A few author's notes: I REALLY appreciate feedback, good or bad. Also, Cadre 5 is going on hiatus until after November. I think those who have followed it so far can understand why. This is meant to be the epilog of Year 2. It sort of wraps things up and sets up for another year of story telling.
As for the last scene. If you want to find out why Table 17 is so important, I suggest you google: Xander and the Ladies of Table 17. It's actually a very cute tale. And if you read ALL of it, you may find a few points I inserted there as well.
Doctor Duncan Edward Blair formerly known as the hero, RETCON and now Headmaster of Wyndgate Academy
Controlled chaos is the only term for what has happened in the world since Cadre Aleph went into space and stopped the alien planet cracker while Cadre 5, Cadre 4, and Neoforce 1 took out the aliens who attacked DC. Well actually, from what I've been able to gather, they were the ancient beings that the world knew as the Aztec Gods, but that is news that has not and probably will not be released to the general public. That lightning storm that hit right after the fight was not confined to the DC area, or even the US. By the time it dissipated it had covered every corner of the globe in an event that made Burstout Day look like a minor hiccup.
America is no longer the only place where neo-humans have appeared- if you can call what people have become neo-human. It's more like the world has stepped back into the mythical age. When that storm cleared, millions of people around the world changed, and not all of it was for the better. In New York city several families went through a rather painful metamorphosis that turned them into centaurs and harpies. In California and Japan there are suddenly several packs of kitsune. India and China are having problems with weretigers and demons- although to be honest the Asian definition of demon is far from the Western definition. South America is being overrun by jaguar men, winged serpents, and a breed of vampire I've never heard about before. Elves, fairies, trolls, and ogres are overrunning parts of the US and most of Europe. And we won't talk about the vampires and werewolves cropping up.
The strange thing about it is that very few actual neo-humans; i.e.: people with super powers that don't have some kind of connection to myth and legend have appeared. According to Robert, it's because of two differences in this event and the one he claims to have engineered. He says that within a few weeks things should settle down, but the world is going to have to make some serious adjustments to these changes. They are not going away.
The first difference between the original Burst Out event and what happened a few weeks ago is the release of something called the Talent Prime. The deaths of those beings at Lafayette Park supposedly ripped down the barrier between Earth and some kind of mystical energy field. It means that not only has real honest to goodness magic returned to the world, but so have the mystical creatures that were powered by it. People have become what they would have been had magic never left our world. According Robert, soon some people are going to discover that magic works for them.
The second difference is that the mutagen released by the Ahau torpedo was not targeted at specific individual genes. Instead it was much more broad-spectrum and was simply designed to cause havoc on the Earth to soften it up for conquest. However, my friend tells me that the events here have seriously upset the balance of various transgalactic powers. The deaths of the Ahau Primals have left them all shaken. It would seem that Earth is no longer just a place where Gods come to get themselves born; it's also a place where they come to get themselves killed. That has upset a lot of people out there, and from what he's told me, there may be a war brewing. But Earth has been placed off limits for the time being.
We had enough problems of our own though. Nobody is exactly sure how it got released, but pictures and video of inside the White House during the crisis made their way onto the internet, and they weren't very flattering. The President was shown as both indecisive and inflexible plus totally out of his depth. The only Federal defense of the city came from the military general staff that took matters into their own hands, and of course Neoforce 1. The government was doing everything in its power to suppress it, but no matter where they crack down, that video pops up somewhere else. I guess Kenna was right about the dangers of irritating a whole organization of telepaths. I have my own reasons to believe that it was being circulated by the Psi-Corps. They are not happy with his actions before the conflict.
There is a major media war going on as well. Those who had been lobbying to redefine humanity so as to not include neo-humans, had now stepped up their arguments. It was the same argument all over again. These “individuals” had powers and abilities that needed to be regulated lest they kill somebody. They had advantages that “normal” people didn't have and that was unfair. Now that the law required them all to register, they wanted them all licensed and trained not to use their powers. They were seizing on the sudden chaos of so many radical eruptions that have resulted in not just a property damage but a few deaths as well to justify the government stepping in. They were screaming for mandatory licensing.
