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The end of August and the beginning of September mark a very special time of year for citizens of Freedom City. Summer is ending and fall is beginning, vacation is wrapping up and the school year is beginning!


Our theme for the August/September vignette is - 




Did your family go on a cross-country car trip and let you actually get away from crime-fighting for once? 


Or were your good times in Seattle interrupted by the need to fight Grunge, the Flannel Bandit and his coffee-swilling crew of criminals? 


Did your feet stay on the ground with the normal people, or did you finally make it up to Farside City with your fellow heroes? 


Or maybe vacation is over, and you're back in school. 


Are you a Claremont student going back for your senior year? 


A new graduate looking at colleges, wondering if you need to bother given your caped career? 


A proud parent of a super-tyke sending your kids off to Nicholson again with the other super-elementary kids? 


Or maybe you're stuck balancing your classes with your heroing at a perfectly normal school - or one you THINK is perfectly normal before you learn the terrible truth? 


Either way - only one vignette per character, as usual! 


Go ahead and post your vignettes to this thread by September 30 so they can be included in September's post counts. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Boys of Summer

The surf washed up the beach, creating a slow, steady rhythm in the background of the day. The sand was covered with bodies playing and running and relaxing in the sun. Gene King splashed in the shallows, holding off the assault by his three little sisters. Cassandra threw a brightly colored beach ball and Gene batted it away, catching Candice in the face and making her fall on her butt in the wet sand. She squealed with delight and joined her sisters in a three-pronged attack on Gene, launching water-logged sponges and other sand toys at him. He managed to dodge the majority of the attacks; combat training at the hands of Mr. Archer turned out to be surprisingly effective at keeping sand and sea water out of his hair.

The fight was pretty evenly matched, until Derek intervened. The older boy snuck up behind Gene and then pulled his younger brother into a bear hug. “C’mon, girls, get him!†Gene kicked and struggled weakly, but the triplets rushed in and were merciless in their tickling. After only a few minutes, he was laughing, gasping for breath, and begging for mercy.

Gene was released and he retreated to the sand, leaving the girls to play with each other in the water. On an impulse, he pulled on his flipflops and started wandering down the boardwalk. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just letting his mind and attention wander as it would. It settled on a shaded stand selling chilled lemonade, and the blond boy working at it; Gene approached the cart, doing his best to pay attention to the chilled wonders promised within the cart. The blond boy greeted him with a smile and Gene raised his hand in response. “Hi there. Looking for something to beat the heat?â€

Gene studied prices on the side of the cart, trying not to focus on the blond boy’s cleft chin, or the spray of freckles across his nose, his green-grey eyes. “I… yeah. I will, uh, take a regular?â€

The boy reached into the cart and started shoveling ice chips into a styrofoam cup. “Are you sure you don’t want a large? You’re looking kind of hot today.â€

Gene would’ve turned red if his skin wasn’t already mahogany, but he did turn several shades darker. “I, um, wha-- what did you say?â€

The boy pumped lemon flavoring over the ice and mixed it all up with a steel rod. “I said you look like you’ve been out in the sun.†He handed over the lemon-ice, with something dancing behind his eyes that suggested he had meant everything Gene had read into his statement.

Gene tried to cover his sudden embarrassment with a laugh. “No, everything you see is all natural. What you see is what you get.†He gestured at himself, and only in the middle of the sentence did he realize how pathetic he looked; all he was wearing was a pair of wet swim trunks and thongs, revealing his scrawny chest and twiggy arms and legs. The whole presentation made him feel pretty lame.

But the blond boy with the cleft chin laughed, leaning over the cart to take in the flipflops. “Yeah, I can see pretty much everything from here.†He reached his hand over the cart. “Philip.â€

Gene took the hand. “Gene. King.†He took the other boy’s hand and shook it. “Just here for the holidays.â€

Philip smiled broadly. “Yeah, me too. But I get paid to be here.†He looked to the side, and Gene followed his gaze to see a large group beelining for the cart. “I’ll see you around, Gene.â€

It the sun was down over the horizon, but Gene could still see its light reflecting off the clouds. Gene ambled down the sidewalk, taking in the air and trying to clear his head. He couldn’t stop thinking about the boy with blond hair and a cleft chin and freckles over his nose. He felt silly asking the hotel staff if they knew how to find the boy who ran the lemon-ice stand. How could he explain that he had a summer crush and didn’t want to miss it?

Gene’s head was so high in the clouds that he didn’t notice the police cruiser rolling up behind him until they hit him with the spotlight. He shrank away from the sudden brightness, trying to make out the approaching figure and only succeeding in getting a vague glimpse of broad shoulders and a trim haircut. “What are you doing out here so late?â€

Gene felt his mouth go dry and his throat constrict, but he managed to stammer out, “I-I-I was just going for a walk. Sir.â€

“You’re staying at one of the resorts around here?†Gene could hear the skepticism in the officer’s voice, and past the light he just barely see someone else get out of the cruiser. His palms were sweating and he couldn’t help his mind playing out doomsday scenarios in his head; he’d be arrested for walking around, his family would have to bail him out, they’d be exiled from Nantucket in disgrace…

“Hey, Gene!†Gene and the officer turned, and he saw an angel approaching. An angel with blond hair and a cleft chin. Philip walked up, fearless in the face of the police. “You got my text about the party, then?â€

Sometimes Gene could be as thick as two short planks, but sometimes he actually managed to be somewhat clever. This was one of the latter times. “Yes! The, uh, the party. Which I was going to, with you. Philip.â€

Philip smiled at the police officers and the pair walked off, and Gene felt a different kind of tightness, a much more enjoyable sort, settle into his chest. The party turned out to be at another stretch of beach owned by a different hotel, lots of people mixing around several big bonfires. There were several sets of speakers and people were playing music from their smartphones and the whole atmosphere was intoxicating. Or maybe Philip was intoxicating; Gene spent most of the night within arm’s reach of him, sometimes dancing almost nose to nose. Eventually it was after midnight and they were just walking down the beach together, hand in hand. It was just about the perfect night.

Gene sat in the little kitchenette, doing his best to look contrite as his mother spoke. “Almost two in the morning when you walked in! I swear, Malcolm has his football and Derek has his rap music and now you’re coming and going at all hours of the night -- you boys are going to give me a heart attack. Grey hairs and a heart attack! Is that what you want to see from your poor mother?â€

Gene squirmed, doing his best to seem contrite and apologetic, while his heart was still on that beach. “I know, Mom. I’m sorry. The time just got away from me.â€

His mother wasn’t fooled. “And you didn’t hear your cellphone ringing? You didn’t realize that when the sun was going down, maybe you should head back? God, Gene, I almost called the cops and told them you were missing!â€

Gene looked at the floor. Now he really was feeling contrite and downbeat; he didn’t mean to ignore his phone or keep his parents up, he had just wanted to spend more time with Philip. But he couldn’t very well tell his parents that…

“Renee, why don’t you let me talk to him?†Gene and his mother turned to look at Adam King, a look of shock forming on Gene’s face. He never stepped in when Renee was mothering, and he wasn’t particularly close to Gene. But now he was taking the bullet for him?

Renee threw her hands in the air and stomped off. Adam grabbed a chair and sat across from Gene, bringing their eyes onto the same level. Gene squirmed under his father’s gaze, unsure of what to do. Adam was squeezing his hands alternately, for squeezing his right fingers with his left hand, and then switching. It suddenly occurred to Gene that his father was nervous to start talking.

He did eventually break the silence, though. “So you were at a party,†he said. “I know you’re not the sort to just find parties, Gene. Someone took you to that party. You found a girl, didn’t you?†Gene gaped. His father had just read the situation perfectly, and missed the point entirely. His father reached over and squeezed Gene’s shoulder, smiling. “Don’t worry, I know what it was like to be sixteen. I’ll talk to your mom and sort things out.†He winked, smiling at his son. “You might have to do some work, though.â€

Gene did end up working, by carrying packages. He thought his mother was still angry at him, but she took him into town with Launa and her, and as they picked up bits of pieces from the different, crafty stores they handed their packages and bags to him. He took them, uncomplaining, enjoying the sun and letting himself remember last night with --

“Gene!†He shook himself out of his funk and looked down the street. It was Philip, waving and smiling that smile. Gene smiled back and started to wave, then he panicked. His mother and sister were in a narrow boutique that more than made up in depth what it lacked in width, and it seemed to mostly sell scarves and wide-brimmed, floppy hats. He could just barely see them at the counter, paying for a couple of those floppy hats.

Philip reached for Gene’s free hand and he twisted it in a certain martial arts way and broke the hold effortlessly. Philip’s eyebrows came together in a hurt, quizzical manner, and Gene tried to cover his reaction with a hearty, fake laugh. Gene half-turned and watched his sister and mother leave the shop, and saw them stop and take the scene in. “Hey Mom, Launa. This is Philip.â€

“Uh. Hi.†Philip half-waved to the two women, who returned it with just as much confidence. “i’m, uh, Philip. I met Gene last night.â€

Renee’s eyes narrowed. “At the party? The party that lasted all night?â€

Gene cringed inwardly and tried to send psychic signals to Philip to retreat, but he couldn’t. “Yeah, I was at that party, with Gene.†He tried to take a step closer but Gene retreated by a step.

Renee gave a small, stiff nod. “Well. It’s nice to meet you. Let’s go, Gene, there’s still a lot of stores to go.â€

“I’m sorry.†Gene squinted into the light, trying and failing to shield her eyes from the nearly horizontal light. Philip leaned against a building, looking away from Gene, looking cool and lovely in the sunset. “I’m really sorry. My mom went ballistic about that party, when you brought it up she was never going to like you!â€

Philip sighed and looked at Gene. “So what was that stepping-away thing, then? Did she think you would be cheating on your boyfriend back home?â€

Gene wrung his hands, feeling his stomach tie in knots. He’d spent most of his free day walking across the town, hoping to find Philip. All the time, he had been dreading just such this conversation. “She doesn’t really know that I have a boyfriend.†A pause. “No one does. No one, in my family.â€

Philip huffed. “So you can come out to folks you’ve never met before, but not to your family.â€

Gene cringed, but he reached out for Philip’s hand. “To cute folks.â€

Philip demurred, but he didn’t pull away from Gene. “Are you going to stay in the closet forever?â€

“Not forever,†Gene said quietly. “But for the trip, yeah.â€

Philip made a noise in his throat. “You’re going to have to tell someone eventually, or maybe someone else will. Maybe I will, if you can’t keep my mouth occupied.†He darted in suddenly and his lips brushed against Gene’s.

He gasped in shock, but in a moment he started kissing back. “Well,†he said once they parted, “I’ll just have to keep your mouth occupied, then.â€

The ferry crawled through the water, oh-so-slowly making its way back to Hyannis on the mainland. Gene stood at the back, a little aways from anyone else, staring back at the island. He didn’t hear his father come back and jumped when the big man clapped him on the back. “Hey there, son,†he said. “Thinking about your Nantucket girlfriend?â€

Gene looked back at the island, rubbing his lips wistfully. “Something like that, Dad, yeah.â€

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Busmans Holiday


In an far corner of the Galaxy...Hutan-5...


Oskar Otto, aka Starshot, didn’t get away much. Or rather, he did. He was always taking paying customers to distant worlds, boldly going to the far corners of the Galaxy. The thing was, he was always going with customers, and had to constantly look over his shoulder to keep them from being bitten by a poisonous snake or falling over a cliff, or any of the hundreds of other hazards that could befall them.


He couldn’t complain about his job. But sometimes he needed a break from it.


Are we going to shoot something? I really want to shoot something! Something big! And Fast! Pyow Pyow Pyow!


Starshot had been on the trail of the legendary Black Septuraptor, a sleek lizard with six legs, a long whip like tail, and the mouth of an Alligator. A poisonous alligator.


Of course, the Black Septuraptor was considered a dangerous animal, and technically Hutan-5 was a red planet, all travel banned by the Lor due to its wild menagerie of dangerous animals.


Hutan-5 was thus the hunters paradise. The Rich and Famous would pay huge money to visit it, if they were brave enough. It had become a boast “I hunted on Hutan-5 you know…â€


But Hutan-5 was dangerous enough that some didn’t make it back to boast.


Some kind of vacation, huh?


He had spent a day or two on Hutan-6, drinking in the islands, breezes, and beautiful oceans. Hutan-5 was hot, sulphurous, and dry, with cracked and defiant cactus like plants growing everywhere, full of crawling vines on the floor and thorns to prick the unwary. Like everything on this planet, the plants were poisonous. Even the air was muggy and thin on oxygen.


The islands of Hutan-6 were nice. A little swimming. A little star gazing. But Hunan-5 was the vacation for Starshot.


“Trigger, we will surely shoot something today. But if you keep on talking, something may just rip us to shreds at the same time†he muttered to his Gun. Trigger had never been the smartest private in the army. The AI copy of him was even more…limited.


What the hell are we doing here anyway? This place is dangerous! Whispered Mask. The paranoid sentience was suspicious and vigilant, and doing an excellent job of providing Starshot with a heads up display of the terrain, complete with distances, times, direction.


It’s a Vacation, fool. Time to pluck the prize! Squarked Fingers.


Starshot didn’t reply. He didn’t hunt for the Credits one could get for selling a rare hide, or stuffed head. He respected his prey too much for that. No, it was the passion and thrill of the hunt. The danger, the anticipation, the calm fury of it all.


He caught sight of a venomous jumper on a nearby Cactus leaf. Two foot long, countless legs, a snake’s body and acidic tongue. A nasty vermin on a nasty world. Despite Trigger’s pleading, he didn’t want a discharge here. It had taken him some time to track the Septuraptor to its lair, and the crack of a plasma weapon would alert it to the hunt.


His left hand came up. Not flesh and bone, but bristling cybernetics. A green glow of power cells lighting it up. Fingers had come to replace his own hand, blown off decades ago in the Swiss Alps. It was useful to. Handy, one might even say.


Quick as a flash, A razor sharp needle extended a good foot from the hands pointed finger, skewering the venomous jumper on the cactus leaf. A faint hiss of gas and acid, and a horrible smell, and the lethal pest was no more.


Hutan-5 really was horrible.


Starshot cut short Triggers attempted try at inpatient pleading with a sharp tsk.


“Do you remember Earth? I do. Long summers fishing with my father. It was not for the fish we went, although they made a good supper, baked and seasoned with herbs by my mother. It was not even the air, clean though it was, or the view, although the view was beautifulâ€


He creaked his neck, and zoomed his view in to the lair of the Septuraptor.


“No, it was for the stillness. The waiting, you see, it gave you space, cleared the mind. There was just you, the lake, the ripples in the water like moments lost and found. The sense of being present, even when you did nothing. Control was discarded, and Life embracedâ€


He cocked Trigger, feeling its ancient but and steel. It looked like an antique, but fired like a state of the art weapon.


“It was a time, as the Japanese say, of Zen. In action, find stillness. And in stillness…â€


He was still.


The Septuraptor came out of its lair like the apex predator it was. Close to the ground, black eyes, six muscular feline limbs, and a prehensile tail ending in a claw. For one second, it focussed on Starshot, and bared its teeth.


And it was still.


“Find action†said Starshot, voice calm. Muscles calm. And, just then, his soul calm, unhaunted by the horrors of war and servitude.


And he pressed the trigger.

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Bad Hospitality




The heat was a fierce as the sun, even when it hang low in the air, a giant hazy orange bloom, sending long shadows across green and humid lands.


Carmen was sweating like a pig. Even with a demon in her stomach, the Rock Reporter was not immune to the heat. Unless that same demon flared and boiled, smoked and burned, and turned her into Pitch.


