Recovery: Sin on the Run

 

SOMEWHERE IN MONTREAL

 

The first thing that had scared Sin was the fact that being blasted out of the old broad’s home had nearly killed him. He took out a wall with him, and he was lucky enough to land in some shrubs. Otherwise, there was a very real chance that he would have broken his neck. He was still aching and limping, having cleared the Prestwich’s estates high gates and finding a nice alley to rest in, when the first APB went out: The Legion were after him.


Okay, well, that wasn’t a surprise, or so he was able to reason. He could avoid the Legion, the half blind idiots who barely were around these days.


And then the Freelancers put out their APB.

 

It was becoming increasingly clear that Sin was the most wanted man in the world.


“Shit, shit, shit, shit shit shit…” he muttered over and over again, as he stood up. He’d managed to react quickly enough to not die, and shrubbery, goddamned shrubbery, might have saved him from being dead or a fuckin’ quadriplegic. Oh, and there was his damned arm… hanging at an odd angle. Fuck. He’d called the chain back, and formed the metamorphic slime into a improvised sling to hold his arm while it healed, and booked it to said alley. His head HURT. It was like the mental equivalent of pulling a muscle, and any time he tried to use his TK, his headache got worse and worse.

 

And then the APB’s came in, hearing from the TV store close to his alley. There weren’t enough four letter words to world to describe how fucked he was. Okay. Deep breaths. First things first. Change of clothes. Haircut. Sunglasses and a hat. Bus tickets to one of his sa- which was in Detroit. Fuck. Hokay. Clothes and disguise first… but just going to … rest here a moment. He tried to get his head on straight, but it was pounding. Not… really not good.

 

He tried to stand again, and his vision swam. Just a moment to sit, just a moment to rest. That’s all he needed.

 

His head drooped, and then there was a hand wrenching it up so that he would make eye contact. It took him a moment to process the sudden assault, that it had even happened. His vision blurred, settled, and then… the face of his new acquaintance became clear.

 

There was both good news and bad news:

The good news is that the person who had found him in the alley way was neither Legion, nor was she Freelancer.

 

She was Anathema.

 

Anathema, once known as Hyacinth Mills, was one of the most powerful psychics in the world, and she had been presumed dead decades ago. She had killed Robert and Sandra Fishby – the Oathkeeper’s parents – and nearly killed Alice as well. The Legion had locked down Twin Falls, and took her into custody. She escaped, and then… vanished. People thought she was dead, a few conspiracy theorists insisted she had reformed and was now running a bakery, or something…

 

And yet, here she was.

 

In front of Sin.


And the scariest part of this entire situation, worse than the APBs, worse than the injuries?

Is that she was smiling.

 

Sin knew who she was, of course. The damned woman was a legend among criminals. She’d been the closest of anyone that Sin knew to truly icing Oathkeeper, and had kept ahead of the law for longer than he’d probably been alive. His eyes, unfocused slightly as they were, turned a brilliant green for a moment, before dulling. “Well. Fuck me. Either I got hit a lot harder than I thought, or you’re THE Anathema.” There was a bit of hero worship, maybe just a little. And respect. And a healthy dose of fear.

 

Anathema’s smile widened, and she ran her tongue along her teeth. “Sssssssinner.” Was the first word she hissed out. “You’re a terrible little sinner, aren’t you? Lost and alone in the world? Oh dear, dear, dear.”

He laughed, weakly. He couldn’t help it. Here was the gal that made people quake in their boots, made a rep for herself by murdering the family of the most famous hero of his generation, and kept. ON. GOING. How do you react when you’re talking to a legend? His pride swelled. At least before he bought it, he got to KNOW that she was alive.  His eyes darkened to a deep, deep purple.

 

“Yeah. Picked a fight, wasn’t prepared for. Got cheated, by a fuckin’ hero, of all people.” He laughs again. After trying to murder Estelle, he wouldn’t hold it against her. He got played, she did damn good. Oh, he still try to kill her if he ever saw her again, that’s just principle. But she won that round.  He shrugged, weakly. “Ain’t goin’ back without a fight, though. No, ma’am.” Of course, he could just be hallucinating. He didn’t take mushrooms before the fight, did he? He didn’t think so.

 

“You think I’ll turn you into the Legion or the Freelancers? You think I’m here as your enemy?” Anathema laughed; a hoarse, bitter sound that was creaky from disuse. “I could give you to the mercenary pig dogs, and they’d get your hooks in you in their false social rehabilitation, as if their values mean anything. Or I could give you to the Legion, and they’d parade you in front of a sham of a trial, pretend like their justice means anything. No, no, no. None of that would do. God spoke to me, and His justice is what matters. Now, let me ask you. Why are you such a bitter little sinner?”

Sin looked at her, head tilting just a little. “Why?” He laughs again, taking a deep breath afterwards. “‘cause they’re all fucks. Saying this, doing that. People, that is. Get down to it, everyone’s would be just as bad, as evil as they say I am. I’m just…. enlightened. No reason not to party, to drink, to fuck, to kill, to live it up. I just want… everything, everything that people just deny themselves.”

 

He leaned his head back, laughing weakly. “M’ mom, fuck her rotten corpse, thought that if she lived in denial of everything, prayed to God and followed the fuckin’ Oathkeeper’s example, she’d get to go to heaven. Fuckin’ bitch screamed you’ve got the darkness in you, Blake, but deny the world! DENY IT.” He rolled his eyes. “Tried to carve whatever darkness I had out with a crowbar, said it was the only way. Mom wasn’t all that intelligent, really. So after she came after me, I bashed her skull in.” He shrugs, and then grins, evilly. One of his first good memories. “After that…. realized, whatever. Whatever the fuck was wrong with her, I wasn’t gonna be. Denyin’ sin was bad, so Hell, I’ll embrace it. Heh.”

 

Anathema’s amethyst eyes scan’s Sin’s face as if hunting for truth, and then her smile disappears. She nods grimly. “You are so close to being a man of God, an honest man. You understand that… Fishby is a heretic, a false example sent to test us. You understand that we must take what we want, stomp out opposition. Your language needs work. I do not care for your profanity. And you will be respectful. And in exchange for these small currencies, I will save you from the grasping hands of both Legion and Freelancer. Do you understand?”

Sin blinked, rubbed his ears with his good hand, as if not believing what he was hearing. He took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. She might be crazy, but she was the only help he was going to get. When she emphasized respectful, he may or may not have let out a little scared meep. Maybe. But then he realized what she was offering, really realizing, and green and purple warred for supremacy in his eyes. “Y-yes. Yes, ma’am. I understand.”

 

“Good.” The word hissed out of her mouth like steam escaping from a valve. She clapped her hands four times. “Attend to me!”

Out of the shadows came four men, each one built like a truck. Their jaws were slack, their eyes glazed over with a dull purple sheen. Anathama smiled, coiling herself around one of them and patting him on the jaw. “Good boys. Don’t worry, sinner. These are my loyal servants, who have fully consented to allowing me to wear them. I think you… will work best independently. Have you ever been to the Underground?”

