Cryojen/Flying was faster
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Flying was faster. Written by HEROID
To be honest, she felt a little guilty for taking the scenic route. The train was both more expensive and many times slower, and really, she should be trying to reach her destination as soon as possible. But that was the problem, wasn't it? She had shirked this particular responsibility for so long that she was now afraid to face it, to try to make ammends.
The woman known publicly as Katrina Allen sat and looked out the window as amber waves of grain passed by. Beyond the purple mountains ahead, nearly to the shining sea, was someone she once professed to love and whom she swore to care for and provide for.
Funny how things change over time.
Where are all your high ideals? she asked herself, and then wondered who exactly she was asking.
Who was herself? Her body belonged to Dr. Valerie Wisteria, whose soul she still carried, and whose personality still occupied a small padded cell in the corner of her mind. But it had been a long time since Valerie was in control.
She could not bring herself to think of herself as Katrina Allen. That was an identity made up by a vile woman called Demonelle when the villain had temporarily seized control of Dr. Wisteria's body. But since Demonelle had altered Valerie's looks and made the new face a public fixture, she was stuck with the name.
She tried to think of herself as June Dawson, 1950's crimefighter and social activist, killed by those closest to her when they became concerned her politcal leanings might lead to embarrassment for them. Her spirit had languished in Perez Park until Dr. Wisteria fouled up an attempt at a Circle of Thorns ceremony. Wisteria had an out of body experience, and when she returned to her body, she was not alone -- June had come with her, and to both their surprise, the ceremony had given them powers from beyond the grave.
For a time they shared the body -- best friends, confidants. They registered as a hero under June's old alter ego, the Catbird. They both thrilled at their newfound abilities and together, they thrived, each one's strengths covering for the other's weaknesses. In the day, they were Dr. Valerie Wisteria, Parapsychiatrist; by night they were the mysterious Catbird.
And then they met Jen.
Jen was alone in the world. A young girl with ice powers that she had little control over. Valerie and June decided to take the girl in and adopt her. They were already raising Roy Kirby's young son, Ben. Two children in the apartment would be no more trouble than one, and they so enjoyed being around the kids. But Jen's powers were too unpredictable and she needed to be under the care of experts. Val/June shipped her off to Mt. Rainier Academy for Superpowered Youth.
Then came the terrible times. Demonelle invaded them, drove June out and psychically tortured Valerie to the point of madness. But the Catbird was resourceful. She made a deal with Death and regained their body. But it was too late for Val -- she would not come out of the box Demonelle had placed her in. Now she was just one of many voices that cried desperately in the Catbird's psyche.
So who was she?
She sighed and lifted her rum and cola to her lips. She was the Catbird. In the end the mask won out. She was the Catbird, winged courier for Death. She was the Catbird, mysterious avenger of the night. She was the Catbird, champion of the people...
She was the Catbird, adoptive mother to a child she had abandoned months ago after Demonelle's attack.
She downed the rest of her drink, then rose from her seat and made her way through the train to the back of it. There was a sign at the end of the last car, which said, "Authorized Personnel Only". She ignored this.
The Catbird stepped through the door and stood on the small platform outside.
Mt. Rainier Academy for Superpowered Youth.
She spread her wings against the rushing wind and took off toward the distant mountains.
Flying was faster.
The plaque on the desk read William Brenegan, III. His office door had the word "Dean" painted on the glass in neat black letters. He was responsible for the school and its students.
The Catbird sat across the desk from him in an uncomfortably hard-bottomed chair and looked at him with Katrina Allen's cool, calm face. She wore a smart, grey outfit with a jacket and white oxford shirt, and a skirt that reached to just above the knee, so that when she crossed her legs, her knee was exposed and just a bit of her thigh. Just enough to keep him distracted, but not so much as to make him think she was there for anything but business.
"I'm here," she said to him, "to take Jen home."
"Your daughter?" William Brenegan III looked at the folder before him. It contained the permanent record of one Jennifer Wisteria. "I'm sorry, Ms. Allen," he said with an expression that made the Catbird think of a smarmy teenaged boy, "but Jennifer's mother is Valerie Wisteria. I'm afraid we can't allow her to leave with you."
