Lady Jezebel

Chapter Six

Rating: M

Author: Lily Zen


Notes: I would like to address something before this particular chapter as I believe it is of relevance. Some readers brought up the subject of a possible pregnancy resulting from last chapter's events. To those of you who were dismayed by this possibility, I'm sorry to have disappointed you. Frankly, I thought about changing it after I read that, but I decided not to because then I'd have to change key points in the follow-up story's plot. So the story will continue as I drafted it up, but I'm imploring you to continue reading. I think you'll end up being rather surprised by where this story goes. It is not one of those heat-centric happy-ending formulaic stories that you seem to believe it is turning into. If you keep reading, you'll see that.

Disclaimer: Dark Angel isn't mine. Original stuff is.


Raina enjoyed Alec's company for a few more hours. It was a parting gift she was giving to herself; the long, luxurious shower they took together, letting him brush the tangles out of her hair, trading jokes and stories and smiles and kisses. It was a level of intimacy she'd never allowed herself to have before, and if she was honest, she wouldn't have let herself have it with Alec either if she hadn't made so many dumb decisions in a row. Part of her thought maybe she'd made them all on purpose, knowing exactly what would result from them.

Then when she could put it off no longer, she gently persuaded him that he should return to Terminal City. "No doubt Max thinks I have absconded with you and sold you for parts." She laughed lightly. Alec fought her on it, but her persistence paid off; he eventually conceded.

The black haired woman dressed at the same time, slipping on a pair of purple lacy underwear and a matching bra. The color matched her eyes and the short-sleeved blouse she pulled on. Gray twill trousers followed that and a pair of black flats. Her black hair was dry now and she secured it in a silver barrette, low enough that it hid her barcode. She looked more like herself now, not like that wanton thing who had just recklessly, thoughtlessly ruined everything.

Alec was looking at her in the mirror, having finished dressing. She pasted on a smile and turned, though the look in his eyes said that he knew that wonderful, fun, sexy woman he'd just serviced for hours upon hours was gone, hidden away underneath layers of Raina's icy control. Then she had a vision of Rene, miles and miles away, calling the hotel and leaving a message with the girl who'd been at the desk yesterday.

It was different this time. The visions didn't bombard her like they had for years. She wasn't lost in them, cut off from the rest of the world. It took a fraction of a second to receive the complete foretelling, and then she was back in reality, still completely functional. Idly, she wondered what had changed, but her curiosity stopped there. Perhaps it was simply time that her mind had healed from the damage Manticore had dealt her. Oh, the physical scars were long gone, but she still bore the memories of those long years.

"Ready?" Raina asked.

"Yep."

"I'll walk you out," she stated and grabbed her room key.

The elevator ride was painfully quiet. Raina had the sense that Alec didn't want to chitchat with her, that he found the change in her behavior to be abrupt and disappointing. If he was waiting for her to declare her undying devotion, he was going to be waiting a very long time indeed. "Do you mind if we stop at the front desk?" Raina asked coolly as the lift doors slid discreetly open.

"That's fine," Alec replied and followed her on silent feet.

She had eleven messages; five increasingly frantic ones from Sandeman, four highly concerned ones from Brigit, and two from a very angry Max. They read 'Where the hell are you? Where's Alec?' and 'What the hell? Where are you two? Call me back ASAP!'

Alec, who was reading over her shoulder, chuckled and said, "I had no idea she cared so much." The resulting vision momentarily rendered her speechless. She smiled brightly to cover it up. "Come on, let's get you home before somebody comes pounding on my door."

They walked to the parking garage together where Alec had left his Duke. She stood straight as he swung his leg over and straddled the bike. Before he could turn on the engine and before she lost her nerve, Raina stepped in close. "Thank you," she said, and kissed him one last time. Alec clutched her around the waist and was momentarily tempted to sling her over his lap. There was the woman he'd just spent an amazing day with, and he kind of wanted to try to keep her forever. Instead he pulled back with a nip to her full lower lip, grinned confidently, and said, "No. Thank you."

Raina stepped back then and laced her fingers together behind her back so she wouldn't touch him again. "Bye, Alec."

"Bye, Raina," he smiled, "It was nice meeting you."

