A Tale of Daylight, by Brother Grimace
Conceived in 1986 as a special-access division of DELPHI's Project Fast Forward, Project Starseed was just what its name implied – a program devoted to the unique problems that would be involved with human colonization of other worlds. This was not limited only to other worlds in the universe, but also engaged the possibility of cross-dimensional travel to other, alternate, Earth-like worlds.
It was also devised for a third, horrific contingency: to act as a failsafe program to ensure the survival of the human species in the event of an extinction-level event that could cleanse the Earth's surface of almost all life, yet still leave the possibility of future habitation open.
-from a United States Department of Extranormal Affairs (DEXA) General Information Brief on Project Starseed
ZERO HOUR – 00:20:00
Lily Kressley (only her parents and her Nana called her 'Lillian') stood in the stadium-sized underground area jokingly called 'the Gate Room' by the cadets at the United States Academy of Extranormal Studies, and adjusted the equipment she wore over her fatigue uniform before her fingers reached up to stroke the darkened bar on her lapel.
First Lieutenant Kressley, the former Cadet First Class thought, her head spinning as she remembered being presented her degree in meteorology and commissioned not fifteen minutes ago - and then, being given her first (her only, a little voice said sourly) assignment by the United States Air Force. You will report to Demarcation Area Alpha for immediate deployment and permanent resettlement to the Eastern United States. You will proceed to establish a secure long-term habitat from which to begin receiving potential settlers in order to create a community in which to maintain the American way of life. If you encounter other U.S. forces within your legitimate chain of command, you will defer to them in all military matters, save those orders which would inhibit or override your standing primary assignment. You will act in all ways possible to ensure the survival of the human species, including any viable possibility of procreation of future generations.
Great. Go out, homestead a piece of land, raise the American flag, salute anybody with greater rank but shoot them if they want to use you to make his or her own little fiefdom outside the boundaries of what's lawful, and after everything's set up, settle down and have lots of kids. I thought I'd at least get to see another planet, that's all – and to ride in a spaceship – God, now I'll never know what it feels like to have the world pressing down on you during takeoff...
The luminous, shorthaired blonde (she actually preferred it very long, and had to cut it constantly to keep it at this length) looked around the room at the six other cadets who were going with Tiffany Blum-Deckler to Maryland – to the famous Legion Tower. I wonder if Trent Lane is there?
She felt a quiver of girlish excitement as the image of the tall, lanky brother of the Legion's first leader danced in her mind – no, he does more than dance, if I have anything to say about it. Lillian smiled; since the Legion's visit five months ago, Trent had been the focus of a great many of her fantasies and dreams.
I didn't get a chance to get near him, thanks to Sherrie Klein. Even before The Alliance became a big thing around here, she's always been a headliner. If she touches it, comes near it or even looks at it, she can upgrade it, find a means to defend it from anything or find a way to stop it in its tracks. If the world weren't about to end in about two hours... well, five years from now, she would have been a billionaire. At least a billionaire. As it is now, she'll be one of the few people who will find a way out of this for the human race.
All I do is control the weather or reverse weather effects, I have an innate awareness of the environment around me – oh, and magic can't hurt me. I wonder who came up with that addition to my DNA?
Her pale blue eyes moved around the area, focusing on the other members of Training Cadre 3011 – although since they had all entered the Elite Academy, they weren't as close as they had been. We're definitely not as close as the guys in The Alliance – Field's a Phantom Eagle, and she still stays with her cadre. It works, though – everybody knows that when the Legion was here, 2996 beat them like red-haired stepchildren - There's Hermes!
She smiled at Charles Herman, a wiry Black cadet who also wore lieutenant's bars on his uniform. Nicknamed 'Hermes' because of his love of Greek mythology (he was also an excellent storyteller, and spent as much time as he could with the small children at the Academy day-care center) and his speed as a runner – he was a star on the Academy track team, and was considering trying out for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He's going to be the heavy gun on the team.
