Part 2 – 'Lay Your Hands On Me'



"How many telepaths does it take to screw in a light bulb? They don't NEED a light bulb – they'll screw anywhere they get the chance!"


- Overheard just before an MHAACS briefing at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies



The Bowman Psionics Regulation and Operations Act, or what would become more infamously known as 'Bowman's Telepath Act' 'BTA' or most famously, 'Section Ten') became the reason why the United Nations refused to recognize the Bowman Acts. In an impassioned speech before the General Assembly (one that, surprisingly, was actually kept secret by even 'rogue nations' like North Korea, Qumar and Quarc) in which he explained the rational nature of enacting his proposals – and giving a shocking practical demonstration of what could occur if those proposals were not signed into law – Senator James Bowman in fact actually gave the UN the ironclad reason to vote down the implementation of the laws that would become his namesake – and without a single abstention or 'nay' vote.


It is because of this, however, that in over twenty-five years of life under the Bowman Acts, a surprisingly minute number of psionically-endowed citizens in the 'Western world' have been pursued, let alone prosecuted or incarcerated for violations of Section Ten. Bowman wisely surmised that men and women with these gifts would be tempted to use them for personal gain, and he felt that to summarily suppress their legal rights or to severely curtail their Constitutional rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' would result in a precedent that could have grave repercussions for the future.


Article Nine, Section Ten of the Bowman Metahuman and Extraterrestrial Affairs Act of 1982 (the official name of the legislation in question) was the telepathic-skewed version of President Clinton's 1990's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy regarding gays in the U.S. military, but with more leeway. In essence, Section Ten said 'If you have telepathic powers, fine. If you actually use your telepathic powers, for good or ill – that's your choice. However... if it comes to our attention that you're doing it AND people are getting hurt... we will come looking for you. Not 'telepaths', not 'your family and friends or children' – just 'you'. An individual who's broken the law.'


It is amazing, however, that as a group, the nations of the world felt that they had to vote against the Bowman Acts – but individually, almost all either ratified them or follow them unofficially. They made sense, and allowed nation-states and corporations to use telepaths for any purpose they chose, but also allowed plausible deniability for those actions; also, telepaths could actually market themselves as a viable commodity, since they would be held personally responsible for their actions. Rumors persist to this day that the primary reason for rejection was that the Bowman Acts could have been seen as movement towards a unity of action within the nations of the world that, with the realization of what could be a possible threat or cause of action, a canny individual could use as a viable first step towards a world government.


The powers on – and behind – the thrones of the world recognized James Bowman as a man who could forge a world union... and become the first true ruler of Earth itself. No one wished to give him that kind of power... which is why, some say, he never found himself short of contributors for his Senatorial campaigns ever again, he was more than once approached for a spot on the Supreme Court, and (after President Clinton) only the second American ever seriously considered for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations.


Professor Richard Hiram Blumenburg, The Only Difference: Politics of a Metahuman World




"You know – maybe we were wrong."


Quinn looked up from her barely-toughed lunch of crab salad and sweet tea to the somber look on Sandi Griffin's face. "I'm not defending what Daria did... but maybe, we should look at things from her side."


"She went into my mind without asking."


"One – she didn't erase your memories, but just made you forget; like you said, The Doctor retrieved your memories, and helped you there. Two – while she was in your mind, she didn't change anything around, didn't go snooping around for dirt, and didn't do anything but do what she had to do to give you some peace. Three – and I don't believe I'm saying this – she was doing something nice. She was being helpful – it was her first instinct. Okay, it could be considered wrong to do what she did, but she was thinking' right now' instead of 'later'...'it's better to do something constructive now than think about what the right thing to do was later."


Quinn looked at Sandi strangely. "Where did you hear that?"


"It came out of a book that the Colonel gave me to read – he told me to take my time, and don't be afraid to ask questions," Sandi told her. "It's about this guy from Argentina who goes into the army to fight these giant bugs after they blow up the city he lived in."


Stacy Rowe's eyes snapped upwards, and a heavy chunk of ground beef swirled in melted cheeses hung from her fork for several seconds before it fell back to the plate as the girl suddenly began to listen attentively to the conversation going on at the table. You read Starship Troopers...? The Colonel is a miracle worker.


She looked back down as Sandi continued. "Oh, and you should have heard the Colonel on the speakerphone with some lady – Jean Grey. She was doing everything she could to make him stay calm – it sounded like she's a telepath, too, and she was telling him to sit and think before he did anything."


Stacy's eyes rose once more from her double helping of taco pie. "He must have been way into that talk, if he didn't notice you snooping."


"I wasn't snooping – I was taking a CD copy of All Things Legion to his office so he could watch it, and after a couple of minutes, I thought I should just come back. He's not as angry with her as he sounded... well, disappointed. You know, ashamed of himself."


The other three Fashion Club Legionnaires (as the Cadets at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies at Evansville, Indiana – known to the faculty and cadets as 'The Axe' – had begun to refer to them since they had arrived earlier that day) looked with surprise at Sandi. "I guess that he thought that he could set a good example for her – just help her not consider using her powers like that. Dr. Grey told him that he'd be better off if he stopped thinking of her as a potential military asset and just as a teenage girl who probably just wants to have a life, friends, a cute guy and so on. Oh, that's when the Colonel went off on her – I haven't heard language like that even in the gangbanger movies. I didn't know you could make having red hair an insult like that... that was so rude..."


Eyes were very wide as Sandi took a bite of her shaved mesquite chicken breast sandwich, washed it down with a long sip of diet root beer (her choice of soda amusing the others to no end) and continued. "She got him back, then – made him sit down and go quiet for a few moments. She told him that if he wasn't such a coward and kept his telepathic power like any other good bloodsucking fiend has - then maybe he'd have been able to work with her like he should have done in the first place, instead of having to just talk and watch it do no good."


Quinn gasped, Stacy almost choked upon a slender tomato wedge and Tiffany's spoon fell from her grasp into her bowl of tomato and tofu bisque. "The... Colonel... can... read... minds... too?"


"Not any more, I guess." She snapped a crisp French fry in half, and swirled it through a dab of ketchup. "I was thinking... if being a telepath is so bad that it's the one power of his that he didn't want... then maybe – maybe, we should think about how Daria feels. I mean – imagine if, all of a sudden, you knew what everybody around you was thinking... you knew what everyone really felt about you, even if you weren't trying to hear them, because people probably just throw their thoughts out about what's on their mind right at that moment. Think about how she must feel if she were to walk past the boys' football team – "


A collective 'Ewwwwwwwww...' from the table made several cadets from other tables glance over in their direction. "We... haven't... been... any... better," Tiffany pointed out. "She's... snobby... but... she's... our... snob. Maybe... we... should... try... to... be... her... friend..."


"We tried," Stacy thought aloud, remembering Daria's rebuff that night on Grace Island.


"Yes... but... maybe... we... should... try... harder..."


"I don't know if it would matter now, anyway," Quinn said sullenly, glancing around the area. "It looks like Daria's found all sorts of new friends here."


"Yeah – I noticed," Sandi agreed, looking over in Tiffany's direction. "Tiffany – what's that you're reading?"


"The... latest... Val... I... got... it... before... we... came... here..."


Quinn remembered that Tiffany had arrived from a quick trip to the mall just minutes before they had come outside and voted Mack in; she had a small bag with her as they came through the... whatever... to get to the Academy. "It just came out today? Well, let's see it!"


"It's... in... Alaska..."


"Now I REALLY want to see it!" Quinn said. "Come on-!"


"Quinn...I... don't... know..."


Stacy snatched the magazine up – and her eyes bulged as she saw the cover. "Oh, my-!"


Sandi shook her head and reached for the magazine. "Stacy, it's not as if – oh, my God..."


Quinn's eyes went anime-sized as she saw the front cover – and for the first time in a long time, had absolutely nothing to say.


