Belle of the Ball - Year Three
Belle of the Ball
Chapter Twenty Five
“You’re what?” roared Dad, in his very best, very loud ex-US Army Ranger voice. The china in mom’s cherry wood curio cabinet rattled slightly with the sheer volume of air that he expelled out of his lungs in parental fury.
“Ah’m pregnant, Dad,” I replied as calmly as I could.
He stood there, hands clinched into fists and given size from his anger; he seemed to tower over me as I sat on one of mom’s best chairs in the parlor, doing my best to become one with the seat. “JJ, sit down,” ordered Mom as quietly as Dad had been loud.
“The hell I will!” he shouted back. “This is that boy’s doing, isn’t it? Stallion or something, wasn’t it?”
“Cavalry,” I corrected quietly.
“His name will be mud when I’m through with him…!”
I finally worked up the courage to meet dad’s infuriated gaze and to be honest, I surprised myself with how calm I was. “And exactly what do you think you’ll do to mah fiancée, daddy? What can you do to me, for that matter? We’re both invulnerable and were he inclined to be violent, Cavalry could snap you like a matchstick. He won’t be, but that’s not mah point.”
The important word penetrated Dad’s anger and he blinked at me. “Fiancée?”
I held up my left hand were Ed’s mother’s ring now rode on my ring finger. “He asked; hell…”
“Watch your mouth,” snapped Mom.
“…he knew Ah was pregnant before Ah did. And he asked me to marry him before he told me. Ah don’t know how much more responsible Ed could be about this, Dad.”
“How far along are you?” asked Mom quietly as Dad sank back into his chair, his reasons for being angry denied him. The two exchanged glances for a moment and Mom patted his hand in reassurance before they turned back.
I took a deep breath and tried to come to grips with things myself. “As near as Ah can figure about a month. Well, technically, Ah guess, 20 years and a month or so.”
Mom was completely unfazed by my attempt at humor. “You’re a super heroine, dear; they should have told you that time travel doesn’t count. Should I bother asking how you can be so certain so early?”
“Well, Geoffrey cooked up some kind of scanner thing…” I started before she nodded sagely.
“Gadgeteers, it figures. Alright, have you and Edward set a date yet?” I shook my head around a sip of mom’s tea.
“We want to be able to have something nice before Ah start showing, but that’s awfully short notice…”
“Nonsense,” she retorted with a snort. “You won’t start showing for three months at least. That’s plenty of time to put together a nice ceremony and reception so there are photos you won’t be embarrassed to show your children.” She gave me an odd look at the doubtlessly queasy expression on my face. “Well, I presume you and Edward will have more than one.”
“You didn’t,” I shot back, more and more uncomfortable with discussing my sex life, however peripherally with my parents. To my amazement, Mom blushed furiously and it was dad who answered while rubbing her hand in encouragement.
“Your mother was forced to have a hysterectomy due to complications of your birth, so…honey,” he said, tripping over which pronoun he would use to address me. “We wanted more, but, well it wasn’t meant to be, and you have been more of a blessing than we could have hoped for.”
As you might imagine, this was news to me and I felt about 3 inches tall for having thrown such a painful memory into Mom’s face. “Sorry,” I muttered, unable to look either of them in the eye so I busied myself with smoothing imaginary wrinkles in my skirt.
“You didn’t know,” Mom said after a long pause, “and it’s a wound I’ve had plenty of time to heal. So,” she announced after a large sigh. “What kind of service did you and Edward have in mind?”
I shrugged, trying to shy away from my dreams of my ruined reception. “We hadn’t really thought about it, Mom. We probably will just head down to the Justice of the Peace…”
The look of unbridled Southern Matriarch denied the planning of the Wedding of the Century was a thing to behold. “You…will…do…no…such…thing…!” she gasped around her outrage.
“Mom, I don’t want anything extravagant,” I started, looking for some support from Dad and promptly realizing I’d have none. “If you must plan something, can you at least keep it small and intimate?”
To this day I have nightmares about the smile that lit up her face. “Of course dear…”
I let the water in Ed’s shower beat on me from three directions at once while he stood behind me, his thick hands scouring my hair with what felt like a gallon of shampoo. I had my head back to give him better access and his strength was making short work of the stress that had built up in me from having to drop the bomb on Mom and Dad. Well, that and the fact that I had one of the jets in front of me aimed just right several inches below my navel. “So, how did they take it?” he rumbled from behind me as his fingers tried and failed to burrow into my skull.
“Dad went looking for a shotgun,” I murmured through my pleasure filled haze.
“Pity you stopped him, I’ve had this itch I can’t reach for days…” he chuckled. “What about your mother?”
“Ah think she has aspirations of out doing Princess Di’s wedding,” I replied around the tremble of the magic his shower nozzle was working on me.
He effortlessly picked me up and held me against him while angling my head under one of the main jets to rinse the foam from my head. “Guess I’ll have to start looking for a kilt. Hope I can find one long enough.” He laid his hands on the ledge where the soap and what not was kept, all of it at his waist level. This made a ‘seat’ for me across his arms as I got a hold of the shampoo and returned the favor for him.
His hair is remarkably soft for as thick and coarse as it was. He closed his eyes and flattened his ears to give me better access as I all but shoved my breasts into his long, narrow face. I’m sure that was half the fun for him and I didn’t begrudge him a thing as I had thoroughly enjoyed my time on the receiving end of this simple pleasure. “Ah’d almost pay money to see you in a kilt,” I teased him. His long tongue snaked out and caught my left breast squarely across the nipple.
I about jumped out of my skin at the sudden, intense feeling.
“Don’t think I have the legs for it?” he chuckled at me through the slit of one eye.
“It’s the third one coming out to say howdy Ah’d worry about if Ah were you,” I retorted as I unhooked the shower wand to rinse out his mane. He let me down and turned to give me access to his tail.
At the risk of sounding the braggart, my baby has the sexiest ass. (No pun intended, of course.) Ed wore his tail in a tail wrap generally; it was a six inch piece of leather with a pair of snaps that held his tail up slightly and away from his body. I wasn’t entirely sure why, beyond I suppose it was more comfortable that way, but it always gave him something of a prancing look. Of course, he wasn’t wearing it now as I busied my hands with cleaning this odd extra of his. “Well, I can’t help what I was born with, and for all the trouble it’s given me, I’m not exactly going to worry about someone being envious of my burden.”
“Burden?” I asked him from my ministrations.
His laugh was dark and had very little to do with humor. “Evidently size does matter, especially if it’s just shy of two feet.”
“Well, Ah’m curious about that,” I told him as I cleaned his tail of the shampoo. “Why didn’t ya’ll go after some of the female bricks? Like Brunhilda of the Macon Manhunters?”
“For starters, Brunhilda isn’t a just a brick, she’s a lipstick lesbian…”
“Never know it to look at her, would you? She certainly manages to make you think she’s looking right at you in those cheesecake posters.” He sighed as my hand found his family jewels and I caressed them gently. “For another, I had my heart on someone else.”
As I took him in hand, I smiled up at him. “You say the sweetest things.” However, what he’d said got my mind to thinking. Just then of course wasn’t the right time to consider them so I filed them away for further research with someone who could possibly give me the answers.
“What brought this on?” asked Geoffrey with a puzzled expression on his face.
Tuesdays are generally a slow day at the ‘office’ and as it would be some time before I could re-enroll in GSU I spent much of my time down at HQ generally trying to be of service. Well, I had needed to take some time to get the apartment squared away and of course there were a couple of side trips into alternate dimensions and back in time in there, but nothing really out of the ordinary when you’re a super hero.
Which, in and of itself is kind of scary when you stop and think about it.
In any event, it was 11 am on the first Tuesday of our return from our little foray into the year of my birth and since there was nothing serious going on I’d cornered our resident ‘Mr. Wizard’ in his lab to try and work out some of the things that were bothering me about how I’d entered this particular profession.
Now, Geoffrey’s lab was this twenty by twenty foot space in the HQ that looked like a cross between Tesla’s tinker room and Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab. God alone knows what half the gadgets and do-dads he had in there did, but to the undeclared underclasswoman they were very impressive. Lots of bolts of lightening running up steel poles and blinking lights, and well, you already know I’m not exactly technical.
“Ah want to know why mah infection of Mckimpson Strain turned me into a woman,” I repeated evenly.
Geoffrey sighed as he put down whatever it was he was working on and turned to face me more directly. He wasn’t wearing his costume, which I’m sure was a great bonus to him since he’d developed his quick change gizmo, but rather a mechanics cover-all with an interesting collection of stains. “What difference does it make?” he asked after a moment of thought. “Knowing why won’t change the fact that you’re pregnant or the fact that you and Ed are getting married, will it? Or…are you looking for some way to reverse this?”
I opened my mouth to reply and closed it again. To be honest, since I’d come to grips with what’s happened to me, I hadn’t considered looking for some way to reverse my fate. Now, with even the slimmest of possibilities opened up to me, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted. “Ah…Ah just was curious as to why, is all,” I lied rather badly. “Ah hadn’t really considered going back…Is that possible?”
“Do you want to?” he asked pointedly.
I found I couldn’t meet his gaze and looked away. “Ah don’t know. Ah love Ed and Ah like to think Ah’m getting my head around the concept of being a mother…Ah never really thought about it. And now Ah have to wonder why Ah didn’t!”
Before Geoffrey could answer the door to his workshop opened and Sovereign poked his head in. “Geoffrey, do…oh, sorry, didn’t realize you had company.”
“What are you doing here?” I demanded sourly. “Don’t you have a campaign to run or something?”
“I have people for that,” he told me with an oily smile as he entered the room and shut the door. “As for what I’m doing, further violations of federal law will get my bail revoked, so I’m doing my so-called civic duty.”
My eyes shot to Geoffrey at the speed of light. “Don’t tell me…!”
He shrugged. “We are the closest team,” he hedged.
“Can mah life get any worse?” I demanded of no one as I shoved my way past Sovereign and out into the hall way. I ignored both of them calling after me as my feet rapidly took me to the heliport on the roof and I took off. There isn’t much I can say that is happy about my powers but the one good thing is I fly faster than either the American Eagle or Sovereign.
In short order the headquarters was out of sight behind me.
Ever since I’d learned I could do it, flying was one of the ways I used to clear my head. Ed and I are very much alike in the fact that when we’re confused we want to be alone and do something physical. For Cavalry, it’s running; he’ll go down to the little lake at the end of Circle 75 parkway and run the jogging track around it. For me, well, the new me, I clear my head by flying.
In all the months I’d been battling Sovereign and his Forces of Evil™ no where had I stopped to think that we’d eventually ‘win’ and our perpetual ne’er-do-well would find a new home on the team that had put a stop to his antics. I’d always been under the assumption that he’d have a new home in a nine by nine foot cell and that would be the last we’d see of him.
I say that figuratively of course, as this is superheroes after all and everybody knows the villain always finds a way to get out of jail. It is a very odd world I live in where when the long arm of the law lays hands on a rule breaker, that selfsame rule breaker gets put to work for the long arm of the law.
Yes, I realize that Albert is something of a special case, running for Congress and all, but honestly I wasn’t prepared to have to work with him. For me, working with Albert was synonymous with breaking the law.
So I flew, not really caring which direction I was going and gave my mind it’s lead to figure out how I would react to this. All of a sudden I had a lot to think about, between having to work with Congressman-want-to-be as well as Geoffrey’s rather nebulous thoughts of reversing my situation.
Did I want to be male again?
To be honest, I’d never really considered myself a ‘man’ in any sense of the word. My own self image was of a kid, still trying to figure out what to do with my life. The most ‘manly’ thing I’d ever done was play soldier with my dad once a month at a Civil War Re-Enactment. I’d really come of age as a woman, where I’d done things that mattered, saved lives and more than I ever really had, began to understand what love was.
Now I was responsible for a whole other life.
It was a very sobering thought to think that for the next eighteen years I would have another person utterly dependant upon me and the choices I would make on their behalf. Was I so selfish that I would snuff out that life on the off chance I could go back to being a mediocre nobody? Where would I be if my mother had made that choice? Was this even really a choice?
I promptly realized I could never look myself in the mirror again if I let myself be that selfish. I had never been religious in the strictest of senses in my life. I believed in God and Jesus and all that; I went to church for the odd wedding, funeral, Christmas and Easter, but I never really thought about things like eternity.
