Jump to content

Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - Seeking Eden - Monitoring AsT Malachite Drake


Recommended Posts

this post written semi-POV for Puck on Mala’s permission

June 27th, 2027

Exalt! Headquarters

Puck returned from the Congo to find his home as busy as ever and happily running itself in his absence. Negotiations with the Storm King were going… well, they were going. He was confident that it would work out in the end.

He knew that Eden was not in the building inside a few seconds of entering it, but assumed she was somewhere in the city, shopping perhaps. That was odd, though, because Eden did not often go out alone.

At first he put it down to a breakthrough on her part, on confidence grown from proximity to people who loved her for the first time in her life. That ended when he went to his room, and found the message waiting for him on his OpNet station.

The title read, quite simply, ‘Goodbye.’

A frown that would have broken a thousand hearts flickered on his flawless brow, before he opened the message. A video file began to play.

Eden appeared on the screen, fiddling with the camera on her Terminal. She sat back and peered into the screen. “Ah think y’all are workin’ now.”

She took a deep breath. She seemed more withdrawn than usual.

“Hey, Puck!” Brute waved at the screen. “Ah guess if you’re listenin’ to this then ah went ahead an’ sent it, an’ that means ah’m gone. Ah don’ know if ah’m comin’ back.”

Brute lowered her gaze for a few moments. “Ah guess you wanna know why. Ya might wanna pause this an’ get a sandwich or somethin’. This could take a while.”

Puck did pause the playback, just long enough to soak up her tone and the words, to sense the emotional upheaval she was going through. He did not fetch a sandwich, however. He hit play again.

Eden scratched her head. She squirmed in her seat, as if she could feel Puck’s eyes on her. She picked at her front teeth with her thumb nail. “Honestly ah don’ know if ah even have a good reason for this,” she said, “all ah really know is that ah don’t belong there no more. If ah ever did, an’ ah’m not sure ah did. Ah know, ah know,” she held up her hands as if to defend herself. “We been over this. Yer home’s mah home an’ all that.” She paused, and sighed. “Only… sayin’ it don’ make it so. Ah’d be lyin’ if ah said you an’ Starseed didn’t have a whole lot to do wit’ this. Infinity had a bit, too. Ah ain’t never felt right since me an’ her had that bust up out on the island. Ah keep thinkin’ about those words ‘power hater’. They’re stuck in mah craw, an’ ah cain’t make no sense of ‘em. Maybe ah’ll have that out with Infinity one day. Ah guess y’all wanna know about how you an’ Star feed inta this, right?”

Eden smiled then. It was impish, the way her smiles always were, and mischievous. That was when Puck felt nobody could fail to see the family connection. They smiled the same way.

“It don’ feel fair, Puck, what’s happenin’ right now. Ah’m still tryin’ to get my head around havin’ a brother ah never knew ah had an’ now ah got nine months before ah got fifty nephews and nieces ta take care of, too. An’ what if they grow up fast as well? Everyone’s so dang happy about this. All them women, it’s like this is the greatest time o’ their lives, like… like they’re fulfilled or somethin’. They keep botherin’ me now, too, like they need mah approval or somethin’, only they never did that before. Ah figure it’s because o’ the auntie thang. God, they’re so happy, Puck,” Eden broke off and looked away. She drew her legs up and hugged them, and shook her head. “Everybody’s happy… ‘cept me. An’ that ain’t right. There’s somethin’ wrong wit’ me. Ah’m… Ah’m broke.

“Ya know it’s true, even if ya hate ta say it. Ah needed time, Puck. But you’re too fast for me. Exalt!’s growin’ inta this monolithic thang that’s everywhere an’ now yer gettin’ yer own nation an’ who the hell knows what else? All ah know for sure is that ya ain’t tellin’ me everythang. An’ why should ya? Ah’m jus’ yer broken big sister, though ah’m sure if anyone saw us they’d think it were the other way round. Yer the grown up here, Puck, the guy in charge, an’ the guy with the plans an’ the gumption to make ‘em happen. Heck, by the time ya get this message maybe Exalt! Galaxy will be on the table somewhere.”

Even though her words hurt, Puck smiled a little at that suggestion. It didn’t sound like a bad idea to him, anyway.

“So who am ah?” Brute shook her head. She sniffed and wiped at her eyes. She frowned deeply. “Ah’m jus’ another broken person in Exalt!, with one little difference: Ah ain’t gettin’ better. Ah’ve talked with jus’ about everyone in Exalt! by now, an’ ah’ve heard their stories. How meetin’ you changed their lives, how you made ‘em into better people an’ fixed everythang, how meetin’ you is knowin’ what love is an’ what god sounds like an’ all the rest o’ it. An’ the problem is ah feel some o’ that, too. The god bit, mostly. The way ya talk, the way ya can just click yer fingers an’ ah feel like everythin’s better.”

Eden’s face twisted up, then, as if she were chewing on something bitter. “But that’s the problem… it don’t get better. Not fer me. ‘Cause ah’m not one o’ them. Ah’m less than they are. What’s broke in them… it’s different than what’s broke in me. Ah’m not tryin’ to be all dramatic ‘n’ stuff. It’s jus’ true. Even yer friend Scripture couldn’a fix me, an’ you acted like he could do anythang. Ah’m special, jus’ like ya always said. Only it’s not good special. Maybe it’s ‘cause ah’m yer sister. Maybe yer special thangs don’ work right wit’ me. Like… um…” she clicked her fingers, “Cyclops! Cyclops an’ Havoc outta the comics. They’re family so their powers don’t work none. Kinda handy when ya can knock a house down, ah guess. Where was ah? Oh yeah.

“It all seems okay when yer talkin’ ta me, but it don’t last. Every time ah get mopey along ya come with ya silly grin an’ ya spiky hair an’ ya make me feel good an’ special for as long as ah’m around ya,” Brute offered a genuine, warm smile, but it quickly faded. “An’ then ya go flyin’ off ta sleep with Darrik an’ infinity and Starseed an’ who knows who else an’ ah’m left wit’ Mr. Bear an’ ah’m jus’ as confused as if ya never talked ta me in the first place.” She ran a hand through her hair, in a manner unconscious yet eerily similar to Puck’s own nervous tic. “Ah’m not really part o’ yer life, Puck. Not really. Ah ain’t part o’ Exalt!, ah ain’t one o’ yer lovers, ah’m yer sister. Ya said it yerself; ya don’ know what to do wit’ that. S’ somethin’ ya never really thought about. Me? Ah’m still a virgin, surrounded by people who seem ta agree that sex is the cheaper way to stay warm.

