An Impromptu Adventure

Tags: Toronto, Canada, Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan, HIVE, Justin Trudeau, Eli “Naut” Vallejo, Hamilton Tideward, Hard Reset

 

Canada has just finished a recent election, and the hunky new new Prime Minister is visiting the city of Toronto. Heroes are there for their own reasons – protection, opportunity, or circumstance.

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Wunderkinder: Alone

 

FAIRFAX, IOWA, USA

January, 2022

 

The Infinity Legion’s decades of dominance over the infrastructure of Earth had led to many of the towns and smaller cities across the United States of America becoming slightly homogenous, with familiar elements on every street corner. Legion recruitment offices, news stands stocked with The Infinity Report, the occasional museum or monument…

 

A young woman who had grown up in such a city now found herself on the wrong side of the world as she knew it.

 

Her name was Mariah, and she had four more legs than she’d ever had before in her life. Her grossly elongated torso wobbled precariously as she fought to become used to the additional appendages and shifted weight. Her upper body was mercifully recognizable, though covered with a layer of fur that she’d also never had before.

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Wunderkinder: Strategic

THE FLYING FORTRESS

(CURRENTLY ABOVE MONTREAL, CANADA)

 

Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan leaned back from her desk, stretching her wrists and cracking her knuckles. Her role as General, Recruitment Management Officer, Logistics Manager, Public Relations Officer (depending on the day and the duties at hand) and, of course, a mother was a challenging one. But sometimes, on days like this… She knew she was doing some good in the world.

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Jupiter Strike and Oathkeeper IN: Rallying the Troops

The great meeting hall could easily sit a hundred Legionnaires, from the hulking Blast Zone to the meek Nix. Today, there were only two Legionnaires on Earth and on duty.


One of them was Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan, one of the highest ranking Legionnaires on Earth and a legend. She sat, wearing a black and white spotted blouse above narrow white slacks. Her mane of golden hair was brushed back.

 

Next to her sat a girl, about twelve, with dense curly hair and disinterested hazel eyes, reading a book. This was not a Legionnaire – this was Ruth McGowan, daughter of Oathkeeper and Blue Streak.


There was a sizzle and a crackle outside the building, followed by a roll of thunder that reverberated through the building. It was maybe two, three heartbeats away. A minute later, a slim figure flew in, slow and gently for anyone who knew her.

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A Stitch In Time: Family Dinner

CHEZ McGOWAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 

Tabitha Armitage was dressed nicely, but not formally. A wide belt bisected her simple black dress, and a brown cardigan covered by a green shawl kept out the lingering March chill. Beside her walked Emi Surikabe, who wore a long-legged black romper with a burgundy silk shirt open and flowing over it.

 

“Apparently ey managed to suss the social situation well enough to know that Scoremaster wouldn’t see a sneak attack? I was equal parts terrified and impressed, if I’m being honest.”

 

“It sounds like Nat is really working out for you, love,” Tabitha smiled.

 

“Ey is. Are? No, it’s is.” Emi smirked. “Still learning. And yes, ey is. I know they’ve been a bit of a handful for you.”

 

“Nothing compared to Alice,” Tabitha laughed, and they stopped in front of the front door to the McGowan household. “Speaking of, are you ready?”

 

“Yes! I’m excited, actually; I haven’t seen the kids in too long.”

 

“Agreed,” Tabitha said, then rang the doorbell.

 

Alice McGowan opened the door, dressed in turquoise and fuschia. The bold jewel tones looked good on her, although she had a slightly strained smile. There was the smell of something burnt in the kitchen. Tim, her son, stood on the staircase behind her, waiting patiently for his two “Aunties” to enter and give hugs and kisses.


“So good to see you both.” Alice said.  “Please, come in, both of you. Scott’s just, ah, getting some catering. He’ll be right in.”

“Oh dear,” Tabitha smiled, offering Alice a hug. “Sorry if things went awry.”

 

Emi followed Tabitha in offering Alice a hug, then immediately slipped under her arm and swept Tim up in a big hug. “Tiiiim! How’s my guy?”

 

“Auuuuntie!” Tim squealed as the short woman spun him around after a long hug. “I’m going to school with civilians now, an’ I made some friends, an’ -”

“Hold on, Tim, don’t talk her ear off.” Alice said, smiling. “Why don’t you go set the table?”

