The The Assassination Bureau, Conclusion: A Mind of Her Own... wiki last edited by Firestorm826 on 04/17/15 08:52AM View full history

Mindboggler assails Firestorm with her mesmerizing mental suggestions at Breathtaker's lab. Breathtaker reveals that he is an employee of the 2000 Committee. Two teenage graffiti artists get a surprising answer when they ask 'Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?' The role of Clarissa Clemens, ex-wife of Professor Stein, is exposed. Senator Reilly makes a decision regarding his role in the passage of the Hewitt Industries Bill.

Firestorm826's Panel-by-Panel Story Summary (Spoiler Alert)

Somewhere, at this very moment, a man screams! His cry is one of anguish and agony, the wail of a soul in torment, attacked by forces within and without. “AAAAAAHHHH!” Ronnie cries out in aching torture, “Professor Stein, do something! She’s killing me!” Ronnie kneels in Breathtaker’s strange laboratory portal. Mindboggler stands close, holding him frozen with the fearsome power of her mental suggestions.

“So tell me, Firestorm,” she asks, “How does it feel to burn from the inside out?” She stands in calmness, a paradoxical contrast to her restless victim. She lifts her right hand and fires a purple beam of energy into Firestorm’s chest. “Can you taste your guts smoldering away? Does it hurt so bad you want to die?” she asks, “That’s how I felt when Breathtaker stuck me inside that box - - to amplify my fading powers! I hurt. I hurt real bad. But don’t you worry, guy, you won’t die…not yet…not until you kiss my boot!”

Firestorm kneels at her feet, staring at her green boot. Her punk rock attire has been replaced by an emerald green leotard and ruby red gloves. He grimaces in internal conflict, trying to fight against the power of her hypnotic suggestion. She smiles and gloats at him, looking down with strange pleasure at the pain she is inflicting. “Do it and maybe I’ll take the pain away,” she tells him, “Either way, you’re my slave.”

Her name is Mindboggler, true identity unknown, and her power is mind control. She works for a man named Breathtaker, head of a group called “The Assassination Bureau.” A few minutes ago, Firestorm infiltrated their group in disguise. Since then, things haven’t quite worked out according to plan. “I’ll do…anything!” Ronnie pleads, “Just…stop the hurt!” Mindboggler reaches her boot out toward him. “That’s right, that’s right! Put your lips - - Eh? What are you doing?”

FZAM! Ronnie finds strength to resist her deep inside himself, and he launches a nuclear burst at her feet! The floor below her erupts in transformation! As a side-effect of the nuclear accident that gave them the ability to fuse into Firestorm, Professor Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond now control an atomic restructuring power that allows them to manipulate matter…at a gesture, they can reform objects…altering molecules with an ease that an alchemist would envy, changing liquids into solids…and solids into gas!

“The floor! What did you do to the…” Mindboggler yells in shock as she starts to fall. “EEEEEEEEE!” she screams, plummeting down into the deep substructure of the building as a group of surprised rats scurry to avoid being hit by her. “You had me worried for a few moments, Ronald,” Professor Stein says with relief, “I was certain Mindboggler had you completely under her control.” Ronnie laughs as smoke and dust rise from the hole that swallowed his adversary. “That’s what I wanted her to think, Professor,” Ronnie explains, “Did you get a look at her face as she went down? Hysterical! I’m going to be laughing about this for a week!”

Ronnie sits in the portal, recollecting his thoughts as Mindboggler’s influence quickly subsides. “Gotta admit, though, it was close,” he tells Stein, “I wouldn’t have had a chance if we hadn’t caught Incognito and pumped him about this so-called Assassination Bureau. He told us how Mindboggler can create illusions so believable they seem real. So when I got here, I was ready for just about anything. Even so, it was kinda touch and go.” Stein agrees as Ronnie dusts himself off. “It’ll take her quite a while to crawl out of that hole, my boy,” Stein observes, “What will we be doing in the meantime?” Ronnie starts down the corridor, asking, “What else?” Stein quickly catches on, replying, “The Breathtaker?”

