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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Magnum Opus: The Signal From The Noise


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~One~

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"Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is the HMS Thunder Bay - "

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There was a spark, and the smell of ozone, and the young man swore, pulling his fingers back from the radio. They tingled as he sucked on them. "Damn seawater - " He left his chair, stepping carefully on the wet floor of the radio room, as it started to tilt uneasily. He grabbed a raincoat off the wall, using the rubber to insulate his hand as he reached for the radio again.

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"I say again, mayday, mayday, mayday, this is the HMS Thunder Bay requesting immediate assistance! Our escort suffered fuel loss and had to turn back and we have already launched our Hurricat. We are not under active fire but we have suffered a breach and an engine failure and have taken on water! I say again, mayday - "

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The man paused, and started to stand again, as the captain of the vessel entered. "Sir - "

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"Don't salute me, Fitzgerald, get back on the damn radio!"

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"Sir, yes Captain Wells, sir!"

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Fitzgerald leaned close to the microphone and repeated his message, exchanging a quick glance with the man running the sonar station. Captain Wells just looked out the window, and sighed. "At least the Hurricat chased off the bombers. Small mercy, but I'll take it."

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"Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is the HMS Thunder Bay, requesting immediate assistance - " Fitzgerald paused, as the man at the sonar station slowly stood.

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"Sir." He cleared his throat, his voice cracking. "Sonar contact, sir. It… it fits the signature of a U-boat."

The captain closed his eyes. "I see." He cast his gaze out the window once more. "Well, they'll surely sink the boat. But they may leave us alone if we get into the lifeboats…"

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The sonar operator and the radio operator exchanged glances. Captain Wells just smiled. "We gave it a shot. Just in case they don't sink the boat, I'll be staying behind to make sure it goes down properly."

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"Sir - "

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"Head to the lifeboats, Fitzgerald. That is an - hmmm."

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Captain Wells leaned towards the sonar screen, tapping it, examining the pale green afterimage. "Hornby. Is that boat surfacing?

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"I - yes. Yes, it appears to be."

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"Why? They have us dead to rights down there. Why surface when they can get in range of the deck gun?" Wells then thought for a moment, and nodded. "They may intend to take the boat. If that's true then we have a chance to take a few of them with us. Get the lifeboats ready, but do not abandon ship. Ready the deck guns. We'll just see if… they are surfacing rather quickly, aren't they?"

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He kept an eye on the sonar screen, which didn't lie - every sweep brought the ship closer to the surface. "Someone's in a hurry. Keep transmitting! Keep an eye on the sonar! If you see anything unusual, tell me immediately!"

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The captain hustled out onto the deck. When he emerged, he shouted orders, and the men's training took over, loading the machineguns with a fresh barrel and a fresh belt of ammunition. "They'll be surfacing at 4 o'clock! Get ready!"

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The men obeyed. The captain waited. Indifferent as always, the seawater swept by.

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After a tense minute, the spotter found the shape of the boat, seconds before it breached the surface. It rose to level, and then above sea level, and then - in front of four dozen disbelieving pair of eyes, the submarine lifted clean out of the water.

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"What the hell?" The captain pulled out a spyglass, peering through it. His eyebrows shot up at something, and then he smiled.

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"Captain…?"

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"Keep the guns hot. But… we might just be okay."

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The submarine descended back into the water, and then a small human form rose from the water - floating, heedless of gravity, in a red, white and black caped uniform. No one could get a close enough look, but the captain could see clearly through his spyglass, and it was enough to momentarily shake his disbelief in the almighty.

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The person - clearly a woman, very clearly even at this range - floated down to the top hatch, and incredibly, knocked on it. After a few moments, a person's head popped out of it. For a tense few minutes they appeared to have an argument, then the hatch closed, and the woman dove back beneath the waves.

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Someone came running in from the sonar room, shouting something about how the boat was retreating. The captain just nodded, waiting - and sure enough, the woman returned.

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She floated through the air, stopping over - but not on - the deck. Water ran down her body, dribbling on the deck. Everyone looked towards her. It was difficult not to. She coughed.

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"Okay, I had a chat with the only person on that boat who spoke English. I need to learn German. Anyways, ah, I tied all their guns in knots and threw out all their torpedoes and they say they're going to go back to Germany on account of all that, so you're okay. I see that you're taking on water so I guess you need a tow?"

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Someone whistled. She flinched at the sound. The captain looked askance over his shoulder, and the offending whistler coughed. "Sir, sorry, sir."

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"No way to treat a lady, Private. Especially one that just saved our lives. If you're waiting for permission to come aboard - " He looked at the space between the deck and her feet. "You have it."

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She landed, gracefully. "Thank you. You're not far from ACE Base Atlantic. I can tow you there."

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"When we get there, who should I credit with saving the lives of everyone on this ship as well as several hundred pounds of aetherfiber?"

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"No one important." She ran her fingers through long blonde hair. "Honest."

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~Two~

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In a few hours, "no one important" had towed the ship in to dock.

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"Damn lucky for them," muttered Commander Pine, looking out over the hull of the refitted aircraft carrier that was ACE Base Atlantic. Down below, a small army of men and women poured over the craft, which was suspended on chains whilst a hasty patch was exchanged for a more permanent one. "Our mystery dynamic must have overheard the distress call."

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"I agree, sir." Danielle, his personal assistant, scribbled quickly (but not too quickly) on her clipboard. "Very lucky."

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"I want you to do me a favor, Miss Waters. I want you to head down there and personally verify the inventory count. Aceworth's already been on the radio to us twice. He has a number of military contracts with a lot of strings he can pull. I'm sure you understand."

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"I do, sir." I don't like it, but I understand. Danielle saluted. "I'll start immediately."

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"Do you want me to get one of the boys to escort you?"

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Danielle paused for a moment. Then she shook her head. "No. No, I'll be fine."

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He nodded. "Dismissed." Danielle headed towards the door, frowning. Did I slip there? Passing up the escort? Then again, I don't really need it. No point in wasting anyone's time. There are other women on board who'd need it more…

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She took the stairs and made her way onto the deck, walking briskly but not so briskly she couldn't enjoy the sea air. It wasn't like back home in the city - out here you could feel it seeping into your lungs and invigorating you. No wonder people fell in love with the sea. There was a lot to love.

With minimal fuss, she let herself be lowered in the bucket onto the HMS Thunder Bay, rather than simply climbing the rope. It wouldn't do to be too unladylike. Men didn't always like that - and besides, she needed to pass somewhat unnoticed if she was going to have any semblance of a private life.

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Key word, of course, being 'semblance.' There were a few women and men among the officers and enlisted, but no one she could open up to. Carol and Jenny were half a world away. Conrad was still in basic training. She felt acutely alone, and not for the first time.

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The bucket opened and Danielle stepped out, straightening her scarf. She walked towards the hold, opening the doors wide, and found herself at a momentary loss.

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Wrapped in neat palettes were dozens of crates, and she could feel, inside of every one, the distant conductive thrum of proper ætherfiber. Attunable to dynamic energies, adaptable to modern science, ætherfiber was vital to the war effort. This was the largest shipment she'd yet seen. It was a minor miracle that it had made it this far.

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She started to count, carefully picking up each crate by an inch or so to test the weight. The work went quickly - she could intuitively calculate mass just by looking, but better to be sure. After a few minutes of work, she was done, and headed towards the cargo hold's door… which opened, revealing a sailor.