The Catbird said nothing, she merely brushed a lock of short blond hair off of her forehead and maintained her dispassionate coolness.
William Brenegan III dropped the folder on his desk as if it was something of great weight and reached for the telephone. "In fact, I do believe I'll call the authorities because this certainly reeks of an attempted child abduction."
The Catbird uncrossed her legs, then recrossed them, switching legs. Then she picked up her maroon handbag from the floor and pulled an envelope out.
"Before you make a fool of yourself, you should take a look at this."
William Brenegan III stopped with his finger poised above the second "1" in "9-1-1" and looked at the envolope she slid to him across the desk.
"I think you'll find those papers are in order. I am the executor of Dr. Wisteria's estate, and have legal custodianship of all of her affairs. And that includes Jen."
William Brenegan III stammered for a few moments before he finally seemed to gather his wits about him enough to say, "Of course, our legal department will need to look into this. We cannot just simply give her over based on what could be forged documents."
"I understand," the Catbird said as she closed her handbag. "I'll wait two days. At the end of that time, I expect to leave here with Jen."
With that, she stood, turned, straightened her jacket and skirt, and walked out of the office.
Bill Brenegan watched Ms. Katrina Allen as she showed herself out of his office. For a moment he was captivated by the sound of her high heels tapping staccato on the floor, but that passed quickly when he thought of the threat she presented to him.
Bill reached for the phone again. With a little luck, two days should be enough time, but they would need more manpower than Mount Rainier Academy had available. He pressed speed dial on the phone.
"Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Lyle speaking."
"Sheriff, this is Bill at Mount Rainier's. I need some help."
"Another missing student?"
"Yes, and this time there is an extra bonus for finding her within 48 hours."
Jen didn't know that the Catbird was coming to take her home. After months at the academy, with one bad incident after another making one bad memory after another, Jen had decided to run away from Mount Rainier. So she did, only two days before her adoptive mother left Paragon City.
So now she was out on the highway somewhere in the state of Utah, hot and exhausted. She had managed to sneak onto the back of an eastbound tractor-trailer full of potatoes to travel the first several hundred miles from Washington state. It had been air-conditioned to keep the potatoes fresh, and it had been very comfortable. And she had found out that raw potatoes didn't taste so very bad at all -- even if it did freeze solid a moment after touching her lips. But when, after long hours, the truck had stopped and someone unlatched the trailer door, Jen had teleported out. She was horrified to find that the truck had turned south. With no other options, she began teleporting, making her way along the interstate, until finally all of her strength was depleted.
Now, she couldn't even manage to lower the air temperature around herself. She couldn't form so much as an icecicle to chew on to try to chill herself a little. Her normally blue skin was approaching a pinkish color, which for a normal kid would be healthy, but not for her. The pre-summer sun was beating down on her with deadly intensity as she stumbled and staggered down the highway. She needed to find air-conditioning -- or even a meat-locker -- soon.
Then the sound of an air-horn almost made her jump out of her skin. She turned to see a big rig rolling to a stop behind her.
A man with short, wavy, black hair and a smiling, sun baked face stuck his head out of the rig's driver's-side window. "Need a ride, kid?" he said.
She knew it wasn't the best option, but if she stayed out in the heat much longer, she was sure she would die, she ran as fast as she could manage to the truck. The man inside reached across the cab and swung the door open for her.
"Hello, little darlin'," the driver said with the same wide smile he had before. He was a smallish man, not very tall, and sort of skinny. "My name's Wayne Lee Grady. What's yours?"
The cab was air conditioned and the blast coming through the vent felt heavenly to her, so, without thinking she blurted out, "Jen."
"Where you headed, hon?" he asked.
Jen had decided telling him her real name hadn't been the best idea, so she decided not to tell him that she was headed home to Paragon City. "Boston," she answered.
"Well, little lady, we'll be hitting I-70 in Richfield. We'll be able to get you real close to where you're going."
