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“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”
― Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World


It was in mid-November of 2019, about the time that many Claremont students were about to go away for Thanksgiving break, that Judy Smith sent out a message to some of her best friends inviting them to a special meeting in her dorm room. This was quite unusual; as far as anyone knew, Judy and Ashley had never admitted anyone to their dorm room when they were actually living in it. 


There had been, to say the least, some discussion about who exactly to invite to the meeting. They'd settled on the most trustworthy of Judy's friends, the ones who were proven, reliable quantities. This meant Chelone, with her wisdom; and this meant Crystal-Gazer, who already knew some things. 


There'd been others on the table. But they didn't know Mia well enough yet, and Leroy was going to be told on his own. And Micah...well, it wouldn't really do to tell Micah before she told Leroy, now would it? 


So the woman and the girl sat together in their dorm room and waited, Judy on her bed and Ashley on hers, and Judy prayed. She prayed in her own prayer language that everything would work out okay, that her friends would understand and that telling the truth would save the day, and that taking pains to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord and the eyes of Man would save everything. 


Ashley had taken this opportunity to say a few words to Our Lady of Vietnam, because why the Hell not at this point, honestly, but was mostly thinking about operational security. She had a few extra gadgets on her belt if things really went south, but hallucinogenic gas and electric stunners were of dubious efficiacy against superheroes. If this went wrong, tricks of the trade weren't going to do it. 


_So why am I doing this?_ she reflected. She looked at the girl kneeling in prayer across the room, speaking in tongues the way she usually did when she prayed by herself. _Because Judy deserves it._ 


When there was a knock at the door, it was Ashley who answered it; Judy excusing herself for a moment to get dressed. "Be right there!"


Ashley was in a punk rock T-shirt and jeans when she opened the door, a carefully composed look on her face. 


"Hey. Come in. She's just getting dressed." 

The Smith room was a bit larger than either Lulu or Danica's room, a private bathroom by what must be Judy's side of the room (with its Christian and Old West art on the walls), with vaguely punk rock decor on Ashley's side. It honestly looked like any other Claremont room, albeit with a few more books on the shelves, some extra electronics here and there, big pile of knitting projects on Judy's desk, and some tools and magnifiers for when Ashley worked on her gear. 

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"Thank you for invitin' me," Lulu murmured with a smile; she'd come dressed a little bit nicer than she normally did, in a dark green sweater and some dark wool slacks, and her red hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She also had what looked like a gift bag. "Ah wasn't quite sure of the occasion, so ah-"


She pulled out a beautiful vintage illustrated King James Bible with a leather cover; she'd asked Miss Megan to help her pick it out. She wasn't sure which version Judy's denomination normally used, but she hoped at least the lovely illustrations might offer inspiration and reflection.

Edited by Heritage
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"Oh, well, that's...nice," said Ashley cautiously. "She's actually got hers out already." Lulu had seen Judy with a couple of editions of the Bible; she probably owned more than any other Claremont student. The one on her bed now was also a King James edition, an old, leather-bound, and obviously much-used one. Ashley considered whether or not to open or close the door, then decided to pull it shut - she'd have to open it when Danica arrived, but she didn't want to do anything that would draw attention to the meeting. She took a seat in a corner of the room, letting the focus stay on Judy when she stepped out of the bathroom. 


"Hi Lulu," said Judy with a smile as she stepped out of the bathroom. There was something indefinably different about the girl as she pulled Lulu into a quick, warm hug; her long black hair behind her head in a ponytail, her deep red floral dress just the right color for her tan skin and dark complexion. "Ah'm real glad you're here - oh, you brought your Bible!" She picked up hers and brought it over to show Lulu. "This is mine, uh, actually this was my grandma's. We, uh, brought it with us when we came here." She paged quickly through the pages of the thick, illustrated text. "That's actually what Ah wanted to talk to you about, but uh, well, we need to wait until Danica gets here first..."  

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Lulu happily accepted Judy's hug; who needed a warm fire when you had a warm friend? But then the very sweet, very Christian girl made a logical assumption that the telepath now had to run with, for better or worse.


"Yep, just got this one," she fibbed smoothly as she nodded and flipped through the pages of the erstwhile gift. "Mah old one is kind of, you know, plain, but this one has some beautiful illustrations in it..."


