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About This Game

Weirder Stuff is a Trinity Continuum game using an re-imagined version of our AWS setting. In Weirder Stuff (henceforth WS) you will play a teenage high school student caught up in the weird happenings and mysteries in the northern Montana town of Shelly. The characters will begin play as normal humans and will have the opportunity to develop into either Talents or Psions. This is primarily a Modern setting with Thriller, Sci Fi, and Supernatural components.

Game System

Other

Status

Active
  1. What's new in this game
  2. Saturday Evening, The Barn Cade had done his best to wrestle with the knowledge he'd gained at the wake. Even after his Date with Marissa, and everything that happened, he still wasn't sure how he'd even bring the subject up now. So he turned to the one person he trusted implicitly in all of Shelly. He dialed up Sean on Saturday, "Hey Sean, I need to talk to you. You mind if I come by? I'll bring pizza." It was a bit out of the blue, so he thought to at least offer to bring food, Lord knew they all ate a fair bit these days. "Not at all," Sean replied. Phone caught in the crook of his neck, his brows rose in surprise when he looked at the time. He'd lost track and hadn't even started to consider what he was going to do about supper. It was already later than he usually ate. Cade could hear the sound of the wheels of Sean's computer chair rolling over the hardwood, as he went from one computer to another, this one showing rough designs for potential renovations to The Barn. "I'm feeling like... hm, pineapple tonight. I got drinks covered." He gave a mug on his desk a shake and frowned, finding it empty. "And I'll put some coffee on, if you want." "Alright, I'll be by in about twenty minutes with the Pizza." He couldn't believe Sean ate pineapple on his pizza, but whatever, they all had their strange tastes in things. He called in his order for pizza, one meatlovers and one pepperoni, and a Hawaiian with Bacon for Sean, then let his mom know he was heading to Sean's. After picking up the Pizza, he headed over to the Cassidy's, and parked next to the Barn, where he figured Sean was. He knocked on the door. "Yo Sean, it's Cade, ya in here, or the house?" "I'm here. Just a sec," came Sean's high, sweet voice from within The Barn. A moment later, Cade could hear the padding of feet on hardwood, then the unbolting of a deadbolt, the unlocking of a lock, and the unlatching of a heavy latch. Normally, Sean kept the place unlocked until he went to bed, just yelling for whoever knocked to come on in. But with everything that had happened lately, Cade couldn't blame his friend. The heavy door slid open and Sean looked up at his much bigger friend, nodding him inside. "Heya Cade, bringer of pizza goodness, c'mon in." Leading him inside, it was clear to Cade that Sean hadn't had much intention of going out for the rest of the evening. He was wearing shorts, big, fluffy Red Panda slippers, and an old, faded, green t-shirt, a distorted Triforce across his chest. A crackling fire in the cast-iron wood stove lent a cozy warmth to the central part of The Barn. Sean's grey cat Turing seemed to make a point of ignoring the buxom boy, sauntering past him to wind sinuously between Cade's legs with a barely audible purr. Sean sighed with a wry frown. "I think Turing is still pissed at me... for reasons. Fair reasons, I suppose, but I needed a test subject." He lead Cade to the big gaming table, its surface cleared off, save for placemats, plates, a bread knife, two glass mugs, and a ceramic one listing off game developer hourly rates. The scent of brewing coffee mingled with that of the wood fire. Sean bent over and dug through the mini-fridge for drinks, then plopped down into his usual seat at the table when he DMed. He took a sip tangerine lemonade, then added two slices of pizza to his plate. He glanced over at the shelf full of gaming books and painted miniatures. Cade would bring up what he wanted to talk about when he felt like it, there was no rush. "We've a lost a lot of players lately, and y'know, there's all this stuff going on, but are you still interested in the D&D campaign?" "Hell, yes!" came Cade's reply with a surprising enthusiasm. He chuckled, grabbed some of his pizza, and a regular lemonade from Sean's fridge. "Seriously, I've missed gaming. I don't know about the others, but I'm definitely in." Cade reached down to pet Turing who was still rubbing against his leg. He knew gaming was important to Sean, and Marissa was right, they needed to take the time to do the things they enjoyed together while they could. "You gonna invite everyone?" He already knew Marissa's answer should she be invited, but whether or not Sean meant to bury the hatchet with Devin and invite him was something he wasn't sure about. "I'm glad you're taking some precautions man, even if it seems so odd." He sighed. "I mean before, people left their homes unlocked, we all damn near knew everyone else. This town never really seemed that big or strange." "Yeah, well... " Sean gave an awkward shrug, then took another bite of pizza, chewing contemplatively. True, he hadn't really worried about someone breaking into the house or Barn before, but with his unusual condition in a small town in a more rural state, he had to be aware of the possibility of being accosted or assaulted. "After Charlie and what happened to Jase and Lilly, better safe than sorry, I guess. The town is getting bigger. And stranger." Sean finished his first slice of pizza as the much larger teen was demolishing his second. He picked up a chunk of pineapple that had been dislodged in the box and popped it in his mouth. "As for the campaign, yeah, I'll invite everyone." His lips twisted wryly. Running a campaign wasn't just about managing character interactions, but managing player interactions too. How the hell would he manage the Jauntsens? Not that he expected they take him up on the invite. "Not sure if I'll get any bites, though. Kat maybe. She came along to watch when I ran Sophia's game Thursday." He wasn't sure how interested Kat really was in gaming - she seemed more to be humoring him - but he smiled to himself at her reaction to Devin's sketches of him in potential Homecoming wear. He seemed unware of the faint colour rising to his cheeks. He hid his face in his glass, nearly finishing his lemonade. "So, uh, what about you and Marissa? That, er, still going on?" Sean asked as he picked up his second slice of pizza. "Yes, and some of what I've got to talk to you about is somewhat related on that front," he said before finishing another slice. "It'll be over after homecoming, one way or another, so we're both enjoying it until then. What about you? Any prospects? I know you seemed to get on well with Kat." It was true, that much of Cade's time had been taken up by his "relationship" with Marissa, and he hadn't really done as much with the rest of the Fellowship. Though to be fair, they'd not really gotten together with everyone since that time at the Bannon's farm, and the fight with the Tree. "Or maybe you found someone else. " "There aren't exactly many girls clamoring for a guy built like this," Sean said, standing up and gesturing at his amply endowed, hourglass figure with both hands. It wasn't that he didn't get attention. He did. it just was rarely the sort he wanted, from who he wanted, and depended drastically if they knew about his intersexed status or not. He had to shutter his Twitch channel and scrub all evidence of it from the internet two years ago less than a month after starting it. It was off to YouTube and strictly behind the camera after that. Just weeks ago, Cade would have heard bitterness in Sean's tone, could see him hunching his shoulders, and he probably would have been wearing an oversized hoodie, even inside the warm Barn. He definitely wouldn't have pointed at his attributes. But now, he only sounded matter of fact, maybe a little wry, and he kept his shoulders straight. "But Kat seems to like it." Sean tried to sound nonchalant, but his fair cheeks grew pink as he thought about making out with the slight French Girl after the funeral. It was his first time really making out with a girl. He picked up his plate and glass and turned away, stepping over to dump them on the tray he used to carry dishes to the house or the deep sink in the small bathroom to clean them. He mumbled over his shoulder. "She seems to like Courtney a bit too much." There was the bitterness Cade expected. "But we're going to Homecoming. We'll see how things go from there." Sean filled a mug with coffee from a pot he had brewing and returned to the table. The mug looked ludicrously large in his slender hands as he held it up, inhaling the delicious aroma. "I don't think you came over to talk about our dating lives, feigned or not actually started yet, dude." He took a sip of the sweet nectar of life and let out a soft sigh. "So, what's up?" Cade smiled as Sean talked about Kat, and chuckled. He was happy he'd found someone to go with. Then Sean got to business first. "Yeah, no, not exactly, though what I've got to say will definitely affect mine I think. You remember when I asked you to help with checking on my Dad? Well nothing really got resolved that night, and confronting him didn't work out to well either." He sighed, and laid out the rest. "At Charlie's home, I found out the truth. I was upstairs, looking for wherever Haruka had gone because mom asked me to find her, and I overheard Dad talking with someone. It was Marissa and Devin's mom, Misti, Sean. She's the one he's been having an affair with. " It was very obvious how angry Cade was with his father regarding this, and he sighed. "And no, I haven't told Marissa and Devin yet. I want to, I plan to, but I just couldn't. I know I need to tell them." Sean sucked in a whistling breath through his teeth. "Weeeeeeeellll... shit." Sure, stuff happened. People cheated, got divorced. Charlie's parents had gotten divorced, Avalon's and Clara's parents had... whatever the hell they had going on. There were a few other students at Shelly who had divorced or separated parents, and there had been more than one infidelity brought into the open. Sean was sure it just wasn't as prevalent in a small town like Shelly than in more cosmopolitan cities. It had never entered his thoughts that his own parents might cheat on each other or get divorced. He had no frame of reference of how it was hitting Cade, other than the obvious anger. On one hand, it so totally sucked. On the other hand, if the Sherriff was cheating, at least it was with, like, the hottest mom in Shelly. It could have been so much worse, like, someone still going to Shelly High. Ugh. He had had a vague suspicion when Cade had asked him to track his dad's phone but hadn't taken it any further. On the other other hand, that mom was Marissa's mom. "You do have to tell them, Cade, and the longer you wait, the worse it's gonna be," Sean said. He pulled up a knee to his chest, heel on the edge of his chair, and wrapped an arm around his shin. "I mean, it's going to be bad no matter what." One half of his mouth curled up in a fatalistic grin. "Can ya shoot me a text when you are though, so I can get out of ground zero." His grin faded and he spun his gaming chair with his dangling leg and gestured with his mug of coffee. "But if you need a place to get away from the fallout for a while, you can crash here, dude." Devin had given him the money Marissa had... acquired to spruce up the Barn for the psionic gang. He'd already been sketching some plans - definitely needed a full kitchen and a full bathroom - but putting in either bunks or turning the other loft space into sleeping space instead of storage space or something was added to his mental list and moving up it. "Maybe so. If anything I can help you with anything you need done around here." Cade sighed, and sipped his drink before continuing. "I know I have to tell them, that I probably should have told them already. It's just been hard to do. Hell it's hard to accept. Sure Misti is hot, I definitely see where Marissa got it from, but come on. My Dad's the sheriff. He's supposed to be better than this y'know?" He shrugged and shook his head. "And he knows about Marissa and I too, and that makes this fucked up even more." He looked to Sean. "It STILL gets worse." "Thanks to Devin everyone knows we weren't really going out. Fine, we had our reasons, I'll tell you if you want. Thing is, after the memorial, having heard what I did, I went over to get Marissa. One thing led to another, I just wanted to get away from Shelly for awhile, and we did, together, after having sex. We had what certainly didn't start as a date, but became one, and We actually are officially dating now, at least until after Homecoming." "That is fucked up!" Sean agreed, his melodious soprano voice blunt. But Cade saw a complicated mix of emotions cross his friend's pretty face. Marissa might be some flavour of crazy, but she was also crazy hot. Sean couldn't help but feel a spike of envy that Cade had gotten down with her. He'd been hit on by guys, two had even known about his condition. Some were old enough to be his father. Gross, even if he had been attracted to guys, which he wasn't. It would probably be easier if he was. Until Kat, any girl who'd known he was intersexed hadn't shown the lest romantic interest in him. A couple of the ones who hadn't considered him a total freak seemed to think he might be a suitable replacement for a gay best friend. Ugh. The one time he'd taken a chance, Sophia had turned him down. Hard. After that, he figured he just wait and once he made it big in Tech or Gaming and moved out of Montana, he could find someone who didn't mind his peculiarities. Maybe in California. Though now, he might not have that time... It made him wonder if he really liked Kat for who she was, or if he was grasping at the only opportunity he could see. "Dude, whatever you and Marissa have, it has nothing to do with your Dad. And whatever your Dad has with Misti Jauntsen, it might affect you, but it doesn't have anything to do with you." He stopped his spinning chair with a foot and leaned towards Cade, large jade-and-turquoise eyes intent. "Don't let his mess derail whatever you might have." Then he looked awkward and uncertain. "And if you need, like, I dunno, moral support - or maybe a witness - when you tell Devin and Marissa, you can count on me." It was an honest offer, Cade to tell Sean meant it, just as he could tell Sean would prefer to be anywhere but there at ground zero. "I appreciate it Sean, I really do, but I think it'll be best that I tell them alone. I mean it's probably gonna be obvious that I told you before anyone else. At least if it's just us, I'll be the only one teleported to Guam or somewhere else fairly remote." He chuckled softly. "They can be mad at me for telling you, but when it comes to it, I trust you Sean. You were already involved from before. You're always here for me, and have been. I feel the same way with you. If you ever need anything, if I can help, just ask. Besides, I think they're both better people than to take it out on me. I definitely wouldn't want to be my dad or their mom though. " He took a sip from his drink, then stared at it, as if it might hold the answers he was seeking. "I know, and I feel they definitely have a right to know this too. I just know the fallout from this is going to be major, and have some very lasting effects." "If Devin 'ports anyone, it'll be your dad and his mom, and it won't be anywhere you can find on a map," Sean said wryly. He took a sip of coffee, then suddenly straightened in his chair, head slightly tilted. A mere instant later, Cade heard Sean's phone chime with a notification. Sean gave his friend an apologetic smile as he plunked his mug on the table. "Just give me a sec, I gotta respond to this." "What's that?" the big boy scout asked curiously as the overendowed redhead planted a foot against a leg of the heavy gaming table and shoved, his chair skittering across the hardwood to one of his computer setups. "Question 'bout ReGenesis not loading right. He at least sent the error code, so it's a simple fix, problem with a config on his end," Sean answered absently. He wasn't even looking at his monitor, let alone using the keyboard. He uncanny eyes looked distant, and almost seemed to glow. "How's the game going?" "Pretty good!" Sean practically chirped. It hadn't exploded virally - yet - but pretty much every comment was positive, and it had already almost sold more copies than his first game, Annwn, and that had been over two years ago. "I mean, super psionic coding powers and virtual semi-autonomous agents for staff might make me better and more efficient than the entire team of a AAA developer, but I can't compete with their advertising budget nor have the accrued reputation to draw attention. But I ain't complaining." He pursed his lips, considering telling Cade about his meeting with Brad Stanton from EA, though he wasn't entirely sure what he had decided on that front yet. Well, he did, but still, the offer hadn't been what he had expected. He was going to stay mum, but Cade had told him about something way more private. "I had a dinner meeting with a guy from EA yesterday. At the country club. Brad Stanton. EA, or Brad at least, is interesting in buying Regenesis. What he really wants in the Spectrum Engine that runs it. The offer was... big." "And?" "And nothing! It's mine!" Sean said fiercely. "I'm not gonna sell, so they can make shit, piecemeal games that make bank that go mostly into the executives pockets." He sighed and scooted back to the table, cradling his chin in his hand, elbows on the table "Still, I can't say I wasn't tempted. There were a lot of zeroes." He shook his head, shaking the thought away. "Anyway, you didn't come over for me. When you talk to the Jauntsens, let them know that I know, instead of letting them find out later. It's only fair. And about the fallout... it might be bad, but c'mon! We fought personified evil in a hell dimension! Even Marissa at her worse is barely more terrifying than that!" Cade smiled, not just because it felt good to see Sean actually happy about something, but he knew he was excited. "Trust me man, seeing you actually happy is good too. I'm glad you're not selling, they'd probably screw things up. I mean it is EA we're talking about. They'd load it down with all sorts of unneeded microtransactions." He chuckled. "Yeah, fighting interdimensional horrors in a realm of pure evil, versus an angry pair of Jauntsen twins. At least with the horrors, I know there's no good in them and am free to shoot them at my leisure." He shook his head. "Can't do that with Marissa and Devin, and really I wouldn't want to. I know they've been shitty to us since they came to Shelly, you in particular. Marissa can still be a bitch, and Devin an asshole, but they have gotten better. They still think we're all a bunch of fuckups, but they haven't just left." He smiled. "I'm envious of all of you." It was one of the first times he'd really said that out loud. "I mean you can all do these cool things, you've got real powers. I don't. I can get on a bit with wild animals, enough to not get eaten by the big cat, or to not get bit by a badger, but that's kinda it. We know I'm different from everyone else, I'd just kinda hoped to have a cool power too." "I'm not gonna lie, the psionic powers are pretty damn awesome," Sean agreed with a smirk. Four beads of concentrated light coalesced in the air, blue, yellow, red, and green. They zipped about the Barn for a moment, leaving streaks like something from Tron, before Sean let them fade away. "But they aren't everything, dude. What happened to Jase? I'd probably be toast before I knew what happened." Maybe. It depended. If he'd known to look for it, he might have seen the bioelectric impulses going from brain, through arm, to the fingers about the gun. Whether if he could have done something about it in time was another matter. He gestured across the table at the strapping small town boy. "But look at you! You're a fucking Spartan. You could have disarmed the guy and fed him his damned gun, most likely. You're built for function, and you function better than the best Swiss watch. Me?" Sean pointed at himself with his thumbs and his most obvious physical attributes stretching his shirt, mouth twisting with self-deprecating wryness. "At best, someone could say I'm built for decoration. With mismatched parts." Mismatched, flawed parts that are leading to a total system collapse. Sean didn't sound particularly bitter to Cade. He sounded oddly monotone. "Starting a Twitch Channel was a big mistake." Before, Sean used to imagine what it would be like to be taller, tall as his sisters, as tall as Jase or Cade. What it would be like to be buff, ripped. What it would be like to look masculine. Like a stereotypical boy. Like a man. Now, he rarely did, and when he did, it felt wrong to him, felt like a caricature. He couldn't see it as being the 'right' version of what he should be. It just looked like a stranger with no connection to him. Who he saw in the mirror was the real him, whatever else he thought about it. "But who knows, Cade. Maybe your super special power hasn't manifested yet? People, er, develop at different rates. Or maybe it has, and its just super subtle and we haven't even noticed." "I know I'm different than the rest of y'all, but I can't help but wish I could contribute more to things at times. I mean I have to be armed to be able to do anything. What happens if we ever run up against something that our weapons don't hurt?" His look darkened. 