“An’… that bugs me. Even ‘fore ya went inna mah head an’ made me smarter, ah wasn’t that dumb. Ah knew what was goin’ on around me, even though everyone liked to hide it. All them ladies didn’t get pregnant through immaculate conception, right?”

Puck ran his hand through his hair. He had been pilloried by just about everybody over his indiscretions. The only person who could have who had not yet was Chang, because he always mysteriously forgot to bring the matter up around her. It was another blow, and a hard one, to hear this from his sister. She was one of the last people he wanted to hurt.

“‘Sides, ah can pick up someone’s body heat s’long as ah’m in the same buildin’ as ‘em. People havin’ sex put off more ’n usual. Guess ya know that. Ah know ya like it an’ ya need it, an’ ah got no business sayin’ nothin’ about that. An’ y’all have been real nice around me. Ya always tried to keep it under wraps, an’ ah appreciated it. Ah’ve learned a bit about them Terat friends o’ yours an’ what you do. It’s a real sacrifice to pretend around me, an’ it’s not one ah should’a forced on ya.” Her eyes grew hooded and sad. She bit her lip, in that way she did sometimes when there was something on her mind that she felt needed saying but didn’t want to. Finally she fixed the camera with her deep, liquid brown eyes and said, “Ah guess this is where it all goes wrong, for all the right reasons.

“Nobody else ever played nice, Puck. Every time Infinity was around it was all makin’ googley eyes at ya, every time Darrik was around it was all innuendo an’ makin’ eyes an’ ah could never think straight around him anyways. It jus’ made me feel like so long as ah wasn’t there everyone’d be havin’ a whole lot more fun. Ya remember when we went out on that island? They wanted ta jump yer bones, an’ they sure would’a if ah wasn’t there.” Brute shrugged and shook her head, seeming helpless and lost. “Ah don’ know, Puck. Since when did ah ever know anythang? An’ then Star showed off an’ ah went an’ lost mah head right there in front o’ everybody. That must’a been embarrassin’, even though ya were both nice about it.

“Either way, ah don’t got no right to tell ‘em how they oughta behave. So if ah got a problem then mah options are to have no friends at all, or leave, because they’re your friends, an’ ah ain’t gonna see ‘em when you’re not there. Given yer listenin’ to this, ah guess ya can figure what ah decided ta do. It feels like ah’m doin’ the right thing, the moral thing. It ain’t right to try an’ make everyone else act the wrong way ta make yerself feel better, an’ ah’m talkin’ that exact thang!” She threw her hands up and gave a great, shuddering sigh. “Ah don’ wanna be a bad person, Puck. Ah really don’t. You Terat folk are a bit too hardcore for me in the end.” Brute smiled faintly.

“Ah don’ belong is what ah’m getting at. Ah’ve been thinkin’ like ah should go an’ have sex. Like that’d make me fit in more. Dr. Sellas told me that don’t make no sense an’ ah know she’s right but the feelin’s there Puck, an’ it don’t go away jus’ by sayin’ so. Everythin’ feels like it oughta be an orgy when you’re aroun’. That works for everyone else, don’t it? So why not me? What makes me special?” She shook her head and sighed again. When she looked up, she raised her hands and let them drop. “Most o’ this ya know already. Ah’m really jus’ goin’ over it for completion’s sake so ah’m not leavin’ anythang out. Ah don’t want’cha ta feel like ah jus’ up an’ left ‘cause ah got upset one day. S’more like thangs have been goin’ that way for a while an’ ah only just realized. Learnin’ that there’s gonna be five kids for Star… ah guess it was the ol’ straw that broke the camel’s behind, after knowin’ there were all these other ones comin’ too.

“Anyways… so here ah am tryin’ ta make sense o’ all this, tryin’ ta figure out what ta do an’ who an’ what ah’m meant ta be… an’ then suddenly ah gotta be an Aunt? Fifty times over? An’ you, the only damn person ah can rely on, ya gonna go be a father. Ya gotta! Ya got children now. Ya cain’t let ‘em go wrong. Y’all can do what ah cain’t. Ya can raise yer kids right, an’ stick it to dad.”

“He’s still wit’ me, Puck. What he said ta me. What he did. He wasn’t nice ta me, he never gave me a chance. But ah’m broke now, an’ ah cain’t never prove him wrong by bein’ what he said ah couldn’t. Maybe ah wouldn’a been able to anyhow. That don’ matter no more. What’s done’s done. Whether it’s nature or nurture, ah’m made ta break things. But you,” she looked up, pointed at the screen and smiled, “y’all were made ta build things. Ta make ‘em better. It’s all over everythang you touch, everythang you try for. An’ that… that’s great. But yer life’s gone and got complicated, Puck. An’ ya don’t have room in yer life for all o’ that an’ yer big broke sister.”

Puck almost opened his mouth to reply. Instead he rubbed his eyes and sat back in his seat. He hated seeing her like this, heart on her sleeve and bleeding all over.

“Ya can teleport to the end o’ time an’ space, ya can set up yer own nation… but ya cain’t make the day have more hours than it’s got. Yer life’s gonna get more busy from here on out, Puck, not less. Ah’m gonna lose ya one way or t’other. An’ ya won’t even notice, ‘cause you’ll have fifty kids ta take care of an’ a nation ta run. S’ alright. Ah can hear ya objectin’ already. But ah think we both know ah’m right on this one. Ya went an’ got yerself some bigger issues ta attend to than me, an’ ya cain’t take care o’ me an’ Exalt! an’ yer kids an’ yer lovers all at the same time. Y’all gotta pick, Puck…” a few tears crept down her cheek. “Ah cain’t make ya do that. An’ ah cain’t let ya try an’ balance all these plates at once, in case they all come crashin’ down. What yer doin’ here,” Eden pointed up and gestured around her in general, “it’s more important than me. So that makes the process o’ elimination real easy.

