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Posts posted by Bannon

  1. “Hmm.”  The musing sound was drawn out and thoughtful, which was one clue it could be dissembling.  From what Autumn had seen, Jase didn’t usually take long to figure out what he wanted to do next - most of his focus was on ‘how’ rather than ‘what’.  Her suspicions were further roused when he smiled at her before likewise laying back in the water.  Here it came.  Here came the one-liner laden with innuendo. “Pretty much anything, hmm?” or something similar.

    But he said nothing, just lazily sculling with his arms to keep himself in place as he floated looking up at the sky, narrowed eyes slits of emerald fire as they caught the late afternoon sunlight.  Autumn tried to relax too, laying her head back in the water and feeling it flow past, but her mind kept poking at that ‘hmm’ like a tongue at a loose tooth.  Finally she raised her head and all-but glowered across at her silently floating companion.

    “That’s it?  ‘Hmm’? ‘Hmm’ what?” she demanded, feeling her lips twitch in a smile as she saw his mouth curve in a slight grin.  Damn it.  Damn him.  Goddamn Jason Effing Bannon and his impossibleness.

    “Just ‘hmm’.” he said casually, raising his head to peer at her, his expression composed but for the faint crooked smile and his gaze full of mirth.  “Why, was I supposed to say something else?”

    “‘Hmm’ is not an answer to the question.”  Autumn returned somewhat indignantly, though she was pretty certain her own urge to laugh was showing as Jase straightened somewhat in the water, cocking his head to one side and regarding her with that faint smile that was smug and not at all charming.  Teasing jerk.  Reacting more than thinking, she brought one hand around in a sweep, splashing water at his face.

    That, at least, caught him by surprise.  His eyes widened for a moment as he registered the movement, and he managed to half-turn aside so he didn’t get the brunt of it in the face, but it was still sufficient to make him blink, then turn back to regard Autumn for a long moment.  Then, theatrically, he lifted a hand and slowly wiped his face, flicking the water aside before dipping his hand into the water and sweeping it towards her.

    The retaliatory splash was an obvious response, and Autumn turned away, laughing - only to catch a second deluge right in the face from an invisible hand that made her sputter.

    “Oh, now it’s on!” she announced, sweeping both arms forward and causing Jase to cover his face with his hands as sun-brightened sprays of water cast rainbows in the late afternoon light.  Grinning he responded in kind, long arms scooping wave after wave at the giggling redhead.  The naval warfare continued like that for some minutes, the two combatants wading back and forth in the creek as they hurled water and banter at each other in roughly equal volumes.

    “TK is cheating!  Lame-ass!”  Autumn yelled as she ducked and weathered a veritable tsunami from all sides.

    “Not my fault you didn’t know who you were messing with, scrub.”  Jason replied coolly, only to end up spitting water as a cunning underhand shot from his opponent caught him square in the face.

    “Hah!”  Autumn crowed - right as she felt a pair of impossibly strong hands grab her around the waist and lift her into the air before tossing her with a shriek into the deeper part of the creek.  Surfacing with a roar of challenge that would do a tigress proud, she surged through the water and tackled the smirking jerkface who’d ducked her, hooking her arms around his shoulders and dragging him under even as she felt his arms loop around her to pull her with him.

    It wasn’t at all a calculated risk, because there was no calculation involved. Even at play, Autumn was competitive by nature, and when his arms went around her- either as a reflex on his part, or as an intentional decision to pull her along- it signalled a response to the challenge. The moment she felt Jase’s arms tighten, felt the shift in energy and the torque of his waist, they hit the water, already rolling. 

    All sound evaporated, save for the surging of the water and the rapid, joyous pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. Vision disappeared in an instantaneous explosion of frothy white, and there was no equilibrium, no sense of up or down- just the sensation of the current all around, and the texture of his skin, taut over sinew and bone, beneath her hands. He had height on her, and reach as well, but there was no distance to be had between them, which rendered it temporarily meaningless. 

    As he turned, using Autumn’s own forward momentum to roll her toward the creek bed, she mirrored the movement, arcing her upper body and twisting to continue the spin and deny him positioning. To her surprise, Jase did the same, the adamant grip of his arms around her waist compelling her to keep turning or be “pinned,” and pushed down to the bottom. At some point, the elastic band in her braid finally worked loose, and for several moments she could see nothing but the bright, coppery mass of her own hair. 

     For what seemed like ages, the two young competitors feinted, rolled, and vied for any edge they could find: when Jase used the benefit of his greater height to simply stand up, Autumn hooked her foot behind his knee and pulled him off-balance. Pressing her advantage, she tried to use her body-weight to flip him, wrapping her legs around his midsection and throwing herself backwards; it wasn’t until he relaxed slightly, allowing her to pitch him forward that she realized she’d erred. Refusing to be caught so easily, the redhead unlocked her legs and kicked off the loose rock with one foot, her entire body contracting and uncoiling in a smooth, tight spiral as her fingertips slid from the hard expanse of her adversary’s back to his shoulders. With a measure of finality, she pressed him gently back against the rounded stones, just a few feet beneath the shimmering, sunlit surface of the stream. 

     Her moment of triumph was short-lived, however. She had just enough time to catch the telltale curve of Jase’s lips as the water around them began to clear, and then- the impossibly delicate, almost feathery sensation of fingertips gliding, dancing up over her ribs. To her credit, she managed to weather the decidedly unsportsmanlike assault for almost a full 10 seconds before pushing off his chest with both palms and kicking upwards, a column of white bubbles following her rapid ascent.

     Ugh, you suck so hard!” she laughed, choking and spluttering at no one in particular. Pulling her hair back over her shoulder as she tried to get her bearings, Autumn staggered back in the general direction of the shore.

    He surfaced behind her already laughing as his head emerged, even though the combination of water and his normally-shaggy hair were obscuring his sight he didn’t seem to have many problems navigating shorewards as he wiped his face clear.

    “Victory is mine.” he announced calmly, his eyes gleaming as brightly as the beads of water on his skin as he waded into the shallows.  Autumn, having already procured her towel, considered diving for Jase’s and tossing it in the creek, but settled for giving him a narrow stare as she wrapped her own around herself.

    “You lost.”  she informed him with a smirk.

    “You quit first.”  came the inexorably calm reply.

    “You cheated!”

    “Cheating implies the breaching of an agreed-upon set of rules.”  Jase held his hand out, his towel flying from the ground to his grasp.  He grinned at her as he began to towel himself off vigorously.  “There was no such agreement.”

    Ugh.  You suck.”  Autumn reiterated, flicking water from her fingers at him.  “Everyone knows tickling is cheating.”

    “You mean it is conventionally accepted that tickling is unfair.”  Jase shrugged his bony shoulders, flashing another grin at her, then began towelling his hair dry.  “Conventional is just another word for lacking in initiative.”  He paused mid-towelling, considering something, then smiled at her, tossing the towel back towards his clothing.  “For instance…”

    There was a faint shimmer in the air around him, a heat-haze that rose from his skin in the sunlight, causing his damp hair to rise slightly in the thermal updraft.  Focused on Autumn, his eyes grew brighter still, the pale green shifting to a more amber hue as a cloud of steam rose from his skin moments before he appeared to burst into flame.  Autumn made a short sound of surprise and took a half-step back.

    Wreathed in flickering gold, red and orange, Jase was untouched by the flame as, mercifully so, were his swim-shorts.  The heat of his fire was a tangible thing, even from a couple of meters away Autumn could feel it on her skin.

    “This makes drying off easier.” he said conversationally, his eyes deep slivers of brightness as he smiled at Autumn through his aura of fire.  “For you, too.”

    This was light-years away from the first time she'd seen his pyrokinetic abilities, when he'd burned away everything except the blood on his skin. The entire experience had been terrifying, and yet here she was: no monsters, no blood, no terror- just a sense of awe as she watched the fire lick unhurriedly over his skin, enfolding him like the arms of a jealous lover. He could see the brilliant flames reflected gold and scarlet against the sea in her eyes, and the half-step back became a tentative step forward, the heat reddening her cheeks as she approached. "Um, how far away, exactly, do I need to stand?"

    “A few feet is likely best, though I won’t burn you unless I want to - the fire is very much under my control, so long as I am under control, I’ve found.”  Jason said from within the flickering dance of flames.  “The cryokinetic side of my abilities operates on the same principles.  The level of fine control possible takes some getting used to - I practice a lot.”  he admitted with a small grin.  “For instance, I can superheat areas of my aura to the point that it, theoretically, should vaporise incoming bullets, but I can also pick up a cold can of Coke without disturbing its temperature unduly.”

    She took another step forward, lifting one hand and turning her palm toward the burning aura that surrounded him, a tangible illustration of the otherwise invisible barrier between Jase and the rest of the world. The closer she got, the more uncomfortable it became, a sensation just on the edge of pain but not quite crossing the threshold into injury. It slowly evaporated the droplets of water that lingered on her skin, and as individual strands of her hair dried, they drifted lazily in the waves of heat that rippled around his body.

    “How do you practice something like that, out of curiosity?” she wondered aloud, not daring to approach further for fear her hair really would combust. “I haven’t had much luck, honestly, although the day everyone was at the Farm did help, and Tuesday was... let’s call it educational. Outside of that, though, it’s surprisingly difficult to convince people to let you experiment on them, when you’re not even sure what the result is supposed to be.” She grinned up at him through the shimmering wall of light and heat, trying (as ever) to gauge his expression; it was hard to see his eyes from where she was standing. “Although, I guess it’s probably easier when it’s something you can do by yourself.” Her fingers curled slightly, just at the limits of her tolerance, as if resting against a pane of glass behind which he was standing. I am Fire. The words sprang unbidden from memory, and she smiled, just a little, at the thought. Yeah. Yeah, you are. 

    “I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, or if it goes both ways, but I get this odd feeling of….” she paused, eyes narrowing slightly as she searched for the right words. “Connection, maybe? Just by touching a person, I can almost feel them the same way I do my own body, like we’re sharing the same skin. I never realized how much you can tell about someone from just physical contact, and how they respond to it.” Shrugging, she traced the “surface” of his aura with her fingers, eyelids fluttering briefly at that knife-edge sensation as the nerves beneath her skin wavered on whether or not she was about to be burned.

    “Maybe I’m like Lona,” Autumn mused, an uncharacteristically thoughtful expression on her freckled features, “but backwards.”  Remembering what had happened with the fight in the hallway gave her a moment’s pause as she considered what that might imply.

    “Other than a general awareness of the Shine, everyone seems to experience the subquantum differently.  I can feel, as though touching it, every physical object around me out to about ninety feet.  I can detect their motion relative to my own, their temperature, and so on.  You possess similar sensory abilities to both Charlie and Avalon - you can sense living creatures as I sense objects, like with the snake, and you can read a person’s state of health, so it seems you have both of their gifts, perhaps not to the same extent and with personal differences, rather than sharing their focus.”  Jase slowly let his fiery aura die out, the last flickers of flame seeming to dance into his eyes as they returned to their normal pale icy green hue.  He pulled on his pants, hopping from one leg to the other in a reasonable display of balance before fastening them.   

    “Huh.”  Autumn stared at him for a moment, feeling delightfully warm and dry now as she pulled on her jeans.  “You’ve thought about this a whole hell of a lot.”

    “I study other people’s gifts, and study my own, and each area of study increases my knowledge of the other, even when the gifts of others are outside the psionic arena.  Like Cade or Marissa, who have a differing version of the Shine that makes them peak-human, or beyond, in their areas of focus.”  Jase grinned slightly at her as he pulled on his boots, leaving them unlaced for now as he got to his feet.  “The whole link to the theorised subquantum strata is fascinating.”

    “Okay.”  Autumn narrowed her eyes.  “You and Sean were babbling excitedly about that - I remember that word coming up once or twice while I was trying not to freak out about being there at your farm.”  She smiled a little, remembering how geeky Jase had seemed in that moment, his normal reserve having been dropped in the excitement.  “And you’ve mentioned it a couple times since.  Care to give me the grade school version while we get everything set up?”

    “It’s pretty straightforward stuff, at least on the surface ‘what you need to know level’.” Jase smiled back at her.  “I think you can even manage without crayon drawings.”

    “Ass.”  Autumn snickered, flipping him the bird.  “C’mon, let’s get to work.”

    • Like 4

  2. The moment he stepped away, the terse whispering began. 

    “Okay, when you said ‘Jason Bannon’ that is not what I was picturing.” “What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about that.” “Mom! Gross!” “No, I’m just saying!” “No, you are not just saying, because I am not having this conversation with you.” “Just- did he start working out, or something?” “Okay, seriously? Are we doing this right now?” “Autumn, all I’m saying is he just looks different, and I was wondering what changed, that’s all.” “Fine. Fine. What’s different, hm? Haircut maybe? He got a little taller? Not as skinny?” “Yes, probably, but he’s just more-” “Mom, I swear, if you say my friend is hot, we aren’t speaking until I graduate from college.” “No, no! ...But does that mean you think he is?” 

    “Oh, look, mom!” Autumn called out pointedly, meeting her mother’s gaze with all the mortified fury the teen could muster. “All parked. Guess we should probably get going now. Loveyoubye.” She gave Dana a quick, perfunctory kiss on the cheek and tried not to be too obvious in her haste to depart. As she double-checked the tie-downs on their gear for at least the third time, the young redhead felt, more than heard, her mother coming up behind her. 

    “Hey,” Dana murmured, pulling her into a fierce hug and catching her sole progeny off-guard. “I do love you, you know. Just be careful, okay?”

    “Mkay,” came the muffled reply, as her daughter returned the familial embrace in earnest. “Love you, too. Talk to you tomorrow.” 

    “Talk to you tomorrow,” the older woman repeated with a faint smile as she headed back up the gravel path toward the house.

    Exhaling slowly, Autumn fished the key out of her pocket. She couldn’t really blame her mom for worrying; it had been ages since she’d had a friend over, and she’d been dating the last guy she’d gone camping with. This was different, though. This was Jase, who was her friend, who also happened to have really, abysmally bad taste in women, and who also was only coming because she had asked him, rather than the other way around. She swung her leg over the seat as Jase returned, shifting forward over the gas tank to give him room to sit behind her.

