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Greywind

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The intercom sounded and Jessica's voice came through. “Mr. Scott. There's a gentleman here who wishes to speak with you.” Jessica had adjusted fairly well to having her own office space outside of Jason's office.

“Does he have an appointment?”

“No, sir.” Jason detected a hint of nervousness in her voice.

“Make an appointment,” he said, in about thirty years he thought to himself.

He turned the chair back as the door opened. “You can't go in there!” Jessica called after the intruder.

“He will see me!” the intruder declared. Jason stood up to face Anton Darque. “I need to speak with you.”

“No,” Jason growled. “Oh, hell no! You do not get to barge in here and demand anything from me!” Jason moved around his desk.

“I'll call security,” he heard Jessica say.

“I need your help, son. My daughter...” Jason grabbed the man by his lapels and slammed him into the wall. “You're manhandling me. I invoke guest-right.”

“Your powers of observation are as sharp as ever,” Jason growled as he slammed the mage into the wall again. “You don't get to invoke guest-right.” Again he slammed him into the wall. “I'm not a wizard and you don't have an appointment. You were not invited. Now before I put you through the wall, why are you here?”

“Angelique!” Darque exclaimed. “My daughter is missing. You are bound to her. Through your actions, your power, you are bound to her!”

“What the hell do you care? You blocked her. You are the epitome of a bad father. Look up 'abusive' in the dictionary and you're the definition.”

“She's my daughter! She needed to be reminded her place!

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Jason meandered the halls to his bedroom. He opened the door and went inside to find Kris laying on his bed dressed in a sheer white pearlescent body stocking and high white heels. Around her neck was a black ribbon, from which hung a red-on-black star sapphire. “I was wondering when you would get here.” Her voice was husky. “I was getting tired of waiting.” Her makeup shone.

His suit coat was pulled down and off from behind. “Yes, we were getting tired of waiting for you.” Jason turned around to Dani, dressed the same as Kris except being in red and her makeup like flames, in time to see her flame his coat. The ashes fell to the ground as rose petals.

Trese stepped forward. A corset, purple with black trim, purple hose and high heels, and purple shadow colored her eyes. Her eyes glowed and he felt his belt being pulled loose. “It will be an interesting night,” she said with a warm smile.

Charley lounged in his chair, her long legs draped over the arm. Her battle garb was sheer, making it more like lingerie. “Oh, it will be a very interesting night.” Leah, dressed in a light pastel blue, was curled atop Charley and Charley pulled her close for lingering kiss. Sparks literally flew from Leah.

Ash stepped forth in a royal blue teddy, stockings and matching shoes, and pulled Jason down to kiss her. She tore his dress shirt off in the process. “It's been too long,” she whispered hotly in his ear while she rubbed herself against him.

He felt his trousers being pulled down. Jason looked down to see Lisa on one side and Jenny on the other. Oh, it's going to be an interesting night, he thought to himself. If only this incessant buzzing would stop.

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That is entirely possible I will freely admit. When I was first reading it I was hoping it was a mental illusion/mind trap sort of thing, possibly even a dreamwalker stunt. But the line at the end makes it sound (at least out of context) that it is just a wet dream.

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True, but it is a reflection of our personalities. Honestly I would have been fine with Marlene and Leah being there (as they are both on his mind and a conflict centered around them is quite plausible to cause a reaction of this sort as his subconscious mind brings up one possible "solution". ) Even tossing in Angelique could be understood (as he also has good reason to be concerned about her.) And for a while I was pondering if there was a significance to the fact that she WASN'T in this dream.

 

Okay, I didn't know if I should say this or not, because it is really harsh criticism, and I will freely admit that I do not have any reason to state that I am qualified to level any criticism at someone who writes at your level, but it is my opinion and I do feel entitled to it.

 

Without context to place this in, having all of these women existing, even in his mind, all waiting on him in a provocative fashion like this, is blatant objectification. Which means its either "fanfic style" or "fan service." And I would like to state that your writing doesn't need any "fan service" to make it popular. Also, this "feels" rather immature, which is odd coming from a writer who seems to be able to handle and express deep emotions in his writing. Not to mention the simple fact that a scene like this could easily drive away many fans, ESPECIALLY female ones, who are sick of having every female character in this genre eventually objectified as it is. Jason is a playboy, we get that. But I felt that he was deeper than that, and that it was more of a search for the right one, than a "sleep with everyone you can" kind of character. This passage seems to shoot that down cold. And honestly if you think he would dream like that, you really didn't need to share it with us (especially out of context.)

