As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.
When I got to the “Earth” section of this month’s project, I knew I wanted to revisit Evelyn Pierce – first seen as a minor character in Interviews on Day 36, and later as a main character in A Friend in Need, which was Day 38. Her ability to talk to and – one day – control plants made her a natural for this section.
Tanner Quan wasn’t going to be in this story at all – I had come up with a different government agent when I realized that I already had one. And a pretty entertaining one at that. Tanner showed up in the three-part series Special Agent Khrys Ferro on days 133-135. The bagpipes were definitely his idea.
The desert was empty and vicious and bright. The sun hung in the sky, a tiny, brilliant point in a cloudless expanse of blue. Heat rose from the hard-packed floor in waves, and the air itself did everything it could to suck the water from the bones of any creature lucky enough to try and traverse it. There was no wind, no sound at all. Just an endless, dry, hot silence.
A wheezing pickup truck trundled around the hard pack and shrubbery, sending up a plume of dust behind it. It was filthy, covered in road grime from a trip of hundreds of miles, and it looked tiny in the vast emptiness of the desert.
The house it was driving to was weatherbeaten and small, but solid, built up against a cliff face where the sun wouldn’t touch it. An array of solar panels soaked in the sunlight about fifty feet away, and the house had its own filthy truck parked in front of it. A dirt road stretched from its front door all the way to the nearest state road, a good ten miles away. The pickup pulled in, sat for a moment, and then the engine shuddered to a stop.
The driver was small and slight, a man of Asian descent who had dressed wisely for the desert. He had on dark glasses and carried a briefcase, and took a deep breath before he walked up to the faded, sand-blown front door and knocked.
A minute later, the door opened into darkness. A young woman stepped out, dressed in a tank-top and shorts, with a bandanna holding back green hair. She looked the man up and down. “Yeah?” she said.
The man put on a bright smile. “Ms. Evelyn Pierce?” he said.
She slammed the door, nearly crushing his foot.
He nodded to himself. He’d expected this, or at least something very much like it. He went back to the truck, opened the passenger side door, and took out a battery-powered CD player, a folding chair, and a large hardcover book. He brought them closer to the house, in the shade of the cliff, opened the chair and sat down. He put the CD player on the ground, turned on the power and set the volume as high as it could go. He hit the “repeat” button and then “play,” and settled down to read his book.
A moment later, the brash, weedy sound of bagpipes filled the formerly quiet desert afternoon. A bone-chilling rendition of “Amazing Grace” was the first track, and to Evelyn’s credit she made it all the way through the “Skye Boat Song” and halfway to the end of “The Blue Bells of Scotland” before she burst out of her front door with a large handgun.
“Get the hell off my land!” she growled.
The man didn’t look up from his book, but casually paused the CD player and then turned a page. “Sorry, Ms. Pierce,” he said. “No can do.”
She lifted the gun and pointed it at him. “You do know that Arizona has some pretty loose castle laws, mister? I don’t think it would be too hard for me to convince a judge you were a threat to a young girl living out here by herself.”
The man turned another page. “Probably not,” he said. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a gleaming golden badge on a chain. “Shoot a federal agent, though, and no one will give a damn about your…” He glanced over at her house and then up at her. “Castle.”
Evelyn’s eyes narrowed, and she held the gun up a heartbeat longer. Then she let it drop. “You have a warrant?” she said with a sigh.
The man closed his book and put it on the chair when he stood up. “That’s not what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m here to talk to you, and ask if you would be willing to do your country a favor.” He spread his arms wide in a show of innocence. “That’s it.”
She thought for a moment. “What’s in it for me?” she asked.
“Ms. Pierce,” he said. “What ever happened to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’?”
“Before my time,” she said. “Make your pitch and get the hell out of here.”
He shrugged and picked up the briefcase. “Mind if we do this inside?” he asked. “It’s a little toasty out here.”
She stared at him and then shrugged. “What the hell,” she said. She started to turn, but then stopped. “Is that shirt cotton?” she asked.
His face passed through a moment of puzzlement, but then he smiled. “No,” he said. “Linen. Will that be a problem?”
Evelyn shrugged. “We’ll see. Come on in.”
