Evolution: Therapeutic

FREELANCER HQ, ARCHAVEN

NAMI MEDA’S OFFICE

 

The girl sitting in the comfortable chair was refusing to make eye contact – she played with her phone instead, curled up in the chair like a cat. She would look comfortable if she wasn’t so stiff.

“Good afternoon, Vera.” Dr. Meda’s voice was even. Dr. Meda’s voice was always even, her posture always perfect. The Freelancers called her ‘Medahuman’, because she was human but seemed to have an impossibly iron will. She was the longest-lived mental health counselor in the history of the organization, even after losing an eye to a violent client.

Continue reading “Evolution: Therapeutic”

Psychological Fallout

FREELANCER HQ

NAMI MEDA’S OFFICE

 

Dr. Meda’s door was, in fact, large enough for Wasteland and his shiny new armor. He wasn’t sure when she’d enlarged it, but it was before he started having his sessions with her. The room itself was spacious, and Wasteland knew that the couch was both large enough and durable enough to accommodate him.

 

The doctor herself was seated in her chair, swiveled away from her workstation. She offered a cool smile. “Hello, Wasteland. Have a seat and tell me about your week, won’t you?”

 

Wasteland nodded at Dr. Meda, and smiled behind his helmet. One thing the doctor always did, was make him feel human. As much as he had disliked therapists and therapy in general in his previous life, Dr. Meda’s sessions had really helped him. He’d never admit it outside her office, of course. He sat, the new armor easing into the extra durable couch, and he put the massive gauntlets on his knees. “Hi Nami, uh… well, my week. It’s been…. a strange week. Uhm.”

 

He gathered his thoughts. “Well, started off pretty okay. Finished assembling the armor that you see before you. Had some very kind help from some of the Legion tech folks. I can actually fly without crashing into things, for a sustained amount of time. Which is beyond great. Flying is just…. amazing.”

 

He pauses, thinking, “Well, then there was this pyrokinetic in Boulder, Colorado. He’d… well, he had a history of burning people alive, people how were…. I don’t know, rich or well to do, or had a lot of media attention. Rooster and I took him down, as well as Throwaway…. What kind of codename is that? I mean, really. I feel kinda bad for the girl. I mean, I chose mine for obvious reasons, but… eh. Off topic. I got carried away taking him down, Rooster nailed him pretty hard, too, but… This guy, Otto de Fur, or whatever, had taken this classy strip joint hostage. A lot of people scared. And I got carried away.” He repeats. “I nearly beat this guy to death in front of people, I just got… so angry. He had all this power, and he gets off on being the center of attention and murdering innocent folks who didn’t do anything wrong.” The helmet shakes a little, side to side, clearing his thoughts. “Luckily, Bart was there to stop me from doing him in right then and there. Could have been really bad.”

 

“It’s a very human response to be overwhelmed by emotion,” Nami replies, “but I’m glad you didn’t have to go through that. It sounds like this villain stung you deeper than you expected, though, like it was personal. Do you have any idea why?”

 

Wasteland thinks about that, then shrugs, the shoulders of the suit groaning a little as it tries to mimic the subtle gesture. “I’m not quite sure. Maybe because my own relation to fire and heat? Or what he was doing?” The helmet looks down at the floor. “The guy was a decent pyrokinetic. Good looking guy, could probably have chosen normal profession he wanted, if he wanted to. He could have been normal.” Wasteland looks back up at Dr. Meda. “He could have had whatever he wanted, and what he wanted was to be an asshole. To hurt other people for no reason other than his ego.” He pauses, thinking. “It seems so selfish. I was maybe a little jealous of him. And angry that he wasted it.”

 

“You feel as though he squandered an opportunity that you never had?” Nami suggests.

 

That. That, a lot.” He looks at one of his hands, the dark green metal, the articulated, thick, cold fingers. “I’m stuck in this thing, always will be, far as I can tell, unless I’m down in my bunker.” He sighs, the sound odd through the speakers of the helmet. “I mean, I get it. I’ve, we’ve worked through this, and I’m pretty okay now with the suit. And living in it. But it still hurts when I see that kind of stuff, you know?”  He looks back down at the floor, then back up at Dr. Meda.

 

“And there was another Black Operation. Scorched Earth tactics. It was… messy. But I got the job done.”

