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EternalPhoenix

The Truth In Our Backyard

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July 8. Boston. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Science Building Parking Lot. 1 PM.

 

Samantha Carson was nervous. She had finished up a last bit of work. There were always summer session students looking for a little one on one time. She was a terrific professor, after all. However, that time had passed and now she was waiting for two people. One was her husband, Stan. The other was the superhero known as Miracle Girl. Sam, in her superheroic alter ego known as Terrifica, had been mentoring the girl off and on for quite a while now. However, today was a bold new step in their relationship. She didn’t quite know how the younger woman would react. She had contacted the blonde paragon in the usual fashion, requesting her presence. All other times, it had been casework of one kind or another. Today, as stated, was going to be different. Sam had attempted to communicate that this was a more social occasion, however she was uncertain of the attempt’s success.

 

Speaking of, Miracle Girl should be arriving shortly. It was time to get changed. After all, the young woman wouldn’t know Samantha Carson from Eve. It was Terrifica she was coming to see, and Terrifica who would meet her.

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So Terrifica wanted to hang out.

 

Of course, she didn't come out and say that to her young protégé Casey Blankenship, but she heavily implied it. And more importantly, she sounded nervous; Terrifica was never nervous. Annoyed, irritated, maybe even condescending, but the masked super-genius was always in control. Well, there was that one time she got all mad at that crazy robot scientist...

 

Based on that implication, the blonde powerhouse was currently winging her way to Boston with a daypack over one shoulder, in which were packed several carefully folded outfits and a few pairs of shoes. She had no idea what her mentor was planning, so she decided to be a true Scout and come prepared.

 

When she was about a mile out, Casey broadcast at the same frequency Terrifica used for her comms; probably not necessary, but if the masked crimefighter really was nervous about whatever she had planned, a little bit of heads up might be appreciated.

 

"This is Miracle girl, approaching from the Southwest at approximately two hundred miles per hour, over."

Edited by Heritage

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Sam had just pulled the cowl over her head when the comm from Miracle Girl came in, but she wasn’t quite Terrifica yet. “Thank you for the heads up, then.” She wriggled slightly in place, and the suit settled properly. She felt a bit naked without her longcoat, but it was July, after all. It would have been strange for her to bring it to work with her. “I’m in faculty parking for the science department. I was…doing some work for them, today.” Technically not a lie. She did work for them all the time. She was even paid for it. “Our ride will be arriving sooner rather than later, and there’s something I wanted to discuss with you before his arrival.”

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"Copy that."

 

The city of Boston spread out before her, and with a hint of shame she realized she'd never made a proper visit to Beantown, an oversight that would hopefully soon be corrected. She soon spotted her mentor and dropped out of the sky to greet her, landing with surprising gentleness out of respect for the old stones of the venerable institution. It was weird to see Terrifica out in broad daylight and out of her longcoat, but for the first time the young powerhouse was able to appreciate just how ripped the super-genius really was under it

 

Dang, she is cut!

 

As always, Miracle Girl was all smiles and warmth as she waved at the costumed crimefighter. "Hi Terrifica; what's up?"

Edited by Heritage

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Terrifica was…slightly hesitant. Tentative. Unlike her, most definitely. “I am having a barbecue at my house today. And I thought that all we ever do together is combat the criminal element. While that is important, there is more to heroic life than what is spent under the mask. And if I’m going to be a proper mentor and even friend, our relationship should reflect that.” She paused for a moment. “So I thought I’d invite you. The problem is that it is a civilian event. People who do not know I wear this mask will be there.”

 

A long, long moment. Almost as if the supergenius was decidedly anxious about saying her next words. “Essentially I am asking if I-no, we…may take off the masks and reveal our identities to each other.” Ah, and there it was. Just about the most sacred thing among superheroes was the secret identity. Terrifica was asking for a great deal of trust. She was willing to return the gesture, of course. That, however, did not make it any less great of a deal.