But I suppose I should. I mean, think about it, here I was flying all by myself in a new gender, pregnant, possessed of fantastic powers having traveled in time and dimension. If I could know all that, how could the concept of an all powerful Creator be that much harder to believe and really get to know?
All in all, it made me feel very small and insignificant.
I slowed to a stop as I looked around, feeling very powerful eyes upon me as I picked a particularly spectacular looking cloud to address. “Father, Ah guess Ah ought to start with Ah’m sorry for being such a stubborn ass and not realizing you were here sooner. Ah don’t know if Ah’m ready for something as big as this responsibility ya’ll put inside me, but Ah promise Ah’ll do mah very best. Ah hope and pray ya’ll will stay with me through all this, help me find a way to be half as good a mother as the one you blessed me with.
“Ah want you to know Ah’m finally starting to get mah head out of mah butt and act with a little purpose. Ah…Ah hope you’ll forgive me for thinking about…well, what Ah was thinking about. Ah guess Ah got a bit scared and Ah started looking for an easy way out. Ah know now you didn’t give me all this power for me to look for the easy way out and Ah’m sorry Ah let you down. Ah’ll do mah best not to let it happen again.
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve given me.” I searched the cloud for some sign that I had been heard; if not listened to, wondering as I did so if I was being fantastically arrogant. Nothing seeming to be in the offering except this feeling deep in my breast that I had not only been heard or listened to, but that the being I had been addressing had stopped whatever He had been doing just to listen to me.
I’d never really had what you’d call a religious experience before. However, that day, somewhere over the Cobb and Fulton County line Jennifer Anderson, AKA the Southern Belle, found God. A God that wasn’t cold, or wanton, but rather long suffering and patient enough to wait for a self absorbed nobody to notice Him. “Thank you,” I told the cloud again, knowing I was heard and loved.
I wasn’t allowed long to bask in this new feeling as at that moment, somewhat prophetically my communicator began to vibrate in its case. I got it out in time to hear a woman’s voice oddly without emotion recite, “All units, all units, Charlie 13 requests assistance, shots fired, Chattahoochee National Wild Life Recreation Area, north shoals unit. Officer has been injured, nearest unit please respond.”
“County, Sierra Seven,” I shouted into the unit, already close by and moving as quickly as I could to get there faster.
“Sierra Seven, go ahead.”
“Ah’m right above there, but that park is on both sides of the river. Where is Charlie 13?”
“Sierra Seven, be advised, last known location of Charlie 13 was visitor center parking lot, west entrance, 10-3 of a late model Honda Civic, blue in color plate ABC-1234, Alpha Bravo Charlie 1234, returns stolen. Charlie 13 ran 10-28 positive for Darren Miller, wants from Bartow County for rape, aggravated sodomy and sexual battery of a minor. Suspect is armed and considered extremely dangerous.”
Not to me, I thought as I quickly caught sight of the cruiser, his lights still on behind the vehicle in question, blocking it from moving. More to the point, Charlie 13 was leaning against the back of the vehicle with a couple of good Samaritans who were trying to stop some rather profuse bleeding from his shoulder.
He had been shot, and the round had destroyed his radio, likely why he was out of touch with dispatch, as it passed through his shoulder, neatly missing his vest not once, but twice. His hand was shaking, indicating he was going into shock but he actually managed to smile as I alighted. “I…I…I…really didn’t want to mmmmeet you like this,” he managed around his teeth chattering.
“You need to sit down, officer,” interjected a squirrelly looking jogger with wire rimed glasses and surgical gloves that clashed with his jogging suit. He spared me a glance with a somewhat harried smile. “Mark Reed, MD.”
“A cop and a doctor when you need one, you are lucky!” I quipped to keep him in a happy place as the Doctor and I finally got him into a seated position.
“He cccould be dddoubling back…” the officer complained, struggling against me for a moment before realizing how futile that was.
“His miss-fortune if he does,” I assured him. “County, Sierra Seven,” told the gizmo not waiting for them to respond. “Ah need at least two ambulances out here and every cop with an itch to put a hurt on somebody.”
“Not exactly professional, is it?” Mark inquired from trying to press a couple of paper towels into service as a trauma patch.
“Do you know what this asshole is wanted for?”
The doctor’s gaze was steely as he kept the pressure on the cop’s wound. “I thought there was this innocent until proven guilty thing. Seems like I read that somewhere.”
I bit back the angry retort that sprang to my lips as I nodded. “How many others are shot?”
“Two that I know of, but there was more shooting in the direction he ran.” I made to be on the hunt but I was stopped by his surprisingly firm grip on my arm. “Where are you going?”
“He’s getting away!”
The doctor’s eyes were full of a strength I hope I have someday. “Let him,” he hissed. “I have two other GSWs I haven’t looked at yet, plus what might be waiting for me down the trail. A con that might or might not make his day in court doesn’t interest me and shouldn’t interest you. You have paramedics on the way, but they won’t come in here unless they’re certain the area is safe, that means you have to be here to protect them.”
The cops’ eyes found the pool of blood that had been collecting by the fender he’d been leaning on. “That’s a lot of blood,” he managed around the chattering.
“People lose more giving it away,” snapped Mark and he put enough jocularity in his tone he even had me believing it. I sighed.
“Anybody here have police or army training?” I demanded of the crowd of bystanders.
“Two tours in Iraq,” one announced, gently easing to the front of the crowd. I snatched open the cruiser’s door and got his shotgun before relieving the officer of his side arm and magazines. The shot gun I handed to the soldier, the pistol to another who’d stepped forward.
“Glock 23, no safety but the trigger,” I instructed him. “Magazine release here, it will lock open if it’s empty. Try not to let that happen. You up on that shotgun, soldier boy?”
“Mossberg 500 pump,” he told me around a grin and I felt the entire crowd staring at me.
“What?” I demanded. “Ya’ll don’t know a good southern girl knows her guns?” The group broke into a scattering of nervous laughter. “Doc Reed, you take charge here. Ah’m taking Soldier Boy, you, you, you and you, to look for those other shots to see if they found a home in somebody.” Our eyes met for a moment as I assured him, “Ah’ll be right back. You,” I said turning on the gentleman I’d given the pistol to, “get to stay here and defend them. You get a look at the perp?”
He nodded nervously. “Pretty good, black concert t-shirt and black jeans.”
“You know who not to let get close then,” I told him. “Doctor, this is mah radio, mah call sign is Sierra Seven. Answer any calls for that and assure the paramedics the area is secure.”
“You’re a damn fine hero, Southern Belle,” he told me.
“Ah got a job to do, same as you. See to your patients and pray Ah don’t bring you any more. Back in two minutes.” I took a good look at my impromptu posse. “Let’s go boys.”
Chapter Twenty Six
They say human history is a study of choices, of man overcoming his baser instincts and struggling towards civilization. I’m not sure I can believe that as every time we get to a point where we start calling ourselves civilized, something comes along to drag us back into the barbarism of previous selves. We look at the Ancient Greeks and how civilized the culture that gave us democracy was, but then we have to realize this was a society that condoned slavery, rape and a host of unsavory ‘cultural norms’ that would turn our ‘modern’ stomachs.
Let us not forget the Peloponnesian Wars, either.
Time and history marches on and we find ourselves admiring the Romans, who gift us with everything from indoor plumbing to the modern paved road. Rome, of course, isn’t really founded until the defeat of Sabine and the debauchery that followed, immortalized in numerous art forms under the innocent title The Rape of the Sabine Women.
Don’t even get me started on the blood sports and death as public entertainment.
And so history marches on, for every advance an act of unspeakable cruelty; one step forward, two back. For every Sir Isaac Newton there always seem to be two Napoleons; for every Einstein a Hitler and a Mussolini. No, we aren’t as civilized as we purport ourselves to be, not by a long measure.
These days, I find myself buying into Destiny and Fate far more than I do choice.
There are those who say I am myself, an agent of destiny, upper or lower case you can take your pick. I can and have done things perhaps no mere mortal man was meant to experience. I have, they would tell you, been a champion of free will over fate, of history over Destiny.
Having met Destiny and been on fairly familiar terms with her, I don’t know that I believe that. I don’t know that I can ever believe that. Not when I have seen and done things…but I’m getting ahead of myself; ahead of my place in this narrative and, perhaps, ahead of myself in regret. There are times perhaps I miss the young, naive girl I was.
To be free, is to look at the world and see only the good.
There was a time I lived my life that way, and I miss the girl I was who saw the world that way. Now she exists only in my memory and in the pages of this narrative and the world could use her. I could use another look through her eyes.
Now, back to the task at hand, I think. Where was I? Ah, yes, I remember.
The Chattahoochee National Recreation Area is a sprawling bit of wilderness about fifteen miles square that straddles both banks of the Chattahoochee River, just North West of I-285. It’s some of the most expensive real-estate in Georgia and for the most part it’s completely wild, save for some gravel or dirt trails for biking, hiking or otherwise just taking in the sights, the odd picnic table and every couple of miles a pair of out houses to answer that other call of the wild.
My press-ganged rescue party stuck close to Soldier Boy who had let us know his name was Jim as we made our way up a gravel road wide enough for a pair of Semi’s to make use of that lead into the primary green space of the park, a large field with the concession stand. There were thousands of places somebody could set up an ambush in so I stayed out front and tried to make myself a bullet magnet.
I rounded the blind curve that gave me a much better field of view first and as there was no immediate danger I gestured for my good Samaritans to stay close and risked a little bit of my mind to drift. Ginnevia? Please Ginnevia, tell me you can hear me.
Suddenly I wasn’t alone in my mind and I had to fight through a stereoscopic view of the trail again and her bedroom which was a fantastic mess. What? She managed; her mental tone groggy and thick with sleep. Her eyes fell on someone next to her and I got the briefest impression of long red hair before her eyes flew across the room. It’s not what you think… she started before I cut her off while keeping as much of my consciousness out of hers as I dared.
Hun, that doesn’t matter now, Ah’ve got a real situation and Ah need help.
The stereo vision sharpened down to just the trail as more of her mind came to me and she was able to edit things. What’s going on? Why are you so angry and afraid?
Ah’m at the Chattahoochee Recreation Area, I thought to her, more than a bit surprised my mental ‘voice’ carried the thickened accent my regular one did. Ah’ve got three shot, one of them a cop and Ah don’t know how many more down this trail. Ah need help.
Sovereign and Eagle are at the base, as well as Spirit Wolf and Valkyrie. Gimme two minutes to get dressed and I’ll be there as fast as a thought.
Knowing that help was coming, whoever it was was a comforting thought as we caught sight of our first additions to Dr Reed’s troubles. There was an over turned baby buggy and a woman in jogging clothes behind it. I darted forward finding the buggy on its side and no sign of its former occupant. I was frantically looking about when I heard one of my Samaritans by the jogger exclaim, “Oh my God!” followed hard on the heels of someone being violently ill.
I spun about, looking for trouble but found only Jim carefully returning the jogger to her previous position, his face white. “We can’t help her,” he announced as he patted the shoulder of the other man who was retching into the grass.
“What?” I asked, starting to move in his direction which brought up his hand to stop me.
“She’s gone,” he said a bit more forcefully. “Pistol to the back of the head I’d guess. It’s not pretty.”
I swallowed as I found I couldn’t take my eyes from her unnaturally still form. This was my first real experience with death and to realize that woman, who I’d never met and would never know was only a few feet away made me ashamed; ashamed of my pettiness in my mornings flight, and ashamed of myself for somehow not being here sooner so that I might have saved her. “Does anyone see the baby?” I finally got my dry mouth to say.
“Someone’s coming,” one of the men responded, pointing back down the trail.
“Head’s up,” cautioned Jim as I streaked off to confront this new threat. It was man in a jogging suit, blood streaming from his left shoulder he was ineffectually trying to staunch.