“You got it,” Ronnie answers, walking with determined purpose, “He’s the creep playing puppet master. Breathtaker sent Incognito and Mindboggler to punch my ticket…and I want to know why.” As they walk, Stein assesses the complex’s layout and design. “All these corridors seem to head downhill, Ronald, toward some central core,” he explains. “Uh-huh - -and this is it,” Ronnie answers as they arrive at a huge door sealing the corridor. “Want to lay odds on whether I find Breathtaker behind that door, Professor?” Ronnie asks as he sizes up the obstacle. “My boy, you know I’m not a betting man,” Stein answers. Ronnie lifts his hands and aims at the door, telling Stein, “Neither am I!”

FZAAAAM! Massive twin nuclear bursts shoot from Ronnie hand’s into the gigantic door, but it somehow resists the assault! “Incredible! You’re blasting it with enough nuclear energy to melt down a small reactor - - but the metal of that door isn’t even warm! How is that possible?” Stein asks with surprise. Without warning, the door slowly and quietly starts to slide open, revealing a darkened chamber inside. “I’ve got a hunch, Professor…and it looks like I’ll have a chance to test it,” Ronnie says, “The door’s sliding open all by itself…and I’ve got a feeling we’re being invited inside. Let’s have a little light.” He creates a bright ball of energy in his palm, and he turns to walk inside with his makeshift lantern.

“Welcome,” a voice calls to him from the darkness, “My name is Breathtaker. The fact that you are here would seem to indicate the failure of my agents to defeat you. How disappointing. My employers will be displeased.” Ronnie looks around, moving the ball of light to unmask the shadows. “Step out where I can see you, pal,” he answers. “In a moment. Be patient,” Breathtaker answers, “You should not be in such a hurry to die.” Ronnie steps closer to the voice’s source. “If you’re trying to psych me, Breathtaker, don’t bother. It’s been tried by experts,” he answers, thinking further to himself, “Most of them playing basketball for Molloy High.” Finally, the nuclear lantern’s glow reveals Breathtaker, sitting quietly in the darkness, his pinpoint pupils of light staring out of his hooded robe.

“I just want the answer to one question…Who hired you to ace me, and why?” Ronnie asks. “I’m afraid that’s two questions. But I see no reason to withhold information from one already dead,” Breathtaker answers, “My employer is the 2000 Committee…A group of concerned citizens planning the gradual overthrow of this country’s present government by the year 2000.” Ronnie thinks quickly, answering, “Huh? That’s sixteen years from now!” Breathtaker calmly continues. “These things take time. You interfered with their attempt to kidnap Lorraine Reilly, daughter of Senator Walter Reilly,” he explains. “By a guy named Slipknot…Yeah, I remember,” Ronnie replies. “So do they,” Breathtaker replies, “Apparently, you involved yourself in their affairs twice before, when you destroyed their agents Tokamak and Enforcer. They want you out of the way…permanently. And they have hired me to do the job.”

Breathtaker waves his hand in the air. SLAMMMM! The chamber’s massive door closes, sealing them inside the chamber. “Hey - - the door!” Ronnie blurts, looking back as it comes to rest. “The room must be sealed if I am to use my power properly,” Breathtaker says coldly, “Now you will learn why I use the rather awkward nom de plume - - Breathtaker!”

Suddenly, Ronnie cannot breathe! He reaches a hand to his throat. “Aaaaakkk” he gasps, fighting desperately for air. “Ronald…Good Lord…We can’t breathe!” Stein exclaims. “Remember that - - hunch - - I told you about, Professor? Here’s where we test it!” Ronnie cries out, “I bet we did blast that - - vault door - - like we thought! I bet there’s air in here - - in spite of what we feel! I bet Breathtaker is just another master of illusion - - and all we have to do to beat him - - is lay on a little more light!”

Ronnie unleashes a colossal burst of energy from his body’s nuclear core. Unbelievable atomic light explodes out of him and floods into every corner of the room! “Aaaiiiiee! My eyes!” Breathtaker yells. The light reveals his face, and inside his hooded cloak is a metallic skull head! “You’ve blinded me! Blast you, I cannot see!” he yells, staggering in a radiance that would rival the surface of the Sun. Ronnie reaches out to grab him. “But I can see just fine, ‘Breathtaker’ - - and what I see makes me sick!” Stein looks down at him, observing, “The mysterious Breathtaker...A wizened little man in a powered exoskeleton!” Breathtaker squirms with his feet dangling, held helpless in the air by Ronnie’s hand clutching his chest. “Please, I can’t stand pain!” Breathtaker whimpers.

