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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Magnum Opus: Nothing More Than A Chance To Be Better


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Then

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"Daniel, are you home?"

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Carol frown at the living room of her dorm. The lights were all turned down low - unusual for mid-morning on a Sunday – but she could see Daniel framed by the window, sitting in the easy chair. She flipped the light switch, and caught Daniel's expression, and gently set her pack down.

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"What's wrong?"

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"Nothing. I'm fine."

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Daniel didn't look fine. Beyond the soot and ash that everyone regularly seemed to wear since the attack, he clearly looked downcast, staring into the middle distance with a fretful expression on his face. Everything on the outside had changed with Daniel, to the point it rendered him unrecognizable, but Carol could still read his mood. She knew he was upset.

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"Daniel..." She walked towards him. "C'mon."

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"It's no big deal. Nothing worth getting upset over."

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"Mmm." Carol nodded. She went into the kitchen, pouring herself and Daniel a glass or orange juice. She came back out and set the glasses down on the table, then took a seat on the couch.

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"Well, tell me about it anyways. I like talking to you." It was true, of course. Carol did like talking to Daniel. She wasn't sure if she liked doing more than talking, but right now, talking was good.

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"If you really want to know..." She sighed. "It's so petty."

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"Tell me anyways."

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"Someone groped me today."

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Carol blinked. "What? Who?"

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"Just some man. I pulled him out from the rubble and I checked him out and he had a broken leg, so I set him on a table and got ready for takeoff and that's when I felt his hand on my boob." Daniel shifted in his seat. "Granted, they're hard to miss..."

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"Don't. Don't you dare blame yourself."

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Daniel sighed. "Wanted to throw him through a wall, but he was dying. I got him to the hospital anyways. But dammit, I felt so..." He shook his head.

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"You thought this was petty? You didn't want to talk about it?"

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"Like I said, I could throw him through a wall. It's not like he could really hurt me. I have superpowers! I don't know anyone who has superpowers. It feels so small of me to whine about that when I'm not even hurt..."

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"You're upset. You're allowed to be upset, even if you can fly. I mean, look what you did with that gift – you stopped a rocket attack and you're out there every day finding people who need help. I think you're allowed to get upset when someone pays you back like that."

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"Even if that's the case, it's not anything women don't go through every day."

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Carol leaned back in the couch, frowning. She sighed. "Well, you're right about that."

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"I think I just sound like some... some privileged snob, whenever I complain about what you and Jenny go through. I mean, I can fly. Even if I'm a woman now, all that means is I go through what you were going through while I was too dumb to see. What do I have to complain about?"

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"Well, when it happens to me? I complain. I vent. I talk about it with Jenny and we cuss that asshole out behind his back because we'd probably taste the back of his hand if we did it to his face and once I've cussed him out I feel better and it's a little easier. I don't tell myself that I'm lucky because there are starving war orphans in Europe, even if it's true. I just vent and I let off steam and I feel better."

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"Have you ever cussed me out?"

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"Not too often. I mean, there's the one time recently, before, you know..." She waved towards Daniel's body. "All this."

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"Yeah. All this." Daniel closed his eyes. "Carol, today's the first day since the lab accident that I wished that 'all this' hadn't happened."

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"Ah." Carol nodded. She took a drink of her orange juice. "You didn't before?"

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"Well, I've been kind of busy..."

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"Yeah, but I know you've had some quiet moments since then. I know you think faster. I'd have figured, well... well, if it had happened to me, I'd be freaking out."

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"You'd freak out if you had bigger boo - "

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"Not that way! If I was a super-powered guy." Carol rolled her eyes. "Thanks for reminding me how jealous I am, by the way."

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"Any time." Daniel managed a smile. "No, I freaked out, but people needed help, and I put it aside and did what I could. And when I got some quiet moments, I went back over everything that happened and I realized that I was mostly okay with it. I mean, yeah, fine, it's a big, big change. But it's a good one in a lot of ways. I think more clearly now. I see things differently. And flying? My God, Carol, we should go do that sometime. When I'm up there I feel more free than I ever did in my life. Compared to that, most of the time, being a woman now is nothing more than humbling. I can handle a little humbling. Most days."

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"Just not today."

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"Nope."

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Carol nodded. "I'm sorry he did that to you. He's a pig."

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"He was." Daniel looked out the window. "Didn't deserve to die in a rocket attack, though."

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"Nope."

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"You said that this happened to you?"

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"Oh! Yeah. It was before we met. A cop chased me. Grabbed me right here." She pointed to her left breast. "I didn't say a word. I just cried, and everyone thought I was crying because I felt guilty about stealing a candy bar."

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"... wait, is this the story you told me about how you stole a candy bar?"

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"Yeah, but I think a cop grabbing my boob is worse than me stealing an Aero."

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"Now I remember. This was just after you moved here from the U.S., right? You were addicted to Aero bars and didn't have any pocket money left."

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"You ever had an American candy bar? Aeros are like an orgasm in your - " Carol laughed as Daniel turned beet red. "I'm glad I can still do that to you, at least."

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"Yeah, I'm not really ready to talk about orgasms yet." Daniel loosened his shirt a bit. "I feel a little better. Thanks."

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"You know, I was about to head to church. You should join me. You might like it."

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Daniel refrained from rolling his eyes. "C'mon, Carol, you know I don't go in for that stuff..."

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"They're doing a service for the people who were hurt in the attack."

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"I'm glad. I really am. I just don't do the whole church thing. I'm agnostic."

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"I know, I know. Come with me anyways. Do that thing with the glasses. I'll lend you some nicer clothes. You should meet more people than just me, Jenny, Conrad and Doctor Neufeld."

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Daniel pursed his lips, then dug around in his pocket for his glasses. "Okay. Because you asked, and because you listened to me whine about being a woman. I'll go."

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* * *

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So Daniel put on his glasses, and pulled in on himself, and Carol went with "Danielle" to Knox United Church, in the downtown core of Calgary.

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There was a collection plate, the totality of which was going towards the victims of the rocket attack, and Daniel found himself putting his last forty dollars in the plate. He didn't really need to eat any more, and other people did, and that was all there was to it.

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Then the priest – or pastor, the man of the cloth, Daniel could never keep the nomenclature straight – asked everyone to bow their heads in prayer, and give thanks unto the Lord. Because Daniel didn't want to stand out like a sore thumb, Daniel lowered his head, closed his eyes, and spent the time thinking.

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Okay, all right. What are you thankful for, Daniel Finn?

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The prayer commenced, and Daniel mouthed along, while his thoughts turned to other matters. Well, I'm grateful for the few years I was allowed to be openly agnostic without everyone whispering about I was a godless slut. I guess I'm thankful for that. No, I'm actually thankful that Carol doesn't drag me to these things most of the time and is fine with me not being sure about God.

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Also, I'm thankful that I was able to save her. And Conrad. And Jenny. And everyone else, really.

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I'm also thankful that I can fly. I'm thankful that I can lift a car. I'm thankful that I can see so much more of what something is, just by looking at it. I'm thankful of how wonderful the world looks to me now. I'm thankful that I can go up far enough to see the curvature of the Earth.

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And I'm thankful for... Daniel paused, unsure of the confession, even to himself.

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Well, I don't know if I'm thankful for being a woman. But I'm thankful for a chance to learn what it's like to be one. I'm thankful for the past ten days and how eye-opening they've been. I'm thankful that I can look back on who I was and wince in embarrassment because I think it means I'm better than that now. I'm thankful I lived through the accident. I'm glad I got a chance to be a better person. I'm glad that Carol thinks I've grown. Maybe it means I actually have.

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The prayer concluded. Eyes opened, and backs straightened, and a few minutes later, the service concluded.

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"Feel better?" asked Carol, as they struggled into their winter coats.

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"Yeah. Actually, I do. Thanks."

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"Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your – just kidding." Carol held her hands up as Daniel raised a finger, ready to pontificate. "I'm glad you came anyways."

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"Me too. Ah. Carol...?"

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"Yes, Danielle?"

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"What're you doing tonight?"

,, ,,

* *

,, ,,

Now

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"What are you doing?"

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She looked up at the sound. The man was a little bruised and bloody, but conscious, in contrast to the other dozen men lying around the makeshift base. The woman held in her hands an assault rifle, pointed at no one. Moonlight was the only illumination left, and it shone through a window. He'd pulled himself into a sitting position, but wasn't about to risk more than that.

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"I didn't know you spoke English." She pressed her hands together, crumpling the gun into so much scrap. She tossed it on the pile, then picked up another.

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"I speak a little." The man wore a German army uniform. He admired her as she moved - she had a body perfect in every way, including blonde hair and blue eyes – popular features where he came from. He was far from home, out in the countryside, away from all the pretty girls he'd never see again. Despite knowing he was about to die, the soldier couldn't bring himself to hate this angel of destruction. She smiled a lot.

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She crushed another gun into a paperweight. "You should have spoken up. You could have surrendered."

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"Did not think you would take me alive."

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"Well, good news is you were wrong."

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"How did you find us?"

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"By accident, believe it or not. I saw the tank treads from the air. I was on my way somewhere else."

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"Where?"

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"You know I can't tell you." She crushed the last of their rifles, then started in on the pile of guns.

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"What is with this pile of scrap you are making our guns into?"

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"Well, I can't let you just walk out of here with your guns and going back to killing Allied soldiers, can I? And I'm a little too busy to haul you all back with me to a POW camp like I'd normally do. So I'm going to leave you with this - " She pulled a bayonet off one rifle, and set it on the ground. "And you're going to head back that way. You have enough rations in what's left of the tank - "

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"What's left of the tank?"

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"I kind of tied it in a knot. But if you need more you can hunt with that. You head back the way you came. You can lay low until the war's over. Or you can re-enlist and hope the next Allied company doesn't kill you before you kill them."

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"You are joking. You'll kill us while we sleep."

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Danielle shook her head. "No."

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"You'll kill us while we walk, or starve us out - "

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"No." Her voice was firm. "I don't joke about something this serious. You have a second chance here. I would hate for you to waste it, because you successfully lied to yourself about my intentions."

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"If I was an ubermenschen I can tell you, I would kill you."

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"Well. Hopefully someday you'll change your mind about that."

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"Why are you doing this? At least tell me that."

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Danielle thought for a long moment. She stole a glance out the window, looking out at the gorgeous moonlit night, and remembered another one like it, not too long ago. Danielle – well, still calling herself Daniel, and still thinking of herself as himself – and Carol, the latter in all her warmest clothes, flying high enough to kiss the clouds. She thought of what she'd been thankful for on the day leading into that perfect Sunday evening.

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"Take it from me." She knelt, meeting him at eye level. "There's nothing more precious than a chance to change your mind. If you're dead? Then that's it. No more chances. And call me a softie, but I don't like taking that away from anyone."

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"You are a softie." He chuckled, his gaze drifting downwards. "Very softie from where I'm standing."

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"One chance." She held up her finger. "Nothing more than a chance to be better. That's all I can spare tonight. When I come back this way, I'm going to take anyone still left behind into a POW camp. I'll remember your faces, don't worry about that. If I see you again and you still have that uniform on, I'll have no sympathy left at all. It's just a uniform. It's not you."

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Knockout stood up. She picked up the pile of guns-turned-scrap. "Going to go throw these in the ocean. Don't be here when I get back." She turned towards the window, and without a further word, flew through it.

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The man stared at the open window for a long time afterwards, waiting for her to come back. He thought of what he'd say to the men when they awoke, of what they would do next. He compiled a list of who would opt to keep their heads down and who would go back out to the front. He wondered with weird fascination just what a Tiger tank would look like tied into a knot.

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But mostly he thought of smiling faces, and realized just how much he wanted to see them again.

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(EDIT: References to Danielle's codename edited out.)

Edited by Magnum Opus
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