At the same time there were those who were pointing out that it was the actions of these so called “gene-freaks” that had stopped the alien attack in Washington DC. They were also the ones arguing for a repeal of the registration law pointing to the government's forced sterilization of the students at many of the government schools. George Stonecraft had been testifying in Congress about the actions of the government doctors. Half the media were carrying the inquiry and the other half were fastidiously ignoring them. It was as big a mess as ever and the issue showed no signs of being resolved. Everyone was waiting for the Supreme Court to decide about the legality of the registration law first.
And of course Killpatrick was creating his own chaos among the various government agencies- some of it I wasn't happy about, but recognized its necessity- not the least of which was his seizing several of my students. To be fair, it was the only real solution to the problem, and part of it was Boomer's fault. It would seem that he, Kenna, and Kenneth decided that it would be a bad idea for the government to get their hands on the bodies of the dead heroes from that fight. So while everyone else came back to the school after the fight, he and a small group stayed behind, disabled the local video cameras and burned to ashes the bodies of his mother and the others.
The President's reaction was to quietly instruct the military to draft Cadres 4 and 5. He was going to have these kids under his control one way or another. Boomer then upped the ante and sent President a simple thought. “Come get us.” It was a very clear message. They had fought Fury, they had fought the aliens. In reality there was no way he could force them into military service- the law not withstanding- without looking like a bully. About the time it looked like the US Marshall Service was going to show up on our door steps, Robert stepped in with a compromise. He would roll all the various neo-human groups into one pseudo-government organization called the Inter-agency Neo-human Defense and Emergency Response Initiative. In one fell swoop he managed to wrap all the neo-humans, including the Psi-Corps into a single umbrella agency not too different from the Department of Homeland Security. By offering certain of my students positions on three teams he was forming, he was able to fend off investigations into their activities as well as keep them from being drafted.
In the end, it busted up Cadre 5 much more than I would have liked. There were still issues in that team that had yet to be resolved and I think that Lightwing's and Speedfire's request to be moved to the Kansas City team were in response to those issues. Cadre 5 would still be students of Wyndgate, but they would have an in-house teacher at their new headquarters in New York City- of course I chose Jim Waterford for that role. So would the Kansas City and San Francisco teams. At the same time they'd be filling the roles of the old NeoForce teams. I wasn't completely upset with the situation, but I still think that sixteen is a bit young to be on the front lines of super-battles.
In the end, the school was promising to be much quieter next year than this one. Why did I just get a cold feeling down my spine at that comment? Cadre 4 was devastated. Only Lauren and Trance survived that fight. Lauren is moving to New York to join Cadre 5. Trance is going out west to Kansas City, saying that she wants to continue to study under Andrea Thomas, which is strange considering she's a native to New York City. Talon and Goth are the only survivors of NeoForce 1 and she will be leading the KC team. Glitch too has decided to join that team. What really surprised me was that Kenneth Draupnir too wanted to go to Kansas. The team has a lot of raw power, but surprisingly enough, no real physical heavy hitter. Still they're going to call themselves The Impact Squad.
Cadre Aleph is going to San Francisco and is calling themselves The Harbingers. Conrad keeps making jokes about the official team name being “The Harbingers of insert mad-lib.” They are really the only team that hasn't lost any members. However, the medical scans show that Webs is possibly undergoing some kind of secondary cold-burn. We all are wondering if it's in response to him eating that one werewolf from the inside out. I shudder to think about the repercussions of that.
Doctor Grace Lee Chapel New York City Headquarters
Let me get one thing clear, I'm here first and foremost for my kids. I'm here secondly to keep an eye on Robert Killpatrick. I don't like the idea that our school was infiltrated, and that I had worked alongside one of these “Primals” for almost a year without realizing it. I should have realized it- especially after that incident with Michael McAllister, but I didn't. There are six new neo-humans graves- not the least of which is Rebecca Alexander's- to remind me of the cost of failing to notice things. I won't make that mistake again.
Okay, where the team is being stationed is nice. It's in Manhattan overlooking the Northeast corner of Central Park where 5th Avenue and 110th Street meet, right on Frawley Circle. It's the Haven Building or as Killpatrick calls it, “The Haven”. Nobody is looking too closely at its construction, or how it got converted to our needs so quickly, but I suspect that not all of its construction was entirely Earth-based. But it's a good design, and I'm not about to blow the whistle on the man who pulled this team's fat out of the fire with the government.
