grew wide." I didn't know that you could become a dolphin? That would be cool! You could swim underwater with Zoey, and the other guys with water powers!"

"I can do that already, if I use my shield - but if I could shape-shift, that would be another thing that Yaniv would be mad about," David Allen said. "Thank God he isn't here, too. Him and Tom would be-"

Julia cut him off as she stepped into the closet, and moved David Allen over so that she could sit beside him on the steamer trunk he was sitting on. "Oh, screw Yanni-boy! He's a dick! He's a teeny little dick! Both him and Tommy Sloane are teeny-tiny, eeenie-meanie, beanie-weenie little dicks!"

David Allen almost laughed; Julia smiled as a smile instead managed to work its way upon her fellow cadet - and friend's – face. "Stop saying stuff like that, Julia" he told the redhead. "That's why you already have so many demerits."

"No, that's how come I had so many demerits," she replied. "I always ask if I can march them off like the older students, and they let me. This way, I get to be in better shape than everybody, I get a rep as a 'bad girl' – which means that people are gonna stay out of my face – the teachers also know that I'm ready to take my punishment without whining - and do you know all of the gossip I get to hear when I'm on punishment march? The stuff that goes on 'across the alley' in the Elite Academy will blow your mind... and if you want, I heard things about your mentor with the 'Lord of the Rings' first name..."

David Allen's mind flashed to Eowyn LaSalle – a Cadet Second Class, she was the current ranking psi-active cadet (or 'Esper Prime'), and his 'psionic peer mentor' from the Elite Academy since last year. "Do you want to know what I heard about what you and her are supposed to do when you become a First Year?"

Trying not to think about some of the stories that he had already heard – and grateful for the ever-present inhaler of 'flush' in his pocket, which he was using during his home visit – David Allen grunted off an unintelligible reply.

Julia smiled; she put her head on David Allen's shoulder, and looked up at him with 'puppy-dog eyes'. "Don't you want me to tell me things, David Allen?"

Her smile grew broader as David Allen rolled his eyes. "If I had a pie, I'd hit you with it," he said. "You're annoying."

"Yes, but at least I'm not trying to climb all over you right now," the girl said, swinging her feet innocently back and forth. "Oh, and if that was a lemon meringue pie, you'd better just give it to me. That would be a waste of good pie."

"It's only a waste because you won't share," he shot back. "Just because you never gain weight, no matter how much you eat – climb all over me?"

"Like your groupies," the redhead giggled. "If Leda, or Susannah, or that yucky ol' Sidney Simon was here right now, they'd be trying to go all 'kiss-kiss' all over the place!"

"Sidney's my friend, just like you – and we're both in acrobatics," David Allen pointed out. "You could do that instead of the beauty pageants."

"Nope," Julia said. "I know I'm prettier than all of these other girls – and I like the pageants because all of the tiaras prove it. Let Sidney and those other sticks and losers who are always trying to kiss you say that."

"Who's talking about kissing?" a familiar – and annoying – voice came from the hallway – and before either cadet could rise, a young Tom Sloane came through the door of David Allen's room, a posse of seven or eight kids behind him to act as his 'audience'. "Oh, look – I told you, see? If 'Milky' disappears - just look for 'Pins', and there she is!" So – what's going on in the closet, Pins?"

"Go away, Tommy," David Allen said, and winced at the sound of his voice shifting tone. Stupid puberty." This is my room. It's private."

"Oh, you two want to be alone," Tom snickered, drawing laughs from the others. "Pins and Milky, sitting in the' - hey, what goes with that? 'Closet' doesn't rhyme?"

An attractive girl about Tom's age with Latin features spoke up. "Well, a' pantry' is like a closet, except you put food in one and clothes in the other..."

Tom's face perked up. "Thanks, Natalia!"

Another boy – this one closer to David Allen's age, and obviously of Mexican descent, put a hand on Tom's shoulder. "You've teased him enough, Tom – and this is his room. Leave him alone in his room."