 

I love your writing and I really hope this doesn't mean we wont be seeing anymore from you. That was not my intention on posting this. I just think you can do better.

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“Oh, bugger me!” Cheapshot exclaimed. “Kick Warp in the ass, mate! I need extract!” He fired off his jet pack.

“Sitrep.”

“Balls to the walls! Bauer's intel is CATFUed. Dove was not the only Guardian in attendance. Pulsar is here!” The first crimson lance came far closer to Cheapshot than he would have liked. He was an assassin. He was not a front-line fighter. It wasn't that he wasn't capable. It's just that his preferred style was to shoot from a distance and walk away after.

Cheapshot unslung his rifle, flicked the selector and fired a long burst behind without truly aiming. He did see a flare of crimson from Pulsar, but whether or not he had hit wasn't a concern. He wanted distance. He wanted to hide. And he wanted a way out.

“Feeding coordinates now.”

Like the display of a video game, Cheapshot's computer system showed him where to go. It also showed him how far he had to go. “Bloody hell! That's over two miles!”

“Cheapshot, this is Bauer. You stuck your stick in the hornet's nest. You run that gauntlet if you want extract.”

His radar showed that Pulsar was closing. He tongued off his microphone as a precaution against saying anything that would cause Bauer to have Warp close the gate before he got there. Sparks flew and his HUD blinked when he was hit. Cheapshot lost altitude and rolled to the side to avoid the side of a building.

Stabilizing his flight, he flew through the upper levels of a parking garage. Tandem missiles popped up from his vambrace and he launched those behind, exhaust contrails corkscrewing through each other. He heard the explosions. His HUD radar was fuzzy, but he didn't see anything following him.

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“Only going to be one day?”

 

“That's all I'm planning on. If anything happens I'll give you a call.” He rubbed his wife's belly affectionately. His wife and his son. “You and junior should go back to sleep.”

 

“Juniette,” Kate said. “I fully expect that room to be painted pink the day after she's born.”

 

Warren smiled. “We'll see.” He adjusted the covers and kissed her. “I love you, Katherine.” She rolled over on her side and made a contented purr when he ran his fingers through her hair. He waited and listened for her breath to settle before he left.

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Kris sat on the porch glider with her legs crossed. Gentle movements of her wings kept the glider in motion. In her hands was a large coffee mug. Her eyes were closed and her face was hovering over the mug, savoring the aroma of her hot chocolate. It was a warm, cloudless summer night with a light breeze. As far as Kris could tell she was the only one awake. She savored the serenity like she savored her chocolate.

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GAMES

Arthur Rocco, known as Steven Bauer in the business world, or as Napalm among the Blood Guard, sat in a darkened room. A solitary light hung over a large chess board. The pieces, crystal and obsidian, stood in perfect alignment in their starting squares. In the middle of the board lay a closed cream colored envelope with a red wax seal trailing black ribbon. No crest had been pressed into the wax. It was just a flattened blob.

Rocco flexed his hand and made a fist. Skin cracked when he did, appearing as a lava flow from a volcano. He closed his eyes and tamped his power down. When he opened his eyes his hand was whole and unblemished. Of the rest of him the same couldn't be said. Lord Darque had cast spells of healing upon him, but not enough to fully heal his broken body. “Nature will take her due course,” Lord Darque had said to him. “Let it be your first lesson.”

“Warp.”

“Napalm,” came a voice with a light French accent.

“Send it.”

Brown, dark in the shadow, and green lit up when Stinger came into the light. “Are you going to go through with this? Are you insane, Bauer? The first time you went up against him he damned near killed you. You follow through with this plan and he isn't going to care about the Guard. He will not slow down. He will come for you!”

“Lord Darque has granted permission, Bug.” Stinger's wings hummed in irritation. “You aren't necessary. In fact, if it bothers you that much, I won't even use you as a piece in this game. There are others who are more than willing for a chance. A chance to make an impression. A chance to make a greater name for themselves.”

“A chance to die stupidly!” Stinger snapped. Rocco lifted his eyes from the board and turned his gaze on Stinger's multiprismatic eyes. Stinger felt bile rising in his gorge when he saw the flames dancing in the other man's eyes.

“Lord Darque has agreed. Lord Darque wants retribution for the betrayal of his daughter and that whore. He has kindly allowed me this chance to prove myself,” Napalm said evenly. “Warp, send it.”

For a moment the envelope glowed and then it was simply gone.

Stinger turned towards the door. Before it closed he heard Rocco. “Black Jack, there is something that I want you to do.”