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"Oh! Oh!" It took a few seconds for the full impact of what the super-genius just said to sink in; for someone as careful and borderline paranoid as Terrifica, this was huge. It meant she was considering revealing her secret identity to Casey, when she'd probably shared it with only one or two, tops.

 

"I mean, yeah, sure, if you're up to it, I'd be happy to." She indicated the area around her eyes with a vague wave of her hand. "It's not like I...it's, it's fine."

 

The blonde teen shrugged and looked around. "So, where do we change? I brought a bunch of outfits, just in case."

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Terrifica appeared nonplussed for a moment. “I’m wearing clothes under here and you can change entirely before I can blink.” She shrugged it off. “I have an office inside, however. And that alley-” She pointed a small crevice between buildings “-I’ve found useful during busier hours.” With that she pulled off the suit’s gloves. They and the boots were separate pieces. “The alley would be better, as I’ve left my purse there. And my keys.” Seriously. Leaving the longcoat at home was awful.

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Casey nodded.  "Okay, sure, that works." As they started to walk towards the alley, she shook her head; this all felt so weird, and yet at the same time it felt like it was no big deal. She felt bad that it perhaps meant more to Terrifica than her to unmask; she couldn't help but feel that her mentor had more to lose than she did.

 

 "What changed," she finally managed to ask. "Why now, and not before?" She couldn't bring herself to start changing her outfit until the super-genius went first.

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In the alley, Terrifica disconnected her boots with a quick twist and pulled them off, revealing soft ballet flats. She did not immediately answer Miracle Girl, instead locating her purse and shaking it slightly to make her keys jingle. She had a backpack there, as well. “You will be attending college soon, as a legal adult. I should treat you as more of an equal, socially speaking.” Her fingers touched the seam at her suit back and it opened. The cowl was apparently a separate piece, as well. “Though…if I’m being completely honest…it simply felt right.” Knowing this would surprise her protégé, she added more in an amused and teasing tone of voice. “I don’t do everything by pure logic. I’m not a machine.” She simply pulled the suit off, touching the seams that ran down the backs of the legs just so to make them part. She was wearing a simple short sleeve pink blouse, and tan khakis. “It weaves itself together or separates when touched in a certain way. Much better than Velcro or a zipper, but incredibly time consuming to make.” At long last, she pulled off the cowl and shook her dark, slightly curly hair loose. A few more touches, and the suit easily fit in the backpack, despite clearly being over half full. Terrifica was Asian. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or maybe something else. But very clearly Asian. “I’d introduce myself, but I think I’ll wait until you’ve changed.” The Terrifica Miracle Girl knew quite simply wasn’t there anymore. Not only was she thinner and shorter, but this woman even stood just a bit differently.

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Casey smiled with genuine affection and shook her head. "I've never thought you were a machine; a machine wouldn't have gotten so mad at that crazy inventor who made that robot we had to find."  She sighed and raised her eyebrows. "Our first case!"

 

Still, it was a bit weird to see...whoever Terrifica was under there at last; she almost looked at peace, not like the driven crimefighter she'd worked with for so long. But now it was time to return the favor and show her true face to her mentor.

 

There was a quick puff of wind and it was over; there was no point in dragging the process out for dramatic effect. Casey Blankenship had her hair up and her glasses on, wearing a Sierra Club T-shirt, a pair of khaki hiking shorts and Teva sandals. While she didn't actually look significantly shorter than she did as Miracle Girl, she was much less imposing, like she should be standing on a street corner with a clipboard, smiling as she talked to people about the environment.

 

"So, this is me!" She shrugged, then held out her hand for a firm handshake. "Casey Blankenship; nice to meet you!"

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The unmasked Terrifica shook Casey’s hand firmly. “Doctor Samantha Carson, Ph D. I’m…working on another doctoral thesis, when I have the time.” It was true. Sam was much more relaxed out of the suit. But that had as much to do with her martial arts training as it did with shedding her heroic identity. Her phone produced a ringtone. She glanced at it, and then returned it to her side. “Our ride is here.” She walked, less quickly than Terrifica ever did and with much less of a “follow me, I know what I’m doing” kind of attitude to it. Back where Casey and Sam had initially met in costume, a car had pulled up to the curb. A tall, somewhat burly man was leaning up against the hood. He was a reasonably handsome man, but not enough to make anyone gooey inside just from looks alone. “Stan, I would like you to meet my friend Casey. We work together when I’m in Freedom on business.”