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The sailor had a foot on her, and he was all muscle, the kind you got when you lived on a boat where one firm knot was what stood between you and a watery grave. He smelt like he hadn't showered in weeks. He looked at her like he hadn't seen a woman in months. "Hello there."

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Danielle met his gaze. "Hi. Danielle Waters. I'm her on official business, here to verify the cargo."

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"Right."

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"I - I'm the personal assistant to Commander Pine."

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"The commander's got a very nice boat." He leaned over her. "This isn't his boat."

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"I have permission to be here. Let me just call - " She reached for the radio on the wall.

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He leaned over, putting his hand over the receiver. "Nice bluff. But I don't believe you."

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Oh God. Oh Jesus. Okay. No. He can't hurt me. But if I hurt him back my secret's blown… She inched away from him, backing up against a wooden crate. Her hands closed around a two-by-four plank of wood. I can just say it was loose enough to pull free. Just smack him across the face. "Just… just call him yourself."

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"Maybe I will."

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"I'm not here to make trouble, I'm just verifying the - " She paused.

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"The what? The cargo? Sure you are. You probably don't even know what this stuff - "

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There was a clunk, and the man fell silent, and a moment later, he just fell. Danielle blinked, releasing her grip on the two-by-four, and looked down at the man, then up at the newcomer.

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She was in a wetsuit. She was holding one oxygen tank like a club, slightly dented. She was dripping wet, and smelled like she was fresh out of the sea. She had dark brown eyes, and as she pulled the hood and rebreather off her face Danielle noticed her light brown hair and her slightly freckled complexion, and the scar over one eyebrow. She exhaled. "You okay?"

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"Uh. Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." She looked down at the man, and kicked him in the ribs. "And I know what ætherfiber is, you, you prick."

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"You know how to pronounce it, too. Nice."

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"But thanks. Thanks. I - why are you in a wetsuit? Wait, who are you?"

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"Oh, this." She laughed. "Captain Wells wouldn't give me permission to come on board so I had to sneak on board. 'No damn reporters,' except he used language that was, ah, a little saltier. And the potential loss of this much ætherfiber isn't going to report itself, is it…?"

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As the woman spoke, Danielle studied her face, and decided that yes, she was 100% on the level. "A reporter? This far out to sea?"

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"This isn't the first boat I snuck onto this week." She looked Danielle over. "A scarf, huh. So you work on the big boat."

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"Yeah. Wait, you snuck onto ACE Base Atlantic? One of the most high security coordination stations we've got?"

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"Where else am I going to get a good story? Rewriting military press releases like a glorified stenographer? No thanks. We'd better report him, by the way. He's gonna be mad." She sighed. "I guess that means you have to tell the Captain about me…"

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"Hmmm." Danielle thought for a minute. Then smiled. She pulled the board free, and took a swing at the wooden crate, breaking the board in half. "No, I'll just say that I beaned him over the head myself."

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She looked at the broken board, and whistled. "Nice swing."

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"I'm stronger than I look."

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"Don't suppose you can tell me if it's all here, miss…?"

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"Danielle. Danielle Waters. It's all here. I counted. Uh, don't ask me to go on record."

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"I won't. Call me Monica." She tugged her breathing apparatus back in place. "Thanks, Danielle."

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She vanished out the door, and Danielle exhaled. "Oh, wow." She looked down at the prone sailor, remembered herself, and reached for the radio. As she dialed, she tried not to think about dripping wet water off a tight rubber wetsuit.

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She didn't succeed.

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~Three~

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" – assaulted a crewman aboard my ship, Commander Pine, who’s mildly concussed and in your sickbay – "

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“Said crewman, Captain Wells, according to my assistant, was threatening her – "

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"Which he would never do! I work with the man literally every day!"

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"And I work with Miss Waters every day and I've never known her to lie about something this serious."

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The Commander and the Captain went back and forth, while Danielle stood still, struggling to keep emotion out of her face. Inside she felt messy. What he'd tried to do to her… and then she came along, without thinking, and saved him, even though he could just as easily have done it to her. Brave woman, she thought. So that's how it feels.

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"A full inquiry will be made." Commander Pine paced along the walls of his office, circling the two of them. "Since this is wartime, and since you are serving under an Allied flag, there will be a military commission should Miss Waters choose to press charges. You can, in turn, choose to file counter-charges for assault. I can tell you right now that the court will take one look at Miss Waters, who is a foot shorter and seventy pounds lighter than your man, and laugh that off. She will have me as a character witness who'll testify that she'd never hurt a fly. You'll be docked for weeks, if not months. No more shipping contracts, and in turn…" Pine sighed. "One less ship carrying supplies."

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And here comes the plea. Danielle hated the plea. The backroom negotiations that always seemed to put guilt and innocence aside in favor of expediency and not wasting "the system's time." Danielle knew how common they were. She knew, going into the law when she was still Daniel, that there would be a lot of these. Knowing that didn't help. It didn't help at all.

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Captain Wells folded his arms. "What are you suggesting?"

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"Offering, not suggesting. You discharge him from your command, you make it clear that he doesn't do this sort of thing ever again, and if Miss Waters is amicable, then we try to let bygones be bygones and get back to winning the war."

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The captain and the commander turned to Danielle, who tried not to sigh. Can't help but notice that it's two men pushing for this decision. If it were up to me I'd take him straight to court. … where they'll probably start poking around in the past of 'Danielle Waters' and find out how much of it's made up. Dammit, that's selfish. What if he hurts another woman? Is my privacy worth that much?

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"Give me a little time to think about it."

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Commander Pine nodded. "Captain Wells, we will be in touch."

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The captain left, muttering. Danielle sat down. Commander Pine reached into his desk, unlocking one of the drawers and pulling out a pipe. "Do you smoke?"

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"No, sir."

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"May I? Helps my nerves."

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"It doesn't bother me, sir."

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"I know you want to stick it to this bastard." Pine poured a small quantity of tobacco into the pipe, and fumbled for his lighter. "So do I."

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"But you're going to tell me not to, sir."

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"Miss Waters… Danielle…"

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"Imagine it was you. Just imagine you're my height and my build and everywhere you go, people stronger than you look at you like a piece of meat. Just think about that, sir."

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"I do." He lit his pipe. "Every day. I remember a world without dynamics, Danielle, something you may be a little young to remember. I see men and women, like our mysterious rescuer of the HMS Thunder Bay, who could kill me with one punch. Sometimes the ones on our side of this war get a little out of hand, and I have to weigh whether or not them getting a little out of hand means potentially losing the war. I do that with a lot of decisions I make, Miss Waters. There are far too many of them. I still have to make them. I still have to weigh whether justice now means dead men later."

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"Or dead women."

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"Or dead women." The commander sat back in his chair. "Danielle, the decision's all yours. If you want to take him to court, you have a good case – but not an airtight one. If you had a witness… dammit. I should've insisted someone go with you."

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"I should have listened." Danielle sighed. "I'll think about it, sir. May I be excused? I need some time to think."

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"Dismissed."

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"Sir." She stood, and saluted. Then she exited, making her way to the radio room.

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It had become a common habit since the incident back home – monitoring ætheric transmissions, searching for any sign that Zenith was up to something. It was also somewhat isolated there, and the radio operators were a little shy around her… and right now she could use shy. She'd had a little too much of 'confident.' Shy, right now, would work just fine.

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She entered the room, and nodded. "Hi boys. At ease. Radio's working?"

