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Aberrant: Nova World - [NW] Novastorm's Fourth Annual Nova Expo!

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Kaitlyn smiled politely and made the umpteenth polite social noise as she slipped away from the self-important Senator from New Mexico trying to convince her to start a new company on her own across the state lines. She loved the expo for the chance for novas to show off what they could do and hopefully inspire another year of innovations and solutions to problems across the globe, but she hated the 'groupies' that invariably showed up, pushing selfish or just downright stupid personal platforms. Hell, even the kids that always tried to sneak into the high security labs were more interesting and promising to her than the dozens of petty politicians and narcissistic billionaires that flocked to the Expo just to be seen and thought important.

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An arm caught her around the waist and pulled her down onto a man's lap. He was dressed in a suit, because she'd insisted, but it was a tie-die suit because so had he. "Here," her husband slipped a flute of sparkling liquid into her hand and chuckled. "Drink this. You look like you've been chewing on lemons again."

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She leaned up against him and took a few cautious sips of the drink. "Is it that obvious?"

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"We can go, if you want," he offered in total innocent selflessness.

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"Uh-huh. You promised me opening and closing day, mister. I'm holding you to it."

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He kissed her on the neck, not ready to resign himself to a day of 'Yes, my wife and I actually are happily married,' and 'No, it doesn't bother me at all that she's got a successful career and I get to stay home and do whatever I want all day long, because I'm not a Neanderthal, thank you.' Suit required, attitude thrown in for free. "I know something else we could do...." he murmured against her skin.

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An arched brow looked down on him from her perch on his lap. "Really, that's your ploy this year?"

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He sighed and gave her an unapologetic shrug. "Well, I couldn't get Dragon Age III released early. I did try."

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Kait laughed and kissed him. "I know you did and I'm totally taking a day off when it does come out. Now, the buffet is open and the new lines of computers are being demo'd in an hour. Steven got them up and running a week early so we could bug test, and in return once the boring adult demos for the military and corporations are done, he's installed like every game ever on them and we're going to open them up for the kids and the captive spouses to play on as a sort of 'extended demo' for the rest of the day."

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His face lit up and Kait couldn't help but smile back. "How big are the monitors, again?"

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"Wall sized," she grinned and stood back up, fortified to wade back into the fray of media frenzy and nova show-offs (hey, that's what the expo was about, right?) again. Daniel scooted out of his seat, taking the empty flute from her, and kissed her goodbye. "Don't forget to eat and drink yourself, okay?"

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"I wo-"

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"....Dr. Weaver!" A petite woman with cinnamon skin and fetchingly exotic features bustled over to the couples temporary shelter. Daniel waved and made his escape before he became part of the interview as well. "Jo Seo-young with the South Korea Yonhap News Agency; I'd like to ask you about the exhibitions this year. It looks like there are six new novas debuting this year...."

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Kaitlyn sighed, pasted on her PR-smile as the woman prattled off her questions non-stop, and reminded herself of all the good that came out of the Expo every year. Also, watching everyone show off was always so cool.

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Social Thread!
So, here's the deal: Each year, Novastorm hosts a show-off expo for their resident novas (and some select others that get special invites) and R&D teams to present the projects they've been working for the year. It's always held the week of April 1st and started in 2010. This is a big international event, lots of press and people looking to impress. Feel free to socialize with each other, making up media/politician/business owner run-ins, and to do a 'showcase' post of your PC showing off for the Expo. :D

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Daniel managed to duck past the sight lines of a few reporters and make it over to the buffet line. To his surprise, someone else had well and truly beat him there. Shannon was loading up on noodles. Kaitlyn's co-worker caught Daniel with a sideways glance and smiled. "Don't worry Daniel. I'll let you have the Gold Medal for Running to Cover."

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Daniel was happy for friendly and familiar companionship, but perplexed a tad. "Wouldn't you be out there, Shannon?"

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Shannon shook his head with a frown. "No. Why would you think that?"

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Both men paused for the sacred tradition of loaded plates with all the food a guy could love before getting drinks and finding a table. "But aren't you a --"

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"Hush." There was a brief reprove in Shannon's voice, but a smile was back in place with a finger held to his lips conspiratorially. "No spoiling the mystery for the world." Aside from what he felt was befitting the necessities for one of NovaStorm's 'troubleshooters', on a fundamental level the Dead Ringer wanted to have his nova nature and abilities occluded over beyond the public knowledge.

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"Yeah, I've heard you've been sitting out all the past ones." Daniel commented, before he took his bite of mashed potatoes. "That's not something Dr. Aziz or Kaitlyn just let happen."

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Shannon sniffed dismissively. "Smarter people than them have tried."

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"Aren't they the smartest people on the planet?"

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"Exactly. I'll watch the performers later, though. They are fun."

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Across the room, a crack of lightning slammed into the floor, the boom of expanding air rolling instantly through the room. Kaitlin turned to watch, knowing that the lightning was grounding into a pit hidden in the floor. She’d helped her friend design and install that particular safety feature.

The other people in the room weren’t alarmed either; there was always some kind of dramatic entrance related to this nova’s arrival. Elizabeth Perot swept in a second later on golden wings made of light and a wave of applause. Novastorm’s regular guests were used to Dragonstorm’s grand entrances now, and gossip about her arrival always proceeded an event.

The dragon-themed nova was swarmed the moment she set foot on the ground. The woman handled them deftly, joking and smiling with members of the press. She answered some of their questions, turning aside others with a few witty words or a knowing smile. Finally, she found herself at Kaitlin’s side.

“Hey, Kait, where’s Daniel?” she asked as they hugged.

“Where do you think?” Kait asked, before peering at the space around them. “Where’s Tom? Or is it Richard? Or have you moved on again?”

Her words could have seemed bitter or spiteful but Beth just laughed. “He’s doing promotion in Israel.”

“That’s not fair. When you date hot men, you have to bring them around me!” Kait grinned up at her taller friend, adding, “That’s a rule.”

“Fine, I’ll just tell him that he owes you dinner. He’s quite the cook.” A smile curved her lips, a very fond expression, but Kait had seen that look before. Beth might like her current beau very much but he hadn’t secured a place in her heart yet.

“Did you know have a hint of a British accent when you talk about him?” Kait asked with faux innocence.

Beth blushed and cleared her throat. She lifted her head higher, peering into the crowd. “So. Who’s here that I need to talk to?” It was a clear ploy to change the subject.

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The ubiquitous presence of the media at these affairs was annoying, for the third time since he'd arrived he was being asked about his reasons for joining novastorm by yet another media hound. Could these people not share notes with each other to save time? After three different variations of the same essential question one tended to become irritated. Nathaniel would have simply avoided the press altogether were they not omnipresent. For the third time today he offered a non-committal response to their questions.

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"My goals as a scientist and the goals of the company coincide to the degree that working with them is mutually beneficial. Already Novastorm has generated results the world has been sorely in need of for the last 50 years, I am confident that together, given time, we can unravel some of the more pressing issues mankind faces." He then excused himself before they could follow it up with some feeble plea for further demonstration of his power.

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His intent by attending this event was simply to take stock of the other operatives under the same corporate banner. A forum where people could show off their powers and discoveries made it very easy to size up potential threats and competition, and he'd already tipped his hand slightly by riding an earthwave to the building's parking lot...right into a sea of media sharks. It took the media a full 15 minutes to leave him alone after that, and he was still dodging them. Worse were the CEOs and board members of other private corporations who were utterly transparent in their attempts to scalp Novastorm personnel for their own initiatives.

