“You’re staying?” Allison asked Hope. Allison didn’t have anywhere to go so she’d be staying, but Hope had a family.
“Even if I wanted to go home, which I don’t, my mom is on some stupid cruise until after the New Year. Plus I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let you stay here all alone for Christmas. Even Diane is going home, and Carter will be gone on Christmas Eve and Christmas. What if you’re attacked when you’re here all alone?” Hope asked.
“I’m fine Hope. I’ve been alone most of my life,” Allison said, sadness evident on her face.
“You’re not alone anymore,” Hope said defiantly.
“Fine,” Allison sighed, attempting to appear beat down, but inside she was suppressing tears of joy. “Should we get a tree or something?”
Hope actually screamed excitedly at the suggestion, “oh my God! That’s a great idea! We can get decorations for the whole place,” she said, then started walking through the house talking to herself about what would go where.
Sam came into the room and set his suitcase down in the archway. “What’s she so happy about?” he asked Allison.
“I suggested we get a tree,” Allison said.
“Oh, I guess I can see that. So you’re both staying, all break?”
“Yeah, I just found out about Hope.”
“I’m glad you’re not going to be alone. I was worried when you turned down everyone’s invitations to join them for the holidays,” Sam said.
“I’ve spent my life as a stranger in other people’s homes, and to me holidays just made me feel more like I didn’t belong anywhere…”
“I think those homes didn’t understand what this holiday is about if that’s how it made you feel.”
“Probably,” Allison said, and thought about it for a while. Then they heard a car horn.
“That’s my taxi,” Sam said. He got up and gave Allison a hug. “Merry Christmas.” He grabbed his coat and suitcase and yelled to Hope and the rest of the house real quick. Michael and Tony left about an hour later. Michael dropping Tony at the airport before he headed home.
Sandy and James were making out in his bed after exchanging Christmas gifts. He had gotten her a charm bracelet, with an otter charm to symbolize their first date to the aquarium. Based on her enthusiasm, she seemed to like it. “When do you leave?” she asked him during a break in the action.
“I’m taking a train early tomorrow morning,” James said. “How about you?”
“I’m driving and it’s only a little ways, so I don’t have a set time. I think Jennifer’s flight isn’t until late tomorrow night, so Andy will want to stay around until she leaves. I can’t believe we won’t see each other for almost a month,” Sandy pouted.
“Maybe you can drive out to my house after Christmas…meet my mother, I can show you around, what there is to see at least.”
“I’d like that, we’ll see if it’s feasible when we get closer to that day.”
They stayed in bed for the next few hours before going out with the rest of the house to dinner. Sandy stayed the night with James until he got in his cab at five the next morning, then Andy went to join Jennifer for the rest of the morning.
This left all the girls home for most of the day and somehow Hope convinced them to go on another shopping day. She claimed they were just going to get some decorations, and they did, they got lights and holly and a lot of Christmas stuff, they’d even gotten a tree that Allison thought was way too big, that’s be delivered later that night, but then they somehow ended up at the mall.
Hope was adamant that she get Allison a gift that she could open on Christmas morning. Which meant Allison felt she had to reciprocate. So they separated, with Candy going with Hope and Jennifer heading off with Allison. “Sorry you’re getting dragged shopping again and away from Andy on your last day,” Allison said.
“It’s fine, you’re my friend too and I don’t mind spending some time with you.”
“Did you already get Andy’s gift?” Allison asked.
“Yes, we exchanged them this morning,” Jennifer said, blushing a little.
“What? What’d you get her?” Allison asked, curious about her responds.
“It was…something, sex related,” she whispered that last part.
“Oh. And did she like it?” Allison asked, blushing a little herself.
“She seemed to,” Jennifer said with a little giggle. Allison didn’t mean to pry with her empathy, but Jennifer was a ball of excitement and love and lust when she thought about that and it just made her smile and she sort of fell back into those emotions, like slipping into a warm bath, and she let slip a tiny moaning sigh.