Still, she needed the City out of her hair. She needed to let rip along a road. And a week off from deadlines and crazy drug addled musicians, a week off from traffic and e mails and the boss. Everybody needed a week off now and again, or they got as crazy as the city. And that was pretty crazy.


“Crazy Mikes Crazy Houseâ€


Well, that sounded pretty crazy.


It was just off the highway, a bar for bikers, a bar for drinkers. Probably a bar with one or two women selling particular entertainment for the night, too. None of that bothered Carmen. She had grown up with hard knocks, diesel fumes, and loud music. She had drunk too much, and too young, but was still drinking too. And crazy as it sounded, sometimes crazy was kinda normal.


The music was pretty bad. Some lame band called “Aw3s0m3†was on the speakers. She vaguely recalled them – a kind of pretty boy pop group  trying to be a bit rock. Well produced, but with no teeth, and no balls. And the lead singer was an ass of the finest pedigree, she recalled.


The patrons were a heterogenous group of rockers, bikers, babes and drop outs. A t shirted youth with some Rock Band logo drinking beer. A thick set bearded rocker with hair, leather, and a bottle of whiskey. Some crop topped waitress with a perm, smile, and cowboy boots. A long haired boozer, crumpled and old before his time. Just samples of the zoo in front of her.


A bit later…


Carmen was in some drunken conversation with a university drop out, a long haired, lanky man with eye make up and jewelry and black nail varnish. She slammed her shot down on the table, and called him a dork, bringing forth her opinions on real, as opposed to pretentious rock  music to counter his own opinions. She also admitted to herself that she found him rather hot and wouldn’t mind locking lips with his.


She licked her lips unconsciously. Then realised she licked her lips. Then downed her shot in anger with herself and excitement with him.


Then, a thick fingered hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her round.


Three of them, bikers. With leather jackets, silverware. A pair of dark glasses. A bandana. The ornaments of the lifestyle. And that included tattoos. She could see all the regular ones – skulls, snakes, ladies draped across motorcycles wearing little but the motorcycle.


And gas, and exhaust. A style she knew.




The Gaschuggers had been around for decades. They had fought a pyrrhic war down south with the Blacksmokers. The Gaschuggers were fundamentally heavy merc’s, dealing in guns and providing muscle, grabbing power however they could. The Blacksmokers were stoner dropouts, reknowned for sorcery and black magic. And they had power. And the Gaschuggers wanted it.

Thing was, the Blacksmokers were lead by one Carlos Cantos. A black magician with real power, and the cunning to use it. He also happened to be the father of Carmen Cantos. And no Gaschugger or Blacksmoker ever forgot the Cantos.


“Well I’ll be damned. Carmen Cantos! Pretty little girl of Carlos!†grinned the first Gaschugger. He had two missing teeth. Only one had been replaced with a gold one. He was tall, big, that kind of body that hovered between muscle and fat but tended towards the first. A scar here, a scare there. And fists like sledgehammers.


No guns in the Crazy house, she remembered. There had been a pat down as she came in.


Still, fists hurt.


“Your old man shot me once, you know. Right in the leg. Busted up my knee pretty good. Hurts bad in the winter. Heard he busted up your leg even worse though, didn’t he? Serves the old scumbag right, havin some cripple for a daughter!†he grinned again. It wasn’t a grin full of mirth.


Carmen fumed past the initial fear. Sure, she had had more than a few jibes about her being a “crippleâ€. Thing was, she was pretty good at shoving her boot or her fist into the mouth that made the mistake of making the jibe. If not her, then the Blacksmokers she hung around with. The Cantos name swung both ways – enemies of the Gaschuggers, idols of the Blacksmokers.


And she had been in a fair few fights as a kid, and beyond. She didn’t know kung fu, or train in ju-jitsu. But being in enough fights, you get to learn how to fight. You get to know how to fight with your elbows, your knees and even your teeth, as well as your fists. You get to know how to jab, how to hook, how to kick a man’s shins and headbutt him.


And you get to know how to plant your boot between his legs.


If it had been some stupid guy making a stupid comment, she might have restrained herself to a biting comment and maybe a shove. But the Gaschuggers, they were bad news. They were crooks, criminals, bullies, down to the last man. If there was a clean Gaschugger, she didn't know about it. They wanted a fight, and they were getting one. 


“You are making my Vacation real fun, honey†she said as he sunk to his knees, his breath gone and his eyes bulging so far out of their sockets they looked like they might fall out and roll under a table.


“Oh shoot…†sighed Crazy Mike, ducking under his bar and grabbing his baseball bat. Mike was a middle aged man in good shape with an eyepatch and a crew cut from his time in the Marines. He was as good with his bat as a rifle.


The Crazy House lived up to its name. It had had no shortage of bar fights, and tonight it got another one to add to its history books.

There were probably under ten involved. Numbers were dynamic, and involvement was variable. From a full on onslaught of knuckles and boots, to a hearty shove of someone when they were thrown out of the fray into somebodies lap.


Crazy Mike was there, and his bat was a crazy thing. Smack, crack, whack, like a bolt of lightning. He had taken down one biker in a flash. He could possibly have taken down more, if he hadn’t had a lucky sucker punch to his jaw. He was a wizard with a bat, but had a glass jaw.


Carmen’s young handsome dude got a few tasty blows in, before a boot to his chest sent him flying. Carmen got one in a head lock and punched his face repeatedly. She was surprisingly strong at any time, but with rage powering her, she let rip altogether, tossing about the brawlers like rag dolls.


“Happy Vacation!†she said to the Biker who had taunted her and now had a triplicate of missing teeth.


She put her boot squarely, firmly, and speedily into his face, to make it a pentuplate of dental grief. The crack of boot against jaw was a particular punctuation of the night.


In the end, they got separated. In the end, the police were called. They seem to have the Crazy House on speed dial, and that was probably no bad thing.


A night in a cell, and a breakfast of hot coffee and a headache. The cops were not that bad really. Whatever Texan hospitality had been lacking in the Crazy House, the cops made up for it. A few cautions were given. Nobody would really be able to disentangle who flung their fist first. And nobody had been seriously injured. Black eyes a plenty, bruises by the dozen. Even a broken finger. But nobody had ended up in hospital.


Another caution for Carmen Cantos. But that would only add to her Rock n Roll Reporter status, her outrageous mythology. And she signed a few issues of Rock Report for the Cops.


All in all, it was a good Vacation. 

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The Red Rat


Cuban Crisis


The skies only had little wisps of cloud. The rest was blue and brilliant. Directly overhead, the Sun was shining proudly. Noemi Neumann was letting her hair down and roasting.


She didn’t get to let her hair down much. When she did, she looked like the Red Rat. Suspiciously like the Red Rat. Put a red jacket and some spandex on her, and she was the Red Rat. So most of the time she had her up in a bun or a in a pony tail, with some fake glasses. That did the trick.


But she needed a break now and again. A break from the City. A break from rude rides, beeping horns, and drunkards straddling across the road in front of her taxi. Sometimes driving around Freedom City was more stressful than planting a bug on a North Korean Army General. The comparison was one she could actually make.


Her skin was turning a golden brown. Possibly a fiery red, too. Her Slavic genes were not the worst choice in a blazing sun, but were far from perfect either. She didn’t get sunburn from watching a firework display like a red headed Celt, but still.


Sure, she could push her body to adapt. But what would happen? She could grow fur, grow scales, or turn purple. And there were plenty more wild mutations she could have, too. And besides, she liked roasting and going a delicious bronze.


“Anything to drink, ma’am? On the house, of courseâ€


The man was the head of the hotel, smartly dressed, wearing a bow tie, and anxious to please.


“Not right now, Pedro. Maybe later†she answered, turning on to her front to speak to him. Her body was indeed a golden brown, with a cheap green bikini. She was ripe with muscles too, her physique normally covered was now revealed to be strong and ripped. And also, with several big bruises, and a black eye.


“Of course, Madam†bowed Pedro, embarrassed beyond words.


So how had the Red Rat ended up thusly?


Rewind one week. After another stand up shouting match with “Big Easyâ€, the owner of EZ Cabs, and her boss, she needed a break. Otherwise she would break herself, or, more likely, break Big Easy’s neck. She didn’t have much money, but she did have a couple of dozen high quality false passports and a few contacts around the world.


Like Cuba!


Carlos Cruz was a Cuban. He also used to be a KGB plant that Noemi had used a few times. He was a friendly, gregarious, and generous man, despite the insanity of the Cold War and the spying game.


“Of course! Come stay at the hotel! On me!†he laughed when Noemi phoned him up.


The Hotel Castro, one of a thousand named after the man himself, was a crumbling badly maintained building with bad electrics and bad waterworks, located by a beautiful sea. It did a fairly good trade, and Pedro, who ran it, had an easy charm.


Of course, it was a calculated risk, making contact with Carlos. She was a wanted woman, after all. In retrospect, it was a risk that she did not calculate.


She had spent five sunny days, free of charge, sunning herself and catching up with Carlos, laughing, joking drinking with him and his voluptuous middle aged wife, who was equally entertaining and charming. Sure, they caught up on the old days. Carlos was still a communist, but he liked cigars and fine wines and was a pragmatist. He joked with her about how she was living in the land of corruption. She joked he was an idealistic dinosaur. They both joked about how they agreed with each other, and then they drank some more.


Carlos didn’t deal with the KGB anymore, but he still was known to them, and to the Cuban government too. He had spilled all the beans he could spill, and now hardly dealt with them at all, bar the odd arrangement for spies to use his hotel.


It was not Carlos who betrayed her. It was a deep cover Russian spy who stayed there. Going by the name of Ana, she portrayed herself as being an artist. She hadn’t done any art, though.


Her art was of a different kind.


Noemi had drunk her vodka, and taken a shower. She shook her head, feeling tired, weary. Then her vision blurred. She shook her head again, and, realisation dawning, looked at the Vodka bottle. There was thin fizzing film on its top, barely perceptible.


She had been drugged.


Her first thought was Carlos. He had sold her out, for money no doubt. Whom to? The Russians? The Cubans? UNISON? Who knew?


She staggered out of the bathroom with her bathrobe on, using both hands to steady herself, and she saw Ana in her room, gun in hand, and shocked to see her target still conscious.


There was no time for words. Ana and Noemi were both trained agents.  The gun was pointed, and slapped away. It was re-aimed, and slapped away again. A kick to the legs took Neomi’s legs from her as she grabbed the wrist that held the gun, the two women rolled to the floor. Neomi wrapped her legs around the arm, spinning the gun away, and trying to turn the roll into an armbar.


Another day, she would have. Noemi was in superb shape, stronger than she had any right to be, even with her physique. Her reflexes were sharper than a snakes.


But she was drugged, clumsy. Her limbs didn’t obey her, got tangled up in themselves.


A few kicks, blocks, and an elbow came crashing into her knee, another few punches, in her chest. A kick in the ass. She could take a lot, but she was being given a lot. Everything felt slow, sluggish. Fortunately, and mercifully, the drug had numbed the pain too.  A few scrabbling blocks on the floor. Ana tried to rise, but Neomi rolled to her leg, and took her down again. This time, she forgot about the pain. Ana fist crunched into her eye, but she rode through it, her knee pinning the other woman’s arm to the floor, then turning, twisting, taking blow and blow to her body before capturing the other woman in a complicated chokehold. And then she held.


Ana scrabbled, but could not break free. Her limbs jerked, and she lost consciousness.


Panting and dizzy, Noemi flopped to the bed and crawled to the phone, trying to dial the number of Pedro. It took three attempts to get it right.


She wasn’t sure if she had passed out, dozed, or just rested her eyes by the time Pedro came in. Another risk, but she guessed this was not Pedro’s work. Pedro would have had the decency to do it himself.


“What is this? Some kind of James Bond assassination like in the movies?†he groaned. “Where is her pointy shoe? You know, the click click thing?†he asked, examining her perfectly normal footwhere.


“Always the joker, Pedro. Tell me you didn’t sell me out†she said, her eye swollen.


“You, never? I am too old and too fat and too drunk to sell anybody out†he laughed, pulling Ana up. He brought out a small injection, flipped the lid and pushed it into her thigh.


“Let her have a taste of her own medicine, yes? Cuban special. Nothing to kill her. Just make her sleep it off for the next day or twoâ€


Neomi laughed.


“Sure, sure. I don’t want this to spoil my Vacation, after all!â€

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The Night Before

Vonnie snapped awake in his hotel room. It took a few seconds to realize what had woken him. Crying. Someone was crying in the next room over. That was the girls’ room. He lay there, weighing running over against the ways bursting into a girl’s room late at night could be taken the wrong way. Screw it. He bounded out of bed and into his pants. Out his door, a few steps, and into the other room. It didn’t take a genius to see what happened here. Vina, who hadn’t cried a single tear nor slept a full night through since their mother died, had finally broken down. She had sat on the side of her bed, sobbing softly until it had woken LJ. LJ, for her part, had gone over to Vina and held her, trying and eventually failing to hold back her own tears. Vonnie just stood there, just in the doorway. He didn’t know what to do. No, that wasn’t right. He knew what to do, he just didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. He’d shed his own fair share of tears, after all. He’d had his touchy moments and snarled at people who had nothing but the best of intentions. But…but…this was his sister. This was LJ. Screw it. He stepped over, sat down, took both of them in his arms, and didn’t do a single other thing. Words wouldn’t make it better. Him being there wouldn’t make the pain go away. But…but…it mattered, somehow. He didn’t know how or why, but the two of them clung back to him. Their old lives were gone forever. He couldn’t change that, no matter how much he wanted to. Vina got louder, and Vonnie pulled her closer. Maybe he couldn’t make the pain go away, but he could make sure she wasn’t alone. This was his family. Everyone he had left in the world. It hurt him that they were hurting. He hated it. He hated whoever had done this. There was a flash of insane rage, but Vonnie stuffed it back down. Anger wouldn’t solve anything. Vina started to sniffle, and then snore softly. Wordlessly, Vonnie and LJ tucked her into bed and then, as if reading each other’s mind, stepped into the hall. They spoke in hushed tones, as not to wake anyone else.

“Sorry we woke you.†LJ had managed to get herself under control, but her voice still quavered.

Vonnie shook his head. “Nah, I’m glad you did.â€

“I’m still mad at you.â€

Vonnie lowered his eyes. “I know.â€

“Some days I wish I’d stayed in the city.â€

“I know.â€

“Honestly, Vonnie? It’s like a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.†Her face crumbled. “He just went out to get some milk, you know?†The tears started again. “I keep thinking that I can call him and he’ll come get me. Take me far away and never leave me alone again.â€

Vonnie took her into his arms. “You’re not alone. I won’t allow it. Not you.†His voice quavered. “Never you.†They stayed that way for a while, before awkwardly separating.

LJ had gotten herself under control. “Starting at a new school tomorrow. Got to get that beauty sleep. She smirked. “Course, I’m already beautiful. Anything else is icing on the cake.â€

Vonnie smirked too. “Gurl, you know d#$% well icing is the best part of the cake.†He let out a small laugh. “But ah…you need anything, you call, aight? I ain’t about to break my promise over yo’ pride.â€

LJ gave him a look. “As I recall, I’m the one who said you were gonna be sticking to it. So you better be picking up the phone when I call.â€

Vonnie threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Aight, aight. You’re the boss.â€

“You d#$% right.†She moved to go inside her room and Vonnie turned to go. He got one step before. “Hey, Vonnie?†He looked back to see her head poking through the doorway. “Thanks for coming back for me.†She pulled her head back in and shut the door.

Vonnie went back to his room, grinning like an idiot.