"She's... been... working... out... and... it... shows," Tiffany said slowly, as Quinn lowered the magazine to the table and sat back in her chair, her meal forgotten.




"Charles – what's with the antennae?"


"They're just there – except for whenever I transform or keep something partially shifted," Charles Ruttheimer said, smiling at one of the many cadets gathered around him in a circle on the quad the Legionnaires had appeared on when they arrived, the fixings for a picnic dinner all about them. "That's why I started with the longer hair."


He concentrated for a moment; the antennae disappeared as his hair returned to the length he'd kept it at since he returned from his enforced vacation. "I found that I can hold a smaller transformation like this almost indefinitely, even when I'm asleep or unconscious, and I've almost learned to make it 'muscle memory' – that's what the trainers call it. The longer that I do it, the easier it is for my body to remember to just go back to that appearance, as if it's part of my natural form. Makes it easier to go out in public."


"Well, I think you should keep your hair like that," a cadet with a thick, heavy mass of jet-black hair said, her hair seeming to slowly snake about her shoulders on its own. "I really like the look."


Several feminine murmurs chorused their agreement; a lanky cadet in her early teens, with hair the same shade as Charles, poked her hand up. "Excuse me – but they said that when you transform, you take on the properties of whatever you've changed into?"


"Pretty much," he replied, nibbling on one of the honey-brushed corn muffins someone had brought out for the impromptu nosh on the quad – apparently, the female cadets who'd cornered him outside the Admiral's office in the Main Building had planned ahead, and led him to where they had everything ready for him. Just for him, he noted, as none of the other Legionnaires were in sight... and none of the cadets were male. Okay, whatever – they'll probably want to know all about Shapeshifting, the Colonel said that it was a pretty rare ability, especially at the level I do it on.


"We studied your fight with the other polymorph at the beginning of the semester," a cadet who was a dead ringer for Christina Ricci spoke up, her blue eyes taking in every inch of Charles as he turned around to face her. "The fight you had before you officially joined the Legion – I guess you think of it as your 'initiation' – he actually tried to eat you?"


"Yeah, he did..." Charles told them, shuddering at the memory, and then a thought popped into his head. You studied the fight – but how? Do they have copies of our records about stuff like that here?


"But you out-thought him by turning into a specific solution which acted like poison on his system, and took him out of the fight! How did you think of that so fast - and with you never having been in any sort of combat with a metahuman before, especially with someone with your own abilities, much faster, more powerful and more experienced..." The cadet's eyes practically swam with admiration. "You were incredible..."


"I never thought about it like that," he said, realizing with an inner shock that, in fact, he never really had – even after all this time. "I was just trying to help save the others."


'He could have killed you, and all you were thinking about was saving your teammates," cooed a sleek cadet with short brown hair and an accent that screamed 'New England' and 'generational wealth'. "That's what a hero is supposed to be, Charles. You're amazing..."


"Hey, Charles, what's going on?" Tom Sloane called out, Michael Mackenzie at his side as they came across the quad towards the gathering – and both pulled up short, stopped in their tracks by a rain of hostile stares.


"Hey, Tom – Mack!" Charles rose up on one knee. "I was just talking to a couple of cadets, and people brought food out for supper – come on and sit down! I was just telling them about some of the stuff we were doing in the Legion-"


Near the back of the group of female cadets (and out of Charles' sight), a incredibly beautiful set of letters, seeming to appear in air as if written in the most perfect shade of blue light either of the two Legionnaires had ever seen, appeared to form the words Go away.


Tom and Mack looked at one another, then at the crowd of decidedly hostile faces and the face of Charles, who seemed honestly unaware, and back to each other. "No, it's cool," Mack answered. "We had just finished trying out some of the exoskeleton simulations, and were going to grab some dinner-"


"-But you're set," Tom quickly added. "We'll catch you later."


The group of cadets focused their attention back upon Charles; Tom and Mack hung back to listen. "I heard that you're qualified on that Mach 5 scramjet that the Quest Corporation built," said a female cadet with a flawless chocolate complexion and a figure that made both young men feel a slight touch of envy as she moved closer to Charles. "What's it like to fly something that fast?"


"I didn't get to fly the Gridrunner – but they let me ride shotgun for the trip up to Alaska," he admitted. "I'm not qualified to fly her, either – they only started me on jet training about six weeks ago-"


"You're already training on jets?" The new speaker was a pert, athletic girl, a heavy lock of her sun-bleached hair falling carelessly over her left eye and wearing a uniform blouse that seemed quite impressive, for its ability to contain her equally impressive bosom. "Really?"


"I haven't gotten to fly them yet..."


Tom and Mack walked away, twin smirks on their faces as Charles seemed totally unaware of the efforts of some of the female cadets to notice them personally. "That boy needs help," Mack laughed. "He's been like this HOW long?"


"For a few months – from what I've seen, since just after I got here. The Colonel must have had a talk with him, and he started getting really focused on his studies." Tom glanced back, then over to Mack. "I think he got tired of making a fool of himself trying to make girls like him, and now that they like him for what he is, he's got it in his head that he's not going to make a fool of himself in front of them again."


"Yeah, well, if girls that look like those girls do keep throwing themselves at him, he'll get that out of his mind. Did you see the last two that asked him about flying...? If you can get girls like that by being a pilot, sign me up for 'Top Gun!" Mack caught the look Tom gave him. "Joking, man. I actually like Jodie – and besides, if I was going to cheat on her, I'd have done it long ago."


"Yeah, about that – what's with you and that Brittany Taylor girl? I thought it was almost gospel that the Head Cheerleader was supposed to go out with the Captain of the football team, but you're with that Landon girl-"




"Sorry – no disrespect. Still, I don't get why you're not with Taylor instead of her, and how that doofus Kevin Thompson managed to snake her away from you."


"It wasn't like that, man," Mack said, remembering a conversation in an empty band room just after Mack made Captain and Brittany was chosen as Head Cheerleader... and a single kiss, after they agreed that people would complain, and talk, and it would be too much trouble if anything was to happen between them... He idly wondered, in that moment, if that was the reason why he tried his hardest to knock the stuffing out of Kevin when he sacked him in that game against Polk.


Besides, I actually like Jodie...


Another thought suddenly rose up into his mind: But if I didn't consider Jodie a friend, the only thing you'd have to worry about is how you'd have the energy to get out of my room-


I don't get it. I spend all the time in the world around all sorts of hot cheerleaders and I barely give any of them a second look – besides the once-over you give any girl that you think is cute as she goes past, but I get here and all of a sudden, it's 90210 with superpowers... and I'm the only Black person. Thank God they don't think about things like that – that's one reason why I think I like these folks so much, even before all of this weirdness.


Tom's not too bad, either, once you get to know him.


Oh, God... the way Daria reacted, when those other telepaths showed up... and the way all of them just let their thoughts flow, like Daria was the Second Coming... some of their thoughts, and that Leda girl-


"Michael – what were you just thinking about?" Tom asked, jolting Mack back to reality. "You could have just walked off a cliff and never noticed it."


The two young men shared a look. "Oh," Tom said, nodding. "Yeah. That." A slight chuckle slipped from him. "Jane is going to ride her about that for years to come."




The foot landed solidly on the surface of the mat, impacting with enough force so that an imprint remained several minutes later.


Brittany Taylor barely gave a thought to the spot her head was moments earlier; she corkscrewed herself up to her feet, feinted once, twice and three times to avoid spear-hand thrusts that could have ruptured an organ! She blocked a fourth razor-fast strike with a solid flicking upward of her left elbow, rotated backwards to deliver a reverse spin-kick, and followed through with a crescent kick and a snap to her assailant's right knee that dropped him to the floor!


The attacker wasn't anywhere close to being finished. In a blur of movement, he braced himself with his left foot and right arm and pushed upward with enough force so that Brittany was taken down with a 'whouff!' of air as she took a hard shot in the upper chest from the seemingly useless right leg, and then flew backwards from a palm strike straight to her solar plexus as the attacker followed through without stopping!