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Tea With the Witch

 

Marlene had her hand tangled in her hair and the end of a ballpoint pen pressed against her bottom lip. She liked that the tower's computer system networked flawlessly with that of Scott Enterprises, but sometimes she missed having Sarah or Jessica available to run for coffee. At least Jason kept some amenities in his room.

The stack of papers she was dealing with and the reports on the computer monitor were frustrating, but if she got up to get herself something, she would be sorely tempted not to sit back down in front of the screen. There was no excuse though. She couldn't find a reason to take a walk through the offices working from here. She wondered how Jason always managed to finish his paperwork in such a short time. Probably shuffles some of it off on me, she thought to herself. She reached across for her coffee cup and gave it a sour look after taking a drink and finding it cold. She finally resigned herself to getting up for more when a soft rapping came from the door.

“Door,” Marlene said simply and the monitor changed to show her who was out in the hall. “What the hell?” she asked herself quietly. She laid her pen down and made her way to the door and opened it. “What do you want, Witch?”

“I was hoping that you and I could talk.”

Marlene was tempted to shut the door on the other woman. “I've got a lot of work to do,” she finally said.

“Perhaps I could help you with it in some way,” Angelique said with a smile.

Marlene's eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips in thought. After a long moment she stepped back and said, “Won't you come in?” Angelique gave a shallow nod and stepped into the room. “Would you like something to drink? I was just about to make some coffee.”

Angelique wandered through the room. “Tea, if you wouldn't mind.” She stopped in front of Jason's easel and took in the painting he was working on. “He's captured you well.”

Glancing at the woman out of the corner of her eye, Marlene said, “Yes, he has. He's not done with that painting, yet. Except those latest few, I don't recall ever seeing anything Jason has done of you.”

Running her finger down the outside of the canvas, Angelique found she had gotten a bit of paint on her finger. “Oh, they exist, if I know Jason at all.” She wiped her hand on a rag hanging off the easel. “You might have to ask him specifically for them.”

Marlene carried two cups to the couch, setting them on a low table. “So, what's this about?”

“Jason has always spoken highly of you,” Angelique said, taking up her cup as she sat. “I thought that we might get to know one-another.” She leaned against the back of the couch facing Marlene. She drew her legs up, slipping her shoes off as she did. “You haven't made much of an impact on Jason's room.”

“It's Jason's room.” Angelique was beginning to make Marlene feel like a mousy book nerd with her casual elegance. “Do you always dress so...”

Angelique laughed warmly. “I dress for myself, Marlene. If people I'm interested in happen to find it attractive or intriguing, that's just so much the better.” She gave Marlene a bit of a smile and a look with a raised eyebrow. “You aren't that different, you know. When you dress for work, if you are planning on spending any amount of time with Jason, you wear skirts. I assume to try to draw his attention to your legs.”

Marlene set her coffee cup on the table. Confusion struck her with a bit of anger. “Why I do something isn't any of your business.”

“Now I have offended you. I'm sorry.”

“What do you want?”

Angelique smiled. “I told you. I would like to get to know you.”

“Why?”

She set the cup in her hands aside. “I see. Straight to the point. Jason speaks highly of you. You are, quite obviously, a very intelligent woman. If you weren't, neither Jason nor his father would have relied on you so much. Jason trusts you. With his empire, his life, and, most importantly, with his heart.”

Marlene folded her hands in her lap. Her posture was stiff, proper. “And he trusts you with?”

“He trusts me enough to allow me to weave a gateway into his home. I have access to the loft, and to either mansion if I need it.” She cocked her head to the side and smiled again. “He only trusts me with his life. My access to the tower is limited, whereas you can come and go as you will. This is because the others do not trust me.”

Thinking about that for a moment, Marlene nodded her head. “They have little reason.”

“'Don't trust the Witch until she proves herself.' And yet they steadfastly refuse to allow me the chance to prove myself.”

“Do you blame them?”

“Honestly?” she asked. “No. No, I don't.” She took up her cup again and drank. Then she used the cup to warm her hands. “Which is why I turn to you.”

“You want to use me to get the others to trust you?”

Angelique hung her head for a moment before she looked at Marlene. “After a fashion. I would more like to get you to trust me.”

“Why not just cast a spell and make them trust you?”

“Magic doesn't work like that. Compulsion doesn't work like that. And I'm still blocked.”

Marlene relaxed a bit, leaning back against the couch. “What does that mean, exactly?”

Angelique thought for a moment and held up her cup. “Take this to be my ability to hold magic. If the cup is empty, over time it will refill naturally. If I put this out on the balcony during a rainstorm it would fill with water.” Marlene nodded her understanding. “If I put a lid on this cup then nothing will get into it. That is what a block is.”