It's been a big transition for all of us, and I'm not surprised that of all the teams, this one decided not to change its name. They are still calling themselves Cadre 5. Right now they've closed ranks even closer. Rebecca's death has hit everybody hard and if it weren't for the support he's getting from the team, I'd be more worried about Brian than I am. But the others are keeping him on a pretty even keel, giving him space when he needs it. Oddly enough, it's Rowan who's stepped up to take leadership of the team when it's needed, Sawyer much preferring to the be the team's tactician.
There was a lot of concern about Rowan's cousin there for a while. We didn't know if she'd been in the mansion when the aliens destroyed it. Fortunately, she wasn't. She'd been in Richmond- the official story was shopping, but since Heath Mattison was with her, it's understood that shopping was not the only thing happening. For now she's staying in a place she bought on the Potomac. She and Rowan have at least been talking about the estrangement between them. At the same time the romance between Heather Blake and Heath Mattison is continuing apace. Rowan on the other hand has been shopping around New York for a place of his own. I get the feeling that things still aren't completely resolved between them. Rowan adamantly insists that he will have a place of his own.
The team dynamics were changing again, but under the circumstances it was a good thing. Brian needed time to grieve, and he needed his friends to keep him from going off the deep end too. Duncan's not happy about Patrick and Tracy going to Kansas City, but I think for this team it's a good thing. Michael and Sawyer seem to have resolved some of their issues, but there is some tension between them and it seems to be centered around Kenna. Lauren on the other hand seems to be happy to be taken out of the chain of command for the team, and is more than willing to slide in with the group dynamics. I think that has a lot to do with how much time she spent with them in her off hours.
Haven has a huge support staff to handle the day to day operations of a six person team that has essentially replaced NeoForce 1. There is a director of operations, a director of personnel, a public relations officer, a director of security, a chief of technical operations, a small squad of lawyers and of course I'm in charge of both team medical and psychology. However, I'm not exactly sure that Killpatrick hasn't packed the staff here with off-worlders. There are a lot of blonds and redheads on the staff, and certain speech patterns that I keep catching.
Currently we were in the middle of a major staff meeting and it seemed to be quickly degenerating into the old guard- read as myself, Jim Waterford, and Tom Erikson- against the newbies. The only thing that was giving us any leverage was that for now Director Killpatrick was backing us up. “I wouldn't tinker too much with whatever arrangement the team has worked out for their sleeping patterns,” Tom was saying.
“Shadowclaw has already had problems with the press over his or her medical condition. If it gets out that she's sleeping with both Faerie and Ghost, it could become a public relations nightmare. Do their parents know?” Laurie Hampton, our PR guru was saying.
I sighed and leaned back saying, “Yes the parents- all three sets, or in Rowan's case the cousin- all know. I can't say that they are really as sanguine about the situation as they let on, but they also realize there's nothing they can really do about it- especially now.”
“We could always transfer them to separate teams,” Hampton said again, her dark eyes showing her incredulity.
“No,” Killpatrick said at the head of the table.
“But sir!” Hampton protested.
Killpatrick leveled an icy gaze at her, “No. The relationship between the three of them has developed over two years. I'm not about to break it up just because it makes your job more difficult. The three of them have been rather discrete, and I see no reason for them to change that now. We will not break up this team any more than it already is.”
“Yes, sir,” Hampton said with a tone indicated that she disagreed with what she saw would be the outcome. “I'm just saying that this is New York, not Bath, West Virginia. The press will eat them alive here.”
“It's your job to make sure that doesn't happen,” Killpatrick said. Leaning back he asked, “How's security looking Morgen?”
The short beefy red-headed man- one that I suspected was more than he appeared to be- smiled through his well trimmed beard and said, “It's adequate. The building's monitors are state of the art, and there are of course guards at every entrance. The bairns are na' goin' to be disturbed.” The Scots brogue didn't help to alleviate my suspicions.
“Are they going to avoid any more incursions into their actual quarters like happened back at their school?” Tom Erikson asked.
The red-head turned to face Tom and grinned, “Not on mah watch, Commander.” I noticed that many of the staff treated Tom with a bit of awe. He got far more respect than Jim or I did. “The fact that their quarters are fifty stories up helps a great deal with avoiding that.”
Tom nodded, but I could still see the concern in his eyes. Tom considered this move putting the children directly in the lions' den so to speak. New Yorkers were the more sophisticated urbanites that prided themselves on being more open minded- except when it came to people who disagreed with them. “Thank you, Mr. Cloud. I appreciate all you do to keep them safe. They've been through a lot lately.”
