“Dammit August! Tell me where she is!”
Snow and wind assaulted the far corner of the cafeteria where August liked to eat quietly away from everyone else. Today that peaceful solitude had been bulldozed by a rather agitated young fae.
The plate of creamy chicken alfredo sadly offered no defense.
“Cameron Burke will immediately submit himself to the Mutant Commission Office for testing!” the gavel’s bang affirmed the judges pronouncement.
My grandfather passed early in the Spring, sitting on his porch watching a rainstorm. I wasn't there, hadn't even been in the state for more than a decade as I pursued my career in places more heavily populated and far less inclined to be fascinated by the power of mother nature. That didn't stop me from picturing the smile that would have splashed across his face as lightning flickered and he counted out the distance to the thunder. One Mississippi. Two choc-late pudding. Three cans of Pringles. And so on.. every set of five silly second long phrases marking a mile's distance to the bolt of energy.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - mid-morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
No one would have thought that the driver of the nondescript silver Toyota parked in front of Schuster Hall had a net worth in the multiple tens of millions of dollars or was a very notorious villain. Apart from being very attractive and appearing in her mid-twenties, her attire was definitely not noteworthy or designer, nor did she wear any flashy jewelry, and her Ray-Ban sunglasses were definitely not fashion chic. If her goal was to be underestimated, she was succeeding, but then again, she had a lot of experience at precisely that. Her line of work, or rather, her self-professed former line of work, demanded it.
The young lady who exited the passenger door was even more average, wearing plain attire that most girls her age wouldn't be caught dead in. Except for hairsyle, the young lady appeared to be an exact copy of the older woman.
"This is Whateley?" the girl, Martina Hughes, asked as she glanced around her in disbelief. "It looks ... like ..." She wrinkled her nose in distaste at the hodge-podge of mismatched architectural styles of the various buildings, "like ...."
Louis found me while I was sitting on the roof.
The sun had started the day playing hide-and-seek behind several wispy clouds much to the entertainment of the many crows raising a loud ruckus from the trees lining the paths below. The kids scurrying to the cafeteria and their classes were bundled up tightly in school sweaters and coats to fend off the crisp autumn-chilled air. Not that the cold bothered either me or Louis. I could easily ignore it and Louis, known as Fubar to the kids, wasn’t really here.
His presence was after all only an astral projection.
-Whateley Academy, 2016.-
I knew that it was a mistake. A mistake in a long series of mistakes. But staying in jail, ruining my future, just for that... just for her? It just wasn't an option. But knowing she was here, that she was living it up in the luxury hotel cottage while I was stuck in this hole, that she was probably only able to afford it off the few patents I could actually qualify for and had been taken from me....
He had been there long enough to establish a regular routine.
Early mornings were Turkish coffee sipped ever so slowly at the corner table in the hotel’s small cafe with a breakfast of cheese, bread, and olives followed by a small confectionery. After a perfunctory nod to the proprietors it was out to wander down by the beach in a battered beige coat with more pockets of various size than fashion sense would ever allow. Safely out of earshot those he passed by would whisper that he must be touched by the Jinn for clearly he was no tourist as he took no pictures nor troubled anyone for directions to the local sights. At dusk he would walk the Black Sea’s coastline without regard for the rain falling from dark clouds nor for the magnificent view when the sun broke free and shone its glory across the waters.
He paid their odd glances no mind for his was entirely elsewhere. And besides, if he had bothered to consider their commentary he would have immediately agreed with them.
Nicolas ‘Nick’ Wright, erstwhile demonologist and magical consultant, was indeed touched. But not by the fabled fiery Jinn.
His problems lay entirely with angels.
“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.”
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…
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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….”
I awoke Tuesday morning feeling rested, warm and ready for the day. Ed was snoring softly beside me, entangling me in his massive arms. I smiled as I relived last night, my smile only broken by the remembrance of my awkward good bye from Ginnevia the night before. I was unsure how I could keep my friendship with her while somehow making her understand I couldn’t betray Ed by sleeping with her.
I frowned as I recalled her warning to me of dire consequences should I hurt him.
Exactly how was I supposed to give her what she wanted without hurting Ed? It was just one more thing to worry over in my daily adventure in becoming a woman. I felt Ed’s arms gently squeeze me. I looked up to find him looking down at me. “You ok?” He asked.
The smile I favored him with was unforced. “Ah’m fine, Sugah. Just worrying about something.”
“What might that be?” he asked softly. “You don’t need to worry about getting pregnant. I’m on that male birth control shot.”
I felt my stomach work into a knot the size of Brooklyn. What was I thinking? I hadn’t given protection even so much as a moment’s thought! “Belle?” he asked with some alarm.
“God, Ed, Ah never even thought about it! What if…?”
“You won’t, so don’t worry,” he soothed me. He rubbed my shoulders, trying to ease the trembling that shook me like an epileptic. “Ok, so if it wasn’t worry about trying your hand at baking, what was it?”
“Baking?” I demanded. He chuckled.
“Bun in the oven…?” he prompted.
“Oh. Well, Ginnevia has been dropping hints that she’s interested in me.” His eyebrows ascended his face. “Ah haven’t!” I said quickly. “Ah just don’t know how to deal with it. She gave me the key to this place, you know?” He shook his head but said nothing. “That’s how Ah got in the other day. She even made me promise not to hurt you. Then she starts doing everything she can to let me know she’s available for a roll in the hay. Ah don’t know what to do.”
“Do you want a roll in the hay with her?” he asked softly. I stared at him.
“Ah wouldn’t have said no a month ago, but now, Ah don’t know. Ah don’t want you to think Ah’m not happy with you. Ah just don’t know how to deal with getting hit on, Ah guess.” He chuckled.
“There are times when the occupational hazards of this job astound me,” he laughed, rising from the bed and stretching. “You know how I feel about you, Jennifer. Still, it’s not like we’re formally an item or anything.”
I flew up and hugged him. “Ah’m not asking for permission to sleep around, Sugah. Ah want Ginnevia as a friend, that’s all. Ah’m happy with you. Don’t think this is me looking for the better deal.”
His hug of me was fierce. My back popped with the force of it. “Ed, you carry this gallant gentleman to an extreme!” I admonished him. “Say what you mean once in a while, will ya?”
“How am I supposed to nicely say I want to pound the dyke for trying to muscle in on the best thing that ever happened to me?” he demanded. I stroked the side of his face.
“Ah wasn’t trying to make you jealous, Sugah. She’s your friend too; Ah just thought you’d have some insight, that’s all.” He hung his head.
“I’m sorry. There are times I think I’m more of an animal than just my looks. I just wanted you to know you’re your own person. I don’t own you. However much I might want to.” I rubbed against him which had exactly the effect I wanted. As I settled on him with a gentle kiss to his chest I giggled.
“You might not own me, Sugah, but you’ve definitely got a stellar lease with purchase option going…” Then there were better things to be doing besides talking.
I was whistling as I made my way through the head quarters building later that morning, waving at the Army Recruiters I’d come to know on sight, if not name. The IRS guys got ignored, but hey, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it. “Belle?” called one of the Officers I’d waved to in passing. I stopped and waited for him to walk over. His grin was of the salesman variety. “Nice boots,” he complimented.
Point for you, Mr. Filby. “Morning, Colonel,” I greeted. “What can Ah do for the Army?”
He chuckled. “Funny you should put it quite that way,” he drawled. “Did you forget your jacket this morning?” he asked suddenly. I shook my head with a chuckle.
“Naw, just trying something of a different look. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, why don’t we step into my office,” he invited with a wave. I followed him into Battalion HQ, nodding to some of the NCO staffers I’d met at the little café on the first floor around lunch time. The Colonel’s office was of a moderate size, had a stellar view of the parking deck of the building and was decorated in I Love Me modern. There were diplomas and Letters of Commendation interspersed with photos of the family. “Coffee?” he asked, pausing from an urn on one of his bookshelves.
“Ah take mine like the Southern Gal Ah am, strong and sweet,” I told him, feeling full of sass this morning. You can certainly understand why I was in such a good mood.
He continued his chuckle as he prepared the coffee and brought mine over. “I wanted to congratulate you on your work at the depot fire Sunday. That was a damn fine piece of work.”
“The Fire Fighters did the work, Colonel. Ah just helped out.”
“May I ask you a personal question?” My eyebrows ascended my forehead over my first sip of his excellent coffee. I nodded somewhat guardedly. “I got your name from an interdepartmental request. Thing is, it’s not making a lot of sense to me. Would you be related to Staff Sergeant John J. Anderson, US Rangers?” I nodded again, a bit of worry forming at the back of my mind. “Our records show that Sergeant Anderson had a son…” he trailed off.
“That’s right, he did.”
“So, would you be his niece…?”
“Don’t beat around the bush, Colonel. You know as well as Ah do you’ve put this all together. Yes, Ah used to be his son, and now Ah’m his daughter. If this is some kind of crazy don’t ask don’t tell bit, Ah don’t have time for it.”
“Please,” he said quickly, “I don’t mean to offend. I’m just trying to understand what happened, that’s all. I couldn’t reconcile the lovely young woman I saw in the halls with the facts I was getting on paper, that’s all. I’m, frankly, amazed. I would never have thought of you as anything other than the young woman I saw.”
“Yes, Colonel, it’s been a mighty long row to hoe, so if Ah’ve satisfied your curiosity…” I trailed off, rising.
“Miss Anderson, please forgive my heavy handedness in this. I’m not asking these questions out of any kind of prurient interest on my part. But, the Army is having difficulty meeting its recruitment goals, and before I asked for your help with that, I just wanted to know who I was talking to.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Sugah, Ah’m not wearing your countries flag.”
“That’s exactly why I’m talking with you,” he said cryptically. “Please, hear me out.” After a moment of thought, I sat back down. If nothing else, this was really excellent coffee. “Why do you wear that flag, if you don’t mind me asking, Miss Anderson?”
“Mah Mother was the Original Southern Belle.”
“Oh! Interesting.” He handed me a sheet of paper from his desk. It was a tally of how many people they were supposed to be recruiting and how many they actually had. I shouldn’t have to tell you there was a fairly large discrepancy between the columns of numbers. “As you can see, there’s been a fairly large short fall these last few quarters.”
“Wars will do that, Sugah,” I told him with a chuckle.
“Yes, but the South has always been the largest contributor to the Army. I’m an Alabama boy myself,” he said with a chuckle. “The fact is, Our Country still needs people in the Army. The Army of One ads the Pentagon came up hasn’t really been working. I was hoping I could convince you to do some commercials for us, targeted specifically through the South and perhaps a personal appearance or two?”
“Wave mah tits about and get the good old boys to sign up?” I asked him with a frown.
“Actually, no,” he said firmly. “Our research shows you’re becoming something of a role model for young women. You have the reputation of a strong woman succeeding under pressure in what is regarded as a fairly masculine occupation. Our ads and the campaign I’m asking you to take part in is primarily geared to high school senior girls. If we get some boys from it, I won’t complain, but pride in Southern Heritage is a big factor the Army has thus far ignored. I had hoped that you, coming from a family who had been helped by your father’s time in the Army would help you judge this a bit more favorably. Your dad’s college was paid for by the Montgomery GI Bill, after all. He’s done very well for himself.”
“Colonel, you’re a sly old devil, Ah’ll give you that. This your bid to change your eagle to a star?”
He blushed. “I won’t feed you some line of altruistic crap, Miss Anderson. I hope to get things out of this. I can tell you your time will be well compensated so you get something out of this. Also, the Army gets recruits so they get something out of this. And those recruits get the same opportunities your father got so they get something out of it. All I ask is that you think about it. Is that not fair?”
There was, I had to admit, a certain logic to his argument. I agreed to think about his rather startling proposal and took my leave. It was an odd thing to go from picked on Rookie to sought after spokesperson in a couple of days.
As I settled into the President’s Office, made even plainer by the lack of anything personal of mine in it, I glanced over the fact sheet Geoffrey had left me of what was on going that I should worry about. Much of it, to be honest, was over my head. So, I put that aside and picked up the newspapers that had been left on my desk. I hadn’t seen Mondays so I started with it and was astounded by what I saw. The photo over it was me with the tanker over my head, water just beginning to spill out. Just looking at it made my arms ache anew. But it was the headline that stunned me.
Saved by the Belle! AtlantaHeroine Assists in Dousing Depot Blaze.
I read the article twice to be sure I’d gotten it right. There wasn’t a single mention of my costume. Instead, they talked about the humble way I tried to play up the Fire Department. Even the Chief had glowing things to say about me. My amazement was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in,” I called absently.
Then I got the surprise of my life. There was a pop! and then Sovereign and Trapdoor were standing in my office. “Thank you for seeing us on such short notice,” he chuckled as he made a motion to Trapdoor.
The teleporter locked my door, and then stood against it. I put the paper down, my features somewhat set in anger. “Make yourself at home, won’t you?” I growled, waving at one of the chairs before the desk. Albert collected his cape under one arm and sat somewhat fastidiously on my right. Yet another thing they don’t tell you in the comics. Capes are a pain. “To what do Ah owe the pleasure of ya’ll dropping in?”
“First off, my most sincere congratulations on the fire Sunday and your rave reviews since. Not to mention the promotion and how you managed it. Very clever.”
“Why thank you, Albert. Ah’m right gratified you’d notice. Ah don’t suppose you’re here to return the Credit File Data Base you stole?” Sovereign became somewhat cross.
“The what?” Danger Will Robinson!
“Are you denying it was you that broke into Equifax the night we made young Holly’s acquaintance?”
“Singularly and without exception,” he stated flatly.
I tried to feign disinterest, but now I was really worried. “Really? Interesting. So, why are ya’ll here?”
“I have come to humbly beg your assistance, as well as the assistance of certain other members of your organization.”
“You need help packing for Ft. Leavenworth? Well, goodness, Sugah, the list of what you can and can’t take is on the web.” His frown deepened.
“This is already galling enough with out sarcasm, Madam President. Were it not a matter of life and death, I would not be here at all.”
“To be honest, Albert, after that pack of BS you sold me about mah mother and you, Ah am entirely disinclined to acquiesce to any request from you.”
“It’s good to hear that your parents’ investment in College has not been entirely squandered. Those are certainly large words you toss so casually around,” he jabbed at me with a frown. “As far as your mother and I are concerned, it is not my place to correct anything she may or may not have told you. But this bickering is pointless. There is a threat to reality itself that I must have your assistance with!”
“Ah’m listening,” I growled softly.
“I would like a formal truce to discuss this, along with the members I shall need from your team. They are yourself, Cavalry, Mortagain and,” he paused and sighed, “the American Eagle.”
My eyebrows threatened to jump off my face. If Albert was willing to have the Eagle sit and yell at him, then something truly serious was up. “Alright, but I’m substituting Valkyrie for Cavalry.” He looked somewhat surprised.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but your son completely and utterly hates your guts. Ah love the big lug, but even Ah won’t be able to have him talk sense when you’re within punching distance.”
Sovereign seemed genuinely sorry at that. “I don’t suppose I’ll mind if Miss Macbein tags along, but whether he makes a scene or not, my son is required for this.”
“Your funeral.” I pressed the intercom button, to be quickly greeted by Sandy’s pleasant voice. It’s kind of neat having a secretary.
“Yes, Madam President?”
“Sandy, its Jennifer. Ah need Holly, Ed, Geoffrey and Ginnevia summoned to the round room, please.”
“Certainly, Madam President.”
“You know,” I commented to Sovereign casually, “Ed’s not going to be happy losing another day of editing on his film.”
Albert was disinterested. “I’ve already arraigned an extension for him.”
“Oh?” I asked.
“It’s not called the Filby School of Entertainment Arts for nothing you know…”
Funny, I’d never made that connection until now.
After about a half hour of wait, where Sovereign and I entertained ourselves by glaring at each other, we were interrupted by the intercom buzzing. I pressed it. “Yes?”
“Madame President, the members you requested are waiting for you in the Round Room,” said Sandy’s voice from the speaker.
“Thank you Sandy. Would you mind terribly clearing the hallway between here and there? Ah’ll give you a ten count then Ah’ll be heading there. Ah don’t want anyone to see who’s with me, please.”
“Certainly, Madame President.” I stood as I counted silently to myself, leading the way to the door for Sovereign and Trapdoor. As I reached twenty I opened it, finding the outer office empty. As was the short walk between it and the Round Room where I found the others waiting less than patiently. Ed was the first to speak as I entered.
“Jennifer, what now…Holy Shit!” he exclaimed as he saw who was following me. He leapt to his feet and started to rush us. That seemed to be the action of the moment.
“Everybody stay cool!” I shouted.
That brought a moment of pause for everyone but Ed. “She’s mind controlled, nail him!” he shouted. He wound up for the mother of all haymakers, then was frozen in place by a desperate gesture from Ginnevia.
“Ed, she’s not mind controlled!” she grunted from the effort of stopping him.
I reached up and caressed his face. “Ed, sweetheart, Ah know this looks bad, but Ah need you to settle down and listen, alright? Will you do that for me, please?” World War Three waged behind his eyes, his desperate desire to reduce Sovereign to a wet smear on the carpet warring with his intense need to please me. I won. He sighed noisily and nodded. “Ginnevia?” I asked and once more my boyfriend could move.
“Everyone, thanks first off for the quick response. As ya’ll can see, Ah got a surprise visitor who tells me he desperately needs our help or the world will come to an end, you know the drill. Albert?” I said by way of introduction.
He cleared his throat in what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. “Well, after an introduction like that, I feel what I have to say will be somewhat anti-climatic.”
“Get on with it, Albert,” growled Geoffrey.
“An experiment of mine has been stolen. Normally, this would be something I would deal with in house, but its repercussions do have something of an impact on our little spaceship Earth.”
“What is it, and who has it?” was Ed’s question.
“I’ll try to spare you the technical jargon, son, but suffice to say it’s a gateway between this reality and the other near by divergences of probability.”
“So, it’s an Einstein-Rosen Bridge basically?” asked Ginnevia who was evidently up on this kind of high brow mumbo jumbo. Sovereign nodded with something of a kind of expression on his face.
“Same theory, different application. An ERB connects two dissimilar places in space/time. This device connects two dissimilar places in Probability.” Seeing the blank looks around the table, Albert elaborated. “There are lines of probability governed by the actions of everything in this Universe. Next to us are complete Universes where those lines of probability over lap. The changes can be so small as to be almost unnoticeable. For example, in some universe near us, the only thing different was that Edward did not charge the door when I entered. The further from our line of probability you travel, the less recognizable the place you end up.”
“Why in the name of God would you build something like that?” demanded Geoffrey.
Sovereign’s grin was sly. “Never mind, Marshal. The point here is that Mind Master has it.”
“When did Mind Master get out of Ft. Leavenworth?” asked Geoffrey then waved off the answer. “Never mind, I’m sure you helped there too. So, where is Mind Master now?”
“It’s not so much a question of where…”
Holly was shocked. “He used this thing? So he’s not our problem anymore, right?”
“Not entirely. Unfortunately, my experiments lead me to believe that the more my invention is used, the more what ever line of probability Mind Master is in is strengthened, at the expense of ours. The more he changes, the greater the chance we could be wiped from existence. Hence my feelings of urgency in this.”
“So you just happen to have a spare of this infernal contraption, right?” demanded Ed, propping his head on the table in disgust.
“Mostly,” assured Sovereign. “I’ll just need one or two more pieces…”
It’s amazing what you can buy at Radio Shack. Of course, I didn’t envy Geoffrey and Ginnevia their shopping list. They had to take a trip to Georgia Power’s Plant Vogel to ahem borrow a rod of U238. I bet that’s something the plant guys will be laughing about for years.
So, it was nearly dawn before Sovereign’s gizmo was ready. I was expecting something fairly sizable, but the thing seemed quite portable. I guess it shows what I know. I am now pretty sure I can cross Electrical Engineering off the prospective major list. The stuff that Geoffrey and Albert talked about putting the damn thing together didn’t even sound like English.
Trapdoor had left briefly to fetch Precog from where ever Albert was holed up, much to the delight of Miss Macbein. The two of them spent the wait time sucking face. As they were both in their ‘Hero ID’ bit, it was rather like watching the ramp up of a bad porn movie. Ed, Ginnevia and I played cards with Trapdoor. Note to self: never get into a poker game for real with someone whose eyes you can’t see.
I was saved from having to take out a virtual loan to cover my now massive virtual debt by the resident fashion victim engineers proclaiming they were ready. “So, what now?” I asked.
“We should take the device out into the atrium,” answered Sovereign.
“Well, for one, there’s more room there. For another, when we cross the barrier, we will find ourselves in the Atrium of the building, in that reality,” he explained. “Your headquarters could be somewhere else there. You might not have a headquarters there. Either way, the atrium is open to the public. No chance of criminal trespass that way.”
“Spoken like a true criminal,” chuckled Geoffrey. We debated a moment about going in civilian clothing versus our uniforms, but between the Pegasus and Ed, uniforms had won out.
In a few moments we were set up and a hole in space, time, and something else was floating slightly above the floor. Sovereign turned back. “I am certain it works. However, in the interest of trust, I will go first,” he proclaimed, then strode through the hole before anyone argued.
Not that anyone would.
Trapdoor shrugged and followed his boss. Then we were faced with this fundamental choice. There really wasn’t anything else for it. We stepped through.
I would never have thought something as simple as taking a single step would take such a long time. It felt like hours passed between stepping through the portal and my arrival in an atrium that was very subtly different than the one I just left. It was also further along in the morning, but only an hour or so.
Yep, just far enough that the workers were starting to arrive.
Now, looking and dressing the way we do, you’d think we’d be used to being starred at. Normally, you’d be right. But I wouldn’t have thought our arrival was sufficient to bring every soul around us to a stop. It did though. Office workers I knew marginally from the IRS office, soldiers from Recruitment HQ, everybody was stock still, their eyes focused on us.
“Everything is alright, everyone,” said Geoffrey, the first to get his tongue working again. His voice seemed to trigger an almost lemming-like response. A world class panic took hold for one whole second. Then everyone froze again, this time at Sovereign’s gesture.
“Mortagain, help me,” he grunted from effort.
I saw a look of intense concentration on her face for a moment, then an expression of panic. “They don’t have MS here! There are no paranormals.”
I’ve found paradise.
Ed bent and gently picked up Mortagain. “We have to get out of here. Albert, can you walk and hold them?”
“Would it kill you to call me father?” he grunted. “How about dad? I’ll settle for that.”
“Can we have this Domestic Disturbance somewhere else?” I demanded. “Can you or not?” Sovereign declined to answer, only stepping slowly towards the door. We filed out as quickly as his slow pace allowed. “Mortagain, you got everybody’s memory doctored in there?”
“Yep, singing telegram gone horribly wrong,” she affirmed.
“Once we’re outside, we’ll need casual clothes and you’ll have to doctor something up for Ed.”
“On it,” she grunted. The doors outside seemed like miles away instead of a few crummy feet. Finally we were outside where I felt two shimmers of force pass through me. One was Sovereign releasing his hold over the people inside, who started to mill about for moment, trying to remember what they were doing. The other took our little clutch of Spandex Anonymous into something that passed for reasonable street wear in a world where parading around in skin tight clothing will get you hassled by cops on the Vice beat.
Albert and Geoffrey seemed to be in competition for who had the most expensive Italian Suit, grey double breasted were the weapons of choice. I do have to admit, Albert certainly cleans up well. His hung on him like rack, but that’s not to imply that Marshal Graham was a slouch at the Armani Two Step either.
Ginnevia declined to alter her own attire, either from some short coming in her powers, or a perverse love of shocking people with her Goth look, I didn’t know. Holly and Jason got jeans and a peasant blouse that showed scandalous amounts of cleavage and a rugby shirt respectively. They certainly got my vote for Beautiful People Couple of the Year.
Trapdoor, whose real name I still didn’t know was, I was somewhat surprised to find out, a dashingly good looking black man going for something of a retro-Shaft look in black cable knit turtleneck sweater under a black leather suit jacket and matching pants. For myself, I got a black leather miniskirt under a black cashmere sweater; very similar to the outfit she’d seen me in at the mall. A look down told me Ginnevia really liked my boots, they’d stayed.
It was our Equine members who had changed the most. Suzerain had become a massive Great Dane on a leash to Holly, while Ed appeared to be just an NBA rookie out for a stroll. The face Ginnevia had created for him kept his hair long to disguise the fact it grew down his neck and I could definitely see the relation between him and Albert now. He wore a white cotton tee shirt under his trade mark open flannel and jeans. Clucky looking combat type boots gave a plausible reason for whatever noise his hooves might make.
Geoffrey looked about and nodded in satisfaction. “Ginnevia, I’ll see about cooking up something for Ed so you don’t have to keep that up. How long can you hold it for?”
“It would really help if we could get changed into some kind of street wear,” she said slowly.
“No paranormals mean our cards won’t work,” I said, feeling permanently practical. “Who’s got cash? We’re going to need some kind of a base of operations while we figure this out, not to mention things like food.”
A quick turn out of everyone’s pockets rewarded us with just a little over a grand of operational capital. This quickly got to an argument between Albert and Geoffrey about ways to increase it, most of Albert’s ideas being somewhat less than ethical, some of them downright illegal. Before I could work my way into the debate to suggest it take place somewhere else, we were all interrupted by Ginnevia’s squeal of pain as she announced, “He’s coming!”
Then the front lawn of what used to be our HQ was light by a brilliant blue white flash and we were surrounded by a half dozen villains. Just about everybody knows Mind Master after his little escapade at conquering the United States by mentally commanding Congress and the President to just hand him the reigns of power. As he’d been then, he wore a black leather BDSM outfit the flowed over his chiseled, if some what thin physique.
The other six with him I’d never seen before.
One was about Ed’s height and from his mass, I mentally labeled him ‘Brick.’ There was a woman who evidently suffered from Mind Master’s terrible sense of fashion and was decked out in the Dominatrix Outfit From Hell. It consisted of a waist cincher with attached garters holding up hose that peeked out from thigh high boots over a bikini thong and elbow gloves, all done in PVC. Her sizable chest was completely exposed, her nipples covered by a cross of black electrical tape. She held a whip in one hand that I had the distinct impression wasn’t of the play variety. She was labeled ‘Bitch.’
The skinny fast kid in the track suit got the label ‘Speedy’, while his intensely insecure buddy whose shoulder he leaned on who was covered in weapons and ammo belts got labeled ‘Tiny Winy.’ The other two were in matching black body suits so they were collectively dubbed the ‘Twins’. “Albert,” chuckled Mind Master as he strode confidently forward. “You’re late. I’ve been expecting you for nearly a month.”
Ginnevia dropped the illusion, causing quite a stir at the front of the building. I couldn’t concentrate on that as I floated ever so slightly off the ground in preparation for the coming fight. “I see you’ve been busy, Ronald,” responded Sovereign casually. “However, things have changed. Had you waited for me to finish my experiments you would have discovered that the more that is changed in this reality the less stable our own becomes. You must return with us.”
Ronald let out a laugh that could only be described as insane. Despite both his name and his sizable powers, it was evident he had completely lost hold of reality. “What do I care about that pathetic world? This is everything you promised, Albert, and more! If we’re careful, we will be the only people in it with Mckimpson Strain. As you can see from my Thralls, the power of our blood holds true here. Let entropy feast on that overcrowded, pathetic reality! I shall rule this world, whether you are by side or under my feet. Choose carefully, Albert.”
I felt Ginnevia’s presence in my mind even as I heard the distant wails of police sirens. This was about to get very ugly. Ed, Jennifer, Freight Train on three. She pushed the image of Brick at me, and then I sent back my pet names for the group. I ‘heard’ her disseminate that to the group. Ed ever so gently raised his hand to take mine.
Freight Train was one of my personal favorites of the maneuvers we’d worked out. Not only as it was flashy as hell, which had its own set of merits, it was usually the easiest way to take out a brick.
“What of your sister and your wife, Ronald?” asked Albert cautiously.
“Pathetic mortals, undeserving of the blood that flows through their veins.”
“Ronald, be reasonable. Even if this world is all that you say,” hedged Sovereign, “Surely you’d give the followers I’ve brought time to secure what ever mementos they desire here…”
“My patience grows thin, Albert! I have no time for mementos or anything other than instant obedience. Choose!”
“Three!” yelled Geoffrey. I shot skyward, climbing as fast as I could, Ed dangling below me as we both worked for a better grip. That was the most important part of this maneuver. If one of our grips slipped, it could be disastrous. Not for us, but where ever and whom ever we ended up on…
At the top of my arc, I pivoted as quickly as I could, pushing both my flight and my strength as hard as I could as I threw Ed back at Brick with all of my might. On his way back down, Cavalry did this neat tuck and roll so he was coming down hooves first. Brick just stood and stared as about an eighth of a ton of Super Hero descended from the sky right onto his face.
And you thought you’d never use algebra in the real world. Velocity times mass equals pain.
There was an exclamation of pain and a minor explosion of dust and dirt. When it cleared, Cavalry was on his feet, and Brick looked like he’d be napping for a long time. “The Cavalry is here!” he roared. “Who else wants to resist arrest?”
I sighed. Ed wouldn’t be a film maker if he didn’t have an intense love of the theatrical. As the ground below began to disintegrate into a Cops rerun, I flew off in the direction of the sirens. It looked like Cobb Counties Finest were just turning onto Herodian Road. I landed directly in their path so they could see me. They screamed to a stop, a sergeant clamoring out, his weapon pointed at me. “Hands up, Rebel Girl!” he shouted.
Rebel Girl? Sheesh, maybe this place wasn’t paradise after all.
Still floating slightly off the ground, I smiled at him. “Sugah, ya’ll really don’t want any part of what’s going on. Now, if ya’ll could just keep the tourists from wandering in here, Ah’d be right obliged.”
“I said hands up!” he growled.
“Go ahead and shoot if it will get it out of your system, Sweetie, you can’t hurt me with that and Ah’m trying to do you a favor.”
The bullet struck me just below the rib cage and surprised me more than anything else. I heard the bullet burry itself into the pavement somewhere below me over the echo of the shot. My costume would never conceal a bullet proof vest. It was the first time I’d been shot and how ironic that it was a cop. His jaw hung slack as what he was seeing finally sunk in. “Ya’ll satisfied? Now Ah’ll have to iron it. Stay back and you won’t get hurt.”
Seeing his stupor would keep him in place, I flew back to be of help to my team mates. A quick glance told me Speedy was busy bouncing off my lover, while Sovereign and Mind Master were engaged in a titanic battle of wills. I could see the ripples of energy between the two Mentalists. Valkyrie and Precog were playing tag with the twins, Holly in a fairly traditional bout of fisticuffs. Jason was simply pointing at the other who apparently couldn’t move. File that away for figure out later.
The Eagle was squared off against Bitch. While, I wouldn’t have thought that would be a hard fight for him, it looked like he wasn’t really hitting as hard as he could. Finally he stopped fighting and let her put that whip of hers around him while she rubbed up against him in a way that would have made a two dollar hooker blush. Well, it looked like the South had to bail Uncle Sam out of yet another jam.
I flew past the two of them, as fast as I could, hooking an arm around her as I did so, snatching her away with a surprised yelp of pain. I was, however completely caught off guard by what she did next.
She reached up as squeezed my tit!
Not the I’m trying to inflict pain squeeze, the I’m attempting to seduce you kind. For the first time since I’d laid eyes on her, she purred out in the strangest voice I’ve ever heard, “Wouldn’t you really like to just make love to me?”
Her voice didn’t sound like a woman’s voice. More like a man trying to imitate a woman’s voice. “You’re not mah type, sister,” I said as I streaked to a stop on the proverbial dime. I let Sir Isaac Newton pull her out of my arm, resisting just enough so that when she slammed to a stop in the bushes I stopped in front of she wouldn’t be seriously hurt. I wasn’t sure yet just how much she could take, and I didn’t want to kill her, just knock her out.
Her own flight slowed her as well; still, it was obvious she wasn’t happy about my choice of shrubbery for her landing pad. As she flew back out I happened to notice her thong had gotten a bit unsettled in the process.
She’s a guy! Holy shit!
Her grin was feral. “Honey,” she oozed, “I’m everyone’s type.” Then she kicked me across the chest for all she was worth. Which, unfortunately for her, wasn’t much.
She yelped in pain as I heard her ankle dislocate. I hadn’t felt anything.
“Are you hung like a horse?” I asked sweetly. Over her tears of pain, her face was covered in almost comical confusion.