Edited by EternalPhoenix
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Back to School


July 14th, 2014

Everything about FCU was intimidating; the campus, the intensity on the students' faces, the wastebaskets out on the Quad. Freedom College had been very laid-back and non-threatening by comparison. Lynn Epstein sat in the Undergraduate Advising department squirming in her chair, fighting the urge to run out of the office screaming.


You wanted to do this, remember? You wanted to finish school and have that piece of paper in your hand, so your family can be proud of you, and then everyone can pretend that everything's still normal and nothing's changed.


But of course, a lot had changed; she'd spend a lifetime away on another world, two if you counted the time she served on Mars. She'd fought and loved and lived and grieved, yet not a trace of it showed on her face. Well that wasn't technically true; the people who knew her best could see it in her eyes from time to time; her dad would just sort of stare for a second, then shake his head and apologize. Though her mom was the physicist, she'd had a lot more trouble wrapping her head around the changes in her daughter; Butch just shrugged his shoulders and said, 'She got old' and gave her a nudge and a playful wink.


So now here she was, a mother, grandmother, heck even great-grandmother, a war veteran, a bounty hunter, a rancher and a grieving widow, and she was terrified by the teenagers around her. According to her New Jersey driver's license, Lynn had just turned twenty-six, so on paper she was already older than all of them, but like everyone in school on some level she wanted to seem hip and cool; was that even remotely possible at her age?


Forget that you're a grandma; hell, a damn sexy grandma to be specific. You only missed out on three years of pop culture while you were gone, and in your heart you're still the same Jersey girl who made gagging noises during 'Twilight', who grew up watching Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and shopped at the outlet stores in Delaware. You belong on this planet and you have a right to educate yourself, and you've got all that Martian platinum to pay for it. You can have a career, go to school part-time and still fight crime, and dear God is that boy hot! Holy Cheez-Wiz, as Dad would say! It's not pedophilia if he's legal age, right? No, it's just very, very creepy.


This was going to harder than she thought.


"Ms Epstein?"


Her head snapped up as she dropped out of her reverie. "Yes, hi, that's me!"


"Hi, I'm Gwendolyn Carter; it's nice to meet you. Could you follow me, please?" Ms Carter was middle-aged, which meant Lynn had children older than she was (Stop it!); she lead the nervous transfer student back to her office and offered her a seat as she opened a manilla folder on her desk. "I'll be honest, Ms Epstein-"


"Please, call me Lynn."


"Alright, Lynn. As I was saying, I was somewhat surprised to see you wanted to transfer into our Undergraduate program; at your age, I would have thought you'd prefer our School of Continuing Education."


"Well yeah, I'm not gonna lie, I thought about it, but the program I'm interested in, Hebrew and Judaic Studies, is only offered at the Undergrad level. And I only completed one semester at FC, so technically I am still a freshman, even at my advanced age." Lynn smiled a bit at her little joke.


Ms Carter nodded and smiled. "Fair enough. A little more problematic is your late application; ordinarily, the deadline for transfer students was back in May."


"I know, I was just-" How the hell to phrase this? "I was out of the country for several years, traveling with my husband; I was planning to go back to school, but then everything got crazy, and-"


"However, I have received a letter of recommendation from one of our most distinguished alumni, Ms Elena Guerrero." The adviser pulled it out of the folder and put on her reading glasses, so she missed Lynn's completely gobsmacked expression.


Elena? How did she- waitaminute, of course she knew! She must have 'seen' it.


"In it, she speaks very favorably of your commitment to education, this city and your Jewish heritage; she makes a very convincing case that not only should you be admitted to FCU, but that you will enrich our institution with your presence." Ms Carter shrugged as she took off her glasses. "Ms Guerrero's name carries a lot of weight around this school, and not just because she's a very generous alumni; she's a hard woman to impress, and I mean that in the best possible way."


"I, uh..."


Ms Carter smiled. "Welcome to FCU, Ms Epstein."

Edited by Heritage
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Vignette: Vacation


Rene deSaens


Its Vegas, Baby


From the Journals of Rene De Saens


Much has been said about this place of dreams. A place were dreams are born, and dreams die. A place were dreams soar, and dreams fall.


The veil between dreams and reality is thin, and sometimes not present at all. If I was to be a guardian of dreams, then to Vegas I should go.


It is an impossible place. A city of lights, steel and glass in the middle of a desert. It is hard to say which is more lifeless…the desert or the city. I confess the assault of sound and vision that Vegas fires at you…I can only call it obscene. Wealth without wisdom or taste.


Nevertheless, I had resolved to see Vegas, and so I would, with eyes and mind open despite the bad taste they left. I paid the taxi generously, and he responded with predictable good cheer words and empty eyes.


And yet, despite it all, the place has a Fever. A Delirium. Whilst the sweat and heat of disease is horror, it is also alive. Yes, a sickly life, but burning bright all the same, just as life beats and pulses faster when closer to death. Here, in Vegas, there is that same pulse. It is sickly and hot, but gloriously alive.


Like a moth to a flame, I gravitated towards the biggest, the boldest, and the brightest. Caesars Palace.


I had money. Wise investment and expensive art has meant I am rich. I give it away as freely as I earn it. Tonight, I determined to throw it away, although not without a ugly pang of self loathing. I felt as if I had fallen in the gutter. But as my good friend Oscar said, we are all in the gutter. Some of us look at the Stars.


And stars were plentiful. Not only in the bright night sky, but artificial ones, like fireflys swaming. And stars of the human kind too, singing, dancing, entertaining. I could not resist but catch “The Grand Shazam! Master of Magic!†running at the Palace. A bold and skilled man without the faintest hint of mystic art about him. At least, without the faintest hit he used. I have known several stage magicians who were actually magicians, but only used sleight of hand and misdirection on stage.


I wandered off to the tables, complaining to all who would hear me that my hips and knees ached terribly. I was offered a wheelchair by a handsome young man who would have fluttered my heart a hundred years ago. Today, I just stared at him and grunted that I could I dind’t need his damn wheelchair thank you very much, but he could lend me his arm. A very nice arm it was, too.


The tables were the heart of the machine. Here, dreams formed and shattered in a moment. I could see the magic of it. I could feel the highs, feel the desperation, the excitement, the despair and the lows. All of it played out in the tumble of dice, and the turning of cards. It was hard to watch but hypnotic all the same. The sadness was terrible to behold, and yet, there is no wisdom but that which we harvest ourselves. Men and women were making castles from straw, and their stories would end in collapse.


My spectacles are an elegant antiquity. Gold framed, round, the device of a nobleman decades ago, or from another century. I made them myself, or at least had hand in the lenses. A little skill and craftsman ship in glass grinding has become me. And with my hands, I could infuse glass with visions and light that is invisible. Glass that focuses the meaning of things. They serve well enough for me to read, but also to illuminate magic.


And there he was, a gambler clutching a charm. He was rolling in money, cleaning up on the roulette table. His charm was around his neck, a gypsy thing perhaps, simple, but alive with the light of magic.


The man was fifty, maybe, a large man, both in height and girth, with thick glasses and thinning hair and a suit that was just slightly to cheap for the place. His tie was loosened. His grin was broad.


“Must be my lucky charm!†he laughed, pointing to the trinket around his neck. I could not tell if he knew its power, or not. Or maybe just suspicion and hope and joy. Whatever the case, his irrefutable success on the Roulette tables was not without effect – and I refer not to the pile of chips he was amassing like a mountain. Young ladies, dressed immodestly, were aggregating around him like vultures around a carcass. And they might pick him clean to the bones.


And here I thought, was a quandary. A cheat stealing from a parasite. For all the dreams that gambling generates, they are born from greed and lies. The House always wins. And yet, and yet, was that wrong? Human nature is not pure and noble. It is noble because it is impure. What place had I to interfere.


Non! A man must make his own luck. A man must find his own honesty. I would not tear down the house of cards, I would not build it up. This man’s story was built on lies. Built on a trinket no doubt both boon and curse. Such things are rarely one or the other. What circumstance lead him to possess such a thing? I shall never know, but I suspect it was given as a double edged sword. To give greed its due, and to take in other ways.


Now, hexes, curses and charms are not my forte. But you don’t get to live two centuries with magic and occultism without learning a thing or two. I daresay I have forgotten half I have learned over the years, but the years have been many and I still know much, if I say so myself. Which, as it happens, I do.


“Ah Monsieur! What splendid fortune you have!†I smiled at him, throwing a few chips on the velvet. I had no interest in winning or losing. What I wanted was freedom for the Man and his fates.


“Lady luck is sure with me tonight!†grinned the man, as a lady of half his age gripped his arm and kissed his cheek “For luck†as she so delicately put it.


“She is indeed. But a blind and fickle lady she is, and without memory or foresight†I replied, to his irritation. “Is she your master, or are you hers, I wonder?†I asked, as the roulette was spun, and the steel ball bounced around on strings of probability.


It was costly. Words muttered under my breath, half forgotten. I dislike such arcane ritual, for me it is the elegance of dreams, and imagination, bringing forth the floating world into the living one. But there is a time and a place for such magicks, as today. I could see in my mind’s eye the woven enchantments, black and white, yin and yang, a karma. For every drop of luck today, a river of tears later. Yes, to be rid of this artificial device, to free the man for his own fortunes, this would be liberty, painful as it might be.

I am old, and my body weak now. But my mind is a tower of pure iron. Yet even that will was sapped by the effort. To force and break the charm, to shatter its enchantments, with so little time. It was performing surgery with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. 


Yet shatter it I did. And fell to the floor weak and tremulous. I am ashamed to say that this time I did indeed need a wheelchair, and the handsome young man I had met before dashed to fetch me one, and advise medical attention. I confess, at that time, I was not swayed by good looks or charm. I truly was drained of spirit, for the cost of breaching the enchantment was great, and tiring.


And so I retired to a modest, no, I tell an untruth, an extravagant hotel room, and ordered the finest of wines. And lay on the softest bed I have ever slept on. But yet, I hovered between sleep and wakefulness. I was alive to the man whose luck I had broken, alive to his dreams. Alive to his fate, now his own. He was surfing the excitement, embroiled and inflamed by it. His chips on the velvet, his dreams with them. His money on the black.


And I could see the ball clicking in the spun roulette. Click, click, click.


I could see it slowing, now rolling instead of bouncing. The roulette coming to rest, the ball hovering between black and red.


And then coming to decision.


And landing on…


Well, I must rest now, and write no more!

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Summer Job

Tona Baudin woke up in the dark, chilly pre-dawn of the day, with just the faintest glimmering of light showing over the horizon. She laid on her thin bed in the bunkhouse and watched the dawn for a few minutes, then forced herself to get up and prepare for the day. That didn’t take very long, just some water on her face and jumping into hard-worn clothes. The kitchen in the bunkhouse wasn’t ready for breakfast yet, so she grabbed a hunk of bread and eyed the bowl of coffee beans. She had relied on them the first week, and they had made her uncomfortably jumpy. Plus, caffeine put her aim off. She compromised by grabbing a handful and putting them in a pocket for later.

Tona got a pickaxe from the tool shed and walked off to the edge of the village, smelling the crisp morning air and the scent of green, growing things all around her. Sanctuary wasn’t anything like the Earth she was learning to call home. It wasn’t at all like the Earth she had been born on, either, since there wasn’t the huge, doomsday bulk of Nihlor in the sky, but she imagined it was close what that world had been like before the Terminus came. Beyond the settlement’s borders was forest, dark and silent and full of creeping tendrils of mist. There was no cacophonous sound of cars or music players blaring into the sky, no lights blotting out the stars or scaring the animals away. Everything was quiet, and still, and perfect.

Well. Except for the tree stump at the edge of the fields. It had turned up towards the end of yesterday, and Stesha had told everyone that she would deal with it the following morning. Tona was resolved, however, not to bother Stesha with a little problem with this. She could get a good start into breaking it up with the pickaxe, and with any luck by the time Stesha woke up and got down here they would all be hauling it away. With that plan in mind she set her feet, gripped the tool, and started swinging.

“You don’t have to do that, you know.†The voice ringing through the silence was familiar and just slightly amused. Tona looked up to see Stesha walking out of the trees, their branches moving obligingly aside with every step she took. In the early morning mist she seemed unearthly with her flower crown and her green hair plaited in a dozen intricate strands down her back. That was an illusion that would burn away with the mists, though; when she was working, Stesha was as earthy as anyone, trying hard to be one of the gang despite the fact that the planet rose to her hand like a pet. “You’re working harder than anyone, Tona. Aren’t you getting enough exercise already?â€

Tona had just begun to work up a sweat when Stesha appeared, and there was still a lot of work to be done on the stump, but she rested the head of the pickaxe on the stump and stood straight, giving the older woman her full attention. It was more respect than she would pay most apparent authority figures, but then most of those hadn’t saved her world. While the land and their trees and the animals were gone, her people and culture had been saved and transplanted onto Sanctuary.

Of course, they were all survivors of decades of resistance to the Terminus. Most were medically malnourished and suffering from any number of diseases or infirmities that Tona had taken as the regular price of living, before she had experienced modern healthcare. They were recovering (faster than Tona would have thought possible; being able to grow pharmaceuticals to order did wonders for recovery) but the young woman still felt like she was imposing on Stesha’s planet. Which is why she had spent the last three weekends tilling fields and clearing tree stumps.

None of which she said to Stesha. She merely shrugged noncommittally. “Sooner it gets done, the sooner the field gets extended,†she said. “Better to work early on in the day, before it gets hot. And if we work hard, we can move the field after lunch.†She shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to talk to the woman who very nearly literally owned the dirt she was walking on. “I hope I didn’t wake you up.â€

“I don’t need much sleep,†Stesha replied easily, “and you’re right that this is the nicest time of the day. Now that the sky is clear, we actually get summer weather again. It’s kind of a mixed blessing.†She waved a hand at the stump, which immediately began sprouting large purple toadstools the size of Tona’s hand. “I think you’re right about the field, though. We should get it laid in by evening if no emergencies come up.â€

Not seeming to notice, or choosing not to notice Tona’s diffidence, Stesha sat down cross-legged in the grass and tipped her face up to the sun. “The settlement’s growing very quickly,†she observed. “Your people work very hard. Don’t you ever take breaks, holidays or weekends or something like that?â€

Tona frowned at the question. She was aware that there were times on her new Earth that people just accepted that no one would be working, that every person in the city (or at least most of them) would be off doing… whatever they wanted. It wasn’t easy for her to wrap her head around, sometimes. “There’s work to do,†she said in a tone like she was commenting on the color of the grass or the sky. “If the work doesn’t get done, then the food doesn't grow and people don’t eat.†She looked at the rows of buildings where most people were still sleeping. “Back -- back in the Terminus, there was always work to do. Or else we were moving to get away from a patrol. Maybe now, once it gets colder, people can slow down. Or maybe not.

“But I still have a lot to do,†she added. “A lot to get everyone ready. And, to pay you back, Stesha.†She glanced at the green-haired woman and then dropped her gaze to the toes of her boots. “I kind of lied to you about how many people would be coming. The fields should already be big enough, but because there’s so many more people we have to make it so much bigger. So I should do some of that.†Of course by this point Tona had already put more than some into that effort.

