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Interim Ep 3: Marking The Trail [Complete]


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This fic takes place immediately following 'Unusual Request', so roughly just before Saturday lunchtime.
Assume all the Fellowship are invited / know of the meeting.  Given the events of the previous day and evening, some might choose not to come, others might show up with tar, feathers and a noose.  Let's try to keep it fun.

'Doubt, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming denial; but if honest, and bent on thorough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth.'

The Bannon farmhouse kitchen was much as Clara remembered it from her last visit.  Neat, orderly and clean, a shrine to mealtimes.  The air was full of the smell of chili from a large slow-cooker, and the proper young woman sat nursing a glass of iced tea Jason had poured her before tending to the crockpot, her thoughts still turning over the conversation with her host and pushing the memory of the stolen kiss to the back of her head, easy enough to do in lieu of the other matters to think about.  Psychopathy, monsters, psychic powers, other dimensions, the Tree, Cody Sikes, Etienne... all these things demanded her attention in addition to the insights into her own issues.  She was grateful that Jason didn't seem to need to make conversation, leaving her be in companionable silence, her eyes roaming the room without really seeing as she processed her thoughts.

Jason finished added a few touches to the pot and covered it once more.  Expecting a few people to come, he'd folded out the extendable table and gotten more chairs around it, allowing for a comfortable seating of eight or so, if necessary.  He had also prepared in other ways - the kitchen door was propped open behind the screen, and around the front of the house he'd taped a large sign to the front door with one word written on it:

'KITCHEN'

Details taken care of, he sat down across from Clara and picked up his current kitchen reading material - a treatise on the care and cross-genetics of Orchidaceae.  Pages turned relatively swiftly, but quietly, interrupted only by the occasional pause for a sip of tea or glance at his guest to ensure she was comfortable.  Sitting in the hazy warmth of the last of summer's rays from the window, he radiated comfortable stillness and calm.

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Marias Medical Center

Lilly had heard what had happened to Liam from her mother. it was not often that somebody in Shelly received a beating like that. Well, aside from the twenty-seven year cycle or whatever, so it certainly caught attention. Though there was apparently no physical evidence, base on the envent of last night and hat she knew of Jase, she knew it was totally Jase. She could not blame him, really. She had wanted to do the same thing after hearing what had happened to Lona. If she were truly honest with herself, she would have to admit that she was actually kind of envious that Jase had gotten to do it. It was not a nice thought, but what Liam had did, and tried to do, was far, far from nice. Lona was her friend, and she was tired of people and.. things.. attacking and hurting her friends.  

Lilly pulled up to the exit Lona had texted her and told her she would be at and spotted her leaning against a column, looking up at the sound of the 80's rock/metal emanating from what were clearly decades old speakers. She had, thankfully, turned down the volume as she pulled into the parking. She didn't blare it obnoxiously loud in the first place, even if the ancient speakers could some how manage to handle it.

"You okay?" Lilly asked, still a bit worried about her friend after she left Bunnee's early last night.

"Yeah. They just wanted to scrape my fingernails and stuff, for evidence." Lona replied as she got into the truck.

"So you're gonna press charges?"

"Yeah. I think so. Best to get it on record."

Lilly weaved her way out of the parking lot and back onto the street, though she kept the music turned down. As she drove she spoke to Lona, glancing over at her from time to time.

"So, you've heard about Liam I take it? You know that had to be Jason that did that him, right?"

 Lona frowned. "Wait, Jase did what? To Liam?"
 
"You didn't hear in there?" Lilly asked before continuing, "He was brought into the trauma center last night, like, not all that long after Jase left Bunnee's... in critical condition. He had the hell beat out of him in his kitchen and was thrown through a window, but there is not a spec of physical evidence. You know.. if people didn't know better, they might think some invisible force did it to him."
 
Lona looked away from Lilly, staring out the window and clutching her backpack. "No," she said quietly. "I didn't hear." She paused, then asked, "Critical condition? Is he... gonna die?"
 
"I don't think so." Lilly sighed. "I mean, my mom is pretty hopeful, and she knows her stuff. Not sure about brain damage though." Lilly added as she pulled her truck over and turned on the bench seat to face Lona. 

"Dude. I'm sorry. I'm not trying to... It's not on you, Lona. None of this is, if that is what you might be thinking. Liam made a choice. A really bad choice. Jase made one too." she said and then added, "To be perfecty honest, I wanted to do the same thing after I heard Liam jumped you." Lilly said with a shrug of her shoulders. 

She then reached over to take Lona's hand, looking her in the eyes as she spoke with concern and sincerity.

"You're our friend and we care about you... a lot. You have such a big heart and do so much for everybody else... There was no way that Liam was gonna get away with that. Going to the police is probably not going to do much as it is a 'he said/she said' thing. Jase was just a little.. premature, maybe." Lilly said with a sigh.
 
"Ya think?" Lona shook her head. "I didn't want him hurt. What's the point? It wouldn't make anything better. It's just... more pain, spread around in a world already full of it. If I'd wanted him dead, I had a stick to his throat and I walked away from him." She drew a deep breath. "I really hope he's not about to beg forgiveness."
 
"When those you care about are hurt, you hurt. And it is part of primal, human nature to hurt right back those that hurt you. To protect your own. I'm not excusing what Jase did, not at all. Honestly, it is kinda of.. I dunno... It is one thing to kinda know what somebody, or even yourself, is capable of, but it's different when you actually see it. I'm just saying that I understand why he did it."

Lilly sighs, "I dunno."
 
"I understand why, too," Lona sighed. "Honestly, it's why I told Liam to run."
 
"Well, apparently he didn't. Or didn't fast enough, at least. I just wanted you to know before I picked up the others and we went over to the farm today. In case you didn't want to go or something knowing this." Lilly explained.
 