“Ah didn’t take much. Mr. Bear didn’t think it’d be right ta. There’ll be other girls comin’ in who need nice things, ah mean really need ‘em. This ol’ node done gone made me self-reliant, yessiree,” she said, tapping herself on the temple. “So all ah took was mah new backpack an’ Mr. Bear an’ mah clothes. Ah guess the clothes ain’t mine neither, but they remind me of ya, an’ ah don’t wanna forget. Ya know how mah head is. Sometimes ah’m a bit absent-minded, an’ ah ain’t takin’ no risks on this one. Anyhow, ah figure nobody’d mind. Oh, an’ ah’m takin’ mah escrima sticks. Tell mah teacher ah’ll keep practicin’. Don’ know how much it’ll help, but ah’ll work on what he told me.”

She rested her chin on the back of her hand for a few moments, staring into the camera as if looking for something else to say, or having too much to say and finding no way to say it. Finally she nodded. “Thanks, Puck. For everythang. Ah know there’s no ‘good’ way to do somethin’ like this, so this is it. Ah’m done. Bye.”

Eden reached out, and the message ended.


As Puck was listening to Brute’s farewell, she was far away and walking further. The evening was coming on with an azure sky fading to purple. It looked like it might be a bright night.

Cars and trucks zoomed by her, racing to wherever the road went. She didn’t know, and she hadn’t checked. Brute didn’t know where she was going and had not set out on any destination in particular. Only this was different to when her father cast her out like the trash.

This time Brute walked for her own reasons. She did not know where she was going or if she would ever get there, but she had a good idea who was waiting for her at the end of this road. It wasn’t someone she knew well, or even someone she knew of up until recently, and it wasn’t someone who mattered much to anybody but her and Puck. It was a girl she might have known, but forgot about long ago, a girl named Eden Klitzkow.

Brute paused at the roadside and screwed up her lip. It was well out of fashion, but she figured she might as well give it a try. She put on her best, Puck-brand silly grin and stuck out her thumb in the direction of the traffic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Puck watched the video and then sat perfectly still for over an hour, replaying it in his mind and frozen by the warring impulses and thoughts inside him. He had found her almost instantly halfway through her goodbye, walking down the side of a highway on a patch of land far enough away that he knew she was serious about leaving, not just looking for attention. That part of him that had created the ember of rage in him that always smoldered under the surface demanded that he go to her and bring her home where she'd be safe and loved.

Loved or owned? That was the voice inside him that Scripture and Chang had nurtured over the past two years; that voice was why he was still sitting in his bedroom. She wants to find her own way. Who are you to say that she must do that where you can swaddle her from the horrors of the world? Horrors she's already been through?

She's my sister.

All the more reason to let her go. You owe it to her to be supportive, not suffocating.

She'll...she could get hurt.

She's already hurt. And there's nothing you can do it about it. Are you going to take her freedom because your own fears?



I can't just...abandon her. Even if she asks.

Then don't. You each have your paths to walk. Figure out another way.

He pushed up off the chair, letting those in the link know that Eden had left for now and to pass the word along to the rest of the members. Darrik, could you come to my room? I...need you. Please.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The message over the link made Darrik's eyes blink as he absorbed the news about Eden first, then Puck's request. It seemed like an echo, mirroring the hidden parts in his head that were the memories of Epiphany. It didn't seem like Eden had been all that comfortable in Exalt! for a while, and efforts to help her were slow in progress.

Perhaps it was for the better, if the space and time gave Eden the ability to confront her issues. Not that, as the plaintive message of Puck made clear, it was easy for him to deal with, even though he likely understood quite well.

Puck could feel Darrik's footsteps settle onto the floor in his room, and his friend-slash-lover came up with a sadly sympathetic expression. "Hey. You alright?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Puck pulled Darrik into his arms, resting his head on the other man's shoulder; he wasn't crying, but Darrik could feel the tension running through him. "No," he whispered. He was silent for several moments, just taking comfort from Darrik's presence, then continued, "But that part isn't about me."

His arms tightened around Darrik, pulling him close. "I...I need you do me a favor." He pleaded in whispers, "Watch her for me? If I do it, I'll jump in any time I think she's in danger or going to hurt herself, and....and that's not what she needs. She can take care of herself and she decided to leave. I-" He swallowed, then started again. This time Darrik could feel the stain of tears on his shirt. "I have to respect that. But...but I can't just ignore her. I need to know. And I need to be able to be there if she's...if there is something that there's just no way she can handle."


Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was a heart-wrenching plea, and very few people, novas or baseline would have the slightest thought of objecting to Puck's wishes here. But Darrik had to at least put up some kind of reluctance, to at least help Puck think more about this. "I... all right." So much for that. But Darrik resolved to strictly limit his time spent on this. "But you or anyone else can't be watching for her forever. At some point, you have to step away and completely trust her."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Brute did not lightly decide to walk away from Puck and the comfortable, safe life he offered her. On the other hand, she had not prepared well for the path in front of her. This was a fairly inevitable result of having no idea whatsoever of where she would go. She knew why she needed to go, so she went. It never occurred to her to make a plan first.

As a result of this she found herself bemused by how often people ignored her proffered thumb. She knew of hitch-hiking but had never done it before. The closest she came was when she fled her parents’ home in the woods that weren’t there, was picked up by the stranger who wasn’t and delivered to the empty town nearby. She knew now that her father arranged that little series of events.

After a while she went back to walking by the roadside.

The girl who first walked across America had grown up some, and changed a lot. Memories stuck in her thoughts now like flies pinned to a board. She remembered every step that took her from the Exalt! building to here. Even with Scripture’s help the walk away from Texas remained a mess of fog and vague recollections. The closest thing she could have compared it to would be a fever dream, going by the description of such a dream she heard from the Exalt! membership. Brute’s physiology did not allow for such imperfections.

