- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
“The Oval Office responded quickly to the Kyrullian reaction to Ambassador Reynolds’s words, saying that it was never the administration’s intentions to imply to the Kyrullians or any of our other extraterrestrial neighbors that America is the capital of Earth.” The network anchor, an attractive woman in her mid-thirties with a bob of strawberry blonde hair, reported in her usual slightly-to-cheerful manner. “The president’s critics were quick to attack his stance as being unpatriotic and defeatist. Senator John Burns, powerful chair of the House Committee on intergalactic relations was quoted as saying that declaring that the US is not the most important nation on Earth bordered on treason.”
“In other news from deep space, the Philanthropist, Earth’s mightiest heroine, having successful negotiated a truce between opposing factions vying for resources on the forest moon of Dylon XII, is due to return to our fair planet this weekend. A ceremony in honor of her homecoming is planned in her hometown of Cornfed, Iowa.
“And it’s a good thing too, because in the Mediterranean nation of Megardia, Queen Mageddo, the Philanthropist’s arch enemy recently announced that her nation’s industrial center has recently completed a new satellite-based orbital defense system with the intent to launch the first of ten satellites into orbit on the same day that the much celebrated hero is due to return. Whether this is just a coincidence or saber-rattling to mark the start of yet another clash in this decade long rivalry is anyone’s guess, but this network has obtained footage from Megardian state television of Queen Mageddo announcing the date of the launch.”
The screen went blank, courtesy of an ice blue painted fingernail tapping the screen. Amanda Moss clucked her tongue as she proceeded to pluck the smart-phone out of her husband’s grasp. “The kids are being a bad influence on you. The rule is ‘no phones, laptops or electronic distractions of any kind at the dinner table.”
T Lincoln Moss, or Link, as he was known to almost everyone, gave his wife his best ‘precocious little boy’ smile and said, “It’s the breakfast table, dear.”
Amanda smirked and pointed at him with the phone, on her way to the coffee maker. “Same table, smart guy. Hot or cold breakfast this morning?”
“I get breakfast made for me? What’s the occasion?” Link’s smile broadened as he watched her pour her coffee into her Smiley Kitty Fun-time mug. It was garish, pink, featured a terrifying, big headed kitten, and held way too little coffee, but their youngest had picked it out especially for her on Mother’s Day and so she’d been using it all year.
It never got less amusing to him. Thought Amanda could let her hair down with the best of them, work days found her so no-nonsense that the most ‘fun’ thing about her was painting her nails to look like they belonged to some kind of arctic predator. That illusion was completely obliterated seeing her sipping brew from a mug that may well have been cast out of the dreams of hyperactive six year old girls.
She was a bit more relaxed that morning; her navy blue suit and skirt not so stiffly pressed, her dark brown hair hanging loose about her ears instead of pulled back into a severe bob. Her glasses were the same wire frames, but they weren’t slid down to the end of her nose for that librarian glare.
Coffee in hand, Amanda leaned back against the counter and inhaled the aroma for a second. “Let’s see: I slept like the dead last night, I’m not in danger of being late, and I woke up to find that I still have the best family on the planet. So yeah, I’m just in a very good mood.” She declared, both neatly explaining his observations while answering his question. “So what will t be? My famous breakfast wraps?”
Link’s mouth watered. He was at home the most and so did most of the cooking, but when Amanda did cook, it wasn’t just a meal, it was an event. The food was so good that more than once, he’d floated the idea of them opening a restaurant. “I don’t think I can say no to that.” He said and got up to help assemble the ingredients.
Minutes later, they were both the stove, one of his arms snaking around her waist as the other liberally sprinkled cheese on top of the sizzling eggs and bacon that were ready to be transferred to waiting tortillas. He was missing a lo of it thanks to being far more interested in trailing kisses down from the earlobe, across her neck and to her shoulder.
“It is way too early in the morning to see something like that.” a voice preceded the tromp of heavy boots into the kitchen. “Break it up, you two. I haven’t ha breakfast yet, so there’s nothing to throw up.”
That was Nathan, their oldest. He took heavily after Link with mahogany skin, hazel eyes and thick, black hair. All he seemed to get from his mother was her slim chin and nose. And that nose was full of metal: three studs to be exact, matching the three rings in his left ear that weren’t balanced by the one in the right or the one in his eyebrow.
Florescent tattoos crawled up his arms and on his neck, but they weren’t real. Like the piercings, his mother had gone to bat for him on those with the ground rules being that he couldn’t do anything permanent to himself and that he paid for everything with his own money. Her reasoning to Link was that every dollar he spent reapplying tattoos and getting new and exciting metal jammed into him was money not going to drugs and alcohol. In the end, Link agreed, but couldn’t help but wince every time he saw new holes in his only son.
Amanda kissed Link one more time. “Honey, could you finish these for me? Thanks?” She left him to finish getting breakfast ready and rounded on her son. “And you young man; I had a talk with Mr. Hawkman last night. You had a science project due and didn’t tell me?”
Nathan frowned a teenaged frown, full of suspicion and imagined persecution. “Why are you mad at me? I did the work and I passed.”