The words lanced her heart, but her face remained polite as she said "you too," and watched him ride away.


Raina was apparently a dweller, which was something she hadn't known about herself before. She dwelled for a good two hours before she finally called Sandeman back and made her report to him. She told him everything…everything, even though it killed her to do so, to admit to such weakness. In the end, all he could say was that she and her team needed to leave town immediately, and that he was disappointed in her.

When he hung up the phone, she found that big, fat tears were dripping silently down her cheeks, hitting the writing desk in the suite's living room. It was odd for her because Raina couldn't really remember crying, not about something so silly and insignificant as a couple of words. Maybe when Lydecker had her in solitary for that long time.

Fifteen minutes later, she called Brigit, and told her to round up the team and rendezvous back at the hotel. Ten minutes after that she had them all booked on the Red Eye flight to Montreal.

Then all she had was more time to dwell, and she did.

She dwelled on something she had known since she was a little girl, but refused to accept: that it was her sorry fate to love someone promised to another. To fight for him would irrefutably alter the course of history and-she just couldn't. Despite the years that had passed from her time at Manticore, following orders was still ingrained in her behavior.


Montreal

Rene Sandeman was ninety-five years old and for his age, very well-preserved. The Familiars tended to have a longer lifespan due to their years of selective breeding, but they were still human. So even though he had been bred to be strong and resilient, his body was still breaking down over time, leaving him a little weaker with each passing year. At the moment he was breathing deeply while he held a mask up to his face. The mask was connected through a small plastic tube to a portable oxygen tank. Over the rim of the mask, his dark brown eyes were cool and speculative and held just a hint of the anger he felt.

Raina stoutly refused to let herself wilt under his gaze. She sat with ramrod straight posture on an antique divan with her hands resting casually in her lap, and ordered herself not to fidget, even if that was all she secretly wanted to do. Still, pride kept her silent and still.

One gnarled hand reached out and turned the oxygen off, and then he set down the mask with equal deliberation. "Raina," he began, and then he corrected himself, "501 seems more appropriate for the tone of this meeting, don't you think? A little more disciplinary." She almost flinched at the cold tone of his voice and the use of her designation, but curbed the impulse.

Sandeman rubbed the bridge of his hawkish nose between low brows that had long gone gray and heaved a deep sigh. "I don't enjoy this, Raina. I have never once had to reprimand you for anything; I've never wanted to. Up to this point, you've been infallible. But you knew, you were told that 494 was not for you, and yet you defied me the moment you saw him. I was going to make you my liaison with Terminal City. You would have been the person I trusted most with the job. Now I shall have to consider other options, because clearly we must keep you away from 494. Something about his presence completely short circuits your logical thought processes."

There was a heavy moment of silence where Rene wheezed a bit until he got his breath under control again. For the first time since she'd sat down in his study, Raina's countenance registered something other than impassivity; she looked sad. Rene grinned ruefully and grumbled, "Ah, don't look at me like that. I should have never smoked one cigar, but I was young and foolhardy. Speaking of, what have you to say for yourself?"

"I was young and foolhardy?" Raina parroted back wearing the smile that had melted hearts all across the globe. Her eyes were hopeful, but Sandeman dashed those hopes with his next words.

"You were, but don't forget selfish and irresponsible. I have a certain fondness for you, Raina. You have been an invaluable resource for me these past years, but none of that puts you above reproach. Should you become too much of a liability to me, I have no reservations about letting you go." Rene steepled his fingers together and pursed his lips in a way that thinned them even more, and Raina studied him with a calmness that hid the hurt she felt.

She wet her suddenly dry lips, opened her mouth to speak, to say something, anything, but she was strangely speechless. Sandeman eyed her curiously, this strange creation of his whom he'd truly thought was the perfect soldier for many years, and was abruptly reminded that under years of training and abuse, she was still a woman, and women were renowned for their emotional reactions to certain stimuli. "Do you understand, Raina?" he asked, his voice gentler than it had been before.

All she could do was nod. "Yes, I understand. My orders, sir?"

"Proceed as normal, prior to this unusual escapade of yours."

Raina stood up and turned on her heel smartly, her flats making her steps nearly silent, and walked away to the double wooden doors. They were expertly carved and appropriately enough with the ancient symbols of the manticore and its ilk. Just as she was reaching for the bronze handles, Sandeman's voice stopped her. "Oh, and Raina?"

She turned and locked eyes with the aging Familiar scientist, still formidable despite his physical weaknesses. His mind was still as sharp as ever, and one didn't need to move to think. He stood to his full height, his posture a little bit stooped as he leaned heavily on his custom designed walking cane. "Do you think there will be a child resulting from this indiscretion of yours?" Her face flamed and that was answer enough for him. Rene nodded to himself, "I thought as much."

Raina cleared her throat as her next words threatened to choke her. "Should I abort?"

The answer took some thought on Rene's part. X5s were rare enough, and if the goal in the future was to blend in with society and live like normal people, they should probably not demonstrate a pro stance on abortion. The general populace seemed to disagree with it, and with Raina being such a public figure, people would just love to have some dirt to dig up on her, especially after she 'came out' as a transgenic. "No, I think that would send the wrong kind of message. However, perhaps we can find a suitable family to adopt the child. You don't have any particular attachment to the idea of being a parent, do you?"

"No, of course not." Raina shook her head emphatically. "This is an acceptable alternative. Until then, I shall try to keep my pregnancy as quiet as possible." Sandeman nodded like she had finally done something right, and turned his back on her, walking painstakingly behind the huge mahogany desk. It was a blatant dismissal, and Raina's fingers tightened convulsively where they still held the bronze doorknob, then she turned and walked out of the room without another word.

It was humiliating being talked down to like she was some misbehaving child, and she was choking on the criticism she'd been forced to endure. He was right though, Raina firmly reminded herself as she paced down the corridor, her steps echoing on the parquet floor and bouncing off the high plaster walls with their elaborate crown molding. Her steps were smooth and unhurried, those of a caged predator. "You deserve it," she whispered under her breath, "You knew better."

So she was going to give up her child. That was okay. Truth be told, she much preferred her lifestyle of unattached roaming to the thought of being saddled with a crying, shitting, spitting germ factory. Children were so messy, and they required constant supervision. They were completely unsuited to her career, her life's work. For years she had dedicated herself to the cause, working diligently from the shadows of Washington D.C. It would be foolish to throw it all away for some bastard progeny from an illicit affair.

Raina was so completely lost in thought that she walked right past the crowded family room where her teammates were reuniting with their friends and family, oblivious to the curious stares she received from some of them, and right up the wide, carpeted stairway. She had been warned time and again to stay away from 494 by her own visions, herself, and Sandeman. The future was a delicate thing, as fragile as a spider's web. A careless hand could ruin the work, and the spider would start anew but the new web would not be identical to the old one.

Her room at Sandeman's home was large and designed in muted gray tones accented with a color called cranberry. The lines were clean and simple, understated when compared with the immensity of most of the décor of the mansion. She had redesigned the room herself when she was nineteen, needing a place that was all her own. A thoughtless finger flicked the lock on the door behind her, and her shoes were kicked off by the granite fireplace. Her barrette was unpinned and left on the colorful mosaic mantle.

It had never truly bothered her before that Rene didn't love her. Well, okay, it had a little, but it was a vague, half-formed emotion prior to her trip to Seattle. He didn't think of her as the daughter he'd never had, nor even a distant relative like a niece. For the most part he regarded Raina as a favored employee, a useful tool. There was no more emotion in that than in the love of a favorite pair of shoes. That was okay, she could adore him enough for the both of them, or so she'd thought. It seemed that with her recent mental clarity an emotional fragility had emerged.

It wouldn't have been so awful on is own, but knowing she couldn't have Alec, and having proof that the man whose cause she had devoted her life to really didn't care about her was too much. It was in the safety of her room that Raina removed every partition she'd put up around her feelings, reveling in the maelstrom surging inside her. As if to add insult to injury, Rene had used her designation—her designation—to drive the final nail in the coffin that she was nothing more than a number to him. Replaceable. Sure, there wasn't anyone else with such useful skills in their arsenal, no one else like her, but he could still replace her. It might take several different little worker bees to pick up where she'd left off, but he could do it.

Raina was vaguely surprised that her heart fracturing wasn't audible.

Manticore had trained them to endure a lot, and she had. After the '09 escape, psychological evaluations was mandatory for all trainees. When she exhibited strong symptoms of rebellion, they were right on top of it. 501 was sent to Re-indoctrination for months, and when that didn't work, Psy Ops. Still in its infancy, time spent in Psy Ops back then was even more brutal than what Alec had endured. ECT was par for the course back then. Once they had even cut open her head to look inside with their own eyes. They'd drilled little holes through her skull and put tiny cameras inside to try and figure out why she was so resistant to their psionic persuasions. She still had small scars from that underneath her hair; she could feel them when she shampooed. When Psy Ops gave up on brainwashing her, Colonel Donald Lydecker took over, intrigued by her case and wanting to keep one of his 'kids' off the chopping block. His methods were, in a way, more efficient than the others.

Lydecker approached the issue from a different angle. 'How does one tame a wild animal?' he asked himself. The answer was obvious: break its spirit. Employing various torture techniques both traditional and creative in origin, that is exactly what he attempted to do. What he did not anticipate was 501's undocumented psychic ability and how her foresight would prepare her for the trials ahead. Despite knowing what was coming, that didn't stop the pain from slowly chipping away at her sanity. Her retreat into her gift was a last desperate attempt at self-preservation while she waited for an opportunity to arise. It took a long, long time, but 501 was a patient hunter. Then one day she had her first premonition of escape.

Most of the time the Colonel was too busy to personally attend to the business of breaking 501. The people assigned to it in his stead were appropriately sociopathic, sadistic, otherwise enamored with her (some had to be replaced when Lydecker found obvious signs of sexual abuse), or any combination of the aforementioned. There was one particular man who took to his new duties with gusto. His name was Wilson, but he made her call him the Marquis. The Marquis, as one might have assumed, was a special blend of sexual sadist who had a taste for young girls.

Raina knew the moment the Marquis walked into the room that she could make him trust her, even think that he loved her. She would be everything he'd ever wanted in a girl: scared, submissive, and eager to please. Eventually he would think she was no threat to him. He would forget that she was a trained killer, a natural-born actress, and stronger than he could ever hope to be. Wilson was her ticket out. Lost in the grip of her second sight, she was more powerful than ever before. It was just a matter of time and holding onto that solid inner-core of determination.

Raina was a survivor, and more resilient than anyone gave her credit for. Despite roughly four years of torture (and she included Re-indoctrination and Psy Ops in that) and imprisonment, she was still a functioning member of society.

But emotional pain hurt in ways the physical couldn't compare to. After she had poured out as much sorrow and anger and self-pity as she could, she simply laid on her bed staring blankly up at the ceiling. She was trying for calm and meditative, but her mind just kept whirling and asking frantic questions. Why was she trying so hard to please a man who was apathetic at best? Why had he created her and then doomed her to a life of solitude?

All of the X5s had a group of other X5s they were most genetically compatible with—prospective mates. Raina was the only one of her kind that had been created. Well, that wasn't exactly true. She'd had a male twin, she saw. He had been raised in another unit, and died as a result of his seizures at a very young age. In an instant, she relived a flash of a moment in his life when he'd gotten a vision and it had, as usual, triggered a seizure. However, this boy, 503, had not been created with the intent to be her mate. Sandeman had simply wanted a back-up seer. He'd made 503 as an experiment designed to find out which gender was more suited for the task.

She imagined that if things had gone Sandeman's way and his pythia experiment was deemed a success in his eyes, he would have simply cloned her DNA.

Her clarity of mind seemed to underline these hard truths in bold marker in her mind's eye. So who cared if she gave up her child? She'd already given up her life in service to the cause.

Two days later she left without saying goodbye to anyone, and took the next flight back to her home in D.C. She had things to take care of and the world didn't stop turning just because one was in the middle of some sort of emotional breakdown.


Seattle

Alec couldn't believe it when Raina left Seattle without saying anything. She must have called her people in as soon as he'd left her side. Max was pissed not only about that and the fact that she'd left them without any answers to their questions, but about the fact that he had disappeared with her for an entire night. "And what were you doing with her Alec? Do I even have to ask?" she yelled, her voice disparaging.

She never came back either. He'd thought she would, that she was Sandeman's right hand lady, but she never did. Over two weeks passed without a word, then another transgenic showed up outside their gates, a huge X5 by the name of Gray.

Gray had dark brown hair and the gray eyes that his name implied, and was handsome in a rough and tumble sort of way. He had an almost permanent five o' clock shadow and walked with the swagger of a man who knew he was in charge. Something Raina had said in passing floated into his consciousness, and he realized that here was Brigit's mate, the guy who challenged Raina constantly, and was her rival as group alpha. He wondered if there was significance in his seemingly taking Raina's place as their ambassador, or if she'd asked to be reassigned. She might have, he thought, when he remembered her chagrin.

Anyway, Gray was a pretty likable guy despite all of his alpha bravado that he had going on. True, Alec kind of wanted to kick the shit out of him, but he assumed that was a dominance thing, as Raina had explained, and simply bit down on the urge the way he had at Manticore. Besides, Gray only flew in when he had something he needed to hand deliver to Max from Sandeman after he made his initial three-day welcome stay.

The first day he showed up, he handed Max a thick envelope and told her it was for her alone and if she chose to share the contents of that letter, it was her decision. Alec was pretty sure that by now Max had read it, but she hadn't said anything to anyone about what it said.

However, one thing had changed significantly in the past few weeks: Max now seemed to carry a huge torch for trying to find Familiar strongholds. Most of the transgenics were more worried about the threat on their doorstep—the army, the police, the picketers—than those crazy-ass Familiars, but Max insisted that the situation would resolve itself in time. She kept saying their job was to stop the breeding cult. Something big was going down, and only the people in the inner circle knew what it was, which seemed to consist of Max, Sandeman, and his transgenics. Alec hated being left in the dark, and wondered if Raina had stayed maybe things would have gone differently.


Washington D.C.

She took two weeks for herself after leaving Montreal. During that time, Raina mostly brooded. Well, she also read a little bit about What To Expect When You're Expecting. She also spent a large chunk of time using her gift to make up a list of potential families that wouldn't mind raising a mutant baby.

It also seemed that she was rediscovering how to use her second sight. Something had changed her in Seattle, helped her find that inner on-off switch again. Once Raina 'turned it off' and didn't get a premonition for four days. That was when she got scared but when she reached for it, her talent was right there, ready to flood her with knowledge once again. She also thought about Alec a good deal more than she cared to admit.

Then the personal time she'd allotted herself was up, and she went back to work.

Raina had a routine and she was reluctant to break it even though she was knocked up. She got up early in the morning, made her coffee, and checked her datebook while she ate breakfast. The coffee had been switched out for decaf tea, which was not nearly as fulfilling. After that, Raina took her cautionary dose of tryptophan, which she had increased in consideration of a healthy child, and the prenatal vitamins she'd picked up at the pharmacy. Then she put on her sneakers and hit the trails for a twelve mile run.

When Raina arrived home, sweaty and exhilarated, she showered, ate another breakfast (transgenic metabolism demanded it), and got dressed for the day. Then she went to her appointments.

She was only twenty-three, though her records stated she was twenty-nine. It had taken Raina only six years to establish herself in Washington D.C. as one of the top lobbyists for hire. In a way, she had stayed remarkably close to her mercenary roots, though her battles were fought on a very different kind of field now. The political career had been a very successful front for her to establish contacts throughout a world of high-powered, highly influential individuals.

Then one by one she brought them over to the cause. Discreetly, of course.

Everything was made much easier with her ability, though she was not infallible. More often than not, she saw what may be, what the strongest possibilities for the given situation were. Sometimes things changed, the parameters lining up just right so that the underdog pulled through, but that was a rare occasion.

That particular day, Raina was having an important teatime meeting with a certain influential wife of a certain influential man. After being frisked by Secret Service, she was led into Cup of Zen Teahouse, which had been closed to the public for this meeting. Seated at the only occupied table was a brunette haired woman who was still lovely despite her age. In fact, Raina would go so far as to say that the streak of gray in her curly bangs was quite distinguished, and that was not because she was sucking up.

The current First Lady stood up, smoothed down her pleated navy skirt, and stepped around the table with a smile. "Raina, it's so nice to see you again." They hugged briefly, and Raina smiled, saying, "You too, Helena, you too. I missed our teatimes while I was out of town. It's hard to find someone who properly appreciates a good oolong."

"As did I, my dear. Now, please, have a seat." Helena gracefully took her seat in one of the modern interpretations of Asian style furniture, and Raina followed in her stead, smoothing the back of her black pencil skirt down in the back to keep unsightly bunching from occurring. The little Vietnamese woman hustled out from the back room there bearing a Japanese tea service in her hands. She waited for the Secret Service men to check inside the teapot and cups, and underneath them and the tray, used to the procedure by now.

"Morning," she greeted both women with a cheery smile and accented voice, "Missed you ladies. Good to see you 'gain. Brought your usual." They exchanged pleasantries for a moment, and then the owner calmly bustled off, full of bridled, boundless energy.

After that, Helena waved the men out of earshot. "Tell me what the matter is, Raina. We've been friends for a long time, and certainly you sometimes keep such odd company, but you've never done something so impulsive as to disappear for weeks. That's not like you. Are you in trouble?"

Raina knew that this conversation was the single most important step in her plan to date. She had to do it just right or risk screwing up years of work. It had taken a long time to gain the ear of the First Lady, and longer still to gain her trust. Helena was the wife of a politician and was well-aware of the dangers of misplaced trust. She needed to approach the situation with panache.

"No, well, not really, maybe…" she hesitated, glanced up demurely from underneath her eyelashes, and smiled sheepishly, "It's complicated."

Helena sipped her tea and stared thoughtfully at the well-known D.C. lobbyist across from her. She knew Raina was a top-notch actress; so was she. They both needed to be master manipulators in their chosen duties. Normally, Raina didn't play coy games with her—they had never needed to—which was how she knew on some level that Raina was more than in trouble, she was drowning in it.

"What have you been doing these past few weeks that I've been unavailable? I'm afraid I've been rather out of touch," Raina admitted with a small smile, "I had to take care of some personal business, and it ended up needing more attention that I'd originally thought."

Chuckling, Helena stated, "Really, Raina? 'Personal business?' That's the best you can come up with? Oh, fine, I can see I'll get nothing out of you at the moment. I had various luncheons and dinners with various sycophants, took a brief trip to Africa on business, and settled for whatever alone time I could garner from my husband. I also flew up to Cornell to visit Abby for the weekend, and made several speeches for a few civil rights groups. Oh, and I went to a charity fashion show. All in all it was a pretty average time for me." After a moment she added, "Uh, and I had an unfortunate encounter with that Senator McKinley. He is trying to secure enough votes in Congress to go and storm the gates of that transgenic enclave in Seattle. You know the one, right? It's been all over the news."

It was exactly what she'd been waiting for. "Yes, I know of it," Raina agreed cautiously, "Do you think he'll get the votes?" He would if he could arouse enough fear in the masses, but a lot of people were still on the fence, viewing the elimination of transgenics with a bit of trepidation.

The First Lady poured herself another cup of tea, and then responded with, "To be honest, I'm not sure. People are scared; they don't know what these transgenics are capable of. Some of them look more like animals than humans, I've heard. People fear what they don't understand, and their fear makes them hate."

"How do you feel about it?" Raina asked with genuine curiosity. She could only see the future, she couldn't tell how people felt in it, what their inner thoughts were.

"Well," Helena hesitated, sensing that her answer was important to Raina, "I'm not sure. I suppose philosophically everything has the right to life. Our country was built upon the principles of freedom, equality—'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' right? But because they were created initially in a laboratory a lot of people argue that transgenics don't deserve these rights. However, they were carried by human mothers, and are genetically, for the most part, human, and they were birthed in this country. Wouldn't it make us all hypocrites to cast them out?"

Raina nodded her agreement as she refilled her own cup. "Yes, I think it would. Transgenics were, for lack of a better word, made in America. They should be considered Americans. After all, their original purpose was to fight for this country, to die for this country. So we will send them off to war to fight in the place of our sons, our daughters, but we will not grant them the basic rights that all sentient beings in the U.S. are born with? It's not Constitutional."

Helena nodded sharply in agreement, and then she paused and smiled crookedly at her friend. "You know, I've never really discussed this with anyone. This is why you've become so important to me, Raina. You don't pander to my elected station. I can speak candidly around you and expect you to do the same. As to the transgenic cause, I agree with you one hundred percent that the way they are being treated is not fair."

"But?" Raina prompted.

The First Lady shrugged her shoulders in her crisp navy jacket. "What are we—you and I—to do about it? Raina, are you…did you take up the transgenic cause? Is that what your hiatus was about?" Helena Gardner was a shrewd woman, and she could not help but wonder at her friend's impassioned tone.

The black haired woman smiled sheepishly and swept all that lovely black hair off to the side. "What would you say if I had?"

"I would ask you what your plan of attack was," Helena replied curtly, but with a grin that said she would at least hear her out. "You've never asked me for anything, Raina, and I've always appreciated that. I'm the wife of a very powerful man, and merely my word of approval would have gotten some of your more difficult projects the immediate green light. Because of that and how much I really do like you, I'm willing to hear you out on this." Her steel blue eyes were serious as she refilled her cup once more, and watched as Raina set hers down.

"Number one, we get the army to pull back. Number two, campaign campaign campaign. Transgenics have to be willing to step forward and identify themselves with the American people, especially those that don't look human. We'll never get the bill passed if people don't understand them."

"What bill?" Helena interrupted.

"I have a proposal for a bill of citizenship for all transgenics, and I've got over a hundred very important signatures on it already."

The First Lady eyed her friend from across the table rather dubiously, and then finally stated the obvious. "That's not enough."

Raina snorted. "I know, but I've been working rather unobtrusively, if you know what I mean. I can get more once we start educating the masses."

"We?" her companion reiterated mildly.

"Well, I…that is to say…" she blushed slightly and took a deep gulp of tea to cover it up. "Assuming too much?" Raina asked with the proper amount of contriteness.

Helena was delighted with her slip-up and laughed loudly. "A bit, dearest, but continue."

"Ah, where was I? Oh, yes, the bill. So after campaigning and getting the rest of the supporters, we present a bill to Congress asking for American citizenship and all the Constitutional rights that entails for all transgenics. If that gets passed, I'd recommend making it an amendment just so that it can't be revoked. After a suitable wait period, of course."

Helena liked Raina. She thought the girl was smart and funny and full of spunk. She'd been charmed from the moment they were introduced at that White House ball three years ago. Back then Raina had still just been an up-and-comer in her field, though she was working fast to gain notoriety. The raven-haired beauty had come on the arm of one of the Middle Eastern princes. It said something that though Helena could not recall the prince's name or face, she remembered the first joke Raina had cracked in her presence and the way she, Helena, had laughed so hard that they drew the attention of half the guests away from whatever they'd been doing. Their camaraderie was present immediately. Still, what Raina was planning was a difficult task to undertake, and she wanted to be sure that her young friend was prepared for it.

"It sounds lovely, but Raina, this is not something that is going to happen overnight. It won't be a matter of months like most of your causes. This is a long-term project that is going to take years to achieve. Years, Raina. Are you sure you're prepared to give up that chunk of your life for them?"

For the first time ever in Helena's presence, Raina looked at her and dropped her mask. In her pretty eyes, Helena saw strength and resolve and a look she'd seen only once or twice in her life of somebody who was ready to fight. She didn't need the verbal confirmation, but Raina gave it to her anyway. "Absolutely." The steel she saw in her eyes was also there in her voice, and Helena bobbed her head in acknowledgment.

Then her friend once again packed all of that emotion away, leaving her face easy and pleasant, like she was on the verge of smiling.

"Helena, this is something I'm very passionate about, and like you said, I've never asked you to use your clout to support one of my projects; I'm asking you now."

The middle-aged woman was quiet as she sipped her tea, thinking very carefully. It was true that she could try to talk to her husband. He was, after all, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. She might be able to very casually ask him if he could end the siege at Terminal City. But there was still the prevalent fear of transgenics that seemed to be going around like an epidemic. She could try though.

With her mind made up, she finally looked up at her friend, noticing not for the first time her very odd eye color. It made her wonder… "I'll try," Helena stated, her tone brooking no argument.

Raina graciously tipped her head in acknowledgement that for now that was the most definitive answer she would get from the First Lady. For now.


TBC…