'When I shot Cody, it was with an AP round. That should have killed him, probably would have killed any of us considering where I hit him. But it didn't, and more he just started healing it like it was nothing. That reinforced my own lack of power. I mean I didn't lose my shit in that other world, I don't think any of us really did, but still." He sighed, and rolled his shoulders. "As far as how you look Sean, I mean yeah it's different, but you're still you. That hasn't changed. You're still a nerd, and the smartest guy I know, and probably one of the most kind. Getting on Twitch, yeah probably a mistake though, I agree. I can only imagine the sorts of things you see come through your chatlogs." Sean cocked a doubtful brow. Not lose my shit? He wasn't sure about everyone else, but at the end, with the wave upon wave of monsters assaulting them in that hellscape, he had most definitely lost his shit. He still wasn't sure if he had actually pissed himself that night, not with all the muck, gunk, and blood he'd - they'd all been - slathered in. "Riiiiight. Shit. Totally not lost." He popped himself out of his chair, turned away from Cade unconsciously before stretching his back, then walked over to refill his mug of coffee. Stirring in his usually amount of cream and sugar, he spoke over his shoulder. "Three months. I lasted three months on Twitch," he admitted, not without some rancor. He hadn't been in a good place for a while afterwards. "And it all went down because of an accident." He reclaimed his seat and stared into his coffee. "I had kept the camera tight on my face. Streaming some playthroughs, talking about game design and stuff. It was going okay." Once, he had thought about making it big as a Videogame Streamer. Not anymore. He gave a negligent shrug, but Cade could tell some regret remained. "One time. I wasn't paying attention. I got up to grab a drink. It was late and I was only wearing a thin shirt. A shirt that had grown tight over the last few weeks.... " He looked up and ran his fingers through his hair, huffing a grunt. "Total shit show. Claims I did it on purpose. Fake gamer girl stuff, all that. Biggest mistake was trying to explain." He glanced away and frowned, eyes tightening with remembered hurt. "Fake girl gamer. Not gonna lie, that fucking hurt." He waved a hand and shook his head, chasing it away, then turned back to Cade. He took a calming sip of coffee, let the heat work its way down his throat. "I scrubbed everything. I prefer YouTube anyway to live streaming. Can edit and arrange more structured videos. Gives me more time to code. And now, all the weird. Anyway, how's football?" "Sean you're the least fake gamer I know. Your enthusiasm and dedication got me, a closeted weeb Jock, to pretty openly play and admit I play D&D. You're a real gamer, I got your back on that. Later on, when you're a famous game designer and programmer, all those idiots will only wish they'd not made fun of you." "As to football, There's a lot of resentment. I think Chet expected to be handed the role of quarterback, and I stopped that. Nevermind that I'm more accurate than he'll ever hope to be, I'm stronger than him, faster than him, and smarter than him. Aside from Lilly and your sister, I've been one of the biggest athletic stars at school, but I 'Kept to my Lane' so to say, in track and baseball. I let the coach talk me into to joining the football team, since Lilly's gone. I like to think I'm good at it, and if I choose to keep playing, I'll get even better, but there's no connection to it for me yet, not like baseball, or track. I want the team to win, but unless things really change, I can't see myself playing past this year." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I set school records not that long ago in three different track events, if they'd actually been a formal event, I'd have state records." He chuckled softly. "I guess that's one good thing about not having powers, I don't have to worry about anyone coming back later on and saying I only accomplished this because I was special and had an unfair advantage." A savage smirk crossed Sean's delicate features at the mention of Chet's resentment. If not the worse of his tormentors, he'd been close, and the most physical of them. If Cade taking the role he assumed was his hurt his ego, fucking awesome. And though Sean had never really heard Cade boast that much before, after him mentioning how much he envied the rest of the Fellowship their psionic gifts, it was good hearing him put himself above the asshole jock. "Dude! Every top athlete is special and has advantages, physical and/or mental," Sean protested with a chuckle. "Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan. Yadda Yadda. Yeah, Teagan, if she's not like Lilly, she might be close." He oldest sister was tall, nearly six feet, and had always been ridiculously athletic. He nodded at his hulkingly large friend. If they were standing side by side, the top of Sean's head didn't even reach Cade's shoulder. "And you, man. How many sixteen year old guys are as tall as you, yet seem like they've spent an extra ten years in a heavy gravity gym?" The redhead waved away Cade's protests with a grin. "I know what you mean. If football isn't grabbing you, don't worry about it. But if you aren't really thinking about baseball or track as an actual career, just do whichever will give you the best scholarship, or net you the most in NIL fees, so you can do what you want." He shook his head and took another sip of coffee. "Weird, thinking about the future, normal future stuff, when we know what we know, seen what we've seen, eh?" He chuckled. "Not so weird. I think it's important to still have dreams and goals." He smiled at Sean. "Can't fight interdimensional horrors for the rest of our lives. I know I sure as hell don't want to." He rolled his shoulders. "I love Track and baseball, and provided things stay on track, I'm pretty sure I can get a scholarship for either of them. Though, that brings up something else. I've started trying to read more, study more. Not looking to learn the secrets of the universe, I'll leave that to those of y'all who're smarter and far more interested in that sort of thing, but at least so I don't have to panic on every really big test." It was certainly true that all his extracurricular activities kept him busy and left him less time than he wanted. Taking on Football left him even less time, but for now he was going to try to maintain and keep up with everything. He sighed slightly, before grabbing another slice. "I mean you still think about it right? What you want to do after we're done with all this strangeness." His eyes narrowed. "Do you think we'll ever actually be done?" It wasn't that he was imploring for a particular answer, it was the same genuine voice Cade asked most questions with, seeking an honest answer. "We're done whenever we want to be done," Sean said with a somber seriousness. "We aren't forced to stay in this shit, except by our own morals and desires and choices. If you want, you can just walk away from it." He gave a deep sigh and slid his mug aside with the back of his hand. "You wouldn't be the first. That ain't judgement, by the way. Everyone has the right to make the decisions that are best for them and theirs. That said, I'm still in it. For now, at least." Sean didn't see the need to add that it was not least in part due to self interest. Site B might hold the best answer to his panoply of genetic questions. "But yeah, I think about what I'm going to do after all the time." I might not have any time at all. He waved back over a slim shoulder towards one of his computer set-ups. "The game is part of it. I don't plan to live in Montana forever. There's a whole world to see. Heh. After what we've seen, there's very likely more than just one, really. Thinking about - planning for - the future helps me get through the present." "If there's anything I can do Sean, I'll help however I can." He smiled, and it was clear that wasn't just an empty platitude. Cade meant every word. "If there's something you need to get off your chest, I got you covered." The much larger teen was nothing if not sincere, and while he couldn't claim to know everything he'd resolved to be a better friend to his friends, and that whatever he could do, he would. "I still dream of winning the world series. I'm gonna make that one happen, one day." "When that happens, I'll buy a ticket and be there to see ya," Sean said with a grin. "And, same offer, if you need something, you just need to ask." Cade collected the few remaining slices of pizza into a single box, his strong shoulders slumping slightly with a sigh. "I should probably head out. Got some truths to tell the Twins." Sean didn't envy Cade that at all. "Latter, dude," Sean said, seeing Cade to the door and watched him amble towards his Wrangler. "And good luck."
  3. Branch-9 Underground Facility: Lab Two “I don’t think this is a good idea,” Taggart said calmly. He and Annette were in Lab Two, surrounded by a few doctors in lab coats and a plethora of exercise and medical equipment. The two of them had been patiently waiting on Marissa to arrive, and already she was ten minutes late. “Second Lieutenant Osman is a good kid. He’s green, fresh out of Knife and Fork, but we have no idea what she is going to do to him, Annette. We should at least tell him.” “John, relax,” Annette reassured him. “Marissa has said that her abilities can not force anyone to do anything, and if he knows, it could taint the results. This is simply an observation to see how her natural charm operates, nothing more.” “Does she know that?” He seemed anxious, obviously not trusting Marissa one bit, or one of his promising officers being left alone with her. “John, please, trust me.” Annette almost chuckled. “For balance, I’ve also asked our newest intern to sit in on the tests.” “The Bannon kid? Jesus, Ann, she hates that guy.” He sighed, shaking his head. The last thing John Taggart wanted to do was be alone in a room with the underage socialite, let alone turn her loose on a whole room of male doctors, officers and one guy she hated. There were considerations, like what if they all began fighting over her, to consider. Annette swore she was there to act as the buffer between her and them, but he had his doubts of how effective she would be if the emotionally volatile teenager decided to throw a tantum. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” He looked towards the door and sighed, “And speak of the devil.” Marissa stepped into the lab looking like Kardashian money banded in the red workout gear she’d worn to Jason’s farm a week prior. She turned every head, like always and it that response that worried Major Taggart. While the major seemed largely unbothered by her constant flirting and attractive appearance, he realized that not everyone was as willful as he was. He found her attitude and immaturity more annoying than that a niche cuteness the young teen thought she was conveying sometimes. She offered them all a dramatic hair whip in greeting as she looked around like she didn’t know where to go, giving her that sexy damsel needing guidance look, as she scanned the lab, assessing what she was in for that morning. “Marissa,” Annette approached her smiling wide and offered the young woman her hands as a greeting. “Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can use today to discover some answers and insight into your capabilities.” “Unless you need another ten minutes for an all-about-me entrance,” Major Taggart approached and stopped, folding his arms defensively. Marissa may have been a minor, and she may not technically work for his command, but it was still his command. He met her eyes with an already obvious irritation. “You’re late.” “I am I though?” she sneered. “If you’d give me clearance maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with all your meathead security in order to get down here.” “Go check in with the doctors,” he dismissed her comment, along with her as he gave Annette a disapproving look. “John,” Anette touched his arm and looked up at him with calm eyes. “Relax. She’s not the enemy. She’s difficult, yes, but we, you, and I, are all these kids have. They need guidance, not more people turning them away.” He sighed, still not convinced but he couldn’t deny the plea for a bit more empathy in her words. “I’ll try. No promises.” Marissa checked in with the doctors and within a half hour she was briefed on the various studies and exercises they’d be going through as well as the minor medical treatments she’d be undergoing. The Project was up front about the fact that technically none of what they were doing was legal, considering she was a minor and her parents weren’t present. Given her mother’s outburst at the meeting no one thought it would be wise to invite her. Her father, Carl, seemed far more open-minded to being present but when Marissa had asked him, he said he was still trying to process secret military bases, demons from other worlds and his children having magical mind powers, or whatever they were calling it. Still, he gave his blessing for her be present for the tests and in the eyes of the Project that was good enough considering the odd circumstances they worked under half the time. First was some blood work, to see what physiological changes had occurred in her body and for that she was escorted by Annette over to Second Lieutenant Osman, a handsome young man in his early twenties who was working on his master’s degree in biology with a minor in genetics. “Marissa, this is Brandon Osman, he’ll be working with you today as the doctors perform their tests. He’s been briefed, but still hasn’t had the opportunity to meet with any of you.” “That’s not entirely true, ma’am,” Brandon said as he accepted Marissa’s extended hand and almost melted from her smile. “I’ve been working with-“ “-me,” said Jason Bannon who approached from behind Marissa and turned to face the two women. “For the last hour or so anyways. He is up to speed.” “From the point of view of a psychopath,” Marissa hissed while glaring daggers at Jason. She looked to Annette. “The hell is he doing here?” “I work here.” Jason replied matter-of-factly to her question. “Are you kidding me right now?” Huffing, she rolled her eyes. Brandon stepped in, finally letting go of her hand as it was starting to feel a little awkward. “Marissa, you’ll be working with me. Jason is simply here to observe and take notes as part of his internship. Please, all of us here have a lot ot gain from understanding your capabilities, yourself most of all. As an unknown quantity working with the military, as a military body myself, I can confirm that sometimes the easiest way to sow a little trust is to show how well we can work with others, despite not wanting to.” She paused for a moment, losing herself in his blue eyes while she considered what he said. He wasn’t wrong. “Aren’t you cute.” she inhaled and sighed. “Fine, since it’s you and not him.” She leaned in and flirtatiously cooed, “but you have to promise to take good care of me.” He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable as Jason expressionlessly groaned on the inside as Marissa inner thot never seemed to turn off. “Well, yes…,” he cleared his throat again as he tried to courteously pull away from her. “Marissa, you’re still in high school and,” I raised his left hand and wiggled his ring finger displaying a dazzling titanium band. “And I’m married. So, why don’t we keep this friendly, hm? A little less flirting.” “Well,” she sighed, exhaling lazily seemingly already bored with him. “That’s no fun, but at least one of those things I can fix for you,” she leaned in and smirked, leaving him uncomfortable again. “And the other isn’t an issue in Montana. Sixteen is legal here.” She winked. “Enough, Marissa.” Major Taggart tone was authoritative and carried with it that dare of her to test him, if only for a moment. “Play your games at school. We’re here to work, so either let him do his job, or find the door.” “I was just having a little fun,” She pouted. “You’re no fun, Major.” She stepped over to a chair where they were planning on drawing blood. “Fine let’s get on with this.” “See?” Annette said softly. “Osman was fine. I think he’ll be fine for the purposes of this observation. Not many could have brushed her off like that.” Taggart didn’t look at her, his eyes were still locked on Marissa who was now allowing Brandon to prepare her for a blood draw, obviously still flirting with him, just with more subtlety. “We’ll see.” ---===[***]===--- Brandon avoided as much eye contact as possible as he fumbled to prepare the enchanting brunette in the chair for a blood withdrawal. Her arm was tied off and despite it being a ‘simple’ blood draw the young officer seemed to be having trouble piercing her skin. His brow furrowed as he attempted for the third time to set the needle in her stubborn vein. “Ow!” She jerked her arm away from him. “Sorry,” he replied softly. “Your vein is being rather stubborn.” “Or you just don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” Marissa scowled, narrowing her eyes at him. “That’s a possibility too,” he said, allowing himself a subtle, sarcastic smile. Doctor Carter, the Project’s resident lead geneticist and neurologist, stepped forward and politely asked the Second Lieutenant to give her a moment with Marissa. She massaged the teen’s muscle and took a moment to inspect the site where the needle failed to find purchase in her inner elbow. Without warning she stabbed Marissa on the arm with the same needle in her forearm. Marissa jumped, withdrawing her arm and hopping up and out of the chair, backing a few steps away from the doctor. “Ow, what the hell, lady!” She looked to Annette then Taggart before looking back to Doctor Carter. “Are you out of you mind?” “I treat super powered teenagers who melt steel with their minds.” She replied quietly. “So it’s debatable. Look at your arm, Marissa. Why are you not bleeding?” When the emotional teen looked at her arm it was red, like she’d been pinched, but the doctor was right, Marissa wasn’t bleeding. “Jason says he witnessed you almost swallowed whole by one of those creatures. Teeth all very sharp, several inches, in fact, but it couldn’t bite you in half? You escaped with a few puncture wounds, but albeit, minor ones. I find that hard believe.” “This isn’t church,” Marissa rubbed her arm. She glanced at Jason, offering him that look that told him that now with him working for them it was his turn to blab all their secrets. “It’s a lab. Your belief isn’t required, doctor. I was fighting back, it couldn’t get a good grip on me to bite down.” “Or,” she ushered Marissa over to another machine, one with a large ring on it where Marissa could rest her arm, like a blood pressure machine, but seemingly more advanced. She encouraged Marissa to insert her arm, assuring her she wouldn’t be stabbed again. A few screens lit up, displaying information and readings that the young woman didn’t understand. It wasn’t long before a hexagonal pattern emerged, and the doctors and professors stood around it, nodding and appearing to be astounded. “They do this a lot?” She asked Jason while she stood there, her arm in some strange machine. The stoic teen offered her a shrug in acknowledgment. “You get used to it.” The scientists and doctors continued to speak for a few more moments while Marissa looked bored and ignored with her arm in the machine. “Okay, people! Seriously, I’m standing here with my arm in a… something. Is anyone going to talk to me?” “Sorry,” Professor Palahiuk said, adjusting his glasses as he approached her. He was the rather rotund, creepy uncle guy that Marissa and Courtney didn’t really care much for. “Uh, yes… uh, well, you see, skin cells are round-ish, sometimes hexagonal but always oblong, meaning they are never same shape or dimension.” “Those are your cells, there on the screen, Marissa.” Doctor Carter pointed to the monitor. “Each is perfectly symmetrical and instead of overlapping they are joined and bound on all side by this microscopic… seam that holds everything together. I’ve only seen this particular genetic make up in one other life form on the planet-“ “-The abalone.” Jason inserted. “The shell?” Marissa offered them both a puzzled look. “How come I’m not, blue or whatever, and what exactly does that mean, for me?” A thin smile snuck its way across the doctor’s lips. “Military armor manufacturers use the same composite design found in abalone to create armors designed to deflect and diffuse kinetic energy. With that energy diffused at the point of contact, the harm inflicted to the soldier is greatly reduced. Your skin seems to duplicate this diffusion process, but more testing is needed. It also means that the harder that creature tried to chew you, the more difficult it became for it.” “So, am I like… bullet proof?” Jason had never heard Marissa sound more like an excited child with a new toy than he did at this moment. “It’s possible,” the professor spoke up as he jotted a few notes on his pad. “Sir, we’re going to need a small caliber fire arm-“ “No one is shooting anyone, Professor,” Taggart shook his head sighed. “Can you do blood work, or not?” “Certainly,” Doctor Carter nodded. “Now that we know what the barrier to doing so is. This way Marissa.” ---===[***]===--- “You and Jason don’t seem to like each other.” Brandon politely stated as the doctors and professors huddled around Marissa’s blood samples speaking as to who would handle the first string of tests. Jason was dutifully scrawling a few notes away from the others and didn’t seem overmuch interested in what the others were doing or saying. “Is he an ex or something?” “Could’ve been.” She shrugged. Brandon carefully applied a band aid to the puncture point and wrapped it up. “I had a crush on him, then he told me he loved me and then slept with my best friend.” “That’s, uh, wow…” he shook his head, resisting the urge to look at Jason. “Seems like there’s more to it than that.” “There is,” she rubbed her arm with her thumb. “But everything about them dating just seems like a plot to get back at me. It’s whatever.” Inwardly the Second Lieutenant was relieved that high school drama was no longer on his plate. “Get back at you? For what?” “Apparently, I’m a horrible person or something, I don’t know. I guess I almost got them killed so now they think I can’t be trusted. They’re like, hyper-sensitive about everything.” She evasively shrugged off his question. “But like I said, it’s whatever. So,” she pursed her lips, looking for a change in subject. “How long have you been married? You seem, I don’t know, young. Like really, you could totally get away with being at my school.” He chuckled and nodded. “I get that a lot. And four months,” he wiggled his ring finger again. “High school sweethearts.” “Cool, cool,” she nodded as if looking for another topic to talk about. “So, how did you end up here, helping the freaks and geeks save world?” “I’m smart,” he confidently smiled. “I’m abut two years ahead on my degrees, working on my masters in genetics and the Air Force pays for school. So, it works out.” “More geniuses, great,” Marissa rolled her eyes and smiled coyly as she caught his eyes drinking in her skintight red sports bra and leggings. She surprised, as nearly every man in this place broke their neck at times trying to get a look at her. “Jason’s super smart and has all the personality of a pet rock, the other genius Sean, he’s like a total tech wizard and loves machines more than people. How’d you get the extrovert gene?” “There must be something special about him,” Brandon said, looking in Jason’s direction as lanky teen kept scrawling his notes. “Pfft, puh-lease,” she chuckled dismissively. “There is nothing special about him.” “Then how’d you fall for him?” His question came so smooth and swift that Marissa almost let her composure slip. “We should see what test they want us to do next,” as she slid from the chair, he offered her his hand as she stood up. “And a gentleman too.”
