Welcome to the New Normal

Needing a Clue By Four
Sometimes exchanging information is a little hard
A Jason Duncan Story
A Cassie Sutton Story

Jason and Cassie lounged in front of the large screen, each holding a tablet. Every now and then, one of them would swipe an image from their tablet onto their shared screen. There were a half dozen minimized images on the screen; saved to return to later. The idea of a house was one thing; building the thing was another story. Deciding between one house or another, you had to make some compromises. Designing one from the ground up was a totally different adventure. Size, shape, materials, everything was an option. And the array that they were finding as they researched was mind-numbing.

Jason flicked another image up to the screen. “What do you think of recycled mixed glass counter tops? Eco-friendly, strong… unusual.”

“Oooo,” Cassie responded with delight. “I like that. Would go well with cork flooring?” She glanced at Jason and gave him a winsome “please” smile.

Jason could not resist that face. Luckily for him, he knew that Cassie would be the one responsible for the financials. He’d sign whatever he needed to; he’d pay what he could. But ultimately, she would be in charge of the finances. And that suited him fine.

“Cork and broken bottles. Are we sending any message there?’” He laughed.

A dark eyebrow raised. “Not with a broken bottle,” she answered with a smile. “Our island of tranquility. No need for rescue.” She slid another image to the main screen showing a sub flooring of pipes. “We can use the hot springs for heating. Isn’t that awesome?”

Jason smiled hopefully. He wished desperately that that was true. This planning was therapeutic. Not only were he and Cassie finally doing plain old couple things, but they were in the planning mode. Thinking about the future, made it seem like there was a future. For them, and for everyone. “It will be nice if we can figure out a means to avoid being on the grid at all. It will make getting building permits a lot easier.” Jason paused for a moment. “So.. do you see this more a mountain cabin, a rustic retreat, or a hidden sanctuary with all the comforts of home?”

Her eyes met his. “I hope to one day see it as home. Our home.” She searched his face, hers not showing the churning uncertainty that boiled inside. Cassie knew she had a poker face, but also knew that Jason could read her like a book. She fought the urge to bite her lip, instead fidgeting with the stylus.

“Well, then we need to make sure we’ve got the power to run computers, wireless, communications, etc/ Hmmm. Maybe one of those whole house computers, run all the utilities, heat, lights, etc. Maybe we can get Tyler to help us with a power source…. once he has time.” Jason didn’t want to think about what they were up against, what Tyler was working on. He snuggled up against her and gave her a gentle squeeze.

Cassie grinned and nudged him with her shoulder affectionately. “There is solar, babe,” she offered. “Big sun, not Tyler’s baby sun.” She paused, suddenly thoughtful, “But maybe. . .oh Jason, tiny fusion reactor for power?”

“Could work. They work on the Jet. Wonder if I could figure out how to reproduce one like the one we have in the V-jet.” Jason’s mind started to work it. As the Ego, Jason found his mind quite capable. He didn’t think he was Tyler smart, but his brain worked in ways it didn’t before. That thought brought to mind the unpleasant truth about Mark. He looked back at Cassie. See had the bemused look she got recently when he was in quiet contemplation. He wouldn’t keep secrets from her any more. But, he had other obligations. This was not a new conflict for him. He frequently had to withhold information about a patient from the patient’s family.

Only this time was different. “Cassie…,” he started.

“Yes?” she answered, quirking her head.

“You know I can’t talk about a patient, right?” He offered her some bait.

A puzzled frown furrowed her forehead. “What patient would I want. . .” she began and then, “oh,” and all mirth fled from her face. She was silent for a while and then she swallowed hard. “I know you can’t talk about a patient, but obviously you want to tell me something.” It had to be serious; Jason would never violate patient privilege. Her heart was racing as her stomach flipped wildly. She took a long breath and stated softly, “But we probably will all die soon. What’s the harm in telling me, right?”

Jason felt conflicted. But he wouldn’t give in that quickly. “1. We are not going to die. 2. It might make him.. the patient, unwilling to be honest. And, while I am not the Super Ego,” he looked at her to make sure she knew that, “this is important. It is so integral to who I am. It isn’t some over zealous bit of morality.” He squeezed her hand and felt his eyes glass over a bit with tears. He needed to give her something, something she could use. “We will keep working on it. This patient isn’t the most cooperative, but we won’t let him give up.”

Cassie nodded with understanding. “Don’t let him give up,” she repeated slowly, firmly. “The patient has been through a lot, is going through a lot. He is in a dark place, doesn’t seem to want to fight his way back. I’m aware that he has lost a lot and can’t seem to find his place in this world.”

Her fingers slipped into his. “I have hope and faith. And I trust you to help him find his way. But I know that there isn’t a promise of success. I love you for trying. I love you even more for caring enough for him to not tell me what’s going on. I love you most because I know you will fight for him to the very end.”

“We will.” Jason nodded. Then with emphasis, “WE… will. But I,” Again with emphasis, “I can’t really talk about it. I took an oath’ I am bound by professional ethics. I’m glad you appreciate that. If I were not under these obligations, you know… I would.” He watched her eyes.

“As if the patient were legally dead?” she stated softly, looking away. “If the doctor wasn’t a doctor at the moment he spoke . . .or typed? One wonders what the subconscious is capable of sometimes. They say poltergeists aren’t ghosts, but projections of the mind.” She looked up at him, blinking back the sheen of moisture over her eyes. “But that’s fantasy, isn’t it? I can’t ask you to break your vow.”

Jason realized immediately what Cassie was trying to do. He smiled internally. Oh, it would be nice to use the Brute as an excuse to do his dirty work, but it wasn’t that easy. “I wish I could do that Cassie. Please don’t ask me to, I don’t want the Brute to be my escape clause.” He tried a different tact. “Honestly there isn’t that much to tell. I can barely understand those scans; they are not your normal MRIs. And, I know my way around a brain scan, but these were something else. You’d need to talk to an expert if you really wanted to know.” He raised his eyebrows, glancing in the direction of the elevator that led down to the labs.

It hit her like a bolt of lightning. She stared at him and then stood abruptly. “God, Tyler hasn’t eaten. I need to go make him a sandwich.” Giving Jason a grateful smile, she ported to the labs.

A Jason Duncan Story
A Cassie Sutton Story

The air was crisp and the stars twinkled, the Milky Way scattered across the darkness like someone had spilled a salt shaker across the sky. She climbed carefully, placing each foot and handhold with care as she climbed. Not that she couldn’t port out of a fall, but the challenge of climbing the rocks at night unaided was a personal challenge she had to do without Powers. Each stretch of her body, each flex of her legs and arms brought her closer to the sky and more close to the earth that she so loved. There was still the background fear as she looked down, but each look down was also done with a look around the land that she called home even now. She fought the insane desire to let go and fall to see if she could fly.

She didn’t want any sound to wake Jason, sleeping deep and deservedly in the tent. In time, she would teach him to climb as her brother and she had learned. A smile slipped on her face as she reached into her chalk bag to recoat her fingers. Mark was back. Not the ghost of her brother, not the automaton that had inhabited his animated body, but Mark. The smile matured to a full grin. Jason was one, mostly, and Mark was Mark. She felt so happy she could burst. If only there weren’t interstellar termites eating their way through their solar system. She paused and hung free for a moment, dangling with only her grip on the rock.

The view was breathtaking. Her lips parted in awe and sadness. If they couldn’t win. . .. Twisting, she spread-eagled to lock in her toes and pressed into the face to climb again. They would win. They would fight. She couldn’t let the Earth go without fighting for it. So many special places, so much a part of them all. The air that she breathed, the elements that made her, the soul that sang around her. No Worldship could duplicate that, could make home. She couldn’t let the Earth go. It was who they are and leaving, as Jason had said so eloquently, they would lose what made them human.

With a soft groan, she levered herself up higher, straining to make the next grip, and laughed softly as she locked in and got her footholds solid.

The rock submerged under the bed of pine straw and the skimpy padding of the sleeping bag began to work it’s way into his back.. again. He rolled over hoping to snuggle a bit with Cassie and found her gone. He pulled on some shorts and poked his head out of the tent. The chill air pulled at his lungs and caused the hairs on his bare skin to stand on end. He climbed out of the tent, stood and looked about the camp sight. There was no sign of her, but no sign of struggle either.
He flicked an unseen but growingly familiar set of muscles and felt himself divide. He didn’t need to give his other self a command, they were parts of the same. They didn’t share a mind, exactly, but they could communicate, and their beliefs, desires and goals were all the same. He flew into the air and began to circle the camp slowly scanning for Cassie.

He also let his vision shift into the aura sight, and set off by foot to see if he could see any trace of her. She must have teleported, since there were no tracks leading from the campsite. He didn’t want to go too far, just in case she returned.

He soared over the pond and past the site they’d started construction. He had spent a few days weeks ago, pounding rocks, ripping stumps out by the roots, and doing the sort of construction prep only the Brute could do. Cassie was there to keep him on task, and prevent him from destroying anything she wanted to keep. He could see in his minds eye how the property would look when it was complete. That is, if the Earth was still here. He flew silently sat the fledgling gardens nestled into the twists of the small stream leaving the spring. A group of deer paid no heed as we swooped past. His vision was clear at night, and he had not trouble seeing things, but so far no sight of her. Maybe I am going about this the wrong way.

He circumnavigated the spring pond and sat on a rock picking a pernicious thorn out of his foot. He spotted a trail of green tinged aura, but after a short burst of excitement realized that it was his own prints. He looked up and took in the stars. There was probably no other city in the world, where a half hour away you could still still stars like this. Alamy Falls was constructed with a plan to limit light pollution, so even this short distance, they might as well be out in the wilderness. The Milky Way spread across the sky making it nearly impossible to make out individual stars. The Worldship hung ghostly like, like a second moon near the horizon. If they were to leave the Earth, they’d never see those stars again. He shook his head. “I’ve been going about this the wrong way.”

His two selves communicated their nearly identical thoughts to each other and met at the base of the wall. Where would she go? His invisible self grabbed his visible self under the arms and pulled him into the air. Being carried was not the same as soaring, but, all the same, it wasn’t half bad. As the pair rose up the cliff, the green aura of hand prints and shoe marks painted the rock wall with the tell tale traces.