“You don’t owe me anything, Tona,†Stesha told her firmly. “If you knew ahead of time more people were coming, I might wish you would’ve told me, but only so we could be more prepared. But there was never a question of turning anyone away. Your people needed help, and helping people is what we do. Me, Gabe, GK, the folks at the monastery, even the bees. We have the land, we have the power and the resources, it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can.â€

Stesha reached into a nearby tulip and drew out a cloth bag, then began harvesting the purple mushrooms into it. “There will be enough food and fuel for everyone to be fed and warm this winter, and seeds to plant in the spring. Don’t worry so much,†she told Tona with determined cheer. “You’re young and free and safe now. You should have more fun.â€

Tona took a deep breath and closed her eyes, momentarily taking in the serenity of the early morning, still cool, fog still curling underneath the trees. “I am creating a world for my people,†she said. “A future, something safe. Someplace for future generations… Someplace where there can be future generations.†She smiled at Stesha, relaxed and at ease for once. “My people don’t live under a sun that consumes planets. We don’t run from death squads or risk mutilation just to stand up, just to live another day. I’m not worried about my people. I’m helping to create the better future for them. And that is the only thing I want to do.â€

“That’s the spirit.†Stesha smiled and handed over the bag of mushrooms as the remains of the tree stump collapsed into powder. “Hopefully the better future can include things like days of rest and holidays. In a couple more months, maybe we’ll introduce you all to the idea of Thanksgiving, that’s a good one. I just want you to be happy here. Conditions are still a little primitive, I know, but in another year or two, it’ll all be better.â€

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Summer Romance

MIT Associate Professor of Physics Samantha Carson was, for once, actually having office hours. Well, she was actually grading papers, but she was technically in her office while doing it. A student could still come in with a problem of some sort. That was her story, and she was sticking to it. Oh dear God. How could you allow them to be such idiots? It never ended. In fact, it could be maddening. The workaholic who, bless him, did not appear to have the capacity for the work. The most brilliant member of all her classes who, curse him forever, could barely be bothered to come to class and did just enough work that she couldn’t possible fail him. The wide eyed idealists who did not seem to know how to just shut. Up. Already. And don’t even get her started about the more aggressive atheists. The universe holds virtually infinite possibilities. I refuse to ignore any of them based on such flimsy reasoning. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t find many of them annoying. She jotted down a few more notes, and at last shoved the stack aside. Perhaps I should have gone into teaching philosophy. Certainly my adventures over the summer have shown I have a knack for it. Hmm… A knock at the door interrupted her musings. “Come in.†The door opened, and a broadly built young Hispanic male stepped in. “Oh, Filipe. What can I do for you?â€

“Well Professor, I have a problem. I-“ Filipe, God bless him, was one of the ones who did not know how to shut up. Always with ten words when one would do. Sam generally tuned them out, relying on her near perfect memory and the speed of her thought process to catch up. In the meantime, she simply performed a very old trick known to professors everywhere. She looked at the young man and nodded sagely at the appropriate intervals. It worked so well for Sam because her Asian ancestry lent itself well to appearing inscrutable to…less than discerning minds. Casual racism, to be sure. However, it worked in her favor, so whatever. Let’s see here. What is the issue today, Filipe? Ah, I’m a poet and I didn’t know it. So, it’s just the usual “I want save the world with science but I can’t do it without your help†speech, eh? It wasn’t that unusual. It was again, the Asian ancestry effect. Along with her relative youth and level of physical fitness, well…let’s just say the propositions were beginning to get cleverer and leave it at that. Also, one could not forget she was their instructor, and that did hold an additional allure for some. Sam’s feelings on the subject were…mixed. It was flattering, to be sure. Useful now and again, absolutely. She even found some of the ones less adept at hiding their feelings amusing. Yet, in the end, it was profoundly annoying. She was not just a pretty face, nice body and pleasant personality. She was an MIT professor at the age of 23, by thunder. She had a brain and was very good at using it.

“Felipe. Stop.†She spoke somewhat softly, but he immediately shut up. She had used the Authority Voice, after all. The particular tone, unique to every parent, that allowed no argument if one was wise. “You know very well I cannot show any favoritism among my students. I am here to advise you, not to do the parts of the work you find difficult. If you need a tutor, there are several listed in the syllabus. And besides, Lucy seems to pay as much attention to you as she does to my lectures.†Lucy was an idealist as well, but a shy one. Her work was good, even by Sam’s standards. That said, Sam had not once spoken to the girl, who seemed welded to her position at the back of the classroom. Oh, she had tried, but Lucy seemed to be the type that feared her instructors. It was unfortunate. Perhaps Felipe could get her to open up a bit. Stan would say not to meddle, but…Sam couldn’t help it. People needed people. Both he and she, of all people, should know that. “There’s no need to look so surprised. I’m married, not dead. I’m not an idiot, either. You are not the first and will certainly not be the last to be ‘hot for teacher’, as it were.†Felipe actually blushed. “Next class, arrive early and talk to her. Be gentle, and don’t stammer. It’ll give her an escape route. Now, it’s getting late. I’m making dinner tonight, so I must be going.†Felipe awkwardly left, stammering something or other the whole way. Sam sighed. Intelligence is both blessing and curse, as per usual. She gathered her things and left for the day.


Two weeks later

Terrifica rode her Terrifi-cycle through the streets of Boston. It was a calm night, everything considered. A perfect night for her longcoat. No unexpected robberies. No mysterious murders. And dinner had been excellent. It had been more or less a homemade version of Hamburger Helper. The noodles were from a box and the beef was from the grocer’s freezer, but the rest she had made herself. It had turned out perfectly, and steamed mixed vegetables had been an equally perfect accompaniment. It had been so wonderful that Stan put the children to bed early in favor of some rather vigorous lovemaking. Although, to be honest he was usually up for that regardless. The one way in which he was the typical male. She smiled, remembering the experience. A sudden siren snapped her back into focus. A police car made a hard right at the upcoming intersection, joining the street she was one. It sped back up, obviously in an awful hurry. Terrifica accelerated, pulling up alongside. Officer Reynolds and his partner of the moment. Good. He spotted her and gave a nod. Not everyone on the Boston PD appreciate her efforts, but Reynolds was a pragmatic old Irish cop. If it got the job done, that was good enough for him. She followed him to an apartment complex a few blocks away from MIT, and her heart sank. Please, not one of my students. Not anyone, if you can help it. They parked, and she dismounted, stepping over to the driver’s side door. Reynolds had the window rolled down. “Not sticking around. Not my precinct. Just seemed up your alley. Detective’s Martha Smith. Old friend. Was my trainee once, like Oswald here.†The perky young female officer in the passenger seat gave a wave. “She knows a good hero when she sees one. But…she gives you guff, lemme know.â€

Terrifica smiled. He wasn’t one to waste words, either. “Got it. Be safe out there, Reynolds.†Reynolds only grunted and pulled out to drive away. She didn’t watch him go, instead heading for the lobby with all the officers clustered around it. One of them moved to obstruct her, but a woman’s voice cut through the night.

“Cut the crap, Harvey. She’s here to help. This is one of hers, anyway.†Detective Martha Smith was an African American woman who had about a decade on Terrifica. She was roughly of average height and build, with a confident manner about her. She stood at the top of the first set of stairs.“Third floor, hero. C’mon.â€

Terrifica made her way up the stairs. “Detective Smith, isn’t it? What do we have so far?â€

The detective sighed. “’We’ don’t have squat. Or rather, there’s only one guy in town who pulls this crap, but hell if we can find him.â€

Terrifica’s eyes narrowed. “Maven.â€

“The very same. Here, in Three Oh Two.†Smith stopped by the closed door. “Forensics’ll be here in ten minutes. See what you can see. Watch out for the smell, though. It’s bad in there. You know the rules?â€

Terrifica shot her an amused glance. “Like the back of my hand, Detective.†She opened the door, stepped inside-and immediately found herself in a low level charnel house. The smell was almost overwhelming. Although the foyer was clear, blood was on every surface in the living and dining rooms but the carpeted floor had a narrow path purposefully left. The kitchen was clear. The bathroom lacked even a path. The victim was in the spotless bedroom, and Terrifica was somewhat shocked to realized she recognized her. There was no blood or any signs of trauma. Wait. Ligature marks on the neck. Strangulation. With this being who it is…he does have a sense of macabre poetry, I suppose. She didn’t need to test any of the blood, not now. She walked out of the apartment and shut the door behind her.

Detective Smith looked at her expectantly “Well?â€

Terrifica breathed for a moment. She was nauseous, the sudden fresh air somehow tripping her gorge. “Do you know the victim’s name?â€

“Sure. Sonya Cortez. Professor of History up at BC. Widowed three years. Family lives in Arizona and Belize. No children.â€

Nausea fought off, Terrifica looked at the detective. “Cortez. Professor of History. What was her specialty? Do you know?â€

Smith gave her a slightly suspicious look. “Sounds like you do.â€

Indeed, Terrifica did know her. She was a regular whenever the BC and MIT staffs got together. They’d scarely been introduced, and it was only the once. However, Terrifica remembered a nice woman with a Hispanic accent you could cut with a knife who was clearly passionate about her chosen specialty. If how she had cornered Stan had been any implication. “If you’d spent more than a few seconds in there, you would too. Aztecs, Detective. She was an expert on the Aztecs. Named Cortez.â€

Smith swore. “That little…thinks he’s so witty.â€

Terrifica suddenly looked very sad. “He’s just taunting me, Detective. He strangled a woman and desecrated her home just to taunt me. Don’t worry about the blood. It isn’t human. In the morning a butcher should report a large supply of pig or cow’s blood missing. Maybe more than one butcher. There is a lot in there. I have a good idea where he’ll strike next, as there does appear to a few things missing from the bedroom. Knick-knacks, but revealing all the same.â€

Detective Smith put a hand on her shoulder. “He’s just got the Devil’s own luck, hero. It’ll run out. That kind always does.â€

Terrifica nodded, pulling herself together. “One day. Sorry. I can’t seem to understand him, and it bothers me immensely. I find him, I’ll call you. You do have a business card?†Smith pulled one out of her pants pocket. It was crinkled, but still legible. Terrifica took it, and the two parted without another word.

As she left the building, somewhat despondent, she spotted a small crowd across the street. The sirens must have woken some of the neighbors. In that crowd she spotted Felipe and Lucy. There were not dressed for outdoor activies, and he had his arm around her. She looked ludicrously happy about the latter fact, events of the evening aside. Terrifica smiled, savoring the small victory. Then she got on her ride, and rode off into the night.

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New Beginnings

Del Mar, California
Monday, July 7, 2014, 10:24 AM

The warm California sun was starting to near the mid-point of the day, shinning down of the several mile stretch of beach in Del Mar California. The hot weather, and unusually warm waters of the Pacific Ocean resulted in a very crowded beach for a weekday, even one following the three day Fourth of July weekend. Along the beach, there were families with children of various ages playing in the sand, teenagers and young adults out to tan or play beach games and a variety of other beachgoers. In the water there were people just wading in to help deal with the steadily hotter day, swimmers and boggy boarders, and a bit further out, some surfers, including a couple of surfing classes.

Giang Trang was looking out over all of this activity from up on the second story balcony of one of the Del Mar Lifeguard stations spread along the beach. The Asian teenager was dressed in a one piece red swimsuit, with a dark sunglasses over her eyes to help with the glare off the sand and water. A pair of binoculars were close on hand if needed. A gentle breeze stirred nearby flags, causing a few strands of Giang's long black hair to blow out of place as she continued to look over the area for any signs of someone in trouble.

"So Giang, how are you liking Southern California so far?" Asked a blonde haired lifeguard standing at the other side of the balcony. Amy Crawford was in her late twenties, and one of the more senior lifeguards currently on duty at this station.

"It has been very enjoyable so far Amy." The Asian teen replied with a small smile. "The weather is much more similar to Vietnam than Freedom City's, if less humid. I am still learning my way around, but the area around my apartment seems very nice, and I certainly enjoy the job."

After finishing at Claremont Academy back in late May and visiting her roommate Thaliea's family in Atlantis, Giang had made the move from Freedom City to San Diego so she could attend the University of California: San Diego in the fall. She had begun looking for a job for the rest of the summer and something she could possibly work part time when her classes began. Having worked part time as a lifeguard at a community center pool back in Freedom City, she had tried several of the lifeguard stations for the beaches in the towns in and around San Diego as well as at a number of community centers and athletic facilities in the area as well. She had been fortunate enough to obtain a part time position with the Del Mar lifeguard station, as well as a part time position with an athletic club in the Del Mar Heights area as well.

Making the move to the West Coast had been something of a risk for Giang. Doctor Sin’s criminal organization, as well as her father’s was much more active in this part of the United States than they were on the East Coast, and Freedom City in particular. But as one of her former Claremont classmates, and close friends, had once told her after they had fought off an attack of agents sent by her father during the Chinese New Year celebration in Freedom City, she should not live her life in fear of potential attacks from those after her. In any event, her troubles with Tongs and Triads coming after her had diminished some after she and a number of other Claremont students had defeated one of Doctor Sin's key lieutenants, Lady Shen, and destroyed the training facility she had run for the Doctor in the South Pacific. She knew it was unlikely that her father, or Doctor Sin, would never try to come after her again, but she now took measures to try to prepare for such an eventuality.

"Glad to hear." Amy replied with a nod, looking back out over the beach with her pair of binoculars. "If you ever need any help with anything, don't be afraid…." The older woman’s voice trailed off as she focused out into the waves along the shore. "Giang! It looks like we have a swimmer in trouble!"

Giang turned her attention toward the area Amy was looking at, quickly spotting a swimmer that was struggling to get his head above the water. "I see him!" Giang replied as she rushed over towards a pole alongside the balcony that went down to the lower level, similar to the poles in a fire station. Once down on the sand, the Asian teen grabbed one of the flotation devices hanging on the wall nearby and started sprinting off toward where the swimmer was in distress.

As she ran, Giang dodged between people on the beach, her gaze focused on the area the swimmer was in. In truth, she could easily rescue the man from where she had been up on the balcony of the lifeguard station, simply using her ability to control water to move him back to land. Of course, that would have been an unnecessary display of her powers. While she was not living in fear of her father or Doctor Sin, she was not about to announce her presence to them either. Perhaps if a situation was dire enough she might consider just using her powers, but for now, she was going to do things the old fashion way, mostly.

Reaching the water, Giang started wading in, diving in completely once it was deep enough. It took a bit of effort to resist the natural urge to just swim out to the man as fast as she could, which would be far faster than a normal person could swim. She still cut through the water with impressive speed, but was sure to keep things to a more believable speed. As she drew closer, she used her powers to push the man up so his head was above water, even if he was still struggling and flailing about.

Drawing up near him, she stopped a few arms lengths away, to avoid being caught in his flailing and struggling. "Calm down, I am here to help!" She called out in a firm voice. "Take this." She tossed the flotation device to the man, a rope still attaching it to her. The man had enough sense to reach out and grab the float, pulling it up under his chest as he began to calm down. Swimming over, Giang quickly clipped the strap to the float around the man's back.

"Now just relax, and I will take you back to shore." She stated, as she started swimming back toward the beach, one hand holding the float’s strap as she pulled the man with her. The process took a little bit longer than it had for her to get out, but not much, as she was still able to make good speed, even with the man’s additional weight.

Once in the shallow surf, they were meet by Amy and another lifeguard, who helped pull the man to the beach. Now that they were out of the water, Giang focused her gaze on the man, sensing the salt water he had swallowed inside his lungs and stomach. It only took a little bit of assistance from her power to cause the man to expel the salt water, as he coughed and gagged for a few moments, but then began to breathe more easily.

For herself, Giang did her best to appear somewhat winded, although she was barely tired at all. "You okay?" Amy took a moment to ask the Asian teen as the other lifeguard was assisting the man. Giang gave a small nod and Amy gave her a wide smile. "Good job." The older woman stated, before focusing back on the man.

Several hours later, 4:45 PM

The sun was starting to wane into the west, and the crowds on the beach had thinned out considerably. Giang's shift had ended over an hour ago, the excitement of her rescue that morning having faded. After a bit of paperwork and some other administrative tasks at the station, the Asian teen had stayed on the beach to spend a bit of time working on a new hobby she had taken up not long after moving out here and getting her jobs.