There was an....interesting vibe in the room; Judy seemed more relaxed than Lulu had ever seen her, yet also a tad nervous, while Ashley was what, resigned?


Oh God. They're going to tell us the truth, whatever it is. Or Judy's becoming a nun...or a missionary...

Edited by Heritage
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"Hi guys!" Danica said cheerfully from the doorway, parking her Segway and climbing off with her usual slow deliberation. She was bundled up extremely well against the cold, even indoors she wore a fuzzy blue sweater with a turtleneck beneath, sturdy corduroy pants and fingerless gloves. "My mom baked me cookies, I brought some... oh, and you've all got Bibles out. Is this Bible study?" She looked to be momentarily on the back foot. "Um, it's really nice of you to invite me, but I'm sort of happily agnostic right now, with the whole tortoise deity thing..." 

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"Danica, hi!" Danica got a big hug too, pleasantly warm for the tortoise girl, and Judy smiled. "Oh, thanks for the cookies!" She gave them one single look, then set them down on the table where anybody else could reach them. "Ah didn't even think of snacks, but that's...that's probably a really good idea!" She set her Bible down, then said, "It's okay,. Danica, Ah was just talking about my family Bible." Once Danica was inside, Ashley stepped up and closed the door behind them - and locked it. 


"Just need to keep it soundproof," she commented quietly, her bubblegum-pink hair an odd contrast to her serious demeanor. "Make sure nobody's listening. Doesn't actually lock on this side." 


"Now don't be alarmed," said Judy with a nervous smile as Ashley moved back to her corner. "But Ah had a special motivation for inviting the two of you here." She looked at Ashley, blushed slightly, and said, "Um, well, Ashley and Ah have been talking, and we decided between us that we needed to be, um, well, honest with our friends, because that's what good people do, and because that's, um, what God tells us. You both are good people, and we trust you, so..." She shifted in her seat, blushing again, harder. It wasn't that long ago that Ashley would have stepped in and finished the conversation here, but she just watched, tense, as Judy took a moment before she said, "We...we need to tell you the truth about where we really come from. And who Ah really am." 


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"Oh s###," Lulu blurted out, and she quickly tossed 'her' Bible on Ashley's bed as she found a seat. "No one outside this room can hear us; as of right now, all they'll hear is just the sound of the TV and some light chatter." She turned to look at Ashley with a wry grin. "Nothin' goin' into your head or Judy's, ah promise."


Other than the small amount of mental energy needed to maintain the auditory illusion, which was hardly any at all, Lulu's attention was focused entirely on Judy; whatever her friend was going to reveal, she was here for her, to the end of the line.


Where do I know that from...?

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Danica took a cookie and sat down in one of the desk chairs, looking curious but not alarmed. "Um, you've told us some of this story," she ventured gamely. "About your bad world and how you had to leave everything behind. I just figured it probably hurt too much to talk about." She nibbled the edge of the cookie. "But anything you want to tell us, you know we're here for you. Is it something dangerous? Are we going to need to keep it secret from the teachers too?" Her tone suggested she had no real problems with the idea. 

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"Um, well, some of them know already," said Judy awkwardly, "and Ms. Summers, of course. We couldn't have done any of this without her." She took a breath, then said, "The first thing Ah want you to know is that Ah'm sorry. Ah do not like lying to people, and it has been very...hard to lie to you, and to my other friends here, and to...everyone else, for so long. It was for a good reason at the time, because we didn't know if we could be safe here, but now we know we can trust you, so..." 


She flushed again, tucked her hair behind her ears, steeled herself, and spoke: 

"There was no other world. Ashley and Ah are both from this dimension. And my name isn't Judy Smith. It's Judith Claudia Cahill." Having watched the whole scene, Ashley suddenly imagined the look on Judy's face when her friends burst out laughing at an obvious joke. She'd already anticipated this, and had been fumbling around on one of the room's tablets for a moment before she intervened long enough to hand it to Judy. Judy looked at the picture, and showed it to her friends. 