“He shot me!” he muttered as I arrived and made sure his hands were free. Our eyes met and I realized this was another victim, not our shooter trying to be clever. “He’s got a baby…”
I picked up the Jogger and flew him back to Jim and the others. “We’ll get you to safety, sir. Just don’t panic. Has he shot anyone else back there?” Jogger shook his head as Jim took up the rear as we retreated back down the trail to the parking lot. That journey, to go in the other direction than some innocent in need was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
“Jim, can ya’ll keep us covered here?” I asked the soldier when we reached the gate between the parking lot and the trail. He only nodded and took up a sentry position as my posse and I finished the short trip to the staging area the ambulances had set up.
Our cop reserves had increased to another two cruisers with a pair of gents who were looking more than a little put out at our innocent until proven guilty suspect. “Doc, Ah got another patient for you,” I hollered as I gently handed him off to the EMTs, before turning back to the officers. “Boys, Ah’ve got a friendly with Charlie 13’s shot gun at the gate that away.”
Doc Reed was in his element as he comforted his patients without the benefit of that white coat. You’d think it would be a hard sell in a track suit, but he had most of them smiling around the grimaces of pain as he bounced between them with the ease of Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. Our eyes met as I finished my report to the sergeant of, “We’ll need the Coroner at some point. There’s one beyond help further up the trail.”
“Any sign of the perp?” asked the sergeant.
I shook my head as I forced my eyes back to meet his. “Ah haven’t gone looking, but he can’t be far yet. More to the point, Ah’ll have a mentalist and a teleporter here shortly. Then Ah’m going to take him apart. That son of a bitch executed a mother with a newborn.”
“Belle…” the sergeant started hesitantly after a hasty glance to his patrolman.
I drew myself up to my full height and stared at him with my arms crossed. Whatever the sergeant was thinking of saying he thought the better of decided to go and direct some traffic. The patrolman watched his Sergeant leave, caught my eye and decided to go help Jim at the gate.
I’ll admit I was seeing the world through a red haze of rage, clinching my fists as I imagined Darren Miller’s head inside them, popping like an over ripe grape. The sound of Ginnevia’s teleport was music to my ears, no matter who was with her. “Where is Darren Miller?” I demanded of the two mentalists.
Mortagain closed her eyes to cast her mind out in search of my victim, but Sovereign’s face pulled into a frown as he caught my eye and stepped around her. “You’re not getting within three feet of him in this state,” he ordered.
Geoffrey’s eagle beaked helmet obscured his face as it darted between us while he put two and two together. “Belle,” he said softly as he stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve been where you are now, believe me. As much as you want to hurt this asshole, believe me when I tell you it will only make things worse.”
I began to feel the anger drain away from me as, for some reason, my mind was filled with images of Cavalry, good times we’d shared, intimate moments we’d had, the feeling of being one with him. Before it could completely rob me of my anger, I balled a fist and struck Sovereign as hard as I dared. His eyes rolled back in his head as he was caught off guard by my sudden action and he fell over, out cold.
Geoffrey however, already having his hand on me, kept me off balance and used a judo maneuver to force my arm up behind my back. “What the fuck…?!” he demanded, one hand still subconsciously slapping a power inhibitor on the hand he had control of.
As my invulnerability left me tears leapt to my eyes and how much pain the Eagle had me in, but in the back of my mind, Yagimura-sensei’s calm voice whispered the commands to my muscles. I wrapped my foot around the Eagles’ leg and shoved backward with all my might. He wasn’t prepared for the sudden reversal and my foot acted as a perfect fulcrum to cost him the rest of his balance and he toppled over backwards.
A spinning hop kept me from getting tangled up in his flaying limbs as he fell and brought me around to face him. My foot snaked out and stomped down with all my weight on the cup I knew he’d be wearing. And while the cup protected the Graham family jewels, it could only distribute all 138 pounds of me around them, still the most sensitive part of his body.
His howl of pain arched up into the falsetto range as he curled into a ball out of reflex. “Any body else want to try and fuck with me?” I shouted to the stunned crowd. I took a step back to be out of Geoffrey’s reach as I told him, “Your new buddy was fucking with mah head, that’s why he got his little red wagon fixed.”
The Eagle was able to get up to his knees now, his eyes flashing with anger as he looked up, gasping for breath. “Ya’ll were just reflex,” I admitted. “Sorry.”
My hands got my keys from my utility belt and opened the inhibitor which I tossed back to him. As my strength returned, the Eagle weighted his options and returned the cuffs to their keeper on his belt. “You going to keep your cool, or do I need to find out what else Yagimura-sensei taught you?”
The smile that pulled at the corners of my lips was probably pretty feral. “Ya’ll will find Ah’m full of surprises.”
“I’m coming to realize that,” grunted the Eagle as he finally got fully back to his feet. “I suppose it was foolish of me to think that you’d just fold like a busted flush with your strength gone.”
“Some mistakes you only get to make once,” I told him as one of the EMTs dared to check on Sovereign. “He gonna live?”
“He’ll be hating life in a little while,” the tech remarked as he rolled the former villain over onto his side, “and he’ll have a beauty of a black eye in a couple of days, but that should be the extent of it.” He looked up at me as he stood. “Just for the record, I’m in the don’t-want-to-fuck-with-you camp.”
“Look, Belle, your first fan,” muttered Geoffrey as he dusted off his costume. “Mortagain, you have a bead on our target?”
“I’m on him,” she told us. The American Eagle and I traded glances.
“You and Belle go bring him in,” he ordered, his eyes never leaving mine. “He has a date with a judge and we should make sure he’s on time.”
Mortagain’s hand gripped my shoulder and suddenly we were somewhere else.
We had arrived at one of the more secluded trails that snaked throughout the woods that made up the National Wildlife Area. Darren was just rounding a corner and still a little dumb struck by our appearance. That gave me the time to get myself between him and Mortagain as he obviously wasn’t done racking up crimes today. The pistol flashed in my direction and roared.
I felt what you might take to be a fly landing on you as the bullet stuck my left breast and flattened itself before dropping harmlessly at my feet. Were I not who I was, I would probably have a fatal wound. “Let’s add another charge of attempted murder on a police officer and aggravated assault on same to your list,” I told him with a cold smile.
There was a moment of panic in is eyes as the pistol found a new target in the infant in his arms that was wailing. “Come any closer and…” he started.
“And what?” I demanded. “You’ll hurt the only reason you’re still drawing breath? That would be what they call a mistake in this business, sport.” I reached down by the edge of the trail and picked up a rock about the size of his head. “Ya’ll already figured out you can’t hurt me. Now Ah’m going to show you what Ah’ll do to you if you hurt that baby…” I trailed off as the rock was pulverized in my grip. The dust settled back to the forest floor as I locked my gaze on his terrified eyes.
“Let me tell how this is going to go, sugah. There’s the easy way where you put down that pistol, gently hand mah friend that baby and meekly come along to go be bubba’s cell bitch for the next twenty to forever. And then there’s the hard way where you hurt that infant and Ah amuse mah self for the next ten days or so pulling you apart limb from limb.”
“They won’t let you…” he started.
“And how will ‘they’ stop me?” I demanded again. “Ah have you out here all by mah self and mah friend the teleporter.” His eyes darted to Mortagain behind me which gave me just the diversion I’d been hoping for.
A large part of the rock was still in my fist which I hurled straight at the pistol in his hand. At the same moment, Mortagain vanished and re-appeared next to him, just as the rock landed. Her telekinesis made sure the rock forced the pistol into his chin with a fair amount of force. He dropped the infant which Mortagain neatly caught and vanished once more; leaving me alone with the creep.
My flight picked me up and I began to hover forward. “Well, there goes your little master plan,” I chuckled. “What’s it going to be, Darren? You going to be Bubba’s bitch, or mine?”
I must admit when he smiled that wasn’t what I was expecting. This was confirmed when he snapped, “Neither!”
Before I could react the pistol was against his temple and it barked once more.
When this kind of thing happens on TV there’s a break to a commercial and when they come back your perp is neatly in a body bag and being wheeled off to where ever it is they take bodies. In the real world I was left alone in the woods with a corpse that would definitely be the centerpiece of a closed casket funeral for what felt like eternity.
Did you know that when you die your body lets go number one and two?
Between that smell and the sight of the late Darren Miller’ brains all over the forest here abouts made me glad I had not had breakfast. As it was, I had an attack of the dry heaves before I could force my eyes to look somewhere else. That was when the vicious little voice in the back of my head started to remind me that not every bad guy danced to Stan Lee’s playbook.
Honestly I wasn’t thinking of myself or how this would look when the boss would show up, but with my emotions going everywhere over what I’d seen and that poor baby who was robbed of its mother was more than my rational mind could deal with. I sank down to a boulder on the side of the trail and balled my eyes out.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure who I was crying for most, that child robbed of one of it’s parents or the fact that we were both robbed of what vengeance the State could offer up by having Darren Miller rot down in Milledgeville. I came down from this emotional low by the feeling of the Eagles’ gauntleted hand on my shoulder. “Belle, give me your arm,” he ordered me softly.
I held up arm obediently and let him put the inhibitor cuff back on. I sniffed mightily as I tried to clear my sinuses enough to breathe and regretted the return of my sense of smell. “Am Ah under arrest?” I managed around the sobs.
“Walk with me,” was all he said as we went further down the trail away from the body and the EMTs that Mortagain had brought with her. Finally we had a bit of privacy whereupon he halted and took off his helmet so we could talk face to face. “You want to tell me what happened?”
“It was going great,” I managed as I gasped and tried to get control of myself. “We got the baby away from him and yeah, Ah was talking shit, about him going to be bubba’s cell bitch and the next thing Ah know his brains are everywhere. Ah…Ah thought Ah shouldn’t rush him with the gun in his hand as it might go off while Ah’m trying to take it away from him. Ah was…Ah wanted to make him hurt for what he’d done, but Ah was going to bring him in, Geoffrey, honest Ah was.”
He sighed. “I know you were, Belle, and I wish this was up to me. But you know there’ll be an investigation from Internal Affairs. Until that inquiry is complete I have to put you on suspension. I’m going to have Mortagain take you back to HQ where you’re to get into your civilian ID and go home. I’m not going to confiscate your keys, but you’re to keep this on until you’re instructed otherwise, or you happen across some situation where you are forced to intervene to save the life of another. Try not to find one of those, alright?”
I nodded as I got my emotions a little better under control. He sighed again as he held out his hand. “Badge,” he demanded flatly. I unclipped the shield from my utility belt and surrendered it. “If you’re up to it, write up your report on this before you go home. Otherwise get it to my desk by Friday.”
“Yes sir,” I mumbled.
“Belle,” he said, pulling my chin up to meet his eyes. “Good work, alright? This is just pro forma, and I want you to know I believe you. Don’t cry for that scumbag. He got off easy here, but if there’s any justice, he’s already burning.”
“Ah never figured you for the religious type.”
He smiled an odd smile and shrugged as he put his helmet on once more as he walked the short distance back to the crowd of CSI techs that were meticulously cataloging Mr. Miller’s last seconds on Earth. Mortagain joined me at Geoffrey’s direction and as quick as a thought I was back where this day’s adventure had begun.
Thus began my second suspension with the Stone Mountain Irregulars. I dutifully sat at my desk and typed about four sentences over five hours before I realized I was wasting everyone’s time. Back in jeans and a sweater I climbed into the Belle Mobile and headed home. Or at least that had been my conscious decision. My unconscious mind had other ideas and before I realized what I’d done I found myself pulling into my favorite parking space at Ed’s apartment.
I sat for a moment letting the car idle under me before I gave up and shut it off. Geoffrey hadn’t said which of the three places I considered home to go to and here was as good as anywhere. All I knew was I didn’t want to be alone any longer than I had to be and while Ed was in class now, he’d be along before too much time went by.
Climbing out of the car, it had been my intention to go upstairs, watch some mindless television and eventually prepare some kind of meal in expectation of my lover’s return home. Have you ever noticed that very few things actually go the way you plan for them to?
Now, Ed lives in this quiet little apartment complex (no I won’t tell you where) a short drive from both HQ and my apartment. That alone was enough merit for it in my book, but there were some nice amenities and the neighbors liked the fact a super hero was in the complex incase the untoward should happen.
