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  1. First Period: Chem Class (Kat and Sean) Hand on the combo-lock, Sean glanced over his shoulder at the accented voice penetrating the cacophony of the halls right before the bell rings. Tinny music came from the earbuds around her neck. "Morning, Kat," Sean replied, trying to smile around a yawn. Strong, slender fingers spun the dial on the lock with habitual ease. There was a soft click, then Sean grunted as he gave the lock several vigorous tugs before it opened. It was the same lock he had used since grade seven. It spun easy, but stuck sometimes. Still stiff from his unaccustomed morning activity, he yanked open the dented, green locker door - his head, Chet's help. "Already got your books? Bell's 'bout to ring for Chem." So saying, Sean reached up for the textbooks lined up neatly on the top shelf. He pulled out the thick chemistry textbook, but suddenly his slim hand seemed to lose all grip strength. The scarlet haired technophile gave a high pitched yelp as the corner of the textbook bounced off his prominent chest. His free hand flailed wildly as he tried to catch it, his other hand occupied with his thermos of coffee. Failing, he raised a knee to catch and slow the textbook's fall and give him another chance to collect it, but instead he ended up kicking it. The textbook slammed against the row of lockers, then slid along the linoleum for a few feet, before bumping into a pair of shoes. Sean sighed, his face almost as red as his hair, giving his hand a betrayed glare as he shifted and stooped to collect his book. "Sorry," he muttered apologetically to the person the shoes belonged to, the , buxom beanpole Kimberly, who gave the more endowed boy a commiserating smirk. Sean straightened up and stuffed the textbook into the satchel on his hip, next to his laptop, and turned back to Kat, nodding down the hall towards Chem class. "Mornings, right?" The petite French girl hid her smile behind her hand. "Mornings." She acknowledged. "I still need to get my books, I'll catch up." Turning around, she bounced off a rather large Senior, squealed, apologised and corrected her trajectory. A couple minutes later, Kat and her Shelly Sherpa entered the classroom, the buxom boy leading her to his desk on the side as she waved at a couple familiar faces. Reaching out for a chair, she settled her textbook on the table and slumped into the chair, empty eyes over surly features. The name Leviathan had come back to her mind, but she still couldn't figure out when she'd heard it. It has to be recent, she thought, wrestling with the morning fog seeping through her thoughts in disorder. If it had been for her, she'd have had a whole gallon of coffee. A voice brought her back to the land of the living, and she turned to Sean. "Wha?" "Ms. Lafferty said page 57," Sean said quietly, sliding her a pair of protective goggles and a set of plastic gloves across the black composite of the desk. He hadn't done the assigned reading yesterday, but he had read the textbook at the beginning of the year and remembered what was written. "It's just litmus paper tests. Not hard. Did this in previous years science classes. Guess we have to wait till later in the semester before we get to do exothermic foam reactions I guess." He nodded towards his thermos of coffee before slipping on the goggles over his eyes. The gloves went on with a snap. "Help yourself to some coffee if you like. I already probably had more than I should." He rolled his slender shoulders, then tilted his head to one side, then the other, trying to work out the tightness, then started setting up the experiment, making sure he kept a proper distance between himself and the various flasks and beakers. There had been... incidents before where he had inadvertently knocked things over. He didn't want a repeat. These solutions weren't particularly dangerous, but why take chances? Last time, fire had been perilous close to being involved. Kat stifled a yawn as she put on her PPE and Sean gave her a curious glance. "Didn't sleep well last night, Kat? The meetings didn't go well, sure, but they were still better than the Blight." "Bad dreams," she replied, shrugging. She opened her book to page 57, giving it a quick read. Nothing new. She realised these second Junior year classes were going to bore her to death. "So we're just dipping paper into acid? That's pretty basic..." She gave him the side-eye. "Get it?" Sean nodded at the mention of bad dreams. They all we certainly entitled to those, not just to due to the last few days, but the last few weeks. He'd had his own, but he tried to keep the inquisitive expression from his face. If Kat wanted to share, she would, if she didn't, she wouldn't. "I do use chemistry puns," Sean admitted wryly. He turned from his review of the worksheet to arch a dark red brow at the slighter redhead. The corner of his lips twitched with the effort of keeping a straight face. "But only periodically." He measured out the next substance in proportions according to the worksheet, gave it several brisk swirls with a glass mixing rod, then slid the flask over to Kat. A whirling tendril still reached halfway to the bottom of the yellow-tinted liquid still whirling in front of the girl. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate." Kat gave the flask a funny look, wrinkled her nose, and, true to her earlier statement, grabbed a strip of litmus paper to dip it. "That's a mean-o acid." She said, comparing her strip to the scale, and noting the result. "I've been meaning to ask." She bit her lip for a second, and glanced at her friend, wagging another piece of paper in his general direction. "What are you gonna wear for Homecoming?" After a short pause, "...Designer genes?" Sean's pretty face scrunched as he groaned. If his genes were anything, they were defective, not designer. "That is just... just awful, Kat. Are you made of sodium and chloride?" He waggled his brows. "Because I feel a-salt-ed. Huh! Huh? How does that feel?" The petite French girl wrinkled her nose once again, her lips stretched into an irrepressible smile. "That's... hm... humerus. You've got nerve!" Sean blew her a raspberry then leaned over to see what Kat had written. "Horrible, just horrible. I concede to this punishment." Mechanical pencil scritching on paper, he copied the results in his own notebook, chewing on a lower lip. "But for Homecoming, uh, y'know, with everything that's been happening, I hadn't actually given it much thought," Sean admitted. "I know, I know, bad sherpa, but I haven't gone to a dance or anything like Homecoming before. I figure I'm gonna go this weekend, get some dressy pants and coat, and a nice shirt, or something." And hopefully have time to get them tailored to fit, if he even could find something on short notice in Great Falls. Really gotta talk to Devin 'bout this. Sean glanced instinctively around for the exasperating teleporter, though well aware he wasn't in the same class. "Probably in black or dark blue, I guess? Erm, unless you've already got something picked out? And want to match more, but it isn't necessary. This is just Homecoming, not prom." "I never went to a dance either, to be honest." She replied. "I'm thinking I'll wait till Friday before ransacking Great Falls." A coral lock slipped in front of her eyes, and she played with it for a while, leaning on her elbows. Dark blue, huh? she thought. That'd look great with his hair. Mine however... She glared at the lock she was fidgeting with, the color beginning to turn bland, a paler carrot. Emerald? Or a pastel green? Pastels look nice with my blonde. She shrugged. "Okay." Kat said on a light tone. Maybe she'd ask Marissa. Although she couldn't forget the words exchanged at the Jauntsens' the day before, they didn't mean she couldn't make friends with the Evil Queen of Shelly. Sean knew he was already pressing for time to get ready for Homecoming, and hearing his sister and other girls talk in passing through school, it was worse for girls. He considered which of the girls he knew who might be able to help Kat. Lona and Sara were gone, and he hadn't known Clara that much. Autumn, Cassandra? He glanced over to where they were sitting with Jase, giggling. Lilly? No, just like him, there was an obvious choice... "Don't wait too long, like I'm doing," Sean suggested. "Might be slim pickings, this close to Homecoming. Maybe scrounge up a shopping sherpa. Tess, maybe, or... Marissa..." Kat's pale brows rose up at the close echo of her thoughts, and Sean shrugged sheepishly in response. "I mean, if anyone can find you a dress and the right shoes on short notice-" "I know Homecoming is next Friday, Mr. Cassidy," Ms. Lafferty said, her tone dry, as she passed by, checking on the progress of her students. "But please leave the talk of dresses and shoes for after class? Or at least, until you've finished the experiment?" A twinkle the teacher's eyes and a bare curve of her lips eased the teasing reprimand. Sean was a great student, if perhaps occasionally distracted by his phone or class work not always on his laptop when the class didn't take much effort on his part. "Yes, Ms. Lafferty," Sean muttered, ducking his head, focusing intently on his notes as faint colour rose to his pale cheeks. Kat glanced away to conceal her amusement.
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  2. First Period: Chem Class (Cassie, Autumn & Jase) "Okay, settle down." Ms Lafferty's voice rose over the hubbub as the bell rang signalling the start of the class. There was a buzz in the air this morning, she noted, likely due to the drama of the last few days. She herself had been shocked at hearing of the murder of Charlie Cole, and the kidnapping of two young women - all of whom were students of hers. It just wasn't the sort of thing one expected in Shelly - at least in her limited experience of the last four years. Her gaze was drawn to the trio currently settling into their seats at one of the front lab benches, two of whom hadn't been present at yesterday's class. Nor had Marissa Jauntsen, for that matter. An attack, break-room rumor had it. Or rather, she corrected, staring at the pale new scar on Jason Bannon's right cheek, another attack. Twice in two weeks the young man had been sent to the hospital, and when that was stacked next to the murder/kidnapping of Labor Day and other rumors she wondered what sort of place Shelly really was, under the idyllic surface. "I'm reasonably sure most of you did the required reading last night regarding acids and bases." she went on, her gaze moving away from Jason and sweeping over the rest of the class. "So today we're going to do some practical experimentation, so you can see the principles in action." She pointed to one of the lab-partner pairs. "Will and Terry? Could you come and help me with the equipment trolleys, please? Each bench gets one tray - everyone gets a pair of gloves and goggles." As her conscripted help doled out the equipment for the day's practical, she paused at the trio's table. "Cassandra, you were here yesterday's lesson. Help Autumn and Jase out - I'll give your bench a little more time to get things done." Then again..., she mused as she met the impassive glittering stare of the tall lean youth say between the two girls, recalling that test in the first week, with it's too-advanced questions. The one young Mister Bannon had aced. "That is, if you need it." she added, almost as an afterthought. Or was it a challenge - she wasn't too sure herself. She restrained herself from asking if he was okay - obviously he was, or he wouldn't be in school, right? And anyway, what she really wanted to know was 'what happened?' And that was crossing a line, wasn't it? Saying nothing more, she moved away and headed over to Marissa and Cade Alister's bench, to give them the same extension. "I... did not do the required reading last night," Autumn muttered, a guilty flush stealing into her cheeks as she glanced at Cass, gingerly accepting the offered PPE as the designated equipment carts made their rounds. " I didn't know there was any. Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?" she whispered, blue eyes flicking briefly up to Jase's features, and then at the pretty blonde's. "Okay," said Cassandra, putting her book on the desk. "So last time we talked about the pH scale, and how it's kind of backwards. More acid means it goes down. And it starts at seven instead of zero because scientists are kind of lame. And we talked about concentration and how to measure it, which I think is what we're supposed to be doing here. We should have some of that special paper...somewhere..." She rummaged around on the desk until she spots a beaker with strips of litmus paper. "Here we go." Then, "Yeah, it's going to be a boring one I think this time. Sorry. I was hoping for 'melting stuff in vats of acid,' but looks like that's not on the next test." "It'll be fine." Jase's murmured reassurance to Autumn was matter of fact as he pulled on his goggles, and positioned the beaker of litmus strips where they could all reach it, amusement glinting in his green eyes as he glanced at Cassie. "Do you really want to melt stuff in acid? Because if you do..." "I mean, if it's a choice between that or watching paper turn colors..." Cassie paused, as if recalling who she was talking to. "But otherwise, not really?" Then she looked at the beakers. "Maybe a little." "Honestly," Autumn admitted, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered at the quirky young journalist through the lenses of her protective eyewear and tugged on her gloves, "I'll take boring all day long today. Bring on the colored paper." Cassandra obligingly started setting up the beakers, carefully pouring fluids from labeled flasks into each one, then mixing water into each one in proportions specified on the handout they got. She chuckled on stirring them with the glass stick. "I like the little noise these make. It'd be kinda cool if you could make glass tougher so it didn't break, then use it for drumsticks." tink tink tink "It's weird that our stomachs are full of this stuff." "One pH hydrochloric acid, to be precise." Jase opened his notebook, idly flipping a pencil around in his hand as he watched Cassie mix the solutions. "This stuff's closer to lemon juice in strength." "Well, it doesn't smell nearly as good," Cassie comments, wrinkling her nose. "What's in your stomach is diluted, anyway," Autumn countered thoughtfully as she watched the eraser of Jase's pencil twitching back and forth, her toes skimming over the tile floor with every restless swing of her feet. "It's not concentrated enough to be dangerous. It is kind of weird, though, to have it just sloshing and churning around inside us. Speaking of, did you get to eat breakfast this morning, Cass?" The redhead grinned a little, reaching over to grab some of the test strips if only to be doing something while the other half of Team Pluck set up the day's experiment. "Technically yes," Cassandra replied evasively. "I did eat a thing. I was in kind of a rush though. Do you think hash browns go bad? I wonder if I could make a whole bunch of hash browns and just store them by the door so I can grab one as I go out." Then she frowned. "Bacon'd get them though. He'd find a way. Hm." Frowning as she regarded her friend more seriously, Autumn shifted a little in her seat. "They one-hundred percent would go bad, yeah. Maybe a box of Pop-Tarts or something? Packs of trail mix?" Cass shrugged. "You gotta toast pop-tarts. Trail mix could work maybe." She stared at the beakers for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm going to have trouble focusing on this. Someone elbow me if I zone out." Smoothly, Jason reached over and moved the flasks to in front of him. "I've got it." he told her in a quiet tone. "You just make the notes. Did you have trouble sleeping? Is that why you were in a rush?" "And since when do you have to toast Pop-Tarts?" the redhead asked skeptically, peering sidelong at Cassie as Jase rearranged the table. "You just rip open the package and eat them. I mean, sure, you can toast them, but you don't have to." The face Cassandra makes at Autumn's suggestion is a mask of horror. "You do that? Really?" Jase also paused, staring at Autumn for a moment's pause as he blinked, slowly. "Anyway...uh...I slept mostly ok, I guess, but I just wanted to get to school early. I've only got another day before I have to have an article ready for the paper and I figured I could get some work done before Leila got in." Cassie rolled her eyes. "But she apparently has an apartment in the room somewhere." Giving her boyfriend a quick, one-shouldered shrug accompanied by the arch of a copper brow, the red-haired savage gave him a defiant little smirk. And? her expression seemed to say. "Oh, gross. And we've been so busy with the... uh... Extra-curricular stuff, you haven't had time to work on it." Nudging the pretty blonde a little with her shoulder, Autumn offered her a faint smile of encouragement. "Still, you've got 'til tomorrow. It's just the beginning of the year, no big deal. As long as it's not some crazy expose about Shelly's history, aliens, and human experimentation, I think you're good. Just, like, do a fluff piece about the oceans being on fire and someone with cancer crowdfunding their chemotherapy. It'll be fine." Cass winced at that. "So...what if it was?" she asked. "Not saying it is. Just...what if it was?" Jason turned his gaze on Cassandra this time, the corners of his eyes narrowing slightly as he examined her expression as though peering at her through a microscope. "Um. What?" It was Autumn's turn to look at her friend, all levity draining from her voice. "Even hypothetically, that's... Wow." "I just...I know. Okay?" Cassandra said. "I know. It's dumb. I should just do what you're saying, write a stupid story about something dumb, because it's just a school paper and who gives a shit? That's exactly what Leila was saying." She pauses. "...I think. Anyway. I know. It's just...ugh, you know? Like...uuuuuuugh." "Does Leila know anything?" Jason asked. And there was this to be said about his manner: it was very still, very calm. A pool with no surface ripples. "I mean..." Autumn began- and then paused, exhaling as Jase interjected. Cassie shook her head. "I haven't told anyone anything. But don't you think... I mean people have died over this. People will go to funerals, and never know why. The whole town has been at the center of this and no one's ever known, and that just feels wrong." "That's not specifically what he asked, though," the redhead commented quietly, surreptitiously glancing over at their teacher and back again. "Whether you told her or not, do you think she knows anything?" "You guys, she thought this whole thing was a sex cult," Cassandra sighed. "She's totally clueless. That, or a pretty good actress." "Mmm," Autumn nodded, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows as she frowned, teeth catching at her lower lip. Cassandra seemed to finally catch the mood and frowns. "Why? What makes you think she'd know something?" Jason relaxed, though the only clue to this was a faint sense of animation returning to his expression. "Or suspect. There are rumors flying around - and a lot of us have been skipping classes. How plugged in is Leila to the rumor network?" "That's why she thought we were in a sex cult," agrees Cass. "She's plugged in enough to know we're in on something. But she doesn't really...care?" Cassandra wrinkles her nose again. "She actually wanted in, so...there's something we can throw into the acid right now." "I mean," Autumn suggested with another shrug, resolutely not looking at her boyfriend as a faint pink flush crept up the sides of her face. "You could just write about a sex cult. I'm sure there's plenty of room for one." Cassandra waggled a little glass stick. "Thought about it, but it turns out that is actually against the bylaws for the newspaper here. Buncha prudes." "So, back to your other question..." Jason started laying out strips of litmus paper in accordance with the worksheet's instructions. "About it feeling wrong. Do you mean you want to tell the story?" "Hell yes," is her immediate reply. "After all the bullshit we've seen and gone through, and what this means for the world...of course I do. And, obviously I know no one will believe it except crazy people, and that'll make me seem crazy too. Like I said. I know. I've been thinking about this a lot. But like, even more than I want to tell people, I don't want to lie about it. I don't want to cover it up. Just pretend it didn't happen. Gaslight the planet into thinking nothing happened." Peering over at the paper Jase was working from, Autumn squinted at the upside-down print and laid out her test strips in a mirror of what she could see from her side of the table, glancing at Cassie as she explained her feelings on the matter. "So is the issue how to do kind of both things, or...?" Noting Autumn trying to decipher the worksheet, Jase gave her a small smile and turned it 180 degrees towards her. "I think, sooner or later, the story will break itself." he said quietly. "I can't imagine all of this, statistically speaking, staying quiet forever." "Not if Aeon has anything to say about it. Or Branch 9. They'll just...sit on it. Like they always have. I don't think any of this is really a big change from the way they see things. Just another development." Cassandra shakes her head. "It's just that I've been on the other end of this. I spent almost a year researching Crossroads and trying to get a straight story, and getting nothing but runarounds and lies and fake leads and... Now I feel like I'm being asked to participate in that." "Well, yeah, because the people running Crossroads are working with Enterich. Or he's working with them. They can't get away with anything if people know about what they're up to." Tilting her head thoughtfully, Autumn mulled over that idea. "So, this article. Is it going to be just, like, tinfoil hat stuff, or are you giving them receipts? Because I mostly agree with you on the whole ethical issue, but is telling the whole truth going to help, or hurt?" "Every answer you give will lead to more questions. There won't be such a thing as only giving the high points of the story." Jase added, his eyes flicking up to study Cassie. "That will lead the world to our doors, for good or ill." "Yeah," Cassie sighs, deflating. "And it'll read like science fiction anyway. Like I said. It's a dumb idea. I know." She picked up a litmus strip and dabbed it into a beaker. "It's just been bothering me, and...it's making writing this article really hard." "Nnn-hnn," Autumn shook her head. "Not a dumb idea. Just not something I think you should have to decide on your own, and in only a couple of days. Like you said, it's a huge deal, and the worst-case scenarios for both arguments are fucking awful. Is there any way to write a lead-in, or..." Gesturing vaguely with a gloved hand, she made a face. "Like a filler article, or something? I mean, yeah, it probably will get out at some point, I just don't know if now's a good time. Or," she amended, "what a good time would look like for something like this." "That's just it. When's a good time? The arguments aren't going to change." Cass shakes her head. "I don't know. I only ever started doing any of this because I wanted to find out the truth about how dad died. Now I know the truth. I don't know why any of this still matters to me. I should be done with it now. I don't owe anyone anything. Shit." She pulls the overexposed litmus strip back out and drops it in to the little sink at the edge of the desk. "Your tone implies that it does still matter to you, even though you cannot find a logical reason why." Jason made a couple of notes as he examined a strip of litmus paper, set it aside, and reached for another one to dip into a second flask, carrying the testing out with casual precision. "Perhaps the only person you owe it to, then, is yourself?" "Or... How about this?" Fiddling with her pencil as she squinted at the colored strips and the corresponding chart on the desk, Autumn pursed her lips. "Could this article tell the truth in a way that gets people to ask their own questions? Like, not naming names or pointing fingers, but looking at historical patterns and rumors, and letting people believe or not until you decide how to handle it?" "Because people in Shelly... kind of know something's up. At least, some of the families do," she added quietly, considering what she knew of the Kavanagh history and wondering how these public revelations might change things. "Have for generations." Cassandra opened her mouth to point out the problems with that, then closed it again. She looked off to one side, almost visibly thinking. "You know, at first I was going to say that would still attract attention," Cass says finally, "But...it's different. They wouldn't be asking how I knew, they'd be wanting to tell me things." Abruptly she reaches over to Jase's notebook and tears off one of the pages underneath the one he's working on now. Then says, "Jase, I need to borrow this for a second," as she took a pen out of her backpack and started scribbling on the note paper. "Would you like all the compiled research I did into Shelly's history?" Jason asked, unperturbed by the casual vandalism of his notebook. "It's the stuff I presented - in condensed form - at that meeting in Bunnee's. My notes have various statistical signifiers - pointing out that Shelly is unusual for many reasons, not least of which because it's so small despite being a natural crossroads in the roads and railways." "That would save me a ton of time," Cassandra agreed. She sits up higher and looks at the notepaper, then nods and folds it up. "Okay, it passes the test. I think you saved my butt, Autumn. I owe you a...I don't know, a cheeseburger? What's the going rate for a butt these days?" "And there's the interview with Laughing Joe, too, if you want to talk about the kind of mythical, cultural side of stuff, as well." Smiling sideways at the inquisitive blonde, she pretended to consider the question, tilting her head to and fro with a mock-sober expression before declaring, "Cheeseburger sounds good. After boarding school tomorrow?" "Yeah, that's good. Also, are we still on for the skateboarding thing?" "That's what I meant," Autumn laughed, discarding one of the blue litmus strips and grinning as she wrote down the result. "Yeah." "Oh shit, boarding school," Cass laughs. "God, I get so tunnel visioned." "I'll Google Drive the files over to you at lunch." Jase told Cassie. "Along with my summary." "Mmm...maybe no summary. Just the raw research. I might get tempted to crib. Bad form." Cassie flashes Jase a smile. "Can't do ALL my work for me, ya know?" He nodded, approval flashing a fin in his depthless jade eyes. "Alright, then." he replied with the faintest twitch of a smile as he glanced back down at his worksheet. "And," Autumn added, "if it helps, we're gonna look into some old journals I got from my grandparents' house tonight, family stuff that goes back before Shelly was Shelly. It won't be useful for an article tomorrow, but maybe for this ongoing investigation you're doing? Y'know." Casting another sidelong glance at Cass, she nudged her friend again. "The lead-in for your Pulitzer." The smile Cassandra turned on Autumn is quite the reversal from her earlier cloudy mood; a crepuscular ray shining through. "That would be both badass and awesome, much like yourself. I feel like...tying it to a family will make the whole thing kind of...resonate? Feel real? Not just some kind of 'I'm just asking questions' internet conspiracy bullshit kinda thing. That's definitely going to be something I have to watch out for. Will you guys mind reading it over too? I feel like you'd be ok telling me where I fuck it up." "Wait, seriously?" the expressive redhead squeaked softly, eyes widening at the suggestion. "You'd let me read it first? Holy shit, Cass, that's... Um, yes, definitely! Thank you!" Jase's head tilted slightly as he studied Autumn's reaction, then glanced at Cassie. "Of course. I'd be happy to go over it." "Hell yeah!" Cassandra held up a hand for Autumn and Jase to high five. "You guys are the best. Lets melt some shit for science." "Ahem." Ms Lafferty's cough brought the celebration to a standstill, as the teens looked around to see her standing at the end of their bench with a faintly disapproving expression. "Melting... 'stuff' is not the objective here, Ms Allen." she admonished with a raised brow. "Can I assume from the high-fiving that you've finished the experiment already, then?" "We definitely made a breakthrough," Cass reported with a grin. Conspicuously studying the paper in front of her, tapping the eraser end of her pencil on the tabletop, Autumn choked back a laugh. "It's, uh. Still a work in progress, ma'am," she managed awkwardly.(edited) "Cassandra apparently really likes science." Jason said, as deadpan as only he could manage, only his friends spotting the sly glint of ancient humor in his eyes. "We should be done soon, Ms Lafferty." "Good." The Chemistry teacher paused a moment longer, eyeing the suppressed smile on Autumn's face and the grin on Cassie's. They were more informative than the blank poker face of the young man sitting across from them, but she decided to let it go this time. "Carry on, then." she added, turning and moving off along the rows of benches.
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  3. Someone was shoving needles into her brain. It didn't hurt - but she could feel the cold, sterile metal probing through the soft tissue, seeking the right spots for them to do their work. Auditory, droning tones rose and fell in the background, like a muted dentist's drill that changed pitch and speed radically. Lights, of different colours and intensities, flashed on and off in front of her eyes. Nearby, a voice was speaking, coldly clinical. "At this time, roughly eighty percent of Leviathan's labour force, fifty percent of Leviathan paramilitary forces, and twenty percent of Leviathan field intelligence assets have undergone the procedure..." She could remember who she was. Remember her friends back in France, remember her mother, remember the heated kisses she'd shared with Courtney and the terrifying battle against an antlered demonic being. But she could feel the emotional import of those things being stripped from her pre-frontal cortex under the weight of the droning, the lights, the chemical fog from the needle in her arm. "...These are for the most part stable, but are of course observed..." The speaker was right next to her, their voice in her ear. She could remember everything about being Kat Barras, but all of the old connections, the old emotional ties were being severed, cruelly ripped away. She existed now in order to serve Leviathan. To play her part in bringing in the Great Order. She would kill on command, steal, seduce, betray all trust placed in her, at the behest of her new masters. She saw Courtney, tied to a chair, the white cloth covering her eyes complementing the white formal dress she was wearing. Bright red hair tumbled around pale shoulders, and Kat looked down at the knife in her hand as she walked, slowly, towards the bound girl. The knife came up, a crimson line was drawn across the throat she'd kissed adoringly not three days ago. More crimson fountained out, splashing over the white gown, washing around Kat's feet. She felt no horror at her act. On the contrary, she felt calm. Those she served had ordained the action. The voice spoke up again from behind her. "Hail the Great Beast." Yes, Kat thought. Hail the Great Beast. Beep. Beep. Beep. Her alarm rang in the early morning. Kat sat in her bed, mouth open in a silent scream, bathed by the coral light of the sunrise peeking through the window. Her breath was heavy, and so felt the air in the room. She yanked aside the crumpled sheets, drenched in sweat, as the nightmare came back to her, her brains playing the video tape at a high speed. Suddenly, she didn't feel so good. The petite French girl rushed to the bathroom in her pajamas, her stomach all cramped up threatening to splatter gastric acid everywhere. She knelt there for a couple minutes, face looking down at the throne till the nausea disappeared. Just a bad dream. Fifteen minutes later, she was running down the stairs like teenagers do, in sports clothes, in a morose mood but "ready" for her morning torture. Forty-five minutes later, her muscles feeling like limp rubber after the workout with her dad, Kat tore herself out of the shower with an effort of will and, getting dressed, made it downstairs just in time to say goodbye to her father as he headed out for work. Tess was in the kitchen, yawning and sleep-tousled as she poured herself a large mug of coffee. Seeing Kat slump into the chair at the breakfast table, she smiled wryly and poured a second mug, sliding it over to the petite girl. "Thanks." Kat groaned as she stretched out her hand to get the cream and sugar. Tess shook her head, chuckling. "Kudos for trying to keep up with your dad." she said, saluting Kat with her mug. "He invited me to go running with him once. Never again, girlfriend. I'm sticking to yoga and tennis." Concern warred with amusement on the lovely older woman's face as she sat down across from her boyfriend's daughter. "Seriously, though: you okay?" The petite French girl took a long sip, and the mug remained on her lips for a while, the brown liquid reflecting the ceiling lights, olive onto her pale skin. "Nightmare," she told her mug, the sound of her voice, muffled and amplified at the same time, bouncing off the porcelain as if in a miniature stairwell. "Mixture of Brave New world and Silence of The Lambs, with white robes and knives to spice things up... kind of nightmare." She added, setting her coffee back on the table. "I..." Her head had sunk into her hands. She could feel the welcome warmth of caffeinated liquid running down her oesophagus. "Leviathan..." She muttered for herself. The name felt familiar somehow. The overwhelmingly dark red flowing over bright white came back to her mind, and she shook her head in disgust, drowning the remnants of the nightmare in cream brown. "I'll be okay. I guess." She shot her Dad's girlfriend a half-smile. Tess nodded a slightly dishevelled head, when her eyes caught sight of the kitchen clock. "Alright, honey. Eat up, don't wanna miss school." 8AM Kat waved goodbye to her dark-haired friend as the car drove away, leaving her to another day at school. Her shoulders dropped as she turned toward the building. At least she didn't feel as banged up as the day before. She grabbed her earphones and made her way to the lockers, Anthony Kiedis taming her wandering thoughts enough for her not to get lost in the crowd of students roaming around the corridors, but not enough for her not to almost literally bump into Sean. "Oh, hey, Sean!" She said, removing her earphones.
    1 point
  4. Cassandra scarfed a breakfast bar and a glass of OJ (the OJ first because it tasted hella gross if you ate it AFTER the OJ) on her way out the door the morning of September 4th. There was a very specific reason why. She made good time on her bike and chained it to the fence of the bike enclosure rather than walking it in and picking a loop of metal in the concrete. It saved a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes, along with some more from skipping breakfast at school, that she could use to get started on an article for the paper before Leila came in. The plan was foolproof. She even peeked in between the slats in the window to the 'newsroom,' while shading her eyes, and verified that Leila's bag wasn't on her desk. Cassie got her key out and let herself in and locked the door behind her and sat down and turned on her little Mac laptop, all ready and engaged and just bursting with news and stories to tell... ...and then had to delete her first paragraph. It sounded crazy her first try. How could it not?! It was talking about pretty crazy things. Cassandra tried another couple of drafts, but none got past midway through paragraph two. Okay, step back. What was the official story again? There'd been a murder at the old town hall, police were investigating? Right, well, a little boring but it was a solid starting spot. Cass started typing...and then stopped. Unease fluttered in her fingertips. They felt tingly. A little numb. It didn't take much introspection to figure out why, because the answer was echoing in her brain. If I do this..if I print this...then I'm spreading a false story to help cover up real events because some shadowy government agency wants me to. If she did this, she was one of Them. They were everywhere in conspiracy circles. Cassandra knew Them well, from when she'd been looking for something, anything, to explain what had happened to her dad. The government, both national and international. Globalist billionaire cohorts locking down world resources. Secret societies. If you went deep enough you could throw Satanists and aliens onto the pile. THEM. The ones pulling the wool over everyone's faces, to protect the status quo from the baleful eye of public scrutiny. Not caring who couldn't breathe because of it. And if she thought about it, why did she feel a need to protect Aeon? Branch 9? Obviously not Crossroads, but...were they that different? Did she KNOW Aeon didn't have labs full of human subjects? It wasn't like they'd ever been given a full tour. Crossroads and Enterich and Cook had spun off of Aeon after the fact, but how much of their agenda was set before the breakup? Shit. SHIT. Click. "Cool. That is going straight to the spank bank." Cassandra's agonizing was interrupted by the bored-sounding voice of Leila from off towards the little hallway that led to the bathrooms. She looked over, eyes wide. Leila waved her phone at Cassie and laconically explained, "I think I managed to capture the exact moment when you realized what a hack you are. It was majestic." And though Cassie had spent the entire semester coming up with internal excuses for Leila, she was way past her threshold right now. She spun in her seat and fixed the student editor with a stare that wouldn't have been completely out of place on Jase's face. "What is your problem with me, Leila?" she asked, and though she was angry she didn't ask angrily. There was force behind the question, but not any attempt to threaten or intimidate. "You've been giving me nothing but shit all year...and not just like, editor-shit either. That thing with the camera was fucking uncalled for, and it's not the first time." At this Leila rolled her eyes up to look at the ceiling and said, "Finally. Jesus. I thought you'd go the whole year." She went to her desk and sat atop it to return Cassandra's aggrieved stare. "Alright, first and foremost, it's because you're pissing me off. Second it's because I don't trust you. Third...because it's fun. And don't worry...I will elaborate." Leila reached over to turn her computer monitor towards Cassandra, and tapped her mouse button. Keynote popped up, with a slideshow on it. It was titled, 'X Things I Hate About Allen.' Leila shrugged. "It's a work in progress, but I'm not letting that stop me from doing this. So, slide one. How you're pissing me off." "You're a fraud," she explained, moving the cursor over that line on the bullet points. "Everyone else in school seems like they forgot, but your freshman year you skipped like half your classes. You didn't give a shit about school, about journalism, about anything but getting high and falling off skateboards with your slacker boyband harem. Then your dad dies, which is...okay that's legit tragic...and you fall off the planet for most of that year, and then you show up...Cassandra the go-getter. Going to class and getting into activities and all that, and everyone buys into your redemption arc." She tapped between her eyes. "Except the ones who pay attention. You show up to class but you don't pay attention and your grades are kind of shit. You join the paper, but I have to constantly ride your ass to get you moving, and you never, ever, FUCKING EVER, talk to me about what the fuck you're doing." She took a deep breath, visibly calming herself. "...which is fine. I don't have a horse in the trainwreck of your life, except for one thing. My grade for THIS is based on how well the WHOLE PAPER does. Which means you're in a position to fuck it up for me. That means I can't just ignore you, and that pisses me off." Cassandra, more than a little taken aback, opened her mouth to try to respond but Leila cut her off with a scowl and a neck chopping motion. "Not done yet. You asked, so I'm gonna answer." "Anyway, why I don't trust you is kind of...tangled up in there, but yeah. Whatever this big change you're marketing in yourself is, it's skin deep, Allen. You're still not taking any of this seriously. Which is, again, you know it's fine except now it's affecting me. Worst of all you're super deep in denial over it? Every time we talk you keep trying to talk like fucking Lois Lane or something and if you can't even be honest with yourself, what does that mean for everyone else? Uh...number...three? Yeah." She moved the pointer down. "Right. It's fun. So, here's the thing. About ninety percent of school I don't care about either. It's literally just smoke and mirrors. Everything we do here will get crumpled up and smushed down and result in exactly one important thing. Our senior year GPA. That's all universities, or employers, will look at. Literally all. Nothing else matters. All the drama, all the...bylines, all the gossip...it's completely meaningless. We're all trapped in Plato's fucking Cave, Allen. Watching the shadow puppets. We may as well make the show entertaining." Leila lifted her hands and made funny gestures, as if a light was shining past them onto a wall. "If you weren't in a place you could hit my GPA, I would still give you shit, because why not? Besides, maybe it'll do you some good. I mean, if you can't keep it together when a high school girl pretending to be an editor gets on your case, how the fuck do you think you'll do with an actual editor?" Cassie sat silently for a second, then asked the only question that still made sense. "...you actually put together a Keynote for that?" The final slide showed some clip art of a hand flipping the bird out of the screen. Leila looked at it and nodded. "Yeah, I'm super pro at this job. It's like your annual review or some shit. 'Needs Improvement.'" "That's oddly touching. Thanks, Leila. I mean, you know, eat shit? But also thanks." The student editor snorted and sat down at her desk, pushing her monitor back around to face her. Then she said, "One more day, by the way." Cassie nodded as she got back to work. For whatever weird reverse-psychological Jungian-Freudian archetype bullshit reason, Leila's tirade had not made her more angry. It had kind of...done the opposite? Somehow? "I know," she replied. "I'm on it."
    1 point
  5. "And I mean it. Straight home," Ian Keane reiterated, cool blue eyes narrowed slightly against the morning sunlight as he regarded his still-sleepy daughter. The response was a grumbled assent punctuated by a soft huff as Autumn finished unstrapping her bike from the rack and lowered it down to the paved parking lot just behind her father's silver Range Rover. "No detours, no hanging around after hours," he added firmly, frowning a little as she sighed, tightening the ratchet straps on the crossbar down again. "And remember what I said about Jason coming by: Not past ten. And I want you to-" "Text you when I-," the drowsy redhead nodded, her features scrunching up as she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand and rocked forward onto her toes, the bicycle frame bouncing lightly against her thigh. "Mm. When I get there. I will, Dad. I promise. Thanks for bringing me." "You're welcome, sweetheart. Be careful today, all right?" Leaning in, he pressed a quick kiss to her temple, pushing the haphazard braid back over her shoulder and giving her a quick visual check-in for confirmation. "Mhm, you, too. See you tomorrow?" "See you tomorrow." "Hey Dad?" Autumn asked, palms resting on the handlebars as she watched her father walk away and feeling, for some unknown reason, a vague apprehension. Nothing was going to happen today, probably. Not like yesterday, or the day before that. But, still... "Hmm?" Pausing as he opened the driver's side door, Ian glanced back at his not-so-little girl, her features framed in a halo of copper flame as she smiled, freckled nose crinkling. "Love you." He paused at that, at the simple, slightly embarrassed public admission of his teenaged daughter, and broke into a broad grin. "Love you, too," her gratified father replied. With a quick jingle of keys as he waved, Ian ducked back into his new SUV and started the engine, then slowly made his way through the line of parents dropping off their kids near the front doors before disappearing, ostensibly on his way to meet a client in Helena. The queue seemed longer today, Autumn noted, the Shelly natives no doubt keeping their offspring a little closer now amid the swirl of rumors surrounding Charlie and Cody and the sudden appearance- and subsequent disappearance- of a mysterious serial killer in their midst. And that was only a tiny part of the truth. If they knew the rest, how many of them would even have let their children leave the house? It was a small miracle her own folks were taking it so well, especially after finding out about Jason the night before. She'd half expected them to pack her off somewhere, or ban him from the property, or pull her out of school altogether- which would've completely made sense, all things considered, and they had had a few choice words when they'd gotten home after visiting the Bannon farm. Plus there was that godawful fucking meeting, and the picnic, and... Well, everything, basically. But, she admitted, rolling her bike up onto the sidewalk toward the row of upright racks near the entrance, they seemed to be trying, at least. Rumor, gossip and snatches of conversation and laughter buzzed around her head as Autumn, still blinking sleep away, made her way to her locker and dumped her bag inside before scooping up her books for first period- Chemistry- the thought of which was good for some color in her cheeks and a slight increase in the spring in her step as she headed to the cafeteria. There was still time for breakfast, and Jase had promised to show up with a thermos of coffee. …After which they'd have Chemistry together in, she snorted to herself in abashed amusement, more ways than one. Had she mentioned that her parents were awesome and trying really hard? They really were, especially where Jase was concerned. "Mornin', A-Rae." The familiar tone, the familiar nickname announced Jacob as he fell into step with her, book bag slung over one broad shoulder as he assessed her with a bright grin that belied the careful expression in his eyes. He was a morning person - not merely someone who woke up with a minimum of effort and fuss, like Jase, but rather someone who was at their most energetic and cheerful first thing in the day, barely even needing coffee. Ugh. "I was wondering if it'd be okay if I sat with and asked you something over breakfast?" he said, leaning conspiratorially closer as they walked through the halls. "Y'know. About all the... stuff going on. I tried to grill Bannon over it but he said there were unwritten rules about you guys telling each others friends and families." Jacob made a face. "Can't really argue with that, I guess. By the way," The warden's son nudged Autumn playfully. "Your new boyfriend is weird. Not bad weird." he went on hastily, shrugging. "Just weird." Giving her tall, once-and-future friend a sidelong glance, the redhead chewed over that sentiment for a moment as they headed toward the cafeteria. 'Bad' was definitely a subjective kind of thing where Jason Bannon was concerned, because while the potential existed for him to be very, very bad indeed, he was choosing not to act on it; a couple of weeks ago she wouldn't have been able to maintain eye contact with him for more than half a second, and she was pretty sure her parents had some totally reasonable (if, in her opinion, inaccurate) misgivings about the fact that she was dating him. ...Well, in fairness, they probably had misgivings about her dating anyone who wasn't a known quantity, like Jacob. But that ship had sailed, and apparently docked in Tawny Harbor, and that was a good thing, right? That he was happy? Peering up at Jay, Autumn nodded at his assessment. That they both were happy, she amended silently, or at least as much as they could be with all this craziness hanging over their heads. "He is, yeah," she admitted thoughtfully, one corner of her mouth curving upward as the pair of teens wove through the crowd to take their place in line. "Super weird. But interesting, and a lot of fun. He's-" She paused, her clear, sea-colored eyes narrowing speculatively as she glanced up at Jacob again. "Hey, listen," the earnest young woman began, smile fading by degrees. "Is it... Is this weird? Talking about, y'know. New boyfriends and stuff. Does it bother you?" "A little?" he said with a wry tilt to his lips. "And, being honest, a week ago it'd have been worse. But all the weirdness, all the scary stuff... It really made me think about what's important." he went on in his straightforward, honest way. "And it's important that we're friends. We were friends before we sort of fell into dating, and though that ended sorta... messy-" "Yeah." Autumn muttered as she nodded, grabbing a plate from the stack and slipping it onto her tray as she remembered how messy things had gotten. "-yeah... but the point is, you're happy now. And so am I. And really, us being friends again is more important - to me anyway. And it's pretty plain from watching my friend with her new boyfriend that she's pretty damn into him. So I’m not gonna be a dick and pretend like it's not a part of your life, y'know? Even if he is weird." Jacob went on, grabbing a carton of OJ and a plate of eggs and hashbrowns as he followed her in the line. "So you're good with being friends," she stated simply, eyes flicking up to his face again before glancing back at the food on offer. Grabbing a spoonful of fried apples and a waffle, Autumn pursed her lips and added a couple of strips of bacon to her plate. "Oooh, crap. Can you grab me a milk? Thanks," she added, grimacing as Jacob gave a rueful shake of his head and reached back along the line, a bemused server helpfully settling the red and white carton in his grasp. "Thank you!" she called down to the cafeteria worker, giving her an abashed little wave as she forged ahead, feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks as the rest of the line alternately snickered and rolled their eyes. "Thank you," the ruddy-faced redhead murmured more quietly, flashing her companion a quick smile. "No problem," he replied easily. "And, yeah. I'm good with being friends." The handsome athlete paused for a moment, considering something as they cashed out and scanned the cafeteria for an empty seat. "Are you?" Blinking up at her oldest friend, Autumn hesitated for a scant few seconds, astonishment writ plain across her features. "I mean... Yeah? That's been one of the worst parts of-" Gesturing with her free hand as she balanced her tray on the other, the red-haired teen waved in a sort of ill-defined circle, indicating something beyond the scope of words. "You know. This. It was just like, everything happening at once, and we weren't talking, and I guess I kind of missed that." "Window seat." Jacob nodded towards an empty table and the two of them stepped smartly, trying to bag the decent spot before someone else did. "And yeah, same." he went on as they settled in across the table from one another, sliding their trays into place before sitting. "The worst part about it all was that suddenly, my friend wasn't around anymore. And when I saw you with Bannon at the Carousel..." "Oh god..." Autumn went deep red under her dusting of freckles as she recalled exactly how she'd broken the news to Jacob. "Don't remind me!" "No, listen." Jacob waved away her mortification. "It didn't bother me like I thought it should. Like, there was a teeny little phantom pang of jealousy, sure. But mostly I was kinda..." He waved a hand, glancing out the window as he wrestled with the awkwardness. "Glad. Like 'wow, she seems happy, that's awesome'." He glanced back at her, smiling a little. "Which is when I decided that, yeah, I'd see if I could be happy with Tawny. But also... it kinda pushed on me that you've changed some, and I missed it because I was too busy trying to remember when you were who you used to be rather than seeing who you are now." "I'm different?" Autumn blinked, fork halfway to her mouth, considering. Her mom had said something similar, not too long ago. About how she'd changed somehow. "Yeah, you are." Jacob grinned at his friend's confusion. "I dunno if it's the-" he dropped his voice "-Shine, or your new friends, or the things you've had to do. But you're different, A-Rae. It's a good difference, though. I think. Not pod-person, body-snatcher different." "Mmm," she replied as she rested her cheek in the palm of her hand, a mouthful of waffle and butter and spiced apples delaying further discussion of the matter. It was a sober, thoughtful "mmm," a contemplative sound mirrored in the distant expression in her eyes as she likewise gazed out the window and watched the flocks of birds swirling between treetops arrayed across the manicured lawn. She didn't feel any different, but was she? The question reminded her of another conversation she'd had not that long ago, about the way it was easy to miss changes sometimes because you were the one living them moment to moment. Maybe that's what was happening with her. Hell, with everyone, all the time, but especially now. "So." Taking a sip of milk, Autumn dismissed that thought for the consideration of her future self and turned her attention back to the familiar-yet-unfamiliar face of the young man seated across from her. "Change of subject," she announced, spearing another bite of cinnamon-spiced fruit and waffle goodness with her fork. "You said you wanted to talk about the, uh. Local news. Where should I start?" "Well, I kinda know the stories, right? The family folklore about the Enemy, and some of the secret stuff that happened in Shelly before..." Jacob motioned with his fork before taking a shovel-load of bacon and eggs with it. "Sho." he said around the mouthful. "I guess what I want to know first is when: did the stories stop just being stories for you? How'd you get sucked into all this." "Well, about-" Autumn made a show of checking a watch. "-two weeks ago, I walked into a door." "Like the door you were talking about Monday night with our folks? The hell-place door?" "Nope." Autumn smiled despite her flush of embarrassment. "That door over there. I wasn't paying attention and it swung back and caught me in the face, knocked me on my ass." Amidst the snickering, she outlined that first, strange meeting with Jase and Clara, how they'd checked on her, then performed miracles, then told her she was like them. And how, almost before she could check her progress, she'd ended up skipping class to go into the woods, nearly gotten eaten by a monster, and seen even more weird miracles - like Marissa Jauntsen hugging her and saying they should be friends. "That wasn't quite the craziest thing that I saw that day." she finished, swiping a section of waffle through some spiced apple residue on her plate and steadfastly refusing to think - overmuch - about Jason naked and covered in blood and fire. "But it definitely was the capstone on a day of 'what the fuck?'" she grinned self-deprecatingly. "Jesus." Jacob breathed, sipping at his OJ. "So you and the super-friends-" "Fellowship." Autumn corrected, taking a gulp of milk. "Right. You tracked down and fought the Enemy - I overheard that from the living room when you all were talking in the kitchen." Jacob admitted, toying with his drink. "So what I want to know is: What happens now? And is it true you can heal with a touch, or was that my concussion talking? What exactly can you all do?" "So," she began tentatively, balancing her fork on one tine as she twirled it against her empty plate. "I'm not sure about the whole, 'fighting the Enemy,' thing. What I mean is, it might be bigger than just that one part we saw. And so, honestly, I'm not really sure what happens now. Like, there are still some things we need to do, to hopefully deal with it once and for all, but after that...?" Her voice trailed off, one shoulder twitching upward in a helpless shrug. "I wish I knew. Life sort of goes back to normal, I guess. For a given value of 'normal,'" she added, remembering the talk she'd had with her mom. Jacob nodded, chewing a bite of greasy, salty hashbrown as he considered that for a moment. "Makes sense. I guess what 'normal' is does look different after all this." "You are not kidding," his breakfast companion agreed ruefully, her lips curving into a faint grin. "As far as the, uh." Casting a surreptitious glance around, she leaned in slightly, resting her chin on her elbow. "The healing thing, yeah. It's..." She paused, her features scrunching into something like a grimace. "How can I say this? It's easier to take things apart than to put them back together. You were tricky," she admitted softly, studying her childhood friend's features with an odd mixture of feelings both sentimental and clinical, simultaneously assessing his current health and reflecting on how worried she'd been when they'd found him in the woods near Champion's Field. "Lots of swelling, bleeding on the brain. I'm just..." Exhaling sharply, Autumn glanced back down at her plate, shoving grim thoughts firmly aside. "I'm just glad you're okay." "Makes two of us." Jacob replied softly, catching her eye. "Still, it's a hell of a gift you got. Gotta say, I'm a little jealous." he added with a grin. "Not about the fighting monsters and stuff, but, you know... Being super." Autumn snorted at that, rolling her blue eyes expressively. "Puh-lease." She waved away the 'super' comment. "I'm not even sure how I feel about it from day to day. Sometimes it's scary as hell, and sometimes it's really cool." "Only sometimes?" her friend asked, eyebrow raised skeptically. "Okay, mostly more cool than scary, especially lately. I just..." Autumn gestured with her fingers. "I'm not sure what to do about having these… gifts. Not really. How is it going to change everyday life? Is it even going to? That sort of thing." "I suppose so." Jacob mused, rubbing his chin in thought and looking like a younger version of his dad in that moment. "Maybe-" A tray was slid into place next to Autumn's. "Morning." Jase said as he relaxed into the chair beside her, setting a thermos of coffee down between them as he poured syrup on his pancakes. His shaggy hair was damp from the showers after his run, a few beads of water here and there still on his skin as he regarded both his girlfriend and her friend with his usual air of composed faint curiousity on his scarred features. "Morning," Autumn smiled, angling her chair to face both guys a little more comfortably as she nudged her boyfriend's knee companionably with her own. "You're just in time. We were just talking about terrifying super powers and how having them may, or may not, change the world as we know it. We started with mine," she added somewhat distractedly and then trailed off, her attention caught by the dark ends of Jason's hair as they clung to the nape of his neck. He'd just come from a shower... Had he gone running, maybe, and cleaned up after, or just taken his time getting to school? "So we didn't... Um..." Autumn. Hey. Hey! You're staring. Mhmm. She could almost smell his soap, or cologne, or whatever it was past the cloying sweetness of syrups and baked goods, that clean, vaguely herbal scent that made her want to lean over and breathe it in, or maybe just steal one of his shirts or something. Seriously? her inner voice chided her. You. Are. At. School. Oh, for- Jesus fuck, Autumn, could you not- "Autumn?" Blinking as the sound of her name broke through her reverie, she turned to peer blankly at Jacob as his fork struck the tray with a clatter. He dropped his face into his hand with a muffled, "Oh my God. I can't even," choking back an incredulous laugh at the expression on his best friend's face. Another moment passed as the slow realization- accompanied by an inexorable wave of bright crimson flooding her face- finally settled in. "Oh my God," she echoed in a despairing hiss, resolutely not looking up at Jason's face as she very slowly, very deliberately, straightened in her seat. "Oh my God, I'm so- Oh my God. Um." Flailing verbally for some way out of the situation, some escape from the fact that she'd just had her face pressed against Jason Goddamn Bannon's shoulder at the breakfast table- in the cafeteria, of all places!- like some crazy person, and reminded suddenly that people had probably already heard about the way she'd enthusiastically greeted him at the picnic on Monday, Autumn grabbed at the thermos he'd brought as though it were a rope thrown to a shipwreck survivor adrift at sea. "Oh, look. Coffee!" she exclaimed, fumbling with the lid and swearing silently to herself as she poured a cup. "So, guess we know what your super power is, huh?” Jacob asked Jase with a grin, giving Autumn a sly, teasing glance. The crimson-faced redhead glared at him and Jacob felt a short, sharp strike to his shin, hard enough to make him wince a little as Autumn glanced out of the window, sipping her coffee and pretending nothing had happened. "Turning up with coffee." Jase replied with a slow, deadpan nod as he poured himself a cup, then offered the thermos to Jacob. "I'm good, thanks though." the warden's son said, holding his hand up forestallingly. "I want to be able to sit still in first period, which I won't if I'm wired." He explained with a smile. "If there's any left at lunchtime, I'll definitely take you up on it." "If." Autumn agreed pleasantly, turning back from contemplating the panorama outside the window now that her face had cooled somewhat - only to freeze like a deer in delicious jade headlights as Jase leaned towards her this time. If she could have formed a coherent thought, it would likely have been 'If he kisses me here I'm going to end up climbing all over him at the breakfast table.' but all she was capable of was 'Umm...' as the olive toned, scarred face came closer still... and then his lips brushed her freckled cheek and a fresh wave of delighted pink spread from her hairline in sync with her smile. "I'm psychokinetic." Jase explained to Jacob as he straightened up, cutting a forkful of pancakes and taking a mouthful, washed down by coffee as Autumn's friend mulled that over for a moment. "So that's like telekinetic?" "Same thing, pretty much." Jason allowed. "The devil is in the detail of the word. Telekinesis is one of the things I can do - moving things. But my control over kinetic energy goes down pretty far - I can control the motion of molecules - slowing them down or speeding them up." "So that would mean... making things cooler or hotter?" Jacob hazarded, recalling some thermodynamics from Physics last year. Jason nodded. "But how does that work?" The young athlete asked, fascinated. "How do you do it?" "Still working on figuring that out." Jason shrugged, taking another bite of his breakfast, syrup clinging to his lips as he ate. "I have theories, but no way to coherently test them yet. We can all feel the energy - Shine - that we tap into, and some of us can feel it in detail, but there's a ton of 'what if?' and 'don't know' still to clear up." "There's other names for the energy, whatever it is," Autumn added, pouring the last bit of milk from her carton into her coffee. "Dawning Light's what the Blackfeet call it." Jacob nodded; his own trip to the reservation and subsequent talks with his father had given him at least a rudimentary framework, of sorts, to support what he'd been hearing over the last few days, which was more useful now that he had some direct experience. "But, yeah. For me, it's all about dealing with living things, or I guess," she frowned, teeth catching momentarily at her lower lip, "just life in general, and all the processes that go into that. People, animals... plants, even, to a certain extent. Healing is a part of that, but just a part. I'm hoping I can learn more on Saturday when I go in with Mom and Dad, maybe see what else I can do, or find better ways to do it. There's kind of a range of things that go into these... abilities, y'know? It's like how Jase can start a fire, or make a drink cold, or give people airplanes, or-" Inhaling as she caught sight of the pale line etched into her boyfriend's skin again, she gave a wan smile. "Or stop bullets." "Bullets?" Jacob repeated, the deep furrow of a frown creasing his forehead as he put two and two together. "Hang on a minute. You mean-" He gestured toward the scar cresting Jason's cheek, a faded mark he'd assumed was a remnant of their fight with the Enemy. "That?" "Yes." Jason inclined his head slowly, not at all self-conscious of the scar. "We have more mundane enemies. One of their... agents sent some people to kill me yesterday." "Holy shit..." Jacob breathed, his eyes widening as he looked at the scar more carefully. "They shot you in the-" "Side of the head." Jase finished, half-turning his head and lifting the hair a little so the other young man could see. "I can put up forcefields that blunt kinetic energy and disperse it. I was a little slow getting one up because I didn't see the attack coming until almost too late. It slowed the bullet enough for it to merely fracture my skull and glance off rather than drill right through." He let his hair fall back into place and went back to eating. "Fuck." Jacob stated, blinking both at the evidence of the attack and at the matter-of-fact reporting of it, glancing at Autumn. "If it hadn't been for Autumn, I'd likely be dead. And if it hadn't been for Devin, I'd probably have died before Autumn could save me." Jase agreed, his pale eyes examining Jacob. "The world contains more than monsters. There's humans who want to control, or contain us. Failing that, I believe they will try to destroy us." "Sure you don't want any coffee?" Autumn chimed in, offering her friend both a sympathetic smile and her cup as he again declined with a polite shake of his head. "Suit yourself." Taking another sip, she nodded her agreement with Jason as she glanced in his direction, trying to focus on the subject matter at hand, and not to think about the fact that he'd actually kissed her for a change; even if it was only on the cheek, she could almost feel the phantom pressure of his lips against her skin, a faint tingle of memory. Not for real, obviously, but almost. Turning back to Jacob and more pressing (if less appealing) concerns, she pursed her lips, nose crinkling unhappily. "The whole situation is complicated, I guess, and to be honest I'm trying not to think too much about that right now. But it does kind of go with what we were talking about earlier... the 'what next?' stuff. Just having these powers might not change our lives much, but-" Movement over Jay's shoulder caught Autumn's attention and her eyes followed, tracking the distant clatter of empty plates and trays being dropped off as increasing numbers of students pushed back their chairs and filtered out of the cafeteria in small groups. What time was it? she wondered, realizing she hadn't looked at her phone at all yet that morning. Sliding it from her pocket as, catching her air of urgency, Jacob glanced at his watch, the two childhood friends immediately came to the same conclusion: the first bell was about to ring. "Crap," they muttered, almost in unison, and grinned. "Okay," Autumn laughed, simultaneously relieved not to be discussing assassins and hellscapes so early in the day and frustrated that they hadn't been able to finish talking. "We'll talk more later, yeah?" "Yeah," the future FWP administrator agreed, smiling as the trio gathered up plates and bags. "Sounds good." With a quick check of his own phone and a brief wave, Jacob melted into the surging crowd. Jason shoved the last mouthful of his breakfast into his mouth and stood as he washed it down with the last swallow of coffee in his cup. A tap on his arm brought him face to face with Autumn, who smiled up into his eyes as she proffered the other thermos cup lid. "Thanks." the young redhead told her boyfriend, nose crinkling as he nodded, smiling back and screwing the cup into place. "Uh..." Autumn's eyes found the smear of syrup on his lower lip and locked onto it. "You've got a little something..." she murmured, suddenly once more keenly, painfully aware of his nearness as she lifted a hand to indicate the offending condiment. Jase, hands full of book bag and thermos, licked his lower lip in a gesture that sent an electrical shiver down Autumn's spine. "Better?" he asked, glancing around to ensure he hadn't left anything behind as he stepped away from where he'd been sitting. Fuck it. Slender, strong hands gently cupped his jaw, Autumn's fingers playing over his smooth and scarred cheeks as she brought him round and down to face her, her mouth hungrily searching out his. The kiss was brief, her tongue gently playing over his lower lip, sucking gently before she let him go, gazing up at him with a smile. Someone, somewhere else in the cafeteria, wolf-whistled. Jase stared at her for a moment, taking in the pink cheeks, the blue eyes dark with desire, his senses afire with the sudden fierceness of her kiss. "Thanks." he murmured, smiling slightly. "Mmm. No problem." Autumn breathed back, stepping a pace away so as not to be tempted to go further. Later, though, she mentally promised herself. And him. "We'd, uh, better get to Chem." "Right." Jase nodded, shoving his thermos in his bag and falling into step with her as they dropped off their trays and left the cafeteria together.
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  6. ( Collab w/ Dave) Lilly stood at her locker, having parted ways with Sean as they each made their way to their lockers to get ready for class. The athletic brunette stood there, looking at the text books leaning against one another in her locker, and for a moment could not remember which she needed to grab. It had been a long night, one which she would not care to remember, and she was certainly tired for the lack of sleep for a few days now. She certainly could have stayed home today, but a small part of her was determined to not let Enterich 'win', as it were, and hide in bed all day. Finally she remembered which books to grab and slipped them into her pack, closing the locker door with a sigh. As the door closed she caught sight of Marissa walking town the hall, strangely alone and... quiet? Subdued? Lilly managed a weary smile and a small, wave to Mari. Lily's brunette counterpart, the evil to Lily's purity, the dark to her light, certainly appeared to care less today than she ever had previously. Still, instead of just passing Lily by in the hall she opted to instead, narrow her eyes and then roll them in either frustration or irritation. Marissa didn't wave back at the sheepish attempt Lily had made to greet her. Instead she walked up to her and simply curled an eyebrow upward in her usual mocking appraisal. Still, she said nothing. Finally, she reached out and grabbed Lily by her arm and pulled her along, cueing her to follow. "Wow." She said lazily. "You look like hell." Lilly blinked in surprise as Marissa pulled on her arm, leading her by it. Be it the lack of sleep, the anxiety, mental fatigue or any other factors of combination of thing, Lilly's usual more friendly and diplomatic speech was nowhere to be found. "No shit. I haven't haven't slept, no real sleep, for days." she replied, her initial indignant tone quickly fading. "My head's still so messed up." "Seeing my sarcasm and raising me sass," the evil brunette almost grinned, but she wasn't in the mood for it, not today. "I like you better without sleep." She led her into one of the female restrooms where a few of their classmates has chosen to get ready for classes in front of the large mirror. There was a pause the two ladies entered, like it must be some manner of prank for Shelly High's star athlete and it's Goddess of Cruelty to be both be blessing their rest room at exactly the same time. After a slight pause to allow them a moment to marvel at the blessing of their presence, Marissa tightened her jaw line and authoritatively demanded. "Vacate plebs." "Now," she demanded a forcefully a moment later and the two watched as lower classmates practically stumbled over one another to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, some letting their faces remain half finished of makeup, and filtered passed them in a hurried line that refused to make any more eye contact than was humanly possible. "You didn't have to be mean to them," Lily added, he voice echoing slightly in the newly emptied school restroom acoustics. She led her over to the mirror and set her bag on the surface by on one of the sinks. "No, I didn't." She admitted. "Nor do you have to look like you just rolled out of bed without sleeping a wink for several night, yet here we are." She produced some concealer, a soft brush and a neutral colored headband and without asking simply began dabbing the dark rings under Lily's eyes. "People are always looking for weaknesses, Lily. No matter how defeated we appear, always look like you're winning." She dabbed away, prepping the concealment of her weariness with a light application. "This might take a second," She said after a few moments of silence. "It's not much but it will help, for today, anyway." "Thanks." Lilly simply sighed in unfiltered sincerity. She was caught off guard by the random act of kindness from Mari, not because she could not be kind though, a Lilly had seen that Marissa could be kind and was kind, her her own way, more often than it seemed the others recognized. In this case it was simply so unexpected. Here she was in the bathroom with Mari doing her makeup to try to help her look better. Some would say it was just Mari protecting her own image by making sure those she was around looked their best, or at least 'good' as it were, and to be be fair, that probably was a small part of it, but in the moment it just felt more like a genuine act kindness shared between the two young women. Lilly glanced at the mirror and then did a double take. "That's.. You're really good." Lilly said as she leaned close to check her seemingly refreshed eyes. "I mean, I shouldn't be surprised. Just look at you, not that you need makeup though." "More than you think," she replied coldly. She still, for all intents and purposes was dealing with her own issues and wasn't much for going into soul-searching with Lily in the freshman bathroom. "From the makeup to the work outs, beauty is not a maintenance-free gift. Like athleticism, neglect it and it neglects you. Still, my brother hasn't been getting much sleep either. He's still randomly jaunting about the house in panicked fits in his sleep trying to escape whatever it was that chased him for hours in that... place. I sympathize, I suppose. It messed him up pretty bad, and Enterich has been in my head too, to a lighter degree, I suppose as most things that make you revile in horror probably turn me on." Lily wasn't sure if that was humor or not, as Marissa's deadpan tone and expression were currently impossible to read. She handed her the brush and slid the hairband to her. "Fix yourself." As Lily began grooming Marissa placed the other items back in her bag. "I know it's just words, Lily, and I won't claim to understand what you went through, that's yours and yours alone to come to terms with, but everyday people are looking for weaknesses. In you. In me. Your problems? Twenty percent don't care, and eighty percent are glad they're yours, so no matter how bad it gets in your head always carry yourself like you're winning." "Get a boyfriend or something," she added suddenly, allowing herself a devilish smirk as personal topics like who Lily was dating she knew would make the prudish athlete flush in all manner of roses. "What about that guy you're going to homecoming with? He might cheer you up. Get you some, girl. Can't say 'happiness' without saying 'penis'. "Will?" Lilly asked as she stopped for a moment and turned from the mirror to Marissa, he cheeks flushed. "He's a decent guy I guess," she said with a shrug, "but there's just nothing there." Lilly turned back to the mirror as as she continued talking, "and besides, there's not exactly a line to date me, not after all rumors and crap that's been spread. I mean, yeah, they cheer me when i bring home a win on the football field, but it's like, I dunno, only because I'm useful to them. at least, that's part of what Enterich said, and to be honest, there's more than a little truth to it." Lilly lowered her hand with the brush and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment, meeting her own gaze before shaking her head, not wanting to dwell on it if she could avoid it. "Anyways," she sighed, "there's only a people I have any interest in, and the girl's bathroom is not the place to be sharing it." "Of course there is some truth to them, Lily," she rest her hip against the counter top, arms folded in constant appraisal of Lilly both physically and mentally. She'd read all of her mother's books on psychology and scarily understood more of how the the mind worked than most young women her age ever should. "If there wasn't then they wouldn't have any power over you." She didn't didn't preach the topic, she knew Lilly was smart enough to understand how her own head worked. She'd trained for the Olympics and more than anyone in Shelly knew the power of self-discipline and the mantra of 'just one more'. Still, like Autumn, a handful of Lilly's were born from Marissa's cruel pranks and selfish desires. "This, however, is high school, Lilly. Popularity and public opinion are mercurial, at best. I suppose a portion of that is my fault." Lilly knew that probably as close to an apology as she was going to get. "I can handle the rumors for you, I can squash the public option and fix your reputation by week's end." "The rest is on you, girlfriend." She was silent for a moment before narrowing her eyes and finally saying. "You know what? My afternoon schedule cleared up. Jacob would rather play twenty questions instead of coming to have a burger with me, so why don't you fill his place. Getting out might do you some good. Talking, even if it's about nothing in particular, might help. We will find Enterich, we will beat him, and we will show him why they name storms after women, but until that time comes we need to eat and talk shit about boys, so burger later?" "Well then he sounds like a dumbass." Lilly said with a faint hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her lips for the first time all morning. "Sure. These last couple of weeks have been..." she said, her voice trailing off a bit as she thought about things, but then shook her head, as if she were tossing them from her mind. "Chillin' with you over burgers and fries sounds great." Lilly looked at herself in the mirror and nodded. "And thanks for this too. What you said, the help, all of it. It really helps. Seriously." "Idiocy is not something this town lack in," she dismissively shrugged. "I'm friends with Jacob's friends and it's obvious he doesn't like me at all. I figured us getting to know each other better might help to clear the air. Oh, well. We miss a hundred percent of the shots we don't take, and he blew his." Lilly finished her hair and slid the band in place to keep her bangs out of her eyes. Marissa drooped the brush back in her bag as her athletic counterpart handed it to her. "I've only told you what you already know, but," she seemed to hesitant to express the next piece of her mind, but after a moment of hesitation she continued on. "You're welcome." She glanced at her phone and slid several messages aside. "We're going to be late." “What are you talking about? Marissa Jauntsen is never late, nor is she early. She arrives precisely when she means to.” Lilly said with a faint smile, looking for any sign of recognition of the quote she played off of from Marissa and then reached down, slung her bag over her shoulder and gave herself one last look over in the mirror with an exhale, as if she were steeling herself to step back out into a battle once more. Lilly wanted to say a little more, but with time being an issue, she set it aside for not. At the moment, there other things she needed to try and focus on to make it through the school day and make up for her prior absence. "Shall we?" Lilly asked as she walked over toward the door to open it for Marissa.
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