Coming to her feet with a fluid spurt of motion, Brittany and the attacker traded a flurry of hard shin kicks before snapping back to engage in a twisting, stattaco rain of blocks and strikes before Brittany snapped her knee out suddenly to strike the attacker hard in his stomach, following through with a strike to his forehead – but in the process, leaving herself open, and the attacker (in the same flicker of time that she'd taken to strike) lashed out with twin full-power strikes to her torso!


The two both fell back to the mats in the huge gymnasium, neither momentarily aware of the shouting, cheering throng of cadets gathered around – but at a respectable distance, as no one wanted to get caught in that hurricane of movement and solid strikes. "I think that we can call that one a draw," a solid Black cadet with an earthy Georgia accent drawled, smiling down at both Brittany and her assailant. "Dayton – you ready to give up, boy?"


The young cadet looked up with an expression that clearly answered the question. "What about you, Taylor? Honor's been served – you've proved that the Legion's just not rich kids in fancy jackets."


Brittany's cool glare inspired the Black cadet to take two steps back. "Whatever you two want..."


As Brittany and Dayton leaped to their feet and began their sparring session anew, Jane Lane and Martin Peters watched from the first row of stadium seats, five feet above the floor of the gymnasium. "Well, I see that Brittany's found someone to play with – and she's not even using her powers," Jane observed.


"A lot of the cadets with passive powers get into the martial arts when they first arrive," Martin told her. "When they leave – especially the ones who come up through the First Academy as kids – they're just as dangerous in a fight as the people with active powers."


"So, you can fight like that?"


Martin shrugged. "I do okay. Where'd your friend learn to fight?"


"No idea. Better not to ask. Almost afraid to. What about your friend down there?"


"Dayton? Our resident bleeding-heart liberal non-practicing Jewish ninja techopath from South Jersey who's too much of 'all of the above' ever to survive life below the 'Manson-Nixon Line' down South - even through a day trip?" Martin shrugged. "Learned from his girlfriend – she's two years ahead of him. She started him on martial arts, actually – checked out the shared file access on the ninja academies?"


"The what?" Jane's eyes all but bugged out at what Martin said – and it must be true, she thought to herself. I've had powers for just over a year, but it's like there's a whole world of this that us Legionnaires are finding out about, a piece at a time.


"The Wind Ninja Academy. It's out in Southern California, a couple of hours from where the government used to run Project Lightspeed – the public section of The Initiative they set up after Captain Mitchell confirmed the HST infestation of Mariner Bay back in the early 1980's..." Martin's voice trailed off. "Haven't you read up on any of the government's metahuman or high-tech projects, or about any of the independents?"


"Well... we've been mostly concerned with getting trained."


"Oh... well, once you get into the Elite Academy here, you have to do either a semester or a year's internship somewhere connected with your specialty – and since a lot of cadets with passive powers have so much hand-to-hand or weapons training that they qualify for commando training through the back door, a lot of them are allowed to do a year in some... really esoteric apprenticeships. Dayton there got lucky and managed to do a year at the Wind Ninja Academy; if he wanted to, he could probably cash your friend's check way quick. At it is, she's good enough to give him an actual workout without using those ninja powers he picked up in training."


Jane was still digesting the description of Dayton. "Who's going out with someone like that?"


"Meadow - who's an earth elemental who lives in deep, dark, 'still talk like it's the 1840's' Alabama, and has a family so rich that they can afford to sound and act like that. She's really cute, too."

Martin stopped for a moment. "Not quite sure how that 'love connection' happened, or how they keep it going. Better not to ask."


They shared a smirk. "So... about your friend Daria..."




"Well... what's her story?"


Jane laughed. "Look, if you want to get to know her – just go and try to talk to her."


Something about the way Martin's expression changed made Jane's brain go CLICK. "Martin... is there something or some reason why you don't just go up to Daria?"


"Well, with the fact that you're all Legionnaires, and with the cover shot, I didn't want it to look like I was just trying to talk to her just because I'm Three-C here," Martin said, and he actually blushed as he said it. "I mean, there were a couple of cadets who acted like dictators when they got selected, and besides, she's just as pretty in real life as she is on the cover, but she's so much shorter than I thought-"


Jane stopped him in mid-sputter. "Hold up. What 'cover shot?"


"What do you mean, 'what cover shot?' I heard that this issue of Val's probably going to be the biggest seller ever, and they're supposed to be making a poster besides the fold-out inside-"


"What about-" Everything fell into place immediately, and Jane turned to Martin. "Oh, Lord... Daria's on the cover of Val magazine?"


In response, Martin yelled down at the crowd. "Anybody got a copy of Val?"


Jane groaned inwardly as at least seventy copies of the magazine were pulled from gym bags and out of folders and binders – and then shrieked, nearly coming out of her seat as Dayton appeared in front of her and held out a copy! "The Admiral made a campus-wide announcement before you guys showed up," Martin continued, taking the copy from Dayton and passing it to a wide-eyed Jane before tossing a scowl at his fellow cadet, who shrugged and vanished in a flashing blur of speed, and reappeared on the mats in front of Brittany. "He said that he didn't want anyone bugging her for autographs, that she's – all of you – are just like us, and that if people were on their best behavior, he'd allow autographs on the last day you guys are here."


Martin tried not to let his eyes roam as Jane opened up the four-page fold-out poster of a soaking-wet Daria, minus her trademark 'man-stopper' glasses, with arms fully over her head and her slender form fully on display as the turtleneck she wore was rendered (for all intents) invisible, highlighting what months of rigorous physical training had only firmed up and defined... Jane shot a grin at Martin, who hadn't realized that he was looking a bit too closely at the shot...


I see Daria went ahead and spent a little money on those new undergarments; she smirked, noticing how the bra she wore (surprisingly, it wasn't the same shade of blue as her tunic, but a filmy, lacy affair in a delicate powder-blue hue) went as translucent as her turtleneck... and how the dip in the cold water had affected her body.


Really affected her. The Parents Morgendorffers are going... to... FREAK when they see this – and the sad thing is that, in a way, it is actually good publicity. It shows that Daria's actually pretty, and that she's got a nice figure... and that she'll probably never get caught without a padded bra ever again.


We'll probably need a necromancer to revive Quinn after she sees this, and for when the guys start homing in on Daria – or, more realistically, try to get Quinn (or me) to put in a good word in for them with her. Oh, if there's any justice in the universe, please, please, PLEASE not let anyone else in the Legion get to Daria and mention this before I do...


"Okay, Peters – how can I find my friend really fast?"


"Oh, that's easy. We'll just go to where the telepaths hang out."


"Where's that?"


"The old bathroom down there, just down the hall." Martin laughed as she saw the look on the Legionnaire's face. "Don't worry – it'll make sense when you see it. I'll show you."


As they stood up and headed for the stairs, a thought flashed into Jane's mind, and she turned back to Martin. "Wait a minute. Autographs?"


"Come on, Jane," Martin said, motioning towards the gym floor, and Jane saw how almost all of the cadets were watching her and Martin. "You guys in the Legion... everybody knows that you guys are going to be the first..."


"The first what?"


"Seriously, come on – you have to know that there's almost nobody here who wouldn't give almost anything to switch places with any of you, or to join the Legion."




Martin stopped as the reached the gym floor, and Jane saw how the cadets were looking at her with something resembling awe. "When we come out of here, we're going to be special ops troops or something in at least a dozen or two other fields, but you guys... you guys are probably going to be the first of any of us to go public."


"I don't think so – but even if we were, so what? Like you said your Admiral mentioned, we're not any different that you guys!"


"Jane, we're going to be soldiers, or first responders, or special-action operatives – but you Legionnaires... you're going to be heroes – no." He gave her a long look. "You're going to be superheroes."