“The portal group? Yes, ma’am. Though, they’re a bit… unreliable at times. Use ‘em only when I have to.” He nodded nervously, but a little more confidently when he realized that she wasn’t going to brain drain him like her meat puppets. “Expensive, too.”

 

“If you have to pay, you’re not using them right. I will teach you. Boys, carry him.”

And then Anathema, the most dangerous woman in the world, a woman with the Oathkeepers’ sights on her, a woman who was escorting a man who was on every television screen and comm unit, turned and glided into the street as though she had not a care in the world.


And no one did approach. The streets were empty. Why? Had she… Perhaps it was better not to wonder.

 

She eventually turned and tried the door of a local electronics repair shop that advertised FULL REPAIRS ON NOVA, MCGOWAN, AND INFINITI PRODUCTS. She tried the knob, twisting it. The door was locked.

 

“Boys, open it. The Underground cannot hide from us.”

Sin was carried. He was a big dude, but the dudes carrying him were built. He knew guys like this in prison, more muscle than brain usually, but with Anathema riding in their skulls…. scary. And then the streets were empty. His jaw dropped a little, and he looked around. It was a ghost town. The place had been busy as hell not ten minutes ago. What…. oh damn. Just…. damn. He’d hooked up with some real power here. It scared him… and his eyes changed to green. He wanted that kind of power.

 

And now was a chance to help, even a little. His mind was calming, the headache less. “Please, allow me, ma’am.” He reached out with his free hand, and made a twisting motion with his wrist. The lock snapped inside the door, and the door gently came open with a creak. The rest had helped, yeah. Definitely. Only a little headache, now

 

“Ma’am. I like that. Respectful.” Anathema turned to him, balanced between the two goons, and ran a finger under his chin, making eye contact. She smiled. “You can be taught. This way.”


The store was empty, tablets and phones, cords and gadgets, comms and Legion and Freelancer merchants lining the walls. Anathema moves to the register. “Boys… which one of you used to work here? Was it you, ah… you.” She beckoned. “Open this.”

The man obediently moved to the register and punched in the code. The back wall of merchandise spun, revealing a hidden pathway and a staircase heading down, down into the darkness.

 

Sin shook his head, lightly, making sure the TK use doesn’t make his vision swim again. Well, so far, he was healing… ish. “Underground do know their stuff. Ah, I think… I might be good enough to walk, now.” It wouldn’t do to show the Underground, or anyone else, weakness right now.

 

“Let him stand, but if he runs, knock him down and take both of his legs off by force.” Anathema says, stepping into the darkness. A light radiates from her left hand – a silvery glow that shifts into deep purples and blacks, illuminating the halls around her. The staircase loops around, leading downwards, downwards, downwards…

 

And then, there was the Underground. This waystation was built into an old basement.

 

Sin didn’t run. He knew when that would be a bad idea. He followed Anathema, and with her henchmen following him, down, down into the darkness. There were chills up his spine, and mentally, his mind was racing. Okay, a legendary bad lady just saved his weak ass. They’re heading into the Underground. Somehow, she’s keeping both the Legion and Freelancers off of your sorry, TK’d out ass. Check. He didn’t know HOW good a psychic Anathema was, or if she could read his mind. Maybe not, or maybe she was just hiding that power to use as backup. Either way, he couldn’t afford to not be useful to her, not right now. He wouldn’t survive another fight right now. Survival, even Pride bows before it. But Sloth could be useful right now too. His eyes changed to a light brown, and he looked around in the darkness.

 

“Guys, it is one thing to keep me waiting and in the dark. It is a whole different ball game to keep HER waiting. Do you really want to do that?” He shrugged at the people hiding, and watching.

 

“Please,” a female voice said. “We’ll – We’re afraid, the Freelancers -”

“Are not here.” Anathema hissed, stepping forward. The harsh angles and slopes of her face were illuminated by her glowing light. “And I am.”

And then the Paranormal charged Anathema – a man with short cropped dark hair and char marks on his face, an aura of smoke around him.

 

Sin moved as soon as the he recognized the man was charging, tapping the sling, which writhed and launched itself at the smoking man, changing into the heavy spiked chain that managed to do so much damage to Nat earlier. It whipped towards the man’s torso and neck with violent force, intending to wrap and bind and possibly clothesline him.

 

Sin’s chain pulls the Paranormal away from Anathema, and hurls him into the corner of the room – where he explodes. The blast shakes the foundations of the basement.


“Oh, well done.” Anathema breathes. “I believe you just saved my life. And I will reward that appropriately, but first…”

She raises her hands. “Lord, help me -”

And then she begins to drink in the darkness in the room.

 

“Of course… ma’am….” Sin kind of trails off as she starts EATING the darkness, somehow. Ow, his head. Ow, his arm. He tried to hold it close to his torso, ignoring the pain in his head and arm.

 

Anathema holds the darkness in the palm of her hand, and she smiles. “Underground staff, you will perform your jobs, and you will open a portal for three to my destination, or… well, it’ll be clear what happens next.”

The staff immediately scrambled to their posts, the portal began to churn, and Anathema beckoned. “Boys, stay here. Sin, bring the Paranormal now that he’s burned out. Come. Quickly.”

The chain squeezed tight to make sure that the Blast Boy was bound well enough, and lifted into the air. Upside down. Just for that extra cruelty. Blast Boy bobbed behind Sin, as the portal opened. His left eye twitched, but he bites down on the pain. No pain, no gain.

 

Travelling through the Underground was always disorienting. There was a moment of limbo, of floating in nothing.

 

But this time, Sin heard a voice:

 

You know this is wrong. There’s time to turn back…

 

The voice of Estelle Prestwich?

 

???



And then they were at their destination:  Anathema’s home.

 

Sin didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t this:  A two story home with an attic and a basement in the suburbs of America.

 

“Final stop, ma’am?” He looked to Anathema, ignoring the equivalent of a burning, stretched and exhausted muscle in his head. The other paranormal floated like a small bobber in a bond behind Sin, the chains grasping him.

 

“You will see where I do my good work eventually. But this is my home. Please, wipe your feet at the door and take off your shoes. I will show you to your bedroom.”

“Yes, ma’am. Is there a spot I can store the, ah, baggage?” He gestured to the floating paranormal behind him, as he removed his shoes carefully, with one hand.

 

“I will see to that. You are injured, and you need to heal. You may use the bedroom upstairs, on the left.”

He nodded, and the man dropped like a sack of potatoes. He padded up to the upstairs bedroom, on the left, adjusting his sling as he went up. He looked out the window before settling on the bed, trying to find where or what city he might be in. Everything hurt. Things might not be looking up, not yet. But at least he had a chance…

 

Maybe a snowball’s chance in hell. Ah well. Better than no chance at all. He sat on the bed, then kicked his feet up, lying down. He was a light sleeper, usually, but dreamland took him quickly then and there, with Sloth changing his eyes to a deep, deep brown.…. and he had nightmares of amethyst eyes, dominating the demons.

 

When he awaoke, it was dark. Sin heard the noises of pots and pans, running water and knife against cutting board. He wasn’t in pain, and his arm was almost healed – still tender, but another day, and he’d be able to use it again. He walked downstairs, cautiously.

