Monday, 17 September 2018 02:00

Tears and Fears (Part 2)

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Tears And Fears

By E. E. Nalley and ElrodW

 The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become...

Toto, Africa


Part Two

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Casino and Hotel

There was a significant benefit to having Kayda as a team-member and friend, Lanie said to herself for perhaps the ten-thousandth time. She padded through the open isolation door, following one of Viridian's many patrols or work teams, yet she was masked completely by Kayda's ghost-walking charm. All she had to do was to time her movements so there no strangely opening and closing doors, and to avoid making overt noises. Of course, the background noise of the station really helped conceal the sounds of her footsteps, too.

Ahead of the tall redhead, a trio of henchmen strode casually, one holding and studying a tablet computer, while the other two talked about a soccer match that they had seen recently. They were on the B-level, just one level 'down' or perhaps 'out' was a better description from the central core, a level which appeared to have been taken over by the villain and his men. Apart from regular patrols, the henchmen scurried about like ants, busily working on Viridian's plans, whatever they might be, and there seemed to be some important time deadline. Lanie decided to discretely follow them, her eye on the tablet computer the first man was carrying. Carmen had informed Lanie that Viridian's men were using a separate network from both the Hilton operations network and the guest network.

Lanie was trying desperately to work out a way to get her hands on that tablet.

"You got the swing shift, too?" one of the two less-focused men, the shorter of the pair, interrupted Lanie's thought process.

"Nah. Got a date."

Lanie's eyes widened at that comment, while the other henchman just chuckled. "That's only fifteen or twenty minutes!"

"Maybe for you," the shorter one shot back. "Me? I like to take my time. I drew an hour, I'm taking the full hour!" He looked thoughtful. "I hope I get the leggy blonde this time."

"Does it really matter in the dark?"

"Yeah, 'cuz I don't turn off the lights. Besides, variety is the spice of life and all that crap. I take it you're pulling double shift?"

"Yeah," the taller guard replied. "Not much to do when we're not on duty." The trio of henchmen, followed closely by Lanie, strode down a long corridor.

The man who'd been studying his tablet glanced up. "Once we burn and get past geostationary orbit, Boss said we're going to thin out the captives. All but the women go."

"Good. As long as it's the young, pretty ones!" the short guard said with a leer. "There are a few lookers in the bunch!"

Lanie nearly tripped over her dropped jaw, shocked at the intended fate of all the captives. "I thought you said it didn't matter," the taller henchman shot back.

"So I lied. So sue me," the shorter man chuckled. "Next shift, I'm supposed to start training on sat-obs. I figure it'll be a good change."

"No, it won't," the taller guard shook his head. "It's boring, tedious, and hard on the eyes."

"As opposed to spending a whole shift walking?"

"Staring at three or four monitors, watching for little glitches to report, and then when you do see something, ninety-nine percent of the time, it's nothing and the shift supervisor gets all over your case."

"But ... I heard there are a lot of satellite feeds to monitor, and that means variety ...."

The one with the tablet looked up. "Each satellite that we've tapped into has its own unique data. Monitoring data from one isn't a skill that transfers to another sat." He spoke disdainfully, as if he was correcting something that even a child should have known.

While the tall redheaded girl digested the snippet of data she'd just overheard, the men split up at a hallway intersection. She had to make a quick decision which of the men to follow; the short one was out - he was going on break. Of the other two, one was quite obviously one of Viridian's techies, while the other was a semi-skilled guard.

"I suggest, madam," Carmen's mellifluous voice sounded in the earpiece of Lanie's comm unit, "that the man with the tablet is the best target. If you could get a hold of that tablet, I might be able to penetrate Viridian's network." There was a momentary pause while Lanie considered the reply she wanted to give to her AI assistant. "I am not being a smart-ass, madam," Carmen sniffed. "I detected a small disturbance in your vital signs associated with a small increase in your adrenaline, and your breathing pattern indicates sudden tension - both signs that you are annoyed."

Lanie, still masked by Kayda's ghost-walking charm, reached up and gently lowered the faceplate of her helmet, sealing her head inside the protective environment. "Ah am not annoyed, Carmen," she said softly, struggling to keep her voice calm.

"As long as you keep your voice below thirty-five decibels behind your closed visor, the odds of your being detected ...."

"Never tell me the odds," Lanie shot back, in an insistent whisper. "So that's how Viridian detected the stealth shuttle," she mused. "He must have the data feed from Goddard's gravity anomaly mapping satellite."

"Very likely, madam," Carmen agreed. "And if he's monitoring that satellite, it must be assumed that his men are monitoring all earth-orbiting satellites. It is most probable that he's intercepting the data passively after it reaches the ground networks."

"Any danger to the Tesla?" Lanie was suddenly concerned. "If they have a visible or infrared camera looking this way when Diabolik maneuvers ...." The redhead thought for a moment. "It's highly unlikely that Lord Paramount could persuade all the satellite operators to look the other way." She mused another moment before continuing. "How many birds might have a view?"

"Eleven," Carmen replied. "Two synthetic aperture radar satellites, The rest are visible or infrared sensors. The mass of the Tesla is insufficient to cause enough of a gravitic anomaly to be detected, and as the hull is primarily aluminum, it will not cause a statistically-significant anomaly in the magnetic field."

"Recommendations to blind them?"

"I believe it is imperative that you gain access to Viridian's network so I can penetrate his systems. There is not sufficient time for me to download and intercept ground communications links or command the satellites. Besides, a sudden view shift of all the satellites would probably alarm Viridian's team. From inside his network, I can disrupt the signals to the displays to mask any hint of the Tesla." The computer-generated voice went silent for a moment. "This will take a significant amount of my resources. I would suggest that you minimize interruptions."

With a silent nod, Lanie continued to follow the techie as Carmen had recommended. She had to get that tablet, preferably without alerting half of Viridian's men in the process. The man turned abruptly and pushed through a door. Lanie winced as she pondered whether to follow him or not, since the sign on the door read "Men". She had the advantage of Kayda's ghost-walking charm, but if it was a busy restroom...

"Where no woman has gone before ...." Lanie deadpanned softly as she caught the door before it could swing completely shut.

The restroom was a small one - two urinals and two stalls - and fortunately empty except for her target. The metallic clack of a latch told Lanie that the techie had entered a stall, which caused her to smile to herself. He'd be in a position to keep working with his tablet, which meant that it'd be simple for Carmen to get into the system.

The man looked up suddenly, startled by the sound of something punching through the toilet stall door, wrecking the latch. Before he could react, the door flew open and some unseen force snatched the tablet computer from his lap. For the briefest of moments, he felt a tingle as everything went kind of fuzzy, and he could see a silvery, tall, curvy figure in a very tight suit, her head hidden by a helmet and visor. By touching him, Lanie had inadvertently shifted part of the ghost-walking magic of the shaman charm into the man, and he could see her as a silvery outline. That image, however, faded from his mind as a fist connected with his jaw, rendering him quite thoroughly unconscious.

Lanie propped the now-unconscious man back on the toilet in an awkward position, so to first glance, it would look like he was making normal use of the porcelain seat, then she used a wad of toilet paper to cram between the door and its frame, to hold it closed, again to give the illusion that nothing was out of the ordinary. As she slipped from the restroom, tablet in hand, she paused, then slipped back in and rummaged around. As a parting gift, she attached a sign that read 'Closed for Maintenance' to a Velcro patch on the door.