He nodded and bounded off, full of energy.

 

“You have to tell me all about it over dinner!” Emi called after him, then chuckled. “He’s gonna forget to tell me all about it.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll remind him,” Tab pulled the door shut behind her. “Are you doing all right, Alice? Just regular stress, or is something else bothering you?”

 

“…It’s Ruth,” Alice finally admitted, folding her arms across her chest defensively, keeping her voice low. “She’s Emerged.”

 

She paused, biting her lower lip. “She’s a Null.”

 

“Oh, Alice,” Tabitha placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder.


“I’m going to go help with the kitchen,” Emi said, slipping away quietly. “I think you two need a minute.”

 

“How are you doing with it, hon?” Tabitha took both of Alice’s shoulders in her hands and pulled her closer.

 

“I always wanted her to be special, to be… one of us. Tim is, and I always thought she was just a late bloomer. But this? Being Null is no easy path. I want better for her, but…”

“It’s not easy, but who better to make it livable than you?” Tab drew Alice into a close hug. “Ruth will still have a good life. She’s your daughter. I know this is hard on you, too, that you were expecting… something else. But Scott is here for you, and Emi and I are here for you, and we are all here for Ruth. It’s going to be okay.”

 

“Thank you, Tabs. I’m sure it’ll get better, it’s just… gosh, it’s easier to be a General than a mother some days.” She smiles, and then the front door swings open once again.

“work easier than life? don’t get me started,” Tab murmured.

 

“Who’s hungry?” Enter Scott McGowan, holding bags labelled with BURGER CHURCH. “It’s still hot.”

 

“Well this certainly takes me back,” Tabitha laughs, eyeballing the bags. “I haven’t had Burger Church in years.”

 

“It’s good!” He grins. “I mean, the new fry recipe isn’t as good as the old one, but that’s okay. Can’t have too many carbs, I’m gettin’ old.” He shrugged off his jacket, revealing the MERCURY unit underneath. “Hey, you guys go ahead and get started, I’ll join you in a second. This thing ain’t much suited for dinner with the family.”

 

THE MCGOWAN DINING ROOM



The McGowan dining room was significantly more cozy than a stranger would likely have expected of the Earth’s premier Legionnaire family, but Tab and Emi were well used to it by now. Ruth was sitting at the table already, nose buried in a book. Tim fiddled with the silverware. Alice’s face creased into the slightest frown at the burger bags, but sat down without complaint.

 

As everyone settled in, Emi asked, “So, Alice, Scott, how’s work? Anything exciting going on?”

 

“Let Alice say grace first, Emi,” Tab reminded.

 

“Oop! Right, sorry.”

 

Alice smiles gratefully. “Thank you, Tabs. Thank you O Lord, for these gifts…” She kept her head down, reciting the old familiar prayer. Scott made eye contact with Emi over the table and gave a small, slightly exasperated smile. By the time Alice looked up, his face was jovial as before.


“Well, y’know, I’ve been in the garage a lot lately, working on projects. Kind of thinking about the whole semi-retirement thing,” he mused, spearing some fries on his fork and dipping them generously in gravy. “On the other hand, not sure how much work there is for a guy like me these days.”

“I have faith in your ability to never run out of projects, Scott,” Tabitha smiled, “I’ve seen you solve enough problems that may not have existed before you set out to solve them.”

 

“Well, there’s some underwater sort of exoskeletons I’m looking at – you know, the MERCURY isn’t really equipped for underwater, and there’s been revelations that make me think we really oughta be ready for that sort of thing. I mean, I’ll always be happy in the garage, but part of me itches for front line action again.”

“There’s less and less of it these days.” Alice sighs. “You know how it is, with the Freelancers…”

“Didn’t we agree they ain’t appropriate dinner table talk?”

“I know.”

“I promise I don’t mean to maintain a contentious line of conversation, and I’ll drop it if you’d like,” Emi cut in, “but I’m seeing some very encouraging coalition-building between Freelancer and Legion agents. Nat has been making friends with anyone who isn’t a Villain, and it seems to be going very well.”

 

“Maybe, maybe, some of their new recruits are worth working with.” Alice grinds her teeth. “But the organization is corrupt down to the core, if you ask me. Did you know they stole some of Scott’s work, used it for their own means? One of them threw me off a roof.”