Wayne Lee Grady reached over and turned on the radio and stayed silent for a long while as they drove. Jen looked out the window at the barren terrain of dry, yellow grasses growing out of dry rocky ground. In the distance, flat hills jutted up out of nowhere, looking incongruous to the flat, flat land around them. And this vista remained the same for miles and miles and miles...
Jen woke up when her head bumped against the window. She squinted against the sun as she took in her surroundings. They had left the highway and were pulling into a visitor's center that had an "Arizona Welcomes You" banner across the brick building that housed a drink machine, a coffee machine, a snack machine, and some restrooms.
"Wait!" she said, anxiety rising in her voice and in her stomach. "What are we doing in Arizona? I thought we were going east toward Par... er...Boston!"
Wayne Lee Grady smiled the same smile she had seen since he had stuck his head out of the window. "Relax, darlin'," he said, "I had to make a little detour."
"Yeah, honey. Seems you're not going to Boston at all. We're going to take you down to a little place south of the border."
Jen felt around for the door handle as she said, "M-Mexico? B-but... why?"
"For a little commodities trading, darlin'..."
"Yeah, you're a valuable piece of property, sweetheart. If you were a couple of years older, you wouldn't be worth my time, but at your age -- hell, you're prime!"
Jen felt sick. She wasn't sure if it was because of the things he was saying, or if it was from the hunger that made her stomach feel like it was trying to claw its way out of her insides. He arms and legs felt like wet spaghetti noodles and her head felt like it was floating without being attached to her body. If she wasn't so weak, she would flash-freeze this guy and show him what's what.
"Please, mister... let me go... I won't tell nobody..." Begging made her feel even more helpless. "Please... I don't want to wind up in a... a..."
"I don't know where you'll wind up, darlin'," Wayne Lee said nonchalantly. "None of my business really. But hey, you know you might like it. I hear a lot of kids do."
"You're a sicko perv and I hope you die!"
"Whoa, whoa..." Wayne Lee was still smiling. "What do you think's going to happen to you?"
"I... you're going to... I mean... please... I'm just a kid..."
For the first time since she had met him, Wayne Lee's smile disappeared. "Oh, sugar, I'm not going to do nothing like that. I'm not... no. I would never do nothing like that."
"Then where are we going?"
"To a man who provides meta-powered children for various organizations."
"He runs an auction for super-powered kids."
"You don't think all those organizations like Arachnos get all their recruits from grown-ups, do you? Some of the stuff they do takes a lifetime of training. The younger you get 'em, the better."
Jen relaxed slightly. The situation wasn't quite as bad as she imagined.
"How did you know I had powers?"
Wayne Lee pointed to a small plastic box mounted on his dashboard. It had flashing lights on it and in white painted letters, it said, "Cobra Meta-Detector".
"It picked you up when you were 'portin' down the highway."
"Oh," Jen said, suddenly fascinated with the device.
"Now, do you want to go to the little-girl's room while I get me some coffee?"
"All right, hold still."
Jen remained quiet while Wayne Lee flipped open the console between the seats and took out a strange-looking bracelet.
"Don't try to get away. If I don't take this off you in twenty minutes, it's gonna blow up."
Jen looked at the bracelet. Wayne Lee might not be a perv, but he wasn't exactly benign either. She opened the door and climbed out.
The ladies' room was fairly clean -- the first break she had had since she got off of the potato truck -- so she took her time washing her hands and thought her situation through. She had been in much worse jams. If she could stall for time, maybe get something to eat, maybe she could get her strength back and escape. But then, where would she go? Were there any towns nearby? What good would it do for her to try to make a break for it when she would just wind up dying in the desert?
Jen went back out to the truck and took her seat. A moment later, Wayne Lee came back, removed the bracelet, and offered her a soft drink and a pack of cheese crackers. The soft drink was warm -- it might as well have been a cup of steaming coffee -- and the crackers were... well, crackers. She tried, but she couldn't bring either of them down to freezing. She sat the soda in the cup-holder and looked out the window as Arizona passed by.
Texas was a little different from Arizona and New Mexico. More green and rolling hills. More towns along the highway. A little more traffic.