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"Uh, yes! Yes, Miss Waters, ma'am." The operator took his hat off, as he always did when he saw her, and despite herself Danielle smiled. Gerald was his name, and his accent bore the faint twang of someone who was from the American South and didn't like to remind people of that fact.

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"Mind if I listen in?"

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"Uh, no, ma'am, no. Percy?"

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"Aye?" Percy was the other radio operator on shift. He was from the UK – a lot of ACE Base Atlantic personnel were – and wasn't shy about it at all. Danielle had heard about how he fancied himself a ladies' man, but he knew to steer clear of her. The commander's assistant had "out of your league" in a floating banner behind her, always.

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"Miss Waters wants to listen in."

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"Aye." Percy held out the spare set of headphones. Danielle obligingly took them, twisting herself around to get around the wire.

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As she listened, she reviewed the log. Still no signs of Zenith. Maybe it was a one-off. Maybe he'd been buried in the politics of the Axis powers, falling out of favor. Maybe he'd given up. Who knew. Still. She had too many questions for him, and not enough answers just yet…

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Hmmm. "Hmmm. Gerald? Percy?" Danielle stopped on a page, with a printout of squiggled lines stapled in, along with a note. "What's this?"

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"That? Oh, ma'am, no, it's nothing."

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Danielle checked the note, and frowned. "This is your handwriting, Percy."

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"Aye."

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"And it says 'WOW.'"

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"… aye."

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"Why is that?"

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Percy coughed. "Well, now. Have you heard of the Royal Astronomical Society?"

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"A little. You watch the stars."

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"Well, I'm the kind that likes to listen more than watch. All kinds of noise up there." Percy pointed skywards.

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"Aw, c'mon, Percy, Miss Waters don't care about that kinda thing…"

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"No, no, I care. I do." Danielle looked at the squiggles. "So this is noise?"

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"Well, we figure, if there are people out there – perhaps on Mars, or perhaps even further – then we're hear them before we see them. You can only go so fast according to Mister Einstein's theories, and a transmission has a lot less mass – I mean weight – "

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"No, mass is constant, weight is relative."

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Percy brightened. "Yeah, exactly, and out there, a transmission would travel much faster than whatever's making it. All our transmissions go out there, just spreading out from our world forever. Anyone else out there would hear us before seeing us. And I figure what's good for the goose is good for the, er, the little green gander."

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"You think you'll hear a signal from another world?"

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"Well… s'just a hobby."

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"Hmmm." Danielle looked at the squiggle again. Then she noted a series of times and dates scribbled next to it. "Wait, Percy, you've kept hearing this?"

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"Writes it down every time, ma'am." Gerald nodded.

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"Haven't noticed a pattern yet, though." Percy shook his head. "Why?"

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"Hmmm." Danielle did a few hundred quick calculations in her head in the space of a second. There's a pattern. There IS a pattern. "Percy… maybe. Tell you what. How about I come by for a listen around…" She scribbled out a time. "This or so, later this evening? Will you be on shift?"

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"I can be."

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"Excellent. I'll see you then. Gerald, you can come too." She smiled. "And put your hat on. If you catch this you'll both be immortalized in history."

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"Uh, yes ma'am. Sorry ma'am." Gerald put his hat on. "So it's… a listening party?"

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"Sure. Yeah. We'll call it that. A listening party."

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~Four~

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"Party" was perhaps the wrong word.

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Danielle and Percy and Gerald were all huddled around a table, headphones on. Danielle was done work for the day and was idly writing out a list of names on a piece of paper – the good ones, only.

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'Knockout' hadn't stuck yet, and after thinking about it, she didn't want it to. Not really. Right now she was content letting herself go without a name. All that would change if she came across a good one. But all the good ones were taken. Right now she was staring at a list of ones that made 'Knockout' look like divine inspiration.

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She sipped at her coffee, listening quietly. Percy frowned. "You sure, Miss Waters?"

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"Well, it was just a theory…" She stood up, and sighed, stretching slightly. "I'm going to check the ætheric tether. See if it's calibrated properly."

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She fiddled with the dials and examined the readout. Gerald coughed. "Ma'am, if you don't mind me askin'…"

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"Go ahead."

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"Well, we don't hear about a lotta girls who're interested in this kinda thing, is all."

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"Oh. Well, I guess I'm not like other girls, I guess? I've always been curious. About science, I mean! Science in general."

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"You're blushing. Aw, I didn't mean to embarrass you, miss…"

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"It's okay." Is it okay? Will I still pass if I like this stuff? Is it too manish? "I mean, it's exciting, isn't it? Maybe we'll find something."

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"We probably won't. At least we probably won't find anything we can figure out…"

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"Such a downer, Gerald is." Percy smiled. "Miss Waters, does it work right?"

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"Think it's calibrated properly. I - "

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Danielle paused, unable to speak for a long moment.

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It was clear, from the expression on Percy's face and on Gerald's, that they didn't hear it. Her senses picked it up where theirs did not. She wasn't even sure what it was that she was listening to, either, but there was no way it was normal. It was like listening to people singing to music that was almost out of hearing range. A music with a rhythm no human would find appealing. All of it sped up to a hundred times normal speed, and she, with her senses, saw it all pass by.

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"Wow!" shouted Percy, a second later (to him, anyway.) The readouts on the receiver spiked unexpectedly. "Miss Waters, you were right! … Miss Waters?"

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"I'm fine. I'm okay. What - "

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There was a thump, then the groan of metal shifting. Danielle had gotten used to it - it was the groan that accompanied any shift in weather more than a few degrees, as the metal expanded and contracted. But she'd never head it this suddenly before. She frowned.

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"It's just the sound it makes when the weather changes, Miss Waters…"

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"I know that, Gerald," replied Danielle, a bit more firmly than she intended. She crossed to the porthole, looked out, and froze. "I…"

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The sea had frozen.

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For at least a few hundred feet in all directions, the sea had been covered in solid ice, and Danielle instinctively knew it was over six feet deep. She quickly calculated the spread of the ice, which was uneven… assuming it had spread out from ACE Base Atlantic. She craned her neck to look over to where the HMS Thunder Bay was docked, and yes, it wouldn't be unrealistic to assume that it came from there…

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"Miss Waters?"

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"Come and have a look, boys. Quickly." She stepped back from the porthole, letting them look. As they did, Danielle stepped back, forming a plan.

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"Oh my Lord…"

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"Sound the general alarm." Danielle grabbed the radio on the wall. She dialed the bridge. "Hello, may I speak to the XO? It's Danielle Waters. … the personal assistant to Commander Pine, that's who. … yes, it's urgent! Look out the damn window!"

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A pause. Then: "Yes, wake him up. I agree, sir, that's the safest course." She hung up. "Percy, Gerald, they're sounding the general alarm. Potential dynamic attack. Get to the bulkheads."

"I…" Percy stuttered, looking as frozen as the water outside.

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"Percy, remember your training. Go. I'll be fine. Women's quarter's are that way." She waved towards them. "Not far at all. Now go!"

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They obeyed. Danielle exhaled, took one last look around, then shoved the porthole open and plunged down onto the ice.

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By the time she'd reached the ice, she'd transformed - her ætheric suit reshaped into her costume, and her proportions fully blooming outwards as she stopped holding back her dynamic powers. Her boots rested gently atop the ice, pressing on it. "Okay. Not an illusion. Let's just have a peek…"

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She took to the air, ice crystals spinning briefly in her wake, as she rounded the ship and got a good look at the HMS Thunder Bay. Then she blinked, not believing what she was seeing.