Lily remembered watching Hermes' powers in action – the ability to generate fire with different effects: white-hot standard flames, a flaming blue destructive energy called 'acid flame' by his friends that could chew through heavy metals, armor or even energy fields, given enough time, searing green plasma fire that he could project underwater or in a vacuum (where it also allowed him to survive without help), scarlet flames that could affect only intangible objects and made him intangible (not to mention scaring the hell out of people when he walked through walls like that), purple-hued flames that could incinerate anything inorganic or non-living without harming living things in its path, and black flame that affected mystical forces . He can even protect himself and fly with an energy sheath of any color flame around himself.
Standing next to Hermes was Fred Nunez, the Latino-American tech-specialist for the team, and probably one of the most important members of the group. He can talk to or control any kind of any sort of technology or mechanical device, take any solid materials and build upon those machines to make new machines with a completely new purpose, or even reconstruct destroyed technology and machines. From what they've told us – he's going to be very busy. Really busy - creating air scrubbers for our underground habitat, the thermal generator for primary power, protein re-sequencers for food – and if he doesn't end up trying to build some sort of Road Warrior-type vehicles, I'll eat rocks. 'Gearhead' doesn't even begin to describe him...
"So, did you bring your box of condoms?"
"Yeah – both of them," she said sarcastically, not looking up from checking the M4 assault rifle she had slung from her uniform as Sidney Simon – 'Simple Simon', as she was known around the Academy – came up to her. "Of course, we know that you'll use your powers to create as many condoms as you need." Tramp.
The willowy, dark-haired cadet, whose dark eyes twinkled as she looked over the other cadets – and Lily shook her head as she felt Sidney's eyes move over her approvingly – then tossed the pair of duffel bags she had on the back of the heavy truck that carried hundreds of pounds of supplies. "Five deuce and a halfs, and only six of us are going, besides the Dragon Princess? Sounds a bit light – and who's going to unload these things?"
"That would be me. I loaded them up, I'll unload them."
Lily smiled by the way Sidney winced at the sound of Chris – Christine – Blum's voice, and the two young women saw the petite Jewish cadet, who was eerily identical in appearance to Kirsten Dunst (how the hell does a girl with a Jewish name end up with hair and eyes like that? Lily once again wondered) drop from the back of the truck.
"Try to keep your pants on until you've helped build an underground chasm for us to live in and made a geothermal vent for us to generate power, Ensign." Chris' green eyes flared, and the two young women remained silent. "You need to respect others and the uniform you wear – since you obviously have no respect for yourself – or I will pound you straight down into the ground that you control. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am." Sidney saluted the young woman who wore the bar of a First Lieutenant, after she left, she sighed. "Damn," she said, watching her leave. "If she wasn't a telepath and telekinetic – and a strong one – I'd have comments for her."
"She can hear your thoughts anyway, remember?"
"Yeah, well, that's a lesson for you," Sidney smiled. "Never sleep with someone in your training cadre if you both get drunk off fermented fruit juice you find, if you both get trapped in a supply bunker for a few days during a freak snowstorm in Antarctica and you've both taken big doses of 'flush' beforehand. She'll take it personally when she finally sobers up – especially if she really got into it during the festivities. Until she freaked and did her 'It never happened' attitude, our internship year down there at Mcmurdo was great."
"Thank God you didn't try that with Field, McClure or any of the other cadets who went down with you for their internship." Thank God I spent my year at The Weather Channel. All I had to do there was dodge Jim Cantore's quick hands, and dodge the occasional twister out in Tornado Alley without using my powers openly. At least I'll be able to make things out there a bit easier on people... if things were different, I'd have become the world's best meteorologist. Not that having great legs doesn't help out – but I'd have loved doing it.
"What makes you think I didn't?"
"Oh, and the crack about Tiffany didn't fly with Chris, either."
"Maybe if she had to TA classes she was in, her opinion would be different." Sidney let a long breath flow from her as she brushed a wayward lock of hair from her eyes. "She's vindictive and snotty, she carries herself like she's a royal, and she's as dense as a constipated lead block!"