“So you can't do any magic at all?”

“I will be honest with you. I can. I won't. What little magic I have is right here.” She pulled out the amethyst star that Jason had given back to her. “The only other thing I have that I can spend if the need arises is my own life energy.” She gazed at Marlene a moment. “I'm rather attached to my life.”

Marlene met Angelique's gaze evenly. “You know what? I don't think this is going to work.” She set her cup down and stood up. “Now if you don't mind, I have things I have to get finished.”

“I'm sorry. What do you want?” Angelique asked with some consternation.

“That's just it, Angelique. It isn't about what I want! It's about what you are willing to give. You ask for trust, and yet who here do you trust? You have to give trust before you get it. If you want a friend you must first be a friend.”

“I see.” Angelique set her cup on the table. “What have I done wrong? What did I do that upset you?”

“You're here,” Marlene said, perhaps a bit more sharp than she intended. “And then you come in here and act like you own the place. All but demanding that we somehow become friends. It doesn't work that way.”

Angelique slipped her shoes back on and stood. “I'm sorry. I don't have a lot of experience with these matters.” Angelique stepped towards the door. “Would you do something for me, Marlene?” Marlene turned and gave her a questioning look in answer. Angelique held out the amethyst star to her. “Would you hold this for me? Until you feel you can trust me?” Marlene tentatively reached out for the charm. “And I would like to thank you,” she said, reaching for the door handle.

“For what?”

Angelique smiled. “For using my name. I get tired of being called a witch. Even if it is true.” She pulled the door open and stepped through.

Marlene stood for a moment staring at the star in her palm. She turned her gaze to the waiting computer on the desk. She strode quickly and determinedly to the door before it closed and yanked it open. “Angelique?” The other woman faced her in the hall. “I was about to make some tea. Can I interest you in a cup? Maybe try this again? Without preconceived notions getting in the way?”

Angelique smiled and stepped back into Jason's room.

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Slipping this in here for safekeeping.


Rage

 

Fingers danced across controls, pressing buttons and flipping switches. Lights lit up and panels came to life at his command.


“You're angry.”

“Yes,” he said from the stool, staring at the painting before him. The hairs of the brush in his hand tickled his chin as he flipped it back and forth.

“At me.”

He let go a sigh. “No. I'm not angry at you,” he said quietly.

“Not for making you show your drawings?” Marlene came up behind him and wrapped her arms about his chest, resting her chin on his shoulder.

“My drawings are usually private. I chose to share them with you. I don't want there to be secrets between us. That doesn't mean I want everyone to know what you look like naked.”

“Jason Scott, you know damned well that I am not body shy. I like it when you look at me and you get that hungry look in your eye.” She lightly kissed his ear. “And it usually starts when we wake up in the morning. You think I don't realize that you're watching me when I get dressed? I tease you all day long, and I love it.”

He nodded. “I realized that back in high school when you were the one that got Sandy to agree to go skinny dipping in the pool. The only way, as I recall, was that you stripped first.”

“You liked what you saw,” she breathed heavily into his ear.

Jason reached up and held her hand. “I still do.”

“I always wondered how Sandy would have taken me asking to share you. With everything Adalene said, I can't help feeling cheated of all the time we could have had. To know that someone was playing games like that at our expense. I never realized what this life of yours really entailed. Just like everyone else, I saw the fantasy of it; the romance of it. I never thought about the cost of it.”

“I don't know. She loved you a great deal, but there was always that part of her that never had. In a lot of ways she was caught up in the fantasy of it too. The 'storybook romance' or those cheap novels she read.”

Marlene gave him a poke to the ribs. “Don't knock those cheap novels, buster. They've got some pretty interesting ideas in them. I know, though. And I think that was why I never asked her. I loved her too much to risk coming between her and happiness.”

 

He read over the parameters of the exercise. Very deliberately he entered the command to disable the safeties. He punched in some numbers for the countdown, not really caring how long it took. The last thing he did was re-route the override. A red light appeared on the far wall indicating that there was the only shutoff. He stepped back and kicked the release that opened the bottom of the observation dome. He fell through it, only releasing power near the end so that he landed easily. Above him the door closed. Jason slipped to his knees and closed his eyes. His power played about him, bringing his mask into being around his head. He waited.


“Do you know what evil is?” he asked her.

“I guess it's a lot like porn. I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it. Why?”