The inside of the house was cool and dark, and stretched back into the cliff face. It was sparsely decorated, with some throw rugs and bookshelves, and the occasional bit of bric-a-brac wherever she could fit it. He peered back as far as he could see, but she stepped in front of him. “Are we going to do this?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. He put the briefcase down on the coffee table and took a place on the sofa. “For starters,” he said, “my name is Tanner Quan. I’m an agent with the Department of National Security.” She didn’t say anything, but just crossed one leg over the other and gripped the arms of her chair. “I followed a very long and tangled investigation to find you, Ms. Pierce.” He popped open the briefcase and noticed that she flinched a little. He started taking out manila folders and laying them on the table. “We don’t know a whole lot about you, I’ll be honest,” he said, “but what we do know is very interesting indeed.”
“Like what?” she asked quietly through a clenched jaw.
“Well…” He picked up a folder and began to flip through it. “We know that you dropped off the grid about a year ago and moved out here. Prior to that you were living with your folks in Scottsdale.” He turned a page. “Before that, you were living in Ravensbrook, Illinois of all places.” He glanced up. “Interesting little town, that.”
“I didn’t think so,” she said.
Tanner shrugged. “You were sixteen. No one’s hometown is interesting when they’re sixteen.” He put down the folder and leaned forward. “We found out, of course, why you had to leave Ravensbrook.” He arched an eyebrow. “Rachael Decker?”
Evelyn stood up and grabbed her head. “I want you out,” she said. She flung a hand to the door. “Out. NOW!”
He stood with her. “Ms. Pierce, please. I’m sorry if you’re upset, but -” Tanner stopped talking as his shirt began to writhe and twist on him. It bunched up, wrapping itself around his chest, and started to squeeze. As it did, thin green shoots emerged, which blossomed into pale blue flowers. He grabbed at it, pulling and trying to get it off.
Evelyn was on her knees, holding her head in her hands and muttering to herself. “No, no, no,” she said. “Not this again, no…”
“Please. Evelyn,” Tanner wheezed. “You can stop this.” He tried to cough, but the linen pulled tighter around his chest and began to creep up to his throat. “You can stop this,” he said again, his last word ending in a gurgle.
Evelyn picked up her head, and her eyes had gone a bright emerald green. She looked over at his shirt, and it fell away in pieces, dropping to the floor. The shoots it had produced dried and withered, and Evelyn whimpered a bit as they did. Tanner pushed the shirt away with his foot and stared at Evelyn. “Are you… Are you okay?” he asked once he’d caught his breath.
She looked up at him and nodded. Her eyes were a normal green now, matching the hair that was coming out of her ponytail. “That was close,” Tanner said as she got up and went back to the chair. “Good thing the underwear’s silk.” He grinned, but she didn’t even notice. He sat down again.
“Ms. Pierce, I know what you can do.” He glanced down at the shirt and rubbed his bare arms. “I mean, I knew it before I came here. And I’m sorry that it’s difficult to live with.”
“Difficult?” she asked. “Why do you think I live out here, where there’s almost no plants?” She looked up at him, eyes shining. “I can hear them,” she said. “All the time, I can hear them. And they know that I hear them and they want to… to help me.” A laugh escaped her, almost a sob. “Help,” she said.
“We have people, Ms. Pierce. People who can help you.” He took a breath. “If you help us.”
“And why should I help you?” she asked. “What do you know?”
“You’d be surprised, Ms. Pierce,” he said. He took another folder from the briefcase, this one marked with a red stripe down one side. “Have you heard of Papaver demensum?” He dropped a glossy photograph on the table. It showed a flower, like a poppy but bigger. Its petals were dead black, with a corpse-white center, all perched atop a slender, pale stem.
She picked it up, looked at it for a moment and then shrugged. “No,” she said. “Should I have?”
“It was worth a shot,” he said. “This is the Madness Poppy. It’s a whole new cultivar out of Peru, just starting to reach the U.S. and it’s a nasty piece of work.”
Evelyn sat back in her chair. “How nasty?” she said.
“Well over five hundred beds filled with coma patients up and down the border.” He shuddered. “They just lie there,” he said, “with their eyes open, looking at… something. No idea what it is, but when the screaming starts…” He rubbed his arms again. “It’s not like anything you’ve ever heard before.”
Evelyn looked at him for a while and then got up. She came back a minute later with a sweatshirt. “Here,” she says. “You look about my size.”
He looked at it and shrugged. “Maybe so,” he said. He pulled it on, and it was a little short in the sleeves. He smiled at her and slid them up before he went on. “We’re intercepting the plants as they come across the border, but they’re like no poppy we’ve ever seen. They grow fast, they’re ridiculously low-maintenance, and the profit margin is enormous.” He looked up at her again. “Better than meth, and that’s without all the explosion hazard.”
Evelyn picked up the picture again and then looked back at Tanner. “I still don’t know what you expect me to do,” she said. “I mean, if you wanted them to grow faster, I think I could manage that. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want.”
He smiled and shook his head. “They grow plenty fast on their own,” he said. “What we need you to do is to… change them. See if you can convince them to produce less of whatever it is that makes them so potent. Tweak the DNA and just…” He waved a hand about aimlessly. “Out-evolve them.”
Evelyn stared at him for a moment. “Are you kidding me?” she said. She stood up and grabbed a scrap of his shirt from the floor. “I can barely control what I do with those things!” She flung it at him and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m not what you think I am.” She opened the door to blazing sunlight and stood by it. “You need to find somebody else. I can’t do this.”
Tanner stood up. “Ms. Pierce,” he said. “Like I said, we have people who’ve got some experience helping people… like you.”
“There are no people like me,” she said.
“Oh, but there are,” he replied, that bright smile working its way out again. “You’d be surprised.” He stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “Some with more troubles than you, believe me.”
She glanced at him for a moment and then looked away.
“You really think they can help me?” she said softly after a while.
He went to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “I know they can,” he said. “With a little work, you can live a normal life again. Somewhere that isn’t…” He looked around. “That isn’t here.”
They stood there for a moment, the breeze from the desert bringing sand in over the threshold. Finally she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “But if I get everyone killed, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Tanner took his hand back. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We do this sort of thing all the time.”
As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.
Green hair isn’t something you can hide easily in high school. Evelyn Pierce certainly tried, but she found that trying to go from a deep, mossy green back to her normal blonde was asking for more than modern cosmetics could offer. The new tint ignored the bleach utterly, and she knew she wasn’t goth enough to pull off dyeing her hair black. So green it was.
She got complaints from teachers, who called her parents, who said they had no idea what was going on. There was no history of green hair in the family, of course, and they were as concerned as anyone.
Compared to what else was happening, though, green hair was the least of Evelyn’s problems.
The real trouble started in biology class, as it so often does. The project was simple: clone a plant. Take a cutting, put it in some agar in a tube and try to cultivate cells from it. Each student pair did just that – plant, cutting, agar, incubate. Evelyn was paired with Rachael Decker, which made life easier. Rachael was a rarity in high school – someone who was incredibly popular, but at the same time genuinely nice. She didn’t care who you were, but rather treated everyone with basic human decency.
No one knew how she managed. But if there was any better person to have to work with when your hair was turning green, Evelyn didn’t know her. All Rachael said when she saw it for the first time was, “Wow! That looks nice!” And that was it. From anyone else, Evelyn would have suspected sarcasm. But not Rachael Decker.
The results of the experiment were, for most of the pairs, fairly ordinary. Lots of fungal infections from improperly cleaned equipment, a few that showed some sign of growth.
Evelyn’s had exploded. It broke through its glass tube and sent blind tendrils all through the incubator, infiltrating other experiments and completely ruining half the class’ work. Mr. Peters, the bio teacher, was amused, if anything. “Looks like we have a success,” he said, carefully disentangling the thing from all the others. He handed it to Evelyn and Rachael. “What’re you going to name it?”
Rachael laughed, but Evelyn didn’t even hear him. She was too busy listening to the horrible thing she was holding in her hands as it screamed at her. It was… crying. Like a horrible, twisted baby. And no one seemed to notice.
She dropped it and ran out of the bio lab. She went to the nurse, who called her parents, who took her home. As they drove, the whispering voice of that thing tickled her mind, and wherever she looked she felt like she was being watched.
She missed school the next day, and the day after. She wouldn’t leave her room – going to the living room with her mother’s potted plants was painful enough, and when her father mowed the lawn she nearly went mad. The grass screamed at her. The begonias begged for their freedom. She couldn’t even take a shower – as scrupulous as her mother was about cleaning, there was still mold somewhere, and it spoke to her in a horrible black voice that made her teeth hurt.
After a few days, her mother poked her head into the bedroom. “Evey, honey? You have a visitor?” Everything her mother said sounded like a question. It always had, and it always bugged Evelyn, but not now,
“I can’t, mom,” she said.