 

Stan nodded and flashed a heart-melting boyish grin. “Oh, so you convinced her? Good deal. Wondered what we’d do with all that extra meat you bought.”

 

Sam kissed him lightly, and then walked to the rear doors. There was a small boy and a toddler girl inside, both Asian as Sam. Both were in car seats. “And this is Lucas and Meili, my children. Say hello, Lucas.” Her son said something that sounded like hello, but he had a mouthful of pastry and more in his hand. “Red bean buns again? They’re Japanese, Lucas.” She sighed. “Meili? Any English today?” The girl singsonged something that did sound like Chinese, but not quite. “I don’t know where you pick up that kind of language.” She sighed again and turned back around. “I apologize. My children are…well, young. Even if they seem to have inherited my genetics, they need more time to finish learning manners.”

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"It's nice to meet you, Stan." It felt weird calling an adult by their first name; Casey's first instinct was to address him as 'Mr. Carson', but in the milliseconds before her greeting, several things occured to her:

 

1. They might not be married. 

 

2. Even if they were, Terrifica was the kind of woman who might not take her husband's name.

 

3. There were several reasons why her given name might already be 'Carson'.

 

The hesitation was so quick that no one present but her mentor would pick it up, which meant she probably did; oh well! Casey was nineteen years old, would turn twenty in six months; it was time she started to act like a grown-up, even though she was still technically a high school student. It was all so confusing!

 

Time and maturity are invented concepts, said a great man probably somewhere.

 

But her compilcated thought processes didn't show on her face; the world saw a pretty young woman met the love of her mentor's life, for surely Terrifica would never settle for less, and she was honored to meet him. "What do you do?" Her handshake had a strength and confidence uncommon in modern teenagers.

 

When Dr. Carson introduced her children, the blonde powerhouse actually did go gooey inside as she put her hand over her heart. "Oh my gosh, they are so precious! What beautiful children you have!"

Edited by Heritage

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Stan smiled, his lip curving in a fashion that (had Casey been looking) was instantly recognizable. Terrifica whipped out that triumphant smirk all the time. He held up his left hand and flashed the wedding ring. “Name’s Gresham, not Carson. My doctorate is in psychology.” Obviously, the couple had talked this over before today. Stan’s gaze was steady, and had not dipped below Casey’s nose while on her. “Ready to do this, love?”

 

Sam nodded at her husband, flashing her ring as well. “Honestly, Casey. Did you really think so little of my morals?” Her tone was gently teasing, as the two had known each other long enough for such things. Her smile showed how pleased she was at her children being complimented. “Unfortunately, you will have to sit between Lucas and Meili. We’re civilians today.”

 

***************************************

 

The barbecue was a success. Sam introduced Casey to a few of her friends and co-workers. Her boss, Dr. Benjamin Beardly, Ph D. One of the leading authorities on cryonics. Ai Jiang, who was a apparently a pop star and actress back in China. She was, however, virtually unknown in the US. Xue Yi, an artist who had come up from San Francisco. And Shen Wei, who didn’t exactly say what he did or where he was from, but was clearly just as much Sam’s friend. There was one interesting tidbit, however. The three Chinese guests tended to call Sam “Qiaolian”, rather than “Samantha”. Sam didn’t correct them, which was perhaps a bit strange. There were other people there, but they were neighbors, friends of friends, or people Stan knew from working as a psychologist.