  4. Revelations & Rivalries “I heard that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” - Either of the Jauntsen Twins moments after a break up Branch-9 Underground Facility: Annette Giles’ Office “Wyoming, Annette. Fucking Wyoming!” Taggert huffed behind the closed doors of Annette’s office. It was only the two of them in there as they often to speak freely and vent their numerous frustrations at the bureaucracy within their respective chains of command and myriad of small things that went wrong for them on an almost daily basis. “Who does that? I’ve calmed down, but I swear Annette, I could have rung that kid’s neck.” Annette laughed as the rim of her glass raised to her colored lips. She sipped her brandy and shook her head. “These kids are nothing if not impulsive, John.” Major John Taggart, the acting commanding officer of the Branch-9 Division sat comfortably in the large chair across from Annette who was behind her desk in her incredibly comfortable office chair. The two cubes clinked in his glass and sighed, shaking his head. “These kids are dangerous, Annette. They are impulsive, and out of control and… troubled. I won’t say they aren’t all incredible in a laundry list of amazing ways but are out efforts going to be worth the inevitable problems they are going to cause down the road. The Joint Chiefs are getting involved in this now. Children with, and I know you hate the term but, super-powers exist and… according to Devin Jauntsen’s testimony: ‘went upside the head, the side that looked like a cheese grater made love to it, of a dimensional horror from a realm where anuses were born.’ That’s a direct quote, by the way.” She laughed, craning her head back and setting her glass on her desk as she covered her expression of pure entertainment. These were the moments when her and John were allowed to drop the veil of professionalism and just be real with one another about all they had going on in their respective professional lives. “Oh god, I swear, if that kid was ten years older.” She mused as Taggart gave her judgmental, if teasing, look. “Fine, fifteen.” “I know that they’re difficult, John.” She started, composing herself and leaning forward onto her desk. “And you’re an Operator, single, military, and it’s all you’ve ever known, so dealing with this group of kids is and will remain, a daunting task. I sympathize, I do,” she chuckled. “But you and your men, when you signed that piece of paper you knew exactly what you were getting into. You trained, you worked hard, you studied and through it all you knew exactly what you were: the tip of the spear, and you were just waiting to be thrown at a threat to your nation and its people.” She steepled her hands and then separated them, blooming them out as her point expanded. “But these kids, John, didn’t sign up for this. Hell, we didn’t sign up for this. Other dimensions, worlds, supernatural powers and alien gods? They’re sixteen and from the methodical and cold Jason Bannon to the hyper-curious and inquisitive Cassandra, they are stumbling in the dark for answers and trying to make sense of nonsense. The Jauntsen twins’ home is a shambles, they feel unloved and lost. Cassandra’s family was splintered by loss of her father and now suddenly he’s alive? Autumn, despite her every attempt to find normalcy knowns in her heart of hearts that that side of the street is forever lost to her. They are lost, seeking answers, and they’re going to need men and women like you and me to mentor them and deal with all the set-backs along the way, and with Devin, I foresee many set-backs.” He sighed, heavily, shaking his head as his thoughts collected themselves. “I’m not good with kids. Hell, I went to my nephew’s birthday party in July, and I had nothing to talk about, with him or my sister and her husband. It’s all counter-terrorism stories and training and that’s when it dawned on me… Christ, Annette, I’m married to my job. I can hardly relate to my junior enlisted, let alone this gaggle of super-geniuses and professional troublemakers. I don’t even know where to begin with them half the time.” She grunted and raised her glass in solidarity. “I know the feeling. My niece is going through all manner of personal issues. She’s not much older than the kids we work with here, but I’ve been so wrapped up in projects here that I had no idea.” Reminded of something as she sipped her drink. “Oh, speaking of, I’ll be on leave here soon, I have to go to Brighton, I’m just waiting on the dates.” “Fair enough,” Taggart, nodded. He looked at his watch and sighed. “Shit. The twins are going to be here soon. Guess it’s back to being responsible adults.” ---===[***]===--- Branch-9 Underground Facility: Gym Throughout the gym soldiers and airmen performed their daily regimen of bench presses and squats. Devin had been here a couple times, but never really made use of the facilities since he had a gym at home. Also, like most military gyms, it was grossly over packed at almost all times of day, making it an absolute pain to keep a consistent workout going because he had to wait for several minutes for a machine to free up. Still, it was a great gym, with mirrored walls, two to three of the most standard machines in use for a full body work out and several treadmills and exercise bikes, including a large, matted vacancy in one corner of the room reserved for sparing and floor exercises. About twice the size of a standard boxing ring’s available space, it would, they hoped, provide more than enough room for today’s intended purpose. “Are you sure about this?” Devin asked as he and Aelwen walked through the gym, passing others involved in their workouts. They seemed a bit out of place amongst the larger, older men and women who’d made the military their career and the two of them were barely in the middle of their high-school years. Aelwen, or ‘Ellie’, as she had become known to those down in the facility, allowed an eyebrow to raise quizzically at the Earth-born male’s inquiry. “I offered, did I not? Why would I offer only to mean the complete of my intention?” As they passed by the others, she got a few looks from both the men and women; with her long, blonde hair pulled up, spandex shorts and sports bra on, they could see the numerous scars she sported on almost every curve of her body. Most looked like they had healed exceptionally well, but she had more just from her Teulu training than every soldier and airman in the gym combined from their entire lives. “I’m just saying, I’m fast. I’m not sure you’re ready for just how fast, though. This could be embarrassing.” He shrugged, not looking back at her as they approached. “Fast. Like… an arrow?” She asked. “Like a bullet.” He corrected her while tossing her a pair of padded sparing gloves. “I’m all aquiver.” She said in her typical, expressionless Teulu demeanor. Most of the military staff within Branch-9 were well aware of who Devin and the other ‘special kids’ were, but far less than most had ever seen what they could actually do, their skills and ‘powers’ were nothing more than scuttlebutt and watercooler rumors. When it came to the military, the Fellowship were lucky if they’d even get a ‘hello’ in the hallway as they passed them by. “Careful, kid.” Warned a deep voice belonging to Sergeant Thomas, a large black man at the peak physical readiness. He approached the boundary of the sparing area and slung a towel over the back of his neck. “She’s a lioness.” “Making friends, I see.” Devin quipped, allowing himself a grin. She hadn’t quite considered it that way until after Devin had said it out loud and offered Sergeant Thomas a look, who in turn offered her a polite and respectful nod. “I suppose I am. And you? Are you still hurting inside? Anger still gnawing away at your heart?” “Eh, not so much angry anymore as I am just depressed and over it.” He shrugged, strapping up his fingerless padded gloves. “She wasn’t my girlfriend before I poured my heart out to her, she’s not my girlfriend afterwards, either. I’ve lost nothing and gained nothing. Way I see it I broke even.” “Have you not lost a friend?” Ellie asked while pulling her ponytail up through her head guard. “For all the good those do,” scoffed while chuckling. “She’s with Jacob, so it’s not like she’ll have time to waste wondering about me or how I’m doing. The Fellowship doesn’t think all that highly of my sister and I, if they think of us at all. So that’s dead in the water. Honestly? I think I’m good just saving the world on my own.” “Well then,” Ellie craned her neck from side to side, limbering herself up as she walked to the center ring. “I threaten your world, ‘Jaunt’ of Earth. Come… save it from me.” She urged him forward, taunting him Morpheus-style, beckoning him with her outstretched hand. She clicked her mouthpiece into place. “Like a bullet.” He shook his head as if trying to ignore her taunting, chuckling at her trash talk. “I’m young. I’m handsome. I’m fast. I can’t possibly be beat. You know who said that? Muhammad Ali.” And he crossed the distance from his corner of the matts to the center in a single jaunt of violet streaks. The subquantum particles excited, giving a visible spectrum of violet energy that traced his short hop’s trajectory as he appeared in front of Ellie taking a wild swing at her. Still firmly planted she leaned to one side, raised her hand, took his wrist and twisted it downward while slamming the inside of his elbow with her other hand. In one swift motion she controlled all of Devin’s momentum and he flipped ass-over-head onto the matts. “Bullets miss.” She said as she knelt beside him. “If you ever dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize. Also, Muhammad Ali.” She patted him on the chest and stood up. Devin disappeared and reappeared exactly where he was lying down, except now he was on his feet, rolling the shoulders, he took a few steps back and forth to walk out the slam to the matt. “Alright, alright… you have game.” He nodded. His first teleportation towards Ellie had earned him a few head turns from those in the gym, as the sudden color caught their eye. Now, after his second, a few had stopped their work outs to see what was going on and if some of the rumors of the special kids were true. “I didn’t know the Teulu trash talked,” he smiled. “And Muhammad Ali, really? What are they letting you read in this place? I’m having a talk with Annette, that is way to advanced reading for your age, young lady.” She managed a smile, as Devin’s sense of humor was starting grow on her. As she had anticipated, the adrenaline was already cancelling out the negative feelings in his mind and heart. “I’m picking up numerous bad habits among your people,” she admitted. “My home does not have ‘pizza’, and I now find that fact to be unfortunate.” Before he knew she on him, two straight jabs sped past his field of vision as his spatial awareness kicked his perceptions into overdrive. A right-cross, another jab and finally a spinning kick that he ducked under before finally jaunting a few feet away from her to recompose himself rounded out her initial volley of attacks and there in front of the now growing crowd of gym goers Devin and Ellie were fully engaged in a brawl of parries, dodges and evasions.
  5. Location: Parking lot of Blazers' Fresh Food Market Time: Thursday, Sept 5th There were quite a few markets around Shelley and the unincorporated areas, but for groceries there were two choices. Albertsons...and Blazers. One was a giant; unrivaled in size, price and availability for anyone that didn't want to make the long trip to the Walmart in Great Falls. The other was Blazers. Bless them, they tried. A smaller store, locally owned, it got by on a small slice of loyal customers that lived in the neighborhood. Barely. What that meant was that, particularly before working hours let out, the parking lot was oversized; built for a time before big out-of-state megamarts were a thing. A handful of cars clustered near the store, leaving vast swaths of relatively flat paved asphalt with fading paint outlining where parking was to be done. Unlike smaller strip-mall venues, there were no culverts or big dips or ridges, barely even intermittent traffic, and no curb or rails or other features to make it an interesting place for skaters to hang out. That's where Cassandra texted Autumn to meet her. She was there before Autumn, easily identified on her bike with her bushy blonde hair floofing in the afternoon breeze like some kind of lion's mane. On spotting her friend's approach, Cassie waved and quickly got a scrunchie out to scrunch said mane into a quick-n-dirty ponytail that wouldn't get whipped into her face at an embarrassing moment. She wasn't bad at skateboarding at all, but she wasn't so good at it that she willfully handed the universe ammunition to use against her. "Hey!" she called. "You made it! Here...I have some stuff for you." Cass delved into the backpack she had on; pressed into service away from school for the day. From within came curious plastic pieces that Autumn didn't place immediately. They were curved and dully shiny, set onto stretchy-looking fabric. Then she saw the straps and bands and realized...oh, you wear it. "You are going to want protective gear," explained Cassandra, grinning. "This is why Marissa will never stand where you are now standing. No such thing as designer elbow guards. So...these are for your elbows, these your knees...some people get shins and knees both together in like a kind of...boot, but I like it better separate so that's what you got. Uh, helmet. Make sure you get it on pretty snug, but not TIGHT, you know?" She watched as Autumn got the hang of fitting the pieces to herself and fumbled with the straps, loosening them and tightening the elastic straps as she got used to how they sat. When her friend was all gussied up like she was ready to play a post-apocalyptic deathsport, Cassie produced her skateboard, which had been under her backpack on a little hook that had been sewed onto it. She set it down and gestured Autumn over. "So...just so you know how this works, the first part of doing this is falling off. Like, a lot. Partly just because you won't be good at first, but also because the thing that fucks you up the most is being afraid of falling, right? So taking a few spills, and not getting hurt, helps you get over that. Here it's just you and me, and believe me I will not be judging you for falling off the board." "Just a general note to get you started...and you'll start figuring it out as you go too, because your body kind of figures it out...but you get on the board like this..." she stepped onto the board with her left foot leading even as her right foot was pushing her forward in a normal sort of walking motion. Her foot started out pointing forward, but as she lifted her right foot up onto the back of the board, she rotated it so that both feet were sideways across the width of the board, and she was standing on it sideways. This set the skateboard rolling forward at about a walking speed. Cass waggled her eyebrows as she hopped back off the board and quick as a snake snapped a foot out to catch the board before it squirted out from under her feet from the movement. "Any questions?"
  6. Autumn, Weekend following Labor Day/Ep. VI: Off-Camera: Autumn will be working on the tree house, trying to get it finished before the weather turns. She will also be reviewing the journals from her grandfather’s study, and working on If possible, a return visit to Browning to actually go through the museum and have a long, non-plot-related talk with Joe about her grandfather will also be on the agenda. Thursday: No school. Charlie's funeral. Later: Boarding school with Cassie. Friday: First date with Jase? Available after school. Saturday: Autumn will be paying a visit to the Project facility to try to help repair some of the damage done to the smilodon and assist with the extraction of the cranial implant. Saturday night, Marissa will be coming to the Keane house to discuss current events. Sunday: Open. Autumn will be working on personal projects like the completion of the tree house, and studying Chemistry and English. TBD: As discussed in Discord, a story or scene involving Cass and Autumn talking to Sean about the physiological and sociological realities of his unique, uh... "circumstance" would be awesome. Autumn can basically, at present, flail wildly in an actual fight. Some specific efforts at improvement in this area would be advisable. Following up with Sophia to see how she's doing. Talk to her parents about the weird tension with them over the last year or so. Chat with Nathan Crocker about his role. Talk to Mari about Homecoming, make awkward conversation. First date shenanigans with Jason. Birthday planning with Carolyn Cassidy and Gar Bannon. After Site B?: Propose the camping trip. Ongoing: Attempt to normalize things with Jacob- or at least start things moving in that direction. · Specifics will be determined by player input and interaction, and all of this is subject to change!
  7. The sheer Momness of the statement was enough to make Autumn's nose crinkle a little in dismay, but despite the urge to remind them both enthusiastically that she was almost seventeen and definitely not a little girl anymore, she didn't think it would help. They were having a Parental Moment, and, all cringing aside, she had to admit they'd kind of earned it. This was the day they'd buried Charlie, after all. Someone else's baby. Someone else's son. ...And, for all the ambiguity of her own feelings about him, it was hard to deny that Charlie Cole had been loved by many in the community. "Speaking of babies," she broke in, leaning into her mom's one-armed embrace as she looked up at Gar, "are there any pictures of Jason when he was little? Before you guys moved here, I mean." It was hard to imagine Jase Bannon as an actual baby- she'd seen him as a ten-year old, and he'd been skinny then, too, with those too-old eyes in a childish face. As a for-real baby, though... She remembered how he'd looked at her photo album the day before, and felt a pang. Even knowing he had parents, and had probably been born in the usual way, it was still almost easier to imagine him stepping out of some secret lab as a fully-formed miniature human. He could probably calculate the last digit of pi as a toddler. Yeah, well, if there are pictures of him in some kind of crazy pod machine or something, we can always sell them to Cassie. Gar blinked before nodding, giving Autumn a smile. "We do have some pictures, yeah." the older Bannon replied. "Got some in my desk at home - haven't looked at them in forever, though." he admitted then, rubbing the back of his neck. "Most of them were taken by my parents, back when they were looking after Jason. Not really enough for an album or anything, so I just keep them in a folder." He paused as a thought hit him. "Oh, and there's one I carry in my wallet of him as a baby." "Okay, I have to see this." Dana murmured, giving her daughter's shoulders another squeeze as she grinned. "Though it'd be better if Jase was here to be embarrassed by how cute he was as a baby." "It's Jason, mom." Autumn rolled her eyes theatrically, smiling a little. "He wouldn't care." "Good point." Gar chuckled as he fished his wallet out and extracted a Polaroid from it's folds, handing it over. Dana took it and held it do that both Keane women could see. Baby Jase looked... like a baby, at least at first glance. Wearing a diaper, and there was a little shock of dark hair atop his head, and he had the chubby roundness of feature that marked any recently born person. He was in someone's arms, staring at the camera, his expression calm and his bright pale eyes wide and almost considering, as though he were trying to work out the what and why of the observer behind the camera. "That's definitely him," the younger of the two redheads agreed, stifling a somewhat awestruck laugh as she stared at the slightly worn image of the former terror-turned-boyfriend. And he was cute, as babies were supposed to be, but also... Her smile lingered for a moment, and faded by degrees. Also somehow not, because the point of being cute, of being a helpless new creature, was to inspire protectiveness and look unthreatening, and it was hard not to imagine an adult intelligence behind that direct, un-babylike gaze peering out at her. Still, at least now they were even, right? The corners of Dana's mouth curved upward bemusedly as she glanced from the photo to the elder Bannon, nodding. "It's a good picture, and he looks absolutely precious. Very much like Jase," she noted wryly, her smile widening, "but still, a very cute baby for all that. Remind me sometime to show you some of Autumn's," she teased, squeezing her daughter in another quick hug. Ugh. The teen's nose crinkled again, unhappily, as she peered up at her mother. "Not fair. We've only seen one of Jason's. And, besides," she added with a note of defiance, "Jase already saw my baby pictures." "Oh, really?" the arch of an auburn brow inquired silently in response, and Autumn nodded, unable to hide her grin of triumph. "Yep, he looked through my photo album yesterday while he was over." "Well, that's a shame," Dana sighed dramatically, a flicker of mischief in her hazel eyes. "I was planning to use those as blackmail." Gar chuckled, tucking away his wallet. "You can always trot the album out when you guys next come over." he suggested with a hint of matching mischief that, for a moment, reminded Autumn of the understated laughter in her boyfriend's eyes when he was flustering her. Only, with Gar, the mischievous intent was all over his warmly expressive features, turning to curiousity as he considered what Autumn had said. "I wonder what he thought - about your album I mean." he mused quietly. "Did he-?" "Gar. I was hoping to catch you. Hi Dana, hi Autumn." Carolyn Cassidy, in her sober churchgoing dress and with a glass in one hand, approached the three of them with a smile on her kind features. "It's only a quick thing - we're about to get going." she explained semi-apologetically. "I wasn't sure when I'd have another chance to speak with you, what with it coming up on Homecoming week and all." She leaned in a little to the group confidentially. "It's about Jase's birthday." "His birthday?" Gar nodded slowly. "Right... Yeah." He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "What with everything else, I hadn't even had a chance to think about it." He cast a slightly guilty glance at all three women. "In, uh, previous years, Carolyn's kind of been the one to..." He didn't finish that sentence, didn't really need to. All three understood. "I did nothing much. Cake and a dinner at most." She flapped a hand dismissively. "Well, he's going to be seventeen next week, and now that you're - well, less overworked," Carolyn delicately stepped around saying 'out of the bottle'. "I was wondering if you'd like to collaborate on some plans." She gave Jase's dad a smile. "Even with everything else, Jason's still like family for us, and it'd be lovely to have you there too, and of course now he has a girlfriend..." she grinned at Autumn and Dana. "Which means you're on the planning committee too if you want, Autumn." Next week?! "Wait, you mean, next week, next week? Homecoming week, next week?" Autumn blinked at Mrs. Cassidy, her eyes widening in surprise and dismay. Sure, it's not like it'd come up in the couple of weeks she'd been actually talking to Jason or any of the people who also talked to him, for that matter, but he'd been in Shelly for six years. Six! Almost seven, her brain cheerfully corrected, and she groaned inwardly. Not helping! "I didn't know." There was a moment's pause, and the expressive young redhead felt her face growing warmer with that admission as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Obviously." She exhaled in a kind of self-conscious laugh, the corner of her mouth turning up a little as her eyebrows flicked briefly upward. Dana pulled her into another one-armed squeeze, pressing a quick kiss to the top of her daughter's tousled hair. "You've had plenty of other things to worry about," the elder Keane woman murmured, and Autumn nodded, sighing as she leaned against her mother's side for a moment. That was definitely true. They all had. "So what do you need me to do? So if this is supposed to be like a family thing..." Another pause, an eyeblink. She'd been involved, a little, in Jacob's birthdays for as long as she could remember, whether they were dating or not. It was normal, expected, natural. They were family, like the Cassidys and Jase were. The Bannons themselves, though, were still relative strangers to Autumn. And, she realized, in a sense Jason probably always would be, even if they knew each other for a hundred years. "I just don't wanna intrude, you know?" she added, glancing first at Gar, and then Carolyn, the soles of her dress flats scuffing unsatisfyingly against the floor as she shifted again. "Honey, you wouldn't be intruding." Carolyn seemed mildly astonished. "You're his girlfriend." Sean's mom was definitely Team Autumn/Jase, from the looks of it. "He likes you - which makes you pretty special." She gave Autumn a bright smile. "She's got a point." Gar admitted, rubbing the back of his neck again and giving Autumn a rueful grin. "You guys got along, even before you were dating. He trusts you and talks to you more than pretty much anyone." Dana stayed quiet, giving Autumn's shoulders a reassuring squeeze as Carolyn went on. "We'll still be handling the grunt work," she indicated Gar and herself "but if you have any ideas for something new to do it'd be great. Usually it's just a cake and homecooked meal, but what with everything... all the changes... I figured maybe this year warranted something more." Autumn just stared for a moment, a little taken aback at the unreserved positivity. Yeah, she and Jason were dating, but like all the "changes" Carolyn had mentioned, even their friendship was incredibly new and experimental, and the, um... the other part was... whew. Down, girl. Sometimes even thinking about it, about how much one conversation had changed things, like the course of a river shifting from its bed, seemed a little crazy- almost as crazy as nightmare hell-worlds and having weird powers. Was it okay to be included in a family celebration like that, even though she wasn't really part of the "family"? Or... was she now, in their eyes? Kind of the way her family was trying, in their own way, to welcome in the latest wild creature she'd brought home. "Thanks." She smiled, the uncertainty on her freckled features giving way to relief and gratitude as she nodded. "That sounds awesome. I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I'm low-key freaking out that it's next week and I have no idea what to do, but..." The warm curve of her mouth broadened in a brief, but genuine grin. "I'd love to help. And-" She hesitated, her expression shifting again, teeth catching at the inside of her lower lip as another thought occurred to her. "Maybe... I mean, I know you guys are doing all the planning, and you literally just asked me to help, but maybe the fact that so much has changed is a good reason to keep this more or less the same. Kind of... normal, I guess. You know?" Sean's mom's expression went thoughtful at that, and she exchanged a look with Gar, who nodded slowly. "That makes sense." he said quietly, giving Autumn a faint smile. Dana likewise nodded agreement. "After all the upset and chaos and... well..." Autumn's mom gestured wordlessly at their surroundings, as though to remind all four of them why they were here, at the Cole house. "Some normal would be a good thing, even for those who've gone through such abnormal situations. Maybe especially for them." "So, friends and family get-together, dinner and cake." Carolyn affirmed with a nod and a smile. "Just with a few more guests, since Jase has more friends this time around?" She looked at Gar questioningly, causing the older Bannon to rub his chin thoughtfully and nod once more. "Yeah." he said slowly. "Sounds good. And we can host it at the farm, too. 'Bout time I pulled my weight on this sort of thing." he gave Carolyn a rueful smile, and glanced at Dana. "You and Ian are welcome to come, too. If the weather's good, we can set up grills and eat outdoors." "Great!" Carolyn beamed, then glanced at her watch. "Okay, I've got to scoot. I'll call you during the week to get things organised, Gar." She gave Autumn a wide smile. "It's a good plan - something wholesome, something normal to remind us all of what's important. Good call!" she enthused, leaning forward and giving the young redhead a quick, warm hug which, due to Autumn's proximity to her mom, also ended up enveloping Dana, who laughed. "See you all later." Mrs Cassidy said before breezing away. "I think I'm going to make my goodbyes as well." Gar said quietly, glancing around at the throng then at mother and daughter. Giving them both a smile, he went on "I'm sure I'll see you both around - don't be strangers." "I don't think there's much chance of that," Dana quipped with an answering smile, the warmth of her expression rendered rueful by the mixture of worry and regret in her hazel eyes. The talk of baby pictures and celebrations was a bright, brief moment of respite from the sober, undeniable reality of the day, and did nothing for the accompanying twinge of guilt that poor Hannah would likely find no joy in such things for a long time to come. Nodding a polite goodbye at Gar Bannon as Autumn pulled away- off to find Cassie, the younger of the Keane women half-explained, giving her boyfriend's dad a quick wave- the slim veterinarian sent up a silent prayer that they'd all have more birthdays to plan.