She felt better now. Her emotions overcame her after recording the message for Puck. In truth she feared he would return while she recorded it and talk her out of leaving. Or maybe he would support her because she felt she needed to go. But he was Puck, and he would be upset, and that would have stopped her.

Brute walked for an hour, watching cars race by her on the road with fascination. Other than that one half-remembered journey with her father, Brute could not recall having ever been in a car. This whole journey felt different than the first. She walked with a clear head, with a genuine reason. That counted for something, right?

An eighteen-wheel truck pulled up beside her.

It was huge, with some kind of tanker on the trailer at the back. She could feel heat emanating from inside it, but could not have guessed what the cargo was. A huge colourful logo was emblazoned on the side. ‘REPCON’ in red letters. The truck was painted white for the most part.

Brute walked to the vehicle’s door, tracing her eyes up the ladder which led up to it. The engine grumbled to itself as it came to a stop. The man who peered out of his window at her was a big fellow, large in the belly and wide in the shoulders, with a neatly-trimmed but long beard reminiscent of old rockers and a red peaked cap.

“Howdie,” Brute called up at him. “Ah like yer truck.”

“Hey there little lady,” he called down to her. “You goin’ somewhere?”

Brute looked down the road. It went on and on into the darkness. She pointed. “Jus’ that way, really. How do they put it? First star on the left an’ keep goin’ on ‘til mornin’?”

He looked ahead. “Is that a fact? Look, um, do you want a lift or somethin’?”

“Sure.” She answered straight away, without thinking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

“You from down South?” The trucker, whose name was Tony, asked as he drove on through the night.

Brute sat in the seat at his side, marvelling at how fast everything was scooting by. Mr. Bear was looking out the window, too, waving his paw at the cars as they went by. She sat back and looked over to Tony. Mr. Bear settled in her lap. “Yeah,” she said. “Somewhere in Texas, ah think.”

He frowned. “Ya don’t know where?”

“Not really,” Brute answered, looking out at the road ahead. It was less interesting than looking out the window, probably because nothing was going the other way when you looked in front. That might be for the best, though.

Nonetheless, the road ahead had a lot of appeal. They were out on what Tony called ‘the Interstate’, and at night there was a strange, almost ghostly sort of beauty to it. Light broke the darkness in pools of dusky orange and fading green, cast by lights that were set around the edges of the roads and from the little round balls in the centre. Those were called ‘cat’s eyes’ apparently. Brute did not think they looked much like the eyes of a cat. The coming and going cars added brighter, sharper flashes of white and red lights.

“Where are you from?” Brute asked. She stroked Mr. Bear’s head with one hand.

“Chicago, originally. Been all over the place. Married three times, divorced twice, got kids down south and kids up north. No damn place to run, so I just drive an’ keep drivin’,” he laughed.

Brute smiled, not getting the joke. “You don’t know where you’re goin’ neither?”

“Me? My next stop’s off in Kentucky. You want me to take you that far?”

“Maybe,” Brute said with a little shrug. She went back to looking out the window.


The hours rolled by. Brute most looked out of the window. She found the cars rushing by to be an endless entertainment. If the traffic thinned for a while, instead she watched the shadowed landscape shifting and moving like a living thing at the edge of perception. She could see the little heat spots of furred mammals running about down there, living their lives hidden from human eyes in the spaces between the state’s concrete arteries.

“We’re gonna after pull off before too long,” Tony said. “My meter’s getting topped out.”

Brute looked over to him. “Mm?”

He nodded at a counter on the dashboard.

The dashboard was another mystery to her. There were gauges and dials and slidey things and the radio and all sorts of numbers that she could not make heads nor tails of, even after Puck made her smarter. She understood when Tony explained something, and understood instantly, but she could intuit nothing. The particular counter he pointed to was a glowing readout showing two numbers, one static, the other slowly climbing. The first number was set to eleven. The other was at nine and a half.

“What’s up with that number?” Brute asked.

“Law says I can only drive for eleven hours straight. Got to get off the road and sleep then.” He yawned. “Lookin’ forward to it. You got any idea for somewhere to sleep tonight?” He sounded concerned.

Brute smiled. “Oh, ah don’t do that. Ah’ll prob’ly jus’ get walkin’ again.”

Now he looked very confused. “You don’t… sleep?”

It occurred to her that people were supposed to do that. It wasn’t safe for Novas to be out on their own. At least it hadn’t been for her back in the day. “Naw, ah mean ah don’t sleep much. ‘Cuz ah’m young, ah guess. Ya know, boundless energy. Like a bunny.” She had seen a lot of bunnies so far this evening. Or at least she thought they were bunnies. They were a bit too small to be foxes. Unless they were baby foxes.

Tony seemed to be a little shaken by that. He kept glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. She was noticing that. The longer she was around him, the more he began to look uncomfortable. He had been really helpful when he pulled her on the truck, but he seemed shocked by how cold her skin was. That wasn’t a huge surprise, though. Brute’s normal skin temperature was close to arctic. A drop of water on her fingertip would freeze inside a minute.

Now that she thought about it, answering ‘I don’t get cold’ back then might not have been well thought out. Tony moved past that quick enough though. Now it seemed he was adding one thing to another and not liking what it amounted to.

“You said you had family down south?” Brute asked, hoping to distract him.

Tony gave her a suspicious glance. “Uh… yeah. Wife, daughter.” He grunted. “Neither of ‘em worth much. Both lookers, both hookers,” he said, in a tone of utmost bitterness.

That pretty much ended talking.


An hour and a half later, Tony’s truck pulled up into a truck stop. It was lit up brighter than ever, as clear as day inside the shops there, and the darker buildings were topped by neon signs. They made Brute smile, but she knew it was time to go. Tony was positively frigid now. He looked at her the way she had seen arachnophobes look at spiders.

She waited until the truck came to a stop and he was looking out his window, muttering about what he was going to do for sleeping.

Then she hugged Mr. Bear and flicked her node with a thought. Quantum trickled through her and her flesh and clothes turned to water. She took a deep breath and melted, trickled down and pooling in the footwell before flowing out through the cracks in the door.