“What?” he (?) She (?) gasped.
“Are you hung like a horse?” I asked again. Subconsciously, her own honesty made her shake her head. “Then you’re not mah type,” I told her and slapped her as gently as I could without telegraphing my blow. Her eyes rolled back and she started to fall. I grabbed her, lowered her to the ground and hand cuffed her wrist to her good ankle.
She wasn’t going anywhere quickly.
As I turned back, to the battle, it looked like it was mostly over anyway. From the pile, it looked like Ed had bounced Speedy into Mind Master, giving Albert the edge he needed to win that little mental exercise. I wasn’t sure how the others had gone, blow for blow, but as the Eagle was using Bitch’s whip to tie people up seemed to indicate he was over what ever Bitch had done to him.
Somebody has some ‘splaining to do to the little wife…
I collected up Bitch and hauled her over to our little pile. “Well, that went better than Ah thought it would,” I said as I placed her with her buddies. A saw Ed’s ears twitch at a sound I hadn’t heard from the direction of Mind Masters’ wrist. Then there was another flash and our villain collection wasn’t there any more.
Me and my big, fat mouth.
At the rather firm insistence of the better part of Valor, we made ourselves scarce too. While I only had jeans and a sweater in my Secret ID bag, out of deference to Ginnevia’s ogling, I left my boots on. Having everyone in street clothes made it easier on her to keep the illusions running on Suzerain and Ed. We’d retired to a nearby Waffle House to figure out how this was going to work.
To those of you unfortunates who’ve never been in one, the Waffle House is built along the lines of an old fifties diner. Your food is cooked pretty much in front of you as the buildings are quite small, and it’s all fairly greasy, in that good, greasy spoon kind of way. Surprisingly, however, they don’t have deep fryers so no fries with that, just hash browns, to go along with a menu fairly heavy on the breakfast items with burgers in all their many and sundry forms tossed in.
The great thing is, Waffle House is the most discreet place to talk about something in plain sight. I believe to this day, Hitler, Goering and Hess could sit down in one, in full Nazi regalia to start plotting World War Three and the only thing the waitress would ask would be ‘More coffee hon?’
So, our conversation safe from prying ears, we began the debate so rudely interrupted by Mind Master in the first place. Where were we going to get more cash? Albert wanted to invest our nest egg based on Precog’s ability to pick the biggest return on high risk investment. Geoffrey didn’t like the ethics of it, but he was also preoccupied with cooking up Ed a holographic generator built into a wrist watch on the fly with spare parts he had on him.
Yeah, he’s that good.
The watch made Ginnevia’s illusion permanent on the third try, not bad for only half his attention, while the rest of us realized Albert’s idea was really the only way to go. Short of knocking over a bank, which really went against Geoffrey’s sense of ethics. We hedged our bet by only freeing up three hundred bucks for that, giving us some breathing room meanwhile. The Waffle House, as was usual, was in front of a no tell motel, where we acquired two rooms, strictly boys and girls, to use until something better was available.
Ginnevia was in seventh heaven rooming with Holly and I, until my little sister and I let her know the bricks of the group weren’t her personal play things. She only sulked a little. Being the smallest of us, she got the roll away bed too.
I spent the night having strange dreams about… Who all gets to hear this? I need you to be as detailed as possible. Don’t worry, this is all privileged information. Go on. I spent the night having strange dreams about a succession of men sharing my bed who were all as amply blessed as Ed. At the end of it, the last one turned into Ed, I mean Ed as I’d always known him. Which made me very happy for some reason.
I awoke to a knock of someone at the front door. Making sure my roommates were decent, being closest to the door, I answered it. There was a chauffer there. Beyond him in the parking lot were four limos. “Can Ah help you?” I asked him, somewhat dazed.
“Miss Anderson?” he asked in a duly respectful tenor. I nodded. “Your party is waiting Miss. You and the younger Mr. Filby will be riding with me at your convenience.”
“Are you sure you’ve got the right Miss Anderson?” I asked him in surprise.
“Yes ma’am. When you’re ready.” He tipped his hat and went back to the limo. I caught Ed’s eye and motioned him over. He was chuckling as he approached.
“Yes, they’re ours. Albert’s adventures in day trading really paid off. We’re up about half a million.”
“On three hundred dollars?” I demanded, incredulous.
He chuckled. “Hell, sweetie, he made three grand off the first trade. Rouse the others, would you? We gotta get going.”
Well, damn, I obviously needed to make Mr. Carnegie’s acquaintance. I wonder if that’s insider trading back home… I closed the door on Ed and went to rousing the others. It would figure Holly was a morning person, bright and alert and happy to be facing the day. It took two dousing of water from the cheap ice bucket to wake Ginnevia.
As she came up coughing and sputtering, she made a gesture at me. I felt an invisible impact that pushed me backwards nearly a foot and almost took my breath. “What gives?” she demanded groggily.
“Time to face the day,” I told her, putting the bucket on the empty dresser they’d provided. “Our rides are waiting out front. Let’s go.” We got dressed fairly quickly as most of us were already that way. No snide comments about the length of time, if you please.
Out side, it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and you’d never have thought we were here to save reality as we knew it. I cuddled up against Ed in the back of the limo and thanked who ever was responsible for his physical size. Cuddle room was all that was left, which was why we got a limo to ourselves. “Morning, lover,” I greeted him as I kissed his cheek. “Did you sleep well?”
He chuckled as he put his arm around me. “I find I don’t sleep well when you’re not beside me. Well, that and Geoffrey snores.” We shared a giggle as the limos filed out of the hotel’s parking lot and began rolling north on I75.
“So, where are we off too?”
“Precog finally got a handle yesterday on why Mind Master picked this universe. We’re on our way to see the guy who can give us the inside scoop on what he’s up to.”
“Silly me, Ah thought that’s why we brought Precog,” I told him.
Ed sighed. “Well, it was, unfortunately Mind Master must have anticipated something like this, which is why he picked this reality. Precog can’t seem to get a lock on him, but he was able to pick up why Ronald picked this reality. So we’re going to see him.”
“Him? Who’s him?”
“That’s kind of hard to explain,” hedged Ed. I stared at him until he worked up the nerve to try. “Well, how up are you on theoretical physics or existentialism?” I frowned.
“What does one have to do with the other?”
“Well, there’s a theory in both that states when ever you come up with a thought, or imagine something, you either create or tap into a different Universe where what you thought about is their reality.”
I felt my eyes go wide as I stared at him. The ramifications of that were staggering. If I thought about a world inhabited by talking purple cows, did I just make an entire universe? “Yeah,” breathed Ed. “That’s a pretty heavy thought, huh?”
“Ah still don’t understand why this ‘Him’ is so important. Who the hell is He and why are we going to talk to Him and why would He know what Mind Master is up to?”
Ed sighed again. “Evidently, Precog found this guy scanning for Mind Master. He and Albert were up most of the night talking out the possibilities.” He shrugged. “It’s a long shot, but maybe this guy will know which way Mind Master is going to jump.”
“Why would he know?” I demanded again.
“Well, he’s an author…” Ed started quietly.
“No,” I whispered.
“Yes. It seems he’s writing some kind of comic book in which, well, let’s just say his knowledge is rather extensive.” I felt a blush begin to burn my skin.
“Evidently, you, Jennifer, are his main character. And, well, let’s just say he knows everything about us.”
I sat in a very awkward silence, staring out at the scenery as the limos turned and began traveling up I575 towards Canton. I was going to meet a stranger to whom I was a creation of his mind. A fictional character, made flesh, dancing to the beat of his pen. I felt white hot embarrassment. I was going to meet a man, who for all practical purposes was my creator.
What do you say to God? Is he my God? I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t the most ardent Christian I knew, but I still went to Church on a semi-regular basis. This was a crisis, both of faith and existence I wasn’t sure I was ready for.
All too quickly, I noticed the limos exiting the freeway, at exit 20 of all places, the City of Canton exit. The exit my parents lived off of. Did I have parents here?
The limos waited at the light, then proceeded back across the freeway, filing one after another into the new Race Trac they’d build. The gas station was fairly new, and almost too large for the plot it sat on.
“Do we need gas?” I asked Ed. My lover shook his head.
“No, we’re here.”
“Here? What, he’s going to visit shortly or something?” Ed chuckled.
“No, he works here.”
I felt my Irish get up. “Our collective Creator works at a gas station?” I yelled at him as the door was opened.
“I didn’t say he was a successful author, now did I?”
I just couldn’t do it.
I just couldn’t face meeting some Stephen King wanna be who knew everything about me. What do you say? “Hi! I’m Jennifer, but you knew that…” So I waited in the limo, trying not to watch the group talk to him. As I waited, I was over whelmed with an intense desire to go home; back where things made sense in their own crazy way. I wanted to go back to where God didn’t have a face and didn’t work at a gas station.
I wanted my mother and I wasn’t too proud to admit it to myself.
So I watched every now and then the animated gestures of the thirty something man in the blue polo, trying not to think about it. After perhaps a quarter hour, the group returned and our journey was underway once more.
Before Ed could say anything, however, I placed my fingers over his lips. “Ah don’t want to know anything about it, alright?” I asked him fervently. He nodded. “Did we get what we came for?”
“We got the only lead we could,” he said softly once my fingers were removed. “We’re heading there now.”
“What’s our plan?”
He shrugged his indifference as he gave me the fierce hug I needed just then. “We go to his hide out, beat them about the head and shoulders, make sure they don’t have any teleport gizmos this time and bring them back home.”
“Them? You mean those idiots he had with him? Are they ours?”
Ed shook his head. “No, they’re local, but we can’t leave them here. They’ve got MS so they’re our responsibility.”
“What about wiping out their reality?” I asked softly. “Wasn’t that why we came here in the first place?” Ed seemed thoughtful.
“Now that you mention it, yes.” His eyes became slightly unfocused, and then his long face became suffused with anger. “That Machiavellian son of a bitch!” he exploded.
“What?” I asked fearfully.
“Our reality was never in jeopardy!” he said, shaking in his anger. “He just wanted Geoffrey to build this gizmo for me!” Ed thrust the holowatch that gave him the face he wore at me. “He just couldn’t bring himself to ask like a normal person. He planned this!”
I was confused and it showed on my face. “He just told you all this?”
Ed was forcing his breathing to be calm to master his temper. After a long moment, he finally said, “No, what he said was, ‘Upon further study, it appears that the risk is not as great as I first believed.’”
“Ed, honey, that could mean a lot of things,” I said in my most reasonable tone. “But, just the same, maybe we ought to keep our guard up.” I would have said more, but the limos had come to a stop on a particularly disserted stretch of Georgia Route 20.
Now, State Route 20 makes a large, lazy loop most of the way around Atlanta. It’s been suggested as the Outer parameter of the city once it’s converted to a freeway. Thus far, the poor souls who live along it have been able to shut that talk down, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they lose out. This stretch of it through Cherokee County ran by Lake Allatoona and was mostly rural on one side and State Park/National Wildlife Area on the other. “Now what?” I asked of the limo’s driver who neither answered me, nor moved. Ed and I exchanged a glance before we climbed out of the car.
Evidently, we weren’t alone there as the others were also getting out. “What’s happened?” I asked Geoffrey as I approached. He shook his ignorance as we clustered around Sovereign and Ginnevia who were talking earnestly.
“Get ready,” Ginnevia said sharply. Ed, lucky devil, merely touched a control on his watch and the hologram dropped revealing he’d never changed out of his fighting togs. I was wearing mine under the sweater and jeans, so that wasn’t as complicated as poor Geoffrey who was breaking out a steamer trunk as fast as he could.
“Are they on to us?” I asked as I applied a quick coat of spirit gum to the mask and got it on my face. Ginnevia nodded without looking up, evidently struggling with Albert on some mental method of buying us extra time.
“Albert, I don’t appreciate our bargain being changed in progress,” announced Mind Master from above us. I looked up to see the lunatic seated on some kind of golden throne with his collection of losers from last time crouched at his feet on the floating dais.
“You won’t appreciate a good deal of what’s about to happen, Ronald, but that won’t change a bit of it,” growled Sovereign in a tone I’d never heard him use before. Until this moment, he’d come off as a somewhat dapper, if smug type of guy who liked lording secrets over someone. Now, that all changed.
Now I could see and hear why they called him a super villain.
His tone sent a chill down my spine in its finality. “I’m afraid your usefulness is at an end, Ronald. It will go easier for you if you surrender, otherwise…”
Mind Master became enraged. “How dare you take that tone with me? I’m not your lackey…!” It seemed Ronald had quite a bit more to say, but he was interrupted by a strangled cry of pain. The dais made to topple for a moment, as he grabbed at his temples in what appeared to be agony, but a gesture from Albert stabilized it once more.
“You are a subject of your Sovereign!” he declared in a lofty tone. “You do as I say, when I say, at my pleasure. That is your purpose, nothing further.” Albert’s gesture made a dumping motion and the dais parroted it, spilling out Ronald’s groupies in a less than ceremonious heap.
“Son,” said Albert calmly, maintaining some kind of hold on Mind Master. “This is the part where you beat them about the head and shoulders.”
Ed and shared a glance and a shrug. It wasn’t quite the way we would have picked it, but a fight was a fight.
It didn’t take very long for Mind Master’s minions to figure out the jig was up. They scrambled to their collective feet and came set quickly. This time, I do believe I was getting the hang of this entire jab tossing so I had a much better picture of how things went down.
“Surrender and you will not be harmed!” thundered the American Eagle, pretty much to nobody as the entire group ignored him. Bitch was evidently something of an expert with that whip of hers and she snaked it out and caught my left arm with it.
“I’m ready for you this time, you carrot toped trollop!” she sneered.
“Sugah,” was my reply, “that tickles.” Then using her reflex to maintain control of the whip I flipped her rather forcefully into the tree line where a spanning chestnut tree worthy of a village blacksmith stopped her.
Brick proved to be a man of few words and fewer brain cells as he wordlessly charged Cavalry. My favorite stud (blush) waited until the last possible moment, then leapt clean over him, somewhat forcefully altering his direction down SR20 by a double handful of the oaf’s shoulders. Then, on the way back down, he kicked backwards, hard, into his shoulders. Ed landed on his hands and knees; then did a cross between a hand stand and a flip to regain his feet. All with a grace that belied his impressive bulk. The Georgia Judge gives him a perfect ten for style and accomplishment. Brick was propelled about fifty feet down the road to drag to a painful looking stop face first in the asphalt.
Tiny Winy unlimbered some kind of bull pup machine gun and clued the world in to his misogynistic tendencies by yelling “Die, Bitch!” at the top of his lungs as he emptied it at Valkyrie. The Rookie blocked them with her shield, sending them ricocheting in every direction as she charged him, the aforementioned metal first. While not as stylish as my Edward’s endeavor and I certainly needed to have something of a chat with my little sister on being mindful about where deflected bullets go, it did get the job done. Tiny Winy folded like a busted flush and a couple of vicious right hooks from the Rookie made sure he’d stay that way.
This time, Speedy decided to take on the American Eagle. He rushed him, and while he did throw some kind of defiance at him before they got to trading blows, he spoke so fast I couldn’t make out what he said.
Not that it mattered. The Eagle used one of his favorite methods of dealing with Speedsters. He called it, the Long Arm of the Law. An incredibly strong single filament line streaked out from his left gauntlet and wrapped around one of Speedy’s legs. The line has a long chain chemical polymer that has a negative and a positive charge to it, rather like Velcro so what ever it wraps around, it sticks to.
While Speedy got a hit on Eagle, kudos for being the first, it wasn’t enough to rattle him or keep him from taking off, reeling in the slack of the line. Speedy was snatched from his feet as the Eagle made a rather complicated figure eight maneuver. “Cavalry! Here comes the Law!” he called as he abruptly stopped. Sir Isaac Newton took over as Speedy careened head first into Cavalry’s body builder pose.
Cavalry didn’t move, and neither did Speedy.
Trapdoor was playing tag with one of the twins, while Precog was doing his pointing thing again and the other wasn’t moving. Won’t win any style awards, it did take the fight out of the remaining Twin. Which, to be honest, must have been mildly insulting as while Trapdoor was teleporting punches at the remaining Twin, he was flitting all over the battlefield, applying Power Inhibitor cuffs to the fallen members of Mind Masters’ Spring Cotillion.
That accomplished, he laid a fairly painful looking round house on the Twin so he could get his fitting for new bracelets.
It wasn’t even close to a fair fight either.
Either Mind Masters friends hadn’t had their powers very long, or they’d flunked out of Super Bad Guy School. Either way, they didn’t have a lick of teamwork to spread amongst them. It was all over in about twenty seconds.
They were in a clump, straining to get free of the power inhibitor cuffs we’d fit them with, also making sure this time their get out of jail free cards had been revoked. Ronald put a show of defiance, then begging before a glance from Albert set him into a drooling heap.
Ok, we’re past Super Villain and into scary now.
“Trapdoor,” ordered Albert. The teleporter touched each of the limos in turn where upon they vanished. Then he set up the gizmo that had brought us here. “Geoffrey, why don’t you take Ronald here through and start his booking, won’t you? I’d like to have a moment with my son, if that’s alright.”
The eagle landed and I could almost see the frown on his face behind his mask. “Albert, I really don’t think we should split up…oof!” Geoffrey’s protests were cut short by Mind Master being lifted up and hurled telekinetically into him, knocking both through the portal.
“I’m not in a mood to argue, Geoffrey,” said Sovereign casually to the portal. I made to do something fairly physical, but found I couldn’t move. “Son, before you do something rash, you will want to know you alone of your compatriots can move. I advise you most strongly to act calmly.”
“What is going on?” demanded Ed in a low and dangerous voice.
Sovereign stroked Ginnevia’s face in an almost fatherly way without answering. Her eyes darted to mine, but I couldn’t hear her in my mind so evidently she was held as fast as the rest of us. Make that the rest of the Irregulars, as I could now see that what ever Sovereign did had not affected either Trapdoor or Precog. “Of all of them, I think you shall have the hardest time with this, my dear,” he told her. “Yet, be strong and you will get them through what lies before them.”
“Albert…” demanded Ed once more. The Villain ignored him as he proceeded to Valkyrie.
“I do hope that being with your love shall make up for the separation of your family. I had not intended you to be a part of this, Miss Macbein, but perhaps it is for the best.”
I saw Ed’s eyes become fearful and his voice changed to a softer, more supplicating tone. “Father, what are you doing?” That brought Sovereigns eyes to us and a pained smile to his face.
“I have waited so long to hear that from you, Edward. Thank you. You cannot know what that means to me. But, I cannot place you in jeopardy for what must be done. You do not understand the war that is coming. And I am not willing to have my love for you used against me. I think you will enjoy living here. It has none of the pressures the hell I go to has for you. I have taken care to have suitable course credits for your career placed on the books of the Georgia State University here.”
Albert walked forward, removing an envelope from some hidden pocket in his cape. This he presented to Edward. “These Bearer Bonds are worth twenty million dollars. They will see that you and the lovely Miss Anderson are comfortable.” He sent me a smile and cold caress of my cheek. If I weren’t immobile I would have recoiled in horror. “Don’t fret my new daughter. I shall not deprive you of your lovely family. Before the day is out they shall arrive at the home of your birth here. A bit confused, perhaps, but I promise you, perfectly alright. And I shall see to their same financial needs as well. Never fear.”
“Father, you can’t do this. I know you’re worried about this bill, but let us fight the system legally for a change! We are a nation of laws!”
“I can leave these unfortunates,” continued Albert with a wave towards Mind Master’s minions as if Ed hadn’t spoken. “Should you wish to continue playing heroes. After all, a hero is nothing without a suitable villain. Or, if you desire to retire I shall take them with me. The choice is yours.”
“Albert,” said Ed with an infinite sadness. “If you maroon us here, I will not rest until I can return home and the justice I’ll see on you will be final.”
Sovereign smiled ruefully. “As always such lofty talk of law gives way to vengeance, my son. As it is true with you, so is it true of our home dimension. There shall be no justice, only a terrible retribution. And, while none of you are technically inclined, perhaps it would be best to give you something to occupy your spare moments.” He snapped his fingers and Trapdoor teleported next to the pile of prisoners before they vanished, their power inhibitors remaining behind.
“Fair well, my son. And be happy, I pray you.”
It was clear that Sovereign was making his exit. Ed shot forward at a dead run, there was a rush of moment, and then a blur flew into the tree line. Cavalry slammed to a stop into a rather stout looking oak and was pinned there by the telekinetic force that had flung him. Then Albert picked up his box, leading Trapdoor as they stepped through.
Then our only way home closed and we were alone.
It was five minutes before I could move again. Five minutes of emotion running the gauntlet from mindless rage to utter despair and back. Ed was actually knocked out by the force of being thrown into the tree, but the tree got the worst of it. Meanwhile, traffic quickly backed up on 20 as people stopped to stare at the weirdoes standing motionless in the center of the road.
Hindsight, they say, is always 20/20. We’d been played like a Stradivarius from the beginning by Sovereign and it was really getting my dander up. Were I able to move and had the asshole in front of me, I’d doubtless be standing trial for police brutality in the near future.
I couldn’t remember ever being as angry as I was right then.
As I watched Precog take up a position behind me, trying to direct the traffic we were tying up in fine fashion on Route 20, I wondered about the boy’s involvement in this plan and how I would deal with it.
My to-do list was pretty full just then. I had to collect up the poor unfortunates Mind Master had infected (again), figure out some way to get us all back home, see about depositing Albert in the darkest hole I could find on Planet Earth and somehow averting the End of the World.
Hmm, what shall Ah do after lunch?
Despite Precog’s best efforts, traffic was quickly backing up. 20 was a major artery across north central Georgia. It wouldn’t be too long before somebody was dispatched to find out why the Circus was snarling it up.
My period of enforced immobility did have one added bonus; it allowed me the time to think my way out of this mess. I had identified my problems, now it was just a simple matter of finding a solution to them all.
Yeah, and while I’m at it, why don’t I cook up the cure for Cancer and a short outline for World Peace?
This was, however, one of my chief faults. I never could seem to plan something out to deal with a situation and follow through with it. Now, was the perfect opportunity. As I reflected on that, I was blessed with the clearest picture of the situation and its possible remedies I’d ever experienced. It was all so obvious!
Wow, this womanhood thing is actually pretty cool.
Just as I was starting to be able to get control of my major muscle groups, the wail of a siren tickled my ears. The Law was coming. As if we didn’t have enough trouble.
A white and gold Ford Crown Victoria bearing the markings of a Cherokee County Sheriff cruiser came to a stop beside me, being the point at which the back up started, and out of it ambled a large young man with a pleasant, oval face. It was obvious he enjoyed his doughnuts, but there was something likeable about him as he walked up to me, puzzlement all over his face. His name tag read White.
“What is all this?” he demanded right as I found I could move.
I forced my Sunday smile. “Sorry about this, Deputy White. That’s rather a long story.”
“Who are you people? Do you want to get killed? Why in tar nation are you standing in the middle of the road dressed like that?”
“Perhaps I can explain that, Deputy,” said Cavalry as he slowly moved from the tree line. Deputy White went pale and his pistol was in his hand faster than I would have thought the old boy capable of clearing his holster. Ed immediately stopped and raised both hands. “I’m unarmed.”
“What in God’s name are you?” demanded White.
I floated slightly off the ground, immediately getting the deputy’s attention and the barrel of the weapon my way. “Deputy White, we’re friends. Ah know this looks just a bit strange, but we don’t mean ya’ll any harm and we’re just trying to get home. With your permission, sir, we’ll take our leave and let you get traffic moving again.”
“You aren’t going anywhere!” proclaimed the corpulent Deputy as he gingerly started working one hand to his radio.
“Sugah, before you make that call, ya’ll ought to know something,” I told him evenly. His hand stopped, but the pistol didn’t waiver. “We are honest to God superheroes. Yep, that means we’re bullet proof so ya’ll might as well put that away. More to the point, if ya’ll call this in, we’ll be long gone before anyone gets here to co-oberate your story. That might not look so good for ya’ll come promotion time.”
As Deputy White slowly began to return his weapon to its place on his belt, I turned to the others. “Cavalry, ya’ll grab Mortagain and Ah’ll carry you. Valkyrie and Precog can share Suzerain.” Valkyrie and Precog got back on Suzerain while Ed picked up Ginnevia, who, I in turn, picked up. “Deputy White, ya’ll have a good day.” Then we took to the sky, leaving the confused Deputy behind us.
“Where are we going?” shouted Holly as soon as we were clear of ear shot of the traffic jam behind us. I angled a bit closer so everyone could hear.
“First thing, Precog, whose side are you on?” I demanded.
“I don’t see that there’s anything of sides, anymore,” he said carefully.
“Holly, set down in that clearing there,” I ordered, spotting a secluded spot where we could have our bit of a donnybrook. Once we were settled I snatched Holly’s paramour from the saddle and cocked a fist behind me. “Son, you’re about two seconds from the whooping of your life. Now answer mah question!”
Behind me, I heard a yelp of surprise as Holly had meant to rush to Jason’s defense to find Cavalry’s restraining argument quite compelling. Jason reflexively started to point at me, presumably to use his little fall down trick, but a series of shakes convinced him to keep his hands at his sides. “One second now,” I growled at him. “Try that once more and we’ll still have this conversation, you’ll just be in a lot more pain.”
“Ok! Ok!” he stammered. “I’m sorry for all this! It wasn’t my idea! I’ll tell you what ever you want to know, I swear! Just put me down!”
I brought him down with enough force to pull him down to his knees. Nose to nose practically, and with me still clutching a large handful of his gi, I whispered angrily, “You just remember this. You can’t get out of reach before mah temper will get the better of me. Give me an excuse, lover boy, and Ah’ll pound you into next week.”
“You don’t understand what’s coming!” he started. “It’s going to be terrible! Genocide! Sovereign went mad when I told him. He’s been planning this since my power manifested. I’m just trying to keep Holly safe! I never meant for you to get tangled up in all this, I swear.”
“Do Ah look like Ah give a good God Damn for what’s coming? You have two choices, bucko. One, you help all of us go home, then you can take whatever cowards way out you like, or Ah pound you until you choose number one. Which is it?”
“Number one,” he stammered.
“Nice choice!” I complimented as I used my handhold to fit the clairvoyant with a set of power inhibitors. This allowed me to release him and turn to Holly. “Ya’ll gonna behave while Ah convince your boyfriend to play nice, or do you need new jewelry too?”
“I’m an Irregular,” she protested sullenly. “You took me by surprise is all. I don’t want to be here anymore than the rest of you. How are we going to get home, though?”
I scowled down at Precog. “The same way Mind Master got here, right? The other of Sovereign’s little toys.”
Precog nodded vigorously.
You won’t believe what a crazy week this has been. I lived through it and I don’t believe it. As I sit here, home at last in my admittedly humble abode, typing this, I can’t help but look back and wonder; who did I piss off in a previous life?
Would you believe I’ve just come back from an alternate dimension? No, looking back on it, I don’t believe it either. Boy, I hope there’s not some kind of IA investigation in this one. I haven’t the slightest notion of how I’ll explain myself. The reports alone took over a day to write, and they still read like something out of a dime store novel. I guess I should practice my best, ‘I have no clear recollection of that, Senator.’
What I am most worried about is Jennifer.
This whole escapade seems to have hit her very hard. I suppose it’s all very well to accept Brook’s Theorem on an intellectual level, but to come face to face with things seems to have really shaken her up. More to the point, I’d be the first to admit I have a thing for sticking Albert in prison, but it looks like that’s just become Jennifer’s crusade.
I must confess, Diary, that my thoughts of my beloved are still wildly out of sync. There is the part of me that remembers my good friend Jim and all the fun we had together. I wonder if he ever wondered about my sexual orientation. The fact of his ready acceptance of me, regardless of what I looked like made him my de facto best friend.
He never even asked me about my shirt until it had happened.
It is remarkable the amount of products available for the remedy of the under endowed male, yet no one ever considers the plight of those of us who are amply blessed or cursed. You can’t image, Diary, how crushing it is to finally make it to the intimate moment, have the clothes hit the floor and now that you’re good and ready have your intended squeal in fright and tell you to get out.
I had nearly come to the conclusion my right hand would be the only lover I’d have. I must, however, confess, I was taken completely by surprise to find her in my bed that night.
Damn it, I’m drifting again. Must focus!
I am in love and I am worried about my lover’s relentless pursuit to bring my father to justice. I never would have thought I would be dissatisfied by someone joining me in my desires of pounding the asshole into jelly.
It’s just not like her, Diary.
After it happened, she’s just been so strong, emotionally. She kept soaking up the crap that goes with this job and soldiering on. I was so proud of her.
Ok, I was lusting after her too, but there was pride there!
Until now, she would soak up the crap, explode, and then settle back to normal for a bit. Rinse and repeat. Hell, even Geoffrey is worried. Once he realized we’d been had he got Mind Master into the hands of AEGIS to bundle off to Ft. Leavenworth, and then summoned the rest of the team, along with the Macon Manhunters for some extra punch.
Evidently it takes something like three hours to come through that portal thing of his. Then, as I must admit he usually does, Diary, Geoffrey played it smart. He didn’t jump Albert. He followed him, with the Manhunters in tow. I image, not having heard dads little pep talk, Geoffrey was surprised when Albert made a bee line to Jennifer’s parents house.
I imagine he was more surprised when that second portal opened and we all came out of it, Mind Master’s little coffee clutch in tow.
Belle didn’t say a word, Diary. She just flew into Albert and starting beating him like a red headed step child. It took me and Strongarm from the Manhunters to pull her off of him.
I never thought that would be the way of it.
So, now Albert is in ICU down at Grady Hospital with a collection of guards, and Belle is out on suspension for excessive use of force. I can understand the policy, Diary, but still, he was bringing her family into this. There ought to be some kind of dispensation.
I guess IA will get the final say.
What I’m trying to get to, Diary, is what do I do now? How do I protect my beloved? God, I wish you could answer.
“Captain Kirk would be proud,” was Ginnevia’s comment as she popped in behind me. I hate it when she does that. Normally, I break something because she causes me to jump. Which is probably the reason she does it? But, I’m proud to say, I kept control of myself this time.
“Oh, don’t be so stiff, Super Horse, the love of our collective lives will be in the clear, just you wait and see.”
I turned toward her and glowered. She didn’t flinch, which, honestly, despite my having one of the best glowers in the business, was because she knew I’d never raise a pinky at her. Well, I don’t have pinkies, but you get the idea. “I have asked you on several occasions, rather politely to stop calling me that.”
“God, Ed, can’t you take a joke at all?” she demanded as she flopped down on my settee. I felt her in my mind and became a bit more cross. “Wow, you are worried. Look, it’s all just smoke and mirrors, she’s in the clear, I’m sure of it.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Ginnevia?”
“I’ve just come from Molly over in IA. A little discrete mental pilfering awarded me the good news I just shared. I merely thought you’d like to know.”
I couldn’t keep a sigh from escaping my lips. “Now, I’ll be first to admit I’m not exactly an expert on these matters, but I am certain you can testify to the exact time Albert lost consciousness, yes?” She nodded, frowning at me. “And, how many punches did Belle land after that point?”
“Seven,” she temporized, “But that’s only if it count the one you mostly took when you and Tom pulled her off.”
“Alright, I’ll give you that one. So, exactly how, can Molly in good conscience put Jennifer in the clear after throwing six punches after her subject was out cold?”
“It’s not like Jennifer is a judge at when somebody is out cold either,” she said defiantly. I had a nasty suspicion strike me which I decided to dig for.
“There wouldn’t be any kind mental chicanery going on with our beloved Internal Affairs officer on the part of our resident mentalist, now would there?” Ginnevia became angry, which was generally a bad sign.
“My God! My name gets tied with something and all of a sudden the Mental Menace is on the loose! You people are damned paranoid!”
“I notice that in that entire tirade, you didn’t answer my question,” I said evenly.
“No, senator, I did not make use of my mental powers to alter the judgment of our Internal Affairs officer,” she sneered with some venom. “Why do I put up with this abuse? I do you a favor and rush over here so you won’t worry, and what do I get for my troubles? Accusations!”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough, Ginnevia. It’s not like the world is coming to an end. I’m sorry already.” She humped at me and refused to meet my eye. “I do appreciate you popping out here to tell me, really. Can I get you some coffee or something?”
“Well, if you’re going to treat me like a civilized host, coffee would be welcome.”