“You and Mindboggler, you played tricks with my mind. I don’t like that, pal. Not one…little…bit!” Ronnie angrily flings Breathtaker like fastball, launching him through the air. SKRAAM! Breathtaker smashes into the chamber wall, crumpling to the floor. He lies motionless among the smoldering debris. “Not a very mature reaction, I’m afraid, Ronald,” Stein concludes, “but satisfying nonetheless.”

Around New York (and elsewhere), there’s a gag that runs: “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” You’d be surprised at the number of wrong guesses you get. Just as an example… “Hey, Jimmy - - who’s buried here in Grant’s tomb, anyway?” a teenage boy asks his friend as they busily spray graffiti on the tomb’s marble wall. “I give up, Sig. Who? George Washington? Ben Franklin? The Marx Brothers?” Jimmy answers. “You’re so dumb. Everybody know it’s - - Urk!” Sig replies. His words are cut off by a massive crumbling sound. SKRASHHHH! Suddenly, the tomb’s wall collapses outward. Firestorm steps away from the hole, carrying subdued Mindboggler under one arm and hapless Breathtaker under the other! “Firestorm? He’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Jimmy asks in total shock at the sight. In a flash, Firestorm leaps skyward with his prisoners. “Wait’ll Ms. Freed in sophomore history hears about this!” Sig exclaims. Jimmy has seen enough and he turns to run. He flings his spray paint can in the air behind him, yelling back, “You wait, Sig…Me…I’m getting out of here!”

Ten minutes later: At a certain downtown police precinct… “Book ‘em, Dano,” Ronnie announces as he arrives inside with his two prisoners, “Gee, I always wanted to say that…And you know something, guys? It’s just as much fun as I thought it’d be.” Ronnie watches as officers lead Mindboggler and Breathtaker into a holding cell. “This guy Incognito give you any problems while I was off picking up Mindboggler and Breathtaker?” he asks.

Detectives Mackey and Wilson stand with Firestorm, looking through the bars at the shadowy humanoid slumped on the bench in the cell. “Not a one, Firestorm,” Mackey answers, “He’s been meek as a lamb…and just about as talkative…Wilson thinks he looks pretty weird, sitting there like a lump of black clay.” Wilson shakes his head. “The guy gives me the creeps!” he explains, asking between bites of his candy bar, “You guys think he’s got a real face under all that black or is that as good as it gets?” Ronnie looks over Incognito. “Beats me, Wilson,” he answers, “The guy can change his face to look like anybody, that’s all I know.” Mackey adds, “Nice friends you’ve got, Firestorm. Any idea who’s behind all this?”

Mindboggler grips the cell bar, listening as Ronnie explains. “A group called the 2000 Committee, Mackey,” Ronnie details, “Finding them, that’s the hard part…” Mindboggler glares back at her cellmates, the now-powerless Breathtaker and Incognito. “I can lead you to them,” she announces, “Because Breathtaker lied to me…Used me…Hurt me. And look at him. He’s a joke.” She scowls in anger. “He made a fool of me. I could take the pain. But not that. I can’t hurt him, he’s so pathetic,” she continues, “but the people who hired him…They’re something else.” Mackey listens to Mindboggler’s offer of assistance. “You’ll buy trouble if you believe her, Firestorm,” he suggests. “Yeah,” Ronnie agrees, asking, “You got a better idea…?”

Dusk in Washington, D.C.: In the shadow of the Capitol Dome, a young woman named Lorraine Reilly hurries to a rendezvous with the man she loves…her thoughts on another man as close to her heart… “Dad’s been missing for weeks now. No one knows where he is. Even the FBI is stumped,” she thinks as she descends the Capitol stairway, “He was so worried about the Ethics Committee hearing into his connection with Hewitt Industries - - I hope he hasn’t done anything to - - HEY!”

In the blink of an eye, Lorraine finds herself scooped up and carried skyward in Firestorm’s arms! “Talk about sweeping a woman off her feet!” she gushes, happily surprised. “Hi,” Ronnie says as they soar into the air over the Capitol Dome, “Irrepressible, that’s me. How you doing, Lorraine?” She quickly transforms into Firehawk, spreading her flaming wings to fly alongside the Nuclear Man. “Who, me? Oh, just fine. Nice of you to ask,” she answers, “Now, can I ask you something? Where have you been the last week, anyway?” Ronnie watches the transformation, answering, “Uh - - gee, I love it when you burn up like that.”

Firehawk scowls at him. “Don’t change the subject. I asked you for help finding my Dad, remember?” she chides, “You said ‘Sure,’ and then you split. Some help you’ve been!” Ronnie blusters, “Uh…Look, Lorraine, I…” She cuts him off, interrupting, “Don’t call me Lorraine when I’m like this. Call me Firehawk. I’ve got nuclear powers, too, you know. Maybe I don’t need your help. Did you ever think of that?” The two fly back and forth, circling around the Mall. “Actually,” Ronnie answers, “now that you mention it, I…” She again interjects. “I mean, how do you think I’ve felt, having to worry about you and Dad both?” she asks.

Ronnie looks up at her, asking, “Uh…you were worried about…” Firehawk tells him, “Of course I worry about you. I love you, stupid. I’ve loved you since the day you rescued me from Black Bison. Even before I became Firehawk. Why do you think I’m so angry? Let me put it this way. When I phone people and they leave me on hold, I hang up. So either keep up your end of the conversation or get off the line.” Ronnie stings from the critique. “Whew. I guess I deserved that,” he tells her. She flies a playful circle around him in the sky. “Better believe it. Now comes the good part,” she answers. “The ‘good’part?” Ronnie asks curiously. “Uh-huh. We’ve had our fight,” she says, flying over to kiss him, “and it’s time to make up.” The two embrace and kiss as they fly along. “Ronald. Ahem. Oh, never mind.” Stein says, giving up on the two lovebirds.

The next five minutes pass pleasantly…and five minutes after that, over the shores of Chesapeake Bay, Firestorm and Firehawk descend for a landing along the water’s edge. A solitary figure stands awaiting their arrival. “About time you showed up,” Mindboggler greets Firestorm, asking, “Who’s your friend?” Ronnie and Firehawk walk over. “Her name’s Firehawk,” he explains, adding, “From what you told me, I’m pretty sure her Dad is a prisoner of the 2000 Committee.” The three stand together under a moonlit sky. “Firestorm’s told me about you, Mindboggler,” Firehawk says, asking, “You know where I can find my father…?”

“Hey, I never said that,” Mindboggler answers. An isolated house sits on the beach nearby. “What I can do is show you where the Committee is holed up,” she says, pointing at the house, “Under that beach house overlooking the bay. If you knew what Breathtaker did to me, you’d understand why I hate him…and them. He gave me power…and I loved it. I loved it until it began to hurt.” She turns back to them, covering her face with her hand. “When Firestorm beat me, I got a chance to look at myself,” she continues, “To see what I’d become: Sick…Hungry…Hateful…It’s like I picked up a rock and what crawled out from under was my soul. You can’t imagine what it’s like to see yourself that way.” She turns to gaze at the radiant moon. “I wanted to die. But revenge is better,” she says grimly, “You believe me or you don’t. Either way, I’m going in there…” Ronnie smiles at her to reassure her. “Relax, we believe you,” he tells his new ally, “Here’s the plan…”

Midnight. Inside the mysterious beach house, the approach of Firestorm, Firehawk, and Mindboggler has been detected. “Security Two, we’ve got three blips coming in from the north. Procedure?” a technician known as Security Three asks, viewing his monitor in the beach house control room. “Track and identify,” Security Two replies. The control room staff wears matching blue jumpsuits emblazoned with a ‘USA 2000’ logo on the chest. “Lock on automatic defense systems, activate lasers at points three, six, and nine,” Security Two orders, “No need to inform Security One until we’ve made a positive I.D.”

A female voice calls out, “I’ll decide what I need to know, Security Two, not you.” She continues, sounding somewhat irritated. “The Committee gave me full authority on all security matters,” she explains, “And in spite of what my darling ex-husband might have thought…Clarissa Clemens has never been the sort of woman to shirk her duty, especially when it comes to exercising power. Security Three, give me a video on the three intruders.”

Security Three punches his controls, bringing up a zoomed-in image of the intruders. “You got it, Miss Clemens,” he answers, asking, “Say, isn’t that…?” Clarissa looks intently at the screen, seeing an image of Mindboggler, Incognito, and Breathtaker walking towards the beach house. “Our friends from the Assassination Bureau. What are they doing here?” she asks curiously. She steps to the door, directing a technician to open it. “Let them in,” she orders.