 

Anyway, the hosting couple took turns manning the grill. There was plenty of food, even for a growing (and in no small part calorie powered) paragon. It was largely traditional American barbecue fair, but there were a few traditional Chinese dishes. The sight of which would likely squick the fully American Casey right out. The food itself, however, was delicious. Casey didn’t quite get a chance to speak to Sam again one on one after they arrived at a normal two story house in Cambridge. There was prep, cooking, guest relations, and the children…Sam was a busy woman for a while. Not that Stan didn’t help, but this event was clearly his wife’s baby and he affably let her take the lead. But now, Sam had sat down in the backyard on a folding chair. Everyone else was busy eating, chatting, playing card games, even watching TV in the house. She appeared to be finally taking a moment to relax after playing hostess and master chef for the last couple of hours.

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Early on at the barbeque, Casey felt a bit underdressed, so she slipped on a photographer's vest from inside her hemp bag, which made her feel a little less like a teenager hanging out after school; she felt a bit more like the journalist she planned to become. It felt so strange, having all these adult conversations, and it occurred to the young student that this was the first "grown up" party she'd ever been to; she was used to family gatherings, which lots of other kids her age, cousins and nieces and nephews. And...she liked it; she didn't feel like anyone was talking down to her, and when she brought up topics of conversation with Dr. Beardly or another of Sam or Stan's colleagues, they listened to what she had to say, nodded, smiling, adding to the conversation. She had no idea how long she'd been waiting to have conversations like this.

 

And the food! Well, it was true Casey fit a lot of very American stereotypes when it came to food, but she at least tried to experiment a bit, although it was strictly a no go on the Peking duck and chicken feet (she'd had a pet duck named 'Kibbles' when she was little). Still, there's no shortage of things to eat, and eventually even her nuclear furnace of a digestive system became sated. She practically had to waddle over to Dr. Carson, plopping into a folding chair beside her.

 

"Wow! You. really..you really know how to throw a shindig, boss!" She chuckled and then sighed, her eyes taking in the totality of the event. "Mmmm. You've really built a life here, you and Stan; I hope to have half your happiness someday!"

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“Coming from the house I spent my teen years in, it…seemed important. My Great-Aunt Cassandra is…well, you wouldn’t like her. Nobody does. Her house is bigger than mine, but no one ever visits. There are no parties like this one. Even the servants don’t stay more than a year. She is a remarkably unpleasant woman.” Sam leaned back in her folding chair, displaying her impressive flexibility. “I honed my tongue’s edge living there. It was necessary, to keep her from speaking to me as our mutual acquaintance speaks to criminals.” She looked at her husband, chatting amicably with a colleague of his with Meili in one arm and Lucas hanging from the other like a monkey. “Luck also has a great deal to do with it. I…went to a world where I never met Stan, or anyone like him. That particular version of me ruled the world with kindness, generosity, and a ruthless disregard for the free will of her subjects. It…was a sobering experience.” Casey had known Sam long enough to realize just how dramatically she’d understated that adventure. In fact, looking at her, Sam was clearly haunted by the experience. She spoke in a quiet voice, barely audible. “I thought such a place would be wonderful. No war. No hunger. No poverty. A world where a petty man’s pride can’t cost an eight year old her parents.” She looked at her shoes. “I…don’t say this very often, but I was wrong. It wasn’t worth it. Not in the slightest. Those people were barely more than robots, doing only what I told them to do how I told them to do it.”

 

Lucas ran up. “Mama, mama! May I have more ice cream?”

 

Sam smiled at him, her malaise fleeing at the sight of her son. “Of course, love. Ask your father to get it for you.”

 

Lucas smiled one of those kiddy smiles, the kind that suggested happiness could currently be defined as Lucas Gresham (five years old). “Thank you, Mama!” He raced off to his father’s side.

 

Sam spoke to Casey again. “I told you all that because you’re not just my protégé. You are my friend. You are as important to me as anyone but Stan. You give me hope for the rest of the human race. That they’re not all, well, hopeless idiots.” There was a flash of her trademark smug smirk. “That maybe, just maybe, I can teach them to be better. Without taking their free will away.” She watched her son and her husband eat ice cream together. Apparently she had said all she was going to say.