“With everything I've seen it seems to come down to a lack of compassion. A lack of compassion and selfishness. Step around here.” Marlene slipped her hands free, feeling his muscles as she did do. Jason turned on his stool so that they were facing each other. He slipped a scarf free and folded it. When he was done, he held it up to her eyes. She smiled and nodded. He tied it tightly, but not uncomfortably, blindfolding her. “Now, imagine being here with someone that doesn't care about you at all.” He caught her wrists together with his hand and lifted her off the floor. It was uncomfortable for her, but she trusted him and knew that he would never truly hurt her. “Now, imagine that whatever is about to happen to you is done with no concern whatsoever for you. Imagine being stripped bare,” with that her shirt disappeared. Her skin prickled at the cool air. “You are allowed nothing,” her shorts disappeared as well, “unless it please this other that is doing these things to you.” Marlene found herself hanging naked in his grasp.

Jason wrapped his arm about her waist and released her arms. He pulled her into his lap, catching both her wrists again and crossing them behind her back. “Now imagine having that someone do this,” he kissed lightly at the hollow of her throat, eliciting a low moan from her. “They don't care if you like it. They don't care if you want it or not. They do it simply because they want to.” He stood up and carried her towards the bed. “And when they are finished, they simply dispose of you.” He dropped her, startling her, on the bed.

“You're talking about what happened to Leah, aren't you?” her hand went to the scarf, but she left it in place.

“Yes... and no. What happened to Leah was evil and one way or another that bastard will pay for it, but I wasn't meaning her specifically. I don't see a lot of difference between what happened with Leah and what happened with Sandy. One did it for his own sick self- gratification. The other did it believing he was doing it for a greater good.”

 

Movement, sensed rather than seen, caught his attention. The program cycled through the Guardians' rogues gallery and between mechanical and holographic means, it duplicated those enemies. At the lower settings it produced common street thugs. As the program advanced the challenges grew harder and harder.


Marlene sensed him moving away from her. “Jason?”

“I'm here.” His voice was distant. Not being able to see him made it seem he was even more distant from her.

“Make love to me,” she whispered.

 

Pulsar's eyes snapped open. One teenager with a baseball bat faced him. Power cut through the air between the two of them. More brutal than he would be outside these walls, but he wasn't really in the mood. Let the computer keep score.


Marlene lay with her head on his chest, listening to his heart beat. She ran her hands over his pectorals and abs. One hand of his was tangled in her hair, massaging her neck. The other was behind the knee of the leg she had tossed over him. At some point he had wanted to see her eyes and the scarf was cast aside. It had been different, but she liked being able to see him.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You can ask me anything. You know that.”

Marlene shifted until she sat astride him. “All those women you dated, when all I got was business functions and dinner, how many of them got to know you?”

His fingers caressed her thigh, threatening to distract her. “Does it matter?” he asked her.

She caught his hand, keeping it from moving any higher on her leg. Not that she could really stop him if he hadn't let her. “Not now, but I'm curious. How many of them managed to get you into bed?”

Jason's fingers cupped the side of her face. “I'm sorry I hurt you. If it makes you feel any better I didn't sleep with any of them. The only person that made it there was Angelique.”

She shifted on him, making him groan with the sensation. “At least the others would have been faceless to me.” Marlene laid down on his chest, interlacing her fingers and resting her chin on her hands. “Why not?”

“They weren't what I was looking for.”

 

Debris was piling up around the room. Bits and pieces, mechanical appendages, a car tire, bricks and framework of a building. The computer generated landscape as well as opponents. Blast after blast he lashed out at whatever the computer threw at him. He lost all sense of time. Occasionally he felt pain when the something managed to hit him.


“Angelique was?”

“No. Angel was an outlet and I think it was mutual.” Marlene shifted again. “You, Miss Palmer, are a terrible tease.”

She let out a mock sigh. “And here I thought I was doing a terrific job of being a tease. I wouldn't go selling the Witch cheaply, Jason. You played a pretty hefty part in her life that made her walk away from her father. As for the rest,” Marlene shifted again, making him growl with pleasure, “you could have used me for that outlet. I wouldn't have minded.”

 

Facsimiles of Quantum and Raven dove out of the projected sky. A burst at Quantum and his force field flared, before the lance tore through the field and his body. The burst at Raven caught her head on. Only her wings and one arm were recognizable when they hit the ground.


* * * * *

 

Lights dimmed, flickering, along with the TV screen. There was a chorus of complaints about the apparent brownout.

“Mentor, what's going on?” Ash called out.

“Apolog... sudden spike. I... tempt... stabil... reactor.”

“Say that again, Mentor.”

“Ah, better,” the AI said. “My apologies. There was a sudden spike in power demand. I was trying to stabilize the reactor and the power output.”

