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June 2016 



Riley was on his best behavior - which meant he was sitting out in plain sight in the middle of the park, dressed in a baggy plaid shirt and jean, the only concession to his costumed identity the duffel bag at his feet that held bow, hatchet, poncho, and other Woodsman gear. He'd expected to be the subject of the usual double-takes and angry glares that he associated with walking on the streets of Earth-Prime on the way here, but so far no one had done more than look his way twice on his way from Claremont to here. All the muscles he'd put in his wiry arms, and the tone his voice had dropped in the past year, had certainly paid off. He rather liked it. 


He had never actually been in Lincoln before - like most of south Freedom, it wasn't safe ground for Woodsmen except in daylight and large numbers. The trainee he'd been had been sent to safer ground in north Freedom, though even that was more a matter of degree...thoughts of his homeworld made him tense, enough to slide off the bench and began to pace it, back and forth and back and forth. 


This was a stupid idea. 

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The mountain of a man who approached the survivalist's bench gave the impression that Earth-Prime had decided to put his added muscle mass into perspective. The sleeves of his canary yellow dress shirt were rolled up to the elbows in concession to the rising temperature, exposing forearms as thick as Riley's thighs, and the matching slate grey vest and slacks seemed like must have been custom tailored or at least from some sort of speciality shop. Nearly opaque sunglasses hid any crows feet but the streaks of grey in his voluminous beard spoke of age, begging the question of what the man must have looked like in his prime.


"Riley? Keith LaMarr," he introduced himself in a reverberating bass once he'd gotten closer, arms folded across his broad chest. It was the sort of voice that was felt almost as much as it was heard, raw power layered with the authority of a teacher or elder statesman. Which made the very slight hesitation as he looked the teen up and down once seem even more out of place. "They said you prefer Riley? There anything else you like to be called instead?"

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"Oh, uh, better not," said Riley, reaching back to scratch the back of his freshly-shaved head. "Gotta...mom 'n brother," he said, "better just be Riley." He looked at Wail and tried to put his face to horrors from his world's past, but fortunately couldn't. That made things easier when talking to heroes from before '99 - most of the time. "Wait, no, you mean my name!" He snapped his fingers. "Sorry, uh, I don't do a lot of elgeeteebee stuff." Even the acronym sounded vaguely alien to his ears and in his mouth - and absurdly, Riley wished he'd brought his duplicate along. The other Riley was better at this stuff. "No, uh, I didn't change it or anything. Always been Riley. Nice to meetcha, Keith." He shook the other man's hand, a year at Claremont teaching him to not bother pitting his own strength against someone built like that. 

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LaMarr seemed to relax slightly as the boy's response, shaking his hand in return. The information he'd gotten from Claremont when they'd asked him to meet with Riley had been characteristically full of gaps. He knew the wiry teen had had an unusual upbringing but in context that could have meant anything from a mountain-dwelling death cult to an alien planet. Some of it he could fill in for himself from experience but he hadn't been sure how to feel about the file matter-of-factly outing the student in plain black and white text. Maybe it came from living through the Moore era but there were some things the aging hero didn't think needed to be spelled out for anyone who might go looking and he wasn't going to trust a form about how somebody liked to be called. Given Riley's frankness, however, it sounded like the kid was a lot more comfortable in his own skin than LaMarr had been at that age.


"Different for everyone anyway," he opined with a slight shrug which, on his broad shoulders, looked like it could have thrown a grown man flying. "Your teachers made it sound like you might have some questions about that? Heard a bit about the first roommate they set you up with, you had trouble from any other jokers?"

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"Yeah, well, guy's a jackass," said Riley, his face darkening in a frown. "Think they thought a gay guy wouldn't freak out. Got him pretty good though, made his damn feathers stink f'r a week." That thought made him smile, at least for a moment. "It's just so...so damn stupid." The two men were walking through the park now, the mountain and the bundle of nerves. "I tell my mom I'm a lesbian, she tells me, 'Thank God, you're not going to get pregnant.' I I turn fourteen, I read what a trans person is, biggest problem is that I have to show I can do anything another guy can do before I sleep in the boys' quarters." 


