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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [Interlude] Poke it with a stick! [FIN]

Shosuro Miren

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Date: May 5th, 2027 through the end of the Interludes

Location: Exalt! HQ

"So, what else changed?" Darrik asked, splayed out next to Puck on the marble platform in the master art studio, the warm mid-day sunlight streaming in through the glass onto the two unearthly beautiful men.

"Well," Puck grinned, "according to Infinity I'm quite lickable now." He laughed, "I don't know if that counts as a power, but she's pretty sure it does. I haven't gotten a flavor out of her yet."

Darrik considered testing Infinity's assessment, but his friend seemed to want to actually talk right now, and they'd already played around for several hours today with the girls. Puck reached up over his head and closed his hand, at first around nothing and then a wicked-looking black and red blade with a faceted, clear diamond the size of a large marble studded through the blade just above the hilt. "There's this. I...was pretty pissed when it happened. I'm not usually violent, but I'm no pacifist either. I guess this was my way of giving me a way to make sure no one ever hurts my family again."

The blade gleamed in the sun, pulsing with the anger and hatred it had been created with. "I have no idea how to actually use it. Other than Eden's rather helpful 'put the pointy end in the other person' instruction," he chuckled. "I think I'll hire someone that knows something about swords to show me, just so I don't hurt someone on accident."

He flicked his hand and the blade disappeared. He sighed again, "Other than that, I'm just not sure. Things have been so...well, a little overwhelming. I can feel things, but I'm not sure what they mean. It's easier to teach people Bodhi now, I know that. We keep records on everything, and I'm just better and faster at getting others to understand now. When they're not drooling or spending the whole time sniffing me." The last was said only half-seriously, but still half. "So, any ideas how I figure out the rest of it? The stuff I can sort of feel I could do but I have no idea what that doing is? This is really frustrating. And I'm not all that good with frustrating...."

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Darrik knew the feeling well, even the hidden bit of shame over his loss of control when dealing with Demon. The shadowy counterpart to Puck's gem-studded blade had not been ever used since. But anyway, the problem was partly experimentation was required, which brought out its own share of concerns. But if nothing else, as Darrik's mind considered it, this pointed ironically, to the solution(s). Or the first steps anyway.

"Well, there's the pre-preliminary question." Darrik decided, turning a speculative gaze towards his friend yearning for assistance. Puck never had powers really before- so one thing of use... "Do you have the 'quantum sense' that many mega-perceptive novas have?" Puck smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I figured that out fast. Seeing as I pretty much perceive everything literally, around me. Chang's teaching me on how to work with that."

Darrik pleasantly nodded, knowing Chang would certainly have that situation in hand. "Excellent. It'll make the prerequisite training go faster." Puck looked at him curiously for a moment, and Darrik explained with simplicity. "The most likely and worst time for something to go wrong with your powers are when you're finding out what they are. Hence you'll want to ensure that your surroundings are as protected as you would naturally be."

"Attunement." Puck had caught on already. Darrik grinned and got up. "Exactly. Switch on those quantum shades, Puck. I'm going to begin teaching you how to attune. And eventually, some honors training." The 'honors training' held a hint of mystery in those words.

Darrik acquired three planks of wood from the containers and put each down neatly on the floor by the plinth. Coming back to laying beside Puck, he took a breath and prepared to begin his first experience of tutoring someone. "Shades on? Now, just watch me first. I'm going to attune one plank, to show you a frame of reference for what you'd be trying to do. For me, it's like wrapping a tendril of... quantum 'shadow'- almost, around what it is I want to attune. Like so."

To Puck's eyes, from Darrik seemed to flow a tendril-slash-tentacle of pure shadow, intertwined with a bit of dark matter. Around the first plank on the far left, the tendril seemed to embrace, almost sensually, the wood and spread itself out and settled in a thin outer layer overlaying the mundane image of the oak block.

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"That I can do," Puck grinned, watching Darrik's quantum caress the wood and trying not get distracted by naughty thoughts. He reached out with his own quantum and attuned one of the other planks, his own quantum a golden-silver glow that permeated the wood until the entire plank glowed to Darrik's enhanced senses.

Shadowheart smiled and nodded, "Okay, that's good. How much can you attune at once, then?"

Puck shrugged, "I've never managed a person before....but there was...something...when I changed."

"Okay, well, let's see if you can now," the dark youth slithered close to his lover. Puck grinned and snuck a hand under Darrik's shirt. The black-and-red haired nova gasped as Puck's fingers slid over his skin and had to resist the urge to compare flavors with Infinity. "Mmph-...Puck..."

"Focus, luv," Puck purred, fighting his own urges even as he pushed with his quantum to envelop his lover. The pulse out from him wasn't exactly physical, but Puck stumbled against Darrik in surprise. It was like that night had been, feeling everything around him as if it was part of him only so much more. The island, the state, even farther, could feel the rust of quantum flow over them and for a time given them an ephemeral sense of connection. "Uh...I think that worked..." he whispered and then swallowed, looking up at Darrik with eyes wide and vulnerable at the wild surge of his quantum.

Matter Attunement

[Jeremy] 8:03 pm: ...

Malachite *rolls* 26d10: 4+4+3+9+2+10+5+6+8+6+2+7+1+8+10+1+9+5+8+2+6+10+8+1+6+10: 151

Malachite *rolls* 2d10: 1+1: 2

19 successes

Quantum Pool: 124/125

Power maxxing x6 all for dice pool:

[Lobby]: envoy has left at 7:59 pm

Malachite *rolls* 48d10: 1+6+10+4+5+8+9+5+8+9+8+6+5+6+3+4+1+1+5+2+9+10+10+8+10+5+4+3+7+7+3+10+4+4+3+8+1+1+4+10+2+3+7+8+10+9+1+1: 268

+20 successes

39 total successes

Matter attuned: 405,255,515,301,898,000,000 kg attuned.