“Keep them safe?” Hampton asked. “These guys took down Fury. They killed the aliens who attacked DC. Somehow I don't see them being the ones needed to be kept safe,” Hampton said. Definitely not one of my suspects.
“They are still teenagers, Ms. Hampton,” Jim Waterford stepped in. “They are still growing and still learning where they fit into the world. Some of them have faced more loss than any teenager should have. Their privacy is very important to them, and should be to us as well.” Leave it to Jim to be the ultimate teacher, always looking out for his charges.
“Perhaps so, but they're in the big leagues now, Mr. Waterford,” Hampton said. “There are going to be press conferences, public appearances, and much more scrutiny than when they were in Podunk, USA. Privacy is going to be something they're not going get much of. Like it or not, Cadre 5 has become the face of the modern Neohuman. It's our job to mold that image into something the public will accept.”
I sighed, steepled my hands hands and leaned back in my chair. Killpatrick looked at me and asked, “Do you have some input on this discussion Doctor Chapel?”
“Trying to turn these guys into the Freedom League is going to be a mistake. They're good kids in their own right, but at the same time there are aspects of their personalities that are out of the mainstream. If you try to portray them as anything other than what they are, they're likely to shove it down your throat sideways,” I told them. “Jim's right. They are still teenagers, but they're also teenagers with some pretty strong personalities, and they're teenagers who've faced more, who've done more, and who've been conditioned to achieve more than anything Ms. Hampton is expecting. They won't embarrass themselves in public, but they aren't going to be your good little toys to parade around the city for public relations.”
“Please elaborate, Doctor Chapel,” Doctor Ford, the facility's Director of Technology asked. He was another that I suspected wasn't exactly what he said he was.
“I mean that these are the kids who will get the job done. They'll go above and beyond the call of duty to protect people around them and each other, but they're not going to be the big blue boy scout if you know what I mean. Each is a little different in their own way, and those differences will not always play to the concept of the All-American, apple pie, and baseball set.”
“Could you be more specific?” Ford asked again. I turned to look at Jim and Eric who both nodded to me.
With a sigh I said, “Okay first, there is the unconventional relationship between Kenna, Sawyer, and Rowan. It works for them, and they're very protective of each other and their privacy when it comes to it. They don't try to hide it, but they sure don't flaunt it. Second there is Kenna's religion- it has some undertones that if not understood correctly could be misconstrued as racist. Then there is the fact that Michael is Wiccan- although there is some indication that it may be simply him trying to shock his parents- I'm not sure. I know that he's closed ranks with the others since they rescued him in Huntington.”
“About that,” Hampton interrupted. “The DoJ is pushing for more information on what was going on there. The local police are stonewalling them.”
“And whatever they get will come through the local police. It was a local incident and there is no federal jurisdiction there,” Killpatrick told her.
“It doesn't help Cadre 5's image to not cooperate with the authorities,” Hampton protested.
“And they are cooperating with the local sheriff. You can ask him. It's his investigation, and he's refusing to turn it over to the Feds,” Killpatrick replied. Then looking at Hampton, he asked, “Is there anything that Doctor Chapel has told you that would create too many difficulties for you, Ms. Hampton?”
The dark haired woman shook her head and said, “No. Not really. I guess we won't be doing any Teeny-Bang interviews, but that's okay. We do need to talk about the new costumes though.”
“What about new costumes?” I asked.
“It would be a good idea to get them out of the Wyndgate uniform I think- let them have a little more freedom of expression in their costumes. Something to make them stand out, so people aren't trying to decide if that's Ghost, or Ace, or Boomer,” she said. “The tail and ears, and wings usually give Faerie and Shadow Claw away, and now Ice Storm stands out.”
“They'll be glad to be able to choose their own costumes,” Tom said. “Although I think Rowan really likes the Wyndgate costume.”
“Rowan only likes the Wyndgate costume because it doesn't get blown, or burnt off him so easily,” I said. “It's not the design, it's the material.”
“Well, the Technical Department has some new polymers our resident cat person can use in designing a new look,” Doctor Ford told us. “There should be no problems with self-expression.”
Tom turned to Hampton and asked, “How are the locals going to react to us being here?”
