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AULD ACQUAINTANCE
by Marc Singer
Special Christmas Issue! Guest-starring Tempest!

The December sky was overcast and visibility was poor, but fortunately there was no snow to hamper the traffic at Washington, D.C.'s National Airport; Washington hadn't seen a white Christmas in years. And today, the airport's naturally-heavy holiday usage was aggravated by a cluster of journalists and onlookers. The crowd watched a private jet that belonged to the Rolling Stones, but they weren't there to see any rock stars—the two celebrities at the center of attention were just average Americans, who happened to have tremendous Omega powers. Anne Benson and Harvey Hauptmann just shoved past all the cameras and microphones, though; they'd had more than enough notoriety for one lifetime, and they weren't there to see reporters.

As they pierced the curtain of lenses and flashbulbs, Anne and Harvey saw the whole family—Blumes, Bensons, Reardons, eleven of them total—and the rest of the airport fell away into nothingness. This was all that mattered. Anne dropped her luggage and ran to her parents and sister, Harvey was swarmed by the rest of his children and grandchildren. After six months, the family was together again.

"We missed you, Grandpa Otto," said ten-year-old... no, wait, eleven year-old Mary, Harvey's youngest grand-daughter. And for a minute, Harvey didn't know who she was talking to. Though he'd used the name for almost fifty years, Harvey had forgotten that he was ever "Otto Blume."

Harvey gazed at Mary, and the rest of his wonderfully large family, and he tried to force the smile that had come so naturally a moment ago. "We, uh, we have a lot to talk about."


Anne rode in the Benson car, of course, with her parents and her little brother Neil. It took a few moments for Anne to realize that Neil was a freshman in college now. Only six months, and so much was different.

They wanted the whole story, of course, but Anne was too tired to even know where to start. Besides, she'd want Harvey to tell it with her, and he was in the Blume car, and if they both told the story in the car then the Reardons would still want to know and... suddenly Anne remembered why she had found the holidays so aggravating.

Not this season, though. Anne had never been so glad to see her relatives... right?

They all drove out to the Bensons' large house in suburban Prince George's County, since the Bensons were the only ones who had stayed in the area. Harvey got out of his car and walked straight over to Anne; he looked just as exhausted and confused as she felt. No words needed to pass between them.

"When do we tell them?" Anne asked.

"I don't know," said Harvey. "What do we tell them?"

"Like you said, grandpa, anything but a lie. It's the only way."

Harvey looked at his family—each and every one of them, from son-in-law George Benson down to little Mary Reardon, running to get in the house, or trying to keep their children well behaved, or struggling through life not even knowing their dad's real name. And Harvey felt every one of his seventy-nine years.


Dinner was delicious, and a feeling of good cheer permeated the family—except for Anne and Harvey. Harvey could barely eat his turkey, and Anne guessed he was wrestling with what to tell everyone. Telepathy could have confirmed that guess, but Anne herself was trying not to activate that power at all, lest she accidentally pry into her other relatives' thoughts.

Harvey tried to steer the conversation into safer waters, like the rest of the family's lives for the last six months, but it was hopeless. The children were particularly relentless, as Mary kept asking Harvey why he went away, and her brother James kept asking if he were really Overman like the guy on TV said, and why they never called him by his real name. Finally, Harvey caved in.

He stood up, in his place at the head of the table, and said, "I suppose I owe you all an explanation. This is... a little hard for me, but you deserved to know a long, long time ago. It all started in Cleveland... hey, what's that?"

Anne frowned. "Grandpa, don't try to dodge out of this, okay?"

"No, Annie, look out the window." Harvey pointed at a small cluster of lights and vehicles. "It's the news people. They followed us!"

"It's a free country, grandpa, don't worry about it." Anne casually closed the curtains with her telekinesis, only to realize how shocked and frightened the rest of the family became when they saw the curtains shut on their own accord. Anne winced at her gaffe.

Harvey, meanwhile, got ready to charge out the front door. "You'll do anything to get out of his little speech, won't you?" Anne said.

Harvey stopped in his tracks, and said, "Yeah, you're right. But at least let me tell them to bug off."

"Going out there would just encourage them," Anne replied. If we ignore them, they might go away."

George Benson snorted, and said, "You can only say that because you missed all the O.J. Simpson coverage."

"Nevertheless... grandpa?" Anne stared at Harvey with a gaze that said she, of all people, was more than a match for his own considerable will.

Harvey grumbled, and said, "Okay... the truth."


The TV stations were all showing Anne's and Harvey's family reunion. Producers and editors took the footage of the family meeting in the airport, eating dinner at home, coming together once again, and cut it into little slivers. Then they spliced the slivers together like a patchwork monster, and beamed the film creation around the country.

Cornelius Owen saw it in his Virginia home while meeting with his lawyers (he'd never spent one minute in jail, of course) and scowled. Bad enough that Hauptmann had beaten him this time—did he have to rub his face in it?

The members of the Colony saw it in their new Detroit haven. When the Blume family was reunited on TV, Danny and Mirry Anderson snuggled a little closer and Danny gently placed his hand on Mirry's belly.

Richard Cage saw it in a very quiet, peaceful institution in Washington, D.C. Although he no longer hated the very image of Anne Benson, he still wept for hours when he saw her cheerful reunion. The doctors noted this, and prescribed more sedatives.

A very powerful young man who lived in Chicago saw it, without any house or, in fact, any television at all. His mind detected and deciphered the electronic signals in mid-air. He smiled, and he thought for a while, and then he turned in an arc of green fire. The green fire headed for Washington.


"There's something I need to tell all of you," Harvey said before he even sat down again. "Something I should have told you all long ago."

George smiled. "That's okay, Otto, have a seat."

"That's what I need to tell you... my name is not Otto Blume. My name is Harvey Hauptmann."

The family sat in stone silence (except for James Reardon, who kept eating until his mother made him stop), then, as one, looked to Anne.

"It's true," she said, almost apologetically.

Harvey told them just about everything, starting with his own Omega powers and the night he saved Jerry Siegel from a speeding car. When he got to Jerry's memorialization of him as "Overman," James cheered, although the rest of the family looked at Harvey as though he were a little deluded.

"Dad," said Henry Blume, Harvey's only son, "we all know that you, um, like Overman a lot, for some reason, but..."

Harvey lifted the dining room table with one hand. Then he set it back down, blushing when he realized he'd knocked over almost every glass and plate. The rest of the family hadn't noticed though.

"He, uh, he isn't kidding," Anne added belatedly.

Harvey told them about Cornelius Owen and General Eisenhower, Fort Deliverance and Fortress Europa, the Ardennes Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. He left out some parts, like his execution of "Butch" Bross's gang in Cleveland or his discovery of Buchenwald or his capture of Adolf Hitler—some things, the family just didn't need to know. Then Harvey told them about his desertion, his trip back to America, his assumption of a new name and a new life. Right up until the moment Dan Carter burst into his house with a team of SIRECOM agents, to steal his grand-daughter. Then Harvey looked at Anne.

Anne felt crazy. She'd faced down spy agencies, rioting crowds, a mad god, and a psychic vampire—twice—and yet the prospect of talking to her family twisted her stomach in knots. But Harvey put it all on the line, and he had a lot more to confess than she did. How could she be any less brave than him?

Anne stood up. "I... guess you all know that I'm an Omega too. Boy, I don't even know where to begin."

Anne's mother, Martha, stood up next to her. "Let me begin, Annie." Before Anne could protest, her mother continued, "Your birth was so difficult—"

"Not that guilt trip again," Anne moaned.

"—And you were always so strong for a baby. But when you were four, and the doctors couldn't immunize you because the needles breaking on your skin, George and I realized there was something special about you. Dad convinced us we should keep it secret, and we got you to play along and hide your strength, but..."

Anne touched her mother's shoulder. "Mom, it's okay, I can do this. Really."

"But you don't have to, Annie. You're not alone. Your father and I will always be around for you."

You don't have any choice, Anne thought. She fired a quick, bitter glance at Harvey. Because he made you breed me like a prize horse.


While the extended Blume family was having a dinner fraught with reunions and revelations, Jack Russell was dining alone. Brenda Washington had set up a whole new identity for him (he'd insisted on keeping the name Jack Russell), and even offered him a job with the Seekers, but Jack had no intention of working with her anymore.

He chewed listlessly on a microwave dinner while watching several reporters bother Anne and Harvey. Jack wondered if he should follow their example, and go back to his parents to tell them he was still alive.

Assuming, of course, he was still alive.

The new apartment was ice-cold; ever since Jack had spent a day as a guest in the Arlington County Morgue, the cold didn't bother him. The piping-hot food didn't warm Jack, either, and he wasn't even certain that he needed to eat anymore.

Jack dropped the food in the trash and looked out at Washington. The lights shone brightly on the multitudes of white marble buildings dedicated to dead men, and the city looked as cold as Jack felt.

"You just need someone to talk to, Jack."

The sudden sound of the voice sent Jack diving to the ground, as he lunged across the room for his gun. Grabbing it, he rolled onto his knees and aimed at the intruder.

It was a tall black man in a trenchcoat. He just grinned at Jack's reaction; the stranger's teeth were extraordinarily white against the blackness of his skin. "Relax, Jack, I'm not here to hurt you. And that gun of yours won't hurt me."

"I can test that, if you like."

The stranger bellowed out a deep, booming laugh. "Why don't I test it, myself?" He reached deep within his trenchcoat and pulled out a very old, ornate curved knife. Jack almost fired, but the stranger plunged the knife into his own hand.

Jack watched as the stranger pulled out the knife and held up his hand. The would closed almost instantly.

"Would you mind directing me to your sink, Jack?" the stranger asked. "This is a fifteenth-century Moorish blade and I'd like to clean it immediately. After that, we should talk."

Jack had to agree on that one.


Anne didn't sleep too easily that night (but at least her visions of bloody giants had ended after the Stones concert), and she woke up before dawn. Anne felt like she had somehow wandered back in time, since the room was virtually unchanged from her high school days—although, thank goodness, someone had taken down all those Sting posters. A little disoriented, Anne pulled on some clothes, delighting in the feeling of fresh, clean fabric on her body.

Anne tiptoed out her room and down the stairs, careful not to awaken anyone else. But she was already too late; Harvey was down in the living room, playing with the Christmas tree. He noticed her, and said, "You couldn't sleep either, huh?"

Anne shook her head. "No, there's something about my old room... it's like trying to squeeze into old clothes that are a few sizes too small."

"I'm afraid I know what you mean," said Harvey. He was toying with a small Overman ornament that Anne's family had given him years ago—tacky, perhaps, but Harvey ran a weird family. "I'm beginning to wonder if we've become too big to go back to our old lives."

"Grandpa," Anne said, curling up in her favorite chair, "you haven't tried to go back yet. Not all the way."

Harvey was afraid he knew what was coming. "Annie, I told them last night..."

"But you didn't tell them everything, grandpa. You didn't tell mom and dad how you... mated them."

"Annie, I didn't mean to do that to them. And I already apologized to you."

"Grandpa, I'm not the one who's owed an apology."

"Annie, it's awfully easy to tell somebody else what the right thing to do is. It's quite another to do it. I don't see you apologizing to that poor boy."

They were both silent after that. Anne gradually became aware of the dawn light filtering in through the curtains, and she noticed that the news crews had left, at least temporarily. "You're right, grandpa."

Harvey was morosely staring at a picture on the mantelpiece—him, his late wife Margaret, George, Martha, and an infant Anne. "What about?" he mumbled.

"I decided I'd better practice what I preach. I need to talk to Rich."

Anne pulled up to Rich's parents house early that morning, hoping to catch them before they left for work. Rich's mother was just leaving when Anne arrived. "Mrs. Cage!" Anne called, jumping out of her car, "I need to talk to you!"

Mrs. Cage started to slam her car door, but had second thoughts. "Well, if it isn't Ms. Benson. What brings you here?" Her malice was barely contained.

"First of all, Mrs. Cage, I... owe you an apology. I never meant to get Richard caught up in my business."

Mrs. Cage was growing more hateful by the second. "An apology doesn't change the fact that my son is in a mental hospital, Ms. Benson."

"Look, I'm sorry about that..." Anne's voice trailed off. What the hell was she apologizing for? That bastard Owen did everything to Rich, and she told Mrs. Cage as much.

"Ms. Benson," the older woman curtly replied, "I don't need to hear excuses from you. They won't make my son any better, either. Now, would you please leave? I don't need your kind making me late for work."

"My kind?" Anne said. "My kind? You petty little woman... you don't even care that Rich got hurt, you're just mad because his girlfriend is an Omega!" Mrs. Cage was speechless, but her face confirmed Anne's accusation. Anne still couldn't quite believe it—Mrs. Cage had always seemed like a pretty decent woman. "You make me sick." Anne turned and walked away in disgust.

But Mrs. Cage shouted after her, "The feeling is mutual, bitch!"

Anne reached out with her telekinesis, grabbed the car... and let go. It was hard, but Anne knew that using her powers would only stir up more trouble. Instead, Anne swallowed her pride and walked back to her car.

Anne was still burning up on the inside. She might be a powerful Omega, but it really bothered her to just walk away—like she was getting victimized by the school bully again. (Yes, girls get victimized by bullies too, only their bullies work through whispers and lies, not physical force.) Anne whirled around again and stood at the end of Mrs. Cage's driveway.

Mrs. Cage leaned out her window. "What do you want now?"

I want you to take it back, you old bigot. "I would say you owe me an apology, but frankly, you aren't worth the time it would take to enlighten you. Just tell me which institution Rich is in."

"I'm not letting you near my son again!" Mrs. Cage started her car and put it into reverse, but Anne wasn't impressed.

"That would be a really bad idea. It would also be vehicular assault." Anne folded her arms. "I can stand here all day... now what's going to crumple first, your prejudice or your car?"

Mrs. Cage cursed, and said, "The Dumbarton Home! He's in the Dumbarton Home, thanks to you! Now leave me alone."

"Nothing would please me more." Anne stepped aside, and got some small satisfaction as Mrs. Cage squealed out of the driveway with a look of sheer terror. But not much. On her way over to the Dumbarton Home, Anne kept imagining Mrs. Cage tied up in front of an oncoming freight train, while Anne just stood by and laughed.

Anne and Rich met in the Dumbarton Home's tasteful, serene visitor lounge. It had nice wood paneling and a few simple, non-religious holiday decorations which appeared to be selected primarily for their lack of sharp edges or points. Technically, Anne wasn't even supposed to be there, but her telepathy had convinced the administrators to let her see Rich, alone and unsupervised.

He was doing a lot better; at least he didn't want to kill Anne anymore. There was still a long, long road to recovery, though. Rich seemed very depressed, and unwilling to talk to Anne.

"Okay," he said, "you've made your apologies—again. I know you didn't plan for any of this to happen. I sure as hell didn't, either."

"Rich—"

"You've made your little apology! You can go now, you've salved your conscience!"

"Rich, you're still hurting inside. They might have undone some of Owen's brainwashing, but your mind... your mind is still reeling. Every time the doctors try to fix it, they just twist your mind up even more."

Rich slumped back in his chair. "How did you know that, Anne? Probe my mind without asking?"

"I didn't have to probe, Rich, you're practically broadcasting a call for help." Anne leaned forward. "Look, the doctors here mean well, but the only way they know how to free your mind is to build another kind of box around it. My telepathy is more natural... and if I'm not up to the task, I know telepaths and healers who are. Won't you let me help you?"

Rich curled up and ran his hands over his head. "I don't know, I don't know..." He began sobbing, and then tried to regain some composure. "Do you... do you want to help me because you love me, or because you feel responsible for what happened?"

"I've been agonizing over that question, too, Rich. And while I can't deny that you got kidnapped because of me, I think it's time I put the blame where it belongs: a bunch of paranoid old bastards." Like your mom, Anne mentally added. "If it is my responsibility, Rich, that's because it should be anyone's responsibility to help out a friend in need."

"A friend?" Rich asked.

"A friend. Somebody who was once my lover. As for the future... we'll see."

Rich wiped his eyes dry and looked around the visitor room. Its walls, nicely appointed though they were, seemed quite confining, and Rich didn't feel like another round of sedatives. "I'll take what I can get," he said. "And I'd like to get the hell out of here."


It only took Anne's telepathy, and a little flirting with the middle- aged administrator, to get Rich released on his own recognizance. Anne didn't know how long that would last, so it meant she had to get to work quickly. Rich's home was obviously out of the question, and neither of them had their apartments anymore, so the Benson house was the only place to go.

The Bensons knew Rich quite well and liked him, and their surprised but warm welcome probably did him worlds of good. The rest of the family was equally receptive. Harvey, who had disliked Rich before their mutual ordeal began (probably because he subconsciously didn't want Anne getting involved with a non-Omega, not because he actually didn't like Rich), was especially kind. And when Anne asked for privacy with Rich, she got it.

Rich sat lightly on the edge of her bed. "So, uh, what exactly are you going to do." He was very nervous, and he quaked slightly, though that could have been his body missing its usual round of medication.

Anne sat next to him. Little pieces of their old relationship came washing back into her memory, and Anne realized how long it had been since they were in bed together. And this only qualified on a technicality.

"I'm just going to touch you with my mind," she said. (Like this.) Richard was slightly startled. (I'm going to go deeper into your mind... like this... you just have to relax. That's right...

(Relax...

His most basic, outward levels of defense, his surface thoughts and tensions, dropped away and Anne was into the depths of his mind. It was nearly as bad as the last time she'd seen it: a landscape ravaged and burnt by Owen's brainwashing, with huge sections locked up or lopped away. The few repairs made by the doctors were equally artificial, toothpick bridges across chasms that never should have been there in the first place.

Now Rich's automatic, unconscious defenses were cropping up to stop Anne. Walls of memories—Rich shooting Anne at the Stones concert, Rich spending months in Owen's behavior-mod program. Anne thought about erasing them, but knew she didn't have the right. She slipped past them easily enough.

Next was a huge crater in the middle of a vast plain. There was still "life" in the crater, but it was twisted and mutated into shapes no human should produce. And in the center was a huge, flimsy cage holding a smoky black beast. The beast saw Anne and snarled, and Anne knew what she had to do. No more cages.

Anne waved her hand, and the doctors' cage crumbled into dust. The beast flew out of the cage, not charging so much as rolling like a cloud, lightning flashing down the length of its body. (Richard leapt to his feet and tried to strangle Anne on the bed.)

Anne twisted aside at the last minute like a toreador, grabbing the beast's back. (Anne diverted a precious portion of her concentration and halted Rich telekinetically.) She pulled ever so slightly, and the inky cloud started peeling off in her hands. The beast circled back to gore Anne, but she kept dodging, unravelling more of the raging cloud. (Rich kept pounding away, struggling within her TK field.) The beast struck Anne a glancing blow, but Anne kept loosening its substance. (Anne had to drop her TK, and Rich grappled with her.) Finally, the beast was a tiny fraction of its former size, but it still charged directly at Anne. Anne puffed, and the beast was snuffed out. (Rich collapsed back onto the bed.)

Rich's artificial aggression was undone, or at least lessened. She returned to the center of the crater—if her experience with Dan Carter was typical, then Rich's self-image, his ego, should be here somewhere.

Instead, there was a book. Confused, Anne opened it.

And she was pulled inside.

"It sounds like they're having a fight up there." Martha Benson looked worriedly at the ceiling.

"Don't worry," said Harvey. "Annie can take care of herself." He built up his courage, and said, "Listen, Martha, there's something I need to tell you. In private."

"No problem." Martha turned to her husband, who was helping her fix cold cuts for the family lunch. "I need to talk to Harvey for a minute, dear." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and he returned the favor with a smile.

Harvey just watched his eldest child and her husband, two people who were very much in love, and wondered if he had the heart to be honest with them.

Skyscrapers. Speed lines. And little colored Benday dots everywhere. Oh, great, Anne groaned. Unless Rich has always fostered a hidden appreciation for Roy Lichtenstein, I'm in a freaking comic book.

Anne noticed that her own image had changed—she was wearing a garish red-and-blue "Overgirl" costume, and her body had assumed a shape that no woman could attain without aid of bulimia and silicone. Anne had no desire to be stamped into that particular mold, and she reshaped herself to appear much as she did in the physical world.

The rest of the setting was still two-dimensional, though; it was a bit like being stuck inside a ViewMaster. Cut-out people, all with faces of people Rich knew, walked by on the streets or battled in the air. Anne had to admire Owen's craft; the best way to make Rich malleable was to simplify his self-image and his world-view, and the comics scenario was a pretty good way to do that.

Rich was heading down the street, clad in a 1940's suit and fedora. Next to him was a man who resembled Overman's grumpy, paternal editor, George Taylor, but he had Owen's face. Owen urged Rich to attack Anne, and Rich burst out of his street clothes, revealing bulging muscles and a ridiculous costume.

Anne prepared for a fight, but then realized that would just perpetuate the comic-book world-view. She ducked Rich's flying assault, and considered other options. Her realistic appearance seemed to throw him off; maybe if she expanded his other horizons...?

Anne concentrated, and a nearby skyscraper fell down like a two- dimensional studio backdrop. Trying harder, Anne made all of the skyscrapers fall away, and then lifted up the blue-dotted sky like a cheap curtain. Behind them was a realistic image of Anne's room.

Owen screamed and lunged at Anne, but it was relatively simple to peel back his facade, revealing Owen in all his moral ugliness. Rich, confused by his surroundings and repulsed by Owen, clutched his head and screamed.

Rich woke up sweating, seeming to have just arisen from a bad nightmare. In a sense, he had.

Anne ran her hand over his forehead. "Rich? How are you?"

Rich stared at her, but he was searching inside himself for the answer. After a minute, he answered, "I feel... better I guess." Tears welled in his eyes. "But I still have so far to go..."

Anne cradled him in her arms. "I know, Rich. But I'll be there with you."


Dinner that night was peaceful, with Anne, Harvey, and Rich all feeling like tremendous burdens had been lifted off them. Rich's appetite was back with a vengeance, and the family members were just starting to get used to calling Harvey "Harvey." Most of the time, however, they just fell back on the safer "dad" or "grandpa."

(How did today go?) Anne asked Harvey telepathically.

(Pretty good,) Harvey answered. (Henry's family is taking it a little hard, Henry especially. He's not sure if the name Blume is really his anymore. I don't blame him.)

Anne tried not to frown. (I meant with mom and dad. Did you tell them?)

Harvey opened his eyes apologetically. (Look at them, Annie.) George handed Martha a pepper shaker, their faintly-wrinkled hands lingering together for the slightest amount of time. (They really do love each other. Telling them I fixed them up would only hurt matters.)

Anne started to give him grief, but Harvey said, (You're still a spring chicken compared to me, Annie. You'll learn. Everybody lies to their loved ones. Sometimes the truth can help things,) his eyes flickered towards Rich, (but sometimes the lie is better.)

Anne had to concede the wisdom of that, and besides, she was snapped back to attention by somebody asking her a question. "What?"

"Those newshounds are back," said her uncle Henry. "I wonder if you're going to be celebrities forever."

"Or worse," said his wife Jessica, "what if people start attacking you because you're Omegas? What if they attack us?" Though everybody tried not to, most people couldn't help but glance at Rich, surely a case study in the dangers of being an Omega's loved one.

"Look," Anne said, "I just did what I had to do to get my life back. I don't plan on fighting crime or using my powers full-time. So I don't think we're going to be visited by hordes of spies or killers or Omegas."

Outside, the reporters started shouting excitedly. There was a whistling noise like a bomb dropping, and then a flash of brilliant green light out on the front lawn.

Anne cringed and sunk her head into her hands. "My timing sucks."

Anne and Harvey warily opened the front door, while Rich and the family watched from behind them. Outside was a large, muscular young man in a leather jacket. His eyes flashed green with raw power.

"Eric!" Anne and Harvey cried excitedly.

"Tempest!" screamed James Reardon. "WOW! You guys know him? Can I get his autograph? Are you gonna fight?"

James's mother pulled him back, while Anne hugged Eric and Harvey slapped him on the back. They started to tell him how amazed they were to find out he was alive, but then the host of reporters and cameramen dashed up to them. They were just as amazed as young James to learn that three of America's most prominent Omegas knew each other. Then one coiffed and blow-dried correspondent said, "This just in... Anne Benson: Tempest's Girl Friend."

All the other reporters and family members fell silent. Richard Cage grabbed Anne's arm and said, "What."

It was not a question.

The family pulled back inside the Benson house. The newspeople started slinking away when all of their cameras began malfunctioning and only recording green light, but Eric Anderson had already given them enough scoops for one evening.

Harvey, not sure what to do, just started introducing Eric to everybody. Eric seemed to be only feigning interest for politeness's sake, although when James asked for an autograph again, Eric gave him one—creating the paper himself. James was delighted, but the older generation was in shock.

"It's nice to meet you all," Eric said, but I really just came to say hello to Anne and Harvey." He then noticed the dinner table, and said, "I'm sorry to interrupt your meal like that... and I guess I should have come here in disguise or something. I just wasn't thinking. Here, let me make some food for you..."

"Ah, Eric, that won't be necessary." Harvey started edging the teenager out of the dining room. "Listen, why don't we just chat in the living room a while?" He turned back to his family, and apologetically said, "You folks go ahead and finish if you like. We won't be noisy."

The family tried to go back to a normal dinner, although Rich just stood there and watched Anne, Harvey, and Eric move into the living room.

Eric was fascinated by the Christmas tree. "It's Christmas, isn't it? I used to get so excited at this time of year... now I'd forgotten."

"Eric, are you... feeling okay?" asked Anne. "You seem a little out of it tonight."

"Out of it?" He sat down on the couch. "I suppose I've been out of it since I... left. I guess I came here to meet with people who knew me before, try to connect with that old life." He gazed at the fully-lit tree. "But how can I? I didn't even remember it was Christmas."

Anne, very concerned, sat next to him. With all of his power, it was easy to forget that he was still just a confused teenager... except for moments like this one. "Eric, what happened to you? Did you... die?"

"No, no, I just got blasted through space. I met some—people there, and I found out that I'm—" He looked at his hand, which crackled with green flames. "I'm so damn powerful now. I don't eat, I don't sleep, I don't breathe, I... I let this monster run loose today... I'm not human anymore, Anne."

"That's nonsense," Harvey interrupted. "You're one of the most human kids I know—"

A cold green stare silenced Harvey. "I mean literally, Harvey. I'm not human. I think I'm some kind of alien." In fact, there was something in Eric's bearing, his comportment, that was truly not of this Earth. "The Andersons were only my foster parents, you know. I never knew my real ones... and now I wonder if they were..." Eric couldn't go on.

Anne gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, Eric, I know what you're going through. I mean, not on this level, but I found out some pretty surprising things about my parentage too. It's okay, really."

"Thanks, Anne," Eric said, rising. "But you still eat and sleep, don't you? Look, I made a mistake coming here. I'm sorry to stir up those reporters."

Anne and Harvey followed him towards the door. "Eric," Harvey said, "I think you still need somebody to talk to..."

Rich was waiting by the front door. "Yeah. I think you need to talk to me."

They met outside on the front lawn, over Anne's objections. Eric threw up a small force field to keep the reporters from seeing or hearing their talk; it also kept Rich warm.

"You must be Rich, right?" said Eric. "Listen, that whole 'Tempest's Girlfriend' thing... that's just media bullshit. Completely unfounded."

"Is it?" Rich asked. "You know, when Owen's men were brainwashing me... they used to show me pictures of you two together, fighting some guy in Chicago. It made me wonder, what if Anne were seeing you? How could I ever compare to a guy who can fly?"

Eric almost laughed. Almost. "Hey, Rich, Anne and I would never get anything going... I mean, she's really cute, but she's twenty- three, you know? Practically one foot in the grave!"

"I'm twenty-five," said Rich. "Twenty-six, actually, but I overlooked my last birthday because I had it in a cell."

"Oh," said Eric, chastised.

"But the point isn't you," Rich continued. "The point is, how can I ever be part of Anne's world again? She's surrounded by Omegas and rock stars and I... I'm just so damned normal."

Eric was suddenly very serious. "You think normal is bad? Rich, I would die to be normal again. To feel the cold winter air rushing through my lungs, knowing I need that breath to live, every second..." Eric sat on the ground. "Rich, I don't even have anyone else normal in my life. Anne is so lucky, she has her family and she has you."

Rich knelt beside him. "I just hold her back."

"No, Rich, no! You keep her together! She talked about you all the time back at the Colony, you know... and from what I heard, she faced down a lot of tough customers to get you back. She needs you."

"I never really thought about it that way," Rich said.

"Yeah, well, cherish your normality, Rich. It keeps you and her going." He stood up and dropped the force-field. "I guess I ought to be going, too." Green energy flared around him like St. Elmo's Fire, and he started to levitate.

"Eric, wait!" Rich called. When Eric floated back to earth, Rich said, "You're not as alien as you think, you know."

"Oh yeah? How's that?"

"You cheered me up, didn't you?" Rich smiled. "You're pretty emotionally mature for an alien who won't date twenty-three-year-olds."

Eric smiled, too. "I guess you have a point... uh-oh, I have to say more goodbyes." Anne and Harvey were coming out of the house.

Anne nervously glanced at the two men—at least Rich's innards weren't splayed across the lawn, that was a good sign. "Is everything okay, guys?"

"Yeah. Much better now," said Rich.

"That's... great," said Anne. "You know I'm always around if you need someone to talk to. That goes for both of you," she said, but she sidled up to Rich.

Harvey stepped forward. "And I just wanted to tell you, Eric, that I'm really glad you're back. Sometimes, I feel like you're my... well, you know... you do a damn good job of being America's number one superhero." He held out a small, oddly-shaped package that had been hastily wrapped in gift paper. "And I'd like you to have this. Merry Christmas."

"I could just look right through that wrapping paper, you know."

"Aw, come on," said Anne. "The whole point is the surprise. Open it with your hands!"

He did, and he found an Overman Christmas ornament inside. "Jeez," he said, "now I'll have to get a tree."

"I hope you like it," said Harvey.

"I do. I really do," said Eric as he rose into the air. "I think I'll give you something in return." He met eyes with all of them, especially Rich, as he said, "Thanks for everything. You guys take good care of yourselves... and each other."

"We will!" said Anne. They were falling away below Eric, like three little figures in some lawn nativity scene. Anne wrapped her arms around Rich's waist, and shouted, "Don't be a stranger!"

"I won't!" yelled Eric, and he rocketed up into the atmosphere.

Anne, Harvey, and Rich all looked at each other and headed back to the house, exhaling little clouds of warm air. Before they could get back inside, they noticed a strange green glow up in the clouds.

It started to snow. The flurries lasted through Christmas.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'? Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' auld lang syne?

—Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

THE END.


Next issue:
A very different sort of story for the chilly new year...
The Devill's Legacie

Eric "Tempest" Anderson appears courtesy of Matt Rossi. Check out Tempest #7 for the lead-in to his appearance in this issue!

Happy holidays to everybody out there, no matter what your religion or creed! And for those of you without net access, don't worry, every issue I post over break will be reposted later.

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