Taint: 6 temp gained.

Quantum Points: 106/125 qp

Krul, I'm gonna spend qp to transfer the taint into chrysalis. Let me know if you don't feel it's appropriate, if he could only transfer some or none or whatnot. I intend to do this each time Puck uses his flashier powers for the first time, but he'll settle down once he gets used to the power.

Temp Chrysalis: 6

Quantum Points: 64/125 qp

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Darrik looked a bit surprised too with the wave of quantum that radiated out, even without enhanced senses for quantum, he could tell something unpredicted had interfered. Still, with his arm up around Puck, and the fellow youth so close... oh, just to get it over with. Quickly, he lowered his head and lapped at Puck's cheek.

"Darrik..." Puck's surprise did get a note stronger, and he was so cute in that vulnerable expression... Darrik cut off his wants now and assured Puck, "Just getting it out of my system. You're candy, I think." Then as for the analytical part of the training, he considered that he'd need Puck's quantum sense in order to get a better understanding of the situation.

"You know, I might need to copy your signature, if that's alright. I think I need to check the extent of what we're dealing with."

"Go ahead." Puck assented, pulling back and waiting to see what Darrik's prognosis was. Immediately, Darrik took his quantum shadows, and incorporated a portion of Puck's golden silver signature, so that his own took on a half and half image- along with other more usable features. Darrik really learned to see things like many another friend or sibling now, seeing the quantum forces inundating the building. "Congratulations, Puck. You've spread yourself all over the building and everyone in it." He added a calming slash teasing grin with the addendum, "Though I'm thinking they'd wish it was more physical, you know?"

Puck sheepishly grinned back, and Darrik tested something with the brimming signature of his own, a more controlled extension, far more than Puck's, the entire room receiving a new coating of Darrik's mixed pigment of a signature. Yes, it all made more sense now. "I got it now." Darrik explained with more than a little bit of awe. "You've got a power here that apparently multiples the capacity of your attunement immensely, while giving it some range too. It might be worth my shutting it off temporarily, till you have all this under control."

"Temporarily," Puck insisted. "I do want to play around after that." Darrik nodded while mentally deadening that power in Puck's signature. "Naturally. Especially after I teach you Modulation- that's what I call my attunement tricks- since there's some extra specialties you'll love to learn."

[Jeremy] 8:23 pm: Manipulation + Q. Authority- Duplication: Megas first 8

Jeremy *rolls* 17d10: 10+2+9+6+3+4+5+10+5+5+4+6+7+3+8+1+2

10 sux... 1 sux to copy, 8 sux to gain Matter Attunement 8, 1 sux for Q. Attunement. :D

Q. Attunement on.

[Jeremy] 8:27 pm: Wits + Matter Attunement, megas first 3

Jeremy *rolls* 18d10: 3+10+8+1+4+5+1+8+4+5+8+6+9+2+2+6+10+6

9 sux, for a mass total of 1,968,300 kg.

[Jeremy] 8:31 pm: Manipulation + Quantum Authority-Reduction: megas first 8

Jeremy *rolls* 17d10: 4+8+10+2+2+9+1+6+1+4+3+1+8+1+2+2+9

9 sux. Used to temporarily suppress Puck's Matter Attunement powers.

QP: 69/80

WP: 8/8

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The first wave of Puck's attunement faded fairly quickly and Puck tried again, frowning at how much less it felt this time. He did manage to attune Darrik, but no more than that this time. "Uh, that's as much as I can do now...."

"Good," Darrik nodded and teased, "no need to involve all of New York in our little lesson."

Puck flushed, looking impossibly adorable and looked down, abashed. "Um, yeah."

Darrik chuckled and ran a hand over Puck's cheek. "You are utterly distracting, you know that?"

"I'm not trying to be!" Puck flushed a deeper pink and ran a hand through his hair; Darrik felt a small pulse of quantum and Puck was somehow much easier to breath around. Still completely gorgeous as always, but not so overwhelming.

Darrik nodded ruefully and stepped back from Puck's reach, pulling them both back to the lesson at hand.

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"Well," Darrik noted, with regards to the examples he'd seen so far, "honestly, the amount you've attuned so far is, based on my experience, about the usual maximum limit in nova capacities, barring powers or Modulation. You're doing well, in other words."

Puck perked up a little at the compliment. "Modulation then, luv?"

Darrik nodded in agreement. "Let's start with the background. Modulation is a kind of specialized training I developed in studying my ability to attune. Basically, it's actually like Chrysalis, in a way."

"Bodhi Sey'lan." He added with a grin to Puck. His friend had been starting to give Darrik lessons on Bodhi, and Darrik was eagerly lapping those up. For times like these, delivering the complex tests and observations Darrik had done over the years into swift, concise. simple language.

And so, Darrik began to walk Puck through the theory, and eventually the practice.

I think I'll gloss over the exact technical explanations Darrik will be giving, since that would fry my brain to figure out.

Hope you don't mind my taking one liberty of adding a few phrases/words to Bodhi, Mala. I'll edit if you request it so.


Roughly: We'll continue this in Bodhi for now.

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The set to work, murmuring words in Bodhi with subtle pulses of quantum between the two of them communicating what would have taken mere English days of lecture to convey. With his power dampened, Puck found it both harder and easier to follow what Darrik was trying to teach him. It felt a little like painting blind, but then Chang had actually had him do that in one of his early lessons with her, so there was a comfort to it as well. They worked and played through the night, taking breaks to enjoy each other and work out the frustration of failed attempts and the occasional simply odd reaction. Quantum, after all, was an energy too personal to each nova to ever be fully understood by another.

Puck nuzzled Darrik's neck after their last 'break' and kissed him gently before pushing up and beginning to collect his clothes. "It's almost six, Shadowheart. I need to start my duties for Exalt! for the day." He grinned over his shoulder where Darrik was still lazily stretched out on a makeshift bed of pillows and bolts of soft fabrics, "More tonight? I should be done around midnight or so."