“She says it’s important? It’s your friend Rachael?”
The thought that Rachael could make everything better was stupid, she knew. Childish. No one could make things better, not ever. But it planted itself in her, and took hold. If she could talk to anyone, it would be Rachael. “I’ll… I’ll come down,” she said.
She brushed her hair and changed her clothes for the first time in two days. Rachael wouldn’t mind if she smelled a little.
She heard them as she walked down the stairs. Her mother was a big believer in houseplants and kept them all over the place. Every room had green, growing things in it and until this week Evelyn thought they were nice. That they added some life and some freshness to the house. Now she could hear their voices as they strained for sunlight, called for water and ached in the pots that were provided for them. They wanted to be outside, to have their roots in deep soil and to be able to feel the breeze, to host insects and to be wild again. All of that in a cacophony of noise in her head that was so very loud. By the time she was in the living room, she was whimpering, and didn’t even notice that Rachael was there.
“Evey?” Rachael asked, putting her hands on her Evelyn’s shoulders. “Evey, are you okay?”
All Evelyn could do was shake her head. She wanted to speak, but she couldn’t unclench her mouth.
“I’ll leave you two alone?” he mother said. “If you want anything…?” She left, looking worried.
Rachael guided Evelyn over to the sofa, next to a sprawling philodendron on the side table that was singing, of all things. Singing! Evelyn whimpered as she sat. Rachael sat next to her, her hand on Evelyn’s knee. There was a rubber plant on the other side of the sofa that was growling something Evelyn couldn’t make out. “I know what you’re going through,” Rachael said.
Evelyn wanted to laugh, but that seemed like a very bad idea. What had Rachael gone through that was like this? What had she had to endure? The pitch of the plant noise ebbed for a moment, and she could sense a change in the room. An attention that wasn’t there before. A quiet, definite attention.
They were listening to her.
“Sometimes, life just gets weird, y’know?” Rachael continued. “But I want you to know I’m here if you need anything.” She leaned in. “Is it those guys from the swim team? Because they’re just assholes, and you know it.”
Evelyn shook her head again, but thinking of the laughter and the taunts she got when her hair changed just made it worse. She could feel something uncoiling inside her, something horrible and deadly. The plants had fallen utterly silent. Except for one of the spider plants hanging in the large bay window. It was laughing.
“But in order for me to help you, I need to know what’s wrong.” Rachael tilted Evelyn’s face up to look her in the eyes, and she smiled. She had such a pretty smile. She had red hair that set off gold-brown eyes, and those eyes just looked so honest. So sincere. Evelyn heard her own voice in her head, cutting through the silence. You can tell her, she thought. She’ll believe you.
Evelyn relaxed, and the thing inside her lashed out. The plants in the living room burst into life, their tendrils and leaves exploding outwards with a sound no human ear had ever heard before. Under that quiet roar was a louder one in her mind, a cry of freedom and rage. They had been given a horrible vitality that Evelyn knew was coming from her, flowing from her, but she couldn’t stop it. She didn’t know how it started, and stopping it was like trying to stop a river.
“What the hell?” Rachael stood up and started at the plants, then at Evelyn, who was rigid on the couch. “Evelyn, what’s-” She was cut off as the long stems of a large porthos plant whipped around her neck, cutting off her breathing. The long, grassy leaves of the spider plant whipped around, binding her hand and foot and lifting her, twisting and writing, off the floor. The great, stiff branches of a jade plant held her up, lifting her nearly to the ceiling.
From the couch, Evelyn was helpless. She saw her friend in the air, wrapped in twisting, choking green, and she couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. She tried yelling in her head for the plants to stop, to let her friend down, but they couldn’t hear her – or wouldn’t.
Please, she implored them. Please let her go!
The mad chorus of voices surged, voicing primitive, needy thoughts. The room was filled with the sound of rustling leaves and the smell of steaming, living soil. The plants were happy, she realized. Happy for the first time in their lives. They were calling out – sun, water, soil – over and over again, like a chant, like a ritual – sun, water, soil – getting louder and louder and ignoring the screams in Evelyn’s head to stop, to put down her friend, to please just stop!
There was a loud snap.
The plants went quiet. For a moment, Evelyn thought that maybe one of the branches had broken, that they had pushed too far, too fast. But she heard the plants and knew that wasn’t so. They were murmuring, whispering, quiet. The leaves and vines and tendrils, so alive and vicious just a moment ago, went limp, and Rachael’s body fell to the floor. There were cuts all over her arms and neck where the leaves and vines had sliced into her skin. Her head lolled on a broken neck and rested awkwardly on her shoulder.