Texas might not be a bad place to try to make an escape.
Jen and Wayne Lee hadn't spoken since they had left the rest stop. Neither had they stopped. If they were going to cross the border, surely they would have to stop there. Maybe there would even be policemen there who would help her. Then again, if he was a smuggler -- especially a people smuggler -- he probably knew a way around all of that. Some desert back road or something.
She looked at her captor. He was still smiling. He always smiled. At first, it had made him seem pleasant. Now it just made him seem psycho.
Suddenly, Wayne Lee's expression changed. His eyes grew wide in panic and his smiling mouth opened into an "oh" as in, "Oh crap!"
Jen faced front and looked at the highway in front of them. There was a cow in the middle of the road. A big cow. Maybe a buffalo. In the evening twilight Jen wasn't sure. She hadn't seen that many cows or buffalo in her life.
Wayne Lee hit the brakes and the truck started skidding down the road. The trailer Wayne Lee was hauling turned to an angle so that Jen could see the back end of it passing the cab. The weight of the trailer pulled the truck off of the road and they went off of an embankment. The world flipped upside down and Jen found herself banging around inside the cab as the truck rolled and rolled downhill until it finally came to a rest.
Smell of diesel mixed with ozone and blood as Jen opened her eyes. The truck was right side up with the driver's side resting against a large rock. Wayne Lee had a large gash in his forehead and his mouth was busted up pretty badly.
Jen wiggled her arms and legs -- no pain. She put a hand up to her head -- there was a small lump on the crown of her head, but no blood. She was unhurt!
Without a second thought, she opened her door and leapt out.
Unfortunately, Wayne Lee wasn't hurt as a badly as she thought. As soon as she opened the door, he lunged at her. She slammed the door and knocked him back, but it didn't take long for him to crawl out and come after her. Jen looked around for a place to hide, but there were only rocks, most too small to conceal her, so she ran around the demolished tractor to escape him. That's where she saw the frost forming on the side of the exposed motor. The freon lines to the air conditioner were busted and leaking!
Jen scrambled up on the engine block until she could see the hose spewing a stream of icy vapor. She put her hand in it the stream and smiled as the refreshing chill invigorated her, then she climbed on up until frost coated her skin and clothing from head to toe. After that, she just stood and waited for Wayne Lee.
He didn't disappoint her. Though he was limping and angrily wiping blood from his eyes, he was still relentless in his pursuit. He wasn't smiling now. He looked like an enraged animal.
"You come back here," he said as he began to climb up toward her. "You get down from there, Jen."
"I'm not just Jen anymore," she said. "Now I'm CryoJen!"
She shot an icy blast at Wayne Lee that froze his hands to the metal he grasped. When he began to shout and curse at her, she froze the saliva in his mouth which made his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth.
"Now," she said, her voice suddenly as cold as her powers, "I'm leaving. And when I get to where I'm going, I'm going to tell certain people about you and what you do. When they find out, they're going to hunt down this 'auction' you were taking me to. So if I was you I would get out of this business and never, ever do anything like this again."
From the look of fear on Wayne Lee's face, Jen was pretty sure he bought her threat, so she leapt off of the truck, and climbed the embankment.
Up on the highway, another big rig had pulled over to see (Jen assumed) about the wreck. Jen approached the truck to ask the driver for help. An old woman who looked to be about as big as any man Jen had ever seen, sat in the driver's seat. She was dressed in a thick, red flannel shirt. She had a flabby, pallid face framed by wiry brown hair, streaked with grey and white, which stood almost straight up. The driver didn't look at Jen, but instead stared ahead with big bulging eyes that didn't blink.
The old woman began to speak in an eerie monotone voice. "I have been sent by Death itself to warn you, little girl -- the highway is no place for you. You do not belong to the road. Just a mile down the highway in that direction," the old woman pointed so Jen would know which way, "is a fallow field. After you cross that field, you shall find a ranch called the 'PW'. You shall approach the ranch house and knock twice, pause, then knock twice more. The owner of the ranch shall see that you get to your destination safely, for he understands the odyssey of youth."
Jen stood stunned to silence as she spoke.