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Darrik grinned back, and then languidly got up. "Training, bed or both?" The question was clearly answered after a moment's look between the two of them, and Darrik shook his head amused. "Naughty boys, aren't we? Of course, seeing as I took on Outreach and Charities Lead, I might as well do my job now too. Side note, I think I'm going to ask Eden and Starseed if they want to join us, strictly for the training of course. Useful to see what we all can do, and not just from the Exalt! files."

Moving on to the next day for those who want to join in.
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Puck nodded, "Alright, that sounds good. If we're all going to be letting loose, though, you or Star should probably take us somewhere isolated." His lips quirked into an almost-smile. "Think if that had happened with a fireball or something instead of just attuning stuff?"

"What about Agatha and Gwen? Do you think they'd want to join us? I'll ask Dr. Loshe if she wants to come along, too. We could make a right proper outing of it, even take a picnic basket along." He grinned for real this time. "We could invite Infinity along, just laugh at us when we end up doing silly stuff."

He paused as a thought occurred to him. "How about one of the Kirbati islands? I've been wanting to check the place out anyways; it's the in the middle of the Pacific, so we'll have plenty of space for testing and there's no one there."

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One of Star had been busy at work in the Exalt! computer lab, having interfaced a big grid-block of memory chips with one of the systems there. The home brew hardware had been working well - her simulations required more memory than any of the systems here had and this provided it. Certainly, the portable field units she usually worked with couldn't handle this data set - several hundred petabytes from her recent self-experimentation.

She had been studying energy spectra - rigging some very delicate sensors to measure changes in her own molecular structure and absorption profiles while cycling through various quantum exercises. Sure, it required her to shape shift to a variety of tricky translucent forms ... but with creative use of her powers she had been able to make up for a certain lack of budget. In fact, it worked so well that she had generated that massive data-set this morning ...

... now, it was evening, this was a new clone, and the memory-cube was safely locked away. That would take all night to process, so what to do?

Maybe she would see what was going on. Most of the daily events should be wrapped up by now. Or was it day in Japan? She had been working so hard that she'd lost track of time - an accomplishment for her. Star began poking around, seeing what was up ...

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Darrik smiled lightly. "Agatha and Gwen, certainly. Dr. Loshe too, good. Star, good. Infinity, good. And the Kiribati islands should be no problem for me... wonderfully private and obscure." Enough so, he noted that Puck clearly had more reasons for choosing them. He couldn't discern more... Puck had closed the manipulation gap and already outshone Darrik in looks. Ho boy. What are you up to, my friend?

"You are forgetting something though." Darrik added, with a short simple answer. "Eden." Before Puck could say anything, he continued. "So the Rainbow Room didn't work out for her. This is a more intimate, familiar group we'd have for her, and the locations are hardly sensory storms. Besides, heck, I knew from the first meeting she had self-confidence issues, and if anything, you made it clear that it's much worse than that." His gaze was sympathetic to her and Puck. "This is a prime way for her to know that her powers really are special."

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Puck ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't forget her. It's just..." He blushed. "She looks up to me, ya know? I..." he looked away from Darrik, flushing even deeper. "I don't want her lose faith in me, and I don't want her to freak out if she sees me...you know...messing up and not in control."

He paced the room and sighed, "But you're right. I don't want to leave her out, either, and she could use the same kind of powers play."

He paced back over to Darrik and wrapped his arms around the red-eyed youth, laying his head on Darrik's shoulder. "Mmm. I'm just kinda stumbling through this sibling thing. You have siblings, sisters; promise you'll help me out so don't make a complete fool out of myself?"

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Darrik wrapped his arms around Puck comfortingly to sooth the iridescent-skinned youth. "You haven't really met my family. But I'll give you a hand, certainly. Though the fact is, you're messing up may be a good thing. See, from what I've gathered, Eden's lack of self-confidence is causing her to magnify all the positive traits of those she does like or admire, and it's especially marked with you. You're intelligent, extremely good-looking, ad infinitum, ad invidia. In her eyes, you are the exact child your parents wanted, practically perfect to her. But when seeing someone like you have difficulty with controlling your powers...better yet, get her to step in and show how easy it 'should be.' Get her to see she can do things you have trouble with, just like the vice versa she regularly feels. The pedestal she put you on needs to be broken, with you landing on your ass quite comically."

Something did poke through though. The Nursery kids were reminiscent of the family he had formed with the siblings and Shen. So why should Puck be so unused to siblings, they would be like family, right? "Question though, weren't the Nursery kids siblings in a way? You haven't seemed in touch or connected with them."

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Darrik could feel Puck tense and then pause before he pulled back and took Darrik's hands in his own. He pulled them both down to one of the benches, "I'm going to tell you a secret, Darrik. Something that's not known outside of the Teragen, and only known by some even inside the Teragen."

He paused again. He'd never actually told anyone before. Chang had found out when Scripture had come to talk to her when Puck first approached her as mentor, and everyone in the Nursery knew because they'd seen him brought in and met him just after he came out of the Chrysalis cocoon. Darrik felt the minute movements of muscles in Puck's hands, a slight tightening as Puck took the plunge. "I was born on March 28th, 2024. I...um, I immediately went into Chrysalis and was taken to the Nursery. I was in Chrysalis for a year to the day, and when I emerged I was fully grown. Well, physically. I didn't know anything, even how to walk or speak, just like a newborn, but I looked like I do now....like I did before, when you first met me. I spent a little less than a year at the Nursery - awake, I mean - learning what I needed to know to survive in the world....and then I left. Partly because I sort of freaked out the other kids, which is an accomplishment among the Teragen," he quirked a grin, but it was still a nervous one as he pushed forward, getting it all out before Darrik could interrupt. "Partly because I didn't feel like I belonged. They're my family, they always will be, but...I'm not like them. Infinity belongs there more than I do and she's half the reason I stuck around as long as I did. And I left when I figured out what I wanted to do; when I got the inspiration for Exalt! and knew that I couldn't do that there."