It's a recognizable image, as things go - a picture of the 2018 White House Christmas, themed for an "Old West Christmas". There's President Cahill, beaming and paternal, there's Rachel Cahill with that familiar hard, professional woman's smile, and there standing together next to them are"Cahill gals" - Jaybee, Jaycee, and Jaydee. They all resemble each other in their bright floral pattern dresses, a bit more old-fashioned than the previous occupant of the White House's family would have worn. The former is frowning at the camera, her hair shorter than her sisters, the latter is beaming a radiant smile and perfectly coiffed hair. In the middle is the middle daughter with long black hair and her wide-eyed face in profile, in a red floral dress...that looks exactly like the one she wore now.


Jaycee Cahill. 


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Oh s###. Oh s###. OH S###!


Lulu jumped up out of her chair and clutched her hands to her mouth, her eyes wide as they darted between the two 'sisters'; it made so much sense, and completely fit the facts, yet still somehow managed to be completely mind-blowing. It took a few seconds for the telepath to catch her breath and resume her seat, tears forming in her eyes from which particular emotion, she could not say. All she could do was look at Ashley, and smile as she softly muttered, "Watchdog."


Then she turned back to Judy, and grabbed her warm hand. "Ah forgive you, both; of course, ah forgive you both! You were tryin' to make an impossible situation work, and that's..." Then one last look at Ashley as the full weight of her situation sank in. "Wow, your life must suck!"

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Danica stared at Lulu, but couldn't seem to make whatever connection was blowing the other girl's mind. "I don't understand," she admitted. "This is the President's family... are you trying to impersonate Jaycee Cahill?" She studied Judy, then the picture. "I mean, there's a strong resemblance, especially in that dress, but why?" She shook her head. "And what about Ashley, she doesn't look anything like Jaybee!" She set down the picture and looked at them both. "If you guys are in some kind of trouble, we can definitely help you, but I'm not sure this is the answer. I think it might be pretty illegal, actually." 

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"Ah...Ah _am_ Jaycee Cahill," said Judy, feeling oddly nettled by Danica's doubt. Well when you tell a lie that big it's hard to get people to believe the truth, isn't it? a voice in her head asked her. "They sent me here undercover, and they made up the story about the other dimension, so nobody would ask a lot of questions. And nobody ever did!" she said with a guilty look. "Everyone was just a very...good friend, and very accepting." She squeezed Lulu's hand, then squeezed her too in another warm embrace. "Ah'm really sorry," she said, "Ah...Ah really thought it was the only way, and then Ah'd promised to keep the secret, so Ah had to..." 

"It really wasn't her fault," Ashley broke in, her voice drained of its usual spite. She folded her hands on her lap, considered her options, and said, "It seemed like the only way to make everything work." She gave Lulu a professional smile. "My life is fine - this is my job. Judy's the one who's had to do the hard work." 



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The truth of Ashley's words hit Lulu as she hugged Judy, and that just made her hug her friend even more fiercely. "You must have felt so alone," she whispered in her ear. "Ah'm just glad they found you a sister who loved you."


The sad fact of the matter was, Lulu was no stranger to lying; heck, she'd just done it herself less than ten minutes ago! She understood the difference between lies and half-truths, and the lies some people told themselves or others to make life in this world bearable. She understood the importance of intent, spin, shading and context. And she knew very well the toll that telling lie after lie could have on a person. Judy was one of the sweetest, most innocent girls she'd ever met; it must have been agony for her.


Lulu took a step back, and placed a hand on Judy's face, and though she was crying, there was a big smile on the redhead's lips. "'A burden shared is a burden halved'; let me help you carry this one, okay?"

Edited by Heritage
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Danica looked at the picture again, then back at Judy and Ashley, furrowing her brow. "You're the president's kid?" she repeated. "But he's such a-" She broke off from that thought and came at it from a different angle. "Why would you lie about who you are?" she asked instead. "The President doesn't put his family in hiding while he's in office, they get like, secret service protection and stuff. Like in First Kid! You're acting like you're in witness protection or something." She turned to Ashley. "You're not Judy's sister, are you." Her voice was suddenly flat. "You're some kind of ringer." She looked closer, straight into Ashley's face. "You're some kind of grownup ringer." It was a clear accusation. 

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Ashley was quiet for a moment, her face impassive in a way that Danica and Lulu had seen before but never really understood. "Yes," she finally said, meeting Danica's eyes levelly. "I'm twenty-seven, give or take a few months. After I graduated from Claremont eleven years ago, I quit being a superhero and joined the Secret Service. That's where I was working when Judy manifested her powers." 