"I'll do whatever I want, 'Gringo'," Tom said, and Tomas Villicana gave the younger boy a cool look before glancing into the closet and seeing Julia's fists ball up.

"Fine," he conceded, looking past Tom to David Allen and Julia. "I'll go and get some cake."

"Little sissy wannabe," Tom taunted, as Villicana left the room. "Oh, yeah – 'Pins and Milky, sitting in the pantry, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love-"

Her voice so low that only David Allen could hear her speak, Julia whispered, almost to herself, "You made my friend cry..."

Tom barely saw the red streak that catapulted itself from out of the closet, and he never saw the punch that knocked him out...

David Allen looked back in Judith's direction:

Judith saw the looks on the faces of Sandi Griffin and Tiffany Blum-Deckler as they tried to have a conversation with a man who, Judith, admitted to herself, was the most attractive man that she had ever seen in her life.

"Good evening, ladies," the man said, with a cultured Southern accent that she knew that she'd remember for a long time to come. "What can I do for you?"

Sandi brushed her hair back with her hand. "We saw you the other day with someone who is really, like, not suited for you? She has a reputation for being really, really unfashionable."

"Yeah," said Tiffany. "Unfashionable."

Judith watched as the man raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he said. "What makes you so sure that this person I was with when you first laid eyes on me is so unsuited for me?"

"Well, isn't it obvious?" said Sandi. "You are obviously a man of taste. Surely you would rather be seen with a woman of similar taste?"

"I see," the man said, looking past the pair as he spoke to someone behind them. "Do you think that I should be seen with a woman of similar tastes, Daria?"

Judith almost burst out laughing as the pair turned around. There, standing before them, dressed in a manner that suited her down to the ground, and which matched the man perfectly, was this world's Daria. In her hands she had a paper bag, and she was giving the two young women a flat, emotionless stare. "Hello, Sandi, Tiffany," she said in her usual flat semi-monotone.

"I take it you know these young ladies?" the man asked.

"You could say that," Daria said. "They were part of a clique that was called 'The Fashion Club' at Lawndale High."

She walked past the pair and sat down next to the man as he cocked an eyebrow. "'Fashion Club'?" he asked.

"They obsessed over fashion and being fashionable," Daria said. "Quinn was a member until they disbanded in my senior year."

"Intriguing," the man murmured, as he looked at Daria, with suppressed amusement rippling through his voice. "You haven't answered my question, though."

Daria looked at the man, and then looked at Sandi and Tiffany. "Well, I suppose it is only fair that you should be with someone who has the same tastes as you do," she replied. "What do you look for in a woman?"

"Well," the man responded, "I look for a woman who is articulate, intelligent, educated, has her own views on things and can make me laugh. It also helps if she is good looking."

He looked Sandi and Tiffany over. "Do either of you think you fulfill the criteria?"

"Surely you're not looking for a brain?" Sandi asked.

"It does make matters much easier if she has one and knows how to use it," the man said, as he looked at Daria, taking her right hand in his and gently squeezing it. "One gets pretty tired pretty quickly, talking only about fashion, and idle gossip... no danger of that here."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Daria responded, as she leaned over to kiss the man - a kiss that continued for quite some time and actually impressed Judith (who was cloaked in a second 'one-shot glamour' that made her appear as a Latino girl of average looks) as she sat across from Daria and her 'suitor' – reluctantly, Judith admitted that no other description fit the gentleman better.

Reluctantly, Daria and the man disengaged - and then looked at Sandi and Tiffany; Daria had a faint smirk on her lips while the man simply raised one eyebrow.

Tiffany looked as vacuous as ever, but Sandi Griffin had a look on her face that combined shock with outrage. She looked from Daria, to the man, and back to Daria; her mouth worked, but nothing (or at least, nothing intelligible) came out.

Finally, Sandi stormed off, with Tiffany trailing in her wake.

