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Nobody at Omega House knew what to do. An alien fleet was perched over the Earth, and Tempest had just left the building. Unsure of how even he could deal with the massive Harrakin armada -- which was now visible as a scattering of lights in the afternoon sky -- Eric "Tempest" Anderson had flown to his mother's San Francisco home for guidance.
Anne Benson and Harvey Hauptmann, the proprietors of Omega House, did not possess such incredible powers and so did not have the luxury of fretting over what to do with them. As soon as Tempest left, Anne and Harvey volunteered their services to the Seekers, to help stop rioting in the nation's cities. That was something Anne and Harvey could do -- as opposed to the Harrakin fleet, which was too big to even think about.
As they ran for the front door, they spotted Carlos del Rio and John Potts in the living room. The teenagers had become cable junkies and were channel-surfing between all sorts of footage -- Clinton calling for peace from an underground bunker, Blackfriars fighting looters in London, and on the night side of the world, praying multitudes marching by candlelight to the river Ganges. Somehow, the crisis was more real to the kids when it was on TV.
"Guys," Harvey shouted. When they gave him their attention, he said, "Annie and I have to run. Frank White is in charge of the House. And you guys..." Harvey took a deep breath. "The Paint Crew is in charge of security, okay? Keep the kids safe."
John levitated upwards in surprise while Carlos nodded his head, accepting the duty with dignity. Before they could react any further, the TV image suddenly changed: CNN's broadcast was replaced by a picture of a vast obsidian throne. Sitting on the throne was a man clad in black armor, all angles and blades. Some sort of heraldic escutcheon was painted on the breastplate and helmet of the armor, in some kind of holographic design that warped and flowed around the deadly spikes. A voice spoke in perfect, telepathically-transmitted English: [People of Earth, listen now to the words of Hallatiris, Dy'Tariex of the Harrakin race.]
The armored man lifted his hands to his head, and removed his helmet. Underneath he had long white hair, a curly white beard, a ruddy complexion, and -- a friendly smile.
"He looks so nice," Anne muttered.
Carlos agreed. "He looks like fucking Santa Claus."
Harvey said "Watch your... language..." but he nodded his head and his voice trailed off in stupefaction.
Hallatiris gazed into the camera -- or whatever was transmitting this -- as it swooped in for a close-up of his cheerful face. [Greetings, people of Earth. No doubt, many of you are afraid right now. Please do not be. We come not as warriors, but as brothers. We have searched thousands of years for our homeworld, and have at last found it -- and you are it, brothers. You are it. This day marks not a war but a tearful reunion. We have so much to offer one another -- you can give us history, and we... We can give you the stars.
[I wish to meet with your world leaders in three days' time. Until then, I implore you to remain calm, and rejoice. Your long-lost family has come home.] Hallatiris smiled even more broadly -- and were those tears welling in the corners of his eyes? -- and then the transmission was over.
The TV returned to Bernard Shaw at the CNN newsroom, whose mouth was wide open in wonder. He stammered out some platitudes, but nobody could hear him, because Carlos was jumping up and down and cheering madly. John levitated himself in little loops, howling with joy. Anne simply sank into her grandfather's arms and started crying.
Two days later:
Harvey Hauptmann sat brooding in the attic of his daughter's house. He knew Omega House would be safe without him; Annie was there, with dozens of Omegas and more new ones pouring in every day. At the very least, it was no less safe than it would be with him. But in this house, he was the only Omega, and coming here was the only way he could be sure his family was safe.
His family had gathered down below. Harvey had talked George and Martha Benson into putting up Martha's brother Henry and younger sister Katie, and their families. There was a severe shortage of beds and rooms, which was why Harvey had moved his belongings and sleeping bag up to the attic. George Benson had thought it unwise to bring the entire family so close to Washington, D.C. -- Hallatiris's promise of peace notwithstanding -- but Harvey wanted them all where he could guard them. He figured they were all safer with him, wherever he was. And as was the custom in his family, when he issued a proclamation, his family answered it.
Well, not all of them. The two Benson, children, oddly enough, were the only ones not in the Benson house. Anne was of course busy protecting Omega House, and was on call if the Seekers needed her. But her younger brother, Neil... Harvey just shook his head. The boy had no respect for family ties. With a major crisis literally hanging overhead, he'd gone traipsing off to D.C. for some sightseeing. Harvey just didn't understand him.
Harvey became so lost in his own thoughts, he was quite shocked when he suddenly heard someone else's. [Greetings, Overman Hauptmann of Earth.] Harvey almost fell out of his chair, one of the few things Martha had salvaged from his abandoned Hyattsville home. [I hope this communication does not come at a bad time.]
"Who... who is this?" Harvey said, tensing up.
[Please, do not be alarmed.] An image started forming, from the feet upwards, on an empty rocking chair. It was a tall, stocky man in a long, crystalline robe. And the face belonged to Hallatiris. [I am Emperor Hallatiris of the Harrakin,] he projected into Harvey's mind. [May we talk?]
"Uh... uh..." Harvey tried desperately to say something intelligent. "Uh..."
[Tomorrow I will meet the representatives of your world, and one very important young man, and I think I could use your advice.]
"Me? I... I'm flattered, but I really don't know much about politics."
Hallatiris projected a deep, satisfied laugh, as if Harvey had just told him what he wanted for Christmas. [What is 'politics,' Overman Hautpmann? On my world, politics is family.]
Anne was trying hard to keep Omega House under some semblance of control. She was moving all the children down into Omega House's basement in case of attack. It was a complicated operation since most of the kids thought there would be no war at all, while some of the Paint Crew insisted on being allowed to fight the Harrakin again. Neither side thought they had to stay in the basement.
Upstairs, the House was cluttered with an influx of new Omegas. The stress of the Harrakin arrival had triggered many latent Omegas, and it seemed like all the new ones in Maryland were coming to Omega House. Frank White and a few other counselors were trying to conduct diagnostic interviews, but kept getting interrupted by some man who'd learned to ignite his body in flames like Conflagration, but couldn't quite figure out how to turn them off. And her mom was calling because Harvey was talking to himself up in the attic. Anne was almost ready to scream.
Her mood improved a lot when she sensed her boyfriend's mind nearby. She immediately ordered the Paint Crew downstairs, levitated the contents of a water cooler onto the smoldering guy, and ran off to a quiet corner so she could focus her mind. With Tom's help, she was able to telepathically project her mind onto the astral plane, where Tom was waiting.
Thomas Morgan was a member of the Seekers, and had been on round-the-clock emergency duty since the Harrakin arrival. But while the Seekers could sequester him in headquarters or jet him around the country to keep the peace, they couldn't stop him from using his astral- projection power to sneak a few minutes with his girlfriend. His glowing astral icon embraced Anne's, and they telepathically exchanged their ideas of the perfect hug.
"How are you?" Anne thought. "Where are you?"
"On my way back to D.C. We just finished busting up some jackass militia in Wyoming who figured they'd sooner become the next Brothers of the Pale Comet than share their precious soil with aliens." The Pale Comet was a cult whose suicide had revealed the Harrakin arrival to the world; as recent days had made all too clear, they weren't the only people capable of overreacting.
Not that there wasn't ample reason for panic. Despite Hallatiris's assurances, many people were still very worried about the alien fleet. "Is there any word on the negotations?" Anne asked. "Do we know what the aliens want?"
"They still won't talk to anyone until tomorrow. And I'm not sure the world governments can even agree on what we want. I really hope they can pull together for once."
"It's not just legitimate governments that we have to worry about," Anne said. "Other parties might try to muscle in."
"You mean Owen, right?" Tom projected reassuring thoughts toward Anne -- they felt like an ocean breeze and smelled like suntan lotion. "Hey, even Stormkiller can't handle all the Harrakin."
"If it were only Owen, I might agree. But there are others." Anne tried to stay positive, but fear and cynicism coursed through her astral form like a rush of black blood. "I wonder how Hannibal and the Vitalongae are reacting...?"
Hannibal and Jack Russell strode purposefully through dark mahogany galleries. The walls were punctuated with small alcoves which contained portraits; there were hundreds of portraits lining the galleries, but they only depicted a few dozen people, painted in different styles and different costumes that spanned centuries. Hannibal and Jack were in the halls of the Vitalongae, for the second time in two years. That was a remarkably short span between meetings, but then, these were remarkable times.
Hannibal and Jack reached two great bronze doors, which swung open for them automatically. Then they were in the main meeting chamber of the Vitalongae. The walls were natural stone; the chamber had been cut deep in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains. There were hundreds of candles in the central, lowest part of the chamber, and terraced rows of seats and tables rose up into the darkness.
There wasn't room for many people, but the Vitalongae were a rather exclusive club; to join, one had to be immortal. Because of this, the membership tended to be old, powerful, and proprietary. They had called this emergency meeting to determine what should be done to protect their planet.
Several groups of immortals were already congregating, before the debate proper began. Hannibal steered well clear of the group gathered around Antigone, his archrival, and walked up the steep stone steps in search of allies.
"Hannibal!" A voice whispered out of the darkness, and a hand lit a small candle. Jack Russell initially recoiled from the candlelit face, as he thought he saw an old enemy.
But Hannibal laid a calming hand on his partner's shoulder. "It's all right, Jack," Hannibal said. "He's the real thing, not a homunculus. Kierthos, you tenacious devil, I thought St. Germain had killed you."
"It was a long road back from the Dynamax labs. But you, you bastard..." The giant Greek warrior rose and lumbered up to Hannibal, and a note of menace crept into his voice. "You didn't save any of St. Germain for me!"
"I had a prior claim for revenge."
"Yes, you did at that!" Kierthos laughed heartily and wrapped his arms around Hannibal. "Damn, it's good to see you again!"
Jack felt like he was watching one of those rare jock/intellectual friendships; apparently they formed among immortals as well as high school students. "I guess that's one more vote for our side," Jack said. "How many others can we count on?"
"Hard to say," said a new voice. The speaker stepped down from a higher row. He wore a Bond Street business suit, but his voice bore faint traces of a Middle English accent. Jack had seen him at the centenary meeting last year; his name was Hal, and he also had a grudge against Antigone. "Most of the immortals don't like the idea of sharing influence over Earth. I think Antigone has just about convinced the Supernaturals to side with her." Down on the central floor, Antigone chatted and laughed with a wizened Chinese man in a gilded red robe.
"What about the other cliques?" Hannibal asked.
"Doesn't look good," Hal said. "This crisis has pulled in lots of Old Ones." 'Old Ones,' Jack gathered, was a term some of the 'younger' immortals used to describe the very aged ones who had little involvement with the group anymore. "Most of them are just observing, like that odd fellow." Hal pointed across the chamber, where a man with a sun-beaten Mediterranean complexion sat and watched the proceedings with a wry grin. "But they tend to be fairly reactionary. And then, unfortunately, we have the Parasites. One of them has it in for you -- or more accurately, for the currrent generation of mortal friends you've cultivated." Hal pointed down to the floor, where a man with pale skin and long black hair, dressed in nineteenth-century Gothic clothing, sat behind Antigone.
"Hunyadi," Hannibal whispered, with utter hopelessness.
"Who is this guy?" Jack asked.
Hannibal sighed deeply. "Bad news. You see, Jack, the Vitalongae will take any kind of immortal. There are those who heal all damage, as we do, and those who recreate themselves, like Tiresias. Even those who do it through magical means, like St. Germain."
"Hunyadi is essentially a vampire, Jack. You might have heard of his grandson... a fellow called Deathbringer."
Neil Benson wandered aimlessly along the Mall. He should have been working at NASA, doing some tremendously important work now that the Harrakin fleet was here, but NASA had decided he was out of a job. They had closed down the whole solar research project after Dr. Nakamura announced the Harrakin arrival, even though Nakamura swore he hadn't said that of his own free will. So Neil, who had briefly been at the very center of things, was shoved back to the fringes again.
A few college friends were going down to the Mall for the day, and Neil, being unemployed, decided to tag along. The giant field was hosting an impromptu celebration, as people from all over the D.C. area came to show their thanks that the Harrakin had come in peace. One crowd massed by the Capitol, urging Congress to deal honorably with the aliens; another gathered by the National Air and Space Museum, asking the aliens to bring technological wonders to Earth. A bunch of New Age types were gathered in the middle of the Mall, mouthing paeans to the Harrakin between rounds of frisbee and Hacky Sack. Neil didn't really buy into any of it; he'd just come to get away from his family.
They were having some big family gathering at Grandpa Harvey's insistence. Holidays were bad enough, but he wouldn't be placed under house arrest just because grandpa said so. The rest of the family prostrated themselves before grandpa's authority, but not Neil.
He used to have a partial ally against grandpa's domination of the family: his older sister, Anne, who had been more independent than any of them. But as soon as she and grandpa became Omega celebrities, it was like they went off in their own world of fame and importance. Somehow that was okay, but Neil not staying in the Benson Bunker was "showing a complete lack of responsibility to his family," as Mom had said that morning. She didn't realize just how little pull "the family" had on him.
Harvey Hauptmann had lied to them their whole lives, telling them he was "Otto Blume" until he couldn't hide it any longer. After that, Neil didn't care who the guy really was; Neil didn't owe him, or the family he'd built, much of anything.
"So you want to talk about my family?" Harvey said.
[I suppose,] said Hallatiris. [You see, Overman--]
"Please." Harvey held one hand up. "Don't call me that. It sounds really scary, like a military rank. Overman is just a character I inspired. Call me Harvey." He was rather tickled at being able to offer such informality to the head of a galactic empire. Harvey guessed he just led that kind of life.
[Very well then, Harvey.] Hallatiris's image leaned forward, though the dusty rocking chair didn't move with it. [Of all the promises your planet holds, the one I have most anticipated is meeting this miraculous grandson of mine. I believe you call him --] Harvey heard two words in his mind simultaneously. One was "H'R'Djagtal," carrying with it the image of a vast and unstoppable sandstorm, grinding down whole mountain ranges; the other was "Tempest."
A loud, tension-releasing laugh exploded out of Harvey. "Oh, God, of course! He would be your grandson! Well that's... that's great, isn't it?"
[I wouldn't know, Harvey. I wouldn't know how to deal with him at all, but I'm going to meet him with your world leaders tomorrow. You know him, though. One of the Harrakin who returned from exile has told me all about your world and its leading 'Omegas.' You know him, and you have a powerful grandchild of your own. And I was wondering how you deal with both of them.]
Hallatiris looked very deferential, almost contrite; so much so that Harvey grew a little suspicious. "Let me be honest with, you, Emperor."
[Hallatiris.] He smiled, pleased to be extending this courtesy -- as if he were learning the tricks of being a real Earthman.
"Okay, Hallatiris. Your appearance will be very reassuring to lots of people. You look like a kindly old man -- actually, like this one particular one from our, ah, mythology -- but you don't need to play that Friendly Grandpa role with me."
Hallatiris nodded and smirked, and approval flashed through his hard green eyes. [Absolutely not. You're going to teach me how to play that role.]
Harvey sank back in his chair. What if he was setting up Eric for some sort of manipulation? Harvey said, "Don't tell me you don't have any other grandchildren."
[A few,] said the Emperor. [After a massive war of succession between myself and my many siblings some centuries ago, the ruling caste has been somewhat more restrained in producing heirs. There was my granddaughter Sharra, who left Harrak Prime for exile with her thrice-accursed father, Tatris.] Despite the harsh language, Harvey felt disappointment and not hatred coming from Hallatiris at the mention of Tatris's name. [And there is my granddaughter Kkyree, who has ambition yet seems to be a born lackey. She is in the service of my son Ky'Rian, who is the Tempest's father. There are assorted grand-nieces and nephews, all of whom want power and none of whom deserve it. But there is no one like the Tempest. So tell me, Harvey, what is it like to have a grandchild who may be more powerful than you?]
"I don't look at our relationship in terms of Annie being more powerful than me," Harvey said. "I mean, lots of people are more powerful than me, but she's family. That counts first. The power doesn't make a difference."
Hallatiris made some odd facial gesture, widening his mouth and hissing air through his lips. Harvey didn't understand it, but then Hallatiris's telepathy sensed this and retranslated: the Emperor raised one questioning eyebrow.
"Oh, you doubt that," Harvey said. "Well, I guess it does make a difference. I spend more time with Annie now than anyone else in the family. Some of it is because we're being called on to fight threats or help charities, but..." The words started flowing out of Harvey; sometimes it was easier to talk to a virtual stranger. Harvey forgot his suspicions, forgot his nervous fear that one stray comment might spark a war, and just started talking.
"Ever since Annie was a baby, we knew she had special powers. She kept, heh, she kept breaking the bars on her little playpen." He beamed with pride. "I convinced Martha, George, and Annie to keep it secret, so the government wouldn't take her, but I always knew we shared this special bond. Our powers meant it was the two of us against the world. But that's all the power means between us."
[That's unfortunate for me,] Hallatiris said, [because as the Emperor of a family throne, my situation is somewhat different. Power truly does affect the relationship. It never did with yours?]
"Well... Annie was always a real firebrand. Stood up to me more than anyone else. Always doing things I didn't approve of, dating boys I didn't approve of. Kind of like Martha, back before I..."
Harvey turned his face away from Hallatiris before he continued. "Annie once theorized that I have a very slight version of her telepathy. Kind of a force of will. And due to prolonged exposure, the people it has most affected are my family. Even now, they still listen to me, and I still run them like a..."
[Like a little empire!] Hallatiris said. [How delightful!]
"No! Not delightful at all!" Harvey shook his head in shock; he'd just been reminded that despite his appearance, Hallatiris was truly an alien. "I'd like to say it was unintentional, but I always intended to run their lives. So they wouldn't get hurt the way I was. I don't know, maybe every family is like that on some level; I was just too damn good at it.
"Annie resisted me more than the others, but that only increased my respect for her. And now, after all we've been through together, our shared times as fugitives and as heroes, we both respect each other a lot. And we do the same things together, work side by side. I'm damned lucky to have that kind of relationship with my granddaughter. I could easily be some neglected nursing-home prisoner she only sees once a year. Or she could be some terrified servant, like..." He dropped his voice to a hush. "Like the rest of the family. But we have this amazing closeness. I think it works because we truly view each other as equals."
[As equals... fascinating. My people have no relationship that is not marked by an imbalance in standing. Do you think I should treat the Tempest as an equal?]
Harvey chuckled. "You'd better. Of course, equality is just an ideal for most relationships." He looked down guiltily at the house below him. "Here's your first lesson in our culture, pal. Your people have one big tyrant. Humanity just has lots of petty ones."
The Vitalongae ruling tribunal sat at the bottom of the meeting chamber, with faces as stern and passionless as the stone walls surrounding them. They were too old to have proper names: a Sumerian called Asherah, a Navajo called Changing Woman, and an Aborigine called Wandjina Man who wore a business suit and body paint. Their combined years exceeded most of human history; Asherah alone was rumored to predate the invention of writing. "We will now hear from our scout and recruiter," Asherah said, waving a bracelet-covered arm towards Hannibal. "Speak freely and unafraid."
Hannibal took the central floor. He wore the robes of a traditional Mandingo griot, but also carried a Carthaginian helmet under one arm; the Vitalongae were swinging heavily towards tradition again, as evidenced by their choice of tribunal members last year, and it couldn't hurt to remind them of his own long history. Hannibal lifted his voice and spoke in sweet Malinke, while the spinning of Wandjina Man's magical bullroarer translated his speech into the native tongues of all present.
"Fellow immortals," he began. "Nobody denies that we face a major crisis today. Whatever the promises of the Harrakin emperor, we must treat their arrival with utmost caution. I am the last person to contest this; after all, ,my record of fighting against Harrakin is well established." The crowd murmured at this dig against Antigone, who had been on the other side of the Fix fiasco -- a fiasco the Vitalongae had initially supported, through indifference if nothing else. "But caution dictates that we not rush into rash alliances. Stormkiller has failed us greatly before --"
"Only because you interfered!" shouted 9 Dogs House of Flint Knives, a supercilious Aztec prince wholly in Antigone's camp.
"They would have failed anyway!" howled Kierthos.
"-- and will certainly fail again," Hannibal gracefully continued. "Cornelius Owen is a foolish man, blinded by hatred and too willing to place his own good above that of the planet. Our true hope lies in the Omegas." He diplomatically avoided implying that the immortals were also Omegas; some of them hated that. "And what if, by some miracle, Owen does succeed? Then he will be an even greater threat to us than the Harrakin are."
"Associating with mortals has softened your brain," Hunyadi hissed. Behind him, his followers -- a frightening assortment of Parasites who survived by means ranging from organ transplants to ceremonial cannibalism -- laughed scornfully. "The Harrakin are not human!"
"Have a care, vampire," said the quiet Mediterranean sitting at the top of the chamber. "We might say the same of you."
Everybody was too surprised to respond to the mystery man's comments, although the elder immortals seemed disturbed and Antigone flushed red with anger. Hannibal quickly seized the debate again. "More to the point, we might say the same of Owen. His ruthlessness and spite are proven; the Harrakin's are not."
"I resent this slander!" Hunyadi stood up and gestured dramatically, his oratorical style matching his nineteenth-century clothes. "Hannibal is known for consorting with Owen's enemies, a motley crew of ruffians who already placed one of our kind in a mortal prison --" he pointed to Marcus Graekki, who sat behind Antigone -- "and killed another. My own dear grandson." Hunyadi shuddered, as if suffering from his own crocodile tears, and sank back into his seat.
"Jurgen Hunyadi was never a Vitalongae," Hannibal countered, "and is hardly the issue today. The fate of our planet is too precious to risk it on these petty rivalries -- which is exactly what Owen would do, if given our power. We must side with the Omegas, or face destruction."
"Enough obfuscation," said Antigone, still burning with anger. "We've heard both positions. Let's put the matter to a vote."
It was handled quite simply. Asherah stood and called for thumbs up in favor of increased support of Stormkiller, thumbs down if their association was to be terminated in favor of the Omegas. Hannibal dourly reflected that even the symbolic assignment of thumbs was working against him. He might have been the best speaker in the Vitalongae, but it hardly mattered because Antigone usually had the votes won before any speeches were made.
Asherah sounded the call, and the Vitalongae stabbed their hands outwards, to have their thumbs read by candlelight. Many of the younger ones supported Hannibal's position; he had recruited many of them, after all. Kierthos and Hal also led a small faction of warrior-immortals who despised Antigone's scheming. Surprisingly, the Mediterranean also voted his way. But the Parasites all followed Hunyadi, and Antigone had convinced the Old Ones that her path was wisest. By a considerable margin, the Vitalongae voted for a full alliance with Stormkiller and total hostility to the Harrakin.
Hannibal had just slouched down into his seat, thinking matters could not get any worse, when Antigone took the floor. Looking directly at him, Antigone said, "There is one other matter we must resolve..."
"The toughest part about dealing with Eric may be his own insistence that he's not really a human being. Of course, that's not quite the same problem for you..." Harvey rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Or maybe it is, because he's not really a Harrakin either."
[Why does he think this? I was told that your 'American' culture was less concerned with breeding than ours.]
"Yeah, that's what we'll tell you," Harvey grumbled. "But in Eric's case, I think it comes down to power. Funny how everything's ending up there today. He's just so much more powerful than anyone else, it sets him apart."
[We Harrakin are accustomed to dealing with beings of power...]
"I don't know if that would really help Eric much. Y'see, I think he worries too much about his own power. He insists that it means he can't have a normal life. It's like he's saying that family and friends and morality and other things don't matter, only the power does. And if he puts that much emphasis on power as the defining part of him, then of course he'll never have a normal life. He'll be too busy being powerful.
"You want my advice? Ignore his power. Don't even praise him for it, and for God's sake, don't call him 'the Tempest.' Call him 'grandson,' or even 'Eric.' Respect him for who he is and not how many mountains he can raze. He needs that."
Hallatiris nodded his head and smiled. [This truly would never have occurred to me. Thank you, Harvey.] His eyes unfocused and stared off in the distance; Harvey didn't know if he was looking at something on his ship, or just lost in thought. [You must be close with Eric to know this.]
"I guess. I like the kid a lot, but I don't see as much of him as I used to." There was an uncomfortable silence; to keep from thinking about the fleet of warships at this man's command, Harvey said, "Why do you ask?"
[I need to know... does he already view you as a kind of grandfather? Does he not need another one?]
"Ohhh. No, no, you don't have to worry about that. Eric doesn't have many parents at all. His foster mom turned out to be a pretty big creep. His real mom is an angel, but he only just met her. I guess his foster dad was a nice guy, since Eric and Danny turned out so well, but he's dead now. And me, I was always just some old guy to him.
"But the other way around... I viewed Eric as a successor of sorts, back when I took this Overman thing a little too seriously. And he is such a nice kid. Maybe... maybe I viewed him as the grandson I never had."
Hallatiris suddenly laughed, and Harvey was taken aback. "What the hell is so funny?" he shouted.
[I meant no offense, Harvey. But from what you've told me, you already have some grandsons.]
"Of course, but none who I could be close with like Annie. James is just a little boy; he loves the fact that his grandpa is Overman, and I'm too flattered to disillusion him, but an idolizer is hardly an equal. And Henry's boy, Steve, is a good kid -- he was happy to change his last name to Hauptmann -- but he's as compliant to Henry as Henry once was to me. And God, don't get me started on Neil."
[Why not?] Hallatiris watched Harvey with the sharp eyes of a student who was quickly surpassing his teacher.
"The others might choose to stick with the family like Henry, or idolize it like James, or rebel against its control like Martha and Annie. But that kid rejects the whole family altogether! Sometimes I almost think he's not part of the family at all."
As Neil wandered closer to the Washington Monument, he noticed the crowd was changing significantly. They shouted rhythmic, angry chants and bore posters of planet Earth. Neil soon realized they were suspicious of the Harrakin, wanted Earth to increase its defenses, and had gathered here because the Monument was humanity's standing ground against the Fix's Harrakin army last year. Some protesters even wore T-shirts of Anne and grandpa, which irked Neil to no end.
He would have left the anti-Harrakin demonstrators for that reason alone, but he noticed that the larger pro-Harrakin group was drifting down this way, and the two sides weren't mingling well. Accusations of "sellout," "dupe," and "fascist" began flying very quickly and indiscriminately. Neil decided to look for his friends and get them away from the crowd.
But as he looked for them, he saw three young men his age accosting an older man. He couldn't even tell who was on which side, he just heard the college guys screaming obscenities. The argument got louder and louder, and the college guys were starting to rile up the people around them. A fight could break out at any moment.
This is probably a good time to find your friends and get out, Neil told himself. Getting involved is your sister's style, your grandfather's style. And you are not like them.
Hannibal struggled to reach Antigone, as her supporters led him and his chief allies away to house arrest. Marcus and 9 Dogs barred his path, all too ready to draw their weapons, but Antigone nodded her indulgence. Hannibal was allowed to approach her and Hunyadi.
"This is madness!" Hannibal hissed, not bothering to conceal his anger. "This is no time for a selfish coup d'etat!"
"Oh no," Antigone said, feigning offense, "this is nothing of the sort. You and Russell interfered with our last plan; we're simply not letting you stop this one."
"But it's a mad plan to begin with! We need to work for peace, and failing that, we need to work with the Omegas!"
"Those precious Omegas of yours slew my grandson," Hunyadi insisted.
"Hiding behind that again," Hannibal stated. Marcus and 9 Dogs were starting to pull him away, but he shook off their grip for a few seconds more. "So what's your excuse for jeopardizing the planet, Antigone?"
"What's my excuse?" Antigone looked up to the high seats where the Mediterranean had been sitting. He was gone now. "My father fucked his mother and I came out, Hannibal. That's excuse enough."
"Family always is, to the guilty," Hannibal said coldly. Then he was dragged away, and the great bronze doors slammed shut behind him.
There was no doubt in Neil's mind; the college guys and the older man were going to fight any minute now. It would be the worst thing possible in this mob. But stopping the fight was something his tyrant grandfather would do.
Then again, his tyrant grandfather had a pretty good track record for sticking up for people outside the family. And he had powers to fall back on, something Neil proudly did without. Neil got by on his own achievements... not that anyone else paid attention... but now that Anne and grandpa weren't around... Neil shook his head and stepped back. What was he about to talk himself into? He felt nauseous, and almost turned his back on the scene.
But the middle-aged man finally lost his temper and mouthed off, and one of the college guys shoved him. The older man fell to the ground, and the college guys were ready to pounce on him. Feeling lightheaded, Neil ran towards the brewing fight before he could stop himself. He held his arms open wide and tried to sound friendly as he said "Guys, guys, we can all stay really calm about this..."
"Yeah, well fuck you, asshole!" Neil barely had time to register the guy's alcohol-soaked breath before he was tackled. Neil was driven to the ground and given several punches to the stomach. That seemed to make his nausea worse, though he didn't throw up. "Stay the fuck out of our way!" the guy screamed.
Neil couldn't speak, couldn't fight back, couldn't get up. He felt like he had the worst fever of his life. His panic only increased as two different men jumped in to help him, and the other college guys joined the fight, and a full-scale brawl broke out.
"No, I don't ignore Neil," Harvey stressed. "What's there to ignore?" He waved his hands in concession. "Okay, yes, I do spend much more time with Annie than with the rest of the family, and I feel awful about that. But that's unavoidable, given who I am. I don't treat Neil any worse than the rest of them. Why are you so interested in Neil, anyway?"
[Because he seems roughly the same age as Eric. And because the only thing you haven't yet told me is how you'd deal with a grandson you haven't spent a lot of time with.]
"Oh." Harvey scratched his head. "That would depend on Neil, if he wanted to be part of the family."
Hallatiris smiled sagely. [You've been so helpful with the human perspective, Harvey. Please allow me to share the Harrakin one. Neil carries your blood, the same blood as your granddaughter Anne. No matter what you or he say, he is part of your family.]
Harvey was nodding his head in agreement when the full meaning of those words dawned on him.
The brawl by the Washington Monument was rapidly approaching riot level. Pro- and anti-Harrakin demonstrators began swinging their posters as weapons. One park policeman rode in to calm the crowd, but the three college guys pulled him off his horse. The whinnying, riderless horse only added to the chaos as more people got pulled into the fight.
Then, suddenly, someone was pulling the combatants apart -- and when they were pulled apart, they stayed apart, as this man flung them many feet in each direction. Wooden poster handles broke across his back without fazing him. When the horse nearly trampled a fleeing family, this same man grabbed and stopped it without budging an inch.
The fight nearly reached lethal force as one of the last fighters, one of the college guys, feeling desperate and cornered, drew a knife. As it sliced through the air, the good samaritan raced across the field at blinding speed. The knife thrust through the air, towards a fleeing protestor. Then the samaritan was suddenly in the way; the knife ripped through his shirt, struck his skin, and broke. The samaritan winked and kicked the college guy in his groin, sending him crashing down in agony. The college guy's two friends jumped on the samaritan, who shrugged them off as if they were slightly heavy shirts. And with that, the fighting was over.
An ABC cameraman got there almost as quickly as the police. He focused on the appreciative crowd around the samaritan, on the shirt that was ripped and torn over unblemished skin, on the young man's surprised, nervous smile. "Who are you?" the cameraman asked.
"I'm Neil Benson." Anticipating the next question, he said, "And don't call me Overboy."
Chapter 1: Visions · Chapter 3: Searching
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