The business of making coffee kept me preoccupied throughout the next several minutes of awkward silence. Once it was ready, I brought it, along with the milk and sugar back out to the living room. Having my coffee the way I wanted it, I cut a Romeo y Julietta from my humidor and got it going as well.
I did offer to Ginnevia, but she declined, instead taking out one of her cigarettes and lighting it. This caused me another trip to the kitchen to retrieve another ash tray from the dishwasher.
“So,” I began once I was comfortable once more. “What’s new in your corner of our reality? Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I get the feeling you had more to discuss then this good news.”
Her inability to meet my eyes told me my feeling was on the money. After several moments she finally worked up the courage to answer. “Can I, well, can I open up a rather personal topic?”
I blew a smoke ring.
“That would depend on the topic, I suppose,” I answered cautiously. “I’ll do my best to remain civil, no matter what, though.”
“Thank you,” she said before another pause of only smoking fell on the room. “You, ah, you’ve know Jennifer for a while, haven’t you?”
“About two years, I’d guess. We met at GSU, first day for both of us and pretty much hit it off from Jump Street.”
“And you’re not at all weirded out by sleeping with her now?”
“Her biology doesn’t change the person she is. And that person I’ve come to love.”
“Does she know you’re Bi?”
“I’ve never really been one for labels,” I replied as calmly as I could. “To be honest, as she’s my only partner thus far, I can’t really be sure if that label even applies to me.”
“Sell that to someone who can’t read your mind, Ed. You’ve loved Jennifer a long time before she was Jennifer.”
“I fail to see how this is any of your business,” I said as civilly as I could. I blinked and suddenly Ginnevia was gone. In her place was an almost cute girl with long dark hair and a wonderful smile.
“It’s my business,” the new girl said, “because I love her too.”
My curiosity must have been rampant on my face. Still, I gave it voice just to be sure. “And you show your love by shoving the object of your desire at someone else? Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
“I did that to try to get over her and because it was what she needed. You and I have always been friends, Ed. I knew you’d take care of her if that’s what she wanted. I just had to be certain. I care too much.”
“We?” I asked, doing my best to keep sarcasm from my tone. “I beg to differ, but I don’t have the pleasure of this new face of yours’ acquaintance. Who is this?”
She forced a grin that faded from her girl next door face. “You never wondered why I don’t wear a mask?”
“Knowing your ability to cast illusions, I’d always assumed you didn’t need to. So, this is the real Ginnevia Brown?”
“I’m not sure if ‘real’ applies to any of us in this job, but this is what I looked like before I was infected.”
“Ginnevia, where is this going?”
She laughed mirthlessly. “You don’t remember, do you?”
“Remember what?” I demanded. Then I stopped and really looked at this new girl in front of me. She was dressed very simply in jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch jersey that was covered in a collection of various political and philosophical buttons. The STR8 But Not Narrow button and the rainbow bead necklace tickled something in my mind. I had seen this girl somewhere before. “We’ve met when you were like this, haven’t we?” I asked. She nodded; the long black hair that seemed so out of place on her spilling about her shoulders. “Why didn’t you ever say something?”
She shrugged, still unable to meet my gaze. “Talk to me, Ginnevia,” I chided her. At last she looked up, between the expression on her face and the way her emotions were dancing about in her scent, I could tell this was taking every bit of courage she had.
“I go by my middle name like this, Ed,” she informed me. “It’s Cindy.”
I probably won’t ever get used to the face that stared at me in Jennifer’s front door window. It’s an odd feeling not recognizing your own reflection. As I stared at my new, holographic face, I waited for her to answer the doorbell and tried to control the knot of fear in my stomach.
Heavenly Father, what ever I did to piss you off I’m sorry for. Please don’t take her away.
Ginnevia’s revelation had thrown a huge monkey wrench into my life. I wasn’t sure of anything anymore, except my love for Jennifer. Yet I was at a complete loss as to how to go about letting her know the depths of my feelings.
Without scaring her off, that is.
Now, I had to let her know Mortagain’s little secret and let her make up her own mind as to how to proceed. It was the only fair way. Of course, it was also the way I might lose her. I sighed and tried to get a handle on my fear.
The door opened and her smile could light up Atlanta. “Why, Edward, as Ah live and breathe. Ah thought ya’ll were shunning me.”
I hoped my chuckle didn’t sound as nervous to her as it did to me. “I could never be away for long from you, Jen. I know this is unexpected, but, can I come in?”
“Like you have to ask,” she chastised me, stepping aside so I could enter. It became apparent she’d been using the time off constructively. The living room showed signs of a major redecoration under way. The mix and match loaner furniture was replaced with a very nice living room group, mostly done in a teal leather. The curtains which were only half hung matched that motif and it carried over to some prints on the walls which were a series of still life with fruit. “Make yourself at home. Like what Ah’ve done with the place?”
“It looks like it will be very nice when you get it done,” I said as I carefully settled on the sofa, making sure it would bear my weight. She floated over and snuggled up against me.
“Is this an official visit, or do Ah have a chance to get lucky?”
“I certainly hope so,” I temporized. “But it’s not official at all.”
“Ed?” she asked. “What’s wrong? Did Geoffrey take this out on you?”
I shook my head. “I really haven’t spoken with Geoffrey since, well, since you got suspended. I should tell you he really tore into Molly over it. He’s on your side.”
She shrugged. “Ah could give a wet fart about what those assholes think of me. Ah won’t let anyone mess with mah family. Ed, honey, what’s wrong? You look as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
“I, uh, I just came from a visit from Ginnevia.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I guess I should start with the good news. She tells me that Molly is going to clear and re-instate you.”
She frowned. “Lucky me. Ah was enjoying the time off to be honest. If that’s the good news, Ah’m really worried now.”
“Well, it’s kind of funny, in all the years I’ve known her, I only just found out what Ginnevia’s secret identity was.”
Jennifer frowned. “She has one? Ah figured she was into shocking people.”
“Oh, she’s got one, and it’s a dozy,” I told her. “She, uh, she came over to my place, like I told you, to tell me about Molly’s decision. And, well, then she…”
“Ed, you’re stuttering. Calm down, Sugah. Ah’m right here and, no matter what happens, Ah’ll still feel the way Ah do about you.”
I blinked. “Are you manifesting some kind of new mental power?”
She laughed as she shook her head. “No, sweetie, and Ah don’t need one. The only time you stutter is when you’re worried about me leaving you. Ah’m not sure how something Ginnevia said might make you think Ah would leave you, but Ah won’t. Ed, Ah’m happy. Ah can only think of one other time in mah life where Ah was, but Ah can’t go back there and, more to the point, she and Ah are good friends now, so that’s not even something Ah’m worried about. Take a deep breath lover, believe that Ah love you, and just tell me.”
“I really don’t think you want it that blunt…” I started before she frowned.
“Edward Filby, out with it.”
“That girl you were with last year, for about six months or so, do you remember her?”
“Cindy? Yes, that’s who Ah was talking about. We’re friends now.”
“What was her last name?” I asked softly, unable to meet her eyes.
“Brown, why…? No…”
“Her first name is Ginnevia,” I whispered. “Cindy is evidently her middle name.”
There was a long stretch of silence that let me over come my nervousness and look up in her face. I could see the confusion and disbelief rampant across her lovely features. “But,” she stuttered, “we…Ah mean…we were…”
“Did you ever not use a condom?” I asked softly.
“No,” she started.
“She said she didn’t care for it…”
“You ever go down on her?”
“Mah God,” she whispered. “Oh mah God.”
“Yeah,” I said softly. “I know. I just wanted to give you all the information so you could make up your own mind.” The confusion left her face which then pulled into a frown.
“Make up mah own mind about what?”
“I know this is a shock. Hell, it really took the wind out of my sails, I have to tell you. But, I remember how happy you were with Cindy and, well, how depressed you got when you and she split up.”
“Ed…” she started, but I held up a hand to cut her off.
“No, let me get this out, Jennifer. I couldn’t really be your friend when it happened and I’m sorry for that. My own feelings were too wrapped up in it for me to be objective and supportive of you.”
“You had your big project due,” she said.
“That was just an excuse, Jen. I couldn’t be there because, well, it’s like this. I don’t know how much biology you’ve had, but there’s this weird fact about mammals out side of humans. Did you know almost every species is bisexual to some degree?”
“Sure, a dominate male doesn’t especially care who he’s stuck it to as long as he gets off. What, the fuck, does this side trip into Wild Adventure have to do with what we’re talking about?”
“Jennifer, I’m bisexual. I’ve been in love with you for, well, a long time,” I said, unable to meet her gaze. Her scent became even more confused as she struggled with this new information.
“Stand up,” she said, finally, pulling away from me. I sighed as I accepted my fate and stood.
“I’m sorry, I’ll go.”
“The hell you will,” she countered. I finally managed to look into her face, but it was just as confused as her scent was and her heart was so loud I began to worry about her passing out. “How long as this been going on around me?” she demanded.
“Well, I just found out about Ginnevia today, like I told you. As far as me? I’m not really sure when I first realized how I felt about you.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
I stared at her. “Do you really need an answer to that question?”
“Yes, damn it, Ed Ah do.”
“You seemed to be like the typical Southern Boy. Nothing about you suggested you might switch hitter, and, let’s face it Jennifer, the South isn’t exactly know for its tolerance.”
“That hurts,” she said. “Ah thought you thought better of me than that.”
“I do,” I told her. “I guess the real reason was I didn’t want to risk my friendship with you by trying something to take things to a different level.”
Her frown became just a hint angry. “What have Ah told you about keeping secrets?”
I sighed. “That it was the surest way to drive you away. I’m trying to come clean here, Jennifer. You are the best thing that’s ever been in my life, before or after this crazy curve ball. I don’t want to lose you. I love you.”
“It’s about damn time you said so,” she said before she collected a handful of my shirt in one hand and my jeans in another. Before I realized what she was doing, she’s snatched, hard, ripping both garments from my body. Damn it, that was my favorite shirt! “Turn that damn thing off,” she ordered as she dropped the remnants of my clothing across the back of her couch.
With a soft beep, I was my old self, shivering slightly and more than a tad embarrassed about standing nude before her fully clothed. “Now then, Mr. Filby, let’s get something clear. You have just professed to loving me. Ah have already stated mah love for you, but it bears repeating. Ah love you. You will march upstairs to mah bed room, where upon we shall make mad, passionate love which will hopefully put this notion that Ah’m going to leave you at the drop of a hat out of your fucking thick skull.”
It might have been cold, but when a woman is that direct with you, the boys have a mind of their own. Ouch, I’ve never gotten hard this fast, it hurts! I pulled her to me in a fierce hug that, yet again, popped her back for her. This gave me the hold to give her a little payback.
“Hey!” She yelled as I tossed aside the remnants of her jeans and sweater.
“Turn about is fair play,” I told her. “And fuck the bedroom. Here is good.”
There are times, I believe, that life takes these strange turns just to make things possible. Even if Edward had professed his feelings to me before I had been infected with Mckimpson Strain, and even if I had decided to walk down the other side of the street so to speak, knowing what I do now tells me we would have been in for a very frustrating relationship.
There is no way we could have been intimate in any way that would not have seriously injured, possibly even killed me.
There was a fair amount of numbness that went hand in glove with being invulnerable. You don’t feel it when you stub your toe, or bang your arm on the door because you’re being careless. But you suddenly have to repair the drywall or replace the door because you destroyed it without thinking.
In a lot of ways, it’s probably like having nerve damage. There is a fair amount of sensory input that I honestly took for granted before my life took its left turn at Albuquerque. Now I had come to be used to this general numbness I lived with every day. It is new and interesting to wake up and feel, even something I would normally have found unpleasant.
This morning I woke up sore, a reminder of just how free and alive Edward and I had been last night. A joyous evening of lovemaking that left me with the soreness I felt today, would have doubtlessly resulted in a trip to the hospital had I still been Jim.
Or the morgue.
More to the point, being a woman, I suppose made me more receptive to his overtures. Despite my protestations to the contrary, had Ed come out of the closet so to speak I’m not entirely sure how I would have reacted.
Oh, I wouldn’t have shown my ass or anything, but then I was certainly not used to being the pursued. I very much doubt the evening would have ended with the romp of sexuality that had invaded every room of my apartment last night. But, I do like to think that he and I would still be friends this morning.
I couldn’t keep a smile from my face as I rose from my bed and looked down at his snoring form. There was a kind of soft, relieved smile on his face as he slept that made me feel very warm inside. Not in a million years would I have ever thought that after rising in the morning after making love to a man would I feel this way. I slipped on a robe and floated downstairs, with the intent of making coffee to get my mind going.
A pair of smells caught my nose that brought me up short.
First, there was already the smell of coffee coming from the kitchen; the other was the pungent odor of cigarette smoke. Someone was in my house.
I floated slight off the ground so as to be silent as I slowly flew down the stairs, trying to get a feel for what was going on.
There’s fresh coffee, Ginnevia’s voice in my mind whispered.
I sighed as I settled back to the floor and completed my journey downstairs. Cindy, or Ginnevia, or whoever she was, she looked like the Cindy I had really cared for, maybe even loved once upon a time, sat at my dinette table, an over flowing ashtray beside her showed she may have been here some time.
Or she was just that nervous. “Hey,” she said softly, a contrite look on her face.
“Ah didn’t know you were a switch hitter,” I told her as I passed, heading into the kitchen to fix my first cup of the day. “Make yourself at home,” I jabbed at her, seeing she already had and, to be honest, I was more than a little peeved.
“Ok, I guess I deserved that,” she admitted. “I hope you’re not too angry with me.”
“Why would Ah be angry, Cindy?” I asked, adding milk from the fridge and a goodly helping of sugar. “You just lied to me our entire relationship, been playing with mah mind for the last half year and set me up with mah first lover while still making passes at me. What’s to be mad about?”
She winced as my words hit home, that long, dark hair I’d always liked about her spilling about her shoulders. She reached for her pack of cigarettes and removed one, lighting it to disguise the shaking of her hands. “I am sorry, Jennifer,” she told me around her first exhale. “I didn’t mean to louse things up the way I did.”
“Oh, that makes it all better, don’t it?” I crossed to the table and sat down, my eyes boring angry holes in her.
“No,” she admitted in a whisper. “I don’t know how or even if I can do that. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but I was trying to do what was best for both of us.”
I took my first sip, silently staring at her. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be perverse to make her feel guiltier for her deceptions or if I just wasn’t truly awake yet. Either way I was silent as the warmth of the coffee worked its magic and began to get my mind working once more.
One of my cigars floated towards me, along with the cutter and lighter Ed had given me. “Stay out of mah mind,” I told her flatly, as I plucked the objects from her mental grip and placed them on the table.
Her lip trembled a bit as she nodded. “I’m sorry, Jennifer,” she told me, her voice full of emotion. “I never meant for all this to happen! It’s why I broke it off between us! I didn’t want you drawn into this crazy situation.”
“Well Ah’m here now, sugah!” I yelled at her. “Maybe ya’ll can tell me what ya’ll plan to do about it? Your head games have just about got me wondering whither Ah’m coming or going.”
“The coming was last night,” interrupted Ed from behind me. “Good morning ladies,” he greeted, pausing to kiss the top of my head before continuing past into the hallway that served as the apartment’s kitchen.
“Sorry Ah woke you, Ed,” I called after him, feeling more than a bit contrite about having drawn him into my argument with Ginnevia. His narrow shoulders shrugged as he poured himself a lion’s share of the coffee and brought it to the table.
“I figured something along these lines was in the offering from yesterday, so,” and he paused to take a sip and issue a heartfelt sigh. “Better now than later I suppose. What’s the current bullet point?”
“I’m a manipulating bitch who purposefully hurts her friends,” mumbled Cindy in a voice filled with such regret and self loathing that I winced.
“Really?” asked Ed in a tone I was coming to recognize as his ‘I don’t put up with self pity’ tone. “Well, color me surprised! Here I was thinking you were just a plain old human being who makes mistakes.”
She looked up at him, the vestiges of real fury on her face before what he’d said settled in. That and the fact that he met that gaze absolutely unflappably. “It really was just a mistake,” she said quietly, snubbing out the cigarette in the ashtray.
Ed’s brown eyes slid to me. “Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m a transplant, but as I understand Southern Courtesy when somebody pony’s up to a fuck up, you say something to the effect of ‘Let us speak no more of this.’”
“Quoting Lee is hitting below the belt,” I told him in (mostly) mock aspiration. Still, he was right and it stung all the more for hearing it from the self admitted transplant. If anyone was being a bitch at the table it was me. “Ah can’t say mah feelings aren’t hurt over this, Cindy, but Ed’s right. You were trying to look out for me. Ah accept your apology and tender one of mah own for giving ya’ll the third degree over it.”
The eyes she looked at me with were red from recent crying, but there was real hope in them and a bit of her old humor being restored. “‘Let us speak no more of this,’” she said with a goofy grin. “Who’s hungry? My treat.”
“I have to head home for clothes first,” replied Ed, “but I could eat.”
“What’s wrong with what you’re wearing?” asked Cindy with a puzzled expression as Ed calmly sipped his coffee.
“They’re holograms,” he said. “Miss Thang there ripped mine off last night.”
Cindy blinked and I blushed from head to toe. “You’re sitting at this table, naked?” she demanded.
Ed’s grin was devilish as he locked eyes with her. “What do you think?” he asked, utterly dead pan.
While I could wish for a nice leisurely day off with my boyfriend, his news of my re-instatement was the cock crow warning of the dawn. At breakfast my pager went off giving me the special treat of Molly, our IA officer’s voice letting me know I was due for the initial hearing for Sovereign. Fun, fun!
No rest for the weary I suppose so I made my good byes to Ed and Cindy got used to wearing spandex again and pointed my Thunderbird to County Farm road. Now County Farm Road gets its name from the Cobb County Adult Detention Center being housed on it. And, you guessed it, back in the day; the prisoner’s had to grown their own food.
Of course, these days it was named County Services Road, as everything from the water department to the DMV to county landfill was located on it, running east-west between Austell and Powder Springs Roads. But there were still enough folks who still used the old name that it stuck. Being one of the few east-west roads in Cobb County, it saw a lot of traffic, which made turning into the ADC that much more challenging. But I was finally able to make the turn and park in the staff area, the joys of being a cop I suppose, and made my way over to Maximum Security.
In the days before MS, the inmates would get shuttled over to the courthouse off the Square in Marietta for depositions and such. But holding someone who can bench press a Volkswagen one handed is difficult enough, no sense making things harder by moving them around. So the hard cases had all their hearings right there in the jail by a judge who doubtlessly wasn’t paid enough.
“All rise,” announced the bailiff at the entrance of the aforementioned underpaid civil servant. “The First Special District Court of Cobb County is now in session, the Honorable Horace Williams presiding. All those having business with this court, step forward and you shall be heard.”
Horace Williams was forty going on ninety judging from the purely white hair that curled in a very conservative short afro about his head. His face was prematurely lined with the worries of his job and I rather got the feeling he’d rather be wearing a stupid hat and be hip deep in a trout stream than where he was. “Be seated,” he told us as he got himself comfortable and have his gavel a pro forma thump. “Mr. Altamonte, who has run afoul of our law and order folks today?”
The assistant District Attorney stood and opened the folder. “Please the Court, your honor, case number 20041802127; the People of the State of Georgia vs. Albert Michael Filby, also known as Sovereign. Would your honor care for the complete list of charges?”
Judge Williams gave the sigh of a man with acid reflux having just finished off a bowl of six alarm chili. “Just the low lights, Mr. Altamonte.”
“Treason, Extortion in the First Degree, Conspiracy, Kidnapping in the First Degree, Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, Violation of the Paranormal Regulatory Act, and numerous Failure to Appear.” Judge Williams rolled his eyes before pinning a very steely gaze on the defendant. Sovereign looked the least intimidating I’d ever seen him in a set of orange jumpers with Cobb County Inmate across the back in huge letters. He still managed to meet the judge’s eyes with his head high.
“Now why are you wasting my time, young man?” Judge Williams demanded. “You don’t honestly believe I’m going to entertain bail for someone with ‘numerous Failure to Appear’ do you?”
“May it please the Court,” the villain answered after getting slowly and painfully to his feet. There was a part of me that couldn’t resist being pleased that he was still in pain. No one threatens my family and gets out without a beating to remember. “The record shows that all of my Failure to Appear charges stem from my refusal to be drafted into the service of a Government with out Due Process.”
“Son, unless things have changed and no one bothered to tell me, this isn’t the Supreme Court so I am singularly uninterested in any constitutional arguments you might have for Mr. Altamonte’s alleged misdeeds. However, Mr. Altamonte, what is the voracity of Mr. Filby’s claims as touching the circumstances of those particular charges?”
Before the DA could answer, the back door of the courtroom broke open and off its hinge. Through the remnants of it strode the black clad, lightening bolt accessorized form of Power Ball, a leer of triumph written on his face. “Come on, boss!” he shouted. “It’s a jail break!”
There’s just no rest for the weary.
The leer dimmed a bit as I stood up and made a great show of pushing the sleeves of my body stocking up. “There’s gonna be breakin’, sugah,” I told him in the most boastful voice I could manage, even while I was triggering the panic button on my pager as discretely as I could. Mamma didn’t raise no fools.
“Hey, Red!” he replied, as quick on the uptake as ever. It even seemed now he was looking forward to a bit of hammer and tongs. “Long time no hit.” With that he snatched up one of the benches closest to him, dislodging a fair number of surprised lawyers and swung it in a Mark McGuire cut for the back parking lot.
It caught me across the right shoulder before I had a chance to get set and knocked me flying into the far wall. With the amount of speed I picked up I was expecting to pass through it to be honest and was more than a bit surprised it stopped me, with much distress to the wood paneling.
“Time to go, boss!” shouted Power Ball to the oddly still Sovereign as if that one hit had put me down for the count.
The nerve of him, I tell you!
I decided it would be a good time to take advantage of his distraction so I kicked off the wall to give me a bit more speed, straight at him. Randall realized a split second too late I was coming for him, which threw off his timing of his defensive swing. More to the point, I was busy executing a rather complicated split S to collect a pair of large handfuls of his outfit so wasn’t where he expected me to be anyway. “You’re going alright!” I managed around a grunt of exertion as I picked him off his feet and flung him back into the wall he’d just knocked me into.
The damage got a lot worse, but the wall still held. They really know how to make a jail around here, let me tell you!
I spared Sovereign a quick glance to find him still seated at the defendant’s table, passively watching the fight as through this kind of thing went on every day. Then it was time to get back to the business at hand. I could work out the whys and hows later. I extended both fists and charged back at Power Ball, intending to put him down for the count.
It would figure that’s when my luck would run out.
Right before impact Randall used those three foot arms of his to advantage, managing to catch me by the back of the neck and slam me with all of my momentum face first into the checker board tile. “So you want to play rough, do ya?” he growled before flinging me back across the courtroom and into the far wall.
Well, at least the holes matched now.
By the time the stars left my vision it had been filled with all ten feet of Power Ball coming at me like a freight train down Mount Eagle with no breaks. The son of a bitch was copying my move! I was able to lockup my arms and catch his wrists to keep his full weight from slamming into my chest, but the wall behind me had taken too much punishment and gave way.
We flew out into the exercise yard of the prison, much to the surprise of the inmates and their basketball game we interrupted. I used my flight to flip the two of us so that he was leading while I kicked into his stomach as hard as I could. Power Ball shot away with a deafening “Oof!” of air forced from his lungs, taking out the far hoop before a cinderblock wall arrested him, leaving a cartoon-like outline of him in it.
“Rough?” I shouted at him even as my flight became too tiring to keep up and landed shakily. “Honey you haven’t seen rough!”
“Super main event!” somebody shouted as the inmates made a circle, albeit a wide one around us.
Power Ball pulled himself out of his outline, his face a mask of barely contained fury. “Ok Red, time for you and me to settle accounts.”
Seeing an opportunity to bait him into making his anger do his thinking for him I relaxed my stance a bit and made a dismissive gesture. “Randy, Ah don’t charge for ass kicking. You don’t owe me any thing for me cleaning your clock twice.”
The hoots and jeers of the inmates had just the effect I’d wanted as his ruddy face flushed darker before with a howl of bruised machismo he charged me. I waited until the last second then executed a quick tuck and roll towards him which caught him completely off guard. Once my feet crested the arc and were pointing towards his dumbstruck face I pushed off with my hands with every ounce of strength I had.
Both boots struck him full on that granite chin of his and if it wasn’t cleft before, brother it is now!
Randall went ass over elbows, ending up face first on the center line of the basketball court to the cheers of my former (and probably future) customers. But not before I nearly stumbled on the landing. Looking down gave me the reason for my being off balance as well as costing me what was left of my cool. The kick had proven too much for the heel of my left boot and it was completely gone.
My brand new, four hundred dollar custom made boots…!
I snatched up the still rather confused Randall, one arm cocked behind me and all thought of catchy barbs completely gone from my head. “You son of a bitch!” I shrieked at him. “Do you know how much these boots cost?”
But before I could get in more trouble with Internal Affairs a very peculiar thing happened.
An unseen force separated Randall and myself and held us both a few feet off the ground, immobile and facing each other. Then a weary voice drifted to us from across the exercise yard. “Randall, how many times do I have to tell you I do the thinking?” Sovereign, orange jumpers and all, was making his way across the courtyard, Judge Williams behind him. He wasn’t wearing the power suppressors he had been before this little donnybrook started and that was cause for some concern.
Then the most welcome sound in the world interrupted him; the soft pop of Ginnevia’s teleport heralding the loud whack of Cavalry backhanding his Pop. “Think about how much more you’re going to hurt!” he sneered at Sovereign as Randall and I were suddenly free of Albert’s control.
“I’ll give you the boot, sweetie,” Power Ball shouted as he picked his leg up farther than I gave him credit for in a round house kick. The kick caught me across the navel, folding me over his leg even as it was my turn for the air to get forced out. The follow through sent me half way across the yard, scattering inmates like leaves in an autumn breeze before I slid to a painful stop.
“You’re a damned fool!” roared Power Ball, for some reason in the direction of Sovereign and not me. For whatever reason I was glad of a bit of relief as one of the inmates helped me up; at that point I didn’t care if it was civic virtue or the prospect of a cheap feel that spurred him. I needed to be on my feet and he helped.
But, surprisingly enough, the fight seemed to have gone out of Power Ball. He pointed at me and snarled, “This isn’t over, Bitch!” before he leapt out of the exercise yard and with a second bound was out of sight.
Too tired to fly, I hobbled back over to Ed who was in the process of picking up his dad and none too gently either. Before there could be further mayhem, however, Judge William’s commanding voice echoed across the courtyard. “That’s quite enough!” Ed and I paused while the judge got to conversational distance, Ed’s eyes taking in his father’s lack of power suppressors.
“What idiot took his cuffs off?” he demanded with an angry look towards the guards who were joining us as quickly as they could, mostly for show I would think. If Ed and I couldn’t protect Judge Williams then they’d best get out of harms way.
“I did,” drawled the Judge with a sardonic glance up into Ed’s long face. “You have a problem with that decision, Cavalry?”
“If you were mind controlled…” he started feebly.
“Son, exactly how could he have mind controlled me into removing the cuffs if the cuffs keep him from using his powers?” the Judge asked sensibly. Ed had the grace to appear sheepish and apologize to the nice man in black with the ability to send people to jail. “Now then,” he continued, turning his steely gaze back to Sovereign. “If I get wind that this particular stunt was in any way staged for my benefit…” he started menacingly.
Sovereign weakly raised his right hand. “Give me a bible your honor and I’ll swear and affirm.”
“He’s telling the truth,” put in a dumb struck Mortagain, once more in her Goth for leather and lace outfit. Somehow, now that I knew the truth, it just didn’t look right on her.
“He’s telling the truth about what?” I demanded, more than a bit confused.
“I had nothing what so ever to do with Randall’s attack just now,” Albert said weakly. “Further, even if you had not been present, Southern Belle, I would not have gone with him. Cavalry, please let me sit down, I feel faint.”
“That makes two of us,” muttered Ed who nonetheless lowered him to ground. “Are you telling me you have a jail break on a platter and you would have, what? Told Randall to go pound sand? That you like the food and can’t wait for dinner?”
Albert seemed a bit peevish, but his ashen face didn’t allow him the strength to be sarcastic. “Why do children when they’re presented with their fondest wish always try to question it or look for some hidden agenda?”
Judge Williams actually chuckled. “Well, I think I’ll refrain from the gifts and mouths metaphor, present company considered. And don’t in the least think this is going to get you out of a proper bail.”
“Once upon a time,” panted Albert, “A man’s word was his bond. These days, regretfully perhaps, it’s always about money. But for the opportunity to accomplish something that may, for once, earn me my son’s affection…” and Ed snorted, “or at the least air some dirty laundry that needs it, there is no amount that would seem to me to be unreasonable.”
“What, the hell, is everyone talking about?” demanded a considerably frustrated Edward. To be honest, he wasn’t the only one looking for the play book and trying to put the puzzle together with a couple of pieces missing.
“We’re talking,” supplied Judge Williams, “about pre-trial bail for Mr. Fi…Sovereign here.” Edward blinked.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Very much so, young man,” replied the Judge. To Albert he said, “Bail is set at ten million dollars, cash or bond, on the proviso you can convince Cavalry here to act as your guarantor. The money comes from your pocket however.”
“You wanted me to do it legally,” Albert said to his son breathlessly. “Fine, I’m not above trying things your way. If you’ll consent to being my parole officer, I’ll make bail and have my day in Court. Put your morals where you mouth is, Cavalry. The ball, pardon the pun, is in your court.”
Don’t you just hate it when your morals get thrown into your face?
He loves doing this to me; I can see in that smug expression on his face. Right here in front of God, inmates and everybody, I get to chew on my own words right next to the sarcastic judge who thinks he’s witty! Boy, who did I piss off upstairs?
These are the kind of things you think about when you bail your dad the super villain out of jail I guess. Well, not that I was bailing him out, but I get to be the parole officer, but what am I going to do when you get to it? It’s not like he’s ever given so much as a passing thought to trying things the legal way before. And Power Ball was just here. Belle, as much as I love her, wouldn’t have been able to stop both of them bent on escape.
And while ten million isn’t pocket change to my dad, it’s also money he can’t spend on the diabolical plot of the week if he doesn’t show up for trial either. If he really wanted to just get away, he could have gone with Randall. Of course that way doesn’t give him the chance to humiliate me and maybe that’s what he’s in it for.
If all I wanted was to humiliate you, his mental baritone said, slipping into my thought processes as he finished the wire transfers of his bail payment. I’d just post your baby pictures on the web.
I couldn’t really help crossing my arms in exasperation. And exactly how would that humiliate me? I thought back at him.
He paused in the signing of the multiple forms and looked me in the eye with that cat and canary look on his face. Your diapers were always something of an improvisation. It’s not like they make them in your size with a tail opening.
“Is there some reason you two are in a staring contest?” interrupted Jennifer with that impeccable timing of hers. I finally broke away from Albert to give her shoulders what I hoped was an encouraging rub.
“Someone thinks he’s being funny is all,” I told her, and that much was true. I wasn’t entirely sure who I was really talking about and it’s just one more reason why I never asked Ginnevia out.
“Miss Belle,” he told her, making a point to return the Deputy’s pen before turning from the desk. “I wonder if I might prevail upon you to allow Cavalry and myself a bit of…quiet time?” Apparently satisfied all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed, the Deputy stepped around the desk and removed Albert’s power inhibitor.
Belle’s eyes narrowed and I know from experience that’s never a good sign. “Why should Ah?” she demanded.
“This is the list of the common violations that can get your bail revoked,” the Deputy told him. “Your lawyer will have the complete list and if I were you I’d read it.”
“Thank you, officer,” Sovereign replied, all smiles and dangerously nonplussed about the temper of a certain red head I’d come to love and fear all at once. To her, he said, “As we’re in a public place I trust you’ll not press me too greatly. Suffice to say he and I have some matters to discuss that are of a personal nature.”
She looked at me with that heart melting cross of insecurity and uncertainty. “Well, you have mah cell number Ah suppose…”
“It will be alright,” I told her with more confidence than I really felt. “Sovereign and I need to have a long chat about what a strict parole officer I’m going to be.”
“Ah’ll call you later,” she told me, more for his benefit than mine. Still, it was certainly something to look forward to. She gave me a nod before she and Ginnevia left and I got the feeling those two had some conversing of their own to do. I sincerely hoped they’d still be friends at the end of it.