They floated silently in the air about twenty feet off the cliff watching as Cassie struggled to negotiating an overhang. Jason marveled at her athleticism. Anything he could do would be brute force, strength agility, and endurance. But she had talent, and know-how. The two of them, his two selves, divided, but together, watched her in silence, resisting the urge to help, and trying not to distract her. Mentally they shared thoughts of her beauty and skill. It was a strange sort of fraternity, more literal than metaphorical.

She finally mounted the top, standing to admire the view. “I should go get Jason,” she thought to herself after a few long moments, biting her lip to hide the grin at her anticipation of his reaction. The liquid black of the sky seemed near enough to stir with a finger, the bits of still water below in the spring reflecting the sky back as if a little of the universe pooled there. The moon caught in the faint grays and dark ebony of the shadows in the hills and rocks and she couldn’t help the tiny sound of a child’s contented sigh escape her.

“Time to wake up sleeping beauty,” she announced softly to herself. She prepared to port, knowing she had to wake Jason up to see it.

“Ahem.” Jason coughed from his perch out in he air.

Her insides jumped, but Cassie showed no surprise. “Hi,” she stated softly with a smile. “So waking you up is kinda a moot point huh?” She frowned abruptly. “Or can you do this in your sleep?”

Jason carried himself to the peak, together, visible and not, embraced Cassie under the stars. It was strange and new, but Jason let himself do it for a long moment before rejoining himself.
“The sharp rocks can’t sleep without you.”
He gave her a squeeze and moved behind her so his face was nuzzled up to her neck. They gazed at the stars, the desert, and the city in the distance.
“This is worth is fighting for.” By this he meant it all, the stars, the earth, and having a home with Cassie.

Her gaze misted. “Yes. I can’t leave Earth Jason. I just can’t leave it to be torn apart and consumed. Not only people will die, but animals. . .places. I want to live here. With you. With our children.” She froze as the words left her lips, aware that maybe she had shared a bit too much.

“All of them? Even the troublemaker, the one who’ll keep us up worrying all night?”
Jason smiled, and held her tight.

She relaxed into his arms, biting back a wide grin. “Yeah, each and every one of them.” After a moment, she snuggled into him more suggestively. “So. . .you wanna lie on something a bit more comfortable than a sharp rock?” she asked softly. “I mean, since we’re probably gonna die out there in that lovely bit of stars.”

It might have been a vain hope, but it was enough to cling too. It was enough to power him, to sustain him. He realized what Cassie had been telling him, but couldn’t hear it… Love is hope.
“Sounds good… but, I refuse to die before those kids graduate from college, or at least trade school or something.”

“It’s a deal,” she replied. “I’ll hold you to that. Guess I’ll have to be there to make sure you don’t welsh on me?”

Jason listened to Cassie’s breathing for a bit as the sky outside his window began to lighten. He slipped out of bed to greet the dawn. Atop the base’s roof he looked eastward and welcomed the sun, stretching across the desert. The industrial part of Alamy Falls was less picturesque than the it hilly refuge outside of town. He glanced down into the junkyard abutting the property at the seeping chemical tanks, and rusted out vehicles. There were still abandoned buildings, ancient industrial ruins, and storage tanks dotting the landscape. The morning sounds of trains across the river was testimony to more dirty industry, even in this cleanest of cities. And America had already had a renaissance of green environmentalism. Africa, India and China were in worse shape. Part of him wondered whether a fresh start wouldn’t be a good idea.
But another part of him didn’t want to leave the Earth like this, if we were to leave, it ought to be left better than we got it. Not used up, burnt and abandoned. They had the chance to save their planet, and leaving now, would be giving up, and failing to take care of their own mess.
As the sun rose, the industrial sights and sounds, seemed to give way to the other daily noises, he also smelled coffee drifting up from below. He turned to go down, but saw Cassie, in one of his shirts, with two steaming cups.

“Bed definitely more comfortable here,” she stated as she handed him the cup. “And I’m in love with your coffee maker.” She regarded him fondly as she took a sip and added, “But we’re building the house as soon as we stomp those bugs. So we can wake up to that bit of heaven together every morning without rocks in our bed. Not that I don’t like here. But…”

She cocked her head as a distant crash indicated that the combat area was activated. “Speaking of kids as we were.” She winked with a grin. “Yours are here dear and ready to stomp some bugs.”

Thesis, Hypothesis, Synthesis
Jason practices with a new form
A Jason Duncan Story

After experiencing the heightened reality of what he assumed to be the result of channeling his Ego, Jason wanted to know for certain what he was up to. It was a rush to be in the is form, and he was loathe to let it go. He wasn’t sure what it meant to do so, and when he did he felt conflicted and at odds with himself. Was it as dangerous to be in the Ego form as any other, or could this become his “New Normal?”

His night with Cassie was hard to believe. He never felt so in tune with his own body, or hers. It wasn’t simply a gift of talent or ability, it was like seeing the world in a light, but for all his senses. The clouds of the future were still there, but for now, his present was breathtaking. It took a great force of will therefore to let slip the Ego and rest a bit in the murky, gray, befuddled world of his average normal self.

Jason thumbed through the yellowing pages of his old psychology texts. Having had enough of all that, Cassie had returned them, and Jason began to read through them again nervously. You’d think I was reading the Necronomicon or something He thought to himself as he flipped through the large tome. He skimmed his notes from Medical School, Grad School, College and even high school. He had used different colored pens at each previous reading to show his changing thoughts. He marveled at his youthful arrogance, and bemoaned his naive enthusiasm, though he missed that now. Once done surveying the text, he opened it to the first page, and began to read. His intellect had increased with the effects of the Green Monoliths, and his comprehension level was high. This didn’t necessarily improve his reading speed, since he was unable to resist questioning many of the assumptions.

Remember my plan is not to believe this, or to criticize it, but to understand the impact it had on my mental development. He reminded himself.

He was startled how new these old texts felt. This was the first time he had since having powers, since seeing the world from the perspectives of Beast and Moralist, ID and Super Ego respectively. What he took originally to be stylistic metaphors now revealed themselves as accurate descriptions. Of course, the arrow of causation was reversed in this case. He poured over the books.

He took breaks, if you can call them that, by revising his original thesis. His original notes were filled with conjecture and hypotheses about realizing the ontology of the psychopath, these he updated and those he considered as mere possibilities, he now viewed as actual means of world changing. Or in his case, Self Realization. The revised work began to take on the appearance of an autobiography of his own development with powers. His work was feverous, but thoughtful, and productive. Those years of deleting large swaths of text, of constantly going back to the drawing board, were gone, his new brain, and new experiences inspired him to write clearly and with purpose.

He had an “extended” annotated outline of his massive revisions done in a day and a half. His new hypothesis born of his own experiences and what was told to him, mostly by Cassie, was that his particular set of powers were how he manifested his own internalized drama. Just as each of the other Powers manifested theirs in some way related to their own internal issues. Of course, he took the roles provided for by Freud, because they so nicely fit the narrative he had, unconsciously written. Now they had a life of their own. However, armed with this knowledge, he could, in theory, meet them on their terms. What intrigued him was the possibility that he could use this knowledge to get a better measure of control over these forces, that he could move from form to form with purpose, and not let any of them control him.

A strong Ego according to Freud could negotiate, and rein in the forces of the ID and SuperEgo. It could, properly trained, interpret the outside world, events that could cause trauma or crisis in one or the other parts of the mind, and channel the energy to deal with it. Now Freud was imaging the psycho-sexual dramas of disappointed or competitive fathers and mothers, Jason had something else in mind. Obviously the opposing forces for him would be those powers like Briggs and Black Kettle, as well as the Swarm. Since the ID and Super Ego manifested quite tangibly for Jason, well mostly tangibly (there was the Invisible Id…,) still, it stood to reason he could manifest the Ego as well. And his experience with Cassie up at Arnold Springs, and later that night validated his conjecture. This he reckoned, would give him the strength to interact with the dangers of the outside world, all the while managing his internal conflicts as well. At least that is what he so desperately wanted.

He’d begun practicing at the base. With the safeguards and defenses of the lab, he would have a safety valve to pull if he felt pulled too strongly to the ID or Super Ego. He began by imagining the Ego itself manifesting powers, powers to deal with what the world presented. The Ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and, importantly, external reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego). While the ego operates in both the preconscious and conscious, it’s strong ties to the id means that it also operates in the unconscious.

The Ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification—the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place.

He began a rigorous training regime with Cassie, and on his own. She would teach him martial arts, he would hone his senses to bet use them. These war mutually beneficial. His heightened senses and body control helped him master the martial arts. His martial arts and gymnastics training enhancing his awareness of the world around him. According to Freud, the Ego used defense mechanisms to deal with problems in the outside world. Whereas Freud imagined defense mechanisms like rationalizing, projection and transference, Jason tried to manifest these in hyper-concentration, finding the weaknesses in targets, responsive counter strikes, and awareness of the world around him.

That first practice session was something else. He sat in the center of the Combat Lab in lotus position, eyes closed, and meditate. A randomized clock let the computer activate the basic attack program. A series of simulated attackers in the form of medicine ball launchers, soft balls cannons, and a hydraulically powered hammer-headed armature hummed to life. His meditation ended abruptly and his eyes flashed open as the first volley of missiles launched in his direction. It was as if the world were operating in slow motion, he remembered the position of the locked-on weapons. He rolled back letting the first balls fly harmlessly over his head. They streaked by leaving traces in the air above him. Then, the subtle whirl of machinery alerted him to the movement of the armature swinging at him with the force of a speeding train. He leapt into the air, and out of the corner of his eye he spotted something. His eyes seemed to focus like a telescopic lens on a short length of hydraulic cable poking out at one of the joints. He flipped in mid air gracefully, caught his toe under the cable and yanked it free. The black fluid sprayed out into the room and the hammer fell limply to the floor. The thud caused ripples in the obsidian fluid, he calculated the sine waves of the ripples as he landed like a cat.

Jason took a moment to savor the victory, when he heard the soft popping signaling another volley. He was high on success and twisted to evade the 30 pound balls flying at him. Although they shot forward faster than a major league fastball, he was ready. However, he did not notice the floor panels under his feet thrust upward sending him in an awkward loop in the air. As the room spun in two dimensions, he mentally toyed with his rotational energy. But he didn’t have time to pay it much heed as two separate medicine balls slammed into him, knocking the wind from his lungs, and sending him into the wall, where he collapsed in a heap.