She dripped onto the concrete below the truck and spread into rivulets that went underneath the vehicle. She waited there, in liquid form, until Tony had jumped down out of his truck in surprise, looked around, cursed a couple of times, muttered something in a fearful tone, then jumped back in and drove on.

Brute remained, a shimmering, still pool of water, until the truck had come to a complete stop fifty meters away and more than two dozen other cars had driven through her, splashing her liquid body, though the pool never lost a droplet. That probably would have looked odd if anyone looked close.

Eventually there was a gap in the traffic, and Brute flowed up to solidify in her human shape again. The bits of water that were her clothes and Mr. Bear she moved to their right places. Mr. Bear was back in the backpack, peaking out the way he usually did, and she shrugged her pack higher before heading on her way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Brute sat in a corner booth at a diner named ‘Betty’s’ according to the massive neon sign which lured her here, piercing the midnight darkness with its shining emerald light. She sat, like normal people.

Mr. Bear sat on the table by her elbow, looking out the window at the cars pulling up outside or pulling away. More than once she saw a young man looking back at her and wondered why.

Her hat lay on the table, too, and she rested her chin on one hand as she looked over the place.

It was all clean and white, with a simple alternating pattern of white and brown tiles on the floor. The seats and tables were red and white respectively. The outfits for the maids were white and red, too. Like hospital staff, she thought. But she had never been in a hospital, so she wasn’t sure either way.

She’d been on the road for a week now, walking mostly, hitch-hiking sometimes. Once or twice she went foggy and flew a while, but it felt right to walk. This was all about walking. She had no idea how far she had come. She wasn’t very big right now, though she could have changed that, but even so if you walked for twenty four hours without stopping even once – which she did for a two day stretch – she figured you would cover a decent amount of distance. But not as much as you would in a car for an hour.

Her mind moved faster than it used to. Calculating distance and time came to her quite easily, but she lacked the formal training to be sure about her numbers.

One of the waitresses came over to her table. “Hey there, hon. Can I get you anything?”

“Naw, ah’m fine,” Brute replied, giving her the special Puck-brand super-smile.

“You sure? You’ve been there for hours. Are you waiting for someone?”

“Naw, nothin’ like that. Jus’ takin’ a break from the road. Ah been walkin’ for days. Gets borin’ after a while, ya know?” Not that she was tired. Far from it. In truth she didn’t know what that felt like. It always fascinated her to watch people being tired in the movies. It looked really unpleasant. And sleeping. That looked cool. Brute could never remember sleeping, either, though she supposed it might be like being unconscious. But it was also a bit like being tired, only she thought one looked awkward and the other looked nice. Funny, that.

The waitress was blond and pretty. The uniform was fetching on her. She looked a little… envious, maybe? “You walked here? Where from, honey?”

“Manhattan. It’s real big up there. Not as big as me sometimes, but big.”

She frowned down at her. “What on earth do you mean by that? And aren’t you hungry? If you’ve walked from Manhattan you must be starving!”

“Naw ah’m fine. Ah don’t eat,” she said with a little gesture to wave off the woman’s concerns. Then she remembered that people were supposed to eat, and she wasn’t meant to be advertising that she was a Nova, in case people came after her. The Teragen sites she looked at were pretty keen to point out the dangers for a Nova child these days. “Much,” she added, “ah don’t eat much. Couple o’ sandwiches, a bit o’ water, an’ ah’m right as rain, yesiree. Guess that’s what leads to the figure.”

The waitress had a hell of a lot more curves than Brute. Her body was slender, willowy, athletic in a subdued sort of way. Her musculature was only clear if you saw her naked. The clothes she wore hid everything effectively. There was definite envy in the woman’s eyes now. And something else that Brute could not put a finger on. She saw it in the eyes of that trucker, too, and a few people who passed by her so far tonight. They always acted funny when they had that look, though.

“Well,” the waitress said, “can I get you anything?”

“Ah don’t got no money,” Brute said with another smile. “Ah’m jus’ walkin’. Girl don’t need no money ta walk. Though actually ya could help me out wit’ somethin’.”

“Sure, honey. What do you need?”

“Ah could do with a map. Ah’ve really jus’ been followin’ the road up ta now. Ah don’t even know where ah am, really.”

That look intensified. The waitress frowned deeply. “Where are you going?”

Brute smiled. “Ah reckon ah’ll figure that out if ah jus’ keep walkin’ long enough.”

The woman’s mouth twitched. It didn’t form anything resembling a smile though. “I’ll… see about that map, then.”

She hurried off, as if desperate to get away. Brute turned Mr. Bear around and made him do a little dance on the table. He fuzzed her nose with a paw.

“It’s real excitin’ for ya, ain’t it Mr. Bear? Ya get ta see all kinds o’ people around here, don’tcha?”

Someone laughed nearby. Brute overheard the resulting conversation. It was about her, in the sort of low voices people used to try and hide things from others. Her ears were sharper than they expected, though, and she heard it all. Evidently they overheard her talking to the waitress.

They talked about how… sexy… she was.

Brute blushed furiously and hugged Mr. Bear. Then she covered his ears. “Ah don’t think ya oughta hear talk like that, Mr. Bear. Not one bit. Hugs is your language, ain’t it? Yes it is.” She made him hug her around the neck.

The waitress returned with the map, and went away almost too fast for Brute to thank her.

Those men nearby were still talking about her. It sounded like they were building up to something. One of them muttered, “I dunno, Ty. She’s got a funny feeling about her.” That led to a lewd joke that made her blush all over again.

Boys are real rude, she thought to herself. Ah hope that ain’t how Puck talks about Darrik behind his back. She thought about Puck for a moment, with his spiky hair and playful smile. Oh hell, mr. Bear, that’s totally how he talks behind Darrik’s back, ain’t it? An’ how he talks behind mine.

And wasn’t that why she left, in the end? It grew to feel like nobody could be themselves when she was around. Even if they were happy to sacrifice it for her benefit, that wasn’t right. It meant she didn’t belong, sure as anything.

She studied the map. Even without any further help it did not take her long to work out where she was. She’d be reaching the Pennsylvania border soon, with some hard walking and a little hitch-hiking. She’d be going into Westboro county according to the map, and her first city stop would be at Scranton.

