2 pointsHe'd wandered away from the main field, going into the woods that bordered the rest area and, finding a secluded tree to lean against, had fished a rollup from a case in his pocket and put it between his lips. A barest flicker of his will, the end glowed, and he drew a deep drag on the fragrant home-grown leaf inside with a sigh of contentment. It occurred to him that this was his first smoke of the day, and then he realised he'd not had a cigarette since... Saturday, maybe? After leaving Autumn's place. That was good for a faint smile as he looked up through the sun-spackled leaves of the tree, watching them shift and rustle in the breeze. Birdsong came in sporadic snatches from around him, and he exhaled, wreathing the pleasant smoke around his head, letting the problems and cares of the world fade away for a few as he thought of coppery strands of hair curling around his fingers... "Hey, Bannon!" The lanky young man sighed, opening his eyes at the bovine hollering. It seemed there was never a quiet moment, today... Though that wasn't exactly true, was it? Not long ago, he'd been relaxed with his head on Autumn's lap, her fingernails sending thrills of relaxation and pleasure down his spine as she'd idly caressed his scalp. It was a good memory, that one. The scent of her, warm from the sun and exertion, and the feel of her other hand under his on his chest, and the sensation of her eyes studying his face. There had been a calm in that moment which surpassed the simple pleasure of working in his garden, or learning some new esoterica from a book, accompanied by a thrum of her energy, her presence. That connection... that connection which baffled him, so similar in broad strokes to the sense of connection he'd once felt with Marissa, but so much more... "Bannon?! I know you're here, dude." Several sets of footsteps, heading this way through the treeline. A reach out with his senses told him there were four people. At least one was... "Here, Chet." he stepped around the tree, hands in his pockets, rollup hanging from the corner of his lips as he regarded the senior and his company. Two football players: Kieran and Todd, the latter of whom looked a little uneasy as the cold, calm glittering Jase's gaze passed over him. And Tammy Keller - his ex-customer ever since she and two confederates had tried to discuss business at school. As they approached him, he assessed them as a group. All of them had reasons to hold a grudge against him. Chet and Todd for the events at the county fair, Kieran for his girlfriend hitting on Jason at the first game of the season, and of course Tammy. Calmly, Jase decided that if their purpose was to attack him today then that would not be permitted. There was too much going on for him to worry about risking injury at the hands of primates, Dark-driven or not. He didn't say anything else, just waited. "Got any to share?" Chet pointed at the rollup, his manner somewhat high-handed, as though it was not really a request. "It's not weed. Just tobacco." Jase said. "I've got two more of them on me... and they're mine, Chet. I'm a businessman, not a tobacco charity." "Cute. I'm sure you give freebies to your friends." "I might. But we are not friends." Jason's tone was casually matter-of-fact. "You are, at best, customers. Except her." He nodded at Tammy, who scowled. "She's cut off." "She's with me now." Todd spoke up, putting an arm around Tammy's shoulders. "My condolences to you both." Jase's eyebrow twitched upward as a gleam of something sardonic and cold showed in his gaze, the closest he came to a smirk. He took a drag from the cigarette as Todd colored and stepped forward, to be stopped by a hand from Chet. The big senior turned back to Jase and stepped closer, still out of arms reach though. He can be taught, ladies and gentlemen, Jason thought sarcastically. "Okay, fine. We get it, you're a tough guy now that you're friends with the Jauntsens." Chet grinned. "Here's the thing, though. They're losing their throne, fanboy. Devin's lost his edge, and Marissa is just spinning around on her six-inch heels pissing off everyone. She even told me she doesn't care about being on top of the pecking order anymore." He pointed a beefy finger at Jason's face. "So your protection is for shit, kid." Blowing twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils, Jase looked at the finger, then at Chet, who lowered it and went on. "So here's the deal: I want what they got. Free weed, free Addys. You did that for Marissa before you were friends, which is why the Twins mostly kept you off limits. Tribute to the throne, y'know? Or else things will get bad, without them sheltering you." For a moment Bannon looked at Chet, then the others, blinking once as he took in their resolute features, then he smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a grin that was roughly one-third amusement and two-thirds sheer menace. Then he gave a soft, low laugh. "You monkeys are adorable." he chuckled. "No, seriously, hear me out. You are like retarded cavemen who see the sun and think