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"Pitiful. Large financial groups only ever think about the end of a spreadsheet..." He sighed to himself as he used another nova's interview as a smokescreen to cover his escape to the drink table. From there he tried to take in the entirety of the event without drawing any further attention to himself.

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Max stood in a corner nursing some sort of foreign beer. These functions really weren't his thing, in fact, he hated them. When he threw a party it was with a group of people who knew how to party, this expo was filled with people who just wanted to ride Nova coat tails or exploit their abilities for profit. Some could say the same for the Bossman (Aziz), but as long as Aziz remained interested in genuinely helping the world first and profit second, Max was on board. After all, it's not like Aziz paid them.

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"Not doing any demonstrations?" Mr. Aziz's voice chimed up from Max's right, tipping an amber glass to his lips. They both, it seemed, had the same taste in beer.

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"In a room full of flammable people?" He said with a grin, not looking to his right but keeping his gaze on the room. "Not a chance, I'm an investor, Boss. That'd kill our stock price."

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Mr. Aziz laughed quietly. He knew Max didn't care for these sorts of events but was thankful nonetheless that he's taken the time to show up. "You got me there." He firmly slapped Max on the back and dismissed himself. "Do try to enjoy yourself, now if you'll excuse me, I have hob-knobing to get on with."

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Max offered a smile and a mock raise of the glass in a farewell toast. "Good luck with that, Boss. Can't say I envy you."

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For a bit longer he lingered in obscurity before swallowing enough liquid courage to deal with the media hounds. He was a people person, he really was, but not like this. He was great at laughing, and cracking jokes, and drinking games, and poorly played songs on an acoustic guitar... the media was a bipedal pack of hyenas. Nonstop barrages of questions and requests for demonstrations... yadda, yadda, yadda... it almost made him want to tear his hair out. He was still trying to find a polite way to tell the media that begin a nova was not who he was, it was simply what he was capable of doing. It was hard to make people understand that when a majority of his co-workers were living so high on their own power. Oh well, at least the beer was good.

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"Excuse me, Mr. Kane?" One of the media hounds sniffed him out just as he was about to approach Nathaniel and say hello. Nathaniel went on about his business, not wanting to run the risk of begin wrapped up in Max's media circus. "Mr. Kane..."

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"It's Evans." He replied. "My last name is Evan's, not Kane."

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The reporter had a Jimmy Olsen look all over him. Young, green, and definitely intimidated by all the nova's running about. "Um, sorry."

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"Don't sweat it, what can I do for you?" He sipped his beer again, one hand in his pocket and his eyes leveling on the kid.

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"Um, I was hoping I could ask you a few questions." He had a tablet and a stylus ready to go in hopes MAx would say 'yes'. "Like how you ended up becoming a part of the NovaStar team?"

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"The team needed an expert in Oceanography. Mr.s Aziz said, 'hey, you know about the oceans. Wanna help out NovaStar?' I said sure. That's the Cliff's notes version."

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"But, you're a nova that controls fire." The kid said, confused.

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Here it came, reporter logic. Max resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Uh, yeeeaaah.... and that has what to do with anything?"

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"Well, why, if your an Oceanographer... don't your powers not work in water?"

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"Dr. Weaver and I debate that all the time. I call it the God conundrum. See, I've never tried to use my powers underwater, but she's certain that they would work. No one can prove that they don't, and I've never proved that they do, so the only logical conclusion is that I need another beer. Excuse me." He left the young reporter to mull that over with a confused look on his face. Max was already back in hiding before the kid realized he'd been duped.

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From the silence of a corner table he tapped out on his OpPhone: "Max is kill. Evil reporter drained my last bit of health. Avenge me! Respawn in 20..."

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That text was sent to everyone on the team.

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Jay, in a suit that looked exactly like the catering staff, milled through the crowd. He was unseen by most people, unless they had an empty glass or plate that they wanted to get rid of. But Jay played along; it was a small price to pay to go unnoticed by the media hounds and others who would really cramp his... style.

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Jay, also in a uniform suit that looked exactly like the security guards patrolled the outer edges of the Expo. Unseen by pretty much everyone, he blended into the background. He, however, saw everybody, and heard enough gossip that his head would be both swimming and spinning... had he actually cared what people said. You never knew though, some of it might come in handy sometime.

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Jay, also in another suit that looked exactly like the catering staff, hovered in the general vicinity of the food and drinks table. He made smalltalk with the actual catering staff, most of whom knew better but humored him anyway. It's amazing the kinds of secrets people reveal as they're getting a bite to eat and think that no one 'important' is around.

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Jay, also in a fancy looking tux sat at a table in the middle of the room, chatting up a lady that he didn't know and quite frankly didn't want to. What he did know was that she wouldn't be getting any calls any time soon. In fact, the lost and found box by the entrance had gathered a couple more cell phones and expensive pens than was usual. It was interesting but within statistical probability how many more things people lost at this Expo compared to last year's Expo.

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Over in a corner not that far from where Max was waiting to respawn, Jay also sat in the back of a booth watching and listening. These kinds of events were both his bread and butter and not his thing at all. He could pay for a semester or two at MIT with the jewelry and 'spare change' that the people in this room had on them... but he'd been warned not to make a scene. Not warned, per se, but it had been made abundantly clear that this Expo was a safe place and that if anything were to turn up missing at the end of the night, unwanted attention might be placed on him to help recover the missing items. A crowd at a party that he couldn't work was definitely not among his top 100 places that he'd like to be, but he had actually read the fine print in his new hire packet, and this was someplace that he had to both make an appearance at and demonstrate his powers at. And he was doing both, sitting in that corner. He couldn't help it or be held responsible if nobody noticed him doing so. The fact that his powers weren't as flashy as the lightning bolt girl's wasn't his fault after all.

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He wasn't completely unsociable, however, and he couldn't help but notice some people's obvious lack of success in obviously trying to avoid the press. Riding into the event, in full view of the press was about as subtle as lightning girl. No wonder you can't escape them. But maybe I can help... maybe. It was shortly thereafter that a 'child', big enough to be 7 or 8, maybe even 10, pulled on Nathaniel's sleeve trying to get his attention. It was a very odd looking child, though. Nothing quite seemed proportioned properly. His legs were a bit too long, his arms were a bit too short, and his face looked disturbingly like an adults. His voice switched between a child's and an adults too. "Hey mister, over here, follow me," he said with a properly childish enthusiasm and tried to lead Nathaniel over to Jay's table.

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"Max is kill. Evil reporter drained my last bit of health. Avenge me! Respawn in 20..."

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Dr. Nathaniel looked down at his phone to see the curious message come up from the the group's list. It was a few seconds of "what the hell?" before he realized this was written in the bizarre language of online FPS players. He was about to send a query back when he noticed a slight tug on his sleeve. An odd-looking child who seemed utterly out of place in a corporate expo was giving him an enthusiastic (if weird) grin and trying to usher him elsewhere.

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In his distorted voice he chirped, "Hey mister, over here, follow me!" Nathaniel let himself be led over to another table adopting an expression of bemused perplexity in case the media happened to be looking in his direction.

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Text Message: "Max is kill. Evil reporter drained my last bit of health. Avenge me! Respawn in 20..."

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Kait's phone let out a cheery tune, the melody to the Avenger's theme music, and the red-head took the excuse to duck out of a gaggle of CEO's and other scientists. Her lips quirked in amusement at Max's lament and she quickly typed out a reply.

'Oh noes! TPK! Where are the dots? More dots, more dots! x.x x.x no more dots....'

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Chuckling to herself, she made her way past one of the many many buffet tables, snagging some cheese cubes and crackers for herself and overloading a second plate with 'resurrection food' for Max. A quick scan of the large room found him loitering at the drinks table. She carefully threaded her way through the growing crowd and offered him the plate. "Placations from the adoring masses," she teased, hoping to get a smile or a laugh out of him.