Hampton sighed and said, “There's already a group of the Occupy crowd camping out in the park across the street protesting Rowan as being part of the one percent. They're also calling for Boomer, Shadowclaw and Ghost to be charged with murder.”
“In other words, same shit, different day,” Tom replied. Then he turned to Hampton and said, “You know Ms. Hampton; a piece of advice from a sailor who's seen the world. You need to lose the attitude about people from outside New York. If you take it to these kids, you won't like the outcome. Just because they aren't from one of the five Burroughs doesn't mean they are neither bright nor sophisticated.” He stopped and smiled asking, “How many languages do you speak, Ms. Hampton?”
She gave him a sharp look and then asked, “Two, English and Spanish, but what has that got to do with anything?”
Tom smiled and said, “Every member of this team is fluent in English, and German, and have a more than survival command of Russian. Kenna speaks almost any language you can come up with, and Michael speaks Spanish and French on top of that.”
Jim piped in, “And next year, they've insisted on learning Welsh.”
“Welsh?” Cloud asked. “The only language where vowels are optional? Why in tarnation would they wanna' learn Welsh?”
“Can you speak Welsh?” Jim asked.
“Outside a bar?” Cloud asked him, “No.”
“And neither will most people they might face on a battlefield,” Tom told him.
Cloud looked at Tom, then Jim, and then me through his bushy red eyebrows and said with a dark smile. “You three are wicked. I like it.”
I couldn't help but smile back and say in my best Mary Poppins attitude, “I'm not wicked, I'm perfectly practical in every way.”Ace aka Michael McAllister
Okay, our team leader has brass balls the size of cannon shot. I mean, man he told the President of the United States of America that if he wanted to draft us into the military that he should come and get us. Somebody upstairs must be looking out for him and us because he got away with it. By the time that guy Robert Killpatrick got finished there was a whole new organization for us neohumans.
Of course everything didn't exactly turn out hunky-dory. The funeral for Lady Lightning sucked big time, and not in the good way. Standing there at the service with Brian and the rest of my team was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The whole country was feeling the loss of the world's greatest super hero. Even the President was choosing his words carefully about the subject.
Mom and Dad were acting kind of funny. Neither of them were really that thrilled about us being part of a government organization now, but Mom was at least glad I was with Cadre 5. As she put it, “they went in and rescued you when everybody else was content to let you stay with those awful people. I may not agree with everything they say, but at least they care about you and I can respect that.”
Dad on the other hand simply said, “At least you're out of that back-woods school and where there's some culture.” I didn't feel like arguing with him and to be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to and for some reason that idea bothered me.
I won't exactly say that Brian was out of it, but he wasn't on his game right now, and I can understand that completely. Oddly enough it was Rowan and not Sawyer who stepped up to handle the general operations for the team and she was good at it. I can't say she had Brian's force of personality, but she knew how to manage things and I could respect that- especially since she was obviously dealing with her own feelings of loss.
Sawyer on the other hand was doing what he always did: back up who ever was in charge and handle our tactics. It gave us all sense of continuity, even with the addition of Lauren and the loss of Tracy and Patrick. That one I still couldn't quite figure out. In a choice to move to either New York City or Kansas City they picked Kansas. The suite seemed a bit empty now.
The new base on the other hand was all kinds of awesomeness. It reminded me of something out of the comics. It's official name was The Haven Building but we all just called it Haven. The bottom half was like a giant four sided neo-modern cathedral with this huge tower of a building coming out of its top. There was no other building in all of the city quite like it, and it reminded me of something out of a dystopian future city.
Our digs were on the 50th and 51st floors. Each of us had a small suite of rooms off a main hall on the 51st floor. Each suite had an office, a sitting room, a bedroom and a full bath. At each end of the hall was a spiral staircase that led down to the main living area where there was a kitchen, a dining room, a media room, a main living area, a conference room, two bathrooms, and of course a classroom set up like the one we had back at Wyndgate. The floors below had a gym, and various training facilities that I wasn't sure weren't backed up with alien technology.
We sort of skated through the last part of the school year and spent the summer in the new facility getting our bearings in New York City. I sort of got the feeling that we weren't going be doing the regular school thing anymore. The way Mr. Waterford described the arrangement, it would be more like what they have with child actors. Classes and learning will be done between missions. On the other hand, there was now a healthy paycheck coming with our “service to the country.” It wasn't what a lot of those child actors got, but six figures in this economy was nothing to sneeze at. Of course since most of it went into an escrow account, that we couldn't touch until we were eighteen we only got to see a small piece of it. Still, it beat the heck out of the allowance I was getting from Mom and Dad.