Sidney turned as Hermes called her name, and went over as Joe Durance stepped through the side of the truck where Lily was standing. "If it helps, Lily – she did rank higher in her Starseed certifications than anybody in our year who tested for them," the boyish-looking Marine Second Lieutenant said, going solid and becoming visible next to her. "Just because she forgets everything the uniform represents the moment it hits the bedroom floor... hey, look on the bright side. You know that she'll have babies almost as soon as the protection she has runs out, and that means she'll be a frontier mom and out of our hair."
"What makes you think she even wants kids?"
"That's just it – I don't think she does, not for a long time. She wants to make sure she has a lot of memories to tide her over once she does become 'mommy' That is, if any of us survive the next few weeks, let alone months."
"You're able to phase through anything, and you can make yourself invisible to any form of detection. You don't have much to worry about."
The young cadet, awarded his dual degrees in advanced physics and astronomy just before he and the others were commissioned earlier, shook his head. "You don't really understand what's coming our way. I do. I want the hole that Sidney makes to be as deep as she can make it – and then, keep digging."
The Black cadet placed his squad automatic weapon down gently, and jogged over. "Yes, ma'am?"
It's annoying that some of us were commissioned and immediately promoted a step up, and some weren't, she sighed. You know that you don't need to call me 'ma'am', after everything we've gone through. "Everything's in place?"
"We move out in as soon as Todds shows up," Hermes said. "The fourth truck is carrying medical supplies she's taking to Legion Tower."
"Our orders have changed, too," Chris said, coming back over to them as Sidney drifted back into earshot. "We're all now going to Legion Tower with Ensign Todds, to act as a supplemental metahuman force under Colonel Armalin. We're going to reinforce the Tower, and create a supplemental underground habitat adjoining the existing underground levels that can form the basis of a new community for survivors. I've got instructions for him, once we get there."
The others nodded. "If it wasn't like this, this would be a cool assignment," Sidney said, leaning against the truck; Lily shook her head, knowing that she still harbored a slight resentment against Julia Carlyle for being chosen as the first cadet to go to the Legion as part of the fledgling USAES Student Liaison Program – or for the fact that David Allen's never given her a moment's glance. Sorry, Sid – the poor boy's been seeing red for the past ten years.
A voice over the intercom sounded throughout the area. "Cadre 3029, Cadre 4452 – three minutes until launch."
A giant flash filled the room, and the cadets heard several truck engines roar to life; they all moved to the front of the truck to see a line of five trucks – each occupied by two cadets and a Marine, all in full tactical gear – as they moved towards the giant section of the wall that looked like the largest plasma-screen TV any of them had ever seen. "Hey, there's Jacks!" Joe said, his eyes lighting up –and before the others could stop him, he had run across the area to the passenger side of the second truck in line. "Jacks!"
Jacklyn Ward, a female Ensign with the same youthful looks as Joe, smiled as he hopped up on the truck. "Sorry, Marine, this truck's full."
"We had to come right down and fill up – besides our load, we're taking supplies to Legion Tower in Maryland."
"Really? I see that someone's on the celebrity track," she said coyly. "Will you remember me after being around all of the superhero girls there?"
"Why don't you give me a reason to ignore them, Jacks?"
The freshly minted Ensign at the steering wheel and the Gunnery Sergeant who sat in the middle seat sighed as Jacks and Joe shared a surprisingly chaste kiss. "They're sending us to Never-Never Land, in Nevada," she said, smiling as they parted. "I think I might have stories to tell, next time we see each other."
"Well, look at you – Miss Fancy-Pants!" Joe smiled, his slight Georgian accent coming through. "Girl teases me about the Legion, and she's one of the few of us who's actually going to get to see aliens." His voice grew somber. "You be careful out there. What did we learn in VR?"
"Fire the disintegrator beams twice and fast – once to get the shield, the other to get the bad guy. I'll miss you, too." Jacks smiled as she stroked Joe's cheek. "Now get off, Marine!"
