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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - COMPLETE [INTERLUDE] Warm Hearts, Cold Homes


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March 30th, 2027

The wind screamed as it came skirling off the ice, blowing up a storm of snow. It blustered around Brute’s body as she strode the plain, her gait unaltered, unbroken.

Her slender frame was wrapped in patchwork furs, a mixture of pelts ripped wet and bloody from wolf and fox and bear. She only stood five feet and two inches, but the furs made her seem somewhat larger. Until recently – though she could not have quantified that at a push – she had worn ragged trousers and a shirt, but a flex of her powers had fixed that.

There had been a time when she wondered why she bothered with clothes. Being warm felt nice enough, of course, but being cold felt nice, too. She used to stretch out naked out on the ice for hours, often growing to her full height like she had on top of that mountain. But one day a helicopter flew overhead. That put a fear in her, right enough, and put an end to those little pleasures.

The humans did not see her. She would have known. She always knew when people watched her. But it had to have come close. At full height Brute stood the better part of two hundred feet tall. After she turned her flesh to freezing air and blew away to somewhere safer, she had decided then to keep dressed and small. She could not afford to be seen.

Brute crested a wave of ice and crouched. A little smile quirked her lip as she looked out over the endless plain beyond. It wasn’t as empty as it looked, nor as pure, but god it was beautiful in the sunlight. The wind caught her talk hair with a sudden bluster, and sprayed her with ice and snow. She laughed into it, and let herself go.

Her body wisped at the edges, spread, then came apart in a cloud as white as the wind, with just the faintest impression of her face shaped in its bank. Her furs fell through her. Sometimes it slipped her mind to make them come with her. She often merged with the wind, just to say ‘hi’. It was a good friend out here, a constant companion. It meant her enemies could never hide.

Brute cursed and reformed atop the pile. She grunted, and quickly searched around through the furs to make sure it was still there. With a little sigh of relief, she saw it before long.

A little sewing kit, stolen from the science base situated a few miles down the coast, wrapped in a slip of coarse cloth. She visited the scientists once every couple of weeks, staying unseen as she slipped around the periphery of the base or sought something left around to read. All she cared about was making sure they were not ranging out her way or doing something that might mess up the ice. That had happened once, and forced her to relocate, as the ice shattered and broke up in great jagged chunks like… like…

Brute shook her head. Whatever image had been in her head was twisting, warping even in the eye of her mind into something odd and grotesque, something half-seen and never-heard. Her breath caught in her throat.

She began to dress, hiding the sewing kit in the folds of her furs again. It had been a bad idea to go to the base. Brute knew it. She knew. But she needed the sewing kit. They could have had cameras. Moving around the edges was safe, she knew that, too, but going deep in?

Even as she came jogging down off her wave and broke into a sprint across the featureless snowy plain, she could feel and see the heat of living creatures, they left soft red hot spots on the snow where they had trod, showing their tracks as well. None were human. The animals skirted around her, keeping their distance. The animals of the Arctic knew about Brute, knew what it meant to seek her for meat. She was glad that they had left her alone.

The bear’s fur had come to her hard. The beast was hungry when it came, she thought, but that changed nothing. Her mood had been foul, her head full of dark remembrances. When it roared she swore at it, when it swiped her she grew, bursting her clothes, swelling until she could close it in one hand.

Then she ripped its limbs off one by one.

That had made her cry. When she shrank, seeing the ruin of the once-beautiful animal made her feel a monster, and her tears flowed and flowed. But when that passed, Brute thought she ought to do something useful with the horror she wrought. Lacking a knife, she cut its skin off with snapped shards of ice. It could be shockingly sharp if you snapped it just right.

She ran for… time, a few hours for sure. These days she followed time by the passage of the sun. Soon enough she left behind the heat of living things, returning to the desolation of her home.

Past the plain she came to a towering berg and a stretch of snow-whitened ice down by the sea. The igloo lay in a hollow at the berg’s base, a cave she shaped with her own two hands.

A high wall blocked off part of the entrance to the cave. It was an ugly thing, rough-cut ‘bricks’ of ice bonded together by the cold. Just a windbreak to make sure the snow did not get blown in the wrong way.

In the darkness beyond, she could dimly make out the igloo.

Brute had shaped it oddly, keeping the entrance small, but the main body large. That was to keep foxes and wolves out.

She bent down by the entrance, no wider than what a large rat might be able to slip through, and shoved the sewing kit through.

Then she shaped herself the other way. Her flesh rippled, and melted, and ran like water. Brute collapsed into a flowing puddle that trickled easily through the gap, into the dark interior.

Within she reformed, furs and all, and found her oil lamp. She lit it up.

The interior of the igloo was the same cold blue ice bricks, joined by the cold and snow. The ice rarely wept, not from something as insignificant as the lamp. Brute’s skin never warmed, so that caused no problem.

A woven rug covered part of the floor, but most of the igloo’s interior was taken up by the low bed and the warm covers. The bed was a simple mattress, slightly ripped up, the covers a messy, stitched-together collage formed out of the clothes she ripped that time.

In the bed, with its head upon the pillow and the covers drawn up under its fluffy armpits, was a brown-furred teddy bear.

“Hey there, Mr. Bear,” Brute said, her voice thick from disuse. These were the first words she had said in days. Even so her Texas accent was clear. “Ah hope you’ve been takin’ care o’ this place while ah’ve been gone. Sure know it needs some lovin’. Cain’t trust these hands none, Mr. Bear. ‘Specially not after what ah went an’ done to your big white brother.” She stroked his head, smiling. He always had this cute, innocent look on his face, she thought. He looked slightly stupid, a bit brainless. A bit like her. “Yeah, ah know. It’s a bit weird me wearin’ ‘im, ain’t it?” She stripped naked to the waist. “That all better? Now let me look at’cha.”

Brute picked him, careful and tender, stroking his head. Mr. Bear’s eyes were black and shiny, but the years had hurt him a little. Some patches of fur had come loose, his fur stuck together in places. He had a bedraggled look. Far worse, there was a rip down one side.

That had forced the design of the igloo. A fox had snuck into her old igloo and had at Mr. Bear just before she got back home. It died for that, though only once she made sure none of the blood would get on him.

She had felt as though he were judging her when she came back, and had cried for hours. They made up later, though, and she curled up in bed with him, rocking until she felt better.

Now she took needle and thread to the hole, stitching it closed. Her talking with him was silly, of course. She knew he couldn’t talk back. But still… he was her Mr. Bear.

Brute began to hum a little tune as she worked, alone in the igloo with her bear and the flickering light from her lamp, while outside, the wind howled across the ice and life went on the same as always, oblivious and uncaring about the Nova in its midst.

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"You're sure it was her?"

"As sure as I can be, sir. The footage wasn't great, with all the blowing snow, but she looked close enough to the composite you gave me."

Puck leaned back in his chair, tapping a pen on the desk in front of him as he watched his man, Erik Markham, fidget ever so minutely under his patron's stare. The blue-eyed nova sighed, his voice hesitant, "Ricky...."

Erik ran a hand through his short sandy hair; Puck was the only one that got away with calling him that. Then again, Puck was the only one who got away with quite a few things with him. "I know, but it can't hurt to go look, right? Maybe this time it is her. And if it's not, we'll keep looking." He leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk and catching Puck's eyes with his own. "We'll find her, Puck. It's just a matter of time."

Puck tossed the pen to desk and stood up, adjusting the tie he wore when he was in his "office attire", which mostly differed from his usually attire by the lack of studded leather adornments and the addition of a black tie with diamond-shaped ruby stud pinned a little below the knot. He stood and made his way around the desk, slipping on his long black trench coat as he reached for the door, "And a trip to the Arctic, apparently. Honestly, Ricky, I'm not sure if I'm more nervous about another dead end, or actually finding her."

"I fucking hate you," a feminine voice whined while Puck draped a fleece and fur lined coat around her shoulders, tucking a scarf around her neck before pulling up the hood. She stamped her feet, trying to break in the snow boots he'd bough her and continued to grumble under her breath.

"You don't have to come, you know," he countered.

"Like hell," she retorted hotly. "But the Arctic?"

"I didn't choose the locale, my dear, but it's the best lead we've had in months and Buscador was able to follow the quantum signature back to some sort of ice cave, though he couldn't get in. The entrance is incredibly small, apparently, but he said he could sense a nova there. Not many of them wandering around the Arctic wastes; hopefully only one that looks anything like my sister. Tiethwyr's willing to take us close by hang around until we figure out what's what or you freeze your butt off." The last was said teasingly, but there was concern in his eyes. Infinity was far more fragile than most novas and had no natural defenses against the vagaries of the elements. Puck would be fine...he was pretty sure; temperatures had never bothered him before. He was still in snow boots and a his warm trench coat, just in case.