I watched her go while Albert finished up with his lawyer, who’d thoughtfully brought him a pair of kaki slacks and a royal (of course) blue polo. His ‘outfit’ which he’d been arrested in was technically evidence and so still in the custody of the state.
There was no way I was letting him walk out of here with that crappy helmet and the Eye of Horus. “I like her,” he told me, evidently finished with the official part of things. I reluctantly took my eyes from the sight of my favorite backside in the world to look at him a bit more squarely. “The two of you make a very handsome couple and she seems to have a very level head on her shoulders.”
“Why should I care if you approve?” I demanded.
He shrugged, leading the way of the jail and even holding the door for me. “I suppose it doesn’t especially matter,” he said after a few quiet steps. “I’m sure you feel I’ve bankrupted any chance at familial love or say from you…”
“That’s putting it mildly!”
“…But whether you want to admit it or not I am still your father,” he went on as if I hadn’t said anything. “I want to see you successful and happy. As I have no doubts as to your intellect that leaves only your happiness. She makes you happy. You don’t have to be a mind reader to see that.”
I wheeled on him, just barely able to keep my temper in check before planting my finger firmly in his chest. “You’re not family. Let’s be perfectly clear about that. I could forgive you what you’ve done to me. I could even forgive what you did to Mom. But I won’t ever forgive you what you’ve done to the world. Because of you I’m going to be a cop my whole life.”
“No one regrets what happened to Sara more than I!” he shouted at me. “You couldn’t love her you didn’t even know her! I did both. I haven’t done anything to you,” he told me with an indignant curl of his lips. “Except love you and do my best to help you succeed. Obviously I haven’t done any where near a good enough job.”
For having just dropped ten million in bail, money I was certain he’d never see again, Dad was uncommonly generous. After announcing he was hungry he directed the limo driver to the Coach and Six, probably Atlanta’s most exclusive restaurant and bought a world class dinner for myself and him. The lawyer and the driver he paid for at another table.
“Je prendrai le bifteck, rare moyen, mon bon homme,” he told the waiter. “Et vous, fils?”
I rolled my eyes. “Just give me three chef salads in the biggest bowl you’ve got,” I replied, speaking English just to tweak his over inflated ego. “Hold all the meat with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir,” the waiter muttered as he withdrew.
Alone once more with my nemesis, I glared at him as he made a great show of tasting the bottle of wine he’d bought. “You know I proposed to your mother in this very restaurant?”
“In town for a bank job?”
“Actually I was working for the Centers for Disease Control then,” he responded, in the gregarious tone he’d taken up. “It was fascinating work, before I was pulled off Small Pox to try to curb the outbreak of Mckimpson. And before your acerbic wit rising to that particular bait, I was working on the vaccine. You might not like to admit it, but I’m in small part responsible for the end of Small Pox.”
“Everybody has an off day I suppose,” I couldn’t help but remark.
“Seeing as she said yes I would regard it as an on day. But I would imagine the intricacies of human interaction are a bit beyond you.”
“That’s a good one,” I said around a chuckle. “Mind if I save it for later?”
He smiled indulgently as the bread course rather timidly arrived. I could understand the waiter’s trepidation in that regard. I was purposely not using my hologram and we were certainly drawing enough stares as to make everyone in the house uncomfortable. Not to mention the electricity that practically arced and crackled as we stared daggers at each other. “Like any other author I don’t mind so long as I’m given credit for being the source.”
“Credit is all it’s ever been about to you anyway,” I replied.
“Touché,” he admitted with a wry chuckle. “We could continue trading barbs all afternoon if you’d like, but that is not the reason I asked for a bit of time alone with you.”
“And why is that, exactly?” I demanded. “Have you figured out some other backwards gift you’d like to give me like this gizmo you managed to trick Geoffrey into making?” I asked him while brandishing the holographic emitter Geoffrey had made for me.
“No,” he said sadly. “I just wanted to spend some time with my son. Perhaps offer a bit of fatherly advice and find out where his life is going.”
I don’t know why but I’ve always found running relaxing. I’m fairly fast when I want to be, topping out at about forty five miles an hour, but mostly I just like to jog. Jogging helps me think and organize my thoughts. Most of the team knows not to bug me when I’m running the track, it generally means I’m trying to noodle something out.
After my, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, superb lunch with ‘dad’, all he had wanted to talk about was the kind of stuff it would have meant something for me to have been able to ten years ago. Things like the modest home he’d been able to afford in Dunwoody on his government research scientist salary where he and my mom had lived before he’d been infected.
The house where, most likely, I had been conceived.
His personal memories of what had attracted him to mom, to whom he insists Jennifer bears more than a passing resemblance to. The difficulties in looking after a newborn that had been able to walk at two days old.
The fact that tiger lilies had mom’s favorite flower and how difficult it had been to get enough of them for her funeral.
Left, right, left, breathe, smell the heat on the track, smell the flowers drifting on the pond the track goes around.
I ran, as adrift in my thoughts as the lilies on the pond. There had to be an angle he was working, some kind of leverage he was looking for, and through the smokescreen of talking about mom if I could just get a handle on my thoughts I’d be able to figure out what it was.
The problem was there had always been this empty place inside me that yearned for a person I knew only as a line on a form; Sara Ann Carter, mother. Now that empty place had details like a birthday, an interest in astrology generated from a 5th Dimension song that shared her birth sign. The woman had blonde hair, a ready smile and sang off key in the shower.
She had been looking forward to being a mother and had begun planning her son’s life nearly from the moment she’d learned of my eminent arrival. That very afternoon she’d opened a savings account for my college tuition.
I slowed to a walk, more from habit than anything else. I wasn’t especially winded and if I was sweating I wasn’t aware of it. What I couldn’t get past was why? What could he possibly have been thinking when he injected his crazy cocktail through mom, into me? Why in God’s name would he have done that?
There was, of course, only one way to find out.
I’d always resisted the idea as soon as it had popped into my head three years ago. It wasn’t a difficult prospect, which was what made it so appealing. Nothing is terribly difficult when you understand the system it operates in. It was the reason cops made the worst crooks, they understood the system.
I’ve found as I get older it becomes harder and harder to keep myself from doing things once my mind decides the easiest way of doing something, legal or not. I suppose that was my cross to bear from dad’s half of the genetic tree.
Figures, doesn’t it? Most normal people worry about diabetes or heart disease. Me? I have to stay on guard against megalomania.
With a heavy heart I walked back to the parking lot and my truck. It didn’t matter how long I ran at this point, this wasn’t something I could chase down. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Belle was lounging across the hood in a pose that wouldn’t have been out of place in a hot rod magazine.
She was sporting a pair of cutoffs that weren’t quite Daisy Dukes, but still managed to show about five miles of leg and brother, those five miles ought to be classified as a scenic highway. Her amble bosom was covered by the upper portion of a one piece swim suit that was mostly a tan through mesh. Thank God for global warming and one of the hottest Februarys on record.
As a word, sexy falls way short.
“Hey you,” she greeted with that dazzling smile of hers. “Run it out of your system?”
I shook my head as I opened the truck’s door to fetch my towel. “No, but if I keep finding you across my hood like this I’ll run every day of the week,” I told her with an only slightly forced smile.
“Ah’m working on mah self esteem issues,” she replied blithely. To my quizzical look she elaborated, “Remember Ah told you Ah got offered a modeling gig for Victoria’s Secret?” I nodded, imminently pleased at the thought of seeing more of her in clothes that set off how beautiful she was. Not to mention getting her out of them…
“Decided to take it, then?” I asked her around wipes. She shrugged and it did nice things to the swim suit.
“Haven’t decided, but Ah thought if Ah ever want to Ah ought to get used to being stared at. Besides, Ah was figuring ya’ll might need the pick up after this morning.” I couldn’t keep in a very lecherous chuckle.
“You can pick me up anytime,” I told her with a wink. “I’m easy.”
She rolled onto her belly and propped her chin up with hands. “Anything Ah can help with, Ed? Ah know this hasn’t been exactly easy. Ah want you to know Ah’m here for you.”
I tossed my head. “Albert is just being a prick is all. This is the first time he’s used mom against me, but nothing’s sacred for very long I guess. If I could just get a handle on what he’s after it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s nice to have the details about mom, but I know he’s using that to blind me to whatever he’s really onto.”
She considered that for a long moment as I watched a decision war behind her eyes. “Ed, have you given any thought to the possibility that, for once, Albert’s playing straight with you?”
“What would that gain him?” I demanded, more than a bit irritated. She leaned forward to kiss my nose, right between my nostrils.
“His son,” she whispered.
There comes a quiet stillness in the aftermath of the aptly named post coital bliss. Mind and body are cleared from the stresses and worries of both the conscious and subconscious. The endless circle has been completed once more and there is the chance, in my case however remote, that a new generation might be on the way.
Which in and of itself leads to a disturbing line of thought.
I couldn’t help but wonder what any children I might sire would look like and whether I wanted to inflict my childhood on my children. I had been required to wear a power inhibitor until I was eighteen, a big, heavy bracelet with a watch built into it although that didn’t fool a soul. It had kept my strength from seriously hurting any of the school yard bullies who had thought the half horse freak would be fun to pick on.
And while it couldn’t turn off the invulnerability of my skin, it didn’t grant me any thicker skin to endure their barbs. They’d figured out in short order that they couldn’t beat me up, and even if I was restricted to their level of strength, if you can’t be hurt, the outcome of a fight is certain. The only question is how long will the beating take?
Oh yes, I had spent more than my share of time in the principals’ office.
I couldn’t keep a frown from my face at this odd remembrance my thoughts had taken. Here I am, in bed with arguably the most beautiful woman in the South, if not North America, parts of me still wet from her leavings and I’m thinking about my rotten childhood?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
She stirred a bit sleepily, her face snuggled up against my chest. “Ah don’t care if you don’t want to go to school,” she mumbled in her sleep.
What an odd thing to say, I thought, my mind wondering about what it was she was dreaming of. Was it the same thing that my thoughts had turned to? Or was she taunting some villain in her sleep that she was about to give the beating of his life to?
Could I really put someone else through my life? It’s what I would be doing if Belle and I had children. They would be MS positive, they couldn’t not be. At least there’d be no chance of them being berserkers, although it was very much a fifty/fifty possibility of them having some kind of power.
Maybe higher since both Belle and I did, I wasn’t a biologist so I didn’t know. Dad might….
I frowned at the stray thought and maybe there was some truth to Belle’s hood top guess as to his motivation. I hadn’t mentally labeled Albert ‘dad’ in about ten years. Did he think that even if I was willing to let him put a toe back into my life that would stop me in the slightest from, as Shakespeare put it, “the taste of much correction”?
Dad was always four or five steps ahead of me; hell he was four or five steps ahead of everybody that was trying to put the long arm of the law on him. As villains go, he was alright; he wasn’t trying to destroy the world, or even take it over. His aims had always been political. He’d break a slew of laws trying to achieve his own pet utopia and I’m certain in his mind he was following Von Clauswitz’s theory.
But that doesn’t make it right, does it?
It wasn’t like he was taking the Martin Luther King route of passive resistance. Although the image of a couple of hundred people in spandex bodysuits performing a sit in was highly amusing, even though I knew I shouldn’t laugh at it. He certainly had the orators’ gift Dr. King had had. Maybe…
No. There was no use chasing my tail, pun unintended, thinking of better ways dad could have gone about his own private crusade. That was the problem with this disease, it generates crusaders. I had my crusade, Dad had his and we just happen to be on opposite sides of the Law. It’s not my place to pick and choose what laws get enforced.
Even I had to admit some of his Constitutional arguments had some merit, but I’m smart enough to know that I’m not Thomas Jefferson.
And there was that nagging little thought in the back of my mind.
I can’t help but wonder how much this disease affects our minds. I had no basis of comparison personally. I had been MS positive since the second trimester. Jennifer was different, however and it was interesting to compare as she was now to how she’d been as Jim.
Jim had never been the most confident guy in class. He was that quiet kind of Southern Boy that never gets much press. Intelligent, sensitive and more than a touch shy and while I don’t know what had possessed him to strike up a conversation with me at orientation for GSU, we’d been friends ever since.
Jennifer was that kind of Southern Gal that got lots of press. Bold, brassy, with a quick wit and a quicker mouth, but at the flip of a switch she’ssuddenly in this nurturing mode and everybody around is her baby. I’ve watched Jennifer act on her instincts and make a snap decision that I wouldn’t have expected from Jim in a billion years. The core of who they both were was still in there, you could see it behind her eyes, but this new person dealt with the world on her terms, in her time and way.
And in that way she was no different than any other Super I’d ever known.
I don’t know if it’s the spandex or the power or the masks, but for some reason you give someone these kinds of abilities and you’ve got a recipe for instant A-type personality. We’re all large, in charge and if we don’t have a plan, within a couple of seconds of listening to someone who does we’ll have our minds made up to either promote it vigorously or do everything in our power to stop it.
Some of us just care a bit more about whether there’s a law against our plan or not.
This is what made my own case of indecision so much more frustrating. I had an answer and a way to get the rest of my answers, but… there was just that law quibble. The only real question left was how badly did I want them?
“You kids play nice,” she murmured once more into my side.
I don’t suppose it really mattered what Jennifer was dreaming about, since she spoke to what was really plaguing my own thoughts. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to go about things, but did I want to give the recruitment speech to my son or daughter?
Ginnevia? I thought, reaching out with my mind as best I could.
I don’t talk about it much, but Mortagain isn’t the only mentalist in the group. While my own inheritance from dad isn’t anywhere near her level, let alone Dad’s, there was a trick or two I was capable of. Hey, Ed, she thought back to me. What’s up?
May I impose on you for a favor?
My mind’s eye painted her putting down the book she’d been reading and her eyes sought the direction of my apartment. What are friends for? She thought back to me. Is everything alright?
No complaints, and before I hit you up, how was your conversation with Jennifer?
We’re still friends, her mental voice told me. It was a damn close thing though. For what it’s worth, you have my deepest apologies for the mess I made. I couldn’t keep in a snort of amusement, careful to keep from waking up Jennifer.
Messes like this you can make whenever you want.
Rub it in, why don’t you? I felt the frown pull at the corners of her mouth.
I’m not trying to, hon, I did my best to placate her. I’m just glad we’re all still friends. That’s what was important to me.
The chuckle I was certain she gave crept into her mental tone. Wouldn’t want to lose a potential filly from your herd?
I’ll break you, I replied with a bit of a laugh of my own. For some reason, my perfectly truthful warning gave me the feeling that the concept of me ‘breaking’ her turned her on. I wonder just how kinky our dear Ginnevia can get? I do need a favor though if you wouldn’t mind? You’re watch officer tomorrow, yes?
Yeah, I’ve got the desk tomorrow, why?
I’d do it myself but I’ve gotto get my film done or the professor is going to flunk me. Can you add something to the new business items for the meeting next week?
I could hear the puzzlement in her ‘voice’ as she replied. Since when do you care what’s on the agenda for those damned meetings?
I sighed and realized I was no different from the other Supers I had just been mentally dissecting. Since I’ve decided to toss my hat into the ring, I told her. I want you to put my name down for the vote to see who the next President of the Stone Mountain Irregulars will be.
You want to be President?
I could see that right away that it was going to be one of those mornings.
The toaster was burning the toast; the eye on the range didn’t want to keep a steady temperature and was thus scorching the butter I’d already dropped into it. I hadn’t lost an egg to it yet, but the pan still had to be cleaned and re-buttered before I could start again. It’s ok, I’m a super heroine, and I can handle this!
A quick spin of the dial reset the toaster, a new pat of butter was melting nicely and the grits were just starting to come to a simmer. What are grits? So glad you asked! Grits are a true Southern delicacy, ground corn meal that’s boiled and served hot, buttered and salted. Good and good for you, what more can you ask for?
I’d already beaten half a dozen eggs which went into the pan with a satisfying sizzle “Aren’t you domestic?” Ed told me with a chuckle as he worked his way into the kitchen, braving a glare to acquire that precious first cup of coffee. “In a very sexy, centerfold girl making breakfast kind of way.”
“Do Ah need to clean the bedroom more thoroughly looking for the stash of Playboy’s that gave you that idea?” I asked him while accepting his kiss with a bit of relish. It didn’t keep me from keeping the eggs stirred, I can say with some pride.
“What do I need with a magazine when I’ve got all the pin up girl I can handle next to me every night?”
“Nice save,” I told him with a grin.
“Can’t you two have one morning without groping each other?” Sara moaned as she deftly squeezed between us to get at the coffee pot herself. I graced her with a long, calculating glance as she mixed the brew to her taste. She favored her father rather strongly, though the brilliant red hair that she wore long and wild was mine. I was always happy that she had my nimble hands, even if I was certain she went overboard with the amount of rings she wore.
She was wearing a dark flannel shirt that deepened the charcoal ash of her complexion over a pair of jeans that were really too big for her. That wasn’t my complaint, loose or baggy I was glad she was comfortable. My complaint was that the flannel was open revealing a deep blue sports bra underneath. “Do you think you could finish getting dressed before you come to breakfast?” I asked her a bit peevishly.
“What?” she wanted to know. “Ah am dressed,” she protested with a wince at the heavy accent she’d inherited from me.
“Edward, talk to your daughter and stir these eggs while Ah wake up Mike,” I told him as I left the two of them in the kitchen.
“Oh, she’s my daughter when she’s in trouble, huh?” he teased my departing back.
“Talk,” I called over my shoulder. “You’ll certainly be softer than Ah will!”
“Daaaaadddd,” I hear her whine as I floated up the stairs. Michael’s room was the first at the top of the stairs. Even not knowing the location, the posters, crime scene tape and the other mishmash of decoration he had adorned the door with would tell anyone a ten year old boy resided inside.
“Michael, rise and shine, young man,” I told him while flipping on the light. I could wish he took a bit more after his father in how he kept his room. I suppose the only one I could blame there was my half of his genetic lottery. The only thing he’d acquired so far from his father was his midnight black hair; that, and his grandfather’s keen intellect. He mumbled something from under the covers as he pulled a pillow over his head to keep the light out. “Time, tide and the school bus wait on no one,” I told him as I effortlessly pulled the blanket and pillow off him.
“I don’t want to go to school,” he mumbled a bit, his voice thick with sleep.
“Ah don’t care if you don’t want to go to school,” I told him with something of a grin. “School is where ya’ll are going.” He stretched a bit as I began my morning hunt, wondering where he’d hidden it this time.
I’m way ahead of all the teachers, his mental voice told me as he tried his best puppy dog eyes. He’d been practicing I could see.
“Where is it?” I demanded, hands on hips.
The other kids pick on me and it’s not like I’m learning anything. They’re studying long division, Mom! I may have mathematically proven Pythagoras’ Theorem! It could be Michael’s Law! I let just a hint of Motherly Intense Displeasure enter my frown. “It’s under the desk,” he admitted sullenly.
From under the offending piece of furniture I removed the slightly bulky watch from its hiding place. Power inhibitors had come a long way in eighteen years, along with everything else that was constantly pushing the state of the art. If you didn’t notice the lock on the band, most people would think it was merely a trendy wristwatch. “How many times are we going to go through this, Mike? You know you have to wear it, why can’t you just let it alone?”
“Because I’m not ashamed of what I am!” he shouted at me. “I don’t get to be cool like Sara. I’m just the little brainy kid!”
“Mike, Ah am not going to let you apply to college until you’re a teenager. You think you’ve got it hard now? Do you have any idea how alone ya’ll will feel on a college campus at ten? And if you think your sister is so cool, Ah’ll let her come complain to you the next time she gets on a tirade about her appearance.”
“Everybody in my class thinks she’s cool,” he muttered, finally climbing out of the bed. I couldn’t keep in a chuckle picturing the look of abject disinterest that would play on Sara’s face when she discovered her new status among fifth graders. “When can I…?”
“Eighteen,” I told him, refastening the inhibitor around his wrist. There are times when being a mother was far more intuitive than being a mind reader.
“Batman has a kid sidekick! I could be Confederate Boy!”
“Batman is a character in the comic books and Ah could go to prison for child endangerment.” I placed his clothes on the bed and picked my way carefully from his room. “No spandex till you’re eighteen.” Upon my return downstairs I was pleased to note that my oldest daughter’s shirt was buttoned up, however unhappy she might be with her parent’s take on her sense of fashion. “Ah’d best not hear from the principal that that shirt comes open between now and when you get home from school, young lady,” I told her on my way to the kitchen.
“I’m going to be a little late this evening, Hon,” Ed told me from his coffee. “We’ve got to finalize the location shoot for the chase sequence through down town. The Mayor’s making it a huge deal and I want to sample the light readings towards dusk.”
The eggs were done so I began to set out the plates, rather pleased with myself at having all the food come out at once. “You want me to hold dinner for you?” I asked as the first two plates came out to the table. After a moment of pause he shook his head.
“No, with traffic this time of year it will probably be almost nine before I can get in. Just set me back a plate and I’ll warm it up.”
“The other girls are all wearing it that way,” protested Sara. “Ah’ll be even more of a freak if Ah don’t fit in.”
“Sara, honey,” Ed told her patently. “I know how desperately you want to fit in, but there are such things as standards; traditions as to what are and are not acceptable behaviors. Millions of years ago it was the accepted norm for everyone to be wondering around naked, but through the years we discovered that if we want our species to survive, we must be clothed. More to the point, I can’t very well meet my family’s financial obligations from a jail cell.”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Ed smiled and patted her hand. “Honey, if you were to walk around that school with your shirt open, then I’m confident every boy there would be ogling you and having their minds filled with lustful fantasies about my oldest daughter. Then I would have to kill them all.”
She rolled her eyes. “Dad, you are so twentieth century.”
“You kids play nice,” I offered as a retort as I returned to the kitchen for the remainder of the breakfast.
It had been more than a bit disturbing having the same dream every night for a month. Normally, I’d only remember a snatch or two of whatever I’d dreamed the night before, but this day in the life of my own future seemed to be etched into my subconscious. I wasn’t entirely sure I should be unhappy about it, and that made it all the more disturbing.
Where I slept didn’t seem to be an issue either. Whether I slept with Ed or alone, the dream was always there. And there were times when I would wake up and be disappointed that day wasn’t starting.
There wasn’t time to be thinking about my fantasies of domestic bliss just now. I had a job to do and I was uncertain about it enough. “This meeting of the Stone Mountain Irregulars is declared open at 1 pm Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, the 27th of March 2004. The secretary shall so note in the minutes. Item one, Old Business.”
Sandy, my erstwhile secretary during my time as President Pro Tem opened a manila folder. “Madam Chairman, the first item of Old Business is the election of a new President, held over from the Emergency Meeting last month. As per the Charter I have collected a list of persons who have made themselves available for consideration of the position by the members at large. Those persons are Gravity, Cavalry and the Surge.”
A murmur of shock floated through the Round Room at the announcement. Surge, once more in the black and electric blue body suit he had worn though out the late eighties and early nineties, stood and walked forward to stand with the other candidates before the big screen. A careful bang of the gavel brought a bit more order. “The chair will recognize each Candidate for two minutes, and then open the floor for debate of this issue. The chair recognizes the Surge.”
Hank walked to the podium as I relinquished it with something a soft smile. “Thank you Madam Chairman. As some of you may know my youngest daughter will enter College this fall. As such I wanted to make myself more available to the group at large as well as giving something back to the organization that has given so much to me. I desire to lead you so as to be able to speed up, pardon the pun, the organizational wheels around here. Geoffrey has done a remarkable job in setting up the machinery to keep us going. I would like to refine those wheels, perhaps consolidate some of the departments so that the most efficient method can be achieved. Of course, as I’d said, my youngest daughter is going to college. I could use the pay increase.” A chuckle floated through the room as he nodded and returned to stand with the other candidates.
“The Chair recognizes Gravity for two minutes.”
For the first time I had seen him, Abin seemed unsure of himself. He kept casting glances at Hank, for some unknown reason as he walked up to the podium. After a moment of collecting his thoughts, he said, “Madam President, I respectfully withdraw myself from consideration for this post.” Without another word he returned to his place at the table and sat down.
How odd. “The Chair recognizes Cavalry for two minutes.”
“Thank you, Madam Chairman, Honored Members, good friends,” he said with an almost boyish shuffle to his feet as he tried to be more comfortable at the podium. “I guess I have the unenviable task of trying to follow one of the greatest members of this organization; a founding member. Like you, I don’t have any doubts that Hank could do a phenomenal job as President of this organization. And he’d certainly have some tough shoes to fill. Like some of you, I pretty much expected Geoffrey to be leading us until he retired.
“And, while Hank and I each have our own motives, and hey, who wouldn’t say thank you to a pay boost? We both find ourselves some what at loggerheads wanting the same job. That being said, I like some of the changes Belle has introduced around here. Time was we did this because it was something our sense of civic virtue told us we should. There weren’t laws that told us we’d be here; those came later. I for one like the feeling Belle has restored of that earlier time. With your vote, I will do everything in my power to keep that feeling going and to expand it at every opportunity I come across. Thank you.”
I re-took the podium while the two men shook hands with a small murmur of each wishing the other good luck. “The floor is now open to debate.”
“The Chair recognizes the American Eagle,” I said as Geoffrey stood; helmet once more left on the table. I wasn’t sure why but it seemed like every time I saw him, that outfit looked less and less right on him.
“First and foremost I should like to take this time to express my gratitude of the magnificent job you have done in a difficult situation.” He led the others in a round of applause that, honestly, made me blush. As it finally died away he favored me with a somewhat boyish grin, perhaps the first smile I’d seen favor his face. “At this time, I move to call the present matter to question.”
“Very well, and thank you all for your kindness. The secretary shall distribute the ballots and gather one from each member. There will be a brief recess while the results are tabulated.”
The next twenty minutes were strangely full of anxiety for me. I cast my ballot with Ed and Hank, withdrawing with them to the hallway. Not wanting to see the others file out after placing their votes, I collected Ed’s elbow and led him out front. As he was digging his own cigar keeper from his utility belt, it’s not like he put up much of a struggle.
Outside, it was a very typical spring day in Georgia; warm, but over cast, with pretty good visibility. It hadn’t rained yet, and I maintained hope it wouldn’t, though the sky was very much threatening. “What’s up?” Ed asked me as he got both of our cigars going.
“Ah’m a little surprised by this turn of events,” I told him after my first good drag. “Why do you suddenly want to be president?” He chuckled as he shrugged his narrow shoulders.
“Pretty much for why I said in there. I like some of the stuff you’ve started and I’d like to see it continue. There are some other perks, but that’s very ancillary.”
“Ed, honey, you lie like a Persian Rug,” I told him flatly. “Now they might have bought that in there, but Ah’ve known you long enough to know there’s something a lot deeper going on here.”
He contemplated this over a drag on his own cigar. Not having his acute senses, it was always a little hard knowing what he was thinking. After a long moment, he quietly asked, “Do you trust me?” I couldn’t keep a frown off my face at this odd turn the conversation had taken.
“Do Ah trust you? What kind of a question is that? Ed, what are ya ‘ll getting at?”
A stream of smoke was blown forcefully from with nostrils by what sounded like a very heartfelt sigh. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, Belle. You know that, but maybe not the why. If…well, if you had the chance to undo something in your life, what would you pick?”
I imagine the incredulity must have just about dripped off my face from that. “What has that got to do with…?” I started, but fell silent at a frustrated gesture from him.
“Just humor me, Belle, what’s the one thing you’d go back and change?”
I must confess I really wasn’t prepared for this line of questioning. What had really gotten me through this unique stage of my life was very much not looking back and wishing change. As Sensei had told me, go forward and embrace that which cannot be changed. From that point in my life I really hadn’t spared a moment to look back over my shoulder and wish.
It didn’t seem very productive for one thing and, well, for another a person could really get wrapped up in ‘could have been’. I hadn’t seen it first hand and honestly I didn’t want to. Still, my affection for him all but demanded I cast my mind’s eye backward for some critical point that, were I suddenly in possession of a time machine, I might like to journey back to.
Of course the day that changed my life in every sense of the word leapt to mind, but on reflection it really wasn’t a contender. Oh sure, there were any number of issues and annoyances that have sprung from that day, but, what could I really do otherwise? Let Regina bleed to death?
That wasn’t something I could do, even knowing what I do now; especially with what I know now. I had said the words, but perhaps for the first time the weight and enormity of them really sunk in.
I was in love with Edward.
Like the song says, truly, madly, deeply in love. I couldn’t imagine not being with him. If I somehow undid that fateful day, then all the good since that has come from it would vanish. The realization of that fact left me with a very odd feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Ah…” I started, trailing off uncertainly. “Ah don’t know.”
“Not…?” he prompted.
“No,” I told him firmly. “Never.” That pleased him inordinately I could see. “Ah get the feeling you have some specific date in mind though.”
He shrugged again and I got the feeling some door had closed between us. “I don’t know yet. If I get elected, maybe I’ll be able to answer that one for you. For now, I just want you to know that I love you.”
Well, it was a pretty close thing, only four votes of difference at the end of things. Despite that margin, it looked like my lover was going to be the holder of the gavel for the next couple of years. Hank was very sincere in his congratulations of Ed and now that I was just a good old fashioned member again I could admire his style. Maybe it’s the directorial training, but Ed ran the meeting with clockwork precision, Robert’s Rules of Order or no.
“Well, this is an unexpected surprise,” he purred, sweeping dramatically into the room, arm out stretched in greeting. “But a very pleasant one if I may say so.” The back of my hand burned from where he’d kissed it, from anger or embarrassment I really couldn’t say. The one thing I had to admit, however, was that Albert always knew how to make an entrance.
My lover’s father, the super villain, maintained an almost estate in Town Lake. Town Lake was a collection of very upscale housing developments perched between the cities of Woodstock and my native Canton along Town Lake Drive. Minimum bet to buy a home in one of the dozen or so ‘communities’ was half a million and the folks who lived in those were the ‘trailer trash’ of the neighborhood. Albert regularly played golf with sports stars from the Atlanta teams, regional VPs of various companies and some of the major players in the political scene.
His home, if one could call it that, was nearly three times the size of the house I had grown up in, which was not small by any means. It was furnished in a manner that befitted its setting and from the looks of it, required a complete lawn care company to look after the immaculate lawn and gardens. “Welcome to my home, Miss Anderson,” he continued, making his way to the bar that dominated one wall of the parlor his gentleman had led me into. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
“Do Ah need a reason?”
“If you’re searching for information, you’ll need a warrant,” he told me with a very oily smile. “Coffee?”
“Jamaican Ah’m guessing?” I couldn’t resist teasing him, although he snorted in disgust.
“Hardly; it’s Columbian for a plethora of reasons. Jamaica may get a lot of good press over their coffee from certain quarters, but for my money the Columbian is as good, if not better. And it has the virtue of being a quarter the price at Costco.”
“You shop at Costco?”
“Miss Anderson, people don’t become rich by spending money. They become rich by saving it.” He presented me with a cup in a very serviceable mug that I shouldn’t have been surprised was sweetened and creamed to my liking. I have to admit, it was good coffee. “But I’m sure your curiosity of my shopping haunts was not the reason for your visit this afternoon.”
“Well, ya’ll seem to be in a blunt mood, let me return the favor. What is your game, Albert? Why are you so suddenly interested in Ed’s life and doing things his way?”
“Direct, as promised,” he said with a smile over the lip of his mug. “However you are incorrect in your assumption, my dear. My interest in my son’s life is neither sudden, nor is it a game I’m playing. I’m sure you have, by now, heard of me from either my son or your new colleagues. That is their point of view and if you are as truly as interested in Edward’s wellbeing as I suspect you might be, I would be happy to give you mine.”
I nodded my willingness to listen with an expansive gesture. After which his eyes flicked to the desk that took up the far wall, hand worked baroque mahogany unless I was very much mistaken, where a picture frame obediently rose at his thought to float to my grip. It contained a black and white photograph a very lovely young woman that, for a hair’s breath I mistook for my own mother. This woman’s nose and chin were slightly different, and though I couldn’t be sure of the exact shade, her hair was noticeably lighter than my mother’s. “Who is this?”
“Her name was Sara,” he said heavily. “She was Edward’s mother, my beloved, lost wife.” I felt my breath catch in my throat as I regarded this happy face bejeweled with its radiant smile. “We were both very young when we were married. I had only just had my doctorial thesis accepted and we were both very excited that I’d gotten the job at CDC. The Communicable Disease Center as it was known back then. I had a mountain of student loans staring me in the face and she was working as a music teacher so we weren’t exactly doing well. But we were happy.”
