From the Story Arc: Two For The Show

Previous Story in the Arc: Growing Pains by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, March 18, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Forever Friend by Astra Kyne Murdock (Wednesday, March 29, 2006)

(posted Sunday, March 19, 2006)

John wasn't a stranger to pressure. Getting shot at on a regular basis will do a lot to make most everyday hassles small-time. But this...His children had hard decisions to make. Before, when he and Sera had initially been given the news, everything was far off. We'll worry about it when they come of age---until then, let's live as happily as possible. There wasn't any immediacy then; but there was now. The twins had manifested their powers far earlier than anyone had expected; John first used his inherent ability to control and create fire when he was well into adult-hood. The earliest that the twins should have begun would have been once they were in their teens. They were so young...

He couldn't skip a beat on this; he had to be there for his children---and for Sera; this was an unexpected blow for both of them---now more than ever before. John took a breath, and looked soberly at his two youngest children. They were both fidgeting in their chairs at the family dining table, looking for all the world like they had been caught being naughty.

Sera picked up on that too. "You haven't done anything wrong, my loves," she said quickly, putting her own fears under tight control. "It's just--we knew you would be able to do this sort of thing eventually, perhaps in seven or eight years, Then, you would have understood exactly what it all would mean to you, and to us. Now--now we are going to have to have a talk with you that we didn't anticipate having to do until then."

She looked helplessly at John. They would have to tell the twins everything now. And hope they were mature enough to understand just how serious it was.

John smiled, hoping to put them at ease. "First things first, we're glad you had the sense to practice outside, on the lake. Havin' a home to come back to, sans the ashes, is a good thing." He steepled his fingers on the table, leaning forward. "There are a few things that we were waiting to tell you, for when you were older. We didn't want to burden you with the knowledge, or the full knowledge, of your births. I have---had, rather---the abilities that you both have just discovered. It came to me naturally, just like it has for you; an aberrant set of genes that allowed me to do extraordinary things. But...it came with a cost." John hesitated for a moment.

Sera insinuated the words into his mind. *I know this will be hard, love. But they have to know. And...we have to trust that the way we have taught them will help them really understand how serious this is. They know what death is. We have not sheltered them too much.* She felt the pain he felt. It was one thing to have taught the twins that death was...real, Inevitable,. And, for her part, that it was also a passage into something more. But it was quite another to have to tell them that they were going to die, soon, unless they made decisions that would affect and in some ways limit them for the rest of their lives.

John sent an empathic caress over their connection, bolstered somewhat. He had to bite the bullet, and speak plainly. As precocious as the twins clearly were, it might not be a matter of years before they began to feel the negative effects of the powers. It might be a matter of--well--use-hours. Trying to dodge the issue would do more harm than good. "The more I used my powers, the more it weakened my body. It damaged me; ischemic damage to my cells. The genes that caused my powers have been passed on to you two. If you use your powers, the end result will be the same; you will die."

Astra interrupted him, wide-eyed and tearful. "But Daddy--what about Healers? Couldn't Healers fix things? Healers can fix anything!"

John nodded, placing a hand over one of Astra's. "That's true, dear. The Elven healers here would be able to heal you. It's not a perfect solution, though. You would eventually become dependent on them, if you continued to use your powers. Things would degenerate to where you wouldn't be able to leave Underhill for more than a few hours, if that."

Astra gulped. Not be able to leave Underhill? She liked the Elves well enough, she liked it here but--but--it was too perfect here. Nothing ever changed, not really.

And how could she become a hero if she couldn't leave here?

Aedan's thoughts mirrored her own, reflected in their twin-link. Mom and Dad were both heroes---and now JJ was, too! How could they not grow up to become heroes? What else would they do? It scared him to think about it. He sat quietly, waiting for Dad to begin again.

John could feel the sublte tension growing in his children; even JJ, leaning in the corner of the room while John and Sera broke the news, was nervous. "Because you would be effectively stuck on that path, to be stranded here in Underhill...well, Mom and me were apprehensive when we first considered having children together. So, we talked to some people. Aunt Bella and Vickie were two of them. There are other solutions. One is to go Topside, where there are doctors. They would be able to remove your powers. But only if you wanted them to," He sighed, starting to fidget in his own seat. He desperately hoped that the twins wouldn't consider that option. The decision was theirs to make, of course...but he didn't think that either he or Sera would be able to bear what that course of action would entail.

"NO!" Astra shouted, horrified at the very idea, She jumped out of her chair, really crying now. "No, Daddy, please! I wanta be a hero! I gotta be a hero! Please don't make me--" She burst into sobs, unable to continue. Aedan sat there, his face red and tears streaming down his cheeks. John and Sera both got up from the table, walking around to hold the twins. Even JJ was teary-eyed, and lurched up to join in the hug.

"Oh loves, no, we won't make you do anything you don't want to!" Sera's cheeks were wet too. "There are some people who don't want to be heroes--and if you didn't want to--it's hard, loves, you know that. You've seen us come home sometimes--"

They had, of course. Seen them both, and now JJ, return rather much the worse for wear. Seen one or both of them so exhausted that they dropped into something flat and passed out. Had seen Sera in tears because she had arrived too late to save some hapless victims, seen John pinch-mouthed and silent after hard missions in terrible places.

"--if that--if that bothered you, we just wanted you to know you didn't have to even consider becoming a hero--"

Astra shook her head, then plastered herself against her father's chest. "I gotta be, We gotta be," she cried, voice muffled against his jacket.

John hugged his family closer together, both he and Sera pouring reassurance and love outwards into the room. "You can be heroes, kids. And you don't have to make any decisions today. There are other options, different ways we can solve this. One would involve going to the Elves for more help...but we aren't sure what they would ask for in return. The other would be that both of you become Kheldians yourselves. Now, before you start, I need to tell you a few things."

Astra immediately clamped down on her tears, and unstuck herself from her father's side. She scrubbed at her eyes with her sleeve and looked up at her parents' faces. "Okay," she said, her voice trembling only a little. She glanced over at Aedan.

Aedan wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, nodding and sniffling. "We'll listen, Dad." He sat back down in his chair, leaning back from his parents and sister so that he could see John clearly.

"Becoming part of a Kheldian fusion isn't easy. First, you need to find a willing and unfused Kheldian. There aren't that many on Earth. Once the fusion is completed...you may or may not be entirely yourselves. Some people that fuse also fuse their personalities with the Kheldian. Instead of two beings, you have one new one. Others will fuse, and have both personalities in the same body, with each sharing control."

Astra blinked, and wondered if the surge of excitement she felt at that was hers, Aedan's, or both...

Hers. Yes, definitely hers. To have a friend with you forever--it would be like the twin-link, only better!

"Fusions aren't free, however. Once you become a Peacebringer, you'll have certain duties. One is to protect mankind from any and all threats; essentially, you must become a hero. In your cases, you would likely register in Paragon City with JJ and your mother and I. Another duty is to face dangers that few other beings in the galaxy will ever have to face, hopefully. The Nictus---we haven't told you two much about them. They are a race of beings that used to be Kheldians, but changed themselves. They became greedy, and wanted to live forever. They used their world's science to alter themselves so that they could drain other Kheldians, and become effectively immortal. After many years of oppression and slavery, the Kheldians rose up against the Nictus, driving them out from their home planet. That was when the Peacebringers were created; a group of Kheldians dedicated to defending the universe from Nictus control.

"The Nictus are very dangerous to Peacebringers, and vice versa. They are polar opposites, from philosophy to their composition. As Kheldians, you both would be expected to fight them wherever you find them. It's very dangerous work, and is a responsibility that shouldn't be accepted lightly. Do y'all understand what I've told you so far?"

Astra nodded. Maybe they understood even better than her daddy thought. She remembered once when Sera had literally half-carried him in over the threshold, hurt, exhausted, and emotionally drained. She and Aedan were supposed to be asleep, and they had held very still to maintain that fiction. She remembered the name "Nictus," and some murmured conversation about a "crystal". Whatever had happened, had been awful. In fact, that was the moment when she and her twin had realized that her mom and daddy weren't invincible and the careful talks about--death--were something more than abstract. It was a good thing Aunt Bella had shown up right after. Aunt Bella had held them and just let them get over their scaredness after the blue-skinned healer had finished fixing her daddy and comforting her mom.

"We're not trying to scare you, kids. We just want you aware of what your choices are. JJ got the same talk we've just given you, though his circumstances were somewhat different. Now, like I said, y'all don't have to make any decisions right now. We're going to be talking about this a good bit more, and we'll let y'both figure out what you want to do. It seems to me," he said, a smile creeping across his face for the first time in what seemed like eons, "that you're both dead-set on becomin' heroes one day. Am I right?"

Astra nodded so hard she was dizzy for a second. Aedan jumped up. "You betcha, Pops! We can't let JJ, Ratt, and Shuma have all the fun!"

John looked over to Sera. *Do you think they're ready for some instruction?*

*I think if you do not start training them, they will train themselves, and may the Infinite protect everything down here if they do.*

"Well, first things first. No using your powers in the house. Doesn't matter if we're here or not; that's the ground rule. Sound good?" They both nodded their assent. "Good. Tomorrow me and your Mom will take a day off patrolling. We'll start building some skill sets for y'all. Bein' a hero isn't just about flyin' around and blasting bad-guys to the Zig. You have to know how to deal with folks, how to be safe with yourself and with others. So, get a good night's sleep tonight; you'll need it." John relaxed a little bit. The hard part was over, for now. The training would keep the kids busy, so that they wouldn't dwell on the darker aspects of the decisions they would have to make. He and Sera would still talk to them about it, but they wouldn't force their choices into any particular direction. It was the best that they could do for their children, and they would.

But as Astra fell asleep that night, her mind was humming. From the moment that her father had said the words "Kheldian fusion" and described what it meant, her mind was made up. She'd seen her father and JJ as they used their powers. It was better than magic. It was way, way, better than fire. And--the idea of sharing her head with someone else, like a sister? That was like Mom and Aunt Bella. Like Mom and Dad. It was....awesome.

She was going to find a Forever Friend for herself. She was going to become a Kheldian as soon as possible. Her parents just weren't going to find out about it until it was too late to stop her--

--because there was on other thing her Dad had taught her and hadn't realized it.

"It's always easier to beg forgiveness than get permission," she whispered the quote to herself, and smiled as she fell asleep.