The Welsh warper with them rolled his eyes as he zipped up his leather jacket and pulled on black leather gloves. "Are you two done arguing like a married couple? I swear, if you weren't so gaga over Norma-" Glares from both of them, one embarrassed and one protective, stopped their Nursery-mate in mid sentence. He held up his hands in defense, "Jeez. Forget I said anything. Are we ready to go yet?"

"Yeah," Infinity snapped. "We're ready to go."

A hole through space and time ripped itself into existence with a high-pitched sound that was a little too close to a scream for most people's comfort. Tiethwyr always just shrugged and said, "Well, nobody liked getting a hole ripped through them. 'Guess the universe is just the same." The scene on the other side of the wound in the universe was blinding, sunlight from the crisply clear sky reflecting off the pure white snow like a mirror. Puck took Infinity's hand in his own and stepped into the blistering cold, Teithwyr following after. The tear in reality closed behind them with a sound like a sigh of relief.

"Fuck!" Infinity's muffled exclamation pretty much summed up the biting wind and bone-deep chill that battered at the three novas.

Puck moved them off at a brisk pace, following the directions to the coordinates Buscador had given him on his OpPhone GPS app. Thankfully it still worked out here, tracking the phone and the coordinates, or Puck was sure they'd have been lost after the first few steps. Ten minutes, and much cussing from Infinity, later, the three came to the berg and the shoreline beyond. The GPS lead them to the base of the ice shelf and to an opening no larger than a cartoon mouse hole. Well, that's about what Buscador said to expect.

He pinged the area, feeling the response of Tiethwyr and Infinity's nodes, and one other somehow inside the ice. Kneeling down on the snow, his coat somehow kept clear of any snow that would have detracted from Puck's appeal, he cupped his hands and called through the miniature opening, "Um, hello? Is anyone there? My name is Puck. I'm looking for my sister. I don't know her real name, but her father called her Brute. Bit of an ass for that, I think, but it's all I have to go on. If you can here me, would you please come out in meet us? Or let us in? Or...or at least let me know that I'm talking to the wrong person, if you're not my sister?"

Then he waited, still kneeling on the snow and hoping this wouldn't be a disappointment like all the other times.

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Brute kept up her little humming tune, as she sewed shut the rent in Mr. Bear’s side. It looked ugly before, but now it was just a little battle scar. One of a few that told the tale of their years-long flight.

How long had it been?

She tried not to think about it. Her head always began to hurt, and sometimes she remembered things. That was the worst. When the memories came boiling up out of her brain like pus from a boil, memories that were not memories, and made no sense besides.

Brute stroked Mr. Bear’s silly little head, and hugged him. “There ya go, Mr. Bear. All better now. Ya take care o’ y'self now, ya here? Jus’ you an’ me, ya know? We gotta take care o’ one another. We gotta.”

For some reason, her eyes were full of tears when she said it, and she hugged him tight. Yet her clutch was not so tight as to hurt him.

She let him go before there was a risk of any tears falling on him. Brute tucked him back into bed, and pulled the covers up around him. “There ya go. Ya got ya hugs now, right? Ya can jus’ go right on back to sleep, an’ I’ll see about makin’ this ol’ home o’ ours into somethin’ a bit comfier.”

That bothered her a bit. She remembered – or thought she remembered – reading a lot about survival techniques for extreme environments. Mountains, forests, the arctic, the ocean, even on a raft after a shipwreck, she remembered words on a page. Or were they on a page? Were they floating in the air like leaves on the wind? Or had she learned out here, all on her own?

She went to the small black rucksack on the floor at the foot of the bed, and put the sewing kit in there. Mr. Bear had gone through half a world with her in that. Just a girl and her bear. The things she knew had been helpful, but she didn’t know how she knew most of them.

Brute mused, unable to stop herself from drinking of that poison which was her past. “Ah jus’ don’ know, Mr. Bear,” she murmured.

Truth told, her days were monotonous. She had learned that baselines meant death. Not all of them. Those climbers in China had been okay, she thought. But then the guys turned up with the helicopters and guns. She went all monster movie on them a second time.

Her hands twitched. She remembered that. The metal crunched like paper. She squeezed the chopper into a metal ball and tossed it away like she was shooting for a three pointer. It only occurred to her later that there were people in there. But they shot missiles at her. That counted for something, right? The first time she hadn’t crushed anything. But a man shot her with a gun, so when she grew, she picked him up and threw him with all her might. He had disappeared over the horizon. Brute was strong when she got big. There was no way that guy survived being thrown like that. It had felt like throwing a piece of lint.

“Ah’m real dangerous, Mr. Bear,” Brute said, looking over to him. He looked back, cute as always, black eyes lacking judgement. She smiled. “But ya don’t care, do ya? Jus’ so long as ya get your hugs yer all fine. Ya don’t mind that ah’m a murderer.”

She felt dirty even thinking it. Someone told her it was wrong to kill. Brute had no idea who. Father. Mother. Maybe she imagined it. Maybe she read it on the side of a bus. Or maybe she just knew she shouldn’t do that, on a level deeper than knowledge.

But what if they were wrong?

Her head hurt. She jerked herself out of reverie. The claws of memory were there, grasping, always grasping. She had to keep her head up, her mind clear.

Life wasn’t bad out here. She ranged as far as she dared. Near where the scientists made their camp, out where they were testing the ice with those machines they had to stab into it, or sometimes just deep into the water.

Brute had never once taken a breath. Not in her whole life. She used air to speak, of course, but she never breathed. She had not slept, either, not since the day she was born. Sometimes she dived into the water and let herself sink all the way to the bottom and lay there for a few days, just watching the fish do their fishie things. There were advantages to not needing to breathe.

Last time, though, a shark had bitten her. That had been annoying, and so she had stopped doing that for a while. She never beat up the sharks, though. Their teeth were scratchy but they didn’t hurt much.

She was considering what to do next when she felt the pulse. It came from outside, and it touched her inside her brain. A node. Someone else’s node.

Another Nova.

Brute stiffened up, her head turned toward the wall, but looking out into the wind. She narrowed her eyes, and dimly she could see, through the igloo walls, through the wall she had made at the cave entrance, heat.

She swallowed. Don’t, she thought, don’t be him. Don’t be mah dad.

Who else could it be, though? Who else would ever want to come looking for her? She didn’t know any other Novas. She had never even met another Nova.

Brute curled up in the corner of her igloo, her legs folded against her chest. She hugged her knees and buried her head in them, weeping uncontrollably. She could feel it now. The heat prickled on her skin, someone else’s heat, an end to her running, an end to everything.

The tears ran down her face and dripped onto her knees, where they soaked into her furs.

Then she felt another heat source. Sniffling, Brute raised her head, and looked. Two, and a dim third, all approaching.

That don’t look like mah dad, she thought.

When the words reached her, she felt flat-out confused. Sister?

Brute felt curious, now. The fear was in her, still, a coiling, monstrous thing, but she pulled on her polar bear furs nonetheless, covering up her chest again. All of a sudden she felt shabby, but did not know why.

After charging the furs with quantum, she liquefied and poured back out of the igloo. She never made herself into air to come or go. She was cold like that, cold enough that she might accidentally hurt Mr. Bear. As a water puddle she couldn’t hurt him.

Brute pushed her water puddle up and coagulated, hardened into flesh and fur, crouching on the cave floor.

“Hello?” Came another shout from outside, and a second node pulse. “Look, I know you’re in there. I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, and I don’t want to rush you, but it’s really cold out here.”

She smiled despite herself. Somehow, the complaining took the sting out of the situation.

Brute rose and made her way to the windbreak wall. Her heart was pounding. Her tear tracks had hardened into ice on her face. Her skin was too cold for tears to last.

She peered out around the side of the wall. The Novas were there, watching her from outside. They hadn’t realized they could get around the wall. Or they had and wanted to be invited in or something. She looked at them, shivering in the cold, and wondered why they had come.

The girl looked really miserable. Brute felt certain, just looking at her, that the girl didn’t like her. The boy though, the man – in truth she found it hard to tell the difference – grinned ear to ear when he saw her.

And she lost her voice. She knew they weren’t related, though.