Currently Giang was sitting on a surf board a couple hundred feet off the beach, bobbing up and down as she waited for a decent wave to come in. Of course, she could make a truly impressive wave if she really wanted to, but she felt that would be cheating in a way. She had decided she wanted to learn surfing the way everyone else did. Of course, she had gotten the hang of it very quickly, after all, she really did not need the surfboard.

Floating nearby were two of her co-workers, also done with their shifts, Ryan and Stephanie. Both were in their early twenties, but had only been with the lifeguard station about six months. "So, your first rescue with us huh?" Ryan asked. "As exciting as you expected?"

"Yes." Giang replied with a small nod. "And it was quite exhilarating. I'm glad I was able to get to him as quickly as I did."

"It sounded as if you made it look easy." Stephanie replied with a smile.

"As easy as it was for her to learn to surf?" Ryan responded with a small grin. "I still find it hard to believe you had never surfed before."

Giang gave a small shrug. "Never had an opportunity to. But, I did have years of acrobatics training, which provided me very good balance."

"And plenty of practice swimming." Stephanie added.

"Yes...that as well." Giang was quick to agree.

"I guess." Ryan replied, although he still seemed somewhat skeptical.

Giang just remained silent, deciding the best tactic was just to act as if any suspicions Ryan might have did not bother her at all. It was not very hard to do, as she was not really bothered by it. While she might have a natural affinity for the water and some advantages, surfing was still new to her, and she certainly would need more practice before she could say she was particularly good at it.

There were a few moments of quiet, and then, just as Ryan seemed about to say something else, Giang sensed a shift in the currents coming toward them. "Here comes a good wave." She said, lying down on her board and preparing for the wave to reach them.

"Wow, good eye." Stephanie commented, as she spotted the wave spotting to form as well and laid down as well. Ryan was already down, and starting to paddle forward.

The wave grew as it drew toward the trio, who were all paddling now, wanting to have forward momentum as the wave reached them. Each was picking up speed as the wave started swelling up behind them, and they all pushed up off their boards and back onto their feet.

Giang could feel the water moving all around her as her board was starting to be pushed forward by the board even faster than it was already moving. Shifting her weight slightly and leaning back, Giang turned her board out to pick up a bit more speed from the wave, which pushed her forward onto its front. Then, just as it was starting to break, she shifted her weight once more, turning the board to cut across the wave, as she gained even more speed and began riding along the front of the cresting wave.

A rush of adrenaline surged through the Asian teen as she rode along the wave for a few moments, the feeling making the long minutes of waiting well worth it. Then she sensed the wave starting to falter as it began to be pulled back in the undertow. Just as it was starting to crash and smooth out, Giang turned her board back out toward the ocean, her momentum stalling as she went straight at what was left of the wave. As she all but came to a complete halt, she let herself fall off to the right side of the board, grabbing ahold of it with her left hand to keep right beside it. She bobbed in the water for only a moment, before pulling herself back up on the board and starting to paddle further back out to get ready for another wave.

She could hear Ryan and Stephanie calling out to her as they started paddling out as well. For all her worries and concerns, right now, Giang was more than happy to just let herself live in the moment….

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation 
June 21, 2014


Mark sat by himself on a low hill near the edge of Freedom City, resting by the side of a red oak tree that stood just a few feet high. Freshly planted, within a few decades it would tower as much as sixty feet tall if they were lucky. "So anyway," he said aloud, "I really think things are working with Nina. I'll admit, when we first hooked up, I thought it was just one of those things. You know how it is," he went on, studying the setting sun in the west, "cute princess, daughter of an evil king, handsome young hero..." He stretched out on the long grass and looked up at the darkening sky. "But she's changing, because she's with me, she's really...being a better person," he finally said out loud. "Somebody I want to be with when we're not fighting, or screwing, or the stuff we did early on. And I don't know, but maybe I'm changing too." 


He studied the few visible stars, thinking about the Lor and Grue planets circling them so many hundreds of trillions of miles away. "I'm twenty-one years old. At the end of this year, I'll have my college degree and I can finish moving my stuff out of Mom's house. I've been to every continent and even into space; I've gone to other dimensions and I helped dethrone the Knight of Entropy. And now I can drink legally!" he added, fishing out a beer and cracking it open, leaving its companion sitting alone in the grass. "So that's something, anyway." 


He tossed back a shot of the cold Guinness and added, "You know, there's another reality out there where right now, Erin and I are married and we have a kid. A big kid too, like four years old! Weird!" He'd expected Trevor to be jealous about that one, if briefly, but the dark detective that was his best friend in the world had turned out to have a lot more self-control than Phalanx had had. "I think about asking Nina to marry me sometimes. We've been together a lot of years and we're both gonna be out of college soon, and now that she's broken with her dad..." He turned his head and looked to his right. "It's hard when that happens..."


He was quiet for a while, drinking his beer, before he went on, "But that's dumb. I don't feel like I'm old enough to get married. Jeez, in my head I'm still sixteen and meeting all my friends at Claremont for the first time. Getting married's a big step, you've got to be sure you're with the right person and that _you're_ the right person before you hook up for life." He hmmed. "I guess it's OK for Corbin and Quo-Dis to get married – he's all old in his head now and Quo-Dis is like a hundred and fifty, so between the two of them that's gotta be mature enough. Trevor and Erin should get married, too, they're awesome! I bet they'd have great kids together. Or Eve and that girl in Canada, she sounds cool." He chuckled to himself, "Hah-hah, girlfriend in Canada, I wonder if she's just using her to...” Putting his hand under his chin, Mark's eyes widened. “In that case, maybe-”


“No, no, she really is gay, I'm just kidding! But if she _wasn't_, I bet she and Joe would work really well together – they both kick a lot of ass and they know people from World War II. I wish Eve was around more, but I guess she's busy with her new team and her new house.” He looked over at the distant shape of the Dutemps building, the new structure clearly visible in the skyline even at this distance. “Now, back to who should be dating who...” He pulled his little pocket Moleskin out of his jeans and started making notes, adjusting the careful tabs he kept on his friends' social relationships, both the real ones and the ones that he thought would be just awesome if they pursued – it never hurt to know who liked what and who was dating who! By the time he was done, it was getting dark, and he slipped the book back into his pocket.


“Shoot, it's getting late, and Mom's gonna worry if I don't call! And Nina's gonna go patrol alone if I'm not there with her, and she might get a little crazy with the bad guys.” Standing up, he dusted the grass off his butt and sighed, feeling a weight settle back onto his chest. “Man, I get really weepy when I come out here. Sorry about that,” he went on, reaching up to wipe his eyes. “Anyway.” He looked down at the stone at the foot of the red oak tree –


Richard Milhous Lucas, 1946-2011. A Friend To The End.


“Happy Father's Day, Dad.”

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Lord Steam


Tokyo Takedown


Lord Lucien Lockwood had been to Japan before. He had been to Tokyo before.


But that was a different Japan, and a different Tokyo.


In Earth Victoriana, Tokyo was an exotic trading city of the orient, with the Spaniards, Dutch, and French all vying for its favour in equal measure. The Spanish, in the grip of the Vatican, had tried too, but Japan was not fond of its missionaries and priests. It was an independent land of some measure, playing catch up with the Steam powered industrialisation of Europe, and playing catch up successfully.


He had visited Tokyo in his home dimension, and found it just as exotic as its reputation. He had savoured and enjoyed Sumo wrestling, Noh theatre, and a delightfully varied and crisp cuisine. After an rather embarrassing and best forgotten summer post matriculation, he had spent just short of a year there. He had learned the language and even studied under a Jujitsu tutor, an experience he took back to London where the derivative art of Bartitsu was blossoming.


He had a fancy to go back.


Disinclined to take Cressida, his Zepplin, he took a first class ticket to Tokyo via Jet. Cressida would not doubt be more luxurious, and have a better range of tea, but it would have taken a considerable time longer, and his time was precious.


Tokyo was electric. Literally as well as metaphorically. Of course, he was used to the amber roses of electric lighting from his time in Freedom City. Almost second nature now. But somehow, Tokyo seemed even more illuminated, with crisps letters and colours all around. It was crowded too – beyond London or Freedom City. He was a tall man, and stood a head above most there, which he felt granted him a degree of buffer from any claustrophobia.


The memories of his time in Tokyo, several years and one dimension away, engulfed him. Whilst he took in a few sights, and ate in the most famous restaurants, he found himself inquiring about the dojos of the Jujitsu teachers there.


He could have chosen a number of reputable, famous, or even not so reputable and famous institutions. But the one he wound up in was clean, austere and beautiful. Run by a Mr. Tanuka, a short and grey haired man with the body of a whipping snake.


Lord Lockwood made a few introductions and courtesies. His Japanese was near enough fluent, and whilst he had an accent, clearly his mastery of the complexities of the language put him in good stead.


He took some Japanese Tea – a blend that again brought back pleasant and exciting memories, a tea which would never replace his own fair English variety, but still was a pleasant one, and watched Mr. Tanuku instructing a small class. He studied them carefully, watching the careful practicing of moves, drilling again and again until it was a reflex. Then the sparring of students, with his eye noting the shifting of feet and weight, the trapping of arms, slapping, gripping hands, the formation of circular movements.


He could only conclude that Mr. Tanuku was a master, and that the art of Jujitsu was more subtle and effective than in his home dimension. He could hardly say that he was an expert in Jujitsu, but he was more than a novice and considered himself a master of the English derivative, Bartitsu, a fusion of western and eastern styles.


There was no point in resisting. He would have to take a class from Mr. Tanuku himself once the class had finished. And, with a little diplomacy and flattery, that was what he did.


It started with discussion and instruction. The application of chokeholds, the effective kata to know, the tactics, always the tactics. Mr. Tanuku applied his knowledge as if he was playing a board game, the subtleties of Go applied to the physical forms of his martial art. Lord Lockwood was most impressed.


But of course, he had to do it. He had to spar with Mr. Tanuku. There was a little reluctance, of course. Mr. Tanuku had recognised he was not instructing a novice. But still, he was an Englishman, and a guest.


It would not be fair to say the fight was over fast. There was an initial movement, like the opening of a chess board, when prods were made rather than attacks. A way of sizing up the strengths and weaknesses of opponent. Lord Steam was stronger than he looked, and so was Mr. Tanuku, but still Lord Steam had size, youth and strength to his advantage. He was arguably even the faster of the two. He was able to strike and block with the slight edge in speed.


And yet he could not quite throw his opponent, who somehow twisted. He could not quite hold his opponent, who turned. And whilst he could parry Mr. Tanuku’s own attacks, there was something of a frustration about his own. There were punches and kicks and elbows that both men received and both men delivered. Blows that were pulled for sparring.


But then, Mr. Tanuku’s form fell together like a jigsaw. He had been studying and probing Lord Steam, and now he put together a deceptive ploy, an invisible tactic, a hand here, a foot there, a slide, an imperceptible shift of weight, a strike here, paralysing, a sweep there, and in a tornado of circular motion, an end.

Lord Lockwood opened his eyes. He could not even remember the last few seconds, but the lesson was learnt. A master of an art was a master for a reason. He was a good, able student. An expert even. But a true master, of years of study and iron devotion. Now, a true master could show him exactly how wide the gulf between expert and master was.


“Mr. Tanuku Sir…†he said in Japanese, from the floor. “My hat to you, Sir. I consider it quite the honor to learn from your Tokyo Takedown!â€


“Very Good Sir†sighed Blakely, his Butler, his face a mask of non-judgement, offering Lord Lockwood his coat and a hand up. 

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Night School

September 10th, 2014

He knows he should have done this a long time ago.

Well, in the more immediate sense, he should have done this last night. But as he was getting all his books together, there was an explosion down the street. He’d run down in costume to find himself caught in the middle of a bunch of guys in tin can suits trying to liberate a safety deposit box from a closed bank, and it had led into this whole thing with artifact hunters and war criminals in hiding and white power sorcerers –

It had been a thing, basically.

Fortunately, the professor was somewhat accepting when he sent an e-mail the next day explaining that he had had some really, truly bad tacos, and didn’t wish to spoil the first night of classes by “distracting everyone from the lecture.†He’d been told it was fine, but that he might want to avoid that place in the future, as these lectures were very important to passing the class.

It’s a good thing the class is only three nights a week. There’s no way that, even in Freedom, there can be trouble at night that often. He knows he’s going to have to balance a lot – between patrols, class, and work the next day, he doubts he can hang out with his friends or go to shows as often.

But he made this promise long ago. It was contingent on him getting out there in the world. He’d find work in an honest trade, Andy would get to go to college, and he’d be able to pay his way through night school down the line. He’d actually had a good chunk saved up for… well, the start of tuition, maybe. Or at least text books. But then that had been before the accident. And the powers, and the duty, and working with the Liberty League, and –

Again, a thing.

But he couldn’t keep putting it off forever. It wasn’t like he wanted to get out of the factory. He liked it there, and he was pretty sure he had a place on the line as long as it stayed open. But that was the thing. With everything as it was, “staying open†was far from a set prospect. And even if he worked the line until he was 65, he still wanted to learn. It would be nice to pick up on the things he’d somehow missed over the years, to have a degree that showed he could easily get up into the “higher†trades – even if he preferred to work the lower ones.

The night was peaceful, at least thus far. No signs of chaos, no wailing sirens, and no apparent mad plots that were years in the making and required a good deal of property damage. And so, with nothing else to stop him, Joe Macayle headed off to continue his education.

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It was the middle of yet another long night in Erick Sloane's estate.  Having just finished his nightly patrol Erick Sloane was currently engaged in a studying session with his best friend Alaina Zelichonok.  Aside from his mask, Erick still had the Foreshadow costume donned.  His cape rife with bullet holes.  Which no doubt led to more than a small bit of concern from Alaina.  Not that either person declared as such openly.  There was studying to be done.


"Until the U.S. Federal Reserve was created in 1908, banks could print their own money," Erick blurted out.  In response his roommate and personal confidante picked up an index card off the table.  Shortly afterwards shaking her head.  Her hands turned around to to reveal the contents of the card.  Which read:  Where and when was the world's first bank established?  "Thought I had that one.  Okay the world's first bank was the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded by the Tuscan magistrate in 1472 and headquartered in Tuscany, Italy.  It still operates today actually with over 3000 branches and multiple shareholders."


"You know this would go smoother if you didn't try to predict the answer to the question before seeing the question."  Alaina stated as she shuffle the cards around.  Erick, had decided to finish his Bachelor's degree over the Summer.  Which meant having to balance out his time properly between avoiding gunfire and avoiding failing.  His degree of multitasking made it such that even an act as mundane as studying included the opportunity to practice his precognitive abilities.  However, the night had brought mixed results with how often he could correctly gleam into the future.


"I need to be sharp on all fronts.  Besides, David always used to cheat at poker this way.  If he could do it, I should be able to as well."  He was speaking of course about Dr. Zeno and the mysterious villain whom had been one step ahead of Foreshadow's foresight when they last encountered one another. His summer had its attention divided between tracking those two men down and balancing it with his schoolwork.  Having Dee as a contact, eased many a concern on the Zeno front.  Plus, Erick welcomed the excuse for keeping  in contact with Dee.


Alaina once again readied her hands to draw a card. Giving Erick more than enough context clue to resume the study session, or let her finally get some sleep.  "On that note gambling generates more revenue than movies, spectator sports, theme parks, cruise ships, and recorded music combined."  Alaina imitated a buzzer noise before turning the card over prompting Erick to come to the proper answer.  