 

Nami nodded, writing notes in her little spiral-bound. “Understood. I think it’s normal for you to feel that frustration and bitterness, Wasteland. You’ve suffered a great deal and operate under some deep limitations. About the other mission, then we can come back to that: how did you feel about it? Scorched Earth is more than nearly any of us are asked to do. Are you all right?”

 

Wasteland’s voice is steadier when he talks about this kind of stuff, he’s more sure of himself. At least regarding this mission. “It… was what it was. And it needed to be done. It had to be done. The people I’m sent after in these kinds of missions, they’re real monsters. And they’re also people.” He takes a deep breath. “The Freelancers get a bad rap, that we’re mercenaries, for hire. But it’s also true, I think, we’re still better than some of those others out there. I don’t think the Legion would have had the… I’m not sure what the word would be. Fortitude? Balls? Amorality? to kill the people I killed.” He pauses for a moment, thinking. “Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know what these people were doing. Had done. Were planning to do. I think, I believe, that anything less than extreme prejudice would have resulted in a lot more blood. A lot more pain for innocent people.” He looks at Meda, conviction in his words.

 

“I’d like to make the observation,” Meda taps her lips with a pen, “that this is the first time in any of our sessions that I’ve heard you talk about the morality of mercenary work. In fact, you very rarely seem to want to express any opinions about your missions at all.”

 

Wasteland blinked behind his helmet, then let out a little laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. I’ve been…. I don’t know. I guess maybe being in the public light… Oh crap, Bart really got me thinking about politics and public eye.” He laughs, again, quietly. “You’re right. I guess I was just so… concerned, maybe. About what would happen to me if I didn’t get the cash to pay for the suit. For repairs. What would happen to people, I was willing to do anything, whatever it was. But, well, this mission, maybe? Or maybe just cycling back to other missions like this, thinking back, on the flight back?” He shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess maybe I’m getting a conscience? Wouldn’t that be inconvenient.” He says sarcastically, chuckling. “What do you think, Nami? Should I be… thinking about this kind of stuff, knowing that I’m going to have to do it again later?”

 

“I’m never going to discourage you from personal reflection, Wasteland,” Nami offered a small smile. “It’s a lot easier to manage our feelings and hang-ups if we go looking for them and we’re proactive about how to address them. If you know and understand these things—your resentment, your conscience—then you will be better able to manage them when they cross a line.”

 

He nods, understanding. “Makes sense. Find your weak spots, deal with them, make a plan of attack. That’s good, I like that.” He pauses, then chuckles. “I guess, intellectually, I’m fine. I was a good soldier. The mission was completed. Nothing unnecessary. I don’t feel guilty, at least as far as I can tell. I might have a few nightmares, but that’s par for the course.” He nods, feeling even more confident in himself than before.

 

“Have you had any new nightmares? New themes?” Nami resumed writing in her notebook. “I promise I won’t get too Jungian, but it helps me understand what you’re thinking about right now.”

 

He shakes his head. “Nothing too new, that I can remember. Always fire, like I’ve said a billion times before.” He chuckles, though there’s a distinct lack of mirth this time. “Different faces, different people. Mostly people I’ve burned or irradiated, like always. I think there’s more people though, faces in a crowd, rather than just one or two. I guess my body count is getting high enough my subconscious thought it was time to modify?”

 

“That makes sense,” Nami replied, nodding, “and it may also be your subconscious evolving its focus. Do you ever worry that it’s going to become too much for you to bear?”

 

He takes a long time to think about that, then shakes his head. “Honestly? If you’d asked me that when I first started, or even a few years ago, I might have said yeah, I was worried. But, I know I have PTSD. I am working with you on treating it. I can handle it, and I can handle this. I might have some bad days. Some really bad days. But… I think I’m going to be okay. I’m not worried about it becoming too much, not right now. I know I’m doing everything in my power to keep myself stable and balanced.” He looks off to one corner, then back to Dr. Meda. “So, I don’t think I’m worried anymore. Other than that irrational worry that everyone has, I’m sure.” He chuckles lightly.

 

“Good. So!” Nami clicks her pen and looks up at Wasteland’s helmet. “You knew I was going to bother you about this eventually. So let’s talk about your social life.”

 

“Abuh? Social life?” The helmet tilts a little. “Uhhh…. Rooster has invited me to do some make a wish stuff, soup kitchen, and support of the… ah, gender and relations equality stuff? Honestly they keep adding letters and I’m never going to get all of them right anymore.” He sounds a LOT more uncertain now. Missions, fighting, kicking ass and taking names? He can do. Social interaction? RUN FOR THE HILLS.

 

“Been thinking about it. Would like to, you know? Also maybe sponsor some stuff myself, once I get a…. I can’t believe I’m saying this…. a decent public image. I don’t know. Lots of people like that, out in the open, it freaks me out a bit.”

 

“What do you imagine a decent public image would look like, for you?”

 

Wasteland kind of boggles, and puts a hand up to his helmet, as if to run a hand through his hair. Some gestures never really die. “I honestly don’t know. I never thought I’d -get- a public image. This is all brand new territory for me.” His hand clinks on the helmet, and he looks at the gauntlet, realizing what he was doing, then puts it back down. “Maybe if the news says that I’m not a health hazard while in the suit? I guess? That’d be nice?”

 

“That’s not so much a public image as a health advisory. What kind of a person do you want to be, out there in the world?”

 

“Uhm. I don’t know.” He sounds worried, now. “I don’t want people to find out who I was. What happened back… where I used to live. I guess, I could be a guy. In a suit. Who punches bad guys from time to time…which is what I am right now.” He sighs and his helmet clanks down into his hands. “I guess somebody who doesn’t do too bad a job helping out.”

 

“You want to be seen as helpful,” Nami prompts. “As an aid, rather than a threat. It’s all right to want these things, Wasteland. You deserve them, even if they are hard to achieve.”

 

“Yeah. I’d like to be helpful, I think. I mean, a threat, sure, I’d want to be known by the bad guys out there not to screw around with me.” He shakes his head. “But yeah, there’s that worry, that when someone sees me really cut loose, which, I’m in the public eye now, my whole helpful image…” He makes the sound of a bomb going off, his hands gesturing to an explosion. “No more nice public.”

 

“You were in public when you were fighting Otto da Fe,” oh, so that was his name. Evidently Dr. Meda had read the debrief already. “You felt out of control. But your team brought you back, and it may not even have been knowing what you were going through. You are developing the toolset that you need. These things aren’t inaccessible to you, and you are not doomed to be an uncontrollable force of nature.”

 

“That was… “ He paused, and thought. Well, she was his doctor, and she hasn’t led him wrong yet. “I knew his name was something like that!” His weak attempt at humor subsided, then he nodded. “Yeah. They did. You’ve got a point. There’s that. I guess some part of me was still in control, too. As he didn’t just go up in flames as I touched him, so…” He shrugged again. The poor armor just kind of twitches the shrug. “How should I react when someone asks me why I burned someone to death, in the heat of a fight? Is there any good answer?”

 

“Every sapient being struggles with the overwhelming impact that our body chemistry and environment has on us. You were saddled with a more dangerous set of bodily impulses than most people. It’s hardly unheard of for humans to be blinded with rage upon seeing atrocities, or their loved ones being hurt. You’ve needed time to learn how to keep yourself under the tighter standards of control than most people need. But it’s a human thing. You still have a human heart and mind. You are a person. You can be seen as a person.”

 

He chuckled again, again without mirth. “I think so sometimes, other days, not so much. I want to be. I know some villains out there, some heroes, want to be seen as larger than life. God given, or blessed, or whatever. I’ll take being just a person, and not something monstrous.”

 

“We’ll get you there. One last question, and then you get your homework.” Nami clicks her pen and raises her eyebrows. “Is Rooster your friend?”

 

Uh… yeah. I think so. At least we get along. Been out for drinks, we work well together… Nicer to me than some of the IT guys I’ve met.” He bobbed his head in agreement. “Yeah, I’d say we’re friends. Not the best buddies, but, you know.”

 

“Whom else are you friends with?”

 

Wasteland thought about it, and shrugged. “I don’t have anyone else. A few of the operations guys during my missions, we’re friendly enough, but we wouldn’t go hang out. Maybe some random folks over the internet, but obviously they don’t know who I am in the real world.”

 

“All right, then, here’s your homework for the rest of the month,” Nami offered him a tight smile, the kind that she only made when she was about to say something that he wouldn’t want to hear. “Make a new friend. Reach out to someone who isn’t in the Freelancers. Online is all right, but you need to actually reach out and be a person. Got it?”

 

Even behind his helmet, Nami could probably tell that Wasteland was giving her a mild glare. He was quiet for a second, then sighed. “I’ll…. do my best. I’ll try.”

 

“Good. You’ve got your homework, and I’ll see you in two weeks! Have a lovely rest of the month, Wasteland.” ((tag and scene?))((Yep! Thanks so much, this was a blast!))

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: 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”

Outreach: The Slip Up

ARCHAVEN

BLACK OPS STAFF LOCKERS

 

There were over twelve thousand possible combinations to open the combination lock Vera Newman kept on her locker in the corner of the black ops staff and prep room. She had taken the smallest locker, in the corner, since she wasn’t expected to bring gear – all she needed was her face. Well, her collection of faces.


Twelve thousand possible combinations might have been a problem to someone else, but Solomon Swift’s fingers span adroitly around the dial. Three thousand and four… Four thousand ten…

 

Click.

 

He eased the locker door open. Quietly, quietly.

 

Wasteland was already in a mood. His Black Ops mentor and friend, Trick, was in the medical center. Doctors said it could go either way. His bad luck powers had overcompensated against a bad guy, and the guy’s whole string of grenades had gone off, catching Trick in the blast as well. Mission accomplished, sure, but an operative was down, possibly done.

 

The rest of the guys had met for a quiet drink, to tell a few stories. The usual stuff. His armor was in quiet mode, for now. Every Black Operative knew that Wasteland could move very, very quietly when he wanted to. It was a misdirection, part of a big plan to make him seem like a big ol’ tank that couldn’t drive straight if his life depended on it.

 

He put a hand on the locker room door, and paused. Goddammit, Trick. He knew better than to use his powers around explosives.

 

Solomon heard the door open and took a breath, slowly easing Vera’s locker door shut with the present inside. He managed to get just enough distance between the locker and him that he could look somewhat casual, a little less suspicious. Who was interrupting him? Hopefully it wouldn’t be –

 

Wasteland looked up, saw someone inside already. And then his eyes narrowed behind the helmet. “Solomon. This is really not the time to be around here. Half the guys here already ha…. Wait. Why the hell are you in the Black Ops room?”

 

Swift put on his best smile. “Hey, Thomas, I was just –”

Screams. They were always screaming, his name, asking why. It was his mom screaming, again, this time, why this time, in his ears. The fire raged around him. His breath hitched, and all he could see was fire and redness for a long moment. He took a breath. Another.

 

Wasteland’s armor steamed the very humid air around him as he went into that past mental state. The locker room went up several degrees as well, drying the air in a small thermal.

 

Wasteland’s voice went low, flat, and guttural with suppressed rage. “Solomon. Swift. I have… asked you… not to call me that. And this place… this is not for you. Last chance.”

 

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, Wasteland. I was… meeting a friend here, that’s done, I’ll clear out.” He raised his hands in a pacifying gesture and moved towards the door.

 

Wasteland is lightning quick, and makes a grab for Solomon as he tries to pass. “You don’t have friends in here, Solomon. I know. These guys are my family.”  That low, guttural growl is still there, and there’s something that Solomon hasn’t seen before in Wasteland’s body language. This isn’t Wasteland, nice guy and hero. This is Wasteland, soldier. Killer.

 

Solomon Swift is fast, but he expected Wasteland to let him pass – and so his shirt is grabbed in that gauntlet. There’s the hiss of heat against the plastic of his buttons. “Th- Wasteland, come on, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill -”

“Yeah?” Wasteland lifts Solomon up, one handed. This new suit, it is glorious. Not even a strain to his systems, lifting Solomon up. “On a day like today? Who’re you fucking with in here, Swiftie? Decided that maybe since Trick is out of commission, you should inherit his stuff? To the best go the spoils? Or maybe since Roberts and you had it out in the cafeteria because you two disagreed on… oh right, saving kids, you thought it’d be funny to mess up the pictures of his family? Well?”

 

The shirt starts with tiny licks of flame around Wasteland’s gauntlet, and that faint scent of plastic burning wafts through the locker room.

 

“No, no, no, dude, no, you – it’s not like that, it’s – I’m not a monster, man, it’s just -” He looks down at the flames burning the collar of his expensive shirt and cringes away. “It’s Newman, and it’s not a big deal, okay? You don’t have to do this.”

Wasteland digested this for a moment. “Huh.” And he walked, with Solomon, still in his upraised right hand, towards Newman’s locker. He opens it, assuming that the lock hadn’t clicked shut. He’s quiet, his suit is quiet, save for the quiet hissing of melting, bubbling plastic and tiny licks of flame from the shirt.

 

Inside her locker, admit the clothes and bags and boots, is a small bag of –


Solomon snatches it, swinging off Wasteland’s gauntlet. The shirt is gone, ripped and burning in Wastelands hand. Shirtless and holding whatever it was, Solomon begins to sprint out the back door.

 

Wasteland’s world went red and orange. The fire screamed to be let out, to burn and ash Solomon, to utterly destroy. And he couldn’t… hold it back….much… he tapped his comm, broadcasted to the black ops folks.

 

“Someone. Anyone. Please. Get…. Dr. Meda. O-or…. Rooster. Or s-someone…. I’m about to kill Swift.”

 

And then there was nothing but incoherent rage as he chased after Solomon, the suit thundering after Swift, demolishing the steel bench between them into shattered, molten steel.

 

If Solomon Swift was anything but a speedster, he would have been dead already. He tore out the door and down the hallway, sprinting at top speed. For him, the lockers and doors just moved in a blur. “Fuck, fuck, oh fuck, someone get Meda, someone get Rooster, someone get me the hell out of here -”

There wasn’t anything smooth or pretty about how Wasteland moved as he barreled through the Hallway, his armor nearing fireball status. The walls burned, the footsteps torched the very pretty tile, and the steel warped with his passing. And then there was the speakers, broadcasting his wordless roar of rage that sounded, probably to Solomon, like the incoming roar of a backdraft.

 

And he ran, gaining speed. Somewhere, behind the rage, he noted that on his HUD, that people were getting out of the way, clearing quickly. Thank God. But that little voice was a very little voice, and couldn’t be heard over the roar of the Fire.

 

Loud and clear through the comms cut a calm, steady voice suddenly spoke, inserting itself between Wasteland’s red-hazed vision and his mind. Meda.

 

“This isn’t you, Wasteland,” she enunciated, “you are not this. Come back with me. Come to the beach. Standing on the shore, watching the whitecaps. It’s all right.”

 

Wasteland stumbles, but keeps going, the suit taking over, mostly, as the Fire suddenly gives way to a flash of a calm beach. Cool breeze. Waves crashing. But then the fire is back, raging, burning hot, and he keeps going. The little voice manages to get a little control, and he responds.

 

“It’s too hot… too hot… he’s… he wanted to hurt a friend. I can’t…. I can’t….” Wasteland gasps out, as he continues on. He catches sight of Swift as he turns a corner, then Wasteland crashes into the wall shortly after, hot on Swift’s heels. “NO ONE HURTS MY FRIENDS.”

 

“You’re justice now, Wasteland,” Meda reminded him, “and this isn’t justice. The fire isn’t justice. A painful death for Swift won’t make this right. Walk with me on the beach, Wastey.”

 

The waves on the beach crash against the fire, the soothing sound of the ocean. The hypnotic suggestions were a very, very good idea. The Fire gutters and snarls with incoherent rage as it dies a slow death, clawing for every inch of control before it’s gone, stuffed back in the iron willed control of Wasteland.

 

“I’m justice. I’m… I’m… I’m the one…” Wasteland saw Swift, again, and… halted…. Just…. Breathing. Trying to get control. Gauntlets on his knees. Everything hurt. It hurt so bad.

 

Why did everything hurt?

 

“You did it,” Meda assured him. “You are justice. You are strength. Calm waves and whitecaps. Placid sand and sunlight. You are Wasteland. You are in control. You are going to be all right.”

 

At this point, Swift was smart enough to stay out of sight, a couple of hallways over, panting and glistening with sweat.

 

Wasteland took another deep breath. His lifesigns were stabilizing, but the amount of radiation that he’d put out inside the suit…. He’d burned through two weeks of radiation absorbers in less than a minute. Oh dear.

 

He took another deep breath. The Fire was still screaming to get out, to just burn things. “Swift. Swift put… put something in Vera’s locker. C-caught him. He stole it before I could…. Could grab it. Put it in her locker. Ca-can’t let him get away with that.” At some point he’d fallen to his knees. When’d he do that? That… that isn’t right.

 

He stood, slowly. And started moving towards Swift, where he thought Swift was.

 

There’s one clue: the broom closet has a waft of burnt skin coming from inside.

 

“Wasteland, he works here.”

 

“Yes.” Wasteland’s voice is rough, and he opens the door quickly, nearly wrenching it open, but not tearing it off the hinges. “Yes, yes he does. And… I will report his transgressions, and make sure he…. Comes with me, and doesn’t hide what he’s done. And… I will make amends for the damage I caused.” His voice sounds steadier, quieter, and more like the Wasteland Dr. Meda has worked with and known for years.

 

Solomon Swift stares up at Wasteland in terror from the floor of the broom closet.

 

“Solomon.” Wasteland looks down at the man, and his gauntlets flex once. “Solomon, we’re going to go to the HR office. We are going to make a report. You are going to confess what you tried to do. I…. apologize…. For trying to kill you. I am going to pay you back for your shirt, and your medical treatment. Let’s go.”

 

“Okay.” Solomon says, standing. He looks at the floor as Wasteland walks him to the HR office, staying otherwise silent.

 

The HR office is empty of the usual administrative staff, which means they’ve been warned and told to clear out. Instead, Michael Cheney and Dr. Meda are waiting.

 

“Mr. Cheney. Dr. Meda.” Wasteland says stiffly. He stands at mostly attention. Still soldier Wasteland, in his mind set, the rigid, iron, self control.

 

“This is an issue with someone’s locker?” Cheney asks, giving the conversation enough respect to not have his feet up on the desk.

 

“…I tried to plant illegal drugs on Vera Newman’s locker so she would be removed from the black ops unit.

“And I caught him in the midst of doing so. I lost my temper, sir, ma’am. It has… been a rough day for me, already. I apologize for not immediately taking this to a higher authority.”

 

“Well, Solomon, you’re paying for all the damages. And this is going in your record.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cheney clapped his hands. “I think we’re good with that, yes?”

Doctor Meda just… frowned. Silent.

 

“Yes, sir.” Solomon said again.

 

Wasteland blinks behind his helmet. Well, that was more than…. Okay, that was a major hit against Solomon. But the guy did try to get Vera screwed over. And arguing with superiors would probably be a Very Bad Idea. “Yes, sir.” He’d pay for a new shirt for the guy.

 

“Nami?” Cheney looked at the woman at his side.

 

Nami fixed her heterochromatic eyes on Swift for a moment, then said: “I recommend that Mr. Swift undergo a treatment program to address his inappropriate coping mechanisms.”

 

My inappropriate -” Swift takes a breath. “Like, one of those seminars you can do at home? Sure. Okay.”

“No,” Dr. Meda’s voice was no louder, but firm as steel. “A supervised clinical treatment program. In my office, once a week, for a minimum of six weeks.”

 

Solomon glances at Wasteland, then looks at his feet again. “Okay.”

Wasteland doesn’t move from his stiff, statue impersonation. He expected a lot worse. Might be worse after Solomon leaves. He swallows a little. But doesn’t look at Solomon. Don’t want to feed any fuel to the fire.

 

“Dismissed, Ellis.”

 

Solomon blanches and turns, slouching out of the office, and Cheney turns to Wasteland.


“Did he deserve it?”

Wasteland pauses, thinking. “Sir… he didn’t deserve the beating I wanted to give him. Nobody deserves that kinda thing. With how angry I was, I might have killed him.” He takes another breath. “That said, you both know the things I’ve done, that the Black Ops teams do. We look out for each other, no matter what. If someone screwed with Apex, you know I’d have his back. Same with everyone, even Rodriguez…. Who is as much of an ass as Swift. And I’d know they’d do the same for me.”

 

Another breath. “Vera’s new to that part of the life. She’s going to get into the shit, real shit, soon. She needs to be able to know that she comes home to a safe place, with people who will watch out for her.”

 

“So no, he might not have deserved the beating that I was going to give. But he damned well deserved the terror that any operative should give him for even thinking of messing with us in our safe place. Sir. Ma’am.”

 

Cheney nodded. “Stay away from him. He’ll be working shit jobs for a long time. And he’s banned from the Anvil until this cools down between the two of you. Understand?”