He pulled himself up, and assessed himself: no broken bones, but h had a cracked rib and a number of bruises. His self-assessment was short lived. Sights, sounds, little tremors through the floors He counted seventeen barrels, cannons, and launchers pointed at him. A split second later he heard the sound of a tumbler signal the switches moving into place. His mind processed the crisscrossing trajectories an instant before the trigger was released. The solution to the formula was undeniable.

“End simulation!” He called out quickly. His heart was beating quickly. Two rivulets of sweat meandered down his forehead. His held his breath for a moment.

“Okay. Haven’t quite mastered this yet. Practice, practice.”

Getting Down to the Bare Essence
Jason and Cassie find the happy medium
A Jason Duncan Story
A Cassie Sutton Story

They drove up the dusty dirt road to an old aluminum gate. The barbed wire fence looked a bit menacing, as did the “TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT" sign, but they were both old and rusted. The six foot high gate was secured with a large padlock and chain. Jason got out, and examined the gate. Looking around, he saw no one, so he squatted down and jumped, landing safely on the other side.

“Come on!” he called to the dark-haired girl watching beside the car.

“Dr. Duncan! Trespassing? What would people say?” Cassie laughed as she looked at him from the other side, her arms akimbo.

“Just proving the SuperEgo isn’t in charge for the moment.” he quipped. There was the familiar teleporting sound and Cassie was standing next to him.

He took her hand and they walked up the dirt road. It was a bit of a hike, and the dry winter air burned as they breathed it in and it came out like puffs of steam. It was quiet in the winter morning and dry leaves and gravel crunched under their feet as they climbed higher into the hills.

A happy smile played around Cassie’s lips as she took in the scenery. “Do you think the owner is out patrolling this morning?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. We’ll just have to explain we mean no harm.” Jason smiled. “And do our best to dodge the bullets.”

She gave a short laugh as she shot him a sidelong look. “Good practice,” Cassie agreed, shrugging.

The hike took them a couple miles into the sparsely wooded hills. It was a steep walk, but no mountain climb. The “road” turned into a couple of deep ruts punctuated with undercarriage destroying boulders in the middle. Clear channels where rainwater and snowmelt ran down them made it clear this road hadn’t been traveled in some time.

They crested the peak and looked down on a small valley tucked into the top of the mountain. It was dotted with trees, and framed by granite cliffs and boulders. In the middle, a small pond was fed from a tiny waterfall that ran down from a steaming hot spring. There were a few patches of snow in the shadows, but the pond was free of ice. A family of deer looked nervously up at the as they came into view, then went back to sipping from the pond, undisturbed.

The two of them stood looking at the scene for several minutes, holding hands and leaning into each other. They were all alone. Abruptly, Cassie gave Jason a knowing smile, and began walking down the winding path towards the hot spring. She shed her small pack as she walked, her pace leisurely.

Her light jacket soon fell to the ground. Jason followed her, picking up her discarded items and losing track of her as he did. But her clothing clearly was leading the way. Smiling, he bent down to pick up her belt, and saw a boot not far away. Its mate was a few steps along with two abandoned socks. He glanced around and saw her jeans draped on a dead branch and went to get them. Then there was a gentle splash. The rest of the way to the hot spring was littered with clothing. Her top, and undergarments hung from more barren trees like small flags.

No sign of Cassie though. He worried for a moment and then saw her head emerge from the steaming hot water. He approached and stood on the rocks. Depositing her clothing on a flat rock, he removed his own pack. Without much thought, he disrobed as well. Standing naked in the cool mountain air, he felt good, free. It seemed time. He reached into his pack and pulled out the bottle and removed the insulating sleeve.

“Champagne?” he asked as climbed carefully over the rocks to the spring. He unwrapped the cork, popped it, and eased himself into the water. It was hot, too hot really to stay very long, but he saw that Cassie has moved a bit away from the deep end where the water was hottest and was watching him with a serene smile. He slid over next to her, and offered her the bottle, finding that she was nestled comfortably on a ledge. The water here was still hot, but pleasantly so, no more than a hot tub. He sat down beside her.

Her blue eyes sparkled at him. “What, no glass?” she asked wryly, her face full of mock insult. “You must think I’m a cheap floozie.”

“Hey this is $200 Krug. I’d hardly consider you cheap.”

She laughed taking the bottle and a long swallow before handing it back. Leaning against him, she looked up at him through her lashes.

“So,” she intoned, her voice a bit more serious, “tell me about your parents and how you think it’s part of this disjointedness mess.” She didn’t know how else to segue into the subject. Her brilliant idea of saving him ruined clothing if he changed to the Beast had been formed when she saw the hot spring and it seemed fair that she be as bare as he was if she was going to ask him to possibly bare his soul. And, she had to admit, damn it all, she was gonna give Reggie a fight for his heart and she could fight down and dirty. But beyond getting both of them naked as the day they were born, she had had no other plan of how to bring up the subject of what was going on in his head and how it was manifesting in his body.

The shock on his face told her that this plan hadn’t been as good as her first one.

Jason stood there somewhat blindsided. I guess the time for small talk is over. “Well. I don’t think I can blame them exactly. Have you ever wondered why you can teleport? I mean instead of sonic powers, or summoning dragons, or transforming into a monster?”

Cassie had to concede, quirking her head. “True.” She bit her lip. “You may not realize this, but I’m not a psychologist. I can make you some money on your portfolio, but. . .” Her cheeks colored. “I’m just feeling my way with you. I’m kinda terrified I’m going to lose you by saying something stupid.” She shrugged. “And the answer to your question is maybe I’ve secretly wanted to get away. From my responsibilities, from my mother’s expectations. Maybe even from being Mark’s sister. He’s always been the star of the family, bigger than life, shining like a supernova. He was always the best at everything and just so charming and full of optimism and life.” She paused and her face went still for a moment before she added, “Mother hasn’t forgiven me that he died.”

Jason looked deep into her eyes. “You hadn’t told me that.” He drew a breath. “I dunno. Maybe just a random mutation. You sensed it, maybe from the beginning. It’s taken me a very long time to come up with anything like that hypothesis. So I wouldn’t worry about saying something stupid.” He stole a quick kiss before continuing and watched the delighted smile play on her lips.

“My parents, were, like me, psychologists, criminal psychologists. My father a Freudian in a time when Freud was long since discredited.” Jason took a swig of the champagne. “I was raised in it, steeped in it. Of course, my father believed that psychopaths were creatures with an out of control ID and an EGO to show them how to stay alive, but no Super Ego, no morals, no shame, no guilt. So when I set off on my own course, my thoughts were similar, though different. You were there at the talk,” Jason paused, remembered that first meeting, “and you read my book. I think my father tried to unleash his ID, and the results were…” He let that thought trail off. She knew.

Her hand slipped to his cheek. “You aren’t him. Your ID is kinda funny and annoyingly childish. Like a horny fourteen year old boy with super strength and no impulse control.” She slid onto his lap and took a drink from the bottle before kissing her way up his neck. “He’s fun, but you’re more fun. And easier to talk to,” she added after softly kissing his lips.

Jason smiled and reciprocated the kisses. “We all have dark thoughts and in the ID there was nothing to keep them from becoming reality. I was never just the ID though.” He dunked his head under the hot water. “For a while I thought I could control the ID. That I could just ride him like a broken horse. When I… accidentally killed Mr. Kirk, I was worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize what I was doing when I was the Brute. I thought what was missing was the SuperEgo. So, I guess I manifested that. That didn’t work so well. But, it all fits.”

He was devilishly handsome with the warm water dripping from his hair. Cassie drew a slow breath to concentrate. “If the Brute had killed poor Mr Kirk with malice aforethought Jason, I’d have agreed that the Brute was evil and uncontrollable. But it was an accident. Neither he nor you could have foreseen that man down there that close.” She sighed softly. “There’s always going to be that chance when we fight. The chance of people getting in the field of fire. We can try to save people from the evil doers. But it damn hard to sometimes save them from themselves. We will never be able to keep sightseers and thrill seekers away from the action.”

His eyes were on hers and she realized that for the first time in a while, she was happy again. Which one of the personalities had slept with Reggie? came the dark and unwelcome thought, but she banished it. They were broken up. Didn’t she kiss her sensei during that very same time? But for the rabid desperation not to make her life any more complicated and to not hurt Douglas, she too would have fallen in bed with someone else.

Her eyes suddenly kindled and she wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed him with fire. “I missed you Jason Duncan,” she stated once she had pulled away. “Just wanted to make certain that you to knew that before we keep laying ourselves bare.”

Jason let the moment last as long as it could but he felt compelled to answer her statements of before. “The Super Ego isn’t grounded in reality. It is as dangerous as the ID. It condemns, and shames thoughts, even those that are natural. It blames for accidents; it is all about shame. The ID is shameless, the SuperEgo self-punishing. Neither is grounded in reality; they take reality and make it their images.”

“Black and white. The ultimate judgmental god and the worst of the devil constantly at war inside each of us.” Cassie rolled her eyes and looked at him fondly. “Except for you dear, where they manifest as personas.” Tilting her head, she asked thoughtfully, “And the happy medium is found how?”

Jason tried to look hopeful. Part of mind flew back to the day he returned to his family’s house. He insisted on visiting before the blood had dried. Was there a happy medium for him?

“My Father thought the solution was to embrace the ID. He saw morality as a pressure cooker that held back the strong. He imagined it possible to not control the ID, but to make the ID more responsive to reality. That is why he studied serial killers. They were able, for the most part, to interact with reality. You can watch the films of Ted Bundy talking to the police. He is charming, clever, friendly. In many respects it was hubris that got him caught.” Jason smiled ruefully. “I don’t think following my father’s footsteps on this one is the right course. But, if that is what my power created, I am not sure what I can do, except be vigilant.”

Her brow furrowed with a light frown as he spoke. “Of course, of course,” she agreed. “But ‘who’ is the vigilant one? The Ego? What keeps the angel and devil from taking over in the rest of us? Embracing the ID obviously isn’t the answer. It’s like taming a tiger. No matter how cuddly, no matter how much it loves you, it’s still a tiger and it can eat you in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, how many cults were created and people destroyed by those who believed in their own super morality and conscience. The Spanish Inquisition was SuperEgos run amok.” She grinned self-consciously. “Am I using those terms right? I took a crash course in Freud over the last week or so but I’m no expert.”

“I am not sure I fully endorse the Freudian picture, but I guess if my powers manifested that way, I should. I figured I was the Ego. I try to satisfy the Super Ego, control the ID. The problem is the powers seem to manifest as those two. I mean, obviously the powers have done something to me.” He gestures to himself unashamedly. “But, the real power is when I manifest one of those two parts…” Jason drifted off into thought.