“Ah don’t mean to disrupt this jonquil filled lark down memory lane, but what has this got to do with you experimenting on your own son?” I interrupted him crossly. For the briefest of moments a frown pulled at his face before he’d re-set it in his carefully maintained blasé expression.
“That would be the question of the hour, wouldn’t it? Well, I have always endeavored to be of assistance to a beautiful woman so it would be my pleasure to enlighten you. Sara and I found ourselves expecting in the winter of 1984. A trip to her doctor and a rather early ultrasound gave us probably the worse news any parent could receive. Edward had Downs Syndrome. If he survived his birth, he would go through life being extremely retarded. The good news, as the doctor put it, was that he probably wouldn’t survive birth as it appeared his liver and spleen were not going to form properly.”
The silence that fell on the room was deafening. Even the birds outside seemed to respect the severity of what had just been said. “It was primarily the reason I was infected,” he continued softly. “Sara and I had been discussing abortion, my mind was not on what I was doing and so I was careless. When my assistant found me the next morning, I found I could read his mind as easily as you can read a book. Based primarily on my own research, I can tell you my IQ is somewhere around three hundred. So I abandoned my so called ‘important’ research into curbing the outbreak of Mckimpson Strain and devoted myself to finding some way for my son to live.”
He took a hesitant sip of his coffee and looked away for a moment. “I used my own infected blood in the hope that my intellect could overcome the Downs Syndrome. The chief problem I encountered was that I was having a great deal of trouble stabilizing its result. The risk that I might kill Edward in vitro was quite high, one that I wasn’t willing to take. I tried cross splicing it with everything I could think of; dogs, sheep, other humans, the only thing that even marginally worked was a sample I’d taken from Valliant.” He smiled some private smile. “Valliant was Sara’s horse, a Shire, big strong brute, but as gentle as a nurse.”
I can’t imagine the horror that must have been painted across my face. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem to notice it. He just kept going on as if he was discussing the weather. “I ran out of time,” he said after a long moment. “Sara was getting into her second trimester and Edward’s condition was getting worse. We talked about it, how dangerous it was; how little control I’d been able to apply to the series. It was a gamble but we had nothing else to lose. If we did nothing, our son would die.”
He looked up at me and I couldn’t tell if the tears glistening in his eyes were genuine or of the crocodile variety. But I didn’t need to be a mentalist to know that he believed what he was saying. “I love my son, Miss Anderson. He is all that is left of my wife and I love him. So you see, it doesn’t matter if your courts decide I am a bad person and lock me away. My wife is alive in my son. Nothing else in the universe matters.”
Edited with the kind assistance of Janet Nolan and Holly Logan
Just when I think my life can’t get any more surreal, I get tossed a curve ball like this. I was already afraid of Albert. I’d seen that he was capable of things that, so long as they fit within his tight, but warped sense of ethics would have shocked a war crimes tribunal. He was probably the most dangerous man I knew, genteel veneer not withstanding.
I understand now that was nothing.
Now I could add parent protecting his offspring to the mix. There’s nothing more dangerous in nature than that. Albert was capable of anything in that mindset. Murder, wanton destruction, you name it, so long as Ed was in some way the beneficiary, there was nothing beneath him.
It should go without saying I didn’t exactly sleep well that night. Now I was certain there was something far deeper to this sudden change in his attitude and demeanor. Like my beloved, the wheels of my brain kept turning as I tried to sleep, frantic to figure out what it was Albert was after.
That morning dawned just as grey and overcast as Saturday had promised. Still no rain as yet, the asphalt of the parking lot of my apartment told me that. Judging by the jackets my neighbor’s were sporting, it was probably still pretty cool. Not that I noticed of course, but at least my sweater and miniskirt weren’t so out of place.
As I got the Thunderbird started and warming up, I did feel something of an ecological pang. I wasn’t going that far and I could fly. But that would require sneaking out of my own apartment, not to mention all the hassles I could get into along the way. There are times being a super hero is not what it’s cracked up to be.
I dropped the car into gear, backed out of the space and turned it towards HQ. Sunday was the President’s day to mind the board and I owed it to Ed to sit with him as he had for me. More to the point, and for no reason I could really explain, I felt safer next to him.
Silly, isn’t it?
Here I am, practically invulnerable, fantastically strong and all that, but I’d rather be next to him. Does that seem right to you?
Traffic, as I had become accustomed to it being, was light on a Sunday morning so it didn’t take me long to get to HQ. As luck would have it, I found a spot next to Ed’s truck. Strangely enough, Ginnevia’s mustang was in the parking lot too. Of course, with her being a teleporter, it wasn’t like she needed the car to get around.
My thumb print let me into the building which was as quiet as a tomb. Most of the other offices, as I’ve already stated, were government in nature, thus the good little government employees had the weekend off. Well, except the ones who were charged with law and order any way. I meandered up to the Round Room first, wondering if perhaps Ed was there.
I found only the polished black marble table that dominated it, each active member’s place delineated by a carved, triangular shaped placard on the table in front of the chair. I couldn’t help pausing for a moment to stare at my place, the intricately engraved Southern Belle playing in the marble. Was that who I really was? For three months now I had worn the name and the clothes, but I couldn’t tell you for sure if that’s the name my soul curled up with at night.
The door opened behind me, causing me to turn so as to take in the sight of Ed’s smiling face. “Hey you,” he greeted with a smile.
“Hey,” I murmured into his chest as he hugged me. Now that’s what I’m talking about. If I’ve got to do the woman thing for the rest of my life, give me a man who’s solid. “Ah seem to recall owing the President a babysitting seeing as how he helped me out that way.”
“You are all that, you know it?” he told me with a chuckle.
“Flattery will get you into mah bed,” I told him. Both ears perked up at that.
“Cool,” he told me with a chuckle. “As luck would have it, I’m not actually here alone. Ginnevia stopped by as well. If you want to change we’re in the Situation Room.”
“Ah’ll be along,” I told him, as we reluctantly let go of each other to go our separate ways. It didn’t take that long to get back into the outfit, though I left the mask off. I was beginning to really hate spirit gum, let me tell you.
The Situation Room was overwhelmed by a plasma screen monitor that was the big brother of the one that took up an entire wall of the Round Room. Currently, it displayed a map of Atlanta showing the traffic pattern and the GPS position of all the police cruisers around town and what they were currently doing.
Information, I’m sure, most would be felons would trade body parts to have access to. Ed was just in the process of forwarding the alerts to his pager as I entered. Ginnevia was in that leather for lace outfit of hers that looked like it would be more at home on a club haunting Goth than a super hero. We shared a guarded nod, despite the massive come clean session we’d gone through the other day, we were still very much unsure of each other.
It was hard to quantify how I felt about my ex-girlfriend.
In one way, I was still annoyed with her for her chicanery both in my professional and private life. Yes, I could understand the how and the why, I just wasn’t sure I was comfortable with the right or wrongness of it. “My two favorite women, lovely,” Ed announced with a grin, playing the clown to get both of our attentions back to him and off our checkered past. “I have something I want to bounce off you two.”
“Oh?” asked Ginnevia with something of a smirk. “Well, I’m up for a threesome if Red is,” she announced.
“Er, not quite what I had in mind,” Ed replied with a flush darkening his skin noticeably. File that one away for have a long talk with my man about later. “Follow me,” he said, walking purposefully towards the bank of elevators out in the lobby.
“Since when are you so kinky?” I demanded of her as we followed Ed. She just wiggled her eyebrows at me and said nothing. The elevator arrived and we took it to a level that required a key to get access to. The key Ed used was on a ring I’d gotten used to hauling around, weighting down my purse. They were the President’s keys to the building.
“My third fight with the Irregulars,” Ed started as the elevator hummed its way down. “We fought a real space cadet by the name of Millennium. This guy was crazy with a capital C, kept babbling on about the coming doomsday and claimed he’d come back from a devastated future to try to stop it.”
“Like that future Sovereign and Precog keep going on about?” I asked, grateful for somewhere for my thoughts to go besides wondering about my lover and my ex-girlfriend doing this and that. Ed shook his head.
“No, this one was supposedly a nuclear doomsday. What he was really after were nuclear war heads. But, the one thing he had that always made me think about was this.” The elevator came to a stop and opened onto a short hallway that ended in a bank vault door that would have looked at home under a casino in Vegas. It was labeled, surprisingly simply, Trophy Vault.
“What’s this place?” I asked, somewhat intrigued.
“The Trophy Vault,” replied Ginnevia with a chuckle. “This is where we keep the doohickeys we take from bad folks that we can’t otherwise turn off or deactivate.” Ed punched in a code to the pad beside door, causing it to click ominously and slowly slide out of the way.
You’ll have to forgive me a bit of geek out here.
The Stone Mountain Irregulars were, after all, my home grown super team. Well, in the sense that everyone who lives within an hour of Atlanta tends to think of it as their home town. I’d been following their exploits since I was about five.
Once upon a time I’d had all the posters of the various members, the photo books of their more spectacular battles, the trading cards, pretty much the whole shebang. In here, neatly put aside in display cases were the kind of memorabilia that would make the High Museum down town sick with envy.
There was Thunderbolt’s costume, still crackling with electricity despite some fairly major grounding cables that were attached to it. Beside it was a three panel photo spread of the American Eagle fighting him, ending with the big lug getting fitted for bracelets.
On a pedestal, illuminated by infra-red beams was Doctor Destruction’s Atom Smasher Rifle, the barrel still bent to forty five degrees from when Cavalry had snatched it from him. The power meter still read full and that was a little disturbing.
The Queen of Sheba’s long cape twinkled in a fairly hypnotic pattern from its case changing even as I stared at it. In the folds of the psychedelic fabric I saw myself making eggs and being hugged by Ed as he was getting a cup of coffee before I forced my eyes away. Yes, there was a definite reason this stuff was down here.
But dominating the vault, glowering from its corner was a wedged shaped, aggressive looking craft that floated off the floor. The sleekness of it was spoiled somewhat by the circular dais that ran the entire length of the craft, decorated with more than its share of chrome. “Oh mah God,” I breathed in awe and reverence. “The Time Runner! Ah didn’t know ya’ll kept it!”
“It was the only real safe place,” replied Ed as he took in the craft’s lines for a moment before turning back to us. “No one would think we’d keep a time machine. More to the point, even if someone did think we had it, this vault is probably the safest place in the State of Georgia.”
“Why hasn’t anyone taken us down here before?”
My question brought a dark laugh from Ginnevia. “Because most people don’t know it’s here and Geoffrey likes it that way. The fewer people that know, the fewer potential break ins. Truth be told, we’re not supposed to be here. The Vault is president access only.” She planted her hands on her hips and turned back to Ed. “So, why are we here, Ed?”
My lover sighed one of his ‘I’m about to come clean’ sighs that immediately got my attention. “This is one of those ancillary reasons I was talking about, Belle,” he said finally, with a gesture at the Time Runner. “Geoffrey has done a lot of research on this thing. We can’t turn it off, but, the one thing we have been able to ascertain is that it really is a time machine. We don’t think that Millennium was actually from the future, but like a lot of mad scientist types, he did know his engineering. As he worked on coming up with his ‘identity’ which he traded for his sanity, he actually managed to build the real McCoy.”
Ginnevia and I closed the distance with him, both I think, drawn by what he was saying and wanting to be close enough to stop him if he decided to do something foolish. “What do you need a time machine for, Ed?” she asked him softly.
“Well,” he drawled, “if I had one, then I could stop Albert from experimenting on me…”
“That would also mean killing yourself, love,” I whispered. That brought both their eyes to me. “Ah had a little visit over coffee with Albert yesterday. He told me why he did what he did to you.”
Ed planted his hands across his chest, his entire body dripping his building denial of whatever I had learned from his erstwhile father. “And you believed him?”
“Ah may be new to this spandex social, sugah, but Ah can damn sure know when a fanatic is spouting his version of the Truth. Ya’ll have Downs Syndrome, love. Albert infected you so that you could live. There were all kinds of birth defects that would have probably ended with you being still born. And yes, Ah believed him because nobody is that good of a liar.”
He considered this for a long moment before he said anything. “Even if that’s true,” he finally announced. “I think that my life for my mother’s is a pretty fair trade.”
“Ah don’t!” I growled at him.
“A sentiment I most heartily concur with,” purred that evil voice from the vault door. Three heads snapped around to take in the view of Sovereign, back in that outrageous out fit of his standing in the open doorway, the black clad form of Trapdoor behind him. “While I applaud your sense of honor, son, sacrificing yourself to correct my mistake is something I cannot allow.”
I could feel the three of us tense up for the coming battle, probably the same as Sovereign, who held up a gold colored orb, about the size and shape of a hand grenade. “I wouldn’t,” he cautioned. “Nor would I advise you to think about mentally snatching this from my hand, either, Miss Brown. The pin is out.”
“What…?” I started, somewhat confused.
“It’s a suppression grenade,” supplied Cavalry from his fighting stance next to me. “One of Doctor Destruction’s nastier toys; it works like a power inhibitor, only area effect. Do I want to know where you got one?” he snarled at Albert. The villain tapped his fore head, the grenade’s pin rattling from where he wore it, ring like on his finger.
“Never let it be said you can’t learn things in prison. And as I’m evidently the only person here who brought a gun,” he said with a chuckle as Trapdoor drew the pistol he wore and cocked it ominously. “I would like everyone to remain still.”
“So you can do what?” sneered Ginnevia.
Albert seemed to think that rather funny. “Why, so I can steal the Time Runner of course! It is the answer to the problem I’ve been grappling with for twenty years. What I told Jennifer yesterday is the truth, son. A truth I’ve worked very hard at keeping from you, but hopefully, this close to my goal it won’t matter if you know.”
“If I know what?”
Albert released a heavy sigh, weighted, I think, by his own conscience. “I didn’t kill your mother with my alterations of you, son. My experiments saved your life, I couldn’t have been happier with both how they and you have turned out. You’re a fine young man I’m proud to call my son. Of course I regret the difficulties your appearance have put you through, but had I been allowed to keep you they would have been remedied. That’s not what is important.” He walked over to the Queen of Sheba’s cape and looked at it. “See for yourself,” he told us.
The fabric of the cape changed to take on his memory, filling with a delivery room and the blonde haired woman I had seen in the photograph. Her face was pale from her labor and the sweat was drenching her hair to her scalp. “It hurts,” she wailed, causing a shudder to run down my spine.
“Push,” the dream Albert instructed her, one hand rubbing her knee in encouragement. “Push honey! Push, that’s it.” A flood erupted from her suddenly that shocked me with its volume. “Your water’s broken!” he told her excitedly.
“Albert,” she breathed with a chilling stillness. He looked up at her, worry beginning to paint his face even as the machines of the room began to wail. “Albert I don’t feel well.”
“Oh, God,” he breathed. “The amniotic fluid…it must be contaminated with MS. I didn’t realize…”
I wasn’t sure what all the alarms on the machines surrounding Sara meant, but the only think I could be certain of was that they couldn’t be good. She shuddered as her labor increased, as though her body was trying to purge itself of the infection that was racking her being. The wail of an infant cut through the noise of the alarms as Sara smiled her last smile. Her son was held up so could be her last sight on this troubled world. “Edward,” she breathed as her eyes slipped shut.
The vision of the grief stricken Albert faded as his living counterpart turned back to us, an unholy fire in his eyes. “Now I have the power to undo that mistake. Stand aside,” he ordered.
“You don’t honestly think,” started Ed, his own eyes more than a bit teary as he heard his mother’s voice for the first time. Albert neither answered, nor allowed him to continue. With a softball toss, he released the grenade towards us.
A second or two after it had left his grip it exploded in a blinding flash of light. A nauseous wave passed through me and the departure of my vision gave me a heightened sense of feeling. I lost my balance on the heels of my repaired boots and fell, for the first time in three months, banging my arm painfully on the cold concrete of the vault floor.
Two things immediately leapt to the forefront of my awareness. First that I was uncomfortably cold, in a way that I had not been since I had gotten the face full of Spirit Wolf’s blood that had changed my life forever. The other, which quickly overrode the first, was that my arm was in agony.
An agony I had forgotten I was capable of feeling that roared back with an overwhelming vengeance. I became worried it might be broken. There was a confusing jumble of shouts and other sounds, then the whine of a motor spinning up.
A second wave of nausea passed through me causing me to empty my stomach of its contents before the stars finally began to clear from my vision. The whine of the motor was growing distant but it was still uncomfortably bright. “Are you alright?” asked Ginnevia’s voice over a hubbub of sound around me.
“Ah think mah arm might be broken,” I was able to gasp out.
“Police!” an unknown, male voice shouted. “Nobody move!”
“Ah can’t see!” I shouted back in the direction of the new voice. “And mah arm is broken!”
“The rest of you stay still,” the male voice ordered. “Alpha fifty one, Radio”
The speaker of the radio the still unknown voice was using crackled to life. “Go ahead Alpha fifty one.”
“10-14 at Tenth and Holly, as well as 10-21 three at gun point.”
“All units stand by; Alpha fifty one is requesting 10-21 three at gun point.”
Yep, this was obviously not going to be one of my better days.
By the time the ambulance arrived my vision had returned, letting me see that, obviously we weren’t in the vault any longer. Ed and Ginnevia had managed to talk Alpha fifty one into believing that we weren’t going anywhere and his gun was finally back into his holster. The paramedics told me I had gotten off with a really nasty bruise that would probably hurt for several days, but that my arm wasn’t broken.
That was pretty much where the good news ended.
Where we were was the sidewalk by the Georgia Institute of Technology, down town. What we were was a massive piece of traffic congestion just in time for the evening rush hour between the ambulance, the Hazmat Team that was called out because of three new, obviously MS positive spandex types, about a half dozen cop cars, two AEGIS vans and most of the Stone Mountain Irregulars.
The problem, of course, was when we were.
And when we are, as supplied by the seemingly perpetually frowning face of the Surge, President of the aforementioned Super Hero group; was Sunday, the 17th of March, 1985. As Doctor Beckett might say, “Oh, boy.” Actually I was getting a chuckle from reading an editorial in the Journal/Constitution that the medic shared with me while he was tending to my arm. It was written by the inestimable William F. Buckley of all people and was entitled; Face It- Soviet Goals aren’t going to change. Well, maybe not for about six years, Will…
“Now, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” the Surge was saying, bringing me out of the fears of the Cold War. “You three claim to be members, from the future?”
“Well, it sounds so ridiculous when you put it that way,” groused Ed.
“And you were all admiring a Time Machine, in the Vault, which one of your chief villains stole, catching you all in the field of its effect. Do I understand that right?” He took in our somewhat sullen collection of nods, shaking his head. “Well, that wasn’t very bright, was it?”
“Oh like you’ve never gotten caught with your britches down,” I told him. “We got played, that’s all. No need to rub it in.”
“They’re all positive for MS 1, Surge,” one of the Paramedics told him as he stood from a field tester. “Except for her,” he said with a gesture at me. “She’s got some weird variant the tester’s never seen before.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re from the future,” he said evenly. “And this Sovereign, was it? This Sovereign conveniently flew off with the time machine, after some how suppressing all of your powers, right?”
“If ya’ll need some kind of detailed proof, call Southern Belle,” I told him. “Once we get some place discrete Ah’ll be happy to take you both down memory lane and she’ll be able to vouch for all it.”
“Right, you claim she’s your mother,” he said.
“Funny she happens to be knocked up just now, huh?” I growled at him.
“That would be something you and the rest of Atlanta know about,” he replied with a firm crossing of his arms across his chest.
“Mortagain, would ya’ll mind?” I asked her.
Go ahead, her mental voice told me.
Her real name would be Marie Cooper-Anderson, husband Jonathan James Anderson, currently employed at Lockheed Martin, formerly US Army, Ranger, I mentally told him, forcing as much anger into the thoughts as I could. We certainly didn’t have time for this kind of stupidity.
We had been plenty stupid today, thanks.
Surge’s face told me my facts had finally hit home and he was beginning to take us seriously. “Alright,” he said after a moment. “Let’s say I believe you. What is it you people are going to do?”
“First thing,” Ed told him, “is stopping Sovereign. Once we have control of him, then we’ll be able to get the Time Runner and get back to where we belong, hopefully without disrupting history any more than we already have.”
“Do you even have any idea what it is he’s trying to accomplish here?”
“I can guess,” growled Ed.
“Guessing is a good way to get killed,” fired back the Surge. “So, what’s going to happen is you’re all coming with me back to HQ where we’re going to sort this whole mess out.” He turned to the paramedic that treated me. “Is she ok to travel?”
“Sure, just take it easy on that arm for a little bit,” he told me. “It should probably stop hurting once this inhibitor you talked about wears off. Until then, take it easy.” I nodded as I got rather shakily to my feet.
What ever was I thinking buying high heeled boots?
Ed caught me as I began to teeter over and swept me up into his arms. “Did you forget how to walk?” snapped the Surge.
“Actually, Ah never bothered to learn. Mah mistake.”
The Surge rolled his eyes. “Life in this job is never dull.” Ed carried me over the van covered in SMI logos and helped me in. After the others clamored aboard and the van was headed north once more I couldn’t help thinking furiously over how we would get out of this particular situation.
More importantly, what ever was I going to say to my mom?
I am so going to hell for this.
It’s the telepath’s curse, I guess. We can see who you really are and what you really want, even if you can’t see it for yourself. Most of us become manipulative with out really thinking about it. But, I like to think, we do it for the better.
Sure, there are those like Mind Master who are in it for whatever they can take. That’s not me, though. It probably sounds corny, but I really do want to just help people. I have ever since I figured out the voices in my head were other people’s deepest, most repressed desires. I can do the read your thoughts thing, but my real specialty is paying attention to that little voice in the back of your head. The sad part is most people don’t listen to them.
Not like I do.
I can’t help it, half the time you’re all practically shouting at me. Did I leave the oven on? I can’t believe he’s cheating on me. How could they promote him over me? Get over it, will you? You all wander around, alone in crowded rooms, so absorbed with yourselves you think you have the whole planet to yourself. I’ve got news for you, there’s another seven billion people walking around next to you!
Then there’s the one I can’t get out of my head. The only I always come back to in that dark place in the night when I stare my own sins in the face. And it’s an ugly face, let me tell you. A face I almost can’t look in the mirror anymore.
I just want my son to love me.
We paint our history in shades of black and white to try to blot out all the blood; right and wrong clear up the haze of all those morally ambiguous choices. Some of us even think words like righteous and noble when we think no one is listening.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m just as guilty of it as the next working slob. When I cry myself to sleep I comfort myself in the knowledge that I’m doing good. That all my little schemes and lies and misrepresentations will, somehow magically stand me in good stead when I have to stand before the Bookkeeper and sort out my final accounting.
You know, it’s funny. Most people think that reading minds and a little telekinesis is the bottom of my bag of tricks. God, I wish that was the case sometimes. I may not be the expert on torture or suffering, but I can tell you this; you want to hurt someone, you give them a perfect memory.
That’s right, let them recall every thing they’ve ever said, or done, or thought. Ed might not remember it, but I know exactly when he figured out what he felt about Jim. It was Friday, June 13th, 2003 at four fifty seven in the afternoon. Yeah, I know the irony there is staggering.
Jim and I had been dating for five months one week and three days having, thus far, slept together three times. Oh I was playing with fire and I knew it, but I just didn’t care. If that condom had broken…well it’s not worth thinking about, it didn’t. Jim had been helping Ed with some detail work on Ed’s truck, because that’s just the kind of guy Jim was. He was a genuinely decent human being.
I was playing the bored, but supportive girlfriend, more than a little intrigued at the loud gnashing of the gears as they chugged away in Ed’s brain. Ed was holding the truck up to give a better access to the front wheel torque converter that Jim was lubricating for him. I won’t ever forget it.
“Jim, I know I’ve got a jack stand or a ramp or something around here. It really isn’t safe for you to be up under this with just me holding it. I could drop it on you.” That was Ed, he was such a safety first kind of straight arrow.
Jim turned up to him, with that goofy grin he perpetually wore, his face covered in grease and road grime and shook his head. “Drop it? You? Never. I have faith in you, old son. You’ll be alright.”
And that was it; something as simple as the infinite faith of one friend in another. Ed belonged to Jim pretty much that instant. That was when I knew, really knew, Jim and I were doomed. Sure, I enjoyed his company, and he was really trying to learn in bed, trying to overcome just being an under read American male. He was as fun and as comfortable as a well worn pair of jeans.
But I didn’t love him.
Not like Ed loved him. The love that, no matter what, that truck wasn’t going to fall on Jim. Hell, Ed would have thrown it half way to Dallas first and Ed is damned proud of that truck.
What could I really do to compete with that? String Jim along with a series of piss poor excuses about my ‘personal hang-ups’ about sex? No, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t do that to him. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to get these two people together that really needed to be together, but I knew I couldn’t compete with it.
Is this pathetic or what?
Here I am, returned to a year where I’m just barely able to cry out for my mother, wearing a body I won’t earn for nearly twenty years, and all I can think about are my own petty little sins. God, why does everything get so complicated? It started simple; it should have damned well stayed simple. There were so many things I never counted on.
I never counted on the woman that Jim became.
That brassy, fiery, I just got kicked in the teeth and I’ll give as good as I got bombshell she exploded into being. For all her questioning of who and what she is, I know who she is. She’s that grease covered friend sitting under the truck without a thought to her own safety. She’s that mild mannered college student who drops her lunch money into the homeless guys’ cup and goes hungry without a thought that he’ll probably buy a fifth of liquor and drink himself to death. No, she really thinks he’ll get back up on his feet and make something of himself with it.
I never counted on falling in love with her.
I don’t even have the solace that if I undo everything I’ve done, I’ll have saved her from some abusive relationship. I know better. Ed practically worships her. He couldn’t raise a hand against her if his life depended on it. Mental abuse? Please. If only, but I can read minds, remember?
Ed’s love for Jennifer was wrapped up in a little kernel of fear that she might decide she’d had enough of the big, loveable oaf, and tell him to pound sand. As if. Those two are wound around each other tighter than a Swiss watch. My darker nature tells me I could exploit it, use it to drive them apart and then it wouldn’t be hard to play the supportive ex-lover and welcome her back with open arms.
Which would make me even more of a monster than I already am.
Oh Atlas the world might be heavy, but I’ll trade my sins for your burden any day of the week. I can’t imagine having a clean slate, pure as the driven snow. As if any part of me could be pure again?
I guess this is why they call it finish line choke. After the better part of a year of scheming, for me any way, and I want to go run and hide and pretend my hands are clean. “Mortagain!” It was the Surge’s voice that pulled me from my funk, up into that clean shaven face of his that looked so wrong.
“Grow a beard,” I told him quietly.
Boy was that a look of text book confusion! “Sorry,” I hedged as he tried to work out the context of my statement. “You wear a beard in our time and I’m not used to seeing you clean shaven. I’m listening, Hank, I promise.”
“Then maybe you’d like to answer the question I asked you?”
Yeah, I’ll admit that I really hadn’t been listening. But then I didn’t need to. He was thinking his question so loud it was a simple matter to pluck it loose and answer it. Perhaps belated honesty was better than no honesty at all. “I know why Sovereign is here, what his plan is and where he’ll be.”
There was one of those shocked little silences around the Round Room that otherwise I must admit to being proud of causing. Here and now, it didn’t seem right, though. “Well, he must know that you’re a telepath and may alter…” Hank started. I shook my head.
“He won’t. He’s worked twenty years to get to this point and he can’t alter it now.” I noticed Ed looking at me and his nose was beginning to tell him something was wrong with me. It was thank you, God, my luck that at that moment, the door opened and in it was a red headed, moderately pregnant woman in these awful clothes they wore in the eighties and a domino mask that looked hideously out of place.
“Hi Mom,” Jennifer told her rather sheepishly.
“I…” started Marie, who was even more confused than I was. What do you say to your offspring from the future? The offspring that was still inside you? “I don’t think we’ve met,” she finally managed.
That brought a dark chuckle to Jennifer, one that she really couldn’t do well from lack of practice. “Not yet,” she said after she’d finished. “Ah’m really sorry you got dragged in this.”
Marie waddled into the room and sat down next to her future offspring. “And you would be Jennifer, I’m guessing?” she said after a long stare.
“Jennifer Marie Anderson, Ah’m pleased to make your acquaintance,” Jennifer told her with a smile. “Although Ah do believe we’ve already met,” she said with a nod her Marie’s pot belly.
“Well, there you would be mistaken, Miss,” Marie said primly. “I’ve just come from my OB/GYN who has informed me…”
“…You’re having a boy,” Jennifer finished for her. “That would also be me. Mah reaction to Mckimpson Strain did this.”
“Which is a very real question,” Hank said after a long moment of pulling on his chin. “For all your knowledge of us, you don’t have a shred of proof of your story.”
Jennifer, can you hear me? Her eyes traveled to me, letting me know that my powers were slowly returning. Say your goodbyes, sweetie. We’re leaving before we get locked up.
Her eyes warred with me as she tried to find some logical reason for us to get locked up so she could talk further with this younger version of her mother. It was more than a little eerie to be honest; the similarities between them were striking. “I think the safest course of action,” the Surge was saying, “is that for you to remain here until we can sort things out a bit better.”
“Ah just want you to know that Ah love you,” Jennifer told Marie.
“Sorry, Hank,” I told him as I stood. “We can’t do that.” With a thought I was on the other side of the table, much to their collective amazement.
“Teleporter!” shouted Hank. He moved so fast I almost couldn’t get a hand on Ed and Jennifer. I could feel his aura just millimeters from my skin before we were outside again. Of course, my powers weren’t really that well returned for a ‘port as far as I took us. I only got a flash of sunshine before the darkness settled in.
I came awake to the sight of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jackson, forever staring off to the North on their constant vigil. The Carving, as it’s usually referred to, decorating the side of Stone Mountain, the world’s largest piece of exposed granite depicts the three Confederate greats, their horses dramatically portrayed, hats over hearts either in submission or regret was generally left up to the viewer.
As it normally happens whenever I lose consciousness, I found myself back in my blasé face, the face Jim thought he’d loved once upon a time; back in my jeans and shirt and my denim jacket with too many buttons on it. I was on a blanket stretched out on the grass sitting next to a dark haired NBA rookie that was Ed’s ‘human’ face. He’d altered the image to paint himself in cargo pocket knee shorts a dungaree shirt and some hiking boots with serious attitude. “Welcome back,” he said simply.
“Thanks,” I told him sullenly as I tried to sit up, promptly regretting it. The park spun for a bit as I wisely decided lying down was a really good idea just then. “Where’s Jennifer?”
“Looking for a restroom to change in,” he replied, neither looking at me, nor exactly looking away. “Would you care to let me know what’s going on?”
“I didn’t want us to get locked up. It’s hard not to have a good picture of this place, so I figured I could push my teleport this far.”
“Lucky for us you were right, huh?” There was an edge to his tone, something not quite anger, but had more than a generous sprinkle of that emotion in it. “Not that you answered my question, it was an interesting dodge.”
“What’s got you so pissed?” The words were out of my mouth before I could censor them. Probably not the best tack to take with the guy I’d manipulated left right and center. His face darkened as his eyebrows met over much narrowed eyes.
“What might have me so pissed, Ginnevia?” he snarled. “The fact that we’re back in 1985 before I could really think through all the repercussions of us being here? How about the fact that you told Sovereign about the Time Runner so he could arrive in such a timely manner to steal it while I had the vault open? Think that’s worth getting pissed about? Or is there something else you’d like to tell me so I can get good and angry?”
“I didn’t…” I started; definitely the wrong way.
“Don’t you lie to me, Brown!” he thundered. “You think I can’t figure out how the hell Sovereign knew when and where and how to show up?”
The jig, as they say, was up. “I’m sorry,” I told him quietly. “I was just trying to help.”
“You’ve been a great help!” he shouted at me. “I’m sure Sovereign will have you up for a medal or something!”
“Are you that fucking stupid?” I couldn’t help but shout back. “Don’t you get what’s going on here? Do you have the slightest idea why we’re back at this time and place?” Lying, helpless, on my back and shouting at the guy who bench presses MARTA busses for his morning workout seems to have been the right track. He was so flabbergasted that his mouth hung open as he worked out how he was going to answer my challenge. Not that I gave him the chance. “Everything Sovereign has ever done has been about you and Sara. That’s all he’s after, he wants his family back. That little side trip into alternate dimensions was his attempt at time travel. But Albert isn’t an engineer so it back fired. Geoffrey could have put a stop to his antics years ago if he’d just let Albert use the Time Runner but no! Geoffrey’s too much of prick for that!”