“Hon. Yes,” Tabitha said. “We remember. We’ve known you for more than the years it’s been since those things happened. You’re right that there’s still corruption in the Freelancers, but Emi’s right too. The proliferation of social media, networking, and friendship across factional lines is something I’ve been watching myself, and it’s hard not to feel somewhat optimistic about it.”

 

“Well -” Alice began, but Scott cut her off.


“Did you know that we moved the kids into civilian schools, speaking of factions and optimism and all of that good stuff. They’re really flourishing. Great staff, great teachers.”

“Tim was telling me! That’s great to hear.’ Emi grinned, then directed her next question toward the McGowan offspring. “It can be a lot of work to adapt to new environments like that. Are the other kids treating you okay?”

 

“Yeah, we were playing tag, and everyone agreed that since I’m suuuper fast, it wasn’t fair to have me on a team, so everyone just tried to chase me, and it was so much fun, and I got up the jungle gym, and then one of them grabbed me as I went down the slide, and then Mrs. Sanderson told us we had to be careful, so we started playing some other games…”

Ruth just shrugs, pushing the fries around her plate. “They’re okay.”

“Well you can tell me all about it when we play later!” Emi told them, glancing up at Scott and Alice to read their reactions to the kids before returning her eyes to them. “School is real hard work, but you two are gonna do great at the new one.”

 

“Have you talked to Miss Herja about your plans for the MERCURY, Scott?” Tabitha asked. “She’s been doing some exosuit R&D lately, and would probably have useful things to contribute.”

 

“Oh, yeah, she’s been great.” Scott grins. “She’s on another level in a lot of ways, just… us technokinetics or whatever you call it each have our own brand of genius. I’m an execution guy, she’s an ideas person… It works out super well.”

“It’s all utterly alien to me, but it’s just fascinating to see what the lot of you come up with,” Tabitha says, neatly annexing a portion of her burger with fork and knife. “Valkyrie’s just everywhere these days. It’s inspiring. Perhaps when you retire, you could open up a workshop for hire with her.” It wasn’t clear whether that was in jest.

 

“Aw, hell -” Scott began, and Alice cut in.

Scott -”

“Heck, we’ve taken over a good portion of the fortress already, and we’re starting to bring in some real income. Enough that Alice is thinking about re-starting programs like the Kids Corps, we can finally afford to start bringing in real Administrative talent too. I know that’ll be a relief to you, Tabs.”

“I won’t know what to do with myself!” Tabitha faked a laugh for a moment, then deadpans: “For all that is good and holy, yes. To say my hands are full is a gross understatement.”

 

“She’s sleeping in her office,” Emi complained.

 

“I’m sleeping in my office,” Tab acknowledged, looking sheepish. “Things got a lot easier once we hired the Sthenographer, but that only made me realize all of the things that had been put off before she showed up. It hasn’t been great for my stress levels, if we’re being honest.”

 

“It hasn’t been great for your love life either,” Emi muttered under her breath, but audible enough to hear.

 

Emi, not at the table.” Alice chided. “But yes, I’ve been stepping up my recruitment. We’re finally starting to rebuild the Administrative sector. It’s hard, because if I find a promising candidate, I have to get them to sign ASAP. Cheney keeps poaching talent. But the promise of serving the Legion and having moral values seems to be a draw.”

“Yes, some of them slip away rather fast, don’t they,” Tabitha paused with a forkful of burger partway to her mouth. “At least the Freelancers didn’t get ahold of that Pariah girl. She seems to be doing a fairly good job over in Detroit. Markus worked with her briefly and had nothing but good things to say.” She put the forkful of burger in her mouth.


“She’s open to working with us?” Alice’s eyes brightened. “Oh my goodness, does she have an address?”

Tabitha held up a hand until she finished chewing. Then, “easy, hon. The coffin squad happened to be in her territory and she helped them contain a Wheird. I’m not sure how open she is to working with us outside of defending her home. We don’t have her address.”

 

“She did show up at Nat’s club when ey invited people, though,” Emi pointed out. “And there were both Legionnaires and Freelancers there. It seems like she’s at least not holding a grudge toward our agents.”

 

“Well, that’s good at least. I’m sure Scanner can help me find her. Once she hears my recruitment speech, I’m sure she’ll sign up.”