I think that I'll let this one live, Judith said, as she watched the man with her. If she can hold onto a man like that, she'll cause more pain and suffering among the people around here than I could ever manage, no matter how I killed her. Seeing those two together, every single day – and better yet, if something happens and they do break up, the pain and suffering the bitches here are going to put each other through as they fight to have him notice them – and even better, how they'll act when they realize that none of them are good enough to get him...

Yeah. If nothing else, for that kiss, you get to live. It reminds me of the one real kiss that I got to have with Trent...

Judith's eyes blinked clear as David disengaged from the mind-link. "So?" she asked, looking at her hand before she snatched it away from the cadet's grasp. "What was all that for?"

"I thought that you would understand," David Allen told her. "You have done evil – great evil. You've done things that you will someday have to pay for – but if you want redemption, if you want to be forgiven for what you've done - then you have to stop doing these things. You can make a choice, Judith – you can choose not to hurt anyone else. You've done that once before – at least once before – and you can choose to stop altogether."

Judith growled as David Allen continued on. "You can choose not to do what you've been doing - and you have to start by letting go of all of the hurt you have inside yourself," he said. "Not everyone is going to hate you on sight. Not everyone wants to see you dead. You can stop what's happening. You can stop. You can start onto a new path, and you can start by letting go of the anger you have inside you, and by forgiving yourself."

He stepped closer to her. "Look around you, Judith. What do you see?"

Judith looked around, and turned back to David Allen with derision seeping from her every pore.

"I don't care how far inside my head you go," Judith replied, snapping back with all the ferocity of someone feeling the blade cutting too close to the truth. "Before you try preaching all of this, why don't you try following your own advice? Despite what a bleeding-heart – empath - like you may choose to believe about me or what I am - I made my own choices. You were only a week old when those people died – and by the way, only two of them died, not all four, in case you didn't notice - and you're carrying that around like a modern-day Atlas."

She stepped up to him, totally unafraid. "Nobody told me that I'd get to play a role in the origin story of 'Captain Save-A-Ho', trying to rescue a 'soiled dove' from the darkness," she scoffed. "Before you start trying to get other people to change – why don't you start by forgiving yourself, and letting someone into your own life? What makes you think that you're so much better – or better off - than me? What makes you think you're any different than me, anyway? Do you even have any remote idea why your precious Alliance was created in the first place?"

David Allen actually flinched as Judith looked him directly in the eye and bellowed, "Before you try to tell anybody how to be a better person - why don't you go tell that redhead how much you actually care about her, go off somewhere and just be a normal guy for a day or two before all you ever can be is an army robot that only knows how to take orders and live for everyone else?"

Both Judith and David Allen stepped back, slightly confused by what had just been said. "Did I just give you good advice?" the young woman said, taking several steps further from him.

As soon as the words came from Judith's mouth, David Allen heard a pair of voices clearly in his mind's eye:

//Third Eagle to War Chief. I'm in the room. The Prime's clear of the kill-zone. \\

#War Chief to Frost King – the Prime is clear. Request instructions.#

A brief pause. #Confirmed. Eagle - pull Prime clear. I'll take her.#

[Damnit, people, stand down-!]

Without thinking, David looked in Judith's direction; his telekinetic power went flex-.

Judith flew, screaming, off to one side just as several tightly-focused pulses of super-heated plasma seared through the air – but she went careening into the wall at the back of the stage as the green bolts detonated on contact with the floor and several seats, the concussion of the blasts also sending burning shrapnel flying across the area!

#What the hell did you just do, Prime?# a voice stabbed into his head. #Eagle – fry that bitch!#

David Allen had barely begun to turn when a figure in tactical body armor appeared out of nowhere in the center aisle! He threw up his shields to protect his eyes as a blinding stream of lightning exploded from the figure's hands-

-Lightning that exploded all around and over the shield that had formed around Judith's form, now lying on the stage.

"Don't move or you're dead!"