“With a C!” Amanda said the letter as if it was the worst possible grade. “And he tells me you made a model solar system? That’s just one step above a baking soda volcano.”
Not meeting her gaze, he took a seat at the kitchen table. “God, mom, why can’t you be down on me for my clothes and stuff like dad? I got a passing grade for the stupid thing.”
“Because you’re better than that.” Amanda ranted. She knew she wouldn’t be able to break his eighteen month streak of not looking her in the eye, so she went to the refrigerator to get the milk and juice instead. “Remember the working model of the human digestive system I helped you build in eight grade? It the ‘How We Harness the Power of the Atom’ diorama from fifth grade? We used to have so much fun working on your projects together.”
“Mom, I’m a Junior. I can’t hang out with ‘mommy’ all the time now. Especially not for some dumb science project.”
“Was it at least a good baking soda volcano?”
Amanda rolled her eyes and sat the plastic jugs of milk and grape juice on the table. “There’s no such thing as a good one of those, Link.”
“It wasn’t even baking soda!” Nathan complained. “It was a pump with red gelatin that pushed up from under clay. It was about how volcanic islands form.”
“That’s…” Amanda paused on her way to grab the bowl of fruit from the counter. “Actually pretty good. Why did you only get a C for that?”
“Hawkman said it wasn’t accurate because the gelatin didn’t set into new ‘rock’ like lava would.” Nathan said bitterly.
A smug expression came to Amanda’s face. “See? This is why you needed mom’s help. Picture this:” as she spoke,s he started gesturing wildly with an orange. “Instead of gelatin, we could have used a binary epoxy that’s red in liquid state and gray when it sets. We also could have use a hydraulic press instead of a pump to simulate actual tectonic action, and—“
“If you know so much about this stuff, how come you’re just a flight attendant?” Nathan shot back acidly.
Link whirled round from where he was cutting the wraps in half. “Hey. You show your mother some respect. ‘Just a flight attendant’ puts food on our table. Not only that, but without ‘just a flight attendant’, we wouldn’t be going on that trip this weekend.”
Nathan rolled his eyes and leaned his head back to look at the ceiling. “I don’t even want to go to Hawaii. We go places all the time. What I want to do is stay here and hang with my friends. I don’t need anymore pity trips from mom ’cause she’s guilty for being out of town all the time.”
Noticing the hurt look that flickered across Amanda’s face, Link suddenly had enough with the whole line of discussion. “It’s not pity to want your family to have nice things. Now I don’t want to hear you saying anything like that to your mother again. Got upstairs, wake up your sister, and get her ready for school.” He recognized his father’s ‘now I’m serious’ tone, a low and dangerous sounding rumble, in his own voice. “And when you come back down here for breakfast, I expect to see some appreciation and respect.”
An incredulous snort came from the boy, as if he didn’t expect an argument with his assertion, but he got up to do as told anyway. “Fine. Take her side. Just ’cause she’s the real provider around here.” He left the room accompanied by the clomp of his heavy boots and the jingle of the many chains hanging from his pants.
For almost a full minute, uncomfortable silence hung in the kitchen as Link contemplated going after the boy and continuing the argument at greater volume. Neither he, nor Amanda were the kind that yelled at their children, but lately, Nathan seemed to be begging for it.
Slim fingers closing over his arm, followed by Amanda’s arm threading its way around his and pulling him closer killed his resolve for intense, high volume debate in an instant.
“You are a wonderful father.” she said in that warm, purring voice that shut down all his defenses. He could feel it vibrating in her chest as she pressed against him. “And just because some marketing goons can’t think of a way to make your ideas profitable doesn’t mean they aren’t brilliant. You will make it big one day, honey. I don’t doubt it for a second.”
His free hand came up to cover the hand on his arm. “And no one doubts for a second how much you love this family. Not even Nate. He’s just surly and hormonal and… well he wants a fight.”
“They are pity trips.” Amanda groaned into his shoulder. “I want to be with you all the time, but, I’ve got responsibilities and obligations…”
Link let go of her hand to stroke her hair. “Of course you do. What you do is so important and if he knew why you really had to be gone so often, he’d understand then.” He felt her stiffen at the suggestion and stroked more firmly. “I understand though; I don’t want him scaring Chloe with all the dangers an Air Marshal faces either. That and I don’t want him telling any of his friends that there’s a gun in the house.”
Amanda relaxed against him and slowly extricated herself from him before giving him a peck on the cheek. “That’s for understanding.”
“Thanks for the same.” He smiled. Turning, he grabbed the plate of neatly halved wraps to put them on the table while Amanda set to work on sectioning the orange she’d been holding as well as three of its brothers.
“Tell you what,” She said. “I’ve got this flight to Guam, but I think I can get a connection Saturday evening and be able to spend all of Sunday on Oahu with the family. How does that sound?”
“That sounds perfect.” Link said with a relieved smile that turned less than pure. “Packing your bathing suit? That purple number with the…”
Amanda laughed, her rich throaty laugh and flicked an orange peel at him, which he easily dodged. “You are so bad!”