Of course with the opening of the building that meant a closer relationship with the press. Doctor Blair had always kept the press at a safe distance- especially after what happened with Rowan. But that wasn't going to be the case with the team now. We were going to be doing good-will appearances, and that kind of thing. That meant the press was a lot closer, and that meant press conferences like this one.
We were in the main lobby of Haven and there was a small army of reporters and cameramen spread out at strategic points on a maroon carpeted island in the much larger marble floor. We were on a raised stage-like area and sitting behind a table that had the Cadre 5 logo on its front. This was our first attempt at this kind of thing, and Rowan was sitting in the center seat. We'd all decided that she'd be the best spokesperson at this time.
Mr. Waterford had given an address that explained that we would be a fast response team for the East Coast, that Talon's team, Impact Squad would handle the center of the country, and that Protea's team, the Harbingers would cover the West Coast. He then opened it up for questions and it went down hill from there.
The first reporter started off with a hard one, “Do you really think you can fill Lady Lightning's and the rest of Neo-Force 1's shoes?”
Rowan smiled and said, “Nobody can fill Lady Lightning's shoes. But we'll do our utmost to take care of the lives and property under our protection.”
“In all of her years as a hero, Lady Lightning never took a life. Three of your team killed people in the last battle you fought. Do you expect to inspire people with a reputation like that.?”
“Cadre 5 will always attempt to bring in the bad guys without loss of life. However, when the bad guys start killing our families, our teammates, or innocents, then the gloves come off. Those beings we fought in Washington killed five members of our team before we entered into killing combat. It was either them or us, and if we went down, then so would the city, and the President. We did what we had to do. If you have a problem with that, maybe you should re-examine your priorities,” Rowan said with a smile.
“So you don't think you should face murder charges for killing the aliens?” another reporter asked.
“If you can't delineate between murder and obvious self-defense and the defense of others, perhaps your judgment in other matters are also suspect,” Rowan said with a smile. Man, our cat-person was on a roll.
“Your membership has changed. There are rumors of dissent in your ranks that led to Speedfire and Lightwing going to Kansas City. Would you care to speculate on that?” another reporter asked.
Sawyer stepped in and said, “Speedfire and Lightwing informed Doctor Blair and Director Killpatrick that they'd prefer to be on the Kansas City team because it was closer to their homes in New Mexico. Beyond that, you will have to ask the gentlemen in question. We don't speculate on other people's thoughts.” Obviously the runt was protecting Rowan from an blow-back with her disagreement with Speedfire.
“Why the new costumes?” a reporter from Vixen asked.
“It was decided that we should be allowed a bit more self expression in our costumes- within the boundaries of good taste,” Rowan answered.
“Your costume doesn't seem to be that dramatic,” the reporter countered referring to the fact that Rowan's idea of a costume was a set of black leather capri-cut pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a black leather jacket and the team utility belt.
“It does its job. With these ears and tail, I don't really need a costume for people to know it's me,” she said. What she wasn't telling them was that all the materials were laced with some new high-tech polymer that would resist being burnt or blown off her. “My teammates chose to go with something more dramatic.” And boy was that the truth. Ghost was wearing white pants and boots, with a gray shirt and a light gray and white jacket. Boomer had gone for an all black body suit with black boots. Kenna was wearing this hot little blue and silver number that looked like it belonged on some fantasy babe, and Lauren was in a classic blue and white bodysuit. Me, it'd gone with a crimson and gray outfit that was open at the shoulders and the mid drift.
“The other cadres changed their name, why didn't you?” a reporter from Sawyer's least favorite network asked.
Before he could step in and answer with a smart-ass remark, I leaned in and said, “Hey, we've been known as Cadre 5 since you guys first started hounding us. Why mess with a good thing? Without it, some of you guys wouldn't know who to hate on.” That elicited low chuckle throughout the room. It really wasn't a bad experience, even though Lauren threw up after it. Our lives had changed as much as the world around us.ICE STORM aka Lauren Rathbourne
This was way more than I was expecting. I thought I'd do another year of school, and then maybe, if our shadowing Neoforce- 1 had worked out, get assigned to that team. But this was not only not what I was expecting, but not what I wanted. Rebecca Alexander was the greatest hero we'd ever seen. Watching her die like that hit me hard. Watching my boyfriend- her only son- going berserk and ripping the head off her killer hit me even harder. I don't see how we can fill her, Gray's, or any of the other members of Neoforce- 1's shoes.