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The 'little kid' led Nathaniel through the gauntlet of people towards Jay's table. They never came within earshot of a reporter the entire time... it was really quite remarkable. The reporters thinned out and then vanished as they approached the table. Once there, the 'kid' let go of Nathaniel's sleeve and crawled under the table, as kids are liable to do. The interesting thing was that he didn't crawl back out. Jay motioned for Nathaniel to have a seat and pushed a plate of hors d'oeuvres in his direction. In a relatively cheery tone Jay said, "Please have a seat. You looked like you could use some help getting around the reporters. Take a load off. Kick up, relax. Enjoy the free food... just be careful about the weird stuff, no telling what you're eating if you can't identify it by sight. I hear they're actually serving snails. Sorry, I mean escargot... but really... snails!? Oh, and my name is Jay, by the way." He held out a hand for Nathaniel to shake.

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But before Nathaniel had a chance to respond, another person, in a waitstaff uniform (or something that looked remarkably like one) walked up and handed Jay a stack of business cards. He said "Here you go, boss. That's all of them." In a voice that sounded exactly like Jay's. In fact, he looked like Jay exactly in every way except for the outfit. The Jay at the table took the cards and they disappeared into a pocket... or somewhere, and replied, "Are you sure that's all the reporters? You have a card from every one of them? By my last count there were..." The Jay that was standing up interrupted him, "Yes, I got them all. And they all have one of ours. All done. Promise." They both nodded at each other and the one that had walked up walked away, vanishing into the crowd.

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The Jay that was still sitting down shook his head, looked back at Nathaniel, and held his hand back out to shake. "Sorry about that. We're," there was a slight hesitation, "octuplets. Please, please, have a seat."

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Nathaniel chuckled and had a seat. It wasn't hard to pinpoint what this particular associate's abilities were after a display like that. It was interesting that more people hadn't noticed that the wait staff was riddled with copies of the same fellow, but he was relieved to find this little zone away from the media. Octuplets indeed...

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"Actually I've had snails before, they're alright to me, though if mollusk is to be on the menu I prefer mussels." He made a plate out of the escargot as he talked.

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"My thanks for routing me past this free-range media circus. How do you manage to preserve this little sanctuary for yourself?"

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Seraph was a bit delayed joining the rest of the group when she passed a parked car with a Jack Russel Terrier inside and stopped, then her face turned into a grimace as she telepathically spoke with the animal, noting the way it was panting and she reached out and checked the doors, her frown growing stronger as she realized the poor animal had been locked in the car, and it was close to overheating.

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A moment later her hand altered to a set of razor sharp claws that she used to cut open the glass of one of the windows then invited the poor animal to jump though the hole, she then carried him into the expose while querying the dog. Moving though the various crowds and heading in a direct line toward one of the participants she walked straight up to a well dressed woman, and began to speak to her, her tone rather harsh. "Zoe here says your are her alpha, so I have some things to say to you... you left her, alone, in a hot car in texas, unless you were going to be back in your car in the next 10 minutes, she would be dead, you... " she visably shook for a moment, as she restrained herself from saying anything harsher then she already had, close to calling the woman some very nasty names, if it wasn't for the fact that the dog was at the moment asking her in her why she was angry at her alpha, and the rumble of thunder in the background, she'd have vented a lot more.. but the thunder warned her what could happen if she let her temper slip any further then it had.

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"Here, fortunately she cares for you, otherwise I'd be looking to find her a new home, take better care of your pets in the future, and I owe you a new window, though I'm not sure if that isn't a lesson not to leave your dog alone in a hot car. A dog doesn't have the same methods of dealing with heat that we do, they can't survive long in a hot car. I suggest you get the poor girl some water." She handed the woman the dog, who was rather pale and distressed looking as she took the dog from the nova, as Seraph moved to one side of the room closing her eyes and counting to ten to let her temper drop back to normal.

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Chuckling to herself, she made her way past one of the many many buffet tables, snagging some cheese cubes and crackers for herself and overloading a second plate with 'resurrection food' for Max. A quick scan of the large room found him loitering at the drinks table. She carefully threaded her way through the growing crowd and offered him the plate. "Placations from the adoring masses," she teased, hoping to get a smile or a laugh out of him.

As she approached he was placing his phone back in his pocket, his smile widened as she offered him the plate. He swayed his head in contemplation before giving in. "Okay... the adoring masses are forgiven." He took a few bites delighting in the flavors but secretly hoping that the next expo he could cater. This place could really use some ribs, burgers... and a wet t-shirt contest.

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"Is this cool?" He asked, looking around. "I don't want your husband to think I'm flirting with you again like that last time..."

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"Max," She quirked a brow. "You were flirting with me last time."

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"Duh," he smirked. "How else was I gonna find out if you were seeing someone or not, let alone married?"

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She rolled her eyes, smiling was easy since the topic was so... guyish. "Um, you could have asked, maybe? Just throwing that little log of logic into the fire."

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"Nah," He shook his head, refuting her logic on the count of it made sense. "It's easier to flirt, that way the guy doesn't come as too direct and if all else fails, he can just say it was playful banter." He winked as chewed another bit of food.

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"You know, as intelligent as I am, I'll never wrap my head around guy logic." She made a gesture with her hand like one side of her head was exploding outward. "It's like... I don't know..."

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"It's amazing we've survived as long as we have what with football, and beer, and well a host of other distractions." He grinned and tipped his glass to a few people that passed by them. He had no idea who they were but they waved and smiled like they knew him. Might as well blend. "So, how's life outside your tower doing today? The Korean guy try head hunting you again?" He quirked a brow as Jay walked past him with an hors d'oeuvres tray. "And... why is Jay dressed as the staff?"

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"Why is Jay dressed as the staff?" Shannon glanced over and smiled. "I don't know." His grin spread wider with an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, awful idea. The text message had given him an idea. He stood up, as his body shifted into a perfect replica of Jay dressed as the catering staff in less than a moment. Clothes and all.

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"Isn't it great how Kait developed eufiber?"

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It took him a minute to search out Kane and Kait, and he approached with a smile. "I'm sorry, madam, but you're at the wrong table. You're expected over there." He gestured over in the proper direction.

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Ok. Hopefully neither Kaitlyn or Maxwell would catch on.... then he could get one of Jay to come over too. That would be hilarious.

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Max took on a completely confused expression laced with a hint of amusement. Jay seemed a bit off sometimes, but his antics were usually a bit more grounded than posing as the staff at an event where cloak and dagger antics weren't necessary. Surely even Jay wasn't that off his nut. "Jay, why are you dressed as one of the caterers?"

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Beth had noticed the issue with the waitstaff but that seemed harmless. Less harmless was the report from security that had told her that Jay had ‘found’ almost all of the items lost at the Expo. She bit back a sigh and composed her expression to pleasant serenity. Jay had opened the company up to massive liability, even if he didn’t recognize it as such. If someone outside the company figured it out, they could accuse Jay of theft, even the theft of imaginary items. It was a delicate issue that needed to be handled carefully. Her time with Novastorm had made her sensitive to such things.

Irritated, she peered around the room, looking for the nearest Jay-shaped-object. She found one by Kait, who was glaring at the clone – or possibly the original. It really didn’t matter whether it was a clone or not in Beth’s eyes. They were all directed by the original.