Not long after they finished setting the table, a silent and sullen Nathan tromped in again. Scampering ahead of him was the youngest member of the family. Chloe Megan Moss managed to not look much like either of her parents; her skin was the color of coffee added to equal parts milk, making her even lighter than her mother, her hair was brown and per her demands, she was growing it out long. Coupled with her hazel eyes and she looked like her paternal grandmother more than anyone. But at all of seven years old, she was far more adorable than Margret Moss could hope to be.
“Morning!” She chirped cheerfully and ran to where Amanda was sitting. Some girls were Daddy’s girls; Chloe was equal opportunity and incredibly mercenary. She was at that age where she was still small enough to be picked up, but old enough that not everyone picked her up on demand. Amanda still did, therefore, she was the first person she ran to.
True to form, Amanda scooped the little girl up and pulled her onto her lap. “There’s my princess.” She cooed, tickling Chloe’s nose. “Did you sleep well? Good dreams?”
Chloe nodded and grinned, showing the gap where she’d lost her front tooth earlier that week.”I dreamed of bunnies and a big, blue car, and…” She continued on like that while the Link and Nathan started passing around the plates of food. Chloe hardly ever remembered her dreams, but like any other red blooded, American kid, she’d been marinated in enough pop culture in her seven short years to know what a dream was supposed to be and then make something up. And if left to her own devices, Chloe could spin a yarn long enough and far reaching enough to knit a sweater for everyone in the state.
But Amanda listened and reacted to her daughter’s babble like an ace reporter getting the scoop of a lifetime, encouraging her to go into elaborate detail and off on wild tangents. Once he made sure everyone was served, Link got in on the act too, while Nathan just scoffed and rolled his eyes the entire time.
Somewhere along the way, Chloe switched laps and it was up to Link to get the picky little girl to eat.
“No, sweetie, you have to eat the peppers too.” He admonished gently as she tried to disect her breakfast wrap with her fingers, intent on expunging all vegetables before eating.”
“They’re yucky.” she pouted.
Amanda left Link to fight that battle and looked to Nathan. “Now remember, you guys have a flight to catch at six, so Nate, I put a note in your jacket pocket, you’re getting out of school at one-thirty. And come straight home, okay?”
He shrugged and she scowled.
“Are you at least packed?”
“I’m good.” he said.
“You better be, because there’s not going to be any time when you get home this afternoon. You’re going right in the shuttle and off to the airport. Oh! And charge your phone, your laptop, anything you need to keep yourself entertained—Hawaii’s a long flight.”
Nathan rolled his eyes again. “Yeah, I know. It’s not like I haven’t done it like a billion times.”
“Nate, watch your tone.” Link said, peering over Chloe’s head.
Amanda blew out a long breath and gave her son a soft look. “Oh, you’re tough now, but five minutes at the hotel, you’ll see all the women in bathing suits and suddenly, all this pouting will stop and I’ll say I’ told you so’.”
“Please, I’m not that shallow.”
“You’re sixteen.” She countered, standing to take her empty plate to the dishwasher. “You are precisely that shallow. Now hurry up and finish eating if you want a ride to school.”
Chloe giggled at the mention of school. “Today is show and tell—can I take my hippo?”
“Of course you can take your hippo.” said Link. “How about you finish eating, then mommy can get you into your car seat and in the meantime, I’ll go get him for you.”
“Her.” Chloe corrected. The hippo’s name, gender and any other qualities that didn’t involve being teal or plush changed on her whim, usually just in time for her to correct people about them.
“Her.” Link agreed, passing her back to Amanda so he could undertake the important mission of hippo recovery.
It wasn’t that hard finding it; Chloe slept with it every night, so it was just a matter of digging through the twists of bedsheets until it came tumbling out onto the bed.
Link picked it up and looked into it’s fuzzy little face, at the sewn on smile and the somehow cheerful glass eyes. They bought memories back:
When Chloe was only four, she’d contracted a fever. He and Amanda thought it was routine, but when the hospital sent two separate specialists to explain the bacterial infection and the condition is caused, they knew it was anything but.
Their baby wasn’t likely to see her fifth year.
He’d collapsed into his chair, sobbing uncontrollably. Amanda had taken it even worse. She stormed out of the waiting room in tears and simply disappeared for more than a day. Link called around to all their friends and her work colleagues, and came up with nothing. She didn’t have any family, so for almost twenty-four hours, Link thought he’d lost his daughter and wife in a single, cruel stroke.
Then Amanda was back, apologizing for being gone, begging forgiveness. She’d also brought the hippo, which she told Chloe was a magic hippo that would make her better.
Link, even years after the fact, swore that it was at least a good luck charm, because that night, the doctors came and spoke to them and said they’d made a mistake. There had been a mix-up in the lab and as it turned out, Chloe had a case of Scarlet Fever, not the death sentence they’d diagnosed before. Two days later, Chloe was discharged and went home with a new little friend.
Unconsciously, Link gave the hippo a hug and turned to go. On the way out though, he noticed the little cloth collar sewn securely around the little fellow’s neck. He’d seen it hundreds of times before; there was writing on it that looked vaguely Greek.
He often wondered what it said and where Amanda got it.