Kris stood up. “Spikes from where, Mentor?”

“The Danger Room, as the boys refer to it, doctor.”

The lights flickered again. “Is the power stable?”

“I believe so, for the time being.”

Everyone took off at a run. “Mentor, if you're going to tell me who I think is in there, I want you to power up all scanners. Isolate their circuits so that they won't be interrupted. Make sure all data is available to me when this is over.”

“Yes, doctor. And it is Jason.”

Warren was already in the observation dome when everyone caught up. “He's got it locked out. As usual. Only off switch is in there with him. Remind me again why I'm not at home with my wife.”

“Reaffirmation Day. Dinner. And the Witch cast the spell that gave us all the heebie-jeebies if we tried to leave,” Ash said.

“Thanks, but it was Addie that cast the spell. I'm useless here. Trese? Dani? Think you could bypass?”

The two of them started watching the data feed on a monitor. Trese started shaking her head. “No way, Warren. Right now, and until he hits that button down there, this is only a dumb terminal.”

Kris looked down at her friend in the training room. “Mentor, reading.”

“He is currently putting out power at one hundred and thirty-seven,” Pulsar's blast struck the wall and the lights dimmed again, “one hundred and forty-eight percent of his previous maximum.”

Ash took up a spot beside Kris. “Trese, what program is he running?”

“Grinder,” the redhead said.

“What was his best in that?” the blonde asked.

“Twenty-eight minutes, forty-seven seconds,” Warren said. Ash's gaze turned to the mission clock that read thirty-nine minutes and kept adding.

“Warren,” Leah said quietly, “get Marlene. I think she should see this.” And with that, Warren was gone.

“What has gotten into him?” Kris wondered out loud.

“He's angry,” Lisa said. She turned to Ash. “I told you he was going to do something.”


* * * * *

Warren barged into Jason's room. “Marlene! C'mon! Wake up,” he said shaking the bed, not trusting himself to touch her at the moment.

“Wha? Wha? 'm up, Jason!” She sat up abruptly and wiped sleep from her eyes. When they were clear, she saw Warren standing in front of her holding a Federation hockey jersey several sizes too large for her. Warren had his eyes closed and his head turned away.

“Please, putthisonanddon'ttellmywifeIsawyoutopless!”

She ripped the jersey out of his hands. “I'm not topless, Warren.”

“Great!” he said turning to look, just in time to see her bare ass being covered as the jersey settled on her shoulders.

“I was naked. What's this about? Where's Jason?”

Warren scooped her up in his arms and ran.


* * * * *


“I was afraid.”

Marlene gave him a warm smile. “Afraid of me?”

“No.” He pulled her down atop him and wrapped his arms around her. “I was afraid for you. Look at what Artie did to Leah to get at me. And you've already seen him.” He felt her shiver. He could only assume she was remembering the promises made to her. “I don't want him to hurt you. I don't think I could take losing you.”

 

Pulsar rolled and fired twin blasts, tearing up concrete and through a wall. He hadn't been sure exactly what he had been firing at, but the program was set so that only hostiles would appear. This exercise was so that he could blow off steam as much as anything else. Threat analysis, thinking wasn't a high priority to him right now.


* * * * *

Warren and Marlene entered the observation dome. He set her on her feet. “What's this about?” she asked somewhat perturbed. Bad enough to find herself alone in bed with Warren shaking it like “Magic Fingers” from Hell, but no one bothering to tell her why was a bit much to her mind.

“I'm sorry, Marlene,” Leah said. “I thought you should see this.”

Marlene moved closer to the window and looked down. “I've seen Jason train before.” She did a double-take and looked closer. “Is that blood?” Pulsar's uniform was streaked with red where he had taken hits. “What the hell is he doing? Can't somebody stop this?”

“Marlene, he's blowing off steam,” Warren told her quietly.

“I would have thought that's what he and I did earlier!” Warren winced at the anger in her voice.

“The only one that can stop it is Jason,” Ash told her, her eyes on Jason the whole time. “Unless someone wants to go in there with him.”

“Not me,” Kris said quietly. “I couldn't keep up with that on a good day. I'm not jumping in there when he's got the safeties off and it's cranked up to eleven. The dial stops at ten!”

“Brad?” Ash asked.

“I don't know, Ash. He's liable to not see anyone that goes in and blast first. He doesn't have any bystanders popping up. Just hostiles.”

“What in the holy hells is that?” Marlene was near frantic.

Ash looked back. “Sonofabitch,” she said under her breath. “Who programmed that monstrosity into the system?”