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Somehow it had gained mass. A substantial amount of mass, too substantial to be just people coming and going. And there was something else, too. Something… she couldn't put her finger on it, but something felt wrong about it. It felt hot to the… not to the touch, but it felt like it was radiating some kind of energy she couldn't quite explain.

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People were on board. They were starting to panic. What good was a lifeboat when you were surrounded by solid ice?

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Quickly, she set to work, carrying them off the ship. Evacuation was top priority as always. She lifted them up from the HMS Thunder Base and onto the deck of the aircraft carrier, two at a time, in a red and black and silver blur. She counted all the faces from before, when they'd come out to meet her, and yes, they were all here. She exhaled… and then looked out on the ice.

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"… is she insane?"

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The woman in the wetsuit - Monica - was running out onto the ice. At this distance Danielle could see that she had a camera in hand, and she instantly knew what was going on. "A picture? She's taking a - "

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Danielle zipped off, heading straight towards her. She slowed to a hover in front of her, just as she heard the shutter go off and the lightbulb snap. Monica slowly lowered the camera, looking up at Danielle. She blushed. "Oh."

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"I hope it was a good shot, at least."

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"The best." Monica smiled. "Wow. I have been looking everywhere for you. So listen, let's start with your - "

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There was a buzzing to the air. Danielle felt her flesh crawl. Monica craned her neck around to look at the HMS Thunder Bay, and she gasped. "Uh…"

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"What?" Danielle turned around, and stared. She didn't believe it either.

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Spreading outwards from the HMS Thunder Bay, the ice was catching fire. It rolled outwards like a wave of liquid flame, spreading over the ice, lighting up the night. Monica raised her camera, spending the second flashbulb. "That's impossible."

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"Yeah. I - "

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The ice, weakened by the fire, cracked. Danielle whipped around to see Monica leap away from a crack, backing away from it… and stepping towards a rapidly developing sinkhole.

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"Monica!" Danielle swooped in…

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… a second late, as Monica tumbled backwards, and fell.

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~Five~

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The next few minutes were a blur for Monica.

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She remembered a sensation like being stabbed with a hundred ice-cold knives at once, and then a pleasant feeling of warmth. Then the wind in her hair, and then a joyful feeling of weightlessness. Then she remembered coming out of it, and staring up into the face of an angel… a very relieved looking angel.

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"Hi," said the angel.

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"… hi." Monica shook her head. "What happened?"

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"You fell into the water for a second. You're okay now. I caught you and flew you up on deck."

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"Thanks."

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"You don't have hypothermia. It was only for a second."

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"Close." Monica exhaled. "What about the Thunder Bay?"

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"The fire's gone. Just as soon as it arrived. Ice is gone too. Commander Pine's ordered the ship to move a nautical mile away. We're heading out now."

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"… oh, dammit, my camera…!"

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"I saved it. It's okay." Danielle handed the camera over.

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"Oh, you're a princess. Thanks." Monica took it. "You're real. Wow. I've got so many questions. What's your name?"

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"It's not important."

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"So I call you Not Important Girl? C'mon. Give me something. Why doesn't this fit right…" Monica started adjusting her wetsuit.

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Danielle looked distracted for a moment, then exhaled. "Okay. All right. When I've checked it out, when this is over, sure, I'll come find you and we can have a nice long… whatever you want."

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"… hmmm." Monica looked around, surveying her surroundings. "We're on the opposite side of the ship."

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"I figured you'd deserve a little privacy."

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"Why?"

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Danielle coughed, blushing. "Well, to stave off hypothermia, you kind of have to… er… pool body heat."

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Monica looked at Danielle for a long moment, then burst out laughing. "And you put the wetsuit back ON me?"

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"Well, you know… I didn't look, don't worry…"

,,

"It doesn't fit right. Next time, look." Monica adjusted the suit in a few places. "So that's what was going on the last few minutes."

,,

"Sorry. You should go get checked out by a doctor. It's not really a…" She coughed into a fist. "Long term treatment."

,,

"No? Pity."

,,

".. pardon?"

,,

Monica leaned forward, impulsively, and pecked Danielle lightly on the lips. "Thanks for saving my life."

,,

"Uh."

,,

"Now, go, go be a superhero. We'll talk later."

,,

"Ah…"

,,

"I'm going to go see the doctor now, so you're just wasting time, Not Important Girl." She waved the camera. "Going to develop this too. See you later!" She turned, and ran off.

,,

Danielle shook her head. She lifted off, flying back towards the HMS Thunder Bay, visible off in the distance. She kissed me. Oh my God. She kissed me.

,,

For the first time in months, Danielle had run into something strong enough to stop her in her tracks.

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~Six~

,,

The flight back to the HMS Thunder Bay was over in seconds. When Danielle approached it, she could feel more of the energy radiating off of it. However, there was no ice, and no fire. There were scorch marks, and she could see the flickers of Saint Elmo's fire crawling along the brass fixtures, but nothing too out of the ordinary, to normal eyes.

,,

But Danielle was flummoxed. She had a keen idea of everything that went into a thing - its precise volume, velocity, mass, everything. She described it to Carol as seeing everything that something - or someone - could be, and said that it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever beheld. Usually it was.

,,

When she looked at the HMS Thunder Bay, she saw a boat that was changing mass by the second, that somehow was achieving a relative velocity and being perfectly still… a place where physics took the day off, where ice could catch fire. It didn't feel beautiful. It felt wrong.

,,

"All right, I towed it once. I can tow it again. Tow it out to sea, borrow a few torpedoes, sink it..." She flew in towards the hull, pressing against it.

,,

It was heavier than she remembered, but slowly the ship began to turn. It felt like the plan would work - at least, Danielle thought so, until something burst out of the hull and hit her square in the jaw, sending her flying.

,,

She hit the water and bounced twice, like a skipping stone, before she concentrated and righted herself. She glared at the ship, and then her eyes widened.

,,

A giant, fifty foot tendril made of ætherfiber was waving around like a snake, protruding from the side of the ship. It was joined by another on the opposite side to counterbalance the ship. That told her that whatever it was, it was smart enough to keep the ship upright, which meant…

,,

She shouted at it. "Are you alive? Can you understand me?"

,,

There was no response.

,,

"I'm - my name's not important. Never mind that. Listen, if you can understand me, say so. No one was seriously hurt. If you need help or something I can see what I can do…"

,,

Still nothing. Danielle sighed. "So now I need to learn German and… and whatever it speaks." If it did speak. "All right, fifty feet's the range on those tentacles, so if I find something to push with… maybe back on the carrier - what - "

,,

Danielle froze - literally froze, as a blast of intense elemental cold struck her dead on. She was instantly encased in ice, and fell into the water, swallowed in an instant.

,,

She wasn't hurt, but the ice was far thicker than she'd anticipated. It was tough to get leverage. She knew she'd already suck twenty-five feet by the time she'd even gotten it to give slightly. She was surrounded by inky black water, the light from the sky fading by the second… and then, only then, could she hear it.

,,

The Signal

,,

She couldn't speak. Couldn't ask it where it came from or what it wanted… but somehow, it knew. And it answered.

,,

Am the Signal

,,

Signal came from the blackness

,,

Signal live in the blackness

,,

Signal search for the light

,,

Signal spread through the light

,,

Danielle finally managed to get the ice to give, and she swam for the surface, aided by her ability to fly - which wasn't nearly as fast underwater, but it got the job done. She burst forth, taking to the air.