 

A woman stood at the counter.

 

The thing is about Nova and McGowan medical tech in every hospital, and Paranormals helping the healing process along, and the (as the Infinity Report once famously called it) Utopia of Tomorrow, is that people aged, but it was with grace. Extended lifespans, staying healthier longer.

 

This woman was old. Old World old. Her cheeks were sunken in, her face lined, her hair stark white. Her eyes had that same purple glaze.

 

“Daughter, your guest is awake.”

“Thank you, mother.” Anathema stood from the chair she was curled up in. “Did you sleep well?”

Sin nodded, hesitantly. “Recharged and almost a ‘undred percent. Arm is still a little tender, another day and I’ll be right as rain. Nothing like a decent amount of sleep to help things along.” He looked at Anathema’s mother, then at Anathema herself.. “Thank… you. For getting me out of there.” With Anathema’s almost insane need for politeness, he figured it couldn’t hurt… and keep him one step away from being hijacked.

 

“You’re welcome.” She glanced at her mother. “Does Mathilda alarm you?”

“No, just… Very domestic. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Ma’am.” Remember the titles. Still not a hundred percent yet.

 

She throws her head back and laughs. “I’m not a monster. I enjoy food and rest and home as much as anyone. While you stay here, you will need a name.”

Sin was flabbergasted. “I assume my rap sheet is out there, so, I can’t use my real name. Codenames are no good either, I assume? Jacob… Marcone, I suppose? If that will work?”

 

“Jacob, then. We are in Twin Falls, Idaho. The city belongs to me. Shop, explore, browse at your leisure. For now? I must plan, and talk to our… Paranormal friend downstairs. I’m sure you understand.”

He nodded, as he does understand. Poor guy. Better him than Sin, though. And… the whole city belonged to her? Christ on a cracker. Did people not notice this kind… of thing…. Yeah, he was in over his head. Nothing he could do, now, though. “Yes ma’am.” He knew a dismissal when he hears one, he’d worked with and against those asshats in the Family for long enough. He exited the house. Time to explore the city.

 

Recovery: Default in Our Scars

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

COUNTY JAIL

 

Carolina Smith hunched alone on the jail cell’s cot, gently running a finger across the throbbing gash across her forehead. It’d scar real bad. The Pariah’s scars always stayed, and hers was long and low. She’d wear it forever, marked with the brand of a cause she barely even cared about. The drug habit that had gotten her into this mess in the first place had just sunk its talons even deeper.

 

She once thought she’d find a way to get out of the game, quit Jorja’s crew and just be a god damned accountant, but her last chance at that future had just leaked out of her forehead and scabbed over. She’d be no good as a face any more, and she was a good enough shooter and brawler—how did she ever end up being a good shooter and brawler?—that she was probably looking at life as a hitter until her body gave out.

 

Damn paras. Damn humans. God damn everybody.

Continue reading “Recovery: Default in Our Scars”

Recovery: Debrief

THE FLYING FORTRESS
INFIRMARY

 

Nat was awake again. Still badly injured from eir encounter with the Villain known as Sin, ey was slowly recovering. Ey was still strapped to the bed, but no longer bled through eir bandages. Surgery had removed the communication implant attached to eir lower jaw, and ey was waiting on a replacement to be installed.

 

In the meantime, ey played around on eir phone.

 

There’s a gentle rap on the door. “Bug? You up for some company?”

“Oh god, yes,” Nat’s head lolls back. “I’m so fucking bored.

 

“Good. I brought dumplings from home, home cooked, and I purchased some drinks and a hand held entertainment unit for you. The Nintendo something or other. I know, I know, you want to be out now, you want to  go home. I’m not authorized to clear that.” She busied herself serving food onto paper plates.

 

“Oh wow you’re still the best boss ever though,” Nat’s face lit up, “for real, you brought me—these are homemade? Damn, these are the tidiest gyoza I’ve ever seen. Look at that crimping!”

 

“I’m trained in many things.” Emi winked. “Benefits of my upbringing. Eat up. You need your strength. And I could use a meal too, I’ve spent the morning yelling at people. Very taxing.”

“Ooh, dish.”

 

“Let’s just say Estelle is lucky that she’s an old, sick woman, or else I wouldn’t have gone easy on her.” Emi says grimly. “And I purchased both Alice and Sawbones floral arrangements for their part in saving you and getting you back in good health, of course.”

“I appreciate what they both did,” Nat rubbed eir jaw at remembered pain, “but I’m really glad that a different doctor is doing the comm replacement. Doc Sawbones is… not gentle.”

 

“No,” Emi agreed. “She believes that being the best does not necessarily require a gentle touch, nor a bedside manner. But she is the best at what she does, even if she infuriates everyone in a two mile radius. And your health is the most important.”

“Yeah,” Nat murmured, eyes going a little distant. “They tell me I almost died of blood loss. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, like I was on fire and my life was siphoning away from me. I guess it was.”

 

“Which is why you will NOT be working with Estelle ever again, no matter what she says about prophecies and the future. I will NOT allow it.”

“You’re the boss, Boss,” Nat agrees, nodding. “I thought it was just gonna be a party, going in.”

 

“That’s the problem with this world of ours. You never really know what you’re getting into. One time we had a party at the McGowan Mansion – this was before Scott and Alice were together, and Scott’s date was, ah…” Emi pops a dumpling into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. “A Villain of sorts, incognito. I think that might have been what pushed him out of his phase of dating random women for a night or two.”

Nat eats eir first dumpling. “Wow. Good. Really good, boss, I could take lessons from you and that’s saying something. Anyway, that’s interesting. I still haven’t met the guy.” Ey uses eir chopsticks to poke a hole in the side of the next dumpling, dunks it into the dipping sauce, and holds it there until it’s good and dead before eating it.

 

“You should. He’s a brilliant man, crucial to the war effort, a war hero… And a good friend. A very good friend. I think you would like him.”

“And I probably shouldn’t hit on him, huh.”

 

Emi shrugs. “He’d find it funny. Alice wouldn’t.”

“Alice doesn’t find anything funny. It’s what makes her so funny,” Nat smirked. “Did you need me to debrief, or do you already know everything that there is to know?”

 

“Let me hear your take on what happened.”

Nat sighs. “Okay, so. To be honest, everything went… mostly okay right up until the end. Eternium was too fast for me, but that was our tactical error, and it was bound to happen someday. I was the bait, he came at me, grabbed me by the face, hit me against somethin’. I passed out. Came out of it beat up, but mostly all right.

 

“It wasn’t until… the rewards. That things got real bad. Estelle,” Nat frowns, then lowers eir voice, “…cheated Sin. She cheated him. I’m sure he’s the scum of the earth but she made a deal and she tried to monkey paw it and to be honest, I can’t blame him for being mad.

 

“But he decided that the only thing to do was kill her, and we were in the way of that.”

 

Emi’s lips thin into a line of barely suppressed rage. “Estelle left that little detail out.” She says, voice tight. “We’ll have to have another talk, she and I.”

