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Aberrant: 200X - Troubled Hearts [Complete]

Jael Carver

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Set of Valkyrie, Vancouver, British Columbia

June 19, 2011

Jael fidgeted with her furs, trying to get used to their weight. While she could have used her eufiber to make something that looked the same and was more comfortable, the producers didn’t want to risk her changing them mid-scene. Until she proved herself like Jase, she had to endure Costuming like anyone else.

She wouldn’t admit it, but she was nervous about more than the furs. She wanted the fans to like her so that she could have reoccurring scenes and get more money. This was a new experience for Jael; she’d never been in a position where she cared what anyone thought of her. But now, her income depended on that. Her money situation wasn’t dire, not yet. But she would be out by the end of the year.

Oddly, she didn’t regret slapping Crimson Light, even now. He’d had it coming, and Jael had been all too happy to deliver. She only wished that it hadn’t cost her an easy job.

“Jael, you ready?” The technician assigned to her appeared at her shoulder. Reggie was cute in a girl-next-door-in-Mexico City way, with a heart-warming, winning smile. She was also good at her job; she’d herded Jael around successfully without the nova feeling like she was being pressured or pushed. When the nova nodded, Reggie took her by the arm and said, “You’ll be fine. Just remember your lines.”

“What if I forget them?” Jael asked.

“Just apologize and try to do better next time,” Reggie explained, her warm brown eyes almost enough to put Jael at ease.

“Right.” That wasn’t quite the answer she’d wanted, but she accepted it as best she could. Reggie led her through the set to their stage, the great hall of the Valkyries. Reggie stepped back as the director, someone named Bill, moved to Jael’s side.

“How you feeling? Butterflies going?” Bill was a kindly-looking older man but his eyes lingered a touch too long on Jael’s cleavage to maintain his old-man veneer.

“Full force,” Jael admitted, smiling crookedly. “But I’m ready.”

“Great, let’s get-” Bill stopped and looked over her shoulder, frowning. Jael turned to see two novas she didn’t know walking toward her. They weren’t apparent as novas, but one was wearing a Utopian uniform and the other was dressed in the now-familiar Northern Shield outfit. The Utopian was short but stout and moved with confidence and grace. The Canadian was the epitome of masculinity with sleek muscles and compelling eyes. They were vaguely familiar to her, in that Jael was sure she’d seen them on N! or at some party. “What’s this?” Bill asked.

“I’m Mattertron of Team Tomorrow-Americas and this is Borealis of Northern Shield.” Neither man looked particularly happy, but Borealis in particular looked uneasy. “We have a warrant for Jael Carver’s arrest,” the Utopian said, offering a piece of paper to her.

“Arrest?” Jael said, hearing the stirring of anger in her voice. She scanned the document but was so angry she couldn’t focus on the words.

“On what charges?” Bill asked, tugging on the paper. Jael let him have it; she didn’t want it, never mind that her opinion on that matter was unimportant.

“Statutory rape,” Mattertron replied.

“A kid? You’re saying I fucked a kid?” Jael snapped, blood rushing up her face. She was well and truly pissed now; she didn’t know what their game was here, but she was going to sue their asses for it.

“A minor,” Borealis answered quietly. “Less than a year old.” There wasn’t a hint of lewdness on the man’s face as he said, “I think you can guess.”

Sunshine? Are they talking about Sunshine? Jael stared from nova to nova. “Are you guys fucking serious?” she asked, her voice hot with rage.

“Mattertron, you should read her rights,” Borealis stated.

“You know the Canadian one. Your minor, your rights,” Mattertron started as he pulled out shock cuffs.

Borealis frowned. “Jael Carver, I am arresting you for Sexual interference, and Invitation to sexual touching with a minor. It is my duty to inform you that you have the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. You may call any lawyer you want. There is a 24-hour telephone service available which provides a legal aid duty lawyer who can give you legal advice in private. This advice is given without charge and the lawyer can explain the legal aid plan to you. If you wish to contact a legal aid duty lawyer, I can provide you with a telephone number. Do you understand? Do you want to call a lawyer? You are not obliged to say anything, but anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

“Reggie,” Jael said, anger in every action as she allowed Mattertron to put the cuffs on her, “ask Jase find me a lawyer, please.”

“Sure!” Reggie squeaked, her brown eyes wide.

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Sitting in her dressing room, Jason glanced at a video of her on a tablet then studied herself in the mirror, making sure her hair and costume were right - hardcore viewers noticed the smallest inconsistencies. Like Jael, when she had first started, she had to deal with costuming, but now that she was comfortable enough to use her eufiber, the onus was on her to keep her wardrobe accurate. And still, for some things, they insisted on the verisimilitude of 'real' dress rather than eufiber.

Satisfied with her outfit of fur and chainmail, long, silver hair styled into a multitude of braids and twined with raven feathers, Jason stood up and strapped her sword on across her back, a blade big enough to have been called over-compensatory on a man. She shook her shoulders to make sure it sat right, then picked up the tablet again, this time to review her lines.

The scene was set in the Hall of the Valkyries, where Jason, as Reginleif, was butting heads with the leader of the Valkyries, Brynhildr, over getting involved with a mortal war, this time choosing sides. Jael was playing Kára, daughter of Halfdan, a Danish-king beset by enemies that have allied against him.

There was a timid knock at her door, then Reggie poked her head in, brown eyes wide, chewing on her lip nervously. Jason quirked a brow in surprise.

"Hey, Reggie, I'm on already? That was quick. Jael make it through in one take? That's awe-"

"Jael is being arrested!" Reggie blurted. "Borealis, and Mattertron from Utopia, are here right now and leading her away. She asked if you could find her a lawyer."

"What?!" Jason shouted, her mellifluous voice a clarion ringing throughout the production lot. Reggie winced seeing a dark shadow cross her stunning features. "What the hell for?"

"Uh... sta-statutory rape," Reggie stammered in a small voice.

Jason's mouth dropped open in stunned silence. Then as she realized what was happening, her glorious indigo eyes widened, their incandescence flaring brighter even as her expression darkened. Reggie trembled, witnessing the flip side of ineffable beauty and charm, Jason seeming to turn into a terrible and vengeful angel.

"That is utter bullshit! He's not a-!" Jason declared, her voice as cold and sharp as a razor blade made of ice, her tone conveying just how ridiculous she thought the charge was. Even though they were half-way across the production lot, Borealis, Matterhorn, and Jael, among others, clearly heard her.

Before Reggie could agree, Jason grabbed her smartphone then was running in a near blur, pausing only long enough to get a direction from Bill, then ran down Jael and her escort in a matter of seconds.

"What the hell is this, Kyle? Rape, really? Alex isn't a child." Jason said, glaring at Borealis, then gave Jael a tight smile and a consoling pat on the shoulder. "We'll get this garbage cleared up right away."

For once, Borealis' eyes didn't stray to her chest or legs. Instead, his expression was composed to a careful neutrality, though he gave an almost imperceptible nod at Matterhorn.

"I'm sorry Jas - Ms. Bellefleur, but it has been claimed that Alex Andrews is still technically a minor, and Jael Carver has had carnal knowledge of said minor. We have no choice but to investigate these claims."

"What? Alex would never make such a claim."

"I didn't say he did, Ms. Bellefleur." Oddly enough, his formality irritated her even more than his typical unwanted interest. "But this is a Crown offense. The government is making the decision to prosecute Ms. Carver, not Alex. Nor do we need his testimony to proceed. The district attorney has... decided to pursue this, to show that Novas aren't getting preferential treatment and considers the issue of Alex Andrews' actual age a serious one."

His eyes cut to the Utopian for a split second then he gave Jason and Jael an almost apologetic look. "I advise you to accede to Ms. Carver's request and get her a lawyer. She is being taken to the Rashoud Facility."

"The Rashoud Facility?!" Jael protested, though she wasn't sure why. It made sense, considering.

"Enough!" Matterhorn growled. "We're going. Now. Either follow us or don't, Ms. Bellefleur. Ms. Carver is charged with a serious crime and must be processed, immediately." His brows lowered as he eyed Jason, lips tight. Tranny bitch. "During our investigation, she might not be the only one charged with the corruption of a minor."

Jason stood up to her full height and shot him a scathing look. Matterhorn stood his ground, but swallowed hard. Bombshell was a most imposing woman, in more ways this one.

"This isn't over, you pricks. Jael, I'll get you a good lawyer, the best lawyer. I know a few, I get spurious lawsuits all the time. And I'll cover any bail," she offered with sincere concern.

Swallowing her fury, Jael offered Jason a weak, but grateful smile. "Just... just try to explain this to Sunshine, 'kay? Make sure he knows it's not his fault."

Jason ran a hand through her thick, argent hair and took a deep breath. Shit! How am I going to explain this to Alex? "Of course, Jael. No worries, everyone will see this for the dumbassery that it is."

Jael nodded, though she really didn't believe her. She studied the law and various cases. Even false charges of sexual assaults tended to leave a stink that didn't go away.

As Borealis and Matterhorn led Jael away, Jason watched them, then pulled out her phone and called Ash, O'Donnel, Hibbert. "Yes, this is Jason Bellefleur, I need to speak to Adrianne O'Donnel immediately."

Jason stepped into a bathroom, locking the door behind, and told her lawyer everything she new about the situation, answering Adrianne's sharp and concise questions as well as she could. As soon as she agreed to the retainer, the one she already had didn't count as Jael was a new client, Adrianne O'Donnel promised to meet Jael at the Rashoud Facility.

That done, Jason debated between meeting Alex at school or waiting at home. Before she could make that decision, her phone rang. She glared at it suspiciously, then reluctantly answered it.

"Yes?" She could hear the guy on the phone fidget at hearing her icy tone.