"In the Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics the Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented because they are products of nature rather than inventions.  This ruling has provided a roadblock to all the companies attempting to bioengineer superhumans and keep their resultant data under lock and key.  Assuming they're operated under legal means in the first place."


"Are you sure you're psychic?  Because you're really bad at this."  Alaina teased her friend.


"We should look into flame retardant clothing in your next designs for this costume.  Anyways, that one's for me."  Erick calmly stated before standing up and walking out of the house.  Alaina sat there confused as she heard the sound of Erick's motorcycle engine roaring through the silent night.  If it wasn't a private residence Erick's vehicle might have drawn more prying eyes. 


Suddenly the television that had been acted upon.  It was a special news update.  The anchor on the screen wasted little time in informing the viewers at home of the pending process.  There was a fire in an apartment complex in the Fens.  Apparently an amateur chemist's first try at developing a drug had gone awry, leaving people in need of saving.  It wasn't Zeno or the mysterious precog.  But Foreshadow, would be ready for what was to come.  Be it a school test or villain run amok, Foreshadow.  


He had foreseen it.

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Patagonia, Argentina

The world was a strange and wonderful place and no more than a little corner of Wales that lived in South America. In a tiny village that no one had heard of, were almost everyone spoke Welsh the Order had set up a small office to catalogue artifacts recovered from the local sites.

Blodeuwedd was having a whale of a time quietly recording and restoring items, after a hectic couple of years time spent in quiet contemplation was a godsend.

But a Blodeuwedds life was never one to stay quiet for long, such was the curse that came with the name.

She missed the initial hue and cry, listening to music on her phone, and one of the locals had to come and get her. The giants had returned to claim the land, land claimed by the Order fair and square. And indeed a small group of giants, though they were on the small size at about 10ft, were clustered menacingly at one end of the village. Without thinking she took charge ordering the boy, who had to admit shd quite fancied, to fetch someone that spoke in the giants tongue and meet her at the edge of the village. Then she went to her lodging to fetch Dyrnwyn, her eldritch sword, hopefully she wouldn't have to use the sword she'd rely on it too much in recent months.

The giant were impatiently explaining their claims to the translator as she strolled to the spot where they were gathered. It took a while but it seemed they had decided that they were ready to claim the town over the humans that lived here. Whilst they might have the a legitimate claim to the land they weren't going to be allowed to claim the place by force. But even though zhd was a skilled warrior even she couldn't take on an army of giants on her own. Time for a bluff of some sort.

"You see this here this is the sword Dymwyn it has been wielded by heroes down the ages." as she spoke she drew the sword which burst into magical flames, the giants took a step back in fear and awe.

"But even with this I wouldn't be able to defeat you all, eventually I would fall in battle."

She planted the sword into the ground a risky move but worth it for effect.

"And for a while you would be victorious. But then would come the next warrior and the next everyone as dedicated to defending this town from you and your kind. Are you willing to sacrifice everything for this place? Because I am."

There was a long silence whilst they studied her determined looking face. Then without saying another word the giants turned a left to return to where they came from.

Whilst Blodeuwedd returned to her work, after all it was what she was here for.

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Things had been going quite well for Cassandra these past couple of months. She was quite unaware of just how well they had been going. She had been making bank for a while now. Between patent rights, royalties, bonuses, stock options and bonds, Cassandra had amassed quite a portfolio. So much so that even though she pulled in an 8 figure salary from Grant Conglomerates, it was chump change next to her investments. She had engaged an investment firm to manage her funds on the day to day a while back. Cassandra took a back seat most of the time, but she did drop a line to them about specific firms she wanted to invest in given her own expertise and insight into the markets.


Well one lazy Thursday morning, (Cassandra often worked screwy hours due to the nature of her job) Cassandra made it a point to look over all of her investments and revenue streams in great detail. Come to find out that her portfolio had an extra 0 at the end of it when all was said an done. “Well @#$%...†said Cassandra actually quite flabbergasted.


Downstairs in her gym Maxima was pondering what exactly to do with this new found wealth. While it was true that she spent most of her time exercising as Cassandra to improve her strength, as Maxima's strength was directly proportional to Cassandra's, she still needed to put in some time as Maxima to get used to having that level of strength. Maxima had reached that point where you kind of needed to something with her money rather than horde it all like some kind of dragon. The idea struck her when she was racking up another plate for her squats. The plate she had in her hands weighed over 10 tons, and cost about as much as a mid-sized car. Maxima knew full well that she wasn't the only hero running around with super-strength, but there had to plenty of superheroes out there that didn't have her funds to build these elaborate training facilities. That said nothing of how many other different types of powers there were out there that needed a safe environment to practice in.


She kicked around the idea of opening her own personal gym up to the “public†but scrapped the idea. Frankly while she did trust her fellow comrades in arms, having them come and go from her basement would pretty much mean that she would never have time to just be Cassandra. Furthermore, she had more than a few sensitive research projects stewing at any one time, so having other less scientifically inclined individuals running around could spell disaster.


After showering off from her morning workout, Cassandra sat down back at the kitchen table with her financial documents strewn about. She dug out her phone and dialed Dwayne from the finance office. “Hey Dwayne, this is Cassandra Steel. Listen could you do me a favor and pull up the contact info for the contractors we used for Lab 7A, the expansion on 3rd street and the reno on the sub in the theater district?†“Sure thing. I'll email them to you in a few minutes.†“Thank you. Bye.†said Cassandra hanging up the phone. She really only wanted the info for the second contractor, but asking for multiple made it look like she was getting ready to put a bid out. She had sat on a few committees in her time for proposals for R&D labs, generally to help some field of the technical logistics of the planning.


A few moments later she had the contact information and was dialing James McClure “Hello James McClure? This is Dr. Cassandra Steel, Think Tank Director for Grant Conglomerates.†said Cassandra, still feeling a swell of pride over her relatively recent promotion. “I was wondering if you had time for a pet project of mine...?†The conversation was pretty quick after that point. James was the type of guy that only need to know what needed doing and how much he was being paid; he didn't really care for the why.


Without too much of a fuss Cassandra was able to find a good space in the Theartre District. It was a corner lot that had sat idle for a while. It had some tricky zoning laws enacted since it was first built, making it an expensive investment for any interested parties. But if one were to go a little under the radar, a lot of those legal issues could be side stepped.


The building had a rather small profile from the exterior, by most accounts it would look like a side access door to get to apartments above the stores. In truth, it had quite a bit of real estate within its walls, and under them for that matter. The main front entrance was made to look like an apartment complex with some apartment listings, buzzers and mailboxes, along with a securely locked door (which in truth was heavily armored) leading into the rest of the complex. In fact most of the upper levels were essentially apartments. They were quite spartan to be sure, rarely having more than a bed and a light source, but serviceable in a pinch. There were two large communal bathrooms, one for women and one for men, which had the amenities one might find at a gym, and not much beyond that. There was a small sitting area, as well as a dining area. Mostly this space was here to comply with regulations that Cassandra couldn't side step and also to serve as a place to rest one's head if the need was truly dire.


The lower levels were where the action was. Maxima had converted the basement and subbasement (as well as adding two more floors beneath that) into a full on super-hero gym. On the lowest level was the weight room. In addition to having weights that were simply massively heavy, it also contained artificial gravity of sorts, in truth it was a type of selective type of magnetism that attracted the weights to the floor, to help supplement the weights themselves. The floor was divided into four near identical quadrants, one in each corner of the room. Each contained a barbell, a squat rack, an adjustable bench, free weights and a few other odds and ends. The only difference between the sections was the tiers of weights they were set to use, with the lowest being designed for human-level heroes, and the highest being for those who could match Centurion himself.


The floor above the weight room was one very large room designed to be a modular obstacle course. It could create walls, ramps, pillars, blocks, hoops and the like to serve as the course itself, as well as having several different environmental settings so that one could practice their parkour in a hurricane if they so desired. The subbasement was the full automated combat simulation area. If heroes were sparring or if they wanted to test themselves in simulated combat, this would be the place to go. Most of the systems here were functionally identical to the ones Maxima had in her own gym, which was mostly standard fare. Finally the basement was essentially the rest and recovery area. It housed the infirmary, the pool and also lead to the garage. There was also an observation area for the lower levels, so one could critique another's performance in one of the simulations without putting themselves in peril.


All that was left was Maxima spreading the word, along with the keycards for entry, and then they were in business.



Shared Headquarters – Average Joe's [21ep]


Toughness: +15 (2ep)

Size: Large (2ep)

Features: Combat Simulator 2, Communications, Computer, Concealed, Defense System 2 (see below), Fire Prevention System, Garage, Gym, Infirmary, Library, Living Space, Pool, Power System, Security System 2 [18ep]

Defense Systems: All have a +10 Attack Bonus

1 – Snare 10 – Bola Launchers

2 – Blast 10 – “Stun Gunsâ€

Edited by Geez3r
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July 18th, 2:20 AM Local Time

Hong Kong, People's Republic of China


Unexpected Patronage


Myrmidon released the unconscious triad boss, allowing the body to drop heavily to the floor that was littered with the rest of his men. Yet another dead end, the clone thought as he let loose a rare sigh of annoyance. What information the man had was either wrong or purposeful misinformation, not to mention at the end he was gibbering any sort of information that he thought might appease Myrmidon who had kicked down the door to his penthouse suite after fighting his way up the skyscraper.


The sound of clapping snapped him out of his reverie, as he turned toward the sound hand on his sword. The sight that greeted him made him pause, namely a woman in a military-style uniform reclining on a trio of insensate Triad enforcers like she was a queen on a throne. “Oh John, you always bring me the best violence!â€


The ensuing silence was only broken by Myrmidon cocking his head slightly and uttering a confused sounding “What?â€


If the woman had heard his query, she either ignored it or deigned it as unimportant as she stood and lightly brushed off her skirt. Helpfully, this allowed the clone to parse this unusual circumstance to try and make some sense of the situation. One, the woman most definitely was not here before or during the altercation, either visible or invisible as he had made a thorough sweep of the premises. Second, she knew his civilian identity, which wasn’t common knowledge outside of a few select people that mainly resided in Freedom City.  Certainly none he knew about here in Hong Kong. Third, her uniform matched no known military force or mercenary company he was aware of. The unit patch of simplified clock face at midnight also was unknown to him.  Finally, he knew he had never met her before. That didn’t exclude her hiding her identity, but he could not shake the odd feeling of familiarity.


“Still, it wouldn’t kill you to snap a few necks now and again. It’s kind of a waste not using the full extent of your training.†She gestured at the bodies before turning to face him. “Still, this was an inspired piece of work, so I had to at least show that some people have an appreciation for your talents.â€


“Thank you for your patronage.†He deadpanned, his hand still wrapped around the hilt of his sword, “Explanation now, please.â€


She gave him a look like he was being particularly dense, as she blithely countered with “Really, John. You of all people should know who I am.“


“My current working theory is some sort of mystical entity. Possibly extraplanar or extradimensional, with an odd proclivity to have me under their personal surveillance.†At this she laughed.


 â€œYou’ll figure it out eventually. Once you do, it will seem obvious.†She turned and surveyed the room again, nodding in appreciation. “Hmm. I should at least give you something for your performance.†The woman rubbed her chin in thought. Myrmidon warily let go of his sword, seeing as the woman was not an enemy, but keeping alert just in case.


“Aha!†the woman said, along with a snap of her fingers that sounded more like a rifle report. “Advice! I can give you that!†A slightly manic grin crossed her features, causing the clone hero to warily back up a step.


“No offense, but I fail to see what advice you could offer me that I would value. If you know me as well as you seemingly do, then you know what I want. Kantor. Dead.†Myrmidons tone was one of finality.


She shot him a pitying look. “Can’t. Not my place to interfere. But that brings up my advice: You should know that you’re going about that all wrong.â€


He practically bristled at that. “What pray tell is the right way, then?â€


The woman sighed, rolled her eyes and jabbed him in chest with a surprisingly sharp blood-red fingernail that he felt even with his armor.  “Look. I understand where you’re coming from so you don’t need to get snippy with me.† He was going to interject before being silenced by another gesture with said finger ordering him to be quiet. “This is something you cannot do alone, no matter how you go about it. You are hamstringing yourself being stubbornly unwilling to seek assistance.†She again jabbed him again with her finger as if emphasizing the point.  Ow. That one actually caused a damage indicator to light up in his helmet.


“The others have no understanding of what they would be getting into.†He wanted to keep his friends far away from SHADOW as possible. It was not their fight.


“Then explain it to them, or swallow your vaunted pride and talk to the ones that are aware.  You are just one man, regardless of your skill going against an entire organization. Even you cannot ignore the disparity.â€


While to point was true, he glowered at the woman underneath his helmet. “Who? AEGIS? Go to the people that originally wanted to vivisect me to reverse engineer advanced cloning techniques and then shanghai my mental conditioning to become their own shadow operative. Nothing could possibly go wrong with such an alliance.â€


“Sarcasm, how droll.  I will point out their mistrust was when you were an unknown quality; you have done much to eliminate a vast amount of suspicion of yourself. You’ve proven yourself many times over.†The woman helpfully pointed out.  "John, no soldier has ever won a war singlehandedly. I should know. You fight for the simple reason that you want others to have the basic right of self-determination, something that means more to you than any fealty to nation, religion, or cause.  As long as you keep that, does it matter how you go about achieving your objectives?â€


“No.†She was right.


“Then my advice is to change your tactics, soldier.†She placed a friendly hand on his shoulder as she gave him a wan smile. He caught the familiar scent of blood, smoke, and ozone that seemingly surrounded the woman like perfume. "Oh, and by the way, he might know where that shipment you're looking for is."  She nodded at something behind him, which he turned to face. One of the triad enforcers had regained consciousness and now had a SHADOW manufactured hyper-blaster leveled at him. The weight of the womans' hand disappeared of his shoulder and he knew he was alone again. Well then, back to work.

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School Spirit

August 25th, 2014

It had all been one gigantic rush. And now, with a room the size of half of a studio apartment, she had some time and privacy to get her thoughts together – at least, until the other girl showed up.

Eliza wiped her brow. She might have good with cold, but there was still a heat wave sweeping over Freedom City, and she could feel the hell out of that. It didn’t help that the old air conditioning of the Freedom College dorms had apparently decided to take an extended vacation. She considered whipping up some ice, but she had no idea where her roommate might –


There she was. Slender, white, and bubbly in a way that could be naturally enthusing or grating. She’d just have to figure out which. “I’m Janet,†she said, thrusting a hand out. “Nice to meet you.â€

“Eliza,†she said, just as warm in turn. “Think we can make this work without killing each other?â€

“Well, depends. How nice is your stuff?â€

The ice managed to thaw pretty quickly after that. Eliza wasn’t much for conversation, as she was focused on unpacking, but she didn’t mind Janet effusing about Freedom College. Her family were third-generation alumni, apparently, and had made a fair number of contributions to the library. There was a long list of places to go – cheap eats, cheap music venues, cheap bars, cheap sellers of fake IDs for said bars, and so on.