  8. "Um, Sean," Garret said, tapping his upper lip, "You're bleeding." "What?" Sean brushed a forefinger under his nose then looked at it, finding it stained with crimson. "Shit." He wiped at it with the cuff of his borrowed shirt, then tilted his head back. "Is it still bleeding?" Kat nodded. Garret frowned. "I think you're suppose to tilt your head down, not back. You can choke or something." "Right. I knew that," Sean claimed, tilting his head forward and pinching the bridge of his nose. He did, but with all these issues cropping up, worry was beginning to set it. He grunted when saw a drop of blood land on his shirt, then nodded his thanks when Kat handed him a napkin from the tray of a passing server. "Must be the dry air in here. I should probably head out." "Are you okay?" She asked, following him as he made his way to the garden doors. "I know now's probably not the right time, but you should go and have Autumn check on you." "It's just a nose-bleed, no big deal," Sean said blithely. He pulled the handle down, then shoved open one of the doors with a shoulder. "If it happens again, then I'll go bother Autumn about it." He sounded unconcerned and reassuring, and with the thick napkin to his face, Kat couldn't make out his expression. But she could feel the hint of worry under the complete disregard radiating from him, that he wouldn't go see a doctor - or the psychic equivalent - for something so little as a nose-bleed. Wouldn't go unless he was near death or felt like it, really. A very stereotypically male attitude that belied his very feminine appearance. Sean led Kat to his SUV. Turning away from her for a moment, he snorted into the napkin to clear his nose, then looked at it. It was a right mess, but his nose felt clear enough. He wiped his nose, then folded the napkin to hide the crimson stains, though they had leaked through some. He turned back to Kat, flashing her a grin. "See? Practically stopped already." Feeling a dribble, he held the napkin up to his nostrils again. "Almost practically stopped, anyway." Sean nodded back at his car. "If you haven't gamed before, y'know, played D&D or Pathfinder, I can pick you up when I get Garret, if you'd like to see what it's like." The petite French girl rubbed the back of her head, with a sorry smile. "I'm not much into DND... I guess there's no hurt in trying." Her shoulders went up and down in a teenage fashion, then frowned. Nose-bleeds weren't big deals, Sean was right, but there also was something about him that didn't felt right. I'll keep an eye on him, she thought. Sean's grin widened, pleased with Kat taking an interest in one of his favourite hobbies, not noticing her dubiousness or worry. "Cool. I'll aim for seven. If you have fun, maybe we can see about working a character of your own into my campaign." Sean scampered around to the driver-side of his Grand Cherokee, and scrambled up behind the wheel. He leaned over and stretched, a bit awkward with the gearshift and certain protuberances in the way and opened the the passenger-side door, waving Kat inside. "Come in for a sec, I wanna show you something." "Okay..." Kat agreed, slightly hesitant, feeling Sean's excitement, which was flavoured with both eagerness and trepidation. As the slight, short French girl climbed up into the SUV which was lifted for off-roading, Sean twisted around to reach his satchel in the back seat. When Kat had settled in the passenger seat, Sean pulled out several sheets of paper from the satchel and handed them to her, his huge, multicoloured eyes of jade and turquoise bright and vulnerable. "Here, take a look."
  9. Cade sighed. "It isn't that, Marissa. You have done a lot for my confidence, believe it or not. I just don't expect to start looking again right away. Like you said, you are an impossible standard. Taking some time seems the right thing to do, to me at least. I don't want to find myself judging anyone else by the standard you’ve set." It wasn't that this made him uncomfortable, he knew he should be sad, or angry, but she had outlined how this was going to be, just a relationship of convenience. It wasn't really her fault that he started to care for her. He'd never expected to see her as he did, let alone find himself in a sexual relationship with her. In part, he was disappointed with himself that he wasn't "Good enough." He knew that this would never be a permanent thing, but still, he would have liked it to continue awhile longer. Forcing the issue seemed a bad idea, but he didn't just want to accept that it was going to end like nothing more than a business arrangement. In Marissa’s grand paranoia that everyone in the world was only out for themselves she couldn’t see that she had a guy in front of her who was willing to die for her, literally, and he almost did, in a Hellscape a few days ago. "We may not be ‘dating’ after homecoming, but until then we are. I know you're trying to plan ahead, and get me to plan ahead, but right now that's not what I want. What I want is to enjoy the time until then with you. I mean I know afterwards, we'll still have to work together to save the world from whatever else shows up to destroy it and kill us, so it's not like we won't see each other again or anything." Cade chuckled softly, and she could see a bit of sadness in his eyes, but it vanished quickly enough. "Chris Hemmsworth huh? Haruka likes him too. Still, I don't think you'd need to kidnap him if you put your mind to it. Now getting Devin to bring you to where he is and setting up a ‘chance encounter’ so you can work your magic, that'd probably take a bit of doing." He would do anything to hide how hurt he was going to be, even it meant going along with her joke about hooking up with Chris Hemsworth, which she knew would break his heart. She hated wrestling with these new-found situations like ‘friendship’ and ‘caring’. She found she liked the Fellowship and Cade himself was an amazing guy, but she didn’t know the first thing about thinking beyond herself. She figured it was one of those baby steps situations and in time she’d work it all out. After the blow out during her big truth reveal she realized that wasn’t going to happen, no one trusted her and made their feelings on the matter pretty clear and all that was left in her heart was spite and contempt disguised politeness so she could kill them with kindness. Cade wasn’t an exception, but he was certainly more in her good graces than most, and that’s when it hit her; the terrible idea that she knew she would come to regret later. As far as self-destructive ideas, it was possibly the tamest she’d had in quite some time, but still even she knew it was a horrible idea even as she said it. “Forget Hemsworth,” she smiled at him, chuckling and shaking her head at knowing Cade would probably run off and kidnap him if it would make her happy and increase her chances of dating him one day. “Look, you’re right. I’m planning like this is over when the agreement was Homecoming so,” she raised a finger to insert a break. “Under the condition that you realize this will be over after Homecoming, and at no point in time use the ‘L’ word,” she narrowed her eyes at him and his every growing crush on her. “I’m totally in. I am now yours, one hundred and ten-percent, one-fifty when we’re alone and the parents aren’t around,” she grinned mischievously and offered him a sultry wink. “We both know the Fellowdorks are aware that this was all one big ruse, so what? Since we’re both having fun with it, who cares what they think? You’re right and we should enjoy the time we have left, right?” Even if that time is just going to make you fall for me even harder… Marissa, what are you doing? It wasn’t often she engaged in mental dialogue with herself, she brimmed over with self-assurance and confidence that mentally second-guessing herself didn’t come naturally to her. She’d just add that to her ever-expanding list of currently new experiences she wasn’t quite appreciative of. “So, Cadums,” she leaned upwards, not having to rise far thanks to her heels, and kissed him. He could feel the change in how she kissed him, like she'd flipped some switch and was now back in full-on girlfriend-mode. “Be my everything, and I will be yours. Fair?” He couldn’t help but smile at that. He knew that this wasn't something that would last, but all the same, he was glad she agreed. He resolved quietly to make sure that neither of them regret the decision overly much. The kiss was electric, and it was hard to think of anything else as her lips were pressed to his. When she pulled away, he wondered how she could just "flip a switch" and be any person she felt she needed to be at that time, but figured it wasn't something he was meant to understand, only to enjoy. "Absolutely Fair." He agreed and pulled her in for another kiss. Normally not one for such a public display, today wasn't a normal day. He had a "real" girlfriend, and for all their faults, and the time limit, they were both committed to giving this their all. Nothing could ruin this. The second he thought that he winced internally. Dredged up like some primordial monster from the depths, his memory of the conversation he'd overheard between his father and her mother at the reception played through his mind, and he knew he had to tell Marissa. The real question was when? Before getting her to commit to even a short-term relationship probably would have been best, but that ship had sailed. Later, when they were alone, that would be the best time, not here in public, and of course she would tell Devin. Right now though it was just about them, and enjoying each other's company. "So where would you like to go next?" “Well,” she interlaced her fingers into his, the first time she’d bothered to hold his hand all evening. He assumed it had something to do with them being ‘official’ again, at least for the time being. She panned her field of vision about, obviously on the hunt for whatever she had planned next. “We need to get a few things for Autumn’s look, and there were a couple of things I wanted to try for Cassie, if she’s open minded about it. So, you get the honor of following me around Sephora, looking bored as I regale you with makeup facts you care nothing about.” She smiled and winked at him. She tugged at his hand luring him to follow her. “C’mon.” “Oh, joy,” he grinned as he feigned an eyeroll. True to her word Cade did spend the better part of an hour bored out of his mind as she regaled him facts about how the makeup she was selecting for Cassie and Autumn and all the reasons it would or would not work with their complexions and… a lot of other things he didn’t really hear. She knew he was bored, and still she tried to engage him as best she could before they finally left to go hit that pretzel stand she’d been eyeing since they arrived. They shut the mall down, by the time the two of them were walking back to Cade’s Jeep the parking lot was practically empty aside from the closing staff doing their evening check lists before going home for the evening. As the headlights lit up the black asphalt that would lead them back to Shelly, Marissa scrolled lazily on her phone through all her various social media accounts and referencing her purchases with what she knew of Cassie and Autumn, never settling for any less than perfection. They didn’t talk much on the way home, just a few short conversations as the weariness of post-shopping laziness gripped them both and they needed time to recover. She talked a bit about her plans for Homecoming with the ‘Fellowdivas’, as she called them, to make the first dance of the year one they’d never forget. The white headlights panned across the front of the Jauntsen house in the distance as they pulled into the driveway. Only Devin’s bedroom light was on they noticed as he twisted the key, cutting the engine. “Looks like Devin’s home.” Cade pointed out. Marissa leaned forward to get a better look at the house. “Doesn’t mean much these days,” she said skeptically. “He’s in and out at all hours lately.” A muted violet flash pulsed in his room, mingling with the light there before another pulsed in the darkness of the kitchen. A white light, like a fridge opening and closing lit of the kitchen behind the curtains before another violet flash pulsed in reverse, ending in his bedroom. “Nope. You’re right, he’s home.” She looked at the lit screen of her phone, accented her beautiful features in the darkness of the Jeep. “Mom and Dad are going to be another hour, or so. Apparently, they’re helping Mr. Cole clean up, so… ass-kissing is what they really mean.” She turned in her seat, facing Cade. She smiled and took his hand in hers. “I appreciate you taking me out tonight, I mean it. Whatever this was, I needed it, so… thank you.” He'd had fun, spending the rest of their trip just enjoying being with her, listening to her plans for everyone else, and couldn't help but smile. She was enjoying herself, despite what she'd said. As she held his hand, he simply wrapped it around hers gently. "You are welcome, Marissa. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it too." He just smiled at her, rubbing the back of her hand gently. "They'll all thank you too, once they see the results of tonight's excursion." His grin widened just a bit as his eyes met hers in the dim light of her phone. "While I look forward to seeing everyone all decked out like never before, my gaze will be focused on you." He lightly kissed her knuckle softly. Corny, sure, but completely true. This would end, there was no denying that, but he would do all he could to see to it that they both enjoyed their time together. That was what mattered. She narrowed her eyes at him as if questioning his motives just a moment before she leaned up to him and kissing him gently. “You’re so full of it,” she smirked as she slowly pulled away. “But you’re cute, so…”. With a wink she slid out of his Jeep and smiled one last time as she walked up to and into her home. Her keys jingled as she entered the dark foyer of her home. Her boot heels echoed on the hard wood floors as she made her way to the stairs that would lead her up to her room for a welcome rest after an afternoon of shopping. A purple flash from the kitchen threshold to her right caught her attention and when she turned her head to investigate and saw her brother standing there, glaring at her in silent judgement. She sighed as she faced him, rolling her eyes in preemptive frustration. “What?” She huffed. “What’re you doing?” He asked simply. Devin gestured to the front of the house at Cade backing out of their driveway. “Everyone knows, Emjay, so what the hell is that?” “We just went out shopping, okay? And what do you care?” she gestured to him, dismissing his judgements outright. “I don’t need your permission to go out with a guy.” “No, you don’t.” He shrugged. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m looking at how your actions can affect Cade. We both know he’s head over for you, have you given any thought to how your games are going to affect him in the long run?” Marissa, visibly annoyed, walked to the fridge and withdrew a bottle of water, cracked the cap and took a drink. “I’m not playing games, Deej. Look, I appreciate you trying to be all in my business, but I’m not about to take advice from my brother who chases every skirt that crosses his path. Cade and I talked, and I promised him Homecoming. We had a deal; I’m honoring my end.” “You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Devin laughed. “you told a guy you’d sleep with him until Homecoming if he pretended to be your boyfriend? Do you have any, fucking, idea, how messed up you sound?” “What? No,” she shook her head, chuckling with a mixture of frustration with her brother and amused by him assuming he knew what was going on with her relationships. “I never agreed to sleep with him as part of the arrangement. I chose to sleep with. I came onto him. I initiated it.” “No surprise there.” Her brother quipped with a chuckle. “Don’t be a dick.” She snapped at him for making fun of Cade. “He’s not a bad guy. For the sake of appearances at school, we’re not going to ‘end it’ until Homecoming. That way we can keep it clean, and I promised him I’d help hook him up with someone else, when he’s ready.” Her brother folded his arms and looked at her, slowly raising an eyebrow. She huffed and shrugged, letting her hands drop to her sides. “Yes, okay? Yes. I’ll probably still sleep with him. So what? He’s my first, and he’s damn good at it.” “Because you have such a base for comparison, no doubt.” He mused at her expense. “Em, I don’t care who you’re sleeping with, I’m worried about how it’s going to affect Cade. He’s falling for you, or already has and you’re sole schtick sis is to tease people’s emotions. Have you given any thought to how dragging this on with him might affect him in the long run?” The water bottle raised to her lips lowered more slowly as his words struck her with ideas she hadn’t considered. “I don’t mess with people heads, Devin.” She said, considering for a moment that she really didn’t understand how her powers worked. “I don’t force people to do anything.” “Do you not?” he said softly. “Marissa, we’re all sixteen and none of us have ever been in love or know what it’s like. All we have is what we’ve read or seen on TV… if your power causes him to fall too far, and then you take that away… how is that going to go over with him? Have you even thought about that?” She stiffened her jaw and glared back at him, offended that he would even have the nerve to preach morality to her after all that he was complicit to in their three years of bullying and manipulating the back water student body of Shelly High. “No.” Her reply came coldly and without consideration for Cade or his feelings. “I’ve warned him, and he doesn’t care. Frankly, I’m not his babysitter, Devin, so if he can’t let go and falls absolutely in love me, then that’s his problem. In the meantime, I might as well be getting laid, right? Now, while I appreciate your concern, kindly fuck off so I can go get some sleep.” She exited the kitchen, taking her water with her as she marched up the stairs to her room.