"As soon as you come back, Sailor Moon-shot." The way she mooned the Vegas Strip from a hotel room – her buttocks glowing a bright yellow as her disintegration powers dissolved the windows and became a makeshift beacon that drew attention from miles away – was a treasured memory from the summer before they parted to do their internships. Joe had spent a year at the National Reconnaissance Office learning about the special deep-space satellites that were actually more advanced than Hubble, and made up a vital part of Earth's early-warning system, while Jacks, a former Phantom Eagle – won what most cadets considered better than the lottery: a year with the U.S. Secret Service, on the Presidential Detail.
Jacks blushed a very deep red, and the others looked at her questioningly. "Now, you'll all have something to talk about. Watch yourself, Jacks. I mean that."
"You be careful, too. I heard that Daria Morgendorffer is a handful when she's mad, and Griffin? She kicked Zoey's ass, remember?"
Joe hopped off the truck as a whistle blew, and he watched as the line of trucks began to drive into the gateway and disappeared in flashes of light. "Shame that they didn't let them stay together, eh?"
Everyone turned as Fred spoke; an unusually quiet person, he only spoke when necessary or in cases when no one else would have dared to. "They decided to only send whole cadres out. Sucks. That's why Todds is probably taking so long – they're getting 5035 ready to come out with her."
Almost as Fred finished speaking, a group of eight cadets – Danielle Todds in the middle of the pack – entered the Gate Room, each hefting a duffel bag, their service rifles and other parcels. Behind them were three cadets with handcarts, each loaded down with duffel bags and several hard-shell cases. "Cadre 5035 reporting as ordered," one of the male cadets said, the stripes of a sergeant on his sleeves.
"Load up," Chris told him; as the new arrivals began loading their things on the last truck in line, Lillian noticed that all of the cadets wore sergeant's stripes except for Danielle; she wore the bars of a Warrant Officer. Healers always come out with rank – if she'd completed the Elite Academy, she'd have graduated as a First Lieutenant - and come out of med school as a Major.
The speakers in the area blared into life once again. "Cadre 3011, Cadre 5035 – three minutes until launch."
"Hey, Doc!" Lily called out; she was happy to see that Danielle's head popped up. "You ride with me and Hermes."
Danielle nodded; she grabbed a hard-shell case the size of a small briefcase with a red cross on the side off a cart, and trotted behind Lily as the older girl went to the second truck in line. "You ride in the middle."
Hermes slid into the driver's seat as the girls got in; seat belts were fastened, and Lily noticed that Danielle's eyes were slightly wide as the trucks roared to life and drove into position in front of the gateway. "It's a tesseract," she said, giving an obviously nervous Danielle a smile. "Didn't you ever take any of the courses or the tests?"
Realization flooded over Lily. "Why did they decide to send you and your cadre, Todds?"
"I-I volunteered," she said, blushing at he sudden nervousness. "They –the Legion – they don't have anyone with medical or healing skills there. I volunteered to go – I've passed all of my Healer qualifications, and I'm a certified EMT." The nervousness in her voice passed. "I can help."
Lily nodded, satisfied. "Okay, Doc."
Danielle looked about the cab of the truck, and her eyes settled upon a patch on the right shoulder of Hermes' fatigues – a patch with three old-style covered wagons on a trail of stars moving through space, and a starfish with three eyes and four tentacles waving from a planet it stood on in the lower left-hand corner. "What's that?"
"That's the Project Starseed patch," Hermes said, smiling.
"Why the covered wagons?"
"You ever watch the old Star Trek?" Hermes said, and Lily smiled as her friend's voice took on the tone he used whenever he told stories to the kids. "Well, when the guy who created the show, he wanted the guys at the network to be able to immediately get an idea in their heads of what he wanted to do with the show –you, big adventure in unknown places, danger everywhere, new challenges, bold people pushing forward into a new frontier – you know, like the old pioneers who went out West during the mid-to late19th Century in the huge wagon trains."
