[Evening at Center Neptune. The sea is pitch-black outside the portholes. Most of G-Force is sitting on the sofas, chatting over the mission they just accomplished. Jason is sitting behind a desk in the far corner of the room, chewing ruminatively on a shuriken.]
Devil: Hiya bucko.
Jason: I thought I told you to stay away from me.
- Yeah, yeah ignore me now, I'll be here long after your 'friends' are a memory.
- In case you didn't notice, things are different now.
- That so? Then tell me Superboy, why are you sitting over here in the corner while everyone else is over there?
- Because I *want* to.
- Because you screwed up. Admit it.
- Did not. We just had a bad mission.
- Is that right? How about we go over what just happened? So this mecha is wreaking havoc, you guys show up and don't you just STAND there looking stupid? Thanks to you there are, let's see now, 58,000 extra people dead.
I'm being fair here, I'm not talking about the 1,000,000 who died before you came. After all, technically it's not really your fault that you guys were delayed because Keyop got himself in trouble at that base. You just happened to be the chump who got gassed halfway to death (good thing you're mostly immune to that nerve-gas) saving him.
- Did you see the expressions on their faces as I got up and started ripping off their gas masks? Priceless. Not that *you'd* know about such things, but it's generally good to know where something you're about to blast out of the sky is going to land. There was a fusion plant down there and if I'd fired immediately and even a fragment had hit the wrong place, a lot more people would be dead now. Besides, I did get it afterwards.
- And what's to have prevented it from blasting that area anyway?
- Nothing, but it was more interested in other targets, so I accepted Mark's judgement on it.
- You mean the bomb-shelters where people were hiding, trusting that you guys could take the mecha out quickly, right? You could have hit it just right and it'd have fallen clear, unless your aim suddenly went to hell. Say, did you see the little girl? Or rather half a girl, on what was left of the street corner? If you'd knocked it out of the sky, she'd be still alive you know.
- I could not have known that. I do know that if I'd blown up the reactor, I'd have the whole city's blood on my hands.
- Fine, fine. I'll presume you calculated all the different ways you could have taken it down earlier and came up blank.
- I only wish I had.
- "I only wish I had." That's your pathetic idea of an exuse? Did your 'Trusted Leader' do it for you? No? Oh, I get it. He had one of his 'hunch-thingies' and you swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
- It's called a premonition, and I've never known Mark to be wrong. Yet.
- You let 60,000 people die because of a 'feeling'? I know you're stupid, but this is a new low. All those phony-ass psychics on T.V. are actually right, sometimes. He just said that to keep you quiet. But I'm not going to argue with you - go on believing that your leader can see the future. Just keep in mind that, unlike you, he can afford to fail.
- What are you talking about?
- Now I really know that you're losing it, not that you ever had it to begin with. Open your eyes. Mark was practically born and raised here. His parents were 'valued partners'. He's the Chief's blue-eyed boy. If he ever messed up, all they'd do would be to pension him off royally. As for you, they'll just take you back.
- No they won't take you back, or no you won't go back? Wake up and smell something 'sides the B.S. they've been giving you. And don't even bother looking at the others.
Princess? Hah, she's the apple of Wonderboy's eye. If he stays, she stays.
Tiny? He actually has a family and he can go back, anytime. Keyop? Now isn't that the scary part? You told him that he's reached 90% of his adult height and weight yet? They'll just change him like a light-bulb and take him in for 'scientific study'.
You'll go back where you belong, the Cellar.
- They're different.
- From all the others? Ri-ight. Just because they've kept you longer than the others don't mean that they intend to keep you forever.
- That was an evil thing to say.
- The truth is never impertinent, boy. You know what your problem is? You're too trusting. Some people come in, see you and you start putting on the puppy in a pet shop window act, thinking maybe Mum and Dad have come back for you. They use you, abuse you then take you back. It's happened four times. How is this place different? Aren't you being used here?
- I'm fighting for a good cause.
- As if wearing some fancy bits of plastic, (poly-whatever, don't waste my time with details) and waving some weapons about will solve the world's problems.
- I'm happy knowing I'm making a difference here. And we do a lot more than wave our weapons about.
- 'Cos if you didn't, its back to the fun and games of the Cellar. Yep, back to the Small Room and Lex (oh, the interesting things he used to do when you were 'bad') and recall the time you hid under the table with a knife so no-one could get to you (they broke every rib you had for that one) and..
- SHUT UP!! I will not return there alive.
- Better go kill yourself then, because you *are* getting soft, boyo.
- And when I'm dead, I'll come find you and tear you to bits. I have all eternity to do that, you know.
- Time out, time out. Let's try this again. Remember the last time you got out, when those Italians (alright, Sicilians) took you in?
- What of it? They were very good to me and I loved them, if you know what the word means.
- So good that they were packing you back because they were leaving in a hurry and couldn't take you with them. Sure they said they'd come back for you - eventually. I suppose love meant screaming how you hated them and wished they would die, just before the assassin showed up? I'm still in awe of that piece of timing.
- Have I ever told you how much I hate you? Still, all things said and done, if that hadn't happened, I'd never have met the Chief. He saved my life.
- Good pieces of laser-fodder are hard to come by. Let's just say he realized you were special. I hope you haven't started deluding yourself into thinking you're human. You're a mix of Terran and God knows what else genes, made by no-one knows who or why. You've neither an ancestry nor hope of posterity - the sawbones here made *damn* sure of the latter. Face it, nobody cares about people who are not human. Sure, it's made you useful, but the Chief don't know whether you're stable or not, so I bet you bottom dollar that he's looking for someone to replace you as soon as you show the slightest weakness.
- How many times must I tell you, things are different now. And even if they aren't, it doesn't mean I'll go back to the Cellar.
- Oh yes it does, you won't be turning 21 for another four years now and you'll break down or get killed before then.(It may three years by the fake birth certificate the Chief made, but we both know its four.)'Course, first they'll take you the hospital and take away all the stuff that turned you into a super-muck-a-muck. Probably give you a lobotomy too - dumb people don't suffer as much as smart ones. Speaking of which, I can hear the nurses now.
- They always come by after a three-day mission, especially one that went as badly as this one.
- They're going to take you back there my boy, they just come by so often to lull you into a sense of false security...
"Jason, you do look a little run-down today. Would you like to come in for overnight observation ?"
"I trust you will grant that I might have enough intelligence to know when I need to seek medical attention."
"Oh. Okay. Well, would you be so kind as to let me take a blood sample at least?"
"Hand over the syringe. I *did* take a course in phlebmology."
Devil: Yay. Brave boy foils evil doctors' plot again... . Haven't you realized by now that glaring at me only makes me stronger?
- I'm not listening to you any longer. I'm going to bed.
-Fine by me. What nightmare do you want me to put on? There's the low lights of the day, the...
"Jason, where are you going?"
"Do I need to report my every action to you, Mark?"
"Not as yet, but it was just that we were planning to go over to Henri's to have the first real meal of the week and you know they have great shrimp scampi."
"Which I do not always feel like having. Goodnight."
"I told you Mark, you should have let me ask him. He's still pretty cut up over today."
"True. Though sometimes I do wish I knew just what gets into him."
* * *
When the Soviet bloc disintegrated 50 years ago, many eastern European state-run orphanages found themselves strapped for cash and resources. One enterprising man bought out a remote Rumanian one and converted it into a center for orphans from all over the ever-expanding civilized Universe. Nicknamed 'the Cellar' by its residents, it keeps a low profile because although it makes legal adoptions, its true profits come from another source: many of its former inmates make excellent material for the some of the most deadly, elite fighting forces known to men.
Archaic name for a doctor inexplicably come back into service.
While the vast majority of people attain the status of legal adulthood at 18, hybrids, mutants and so-called 'sports' can neither be considered adult nor obtain the right to live independently until at least the age of 21 and then only if certified as sound of mind and body. This form of repression has largely supplanted the older problems of racism and gender discrimination.