"Ah don't know what would have happened without Ashley," said Judy quietly, putting her hand on Lulu's. "Ah know you guys don't follow the news very much, but if you remember that terrorist attack at the White House last year? That was, um, that was me," she admitted softly, reaching back to tug at her hair. If Ashley was impassive, Judy certainly was not, her face tight with memories of pain. "It wasn't safe for me to stay in the White House," she said, "not with powers like mine, so it was better for everyone if Ah stayed away until Ah could control things..." 


A flash came through where she touched Lulu - a feeling of terrible, agonizing loneliness, and opening her eyes as Ashley stepped into her hospital room... 


She scrubbed her hand across her eyes, and Ashley disengaged from Danica long enough to put her hand on Judy's shoulder. Judy went on. "Ah lied because my parents asked me to lie so everyone would stay safe, even though before that they told me that liars go to Hell!" Her hand tightened around Lulu's, and there was remembered pain there too.

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Based on her somewhat limited understanding of the news, Lulu was not a fan of President Cahill (unlike most of her Fox News-loving family), and even though that opinion was even more reinforced now (his own daughter!), she understood the cold, brutal logic behind the 'solution' to the 'problem'. Turning to Danica, she did her best to help.


"Look, there's no denyin' this is awful, and it is...seriously messed up, but we have to understand this was not Judy's idea. Ah never met a more honest person in mah life, but if your dad is the President, you don't have a normal life. All them generals and advisors and such think they have a say in how you live your life. You think they'd let Judy date some cute Russian boy? No, they'd freak the f### out!"


And then a bolt of realization struck her out of the blue, and she turned to Ashley. "Holy s###! Leroy's a foreign prince from a world that cuts folks' heads off; no wonder you freaked out the first day back!"

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Danica spent a few moments searching for words to say, probably anything other than "Well, that's about what I would guess JT Cahill would do if any of his kids stepped out of line," because that was more unkind than even her current level of anger called for. Lulu's comment was enough to divert her momentarily from her own overwhelmingly mixed feelings about Judy and Ashley's deception. "Oh wow," she said, her eyes rounding, "that must've been crazy when Leroy found out. I mean, what did he say? When did you tell him?" 

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Judy turned a surprising color and swallowed hard - behind her, the skin around Ashley's eyes tightened and she said nothing. Though a part of Judy wanted to melt her way through the floor and escape, she told the truth - as she had promised herself she would. "Ah am telling Leroy tomorrow," she said. "Ah never liked lying to him, but once Ah started Ah couldn't stop halfway through a date and say 'by the way, sugar, Ah am a bad person who doesn't deserve you at all...'" She twisted the ring on her finger and said, "If he breaks up with me, that's fine, it's what Ah deserve." 


Ashley frowned and said, "It is not your fault you were put in this situation, it just...happened." What she wanted to say was that it was her parents' fault, but of course she wasn't going to say _that_ in front of Lulu and Danica...or Judy, for that matter. "Judy and I have, ah, talked about her relationship with Leroy. But that's not my call to make." 

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This last revelation was even more shocking in some ways; why her and Danica before Leroy? A very cynical part of Lulu wondered if asking her to memory wipe Leroy in case things really went bad was ever on the table.


I bet you money Ashley considered it at least once, if only for a milisecond. Not that she'd ever want to hurt her 'sister.'


Something that Judy said really bothered the telepath, even if the First Daughter phrased it as rueful joke, and Lulu took both of the energy projector's hands in hers.


"Judy honey, you are not a bad person; you were stuck between your loyalty to your family and your faith in Jesus, two ideals you hold very highly, and you agreed to do somethin' that pained you for the sake of your family. That don't make you a bad person; that makes you someone in an impossible situation. And you did your best as long as you could, but a good heart can only endure so much."


Then she looked between the two sisters, a look of concern on her face. "Have you figured out how your tellin' the rest of the Cahills?"

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"Well you can't be engaged to him if you're undercover, can you?" Danica asked, furrowing her brow as she considered the problem, momentarily forgetting that she was mad. She was not at all good with matters of love, romance and sex, but she'd watched a lot of her friends develop crushes and have relationships over the years. She'd also watched a massive amount of television, which provided lots of educational opportunities. "I mean, you don't have a real legal identity as Judy Smith, so you can't get married, and you can't get marred as Judy Cahill without revealing pretty much everything. Not just, like, your powers, but his powers, his background, the school, all of us... Did you watch the royal weddings in England? People get very, very into state weddings. You'd have to run away and get fake papers and elope or something like that." 