He was beautiful. He was glorious. Perfectly formed and handsome with such deep, soulful eyes. He was slender and boyish, a bit like Brute, but taller, and just better. He stood there shivering in the snow, smiling, obviously beckoning for her to say something. What was she supposed to say?

Brute bit her lip. She reached up and snapped off the two tear tracks from her eyes and cheeks, then tossed them into the wind. His smile faded a bit when he saw that, and for a moment his gaze flicked to follow the frozen tears before going back to her face.

All three of them were watching. She could feel their eyes on her. Brute hugged close to the wind breaking wall. The wind tugged at her furs and her short dark hair, and blew snow in her face.

Her mouth opened and closed a few times wordlessly. She shook her head. How could she even talk to this vision? He wanted her to, though. When she spoke she felt stupid. She was stupid, of course, but she felt it more than usual. Her voice, thick from long periods of unused but still heavily accented by the deep American south, seemed to belong to someone vile and worthless who ought to be launched far away from here. With a trebuchet.

“A-Ah think y’all done got the wrong cave, mister. Ya don’t sound like yer from mah neck o’ the woods, an’ ah don’t got no brother. Ah don’t got no nothin’. Jus’ me an’ mah cave.”

She could barely look at him. He was too shiny. Even the way the snow fell in his hair seemed to make him look more beautiful. And here she was in ragged furs from dead animals. Her eyes tightened. He used her name though.

Brute was turning to go back inside, and leave them out in the snow to shine and be perfect and be somewhere else, with people like them. But she stopped and, shyly, peaked out. “But mah name is Brute.” She fidgeted, and hugged the windbreak wall. For a moment she lost control of her strength, and cracks ran through it. She winced. “S’not much of a name, ah guess. S’all ah got. S’all ah remember,” she added, her voice dropping to a whisper.

Why was she tearing up again?

Brute turned her head, not wanting him to see that. She didn’t want to be seen at all. Not by him, or the girl she was sure didn’t like her, or the other one who for whatever reason had made no impression.

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He watched her intently. The composite they'd managed to make from what scant description he'd pulled from his father had had several different iterations; but this girl - woman, he corrected himself - was close enough to be an option. His parents had lived in Texas, and she sounded just like the locals he'd met when he stopped for food and directions in the nearest town to his parent's home. He carefully kept his startlement hidden when she nearly brought the ice wall down around them, though he could feel Infinity start and stiffen next to him. He moved carefully towards her, her own confusion and depression making his heart hurt for her.

He hadn't liked his parents when he'd met them, but some deep ember beginning to burn in him was telling that he was probably going to hate them by the time this was over. He had no loyalty to them, and if they angered him enough, he'd see to it they spent the remainder of their nova-length lives regretting his enmity. He took his last few steps tentatively, having seen what her accidental strength could do, and placed a hand on her shoulder. He didn't force her turn around and he spoke softly, in tones meant to soothe and reassure, "Alright. Well, I didn't grow up with my parents, so I don't sound like them, but they told me that they'd called my sister Brute." She could feel a warm smile from him, even if she couldn't see it. "And if you don't like the name, you can always choose another. I chose my name."

He took a breath and glanced back at Infinity for support. The raven-haired girl tried not glare at her friend while he obviously felt out of his depth, but did motion him to get on with it. It was fucking freezing and the family reunion could be done in New York, for Mal's sake!

Puck sighed and turned back to Brute, his tone still that soothing, calm tone most parents used when their children were frightened from strangers or nightmares. "I'd like a chance to get to know you, if you'd be okay with that. I have a home in New York and some rooms I set aside for my sister if-when I found her. You could use them while we figure out if you are her. I'm good host, I promise; you'll want for nothing I can provide." There was a pleading in his perfect voice, an almost desperate desire for her agree and come back with him to wherever New York was. A memory tugged at her, trying to explain, but faded back before she could get a hold on it. "Would you do that for me, Brute? Would you give me that chance to see if you are my sister and I'm your brother?"

Puck's Presence
Puck is using Soothe to try to calm Brute down and make her less sad, as well as Endearing to get her to go along with him. He has Wits 8/3 with a 3 Rapport as well. I can make the rolls if'n ya want, or we can leave it to rp. :)
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Brute shied away from him, but only a very little. He seemed so… nice.

She pulled frozen tears from her eyes and threw them away. No more came. Still, she blinked hard, trying to make sense of all this. How could she ever have had a brother? His words, though, made her relax. The tone was unfamiliar, she had never heard someone speak like that before save on TV. Yet it resonated in her heart, and she gave a sigh that made her feel somehow lighter.

“Ah guess,” she muttered. “Cain’t hurt, ah suppose. Y’all gonna be real disappointed though, mister.” He didn’t seem at all dissuaded, and the way he pleaded… she could never refuse him. “S’not like ah get up ta much around here. But you gotta wait a moment. Um, why don’tcha y’all come inside a spell? Jus’ while ah get ready.” She nodded deeper into the cave.

They followed, all eager to get out of the snow.

Brute scratched her head. “Here it is,” she said, gesturing at her igloo and the ice cave she had carved with her own bare hands. Of course she’d been twenty foot tall when she did that, so the cave was built to a proportion quite beyond her small and slender frame. Still, for those with the eyes to see it there were hand marks in the ice that betrayed the methods she had used. There was nothing inside the cave, no sign of habitation beyond the igloo. No signs of human waste, no food scraps, nothing at all that might be expected. The ice wall took the edge out of the wind, though.

“Ah made the igloo mahself, an’ the wall right behind ya there. Jus’ as a windbreak, ta keep some o’ the snow out.” She dusted down her furs, brushing off some snow. “Ah don’t got no food, so ah hope ya brought yer own. Ah don’t need ta eat, ya see, an’ ah don’t get no visitors. Sorry, an’ all.” She shrugged awkwardly. “Ah’ll be back in a minute. Jus’ got ta go get mah friend. Ah’d bring you in wit’ me, but the entryway’s too small.”

She liquefied, puddling on the ground where she stood. Puck blinked in surprise, and raised his hand to wave at her.

Brute rolled across the ice and poured in through the tiny gap in the igloo.

Reforming inside, she looked over to Mr. Bear. Her only friend, up until these strangers came, with the pretty one who said he was her brother. Part of her wanted to run. She knew she could. Just grab Mr. Bear and hug him and flee out into the snow, then jump into the water and merge with it. She could move fast that way, real fast. All she’d need to do was pop up on the other side of the glacier and they’d never find her again.

But Mr. Bear was looking ragged and, as Brute pulled him into her cold embrace, she thought he looked tired. “We been runnin’ too long, huh? That’s what you want ta tell me, ain’t it? Ya want ta go get outta the cold. Well alright then. Let’s see what happens. But you hold on ta me, Mr. Bear. Don’t you never get lost, okay? It’s been you an’ me forever. That ain’t never gonna change. Not ever.” She hugged him tenderly, and nuzzled against his furry cheek. She moved his arms so it seemed he hugged her back.

Her smile widened.

Brute fetched her backpack, and unzipped the top. She snuffed out the oil lamp and put it in the bottom of the backpack with her stolen sewing kit, then stuck Mr. Bear partly in, so his arms and head stuck out. She would put him in properly when they went out into the snow.

Charging clothes and backpack and bear with quantum, this time Brute dissolved into frigid air. She poured out, a very breath of winter, and coalesced just beside the Igloo. She smiled.

“Ah guess ah’m just about ready now. This here’s Mr. Bear,” she said. Brute gave an impossible shrug of her shoulders, impossible not because of the motion but because it somehow led to her backpack flying off her arms, flipping over in front of her and making a half twist before she caught it, with Mr. Bear facing the trio. She grinned. “He’s mah friend. We been together long as ah remember. Ah made all this for his benefit, really. He don’t like how cold it is out there, an’ so ah made that wall ta keep some o’ the snow out, ‘cause if ah didn’t some of it kept blowin’ up into the igloo.” She nodded at it with her head, as if somehow they might fail to notice its presence. “He don’t like gettin’ snow in his fur, no surree, he gets real ornery that way. An’ ah had ta make the entrance real small ‘cause otherwise foxes turned up. One of ‘em bit him one tahme, an’…”

She paused. The wellspring of panic that rose up in her stopped her from speaking. But after a moment she made herself smile, and made Mr. Bear wave at the three Novas. The one who called himself her brother waved back, and grinned at her.

“Well, Mr. Bear, we’re all goin’ out now. Gonna have to put you in the backpack. You sleep real well now. Ah’ll wake you up later for hugs an’ thangs.” She stuffed him in, zipped the pack shut, and slid it onto her back again. “Say,” she said, blinking, “how’d y’all get here, anyways?”