"Okay. That was on purpose." She flexed her fingers. "No more Mister - Miss nice… gal."

,,

She sped in, firing her "boom vision" at the tendril, scoring a direct hit, shearing it in half. The chunk that separated flailed as it plummeted into the water, and as the tendril swooped down to grab the rest of itself, she sped past it, punching a hole in the starboard hull followed by a hole in the port side. She zipped around the tendril on the port side, and then dodged a gout of flame that it shot at her.

,,

Signal must spread

,,

Signal must grow

,,

"Fire? Ice? That's really odd - " She cut off, screaming despite herself, as a blast of lightning ripped through the body of the ship and grounded itself on her. She faltered in midair, and then the port tendril was joined by another, which grabbed onto her leg as the other snagged her arm.

,,

Signal must overcome resistance

,,

Oh God, it's going to tear me in - no. No!

,,

She flexed with all her might, pulling against the tendrils, lifting the HMS Thunder Bay clean out of the water. She swung it around on pure momentum, slamming it back into the ocean, upside-down, sending a massive wave outward in all directions. The shock loosened one of the tendrils, and she took the opening, firing a kinetic blast from her eyes to sever the other near her arm.

,,

The piece in her arms thrashed for a few seconds, then was still. Danielle could feel the life draining out of it - or, in the absence of life, whatever animating energy it possessed. Danielle looked down at the ship as the tendrils reshaped themselves to plug the hole in the ship, transforming into some kind of organic pump that was bailing out the hold even as it shifted the weight to tip the ship right side up.

,,

This is bad. It understands buoyancy. I think it's stronger than me. It's got more powers. I don't know the first thing about it. If I fire enough kinetic blasts, maybe I can permanently rupture the hull -

,, ,,

Then the ship sprouted a new, longer tendril - one that it had fed under the water, directly underneath Danielle in her blind spot. It fired a blast of lightning upwards, current rippling across the water as the bolt arced upwards. Danielle plummeted.

,,

Just get away for now - it'll kill me - I need to regroup - She steered her flight away from the ship, out of range of the tendril, and then, she heard it again.

,,

Signal will allow a minor loss of transmission body

,,

Then the air froze around her again, surrounding her in that super-hard ice, even thicker than before. Thick enough to block her vision, thick enough to prevent her getting leverage.

,,

No. No. I can't see - what - it's cold - I need to fly - I can't -

,,

The blackness of the ocean swallowed her up.

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~Seven~

,,

"You're not in an immediate danger, ma'am. But I would advise going for a swim in the ocean again."

,,

Monica nodded, zipping up the jumpsuit. "Thanks, doc. Now, I need to get out there."

,,

"Where you'll fall in the ocean again. No. Doctor's orders." The doctor - a middle aged man with glasses and a fairly exasperated manner - sat back. "Which you're going to ignore."

,,

"Tell you what, you tell me where there's some women's clothing on this ship, instead of this itchy jumpsuit? I'll go there instead."

,,

"Not many women on this ship. I suppose the Commander's assistant Danielle could help you - "

,,

"Danielle?" Monica blinked. "The Commander's assistant?"

,,

"That is what I said."

,,

"Huh." Monica nodded. "Okay, I'll go hit her up." She exited the doctor's office, and looked around.

,,

Young men - mostly men, all young - were running around in a state of well-trained panic. She made her way through the moving crowds, walking towards the women's quarters. Hopefully Danielle Waters had a clearly marked bunk or office. Hopefully Danielle wasn't too far off from Monica's size…

,,

The intercom of the ship blared. "Doctor Simon requested on starboard deck. I say again, Doctor Simon requested on starboard deck."

,,

"Oh," said Monica. She quietly detoured away from the path to the women's quarters. "Well, I can be itchy for a few more minutes."

,,

When she emerged, a small group of people were standing in a semicircle around something on the deck. A lifetime of fighting crowds in Los Angeles baseball games prepared her as she gently but firmly made her way to the front. There she saw what looked like a ten foot tall snowperson, lying on the deck, rolled on its side.

,,

"Why the doctor?" she asked a serviceman.

,,

"Someone saw a person inside. Damndest thing. Just shot right out of the water. Landed on deck."

,,

"Is it that dynamic woman from before?" he inquired.

,,

"Hope so." He got a faraway look and a smile.

,,

Monica groaned inwardly. "She comes here often?"

,,

"We see her sometimes. She's not military. Goes out on her own. Wait a minute, why're you - "

,,

"Thanks!" Monica gently melded back into the crowd, keeping an eye on the frozen form. Is it her? Is she alive? Oh God. What if she's - Monica looked around, and then tapped someone on the shoulder. "I need to use your combat knife."

,,

"What? No! I - come back here with that!" Monica burst forth from the semicircle and slid to a halt next to the icy form. She started chipping away. "Lady, get back!"

,,

Monica ignored him, and kept chipping. She grunted. "What IS this ice? It's like concrete…"

,,

"You don't know what it is! It could be poison or - "

,,

"She's going to die!" shouted Monica, momentarily losing composure. "Come on, Not Important Girl, don't you - oh, thank God…"

,,

A crack formed in the ice, and a moment later, a finger appeared, pushing aside a large chunk of the ice. It was followed by a hand, which Monica took, and squeezed.

,,

Danielle's thumb gave her a thumbs up, then gently slipped free, flexing to shake the rest of the ice on her arm free. Then Danielle tore the ice from her face and chest, and emerged from the icy cocoon. "Thanks."

,,

"That stuff's like solid stone. I don't think I made a dent."

,,

"Thanks for being there, I mean." Danielle looked around at the sailors. "Oh, I calculated right. Whew. Did I land on anyone?"

,,

"You… you just burst out of the ocean, they said. How'd you know where the ship was? Can you see through ice?"

,,

"Kind of. I have this - I'll explain it later, but I have an insight for direction, speed and distance. I knew it was headed this way. I had to fly blind, but I did it."

,,

"What happened?"

,,

"The ship's store of ætherfiber all melded together. It attacked me. It kept calling itself 'the Signal.' There was fire, and ice, and lightning…" Danielle shook her head. "Back in a second."

,,

Everyone but Monique gasped as Danielle lifted off the deck, to get a better look. Monique just smiled. Oh, I wish I had film left in my camera. She's so pretty.

,,

Danielle floated back down, a worried expression on her face. When she landed, she looked towards the crowd, as it parted in a wave of salutes. "Commander. The ship. It's moving."

,,

Commander Pine looked at Monica, ignoring Danielle. "Hello."

,,

"Hi."

,,

"We will talk later."

,,

"Okay."

,,

Commander Pine turned back to Danielle. "Miss, you say it's moving? What is it?"

,,

Danielle briefed the Commander on the ship, what she'd encountered, and what it had said. She then added that the ship was faster than ACE Base Atlantic, and that at its present speed it would catch up within half an hour.

,,

"What will happen when it reaches us?"

,,

"The Signal talked about coming from blackness and spreading throughout light. I don't know what that means. But nothing good. It had no regard for human life." She held up a chunk of inert ætherfiber. "I saw it reanimate something like this once it touched it, but within moments of it becoming separated it was inert. I think it wants the ætheric communication system on board the ship."

,,

"… with that, it could contact any ætherlab in the world. If it spread…" The Commander frowned. "Possesses ætherfiber. Could it spread through an ætheric comm channel?"

,,

"I don't think that's out of the question."

,,

"I see." Commander Pine turned towards the comm tower. He nodded. "Unless someone comes up with something in the next half an hour, I will order the self-destruct of the ship."

,,

A palatable wave of fear went through the crowd. Danielle immediately started calculating how many crewmen she could carry off. She knew it wouldn't be all. It wouldn't even be half. She shook her head. "That can't be the only option."

,,

"You have half an hour to come up with a better one."

,,

Danielle turned to Monica. "I don't suppose in addition to SCUBA and photography, that you're an expert on ætherics?"

,,

"No. But…"

,,

"But?"


"But, if we're allowed to use the comm system… I have the phone number of the best one in the world."

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~Eight~

,,

"Twenty minutes?" asked Danielle.

,,

"Twenty minutes," replied Pine.

* * *

,,

Okay. Remember how it reacted. Remember its movements. This will work.

,,

It was a sight to behold, watching Danielle fly back out to sea. Normally it was - even at a distance, Danielle put nosecone art to shame. But it was even more of a sight to watch as she carried a forty foot length of steel, hand-sharpened to a razor's edge, with grips worked into the sides. It was a day for defying physics, it seemed. Hopefully a good one.

,,

It had sprouted more tentacles. It looked like a writing mass of worms freshly burst out of a can. It was heading straight towards the aircraft carrier, so almost before she knew it, it was close enough to attack.

* * *

"The Alex Aceworth, Senior?"

,,

"The same." The voice from the other end was well-mannered but somewhat annoyed. "I'm given to understand that you've lost a shipment of my product?"

,,

"Not lost, so much as... well…" Danielle looked vaguely guilty as she sat at the comm station, one hand cupped against a set of earphones.

,,

Monica interjected, holding the other half up to hers - sitting close to Danielle. "Mister Aceworth, she saved the ship from a U-Boat. You should be thanking Not Important Girl."

,,

"Of course, of course. Forgive me. I'm frustrated. Well."

,,

"Well?"

,,

"Chasing out this Signal, whatever it is, may be impossible, at least with the equipment you have on hand. That's the bad news."

,,

"What's the good news?"

,,

"The good news is, based on your descriptions, we may be able to… contain it."

* * *

,,

The lightning was the first attack it made.

,,

The current shot forth from the tendril, ionizing the air, splashing against the slab of steel, heating it red hot… but Danielle had chosen her steel well. It held. And with the rubber grips, she didn't suffer more than having her hair stand on end.

,,

Okay. That failed. Now it's going to try either fire or ice…

,,

On cue, it fired a gout of fire at her. At this, she ducked it - the fire was hot enough to melt ice, but also slow enough to dodge, even carrying the slab. She didn't dodge by much, but Danielle, again, had chosen well - the slab was light enough to give her enough speed to evade it.

,,

Good. That leaves it with one option. Let's set this up. Danielle angled her flight directly for the boat, hefted the slab of steel, and sped straight for it.

,,

It hit her with the ice again as she plummeted like an out of control plane. It coated her again. She couldn't see, had trouble flying carefully… but she could still accelerate.

,,

Simple inertia. I'll keep going where I was going. And when I hit…

,,

A moment later, Danielle hit.

* * *

,,

"The Signal can't seem to possess ætherfiber if it's not linked. It probably infected one package, then uses those tendril things to touch the neighboring packages on board the ship."

,,

"Very sharp, miss… Not-Important-Girl. Based on your description, I believe that the Signal cannot be in multiple unlinked sources of ætherfiber. That's why it wants the communication systems. It wants to connect with other ætherlabs."

,,

"Can you contact them, Mister Aceworth? Get them to go dark?" Monica exchanged looks with the Commander, who loomed over both of them somewhat menacingly.

,,

"All of them? Worldwide? Given a week, sure. Twenty-five minutes? Unlikely."

,,

Danielle thought for a moment. "When it lost the little piece it seemed more or less okay. When it lost a bigger piece it scrambled after it…"

,,

"What's your hypothesis, if I may ask?"

,,

"I think if it can't be in more than one unlinked piece, then the more or itself it loses…"

* * *

,,

… the more it'll hurt.

,,

It is all but impossible to cut something exactly in half. There will always be some level of uneven mass distribution no matter how fine the knife. Danielle knew that.

,,

But she came close. The massive steel wedge slammed into the ship, its edge honed razor keen and made red hot by the fire and lightning. The Signal didn't make a sound, but all the same, Danielle could feel it cry out in pain.

,,

As a side effect – a somewhat hastily planned one – the impact with the water made just enough of a dent in the ice to crack it, and Danielle burst forth. She hefted the steel wedge like a bat, quickly ascertained which half was becoming inert and which was alive, and then swung the steel wedge, driving the inert portion up in the air a good hundred feet.

,,

The Signal's tendrils shot out again, but not at her – and this time, Danielle was ready. She sheared one tendril in half with a shot of kinetic force from her eyes, and the other was cut in two by Danielle's improvised weapon. She followed through, using the upward momentum to swing the wedge back down again, bisecting the Signal's body once more.

,,

Once it realized what she was doing, it started to fight back – but with less ætherfiber came less power. The frost was easily broken. The lightning still hurt, the fire still burnt, but she pushed the pain out of her mind, and concentrated on bisecting it again and again and again, whittling it down to size…

,,

Until the only moving portion of the Signal was a small, basketball-sized lump of ætherfiber, and then Danielle repurposed her weapon, bending it in her gloved hands into an improvised container. A shot of kinetic vision stunned it long enough for Danielle to quickly work the steel, and then she grabbed it, and…

,,

And then a jolt ran through her entire body as it seized upon the ætherfiber suit she was wearing. She's attuned it to her signature, so it didn't instantly have control, but Danielle could feel it trying to claw its way in, to overwrite the signature with its own. And then, connected for a brief moment with the Signal, its mission became clearer.

,,

Danielle understood the "black" as not space at all, but of emptiness – not empty of matter or of heat, but of information. The "light" it sought was information – specifically, any information system, from any civilization advanced enough to attract it. It sought to spread, to spawn more copies of itself… and Danielle had a vision of it worming its way, via ætherics, into the mind of everyone on the planet as surely as it was trying to claw into hers.

,,

Signal must spread

,,

Signal must grow

,,

Signal will adapt new medium

,,

"No – no, dammit – " I'm an idiot. I wore an ætherfiber suit to fight this thing! I'm such a moron… dammit, get out of my suit, get out…

,,

It was strong. Danielle floated unsteadily as she tried to force the blob off of her fingers and into the improvised metal container. She knew if it found its way into her suit, the next thing it would try to take would be her mind. She felt the suit crawling along her body, almost in revulsion, and she gritted her teeth.

,,

I can't let it win…

,,

Danielle looked around, surrounded by the vastness of the empty ocean, and felt a pang of loneliness – and the suit began to shift in color, away from the black and silver and red, and she shook her head. She focused on the aircraft carrier on the horizon.

,,

She thought of old-fashioned Commander Pine, trying to juggle the smart thing with the right thing, and wanted to get him to realize that the right thing was the smart thing. She wanted to tell Percy and Gerald that their radio listening paid off. She wanted to see Conrad again and joke like they used to. She wanted to be there, years down the road, for when Carol found someone else and maybe took that walk down the aisle…

,,

Danielle then thought of Monica. Brave enough to walk on ice. Noble enough to defend her when she needed it. Smart enough to know to call Aceworth. And maybe… just maybe, maybe the type of girl who'd go for the kind of girl Danielle was.