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"It won't be easy," Judy allowed in response to Danica's question, "but we'll find a way to make it work. It's not like we're gonna just run off and get married at the age of seventeen, that would be...hah, crazy." She smiled, then shifted where she sat to look at Lulu. "My parents don't know we're engaged," she admitted. "Ah mean, Ah didn't lie to them about the fact that Ah was dating a boy." Her smile tightened, just a little, that beauty-queen look the two girls had seen before. "They weren't crazy about that, but they know Ah won't do anything that would disgrace myself. And they're happy he's a good Christian boy." 


Ashley's eyebrows were furrowed, but she opted to say nothing at this point - she really wasn't Judy's real sister, after all, and up against the wall her protege couldn't actually see her face. 


"My, uh, real sisters know Ah'm getting special training to deal with mah powers, but they don't know where." The Cahill sisters were not quite as close in real life as the administration allowed the general public to believe, but Judy was _not_ going to discuss her family's dirty laundry with everybody. "They know about the, um, the alien thing, so they're not gonna just...explode like Ah did." 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So Judy was willing to be reasonable about all this; this was good! Lulu really did want Judy and even Leroy to be happy; a willingness to compromise might go a long way.


"So are we talkin' after college, then? Because if you wait a few years, that could make it work for everyone. Like even if your daddy gets reelected-"


Dear Lord, ah hope not!


"He'll only be President through what, January of 2025? And then he'll just do whatever ex-presidents do, ah guess; build a library and such."

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"2025 at most," Danica interjected, just a little waspishly. "I guess if he doesn't get reelected, you can just tell everybody who you are? That'll be pretty weird too, especially after Ashley goes home, or to her new assignment or wherever." She folded her arms, then unfolded her arms, then picked up a cookie and shoved the whole thing into her mouth. She didn't like being lied to, and she didn't like feeling stupid because she'd believed Judy and Ashley's so--sad story. It was worse because she'd been thinking about inviting them to her place for the holidays, for pity's sake, because she felt bad they might not have anyplace to go!


The sad story had probably been helpful, Danica realized ruefully, because most people wouldn't want to pry into things that might be painful. Really made a lie easier to swallow. It hadn't been necessary for her, though; she believed dumb things her friends told her all the time. Sure, she was better about it now than she'd been in middle school, when her friends who'd gotten old and turned into teenagers would tell her all kinds of ridiculous stories just to see how far they could string her along, but she didn't exactly have a world-class BS detector inside the ol' shell. Part of her wanted to do what she'd used to do back then, slide down into her shell and pout till she stopped feeling so mad and embarrassed, but that wasn't the mature thing to do. She wasn't sure what the mature thing was to do right now, or that she wanted to do it, but still. "Why tell us now?"" she finally asked, swallowing. "Did somebody find out?" 

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"Ah decided Ah was tired of lying to everybody," said Judy immediately. "It wasn't right to begin with, and Ah wasn't gonna keep doing it even after Ah knew Ah could trust y'all." It was the heaviest her Southern accent had been yet - and also the closest she'd come to actually criticizing her parents. 


Ashley considered saying something about how this was _not_ what she'd signed up for - but Judy had it hard enough as it was, and this was her moment, anyway. "It was Judy's call to make, not mine," she finally said with a small shrug. "I don't really know where I'll go after this." 


"A lot depends on next year," said Judy softly. "If we're still here, if Daddy's still President..." She shook her head, then admitted, "Ah think Leroy wants us to live on his homeworld when we're married." 

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"Well, ah can't speak for anyone else," said Lulu as she glanced over at Danica. "But ah forgive you both; ah know livin' a lie takes a toll on you, so ah'm glad you got this one off your backs." Then she sighed and shook her head. "You're goin' to piss off a lot of people 'round here; ah don't envy you two at all. But if either of you need someone to talk to 'bout this, you know where to find me." 


She started to get up to head to the door, then realized she'd forgotten 'her' Bible, and snatched it back off the bed. "Night, y'all!" She closed the door behind her, leaving Danica and the 'Smith sisters' to sort things out between them.

Edited by Heritage
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