I'm beginning to get the feeling that we're going to have to though. There's still a storm coming and I'm not sure what it's about. Kenna keeps talking about those guys Cadre Aleph fought in the mall, the one everybody thought were angels. She seems to have a whole lot more insight into the aliens than any of the rest of us.
That was sort of the reason I was so quick to jump at this shopping trip. It was a chance for a girls' day out, and a chance to pick her brain a bit. Brian, Michael, and Sawyer were having their own version of it- heading over to Coney Island for the day. I think that it was their attempt to get Brian out of his funk, or at least to give him some sense of camaraderie. Rowan was in a meeting with the staff at Haven. Damn, for a sixteen year old, our resident cat-person knew how to organize things.
As we settled into our seats at Table 17 for lunch in the out door cafe on 53rd Street at the Modern Museum of Art after a morning of shopping and sightseeing, I noticed that she was getting a few stares. Then I realized that Kenna's antennae were floating above her head instead of being as she usually wore them, brushed back into her hair. The outline of her wings were barely visible along her upper arms. I raised an eyebrow at that and she said, “I think we've earned the right not to have to hide who we are.”
I smiled back as the waiter came and took our orders, “I'm not disagreeing. The question is whether or not the locals would agree.”
“I don't care what the locals agree to,” she said quietly.
I could tell that the waiter was a bit nervous by our presence. He smiled and introduced himself: Alexander and asked us for our ID. Kenna pulled hers from the smart purse she carried that matched her light blue sun dress- with butterflies no less. I handed mine over and he nodded.
“You ladies are aware that I am not permitted to serve you alcohol?” he asked.
I hadn't considered that. “Of course,” Kenna said. “I think we're just having lunch. I've heard that the food here is excellent.” Then the little pip-squeak went and ordered in French!
When the waiter left, I leaned over the table and whispered, “Show off.”
She just smiled again and said, “Are you just now figuring that out? If you have it, don't hide it. It's not a good idea to appear as less than you are?”
“And just what would that be?” another accented female voice asked from our side.
I turned to see two women standing there. Both were painfully beautiful and had raven black hair. The one who spoke had hers up in a bun with small tight ebony ringlets around her brow. She was wearing a white dress with a small owl pin at her shoulder. The other had long straight hair, and she wore a necklace that looked like a circle with two horns around its edges. It was this second who spoke again, “May we join you ladies? We have much to discuss.”
I saw Kenna's eyes grow large as she looked quickly around the cafe. Nobody else seemed to be noticing anything unusual. Her eyes darted down to the number on the table and she suddenly smiled. “Of course ladies. It would be our honor.” She gestured toward the two empty seats at the small table.
I could feel a sense of personal power from the two women wash over me. For some reason, I was less impressed with it than I felt I should be. The first one who spoke, the one with her hair in a bun said, “I think your friend doesn't recognize us.”
Kenna smiled and said, “Lauren these two women are evidently from our friends that sent us onto the battlefield.” She looked at each closely and said, “I believe I'll let you give your own names.”
The woman with straight black hair and the necklace said, “I am currently going by the name of Andrea, out of deference to a rather interesting fiction about me.”
“And you can call me Thena,” the other said. “Like Kenna said, we are not from around here.”
Alexander came up and got our new friends' orders and left. He seemed somewhat overwhelmed by our guests, but managed to get what he needed before he left. When he was gone, Kenna asked, “Would you like to tell us what this about?”
Thena sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Several things really. One is that we'd like the opportunity to meet you. Between you and your Cadre Aleph, you've done something that has shaken the Five Galaxies- not the least of which is to unite several empires into a unified front against the Host of Shadai.”
“We don't know anything about that,” Kenna said. “We simply defended our homes, and our country.”
“You've done far more than that,” Andrea said. I still couldn't figure out why I kept picturing her as my former Cadre 4 teacher. “You managed to kill several primals. No primal has met the final death in thousands of your years. The shock of that alone has caused the Ahau Empire to begin to crumble. Their death tore down the barriers between this world and the mystical one. You have returned the Talent Prime- what you call magic- to your world. That is something that the Host definitely did not want.”