Finally, Evelyn was able to move. She dropped down beside her friend and begged and pleaded and sobbed.
The plants watched, and whispered.
“All right, Mister Vails, it says here on your resume that you used to be… Umm…” The unemployment counselor looked up from the resume to the tall, muscular man who was sitting uncomfortably across the desk from her.
“Photon.” He cracked a knuckle with his thumb. “The Magnificent,” he said. His voice was flat, almost a whisper, and his wide shoulders slumped.
She made a note on the resume. “I see. And this was before the gene-bomb?”
The man nodded, and didn’t look her in the eye. The gene bomb had gone off two years ago, detonated by Tobias Rhyne, an inventor and technologist-turned-supervillain. Rhyne had developed a method by which metahumans could be stripped of their powers, and thanks to years of defeat at their hands, he had finally gone and done it. When the bomb went off, there were 5,313 metahumans working around the planet. Some of them were in mid-action when it happened, and plummeted from the sky like a horrible four-color rain. Others were suddenly subject to the laws of physics that they had previously ignored, and the results were grisly at best.
Those who survived had to do so without the powers they had come to rely on, and as yet no one had managed to find a way to reverse the effects. Professor Harcrow, of the Corsair City University – a three-time Nobel Prize winner and frequent ally of the international peacekeeping squad Heroes United – was said to be working on a cure. To date, though, no metahuman had recovered his or her powers. Some tried on their own, hunting down lightning storms or trying to re-create the cosmic vortexes that had blessed them in the first place. They were, to a man, unsuccessful.
It became necessary, then, for them to try and re-integrate into regular human society. Even those who had maintained secret identities were having trouble coming to grips with their situation. For them, being a super-hero was the real job. Newspaper reporting, working in an auto garage, being a police officer was just a way to pay the bills. Now it was their real life, and much like soldiers returning from war, they were having problems assimilating.
Constance Wixted had just started processing these claims, and they were starting to get to her. She had seen Photon the Magnificent before, of course – everyone had. The silver and blue costume he wore was unmistakable, and after he saved the Golden Gate Bridge from being turned into a harmonic earthquake generator by Lord Temblor, his fame rose as high as he did.
Now he was sitting in her cramped and dingy public assistance office, hoping to find some kind of work that was as fulfilling as world-saving. “Okay,” she said, trying to pitch her voice somewhere cheerful and optimistic. “What skills do you have that might be valuable to employers?”
He looked up at her, and she remembered for a moment the cosmic blasts that he used to be able to shoot from them. There was a video on YouTube of Photon holding back a rampaging battle tank with those eyes. Now they were flat. “I can type,” he said. “And I’m very organized.”
“Those are good,” she said. “Anything else?”
He sat there, and exhaled. “I’m good with people.”
Constance fought the urge to rub her eyes. “Mister Vails, I understand you’re in a difficult situation….”
“Do you?” he asked. He looked at her again, and for a moment there was strength in his face. “Have you ever seen the sky in the infrared? Have you ever felt the earth move under your feet and known that you moved it? Have you ever had an entire city thank you for returning it from a shadow dimension?”
She shook her head. “No, I – I haven’t.”
“Then you don’t understand anything,” he said. He stood up and took his coat from the back of the chair. “Thank you for trying, Miss Wixted,” he said. “This isn’t working for me.”
She stood with him. “Wait, Mister Vails!” He turned and looked over his shoulder. “Maybe… maybe you could do some work with an NGO, or a charity – I have a few here that-”
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “It’s just… It’s just not the same.” He put his coat on, and she watched him as he walked through the waiting room and out the door.
Constance dropped back in her seat. She made a note in Vails’ file – “Pending” – and dropped it into a tray on her desk. “Next,” she said. A tall woman with green hair and a willowy figure stood up, smoothed her dress, and came into the office, closing the door behind her.
“Miss Pierce?” The woman nodded. “Sorry to see you here again so soon. The arboretum job didn’t work out, then?” The green-haired woman shook her head and, quietly, began to cry. Constance stood up and brought over the box of tissues she made sure was always within arm’s reach.
“Don’t worry, Miss Pierce,” she said. “We’ll find something for you.”