"That won't fool anyone for long," Carmen chided her as she strode quickly from the restroom.

"If it buys a few seconds, that might be the difference. Besides," Lanie added, "you should be busy getting into Viridian's computer systems, not nagging me on mah choice of tactics." She touched the charm once again, faded from sight, and set off down a corridor, but then halted. "Carmen, where do Ah need to go?"

"Based on the information in the tablet, I have overlaid Viridian's modifications on a 3-D map of the hotel. I have taken the liberty of transmitting it to your suit's head-up-display."

Lanie gestured with her fingers, an odd movement, and was rewarded with a translucent layout of the station on her helmet's visor. "Okay, Ah know how to get to the core."

"Remember that Kayda's magic will not last indefinitely, and that your goal is to observe and collect data, not to sabotage any of Viridian's weapons or systems," the AI reminded the redhead.

"Ah know what Lord Paramount said," Lanie huffed. "What makes you think Ah'm goin' to run off and get all heroic?"

"Only the fact that on eleven past occasions in both simulations and real missions, you have taken very generous liberties with your orders and ...."

"Oh, hush!" Lanie growled. "Ah used mah judgement in each of those situations. That's standard operating procedure for an operator."

"Very well, madam." Carmen was strangely silent for a few seconds. "I have penetrated Viridian's network, and have discovered a potential threat to the Tesla."

"Explain," Lanie said curtly, still walking quickly down the corridor.

"Viridian's men have installed several high-power lasers on the exterior of the hotel. The Tesla's heat and stealth shielding will likely not protect it from the wavelength of these lasers."

"Can you interfere with their aiming controls?"

"Negative, madam. I have not been able to penetrate Viridian's weapons network." Carmen sounded frustrated. "It appears that the villain has actually learned something about computer security."

"If you tell me that Ah have to interrupt the power from the main reactor at one of seven locations, because a power loss at one of the terminals will disable the lasers, Ah'll make scrap out of your processor and memory!" Lanie snapped.

"Your display should include a rough schematic of the systems feeding power from the reactor to the lasers. And may I remind you that you are the one who usually uses trite movie quotes."

*                               *                               *

October 9th, 2016
The Apartment of Amelia Hartford, Berlin, NH

Sarah started awake from the sound of her lover falling out of the bed and yelping in surprised pain. She scrambled over to the far side and saw Jennifer sitting up, rubbing her head. "Baby, are you ok?"   Sarah had not been entirely sanguine on accepting the offer of Dr. Hartford to spend the night. She barely knew this woman, and, quite honestly, her strange mood swings scared her a little. But, she knew her lover was a powerful woman and probably capable of dealing with the Doctor if she became unhinged.

And it did save them the cost of a hotel stay.

"I'm alright," Jennifer muttered as she stood, still rubbing her head and walked over to the little bathroom attached to the bedroom to get a drink of water. "Had a nightmare is all."

Sarah considered letting the matter drop, but knew her lover well enough to know she was clearly upset and decided to press things. "What about? Wicked again?"

From the bathroom, Jennifer frowned at her, then refilled her paper cup from the sink and drank it dry again. Finally she walked over and sat down on the bed next to Sarah. "Yes, well, kinda. I dreamed I was in this...hovel is the best word for it. It was a stone walled, eh, cottage maybe? With a thatched roof and fairly poorly made furniture. I was talking to that warrior bitch I told you about..."

"Fighting the Vikings with the blue face paint?"

Jennifer nodded. "She was there, nursing an infant if you can believe it! She said her name was Laneth Lady something, it sounded hard to spell and pronounce. And I'll be honest I had a hard time believing 'Lady' anybody lived in that house..."

"My great grandfather was the village chief and he lived in a mud hut with a dirt floor to the day he died, but the English referred to him as Lord Kapalei and called him 'Sir' to his face," Sarah replied. "My own father included! Don't judge someone by their house."

Jennifer leaned over and kissed her lover on the cheek. "I'm not judging, it...I guess it seemed odd is all. Anyway, she told me she was my Great great something grandmother, or my whatever grandmother's soul that was also my soul or...I don't know, it was very confusing. And then suddenly I was in New York! On top of a building and ... she was there. She was handcuffing a half dozen policemen she had just beaten up. Then she came at me with these massive claws..."

The brunette shuddered causing Sarah to gather her into her arms and hug her tightly. "It was just a dream, baby, just a dream."

"She said she was going to kill me! I...I fell off the building," Kelly whispered. "And I was falling and then I heard a voice, a little boy's voice shout 'Mom!' Then a giant bird caught me in midair and I heard the voice again say 'caught you!' or 'gotcha!' or something like that. Then I fell out of the bed and woke up."

"It's only natural you'd have strange dreams, baby, I know you're under a lot of stress." Sarah squeezed her reassuringly. "I can't imagine what it's like finding out you have children!"

"Children," whispered Jennifer. "And a husband." She looked up into Sarah's deep, kind eyes. "I don't want to lose you, Sarah, you saved my life!"

Sarah bent down and the two women shared a gentle, loving kiss. As she withdrew, Sarah promised her, "I'm not going anywhere. I was willing to be a supervillain's floozy, remember? Besides, I was thinking about us having a child, remember? That does take a man, you know." She winked. "And if you married him, there must be some good that can be said of him!"

Jennifer giggled. "He should be so lucky!" She reached up and gently caressed Sarah's face. "I love you, Sarah. No matter what happens, I will always love you."

"We're in this together," Williams promised. "We'll see it through. Somehow, it will all work out, wait and see."

Jennifer clung to her lover and shivered, fearful of the unknown future.

*                               *                               *

October 9th, 2016
Interstate 93, south of Lincoln, New Hampshire

Tansy awoke with a start, finding herself in the front seat of Deborah and Kayda's 1957 Chevy Nomad. Out the front windshield was just deserted interstate in the gloom of night with the lane stripes zipping by the headlights at a good pace. Wiping her eyes, she asked, "Where are we?" She turned to the driver's seat to see Kayda, her eyes intent on the road, but she spared a quick glance at her friend.

"Just north of Woodstock, about an hour out of Berlin," Kayda replied as she reached down and picked up a cup of coffee from the cup holder and took a sip.

"What time is it?"

"Two twelve," Kayda said with a wince. "That construction in Boston killed our time." Tansy chuckled as she picked up her soda and opened it to take a sip, finding it warm and going flat.

Tansy knew that Kayda loved to drive the car flat-out as fast as she could. With its transplanted four wheel drive system and heavily modified suspension the old car was actually capable of handling the way she loved to drive it. Even with its turbocharged engine pumping out huge numbers of ponies being driven stampede-like through these mountain roads. Tansy also knew Kayda was an excellent driver, having taken several high-performance professional driving courses so she wouldn't wreck her pride and joy. That was small consolation when she horsed the car around a tight corner at high speed, all four tires screeching in protest as the g-forces pinned the girls against the side supports of their seats. It was obvious Kayda was stressed, so she decided to try a little comedy. "You've been a girl for what? Ten years now? Almost? And you still think like a man," she declared with a smile. "We'll get there when we get there, Kayda, don't stress over it."

"It's not the trip I'm stressing over," Kayda replied, noting a slight change in the pitch of Deb's snoring and looking back to the back seat to check on her. Satisfied she was alright, she turned back to Tansy. "I'm upset that every time we get close to saving Lanie something happens."