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Oh my Mal, his sister is a fuckin’ retard. Infinity’s thoughts were rude but had she spoken them, the tone would have been clearly sympathetic. And in addition to the empathy for the apparently simple-minded girl, there was a bit of anger. Puck’s description of his parents had made Infi very ready to believe they were the kind of assholes capable of pushing a nova into this state. Novas were usually… brighter than this girl. Infinity hadn’t met many novas who could be called impaired.

And this girl might not be his sister, Infinity reminded herself. But she was a sister of Infi’s, in the way that all novas were. So Infinity’s smile was genuine as she gave the teddy bear a smile and a wave. “Hey, Mr. Bear. Nice to meet you.” Pleasantries aside, the red-eyed girl turned that real expression on Brute and said, “We’re about to show you how we got out here.” She looked at Tiethwyr and acerbically asked, “That is, if someone can please get us the fuck outta here?”

“Ah-right,” the Welsh nova sighed. He turned and made a portal, opening a rift through space that deposited them back in Puck’s rooms. Infinity didn’t wait a second before hustling through, shuddering as her body reacted to the sudden change in temperature. “Fuckin’ Arctic,” she snarled, even as she turned and waved at the three novas on the other side, to show Brute that it was fine.

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The room they stepped into was warm; not just in temperature, but the decor was all warm wood accents, plush ruby carpeting and upholstered love-seats and couches. Paintings, elegant portraits and landscapes dotted the paneled walls and sculptures dotted the room on tables made of either finely carved single pieces of wood or modern iron twists with glass surfaces. It was a conversational room - much better than the traditional 'waiting' room, as Puck would rather have his guests entertained than wasting time in boredom. They were at the headquarters and currently only location of Exalt!, Puck's organization and so far life-long ambition. He'd bought one of the older hotels in one of the nicer districts of New York City.

Teithwyr waited just long enough for everyone to step through and gave Infinity and Puck both nods. "See you guys around. I gotta head to home to pick up some others for a party." He glanced at Brute and mouthed 'good luck' to Puck just before stepping through another quickly opened and shut warp. It didn't do to give strangers even a moment's peek at parts of the Nursery.

Puck gently cajoled Brute down onto one of the couches, ignoring her protests about getting it dirty. "It can be cleaned or replaced, dear. It's just furniture. It's meant to be sat on, so it's okay."

She finally sat down, her furs melting ice into the expensive fabric without any care for the damage it might cause. Ice was like that.

"Now, we can get you settled in here if you'd like, and then I can have Dr. Loshe take a DNA swab, just a piece of hair or something harmless like that, to run the tests to see if we're related." He knelt down in front of her, his eyes earnest, "Even if we're not you - and Mr. Bear - are both welcome to stay here as long as you like. You don't have to go back to the Arctic unless you want to."

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Brute stared dumbly at the warp. She appreciated when the angry-looking girl waved to Mr. Bear. And her smile was nicer than she expected. Ah didn’t expect a smile at all.

That made things easier.

Things became a bit of a whirl after she stepped through. The heat felt almost oppressive once on the other side. It had been so long since she had been anywhere warm that the sensation felt unfamiliar. Even worse, it dulled her ability to sense their body heat. Not too much, but a little, and that made her panic.

Puck was there before she could even get started, though. Even as Brute hugged herself and begged off, seeking somewhere to hide without knowing what she was hiding from, he was there next to her, fussing, telling her about the hotel and guiding her to a couch.

“But ah’ll get it all wet,” she was saying, but he said it didn’t matter and sat her down. Ice never melted on Brute’s skin. She was always cold enough that it wouldn’t. But the warm hotel interior meant that the disenfranchised polar ice was soon fleeing her furs in the hope of beginning the slow process of changes of state that would eventually get them up into the atmosphere and back down to the sea as rain, and maybe even back home to the arctic.

It was easier to imagine water as having a personality when she could become it herself. She knew it didn’t, not really, just like Mr. Bear, but it was easier to think about it that way.

Puck kept talking, saying nice things, inviting her to stay.

When he finished, eyes wide and open and happy, Brute smiled. She took off her backpack and let it lie on the sofa beside her. She didn’t know quite why she curled her legs up and hugged her knees, to peer down at Puck over them. It felt safer, somehow. But what did she need to be safe from?

Even the angry girl seemed to be smiling at her. She could be pretendin’, ah guess. But that’s not very charitable. An’ he’s bein’ real nice ta me.

“Ah don’t got nowhere else to go, mister. S’just,” she clenched her jaw, and hugged her legs tighter, so tightly it was like she wanted to squeeze herself into the tiniest ball imaginable, “ah’m not so sure y’all should keep me around. Ah done bad things. This fur ah’m wearin’. Ah ripped it off animals. A… A polar bear made me angry one tahme. Ah pulled all its limbs off. Even Mr. Bear was angry at me fer that.” She wiped a tear from her eyes. “An’ when those men came after me – ah don’t know why they came ah swear ah don’t – but when they came ah hurt ‘em. Ah killed ‘em. Cain’t even say ah didn’t mean to, neither.”

Brute looked up at Puck, moved her glance to the girl, and back again. How could they not be judging her? And here she was, ruining his couch as well. “Ah’m real bad. Always have been. Real bad, mister,” she said, unable to face either of them anymore. She rested her forehead on her knees.

In her head, a shout of pain and anger echoed back and forth. It reverberated, back and forth, forth and back, distorted until it sounded almost like laughter. “Ya fuckin’ brute!” Brute convulsed and gasped. She started gulping up air even though she didn’t need it, running it through her lungs and back out in wintry clouds. The words were like a fist punching her in the brain. “Ya broke mah gawdamn arm! Broke mah house, broke mah arm, come ‘ere ya little shit!” Then all she remembered was pain, and the sound of a girl screaming.

Brute straightened back up, arms clutched at her chest, mouth open, eyes momentarily vacant. Then it passed, and she gave a deep, shuddering sigh. It passed. She stopped breathing again. “Sorry ‘bout that, mister,” she said, feeling ashamed and dirty and terrible.

Minor Flashbacks failure, triggered by Puck and talking about what she did to the Proteus Ops and the poor, poor polar bear

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Puck glanced at Infinity as the girl recited the litany of her crimes. He didn't care at all about the polar bear - it was just an animal and animals die in the wild all the time. He had several cows' worth of outfits in his own wardrobe, though they were more finely tailored than the rather smelly pelt wrapped around the crying girl. The men, that could be an issue and was certainly something to be looked into - later. Right now, he had a crying and cowering woman on his couch that showed every earmark sign of abuse. He reached out slowly and put her arms around her, giving her the space to pull back if she wasn't ready for that sort of contact, but she needed some sort of comfort. Hell, he needed some sort of comfort after seeing and hearing all this, and making others feel safe and cared for was one of the best comforts he knew.

"It's okay. We'll get things sorted out." He looked her in the eyes and wipe the ice-tears off her cheek gently. "Sometimes, people do things they regret and they can't change that, but that doesn't mean that they're a bad person. You're sad for what you've done - that means that you aren't a bad person. We'll help you learn how to control what you can do and we'll keep you safe so you don't have to hurt anyone else, okay?"

God, this is going to be hard. I'm gonna have to pull Dr. Sellas off her normal rounds, the ones she can push off for at least a few days, just to find out what's been done to this girl and if can be undone. Even if she's not my sister, she needs help. And if I find out someone did this to her, and who they are, they'll spend the rest of their life in a great deal of anguish. Puck had a number of faults, many of which had been pointed out to him by quite a few prudish or jealous 'siblings' in the Nursery, but his empathy wasn't one of them. It'd get him into trouble, it already had a few times, and the fact that he applied it equally to novas and baselines earned him not a little enmity from the more extreme factions in the Teragen. But, he reminded himself, hearing Mal's voice echo in his mind, Teras is about making your own choices. Finding your own path. Becoming the only god guiding your existence. And right now, that means making sure this girl knows that she's a person, and one worthy of being loved.

He stood and offered her hand up, still smiling softly, "Why don't we get you into some dryer...why don't we get you into a shower, and then some dryer clothes? That fur is probably a little warm here." He glanced over at the raggedy and inexpertly repaired teddy and added, "We can get Mr. Bear cleaned up as well. Do you think he'd like that?"

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Brute did not pull back from him. She was amazed that he didn’t pull back from her, when he saw how cold her skin was. But he didn’t. He held her, tenderly.

It wasn’t like when Mr. Bear did it. It was different. His hugs felt good, but not quite real. She had to move his arms to hug her. And that was good, it was. But it wasn’t the same.

She smiled when he tried to placate her. The effort was nice. He was wrong, though. She was a bad person. Pain followed her through life, she brought nothing else. Why else did so many of her memories involve screaming?

But the lie felt nice, and he meant it, and he thought she was his sister. And now he was offering her a shower. A not-quite so innocent part of her wondered if he planned to share it with her. She felt a little silly for thinking that, and very stupid. He thought she was his sister. He would have to be a major creep to want to get into the shower with her, too.

Suggesting a shower did not move her, though it sounded sort of nice. When he mentioned Mr. Bear, though, Brute looked up.

“Yeah, mister. Ah know he would. Really, ah think he done got a bit tired wit’ all mah runnin’ about. Ah’m pretty sure he liked mah little trick up on the mountain, though. That was awesome,” Brute grinned, remembering. It had been beautiful, scaling the mountain, watching it shrink as she grew and grew upon its slopes, and then straightening up on the peak and looking out along the cloud line. She felt almost as if she could reach up and touch it… but she had been too short.

Then the men had come, and all the beauty went away, never to come back. She just ran after that, because she knew the men would keep coming, coming and coming until they were all dead or she was. She didn’t like the sound of either of those options.

Brute rose. “An’ ah appreciate what ya said, but t’ain’t like that. ‘Bout mah powers, ah mean. Ah got fahne control. Like ah said, t’ain’t like ah can say ah didn’t mean ta hurt ‘em. They were shootin’ at me. Second time they came wit’ rocket lawnchers. That weren’t very nahce, no sirree. Even ah know that much. It would’na been very nahce if you fired rockets into that cave wit’ me now would it? Ah figure that has to apply when you’re doin’ it from a helicopter too.”

She thought… no. No thinking. Thinking hurt. Thinking about Everest didn’t, though. None of that trip hurt. “Ah’ll take ya up on that shower, mister,” Brute said. “Thanks.”

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Puck nodded and glanced to Infinity, "Infi, would you take Brute to the shower and help her out if she needs anything, please?"

The red eyed nova gave him an arch look, "You want me to take a shower with your sister?"

"Hardly," he replied with a reproving look at his friend. "I meant, show her where the closest shower is and make sure everything goes okay." He'd felt the cold rippling off the fur-clad girl, "She's very cold, and I don't know if that's the Arctic or just that her skin is cold. Heat may be painful for her, and colder water might freeze to her skin." His words were directed at Infinity, but he smiled at Brute to make it clear that he wasn't trying to be rude by speaking about her in front of her, he was just explaining things to Infinity.

Infinity shrugged; it wouldn't have been the first time Puck had sent her off to play in the showers with a girl. How was she supposed to know? She wasn't a damn telepath. She grumbled at little under her breath, but managed a mostly friendly tone to Brute. "Alright. This way, there's a bathroom with a shower and big tub if you want instead just down the hallway."

Brute stood up and automatically went to pick up the duffle with Mr. Bear in it to bring him along. Puck placed a delicate, pale hand on the bag. "Why don't you let me get Mr. Bear cleaned up while you take your shower? He'll need a little bit more attention than just some soap and water, I think." His smile was sincere and as charming as he could be, gently pulling the bag from her hand. "He'll be all ready for you when you get back, okay?"

The confused and abused girl stood there for several minutes, missing Infinity's rolled eyes as she became impatient to be off to the showers and done with the rank smell of wet fur and unwashed nova. Finally, the girl spoke hesitantly, but let the bag slip from her hand. "Ah..ahlrhight, mister. But ya take real good care o' him, okay? He'll tell meh if ya don't an' he's ahll Ah got left."

Puck nodded and put the bag back down on the couch while Infinity fairly dragged the other woman out of the room and to the showers. He pulled out the musty and raggedy teddy bear, sighing at the sight of one chipped glass eye hanging down the side of the bear's cheek and the wide, crudely stitched rip down one side. Even patches of the fur were missing in several small spots. Most people would have just thrown the thing out and got a new teddy bear, it wasn't like there weren't a million copies floating around in the world for $5 a pop, but she would know. Anyone that attatched to a stuffed animal would always know which one was hers, and he'd never do that to her, sister or not. Like she said, he was all she had. For now.

He stepped over to the desk and called down to the front desk. "Amelia? Yeah, I need you bring up a set of clothes to the penthouse. Knock on the door to the bathroom just off the conversation room and give them to Infinity."

"Yes, s-. Puck. I'll have them sent up right away." He didn't let them call him sir, Mr., or whatever other odd titles some of the new additions tried to insist on. One guy, who'd been part of some occult group, had actually tried to call him 'master'. Puck managed not get angry and not to laugh in his face; instead he'd calmly told the man that the only titles he'd answer to were ones like 'mentor', 'teacher', even 'sensei' if they wanted to sound pretentious or Japanese. Even those he asked to be used sparingly, as he was a still a student of most things himself. They all had names, why not use them?

"Thank you, Amelia." He gave quick measurements, having a good and practiced eye for people's...outlines, then hung up. One of the first investments he'd made with Exalt! was purchasing bulk clothing, knowing that they'd be bringing in a good number of people with little or no possessions of their own. They were simply clothes: single colored unisex shirts, jeans and slacks, sturdy tennis shoes and work boots, jackets for the spring and fall, and snow boots, gloves, scarves, and heavy jackets for the winter. As much one-size-fits many clothes were bought, and then fewer crates of smaller and larger sizes were added just in case. It had cost...quite a bit, but then that's what he'd gone to Orziaz for: enough money to start and keep going for at least a five years.

He gently picked up the stuffed animal and threaded his way through the halls of the penthouse that he lived in until he came to his large private studio. He placed Mr. Bear on a table, pulling a magnifying light over the bear as a doctor might over an infant patient, and studied it again for several minutes, running his fingers over the fabric with inhuman delicacy. It was an old-style bear with glass eyes and almost carpet-like shaggy fur, which would actually make things easier. First, he fetched some fabric cleaner and a soft brush, cleaning and unmatting the filthy "fur" with a gentle gently strokes. He fetched a sewing kit and a bag of pillow fluff from well stocked shelves, starting with the easiest and most obvious repair. He carefully pulled out the rough stitches, plumped the long-hugged bear back into shelf-ready roundness, then cut the rough edges of the fox's bite marks and gently tugged the material together, sewing the new seam shut with minuscule stitches that faded into the fur on either side. Next was the eye. He snipped both of them out and moved to a station set up for metal and glass crafting; his movement quick but precise as the timer ran down on how long the shower would take. He sanded down the injured eye past the chip and rounded it back out again to a visibly perfect globe safe for the cut part to run thread through for attaching it to the bear's face; he then did the same to the other eye, only simply sanding it down to be the same size as the recovered eye and then polishing them back to a reflective gleam. Both eyes were then securely sewn back on to the bears face. The final challenge were the small patches of bare fabric where soft fur should have been. He sighed, thinking as quickly as he could for how to fix that; short of replacing the entire outside of the bear, which would effective have made a new bear, he was going to have to come up with some truly creative.

Well, that's why I study with the Mirror Queen, no?

He prowled the cabinets and drawers of the studio until he found what he needed: twists of brown fibers of the same hue and (at least from looks) material as Mr. Bear's original fur. He pulled out the skein of the fiber and went back to the workbench and the needles in his sewing kit. He found the smallest needle with a large enough eye to thread the fiber, but a good length for the first patch, and set to work. His hands delicately and swiftly began attaching the fiber to the bear; he would cover a patch with in and out loops, like relatively tall waves, spaced only a two or three thread apart on the under-fabric of the bear. When a bald spot was covered, he would tie loop the threaded fiber back to where the sewing had started and pull it out until he had enough lead to match it to lead he'd left at the start. Then he would tie those two ends together in a tight, tiny knot that looped around both threads and kept them parallel to each other. The next step was to cut the first "wave" into two more standing threads and repeat the knot, and so on, until all the threads had been cut, knotted, and trimmed to blend in with the rest of the fur. Each patch took more time then he liked, but he also become just a little faster with each one, so he felt some gratification in his progress.

And then he was done. The bear was repaired and looked almost as good as new, but it was still her bear. Even with the cleaning, there would be a feeling and a subtle scent that only she would know that would let her know that it was Mr. Bear and not just some other random, new teddy bear. Satisfied, he left his tools where they were despite his usual almost obsessive need to clean his artistic spaces, and made his way back to the conversation room. He hoped to be there before she and Infinity had returned, or at least quickly enough after that Brute hadn't panicked at the disappearance of her host and her bear.