,,

Suddenly the lifetime of expected loneliness Danielle had resigned herself to, wasn't quite so sure.

And that was what gave her the strength to force the Signal back out of her suit and into the ball she'd cut it down to. She shoved it in the container, squeezed the top shut with the sound of groaning steel, and waited.

,,

The Signal wasn't speaking any more. Danielle exhaled. She looked towards the aircraft carrier.

* * *

,,

"That's semaphore, all right." Monica adjusted her binoculars. She watched Danielle's signals, then exhaled, along with the bridge staff in the lookout tower.

,,

Commander Pine exhaled. He turned to his XO. "Tell them to abort the self-destruct. Our mystery dynamic has the package."

,,

Monica leaned towards the glass, smiled, and waved. Danielle looked right at her, across miles of ocean, smiled, and waved back. Impulsively, Monica blew a kiss – and blinked in surprised, when Danielle caught it, and blew it back.

,,

"Oh wow. Oh wow." Monica set down her binoculars, and undid the top button on the jumpsuit. "Oh, wow." She looked up, at Commander Pine. "Oh, hi."

,,

"We're signaling her to stay out at sea until help arrives."

,,

"That makes sense."

,,

"It gives us time to have a little talk."

,,

"Oh," said Monica flatly. "Great."

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~Nine~

,,

During the wait, Danielle salvaged what was left of the HMS Thunder Bay.

,,

It wasn't much to look at, but Danielle had time on her hands, and a precise recollection of the direction every piece had sunk. By the time help had arrived, in the form of a couple of Allied dynamics, Danielle had lashed most of the pieces together and was carefully keeping them afloat. She hovered gently above the water, the Signal's mostly inert form in hand, as the Allied steamer idled in the water.

,,

One of them graciously took the Signal from her. "On behalf of the United States military, ma'am – thank you." He was a young blonde man, wearing the stars and stripes, and despite herself, Danielle found herself blushing.

,,

"Uh, you heard what the commander said, right? Pre-ætheric technology only."

,,

"I heard. Trust me. We hauled this old thing out of dock for just such an occasion. This might be the weirdest thing I've seen, but we have top men waiting to contain it and analyze it."

,,

"Can you tell me where?"

,,

"That depends what your rank is, ma'am."

,,

"Oh, don't have a rank. So… I guess that's a no." She rubbed her eyes. "I guess I'll be going…"

,,

"You could join up."

,,

Danielle shook her head. "Army life's not for me."

,,

"Well, if you change your mind, we'll be here until they send the boat out."

,,

"The boat?"

,,

"Yes ma'am. Commander Pine has a prisoner he wants sent to Allied command in the UK."

,,

"… oh, I think I heard about him. Yeah. He attacked a woman – "

,,

"A him? No ma'am, we've got record of a woman, not a man."

,,

Danielle frowned. "Can I see paperwork for that, or is that above my grade too?"

,,

The man thought for a moment. "I suppose you did just potentially save the human race and all. It wouldn't hurt." He departed for a moment, entering the captain's cabin, and returned a few minutes later, carrying an official looking piece of paper.

,,

Danielle read the prisoner's first name. "Oh."

,,

Then Danielle read the last name."… what."

* * *

,,

"Monica Pine?"

,,

She rose from her bed, and walked towards the bars. "That's me."

,,

"You have a visitor." The guard stepped aside. Monica craned her head to look, and then laughed.

,,

"Danielle. Hi."

,,

"Is he, you know…" She waved towards the cell next to hers, where a familiar man slept.

,,

"He knows damn well not to say a word to me." Monica's jaw set. "The guards know it too. I made very sure of that."

,,

"All this for sneaking on board?" Danielle looked around at the brig – cramped, cold, and well-secured. She didn't come here often because there weren't often prisoners.

,,

"In fairness, I did just sneak onto a highly secure mobile coordination base for the war effort. I suppose I can't fault Dad for being a little paranoid."

,,

"Commander Pine is your dad."

,,

"Yep."

,,

"Are you… uh, not on good terms?"

,,

"He doesn't approve of what I do. He wants me to settle down and find a good husband. Journalism's one of two reasons why I can't do that. The other, well." Monica smiled. "Well."

,,

"You're… uh, I don't know how to delicately say this…"

,,

"Let's just say I like innies more than outies and leave it at – you're blushing. That is so cute."

,,

"I'm sorry." Danielle covered her mouth. "I – I don't have a problem with it."

,,

"Really? Because you look really uncomfortable."

,,

The boss's daughter kisses me and I cuddled with her flesh-to-flesh to save her life and she doesn't know who I am? Yep. I'm uncomfortable. "I'm fine. I just – it's a surprise."

,,

"Huh." Monica angled her head slightly. "Well, thanks for being open minded."

,,

Danielle looked at her clipboard. "They're going to have the boat ready to go out to the UK in a few hours."

,,

"Yep."

,,

"Can I ask you a question?"

,,

"You can ask."

,,

"Why do it? Sneaking onto a ship. Running out onto the ice. That's just the parts I heard about. That sounds cuckoo. That sounds bananas."

,,

"Ah. Why be a journalist. Let me ask you. Why do you do what you do?"

,,

"I – well, I think it helps. I'm coordinated. I have a good head for details." I can fly. I can lift a ship. "It's wartime and I'm good at what I do and this base is important." I got a second chance to be a better person on top of it all. "I think it's the right thing." I know it's the right thing.

,,

"Same here. Danielle - I'm going to guess, that my dad wants you to quietly let him sweep that thing with him – " Monica banged the side of her cell. "Under the rug."

,,

"He… he does."

,,

"He knows it's wrong. You know it's wrong. I damn well know it's wrong. But everyone, knowing it's wrong, just kind of wants to let it happen, because it's easier that way."

,,

"I don't like to think about that."

,,

"No one does. No one's comfortable with how easily the most powerful people in our society can get corrupted with power… or at least, complacent. Wiling to favor trade, to quid pro quo, to do the smart thing. It happens to everyone. When it does, when doors close and deals are hammered out that work out just fine for everyone in those rooms and not so fine for everyone outside of them? Well. Nothing clears out a smoke-filled room like sunlight."

,,

"I think opening a window – "

,,

"It's a metaphor." Monica laughed. "The window in this case is a magic window that blocks sunlight, let's say that. That's what I do. I ask questions and I keep asking questions and I make everyone realize that the smart thing's the right thing. That we have laws for a reason. That the people up top are standing on a lot of shoulders to be up there. The more I tell the truth, the more sunlight comes in the window. The more they realize who they're really accountable to, the more likely they'll do the right thing. That's why, Danielle."

,,

Danielle frowned. "I see. So… am I one of those people that needs reminding?"

,,

"I think everyone could do with reminding sometimes." Monica regarded Danielle, and then smiled. "But I don't think you'd need it that often, no."

,,

"That's about the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

,,

"You poor thing."

,,

Danielle laughed. "Well. I just wanted to talk. Thanks for saving me from, you know…"

,,

"Danielle."

,,

"Yes, Monica?"

,,

Monica wrapped her hands around the steel bars. "Everyone knows I snuck on board that ship. You don't have to cover for me. Since you don't have to cover for me? I'll swear out an affidavit against him. I'll say I attacked him. I'll also say why. I'll back up your testimony one hundred percent."