The door swings open. “Breathtaker, I demand an explanation,” Clarissa asks, “You were not to make contact with us again until you destroyed Firestorm and captured Firehawk,” The three members of the Assassination Bureau step inside. “So what does that tell you, my dear?” Breathtaker asks. A look of surprised shock passes across Clarissa’s face. “Firestorm…dead?” she asks in disbelief, “Breathtaker, I’m impressed. To be frank, I didn’t think you had it in you…But the Committee insisted we use freelance help to avoid drawing attention to ourselves prematurely, as we did during the Tokamak / Enforcer fiasco.” One of the security staff suggests, “We could’ve handled it just as well, Miss Clemens.” Clarissa nods. “I’m sure,” she answers him, asking Breathtaker, “What about the second half of your contract? Firehawk gained her powers from Tokamak - - she belongs to us, for our use. Where is she?”

Incognito suddenly sweeps past her. He pushes her out of the way so he can look at a nearby video screen. “Forget Firehawk, Lady,” Incognito tells her abruptly, “That guy I see on your video monitor - - isn’t he Reilly, the Senator who disappeared a couple of weeks back?” Clarissa takes offense. “Nobody pushes me aside like that, Incognito!” she exclaims, “Not even you! Did you hear me?” Incognito focuses on the image on the screen of a solitary man, seated on a bench cradling his head sadly in his hands. “Shut up,” he snorts at Clarissa, “He looks so weak…What do you want him for?”

Clarissa explains, “Reilly’s going to persuade his daughter to work for us, once you turn her over.” She reaches a hand to grab Incognito’s shoulder, continuing, “Now, I demand that you…” Incognito interrupts her. “You demand?” he asks, irritated, “Sister - - don’t push your luck!” WHAM! A vicious backhand sweeps across Clarissa’s face, flinging her aside! KRASH! She slams into a control panel in the security room! “So much for the subtle approach,” Mindboggler announces as the melee begins, “These illusions have served their purpose…Gotten us inside…So I guess it’s time we let the folks see you as you really are…Warts and all…”

A cloud of purple haze swirls around at Mindboggler’s command, enveloping Breathtaker and Incognito. Their appearance blurs and starts to change. “Remind me to have a talk with you about your choice of language, MB…” Breathtaker says as he slowly becomes recognizable as…Firestorm! Ronnie continues the thought, “…After we mop the floor with these second-rate ‘S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’ rejects.” The form of Incognito melts away to reveal Firehawk! “You people have bought yourselves a lot of trouble, a lot of trouble,” she says, asking, “You want to give up now?”

Martin Stein looks around in amazement. “I can hardly believe it Ronald,” he sighs, “My ex-wife, commanding the security forces of the 2000 Committee. I knew she was ambitious, ruthless…But this…” Clarissa gets back on her feet, walking towards Firestorm. “She doesn’t look too ruthless at the moment, Professor,” Ronnie whispers, “Frankly, she looks scared.” Firehawk steps in front of Clarissa’s path, scowling angrily at her. “Let’s be civilized. I’m going to count to three, then I’ll start ripping this place apart…starting with you,” she tells Clarissa, “Your choice, lady. One...Two…”

“Kill them!” Clarissa suddenly shouts. Security guards leap into action with weapons drawn to attack! ZOK! A laser blast just misses Firestorm. “You know, Ronald…Part of me was hoping she’d do that,” Stein admits as they dodge. “Me too,” Ronnie answers him, calling out, “Okay, Firehawk, we’ve been pushed around long enough. Let’s hit these clowns!” Firestorm and Firehawk unleash their nuclear fury. Clarissa and the security team are quickly overpowered. Completely overmatched, they are subdued in a cacophony of nuclear bursts and flaming power!

Just once, let’s avoid the obvious and jump ahead several hours to an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, across the East River from Manhattan…The apartment belongs to one Professor Martin Stein, erstwhile employee of the Concordance Research Corporation and one half of the fused hero known as… “Firestorm, who was instrumental in exposing a conspiracy by several well-established individuals in business and politics to overthrow the government by the year 2000,” a newscaster announces from Stein’s TV. He busies himself cooking dinner on his stove as the broadcast continues. “Unfortunately, after summoning the FBI and local police, the Nuclear Man and his companions disappeared along with Senator Walter Reilly,” the announcer explains, “who apparently was being held prisoner by the Committee in their Chesapeake Bay fortress.” The camera pans from the reporter and shows an image of Clarissa Clemens and the USA 2000 security detail being led handcuffed under heavy guard to a waiting police truck.