Puck as Artist
Puck is using Kid Gloves (don't want to accidentally break/tear the bear), Hands of the Maker, Ingenuity, and Artistic Genius while trying to fix the bear as quickly as possible.

He also has a 15 die pool with three megas, just for reference of his general capabilities.

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Infinity was all smiles as she led Puck’s maybe sister down the hall to the bathroom. “Alright, so you were probably in the Arctic a while. You remember how these things work? No? No worries, babe, we’ve got your back.” The red-eyed girl smiled at Brute as she added, “But first we gotta see your back. Let’s get those clothes off.”

Brute started to strip, only to pause. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked. “People are supposed to wear clothing.”

Infinity’s mouth twitched up in a smile. “As a note, I generally like to see pretty girls naked.”

Brute looked truly confused. “I’m pretty?” she asked.

Infinity smirked, then leaned in and kissed Brute lightly on the lips – an incredibly chaste kiss from her yet a sweet expression. “Babe, you’re adorable. And I suspect I’ll be upgrading that to ‘stunning’ or even ‘delicious’ when you get that rotting fur off and show off what you have.” Straightening, the young nova clapped her hands sharply. “Hop to it! Chop, chop!”

Turning, she let the girl have a bit of privacy to strip as she turned on the water and adjusted the temperature, holding her hand in the stream to make sure it warmed up properly. Hmm, wonder if Puck’s gonna be pissed, amused or just bemused by that kiss, Infinity wondered. Like many of her actions, it had been largely impulsive. Meh, whatever. It’s not like he’s going to put the moves on her.

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Brute sloughed the furs to the floor of the shower, and stood looking down on them, naked and bewildered. Not for long, though, as she was still standing and thinking when Infinity bundled her into the shower and turned it on.

For a few moments she just stood there in the flow, letting it rain down on her, feeling lost and confused again. “Ah don’t remember,” she muttered, placing a hand on the wall and bowing her head, “ah don’t remember ever takin’ a shower.”

She sat down, growing more and more confused by the moment.

“Hey? Are you okay?” Infinity was there again, looking down on her with those pretty red eyes.

Brute stood up, hugging her breasts. “Ah don’t know what to do.” She put a hand to her head, and blinked several times, unable to face Infinity. “Ah don’t think ah’ve ever had a shower before, miss.” She gently banged her head against the wall. “Ah’m so stupid, miss. Ah cain’t remember nothin’.”

When she looked over, expecting disgust or mockery, or a man’s voice laughing in the back of her mind, she saw Infinity standing there, expression unreadable, but her eyes full of sympathy. It broke into a smile, and she made a dismissive motion with her hand. “Don’t worry, showers are easy. I’ve had so many I got bored ages ago. Look, I’ll show you.”

Infinity made it funny. She used exaggerated motions, shared a silly anecdote. Brute giggled and scrubbed herself down, and let Infinity scrub her back. At one point, though, Brute put her head back and rippled at the edges, then turned to water and stood there, keeping her form coherent, letting the shower water pour right through her.

That felt good. She basked in it for a full minute, and then solidified.

“That looked fun,” Infinity said.

Brute smiled as she stepped out of the shower, dripping. “S’nothin’ special. Ah just do it sometahmes when it rains. Don’t never rain over in the arctic, though. Ah sorta missed doin’ that.”

Infinity helped her towel off… at least until she realized the water had frozen on Brute’s skin, sheening her with ice. Brute shrugged her shoulders, breaking it all off and shaking the pieces onto the floor. “Sorry,” she said, feeling sheepish. “Mah skin’s cold. Always has been.”

She stood naked in the shower room, still feeling dazed and lost. But she felt a little less about to cry. Infinity was nice. Brute looked at her with a shy smile. “Thank ya kahndly. When ah saw ya in the snow, ah thought ya hated me. But y’all are been real nahce to me. Ya must be getting’ sick o’ hearin’ me not remember things. Ah’m sorry. Guess that’s why ah ended up where ah did. Too damn dumb for anywhere else. Ah mean,” she gestured at the shower, “who don’t know how to take a shower? Muggins here an’ ah don’t think nobody else.”

Brute shook her head. “So what happens now?”

She stood before Infinity naked and shameless, everything on display, hands on her hips.

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Now we make like the beast with two backs, Infinity thought, though not without a bit of regret. That regret had a lot to do with the fact that Brute was in no place to start a sexual relationship. Infinity was a sex-fiend; it was one place where she'd been accepted by her fellow Terats. Her willingness to enthusiastically meet them on a field where she was still outgunned seemed to endear them to her - or perhaps it was the easy sex. Whatever the reason, Infi had always had willing partners, and her long field history with sex and all its joys and pitfalls had taught her to take care. A former abuse victim would be easy pickings, but until Infi was sure that Brute both understood the possible complications - as much as the sexually inexperienced could - and wanted sex, Brute was hands-off.

"Now you get dressed," Infinity said, thought not with a bit of regret. "Though not in those clothes," she amended when Brute reached for her cast-off, disgusting mess. "Hang on." The red-eyed Terat picked up the bundle that Amber - or whatever her name was, all baselines looked alike to her anyway - had left and helped Brute pick out a few of the nicer things to wear. Together, the two girls got them on; when Infi straightened from her task, Brute looked like any other girl in the world. "There, all better," Infi said, grinning. "Shall we go see what Puck's up to?"

"An' Mr. Bear?" Brute asked plaintively.

"Yes, of course," Infinity said, reminding herself that she needed to treat Mr. Bear like a person. "Come on, let's go find both of them." Putting a hand on Brute's shoulder, she gently led the girl out of the bathroom.

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They went to an actual dressing room after the bathroom, to have a more concerted effort at picking out clothes. Clothes had never been a great speciality of Brutes. Even in civilization she had dressed in whatever came to hand. In China she dressed like the locals, but did not really understand how things went together.

Still, when Infinity picked clothes out, Brute responded on instinct. ‘Naw, don’t like that’, and ‘Eh, maybe, what abaht that one?’ and so on. It wasn’t until she saw the scarf that it all began to come together. Purple silk, not too long, but soft in her hands and it looked great around her neck.

They found a sleeveless purple V-neck shirt to go with it, plunging deep at the chest and buttoned down from there. Then it was black all the way. Black bra, black trousers, sharply heeled black shoes that caused her calves to tense up pleasantly, and at that she felt... pretty.

It wasn’t something she could easily have explained. Brute had nothing to go off, save the mirror and past glimpses into pools of water. But she felt pretty. She put it down to the clothes. Dimly she recalled a phrase: ‘The clothes make the man’.

She figured that probably went for women, too, and almost asked Infinity about it, but she felt that might be a dumb step too far. She didn’t want to make those red eyes fill with contempt, like the dark ones she sometimes remembered. Even as the images swirled up out of the cesspit of her mind, Brute looked around for something to distract herself.

When she saw the hat, Brute smiled. She grabbed it without thinking and stuck it on her head. It had a thin brim, a little dome. It was cute, she felt. Infinity seemed to agree.

Brute had never worn heels before. Yet she walked on them effortlessly, not even thinking that they might be hard to walk on. She had to wonder what was happening with Mr. Bear, though. He had not been in some else’s hands for a long time. It made her feel uncomfortable, but she hid it. They were being nice to her. They meant it.

“So what is this place?” Brute asked as they walked along. “It looks real nahce.”

Infinity gave her a brief blurb about the building on their way up to the study where Puck was waiting. And when she got there, he offered Mr. Bear, grinning.

“See?” He said. “Five minutes here and he’s looking healthier than ever. Right?”

Brute teared up instantly. She took the teddy tenderly, and hugged him to her chest. “Thanks, mister,” she said. “From both o’ us.”

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Puck's heart nearly broke to see her so worked up just over basic kindness. He held out a hand to her, "Why don't we go see Dr. Loshe for that test, and then I'd like you talk to another friend of mine, Dr. Sellas, Laura, while we get rooms set up for you, okay?"

The girl-woman nodded, still hugging Mr. Bear to her chest, and the three of them took the elevator down to the Health & Wellness level. They hadn't remodeled floors of the building yet, so the it looked just like any of the other floors with guest rooms, but there was a plaque hanging on one of the doors just around the corner from the elevator landing area marked "Welcome Room". Puck strode in, immediately gaining the attention of everyone in the room, but insisted on waiting his turn behind the two other Exalt! members that were there for whatever reason. When Dr. Loshe got to them, she smiled at Brute and asked in a mix of British and Indian accented English, "May I take a small snip of your hair? It just takes a few centimeters, so it won't be noticeable."