“…oh, and the tunnels! This place gets colder than Antarctica in the winter, but there are these tunnels that go to all the buildings and stay warm all year around! It’s great! And don’t listen to what everyone says, they’re fine to go through past midnight.â€

That caught Eliza’s attention. “What does everybody say?â€

“Oh, you never heard the legend? There was this girl, Sally or Lisa or – well, no one knows her name, it always changes. And then she… I don’t know, she either threw herself from the dorm’s roof because her boyfriend left her after she got pregnant, or she got stabbed by some professor she was ‘seeing,’ or… well, that changes, too. What matters is, they call her the Lonely One. If you’re down in the tunnels alone, past midnight, you can hear her moaning. That’s the okay part. What’s not okay is if you hear her whisper, ‘Be with me.’ Then, you run like hell.â€

Eliza had stopped unpacking to hear the story. An urban legend – maybe something to that. But… “Wait. If she threw herself from the dorm roof, why is she in the tunnels?â€

“No one ever said it was a logical story. Look, the moaning’s just wind from the street, blowing through the entrances. College kids love making up stuff they think’s clever when they’re drunk or stoned. Explains a lot of theses.â€

“There gonna be a lot of that here?â€

“Drinking and pot, or trying to be clever?â€


“Yeah, but it gets a lot more tolerable, mainly if you’re… you know. Hey, come on! I think the dining hall’s open.â€


Eliza didn’t exactly consider herself a big eater, but she wasn’t someone to easily pass up whatever looked delicious. And so much of the dining hall did – in a budget-conscious, probably-bought-in-bulk way. Her plate was loaded down with every one of the food groups, including the ones that weren’t exactly healthy, and she was ready to dig in. She told herself the Freshman Fifteen would be easier to lose if she was chasing down muggers. May have to pass on the ice sled for a little while, though.

As she kept talking with Janet, she looked around the room. It seemed like everyone was here, people from all walks of life. She’d probably run headlong into all the catastrophes of college soon enough – the wannabe frat boys, that kid in the philosophy class, the all-too-eager liberal arts kids who wondered what her hair felt like – but for tonight, she was happy to be here.

Then the screaming started. And ended rather too quickly.

She was already out of her seat when the first notes started, while most of the dining hall was still trying to process what they were hearing. She was the first there, even as she heard the mass of stampeding students behind her. The scream was so close, the best bet was it came from the ladies’ room. She threw the door open, to find a girl – young, probably another new freshman, and beaten and bruised all over. She ran forward, and put her fingers to the girl’s throat. There was still a pulse. That was good. She looked up to the mirror, to see words carved into the glass.


They couldn’t even wait until orientation was done, could they?


With an assault on one of the students, it was reasonable that security would be turned up to eleven. But she’d always been good at sneaking out of places under the cover of night. While Janet was deep asleep, she crawled out onto the fire escape. From there, it was simply a matter of putting together the ice sled and drifting down to the ground. The good news was, her window opened into a back alley, meaning this wouldn’t look too horribly hideous to passersby.

After that, it was a matter of blindly wandering for a bit. Janet may have been familiar with every inch of the campus, but it was only day one of orientation. Fortunately, after blindly stumbling between dorm buildings, the library, and the occasional coffee shop, she finally managed to find one of these vaunted tunnels. And it was just as Janet had said – even in the dying days of summer, the slight breezes above were almost cacophonous when filtered through concrete and old pipe. The campus stuff had gone to the trouble of painting the walls and pipes, as well as hanging up signs, but it was a bit like trying to make a coffin festive. There was only so much you could do with décor in the bowels of the earth. Even then, she could hear a second howl under the wind…

“All right,†said Temperance. “We have two ways we can do this. One, you come on out, we talk about this like grown women, and we come to an accord. Two, I find you somewhere in here, and then we have a long, rather more percussive talk…â€

Almost as soon as she was done talking, the woman walked out of the wall. She was thin, almost skeletal, and clad in a tattered, sensible dress. But as she moved, Temperance could swear the cut and color of the dress kept shifting, as if trying to place itself in a certain period. The head and hair were doing the same thing, creating the general image of a beautiful co-ed come to ruin – and ready to inflict it.

“You can see me in my element.â€

“That’s sort of clear, yes. I take it you’re the Lonely One. And I take it that’s all you ever were. When did it start?â€

“When the pipes started groaning. When the wind started moaning. Every class, every era, had their own stories about the lost soul in the heart of the college… and the stories fed me well.â€

“But you’ve always laid back, right? There’s been assaults on this campus, murders, even – it’s Freedom, disasters will happen. But none of them have had your calling card…â€

The Lonely One froze, her face twisting somewhere between a grimace and a snarl. “They are talking of replacing the pipes,†she said, “of adding better doors. Making these tunnels more comfortable. ‘Quiet and graceful at all times.’†She raised her hands towards the walls. “They already make my abode into a clown-colored nightmare. Now they have to rob me of my last dignity.â€

“Which means the students will stop wondering where that moaning comes from. But if you actually attack a student…â€

“What they always feared, now they know. It will not last – a turnover every four years means the story must be re-seeded. But even if my home is desecrated, I shall feed and grow strong.â€

Temperance reached for her waterskin. “You know I can’t let you do that. We could find some alternative – a tale in the school journal, graffiti on the walls, postings on the Internet…â€

“Why? Why should I feed on dry stories? They’ve kept me here, but I’ve never lived with them. That girl’s fear… such a meal…†The Lonely One studied Temperance. “And you… I doubt that mask is just for fashion. You’re one of the fabled. And if you’re found, down here, broken and bloodied…â€

That was all she wanted to hear. A storm of ice cut through the air of the tunnel, but the Lonely One’s thin form came with unnatural grace. The moaning in the halls reached an unnatural pitch, causing the pipes to shake and Temperance’s ears to bleed. The Lonely One swept forward on currents of wind, reaching for Temperance’s throat –

-- when she brought up the shard of ice and ran it through the spirit’s chest. The spirit had just enough time to choke before Temperance brought it sweeping down, reducing her to naught but ephemera.

She caught her breath, adjusted her mask. It would take care of the Lonely One for awhile… but not forever. She didn’t have the power or authority to permanently end a spirit. And she was right – the assault would feed the myth, and she would grow stronger with each telling.

Hopefully, she would be here to put it right the next time the moaning in the tunnels got too loud.

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Comrade Frost
Summer Vacation


The old woman opened her eyes and found a monster sitting at her bed. "So," she croaked, her Franconian accent slurred by age and the effects of medication. "You have come to see me at last, Peshkov." She fixed rheumy eyes at the blue-white fiend who had killed so many of her countrymen in ages past - in ages past when she had been Die Mörderin, the finest woman warrior in the Wehrmacht, one who needed no special powers to kill the enemies of the Reich. "I know you came to Eagle, and Blitz, and Kantor, and all the others before their end - and now there is me! Does it please you to see an old woman withered and dying with age?"


"Yes," agreed Comrade Frost, deciding not to mention that at least one person on that list was not dead at all. "It does." He sipped his tea, studying his old enemy with uncertainty that never showed in his cold predator's eyes. Thin and frail, she was so shriveled he could have picked her up like a child. With a face like an rotten apple and white hair like a puff of cotton on her head, Die Mörderin was a long, long way indeed from the woman she had been in 1941. But weren't they all? "It would have pleased me more to see you dead all those years ago, scattered on the ground like so much wheat, but this death is pleasing enough." He'd seen enough murders at her hands - the sort of savage, stealthy attacks with knife and hammer that suggested Die Morderin might have had a fine career as a serial killer under a saner German government. But then the Germans were ever defined by their madness.


"Well then, come see me," she sneered, showing a few yellowed teeth still in her gums. "Ninety-seven years old and I have been a free woman all my life, while you have toiled ever for Stalin and his paltry successors. What a shame it was for you and the rest of you Bolshevik scum that the Western Allies gave me shelter for my secrets, leaving your pitiful Soviet Union to scrounge for scraps amid the cities and bodies of a violated Germany. And look at you. Still a slave to Moscow, though hammer and sickle are long since dead."


"Your Fuhrer called me slave, before I froze his meat to his vegetables and smashed them with a hammer," said Frost with a predator's smile. "And look at you. All your legacy of frightfulness, all your years of slavish devotion to whatever power promised you protection, and what do you have?" He looked around the cottage. "A little room, a bed that reeks of your decay, and a few HIAG bullyboys outside taking a little nap against the chill."


"My great-grandsons," said the old woman with venom in her voice. "I have known love, and marriage, and a dynasty that will stretch on long after my death. But what do you have, ice man? Flesh so cold no woman will share your bed, a heart so foul no one will touch it. And even your government sends you away so they can rub their filthy Slavic hands against the West without even a protest from you. Not that you would anyway. You were there at the fall of Berlin, you know what was fed to the beasts of Stalin and his henchmen-"


Frost's teacup froze in his hands like ice, and with great care he set down the solid block before he studied the dying old woman. "You are taunting me into your murder, old woman, but time will do what the Cold War denied me soon. Soon a day will come when the last soldier of the Wehrmacht is dead and his great-grandsons snort cocaine in a discotheque by his grave; and a day beyond that your Fuhrer will simply be a ghoul lurking in the pages of history. A monster to frighten children with tales of the past."


"And what will _you_ be then, Peshkov?" she whispered back, her face beginning to pale. "When there are no more parades in Moscow, no more old men clutching each other as they march through the streets, when there is only Dimitri Peshkov - the last of the Great Patriotic War. What will you be?"


In a voice as cold as the Russian steppe, Peshkov replied, "I will be, ever, Frost. And you will be gone."


She was dying as he watched, something with which Frost was intimately familiar. "Do you fancy yourself a hero of the war still, Frost? With your medals and your valor, and the bodies that lay at your feet? You could have stopped at Poland and won our surrender. How many dead Germans lay between the Soviet Union and your icy body in the Chancellery?" 


"Do you think to shame me with my service, woman?" replied Frost, his voice clipped. "I did what had to be done, for the survival of our people and the survival of our nation. Innocents died. It was a war. I have fought wizards and necromancers since 1945 and I have heard all the tales of woe and sin thrown at me again. I have seen the dead rise and judge me with outstretched fingers, and rejected their counsel all the same." 


"The Fuhrer....died, Frost, at the hands of...Slavic dogs..." Her breath was coming in short gasps now. "After he sent your people...to their graves..." With a great effort, as her face reddened further, she choked out, "but not so many as Stalin! Stalin died in his bed while you served his madness. You claim to have served your people, but you defended their killer!" 


Frost curled an icy lip and was silent for a long moment. "Perhaps. But he's dead now. And soon you will be with him - and I will see it happen. Goodbye, Mörderin." 


Frost stayed all through the night, and into the morning (going outside to chase away the goons she'd left outside as they roused to wakefulness) - and when she was gone with a last shuddering breath and a rolling o the eyes, he walked outside and sat beneath the morning sun, watching as it slowly rose in the east. 


Five to go. 

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Cho Paige Lee


"Yep, already back to school. Another school year." said Cho out loud, talking to no one. Or, rather, she was talking to a gravestone. Her father's grave, to be precise. Just a simple gravestone with a name on it: Ken Lee. Cho's face began twitching, ever so slightly, as she held back the usual reaction she had every time she was in front of that gravestone. Of course, this time she had a good reason to hold back, as even the slightest uncontrolled outburst could risk causing some non-negligeable damage to the cemetery and she couldn't allow that to happen, of course. 'Beside what are you, a big baby?' scolded the girl to...herself. 'It's been years, get over it.' Cho said to herself, as if trying to shield herself from her own emotions. Naturally, it didn't work one bit. Every year it still felt just as bad, if not worse. Scratch that, it wasn't a yearly thing at all; more like monthly. Not exactly the most healthy of reactions, one could argue.

'Dwelling on the past isn't good, dwelling on the past isn't good, dwell...' The teenager repeated to herself as she rejoined her family; mother, sister and stepfather. The latter was recovering rather well, or at least as well he could given the circumstances as he'd previously taking a hit intended to floor (if not outright kill) Cho. At least he could walk, now, so that was always a plus.

"Done already?" he asked her, a bit surprised. Normally it took a bit longer, usually via a lot of long empty-eyed staring.

"Y-yeah..." mumbled Cho, looking away. "Anyway, I'm done here. Let's go." she said, while helping her stepfather move around because of his injuries. "So, you have everything, right?" He asked her, no doubt talking about the school supplies. "Yeeeeees..." groaned out Cho, tired of being asked yet again as he started to enumerate everything.


"Yes. Yes. Ye-...No." Of course, she had forgotten something. "See?" John said, almost amused. "Okay okay fine I forgot a few things or two, but I've been busy!" Cho shouted. And yes, she'd been busy. Quite busy, actually, in-between the endless torrent of utterly crazy things that hapenned to her, leading into some rather strange adventures. Things had certainly been anything but boring. Or normal, as a matter of fact.

"I know, I know I'm just giving you a reminder." He felt like nudging her, but decided not to as he'd surely lose his balance. "And that's why I didn't get a summer job." She then explained. "I've been um...a bit busy, yes. Very busy!"

"Yes, I know you've been. I wasn't criticizing you." Her stepfather shook his head. "I've never met him, but I'm sure he'd be proud. You don't need to be so...mmmh..." These words didn't come to the man's mouth instantly. "I know you've decided to carry around some heavy burden and I know it's, in part because of him; I just want you to know that in my own opinion he'd be quite proud of you, Cho."


"I don't know. That's the thing, I don't know for sure and I never will." The teenager glanced at her stepfather. “Um, y-you sure you don’t need any extra help? Because I could just take you to the car in one step or two.â€


“No need to. Still, isn't it a bit gloomy for those last days of summer vacation?" Cho was quick to answer. "No, I-I...I had to." Beside, she'd never quite admit it but that conversation certainly had warmed her up quite a bit. In the end it would never quite dispel the 'ghosts' but such was life.


"Then I don't mind coming here with you. All right now, there’s a few things left to go pick up for your sister..â€

Edited by RobRX
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Time Travel Stinks

(Hologram, Fast-Forward, Thoughtspeed)

June 26, 2014

Cline Household, Freedom City, USA


Will had been quiet and withdrawn for a week. Not just "sullen teenager" quiet; this was something more serious. He'd barely talked, and hadn't even gone out on a patrol or a long run or anything; he did enough physical activity to maintain good conditioning, but that was really it. His mother and sister noted that his mental shields, always strong after growing up in a home with psychics, were clenched shut tighter than usual. Any attempts at mental communication were generally rebuffed or left unanswered, and questions about "why" were deflected.


Finally, there was an evening where Holly was having a sleepover with friends, friends who lived a good distance away. A little while after the awkwardly quiet dinner Will and his parents shared, the two reformed villains would feel a quiet, almost scared voice come over their mental link.


--Mom? Dad? Can...can we talk?--


~Sure, baby,~ Paige's mental reply came immediately over the link. She'd been giving her eldest some space, careful not to pry when it was obvious he didn't feel like sharing, but it had been difficult. She didn't like seeing her kids in pain, and something was obviously hurting Will. She'd thought it might be some girl at school, in which case she would have to show the chit why one didn't mess with a cub when the mama bear was nearby, but this didn't seem like the aftermath of a fizzled romance either.


At least if he was ready to talk, they might find some answers. ~Why don't you come on down to the living room? I'll make us up some cocoa.~


Fast-Forward had been 'patrolling' when Will's call came in - or at least jogging around the neighborhood so fast that he was aware of everything from the height of the blades of grass on every lawn in the Family Complex to the distinct sound of Joan Collier's news program coming from the Jackson house across the street. Maybe he didn't have his wife's mental powers, but he had his own ways of keeping track of his little girl. When Will's voice sounded, though, he was back in the kitchen with Paige by the time the Keurig had finished percolating a cup of cocoa for the boy. ~Bet it's a girl,~ he thought her way as he headed into the living room alongside her as Will came down from his room. ~Maybe one of those martial artists he's been hanging around with...~


The response to his mother's question was slow, hesitant even.


--...Yeah. Um. Cocoa. Cocoa's good.--


It was a couple minutes later that the normally-energetic young man trudged down the stairs and shuffled into the kitchen.