"I'm putting your Legionnaires up with various students in my upper years," Admiral Martin Harrison said, pouring a glass of white wine before walking across the living room area of his plush on-campus quarters. "Each one will share quarters with one of mine – that way, they'll all get to interact and not be able to segregate themselves... how do you keep that little foursome of chatterboxes from taking over everything?"


Kyle Armalin shook his head slowly as he finished a glass of root beer. "The Leader and Deputy Leader of the Legion are two of those chatterboxes... and the other two are the best fighter and the hardest to contain. They'll grow out of the high-school clique soon enough – one certainly is – but even if they don't, with what they're facing... that's really not such a bad thing, is it?"


"Russell Stark and his crazy dream for a better tomorrow through the youth of today," Harrison asked, sitting down. "You know... his way may just be better than ours, or the way we came up. Didn't you ever want to go public – you know, actually be a 'superhero', like Sky Captain, the Rocketeer, or the Grey Ghost? Have the public cheer for you, like the Meteor Man, or the Justice Guild?"


"Superheroes are fiction – with all of their rules of conduct, their flashy costumes – sometimes, the costumes are cool-"


"I seem to remember somebody going as a superhero – well as an 'antihero' – every year we were at the School," Harrison chuckled into his wineglass. "You went as Soul Power, then as one of the Kindred -" he rolled his eyes at the smile that appeared on Armalin's face. "Oh, stop it. Then, you went as the Flying Moor, and then, Indiana Jones... just always had to go with something that has an open shirt, didn't you? You weren't impressing anyone."


"Are you still mad about those college girls from ESU?"


"No... they just kept flowing over to you. Pinhead."


Armalin snickered. "They didn't just 'flow over to me, Marty, and you know it. They came in, one after another."




"The second one was really fun, especially when that baseball jock came in to try and peel her off, but she blew him off on the spot."




"The really cool part was how the first one kept trying to get the second one away from me – there's always the 'friend' that doesn't want you to have anything with the girl you're chatting up – but after she finally peeled her away, the girl they came to the party with bounced right over... said that she'd seen me come in, but that her friend got to me before she could..." He smiled over at Harrison. "Don't frown, Marty – it'll give you lines. To quote the great Wesley Snipes – 'the sun even shines on a dog's ass, sometimes."


"You know, I wonder how hard your kids would laugh if they knew about some of the things you did, or the way you acted while you were at Xavier's," Harrison scoffed as he speared a tiny treat from the tray of snacks on the table. "As a courtesy, we do share archival files with almost all of the independent groups and organizations, so if someone was to go to InfoRequest and ask to look up some of the older data on vampiric beings or pseudo-vampiric metahumans, they might end up seeing a kid with fangs in a jet-black, 1980's version of the Rocketeer's uniform. Thank God you didn't need the jetpack. Thank God the Professor didn't let you have it anyway."


"No jetpacks," Armalin snapped. "No jetpacks, no tights or Spandex, no 'raccoon masks'... and no capes."


"I always liked capes..."Harrison mused, swirling the last of his wine at the bottom of his glass.


Armalin raised one eyebrow. "Even after that monumental goatscrew where you caught that stupid matching cape of yours on the back end of that trashed pickup truck during that Danger Room run, and ended up getting smashed flat by a Sentinel after your cape pulled you back, making you fly up in the air and hit the ground so hard that you knocked yourself silly?"


Harrison finished his wine. "Shut up."


"If I were to go to your archival files, would I find that photo the monitor cams got of the way your eyes went wide and you screamed like a girl just before that Mark Two smooshed you like a soda can?"


"The Porterhouse Challenge."


"The visiting team accepts the Judge's decision of a draw." Armalin set his empty glass down. "Back on track... Stark knew that I wouldn't have been able to turn this one down."


"I understand that you're having trouble with your resident psi. Control problems, behavioral issues, or ethics?"


"Three, modified by two," Kyle said. "I'm dealing with Angel Syndrome, I think."


"Oh, that's always fun." Being in the U.S. Government's metahuman programs for as long as Kyle (and having spent time in the POGO teams back in the early 1990's) as well as being the Commandant of an academy of metahumans (with thirty-six pseudo-vampiric cadets currently enrolled) meant that Harrison knew all about the infamous vampire who had resided in California for the last decade... and who had helped to stave off a number of Terran-initiated ELE's. (It was rumored, however, that he did instigate at least one...) "Angel Syndrome.' As long as she follows the rules in general and does good things, it's okay if she goes off the reservation every once in a great while.' Wonderful. What's her power ranking?"


"Are you guys still using the Claremont-Byrne ratings, or did you switch over to the Straczynski P-scale rankings?" Kyle was referring to the two most popular psionic power standardized ranking systems – the former coming into use in the early 1980's, the later gaining acceptance in the mid-1990's.


"Officially, the P-scale, since we measure power levels of each psionic ability as a separate rating – you know how the bean-counters and the scientists want everything nice and tidy on the records. Unofficially, people still want to know who's got the most power overall, so we still use the C-B scale. Anyone who hasn't signed the Bowman Acts uses the C-B scale, and that's the way almost everyone does it out in the field, so we train them on both."


"Morgendorffer apparently manifested as a Class Four midrange – and my Special Powers team tells me she's got a maturation probability to Class Five extreme," was the answer, making Harrison wince. "She's probably be there already, if not for the fact that she doesn't seem to have any real internal psi-defenses – as strong as she is already, that Black Majesty slipping into her mind like that made no sense whatsoever. She's at least a high-level P10 in all of her abilities except psionic shielding – and she barely ranks as a P2 there. When Black Majesty hit her, he put her down for a while."


"Maybe she's got the same psi-sensitivity to mystics that the Professor has," Harrison told him. "We can help her with that here – I've got a couple of kids who are really good on psi-defense. I've got this girl – Calavicci – the Professor couldn't get through her shields. Jean probably couldn't get through, unless she, well, you know..."


"I know," Armalin said, suppressing a shudder.


"I'm still not sure that Jean could get through, even then. Then, there's this other kid I've got. Farrington. Sky's the limit for him – we put a Mark 40 on him the day he applied, and the day he got here, he snapped on a Mark 20. He can do a focus like it's an actual power, Kyle. Not just channeling all of his energy – it's an actual ability in and of itself. He also does reality alteration – just a radius a bit larger than a football field, but I haven't seen anything like it since Proteus. He also loves to fly – lives to fly. That's how we ended up getting him. Remember that UFO incident five years ago on the West Coast?"


"On the Fourth of July – that was one of yours?"


Harrison enjoyed another crab cake puff. "The kid was visiting his brother out in San Diego, and went to see the fireworks. Had his headphones on to listen to the simulcast music from the local radio station... for ten minutes, he was zooming along, going with the music and putting off energy like he was part of the show – the main attraction... from Southern California all the way to British Columbia. Had the entire West Coast defense grid go active – NORAD went to DEFCON 2 – and the Canadians were pissed. They scrambled their team of actives to intercept, and he moved around them like they weren't even there. Embarrassed the Beaubier twins when he flew them into the Marine Building in downtown Vancouver... and it turned out later that he really hadn't even noticed any of them an all. Just moving with the music... at Warp 9."


Armalin looked at his friend with total surprise on his face. "They had to use the satellites to finally locate him, and meanwhile, the western half of the country's bouncing up and down about UFO sightings. The Navy was the first to get their hands on him – they weren't happy about him playing tag with the squadron of Hornets or the two raptors they sent up to intercept him, or the way he danced around them even when the Raptors went to afterburner." Harrison rose, and refilled his wine glass. "Instead of being scared or confrontational, he was practically bouncing around when they located him. They had the good sense to send the pilots instead of security types – they ended up showing him around NAS Miramar that day, and we recruited him and had him here at the Axe a week later. You've got to see him in action."


Armalin reached over for a puff. "I thought that I had some kids who were a pain. Morgendorffer doesn't sound anywhere nearly as bad as your kid."


