Reunion 1

Switching on the TV set and checking out the computer setup, Belle answered, without looking up, "Look, if her experiences have led her to ignore a threat building up right under her nose for forty or fifty years, so that we can't get a lead on these fuckers, while their mastermind holds all the cards and gets ready to kill us all, then I guess I have to put in with you. But if you think I'm going to smile sweetly and say 'Thank you ma'am, may I please have another', you got another think coming."

She picked up the phone receiver on the fax. "Right now, I'm doing the only thing I can, aside from sitting around with my thumb up my ass: finding out how my people are doing. Do you know how secure this line is? Blaze, you can change my bandages while I'm doing this."

"I can? Oh, thank you for your permission, Belle." Blaze replied semi-sarcastically. "Angelique, where might I find some first aid supplies? I need to change these dressings."

"You do have a way of editing your recollections, don't you?" Charlotte said from the door. Her face was neutral as she looked at the small grouping. "Belle, I've tolerated practically every manner of insult from you in the short time we've interacted." She stepped into the room and took a seat. "I don't run a paramilitary or intelligence organization. Fighting a war, open or not would be suicide. plain and simple. I handle Fenris in my own methods, it keeps people alive. And Fenris has its uses. Butting heads with them is useless at this point. And in answer to your question, it's perfectly secure. For a number of reasons."

"It took me some time to solidify an idea that it existed as an entity, then to get some hooks into the methodology and structure and even today I don't claim to know everything. As I said, I learn of them and temper their actions when I can and when I must. My experiences have taught me many things among them subtlety, expedience and priorities. When you have lived centuries as a hunted outsider, then you will be in a position to judge me, Belle."

Belle glanced up at the voice. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to this time," she replied, putting down the receiver again. "Will you stay long enough this time for us to have this out once and for all? You want to talk insults. OK. I've laid into you, yeah. I figured that I knew at last who had given me the biggest insult of all: making me spend my life paying the price for things I wasn't to blame for. I figured that three decades of doing that had earned me the right to get back a little of it. It may not be much to you, but it's the sum total of my life, shitty and pathetic as it is: going from one wilderness to another.

"Only now I have to face the fact that you weren't responsible for what happened to me, and I can't hold Mom to account either. But now that I know what happened, I've got to make peace with it, somehow. Maybe I haven't lived as long as you, but I've got anger and blood on my hands enough for ten lifetimes. And all for my own survival. Except this time. I got involved in this because I was trying to do a favor for a friend."

She stood up. "I was wrong about you." Everyone in the room could see the effort those few words took. It hinted at the extent of the damage she'd suffered, that even this amounted to a major letting down of her guard.

"I've made sure that I'd never need anyone again after the day Mom died. I needed someone that day more than any other, and there was no one. But you had to make sure that Mom's body wasn't autopsied, am I right? I never saw anything reported about the case that would have said that Mom wasn't human. If the coroner's report had said something like that, not only would it have been all over the news, but it would also have made a big difference at the trial. Now that I know what we are, it makes sense. That's why you couldn't help me. By the time you'd taken care of that, I was gone. You had to take a chance that being your kid, I'd manage somehow."

"Am I on the right track for the track for a change?"

Charlotte said quietly, "Close enough…"

Angelique sat on the edge of the desk, leather squeaking as she crossed her legs, looking over the entire scence with a vague hint of amusement.

"Even if I'm not, it's different now. I don't know what to do about any of this. And I've been cheated out of knowing what I really am. I need you, even though you don't need me. You're right. I admit it. I can't do anybody any good like this. The only life I know is the law of the jungle. I've had no choice but to live on those terms, and that's how I see things. Kill or be killed. Help me so I can help you…please. Maybe you're holding them in check now, but you can't expect to stalemate them forever."

"From what little I've seen and heard so far, Fenris's mastermind is not playing by your rules. He's shown total ruthlessness in getting what he wants. And now those stupid Templates are not only gone, but more importantly, didn't work to begin with. So I'd say Jason's memory is the mastermind's biggest concern right now. Think of it: if Jason was high enough in Fenris to get his hands on the Templates in the first place, he was probably high enough to pick up other secrets before he turncoated. The mastermind can't take the chance that Jason might remember something inconvenient. I can't help but think that he's already taking decisive action to eliminate that concern. He'd have to make sure, not only that Jason doesn't get his memory back, but also that anyone he might have talked to doesn't themselves get a chance to talk. He can't be sure he'll be safe otherwise."

"There isn't one particular "mastermind" it isn't that simple." Charlotte sighed. Fenris has many levels and division. The Template Jason stole must have either been the last prototypes or Jason destroyed the data to make them go so overt." She turned to Blaze. "I think he was working with you on the side, as well as Willow's parents. They seemed to be in a several people's pockets…playing all sides aginst the middle as it were. He was planning a break and it caught up with him. I'm not sure entirely where you come into this though… aside from Jason's… preference for using women."

Blaze stood, looking at Charlotte first, then Belle. "They worked, Belle. the Templates? Oh yeah, they worked. Someone sent Jim after me, to try and get MY memory of it. I designed them…" Blaze felt her temper start to rise, and with it the temperature… "They worked, and they ahd a cost… my mind, my brother… I don't even know how long I've been like this… I've been on the street a couple of months, maybe… but I don't know how I got there… You're right about one thing, it has to stop. I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, wondering when 'they' are going to get me. It may not be war, but damn it, they opened this dance…" Blaze tried to calm herself… the fire inside was burning, feeling denied…

Belle turned to look at her slowly. "I'm sorry, Blaze," she said softly, almost uncharacteristically sadly, "but no. They didn't work. At least, not as I imagine Fenris's mastermind intended. They produce random, unpredictable, barely controllable effects in their subjects, while doing serious damage to the memory of those who are subjected to it. And that's just the side-effect we know about. You said yourself that they got into your and Jason's heads when they ambushed you, and weren't expecting what they found their. That means the Templates didn't work according to specifications for them either. Now the mastermind can put his resources into something else, and he found this out without having to use any of his own people. It's a win-win situation for him, while those who survived are lucky to be able to get away and lick their wounds until next time." So saying, she sank heavily back into the chair she'd just vacated.

"Well, this sure as hell wasn't what I intended," Blaze spoke up. "What I felt… someone tried to get in my head… they got burned… This wasn't expected… they got something entirely new… telepathy, telekinesis, those were what we were looking for… pyrokinesis? I don't think so. It's so hard to control sometimes… One chance at that mastermind… I'll give him what he asked for and more…"

"On the other hand," and here Belle nodded at their host, speaking without a trace of sarcasm or irony in her voice, "Charlotte, speaking with the kind of experience that none of us can argue with, has just confirmed what I've suspected all along, in one form or another. We can't defeat them, at least, not decisively. They're better organized, they have better information, more and better firepower, a higher caliber of troops, near-perfect concealment on all fronts, and they've already shown that we have no defense against at least some of the things that they can do. It's kind of like Spectrum trying to fight the Mysterons without Captain Scarlet. We may manage a skirmish here or there, if we can even find their people in action, but it will continue to be very costly, perhaps more costly than we can afford. Look at how many they've killed already, and how utterly ruthlessly they've done so, and compare that with how many of us are left. It's a no-win situation, unless something changes drastically in our favor. Like, say, Jason getting his memory back and telling us some major secret that the mastermind has somehow overlooked. As it is, it's like I said before: you can't hit what you can't see. But they can hit us just fine."

Belle was almost totally subdued, and not just because Charlotte had put her in her place. She looked down at the desk, unable to look anyone in the eye. Without admitting it to herself, she had half-hoped that Charlotte would have a winning strategy. And now even that hope was dashed. So long as they could not win, they could not survive.

As for Charlotte, it occurred to her for the first time that "Belle Maverick" was actually a facade, created by a sixteen-year-old girl to protect herself when there was no one else to do it. And now, after all that she'd been through, in the face of a truly unbeatable enemy, the cracks were starting to show through, with that same sixteen-year-old girl still back there, trying to hide behind it. She'd been trying the wrong approach: she'd been trying to talk to "Belle Maverick", when in fact, "Belle Maverick" did not really exist.

Sighing,"Belle, You have to learn some diffrent rules for this sort of conflict. Put coldly…its a game. Move and countermove, smoke and mirrors. They've been manipulated in the past by myself and others. Going by what happed at the safe house and Jim's employers there is a least one other player on the feild, one with an interest in Blaze and access to cutting edge technology. I think I was hasty in sending them off so soon… who was using who… " She paused, frowning slightly hten continued. "All the recent psi activities has things fairly muddled in Hudson City for now and this place is… secure in that manner for the most part and practically unheard-of. You're all safe for the time being and I have things in the works. Rest, heal and we'll go from there… "

"Charlotte? Can you heal my mind? Or Jason's? Is it even possible?" Blaze sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter. Corrine doesn't seem like much fun…"

"Yes, buck up sis… family reunions are supposed to be much more festive than this." Angelique said, grinning and patting Belle on the shoulder.

Yeah, sure. Blaze thought. A real barrel of laughs… Blaze took care of Belle's bandages, and looked at Charlotte. "Where is Lauren? I'd like to check on her progress." And be back with someone my own size…

"She's being tended to my physicians." Though she kept her face neutral, her eyes were pained. "I was going to visit her later this afternoon."

"She is all right, isn't she? I know I've been away from surgery for a long time, but I was pretty sure I'd been successful. May I come along? Also, we have a friend we need to get. She's with a doc in town. I don't want to leave her there."