He looked like a wreck. There were bags under his eyes, his face looked drawn, and his complexion was a bit pale. He wasn't sweaty, and didn't seem to be sniffling from a cold or anything, though his eyes were a bit bloodshot and his nose a bit red, as if wiped with tissue too much in too short a time. All in all, it looked like he'd barely slept and had spent lots of time crying.


He took the cup his mother offered and drank it with almost mechanical precision, a long sip that took a good quarter of what was in the cup. Which was probably for the best, since there was a slight shake to his hand as he set it on the counter for a moment. His eyes rolled over the stools over to one side of the counter, before moving to the living room.


He blurred, the first time they'd seen him use his speed in a couple of days, and he was sitting on the couch, his cup on the table in front of himself, his knees draw up in front of himself and arms wrapped around his legs. His eyes looked at nothing in particular.


It took almost two minutes for him to say anything.


--You know what's weird? It's not the sound that keeps sticking with me. It's the smell.--


He finally looks to his parents, his eyes a bit watery, grief evident there in a way no bungled romance could conjure up.


--Not just the blood. But the grass. And the gunpowder. And the hot dog stand. And the smoke. And the soda. And the...that...the smell. The one when people...and fire...--


Definitely not a failed romance.


Paige left her own cocoa on the counter as she went over to the couch, sitting down next to Will and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. He was tall and broad enough now that it was a little bit awkward, but she managed. "I know, honey," she murmured aloud, and it was true. Not the details of whatever had horrified him, but the look in his eye, and the smell that didn't leave the nostrils. But where the hell had he been, to learn something like that firsthand? Surely the school wouldn't put him in that kind of situation. "Can you tell us about it?"


Will took a deep breath. It started shaky, but steadied out. He went back to staring at a spot on the wall.


"Started a week ago. I was out on a patrol with Errant and Cho. Nothing major, right? Just bust up a little group of thugs. Then freaking Downtime shows up. So stupid me, I charge in, try to get him cocky like you guys taught me, then put him in the corner. Then...some sorta freaky lightshow happens and suddenly it's not night, it's day, and I'm not in downtown Freedom City, I'm on some mountain. Well, not just some mountain."


He closed his eyes for a moment.


"It was Devil's Peak."


He opened his eyes again, and looked at his parents.


"And it was the same day, June 19...but 33 years ago."


Their memories of the day might be a bit fuzzy but it shouldn't take them much to connect those dots.


Wait, he saw us - for very personal reasons, Richard knew exactly what had happened on that day, at least his personal part of the story that he could remember once he'd come down. He'd done a lot of thinking about that time, and Paige, during his time in jail not long afterwards. But that couldn't be what was on Will's mind. He looked at Paige, his brain in overdrive, and said out loud. "Capetown. Jesus!" He jumped to his feet, pacing the floor. "How could that, that school just let this happen to you? They know you come from time-traveler stock, they should have a monitor on you! And call us if you just disappear for who knows how long! What the hell is the matter with Summers and his people?"

"Richard, stop," Paige cut in, her voice quiet but firm. "That isn't helping." She turned to look at Will, cupping his cheek with one hand as she studied his face. "You went to Capetown with your friends?" she asked him, keeping any condemnation of anyone out of her tone. It wasn't that she didn't agree with Richard, but that was an entirely separate conversation. "What happened? What did you see? Were you hurt?"

Will shook his head at his father's outburst.


"It was just supposed to be a quick gang bust. Surveillance as much as anything. I mean, that's not "safe" I guess, but in our line of work, it's pretty simple. We had a plan to contact Summers and everything. Heck, it wasn't even a sure thing anyone from the Crime League was going to show up!


Then all that showed up was Downtime and a teleporter. I got cocky. Thought we could take them. I mean, Errant's a pretty solid guy in a fight, I figured I was pretty awesome, and Cho could probably take a tank or something, I dunno. But we barely even got started when some sort of lightning storm or something linked me, Downtime, and the 'porter.


The three of us kids got separated, scattered. I was still getting my bearings when Cho got picked up by...by Gramma."


By which he of course meant Anna Cline, having never known his mother's mother.


"Of course, right about that time I found a newspaper with the date on it, and I remembered what you'd told me. How bad it was. I pretty much flipped out, ran up on a rooftop...And then Jade flippin' Harper tries to stab me. We fought for a few seconds, then she gave me some spiel, and I agreed just so she didn't try to hamstring me and leave me for the Jet Patrol."


Will reached for his cocoa and took a sip. He seemed almost eeriely calm now; perhaps going through the events like this was helping him process a bit?


"Basically, all three of us kids from here and now got brought to Gramma's little cabin thing at the fancy hotel. Dad, you were there, and frankly, you were kind of a jerk. And enough of a lesson on drugs I'm never touching them."


Some small relief, at least.


"I was panicking to the other two about how bad things would get, and then...Aunt Paulette came into the cabin."


He turned to his mother and gave her an unreadable look, pausing for a few moments in his storytelling.

Paige's cheeks had colored a little when she realized exactly where and when her son had managed to drop in on his parents' lives, but the embarrassment was quickly swallowed up by countless other conflicting emotions. "Yes," she finally managed. "My father brought all of us to the convention that year, said it would be good exposure and an opportunity to... network." Her eyes slid toward Richard for a moment before she caught herself. "It surprises me that she'd have gone to the Clines' place that day, they weren't exactly friends. What was she doing there?"


"She...she must have had guard duty that week. That would make sense. Roman was smart, see, he made sure there was a real team on guard at all times - even if they didn't know each other. If the League picked up on time travelers, they'd have sent Ma to go pick them up, with psychics like Paulette doing the brainscanning, and somebody like Jade Harper for backup if they turned out to be crazy. At least until then."


He was unaccustomedly quiet, pouring his memories back in time, before he admitted, "I don't remember anything about that morning or that afternoon, not really." He certainly remembered that evening, but it was nothing he was going to discuss with his son - or even think about with him there. "It was thirty years ago and I had a lot of other stuff on my mind. There were always people coming and going out of our place, anyway, Ma was like the denmother for every skell in the League who was worth anything."


"Considering how high you were I'm surprised you remember that week, dad."


There's a streak of bitterness in Will's voice, and a grimace on his face, before he shakes his head and relaxes his expression.


"Sorry. That wasn't...it's just, first thing I saw of you, you were rolling joints and talking about how Gramma bought you "good" drugs, and complaining about us harshing your style."


He gave each of them a somewhat significant look that had just a trace of sarcasm. Suffice to say, Will wasn't going to pry but he wasn't stupid and he could do the requisite "math".


"Aunt Paulette was kind of checking up on us, yeah. Gramma was zipping in and out. Then Harper came in. How she was the one they turned to if things got crazy...gah. That lady was pure crazy on her own."


A shiver rolled down his back.


"She came in and started insulting Paulette and implying she was, ugh, trying to "breed" with us. I think Paulette figured out who I was. Or...got a name, anyways. She was probably distracted by Cho getting so worked up by the family party line that she was starting to threaten to kill Paulette. I kept having to try and keep Cho calm and Elias focused, it was a mess."


His frustration at being "the responsible one" was clear.


"And then Gramma showed up and said it was "about to go down", and the part of my brain that had been screaming to run away just got ignored and I said I'd go with her because of course I would why wouldn't I help watch my own grandmother's back? So I suddenly decided to run toward the fight. I guess I thought I could make a difference."


His face was mournful now, and he reached again for the cocoa cup. It was good that it was over half empty; Will's hand had a shake to it, but not enough to spill what remained. He paused with the cup held now in both hands, hovering just in front of his mouth.


"I was wrong."


He took a long sip.


"Your dad and I were very different people thirty years ago," Paige said, even as she gave the cup a subtle telekinetic nudge to hold it steady. "There's a lot that went into it, the homes we grew up in, the role models we had, but it doesn't really matter right now. You saw the boy he used to be, not the man he is now. Though if you met Gramma back then, you may have some idea of why he wasn't terribly responsible in those days."


She stroked Will's hair, like he was five years old again and they were reading a bedtime story, and thought about what to say next. "Going to the past is strange, and difficult. Depending on how you go back, you may not be able to affect anything at all, but even in the best of circumstances, the timeline tends to be resistant to change. You have a good heart, and it's important that you tried, but some things just have to happen the way they happened. And that's very hard to have to witness."                                                


"You mean Dad's responsible now?"


Will's smile at his own joke didn't really reach his eyes, but it was clear he was at least trying. He finished his cup and set it down, his hand steady for the moment. He didn't seem to have noticed his mother's aid in keeping it from sloshing earlier.


"Well I wasn't going to try and stop the fight, right? I figured, hey, watch Gramma's back, get the civilians clear, let them hash it out. I thought it'd be a big super-brawl, but...it was Gramma, Harper, and the three of us kids. Versus the Jet Patrol.


No, sorry, ahead of myself. So us three kids and Gramma and Harper go to the park. Harper's messing with cops and civilians. I start trying to get them clear, then Cho..."


Will fought down visible anger on his features.


"Instead of trying to help with evacuation, she tried to get the Crime League and the Jet Patrol to both face her! If she wasn't superhumanly tough, she'd be dead! Harper tried to rip her throat out with one of those knives!


But before they could get into it proper the Patrol showed up and a fight broke out.


I was running around either trying to keep Elias and Cho safe, or trying to get civilians out of the way. And then Harper shoves a knife through the neck of one of the Patrol members. And I...well, I managed to help her not die, at least. I'm still not sure how I did it, exactly.


That was when things went bad.


Bullets were going everywhere. Their mage was throwing fire around so much it started hitting bystanders. People were still too close to the fight!"


Tears flowed down Will's face, and he gripped his legs even tighter to his chest.


"So it's all burning, and people are burning! Then some cop tried to shoot me in the face! And things were blowing up!


And then Cho did something with her powers, she was hurt or scared or something, and it freaked out the Patrol members who were still in the fight. They just...they went crazy! Bullets and missiles and magic and everything just flew everywhere!


I...you guys talk, a little bit, about how bad the 90s were, and what the Terminus Invasion was like. But...just hearing that, and being in the middle of a field of people screaming and dying. It was...ugh."


For just a moment he almost looked ill, but it passed quickly.


"And then the mage and the armored guy flew off and just...exploded. And there was more death..."


By this point Will's face was thoroughly wet with tears, and he stared at the wall, not daring to meet the eyes of his parents.                                               


Richard stopped his pacing and went over to put his arms around his son, hugging him tight like he was a little boy who'd just had a bad dream instead of a skinny young man just a few inches shorter than his father. He wasn't sure what to say then, so after a few moments he let him go. "I know it doesn't feel this way, son, but that was thirty years ago, and it was, it is, ancient history. Believe me, I've been back to see some pretty rough stuff, and sometimes there's not anything you can do to keep yourself alive. We are so proud of you that you saved yourself, and your friends, and as many of those people as you could."


He backed off, his mind cast back thirty years in the past. "We saw the column of smoke the next morning, after the party." Well, their particular version of the party, which had gone on most of the night. "When I got back to our cabin at the hotel, your gramma was just...sitting at the table, drinking. She smiled when I came in, even though her face was red and there was still soot in her hair, and she said 'Hey, boy, let's go back to America for a while, huh? Africa's no fun anymore.'"                                                


"It's not like I wanted to stop the fight! I knew that wouldn't work. I just wanted to get people away from the fight. But it didn't work. And...I guess...when the moment came, part of me wouldn't let me let my grandmother go off to face those folks with just herself and that crazy Harper chick."


He snorted in morbid amusement.


"Though I'm pretty sure Gramma could have taken the whole Patrol herself. She was as fast as you are, Dad."


He sighed then.


"We showed up back here just a few minutes after we left, I think. It was like we'd been in...a bad dream, or something."


His head rested against his knees as he shuddered a bit, fighting off the terror and revulsion reliving these all-too-fresh memories brought up.


"I just...I wanted to be a hero."                                               


"You are a hero," Paige assured him, subtly layering the words with layers of psychic reassurance. "You have a beautiful and heroic heart, and you're the best of us when it comes to being naturally inclined to do the right thing. Going to Claremont is teaching you skills and tactics, but you already know how to be a hero."


She sighed. "But one thing you learn eventually is that being a hero doesn't mean you're always going to save the day. Sometimes you'll be too late, or you'll come off worse in a fight, or you'll get there and realize everything has spun so far out of control that you don't even know where to start helping. Terrible things are going to happen to people, maybe people you care about, and you'll look back and wonder if there was something you could've done differently, someplace that you screwed up. And maybe there is, and you learn from it and do better next time. But sometimes there isn't. Sometimes you can do everything right, and things still go wrong." She closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath.


Paige took Will's cup from him and set it aside, then took his hands. "It's normal to grieve, and to wonder, and to have nightmares and bad days afterwards. But when you're a hero, the only thing you can do is to look forward and keep going in spite of that, with the faith that it's going to get better in time."


Will nodded weakly at his mother's encouragement, his own hand gripping hers firmly. He closed his eyes and took a few calming breaths, his body easing up at least a bit.


"Yeah. It's just...it's nothing like what we really prepared for, you know? Most villains today, they...well, they don't "play nice" like you guys seemed to back in the day, or live quite by a "code" like Gramma, but they aren't murder-hobos. Those guys claimed to be heroes but...geez. I mean, I've seen guys toting high-tech fancy-schmancy guns, that Voorwhatever guy was just spraying machine guns everywhere."


He shook his head in disbelief and disgust.


"And, like, that cop who tried to shoot me. I just...ugh. I think that one gives me almost as many nightmares as the bodies. Just...no, you're right mom. I do need to keep going, and I will. It's just...it's hard to even see which steps to take right now. My brain is all jumble-y and stuff."                                                                   

For his part, Richard regarded being shot at by the cops as frankly something of a badge of honor - but that was a conversation to have with Will when the boy was a little less traumatized by what he'd seen. "You've been lucky, Will," he said after a moment's reflection that covered a near-lifetime of memories.


"For the last twenty-something years, people in the US and most other countries have given a damn: the people  usually try to do what's right, and costumed superheroes have actually deserved the name. For most of my life, and your mom's life, that wasn't always true. Part of why we raised you why we did, in the Winnebago and in LA, is so you'd have the skills you need if things ever go back to the way they were." He shot a glance at Paige and added, "Not that we think that's likely to happen! But now you know a little bit of why we did that. The world can be an ugly place sometimes."                                                


Will gave his father an almost-smile and a nod.


"Yeah. I guess part of me had processed that knowledge, but...I didn't know it, you know? Facts without experience. and...yeah. I know you wanted me to be able to stand on my own. If things ever got really bad. But...I don't think they will. Still. Maybe I'll at least be able to handle wacky time travel better."


Now he's got a small, genuine smile on his face.

"And just remember, we're always here for you." Paige pulled her son into a one-armed hug, resting her cheek against his shoulder. Used to be she could rest it against his hair, when had he gotten so tall, anyway? "Even if your father has to run us through time and space to come pick you up." She ruffled his hair, sensing him starting to relax. "Now, your sister's gone for the night, so how about we pop some popcorn and watch a movie with swear words in it?" she suggested playfully.


"Now the only question is if they'll say-"


He stopped talking and reddened a bit.


"Um. You guys won't ground me if I maybe cussed a bit in the past, will you? Even if it's words I heard you guys use when you were mad and thought I was in bed?"


Teenager, six-year-old, who can tell the difference when they're scared of consequences?


"Boy, you're a superhero. You're allowed to use some goddamn swearwords from time to time. There's nothing you could say that would shock us." Richard, relaxing, punched his son lightly on the shoulder. Geez, how did this kid get to be so big? he thought to Paige. "Just not around your sister, we don't want her repeating any of that at school. C'mon," he suggested, "let's watch that thing with that guy with the eyebrows, the one you think your mom and I haven't seen."

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