Cassie watched him think, taking another swallow of the champagne, taking care to keep the bottle from the hot water. Eventually they would have to get out. With amusement, she realized that Jason would probably be able to withstand the heat for quite a while as she cooked like a lobster. Well, she could just climb out and stand out in the cool air for a bit. Reaching for his face, she turned it to hers gently. “What are you thinking?”
Jason was staring off into space.. His mind reaching back to Freud’s case studies, his therapeutic method. It was always just a historical thing for him; he’d didn’t take it fully seriously and maybe that was the problem. His eyes focused on hers.

“Cassie, maybe that is the problem. Maybe I’ve just assumed I am supposed to mediate the two, that I am supposed to control them, or let them loose. That isn’t the way Freud thought it worked. The Ego is an equal force, as much a part as any other. The stronger the Ego the more… normal… happy… stable the life. If I can manifest the ID, as either the Brute, or that Invisible ID; if I can manifest the SuperEgo, why not the Ego itself?”

She shrugged with a bright smile. “Don’t know. Wanna try? Or are you right now the Ego? And you’ve been letting go when you didn’t need to?”

“I don’t know. When I’ve tried to become the Brute, it is like flexing a muscle. When the SuperEgo takes over, it’s more subtle, but I can feel it too. I haven’t really tried to become it. And I don’t even know how to turn on the Ego. I think it is worth an effort.” He looked around. "Maybe we should get out of the spring first. You look like you might boil if we stay in much longer,” he said as he started to rise from the water.

She started to port and then just unashamedly watched him get out before climbing out herself. Porting was faster, but there was something to taking one’s time and enjoying the view. She inhaled sharply as the cold air struck her skin, but shivered a little and smiled. “Okay, showtime.”

Jason was already enjoying the show. He watched as she rose like Venus from the waters, steam rising off her tight skin, water running down her curves in the most delightful way. She gave him a little look and he blushed a little at his leering.

“Sorry. I keep forgetting how beautiful you are. And how lucky I am.” As the words left his mouth he felt a pang of guilt. There was feeling of losing control. He tried to remember how he controlled the Brute, hold reins but let it run. He didn’t try to hold it in. But the look on his face may have revealed his inner struggle. She was smiling at his compliments, but her eyes were pinned to his face.

“Cassie, wait, before we go on. I need to tell you something. I am not proud. Back before Christmas. Reggie visited me at the base. I… am ashamed to admit it. I slept with her.” He had trouble looking at her, but he knew he needed to lest he fall under the SuperEgo’s power. “I also want to apologize for telling you like this. Confessions are… well… relationship counseling isn’t really my thing, but common wisdom is that the urge to confess is a pretty selfish one. I just need to let it out, or it might…” He struggled for words.

She ported to him in haste, putting a finger to his lips to stop the tumble of words. “I know. I came over to talk and kinda caught Reggie in the kitchen. I don’t think she saw me, but I saw her in your shirt and nothing else. I should’ve told you that I knew. And it hurt. It hurt a lot. But not as much as the thought of losing you.” She looked up into his eyes, earnest and sincere. “We were broken up. I knew that she wanted you. That there was a chance giving her permission to try to help you. But you’re here now. With me. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that your night with her pales to the night we’re sharing tonight.”

She pressed into him, savoring the heat of his body, the hard muscles and ran her nails lightly down his back. “Practice now before I decide that I’m not waiting anymore to get you in bed,” she said softly, her voice husky.

Practice, what? Manifesting the Ego or… Jason wondered, gathering her in his arms and holding her tight. “Okay. I am not entirely sure how to do this.” He released her but held both her hands. “The Ego looks outward and inward. It is where the person navigates the world. Powered by their passions.” He gave her hands a squeeze. "Guided by their morals.” He looked her in the eyes. He wanted her to see the sincere regret he felt for his mistake. When she nodded, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Jason stood there, eyes closed for a long while, minutes passing, and the chill began to sit on their naked skin. He tried to imagine the Ego in his minds eye as he did the ID and Super Ego. He heard Cassie’s breath coming shorter as she stood stoically against the cold. He could no longer hear the sound of water dripping from her body. He let his eyes open slowly to the light.

She was shivering in front of him her eyes opened widely in anticipation and he noticed that she had pulled her hands from his to tuck them under her armpits for warmth. Her arms were hugging herself to ward off the chilll, goosebumps covering her skin. Her lips were slightly redder than usual, and her faced was slightly flushed, from, he surmised the beginning of arousal. Her weight was born slightly to her left foot, and her right curled inwards. A faint white line above her ankle marked where she had scratched herself with her toenail. She was getting impatient. He was getting nowhere. The shadows on the ground showed it was close to five in the evening, and the winter evening was already beginning to settle, the golden light fading. He stroked her arm gently and watched the results it elicited. He could see her buttocks tremble slightly. He gently held her forearm gently, and felt her weight shift a little.

“I’m sorry Cassie. I don’t feel anything changing.” He shrugged. "And it’s getting cold. We should probably get dressed. He steered her back towards their clothes.

She couldn’t help but be disappointed a little as they quickly dressed. She had allowed herself probably higher hopes that she should have. Ever practical, Cassie scolded herself lightly as she knotted the lacings of her boots. “Ok, done,” she announced, straightening. The beauty of the surroundings caught her anew and she spun slowly to look at the land. “This is so pretty Jason,” she announced, her eyes sparkling even as she still shivered lightly. “We can warm up by hiking a little.” She winked at him. “And dodging bullets.”

Jason noted the slightly asymmetrical length of Cassie’s bootlaces as she laced up and reached to rub her shoulders to warm her up a bit. Straightening, she grinned at him and went towards the rocky hillside and began to climb. Jason marveled at Cassie’s ability to hop from rock to rock as they scaled the small peak overlooking the pond. As she launched her body towards an outcropping Jason darted to the left and went down into a crouch. Cassie’s foot landed expertly on the rock, but the fragile rock gave way causing her to tumble backwards.
Cassie felt the rock give and hissed a curse. Instinctively, she twisted in the air to get her bearings and started to port. But she caught Jason’s body crouched out of the corner of her eye.

Here’s a chance to prove to him that you trust him, she thought to herself and let herself fall. She could port at the last moment. Good practice. If she didn’t kill herself.

Jason caught her in his arms. “Sorry” He said as pulled her into a tight hug and kissed her on the lips. “I didn’t have time to warn you.”

The lightest of frowns caressed her brow. “Did you know that would happen?” she asked, an eyebrow rising.

“Look” He maneuvered her to slightly face the rock, “You can still see the fracture line. And that greenish sediment is ground limestone. With the cold you can expect a little stress on the rock. I don’t think you could see it from your vantage point.” As he spoke he rubbed her calf exactly where muscle was sore from the twist.

She nodded as he spoke, relaxing in his arms, his fingers perfectly easing the little bit of pain in her leg. Abruptly, she stiffened, her eyes widening. “Jason,” she blurted, staring into his eyes. ""How do you know all this? And where I hurt?" Her mouth opened and then she began to laugh.

“I’ve been reading up on science to keep up with Tyler. And…well, I could see it happen I guess.” Jason struggled for a moment with the thought. “That does seem a little odd doesn’t it?”

“Yes, and alarming. You’re gonna know what I want before I want it. That could be bad, or good.” She bit her lip and blushed. “Tonight should be very interesting. But more interesting is how you’re doing it.”

Jason smiled warmly at the suggestion. He pulled her close to him and nuzzled her neck. “I hope you are not looking a gift horse in the mouth.” He could smell her warming slightly. He adjusted his hold slightly. He nibbled her earlobe and whispered softly “I have a hunch.” And he let his hands roam over her curves. “If I am right, then I think I may have been wrong.”

Cassie whimpered softly, his caresses making a little shiver run over her body. She shifted against him, her lips caressing his neck. “Explain,” she murmured into his ear. “But fast. I’m having trouble keeping a coherent thought that doesn’t involve doing things to you that will make a sailor blush.” She let her fingers wander and stroke his body, a little revenge as her body screamed to port them both to a soft, warm surface.

“I was wrong when I said I didn’t feel any change. This is a change.” He looked away to scan the environment. He could estimate the distances between the rocks and the trees. He could ascertain the depth of the pond from one place to another. He saw three starlings sitting on a branch of a spruce a hundred feet away. “I can see… no perceive better. Better isn’t the right word. It is like I am in tune with my environment, with you, with the air and my own body. I think I did transform into the Ego. Do I look any different?” He put her down then, standing back a little to let her look.

Cassie shook her head, taking his cheeks in her hands to look him over. “Nope,” she answered with a shrug. “A little more relaxed, a little more confident.” She paused, studying him more intently, and then relaxed. “Nope. No judgment, no void, no dark, no horns, no too nice, no too wicked.”

Jason pondered this for a moment. Then looked at Cassie. “Test me.” He asked, almost commanded, and he dropped back a few paces.

“What? How?” she stammered. She gracefully balanced to attack, stripping off her jacket for better movement.

“Attack me.” Like you did our first date. Jason thought to himself. He needed to know that he could control himself. He knew she could handle the Brute, if he couldn’t. “Throw a rock or something if you don’t want to get too close.”

Her grin was quicksilver and wry. “I’ll get close to you. It only hurts ’cus I care.” She ported and round-housed her boot upside his head, sticking out her tongue as she flowed through the strike and vanishing in a lightning streak of purple light.

Jason watched her eyes before she ported. He knew her strength and reasoned he didn’t need to elude the blow entirely to avoid damage. In an instant, he was able to lean away from the blow; he got hit, but his normal resilience made the blow no worse that a hard slap. The impact was enough to momentarily destabilize Cassie. He turned to where he heard her feet land a thirty feet behind him. He raced to her with a flying kick. That was a feint, and used his off hand to send her spinning to the ground, tripping her off her feet. She sprang back to her feet and he watched her stance, the way her legs prepared to transfer the power of her blow. She grinned, blowing a piece of hair from her eyes and her arms flexed, preparing to pepper him with blows. Her eyes sparkled and she glanced to his side, trying to lead him to her left. There was a easy grace to her, he noted, that backed the power behind the attacks, and her arms, bare again to the air, rippled hotly with restrained strength. He grinned at her, unashamedly ogling her, and gestured for her to come at him again.