“She told us that she’d reward us. Give us jewels or whatever. At the end, most of us got something we wanted. But with Sin… she showed him photos of a ring. Said he’d get it when he’d made up for his crimes.” Nat frowned. “That was shitty, I feel. Anyway, Sin walked away and then turned the whole bar into shrapnel, threw it at her with his telekinesis. I tackled him and started spinning, but he hit me with that spiky chain, then threw me through the debris. People, um. People tell me that I bounced off the banister and got stuck in the chandelier.”

 

“How dare she? How dare she? She thinks that she can work outside of the Legion, her dalliances with Nova are one thing, but this… You could have died. You could have died.”

“Boss,” Nat blinked, a little surprised at the outburst. Ey reached toward Emi’s arm, but the restraint held em back. “It’s okay. I’m alive. The doctor said I’d be field ready within the week. It’s… it’s okay.”

 

“I am glad you are okay, Nat, but – you’re okay because of Alice and luck and Sawbones. You could have very easily not been okay.”

“Well, who’s to say one of my lures won’t end up being a Sin someday?” Nat says, softly. “I’m gonna die someday, and it’s probably gonna be on a mission. Right?”

 

“Bug, no. I’ve served for decades, now, and so will you. We will make you someone who can stop a Sin, stay alive. Understand?”

“O-okay.” Nat’s face still seemed a little surprised, like ey couldn’t quite wrap eir mind around the idea of not being disposable.

 

“You matter, Bug. Alright? And I will never fail you like this again. I am going to have another talk with our Ms. Prestwich… but for now, eat up, rest up. Do you like the game system?”

“Oh, uh, it looks fun!” Nat smiles. “I don’t know much about video games, but while I’m stuck here seems a good time to learn ’em!”

 

“You might like this one. Animal Crossing?” Emi looks to the side. “I had Scott pull some strings. There, ah, should be a custom avatar in the game. No ‘are you a boy or a girl’ choices. I know that’s important to you.”

Nat stared at Emi, wide-eyed, for several seconds. Ey looked down at the game system, then back up, then burst into tears.

 

“You – you don’t like it? I’m… I’m sure we can find a game you do like!”

“I—I—” Nat sobs, “n-no one’s ever done anything like this for m-me before! N-no one!”

 

“Ah -” Emi said, still looking uncomfortable. “You’re family, Nat, I… I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I th-thought the club would be the closest thing I ever had to family.” Ey snuffled, trying in vain to raise a wrist to wipe eir face, but the restraints weren’t long enough. “Fuckin’—boss, can you loosen these so I can wipe my face and hug you.”

 

“Absolutely.” Emi leans over and adjusts the restraints. “I would love a bug hug.”

Nat drifted forward and wrapped eir arms around Emi, crying into her shoulder.

Recovery: Bookkeeping

FREELANCER HQ, ARCHAVEN

TRAINING ROOM 04

 

“Good afternoon, Miss Smith.” The lab-coated man across from her looked more like a misplaced socialite than a doctor. He was tall, with a smile-creased face and dark hair lined with gray along the sides. His accent was upper-class british, and his gray eyes shone with a bright curiosity. His grin was, frankly, more infectious than was appropriate for a man who ought to be curing infections. “Or should I say Ledger?”

Continue reading “Recovery: Bookkeeping”

Recovery: Trial By Hire

THE FLYING FORTRESS

ALICE MCGOWAN’S OFFICE

 

Alice’s office is surprisingly small and cramped and cozy for such a high ranking officer of the Legion. Small desk, cross on the wall, and desk piled high with papers. Things look organized at a glance, but a keen eye can spot the chaos hidden beneath the surface – papers shoved into drawers, important forms under a keyboard. Alice herself glances up in surprise – it’s rare Tabitha comes to see her instead of the other way around.


“Estelle Prestwich,” Tab said, flatly. It was sort of like ‘hello’. Sort of.

 

“The witch, yeah? She seems kind of nice. We don’t talk much.” Alice shrugged. “Is she okay?”

“She’ll live,” Tab strode into the room, “but she insists that if everyone doesn’t do exactly as she say, no one will. She wants to reactivate… and she wants Core access. And all of her keycodes. In short, she wants authority.”

 

Alice looks briefly panicked before she manages to reign that original reaction in. “Gosh,” she finally says. “What was her rank before she retired?”

 

“Just below Legion-General,” Scanner pipes in from the walls, and Alice makes the same face she always does when she realizes Scanner’s been listening in.

 

“You know me, Alice. I am well aware that even the Legion needs to break a few eggs to make a… a justice omelette,” she barreled forward, committing to the analogy, “but Estelle is willing to break eggs whether or not they end up in the pan. She knew that this might happen to Nat. She gambled with eir life.”

 

Alice spun in her chair, an irritatingly childish nervous tic of hers. “Is she willing to work with a team?” She finally asks.

 

“Apologies, Legion-General, but I didn’t think to ask,” Tab’s tone and face were both flinty. “I imagine she’d be issuing commands to teams, if she were hired. I’d have little say.”

 

“And you’re talking to me because it’s my say?” Alice grimaces. “That’s a lot of responsibility, isn’t it?”

Tabitha put fingers to her temples, closing her eyes. “You are literally one of the three highest-ranking Legionnaires on Earth. Yes, it is a lot of responsibility.”

 

“But they didn’t make me a General because I’m good at making big picture plans like these,” Alice says with a hint of desperation in her voice. “Do you want me to decline her offer? I mean, her Vision has helped. I do want to use it a little. And she could go to the Freelancers, and we’d lose that…”

Tabitha looked at the floor for several seconds. When she spoke, her tone was quiet, almost defeated. “You’re right that her Vision would be very useful in our hands. And likely put to nobler use than with the Freelancers. If she’s right that there’s a war coming, some threat that we cannot see, she might be able to make a difference. Maybe that means letting her spend our agents, friends, family like gambling tokens. I don’t know.”

 

“Alice…” Tabitha shook her head. “I’m lost too. All right?”

 

Alice spins in her chair again for a few cycles, shaking her heavy mane of golden hair, and then straightens her back. Tabitha knew Alice; the administrator know how she will waffle on a choice until she makes up her mind. The sudden determination in her spine and eyes reveal that she’s made her choice.

 

“She starts at the bottom. She can get promoted back up. And she can have supervised Core access. And if she goes to the Freelancers, we’ll take her to court. We’re the good guys. We don’t do what the Freelancers to do get ahead.”

Tabitha nodded slowly. “The other Legion-Generals will need to weigh in too.”

 

Alice sets her jaw. “I’ll make them see reason. We are the good guys.”

“All right. Thank you for listening, Alice. I…” Tabitha frowned. “I think she is right that something is coming. Scanner and Stheno have reported a surge in Emergences and strange activity. We may… we may need to think about building bridges with the Freelancers, Alice.”

 

The Oathkeeper grinds her jaw. “They’re jerks.”