"That's how the guy pitched it to the network – 'Wagon Train to the Stars.' The people who we're – you're – working for liked the symbolism, and used it."
"What's with the starfish alien?" Danielle asked.
"We'll have plenty of time to tell you all about it," Lily said, leaning back in her seat as the giant gateway flared to life, and Hermes put the truck into gear. 'Wagon Train to the Stars.' If you think about where we're going... that actually sounds about right.
Hermes smirked and shook his head; the truck moved forward, and followed the first truck in line through the gateway.
ZERO HOUR – 00:13:00
"There it is!" Chris called out, bouncing in her seat as Fred drove the heavy truck at a fast clip through the open gates of the quarry and towards Legion Tower, followed closely by the others. "How the hell did we get set down on the other side of town?"
"Magnetic fluctuations caused by the CME strikes on the other side of the globe to the Earth's magnetic field," Joe said, trying like hell to hold on as he stared daggers towards his roommate, hating how Fred seemed to enjoy the wild, bumpy ride. "Probably threw off the targeting mechanism by a fraction of a percentage point – anyone who hasn't gone through by now is stuck wherever they are!"
"Why?" Chris almost screamed, as the truck hit a small hole and bounced wildly.
"If they don't get a solid targeting lock, they won't send anyone through –you could end up coming through a mile in the air, ending up in solid rock, or driving through a shopping mall full of people!" Joe rocked wildly in his seat. "Besides, they've probably shut it down and sealed it in its housing chamber – ten feet of solid lead in every direction. Nothing's getting through that to blow the system, or coming through – anything that does will end up embedded in the metal, or unable to get a lock to come through!"
The guards at the front of the parking area saw the line of trucks heading their way; mistaking them for just more supplies, they were waved into the underground area.
ZERO HOUR – 00:07:00
The USAES convoy was guided to a spot on Subfloor (?) - the huge, fortified parking deck located ten meters below Legion Tower.
As the trucks pulled up and came to a stop, Lily slid out of her truck and looked around. "Well, here we are," she said, looking around at the controlled havoc around them as Danielle dismounted from the truck. "Our new home."
Chris slid down from her truck, and came face-to-face with Colonel Kyle Armalin. "Sir! Lieutenant Christine Blum, USAES."
Armalin returned the salute, and noticed as Tiffany was helped down from one of the trucks. "This is a lot of effort to return a Legionnaire, Lieutenant – and a lot of material. Martin sent me reinforcements, I take it."
Joe handed Chris a briefcase, which she passed on to the Colonel. "Our personnel files, and other information the Admiral sent for you."
Armalin shook his head. "On my six, Lieutenant."
Chris called out "Lily! Get the trucks unloaded and those supplies secured!" before she followed Armalin; Lily turned to the others. "You heard the boss – let's get this stuff unloaded! Lewis – you're a telekinetic – start moving those pallets off those trucks so the Legion people can get them stored!"
Several minutes later, Lily finished moving medical supplies off a truck and had begun tossing duffel bags into a pile next to a wall – having a bit of super-strength when in contact with the earth is a nice addition to the environmental awareness, she thought – when she saw Danielle staring off into the distance. "Hey, Doc! Check the scenery out later!"
She easily tossed another duffel bag to the pile, and looked around the truck to see what had caught Danielle's attention. Just Quinn Morgendorffer – the daughter of Paris Hilton and the Energizer Bunny. Stop acting like she's a celebrity or something, Doc – people might think that you have a thing for her "Let's check in and find you a place to set up, Doc -"
Her words were cut off as the sounds of explosions – loud, violent explosions that kept going and going, the way an ammo dump would produce constant secondary explosions as munitions would cook off constantly – began to reverberate through the air, making the entire area rumble and shake.
Lily helped Danielle to her feet. "Come on – let's find the medical ward around here. I think that you're about to be very busy."
ZERO HOUR - +00:01:57