Her eyes blazed, her competitiveness coming to the fore as she studied him studying her. His intensity and cocky demeanor made him all the more attractive. She exploded at him and then ported in the middle of her barrage, only to appear behind him to punch him squarely between the shoulder blades and port again.

They darted back and forth. Her ability to teleport in attack and port away was a challenge. He settled on a strategy of endurance. He could regenerate, she could not. So long as he fought defensively, she could get many good hits in. He wasn’t landing many hits himself, but after twenty minutes of the melee they were both sweating and panting. Neither particularly hurt, both were alive with energy. He wipes the sweat from his brow, and admired her form. She was stalking him like a panther. He was feeling an animal arousal, but he was still in control. He could keep the ID in check.
This was a new day.

He took a moment to congratulate himself. A moment he didn’t have. She appeared three feet above him, and drop kicked him in the face. He flipped backwards from the force but managed to grab her wrist on the way down. They both landed awkwardly on the hard rocks, and tumbled and rolled a bit into the pine straw near the pond behind him. She crashed atop him. And then lay for a moment panting hard.

Jason grinned. “Okay. Maybe I need to work up to someone of your caliber.”

Cassie laughed breathlessly. “My caliber? I’m exhausted dear,” she stated between pants. “But now at least, I’m warm.” She rose up so that she could look him over. Already the cuts and bruises were almost gone. She kissed the remnants away with fond amazement and then gently licked a bit of sweat from his lips. With a soft sigh, almost growl, she stood and reached down a hand.

“Take me home Jason Duncan,” she commanded, licking her lips. “I want you. ID or Ego, Beast or SuperEgo or all of them.” Her hair, long freed from its ponytail, tumbled dark and wild, a bit covering one cornflower blue eye.

Jason rose and brushed off the dust and pine straw. They collected their bags and her jacket and walked hand in hand back down the path as the evening sun began to fade. They got to the gate and Cassie teleported them to the car.

“Pity, we didn’t get a chance to dodge bullets. I guess the owner is home for the winter,” she joked.

“Actually he’s right here.” Jason smiled, looking out towards the gate.

She looked around quickly and seeing no one, gave him a quizzical look. “What?” And then, “Are you serious?” She squealed softly, dancing in place a little. “You own this land?”

“It took pretty much all my salary to make the down payment. I figured, if the world ends in three months, a 30 year mortgage was a pretty good investment. The only problem, I don’t have enough left to build our house,” he said dreamily imaging the mountain home by the pond.

She had gone to the gate to survey the rugged scene, her lips parted with happy disbelief and wonderment. Her back stiffened, Cassie turned to face Jason slowly. “Our house?” she repeated, her lips quirking with the hint of a smile. “You and me?”

“Can’t live in that base forever.” Jason walked up to her and put his arm around her waist. “I know I am a risky investment. And you might not want to sink good money after bad. But, I love you. And I don’t want to waste any more time.”

She just blinked at him, her face going still, and then the serenity was broken by a brilliant smile. “I love you too. I’d love to share a home . . . a life with you Jason. Here, at the base, wherever. But I can’t live without you.” She kissed him lovingly for a moment and shook her head with amusement. “Bad investment. Pah! Rock solid. I get three for one return.”

The strength of the human spirit is infinite.

“Aristotle taught that stars are made of a different matter than the four earthly elements—a quintessence—that also happens to be what the human psyche is made of. Which is why man’s spirit corresponds to the stars. … I do like the idea that there’s a little starlight in each of us.” —Lisa Kleypas

A Deirdre Flanagan Story

“I think that’s your cue,” Paragon said in her ear.

Siren’s eyes flew skyward and she gawked for just a brief second. Then she looked at her team — not the Vanguard but her musical team — and ordered simply, “Go. Go now.”

And as the sound swelled around her and the numerous people nearby realized ‘This Is It’ and joined in, she tuned out all else. She didn’t give voice to the music, she became the incredible crescendo of sound, her voice simply an extension of her reality.

Time became meaningless. There was nothing in her universe at that moment but the music. Her emotions twined through the sound, rendering it not merely music but almost a living, breathing entity of its very own. A welcome, a gratitude for the arrival of help, and a rebelliousness of spirit all twined into one truly amazing soundtrack of the human race’s intent to keep their world, of their request for help in doing just that.

As the first salvo died away into silence and the world held its breath awaiting a response, Siren’s brain came back to reality for a moment. Long enough to realize that her teammates had to be nearby. She queried into the comms, “Quotient?”

“We’re fine. Talk later.” The response was heard through the haze of a massive adrenaline high, barely acknowledged though she comprehended it. It gave her free license to turn back to what was happening before her, because now they were speaking. As if they hadn’t heard all that had been offered up to them. Their communication was little better than a form letter, and Siren could see the disappointment around her even as her own heart lurched in resistance to the message.

And then the monolith opened and Paradox boxes began pouring from the structures in untold numbers. At first she couldn’t comprehend what was happening. In a split second, though, the light bulb went on. They were singing — they were… offering their own support. She could feel in the music that they offered their ‘parent’ ship that the boxes were throwing their support to this nascent rebellion.

Without looking, she pointed imperiously at Grady, and the sound swelled again. This time as it built around her singers, Deirdre didn’t use the melody line that had been written for her. Before the past few months she would not have said improvisation was her strong suit, but the faith of those she loves and the confidence bestowed by the very power she now weilds changed all of that. Ad-libbing the melody line, shifting it on the fly, Siren began to sing once more. Integrating the song that the boxes sang into the score written by Grady Mason, the tiny redhead’s voice lofted into the air as its own primary melody line. Again, the gratitude for their arrival, but a more firm emotional foray into defiance, refusal to surrender.

If she were going to be the Voice of the human race, then by God they would understand what it meant to be human. To fight to the last breath.

She could feel when the Paradox boxes reacted to her volley, adapting their own song subtly so that it was all one seriously impressive whole. And for the time that she sang, Siren was again lost in her own world where there was nothing but the music and what she infused, heart and soul, into it.

The silence once it was done nearly deafened her. It wasn’t that it was truly silent, for there was noise everywhere. It was that nothing around her seemed real. Deirdre was riding an adrenaline high the likes of which she had never experienced. Faces flashed in front of her, some celebrating, some curious. Someone was talking to her and she had a moment of clarity where she recognized Liz’s face, saw half her musical team with tears in their eyes and the other half simply struggling to not split their faces with grins.

She felt drugged. The world had a surreal quality and she couldn’t quite seem to come down, riding a razor’s edge of euphoria. Deirdre’s eyes finally focused on Grady’s, the architect of this incredible venture and the composer of what would be the most famous piece of music in history, and she threw herself into his arms. He was the one person close enough physically and emotionally to be safe.

As the crowd surged, the tiny remaining coherent voice in the back of her head told her to look past Grady. Ken’s face came into focus. He’d been somewhere in the crowd near where her team was, she knew that much, and it was just as natural as breathing to continue the celebration by allowing herself to be passed to him as the next person in line. In the crush no one would notice that she held him too long or too tightly.

No one would notice when she kissed him heatedly — everyone around them was kissing and hugging and laughing and crying.

No one would hear that she whispered in his ear, Marry me. Right now. Tonight.

Blue eyes sought and found hers, elation at the success of the endeavor giving way to a simple nod and a radiant grin. If Ken doubted what would come, it didn’t show in that moment. The chaotic celebration around them offered ample opportunity to escape, to become invisible. They would be back before anyone even noticed they were gone.

And with the jet at her disposal and no one paying enough attention to question her use of it, Las Vegas was a mere hour away.

Beauty and the Beast
Cassie and Jason give it one last try.
A Jason Duncan Story
A Cassie Sutton Story

Angels were singing, their voices clear as the music swelled, the choir welcoming her.  Siren’s voice rose sweet and high, weaving a harmony to the main song and Cassie struggled to open her eyes to see as her body ached and throbbed in pain. Not dead, she thought to herself, tho’ lord I kinda wish I were.  Her body was alive with pain, jarred and shaken like she had been in an explosion.

Groaning, she opened her eyes to a black liquid void so dark you could fall and drown with the stars within and gasped with alarm.  But abruptly, she realized that she was being tenderly cradled and just as abruptly knew who it was.  Like a child, she snuggled into the vast chest of the Beast and whispered, "Don’t change.”

Once he was over the shock of being back in the Brute’s body, Jason felt able to mentally stretch. It was a little like being buzzed on alcohol. A feeling of freedom, a feeling of independence, being freed of a burden. Like a buzz, things seemed funnier, prettier, and even random ideas seemed clever and clear. So the music filled him with a sense of awe, and wonder; the beaten, but still beautiful body in his inhuman arms felt soft and warm. He was in no hurry to do anything. He did glance around at the small crowds of onlookers gaping at him in astonishment.

He knew his appearance was unsettling at best, and horrifying to most people. His skin never seemed to stay still, instead it was like looking on the reflection of a starry night in a dark pool. Looking himself over, this body seemed to have changed and mutated, become more grotesque than before. He wasn’t any bigger, but the claws, horns, and other boney protrusions from his body seemed more prominent. He tried to cradle Cassie in a way less likely to hurt her. He considered briefly changing back to human form, tending to her wounds, and those of the boys, but her voice stopped him.?
Instead he tried to whisper in a soothing voice. It came out like metal on gravel, but a tad gentler than it might

“Miss me?”

She nodded, burying her head into the endless night of his chest.  The man may not love her, but the Beast did and she clung to him, not wanting to let go.

“Don’t change,” she pleaded softly.  That being would be Jason again, not the man, but the emotionless entity.  She couldn’t bear it.  Not now, not while everything hurt so badly.  She would be the child.  And the child wanted love.

Jason held her as the songs rose and fell, as the sky revealed in the distance the planet-sized ship. The crowds were exuberant, and the party atmosphere spread through the area. The Brute was reasonably well known, or known of, but not widely seen, or experienced in close proximity. Jason took a little pleasure from the discomfort of the onlookers, he liked making people nervous, and in other days he might have given them a little scare, but this time, something pulled him away. Holding Traveler as he did, might provoke questions, that he didn’t want to answer, and he felt protective of her. Jason strode through the crowd to an opening, and leaped into the air away from the mall, in the rough direction of the hills to the East of the city. He felt Cassie cling tightly, not from fear, just for comfort. A few minutes later they were in a rural area dominated by tumbled down rocky hills. He found a small ancient quarry and wandered in. With his massive claws he scaled a small cliff and perched up on an outcropping. He too felt comfort from her body pressed against his, her heart beating against his.