After a second of savoring that feeling she came back to the task at hand. “So, what should I get Hope? She doesn’t really seem to have a lot of respect for money, so whatever she gets me will be too much and I’ll feel bad, because the most I can swing is like twenty dollars.”
“Okay, first stop thinking like that. I know that you’ve never really done a real Christmas. But it’s not a competition…well, maybe I should say it’s not supposed to be a competition, although a hell of a lot of people have made it that way. For people who really care about each other, the money, or lack there-of, doesn’t matter. So, just put a little thought into, and don’t try to compete and she’ll love it,” Jennifer said.
“You sure I won’t hurt her feelings if it’s kind of cheap?” Allison asked, genuinely uncertain.
“Seriously? You’re the empath and you’re asking me what hurts people feelings?” Jennifer smiled.
“Well, I’d rather not find out after the fact,” Allison said.
“I am 99% sure that a cheap gift won’t hurt her feelings,” Jennifer said smiling.
It took a handful of stores and she was still uncertain after the fact about what she got her, but Jennifer had to get home and finish packing, so time was up.
Hope started on the decorations early the next morning, hours before Allison even got up. So she walked down the stairs to a very different house. The stairs were wrapped in tinsel and lights, the tree was up in the entranceway, although not decorated yet, apparently that was something that had to be done together, and the rest of the room was slowly on its way to done. There was also a single present under the tree that Allison suspected was for her. “This is great Hope!” she said from the stairs. “How’d you do all this?”
“It just takes time and a little patience. Wanna help?” she asked excitedly.
“Sure,” Allison responded tentatively. And so Hope showed her what to do and they spent the next few hours working. Fortunately, Hope stopped at just the living room, entranceway and dining room, but even so, they were large rooms. And except for a wreath on the door, they didn’t do anything to the outside of the house; it was just too cold. They’d even been in such a good mood that they’d invited Carter to join them in decorating the tree, but he declined. It took literally all day to finish with the house and the tree, but Allison couldn’t deny that it hadn’t been worth it.
The ferry hit a big wave, causing it to jerk a bit, but Tony barely noticed. Normally he preferred to fly out to Alcatraz, but his time in the HCP had impressed upon him the need to keep a lower profile. And even through most of the guards already knew who and what he was, he had commitments now that dictated his actions. He’d spent yesterday catching up with his father and today he was going to visit his mother. He had to start early, because even though visiting hours were relatively short at two and a half hours, it took at least that long to get through security.
As one of the few maximum security super prisons in the United States, they had to make sure everyone was who they said they were. No shape-shifter slipping in, no mind controllers getting too close to the wrong person, and a hundred other things that Tony hadn’t given much thought to before he’d begun his training. But he’d been giving a lot of thought to how much went into simple visitations and the line of thought was daunting.
The ferry pulled up to the dock and before they could even get off the boat they had to get through the first check point. Which was checking mundane Ids and asking who they intended to visit. This was mostly to stop the lookie-loos and fan-boys from wasting everyone’s time, but occasionally a prisoner’s visitation rights may have been revoked and their relatives were forced to remain on the boat. The line seemed to move quickly, with nobody seeming to be denied today, maybe the bad weather kept people from risking wasting their time and only those who knew they’d be admitted took the trip today.
The guard taking Ids was someone that Tony knew, “Hi, Bill,” Tony said looking up at the man. He was obviously a super; Tony had read in some random pamphlet that at minimum ¾ of the staff were supers. Bill, was tall, approaching seven feet, he was bald and he had ash gray, stone, scales covering his entire body. He was in a weird category, some said he was powered, since he couldn’t turn off the scales, yet he had full control over the strength that came with his appearance, which suggested super. Before Tony had dated El and started the HCP, he’d just thought of Bill as a lucky powered, but now he wasn’t so sure.
“Tony!” he said in a higher pitched voice than his size suggested. “Long time. Where you been?”
“College,” Tony stated simply.
“Nice!” he said taking Tony’s Id and scanning it. “Who are you here to see?” he asked as a formality, even though he knew the answer.
“Ana Price. Number 1893,” Tony said.
“Hmm,” Bill said staring at his screen. “This says the warden wants to see you first. Weird.”
“Does it say why?” Tony asked.
“No. Just a second,” then he yelled to another guard, who came over and he showed him the pad. “Okay, Tony. This is Frank, he’ll take you in.”
“Thanks Bill,” Tony said and he started after Frank.
Frank didn’t say anything and neither did Tony as he was dreading what the warden had to say; worrying that something may have happened to his mother. He was surprised that he didn’t have to go through any security, he was just brought into the administration building and whisk through the halls. Any part of the island that had to do with prisoners had had to be redesigned and rebuilt from the bedrock up; but they had tried to keep as much of the old Alcatraz as they could, with this building being almost entirely orginal looking. They came to a wood door with a foggy glass window in it, with the name Warden Jansen printed on it. Frank knocked and was told to enter a moment later.
Tony had met Warden Jansen a few times, but had never really given the man much thought. He was wholly unimpressive, a short man, although taller than Tony, he wore cheap suits that hid his frame, or they had before Tony started the HCP, now he saw the things he’d missed when he was a child. He was still the same man Tony had known, middle aged, a receding hairline in his salt and pepper hair, small and with a smirk that disarmed you. But having spent time with half a dozen retired heroes allowed him to see past that now. It was the eyes. They saw everything; maybe that’s what came from watching over hundreds of dangerous supers, but more likely this man had also been a hero.
The warden dismissed Frank and then hit a button on his desk and there was a subtle shift in the room. The door and windows locked, a static feeling ran through the room and a sound ran through the walls that seemed to hum now. “Welcome Mr. Price,” the warden said.
“What was that?” Tony asked instead of returning the greeting.
“I was making the room secure. It locks it, and cuts off all communication, turns off the cameras and phone lines. But it also blocks most powers that can be used to spy on us. The HCPs all have similar systems.”
Rather than be alarmed by this, Tony actually found it kind of comforting, “and why do you need to do that?”
“Well we need to talk and I didn’t think you’d want to risk a hundred criminal supers finding out what you are.”
“And what am I?” Tony asked carefully.
“Good, don’t admit to anything. You…are an HCP student,” the warden said bluntly, but Tony didn’t confirm it. “I am a friend of your dean…from before, a different life. He told me all about this program when he called to learn about your mother. Do you know what you were about to do?”
“Visit my mother?”
“Visit your mother…surrounded by supers. Even with dampening technology, advanced minds are still listening. Along with those with super senses and other powers. There is this summoner here who makes these tiny little dust sized creatures who spy for him.” Tony looked around nervously. “Don’t worry, the button killed any of them that may have been in here, but he’s learned a long time ago to not send any my way. So here is my problem and actually a unique one for me. We’ve never had an HCP student come to my facility to visit a relative. I cannot, in good conscious, let you in there with the knowledge you now possess and I cannot generally bring your mother to you.”
“Generally!?” Tony asked quickly.
“Well, after talking with John and the DVA and the prison board and taking into account your mother’s history, we may be able to work with you. Since your mother has been a model prisoner, never having used her power since she got here, even in self-defense, and considering she is most of the way through her sentence; if you are willing to legally vouch for her, we can work something out,” the warden said.
“Legally vouch?” Tony asked.
“You sign this,” he said pulling out a paper, “if she attempts to escape after you’ve signed this…you will be removed from the HCP and never allowed to return…” Tony grabbed the paper and signed it before the warden could continue. “Well, okay then. We have a conference room here with the same security measures as this office, but it will still take a little time to get your mother over here. There is a break room on the ground floor with a television and some vending machines. Why don’t you wait there until we’re ready,” the warden said hitting the button again, unlocking the door and the lack of sound became deafening for a moment.
“Alright. Thank you for doing all this,” Tony said, shaking the dean’s hand.
“It’s alright. I know what you’re going through and family is important to get past some of the hurdles.”
So Tony waited. It actually didn’t take any longer than it would have taken him to get through security before Frank came and escorted him to the conference room. He entered the room and saw his mother sitting at one end of the table, shackled with what looked like tech genius devices and two guards were standing over her shoulders. Tony’s mother Ana, was a pretty woman, but not really beautiful. Tony got much of his look from her. They were of similar height, and had the same pale skin, Ana’s even more so, since she wasn’t allowed outside, ever. She kept her dark hair cut as short as Tony, since in prison long hair was a liability in a fight, which were common even with how little interaction inmates were allowed with each other. Their personalities were even similar, as Ana was quick with a smile and a joke. “Hi mom,” Tony said.
“Hi baby,” she said and smiled with pride. The warden came in after Tony and dismissed the guards. Then secured the room after them.
“Ana,” he said as a greeting to her. “Here’s the deal. I’m trusting you, both of you. There will be no recording of what you’re saying, but you need to know that if you try to use this opportunity to escape, your son will not be able to return to the HCP.”
“Why would that be?” Ana asked, a little alarmed at the concept.
“Because he vouched for you and it was the only solution we could come up with that allowed a visit.” Tony just awkwardly smiled at the disapproving look she gave him. “You have one hour.”
“Why only an hour?” Tony asked.
“Because I need to have three guards standing outside and an hour is all I can give you.”
“Oh,” Tony said dumbly. The warden left the room, and the moment the door clicked shut, Tony ran over to his mother and gave her a hug. It was awkward because of the heavy duty restraints, but in all the visits Tony had had with his mother, this was the first time he could touch her. Usually she’s kept inside an anti-teleporter cage, so he savored the hug.
When they finally broke it up and Tony took the chair next to her, she said, “tell me everything.”
Tony was just about to comply when he stopped himself and actually thought about it. Parents were allowed to know a great many more things about the HCP than others who are aware of a student’s powers, but his mother was a criminal. While he generally didn’t think of her that way, there were things he just shouldn’t tell her and that didn’t sit very well with him. But he could tell her the other things.
He told her about his housemates and friends, although he tried to remain kind of vague about powers and history. He talked about his regular classes and what his gym class was like. And finally, he told her about El.
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry you had to go through that. She sounded like a lovely girl.”
“She was. I really liked her, but,” he lowered his head, “the lies.”
“You don’t have to tell me about lies. I lied to you and your father for years.”
They talked some more about trivial things and suddenly the lights went out. The room was in pitch darkness for only a few moments before a red emergency light came on in the room. “What’s going on?” Tony asked alarmed.
“I don’t know.” She looked very nervous. “This prison does not lose power…ever.” Then a flash of light exploded into the room and a thin woman clad in all black appeared near the wall. Tony stepped in front of his mother and was ready to charge the woman as something with claws and fangs, but as quickly as she arrived she was gone again. “What was that!?” Ana yelled, trying to jump away from the table, but she was still shackled.
“Mom, it’s…I, uh.” Then the door flew off its hinges and Bill and the other two guards rushed into the room. Tony was going to try and explain, but suddenly Bill was grabbing him and pushing him into the wall and the other two were tackling his mom. “Get off her!” he yelled and was tempted to transform into something else, but definitely knew better than that at this point, although he did try some of the holds he was being taught in combat training. Bill was just too strong for that though.
“Stop it Tony,” he whispered, “this is not the time.” Tony complied and stopped fighting it, though that wasn’t easy since the other two guards were not being gentle with his mother as they dragged her away.
“It’s fine honey. I’m fine. I love you!” she yelled from the hall.
Bill held Tony against the wall for what seemed like a long time, long enough for the power to be restored. Until finally Warden Jansen made his appearance and Bill allowed Tony to sit, and then he left the room. The warden looked at Tony with sad eyes, “I’m sorry Tony. I don’t imagine it was your fault your mother tried to escape, but, you know, the deal…”
“Wait! My mother didn’t do it!” Tony yelled.
“Even with the power outage we were able to register a teleportation in this room. It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots here.”