Trese timidly put her hand up. “Warstar wanted to know if he'd be able to take one out. His last encounter with one was a little dissatisfying for him.”

“He smashed it through a reinforced wall,” Dani said quietly.

They watched as Pulsar's blast bounced off the HERO Slayer's armored hide. “We got the specs on it from Wildfire last week,” Trese continued. “Like I said, 'Star wanted a shot at an active one.” Missiles spread out from the Slayer's back launcher. The explosions rippled along a flared crimson barrier.

“I'd like to know when he learned that trick,” Kris said. When the explosions stopped she noted that Pulsar's left arm was hanging useless for the moment. Burns showed where missiles had gotten past his defenses, back, arm and leg. Blinded by the explosions he was flying too close to the Slayer.

“I can stop it,” Jenny said quietly.

“Sis!”

“Brad, don't. I can do this,” she said firmly.

“Are you sure?” Ash asked the girl. “You're green. A lot greener than anyone I'd want to see thrown in there.”

Pulsar was backhanded by the Slayer and sent crashing into a wall. “We're running out of time! I can do this!”

“Jenny!” Brad cried, “No! You can't do it!”

Jenny ignored him. “What do I have to do to get in there?”

Ash indicated the portal. “Stand there. Kick the release there when you're ready.”

“Jenny,” Brad tried again, “you can't fly. What are you going to do?”

She grinned. “Learn to fly.” She closed her eyes, waiting for something to happen. She stood motionless for moments. The others watched as the Slayer closed in on Pulsar. Brad watched his little sister, wondering what she was going to do.

Her foot kicked the release and she fell. Her eyes were still closed, but she heard her brother call her name plaintively. Trusting in herself and her power, she reached out for the pipe that she knew would be there. In many ways it was easier for her to do this with her eyes closed. Relying on her ability and having her eyes opened at the same time often created confusing images between what is and what will be.

She spun on the pipe like a gymnast, which was easy since she had participated in gymnastics since elementary school. She was in good shape. Jenny spun and released, flinging herself though the air. She landed on a rooftop in a roll. She ran towards the far end of the rooftop, and suddenly broke to the right, leaping from the rooftop to snag a flagpole seconds after it appeared.

Jenny allowed her momentum to carry her around the pole a few times before she released. She landed on the Slayer's upraised fist and slid down its arm. Pulsar was dazed. She could see him sitting up and trying to shake it off.

The Slayer turned on her when she slipped down its back. A timely back-flip took her over the swing of its fist. Crimson energy slammed into the back of the robot's head. It turned again to Pulsar, raising its massive fist once more. Jenny broke into a run.

Two dog soldiers popped up on either side. Her ability showed her what to do. She slid between them like a limbo dancer going under the stick. Each fell to the other's blast. Jenny bounced up off her knees and slammed the glowing button. Everything stopped at once.

Jenny opened her eyes and turned around. Everything was frozen in place. To either side a dog soldier lay upon the ground, armor blackened from the blast that had taken them out. The HERO Slayer was huge. Jenny's body started trembling, the aftereffect of an adrenaline surge. She stepped closer to the machine. It was humanoid in form. If it had been standing erect she might come up to its waist.

She took timid steps around it, taking it all in. Pulsar sat below the descending fist, spiked like a gauntlet. He was breathing heavy. Jenny watched him pull his wounded arm across his lap before taking hold of his face and pulling his mask off. Blood smeared his face.

He gave her something of a quirky grin. “Nice save.” Jenny couldn't help but to blush under his praise. Jason flexed his knee, drawing his leg up, and winced against the pain.

“Don't thank me yet,” Jenny said as the entry opened.

Brad landed lightly and took his sister up in a bear hug. “How did you do all that?” he asked her.

“Brad,” she wheezed, “can't breathe.” She gulped in air when he released her. “I'm not as strong as you. I see things. I just waited until I knew that I could go. If you want more of an explanation tell me how you fly.”

He rubbed the back of his head and grinned at her. “I just do. It's like flexing a muscle.”

“Yeah, same with me.”

From the door and with the authoritarian inflection learned from Jason's father and used in numerous board meetings, Marlene said, “Jason. Room. Now.” Jason stood gingerly. “Shower first.” She turned and left.

“Uh oh, Jase. Someone's in the doghouse now,” Brad quipped.

“Stuff it, Michaels,” Jason snapped back and headed towards the exit.

Brad and Jenny followed in Jason's wake. When they stopped Lisa was watching Jason walk down the hall. When he was out of sight she rounded on Brad. “I'm really beginning to understand why Jason doesn't like you.”