"He's not a problem, he's just eager... like somebody else I remember..." Harrison returned to his chair. 'Also, Farrington wanted to come in and be a part of this when he found out – and from what I understand, your girl had medical problems with her psi manifesting that my kid didn't. Your girl just had a really hard string to pull that my kids – none of my kids – had to deal with, and you know how hard it is to be a young telepath."


"It's why I didn't slap a Mark 40 on her after she came back from Alaska." Armalin shook his head. "Morgendorffer might have a problem with them – she's got a problem with other kids, and she's competitive, too."


Harrison sat his glass down. "I heard that they've all gotten along like birds of a feather."


"Oh... really?" The news made his eyes widen slightly. "I'll have to check that out.


"Check it out tomorrow," Harrison suggested. "You know, Foley's here – she's our Metapsionics instructor."






Daria Morgendorffer flew high above the Earth, the fluidic field that encompassed her as she went into Langston Chambers' dreams present and soothing as she soared higher across the sky, leaving a vortex-like trail behind her as she flew. She wasn't wearing her glasses, and somehow didn't need them, but something told her that if she felt the need, then she'd know just where they were.


A rushing sound like a rocket caused her to jerk her head to her right, and she saw David Allen Farringon soar past at incredible speed, his arms extended outwards and violent, blinding blasts of pure white energy exploding from his clenched fists, driving him forward like a pair of rocket engines! As she watched, David Allen flashed across the sky, total joy literally radiating from him as he broke right and dove downward, leveled off and performed a perfect eight-point roll, dove downward again, gaining more and more speed as he did so...


David Allen suddenly snapped out of his dive; light and sound filled the world as flame and energy exploded from the young man's lower legs as he roared skyward on a column of flame and smoke, burning across the sky as he gained speed, moving faster and faster as he accelerated and thundered higher and higher into the sky.


"Somebody's got a really good idea of what he wants to be when he grows up, doesn't he?"


The voice from off to her left side was soft and pleasant; Daria turned to see Leda Calavicci gliding alongside her, her body sheathed in a radiant jade-green aura that perfectly matched the color of her eyes – and looked all the world like the auras that the Muses has in that movie, Xanadu. "Thank you."


"For what?" Daria asked; to her surprise, she wasn't in the least put off or annoyed by the way that Leda – or any of the telepaths she'd met – just crowded around her, like those boys back as Lawndale High or the Fashion Club did around Quinn. It was just, so, well, so welcoming, like walking into a room where the atmosphere was just so, there wasn't a better way to say it – attuned to her... This is just what it must have been like for Quinn on our first day of school at Lawndale, when the other kids just looked at her and knew that she was one of them – one of the cool ones.


This is how it feels – just so open, and free...


"The way you just complimented my eyes," Leda said, taking her hand as they flew, and before she knew it, she was kissing Leda, a soft, gentle kiss, and when they parted, Leda's face was flush and her eyes sparkled. "Wow, Lawndale," she breathed, "I could fly on that for days."


Leda laughed, a soft, bubbling laugh that seemed to tickle inside Daria's head and just behind her ears, and let go of her hand as she soared away on a trail of luminous jade, followed by a pair of slender blonde-haired girls, one leaving behind a sharply defined trail of white light tinged with sparks and tendrils of bluish electricity, and the other's trail just as sharply defined, but with a kaleidoscopic flowing of colors within.


Jennette and Jacquelyn Concordion. 'Wonder Twins' doesn't even begin to describe the two of them, Daria thought, watching as they flew in twin spirals across the sky, then breaking in opposite directions and accelerating to speeds that made them seem nothing more than solid tracings of light across the sky-


Daria was distracted by a glimmering trail that could be best described as a contrail from a aerobatic plane during an air show – if that trail was made of smoke that glowed from within with a pulsing, emerald light – as Chi Ling Kwan spun and corkscrewed across the sky with the same exuberance as David Allen. Nowhere near as fast as him, but has him beat hands-down in maneuverability – look at her go, Daria thought, watching the serenely beautiful Chinese girl soar through acrobatic maneuvers that almost made her dizzy to even watch, then shot back and actually matched speeds so that she seemed to hover in front of Daria as they flew along.


Chi Ling seemed to study Daria's face, then leaned in and touched her nose gently against Daria's own before pulling back and gifting her with a smile, then soared away in a wide, graceful arc across the sky that made her gasp.


She noticed that she wasn't alone in the sky; to her left, she saw a young woman flying alongside her inside what looked like a giant, violet-tinged translucent image of her that was forty feet high and moved exactly as she did – down to the way her full, wavy masses of brown hair moved in flight, her eyes blinking, or the manner in which her large bosom moved as she did.


Michelle Tandy smiled at Daria as she flew in perfect formation with Daria, who turned to her fight, and smiled as she saw a California Sea Lion flying besides her... a sea lion composed of pure light.


Daria actually laughed as Jason Lincoln – in his astral form, which he vastly preferred to his normal body – shook his whiskers as her and barked a warbling, happy bark before planting a surprisingly wet kiss on her cheek and then soared off into the distance, his barking a happy challenge for her to catch him.


She accelerated forward and started after Jason, but her path was suddenly cut off by a corona of flame that was the exact same shade as her own fluidic corona, and she was looking into the eyes of Jefferson Davers, who came up from above and now corkscrewed through the car with her in a twin, spinning trail that terminated as they came together, and Daria went into his arms for a impassioned kiss. She pulled away, smiled the tiny smile that she was known for and sped off into the sky in a burst of speed that Jefferson tried to keep up with, but when she exploded forward and upwards with a great rush, he was hopelessly out distanced...


David Allen, burning across the skies at the edge of space, noticed as Daria, her corona pulsating with the raw amounts of power she was throwing off, flew alongside her. She endured the way he examined her with his eyes silently, holding herself proudly as he did; he tilted his head in approval and held his right fist and upper arm out to her in salute.


Daria echoed his action and brought her arm to his; they flew together in unison, their twin trails burning across the sky as they soared off towards the curving horizon of the blue-white world beneath them, with Leda flying closely behind...




Daria stirred as she lay beneath a large tree in a thick, dense forest, sunlight peeking through leaves to sprinkle across her face. Her face was surprisingly soft and peaceful as she slept.


She turned her head, and felt a warm softness pressing against her left side...opening her eyes, Daria looked into the most incredible jade-green eyes that she had ever seen – and before she could say a word, felt a soft pair of lips touch her own.


{Hey, Lawndale. Welcome back to the land of the living.}


Her telepathic power reached out to the young woman pressing against her. >>Leda... stop kissing me.<<


The lips pulled away, and Daria looked into Leda's face. {But you like it when I kiss you.}


>>No, I don't.<<


{Yes, you do.}


>>No. I don't.<<


Leda's eyes seemed to pour through her. {Yes. You do.}


A sleek beauty with short raven hair and Italian features, Leda held herself up by her elbows over Daria, who broadcast a note of annoyance at the young woman about her age.


 >>Are you going to hold me down like this all day long?<<


{I'm not holding you down – you and I both know that you're stronger than I am, and that you're better at fighting than I am. Okay – I'm much better at it than you. You're still a really good kisser... but you haven't dated that much, so where did you learn how to do it?}


>>Please get off me.<<


{If you want to rearrange that sentence, Lawndale, I won't be offended...}


Daria took a deep breath and sighed aloud – and froze, her eyes going wide as her body rose and pressed against Leda's petite frame, slightly smaller and more delicate than her own form. {Your eyes are so pretty, too,} Leda broadcast to Daria, and watched, a smile appearing on her face, as Daria blushed a deep crimson that she could feel reach her toes. {You should stop hiding them behind those huge glasses – everyone knows just how pretty you are.}


Daria's eyes rolled as she saw the image of herself on the cover of Val, from when the other telepathic young man and women allowed her into their minds as they all linked earlier that evening. {And that was without makeup, or fancy clothing, or anything you think that other girls think is supposed to make them look good.}


>>You're just saying that because you're naturally a fashion plate,<< Daria thought, not meaning to cast it to Leda but it going out all the same.