Sweeping across the room, Beth glided to the table. Her face eased into a smile as she saw that Max was here as well, stuffing his face. She genuinely liked Maxwell; he was grounded and smart, two items which were in surprisingly short supply in some novas. In some people, she wearily reminded herself. She was starting to mentally feel her age as her willingness to deal with bullshit constricted as her age expanded. Perhaps that was why she found dealing with younger adults so trying. Guh, I sound like an old fart.

“Max, Kait, Jay.” She kept her smile as she greeted each nova in turn.

“Don’t you have an exposition? Like… soon?” Kait worriedly glanced at her watch, her expression concerned.

“Yes, I do, but I needed to talk to Jay.” Her expression hardened; though she kept smiling, her anger became clear. “Jay, stop stealing from the guests.” As the “Jay’s” eyes widened, Beth said, “Make sure the original knows that and enforces that with all the clones. I will be following up with a discussion after my exhibition.” She put a hand on Kait’s shoulder; she knew her friend well. “Next time, maybe you should think about the fact that it’s one guy turning in all the items.”

“Next time, you could act like a professional adult who is at a company function, not a frat party.” Kait had bristled at Beth’s words and was now glaring at the “clone”.

Turning away from “Jay”, Beth nodded to Kait and Maxwell. “I need to get to my exhibition.”

Kait took a deep breath. “Why don’t I come with you.” It wasn’t a question or an offer but a statement of intent to remove herself from the presence of someone she wanted to throttle.

“Good luck,” Max called to Beth. “I’ll be here, eating.”

“I’ll come over and catch up after my obligations,” Beth promised with a smile. She turned and walked toward the center of the exhibition hall, where workers had been erecting a massive curving structure. A giant elongated ‘S’ fifty yards from tip to tip lay on the floor. It was only a foot tall, but it had wires that extended floor to ceiling. Security kept the crowds back; despite its size, it was delicate.

As the nova moved, her strapless silver dress transformed into her signature costume. Clearly influenced by the recent trends in superhero suits on the silver screen, her costume looked more like modern armor than a superhero uniform. The base material appeared to be made of dark, solid thunderclouds, lightning flashing across the armored plates. Novastorm’s emblem was etched on each shoulder and didn’t morph with the clouds behind them. Her chest bore her personal emblem, a stylized dragon with wings spread wide.

A crowd followed her, chattering excitedly, as she led them to the apparatus being erected. Sakurako was hovering nervously, her pink hair bouncing behind her flight suit as she made last-minute checks. Beth nodded to her, pleased at the attention her exhibit was receiving from the scientist. “We ready?” she asked the group rather than one person.

“When you are, ma’am.” The engineer who had spoken threw the switch and columns of light rose from the floor, following the lasers to the ceiling. A moment later, the wires that had guided the light retracted into the ceiling, leaving the narrow, finger-thick columns of light.

The crowd applauded politely, thinking this was part of the show. Beth smiled as she pressed a throat mike to her neck. Wait until they see the real event.

Smiling, she put on her game face and walked to the center of the ‘S’. “Good morning, friends, guests and family. Welcome to the first exhibition by Novastorm Technologies. I am Elizabeth Perot, also known as Dragonstorm.” She paused to allow applause and even a shout of “We love you!”

It’s unbelievable how my life has changed. In the back of her mind, Beth knew that her current life was luck of the draw, possible only because of the countless deaths of others. She’d done what she could when the Surge passed through Kansas City but it didn’t feel like enough. It still didn’t feel like enough, years and thousands of life-saving missions later.

It will never be enough but you can’t let that eat you alive. Lifting her chin, she clasped her hands in what an ex had called her lecture mode. “I’m going to showcase one of the most exciting innovations under development at Novastorm. As many of you know,” she said as she ignited her wings to a chorus of appreciative noises, “my wings don’t affect the physical world. I need a volunteer.”

“Will I do?” Tom stepped out of the crowd, his hand raised, even as a dozen others thrust up. At the same time, a roar of recognition rose from the watchers. A few cries of “Loki!” rang out and a trio of teenage girls in the front row practically swooned.

Beth’s jaw dropped as she stared at her current beau in shock. She could feel a blush flowing up her cheeks and her stomach dropped, just as it did when she saw a new guy she wanted to have. She’d been dating Tom for a few weeks now, long enough for that hot rush of desire to recede. Yet here it was again.

“Tom… yes! Yes, you’ll do.” She held out her hand and he stepped to her side, his fingers tangling with hers. He’s supposed to be in Israel! Though it wasn’t entirely professional, she gave him a quick kiss, which drew ‘awws’ from the crowd.

With effort, she cleared her mind of distraction. Releasing his fingers, she stepped away and said, “My wings have no effect on the material world.” She almost faltered as she realized that she’d already said that. She quickly moved forward spreading her wings. “That’s because they are pure ‘light quantum’, something that has no currently detectable mass but can be seen. Much research has gone into them, particularly attempts to measure them.” She grinned slightly and said, “If you want to see a more in-depth description of my wings, you can find the Penn and Teller episode where they attempted to debunk them.”

She glanced at Tom, who was watching her with that smile. Her heart raced a little and she knew her smile was turning goofy and sweet. Beth couldn’t stop that from happening, any more than she could stop the blood rushing to her cheeks. The tip of her wing extended and passed through Tom’s shoulder. “Did you feel anything?”

“Not in my shoulder,” he quipped with his sweet smile. Smiling, she teased the wing through the center of his mass. “No, I don’t feel that either.”

“Thank you.” She tore her eyes away from him and touched the tip of the wing to one of the beams of light. A soft clear note filled the area. “What you’re hearing is the quantum of my wing interfering with the charged quantum particles in these columns.” She formed her claws and ‘plucked’ one of the columns, making another note, and then another. Her fingers and wings began to dance over the ‘strings’, creating a simple melody.

The hall fell silent as she played the song she and the scientists had composed over the last few weeks. They’d gone back and forth on whether she should use something original or license another work. In the end, one of the new nova recruits had fashioned a melody for them to use.

She rose off the ground, able to fly so long as her wings were open. With increasing speed, she darted back and forth before her long ‘Quantum Harp’, displaying how the notes changed base on the height as which she struck the column. Her wings and claws began to pull in more than one note, or to touch the same column at different places.

The eerily beautiful song ended on a literal high note, with Dragonstorm hovering near the ceiling, her wings spread wide. The last note faded and Beth drifted to the floor as the applause rose. She landed near Tom, taking his hand again. Not entirely professional, but screw it. “Thank you,” she said once the crowd noise had dropped to a tolerable level. “Please enjoy the rest of the Expo.”

Peeling the flat mic off her throat, Beth turned to Tom. Her eyes shone as she asked, “How are you here?”

“My nights are free and Dr. Aziz is something of a romantic.” He smiled at her and said, “I told you I wanted to see your exhibition.”

“And you always get what you want?” she teased him.

He squeezed her hand. “Sometimes. That was beautiful.”

“Thank you.” She kissed him again, seeing Kait coming over from the corner of her eye. “And thank you for coming.” Man, I am so not in the mood to yell at Jay now.

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Well now. Jay was really doing that? Shannon felt that this was a splendid opportunity for more fun. Now how to go about this. First, a look of injured innocence at Maxwell that did not fit the situation. "That's not fair! I'm just following biological imperatives. And as a clone, I'm not the one who thought of this." Then he skittered off, to let Maxwell interpret that as he would.

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It took him another half-minute or so before he pinpointed the Jay sitting next to Nathaniel. He slipped over, with a worried look. "Dude, we got trouble. Or rather, you got trouble, Jay-Prime. Beth and Kait are coming for your head." He swept an arm out pointing back in the direction of Maxwell from where Shannon had come.

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"Head that way and you should be safe." Not.