By the edge of the park's small pond, Riley looked out at the ducks and geese, his gaze hunter-sharp as he studied the animals. "Here's, it's 'Oh, you're a dude with girl parts, you're a freak from Mars.' And I used to think it was people who had it good could afford the spit for somebody's face, but I even heard people talk like that in the Fens!" 

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LaMarr made a rumbling sound from somewhere in his broad chest as Riley expounded on his difficulties at Claremont but was otherwise silent while the boy spoke. He waited for a moment while Riley fumed before saying, "It's always more complicated than that. Could tell you things have gotten better lately but I won't play you, there's places it's gotten worse. 'Sides, things have been 'getting better' my whole life and that's only a comfort to people writing text books. Doesn't make the now any more right."


He glanced from the pond to study the survivalist's face, sharp and angry. "Small community where you grew up? Not much use for tribes and labels?"

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Riley and the other Woodsmen took shelter behind the wall, listening to the screams and inhuman moans as the two gangs of Ferals tore into each other. MEAT! BLOOD! MEAT! BLOOD! 


In the world outside his head, which had no cannibals in it at all most of the time, Riley coughed. "Uh, not like what you're sayin', anyway." He frowned, trying to put the concept into words without either stepping on the older man's toes or selling them short. "Where I'm from, things went bad right after I was born. Almost everybody was...gone. But the people who were left, they built homes, and families, and they built a life in a really, really bad place. Didn't matter much that Mom 'n me were black and most people were white, or that I liked girls and most people didn't, or that I wasn't a girl and I was the only one like that, - long as you pull your weight and you do what you gotta do, you're part of the community. But here everything's a label, everything's what club you're in, or who you wanna screw, or everything else." 


He sighed, and for a moment actually looked guilty. "I know people like me have it bad here - and they could prolly use a superhero like them. My, uh, brother's real political - he wants to be the first trans guy in space, and he wants the whole world to know about it. And I guess that's great for him, but I'm not...I don't know anything that should make people be like me. Most of the stuff I grew up with isn't worth much here if I'm not fightin'. I don't even like talkin' to people here most of the time." 

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Suppose that makes sense," LaMarr mused, arms folded. "Sounds like you had plenty of things to hate and fear without needing to make up reasons amongst yourselves. He briefly thought back to '93 and the way unlikely allies had come together in the city's darkest hour but pushed the memory away. It was easy for him to get lost in those thoughts and his focus needed to be on the young man in front of him. "There's always something to fight."


He mulled over his words before continuing. "I wasn't out when I was your age, not for years after. Didn't want to admit it to myself, took a long time making peace with things and longer to say it out loud." The towering man when silent for a long moment, not looking at Riley. "...I've got regrets on that count. Didn't think of myself as a role model back then but I've come to realize everything anybody does is an example. Big or small, changing the world one way or another." He looked down then, meeting the teenager's eyes. "So this world could use you, son. Lord knows that's true. Could use more folks happy with their lives, too, though. Gotta do what's right for you." Mouth curving upward at the corner he added, "Course, I get the feeling you're not too good at sitting down or keeping quiet."

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"Pfft, sez you," said Riley with the perfect confidence of a young man. "Spring break I once spent a whole day in a tree up in Wharton t'bring down this big-ass wild turkey. Spent a week and a half eating that sucker..." He grinned, then grew more serious, hands sliding into his jean pockets. "Easier when it's just me 'n the wild, or some place that's empty some other way. Hard to sit still 'round people, 'specially ones I don't know. Only about fifteen thousand where I'm from, so all this is..." He ducked his shaved head in the general direction of Lincoln. "'s hard. Easier than it was when I just got here. So you teach at a regular high school - where nobody's got powers, nobody's goin' off to fight..." he asked, curious. "What's that like?"

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