Well, guess ah got an answer when people ask where ah’m goin’ now. She noticed she would be in the hilariously named Lackawanna county when she reached Scranton, too. For a while she just kept saying ‘Lackawanna’ to herself and giggling.

She felt the heat of one of the men coming over from the booth, and turned to look up at him with a smile. “Well hi there. My name’s Brute. What’s yours?”

“I’m Tyrone. Friends call me Ty. You got a strange name there, Brute.”

He was well-built, muscular, with a young, fresh, healthy look, dressed in clothes a little tight in all the right places. He reminded her very slightly of Darrik, only nowhere near as good. Rather he looked ridiculous, like he was trying to be something he wasn’t naturally, whereas Darrik just looked good.

Brute turned away a little, and coughed. “Ty, then. And if ya ask me, ‘Ty’ is a strange name, too. Ties are things you put around your neck, after all. It’s like calling yourself ‘noose’ or somethin’.” She put on a very slightly offended air, and then broke it with a smile. “Can ah help?”

“Oh I don’t think so, but I can probably help you. Me and my friends are heading out in a minute, and I was wondering if you wanted to hitch a ride. I couldn’t help but overhear you talking to the good lady over there.” He pointed over at the waitress.

“Ah’m headin’ to Scranton in Pennsylvania,” Brute said, and pointed at the map, lifting and moving it closer to him so he could clearly see where she intended to go. “You goin’ that way?”

“If you want we can go that way. Sure thing.” He smiled at her, and leaned on her table, looking her up and down with roving eyes.

Brute smiled. “Sure thang then. Jus’ give me a moment to put Mr. Bear back in his place.”

She slid him into the backpack and rose, put her hat back on, and went on one leg for a moment in a stance of impish delight. “Shall we?”

There were three others, and they all got up as Tyrone headed for the door. They all had a strange look about them, Brute thought. One of them – the one who said he got a funny feeling from her – couldn’t stop staring at her. The other two were wearing these little smiles and checking out her ass as she went by.

She guessed she’d just have to put up with that. It was a new experience for sure. She didn’t like it much. Brute kept her smile on and moved up next to Tyrone as he led her out of Betty’s towards his car.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The oozing thing in the dark morphed into a sort of shadow imp, and through it's eyes, Darrik could keep track of Eden rather well. Especially least during the evenings, and in any case, his long-distance link with the long term constructs meant he already knew her next destination as soon as she said it within earshot. The imp melded and flowed until it could unnoticed see into the car. If there was trouble, Darrik knew exactly where to arrive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Brute sat on the backseat beside two of the men. They were named Jacky and Seth. Jacky was a handsome young guy with long blond hair. Seth seemed a bit strange. He had a long face, not so good looking, with queer pale eyes and very black hair. When she complimented him on it he gave her a tight-lipped smile that did not seem insincere, but did not feel very genuine either. His eyes didn’t smile.

Garret sat up front with talkative Tyrone. Garret wore a cap and barely looked at her. When he did his eyes were hooded. He never stopped frowning.

She had her backpack on the floor behind Tyrone’s seat, and Mr. Bear sat in her lap, bouncing enthusiastically as they raced along the road.

“This is awesome,” she said. “Ah’ve never been in a car. Well, not recently anyways.”

“No? You a country gal?” Jacky affected an imitation of her accent when he said that.

“Somethin’ like that,” Brute replied. “Ah grew up in a cabin out in the woods. Ya know, running through the trees an’ stuff.”

“You do that naked? That’s what they do in the movies.”

“Do ah look like ah’m from a movie?”

“Sure you do! Maybe even better than that,” Jacky replied. He put his hand on her leg.

Brute shooed him off, but smiled. “Well thanks for that, you’re quite the gentleman. But ah’ve seen some o’ them movie Nova types an’ they make me look pretty damn dowdy.”

The wind was in her hair. Tyrone passed another convertible. All women in that one, wearing pretty summer dresses a little out of season. Brute had Mr. Bear wave to them. They waved back. This was awesome.

She felt more a part of all that was happening around her than ever before. Being in this car, with these men, watching other cars with other people speeding by or being sped by… there was something... something... reciprocal about it.

Walking by the roadside did not make her part of roadside life. Hitch-hiking didn’t either, really. That was more dipping her toes into a pond and pulling them out again. This felt like a long swim. It occurred to her that – technically – Jacky hadn’t been wrong. She did run naked in the woods once or twice, or at least she swum in the lake naked. Or maybe she did neither of those things.

Even with Scripture’s assistance, her memories were not flawless. Some were just plain false, others unrecoverably garbled. She remembered them clearly, though, garbled though they were.

They drove on, mile after mile. The men kept giving her information about the local area, about the city. Now and again they flattered her, complimented Mr. Bear – though despite Puck’s help in cleaning him up he did look a little tired sometimes – and were generally the nicest people she’d met since leaving Exalt!

But there was something growing in their eyes, the way it always seemed to with humans. It was there from the start with Garret, who almost never said a word and tried not to look at her. It grew in Jacky’s gaze and burned in Seth’s. She did not know what it meant, but it made her feel a little awkward.

At one point, Jacky took Mr. Bear. Brute let him go, thinking it would be fine. They were all having fun after all. Jacky made him bounce around and laughed, but the sound was all wrong and his smile had a cruel edge. The other men laughed, too. Except for Garret.

They’re laughin’ at me, she thought suddenly, clenching her fists.

“Wheee!” Jacky said, making Mr. Bear bounce and leap extra high. “Oh you better be careful there, bear, or you might go over the side. Whee!” This time Mr. Bear went near the door.

Brute reached to take him back, but Jacky jerked him out of reach. “Ah-ah, I’m teaching Mr. Bear about acrobatics.”

“Ah think ah might be better able ta do that, mister,” Brute said. “Ah’m a gymnast.”

“You got the body for sure,” Jacky said, and leered at her.

He suddenly went to throw Mr. Bear out of the car. Brute lunged, grabbed the teddy and had him in her lap and in her arms before the man could blink.