{Thank you. I'm glad that you actually noticed my looks... and speaking of noticing looks, that Michael guy you brought along - oh, my... all the boy Legionnaires are cute – so, which one are you going to get?}


>>I don't want to date any one of them.<<


{I don't have a problem with us going out, but it would be a long-distance thing, and you know how those work... It would be cool if one of us could teleport - that would help out a lot-}




{Okay. We can be friends, and just make out whenever you know, you've got the same eyebrows as your sister...}


>>Stay away from my sister.<<


{I'm not interested in your sister. I'm not a lesbian.}


>>Excuse me. You kissed me.<<


{And you kissed me back. Twice. There's nothing wrong with it - you're not a lesbian either.} Leda's laughter was a gentle fluttering within Daria's mind. {We just... connect, the way that you do with Jefferson and David Allen – or the way you could with him, if he didn't have that 'I am an warrior in training' mindset stuck so deep in him - Have you noticed that your stomach does that cute little fluttering when you're nervous, and lying down? Your stomach is so flat, and you're so ticklish...}


Another sigh from Daria. >>If I kiss you – one last time – will you get off me and stop bothering me?<<


{No – I'll wait until you want to kiss me.}


>>Well... okay then. Now, what time is it-<<


{I changed my mind.}




[Will you two stop it, already? I am a guy, and this kind of stuff affects me!]


Daria pushed out of her embrace, and wiped her mouth as she saw David Allen lift himself from the other side of the tree, yawning as he looked at the two young women with what Daria could see as surprising indifference. [You two should get a room, already. Not to do anything, but Leda – if you want to be in the service-]


{A Navy career is your dream, David Allen, not mine – I'm going to work in the State Department as a civilian contractor once I do my six years at the NSA,} Leda broadcast back at the athletic young Black man, who had green eyes not much different from her own. {Besides, like I said, I'm not gay. I just... like Daria.}


>>Please take your hand off my thigh.<<  Daria shook her head as Leda moved her hand, and looked at her crossly. >>Do you know how my friends will act if they had seen this?<<


{You mean like Jane?}


>>Yes, like Jane.<<


{She's your friend and she cares about you, so she probably won't do anything but tease you and make 'Girl Gone Wild' jokes. Let her in, and show her what it's like to be you – isn't that what's been bothering you? That not even she'll be able to understand, and that she'll run away from you like you think everyone has?}


>>You don't know anything about me, Leda.<<


{I know everything about you that you let me know, Daria... just like you know everything about me that I've let you in to see. Just like you know everything about David Allen that he's let you in to see... and you let me know that. It's okay, Daria. You know that I'd never do anything to hurt you in any way, and neither would she... but you also know that she should be able to tell you the things about yourself that you don't want to hear, but you need to anyway.}


[She's your best friend,] David Allen joined in. [Trust her. Let her in. Show her how you feel... what you feel. Just open up to her like you always did, before you got your powers. If she's your friend – and you know that she is – she'll smack you around a bit for not opening up to her earlier, and then, then things will go back to the way you were. The way you've always been.]


>>She didn't even bother coming back down with us from Alaska...<<


{Friends get mad at each other, but they can still be friends – and you know that you didn't do anything to ruin your friendship, right? People who have a telepath for a friend can get jumpy, if you don't make them comfortable about what you can do. Have you ever let her into your mind, Daria?}


>>No... I haven't...<<


{No. You've probably 'cast to her, and maybe accidentally read a thought or two – it happens. Let her in. Let her know that you're the same person that you've always been. You two trust each other – don't let this be something that divides you.}


>>I'll... I'll try.<<


{You'll get a chance now,} Leda said, smiling. {Here comes our very cute leader now – you thought so earlier, didn't you, Daria? – and he's bringing your friend now. Maybe you should talk to her...}


Daria looked up to see Martin, Jane just behind him, as they came around a path in the woods that Daria hadn't noticed before.


"Hello, Martin," Leda said airily, and Martin waved a greeting at her and David Allen, who was still blinking sleep from his eyes. "You brought Daria's friend to find her?"


"You guys usually come in here after you do a serious convergence," Martin responded, also noticing David Allen. "Hey, David Allen. Daria must be really powerful, if she wiped you out like that."


"Yeah... she's strong," the young man agreed. "We've both got the link ability, but slightly different. I don't need the bracelets to link with others like she does – they have to wear one, too, which limits how many people she can link with... but on the other side, she can duplicate any power they have, while I can only duplicate other psi-powers. So far."


Jane was looking at Daria, and the way she was holding Leda's hand. "Uh, Daria... who is that, and is there something about her that you want to tell me?"


Daria noticed where Jane was staring, and pulled her hand free. "Spoilsport," Leda smiled, rising to her feet. "We need to get back to our dorms, anyway. Did they tell you were bunking with?"


"Well, they put Daria in with you – but I think that I'll switch Jane over to your room, and have Daria share quarters with one of the Concordion sisters. Where are they, anyway? I thought that they'd be lounging around here with you two and the others."


"Everyone else cleared from the link," David Allen said, his voice losing the traces of sleep. "Daria's very strong, and she was overpowering them. They just dropped away."


"Okay," Martin said. "Jane – Daria – if you'd like us to show you to your quarters-"


"I need to talk to Jane," Daria said suddenly, and Jane looked at her with surprise. "We'll see you tomorrow..."


Martin nodded, after receiving a look from Leda – a telepathic message, too, Daria thought. "Just ask one of the dorm wardens for help. They'll show you to where you need to go."


The three cadets turned to go, and Daria looked at Jane. "Ah... about that hand-holding –it wasn't what it looked like."


"Couldn't have been – she seems like she'd be way, way too fast for you. You need someone who's more capable of dealing with someone who's both a pain and insane."


"You really make it hard to say 'I'm sorry', did you know that?"


"Then let me say it first," Jane said. "Daria, I'm-"


"You don't have to say it," Daria cut her off. "You don't have to say anything at all."


Daria held out her hand to Jane. "Take my hand."


"Ooookay, Daria... you want to explain...?"


"If I'm going to let someone into my mind, physical contact works best," Daria told her. "It's been – I've had these powers for over a year, and I've never actually let you see how I see the world... what it's like to be a telepath."


She held both her hands out, and Jane came over to her, sitting down before taking Daria's hand into her own. "I'll do this slowly," she said, "and let you lead the way. I don't want for you to ever be afraid of me, Jane... I trust you, and I don't ever want you to lose your trust in me..."


>>I trust you – and the only time I'm ever afraid of you, Daria, is when you eat too much Greek food. Why can't you let Mexican food give you gas like the rest of the civilized world?<<


>>Thank you, Jane,<< Daria broadcast at her, and Jane could feel the waves of relief and caring that came from her friend. >>What do you want to know... what do you want to see?<<


The smile that went across Jane's face flowed through her entire being, and Daria instinctively winced as she began to share consciousness with her closest friend, but then relaxed and went into the flow.


