Monday, May 29, 2000. About 11 a.m.

Akemi rolled over in bed and reached for the phone. She'd been meaning to do this since last Friday, and now seemed as good a time as any.

When the call was answered, she said to the party on the other end, "I'd like to speak with Mr. Smalls, please. Yes, I'll wait."

"Hello, Mr. Smalls? This is Akemi Rhodes speaking. I wanted to thank you personally for all the trouble you've gone to on my behalf. Are you free sometime this week?"

"Um. Uh, sure. Ah, Thursday evening?"

"Sounds great. Why don't you decide on a time and place that are convenient for you, and then get back to me when you decide? You can contact me by phone, fax or email, whichever is easiest."

They talked for a few more minutes before the conversation ended.

Across town at Cookston Jr. High

April Hanewick waited nervously in front of the school. She was dressed in a red skirt, short with a white sweater, loose at the neck so it hung to expose one shoulder. Her hair was styled, bangs swept back. She fought to keep from pacing or dancing from foot. Mom had slept in, so there wasn't that to deal with, at least. Well, here goes… everything's cool, just have to wait here… wait! For the 20th time she looked into her compact. Lipstick, check… glasses in place, make up in general– She was startled by the voice.


She looked around and there he was. He smiled as he walked towards her. He was intercepted several times by kids welcoming him back, wanting to know all the gory details. But he fended them off with a good natured joke or two, until he was standing in front of her.

Wow, she thought watching him. God he was so cool. Look at him, nothing shook him, not being kidnaped nothing. She held her purse in both hands, swallowed. Her throat was dry, where was the water fountain? Before she could try, he was there.

He looked down at her suddenly nervous. His adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed and he tried a grin. Gosh, she's beautiful.

"HIHOWAREYOU?" her voice screeched out in a long high rush. Her pale skin colored a sudden faint pink. Oh… God… "Um, I… mean… Hi… how's it going?" She affected her best casual smile, tossing her hair back. Worked in the movies.

He watched her hair entranced. He suddenly realized that his mouth was hanging open and closed it. A quick look around assured him that no one had seen. They were all looking at April. He could see the guys eyeing her, some had their mouths open, others just stared, their eyes large. He suddenly felt annoyed. And put an arm around her shoulders. Yeah, look and weep guys, she's with me. He grinned suddenly feeling very powerful.

God, everyone is staring at me… She looked around behind her glasses. What's wrong? Andrew's arm around her was an anchor. He's touching me… he really likes me. She grinned and pressed a bit against him.

"Come on I'll show you around a bit. What classes are you taking?" Oh, wow.

For a moment she couldn't think. Every breath brought her his smell… nice cologne, soap. "Um… hmmm… oh… got Algebra and elementary calculus right in a row… and there's soc… " She liked math–didn't want to be too much of a brain, though. Popular girls weren't.

He began walking, keeping his arm draped casually over her shoulder.

April had to concentrate not to walk to fast. Between Andrew and this she barely saw the school. Oh… geez, there's that upper-classman girl… The one that kicked the stall door on her first day and made her drop her lipstick in the toilet… She put her arm around Andrew's waist and perked up. Eat your heart out…

Andrew turned his head to tell her that he had Algebra as well, but stopped, his mouth going dry. He could see her breasts move as she walked, one pressed up against him as she put her arm around him. Oh God… He quickly moved his binder across his lap to hide his hardon. He could feel his face burning. He tore his eyes away and wracked his brain for something to say.

"How are you at breasts… I mean, tests?" He winced.

"Huh?" she looked back at Andrew. "Oh… pretty good, I guess… I have time left over, usually." That's it… brag. Dork! she silently chastised herself. "Um, you ok? You look a little… tense?"

"Fine," his voice took that moment to crack and he coughed. "I, um, have Algebra too. Mr. Davis is really enthusiastic about what he teaches. Um, I have French, social, gym, Science. In that order. Tomorrow, gym switches with Health–The world we live in," he made a voice and grinned. "What else do you have?"

April giggled. "Heath… Soc and Spanish… bleah… Mom wants me to be multilingual… 'A broad mind leads to broad horizons…'" she mimicked, standing a little straighter. "Then… gym…" She paused… she hadn't gotten her excuse note to get out of it. She had reasons for wanting to avoid the showers. "Um, who is the PE Teacher?"

"Mr. Tak. He's pretty cool. Great soccer coach."

They were interrupted by the first period bell. Andrew found it hard to concentrate on the math. Thank God she's not in any of my other classes besides Social. I would never get anything done.

The day seemed to breeze by. Both looked forward to the walks between classes and lunch was trying as they couldn't be by themselves. The three she had met early converged on them and dominated most of the lunch hour. Eda kept shooting glances bteween Andrew and April and left half way through the meal. Carlos was just plain morbid as he tried to impress April with his toughness.

April only had eyes for Andrew. She glanced at Eda as she left. Hmmm?

After school April paced on the sidelines watching Andrew play junior high soccer. He was the goalie and man did he look hot. Their team lost 5-3.

Cheering from the sidelines she watched him move, not really understanding the game totally but glad his position involved a lot of crouching and bending over. God, he is such a stud… look at that butt… why does he even pay attention to me…? She pushed the thought to the back of her mind and ran up to him after the game as he headed for the showers and threw her arms around him. "Great game!"

She's hugging me. She feels so good. His arms went around her. "Thanks. But we lost. I wanted to impress…" Idiot. He felt himself blush. He had been very conscious of her watching from the sidelines. He had looked over at her when the play wasn't in his end. He wished that his team had scored more, then she would jump up and down. He felt himself grow hard and let her go quickly, stepping back, his embarrassment growing.

April blinked in the embrace as something poked her belly. Then Andrew stepped back. Idiot… you embarrassed him. But what had… no… Uncontrollably, her eyes dropped to his groin for a split second.

"I should, uh, go shower or something," he mumbled, looking anywhere but at her. His shorts had bulged.

She swallowed. He had a boner. Oh my God… Her first instinct was to wonder who he saw that caused it. Me?! I turn him on. Her stomach filled with butterflies… It looked so large, tenting his shorts like that. She wondered if it hurt. She nodded. "Um… okay… sure… meet you after you're done… ok?"

Andrew dashed into the locker room and took the furthest stall from everyone. I wish I was alone, he thought making sure his back was to the others. Then I could jack off. I wonder if she would let me touch… Naw.

April stood waiting taking a moment to cool down. It didn't work. Good grief… I gave him a boner… wow… me… She couldn't believe it. What had she done… must be something. Wow… She looked at the locker room door… what was taking him so long? (Only 5 seconds had passed.) Hmm… well… he looked, well, awful maybe… oh, who are you trying to kid… Looking around, she bolted, streaking through locker room, and returning to her starting point with only a flapping door to mark her passing.

He toweled off quickly and got dressed, glad that he had worn the loose pants. Wondering where the breeze came from he took a few deep breaths he waved good bye to the coach and walked out into the evening. He looked around.

"Hope you weren't waiting long. Ready to look for a new comic store?"

She stood staring at him for a second before realizing he had spoken. It was an act of sheer will to force, "Sure thing, lets go…" through her dry throat. She couldn't believe she had done that. She'd seen him naked. He was beautiful. Her nipples were stiffened and tingling, outlined sharply against the material of her shirt.

"Great!" He started walking. "I was thinking maybe the one down on Renwood."

He chatted on about comics and the validity of one comic store after another. Three hours later (and a couple of phone calls to let their parents know where they were), Andrew moved dirt with toe as they stood at the back gate to April's house. She listened, even joined when her mind wasn't drifting back to the locker room. And kept her arm around his, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"So," his voice cracked again and he sighed, "decided what movie you want to see tomorrow?"

"Hmm, how about Millennium, I really wanna see if it adapted well to a movie… I mean, Keanu Reeves as Jason…" She smiled. "Either that or Bloodlines… medieval vampires… cool…" If she heard his crack she made no mention. For the first time ever she felt like she could just be herself. "Well, guess… maybe talk you on the phone… maybe…" She clasped her hands behind her back, waiting for something.

"Uh huh." He licked his lips. "Talk to you later." He took off, disappearing quickly.

April watched him leave, crestfallen. He didn't want to kiss me… nothing. But he had a hard-on for me before… might have been some other girl. No, stop being silly. You're a potent beautiful woman, she told herself. Some of her mother's teachings had sort of sunk in. And he likes you for everything that you are… God, I hope he likes me… I really do… oh man… It was Eda… he and Eda had something. Wasn't she at the game? April walked into her house in a thoughtful daze. From her mother's room she heard the gentle strains of Indian music. She was writing. The house smelled of tomatoes, garlic and spices. Her stomach rumbled. Normally she loved mom's pasta but even she couldn't think of food now. Entering her room she tossed herself on the bed and replayed the entire day in her head. Seemingly perfect, before she began to pick out small mistakes, both real and imagined, in her dress and behavior.

Damn… After a few minutes, she got up and checked her email. She could call Janice. Her allotment for long distance calls was still pretty much full. No… she didn't feel like that either. She had to ask mom about the gym note anyway. Getting out of bed, she headed for her mom's room.

She knocked slightly once and stood waiting outside the door. Maybe… maybe she should talk to mom. How bad could it be?

"Hmmm? Come in."

April stepped into the room, tugging self-consciously at her sweater neck. Her mom sat cross legged on the floor, eyes closed, hands lain out, palms up. A lotus position. Her PC sat, on and abandoned, on a near by desk. April sighed. "Um, kinda gotta talk to ya mom… about school and stuff."

"Of course, love," Harmony smiled at her and motioned to the floor in front of her. Once April had settled herself, she asked, "What can I do for you?"

After a moment's pause, April spoke up. "Well, I need to get a note or something for gym… to get out of it… and… well… I… I am going on a date tomorrow." There, she said it. Wait a minute! It is a date… Oh my God… it really is… holy shit!

Harmony frowned. "Where?"

"Just to the movies… with Andrew…" She didn't like the look on her mother's face. But no way was she not going on this… A real live date… with a great cute guy like Andrew!

Harmony winced. My daughter in a dark theater with some horny little bastard pawing at her… "April," she began, then changed her tack when she saw the stubborn look on her daughter's face. "All the theater is is a chance for him to get you in the dark so he can paw you. I really think you should think this over. Maybe a school function…" someplace open "…would be a better first date."

The image of her and Andrew trying to dance, talk or anything in front of a gym full of gawkers and competition filled her head. He had probably been looking at some other girl even today. And anyway… "Andy's not like that at all… he's smart and sweet… likes comics and sci fi… mom… really, he's a gentleman." Better than I am, she thought, as guilt over popping to "scope" him (and a few others) in showers welled up.

"A gentleman, huh? That's a first." She looked at her daughter closely. "What did you really want to ask me?"

"Oh, Mom, you don't even know him… You always said you shouldn't judge on rumor…" She winced a bit under her mom's examination. "He hasn't tried anything…" She paused. "Is that normal? Anyway… you've been with men… they aren't all bad."

Harmony's eyebrows threatened to climb all the way into her hair as she opened her mouth to answer, closed it and sighed. "Okay. I guess it is time."

She rose gracefully to her feet and, grabbing a few books, handed them to April. "I'll be right back."

A few moments later her mother was back with a couple of boxes. Settling down once more she opened her journal and made a notation at the top. "Okay, let's start with a few basic questions. How long have you been regular? You started, let's see," her mother flipped through her journal, "August 5, 1999, right?"

"Mom?!" April flushed soft pink. "What… you wrote it down?!"

"Of course," Harmony looked surprised, "that's the day that you became a woman. Though," she wagged a finger at April, "legally still a minor. I have mine written down, and your sister's. It is very helpful for discussions such as this."

Oh geez, she probably bronzed my first tampon… April thought. "Discussions like what?"

"About sex, and precautions, what to expect, about misconceptions," Harmony ticked each point off. "I think we have covered the human body, both male and female, and the changes that puberty brings, right? Are there any questions you have? Particularly about the male body? You asked if it was normal that he hasn't tried anything."

"Maybe he already has. Has he touched you in any way? This date is already one move. Did you ask or did he? Has he put his arm around you at school? Has he glowered at his friends or seemed impatient with them?"

"And April, baby, if we are going to talk about this and you want honest answers, you are going to have to be honest. I know this is embarrassing, talking to your weird mother about this. But I will try to put aside my feelings on this matter and be honest in my answers. After all, no matter what I say, you are going to continue dating… among other things. Goddess knows I did."

"Yeah, he put his arm around me… ok… he wasn't mackin' on me or anything like that." How would you know? whispered Ms. Insecurity. It's not like its happened before. She ignored the stray thought. "And yeah, we went over the body… I mean heck, we watched a movie… I don't have any… well…" she trailed off.

Harmony smiled reassuringly. "Yes?"

"Nothing… nothing… um… no… nothing at all." She gave her mother a sickly grin.

Harmony reached out and gently touched April's shoulder. "Ask, April. It is better to have knowledge then not. I wish my mother, or someone, had spoken to me about these things. I was always so frightened and sometimes ashamed, I didn't know if what I was feeling was natural or perverted. And my first time was almost a disaster. Ask, daughter."

April sighed. Here goes. "Is it really weird to get, well… well… to really like a guys smell?" She winced. "I mean, not just like cologne or something… but his normal smell like when he is little sweaty?"

Harmony smiled. "Do you remember when we took that summer course in Wildlife? How the teacher said that different animals give off different scents especially when they were in heat? It was used to make sure the opposite sex knew when it was time to mate. Well, the human animal is always in heat, so to speak. It is more then natural, April. Which is why I find it amusing that people make such a big fuss over sweat."

She gazed at her daughter thoughtfully. "You were going to say something else. How did his smell make you feel?"

April was relieved at least a little. "Well… you know… sort of… well… interested in… well… you know." She shuffled her feet, not able to look her mother in the eyes just then.

"Interested in what exactly April? Touching him? What?"

"Yes… touching him… yes… it made me… excited… all right…" Her blush deepened still more.

Uh oh, Harmony thought. She was silent for a few moments. "It's… it's okay to feel that way. Is there anything else you would like to ask on this subject?"

"I, well… kinda abused my powers…" her voice dropped to a whisper.

"What do you mean?" Harmony asked, frowning, trying to come up with some way her daughter could have abused her powers in this situation.

"wellhewasintheshoweryouknowafterthegameandthenhewentinanditookalongtimesoso soIwnenttoseeifwewasoktoseegawdthisissoembarrasing!" April slumped.

"Whoa," Harmony held up her hands, hating when April did that. "Slowly. You went into the shower?!" Harmony stared at her daughter for what seemed an eternity, shock and surprise all over her face. Then her mouth twitched. "Was he done his shower? Was anyone?" Her daughter, the peeping tom.

April felt really small. She shook her head. "No, ma'am…" Withering under her mother's gaze, she looked away.

"It's okay," Harmony sighed and moved some of April's hair out of her face.

"April, relationships can be very difficult. I am certainly no expert in that field. I could tell you to listen to your heart and the rest of the bullshit. But here is the truth: you will get hurt. Maybe not today, or tomorrow or even this year. Pain is a part of any relationship. We can't see inside someone and know what they are thinking and we are all afraid of looking foolish or stupid."

"Everyone is insecure. Especially when they find someone they are attracted to. Someone that makes them feel things that they had never felt before, think thoughts that had never surfaced. 'Does he like me?' 'Am I pretty enough?' 'Is he looking at that other girl?' This sort of thing turns quickly to, 'I am not pretty enough…'"

"You are a very beautiful woman, April Hanewick. You are not quite grown completely, but that will come slowly. I am not going to tell you what you feel is wrong. Or even that you don't know what you feel or that you are too young. Neither am I telling you to go out and sleep with anyone that comes along."

"Giving of the body, whether kissing, holding hands, touching, or intercourse, is a choice and a gift. Choose carefully to whom you give it."

"I am going to make an appointment with a doctor tomorrow, and we will get you on the pill. I am going to show you all about condoms, the different kinds, how to apply one." Harmony paused, remembering the vibrator incident. "I will let you figure out how to apply it erotically. But remember this. One, birth control is not a 100 percent thing. Two, I will never be angry if you become pregnant, as long as you took the proper precautions to see that it wouldn't happen. Three, it is always your choice. Four, I will always answer any questions you have, and five, there will be pain, and blood. Especially if it is his first time, too. It is nothing to be ashamed of."

Harmony jotted some notes down and then opened the box, bringing out an average sized dildo.

April blinked, sorting through the rush of information. The Pill? Condoms? Pregnant… Jumping Jesus, I'm just going to the movies… What is she doing? Is this all springing from just that? Her mind reeled, then she actually focused on what her mom had in her hand.

Harmony looked up and realized that instead of comforting her daughter, she had scared April. Carefully, she put the dildo down and looked April in the eyes. "Hon, I don't expect you to need any of this tommorrow night, or even any time soon. I just want you to have it when you need it."

"I don't want you in the back seat of someone's car, without protection, wondering if he was supposed to have his hand down your pants, when you decide to stick your hands down his pants and finally feel the need to have him inside you."

"Um… whoa… simmer down, Mom… it's just a trip to the movies… ok?" Holding up her hands in the defensive posture she continued. "I know not to let things get out of control…" Like running into the boy's locker room… April ignored the mental voice. "Is there something… well… did something… happen to you?"

Harmony blinked. "Happen to me?" She gave a self-mocking smile. "Where do you think Mary came from? But that doesn't matter, April. I know it's just a trip to the movies. However, knowing not to let things get out of control and them getting out of control are two different things. What happened today, for instance."

April winced. Tag… ouch.

She held up a hand. "You are not the only one who does stuff like that, April. It's not wrong," precisely, "and it is not unique. I just want you to have all the information at your fingertips, so to speak." Harmony grinned at her own pun, and tried to get at what her younger daughter could be thinking.

"Okay… okay… I get what you mean…" She did really. Sometimes she didn't have the best impulse control. But did she want to have sex with Andrew? A part of her screamed 'YES!' Rationally, she knew she'd just met him, though… but he was so cool and sweet and sexy… but then again… oh, Mom was talking again.

Harmony was indeed talking and showing as well. She brought out all the condoms she had and explained the difference between them, showed her where the instructions were in case she forgot and then preceded to show April how to put one on.

"Any questions?"

"Um, nope…" Geez… there were like… how many kinds…? Man… somebody thought way too much about that… "I think I got it. Man, there are a lot of them. Um… is that," she pointed to the dildo, "um… the right, um… size?"

Harmony was amused. "Men come in all different sizes, hon. That is one reason there are so many different condoms." She squashed her curiosity. I do not want to know the size of my daughter's boyfriend's cock. Nope, don't want to know that.

"Oh. Well… hmmmm…" April thought back to the shower room. "Yeah… they do… Does it matter… I mean, when you do it and if it does why do, um, short guys ever get sex?" She was really curious. She'd heard a lot of jokes about it and this seemed a good time to ask. "I was just wondering."

Harmony blinked. So that's what it feels like to be hit by a train. Well you wanted her to be open, told her you'd answer any questions.

"Wellll, there is no one answer on that one because everyone has different tastes." Harmony chewed on her lip as she tried to formulate an answer. "Okay. This is only my view of it. It's not necessarily right. I have never found a male that I particularly like as a person, so I am more interested in size. This, for instance, is about the size I enjoy the most. However, size may not be an issue if you generally like the guy."

"Pleasure begets pleasure. 'Giving is better than receiving' holds true in sex as well as present giving. Though a more accurate way of saying it would be, giving can be as good, sometimes better, than receiving. Some women prefer longer or wider. Fay prefers short and wide. So, there is only an answer where the individual is concerned. I am sure that you will find out what size you prefer…"

Dear God, did I sound like I just told her to go fuck the soccer team and find out what size she likes? "Um," Harmony spoke up, wondering if the damage was already done, "that is to say that eventually you may find out which size you like best."

April nodded. "Make sense I guess… oh and one more thing…" She looked up at her mother. "We'll need a ride…"

"Sure. You actually want me to meet him?"

"Yeah Mom… you're not that bad." Oh, yeah… nice way to put it… real nice… April mentally slapped herself on the forehead.

Harmony smiled. "Thank you, I'll try to be on my best behavior." An odd look passed over her face. "You know, this wouldn't make a bad story."

She looked at April. "If you would like to try, put down what you are feeling, thinking, and so on. Develop a character around these things, a setting, and explore the possibilities. You may even be able to work a few things out in your own mind. I do that sometimes. Once you are done we could edit it, talk it over, and if it is halfway good, we could ship it off to my editor. What do you think?"

"Wow… um… I dunno." The sudden change in topic had caught her off guard. "Sure… yeah… sounds like fun!" It did, really. She had never tried writing before, figuring her mom was to good to even try to be like… but why not? "Oh… one more thing… I need a note for gym class…"

"Sure, hon, no problem. I'll have it for you in the morning."

"Okay… I'm gonna go do some jogging." It wasn't entirely true… she was gonna jog, but… "Then I'll get started on the story." Getting to her feet, she hugged her mother tightly. "You're weird sometimes… but I really love you." With that she headed out, after stopping by her room to pick up a few things, to the back yard. Once sure she was out of sight, she changed into her costume. Velocity had been lax in her duties. It was time for a patrol.

Monday 10:30 pm

April finished hiding her costume and then rummaged in the cupboards for some snacks. A pretty quiet night. As she gained the top of the stairs, she noticed that her door was closed and there was a piece of paper stuck to it.

There's pizza in the fridge.

Oh, yeah, your young man called, said he'd up
till midnight.


With a squeal, she tore the note off and closed her door. Throwing herself on the bed, she grabbed her phone and speed dialed.

The phone picked up on the second ring. "Hello?" came Andrew's wonderfully sexy voice.

"HiAndrewhowyadoing?" She got herself under control, gathering her thoughts, and played back at 1/10 speed. "Hey there… sorry I missed your call, I was out jogging…" She played with the phone cord, twirling it around her finger. "Yeah… just looking around town… uh huh… yeah, it's great." His voice is sooo smooth… she thought, rolling onto her back. "Yeah, that was my mom… she said she'd give us a ride if your dad is busy." Ohgodohgod… it's tommorow… "No, she doesn't mind. Did you get the Mag7 limited edition… no? Get it–it is sooo cool!"

The two chatted for almost an hour before Andrew had to go. April sighed happily. Life couldn't get any better.

Tuesday, May 30. Cookston JHS, lunch hour

April waited by the cafeteria doors, fidgeting. She'd picked out a pair of denim cut off shorts that hugged her lean thighs, with a loose belt and a short t-shirt that left her belly bare. A pair of leather half boots completed the outfit. She hoped it was all right. About the only anatomical feature she as pround of was her stomach. It was flat and firm, the abs well-defined without being too prominent. She'd really dressed in a hurry and felt a little… exposed. She had overslept after talking with Jenny for a few hours oline last night, mostly about Andrew. She was craning her neck trying to spot Andrew when arms went around her from behind. April eeped,looking around, "Whowhatwhy!?"

Andrew grinned, "You look great." Is she flaunting? "Sorry I missed you this morning, but you were a little late."

She smiled, the expression perhaps a tad manic. He thinks I look great… OOOh God… "Uh umm… yeah… well… overslept a bit… you know how it is." That didn't sound tooooo corny… yeah, right.

They walked into the cafetieia and Andrew slid his arm around her waist, carefully avoiding her bare skin. Did she want me to? God, this is confusing. They both stopped.

A shiver ran through her as his arms slipped around her. Wow… he's so warm… still smells like flowers though… but I know why… His arm stayed away from her bare midriff. Prolly doens't wanna touch my groddy pale skin… can't blame him… I look like the poster girl for Cave Life Monthly…

No one was eating. They were all either gathered around the shouting match, or standing on tables trying to get a look. Hoping for a fight.

"…here first."

"We can set it up if we want. It's a free country."


"Well, I don't think she counts. I never even heard of a hero called Ivy. You're making it up."

Andrew tensed and then, muttering under his breath, started pushing through the crowd. A half dozen kids stood squared off against each other, both sides angry. One of the students wore a button — Diamond Facets.

April blinked, following Andrew through the crowd, trying to catch a familiar face to ask just what the heck was going on… She could see one of the teachers making his way towards the crowd.

"Hey Andy," the guy with the button called out, "tell 'em that they can't open a fan club because Facets is already here."

"Hey!" one of the others called out, "Ivy rescued you, man…"

The students started talking all at once, trying to win through sheer volume. Suddenly a loud, piercing whistle stunned everyone to silence. Andrew stood there, his hands on his hips, glowering at everyone equally.

"Look at you guys. I'm ashamed, and both Diamond and Ivy would be too. Do you think if they met on the street they would start arguing over who was there first and who should be protecting the city? We started Facets up here because we liked what Diamond was doing and what she stood for."

"And she's drop dead gorgeous," someone shouted from the back. There was general agreement.

Andrew held up his hand and the crowd fell silent. "There is no reason that Ivy can't have a fan club here as well. No reason they can't exist at the same time, and every reason why they should."

He turned to the more vocal of the Ivy group. "How many memebers do you have?"

"Um, just us four."

"Well, now you have five." Andrew held out his hand.

"Andy, you can't do that–you're Facets president."

"And I still am." Andrew looked the kid right in the eyes. "Why don't you, Kellie, show these guys what goes into setting up a fan club."

He turned and addressed the crowd, "There is no reason why two heros can not be admired at the same time."

There were noddes of agreement and the crowd began to disperse. Kellie walked away with four kids, his arms waving as he explained. I can't believe Mom has a fan club. Andrew shook his head and then what he had just did hit him. Oh my God. I just gave a public speech. Ack.

April felt a thrill as she watched Andrew take charge. He was so strong, so confident. Her hear fluttered in her chest. After it was over she walked up to him and took his hand. "That was great."

He gave her a small smile. "They would have seen it if their emotions hadn't been in the way," he demurred, but he stood a little taller, a little\ straighter.

April smiled and nodded in agreement. Impulsivly she leaned over and gave him a a quick peck on the cheek.

The rest of the day went quickly. April closed the kitchen door and raced upstairs. Andrew would have walked her home, but he had to go change. He'd be here at six. April hoped her mom hadn't forgotten.

She ran hy her mother's room to remind her, knocking rapidly. "Mom… mom, you ready to take us? He'll here at 6… mom? Mom?" In her haste she had forgotten one thing, her note to the PE teacher.

The door swung open. "Take it easy, April. I am ready." Harmony smiled with amusement at her younger daughter.

Harmony was wearing what April referred to as hippy clothes. A floral print wrap-around skirt, sandals, lots of braclets, a bathing suit top and a light blouse tied at the middle, John Lennon sunglasses perched on her nose. "I'm going to have some of that leftover pizza. Do you want it warm or cold?"

"Cold's fine." April looked over her mother's wardrobe. Not too bad… she nodded to herself.

Six o'clock came way too fast. April had barely finished eating when the front doorbell rang. Her mother made as if to answer, but April dashed out ahead of her. Andrew stood in the doorway. Black slacks, sneakers, and a black silk shirt.

April stood in the door, gaping for a moment. Man… he looks so good… She had changed for the date, dark blue skirt that fell her to her knees, matching jacket over a loose white blouse. She taken some 20 minutes just making herself up, trying to darken her pale complexion, redden her lips and search for any dreaded pimples. She still didn't feel quite up to him. "Andy, hi! Come on in… this is my mom… Mom this is Andrew." From over his shoulder she gave Harmony a "please don't weird out on me" look (patent pending).

Andrew stared. Man oh man. With a start he realized that both women were looking at him. He flushed. What was the question? "Um, hi." It seemed to be the right response.

Harmony smiled a little and gave her daughter a once-over. A little heavy on the makeup but definitly a brain-stopper. She winked at April, "Okay, let's roll. Where am I going?"

"Uh, the Ciniplex." Andrew leaned over the front seat and gave her directions. After a few moments of silence he cleared his throat and spoke up.

"So, what do you do, Ms. Hanewick?"

Harmony raised an eyebrow and darted her daughter a quick look. Did April prep the kid? He seems nice enough. Does he have a sense of humor? "That's supposed to be my line."

Andrew blinked, and replied deadpan, "Why? Don't you know what you do?"

Harmony laughed, "No, I am supposed to ask you what you do."

"Me? I don't do anything. I go to school, play soccer and collect comics."

"Well," Harmony grinned into the rear view mirror, "that's something. What subject do you like, which are you good at?"

"English and social for both."

"Well I write stories, mostly romance, a few erotica, I have done a couple of historical novels and one non-fiction."

April winced at the mention of erotica but Andy seemed cool with it.

"Wow. What pen name?"

"Differs. Do you know any word games?"

April couldn't believe it. A few minutes later the two of them were playing a complicated word game that seem to involve one giving a word and the other saying another one that had something to do with the first and started with the first letter of the first one. Then the other responded by giving a word that was the opposite of the one that the second person had given and started with the second letter of the first word. From there April was totally lost.

Great, Mom's making look like a dink in front of him. She tried very hard not to pout and to come up with something to say as well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2000, around 3 p.m. Midland Park

The day was one of those rare days in New London, where the sun burned hotly and no breeze stirred. The sky was and unblemished blue, marred only by the occasional passing jet, or the flutter of birds.

As such Midland was packed, even on a weekday. Vendors were out in full force, as were the mimes. Ivy spotted one of the equine patrol, riding along the green, following the many bike and jogging paths. Joggers choked the path, some with dogs, others by themselves. Picnicers, university students playing frisbee and the seagulls were in heaven.

The area fairly hummed with sensations. Walking, running, sitting. Ivy kept her connection to a fine thin line. She remembered the last time with the garden concert. She kept to the trees using her natural coloring to flit from one place to the next. It amused her that these people had no idea that she was there. She glanced briefly at the sun. Soon it would be time for Kate to get home.

The thought filled her with a curious expectation. Similar to her thought of Jon when she waited for him but a touch more… erotic and eager. She shook her head. These new feelings were so strange. Best to just enjoy the music.

Ivy blinked, wondering if thoughts of Kate were affecting her mind. For there she was, her oversized bag slung over one shoulder, a wide comfortable skirt with a billowly blouse. She was wearing her sunglasses, her hair tied back in a single tail. She was walking along the tree line, pausing every now and then to observe some flower or plant.

Ivy moved as close as possible, startled by her appearace. Once she was in earshot, Ivy asked, "Kate? What are you doing here?"

Kate jumped and managed not to look around. She smiled. "Trying to find you, silly. I never realized just how big Midland is. I've been walking for over an hour." She slipped into the tree line.

Ivy smiled. "Looking for me? Shouldn't you be at Hybrid? Luis would have a fit." She called the shrubbery closer together to give them more cover from prying eyes. Walking up to Kate, Ivy kissed her softly. "It's great to see you. I was thinking of you. I find these concerts very soothing… will you be able to share it with me?"

Kate smiled, and then shifted. "Well, I remember you taking some early afternoons off. You said that Head of Projects needed some perks." She watched Ivy closely, breath held.

Ivy nodded. "Yes… I suppose so…" She paused. "I am not offended… someone had to get the position, and you are the most qualified… after myself, of course…" She smiled, a vine reaching out to caresss Kate's cheek softly. It was easier to touch her like that, rather than Andrew or Rebecca. While it did not feel so sordid to her now, Ivy still couldn't shake thinking of them as more… intimate parts of her body. They aren't unless you want them to be… anymore so than your fingers are, she thought. Logical, but when is emotion logical?

Kate relaxed. "I would love to share the concert with you." She sat down and opened her bag. "I wasn't really sure about food and drink so I covered all my bases. I brought cold cut sandwiches and bottled water, plus some of that premimum fertilizer that Alrond makes." She grinned up at Jane and held up a foil bag.

Ivy nodded, taking the bag. "I'll understand if you really don't want to watch me eat this." Inside she was rather startled by hunger she felt. Alrond's mixes were some of the best. She remebered that from working with him. The park soil had been a little leeched by the rain and this supplement would help. "And the sandwiches are great, too… tuna, I hope…" Ivy grinned. "And if I know you… chocolate cookies…" It had been their favorite lunch before she had changed, on the long breaks they took between brainstorms. Ivy sat crosslegged and patted the ground beside her. "I am going to miss these performances in the winter…" And the cold may force me to go dormant, she added silently. After Kate sat down, she said, "Oh… I can definitely confirm the Fueler/Hiskins studies on the beneficial impact of rhythmic sound on plant metabolism."

"Really? Hmmm. You know, you could probably publish some great papers." She took a swig of water and then reached out and opened the foil bag. "Did you want a spoon or what?"

"Please…" She took the bag and began eating. The look of pleasure on her face was extreme. "Thank you, Kate. I needed this. Never thought I would consider Alrond a great chef…" She smiled. It was good to be able to laugh about it for once. Kate seemed so at ease with her. "Yes, I could write from a first hand perspective. Kate… can I tell you something… something truly bizarre…?"

Kate smiled. More bizarre then the fact my love life is now a tabloid headline? "Sure." She bit into a sandwich.

"I don't want you to stop… sleeping with Jon… if you still want to… he needs it… the support, I think, and I don't want to deny him." She paused, letting Kate digest her words, and finished off the fertilizer sample.

Kate dropped the sandwich and then, muttering, fished it out of her lap. She looked at Ivy with confusion. "You want me to sleep with Jon? Jane, you were ready to kill me for just this problem."

"Not kill you… perhaps injure you badly." She stopped realized that Kate likely would not appreciate her humor. "Sorry… yes, I was angry, betrayed… but I know now that you did not want to hurt me… that you were a solace to Jon and think he is a good man… to cut him off like that may hurt him terribly, then to find out that I was… responsible… what would he think? I don't want either of those things to happen. Only if you still want him… I do not want you to think I am trying to use you as a prostitute for him."

Kate took a deep breath, shook her head, looked up at Ivy and shook her head again. "That… That's the weirdest thing anyone has ever said to me. Love, he doesn't deserve you. I'll have to think about this. Are you sure it wouldn't drive you nuts, knowing that we were fucking?"

Ivy shook her head. "I want him happy… I know you can make him that way. He slept with you thinking I was dead. I slept with you in desire. I can't stand on any moral high horse about this." Ivy nodded, more to herself than to Kate. "As long… as long as you still want me as well…"

"As long as I still…" Kate answered that one the only smart way. She pulled Ivy into her arms and kissed her passionately.

Suddenly, screams split the air.

Ivy looked up. "What the hell?" She sent her awareness out, into the Green, seeking information as she slid to her feet. "Wait here, please… you'll be safe."

Kate grabbed her arm. "Be careful."

Ivy stepped through the living curtain she had created and looked about, trying to find the source of the screams.

Julian eased back on the grass. The concert was well under way and he felt a little melancholy. His armor/costume was beginning to itch. But he had not had chance to go home yet. His hand went out to his guitar case, which had been cleverly modified to hold his equipment. Clutching it to him, he fell asleep. It was easier if he wasn't alone, because then, he wouldn't dream.

He was rudely awakened by fearful screams. The outdoor concert had turned into a mass panic. People were stampeding, struggling to get out the way of something.

The outdoor concert had turned into a mass panic. People were stampeding, struggling to get out the way of something. Ivy reached through the 'Green'. She felt the shuddering impact of something large. And then it came into view.

Julian rolled under the small stage and quickly shucked his street clothes. Slipping on his mask, he popped open the guitar case. Inside was his pride. A 250 lb. composite bow of his own make. He slapped the six arrow quick draw case onto its slot and slipped the 20 arrow case over his shoulder, securing it tightly. He then checked his arrow head belt and rolled back out, tucking the bow close to his body.

Slightly smaller then a bull elephant, about twice as long as it was wide, strode a creature straight out of science fiction. Its skin was a scaly grey, its three eyes were large, taking up most of its flat head. Its mouth could easily swallow a horse, as it was so ably demonstrating. The officer lay on the ground firing up at the beast. The bullets hit, some going in, causing the beast to roar in pain and toss its head.

Longbow advanced quickly, fluidly notching one of his concussion arrows. He was tall, with broad shoulders and massive arm muscles. His suit was of a dusky grey, perfect for flirting from shadow to shadow. When he was close enough, he drew back the bowstring of a similarly colored bow, his arm muscles straining through his costume, and let his arrow fly into the mouth of the beast that stood over the cop.

The arrow flew true, denoting deep inside the beast. It balanced on four massive legs, and its tail smashed through the chairs and into a small clump of trees. The 'Green' trembled under this onslaught, as the beast trembled and slowly tipped on its side, shaking the ground.

Off to one side, Julian could see another creature. A female, green skinned, with vines snaking from her person. She hugged the treeline. Most of the panicked crowd would pass her. Longbow made a note to follow the green woman after the combat.

Then others appeared. They were bipedal, stood just under 7 feet, the only clothing they wore were bandoliers, similar to crossing guards, from which hung various crude weapons. Their bodies were hunched, and their arms hung past their knees. They were lightly furred, a dusty grey.

Both of them howled, high-pitched screaming that seemed to vibrate off bone. One raised one of its crude weapons above the cop, sending out an ululating cry. The cop looked up, snatching at his baton, dropping his now empty weapon. The other creature loped off towards the fleeing crowd, its movements quick.

Ivy was stunned, stepping into this scene from a nightmare. She had to make a split second decision. The crowd was full of older people and children; hopefully, the police office could hold his on for a few more seconds. Reaching out to the green, she stirred it sending it into a frenzy of growth. Plants and grasses swelled into a tangling wall of vegetation, trying to block the creature running after the crowd.

The beast wailed as it skidded to a stop. It sniffed and danced back from the unnatural growth. It turned and spotted the bowman. Reaching into its belt, it brought forth a strange contraption of string and stones. It spun the contraption over its head, then let fly.

Longbow drew another concussion arrow to cheek and sighted. A faint whistling sound was all the warning he received. But it was all that saved him from having the weapon wrap around his neck. The stones instead slammed into his face.

The force and unexpectedness staggered the bowman. Longbow felt wetness ooze from his nose under the mask.

The second creature brought his club-like weapon down on the cop. The cop barely got his baton up to deflect the blow. The creature screamed that strange ululating cry and fell on the officer, trying to get ahold of the officer's throat.

Ivy could see that policeman wouldn't last long. She sent her tendril-like vines snaking out through the earth. They burst from the ground around the ape thing, grabbing for him, trying to use surprise to offset his likely superior strength.

She thought to herself, I hope these things are superstitious… the "earth" turning against them might throw them. The vines slipped around the beast and with an effort that Ivy could feel, lifted him off the policeman. Both were now screaming. The police officer stared and then scrambled for his gun, trying to reload it.

The beast started hacking at the vines with a crude curved, flint knife. With a cry the other rushed over to help his comrade.

Behind them, the air began to stir. A black circle began to expand, opening to abot 6 feet. A cone spiraling flowed behind it. Ripping free of the vines the two sprang for the vortex.

Ivy paused for a moment, staring at the swirling patch of emptiness. Going home, or somewhere else to cause trouble? Either way, at least one of you needs to stay–someone might want to ask you some questions! She called up the powers of the Green again, sending the plants into seething rapid-fire growth, an explosion of grasses, briars and vines that tried to ensnare the fleeing creatures.

Ivy stared in shock as the creatures left the area in which the vegatation tried to ensnare them in one giant leap that hurtled them through the vortex. The vortex pulsed for a second and then rapidly collasped on itself.

Ivy sighed, mentally cursing herself. They must be amazingly strong… more so than even terran primates. Didn't think they could leap so far so fast… what were they? She started looking around for any injured people… well, those that wouldn't run from her as well. The bowman had taken a nasty crack to the head. She could see the blood seeping from his mask and moved to approach him. She stopped a few feet away. "Are you all right? Nasty hit you took…"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just give me a minute. This is going to leave a nasty lump. By the way, I'm Longbow. Who are you? What were those things? I wonder where they went."

Ivy stepped closer. Was there some protocol for first meetings between superheroes? Now you think you're a superhero… you are slipping. Silencing her little nagging voice she stepped closer. "My name is Ivy. I can treat your wounds. I am… was a physician of sorts." A small white lie. "As for what those things where… or where they went I have no idea…"

Around 6:30 p.m., Cookston's Ciniplex Theaters

As Harmony went to buy the tickets, Andrew leaned over. "Your mom's cool."

"You really think so?" This is unreal… he is so perfect… "She is pretty cool alot of the time… you're–" April stopped herself. "Here she comes with the tickets."

Harmony handed Andrew the tickets along with his change. "I'll be in theater 2 if you guys need anything. Enjoy the movie."

Andrew pocketed his change. "Did you want anything from the snack bar?"

April smiled, shaking her head. "No thanks." Can't let him see me pork out like I usually do. The smell of buttered popcorn hung in the air and followed them into the theatre. "Down front ok?" she asked, looking around for some seats. "It was pretty cool of Mom to get us the tickets… wasn't it?" She sat, slipping her hand onto the rest so that his came down onto it.

Huh? Okay, she wants to hold hands. Andrew licked his lips and settled down in the seat just as the lights went out. Taking a deep breath, he curled his hand around hers, waiting for her to pull away.

Her heart leaping in her chest so much she was sure they could hear it in the back row, she squeezed his hand tightly. Yes, this it… I'm gonna die… She leaned more aginst him as the opening credits starting rolling. "Andrew… that was really cool the way you handled the stuff in the cafeteria…"

He shifted. "It wasn't anything."

The people behind them shushed. They sat for a bit watching Dennis Quaid let some unknown actor chase him around with a sword, making it look easy. Andrew's mind began to wander, stealing glances at April, aware of her warmth against his arm. He shifted a few times trying to get comfortable. She was so hot.

Resting her head on his shoulder, she took in his smell. He is so neat… She had to slip off her glasses to clearly see the movie and tucked them in her purse. "Still want to see Millenium… gotta talk Mom into it, though…"

He suddenly sat up as if goosed.

"Andrew… you all right?" she asked, concerned. Maybe he is not into sci fi movies… no… not that. She tried to read his expression in the dim lighting.

He shook his head and leaned towards her. "Did you feel that?" he whispered. "It was really weird. Like when you're on the Tornado or the Gravitron. My stomach just dropped right out."

April could only shake her head. "No… I didn't… how are you now?"

"Yeah, I feel fine. Weird."

A few minutes later, the screen seemed to bulge and then with a loud, sickening tearing sound, split somewhere in the middle. A being stepped through the tear. It stood about 7 feet tall, hunched over. Long, fur-covered arms hung low near its knees. The only clothing it wore was a bandalier similar to the type crossing guards wore. From it hung various crude weapons.

It was a toss up to who was more stunned–the audience or the being. Seconds ticked by and then with almost a single scream, the audience surged backwards, struggling to get away from the beast.

The beast roared, a high pitched, ululating cry that reminded April of the hunting cry of hyenas. It reached for a curious contrapation made of string and rocks. It began to swirl it over its head .

Andrew grabbed her and bore them both down, moving back under the seats, out of the way of the trampling, fear-filled crowd. She could feel his body against hers, his heart beating almost as fast as hers.

"Holy sh–" she mutteered, then oofed as she was taken down. Great… now what? I got my staff… but can't let Andrew… gee, he is so warm… no, I have a duty to perform. "Andrew… reach my purse, okay?" she hissed urgently. "And I have to ask you to keep a secret." Oh God… what if there are more of these things… Mom!

Andrew looked at her as if she was crazy. This is no time to be fixing makeup or something. He hunted around for the bag anyway, narrowly missed getting his hand stomped in the process. They could both feel the seats above them vibrating with press and stumbling of bodies. Above the screams they could hear that ululating cry, sounding more like a victory cry now.

Andrew finally spotted her purse and edged out to get it. He took that opportunity to look around. "Oh shit…"

Velocity poked her head out, looking around, ready for just about anything.

Two others had joined the first on the stage. Except the first beast wasn't on the stage anymore. It was standing over a prone person, making its victory cry. It then raised the person's head and brought up a sharp-looking instrument.

There was no time. She grabbed up her purse, becoming a blur of pure speed and streaked toward the scene. Drawing her staff, she telescoped it to full length and thrust it out to deflect the blade as it fell, using her momentum to counteract the creature's strength.

The staff swept into the blade's path with a sickening screech. The blade leapt to the side, embedding into one of the seats. The creature howled in frustration and grabbed the offending seat. With a heave of muscle, the seat slowly came free of its bolts.

Velocity swallowed hard. "Geez… definite bricks here… now what?"

From the corner of her eye, Velocity could see the others moving to join their companion. A quick look up the isle showed a bottleneck of pure fear. Several people lay moaning in isle and seats, some pulling themselves forward.

She began twirling her staff, faster and faster, until it cut the air like a propeller, then the fan of a wind tunnel, sending out an explosive gust of wind, hopefully enough to drive the creatures back!

Around 7 p.m., across the street from the Ciniplex

Akemi Rhodes pulled into the parking lot of the Ristan Restrauant across from the Ciniplex. Her mind went back to yesterday and the odd woman she had met. Mrs. Elle Trot was British, in her late 60's, and maternally plump. She also had a directness and an authority about her that had even Akemi setting proper and minding her p's and q's.

The staff of the restraunt they had gone to, hadn't stood a chance. In the short hour they were there, she had revised their custmer relations and improved their service and food quality. The owner had all but begged her to take a manager postion when they were leaving. All from the seat she held across from Akemi, while holding conversation with her.

Not a woman Akemi would want to cross about anything. Mrs. Trot had told Akemi straight out that she would not take a job under Akemi, because she didn't agree with her lifestyle. But since she did owe her dad, about what she wouldn't say, she had two young girls that might fit what Akemi was looking for. Akemi had tried to make it clear that she could only afford one.

I guess not all of Mom and Dad's acquaintances shared their lifestyle, Akemi mused, on her way home after the encounter. But it's just as well: I think I would go mad if I had to actually try to get any work done with that woman around.

That was how she ended up here, meeting with the two young women. One Denise Short, and one Rachel Kennedy. Akemi sighed. Well they would certainly be easier to handle. She sauntered up to the man who was seating patrons. Ahead of her two young women where waiting.

Akemi suddenly recalled the other entry she had selected from her parents' database. D. R… could that be short for "Denise and Rachel"? If they work as a team, I'd hate to have to split them up. But one assistant is not only all I can realistically afford, it's all I would need. Well, let's see how it goes. Who knows, I may not find either one suitable.

The two were of a height about 5'9", athletically built. The one on the right was wearing a conservative business suit, long brown hair tied back in a simple tail. She was watching the other with slight amusement. The other was wearing something that looked like it came straight from Akemi's closet: a black vest over a ruffled white blouse, with a black skirt that just barely came to the tops of her knees. The ensemble was topped off with 6cm black pumps. Her black hair was shoulder length and wave curled. And she was the reason why Akemi was haveing problems getting the man's attention.

The woman was pacing, 4 steps, spin and turn. Each spin showed more of her leg as the skirt spun almost horizontal with the top of her thighs. They were long, tanned and nicely muscled. She seemed unaware of the disturbance she was causing. Her friend wasn't and met Akemi's eyes with a small, what do you do smile.

Akemi returned her half-smile with an inviting grin of her own as she approached. She herself was wearing a figure-hugging navy-blue turtleneck with a dark brown knee-length skirt, and knee-high low-heeled brown boots. A shoulderbag contained her Newton and other essentials. "Excuse me," she said, "but are you by any chance Ms. Short and Ms. Kennedy? I'm Akemi Rhodes. Mrs. Trot gave me your references." She extended her hand first to one, then the other. Then she turned to the maitre'd. "I have a reservation in the name of Rhodes, party of three, nonsmoking," she told him.

The one in the business suit stood up and, smiling, shook Akemi's hand. "I'm Denise and this is Rachael."

"Hi," Rachael smiled and pumped Akemi's enthusatically.

"How do you do," Akemi replied in turn. She also noted to herself what their grips were like as she shook their hands, giving firm shakes of her own.

As they were being led to their table, Akemi tried to size them up as best she could. They do seem to know one another, as I suspected. And however much of a busybody Mrs. Trot may be, she's clearly efficient. Since she referred these two, their competence can hardly be in question. Though, if they are that competent, I wonder why they're currently unemployed.

They're also both attractive, each in her own way. Aside from that, though, it's like looking at day and night. They could hardly be more different. The main thing, then, is to see which, if either, of them, will be the more professionally and personally compatible with me, as well as comfortable with the kind of work we'll be doing. It might be simpler if I could interview them separately instead. As it is, seeing how they eat, and their tastes in food, may provide some additional insight.

As the three ordered, Rachael telling the waiter to surprise her, Denise began the conversation.

Akemi cocked her head slightly at this, but said nothing.

"Mrs. Trot has informed us that you are looking for an executive sectary for your company, Flying Unicorn Productions. She also informed us of the salary range you are offering. We have a propition for you if you are interested."

Rachael broke in, "And we have both seen your CD. Good stuff, it's just what Canada needs."

Denise smiled at her friend and once again shared a look with Akemi.

Akemi kept the polite smile on her face, inclining her head in their direction. "I'm glad you like it. And since you've seen it, it saves having to explain the work we'd be doing. By all means, let's cut to the chase."

Denise frowns, and takes a sip of her drink, "If you would be amiable, we would both like to work for you at the one salary. It will give you access to a secretary at any time, we'll be making the same as we are now…"

Rachael piped in, "And we'll each have more time off."

At that point a beeper went off. Six tables around them check beeper. Denise glanced down at her belt and with a worried look excused herself.

"Is something wrong?" Akemi asked.

"Well," Rachael sighed, watching her friend hurry to a phone, "you see, this is the real reason why we're making this proposal. Denise's mom is ill and Denise takes family seriously. Whenever her mom calls, off Denise goes. We've been living off what I make and what Denise has saved. But she's the type that has to work, you know."

"That's too bad," Akemi said. "How serious is her mother's illness?"

"Pretty serious. It's more on the mental side," Racheal sighed and took another sip of her drink.

"Oh, I see," Akemi replied, comprehension dawning over her features. "You mean she's a hypochondriac?"

"Welllll. Yes, among others. She sometimes gets paranoid, and stuff like that. Its hard on Denise, we never know what her mother's going to do next."

"I can understand Denise's wanting to work," Akemi said. "I like having the freedom to do what I want, but I want to do something with that freedom, not just sit around or party all the time."

"Well, the two of you will get along fine." Racheal gave a slow smile. "I'd rather be partying."

Akemi let a similar smile spread over her face. "Don't get me wrong," she replied. "By 'work' I don't mean 'drudgery.' I'm doing something I enjoy, and I hope that you and Denise will enjoy it too. Furthermore," and here she leaned in close to Rachael, in mock-conspiratorial fashion, "I'm a firm believer in that old adage about 'all work and no play.'"

Rachael laughed, "And it seems we'll get along fine too."

"I get the impression you've the impression you've worked on this sort of job sharing basis before. Since you both seem happy with the idea, I'd like to try it out. The only thing I'm concerned about is whether we can all stay coordinated, but adequate recordkeeping and communication should alleviate that."

"We try. We've gotten quite good at it too."

"I'm glad to hear it," Akemi said brightly. "Because I'm going to want a lot more than just filing and word-processing. I'll need someone to be my right- and left-hand man as the situation requires, someone with whom I can establish mutual trust and respect. In fact, I wouldn't want to work with anyone with whom that wasn't possible."

"Oh, you'd be surprised at the things we are capable of." Racheal grinned.

Akemi looked genuinely interested, but any further comment she might have had just then was cut short by Denise's return.

Denise returned to the table. "Please forgive me, Ms. Rhodes, but I have to go."

"Don't worry, Denise, I can handle it. What is it this time?"

Denise glanced at Akemi, and back at Rachael. "She thinks there is someone trying to break in downstairs."

"Breaking in?" Akemi said, her expression and voice full of concern. "Should we perhaps call the police?"

"And please, both of you, call me 'Akemi.' There's no need to be so formal."

"All right, Akemi." Denise gave an attempt at a smile. "And no. She has already called the police," her voice took on a tired quality, "oh about 3 dozen times this month alone."

"Oh dear," Akemi said sympathetically. "That's a pretty serious case of hypochondria indeed. Well, take care. I hope everything will be all right."

Denise paused and gave Racheal an unreadable look. "Thank you."

"Oops, sorry about that," Akemi said to Rachael after Denise had left. "If that got you into trouble with Denise, you can blame it on me."

"It'll be okay."

Racheal's eyes widened as she looked out the window behind Akemi. "I wonder what's going on over there? The movie can't have been that bad."

Akemi turned. A panicked crowd boiled out of the Ciniplex.

"What the hell…?" Akemi breathed, her eyes narrowing.

The crowd was in a true panic. However, it looked like the action was happening inside. Vehicles screeched as the crowd surged onto the street. A few seconds later, the crowd hit the restraunt, shaking the glass. They began to spread out. Some headed for cars but the rest just ran.

Akemi recoiled from the sight of the mob hitting the restaurant windows. What could put an entire theater crowd into such a panic? Fire? A bomb threat? A terrorist attack…? What?

She stood up. "Iya na yokan…" I've got a bad feeling… To Rachael she said, "Stay here. I'm going to try and see what's going on, and call the police if need be. You go ahead and eat. I'll cover the bill." I don't seem to have much of an appetite lately anyway, she added to herself. With that, she headed toward the cashier, and the exit.

"Wait…" Racheal called out, beginning to stand.

Akemi spun on the balls of her feet at the sound of Rachael's voice. The look on her face was harder-edged than it had been. If she didn't know better, Rachael would hardly believe that this was the same woman she had just been sharing leisurely dinner conversation with.

"There isn't time to discuss this," she said matter-of-factly. "Unless you can handle yourself in a straight-up fight, you'll be safer with a wall between you and whatever's going on out there." I hope, she added mentally. "I'll be back as soon as I can. And I won't stick you with the bill, I promise."

Akemi wove through the panicked crowd with the ease of a sailor on a sea-tossed ship. She reached the doors and fought her way in. A few of the theater workers were trying to help people exit in an orderly fashion.

A woman in a flower print wrap around and an arm covered with braclets was standing on the food counter, hugging the wall. She was anxiously watching those leaving from theater 4. She was in her late thirties, early 40's but was in fairly good shape. She suddenly straightened.


A young black kid about 13 or 14 pushed his way over to her. She helped him up on the counter. Most of the people had already fled, so Akemi could easily hear their conversation.

"Where's April?"

"She's still in there. We got separated. There are 3 of them. They tried to cut someone's throat, but someone interfered. I didn't get a good look. Too fast."

Fast? Killers? And with someone still inside? OK, I think I've got the picture.

The kid seemed relatively calm, worried more then scared.

"Oh, Goddess," the woman muttered. "Stay here."

She then started to get down from the counter. It was obvious she was going back into the theater.

"Shit no," Akemi breathed, "she can't go in there." After a quick look around, she started running in the same direction. As she hit her stride, she muttered, "Jade–Henshin."

The transformation hit her in mid-step. Suddenly Jadestorm was covering ground much faster than Akemi had.

As the woman headed for the doors, Jadestorm headed her off, long jade tresses streaming out behind her. "Wait. I heard what you were saying. Get yourselves someplace safe. I'll go in and get the girl who's still in there. But first I need to get an idea of the situation, preferably without giving myself away to whoever's in there."

With that, she turned toward the door, attuning her hyper-enhanced hearing to pick up sounds from the room beyond it.

She could easily pick up snarling and the occasionaly howl. There was a sound as if a wind blew through the theater. The woman gave her a once over and then noding went back to the kid.

Upon seeing the woman backing away, Jadestorm opened the door and slipped inside, trusting to her nightvision to enable her to get around if the lights were out.

The theater was dark, broken only by the still flickering movie. Jadestorm could make out a commotion down by the stage. The screen was torn down the middle and two large ape-like beings, well over 7 feet tall, brandishing crude weapons, slunk near the stage.

There was a faint sound as if a wind had suddenly appeared in the theater.

"Yes! Okay, monkey boys… don't wanna play no more, huh? I do got at least 9 or 10 rungs on the evolutionary ladder on ya!" With that, Velocity became a blur of motion, grabbing up her purse and dashing by them, striking each in turn with her staff.

The two beasts staggered under the blows from Velocity's staff. One reached out and somehow grabbed the end of it. With a small cry of surprise, Velocity found the world tipping straight up as her forward motion was arrested. Fortunatly, she had just finished doing up the last of her costume.

Yikes! These guys are way faster than they look! Most dudes can't touch me at full speed! Velocity turned to face them, stabbing her staff out at the one who grabbed her. She had to back them off and keep their attention at the same time.

Jadestorm blinked as she made her way down to the stage. The slight motion materialized into a young girl in a dark suit. The girl from the garden Sunday night.

Hey, that's…what's-er-name…Velocity. I guess you never know who you'll meet next in this town. Better see if I can give her a hand.

With that, Jadestorm dashed down the aisle toward the action.

Velocity thrust her staff at the beast's head in a blur of motion. Unfortunately, she was concentrating too hard on keeping his attention and keeping out of the way. Not a single blow landed effectively.

The beast kept his gaze on the blur in front of him. His companion made gibbering sounds and backed hastly away. His foot snagged on his downed buddy.

Jadestrom found herself close enough to help the beast out. As he began to fall backwards, her arm streaked jade fire. The green energy swirled around her hand as it lept down in a perfectly executed Kung fu strike. Where hand and chest connected a discharge of green light flashed in the semi-darkness of the theater. With an audible oof, the beast went down hard, slamming into his buddy who was still trying to rise, and recover his breath.

The concussive force of Jadestorm's strike translated through the one into the other. Both went flat and unmoving. Jadestorm settled into a defensive stance.

Velocity's eyes went wide as she spotted the action as she sped back and forth in front of the last beast.

Damn… she took out two… I can't deal with one. She felt herself flush with embarrasment.

"Well, that worked very nicely," Jadestorm said. "Looks like he got more of a 'hand' from me than he'd have liked." Moving toward the girl, she said, "You're Velocity, right? My name's Jadestorm. I was in the area when the shit hit the fan, and I heard there was a girl still trapped in here. So I came to see if I could help. Are you OK?"

As Jadestorm moved into postion for a leg sweep, Velocity spun her staff like a baton before the creature's face. She let it follow the entrancing motion for a moment, then reversed, bringing up the spinning end of her staff into the creature's jaw.

It connected, a blur that jerked its head back. Velocity continued to spin the staff, feeling it connect on each up swing. The beast was lifted off the floor, to crash heavily to the ground, its face a bloody mess. It twitched once and was still.

Inwardly, Velocity ewwed. Thought it was tougher than that… Then she turned to Jadestorm. "Yes, thanks for the assistance… did everyone get out okay?" she replied in her best "Mature Hero" voice, adusting her costume a bit where it was it has twisted in her haste to put in it on. Dang… wish I had the popcorn now…

Velocity was fairly winded; her enhanced metabolism left her with little staying power, if a lot of speed. "And what the heck are these things? Are there more of them?!" Looking around Jadestorm's form she tried to make out if Andrew had gotten out. And what about mom? Fingering the trigger stud, she collasped her staff and slipped it back into its sheath on her bracer.

Jadestorm pulled up short. "Not bad," she said, extending her hand over the thing now lying on the floor between them. "Now before the local gendarmerie get here, do you mind if I ask what this is all about?"

Velocity darted about the theatre, checking for wounded and trapped civilians, zipping by Jadestorm and anwering her questions in short bursts. "Dunno…" "…was watching…" "…a movie…" "…they came and…" "…starting trashing…" "…the place and…" She came to stop in front of the emerald woman. "…I couldn't just sit there. Cool… are you related to Diamond? Total metamorphic tissue replacemenet… or are you an animate of some kind…that would be soo cool… weren't you on tv? Sorta like Diamond… was that like a pure energy burst or a kinda chi thing?" Velocity managed to keep her voice at a recognizable speed. This place is fulla supers… neat!

Jadestorm tried to avoid getting whiplash as she did her best to follow the little speed demon's words and actions. Even when she's standing still, she's moving. Then she responded as best she could. "Why would things like these attack a movie theater? That hardly seems like a typical target for things like this. Even as a test, it seems impractical."

"Maybeitwasomesorta… accident," Velocity slowed herself down. "Like a blind beam down… or maybe it was cause we were here… paranormals… or to draw us out… ya can't swing a stick without hitting one in New London." Velocity paused over the fallen ape men for about 3 seconds. "These guys don't look all that bright, so someone problaby sent them."

She started moving to help out where she could, while Velocity continued to run rings around her. Then she stopped and cocked her head–a gesture made all the more curious by the fact that she had no disernible face. "Diamond? I've heard the name, but that's all. We haven't met–not that I know of. I'm still kind of new intown. At any rate, I hope we're not related… for her sake…" She trailed off, then turned to check on the creatures. "If I was ever on TV, it's news to me–literally," she said, taking advantage of Velocity's next remark to change the subject. "As for how I did that, or why I look like this… I don't know. That is, I know how it happened. I was there, after all. But I don't know why." Everything from technobabble to New Age silliness… her mind must be moving as fast as her body, Jadestorm thought with some amusement.

Weird, no face… wonder if its some sort of illusion or a mask. "So how did it happen? Government experiment, magic spell, chemical expsosure? Going on the martial arts stuff and the codename I bet it has something to do with Asia… that's cool, trying to learn Japanese but no luck so far…"

Then Jadestorm turned her face so that the "eyes" were aimed directly at the eyespots in Velocity's mask. "Wait a sec. You were here watching the picture when this all happened? Did you come here by any chance with a woman in a flower print sari and a black kid? If so, then you're the one I came in here looking for." Jadestorm chuckled. "I guess they'd be surprised if they knew how well you can take care of yourself," she continued. "But whether you are or not, I won't say anything. And I won't ask you to answer that question, either."

The last bit brought Velocity a bit a pause, a very brief one. "We better get these things secured somehow before they come to." Somehow I don't think they're gonna be pleasant wakers. Getting close to one of the creatures, Velocity was really glad her mask provided some slight filtration. Ugh… they haven't invented pants or deodorant yet… smells like the monkey house at the zoo.

"Did you see anyone who looked like they could be moved safely?" she asked. "If so, I think I can brace them long enough to get them outside." And with Velocity pointing the way, she proceeded to do just that, her entire body glowing as her fist had earlier, the energy within her being channeled into loadbearing strength.

Coming back inside, Jadestorm bent to pick the creatures up, her body still glowing the way only her hand had before. Hefting them in both hands with little effort, she laid them down in front of the screen. "Good point," she replied. Then she reached up and started tearing down the curtains around the screen, and ripping them into strips. "These should do for a start, especially if we tie them to one another." With that, she bundled them up, finishing off with a noose tied around the necks of two of them, joined to another noose tied around the neck of the third one.

"The way I see it, we now have two courses of action we can take before the authorities arrive," Jadestorm said as she stood up and dusted off her hands. "We can return to those who are waiting for us, let them know we're all right, and get the hell out of here." Then she turned in the direction of the tear in the movie screen. "Or, we can try to figure out where these things came from, and get ourselves in deeper than we are already."

The two heroes approached the rent in the very fabric of the movie screen. Outside, they could hear the approach of sirens. Taking a deep breath as one they stepped through… right into the wall on the other side.

Beat. Beat. "Well, this is a hell of a note," Jadestorm said, looking around. "Maybe your guess about some kind of experiment wasn't so wild after all."

"All right, come out with your hands up."

The two emerged to find a single patrolman, flashlight and gun out. Jadestorm blinked and raised a hand to block the sudden light. Velocity squinted a little but otherwise was unaffected. Never thought I'd be happy about my eyes.

Jadestorm slowly raised her hands. A pistol was of little concern to her, but she felt there was no reason to aggravate the situation any further. "Easy, Officer," she said as calmly as she could. "We're the good guys, really. The things responsible for what happened here are lying right there." To this last she added a nod of her head in the direction of the creatures. "I'm Jadestorm, and this is Velocity. Getting Animal Control down here would be a good idea, wouldn't you say? Oh, and may I ask what your name is?"

"Hey, no way! We saved all the people here…" Velocity couldn't believe it. In a place with so many supers too. "Lookit those guys… who looks more like the bad guys here." She jerked a thumb toward the fallen monkey men.

"You guys better get out of here before Tag gets down here or he'll arrest you both," the officer, 'Jenson,' his tag read, looked nervously behind him.

Velocity looked at Jadestorm and nodded. "Thanks for helping out, I woulda been toast, bye!" She took off, her wake causing a minor windstorm as she tore down the street.

Jadestorm didn't know who "Tag" was, but if he was as unfriendly as this officer suggested, now was clearly not the time to discuss the matter. Besides, Rachael was still waiting for her. "Very well, Officer." And with that, she dashed out of the theater, changing back into Akemi at the earliest opportunity. That accomplished, she headed back to the restaurant. Still, though things seemed to be settling down, she could not shake the thought that whatever had happened back there was just a prologue.