    “It’s gonna be awkward and maybe a little rough, but only for about 5 or 10 minutes, so just hold on tight and try not to fall off.” By the time the words had left her lips, and it registered what she’d just said, it was too late to take them back. Oh, for fuck’s sake… She did her best to ignore the warmth that flooded her face as Jase got comfortable, and felt fairly confident in her efforts to remain composed-

    Until he leaned forward slightly and ‘reassured’ her, his voice just audible over the idle rumble of the engine: “I’ll be sure to get a good grip.” 

    “Yes” she replied, grimacing as she put the ATV into gear and they started rolling toward the road at a modest pace. “Please do.” The redhead raised one hand, waving goodbye to her mother as they reached the asphalt, and then turned to head further away from Shelly proper. 

    As the forecast had predicted, it was a gorgeous afternoon, sunny and clear, and warm enough that Autumn’s beloved red hoodie was only tied around her waist. About half a mile from the house, she opened up the engine a little, speeding up gradually at first out of consideration for her taller passenger, but eventually settling into fourth gear, grinning into the wind as the scenery zipped past. “The turn-off isn’t far,” she called back, nodding somewhere into the distance and then shaking her head to get the hair out of her eyes as it came loose from her ponytail. They passed a gravel drive, barred by a wide metal utility gate, and then, a moment later: “Hold on.”

    Downshifting, she turned left and off the road, onto a path so overgrown and littered with leaves and the detritus of fallen limbs that it could hardly be considered more than a very sketchy trail. For several minutes, she slowly maneuvered them over buried roots, through copses of spindly evergreens, and around all-but-invisible washes and dry streambeds obscured by underbrush and dried pine needles. It would definitely have been easier to traverse the distance on foot- if they were backpacking. Maybe next time, she considered, wincing as the ATV jostled again. If there is one.

    And then, they crossed the threshold from tall, shadowy pines to an open sunlit space, cleared of trees, right in the bend of a slow-moving creek. As she brought the four-wheeler to a stop, the freckled teen suddenly felt unaccountably nervous, as though she’d just invited Jase up to her room while her parents weren’t home. Which, she hadn’t, obviously but it felt more… personal, than she’d expected, and she realized she wanted him to like it here. That thought gave her a moment’s pause; was it because she’d enjoyed the garden so much, because he was proving to be weirdly good company, or because the place was important to her?

    All three, maybe?

    “Whew,” she sighed, cutting the engine and turning to check on him. “Oh, hey. You didn’t fall off.” Banishing awkward self-analysis with a playful grin, Autumn hopped off and tucked the key back into her pocket. “C’mon. I’m gonna walk around, see what needs doing, and then we can unpack. You can come with, if you want, or just poke around on your own.” Raking her hands back through her hair as she walked, the energetic redhead pulled the elastic band out and held it between her teeth, quickly plaiting the windblown curls into a haphazard braid and re-securing the ends. After she’d made it a few steps toward the middle of the sunny camp site, she paused to stretch and take a quick visual inventory. 

    The roughly circular clearing was littered with a thick carpet of pine needles over packed earth, courtesy of the few stately trees that had been allowed to remain, with the occasional scrubby clump of grass peeking out from below. There was a decent-sized fire pit near the center, though the depression was filled with a couple seasons’ worth of leaf litter and rotten wood, and roughly half a cord of logs lay in disarray near the trees between which they’d been stacked. Beyond the edge of the camp, the hard earth underfoot gave way to smooth stones along the shoreline; piles of driftwood had accumulated all along the edge of the clear, cool water, and with it whatever man-made trash had drifted downstream to be snagged there. 

    It’s nice to be back, she reflected, but, man, this is gonna be a lot of work. Still… Glancing back in Jase’s direction, she caught herself smiling again. Least I don’t have to do it by myself.

    This is Autumn’s garden.

    That was the thought that went through Jase’s head as he glanced around the clearing, swinging down off the ATV with his usual deliberate grace.  This site was special to the red-haired girl he’d decided to call ‘friend’, a place of importance.  His pale gaze swept the surroundings as he moved, at first following Autumn, then meandering from her walkabout and finding himself on the pebbled beach of the creek, staring at the littered bank.

    He tilted his head up to feel the sunlight on his face, closing his eyes and reaching outwards.  A faint pressure, different from the breeze currently playing in the pines, went around the clearing as he allowed his sense of touch to experience everything here.  A few leaves curlicued up into the air from the detritus in the firepit, then dropped suddenly; a rustling touch brushed past Autumn’s hair; a light sprinkling of pine needles rained down from a couple of the trees.  Jase smiled, his eyes still closed, and breathed deeply.

    This was different from the garden as Autumn was different from himself, he perceived.  This was a natural place adapted by Man - Autumn’s family, possibly generations of them.  The garden was nature curated, cared for, controlled - as it would have to be to have such a rich variety of plants from varying climes in close proximity.  But the import of the place was the same - there was a fragment of Autumn’s identity in this clearing.  He turned and moved up the bank from the creek, back towards the central area.

    “It’s beautiful.”  he said in a tone that was almost dispassionate, but contained a trace of warmth recognisable to Autumn.  “Peaceful, too.  It suits you.”  He tilted his head to one side, smiling at her.

    “Where would you like me to start?  And are you averse to a little TK making the work lighter now and then?”  he inquired with a faint grin. 

    She laughed then, unreservedly, more than a little surprise mingling with the delight in her eyes. “You know, you’re probably the first and only person in my entire life to use the word ‘peaceful’ when describing me, so, thanks for that, I think. And, no,” the bemused redhead grinned, shaking her head, “I don’t mind. Whatever gets the job done is fine, so if that’s easier for you, I say go for it.” As the giggles faded, a smile lingered in their wake, and she took another look around. “I’m going to start with the firepit, I think, so we can get the fire started and let it burn down enough to cook by the time we’re hungry…” Drumming her fingers thoughtfully against her legs, Autumn glanced down toward the creek. 

    “Mind starting down there? If you’re in the mood to flex your mind-muscles, that would be a good place to do it. Some of that driftwood is just old trees, y’know? Besides, it’s better to go wading now, before it cools down later.” She grinned over at him, and added, holding up three fingers at chest-level in the classic Girl Scouts salute, “I promise not to push you in.” There was a long, quiet moment then, as her eyes traced the treeline on the opposite side of the creek. “ And… yeah.” Her expression softened slightly, and a part of her wondered what her grandfather would have thought of Jase, of her bringing him here. “It is beautiful. Thanks.” The afternoon sun was warm on her face, and all around were the sounds of birds, of the wind through the trees, of the water rushing over stones… It seemed unbelievable, somehow, that she’d stopped coming, when so many of the best, most wonderful memories she’d ever made were right here.

    “Be right back.” She’d have plenty of time to think and talk when they were finished. For now, there was plenty to do in the last few hours of daylight. Autumn headed back toward the gear they’d stowed on the ATV and returned with a small collapsible shovel and a large canvas bag- the latter of which she tossed to Jase. “That’s for your basic trash, plastic and stuff, although I’m pretty sure you’re about 12 steps ahead of me there.” With a wry, self-deprecating grin, she unfolded the shovel and locked the pins into place. “Anyway… Thanks for helping. Let me know if you need anything, and I guess we can meet back up when we’re done and work on something else.”

    Autumn didn’t have much to say after that, none of the typical chatter- it just wasn’t necessary. She did hum, though, mostly fragments of old songs that were only played on classic rock radio, as she shoveled sodden, compacted ash and leaves and dragged crumbling bits of ancient firewood out from the mess. Ugh. Grimacing, she tossed the rotten, lichen-encrusted plant matter into the underbrush at the edge of the clearing and kept going. She hadn’t thought it would get this bad so quickly- or, maybe she just hadn’t thought. Either way, this mess was her responsibility, and although she really was grateful for the help, and for the company, the increasingly grubby teen had to admit that she felt a little guilty for conscripting Jason… Something-Something Bannon to help her deal with it. But… Glancing in the direction of the stream as she crouched next to the re-emerging bowl of hardened earth, she smiled to herself- he didn’t really seem to mind too much, so maybe it was fine.

    The visible trash had been first - sodden plastic wrappings, beer cans caught in the deadwood, waxed cartons used for juice or milk - they had all come whizzing obediently out of the water and into the refuse sack, crumpling, folding or otherwise compacting as they travelled.  Then Jase had set the canvas bag left open to one side and focused on the driftwood.  Smaller branches first, some still adorned with leaves, were tugged free of the tangle and laid in a neat pile at one end of the beach in the sunlight, then would come the larger bits- small pieces of dead timber from larger trees carried downriver, and more than a couple of broken-off trunks.  There was a steady meditative style to the way he worked: quick and yet with an air of unhurried thoroughness, and he smiled to himself as he heard Autumn humming as she tended to her own task.

    This was a memory he would often revisit later: this simple little scene he would forever associate with companionship.  The music of the brook and the woman, even if some of her humming was charmingly off-key as she occasionally huffed, tossing moldy old firewood into the brush.  The birdsong distant beyond the babble of the creek.  The sunlight throwing glints from the water and fire from Autumn’s hair, and how her waist had felt under his hands as he held on against the pitching of the ATV.  He reflected with some amusement on the reactions of and the interplay between both Keane women.  He also wondered, without sorrow or bitterness, about how it would feel to have that maternal connection: someone who would worry about simple little things no matter how old or competent their child became.  His mind flashed back to the concern shown him by his mother; the way she had touched his face and studied it as though trying to find the boy she had run away from inside the man standing there.  He theorised that Dana explained a lot about Autumn - her undemanding warmth of personality, her restlessness and need to test herself which was very similar to his own, yet possessed of a different tone and texture.

    She’d laughed when he’d called her ‘peaceful’, but she was.  Not passive, not static, but contained and self-sufficient.  A creek, always full of restless motion, yet restful to observe.  He imagined that the same rich emotional depth she had shown when speaking of her grandfather, or when cradling him, or when she flamed bright crimson at his teasing, or even when she had charged into a fight with two seniors twice her size were (like the blushes) traits she had inherited from her mother.  He compared that rich emotional texture to his own superficially binary state - remote, cold detachment or searing instinct - with little in the way of middle ground.

    With a groaning creak, the first tree-trunk lifted clear of the creek, a rain of water pattering down on the pebbles as Jase caused it to float up and away from the bank, closely followed by a second, then a third solid piece of timber.  The tangle was more or less destroyed now, his TK grasping and bagging a couple of overlooked bits of trash, then conscientiously flipping some more small branches out of the moving water before they could be carried away.  He nodded, satisfied at the clear banks of the creek, then sat down and removed his boots and socks, rolling up the bottom of the legs of his combat pants, before wading into the water.  He probed around carefully on the stony creek-bed with both his feet and his Shine, now and then grabbing sharper rocks and tossing them to the far bank and occasionally locating and removing a broken piece of glass or metal which lay submerged.

    The water was warm enough for wading, or even for swimming still, not that the cold bothered him anymore than heat did these days.  He wondered about that - the Shine and how it manifested so differently in so many people.  With him, it seemed to make human concerns even more remote - removing any physical insufficiency, making frailty against the elements irrelevant, granting the ability to seal himself from harm or to deliver it with but a flicker of will.  He paused his chain of thought, realising he’d used the term ‘human concerns’.  Perhaps ‘physical concerns’ would be better, if exactitude was what he sought.  He pulled a buried piece of planking with a couple of protruding nails up from the creek bed, floating it to the driftwood pile on the shore.  Musing to himself he took his time with the work, wading back and forth thigh-deep in the water until, finally satisfied that the creek bed was clear, he turned to see how Autumn was getting on.

    • Like 4

  3. "I'll come."  Cassie chirped, grinning as she slipped an arm through Devin's.  "I've wanted to look around on the Rez since this whole weird mess started - and besides," she batted her eyelashes comically at Devin.  "It can be our first date."

    "Uh, slow your roll there, scarlet woman."  Marissa snorted, plainly in a foul mood since the disappearance of her phone.  "Until Tuesday he's still attached."  She sniffed, tossing her hair as she folded her arms and favored Devin with a gimlet eye.  "Not that it makes any difference to him."  Almost in synchronisation, the twins shot each other the bird.

    "I'm going too."  Jason said in his quietly authoritative way before Devin could find a new needle to insert in his sister.  "Since doing my research into some local legends and Sean found those native american artifacts that 'Shone' in Helena, I've had questions that require answers.  And if Devin is transporting us, that means I can get back by late afternoon to throw wrenches at Kat."  This last was delivered deadpan, and Sean narrowed his vivid eyes at his friend, who affected an innocent look that, it being Jason, was ruined by the glimmer of dry, dark humor in his eyes.

    "Mmkay."  Autumn nodded, blue eyes studying Devin, then Jase, then Cassie.  "But I think that's close to enough of us going.  We don't need a mob of us turning up there."  Devin was practically a mob all by himself, after all.  But at the same time, there was a sense of reassurance that she wasn't facing whatever awaited on her own.

    "Great."  Marissa stood up, smoothing her skirt and giving Cade a lingering kiss on the cheek.  "Lunch is almost over, so I'm going to retrieve my phone so I can stay awake in Lit."  She punctuated this with a soft open-handed swat to Devin's shoulder, leaning across Cade to do so, which incidentally gave him a fantastic view.  Which, of course being a gentleman, he didn't stare at.  Much.

    The Fellowship, getting a sense that the meeting was winding down, started packing away their lunch things.  Jason hooked the strap of his worn satchel over his shoulders and stood, stretching his lean form for a moment before extracting a rolled up possible cigarette from a pocket of his many-pocketed pants and heading down the bleachers to the usual covert smoking spot under the bleachers at their furthest end.


    GM note:  I think the thread is pretty much wrapped there.  I will leave it open for any single post conversation or statements of what a character is doing in relation to what has been discussed between the teens here over the rest of the Thursday.  If you're talking with a PC, hash it out in PMs or IC chat, then present it as a whole post.  Or simply confer and have one of you post a short piece narrating what went on.  If it's something longer or more in-depth, create another side fic, please.

    XP Awards:  Based on participation, characterisation, proactivity and quality.