>>So, tell me, Daria, you really think that Mack is cute – and that you could take him from Jodie?<<


>>You had that kind of dream after Mr. O'Neill's 'failure' assignment? Well, at least you didn't dream of Brittany in the shower with you-<<


>>Uhm, Daria – aren't you the one who'd like to have a baby unicorn... and you still miss Opie, don't you? Yeah, he was a cute little thing... maybe you could get a cat – he could stay at the Tower...<<


>>When we get back, we'll have the Quest lawyers track down all of your immediate family members and have them fill out their wills, so that the process doesn't take too long, and with the stipend you get for being in the Legion, we'll set up life insurance policies so that your parents' not planning won't affect you<<


>>WHOAAAH! For that long, and that many times? Daria, your mom's a goat! No wonder your folks are still together!<<


>>Yeah, and that'll teach you to go into Trent's room without knocking, even if he is sound asleep – God, now I know why musicians have such a rep-<<


>>Well, if you want, I can always tie you up and leave you in his bed – DARIA! You kissed her three times... and the second time had tongue? Then you made out with him, and then both of them, too? Whoa, Daria – I didn't know being a telepath meant setting your panties on fire!<<


>>'Charles Ruttheimer, take me now or lose me forever?' Jane, I can't believe that you actually had that sort of dream about Charles – they said what about him in the shower? -come on, even in those kinds of movies, guys like that, it's just special effects... isn't it...<<


>>You wouldn't believe how red in the face Tom got when I told him about all the uses there were for frozen cookie dough, if you shape it just right – no, I wouldn't, and so you heard me mention flicking the bean – it's something Penny used to say, and I picked it up<<


>>Every once in a great while, I wonder whatever happened to those two – they were strange, stupid and weird as everything, but before you, Jane, they were the closest things to friends that I ever had.<<


>>Maybe you were kind of scary about seeing people you didn't know, Daria, but you're tougher now.<<


>>Jane, I was so scared – there was this voice that was everywhere, and it shouted I'LL MAKE YOUR SOUL SCREAM MY NAME! and I was so scared, Jane, so scared<<


>>I would have given anything for my mother to talk to you the way Helen did about your powers<<


"God, the view is so beautiful – that's what it looks like from so high up in the air, over the planet, and you don't even need a plane<<


>>Quinn was so small, so scared – I see why you did it right then, maybe you should have waited, but at least you were there for her, if something happened to Trent I might as well be an orphan I treated him so wrong when I came back and I should have talked to him more<<


>>You can toss trucks around like leaves – you stopped an RPG shell – so what if I can read minds? What kind of power is that compared to what you can do<<


>>Daria, the way they all look at you, it's like you're the big draw. It's like that movie about Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky – we'll always be equals, but someone has to be out front... and after today, I think that's you. Daria... I think that it's always been you...<<


>>Tom will never come in-between us, Daria. Never. I swear.


>>You're closer to me than my own sister, Jane.


>>I love you, Daria. Not like that, but you're part of me... you're my family.<


>>I love you, too, Jane.<<




Odell Jones was happier than he'd ever been in his entire life.


Things hadn't been that good, recently; for just over a year, he'd been on the run from the law – and truth be told, from a great number of bounty hunters eager to get their hands on the half-million dollar bounty (technically, it was known as a 'reward for information leading to his arrest', but no one was really fooled) put on his head by a collection of churches all along the East Coast of the United States.


Not to mention the Andrews family. They wanted him badly, Odell reflected... badly enough that a special fund just to keep raising the bounty had gotten the bounty up to where it was; churches just kept sending money in the hopes that someone would turn him in – or take him out, and just drag his carcass out for everyone to see.


It was all that little bitch Renee Andrews' fault, he thought, remembering the events of that afternoon when it all fell apart... and how he'd spent several weeks in pain he didn't even like to think about.


Odell always had a thing for younger women – all women, he allowed, but he really liked to the hear the younger ones squeal and cry out as they lay under him; none of that 'woman on top' stuff for him, because the missionary position is how God intended for people to have sex. The man was supposed to be on top... Being a church elder allowed him to 'minister to the needs' of several members of the congregation – female members – who'd come to him to talk, and his special brand of fruit punch always helped to ensure that they'd loosen up more than a bit, and become, well, receptive, to other things.


Mrs. Cooper was an exceptionally pleasant session; divorced four years ago, she'd not been seeing anyone recently. The dark-haired woman wanted to speak to him about her involvement in the church; after a glass of his punch, she needed little encouragement to slide out of her dress. Thank God that no one else was at the church that afternoon; Madelyn was a very vocal woman, and after that hour with her, Odell forever wondered why in the world her husband left her. The next time she came to talk, she told him that one of the reasons Mr. Cooper had left was because she wanted more in the bedroom than he had ever been able to provide, and being a very conservative man, it had eroded his confidence. Another glass of punch, and she was showing him just what she needed...


The fallen deacon couldn't be satisfied, though; he'd had to have Renee Andrews, that sweet-faced little fifteen-year-old who'd come to talk about her idea to build a web site for the church. Reverend Harris thought it was a good idea and had told her to work on it with Odell, and early one Thursday afternoon, on a day when classes were out because of a teacher's training session, Renee had come over with her laptop computer.


Thinking back, he knew it was a stupid idea to try and get her. The Andrews family had a reputation for being able to hold their liquor that went back to before Prohibition – after all, they'd been the local moonshiners up until the eighties, when they took the bulk of the family profits and went legit by building a small distillery. The Andrews' distillery had become one of the biggest employers in the area, and the Carthage United Methodist Church had benefited greatly from many members of the congregation also being employees there. It seemed that every Andrews that ever was had a inborn talent for drinking everyone else in sight under the table and then finishing the bottle themselves; even Ferrell Andrews, Renee's grandfather and the only Andrews to not go into the 'family business' since they began, could down a full bottle of whatever you had and have it effect him as if he'd just drank a bottle of water.


(He didn't go into the business because he was in love with planes since he was a baby; a source of family pride to the present, Major Andrews flew for fifteen years. After returning home, he and his family managed to parlay a couple of deals and some cash in order to purchase the actual F86F Sabre - the jet he'd always loved best - that he flew in Korea from the military as surplus, and the refurbished, fully-operational jet was on display in the visitor's area at the distillery)


Not a problem. Odell had a little something... extra for just that possibility. He tossed a touch of crystal meth into the punch. Normally he didn't mess with the stuff – he knew that it was real bad juju – but he had to try it out... a few sips the night before, and oh, God, how he flew!




Renee came into his office, and after a half-hour of going over ideas, she'd accepted a glass of punch; fifteen minutes later, the young beauty began showing all the signs... he'd gotten her blouse off, and her bra lay on the floor as he ran his hands and mouth over her small, exposed torso, moving her over to the fold-out bed in the couch on the other side of his office... Renee struggled just a touch, trying to fight off both him and the effects of the doctored drink, and when he let go of her for just a moment to pull the bed out (he'd locked the door earlier, so he wasn't worried about her getting out), he saw her tumble over towards her computer, as if she was trying to get it before getting away.


Odell remembered chuckling before turning back to pull the bed out. When he had drawn the bed out and turned to get Renee, he saw the second most incredible sight that he'd ever seen in his life...


The half-naked teenage girl had barely touched the edge of her laptop when a brilliant arc of electricity leaped from the device to the girl's fingers; Odell stepped back, simultaneously terrified and utterly fascinated by what was happening, as strips and pieces of metal seemed to effortlessly slide out from inside of Renee's hand and cover it completely and seamlessly, as though her hand had changed from human flesh to a form of... robot's hand?


With a surprising amount of clicking and whirring sounds, the transformation flickered and flowed up her arm and across her body with surprising speed, and Odell watched as within seconds, Renee Andrews was replaced by what appeared to be a very advanced female-shaped robot lying on the floor, trying to rise to its feet.


Odell made the mistake of gasping in surprise. The Renee-robot turned its head to fix its eyes directly upon him – two things that could only have been weapons whirled up from the Renee-robot's back to lock in place upon its shoulders with a loud CLACK! – and the lecherous deacon shrieked in terror as the tips of the weapons glowed white just before small, white-hot disks of energy began to spurt outward, completely shattering the wall just behind him!


Tossed across the room by the concussion, Odell winced in pain as he rose from the floor, and then moved faster than he'd ever believed he could as the Renee-robot, also blown back by the force of the blast, lifted itself up from the wall and pointed it's left arm at him. Seeing enough action and science fiction films to know that the device that rolled out of Renee's left upper arm and slid down to lock into place on her lower arm was a miniature Gatling gun, Odell dived for cover behind his desk – but not fast enough to feel a searing pain across the inside of his right thigh as the Gatling gun violently sprayed the general area where Odell stood, literally giving the wall behind him the appearance of a mesh strainer!