“Yes they—well. Cheney is an unbelievable jerk. Nova is a jerk. Many of their executive-level agents are absolutely jerks, yes. But… many of their field agents aren’t. They’re reaching out to Legionnaires. Helping us, with no gain for themselves. And if the Earth ends up in trouble from some kind of world-ending threat? We’ll need their numbers, their infrastructure. Their power. They’re competition, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be allies.”

 

“…I’ll talk to the other Generals.” Alice finally concedes. “The ones on Earth, anyways.”

“Thanks,” Tabitha sighs. “I should… probably sleep. It’s been days.”

 

“I worry about you, Tabs.”

Tabitha looked Alice in the eyes, frowned, and nodded. “Yes, that seems reasonable,” she conceded.

 

“…I’m making you take a week off.”

She looked at Tabitha’s face.

 

“Three days.”

“Hon. Alice. Sunshine. No. If I take more than one day off this place will collapse in on itself like a kinder egg with a black hole as its special prize.”

 

“I can take over for a day or two! I can do paperwork.”

“Alice do you remember that time that you tried to expense thirty six hundred dollars’ worth of candles?”

 

“…We needed candles. I’m wild about candles. And thirty six hundred dollars isn’t a lot, is it?”

“Listen, hon, I could go on about how many times you’ve forgotten what a gross is, but the point is that we are still understaffed and I am not nonessential staff. I haven’t been for a decade. I… I promise that once things die down a little, I’ll try to take a vacation.”

 

“One day?” Alice pleaded.

 

Tabitha looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well. Nat is having eir implant reinstalled tomorrow, and is recovering well. Adam Nova… left reasonably quickly after his impromptu visit. Estelle will be discharged as quickly as possible, and you’re taking responsibility for that mess and I won’t have to clean up for a few days. Um, yes. Yes, I think I can take a day off the day after tomorrow.” She didn’t sound sure.

 

“It’s an order. As a Legion-General, you HAVE to take the day after tomorrow off.” Alice folds her arms. “Go to a spa. Get some sleep.”

“Sleep,” Tabitha said wistfully. “Yes, all right. Okay. Actually, maybe I could actually get a little sleep now. After all, talking to you was the last thing I had t—”

 

Her wristwatch buzzed. Tab blinked and looked at it. “I thought I asked…” She tapped just behind her ear, activating her own comm implant.

 

“Ray? Is everything—no, I—I’m sorry Ray I’m very tired, could you say who it is again? No. No say again, it—” she laughed, an exhausted edge to the sound. “—it sounds like you’re saying ‘Helen Havelock’. That. What?”

 

Tab looked faint. “Oh. She… yes, no. Okay. I’ll be right there?”

 

“Helen Havelock’s very nice,” Alice says with a smile, and you realize it’s the first time that she seems more capable than you in a situation. “Have fun. You’ll like her, I think!”

“Why did she have to show up now?” Tab whined, but ran both hands down her dress to smooth it out and took a deep breath. “Yes. This is Fine. Okay. Alice, please let me know what the results of your meetings with the others are. Oh, and go say hello to Nat before ey gets discharged, please; ey really does like you in spite of the baiting.”

 

“Of course, I always listen to you, don’t I?” Alice teases. “Go, go, go meet her. She’s just a person. And remember – day after tomorrow! Take off!”

“Yes good sure right okay, ugh she’s never going to let me forget this moment,” Tab mutters to herself as she clicks away on her sensible mid heels.

Recovery: A Legend of the Legion

THE FLYING FORTRESS

ADMINISTRATION OFFICE

 

Excalibur had aged.

 

Tabitha hadn’t seen the woman since the Battle of the Big Apple. Which was fair. After being forcibly depowered and nearly murdered, it was understandable that she might… go away for a while. But Helen Havelock had been eternally young as the face, the founder of the Infinity Legion for so long that it was a shock to see that familiar face, but lined, and with a shock of white hair above it.

 

Speaking to Estelle Prestwich had been daunting, yes, and coming face to face with Adam Nova was an experience that could throw anyone off-guard. In both cases, Tabitha Armitage had been the picture of poise, standing up for herself, asserting her needs and the needs of the Legion, setting boundaries and keeping her cool. She had not slept in three days, but through copious under-eye makeup and titanium discipline, she had somehow made it through with a rigid spine and a feeling that she had handled herself admirably.

 

Now, however, she was face-to-face with the hero of heroes, Helen Havelock. Helen Havelock, the founder of the Legion, a brilliant tactical mind, a paragon of the principles by which Tabitha led her life.

 

Tabitha had maintained her strength until now, but in this moment, her vision nearly swam with nervous energy and a deep-seated hero worship. She was relatively certain that this woman could ask her for eternal servitude and receive it.

 

But she wouldn’t do that. Would she?

 

Helen Havelock extended a hand. “Helen,” she introduces herself. “Nice to meet you. Tabitha, right? I hear you do good work, Alice has always spoken very highly of you.”

Tab took her hand and shook it, smiling. “That was kind of her. I do my best, thank you, and it’s a remarkable honor to finally meet you in person.”

 

Helen’s smile becomes slightly strained. “I… am not that impressive. I’ve spent most of the last couple of decades scrapbooking and hiking. I’m sure your service has been more impressive than mine. Please, just treat me as any other recruit.”

“I’ll try,” Tabitha smiled. “To that end, may I ask… why now? Why us? I’d love to hear about where you see yourself in the contemporary Legion, and what it will mean to you as well as what you would bring to us.”

 

Helen hesitates. “Retirement is getting old,” she says. “And… well, Estelle Prestwich gave me a call. I couldn’t say no to an old friend. I’m not capable of too much these days, but I can help with filing and I’m great on the phone.”

“Well, in that vein, actually,” Tab’s face brightened a little, “Alice has been putting a great deal of effort into recruitment. We’re seeing a spike in Emergences, and our Earthside staff could stand to be bolstered. Much as I appreciate that you wish to be treated as any other recruit, you… are a globally-prominent figure for a reason, Mrs. Havelock.”

 

There was that slightly strained smile again for just a moment. “Understandable. If I can be a resource, I will be. Perhaps some PSAs? A couple of ads? I’m not too spry these days, so I can’t do too much for the cameras.”

“I have no need to press you into anything like that now, though. Frankly, your assistance in administrative management and HR would be absolutely invaluable. I’m effectively running four different departments by myself, and I have limited staff. I’d be eager to reactivate you even if you were only willing to work admin.”

 

“Throw anything you have with me. I like to think I’ve stayed up to date on certain skills. Is the Legion still using McGowan’s administrative software?”

“Well, yes, but two years ago we upgraded to the latest firmware and OS, and the transition has been a bit rocky. The Sthenographer is a superb sysadmin but she does not excel at assisting confused users.”

“I’ve raised twelve foster children and volunteered for years. I’d be happy to take over that role if it’s needed.”

“At the very least, let’s get you onto the admin team and acclimated to the system. We can work from there, I imagine. I’m thrilled to have you on board, Helen.”

 

“Absolutely.” she smiles, and glances at Tabitha. “Estelle thought we wouldn’t get along. Interesting, that.”

Tab’s smile immediately grows stale. “Estelle has, sad to say, lost a few coin flips over the past few days.”