“It…I. I need to make a call.”
“To Dean Allen?”
“Yes, please.” Tony said and they left the room together. The staff seemed to still be scrambling, but nobody approached the warden so they made it back to his office in good time. The warden told Tony to take the same seat he’d used earlier and wasted no time making his call. He put the phone on speaker and the dean picked up on the second ring.
“I’m here with Mr. Price. There has been an incident,” the warden said simply.
“Tony?” The dean asked.
“It wasn’t my mom. It was the woman from Halloween!” Tony nearly yelled.
“Warden? Are we secure?”
“Prison-level secure, not DVA level.”
“Not good enough. I’m coming in person and I’m bringing some guests. Expect us within the hour.”
“Alright,” the warden said tentatively. The warden called his guards to let them know that the dean was coming and then he just sat quietly at his desk. Tony didn’t have much to say and was pretty nervous about what the dean was going to be able to do. Finally there was a knock on the door and Dean John Allen walked in. And after the dean came Agent Carter Shields, then Diane Greene and finally Dr. Rob Gibson. The warden pressed the button to secure the room after the door closed.
“Good afternoon Warden,” Dean Allen said professionally, setting the tone for this meeting.
“Dean Allen,” Warden Jansen returned the greeting. “And who are your other guests?” The dean introduced the others and their roles in the program and explained that Doctor Gibson and Agent Shields could prove or disprove Tony’s claims. “And this will satisfy all the legal issues here?” The warden asked unconvinced.
“Agent Shields has full authority to decide how far this has to go.”
“What is this?” The warden asked. “What does he mean it was the woman from Halloween and why do you believe him that it wasn’t his mother?”
“One thing at a time warden,” Dean Allen said. “Let’s confirm what he’s saying. Ron?” Dr. Gibson approached Tony, who didn’t hesitate to take his hands and show him the memory of the attack.
“It’s her.” Dr. Gibson said to the room.
“Show me,” Agent Shields said and he too took Dr. Gibson’s hands. He didn’t look happy about what he saw. “Tony? Is what you showed him the truth?” He asked forcefully.
“Yes! The power went out, she appeared and then see left. That’s it.” Tony said.
“Why would she do that?” Carter said with a scowl.
“Not really my department,” Tony said.
“Are you convinced Agent?” Dean Allen asked him.
He looked unhappy and took a moment to try and come up with a reason, but once he couldn’t he said, “sure. It was the bitch from Halloween. Now what?”
“Well assuming the Warden can sweep this under the rug…”
“Sweep it under the rug!?” The warden yelled. “First, I don’t know what it is. Second, when a super-max loses power there is enough paperwork to fill a warehouse. A hundred people will hear about it and do their thing, I alone can’t do what you’re asking. And third, why would I stick my neck out for this kid? No offense Tony.”
“How about you Agent Shields? Can you do anything?”
“I am going to do my job and protect Tony’s secret, beyond that I’m not sticking my neck out for him either.”
The dean pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, lowered his head and let out a sigh. “Fine. Warden, do you have a few hours to accompany us to Washington? I’ll set up a meeting up with the higher ups and we’ll deal with this today.”
“Uh, sure, I think I can manage that.”
They all headed out of the administration building as a group and headed towards the designated teleportation area. First the dean pulled Tony aside though, “alright, I’ll try to keep you informed about what’s said at this meeting, but they may classify it. Either way, if you don’t hear something from anyone assume that you are alright to return to school after break.”
“Is there a chance I won’t be allowed to return?” Tony asked.
“There is unfortunately always that chance when dealing with Washington politicians, but this isn’t your fault, and no rules were broken…It’s really going to depend on the fine print in that agreement you signed.”
“Wasn’t it just if my mother tried to escape?”
“Unlikely. The Warden would have to cover his ass on a lot more things than just that to move your mother like he did. So, Diane will look at it and advocate for you. This program doesn’t need this right now,” he said and opened a portal to Tony’s living room for him. “I’ll try to get word to you tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” Tony said.