it's the eye of a monster peering at them. You hear thunder and think it's giant sky-beasts fighting. You think fire is a flower from the gods. You have no idea what you're really perceiving, because you lack the imagination or wit to look beyond the obvious." He drew another puff of smoke, the end of his cigarette glowing briefly as he laughed again. "You're actual imbeciles." "Is that so?" Kieran demanded, but he didn't move forward. The sight of Bannon actually laughing was... unsettling. It wasn't a happy sound, or even ironically happy. It was full of eerie menace. It was just wrong sounding. Bannon just nodded, then fixed his gaze on Chet as his laughter faded away like the rustle of dry leaves over gravestones. "The Twins ruled because they have a quality you do not, Chet. I doubt even they were fully aware of it, but they had the instincts that make a competent ruler. Sure, they bullied and pushed people around, but they also intuitively knew who they could push and how far. They regulated what went on, stopped matters from getting out of hand. Stopped people like you from getting in over your head." Now he stepped forward, hands still in his pockets. Chet had a couple of inches and probably thirty pounds at least on the lean youth, but that didn't even seem to give Jason a pause as he stopped inches away from the large senior, his gaze as sharp as emerald razors. "Get this through your head, Chet. The Jauntsens never protected me. They were protecting you. I'm glad they're not playing the pathetic game of high school grab-ass any more. Good for them, shows they're growing up." He blew smoke in Chet's face. "So yes, you're right. A new order will arise, surely. But here's the message I have for wannabes..." His gaze was coldly serpentine, his voice dropping to a hiss of warning. "You want weed, you buy it. Otherwise you leave me alone, you stay out of my business. You leave Sean alone, and stay out of his business. You leave anyone I sit with in class or the cafeteria alone, and stay out of their business. Including the Jauntsens. No shoulder-slams. No locker pranks. No keying of cars. No malicious gossip. Nothing. Play your little game in the kiddie pool with all the other piss-stinking toddlers and leave the grownups alone. Or I will take a personal interest in your misery. And you'll only realise just how badly you fucked up when it's already too late. Just like at the fair." Chet didn't move. He was aware of the others behind him. He was aware that, if he struck Bannon now, the others would join in. They would beat the kid down, surely. There were three guys - and Tammy - against him. And then... And then what, really? He looked into Bannon's eyes and saw nothing of fear or care there. His gaze flicked down to where Bannon's hands were still in his pockets. What if he had a knife? What if he recovered from his beat-down, and then one night the sharp edge of something would come to rest on his, Chet's throat this time. And Cody had disappeared after the fair... He swallowed. Had Jason killed Cody? God knew there was enough trackless wilderness in Montana that a body could be dumped anywhere... Oh god...And the rumor was that Bannon had criminal contacts in the big cities, too. Cartel, some said. Just the school rumormill, but looking into that hard, cold green stare, Chet wasn't so sure. What he was sure of was that he desperately wanted to pee. He'd started out the day with big plans, and some bravado. This year was going to be the year of the Chet, for sure. And now he'd run straight into both Marissa's vitriolic lack of concern, and Bannon's predatory menace. And suddenly he just wanted to be away from here, drinking beer with his buddies in the sunshine, not face to face with someone who didn't seem quite sane or human, who seemed to radiate cold like an incarnation of Death. "Feel free to go away now." Jase said quietly. "It's a pleasant day. Go and enjoy it. Elsewhere." "Right." Chet mumbled, stepping away. "Right... C'mon, guys." "Chet?" Kieran looked askance at the larger senior, then at Todd, who found himself aware of a full bladder all of a sudden and also just wanted to be away. Tammy repressed a shiver - the air was suddenly cold, and huddled closer to her new boyfriend as they drifted away from the lean figure who watched them go, sunlight glittering in the green slits of his eyes. Now and then, one or another of them glanced back, noting he was still watching them... until suddenly they looked and he was gone. Back behind the tree he'd been relaxing against, Jase leaned back against the bark and enjoyed his smoke. He wondered if the pretenders to the throne would take his warning to heart. Probably? He'd seen fear and uncertainty in their eyes, but then they were exceptionally stupid. He drew in a puff and exhaled with a sigh, looking up at the pattern of sunlight through the leaves overhead. Time, and Darwin, would tell. For now, though, there was the comforting fragrance of good tobacco, and the warmth of the summer's end, and the memory of soft fingers playing with his hair...
1 point"Ladies." Courtney's smile was wide as as she descended upon the Heaths like a wolf on the fold. Or something like that, not that she cared. She had a Task to complete, after all. Courtney would be the first to admit - though never out loud - that for all her intelligence and confidence she was a natural subservient, albeit selectively so. At various points in her young adult life, one individual or another had filled the spot of the unattainable, non-sexual 'master' figure in her mind. At first, it had been Dr Cook, who she'd never managed to seduce, and who otherwise gave her a free hand to misbehave as she saw fit, so long as she didn't endanger the Project. During this time the Jauntsens had come to Shelly, and actively and smoothly taken over the social hierarchy of the school. Courtney, though a year above them, had noted their rise and, oddly, had not been able to do anything about it. Her telepathy gave her some insight into Marissa's moods and reactions, but Devin had always been a wild card, impossible to reliably read. And, despite how it rankled, she freely admitted that the Twins were good at their role, and the sense of rivalry had been mixed with some grudging respect. And then Cook had fallen, and in his falling he'd shown himself to not really care about Courtney at all, losing interest in his 'star' as soon as brighter, stronger psychic kids had emerged to study. And like that, she'd been adrift. No longer special, no longer belonging, no longer wanted... And then Devin had said "You're one of us, too." And Marissa had come to her for help with the creepy guy threatening her family. And Bannon had shrugged and said sure, come out to the farm for training, and then offered to help her if she wanted. And Kat had- well, done a lot of things, but mostly just extended affection and sexy fun times, and asked Bannon for Courtney to be included, and kissed her and murmured... But they couldn't all be her master figure. Kat wasn't a dominant person, Bannon was, but had no emotional need for a subservient. Which left the Twins. Devin had no more need for people to do his bidding than Bannon did, but Marissa... Marissa thrived on having flunkies, especially reliable, talented ones who made her look good. And Courtney needed someone she could look up to who needed her in turn. It occurred to her that although she'd repeatedly tried to read Devin's mind, she'd never really tried to read Marissa's beyond the emotional level. Almost as though, even before they were frenemies or even friends, there was something about the gorgeous, imperious brunette that engendered respect from Courtney. So when Marissa had once again come to her for help, the redhead had jumped at the chance to prove her worth. Of course, she couldn't just yank out all of Jacob Crocker's deepest, darkest secrets. It was almost impossibly painful for her to do such a deep dive into someone's conscious and subconscious, and shameful or embarrassing secrets were usually well-hidden in a person's psyche so even they wouldn't have to look at them. So she would have to work around the edges. Talk to people who knew Jacob, who moved in similar circles. Maneuver the conversation around to the handsome young man, then lightly skim and draw out such secrets as she could. The Heaths were a good starting point. Strong local roots, big into sports and community activities like Crocker was. And not actually hostile to Courtney, which helped. A few facts were gleaned, though nothing particularly damning presented itself, the strangely-identical cousins eager to gossip about Jacob apparently dating Tawny as part of the overall gossip about love and life in Shelly High. Of course, there was also Lori and Lacy's somewhat mournful individual yearnings for Bannon for Courtney to privately experience some schadenfreude over. There was a sense of smug superiority for her in knowing what she knew about their 'boy next door' fantasy. To Courtney, who divided the world between 'special' and 'ordinary' people, Bannon was way out of the Heath's league, even if they presented themselves as a package deal. Autumn, for all her flannel-wearing, bristle-legged homeliness, was 'special', and for some reason Courtney was still bafflingly unsure of was able to draw out gentle warmth and almost volcanic passion from the cold-eyed young genius. Drifting on from Lacy and Lori, and mulling over what little she'd learned and where to go next, Courtney pulled out her phone and checked what new scandals were presenting themselves on Shelly's social media bubble. * * * * * Hannah yanked her overnight bag out of the trunk and, slamming the lid down and locking the car, stalked to the front door. Relief with finally being home was mingled with intense irritation at her son's radio-silence. Though she was broadly tolerant of teens being teens, and dearly loved Charlie, the fact that he hadn't answered a single text or call over the last day and a half was both worrying and frustrating. Okay, fine, he had a new girlfriend and Labor Day Weekend was a big deal for him and his friends, but god knows it wouldn't take more than a minute of the boy's time to pick up the phone and say that, yes, everything was fine and no, the house hadn't burned down. Which, she was relieved to note, it hadn't. The blinds were drawn, though, which meant that Charlie likely had just gotten up and gone out without properly taking care of things. Great. Probably a pile of dishes in the sink and towels next to the washer, too. Or else the blinds were drawn for privacy and he was up to no good with Sophia- "I'm home!" she called out as she opened the door and, turning, plopped her suitcase down by the coatrack. Her nose wrinkled - there was a stink like the garbage hadn't been taken out, or perhaps a drain had backed up. The house was silent and dark, and as her eyes were adjusting Hannah stepped further in, listening. "Charlie?" she called out again, peering up the stairs. Her foot hit something soft, and she looked down. Next door, Sally Azuolas dropped her broom mid-sweep as a piercing, raw-throated scream split the air. Then another, if anything even louder.
1 pointGar "I need a drink." The attractive blonde was watching him expectantly, concern in her features mingling with maybe a hint of worry showing through the calm surface of her blue eyes. Gar looked away from her face, a face he'd thought was that of a normal, if flawed, woman, and at his hands. He felt adrift as he had when she'd first left without a word, as adrift as when he'd found that Jase was a psychopath with telekinetic powers. Now there were being of cosmic Darkness and Radiance, other dimensions, other worlds, and aliens - and by the way, he'd married one and fathered another. He felt like he'd dropped straight off the edge of the somewhat-healthy and rational suspicion of Big Government and theories of the Deep State straight into the lunacy of the far-out crazies of the sort that didn't really fit with the Sons of the Constitution. He felt a little crazy himself: how was anyone supposed to deal with this? A part of his whirling mind latched onto the fact that maybe that was why Branch Nine and this Aeon Society kept things so quiet. People, even powerful governments, would freak out if it was shoved in their faces just how small and ignorant humankind was. It'd be like the scene in 'Airplane' when the stewardess asked if anyone knew how to fly the plane: 'Ladies and gentlemen, please keep calm. The Earth is under threat of alien invasion or being swallowed up by a cosmic horror or just of a bunch of super-powered teens not liking the shitty mess we're making of things. By the way, is anyone Superman?' He looked up again at Kaitlin - Catheen, he supposed he should think of her as now. "Was anything real?" he asked her bluntly. She winced, a flicker of an eyelid and a faint grimace. "Everything between us was real." she said quietly. "Everything, Gar. I tried to dissuade you, I was difficult and rude and hostile when you were pursuing me because I liked you, because I didn't want love and here it was, chasing me. The only thing that wasn't true was my name." "Yeah." Gar smiled a little at the memory of Kaitlin-then. "My friends all thought I was nuts and that you were some weird crazy woman." His eyes focused on her as something occurred to him. "So if you can't lie, how could you use a false name?" "Names are labels." Kaitlin said with a shrug. "It skirts the edges of our blind spot, but 'call me Kaitlin' or 'my friends call me Kait' are not lies. False documents and so on are similarly stretching. 'This is how I present myself' is the mindset. It's uncomfortable to live in an obfuscation, but it can be done. We're forbidden from speaking an untruth, not compelled to speak the absolute truth." Her mouth twisted in a grim frown. "Amongst the Teulu, deception and misdirection are common between clans. To be able to dance around the truth without lying, using wordplay and double-meaning, is considered an art and a game." "Christ." Gar stared at her. "Sounds charming." "Oh, they can be very charming." Kaitlin sighed. "That's sort of the problem. They are honest - for a given value of honest. They are also intense, and loyal to their friends and clan, very family-oriented, even loving And they are utterly without mercy to anything that they see as getting between them and their goals, or anything they see as a threat to them or theirs. They are contemptuous of 'lesser' races - most of which are classified as those able to experience fear, anxiety or remorse." She sighed, leaning back against the table. "That includes me, by the way. I am considered ni-Teulu, because although I am physically similar, my neurochemistry is largely human. A throwback. I was tolerated as a sort of crippled try-hard. I could compete for position and I even earned praise. But there was always the unspoken 'in spite of your limitations' tacked onto any accolades I won. Finally, the adulthood trial approached. Teulu females undertake it in their fourteenth year. I knew I wouldn't survive it - or rather, my fears told me I would not - so I ran." "And came here." "Here is where the Trickster brought me. He set me up with a false identity - I could pass for a human female of eighteen - and some money." Her eyes narrowed. "And when I started to get bored after a couple of years working in a Kinkos, he also suggested the college I go to..." "Wait, so when we met-" "I was sixteen, yes." "Shit." "We mature faster. Don't worry about that." she smiled slyly, nudging his shoulder with hers. "Besides, we didn't actually have sex until I was eighteen, if I recall." She rolled her eyes dramatically. "Practically an old maid by Teulu standards." Gar coughed, reddening slightly under his tan as he looked away and at the Carousel. Now that he pondered it, Jason had always been mature. Not so much a child as just a smaller, less knowledgeable version of his present self. He'd virtually taken over the running of day to day household tasks like packing lunches and preparing meals by the time he was twelve. He'd never cried, or thrown tantrums, or proclaimed the unfairness of the world, or even acted out - other than the fight incident when he'd stepped in to help Sean out, a single blip on an otherwise blank record, never repeated... until this year. "Okay." he nodded slowly. "Okay. So now what?" "Now we need to decide what to do about Jason. He's reaching full maturity and needs-" "What about us?" Kaitlin hesitated at that, then fixed her eyes on his. "Do you want there to be an 'us'?" "Look..." Gar shifted to face her, tipping back the brim of his ball cap as he leaned forward and took her hand. "Maybe this Trickster fellow set us up. Maybe he had a plan. Maybe, maybe. So I ask, so what? He didn't make me fall for you, or you for me. Maybe he figured we would, or hoped we would, and planned for it, but he didn't force us." "How do you know that?" Kaitlin asked simply. "He could be capable of anything. You've seen what some of the teens can do." "I have faith." Gar shrugged. "I have faith that I can tell the difference between what's real and what's not. And what I feel is real. This-" he clasped her hand a little tighter. "This is real. You are real. Whether you're Kaitlin or Catheen, I love you and it's not some mind-control. Wanna know how I know?" Mutely, Kaitlin nodded. "Because I'm mad at you too." Gar said softly. "I'm furious. You left our boy alone in the world, when you were the only one who could help him understand. He's been thinking he's a broken, defective human being, a sick mind, for half his life. Even if he knows the truth now, do you really think he's adjusted to it? You ran away- No." He clasped her other hand and drew both towards him. "Look at me." Kaitlin's eyes were filled with tears that ran down her cheeks, faint streaks of mascara darkening their trails as she looked back at Gar, raising her head. His face was stern, but not cold, not cruel or hostile. "I get it. You were scared, and you ran. Just like you did before." he went on without rancor. "You fucked up as a mom and as a wife. I compounded the fuckup by crawling into a bottle and pretty much letting our boy raise himself. So now we've both got some ground to make up. No more running, no more escaping." he paused. "Point I was trying to make is this: despite how mad I am, I still love you, Kait." "And I you." she managed to smile a little through her tears. "But... Jason doesn't. At the very least, he's cold to me Gar. The most I am to him is a source of information about his heritage. He made that pretty clear." "So start there." Gar shrugged. "It's not going to be an easy fix, for sure. I can't wag a finger at him and tell him to mind his mother. Logically, that would make no sense after what you did. We've got to think like him - or at least, try to. So you'll come round, at my invitation, and talk to him about his people, and we can get used to spending time together you, him and me, and we'll take things a step at a time." He reached up and brushed away some stray tears from her cheek with one calloused thumb. "It really is good to see you, Kait." Despite herself, despite the worry for her son and the hard road ahead, Kaitlin smiled. "It's good to be seen." They talked a little longer, exchanging numbers, and agreeing that today and in public was not the day to confront Jason with reunited parental units. Gar would broach the subject tomorrow - hopefully, assuming his son survived. He didn't share his fears with Kaitlin, or the news that their son was going to fight some extradimensional evil. It wouldn't help, and might even prompt a confrontation that would distract Jase from what he had to do. As he watched Kaitlin walk off into the crowd, dry-eyed and smiling back at him as she linked up with her curious friend, Gar smiled a little in return. Perhaps, if Jase got through tonight, there would be some way of reaching his baffling son now. "Aliens." he sighed, shaking his head slightly. He wasn't going to tell Hank. Not yet, anyway. Besides, the way things were going, it wouldn't surprise him if his friend pulled off a mask to reveal a reptilian face and said 'I know.'