Brute thought for a moment, glanced at Puck who smiled encouragingly at her, and then reluctantly nodded. The snip was made and the hair carefully placed in a small plastic zip bag. She smiled at the shy young woman, then up to Puck, "I'll have the results in a few hours. Just call to the lab in...four hours, I'll be running a few other tests as well."

A tension eased out of Puck and he nodded, "Thanks, Sara."

Puck took Brute by the hand again and lead her down the hallway from the Welcome Room to another plaquered room with "Dr. Laura Sellas, MD." engraved on it. A knock was answered with by a pleasant female voice, "Please come in."

The room was decorated to be warm and inviting, with bold colors, stained glass lamps, and several overstuffed chairs along with a plush couch. Puck shooed Brute over to the couch and sat next to her, with Infinity taking a the chair Dr. Sellas wasn't in. "Laura, this is Brute. She might be me my sister, and I hope she's becoming my friend." The last was said with a careful smiled to Brute before Puck returned his attention to the psychiatris, the tones is his voice conveying much more than the innocent words. "There are some duties that Infinity and I need to attend to for the next several hours, including getting rooms ready for Brute, and I was hoping you and Brute could talk for a while and get to know one another. I think she could use another friend here, and that you might be able to help her acclimate to...to the building and to being around so many new people. She was living in the Arctic for a while, alone."

He looked to Brute, squeezing her hand in support, "Would that be okay with you, Brute? You'd have Mr. Bear to keep you company as well."

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Don’t matter how much hair you take, mister. Ah really don’t think we’re related. You can shave mah head bald an’ it won’t say much o’ interest. She almost said the words, but didn’t. She almost shied away, but didn’t.

He was so certain. And that terrified her. Not because she feared having family, as silly as the idea sounded, but because it meant she had not noticed. He looked full grown. Maybe he was slightly younger than her, but if so not by much. Yet Brute had no memory of him. None.

She responded to his smiles and quiet words by keeping Mr. Bear close to her chest, numbly letting them take her hair. The scissors sounded like the sweep of a scythe in her ear. How could ah not have noticed that ah had a brother?

The instinct was to search her memories, but Brute knew the disaster that emerged from thinking. She had seized up with him once already. Sure he was being nice now, but how long would that last when he saw what she was really like?

Come ‘ere ya little shit! She twitched at the sound of that voice in her head. No more than that, though. Brute lived with those words every day of her life. She could not forget them. Nor the sound of the little girl screaming, the little girl she knew to be herself.

When Puck said he was about to leave, Brute felt a wellspring of panic surging up in her, but that… himness calmed her right back down. She only nodded, meekly, and sat on the couch until he and Infinity had gone.

Laura Sellas had a friendly smile and wore a woollen sweater and simple black trousers with practical shoes. Not as friendly as Puck’s, but friendly. Her eyes were blue, and studied her from behind a set of neat round glasses. “Hello, Brute,” she said, her voice warm, but somehow clinical. Calculated, maybe? She took out a clipboard and pen. “Do you mind if I write a little while we talk?”

Brute shrugged. “Naw, s’fahne.” She looked out of the window, at the cityscape outside. “Ya got a nahce view. Are you a doctor?”

“I am, yes. A doctor of psychology, to be precise, with a specialization in Nova matters.”

“That sounds awfully imprecahse if ya don’t mind me sayin’.”

Laura chuckled. “Well, some might say you could say the same of Novas themselves. I don’t believe a single case I studied was very similar to any others. You’re all very unique individuals.”

Brute turned back to her, leaning back in the couch and getting comfortable, with Mr. Bear sitting on her chest, his little fluffy arms positioned as if to hug her neck. The room was spacious, clean, with some nice plants positioned for Brute to be looking at on the couch. “Ah’m not. Not really.”

“I find that hard to believe. Puck said you’ve been living in the Arctic. I can’t think of many Novas who’ve done that. Why did you choose to live there?”

“It wasn’t much of a choice. Cold don’t bother me none, but it bothers people plenty. So ah figured ah’d hahdeout there. Ain’t nobody gonna fahnd me, or so ah thought. Guess ah was wrong.”

Laura’s pen scratched. “You were hiding? What from?”

“People.” Dad. “Jus’ people, mostly.” Daddy. “Ya know how it is.” Ah was hahdin’ from mah daddy, an’ ah was afraid he’d come for me.

“You’ve been attacked before?”

“Couple o’ tahmes.”

The pen scratched. “Was it lonely in the Arctic? I trust you lived alone.”

“Naw,” Brute said, lifting Mr. Bear up so he sat on her chest. “Ah had Mr. Bear.” She turned him around and made him dance around on her chest and bob his head around. “Ah think he’s real happy to be away from there, mahnd you. Not sure he can handle it as well as me. He was getting’ a bit ragged towards the end.”

Laura nodded, and pushed her glasses up on her nose. “He looks very healthy now. Is he your friend?”

Brute made Mr. Bear jump up and down on her chest. “’Course he is! Ya think he’d be dancin’ up an’ down on someone he hated?” She hugged him again and closed her eyes, pressing her cheek against his. She heard the pen scratch. “What’cha wrahtin’?” Brute opened her eyes again and watched the doctor.

“Nothing much, Brute,” Laura said. “Just making some notes. You don’t mind?”

“Naw, jus’ wonderin’.”

“Does Mr. Bear talk to you?”

Brute giggled. “Naw, doc.” She took him by the arms and made him sit on her chest again. He looked a little sad now, as if the admission made him less. In some ways she supposed it did. “Ah’m not crazy. Ah know he’s jus’ a bear, but he’s mah only friend. An’ ah take care o’ him, an’ he takes care o’ me.” Her voice faded off into silence, growing quieter with every word.

“I see.” Scratch, scratch, scratch. “So, did you ever yearn for company other than Mr. Bear?”

“Naw,” Brute said, certain on this score. “Don’t get me wrong, ah don’t mahnd people, but ah never felt desperate to see ‘em again. People are okay, an’ not people’s okay. Ah’ll be fahne, either way.”

“Speaking of people, I feel I have to mention your lovely accent. Are you from Texas?”


“You’re not sure?” She sounded concerned now.

Brute shifted uncomfortably. “Ah… ah cain’t remember. Well… ah do an’ ah don’t. S’not easy, doc.”

“What do you mean?” Laura put her clipboard and pen aside and leaned forward. “Do you have some sort of problem with your memory?”

She laughed. “Oh, ya could say that, doc.” Come ‘ere ya little shit! She closed her eyes, and breathed a little harder.

“Brute, are you alright? We can stop if-“

“Naw, s’fahne,” she said, dejected. “Ah’m broke, miss. Jus’ as simple as that. Look, ah grew up in a forest. Ah can remember trees an’ trees an’ trees as far as the eye can see,” she said, her voice becoming distant, and her mind more so, as she remembered blazing red skies and black trees twisted into hands that clawed at her face. “Some of ‘em weren’t very nahce trees, mahnd, but they were trees, an’ it was a forest, an’ ya know… stuff. Thing is, when ah ran away – that was a couple o’ years back now – there weren’t no trees, miss. Weren’t no forest.”

Laura turned in her chair and pressed a key on her keyboard. “May I quickly access the OpNet, Brute?”

“Sure thang.”

“Please, do keep talking. I’m just going to see if I can work out where you grew up. You say there was a forest? Do you know of any towns near where it was, or even cities?”

Brute frowned. “Yeah, ah think. First town ah came to after leavin’ was called Hope, ah think. Nahce little place. Ah watched a movie there, cain't remember which one though. There were some trees, ah misspoke. Weren’t no forest, though, nothin’ like ah remember. Jus’ a little wood. Ah remember runnin’ for hours an’ hours an’ hours, jus’ goin’ in one direction an’ never comin’ to the end. But if there weren’t no trees, how does that make any sense? Don’t make none to me, doc.”

Laura’s fingers danced on the keys, and each one glowed softly when she touched it, just for a moment. She seemed to have paled a little. “How did you… get to Hope?”

“Ah caught a lift. Heard a truck on the road, an’ went runnin’ out an’ jumped on it.” Naw, that’s not it. She thought harder, frowning with the effort. It was like driving her hand through rotten ice. The memory clarified. “Naw, ah ran out in front of the truck an’ ah made him stop. Well. Sorta. He kinda hit me. But ah got back up an’ he didn’t run me over a second tahme. Then ah…” she trailed off. That’s not right, either.