 

“The Vision, hm?” Helen glances away. “The thing about gambles is that everyone likes you when you’re winning. When you lose, and lose, and refuse to walk away from the table… Estelle and I have had… issues over the years. Starting with Nova, but we never really… clicked. I consider her a friend, and I’d hope you respect her experience, at least, but…” She makes eye contact again. “I hope you don’t allow her decisions to reflect back on me, is what I’m trying to get at here.”

“Not at all,” Tabitha shook her head. “Even if your history of good works didn’t speak for itself, your flexibility and willingness to adapt would do so in its place. I’m thrilled to have you back on the team. You’re welcome to start whenever you’re ready, though I’m ill-equipped to give you the grand tour right now. One of my agents was… very badly hurt recently, and things have been hectic in the wake of that.”

 

“I’ve heard rumours of that. Is Scanner still -”

“Yes.” say the walls.


“Ah, excellent. I’m ready to get to work, then.”

“Fantastic,” Tabitha managed to maintain her smile, stood, and shook Helen Havelock’s weathered hand one more time. “I’ll walk you to admin, and my assistant Pris will help you get set up in the system, and reintroduce you to the archives. Thank you so much, Mrs. Havelock.”

 

“Let’s get started, then. Only so much time in the day with which we can save the world.”

 

Recovery: Minimally Invasive

THE FLYING FORTRESS

INFIRMARY, ROOM 212

 

Nat was, for the moment, alone. Fiona had finally fallen asleep, and was promptly spirited to a proper bed by Jess and Chad in the hopes that she could get some kind of quality rest. The Damselfly emself, though, had slept enough to last a month, by eir reckoning, and instead played with eir brand new XDS system.

 

“Such a nice house,” Nat affected a low character voice, like a cartoon mobster, “it would be a shame if something should happen to it.”

 

“Mistah Nook no!” This voice was squeakier. “Ah’ll have th’mortgage paid by friday! Ah promise!”

 

“We had an arrangement, Mitzi,” back to the low voice, “and you failed to deliver. Get me the bells by midnight tonight. Or else.”

 

The shuttle ride had been a rough one. They did at least try to time it so that Moon Base 1 and the Flying Fortress were not so distant, but his heart was still thudding, the slightest tremble to his knees. He paused outside the hospital room door, holding his hands out for a moment. They were as steady as ever. Good. With that, he stepped in.

 

Dr. Simon Lydes was not an imposing man. At about 5’7”, and lean, he did not, at first glance, look like he belonged in a military organization such as PHALANX. He wore a suit, white doctor’s jacket over it, and walked with his hands clasped, always remaining above waist level– a habit from being scrubbed in.

 

To be honest, he had no idea what to expect when he walked in, but the strange mix of neurotransmitters and pheromones certainly was not it.

 

Dr. Lydes cleared his throat quietly, then turned to pull a pair of exam gloves from the wall compartment.

 

Nat’s head snapped up and ey snapped the XDS closed in a fluid motion, all at once. Surprised eyes turned to appraising ones as ey took in Dr. Lydes’s garb, appearance, and bearing, and then Nat nodded.

 

“Oh, you must be Dr. Lydes,” ey smiled brightly. It was not a smile to be trifled with; in addition to whatever pheromonal or etheric psychological powers the Damselfly had, ey was also just… very pretty, and knew how to wield that.

 

“That is correct.” The response has no real inflection. His accent might be mid western US, not giving any indication of origin. He blinks once, twice, blue eyes too bright, or was that just the light?

 

“You exude chemical stimulants. Is this normal?” He pulls his gloves on, approaching the bed as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

 

“Yeah, probably,” Nat shrugged a little. “They analyzed my lure powers and said that it was ‘a combination of pheromonal, energetic, memetic, and probabilistic influences on those who observe you’… so yeah those are probably the stimulants you’re noticing.”

 

Lydes hummed to himself in thought. He had tried reading the file somewhat on the flight, but that had most definitely made his motion sickness more pronounced. He would have time while the technicians were setting up the OR.

 

“Do you mind?” He gestured toward eir jaw, as though to take a closer look at it. Faintly, like a subtle perfume, was a neurostimulant of his own, meant to draw out oxytocin, that wonderful chemical that made people feel pleasant, warm, fuzzy, more amiable.

 

Nat blinked a few times, then eir smile distinctly changed quality and Lydes noticed a spike in eir pheromone production. “Dang, doc,” Nat said, voice a bit quieter, “what are you wearing? It smells really nice.”

 

Simon frowned slightly. Too much oxytocin. He dialed it back slightly, mixing in serotonin so that it would still be favorable, he hoped. Thankfully he had been practicing. A lot.

 

“Please turn your head.” Lydes gingerly touched her jaw, leaning in to look at the outward trauma.

 

Valiantly ignoring the small intake of breath that this elicited from Nat, Simon turned a critical eye toward the spot where the comm implant had been dislodged and then removed. They’d done all right. He would have done better, but the scarring would likely only be visible at very close range, and easily explained through a fabricated accident. There was bruising, and there’d certainly be more, but a neat reimplantation was certainly feasible.

 

Simon nodded to himself, tilting his head to get a better look at her jaw, a pen light pulled from the pocket of his white doctor’s jacket and clicked on, dispelling the shadows the angle caused.  It was definitely workable. He had no doubt about that.

 

“While I will not be able to diminish previous scar tissue, I should be able to work the new scarring– as little as possible, I promise– into the curve of the jaw bone so it can be hidden easily by shadows. Only deft fingers running along your jaw should even find it detectable.” His voice was quiet, hushed from the distance. He was not the type to expend more energy on speech than absolutely necessary, if he even bothered speaking at all.

 

However, he had been called in especially for this, and the opportunity to work with the Legion in the future was too good to pass up.  It was an opportunity to do something other than patch up wounded soldiers, at the very least, and challenge himself in other ways.

 

“That’s great,” Nat murmured, trying not to move eir jaw too much, “my job kinda relies on my face staying pretty. Both of my jobs, honestly.”

 

Lydes paused for a moment, still shining the bright little white light on her jaw, thinking back.  No, he had no idea what she really did. He could not recall it on Twitter, either. He tended not to pay much attention to social media, other than doing his required interactions now and then.

 

“If you do not mind me asking, what exactly do you do? If, of course, you are at leisure to say.” Lydes took another look at the jaw, and then clicked the light off, straightening up slightly, but remaining at the bedside.

 

“I am a creature of leisure, and I’m happy to say it,” Nat joked, then explained, “so my day job is that I’m an exotic dancer. Since I’m here in a Legion infirmary, I don’t mind telling you that I work for them too. My job is basically strategic placement of my lure powers, to draw out wanted villains who’ve gone to ground.”

 

That did draw a chuckle from Lydes. “The leisure of others, perhaps, but that is hard work.” And then, a bit quieter, studying the wall, “It’s impossible to make everyone happy.”

 

“Well,” Nat said, “yeah. What made you think of that?”