Unlike my town home, Ed’s place was a one level on the ground floor, which I supposed saved on the floor of the upper level. Don’t get me wrong, I love my baby, but he’s not exactly a light weight and it would be rather awkward to drop in on the downstairs neighbor for dinner, literally. Come to think of it, I wasn’t entirely sure why Geoffrey had felt I’d need a town home when he went looking for my place, but I could afford it so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Ed had long since made me a key to his place and I, of course, had returned the favor so I wasn’t using the key from the emergency safe to let myself in. However, I was suddenly struck by the feeling of things being out of place when I opened the door, so I paused in the doorway, trying to pin things down.
It wasn’t that the place was ransacked, that would have made things easy. If memory served, everything was in its place as I stepped in and slowly closed the door, a part of me wondering if I should remove the power inhibitor I was wearing. It was one of those movie moments where you’re certain something bad was about to happen but you didn’t know from what angle the bad guy would leap out.
I had just about convinced myself to remove the bracelet and go looking for more trouble to get into when, from Ed’s kitchen, the last person in the world I expected stepped out, steaming cup of coffee in hand.
“Hello, Jennifer,” she greeted warmly as she held up the cup in her hand. “The coffee is fresh; may I get you a cup?”
“What are you doing here?” was all I could manage to demand, more than a little dumbstruck at the position I found myself in.
“Waiting for you,” she answered as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Coffee?”
I laid my purse down on the little table Ed had built to hold it by the door to better look my unexpected hostess in the eye. “Sure,” I managed finally. “Coffee would be great.” She disappeared back into the kitchen, prompting me to follow her.
“Cream and sugar, right?” she asked me with a smile, already stirring the mixture. “I suppose a little small talk about your day is out of the question?” The expression on my face must have answered her for me. “Well, I was hoping, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Ah ask you again, what are you doing here?”
“First, I’m here to apologize to you for a grievous wrong that was committed against you,” she said sadly. “But, we’ll get to that. I’m sure you have a pile of questions first.”
“That’s putting it mildly!”
“Jennifer, my dear, I’m afraid you have quite a tough road ahead of you and I’m here to try and prepare you for it.” Of all the things I might have thought my future mother in law might have said that certainly wasn’t one of them.
Of course, I didn’t expect Sarah Filby to ‘waiting’ for me in my boyfriend’s apartment with cryptic messages about my future either. This was certain to be interesting…
Chapter Twenty Seven
The life of a super hero is never dull.
It can be horrifying to stare down unspeakable evil, make a bad joke and commence to kicking butt. It can be rewarding to save someone’s life who was truly innocently in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be taxing to deal with red tape and authority figures who feel that you’re bruising their frail egos just by the virtue of drawing breath and saving people. It can even be frustrating to try and balance a normal life against the level of heroism that is expected of you when all you want to do is crawl under your bed and cry.
However, it is never, ever dull.
I sat, slack jawed as I listened to my future mother-in-law tell me just how badly Sovereign and Mortagain had fucked me. My stomach churned as I listened to a conspiracy of biblical proportions spell out in her calm, quiet voice in a manner that was all but off hand. “Yes, I’m having a terrible time at work getting this one file to open, of course my boss won’t believe me when I tell him the IT people are out to lunch where my computer is concerned and, oh, by the way dear, you’re the victim of a metaphysical gang rape. More coffee?”
Don’t get me wrong, Sarah made a point of apologizing profusely about what had happened to me. Not that she had had anything to do with it, far from it. She was the center of Albert’s master plan of twenty years in the making. I was just something of an afterthought; a bit of consolation prize for his son and, perhaps, a way to control him.
How did she find out all of this you might ask? It’s certainly not in Sovereign’s make up to kiss and tell, even in celebration of the success of his master plan. No, he’d been as tight lipped as you’d expect him to be. However, like most villains, he had overlooked something, something so simple that while he’d been working out paradoxes to time travel and all this big math stuff it was kind of easy to over look.
For Sarah to live, she had to be infected with Mckimpson Strain.
Not willing to trust the stabilized versions of the virus that were given to the police or the army, Sovereign and gone and perfected the full Monty as it were. That same strain he’d used on me to be certain that I would develop super powers and with a bit of genetic tinkering also make certain I’d be using the ladies room the rest of my life.
Of course, sitting in Ed’s kitchen, it was quite obvious what Sovereign had over looked. Sarah had super powers. Not mental powers, those his own would protect him against. Mrs. Filby (senior) who had decided to call herself Destiny had the ability to look at lines of probability and affect them. She could also look back through the choices a certain person made and follow them back in time. It was an offshoot of Sovereigns own research, which made it rather ironic. The sample Sovereign had used on her had been on him both when he’d gone after Mind Master in the alternation dimension and of course he’d needed it when he’d gone back in time and God alone knew what that had done to it.
End result, while Destiny didn’t have the ‘sight’ Precog did, simply being around Albert had let her follow his decision trees backwards. And Destiny was as certain of it as of the fact that I was sitting with her at the table.
There was also the fact that I had felt this way once before.
At Stone Mountain Park twenty years before my present I had felt this sick and betrayed, angry, sad, and a half dozen other emotions I couldn’t put a name to. Except then I couldn’t remember why I felt that way.
Now I knew why because I felt the same way as I had then and being pregnant had nothing to do with it.
I looked down on her and realized I had stood without realizing it. “Jennifer, please, before you do something you’ll regret, please hear me out!”
“Thank you, Sarah,” I told her as I pressed the button on my watch that returned me to my uniform. “Ah want you to know how much Ah appreciate you being honest with me.”
“Jennifer, he couldn’t help being an arrogant ass, but he truly was doing it for your own good. I can’t tell you how sorry I am…”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” I told her as the key released the suppression cuff and I relished the return of my powers. “You didn’t do this to me. You didn’t play God and you damn sure didn’t fuck with mah mind to cover up your playing God. Please make yourself at home here and give mah love to Ed when he gets home.”
“Jennifer…” she pleaded once more.
“Ma’am, please don’t make the mistake of trying to stop me. Ah really don’t want to hurt you.” She let me by as I let myself out the door and back onto the street once more. I considered the Belle Mobile but realized I would get where I was going faster by air. So I took off and headed south. I had a stop or two to make first, but one thing was brutally certain.
As far as the Southern Belle was concerned, no more Miss Nice Guy.
My first stop was the lovely city of Macon, some miles to the south of Atlanta, and a town somewhat in the shadow of the New York of the South. A fact that Maconites are more than a little touchy about, but it’s one of those facts of life you just have to learn to live with. However, Macon was home to the nearest other Super Team in the region, the Macon Manhunters, and I rather urgently needed the expertise of one of their members.
I was somewhat on the outs with my team’s resident gadgeteer.
Now, the Manhunters have their base in a mid-level tower in the heart of down town which, I’ll admit makes me a bit jealous that the Irregulars have to make due with being tossed in with the other Federal Employees out in the suburbs. I landed on the roof and nodded to the boys minding the heliport as I let myself in and headed down to their Situation Room. And while Geoffrey had taken my shield, he hadn’t taken my ID.
And if my instincts were right, he was still taking care of business at the wildlife area not having had a chance to de-activate my ID card; if he thought to do it at all. My hopes were born out as the card gave me access and I was quickly shaking hands with Brunhilda, all eight feet of her.
Now, Brunhilda, as you’ve previously learned is a lipstick lesbian and, despite the fact of being eight feet tall and probably capable of beating me in an arm wrestling competition is actually perfectly proportioned so without a frame of height reference, you’d just think she was this mega-hottie that had come to life from the pages of a centerfold. Costume wise she wore halter-top midriff and matching bikini bottom with a bit of fur trim and some strategically placed chromed steel that would have made Miss Warrior Princess sick with envy. Her real name was Beth, she was lovely brunette with sparkling green eyes and smile that lit up any room she happened to be in.
“Belle!” she exclaimed has she rose to offer a firm, but also gentle handshake. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Hey, ‘Hilda, how have ya’ll been?”
“Enjoying some quiet and dealing with the garden variety thugs. Haven’t had a super since you guys brought Sovereign to heel,” she told me with one of her best smiles. “I don’t suppose I could pry you away from Cavalry for a bit of fun, could I?”
Note to self, research what it is about me that makes me irresistible to lesbians. “Sorry, sugah, Ah’m a one lover kind of gal. Not to be rude, but Ah was hoping to see Alchemist. Is he in?”
Beth graced me with her second smile in as many minutes. “I think I saw him earlier, let me check the locator.” She walked back to the desk she’d been sitting at when I’d arrived and pressed a couple of buttons. “You working on a case?”
“Naw,” I told her with what I hoped was a casual shake of the head. “Ah’m digg’n for a favor. Ah need a new gizmo for a project.”
“Eagle couldn’t hook you up?” she asked as she read the screen.
“He’s busy and Ah wanted the best.”
“That’s the spirit!” she told me with a chuckle. “He’s down in his lab. Two floors down room 511.”
“You’re the best, Beth,” I answered by way of leaving and retracing my steps to the elevators. I took it down to the required floor and quickly found the indicated room. Now, I hate to disappoint you, but there is very little cool about super hero bases. I know, you’ve seen all the movies where they have weird shaped hallways with bulk heads and doors in every shape except rectangle, but I’m sorry, that’s just not the way of it.
The Manhunters, like the Irregulars, are a government run operation. The corridors probably would fit in at any regular medium sized office tower, the lights were fluorescent tubes and the doors were depressingly rectangular. They were locked but the doors opened by magnetic key cards so, no, there weren’t any retina scanners, finger print readers or voice stress interpreters.
I know, I feel let down too.
On the upside for the comic geek in all of us, Alchemist’s lab was every bit as high tech as Geoffrey’s was. There were lots of super computer banks, undecipherable electrical devices, hoists and even an exam table. Alchemist was a power suit super, very similar to the American Eagle, but he went in for a mystical theme that put off the other science types and always had them scratching their heads when the mumbo-jumbo guy can contribute intelligently to the conversation.
On the job, you’ve probably seen that seven foot tall purple power suit that was covered in odd looking magical symbols. It was in it’s alcove I presumed charging what ever battery it used and waiting for the need. Out of it, Alchemist was a tall, powerfully build dark skinned African-American man who was completely hairless.
As I entered he was hunched over a work bench soldering a circuit under a magnifying glass and doubtlessly a little stymied by his massive hands. He was wearing a cover all under a leather apron that had far too many pockets and twice that number of tools. “Well now,” he rumbled above the hiss of his soldering gun. “I wish I could say this was an unexpected surprise.”
“Roy, are ya’ll telling me ya knew Ah was coming but didn’t bake me a cake?” I teased him as I got a bit closer to conversational distance.
He pointed silently to the other corner of his work shop that looked like the set of a low rent horror flick that was his shamanistic lodge. A small table held his medicine bag and I could see a set of bones sitting on top of a tarot card reading were still on the table. “Figured the mood you’d be in when you got here wouldn’t be lightened by baked goods,” he admitted as he stood up and looked at me askance with the eye that wasn’t occupied by the jeweler’s loop.
“And what, pray, did the cards say about mah mood?” I teased him.
“Violence, rage and betrayal were the low lights,” he rumbled. “Shall I continue?”
I licked my lips cautiously as I considered how to proceed. Before any real plan could take shape in my rapidly turning brain he shook his head and plucked the jeweler’s loop from his eye. “Don’t bother lying; I know why you’re here. For what it’s worth, girl, if our positions were reversed, I’d already be in jail. Now, you just want the gewgaw or will you listen to a nickel’s worth of free advice to go with it?”
“You’re telling me the card’s told you what I learned not two hours ago, what Ah want and why Ah want it?”
“A mental shield like Geoffrey’s helmet, right?” he asked while making it more of a statement of fact. “I was just finishing it up. Some of my best work if I do say so myself, though you still haven’t answered my question, Jim.”
His use of my old name rocked me on my heels like he’d struck me. I staggered for a moment before I drew myself up straight once more. “That’s not mah name any more.”
He snorted his amusement as he turned back to the bench. “So certain are you,” he quoted mirthlessly. “I didn’t think a tiara would be your style so I went a little old school.” He held up a silver Celtic cross pendant on a matching chain. From the look of the chain the pendant would sit just where my throat met my torso, halfway between choker and necklace. “The circuit board imbedded in this emits a low frequency electro-magnetic field that will harmonize with your own bioelectric field. You’ll be able to send and receive telepathic messages, but any attempt to tinker with memories or implant commands will be scrambled. You’ll get a mild tingle when that happens and a sense of direction you’ll learn how to react to. I’ve also laid a slew of protection wards against harmful magic the same way.”
He held it where I could see it without offering it to me. “Or you can get on the table and in a couple of hours I should be able to undo Albert’s tinkering of your genetics.”
“Ah am pregnant,” I whispered.
“I can fix that if you’d like?”
“The hell you will,” I shouted, taking a protective step backwards to guard the child within me.
He smiled as he nodded, somehow satisfied of some pet theory he’d had. “Guess I was mistaken. Your name is Jennifer; my apologies, ma’am.” He held out the necklace in apology which I took. “You want that with or without advice, Jennifer?”
“People don’t always jump which ever ways those cards of yours think, Roy,” I told him as I placed the necklace around my neck. “But, Ah must admit Ah’m new enough at this to be grateful of all the advice Ah can get. One thing, though, Ah am not a killer, no matter what those cards say.”
He made a complex gesture while his hands glowed slightly and I felt the pendant respond to it, somehow it had ceased to be his and was now indescribably mine. “You’d be amazed at what the cards will say,” he said mysteriously.
Roy squared himself off and looked me in the eye. “Now, irregardless of what a deck of cards may or may not have said, let’s get down to the brass tacks. I ain’t your papa, but I like to think if he were here he’d have the same thing to say to you. As good as it might feel to wring Sovereign’s neck, the only thing that will do is destroy your life, break Ed’s oversized heart and part you from that life you’re carrying around inside you. None of those things would be considered good. So, you’ve been wronged and rightly so in my book you’re looking for some pay back. Allow me to point you in a more constructive direction.”
I learned two very important lessons from Roy that afternoon.
1) A nickel goes a long way with him.
2) Don’t ever, ever piss off a Houngan with a technological bent.
I won’t say what Roy suggested was evil, nor was it illegal in the strictest of senses but it was wrong on so many levels that it put my simple thoughts of assault and battery to shame.
Forgive me a cruel chuckle but Albert, your ass is mine.
Towards the end of our Machiavellian little conversation we were interrupted by the blaring of a siren and the lights going red that had me thinking a Romulan Bird-of-Prey had just de-cloaked off the starboard bow. As I was trying to get my bearings, Roy had gotten into that powered suit of his in far less time than I would have thought possible. “Come on!” he snapped at me in his impression of Darth Vader from the speaker grill built into his helmet.
I have to give credit, it’s a great impression. “Ah’m on suspension!” I hollered at him, never-the-less matching him stride for stride to the elevator.
“Ask me if I care, later,” he snapped back. “That’s our disaster call. Something major is up.” The elevator quickly had us back at their situation room where a news chopper was circling over a rampage of biblical proportions.
“Who let Power Ball out?” I demanded as the shot got particularly clear and I could pick out individuals.
“Doubtlessly our revolving door prison system,” groused Strong Arm as he got over the shock of seeing me with Alchemist. He recovered quickly and turned on the charm at once. “Of course I wouldn’t mind dealing with twenty of him if we get the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with you, Belle.”
“Down boy,” Brunhilda ordered with a chuckle. “I recognize Mind Master, but not the rest of that crew. We got anything on them?”
My own heart sank as I realized Mind Master’s ‘crew’ was his collection of ne’er-do-wells he’d rounded up in a different universe. “Ah never got the formal introduction but Ah’ve tangled with them before on a different dimension. The power suit with the guns is Teeny Weenie, tough and pretty accurate with the small arms and easily frustrated. The fashion victim diva is Bitch; it has a set of mind control powers that center around attraction and lust.”
“It?” asked Alchemist whose eyebrow I could see ascend his high forehead, helmet or no.
“It,” I affirmed, “is a she-male so keep that in mind. The Twins are teleporters but otherwise they seem to be normal humans. I don’t see either Speedy or Brick, their speedster and, well, brick.”
“Well they’re playing hell with down town so we’d best get out there,” opined Alchemist, but he was stopped by Strong Arm shaking his head.
“Hold on, Boss. I’ve got the rest of the team who can resist a mentalist headed there, but Beth and I are more harm than good. More to the point, I’ve got a hunch Belle is right about two being missing. I’d be willing to bet they’re up to no good while these jokers grab our attention.”
Alchemist considered that for about five seconds and nodded. “Stay sharp and safe. Belle, you’re with me.”
Now, in the funny papers when things like this happen you get all kinds of panic, lots of innocent bystanders who become either collateral damage or the convenient hostage not to mention the amount of chaos that a super powered brawl entails. And while that makes for great story telling, it’s a pretty lousy way to live. So, while there had been a good bit of that kind of thing really early on when Mckimpson Powered heroes and villains were new, humans are pretty adaptive.
In a nut shell, we learned to cope.
All through my school years we’d had it beaten into us that if you find yourself in a spandex battle royal the first thing you do is get your head down and find some cover. Then, at the first opportunity, you beat feet to someplace safe. We’d had Super Villain Drills right along side the tornado drills once a month for 12 years.
Not to mention a number of the hero type gadget monkeys were making a fine living selling toys to government agencies like AEGIS. End result, for about two blocks in any given direction of the brawl there were only Mind Master and his little crew, cops and AEGIS troopers who were working to contain the damage until the Manhunters showed up, and further back there was another cordon of cops keeping folks out of harms way.
Seraphim of the Manhunters was doing her angel thing with Teeny Weenie, basically holding his attention and the focus of his firearms which were harmlessly evaporating as they hit her ‘Glory Barrier’ that surrounded her. There was a flash of light as she drew her sword and it was promptly engulfed in flames before it cut effortlessly through the machinegun Teeny Weenie had been fruitlessly empting into her.
Alchemist amped up the voltage on his PA system and bellowed, “This ends, now!” as he made a gesture at Mind Master. A tongue of purple fire that was neither hot nor flame in the strictest of senses engulfed the mentalist, but was kept a few feet away from him due to some kind of personal force field he possessed.
For my part, I just flew as fast as I could into Power Ball, using the big lug to stop with. He was flung from the force of my impact into a near by building, leaving an outline of him self in the concrete as he did so. “Hey, Randy,” I greeted cheerfully, looking forward to having a chance to throw someone a full force beating to vent some of my own frustrations. “Miss me?”
The grin on his face as he pulled himself from the wall was of a very unsavory variety. “Well, well! If it isn’t little miss Bitch! Is it Christmas already?” He reached over and snatched up a newspaper vending machine and threw it at me. “How would you like a new headline?”
I caught the machine, managing to mangle it into a hopeless ruin in the process even if it did stagger me back a few feet in doing it. “Ah’d give it back to you, sugah, if Ah thought ya’ll could read…”
“You’ll have plenty of time to catch up in the hospital when I’m done with you…!” he growled and launched himself off the wall. Unfortunately Seraphim had just tossed Teeny Weenie in that direction and the two suffered a painful looking mid-air collision.
Seraphim floated next to me, all but glowing in angelic might as she chuckled, “Look Belle, I’ve made a movie; Dumb and dumber…”
“Get out of my way,” growled Power Ball as he extracted himself from Tiny Weenie and tossed the villain into the building for his trouble. Well, that was one less villain in this fight.
“Ya’ll help Alchemist, Sera,” I told her with a chuckle at her wit. “Ah’ll see to it Ballsy here finds his way to the local lock down.”
“You shouldn’t be out here, in your condition,” Seraphim scolded me.
“Ah’m pregnant, Seraphim, not disabled,” I snapped at her. I was in the process of getting ready to go hammer and tongs with Power Ball but he had stopped and amazingly enough taken a step back.
“Pregnant?” he demanded of Seraphim as though trying to answer a difficult question from a demanding teacher. “When did she get knocked up?”
The angel turned to the mercenary with the patience of a saint. “That’s not really your concern, is it?”
Randall’s face scrunched into a mask of rage as he screamed at me, “Why didn’t you say you were pregnant in Honduras?!”
For one of the few times in my life I found myself at a loss for words as I stared at Randall not believing nor truly understanding what I was hearing. “Would it have made a difference?” I stuttered.
But Power Ball wasn’t talking or listening to me, instead his attention was fixed on Seraphim, doubtlessly for her reputation of not being able to lie. “Did I hurt the baby?” he demanded, and I must admit to being genuinely touched by the worry in his bellow.
“No, the baby is fine,” Seraphim replied calmly. “Belle’s invulnerability is very protective not only of her, but what dwells inside her.”
“Excuse me, but these are mah innards we’re talking about!” I protested to little avail. Randall looked about for a moment as if searching for some solution to the obviously intense moral quandary he found himself in. Finally he picked up Teeny Weenie and threw his unconscious form past me.
I turned to follow the trajectory of the villain as he bowled through Mind Master, knocking him senseless and finally landing in a heap into Bitch. The two remaining combatants were made short work of by Alchemist and Seraphim. I turned back, dumbfounded to Randall who was wearing the most contrite look on his face I’d ever seen him wear.
“Sorry about Honduras,” he muttered. “I didn’t know.”
“Don’t mention it,” I managed, stunned by this sudden reversal.
“See you in nine months,” he challenged, letting me know there was still a score to be settled. Then he turned and his super leap took him to the top of the closest building in a single bound. He paused to look back then another bound took him out of sight.
You know, there are times I don’t think I’ll ever wrap my head around being a girl and the weirdness it seems to entail.
Chapter Twenty Eight
“I seem to recall telling a red-headed rookie that she was on administrative suspension and that she shouldn’t go looking for life or death situations that would require her to remove the power inhibitor I put on her.”
There’s something about being in career law enforcement that gives you this killer scowl. You know what I’m talking about. That mean eyed stare that grabs you by the gut and makes your toes so eminently fascinating? It must be some kind of advanced class because no one ever gave me instruction in it, but Geoffrey had one that would turn a medusa to stone.
I know this for a fact as I was on the receiving end of one of his better ones just then. “Ah didn’t go looking,” I hedged, one part of my brain concentrating on keeping my foot from digging in the carpet like a small child caught with one hand in the cookie jar.
“You just happened to be in Macon at just the right time to mix it up with Power Ball?” Geoffrey demanded; disbelief all but dripping from his chin.
“Ah just happened to be in Macon,” I admitted. “Ah needed a gewgaw from Alchemist and when Ah went to pick it up what happened went down. That’s not mah fault, is it? Ah even told Alchemist Ah was on suspension and he roped me into helping!”
The Eagle rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in a gesture of frustration. “Yes, I know, that’s the only reason I’m not bringing you up on charges. Damn it, Belle you were involved in a fatal shooting this morning! You can’t just waltz off like nothing happened from one battle to another! You have to think about how your actions will be interpreted by the press and the citizens we’ve sworn to protect.”
“Would you rather have me back out and leave folks in the lurch so they won’t get the wrong idea?” I demanded, though not as stridently as I could. I realized that I was in some way culpable and that Geoffrey was right, but good luck getting me to admit to it.
“Of course not,” he said after a loud sigh and sank into the chair behind his desk. He rubbed his temples before trying a different tact. “I admit you did nothing technically wrong. However, technicalities are a fine point Joe Citizen isn’t going to consider when he reads about this in the paper tonight. All I ask, Belle, is that you try and be a bit more aware of your timing. Being on suspension isn’t exactly the best time to pay a visit to another team, in their city.”
“Ah’m sorry Lady Luck picked today for all this craziness, Geoffrey,” I told him, genuinely sorry that he was the one to have to deal with the fall out of this issue. “But, Ah hope that ya’ll realize this wasn’t really anything that could be avoided. Today was when Alchemist had his toy ready for me; Ah had nothing better to do, so at the time it seemed like the perfect situation. Ah didn’t go looking for trouble, just like ya’ll asked, but trouble did come looking for me. That’s really not something Ah can avoid.”
He sighed again and finally nodded. “Just think more carefully about it, that’s all I ask.”
I nodded, knowing there was no point in arguing about things any further. “Were we able to get in touch with the baby’s father?” I asked, hoping that a slight change in topic would help things a bit. I was referring, of course, to the infant we had saved from Darrin Miller in the park. Geoffrey shook his head.
“Honestly, I don’t know. We turned the infant over to DFACS who will be trying to track down the dad. I don’t envy them that conversation.”