“I… see.” Laura took up her clipboard and wrote furiously.

“What did you fahnd out?”

“Oh,” she looked up, eyes a little furtive, “not much. The forest was cut down about six years ago, cleared for human habitation. That’s probably why your memories don’t match up.” She gave a thin little smile.

Brute nodded and leaned back on the couch. She had missed something here, she thought, but could not put a finger on what.

“So,” Laura said, “where did you go next?”

Brute relaxed, and talked.

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Puck spent most of the next four hours pacing through the building, attempting to be business but mostly just looking like an expectant father that had been exiled from the delivery room. He had the rooms he'd set aside in his penthouse for when he found his sister aired out, fresh linens and flowers placed where they went, even a small buffet of foods and drinks sent up catering-style from the renamed Gateway restaurant on the first floor. Living like she had in the Arctic might mean that she didn't need to eat, but it wasn't a guarantee, and the nervous host/possible brother wasn't taking any chances.

Of course, all of this would have taken a much shorter amount of time is Puck could keep his mind on a single task - or where has walking - at a time. Instead, he and Infinity had turned around, walked down the wrong halls, gotten off on the wrong floors.... When Puck nearly ran himself into the corner of a hallway from distraction, Infinity finally stopped him, hands on his shoulders, pushing him against the wall to make sure she had his attention.

"Calm. Down." she emphasized each word with a gently push from her hands.

"I am cal-" he protested.

"We've gone to the wrong floor three times now and all you said you wanted was to check on class schedules this week." She cut in, a little testily, but mostly worried about her friend. "You have an OpPhone in your pocket and the building has it's own network. You're pacing, and you keep going to the Health & Wellness floor."

"I just-" he tried again, completely pinned down by his own anxiety.

"She told you when to call. That's still three hours from now. Laura already sent you an OpMail saying she wanted to keep Brute until the results came back, at least." Her words were logical, but Puck wasn't playing nice with logic at the moment.

"Then what am I supposed to do for three hours?" He asked plaintively, closing his eyes and throwing his head back against the wall in frustration. "I'm...it's...I need to do something or I'm going to go crazy waiting."

The brief thought of suggesting painting or something flicked through Infinity's mind, but then that would leave her bored for the next three hours. So, she grinned and tugged playfully at his pants, pulling him off the wall by his belt and down to one of the still-empty hotel bedrooms. "Well," she purred, "there are few things you and I know how to do to pass the time."

It nearly shocked her motionless when Puck hesitated to follow, but then he grinned down at her and scooped her up into her arms, kissing her ardently. He kicked the door shut behind them with a click and managed to keep out of the rest of his organizations hair for the next very satisfying three hours.

Puck was buttoning up his shirt, with one shoulder taken up by the hotel room's phone; Infinity was still sprawled on the bed, lounging in a haze of pleasure but slowly reforming her eufiber to something more public-appropriate. She heard Puck's murmured question and then the phone thudding on the floor; Puck manged to pick it up without banging his head on the desk or something equally and stunningly clumsy for the adroit nova. "Thank you, Sara. Thank you! I'll- I'm going to go tell her now. Phone Laura for me and let her know I'm coming, okay? Thank you, love. Truly."

He deftly dropped the phone onto its cradle while turning to scoop Infinity off the bed and pull her into a tight embrace. "She is, Infi, she is!" he whispered into her ear; she could feel a wet drop on her cheek and when he pulled back she ran her hands over his face to wipe off the tears.

"Alright." She said carefully, finishing the final few buttons at the top of his shirt and straightening out his collar. "Take a deep breath, and then lets go tell her."

He nodded, taking several breaths before taking her hand and walking out of the room. She could feel the barely contained energy pouring off of him, and the near perfect control of his that held it in check. A dam against an ocean; luckily is was made of vitrium.

Dr. Sellas set down the phone, smiling at Brute and collecting all the notes she taken over the past four hours into a neat pile on her desk. They would need transcribing later, along with her interpretation and suggestions for Brute's treatment. And the young nova woman desperately needed psychological treatment. Laura had a few suspicions about what might have happened to the girl, though she would need to speak with Puck about his visit to his parent's home for more information. For now, daily sessions and time around good, positive people would hopefully help the healing process start. "We're done for today, Brute. Puck is on his way to pick you up. He should be here in just a minute or so."

The girl nodded, ever pliant, but seemed genuinely pleased at the return of her new friend. She hugged Mr. Bear out of reflex; change of any kind, even little ones, still made her nervous, Laura noted.

True to her words, there was a knock at her door thirty seconds later. Laura had barely gotten out, "Come in." before Puck had entered and was kneeling down on one knee on the carpet next to were Brute was sitting on the couch. He reached out, laying a hand on the side of her thigh and giving her a dazzling smile. "Dr. Loshe finished her test. You are my sister, Brute." He hesitated for a moment, glancing at Laura before asking in an unusually timid voice, "Um, may I hug you?"

He looked about ready to cry again, his whole body, every quantum particle in him, vibrating at the joy of having found his sister.

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Brute did not know what to say, or what to do. His words made him happy, but confirmed everything she had begun to fear. This time not even his general niceness was enough to stop the pain.

She nodded and let him hold her. He was taller than her, and she rested her head on his shoulder to hide the tears which came pouring out. He didn’t seem to mind how cold her skin was.

The tears froze on her cheeks. They cracked when she spoke. “How’s that possible, though? Ah don’t remember ya.” She was crying, and couldn’t stop.

Puck stiffened up. He looked over to the doctor. “Laura, can I have a minute?”

She nodded. “Sure.”

Once alone in the room, Puck took Brute’s hands in his own. “Brute, look at me, please. I need to explain something to you.”

She looked him in the eyes, though hers were streaming and the world was all blurry, even him. “It don’t make no sense,” she repeated.

“I know. Listen to me.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I don’t know exactly why you can’t remember me. I think I was kept down there in Texas with you for a short amount of time and it might have been you were there,” he held up his hand to stop her speaking. “Brute, I’m two years old.”

Brute was so surprised she actually stopped crying for a moment, and sniffed back tears. “Well that don’t make no sense, neither,” she said, her voice full of complaint.

“Yeah, well… Novas,” Puck said. “Right after I was born, something happened, and I grew up fast. And here I am. You were definitely gone by then. So it might be you never saw me when I was a baby. For all the five minutes I was one.”

Brute tried to wipe the tears from her face but they were flowing again, too fast to stop. “Nothin’ makes sense, Puck. We mahght as well both be two years old. That doctor had me talkin’, an’ she tells me mah forest got cut down six years ago. Six years ago! Ah remember four years ago, an’ ah know it was four years ‘cause it were mah birthday,” she couldn’t see him anymore, as ice hardened over her eyes. She made no attempt to wipe it away. “Ah went runnin’ in the forest an’ ah ran an’ ran down to the lake. An’ ah just kinda… melted. Y’all have seen me do that. Ah just did that for a while. But how can ah have? There ain’t no forest there, Puck! Ain’t been none fer six years!” She blinked and the ice cracked and fell away, shards of it now lying around her like broken glass, already melting in the warmth. “It don’t make no sense,” she said, and bowed her head, crushed under memories that were not memories at all.

“I know,” he answered, in a tone that all but broke her heart. “But would you like it to?”

Brute nodded vacantly. “Yeah.”

Puck picked up Mr. Bear with shocking tenderness, and put him into Brute’s arms. “Then just try to take it slow.”

“Ah ain’t no use, Puck. Ah’m no good. Y’all’l regret this.”

“No,” he said, and she could not have argued with him in a thousand years. “I’ll never regret this. Someone will,” he said, shaking. “I swear, Brute, someone’s going to regret what’s happened to you.” For a moment his voice was full of thunderous rage. But then it was gone. He said, “But never you, and never me.”

Weak-kneed, Brute just hugged her bear. The only thing that made sense inside her head, that never changed, that never betrayed her. “What if… what if Mr. Bear ain’t even real?”

“He is,” Puck said. “He’s right there in your arms, and you’re hugging him, and I’m watching you do it. And believe me, I’m real.”

Brute laughed even through her tears. “Well y’all would say that, wouldn’t ya?”

“Yep,” he replied, and laughed as well. He hugged her, and kissed her on the head. “Just, don’t go again. Please. Let me help you.”

The fight went out of her. Brute leaned against him, clutching Mr. Bear, and nodded. “Okay… mah brother.”

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