There was a buzz in his ear.
“Quotient?” It was Siren.
“We’re fine. Talk Later.” He said brusquely, then he yanked the comm-piercing out of his ear, splattering a little blood on Traveler’s uniform. He flicked the stud into the small pool at the base of the quarry. His wound had healed already.

“Heh.” We’re fine. Talk Later. He wondered if that could possibly work.

Cassie laughed,  then moaned as her head pounded.  “Now she’s gonna buzz me,” she complained with a smile.  But she pulled her comm off and dropped it to the ledge.   Pulling a bit away from him, she gently shook her head ruefully.  “Where have you been and why can’t you all get along in there?”

“I’ve been here the whole time.” He tried to explain. “It’s just me. It’s hard to explain. I am here, and not here. Together but separate. Awake and asleep at the same time. You know the feeling when you foot or your arm falls asleep? It’s like you know it’s you, but it just doesn’t feel like you. Well, it’s kinda like that, but if the arm could still move. And then it ‘wakes’ up, and it is your’s again. Only it’s your whole body. And when it’s asleep for one part, it’s awake for another…” He stared off into the darkening sky. “I don’t know. Sounds pretty crazy.”

Her hand slipped onto his cheek, gently stroking the little horns there.  “I want all of him, Beast.   You, his ID,  that new guy.  All of him.  Nothing less, nothing more.   I’m tired of just the pieces.”  Her eyes sought his and she looked hard into the black endless and liquid depths.  “You guys need to share, become one.”  Her fingers strayed to his vast mouth, tracing the lines of his lips, and Cassie grinned.  “I’ve never gotten to touch you so much before.  Not this form.”

“Well if you like it, " he stroked his sharp chin.“I could stay this way. Might be a bit rough on your skin though, maybe we could get you some body armor.” He chuckled, and gave her bottom a playful squeeze.   “As to merging all together. Hell, I don’t know where to begin.” He gritted his teeth slightly. “It was easier to wrest control this time, than before. Not that is was easy seeing that boy stuck under there, but maybe that other part of me was weaker than it had been. I think that there was some kind of change back when you were in the hospital. I was pretty down on myself, blamed myself for your injuries. I hate all that self pity. I don’t know how you could stand me when I get like that.” Jason realized as he said this, that in fact she could not. She walked away, into the arms of another man. He had no such excuse for his affair with Reggie. "Anyway. As stupid as it sounds, it seemed the right thing to do, to become my “ideal me.” But, hell, even I can see that wasn’t so great. Maybe being ideal ain’t really the best."

With a sigh, Cassie pulled off her goggles and extracted herself from his grasp.  “You, he, the ID and this ideal guy need to realize that you’re one great guy.  Flawed and just as normal as the rest of us.  He’s not his father, he’s not his mother.   He’s the best of them both… wonderful, intelligent, caring and compassionate.”  She pushed a lock of hair from her eyes, smiling fondly at the Beast.  “Fun and dangerous too.   And,” she hesitated a moment and her face became inscrutable, “if that man wants Reggie, I won’t stand in their way.”

In Brute form, Jason felt little in the way of guilt or shame. He understood the concept intellectually, but it’’s power had little impact on him. Still, Jason sensed there was something more to that question. He recalled the night he spent with Reggie, it occurred to him, that theoretically, that might bother Cassie. It was easy to feel things viscerally, even sympathetically. If she were hurt, if she were crying, he would feel it. If she were in danger he’d do anything to save her. But, he had to stop and think to imagine her future pain. It was a strange thing. Inside he knew that as free and calm as he felt as the Brute, he couldn’t really deal with the issues in this form.

He stood up and stretched to the stars. “Cassie I want to transform, so I can talk to you like a normal person. So that I can feel like a normal person.” He panted slightly as his temperature rose, he grasped and pulled a hunk of rock the size of a small car off the cliff beside them, sending a cascade of loose rock down into the quarry. He hurled the boulder into the ground where it exploded in a million pieces at the edge of the pool. “But…. I am afraid that if I transform, then I will lose everything, forget what I want to say, fall back into that mode that got me into all these problems in the first place. I’d be betting my soul on a spin of the wheel. What if it lands on the SuperEgo? Argh!!!” He finished with a scream that sent a flock of birds flying a quarter mile away.

She took one of his giant hands into her own and pulled at him.  He resisted at first, then yielded until their faces were at the same level.  “Change.  But into a whole person.”  She kissed the wide, toothy mouth then and quirked her head after.  “C’mon then and spin the wheel.”
Stepping back, she waited to see.

Jason looked into her eyes. In Brute form the images of people were always mixed with their auras, and the spectrum of light seemed almost inverted. It was disorienting at first, but over the year he had mostly conquered that. It had been a month since he had been the Brute, and looking directly at people was still difficult, there eyes in particular could be dazzling or disturbing. Still gazing at her, her eyes seemed to sparkle and outshine any darkness. He felt a wave of desire, when she kissed him. In brute form there were no barriers to such sensations, no thoughts clouding the message. the sensations came pure and undiluted. There was no anxiety, no fear, no uncertainty. He squeezed her again as gently as he could and stood. Flexing those hidden muscles and trying to free his mind of any goal or conception, he relaxed, closed his eyes and let go. He had a falling sensation, and then a chill as the winter night air reacted to his all to human and obviously naked skin. He could feel a his mind bombarded with thoughts each vying for attention, if not control. He stood there, eyes still closed, and silently recited a Zen Koan to try to bring him serenity. He opened his eyes, the first thing that caught him off guard was the clarity. It was already a little dark, but his eyes adjusted nearly as well as they did in Brute form. Still, to look on Cassie with his human eyes was almost too much. He felt overcome with emotion and moved to her, grasping her tightly in his arms and pressing her close to him. He held her for a long long time saying nothing.

Let Your Heart Be Light...
The Flanagans are going to have a merry little Christmas.
A Deirdre Flanagan Story

Deirdre opened the door of her apartment to admit her brother and Joan both, a quick grin flashing across her features. Hi! Joan was giving Jase the patented Evil Eye and Dee couldn’t help the silent sigh as she closed the door behind them.

“Hey, Squirt!” Jase rumbled lazily, pulling her into a one-armed hug after she closed the door. “You ready for the drive home? Joan’s pissy and it’ll be a great time to shove her in the back seat and make her listen to Christmas tunes.”

Deirdre gave a querying look at her best friend as Joan practically snarled. Rolling her eyes at her brother, she stepped out of his embrace and moved to push Joan through the apartment and into the bedroom. “Stay there,” she ordered him, and then she shut the door to close him out of the conversation.

Leaning back against it, she watched as Joan walked over to the double bed and dropped down onto the edge of it. What gives, Joanie? she asked, her dark eyes worried. She was floored when Joan dropped her face into her hands and burst into tears. She could count the number of times she’d ever seen Joan cry on one hand — and both of them had been pretty horrible.

Moving swiftly, the tiny redhead wrapped her arms tight around Joan and held on for dear life while the brunette sobbed her heart out. Deirdre didn’t know what to make of the storm of emotions, and all she could do was make sure that the sounds didn’t pass into the living room where she could hear her brother making himself at home. The television popped on so that he could watch the news while he waited out whatever mysterious girl-things were going on behind closed doors.

The tears were unusual enough in themselves but the fact that Joan raised her eyes finally to meet Dee’s and said flat out in a husky tone, “I don’t know what to do,” floored Deirdre. Joanie always knew what to do — or at least, she faked it real well.

Dee kept her ‘voice’ very low and asked softly, “What to do about what, Joan?” She could tell that whatever was going on, it was serious. “What’s wrong? Are you sick? Has Jase done something?” She offered the possibilities that sprang to mind immediately, but she was honestly clueless.

“I’m pregnant,” Joan blurted out.

Deirdre pulled back in shock, her eyes wide. What?!

Joanie nodded, disconsolate. “Yeah. That was pretty much my reaction too,” she told Deirdre with a watery attempt at a smile. “What the heck am I going to do?”

The first thing that popped into Dee’s mind was rather rude. Is it Jase’s?

Joan shoved her, nearly right off the corner of the bed where they sat. “Yes, you jerk!” she hissed.

Deirdre held up her hands in a conciliatory manner. Hey, I was just asking! she protested. It’s not like he’s the only guy you’ve dated! Even as recent as …. well, the summer? Deirdre had to stop and think. When was the last time Joan had talked about dating?

“I haven’t dated anyone but Jase since September, Dee,” Joan told her tiredly. "I just… " She shrugged. “We’ve never been able to make it work more than a few months at a time, though. And I found out right after you guys stopped the monoliths, so at least I didn’t have that whole panic to worry about. But…” She scrubbed at her face with both hands. “Christ, Dee. I don’t know what to do.”

Well, for God’s sake, tell him! Deirdre retorted, her expression incredulous.

Joan snorted. “Why? So he can do the Right Thing and marry me? So we can both be miserable and totally screw up a kid together?”

Deirdre was reeling in shock. “Are you honestly so messed up in the head that you don’t know that man loves you?” she asked, her low voice filling the room.

“I know he loves me, Dee!” Joan objected, her tone still weary. “That’s never been the problem. The problem is that we can’t live in the same space without damn near killing one another. He drives me crazy, I drive him crazy, and we fight, and then we don’t talk for months.”

The redhead was quiet for a long time, and then she reached out and hugged Joan tightly. “You have to tell him,” she murmured in her friend’s ear. “He deserves that much from you, Joan. If you don’t want to marry him, that’s your decision, and I’ll back you all the way. But … don’t keep my brother from his baby. Please?”

Joan leaned her head on Deirdre’s shoulder and started to cry again. “I won’t. I just… I don’t want him to hate me, Dee. I didn’t do this on purpose… and I sure as hell didn’t do it to trap him.”

“We’ll get through it,” Dee murmured, holding Joan tightly for another long while. When she finally pulled away, Joanie looked bedraggled and exhausted. Deirdre couldn’t help the half-amused smile that accompanied her concern. Let’s go home. Dad’ll know how to do this, okay? He’ll help.

Shaking her head with a deep sigh, Joan looked down. Shame clouded her features. “I don’t want him to think badly of me.”

Deirdre touched her best friend’s chin with her fingertips and met her eyes. “You know better than that. I think you’re crazy with hormones or something,” she said firmly. “Wash your face. Let’s get everything packed up. I have to take the bike and follow you. I’ll tell Jase to let you catch a nap on the way, okay? Just…. don’t worry about anything right now. Relax. It’s Christmas and we’re going home, Joanie.” She offered a small smile. “And whether you marry my brother or not, now there’s no way in the universe you’re not family. So get over yourself.”

Joan gave a watery chuckle. It was going to be okay. It had to be.

Eve's Eve
Jason reflecting on the Battle of Pueblo

A Jason Duncan Story

Jason was in a foul mood all day, and in no mood to celebrate christmas, solstice or any other holiday. He was originally planning to skip the festivities claiming he needed to be at the command center. Deirdre pointed out that since the majority of the command center staff was going to be there, it might look a little suspicious. Besides she claimed, people look to you as the leader, if you aren’t there, what are you saying to them? So he was there, he stood mostly on the sidelines, keeping to himself occasionally signing his plans to leave the party to Deirdre, who scolded him and told him to stay. So he did. He shook hands, he snacked, and nursed a cup of spiked punch. He’d like to say he wasn’t watching Cassie, but he was. If she smiled, he felt sick and jealous. If she frowned, he felt guilt and sorrow. He had made quite a mess of things, and selfishly couldn’t just let her go, though he knew he should. Working side by side would be a challenge.

Reggie on the other hand, met him the other morning with a cup of coffee, dressed and ready to go. “I have to fly to Washington, a working holiday.” She said putting on her boots. “You’re welcome to join me. There will probably be some after-parties once the boring stuff is finished. When Washingtonians let down their hair, you’d be surprised.” When he frowned, she added. “No pressure.” Then adding “I’ll let you know when the pressure builds up again.”

Jason tried several times to talk to Reggie, but she didn’t seem interested. He wanted to explain that he had this conflict inside him. That night, the Brute won, like it did before. But, she wasn’t willing to talk about it. Not that she wouldn’t talk to him, just that she wouldn’t talk to him about what they did, or what they were doing. “That doesn’t release the pressure.” She had said. Honestly he was somewhat relieved. Reggie took control, she didn’t let him speak, didn’t let him think. And for a brief moment, it was tremendously liberating. He began to understand some BDSM relationships. But, it was ultimately hollow. Kind of like his experience with Pantheon. It felt great, liberating and empowering until it was over, then it left him a hollow husk. But, he was glad the drama would not extend to Reggie, at least she didn’t seem overly affected.

Jason was loathe to put her down. He’d carried her from the research building, her skin burned, and peeling, her hair charred by the flames. Time seemed to have a mind of its own. When Hot Head blew up, time seemed to slow down. The blast engulfed them all, blinded them. When he recovered from the blast Jason saw Paragon pulling the unconscious form of Cassie out of the blaze. Luckily for Hot Head, Rosie knocked him unconscious. Had he still been a threat Jason would have transformed and ripped him to shreds. He remembered picking her body up from the ground. She looked so fragile, so inert, so unlike her vibrant powerful self. The time he carried her to the sick bay, seemed but an instant, and now the nurses were asking him to set her down. Reluctantly he gently lowered her to the exam bed. He did his best to be a doctor, and treat her wounds, all the while calling for Miriam, and Hospitiler anyone who could save her. All the while the others were talking about how to deal with Black Kettle’s men, Jason could think of nothing but Cassie.

Please be okay. I know we are heroes, and heroes get hurt. But I don’t think I can face this world without knowing you were okay.

He stood there stroking her cheeks, wiping the ash and smoke smudges from her face and forehead. He felt almost like he was stealing these gentle touches from her without her consent, but right or wrong he couldn’t stop. The stern voice of his conscience might have tried to deter him, but he wasn’t having it. He knew, in his mind that she would wake up, that Miriam or the Hospitaler would heal her, and she’d be fine, fine and gone from his sight. In his heart, he felt this more powerfully than he could have imagined. If he had said it out loud it would have elucidated some shame given all his lectures on perspective and commitment. But he realized right there, that if saving her meant condemning the world, he’d have done it. If healing her required bargaining with Black Kettle or the Swarm, he’d do it. He wasn’t the moral ideal. He wasn’t the cool leader measuring his responses, considering the costs and benefits. He was a man deeply in love. If she asked him, he’d be the Brute forever.
When he pulled himself away from her, after Miriam fixed the worst injuries. He found himself alone in a neighboring office with a small washroom. Looking into the mirror, he tried to wash away some of the grime from the fight. As he rubbed at the greasy residue on his face it seemed to expose only more darkness. Beneath the veneer of his skin was the starry night flesh of the beast. His teeth replaces with the ghastly fangs, his hands, with boney claws. Behind the reflection of the Brute stood his form, only different. Brighter, older, more stern. His eyes scolded the man in the reflection. And the Brute seemed to writhe in pain under his gaze.
“I think it is time you gave up control.” The figure said.
“I can’t give up,” the Brute spoke in raspy tones.“I can’t let him, let the Brute hurt anyone.”
“You were ready to give in to it today. As you gave in to Reggie before. You’re a cheat, a coward and a fool. You really think she’d want the Brute? You really think she’d take you back after how you defiled her with your ex-wife, not days after your fight?”
“What can I do?”
“You know what to do.”
“I’m afraid. I am weak.”
“You are, which is why you need to let me take control.”
“But she won’t love you…”
“I am everything good about you, if she won’t love me, then do you really want her?”
“You’ve done her wrong. You will continue to do her wrong. It is time for you to be a man. Accept responsibility and do the right thing. Let her go.”
“I can’t….”
“I can.” The voice was firm. It was comforting to be so sure, to let him decide. With the Brute the temptation to give in was the expectation of pleasure, power, and freedom. With the SuperEgo, it was something else, something equally tempting.
“I can’t decide..” He managed. “You decide for me.”

A healer can sometimes heal more than the flesh
A Cassie Sutton Story

Her hands and feet were on fire, burning and then the air itself ignited and went incandescent. It was true,she realized,burns were the most painful injury of all. It was all that she could do not to scream in agony, but to do so would have been to inhale the scorching heat. She stumbled back and tried to port, but everything was going black. The cold of the “inbetween” pulled her for a fraction of a microsecond and then the earth pulled her back.

No, I’m not leaving you, she thought at the Earth. I’ll be back. But it wasn’t true. The sun was consuming her and she was dying. Helpless, she tried to fight to stay conscious but the heat was consuming her. . .

Cassie started awake with a name on her lips, but it caught in her throat as she realized he was with Reggie. The darkness was warm around her and she stared into it as she sat up in bed, wrapping her arms around her knees. Max meowed and rubbed against her and she stroked him as he purred. The clock said 4:10am.

She had been told that Paragon rescued her, lifting her through the air to get her from the danger and that Miriam had healed the worst of her injuries before the Hospitaler had come. With a sigh, she lay back down and tried to let the darkness gather her and hold her close.

In her dreams/nightmares, between re-living the memories of heat, agony, and fear, the darkness murmured her name and stroked her face, formless and yet formed, strong and comforting, as green stars and streaks took away the fire and the pain and then the white light made her whole. She had been gathered close and held gently, the warmth and contact both agonizing and reassuring as murmurs she couldn’t understand held her from leaving. She had woken up every hour with some version of that memory in play in her dream; no matter what, from fire and pain, she was gathered in dark arms strong and gentle, a wild heart beating a reassuring and familiar sound.

When her alarm went off at 6:00, she went to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee and little bit of breakfast. She was ravenous, knew that she have to make her own food and beverage since everyone was away with their family, but she looked forward to the solitude. She wanted to be alone, needing time to heal her heart rather than her body.

Seeing Reggie had been a shock, but she had known that was a possibility. Reggie had all but flat out told her that she was interested. It had surprised her that they would move so quickly. She hadn’t known it would hurt quite so much and so deeply. A bitter but wry smile slid onto her lips. High school and college romance breakups had been overly emotional, traumatic. An adult breakup was pain, regrets and sorrow, deeper and less drama filled, less intense but so different. There was no moving lockers; she and he would continue to work together, be adult about it.

She had not anticipated how amazingly deep the pain would be.

Douglas had come to her thoughts, but she couldn’t do that to him. It would have been wonderful, but it would have complicated things. Things were already complicated enough. The smell of coffee brewed and ready hit her nose as she went into the room and her eyes found Miriam sitting contentedly at a table in the corner. She was sipping a cup and reading a paper book. Cassie smiled. Some still liked paper, wasteful as it was. She was one of them. Occasionally, you just needed to hold a book. She came over and gave the older woman a hug.

“Thank you. Again.”

Miriam smiled. “The next one will cost you. I’m tired of fixing you. But you will need to thank the Hospitaler. He did the clean up.” She gestured at a carafe and a plate of french toast. “Please, have some.”

Cassie started to say no, but the smell was too enticing and it was clear that Miriam had cooked enough. Fetching a plate and a new cup, she settled down for a better breakfast than she had planned for. Miriam was an amazing cook, but Cassie already knew that many of the desserts that the coffee shop had for sale had been made by Miriam. She dug into the toast and powered through a piece and half before saying, “I miss starting the morning with you. Geez, your coffee is amazing and this food is phenomenal.” She rolled her eyes with pleasure. “Your place was such a wonderful place to meet Mark and. . .” She drifted off with a sad smile. Old Mark was gone, maybe forever and Alamy Falls and the Earth would never be the same. “Maybe someday,” she finished softly. Miriam nodded with understanding.

“Change is inevitable dear,” Miriam answered and they sat in reflection for a moment.

Cassie poured some more syrup on the last bit of toast. “I appreciate breakfast Miriam,” she said to break the uncomfortable silence. “And I appreciate you giving up your holiday for me.”

“I could hardly say no. You’d do the same Cassie. And Jason sounded like he’d come through the phone to get me if he had to. You were clearly hurt badly dear.”

Her head quirked as her brows met over her eyes. “Jason? He told me that Alexander got me out. I assumed that he brought me to the medical team.”

Miriam shook her head. “No. Jason did dear. They almost had to fight him to get him to put you down from what they said. They were a little afraid of him.” She smiled wryly. “Your boyfriend can be a bit intense sometimes. But he is a man in love. And he thought you were dying.”

Miriam got to her feet, smiling, gathering her cup. “You look surprised. I wouldn’t be. A man in love is an irrational beast.” She picked up the carafe and gestured with it. “Another cup? I’m going to make a new pot.”