Tansy stretched, which did distracting things to her figure and it was fortunate they were the only car on the road. Once they were back in their lane, she got comfortable mostly on her side so she could see her friend and declare, "Seeing as this is the first time we've had proof Lanie was still alive, I'm not sure..."

"I was sure," Kayda told her sharply. "If you..."

"I love her more than you'll ever know," Tansy replied with far more venom than she meant and reached out to touch her arm in apology. "Sorry," she whispered as Kayda took her hand and held it for a moment.

"Me too."

Tansy rubbed her stomach, feeling the first emotions of the life growing inside her. "I...I've been under a lot of stress lately."

"What do you mean?"

Tansy laughed hollowly. "Geez, I forgot to tell you, Kayda, I'm sorry." She swallowed and locked eyes with her friend. "I...I'm pregnant."

"Oh..." breathed Kayda softly. "Oh, wow...Oh FUCK!" she exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me that at the ritual?" She pulled the car over into the emergency lane and brought it to a rough stop.

"It slipped my mind..." Tansy replied, becoming concerned. "I can feel the baby inside me, I..."

Kayda's hands glowed as she chanted and laid them against the former model's hard, flat stomach. "Dammit, Tansy! Magic this complicated has costs, every variable has to be accounted for, and you have an entire other person inside you!"

"I'm sorry, I...!"

Kayda sighed and sat back. "I don't sense anything wrong."

"Other than your winding up Tansy for nothing!" Deb remarked drolly from the back seat. "Where are we?" she demanded as she stretched.

"An hour out of Berlin," Tansy told her. "You're sure my baby is ok?"

"She seems fine..."

Tansy's eyes went wide and filled with tears. "She?"

Kayda smiled and nodded. "Congratulations, it's a girl," she told her friend. "And she's perfectly fine from what I can tell."

"We'll have a shower, later," Deb commented with a generous dollop of sarcasm. "Can we get back on the road? I'd like to have some part of tonight in a bed."

Kayda put the car back in gear and returned to the freeway. "Yeah, sorry."

In her seat, Tansy rubbed her stomach and felt the happy, contented presence there. "My daughter..." she whispered, awestruck.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Casino and Hotel

As she focused her magic on the raw metal box fastened to a bulkhead, beads of sweat continued to form on Kayda's brow, almost immediately trickling down her cheeks and nose before dripping down to her clothes and the floor.

"You doing okay?" Tansy took a moment from what she was doing and glanced at the Native American girl. Kayda didn't speak, but merely nodded, biting her lip in her intense concentration.

The blonde turned her attention back to the insides of the bomb, exposed by the side of the case she'd already carefully removed. With extreme focus, she slid her hand between a squarish lump of gray plastic, into which were inserted half a dozen visible detonators with wires leading all over the inside of the crammed interior, and a rectangular power package which bore the label of GK-cel Batteries. It was fortunate, perhaps, that her hand was slender and feminine, because it appeared that the space was too narrow for a more masculine hand. With her other hand, she snaked a wire into the space. "Jumper to backup positive," she said.

"Jumper to backup battery positive," Kayda confirmed.

Tansy's fingers blindly manipulated the wires, then she removed her hand. "Jumper to deadman terminal three," she said as she slid her hand into another nook in the 'package'.

"Jumper to deadman terminal three," Kayda repeated, her voice a bit strained as she tried to hold some magic active while also providing a checklist confirmation for her partner.

Tansy's fingers deftly completed the action. "Cut wires to detonator four."

"No, no, no, no! Cut positive wire to backup battery positive." Kayda insisted urgently.

"Sorry. Cut positive wire to backup battery positive." Tansy corrected her action. "Sorry. I'm getting a bit tired."

"Me, too," Kayda managed to say through clenched teeth.

"Positive wire to backup battery positive cut." Tansy echoed when she'd completed the task. "Cut detonator four."

"Cut detonator four." Tansy slipped a toenail clipper to her right hand, then snipped a pair of wires.

"Cut primary positive." This was the last step of the complicated disarming sequence that Kayda had managed to figure out before the other two girls had arrived.

"Cut primary positive." Tansy moved the wires, then with an audible 'snip', she cut the primary power wire and separated the ends so they wouldn't accidentally short onto something else inside the bomb's detonator. There was an electric snap of an arc across the wires that had led to the fourth detonator, the one Tansy had cut. She sighed heavily, closing her eyes for a moment as she let one hand drop, fatigued, to her side, while the other hand wiped her sweaty brow.

Kayda, likewise relaxed, exhaling heavily as she let the tension flow from her with her breath. "Two more to go."

Tansy glanced at her watch, then looked up at Kayda, a distressed look on her face. "And ... we're out of time."

"I know how to disarm it!" Kayda said suddenly to Tansy. "I'll disarm one, and you go blend in with the hostages and get them to move away from the other compartment."

"You can't do it alone!" Tansy objected. "You're almost out of essence. I took magic class, too, and I can sense how much you have. Or don't have, in this case."

"We're out of time!" Kayda protested. "Which one?"

"I don't know," Tansy replied uneasily.

*                               *                               *

"Carmen?" Lanie asked hesitantly and softly as she scurried down an emergency ladder, bypassing the lifts, moving as quickly as she could toward the lower decks.

"Yes, madam?" Carmen answered in her earpiece.

"Range to the Tesla?" She landed on a deck, then pushed open a crew access hatch, shaped and functioning like the pressure doors in a submarine. No sooner had the door clanked open than two of Viridian's guards spun, startled at the noise.

"Two hundred meters and closing," Carmen answered.

Lanie barely heard her. Her right hand normally would have been tipped with Wicked's adamantium claws, but the last thing one wanted near a space suit was something sharp. She made a knife of her hand and drove it into one of the guards' throat, before he could even begin to react, and with her exemplar strength, felt his trachea collapse and he fell, holding his ruined throat to choke to death. Meanwhile. her left hand lifted and aimed a pistol at the second. There was almost no sound when she pulled the trigger of her special pistol, which was based on the Soviet silent PSS pistol and its SP-4 special ammunition. A red spot blossomed on the forehead of the guard, and he crumpled to the deck, seemingly in slow motion to the girl's adrenaline-pumped senses.

Lanie stepped around the two dead men, then double-timed along the corridor, determined to get to the rendezvous point.

*                               *                               *

October 9th, 2016
Playground, Whateley Special Needs Elementary Facility, Whateley Academy

The children woke up to find a surprise waiting on them in the form of their mother being home early and their favorite aunts, Kayda and Debbie, along for a visit. As it was a pretty day, Wyatt senior decided to hold an end-of-season cookout and so everyone had moved out to the park-like area around Alexander Hall. Wyatt set about getting the charcoal grill, a massive former fifty-five gallon drum affair that was his pride and joy, going while the girls prepared the picnic table and the kids were shooed off to the playground and its castle-themed swing set.

The Bartons had wandered over with their new adopted daughter, Mrs. Chambers had come to see what the fuss was with her daughter Susan and it turned into a full on block party. Connie, Susan, Valerie Barton and Aunt Debbie were having an elaborate tea party while Junior had amused himself by climbing up to his favorite perch on the top most tower of the set. There he found his best friend, sitting below the battlement. "Hey, Scooby!" he greeted as he finished climbing up and closed the trap door again. "What are you doing over here?"

Nigel Kent was not what he appeared to be.