And then he blinked. Several times he blinked, and stared at her in disbelief. “Holy shit,” he mumbled.

Brute clutched Mr. Bear to her chest. “Ah think you should apologize to Mr. Bear for what you jus’ did, mister. He’s a sensible bear. He wouldn’t jump over the edge of nothin’, would ya Mr. Bear?” He shook his head at her. Then he hugged her neck. “Mr. Bear likes hugs more ‘n’ anythang else. If y’all wanna learn about hugs, he’s your bear.”

“Oh I’d like to hug you,” Jacky said. The drew a round of laughter. He put his hand on her thigh. It was higher up than it ought to have been.

Her heart felt heavy all of a sudden. Oh… oh hell, she thought, realizing what this was. Y’all cain’t be serious.

But they were. She pushed Jacky’s hand away. It came back a moment later. His gaze held heat and lust. “You know, you’re really cold. I reckon a nice long hug could fix that.”

She moved his hand away again. “Ah don’t think ah need nothin’ like that, mister. Ah jus’ want a ride into the city.”

“And how are you going to pay us for the ride?” That was from Seth, behind her. She turned suddenly. He had barely spoken since the journey began. “Free’s free and free alike,” he said. “We do something for free. You do something for free. Everyone’s happy.”

“Ah ain’t doin’ that for free!” Brute wondered how they could find this so hard to understand.

Jacky grabbed her arm. “If you don’t, we’ll do it for you.”

She shoved him off this time. He banged his hip on the side and let out a little cry of pain.

Tyrone pulled the car off into a quiet layby and came to a stop. Brute all but leapt out of the car. It only occurred to her after she was on her feet that she’d left her backpack behind, and Mr. Bear didn’t have anything to ride in. She could have run if she had it. Still could, she supposed.

Jacky rose up in his seat. “Hey, Eden, where you going? We just want to be friends.”

“Please, mister, don’t do this,” her voice held a plaintive note. She felt heat in her cheeks and tightness in her gut. They weren’t any threat, she knew that. But if they didn’t back down she might hurt them. No, she would hurt them.

Tyrone got out of the car. The other three men moved to fan out around her in a half-circle. Brute ran a hand through her hair. She knew what they wanted to do. She held Mr. Bear to her chest, wishing he wouldn’t have to see this. He didn’t like what she did to the polar bear, either.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Tyrone said, grinning, “We’re just going to have some fun and then get back on the road. You like having fun, don’t you? I mean, you’ve still got your teddy. Your teddy likes having fun, doesn’t he?”

“Leave Mr. Bear outta it,” she snapped at him. “He ain’t done nothin’ wrong. He shouldn’t have ta see this. Y’all shouldn’t neither. Jus’ get back in the car an’ drive off. Ah won’t tell nobody, ah’ll jus’ walk the rest o’ the way.”

The dark-haired man, Seth, stepped forward. “You’re not going to tell anyone anyway. That might make me upset.” He produced a flick knife and popped the blade. “You wouldn’t want to make me upset.”

Brute hugged Mr. Bear tighter. “Ah’m sorry Mr. Bear. Ah tried, ah really did.”

“I’m sick of that fucking bear,” Jacky hissed, and strode up on her while the others laughed. Their laughter sounded wrong again.

All of this sounded wrong, in retrospect. They weren’t trying to help her at all, not from the beginning to the end. They were laughing at her all the way from the diner, just waiting for… for this. Brute swallowed. She could turn liquid and flow away or go misty, though that would hurt them. Yet… she couldn’t. She even willed it to happen but it didn’t, the mental signals were guns firing off into the air and hitting nothing.

Jacky grabbed at Mr. Bear.

Brute intercepted his hand with one of hers. He tried again. She intercepted him again. He grabbed her arm and tried to force it out of the way and found it unyielding.

He swore at her and went for the bear again. She slapped his hand aside, and backhanded him across the face. Brute managed to restrain herself but the effort was becoming intolerable. She shook and clung to Mr. Bear, staring at them from under hooded eyes, desperately hoping that they would just leave her alone.

Jacky stared at her, dumbfounded. His friends laughed at him. Seth, though, had a gleam in his eye to go with it. The others found Jacky’s embarrassment part of the show. Seth saw it as his chance to get nasty. He brandished the knife. “That wasn’t very clever. I’m going to gut that fucking bear and make you eat its stuffing now.”

Brute took a step back and half-turned away, shielding Mr. Bear with her body. “You won’t,” she said, her voice iron-hard. “I’ll kill you if you try.”

He didn’t listen. Why wouldn’t they listen?

Seth stepped forward.

Brute knew she should run. They could never catch her. But her legs wouldn’t move. There was something in her, a spark of righteous indignation that would not permit her to, just as it wouldn’t let her liquefy or mist and float away.

Seth grabbed her shoulder. His eyes were wide. His grin was fixed.

Brute looked up at him. He jabbed the knife at her arm.

She grabbed his wrist and squeezed.

It sounded a bit like a tree branch cracking. He screamed. Brute closed her hand until she had almost made a fist, crushing his wrist into pulp within it. Blood oozed between her fingers. She began to cry.

As she closed her fist his voice turned into a pained, animalistic mewl. He stared at what she was doing, agony and shock clouding his gaze. He dropped to his knees before her as if in supplication, pawing at his arm.

Brute closed her eyes, and with difficulty she let him go.

She walked to the edge of the grass beside the road and sat Mr. Bear down. His big black eyes were accusing. “Ah’m sorry,” she said, weeping. “Ah really am. Jus’ don’ watch. It’ll be okay.” She turned him round. “That’s right.” She sniffed. “Y’all watch the grass. There’s bugs an’ stuff in there. That’s interestin’.”

The men had realized what she was. “You’re a Nova,” Jacky said in a whisper, backing up. Seth had collapsed on his side, curled up on his hand like a dying insect.

Tyrone had backed up so far that his butt had hit the bonnet of his car. He was fumbling around as if trying to find the door, unable to take his eyes off her. Garret, the one who had been awkward about this from the beginning, looked resigned to his fate.

Brute walked towards the car. She felt sick. She wanted to kick Seth, and kick him hard. It would make him shut up. Mr. Bear wouldn’t have to listen to it anymore. But he’d know what she did. He might not be her friend after that.

This was everything her dad said she was. Just a monster. A brute.

No wonder they took mah name away, she thought. Ah heard mom like that, too. She broke her mother’s wrist when she got frustrated doing sums. That was where all the pain began. Well, most of it. She supposed that she must have been upset by some things before that.

She looked around her, at these men, these people like the people she saw in cities all the time, and saw for the first time the real differences between herself and them. It wasn’t just a matter of them being confident, in control, secure in themselves and their life. There were real, physical differences. And in that simple, physical realm, they were brutally, irredeemably inferior.

Tyrone jumped into his car and tried to get it going.

Brute darted forward and kicked it.

The vehicle almost flipped over, but instead teetered on its far wheels, threatening to over-balance. Metal bent and scrunched, one of the tires came off completely. Her blow left a dent that one would have expected from someone ten times her size.

With tree-in-the-forest slowness, the car began to come back down. The screams of the three men reached her ears. Brute put a hand and caught the car as it fell back towards her. It seemed to be not much heavier than a feather, really. Ah could juggle this if ah wanted, she realized.

It was a numb realization of how strong she was. She knew, of course. How could she not? She crushed a helicopter in her hand, she tore a polar bear to pieces. But this provided her context with actual people, with living, breathing, thinking things that were ostensibly her peers in the world. These were the people she would share her days with. These were humans.

Brute let the car drop.

It crashed down. Tyrone had pissed himself. She smelled it. He let out a wordless cry of terror and slipped out of the car on the other side.

Brute reached into the backseat and fetched her backpack. She went over to Mr. Bear and picked him up. She cried into his fur. “Ah’m so sorry,” she said.

Then she ran, as far and fast as she could, away into the roadside wilderness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

The shadow creature melted away from the frightened and whimpering men and oozed its way through the darkened glade. It wouldn't have a chance to catch Eden, but the ingrained instructions from what it instinctively recognized as master compelled it to try.

On the other end, Darrik let his head and back flop onto the bed. He didn't say anything, because Puck was in the building and he had no intention of conversing on this matter with his friend-lover until he knew what to say.

The matter was, from one perspective, simple. Eden had been assaulted, with clear intentions by the disgusting, scummy, wretched attackers to rape her. On the other hand, she had woefully little interaction with humanity and not used to the fact that people could be like that, in attitude, and in one-sided comparison. Would be like that.

She was feeling like the aggressor, although she was the victim and none of it was her fault... the problem was, she still needed to figure that out for herself. And of course - Puck would probably take it as the last straw and go out to find her posthaste.

In short the questions were these: Should I really lie to Puck? And if so, how likely will he be able to tell? The consequences of detection would be obvious. Darrik closed his eyes and decided it wasn't worth the attempt. Brace for it then.

*Puck? Can we talk in private?*

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Darrik could feel the shift in Puck's attention; vaguely he could "hear" the other conversations going on in the link, but there was a removed feeling to his connection with Puck now and he knew that no one else would be able to "listen" in anymore. Of course. What's going on? Puck could feel the strain in Darrik's sending, though he didn't have the context to put it into.

Through the link, Darrik could also see the Master Studio through Puck's eyes; the deceptively young nova had been taking a small bit of personal time, tending to artistic projects he'd let languish over the past few weeks in favor of so many administrative duties and spending time with each of the mothers-to-be of his children. Sometimes I wish I had Star's particular gifts, to be so many all at once, Puck answered Darrik's half-thought observations on Puck's current schedule.

He continued to work with the prisms, mirrors, and lights arrayed on the table in front of him, creating a shifting maze of lights as all three sets of components were set precisely on moving and lazily spinning platforms. Puck was altering the movements of the platforms, testing each configuration until he found one where - no matter the current placements of any light, mirror, or prism - a beautiful display of color was always presented from every angle it could be perceived from. It was a puzzle he'd been working on for almost two days now, a new record for his expanded intelligence and perceptions since his apotheosis; he intended to install the entire piece into the primary play room on the main island once the community moved.

I'm distracting you, love, Puck observed and stepped back from his project. Something urgent and upsetting is on your mind?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Puck could feel the weight of Darrik's 'mental' nod, in acknowledgement. *I'm going to trust you not to run off so far when you see this.* It was a highly edited version of what had transpired with Eden and her truckers, focusing on giving a succinct idea of what happened, ending with her running off.

Almost immediately, Darrik regretted showing him as he could feel the anger setting in like a haze over the alabaster skinned nova. *Puck! Puck! She's unhurt you know, calm down!*

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He came back to himself surrounded by a million reflections of light; his quantum blade quivering in his hand. The particles of mirror and prisms were still falling, almost dancing around him the play of light and silver. A flex of quantum and the blade was dismissed again as Puck pulled himself out of the red haze of rage. The link buzzed with concern and he could feel a dozen Exalt members already on their way up to the studio - he let them know that he was better now, but he didn't ask them not to come up anyways. He needed the company right now.

*Thank you, Darrik. I- I did not handle that well. I should work on that...* His thoughts lapsed into a pensive murmur. *She is unharmed. Thank you for being there, for watching. Hopefully....hopefully she will be wiser next time.* There were many other things that he would hope for, but her learning wariness was the most likely to occur. 'Human nature', Puck was understanding why it was said in such tones by his elders.

He stepped carefully out of the ruins of his art, taking the time to pick out the mirror dust that had settled on his clothes and hair like a silvery halo and moving himself away from the shards that could injure baselines so easily. *Please stay with her a little while longer, if you would, luv?*

Link to comment
Share on other sites

*I'll do my best.* Darrik promised, though it would be harder to have his construct(s) keep up with Eden for now. Perhaps he'd have to have them wait for her around Scranton. The good news, Puck had recovered enough. The crisis point had passed at the moment. *She still is learning though. About all the human fault points, about what differences there really are... she'll catch on that she had every right to defend herself like that... it'll take time.*

And more than a few additional sorrows, but that was the price Puck's icy sister would have to pay in the end.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...