Blinking, Cassie nodded and stared at her plate as Miriam went to the kitchen, her heart racing wildly. This time, the word made it off her lips and she said it with a broken smile.


Letting Off Steam
Jason on the Rebound

A Jason Duncan Story

Jason ducked as a medicine ball flew across the space of Lab #3, flew over his head, and smacked into the reinforced wall with a deep thunk. It was late at night, but he couldn’t sleep, so he was working out. He was trying our a combat simulation designed by Tyler. The automated sequence launched three more medicine balls, and several softballs. Jason was surprised by the volley, and one softball glanced across his cheek, and another medicine ball careened for his head. He leapt 3 meters straight up to avoid one medicine ball, twisting to dodge the next.. He met the third ball with his fist square into it, blocking the shot. The medicine ball exploded sending sand across the room. He landed in the gritty stuff, like a great cat. He stood and shook his hand to get the numbness out of his wrist.

That was when he heard the slow clapping coming from the far end of the room where the heavy doors stood open.

“Tyler let me in, I hope you don’t mind.” Reggie stood there smiling mischievously. She was not in her traditional smart business suit. Instead she wore a western outfit. A denim skirt over winter tights, a maroon blouse and faux leather vest. Her hair was in a casual pony tail. Her outfit made her look ten years younger.

Jason grabbed a towel. And wiped some the sweat off his body. He work gym shorts and an underarmor t-shirt. He went to the control panel and summoned a robot to sweep up the mess.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” He asked. He had a few ideas, mostly those put in his head by Cassie the other day, but tried to remain professional.

“Actually, Traveler suggested we talk.” Reggie smiled victoriously.

Jason wrinkled his nose at the thought, and pointed to the door.
“Let me shower off, and we can talk. You can wait in the control room, or upstairs, whatever you prefer.” He said walking towards the men’s locker room.

While in the shower he tried to make a game plan. Reggie was here on Cassie’s request. He knew that there was no love lost between them, so why would they be talking at all. Maybe it was more innocent than he was imagining. He would wait and see what she had to say. He finished soaping off and washing his hair, rinsed and turned off the tap. He walked over to where the towels were kept and out of the corner of his eye saw Reggie sitting on a bench watching him. From where she was sitting she undoubtedly saw the whole shower.

Regina Morgane

“What the..?” He called out.

“Oh settle down Jase, we were married, so I’ve seen it all before. Well. To be fair, I hadn’t seen you so… improved.” She said appraisingly.

Jason turned beat red which only seemed to please her more. He grabbed one towel wrapped it around his waist, and pulled another over his shoulders.
“Some people have some modesty Reggie.”

“Really Jason, you were never so concerned about modesty before. Do you remember that time we made love on the balcony over looking that block party. You knew people could see us.” She laughed. Jason turned even a deeper red. “Hmm. Maybe Ms. Sutton has a point.” She said rising and walking towards him.

Jason twisted defensively trying to keep himself covered.
“Can you leave and let me get dressed?” He asked.

Reggie extended a hand and with one finger wiped some water off his chest, bringing it to her mouth. “Fine.” She said turning around and heading for the door. Her hips swayed in her petit denim skirt as she left.

“Wait, what did she say?” Jason called out, but she was already out the door.
He dried himself hastily and put on his clothes, his thin skintight costume under his casual clothes. He walked out and found her gone. He checked that level, and found no sight of her. He went up the lounge, no sign. He checked the kitchen, the pool, the gardens. Eventually, he shrugged his shoulders and went up to his room to deposit his sweat gym clothes in the laundry, When he got there he found her sitting at his mother’s mothers desk. She was fiddling with something trying to unlock the roll-top.

“What are you doing?” He bellowed. His eyes flashing with anger.
She looked up and smiled wickedly. “I didn’t know you still had this thing. Just prying into your secrets Quotient.”

Jason strode across the room, grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her out of the chair. He spun her with enough force to send her twirling across the room. She ended up facedown on his unmade bed, laughing.

He felt his blood begin to heat, and he felt the transformation begin. He bit his lip, and held on to the wall, willing the transformation to stop. What was only moment seemed to take a long long time, but eventually he felt the tug end. He felt a little nauseous, and out of breath, but it stopped it. He looked over at Reggie, she was watching him intently.

“I thought for sure you would change.” She said.
“Were you trying to bait me?” He stared down at her. “Do you know how dangerous that is? You could have been killed, I can’t control the Brute!” He watched her face change from mischief, to contrition. For a moment she seemed to soften and give, but then she blinked her eyes and stared back in defiance.

“Actually.. "She said slowly correcting him. “Actually, you can. The first time I came back, I encountered you in your brute form, remember? You made some sexist comment, and propositioned me, as I recall. Does that offer still stand?”

Jason was a little taken aback, for some reason, he expected her to buckle to his personality, he expected her to give in to his commands. But she didn’t.

“No. As much as you might want to believe it, the Brute is not to be toyed with.” Jason looked down to ensure his mother’s desk was intact.

“As interesting as that might be… yeah. I think I prefer you a little more human.” She smiled. “But I think you gave up too easily. True, you failed to control the Brute, and someone got killed. Once. Once Jason. For god sake, how much practice did you have? Two months? Any one of your or the enemies could have done the same. It is a miracle so few people have been hurt in the crossfire. Don’t write some tragedy about your uncontrollable darkside without at least testing that hypothesis.”

Jason stood there for a moment.

“You don’t know what you are asking.” He spoke softly.

“I am asking you to prove that you are not your father.” She said matter-of-factly.

“Okay, maybe you do.” He softened. “But it isn’t going to happen. Not until we deal with the swarm and all that. I can’t risk it until then, if ever.”

“Actually that is why I need you to risk it.” She said in more business-like fashion. “We’ve assessed your power level in this form. And as impressive as you are, and really again, most impressive. It simply isn’t enough. In Brute form you provide some much needed fire power. In this form, well, you are a liability.”

“I’ve been training. I can be up to snuff soon enough.”
“And when your teammates need to take greater risks to save you because you won’t transform? When one of them dies because of it?”

Jason looked glum. It was a no win situation. She spoke some truth. He might be a liability to the team if the swarm were anything like the bugbots they sent. But if he he lost control, he might be worse.

“What do you suggest?” He said dropping into his office chair.

Reggie slid across the bed and propped herself up against the concrete wall. "Well, Traveler tells me you are exhibiting some signs you might have a new, different, personae. One with a… heightened sense of morality? Maybe we just need to find away to put it in charge of the Brute’s body. If it represents the Super Ego, it ought to enjoy bossing around the Brute. Isn’t that what the Super Ego is supposed to do.

“Freud was never really your strong suit.” Jason started."No the Super Ego… the Super Ego… " he started but he couldn’t quite remember where he was going.

“You mean embrace the super ego? Embrace the conscience? Use that power to control the Brute?” Jason wondered aloud whether it was possible. It sounded almost right, but not quite.

“Sure, if that is what it takes. " Reggie started. “We can have some training, maybe a little cognitive therapy in the process. With modern neural feedback, we should be able to create some pathways to help you maintain control.”

Jason looked dubious.

“Oh don’t scorn modern technology Jason. Your suit, your plane, your whole base is full of it. Neural Therapy helps people with autism, Parkinson’s, why not you?”

“Because it hasn’t shown any benefits to schizophrenics. Repeated trials are negative or inconclusive. "

“You’re not schizophrenic Jase, even I can tell that.” She rose up, and leaned forward.
Jason wasn’t convinced, but this was something, something he hadn’t tried.

“With that personae in charge, I don’t know how effective a leader I can be. My teammates are less disciplined than you might hope. They will be resistant.” He spoke ruefully.

“Funny, you’d think your personality would be more forceful, commanding.” She seemed genuinely interested.

“Well, they accuse me of being unyielding, unemotional, cold. Cassie left me, I think, for that reason. I’ve become… not much fun.”

Reggie sat there taking in this information. If Jason didn’t know better he’d think she was fighting some internal struggle of her own.

“So.. you need a pressure valve.”

“The Brute? "Jason answered. “No you don’t know how that works.”

“I wasn’t thinking the Brute, not every problem needs a power to be solved.” She replied. “Actually, I could use a pressure release myself. Despite not being a Power, I do have a fair amount of responsibility, you know. The President’s committee needs more babysitting that you might think. Then there is the president herself. She doesn’t trust them, so insists on separate missions with me. Then there are the Joint Chiefs, the PVF, and National Intelligence. And of course, you’re not so easy to manage either.”

“So what you are saying, is that there is a little stress in this job?”Jason laughed.

“In a nutshell.” She smiled, stood and approached. “So you and Cassie are broken up?”

“It appears that way.” Jason said nervously.

“Then maybe you can help me with my problem.” She pulled off her vest, and unbuttoned the top buttons of her blouse. “And I can help you with yours.”

Jason felt torn in a dozen directions. He loved Cassie, but she left him. He shouldn’t be doing this, but Reggie was so sexy, and so willing, so commanding. He could feel the ID and SuperEgo battling in his brain. He shut his eyes, and concentrated on his breathing. Reggie stopped arguing with his brain, and started convincing his body. With every touch the Brute gained the upper hand. His SuperEgo was silenced and shunted into the background.

“You don’t need to be afraid of me Jason.” Her voice was a purr. “You’re just helping me. We’re just letting off a little steam.” He could feel himself being led, blindly towards his bed. Her fingers wrapped under his shirt pulling it over his head. He gulped for breath and found her lips on his, her tongue in his mouth. They collapsed onto the bed, and into each others’ arms.

The Next Morning..

Reggie snuggled up against the sleeping form of Jason stroking his chest. I must have exhausted him She thought proudly. She was considering waking him up for another round, when there was a faint ding, as the security system of the base registered someone entering the building. It wasn’t the alarm, so the person must be authorized to enter. Reggie popped her head up, and peaked out the window. She spotted Cassie looking nervous as she walked into the garden-like atrium. Reggie ducked down, and scrambled off the bed. She looked around, found Jasons wrinkled shirt and pulled it on. She tiptoed out the room and down the stairs. She made a fair amount of noise busying herself in the kitchen making a pot of coffee. She could sense someone watching her. In the reflection of the stainless steel fridge she saw the distorted figure of a woman at the doorway. Paying no attention she reached up into a cabinet looking for something, and causing Jason’s shirt to lift off her backside.
She heard the faint noise of a teleport. She smiled. And set to work brewing the coffee.


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