This is the final snippet as the book is available now. You’ll be able to purchase it via Amazon.com and via The Ring Of Fire Press site. It may also become available via the Baen eBook Store.
Legend – Chapter 19
“Thank you very much for coming, Fireflux.”
Inside, she wasn’t entirely glad. Normally, Jennifer was perfectly comfortable with her own looks — and, truth be told, in private might even allow herself to be a little vain. She knew she was very good-looking, and she also generally didn’t put much emphasis on the importance of looks. Damned if I want my daughter thinking the only thing important is whether she’s pretty enough.
But I have never found myself feeling plain before.
Fireflux sat lightly in the center chair, looking as though the cushion hardly bent under her weight. Her figure wasn’t so much perfect as it was fantasy. Curves that defied gravity — just enough soft flexion to emphasize that they were, indeed, very real, a face that somehow had the smoothness of a teen-age model and the definition of an older woman’s face that made her look confident and wise and innocent all at once; legs that curved smoothly into a waist too narrow for nature yet just wide enough to avoid caricature, these were all parts of a stunning whole. The form-fitting spandex-like material of her costume, with its pattern of waves of magnetic field lines trying — apparently unsuccessfully — to cage symbols of fire simply drew the eye more strongly.
“Well, America said you might like to talk with me,” Fireflux answered, and, like the rest of her, her voice was something fantastic — a touch of the breathy sensuality of a Marilyn Monroe and the huskiness of a Kathleen Turner combined with the light and carefree tones of a schoolgirl. “And if he thinks it’s a good idea, well, I’m not going to argue.”
Jennifer raised her opinion of Legend drastically. Most young men would give in with far less temptation. This . . . this isn’t even ordinary beauty. Magic . . . that has to be part of it. What they called ‘glamour’ in the old days, the true sense of it. Legend has his own version of it.
Fireflux looked puzzled. “But I don’t see why. It’s not like Legend has any real problems . . . at least, not ones you could solve.”
It was that “you”, said with just a hint of snippiness, that helped break the spell. Because the shift in tone, the tilt of the head, the tightening of the body, those told Jennifer something absolutely astonishing.
She’s jealous. Of me.
As soon as she thought it, Jennifer realized it was completely obvious. Of course Fireflux was jealous. Inside, she was a fourteen year old girl, no matter what kind of . . . personality overlay the power called “Fireflux” gave her. She was a high school freshman with all the insecurities that came with high school, and a crush on a man that, to her, had no flaws — probably even his reluctance was endearing.
And now that man was spending considerable time with another woman, an attractive older woman with higher education and a successful position of her own. Naturally she would feel threatened, even though — on the superficial face of it — the idea was ridiculous.
“Well, Fireflux,” she answered, trying to simply keep a professional, faint smile, “I am the first to admit I couldn’t help him with the problems that you and he, and the others, face. But he obviously feels there’s a problem and he’s come here to ask me to help him.”
Fireflux frowned, tossing back her almost metallic hair. “Well . . . okay, but what kind of problems are we talking about?” She’s trying to relax, but she’s still tense.
“Problems you might be able to understand better than I do, actually. That’s why I’ve talked to America and was very much hoping to talk to you.” She turned, glancing out the window. “Legend described to me the differences between his . . . original self and Legend, you see, and I think that must be very difficult for some people. To look in the mirror one moment and then, the next, see someone entirely different looking out.”
The young woman’s face was suddenly troubled, and she bit her lip slightly. “I . . . I guess I know what you mean.”
“I had hoped you might. And of course there’s the daily stress of your unique lifestyles. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be out there risking your life that way, with so much depending on you. And I’d think it must be worse for him.”
“You mean, being the first one and all, the symbol?” she said. Fireflux’s enthusiasm shone through, even as she clearly tried to sound disinterested.
“Exactly.” The girl’s excitement showed that there was a good path to follow. “And that’s part of why I especially wanted to talk to you.”
“Well, as I understand it, you were a fan of Legend for a while before you became Fireflux — and then you’ve become one of his closest teammates. You must have a unique perspective on him, having seen him from both sides of the fence, so to speak.”
Fireflux’s body relaxed somewhat and she nodded, less guarded, more involved. “Well, yeah! I mean, I used to follow everything he did when I was a little girl.” The phrase was uttered very unself-consciously; to Fireflux, that was literally a lifetime ago, even though it was only five years or so since Legend had appeared. “I was the vice-president of the Legendaries — that’s the fan club, you know — even though I was like four years younger than the president.”
“You say you were the vice president. How about now?”
The girl bit her lip again in a manner that Jennifer would have called an affectation in anyone else, but which was probably just part of the . . . programming? template? that was Fireflux herself. “No, not any more. I had to . . . drop out, slowly. The club takes a lot of time, you know, and once I was Fireflux, I knew I couldn’t be spending time on the club so much when there were other things to do.” She smiled again. “Besides, then I was getting to actually see him!”
“I understand. That makes perfect sense. It must still have been hard to stop being a part of the club.”
“It was. But I had to. Had to even pretend I wasn’t as interested in Legend anymore.” She grimaced — which somehow did not make her any less beautiful. “Sentinel and the Admiral both agreed that we had to keep separation in our different lives. And . . . well, Legend thought they were right, so they probably were.”
This was giving Jennifer insight into Fireflux and her fourteen-year-old real self, but she needed to move the conversation to her actual patient. “So Legend has to do the same thing.”
“Of course. He wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. He’s very consistent, you know. Not quite as much a stick up his . . . rear as Superlative, if you know what I mean, but he’ll never do anything that’s even a little bit off the line.”
“Would you say that’s the closest he has to a flaw? A weakness or problem? I know that he must seem to be close to perfect, but . . .”
Now that the conversation was well under way, Fireflux was showing less reluctance; she tilted her head and genuinely seemed to be thinking. “Ha,” she said with a little sideways grin, “that’d almost make me think you were looking for weaknesses, like you’re a supervillain too. But if America trusts you . . .” The cascading hair rippled, a river of rubies and gold, as she pushed it back. “I guess, yeah. But really, if you want to think about what might give him any problems? It’s that everything is his fault. Or his responsibility.”
“Do you have an example?” She’d seen something of this in his prior conversations, but getting another view of it would be useful.
“Oh, sure! Just last night. We were out in California helping out with patrols, and we didn’t see Gumband anywhere. No one’s seen him in a bit, and so Legend’s flying around looking for him more and more, worried that something’s happened and you can just tell he’s blaming himself if anything actually did. Even though, you know, we spend more than half our time around here and it’s not like Gumband needs someone holding his hand all the time; stretching seems like a really silly power until you see what someone who thinks about it can do with it.”
“Well, did you find him?”
“No, but really, that’s no big deal. He’s taken off without warning lots of times before — then he shows up three weeks later off in Indonesia, slingshotting some would-be god into a volcano or something.” She grinned and shrugged. “Just because he’s a hero doesn’t make him . . . very reliable. He’s like that friend, you know the kind? The one that drops in without warning to take you to a dance or something and the next week they’ve decided they’re taking up hiking and so you don’t see them for a month and then they show up in the mall just as you’re hanging with your friends?”
Jennifer had to laugh. “Yes, I think I know exactly the type. Mine’s named Violet.”
“Aside from Gumband, mine’s Ph . . . oops, I can’t say any of those — secret ID. I suck at this sometimes. Anyways, like I said Legend kept looking for Gumband, and every time we found some petty crime and he wasn’t there, Legend looked grimmer. Took me an hour to cheer him up again afterwards.”
“That does sound like one of the things I’ve seen in our talks,” Jennifer said. “But what he seems to find hardest is the identity problem. You don’t know his other identity, do you?”
“No,” Fireflux said. Her tone was somewhat frustrated. “He knows mine, but he won’t tell me his. I know it’s to protect me, and him, but still . . .” She looked up suddenly, and the tension was back. Oh, I know why, too. “But he’s told you, hasn’t he?”
“Yes,” she said calmly. “Since that was part of . . . maybe the core of the problem he came here for me to help with, I think he had to.” Fireflux was still looking at her with that tense expression, so she continued, “and to be honest, it was Legend’s fault. He literally, as his alter ego put it, ‘shoved this off on me’.”
“Oh. You mean . . . no, no!” Fireflux suddenly looked suspicious. “Legend never retreats from something like that! He wouldn’t!”
And the hero worship . . . and infatuation . . . speak again. Not that she could blame Fireflux; Legend was certainly gorgeous in his own way, and the glamour he had was no less than Fireflux’s own. “Fireflux, facing down enemies is one thing, but the one thing none of us can face down easily is ourselves. And in trying to explain . . . what happened to create Legend, isn’t it obvious that the . . . original, if you will, would be able to tell it better?” Not my patient, but still . . .“Would you find it easy to tell me about becoming Fireflux for the first time? Show me who you really are, who you were, before you were the heroine we all know?”
That stopped Fireflux dead. Many ordinary people would probably continue to dance around the subject, but Jennifer was starting to get a feel for the strange rules under which the Heroes operated, and avoiding this kind of truth when confronted with it was something that went against their basic natures. Fireflux couldn’t argue her way out of it without betraying who she was. The glorious eyes dropped their gaze to the floor. “No. No, it wouldn’t. Wouldn’t at all.”
“Thank you for being honest with me. Then I hope you understand that this is what Legend is going through. He has another life, like you. He is not the same, at all, as he appears as Legend, any more than I presume you are when not Fireflux. This conflict — with his life, with his duties, with his perceptions — this is his problem, and I’m trying to help him deal with it. That means also trying to understand the most important people in his life — which means, among others, you.”
As she’d expected, that brightened the girl right back to normal — if normal was a word to apply in this case. “All right, Doctor Hsui. Whatever it takes to help him, I’ll do it.”
Jennifer relaxed slightly. With her as an ally rather than an opponent, we can move forward a lot faster. “So tell me — if you will . . . what exactly is the relationship between the two of you — from your point of view?”