 

“Hmm?” Lydes glances back from the wall, like he was lost in thought for a moment there. He was.  Of course, now is hardly the time, and he quickly reins everything back in, voice returning to that same, cool, level tone.

 

“It was merely an observation.” He pauses for a moment, long enough to put his pen light away entirely. “We can either use a generalized anesthetic, which would require you to be NPO for twelve hours prior to the surgery, or a localized anesthetic, which means you would be awake during the procedure.”  While it was a statement, the way he stopped talking suddenly made it seem as though that was more of a question.

 

Nat was quiet for a few moments, staring into the middle distance. When ey spoke, eir voice seemed a little distant. “I need to get out of here,” ey said. “Local is fine.”

 

“Do not worry, there will be chemical restraints in place. Post-operation observation should be no more than an hour, though I recommend a liquid diet for the next few days, so you do not use your jaw too much and accidentally pull out stitches.”

 

Lydes lists these things off as though they are no more complicated and just as mundane as a grocery list.

 

Nat sighed. “Corey would be proud,” ey muttered, then said, “that sounds fine. I really just… I want to go home. I want to hold Fi.”

 

“That is my intention. To get you back to it as soon as possible.” Lydes glanced at his watch, the face of it turned to the inside of his wrist, on the right side. “When I leave the room, your serotonin and oxytocin levels are going to drop suddenly. Please don’t panic.”

 

“So that’s your delightful perfume,” Nat murmured, smiling.

 

There, the slightest smile, a twitch at the corner of his lips. “Yes, well, we all have our particular… talents.” Lydes did not wait for any response to that, or for a goodbye. He did not give one either. He took of his gloves with the ease of one who practically lives in them, tossed them in the trash bin, and left without another glance.

 

Nat watched Lydes go, head cocked, and then shuddered at the sudden chemical drop. Ey put eir face in eir hands and wept silently at being alone again, shackled to a bed and with partners far away.

Recovery: Seeing Red

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

TEAM PARIAH HQ

(Vera’s 7th House)

 

There was a stunned silence in response to Vera’s revelation, both from Pariah and from the Hound, who was participating via a conference call.

 

“I’m sorry,” Pariah finally whispered, “it sounded like you said that Smith was your… coworker now.”

 

“That’s because she is my coworker now. The Freelancers hired her. And you want to know what the bitch of it is? The real thing that’s getting under my skin? She’s walking around without a power suppressant collar. She’s not in the social rehabilitation program. She’s probably getting a salary, and the ability to piss in Archaven without someone waiting outside the door. I just – AUGH -”

“I thought… I thought she hated paranormals?” Pariah still sounded deeply confused.

 

“There was an explosion in Detroit. They bring Smith in the next day. Now, they don’t tell me these details, but I can put two and two together. We uh, we may have caused someone to Emerge.” Vera said, rubbing her face with both hands.


Pariah opened her mouth, then closed it, too nonplussed to reply.

 

“I think I gotta talk to Meda about this.” Vera finally groaned. “I’m all twisted up. Things are moving fast – we have an employee, we are startin’ all kinds of shit – it’s nothin’ you did, obviously. It’s… it’s just… you know? Last month all I gave a shit about was the new Borderlands game. Now I’m giving all sorts of shits. Fuck!”

The hounds voice came in. “This is either very good, or very bad. We need to keep a close eye on them. Turn this in our favor somehow…it’s possible she changed her tone now that she is a paranormal herself. Which doesn’t make them any less of a bad person, of course, but it could still be advantageous. We should probably make sure she doesn’t figure out you work with Pariah though.” He said to Vera. “At least not for the moment. Observe from a distance and strategize.”

 

“Can I have this pizza?” A reedy voice yelled from the kitchen.

 

“Yes, but it’s old,” Pariah tried to yell, but her voice couldn’t rise higher than a whisper. “Damn it.”

 

“It’s old,” Vera hollered. “Eat it at your own risk. God. Okay. I’m going to go make an appointment. With my fucking therapist! Because I’m an ADULT!”

She stormed out onto the front porch, pausing to shout: “WITH RESPONSIBILITIES!” before slamming the front door.

 

“Is this what being on a superhero team is always like?” Pariah whispered.

Recovery: Charity Work

It wasn’t until Rooster had finished doing the preliminary camera work, shook the hands, and fully committed herself to the task of an afternoon of volunteering for homeless teenagers that she saw who her partner for the day would be.


Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan was at the table, sorting papers and preparing envelopes.

 

Oh, Christ. Was this some schedule monkey’s idea of a joke? She considered her options.

 

Theoretically speaking, she could just walk right out. But that would definitely be a dick move, and Oathkeeper was the one who’d come out of that with the apparent moral high ground. Hell no.

 

She could pretend like it wasn’t even a thing. Just … smile and get to work. Maybe avoid having to look the woman in the face. Biting it down like that is probably what Freelancer HQ would want out of her. Not that that had ever been a terribly convincing argument.

 

Also, that would leave Oathkeeper here to fucking proselytize or some shit. Nope.

 

So she strode up to the table and stood in front of it with her arms crossed. “Looks like there’s been some kinda mistake. This stuff’s for volunteers only.”

 

Alice glanced up, and when she recognized Rooster, her eyebrows knitted down in annoyance. “I am a volunteer,” she replied. “I volunteer. Regularly.”

“…yeah, sure. I’ve seen the press releases. Just what do you think this is going to accomplish?”

 

“Only one of us posed for the cameras coming in here,” Alice shrugged, filling another envelope. “So, I dunno, I’m trying to help people. What are you doing here?”

Her nostrils flared. Dammit, maybe that was true, but – “I come here twice a month. Don’t act all high and mighty with me.” She walked behind the table and wedged herself into a folding chair. “But seriously. You know none of these kids want to hear the good news, right?”

 

Alice lifted up her hands. “Do you see my Bible? Am I surrounded by crowds? No, I’m stuffing envelopes with…” She looked at the paper. “Rates on teen homelessness and what to do if you’re in a bad situation. See? Helping.”

Max started folding paper, resisting the urge to crumple it up or tear it or something dumb like that. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t make up for the crap you get up to 90% of the time. It’s because of people like you most of these kids are here.”

 

“Excuse me?” Alice filled an envelope with more force than is strictly necessary. “First of all, watch your language. Second of all, what… stuff do I get up to 90% of the time, hm? Saving the world? Mentoring a new generation? Raising my kids?”

She snorted. “‘Crap’ is a bad word in your book? Wow. You ever think if you let yourself swear occasionally, you wouldn’t have to spend all your time insisting your shit doesn’t stink and neither should anyone else’s?”

 

Alice’s lips thin into a line of annoyance. “Language.”

“No one else is here. Why do you care?”

 

“I am trying to maintain a pleasant working environment, since we have to stuff all these envelopes and neither of us have super speed.”

“Yeah, I’m afraid that gosh-danged ship sailed the minute some idiot decided to put us in a room together. Turns out I’m just not comfortable with people who think I should suffer forever! Who’da guessed!”

 

“Oh, Maxine, is this because you punched me? A lot of people have punched me, that’s fine -”

She turns to stare at Oathkeeper. “What? No, it’s because I’m a dyke.”