“Senator Reilly’s aides inform us the Senator plans a news conference later today to discuss how all of this relates to the recent Ethics Committee investigation into his reported ties to Hewitt Industries,” the announcer details, “Also missing is a woman wanted by the NYPD who calls herself Mindboggler. Reports say she is separated from Firestorm’s group, heading toward Washington.” The TV newscast shows tape of the reporter with microphone in hand, stepping over to Clarissa. “Among those captured was Clarissa Clemens, former wife of physicist Martin Stein, designer of the ill-fated Hudson Nuclear Facility,” he continues, “When questioned about her connection to the 2000 Committee comspiracy, Ms. Clemens would only reply…” The scowling, angry face of Clarissa fills the screen. “No comment!” she sneers at the camera.

Professor Stein holds a dinner plate, pausing in front of the TV. “Clarissa will try to brazen it out, as usual,” he says, “I wonder if she’ll succeed.” He sits down at the kitchen table, joining Ronnie. “Don’t bet on it, Professor,” Ronnie replies, “With all the evidence we found, she’ll have a hard time convincing a court she’s innocent. The 2000 Committee is finished…and so is she.” Ronnie pours coffee as Stein serves dinner. “I told you before, I’m not a betting man, Ronald,” Stein answers, “Clarissa has a way of landing right-side up. I used to admire that when we were married. After she divorced me, I saw it was simply a by-product of her total self-interest.”

Lorraine Reilly walks into the kitchen. Her father, Senator Walter Reilly, follows behind her looking exhausted by his recent ordeal. “Professor Stein, thanks for letting us clean up here. Dad and I needed some time alone before he has to face the reporters back at our townhouse in Manhattan,” she says appreciatively, “He wants to thank you for your help…And so do I. I hope you don’t mind - - I told him about us, about Firehawk…and Firestorm.” Senator Reilly steps into the kitchen. “And since we’re exchanging confidences, I think it’s only fair that you be the first to know,” he tells the group, “I’ve decided to resign my Senate seat, effective immediately.”

Ronnie answers in shock. “What? Lorraine, tell him - - after all that’s happened, he can’t quit now,” he argues, “When the Ethics Committee finds out Hewitt Industries and the 2000 Committee kidnapped you to blackmail the Senator, they’ll understand he had no choice but to do what they asked…” Senator Reilly joins them at the table. He sits with Ronnie and Professor Stein while Lorraine stands behind him, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Ronald, you’re wrong,” Senator Reilly explains, “I gave my oath to uphold the Constitution, and that comes before any other consideration. I betrayed that oath. I must resign. Besides, if I told them about the kidnapping…Lorraine’s secret, and yours, would be revealed, inevitably. I couldn’t be party to that.”

He leans forward, recalling the events that led to his capture. “I was on my way to announce my resignation to the Senate that day weeks ago - - unaware that agents of the 2000 Committee were observing my every move,” he remembers, “On the road outside Washington, they made their move…gunshots tore through my car’s rear tires. I lost control…crashed. After pulling me from the wreck, they set a timed explosive in the car to destroy all evidence. That was the last thing I remembered, until I woke in a cell with that Clemens woman looking down at me…laughing.”

He pauses to take a breath, reliving the challenges of his time as a captive of the 2000 Committee. “During those weeks as a prisoner, I had time to consider my life…and make peace with myself,” he continues, “Another man might have acted differently than I did when faced with Lorraine’s kidnapping…But I’m not that other man. Right or wrong, I did what I did. And I’m prepared to pay the penalty. But I’m not sad, because there’s something I understand now that I didn’t before. Ambition and power don’t matter, no matter how nobly applied. What matters is your life and the love you feel for others and the love they feel for you. Everything else is just a poor substitute, a way of getting through the night. And I’m tired, so damn tired, of just ‘getting through the night…’”

In Washington, at that moment, a woman once named Mindboggler thinks similar thoughts…before her image pulls apart in the dawn-lit waters of the Washington Monument’s reflecting pool. This image she wears now, like others, is an illusion. Someday, perhaps, she’ll learn to live with the reality beneath, whatever it may be. But until that day, she too has found a kind of peace…and a mind of her own.

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