"I turned three years old five weeks ago." He looked down, a little afraid of how his friend and lover might see him now. "I've spent more time with Exalt! than I have with anything else in my life," he said quietly. "I know the people here better than I do most of the kids at the Nursery, especially the ones that started this all with me. And....I'm getting to know you and Gwen and Agatha and Star and Eden a lot more than any of the Nursery kids other than Infinity."

He let his hands slip out of Darrik's. "I..," he stared at a spot on the floor somewhere between where they were sitting and the rumpled impromptu bedding from the night's pleasures. He swallowed, still not daring to look up, "I just ask that whatever you decide to do with this knowledge, that you not tell others. There are...complications....legal issues and - just a tangle of things that could harm Exalt! and the people I love, if certain people or groups knew the truth. That's...that's why I didn't tell you before, why you're the only other person in Exalt! at the moment that even knows. Please."

He wasn't sure what exactly he was pleading for: the promise not to tell or for Darrik to accept him as he was and not reject him as a friend, a lover, and an equal. Both. Please. He kept his eyes on the floor and and his hands resolutely laced together on his lap, waiting now for Darrik to respond.

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Darrik quietly listened, and things in their own way made sense. And it was a surprise, to say the least. But.... Darrik's face was quiet and blank for a minute, and then he smiled broadly. "That must make you the most intelligent and mature three year-old in existence." His hands came back to Puck's. "Baseline societies have differed over when a youth becomes an adult- the Spartans made twelve the minimum legal age for pederasty. And novas, we're not human, right? You may have been only around for a few years, but I haven't seen anything but a physically, mentally and emotionally mature being in front of me."

His arm circled around Puck's neck. "Acceptance is a given, Puck. Consider me the soul of privacy on the matter." Darrik grinned lasciviously as he added, "Shall we call last night's fun a belated birthday present?"

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Puck hugged Darrik's tightly, giggling to keep from crying in relief. "I suppose. I've never had a birthday present. There was too much to do on my first birthday, and I was finding people for Exalt! for my second...and I just sort of forgot about it this year. There was so much to be doing." He twisted around, not nearly as graceful as his sister, but still more than any human was capable of, and kissed Darrik deeply.

"Thank you," he said once he finally pulled away from the kiss, his forehead pressed against his lover's. "I've never told anyone before. Not myself. Chang and I talked about it a bit at the beginning, but everyone else just knew."

They sat like that for several moments, Puck putting himself back together from the emotional rush before finally pulling them both up from the bench. "We should get the others together then, and go make a day of it. If you'll gather the people up, I'll go downstairs and get the provisions put together. We'll meet in the Library, so I can show Star where to take us."

He kissed him one last time, passionately and deeply; it was both a thanks and an affirmation of their relationship and entirely knee-melting. It was entirely Puck.

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Star had indeed lost track of time. Shape shifting was something she hadn't focused on for some time - she'd been caught up with weaving external energy forms for work in space for most of the year. It had been a focus, but years ago it had not always been so.

She wandered EXalt!, saying hello in the clinic, chatting with some of the newer members, and generally made her way toward food. It had been several days since any of her forms had eaten. There were always new things to be tried here too, because they knew her. Unless she asked they'd make something new and creative. It had become as much a chance to flex their culinary muscle as it was a much loved little ritual for them.

She usually brought each of them a pretty or interesting stone - even gem - from space. Just to show her appreciation, something rare for something rare. This time she'd brought some vials of water from the icy rings of Saturn. They had all sorts of flecks in them glitter from the impurities of the melted ice. They might make nice little pendants.

Star walked in, and there was another familiar face she'd not seen in a while ..."Darrik! Hi!" she walked up and gave him a little hug. "How have you been?"

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Darrik smiled as Starseed approached him. "Doing well, Starseed. In fact you were one of the people I was looking for. You here to eat?"

"Yes," Starseed replied brightly, letting go and growing curious in expression. "What did you want to talk about?" Darrik made a gesture to the counter line, "Let's get our food, and I'll tell you." After they collected morning vittles- Darrik a continental breakfast of danishes, eggs and sausage- Darrik led Starseed to a booth.

"Well, of course, you know Puck went through Apotheosis, that power boost of late. I spent much of last night and yesterday trying to study and discern what powers he had... though it quickly turned into an attunement lesson. Anyway, it occurred to us to make it a wider affair. You, me, Puck, Eden, Infinity, Dr. Loshe, Agatha, Gwen. Studying our powers, practicing... and for safety reasons, Puck suggested a trip- he was interested in the Kiribati islands. A day-long picnic, basically. How does that sound?"

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"Oh breakfast ... I wonder what they will come up with?"

"I have been thinking about Apotheosis, quite a bit actually. I'm in for some group training and study. Never been there ... aren't those the ones that were abandoned? Puck had been talking about those in passing before."

The breakfast came for Star, it was egg white omlette spiced with ... something spicy and green. Slightly curry like, filled with an avocado and salmon mouse. The grilled potatoes were mixed with fried onions and black olives - with tiny cubes of some heavily preserved Italian sausage. The whole dish was ... amazing. Savory, spicy, and hints of natural sweetness. It all worked together, but still spoke of breakfast food. Star thanked the server - who was also new, and told her "One of these is for you, but the rest bring to the kitchen. Water from the rings of Saturn. My compliments for another fine meal."


"I'll need some time to gather gear from my ship - an hour or so. I've been putting together a toolkit for power training. Mostly its been for general development of common Nova attributes, but I've developed some puzzles and training devices that might be useful for a range of powers. Plus there are sensors - we can measure progress, construct data sims later. We'll probably want to give Dr.Loshe an early heads up too - so she can gather any equipment she might want on hand."