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Casey listened to Sam, smiling and nodding occasionally, but as the super genius continued to speak, the blonde's normally cheerful demeanor dimmed considerably. At length, she sighed and shook her head.

 

"You mentioned luck; I used to think of myself as being incredibly lucky, and I guess technically I still am. I was born a white blonde girl, in America, into an upper middle class family. I have a father and mother who love me, and an older brother who would do anything for me. I have never wanted for food, clothing or shelter, I went to the best schools, and Mom and Dad brought me up right."

 

And now her dark mood continued as she stared off into space. "But now, I'm starting to see a side of my dad I never knew about...or maybe I saw it, and chose to be ignorant." She let her head hang in shame, then shrugged her shoulders. "My dad...is incredibly prejudiced against gays amd lesbians; the whole LGBTQA community, really. He always paid lip service to the cause, but it wasn't until my brother came out to us in February that it, you know, spilled out all over the place. And now, they're always fighting and they might, like, get a divorce or get separated or something..."

 

The young heroine trailed off, too emotional to talk anymore.

Edited by Heritage

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A dozen strategies flitted through Sam’s mind. She had an unofficial doctorate in just about everything, after all. She was mentally prepared for virtually everything. But…no. This was Casey. She’d simply do what felt right. She moved from seated to kneeling in front of Casey, and took her by the shoulders. “Look at me.” Her tone had the command of Terrifica in it. “Look at me, Casey.” She left no iota of room for disobedience. “You are still lucky. This has not changed. You still-“ Here Sam stumbled mentally, because for a moment she was eight years old again. “-have two parents who love you. This has not changed. You were blessed to live in a house-“ Another stumble, as she was twelve and confronted with an cold, arrogant old woman who found Sam’s mere existence a personal offense. “-full of love. This has not changed.”

 

She let Casey’s shoulders go, and turned to look at her own children. “I can understand, a little. One expects one’s children to…be who one thinks they are. To conform to the idea of whom the parent thinks they are. Little discrepancies are fine. Favoring one sport over another. Differing taste in television. Those can be overcome. But when central facets of your childen’s perceived identity such as gender and/or sexuality are revealed to be completely wrong…like I said, I can understand.” She turned back and looked Casey in the eyes. “That however, does not excuse bigotry in any form.” Her tone was dangerously close to the bitter savagery of Terrifica at her worst. Which is why it may have been somewhat surprising that Sam didn’t continue that line of thought, at least not verbally. “Of course, that goes both ways. You are upset because the image you had of your father doesn’t match the reality. I…can’t tell you how to deal with that. I…lack experience in that area.”

 

For a moment-no longer-Casey could see the sad, lonely little girl in Samantha Carson. It wasn’t the biggest part of her identity, not anymore, but it was still there. It would always be there. “I don’t know who your father is, exactly, but I do know a military brat when I see one. What I do know is that his lessons, the things he had taught you are still valid. He taught you courage, honor, and self reliance. To stand up for what you believe is good and just. To fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. He taught you how to be a hero. And as much as you or I damn him for it, that’s what he thinks he’s still doing.” She paused a moment for that to sink in. “The only way, I think, to show him how wrong he is being is to continue to be the hero he taught you to be. After all, it isn’t your fault.” She put her hands back on Casey’s shoulders. “It isn’t your fault, Casey. It. Isn’t. Your. Fault. People are flawed, and they make flawed choices. Including seeing only the parts of the people they love that they wish to see. In short, -“ There was that smug Terrifica smirk again. “-they’re idiots. And it’s a hero’s job-our job-to protect them from the consequences and teach them how to be better. Sometimes we teach with our words, and sometimes with our actions.” She stood up (removing her hands from Casey’s shoulders) and held her hand out. “With all that said, there’s something Stan taught me. When life gets you down and there’s nothing you can do about it, have an ice cream. You’ll feel better.” Sam smiled, and the sad lonely little girl was there, too. Only she wasn’t quite so sad, and not nearly as lonely. “Shall we?”

Edited by EternalPhoenix

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