“You honestly expect me to believe…”
“Open your goddamned eyes, Ed! You father loves you. And he loves your mother. That’s why he perfected Mckimpson so that he could undo the mistake he made on Sara.”
He chewed on that for a few minutes. I could hear his own intellect finally override that pig headed hatred he’d carried around like an albatross. Ed is actually very intelligent, when he let’s himself be. This just happened to be the one area where he was bound and determined not to be. Until now. “If he keeps Sara from dieing he’ll create a major paradox. I haven’t studied enough physics to know what might happen but I can’t think it will be good.”
“Oh, and your little, ‘I’ll trade my life for hers’ bit wouldn’t? Albert’s not stupid Ed, he’s going to make sure his past self sees everything he remembers, then whisk Sara away, to quote the movie, ‘back to the future’.” I let him chew on that for a bit before I decided to drop my big bomb. “That’s not what I have to tell you.”
He seemed to find that funny and brayed out his laugh before clamping it down. “What could possibly top you selling us out to Sovereign?”
I couldn’t look at him anymore. “I did that to repay him for his help with you and Jennifer,” I whispered.
“Sovereign figured out you were in love with Jim not long after I did. After we stopped his raid on that electronics factory I followed him. I knew he was as concerned about it as I was.” I could feel my throat trying to close over my confession even as I was attempting to give it voice. I took a deep breath to try and re-master myself. “I wasn’t sure how I could get you and Jim together, but it was obvious the two of you were perfect for each other.”
“No,” he whispered.
“When he told me about his perfection of Mckimpson I asked him if he could control whether or not it could alter someone’s gender. I figured even if Jim was able to stand up to you, then chances of him being a switch hitter were pretty small. Hell, he barely understood what sex was.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Not that it really mattered; I just swallowed and kept going. “He was certain he could do that, so we waited until we could get you and Jim someplace for a protracted amount of time where there could be a bit of a rumble without anyone getting seriously hurt. He sprayed his alteration chemical over head and turned Power Ball loose. We were pretty sure that Jim’s sense of honor would demand that he’d help one of us down so him being exposed was a fore-gone conclusion.”
“And just tough luck for Spirit Wolf if he didn’t, huh?” he snarled.
“Power Ball was supposed to hit you with me. I guess he got carried away.”
He said nothing for a long time, concentrating on shielding his thoughts from me. Finally he took a few of his massive strides and towered over me. “I could break you like a twig.”
I managed to work up the strength to shrug. “I deserve it. It’s not like I can stop you.”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“I like to think I put the two people I care about most together. You love her, Ed. You loved him. I couldn’t compete with that kind of love. I wanted to, but I can’t. I just thought you should know. If everything goes according to plan, in a couple of days you’ll have your mother back, you’ll be home with the woman you love and maybe you’ll be able to finally not be so empty inside.”
He just stared at me for a long moment as I contented myself that these were my last seconds on Earth. About the time I’d figure he’d reach up and crush the life from me, he turned sharply on his heel and walked away.
I’m not sure how long I just lay there and looked at the Carving and cried. It seemed like a long time. Around me people were tossing Frisbees, running with their dogs, picnicking and otherwise having a good time while what little bit of life I had left fell apart. I cried until I had no more tears left in me and no more regrets to pour out. So I laid there, numb with catharsis without the ability to do anything but stare and wish.
Wish that, somehow, things were different.
I don’t think I expected Ed’s reaction to be, “Well, gosh, thanks so much for being so thoughtful Ginnevia!” I guess, personally, I was kind of hoping that he’d just killed me, but that’s not who Ed was either. I suppose I should feel guilty for the next bad guy Ed gets his hands on, but somehow I won’t.
And as I pondered that particularly dark line of thinking, a pair of faces loomed over me, something of a mockery of Crockett and Tubbs were Sovereign and Trapdoor. Albert was sporting a pink pastel leisure jacket with the sleeves pushed up his forearms over a white polo and chinos that went well with that smug smirk on his face.
Trapdoor, on the other hand, had settled on a charcoal suit, minus the tie and, as I’d come to realize was usual for him, a carefully neutral expression. “I’m guessing he didn’t take it well?” Albert asked.
“You could say that,” I managed.
“I did warn you against this,” he stated, somewhere between sympathy and gloat. “Edward likes to think he’s in control. It’s his nature. I am glad you’re not hurt though.”
“Did you think he’d kill me?”
After a moment of thought Albert shook his head. “No, at least not on purpose. He might have lashed out at you, but it wouldn’t have been a real intentional act. That’s also his nature. One of the things I’m actually most proud of him for.”
“They’re going to be coming back soon,” interrupted Trapdoor with a quick scan of the area.
Albert only shook his head. “Not fast enough for us to be gone. You worry too much, Malcolm.”
His partner seemed to think that funny and flashed his startlingly white smile in his bittersweet chocolate face. “You pay me to worry too much.”
“And you’ve certainly earned your pay for the month,” Albert supplied with a chuckle. “Seen the light, yet? I could use the help with final stages. Or do you insist on staying here and being shunned?”
I laughed a laugh completely devoid of humor. “Join me and we’ll rule the galaxy as Father and Son?”
“I could never pull off Mr. Jones’ voice,” he said with a genuine chuckle. “Pity though, I could probably convince more people of the truth with a sonorous intonation like that.” Malcolm’s watch beeped.
“Four hundred meters,” he said after a quick consultation of it. I hadn’t known they had planted some kind of tracking device on one of them, or maybe it was just a smaller version of Geoffrey’s biochemical sniffer. I didn’t know and I really couldn’t put the energy into thinking about it just now. “Time’s wasting.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told him,” I couldn’t keep from moaning. “Do you think I’ve spoiled everything?”
He seemed thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t think you’ve spoiled everything. True, it will be a heavy burden on him. To be honest, I’m more concerned about Jennifer. If she ever discovers the truth…” He spread his arms in a scale representation of the explosion she would be. “But you felt having your conscious clear was more important than that. Did you think he’d say thank you? But, it’s done now. I can’t take the knowledge from him. You know that.”
“But, if I do, and they discover later…?”
“Visual,” interrupted Malcolm.
Albert’s gesture was broad. “Like I’m going to tell him? I argued with you against it for five months. You should know by now, if you’re going to play this game, you can’t let your beneficiary know about it. You live with it, or you don’t do it. It’s time to make up your mind, Ginnevia.”
“You son of a bitch!” roared Ed. There was a blur and a scuffle before everyone around the park froze mid-stride; everyone except the three of us. I was able to slowly get to my feet with the help of Malcolm as Edward was held by a gesture from his father, mid-swing.
The look of horror on Jennifer’s face broke my heart. “Time to choose, Cindy,” Albert repeated once more. “Once and for all, what is it going to be?”
Have you ever been right in the middle of something and forgot what you were doing? It was like that, for me anyways. Cindy was standing and staring at Ed and me while I was in some kind of weird emotional jumble. I’d just learned something that had upset me pretty badly judging by the way my body felt.
Damned if I can remember what it was.
Ed lowered his fist and blinked in his own confusion. “Albert was just here,” he said flatly. “I can still smell him.”
“Was he?” I asked uncertainly. “Ah don’t remember.”
Our eyes settled on Cindy, who honestly looked as out of place as we did. She opened her mouth to say something before closing it again slowly. She shook her head as if trying to remember. “You ok, Cindy?” asked Ed solicitously, but even that seemed a bit odd for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on.
“I can’t remember,” she said softly. “Something is seriously wrong, I have a photographic memory and I can’t remember.” That was more than a little disturbing to say the least. There were a couple of moments between the two of us I wish I could forget. “It’s not just the last couple of minutes, either. There are all kinds of weird holes in my memory going back a long ways.”
“Sovereign must have been editing,” he replied slowly. “What bothers me is I can’t remember either. He doesn’t have any power over me.”
“Maybe he mind controlled Cindy,” I offered, more thinking out loud than anything else. Ed seemed to weigh that for a moment before nodding solemnly.
“We should all be on our guard, even after we get home,” he ordered finally. “There’s no telling what kind of post hypnotic suggestion he may have planted.”
“Ed, sugah, has anyone ever told ya’ll you worry too much?” I asked him with a smile. “Sure, your daddy needs to be moved into a nine by nine room, but somehow Ah don’t think we’re on his agenda just now. The big question, now, is what are we going to do and how do we survive to do it? It’s not like Ah’ve got a load of cash on me.”
A quick turn out of our pockets revealed our operating capital was two hundred odd dollars. Most of it, unfortunately, in new money that wouldn’t be honored. In spending money we had about thirty dollars in primarily ones and fives. Suddenly the grandiose plans of Sovereign were a firm secondary to the primal needs of food and shelter.
After a few minutes harried conversation, a rough plan was formed. None of us were particularly fond of it, but at this point, any port in the storm would suffice. MARTA got us back downtown and please hold the wise cracks about super heroes taking the bus.
Atlanta is one of those towns that is always under construction. In the middle of the roaring eighties, this was certainly no exception. And where there was construction there was money under the table jobs for strong backs. Ed and I had some of the strongest going.
We dipped into our precious reserve to buy me a pair of jeans, a tee shirt and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. I gather a miniskirt, however fetching, isn’t exactly the attire to work construction in. A five minute conversation with the foreman and a two second lifting exhibition of bull dozers got my lover and me a pair of twenty dollar an hour jobs paid in cash.
I shan’t bore you with the details of the rest of the afternoon, but I don’t think I’ll ever look at the 191 Peachtree building the same way again.
Unfortunately, our luck seemed to take a rather sharp turn for the worst. I have to give him credit, when Albert wants to go to ground; he does so in fine fashion. A week slid by with no mysterious disappearances or odd sightings. Our jobs got us a pair of rooms not far from the construction site and more than enough left over for food and sundries, leaving Mortagain free to try and find Albert.
On the weekend, Ed had taken to riding MARTA out to Dunwoody to stare at the house his parents of this time owned. I followed him discretely to make sure he wasn’t giving the Filby we were here to nab competition for rash actions, but he seemed content to just watch.
It must have been hard for him to watch his very pregnant mother come and go about the business of her life. At night he held me tightly and cried when he thought I was asleep.
The second Monday of our stay in 1985 started out pretty much the same way the last one had. Ed flipped his hologram over to ‘constructor worker’ and I pulled on my ‘pre-grunge chic’ outfit before we walked over to the site. Charlie the foreman let us know he had work for his ‘super crew’ as he had taken to calling us, big surprise. I’d imagine if Ed and I had papers and a Union ticket we’d probably command wages about three times what we were getting.
But we didn’t so we didn’t complain.
“Hey, Anderson,” he called after us after we’d signed into the day labor board. It seemed to go against the macho image of the construction worker to have somebody named ‘Jennifer’ on the site, so I came to be known by my last name. “I got a hundred bucks in my pocket saying you and Ed can’t get that pallet of I beams up on twenty in ten minutes.”
I kept my grin off my face. This was almost highway robbery as it was. “Lemme see mah new C note and Ah’ll prove you wrong,” I fired back. He dutifully displayed my bonus and waved to the flatbed trailer that was standing behind the idling semi that was piled high with steel girders. The driver had a sneer that let me think he happened to be Charlie’s mark as I walked over. “Can Ah trouble you to unhitch and pull off, sugah?” I asked him in my sweetest voice.
“Your boss like throwing away money?” he asked me as he climbed up into the rig. I shrugged.
“What are ya‘ll into him for?”
“Five hundred bucks,” he said with a smile as the truck went into gear and pulled away from the trailer. I motioned Ed up onto the trailer with my head as I graced Charlie with a dirty look. He just smiled a larcenous smile and shrugged. Easy money I suppose. I waited for the driver to get clear and clamor out.
“Whenever ya’ll are ready,” I called out. The driver made a grand show of checking his watch.
“Now!” he yelled. At a most leisurely pace I ducked my head under the trailer and got comfortable under its midpoint. Easing it up gave me a feel for it’s balance before a quick glance at the driver took the smile off his face as I stood completely up. Yeah, it was heavy, but not as much as the tanker of so long from now would be. “You didn’t tell me they had MS!” I heard him shout at Charlie.
“You didn’t ask,” the foreman replied with a chuckle. The ground fell away as I flew up to the twentieth floor and hovered for Ed to clear the straps and lift the bundles of beams clear.
For the record, the elapsed time was four minutes fifty seven seconds.
I collected my new pay check right after Charlie had collected his. “Pleasure doing business with you,” Charlie gloated over the morose trucker. I was about to ask him what he wanted us doing for the rest of the day when a horrific explosion from the direction of the Federal Reserve building cut me off. A quick look showed me a very ugly column of thick, black smoke rising. Charlie sighed. “Go, protect and serve and all that. The job will still be here.”
I guess you can take the hero out of the spandex but not the spandex out of the hero. Ed was just as itching as I was to see what was up. “Thanks, Charlie,” I tossed his way before collecting up Ed as fast as I could and flying as fast as I was able in the direction of trouble.
Let me tell you, flying while trying to put on a mask with spirit gum isn’t any fun.
Ed had it so easy; it’s hard not to be insanely jealous. Press the button, poof he’s a super hero. Press it again, poof, he’s Joe normal. I’d worn my spandex under the jeans and Tee, but it really didn’t look right in my hiking boots. Oh well, the depravations of fashion would have to give way to expediency.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta was situated on Marietta Street, right next door to the Atlanta Journal/Constitution building. Like most of the other branches of the Federal Reserve System, this was the bank that gave money, newly arrived from the various Mints around the country to the local banks so that when you cash your pay check, they have money to give to you. It wasn’t a bank in the strictest of senses, more of a bank’s bank and that meant there was an obscene amount of money on hand.
Just now, the front of the building had some fairly substantial damage to it from whatever explosive event had gone off. It had tipped over several cars that were trying to get from A to B on Marietta Street, some of which were on fire. There was something disturbingly familiar about the situation, spread tableau like before me but I couldn’t place it just then.
The Surge was picking himself out of the wreckage of an armored car while the armored black and gold figure of Doctor Destruction gloated a few dozen feet away, idly waving a group of his similarly attired hired mercenaries into the bank.
Now, I suppose a word or two about Doctor Destruction is in order.
Nobody is really sure who the idiot behind the low rent Darth Vader mask really is. He’s never been caught long enough to get that mask off him, but he is the first documented Super Villain. He cropped up on the world’s radar in 1968 when he’d flown into the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, tangled with the Army before being convinced to move along and has been a thorn in the side of Law and Order folks going on forty years. Everybody has their own pet theory over who Doctor D is; the more outlandish the better.
Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot the parade of infamous names is as long as you care to make it. Doctor Destruction does everything large scale and it’s easy to see how some of those names might make the list. He doesn’t knock over a bank, he hits a Federal Reserve. He doesn’t take hostages, he topples governments. He’s carved his own personal fiefdom from the corners of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and thus far had the clout to make it stick.
For my money, however, I’m betting the guy in the suit is really Robert Mckimpson; the guy who let this genie out of the bottle. I mean, after all, why slave away for Uncle Sam when you can just go be Uncle Sam, right?
Where was I?
Oh, right, fisticuffs.
Doctor D was really getting his rant on about how feeble the Surge was, how perfect his master plan was and how the world would soon be his. You know, monologuing. Well, never being one for witty banter, I just threw Cavalry into him; as hard as I could.
Hey, I’ve always been an actions speak louder than words kind of gal.
Well, Doctor Destruction got bland sided pretty well by a quarter of a ton of equine super hero which carried both of them into the granite side of the Reserve. Despite my best efforts that way, the wall held, though both it and Doctor D looked pretty worse for wear. “Now you two want to do your civic duty?” Surge shouted up at me.
I swear; I just couldn’t keep my hands off my hips in aspiration. “Could we have this jurisdiction debate after we save your bacon?” I fired back.
“Motion tabled,” Hank told me with a wink. “Take care of the crowd control and give us a hand once you’re done.”
“On it.” Of the four cars that had been directly involved in the blast, I flew first to the worst off one that was on its top, all four tires on fire. I got it back on its’ wheels and gave it a new sun roof while I was at it to get the terrified mother and her two kids out. “Ya’ll best be moving quick now,” I told them with a grunt. Once I was sure the seat belts were off and they were all ambulatory, the procedure was quickly repeated on the other four.
“I am Doctor Destruction!” he was yelling at the top of his probably amplified lungs. “Not a veterinarian!”
That brought a glance his way over what was probably the worst thing he could have said. He had Ed by the throat, impressively managing to bring both of his hooves off the ground. Impressive because Cavalry eyes got narrow, both ears rotated backward and he kicked out with those aforementioned hooves, square into the bad Doctor’s chest.
The report of himself’s armor clad back slamming into the wall once more rang like a shotgun blast throughout the steel canyon of Marietta Street.
Ed fell to a one hand stand, followed up with two more strikes with each hoof, then a half hop, half flip brought that hand all the way from the ground into the mother of all haymakers. The wall didn’t stand up to that kind of punishment and collapsed as Doctor Destruction sailed through it. “You’ll need a blotter when I’m done with you, sport!” he shouted before jumping into the lobby after him.
Getting back to the business at hand, I got to the last car with someone in it. Once it was set right and the door snatched off, wonder of wonders, I came up with the rarest item of them all, a cop when you need one. He was a good looking sort, dark hair and probably not that much older than I appeared to be, wearing a ballistic vest and his badge on a chain around his neck. The seatbelt had locked up, requiring me to rip it off. “Are ya’ll injured?” I asked him once he was free.
“Cuts and bruises, mostly,” he managed with a wince of pain. “I think I dislocated my shoulder though.”
“Normally Ah wouldn’t move you, sweetie, but this ain’t the place for waiting for the ambulance.” He nodded as I reached in and scooped him out. I was just turning to start flying him to safety when a pair of bodies exploded from the Reserve. Cavalry pretty much destroyed a lamp pole and caused some major distress to one of the cherry trees that lined the center of Marietta Street before sliding to a stop at its base.
The Surge actually managed to arc perfectly up Lucky Street for a good ways before sliding to a painful looking stop on the asphalt.
I wish I could say that’s where the bad news ended, but it wasn’t.
The next thing out of the building was a gold hand grenade I knew all too well. I flew like the devil himself was after me, but it wasn’t much use. It exploded into a stomach churning wave of nausea which brought me and my new cop friend to the ground. “Kill them!” thundered Destruction who had emerged from the ruins of the Reserve with his posse of mercenaries laden with M-16s and bags of loot.
I really didn’t think about it, I just relieved my casualty of his duty automatic, kept him behind me and started blazing. I might be a Southern gal now, but once upon a time I’d been a Southern boy. Marksmanship and Southern boys go together like watermelon and a hot day.
Six different knee caps would never be the same again before they’d realized the red head could shoot and started returning fire. This, I must admit, is where I got stupid. Yes, some part of me was aware that with my powers now suppressed, I wasn’t invulnerable anymore, but if you’ve ever been invulnerable you’d know you get into a mindset without the ability to imagine yourself otherwise.
My costume, thanks to its Kevlar construction stopped the first three, though lacking the normal layers you’d find on a bullet proof vest all the kinetic energy transferred to me, which threw me backwards. I had three new mammoth bruises to show for my trouble and the sharp flash of pain across the back of my flaying left hand told me of an incredibly luck near miss. I fell across the policeman with a painful grunt from both of us.
“Stay down!” he hissed frantically at me. “You can’t be any use with your powers suppressed!”
I didn’t bother wasting the breath arguing with him, but started to rise to continue the fight. That was when a number of things happened at once. The Surge came streaking down Lucky Street; from where he’d been spared the effects of the grenade clutching a two by four that he smashed across the collected faces of Doctor Destruction’s henchmen.
That was pretty much the end of the fight for them as they all toppled.
Doctor Destruction decided that having to carry all that money by himself had just overly complicated his master plan so he snatched up a bag, shouted a, “You will suffer for this, Surge!” and flew off.
And as I tried to stand up the cop grabbed my hand; the injured and bleeding hand
I yanked it away from him but the damage was already done. His face went deathly white as the virus infected him. His eyes rolled up into his head and he started to convulse. “Surge!” I screamed. “Get us to a hospital now!”
Ed, Hank and I seemed woefully out of place in the Contagious Ward of Grady Memorial as we sipped burnt coffee and waited. True to his gregarious nature, Hank didn’t start a lecture about the whys and wherefores of our bit of disappearing act from the other week. When he did break the silence the uncomfortable, but easy to disinfect plastic chairs had pulled us into what he said surprised me. “It wasn’t your fault, you know.”
I looked up into to find his clear grey eyes fixed on me, his features sincere behind the blue and green mask that concealed them. “It was an accident,” he went on as I stared at him in shock. “You were trying to save him and contain the problem. He grabbed you and you just happen to be bleeding. There wasn’t anything you could have done differently.”
A shiver worked up my spine that coaxed Ed over to give me a hug. His warmth and closeness was welcome. “Ah have lived with this for three months now,” I told him softly. “Ah grew up watching and wondering about ya’ll from the outside, looking in. Sometimes it’s hard to realize mah life isn’t a comic book.”
He laughed a low, humorless laugh. “I just might use that line with some of my students,” he shook his head while saying. “It’s easy to see the glamour in the lifestyle, but not so easy to see the pathos and the trials.” Hank’s eyes wondered back to mine from the far away place of the classroom in his mind. “Are you in school, Belle?”
I shrugged woodenly. “GSU; technically, about twenty years from now. Ah was trying to get mah head around going back for summer semester after having to miss winter and spring getting trained. God knows what Ah’ll major in.”
“You know, well, maybe you don’t, but I teach philosophy and ethics at Kennesaw College. You’d probably think it’s a step down from GSU, but perhaps you should sit in on a class when you get home. If I’m still teaching, that is,” he admitted with a chuckle.
“I almost enrolled at KSU, but Ah wanted to get a bit further away from mah home, for that full collegiate experience.”
Hank seemed a bit puzzled. “You don’t sound like you’re from Kansas.”
That brought a chuckle out of me that was a step or two above gallows humor. “Canton,” I corrected him. “And I meant Kennesaw State University where you’re the head of the Philosophy Department.”
He rocked back in his seat as he mulled that over. “State University you say? Department Chair? I’m started to like this future you come from.”
Further ruminations of Hank’s future career was cut short by the arrival of a lab coated doctor who looked like he hadn’t had much sleep in the last twenty hours or so. “Pardon me, Surge,” he cut into the conversation as we all got back to our feet. “The Deputy you brought in is going to make it. He’s over the initial stages and well into recovery, awake and, if we can keep him from disassembling the bio-monitors can probably be released tomorrow.”
“Taking apart…?” started Ed curiously. The doctor nodded.
“There weren’t any kind of physical changes that I can pin down. It would appear that the disease altered his mental capacity in some fairly major ways. He seems technically bent and, when I left him, was having an argument with our techs over impedance or something or other. I imagine one of you will need to give him the draft notice so I stopped by.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Hank told him as he got to his feet. “I don’t suppose…” he started before we both vehemently shook our heads. “Right. What’s his name, Doctor?” I guess in all the excitement we’d all rather spaced on that portion of things. The surgeon consulted the clipboard he held. “Graham,” he said at last. “Geoffrey Graham.”
The room spun a bit for me and if Ed hadn’t already been holding me I would have fallen. It seemed too far fetched to believe that I was the reason the American Eagle would come into being. That it was my blood, carried very much against my will back in time would be the undoing of Geoffrey’s life. I looked up from the whirlpool my thoughts were swimming in to find everyone imitating statues in a most disturbing manner.
“Oh that is a delicious irony, isn’t it?” purred Albert as he let himself into the waiting room. “Mother of the thorn in your own side, but it doesn’t stop there,” he told me with a chuckle. “Do you have any idea how many times I tried to get an engineer out of my own experiments?”
“If Ah thought Ah could get mah hands on you your life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel,” I hissed at him, noting that he stayed carefully out of reach.
“And I was hoping that we could defy statistics and have a wonder father-in-law daughter-in-law relationship,” he jeered at me. “Who knows? We still might. I’m hopeful at least, but I’d be in your debt if you’d keep Edward in check after I release him.”
“Why should Ah?”
It was a fruitless pursuit as Sovereign was in a very happy place and nothing I said would undo it. “Because you love him and, if he agrees, in four hours he’ll have his mother back and we’ll be on our way home.” He favored me with a calculating look. “Whereupon, officer, I’ll go quietly.”
“Just like that?”
He nodded. “Just like that. My Sara will be alive again, my son will have at least one parent he can look up to and the reason for all this foolishness will be done. I’m Catholic; I certainly understand you have to go through Purgatory to get to Heaven.”
“What about Power Ball and the rest of that zoo crew of yours?” I demanded.
Albert slowly shook his head. “What kind of employer would I be if I let others be punished for my misdeeds? I like to think I’ve kept Randall on a fairly short leash, but I am responsible for everything they have done on my order. The piper’s bill is mine to pay.”
I couldn’t keep in a heavy sigh. After all that I had gone through it was still nearly impossible not to like Albert. “Damn you to hell, Sovereign, turn him loose.”
A shudder passed through Ed as I used our embrace to keep him in check. “Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse,” he spat after a noisy sigh.
Sovereign actually seemed a bit hurt. “Today, my boy, I think you’ll mark on your diary as possibly the greatest day of your life.” He took a small vial from his belt that was filled with a clear fluid and held it up. “This is the salvation of your mother, son; Mckimpson Strain perfected. Ten minutes from now Sara and my past self will arrive and in three hours her water will break, infecting her with the MS strain that will kill her. But, if she’s already MS positive she gives birth, slips into a peaceful sleep that, an hour and twenty years from now she will awake from. She will be alive, whole and in our present; no paradox, no complications and no further grief from me, Edward. You have my word.”
“You’re putting this on my head?” he growled at him.
“In your very hands, my son,” Albert replied softly. “I can’t enter the room, I’m there already. You will have administer this. It’s your choice. You wanted to trade your life for hers. I’m giving you a chance to save it and live the rest of your life with her in it. Whatever you decide, son, I will abide by.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes from Ed’s face as he weighted this heavy decision. I watched hope, regret, wistfulness and fear march across his long features. I know I don’t say it often enough, but thank you most merciful God for my family. As the time ran out long and heavy I squeezed him softly just to let him know I was there for him. His eyes fell down on me, plucking at my heart strings. “Ah love you,” I told with all the sincerity I could muster into my voice.
“Give it to me,” he said at last.
I don’t really know that I want to talk about this.
I mean, honestly, what business of yours how I dealt with something this personal? Have you ever lost a parent? Do know what it’s like to grow up empty and wondering?
I understand your reluctance, but I can’t understand unless you tell me.
Before I’d had lunch with ‘Dad’ I’d never even seen a picture of my mother. Can you imagine that? I had no idea I was born in Georgia. I don’t think I ever spent more than a year in one place between the orphanages and foster homes. I haven’t really processed most of this myself, how can you expect me to explain it to you?
Perhaps if you pick up from taking the vial from Sovereign?
If you haven’t lost a parent, you can’t really understand what was going through my head then. Every kid I ever knew growing had one thing in common with me. We all fantasized about this loving relative ‘discovering’ us and bringing us home. A couple of them got their dreams to come true, some got adopted, which I suppose was almost as good.
Most were like me; we turned 18, they either gave us the first month of an apartment and a job, or if we managed to get into college they took our stuff to the dorm. I got the key to that damn inhibitor and a ‘Good luck’ before I was dumped out at GSU. But that’s not good enough right? Because when I got free of one government department, there’s another waiting. This is a job to you. You clock in, pick my brain, vicariously find out what life is like, then you clock out and go home.
This doesn’t end for me! I don’t get to clock off!
Getting angry won’t make this any easier.
Oh sure, right, I should just shut up and get with the program. Well, what would you like to know? How long my dick is? When was the last time I took a good dump?
If I wanted to know those things, I would already.
Where do they find people like you? Honestly, is it some kind of personality defect that draws head cases like you to this job? Or maybe it’s some kind of frustrated voyeur complex?
A discussion of my sexual peccadilloes will not make this go any faster.
No, I suppose not. Probably fairly dull and boring anyway.
If insulting me will help, please feel free.
Perhaps a brief recess is in order.
You know, I’ve been working this job for a while. I can’t really say if I disserve a title like ‘hero,’ but I like to think I’ve done some good; saved some people. But until I took that vial from Sovereign, I’d never really held life and death in my hand before.
But that’s what this little jar was, if it did everything Sovereign said it did.
My mother’s life was literally in my hand. I wasn’t the orphan anymore, waiting to be saved, I was the savior. Maybe men shouldn’t be given this kind of power. I’m not a religious man, but I am spiritual I guess you could say.
This thing, this was dangerously close to fighting with God.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d been daydreaming about being able to save my Mom most of my life, but holding it in my hands was just, well, I guess I wondered if I had the right.
Sovereign measured out the dose into a syringe and I was walking a little numbly over to maternity. It wasn’t terribly hard to fiddle with the hologram to let me be able to pass for a doctor. Most nurses are so used to taking orders from men in white lab coats they never really look that hard at who’s wearing it. ‘Dad’ was busy filling out the paperwork, leaving mom alone in the room.
I just let myself in and I guess I couldn’t help staring.
“I…ugh…guess this is a first time for both of us?” she grunted.
“You, ah, you could say that,” I told her, more than a little surprised that she could keep a sense of humor. She lay back and tried to get a bit more comfortable.
“At least tell me it won’t last long once it’s really going.”
My lab coat gave me the courage to lock the door and pick up her chart. Not that any of it made sense to me; it seemed to be the thing to do to stay in character. “How are you feeling, Mrs. Filby?”
“Like I’ve been constipated for a year and it’s finally bursting loose,” she said with a dark chuckle.
“Are you in any discomfort?”
“The contractions are manageable but getting closer,” she replied, giving me something of a calculating look. “You want to tell me your name?”
“Edward,” she replied as if trying the name on for size. “I think we both know you’re not a doctor. So, what can I do for you?”
“That obvious huh?”
“It’s the details that make the difference, your lab coat has no embroidery, no ID badge, and not even a doctor would wear a blue tie with a yellow shirt.” She smiled at me for moment before holding up the remote that was cabled to the wall. “I can mash this emergency button before you can stop me, so if you’re after something, you might want to ask first. My husband isn’t a man to cross.”
“I know. I’m not here to take anything, or hurt you in any way.”
She rolled her eyes, but didn’t drop the remote. “I figured that out for myself.” She was forced to pause as another contraction struck her, then sighed as it finally passed. “So, Edward, why are you here?”
“That’s kind of a long story.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m really not sure you’d believe me,” I started before she became a bit frustrated and I decided to start over again. “Ok, I don’t have time to give you the entire story, but the long and short of it is I’m here to save your life.”
You’d think saying that to someone given the conversation we’d already had would cause even more disbelief. Mom just considered this for a moment and asked, “My life is in danger in a hospital?”
“When your water breaks, you’ll be infected with Mckimpson Strain. I guess due to the stress of labor you’re already under you…die.”
“And how do you know all this, Edward?”
I suppose I should have known that that question would eventually get asked. Now that I was staring it in the face, I wasn’t entirely sure how I should answer it. There really wasn’t any way I could hem and haw about it, seeing as I’d already admitted I wasn’t a doctor. After a very long awkward pause I realized for her to believe me, she’d have to know. Everything. I made a calming gesture and reached over to the watch and turned it off. “I know because I’m your son,” I told her over her gasp.
“Al…Albert said there might be side effects…” she finally managed. “How…?”
“I’m sorry, Mom, I don’t have time. You’ll have to trust me.” I took out the syringe and showed it to her. “This is something Albert cooked up in the intervening years. It’s Mckimpson Strain perfected, he says.”
She frowned a bit. “Albert? Something tells me you two don’t get along.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” I snorted while trying to keep as much derision out of my voice as I could. “He says this will make you impervious to the MS that’s already in your amniotic fluid. It will also cause you to pass out. To avoid any kind of paradox, you’ll have to skip over the next twenty years or so. When you wake up it will be 2004.”
“How…ugh…long do I have to think about this?” she asked around a contraction.