 

There’s a long pause. “You think I hate gay people?”

“Yes! Obviously!”

She blinks, returns her gaze to the envelopes. “I mean, god, no, I’m sure you ~personally~ don’t HATE anyone. Because you’re so sweet and perfect, I bet you think we’re all just sad misled little lambs.” Her voice drips with acid by the end of the sentence.

 

“Holy moly.” Alice says after another long pause. “You don’t know anything about me. How old are you?”

“Thirty. Why does that matter?”

 

“So you probably missed when Shadow Mask and I were in the media. You know, Emi? The woman I served with for close to two decades? She’s gay. She married my manager, who’s also a woman. I don’t hate gay people. I think any love is preferable to hate.”

She sighs. “Yeah, some of your best friends are gay. Good for you. The Reagans were best buds with Rock Hudson until they decided to let him die.”

 

“Who?” Alice blinked. “Look, I – I – I’m…” The Oathkeeper looks as though some kind of confession might escape her, and she turns red in the face. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t let anyone die.”

Max lets out a pained laugh. “Wow! Wow, you can say that with a straight face! Fu- je- I mean, “ she works her mouth for a moment, trying to find a non-profane exclamation, and lands on “really, say what you will about going Freelance but NONE of us are THAT deluded.”

 

The red patches in her cheek bloom. “You b- bi – You are a bully.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I am. I don’t take any sh- any nonsense from people who act like they’re better than me.”

 

Alice stared down at the envelopes, stuffing them. “Well, great. I hope you’re real proud of yourself. You must be a real great person to be around. Sure am looking forward to the next eight hours of stuffing envelopes.”

“Yeah, well. The feeling’s mutual.” Max screws up her face and tries to focus on envelope-stuffing. Hey, the thought occurs to her, this is just like when you had to stay home and do chores sometimes. Just focus on what you’re doing. Don’t think about why everything sucks or you’ll dwell on it.

 

They’re silent for a few moments. “So,” Alice finally ventures. “Did you watch a lot of Legion news growing up? You’ve heard of Emi. Some people your age haven’t. I’m just… curious. Is all.”

“Let’s put it this way. My mom’s a big fan.”

 

“…Well, I mean, you’re, ah, I mean, my mother and father didn’t really encourage me in my career, so, that’s something.”

This time the laugh she stifles is a giggle. Like one of those giddy ones people make when everything is fucked. “Ha. Encouraged my career. Yeah, no, not … really … at all.”

 

“Oh. I’m, ah, I’m… sorry. I…” There’s another long pause. If Scott were here, he’d fix things. He’s good at talking to people. Everything she said just seemed to make things worse. “Well, you’re very… successful! You even, ah, threw me off a roof!”

“Jeez. Thanks, but you can stop. I -” She swallows. “Yeah, look, it’s not your fault my mom’s an utter waste of human space, okay? I do actually know that. No need to reassure me she did a great job, cause she did not.”

“I’m – sorry about your mother. Uh. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Quit being such a beautiful and convenient stick for moms to beat their daughters with, maybe?”

 

Alice put an envelope in between two pieces of paper. “I – what?”

“Do you not get what you are? To, like, most people who admire you?” Max looks weirdly calm. She’s folding envelopes at an impressive rate. “You’re God’s chosen. Which means everything you are, and do, is what God wants. Beautiful married mom of two. And everything you do and say backs it up. I guarantee you there’s a kid in this city getting hit or cussed out or denied food right now whose parent is telling her: it’s because you’re not Oathkeeper.”

 

With shaking hands, Alice puts an envelope inside another envelope, and then drops it. “I – But – That’s not – I mean, there’s – There’s only one Oathkeeper, it’s me, I can’t – That’s not fair -”

“Oh shit? It’s NOT?!?!” Her tone is manic.

 

Alice just puts her head in her hands and stares at the table.

 

Max keeps on folding.

 

There’s eventually a sound that should be satisfying, but isn’t. The Oathkeeper, the Hero of Twin Falls, the woman who Max has hated for so long

 

is crying.

 

Max stops. “Wait, uh -” She reaches out, like she’s going to touch Oathkeeper on the shoulder, but pulls her hand back because why did she even have that impulse. “God. Look, I’m sure you’re a great mom. To your kids. And stuff.”

 

Oathkeeper finally wipes her eyes and goes back to envelope stuffing. “I try,” she says, refusing to make eye contact.

 

“I – probably shouldn’t have -” She falls silent.

 

“No. No, you should have. I can’t ever be blind to injustice, to hatred, I can’t… I protect. I serve. I can’t do that if I’m blinded by pride. If I am hurting people, if my image is hurting people, then… I have to do something. Thank you. For telling me.”

“Uh. Any time.”

There’s a pause.

“Look, this is personal as – as hell, so don’t answer if you don’t – but  … do you believe in hell?”

“…I don’t know.” Alice finally says. “I don’t believe in a Hell where people like – where any of us go. It used to comfort me, thinking about a Hell – after Anathema killed my parents. I thought, you know, there’d be justice. But… I think we may be all the justice we get, you know? God’s role isn’t to… to hurt us like that. It’s… He is kind. And… I can’t imagine that He would inflict that on people for… wearing the wrong fibers. Being gay. Any of that.”

“Yeah. That … that’s really decent of you.”

A little more paper-folding pause.

“I don’t think people know about that. Because hell is pretty … basic. For a lot of people.”

 

“It’s hard to talk about… the particulars of my faith. In public. I have kids. Ruth is thirteen, Tim is seven. I… worry. Perhaps that’s cowardly of me. I just… When Scott and I first started dating, we got, ah, caught. Doing… what should… what some people think should be reserved for marriage. People care about – what I do. What I think. When I wasn’t married, they keyed my car and threw eggs at my aunt. Now that I have kids…”

“Mm … I guess I get that. I dunno. I just … think hell is a really … it’s a horrible thing to push on a kid.”

 

“It is,” Alice agrees. “I’m… sorry you dealt with that. I don’t take my children to church. I… We encourage them to make their own choices about faith. As I did, when I was young.”

“Huh.” Max … can’t think of anything to say to that. [tag, though personally I’d also be okay wrapping up the scene here/soon]((Yeah I think they have pretty much reached a tentative truce. There’s just one more thing I want to cover.))

After a long silence, Alice glances up. “Your mother. Ah, she have… a name? A full name?”

“Yeah. Why?”

 

The Oathkeeper finishes one pile of envelopes and starts with another. “There are people who write to me. I’d be interested in knowing if she’s one of them.”

“…oh. Man. I … don’t know if she ever did that. It’s Sarah Roberts. Uh. You know, right, that if you do find her, not to put her in touch with me?”

 

“No, of course not.”

An intern enters the room. “As a thank you,” she beams. “We all pitched in to get you guys pizza!”

“Oh! Thank you!” Alice says, relieved for the distraction and tension breaker.

 

“Oh, awesome. Y’all’re the best.” She makes her way to the pizza and immediately starts chowing down. Through a full mouth: “Hey, Oa-Alice! There’s anchovies!”