He appeared to be a scarecrow of a boy, all arms and legs, probably of Hispanic origin judging by his dusky skin, dark hair and eyes. He was also a member of the Medawihla tribe and Junior's best friend. They had met because Junior saw another Medawihla boy take Nigel's Captain America Action Figure and had, in his own fashion, suggested the other boy return what wasn't his. The other boy had pointed out Junior was neither his parent, nor the playground chaperone and invited him to mind his own business. Junior felt the need to retort, with his fist, and the fight was on.

Wyatt Junior had gotten his first black eye, grounded for a week and his new best friend out of the deal, but Nigel got his Captain America figure back. "My folks," the other boy replied. "They are asking the Bartons if I can room with them during the week 'cause I got to attend Whateley now."

"Cool!" Wyatt enthused. "Why? What's your power?"

The boy's form shimmered and grew until he was not quite five feet tall, still painfully thin, and half wolf. "That's awesome!" Wyatt declared, completely unafraid his best friend was a werewolf. Nigel shrank back to his previous height of three foot eight.

"Mom doesn’t know why I changed way early and so they want me going to school here so I can control it."

"Connie and I are starting the junior high program too," Wyatt proudly told his friend.

"Let's have a conversation about that, young man," a voice from below declared. The trap door opened and the redheaded, full-figured form of Elaine Cody rose up through it, a halter top clinging to her impressive chest and a tight pair of jeans putting the rest of her on display. "Hello, Nigel," she greeted, holding the door open. "Would you excuse us, please?"

Nigel nodded, suddenly uncomfortable about being around his best friend's mother in a way he didn't fully understand. But he was pretty sure it had to do with her clothes, either way, he took the opportunity for a graceful exit. "Sure, Mrs. Cody," he declared and shimmied down the ladder below the trap door. The trap door closed, Mrs. Cody sat cross legged and stared at her wayward son.

"So," she declared after a long moment of not quite glaring at him. "Would you like to start and give me your side of things, or should I just start handing out punishments for what I know about?"

Wyatt forced a lopsided grin. "Well, what do you know about?" he asked, but the attempt at humor fell flat and his mother's face didn't soften. She reached out and took a hold of his chin.

"Everything," she told him with great weight. "I know you stole my tricorder from my workshop, and broke it. You snuck into the school's tunnel system which your father and I have repeatedly told you not to and you concealed something as important as a spirit sharing your body!" Her hand withdrew and, if possible, her features became more stern. "What am I going to do with you, Wyatt?"

"Connie was with me..."

"I'll deal with your sister presently," she assured her son. "And don't think throwing her under the bus is going to lighten the load for you!"

"Mom..." He trailed off, waiting for her to interrupt him with further castigation, but she was just staring at him, obviously mad and it was...disturbing.

"Well?" she demanded. "Do you have a side? Something to mitigate this? Or should I just start taking away privileges?"

Wyatt sighed and stared at his shoes. "We were looking for Grandma Carson." For the first time, her face softened and on it he could see that she was just as sad as he was about the loss of the great lady. She gathered her son into her arms and lap and hugged him tightly.

"I miss her too," she whispered into his ear and kissed his head. Wyatt held his mother and probably would have felt a little embarrassed about how loved and safe he felt in her embrace, but then there was no one watching and he could just enjoy it. "Wyatt, whatever happened to Ms. Carson, son, you can't help her. I can't help her. She...she is just gone, son and if there is any chance what happened to her might happen again then I don't want you or your sister anywhere near it! Do you understand me, son?"

"Yes, momma," he told her fervently.

"Now," she continued, sitting him up so she could look him in the eye. "You will promise me, on your sacred honor, on the deepest rules, that you will not go into those tunnels again to try and find her. No buts, no excuses," she held up her hand, her eyes boring into him like lasers. "Pinkie swear, son," she said with great weight. Wyatt reached up and wrapped the pinkie finger of his hand around his mothers.

"I swear," he affirmed. She held it for a long moment then, let him go.

*                               *                               *

"I had a long talk with Junior and Connie," Lanie told her husband as she held the plate he was loading up with hamburgers from the grill.

"You didn't punish them, did you?" he asked with a sidelong glance as he got the last of the patties off the grill and onto her plate.

"They know how upset with them we are and won't do it again," she replied, side stepping the question. Wyatt rolled his eyes and got his tongs to pick up the hot dogs.

"You old softie," he chuckled. "You're going to spoil those kids rotten."

"They're young," his wife retorted. "They deserve a little spoiling." She turned and raised her voice. "Kids! Food!" This triggered a mini-stampede of children scrambling off the swing set and dashing towards the table. They were intercepted by their aunt Debbie with a bottle of hand sanitizer and napkins to clean up. Looking back at her husband, she whispered, "They were just doing what we've been talking about doing since it happened."

"The difference is we're adults," he murmured. He sighed and stretched. "We knew there would be challenges raising them, just with all we had been through in our time with Coyote and all that, but I honestly didn't think it would start until they were at least ten or twelve."

"Do you think there's something as bad as the Bastard coming?" she asked and he shrugged.

"I'm still hoping it's wannabes riding coat tails and trying to impress us," he said as he lowered the lid and wiped his hands on a towel. "No sense worrying about it now. Come on, let's eat. I'm just glad to have you back."

Lanie grinned and kissed his cheek. "Glad to be back, Doctor," she told him with a wink. "I'm always ready to assist you in your ... ah...field research trips...?"

"Naughty girl, that's why I love you," he grinned.

*                               *                               *

October 9th, 2016
Sinibaldi's Restaurant 207 E Mason St, Berlin, NH 03570

"So, what do you think?" asked Sarah cautiously. The two women had taken their leave of Ms. Hartford for lunch, with promises to discuss her offers and get back to her. They had traveled to a nearby eatery, one doing lively business for lunch and ordered a pair of sandwiches. Jennifer was chewing thoughtfully on a French fry, her phone in her hand.

"About what?" she asked, taking her eyes off the screen to look her lover in the face. "Which of the mind blowing revelations of this trip are you referring to, my beloved?"

"I was referring to Hartford," Sarah replied, shaking her head. "What are you doing?"

"I Googled this 'Elaine Cody' that I am supposed to be," she said softly, then a bit of her humor returned and she raised her nose. "That's doctor Elaine Cody to you!"

The expression on Williams face was classic disbelief. "You're an MD?" she demanded, but Kelly shook her head.

"Ph.D." she corrected. "Three of them, if you can believe it!"

"I don't!" Sarah shot back. "Show me!"

Jennifer showed her the screen. "The bitch is proud of it, pays for an entry in Who's Who."

"Need I remind you, the bitch, is you?"

Kelly ate another french fry. "Please don't. Anyway, she has degrees in Aerospace, chemical and electrical engineering. According to Who's Who, she holds a record from Georgia Tech for defending three separate doctoral thesis in the same day."

"Jesus," muttered Williams. "I knew you were a masochist, but Jesus, baby, three in one day?"

Jennifer shook her head. "There are not many times this amnesia is a blessing, but this is definitely one of them! Uh, let's see, God! Her middle name is Ethel! Ethel! Did her parents hate her?"

Sarah looked at her lover side long. Finally, she worked up the courage to ask, "What about the husband?" Kelly swiped at her phone's screen several times.

"Wyatt V. Cody, also a doctor, a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist, works for the school in their mental health department at Doyle Medical," Kelly replied, turning the phone. "Jesus, look at the size of him!"