Before David Allen could speak, over forty persons appeared in the auditorium – some teleporting, some shifting in through dimensional travel, some appearing in various energy forms before they returned to human form – each of them keeping a respectable distance as they trained their weapons on Judith. "Put your hands out where we can see them!" shouted the figure who had fired the lightning. "Do it NOW!"

Twitching in obvious pain from the plasma burns on her right side, Judith turned to face the figure; her eyes brushed across David Allen momentarily before she locked on her assailant. "G-g-go... fuck... yourself."

David Allen looked around the auditorium, and then turned to Judith. [Remember this for later, Judith,] he thought-cast to the girl. [Look around you. That's why I'm different than you.]

In the moment before she disappeared in a flack of blue light, David Allen saw Judith hold out her right hand, a smile of triumph on her face. "Oh, no," he said, looking down at his wrist and wincing as he saw that his Mark 31 psi-augmenter was missing. "You light-touched, cat-suited little bitch," he breathed out, as the armored figure walked over, raising the visor on his helmet to reveal that it was Franklin Davers inside, wearing the jet-black uniform of a Phantom Eagle. "Enjoy roasting someone with that Force lightning of yours, Davers?

"Well, someone had to save you from the evil Daria Morgendorffer," the handsome Cadet First Class smirked, touching a button on his neck that caused his 'flash-armor' – armor that was created from his own psi-powers and provided more protection than a light tank – to fold away into 'hammerspace'. "Besides, 'Ostrich Day' is not too far off - and I want you alive and healthy for the fun."

Amorette Molyneux – the Phantom Eagles' 'War Chief '(the term they used for the commander of the elite cadre) appeared in a flash of pink light as she transitioned out of her energy path-form. "What the hell did you save her for, Prime?" the French-Canadian beauty seethed, shouldering her high-powered plasma rifle as she got right up in David Allen's face. "I had orders to take her out!"

"I had orders to let her get away with what she came for, Molly!" he snapped right back; he had learned long ago that the only way to deal with her was to give back as good as she gave out. "Trust me – you don't want to think about what would have happened if you had actually come close to killing her."

"Fine," she snapped back. "The commandant wants to see you anyway for debriefing – and I heard that your mother's on her way, too."

The look on David Allen's face made Jefferson laugh outright and Amorette's mood instantly soften. "Your mommy's a three-star – that probably means that you'll get your pick of assignments when we graduate in June."

"Not to mention that when she shows up, she'll probably bring you some new underwear and take you out to dinner – and maybe, she'll let you order off the grown folks' menu!" Jefferson guffawed, laughing harder at the expression David Allen gave him. "I saw the way you were looking at our guest's tight little rack – I think we all know that you're a 'big boy', now!"

David Allen flicked him on the head with his forefinger. "Okay, Mayflower – let's see how much you laugh after we play some 'CKC' and you end up in a closet with Mike Bethke or Chi Ling for a few minutes."

Jefferson's laugh cut off immediately, and David Allen realized the auditorium had gotten quiet; he looked around to see that more of the USAES Marine Corps guard detail were now in the auditorium, along with the forty-some figures, who were all Phantom Eagles in tactical armor – and all were standing silently with looks of disbelief on their faces. "Oh, come on!" David Allen exclaimed. It's not as if I don't try to do things with other people!"

"Did your mind-link with 'Catsuit Barbie' fog your brain?" Jefferson snickered. "We all know you, David Allen. It's a minor miracle when you do anything social that doesn't involve you being dragged out kicking and screaming by either someone Alliance, your cute little padawan Daniella, or Eowyn dragging you out when you were her padawan."

"Well, maybe its time for a bit of a change," the Esper Prime said, nodding more to himself than to the others. "After all – today, I just got a good piece of advice."

David Allen turned to Amorette. "Molly – stay with the Marines and help secure the area. Jefferson - lead on. The Commandant's probably got a lot of questions for me."