  10. Cade stalked through the house like he was pissed and on a mission, but a chance glance at a mirror as he was doing so., Knowing his sister would sniff out his mood and then not leave him alone, he took a moment to compose himself, and in his own mind the turbulent waters that reflected his mental state, calmed. Once again they it became like an undisturbed deep pool, as he centered himself, and then he continued on outside. His sister was there, talking to some of the other younger children, and he nodded as he walked up, Towering over everyone othere. "Haruka, it's time to go. Mom's gotta work tonight." The younger Allistair looked up at her brother, and could tell something was not right, despite his attempts to hide it, but with so many around, she didn't want to cause a scene here. "Okay, Cade." She bid her goodbyes to the people she'd been speaking to, and fell into step with Cade as he lead her back to their mother. "Are you okay? I know Charlie was a friend.." "He was, and no I'm probably not okay, but I will be in time." he was surprisingly honest with her. "Mom mentioned you were gonna stay with Jolene tonight." "You're not the only one who's not okay." she replied quietly. Cade simply put an arm around her, hugging his little sister gently. "We will get through this." "Cade what if it had been you?" She asked, her voice tiny, vulnerable. "People would be sad, but as now, People would move on, going forward. That's what I'd want at least." He looked down at her, and his gaze seemed to soften. "It'd be rough, but I know you would be fine Haruka. I have faith in you." Haruka just looked up at him. "Ok Mr. Afterschool Special.." She hugged him anyway "just for today, I'm gonna let it go." Cade chuckled, and eventually the two of them made it to Miyakko, who was getting ready to leave. "Okay, you have a good time tonight Haruka." then Cade looked to his mother. "Try to have a good shift tonight, Mom." Miyakko smiled at her kids, and nodded. "You too. Don't be reckless tonight." Cade nodded. "No, nothing too crazy."
  11. Thursday, 5th September. Project Proteus HQ, 17:43 Annette sat back in the comfortable office chair she’d picked to replace the almost throne-like monstrosity Dr Cook had sat in when the Director’s office had belonged to him, looking at the holographic display as it scrolled through the results Major Taggart had punched up for her on his tablet. Eyebrows twitched upward over brown eyes as she scanned the contents of the shimmering screen, beyond which sat Taggart himself and two of the Project’s scientists, each of whom was a study in opposites to the other. Professor Larry Palahniuk was a short, rotund red-faced man in an unfastened lab coat, sweater vest over a shirt, and khakis. He was the same scientist who’d accosted Marissa and Courtney on their visit to the Project - a somewhat obsessive, if brilliant, man with PhDs in Quantum Mechanics and Astrophysics and no interest at all in organisational politics so long as he got the funding he asked for. Next to him, all cool elegance mingled with a hint of disdain for all around her, sat Doctor Julia Carter. In addition to being the head neurologist of the Marias Medical Center above, she had moved into the slot of the Project’s principle neuroscientist and geneticist following Cook’s removal and incarceration. Annette wasn’t certain about Carter - Taggart’s security probing had revealed no connection between the good doctor and Professor Kline’s rogue operation. No hidden bank accounts, no suspicious deposits, no shady communications. And she was polite - in a chilly way - and competent - in a chilly way - and very skilled in organisational infighting to preserve her bailiwick from intrusion. But Annette didn’t trust Dr Carter, a feeling which she’d passed off as a gut dislike both of the woman’s proximity to Cook and her borderline sociopathic detachment. That she had been brought in on this meeting was more due to her expertise and standing in the Project than anything else. Annette forced her attention back to the data on the screen. “These are impressive results.” she commented mildly, picking up her mug of tea and taking a sip. “Impressive?!” Professor Palahniuk’s colour, already ruddy, deepened. “I would say unlikely, and only because ‘impossible’ is not a word I like to throw around, given our line of scientific endeavour.” He waved a hand at the holodisplay. “A perfect score! On every sub-section! The boy must have cheated somehow. Telepathy, perhaps. Some manner of ESP.” Off to one side, in her usual seat against the wall, legs curled under her and watching the proceedings with the customary mixture of amusement and aloof interest, Ellie shifted slightly, her eyes narrowing a fraction as they fixed on the professor. “We stipulated, and Mister Bannon agreed, that no ‘Shine’ was to be used in this assessment, professor.” Taggart responded, frowning. “We have no reason to suspect bad faith on his part.” “And his neural activity according to the EEG showed none of the same patterns we’ve noted when studying subjects Adams or Sykes, who were our telepath and our ESPer respectively.” Dr Carter pointed out, studying her own tablet. “Though his neural patterning is significantly different from anything I’ve seen. The sheer level of synaptic engagement… Well… His whole brain seems to light up, in layman’s terms.” “We spent two days putting together that assessment. I would struggle to complete it in the time Mister Bannon did.” Palahniuk argued, somewhat plaintively as he realised that the mood in the room did not sync with his own skepticism. “I doubt I’d even understand some of the concepts.” Annette said dryly as she glanced over some of the problems. “It was designed to be challenging to PhDs.” Dr Carter responded, still avidly scanning the data on her pad. “Covering a multitude of disciplines, to identify areas of intellectual and academic weakness. No-one of Mister Bannon’s limited years should be able to answer all of the problems in the test, least of all in such a short space of time.” “And yet he did.” Taggart pointed out. “And yet he did.” Carter agreed, giving the Major a thin smile before returning her attention to her own screen. “I also note a fascinating anomaly - no activity in the paralimbic system indicating nerves or tension of any kind.” She glanced up at Annette, then across at Ellie, who met the older female’s gaze directly, without any shifting in her expression. “Mister Bannon’s neurological oddities aside…” Annette spoke up, causing Dr Carter to look back at her. “Are we satisfied that he did, in fact, pass the test within the parameters set.” The Project Director didn’t want Carter - or anyone else not cleared for it - to start putting two and two together regarding the Bannon boy’s strangeness. Of course, the problem with working with very intelligent people is their tendency to think for themselves. It would only be a matter of time until that cat was also out of the bag. “I’m satisfied, yes.” Dr Carter nodded, tapping her tablet off and sitting back in her seat. Finding no support from his colleague, Professor Palahniuk ‘hmmphed’ before shrugging, nodding in reluctant assent. “What about security risks?” he asked Taggart. “The boy is not even seventeen years old yet, and there is the matter of his aberrant behaviour profile.” “Major Taggart and I have determined that, given the opportunities and rewards of a paid internship here, we can convince Mister Bannon to mothball his, uh, business ventures. From all our observations, he sells his home-grown and home-refined pharmaceuticals for money, not out of some adherence to the glamor of criminality.” Annette tapped her fingernails against her mug. Taggart nodded agreement. “Fine.” Palahniuk shrugged again, his expression petulant. “But I’ll be keeping an eye on him and I will not-” “Professor Palaniuk.” Annette cut across the other man calmly, her voice taking on a cold crispness. “Where does a six hundred pound gorilla sit?” “Ma’am?” The rotund man blinked in astonishment. “I’m not sure-” “It is a simple question. An old joke, even. Where does a six hundred pound gorilla sit?” “Why… where it pleases.” “Exactly. As a matter of security, and the safety of this installation and its personnel, you are not to provoke Mister Bannon - or indeed any of the gifted young people - with your somewhat abrasive manners. If you cannot address him civilly, do not address him. You are a leading light in your field, sir. An invaluable asset to the Project. But if you put this Project or its personnel in danger because you feel the need to assert yourself over a teenager, I will see to it you are unable to get tenure doing anything more than teaching high school physics for the rest of your career.” Her tone softened slightly at the terrified look on the man’s face. “Listen, Professor. These young people have enormous potential, for good or ill. We are the means by which they will realise that potential, one way or the other. A positive experience with us means the former. All I am asking is that you treat Mister Bannon as a talented intern to mentor.” “Well… I… Yes.” Palaniuk nodded at that, his expression one of a man adjusting to a new way of thinking. “I suppose it would be a good opportunity to observe him, as well. To learn more of how his gifts work.” “Just so, Professor.” Annette smiled at him, leaning back in her chair. “And after all,” Palahniuk went on. “He does seem to be incredibly intelligent. It would be a shame not to see that potential realised.” “I agree.” Dr Carter replied. “Good. We’re all in agreement, then. I’ll have to go over the details with Mister Bannon, then likely again with his father - he is a minor, after all.” Annette looked up as Taggart’s phone went off. The major muttered an apology, looking down at the text he’d received, then looked up at Annette. “I’ve got another meeting to attend.” The major explained as he stood, giving Annette a significant glance. “Go on.” Annette waved him off, then nodded to the two scientists. “And I think that’s a good place to close the meeting. Thank you both for coming.” As Carter and Palaniuk left quietly in the wake of Taggart’s exit, Ellie uncurled from her seat and padded across to sit where Taggart had been sitting, across from Annette. The lovely Project director studied the young alien woman, keenly aware that the sparkling grey eyes were studying her in turn. “He aced the test.” Ms Giles said, watching Ellie’s reaction. The girl shrugged one shoulder. “Are all Teulu so intelligent?” “I have not met all Teulu.” The girl replied with a hint of a smile and a faint tightening at the corners of her eyes. “I can say stupid ones do not live long. But…” she relented for a moment. “...there are differences amongst us just as there are with humans. I could not answer many of the fat professor’s test questions. Doubtless there are scholars and scientists among us who can.” “I thought all Teulu were warriors.” “We are. But we also have a culture that prizes excellence. That necessitates innovation, research, science. Fighting is as natural to us as breathing is to you, but you do not only breathe, do you? So it is with us. We have science and civilisation, Annette. We are not savages.” Ellie smiled faintly, rising from the chair and moving to the door. Characteristically, she said no farewells before slipping out, leaving Annette alone. The Director sighed, shaking her head and pulling up a draft document to cover Jason Bannon’s internship contract. ======= Aelwen found Jason in the conference room which the Fellowship had used in the previous week to plan their assault on Site C. He was stretched out on one of the couches along the far wall, hands behind his head and his eyes closed, the white cord of his earphones running up over his chest from the phone resting on his stomach. She slipped into the room and sat down, facing him over the width of the glossy black surface of the conference table, and studied him intently. He was skinny, was her first thought. A teulu male of his age should carry more muscle, should already have callouses and scars from weapon practice. A teulu, male or not, would never close their ears and eyes and relax in this way around anyone except their own pride. It would be easy to dismiss him as soft, too human… “Something on your mind, Ellie?” he asked, not opening his eyes. And there was the other shoe, a phrase she’d picked up from Annette Giles. Like Devin, like the other young humans of his pride, Jason was a Radiant. He could feel her presence somehow, could kill her with a thought, freezing her solid or breaking every bone in her body, if the conversations she’d overheard were accurate. Any apparent vulnerability was more than likely a clever stratagem, something she made a note of. And he’d dealt very appropriately with the two humans who’d tried to kill him, even if he had ended up sparing them on the request of his human- what was the term? Ah, yes. ‘Girl-friend’. It wasn’t unheard of for teulu males to indulge their mates’ requests, but then no teulu female would have asked for the sparing of those who’d tried to kill her male. Humans were strange, and confusing. “Who is Cora and what did you do to her?” she asked bluntly, still watching him intently. He opened his eyes, turning his head as his hands came up and removed the earphones. Tinny musical sounds came from the device before he tapped the phone, silencing it as, still reclining, he regarded her with those cold, shimmering green eyes. The eyes of the Draig. Aelwen met his gaze and the pair of them studied each other like cats for a long moment. “What is that to you?” he asked calmly. “Devin mentioned her to me. The implication was that he was displeased with things you did to Cora, to Liam, and to his sister.” Ellie gestured with one hand offhandedly. “It is a source of contention in your pride. I want to know more.” He gazed at her for a few moments more, then sat up and faced her, his shaggy hair falling around his face, framing the scar on his cheek. “Cora was Cade’s girlfriend, one of us. She had Shine, but didn’t seem to be interested in its ramifications or potential, or in assisting with our investigation of the strangeness that had overtaken our lives.” he explained calmly. “This came to a head when our investigations led to the Crossroads prison, at which her father is the warden. She point blank refused to consider that her father may well be involved with the then-mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the prisoners in his care.” “Explain?” “A warden of a prison occupies a position much like Annette or Taggart do here. It’s hard to conceive that someone of such power and responsibility and resources would be unaware of what was taking place, at least on some level.” Jason shrugged. “Cora’s rejection of that possibility also encompassed, by inference, a rejection of everything else I had researched. It was the final straw: I lost my patience and told her she was a foolish, useless waste of potential. Though in considerably more unkind wording.” “I see.” Ellie considered that. “And then what happened?” “She stormed out. And then went home and practiced her gift. Anger gave her determination. And the next day, she fought alongside us against a creature of the Dark.” Jason’s lips twitched in a faint smile. “Was that your design?” The blonde teulu girl asked, head tilting. “It was one of the two desired outcomes.” Jason stood, moving to pour himself a glass of water from the jug on the table. “Either she would seek to prove me wrong, or she would continue to prove me right and stay out of my way. No matter what, she would either be useful or at least cease being an impediment.” “I see.” Ellie nodded slowly, her brow furrowing slightly. “Do you think it was wise to treat a member of your pride so?” “I didn’t consider her a member of my pride.” Jason responded. “I’d met her a handful of times, and only then through Cade. I protected her from three idiots who tried to assault her, because she was Cade’s friend. But my tolerance for her was not sufficient to put up with her willful foolishness.” “And where is she now?” “New York. A school for performing arts.” Jason shrugged lightly. “A shame. She was just starting to show her spine. But she wanted to be a dancer, so…” Ellie considered this, reaching over and getting her own glass of water from the jug Jason had placed back on the table’s surface. “Devin believes you are a coward because you attacked this Liam with your Radiance rather than ‘being man enough to look him in the eyes and punch him in the jaw’.” Jason’s eyebrows raised faintly, his lips twitching in amusement. “And what do you think?” Ellie studied him over her water glass as she took a sip. “You would only be capable of cowardice if you were capable of fear.” she answered. Jason nodded slowly. “So it makes no sense to call you a coward.” “Making sense is not the Jauntsens' strongest suit.” Jason shrugged, a wry look in his eyes. “From everything I have observed, they see the world one way - their own. Anything that does not fit in their mold of the ‘way things should be’ is therefore automatically wrong. Any evidence that does not support their personal view of their own innate superiority is to be discarded.” Ellie frowned, her eyes tightening. “You dislike them.” she said, a note of accusation in her inflection. “I saw their true face on Tuesday. All their previous pretensions of friendship, of care, were a facade. They don’t like me, don’t trust me, and even fear me. Devin said as much to my face. You know what I ‘did to his sister’?” Jason took a sip of water, leaning forward in his seat. “I took her at her word. There was a time I was attracted to her, desired her, and told her so, even foolishly kissed her believing she harbored desire for me. She rebuffed me, which was fine. She said she was not interested in a relationship. Also fine. And the next day she starts dating Cade. That was also fine.” He spread his long-fingered hands. “Confusing, and inconsistent with her own words, but fine. So I assumed she had made her choice, and I moved on.” “I see.” Ellie nodded slowly, frowning a little. “I found myself attracted to Autumn, we ended up together. And it seemed Marissa took that as a personal affront, as if she has some claim on either of us. Which she does not.” Jason shook his head. “And then, on Tuesday, it comes up that she only dated Cade because she was afraid of me. That she feared I would hurt her and believed that Cade would protect her..” He snorted lightly. “None of it makes any sense whatsoever. She is apparently jealous I date Autumn, but is so afraid of me she seeks protection from someone. She supposedly didn’t want me dead, and yet allowed someone to try and kill me without warning me. I think it’s possible she’s insane - unbalanced enough to actually believe whichever version of the story she currently finds most convenient to present to others.” “This makes my head spin.” Ellie shook her head slowly, her steel-grey eyes grave. “Your pride is more fractured than I thought.” “My ‘pride’,” Jason said with slow, cold precision. “Is Autumn. Sean. And Cassandra. The others are, currently, allies - whom I will work with in good faith so long as that is reciprocated.” “Devin saved your life.” Ellie reminded him, cocking her head slightly to one side. “And that is why I still consider him to be an ally.” Jason responded. “And would do the same for him.” “I see.” Ellie finished her glass of water and stood. “I thought perhaps I could mend the rift between you. You would be stronger working together.” “I’ll work with him. I just don’t trust him. And he doesn’t trust me. So we’re even.” Jason looked up at her. “I can appreciate your goal in talking to me about this. You may want to avoid swimming in these waters, though.” “I can see that.” Aelwen’s lips pressed into a line. “I think there is more to Devin than you see, though.” “Perhaps. And in turn, there is more to me than he sees. Again, we are even.” Jason replied wryly, then considered, his eyes on hers. “Devin is brave, and a part of him strives for what he perceives as nobility. His worst enemy is himself, not me.” “You are ‘dating’ a human. Are friends with some. Your father is one.” Aelwen stated. “Are they all this difficult?” “No. They can all be to varying degrees, though teenagers are the most confusing. Because they are the most confused, I think.” Ellie shook her head, stepping towards the door. “Strange people. Oh, it seems the Project will be employing you after all.” She said as she reached the door and paused, glancing back at him. “Why do you want to work for them?” “Why would I not?” he countered, his gaze and expression giving nothing away. She smiled slightly, nodding, and slipped from the room as silently as she had entered. ====== “...so Marissa had every reason to believe that we would take action to prevent the attempt on your life.” Annette explained, peering at the lean figure sitting across from her over her tea. “Though it was not our intention to do so, we let her and you down.” Damn, but the young man was hard to read. Even Ellie, as inscrutable as she could be, was more expressive than Jason. A function of his intellect, perhaps. Or of a life spent hiding his true nature from a world that wouldn’t accept it. Not human, Annette thought, studying the impassive scarred features, the unwavering frozen green stare that seemed so ancient in a young face. She wondered if that expression would change a jot, give her any warning before he incinerated her, then forced herself to relax. He wasn’t a mad dog. He was a rational creature who had had plenty of provocation from others and not lashed out. Everything she had observed and studied of him indicated that Jason Bannon responded to sincerity and understanding in kind. Nevertheless, when he finally moved his hand and picked up the tea she had served him, taking a sip, Annette softly released a breath she’d unconsciously been holding. “So the Project is infiltrated.” he stated calmly, his eyes still on her face. She nodded. “My thinking is that whoever it is is covering their tracks too well for myself or Taggart to uncover - but not too well for Sean Cassidy and Cassandra Allen.” He nodded agreement. “How can I help?” he asked simply. Annette smiled. “Once you sign on the line, you will be working for the Project. You’re a person of interest for our enemies - for whatever reason, Enterich singled you out for killing and exposed the infiltration of our security to ensure it would succeed.” She frowned slightly. “It’s possible they will make another attempt on you.” “Which would serve your purpose also - forcing them to expose themselves further and expend resources.” The young man’s calm as he discussed the notion of being bait in a trap was eerie. He sipped his tea. “I will be on my guard - another attempt will be even less successful than the first. But I feel you should omit that aspect of the arrangement when you speak to my father.” Annette blinked, then frowned. “You think he would stop you taking part in the plan.” she stated, nodding, then stopped as Jason shook his head. “No. I think he would try to, and fail.” the Teulu youth explained simply. “He cannot stop me doing what I choose to do, but he will worry, and the stress will not be good for him. I’ve not told him the details of the attempt on my life for that very reason - which turned out to be prudent, given that before just now I didn’t know the whole story. It would have caused additional strife at the parents meeting if others wrongly believed Marissa was party to the murder attempt. As the evidence up to that point strongly suggested.” “Was that why you didn’t bring it up?” He was silent for a moment, his cold eyes distant. “I was not one hundred percent sure she was an enemy. If I had been, there would have been no discussion at all.” he said with dreadful finality. “As it is, I believe she is unbalanced, inconsistent, and dangerous to herself as well as others.” “You realise the twins say similar things about you?” Annette’s gaze was grave. Jase met her eyes and smiled, very slightly. “Unsurprising. I wonder who will be proven correct.” “You have to admit that your… nature does not lend itself to inspiring comfort or reassurance.” “Indeed? And yet some find me pleasant company, even comforting, being able to accept that I am different and so approach me in that manner. So, to borrow a phrase, perhaps the fact that some find it beyond their ability is a ‘them’ problem.” Jase retorted bluntly. Annette shook her head, smiling ruefully. “You genuinely don’t care what people think of you?” “I care what some people think of me.” He shrugged. “Others are irrelevant except in the sense they might interfere with my path.” Annette considered that, studying him as she tapped her fingers on her desk. “Can you work with the twins, despite differences?” she asked bluntly. “Not to be rude, but I get the impression greater forces are at work here than adolescent rivalries.” “I will work with them if they work with me.” he shrugged. “I will meet them precisely halfway in all things where such cooperation is necessary.” Annette sighed, rubbing lightly at her brow with her left hand as she eyed the spare form in the chair across from her. He meant it, she knew. He would cooperate, but not give way. No doubt about it, this was going to be interesting. “Alright. One final thing.” she said at last, straightening. “We ran a genetic test on you - on all of you, to be honest. We wanted to see if there was a common genetic marker component to all of the gifted, and in light of Ellie’s existence, well…” she spread her hands in an elegant shrug. “And?” Jason’s gaze did not even flicker as he studied her. “And I think you know what we found.” Annette came straight to the point. “Only myself, Taggart and two scientists we trusted to run the tests know. And to be honest, yours is far from the strangest DNA.” She saw his head tilt, his gaze taking on a curious glint. “Have you told anyone?” she asked him. “I’ve told people whom I trust.” he answered. “I only found out myself very recently. But I am curious why you are telling me.” “Consider it an extension of trust. I know about your heritage, and yet I still am willing to work with you. I am willing to believe you are proof that we can co-exist with Ellie’s people, should that prove necessary.” “Culturally, I am more human than teulu.” Jason shrugged. “My instincts and emotional similarities notwithstanding, I know very little of my mother’s people.” “But you are in a position to find out.” Annette pressed. “And you assume I will share all I find out?” he countered, regarding her calmly. “I might decide I have more in common with them.” “You might.” Annette nodded, her expression sober. “I am counting that you care about your friends, and your father, enough that should it be necessary, you would at least help keep things peaceful. I’m counting on the fact that you seem to remember kindness when it is extended to you.” “I remember everything.” he replied simply, something shifting behind the green ice of his stare, and for a moment Annette wondered at the depth behind the simplicity of that statement. She herself had learned to train her memory, to remember details with mnemonic tricks, but it was largely abstract facts - dates, faces, people’s names, pets and favorite wines, useful tools of diplomacy and connection-building. What would it be like to perfectly recall everything, including the emotional context, smells, sounds and sensations? To literally be able to step into a memory, good or bad, and re-live it? To have the sort of intellect that left multiple PhDs scratching their heads trying to comprehend? Lonely. She realised with a sudden flash of insight. Even for a boy - and he was a boy, hard as that was to remember sometimes - who didn’t experience sorrow or loneliness like she did, there had to be some sense of… isolation. Of looking around and realising None of these are like me. Even allowing for his Shine, even allowing for his other-than-human nature… Without either of those factors he would still find it hard to connect. And with that insight came more, a clarification that expanded and revised her impression of Jason Bannon. Naturally he connected first with Sean Cassidy, finding at least some common ground of intellect. Through Sean, he had connected, tenuously, with others in his age group, finding some sense of belonging. Given his nature, of course he would fight tooth and claw (literally) to protect or avenge his connections to the world, without any compunction, restraint or morality playing a part. Annette Giles studied the lean young man with a fresh perspective now. He was still dauntingly composed, still capable of the savagery he’d inflicted on Liam Day or Marshal Dale. But she understood better now where the source of that fierce protectiveness lay. A combination of his predatory teulu nature and the simple fact that he didn’t count on being able to connect to others, so treasured the connections he had made. By the standards of human society he was a potential danger - but then so were the Jauntsens. So was Sean Cassidy. So were all the ‘kids’, to quote Taggart. “I’d be interested in seeing the test results myself.” Jason commented, getting the conversation back on track and jolting Giles from her reverie. Annette nodded agreement. “I was planning to include you in that area of study. If for no other reason than so you could ensure we were not doing anything amiss with the data.” she replied. “Do you have any questions for me?” Jase cocked his head, smiling very faintly as he regarded her. “When do I start?”
  12. Part 2 With her expensive tastes, Holiday Village Mall wasn’t what Marissa considered ‘shopping’, which was why she’d reduced herself to mostly online shopping these days for the things she needed/wanted. At this point, she was an expert at eyeballing not only her own size but others as well and could have easily ordered Homecoming dresses for all the Fellowdivas with nothing more than a casual glance, a credit card, and a hope that they’d at least show up showered and wearing her gift to them. Still, it was all these people had so she’d learn to accept that they couldn’t miss something they’d never experienced, like looking presentable in public. “I decided on purple,” she answered Cade’s question calmly about color dress she’d decided on for Homecoming while filing through a series of men’s shirts on a rack. She took one off and gave it a quick once over, made a face as if the pattern had inspired her to vomit, and put it back. “It wasn’t my first choice, or even my third, but I got vetoed and had to settle on something more ‘age appropriate’,” she air quoted. “Your mom?” Cade smiled as he looked at her and riffled through shirts as well. Somehow they’d gotten on the subject of the school’s dress code, a touchy subject for the fashionista in conservative Montana. “School board,” she smiled back. “I still can’t get over how uptight you people are here. Did you know at thirteen my mom could send me off to school in heels back in Malibu and not a single faculty member would bat an eyelash because at least three to four other girls in my class were wearing the same. Here? They are on my ass every other day like I’m wearing club stilettos and all my business is hanging out for everyone to see. I think I’ve worn like, two low cut shirts to school so far this year, and my heels are completely reasonable, except the other week when I got sent home on lunch to change my boots.” “We’ve been back at school for less than a month, Marissa.” Cade pointed out. “And those were five-inch heels. You should have known they were going to blow a gasket.” “Those boots matched the outfit perfectly, so an exception should have been made, but that’s not the point,” she huffed, sliding a dress shirt off the rack and handing it to him. “Here, try this.” As she went back to sifting through apparel she pressed on with her original point if there was one. “It’s like you savages want to keep your women caked in mud and clueless about how great they can look so they don’t realize how much better than you they could do.” "Well I wouldn't mind a bit of mudwrestling with you, but you don't like getting dirty like that." he teased back as he took the shirt. "And you already know how amazing you look, and that you can have pretty much anyone you want." She’d had almost flushed at his boldness were her impeccable composure not there to steal away his thunder. There was something about today that seemed different about Cade and she couldn’t, for the life of her, quite put her finger on it. More open? Bolder? To her it felt like he was more interested in being her boyfriend now they’d been ousted by her brother than when he was supposed to be all in acting like her significant other. Still, she liked this other side of him and at his reply she curled her lips into a grin and leaned up to him. Her tongue met his lips before hers did, gently painting their target before she got there to lay waste to his willpower. The more she kept saying there were no labels, the more confused it made him because she sure kissed him like she was all in. “That’s a kind of dirty I think my mind could wrap around,” she cooed a moment after their kiss ended. He regained his breath as he followed behind her. "This is the middle of Montana, one of the most conservative states in the US. Of course, the adults here are uptight as hell. Most of the teenagers are too. I mean hell the football team engages in cow tipping or getting completely hammered at parties as a weekly past time. Parties the adults know happen, and probably know where they happen, they just let them do it anyway." When she turned to look at him he just grinned. "Of course I knew about them. Even though football wasn't my thing before this week, and I hardly ever went, it's a small town. It's kind of hard not to know about that sort of thing. A lot of the players on the football team play other sports, some run track, others baseball. I'm more amazed that everything else going on has taken so long to come to light if we're being honest." He chuckled. "This place isn't really ready for you, or your brother. I mean holy crap I looked up what his bike cost, just on a whim. Probably more than anything another student has in the lot, aside from your Mercedes. You're used to the bleeding edge of fashion and, well, seemingly everything else, and we're more on the back end of trends, and that's okay in my book." She giggled at his appraisal while they approached the dressing rooms. “Oh trust me, I know. I wish, I just wish, Autumn would let me give her a makeover and do the upkeep, you know? Ugh, she could be so damn hot, total diva even, but she likes her muck. Cassie too! Blondes, by default, have an easier time at everything in life but she’d rather grunge up and skateboard.” She turned to Cade and gave him a hardened glare and scoffed. “Can you believe it? Skateboarding? Ugh. Savages. I literally associate with savages!” He laughed and gently patted her on the shoulder. “And we appreciate all you endure.” “No you don’t,” she grinned at him, humored by him going along with a bit of humor. She pushed him toward the dressing room, rolling her eyes and smiling at him. “Now get in there. Come out looking like an eight plus, or don’t come out.” “Another kiss might help me keep focused on looking my best for you,” he grinned and leaned back out only to meet her palm pressing his face back into the dressing room. “Get in there,” she laughed, closing the door and walking away to go look at racks while he changed. In a way he was glad she was helping him; it would ensure he looked the part next to her at the dance. His grandfather had given him some advice, but his sense of style was older, and in the end his advice had been to dress comfortably. He'd given Cade some money to help, even though he hadn't asked. "Most would say the night is all about her, but I say it's about the both of you. Make sure you both have a good time. This will help, I'm sure." He remembered his grandfather saying, and Cade took it to heart. He shed the clothing he had on and changed into what Marissa had selected for him. They fit him perfectly, and he chuckled at the thought of it being no surprise she could simply eyeball his size. “Well,” he mused as he checked himself in the mirror. “She's had her hands over every inch of me enough...”. It looked good, and was easy enough to move in. He knew she had an eye for this, but he was impressed by how well she'd done. He raked his fingers through his hair and smiled. Out in the store Marissa walked the various racks, thumbing through a few random articles from shirts to pants. She wasn’t one for internal dialogue or talking to herself, unless really stressed, but for some reason her mind was tugging on the strings of her worry and concern for Cade. She shouldn’t have just kissed him, she knew that, but it felt good and almost natural that she was already doing it before she had a chance to stop herself. Cade wasn’t a permanent solution to any of her problems, in fact, he only added to them. She liked him, sure, but that didn’t help her situation with him any. Cade didn’t want like, he wanted, no, needed, someone to love and for that someone to love him. He was an old-fashioned guy with a big… heart, and deep-down Marissa knew she was only going to end up hurting him. Maybe not intentionally, but she would, because the day was going to come when she found new a toy and she wasn’t sure he would understand why she didn’t want him anymore. Internally she chastised herself for leading him on while she sifted through a selection of what could only be the worst Hawaiian patterned shirts she’d ever seen on the clearance summer rack. Looking up only long enough to see if the attendant working the counter was still staring at her. He’d been ogling her since they walked in, possibly wondering how Cade ended up on her arm, and since her abilities began to manifest, she discovered a lot more people doing it, just staring at her like they were just mesmerized by how attractive she was. If she said she didn’t like it, she’d have been lying. She savored the attention. Cade finished and emerged from the changing room wearing the clothing she'd picked out and smiled at her. She looked up at the guy behind the counter and shot him a sensuous wink accented with a devilish smirk while she broke off from her clothing rack inspection to approach her… friend with benefits(?). "I think you did a great job, but your opinion matters too, since you're gonna be dancing with me. So, what do you think?" There was a confidence in his voice that was more pronounced, it didn't sound like resignation, or that he was trying to impress. It was genuine, and very, very him. “My opinion?” Her tone was set back into that pitch of the person in control of everyone and everything. “That’s cute.” She whirled her finger about him as she appraised her work. “This? Is not a request, Cadums. I can’t have you showing up in Wranglers or a hat measured in gallons and embarrassing myself or the Fellowdivas.” She took a good look at him, taking it all in and smiled, pleased with herself. With a sigh she fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt and straightened the collar before finally patting him on his broad chest and looked up at him, smiling her approval. Cade chuckled at the hat comment. "I don't even have that sort of hat. I'm not a cowboy, or someone who'd ever pretend to be." He answered her even as he changed back to his regular clothing. “Uh huh,” she agreed in a playfully doubtful tone. “So you say. Why do you have to be so god-damned yummy?” She asked rhetorically, knowing he had no idea the thoughts she was wrestling with in her head. “Okay, looks great. Get in there and change so we can get that and move on to makeup for Autumn.” She spun him around and playfully pushed him back in the dressing room. “Ugh, you guys are so lucky I’m here for you.” ---===[*]===--- Bags in hand they walked the lanes of the mall, passing the scents of baking pretzels, Cinnabon, and cookies, all which Marissa made a solemn vow to revisit after the makeup mission was completed. She’d already battled herself once not to hold his hand and again not to wrap around his arm as they walked along. She felt comfortable with him, but this wasn’t real, and despite how good it felt to feel like what she had with him was meaningful, it was a lie. Just a ruse they’d concocted to get under Autumn and Jase’s skin… for all the good that did. “Hey,” she started, pursing her lips to force the conversation she felt needed to be had. “So, um, I’m on the Squad now, as you know, and the other girls are totally into you. Well, you and a few other guys on the team, but my point is… have you considered asking any of them out? After Homecoming, I mean, obvs. I’d totally talk you up, and guys usually get over break ups faster anyways, so you know… let me know who you like, or I can make a few recommendations and get you back in the saddle of the Shelly dating scene.” As they walked, she brought up cheerleading, and then pointedly reminded him about how after Homecoming, this would end. He sighed. "Not really no. I've not really thought about it. I grew up with most of the girls in town my age, I mean it's not like Shelly's a big town or anything. I'd gone to a couple dances, but I'd never kissed a girl before Cora. My life was all about the outdoors, sports, and hanging out with my friends. None of the girls ever really "clicked" with me. I figured by now, all of them were actually with someone already." it was odd, he didn't have as much confidence in this aspect in his life. Certainly, with Marissa at least, and the track and baseball teams, he knew where he stood, and had confidence, but not so much with the rest of the student body. He shrugged. "I'll just play it by ear. I don't want to seem like I'm just dating someone to rebound after you. Anyone I'd date would just try to live up to your impossible ideal and fail completely to see why I actually do like you." In part his comment was a bit of a tease, and the latter a truth he was honest about. His ’date’ chuckled, adding a slight roll to her eyes as her faux bae, once again, showed ‘sit around and wait for the world to deliver me X’ mentality. “If you want to play it by ear, okay. I’m not going to pressure you.” She stopped and tugged his arm, signaling for him to stop for a moment and talk with her. “Okay, that not entirely true. Can I ask you something?” “Shoot.” He said with a dismissive shrug. “You are an athlete. You should understand how confidence works more than anyone. Did you spring into this world with all the knowledge of baseball, hunting, football, and kung fu automatically downloaded into your mind? No. You had to learn. You had to take chances and fail, and by proxy have your confidence shattered a few times, and try again over and over until you got it right, which in turn built your confidence back up and taught you that ambition coupled with application will result in success.” She sighed and shook her head, expressing her words with gestures as she looked up at the giant teen. “So how can you not apply that to something as simple as dating? What’s the worse she’s going to tell you? ‘No’? Hell, I even have you covered on that front to reduce the ‘no factor’ down to nil.” She took his hand in hers and looked up at him with those perfect dark eyes of hers that always hid more than they showed. “Cadums, Coyote practically said it himself: I’m designed to be genetically perfect. You’re not going to find another girl that lives up the standard I’ve set. My voice is hypnotic, my kisses are sweeter, my touch electric… and, well, we both know what this kitty can do to you,” she smirked at him, and he tried not to share a bashful grin with her, but he looked away, slightly embarrassed. He knew she wasn’t wrong, even if she had a very grim way of looking at the topic. While they spoke, he couldn’t help but notice the way every guy around them couldn’t help but steal a glance in her direction, and even a few in his as if to ask how he ended up with her. Everywhere they went people couldn’t help but notice her. “My point is: you can’t sit around pining for me or anyone else. We will all end up with that one person in our lives who was ‘the standard’ or ‘the one that got away’. Whether it’s the best sex we ever had, or someone we clicked with on every level, or the infamous ‘soulmate’ who we might spend a summer with and never seen them again. No one you meet will ever live up to that experience, and that’s okay. It’s high school, you and those abs I adore so much, should be out there enjoying and practicing for Miss Right, not waiting for her to fall into your lap.” She couldn’t believe she was using the ‘level up’ strategy again so soon after Jase, but in Cade’s case she meant it. Him sitting around waiting on her to fall in love in him was just going to ruin him in the long run and while she would never admit it, she cared about him too much to not see him enjoy some semblance of happiness. “If anything, talk to Autumn, she’s grown rather proficient at fucking my cast offs. Just don’t waste your last couple years in high school. I have like three guys on my to-do list after Homecoming,” she looked off as if recalling a thought and sighed in dismay. “Well, two and a tentative third. My brother is being difficult about kidnapping Chris Hemsworth.”
  13. "Alright." Leila pressed her lips together in thought, staring at the drink in her hand for a moment as she organised her questions. "Let's start with the obvious: Charlie's death. The serial killer that you and your friends supposedly faced off against, who doesn't seem to have a name or a description that my contact in the State Police can find. Who killed Charlie and kidnapped Sophia and Tawny? Was it the same person?" Cassandra took a deep breath. This was going to happen. It was a big risk, not just to her and the Fellowship, but to Leila possibly. But...she had to know. She had to understand what would happen. What would the Project do? How far were they willing to go? Leila was not dangerous to them. Even if she believed Cass, no one would believe her. Hopefully being on good terms with Cassandra was more important to them from plugging a leak in a high school newsletter. If not, then she'd have to seriously consider her associations. "Okay. Yes. It was Cody...but the story's deeper and stranger than just that. Cody wasn't in his right mind when he did it. He was being manipulated by someone else." Here Cass glanced around, then leaned forward a little. "This whole thing gets seriously weird, and it has its roots in the history of the town. Trying to get the facts down in a way that seems even a little plausible has been driving me crazy." Leila stared off into space for a moment as she digested this, absently chewing on the corner of her bottom lip, a gesture Cassandra was familiar with as an indicator that her snarky editor was having Serious Thoughts. Despite their frenemy status, despite their clashing over bylines and presentation, Leila was as much a newshound for a good story as Cassie. It was probably the only thing that made her tolerable to work with. "Alright... Alright..." she mused aloud, then focused on Cassandra's face. "You said the word 'facts'. So I'm guessing you've got some. Sources? Research? Eye-witness accounts of this weirdness you're talking about? How weird does it get, exactly? We talking folk tales? Cults? Ancient aliens?" "I'll let you be the judge of that," Cassandra replies. "As for sources...eye witnesses, of which I am one. With some supporting documentation." She picks up her phone and wiggles it. "I went to the place that the victims were taken, got some shots of the 'psycho lair.' It was pretty fucking grim." "...and believe me, part of me wants to just leave it at that. Teenage psychopath, brought down, everything's fine now. It's a good story. And it's true, but it's not the whole truth. The rest of the truth is where it gets harder to show my work." "Cody was sort of...possessed. The place he took his victims had a door that led to another dimension." Cassie holds up a finger. "Yes, I have a picture. Inside, the ground was covered with skulls, and a giant tree was growing out of them. Near the tree was a throne, and that was where the thing controlling Cody was." "...and now it's gone. The throne, the monster...and Cody. They were destroyed. I know who did it, but I don't have their permission to reveal who they are...and yeah I know that kind of fucks me over." Cassandra sighed and rubbed her forehead. "The whole thing fucks me over." "Shit." Leila stared hard at Cassie now. "Shit, Cass." "Yeah." "Okay." The snarky brunette paced a few steps away, then back as she thought. "Let's assume I'm taking this at face value The fact that you care about these 'other people' enough to sit on a story like this is a pretty good indicator as to the 'who' was involved. Let's go back to what you said about the history of the town. 'Cause it sounds to me, putting the edges together, that Cody and this, uh, other dimension wasn't how it started. It was how it ended. Maybe we can... I dunno... tell the back-story? Work up to the unbelievable shit?" Leila sighed then. "Who am I kidding? This whole thing is going to sound like Crazy Earl's Bigfoot stories, isn't it?" Cassandra nods glumly. "Believe me, I've worked that angle. Stories about this kind of thing go back to the natives. And Shelly's had weird disappearances and a sky high record of violence for a town its size ever since they started keeping records. All of that plugs into this, but that data looks unrelated at first...and some Indian folklore isn't going to make any of this sound more like news." She sighs. "It's...a messy story. The start is simple, but by the time we get to the present day so many fingers are in so many pots that untangling what's going on is really hard. And explaining it in a way that makes sense is even harder. And even that's assuming that people are willing to believe the many things that aren't believable along the way." After a brief, pensive pause, Cassie adds, "I've written it all out...mapped each thing that happened, and it reads like the outline of a science fiction novel." "Huh." Leila chewed her lower lip again, scowling at the sculpture hanging on the wall nearby. "This sucks." she said at length. "I know." Cassie replied. "Really sucks, Cass." "I know." "So you're saying this isn't publishable as news?" Leila asked rhetorically. "Maaaaybe." Cassandra shrugged. "Perhaps there's a way to get the story out, but it's not school newspaper stuff." "Alright. Let's do this a step at a time. Pick a day when we're both free, and we can meet up and you can walk me through it. Even if it's not going in the paper, I want to see the bottom of this rabbit hole." Leila gave Cassie a searching look. "Deal?" Cassie eyed Leila, wondering if there was another shoe about to drop. Then again, Leila wasn't risking anything by doing this, was she? If it all turned out to be Cassie going crazy, all Leila was out was a little time. And if it was more than that, well then...she was in on something that would turn out to be huge. Something she had no other way to get in on than this. But Cassandra needed help as well. And the Fellowship...she trusted them, but none of them were normal. None of them could help her make this story work for normal people. They were too close to it all, too set apart. With a certain sinking feeling, Cass realized that was true of herself as well. That was the real reason she needed Leila. This was all going to spill out, sooner or later. The Project's efforts to contain it would just mean that they wouldn't be able to control it when it did. How this story was framed, how it was told, could make all the difference in what happened to the Fellowship and other people like them. She nodded. "Okay. I'm thinking...maybe Sunday, but I'll make sure there's nothing else going on first and text you." "Deal." Leila nodded, looking pleased with herself. Cassie couldn't help but wonder if she'd still be so happy once she knew everything. Well, the clairsentient amended to herself, everything that Cassie herself did. Then that started a line of thought - how much to withhold? What was going to be 'safe' information, what wasn't? Was it even safe to hold stuff back, knowing that if it came to light, she'd have immediately alienated her ally in spinning the tale? Urrrgh. Oblivious to the internal dilemma, Leila gave Cassandra a nod to affirm they had an accord. "I'll hang out and wait for your text, then. If it comes." she added, narrowing her eyes. "I said it would." Cassie retorted, noting how easily the two of them fell back into the editor/reporter dynamic and somewhat grateful for it. Chill, easy to work with Leila would be creepy. "Alright then." Leila nodded once more then looked around. "I'm gonna go before my mom comes looking for me. This whole kidnapping thing has gotten the local parents jumpy." She snorted. "Like I'm in danger of anything more than dying of bad taste in this place. Later, Allen." That was true, Cassie thought, though not for the reasons Leila probably thought it was. And once she knew the story, would it still be true? That was food for thought as well. "Later," she said.
  14. Marissa shrugged. "It's no big deal. They made their choice, but thank you anyways. It's nice to know someone can say it, and besides, lessons learned, right? As we work together we'll find ways that work and ways that don't. It's how teams get their vibe." "About Taggart," Devin interjected. "Yes," Annette nodded with a polite smile that bordered on sadistic. "He's still incredibly pissed about his car being sent to Winnipeg." "Wyoming!" He corrected. "See, this why he's so mad, because you guys are blowing it way out of proportion." "Devin could talk to Cassie about this, just so we don't blindside her later with it." Marissa added. "I can speak with Sean. At the very least, to let them know their talents might be needed in the foreseeable future." "Why do I have to talk to Cassie?" Devin asked his sister. "Because, lame-ass," She smirked and leaned in to tease her brother. "She wants to snog you." "You think?" Devin managed his first, honest grin in several hours. "Oh yeah," Marissa chuckled. "It's in her body language, her eyes, every time you're near her she just lights right up. I'll bet her cherry cola chap stick is just dying to meet you, so... you're the logical choice for the mission. Meanwhile, Sean is small and awkward and easily put off by my intimidating poise." She checked her makeup and hair in a nearby reflection on glass. "Plus, I love seeing nerds squirm." Devin didn't seem to need much more convincing, he was already on his way to look for Cassie by the time Marissa had looked away from her reflection. Annette grinned and stepped to meet Marissa, looking at her through the reflection in the glass pane. "Cassie's not a snogger, is she?" "Got me." Marissa shrugged, smiling evilly. "I have no idea what flavor chap stick she uses either, probably regular because she's boring and has only ever kissed skater burn-outs. My idiot brother, however, doesn't need to know that. He's guided by his most immediate want, and right now that is getting over Tawny, and the best way for him to do that, is to get into someone else." "It's art the way you turn caring into a malicious act, Marissa." Annette chuckled and shook her head. "It's nice to see you looking out for him at least." "Always," she said with a sigh as she watched him walk away. They were still fighting and had spent the last few days doing nothing but yelling and screaming at each other back home. Still, through all the confusion of the last few days she knew on things was true in all the lies of Shelly. "He's my brother." "I can tell something is off," she added. "Most times I'd at least half consider his cheesy attempts as coming onto me." "Seriously," Marissa looked at her doubtfully. "I said half-consider." She grinned at Marissa's almost accusatory look of Annette possibly going after her brother. "He's quite charming, your brother, but his routine attempt at winning my affects a moment ago seemed... I don't know, lazy? Half-hearted? Like he wasn't even trying." "Oh, you didn't hear? Oh, wow, okay," Marissa lit up as her 'share the gossip' flip was switched in he brain. "So, get this... apparently my brother is in love with Tawny and when he spilled his heart to her, after saving her from a hell dimension... so..." Marissa took Anette by the arm and proceeded to lure her away with promises of gossip for days.
  15. "No need to apologise." Annette smiled, though her eyes were fixed on her glass in a slight frown of thought for a moment before they raised to regard the twins. "I'm not exactly a spymaster myself. My work with Aeon has mostly been in the area of investigation of phenomena, diplomacy and the like. What I'm really concerned about is that, due to our involvement with the Project over such a long time, it's possible Branch Nine and the Society might have taken in new members who are working for whoever is paying Klein's bills. How far does the rot go?" Her lips drew into a tight line as she considered that. "Maybe start with the Project." Devin suggested. "Worry about the other stuff once we've made the center secure?" "Build on that." Marissa agreed. "Whatever change we find in the couch cushions while we clean up your place we can then use." "Yes." Annette conceded. "That would be the sensible path. As for figuring out who's dirty, I think this should be a group endeavor. Telepathy might not be the answer, but we can start with getting Mister Cassidy to go through our logs and security feeds. If anyone can follow the data trail, it would be him. Miss Allen's gift might also be useful. Meanwhile, I will get Major Taggart to put together a training and protection detail that are not part of the Project, Aeon or Branch Nine. I'm sure he knows some people." She tapped her fingers on the table in thought. "I'll be having a talk with Mister Bannon later, too. I'll let him know the situation, and how it was my fault those marshals were able to get close to him." She gave Marissa an apologetic smile. "I can't say that it will fix all your interpersonal issues with him, but the blame for that particular snafu shouldn't rest on your shoulders - you trusted me and I wasn't able to deliver. I'm sorry."
  16. "I'm in," Devin didn't need convincing one way or the other. He was the picture of bored and whether he was saving the world alone or squashing spy drama with the Fellowship, at least he was doing something. Anything to keep his mind off not being friends with Tawny anymore. "But it totally better involve us and dinner." He never stopped making passes at her, and Annette smiled and rolled her eyes in the usual 'here we go' fashion. "Me taking us anywhere in the world you want to go, you in the shortest dress you can find. I know I could use a weekend getaway." Marissa scoffed at her brother, accenting it with a snort. "She's way out of your league, dumb ass, when are you going to wake up? Also, twice your age. She would destroy you." "Maybe," he shrugged casually, keeping his suave composure. "Perhaps that's what I need? An intelligent, mature woman to make a man out of me." All Annette could do was shake her head and softly chuckle to herself. "Could we not talk about me as if I wasn't present?" She asked with just enough mirth in her voice to let them know that she wasn't offended, she just wanted to get back to the problem they were facing. "While I ever so enjoy being the object of your teenage lust, Devin, there are no dress purchases, short or otherwise, nor any dinner plans, until this problem is resolved." "Rain check, got it." He looked at his sister and offered her a victorious smile. "It wasn't a 'no'." He said to her. "Well, we can't go probing the minds of everyone at The Project," Marissa offered, adding her own shrug to the mixture while simultaneously rolling her eyes at her brother. "I'm sure the Fellowship would find some moral objection to it." "Like the fact that it's immoral, perhaps?" Annette pitched her logic with a hint of sarcasm. "So people get a quick mind peek, what's the big deal? We've all given up freedoms and dreams to do this. We've given up the rest of our normal high school years and beyond to battle demons and cults. Lilly sacrificed her dreams of competing in the Olympics, Jason's being targeted by hit squads every other day-" "-yeah, but he's a dick, so I kind of see that one as more of inevitably than as a result of us being godlings." Marissa interjected. "Fair." Devin tilted his head towards his shoulder as he shrugged. "Plus, if they're brainwashed into believing they're doing the right thing, it might not register them as a guilty party. I don't know. I'm not sure how telepathy works." "Perhaps," Marissa raised a finger in thought. "What if we set up a mock operation to goad them into rescinding orders again? Or have Cassie do her 'into the past' thing? We have options, I'm afraid we've just never planned a sting before," she scrunched up her face apologetically. "Sorry. We'll help any way we can though, just name it."
  17. Annette nodded slowly. "We're in a position to help each other." she agreed, eyes studying each twin in turn. "More than you realise, in fact. The Project has been compromised." She unfolded her hands and picked up her drink, fixing Marissa with a meaningful look. "After your last meeting with Enterich, I had Taggart give orders for a covert protection detail to be put on you, your family and the Bannons." "Covert detail? Bodyguards?" Marissa asked, a frown creasing her perfect brow. Annette nodded. "Not that Devin is easy to tail anywhere, but yes - Branch 9 special operations personnel were supposed to be watching out for you and Jason, particularly at or near your homes." "Yeah. How'd that work out?" Devin snarked, remembering Jase's blood all over his hands as he flexed his fingers in his pockets. Marissa, however, had started to realise where Annette was going with this. "The order was rescinded." Annette said, calmly enough, though her dark eyes narrowed. "According to the log, by Taggart himself." "But Taggart didn't do it, did he?" Marissa asked rhetorically, then sighed, rolling her eyes as Annette shook her head. "Shit." she huffed. "More or less my words." Annette agreed. "I don't believe for a second Taggart would have done it - and more to the point, that day he couldn't have done it. The log showed that the rescindment order was given from inside the Project compound on a day Taggart was up at Bulwark." She looked down at her glass, shaking her head. "I don't know if it was that presence Mister Cassidy struggled with whilst you were rescuing Etienne the other week, or if there's actually a physical agent - or agents - that have infiltrated the compound and somehow know Taggart's codes. But the operation was carefully coordinated. The detail was called off literally two hours before the attempt on Mr Bannon's life." "So the situation is, I've inherited Directorship over a project which might well be infiltrated by Klein's people - some of whom might not even know they are if the brainwashing data you recovered from the Site C mainframe can be relied on. I trust Taggart, one or two others, and you lot." She sighed, spreading her hands. "If I do nothing, it's only a matter of time before the Project is completely back under Klein's control. So yes, I'll help you in any way I can. But I'll need the gifts of several of you to help me clean house if I'm going to help you the way you need."
  18. "More than we have time for at this party," Marissa's reply was factual but laced just the right measure topical sarcasm that is served as a decent enough icebreaker. Annette quickly took inventory of their body language. Marissa was almost impossible to read, but thankfully she spoke first and her tone told Annette more than words she could have used. Marissa was frustrated, bored, angry and, as always, spiteful. "The Fellowship has completely lost all trust in me thanks to my trusting the Project to protect Jason, so, thanks for that. Our parents fight constantly, and we're probably off to a boarding school, oh, and Autumn thinks I can teach her to walk in heels in one evening despite her having all the poise and grace of a epileptic gorilla being tased." "Coincidentally, also the name of her sex tape," Devin tossed in. "So, there's that." Marissa smirked at her brother. "The short version." Devin was edgy, more twitchy than the energetic teleporter usually was. He seemed confused, distracted and lost in uncomfortable in his own skin. His mind was everywhere but in the moment, which would not have seemed to out of the ordinary for him, except she could tell that this time, he seemed to have a specific topic on his mind, Annette just didn't know it was Tawny that he was an emotional wreck over. "We're not listening to our parents," Devin's tone was blunt and devoid of any manner of greeting. "So, we're going to need training and resources to take on whatever is out there and aligned with the Dark. You and Taggart can provide that." "While I appreciate your commitment, both of you, that puts the Project in a very dangerous position," she was attempting diplomacy first. "And we understand that," Marissa cut in. "But with or without you we will be fighting this fight. You built a secret military base under a hospital, you've spied on the community, you've made people 'disappear', covered up crimes and God only knows what else. I'm not judging, we understand why, but we find it hard to believe that after all that you're afraid of one loud Karen with opiate addiction and amazing hair. We're not trying to corner you into a commitment, Ms. Giles, only making you aware that we've given this a lot of thought." "The world needs us, Annette," Devin calmly said, sliding his hands into his pockets. "Not the other way around. We're bigger than our parents, the petty squabble of us being minors, and certainly whether or not we are ready to accept this. It's already been dropped in our lap. We already lost Charlie because we weren't prepared, it's not happening again. If we step quietly away, no one will notice nor care, but at what cost in innocent lives? Doing the exact opposite of what parents tell us is pretty the mission, nay, the duty, of every teenager on the planet. We consider ourselves patriots on that front."
  19. Marissa and Devin Annette wasn't too hard to find - at least for the Twins. The elegant Director of the Project was present under the auspices of the Marias Medical Center's board of directors, just another well-wisher from the great and good of Shelly turned out to give their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of those present knew her real role and purpose, though did not acknowledge it openly. The various parents of the Fellowship members who were introduced to her in passing were careful to keep recognition off their faces and any conversation banal and light. When she saw the Twins approaching, to her credit Annette didn't miss a beat or flicker an eyelid, smiling to those she'd been talking with as she extracted herself from the small knot of people with consummate poise and moved away, ostensibly to refresh her drink or powder her nose or whatever diplomacy she'd substituted for "Excuse me, a couple of superhuman teenagers seem to want an important conversation about something with me." Briefly making eye contact with each twin, she wandered through a couple of larger reception rooms and out of the French windows onto a patio at the side of the opulent mansion - one which, due to it's distance from the buffet and drinks, was deserted, at least currently. As the Twins approached, she sat down in an ornate wrought-iron chair at a marble-topped patio table, her drink in hand and a curious expression in her dark eyes. "You both have a serious look." she said quietly after a beat, setting her drink down and folding her hands over one another. "Given your mother's dislike for the Project currently, I figured out here was probably a better place to talk. What's on your minds?"
  20. Sean, Kat, Garret "I got you, Garret," Sean said. He rolled his large turquoise and jade eyes as his sister made her exit, but his gaze hadn't actually left Marissa ('s backside) until she turned out of sight around a doorway. She might have been Marissa, and all that entailed, but she was still implausibly gorgeous. He gave his head a little shake then turned to Garret, offering him a friendly grin. "I'd like that." And he did. Thrust into such luxury, dressed in his ill-fitting clothes, Sean had felt supremely discomfited and out of place, which had been exacerbating his glumness. It was only politeness, not wanting to cause a scene, which was preventing him from just leaving. I should see about getting some fitted dress clothes when we go get my Homecoming outfit. If I can afford it. The pins and needles in his leg at least had dulled down to a faint tingling. Talking about D&D and gaming was an excellent distraction, especially as his own campaign had neglected due to circumstances and the upwelling of weird and danger. It had been one of the reasons he had offered to sub in for Sophia in her game while she recovered. The need to get back to his own welled up, if for nothing else, to give Charlie a proper send off via his player-character, he - they - hadn't been able to give him before Cody had found him. Sean's eyes flicked back to where he'd last seen Marissa, a pensive frown crossing his face. Did Marissa introduce Garret to me for that reason? "So, introducing new supplements and rules, how to do that depends a great deal on your campaign - if you are adding them in after start - the story you want tell, and what your players are expecting, dude. Hope you had a session zero?" Garret nodded animatedly. "Of course!" "Good man. If you're going to make some big additions, it's a good idea to dedicate a portion of a session going over them, and given them a chance to make changes to their characters. They don't always have to have an in game reason for them. Comic-book rules, just make the change and don't acknowledge it. Though of course, you can also use them as plot hooks." "Okay, yeah, I got that, but what about..." A freshman, Garret was still one of the few boys in school who were Sean's height or shorter, and he probably weighed less. Sean had noticed his apparent ease talking with Marissa in Study Hall, and if anything, Garret seemed even more comfortable talking with him, his eyes hardly ever straying. Few guys who knew about him and weren't his friends did so were as easy with him, even if they didn't realize it. It could have been the topic, or just being on the bottom of the social hierarchy and not having anywhere lower to go. Sean wished he'd learned that lesson as a freshman. "... use any house rules? I go with Improved Standard Array, max HP, max base damage crits, then roll the extra dice. And I usually give out an extra feat and a skill or two, so players have the opportunity to pick things that are interesting or fun, rather than just trying to optimize. I've have a bunch of other modifications are made. 5e is great system to introduce your players to TTRPGs, but it doesn't have that many supplements yet and sometimes it's too streamlined. I've stolen stuff from previous editions, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, from all over. I've practically got the entire Trove downloaded." "My friends prefer to roll stats," Garret admitted. Sean opened his mouth and Garret smiled wryly. "Yeah, I know they - or Danny, at least - cheats. I take it into account. I like the max HP and max crits though. It sucks all around getting a crit and doing less damage than a normal hit. Could I get a link to the Trove?" Sean pulled out his phone. "I'll do you one better and give you a link to my gaming books folder on my server. Way faster to look up online and to download." "Cool. Thanks, Sean." "No probs. Rules and supplements aside, there's always the rule of cool to consider. And the rule of consequences. Don't be afraid of failure, on your side, or your players. Use it a springboard for..." He had made failure not being an end condition as a core component of his video game. And autosaving, so no save scumming. You had to live with your mistakes, or start over. Sean might have looked like a girl - a particularly well-endowed one, he couldn't help but notice - he might have sounded liked a girl, but he talked like a guy. Very different, to be sure, but not nearly as intimidating as Marissa. It was pretty much like talking with Ronnie and Danny. Well, Sean was a lot less aggravating then Danny, truthfully. "Hey, look, Garret. I'm taking over Sophia's game for a week or two, to give her time to recover. Running it tonight, actually. You can come, if you like, see how I run things, and maybe run a couple of monsters or NPCs for me, as a sort of deputy DM. How's that? I can pick you up after supper, if you don't have a ride." "Really? Sure, that'd be great! I've heard, I mean, your games must be at least as good as Mercer's on Critical Role-" "Dude!" Sean's nose scrunched up in protest, but he stifled a snort of laughter. "Not every DM has to be like Mercer. And I'm sure you know, not all players are voice and screen actors. Besides, I already learned my lesson streaming on Twitch. No thanks." His grin widened playfully. "That said, I do do voices." A tension in Sean's shoulders he hadn't noticed had eased with the gaming talk, the back and forth on the pros and cons of various game mechanics and campaign design. But when he saw Kat, he felt himself standing straighter, his smile growing even wider, warmer. The echoes of his emotions washed over the slight redhead. Melancholy, now subdued, engagement with the conversation he was having with the boy little bigger than her, his pleasure at seeing her, desire, tentative, but growing bolder, a hint of mischievousness. "Hey, Kat!" Sean said enthusiastically. "We were just talking about gaming. D&D? Did you play, back in France?" Sean was honestly curious. Kat seemed interested in video games, it seemed like there was a good chance she was interested in role-players games too. But what he was really thinking about what was he should show her the sketches Devin had drawn of him in potential Homecoming Gear - Epic, maybe even Legendary - or if he should hold off and surprise her with it.
  21. "I think we all would," Marissa said calmly to Tawny. She whole heartedly agreed with the lovely blonde, and while she and Tawny had no pending issues personally, Marissa couldn't help but hold a slight grudge for her after the way she treated her brother after he risked his life to save her. She knew her brother was infuriating sometimes, but there were ways to handle the differences between Devin and her and Tawny, she felt, over reacted in the extreme. Of course, her brother did too, still was as a matter of fact, but no matter how close she and Tawny were, Devin was Marissa's brother and she'd always choose him over her. "But I don't think you have to worry about that 'other place'." She gestured towards Jacob while keeping her amiable expression on Tawny. "I'm sure Jacob here will be more than willing to throw himself in the way of any monster his frail human frame can't hope to harm, and die heroically even, if it would keep you safe. Isn't that right Mat-, uh, Jacob?" She looked to Jacob, letting her hypnotic stare burrow back down into his heart and... other places. "Just remember to thank him for his sacrifice," her wicked grin pursed into razorblade-like thinness, which Tawny recognized from a hundred paces after years in the Jauntsen household with the Twins. "It'd be more than my brother got." She let the knife plunge as deep as it would go into her blonde counterpart's heart. Tawny was already an emotional wreck and Marissa knew she still harbored mega-feels for Devin, and until the bastion of innocence and her ass-hat brother fixed themselves, they were fair game on being called out for the idiots they were. After years of knowing Tawny, the Queen of Mean knew exactly where to plunge the dagger of guilt and leave her with her burdens. Given enough abuse, Tawny's pure soul would have her believing everything was her fault in no time at all, possibly even blaming herself for the reason all kitten eventually become cats and then later, die. "Well, I doubt you two have had any time to spend together that didn't involve a hospital bed, so I'll leave you two to catch up. Also you two look adorable together, I'm really happy for you both." She looked to Tawny, tapping her shoulder playfully. "I'm so glad you've broke out of your shell and boyfriended-up. I'm so proud," she teased before looking back to Jacob. "Offer stands, to both of you. If you want to talk, I'm here. Things are messed up, I've not slept in days without nightmares, so, a phone call or texts to vent might do us all some good, I don't know... anyways, I'll leave you two to be... newly in lust with one another." She tipped back, swallowing the last of her champagne and setting the flute down in a gesture that caused her to have to lean around Jacob, letting him be intoxicated by the scent of her perfume, hair and wafting evil. Turning to walk away she winked at Tawny, smiling and mouthing something silently to indicate she approved of the blonde's tasted in men, it was the closest Marissa came to offering high-fives and generally only when it came to hot guys. She left them alone to wonder and also to be alone. If Jacob was who Tawny chose, then Devin would have to live with that, but as an outside observer to their drama Marissa didn't see any reason she couldn't have a little fun while they made their decisions. Away from most of the others she slid her phone out from the small clutch she carried and tapped a text out to her brother. "Annette." was all it said. Devin slid his phone from his jacket pocket when it chimed and looked at the message. Silently he stood and with purpose to his stride left the poolside to meet up with his sister.
  22. Jacob glanced down at the hand Marissa had laid on his chest, feeling his pulse quicken at the contact. She really was astonishingly beautiful up-close, with her long lashes framing dark eyes that drew a guy into their depths as she looked up at him. He found his gaze following the curve of her lips as she spoke, found himself wondering what it would feel like to run his fingers through her long, glossy dark hair- Wait, that's not right... Tawny. I'm with Tawny. Marissa was right in her estimation of Jacob, at least as far as it went. He was a 'good' person - cut from a similar cloth to Cade, in fact: well-balanced and decent, with a code of behaviour instilled by the examples of his father and Autumn's grandfather, a not-quite-frontier mentality that the measure of a man, or woman's, character was more important than anything else: social status, wealth or power, even the law of the land. Laws, after all, changed and shifted with the whims of politicians and societies. But right and wrong never changed. Or something like that, anyway - Jacob didn't really think about the philosophy so much as live it. But now there was a discordance set up between how he was reacting to Marissa's touch and nearness, and what she was saying, and what he was feeling. An off-key harmonic, a feeling that something was not quite right here. He didn't trust her, at all. He'd seen far too much of her reign of terror to so easily dismiss it from just a few smooth words... and yet... Her touch was bliss, her voice the murmur of an inviting sensual angel, so much so that it took Jacob a few moments to parse what it was she was saying so persuasively. He blinked, shaking his head almost unconsciously This isn't right... I'm not this 'Matt' guy... I'm not pining after Autumn... We both moved on. And she had good reasons not to tell anyone before... Is Marissa coming on to me? Why? She's dating Cade, isn't she? And I'm dating - "Tawny!" he blurted out as the blonde slice of wholesome farmgirl approached them then, her cornflower blue eyes reddened from crying but still lovely, her gaze noting the hand on Jacob's chest and looking curiously at Marissa as she moved to stand next to him. There was a rush of mingled emotions from the tall young man - relief, guilt, concern for Tawny - as Marissa retracted her hand and he stepped back a half pace. "We were just talking about, you know, all the stuff that's been going on." he told the blonde girl, resting a hand on the small of her back in a half-embrace. "Are you okay?" "I'm fine." Tawny nodded, giving him a brave smile before smiling at Marissa in turn. "And yeah, I bet there's plenty to cover. I felt like freaking out when I first got sat down by these guys and given the scoop. I thought-" and she lowered her voice, leaning in closer to them both. "I thought the powers were the weirdest, scariest part of all this. But monsters? That... other place?" she shivered, leaning closer to Jacob. "I hate it." she admitted quietly then. "I hate all of this. I wish I could go back to the start of the summer and do it over." She smiled slightly, slipping her arm around Jacob's and squeezing a little. "Not completely, perhaps. But a lot of it."
  23. Ugh, he was insufferable. She was pretty sure Autumn could slaughter his whole family, be standing there with the bloodied murder weapon and he'd forgive her under the guise of it all being some misunderstanding. His loyalty was admirable, sure, but Marissa didn't do loyalty. Frankly, she didn't do betrayal either. In order for there to be betrayal there had to be trust and the Fellowship was quite clear that there was positively no trust between them. If Jason could play games with Marissa's emotions and help himself to her friends, there was no reason Marissa couldn't help herself to Autumn's. "Music to my ears," she smiled, daintily accepting his hand. "So, look, Jacob I don't want to come on too strong, but," she sighed while smiling sympathetically. Jacob hated himself for being attracted to her. His eyes traced her bare shoulders and the way the black fabric of her dress mingled perfectly with her smooth alabaster skin. He hung on her every word, clung to every syllable. Her voice enchanted him like every melody was for him and him alone. To Marissa's credit, it wasn't all her fault. He would have desired her anyway, even passively she wrapped men around her finger with her impossible beauty, but driven by her spiteful passions and having little mastery of her abilities, everything about her that was more than human, more than desirable, rose to the surface and back handed poor Jacob. She gently let go of his hand, and casually sipped her champagne. "To be brutally honest, Jacob, you're in the middle of a scenario where all of your friends have super human abilities and are off saving the world and fighting demons... and... frankly you're the only normal human among us. I've totally seen this on Vampire Diaries. Jacob, you're Matt. He spent eight seasons pining after Elena, his childhood friend, while all she did was play vampire games and trade brother to sleep with." She rest her palm on his chest with more familiarity in her gentle touch than she should have had in such a short amount of time with her new friend. "What I'm trying to say is, that all of this will be overwhelming and waiting days and weeks for your 'friends' to get their acts together before they feel you're ready to learn things will most likely get you killed at some point." Her eyes traced him up and down. "And I'd really hate for that to happen. Soooo, if there's something you want to know or want to talk about things that are probably way over both our heads I'm not going to turn you away. You deserve the truth, and let's face it, I have a lot karma to burn off."
  24. Jason He'd found a spot in the garden, a bench under an arbor facing the large patio and the French windows, where he could sit in the weak September sunlight and watch the gathering and, more importantly, be alone. The others were all with family, or circulating with acquaintances, processing and expressing their grief, their connection to one another through their shared humanity. He... he had no humanity to share. Not that he had no feeling about what had happened to Charlie. As at the graveside, there was a sense he could have done better, that he had been lax in not checking up on the absentees. Sean had also not turned up to the group training session that weekend - what if Cody had gone after him while he was alone and vulnerable? At least Jason had checked in on Sean that evening, after dropping Autumn off at home. He'd not done that for Charlie. Not that it would have mattered to Charlie - he had died a day before. But still, perhaps the discovery would have spared Hannah Fuhrman the horror that had awaited her. Perhaps a rescue mounted sooner would have spared Sophia more torment. Perhaps Jacob would not have been attacked or Tawny taken, if he or someone else had checked on Charlie after the shapeshifter had failed to answer his phone. Perhaps, perhaps... perhaps. There was no real guilt, merely a sense of a lesson learned. As with the attempt on his own life, the experiences he survived were enhancing the likelihood that he would survive future such encounters. Next time someone did not answer texts, he would track them down. Next time he was stopped on the side of the road, even if it was by someone appearing legitimate, he would be on his guard, a forcefield a mere whisper of a thought away. Never again would he take his surroundings for granted, or assume a friendly face meant friendly intent. He felt Courtney before he saw her, his awareness of people's Shine picking her out as she emerged from the dining room onto the patio. Most of those present glimmered to his awareness, pinpricks of silver against the velvet of night, but amongst them were brighter lights, and amongst them were the stars that denoted those with true Radiance. Her tinted hair, colour-enhanced to appear deeper red rather than the strawberry blonde that was her natural shade, was drawn back in a simple-looking twist on the back of her head that, from what Jason understood, was neither simple nor easy to do. She appeared, at first glance, to be immaculate - crimson lipstick unsmeared, eyeshadow blended just so. But as her honey-brown eyes rested on him and she hesitated a moment, then made her way across the lawn towards where he sat, Jase picked out minor details that betrayed the cracks in the facade. Her eyes were reddened, her nose a little red under the makeup, her manicured fingernails pressed into her palms. "Not hanging out with Autumn?" she said by way of greeting as she sat next to him. "Not hanging out with Chet?" he riposted. The glamorous redhead made a face. "I'm not hanging out with Chet, period." she admitted. "Been avoiding his ass all week. And as for hanging out with others... well, it's a little noisy." She tapped the side of her head, then indicated the gathering. "Grief like this feels like..." She took a deep breath. "Like sharp knives." He nodded slightly, studying her profile for a moment, then relented a little. "Autumn is with her family. They are still adjusting to me somewhat." he told her. "I see no reason to accentuate my... strangeness in this sort of setting." "Well, yeah. You're pretty strange at the best of times." Courtney smiled wryly, her eyes turning to him. "I guess you don't feel grief. I'm feeling nothing from you right now - just like a still pool." "I register the lack of Charlie in my life." Jason explained, gazing at the house again. "I wasn't as close to him as Cade, or Sean. We only really associated at the weekly gaming table before all of this started. But he did try to reach out to me. He tried to communicate, to understand. That made an impression. There was more to him than I got a chance to discover, and I... resent that being the case." She studied him, noting how the scar loaned an additional hardness to the angles of his features and the cold jade of his eyes. "I just knew him as the theater nerd kid." she admitted. "There wasn't much going on in his surface thoughts most of the time that I cared about - but he didn't usually think bad shit about anyone either. He was one of those nauseating people who try to see the best in people." Her wry smile took the criticism out of her words. "Nauseating?" Jase raised an eyebrow. "Naive, then." Courtney allowed, shrugging. "They think people are like them - decent underneath it all if given a chance to change." Jason made a noncommittal grunt. "I guess you don't share that - of course, I have to guess." She reached out as if to tap his head, then lowered her hand as his eyes fixed on her hand, then locked onto her gaze, his attitude one of sudden stillness. "No getting inside there, is there." "I don't think people change." Jase said softly, his eyes on her face. "They become more what they are. They might show you more of one side of themselves or less of another, but that is a change of behaviour, not a change of nature." "Wow." Courtney blinked, glancing away. "That's pretty harsh, when you think about it. I mean, I'm trying to stop being an unholy bitch to Sean and the rest of you. We're on the same side now, mostly. How do you account for that?" "That you've learned facts, absorbed data which necessitates a change in behaviour." Jase replied, his gaze still on her. "You've learned that your previous path was an unwise one, that we have more in common with you than you first thought. That you are less alone than you first thought." He shrugged. "There's likely also an element of practical self-interest. It would be foolish for you to perpetuate dumb rivalries over high school matters in light of the very real, deadly enemies that we have in common." "Doesn't stop some people, though. Sean is avoiding me still." Courtney's lips twisted ruefully. "You, more than anyone else, made his life hell." Jason shrugged. "It is hard to blame him for carrying a certain level of rancor. For all his intelligence, he's an emotional creature. I think he will come around, though. My hypothesis about nature versus behaviour stands: You remain the same at your core - just with different behaviours expressing that. Arawn didn't make Cody a monster. He already was a would-be rapist and a torturer. I am as I have always been, but now people see it more clearly." "Hmmph." Courtney frowned, scrutinising him. "I think your hypothesis is overly simplistic." "It might be." Jason nodded slowly in agreement. "Behaviourism is a new field of study for me." "It doesn't allow for change - for hope that people can fundamentally change." She argued, pursing her lips slightly. "I don't deal in hope, Courtney." His answer was flat and to the point. "A change in behaviour is not a change in nature. A lion is no less a lion simply because it doesn't eat a goat. It's just a lion that chooses not to eat the goat." "Which are you in this analogy?" "Which do you think I am?" He answered levelly, his gaze on hers. She repressed a shiver, remembering when he'd first met her eyes, a couple weeks ago, and reminded herself that he was someone else's boyfriend right now. What made it harder was she wasn't sure if he was flirting or not, because she couldn't read him. All there was to go on was the unflinching, expressionless gaze. "Not very comforting for the goat, knowing that the lion might choose differently someday." she managed a smile. "Depends whether the goat believes the lion is a creature of whimsy or not. The lion might have good, solid reasons not to eat it." His lips twitched very slightly. "At least three, in fact." Courtney looked away, taking a deep breath. There was something about meeting Jase's gaze that sucked the air out of one's lungs, or so it felt. Especially when the topic was being devoured, an analogy that her mind naturally devolved into something completely sexual. "I haven't forgotten that you promised to help me with my problem, you know." she reminded him. "Nor have I." he replied. "Perhaps this Saturday afternoon, if you're free?" "Can I bring Kat?" she asked immediately. "I... think someone else should be there." That was good for a raised eyebrow. "I'm not going to hurt you, Courtney." She laughed, a soft throaty chuckle. "Oh, it's not because of anything you might do. I'm not sure I trust myself - nothing unique to you: you're yummy and all, but I'd be inclined to jump on any of you Fellowship guys. And I don't want to give Autumn any reason to hate me. If Kat's there, I'll be able to behave where you're concerned." "That's acceptable, yes." He nodded agreement. "And if she can't make it, then rest assured I won't let you jump on me." "Pff. I've heard that before." she teased, then glanced up as Cade came into view, a distracted frown on his features as he approached. "Hey, guys." he greeted them with a preoccupied air. "Was wondering if you'd seen Haruka? My mom's looking for her and she's snuck off with Jolene." "Ah..." Courtney's eyes went unfocused for a brief moment as though she were staring a long way off. "I can feel her down toward the koi pond. Thataway." she pointed down the path away from the arbor. "Thanks, Court." Cade gave her a grateful smile, though the cloud remained over his expression as he headed down the path in the direction she'd pointed. The redhead stared after him, her expression distracted. "What?" Jase asked. "He's in a bad mood." she said, raising her hands in a 'peace' gesture. "I'm not reading his thoughts, just receiving emotions. He's pissed, and confused, and hurt. I wonder why. He's usually almost as calm as you." "Curious." Jason frowned at the tall athlete's retreating back. "A fight with Marissa?" "No idea. And I'm not prying. As far as I'm concerned, getting mixed up in other people's relationships is bad news." Courtney shook her head. "Instead, I'm going to go and wheedle some champagne from a waiter and see what Kat's up to on Saturday." Jason nodded, watching her as she stood, smoothing down her skirt, and walked off, leaving him alone with his thoughts once more.
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