I spread my arms in helpless gesture to her nod. “I know this is a lot to swallow fast, I wish…” I would have gone on, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I could finish. I mean, really, how could I explain twenty years of wishing and longing in a couple of sentences? Mom looked at me for a few moments before she spoke again.
“You’re risking a lot by coming here, aren’t you?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure what will happen when I get back to when I belong,” I told her. “Not that it matters, if you’ll be there now.”
“Ends never justify means, Edward,” she told me softly. “Had I been around, well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I have…had…I want so many things for you. Are you happy?”
The turn the conversation had taken startled me. “I’m studying film at GSU, when I’m not playing super hero. I’m doing alright I suppose.”
She smiled once more around a tremor that danced across her stomach. “I’m glad. That you’re happy and healthy and in college is an answer to my prayers. What about girls? Is there anyone special in your life?”
“Her name is Jennifer,” I admitted, feeling more than a little warm as my mind painted my lover’s face.
“She sounds lovely,” she told me with a chuckle. “And you seem quite taken with her. But, I get the feeling our time is growing short, son. These contractions aren’t getting any longer.” I brought out the syringe and made to put it into her IV but she shook her head and held out her hand. “No, I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“But, Mom,” I started before she interrupted me.
“No, Edward, and you shouldn’t tarry here long. Give me the needle. I don’t know what I’ll decide, but I want you to know this. I love you.”
Something told me there wasn’t an argument I could make that she’d listen to so I gave her the syringe, kissed her on the fore head and re-activated the hologram. My feet took me somewhere else and at the time I didn’t especially care where.
Outside it was a beautiful early spring day. Even in the midst of New York of the South, there were birds chirping and squirrels running around frantically collecting nuts as if winter was just around the corner. And the sky over head was this magnificent shade of cobalt blue, but it didn’t seem right to me.
It didn’t seem right that my mother left the Earth on a day like that day was.
At this point, I didn’t know what she would decide to do or if Albert’s, and my meddling was about to be the undoing of the whole world. I’ll be honest; physics isn’t my best subject in school but some rational part of me felt that as I was standing here, breathing this air and reflecting on memories that hadn’t happened yet perhaps we had beat the system. Maybe all the hullabaloo about paradox was just so much egg head farting into the wind.
But then, what would I know? I’m just a cop.
So I went outside into this wonderful afternoon and got a cigar going and tried to steel myself to possibly losing my mother again, this time permanently. The smoke didn’t really help, but it gave my hands something to do while my brain ran in circles screaming like a baby.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
The voice rather caught me off guard, but just then I was ready for something of a distraction. Anything to keep my mind off my own birth that was going on upstairs. The doctor who had spoken to me was a good looking fellow, a squared off, but rugged face whose center piece was a very aquiline nose crowned by dark eyes that nearly perfectly matched his dark chocolate complexion.
“Yes,” I finally managed. “Yes it is.”
“New father?” he asked me with a flash of startlingly white teeth in a perfect smile as he nodded at the cigar.
“Not exactly,” I told him around a chuckle. “I’m Edward.”
He took my offered hand and gave me a remarkably firm handshake. “Malcolm,” he replied. “So, what’s the occasion, Edward?”
“No special occasion, just a habit,” I admitted finally. “Though my mom is upstairs in delivery.” That was, after all, true enough.
“Ah, going to be awkward having a bona fide baby brother or sister. I feel you.” He took another look around as if he wasn’t familiar with the view. “Still, everything new takes a bit of getting used to. If you’re worried about Mom, don’t. Grady has one of the best neo-natal and ICUs in the State. She’ll pull through.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he was playing at; after all, my senses were no big secret. Still, for whatever reason Trapdoor seemed to want to pretend I didn’t know who he was. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I mumbled around the cigar. “Your Boss put so much work into this you have every confidence, right? That’s real employee loyalty.”
He smiled an almost sheepish smile at being caught. “The nose knows, right?” he asked around a weak chuckle. “Still, it was worth a shot.”
“What are you playing at, Trapdoor?”
He sighed and looked up at the sky as if seeking some kind of guidance from on high. “It’ll be nice to not answer to that,” he finally said after a long moment. Malcolm favored me with a glance as I glared at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Who do you think of yourself as, Ed? Your Christian name? Cavalry? Or maybe some pet name Belle has come up with for you?”
“You get into the ether, Trapdoor? You’re not making a whole lot of sense here.”
“Hey, it’s a legitimate question,” he replied, not in the least distressed about the glare I was giving him. We’d just come from the big mix up with Doctor Destruction, but somehow I was still spoiling for a fight. “I’ve worn this role for so long I catch myself buying into it sometimes. I was just wondering if I was alone.” He gave me a goofy looking grin while taking out a badge wallet whose shield I didn’t recognize. “The perils of undercover work I guess.”
“You’re trying to tell me you’re a cop, now?” I snorted with disbelief.
“More of a referee,” he hedged. “Most of the time we’re content to sit back and watch, make sure people don’t get out of their depth. Researchers can be a damn tunnel vision-ed lot sometimes, but there’s some cops and robbers stuff every now and then as well. I knew I’d be spending a lot of life span on this assignment when it came down, but I just couldn’t pass it up. This era has always fascinated me.”
“The men in the white lab coats are calling, Malcolm.”
“You telling me you’re perfectly willing, in 1985, to accept something as fantastic as time travel but not there’d be a regulatory agency for it? Or that such an agency would let something this monumental go down without a guiding hand for it?”
Ok, I’ll admit it I was a little intrigued but this argument. It was reasoned, logical and well thought out, exactly the kind of thing I’d expect Daddy Dearest to pull. “So, you’re a time cop, huh? That’s interesting, seeing as you’ve been working for Al for at least five years that I know of. And committed or helped him commit a string of felonies as long as my tail.”
He laughed a very hollow laugh. “Six and a half, actually and I have what you’d call diplomatic immunity.”
“Undercover or not, it doesn’t work that way,” I growled at him.
“It does for me. I protect the flow of reality, Edward; my bosses give me a pretty free hand to do that.”
“So, what about paradox and all that?” I couldn’t help demanded. “If reality needs cops, what we’re doing has to break a whole slew of whatever you call laws.”
He shook his head as he took out a hip flask and took a sip before offering to me. I declined. “It doesn’t work that way. So, let’s say you go back in time and shoot Hitler. Theoretically you should cease to exist, right? All that history you just undid could, should wipe you out.”
“That’s one view, others say everything just blows up or stops or something.”
“No, it violates the laws of Conservation of Energy. For the whole universe to just stop requires more energy than it did to create it. Time and probability are a lot more resilient than that. The time as a river analogy is pretty close. You dam up a river, it makes a lake, but eventually the river will find a new way around. Time works that way. My job is to make sure it flows down the channel the boss says is ‘right’.”
“So, sticking with your Hitler analogy, what happens then?”
“Time keeps moving. It just is moving in a direction nobody knows. Upstream changes pretty radically, but any of our assets behind the event stay. Makes it hard, and there’s been a couple of pretty hairy instances I can tell you, but you can nudge the river back on track.”
I chewed on this for a few minutes while the birds and squirrels did their thing. “So, what track are you here to nudge?” I finally asked.
“If I was here to stop Albert, Ed, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do it.”
“So, my mother was meant to live.” He nodded around another pull of his flask.
“Yep, just as Albert was meant to perfect Mckimpson. For him to do that, his wife had to die.”
“That’s a contradiction,” I protested. “You can’t have it both ways!”
“Why not?” he wanted to know. “Albert will see his wife die and that will give birth to Sovereign. Sovereign will perfect Mckimpson and travel back in time, making sure his past self sees everything he remembers, and then we pick up Sara from the morgue. All that’s left is the paperwork and the debriefing.”
I just couldn’t keep the disbelieving snort behind my teeth. “Paperwork? Debriefing? Tell me you’re joking!”
This had been pretty entertaining bit of conversation, I’ll admit, but I really wasn’t taking Malcolm seriously. After all, this stank pretty hard of Sovereign’s exit strategy. It became very deadly serious when he removed a small, plastic looking pistol shaped device from the lab coat. “I’m afraid not, Ed. Please don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”
I suddenly became aware that there was a small, van shaped vehicle that had appeared behind me, its cargo doors open. I could smell two new people that were next to it, flanking me. “You don’t honestly expect me…” I started, already shifting my weight to be flat on my feet, ready for what I was going to do.
Malcolm didn’t answer, he just fired that strange little pistol and it hit me full in the chest. Almost immediately I lost my sense of smell, like I had the mother of all head colds, followed hard by the world seeming to slow down and become bendy around the edges like a Dali painting. I knew I was falling but I couldn’t make my arms or legs do anything about it. The two helpers guided my fall into the truck and the nausea I’d come to associate with time travel washed through me as the lights went out.
Man I hate fighting professionals.
I woke up in that rinky-dink closet you call a guest room that I call a holding cell. And I’ll admit the bed is nice and soft and the food is really quite nice, but being drug in here to spin my life’s story is wearing more than a bit thin. If by some wild stretch of the imagination I didn’t buy into this time travel cop bit you’ve spun for me, I think the dinosaurs wondering around outside the window would clue me in. This is a bit elaborate even for Sovereign. Now, I’ve done what you asked for, I’ve given you this stupid debriefing, I know you’re holding Belle, Mortagain and Sovereign here, I can smell them. I want to see them, now.
I just have one or two things I’d like to clear up.
You know, I think I’ve been pretty patient dealing with all of this. I haven’t destroyed anything and no one has been injured. All in all I’ve played this very low key. That can change.
I can offer you my most un-conditional guarantee that everyone is safe and being well cared for.
So there shouldn’t be any issue with my seeing them.
And there won’t be. Please indulge me, one cop to another; you know what the paperwork is like.
Your Mother is in recovery. She’s going to be fine.
Is that supposed to suddenly put you on my side? My one true pal, looking out for me?
I just have one more question, Cavalry. Then, I give you my word; I’ll take you to the lounge where everyone is currently having lunch. How do you feel about your father now?
What has that got to do with anything? My scheming, manipulative super villain father? Why should you care?
He did bring about the salvation of your mother. Don’t you think that he deserves a little slack for that?
What he deserves is a nine by nine room serving 25 to forever. I’m sure he’ll get a pile less than that, but we’re talking about what he’s due. No, it doesn’t change a damn thing about how I feel. He’s a thug, and a criminal who’s put God alone knows how many lives at risk on his personal little crusade. Again, I ask, what do you care?
I’m not at liberty to be as completely honest with you as I would like. Still it is important. Do you not think he’s earned any mitigation?
I don’t know how things work in your department, but in mine the ends don’t ever justify the means. That, and ‘I was just following orders’ are probably the worst excuses for a lack of judgment and just basic morality on the face of the planet. It didn’t work at Nuremburg or The Hague so why in God’s name should it work here?
I’d always been fascinated by your ramrod adherence to your core beliefs. Forgive me a bit of self indulgence; I’ve wondered if even the fact of his saving your mother and being the grandfather your children made any kind of leeway.
I think you might be confusing your dates a bit, time cop. I don’t have any children.
Not yet. Southern Belle is pregnant.
I think, perhaps, having gone through this odd little twist in time probably did me a gigantic favor. It got me into the habit of recording my thoughts and feelings about things which has certainly made the job of writing my memoirs easier. Not that I’m sure I’ll ever publish them, outside of the hero community; quite honestly I don’t think I want Ultra-man to know about my conflicted feelings on the mechanics of sex with a male having been one myself once upon a time.
But I have since learned that I am not alone in this odd journey my life has taken. There are others that Mckimpson has forced on this path with me; in varying stages of success. I actually had it pretty well off from what I hear. Most Male To Female cases are in therapy for years. Some of them never adapt to what life has thrown them and a goodly percentage more become lesbians. I don’t know why my transition was so much easier than most.
Well, mentally easier anyways.
More to the point, if, in some musty future I’ll have no knowledge or memory of these ramblings can be of use to someone who is forced to walk a mile in my boots, then perhaps I’ll have done a bit of good. That is certainly a comforting thought
I cannot say much about my time at the Time Police facility. I gave my deposition as best as I could remember it, and beyond that I really cannot comment. I signed the confidentiality papers after I gave my briefing and they took me to the others who were having lunch in the base’s cafeteria. I will say this, however, they certainly ate well.
I won’t talk about Ed’s reunion with his mother.
There are some things that are just too personal. If you’ve read my other ramblings, then you can well imagine how that meeting went. The reality of it I will keep safe in my own memory. Beyond that, I can only surmise that for the first time in his life, I think, my beloved was a whole person.
Strangely enough, the other emotional departure of the group was Sovereign saying good bye to Trap Door. Those two had probably gone through quite a bit over the years, I suppose from Albert’s point of view he was loosing not only his right hand, but likely the one person he could really trust.
I’ll be kind and allow for the possibility that some dust had gotten into his eyes like he claimed.
I was more than a little upset that Trapdoor was getting a complete pardon for his misadventures in my present all ‘in the line of duty’ was how they hand waved it away. I had to wonder a bit about an organization that could be so cavalier about things. I’m sorry, I don’t buy into the ‘well, it already happened so it had to happen’ bit. Maybe I’m just a sore loser, but it did rankle.
What can I say about Sara Filby?
Physically she wasn’t that much older than I was, and still very weak from getting over both being infected with McKimpson as well as giving birth. Mind you, I didn’t expect that I’d be talking with her for some time. Albert practically wouldn’t let her out of reach the whole time we were in the cafeteria. While this must be all very strange to her, I decided to withdraw a bit and let her have a bit of get acquainted time with her hubby and son.
Ginnevia didn’t seem to be in a particularly talkative mood either so I pretty much ate by myself. When I was done I put my tray into the recycler thing they had and let myself out. Off the cafeteria was a veranda with some tables and chairs and a fairly nice view of where-ever it was we were. I felt like getting some air just then and being alone with my thoughts.
So, I let my flight give me a bit of altitude and take a little look around.
Now, in retrospect, this seems remarkably foolish, I’ll admit. However, in that time of my life I’d been used to being around people, and as I was cut off from just about everyone, I thought a flight would clear my head.
It didn’t take me very long to figure out we were in Georgia; or rather what would become Georgia in a few billion years. Stone Mountain, the world’s largest piece of exposed granite kind of gave it away. Stone Mountain is basically just a, well, mountain sized boulder that was deposited here in the last ice age. From the look of the Appalachians away to the north it would appear the land mark was still getting settled in. I had never seen it without The Carving so it was more than a little odd to see it so now.
Based on its location, I had to figure the facility we were in now would be located somewhere in what would be Dunwoody, many millennia from now. I have to tell you, it’s a little hard coping in a language that wasn’t specifically designed for these kinds of paradoxes. I’m not entirely sure how they dealt with concepts like in the future from when I am now, but in my personal past. It makes the head spin to be honest.
So, I did what any good, red-blooded super heroine would have done, I hovered a few hundred yards in the air and thought. Oddly enough I didn’t really think about my past. I mean, sure, with my past it’s hard not to consider it, but I really was more concerned with (pardon the pun) my future.
Assuming Sovereign kept his word he and his organization would be removed from the issues of my life. That was a pretty big deal to be honest. He’d been behind just about every scuffle I’d had thus far and all to get to where he was now. I knew I shouldn’t but I couldn’t help feeling a little happy for the creep.
Despite what they tell you in the funny books, the ‘bad guy’ had won.
Now the question was how much he would get to enjoy the fruits of his labors in crime. I could genuinely sympathize with him and what he’d done. If it were a member of my family and this had happened, would I behave any differently? How many mountains would I be willing to move to save who I hold dear?
“That is the real question, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t help jumping a bit as Sovereign silently glided up next to me, disturbingly so in a quiet you can’t imagine having grown up in the suburbs. “Excuse me?” I demanded, giving a little distance but, not so much that I couldn’t be on him fast as lightening if he decided to pull something.
“I beg your pardon, Belle, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but you were thinking rather loudly,” he told me with his oily smile. “What I meant was, were you to have to walk a mile in my boots, what line would you cross or not?”
“Ah honestly couldn’t say,” I admitted, both to him and myself.
“At least you can admit that to yourself,” he said as he looked off into the horizon. “I’ve wrestled quite a bit with my own conscience as I walked this path. What lines I could justify crossing, which I wouldn’t. Mine has been a very high and lonely destiny.”
“Ah don’t think C.S. Lewis had this in mind when he wrote that.”
He chuckled in an almost amiable fashion. “Touché, and I do believe this would be well outside his wildest imaginings. Still, it seemed very much appropriate. I imagine after this little adventure, petty thugs and school work will seem quite pedestrian.”
“Ya’ll seem to think you’re the only super villain out there.”
“I never considered myself a villain,” he chided me. “That is really all that matters. Truth be told, I shudder to think what I might have been capable of with out my morals to stand in the way.”
“Ah never noticed you had any.”
His eyes flicked over to me and that half smirk he always wore gave him a very sinister look. “You’re alive, aren’t you? You and countless others like you. It’s the reason my ‘rap’ sheet only lists reckless endangerment and depraved indifference instead of crimes like murder and manslaughter. Despite the fact I was neither reckless nor indifferent. Depraved, well, I’ll leave that one to Judgment.”
“Albert,” I started, somewhat haltingly. “Didn’t you ever even consider…?”
“What?” he demanded. “Asking permission? You think I didn’t? I am here because of choices your government made, not my own. My wife was killed because of my own oversight, my son was taken from me because I wouldn’t kowtow and be a good little hero like I was told. Were I half the villain I’m made out to be there would be no United States!”
“You can’t just ignore the law and do what you want…!”
“Tell that to Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the other ‘Founding Fathers’.” He stared at me, his eyes smoldering with repressed anger at what he had gone through before he finally sighed and looked away. “I didn’t come up here to start a quarrel with you, Belle.”
“Ah’m sorry too,” I admitted contritely. “Actually, Ah must admit to being a bit happy for you, getting your wife back and all. Ah hope you’ll actually get to spend some time with her…before…”
“Before I’m hauled off to the gulag?” he asked around a dark chuckle. “Don’t give up on me yet. I’ve already hired a law firm that will make Mr. Simpson’s ‘dream team’ look like a collection of kids straight out of law school. I don’t expect to see the inside of a courtroom for years.”
Considering the sorry state of our current legal system I must confess I was forced to agree with him. Still, at least he could be a man and step up to answer for what he’d done. I found myself a little surprised at my own words next. “Ah wish the other villains in the world were half the class act you are, Sovereign.”
That seemed to startle him as well as he looked at me, for once having surprised the telepath. He inclined his head in acceptance of the compliment. “Thank you. It was never my intention that anyone be hurt so that I could undo my mistake. I came up here to tell you they’re ready for us. Time to face the music, I suppose.”
He led the way back to the facility where the ushered us into a little room that for all the world looked like the teleporter gizmo off some sci-fi show. Trapdoor, AKA the Time Cop Malcolm was in one of their odd little double breasted uniforms to see us off. He and Sovereign shook hands a final time, Albert’s voice full of genuine emotion as he said, “Thank you, Malcolm; for everything.”
“My pleasure, Albert,” the undercover cop responded. To the rest of us he added, “It’s been a privilege knowing you all.”
We arranged ourselves on the pads of the contraption and they turned it on. I felt another gut wrenching wave of nausea and I couldn’t help wondering how Malcolm or the other Time Cops dealt with it. The teleporter room faded away and for a split second I saw the vault, standing open back at headquarters, then the view scrambled like the bad reception on a TV and I was yanked sideways.
When my vision cleared I was in another little room rather like the one I’d just left. There were banks of controls that looked state of the art and a hazy force field between me and the black and gold armored form that was working them. My knees didn’t want to support my weight, so abused had my insides been of late. I had a vague feeling of falling as my consciousness slipped away to Dr. Destruction’s gloat of, “I told you that you would regret meddling in my affairs.”
Then the darkness of oblivion claimed me.
Now I’d like to tell you that when I woke up I immediately began working on an intricate and daring escape plan that prominently feature me beating the snot out of Dr. Destruction. I wouldn’t mind telling you that when I woke up the wall of my cell exploded and in strolled the love of my life with an intricate and daring rescue plan that prominently featured him beating the snot of out Dr. Destruction.
Hell, I’d rather tell you anything other than that I woke up due to a violent need to throw up in a straw covered and vermin infested cell that made Steve McQueen’s digs in Papillon look like a room at the local Hilton.
Unfortunately, that’s what I have to tell you.
Once I was down to the dry heaves, which the aroma from the foul smelling bucket I had to use wasn’t helping, I was able to take a bit more stock of my surroundings. Around my left wrist was a little gizmo that seemed to be a power inhibitor if I was guessing right. I noticed this because I was aware that the room was very cold and my ability to fly was pretty much gone.
This was confirmed when I pinched myself and it actually hurt.
While my costume was still in place, complete with my mask, I noticed, my utility belt was gone. The room I found myself in had a large, wooden door that was bound in iron and between the mold and dank smell I figured was underground; hence the lack of windows. There was another bucket that someone had ‘thoughtfully’ provided full of nasty looking water they expected me to drink I supposed.
Now, I have to tell you I’m getting more than a little sick and tired of reacting to situations like this.
I’d been reacting to Sovereign’s theft of the Time Runner, reacting to my general situation in life and all the drama that came part and parcel of it. Fair to say I’m done reacting. So, the first thing I did was start putting as much pressure on the joints of the gizmo on my arm as I could.
No, I didn’t think I could break it, bear with me.
I’d done that for about twenty minutes or so until I’d managed to worry one of the seals loose a bit and then (big breath here) stuck my arm into the bucket of water in the room. I don’t recommend you folks try this at home as the amount of pain you get when an electrical device is shorted out is quite high. Fortunately, it wasn’t enough to knock me out once the suppression field generator shorted out and my invulnerability and strength came surging back. I flicked my wrist a bit to dry it and snatched that loathsome device off my arm.
It was payback time.
The door put up about as much fuss as you’d expect given my renewed strength and I found myself in your basic medieval dungeon excepted for the lighting which were basic 60 watt bulbs in steel protective fixtures. There was a guard sitting at a desk a few feet away that got as far as, “How…?” before I fed him a knuckle sandwich that cost him his two front teeth and sent him off to dream land.
A quick search of the cell block told me I was the only prisoner, which matched up to my somewhat foggy memories of arrival. The guard’s desk yielded my utility belt which I found terribly convenient. Not in a nice way either. I gave it a once over, but if there were tracking devices hidden on it I couldn’t find them. More to the point, while a good bit of this gear was old, some of it may have sentimental value to Mom so there was no way I was going to leave it there.
I relieved the guard of his keys, made him at home in one of his empties and left not really caring if he was found or not. Quite frankly, I had a pretty serious mad on and henchmen safety wasn’t high on my list of considerations just then. As I was pretty sure I was underground, I decided of my two options up was the better choice and followed the hallway in that direction.
That way led me to a circular stair case that ended in a steel door the guards keys opened for me. On the other side of it I found a corridor that lacked quite a bit of the mold the dungeon used for its homey finishing touch as it was sterile and clean. It was more than a little eerie how empty the place was, but just then I was glad of it and, being a conservative kind of gal, I went right.
I have to tell you I felt more than a bit like a rat in a maze as I quickly found myself in a large facility that seemed equally devoid of people. I found all kinds of interesting things, laboratories, a storage facility full of God alone knew what but seemed like that final shot of the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet for all of this stuff, there wasn’t a single person doing anything with it.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting in my little jail break, but this really wasn’t it. It seemed like only two things were certain; whoever ran this place had trouble making payroll and they weren’t exactly overly fond of exits.
After about an hour of flying around, back tracking from dead ends more than once, I did finally manage to locate an elevator lobby and that’s where my luck ran out.
Standing in it was a big bruiser of a thug looking like a reject extra from Easy Rider. He caught sight of me about the same time I caught sight of him and cracked his knuckles with glee. I’ll spare you the horror of what a dental nightmare his smile was. “Well now, out and about are we?” he opened with.
“Shouldn’t you be sounding the alarm?” I asked as I settled to the ground and got ready to vent some frustration on this twerp.
“No need, love,” the cockney biker continued. “Alarm went off the moment you pulled your new bit of bling off.”
Mental note, next time be satisfied with breaking it. “And ya’ll are what; the thanks for stopping by committee?”
“Something like that,” he admitted. “Behind me is the main elevator shaft. Take one all the way to the top and you’ll find yourself in the main hanger. Only trouble is, I’m not gonna let you.”
“What ever shall Ah do?” I mocked him. “After Ah kick your ass, that is.”
“That’s the spirit!” he laughed before lunging at me. I wasn’t sure if he could fly or just leap a long ways, but he covered the distance between us in a single bound, leading his left hand, right cocked back in a fairly classic haymaker position.
Which was really just perfect.
My flight let me hop over him, lock up his right arm with mine and flip him around transferring all that moment right into the floor with a satisfying crash. I followed this up with (I’ll admit it) a rather vicious shot to the family jewels that curled him up like a baby finalized with a spinning kick to his now exposed spine. As he lay there moaning I let him savor the pain for a moment before reaching down and hauling him back up to eye level by his fake leather vest. “Ya’ll got any other witty repartee or did Ah break mah new toy already?”
His breath was absolutely foul. “No need to hold back on my account, love. Let’s see what you’re really made of, eh?” With that he crashed both fists into my ears which was remarkably disorienting and lodged a kick to my sternum that knocked me through the wall on the far side of the corridor. I made a perfect mess of what was probably several million dollars worth of lab equipment before my flight could over power his momentum and bring me to a hover. My antagonist wiped the trail of blood from his lips and had the audacity to wink at me. “We haven’t been properly introduced, have we?” he sneered as he hopped through the hole in the wall I’d made. “The name’s Tribsa, and it’ll be my pleasure to take you down a peg or three.”
“Is that a fact?” I demanded while breaking a rather sturdy looking metal chair over his head. That split his scalp open and released a good bit of blood which caused me to pause, thinking I’d seriously hurt him.
He used my hesitation to tie up my legs and give me a vicious elbow to the jaw. He certainly was stronger than he looked as that brought me crashing into a desk that splintered it to kindling. “It is indeed,” he replied, one hand wiping some of the blood from his eyes as I hazily saw the wound on his head close. “See, while I haven’t got something as a stone gas as your invulnerability, I’ve got something one better. Any wound you do to me heals up and makes me a bit stronger.”
He picked me up by my hair and threw me across the room where I added to someone’s repair bill by the destruction of an electron microscope. “You ever been raped, love?” he taunted me as I got back to my feet. “See, once I’m done wearing you down, I’m going to have my way with you in all manner of unsavory ways. Or, maybe you like it rough?”
I could see he was trying to rattle my cage and the concept of being befouled was one I had never really considered. Only trouble for him was, damned if I’d be his victim. I decided a bit of turn around was in order so I started laughing. That brought him a moment of pause as I imagine that line normally had female heroines cowering. “At last,” I told him around a decidedly evil chuckle, “Ah have a punching bag that won’t quit after the first couple of hits and if Ah break him, Ah honestly won’t care.”
That gave him a moment to hesitate and I didn’t give him a chance to recover. My flight covered the distance and if I was going for his face his late swing might have connected. But I wasn’t. I was going for his knee. The force of my strike collapsed his knee until the front of his calf and thigh were almost touching.
His howl of agony was music to my ears.
I spun out of his flaying riposte and gave him a matched pair of knees for his trouble. He managed to land an elbow to my jaw that had me seeing stars for a moment, but Yagimura-sensei’s drills had my hands moving of their own accord. Before I realized what I had done I’d forced his arm up behind his back with a wet pop of it dislocating. My other arm used as a fulcrum poured salt into the wound as I broke his arm with a satisfying crunch.
“Still in the mood, tough guy?” I snarled.
“I’m going to fucking kill you, bitch!” he screamed.
“Not today, Tommy,” I replied as I took advantage of his immobility to relieve him of an electronic card key. “Based on how fast that cut on your eye healing, Ah’d imagine it’ll take you a solid day to recover from what Ah’ve done to you. Ya’ll are lucky Ah’m not in the same league as your boss or Ah might be tempted to see just how far you can regenerate.”
There was a part of me that really wanted to do more damage; just on the principal of it, but Tribsa, or whatever he was calling himself was pretty much beaten. So I tossed him a, “Cheers, ya’ll” as I made my exit through the hole and back into the elevator lobby. Tommy-boy’s key card brought an elevator and, sure enough there was a button labeled ‘main hanger’ on it.
So I pressed it.
I swear though, it doesn’t matter whether in you’re in the local mall or the hide out of public enemy number one; elevator music is universally bad.
The elevator opened onto a gantry that overlooked a massive cave that had been leveled and paved. There were all manner of aircraft here, and the previously unseen occupants of Dr. Destruction’s secret base, scurrying around them.
If that was in fact where I was.
Beyond the helicopters, light jets and things I had no name for was an open maw of the cave that looked out over a teeming jungle. This went a long way to explaining why it was so muggy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I went on a one woman wrecking crew to increase the collateral damage and to have a little têt a têt with Dr. D himself. And if you were thinking that, unfortunately, you’d be wrong. The bad doctor is not someone little old me is going to do much to besides escape; unless I come back with a pile of friends. Which, seeing that nice open hanger door, is exactly what I did.
I kicked my flight into over drive and I hauled ass.
Less than heroic? Maybe, but this southern gal aims to fight again another day so I skedaddled. Almost as soon as I’d cleared his little mountain top retreat my phone started buzzing. Which, honestly, surprised the mud out of me; I mean I figured the Stone Mountain Irregulars had a pretty good nights and weekends plan for this thing, but I wasn’t thinking it roamed into other countries.
But the caller ID said it was Geoffrey calling and, honestly, any friendly voice just now would be welcome. “This is Belle,” I shouted over the wind of my flight.
“Belle, it’s the American Eagle. Our satellite shows you’re in Honduras. How did you get there?”
We have a satellite? “I was kidnapped returning from…well, returning with Cavalry and the others. I’m making good my escape now. Speaking of Cavalry, ya’ll want to send it in right quick? I could use some help!”
“Are you being pursued?” I looked over my shoulder and was surprised to only see the mountain fading into the distance.
“No, and that honestly surprises me!”
“Alright, Puerto Cortés is slightly north and west of you about 150 miles away. You ought to be able to get there in about 30 minutes. I’ll charter a jet and be there by night fall.”
There was a pop and I had to scramble to catch Ginnevia who’d appeared in midair next to me. “I’ll be here sooner!” she managed before she passed out.
Now that was just what I needed, a sidekick.
Puerto Cortés, I would discover, was a blue collar kind of town whose primary business was the massive port where just about everything made or grown in Central America made its way to the US of A by ship. It didn’t have the glitzy flare that Acapulco had, or the touristy feel of the Bahamas, though being right on the Caribbean Sea made it spectacularly beautiful. A still unconscious Ginnevia and I arrived about two in the afternoon to the delight of the locals, no doubt aided by my skin tight costume.
Of course I was the only one there who spoke English.
After a farce of Mel Brooks proportions that practically included a rendition of the classic ‘Who’s on first’ one of the local boys ran to get his mom who evidently spoke some English. By the time she got there I had become Señorita Confederales, which given how things could have gone I guess I could live with. Mama brought a policeman with her and once we’d gotten straightened out that I wasn’t in his country illegally so much as I’d been kidnapped, things went a little smoother.
He put us up at a hotel off the beach, well I actually paid for it, while he did some phone calling on the hotel’s nickel. The staff of the hotel was much better schooled in the only language I spoke and they were only too happy to have some clothes brought over from a local boutique for us. They were happier to charge it to the room, of course, but I was able to get out of my fighting gear and into this obnoxiously loud floral print sun dress that I hoped wouldn’t be leaving its outline in sunburn.
Ginnevia must have really strained her teleport as she was still out of it by the time the policeman’s lieutenant arrived at the absolutely lovely bungalow the hotel had rented us. Once all that was sorted out there seemed to be nothing to do but wait for the boys to get here and go home.
Which would be something of a shame, considering I’m in this practically undiscovered stretch of the Caribbean that had all the beauty of a resort and none of the pesky tourists. This called for dramatic action.
I took Ginnevia into the bathtub and turned the shower on cold, full blast.
What she said in waking up I won’t repeat as it wouldn’t look at all nice in print, but once she was calm and dry again I filled her in on things. More importantly, she agreed that this was way too good an opportunity to pass up. So we did what any good super heroines stranded in paradise waiting for back up would have done.
We went shopping.