“Is that the reason that we have a flock of harpies living Harlem?” I asked. That had caused a lot of consternation when we first moved into the Haven. It was considered bad form for a bunch of Caucasian kids to go into Harlem and beat up a bunch of black women- even if they did have wings and talons and were eating the locals.
Andrea chuckled, “It is the reason that all of the old races have returned. They are what they were made to be by our peoples. Their mystical potential has been unlocked.”
Thena said, “I think that the name that you have stuck them with is rather appropriate: bolters. My father is amused by it.”
“He would be,” Kenna said sarcastically. At the look Thena shot her in surprise, Kenna added, “We didn't name them. Some chick from Vixen News did.”
“Be that as it may,” Andrea cut in. “We have some concern about what to do about you.”
“Leave us alone,” Kenna said darkly.
“Most of us would be willing to do that,” Thena said. “Although, personally, I'm very interested in meeting this Sawyer of yours.”
“Why?” Kenna asked quickly as her antennae arced forward. Tiny lightning bolts arced between them.
“It's not everyday that I am outsmarted in tactics. I'm not sure if I want to have him as one of my own, or if I want to eliminate the competition,” she said with a smile.
“You get neither. He's mine,” Kenna replied. “I share him with only one other person.” Then with a smile she added, “Besides, aren't you supposed to be a virgin?”
The other woman blushed and Andrea broke in. “You are going to need to be taught how to handle what you are becoming. Several high nobles want to take you away for a few hundred years of instruction. It's a great honor.”
“Earth needs us,” I countered.
“Exactly,” Thena replied. “If we took you, then there would be nobody to stand between humanity and the wars that the Hosts are likely to start just to try and wipe out not only the neo-humans but the bolters as well. Shaddai does not like the Talent Prime. He went to a lot of trouble to build that wall separating it from Earth and you went and shattered it.”
“Then leave us alone,” Kenna said again.
“If we do, then the Hosts may eventually kill you. That's why we have given the Ljol you call Killpatrick such a free reign in these matters. He is going to have his hands full teaching you for the next several decades, I believe,” Andrea said.
“Killpatrick is busy hiding in his office,” I countered.
“Hiding? From whom?” Thena asked.
“Protea's grandmother. Evidently the two of them have some history,” Kenna replied.
“Interesting,” Thena said as Alexander arrived with our drinks. Coffee for me, sweet tea for Kenna, ouzo for Thena, and beer for Andrea.
“You said there were several reasons for the visit,” Kenna said. “Besides trying to
make off with one of my boyfriends, and to possibly take us away, what are the others?”
“Curiosity,” Andrea said. “My people have not been as involved as the Thena's and of course none as much as the Fyroar.”
“I'm assuming that those are the other so-called great powers out in the galaxy?” I asked.
“The Five Galaxies actually,” Andrea said. “But like I said, my people are just now coming to be involved.”
“Why?” Kenna asked.
“Why what?” Thena countered.
“Why are Andrea's people just now getting involved?”
Andrea sighed and said, “Because your actions have forced all of our peoples to stand up to an intergalactic bully. But to be honest, you were as manipulated as the rest of us. At the very core of this is a woman scorned.”
“What woman?” Kenna asked.
“The injustice done to her has been so great that even her name has become almost lost in the mists of time. Few have heard of Ashera,” Andrea said. Her face, her voice, and her body language all spoke of a great sympathy for this woman.
I noticed Kenna raise an eyebrow. “I thought Killpatrick's people were behind the Burst Out event.”
“He was,” Thena said. “But Ashera was the one who planted the idea into his head, who manipulated resources and events so that he would do it.”
“So all that we are is a result of some woman who was jilted,” Kenna asked.
“You know of whom I'm speaking?” Andrea asked.
“I know the story,” Kenna replied.
“No,” Thena said. “You are the result of your own actions. Killpatrick simply gave you the potential. What you did with it was up to you. Destroying the being you call Fury set your feet upon the path to what you are and what you are becoming.”
“What are we becoming?” I asked.
“Primals,” Kenna replied. “We are becoming like them.”
“And who was Ashera?” I asked again.
Kenna smiled at me and said, “Mrs. God.”