This doesn't tie directly into my Neon Hearts storyline, being a Common People story (TM Kielle and Phil Foster) but I consider it to be happening in that universe, and may well refer to the idea sometime....


Dread had closed off every sense but hearing, which felt magnified to distortion. Clutching the phone in a white-knuckled grip, Rick struggled to cling to the hope that he couldn't have heard his daughter right. But finally he surrendered and spoke. "Guess we should have known hepatitis wouldn't be turning his hair yellow..."

"I was so worried...." Her voice was tight, strangled almost into a whisper by her efforts to speak calmly. "And now I almost wish...."

"You don't wish your son had a disease that could kill him," Rick said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. "That would have been much worse than finding out Buddy's a mutant."

"Of course it would," she agreed, after a pause few other people besides Rick would have heard. "But--it's like his life is over anyway."

"Don't talk like that, Free. He's still the same Buddy."

"He's not the same!" she blazed out. The real enemy was untouchable, microscopic DNA fragments; her father was a target she could reach. Though Rick knew this was only a momentary coping mechanism, it still stung. "It doesn't do him any favors for us to pretend otherwise. He's a mutant, and everyone can tell he's a mutant!"

She's channeling my mom again, Rick thought with black humor. 'Mercy, what will the neighbors think?' As though the effort he'd expended to teach Freedom and her sisters to think for themselves fruitless as his own parents' efforts to teach him to conform? Shaking his head to chase away that depressing idea, he said, "So everyone knows. So what?"

"Don't you watch the news? It's dangerous for them!" There was another long pause. "We're thinking of finding one of those private schools...."

Every intention Rick had had of remaining calm and reasonable evaporated. "You will not send my grandson to an institution."

"Dad, it's not--" He could see her in his mind's eye, clenching her teeth. "It would be for his own good--for his protection!"

"I'd think having a cop for a dad would be pretty good protection."

How his friends had laughed way back then, when Freedom had tied herself to a cop of all people, all right and tight, in church with all the trimmings. But Fate's ways are strange ways, and Rick had slowly come to realize his son-in-law saw eye to eye with him on a whole lot more issues than his daughter did. "Frank hasn't agreed to send Buddy away, has he?"

"We...haven't finalized anything."

Didn't think so. "That would break Buddy's heart, Free. You know that." Stubborn silence flowed from her end of the connection. "Would you hide him away if he'd been messed up by a car accident or something?"

"Just stay out of it, Dad!" Shocked, Rick jerked his head away from the phone, the same way he would have instinctively ducked a slap. Freedom never raised her voice. "This isn't your decision to make!" She abruptly hung up, leaving only the eerie wisps of static that signal you are no longer connected.

He knew better than to call back. Freedom had lashed out at him because her conscience stung. Left alone, she'd do a much better job at changing her own mind than if he interfered.

'Poor Buddy--why him?' Rick thought as he trudged back to the living room, where the TV was murmuring quietly to itself. He was such a great kid; affectionate, interested in the whole world. The boy reminded him strongly of Ellen, more than any of the other grandkids. Sweet Ellie, who had been taken from them all, so cruelly, so early.

Was it related? he wondered. Ellie's cancer, Buddy's newly blossoming mutant genes? They'd been to so many protests and rallies at nuclear plants in their activist days. For small gain, of course, as they found out long, weary years later. All the activism that had seemed to be what he'd been put on earth for turned out to be too little, too late. Most of the damage had already been done during the research and developmental stages of the nuclear plants and factories and weapons. Unless maybe some of his more paranoid friends were right. Maybe it was a viral agent or something, secretly released by some ultra-classified alphabetoid agency, which had caused the X-factor to raise its chimera's head and lay waste to the dreams of a lifetime in an instant. Many too many people's dreams and lifetimes....

He dropped back into his recliner just in time to catch a commercial touting Creed for President. "You sorry-ass bastard," he growled. "You make Nixon look like Mother Theresa."

Creed's soundbite, saying something about people needing protection, played over shots of good old Main Street America, people shopping, kids rocketing around in a schoolyard, a sweet old couple on a porch swing. The ad faded to black, and the station came back on with the local evening news.

They had cleverly placed a 'person in the street' segment to air right after the Creed ad. The intensely groomed talking head guy peered into the camera with polished concern. "We asked you, our viewers, what you expect to hear from candidate Creed in his upcoming rally in Denver, as he continues along the campaign trail." A series of Average Joes and Janes came on, nattering about people needing to be safe, pretty much parroting lines from Creed's ad campaign.

Rick wondered sourly how much the station had cost. Had he really ever been young enough to believe that all you had to do was show the people what was going on, and they would take action? Do the right thing?

"They aren't all bad, or even most of them...." a ditzy looking matron was burbling. If she had said that about any other minority, there'd be a protesting mob in front of the station before you could say ACLU. "But people have to feel safe."

"Yeah, all people, including my grandson," Rick snarled. If it was her grandson, he'd bet she'd feel a little diff--

Rocked by a sudden vision, Rick sat, mouth agape, heedless of the TV or anything else. After an unmeasurable time, he rose to rush for his worktable, which held a sketchpad and pencils.

Somewhat ironically, Rick's daughter Freedom had been the end of his and Ellie's devoted involvement with the protest movement. Well, not just Free--Peace had come along too, and once Justice was on the way, Ellen had drawn the line. She finished up the details that had hung fire during their marching years, applied for her teaching certificate, and gone off to work.

Rick had deeply enjoyed being one of the first house-dads, growing a big garden, spending hours with the girls, disguising all their work as games. Good days, maybe the best of his life...all gone now, gone with Ellen, gone with the girls growing into their own lives, which meant growing out of his....

But there had been an unexpected benefit. While endlessly searching for crafts to entertain his offspring and help foster their creativity, Rick had discovered talent he'd never realized he had. Learning at first by trial and error from library books, he'd taught himself to design and make jewelry, and ended up as the main breadwinner of the family after all. His exclusive pieces were still snapped up by shops and collectors as quickly as he turned them out.

Now Rick switched off his conscious mind and let his imagination flow through the pencil, seeking a way to turn a gut feeling into a symbol. It had to be simple, easy to produce--to mass produce. Every fad-running gewgaw factory would leap to steal his idea, if he was lucky. Probably no one would ever know who had drawn up the original concept. He wondered idly as he sketched who had first come up with the peace symbol that had symbolized the long gone 60s spirit. Or...was it completely gone?

The familiar touch of guilt made him stop, sit back, laying the pencil aside. Most of his activist friends had seen the growing needs of his family as a reasonable excuse for his waning participation--they had accepted it better than he did, it seemed sometimes. And as the Me Decade of the 80s rolled on like a yuppie juggernaut, no one had accused him of selling out. No one but himself. Ellie had always been pleased to be able to send regular hefty checks to the Nature Conservancy, Oxfam and the like. And they had contributed cash as well, to friends working through less mainstream groups. But it always felt to Rick like bribes to keep his conscience quiet. Ellie used to teasingly argue that he was being used to channel that nasty yuppie money back into useful causes, so he was working to support the things they both believed in. Just in his own unique way.

What would she be doing if she were still alive? Probably would have done a much better job talking to Freedom, that was one thing. And what would she say about this little idea he'd just had?

"That's a good starting place," he said, almost involuntarily speaking the phrase she'd used any time someone needed gentle prodding. It made him smile, and for the first time in perhaps years, he felt an uprising of...determination. Optimism. Maybe you could even call it hope.

He bent to sudden impulse and punched up a phone number. "Hey, Craze!" Craze being Crazy Eddie being Edward Lanshorne III, noted attorney for various environmentalist groups. Only very old friends still called him Crazy Eddie, or indeed, had this private number by which they could do so.

After the requisite old-male-friend banter, Rick asked, "What were you telling me a while back, about Geno's kid?"

"That thing about the school saying being a mutant wasn't an actual disability, so they didn't have to provide extra services? Like a kid who'd grown a third eye was going to cruise right through high school with no problems."

"Yeah? Did they sue, or what?"

"It's in process. The courts take fuckin' forever, you know that. Damn lawyers." He laughed, with a sad, hollow undertone.

"So what's your take on this Creed asshole?" Rick smiled at his friend's reply, a flood of creative invective. "Yeah, me too." As it wound down, he continued, "Listen, you still maintain your hot list?"


"Good. How many people do you think you could get at short notice for the Creed rally Saturday?"

"Marchers, signs, the whole bit? Depends on how I present it, I guess. If we had a good core concept to rally around, there are different groups that would show for the solidarity of it--you know the drill. But hey, seems like the last time I mentioned a rally to you, you told me you weren't doing that anymore."

"Yeah, I know, I said never again. Guy can change his mind, right? It's a semi-free country." Rick laughed painfully. "Like you said, there has to be something to start it, and I guess that works the same for one person as for a group. See, I just found out tonight my grandson Buddy is a mutant."

"That's a tough one, Rick. I'm sorry."

"Well, I can't change him. But maybe I can help change the way people, and the law, treat him. Thought I'd give it a shot, anyway."

"Saturday is kind of short notice, is all, Rick. I'm not trying to back off on you; that's just what people are going to tell me. It's not like there's been an incident or anything...."

"You can use that. Why wait for an incident we know will happen eventually?"

"Yes, true...."

"Denver would be the first major protest, especially if we get a decent coalition," Rick urged, the old drives surging now.

"But what have we got that's concrete?"

"I'm going to email you a scan in a minute. It's a drawing of an idea I just had tonight." Rick's pencil was sketching again as he talked. "The thing we have to make people ask themselves is, ‘What if?'. What if it was my kid, or cousin, or niece, or brother? Because it could be, you know. Could be anybody."

"I like it," Ed replied, thoughtfully. "I can see how we can work with that...."

"So I've got a little design sketched up here. Kind of like the old peace signs, you know, a circle that surrounds the inner part, which is just a plain question mark shape--" his subconscious added the final touch, "--with an X in the dot at the bottom, you know, for, whadda they call it, that X factor they test for." Ed hmmmed in an approving, go on sort of way. "And I'm remembering earrings and pendants and belt buckles and pins, that were cool to wear as a signal to your peers that you were in tune with peace and love and the whole schmoo."

"Right! And anyone could wear them, mutant or not, because it's a support thing. What if it was someone you care about?"

"That's exactly it!" Rick put the sketch in the scanner. "So do you think Geno would be willing to print the design on a bunch of signs by Saturday? Kind of launching the new idea?"

"I'm starting to think we might just have the basis for something after all," Ed replied, sounding more and more eager. Quite a bit more crazed than most of his current legal compatriots had ever seen him. "A sort of pre-emptive strike that puts all our Denver groups in the headlines. That's got appeal. And you've still got a name and rep with a lot of people–-plus the new everybody hates that SOB Creed...yeah, I bet I can sell this! I'll get back to you, okay?"

Within minutes, the scan was on the way, and Rick was off to his workroom. This design was so simple that he had the prototype mold done before his silver had melted.


The next day, he rang the doorbell at Freedom's, and was surprised when Buddy opened the door. "Gramps!" Buddy yelled happily, giving him a robust hug. Not something most boys were still willing to do once they hit the teen years, and Rick thought fiercely for a moment that he'd tear the spleen out of anyone who meant his grandson harm. With his bare teeth if need be. "Mom, it's Gramps!"

Deliberately not asking Buddy why he wasn't at school, Rick stepped through the door. Freedom walked in stiffly from the kitchen, her every motion showing she was anticipating a fight. "What brings you here, Dad?"

"Got a present for you, sweetie," he said, slipping the blue box out of the pocket of his sweatshirt. He'd brought one for each of the family, but the blue box was for Freedom. "I've come up with something new, and you're getting the prototype." He pulled out the pendant and let it spin on its fine silver chain.

Caught off guard, Freedom took it and gave it a puzzled examination. The question mark gleamed in the morning sun. "It's...different, Dad. What is it?"

He smiled gently, putting his arm across Buddy's shoulders. "A good starting place."

"...Imagine all the people sharin' all the world....
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."

--Imagine, John Lennon