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The not-Jay peeled away without a word, until he found the restrooms and a stall to shift back into Shannon. That was fun. Shannon headed back out.... to see the fruits of his handiwork.

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Sakurako smiled. Everything for the start was running according to design. She brushed off the eufiber arranged flightsuit, the eufiber itself forming more a costume-like appearance over the actual gear she was wearing. "Miss Hino?" One of the stage directors asked. "We got the prototype all set up for the next presentation, Ma'am."

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The short, Pink-Haired girl smiled. "Ah! Excellent! The XF-37 nice and covered?"

,,

"Of course, we got it queue'd on the stage. Just waiting for your signal."

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Sakurako smiled as she stepped out on the darkened stage.

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"Fifth Generation... the name strikes a shiver down a tactician's spine..." She said, standing on the walkway at the center of the auditorium, not yet seen. "Stealth, on-site tactical information networks, air superiority... these words are a premium. The F-35 and F-22 are NATO's and our Allies best offering, while China has the J-20 and Japan's ATD-X project is Japan's entry into this generation of fighter aircraft first pioneered by the F-117."

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"One thing to note... and this proves that Stealth is not a guaranteed factor of victory..."

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A picture of the Su-35 Russian Fighter Jet appears on screen... "The Su-35... Russia's answer to the 5th Generation comes from development of 4th Generation technology into a hybrid between 4th and 5th Generation."

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"The only adequate answer that comes close in NATO and our allies is the Eurofighter Typhoon, an aircraft that we do not have access to in the US, and is not in the number to match the Russian numbers... that and there is no plan to include Typhoons into our air forces."

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The light turns on where Sakurako stood, there was hushed whispers and some giggles. "Say what you will, but the United States is behind. Behind in this race of counters to our vaunted stealth. Who knows what other nations can match these Generation 4.5 fighter craft in ability?"

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"My name is Sakurako Hino, Assistant Director of Research and Development, Novastorm Technologies." Suddenly the name connected to the brochures and pictures. Sakurako seemed a young child playing at being an adult, but she was used to that. "And I have come to provide an answer!"

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She gestured to the main stage, where a covered aircraft was on display. "This is Novastorm's answer, one that can compete with proposed upgrades to the F-18 and give us a needed coverage on a niche. What I am offering to our country today, to stand as a new guardian of our skies, and I say to you now, with a cost less than the development of the Eurofighter Typhoon by 35% but with a matching quality... Is this... and it's ready to fly today!"

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"Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Peregrine XF-37." She said, the tarp removed uncovering the white with blue trim aircraft, seemingly a fusion of Russian, European, and American concepts. "This Augmented Reality system provides a real-time analysis for pilots, without overwhelming their field of view or overloading them with information. She is not only a capable combatant in the air, but can be custom equipped for a variety of roles, and has performance standards that match the Flanker in maneuverability, the one true counter to the F-22 and F-35."

,,

"You are wondering why I am standing here suited up... it is because I have a second aircraft, her sister, who I have purposely set up for my frame to do test flights of the airframe. This is the standard pilot version. XF-37 #1."

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She turned to the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, Novastorm has just thrown the gauntlet to participate in competition with several other firms to have this aircraft approved by the US Navy for use as a Stealth-counter aircraft."

,,

"I wish my competitors luck." She said, a serious, almost challenging look on her face. "I look forward to flying with you soon."

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"Consider yourselves put on notice. This is the culmination of my 5 years of work with Novastorm since my eruption on S-Day. This is my first work, and I look forward to testing my design very soon."

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The crowd applauded, not complely sure what just happened, but what looked like a fully ready aircraft was a suprise. The applause got louder as the audacity of Sakurako's presentation had it's full effect hit.

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"Thank you, and enjoy the Exposition." She said and with a wave to the crowd went back stage. When she went behind the curtain, seeing her baby slowly move offstage she wiped some sweat form her brow. "Nailed it."

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She turned to the others backstage. "Now if you guys will excuse me... I'm gonna find the buffet." She said with an exited tone. "I'll check a few exhibits first though. I heard the Consumer Nautical Products division has a good showing this year." She said.

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Kait was trying not to gush, but she was a romantic and she liked this one. "Tom!" She gave him a hug and over his shoulder mouthed to Beth 'Do not break this one!'. She grinned at the actor, a cat in the cream. "You do realize you've just walked into a den of uber-geeks, right?"

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He gave an elegant shrug and murmured in mock-seriousness, "I thought about coming in costume, but then I couldn't sneak up on her."

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Kait giggled and was about to make a comment that most likely would have had Beth doing her best strawberry impression, but her phone beeped at her and she fished out of her pocked. Her eyes widened as she read the text message and she covered her mouth to stop herself from laughing out loud.

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"What is it? It's gotta be good for that face," Beth asked.

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It took her a moment to compose herself enough to answer. "The reporter from The Guardian cornered Neil Tyson DeGrasse and Bill Nye on their way to the terraforming presentation and is trying to bait them into...uh...wasting time with the guy, I guess? DeGrasse just texted me to ask if he'd get in trouble for ending the conversation, which has drawn something of a crowd apparently, by stating that it would be cruel to match wits with an unarmed man." She bit her lip and gave Beth a pleading glance. "I, uh, I really should say not to, shouldn't I?"

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At Nathaniel's question Jay leaned back and looked contented. "Well, you just have to..." It was at that moment that he was interrupted by someone who looked just like Jay.

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He slipped over, with a worried look. "Dude, we got trouble. Or rather, you got trouble, Jay-Prime. Beth and Kait are coming for your head." He swept an arm out pointing back in the direction of Maxwell from where Shannon had come.

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"Head that way and you should be safe." The not-Jay peeled away without a word, until he found the restrooms.

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Jay looked over at Nathaniel with a confused look on his face. "Who was..." He shook his head as he pulled out his cell phone. "Nevermind. Sorry, I gotta take care of something, but I'll be right back." And with that he disappeared around a corner.

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Across the room, 7 other Jays (guards, caterers and guests) received an identical text. As unobtrusively as they could, they each headed back towards the table where Nathaniel had been left alone. One by one they disappeared around the corner. Only two came back out though, one caterer and one guard. They were followed shortly by a third Jay who came back around and sat back down by Nathaniel. Back to the attitude he had when Nathaniel first sat down.

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"Now, where were we? Oh yes, our sanctuary..." And for the next little bit Jay shared with Nathaniel the psychology of the reporters at events like this one, how they thought, where they were likely to be and not be, and how to use that plus positioning, timing and body language to avoid them.

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Nathaniel listened to Jay's primer on avoiding the media even as Sakurako's presentation went on. As the primer ended and the presentation drew to a close he commented, "Clearly you've done this quite a bit. Are functions like these that common with the company? How will we ever get any work done?" He stroked his beard thoughtfully and continued, "I was also unaware that we were in the weapons manufacturing business." he indicated the XF-37 presentation that was just winding down. His comments had no indicator of approval or disapproval, everything he said was carefully matter-of-fact.

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It unnerved Nathaniel slightly that a girl as young as what Sakurako seemed was part of a military arms development team. He'd seen what some other colleagues of his had gone through by being involved with such projects. Whenever the product was presented there were always detractors, and the world had become such a place that your detractors could strike at you from the shadows of the net while eroding your public image. But then again, he wasn't her guardian and it wasn't his place to advise her given what he'd almost let happen with his own research. He made a mental note to familiarize himself with her project later.