,,

"Really?"

,,

"With both of us together, no one'll sweep this under the rug. He'll get what he deserves. They'll find another sailor. One who deserves to be on that boat…" She sighed. "Or whatever they replace it with."

,,

"Oh, uh, the dynamic – you know, the – she really needs a name, doesn't she."

,,

Monica got a faraway look on her face, and Danielle found herself blushing. "Yes, she does." She caught Danielle look, and laughed. "Sorry. She's just… wow."

,,

"Wow." Yeah. Oh boy. "She hauled all the pieces of the Thunder Bay up on deck. She said she'd be back to help weld them together, and see if we can make it seaworthy again."

,,

"Really? Wow. That's…" Monica shook her head, and grinned. "She thinks of doing that, after everything that happened on that ship."

,,

"Well, it's not really the captain's fault. He shouldn’t have to lose his ship."

,,

"No, no, I agree. So you know she's going to do this, how?"

,,

Because I'm Daniel Finn. I'm also Daniel Waters. I'm also Not Important Girl. And I think… I think you and me…

,,

Danielle left it unsaid. "She sometimes will pass a message or two through me."

,, ,,

Monica's eyes widened. "Really?"

,,

"Yeah."

,,

"Danielle, if you can send a message to her I will owe you eternally."

,,

"Sure. Sure, I can do that. What about?"

* * *

,,

It was nighttime, and Monica Pine spend it handcuffed to the rear rail of a ship.

,,

It was an odd request, but a little batting of her eyelashes and the captain had seen fit to let her stargaze, as long as she wasn't about to jump off the boat and try to escape. So she sat, and she waited… and after a long enough time, she smiled, at the form floating up and out of the water.

,,

"Hello there, Not Important Girl."

,,

"Hello there, Monica."

,,

"Well, you kept your promise. Meeting up when this was all over."

,,

"Mmm. Sorry I ran late. Rebuilding a ship is tough. But it floats. It'll work." Danielle floated gently behind the ship, keeping pace with it.

,,

"I never did thank you for saving my life."

,,

"Don't worry about it."

,,

"I also never properly apologized for trying to embarrass you."

,,

"Oh, that?" Danielle rubbed her lips, and smiled distantly. "No, that was… that was kind of nice."

,,

"Really." Monica grinned. "Well. That worked out well then."

,,

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell the world about it when you write this up."

,,

"Oh, no, trust me. I don't do that sort of thing. I leave that to gossip rags back home."

,,

"So what IS going in the story you're going to write?"

,,

"I snuck out an amazing couple of photos. I'll crop them so there's no landmarks visible. Took a lot of negotiating with Dad, but…"

,,

"You wore him down?"

,,

"Eventually. He drew the line at what the Signal is or isn't. I accepted that, because I don't know where it is either. I'll just say that a dynamic incident at sea was averted and contained by… well, by you, Not Important Girl."

,,

"I really need a better name, don't I." Danielle sighed, defeated.

,,

"Why don't you have one?"

,,

"Well… for a while, the first paper that wrote about me called me a 'knockout.' Uh, I figured for a while that they could call me that, but…"

,,

"But that's a silly name."

,,

"It's an okay name. It's just more about how I look and me hitting things, and I'd like a name that's, you know, that's more meaningful."

,,

"Hmmm. Can't use your real name?"

,,

My name is Daniel Finn. Also Danielle Waters. I'm Danielle. I liked it when you kissed me. I think… Danielle pushed the thought away. "I like my privacy."

,,

"That's understandable."

,,

"So… look, tell you what. You're the writer, not me. You come up with something. You tell me what's a good name and I'll say yes or no."

,,

"How do you see yourself?"

,,

"How do I – hmm." Danielle rubbed her chin, lost in thought. "I… see myself… I see myself as remaking myself. As a project I'm working on. A work in progress. I want to be a better me. I want my greatest achievement to be a version of myself I'm proud of. Does that make any sense?"

,,

"It does."

,,

"Got any ideas?"

,,

Work in progress. Greatest achievement. Monica thought through her mental thesaurus, tapping on the railing, then her eyes widened and she smiled.

,,

"I got it."

,,

"What is it?"

,,

She leaned forward, and whispered it in Danielle's ear. Danielle leaned back. "Really?"

,,

"Really."

,,

"… I actually like it."

,,

"Then I'm in luck, because I have the caption all written out."

* * *

,,

"Danielle! I need you to take down some dictation."

,,

"Of course, Commander." Danielle's clipboard and her pencil were at the ready. "I'm ready."

,,

The Commander cleared his throat, and began to pace in his office, as Danielle wrote. "After a review of the evidence, it is the position of this commander that the board formally charge the defendant with assault. Given the evidence, this office strongly recommends a lack of leniency in any potential plea bargain, that the defendant be barred from serving on an Allied ship, and that the full weight of the law be brought to bear. Thank you, Danielle."

,,

"My pleasure."

,,

"You were right." The Commander nodded. "Don't tell a soul, but I'm ashamed to have even considered letting him off the hook."

,,

"Understood."

,,

"You have permission to speak freely, Danielle."

,,

"In that case, sir, thank you for doing the right thing."

,,

The Commander nodded. "That will be all."

,,

Danielle stood, saluted, and made her way back to the women's quarters and her office. She opened the door, propped her feet up on the desk, and then sifted through her transcribed correspondence. At one letter, she smiled, and opened it, pulling out two sheets of paper.

,,

Danielle –

,,

Thank you, again, for agreeing to act as our go-between. Enclosed is my letter to her, but right now I wanted to write to you specifically.

,,

I gave my captors the slip and I'm heading out at first light deep inside enemy territory. I have a tip on an Axis training camp that's supposed to have unearthed some ancient 'unbeatable' fighting techniques, and I'm going to make sure it doesn't stay secret for long.

,,

You didn't need to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times just for me, I'd have given you a complimentary subscription. Thank you anyways.

,,

Tell her that I want to see her again. We should set up some kind of a secret signal (not Signal, haha) for when we want to meet up. I hope the case goes well and that the job doesn't throw anything like that at you.

,,

I meant what I said when I said that you wouldn't need much reminding. You have a good head on your shoulders. Don't let my Dad ride you too hard. He's old fashioned, but he's a good man. I hope someday he accepts me even though I'm not going to give him any children soon.

,,

Take care.

,,

- Monica

,,

Danielle closed the letter, and then opened the second piece of paper, which was a photograph. Danielle coughed at the subject therein. "Oh my." Despite herself, she couldn't stop grinning. "Here I thought the wetsuit was as good as it got."

,,

She folded it and stuck it in her safe. She took out the copy of the Los Angeles Times that she kept in there, and she re-read the story, and specifically the picture – of her, aglow in the moonlight, floating above a sea of ice – and specifically, the headline.

When Monica had suggested it, it had felt right. Not a literal translation, but close enough. A version of her that was the best thing she'd ever make. The best that she could ever be.

,,

"Well, you hit the nail on the head, Monica. You're right. I love it. Someday…"

,,

Someday I'll tell you all of it. When I'm a little more sure of myself, when I'm a little more sure of what exactly we have… if this is just infatuation or a fling or something more serious... once I'm sure, I'll stand right next to you in the middle of nowhere, away from prying eyes, and I'll take my glasses off and say, this is who I am.

,,

I was an okay man, called Daniel Finn.

,,

I'm a good woman, called Danielle Waters.


I'm a superhero. They call me Magnum Opus.

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