"You never do anything in half measures," Sarah told her with a smile. "Do ... do you remember anything ...?"

A confusing jumble of images and sounds, feelings and emotions ran through Jennifer's mind, all too fast to concentrate on or bring up, save the feeling of deeply kissing someone, and her lips pulled away and her eyes opened to see a blonde of breathtaking beauty whose crystal blue eyes looked into hers. "I love you," the blond assured her, then she was back in the restaurant. She felt Sarah's hand on her arm and covered it with her free hand.

Shaking her head, Kelly said, "Just ... feelings, nothing concrete." She sighed again put the phone down. "So, what do we do? Do we uproot our lives, move out here to the sticks ...?"

Sarah leaned forward and put her forehead against Jennifer's. "They're your kids, baby, what does your heart tell you?"

Kelly kissed her lover's cheek and picked up her phone again. Hartford had given her copies of the photographs of her children and she stared at them, seeing herself in her daughter, and hints of herself in her sons. "I don't have a choice, do I?"

"The Jennifer Kelly I love," Williams replied, "She doesn't abandon her own."

Jennifer nodded solemnly and held up a French fry. "At least the food is good up here." Sarah smiled and hugged her lover, determined more than ever to stand by her.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Casino and Hotel

Lord Paramount's catamount troops, with instincts and reflexes and training for combat second to none and honed by several weeks of exercises in space, fanned out through the station, moving with speed that defied human logic. Their gear, while it wouldn't protect them from prolonged exposure to vacuum, would give them a few minutes of protection in the event a section started to decompress and would allow them to cross depressurized sections, so long as they did it post-haste.

Lanie squared her shoulders and drew a deep breath. As she started to step to follow the troops into battle, she felt a powerful hand on her shoulder. Startled, she turned toward whoever had the audacity to try to interfere with her mission.

"Stand down, Red," Lord Paramount said sternly. "Leave the killing to the killers. Your mission is done."

"Ah've got to help Kayda ...."

Paramount's presence was imposing, and he knew when to use that to reinforce a point - like that moment. "Stand down." He watched the conflict rage inside the girl. "You've done enough."

"But …"

"No." Paramount watched as the last of his men scrambled out of sight. "This would be a good time to give me a rundown of what you and your partners discovered."

Slowly, the adrenaline rush that had been fueling Lanie's eagerness to fight abated. "Ah confirmed it's a rail gun," she finally said. "Ah'd estimate it to be about eighty percent complete."

"Projectile size?"

"The projectiles Ah saw - at least two hundred of them - Ah'd estimate at two hundred kilograms each, give or take. Based on the size, Ah suspect they're tungsten cores, with an ablative, streamlined shield."

"Two hundred kilos? Are you sure?" That number had shocked the older man.

"Yeah. The barrel of the cannon is in the middle of the space dock on the rotation axis. It's a staged power bank to boost the acceleration. Based on the length and the size of the ultra-capacitors, it'll probably have thirty-thousand gees of acceleration."

"The station can't power that."

"No. On a couple of the dozen or so ships he launched, Viridian stowed a couple of devisor reactors to power the gun. According to mah mental math, a projectile would hit with the equivalent energy of four thousand tons of TNT." She watched as Paramount digested the data, his eyes widening. "Yeah. A small tactical nuke." She drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "The rest of it you've got. He's planning on boosting the hotel to one of the L-points, where it'll be hard for anyone to hit him. He's got several beam weapons mounted on the exterior, and after he boosts, his men will be installing advanced sensors. His intent is to rain death on any nation that doesn't cave to his wishes."

"He could get away with it, too!" Paramount noted, showing a bit of shock at Lanie's explanation. "As soon as someone noticed the maneuver ...."

Lanie shook her head. "He thought of that one. He knows all of the satellites that could watch him. He's got four different burn opportunities, and all of them are in blind spots or times."

"It wouldn't take long to track and get a solution. If he burns to leave earth orbit, someone would launch an attack, regardless of casualties!"

"Not if you're trying to get a solution on more than a dozen repeaters to spoof the radars, all of which are launched on different orbits, including one left on what the orbit was supposed to be." The redhead shook her head slowly. "Give him credit - he's not dumb."

Paramount was surprised, but he nodded. "And if the rail gun was ready, he could use that to retaliate if anyone did try to attack."

"Not until his men find and replace the switching semiconductors in his power controllers." She smiled smugly. "Ah rigged them to overload the moment the current increases to any of the weapons." The smug look vanished as she continued her report. "And as soon as they're past a geostationary orbit, he planned to jettison all the hostages except for young, attractive women," Lanie added.

"Outer decks converted to hydroponic farms, refreshing oxygen and supplying food. Crew large enough to man the station and weapons. Comfort women. Maybe to grow a space colony controlling the ultimate 'high ground' from which he'd rule the world?"

"That was mah guess," Lanie replied, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly weary. Her legs wobbled, and if not for Paramount standing close to catch her, she would have toppled to the deck.

*                               *                               *

Her ghost-walking charms almost completely used up, Kayda walked softly past a pair of guards who were standing outside one of the few pressurized entrances to the hostage area, their guns held casually, as if they had nothing to fear. Indeed, they didn't really; the doors were all closed and the controls bypassed, so there was really no way for the hostages to get through the door. Still, Viridian insisted that it be guarded, and so the obviously bored guards maintained their post.

At that precise moment, the last of the magic ran out, and the silvery outline that told the Lakota girl that the charm was active faded.

"Hey, you!" one of the guards was a little quicker to respond to the sudden appearance of a girl than his partner. "Stop!" He swung the barrel of his carbine up toward the girl.

Despite being mentally, physically, and magically fatigued, Kayda reacted instinctively as hours and hours of training had taught her. With a flick of her right hand, a tomahawk was sudden embedded deep in the throat of the guard, and he collapsed slowly, gurgling for breath as he tried to reach up to the ancient weapon. His efforts were futile, of course; the cutting edge had sliced easily through soft tissue and then chipped deeply into vertebrae at the back of the man's neck, splintering and shattering one of the bones, driving pieces of his spine into the spinal column, wreaking havoc with the man's ability to control his own body.

Kayda, of course, saw none of this; she'd turned her attention to the second man, who had his carbine nearly level. Essence flowed from one of two charms in her left hand, shaping itself into a massive surge of raw electricity, which discharged abruptly like a finger of power dancing from a Tesla coil, wavering and pulsing in an unearthly display of killing energy.

The man couldn't dodge the lightning bolt, nor could he get his firearm in action quickly enough. Unlike his partner, however, his left hand slapped at a small radio fastened to his uniform shirt. Before the energy could short out the electronics as it fried the man's neurons, a brief burst of RF snapped from the radio.

*                               *                               *

Having removed her helmet and used the last of the ghost-walking charm to borrow a cloak from one of the female hostages, Tansy cautiously moved through the hostages, some of whom were laying on the decks, while others sat in chairs. They all looked numbed by the experience so far; Tansy wondered if she'd even be able to reason with these exhausted, demoralized people.

She moved through an open pressure door, and then leaned down beside a very disorientated and morose family. "Quietly move into the ballroom," she said insistently.

The man looked up at her, his eyes nearly vacant, extreme fatigue showing on his face. "What?" he asked, not quite comprehending.

"Get the rest of your family into the ballroom. Quickly. Then help me get everyone else moved!"

"Um ...."

"Move it! This compartment is going to get very, very dangerous in a very short time." Her voice was by that point loud enough that others overheard.

One of the men, who was quite probably a leader of some corporation or business, picked up on Tansy's words and tone, and he snapped into decisive action. "You, you, you, and you," he indicated in a suddenly and surprisingly strong voice, pointing to four of the nearby men, "go alert the others in this section." He pointed to another couple of men. "Start moving people. Women and children first."

Tansy felt a bit of relief at the unexpected help. "Move as fast as you can. There's a bomb on the hull outside the compartment. If it detonates, it's going to depressurize this section. Now move!"

Casually, she saw a guard turn and start walking toward the group, his face etched with sudden concern. "Move it. I'll take care of the guards." She avoided eye contact with the guard, instead watching him with her peripheral vision, until he was within ten yards.

Tansy's pistol whipped up, and she aimed without thinking, squeezing the trigger and sending a bullet crashing into the man's face. She didn't bother watching the shower of blood and brains and bone fragments blowing out the back of his head; instead, she looked around and noted the positions of two other guards.

At the sound of gunfire, panic erupted among the hostages. The men who'd been starting to move the hostages gawked, then began a stampede toward the inner compartment. For a moment, Tansy was blinded to the locations of the two guards. She used the cover of the crowd to move to where she figured the first was, and a step up onto a chair put her in good position to track him. It also made a very visible target of herself, but she was confident she'd handle things before they could shoot at her.

Another quick shot, another guard down, and then, as Tansy searched for the remaining guard, three things happened at once. An alert siren began to wail from the ship's speaker system, in reaction to either Kayda or herself, and it wasn't totally unexpected. Second, the other guard's head rose above the crowd as he stepped up on a table. Alarmingly, he wasn't looking for Tansy, but had leveled his weapon to shoot the crowd. And third, the bulkhead door at the opposite end of the vast room opened, and two more guards came in, firearms at the ready.

*                               *                               *

Kayda heard the siren sound, and knew that things were going wrong very quickly. There was no way she'd have time to disarm the bomb. No way. But there might be a way to still make this work.

She opened the door into the third compartment of hostages, the vast hall at the opposite end that Tansy was working. "Get away from the doors!" Kayda yelled to the hostages as she slapped the control to shut the door again. Nothing happened, since the inside controls were disabled, but her focus was on the hostages.

Seeing their reluctance to move, inspired no doubt by the sound of gunfire at the other end of the area, Kayda began to push one woman who was holding an infant. "There's a bomb outside this door, to blow open the hull! Get away from ...."

*                               *                               *

Tansy easily picked off the one guard, then pulled her helmet back on, tossing the cloak aside. "Move!" she yelled, ignoring the few rounds from the new guards that whistled above her head. "Move it!"

Behind the new two guards, there was a bright flash, and a wave of high-pressure from an explosive rushed into the compartment. The guards were hurled inward, as were several hostages. Tansy leaped down and dashed toward the doorway, fighting her way against the pressure, knowing that it was going to reverse very, very quickly.

When the pressure abated, it was immediately replaced by a rush of air outward, through the door and through the breach in the hull. A dozen hostages were caught up in the hurricane-force winds, ripped from their feet and sucked through the door and out the hull breech.

It was risky, Tansy knew, but she had to do something. "Close the section door!" she yelled to the men who were helping herd the hostages. "Close the section door!" If they could isolate the area she was in from the main hall, many lives would be spared.

Tansy launched herself toward the section door, spread-eagling her limbs so that in theory she wouldn't fit through the door. All she had to do was ... she hit, each of her limbs smacking against the heavy metal door-frame in an explosion of excruciating pain. Fighting the pain and the hurricane-like rush of air, she straddled the doorway and stretched to a control panel. When she tripped the emergency door close control, nothing happened.

A small hostage child, carried by the rush of air trying to vent out of the ship, smacked into her back, and she nearly lost her grip. Leaving one hand to hold the frame, with the other, she grabbed the child, a little boy of about five, holding him to keep him from being killed.

"Hold on to me - piggy back!" Tansy screamed to be heard above the strong wind. His arms and legs wrapped obediently around her, and she let go of him, freeing up a hand. Reaching toward the door, she grasped the metal and tugged, sliding the massive door against its restraints. Once it had broken free of its open-latch, Tansy slapped the control again. This time, the door moved, too slowly, she knew, but with every passing second, the opening was significantly reducing in size.

Not fast enough; two more people were sucked out, one bouncing off Tansy and nearly dislodging her and the boy clinging desperately to her back.

And then the tornadic sound dulled to a strong wind, then a gentle breeze, and finally a small whistle that was indicative of a small leak instead of a massive hull breach. Tansy let herself fall to the deck, her forearms and shins battered and sore, and her muscles feeling strained beyond belief.

*                               *                               *

Kayda was pushed violently into the compartment by the overpressure from the blast behind her; had she been in the corridor, the blast would have undoubtedly killed her. Now, though, she had a big problem - the door was open into the corridor that now had a huge gash into space.

The shaman girl reached deep into her essence well, gauging how much she had left, and as the air began to rush outward, she invoked a spell as she let herself be swept along. Other hostages preceded her, screaming and flailing as they were carried into the black void, and then the moment she passed the compartment door, Kayda triggered the spell she was thinking of, her first, crude shield spell, the one that put her at the center of a protective sphere. It was like being in the center of a billiard ball, she remembered. It was also air-tight, or so she fervently hoped.

Around her, things took on a silvery shine as the combination ghost-walking and shield spell expanded around her.

As she'd estimated, the bomb had blown a hole about one and a half meters across - a ragged, jagged tear in the once-pristine hull of the orbiting hotel. Due to the nature of the explosion, the hole was roughly circular, which was precisely what Kayda had anticipated. Her shield spell, the old ball-like one she'd made all those years ago at Whateley, was pulled into the hole, and like a large ball atop an open drain, the shield effectively plugged the hole.

It took her a moment or two to shake off the shocks of the explosion and the violent movement of her shield into the hole, but then she triggered her AmigasComm. "Lanie?" There was no response.


"Kayda, how are things at your end?"

"Stable. How about your end?"

Kayda could practically hear Tansy's wince through the comm unit. "Lost about a dozen people before I got the isolation door shut. The blast overpressure caused a lot of injuries, but at first glance, it doesn't look like any are fatal. What's happening on your end?"

Kayda took a deep breath; they'd been mostly successful after all. Assuming the Catamounts could take out Viridian's guards. "Same here, except that I'm kind of the plug in the hole."


"My ping-pong-ball shield spell. It's kind of plugging the hole. I need someone to get the isolation door shut, and then someone needs to get ready to pick me up, because when I drop the spell, I'm going to shoot out into space like a rocket."

"Shaman, I copy," Lord Paramount's voice sounded firmly. "I've got a couple of men detouring to your area, and the Tesla's launch will be enroute to you in seconds."

"There are some people who got spaced," Kayda countered. "Focus on them first."

The comm system went dead. "Tansy? Lord Paramount?" Kayda insisted after a couple of seconds. "You need to focus on ...."

"Shaman," Lord Paramount's voice was firm and full of sadness and sympathy. "They're dead. It's too late to rescue any of them."

"Kayda," Tansy's voice sounded gently, "Carmen has informed me that she's managed to get control of the door, and it's closing. The hostages are safe."