“So, that’s just it?” I demanded, more than a little aghast. “This poor kid goes into the system and we wash our hands of it?”
Geoffrey’s scowl returned to grace me with its visage. “There are procedures, Belle, you know that. We are here to supplement Civilian Law Enforcement and Disaster relief, nothing more. I shouldn’t have to draw you a picture of what the public will do if they feel threatened that capes are not completely subservient to their government!” He sighed and rubbed his temples. “Look, it’s been a long day and I still have to talk with Molly from IA about this morning. I’m not going to make you put the inhibitor back on, just keep things low key for a couple of days until this blows over, alright?”
“Whatever you say, boss,” I replied, knowing it was what he wanted to hear and withdrew from his office. My thoughts were in a terrific jumble already and what he said got them turning even worse.
I hadn’t really thought about how other Supers were thought of now that I was on the other side of the spandex divide. I suppose I was merely doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing having spent most of my life on the outside, looking in. You get blessed or cursed with phenomenal cosmic power and you get a choice; you either help your fellow man and get called a hero or you turn into yourself, let your own greed dictate your actions and get called a villain. That’s the way it works, wasn’t it?
But, that little diatribe from Geoffrey got me thinking.
I’d never really been in to politics before I’d been infected, and now my political interest was solely wrapped up in getting my rights back that I felt had been stolen from me. It never occurred to me that anyone other super villains might be afraid of me. My memories from before I’d crossed the gender gap were all of awe and wonder about these, well, these god-like beings who could do things that were beyond the abilities of mere mortals.
Yes, some of them turned to evil, but that’s why we had heroes, right?
Then, having captured that mindset, a simple question loomed large into my thoughts and made me stop and pause. ‘What?” my subconscious asked me. ‘What keeps us safe if the heroes turn into villains?’
Who watches the watchmen?
It was time I figured out exactly just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I spent the rest of the evening on the internet.
No, not at the super computer at headquarters, but on the little laptop I’d bought for school, in a nice comfy pair of jeans and a sweater at the local caffeine wholesaler and WIFI outlet. Why, you might ask? Well, there were two reasons, one, my laptop and this internet connection were comfortably anonymous and wouldn’t be the subject of a report that Geoffrey might be reading in the near future.
The other of course was that the coffee here was much better than at the base.
So, I settled in with a grande triple latte with caramel and cinnamon (so I have a thing for weird flavors, sue me), did my best to ignore the hippy out side painfully mangling Why can’t we be friends on his guitar and immersed myself in the world of government conspiracy. I’ll be honest here, what I read I didn’t like.
My research netted me a small collection of facts and a pile of opinion, speculation and (to my admittedly untrained eyes) an entire warehouse of fantasy. The facts were simple enough and fairly straight forward.
- Fact: On Oct. 24th, 1968 US Government research scientist Robert Mckimpson, a research fellow at the Adelphi Laboratory Center in Maryland accidentally exposed himself, and a third of the center to what became Mckimpson Strain I. Seventy four people died, six became berserkers, and fifteen became the first super heroes and super villains.
- Fact: Due to the rapid spread of Mckimpson Strain throughout the world, President Richard Nixon signs the Paranormal Regulatory Act on March 10, 1973, effectively drafting every person who survived infection of Mckimpson Strain I and has some measurable new ability into the service of the Federal Government.
- Fact: The Supreme Court of the United States upholds the act in the landmark ruling of The United States V. David Mackleby AKA the Crimson Commando, July 4th (Oh, the irony) 1978.
- And finally, Fact: The Federal Government chartered a superhero organization in each city of more than 100,000 and in that charter is the requirement the group assist in catching rogue Mckimpson survivors who refuse to submit to the PRA.
Those, my friends, are the facts, the opinion, speculation and fantasy is working overtime at filling up the internet. The government maintains a secret concentration camp of powered individuals other than Ft. Leavenworth (as if that wasn’t enough?). That the government had actually been taken over by supers who ran things behind the scenes. Well, I’m here to tell you, sugar, that ain’t so. Super heroes were the work of the Bavarian Illuminati, or the Free Masons, it was all a fantastic plot, blah, blah blah.
I snorted in disgust as I took a sip of my cooling coffee confection and wondered where public education had gone so horribly and completely wrong. “The internet is a complete waste of time,” announced a tall, dangerously handsome man as he helped himself to the other chair at my table. “And that’s exactly what’s right about it,” he finished with a smile.
“William Gibson,” I replied, taking in the expensive looking jacket he was wearing over a longshoreman’s sweater and razor pressed chinos.
“No, Tony Markham,” he shot back, extending a hand to be shook and a dazzling smile.
“William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, among other things, the originator of your quote, Mr. Markham,” I said, deciding to accept his offer of a handshake.
“Beautiful and intelligent, such a rare combination, Miss…?”
“It’s about to be Mrs.” I told him with a flash of Mrs. Filby’s ring that still rode on my left hand. “And for now it’s Jennifer. Something Ah can help you with, Mr. Markham?”
“Well, I had high hopes of light conversation and pleasant company,” he replied.
“You get much success with that line?”
“It’s not a line,” he protested as he pulled out the other chair and made himself at home. “I find that in places like this, people are more apt to have a conversation while staying anonymous about it. It makes for interesting debates and memorable times.”
I couldn’t keep from rolling my eyes. “Uh-huh, right. Well, as fascinating as all that sounds, sugah, Ah’m more than a little busy so if you’ll just move along, Ah’ll be right grateful.”
He frowned, obviously not used to the level of rebuff he was getting before the smile came back once more. “No,” he replied more firmly. “I’m sure, you’ll find my company fascinating and you want me to stay and talk.”
I nearly laughed in his face before I realized my necklace was warm against my skin and I had a vague impression of trouble in front of me. “Well, goodness!” I told him, closing the lid of my laptop and cupping my chin on my fingers in feigned rapt attention. “Since you put it that way, Ah’m all ears! What shall we talk about?”
“Err…” he stammered, taken aback by my sudden change in demeanor.
“Ah know!” I announced, gradually raising the volume of my voice until even the hippy outside stopped mangling songs to see what was up. “Let’s talk about pea-brained losers who have to resort to mind control to score! How long have ya’ll been pulling this stunt, sport? How many woman have you raped mentally and physically?”
“You will be quiet!” he shouted at me, and now that I realized what to ‘listen’ for I felt the mental command wash around me and be pulled down into the cross. Alchemist was definitely on my Christmas card list from here on out.
“Will Ah?” I managed around a chuckle. “Why, what’s the matter Romeo? Ah thought you came in here looking for a little attention? We're not getting shy are we?”
I could see from his expression that the object of my ire was getting antsy. His eyes flicked to the barista, a desperate plan forming behind his eyes. I quickly put two and two together and realized, given my bit of research exactly how bad this could get. That kind of trouble with the American Eagle I could do without. So, without really planning things out beyond the immediate necessities of action I yelled, “You cad!” At the top of my voice and slapped him.
Ok, cad probably wasn't my best bit of ad lib but it got the job done.
The blow was sufficient to put him ass over elbows, but, fortunately not enough to break any bones. A rather ugly murmur began to build in the shop so I stiffly gathered my belongings and announced to the poor perplexed clerk, “If this is the kind of people ya'll cater to, Ah'll take mah business elsewhere!” and quickly made good my escape.
It was nostalgia that brought me to the pillared top of the 191 Peachtree building to finish my cooling coffee and research. Well, nostalgia from the fact that I had actually helped build this building before I was born; that and the fact that their wireless network was not secure. It’s not my fault they probably didn’t think anyone would be up here to pirate their network. On the off chance I was seen I had changed into my costume and sat on the ledge drinking my now cold coffee and thinking about what I had discovered.
As much as it galled me to admit, Geoffrey was right, John and Jane Q. Public were terrified of us and the thought that we weren’t being properly ‘controlled’ whatever that meant. Oh sure, there were groupies that either wanted their fifteen minutes of fame, the glamour or what have you, and there were, I kid you not, super hero stalkers who followed some of the bigger heroes around from battle to battle, collecting souvenirs. There were a goodly number of people like me who were awed and admiring of, as one website put it, ‘The New Gods amongst us” but I was depressed to learn that the median age of that group was twenty four.
More to the point, that demographic all but disappeared by thirty; about the time most folks were getting hitched and getting serious about jobs and family. I looked out over my city while battling my feelings of sadness and loneliness. I suppose it was terribly naïve of me to think that in a world that had forgotten how to trust long before I entered it that beings like myself could be trusted to do the right thing.
I watched for a moment and, on a whim took out my communicator and tuned it to the APD frequency. In the span of five minutes there was a murder, two reports of shots fired on different sides of the city, a burglary alarm, three domestic disputes in progress, one of them violent and a woman reporting she’d been raped. I turned it off and with great force of will returned it to it’s keeper on my belt. “You’re no better!” I shouted at the city below me, feeling only slightly better for doing so.
“They’re like ants, aren’t they?”
I spun, surprised by the soft voice behind me to find Mortagain walking forward to the edge and looking down. “Mindless little ants who’ve had their hill stirred with a stick.”
“You have a lot of guts showing your face to me,” I hissed at her, my outrage of earlier in the day boiling back to the front of my mind from what I’d learned from Destiny.
She stared at me for a moment, my necklace becoming warm against my skin. “So, you know,” she replied casually. “I can’t say I’m surprised, as stubborn as you’ve become since the change I had a feeling you’d figure it out sooner or later.” The leather and lace costume melted away as she took the form of the girl I thought I had loved once upon a lifetime ago. Cindy shrugged as she looked up at me with the half smile she nearly perpetually wore. “In a way I’m kind of glad you know. I’ve always hated keeping secrets from you.”
“Don’t you dare try to play me again! After what you’ve done to me…”
“What I’ve done to you…?” she repeated slowly before turning away again. “What have I done to you, Jennifer? It’s interesting that I can’t read your mind anymore so I’m afraid we’re reduced to English.”
“You destroyed mah life!” I bellowed at her, further enraged that she had the gall to play the innocent. “You conspired with Sovereign to do this to me so ya’ll would have a present to give to Ed!”
She stopped in her odd stroll around the edge of the building and turned back to face me, a look of genuine confusion on her face. “Is that what you think I did? That I would just destroy your life on a whim so I could score points with Albert?”
“You’re the one who went to Albert!” I screamed at her. “You’re the one who broke up with me, had him mix up some witch’s brew that did this to me! You took mah life, threw it into a blender and hit puree!”
Cindy frowned at me as if she had given me a present and I was being rude about not wanting it. “I broke up with you because you didn’t love me. You were a little boy playing at being a man and you didn’t even know what love was. I showed you that, I put you in a place where you could find the love of your life and I did it despite the fact that I loved you!”
I blinked in disbelief that she had the courage to spin the line she was feeding me. “Ah don’t believe you!” I exclaimed through my shock. “Ah can’t believe that you have the unmitigated gall to stand there and tell me that you ever loved me after this! You stole mah life, mah manhood, mah future and now you’ve got the balls to stand there and tell me Ah should be grateful to you? You’re lucky Ah don’t tear you limb from limb!”
For the first time in our odd little rooftop conversation, Cindy laughed. It wasn’t an evil mastermind belly laugh, but the nervous, mildly psychotic laugh of someone who wasn’t all there and was having trouble hiding it. “Oh, Jenny,” she managed around her laughter, “You’ve got it all wrong! That’s not what happened!”
Then, as quickly as it started, the laughter cut off and her features became a hard, vicious mask of rage. “Serves you right, you sanctimonious bitch!” she snarled.
I felt my teeth grit as my blood started a slow simmer on its way to a roiling boil. “What…did…you…call…me?”
She hunched over like a caged animal looking for a way to get loose and attack her handler. “You heard me!” she growled. “You have everything somebody like me has ever wanted handed to you on a silver fucking plate and you stand around up here and bitch about it? Oh, I’m invulnerable and super strong and I can fly but the package came with a pair of tits so my life is horrible!”
I felt my fist ball, destroying the cup of coffee I was holding as I yanked hard on the reigns of my temper. If I lashed out at her, no matter the provocation, one blow would kill her, especially in the state I was in. “You arrogant little whore,” I spat. “You don’t like the hand you got dealt that’s your problem, but that you think you’ve got the right to do what you did to me and get away with it makes me wonder what side you’re on.”