    Cassandra, Autumn, Devin, Marissa, Kat, Sean, Jason: 2 XP
    Cade:  1 XP.
      (This is mainly based on the fact that Jason's words to Devin about facing the Dark should have come from Cade.  He's a leader figure on paper.  A teammate in crisis should be a call to action.  Otherwise, you did well.)
    Charlie: 0 XP (There is no award for just showing up)


  4. "Okay."  Devin grudgingly allowed.  "It's not like I don't have plans on Saturday...  But!"  He leveled a stern glare at both plucky adventuresses.  "I want updates.  I want to know you're okay.  If it gets to 1 AM Shelly time and I've not had a text saying 'Checked it out, home safe, eww I smell of rat shit and spider farts' then I will blow up your phones before teleporting everywhere I think you might be - and I'll wake up Bannon and drag him along so you'll have both our asses dropping into your bedrooms pissed at you.  Deal?"

    "Alright, alright."  Cassie exclaimed with a slight smirk, raising her hands in mock surrender.  "Jeez, agree to go to Homecoming and all of a sudden we're living in 'The Handmaid's Tale'."

    "All hail the patriarchy!"  Marissa snarked.  Devin glowered at his twin, who returned the glare with an outwardly cordial smile with just a hint of 'kiss my ass' about it as Jason spoke up.

    "So we have a plan going forward, then?  Autumn and Cassandra will scout the Old Town Hall, putting carefulness ahead of curiousity."  His green eyes didn't glower the way Devin's did to punctuate his point, they simply rested on the two girls like jade-hued ice cubes.  "Just remember, none of us is disposable.  If you feel it's too dangerous, there is no harm in backing off and coming back with extra hands."  He moved his stare to the others.  "Cade, let Sean have a look at that rifle.  We don't know how it works, or what the ammunition does - but if anyone here can work it out, Sean can.  We cannot afford an unknown resource.  Work out with him meeting up so he can check it - and soon."  Both the athlete and the tech geek nodded slightly in response.  "Once Autumn and Cassie have had a closer look at the situation, we can meet up and plan an actual attack on our target.  Sunday afternoon or evening might be best for the planning."  His pale eyes pierced Kat's.  "We need to figure out how exactly you Shine and how best you can support any efforts we make.  Sunday afternoon, powers familiarisation and training at my place - same goes for anyone who feels they need it, but Kat has had her Shine all of two days and is currently just a packed lunch for the Dark."

    "Oof."  Sean winced, but nodded as well.  "Yeah.  It's a good idea to get you up to speed as soon as, Kat.  Don't worry - Jason's training method isn't to throw wrenches at you until you can catch them with your brain."

    "Though that would be hilarious to watch."  Marissa smirked. Sean shot her what was supposed to be a withering look, but she merely smiled and went back to tapping on her phone.

    "And finally... Autumn mentioned to Cassie earlier that she had something to bring up."  Jason's eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as he looked at the freckled redhead, and he raised a brow expectantly.

  5. "If we don't face it, we die anyway."  Jason said in that calm, matter-of-fact manner of his.  "It wants to eat us, Devin.  We are being hunted.  If we fight it head-on, at least we will be together, eyes open and on the opponent, and it will have to work for it's dinner.  Personally, if I am going to die, that's the death I choose.  You-" and he indicated the male Jauntsen "-have no right to make it for me, or any of us, whatever your fears."  His eyes were still chips of green ice, his voice still that quiet, level tone.  He didn't raise it - he seldom, if ever, raised his voice.

    "But I don't plan to die.  I plan to kill the thing that wants to kill me.  I plan to make it suffer for daring to think it can treat me as prey."  A feral glimmer kindled in the depths of his gaze as it moved from Devin, to Marissa, to Autumn, to Cassie and so on around the group.  "It's true that I am... different.  But you- all of you - are my friends.  If I could slip away and kill the thing that threatens you without endangering you, I would."  He shrugged eloquently, spreading his slender hands.  "But I can't.  I need you.  You need me.  We need each other.  As Marissa said, it's perhaps unfair that it falls to us, but it has fallen to us.  And fairness is not on the periodic table.  The universe is not composed of hydrogen, carbon and justice."

    "Now, we could all walk away.  We could run from Shelly.  Put the work of the Man In Black to bring us to this point to waste.  Perhaps the parasite will not grow strong enough to pierce the walls of our world in our lifetimes."  His lips twisted in a sardonic smile.  "It won't be our problem if, after a few more cycles of pain, death and terror, it breaks through and eats every living thing.  Hell, even our children might be dead by then."  He narrowed his eyes at Devin.  "But I am not fleeing.  Just like you did not flee when we fought that monster in the woods on Friday.  You stood with me, I stood with you - and we made it hurt.  We - all of us together - frustrated it's purpose.  Yes, you got scars."  He leaned forwards, eyes hard.  "Own the scars.  They are yours.  They are on your living body because you survived.  And then, in the hospital, you kicked some Dark-spawned monsters to death wearing expensive sneakers.  You - we won that fight.   All of us.  Kids coming into our power, becoming warriors."

    He jabbed a finger at Devin from where he sat on the fringes of the group.  "You don't have to be afraid of the Dark, Devin Jauntsen.  It has to be afraid of you.  Of all of you."  He smiled then, a wry quirk of humor.  "Of all of us.  So:  let's set aside the 'do we, don't we?' question.  Because we definitely are going to have to face the Dark, and it might as well be on our terms.  What we need is the next steps - gearing up, reconnaissance, and deciding what the battle plan will be when we get in there.  It seems the skull-entity is our actual target, but I don't think that whatever Cody has become is going to let us walk up to the skull with a hammer."  He glanced around.  "Thoughts?"

    • Like 1

  6. Jason listened in silence as Devin protested the idea of taking the fight to their enemy, a faint narrowing of his eyes the only clue that he found the brash young man's reticence odd.  This was Devin, who seemed to live for thumbing his nose not just at social convention but also danger.  He seemed... afraid.  An observation backed by the fact that Cassandra obviously picked up on it too, and was hugging him - not sexually, at least Jason didn't think so due to context, but for comfort and reassurance.  Much as Autumn had hugged him on Monday, a lance that had let out the emotional turmoil he'd been experiencing that day, only it didn't seem to comfort Devin quite to the same extent.

    The observation of his friend's fear concerned Jason.  Devin openly willing to not just admit fear but also to allow it to inhibit good tactical sense was a problem - as well as a shifting of the foundations on which the group stood.  To strike at the heart of the Dark was sound, especially with the force they could bring to bear now, and for one of the driving personalities of the team to lose their nerve could send the whole into a panic.  Also, Devin didn't seem like Devin when he was like this.  He had trouble sleeping?  Why?  He had survived, and fought the Dark's pawns hand to hand, and snatched people from the literal jaws of death.  It was Jason's first exposure to severe fear-induced emotional trauma in a person he cared about.  His father had spent years in sorrow and drunkenness over the ruination of his life and abandonment from the woman he loved, but Jason had rationalised that as being Gar's sense of being a failure, however unjustified.  Devin... had not failed anyone, including himself.

    It was puzzling.  And troubling.

    Then Cassandra answered his question, and Jason was left with more questions.  A super-alien?  Was the Man in Black a Teulu?  Would his mother know if another was here?  But Mr Black was old, and had been walking the Earth for centuries if the Aeon Society were to be trusted.  Jason didn't get confused, as such, but he felt the flapping ends of un-whole threads of inquiry writhing and whipping to and fro in his thoughts.  Puzzles and questions and riddles, and he felt like he was getting a second-hand account of a third-hand account.

    Why can't people ever take words at their defined meaning?  Exact:  meaning 'without approximation; precise to the detail'. he mused silently.  Silently, because the meeting was already overly emotional and didn't need his particular brand of frustration added to it.  Plus no good was ever served by impatience.  And finally because he liked Cassandra, generally.  So he counted backwards from ten - in Greek - before speaking.

    "Drawing the Dark into our world is a no-no."  he gestured towards Cassie, then indicated Devin.  "But we're also not ready - I agree somewhat there.  We need more information, and more training, and to learn better not just what we're individually capable of but what we can accomplish in teams.  We did well on the Crossroad's raid - accomplished our objective without any deaths and even rescued some other prisoners.  That was, it's safe to surmise, easy compared to going into the Dark's realm to fight it.  We won't have Sean stifling communication or surveillance by our enemy there.  So when we go through, we have to be right on top of whatever we are there to strike at."

    "Which is probably the Old Town Hall, based one what I felt." Cassandra said firmly.  Jason nodded, then shrugged.

    "I have no reason not to trust your abilities.  Did the Man in Black say if there was a way to beat this parasite?"  His eyes narrowed as he recalled what Mr Black had said to him in the hospital.  "He told me we had to find Cody.  He seemed very insistent about it.  I doubt he cares much about one teenage boy in the grand scheme of his plans - unless Cody is important somehow."  He hesitated, then asked with poorly disguised interest.  "And did he say what kind of alien he was?  Where he was from, or anything like that?"

  7. "Devin has slipped into the Dark's realm, let's call it, before.  By accident, no less."  Jason noted quietly, turning in his seat once more and gesturing towards Devin's right wrist where he wore the strange coppery bracelet he'd been given - or LoJacked with - by a mysterious Someone on the other side.  "Four of us were sucked into the Dark's realm last Friday.  Since Devin got his mysterious gift on Monday, though, the Dark has had to come to us."  He let that sit for a moment.

    "O-kay."  Marissa said slowly, eyes narrowing at him in silent warning that he'd better damned well continue.

    "On both occasions where one or more of us was pulled over, Devin was the common factor.  Uniquely amongst us his gift is spatial distortion - it's possible to assume that his mere presence in a place without that bracelet - which doesn't seem to weaken his power so therefore can be assumed to be a dimensional anchor of some kind - thins the wall between our world and the Dark's reflection of it, at least enough that the Dark can somehow reach over and pull him and anyone near him through.  Perhaps enough that, when linked with Cassandra, the pair of them can find the way there as easily as he can find the way to his house - if he removes the bracelet."

    "There's a lot of assume and perhaps there."  Charlie noted, none too happily.  Jason shrugged, nodding agreement.

    "There is.  But we're in unknown territory, having only our observations to go on plus whatever hints Mr Black might have given Cassie."  He fixed his gaze on the blonde reporter.  "So what exactly did he say?"

  8. Cassidy Farm, Later that evening

    Sean was still up, idly surfing the internet from the comfort of the bench swing on his parent's porch, scrolling through various geek meme threads to distract himself as he listened to music on his earphones.  Lights from the road caught his notice, and the feral growl of a V8 announced whose car was turning into the Cassidy drive before the gleaming black paintwork of the Charger resolved from the gloom of the night.  The passenger-side door opened, Laurie clambering out with several hard-bound books tucked under one arm before retrieving her schoolbag from the back seat.  She said something to Jason, who just nodded in reply as she closed the door and stepped back, letting him reverse back out of the drive without ceremony as she turned and walked towards the house, a pensive expression on her face.

    "How'd it go?"  Sean startled his sister as he spoke suddenly from the gloom around the bench swing.  She scowled slightly, then sighed and came to sit beside him.

    "I'm still in one piece."  she replied as she leaned against her brother's blanket-wrapped form.  "At least physically.  Anyone ever tell you your best friend is an assbag?"  He snorted.

    "That's why he's a perfect teacher for you."  Sean retorted with a grin, then narrowed his eyes warningly as she made to hit his arm.  "Watch it.  I can taze you with a touch, sis."

    Laurie huffed, then chuckled and settled back down, and the two siblings stared out as the last lining of daylight faded from the horizon, narrowing to a thin silver-blue line.  "He agreed to teach me, at least."  she said at length.

    "I figured, given you weren't phoning for a pickup or he wasn't telling me to come get you off his property."  Sean nodded.  "Did it go smoothly?"

    "No."  Laurie snorted.  "I got annoyed and opened my mouth, then he dissected me like a biology lab frog."

    "Ouch."  Sean winced in sympathy, even as he smiled a little.  "Was it bad?"

    "Not as bad as Cora got it.  But I shriveled up a little.  Almost quit."

    "But you didn't."  It was as much a question as a statement.

    "Nope.  I remembered something about how he's always got several reasons for anything he does.  Then I realised he was testing me - the assbag."  Laurie sighed, leaning back into the bench seat.

    "He does that." Sean noted sympathetically.  Then he nudged her encouragingly.  "You came through okay though.  Learn anything?"

    "That I have a lot to learn."  Laurelei said, patting a couple of the books next to her.  "Reading material, which I better get started on."  She stood, gathering the books and ruffling his hair.  "It go okay with mom and dad?"

    "It went okay.  They're clued in now, at least."  Sean replied, swiping at her hand.  "I hope that keeps them safer, rather than makes it worse."  Laurie nodded, looking out at the gathering dark and feeling a shiver.

    "Yeah."  she said as she smiled at him and turned to go to bed.  "Me too."

  9. "Sheriff Allister is likely, based on the evidence so far, having an affair with an as-yet unnamed person.  Cade confronted him on it, and the sheriff saw fit to make it a dominance issue between him and the Fellowship as a whole."  Jason said without looking round as he sipped at his coffee, then he half-turned in his seat and looked at them.  "Marissa says she can handle the sheriff without things getting unpleasant."  He nodded towards the lovely young woman in acknowledgement.  "I trust that she can.  And that is all that is relevant to us as a whole."

    "Christ, Jaybee..."  Devin muttered.

    "Not to me." Cade glowered slightly.  "This is my family, Jason."  Cold green eyes studied the hulking teen and Jason tilted his head slightly to one side.

    "No.  Not to you.  To us, as a whole, from a pragmatic perspective."  he re-emphasised.  "Unless you want us getting involved in the affair - in both senses of the word.  Of all of us, Marissa can handle it neatly and without further unpleasantness - at least so far as conditions between us and the sheriff go.  If you want us to interfere and try to fix the problem, I will of course be of whatever help I can to you.  Understand that might undo her efforts, though."  He paused, his manner becoming a few degrees less coldly practical as his eyes met Cade's.

    "It is not easy, to be betrayed or let down by one you should be able to trust.  I know you very much love your mother and sister, and look up to your father.  Perhaps this aspect of him - his human flaws - might, in the long run, help you understand him as more than an icon."  He contemplated the surface of his steaming cup, then nodded to Cade before turning back around.  "I hope so.  But if you do want my help, ask.  I don't have any skank hiker recipes, though."  He added with a twitch of his lips as he gazed out once more across the field.

    • Like 1

  10. "Not so far."  Jason spoke up for the first time, nodding in greeting to Sean and his diminuitive companion as he poured himself a cup of coffee from his thermos.  He'd been sitting quietly letting the conversation wash over and around him without paying apparent attention, but as he half-turned in his seat he nodded towards Cade.  "Cassie isn't the only one with something to share, it seems.  But Cade rightly pointed out it would be a good idea to wait until you arrived to ensure we weren't spied on."  He sipped the black brew in his mug, jade eyes regarding the others expressionlessly.

    "Right."  Sean nodded, his eyes unfocusing and refocusing swiftly as he shifted his perceptions, examining all the data streams and signals in the area for piggybacked feeds or signs that someone was bugged.  "Nothing showing up on Sean-o-Vision(tm)."  he noted after a solid minute, turning his attention back to his lunch.

    "Reassuring."  Jason remarked, glancing at his friend with a nod, then focusing on Cassandra.  "As you are the one who called the meeting you should go first with your news, at least once Charlie and Autumn arrive.  Other people can follow up with their concerns."  He shifted his gaze to Cade and Devin, studying how out of character it was for the large athlete to get physical outside of the sporting arena.  Obviously, something deep-seated was bothering the massive teen.  Whatever it was, if Jason could assist he would.  If he couldn't... well, he would at least lend an ear.

    For now, though, he set his mug down and resumed forking his meal from the plastic container.  Revelations would come, in time, and though he was curious about what Cassandra had found out and, to a lesser extent, what was bugging Cade, he allowed that curiousity to sit quietly in the back of his consciousness whilst he gazed across the football field, his focus once more beginning to tread the halls of his mind.


    In case it wasn't clear - no, there are no electronic snooping devices or bugs currently in or around the group.


    • Like 1

  11. She caught her breath,  feeling a prickling in her eyes and wanting to scream at him - but that would have been pointless.  She wanted to storm off and tell Sean that his friend was a class-A douche and assbag - but that would only lead Sean to, rightly, sigh and ask what she had said.  She wanted to summon up every bit of visceral scorn she could and hurl it into his sharp eyes with that ancient, patient expression in their jade depths-


    She remembered, a few days ago, standing out in the field not far from here and watching Sean and the others cut loose and show off their powers.  And standing near Sean, listening in on the conversation her brother was having with the newly-revealed psychopath and with Cassie, and something the school's ace reporter had said in passing...

    "Y'know, I noticed that you always have more than one reason for doing things."  Cassandra had said.  

    "I find it helps me control my impulse-driven nature.  If I cannot find three reasons to justify a course of action, it's probably not sound."  Jason had said, his eyes gleaming with some secret mirth.  "It's the difference between being high-functioning and merely a creature of whim."  

    She almost caught her breath again with a sudden realisation.  Jason wasn't just being an ass to be an ass, or because his feelings - such as they were - were hurt.  He wasn't a creature of whim - or at least, he tried very hard not to be.  As she forced herself to study his expression, to meet the too-old eyes in the young face, she realised he wasn't radiating scornful dismissal.

    He was studying her.  Testing her. 

    Son of a BITCH.  The realisation was almost good for a renewed surge of anger, but at the same time, Laurie knew that she wouldn't achieve her goal that way.  She would fail the test, and whilst she might, in her current anger, not care what he thought of her, she didn't want to fail.  Especially as Sean would never let her live it down.  Ever.  And if she ran from him now - and yes, calling him a pig-molesting chuckle-fuck and storming out would be fleeing the field - she'd never let herself live it down, either.  And, she realised with a growing sense of reluctant shame, he kind of had a point.  Even if he did state it like an asshole.

    "Okay."  she nodded at length, after taking a few deep breaths to center herself.  "Okay.  Yeah, you made your point.  Perhaps I did turn my back on you - a little."  she admitted.  "And not to try and justify being a bitch, Jason, but it was a lot to take in, you know?" She stepped forward a little, motioning to him.  "You were always the odd-but-cute-and-shy friend of Sean's to me.  You'd let me pester you and you'd help me with homework and you'd put up with my teasing and trying to comb your hair - y'know, before you started doing it before the start of school, which was just another change in you since that night of the party that was baffling me a bit.  I mean, you were hanging out with Devin Jauntsen over the summer and his bitch of a sister, who live to make people miserable and are oh-so too good for Shelly, bee-tee-dubs, and suddenly they're hanging out with you as you restore a car and calling you 'Jaybee' and nobody has a fucking clue why except you supposedly saved her and some other peeps from a sabertooth cat."  She paused.  "Which I guess would explain why they liked you after that, but still!  Devin?!  Really?!!"

    He was just sitting there, taking another swallow of water and watching her.  Laurie stepped forward again, gesticulating some more.  "And then the powers, and then you're a psychopath, which apparently is not the same as a serial killer, and then it turns out you're actually a huge genius, not just this autistic kid who struggles to maintain a C average, but an actual genius who deliberately scores no better than C's for... reasons?!  A joke?  I don't know."  Some composure fell from her, and she looked a little lost as she resorted to the raw truth.  "Part of me is scared and wants to stay the hell away from you, yes.  But a bigger part of me wants my other big brother back, Jase.  And is afraid he was never there."

    He drew the towel from where it was draped around his shoulders, and extended it to her, the soft cloth floating across the space between them to hover before her, and Laurie realised then that she was crying.  "True introspection takes courage."  he said quietly as she dabbed at her eyes.  "And admitting such things does too."  He stood, fetching a bottle of water from the fridge and bringing it over to her, handing it to the slim redhead.  "I'm still Sean's friend.  I still regard your family fondly for all the kindness and acceptance that you've shown to me.  I always will."

    There was something portentous in his words, some presentiment of as-yet unheralded changes, perhaps of a parting.  He spoke like someone considering departure or separation, and a strange fear filled Laurie - not for herself, but for him.  The moment passed swiftly, though, as he went on "I'll do what I can to teach you.  I've never done this before, so you'll have to be patient with me, and I with you."

    Laurie smiled, then impulsively hugged him, forgetting her fear for that moment, feeling for a second that this was the Old Jase, at least somewhere in there.  She felt him hesitate, then gently pat her back, and grinned as she drew away once more, wiping away a couple more tears with the ends of the towel.  He returned her exuberant grin with a faint arch of his eyebrows and a nod - and perhaps a ghost of a smile.

    "We'll start with the basics - memory, observation un-tinged by emotion.  Your senses are the windows through which you perceive the world, and your mind interprets the signals.  Emotion - specifically preconceived ideas with emotional attachments - can taint the signal and your interpretation of it.  That's how people, brilliant people, fall into logical fallacies all the time.  How you feel about an objective observable fact should be the last consideration when weighing it's validity."  He paused.  "We'll cover that.  It will be interesting for me to see if my methods will work for you, also.  So we shall start with Kim's Game."

    "Who's Kim and why is her game so important?"  Laurie asked, following him as he moved over to the worktable.  He cast a faintly amused glance her way, then shook his head.

    "We also have to expand your reading list.  Kim is a novel by Rudyard Kipling, featuring a boy who spies for the British against the Russians in Central Asia during the 19th Century, as part of the 'Great Game' of espionage.  The game in question is a memory training and observation game, and helps one focus on what is there and only what is there, to store as much of it as possible without context so that it can be analysed later."  He cleared a space on the worktable, then glanced at her.  "Turn around for a minute."  Intrigued, Laurie turned her back and focused her attention on the window across from her, seeing the fields out there where the Fellowship had hung out and practiced not long ago.  She heard Jason moving objects around, then felt him deftly tug the towel from her hands, and a moment later he said "Okay, turn back."  She turned around and saw the towel laying over the cleared section of the table, a number of lumps and bumps underneath it.  Jason stood aside, motioning for her to stand before the table, and she obeyed, feeling a sense of nervousness.

    "When the towel lifts, you will have ten seconds to memorise what is beneath it.  Then I will drop the towel, and you will turn away, and then I will ask you what is there."  Jason told her calmly.  "You understand?"

    "Ten seconds is a lot of time."  Laurie noted.  Jason smiled a little.

    "You think so?  Well then, you should have no trouble.  Hmm.  Let's make it five seconds."  Laurelei swallowed.  Me and my big mouth.  Jason nodded at her.  "Ready?"

    Laurie nodded- and before the gesture was complete the towel flashed upwards, borne by Jason's telekinesis.  Her eyes scanned the objects hastily Plant pot / trowel / pencil / some kind of small bottle / bottle cap-  and then the towel descended, and Jason's voice calmly said "Turn around, sit, and tell me what you saw."

    "Uh-  A plant pot, a pencil..."  Laurie's brow furrowed.  "A bottle cap..."

    "What type of pencil?  What brand of bottle cap?"  Jason immediately asked.  Laurie blinked, her concentration broken by the sudden tangent, and glared at him.

    "I don't know!"  she said in frustration as she tried to remember.  Jason's expression was patient as he nodded, and Laurie's irritation subsided.  "I get it." she nodded in turn.  "Seeing what's there - all of what's there.  And that will help me?"

    "It's a valuable skill.  Don't just look: see.  Seeing dispassionately, taking in the data, then being able to properly analyse it.  That is the first and best skill."  He motioned to himself.  "I fail at some aspects of it - those to do with human interaction, because I do not have the knowledge or experience to properly interpret the data I receive.  And I cannot do it intuitively as you can.  When someone says to me 'I'll kill you', or makes as if to attack me, I take it very literally unless they are incredibly obvious about not meaning it."  He seemed to be pondering something as he spoke.  "So you see I also am still learning."

    She nodded, and he smiled a little at her.  "Now, let's try again.  Seven seconds, this time.  I will shift and change the objects around."  Even as he spoke, she heard things rearranging behind her on the table and composed herself.  "Turn around, then.  And ready?  Now."  

    The towel whipped away once more, and Laurie focused on the task at hand...

  12. He wasn't looking forward to the meeting.

    He wasn't dreading it either - dread, of course, being just one of the emotional states he couldn't share with humanity.  But his past experience of group meetings when there wasn't some immediate activity or - colloquially - ass to be kicked was largely a melange of arguments, drama, sneering, preachiness and emotional incontinence.  However, Cassie had called the meeting, and had re-affirmed her desire for people to be there during Chem class, and so Jason had shrugged and said that yes, he would be attending.

    The day hadn't gone badly, otherwise.  Breakfast with Sean and Autumn and Cassandra had been quiet, companionable - at least, if he was any judge - and undemanding.  Autumn had asked how his dad was doing, and Jason had answered, with some warmth, that his dad seemed to be taking things in stride and looking towards getting the farm in order.  Talk had buzzed around that for awhile - Sean mentioning that his dad would probably be cool to advise on and bid for any building projects Gar had in mind and Cassie inquiring what sort of farming Gar was going to be doing - to the latter of which Jason shrugged and said that he didn't rightly know.  The general consensus was that it was good Gar was not going back to Crossroads to work as a janitor, though.

    Chem had likewise been harmonious - at least for Jason in his capacity as unofficial teaching assistant to Cassie and Autumn.  He treated the exercise as a practice for his mentoring of Laurelei - knowing how to do a thing was not the same as being able to instruct those that did not, and so he paid attention to how Ms Lafferty taught, rather than what she was teaching, and analysed his own approach with his two friends.  He was, at least, patient and not prone to frustration if they didn't immediately grasp a concept, nor was he condescending, instead taking the position that he was not explaining it suitably, re-parsing his approach, and trying again until the light of knowledge dawned in their expressions.

    The whole while, of course, he'd also been considering the revelations his mother had dropped on him the previous day.  Looking at his friends, he'd never felt more remote from them in the light of the knowledge she'd imparted, but was anything actually different?  Did the knowledge that he was a Teulu change the grin Sean shot at him whilst talking about the art choices for his new game, or Cassie's teasing about pluckiness, or the way Autumn would roll her eyes and tug an unruly curl of her red hair back behind an ear before bending once more over the chemical formulae?  No, it didn't.  It simply changed his perspective a little.  How, he wasn't quite sure yet.

    It also didn't change the Jauntsens, and the fact that, in his view, they merely tolerated him until such time as they could be rid of him.  Not given to dramatic exaggerated rhetoric himself, in his literal-minded way he took them at their word:  Devin saw himself as a Damocles Sword over Jason's neck and Marissa viewed him as a cannibal rapist, or a raping cannibal, or whatever.  As he made his way up to the row of bleachers the Fellowship were gathering on, Jason's expression was it's usual neutral self as he nodded briskly in greeting to those already there.  His eyes flickered over the group, and if he noted Marissa's enticingly low-cut top and the cleavage it displayed, he gave very little sign of it.

    Of course, he had noticed.  He was, as has been mentioned in the past, neither sexless nor devoid of libido, and Marissa, whatever her opinion of him, was a gorgeous healthy example of femininity.  He could, of course, remember every single outfit she had ever worn, and a lightning fast flicker through his memory indicated that this one was unusual in its daring.  At any rate, her interest in Cade was evident, and his in her, and so the ever-pragmatic youth stored the snapshot of Marissa Jauntsen's neckline in his mnemonic palace and went to sit down a short ways distant, still with the group but on its outskirts, removing a plastic container from his bag along with a fork and a thermos flask and settling down to eat while he waited.

    • Like 1

  13. Not only is there an art in knowing a thing, but also a certain art to teaching it.
    - Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Knowledge has bitter roots, but the fruit is sweet.
    - Aristotle

    Wednesday 28th August, after school

    Laurie was not in the best of spirits as she made her way along the dirt track that was the driveway leading up to the Bannon house.  Why is the sun shining?  Why is it a nice day?  It should be... stormy, with flashes of lightning back-lighting the ominous house on the hill, with a light in one window so it looks like it's staring sideways at me as I approach.  There needs to be some suspenseful music!  She cocked an ear, but heard only the buzz of grasshoppers and the sound of birds, devoid of menace or foreshadowing.  Fuck.

    Sighing, she continued up the track towards the farmhouse, noting as she drew closer that there were two figures working to wrestle some equipment from the back of the flatbed of Gar Bannon's truck:  Gar himself and Hank Graskle.  She wasn't sure whether she felt relieved or not - she didn't really know either man, and both had reputations that, whilst not bad, weren't glowing either.  On the upside, at least she wouldn't be facing Jason Goddamn Bannon without someone in screaming distance.  The thought immediately made her feel guilty - she'd promised Sean she'd not call Jason a psycho, and as a girl of her word she tried hard not to even think it - and the thought that he might attack her for no reason at all was at least a first cousin to 'dude is a psycho'.

    "Hey Mr Bannon.  Mr Graskle."  she gave the two men a waist-high wave as she approached them.  "Is Jason around?"

    "Should be."  Gar puffed as he leaned on the side of his truck.  He focused an eye on the pretty young girl.  "You're Sean's little sister, right?  Laurelei?"

    "That's me."  she said with a perkiness she didn't altogether feel.  He didn't look drunk, which by the rumor was his default state, so there was that, at least.  She ventured an explanation for her presence, as it seemed to intrigue both men.  "I'd normally tap Sean for this - but he's got a thing tonight and I need some help with schooling."  It was close enough to the truth, at least.  "He said Jason might help me?"

    "You walk here?"  Hank Graskle spoke up, resting his folded arms on the other side of the flatbed.  Laurie smiled brightly.

    "No sir.  Sean dropped me off at the bottom of the track there."  she hesitated, then her natural impatience and boldness asserted itself.  "So, is Jason here?"  The two men exchanged a look, then looked back at her, and Laurie realised what they might be thinking - pretty girl, come to see Jason...  GodDAMMIT and also 'EWW'.  She kept the reaction from her face.  Kissing Jason Bannon would probably be like kissing some kind of cold reptilian creature, like a lizardman from Sean's games.  He probably had stiff, immobile lips, a dry tongue and kissed like a Ken doll.  Ew-ew-ew-ew.  All the eww.  Not enough eww in existence.  If given a choice between kissing Devin Fucking Jauntsen and Jason Goddamn Bannon, I'd choose to shoot myself in the face!

    "He's over at the barn, probably."  Gar told her, gesturing towards the building that, Laurie knew from Sean, contained 'the Garden', Jason's flowers which he seemed to have shown to everyone except her... the jerk.  "He's not in the house, that's for certain."

    "Cool.  Thanks!"  Laurie said pleasantly, then turned and headed over to the barn.  Gar watched her go, then turned and exchanged another look with Hank before both men shrugged and got back to work.

    Drawing nearer, Laurie could hear music coming from the second floor of the building, a haunting mixture of electronica and vocals.  Right she told herself.  We're just going to go in, talk to him.  This is the same Jason who used to help you with math in 7th grade.  You used to pester him when he was sitting cross-legged on Sean's couch bent over his shabby old Chromebook and he never so much as gave you a mean look.  He bakes brownies and brings them round, for crying out loud.  He's not different now, you just see him differently.  Nut up or shut up, Cassidy!  She reached out a hand and opened the door.

    And was lost, spellbound for an instant as the riot of colours dazzled her and the combined scent of moist earth and growing things assailed her senses.  Letting the door swing shut behind her, she proceeded into the hothouse - a concealed paradise that she wandered through, heedless of the serpent that may be laying in wait.  Blooms and dark green leaves were in abundance, some dangling from overhead vines, others growing in neat beds on various levels that had been cunningly built so that, from the inside, it was hard to know one was standing inside a barn.  Sun lamps provided illumination and, crucially, UV rays, and as Laurie went deeper into the garden she pushed through the plastic curtain and emerged into a tropical version of the same.  Orchids swayed in the circulating air, periodically acquiring droplets of water from the hidden sprinklers that sent out fine mist at timed intervals.  Creepers and flowers she'd never heard of were mingled with ones she had, such as the Flytrap or the Pitcher Plant.  She leaned close to the Flytrap, observing with fascination the blush of the inner leaves and the way they opened and closed very slightly, reacting to changes in temperature and air pressure.

    The music was still going overhead, the track having changed to something faster but no less haunting or raw.  Glancing up, she moved onward through the garden and came at last to the door at the end, passing through it and ascending the stairs she found there.  She could hear other sounds now along with the music - the huffing of breath, the rapid shuffling of feet that sounded like... dancing?! She grinned as she imagined Jason Bannon, of all people, dancing wildly where no-one could see him, and carefully but quickly crept up the stairs to peek out into the top floor of the barn.  This, she had to see!  And maybe get a video of for blackmail purposes.  What she saw, though, was not exactly blackmail material.

    Bannon was engaged in dance-like steps - sort of.  Dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, he was making rapid shuffles forward and back, swaying his torso and twisting from the waist as his right hand flashed out holding what looked like a plastic or rubber knife which emerged from behind the guard of his left hand in a series of short slashes and stabs at a large, body length punch-bag swaying as it hung from a rafter.  There was nothing particularly florid or showy about the moves - the knife darted out at throat, stomach and groin height as Jason closed with the bag, circled it clockwise or widdershins, then moved past and turned for another pass, swaying to avoid the bag as it swung back towards him before stepping in smartly to drive the tip of the fake knife in once or twice at close quarters, then once more separating from his stricken 'opponent'.  Laurie could imagine vividly someone stumbling away after such a pass, bleeding and groaning, or crumpling to the ground and laying still as crimson stained the floor.

    In truth Jason was practicing what Hank had shown him, and his technique was, whilst fair, not so good as not to invite criticism and correction from Hank, or indeed anyone else that knew what they were doing.  Fast study though he was, Jason had a ways to go before being truly dangerous to a skilled opponent - at least if they took him at least semi-seriously.  But he was quick of eye and hand, and quick to spot and correct his mistakes, remembering with perfect clarity what Hank had shown him, how the instructor had stood and moved, then simply transposing those movements onto his own and practicing until they became muscle-memory.  The bag was not so much a sparring partner as it was a target dummy, loaned some verisimilitude by it's swaying movements.  But to the girl watching wide-eyed from the stairwell he seemed a terrifying spectre of death, an impression heightened by the fact he was wearing a blindfold - the psychokinetic taking the opportunity to practice using only his extended sense of touch to guide himself.

    So when he paused and reached out with his left hand to still the swaying of the bag, then 'looked' right at where she was standing at the top of the stairs, Laurie nearly 'Nope'd the fuck outta there.  Was it impressive to her, what she'd seen?  Sure.  Leopards and tigers were impressive as well - it didn't mean she wanted to be in the same room as one.  Was it unnerving watching someone she'd thought of as a secondary backup big brother 'kill' a workout bag with - to her untrained eye - terrifying efficiency?  Oh hell yes.  She watched as his head tilted to one side, brow furrowing above the blindfold as though trying to work out who she was, then his hand came up and removed the cloth and his cold jade eyes regarded her with, she noted, a faint note of surprise.

    "Laurelei."  He moved over to a table, setting the blindfold and practice knife down on it before grabbing a towel and patting his face dry of the sweat his workout had caused.  "What's up?" he asked with what was, for him, polite inquiry.  Lauri took a deep breath.  Right.  She'd come here for a reason, and to back out now was to risk Sean making chicken noises at her - forever.

    "I want you to teach me how to use my brain."  she said, looking him square in the eye as he studied her.  That was another thing she wasn't used to - 'old' Jason never met your eye for long, he always shifted his gaze away, as though shy.  An act, she'd come to realise.  The real Jason wasn't shy at all.  "I mean, it's great being on the football team and stuff, but I feel I've got more going on than..." she motioned to herself.  "What's on the surface."  When he didn't immediately scoff or react in any other way, she pressed on.  "Sean's been helping me out, but you teach yourself languages for fun, and learn poetry and philosophy and stuff - not because it's immediately practical or necessary, but because you love doing it - at least, that's how it looks.  I want you to teach me that...  Love of learning, I guess?  To sharpen up my mind like it's a knife."  Fuck, why did I say knife?  Her eyes darted to the practice blade reflexively, and Jason followed her gaze, then glanced back at her with a sardonic amusement glinting in his gaze.

    "Why?"  he asked simply.  "School will teach you everything you need to know.  If you don't already have the love of knowledge, what makes you think you can learn it like kicking a football?"  He moved towards her then stopped, lips quirking as she took an unthinking half-step back, then caught herself and flushed slightly in angry embarrassment as she realised he knew she was scared, and was amused by it.  He turned away and walked over to the small fridge under a worktable, leaning down and grabbing a bottle of water from within.  No longer the subject of that cold, inscrutable stare, Laurie found some measure of courage to give vent to her anger.

    "You like that, don't you?  Scaring people."  she said to his back.  "Bet you get a good giggle over that when you're up here pretending to stab someone so you can skin them for underwear."  Somewhere, Sean was likely feeling a disturbance in the Force, a presentiment of disaster and catastrophe, but Laurie wasn't finished.  "So yeah, I'm scared of you.  WoooOOOoooo!"  She mimed a spooky ghostly form with her hands.  "Anyone with any sense who knows who and what you are is scared of you.  My brother isn't, which speaks volumes about his sense.  Now you can have some extra jack-off material when you-"  He turned around, slowly, his eyes fixing on hers as he slowly drank from the bottle.  "- go to bed at night."  Laurelei finished with less fire.  Jason took a few more swallows of water, then lowered the bottle and stared at her with unblinking intensity.

    "Thank you for making my case for me."  he said softly.  "You are a Cassidy, but I really find it hard to imagine you and Sean share DNA.  You displayed a brain-numbing level of ignorance in just a few short sentences, in addition to being rude enough to come uninvited to my sanctum and then insult me.  Did it occur to you that my amusement might be at the irony that it was you, of all people, who was scared of me?"  His voice didn't raise, but it did harden a little.  "I have never threatened or harmed you, or any of your family, or any of your friends.  I tolerated, with good grace, all your childish teasing and little-sibling attention seeking even when Sean would get frustrated and drive you out of his room.  I baked you a cake for your twelfth birthday.  Sean is the closest thing I have to a brother, and you are the closest thing I have to a sister.  And then you hear a word, 'psychopath' and it is all so much dust of yesteryear."  He smiled coldly.  "I cannot really feel sad, Laurelei.  I can't feel hurt or emotional pain, not easily.  All I can feel at your unreasoning turning on me is a sense of ironic amusement.  But I don't expect you to understand that.  It must be difficult to see the big picture... when you have such a small screen."

    "That's not fair!"  Laurie's face flamed, torn between wanting to refute his words and the knowledge that they were, at least in the large part, correct.  She looked from side to side, unwilling to meet that green laser stare.  "It's not like that."

    "Oh.  It's not fair?  Well, I take it all back then."  Jason's tone was dryly mocking.  "Sorry, I didn't get the memo that everything was supposed to be fair."  A stool slid across the floor behind him and he sat down on it, still facing her with an attitude of patience.  "Do let me know when you're able to process me calling you on your bullshit, Laurelei.  I shall be right here, waiting to hear why I should even bother with someone who so readily forgets simple kindnesses."

  14. "Oh, that lesson is learned, sensei."  Jason's voice was only really monotone compared to the expansive, expressive range Devin possessed.  Understated, the teleporting teen thought with a click of mental fingers - that was the word.  Like his expressions, where a tightening of the eyes or a faint arch of a brow might communicate worlds of non-verbal content: provided one had a sensitive enough receiver.  Sometimes though, as now, he was a master of dry irony, accompanying his words with the clasp of his hands before his face and a bow.  Devin smirked and nodded, mimicking the gesture.

    "You are wise to seek wisdom at my feet, grasshopper."  They shared a grin, then Devin peered at the steaks, flipping them one final time.  "I think we're close to done.  Want to call your dad and Hank in?"  Jason nodded as he lifted the lobsters barehanded from the pot of boiling water to lay steaming on a tray, then came the sound of a bell being struck three times from the porch.  Devin looked askance for a split-second, then quickly realised that Jase must have struck it.  The comfortable ease his friend possessed with his psychokinetic gifts jogged a memory.

    "Hey, real quick: you mind if Tawny sits in on the next training sesh?"  he asked.  "I had a talk with her - she was pretty freaked and hesitant at first, but I got her practicing and she's not as hopeless as Cook and those Project dweebs think.  Just basic Yoda moving rocks shit, but she's getting some confidence."  He started plating up the steaks as he talked.  "My own brand of impressively awesome can only take her so far, though."

    "Meaning you need my brand of impressively awesome?"  Jason asked with a sly smile.  Devin made a rude noise.

    "Wouldn't call it that, dude.  More like 'your brand of strictly narrow Rain Man talent in certain fields'."  He chuckled as Jase shot him the bird, then turned more serious.  "She's still a little nervous, man.  I wasn't in on the last sesh, but people seem to have made some progress.  Just so's your training method ain't like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, y'know?  No sandblasting her the way you did Cora or throwing wrenches at her till she can catch them."

    "Nothing like that."  Jason reassured his friend.  "Cassie was incredibly nervous about letting her expanded awareness unfold - I helped her without any drill sergeant nonsense.  Besides, wrenches are the advanced class."  he added with a small smile.  "Not sure when the next group session will be, but of course I'll help Tawny."

    "Shibby."  Devin offered a fist which Jason, after a moment to register the gesture, bumped with his own as the two adults came in from outside.  "Let's eat, then."

    The four guys settled down around the table, passing dishes, cracking shells, jawing about their day at school or on the farm.  It was an oddly centered, calm gathering, punctuated by the occasional explosion of laughter at a joke or one-liner, or the occasional more thoughtful conversation when the topic skirted the Weirdness around Shelly.  There was an unspoken, but recognised agreement that seemed to naturally fall into place about that, though.  The mealtime was sacred, not for business or war-planning or discussion of secret conspiracies.  It was just hanging out, shooting the shit - zero drama, just Dude Time where no holds were barred in the banter and no fucks were given.

  15. "You're not wrong to be suspicious, and I'm certainly not swallowing it hook and line."  Jason said with a slightly nettled air.  "I mean, if she's telling the truth and she's like me, then lying is impossible for her.  But then, perhaps that's part of the con too." He pondered for a moment, then smiled.  "The Project has a genetics lab.  It would be easy to test myself - I wouldn't need to involve them other than to use their equipment.  That would be a simple way to see if it's real."

    "And if you are?"  Devin asked.

    "Then I know something for sure about myself... and my mother.  Other than that, it won't change much about how I view myself."  Jason frowned fractionally.  "A bit of self-awareness which will help day-to-day with things.  And then I can ask my mother for more information - maintaining healthy skepticism.  Like about my assumed species."  He grinned a little at Devin.  "From what she said, they're not really united.  Sort of clannish, compete with each other a lot, and shift alliances often between clans.  Kind of like homo sapiens, but turned up to eleven."

    "Shit."  Devin chuckled, as the two teens went back to preparing the meal, Jason getting a bowl of green leafy salad and potato salad from the fridge and setting them on the table.  "So long as there's lots of tight leather and vinyl, man.  Hot alien chicks with prehensile tongues I can teach about kissing.  Wait, do you have a prehensile-"

    "No."  Jason sighed, but his eyes crinkled at the edges in a smile.  "Nothing seems to be prehensile."  He and Devin smirked at each other for a moment then turned back to their tasks, Devin slapping the steaks on the cast iron griddle.  They worked in silence for a while, and then out of nowhere Jason spoke, obviously having something on his mind.

    "Deej, you know girls."  His air was not one of embarrassment or discomfort, more studious - the apprentice approaching the master for counsel.

    "Not all of them - yet."  Devin replied with a shit-eating grin.  Jason smiled slightly, nodding.

    "But better than I do.  I'm trying to analyse some behaviour."  he said soberly as he examined the color of the boiling lobsters.  "If a girl always seems to be blushing and awkward around you, but is a good friend and invites you to go hang out together, just you and her, is that a sign of interest?  I ask because my track record deciphering female signals is not the best."  He said dryly, smiling a little once more.

  16. Jason was quiet for a moment, dropping the lobsters into the large pot of now-boiling water and covering it before moving to wash his hands at the sink.  He glanced up out of the window at his father and his friend.  "I want that too."  he said quietly.  "It's literally all that matters.  Conventional moral considerations, how many people I have to maim and kill... even that time last Thursday when I ripped Cora a new asshole because I saw her willful blindness as dangerously obstructive to the group as a whole-"

    "Which I admit were some sick fucking burns, dude."  Devin smiled faintly.  "But..."

    "But yeah, it caused problems."  Jason nodded.  "I'm largely a pragmatist, Devin.  By wiring."  He tapped the side of his head.  "I can reason out up here that people's emotional vulnerabilities and damage can have knock-on effects.  But I don't intuitively get it the way you do.  You pointed out to me here that, for humans at least, emotional damage can and does happen as a result of actions that I take to prevent or avenge physical harm.  Unless I measure my responses, channel my instinct to protect 'my clan' by any means necessary, I will actually make their lives worse.  So... I plan to be careful now."

    "At least you didn't say 'you people'."  Devin grinned.  Jason smirked, nodding.

    "You're my people, Deej."  he used the familiar name.  "My father's human.  I thought of myself as human until yesterday, for crying out loud.  I'm not about to go all Ubermenschen on you."

    "Thank fuck."  Devin commented with a chuckle.  "I could totally see you busting out some Magneto lines about 'Homo Sapiens and their guns.'"

    "Only ironically.  I promise."  Jason glanced back out at his father.  "He is a good man.  Life treated him badly, but he never took it out on me.  Even when he was crying in the bottom of a bottle, he still got himself out of bed and went to work at a shitty job for us.  Did you know he has a Doctorate?"  He glanced at Devin questioningly.

    "Marissa said you mentioned he was smart."  Devin replied softly, looking out the window at the two grown men fist-bumping as they got the engine working.

    "Biochemistry."  Jason said with the faintest of notes of pride.  "He keeps the certificate in a drawer.  Maybe one day he'll take it out and look at it again, now he seems to be mending.  He turned back to Devin.  "I don't think it's cheesy, by the way.  What you said.  Most people are data to me, sure.  But the ones closest to me live in my head.  All of you.  I even have a chamber in my memory palace-"

    "Your what?" Devin blinked.  "Waitaminute.  Like that Sherlock show with that Benedict Cucumberbond?  Marissa loves that shit."  Jason gave the faintest of winces.

    "Sort of.  I visualise it differently, but essentially, yes.   I put it together over the last few years: everything I've ever read or experienced, every conversation I've ever had, every memory of you, or Mari, or Sean, or Lona.  There's the rooms and libraries of the palace, and the place where I lock down my instincts, but most importantly I have a sort of central garden where the Fellowship, and my dad, and Hank are."  Jason's eyes unfocused for a moment.  "Some of you are sculptures, others are photos or paintings.  I'm never going to forget any of you, Deej. Whatever happens I will always remember every detail.  And, perhaps surprisingly, there is emotional context there, too.  I do feel, Devin.  I just don't feel as... complexly as you do.  As deep, possibly, but not as complicated, not as wide a range and without the conflicts you seem to experience."  He moved over to check the pot on the stove, still talking.

    "I will feel the lack of Lona in my life - she was always kind to me.  When Sara tried to punch me and Lilly was waving her finger in my face scolding me over the Cora thing, Lona just hugged me and asked me to try not to hurt people in the group."  He smiled a little  "I once asked her how it felt to be afraid, and she took it seriously and tried to answer.  Much like you did just now, with the weighted vest analogy."  He paused.  "I will do what I can to make that burden lighter on you, even if I can't know what it is to carry it."

  17. "Me make it weird?  You're the one hugging."  Jason's smile was, as usual, only a slight curve of his lips, but it reflected in his eyes as he disengaged and moved to the cavernous fridge. Opening it, he floated a couple of shrink-wrapped trays out. the first drifting neatly to a stop in front of Devin containing five good-sized tomahawk ribeye steaks while he took the lobsters over to the sink for cleaning.

    "Bro-hugs aren't weird."  Devin saw a well-stocked herb and spice rack and started examining the contents.  "They're how we bond on this planet, Spock."

    "See?  You're already being a smart-ass about it.  The marvels of human adaptability, Captain."  Jason did a passable Nimoy voice and mock-saluted him with a lobster in hand.  "Good for you."  They smirked at each other and set to work.

    "So am I Pine Kirk or Shatner Kirk?"  Devin set his jacket aside and started in with the seasoning.

    "Shatner gets more play. Pine has better hair."

    "Pine gets play.  There's those catgirls in one movie.  And the green chick.  And-"

    "True.  Shatner gets more play, though that does take into account a longer career in the role."  Jason noted clinically as he set a large pot of water on the stove.  Devin, glancing across, noticed with a sense of unease that the legs of the lobsters were still moving on the tray and they were waving their taped-together pincers in the air.

    "Uh, they're still alive, Jase."  He looked at them, then at the lean form of his friend.  "You're not going to do that thing where they boil them alive, are you?  Cuz that's sick, bro."

    "No, certainly not."  Jason calmly replied.  "Though it's a matter of debate whether they can feel pain.  They don't possess a central nervous system or cerebral cortex to register pain, though oddly their brains do produce serotonin like a human one.  Lobster males who lose out in mating and dominance battles tend to get 'depressed' and will lose more often in the future, whereas the victorious ones are more likely to go on and score a winning streak.  Much like human males."  Devin blinked at him as he selected a thin, sharp knife from the rack, the silvery steel floating to his hand as he laid the crustaceans on the block.  "Dropping a live lobster into boiling water toughens the meat.  There's no real reason to do it except to be edgy.  You do need to kill them right before cooking, though, for the best results."

    "Guess these guys are feeling pretty depressed right now."  Devin watched, fascinated, as Jason lined up the point of the knife with a spot on the lobster behind it's eyes then quickly and efficiently drove it through the shell with a thrust.  It wasn't so much what was being done as who was doing it, he mused as he turned back to the steaks.  Odd, that something that seafood chefs at Red Lobster across the nation did dozens of times a day seemed somehow creepy when it was being done by Jason in his own kitchen.

    "I heard about Lona moving."  Jason said from behind him to the accompaniment of another muted *crunch*.  "It's a shame.  You two seemed happy.  I suppose she's never too far away though, for you."

  18. "Fine."  Jason stood up, his expression neutral, and moved to set his cup on the counter.

    "Fine?"  Devin looked at him askance.  "Wait - d'you mean 'fine', or 'fine'."

    "Yes."  Jason turned and leaned his butt against the counter, hands loosely hanging at his sides.  "You're right - I can control my impulses.  I do control my impulses, all the time, day by day. Occasionally I slip when provoked.  I'm going to work on that, because you're right about something else: it hurts the group.  It causes heat we don't need, it upsets people we don't need upset at us, and it causes friction within the group.  You are right about that."

    "Okay..."  It wasn't an expression of remorse, but at least Jason wasn't shrugging and saying 'I don't care'.

    His lips twitched in a cold smile.  "It's amusing, really, that the guy who has a history of going through life doing exactly as he pleases to whomever he pleases for shits, giggles and status is lecturing me.  It's hilarious that the twins who terrorised blameless kids because it was easy and they could are taking me to task."  Jade eyes gleamed with ironic internal humor.  "You're trying to change, by your own admission and, yeah, your actions bear it out - but your reaction to something you cannot control is still to beat it down or bring it into line."

    "Obviously you either don't believe me, don't comprehend what you're hearing, or are trying to comprehend through the filter of your own life.  So you know what?  Forget about it: psychopath, alien, it's all the same shit to you - you don't care.  I'm not making excuses, Devin. I don't need to make excuses for what I am or how I'm made, so fuck you for that."  Despite the words, Jason's tone was level and calm.  "I was explaining - to a friend - why I have my impulses and where they came from because I believe you deserve and need to know, not claiming that I cannot make the effort to restrain them.  Sometimes I fuck up, and that causes problems.  I shall try to fuck up less.  But understand I am never going to care about Liam. Or Cook. Or the guards.  I'm never going to feel sorry for hurting any of them.  All I care about is not causing problems for the gang: you collectively-" he gestured towards Devin, finger making an illustrative circle "-and by extension those close to you, are all I care about.  And for all our differences, I do care.  So yeah, I'm going to try harder to contain that side of me.  To keep it pushed down.  That's pretty much all you care about, right?  That I not make problems.  That I toe your line."  He shrugged.  "It suits my purposes, so I'll play along.  Like you said, we're family."

    He glanced at the clock on the wall, then back at Devin.  "It's getting on for dinner.  You're welcome to stay, if you want.  Steak and lobster."  The ease with which he casually switched from the hard-edged tone to polite invitation was a little strange as he looked back at Devin.  "If you have any more to say, we can talk while I'm getting it ready."

  19. He was silent as he went to the fridge, extracted a can and walked it over to Devin.  Behind him the coffee maker was getting prepped, ground coffee poured with exactitude into the rinsed-out mesh filter, water being poured into the reservoir from a jug, containers and implements dancing in the air.  As he handed the coke to Devin, the teleporter noticed a thoughtfulness mingle with the reptilian watchfulness in his strange friend's(?) eyes before the lean youth then took a few steps back, leaning lightly against the counter once more.  The tension in the air had lessened a little, and taken on a different quality.  Jason seemed to be trying to decide something.

    "Thanks for explaining that." he started calmly as Devin popped the tab on the second can..  "It does help me to understand - I honestly didn't think my rattling of Cook was going to frighten the others.  I wasn't saying those things to sound like a bad-ass, Devin.  I said them so Cook would understand that he was not in control, that he was not a voice of authority, that he had no dominance or right to speak down to any of us - me included.  I also did what I did to get him to stop thinking about his reputation or station, and start him thinking about just staying alive.  Cutting through his pompous bullshit saved us time."  He paused.  "And, cards on the table, it felt good to terrify him.  He has been spying on us, running experiments and treating this town like an ant farm.  He is the reason I spent a night hiding with Lona and Clara at my drug lab - in case he was pursuing them after they confronted Etienne last Thursday.  He was an enemy and it felt good to see the fear and pain in his eyes." he added with a steady tone that was almost reluctant admission.  "I am not proud of that impulse, and if that had been the only reason I wouldn't have done what I did."

    "Still did more harm than good, man."  Devin stated quietly.  "You might have calculated all that, but to everyone who's not inside your head it looked like you were a psycho sadist looking for a reason to show off and hurt someone.  I admit, Cook's a fuckin' scumbag, but you also made yourself, and us, look like out of control teenagers in front of Taggart and Giles."  Jason nodded slowly.

    "Next time, I shall try to consider the wider view and ramifications of my actions."  he conceded without any surliness or embarrassment.  "I think, on reflection, I was too narrowly focused on Cook and my distaste for him.  I made a mistake.  I take issue with some other things you said, though.  Firstly, I have never harmed an innocent person - and I'm not using the 'who amongst us is truly innocent' criteria.  That's ivory tower bullshit and should stay there - it doesn't make any practical sense to apply it in the real world.  I mean everyone I've harmed has, in one way or another, brought themselves to that point through their own actions.  Liam - a grown man out of school for a year, not a boy - tried to rape Lona.  Now, Mari pointed out he might have been pushed by the Dark.  I didn't consider that, and admitted to Marissa on Monday I might have acted hastily in punishing him.  Still, we're pretty certain that the Dark can't push someone to do something they wouldn't be capable of - and we know Liam was a scavenger who liked to come to parties filled with teen girls a couple years younger than him and try to get them drunk.  He went after someone who is my friend.  He hurt her."  Jason's eyes glinted for a moment, something primal and savage flashing a scale behind his otherwise cool stare.  Then, just as quickly, it was gone.

    "Marissa addressed that too, on Monday.  She pointed out that I should have stuck by Lona, focused on helping her rather than charging off on a mission of vengeance with blood in my eye.  I agree with her."  he relaxed, glancing at the coffee maker, measuring it's progress.  "Which brings us to the armed guards.  The mercenaries working for a morally dubious corporate entity in an underground lab complex that would make Josef Mengele cream his drawers.  Armed with highly sophisticated assault weapons superior to those our armed forces use.  They weren't like my dad, who worked as a janitor in the prison over their heads to earn food for the table.  That place was cutting open people's brains and reprogramming them.  People like Cassandra's dad.  You cannot seriously expect me to believe that they just went to work in the morning, punched their time card, and went through their nine-to-five blissfully unaware that they were part of something questionable."

    Devin shifted slightly, but Jase held up a hand.  "Please.  You had your say.  You told me that your condition for me coming along to help was 'no killing'.  I kept my word on the matter.  I incapacitated those who attacked us with the most efficient means at my disposal and without killing any of them.  I helped buy time for our extraction and the rescue of the test subjects they were torturing - again without killing."  He shook his head.  "I am not responsible for what Charlie did, or does.  He is.  He is a sapient creature."  And Jason's lips twitched in amusement.  "By the checklist criteria, anyway.  It is not my place to carry the burden of anyone's actions but my own, and you have no right to try and make me.  If you take issue with his methods, then that is purely between you and him."

    "Bull."  Devin said shortly.  "I mean, yeah - Charlie shoulda known better.  But you can't tell me you don't influence him, even if you don't mean to.  Guys are dumb, man.  Especially young ones.  I know - I am one.  He was trying to, I dunno, keep up with your perceived badassery, or something.  If I wasn't already alert to it, I might have gone macho Rambo too.  He's a normal, nice guy, Jase.  Hell, he's barely more than a boy, like most of us who have normal brains.  Don't ruin that like a kid treading on another kid's sandcastle cos they weren't looking where they were going and didn't care anyway."

    Jason hesitated, his brow furrowing in thought once more, and turned away to pour himself some coffee from the now-full pot.  He turned back, the black liquid swirling and steaming in the mug, and sipped, reflecting on Devin's words.  That air of decision-making was still over him as he regarded the teleporter over the rim of the mug.

    "Perhaps you're right.  I suggest you talk with Charlie about it.  I don't want to damage any of you, accidentally or not, regardless of disagreements.  I'm not suitable to be any kind of moral authority, Devin."  he added quietly.  "Not for human beings."

    "Uh...  Right."  Devin sipped on his coke, raising an eyebrow.  "What, you're going to try and teach Buddhism to honey badgers or something?"

    "I mean,"  Jason said with a soft smile and a wary cast to his gaze.  "I'm not human."

    Devin snorted, raising the can again as he fixed Jason with a skeptical stare... then paused.  Jason wasn't a liar.  He could be cunning with the truth, and play word games, but he didn't lie.  It was, if anything, even more incomprehensible to the male Jauntsen Twin than Jason's capacity for viciousness.  Now and then, over the recently departed summer vacation when they'd been friends and hung out, he would note that Jason could conceal, mislead, word the truth so that one jumped to the wrong conclusion, and do it all with a sort of sly entertainment at the intellectual challenge involved with bending the truth, rather than breaking it.  "Okay.  You're gonna try and claim that 'a human being has a fully functional brain'.  No dice, Rain Man.  People with brain damage are still human."

    "What about people that share less base nucleotides with human DNA than Neanderthal Man?"  Jason asked very softly.  "Are they human?"

    Devin stared at him.  "Lay that out for me straight, Jason.  There's a lot of weird flying around, but you look like a human to me."

    "My mother is in town."

    "Right."  Devin nodded, un-surprised, which didn't surprise Jason either.  The Twins were close enough that they kept very little from each other.  "The mom that abandoned you."

    "Yes.  Turns out she didn't abandon me because I'm a psychopath.  Instead she was freaked out because I take after her side of the family, an offshoot species of hominids tampered with long ago, probably through technological means, or maybe Shine - who knows?  By human standards, the whole species would be considered to have a broadly psychopathic brain structure.  They have heightened aggression and dominance instincts, intelligence, cunning - are fearless, and if they want to they are capable of extreme and sustained violence without negative psychological effects."

    Devin stared at him.

    "According to my mother, they live in a technologically advanced clan-based society that prizes savagery, smarts and ruthlessness, so that encourages all the species' natural instincts.  They see everything outside their immediate clan as resources, competition or prey, even each other."  Jason paced slowly back and forth, a strange mannerism from him.  He never fidgeted or paced or tapped his fingers or any of the usual displacement activities that people used to expend nervous energy.  "It always nagged at me that certain aspects of my nature did not fit the psychopath mold.  I can care about and feel for individuals and a small social grouping that I choose to belong to - they do not.  Psychopaths can readily lie, and usually convincingly, and feel no qualms about doing so.  I don't. In fact, it's a hard-coded aversion amongst their - my - species, like the human innate taboo towards incest.  Telling a lie - saying something is true when it is not - or breaking my word bothers me on a deep, gut-deep level.  The thought of it is sickening."   He frowned at the thought.

    Devin stared at him.

    "My mother is a throwback - more human in terms of her mental structure.  That's why she ran away and came here, to this world.  From another dimension.  When she met my father and settled down with him, she let herself believe that their child would be human.  Unfortunately, my species - the Teulu - have dominant genes.  Apart from exceptions like my mother, any child of human and Teulu will turn out to be utterly Teulu.  There's no such thing as a half-breed."  He looked at Devin's frozen face.  "My father doesn't know yet.  He also doesn't know she's  in town yet.  I don't know how I'm going to tell him, Devin."  Abruptly, Jason abandoned his pacing and sat down on a chair, cupping his mug of coffee between his palms.  "I defined myself as a human with a condition that I could contain and restrain.  When I threatened Cody with the hook at the fair, I felt a surge of enjoyment that... rattled me.  He was an enemy, trying to hurt Cora, who was at least tangentially part of my group.  I liked his fear, and Chet's and Todd's.  I wanted them to attack me, Devin.  That's why I responded aggressively to you immediately afterwards. A real psychopath wouldn't have cared or been provoked, or cared about Cora for that matter.  In hindsight a lot of things make sense that didn't before, y'know?"   

    He looked up at where Devin stood, meeting the other's eyes with his own implacable stare that wasn't so much a dominance game as it was simply his way of focusing on a person.  "I'm an alien, is the short-short version of what I'm trying to say.  I wasn't raised as one:  a leopard doesn't have to be raised as a leopard to have claws and teeth."  He paused.  "And yet I have friends who are not like me, and could be harmed in ways that I wouldn't even instinctively consider, but I care about them.  I need advice, Devin.  I'm trying to figure this out and rebuild some sort of... coherent way of thinking to deal with it.  This is not self-pity, but maybe the best thing I can do for my clan - for you all - is to leave.  Which feels like shit in my mouth to even think."  he finished matter-of-factly, glancing down at the half-full mug of coffee in his hands.  "So there it is."

  20. He stood on the edge of the Pit, feeling the warm breath rising up from beneath him.  His entire life he had struggled with an urge towards aggression, with an instinct for violence and even cruelty that was as uncompromising as it was seemingly limitless.  He had built a palace in his mind, not just as a repository of his memories, but also to hold the oubliette in which he caged what he'd thought to be the impulses of a human psychopath.  Roped and chained and weighted down in the Pit by his code, replacing instinct with cerebral restraint that slipped and settled but held firm.  But what was in the Pit was part of him as much as his intellect, as much as his hands and eyes and hair.  He was a killer from the cradle.  A species designed to hunt, to kill, to war without compunction, and to enjoy it.  He was not even human.

    His existence... was a lie. 

    The construct of Jason Bannon was built on the foundations that a psychopath could be socialised to an extent, could be part of human society, could blend in.  And now that foundation was sand.  But his friends...

    His clan.

    Yes.  His clan.  He would walk into danger for them, toil, fight, and kill for them.  He might even die... for some of them at least.  They were fractious, unpredictable, sometimes by turns frustrating and amusing, often seemingly weak from emotional distractions and considerations.  But they were his.

    Foundations could be replaced.

    "Jason of the Fellowship, born from Catheen by Gar." he whispered to the Pit, testing the words, and he felt something stir down there.

    "You are not a Teulu." his mother's voice floated to him from the halls of his memories above.  "You were not raised by them."

    "A tiger does not need to be raised by tigers in order to hunt and enjoy the kill."  the Pit whispered back on Jason's behalf.

    "I am more than merely a tiger."  Jason spoke to both voices, feeling them go silent as he heard Devin's voice from Outside.


    He opened his eyes, looking up at the ceiling of the lounge from where he'd been reclining on the couch.  He heard Devin clomping out of the kitchen into the bookshelf lined hallway, and his green eyes narrowed as he silently rose from the couch and padded barefoot to the lounge's entranceway.

    "JA-eesus fucking Kehrist!"  Devin had been standing at the foot of the stairs, peering up them, and only looking round as he started to call Jason's name once more, just as the lean shape of the other teen stepped soundlessly from the lounge doorway.  Reflexively Devin 'jaunt'ed a few feet back into the kitchen, eyes wide for a second before he realised that Jason was just standing there, watching him from the gloom of the hallway with his glittering eyes.  They stared at each other for a moment, then Jason's mouth twitched at one corner in a wry smile.

    "Wrong house for him." he said calmly as he walked into the kitchen, keeping one eye on Devin as he moved to lean against a counter top.  Apart from that predatory watchfulness, he didn't seem tense or nervous at all, but Devin was familiar enough with Jason's 'vibe' to know that this, for him, was wary behavior.  Not so much fearful as expectant, ready for trouble.  "You want a drink?  Juice, soda, water or coffee."  Jase listed what was on offer absently with his head cocked a fraction to the side, his attitude one of weighing and studying Devin, trying to interpret his presence.

  21. Bannonage for the days following Ep. V up until Labor Day: 

    • Wednesday Morning:  Intermission - Jason learns of his heritage. (Completed)
    • Wednesday Afternoon:  Laurie visits Jason to ask for brain training.  She feels she's under-using her intelligence and wants to correct that.  No guarantees he'll say yes, though.
    • Wednesday Evening: ?
    • Thursday Morning: ?
    • Thursday Lunchtime:  Ensemble meeting.  Cassandra calls the team together because she has information to share!
    • Thursday Evening:  Come to Jesus Meeting:  Noting Jason's distant manner, and needing to clear the air, Devin pays him a visit.
    • Friday through to Saturday (early evening):  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?  It might be too late to run...
    • Saturday Evening: ?
    • Sunday Morning (Off camera):  Jase will be going for his weekly training by Hank, but I will have it happen off-camera.  Being bruised and humbled is good for Jase, considering he's generally awesome.
    • Sunday Noon / Afternoon:  Field Trip(?)  followed by Training Kat (possibly /w Courtney and anyone else that shows)
    • Sunday Evening: Training fic cont'd.
    • Monday (Labor Day):  Side fic -  '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.  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.  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.
    • Monday afternoon/evening:  Jason will be at the Carousel, either alone or with his father.  He likes fairground atmospheres, so will likely bump into others there.  Ensemble cast event.

    Any time slot marked with '?' is up for grabs if anyone wishes to pencil themselves in.  DM me on Discord to discuss.

  22. He was characteristically quiet as he walked out of the hospital between Hank and his father, the red and blue lights of various emergency vehicles and the brighter lights set up by the 'FEMA' personnel - actually Project personnel - playing over his lean, angular features.  The day had been eventful, and even for him there was a processing period as he ordered and categorised the events of the day, both mundane and weird, exciting and merely interesting.  

    He had been attacked.  Autumn had come to rescue him at her own risk, and even Cassie had stepped into a dangerous situation ostensibly on his behalf - though he wondered if some of that hadn't just been some natural peacemaker's instinct to quell the fighting.  Fifty-fifty, he decided, was the most likely answer.  He had restrained himself from cutting loose with his power... only to use it later against monsters and mercenaries.  He and his friends had uncovered the roots of the Project, and discovered that even within shadows there were deeper patches of darkness.  He had menaced Dr Cook... and been threatened with death by someone he had considered a friend.

    That last had made him pause, retreating from the conversation, restraining his impulse to treat the threat as real and immediate and thus respond appropriately.  Because the appropriate response for him, the one that came easily and first to the forefront of his mind was 'neutralise the threat'.  Intimidation was a lost cause on Jason - either he assessed someone as incapable of carrying through on a threat, or he assessed them as being capable - which meant they had to be taken out of the picture.  Devin had teetered for a heartbeat on the edge of receiving what military minds liked to call a 'preemptive strike', and likely hadn't even known it.  It was that last realisation that had stayed Jason's hand.  Devin had threatened him out of fear and anger, not considering - perhaps just not having the understanding to consider - how that would be perceived by someone like Jase.  Devin had pointed a loaded gun at him, and in Jason's world view someone didn't do that without intent to pull the trigger.  But, he realised, Devin might not see it that way.  He might not have thought that through, strange though that concept was to the detached young man.

    And the truth was he didn't want to kill Devin.  But now he wasn't sure he could trust him, or Marissa.  He'd never offered either of them so much as a harsh word, and yet they turned on him with threats, insults and ridiculous assertions the moment he so much as showed teeth to someone else - an enemy at that.  They'd done it over the Liam fiasco, and now again with his rattling of Cook.  That volatility made for unreliable fellows.  Perhaps polite distancing of himself from them was the best policy.

    "So... gonna use that number?"  Hank said.  Jason, his inner train of thought quieting for a moment, glanced at the former Marine questioningly.  Hank pointed at his pockets and mimed a telephone gesture with his thumb and finger.  "The redhead's number.  Gonna use it?"  he asked with a grin.

    "Oh, fer Chrissakes Hank."  Gar sighed, shaking his head as they climbed into the pickup.  "Don't you think there's more important things to talk about?"

    "Yes... and no."  Graskle shrugged as he slid behind the wheel.  "Girl likes him.  Sure, there's this Dark, and evil scientists, and mercs, and secret societies, and all sorts of shit.  Jason and his pals have got super powers, and your boy is different from how you thought he was.  Keene girl's right though - he's no different from how he's always been.  And... she seems to like him anyway."  Gar Bannon mulled that over as he turned his hazel eyes on his son.

    "Is there something more there?"  he asked Jason, half-expecting a 'geez, dad' or a roll of the eyes or some other teenage boy behaviour when the subject of girls came up.  But his son just shrugged.

    "We get along." he said with a faint smile as he glanced out of the passenger side window, watching as Autumn hugged a slender woman who must be her mother, as Sean got into his Grand Cherokee with Laurie, and as Marissa smiled and talked with her parents.  "She doesn't seem to judge me.  And she's fun.  But no, dad, we're not dating.  Until yesterday evening she was terrified of me - well, at least very scared." he amended.

    "Because you're a psychopath?"

    "In part.  Also because she's never heard anything good about me, plus her first actual conversation with me involved me sticking a door closed with telekinesis, then freezing some water into ice-cubes and telling her all about the weird stuff going on."  Jason smiled faintly.  "And that was last Friday.  So yeah, it's logical to surmise she sees me as a friend at best, and I'm perfectly fine with that."

    "Really?"  Hank couldn't contain his skepticism.  Jason's face was composed as he looked round at his friend.

    "Me?  Doing the 'high school dating' thing?  Probably not."  he stated without any discernible bitterness.  "Firstly, I don't 'crush' on girls.  I literally can't.  Secondly, unless I want a love life filled with pretense and deception, the girl would have to know what I am.  And let's face it, no normal and very few abnormal people want to date a psychopath."

    "You say so."  Hank steered his pickup into the school parking lot.  "But I say she looked interested.  Not 'tongue-hanging out' interested, but probably wouldn't say no to a movie and burger."

    "I bow to your vastly superior knowledge."  Jason's tone was more dry than the Sahara in drought season.  "After all, it's well known what a ladies man Hank Graskle is."

    "Hey."  Hank sounded hurt.  "I don't have to play the field anymore in order to be a coach."

    "You say so."  Jase replied, mimicking Graskle's earlier noncommittal tone with a wry grin as he slipped from the pickup and headed over to his Charger.  "I'll see you back home.  If you get a head start you might make it back a little behind me."


    The three of them sat up late that night over their coffees as Jason filled in the details that his earlier, hasty explanation to his father hadn't been able to include.  For once, Gar Bannon didn't so much as reach for his hip flask, not even to add a shot to his coffee as he sat across from his peculiar, strange and baffling son.  Hank just listened as Gar and Jason talked, watching father come to a true understanding of his son.

    "I imagine it's like realising you've been raising a stranger."  Jason said, pale eyes studying his father's face as he came to the end of the long tale.  "If it is any consolation, it was hard for me to not tell you.  About me, and later about the strangeness in Shelly.  But I was protecting both of us in different ways."

    "So...The flowers..? Are they part of a mask?"  Gar asked intently.  Jason shook his head.

    "No, I like to grow things." he admitted simply.  "Flowers especially.  I like beautiful things."  He paused, eyes narrowing as he considered.  "Beauty is amoral.  Storms, coral reefs, the void of space, a fire.  All beautiful, all dangerous in their way.  They are neither good nor evil, but they are beautiful.  Truth is beauty - it can be cruel, and unkind, and harsh.  But it is real.  Lies are ugly - even when they seem kind or gentle, they are still false.  I don't think good and evil are real things - I think they're illusions that those unlike me need in order to make sense of life."

    "So what about this Dark?" Hank spoke up.  "Seems pretty evil to me."  Jason shrugged.

    "I think it's a corruption of natural forces.  Something that is not Meant To Be - the opposite of beauty.  There is beauty found everywhere in nature, if one knows how to look at it - but the Dark destroys that beauty:  violates it's precepts.  I suppose if the principle of beauty is my version of 'good', then the Dark is my version of 'evil'."  He shrugged again.  "It's not a perfect philosophical model, but it works for me.  And I tinker with it as I develop and learn, as my breadth of experience grows."  He smiled wryly.  "I'm not yet seventeen, after all."

    Gar made a short, guttural noise in the back of his throat, then stood up and walked around the table before catching his son in a fierce hug.  "Promise me you'll make it to seventeen, son."  he said in a muffled tone, his face against Jason's hair.

    "I can't."  Jason said simply.  "I might die.  And then I'd die breaking a promise."  His arms came up and he slowly returned his father's hug.  "But I can promise that I will be as careful as my responsibility to my friends and our struggle allows.  We have to fight the Dark, dad.  There's no-one else that can.  And it has to be fought."

    "Because it's ugly?"  Gar smiled, his eyes wet with tears as he drew back a little, looking into the composed, wry gaze of his boy.  Jason smiled a little, and nodded.

    "Because it's ugly."  He tilted his head to one side.  "So... Am I grounded?"

    Hank guffawed, and Gar stared for a second before chuckling despite himself.  "Would you even let me ground you?"  he asked with heavy irony.

    "You are my father."  Jason's answer was simple and calm.  "If there is anyone I love, it is you.  If you levy a punishment on me while I live under your roof, I will abide."

    The answer to that was another heartfelt hug.  "No, you're not grounded.  How the hell can I punish you for... Damn, no parenting manual covers this.  You are staying home from school tomorrow, though.  You're supposed to be battered and bruised, so it's probably best you not turn up looking fresh and healthy.  So you can help me with some overdue straightening up around the farm."  In answer to Jason's quizzical gaze, his dad smirked.  "Yeah.  No way I'm going back to janitor at the prison now I know what's going on under it.  So it looks like I'm going to have to fall back on being a farmer."  He poked Jason's shoulder.  "And your punishment is going to be helping me get started and figure out how we're going to do this."

    For the first time in awhile, both men saw Jason smile properly, a wide genuine smile as he nodded assent.  "I have some ideas about that."

    • Like 2

  23. Seeing that Cade had brought the smilodon under control, Autumn let out a breath she hadn't even been aware she was holding and  moved into the cage containing the smaller feline.  The warm-hearted redhead dropped to her knees next to where it lay motionless, feeling a deep well of horrified sadness mix with the rage directed at whomever had done this.  "You poor little thing..." she murmured, focusing on the animal as a whole, on it's life-force as read by her Shine in order to avoid focusing too hard on the bandages and small wires protruding from the skull.  "It's okay.  Nobody's going to hurt you." she said, unsure whether it- no, she- could even consciously register the soothing voice.  Gently, she laid a hand on the cat's flank, feeling the warmth of her fur and the faint rise and fall of her breathing.  She was in pain, and that at least Autumn could do something about right now almost as easily as thinking.  As soon as the soothing noetic balm washed over the traumatised creature she felt her relax, the sick terror in her mind easing somewhat even as the pain of her wounds disappeared.  The cat took a deep, slow breath, and let it out, then again, and although she was still paralysed from whatever hellish chemistry they had used to pacify her for surgery Autumn could feel peace settle over the unusual feline.  She let her fingers gently stroke it's fur.


    Autumn blinked, looking down at the soft golden shape she was petting.  The voice - or not a voice exactly, but 'voice' was the closest she could describe it as right now - had come right into her head.  Not so much words, but an emotion projected as communication.  She had felt the animal - was it an animal? - essentially thank her.

    At the door to the lab, both a chitinously armor-plated and a cold-eyed slender youth conferred.

    "Ten of them.  Six coming up from the left - from where we jumped in,  and four from the direction we found Eddy."  Charlie told Jason, his eyes half-closing as he focused his biological senses.

    "How far?"  Jase asked with his habitual calm.  Charlie tapped his armored fists together nervously as he considered.

    "Not far.  Maybe twenty feet.  Moving slow."  Jason absorbed this, then nodded, looking back over his shoulder at the shimmering purplish disc beginning to form in front of Devin, considering the other three.

    "Aggressive defence."  he stated.  "We take them down and out, then pull back here.  Buys Devin more time."  He gave Charlie a sharp grin as he pulled a coin from his pocket.  "Flip you for who gets to take on the party of six?" 

    "I'm not coin-flipping with a telekinetic."  The metamorph snorted.  Jason's grin widened.

    "I win by default then."  He said as he put the coin away and patted Charlie's exoskeleton.  "You're going right."

    "We're going to have to establish more ground rules for this shit."  Charlie grumbled as he and Jase made ready to burst out of the room.  He glanced back at the others.  "We're going to take out the advance party.  Be right back guys."

    "Uh-huh."  Devin grunted the teleporter's features tight with the strain as he tried to control the ride this time, to do something smoother than merely hurling the entire group through the ether.  His Shine reached out, tying a stable bridge-like connection between two points in space.  "Don't be gone long."  he warned the pair.  "When it's time to go, it's time to fuckin' go."

    "Got it."  Jason nodded as, with an faintly musical crackling sound, his body was coated in strong sparkling ice which scintillated under the lab lights as ambient moisture became armor.  With a nod to Charlie he yanked the door open, and the two of them burst out into the hall like the wrath of God.

    The armed men outside reacted instantly, their guns tracking the faster-moving shape of the bug-boy and filling the air with the chatter of automatic fire as Charlie closed on the smaller group of mercenaries, with bullets careening off his shell in dangerous ricochets.  Jason, moving more slowly, did not immediately register as a threat to the six-man team he moved to confront, but as he interposed himself between them and Charlie's back they refocused their attention on the frost-covered slender young man.  Bullets filled the air, most slowing to a dead stop an inch from Jason's body before dropping to the floor, devoid of inertial force.  Some made it past his forcefield, only to super-cool and shatter against the solid ice covering him.  While they fired, his eyes searched their equipment rigs, and a tight smile curved his frost-lined lips as he found what he was looking for.  He reached out a hand and a number of grenade arming pins whizzed to his grasp from the webbing belts worn by the guards.

    Then he raised his other hand, a wall of solid ice springing up between him and them as six flashbangs went off in such rapid succession that it was almost one explosion, filling the corridor beyond his barrier with searing light and thunderous, deafening noise that were cause to close his eyes even beyond the shielding wall.  Afterwards, dimly through the ice he could make out six prone shapes, a couple of which moved as though rocking back and forth in agony.  No deaths, he thought with grim humor as he opened his hand, letting the pins fall to the floor.  But those mercs would not be field-ready any time soon.

  24. Jason moved up while the others were talking, and was silently examining the occupants of the two cells as Autumn outlined her plan.  Behind him, the other three boys glanced at one another.

    "Well, I know the target point now."  Devin said with confidence.  "I'm pretty sure the ride will be smoother going back.  And fuckin'-A I'm not going to leave these guys here in Mengele's veterinary clinic.  Though..."  He looked dubiously at the sabertooth.  "I dunno what we're going to do with Cuddles there."

    "Cade can handle it."  Jason said, turning back towards the others.  His face was calm, as composed as ever, but his eyes held a sombre gravity that was at odds with their usual wry, inscrutable gleam as he stared at the star athlete, then glanced at the others.

    "He can?"  Charlie asked sceptically, peering at Jase for a moment before going back to watching the corridor outside.

    "I can?"  Cade's scepticism was almost an echo.  Jason's mouth quirked in a small smile, though the grave expression never left his eyes as he nodded.

    "You can communicate with wild animals, calm them, earn their trust."  The teen genius stated.  "I've seen you do it.  It'll need some kind of containment on the other end, but you are the means by which we will get it there."

    "He's half-mad."  Autumn said softly, her blue eyes growing wet.  "From pain and trauma.  He might never get better."  Jason glanced at her.

    "We might need to put him down." he said softly, his tone almost gentle.  "But only after we try to help him."  The redhead nodded grateful agreement, and Jase looked at Devin.  "We move on for now.  We secure Etienne, and you take him and only him back to HQ.  The rest of us will then come back here, and you rejoin us for the extraction.  Cade and the sabertooth have to go together.  Autumn and the smaller cat will go next.  Charlie and I will go last - we'll keep the room secure.  That seem workable?"  Devin rubbed his chin, looking at the caged, tortured animals, then nodded.

    "Yeah.  It'll be easier for sure, and the ride won't be as rough because I've got both places fixed."  Devin glanced at Cade.  "Better let Sean and the soldier-boys know that we're going to need somewhere to keep a sabertooth."  Cade nodded, quickly relaying the change of plans to Sean through the radio as the five teens turned and made their way out of the lab of horrors, heading for the room containing Etienne.

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  25. One defining characteristic of Jason could be described as this: that he always knows exactly who he is, and usually what his immediate circumstances are.  Even before the awakening of his Shine, that self-possession, that solidity of personal identity was a trait that he worked to hide, rather than to attain and display as many teenagers do.  His mind usually did exactly as he wished it to, focus and will coming easily to him without the temperamental upsets of hormonal storms.  It was one of the things that made him both daunting and insufferable.  Relatively few external forces could disrupt the smooth, clockwork-precise workings of his brain.  Even concussed or stoned, he felt mostly in control of himself and indeed was sharper than most sober people.

    Devin's mass-teleportation was pure hell.  It upset his kinetic awareness of the objects and people around him.  Worse, it upset his very personal kinaesthetic awareness of his own body and how it fit into space.  He'd formulated a theory that Devin's teleportation involved breaching the quantum barrier down into the subquantum where space and time were malleable, then breaching the layer back up into the 'real' world once more when the link to the destination was made.  The smoothness with which Devin popped himself from known location to known location, barely causing more than a temporary ripple in space, seemed to bear that out.  The blind jump, though, carrying four other people to a destination Devin only knew by a map layout...  That involved disruption of space-time on a wrenching level.  If Devin's normal 'blip' was a pro-diver smoothly breaking the surface of the water like a knife, poetry in motion and form, this had been an 500lb Walmart-scooter-jockey with terminal diabetes belly-flopping naked into a hot tub full of screaming Girl Scouts.

    In short, it hurt.  And left Jason feeling more than a little violated and nauseous, much like the Girl Scouts would feel.

    He lay still for a moment, briefly dipping into his memory palace and making the spinning world go away as he contemplated a memory of the sun rising over the fields of the farm when he'd first moved to Shelly, his dad talking about how they'd have a good life here.  It was a soothing memory, dating from before his father had succumbed to despair and alcohol, and it briefly occurred to Jason that maybe now his father would have the impetus to make changes.  Then he sighed, steeled himself, and emerged back into the world which, whilst not spinning anymore, was still painful.

    "Devin."  he said quietly as he sat up, feeling muscles protest as though he'd just gone ten rounds with Hank at a practice session.  Had it only been two days since that?

    "Yeah?  Ow."  Devin's voice was a groan as he weakly plucked some cleaning supplies from his body and tossed them aside.

    "That. Fucking. Sucked."  Jason said in a precise and succinct manner, grabbing a mop that had fallen over his legs and trying to use it to stand.  He succeeded on the second try, fighting down nausea as he straightened up slowly, forcing his legs to obey his commands and support him.

    "Got us here, didn't I? Ow. Owow."

    "You need to practice that."  Jason somewhat unsteadily, and with the aid of the mop, walked over and offered Devin a hand up.

    "Yeah...  Well...  You gonna volunteer?  Ow."  Devin grabbed the proffered hand and let himself be pulled somewhat upright, leaning on the wall and looking like he was also trying to hold onto his lunch.

    "Ask me again when I don't feel like cutting my own head off to stop the aching."  Jase replied with a slight crinkling at the corners of his eyes as he let go of Devin's hand, then looked around at the others.  "Anyone hurt - Scratch that.  I mean, anyone seriously hurt?"

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