“We’re, ah,” Emi broached the topic in a delicate tone, “we’re actually thinking of something a bit subtler, Alice.”

 

“In my experience,” Alice says, looking proud. “Subtlety is highly overrated.”

Tabitha and Scott exchanged a Look, then Emi and Tabitha exchanged a Look, then Tabitha shifted in her seat, eyes down, before looking directly at Alice. “Actually, Alice… we’re going to send in the Damselfly.”

 

Alice considered this information briefly, before sighing. “I don’t have to like it,” she finally said.

 

“I would never ask such a thing of you, hon,” Tabitha said. “It’s just a matter of… the one thing we know about Miss Pauker’s MO is that she will show up if there’s a threat to her territory. Nat brings threats close to emself by nature. This is our best bet at having Pariah and Damselfly on the same side in the same room with a strong motivation to work with each other. If we’re going to establish a positive dynamic with Pariah, this is our best bet.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea.” Scott said with just a touch too much enthusiasm. Alice glanced at him, and then gave another sigh. “Kids, are you listening? Once you start your after school program with the Kids Corps, you’ll have to tackle problems with these. And it’s very important to be a hero who does the right thing, isn’t that right?”

Emi and Tabitha both bobbed their heads in agreement to reinforce the lesson.

 

Tim eagerly launched into another long speech about his thoughts on heroes and the Kids Corps. Ruth, meanwhile, had evidently finished pushing fries around her plate. “Mom, can I be excused?”

“Put your plate in the sink, please, honey.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“Nat is doing really well, honestly,” Emi said once Tim’s speech was finished. “Ey nonlethally subdued a Villain while on a completely unrelated mission, and did so more safely than I care to tell em. Ey… needs to tighten up on the combat awareness, but I’m very proud.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve met the kid yet.” Scott says, thoughtfully. “Probably seen ‘em around in the cafeteria, though. Kind of short, floaty, redhead?”

“That’s our Nat,” Tabitha confirmed with a slight hint of weariness in her voice. “Ey’s been a handful for me, honestly. I think that ey might already be–” her eyes darted to Tim, then back to her plate “–close… friends… with Brozerker and Jupiter Strike, and apparently ey’s started dating that cartomancer we’re trying to recruit? Nothing’s exploded yet, but I’m trying to stay braced in case something does. And I can’t deny that ey has already been an extremely effective covert agent.”

 

“Mm.” Alice said, lips thinning in disapproval. “Who wants dessert? I managed not to burn that, at least.”

“Dessert would be lovely, thank you,” Emi smiled brightly. Tabitha nodded as well.

 

Before long, Alice had carved up a decadent triple chocolate layer cake, serving large slices to everyone at the table. “Oh, speaking of Administration, Tabitha… Ah, well, there’s something you should know.”

Tab raised her eyebrows and inclined her head slightly; a ‘go on’ gesture.

 

“…Helen Havelock wants to return to the Legion. In a strictly civilian role, of course, considering her… injuries.”

Tabitha and Emi both froze in place, blinking in surprise, a forkful of cake already halfway to Emi’s face.

 

“Helen Havelock?” Tabitha breathed. “I’ll be damned.”

 

Alice smiled widely. “She’s actually a very nice woman. We talked for a while. She had a lot of advice for me.”

Well, that was no surprise. Helen Havelock had founded the Legion herself, taking on the title of Excalibur. Wielding golden armour and a longsword, she had fought the forces of the Third Reich, the enemies of humanity, and been a vanguard for social change. Without her, there would likely be no Legion. It was a shame her powers had been stripped away by the Battle of New York, so long ago…

 

“And, just for saying that word in my house, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Alice said, half-teasing. Only half.


“I was going to do it anyway,” Tabitha teased back, her tone prim to the point of exaggeration. “So there.” She stood and walked around the table, collecting the empty plates and glasses.

 

“What kind of advice did Mrs. Havelock have for you, Alice?” Emi asked, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“We talked about the pressures of the lifestyle, and the difference between then and now. But most importantly, she told me to always keep faith. She puts the same emphasis on faith as I do. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Emi agreed. “We all have different things keeping us going, and it can be very important to find mentors who can identify with that. I’m happy for you, Alice.”

 

“Don’t be happy for me,” Alice jokes. “Be happy for Tabitha. Helen knows the Legion like the back of her hand. I’m sure she’ll be a big help in the coming days, and maybe Tabitha can sleep in a gosh danged bed.”

