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 was...as 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
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
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
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
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
"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?"
"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
"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 symbol...plus 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
He smiled gently, putting his arm across Buddy's shoulders. "A good
"...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