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Jay nodded and gave a grunt of approval after the music faded. Then he grinned at what Nathaniel said. "Actually, this is my first official function with the company. From what I understand this particular Expo only happens once a year. I don't know about other social or PR functions. I'm just good at not being seen, myself. And as far as the weapons...," he shrugged, "I honestly don't know what all this company does. Most of what I've heard seems to be aboveboard, but who knows. I was hired for my computer and... multitasking abilities myself." He paused for a moment, and gave Nathaniel a once over. "By the way, if you don't mind me asking, can you do anything more than riding a wave of ground around?"

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Seeing none of her colleagues were backstage after talking with some higher-ups impressed by their diminutive but amazing colleague, she started making her away through the crowd, having a harder than normal time making her way through the crowd. Being 4'3" in a expo with over 10,000 people milling about for various reasons is quite a task.

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In fact she ends up quite far away from where she wanted to be near the edge of the expo to catch her breath.

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"By the way, if you don't mind me asking, can you do anything more than riding a wave of ground around?"

,, ,,

Nathaniel shrugged, "Beyond riding a wave of ground? Well; I've earned a doctorate in Earth Sciences, which makes me an authority on locating what's termed 'natural resources', I can teach at the college level, I've dabbled a bit in engineering, and currently I am looking towards energy research. Personally I find these few achievements more pertinent than the smattering of nova powers I've acquired."

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“You should say no, but you will tell him yes anyway, and we’ll applaud you for it.” Beth grinned at her best friend, her eyes sparkling with good humor. “You go take care of Mr. DeGrasse – I’ll handle Jay.”

“You sure?” Kait’s expression sobered as she glanced down at Beth and Tom’s clasped hands. “Don’t you have something better to do?”

“Thank you for keeping that to something rather than someone,” Beth said drily. She glanced at Tom. “I have an HR matter-”

“Lead on.” He gave her that toe-curling smile again. “Don’t let me get in your way.”

He just wanted to spend time with her; that much was obvious. “I’ll catch up with you later,” she said to Kait.

“Don’t have too much fun.” With that, Kait turned away, already typing into her cell phone. Suddenly, she turned back, her lips twisting into a smirk. “Enjoy being swarmed by the fans first.”

Sure enough, as soon as security had relaxed with the conclusion of the exhibition, the fans started coming forward. Beth looked at the adoring faces and found most of them focused on Tom. With a rueful sigh, she eased back a step, letting him take front and center. Despite the fame and allure of being a nova, she was definitely the +1 as far as the fans were concerned.

She meant to go deal with Jay but Tom had come to see her. She watched him greet and meet with the fans, his expression full of delight and awe. He never took this life for granted; it was part of what made him special in her eyes. Jay could wait for a while. She’d told him or his clone to stop and she had no doubt he would.

Happily, she let herself relax into spending time with her boyfriend.

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As Sakurako leaned on a wall a girl no older than 15 walked up. "Umm, Miss Hino?"

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Sakurako quirked an eyebrow. "Yes?"

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"I... I wanted you to sign this." She said, holding out a autograph book. She noticed that there was Neil deGrasse Tyson's and Bill Nye's signatures.

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"Well, I think you've got a pretty good set so far... far better than celebrities, that's for sure." She said, signing her name in Japanese first, followed by English. "What are you planning for when you grow up?"

"I wanna join the Navy to fly what you're building!"

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She smiled. "Well I'm... flattered. I'll make sure the thing works for you then." She said after handing back the pen and the girl wandered off back to her parents. Judging by the expo badges they were middle-management in some division.

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She also noticed the crowd changed. It was thinner... more navigable. Sakurako waved to the girl and started making her way through. She went through one of the pockets of her vest, grabbing a couple of Button-sized LEDs she liked to play around with. Then she had an idea. "Well if you cannot get through a crowd the hard way..."

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She spotted a woman working with a tank of helium and had some large balloons used for some of the displays, about a meter in width. She had packed up everything to store for the day when Sakurako showed up. She walked over. "Hey..." She looked at the woman's name-tag. "...Anne, can I ask a favor?"

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A few minutes later she had a meter-wide orange balloon attached to the back of the collar of her vest, tethered about a little higher (3-4 feet) than average adult head-height with a couple lit and blinking LEDs inside it. She noticed the moment she did that people that were still milling around paid attention to the curious girl wandering about. She just greeted people with smiled and waves, some complimenting her on her aircraft design, others wondering if the suit she was wearing was real. She had parted the sea of humanity in her usual unflappable creativity and guile.

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After grabbing a couple brochures she spotted the reason why the crowds had changed... then she spotted Kaitlyn and Dragonstorm. "Hey you two!" She said with a smile and a wave. Hopping up and down. "Found some way to finally get someone to notice me!" She said pointing at her lit balloon. "It was either this or the schoolgirl outfit, and this isn't an anime convention!"

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Jay gave a nod of approval at Nathaniel's description of himself. "I completely understand. I would much rather be thought of as the kid who can work miracles with computer systems than the kid who can make copies of himself. That's a very impressive resume you have. Engineering you say? I have a mechanical engineering background myself, Dr...? I don't think I ever caught your name?"

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"Doctor Nathaniel Delacosta, Novastorm science division." he said offering a handshake. "I only know you as 'Jay', and only from paying attention to some of the other staff. I gather you are the IT department?"

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Having taken a moment to calm down, after all, it wasn't as though they had deliberately chosen to leave their dog in a deathtrap, human beings made mistakes, and sometimes there were deaths because of it. As she stood there cooling her temper for a moment, she turned to find Dr. Aziz standing next to her. "Was that appropriate, Sera? I do understand that your link with animals has you sometimes jumping to take action, but you are smart enough, or should be smart enough to look before you leap. Take minute to deal with matters like this in less damaging ways. It wouldn't have taken more then a minute to step inside and make a call on the loudspeaker, then you could have had the matter dealt with without vandalizing someone else's property, and the dog would have been fine in less then a minute, with your abilities you could have stood by and watched him to be sure the more drastic action you took was fully necessary." Seraph winced slightly at the criticism from the man who had put this company together.

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She closed her eyes a moment, thinking over his assessment, then nodded slightly. "Your right, Sir, I suppose I jumped the gun a bit, I'll see what I can do to make it right, if you would I'll pay for the repairs to the car, or replacing the car completely if that would clear the matter up with the woman. In the mean time, do you think the woman would accept a apology for my overreaction?"

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"Will you know before you try?"

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"No. One moment, I'll go talk to her, at least if she'll let me." She paused a moment, then grimaced. "I only know the name of her dog.. " She began to walk across the building, once more heading to speak to the woman who was still holding the dog, and looked a bit disturbed as Seraph walked straight toward her, looking as though she wanted to moved.

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"Sorry, miss, I'm afraid I overreacted, I'm Seraph, Sara to my friends, and the Druid whenever folks are reporting things on the news." She held out her hand in a friendly manner, hoping that she could mend this particular fence, and that the other woman would respond with her own name.

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Jay shook Nathaniel's hand when it was offered; just because he had left Jay hanging when they first met was no reason to be rude or hold a grudge. He'd probably just been distracted by the copy who had come by with the business cards... or the food, it could've been the food.

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Jay chuckled at Nathaniel's comment and shook his head. "I'm... what? No, I'm not The IT department. There are a lot of novas that are smarter than me, but not a one of them has as good a training as I've had, and I doubt any have the experience I have either." He sounded proud about himself in his assessment, but not boastful. He shrugged and continued, "I suppose it washes out in the end. Maybe even a little in their favor, who knows.

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In all honesty, though, I just started with the company, like middle of last week. I don't even have a desk, cubicle, office, or whatever they're going to give me yet. I'm still going through all the HR and intro material, and this Expo made even that go slower than usual. I suspect some time after this is over I'll get my feet wet and they'll tell me exactly what it is that they're wanting me to do... or what things they want me to do. As I said before, I'm a great multitasker." He chuckled and discreetly pointed out his two copies that were wandering around the Expo.

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"You mentioned both natural resources and energy research. Is that alternative energy research? You think there's a nova out there that can make electricity and we can just pay them enough and they can solve the world's energy needs/demands/crisis? Or are you looking at a more mundane route?"

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"Hmm... I was only hired a few weeks ago myself so I'm not quite settled in either. As for my research, I'm more for mundane routes to alternate energy. We can't solve every crisis in the world by just assigning it to a random nova, sooner or later normal people will have to learn to stand on their own. And after the spread of the HCE the gauntlet has been thrown for cleaner, more efficient energy." Nathaniel's gaze seemed to darken momentarily as he continued, "The people can't stay under the thumb of irresponsible industries from centuries ago. It's long past time they grew out of archaic fuel sources."

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Kait chuckled and pulled Sakurako out of the rush of Loki fans bee-lining for Beth's beau. "You could always wear one of the light suits Dr. Karridan's working on. Last time I saw it, the prototype was giving people epilepsy with it's disco-ball impersonation."

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She sent off a quick text back to DeGrasse: Release the hounds! Not the most responsible response, but Beth was right and that reported annoyed the hell out of her. And it would still be a better response than what the annoying man would probably be able to goad her into saying if she tried to intervene personally. She led them both through the throng, taking a little time to check on the displays around the grand hall and maybe sneak a live peak at the next presentation. "So, how did your presentation go, Saku? Everyone suitably awed by the latest in aviation?"

,,

She might not share the company's Littlest Engineer's passion for aircraft, but the diminutive nova's expertise and innovation in the field was unquestionably unparalleled and Kait always respected excellence.

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Sakurako giggled, her hands behind her mid-legnth pink coiffed head. "Nah, didn't think of packing one of those with me, and I was bored. So... a little helium here a large balloon there and a couple of those annoying LEDs I like doing little hand agility training with and bingo." She said pointing to it still tied to her. "Instant signaling device."

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"As for my presentation..." she said with a sigh. "...I don't think anyone takes me seriously just yet. I'm just now making my mark in the corporation. I might have been working here for a while, but I've just now got my second year starting here full-time. So I wagered I'd make my mark in a big way." She smiled. "At least now I get to fly like some of you guys. Well with any adequate speed. I could, personally, but it's a crap-shoot and I'd look silly arriving on a paper airplane and I forgot to bring a parachute."

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She walked by the nautical supply division's display. "Seems my concepts in sonar detection for fishermen is turning out to be a winning product." She said. "You know when we get some vacation time I know of a few good fishing spots off of Galveston we could check out. Sort of miss that back home."

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She seemed wistful. "To be honest there's a lit of things I miss doing before everything got upgraded." She said, pointing to her head. "Then again I didn't do much with others... what being the shortest girl in Junior High you'd imagine the barbs I had to struggle through on a daily basis. So... I guess I don't miss much after all."

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She stopped for a moment. "You know, I think my presentation did leave one impression. I'm here and I'm serious. Serious enough to test-pilot my own creation. That goes to show a level of confidence, you think? Even if I did have to adapt everything in the cockpit to my size and frame. I don't think the US Navy intends to let people with the size 9 year old girls of average weight fly their aircraft after all... Then again there's so much more room for analyzing computers and what not during the test phase. I like that. Although there is a standard prototype too for a more... typical test pilot to fly."

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"But... I digress, not your specialty, Doc. I must sorta go over your head with my engineering talk."

,,

Sakurako has a giggle at this point. She does really seem like a little girl with how everything works out, no matter how hard she tries to act grown up.

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Unlike most of the others, Serena didn't arrive via a magnificent display of powers. Not that she couldn't have.. but she'd always been a skirt girl at heart, and her nova eruption hadn't changed that aspect of her personality. In fact, one of her favorite things about being a nova was her new physique.. she'd never had so much fun picking out clothes in her entire life. So there was was no way she was going to fly into a gathering of this many thousands of people, with all the press gathered and ready to take a panty shot.

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Besides, she'd arrived in Houston last night and stayed in her own nice, comfortable, private room at Kaitlyn's guest house. She hadn't had to unpack anything, or dig around for her makeup, it was all there in her private bathroom and closet that she kept filled for whenever she was here in Texas. It was one of her little homes away from home, and she loved it.. she'd even gotten to design and decorate the whole guest house. Her future interior design career might have faltered after the Surge, but she still loved putting that part of her education to use, and insisted on decorating every residence she purchased herself instead of hiring others to do so.

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So this morning she'd gotten up and had her morning meeting with her personal assistant Alicia over breakfast like usual to review her schedule for the day. She'd met with her personal stylist, Jessica, whom she flew out or who traveled with her only for public appearances and performances like today. Then she'd gotten dressed in a trendy but sophisticated and business-appropriate pencil skirt and silk blouse combination, and a pair of daring strap sandal heels that she never would've been able to wear pre-Surge. Jessica would meet her at the Expo later with her clothing for the actual performance, and to touch up her hair and makeup.

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She'd handled the rest of the business she needed to take care of for the day before making the trip to the Expo. She was anxious to get there, to see friends she hadn't seen in awhile, but she had to get the business calls out of the way or she'd be facing interruptions all day. But finally, she was ready. Houston was one of the few places she kept a car these days - an elegant, crimson red Tesla, the height of environmentally friendly luxury cars - so she drove herself to the Expo, just for the hell of it. She'd even picked out lipstick that would match the car.

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She pulled up to the valet curb, noting that the event was in full swing with a slight shrug. She was excited to be at the event, it was always enjoyable, but at the same time it always brought back a little pang of guilt and sadness. She'd give up all this - the looks, the money, the fame, even the health benefits she'd gained through her eruption - for the world to be the way it was before, for all those people to have not died, or.. worse. But then again, the world - as always - wasn't so black and white. She wondered how many people had been cured of diseases they would have died from, how much better life was as a result of NovaStorm's existence and the good the company did for nova and humankind both.

,,

If I really want to know, Kait probably has a chart somewhere.

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Her lips twitched slightly in amusement, and she opened her car door, bracing herself for the inevitable flashing of the paparazzi. She threw them a dazzling smile as she climbed out of the electric sports car, and waved to the crowd that had gathered upon her arrival. It took a little while for her to make it into the Expo - she stopped to sign some autographs, and give some of her fans hugs. She was a social sort of celebrity, and tried very hard not to take all this for granted, so it probably took her longer to get through the line of people than it would have taken more aloof performers. But it never even dawned on her to try and slip in the back entrance - people knew she was coming, and they wanted to see her. That was how the game worked, after all.

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Finally though, she made it through the crowds and into the Expo itself. Her first course of business, now that she'd fulfilled the first of the day's expectations, was to find her best friends. It had been too long since she'd seen either of them, and she was anxious to get caught up.

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Jay listened to Nathaniel then shrugged, not in a dismissive way, but in a way that showed he didn't have much to add. "You sound fairly adamant about it. And while I admit we could use some alternative sources of fuel, you do have to admit that, at least currently, fossil fuels are the cheapest, most energy dense fuel source on the planet." It was obvious that an idea had just hit him. "Maybe I could help you with some advanced computer modeling... provided that you could use something that."

,,

While Jay and Nathaniel were talking, the other Jays were busy being unobtrusive and largely unnoticed. One was listening and learning what he could, wandering around like one of the waitstaff. The other was seeing what he could see walking the edges of the Expo like a member of security. It had been a while since he'd been warned that people were 'coming for his head', so while they all thought that that was a false alarm or someone trying to get him into trouble for some reason, it was still best to keep an eye out for trouble on the horizon.

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"I may be able to use computer modelling eventually, but all I have for now is unsubstantiated theory. It irks me how much further along this type of research might be if it were not for people consistently going with 'cheaper and easier', and then waiting for someone else to clean up the mess. I might not be trying to build from the ground up if not for that level of sheer lassitude on the part of society." Nathaniel sighed and rubbed his forehead as if warding off a headache.

"But, I am essentially complaining about the critical flaw in human society as a whole. And if it isn't going to resolve itself after over five thousand years it won't resolve itself now, or probably ever. To change the subject, how many of these guests are investors in Novastar? Do we even know them all?"

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Jay nodded and then chuckled. "Yeah, the baseline for most of humanity is C-Y-O-A, or look out for number one... and that person is never someone else. As for who is here? Your guess is better than mine. I know a grand total of 4 people here: me, myself, I and you. Well, I kinda know Dr. Aziz, and there's one other lady, just about a big a shot as him. Red headed lady... about yay tall... Oh, Dr. Kaitlyn Tabitha Weaver. I've heard more about her than actually meeting her, well, there was that one time during orientation." Jay shook his head to clear his train of thought.

,,

"The point I'm trying to get at is that if anybody knows everybody here, it's probably her. Now, last time I saw her, she was..." He squinted his eyes closed trying to thing back. "Over in that direction," as he pointed towards where Max had sat down, "but she might've been heading back towards the exhibits, I'm not for sure."

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It took a while for the crowds to clear but Tom and Beth were finally allowed to move away from the Quantum Harp. The device’s golden lines were still present and Novastorm employees were allowing small groups to go up and touch the ‘strings’. Nothing happened of course but the kids loved it. Beth heard more than one of them shout, “It tickles!”

Together, the couple strolled up the length of the hall, hands clasped, talking softly about the various programs. They could see the LED signal ahead of them, marking where Kait and Sakurako. As they came to the display of quantum batteries, they slowed down to watch the display. A chisel-faced model wore a tailored eufiber suit attached to the refrigerator-sized battery. Every five minutes, the suit changed color and then an assistant took a reading on the model with a quantum scanner to show the man was a baseline.

“So they’re going to have batteries that can store quantum?” Tom smiled with a hint of little boy excitement in his face. “Fantastic!”

“Yeah, that’s one of the few things Kait has been working on this year.” Beth leaned against him slightly as she added, “The next step is to get the battery size down to something more manageable.”

“Kait’s the mind behind this? I should have known.” Tom watched as the suit changed again. “She’s quite brilliant.”

“Yes. She likes you, you know.” Beth squeezed his hand as he gazed down at her.

A coy smile twisted his lips. “Does that extend my expiration date?”

Beth’s smile disappeared, replaced by shock. She fumbled for something to say; several things came to mind but some were just cruel and others were just flippant. Neither was the response she wanted to give him. Before she parsed out what she really wanted to say, she heard someone call her name. She turned to see Rena gliding toward them.

“Rena!” Beth seized the distraction she offered, pulling Tom over before hugging her friend. “Oh, it’s good to see you! Where the hell have you been?”

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"Beth!" Rena laughed, hugging Beth back tightly. It had been close to a month since she'd seen either of her friends, and the days were so busy sometimes it felt like much longer. "I've been in Sudan and Uganda, doing some women's outreach work on my way back from a company representational thing in Mumbai that Aziz conned me into handling for him." Her voice was joking, Beth knew that Rena handled a lot of important diplomatic issues in Aziz's place to represent the company - there was no way he could make it to all of them, and Rena was often considered the next best thing, if not even better in some circles. "I'm so glad you're here, I was about to start texting you or Kait to hunt you guys down."

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She pulled back, taking in the other woman's superhero outfit with a grin. "You look awesome. I've never seen you dressed like this in person, pictures don't do it justice. And this must be the infamous Mr. Hiddleston."

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She flashed Tom a charming grin and extended a hand, squashing a small surge of envy she felt blossom within. It wasn't as if she didn't have her own pick of Hollywood hunks or hotties, she just hadn't.. adapted to that part of the nova life as well as Elizabeth had. An irritating tickle of insecurity always managed to creep up in her mind, reminding her that none of these people would have looked twice at her before. She wished she could figure out how to squash that feeling as well as she could the little green monster she was feeling at meeting her good friend's newest (and probably most desirable) flame thus far.

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"Please, Tom is fine. Mr. Hiddleston makes me sound like I'm on the shelf." He shook her extended hand, flashing Rena a mischievous smile in return.

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"Gods, Beth, he's even sexier in person." Rena grinned wickedly at Dragonstorm, and Tom flushed slightly in embarrassment. He might have a legion of admirers who thought exactly the same thing, but they didn't usually say it to his face. Rena winked playfully at Tom, her tone - as always - right on the mark. Flirtatious enough to be complimentary, but not excessively so. She would never dream of encroaching on Beth's territory, even if it was likely to be temporary. "It's the voice, and that accent of yours, Tom. It's a weapon."

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Of course, Rena was hardly one to talk - if Tom Hiddleston's voice was a weapon, Serena's was a piece of heavy artillery. Her friends teased her that she could probably bring men to their knees with that soft, smooth, quantum-infused alto. Of course, she was the only one who knew the truth - she actually could, if she had to. She'd done it before, though it had nothing to do with seduction at the time.

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While initially nervous at Seraph's return, the woman smiled hesitantly before responding, shifting the dog in her arms so that she could shake Seraph's hand return. "I'm Gwena, I'm really sorry about leaving Zoe in the car, but I didn't think I was going to be here long, so I figured I'd be heading out in five minutes or less."

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Seraph winced slightly. "Ok, I'm afraid I've broken the window on your car, I'll have that fixed, and replace your car entirely, if you will allow me to do so, I'd really like to make up for my overreaction."

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Gwena blinked, then smiled slightly. "Actually, I'd appreciate that, I need a new car, that one is not got many more miles on it. And I promise I won't leave Zoe alone in the new car."

,,

"Ok, that's settled then."

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“You’re one to talk,” Beth teased, feeling ambivalent about the way Rena was talking to Tom. “Your voice could sing birds out of trees. Literally.” It wasn’t jealousy. She knew that Rena would never do anything to Tom. There was the nasty little memory of Tom asking about expiration dates, though, and for the first time, Beth wasn’t sure that dating him was the right thing to do.

“I’m delighted to meet you,” Tom added with a smile, casually steering the conversation back to safer ground. “Beth has told me so much about her friends.”

“All two of them,” Beth added drily. She didn’t mind having only two people she was close to; she preferred having two close friends to many distant friends. So few people understood what being a nova was about but Beth was lucky that her two closest friends had gone through it with her.

Rena gave her a slightly chiding look; she didn’t like it when Beth talked down about herself like that. Beth had no issue with it naturally, and just smiled serenely. “Wanna find Kait?”

“If she’s not busy, yes.” Rena grinned. “I need to catch up with her, too, and I have a gift for Daniel.”

Beth chuckled. “BluRay or video game for your boyfriend?”

“That joke will never get old, will it?” Rena laughed despite shaking her head.

“Nope. He’s off playing with the giant computers. Kait’s under the balloon with the LED that’s attached to Pinky.” Beth had given Sakurako the nickname partially out of an inability to not mangle her name. Eruption had gifted her with prose, not elocution. She glanced up at Tom. “Let’s go find her – I think Tom wants to bask in her brilliance, too.”

He laughed. “We’re starting to get a lot of brilliance with the present company. I should take care that it doesn’t overwhelm.”

Beth smiled, a bit sadly. “Novas can do that.”

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