“You’re calling me a whore?” she sneered as she began to circle me. “That’s funny coming from you, seeing as you’ve given ‘ride the pony’ a whole new meaning.”
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” I hissed at her in my anger.
“Won’t be your first today, will it?” she demanded and gestured at me. I came set as quickly as I could, but even then the mental blast hit me like a sledgehammer. The force of it slid me back into one of the colonnade pillars that lined the roof of the building, splintering concrete.
I launched myself off the column, just dodging the follow up that did considerably more damage in a high, swooping arc that caught her off guard. I was able to plow through the hasty barrier she threw up, grab a hold on her and shake her like a rag doll. “What, the hell is the matter with you?” I shouted at her as I tried to make sense of her sudden attack.
For a moment in her eyes I could see tears and genuine remorse that made my heart ache, despite my rage. “I never meant to hurt you,” she gasped out before her face went hard again and shouted, “I’ll kill you!” The telekinetic blow that followed knocked us both apart, sending me reeling out into space and her deeper into the roof.
Ok, I might not be the brightest bulb in the pack, but even I could figure out something was hinky here. While Cindy was otherwise engaged with trying to recover her footing I fished around in mom’s utility belt for something I could use that wouldn’t kill her. With my other hand I frantically got out my radio and set it to the emergency band for the Irregulars. “Mayday, mayday, this is Southern Belle, I’m in a violent confrontation with Mortagain who is being controlled remotely somehow at the top of the 191 Peachtree Building. Any member please respond!”
Before the unit would even squawk that I’d been heard the radio was snatched out of my hand. “No you don’t, bitch! She snarled at me, “This is between you and me!”
My left hand found a hard rubber ball in one of the pouches and I hurled it at her. “This is for your own good!” The ball hit her squarely in the fore head and snapped her head back. Cindy folded like a busted flush and collapsed to the roof. I didn’t think I’d hit her that hard and now I was intensely concerned that I done her real harm.
I quickly flew down to check on her, my own emotions warring between my anger and remorse, oddly, both focused on Cindy. The Red Cross training I’d gotten in high school that I only vaguely remembered, seemed to say that I should put her on her side to keep her from choking so I carefully did so.
[Author’s note: This is actually wrong, in any injury where neck trauma is possible never move the victim unless there is immediate danger to you or the victim or both. Explosions, fires and the like qualify. Belle is only human and makes mistakes, but I felt it important to point this out. Now back to the story!]
She moaned and already there was a welt coming up where the ball had struck her. I carefully brushed the hair out of her face and felt like a first class heel. I hadn’t been raised to hit women, and all those years of discipline and social conditioning were screaming at the back of my head far worse than the times I’d mixed it up with Bitch or even Valkyrie when she’d been playing berserker.
Somehow, looking at her wearing this face got to me in a way that was far worse than any other battle I’d been in. “Oh, Cindy,” I whispered to her, “What’s wrong with you?”
“Belle? Belle, come in, do you read me?” came Geoffrey’s voice from her hand. I gently got my radio from her hand and keyed it on.
“Ah read you, Eagle.”
“What’s your status there? Sovereign, Gravity and I are en route to you.”
My anger bubbled up again at the mention of Albert’s code name, but just as quickly I recalled that his particular bubble I would pop much more effectively than with my fists shortly. For the first time since this started, a smile settled on my face. “Ah think Mortagain is unconscious, though Ah may have severely injured her.”
“Belle?” came her soft voice from below me. I put the radio down and ignored it’s squawking, distorted voice as I gave Cindy my full attention.
“Hey, sugah, Ah’m so sorry for hitt’n you.”
She smiled a painful smile. “Nothing I didn’t deserve,” she replied weakly. “I want to say I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you. One of the problems in being a telepath is that you hear the things people aren’t saying and you start to think that’s how they really feel. You never stop to think that maybe they didn’t say it for a good reason.”
She looked up at me, fear in her eyes. “He’s inside me, Jennifer, and I don’t think I can control him much longer. What ever happens, please, please always remember that I love you.”
“What are you talking about, Cindy?” I demanded; even more confused than when this started.
“I won’t ever be able to make up for what I’ve done, but it’s important that you know I did it with the best intentions.” She sat up gestured weakly at me. I was pushed away and pinned against one of the columns. “He’s coming,” she told me softly. “I can’t let him have access to my power.”
I struggled against her weakening telekinetic grip, cracking the column I was held against. “Cindy!” I shouted at her. “Whatever is going on in your head, ya’ll have got to fight it!”
She got painfully to her feet and limped over to the edge of the roof. “I’m so tired, Jennifer,” she told me with sad eyes. “He’s coming and I can’t let him have me. I love you so much, and I’m so sorry. Maybe this can start to make up for it.”
“Cindy!” I shouted after her. “Cindy, no!”
Her eyes locked with mine as she hung for an impossible moment in space, then vanished as gravity reclaimed its dominance once more and she fell out of sight.
Chapter Twenty Nine
Stone Mountain Park, 1985
It’s an un-written law of Nature that when you really need a restroom, there’s never one around.
I’d gone from working up the courage to say something, anything to my mother who distressingly wasn’t that much older than me just now, when suddenly Mortagain was right next to Ed and I. I blinked and suddenly we were in sunshine, staring up at The Carving, much to the surprise and shock of the passers by.
Fortunately Ed had his hologram thing going, but I was still a drop dead gorgeous red head in a skin tight rendition of the Confederate Battle Flag, minus the stars. Let me cut to the chase and say we drew stares. Cindy collapsed, yet another big help from the mentalist of the crowd, and we were left to returning the stares of about two hundred folks who a second ago had been relaxing.
I’ve never been one to think quickly, so when the training kicked in, I just yelled, “Ya’ll will be safe here! Everything’s alright folks!” Then I shot into the sky like I was trying to get back to a battle that was, thankfully for the revelers, a long way away.
“Who was that masked lady, mommy?” I heard the child on the picnic closest to us ask as the lawn became a postage stamp below and I could stop trying to keep a snicker in.
Careful sweetie, I thought to myself. Nobody wants a law suit…!
From there I carefully descended to the summit, doing my very best to stay out of sight until I could find a restroom to change in and get back to Ed and Ginnevia. Of course, this is when I ran headlong into the universal Law I opened this particular chapter with. There were no restrooms on the top of Stone Mountain! There are no restrooms along the trails up to the top of Stone Mountain.
Evidently if one gets the call of Nature while enjoying Nature, one should be possessed of considerable bladder control. So I found myself a thicket reasonably far off the trail and got my jeans and sweater back out of their pouch on my utility belt, much the worse for wear, and got changed. Once that was accomplished I got myself back down the mountain in a combination of flight and walking, flying where no one would see me and walking when they might.
My mind was reeling over the fact that I had been in two places at once in the same room one of me safe in my mother’s distended belly, the other outside looking in as it were. You know, if my life keeps going the way it’s going I’m going to make some therapist a fortune as the subject of his new best seller.
The Freudian angles of this little bit of drama would give whoever my future therapist would be fits.
As luck would have it, I finally caught a break as the park wasn’t particularly crowded on the up mountain trails so I was able to get back down to The Green in pretty good time. As I emerged from the tree line I spotted Ed wandering around, probably looking for me so I discretely flew over.
“Hey you,” I greeted, and then my senses caught up with my joy of seeing him again as I realized from his body language he was trembling with rage.
“That…that…whore…!” he sputtered through his pacing. I gently caught a hold of him and forced him to stop and look at me.
“Whoa, Ed, what’s going on? You look ready to go ten rounds with the Devil himself!”
It’s not often that Ed is at a loss for words. Here lately, those times always seem to be about me. I’m not sure of how enviable a position that is, and based on the tale that spilled out of his mouth I became more and more certain it most certainly was not enviable. It’s funny; we use words like evil and betrayal so blithely in this day and age without really stopping to consider their true meanings.
That day, for a brief moment I truly discovered what they really meant.
When he finally ground to a halt, his own anger not letting him realize what he was doing to me until he finished, I think I handled the news like any reasonable adult would.
I promptly threw up.
That anyone could be so…so absolutely selfish made me wonder if Mortagain was truly sane anymore; or, for that matter, if she ever had been in the first place. I had become a gift it turns out but by whom and for whom was a subject of some debate. My first inclination was to fly back to wherever that little bitch of a mentalist was and tear her limb from limb. This must have shown on my face, too, as Ed’s first inclination was the grab a hold of me and keep me from doing just that.
“Belle! Belle!” he shouted at me until I stopped struggling and would look him in the eye. “Killing Mortagain isn’t going to change anything!”
And that’s when, dear readers, I well and truly lost my temper.
“Take your filthy hands off me!” I screamed at him with sufficient volume to draw the attention of a couple of passing joggers.
“Hey!” one of the braver of them challenged Ed. “What’s going on here?”
Ed let me go and took a step back, never taking his eyes off me. “It’s nothing,” he called over his shoulder. “I just forgot myself for a minute.”
The jogger didn’t seem to be expecting that particular answer and took a halting step forward. “You alright, Miss?”
My insides were in a knot of, as they say, biblical proportions. I couldn’t look at my erstwhile rescuer or who I had thought of my best friend. I just turned and ran.
It didn’t take me that long for my rage fueled flight to run out of gas. When it did I was weary in a way I hadn’t been since I’d started wearing bras. I stumbled up to a rock, sat down and indulged myself in a good cry.
Society instills in us from the time we’re little boys that we don’t cry. No matter what’s wrong, it isn’t worth crying about. To be honest, I’m not sure why that is, other than the passing bit of unmanliness, crying is actually quite therapeutic. When I had been male I’d always felt ashamed after crying, but not really sure of why. I had actually been proud of myself for not having let myself cry since I was about fifteen or so.
Even since I’d lost my manhood I still felt a twinge of shame for letting myself cry that I really didn’t understand. Perhaps it had been because they had been in front of Mortagain and some part of me, even though I hadn’t realized I’d know her, felt that as a superhero I should be made of sterner stuff and not given to crying jags.
This was the first time I’d cried my eyes out alone though.
My mind had been running circles around the odd journey my life had suddenly taken and all that I had lost. But, when you really stop and think about it, how important really is something like male or female? You would think I’d be far more concerned with the differences between being just an average Joe verses the, well, the mutant I had become. I wasn’t truly human anymore; human beings cannot fly, cannot lift tanker trailers full of ten thousand gallons of water and most certainly cannot be shot and not get so much as a bruise.
Perhaps I should get a bracelet to remind myself of my new station. Something, say, in silver engraved with ‘What Would Superman Do?’
Nevertheless I finally reached something of an epiphany as the crying jag left me. The Greeks have a word for this feeling, one I didn’t truly comprehend until I had experienced it first hand. They call this feeling catharsis, the complete draining of emotion until a very pleasant numbness sets in.
I could write an entire book about the jumble of thoughts that flowed through me during that jag and still not do a good job of describing it. But, more importantly, the place I arrived at showed me the world very clearly.
I became very sure of a couple of different things. First that it really didn’t matter what gender I was. I wouldn’t have had any choice in how I was born, so why should this change affect me? More to the point, as perhaps the Man of Steel himself would point out, now I had the chance to do some real good, to make the world a better place that would put separating recyclables from regular trash to shame.
This wasn’t an opportunity that every body got and the finger of Fate had picked me. I had to use that and whether I liked it or not, I had to be a good role model.
Second, I was certain that Ed had not had any kind of a hand in what had happened to me. In a very real sense, he was as big a victim in this as I had been. Now, there was no way on Earth that I was going to allow Sovereign to control Ed through me, but neither should I penalize my best friend for something he had had nothing to do with.
I regretted very much that I’d lost my temper with him and looked back the way I’d come from to wonder if I’d gotten him in trouble. I felt a very real sense of relief to find him cautiously strolling towards me, obviously afraid that if I caught sight of him I’d take off again. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and motioned him over where he sat heavily next to me on the boulder. “Ah’m sorry,” I decided to open with. “Ya’ll didn’t have anything to do with what Mortagain did and Ah should not have lost mah temper.”
“I’m sorry for what’s happened to you, Jennifer. And I’m more sorry it was evidently done for my benefit. If I’d had any idea…!”