“She’d better, if she doesn’t want me to bring other people into it,” Emi smirked.

 

“Emi! We weren’t gonna–” Tabitha hissed from the doorway, then pressed her lips together and chirped, clasping her hands. “Dishes are done!”

 

“Tim, hon, why don’t you go set up your Nintendo?” Alice waited until her son left the room and then looked at her guests with wide eyes. “Are you thinking about divorcing?”

“I’m sure it was a joke,” Scott says, standing and putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You know how crazy hours can get to a person, right?”

“Of course I was joking!” Emi laughed nervously.

 

“No no no!” Tabitha also laughed, also nervously. “We wouldn’t– that’s not what I meant at all.”

 

“We were just joking about the whole thing,” Emi shot a look at Tabitha so pointed that even Alice could catch it.

 

Tabitha wiped her brow. “Can I make some decaf for anybody?”

 

Alice glanced between the two of them, and then a lightbulb flared to life above her head. “Oh! Oh. I see. You know, I uh- I’ll take my coffee um, caffeinated. Black, please. Nice and strong, ha… ha!”

“Caffeine for everyone!” Tabitha disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Emi sweating silently, eyes darting between Scott and Alice.

 

“….. soooo.” Emi said.

 

“We – don’t need to discuss anything any further, thank you.” Alice says, red in the face and making intense eye contact with a light fixture. “Especially not with both of my children home. Your home, your marriage, your business.”

“Sure, s-sure,” Emi stammered, eyes averted. A moment later, she put her hands on the table and blurted, “it’s just–“

 

“Emi!” Tabitha rebuked from the kitchen.

 

“You guys are our best friends!” Emi continued, ignoring her wife’s objection. “It felt like lying to you. I lie to enemies, politicians. I don’t want to lie to friends. I hate lying to friends.”

 

Tabitha appeared in the doorway. “Emi, if Alice doesn’t want to know, Alice doesn’t want to know.”

 

“But she was–“

 

“It’s her call. Not ours.”

 

“What is there to know?!” Alice suddenly said, incredulous. “You – you have… extra… lovers. Okay, I know that. I’m aware. Are you planning to introduce me to any of them?”

“Well, we don’t, actually.” Tabitha folded her arms and shrugged. “Not yet. Look, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have said anything, all right? I’m sorry, Scott, this must be terribly awkward for you.”

 

Emi put her face in her hands.

 

Scott leaned back in his chair, muttering: “Christ, this is hideously awkward, yeah.”

Alice was too shaken to even chide Scott on taking the Lord’s name in vain. “I… support… you? If you’re happy, that’s… good? And fine?”

“Thanks,” Tabitha replied, her voice as flat and cold as slate. “You know, I don’t really need coffee after all. Emi, I’m going to go get some fresh air.”

 

She walked out of the dining room with long, measured strides. Emi didn’t move.

 

Scott moved over to his friend and put an arm around her shoulders. “Hey.” he said. “Alice, why don’t you go check on Ruth?”

 

Alice acquiesced, standing and leaving the room, her face still incredulous and confused.

 

“Hey. Emi. Look at me.”

Emi turned her face toward Scott, lowering her hands. She wasn’t crying, but there was clear despair behind those deep brown eyes.

 

“What’s up?” He asked, keeping things simple at first. “Is this about the lying thing, or something else?”

“We weren’t expecting anything, Scott, we weren’t trying to… get you guys to do anything. This wasn’t supposed to change things, it was for us to actively be in each other’s lives. To be honest.”

 

“Yeah, I get that. Look, we’ve been kind of distant lately, but… hey, y’know, we’re all working and things are tense ‘cause of work and politics and all of that. But if you’re happy in your marriage, we think that’s rad and of course we support you. And you know Alice has come a long, long way that she said she supported it as well.”

 

He cracked a warm smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “So, that’s out of the way. All of our cards are on the table. We’re still here. Let’s make this more regular, yeah? Keep the momentum building, work on going back to how things used to be, back when we were… what, in our 20s? We were so young.”

“Cards on the table,” Emi murmured, eyes downcast, then looked back up. “Scott, Tabitha is still in love with Alice.”

 

“Huh.” Scott said, and drummed his fingers on the table, processing that. “I didn’t know she was in love with Alice in the first place. Then again, I’ve been pretty oblivious to this sort of thing. And hey, look, Alice is an incredible woman. It’s hard to blame Tabitha, God knows I’ve fallen for her charms as well.”

“She was. Is. And it’s never hurt me or made me feel like Tab didn’t want to be with me. But she’s had this locked up for decades now, and I wanted– I told her that she should… say something. Not to change anything, just to stop holding onto it. But it’s Tab.”

 

“Tabs likes to sort things nicely and compartimalize them. She has her little filing cabinet over here for work –” Scott taps the side of his head. “And this little filing cabinet over here for the marriage, and I’m sure that Alice goes into another filing cabinet. That’s her system, and I think she likes to keep her files nice and separate. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. You two are just different.”

“I know.” Emi sighs. “I’ve known that for a long time. But I guess I needed to hear you say so. I don’t know. I just feel like it’s something I hoped she’d do, and then this happened and she’s going to clam up about it for another twenty years. I don’t really think it’s good for her.”

 

“Eh, we all indulge in shit that’s a little bad for us. You’re still in the field despite your knee injury, I’m still married to Alice -” he gives a wicked grin. “Seriously, it’s one thing to love her from afar, but bein’ in the thick of it is a whole other ball game. I have a few cigarettes… It’s great of you try to and fix things, but Tabs is an adult, she can make her own choices. Even bad ones.”

Emi frowned. “Yeah, I noticed– is stuff okay, Scott? Are you and Alice okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re okay. She’s a great mom, a great person. This sounds arrogant, so you’ll have to forgive me – I’m a genius, and she’s… not. She’s a little dim. It was hard to deal with for a while, so we went into counselling, worked on some stuff. She’s a good woman. She has so much love to give. Y’know? Before I ended up with her, I dated around, slept around. I know what a good relationship is and isn’t, and this is. Even if she’s ah, kind of a doof sometimes.”

“I’m not going to try to tell you that you’re not a genius, Scott,” Emi smirked, “nor that Alice’s intelligence isn’t… focused elsewhere. And I’m very glad that things are fine. The two of you are good for each other.”

 

Emi took a deep breath, then let it out and glanced back up at Scott. “Do you think less of us, Scott? For opening up our marriage?”

 

“Absolutely not. I’d be a massive hypocrite if I did. I slept around for a decade straight before I ended up with Alice, and if she offered me the same deal, I’d be – well, I’d be tempted. You’re like a sister to me, Emi, alright? Your marriage ain’t gonna change that.”

“All right. Thank you.” She sighed. “I should go retrieve my wife. Knowing her, her brain has already eaten itself with anxiety.”

 

“And I should take care of my wife as well.” Scott gives Emi another hug. “Bowling. Next Friday. A McGowan-Armitage-Surikabe affair. I expect you guys at the lanes in the goofy shoes and big smiles at seven sharp.”

“I look forward to beating all three of you into the finely-polished floor,” Emi grinned.

 

A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward

Estelle sat in the largest, most comfortable chair in the guest room, hands pressed together and fingers steepled.

 

“You may have saved the world.” she finally pronounced, a queen on her throne. “Everyone, everyone, on Earth must thank you.”

“Oh goob. Dat’s fantastig.” Fi mumbled from behind a handkerchief. Apparently, kicking an angel into the back of its own mind had consequences, and in this case, those consequences were periodic nosebleeds. “but I meang. I lib on da wurlb?” Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward”

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: 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!”

Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs

Smoke & Mirrorballs

 

THE FLYING FORTRESS

 

Someone had taken the Damselfly.

 

The whole point of the Damselfly, of Nat in the Legion, was to be bait. The problem was that a Legionnaire had given into the lure.


“This shouldn’t be…” Alice said, white in the face. “We screen people. We only recruit heroes. Villains go for Nat.”

Smokescreen, the Legionnaire who had taken Nat, was leaving a trail. She was tweeting as the Damselfly.

 

“It’s not that simple, Alice.” Tabitha said, trying to be reassuring.

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs”

Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome

SECOND ALBUM SYNDROME


Chad listened to the challenge from the loud speakers, took a breath and made to set Fi down. “Okay. I’m gonna…”  

 

Good enough for Fi. She stormed right inside.  

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome”