Hurt & Comfort

Book 11: Creating Comfort

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Chapter 27: Being and Been

//I heard that.// Jesus said in surprise.

"Now that Fallen's spirit is anchored to a physical object, it creates a bridge from the spiritual plane to the physical plane." Beau explained.

"Is it okay if we leave our spell boxes now?" Seth asked cautiously.

"Yes. It's done. The ceremony's over. You can go anywhere you want." Beau said with a smile of accomplishment.

"You... you really captured a ghost?" Cynthia asked as she stared wide-eyed at the enormous shrouded black figure.

"It's more like he made the shroud absorbent so that Fallen's spiritual energy could soak into it and permanently become part of it." Tara gently explained.

"When I came here, I knew about the mutant thing... I never had a problem with that. It's a new field of medical study and I thought I might gain some valuable experience and get in on the ground floor..." Cynthia babbled, but fell silent when the shrouded figure approached her.

"Be at ease, good lady. I am no threat to you. I wish you no harm." Fallen said in a low, sultry voice.

"Oh, okay. I thought they were grieving... I just didn't expect..." Cynthia stammered as she continued to stare disbelievingly.

"I am called Fallen. These surrounding me are members of my team." Fallen said gently.

"My name is Cynthia, but my friends call me Thia."

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Cynthia..."

"I'd really like it if you'd call me Thia." She said timidly.

"I am honored that you wish it to be so. Thank you, Thia." Fallen said warmly.

"Fallen, if you're done flirting, I think we need to get these guys back to the mansion before we miss lunch." Lee said with a playful grin.

//Lunch service is nearly complete. I've had them set some food aside for you. There is no need for you to rush.// Professor Xavier informed the group.

"You've got telepaths all over the place here, don't you?" Bobbo asked curiously as he looked around.

"Probably about as many as we have big dumb jocks." Steve said with a playful grin at him.

Bobbo considered that for a moment, then slowly said, "Meaning that what you are doesn't make you who you are."

"Is that what I meant? Wow, I'm really getting all kinds of deep and stuff, ain't I?" Steve asked playfully.

"If you'll all cross through the MedLab door, I'm going to close the portals. I think that Dawn, Tara and I all have jobs that we need to get back to. Have the professor give me a yell if you need me for anything." Andrew said pleasantly.

"You're not going to do anything about my magic?" Beau asked cautiously.

"You said that you're only going to use it when it's the right tool for the job. I think that's a fair and responsible way of approaching it, so I'll hang back. Later on, if it becomes a problem, we'll talk again." Andrew said seriously.

"Thank you, Andrew, but can you hold on for just a minute more? I can't go yet. I need to get the spellcasting supplies put back into the gingerbread house." Beau said as he looked around.

"Everyone doesn't have to wait for you. Quaid and I can hang back and help you, then hell surf us back to the mansion when we're done." Lee quietly offered.

"That sounds great. Thanks guys." Beau said sincerely.

"Excuse me, but I am not aware of a great many things. Should I remain here with you or go with the others?" Fallen asked Beau helplessly.

"That's up to you. But I can understand that you're feeling adrift right now. Until you're ready to be on your own, I'm sure that any member of the team would be happy to have you go with them." Beau said seriously.

"Perhaps it would be best for me to go with Lisa, since it is for her sake that I have been resurrected." Fallen said slowly.

"She's your partner on the team. When we're training, you'll be expected to work with her. That's it. In your off-time, you're free to do whatever you feel like." Beau explained as the rest of the team waited for Fallen's decision.

"I am at a loss..." Fallen trailed off weakly.

"You can come with me if you want. We can cruise around the mansion and take bets on which one of us is going to be more uncomfortable around our old teammates when we finally run into them." Steve said frankly.

"This sounds like something to be avoided." Fallen said uncertainly.

"Yeah! Good idea! We could run away to Havana and change our names to Zozo and Benny. We could start new lives as free-lance chiropractors. That'd make everything alright, wouldn't it?" Steve asked with a smile.

"I remember you now. You were so small and so... different. I was afraid for you." Fallen said thoughtfully, then quietly added, "You've grown."

"It's only been a couple weeks since the last time you saw me." Steve said hesitantly.

"You're more confident now, more of your own person." Fallen said carefully.

"Maybe so." Steve tentatively agreed, then asked, "So, what d'ya say, Zozo? Do you want to hide from your problems or face them?"

"I will go to the mansion with you, and should we encounter our former teammates, we will stand forward and face them together." Fallen said firmly.

"Actually, I was kinda hoping you'd pick Havana, I hear it's beautiful this time of year. But yeah, you're probably right. This'll be a whole lot easier."

"I have my doubts about that." Fallen said hesitantly.

"Fallen, before we go, I need to know if you can move around alright." Beau said seriously.

"It is strange. I have no sense of moving my legs, yet I seem to move much the same as I did before." Fallen slowly explained.

"Before you go off on your own, would you allow Lisa to wear your shroud for a few seconds? I just want to see if it works the way that it's supposed to." Beau said seriously.

"Yes. I suppose it would be best..." Fallen trailed off as he drifted in Lisa's direction.

"Do I have to do anything?" Lisa asked anxiously.

"Not that I know of. I've done everything that I can to give you access to Fallen's abilities and to give him access to the world of the living. I know how I planned for things to work, but... from here on out, we take what we've ended up with and do our best to make the most of it." Beau said frankly.

"He has no clue." Seth paraphrased.

"Just do what you can and let me know if you're having trouble with anything." Beau said seriously.

"Are you ready?" Fallen asked Lisa cautiously.

"Yeah. But just remember, I'm stronger than I look. Don't hold back because I'm a girl." Lisa said seriously.

"As you wish." Fallen said respectfully, then his shroud seemed to engulf Lisa in one fluid movement.

"Can you move?" Beau asked curiously.

"We're still negotiating. Give us a moment." The dark figure said in a voice that was neither Lisa's nor Fallen's.

"Fallen, listen to Lisa. Amplify her reactions." Brian quietly coached.

The new being had Fallen's coloring, but Lisa's size and general shape. The shroud didn't seem to be draped over her, but more like it was 'bonded' to her, encasing her.

"Let us try something." The combined being said seriously, then began to fluidly move through a series of precise poses.

"Tai Chi?" Bobbo asked curiously as he watched their movements with interest.

"A variation thereof. It is something I, the part of me that is Fallen, learned in hope of gaining some grace in my... his movements, due to my big clumsy size."

"Maybe we could get together sometime and you could show me that. It looks like something that I could do." Bobbo said with obvious interest.

"Since you are helping to care for Marc, I am certain that we will have many opportunities to do so." The combined being said in a voice that was decidedly more Fallen's.

"That shows us that Fallen can move, but can Lisa do something?" Marc asked with concern.

"I don't know any fancy graceful moves like Fallen does, but I know how to run. Who wants to race me to the field house and back?" The combined being asked, the tone and inflection sounding much more like Lisa this time.

"Yeah. I'll race you." Steve said quickly as he slithered forward.

"Do you want to?" Louie asked Jesus on his shoulder.

//I would love to.// Jesus said frankly.

"Vile Kricket's in." Louie proclaimed as he and Jesus merged into one being.

"Okay. That's just creepy." Cynthia said in amazement.

"I wish I could race with them." Gar grumbled.

"You're recovering well. In a short time you will be allowed to engage in such activities if you wish." Dr. McCoy gently assured him.

"What d'ya say, Quaid? Wanna join them?" Lee asked with a grin.

"Racing cube!" Quaid called in response as he spread his arms.

"Count Hell-God in." Lee said with satisfaction.

"Shouldn't we have a name like that too?" The dark creature asked with more of Lisa's voice than Fallen's.

"Remember what I was telling you about before? What about Jackalope? Even though you don't have the antlers, I'd say you're close enough." Beau asked with a grin.

There was a long pause until they finally said, "It is a good name. It has character and a mythology behind it. I accept."

"Anybody else want to get in on the race?" Beau asked as he looked around.

"I'm not usually one to back away from a physical challenge, but I suspect that they might be a bit out of my league." Bobbo said honestly.

"Beau, you call it." Steve said loudly as he turned himself to face toward the field house.

Jackalope, Hell-God, and Vile Kricket lined up beside him to await the countdown.

After a moment to confirm that everyone was ready, Beau called out, "Ready? 3... 2... 1... Go!"

* * * * *

As the competitors sped away, Vile Kricket was immediately in the lead, leaving a trail of spray hanging in the air.

"Andrew, if you want to go on back, Hell-God can take us to the mansion when the race is over." Slash said as he stepped up to the portal where Marc and Gar were laying with their entourage watching over them.

"Are you kidding? Do you even know how boring it is in MedLab? If you try to make us go back without seeing the end of the race, Marc and I will make you pay." Gar said as a vow.

"Considering how fast they move, it should only take an extra minute or two." Dr. McCoy said in support of his patients.

"I guess anyone who needs to go back, can just walk through the portal whenever they want. It won't hurt if I hang back for a few minutes." Andrew relented.

Slash looked around to find that, as expected, no one chose to leave before the end of the race.

"If you like, you can look at this as a practical way of gauging their abilities." Dr. McCoy said informatively.

"Who do you think's gonna win?" Gar asked excitedly.

"I don't know. Vile Kricket has the most speed in a sprint, but I don't know how long he can maintain top speed. On the other hand, Steve seems to be able to move faster than usual in the wet grass." Slash said thoughtfully, then looked to Brian and asked, "Do you have any insights into the matter?"

"It could go a few different ways. Even though I'm not going to use my ability to influence things, I'm rooting for Steve." Brian said frankly.

"You know, with all the outrageous abilities that everyone has, I think I'd like to see him win." Ms. Mordigan said with a soft smile at the thought.

"I have to root for Lisa, it's part of my job as her boyfriend, but I wouldn't mind it if Steve won." Marc said thoughtfully.

"From the way they took off from here, I'd bet Jackalope's going to take it. They set a really good pace." Seth said thoughtfully.

"So I'm guessing that you don't have any superspeed powers like that." Bobbo asked Seth curiously.

"Not exactly." Seth said simply, then seemed to wink out of existence.

Bobbo looked around to try and find where he had gone, when Seth's voice said from behind him, "I'm better at short distances."

Bobbo turned to find Seth standing beside Marc's bed.

"How you doin'?" Seth asked Marc gently.

"Pretty good. You know, besides the whole being shot thing." Marc said as he matched Seth's tone.

"Yeah." Seth said sympathetically, then added more firmly, "Be sure to let us know if you need anything."

"You seem to be a lot more confident than you were yesterday." Marc quietly observed.

"Yeah, yesterday I was a regular guy who had horns all of a sudden. Today, I'm part of a team. They're willing to trust me and help me learn how to help people." Seth said happily.

"Jackalope was the first to touch the field house, followed closely by Steve. Hell-God materialized, but never actually 'touched' the field house, so I don't think they can be counted as qualifying." Andrew said distantly as his eyes glowed golden.

"What about Vile Kricket?" Brian asked with concern.

"They were the last to tap in, but they did reach the halfway point and are still in the race." Andrew announced.

"Do you have any way of keeping an eye on Vile Kricket? Going full-blast for too long could be dangerous for them." Brian asked cautiously.

"Yes. I'll follow along just to be sure that they don't run into trouble." Andrew said seriously.

A burst of flames and plumes of orange smoke drew everyone's attention to the central clearing.

When the smoke cleared, it revealed Lee and Quaid standing inside a smoky blue and white cube.

"We did it! We won!" Quaid crowed.

"Hold on. Even though you went there and back, you didn't get out of your cube and touch the field house, so you didn't 'officially' win." Andrew said carefully as he continued to stare with glowing golden eyes.

"Nobody said anything about us having to touch the field house." Lee said in their defense.

"You can look at it as if you had won if you want to, but unless all the competitors are flying, I don't see it as being a fair contest. The others tapped in, you didn't." Andrew said reasonably.

"Next time, we'll get out and touch the field house." Lee told Quaid gently.

"We didn't win?" Quaid asked confusedly.

"Your ability is so good that it puts you in a different league. It's not fair to other people to compare you to them." Lee carefully explained.

"Okay. I actually understand that. I mean, no matter what powers I have or don't have, deep inside, I'm still Q." Quaid said seriously.

"Maybe so, but you won that race without Q powers. You won it with your totally cool, ultra impressive mutant ability." Lee said with a smile.

"Yeah." Quaid agreed, then gave Lee a firm hug.

* * * * *

A sudden movement caused everyone to turn in unison.

"Did we win?" Jackalope asked while breathing heavily.

"That's kind of up in the air..." Beau said reluctantly as he looked at Lee and Quaid, who were still hugging.

"You won." Lee said decisively.

"Yeah. Good job, you two." Quaid confirmed.

"Aww man! I really thought you'd start slowing down on the way back." Steve said as he slithered up behind them.

Jackalope began to slightly expand, then Fallen separated himself from Lisa.

"We would have fallen behind, if I had been making the decisions on my own." Fallen said seriously, then explained, "Lisa knew just how much effort to apply and how much energy to conserve. It was a valuable learning experience for me."

"Even before... this, me being like this, I mean, I liked to run. Right before my mutation kicked in, I was training to run in a full marathon... well, I was starting to train, just a little." Lisa timidly admitted.

"Maybe when we start our training for the team you could show the rest of us how to pace ourselves so that we don't wear out too soon." Steve suggested.

"Speaking of which..." Andrew said as he made a show of looking in the direction of the field house.

"I thought we were faster than that." Vile Kricket said as they hurried to join the others.

As before, their smudged blackened form didn't appear to be entirely stable. Even the tattered black cape that they wore didn't appear to be in its final form.

"Steve was just saying that we need to get Lisa to teach us how to pace ourselves and conserve our strength when we run so that we don't run out of juice before the race is finished." Beau said frankly.

"I thought we figured all that out when we ran to the mansion for cleaning supplies." Vile Kricket said frankly as the blackness began to fade.

Within a few seconds, Jesus and Louie were sitting side by side, panting on the ground.

"That might be why you're so tired out now. Maybe you need to rest up more before you go on another long run." Slash said frankly.

"It looks to me like Fallen and Lisa have proven that their combined form is capable of functioning well enough. That being said, some of us have classes that we need to attend." Andrew said frankly, then continued, "Now that everyone's back, I'm going to be closing the portal."

"Lee, would you mind hell surfing the team back to the mansion when we're done getting Beau's stuff put away?" Seth asked curiously.

"What do you say, Quaid? Do you think we can handle that?" Lee asked with a smile.

"Hang on. Just a minute. I'd like to spend some time with Marc, if no one minds." Lisa hurried to say.

//I'll call you when we get there.// Jesus said decisively.

When it was obvious that no one had the slightest problem with her suggestion, Lisa hurried through the portal to stand beside Marc's hospital bed.

"Do you think it would be alright if Emily could visit with us for a while?" Dawn asked with a smile in the ghost's direction.

When Beau noticed that Emily seemed to be interested, he said, "Sure. She can visit with you if she wants."

Those present watched as Beau and Dawn followed Emily with their eyes.

Ms. Mordigan glanced around the group, then slowly started toward the open portal.

"Don't you want to come with us?" Quaid asked suddenly.

"I thought that this was something that you would want to do with your team." Ms. Mordigan quietly replied.

"You're part of our team. Hellport already told you that." Louie said quickly.

"Yeah. Let us show you what we can do." Quaid quickly added.

"If you're sure you wouldn't mind having me along." Ms. Mordigan said uncertainly.

"Actually, I think having two mythical beasts sharing time and working in harmony is probably the best thing we can do for ourselves as individuals and as members of the team." Beau said frankly.

"Many times such alliances turn out to be a wise investment." Ms. Mordigan said thoughtfully.

"We'll leave you to your work now." Andrew said as the oversized portal to the MedLab closed.

* * * * *

After a few minutes of gathering the brazier and an odd variety of small items back into the gingerbread house, Beau took another couple of minutes to make sure that everything was properly stored and that the evidence of his summoning diagram inside the door had been swept away.

"How's the book?" Seth asked Steve curiously.

"I don't know. It reminds me of a few other books that I've read where the author gets so involved in describing the setting that he forgets to include a plot." Steve said slowly as he maintained the majority of his focus on the book.

"Yeah. I remember reading something like that. They spend, like, a page and a half describing the couch cushions or something." Seth said sourly.

"Don't get me wrong, there are some really vivid descriptions in here, the only thing is that once you've pictured them, in all their glorious detail, nothing happens. You've got this really vivid picture that just sits there."

"As pictures are sometimes known to do." Slash interjected.

Steve looked at him curiously for a moment, then slowly said, "I guess if you look at this book like a photo album or a gallery and don't expect it to be anything else, then it's actually pretty awesome. There are some really beautiful and creative pictures in here."

"So you're appreciating visual art from a book with no pictures." Seth said slowly.

"It takes a little more work, but the beauty you end up seeing is all yours. No one else will ever see exactly the same thing that you did because everyone would interpret the descriptions their own way." Steve said honestly, then turned to Fallen and asked, "I hope we're not boring you. Are you okay hanging with us like this?"

"Yes. Although I am still uncertain what I should be saying or doing in this type of situation. Even before my... before, I was uncomfortable in a group setting." Fallen quietly admitted.

"Yeah. I'm not great in groups either. Usually I just pay enough attention to know what I'm there for, then I use the rest of my time trying to plot an escape." Steve finished with a smile.

"Although I don't recall thinking of it in those terms, I believe I might have unknowingly used the same strategy." Fallen said thoughtfully.

"I'm done!" Beau called out triumphantly as he stepped out of the gingerbread house.

"Are you ready to go?" Lee asked curiously.

"Actually, I was thinking that this might be a good time to let Chesser give us a heads up about what might be waiting up ahead for us." Beau said seriously as he approached the group.

"Just, in general? You don't have a specific question?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Just give us a hint if you see any undead hoards, pitchfork waving mobs or evil gopher infestations in our possible futures." Beau said frankly.

"You're weird." Quaid said to Beau with a grin.

"Thanks." Beau responded, then waited as Brian seemed to be counting off a particular number of playing cards before turning one up to look at it.

"Ouch." Brian winced, then went back to counting off cards.

"Tell us. What do you see?" Slash asked curiously.

"Nothing that can be easily avoided. Most of it seems necessary. The only advice I can give you based on this is to go to the mansion, do what we have to do, then get back to the Wagner School as quickly as possible. The longer we stay here, the worse things will be." Brian said carefully.

"Worse? How?" Seth asked with concern.

"Don't worry. It doesn't involve you. I have a feeling that Fallen and Steve know what I'm talking about. We need to go, do, and get the hell out." Brian said firmly.

"I've got the 'hell' part covered." Lee said with a grin.

"My dad would have liked your sense of humor." Quaid said with a look up at him.

"Ouch! Okay, point taken. I'll try to make sure that my jokes are actually funny before I say them." Lee said reluctantly.

Quaid's only response was a grand smile of accomplishment.

* * * * *

"Is everyone ready?" Beau asked as he looked around.

"You should have some kind of battle cry like we did with the attacks that we planned." Seth said honestly.

"How do you mean?" Beau asked curiously.

"When you want us to get into 'cube formation' you could call out one or two words and we'd all know what you're talking about." Seth explained.

"I think I've done everything that I said I was going to do. Why don't you decide what our call to assemble should be?" Beau asked reasonably.

"Does anyone mind?" Seth asked uncertainly as he looked around.

//Just go ahead and do it. If anyone has a problem with it, they can tell you.// Jesus said frankly.

"Okay. Does anyone know what you call a group of Meerkats? Are they, like, a herd or a litter or what?" Seth asked uncertainly.

There was a long moment of silence as the members of the group looked at each other, hoping that someone knew.

//Meerkats group themselves into 'Mobs' or 'Gangs'.// Professor Xavier said informatively.

"Those little punks." Lee said with an amused grin.

"How about, 'Meerkats, stand tall'?" Seth asked seriously.

"What kind of sense does that make?" Slash asked curiously.

"It'd be kinda stupid to call out, 'We're all going to stand in a little group where one grenade can take us all out at once.'" Seth said frankly.

"So the 'Stand Tall' order is letting us know to get together so Godling can put a cube around us?" Louie asked seriously.

"Yeah. What do you think?" Seth asked with sincere interest in Louie's opinion.

"Meerkats! Stand tall!" Louie called out loudly enough so that everyone present could hear.

As expected, the group clustered together, not crowding each other, but obviously consciously trying not to be too spread out.

"Team cube!" Quaid said firmly as he made a gesture.

As soon as the cube formed, Lee turned toward the mansion and raised his hands as a doorway into hell formed before them.

"Zoom zoom." Quaid said with a mischievous grin, then the cube launched itself through the opening at high speed.

* * * * *

Slash had his eyes firmly closed, but didn't seem to be nervous about their trip otherwise.

Ms. Mordigan wore a smile of mild amusement, and perhaps a slight glint of reminiscing.

"This isn't too fast for you is it, Fallen?" Seth asked with a smile.

"Perhaps it would have been at one time, but no longer." Fallen said simply.

"Yeah. He has nothing to fear from this, he's already dead." Beau helpfully added.

"Also, I no longer have bowels." Fallen added with deadpan delivery.

There was a moment of silence before Lee started the infectious laughter that overtook the cube.

* * * * *

"Over there, that way. See that flat patch?" Lee called as he pointed.

"Got it!" Quaid announced, then swiveled and tilted the cube to glide in for a textbook landing.

"Then we're back to reality." Lee said as the hellish world around them dissolved into the driveway in front of the mansion.

"We're going to have to try 'husk surfing' one of these days." Seth said frankly.

"Yes. But not today." Lee said firmly.

"Yeah. We've got things to do... Like lunch." Louie finished with a smile.

"You can't possibly be hungry again already." Lee said disbelievingly.

"Oh yes I can. Being Vile Kricket makes me hungry." Louie said in his defense.

After a moment to consider, Lee finally said, "Fair enough."

"Steve, since you're from this place, do you know where we can go for food?" Seth asked cautiously.

"Yeah. It's probably set out for us in the dining room. I'll show you where it is." Steve said as he slithered forward to the door.

* * * * *

"Steve may live here, but Quaid, Slash, and I are all familiar with the mansion too." Lee said as they followed Steve inside.

"As am I." Fallen said as he glided along beside them.

"Yeah. He was here long before I was." Lee said seriously.

"While that may be true, I doubt that Fallen feels much like leading at the moment. Give him a chance to get himself up-to-date with his new situation." Ms. Mordigan said seriously.

"It's right in here." Steve said from ahead of the group, obviously relishing a chance to make a unique contribution.

As Steve passed through the doorway he suddenly stopped.

The people following him weren't expecting the abrupt stall and stumbled over each other in their attempt not to fall into a heap in the doorway.

Before anyone could ask what had happened, Steve looked back over his shoulder and quietly said, "Fallen, I'm going to need you up here."

* * * * *

"How may I be of assistance." Fallen asked as he easily glided past the other members of the group to Steve's side.

"You know that thing we were talking about before?" Steve asked quietly, then pointed into the dining room as he said, "This is my former team."

"I am here to stand with you, as are we all." Fallen said firmly and confidently.

"Okay. I can do this." Steve said as he started to slither into the room again.

"The professor said that you've been recruited to another team." A woman who was their leader, or teacher, said firmly.

"Yeah." Steve reluctantly admitted, then looked back over his shoulder and said, "Guys, this is my old team, they really don't have a name of their own. I think everyone calls them 'The X-Men,Team B'."

Before the silence could become too uncomfortable, Steve continued, "This is Miss Sloss. Her team name is Olympia. Behind her are Herman, Felicity, Grace, Mira and Mung."

Steve's statement didn't seem to require a response, so everyone from both groups stared stupidly at each other until Steve continued, "This is my new team, the Meerkats. We've got Fallen, Slash, Seth, Brian, Quaid, Lee, Louie, and the rat is Jesus. We've also got our school administrator and mentor, Ms. Mordigan."

"So what? Did they promise to make you their leader or did they just laugh at your stupid jokes and pretend that they like you?" The short, stout, hunched-over, young man hissed in a mocking tone.

"They didn't say I could be in charge, but they said that I can speak up if I've got a good idea about how things should go." Steve said frankly, then added, "As far as the jokes, Quaid and Lee have made it so that my jokes seem almost funny."

"Glad I could help." Lee said under his breath.

"So what are you doing here? Are you just trying to throw it in our faces that you got onto a 'real' team?" Mung continued.

"No. We missed lunch. We came here for the food." Steve said simply, then thought to ask, "What are you doing here?"

"Professor Xavier told us that you had chosen to join another team and said that we could meet you here to discuss it with you." Miss Sloss said seriously.

"We got to talking and kinda clicked. There's not much more to it than that." Steve said simply.

"Think carefully about what you're doing. This is your home. You have a history with our team." Miss Sloss said slowly.

"Um, yeah. History. That's what we've got. With my new team, I've got a future... or at least I've got a shot at one. I'm willing to take that chance." Steve said frankly.

"Can we go ahead and eat? The food's right there." Louie asked imploringly.

"Yeah. I think I've said what I need to." Steve said as he looked at the expressions of his former teammates. Mung seemed to be boiling with rage, but that wasn't out of character for him. The others exhibited varying degrees of disinterest.

"Miss Sloss, this doesn't have anything to do with how you ran the team. I'm just ready for something else." Steve said frankly.

After a long moment to consider his words, Miss Sloss quietly said, "Let us know if you need anything."

"Oh come on! You're not going to let him get away with this are you? Tell him 'no!'. Make him stay with us!" Mung barked.

"Watch out. He can turn you to stone and he doesn't have the best self-control." Steve quickly warned.

"Mung, walk it back. Remember what I've told you." Ms. Sloss said slowly.

"Meerkats! Stand tall!" Quaid called out firmly.

As soon as everyone had pulled together, Quaid called out, "Stone cube!"

Immediately, a solid gray cube formed around them.

"I hope that the cube being stone will keep him from turning any of us to stone." Quaid said seriously.

"Wanna go sideways?" Seth asked the group.

"Do it!" Lee said simply.

There was a bright flash and the group found themselves in the nygo-husk, without the cube.

"But what about the food?" Louie whined.

"As soon as we know it's safe, we can go back." Lee assured him.

"Either that, or I'll make the dining room table go sideways too." Seth said with a smile.

"Can you see what they're doing?" Slash asked curiously.

"They're talking to Mung. It looks like they're getting him under control." Lee said slowly.

"Don't take us back until they're gone." Brian said seriously.

"Do you think he's going to try and attack Steve?" Slash asked with concern.

"I see that happening in more than one possible future." Brian said honestly.

"So you knew about this?" Ms. Mordigan asked cautiously.

"I knew that something like this could happen, I didn't know that it would. That's how it works. Now that I know which future we're in, I can see a lot of different ways that it can go. We need to wait right here until Mung has left the dining room." Brian said confidently.

"What about the food? Did you see anything about that?" Louie asked anxiously.

"Seth? Would you mind?" Brian asked with a restrained smile.

"No problem. I got this." Seth said as he glanced in the direction of the dining room table.

After abrupt flashes of golden and blue light, the dining room table appeared in the nygo-husk dimension.

* * * * *

Steve's old team were mostly forgotten as the Meerkats helped themselves to the buffet of soups, salad, coldcut sandwiches, and a variety of chips to choose from.

"You know what is to come?" Fallen asked Brian cautiously.

"Yeah. I can see lots of things, but I know what you're asking. Usually I'm all about nudging things one way or the other and giving people hints about which way they should go. But I know that you've had a hard day, so why don't I just lay it out for you?"

"Yes. Would you please?" Fallen asked hopefully.

"When we go back, if you leave right away you can avoid your former teammates. Hide out in MedLab and we'll take you back to the Wagner Institute when we're ready to leave." Brian said simply.

"And my other choice is to remain here and face my old teammates." Fallen quietly guessed.

"You've had a hard day. If you choose to go, you'll be forgiven. Of course, if you choose to stay, you won't need to be forgiven. It's totally up to you." Brian said honestly.

"This is your only power, to see the future?" Fallen asked curiously.

"I can also make people forget that they ever met me." Brian said honestly.

"Such a gift would be of much use to me in this situation." Fallen said frankly.

Brian looked at him sympathetically, then quietly said, "It's the coward's way out. Believe me."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I am of the opinion that Brian is no coward.

The Meerkats seem to have melded together very nicely, especially considering the situations they have had to face, and may still have to face, but now they can face any new event together, and be there for each other. Each team member has talents and abilities that make their place within the team structure become more effective, and close and fill any gaps that the members most likely couldn't do without help from the others.

The more they all can work together, and get to know more about one another, the more the team as an entity will be able to accomplish, and their combined attributes will be much more than the sum of their parts.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher