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Everything posted by Bannon

  1. "For the record - you do not have government backing." Major Taggart addressed Devin and the other teens, some firmness entering his tone. "For several reasons - not least of which being you are legally minors and so cannot be employed by the U.S. government, least of all in a black operation such as this one." "Good." Charlie spoke up. "That means we're not bound by any official secrets act, either." "Espionage Act of 1917, currently codified under Title 18, Sections 791 through 799 governing espionage, makes it a criminal offence to disseminate information regarding classified military or government projects in such a way that could be injurious to the security and safety of the United States or interfere with the running of its military operations. There's currently some debate as to how that interacts with the First Amendment, but suffice to say whistleblowing doesn't end well for the person blowing the whistle, usually." The words were spoken quietly, matter of factly. Jason's icy stare fixed on Taggart, who was nodding. "That said, I would greatly enjoy the sight of the U.S. government trying to prosecute super-powered minors, who gained said powers as part of an illegal eugenics experiment and wide-scale surveillance conducted on American citizens on U.S. soil. I think that would be a landmark media circus that might even get them to stop talking about Trump." Taggart's face froze as surely as though Jase had turned him into ice. "In your face." Devin smirked at Taggart. "Or wait... was that also in our face? Whose face are you in right now, Rain Man?" "Merely making observations." Jason shrugged, smiling a little. "In my opinion, it doesn't suit either side currently at this table to be at odds. I don't particularly want my face splashed all over the news or journalists digging into my life - at least currently." "And besides, I'm calling dibs on the exclusive." Cass interjected, mock-glaring at everyone. "Anyone talking to any journalist except me is off my Christmas card list and I'm never talking to you again." "Also that" Jase nodded slightly, the corners of his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Cassandra gets the Pulitzer." The good humor faded from his pale eyes as the door opened and Dr Cook returned, looking harried, with the two Airmen in tow. "Doctor, please take a seat." Annette said smoothly. "We've been having a most interesting discussion." There was a slight edge to the word 'interesting', her eyes boring into the doctor for a moment before she turned back to Jason. "So how do you see this relationship moving forward, Mr Ba- Jason." "Just call him JayBee." Devin grinned at the elegant woman. "If you're not a pile of ash afterwards, he's okay with that." Annette looked at the smirking Jauntsen, then at the glint in the jade depths of the young psychopath's eyes, and shook her heard, smiling a fraction. "I'll stick to 'Jason' for now." she decided, immediately giving the rest of the Fellowship a good impression of her common sense. "Smart." muttered Charlie with a sly smile. "You can tell why she's in charge." Sean grinned. "If you are being truthful," Jase spoke over the snickering. "Then we have aligning aims. You don't want Shelly to be eaten by a metaphysical shadowy parasite, nor do we. You don't want every detail of this project or our lives splashed all over the internet - nor do we. You want to find out what Crossroads has to do with all this - so do we. And finally, you are interested in us: our abilities specifically. And I, at least, am interested in the Aeon Society and how it can benefit me." He glanced at Cook. "Before I knew about Aeon or Branch Nine, I approached the doctor here with an offer of cooperation: to let me help him. He was less than enthusiastic." "You also lied about how you felt alienated and set apart from your friends. That you felt they were treating you - how was it you said it? 'Like a bomb about to go off or an abusive drunk parent'." Cook replied, a hint of triumphant accusation in his tone as he saw a chance to sow discord. "That you felt your efforts were unappreciated and that all you got from them was 'petty ingratitude and fear'." "Which is indeed how I felt yesterday." Jason nodded slowly, not at all discomfited by Cook's 'j'accuse' moment. "Indeed, I was close to leaving Shelly altogether by the time school was out yesterday. It seems, in light of events since our talk, that I was mistaken - or at least mostly mistaken. Perhaps my friends do struggle to understand and accept me, but no less than I struggle to understand them. I did not lie to you, doctor. Lies are your stock in trade, not mine." "You're a sociopath-" "High functioning psychopath." came a chorused mutter from the other teens. "-lying is all you do." Cook finished with defiant vitriol - and then the vicious satisfaction in his gaze turned to fear as an invisible grip closed around his throat, terrifyingly strong. His hands came up, but there was nothing to struggle against as he was pulled bodily out of his chair and onto his toes. "I can do many things." Jason's voice was calm, a contrast with the predatory gleam of his eyes. "I can reach down your throat and pull out your heart. I could twist your head clean off your shoulders, burn you slowly to ash as you scream, sizzling in your own fat. I could freeze parts of your body and shatter them, starting with your reproductive organs. I could do all that, and my heart rate would not climb even a fraction." Cook's breath came in gasping wheezes now, his face turning dark red. "Am I lying?" "Dude..." Devin said warningly. Gar reached out and put a hand on Jase's shoulder, his expression tense with worry for his son. "Am. I. Lying?" Jason repeated, each word sliding into place like knives into sheaths. Cook managed to shake his head and croak something that sounded like 'no'... and then collapsed heavily, catching himself on the table and falling back into his seat, gasping for life-giving air. "Next time you feel like insulting me, Doctor Cook, bear that in mind." Jase stated in the frozen silence. "Your discomfort, fear, pain and life mean less than nothing to me. You extend your safety by minding your manners and cooperating." He held out a hand, a donut drifting into it as a cup of the admittedly terrible coffee was poured from pot and likewise floated down to the end of the table where he reached out and took it, taking a sip and making a face. "So you see, Ms Giles, I am willing to cooperate in the achieving of our mutual goals, taking one day at a time. Right now I think the best thing for us to do is find out all we can about the legends of the Dark, then confer with you about what aid we might possibly need." "Yes." Annette nodded, recovering her aplomb admirably - though looking a little wide-eyed as the gasping Cook rubbed at his bruised throat, his eyes downcast. "That seems sensible." She looked at the others. "Does anyone else have any further concerns?"
  2. "As close as my research can tell, the Dark has been active in Shelly since the beginning. Possibly before the beginning - but for that we'd have to consult the local Blackfeet and hope their oral history has some reference to it. The Land of Upside-Down Thunder is a Blackfoot term for this area, though, as is 'Dawning Dark Light'. So it's safe to say that they have some knowledge of it." Jason spoke quietly, addressing Ms Giles and Major Taggart. "I'm not going to give the full presentation I gave to everyone else right now, but the short version is this: every twenty-seven years there is a spate of killings, disappearances, and violent assaults that would lead to death if they weren't interrupted. People go crazy - mothers kill children, drunken friends pull knives on each other... you get the picture. After talking with the Man in Black earlier when he visited me in the hospital, and combining it with what you've said about the high count of 'aether' in this area, I think that something in this area produces people with Shine - weak, isolated, but harvestable. And once a generation or so, the Dark wakes up and eats, feeding on the deaths of those with gifts. Only this time, several things have changed - we're stronger than the previous ones for some reason." He paused, thinking for a moment. "Mr Black did say that he regarded us like I regard my flowers. It's possible he was blowing smoke - or he might have something to do with whats different this time, why we've manifested gifts beyond what the project was capable of cultivating." "So we're his eugenics experiment?" Cassie asked, wrinkling her nose. "We know he's old. He can afford to think in terms of generations, centuries of nudging the course of events, searching out bloodlines with the best chance of producing us. Then he takes the best seeds he can find, and plants them in the best ground for them to bloom." Jason looked at everyone. "Hell, maybe he even steered the Project here. Ms Giles did say that Kline's a geneticist, not a quantum physicist, yet he suddenly stumbled on the concept of 'aether'. What if someone helped him?" "Shit." Marissa said softly. "That makes sense. Chess played over decades." "If I had a goal like 'defeating the Dark', and needed people like us to do it, and had time on my hands... It's how I'd operate." Jason shrugged. "Back to the Dark - we know it has some kind of intelligence to how it acts. We know that Mr Black has said we need to find Cody Sikes. We know, thanks to Cassie, that it's heart seems to be in downtown Shelly. We know Devin can potentially flip us over to it's side of the mirror to fight it. But..." "But what don't we know?" Sean finished, nodding. "We should talk to the Blackfeet before we go charging in."
  3. "I don't like it." Allister said, though in a much calmer manner as he absorbed what his son and the other teens were telling him. "Not the dating thing - I mean everything else." "You think the kids asked for it?" Hank inquired in blunt fashion. "Any of them? I know for a fact that Jase here ain't hurt anyone that hasn't hurt someone else first. And if you're worried about him being a loose cannon, think of the two shitheels that jumped him at school. He could've turned them inside out." "But I didn't." Jason said quietly. "Because I saw they were being pushed by the Dark. Like Mari said, it can get in peoples heads. Those without Shine, at least. It can't exactly make them do stuff they wouldn't normally, but it can push them into acts from their darker sides and turn it up to eleven. For instance, it couldn't make a loving father kill his kid with a snap of it's fingers, but it might be able to push an angry man into beating a loved one and then just... going too far. Marissa pointed out that maybe Liam was pushed by the Dark when he attacked Lona. If that had been something I'd considered at the time, I'd have acted differently." He didn't sound guilty, per se, but it was at least an admission that his actions were not altogether something he took pride in. "You saying he was innocent?" Allister peered at the slender young man. Jason slowly shook his head, frowning a little. "I don't know if he was or not. I am pretty sure that if he wasn't capable of the act, the Dark couldn't have pushed him to it." "Liam 'Hey girl, here's a drink that's totes not spiked' Day?" Marissa snorted. "He's totally capable of it." "Amen." Sophia chimed in. "The guy's a sleaze who hangs around hitting on Juniors and Sophomores because Seniors are too wise to his shit. No tears shed here." As the Sheriff looked at her she squirmed a little, shooting a glance at Jason. "Like, I don't think it's cool that Bannon 'Carrie'd' his ass, but if he's graduating from sleaze to full-on rapist, I feel safer that he's limping rather than running." "Also... If it wasn't for Jase, most of us wouldn't really be understanding our abilities the way we do. He put a lot of brain work into figuring out what exactly the Shine is, how it lets us do the things we do, and so on." Charlie admitted with a slight grin. "He was the one that put the idea of the Mantis Shrimp in my head for a 'combat shape'. He's helped us out, Sheriff. A lot. And for the record, in case it wasn't clear: he's not a monster. He stopped three guys from assaulting Cora at the fair." "He saved some of us from a sabertooth in the woods." Marissa put in. "I know, I know. Yes, a sabertooth. Don't ask me how it got there." "He helped fight the vagisaurus in round one, too." Devin said. "He could've run, but didn't." The teleporter smirked at Jase. "He's crazy, but that shit was awesome. Apart from my junk almost getting eaten." "You should see his garden." Cassie chirped. The others looked at her askance, some of them slowly considering even as Autumn nodded firm agreement. "What? It's beautiful. Seems to me a monster couldn't grow flowers like that. Even if he does lack pluck." Jason smiled faintly at the teasing, inclining his head towards the blonde girl. "Yeah - the garden is awesome." Autumn said with a warm smile, trying not to blush as pale green eyes flicked her way. She grabbed a donut and hastily bit into it to stop herself saying anything more. "He might not be normal." Sean said quietly. "But none of us are normal, and Jase? He's our not-normal. He's got our backs." Ian Allister looked at them all, then at Jason, and huffed quietly, his manner thoughtful. Cade put a hand on his shoulder. "Dad, they're right. You know what Gramps is always saying about judging people before walking a mile in their shoes." "Hmm." The sheriff grunted non-committedly, then looked at Jason again, then at his son. Settling back in his chair, he appeared deep in thought, apparently having nothing further to say. Ms Giles, who had watched the interplay avidly as the Fellowship spoke up and gathered around one of their own, was wearing a slight smile. "It appears the sheriff has some things to think about. As, indeed, perhaps so does Jason." she remarked gently. "To sum up the answer to the last question Devin asked: we're not sure why people have different affinities and abilities. Though I imagine some of you-" she glanced around at the Fellowship "-might be working on figuring that out yourselves." "In the meantime," Taggart spoke up for the first time in a while. "There seems to be a large paranormal threat in Shelly. I'd appreciate any intelligence you could give us on it. I know, for example, that Miss Allen here can sense where it seems to be based. But what exactly is this Dark and how long has it been here?"
  4. Annette managed to shake off her shookedness at the sight of the photograph Cassie had shown her of the Man In Black, focusing on Devin and his question with a soft frown of concentration. "In all honesty, Devin. I don't know. The Society's knowledge of psionic abilities is limited to random occurrences of telekinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance in the past, none of which have been proven reliable or studied in lab conditions. Just like we can't explain why Jason - for example - is capable of throwing a fully grown man around whilst Miss Roberts can barely lift a softball." "Wait." Sheriff Allister leaned forward, grasping something from the dizzying whirl of talk about powers. "Throw a man around?" The Fellowship, practically as one, tensed as the large man turned his gaze on the one teen who wasn't tense at all. "You're the one that attacked Liam Day." He half-guessed, half-stated, eyes narrowing. "It's the only thing that makes sense - no sign of a break-in, no fingerprints, no hair, no sign that he even fought anyone." "That last might be to do with attitude." Jason said quietly, ignoring the sheriff and focusing on Annette's words, as though an accusation of aggravated assault was nothing to concern himself with. "You mentioned Tawny was intimidated by her powers. One or two of us had that problem as well, at first." He mentioned no names. "The bolder among us made the most rapid apparent progress, the ones that saw it as something to be pushed at, explored, played with. We shared what we learned with the others, and learned from them in turn. As for why Devin, Marissa and Cade are different... I'm not sure. Devin's power is definitely psionic in nature, but perhaps doing what he can do excludes someone from being able to do anything else. Marissa and Cade don't share that commonality with us - they're different in how their Shine manifests." "In other words, you don't know either." Marissa said with a smirk. "Yet." Jason corrected with unruffled calm, smiling faintly at her - and then the Sheriff slammed his hand down on the table. "Don't ignore me." He growled, pointing at Jason. "You put the Day boy in a coma. He looked like he'd been in a damned car wreck without a seatbelt. He attacked Avalon Wilson so you went all vigilante on him with your power." Jason stared at him, face expressionless and a fathomless cold humor in his gaze. "Prove it." he said at last, with a shrug. Allister came to his feet, face turning red. Gar and Hank likewise stood, plainly intending to defend Jase, though Gar's hands were raised in a warding off gesture. "Steady on now, Sheriff. We've all had a long day and don't need any more trouble right now." Jason's dad said with as much calm as he could muster. Ms Giles and Major Taggart looked on, somewhat concerned. "Trouble?! That boy of yours is trouble. Goddamn criminal sociopath with psychic powers!" "High-functioning psychopath." Jason said, looking a little surprised as Sean, Devin and Marissa all muttered it in chorus with him. Flashing them a brief smile, he turned his gaze to the sheriff once more. "What's the plan, sheriff? Lock me up and ask me nicely to stay put while you find a judge willing to hear the case or a prosecutor willing to carry it? And assuming you're lucky in that regard, and my defense lawyer is both asleep and drunk, are you going to send me to juvie and, once again, rely on my goodwill to keep me caged." Jason's voice dripped scorn. "Or maybe just whip up a posse and have a lynching party like the good ol' days? No moral high horse there, I'm afraid." "We have laws for a reason, Bannon." Allister growled. "Yes, to reassure people that the government is in control and has the monopoly on all use of force other than in self-defense." Jason sighed, rolling his eyes. "Tell me, Sheriff. How law-abiding would you be if your friend was the one assaulted? Or your daughter, perhaps? Would all of Liam's rights and protections be observed scrupulously?" "Gentlemen, perhaps we could all sit down?" Ms Giles said soothingly. "Sheriff, I am certain that you will find that Liam is in much better health than he was first thing this morning. It seems that Avalon Wilson used her gift to speed the healing of the damage Jason caused." She cleared her throat. "Also, I think if you question him he will completely exonerate Mr Bannon. I understand he believes that two burly men with foreign accents attacked him." "Great. More mind-fuckery." The sheriff was unmollified as he re-took his seat, glaring at Jason as Hank and Gar likewise sat. "And what happens next time your star pupil here decides to take the law into his own hands?" "Planning to read the Dark its rights?" Jason fired back without even a pause. "Want due process for monsters?" "The only monster I see here, Bannon," Sheriff Allister said with great deliberation "Is you." The silence that followed filled the room for a long moment, as Gar Bannon went pale, Hank looked grim, and Jase merely smiled a thin, cold smile.
  5. Jason nodded agreement with Marissa's expressed sentiment, expressionless but for the predatory intensity of his gaze. "She's right. We are the only ones that can stop what is going on, and more importantly what is going to happen. We're not sure what part the Project here is playing in current events, but I get the impression that you really don't have much of a clue. So it's probably best you follow the lady's advice and get out of our way - for your own good." His tone was calm, matter of fact, lacking the bantering delivery of Marissa's injunction. "That could be taken as a threat, Mr Bannon." Cook replied, not meeting the teen's eyes and instead glancing at the papers in front of him. "I'm sure no-one here wants to be making threats." A subtle tension had come over the two men sitting at the head of the table, Taggart eyeing the youth the way one might eye a coiled rattlesnake. The woman, by contrast, seemed soberly curious, her dark eyes wide and watchful. Autumn and Cassie drifted over from the couch, the redhead having scooped up her snacks in an armload which she dumped on the table as she pulled out a chair next to Gar Bannon, smiling at him as she sat, then continued eating. "When my father is present, he is 'Mr Bannon'. And how you choose to take it is a matter of extreme indifference to me." Jason's voice never changed from it's level calm tone and his stare never wavered. "I don't make threats. There's rarely any point. 'For your own good' was meant in the sense that one would use when advising a slow child to stop playing football on the highway." He paused for a moment as though reflecting. "An unlikable slow child. The kind whose birth certificate was an apology letter from a condom manufacturer, but you still don't want to be washing them out of your radiator grille days later." There were snorts of amusement from both Jauntsens as well as one or two others present and Autumn, who'd just taken a delicious mouthful of cool soda, suddenly found herself choking as a shocked gasp met the urge to laugh and both reflexes mixed catastrophically with the Dr Pepper. Graskle winced and tried not to laugh, Jase's dad blinked at his son in astonishment and then at the choking Autumn in alarm, reaching out and patting her on the back, and Sheriff Allister looked like he wasn't sure whether to laugh or scowl. Cook's face went red, and Taggart shifted in his seat... and then the dark-haired woman leaned forwards. "Annette Giles." Her accent was brisk, educated, a trans-Atlantic mixture of British, American and Continental. She sounded expensive and refined in a way that made Marissa take notes. Cook and Taggart both looked at her in surprise, as though she had gone off-script. "I am a representative of the Project's current sponsors, and I was only recently informed of... how things have been developing. I think I've seen enough to make this call: as of right now, all Project activities are paused pending a full review." She glanced at Cook as she said this, who went from red at Jason's insult to pale from shock. "But we- I mean- I-" he started several times, each nascent protest meeting a slightly higher arch of a well-shaped brow. Finally, he subsided. "Very well." he muttered with an air of defeat. "I shall issue the orders. The Doctor won't be happy, though." "To borrow a turn of phrase from the younger Mister Bannon - that is a matter of extreme indifference to me." Ms Giles said with a pleasant smile. "The Doctor will understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Or 'she', in this case." She waited a heartbeat or two, arching a brow at him. "I did say 'as of right now', Doctor Cook. Everything on hold, no further tests, no progressing of experiments, all sub-projects paused. I'm sure you will make sure that the wishes of the sponsors are carried out in this matter. Come back when it's done." Cook blinked, then slowly stood up and, walking like a man whose joints were made of string, left the room. "Major Taggart - I cannot issue you direct orders, but I would take it as a kindness if you would send your men with Doctor Cook to ensure he can carry out his instructions." She smiled at the teens and adults at the other end of the table. "I'm reasonably confident we won't need protection here." "Ma'am." Taggart nodded at the two Airmen, who turned and left the room on Cook's heels. Annette Giles reached for a cup and poured herself some coffee, sitting back in her chair and ignoring the recently vacated seat left by Cook. "Alright then." Ms Giles glanced at Marissa, then Jason, then the other teens. "I trust as a demonstration of good faith that will suffice for now? Before I start talking, does anyone have any questions?"
  6. His eyes opened slightly as she sat by him, focusing easily (she was happy to see) on hers as he mechanically chewed potato chips on one side of his mouth, then swallowed. "Tired." he replied in typically laconic fashion, one corner of his mouth quirking in an answering smile. "Odd how that wasn't important with monsters and the Dark all around, but without immediate danger I just want to eat and sleep." "Yeah, not sure I'll be able to sleep, myself." Autumn responded, noting how he was sitting and the bruises on his face, then glancing over at where Gar Bannon was sitting hunched over in contemplation of his folded hands, deep in thought. She looked back at Jase, realising he'd followed her gaze over to his dad. "But how are you holding up?" she repeated with slight emphasis, trying not to look away or turn red when his pale eyes once more flicked to stare into hers. How was it so hard to talk to him without feeling like her face was going to catch flame? She'd have thought that hanging out, laughing and talking last night would have built up an immunity to the strange and terrible Bannon, but no. Even battered, tired, and wearing a replacement Rangers jersey and - ohgod - grey sweatpants, there was something about the way he focused entirely on her that was uncomfortably incendiary. "Jaw is bruised. Feels like some teeth are a little loose. Bruising to the ocular region on the left side. Bruising to the ribs and stomach. Sore and stiff." he said quietly, almost dispassionately reporting on his injuries. "No fractures that they detected, and my concussion seems to be mostly faded, though I have a headache." "Mmhmm," she agreed, nodding thoughtfully as she caught the inside of her lower lip between her teeth. "Sounds like what I saw earlier, at least, so it's good to know that's accurate." There was a moment's pause, then, Autumn's gaze dropping to the pale, amber-flecked fingers drumming restlessly on her thighs. If she'd gotten involved earlier, would she have been able to prevent him being hurt? Maybe. All she could do now was try to repair some of the harm done, or at least make him more comfortable. Resolved, the worried redhead moved, shifting one knee up onto the couch and determinedly turning to face her friend, the unintentional arsonist. "Hey, listen," she began, her eyes moving over his face again, studying the bruises blooming dark and florid over his angular features, the tape they'd used to close the small lacerations around his eye and cheekbones, and noting the bone-deep weariness in his expression that, implausibly, remained absent from the piercing, glacial green of his gaze. "I was thinking- and, if you want to wait for Lona, I totally get it... I just thought maybe I could try to help. If you want," she added, more quietly, searching his expression for some clue to the content of his thoughts. Jase regarded her for a moment, examining the warm concern in her sea-hued eyes and the hesitation in her manner. She wanted to help, but wasn't sure whether the help would be accepted - or perhaps wasn't sure she could help? He wasn't certain on the details there. What he was certain of was that he would need to be on better form than this to deal with Cook - or whoever came to represent the Project. His friends needed him to be in better shape, and that couldn't wait for an eventual meeting with Lona. Autumn seemed to have the same biologically-based gift as Avalon - at the very least, she might be able to remove the tiredness and pain, let him bring more of his resources to bear on any problems that came up. He smiled at Autumn, nodding as the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly in humor. "I'm in your hands."
  7. "Cody." Jason spoke up from his seat, gesturing with his soda can in acknowledgement of Autumn's words. Ordinarily he would stand, but right now he felt sore and tired. "The Man In Black said we had to find Cody Sikes." "The who to the what now?" Kat spoke up. "This is what you guys were talking about when Sean and I arrived, isn't it?" "But isn't the Man In Black part of the Dark?" Cassie interjected, brow furrowing in confusion. "Apparently not. At least, when he visited me right before Cade and Marissa arrived he said he wasn't." Jase shrugged stiffly. "He said, and I quote, that he didn't want any of us hurt by the Dark 'any more than I'd want to go around my garden tearing up flowers'." "Jesus. That guy was visiting you right down the hall from us. What else did he say?" Autumn asked, one eye on the door. Jason focused for a moment, then spoke with the Man in Black's cadence. It wasn't a perfect mimicry, merely a replay of what he'd heard. "The Dark hates those who Shine, boy. It's in the name. I know you've spotted the pattern in the killings over the decades and centuries here. Every generation or so, right? Just enough time to harvest those with Shine or the potential for it. See, you and your buddies are food to the Dark, and flowers to me. I want to see you guys win." The pale-eyed youth then looked at the others. "Then I asked him to tell me about the Dark, and he said: "Can't do that, kiddo. Can't just give you everything, or you won't grow. But you children need to find Cody. And don't let the Dark kill you! It's not just death it wants to eat, it's Shine." Jase smiled wryly. "He also ate my mutton casserole I'd brought for lunch. I was hoping to eat that when I felt better." He paused, thinking for a second. "If Mr Black is an agent of the Dark then he had me dead to rights, and could have killed me there, then ambushed you all. He's had opportunities to harm us, and hasn't done so. I'm not saying I trust everything he's saying, but I have to ask what benefit he gains by lying about this. I think if the Dark has a physical agent, it's Cody." He glanced at them all. "The cycle of death - Mr Black knew about what we found out through research. It makes sense - if there's something here that encourages Shine, that explains why once a generation or so there's a harvest of those with unusually high levels." "Okay, what's Shine?" asked Kat. "The Force." Jason said with a small smile. "Technically everything that lives gives off a faint amount of it. In most of us here, it seems to be stronger somehow, focused. It's how we do what we do. If you want to get scientific - the current theory myself and Sean have worked out is that it seems to be the Grand Unifying Principle, a sub-quantum layer of reality that binds everything together. It explains how Devin can warp through space without turning into spaghetti from the gravity distortion that would entail if he did it on the quantum layer. It explains how Cassie can see into the past as well as the present and future - time wouldn't exist the same way there - it'd be just another direction." He looked at Kat, then Sophia. "You, Kat, have the Shine. Sophia does not. There's a sensory aspect to it that some of us can use - we can feel others when they're close. Cassie can feel them at much higher distances." Sophia frowned at the lean, bruised youth, plainly unhappy - though whether with the diagnosis of being normal or the source of the diagnosis was hard to tell. "As for the Dark - what Devin said, mostly. It seems to be some parasitic force local to Shelly. Every twenty-seven years it wakes up and causes a rash of murders and disappearances. We're currently halfway through year twenty-six of the current cycle. We've observed that it can amplify negative personality traits in normal people - cause boys harassing a girl to move to rape her, or cause an argument over household bills to turn into a beating, or a misunderstanding to become a brawl. It seems to be a corrupting parasite - it has to work through proxies." Jason frowned in thought. "Which explains why Cody is probably still alive and we need to find him. He was always a bit of a slimeball - someone like that is an ideal champion for the Dark. If it needs eyes and ears, then that could well be what its using Cody for." "Okay." Sean nodded. "So far, it makes sense. So do you think Cody is where Cassie felt that knot, the - what did you call it Marissa?" "The taproot." The prettier, smarter Jauntsen said as she sat back down by Cade, leaning a little against him. "Taproot, right." Sean nodded again. "Is Cody there?" "It's probably the best place to start looking." Cassie tugged at her lower lip thoughtfully. "When we're ready to, that is. That place feels dangerous to me." "Readiness. Yes." Jason half-closed his eyes, leaning back into the couch seat. "Those of us with psionic gifts have practiced tuning to each other. Devin wasn't there, neither was Kat. It doesn't seem to be inherently dangerous, though it is intimate. You become very aware of the other persons in the link - not like mind reading, just a sense of their aura, if you will." He opened his eyes, looking at Devin and Kat. "The way it works is simple enough - one person acts as a... lens, I suppose, and the others in the link focus their power into the lens. They can move Shine from themselves into the lens, allowing them to use their powers more, and the lens also gets a buff depending on who else is in the link. In our tests, we found that Cassie can amplify range, Charlie boosts the signal of the lens-person's powers, Autumn and Lona could increase the effectiveness of the lens against living creatures, and so on. There's likely other effects to discover, but we can do that later. Devin's effect on a link would be interesting to categorise, for instance." "Right now, though, we need to focus on dealing with the Project. Thanks to Sean, they don't know what we've been talking about. So we talk a little, and let them talk a lot: see what they have to say, see how they are approaching us. That will tell us how smart they are, or whether they are letting their sense of importance and authority do the thinking." Jason paused, his eyes sweeping the group. "We don't tolerate threats or intimidation, though. We need to establish from the outset that we will not be pushed around - if they indeed try to do so. As for Marissa's concerns about Devin... I think we can count on Devin being naturally contrary-" "Hey! I am not!" The teleporter objected with a grin. Jason arched a brow at that, spreading his hands wide in a 'there you are' gesture that caused a few chuckles at the interplay. "-And indeed, if the Project are trying to keep up with his antics it means they will pay less attention to the rest of us 'good kids' by comparison." "Cool." Devin said, glancing at his phone once more. "So what do I do? Just keep being me?" "As easy as that, yes." Jason smiled at his friend. "Frustrate and infuriate. Be by turns difficult and impossible. Make them work a little." "The major, Taggart? He seemed reasonable." Autumn said after taking another swallow of water. "A hard-ass, but not a bully. We might be able to work with him rather than treat him as an enemy." Cassie nodded agreement. "Yeah." the blonde seer spoke up. "He listened when we warned him about the creatures, and I got the impression he doesn't altogether respect Doctor Cook." Jason nodded at that, eyes closing once more. "Let's hope we're dealing with reasonable people then." he said. "Charlie, Sean. I don't know how much more time we've got right now, but this is a good time to bring Sophia and Kat up to speed - give them the 'story so far'. Fill in the gaps so they're not constantly scratching their heads and saying 'what?' when we're talking about something." He opened the bag of chips on his lap and slowly started to eat them, favoring the unbruised side of his mouth when chewing.
  8. "...and then today, two guys were influenced to attack me over some minor grievance." Jason's voice was low as he finished quietly explaining to his father, the elder and younger Bannon sitting a little way back from the rest of the room on a couch. "It seemed that the Dark - or whoever makes the decisions for it - decided to move on us all here at the hospital: a preemptive strike to take us all out." Gar Bannon was staring at the floor as his son explained most of the events of the summer and the first week of Fall semester. Whilst a genius - or at least, once a genius before he'd crawled into a bottle - Jase's dad was struggling, trying to find rocks to latch onto in the torrent of horror and eeriness that had reached out and enveloped his son during the last months. And in one particular, even before that. "Since you were eight?" he murmured quietly, turning perhaps the largest personal revelation over. He looked up into his son's clear, pale stare. "You've known since you were eight, and didn't tell me." "There never seemed to be a good time." Jason said, unmoved. Gareth examined the boy - the young man - seeing now the removal of the mask and desperately trying to find some shred of evidence that the inhuman calm was itself a pose to shield some deeper vulnerability. "The information would only have caused you more worry, and to no good purpose." A small fracture showed in the mirror-shine of his glacial gaze, though his tone was still matter-of-fact as he added. "You might even have given me up." "Jesus! How could you think that?!" Gar hissed, reflexive outrage warring with the awareness that others were present, if not actually part of the conversation. Jason's head tilted slightly, his stare examining his father's reactions. "My own mother did. How could I expect more or better from anyone else? You were fresh out of jail, heartbroken, and drinking." He replied in a tone that was entirely logical, irrefutable in it's simple truth. "I don't have intuitive empathy to go on when I trust people. Leaps of faith are alien to my nature. I go on observed behavior: what people do, what they say, and how those contrast. I extend trust bit by bit, from necessity and to test those around me as well as myself. Those I cared for most learned latest, since they were the ones I least wanted to drive away." Gar had always carried guilt that he had somehow been responsible for what he perceived as Jason growing up too fast, never being a normal kid. A loser drunk for a father - of course the kid would learn to cook, clean, do the dozen and one things that kept the household in order. But now, looking at his son, he saw that perhaps Jason had never been a 'kid' in anything but physical development. He'd always been a serious-eyed child even when learning to walk. When he fell down, even if it was a nasty bump, he'd just get up and try again. Kate had wanted to get him tested, but Gareth had resisted that, wanting to let Jase just develop naturally. "I wish I had known." he said, as much to himself as to Jason. "I should have- I dunno. I could have been there for you, perhaps. If you even need that. Do you?" he looked up into his son's eyes again. "Do you need people to be there for you?" "I.." Jason hesitated, examining his father, then glancing around at the room, at his friends. He remembered Marissa taking his hand in the trailer, Devin hanging out and talking a million miles a minute in the vehicle barn, Sean and his family welcoming him into the fold, Autumn hugging him despite her own nervousness around him, Cassie lightly poking him, teasing him about his lack of pluck, Charlie trying to understand him even as the experience terrified him. "Need isn't the accurate word. But I like some people being there for me. It enriches my life - usually." He looked back at his father. "You have been there for me, dad. Don't think you haven't." "Not enough, I haven't been." Gar frowned, wiping his face with a hand. "I need a minute or two, Jason. I just... Need a moment. It's a whole lot." "Sure." If Jason felt any worry, or concern, he didn't show it in an obvious sense. His gaze followed his father as Gareth stood, resting a hand on his son's shoulder for a moment, then wandered off to the far side of the room to sit down again. Jase looked at Hank, who nodded silently and went to sit near Gar, leaving Jason alone. He sat back, gesturing and floating a can of Sprite and a couple bags of chips over to himself as he tuned in to the ongoing conversation. "We cannot rely on the Project unless we run the Project." Jason said calmly from where he was seated, popping the tab on his soda. "And the only way to do that is to get inside and become indispensable to the Project. If we get involved now, we can at least try to head off any disasters they might cause. My recommendation is to play along guardedly, never showing too much at once. Treat it like a game of poker. They have some cards, we have some cards - and I'm pretty sure ours beat theirs - but it doesn't hurt to see how they bluff." He took a long sip from the can, then lowered it and regarded them all. "Don't think like teenagers - at the whims of adult laws and supervision. Teenagers don't have real power - we do. Teenagers don't have real knowledge - we do. Teenagers don't kill nightmare beasts - we do. Oh, and they probably have all the DNA they need from us over the last few years, so that horse has bolted." he added with a slight lopsided grin at Devin before wincing and gingerly touching his jaw. "Just consider our assets: Sean can get into any computer system, Marissa can wrap people around her little finger, Cassie can see, sense and feel things they try to hide. That's just the most obvious intelligence gathering talents we have. Then there's the muscle side of powers equation, and that's formidable enough that I'm pretty sure the bunch of us could give Major Taggart and his men shit-fits in a straight fight. So we play it cautious, we give the appearance of cooperation, and we try not to spook them into doing something stupid while we figure out what exactly they're all up to." "And if it all goes south, we at least will have better information to use when shutting them down and kicking over their sandcastle."
  9. Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked "They're moving around, trying to get in our path." Kat squinted, trying to focus this new sense. "I can't really tell this far from them. It's more like a... a..." Marissa put a hand on the tiny girl's shoulder, gentle pressure reassuring her. "Chill. The warning's enough. Looks like you're experiencing- what do you call it, Jason?" She threw a glance back past Sophia and Gar at the shimmering ice-coated specter behind them. "Primary sensory awakening. Or if you prefer classic language, her Third Eye is opening." Came the glacially calm reply. He felt cold to Kat's new senses, too, like an ice-cube being run down her spine, as though the chill he radiated was more than merely physical. Of course, cold did not radiate, the exchange student corrected herself. What was actually happening was that Jason Bannon was sufficiently cold that he was drawing in thermal activity from the air around him whilst not himself being warmed by the process, small ice-crystals of frozen moisture forming a barely perceptible sleet in his wake. The tangent to thermodynamic principles oddly helped. "Third eye." she said levelly. "I'm psychic now?" "Psionic." Sean corrected from up ahead as they moved steadily together to the next corner. "Psychic is all ouija boards and tarot cards and crystals and talking to the dead. You're feeling energy from the subquantum stratum, and as you get stronger you'll be able to shift it around." Sophia had been silent for a few minutes, absorbing the shock of Charlie's outlandish and monstrous appearance, the way Sean was throwing around laser-chakrams and the casual manner in which Jason Creepazoid Bannon had just looked at a fish monster and deep-frozen it. But there was only so much a girl could take. "Wait - who are you people, the bizarro X-Men?!" she said a trifle shrilly. "I mean - laser ladyboy, ice creep back there, talking about third eyes, and that's Charlie the lobster lord, and nobody thinks any of this is weird?" There was a fwoop as Devin appeared next to her, making her eep and flinch. The teleporter held a fire-ax in one hand and a broom handle in the other, having evidently done some scrounging for usable weapons. "Naw, that's not weird." Devin had obtained a donut from somewhere in his wanderings and currently spoke around a mouthful of it as he handed the fire-ax to Cade. "Weird is when Chuck lets slip that he's actually the last descendant of Zoidburgthu, and it is vital for the survival of his species that he snargle your garthog. Something to bear in mind when you're blowing his squid dick later - just don't get ink in your eye." He grinned at the bewildered girl. "Just remember this phrase:" And the irrepressible Jauntsen did a warbling, back of the throat gurgling sound that was a dead ringer for a murloc warcry from WoW. "That's Charlie-speak for 'fertilise my eggs, big boy'." Sophia stared at him as there were some snorts and one or two short laughs of amusement from the rest of the Fellowship, even Hank cracking a grin as Jason's frosty lips quirked in a smile. Charlie sighed from up ahead of the column. "Thanks, Devin." came his very normal, Charlie-like voice from within the chitinous shell. "That helped. Really." "Just being an awesome wing-man." Devin said, handing the rest of his donut to Kat and blipping to the front of the group next to the shapeshifter. "She'll be okay, dude. Just remember to-" another murloc noise "-her-" and another gurgling warble "-and she'll be putty in your hands." With a grin, a pat on Charlie's armored back and a fwoop he was gone again. "Jase." Charlie called back over his shoulder. "Can you freeze his vocal chords?" "Probably." came the wry, matter-of-fact reply. "But where's the fun in that?"
  10. Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked "Stick to the plan." Marissa spoke up, pointing down the hallway in the direction they'd been headed. "Charlie, you lead." The brunette's eyes were wide with a mixture of excitement from the action and concern that they weren't out of this yet. Charlie glanced back over one carapace-clad shoulder and nodded, moving up the corridor. His laser discs hovering over his shoulders, poised to lend fire-support, Sean followed. "That's Charlie?" Sophia asked, hurrying to catch up with Marissa, Cade and Kat, taking care only to step over the gooey remnants of the creatures on the floor with a grossed-out expression on her face which once more turned to confused with that icky obstacle navigated. Marissa smirked at the busty girl's tone, though she could feel a trace of empathy for her too. This was all weird as hell, after all. She'd just had longer to process it. "Hidden depths, Fingleman." The Queen Mantis said by way of explanation. "Everyone has them - some depths are just deeper. We'll explain more later - give you the blue pill-" "Red pill." Jason from behind, Cade from next to her, and Sean from ahead all corrected, almost in chorus. "Whatever, nerds!" Marissa snapped, but her glower was fond as she glanced at them, then took in the adults present. "Hi Mr Graskle, Mr Bannon." "Miss." Hank nodded as he and Gar followed along behind, the icy shape of Jase bringing up the rear again. Gar was looking over his shoulder at his son, and Hank nudged him. "Later, Gar. Let's get outta here first." There was a fwoop as Devin reappeared next to Marissa, who to her credit barely jumped. "It's clear up around the corner." Devin reported. "I'm still feeling that fucked-up oily sense though. Pretty sure there's more uglies lurkin'. We should mo-" There was a splintering crash from behind them back at the T-junction as the icy wall finally gave way under the assault of the massive abomination trapped beyond it, which shrieked in anger and pain as it forced past the jagged frozen shards that ripped at its rubbery hide to emerge into the corridor. Spotting it's prey escaping once more, it screamed and began to lumber towards them, picking up speed. "-move." Devin finished, and the group of teens and the two adults began to run. All but one. Jason turned, head canted to one side as he considered the beast with a gaze that was frosty in more ways than one. The gashes caused by the ice were knitting, he realised. But the blackened areas of flesh where his fire had seared the creature on Friday were still raw and cracked, and the frost-bitten patches of ripped-off flesh where it had bashed against the unearthly chill of his wall were likewise not healing. This monster, this thing of the Dark, had plagued him and his friends long enough. The role of monsters was to die, which was one reason the young psychopath worked so very hard not to be one: all monsters eventually were vanquished. This one's time had come. The creature was lumbering at a running pace now, maw opening wide, the stunted ruin of it's tongue visible as it roared. And then, between one thunderous footfall and the next, it went silent. Its limbs slowed, then stiffened as Jason stilled all molecular activity in the creature, sucked all thermal energy from its atoms, vapor visibly wreathing into the air around it as Jase's Shine drove the heat out. Its tissues, muscles and organs froze, the lashing tail becoming as rigid as a board, the oily rubbery skin became stiff and coated with ice as the red glare of life left its remaining eye. Between eye-blinks, the horse-sized monstrosity charging towards them became a frost-etched sculpture of frozen flesh that slid to a halt a few meters from where its killer stood, trailing tendrils of steam in the air as he turned back to his friends. "Let's go." he suggested calmly, walking towards them. Ahead of them somewhere in the hallways, they could hear hoarse, whistling calls increase in volume as more hunters closed in on their prey.
  11. Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked "Ohfuckohfuckohfuck!" Sophia was not particularly athletic, but her gym coach would have been impressed at the turn of speed she was making right now as she fled headlong down the hall towards the T-junction at the end, hanging onto Devin's hand for dear life. She was making a couple of classic errors a lot of horror movie fans would have called her on, and those were glancing back and wasting air talking and/or screaming rather than running, but other than that her performance was a solid 'eight' apart from the East German judges, who were harsh graders and didn't go above 7.6. Devin, by now, felt he was an old hand at fleeing from monsters - no looking back, no wasted breath, and keep your eyes on where you were putting your feet. Parallel to the two fleeing teens, Gareth Bannon and Hank Graskle were both making good time for old guys, actually pulling ahead of Devin somewhat since they weren't towing a panicking Junior. Then Jason appeared at the corner, stepping well out from the left hand corridor and stopping in the middle of the T at the top of the hallway, his appearance giving pause to two of the fleeing people. He appeared to be made of ice, glittering starkly in the overhead lights, the frozen substance covering him from head to foot and causing him to trail vapor as though he had stepped from a bath of liquid nitrogen as the ambient temperature air encountered the sub--zero chill of his body, and his eyes were a gleaming frosty blue-green. He moved unhurriedly, turning and planting himself in plain view, the sight of him encouraging the Fishasaurus to shriek and redouble it's efforts to close the distance. Hank and Devin, experienced and focused on survival, didn't let the eerie sight sway them. Gar and Sophia were not so lucky and the surprising sight, followed by the sudden gloom as the main lights died and the emergency lights flickered to life, caused near-disaster. Gareth gaped at the sight of his son, the shock causing him to stumble and fall headlong, sliding along the tiled floor as the air at the point where the hallway met the junction began to haze up, ice crystals forming on the walls, floor and ceiling. Hank also slid, but it was the slide of a baseball player stealing home base as he slid on his knees to the corner and then righted himself, turning to look back down the hall. Jason's dad found himself being lifted by unseen, impossibly strong hands then half-pulled, half-thrown to the end of the hallway, sliding enough distance that Hank was able to catch him and pull him to safety around the corner, the elder Bannon shivering from his passage through the strength-sapping cold of the forming wall. Devin saw the frosty shimmer in the air, gauging the distance, and realised that he wouldn't be able to cross the line in time, not towing Fingerbang. He saw the calm inexorable expression on Jason's frozen features, his friend nodding to him as the buzzing, chittering sound of Ugly's equally ugly swarm of bugs bore down on them from behind. Jase would hold off closing the wall to the last second, but he would close it.
  12. Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked Sean felt a surge of annoyance, as well as an attendant flush threatening to stain his delicate features, at the lumping-in of him with 'the girls' that could be said to be implicit in Devin's words to Charlie. Charlie was one of 'the guys', like Cade, and therefore a protector for 'the girls' - which included Sean - as well as the wounded Jason who, if he wasn't beaten half to shit, would probably have been equally part of the guardian bro club. Or something. He set his lips in a determined line - last time they had run into a Dark-spawned aberration, he'd run away from the fight. Sure, he'd headed towards the trailer, to try and figure out if he could stop whatever was causing the problems, but at the end of the day he'd been looking for something else to do because he was woefully under-equipped to fight monsters. At least, that had been true then. But they had done some experimentation and training since then, and Sean could feel the zip and crackle of photons and electrons in the air around him. He could amplify and emit photonic energy to such a degree he could vaporise holes in metal. He could enhance his own awareness and reflexes. Sure, he might not be the tankiest of tanks or anyone's idea of a living weapon, but he was far from helpless now. Even so, he wasn't eager to go forth and fight that Cthuloid monstrosity head-on in the middle of the hospital. Taking a breath, he focused his Shine a little, expanding and refining his awareness of the neurological electrical activity of living creatures near him. He'd only toyed with it a little, but if he was right it could help him discern and avoid attacks, so long as he could see them coming. He became aware of the bio-electrical buzz of those nearby, the emotionally-charged reactions of the electrons in their brains to the sudden fright and tension of their situation. Apart from Jason. His brain activity felt like it always did - fast and clear, a little slower than usual right now due to the pain receptor interference from his injuries - but there was no chaotic crackle of emotionally charged activity as he straightened from pulling on his boots, then fished the Rangers shirt out of the bag Sean had brought and, moving stiffly, tugged it on over his head where it hung loosely on his slender torso. He shoved the rest of the clothing into the leather depths of his satchel before shouldering it, then glanced at the door and Marissa. "I don't need guarding." he said without petulance or any real emphasis. The lovely girl scowled, pointing a finger at him. "You are a mess. You're moving like an old man and your eyes still aren't fully focusing a hundred percent. So help me god, Jason: Do. Not. Test. Me." she snapped, brown eyes flashing. Their gazes, the one of pale jade ice and the other of dark fire, locked for a moment in a battle of wills that was as epic as it was instantaneous - before Jason's lips twitched in a faint smile, and he nodded once slowly in silent assent. Her gaze narrowed slightly, resting on his face for a moment longer before, apparently satisfied, Marissa turned with a flip of her hair and peered down the hall. "There's a side entrance leading to the employee car park. If the monster is coming in the front way, we can make it out that way." she asserted to the rest of them. Cade nodded agreement as Sean moved to stand next to Kat. He felt responsible for her, and the shocked fright currently on the tiny French exchange student's face was familiar. He'd felt the same way, back when shit had started getting weird last Friday and a lifetime ago. "Ever see Silent Hill, or play the games?" he asked her conversationally, his tone low. She shook her head mutely and he gave her a smile he hoped was reassuring. "Well, think of it as being in a horror movie. There's a monster coming to eat us. And we're leading it away so hopefully not too many other people get hurt." He took her hand on an impulse. "Stick with me, okay? We've... sorta done this before. And we can answer questions later." "What about Autumn and Cassie?" Jason asked as he came to the door, Cade hovering behind him like a minder. "They're somewhere around too. Probably the treatment rooms near the front." "Shit." Marissa took out her cellphone and tapped on it as she started down the corridor, Charlie moving slightly ahead of her, using his sense of living things to discern if anything was ahead of them that wasn't human. "Let's get moving. We can update them." "Text will be slow." Sean warned, following along on Marissa's heels with Kat in tow. "There's some kind of latency in effect for cellular signals. Just saying it might take a minute or two for them to bounce back." Even as he spoke, he pulled out his own phone and tapped rapidly. "I'm texting the others - the ones not here. Laurie, Lona and Co. If monsters are out Shine-hunting we might not be the only targets." "Double shit." Marissa said, but she didn't stop tapping as the six of them hustled along the hallway. "Slow texts are better than nothing. Hopefully those two will be getting the hell out as well. I've told them and Deej where to find us." Jason and Cade were bringing up the rear, the massive athlete spotting a fire extinguisher on the wall and picking it up. As improvised weapons went, it was better than nothing, he mused when suddenly all of the teens heard gunfire coming from the lobby, followed by a screech of outrage from the monster and a booming male voice shouting above the screams and hubbub. "JASON?". Jase stopped moving, turning towards the lobby. "Dad." he said, a faint tension in his voice and the widening of his eyes the only signs he was alarmed, but for those who knew him, it might as well have been a panicked shout and an expression of abject fear for another. He glanced at the rest of them, but it was not in search of approval or advice, they saw. He needed neither one. "You guys keep going." he said simply, then headed back down the corridor towards the waiting area, breaking into a painful jog, the air around him taking on a faintly distorted heat-shimmer like effect as he tried to wrap himself in a cocoon of telekinetic force... which failed as a stabbing pain in his head announced some manner of feedback. He staggered a couple of steps, then gritted his teeth and continued on his path. Thirty Seconds previously Sophia was staring in panic towards the front of the hospital. Something large, something that roared, had from the sounds of it broken into the lobby twenty feet away. People were screaming, and the world was going twisted like something from a video game or horror movie. Black oily blotches were spreading on the walls, and the overhead lights seemed to be emitting a sickly greenish, purple tinge in addition to their normal radiance. Two burly-looking guys in hard-wearing clothing who'd just come into the waiting area and had been standing by to talk to the nurse at the desk were likewise looking around with a shocked expression, and she noticed one of them already seemed to have pulled a gun from somewhere, holding it low in a competent-seeming grip. She placed him then - Hank Graskle, the loony survivalist gun-nut. Both he and the guy with him were looking towards the front of the hospital too, hearing as she did something large slithering and thumping towards the doors leading into the waiting room. And then it got really crazy. Devin Jauntsen, of all people, appeared in a ripple of purple-blue light that hung in the air behind him for a second, staggering slightly as he materialised and shaking his head like he was getting rid of some disorientation. "Hate that." he muttered, then looked around and spotted her. "Hey, Fingleman. We've got to get outta here. Charlie sent me to getcha. Come on." he grabbed for her hand, and Sophia on reflex pulled it away. "What the fuck, Devin?!" she half-yelled- And then screamed, along with the other people present, as a hideous thing burst through the doors. Part fish, part lizard, with stunted twisted humanoid limbs adorning it's bulbous, oily body, the thing looked as though it had been badly burned at some point, cracked weeping blackened flesh visible under the sheen of whatever sickening fluids seeped from its pores. One dark, shark-black eye focused on Devin, the other eye a puckered burn scar, and the thing's maw unfolded open like the leaves of a toxic alien flower, drool collecting around the many teeth it showed before it issued a terrifying, glottal scream of rage and recognition. "Aw shit." Devin groaned, his face pale. "Hey ugly. Nice to see ya too. Will you come the fuck on now?" he demanded of Sophia, grabbing her arm and tugging her towards the treatment rooms. Behind them, the creature shrieked and started forwards, squalling in pain but it's progress unchecked as a rapid sequence of shots from Graskle tore into it's side, the blubbery mass of flesh protecting it from serious harm. "Fuck." Graskle cursed, backing up with his hand out, moving the other guy with him. Devin recognised Gar Bannon from his visits to Jase's house over the summer. "Let's find Jason." Hank told his friend. "The fuck is that?" Gar demanded, eyes wide and the colour having left his face. Hank didn't seem so obviously shocked, though his face was taut with fear and adrenaline as he reloaded his pistol. "Move!" he snapped, pushing Jase's dad in the same direction Devin was pulling Sophia. Gar turned and ran up the hallway, calling Jason's name...
  13. Both Jauntsens saw their friend's pale green eyes narrow for a moment, as though he were seriously considering Devin's offer - which, for all they knew, he could well be. Then he shook his head a little, sighing. "Tempting. But they were being pushed and besides, they're already neck deep in shit." "Pushed?" Marissa frowned prettily - she did most things prettily, Jase noted not for the first time in passing. "The Dark." Devin asserted as he plopped into the chair and rummaged through the cold bag next to it. "Oh hey, Bannon's Special Honey Jerky, made from organic locally sourced honey and organic locally sourced hitchhikers." "Go ahead." Jase shrugged. "I'm not up to chewing right now." He gingerly prodded at his jaw, then put a finger in his mouth to feel whether any of his teeth were loose. Apparently satisfied, he glanced at the other two. "I did actually give your idea some thought, Mari. And it's a good one. The only reason I didn't come forward is because popularity doesn't interest me - I am not a social creature and failed to see what clique I could possibly influence... But that was an error on my part. I should have asked you how I could help with your plan, rather than assume there was no place in it for me." He smiled, careful of his split lip. "So, when I'm out of here, show me what needs doing and I'll see it done. Queen or not, you're not on your own." As Devin grunted absent approval around a mouthful of jerky, Marissa's gaze met Jase's, softening slightly even though her arms were still folded across her chest. "You volunteering to be my knight?" she asked challengingly, her smirk a touch coquettish. "I'd hardly aspire so high." Jase retorted deadpan, his eyes gleaming. Devin grumbled something that might have been 'get a room already', but it was hard to say for certain. "There is another thing." Jason stated slowly, considering. Cook and Co knew a lot already, and he was pretty sure Etienne had told them something about the 'Dark'. "I had a black-clad visitor today, before you two got here. Came to tell me that he and the Dark are not on the same side, amongst other things." "You believe that?" Devin asked, suddenly intent. Marissa likewise abandoned the playful demeanour and frowned once more. "I was at his mercy. He's had two chances to kill me that I know of, and I'm still here. All he did was eat my lunch." Jase shrugged. "There's more, and it makes sense with what I've observed... But I'll drop that when most of us are here. Saves repeating myself."
  14. "Not tried the food yet." Jase said, settling his head back on the pillows propping him up. "And I guess they'll let me out once they're sure there's no serious damage to my brain." Again that quirk of his lips that heralded a smile. "They've already tried to give me an EEG. The head of neurology here, no less. I'm getting the VIP treatment." "They want to scan your brain." Marissa's eyes narrowed. "Cook behind that?" "Probably." Jason nodded. "I refused it as unnecessary." "What if it is, though?" Cade asked pragmatically. "Necessary, I mean. You did have a couple of seniors dancing on your head." Jason grunted, closing his eyes for a moment. "What I need is rest, though visits from my friends could be an aid to recovery." Both Marissa and Cade nodded as they grasped his meaning. Lona could ensure there was nothing to worry about, and take care of it if there was. Jason paused a moment, considering as he rested his eyes. Though the Man In Black had conversed frankly and openly, Jase was not inclined to discuss the man's visit while under observation. Perhaps Mr Black had a way to take care of listening devices, or perhaps he didn't care. Either way, Jason decided, he would be more circumspect. "I could also go for a soda, if the nurse thinks I can have one." = = = = = = = = = = = = = Liam opened his good eye. He hurt, hurt all over, though the morphine drip was helping to numb the worst of the pain to mere aches. It made everything seem kind of hazy and unreal. He'd woken up this morning knowing that Avalon had been there, having heard her voice. He also remembered, through the haze of chemicals, the face of Jason Bannon as he had- No. -as he had- No, that isn't what happened. There were two attackers, large men as big as the sheriff. They had spoken English with an accent. One of those harsh-sounding languages. As the thought came to him, images likewise came to him. Two men, black leather jackets and gloves, wearing balaclavas. His mind whirled as the memory surfaced, conflicting with the sharp, angular pale features of Jason Bannon and the hellish look in his eyes. Two men, yes. They'd worked him over good. Said he owed them money. He remembered being afraid, so afraid that Ban- that the large men would kill him. I should sleep now. Get better. Then tell the sheriff about the large guys, probably worked for some scumbag in Great Falls. Yeah. Liam closed his eyes. When he was ready, he'd tell the sheriff about the two guys who'd worked him over. = = = = = = = = = = = = = = "Well?" Doctor Cook said to Courtney, handing her a tissue for the blood coming from one nostril. The lovely girl dabbed the blood away, looked at him and sighed, brushing her vibrant red hair back over one shoulder. The two of them sat on a couch in one of the Pedriatric Department offices, currently unused. "He thinks two big guys did this to him, saying he owed them money. No connection between the attack and Bannon in his mind now." she replied, her tone subdued as she rubbed two fingers against her left temple. Cook nodded, giving her a pleased smile, and handed her a couple of Tylenol and some water. "That really goddamn hurts to do that, you know. And his memories weren't a picnic either." she groused, crimson lips twisting in discontent before tossing back the pills and the water. "You're a trooper, Courtney." Cook acknowledged, resting a hand on the girl's shoulder. She smiled a little archly at the handsome older man. "Not tonight, Doc. I have a headache." she teased, though she shifted a little closer to him, leaning into the one-armed hug. Cook merely smiled, a considering look in his eye. "Do you think you could get into Jason Bannon's head?" he asked. Courtney sighed, making a tsk sound. "Men! Only interested in me for my mind." she pouted. "As it happens, I've skimmed most of the minds in that band of freaks, and could maybe at least push their thoughts a little, most of them at least. All except two. Devin Jauntsen seems to be naturally resistant. The few times I've tried to 'push' him emotionally or read him, he either gets a headache or just doesn't react. And the other-" "Is Jason?" "I scanned his thoughts once." Courtney said quietly. "Once. On Friday last week, when you said he and some of the others had shown evidence of talent. I pushed him a little - with conversation - and then with my gift. It was hard to do, too. Like I couldn't feel his emotions at first, and then..." Her voice trailed off, and the doctor was aware that the girl was pressing her legs together and squirming slightly in her seat. "And then...?" he prodded. Courtney turned and looked at him, and he was struck by the expression in her eye. "One word." she said. "Wow. It was like I was prodding fog, and suddenly got hit by a freight train. And his thoughts?" she shivered, and it was not altogether in fear. "I gave my report, what he said to me. You read it?" "Yes." Cook stated, remembering. "It was very... graphic." "Yeah, it was. And he meant every word of it." Courtney's eyes were wide and dream-like. Not for the first time, Cook privately wished that the most gifted of the in-Project psions wasn't a hypersexual teenage girl. Courtney's predilections were not easy to manage, and even though cognitive therapy and drugs were able to take the edge off her disorder she could get distracted, especially by dangerous or taboo prospects. Whilst that wasn't a problem when all she was doing was seducing football players or cheerleaders with equal abandon, it could present a problem if she set her sights on other game. "Courtney." Cook's voice took on a tone of stern command. "Focus, please. Do you think you could get into young Mister Bannon's head the way you did with Liam?" "Not a chance in hell." Courtney shook her head, clarity returning to her gaze. "I was able to get into his surface thoughts that one time, when his control slipped. The rest of the time his mind is like a diamond - I'd have an aneurysm trying. The night of the game I tried to make a connection - I wanted him to know I hadn't deliberately gossiped about his unit and tried to 'push' him to believe me more easily. No dice." She sighed. "He believed me anyway, I think. But yeah... Most of that bunch are pretty independent minded, enough so I wouldn't look forward to trying to do to them what I did to Liam. Might be something to do with them being gifted too, perhaps." "Perhaps." Cook allowed. Privately he mused that the 'Fellowship', untaught and unobserved by the Project, seemed to be manifesting levels of psionic ability beyond what the so-called 'test group' were capable. The test group's psychokinetic could just about move a handgun and light a candle - whereas the Bannon kid could throw a grown man around like a rag doll. Something was off with the science of their Project, regardless of what the all-knowing Doctor who ran the show thought...
  15. The nurse had brought him two Tylenol, smiling sympathetically and turning the room's lights down at his request before heading out to the nurse station. Jason gave the pills a cursory examination then shrugged before tossing them back with a swallow of water. Though he might suspect Cook and Carter, he couldn't hold every nurse and orderly in the medical center under suspicion. Or rather, he could, but it would achieve nothing. Right now he was within the sphere of people who, whilst they might not be allies, were at least not mortal enemies. Yet, at least. And he needed something to reduce the swelling and bruising to his brain. He closed his eyes against the faint nausea and throbbing ache of his head, pushing the world of the senses aside and withdrawing into his mind. Pain fell away, nausea fell away. Yet even here, in the halls and garden of his memory palace, the damage to his grey matter had a perceivable effect. There was a haze in the air, a faint blurriness to the edges of things. The colours of the flowers seemed by turns too vivid or too dull. The faint subsonic, rhythmic breathing that was always present now occasionally caused vibrations in the structure. He wandered the halls, assessing the damage dispassionately, and was satisfied that nothing had been severely upset, no images or experiences or knowledge had been removed. Finally, he descended a set of broad stairs and found himself at the mouth of the Well. It was a great, dark void, it's depths endless and falling away out of sight below the rough circular edge he stood upon. The breathing was louder here, the exhalations causing the air to move in warm currents. He stared down into the blackness for a long while that, in objective time, would perhaps only be a couple of heartbeats, feeling some satisfaction at having restrained what lay beneath his feet. His capacity for violence was unfettered by fear, remorse, guilt, or even normal human physical limitation, yet his icy reason had contained it. But had that been the right move? What if the two pawns of the Dark had killed him? What if that had been their goal as Autumn had suggested? If she had not intervened, would he now be dead? "I'm too pretty to keep crying over you." Marissa said from behind him, and Jason turned, putting the Well at his back as he regarded the stunning brunette. She was dressed as she had been when she'd come to his home that Saturday morning, and stepped forward to wrap her arms around his waist and hug him. "It seems that you have found a way to stem your tears." Jason replied, stilling the impulse to embrace her in turn, feeling the warm breath of the Well on the back of his neck stirring his anger. "You could have just told me you desired Cade. It would not have stopped me being your friend." Marissa looked up at him, smiling a little mockingly as she shook her head and opened her mouth to speak- "This is tasty." The voice intruded on his thoughts, along with the faint sounds of tapping plastic. Jase's eyes flicked open to see the Man in Black seated next to his bed, fork in hand as he dug mouthfuls of food from a plastic container Jason recognised as being his lunch. Mr Black smiled as the youth's pale eyes met his, helping himself to another mouthful with relish. "Really good. What is it?" "Provencal mutton casserole." Jason replied, quieting the urge to lash out immediately. Now he was back in the world of the physical, the pain and nausea had returned, though the Tylenol was working already. Focusing through the pain, he contemplated the black-garbed figure in the chair. "You got a knack, I'll say that." The man nodded approvingly, sitting back in the chair with the container still in hand as he regarded Jase critically. "You look like shit, boy." "You should see the other guys." "Hah! Yeah. That li'l redhead busted that boy up good." Mr Black forked up more casserole, speaking around the mouthful. "Dunno why she had to, though. You could have smeared those two all over the halls." "And played right into your hands." Jase retorted. Mr Black's head tilted slightly, then he smiled. "Mine? You got me confused with someone else, Jase - you mind if I call you Jase?" He went on without waiting for an answer. "Jase, my boy, I don't want you hurt by the Dark. You or any of your Shiny friends. Any more than you'd want to go around your garden tearing up flowers." Jase was silent, regarding the Man in Black for a long moment as he chewed on Jason's lunch. "You're not working for the Dark." he stated rather than asked, though there was some skepticism in his tone. The Man in Black shook his head, then leaned forward. "The Dark hates those who Shine, boy. It's in the name. I know you've spotted the pattern in the killings over the decades and centuries here. Every generation or so, right? Just enough time to harvest those with Shine or the potential for it." He gestured with the fork. "See, you and your buddies are food to the Dark, and flowers to me. I want to see you guys win." "So tell me about the Dark, then." Jason invited with a smirk as Mr Black shook his head, tsk-ing. "Can't do that, kiddo. Can't just give you everything, or you won't grow." He rose, setting the empty container and it's fork back in the cooler bag. "But you children need to find Cody. And don't let the Dark kill you! It's not just death it wants to eat, it's Shine." He turned and headed for the door. "And what do you want?" Jason asked as the lean figure in black paused at the doorway, turning slightly and grinning back at him. "Why, I aim to cause upset to the established order." Mr Black said before stepping out of the room.
  16. Jason Bannon Bannon is the Quiet Kid from all the Quiet Kid memes. One day he's going to shoot up the school. He sells firecrackers, weed, adderall and meth to people around Shelly. Word is he will get anything you want for the right price. His car, a sweet 1970 Dodge Charger, has secret compartments for carrying drugs and illegal firearms. He rebuilt it himself. Bannon works for a cartel. That's how come he's never been busted for dealing. People he doesn't like disappear or wind up dead. Like that one dude, whatsisname, you know? A few years ago? His dad is a member of a crazy militia group and is friends with Hank Graskle, a dude so crazy dangerous he's on an FBI watchlist. Jason is one of those super-brained autistic types and can divide by zero. The eggplant is real! Courtney told Chloe who told Leigh who was overheard by Lori... so it must be true! Jason and Sean Cassidy are secretly lovers. That's why Bannon doesn't date. Also, Sean is the bottom. Jase sells a brand of weed called Lucifer's Reserve. No-one's heard of it before, no-one can find reference to it anywhere. But those who have tried it insist it's the mellowest, strongest high they've ever experienced. It's expensive as shit, though. Jason's dad killed his mom. That's why he went to jail and can only find work as a janitor at the prison now. He's also an alcoholic. Bannon is crazy. He threatened Chet, Todd and Cody with a knife / sickle / hayhook at the County Fair and if Clara Wright and Avalon Wilson hadn't come along he'd have gutted Cody. The reason Cody is missing is because Bannon finished what he was going to do at the Fair.
  17. His window on the world had contracted to a single white aperture, a spyhole through which he could feel the thudding impacts and hear the grunted cursing of his attackers. The pain was happening to his body, but his mind was clear and aware of what was going on, waiting for the kicks to slow and weaken from within the construct of his mind. And then he heard a yell, a female voice. Autumn. The sounds of a scuffle, the voice of Mark Belcher. And then he heard her whimper in pain, and Something uncoiled from deep under the foundations of his mind, something that rumbled the ground of the garden. His friend, rather than standing by, had gotten involved because he hadn't ended this fight himself. Of course she had, and he felt stupid for not considering it in adopting his 'wait it out' strategy. And now she was being hurt. But he couldn't just cut loose, couldn't rip the boys limb from limb or sear them into greasy spots on the floor. If he did, he told that impulse that was rising, he would be forfeiting freedom, anonymity. It was not practical. Still, there was no excuse for doing nothing. The kicks had stopped, and he heard the pain-wracked scream of Mark as he opened his eyes, seeing the senior staggering away from Autumn cradling his arm, even as Curtis hammered the slender redhead hard enough across the jaw to knock her sprawling. Fury surged up behind the cold rationality of Jason's thoughts as he got his hands under him and started to rise. Icily, he plotted out the next six seconds with computer-like precision. Three seconds to gain his footing and fight off the pain and dizziness. One second to cross the distance between him and Curtis while the senior was looming over Autumn. And two seconds to reach around from behind and hook out both of the meat-sack's eyes with his fingers. Autumn kicked out against the larger youth's shin, causing him to swear but only slowing him for a moment. Jason rose into a semi-crouch, silently and with his face expressionless under the blood from his mouth and nose, green eyes focusing on the back of Curtis's head. Three seconds. His fingers flexed once, claw-like, and he started forward- Autumn's second kick landed squarely on Curtis's knee, and there was a crunching, popping sound that nobody looking on missed. Curtis collapsed, screaming like a pig in a slaughterhouse as Autumn skittered back against the lockers and started to get up. Jason regarded her for an instant - she seemed upset, angry, her face pale other than the ruddy imprint left by the fist of the youth currently filling the air with screams that caused the gawking students to blanch. She seemed otherwise unhurt, and Bannon turned his predatory, glittering stare towards the rising figure of Mark Belcher. Only for Cassie to step in the way, speaking to Mark, her voice sounding odd to Jason, who then realised that was due to the ringing in his ears from the blows he'd taken. He watched Belcher waver in his violent posture, watched uncertainty flood the senior's face as he finally seemed to realise what he had done. Part of Jason didn't feel that was enough. Part of him wanted to reach out and crush Mark's trachea with a telekinetic grip strong enough to bend steel. But the threat was over. The Dark had failed in it's objective now - due to Autumn and Cassie, no one was dead or dying. Mark turned, fear in his expression, and stumbled out past the ring of onlookers leaving his whimpering friend behind still clutching at his leg. Jason sighed softly and sagged back against the locker behind him. He looked as though he wanted to sit but was staying (mostly) upright through sheer cussedness as he glanced over at Autumn, meeting her blue eyes and smiling a faint crooked smile, feeling the pull at his split lip and tasting his own blood in the back of his throat as he did so. Then he turned his gaze on Cassie, nodding. "Thanks guys." he said, then spat bloody phlegm to one side. Remembering something, he looked around and spotted his cooler bag a few meters away where it had slid during the fight. Moving slowly and with great care, fighting waves of dizziness and nausea, he stepped forward and leaned down to pick it up. "My lunch." he explained unbidden to no-one in particular, then sat down on the tiled floor. Dimly, he was aware that he probably had a minor concussion. "Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?" he asked Autumn and Cassie plaintively, his bloody features creasing in a lopsided grin as, finally, teachers pushed through the throng of onlookers and started to take stock of the situation.
  18. Tuesday Lunchtime - The Halls Bannon Autumn seemed hesitant for a moment as Jase smiled and nodded at her, then appeared to make up her mind about something and stepped towards the lean youth, causing him to pause in the act of turning to go and wait, head tilted in curiousity as his gleaming eyes studied her. He had been intending to seek solitude over lunch, but the redhead was a friend and politeness dictated he give time if it was required. He took a step towards her... And that was when the attack came, suddenly, as two burly shapes bull-rushed Jason's lean form into the lockers with a crash. He fell to the floor, cooler bag sliding away from him as he lost his grip on it, and was aware of being winded and dazed for a moment as he felt two pairs of hands grab him and yank him upright, shoving him back into the lockers once more. He saw the glazed stare and leering grin of Curtis Denicott and, just beyond it, the similarly-twisted features of Mark Belcher. "That's right, fucker." Curtis slammed a fist into Jase's stomach, causing him to grunt and stagger. The two seniors each outweighed Jase by perhaps a good forty pounds at least, perhaps as much as sixty in the case of the Belcher kid. "Who's cut off now, faggot?" Denicott stepped back, allowing his partner in crime to add his own clenched fist to the argument, the blow catching Jason in the ribs and sending him back into the lockers a third time, clenched teeth bared as he stifled back a cry of pain. He saw students stopping and watching, their expressions ranging between shock, dismay and amusement, and realised none of them would help. Not that he expected help anyway - it was not in his nature, even instinctively. to look outside himself for the providing of solutions. The answer was obvious, and he felt the power within him moving, uncoiling in his veins... and then stopped it. These kids, and they were kids, were being driven, controlled. The Dark wanted him to kill them, or at the least to use his powers publicly, an act which would further split the Fellowship as well as feed the fear and death the Dark loved so much. He was being manipulated, and crudely, a thought that made him smile as his shirt was grabbed once more, straightening him in place. Belcher glared at him. "The fuck is so funny, asshole?" he demanded, then punched Jason squarely across the jaw, the impact of which would have sent the slender boy to the ground if Curtis hadn't caught him. Jason knew that he couldn't outfight them, not without powers. He also knew that to unleash himself would be to play into the hands of the Dark. It didn't care about these two idiots - they were expendable. What it wanted was for him to fight back - expose his gift, draw attention to him, perhaps even put himself in the spotlight for the attack on Liam. "Sometimes you've got to take the punch." Hank had said as he handed Jase an icepack for his ribs. "Sometimes you've got to let the other guy think he's having it all his way. Then he might think he's got you beat, but you're playing the longer game. You might even throw the fight, so he comes to the next one - the more important one - expecting the same shit, and that's when you hammer him good. Winning a fight is easy. Winning a war takes sacrifice." "Oh, I was just thinking I know girls who probably hit harder than you two." Jase said with a grin that pulled at his split lip. As the features of his attackers darkened, he hawked and spat his blood into Curtis's face. As he did so, he wrapped himself in a weak cocoon of telekinetic force. It wouldn't stop a solid blow - that would again draw attention - but might turn it into a glancing one. He wasn't going down without a fight, though his calculating mind told him he was likely going to lose. Curtis flinched, and Jason drove forward and launched an elbow-strike that took the senior squarely on the nose, hearing the crunch of cartilage and feeling a savage exultation fill him - only to catch a hook to his ear from Mark that made him drop to one knee. Teeth clenched, he turned on that knee and slammed his left elbow into Belcher's groin, causing the beefy kid to groan and stagger back. Jason tried to get to his feet, but a clumsy kick from Curtis, who was cursing and holding his streaming nose in one hand, caught him in the gut and sent him to the lino-tiled floor, the wind knocked out of him. And then both seniors started to work him over with clumsily aimed kicks, and it took all of his control not to lash out and turn them into candles of fat and screams as he curled into a fetal position, protecting his head and vitals as best he could, blocking out the pain and waiting for them to get tired.
  19. "Pluck?" Jason turned his gaze to the pretty blonde as she pulled up a chair. His gaze was almost exactly the same shade as some of the curious jade icebergs Cassie remembered from a National Geographic article she'd read, and unblinking as he studied her. The rest of his face was expressionless still, but the girl thought she detected a flash of something in the depths of his eyes that didn't seem hostile despite the eerie intensity which, she was coming to realise, was normal for him. Finally one corner of his mouth quirked in a faint smile as he regarded her, which could mean anything but she chose to take as an encouraging sign. "Pluck. Totally. It's okay though, not having pluck." she forged onward. "No shame to it. You've got other stuff going for you. Like... Umm..." She hesitated for a moment as his eyebrow lifted a fraction in amused curiosity, then saw salvation come through the classroom door out of the corner of one eye. She glanced quickly around and saw that, with the addition of the new girl paired with Sean, the class had an odd number of students now. "Hey, Autumn." Cassie waved the freckled girl down even as she was regarding the dearth of empty bench spaces with some trepidation, indicating the bench she was sharing with Bannon. Jason, following Cassie's glance, had noted the same thing and simply nodded at Autumn in silent agreement with the other girl's invitation. He didn't mind sharing a bench with either of the two - they weren't likely to irritate him and, indeed, were welcome distractions. He was also fairly sure Ms Lafferty would be cool with the idea - after all, he was unlikely to learn anything revelatory from the existing curriculum so he might as well assist friends who weren't so adept. Also, Cassie had now twice mentioned a cat as though it were something significant. Besides, he might not possess pluck, but he liked it as a quality... provided it didn't overstep into presumption.
  20. Tuesday Morning - Breakfast "When you make the plan let me know. You'll need someone watching your back physically." Jason stated as though reminding the effeminate boy to check his brake lights. Sean met his friend's gaze and nodded without a word, taking another sip of his coffee to cover any faint uneasiness at the prospect of violence, an uneasiness he was certain everyone shared... except his oldest friend. "Well, the location matches with everything else we know." Cassandra muttered. "We need to follow-up with Clara and the others about their talk with Eddy though." The bell rang, signifying the end of breakfast and the beginning of the school day proper, and the blonde teen sighed. "I'll see if I can do that before lunch. And guys - no more keeping secrets about mysterious encounters. We can't afford to be blind as a group." She glanced at Bannon as she said this, her meaning clear, and to the surprise of at least some of those present the lean youth nodded silent acquiescence as he got to his feet, tray in hand. "See you all at Chemistry." He smiled faintly and went to dispose of his dirty plate. ====================== Tuesday Morning - Chemistry "Sean." Ms Kyleson waved over the curvaceous redhead as he entered the classroom. The counselor was standing by Ms Lafferty's desk, obviously waiting whilst conversing with the Chemistry teacher, her friendly face lighting in a smile as she spotted him. She liked Sean - the boy was polite and fundamentally decent, bearing more than his share of burdens in her mind. As he went over, his vivid gaze curious, Sean was momentarily distracted by the sight of Marissa - at her usual favored position of front of class - sharing her lab bench and flirting with... Cade? He stared for a moment but Felicity Kyleson brought his attention back with a "Sean?" causing him to blink and refocus. Right. Counselor wanted a word. As the other members of the Fellowship filtered in, each with their own reactions to the unexpected pairing at the front of the class, Ms Kyleson introduced Sean to the person she wanted him to meet. "Sean, this is Kat. She's just moved to our school from France - her father's in the Army. I was wondering if you'd mind acting as her local guide until she finds her feet? Kat, this is Sean, the boy I told you about." The two redheads stared at each other for a moment - one slim and boyish, the other's curves apparent. "A reminder: people are supposed to pick semester lab partners today." Ms Lafferty, a short distance away, raised her voice above the bustle to address the rapidly filling room. "I see some of you already have. Like I said on Thursday, though, I reserve the right to break up any partnerships that turn out to be more about flirting and gossiping than science" She raised a forestalling hand against the few murmurs of protest and scattered laughter. "That kind of chemistry you can explore in your own time. In this class you're on my time." she added with a good-natured smile. Jason paused for a moment as he spotted Marissa sitting with Cade, eyes narrowing and his head tilting faintly to one side as though curious. He moved to a vacant lab table and set his books down, pondering as he sat, somewhat puzzled. Marissa had said last week that she wanted to be his lab partner, and was now plainly of a different mind. He turned his unblinking gaze on the two of them, his expression intent as though viewing a strange compound interaction under a microscope. What was this strangeness? She appeared to be flirting, playfully, with Cade. Someone who he was pretty sure she never even noticed before. But then, maybe he'd misread signs, or missed them altogether. Such was a common thing for him, after all. He didn't fidget or frown, merely stared at the unexpected, yet attractive couple , his brain racing to connect the patterns. Was this why Marissa hadn't reciprocated? She'd had a thing for Cade - but he'd been taken by Coraline before Mari could move in. And now, with Cora gone, Marissa had been emboldened to approach the tall athlete, perhaps spurred by what Jason had done the night before. It made sense - Cade was stable, safe, conventionally handsome and popular in an understated way. He was everything Jason was not, and despite her flirting with him the night before, perhaps under the bravado that was what Marissa had decided she needed. Of course, such detached reason - whilst a good shackle for emotions - was not a good balm for them. Jason was no less puzzled now than he had been last night, and whilst he didn't experience rejection in the same keen, acutely painful way others did, he was having trouble reconciling everything he'd seen and experienced of Marissa with... this. His hypothesis followed no discernible pattern, that was the trouble: Marissa was not one to let the presence of another female get in her way if she wanted something - or someone. And he was positive: she'd scarcely even referred to Cade or spared him a second glance before now. His brow furrowed a little over his pale icy stare in an otherwise blank, expressionless face as he watched the two of them a few moments more, then turned his gaze away and inwards, sitting quietly as he waited alone at his lab bench.
  21. "Occam's Razor." Jason's voice was it's usual calm, even tone, containing an almost-patient air as he resumed eating his breakfast once more. He'd paused to listen to Cassie, his icy jade gaze on her face as she told the tale and then peering past her face and elsewhere for a moment. Whatever thoughts had been provoked were swift, for he was now once more mopping up syrup with a piece of pancake calmly. Autumn looked over at him, gaze narrowing. "Occams what?" The redhead frowned. Cassandra also spared the slender youth a glance, considering his words. "He means the simplest likely solution is probably the most accurate." The blonde journalist replied, receiving a slow nod from Jase and a grunt of agreement from Sean. "The simplest solution being..?" "That the Dark and whoever impersonated Dylan are not on the same side, for one. Perhaps someone with Shine, making you think you saw Dylan. Perhaps with a gift like Charlie's, disguising themselves as Dylan. But their motive appears to be separate from the Dark and someone we assume is the Dark's agent - Mr Black. Just because two weird things happen doesn't mean they originate in the same place." Jase pushed his empty place aside, narrowing his gaze a little. "Okay, so why did Mr Black just walk up all spooky like? If he's our enemy, why didn't he just get us when we were far from the car like I said? Why didn't he chase us?" "Obvious enough. He wanted to spook you, not catch you. At least, not at that time." Jason's tone was still unperturbed. "He's testing, seeing how you react - whether you react intelligently or panic, whether you're bold or timid, aggressive or defensive in posture. If you'd made it easy for him, by being dumb or panicky, then he might have done more. This is the opening feints." "What makes you so sure of that?" Sean asked after swallowing his mouthful of toast and bacon. "Not that I question the theory - it's plausible." "He did the same to me, after the meeting at the bleachers." Jason remarked casually. "I was driving home and the Cadillac leveled alongside me, Mr Black beside the wheel. His attitude was one of challenge, at least that's how I read it, so I sped up. We raced a little, though my car was never going to be able to beat whatever is under the hood of his, then he disappeared after trying to make me wreck." The others stared at him. "And you didn't mention this till now because..?" Autumn demanded. Jase's eyes met hers. "I didn't know he was testing others. Obviously it is not a personal issue between me and him, as I thought it might be, so I think it's best to share the experience."
  22. The lanky, somewhat unkempt boy had not noticed her approach. Shaggy hair slightly darker than usual from it's residual dampness, and with his breakfast half-finished, Jason had been staring out of the cafeteria window, his eyes tracking the bustle of the world beyond without conscious effort, marking everything with a predatory alertness. The apparent interest in the world's goings-on was deceptive, a function of deep instinct without conscious effort - for his attention was elsewhere. The walls were a deep red with gold veins, neither marble nor jade but something in between, forming corridors through which his consciousness walked on solid polished floors inlaid with mosaics: abstracts which attracted the eye, conduits to mental processes that seemed to take on life and vibrancy as his feet passed over them, only to fade softly behind him, becoming inert once more as his attention turned elsewhere. Along the pale gold veins in the walls, light pulsed faintly with rainbow glimmers, harmonies of colour which formed patterns in the air containing other sensory information as one passed through them - a puff of perfume, a boisterous laugh, the bite of a freezing winter morning, the taste of sauteed mushrooms. He moved from the corridors through a gallery lined with shelves filled with books and curios, one of many in this place, and from the gallery to a vast central chamber that took the form of a lush indoor garden, adorned with statuary and portraits, the air filled with light from the prismatic crystalline ceiling. There was the faintest of sounds in the air - not quite a rumble, not quite breathing, but possessed of the qualities of both, giving a sense of Something present and watchful. A Something not currently inclined to action, content to abide until called upon. Unleashed. It was an edifice of reason and memory, constructed on foundations laid of Will. There was little gentle or yielding here, little in the way of conventional morality or mercy, merely consciously applied principles of aesthetics designed to contain ruthless drives older than conscious thought. It was beautiful, but it lacked most of what would commonly be considered 'humanity'... Except the central chamber. The central chamber was warmer, held small niches of comfort and peace, the air here filled with faint music that changed as one moved around the garden. He stopped before Marissa's portrait, gazing at it contemplatively as it came to life under his gaze, every image and memory and impression that he associated with the girl surrounding his consciousness as he looked upon her face. He breathed in... And paused. The scent was wrong. It was still pleasant, but it wasn't Marissa. This was less sophisticated, warm juniper mixed with something citrus, a scent he associated with a welcome newer addition to his central garden- "Hi. Do... you mind if I join you?" Jason had been staring out of the window as though looking for someone or perhaps lost in thought, but the way he did not even blink, simply looked around and up at her was somehow so eerie that Autumn was struck by it. There was no blink, or apparent change of mental gears - his attention shifted the way a wild creature's did when you attracted it, as though suddenly you were everything and whatever it had been doing before did not exist. He studied the girl in that brief heartbeat or two, noting the bloom of colour in her cheeks as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other under his gaze, and the way her unruly mane of fiery red-gold framed her blue eyes and freckled ivory features, and then he smiled at her and gestured to the seat across from him, the corners of his cool green eyes crinkling ever so slightly. "Of course you can." Jason told his newest friend, shifting slightly and picking up his fork as he realised he'd not yet finished eating himself. He was aware that a couple of sophomores at the other end of his table were snickering and throwing sideways glances, and turned his gaze on them as Autumn pulled out a chair and got settled. The two girls hushed under that impassive stare, turning their attentions back to their phones, and it was with the faintest flicker of amusement Jason turned his attention back to Autumn. "How's your morning so far?" he asked, swiping some sausage through the syrup on his plate and raising his fork to his lips as he tilted his head at her enquiringly. "Good, I hope."
  23. Tuesday Morning - Jase The air was already cooler in the early mornings, the end of summer heralded in the dew that still adorned the grass and bushes. Jason's breath fogged the air as he ran, his lean shape moving with a lope that, if not tireless, was at least economical. His legs and lungs were not yet burning, he noted with some sense of accomplishment as he passed the point where that usually happened. Dressed in sneakers, grey sweat-shorts and t-shirt, he moved through the dawn like a lean, silent ghost, alone despite the few other students - and faculty - using the sports field for their morning routines. Not a dedicated athlete, Jason viewed his body as the vessel which carried his mind, and as such took care of it in appropriate fashion. A healthy body did what you needed it to do, when you needed it done, and was therefore fit for purpose. He'd tried to get Sean to take up regular exercise, but his friend was... reticent, to say the least. It was mildly perturbing for Jase that Sean couldn't see the practical benefits or, more properly, could see the benefits but didn't want to do it anyway. And that had been before smilodons, hellbeasts, and spooky government organisations had been part of their lives, when the greatest threat Sean faced had been a swirly or bra-snap from Devin or Chet. Self-consciousness, worrying about people staring or snickering, was baffling to Jason most of the time, but for it to be a reason for unreadiness was mind-blowing for the pragmatic teen. As he ran, his mind mulled over how to get his couch-potato friend to take physical readiness more seriously. Well, in part. It also mulled over half a dozen other subjects, from the conversation with Marissa (and her likely renewed anger at him), to the talk with Autumn, to plans to find a buyer for his stocks of Lucifer's Reserve, to ways to test the limits of his own and others powers, to the lessons he'd learned from training with Hank, and so on. He slowed to a jog, then a walk for half the track, swinging his arms back and forth to loosen them, stepped off the track to the grass and began the daily dozen Hank had set for him, powering through the burning it caused in his muscles, shunting that aside and focusing on the task at hand. It was an effort of will, after all, and that was something he had plenty of.
  24. Proposals for Bannonage in the week following Rainbows: School Vignettes: Short, one-or-two-post deals. Ranging from casual interaction in Chem class or Autumn inviting Jase to hang out (see below) to maybe some more tense scenes. PM me if you have suggestions, here or on Discord. Weekend following Rainbows / Demons (Labor Day Weekend): Friday and Saturday: Autumn and Jase go camping, clean up the campsite Autumn plans to invite the Fellowship to, hang out a bit. Basically intended as Autumn 'returning the favour' of Jase showing her his garden. But is the Chiefest and Greatest of Catastrophes really a good pick for hanging out with in the woods? Alone? At night? Saturday Evening: ? Sunday Morning: Possibly a training vignette with Hank. Jase will be going for his weekly beating, but I might have it happen off-camera. Being bruised and humbled is good for Jase, considering he's generally awesome. Sunday Afternoon: Might be a good time to visit the Reservation, chase down that aspect of the tasks. Jase wants in on that, wants to talk to the Elders there about strange powers and beasts. Demonstrations may be necessary as well, after all. Sunday Evening: ? Monday (Labor Day): Bonding fic - 'Pleased To Meet You, Hope You Guessed My Name' or 'How Crazy Met Boobies'. Jase has decided to get a phone, so taps his tech savvy friend to assist. Road trip to Great Falls, wherein Sean adjusts to the change in perspective the revelations about his friend have wrought. Frank and open discussion about psychopathy and what it means to be different ensue. Flashbacks to the start and key points in the development of their friendship will be mulled over as Sean applies what he knows now to what he saw back then in a sort of 'Ohhh, now that makes sense' way. Hopefully all good clean family fun, and nothing that will trigger Dave_ST. Will also want to explore if there's a way Sean's abilities can make communications between the Fellowship secure, growing out from Jase's wish to have his phone be anonymous as possible. If anyone has any ideas for fics to put in the '?' slots, or wants in on any of the other non-private ones, pls PM me. Technically, a couple more people could come to Great Falls, and the flashbacks could take a sort of internal narrative as either Jase or Sean tell the tales. But that's up in the air and not up to solely myself.
  25. The Damsel and the Dragon, pt 4 Jason was silent for a moment as she finished, then nodded slowly. “I’m going to put some fresh coffee on while I start to explain.” he said, rising and moving over to the counter as a cupboard door opened and an airtight jar floated across to him while he dumped out the filter, his hands both visible and invisible going through the motions with the ease of much practice. “Can you feel things when you do that?” Autumn asked, gesturing at the various items bobbing handily near to Jason or else zipping over to the sink to be rinsed. He didn’t seem to look at them at all, or gesture like those guys in Star Wars. “I mean, is it like a sense of touch?” “As deft as my own.” Jase said with a small smile over at her. “I can feel fine details - could read Braille or pick a lock. Even-” He sent a spoon, a measuring cup and a bowl from the counter up with his physical hands, juggling them for a moment, then doing it one-handed… only the objects were still being passed from his actual hand to another, not-visible hand before flying up into the air. “-juggle.” He caught the objects and set them back down as Autumn laughed, giving her a half-turn and a bow, his eyes gleaming with pleasure at her laughter. He finished setting the coffee maker up and came back over as it started to drip. “I think the last thing needs to be explored first, so you have context for everything else. Because my psychopathy cannot help but define aspects of my life.” He paused, taking a sip of water as he organised his thoughts. “Psychopath is a loaded word. Meaning has been dumped onto the word since its first use, not at all helped by movies such as Hitchcock’s. ‘Criminal’, ‘murderer’, ‘crazy’ and ‘deviant’. What’s done even more harm is the psychiatric medical establishment, especially a gentleman by the name of Dr. Hare, whose widely used test for psychopathic traits starts from the position that a psychopath is inherently malignant, narcissistic, irrational and naturally inclined to manipulate and cause harm. And guess what? The test results bore that out. In real science, we call that confirmation bias.” Jase smirked a little, then shrugged. “That’s why I advised anyone seeking to study it to look at the newer studies and steer away from anything that uses Hare’s test as a basis. Honestly, I think of the man as a modern-day Witchfinder General.” “So onto me. I was an odd child, as you can imagine. Didn’t cry much once I got past the infant stage. If I fell down and grazed my knee, I’d cry out and maybe shed tears, but I wouldn’t wail for comfort and attention. My mother - and I use the term for convenience since saying ‘female genetic donor’ is spending too many words on labelling her - wanted to get me tested, but my father resisted that, saying that I was fine. I think he liked the fact I was reading almost as soon as I was talking.” Jase’s lips quirked in a fond smile. “I didn’t have extensive behavioral problems - no tormenting animals or bullying other kids. I wasn’t cruel unless reacting to perceived infraction: heaven help the child - or adult - who without preamble tried to take a toy or a book from me when I wasn’t done with it. Conversely, if the adult simply explained that I needed to put the toy down and could come back to it, I’d be more than reasonable. Overall, I was a well-behaved, if quiet, child.” He glanced over at the coffee maker, measuring it’s progress, then smiled at Autumn. “And then my father was arrested. Not for drug smuggling, or for murdering my mother - yes, I’ve heard that rumor too. He was a micro-biologist working for a big pharma company with government contracts. I don’t know the details, but there were some ethical violations being committed, and he decided to blow the whistle to the FBI. Only somehow, those responsible wriggled out of it, the company got fined, and my father was left with a two year jail sentence in a Federal penitentiary and an unofficial blacklisting - no company will hire him now.” “I was upset when he went away. But I wasn’t obviously upset, tearful or disturbed. And that, plus my father’s absence, was all my mother needed to get me tested. I believe she knew exactly what she was looking for, as she insisted on a neurological brain scan over the protestations of the psychologist.” Jase spread his hands in a ‘and there it is’ gesture. “And lo and behold - the deformity in my pre-frontal cortex. Primary psychopathy: the inability to feel fear, remorse, or to intuitively empathise. And the bitch was outta there - probably only had room in her life for one psychopath at a time.” He smirked. “Honestly, I don’t pretend to understand her motives - if I had a child, it would be considered ‘mine’: I’d look after it, protect it, teach it, try to prepare it for life. So maybe if she is, as I suspect, like me - she’s just a shitty human being even for a psychopath. Or maybe I’m just ‘moral’ for one. Who knows?” Jason shrugged expressively. “So she dumped me on my dad’s parents, who were old and not really ready, but did the best they could until my dad got out of prison, reclaimed me and we moved here.” “In the meantime, I’d been reading. I read everything I could find about psychopathy, and quickly realised that things didn’t add up. All or most of the literature then indicated that I should be disruptively anti-social, sadistic, the sort of kid who lies and manipulates, and likes vandalism and torturing puppies. None of that particularly described me - but I was concerned that perhaps it might, if the right stimulus was applied. For instance, I have no moral compunction about causing pain if there’s cause, but I don’t get my rocks off doing it either. I wondered if perhaps I could, if not careful, slide into being a ‘monster’.” He smiled at Autumn, a little wry tilt of his mouth. “After all, as you noted I am intelligent. I have perfect recall of every event I have ever experienced. I can calculate numbers in the blink of an eye and absorb, parse and analyse information at what I like to imagine is an incredibly fast rate. I have taught myself graduate level biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, along with five languages and counting. I have no remorse or guilt or self-doubt-” he smiled wider “-or much need for modesty, either. Most people, at least superficially, seem slow or weak to me. It would be easy to see you all as pawns at best, obstacles to be removed at worst, or else irrelevant.” Autumn suppressed a shiver as Jase rattled off his mental resume. From anyone else it would seem like sheer overblown bragging, but from him, from what she’d seen of him… it was the confirmation of the fear she’d expressed to him - someone who didn’t just think so differently he might as well be from another planet, but also thought on a level that would be daunting even if he was a normal person. “But I don’t. Mostly.” he allowed after a moment’s pause. “It’s hard, sometimes. But I decided early on that I was not going to be defined by what some book said I had to be.” He got up and moved over to the coffee maker as it beeped ‘ready’, two mugs floating down from a rack. Filling both, the lanky youth brought them back over to the table, setting Autumn’s down in front of her as a small jug of cream made its way from the fridge to set down beside it. He let the girl dress her own beverage as he sat back, sipping on the black brew in his own mug. “So I put together a code. Or the Code, as I call it. Rules that I set for myself, that I will not break. Like outright lying, for instance. Word games, obfuscation, misdirection are all fine, because they rely on the other person jumping to a conclusion or not asking the right questions. Lying is cheap and tawdry, and so I avoid it.” He settled a little in his chair, stretching his legs out before him. “That’s one rule. Another is about not taking kindness towards me for granted, as another example.” He sipped his coffee, sighing contentedly.. “Regular morality doesn’t work for me, because it’s grounded in the principles of social shame and fear of punishment. So I have to choose how to govern myself - which is a long, involved and ongoing philosophical process that I’m not going to bore you to death with.” He smiled at her teasingly. “So now you have an idea of my foundations - where I am coming from. So let’s address some of the other things… I have never made anyone disappear.” He smirked and rolled his eyes. “I do not work for a cartel. I don’t even buy my weed or Adderall from others. I make it myself, along with my own tobacco strain, somewhere away from here. I did the social equivalent of digging a ditch and lining it with spikes because I find most people tedious, and keeping them away from me was also a way to stop them seeing past the mask I was trying on. I had a few friends, but no close friends, which probably contributes to the ‘nothing good said about me’ thing.” He paused, pondering. “What else… Ah. Liam. Or more specifically, what I consider a rationale for violence, which is probably what you’re more concerned with.” Autumn nodded, her eyes on his face and her hands cupping her mug of coffee. It was remarkably good coffee, the smell rich and comforting - a contrast to the almost surreal conversation. “Simply put, none may offer harm to me or mine with impunity.” Jase shrugged. “It’s been suggested that Liam might have been influenced by the Dark, but honestly he’s always been the sort of creep to spike drinks, so it wouldn’t have taken a great push to make him attempt outright rape. Still, I should have paused to consider, rather than merely react. Violence is very easy, psychologically, for me, and I don’t have a need to prove I’m tougher or dominant to others, so I usually take pains not to resort to it. Easy mode is for noobs.” he said with a flash of a grin. “And besides, it’s often not the smartest way to act.” “Mmhmmm,” Autumn agreed quietly, turning the mug in her hands; even at rest, she was never quite still. It was a lot to take in, and while she normally preferred the all-in, rip-off-the band-aid approach, this was a hell of a big band-aid. In some ways, its removal was a relief- just knowing more about the inscrutable young man in whose kitchen she now sat helped, as did finding out that most of the rumors she’d heard over the last few years were basically bullshit. As tendrils of steam curled lazily upward from the coffee she’d desecrated with cream and sugar, she blew softly across the top, allowing it to cool for another few moments before hazarding another tentative sip. She hmm’ed again, though this time from pleasure, a slow smile spreading over her lips, and leaned forward to rest her elbows on the table again. “So, okay. I admit I’m not the sharpest marble in the crayon shed sometimes,” the redhead conceded, her nose crinkling slightly with the self-deprecating grin aimed in Jase’s direction. “Which, you already know, since the Chem lab struggle is real. So I want to make sure I’m tracking here, and if I’m not, you can let me know. Cool?” “Cool,” her counterpart affirmed, taking another sip of coffee and regarding her with what she felt pretty confident was a Number 3, the fairly common “I am mildly amused by this thing,” rather than a Number 7- “This is tiresome.” “Okay. So, basically, the biological, actual physical difference between your brain and everyone else’s means you don’t process emotions or social interactions like we do. Like, it’s not an automatic thing for you like it is for the rest of us, you have to actually think about it and constantly put effort into figuring out why someone is doing that thing with their face, or that other thing with their body.” Blinking, Autumn took another sip of coffee. “Which… probably gets confusing, when the stuff they’re doing, and the stuff they’re telling you, don’t match. You speak five, almost six languages, but this isn’t one of them, is it?” “It’s a language I’m still learning.” he acknowledged with a nod and a slight salute of his mug towards her. “I try to rely on people’s actions and physical language rather than their words. But even that doesn’t translate well into navigating social riptides with some individuals.” “You are not wrong,” she agreed wholeheartedly, her quiet laughter sending ripples through the coffee that swirled in the mug she held. Being at Marissa’s the day before had demonstrated pretty clearly the weird, crazy complicated nuances of interpersonal relationships, so it was hard to blame him for not quite getting it. “Even I don’t get all of it, all the time. That’s usually when I just ditch people for a while, get outside or head up to the treehouse or something. There’s just something, I dunno.” Shrugging, Autumn smiled again, more to herself than for his benefit. “Pure. Uncomplicated about it. I think we, as humans, make things a lot harder sometimes than they have to be. Myself included, honestly. Hmh,” she mused, ending the thought on a soft almost-giggle at her own expense. "Anyway, you're still learning to translate. At the same time, you're also building the framework of an...ethos?" she hazarded. Like the "good china" from her grandparents' house, certain parts of Autumn's vocabulary were only brought out on special occasions. "...that will let you function in society without compromising what you think is important." Holy shit, she realized, more than a little in awe. There's no way I could do all that, picking everything apart, looking at all the pieces, and consciously figuring out where to put them, 24/7. "Holy shit." The chair creaked softly as she leaned back and rested the coffee mug against her thigh. "You're playing life on Nightmare, aren't you?" “Isn’t everyone? At least, that’s what the self-help experts say. ‘Everyone has their own burdens’, and so on.” Jase snorted quietly. “I’m better off than many. I need to be stoned and have a very empathetic listener to draw any sort of pain reaction out of me.” He gave her a small, warm smile. “Thank you, by the way. I can’t really measure the result emotional pain has on me, since I don’t really feel it at the time unless my attention is drawn to it. It’s like looking down and realising a thorn is in your leg, then feeling the pain. But I’m pretty sure it goes somewhere, whether I choose to feel it or not.” “And you don’t feel lonely?” Autumn asked softly, watching him watching her. Jason pondered that for a long moment. “No. But that isn’t the same as not enjoying the company of others. There are people whose presence I like who I am happy to see when I see them, and happy to know they are around and well and doing okay. I don’t need company and I rarely seek it out - I choose to accept it when offered.” He tapped his head. “It’s all a conscious exercise though. There’s no chemical group-bond neurotransmitter dependency, just a realisation of “Hey, this person is interesting for X reason, let’s get close and observe.”” He paused, smirking. “I just realised that makes me sound like a wildlife expert: Diane Fossey studying gorillas.” He lifted an imaginary dictaphone to his mouth. “‘Day three: they have seemingly accepted me into the periphery of their troop, though both males and females are wary of me. Watching them, I am learning about how they form bonds and find myself envious of the primitive beauty and simplicity of it all’.” He grinned at Autumn then, teasing mirth in his gaze. "All right, then," she countered with an answering glint in her eye, her tone part curiosity, part good-natured challenge. "What do you feel? You don't have what we would call pain, or loneliness, or regret, or guilt, or fear, or shame, or emotional bonds… Not this, not that, not that… That's a lot of 'nots.' So," she smiled, shifting forward again in her seat. "What do you actually feel, and how do you experience it? Is it a physical sensation, a… 'conscious exercise,' or something else? And, how do you identify or quantify what that feeling or experience or whatever actually is?" She wondered if he felt things the way other people did, although there was no good way to compare notes- well, not without powers she didn't have, anyway, and that would be an awkward thing to suggest even on a good day. He had said he'd told Marissa earlier that day how he'd felt, and how he'd kissed her after- which, maybe, didn't go so well for him, but it certainly didn't suggest a purely cerebral, academic interest. Well, yeah. This is Marissa we're talking about. I'm pretty sure every sentient life form in the universe thinks she's hot. She couldn't imagine Jase dating, but he wasn't exactly… unattractive, so it had to be a possibility. Right? "I, ah, actually have more questions, too, but I'm throwing a lot of those around, so I can give you a minute to catch up." “Really good questions, though.” Jason regarded her with a smile that was more pleased than indulgent. “Same ones I ask myself, mostly. Okay…” He took a drink of coffee, his eyes on her over the rim of his mug, then set it to one side and leaned forward in his seat in conscious mirroring of her posture. “Firstly, what I naturally feel and emotionally experience most strongly are best described as ‘drives’. Anger / aggression, survival instinct without the fear element, hunger / ambition and desire / lust. Those are all very strong, instinctual responses. The oldest part of the brain governs them and produces the necessary impulses, only with me there’s no pre-limbic social conditioning or empathy to soften or slow them down.” He tilted his head to one side. “With most people, or so I’ve read, there’s a safety catch: you feel the impulse to strangle or punch someone for angering you, but social conditioning tells you it’s wrong and empathy tells you that you will share some of their suffering. It will stay with you, and you will feel guilt for it at some point. Hell, Avalon feels remorse about what I did to Liam, because she told me about what he did but didn’t try to head me off from what she feared would happen.” He gestured with one hand to emphasise the point, and Autumn nodded. “I don’t have that safety catch. When I get those impulses, the only thing standing between them and the world is my conscious will and my constructed ethos. I don’t fear consequences - my brainpower is sufficient that, should I really want to do something, I could carry it out without being caught. I don’t fear remorse or guilt, or shame for what I might do. There is only Will, and self-sufficient Pride: I am more than my impulses, and they will not solely define me.” “So, when my anger surges and I want to strangle Sara with my gift for her insults, I consciously exert my will not to. She wasn’t attacking me physically, so I won’t respond that way. When I desire to kiss a pretty girl… Sometimes I do, like with Mari - though I certainly would not have forced anything else on her - and sometimes I don’t, as with you earlier.” he added with a slight smile. “One angry girl a night is enough for me.”
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