"Ms. Bellefleur? This is Vincent Hu from the District Attorney's office. I'm calling to inform you that there is an issue concerning your ward, Alex Andrews. We have reason to believe he has-"

"Thank. You. Mr. Hu. Very prompt of you. I've just watched a friend get taken away in cuffs on this 'issue' and now, I'm gonna have to explain why to my ward. Thank-you ever so much. Good-bye."

Jason snapped her phone close with a snap then ran home, tearing through the streets at four times the speed of her truck. People gawked, some swerved though she was almost gone before they realized she was there, a rare few trying to get a pic. Jason wasn't even aware of them, her thoughts purely on how she was going to explain this to Alex.

Not good. Not good at all. Fuck this is stupid! They better not try to take Alex away too.

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Adrianne was good. She was at the Rashoud before Jael arrived with her guards. Jael’s first impression was of a iron-willed woman who always got her way. She was dressed professionally in a suit skirt despite having little to no warning and it being a Sunday. She was severely beautiful, for a baseline, with dark gray hair professionally styled and her understated makeup all adding to her stern, no-nonsense demeanor. “Ms. Carver, I’m Adrianne O’Donnell; Jason Bellefleur has engaged me to be your legal counsel.”

“We need to process her before you can work your lawyer magic,” Mattertron told her coolly as the lawyer fell into step with them, “and she won’t be arraigned until tomorrow morning.”

Jael ground her teeth but said nothing. The thought of being in a prison overnight, even one as nice as most Rashoud’s were supposed to be, triggered an immediately emotional reaction. She suppressed it, knowing that flipping out wouldn’t really help her at all. Adrianne must have sensed her anxiety, or perhaps she had done this enough to know what Jael must be feeling. The lawyer laid a hand on Jael’s arm. “They’re going to take your fingerprints and process you. Do you know what that is?”

“Formalizing my arrest,” Jael said sharply.

“Yes,” Adrianne replied. “They’re going to fingerprints, a mug shot and do a background check. Answer no questions without me there, understood?”

“Background check?”

“They’ll be looking for outstanding warrants in your name,” Adrianne said, “or anything else they can charge you with. Don’t respond to anything.”

Jael nodded. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said; the plaintive note in her voice was very unlike her normal tone.

Adrianne patted her arm. “We’ll have you out in no time. Just don’t say anything else to them, good or bad.” Jael nodded, feeling a tremor pass through her as she reached the doors. “I’ll be with you when you reach the interrogation room. It will be alright.”

The booking process would have been comical had it happened to another person; Jael would have laughed if anyone else had been wearing furs in their mug shot. Jael didn’t have the heart to laugh about and didn’t think she ever would. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but that didn’t always matter. I am not going to jail for having sex with Sunshine, she promised herself. That silent promise was enough to keep herself calm through the booking process.

In the interrogation room, Adrianne was waiting, as was a smiling woman who Jael liked instantly. She had pleasant, though not beautiful features; the brunette had matching warm brown eyes. She had a soft body with only minimal musculature; she clearly was no threat. Instantly, the beleaguered woman knew this was someone Jael could trust, even if she was wearing a Team Tomorrow uniform. She might, Jael dared to hope, be on her side. Maybe she’d help Jael get out of this mess. “Jael,” Adrianne said, “this is Annabelle ‘Znajomy’ Wozniak. I will warn you up front, she’s Utopia’s chosen interrogator. Say nothing to her. No matter what.”

“I just want to ask a few questions,” Znajomy replied, smiling. Jael found herself smiling back; there was something comforting about this woman. “Have some girl chit-chat about Alex Andrews.”

Jael opened her mouth to plead her case with Znajomy – after all, the other nova was clearly sympathetic to Jael’s plight, she could see it in her eyes – when Adrianne pinched Jael’s arm. It didn’t hurt, but it did distract her. “What-”

“I said she’s the best interrogator that Utopia can offer,” Adrianne repeated. “She’s here to get a confession out of you, and as your lawyer, I’m telling you to shut up.” She gave Znajomy a smile. “Even if I do like you.”

“I like you too, but I was hoping to get to know Jael better,” Znajomy said, leaning forward with a smile.

But Adrianne’s words had sunk in, and the friendliness was gone from Jael’s eyes. “I’m not answering your questions, as per my lawyer’s advice,” Jael said firmly. “And for the record, I don’t like you, or anyone who uses quantum to try to sway me.”

“I’m not using quantum right now. That would be illegal,” Znajomy replied, still smiling. Jael wanted to smile back, even now. “I’m here to help. Let me help you, Jael. The others… they don’t understand love. Talk to me.”

“I’ve seen better good cops than you, lady,” Jael lied, sitting back and trying to project an imposing façade. Oddly, the furs helped. “Now. You might as well go over your questions and let me sit here in total silence so you can say you did your job.”

Znajomy’s smile remained in place; in fact, it became knowing. “Don’t worry, Jael, I know my job. Now, mind telling me about Alex? Wait, you call him Sunshine? Isn’t that your special name for him?”

Jael smirked a little but said nothing. This woman didn’t know her pet name for Sunshine. Adrianne gave a small nod of approval as Jael’s gray eyes bore into Znajomy’s brown ones. It was only the start of the long interrogation.

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"Yes!" Alex 'Sunshine' Andrews crowed over the mic as the screen in front of him became a riot of explosions and fragments of virtual building. From the speakers came a peeved female voice over the roar of the simulated ultramachinegun.

"Dude, that was total cheezemode!"

"Sure, Ceej, like roof-camping with the rail-rifle isn't?"

"Sniping takes skill and judgement. Blasting away the lower floor of the building I'm in and burying me doesn't, glow-bug." Sunshine could practically hear Contessa's cute nose wrinkling in faux-distaste. "One more second and you'd have been paté. Nova-class reflexes should be banned."

"Aim faster." Alex laughed back. "I am Sunshine, god of OpBox! Look upon my works and despair!" The screen cleared and they were back in the virtual lobby, the OpCam showing each player the other's face in the top left corner of the screen. Contessa's baby-blue eyes blinked in astonishment as she saw Sunshine, who appeared to be...

"Are you playing upside down?"

"Huh? Umm, no?" With a guilty expression the young Adonis righted himself and floated down to sit on the couch, his hair flopping back into place.

"You were!" Contessa accused. "You were... taking it easy on me!" If she'd said 'kicking my puppy' there couldn't have been any more hurt accusation in her voice.

"Not the whole time..." Alex said a little wretchedly.

"Taking it easy on me." Tessa repeated. "Giving me a chance."

"You seemed to be getting a bit fed up with... uh, not doing so well."

"You mean losing." Contessa said in the 'danger - female is getting angry' voice. "Failing. Getting my tuchus handed to me."

"Sorry..." Alex mumbled.

"Dude, that is the lowest. That's, like, the Dark Side of gaming with your friends. It's evil. If you were whupping my butt up and down the street I wouldn't care. But if I had beat you then, and you'd been giving me a chance, that's like robbery. That's like giving a present to someone then stealing it back." Contessa said severely. "It's low." In the small screen, Alex looked miserable.

"I didn't mean to offend you." he said in a small voice.

"Well you did. And that means you're helping me out with powerlevelling in Novas! Online this week." Tessa said gravely as she passed sentence. A chirp from her OpPhone heralded a text from Mixie. "One sec. She's probably just found out Einherjar's running for president of the world or something. Ever since he helped those refugees she's been..." Contessa's voice trailed off as she read the text, then looked up at Alex wide-eyed. "Alex, turn on the news."

Sunshine hit the buttons required to bring up N! and watched the breaking news report that was still ongoing. Contessa saw his own eyes widen and the gorgeous face turn slack as the words of the two anchors sank in. The slack-jawed surprise slowly firmed up, the wide blue eyes darkening and staring fixedly at the screen as Sunshine's face set in barely controlled outrage.

"Is it true?" Contessa asked in a small voice. "Oh god, of COURSE it's true. I mean, it's none of my business and all but.. wow."

"How can they say those things?" Alex asked quietly. Too quietly.

"Well, if she did sleep with you..." Tessa began.

"A pedophile? We never did what they said. It wasn't like that. It was only a couple of months ago that we..." Alex's face transformed then, transformed horribly to Tessa's eyes. The happy expression, the smiling eyes seemed millions of miles away as his features became a terrible mask of anger and grief. "They arrested her. Because we love each other. Utopia arrested her because of me." Something very much like hate blazed in his expression as he looked at the reporters. "Ugly, stupid, slow, clumsy baseline idiots." he said in a low, bitter tone. "Where do they get off reading out such trash?" He blinked then, and looked at the camera, his expression becoming a touch more human for a moment.

"I've got to go, Ceej. I'll... I'll be in touch, okay?" he said as he killed the connection without waiting for a reply.

He got up and moved purposefully to the window. The plan was simple. He was going to get Jael back. He was going to get her back and if anyone got in the way, he'd hurt them. The more people that tried to stop him, the more people would be hurt. He slid the door to the balcony back, the dark blazing space in his chest roaring into life.

The elevator doors opened on the other side and Bombshell burst through them at a run, taking in the still-playing news and the sight of Alex at the window, his face wearing an expression that belonged on no-one human. In three bounding strides she'd crossed the intervening space and had grabbed him, holding him fast.

"Alex, wait!"

"Let me go, Jase." Alex struggled futilely, tears of rage and pain in his voice, the air growing warmer around him as Jason held on tighter. "They can't do this. They can't just ruin our lives over some bullshit like this. I'm going to go and get her."

"Alex, you've got to calm-"

"DON'T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!" his voice vibrated around the room, carrying all his anger and pain with it as the tears came. "THEY ARRESTED JAEL! THEY ARRESTED HER BECAUSE SHE LOVES ME!"

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Dammit! Too late. As Alex's tears began to fall, Jason hugged him tight, pressing his cheek against her fur-clad shoulder. His arms went around her back, squeezing hard as if holding on to a lifeline, and unbidden, Jason's eyes glistened with unshed tears. She cursed her female hormones, but it was an old, and weak, excuse. I've lost one brother already, I'm not losin' another.

"The only way shit like this will ruin our lives is if we let it, Alex. You think I worry 'bout everythin' said about me in the tabloids?" Jason murmured, her smooth, dulcet tones full of concern and urging him to calm down, to take the time and think about this. "It's not fair, what they're doing, but don't ever think it's your fault, lil' bro. Ever!"

With a finger, Jason tilted Alex's face up, meeting his tear-reddened eyes with a gaze grave, determined, and above all, honest. "This is happenin' yes, because Jael loves you. Because you love Jael. Because some people are honestly concerned that she took advantage of you. And because some assholes see a way to control you."

A generally amiable and easy-going woman, Alex had rarely ever seen Jason truly angry. He did now, her flawless visage terror-inducing with her smoldering fury. "We're gonna show them how fuckin' wrong they are and clear Jael's name in the process. You belong to me, to Jael, and most of all, to yourself," she proclaimed fiercely, punctuating it with an equally fierce smile and a poke to Alex's chest.

"We just gotta prove it to 'em. The basis for their charge is that they're claimin' you're a minor, technically less than a year old. We gonna show that's complete garbage at that you should be considered at least at the age of consent. If we have to get you emancipated, we'll do it. We'll see what Adrianne advises, she's my and now, Jael's, lawyer, and she's a good one."

Jason took a step back, holding Alex firmly by his shoulders, her elegant jawline tight. "But if you rush down to the Rashoud Facility, guns - hands, whatever - blazin,' all you're gonna do is proved to them that you are a child and that they're right, in addition to gettin' people hurt. Least of all, them, most of all, you and Jael. And though you think it might make you feel better, that won't last and you'll end up feelin' even more like shit. Do you understand?"

Alex's deep blue eyes were hard as diamonds, his aura of sunlight roiling with a furious heat, his face painted with rage and sulkiness. "I understand."

"Okay." Jason took a deep sigh, relieved, and loosed her hold on her ward. "Okay. If I let you go, will you promise me you aren't just gonna fly away anyway? You know if you do, I can't catch you, so I'm takin' you at your word."

Alex stiffened, warring between his impulses and taking Jason's advice. Finally, reluctantly, he nodded. Jason waited a long moment, then sighed sadly, and let him go. Another moment, and when Alex didn't try to fly off, Jason felt the sharp tension leave her shoulders.

"Good. Okay, listen, Jael is talking with the lawyer right now. I'm sure she'll call us soon to let us know what's going on and what we can do help and if - no, when - we can visit Jael." Jason looked down at herself, sneering at her Valkyrie outfit. "I gotta change, you should too, Alex. Something smart, but casual. Sad as it is, sometimes appearances mean a lot more than the reality. I hope you're still here when I come back out. As soon as we get Adrianne's call, we'll head back. Together."

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"Together." Alex nodded, and gave Bombshell a hug before stepping back and regarding her gravely. His eyes were hard and angry still as they looked back at the television. "They were saying horrible crap about you too, Jase. All you've done for them, all the entertaining and charitable work, and they say you're not a fit role-model just because you're a lesbian. How can you stand them? They're just... ugly." he said with genuine distaste. "Inside, I mean. It's like there's some twisted up knot in their brains that likes to tear down anything good and make it as ugly as them."

"You mean the media? Yeah. They think that's their job, Alex." Bombshell flashed him a wry smile, but Sunshine didn't return it.

"Not just them. Baselines generally. I've watched the political debates, and the man on the street interviews, and talked to plenty of people. There's lots of nice ones, but there seems to be so many more who swallow any old shit that matches their stupid prejudices." Alex began to cry again, but there was no sobbing, merely a flow of crystalline tears as he spoke. "They call Jael a slut because she doesn't match their criteria for a 'good' girl, whatever the fuck that means. They call you and Dani bimbos, when you're not. They say horrible things about Chang, just because she's a Terat and doesn't fit their mold of acceptable. They judge and chatter like mo- like old women and they don't know any of us. And now they're spouting Utopia's line of bullshit, and you know that Jael's never going to be left alone, even when we prove she's not a pedophile." The tears dried rapidly as they fell, the warmth of his aura leaving only faint tracks on his cheeks as he paused.

"I'm never going to forgive them for this." he said quietly, his eyes hard. "Utopia, or any of them." he gestured at the TV. Something about his quiet manner was ominous.

"Listen to me Alex, you keep that locked down, 'k?" Jase said, clasping his head in her hands and making him to look. "That anger you're feeling. Force it down, right down. Don't let them see how angry you are. We're going to take care of all of this, and once it's done, we can flip Utopia the bird and N! too. But for now, we've got to make the media work for us. We've gotta show them a responsible adult who's upset but trying to do the right thing, not a dangerous angry kid who's going to burn down the courtroom. That's what Utopia wants them to see." Alex studied her expression for a moment, then nodded.

"You're right." he gave her a wan smile. "I'll get dressed. Something smart and casual, right?"

"Right." Bombshell smiled and hugged him again. "Let's show them how stupid and wrong they are." Alex nodded and went to change, but stopped in the doorway of the lounge.

"You're a good role model, Jase." he told her, blue eyes serious as he smiled. "A good parent, too." Then he was gone, the shifting glow of his aura lighting the corridor as he went to his room to change.

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The hours dragged on interminably. Sunshine alternately paced and slumped in a chair, staring a hole in the wall. Bombshell covertly watched the news, seeking updates without letting her ward know what she was doing. There wasn’t a lot of information, so after the initial rush, there wasn’t anything of interest to the argent-haired woman.

About three o’ clock, there was a knock on the door. Jason dashed to open it, Sunshine looking up quickly as she pulled open the door. Jacob Abrams, the producer of Valkyrie, stood on the threshold, a bag in his hand. He was skinny and balding, wearing khaki pants and a t-shirt. “Hey, Jason.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the nova said, pressing a hand to her head as she remembered she’d left the set without saying anything to the director. “I should have called you.”

“It’s alright,” Jake said, smiling crookedly. “I just filmed everything we could without you or Jael. Can I come in a moment?”

“Sure, of course,” Jase said, stepping back and opening the door wider. “We may have to leave in a hurry, though.”

“Oh, sure. Look, I just wanted to see if you were going to be tied up in this issue all week,” Jake said.

“You came to ask her about work when Jael is in trouble?” Sunshine asked, his face flushing a little.

“Sunshine, it’s alright.” Jason nodded to Jake. “Yes, I’ll need this week.”

“Cool, no problem, at all. Look, Alex,” Jake said uneasily, “I’m asking Jase what she wants to do. If she needs the time, I just need to know because I need to make calls now to shut down the shoot for the week. I’m here to ask what you guys need, both professionally and personally. And I brought Jael’s stuff.” He extended the bag out; Alex took it, glancing inside to see her eufiber and phone. Her eufiber was still in the shape of the clothing she’d been wearing that morning – the clothing she’d been wearing when he’d kissed her and wished her good luck. The shirt he’d balled up in his fists during that kiss; the pants he’d admired as she’d walked away from him. As Sunshine struggled with his emotions, Jake asked, “Do either of you know Jael’s parents very well?”

“No,” Bombshell said. “She mentions them, but we’ve never met.”

“Right,” Jake sighed. “I spoke to her mom today; the phone said the caller was ‘Mom’ and I… well, I hoped that I could tell Mrs. Carver the news. She’d already heard though and was trying to reach Jael. Her dad has a bad heart and the shock of this news caused a heart attack. Mrs. Carver asked if someone could keep her updated on what’s going on until Jael’s out and let Jael know about her dad as soon as possible.”

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"I'll contact her personally, Jake, and make sure Mrs. O'Donnel knows to call her before me and Alex," Jason assured him, and before Alex could offer, holding her hand out for the phone he was already holding. "And thanks for all this, Jake, really. You're a good guy." Her lips curved briefly in a teasing grin, causing Jake to shift surreptitiously. "Even if you are a producer. If this lasts more than a week and people start worryin', tell them I'll cover the salary of everyone workin' on Valkyrie out of my own pocket."

Jake's eyes widened at the generous offer. He'd come to know Jason Bellefleur enough to know she was no diva, but this was too much. He began to protest, "Jase, that's very generous, but you really don't have to do this. It's all part of the business-"

"No." Jason shook her head emphatically, her long, sleek pony-tail lashing behind her, her silky soprano firm. "This has nothing to do with business. It's personal and it's holdin' up production, but I think it's worth it. So I insist."

Jake snorted, giving his star a grin. "I wish more actors thought that way. I'll make sure everyone knows, payroll too. Is there anything else I can do for you? Or you, Alex?"

"Well, commutin' back and forth might end up bein' a pain, so when you head back, if you can arrange a suite at the Marriott or-"

"Nonsense!" Jake exclaimed. "Thanks to you, Valkyrie is a hit, and I have a other projects in the works. I'm doing well. So I have a big house and no wife. If you need a place to stay in the city during the proceedings, feel free to crash with me." Though he was getting used to being in Jason's presence, more than most at any rate, he still blushed furiously, considering the way his words could have been taken. "Not like that. I didn't mean it like that, I swear. 'You' meant you, Jason, and Alex, and Jael too, when she posts bail."

Jason chuckled. "I know what you meant, and I think I'll take you up on your offer, if no one else has any problems with it. And if takin' a 'copter back and forth proves too much of a hassle. Since you know, flying..." Her faint grin faded when Alex didn't take the obvious bait.

"Thank-you Mr. Abrams," Sunshine said, offering him a hand, his golden aura warm as a hot summer's day. "And I'm sorry. I didn't mean to accuse you of anything, it's just, with Jael..."

Jake hesitated for only a second, but his handshake was firm and he gave Alex an understanding nod. "Call me Jake, kid, and don't worry about it." He smirked and ran a hand over his mostly bald pate. "People suspect my motives all the time, only most of the time, they're right. For what it's worth, me and everyone on the set know this for the bullshit it is."

And they really did. Jason had brought Alex to the set more than once - good kid, made the girls feel good to swoon for a man instead of another girl - and anyone who thought him less than sixteen was blind, deaf, and dumb. "And one more thing, Alex," Jake said, nodding at the TV and the talking heads jabbering. "What people say on TV and what they really think are almost always different things. And so are their reasons for it. Don't go thinking the news is any less an act than what Jason does. Later guys, hope this blows over soon, and not for me and the studio, but for you guys."

Jason saw him to the door, mouthing another silent thank-you, this time for his words to Alex, then closed the door and looked at Jael's phone in her hand. Deciding on delaying for a bit, she gave Alex a gently disapproving smile.

"I hope you realize Alex, baselines aren't the only ones who jump to conclusions. Us and Them, we're all just people. The only reason why it seems like there are so many more shallow and stupid baselines is because there are. But that's only because for every Nova you meet, you meet hundred or a thousand or more of them. Betcha, by the percentages, it's all even."

Jason sighed and walked around the den to pick up her cordless phone from the base. Alex could see a slight tightness around Jason's stunning, indigo eyes. "Look, I have big tits, and am a model, actress, and XWF Fighter. None of that particularly needs brains. The people on TV, they don't know me, they just think they go because they see me on TV or in a magazine. So when they call me a Bimbo... Pfft! Words are wind."

Jason chewed on a delectable lip, her eyes flashing with muted anger. "But it was a nova, a pair of Novas, that actually had me wondering if I really was a bimbo. I was on Bill Maher, and these super-brains were on via satellite and they made me feel like such-" Jason shook her head sharply and waved the though away with a graceful, forceful hand. "It doesn't matter what they made me feel like, just know Alex, when it comes to jerks and idiots, Novas and Baselines are equal. I hope you aren't disillusioned."

Giving her adopted brother a commiserating smile, she made a few calls, arranging for a helicopter to be on standby and arranging her finances. She didn't know what the bail would be, but she wanted to make sure she could handle whatever it was. And there was something else she wanted to take care of too, if the female Carvers would allow her to.

Finally, she couldn't put it off any longer, and she pulled out Jael's phone and scrolled down her phonebook. "Up to you if you want to hear this, Alex," Jason warned, knowing how good his hearing was, and knowing it wasn't going to be an easy call to hear, let alone make.

Jason made the call. "Hello, Mrs. Carver? This is Jason Bellefleur, a friend of your daughter..."

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“Yes, I remember her talking about you,” Mrs. Carver said. She sounded exhausted, even as she tried to keep an upbeat note in her voice. “You’re the friend watching Alex, aren’t you?”

“Uh, yes. I am,” Jase said, trying not to look at Sunshine.

“She can’t stop talking about you guys.” There was a pause and then her mother said, “I’m sorry. I’m not really myself today.”

“That’s very understandable,” Jase said softly. “I called to see if there was anything Sunshine or I could do for you and your husband.”

“Yes, you can take care of Jael,” Mrs. Carver said and there were tears in her voice. “I want to be there but I… Robert needs me here. And I can’t send Ruth, or leave her here alone. I feel so bad about that.”

“Jael is going to understand,” Jason said immediately. “How is Mr. Carver?”

“Please, it’s Donna and Robert,” Jael’s mother said. “Jael was going to invite you all down whenever Alex could travel. I think she wanted us to adopt you, too. Like Shelly. She calls me Mom but you can start with Donna.”

Jason pressed her lips together, trying to remain calm. Donna was trying to put a good face on the situation; the strain in her voice was painful. “How is Robert?”

“He’s out of surgery, and the doctors say that the next twenty-four hours are critical,” Donna said and this time, there was no attempt to hide the tears. “But his odds are good. He’s a fighter. He was in the Army, you know.”

“I didn’t,” the argent-haired nova murmured, reaching out for Sunshine. Her ward took her hand, his warm fingers grounding her against the wave of anger and sorrow she was fighting.

“Tell Jael he’s not upset at her,” Donna said quickly. “It wasn’t just the news. He was out on the site- he’s a foreman – and it was hot today and he pushed himself instead of taking breaks in his office, which is air-conditioned. I bought that window unit myself, just so he’d-” Her rapid-fire words stopped with a sob. Jason and Sunshine waited until she was calm again. “Just tell Jay-jay that her father will be alright and he’s not mad at her. Neither am I.”

“We didn’t think that,” Jason encouraged, “and neither will Jael.”

“I know. She’s just so impulsive sometimes, and I didn’t want her jumping to the wrong conclusion. She’s a good girl just a bit too fast sometimes,” Donna said. “Have you been able to see her yet?”

“No, I’m still waiting to hear from her lawyer,” Jase sighed. “We’ll call as soon as we know anything.”

“Oh, thank you, I do appreciate that,” Donna replied, the relief clear in her voice. “I’m so glad she has good friends there.” There was another voice and Donna told them, “I have to go talk to a cardiologist for a bit. Tell Jael I love her – oh, and not to watch any television. Those people are being filthy. I’m about ready to cancel my cable subscription. And you and Alex stay away from the television too. Awful people! Thank you so much for calling, dear.”

“No problem,” Jason assured her. “We’ll be in touch.” They exchanged goodbyes and hung up. “That was… depressing.” Jason sighed, rubbing her eyes wearily.


“… wouldn’t call her disorder pedophilia. Alex Andrews doesn’t have a child’s body and she’s never shown signs of that before. I believe she has Hypersexuality Disorder, in which some outside force is causing her to have unnaturally high sexual urges. As she is a nova, this could be quantum backlash. This led her to take advantage of a physically grown man with a child-like mind. Ms. Carver needs treatment, not jail-time. I’m of the firm belief that therapy and medications are what she…” Dr. Howard Winston, on All Things Considered, NPR

“… on Montel Williams, we’re having a special show about younger men with older women. Thanks for joining us for ‘Cougars are Ruining my Son!’ Today we are joined by Denise, a telecommunication worker from Detroit who wants to tell her son’s older girlfriend that she is ruining Jacyn. Jacyn says he’s a man in love and just wants his mom to be happy that he’s happy. And we’ll be be joined by my special guest, Dr. Erickson, a criminal psychologist who specializes in sexual disorders…” Montel Williams Show

“… just one more sign of God’s wrath on the demons calling themselves novas. Putting a child in a man’s body to give temptation to women. Thankfully, one of their own succumbed to his siren call, not one of our innocent Daughters of Eve…” Tongue of God, CoTV (Church of Michael the Archangel Television)

“Yeah, I should have seen this coming. I mean, she smacked me at a charity event because I said the kid was a little undeveloped, socially. Looking back, I’m sure she was offended by that comment, since I implied that the guy she was banging may not be ready for banging, you know what I mean? Anyway, I don’t hold it against her and I wish Ms. Carver luck. Sure, she screwed up, but she’s always been good at the screwing part, am I right? I’m pretty sure that she just can’t help herself, the woman’s a freakin’ nympho.” excerpt from an interview with Matt “Crimson Light” Simpson

“So you’ve heard Jael Carver was arrested for boppin’ a year-old. Of course, this was none other than Alex ‘Sunshine’ Andrews. You know, the kid who looks like a teenager? Anyway, I hear he’s a living sun, that his body makes sunlight. Yeah, that glow – you can get a tan. I bet Jael’s got a killer tan – no lines. But you know the worst part of her getting with him? She can’t say ‘Stick it where the sun don’t shine’ anymore because I bet Sunshine’s been there already!” Stand up act of Johny Watcher

“As of 8:00 p.m., Jael Carver remains in custody, though her arraignment is scheduled for tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. She has been fully cooperating with the authorities; there have been no outbursts which surprises many. Ms. Carver has made the news many times for her impulsive and sometimes rash behavior, particularly at parties. At this point, she’s been in questioning for approximately ten hours, according to our sources inside the Rashoud Facility…” Vancouver Channel 5 News at 9

A woman walks onto the stage, wearing a long blonde wig and a skimpy dress. There is a toddler on her hip, who appears to be glowing softly. The maître de approaches and greets her, “Ms. Carver, welcome to Les Escargots et les Huîtres Restaurant tonight. Your table is ready, but would you like to wait for the rest of your party?”

The woman giggles vapidly. “We are both here.”

“Both?” the man asks, frowning in confusion.

“This is my date.” She gestures to the child in her arms.

The waiter blinks. “That… baby is your date?”

The woman looks confused as the crowd laughs. “Baby? I don’t know what you mean. I’ll need a high chair for my table, please.” The crowd roars with laughter. skit on The Mother of All Shows


Adrianne called at eleven. “They’ve released her to a cell,” she reported when Jason answered the phone. “I’m coming to get you right now.”

“Get? It’d be faster to meet you there,” Jason said quickly. “I have a chopper ready.”

“What do you think I’m coming to get you in? Jason, this gives them time to get her settled and I need to prepare the both of you for some things. And no, I’d rather not brief you over the phone,” Adrianne said, her tired voice turning wry for a moment. “Picking up radio signals is a fairly common nova trick. I’ll talk to you in ten minutes. Do you have some of Jael’s clothing? Something dressy but classy?”

“We have her eufiber.”

“Thank god. I’ll see you soon.”

The two novas gathered on the roof; soon a helicopter set down on the landing pad. A man stepped out, ducking low and waved them on board, signaling that they should keep their heads down. The inside of the chopper was nicely furnished; Adrianne was sitting on the forward-facing seats with a glass of wine in her hand. “Help yourselves,” she said with a wave toward the chilled bottle once the doors had been shut. The insulation was good; the thump of the rotors was barely noticeable to baseline ears and easily ignored by nova.

“What’s going on?” Sunshine asked, leaning forward quickly. “How soon before you can clear this up?”

“Alex, this is going to trial, unless a judge throws it out,” Adrianne told him. Her voice was gentle as she explained, “Utopia has enough to take it to trial. Every time someone discusses dropping it, they throw around terms like ‘sexual abuse of a minor’. They’re pursuing this. And that’s going to be months.”

“What is next?” Jason said, putting an arm around Sunshine’s shoulders. She could feel the tension in his frame as Adrianne continued.

“Arraignment is at three tomorrow. At that time, the judge will decide if it proceeds to trial – which he will, or else Utopia wouldn’t have pushed it this far. He’ll decide bail at that time, too. It’s going to be six figures, I’m guessing. Seven is too much, considering that the alleged minor will be there protesting his youth.”

“Oh, I will,” Sunshine vowed.

“Do so carefully. The judge is not someone to piss off, Alex,” Adrianne instructed. “The courtroom is his kingdom and he is the king. Do not lose your temper at him. Judge Bornholt is a fair man.”

“If he really were, he’d throw this out,” Sunshine said darkly. His glowing hands were clasped tightly before him.

“The judge doesn’t know you or Jael,” Adrianne reminded him gently. “He knows what he’s been told, and he knows the law. He will be looking to protect you, even if you don’t need it. Please remember that of anyone official there, he’ll be on your side. Alright?” Sunshine nodded reluctantly. “Here’s what you both need to remember. This trial will be about the law. I’ve starting the fight already and you’re joining it tonight. Jason, no more calling people pricks, whether they deserve it or not. Alex, you have to be righteously and fairly angry, not outrageously pissed. Do you both understand?”

The two nova acknowledged their comprehension and Adrianne sighed. “You’ll be allowed to visit her, but I need to prepare you both for what you’ll see, so you act appropriately. It depends on what Utopia decides to do, but there are two ways you’ll see her. The first will be in an interrogation room, and she’ll be shackled to the table with shock cuffs. The second will be in a vitrium containment cell, like they use for uncontrolled eruptees. In that case, they will not let you inside. You’ll be able to talk to her but nothing else.

“She’s probably dressed in a prison jumpsuit which are designed to make people uneasy,” Adrianne continued. “I’ll need her eufiber for her arraignment, so she’s not in the jumpsuit for that. She’ll probably be moxed, as she’s in custody. But most of all, she’s tired. She was worn out when I left, and I’m sure it’s only going to be worse when we arrive. They’ve been questioning her nonstop, trying to force a confession.”

“Is that legal?” Jason asked, her face darkening.

“Yes, so long as they don’t use quantum compulsion on her and give her at least eight hours of rest and three meals a day,” Adrianne replied, taking a sip of her wine. “They can’t hurt her, or starve her. They can just question her and wear away at her. And she has legal representation, so I have to be there unless she willingly talks to them without me - which she won't - and they have to give reasonable concessions to an old woman like me.” The gray-haired woman smiled wryly. “She’ll get some downtime from their questions.”

“What should we do to help her?” Sunshine asked. His hands were still clasped together tightly.

“Remain calm. Show Utopia you’re angry but not out of control. They’ll be watching you,” Adrianne suggested, setting down her empty glass. “Do not snap or let them take emotional control of you in any way. Watch what you say, even to Jael. They can’t record her conversations when she’s conferring with me, but anything overheard is admissible in court. With the hearing that some novas have, anything said in the building might be heard.

“And you,” Adrianne said, turning to Jason, “if you don’t have a good PR person, get one. I’ll do what I can to free Jael, but I can’t spin this so she’ll have a decent life after this. You need someone who’ll bend public opinion your direction. Utopia’s already starting to shift it the other way.”

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"Why are Utopia the one's questioning her?" Sunshine asked earnestly. "Isn't it a case for the Canadian police?"

"In British Columbia, the district government has a deal with Utopia that allows them to enlist their aid on nova-related cases." Adrianne said with a narrow-eyed look. She looked at Jason, then at Alex as though weighing the young man. "I won't lie to you: I think this entire initiative is Utopia-driven, and that they pulled strings to have Ms Carver incarcerated in their facility. The whole setup is one of provocation aimed at you two."

"Both of us?" Jason asked, surprised, but Alex was nodding as though he understood.

"Utopia's goal in this is twofold: firstly to establish that Alex is a minor - which they hope he'll do for them by acting rashly and dangerously. The second part is to smear you, Ms Bellefleur. They'll call your ability as a guardian into question and then petition the Canadian authorities to turn Alex over to them." Adrianne explained in a clinically professional manner.

"I think that's roughly the point I'll go on the run." Alex said wryly. Adrianne chuckled and shook her head.

"It's not going to happen. Because you-" she pointed at Alex "-are going to show the world how collected, mature and smart you are, and what a good role-model Jason has been." Sunshine nodded at her words. "And I have so much precedent for establishing competency and emancipation of wards of the state on the books that as long as Utopia don't manage to provoke you, we have an excellent chance of winning this."

"Can I ask you something?" Alex asked as that sank in, his blue eyes curious. "What do you think of this? I know that you're our lawyer, but do you think Jael's a-"

"No I do not." Adrianne said with a stern look. "Everything I know about you leads me to believe that you are a) mature enough and B) that she's a lucky woman." She smiled slightly at the blush the comment got from Alex, and turned to look out the window.

"We're almost there. Once more: guard what you say there. Guard how you react. If they ask you to step away from the prisoner or act in a generally oppressive manner, don't lash out or get angry. That is what they want. There'll be a Team Tomorrow member or two on hand. Mattertron is the muscle, you won't need to worry about him because you're not going to give him cause to use it, right?" The two novas nodded. "The other, the dangerous one, is Znajomy. She's nice, pleasant, someone you can confide in. Don't. She's the interrogator and, though she can't use quantum on Ms Carver, she might be able to spark rash words or behaviour from you. I'll be on hand to keep an eye on her." Adrianne assured Alex and Jason as the helicopter touched down. "You two just worry about keeping an eye on yourselves."


From the first, it was plain that the Utopians were indeed trying to provoke a reaction. Alex and Bombshell were 'routinely' scanned and searched for devices that may aid in an escape, which was plainly laughable to both novas. As if they'd need bombs or guns, really. Bombshell alone would be capable of knocking over the facility, and Alex's capability to slice through Vitrium like butter was well-documented in the Facility. Which led rather neatly to a more extreme form of provocation...

"Mox?!" Bombshell said, her lovely soprano clearly carrying every nuance of disdain and disbelief. Mattertron shrugged, holding the four tablets out in his hand. Alex and Jason were both glaring at him.

"Mr Andrews' abilities are dangerous. Regulations state that in such a potentially volatile situation as this, a dangerous visitor needs to be restrained from rash acts." the Tomorrowite said gravely.

"Give me a break." Jason snorted, looking at her ward. "What do you say, Alex?" Sunshine looked at Adrianne, who shook her head slightly. He looked back at Mattertron.

"No." he said firmly. "I'm not playing this game. If I take those pills," he pointed at them. "Then it will get into the news that I had to be moxed to see Jael. That I cannot be trusted. That I am four pills away from being a criminal."

"No one here will tell the press anything." Znajomy said soothingly. Alex looked at her, his blue eyes sapphire-hard with dislike.

"I'm supposed to trust that?" he demanded calmly.

"Of course." she replied with a smile. "Nobody's your enemy here, Alex. We just want what's best for you."

"So we're all friends?" Alex smiled back, a sudden beam like a sunrise. Adrianne looked concerned, but Bombshell placed a surreptitious hand on the lawyers forearm. Jason knew that smile.

"Of course." Znajomy said, unable to keep her own smile from widening in response to Alex's radiant expression.

"Good." said Alex pleasantly. "Then I won't need the pills. And then, once I've seen Jael, I can go outside and tell all the press there that we're all friends and that this misunderstanding will be cleared up soon. No hard feelings. That sort of thing." He locked eyes with the woman in white, gold and blue, and though he was smiling there was nothing soft about his stare. "That's what I can tell them, right? I can say that, can't I Adrianne?"

"Of course." Adrianne said, recovering with aplomb from the mild surprise most people experienced when Alex suddenly showed a flash of killer instinct. He was usually so gentle and emotional that it was like swimming in a golden haze being in his company. Which made the occasional wall of steel he dropped into one's path all the more jarring. Jason had seen it a few times, and was not so much jarred as tickled when it happened to others. "There's also the very simple fact that my client Alexander Andrews is not a criminal, and that by insisting on chemical restraints Utopia is in fact declaring him to be one in absence of a warrant of arrest or court order. Now I'm certain you can hold to your position - after all, the arraignment is tomorrow and by that time the matter of visitation will be moot. But I will be lodging a formal complaint with regards to the matter, and I will see to it that has a bearing on the court case."

Znajomy looked at Mattertron and shook her head. The pills disappeared.

"Very well." she said with an easy smile as though nothing had happened. Sunshine felt an intense wave of loathing for her then, but kept it bottled inside himself. He had never wanted to hurt anyone like he wanted to hurt that woman right now. It would be easy, too. He could reduce her to vapor and ashes before she could even scream...

Jason pinched his tricep, almost painfully, which brought Sunshine back to himself. He blinked and looked at her, then at Znajomy who was still smiling and opening the security door for the cell area. A trick? Or had the feelings of hate been his own. The young nova wasn't sure right now, especially since he didn't feel much different towards the Tomorrowite. He thought she was smug and judgemental, the enemy.

"Ms Carver is this way. Mattertron will escort you down. Kindly observe the yellow line on the floor and approach no closer, and please obey any instructions Mattertron issues with regards to the prisoner." Znajomy said as they passed though. The door buzzed shut behind them as the lock reactivated, and Sunshine fought the urge to flip the infuriating woman off.


"He's smart." Znajomy told Doctor Randalls and Professor Dowlson as she came into the observation booth overlooking the 'cage' area. "Just like you said."

"I told you not to provoke him directly to focus on you." Dowlson scowled at her. "We want an incident, not a disaster." The professor was watching as the glowing figure moved towards the vitrium cell but stopped at the yellow line.

"So I toyed with him a little." Znajomy said with a shrug. "It's not like we couldn't have brought him under control before he did too much damage."

"Actually..." Jia Randalls said with some asperity "It's exactly like that. He could incinerate you in an eyeblink. Don't you read the damn files in the Auxiliaries? He's got an exceptionally strong quantum signature - the dampener we have on staff wouldn't be able to stop him reliably. We want him frustrated and unfocused, not enraged with a single target. Apparently." It was plain that the Asian woman didn't like this at all. She stood by the window with her arms hugged close across her chest, casting dark glances at Dowlson. It was obvious to the sensitive Auxiliary that words had been exchanged, and Randalls wasn't happy with what was going on.

"We've found where he goes to practice, Znajomy." Dowlson told her. "It's a disused granite quarry on one of the little islands out there. The place looks like it's made of glass and obsidian - granite rocks looking like melted candles. I think we could all do without Mr Andrews deciding to pull something like that here. Don't you?" As he looked at the woman's pale face, he nodded. "As I thought. We want to contain him, not send him running into the arms of the Teragen, which he would likely do if we provoked him to murder. Lets try to avoid another McCline incident, hmm? The people responsible for that debacle are currently in some very unwanted jobs."


"Jael." Sunshine moved forwards as soon as they came into the room, but checked himself at the yellow line three feet before the vitrium walls of the cell. Just as Adrianne had warned, the lovely blonde girl was wearing a prison uniform, and also as she had warned it looked horrible, unsettling. Himself dressed in smart casual blazer and slacks, Alex felt a combination of helpless rage and sadness as he looked at the woman he loved in a cage. Strong. I've got to be strong for her. She needs me to be adult, not a child. And Utopia is watching. He looked at Mattertron, then at the one-way vitrium of the booth overhead, then ignored them and focused on Jael.

"How're you doing?" he asked with gentle concern, feeling how hollow those words were compared to his real emotions. He wanted to melt through the barrier and hold her, but that wasn't allowed. He wanted to love her, but apparently that wasn't allowed either. I love you. his eyes told her as they studied her for signs of upset or abuse.

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Jael lay on her back on the hard bunk. One arm was flung over her eyes, blocking out the overhead lights. Her other hand was balled up on her stomach, as if the pressure of her own hand could smash away the knot in her gut. She’d never ever felt like this before: the hard, cold certainty that she was in trouble. She was running out of money, she had just lost one job a couple of months ago and now she was probably going to lose another.

She couldn’t sit anymore and the woman pushed herself up off the bunk. The orange jumpsuit grated at her skin, though that was as much psychological as physical; her skin was used to the soft eufiber and this fabric felt horrible. She almost wished she were naked – it’d be more comfortable. But Adrianne had warned her to play their games. Just one night, just tonight.

Jael tried not to think about what would happen if she wasn’t granted bail, or if no one paid for it. Reynolds. You will always have him. Paul will do what he can. Shelly… she’d do it somehow. And of course, Bombshell.

But some part of her wasn’t being rational; some part of her was panicked and paranoid. Jael was terrified, without logic or reason, that she was about to be abandoned. She was the crazy nympho who slapped her way out of work and got herself mind-raped by Charles. Her messes were monumental. Other people were always cleaning up her mistakes: Mom, Kazuo, Reynolds, Shelly and Paul – they’d all had a turn with the Jael-mop. She was a neurotic mess; agitated, she ran her hands up her neck to the base of her skull, squeezing her muscles. They were as tight as guitar strings. Nervously, she started to pace.

“Jael.” The nova spun, blinking at the glowing man on the other side of the barrier. Speechless, she stared, drinking him in with hungry eyes. Sunshine, my Sunshine. He came, he and Jason came. “How’re you doing?”

Jael walked to the barrier and pressed her hands to it. Sunshine remained where he was – why didn’t he come over here? Why was he remaining distant? “Shitty,” she said, her voice shaky. “I want to go home.”

“Jael, you’ll be home tomorrow,” Adrianne said, whipping out her phone and typing a quick note to Bombshell. Turning the phone, the argent-haired woman read, Is this normal for her? Jason quickly gave a subtle shake of her head. The lawyer pursed her lips but said nothing more.

“I want you to come home, too,” Sunshine said, his expression agonized. His hands knotted up in fists.

“I’m sorry,” Jael whispered, feeling blacker than ever. Even as Sunshine shook his head, she pressed on, “I shouldn’t have gotten you involved in this.” He was in pain, and it was because of her. She couldn’t keep her legs shut, never could without someone making her.

“We’re in this together,” Sunshine told her, swaying forward a little. The pain in her voice was terrible and it was affecting him. Bombshell reached out and caught his arm, gently. A look into his guardian’s eyes reminded Sunshine what was at stake and he turned miserable eyes back to Jael. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

Jael shook her head, leaning against the glass. The yawning black hole in her gut deepened, threatening to pull her down with it. She felt like something was sitting on top of her soul, pushing on it. It was like when Charles bore down on her-

Jael’s attitude changed in a beat. The novas and Adrianne saw her stiffen before she straightened a little. “You’re right,” she said, forcing herself to say it despite the depression shrieking at her. “You’re right, Sunshine,” she repeated, pushing herself upright. She’d fought this before; she could do it again. “The fuckers that did this to us – they’re the ones who should be sorry. Not me. I haven’t done anything wrong.” She managed a crooked smile for Sunshine, though she didn’t feel it. “So is everyone out there good and freaked out by this yet?”

Put a brave face on this. Don’t let them see it touch you. And once you figure out who’s fucking with you, put your claws through them.

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"Well, you mother did call," Jason revealed, a slight smile on her lips and sympathy in her eyes. "And yes, I think she's good and freaked out. I - we've - promised to call her back right after talkin' with you, give 'er a heads up. She's nothing but worried for you. Your father too..."

Jason had noted the change in Jael's attitude too, and for a moment, she reconsidered telling her about her father. But only for a moment. If it had been her, she'd rather hear about it from a friend than from the tabloids, where they'd spin it into something ugly.

"About that... Your mother woulda been out here on the first flight she could get, but..." Knowing Alex would want nothing more than to hold Jael in his arms during this, Jason kept a gentle, but firm, hold on his shoulder. Jason's mellifluous voice was concerned, but she didn't try to sugar-coat the truth. "... she has to stay with your father. Robert, he had a heart attack."

Jason saw Jael's blue eyes widen with self-recrimination, and her lips tightened. She shot Mattertron and Znajomy a scathing, luminous glance. "And before you even think it - No! It has nothing to do with what the news is saying," Jason told her gorgeous voice stern with conviction. "He was workin' on site, and just pushed himself too hard." A slightly teasing, yet sincere, edge graced her grin. "I guess we know where you got that stubborn streak, eh? Don't worry, he's already gone through surgery and there's every indication it went smoothly."

Jason held up a slender finger, forestalling any potential further protest from Jael. "And you don't have to worry about the job, either. Jake stopped by, bringin' us your things and is arrangin' a shut down of the set for a week. You still have the job if you want it, and time to see your father."

Jason gave Mattertron an excruciatingly sweet smile, her voice so saccharine, it could cause cavities. "I don't think anyone will protest a daughter seeing her father in the hospital, will they?"

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"That'll be up to the court." Adrianne said smoothly as Mattertron opened his mouth. "But I certainly think they'll be favorable towards such a visit."

Alex couldn't stand it any more. Jael was right there, three feet away, and she needed him. He wasn't going to ruin Adrianne's case, but the yellow line was just cruelty, an enforced separation.

"Can I approach the wall, please?" he asked Mattertron. The burly Tommorrowite shook his head sternly.

"No visitors are allowed to cross the line." he said brusquely.

"Please." Sunshine pleaded, his angelic features radiating sadness, an unbearable sight even for Mattertron. The kid / young man didn't deserve this. How the hell they could make a case that he'd been corrupted, the man didn't know. He practically glowed with an innocent love for the woman in the Vitrium cell. "I won't do anything to spoil Jael's case. I just want to be close for a moment."

It was too much for Mattertron - he couldn't meet those blue eyes when they were filling with such hurt sadness. He was supposed to be a hero, dammit, not a man who tormented people who'd done nothing to deserve it. And the young man obviously cared about Jael Carver. What harm would it do?

"Sure. Just for a second though, okay?" he said, waving Alex forward, causing at least two of the people up in the control booth to have a collective 'What the FUCK is he doing?' moment.

"Thanks." Sunshine smiled at him and stepped over, immediately placing his hands on the super-glass in front of Jael. The warmth of his aura brushed her even through the vitrium as she mimicked him. She could feel his nearness like a flower could feel the life-giving energy of the Sun. His glorious blue eyes were only a foot away, the golden firefly motes dancing in their depths as he smiled at her. "Hey." he said in a low, intimate voice, totally ignoring the presence of others. He didn't look like a kid. He looked like a man, albeit a young one, reassuring and comforting the woman he loved.

"Hey." Jael said back, unable to keep the answering grin from breaking out on her face. There was something about Sunshine just being Sunshine that wasn't quantum tricks: he lifted spirits, brought out the best in people, made her feel invincible.

"We are going to get you out of here, you know. And we're going to kick the hell out of them in the courtroom." he said in that same conversational voice. "You believe me?" Jael smiled and nodded. "Good. Because we're going to see you tomorrow, be there for you at the arraignment." he told her firmly. "And whatever they say, whatever anyone says, it doesn't change the truth. You're stronger than them, and that's just one reason I love you."

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Jael felt as if she’d been punched in the gut. Dad? she thought, her stomach clenching in shock as Bombshell delivered her news. Even the tag-on that he was doing fine wasn’t enough to take the stricken look from her expression. She couldn’t even hear them discussing whether she’d be allowed to visit her father. She was too focused on the paralyzing worry about him; he’d always had a bad heart. He loves his fried pork chops too much, Jael thought.

She turned beleaguered eyes to Sunshine and found that he was already moving toward her. She’d been so caught up in her pain that she utterly missed his plea to Mattertron. Jael leaned harder against the vitrium as her boyfriend stopped on the other side of the barrier. As his golden light fell on her, Jael found her spirits lifting. His words were even better.

“I love you, too,” she whispered, smiling at him. She still wasn’t sure if she was capable of loving anyone, but it was close enough. And she wasn’t going to quibble about it either. What she felt for him was incredible, a deep friendship sealed by intense sexual compatibility. It wasn’t the fake shit she’d felt for Charles; this was real. And it was real enough to be love. “Come with me when I visit Pheonix?”

“Jason and I are planning on it,” Sunshine assured her, despite the fact that they hadn’t discussed it. Jason didn’t look like she’d oppose the trip as she nodded.

“Good,” Jael said, feeling some of that darkness in her chest lessen. She wouldn’t be facing this crisis alone. “Thanks, guys.”

“Not a problem,” Jason assured her, as Sunshine added, “I’m happy to do it with you.” The three of them talked and planned a bit more; Jael leaning against the vitrium and soaking up Sunshine’s aura. But too soon, Mattertron said, “Time’s up, guys. You have to go.” As Sunshine started to ask for more time, Mattertron added, “We let you in after regular visiting hours as it is.”

Sighing, Sunshine turned back to the watching Jael. She was trying to conceal the expression of silent pleading, but he could see right through it. “I’ll be there tomorrow,” he promised.

“I know,” she murmured.

“And the day after that, and after that,” he whispered.

“I know,” she replied, giving him her crooked smile. Still smiling, she stood up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to the ‘glass’. “The real thing comes tomorrow.”

“Can’t wait,” he assured her, smiling.

She carried that smile in her heart all through the rest of the long night.


Utopia gave her access to a shower after the second round of questioning. Jael was glad that it was after; it gave her a chance to clean up after the grilling. Adrianne was there to guide her; her counsel mostly consisted of remaining silent and staring grimly.

At two-thirty, Jael was at the courthouse. Predictably, it was mobbed by reporters, all hoping to get a glimpse of any of the players in this sordid affair. Jael was escorted into the building by Mattertron and Borealis. She kept her head high as she walked between them, her eufiber shaped into a blue suit. It was simple and subdued, at Adrianne’s suggestion. She even modified the height of her heels from three inches to one.

The crowd shouted questions at her but Jael ignored them. It was annoying though; some of the questions brought a flush of outrage to her cheeks and made her want to scream at the questioners. She glared at the person asking about her father but managed to keep her mouth shut. Adrianne, who had been following right behind her, patted her on the shoulder.

The courtroom wasn’t exactly like an American one; the accused sat in a glass-partitioned box to the left of the room. The defense and prosecutor still had their tables in front of the judge, but there was a podium for the attorneys to stand at as they addressed the judge. Jael scanned the room as she entered, not that it was hard to find Sunshine and Jason. She smiled, feeling at ease for the first time since rising from her uneasy sleep. They both smiled at her and she waved at them as she was led past their seats to the seat for the accused.

Being in that box was isolating for Jael; she felt cut off from everyone else. Nervously, she settled herself, running her hands over her eufiber to straighten imaginary wrinkles. She was only seated a moment before the judge entered and Jael hopped to her feet at the call to rise. Judge Bornholt was a pudgy, unassuming man, but the astute could see the glimmer of intelligence in his eyes. His head was a fringe of hair under his bare scalp; glasses perched on his thick nose. With shaking jowls, he read through the charges and asked, “How does the defendant plead?”

“Not guilty,” Jael said clearly.

“Alright,” Bornholt said, making a note on his notepad. “Recommendations for bail?”

“Your Honor, the defendant is a strong flight risk,” Utopia’s representative said, at the podium. Martin Sheppard was one of Utopia’s standard lawyers, called out when they had a criminal case to pursue. He was nickname “The Project Bulldog” for his tenacity on the stand. “Literal, in this case. She has family outside of the country and most notably a sexual history with Peter “Einherjar” Nord, currently at loose ends. She also has sexual history with Kazuo “Kurusu” Kanai, a man who can warp her anywhere in the world. And these are just two of the people who might be willing to help her flee justice.”

“My client has strong ties here, to Jason Bellefluer and Alex Andrews,” Adrianne replied, leaning over far enough to speak to the mike. “Running away would only serve to separate her from the young man who is the center of this argument. My client is also invested in clearing her name and skipping on her bail will not help her.”

“Your Honor… she flies,” Sheppard said.

“Understood, but that’s no reason to deny a nova bail,” Bornholt said. “In order to assure her return, I’m setting bail at seven hundred thousand. Ms. Carver is to remain in British Columbia unless given dispensation by this court to leave.”

“Yes, that leads to my motion to allow my client that dispensation to visit her father in Phoenix, Arizona,” Adrianne said, looking utterly composed. “My client has agreed to wear a tracking anklet for her visit. That way, she can be monitored for the entire visit.”

“How long?” Bornholt asked.

“At least a month; her father just suffered a heart attack and Jael wants to spend time with her family,” Adrianne replied.

“Granted, so long as she wears the tracker.” For the first time, the judge looked directly at her. “If you remove that or make any attempt to circumvent it, your bail is revoked and you’ll be arrested and detained until your trial. You understand that?”

“I do,” Jael said, her voice tight with nerves.

“Alright, does anyone have anything else?”

“Yes,” Sheppard stated, pulling out a handful of legal papers. “If it pleases the court, I’d like to present a restraining order, ordering Ms. Carver to come no closer than fifty meters to Alex Andrews.”

“What?” The word came from three simultaneous sources: Jason, Sunshine and Jael. Adrianne somehow managed to give all of them warning glares at the same time.

“Your Honor, this is unnecessary,” Adrianne said sharply. “Mr. Andrews is old enough to choose who he spends his time with.”

“That’s not conclusive,” Sheppard quickly spoke up. “Mr. Andrews maturity isn’t established. He’s less than a year old physically and his emotional maturity is uncertain. That is the point to this whole thing – whether he can choose who he spends his time with, and who he chooses to engage in sexual activities with.”

“Mmh,” Bornholt mused a moment. “Mr. Andrews, would you be so kind as to approach the bench? I have a couple of questions.”

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Alex stood up, controlling his nervousness as he approached the judge. Only the most perceptive or those that knew him best would know it, however. The young nova had a literal halo about him, the hazy swirl of his aura seeming to be not merely a physical manifestation, but a radiance that came from within his soul. Looking into the clear summer-sky gaze it was evident to Judge Bornholt that, although he understood the gravity of the situation, there was an innocent core to Sunshine that the ugliness of the proceedings could not touch.

"Relax, young man." he said, removing his glasses and leaning forwards a little. The warmth of the summer sun touched his face and he wondered at it, privately musing that the Nova Age threw up new miracles at every turn. Alex did his best to relax, his gaze as level as Bornholt's, who experienced the not-unfamiliar feeling of being regarded by someone incalculably smarter than himself, if not as experienced. It was something he was used to when dealing with novas. The Judge smiled slightly. "I need to ask you some things, and I would like you to be frank. You're not under oath, but I don't see the need for that at this stage."

"I understand. I've got no reason not to be candid, your Honor." Alex said firmly, his tenor voice projecting clearly. The Judge smiled again, nodding.

"Do you understand why you're here?" he asked directly. Alex's eyes narrowed a fraction, and he nodded.

"Yes, your Honor. I'm here because there is a question as to whether or not I am a child in the court's eyes." he said firmly.

"How does that make you feel?" the judge asked, peering keenly at Alex's face, a shrewd look in his eye. Alex saw it, but didn't react visibly.

"Honestly, your Honor, a little insulted." he said simply. "And very worried for Jael. And angry, though not at this court, your Honor." he assured the judge, who tried not to smile at the forthright expression on Alex's face.

"Of course not. Are you a child, Mr Andrews?" he pressed. "In your own opinion?" Alex took a deep breath and met his gaze directly.

"No, your Honor. I don't believe I am. I think I stopped being a child sometime shortly after I attended high school. I-" he paused then, unsure whether to continue. Judge Bornholt gestured at him.

"Spit it out, young man." Alex looked at him, and nodded.

"Well, your Honor, I don't think I fit the criteria for being a child. I'm not between birth and puberty, I'm not immature physically, mentally I'm ahead of most adults who aren't novas. The fact that I'm effectively one year old because of my circumstances of eruption is, I think, an erroneous point of view clung to by people who are overlooking my obviously different rate of development from human norms." Alex said evenly, not looking at the Utopia contingent. "That's my opinion, your Honor."

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Sitting in the court room, dressed in a tasteful charcoal pantsuit and indigo dress shirt, though incongruously wearing running shoes, Jason realized this may have been the only time she was really concerned about the outcome of a case. As a guy, she had only ever been in a court room once, and that was for a school outing.

Since she erupted, she'd been the target of a number of lawsuits, but the vast majority were completely frivolous, mainly people claiming the sight of her or her presence had adverse effects on them. With Adrianne O'Donnel as her lawyer, most of the time, Jason didn't even have to attend court, and when she did, the case usually got thrown out the first day. The longest case she had been involved in was a challenge to her right to use 'Bombshell' as a stage name, and she hadn't even been that concerned about the result - it was just a name, trading off her likeness to Knockout.

However, now she found herself intently scrutinizing everything, biting a lip to refrain from speaking out. For the first time in her womanly life, she gave serious consideration to using her feminine wiles, even knowing though they might help in the moment, in the long run, it would probably lead to disaster.

Jael seemed to be holding up well and Adrianne was being her fiercely competent self. Judge Bornholt appeared to be a fair man just like Adrianne claimed, though Jason was glad she had arranged to put up her penthouse as collateral for bail, since it was going to be necessary. She couldn't help but think the Crown attorney was an idiot however - wasn't it plain as day that Alex wasn't a child and the last thing Jael would ever do is hurt him?

Jason's full lips tightened when she noticed most of the men on the jury spending more time eying her than paying attention to the court proceedings. Dicks! This is Jael's life. Maybe I should talk to Adrianne, ask her if it's better if I don't attend court, if I'm too much of a distraction, despite wantin' to be here for every minute. It's not like I can really dress down any more than this.

But it was Alex she was proudest of. He was staying in control, mature and charming without being cloying or condescending. If she was being truthful, she would admit, if the circumstances surrounding Sunshine hadn't occurred, becoming a kid's legal guardian was almost the last thing she would have wanted to do. But they had and she did and she was so glad to have Alex in her life.

I lost one younger brother. I'll be damned if Utopia or anyone else tries to take him from me. Listening to Alex answer the Judge, Jason recrossed her legs and gave Sheppard a confident smirk, pride swelling. She didn't know if she had what it took to be a parent, but at least with Alex, she must've done something right as an older brother/sister.

Perfect answer, Alex. You've bitten off more than you can chew with this, assholes.

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Bornholt studied Alex for a long moment. The young nova could see the intelligence in the judge’s eyes; no doubt the man was smart for a baseline. “Do you understand why we’re having these proceedings?”

“Yes and no,” Sunshine replied immediately. “I know that people are truly worried, but I feel they should recognize that I am capable of making my own decisions, particularly regarding the company I keep.”

Bornholt nodded. “Then I find a restraining order unnecessary,” he said. “You seem more mature than my grandson, who’s nineteen, I might add. Motion denied.” He glanced at Jael and added, “This ruling in no way negates this trial. The question of when sexual relations started and what Mr. Andrews’s emotional and mental states were at that time is still a serious matter. This decision reflects the situation as it is now, not when the purported crime occurred. Understand?”

“I understand what you mean,” Jael said, earning her a sharp glare from her lawyer.

“Good,” Bornholt said. “If that’s it, then we can move this forward. Bail is set, excreta, excreta. We’re done here.” He rose and everyone followed him to his feet. The Bailiff escorted Jael out of the box and she was led from the room. Adrianne gathered Jase and Sunshine and took them to the clerk, where Jael’s bail was paid. Some more paperwork was required, but when it was done, the shock cuffs were off and Jael was free – so long as she stayed in British Columbia.

For a moment, the worries about her enforced locale were forgotten, because Sunshine was there. The moment she was free, the two novas were hugging, their arms tight around each other. Their lips met hungrily, each seeking a moment of passion and comfort. For just a moment, there was nothing for them outside of each other.

“Let’s go home,” Sunshine said when they parted, turning her so that she was tucked again him. Jael kept her arm around his waist as they walked to the garage and got into the car that had been rented for them. The SUV was large enough to accommodate all four adults in comfort, as well as the driver. The moment they were settled behind the tinted windows, the driver started forward, driving slowly toward the entrance. The reason for his care was soon apparent; the press was mobbing the exit.

“Jael, I’ll make arrangements for you to be fitted for a tracking anklet, but for tonight, go home and rest,” the lawyer ordered. “We’ll have time to plan things later. For now, take no interviews, no one has any comment for the press. Later, we’ll have statements to make.” At a snail’s pace, they eased into traffic, turning toward Whistler.

Jael didn’t really care about any of that right now. She was leaning against Sunshine, soaking in his warmth. Though she was worried about her father and her future, for a moment, things were temporarily alright. “I think I can manage that, Adrianne,” she said, giving her lawyer a wan smile. The blonde snuggled in against Sunshine and tuned out the world. She wasn’t feeling too generous toward it anyway right now.

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Jason stared out the window of the SUV at the mountains and ocean passing by as they took the Sea-to-Skyway to Whistler, a faint, wistful smile gracing her sensual lips as she saw Jael curl up against Alex in the reflection of the glass. It had been a rough two days for all of them and it looked like the situation would be hanging over their heads for some time to come.

Hopefully, we won't crack under the pressure, Jason mused, her smile fading as she sighed deeply, her blazer growing taut against her heaving chest. She still felt a twinge of guilt - for an instant, when she had signed over her penthouse as collateral for bail, she wondered if Jael was considering going on the run, and Alex with her. It was an unworthy thought on her part.

Straightening in her seat - one at the far rear so she wouldn't be as much a distraction to the driver - and recrossing her legs - a habit she had inherited with her eruption, probably because she had always found it sexy when Katya did it - Jason glanced over at Adrianne sitting beside her and gave her a determined nod.

"No comments," Jason agreed firmly, her rich, melodious soprano filling the confines of the SUV like a soothing embrace. "About those statements, Adrianne... You mentioned I should hire a PR firm personally. Do you have any suggestions? I've never saw the need, I just worked with the PR from the people who hired me."

"And normally, that would be more than enough, Jason," Adrianne told the impossibly beautiful woman. "You handle yourself very well in public, so you don't need anyone to spit-shine your reputation. In typical circumstances. But these are anything but typical circumstances. Regardless of the instructions to the jury, the media is going to play a large part in this trial and Utopia is already turning it against us. You are a media icon, Jason - Bombshell. It's time you flex a little of that social muscle you have in abundance."

The slight frown that crossed Jason's face if anything, made her seem even more alluring and Adrianne was privately glad she had been (mostly) happily married for twenty years. The male partners in her firm would be absolutely useless dealing with a client like Bombshell.

"I know you don't go out of your way to play the game like just about every other starlet out there - it makes you even more darling and personable," Adrianne said honestly, but continued unrelentingly, "but you're going to have to play it some, if you want to go into this trial on a level field. And the PR departments for N!BO and the XWF, for example, work for the company, not for you."

Her professional, iron-edged smile flashed into existence and was gone just as quickly. "As it so happens, I do have a few suggestions. You can go for one of the big firms in New York, like Amp3d. They're expensive, but slick, connected, and have massive manpower. Down side of it, others know you don't have a personal PR rep and this will look self-serving, which admittedly, it is. We just don't want to give that appearance. There are reputable firms right here in Vancouver, and hiring local has advantages. Iris Communications and Hoggan are both excellent, and Jim Hoggan at Hoggan has a reputation for honestly and forthrightness that I think would be a good fit for you, Jason. Though again, those are big firms. Something else I think would work for you is Curve Connections - pun aside. They're pretty new, started up by two former journalists, so they know what the media is looking for and they are extremely dedicated to their clients and you could probably land them for a token - you'd be helping them as much as they would helping you."

Jason opened her mouth and Adrianne immediately held up a forestalling hand. "Don't make a decision now, Jason. Meet with them first, see who clicks and, Jael and Alex, you should go with her. This affects all of you."

Adrianne and Jason, along with rarer input from Jael and Alex, quietly went over some more details on the drive back to Whistler. Pulling up to her apartment building, Jael and Alex saw Jason's fine brows lowering over indigo eyes that flared with a hard light.

The visitor parking lot and crescent drive were already swarming with reporters and news vans, antennae sprouting up like metallic weeds. They might have been able to leave the courthouse with relative anonymity, but it wasn't hard finding out where Jason lived, and it was well known Alex 'Sunshine' Andrews was her ward. True, there was a door man and sign-in desk, but some would get in anyway, even if they had to bribe other residents of the building. At the least the entire top floor was hers.

As the black SUV pulled up, reporters and news anchors turned en mass, crowding the large vehicle. With admirable aplomb and more patience than any of the blonds in the SUV had at the moment, the driver managed to work his way into the underground residential parking garage without injuring anyone. Getting out, she flashed him a genuine smile and gave him their profuse thanks.

Riding up in the elevator dedicated to the penthouse suite, her arms crossed below her awe-inspiring bust, Jason finally made a decision she had been considering for a while now.

"That's it! I've had enough of the penthouse. I'm buying a house. With a crap-tonne of private property surrounding it," she announced.

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Jael had her arms around Sunshine’s waist; his were around her shoulders. The blonde nova wasn’t usually the kind of person to go ‘what if’ but this time was different. She was so shaken by the events of the last thirty-six hours that it was easier for dark thoughts to crowd into her mind. The predominant one was: what if the judge had allowed the restraining order? She couldn’t imagine not being able to hug him, to only see him from a distance.

Jason’s announcement cut through her reverie and she peered at her friend. “Sounds nice,” she said softly, not breaking her snuggle with Sunshine. They were quiet the rest of the way to the penthouse. Once there, Jason went to call her realtor while Sunshine and Jael went to the couch. They sank into the cushions, Jason’s voice a distant hum of sound.

“I need to go see my dad,” Jael said softly.

“We’ll go with you,” Sunshine replied immediately. His arms tightened around her gently. “He’ll be alright. We’ll be alright.”

“I know,” Jael said though she didn’t feel it at that moment. Instead, she closed her eyes and focused on the feel of her lover in her arms. After a moment, she sighed. “I need to call Mom.”

Sunshine reluctantly released her so she could fish out her phone; he smiled as she leaned back against him as she dialed. “Hi, Mom. Yeah, it’s me. I’m fine, I’m out… No, I don’t know what’s next.” She looked up at Sunshine, craning her neck to see. They traded smiles, as only lovers can, and she said the words that she didn’t believe – yet. “But it’s going to be alright, Mom.”

Someday, that would be true.

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