I covered his lips with a finger to quiet him down. “Ah know that, sugah. And it doesn’t change what Ah have to do, but more to the point, it doesn’t change anything between you and me.”
The top of the 191 Peachtree Building, 2006
I couldn’t tell you why my brain took its trip down memory lane when I saw Cindy disappear over the edge of the building. Evidently some kind of mental block had been lifted and I re-lived that horrific spring day before my birth with all the clarity of it having just happened a second ago.
I’m a bit ashamed to say it took me a moment to remember where I was, but when I did I leapt into action. I shot at full speed over the edge and after Cindy’s body pin wheeling through the air below me. On one of the revolutions she caught sight of me and made a gesture but she was obviously too terrified to focus her power properly and I didn’t even feel a bit of resistance as I pushed myself faster.
With my left hand I reached out, ready to grab whatever appendage of hers I could reach before we ran out of air, my other fumbling about in my utility belt for the item I’d need when I did. The ground was coming up at a frightening pace but I was able to latch onto her ankle and get a good grip.
“Gotcha!” I exalted as I backed off the speed as quickly as I dared.
The animal was back now, snarling and snapping at me upside down. "Put me down you bitch!"
"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" I calmly demanded as I began to climb. She made to gesture, but then thought the better of it. "Uh-uh," I warned her. "Ah'm the only thing between you and sudden messy stop, sugah, so now you're going to play nice. And while we're on the subject," I told her with a wink as I locked the power inhibitor around her ankle. "Ya'll are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent; you get a lawyer, blah blah."
Cindy growled out a slew of gutter trash, but that was slowing down as the blood rushed to her head. I got the feeling it wouldn't be long before she passed out. Which, considering the stream of obscenities, would probably something of a blessing. We got back to the roof of the tower just as Geoffrey and Albert were arriving. I got Cindy right side up and her hands behind her back securely with a mundane pair of handcuffs and then made sure there wouldn't be a repeat of her taking a dive by handcuffing the cuffs to a handy pipe, well back from the edge.
"I see you have things in hand after all," smirked Albert as Geoffrey and I exchanged glances.
"Hold that thought, sweetie," I told him as I got a good hand full of Cindy's jacket and caught her face by the chin. "Ah am sick of that mouth of yours," I told her as I stuffed the improvised gag into her mouth. "So you get to be quiet for a bit."
"What happened, Belle?" asked the Eagle as I got a bit closer to conversational distance.
"Well, Geoffrey, that's a loaded question," I replied. "And it's gonna take a bit to explain."
Albert frowned as he stared at me. "Why can't I read your mind?"
"Oh that? It's simple, let me show you," I lied as I used the closeness to force his arm up behind him and slap my other inhibitor on the wrist I had control of. "Albert Filby, you are under arrest for violation of Clause Eight of the Paranormal Regulatory Act, to whit, the intentional infection of James Anderson with McKimpson Strain."
"Belle?" drawled out Geoffrey, one of his nastier wrist gadgets in my direction. I clipped the handcuffs as tight as I thought I could get away with and removed the Eye of Horus from Albert's head before I slowly and deliberately turned back to the American Eagle.
"Geoffrey, Ah swear and affirm as a duly sworn peace officer of the State of Georgia that Ah am acting in mah right mind and am not under any undue influence. If it will make ya'll feel better, feel free to put a power inhibitor on me."
"Left wrist," he said, his aim not wavering. I dutifully held out my arm and allowed him to lock the bracelet.
I looked over my shoulder at a sputtering Sovereign and smiled. "As ya'll were out on bail, consider your rights read."
"Alright," Geoffrey sighed, finally lowering whatever it was he had me covered with. "I'm certainly looking forward to this."
"Let me work backward a bit," I told him as he took off his helmet to look me in the eye. "To start with, he's under arrest for a new charge as Ah stated earlier. He's the reason Ah got infected in the first place. He put something in the air that would insure that anyone infected with McKimpson around GSU that day would gender bend, then he set Power Ball loose and caused Spirit Wolf to get injured so that Ah would get exposed and everyone would think it was an accident."
Albert looked up at me, shock across his face. "How do you know that?"
The American Eagle snorted. "I'll take that as an admission of guilt. So, how do you know that, Jennifer?"
I pointed over to Cindy who was still hissing at us through the gag. "She put him up to it once she found out that Ed had the hots for me and since Ah wasn't a switch hitter made sure this would be the end result. In her defense, she was supposed to be the one Power Ball was to hurt. Randy got carried away, as usual and Spirit Wolf wound up being the trigger."
Albert's mouth was hanging open in shock as he looked over at Mortagain and back to us. "I see, my mental edits of Miss Brown must have failed somehow and she told you. Not that it matters, at some point they can be re-done."
I leaned down to be more on eye level with my tormentor and smirked. "Actually, sugah, your wife was the one to spill the beans and you won't ever be back in mah mind again, that's thanks to Alchemist. And if Ah get mah way, you won't use your powers again. They have rules about that in Ft. Leavenworth so ya'll get used to wearing that new bracelet."
"Sarah?" breathed Albert in disbelief.
"Now," I said around my smile of triumph as I turned back to Geoffrey. "Ah'm not sure why Cindy attacked me. She was fine one minute, and then it was like she was somebody else completely and hell bent on sending me to the hereafter."
"Ah thought she was being mind controlled, but Ah would have thought that would have been blocked by the power inhibitor."
Geoffrey sadly shook his head. "No, she's not being mind controlled." He walked over to her and raised his voice into the Cop Tones I was so familiar with. "You're going to answer for your crimes, Darren Miller!"
Cindy jerked as if he'd slapped her and looked up at Geoffrey. "I know who you are, I know what you've done, and you're going to pay!"
"Miller?!" I shouted in outrage. "There wasn't anything about him being a paranormal on the warrant sheet!"
"He wasn't," Geoffrey told me casually before looking back down on Cindy. "You are Ginnevia Cynthia Brown!" he ordered her. "You are not Darren Miller, you are not a murderer or a child molester; you are Ginnevia Brown!"
I walked over, more than a little confused by this turn of events as Geoffrey continued to shout her name at her for several minutes before she relaxed somewhat, her eyes darting back and forth between us. The 'animal' was evidently in its cage once more. Her mumbles around the gag seemed to be attempts to apologize as she burst into tears and refused to look at me. "What in the name of Sir Thomas Lipton is going on?" I demanded softly.
"It doesn't happen often," he muttered as he took the gag from her mouth.
"It's happened before?" I sputtered, outraged.
"Mortagain is a receptive telepath," Geoffrey told me softly. "Every now and then she gets exposed to a particularly strong personality and this happens."
“She was right up against Miller when she saved the baby," I breathed. "She probably touched him..."
"And he was making up his mind to kill himself," finished the Eagle. "This is my fault, Jennifer. I should have made sure Ginnevia went through the normal counseling we use to make sure she hadn't accidentally picked up his personality. But with that donnybrook you got into in Macon, the IA investigation and having to deal with DFACS it slipped my mind."
"I tried to fight him," Cindy sobbed. "I tried so hard...!"
"How many personalities does she have?" I finally asked Geoffrey coldly.
"Normally just the one," he replied after a long moment. "The psych swore they were just temporary manifestations, one of the downsides of her power."
"This ends now, Geoffrey," I told him flatly.
"That's not your call, Belle," he started but I cut him off.
"No, it is now. She doesn't need to be out here being exposed to, how did you put it? Particularly strong personalities? Ah'd say that's pretty much the definition of a super villain, wouldn't you? You used this poor girl because either it was convenient or you're just that big of a martinet. No, she needs help and Ah'm going to see she gets it."
"NO, Geoffrey, Ah will not allow this any more!" I shouted at him. "Now, ya'll have a choice to make and you damn well better make the right one. You can grow a spine and do what you know is right, or you can keep kowtowing to Uncle Sam and be just as big a waste of skin as Darren Miller was!"
The hair stylist kept fussing with my cowlick as I tried to get comfortable in the chair. It was a very nice chair, over stuffed Corinthian leather and normally it would be quite comfortable. As it was, it was about ninety degrees under the flood lights and my stomach was doing flip-flops.
It was terribly ironic; here I was the tough super heroine nervous about being on TV. If I wasn't so terrified I'd probably laugh myself silly over it.
Ed was hovering nearby, still chewing over the revelations I'd helped him remember earlier from our suppressed memories. I did my best not to be angry at Cindy and I hoped very much that the optimism the doctors at Highland Rivers was well founded. The facility was in Canton so it would be easy to visit and I had vowed that if I could help no one else, I would help Cindy Brown be herself again.
It was nice that Geoffrey had finally realized and admitted his culpability in the tragedy that was Cindy Brown. Teleportation was evidently one of those rare powers that doesn’t manifest very often; to have one on the team was evidently more than he could resist. But, now she was going to be somewhere she could be helped, and with a little bit of luck, we’d finally get to meet the real Cindy after all.
I couldn’t keep a smile of triumph off my face as the hairdresser finally decided that there was nothing he could do with the cowlick and gave up. Today was definitely going to be a red letter day in my diary. Ed and I finally understood each other, the mental menace that was Sovereign was going to be back in jail for at least the night until his over priced lawyers could bail him out again and stage one of my little master plan was well underway.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how things could get any sweeter when one of the Production Assistants came up with a man wearing a very expensive suit. “Miss Belle? We’re on in ten minutes, but this gentleman said it was urgent.”
“Thomas Peters,” he introduced himself, offering a cool, firm handshake. “I’m with Corvin, Fenson and Wolfe.”
“Mr. Peters,” I greeted with a smile. “Ah’m having a wonderful day and Ah do hope ya’ll are not going to spoil it.”
He laughed a polite laugh and shook his head. “I certainly hope not, ma’am,” he told me with a chuckle. “I have some papers for you to sign. We’ve filed papers in Honduras against the news agencies you instructed us about. They’re quite egger to settle out of court. I have their preliminary offer here for your review.”
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV so I don’t feel the slightest bit of embarrassment to tell you while I skimmed over the sheaf of papers he handed me, I really had no idea what I was looking at and told him so. He got a chuckle from that and indicated a couple of the highlighted lines. “This is their original offer, minus our fees, court costs and the like the payout sum to you would be this. If that meets with your approval, just sign here, here and initial there.”
You know, there are times when you just know there is a God and that He loves you. This was one of them for me. Even after paying for the ink and pens and two martini lunches for the lawyers, I was looking at a sum with two commas and six zeroes to the left of the decimal. “Could Ah trouble ya’ll to cut this in half and put one half in a trust fund for mah child’s college?”
He offered a pen. “We’d be happy to oblige you. And what would you like done with the other half?”
“Ah think Ah can trust a check from ya’ll,” I told him with a laugh. “And they had no issue with the other stipulations?”
“With your agreement, they will run full page, front page retractions and apologies in the next edition. I’ve made sure you’ll get copies of all of them.”
“Mr. Peters, Ah honestly can’t say why lawyers have the reputation they have with gentlemen like you. It’s been a pleasure,” I told him as I busily signed my name.
“If you want an answer to that ma’am, I’d recommend you get in touch with the editors of these newspapers. You have a pleasant evening.”
Mr. Peters took his leave as Roy sat down heavily in the other chair and the activity became a bit frantic behind the lights as a red light over one of the cameras came on and Roy ‘The Alchemist’ Martin casually switched to his third personality; that of local TV show host.
“Welcome to Super Talk, the most powerful hour of discussion in Georgia. I’m your host, Roy Martin, and with me tonight is a very special guest in her first TV appearance, please welcome the new Southern Belle.”
There came a round of applause on cue as Roy turned to me. “Belle, thanks for coming down tonight and, before we get started, I understand you have a few words for us.”
The knot in my stomach threatened to spread to my entire insides as the camera turned to me. I forced my best Sunday smile and nodded. “Thank you, Roy and yes, Ah do have a thing or two to say before we get started. Some of your viewers might be thinking of voting for Albert ‘Sovereign’ Filby, who just announced his run for Congress the other day.”
“That right,” Roy told me evenly. “I understand you have something to say about that?”
“Well, Ah’d just like to let the folks know who they’re thinking about voting for. Let me tell ya’ll a little story. It’s about a young man named Jim, and Ah think ya’ll will find it very enlightening….”