Then suddenly the old woman looked down at her and grinned with an evil leer, then said, "Be sure 'n' tell 'im, Large Marge sent ya!"
Jen heard her cackle like a witch as she drove away.
Following Large Marge’s instructions, Jen made her way to the ranch house where the owner, Mr. P.W. and his wife, a nice lady named Dottie fed her ice cream, and then drove her to the airport and bought her an airline ticket for Paragon City.
The Catbird sat by the window of her hotel room and watched the Sheriff's cars roll up and down the highway. It was raining, and their tires made slooshing sounds as they passed by. She waited. She needed information and she was going to get it.
From up the street came the sound of squealing brakes and crunching metal. A familiar sensation came over her -- just as she had suspected it would -- and the "angel of Death" wings manifested on her back. She opened the window and flew out in the direction of the accident.
Deputy Lyle Parnelle was waiting for her, just as she knew he would be. She had encountered Deputy Parnelle earlier that day at the restaurant where she had had dinner. Her vision of his death was very clear -- his patrol car would wind up wrapped around a utility pole and his neck would be broken. His permature death would be quick and fairly painless, as opposed to his actual scheduled way to die: maimed and then beaten to death by the jealous husband of the woman he was seeing. Usually, she gave warnings so that people could avoid their untimely demise, but Parnelle had only one month, two weeks, and three days before the jealous husband, and the Catbird needed information from him.
As she approached, his spirit stood on the sidewalk looking at the car his body was trapped in. The steady rain passed through him and puddled on the sidewalk under his feet.
"I need to call this in," he said when he noticed her arrival. "That guy's gotta be dead. Poor [censored]."
"Yes," the Catbird said.
He had the expression of a man who had seen far too many such scenes in his lifetime. Despite his marrital infidelity, she could sense that he was a good man.
"Deputy Parnelle, I'm here to help you," she said.
He turned and looked at her, not at all surprised that a beautiful woman with black wings should be standing beside him now. Then he turned back toward the accident. A hint of a grin widened his mouth as he said, "Oh. Wow."
The Catbird smiled, and told him, "I'm here to help you, to offer you comfort and calm, just as you have done for many others."
Parnelle took one last look at the wreck, then took the Catbird's outstretched hand, and she took him in.
"Is this Death?" he asked from inside her.
"No, this is merely a waiting room."
"Sort of like a holding cell?"
"Not for you. You will go to your freedom."
"But... I've done some bad things."
"We all have."
She felt him nod in understanding.
"Deputy Parnelle?" she said as she arrived back at her hotel. "Can I ask you a question?"
"This is nice. Can you see it?"
She had no idea what it was like in there. She got descriptions, but they all varied in details.
"No," the Catbird answered, "but I'm glad you're comfortable. Now, about my question..."
"Oh! Of course! Ask away!"
The Catbird was happy he wasn't panicking or ranting in anger. The ones who accepted their fates were always the best company during their stays.
"Deputy Parnelle, has there been a runaway reported from Mount Rainier Academy?"
When you work for Death, it follows that job perks are few and far between, but that's not to say that there aren't any. The one thing about Death is that she's everywhere. Anything that happens in the land of the living, chances are there is someone newly deceased who knows alot about it. And then there all of the spirits who roam the earth at Death's discretion, who, if they are at all cognizant of their condition, will pretty much do Death's bidding in order to continue to walk upon the Earth.
So as soon as Deputy Parnelle had told her about a runaway matching Jen's description, the Catbird got on the afterlife network. Soon, she was in touch with the "Road Ghosts" -- those phantoms who haunt the freeways and highways, some travelling thousands of miles, others haunting only the spots where they met their deaths. Many drove vehicles -- most often big trucks or old hotrods -- and some hitchhiked or walked.
In return for future favors, the Road Ghosts promised to find Jen, and see that she returned to Paragon City safely.
The Catbird trusted them. They knew that a bad report from her to Death could very well get them bannished to the Aether.
She felt like Jen would be safe now, and she would be going back to the City of Heroes herself soon. But first there was the matter of William Brenegan III...