“What? He loves me. He helped me find you and Jenny.”

Lisa glared at him. “He didn't do that for you. He did that for us.” She headed down the hall.

Leah looked at Brad with a raised eyebrow. “What?” he asked. Leah just shook her head and followed Lisa.

“Brad, do you know why Lisa came with me?”

He ran his fingers though his short hair. “I figured you two were just taking a break before college.”

Jenny sighed. “Brad, Lisa came with me to see you. She's had a crush on you for a long time.”

“She has?” he asked with a stupid grin.

“Yeah,” Jenny said, “but I don't think I'd worry about it, if I were you. I think you just crushed it.”

“Kris!” they heard Leah yell from the hall and went running.

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Leah caught up with Lisa. “You okay?”

 

Lisa waved her hand in the air like she was brushing something aside. “Yeah. I'll be fine. Thanks for asking.”

 

“Come on up to the common. I know where the good hot chocolate is hidden. I'll make you a cup.”

 

Lisa smiled. “That sounds really good right now.” They rounded the corner in time to see Jason shove open the door of one of the men's shower rooms. Lisa stumbled and grabbed Leah's arm. Leah stopped and sucked in air when she saw that Lisa's eyes had gone completely white. “The dark isn't done with him. There will be blood between them.” Her eyes closed and she collapsed. Leah caught her easily.

 

“Kris!”

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Displays of Power


Man-made thunder roared from the Winchester carbine Ben fired and a glass bottle exploded. He jacked the lever and fired again taking down a second bottle. Then a third, followed just as rapidly by a fourth. When the last echoes of the shots faded and silence reigned, Warren said, “I don't know, Jason. I'm not happy that you know about it. If you hadn't tried facing down that truck...” Warren shook his head. “I don't want to end up as a guinea pig in some government lab.”

“Warren, that truck wasn't a threat to me. You didn't need to shove me out of the way. Anyways, the people I want you to let examine you aren't part of the government. They do work for them from time to time, but they're businessmen. One of them is my father,” Jason explained.

Warren lifted the rifle he had taken from his father, sighted it, and fired. Four rounds ripped through the remaining standing bottles as fast as Warren could work the lever and squeeze the trigger. “I'm not comfortable with the idea, Jason. I'm happy with few people knowing what I can do.”

Jason sighed. “I understand that, Warren. Believe me.”

Warren handed the rifle back to his father. “How can you? I've changed. I'm afraid of what it might do to me. I'm afraid of what might happen if someone decides to draft me into, I don't know, one of those secret black ops teams you hear rumors of.”

Ben held the reloaded carbine out to Jason. “Want to have a go, son?”

“What are you afraid of?” Jason took the rifle and examined it. “Winchester. Model eighteen-seventy-three?”

Warren shook his head. “Maybe I don't want to be looked at like I'm different. Like I'm some kind of freak.” Jason nodded his head.

“It's a seventy-six. My great-great-something-grand daddy was a Texas Ranger. This was his. Kinda a family heirloom,” Ben explained.

Jason felt for the balance of the rifle. “My grandfather trusted you.” Jason turned a gauging eye to the farmer.

Ben sensed something serious in Jason's tone. “I like to think that he did, son. What are you thinking?”

“Honestly, sir? I'm thinking coincidence. You having worked for my grandfather. Those drums spilled on your farm. Warren...”

“Yeah?” the younger man answered. Jason sighed.

“Can you set up more bottles?”

Warren shrugged. “How many do you want?”

Jason gave him a tight-lipped smile. “As many as you think will be a challenge.”

Watching Warren run off to set up the bottles, Ben asked, “There's more to it, isn't there? Something you're not saying.”

“Your son is afraid. Of what he can do. Of what he is. I'd like to make sure that the change itself won't kill him, sir. The people I want him to see will make sure his health is stable. After that, whatever he decides to do with it is up to him.”

“As long as you realize that it is up to me, we don't have a problem. I don't like the idea of ending up in someone's database,” Warren said.

Jason hung his head in thought for a moment. “It's too late for that, Warren. Here, sir, I won't be needing this.” Jason handed the rifle back to Ben and turned to Warren. “You're afraid people will look at you as if you're different? You are different. Your world changed the night of that storm. I have no intention of handing you over to people that can't be trusted.” Jason's arm shot up, pointing towards the empty bottles used for target practice. A crimson lance leapt from his outstretched hand and shattered a bottle. Another followed suit. And another, until all the bottles Warren had set up were broken.

Warren stared with his mouth agape. “Welcome to my world,” Jason said.

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