Now, as I have already detailed a shopping excursion or three in this narrative I won’t bog this down with the gory details. Suffice to say that the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Honduran Lempira is extremely favorable and Ginnevia and I had entire new wardrobes to take home with us.
The boys arrived at dusk while Ginnevia and I were indulging ourselves at the pool of the hotel which was still quite warm thanks to the local heat and being so close to the equator. Ed started to say something snappy as he caught sight of me, but I was in the process of exiting the pool, water running down my oh so shapely form if I do say so myself, modesty only preserved by the briefest of string bikinis.
You know, I never thought I’d be pleased to report I can reduce a man to drooling. Go figure.
Both the boys were wearing their uniforms and I could feel the glower of Geoffrey through that macabre mask of his as I strolled up and closed Ed’s mouth for him. “I didn’t think you had any civilian clothing,” he started flatly in that ‘I’m the adult and you’re in trouble’ tone.
“And when we spoke last, that was true,” I replied all sugar and spice. “Time waits for no man and all that.”
“So…you went on a shopping trip in Dr. Destruction’s back yard?” he wanted to know.
“Oh, don’t be so stiff, Eagle,” I protested. “Everybody knows that the only reason Dr. D. has managed to hold onto his little fiefdom is that he doesn’t piss in his own back yard. We’re probably safer here than back home. Besides, how did ya’ll want me to spend the time waiting? Cowering a corner in fear of mah life?”
I could almost feel the smirk behind that mask of his. “I see your hand has already healed up.”
Leave it to the American Eagle to take the wind right out of my sails. “Ah suppose Ah owe you an apology for ya’ll getting sucked into this. You could have warned some of us though!” Geoffrey shook his head as he looked about and, seeing we had the veranda to ourselves took off his helmet.
“And risk further disruption of the time stream? Not likely.” He pressed a button on his gauntlet and his entire form became indistinct for a moment then he was dressed in a pair of cabana shorts and a Hawaiian shirt that was so loud I’m sure it was disturbing my dad’s TV time back in Canton. He caught me staring and chuckled. “Why should Cavalry be the only one with a quick change option? I took a closer look at Albert’s multi-dimensional gizmo and fiddled with it until I found a pocket dimension where I could store the working suit. I combined that with an energy to matter converter to generate new clothes or I could use the suit I keep in that dimension with the armor. I’d be happy to make you one.”
“Would you please?” I asked in my best ‘I’ve been good all year for Christmas’ voice.
At that point Cavalry finally got himself free from whatever depraved sexual fantasy I’d sent him into and walked over to hug me. “I was worried sick,” he finally managed.
“Nice to see you too,” I murmured into his chiseled chest.
“So,” started Geoffrey as he made himself at home in a chaise lounge. “I guess we have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Ah am sorry about infecting you, Geoffrey. Ah wouldn’t wish this on mah worst enemy.”
“Don’t be,” he chuckled. “My infection spurred a lot of good changes with how the government dealt with McKimpson. Because of me, every peace officer in the US was inoculated with McKimpson 2A which certainly had the added benefit of saving lives.”
Cavalry snorted. “It was probably Albert’s crowning glory.” I looked at him quizzically. “My dad the super villain is the patent holder for M2A. How do you think he got to be rich? After Bob McKimpson disappeared, Albert was the leading expert on the disease. You can guess why he was so obsessed with it.”
“The real question,” interjected Ginnevia from her floating lounge, “is what is he going to do with this new, perfected strain?”
“For now,” Geoffrey said after signaling to the bartender. “He seems content to submit to the rule of law for a change. We took him into custody without incident back at the vault.”
“Is he in jail?” I demanded, nearly dreading the answer.
“No,” groused Cavalry with more than a trace of bitterness in his voice. “We couldn’t charge him with stealing the Time Runner without admitting we still had it. Or that we’d lost it sometime back in 1985. He’s out on bail still.”
I shook my head a bit ruefully. “Ah guess there really is no justice.”
“You’re awfully young to be that cynical,” Geoffrey chided me as he broke open his beer and took a pull. “More to the point, just now Albert is the least of our concerns. Tell me what happened after you found yourself in Dr. Destruction’s lair.”
So I told him that story and I’ll admit I relished the look of surprise and genuine admiration on his face when I got to the part of how I’d effected my escape. When I’d gotten up to my arrival at Puerto Cortés he nodded and signaled I could stop. “I was afraid of this,” he muttered.
“What?” I demanded, more than a little worried.
“Destruction didn’t mean to keep you prisoner,” Geoffrey told me while catching the nod Ed offered of his opinion. “He wanted to see how you’d escape. That gave him an idea of what your powers were as well as how you use them.”
“Not to mention the built in IQ and problem solving tests,” groused Ginnevia.
“It can only mean he’s figured out where and when you come from,” finished Cavalry. “We took him by surprise at the Federal Reserve, both me for being completely unknown to him and you for displaying powers you shouldn’t have and not being pregnant. He must have been stewing on it for years. Since he snatched you out of whatever that gizmo they returned us was he knows about this weird little loop we’ve taken.”
“He generally arranges some kind of test of new heroes,” said Geoffrey. “The flashier the better and it’s served him pretty well so far. I suppose you can consider this your initiation. Welcome to the club.”
“Lucky me,” I groused as I sat down on the lounge next to Geoffrey’s. “Any other initiations I should be worried about?”
“Hazing is the least of your worries,” chuckled Geoffrey. “We should be on our guard though, so if you two have squeezed enough vacation into this rescue mission, we should be heading back.”
I pouted, and, I’ll admit it, I couldn’t help it. “What’s the rush? Couldn’t we head back tomorrow or something? Besides, who put you in charge? Ed is the president…” I trailed off in deference to his sly smile and sage nodding.
“Yes, Ed is the President. And I am Government Liaison. As per article twelve, section four of our charter, and I quote, ‘At any time when the President of this organization shall be under investigation for a violation of the articles in this charter, the Government Liaison shall serve as President Pro Tem until such time as the President be cleared of suspicion or step down, or be removed.’”
I angrily crossed my arms and, the suit being wet and me not being used to having to wear a top when swimming, I nearly yanked it off. As it was, all of them, the bartender included, got a royal eyeful. I think Geoffrey had to work to remember he was a married man. Once I was ‘contained’ again I demanded, “What investigation?”
“Breech of security in the trophy vault,” muttered Ginnevia who was evidently privy to some conversation back at HQ I had missed.
The American Eagle seemed very pleased with himself as he pulled on his beer in his loud shirt and grinned at me. Just f-ing perfect.
Seeing as the group had already paid for the bungalow for the night, Geoffrey, ever the practical one, agreed that we would spend the night and leave the next morning. He called over to the field where our jet (we have a jet?) was standing by and filled them in on the news.
Ed and I retired to the room we selected at the bungalow and I made myself at home in the hot tub the room was equipped with while Ed tried his hand at bar tending at the mini-bar. Did I mention I made sure to snag the nicest room of the bungalow? He brought over a pair of daiquiris and joined me in the tub, carefully so as not to over flow it.
“Now, I could get used to this kind of emergency rescue,” he announced as he got his tail settled and began to go through the rituals to get a cigar going.
“Beats the snot out of our usual fair,” I agreed with him around an appreciative sip of his mixology. “But, Ah have to wonder just how much hot water ya’ll are in. How much of what Geoffrey said was true?”
“All of it,” he admitted in his matter of fact tone. “The only reason I’m not in jail is I didn’t have a chance to act on my musings, I could only react to Sovereign trying his musings.” He took a pull off his cigar and blew a smoke ring. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it; I’ll probably lose a day’s pay at worst.”
I took another sip of his concoction and groused without real venom, “Meanwhile Geoffrey gets to yank mah chain a bit. That’s just perfect.” I would have said more but Ed’s pager began to beep. He carefully reached over and flipped it open, making sure it couldn’t get wet.
“Yes?” he asked in a nearly eager tone. I was almost ready to be offended. “I see. And you’re sure? There’s no room for doubt? I understand. Thank you.” He returned the device to the table and sighed, which the already strange conversation he’d had got me even more worked up.
“What was that all about?” I demanded.
“Long story,” he hedged as he reached out and pulled me into his lap. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”
“Water is not a lubricant,” I reminded him with a smile.
“I should be so lucky,” he said with a chuckle. He leaned forward slightly and kissed me with a tenderness that frankly surprised me. Being this close to him I knew he wasn’t exactly ready for action, but then for him, even after the proverbial cold shower he would still be intimidating wearing nothing but a smile. “This is going to seem all kinds of sudden,” he whispered as he withdrew. “But I can’t think of any other way to tell you how much you mean to me. So,” he said after a huge sigh, “Jennifer, will you marry me?”
I about dropped my drink into the hot tub. “What?”
“I know, I know, I just can’t help it. I can’t imagine you not being in my life, Jen. I want you there, always. And I want you to know I’ll always be there for you.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“More than I ever have been about anything,” he told me with such conviction I knew he meant it right down to his toes. It just seemed fantastically odd that here I was, naked with a man I had every intention of having sex with later on who was also my best friend who had just proposed marriage to me.
I suppose my natural sense of humor kicked in as a defense mechanism. “Are you trying to make an honest woman out of me, Mr. Filby?” He stared at me with that deer in the headlights expression that I’d come to associate with me stumbling into what ever he was trying to be discreet about. “What?” I demanded.
“Well, you see, Belle, the Time Cops dropped a little bomb on me during my debriefing. And I wasn’t sure if they were on the level, or not, so I had Geoffrey rig up a scanner when we arrived. He just checked the results and that was him on the phone.”
“What are you getting at, Ed?”
I stared at him for a moment, my whole world swimming and swirling like a bad 70’s lava lamp. As my vision began to tunnel I found one ray of hope that I clung to when I told him, “This isn’t funny.”
I already knew what his answer was going to be by the expression on his long face as he looked me back in the eyes. My memory won’t supply the fact if I’ve ever described Cavalry’s eyes, but they’re magnificent and honest and always just a tad sad. “I’m not joking,” he whispered. I heard my drink fall into the water as the world slipped sideways.
Yes, Virginia, even super heroines faint.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Filby!”
And that’s as simple of a thing that set me off. I was leaning on Ed’s arm as he led me into the ball room of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in down town. I was certain I’d never looked as beautiful as I did at that moment when something as simple as an introduction set my mental gears turning. I was in a ball room wearing a dress that seemed to have no end as Ed handed me off to my dad and suddenly I was dancing with my father.
Everyone was staring, friends, classmates, enemies, and strangers, here we are in the center of this parquet floored ball room and I was dancing with my father. But, before I could protest I was forced by the introduction to realize I wasn’t me any more. I’d spent my whole life being Jim Anderson, but I hadn’t been him for months.
Before I’d really gotten used to being Jennifer Anderson, suddenly I wasn’t her either. Now I wasn’t defined by me or what I did or didn’t do. Now I was just a wife and a mother. What goals or dreams I had didn’t matter any more.
I was Mrs. Edward Filby.
I didn’t even have my own name anymore.
Everything had been taken away from me. My gender, my future and now my very identity; I was a non-person; a part of someone else.
My feet stuck to the floor as everyone began to point and stare at me. Dad wasn’t strong enough to move me and nearly tripped when my superior strength snatched him to a halt. He looked down at me with a frown I normally associated with being in trouble and growled, “Mrs. Filby, you’re making a scene.”
“Don’t you dad me! Now get with the program, Mrs. Filby!”
“Don’t call me that!” I shouted at him as I pushed him away. I was upset and I didn’t realize how hard I’d pushed him and he sailed into the buffet table sending the punchbowl flying and a shower of red, blood-like liquid all over the room. It was like the prom scene out of Carrie. I couldn’t take the shame of having destroyed my own wedding reception so I shot into the sky, minor details of ceilings and roofs not withstanding.
They say that dreams are the gateway to the subconscious, though I believe mine are something of a toll road. It’s bad enough to have had a little issue with sleep walking when I was younger, but now I evidently would have to find some way of dealing with sleep flying.
I awoke with a start about seventy feet in the air due mostly to a tropical breeze that whispered across my skin. It did so because the sheet that had been keeping breezes from my skin was now gently falling back to earth towards the hole I’d punched in the bungalow’s roof. I had vague recollections of being in a hot tub with Ed and being told that I was pregnant but those thoughts made me extremely queasy so I shied away from them.
My hand sought out my flat belly and some part of me tried to sense the new and distinct person that was growing inside of me.
The very thought of there being someone else sharing my body was disturbing and yet strangely compelling all at once. Obviously there was no way I could sense this new life as a quick bit of mental math told me my last period was only twenty seven days ago. If I was, in fact pregnant, I was less than a week so; or rather I was technically twenty years and a week.
A manic kind of laugh escaped me as my morose sense of humor brought up the fact that I should call the Guinness people about this new record length pregnancy… Geoffrey came soaring up from the front of the bungalow as I flirted with this delicate line between sanity and madness, his eyes intent on the horizon. “Who is it?” he snapped, looking for enemies as he reached conversational level. “Dr. Destruction? Did you get a good look?”
“It’s a little early to be picking names, don’t you think?” I managed around a giggle fit.
“Oh,” he murmured as he took me into his arms and folded those metal wings of his around us. I was about to protest him being so familiar when the cold of that metal uniform made me realize something truly terrifying.
I was flying in sight of everyone as naked as the day I was born.
“Easy, Belle, Easy,” Geoffrey soothed me before I could really get a world class panic on and probably hurt him trashing about. “It will be alright.”
“I’m naked,” I whimpered, “and I’m pregnant!”
He pulled what looked like a Pierre Cardin wrist watch from a pouch on his belt and put it around my wrist. His gauntlet pressed the button on the side and it felt like a trillion ants were crawling on and over every inch of my skin, then it was over. I looked down to find myself in my uniform right down to mom’s utility belt. Geoffrey pulled away slight and pressed his gauntlet causing his helmet to disappear to be replaced by a combination mask and ‘do rag which I took to be his ‘casual’ mask. “Happy mothers day,” he told me with a chuckle.
“Rub it in, why don’t you!” I shouted at him, thoughts of thanking him for his kindness and speed whisked from my head. “Ah ought to knock you flat you sarcastic son of a bitch!”
“Will that make you feel better?” he asked in a surprisingly even tone. “If so, by all means, beat me up.”
I’m honestly not sure what it was I was looking for from him; comfort, perhaps or at least sympathy at my plight. But his flippancy had me seeing red and before I knew what I was doing my hand had made a fist and I swung at him intending to have him choke on his own teeth. He ducked out of the way and locked up my arm behind my back the way I’d broken Tribsa’s arm yesterday. I squirmed and tried to reverse the hold he had on me but in the air I lacked the leverage to pull away and evidently his suit had some kind of strength augmentation that let him keep the hold.
“We feeling better, yet?” he hissed in my ear. “Nothing like a good brawl to place innocent lives in danger just so we can work out our feelings, right?”
“Are you trying to piss me off?” I yelled at him.
“I’m trying to get you to realize the way things are!” he countered as he suddenly released the hold and flipped me around to face him. “You are a rare and wonderful person, Jennifer, whom God has blessed with the greatest joy and responsibility this life has to offer.”
“Ah…” My voice closed up over whatever protest I was trying to offer as his words slowly penetrated the red, angry haze I perceived the world through.
“You are that brave girl who stood up for what was right even when you didn’t have any super powers and the bullets being shot at you could kill you.” He gently grabbed my shoulders and squeezed them to make me look him in the eye. “You are the hero who saved a mother and her children from a fiery death that a mad man carelessly caused and was content to leave them to. Not to mention a rookie cop who didn’t have the sense to help you save lives.”
He gave me his lopsided grin as he arrived at his point to hammer it home. “You, Jennifer Anderson, are my hero.”
Believe it or not, that actually got me tearing up. As I sniffed to keep my sinuses open, I couldn’t help but say, “Now Ah know you’re bullshitting me.”
Geoffrey held up his hand in a salute I hadn’t seen in years. “Scout’s honor.” His grin re-appeared before he finished, “And before you ask, yes I made Eagle Scout.”
“How am Ah supposed to deal with this?” I whispered; the enormity of what I was facing finally sinking in with all the finality of that bottom of the ninth 2 out strike three call.
“The way every parent does, one day at a time,” he assured me. “Jennifer, if you can face down the greatest and most terrible villain this world has to offer, how can parenthood frighten you?”
“Geoffrey,” I told him, hugging him for finally letting me see the Geoffrey Graham that all the other members talked about. That square deal giving, Joe Everyman who had kind of tripped into the superhero business and was dealing with it the best way he knew how. “Ah am so scared. Ah just barely have me figured out, how am Ah supposed to be responsible for someone else?”
“You love them,” he whispered back. “So long as you can do that, everything else takes care of itself.”
His pager started beeping, spoiling our little moment of détente but he kept his eyes on mine as he removed it and flicked it on. “Eagle.”
Ed’s voice drifted from the tinny speaker and that brought my eyes down to see him staring up at us through the hole in the ceiling I’d made. “I seem to have a new skylight,” he said with a chuckle. “You fly guys going to let us grounders in on the conversation or what?”
“I think that can be arranged,” Geoffrey told him with a chuckle. He flipped closed the communicator and asked me, “Ready to face the world?”
“Mah friends at least,” at told him a bit sheepishly. “About the roof…”
“Don’t worry about it,” he interrupted quickly. “It’ll come out of your check.”
What a pal.
There really wasn’t a whole lot more to say that night that my moment of catharsis with Geoffrey hadn’t covered. He and Ginnevia managed to collect all the pieces of the roof and then some gizmo he had put them back together like I hadn’t gone through it at 300mph.
Geoffrey let me know this was my one ‘freebie’ as far as mess cleaning went and we all retired out our rooms once again.
Ed and I made up for my panic attack in ways that didn’t require words, but I gave him probably the most important word I’d ever uttered in my entire life.
I told him, “Yes.”
He was so happy he did things to me that had me repeating it for several hours that night, but that’s between me and my future husband.
The next morning dawned bright and inexplicably beautiful for me to be coming to grips with my first full day of being ‘expecting’. My head was miles away as we rode back to the airport in the hotel’s van. Somehow I had to break the news to mom and dad, plan a wedding while I still didn’t look like a beached whale or have my and Ed’s child attend our marriage ceremony. That certainly wasn’t an appealing thought.
But then, neither was having to tell dad he was about to be a grandpa.
I waited by the van while the others saw to the final arrangements of getting our flight ready, content to watch over the suitcases full of clothes Ginnevia and I had bought. I started to get a cigar out, but then thoughts about what it might do to my unborn child had me second guessing myself so I decided against it.
As I was putting it back into my traveling case a gravelly voice behind me forced itself into my jumbled thoughts and sent a chill down my spine. “If you don’t want a last smoke, how about a blindfold?” I turned just in time to see a fist come into my peripheral vision that connected to my left cheek and sent me flying a good fifty feet before I skidded to a stop on the asphalt, ruining my new dress.
As I struggled up into a sitting position I heard him grunt as he picked up the van, “I told you this wasn’t over, carrot top!” My finger mashed the button to change me into my uniform just as the van slammed into me, knocking me further into the taxiway of the airport, much to the panic of the other travelers. With a single bound, Powerball had closed the distance between us and snatched the smoldering wreckage of the van off. “I don’t know what you did to turn Albert into such a pussy, Red, but you can bet it’s not going to work on me!”
Now, I like to think I’m a pretty even tempered person, all things considered. When I fly off the handle, I generally have a damned good reason. I had no idea how or even why Powerball had tracked us down to Honduras, but there was a part of me that knew this particular battle royal had been brewing since Powerballs’ abortive break out of Sovereign from the Cobb County ADC.
Quite honestly, getting to beat the tar out of someone was just what the doctor ordered at that time of my life. Yagimura-sensei had altered a number of his Hopkedo moves to take advantage of my new abilities, flight being chief among them. While still prone, I stuck out with my foot right into the spot where it would do the most damage; Powerball’s family jewels. As he doubled over in pain, I spun my flight into a cartwheel and kicked him solidly in his ugly head that had a visually interesting double cartwheel that left me in a standing position and him sprawled on the tarmac. “If you’re looking to get emasculated, Randy, ya’ll came to the right spot!” I sneered at him.
His eyes actually went red as he came up swinging, though he’d telegraphed his punch so badly I caught him mid-swing and we glared at each other for a moment. “It’s on, bitch,” he growled as he feinted with his right hand before landing a pretty solid kick to my thigh.
Now, despite what you may have picked up from our previous tussles, Powerball is actually a pretty dangerous fighter. What he lacks in finesse he makes up for in brute force and a jaw of granite. I used the force of his kick to my thigh to spin completely about and land a kick with everything I had to his throat.
That blow would have killed a normal man, and probably crippled most paranormals, but to Powerball it just knocked him back twenty feet or so into a baggage train that sent luggage flying in every direction. “Sugah, ya’ll ain’t seen me as a bitch yet, but you’re about to!” I shouted after him.
Before he could recover Cavalry came flying out of the terminal to land on his chest and began to rain blows that were probably well past justifiable force. He was shouting a stream of obscenities that were almost incoherent which probably boiled down to, “What are you thinking laying a hand on my wife?”
Randal managed to get to his feet, despite Ed’s best efforts and managed to get a handful of Cavalry’s uniform. “Stay out of this, pony boy!” he shouted. “This is between me and Red!” Then he threw my future husband back in the direction he’d come. As luck would have it, right into Ginnevia who could have put a stop to this little donnybrook with some mental chicanery.
This of course would have cost me my whipping boy so that suited me just fine.
I quickly reached down and dug my fingers into the tarmac, hoping to lift up a section and whip it, rug like, the way they do in the comic books to cost Powerball his feet again. I don’t know why I thought this would work, other than the fact I am, after all, a super heroine, but all I got for my efforts was a roughly square section of concrete.
Powerball charged me again so I swung my bat of concrete into his jaw of granite. Randal turned a complete summersault around my blow and landed flat on his back staring up at both me and the stars I’d caused him to see. “Had enough yet, tough guy?” I jeered at him.
He kicked both feet out and flipped back to his feet, using the momentum to strike me in the small of the back. “You wish!” he shouted after me as I sailed into the wing of a 727 I desperately hoped I wouldn’t have to pay for.
Pulling myself out of the mess I’d made of the airplane’s wing I realized there was too much equipment around that was extremely expensive. I had to move the battle to place where the innocent wouldn’t get caught up in our grudge match and the bill wouldn’t bankrupt me. “Catch me if you can, lard ass!” I hollered back at him and took off, angling away from both the airport and the city proper.
Powerball, as predictable as ever, took the bait and leapt after me.
We collided mid-air and I used the energy of our impact to speed up my own flight out to a pasture area where the only things that would be destroyed would be the trees and Randal’s face. Once I was sure of where he’d end up, I got a hold of him and threw him while screaming to a halt mid-air. The change in velocity was too much for him and he sailed into a thicket coming to a painful looking stop in an oak tree.
I followed up as quickly as possible with a flurry of punches that literally had him bouncing off one blow into the next. He finally recovered his wits enough to block one and scream, “I won’t be beaten by you!” as he landed a punch that sent me sailing. After I skidded to a stop in the dirt I struggled back to my feet and wiped the trail of blood from my split lip off my chin.
I had given better than I’d gotten as Randal had one eye swelling shut that would be a beauty of a black eye in a day or two and I’d probably broken his nose based on the blood flow. “You already have been,” I spat back. “Three times by mah count, sugah!”
He charged me, as I hoped he would, seeing as I was standing next to a fairly sizable boulder I intended to make use of. At the last moment he swung and I ducked, locking his arm up while tripping him as well. I rode him down to add my practically insignificant weight to the impact but, the damage as they say was done. Randal’s face was arrested by the boulder which split with a deafening thunder crack and Powerball had been grounded. When I rolled him over he was out cold, but breathing.
“The South has risen again,” I chuckled to myself as I fitted Randal with his suppression cuffs. I was a little saddened I didn’t have much of an audience to witness my triumph, but for once, the bad guy didn’t get away.
By the time I had gotten back with Powerball over my shoulder like a deer hunter hiking out of the wilderness with her prize, Geoffrey had managed to convince the local officials they didn’t need to call out the Army. Ed was back on his feet and helping to re-sort the luggage I had scattered from the baggage train, but there was no sign of Ginnevia.
While I hadn’t expected a standing ovation upon my return to the battle site, there was some scattered applause that the big lug was definitely the worse for wear and on his way to jail. The Eagle extracted himself from the gaggle of airport functionaries and made his way over, once more in his ‘do rag Dread Pirate Roberts mask. “What was that all about?” he asked once he got to conversational distance.
I shrugged to the distant sound of news hound photographers snapping pictures. “Beats me,” I told him. “Ah was wait’n for ya’ll to finish up inside, next thing Ah know there’s Powerball with a bee in his bonnet the size of Texas. Only conversation Ah got out of him while Ah was fixing his little red wagon was that it was personal from when Ah’d beaten him up back in the states.”
Geoffrey rubbed his chin in befuddlement. “You’re saying this was a machismo thing? That’s not like Randal. Even when he was free lancing he wasn’t the type to hold a grudge, and especially not when Sovereign was holding his leash.”
“Are we talking about the same Powerball?” I demanded. “Ever since Ah have been tussling with him, seems like it’s only gotten more personal.”
“I don’t think Randy has ever been beaten by a female before,” opined Ed as he joined the conversation from his hobby of baggage sorting. “And didn’t you tell me that Sovereign had said you’d hurt his pride being both a rookie and a chick while still cleaning his clock?”
“Where’s Mortagain?” I asked, making a point to look around for her and not seeing her. Ed jerked a thumb at the highly modified Lear Jet that was wearing the livery of the Stone Mountain Irregulars.
“On the plane,” he grunted, looking embarrassed. “I dislocated her shoulder when Powerball threw me into her.”
“Which wouldn’t have happened if you had kept your head and worked as a team,” scolded the Eagle. “This is exactly why in the law enforcement world couples are broken up at work.”
Ed crossed his rather sizable arms over his massive chest and scowled down at Geoffrey. “That issue has been settled, Liaison Officer,” he said in a tone that dared the older man to question his judgment.
“I’ll remember that the next time we get into a battle and you go cowboy and start thinking with the wrong head, Mr. President,” the Eagle glared back, nonplussed. “Today cost Mortagain a dislocated shoulder. What would you have done if she’d gotten seriously injured or even gotten somebody killed? Belle acted brilliantly, moving the fight away from a crowded area and still managing to apprehend the threat. All you have to show for today is an injured team mate and some PR damage control.”
The two men glared at each other before Geoffrey sighed noisily in disgust and stalked back to the jet, cursing under his breath. Knowing how much those words must have stung for Ed to hear I found I couldn’t help but agree with the Eagle, but I had the wisdom not to say so.
Whither that had been Geoffrey’s purpose or not, I really don’t know.
The plane ride back was rather muted, given what we had been through on the ground. Powerball woke up over the Gulf of Mexico, but was about as surly and uncommunicative as you might expect given the situation. He invoked the fifth and lawyer-ed up pretty much as soon as he came to. Frustrating, but understandable considered how often he’d been in trouble with the Law.
I spent the trip splitting my time cuddled up with Ed and taking care of Ginnevia. Geoffrey withdrew into his news/talk feeds and it was this decision that allowed me to learn of the incident that rather dramatically changed my life forever. I was just returning to my seat after fetching Ginnevia a drink that Geoffrey broke into a string of uncharacteristic profanity and sent whatever he was watching to the large screen that Ed and I were using to watch Kate and Leopold.
Before we could really raise a protest he waved us quiet and hissed, “You have to see this.”
The screen changed to a live news feed from some kind of press conference. Albert, of all people, was on the podium, wearing a pressed short sleeve shirt and a very handsome tie but no suit jacket. He was evidently in the middle of a speech to a very enthusiastic crowd. “…to you today as I will come to you every day,” he was saying, “ready to work on positive change in this country. My detractors will say that I am a menace because I suffer from Mckimpson Strain. They will say that because I have been granted mental powers I cannot be trusted within the halls of government. They will tell you that because I stood up for my rights under the Constitution of the United States I cannot be trusted to represent you.”
“Oh I don’t like where this is going,” whispered Ed as Geoffrey just scowled and stared at the screen.
Sovereign held up his left hand where a combination power inhibitor and wrist watch rode on his arm. “To them I say I wear short sleeves so that everyone can know the only influence I will wield in Washington is the will of my constituents.” The crowd broke out into thunderous applause and cheers. Once they had died down, Albert continued. “As some of you know, I am under indictment for standing up for my rights and what I believe in. To you I say that I will fight these false and unconstitutional charges with the same zeal I will fight for your rights should you choose to send me to Washington. That I will fight a government that is both out of touch with you the people it should be serving as it is drunk on its own power! I will fight those who would use the power of Eminent Domain to unlawfully take the homes you paid for in sweat and toil so that they can give that land to a developer to increase their tax revenue. I will fight those who would tell you what school your child can or cannot attend by pushing for a comprehensive school choice voucher plan that returns the power of the single greatest choice we make for our children where it belongs; to the mothers and fathers of our nation’s children.”
Once again the crowd broke into thunderous applause which brought out Albert’s dazzling smile once more. “Now, obviously I cannot tell you everything I stand for and against in one day, or even as many days as we have until the election. Fortunately, however, there is a document that I can refer you to that very eloquently spells out my positions. That document is called the Constitution of the United States of America. Our government has gotten into trouble and my friends any tech will tell you that when you get into trouble, it’s time to refer to the instructions. The Constitution is our instructions on how the government of this country should work and you can rest assured that I will follow both the letter and spirit of those instructions! Therefore, as change is something I have lived my entire life struggling for,” and here he cast a brilliant smile at his wife on the platform behind him.
“It is with humble gratitude and reverent thanks for the grace of God in the place of my birth that I announce to you my candidacy for the office of Representative of the 6th District of Georgia to the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States of America.”
To be honest, I don’t recall the rest of it as I couldn’t hear the screen over Randal’s nearly hysterical laughter.
Now, as you might imagine I rather thought that was the end of my little adventure in Honduras. I truly wish that were the case. I mean, after all, I’d been kidnapped, escaped, squeezed in a micro-vacation, finally understood everything that came part and parcel with my new gender, made friends with Geoffrey and still managed to fight for my life at an airport while learning my future father in law the super villain was running for congress!
Surely enough action for one issue, right?
No, of course not.
Now, in the United States, while there is no government department that oversees what you can or can’t publish (to my knowledge anyways) there is a certain level of decorum that they adhere to similar to the Standards and Practices departments that Bugs Bunny used to make fun of. You know the seven words you can’t say on TV and all that? There are many tabloids that push the edge of that particular envelope, but even they wouldn’t publish something, like oh, say photographs of a naked woman on the front cover.
I found out that that’s not necessarily the case in Central America.
When I got in to work the next day, still mentally trying to wrap my head around being pregnant and how to break the news to my folks, in addition to the news flash of my pending nuptials, I find that super heroes are generally the worst sort of pranksters. Upon reaching my locker in the ward room I’m rewarded with it being covered in the front pages of several Honduran newspapers, all with full color pictures of yours truly wearing only her birthday suit from my stint of sleep flying.
I didn’t need to read Spanish to figure out the racy and suggestive headlines, especially in the photos of after the Eagle had joined me.
It probably needn’t be said that nobody was handily in the ward room for me to vent my sudden embarrassment on. No they were all too smart for that. I could almost hear the calypso music and some over excited announcer talking about for $19.95 plus shipping and handling you too could ogle a super heroine’s tits!
Now, if I had been in the presence of the smug little SOBs that thought publishing these pictures was cute or amusing, doubtlessly I’d be looking a judge in the face with a long sheet of felony’s to account for. However, as I’m fond of pointing out, I’m a true Southerner, grace, geniality and a certain amount of charm are expected of me, even in the face of true adversity such as this. There were some things beyond the pale from someone who called herself Southern Belle.
Be that as it may, this was hitting so far below the belt that as far as I was concerned the Marquis of Queensbury rules had been abandoned sometime yesterday. As I carefully took the newspapers down I wondered over to the wardroom phone and made use of one of the business cards that was penned to the cork board next to it.
The phone rang in my ear for a bit before I was rewarded with the voice of a very handsome sounding young man. “You’ve reached the Law firm of Corvin, Fenson and Wolfe how may I direct your call?”
“Ah would like to ruin a handful of newspapers in a foreign country and destroy the lives of whoever was responsible for publishing some extremely embarrassing photographs of me.”
“That would be our libel department, one moment while I connect you.”
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