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"Yes, those islands." Darrik replied in between bites of sausage. "And I think Puck's up to something, at least with the choice of location. Anyway, spreading the word is my job, so Dr. Loshe will be next after you then. Further heads up, we're meeting in the Library, so Puck can pass you the coordinates." He polished it off with a trio of danishes, apple, cheese and blueberry. The combined rich flavors were like a sweet capital city of sugar. "Mmm. I need to give Bethany a thumbs up the next time I see her. She and her staff are doing an excellent job."

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"I agree. This is one of the only places I eat these days. ... OK, library in about an hour." she said, tapping out an op-mail on the virtual interface of her databand.

"Gotta catch a quick gate to the belt." She said, rushing out with a 'bye for now' wave and her usual happy smile.

Another of her selves - operating covertly as a college student in a nearby campus library - caught the coded op-mail, and from memory she knew where to go, what to do. The Starseed's came together ... and together, the two Star's gated away to make their preparations.

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Brute punched the bag with all the force she had.

It was reinforced, luckily, but dented with every blow. Unless she really wanted to be, she wasn’t much of a Nova when it came to punchy-kicky. She was strong, but she was never going to turn heads in a world where Caestus Pax existed.

Dr. Sellas said she needed an outlet, and that this might help. All the tests they ran on her suggested an exceptional degree of physical development. She sort of knew that already. There was a point where resisting compliments turned from instinct to parody. She could catch raindrops with such accuracy and speed that the ground beneath her wouldn’t get wet. It happened once, accidentally.

Brute remembered doing it. It was while she was in China, heading for Mount Everest. She wandered into a provincial town in Tibet, with her eyes firmly on the distance. But when it started raining she stopped and wanted to catch the raindrops. So she did. It hadn’t even been that hard.

She remembered the looks on the locals’ faces, though. They were flabbergasted. Some of them ran away, though, and called her things that didn’t sound complimentary.

After a few more simple punch combinations, she stepped back from the bag and took up the pair of escrima sticks her trainer had given her. His name was Balbino Carolla, a Nova from the Philippines who had become an icon in his homeland by taking their art of Escrima to new heights. She had the feeling Puck paid him a lot of money to be her trainer, or else did that thing he did with Darrik but pretended he didn’t when she was around.

The other people in the gym were watching her, mostly out of the corners of their eyes, but they still found it hard not to watch.

Brute was taking her first fumbling steps on the road of Escrima, but her natural dexterity and quickness was such that the watchers could not make out the flaws in her technique or the lack of true grace. Even her failures were performed at such blinding speed that she was done and criticizing herself before they could think.

There was something about Escrima which ‘spoke’ to her. Ever since Sellas suggested that the martial arts might help to give her a degree of focus in her life, Brute had been looking for ‘the one’. Asking around Exalt! she received plenty of recommendations for Karate and Jeet Kune Do and T’ai Chi Chuan and pretty much all the ‘classic’ ones you would expect. She ran into Escrima by studying the OpNet, and from there went on to look at other weapon style martial arts.

It turned out that Brute liked sticks. Bo staves, Escrima stick fighting, even spear styles, she found all of them really exciting to watch. They were so deft and flashy. So now she learned Escrima from Balbino, and it seemed Puck had yet to settle on a good staff trainer. They had been through a couple but he seemed to replace them quick.

She ran through the basic moves she had been taught, at this stage little more than simple 1-2-3 strikes. Balbino said normally that he would have people drilled on footwork for months, but Brute took to it so smoothly that he was satisfied to combine her footwork training with some basic strike training as well.

Brute didn’t know if she should be pleased or not. She wasn’t sure if she knew how to be. Things were growing clearer as time went by. Listening to the other members of Exalt! talking about their days helped to show her what was broken in her own head. They all seemed so happy with what they did, and to take pride in their work. Not her. She could roll physics into a ball and go bowling with it with considerably less than a snap of her fingers, but it just didn’t matter.

The air filled with the sound of rattan striking canvas, a staccato cracking sound that mixed into the grunts and grimaces of the baselines going through their workouts all around her.

She focused hard, remembering her lessons, trying to teach her body to move right the way Balbino said it needed to. Her stance grew lower and lower, as she slipped into the zone and began to strike faster and faster.

The sound of the rattan filled her world, faster and faster as she fell into a rhythm of striking and moving. The two were linked, leading one to the other with incredible fluidity, like a dance.

Her mother talked about dancing once. She said it was one of the greatest things a girl could do. Watch me dance, mother, she thought, as the rattan sticks created a machine-gun cacophony. Watch me dance.

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Darrik had, true to his word, stopped in with Dr. Loshe and secured her enthusiastic participation before leaving to find Eden next. A short bit of inquiry had determined she was in the gym. When he came down, Eden was hard at work with her Escrima practice, and Darrik decided he could put off his questions. Not only was it more polite to wait for her to finish, but with his superhuman- yet magnitudes lesser- dexterity and limited martial arts training, he was quite impressed by the repetition on display.

So he waited, smiling with admiration and watching Eden go at the punching bag. She did seem to be dancing.

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Brute did not really understand the idea of being tired. She had not slept once since her first birth cry, much to her parents’ distress. When she jumped on a treadmill she ran until she got bored of running.

So it was with martial arts training. Her first escrima training session ended when Master Balbino needed to go, not because Brute was tired. She didn’t even work up a sweat. Left on her own to practice movements, she practiced for fourteen hours straight. It helped her think.

She grew more and more fluid as she went through the motions, but Brute knew there was a weakness in her form. It was that, and the realization that constant practice wasn’t fixing it, which made her eventually stop the practice routine.

Brute stepped back from the bag, spinning the rattan sticks up and down, twirling them on the back of her hand and even on a single finger. They were levels of balance and control baselines could not manage, but for her were effortless and natural.

The sound of Darrik clapping made her look up.

“Oh, hi,” she said. Brute put both sticks in one hand and bowed to the bag. Her master said she should always do that when she was finished with a practice routine.

She headed over to Darrik, her skin as dry as if she had been out for a quiet mid-day stroll, while all the baselines around her sweated and heaved. He’s really pretty. She felt her heart beginning to pound despite herself. “So, uh, are you here for the weights?”

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"Actually, no. You're invited to a picnic in the Kiribati Islands. Just a handful of people, Puck, me, Starseed, you, Dr. Loshe, Gwen and Agatha, and Infinity too. Hanging out on the beaches, exploring, practicing our powers- you could show people what you did with the Escima sticks, it's amazing. If you're up for coming, of course." Darrik added, she might not want to in the end.

Brute looked a little interested at the idea... "Oh, that sounds just nice, Darrik."

Darrik smiled happily and nodded. "Glad to hear it. When you're set, meet us in a little bit in the Library."


A few minutes after he had left Eden to get ready, Darrik flipped out his phone and dialed Infinity. It did occur to him. Aside from what Puck had confessed, there was the fact that the Nursery did seem intriguing to visit, even if he had no interest in giving away his future children to there. Maybe he'd broach the issue another time.

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“Hello.” Infinity’s voice had a subtle purr to it that Darrik had heard before during sex. But he didn’t hear the sound of partners, and he did hear the distinct burble of water. A smile stretched on his handsome face as he considered that she was probably in the hot tub in her room. He could imagine her stretched out in the water, her strange glow reflecting off all the white parts, under the water, and creating a seductive image. Grinning, he Shadow Stepped into that spot.

“Hi,” he told her from just behind her. Infinity spun, cursing at being startled but not unhappy to see him. Her enjoyment grew as his eufiber shrunk away, revealing his body. He hopped into the water, but made no move to approach her.

After a moment, the girl relaxed back into the warm water with a sigh. “What’s up?” she asked lazily as their legs brushed in the warm water. The silken slide of her skin on his made him wish he wasn’t here on business.

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"We got a small private picnic planned in some Pacific islands. You're on the guest list." Darrik stated, leaving the phone on the polished counter of the tub. Stretching out luxuriously, the further display of his luscious body and movement of his legs made Infinity really wish he was going to do more than just let her know. "Itinerary includes hanging out, exploring, practicing powers- and you having a good laugh at our expenses when we flub. Everyone I've talked to is in, that means Puck, Gwen, Agatha, Dr. Loshe, Starseed and Eden as well."

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"Oooo, a picnic... on a deserted island?" Infinity purred. She shifted lightly and brushed his legs again, sending the water lapping over her barely submerged curves. "And with so many beautiful people," she added, her arched eyebrow making it clear that she was counting him as one of the beautiful ones. "So when and how do we get there, dearest Darrik?"

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"Simply put-" Darrik moved around to Infinity's side, leaning with an arm around the goth girl's neck and lightly playing with strands of her black hair, "In a little bit- everyone should be in Star's Library. Puck will have gathered the provisions, Starseed will get the coordinates from Puck... and a gate opens up to the beaches. How does that sound, my glowing girl?"

"Lovely," Infinity crooned, while unabashedly going for a grope and relishing the teased expression on Darrik's face. Reluctantly, Darrik pulled back again, leaving Infinity mildly disappointed. "Can't be keeping Puck waiting." Darrik pointed out, and recognizing this fact, the two got out, but took a few spare moments to titillate each other with strategic uses of toweling.

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Puck raided several different supply rooms for their basic provisions: three oversized baskets with blankets to pad the bottoms, a full dining set for ten in one of them along with some beach toys, and the other two stuffed to overflowing with the latest offerings from the kitchens. It would have been near impossible for a baseline to have lifted all three baskets, let alone settled them so he could walk easily, but Puck managed. Not with the grace his sister would have, but without dropping anything. He grinned at that, enjoying the though of something that Eden was leagues better than him at.

Okay. Baskets and blankets, check. Dishes, check. Food, check. Now to the Library and to see if Darrik's managed to wrangle the actual picnickers.

Puck made his way to the Library, setting the baskets down by the large stained-glass globe and gently re-positioning the world until the Kirbati Islands were at eye level. there were a number to choose from, though his preference just for the cool factor was the bright circle of an island that was in fact the upper edges of a dormant volcano. There was a deep blue pool of water in the center that filled the caldera of the underwater volcano....and it just looked cool. He'd already left messages that he'd be out of the country for the day, and seen a similar one from Sara, so Darrik was making progress. Now to wait.

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When Darrik and Infinity, dressed, had departed, it didn't take long for them to meet up with Gwen and Agatha, and the group went together down to the Library. The looks of slight envy and lust that the group received on the way- even Infinity, whose sexual adventurousness had developed a certain appeal of its own- Darrik had to self-admit, did feel like something he could soak in like a sun.

It wasn't long for Puck before he saw Darrik and the girls, with Darrik's smile hinting at a feline banquet with various canary dishes. Brute appeared shortly, after, albeit with a slightly nervous expression.

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Two Stars had left, and two came back precisely on time. They were carrying large silvery packs full of equipment and supplies, and they had collected Sarah on the way back through the halls.

"Hello, are we all here? Next stop, Kiribati. Once sunken islands, pic-nick lunches, and Nova science - Fanning Island."

She had brought a number of energy serpents to wear, she explained how to use them and that they shielded against meta-sensory powers.

"OK, everyone ready?" It seems they were, and Star was happy to form the gate. The troupe of quantum players stepped from one side of the world to the other for their day out.

The Serpents
These are energy servitors, woven by Star for the express purpose of being appliances for other people. In this case, they provide Flight 1, and Blank 5 via the affects other extra to their wearer.

The look like dimly luminous, semi crystalline snakes... like a slender constrictor about four inches in diameter and six feet long.

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The group stepped out onto a narrow strip of bright green land; there was ocean to the left and the internal reef to the right, and no other souls within leagues of the clutch of novas. A little ways down from where they had stepped out, the ruins of a turn of the century island village could be made out. Puck stood very still for several moment, his eyes closed as he listened to the island and the other islands in the area. He extended his newer senses as well, feeling out the flow of quantum and thought in the area.

"Okay, just us, folks!" he proclaimed after a moment. He picked out a nice flat area and set about laying out the picnic materials. Once the baskets were emptied and all the treats for the excursion were at easy reached, he turned back the group. "So, how do we want to start? Anything someone wants to try or show off?"

He grinned at his sister, "Eden, I thought maybe in a bit you could grow just as big as you can and you could take us all for a walk through the ocean? Does that sound like fun? There are number of other empty islands around here, and I'd like to get a look at them, if you're up for being transportation for your little brother." He let the double entendre sit, hoping she'd pick up on it and find it funny.

Fanning Island Picture
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The Stars looked around, surveying the ocean vista and the narrow strip of island.

One Star said to the other "You know, the shallows there - in the center, maybe a little to the north. Those would be easy to build on. Save the land area for smaller buildings, gardens, and such. Hydrodynamic forces would be minimal, Clean, no excavation just bronzed pilings, a little compaction, and the five ton blocks will hold."

The other replied "What, say five thousand years? Seven to nine on the outside if we laminate the pilings a bit?"

The first nodded and continued to set up a set of mobile science gear - helping Dr. Loshe if any of her equipment needed power from the mobile charge station.


In reply to Puck, one of the Stars, who was now wearing a red badge for easy identification, said "I'm going to see how many sea-crawlers I can make. I've brought a bunch of recording sensor packs .... have been meaning to test a method of detailed site survey for a bit - putting the sensor packs on some fairy beefy little servitors that crawl around."

"Thing is, if anyone else wants to try doing something delicate with the ambient quantum in the area ... I'll hold off. Weaving servitors tends to stress the quantum flows in an area. I could easily go out to sea to do it too, then come back."

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"One thing." Darrik mentioned, before stepping up to a shady spot and exerting his control over the darkness and shadows extruding outward from their covering scenery. The shadows billowed outward, breaking apart, before Darrik carefully and serenely sculpted them into two seperate forms- both 'cracked' shadow images of the kind Puck and Infinity had seen the night they'd met and slept with Darrik. One became a moderately sized road sign denoting "Warning, Exalt! Picnic Site and future site of Star City." The other was a much more enormous and grandiose practically black and white yet neon collection of linked billboards.

"Welcome to Star City: The Home of Tomorrow." "The Goodfellow Joint: Where YOU can get a piece of Puck!" "The Infinity Agency: No-Limit Investigations." "Sex Scandal- is Shadowheart available to all? We hope so: News at 11!"

Darrik looked a mite sheepish under Agatha's cool gaze. "So I'm imagining a city of sin..." Gwen giggled a little. "Well, I would go there."

[Jeremy] 6:09 pm: megas first

Animate (Shadow Mastery) roll

Jeremy *rolls* 11d10: 9+6+3+9+5+5+3+10+7+2+5: 64

5 sux.

Artistic Genius roll

Jeremy *rolls* 10d10: 7+4+9+1+9+9+2+1+6+8: 56

7 sux.

Arts roll

Jeremy *rolls* 12d10: 9+1+6+1+9+5+9+2+10+8+6+3: 69

6 sux + 7 sux (Artistic Genius) + 3 sux (Hands of the Maker- Quantum Powers) = 16 sux

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The Stars chuckle. Red badge Star says "I think the Russians might be offended. Star City was the old cosmonaught training town."

The other says "Something I haven't yet given much thought to. Beyond a few courses in urban planning that came as handy electives to my second poly-sci. Building a city, that is."


"I'd thought about trying it ... somewhere less populated, somewhere more remote. Sometime later, where peace would be more likely." Red Star says, the other one adding "This is a crazy planet. A crazy time."

Red says "Still, nothing wrong with a little construction project. The social dynamics of a whole city ... who knows. I can make sure the urban planning is conducive to healthy living, psychologically and socially stimulating architectural features, that sort of thing. I was kind of thinking pyramids are good. A large pyramid with a hollow center is a town in itself. The outside could be terraces, for gardens and light structures. The effect, it would be quite pleasant."


The other adds "Might be interesting, as an experiment in self sufficient infrastructure. Heat, light, storm safety, waterworks, sanitation, electricity, ventilation, bio-reactors, incinerator, communications, op-net, warehousing, working spaces, heliport, small seaport with breakwater, hospital, all that is easy here ... the bottlenecks, as a guess are potable water and agriculture - permaculture that is. With no bulk imports, sustainable population is limited to about ten thousand."

Red Star adds "Of course, all the modern conveniences are much easier to get with trade. Autarchy can be livable, but is less desirable. I could see tourism and knowledge economy as key exports. A bit of nightlife certainly would stimulate tourism."

"Plus we already have a red light district." the other says, both grinning at Darrik and Puck.

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Puck watched his friends play and speculate with a mix of excitement and pride. Not yet, though. Let's play the games first, then on to the plotting. He laughed easily at Darrik's antics and set about laying out the picnic proper.

"Well," he asked as he worked, "who wants to go first and what do they want to do? Star's got metrics and measuring covered, but I'd still like to do things one at a time just so we get clear readings." He glanced at Star, "And I'd say wait on the servitors until we're done messing about with the quantum in the area ourselves. I'm sure people will want to just hang out afterwards for a while, and that would give you time to set up your servitors and let them explore for a while."

His smile and his tone was pure innocence, which tipped Infinity off immediately that there was a lot more going on here than a simple picnic and power-play; the others didn't know him deeply enough to get past his newly expanded powers of manipulation and dissembling. Once everything was set up, he turned back to the little group. "Okay, showtime for someone. Darrik's already showing off, so my vote goes to Eden." He grinned at his sister, wanting her to spend some time just playing - safely and in the company of those that would appreciate and praise her powers.

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“I vote for Eden, too,” Infinity said lazily, raising her hand as if her verbal vote wasn’t enough. She was lounging on one of the beach chairs, her eufiber shaped into her favorite black bikini set. A pair of sunglasses hid her eyes, as well as the fact that her red eyes hadn’t really left Puck’s face for long. Her fingers brushed over the strings of the bikini lightly as her tongue played over her teeth. God, she wanted him, so bad. But now wasn’t the time or place. Well, not the time; it was probably the place. She just had to be patient.

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"Me too! My vote for Eden!" Said Red Star, who was setting up some more equipment.

The other Star opened up a gate that produced a ten foot long gunmetal push cart with eight moonrover like metal wheels and all sort of sealed compartments. Peeking through, one of her servitors form somewhere else drew its tentacle back and the gate collapsed in on itself in closing.

"Drinks and food is here. We've got pretty much everything you can get in terms of fruit juices, flavoured mineral waters, and a few exotic things - sorry, no carbonated stuff since this is GNS menu planning and lives in micrograv most of the time." the other Star Says as she begins to open up compartments revealing the racks of bottled drinks and some sort of strange looking radiant oven setup. "Barbecue will be going in about fifteen to twenty, we've got burgers, some nice Polish and Italian sausages, and some great miniature donburi and Cantonese hot pots in these little foil single serves. In the mean time, all the little bags on the other side are snacks ... welcome to the Galaxy kitchen."

"Don't thank me for some of these truly inspired little dishes and snacks, by the way - two thirds of the credit goes to the Exalt! staff after long conversations and recipe instruction, and the last third goes to my old organic chemistry professor."

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Brute had come wearing her training gear, which consisted of short black trousers and a black tank top which helped to make her already fairly small breasts near-flat. She’d brought her kit bag as well, with the two forearm length rattan sticks that were becoming her best non-Mr. Bear friends. She didn’t bring him along. They’d talked about it and he agreed that sand and water were not his friends. Plus he distrusted seagulls.

She didn’t say anything while the others chatted. They wielded quantum like little kids wielded tennis balls, with casual ease and comfort. Not that she was any different, mind. It seemed to mean more to them. Or maybe they just enjoyed the activity, where she... What do ah do? She’d never taken out any time to enjoy being a Nova. She wasn’t sure if she knew how to. What little she could remember of her life had been spent being, just going thoughtlessly about her business.

That in itself was a funny feeling. Brute remembered things now, and quite a lot of things. Most wer bad, of course, but she would rather remember a bad childhood than remember nothing at all. Painful though it was, it was her. Before, it was like she came from nothing, malformed and nonsensical. Now she had a history, and every day that went by without a break in her mind was another bit of that history. It helped her to feel complete, at least.

Puck deserved a complete sister, if nothing else.

It was easy to fade into the background in this company, but being around her brother, Infinity, Darrik and his girlfriends was wearying. Sex, sex, sex. It was like there was nothing else to think about. Of course she knew why. It just took a glance at Darrik’s face to remind her of that. Is that all it comes down to? She thought, sitting down on the sand and looking out to sea at the waves rolling endlessly on, going nowhere and everywhere all at once. Just one great quantum orgy? Ah guess they’re havin’ more fun than me, at least. That wasn’t hard, of course.

Maybe ah’m a prude. They’d all have so much fun if ah wasn’t around. Puck always played nice when she was there. He wasn’t half as cuddly and seductive in her presence. If she hadn’t come he’d probably be curled up with Darrik, Infinity and Star by now, getting sweaty under the afternoon sun.

The wind tugged at and played with her hair. It felt quite nice on her skin. Wish ah could have persuaded Mr. Bear ta come. She still suspected that he was traumatized by their evening at the Rainbow Room. Not even his paws could hide everything.

Then Puck spoke up and put her on the spot. It kind of spiralled out from there, with everyone wanting her to show her stuff.

She rose from her sitting position with poetic grace and found herself a nice open area of sand. Well, big is better, as they say. And Doctor Sellas said it was probably good for her to grow regularly. Brute hadn’t done it in a week, so now was probably the time to go for broke.

Brute spent a moment to attune her clothes. It did feel… nice… to split her clothes and grow free, but the company didn’t feel right for it.

She twitched her hands and then clenched her fists, and sent quantum flooding through her body. There was a sound, like someone punching concrete mixed with bones creaking, and Brute began to grow. She surged upwards, breaching fifty feet in moments. The island seemed to shrink beneath her, while her brother and the others increasingly disappeared. Brute’s head grew over the trees, and up and up she continued to go until the tallest of them barely came up to her knee.

Her skin felt warm and tingly. She let out a sigh that sounded and felt like a gust of wind and looked about her.

Up here there wasn’t much else but her and clouds. She was as alone as she’d been back in the arctic. She raised her arms over her head and stretched. The other islands were spread out around them, visible from her rather elevated position but not from the ground.

She spent another moment or so just enjoying being so big, and then looked down at her friends. They weren’t quite ant-size, but very stoppable nonetheless.

Brute smiled, and took a step away from them before bending over and hopping up onto her massive hands, each as wide as an apartment block and almost filling up the beach. The whole island shook as if being struck by an earthquake. She kept her balance as easily now as she did when she was just five feet tall and walked on her hands down the beach until her enormous head loomed over Star, Darrik and Puck. They seemed a fair bit bigger now. Her arms were only eighty feet long or so, and she bent them to bring her head closer still. There was no sway to her body, not even the faintest sign of overbalancing, and no shake in her arms or even the slightest wobble in her legs. Her balance was so flawless as to be eerie, and in its own way it was just as obvious a demonstration of her quantum abilities, though she would never have thought of it as such.

She looked at Puck. “Showy enough for you?”

Brute’s gone up to her full 162’ size

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