Tearing up from pain and feeling a hot wetness beginning to flow down his leg, Odell lifted himself from behind the ruins of his desk as he heard the solid, metallic thumps of the Renee-robot's footsteps heading for the opening in the office wall that opened directly onto the parking lot – and as Odell Jones felt himself begin to fade into unconsciousness, he then saw the most incredible sight that he'd ever seen in his entire life.


He watched as the Renee-robot ran across the parking lot, changing form as it did so – and then, he was treated to the sight of a shining-new, honest-to-God North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter as it flew off at treetop level, crying as it called out for its mommy and daddy at the top of its voice.




Odell woke up the next day in the hospital, under armed guard. Several hours after he woke up, Reverend Harris had come to talk to him. With a grim face, he told Odell that after Renee found her parents and told them what had happened, the county sheriff and several deputies had arrived both at the church and at Odell's home (partly to search for evidence, and partly to find him and get him into custody before the Andrews family or any of the employees could get their hands on him). Odell winced, turning ghostly pale as the Reverend told him about the group of over a hundred men, all armed with hunting rifles and shotguns as they prowled about the church, refusing to let the paramedics take him out to the ambulance until the Sheriff and the Reverend himself showed up and calmed everyone down.


He was under arrest. The authorities had found his 'journal' hidden in his computer's files and the drugs he used for his punch at his house, as well as a quart of the punch in his mini-fridge in his office at the church.


He was excommunicated from the church.


His wife had already begun divorce proceedings, and removed all of his money from his account at the bank. (He would find out later that she knew about his 'strutting money' – all thirty-seven thousand dollars that he'd skimmed off the top of the offerings from the church and hidden in the basement of their home, for when he was planning to take off and see the world without her – and took it all.)


The Andrews family was barred from his room – but they made sure that he knew through messengers that when he was convicted and sent to prison (and he WOULD be), the word would get out and be understood by all that he was to live a long, long life behind bars... and that for the rest of his life, he would never have a problem with constipation, ever again... Odell shuddered as he remembered watching that prison show on cable, and the violent rapes that had occurred to many of the characters – it wasn't all that funny now, he reflected, recalling how he howled with laughter at several of the characters as they were violated.


He managed to slip out that night. Looking back on it, he thought that it might have been a bit too easy... and that the Andrews family may have been behind it all, so that they could have him all to themselves. He had heard a story from his wife Nora about someone trying to rape Carol Andrews when she was in college, the year before she married into the family, and how she'd actually slashed the offender's member with a straight razor she kept under her pillow in case of emergencies (she had grown up as one of the only poor White families in the old Cabrini-Green apartments in Chicago before managing to scrape her way into college, and knew how to defend herself). He shuddered as he remembered hearing Reverend Harris talk about his meeting with Carol and Peter Andrews – and how they made two things clear: they didn't blame the church for what Odell did, and how one day, Carol Andrews planned to gold-plate his testicles and wear them to his funeral.


Well, one of them. Odell fumed as he recalled what happened next; how the deputy could barely keep from laughing aloud as he watched the Reverend leave and then looked back to say 'See you later, One-Shell..."


In escaping, Renee had shot off his right testicle; the attending physician's husband heard what happened and made the comment that 'he's only got one shell for his gun now, eh?'


The name 'One-Shell Odell' made its way through the town like wildfire. The pain that Odell would endure over the next few weeks as his wound healed without benefit of painkillers was nothing compared to seeing a copy of the National Inquisitor on a rack in a small gas station off the beaten path.


The headline: 'Oh, Hell - One-Shell Odell Escaped His Cell.'


Not surprisingly, there was never any mention of Renee Andrews, beyond the fact that she managed to fight Odell off as he tried to rape her, got hold of the .38 he kept in his desk for protection, and shot off his testicle as she escaped from him.




Odell knew the mountains of the area just as well as any man, and managed to stay alive and free for well over a year. He managed to make his way across the state and into Maryland, where he stayed in the back woods, only occasionally coming into smaller towns or suburbs to get things. He was able to steal a surprising amount of things, usually on Sunday mornings, when people in the smaller towns usually attended church to a person. He had money, clothes, medicines (he loved Alka-Seltzer cold medicine and that 'Airborne' stuff – with that, he could keep little colds from becoming anything serious), a couple of long arms and even two handguns - a prissy little steel .38 with mother-of-pearl grips, and a silenced .22 High Standard target pistol with a small, but very expensive telescopic sight mounted on top. Some rich man's personal hunting toy, he reasoned, remembering the very expensive bottle of single-malt Scotch he also stole from that house, as well as that nice little one-man 'bubble tent' that for Odell, was as good a place to sleep as any four-star hotel.


Life changed for him sixteen months after he went on the run. He was using the .22 to shoot squirrels for supper. A day before, he'd stolen some vegetables – cabbages, green tomatoes and ears of sweet corn - from some family's very nice backyard garden, and was planning to make a squirrel stew.


Odell was sighting in on a pair of squirrels that had run down the side of a tree and were playing with one another; he was about to fire the suppressed weapon when he saw an unusual flash of blue-green streak in front of the squirrels. He looked up to see a third squirrel – this one normal looking, except that it had a beautiful coat of the most unusual blue-green hue he'd ever seen.


I can sell that, he thought, and sighted in on the squirrel; slowly, he squeezed off a single round, right through the squirrel's right eye-


He was thrown away from where the squirrel was, and the world washed over him to dissolve into a numbing flash of white.




The sun was low in the sky when Odell woke up, and he was shivering. He lifted himself up, turned over - and gasped as he felt the sudden cold, wet sensation of wet leaves and mud on his bare bottom...


The back of his clothes, the back of his boots, and the hair on the back of his head – all of it had been seared off as if by a blowtorch... but his body, and the parts of his clothing facing the ground, were undamaged. Odell stood up, feeling distinctly uncomfortable as he tried to keep his remaining pieces of clothing up so he wouldn't be totally exposed –


That was when he felt it. Odell trembled as he felt waves after waves of energy pouring through him, surging, a flood of energy burning across his entire body, all draining from every pore, every inch, all of it coming towards the center of his right hand... the sensations stopped, all except for a warm feeling, right in the center of his palm. Taking off his calfskin glove (thank God that rich guy and I have the same sized hands, Odell thought at the time), he noticed that there was now a strange mark on his palm – a pronounced, perfect circle of darkened-pink, about the size of a half-dollar coin, and was warm to the touch.


Odell noticed that the hat he was wearing had fallen off and was lying undamaged next to a tree. He reached for it – and yelped a loud, vulgar curse as it exploded with a loud hissing puff and a flash of orange-pink light as he touched it with his right hand!


Whatever else he was, Odell Jones was surprisingly quick on the uptake. He quickly found out that his body – and the gloves that he was wearing when – well, when whatever that was that happened when he shot that funny-looking squirrel, were immune to whatever it was in his right hand... the warm energy, anti-matter, the Devil's own fire, whatever it was. Everything else, when he touched it with his bare right hand... POOF.


If he grabbed up a large handful of mud and threw it, it was like throwing a ball of dynamite. He knocked down several trees and cracked several more like twigs with exploding mud balls, yelling out with boyish abandon as each one made huge booms that rang in his ears.


It even cleaned him off better than a shower, he thought, finding out that by holding his hand to his chest, the energy (or whatever it was) cleaned off everything on his body, leaving him naked as a jaybird... but feeling fresher and cleaner than he'd felt in years.


Wearing nothing more than the calfskin gloves that seemed invulnerable to his newfound power, Odell Jones walked naked through the forestland; thoughts of squirrel and vegetable stew now replaced by thoughts of how to gain wealth... and revenge.