“Understood, sir.” Wasteland nods.

 

“Dismissed, Wasteland.” Cheney span in his chair and then looked at Nami. “Talk to Vera, and make sure Solomon does his sessions.” He grins. “Sorry.”

“I’ll live.”

 

Outreach: The Way Forward

THE MCGOWAN MANSION

CHICAGO

 

“So,” Alice finished her story. “It’s over. Anathema– Hyacinth is in custody. Emi will be okay, with rehab and time. Everyone is safe. She’s depowered, or so they say. It’s over.”

“I guess so,” Dr. Meda offered one of the slight smiles with which Alice had grown familiar over months. “How do you feel, then?”

 

Alice was relaxed during their sessions, these days. Her long legs were hanging over one side of the armchair, and she reclined against the other armrest. “Guilty. Angry. Sad. Relieved. It’s a jumble.”

“That’s a normal reaction,” Nami replied. She was, as always, seated straight upright on the easy chair opposite Alice. She never seemed to relax, but she never seemed tense either. “At our last session, when you thought that Hyacinth might be dead, your thoughts seemed much more up in the air. You didn’t seem to understand how you were feeling.”

 

“She hates me.” Alice mused. “I don’t know why, but she hates me with the intensity of a sun.”

“But what does that have to do with your feelings about her?”

 

“I didn’t even know she existed. But she just hated me. For decades. Twenty or thirty years. I… That’s not right, is it? For someone to get so angry?”

“You’ve been a hero for a while, Alice; you know that not all people govern their action by what is right. Why hold on to this?”

 

“…I don’t know. I don’t know how she keeps getting into my head like this.”

“You say that as though she’s making a decision to get in your head. She’s not, Alice,” Meda fixed multihued eyes on her, “you’re putting her there.”

 

“This isn’t my fault.” Alice grumbled. “What am I supposed to do? Stop thinking about her? Let the Freelancers handle it like the professionals they are?”

 

“I’m not assigning fault,” Meda reassured, “but Hyacinth isn’t my patient. You are. She has no real power over you, and our job… here, in this moment, in this session… is to help you live your life. Is to help you be happy and healthy.”

 

“What if the purpose of my life isn’t to be happy and healthy? What if it’s to be the Oathkeeper?”

“Then it’s your responsibility to be happy and healthy. If the world is in your hands, they must be steady hands.”

 

“You think so? Taking care of myself always feels like a luxury.”

“I know. But it’s not. It’s your duty. Your distress could put others in danger, and your peace of mind could save lives.”

 

Alice groans and slouches over the back of the chair. “When do you get to retire from being the Oathkeeper?” she jokes.

 

“Well,” Nami smiled again, “that’s a good question, isn’t it? When do you get to retire?”

 

“I… kind of thought I’d just keep going until I die in battle.”

“Rather sad for your children, don’t you think?”

 

“I’m going to outlive them anyways. I’m nineteen, Nami. I’ve been nineteen for over twenty years now. I just… I don’t see any other option. I don’t age. How can I grow old and retire?”

“Good question. Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s something to look into. But it’s alright to think about your future as a person, not just as the Oathkeeper.”

 

“I guess you’re right.” Alice said. “And things are… going well. Peaceful. You know? We have new blood coming into the Legion. I think things might be okay.”

“Inroads are being forged, too,” Nami pointed out, “why, I hear that the Legion and the Freelancers are starting to share medical staff.”

 

“Gosh,” Alice feigns surprise. “Maybe we can trust the Freelancers to do things without it ending in a massacre.”

“Well.” Wow, there’s a lot packed into that word. Fortunately, Alice probably isn’t able to notice any of it! “This was a very good session, Alice. Thank you for taking the time.”

 

“Thank you. I mean that. I… I think it’s really helping.”

“That’s the entire reason I’m here. To help you find ways to help yourself. So. Here is your homework. Buy a journal, please, or find one that you already own. Every time you find yourself thinking about Hyacinth, write down something that you love about one of the people in your life. Think about that instead. Can you do that for me?”

 

“Yes, Nami. I will.” Alice smiles serenely. “Can I get you some tea, maybe, before you go? A snack for the road?”

“Are you trying to turn this into a social call, Mrs. McGowan?” Nami smiled… a bit impishly? “Yes, I would love some black tea.”