"The launch pilot says he has your section in sight. We'll have you safe in a minute or two."

*                               *                               *

Lanie's search for Kayda was short; cuwe was with her parents and little sister in their stateroom, the refuge they'd hid in during the whole ordeal. She glanced in and saw Kayda leaning forward, her fingers and thumbs supporting her face. Her cheeks were very wet with tears, while her dad sat beside her, hand on her back, leaning forward and talking softly to her.

Lanie decided to let the family have their time, but as she turned, Kayda's dad noticed her. "Come in," he said, no doubt intended for Lanie.

"If this is a bad time ....."

"Not at all," Pete Franks said, gesturing for Lanie to sit on the other side of his daughter.

"Lord Paramount said we did well," Lanie volunteered after a few seconds of silence.

Kayda slowly shook her head. "Tell that to the families that lost someone. Tell that to the ones who died in space." She shook her head. "It wasn't good enough," she said, her voice dripping with self-recrimination. "I should have been faster disarming the bombs. I should have ...."

"You did far more than was expected," Lanie chided her gently. "Think about how many didn't die in the cold, dark vacuum of space. Think of how many families are spared a lot of pain."

Kayda looked up, gawking in disbelief at Lanie's words. "I didn't sign up to play God, to decide who lives and who dies!"

Lanie put her hands on Kayda's damp cheeks and turned her head slightly, so the two were face-to-face. "Cuwe, Viridan was going to kill all the men, the older women, and the children as soon as he boosted past geosynchronous orbit."

"The men and children?" Kayda asked uncertainly.

"This was to be a long-term outpost," Lanie said. "Do Ah have to spell it out for you?"

The others gawked at the redhead, accepting slowly what she'd reported. "I ... I'm a shaman," Kayda finally replied. "I'm supposed to heal people, not run off to adventure and war." She shook her head. "I need to spend more time helping the People, not playing hero."

"Are you saying that you're leaving the team?" Lanie asked hesitantly.

"Wakan Tanka and Tatanka have indulged me and my hero fantasies for too long. It's time I turn my attention to what I'm supposed to do - emissary to the People, to help them come together and prosper."

Lanie stared at her soul sister for a few moments. "Ah ... Ah think Ah understand."

Kayda wrapped her arms around Lanie, tears still seeping from her eyes. "I ... if I quit, I ... I still want you and Tansy as my friends."

Lanie shook her head. "You're not mah friend," she said a bit sternly, enough that Kayda and her dad gasped. A smile dawned on her face and her eyes beamed. "You're mah cuwe, mah soul sister. You'll always be that, even if our lives go in different directions. No matter where Ah go, or where you go, there'll always be a place for you whenever you want to spend time."

*                               *                               *

Tansy knelt before the toilet fighting a losing battle with her stomach. Now that they had control of the station, her body was coming down from the 'combat focus' some of the Catamounts called it. That fugue state people in combat get into where everything but the will to fight and survive shuts down. Chuckling, one vet had remarked after a bad fire fight it wasn't uncommon for half the combat team to suddenly throw up for no reason or desperately have to empty their bladder or bowels as the body 'woke up' back to reality.

In her mind, thanks to her perfect recall, she watched the fire of the muzzle flash bloom in front of her pistol in slow motion, obscuring the sight picture. For a brief, perfect moment, there was just this beautiful yellow orange glow as the slide began to rock backward as physics took over and the empty brass was about to be expelled.

Then the glow was gone and in that same, awful clarity, she saw a man's head explode out the back as her bullet ripped through his face, the overpressure wave fractured his skull at the weak point right where it opened for his spinal column to enter, and brain, blood and unrecognizable gore spattered across the bulkhead behind him in a horrific spray like some macabre Jackson Pollock painting.

Like a vicious parade, the image of the six men she had killed danced through her mind in perfect, gruesome detail. Her stomach heaved and she emptied it into the toilet.

Gasping after her breath, she flushed the filth away and leaned back against the privacy stall wall, trying desperately to get control of herself. Inside she was horrified, not at what she had done, she knew she had saved lives with every one of those men she had killed. That was not the source of her misery, it was the horrified recognition that she had so easily slipped back into the numb, cold, detached state Old Tansy had used when she had fucked boys she loathed to get access to their minds and twist them to her will.

It was the realization that she had not changed, she was still the same cold, cruel bitch she had always been, she had just changed sides. Now she was a cold, cruel bitch for the Good Guys whose standards should never let anyone like her on their team. A sob wracked her body as the desire to cry and throw up warred within the young woman. She drew up her knees and hugged herself feeling so completely ashamed.

She was so proud of how she had changed, how she had made herself be a good person, who helped others, who was selfless, but it was all just a lie. A lie to the one person she should never be able to fool; herself.

Stop it! Mustang raged at her. You are not that person anymore!

Like a dam being over topped, tears leaked from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. "Yes I am," she whispered. "I can't change, I won't ever change. I will always be Old Tansy!" Sobs wracked her and she shook on the bathroom floor and wailed. "I can't ever escape him! Even if I go down there and murder my own father I would just be proving I will always be the evil, spiteful monster he made!"

The bathroom melted away into a Medieval Castle and by the fireplace the human form of Mustang hugged his host. "How many times must we go through this, child! When will you forgive yourself?"

"I can't!" she wailed as she buried her face into his chest. "Don't you see? I felt her! I know what I was doing and how! It's how I've always dealt with stress! Every time this happens, I'll slip a little bit more! I'll get a little weaker until I've backslid so far that..."

"Nonsense!" roared the spirit. "Do you think me impotent? That I would ever let you...?"

"I can't, Mustang!" she cried. "I can't risk it! I can't do this anymore! I thought I could, that I could make a difference, but I'm not! It's just the same but a different side!"

The spirit sighed and comforted his host. "Alright," he conceded. "We'll take a break. We'll spend time with Lanie and Grizzly and Kodiak, and just be for a while." Tansy raised her head off her knees, once more on the floor of a toilet in a space station. Come, Mustang whispered. Let's tell Lord Paramount.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
Primary EVA Airlock, The Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

Elaine felt Tansy's arm come around her shoulder as she stared at the supervillain through the window in the airlock door. He was ranting in the midst of a full on Diedricks attack, the airlock was soundproofed and he ranted in silence. He was not just bound, he was hogtied, arms and legs, hands and feet, held in a kneeling position that gave him no leverage whatsoever. She watched him rant, eerily silent and without the spittle and foaming mouth one would expect. He almost looked like the living statue of a college professor, giving a lecture. She shook her head and looked at her lover. "How could anyone do this?" she asked softly.

The battle had been a difficult one, while some of Viridian's followers had surrendered immediately, most were fanatically loyal to the super villain and had to be fought tooth and nail. Which had not bothered Lord Paramount, his Catamounts had been up to the challenge, with a vicious ferocity that went hand in hand with their bestial appearance.

Tansy was looking through the glass at Viridian, captivated in the way a snake or deadly spider could be captivating. "He doesn't even care we could kill him just like he killed those women and children," she said softly. "He's only pissed we stopped him."

Blue eyes met green ones. "He'll just keep doing this, won't he?" Lanie asked. "Bigger and more horrific than the last and even if we just gave him what he wants he would still..." She turned and looked out into the larger room for EVA prep where Kayda was comforting one of the surviving men whose wife and grandchild had been murdered and both of them were crying.

"There is a reason the United Nations declared the killing of anyone on the A-List Threat to Humanity preemptively justified," Lord Paramount declared softly as he joined the girls by the airlock. "Not that it really matters, here, because we are the very definition of extra-territorial in Low Earth Orbit." His gauntlet clad hand reached out and stopped, hovering above the airlock control. "Shall I?"

"Let Kayda have a say," Tansy said softly. "She and her parents were in the middle of this, and her little sister could have been spaced. Or the survivors. It's their choice."

The Prince of Wallachia turned and his stentorian voice was still soft and comforting. "First Shaman?" Kayda looked up, her eyes were red from crying over the lives she hadn't been able to save, but hard and cold. Her form shimmered as she stood and changed into a taller woman, still very Native American in her appearance, but regal in her mien and her outline glowing softly with power. "Wakan Tanka," the Prince greeted.

"If you look to me for sympathy or mercy on behalf of this animal, your highness, you do so in vain," the spirit declared coldly. "Were he my prisoner, I would cure him of every illness of his body and mind to be certain he understood the evil he had done, then I would return that evil to him thrice folded with my knife! It would be a long time before I gave him over to death from my justice!" The man she had been consoling jumped up, obviously at the end of his mental rope.

"Kill the son of a bitch," he snarled. "I don't care who does it!" Wakan Tanka faded away, leaving a distraught Kayda who went back to consoling the man.

Tansy stepped forward to the window, reaching over to turn on the microphone as she did so. "We're going to space you," she declared in a flat voice. Viridian's ranting stopped and he turned his eerie, pupil-less eyes towards the window. "Nobody is really sure about your biology, but I hope this doesn't kill you. I hope you get to roast on one side and freeze on the other for weeks until you starve to death up here where even you can't hear you screaming! Your orbit will decay, but slowly, so you can think about this life's version of Hell when you re-enter and burn up in a fiery plasma. You think about the people you killed while you die, you monster! Think about what you're going to say to God because you're about to meet Him! Or more likely, Satan!"

"The heiress of my hatred," he growled with a grating smile. "Come my daughter and take my place..." The sound of his voice was stopped by the microphone being overridden and Lord Paramount's voice ringing from the speakers.

"No, not today," declared Lord Paramount sternly. "You wanted to be an A-List Threat to humanity! Very well, we'll treat you like one!" The outer door snapped open and Viridian was washed out by the roar of the air propelling him out into space, tumbling him away. Lord Paramount took his finger off the override and let the outer door slide closed again. "

"What about the ... the device"? Tansy asked hesitantly, careful in her choice of words.

"It's too dangerous to let anyone know just how close Viridian had come to deploying an orbital bombardment platform. If they did know, there'd be an arms race in space. Most nation's space funding would shift to military space, crowding out civilian space " The tall man solemnly shook his head. "My men are dismantling the device. The pieces will be burned up in the atmosphere with Viridian's ships. There will be no trace left."

"And his men who know? His secure computer records?" Tansy asked with a cocked eyebrow.

"The computer has been taken care of by Mrs. Cody," he answered with a smile, then his features hardened. "As to his men, let's just say that there some of Viridian's men who did not survive." He saw a look of horror dawn on Tansy's features. "It was necessary," he explained simply, then he read the distressed look on the girl's face. "Solange, are you alright?"

Tansy sighed as she turned and looked up into the rugged face of the man she admired. "My lord, I...I can't do this anymore," she whispered, her voice trembling. Lanie stepped forward and hugged her lover. "I can't see this evil, over and over and it's like nothing we do makes a difference! There's always some other monster waiting in the wings!"

"There are hundreds and hundreds of differences drawing breath on this station right now because of you, Solange," Paramount told her softly. "And the three Amigas," he added with a smile.

"I want to go home," she said softly. "I want to be with my wife and my husband, get pregnant and have kids and pretend I have never seen this...any of this..."

Lord Paramount reached out and rubbed her shoulders. "Take some time. Be with your family and remember what you're fighting for. But don't despair, my lovely friend. You have done great good and will again, I know it." He turned and gestured to one of his Catamounts. "Corporal. Get with the front desk and arrange for the finest room in this station for Solange and Wicked. Have them send the bill to the Wallachian Embassy."

"It's our honor," the general manager replied, standing from the group of former hostages and walking over. "Please, ladies, right this way. You are my guests, whatever you desire, it's our pleasure."

Paramount watched the two lovers leave, then walked over to Kayda. "And what of you, First Shaman? This is your success, too. What reward can I give you?"

"You're not The Committee’s piggy bank, Lord Paramount," Kayda told him wearily.

"You're right," he returned with a smile. "I am my own man, and if I choose to lavish gifts on beautiful women, that's my own affair, is it not?"

Kayda smirked and crossed her arms over her chest. "And what would Ms. Hartford say about that?"

"My lady knows the difference between a man's passions and his pastimes. And she knows where she stands with me, and my affections, but she is also a realist who understands the nature of our work," he declared with that damnable little boy smile that somehow made him not look like the ruthless king and killer he was. "Now come, tell me what I can do for you?"

Kayda raised an eyebrow. "Well, I have been meaning to try and fund a Native American Cultural site and permanent lodge where the First Nations can come and have a real Congress..."

The Prince of Wallachia's smile widened. "Let me get my check book."

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Honeymoon Suite, Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

While most of the station's rooms and habitable area were in the ring that made up the bulk of the station where there could be some semblance of gravity, there were exceptions. At the back of the central hub, well sound shielded from the shuttle bay and the comings and goings of the station, lay the Honeymoon suite, the most expensive room in the hotel. Everything about the room was built around the delights of free fall.

There was a hot tub that was entered and exited through a membrane to keep the water from escaping, that one wore an air mask to enjoy, completely submerged. Every surface was soft padded, save the outer wall, which was the room's real selling point, it was a three meter by six meter wall of transparent aluminum. The remarkably strong, absolutely clear material could be struck perpendicular at orbital speeds by space junk and not even be scratched.

Tansy floated, nude, in front of this clear wall, spellbound as the Earth turned below her.

From the little mini fridge, Lanie removed a pair of free fall pouches of Dom Pérignon and then gently pushed off the wall to float over to Tansy. "She keeps Moët & Chandon, in her pretty cabinet..." she sang as the two young women met in the middle of this massive window. Tansy smiled and kissed her lover's forehead.

"'Let them eat cake' she says, Just like Marie Antoinette!'" she sang as they embraced, then Tansy took the small strap attached to the belt she was wearing and clicked it on the matching belt around Elaine's waist, tethering the two together. That accomplished, she pushed the straw into the pouch and took a sip, the champagne tasting faintly of plastic. She reached out and kissed her wife with deep, tender passion. "I love you," she whispered as they parted, her blonde hair in a halo around her head.

"It will be alright," Lanie assured her as they held each other and looked out the huge window at the planet of their birth. "Come and stay with Wyatt and me in Georgia for a spell. Maybe even take some classes, Ah'm sure you could get into Tech or Emory if you wanted. We'll just learn for a bit and forget we can do these things."

Tansy smiled and took another sip from the straw. "That sounds wonderful. Just be people for a little while, normal college kids; no powers, no saving the world. God, that sounds wonderful."

Elaine wrapped herself around her wife and kissed her again. "So will this," she whispered in her ear. For a brief, timeless place, Lanie and Tansy forgot their worries as they floated and made love.

*                               Finis                         *

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