"I still want to go, thanks." Lona slid over the seat and gave her a one-armed hug. "I appreciate being given the choice."
 
"I'm always here for you too, Lona. You know that, right?" Lilly asked.
 
"I know," Lona said with a grin. "Why do you think I called you for a ride?"
 
"I know. But I mean more than that. Like, I know we maybe haven't hung out a lot and stuff outside of D&D, but.. I dunno.. I want to change that. You're not just somebody I game with, you know? Even if this weirdness hadn't happened."
 
"Yeah, I know," Lona said, nodding. "I kinda got the feeling you viewed everyone in the group as more than just the people you game with."
 
Lilly shrugged.

"Well, that is how it started, but then with time you get to know people better and now the Shine has, like, exaggerated things about each of us, it seems, highlighting who we are, it seems like."
 
Lona frowned. "Yeah, it seems like it. Or maybe since we're all stressed, we'll all showing our true colors."
 
"Well, that too, but stress seems to come hand in hand with the Shine." Lilly said as she started the truck again pulled back onto the road on her way to Cass' house.

"But today, if we get there and you want to go at any time, even if it is right away, just let me know and we're gone. Or if you need anything else too." she offered.
 
"I will, thanks." Lona didn't say much more, just stared out the window, frowning pensively.

Lilly sighed. She did not want to push things with Lona, or make her feel like she was smothering her or anything, but it was tough to see a friend like this.

Lilly found Cassandra's house with little difficulty and and knew the way to the Cassidy's by heart, picking up Cass and Laurie, who had to ride in the bed of the truck. It was not all that hot or cold, so it was actually a rather pleasant ride in the open air bed of the truck since they were on surface streets and never going too fast. It was not long until the tires were crunching the  gravel on the short driveway up to the Bannon Farm.

The sight of Clara's car was a little surprising. She knew she had ROTC, but figure she was still at it since she was not at the hospital with Lona. She pulled up next to it and parked, killing the engine.

"Huh. Clara's here already?" Lilly commented as she exited the truck along with the other girls and began walking toward the house. Spotting the signed on the front door, she made her way around to the kitchen door, knocking on it as she walked in and held the door for the other girls.

"Hey. What's up?" she asked in pretty common greeting for her.

 

Spoiler

Original post was lost when I tried to post and discovered site was updating. So you'll have to get by with this instead. Heh

 

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"Hey."  Jason said, looking up from his botanical reading and closing the slim book as he gave a faint, but genuine smile at the sight of the others.  Clara, who'd been occupying herself in her own thoughts, likewise glanced around and smiled as she saw the four newcomers.

"Not much is up right now - just relaxing as we wait."  The lean young man said as he stood and moved towards the fridge.  "It's barely lunchtime, but food is ready now or can keep for when you're hungry.  Iced tea if anyone wants it, OJ or coffee if they don't."  He paused with a hand on the fridge door handle, head tilting slightly as his cool pale gaze examined each of the four in turn.

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Lona paused at the truck to send a quick text, then followed Lilly inside, just in time to hear Jase’s greeting. 

Lona dropped her backpack in a clear spot by the door and grinned at Clara. “So you can ignore my voicemail about needing a ride from the hospital. I called Lilly when you didn’t answer and I saw you were out here.”

Clara’s eyebrows shot up, but Lona’s grin kept her from falling into another panic. “Why were you at the hospital?”

“Mom.” Lona drew out the word like an indictment.

“Oh god,” Clara groaned. “What has Adele done now? Tripped and knocked her head off? It might be an improvement.”

“No,” Lona said bitterly, “she had a panic attack and couldn’t calm down when the sheriff came to the house to ask me about Liam.”

Frowning, Clara glanced at the other two in the room. “How did he hear about it? I can’t believe Liam just fessed up.”

Lona scowled. “Because Marissa Jauntsen told the sheriff about it. Last night.”

Clara’s hands white-knuckled around her cup of tea, but the heat quickly made her release the cup. She let out a slow, long breath - a step up from her usual angry outburst at something like that. “Are you okay?” she asked Lona gently.

“Not even close.” She smiled a bright, bitter smile, even as her phone chimed. Ignoring it for now, she added, “Speaking of not being okay, Jase, a word in private please?”

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"Marissa!" Cassandra exclaimed. "Goddamnit, we sat there agonizing over what we should do, and she just goes and fucks everything up. I'm sorry, Lona. We should have known she was going to do something like that."

She then bobbed her head in a belated nod at Jase. "Hey."

"So the sheriff showed up to get a statement? Damn, well at least they're taking it seriously."

Her eyes stayed on Jason though as she pried a little. "Did he go talk to Liam too?"

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"I don't think Liam will be talking to anybody for at least a while." Lilly said as she glanced over at Jason, who in turn nodded to Lona. The pain then walked out the door and exited the kitchen.

"He was brought into the trauma center in critical condition last night, not all that long after we met up at Bunnee's. He had the hell beaten out of him and was thrown through a window. And I'm not sure, but he might have brain damage." she explained to the others as she took a seat. Lilly waited for Lona and Jase to exit and gave it a few moments for them to walk away before she continued.

"Now, I don't know for a fact that it was Jase that did it, but it was totally Jase that did it. It was just after He heard what Liam did and he left Bunnee's last night, you know, like right after getting there?" she said as she said back in the chair while Cass faceplamed, certain things, like Lona wishing to speak with Jase in private, no making sense.

"That, or else Liam's kitchen sure kicked his ass. That fridge must have a mean right hook too." she said with a shrug.

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There was a sudden implosion of air in Jase's kitchen and Devin blamm-o'd his way out of nowhere with four large, thick pizza boxes in his arms.  It was enough to give them all heart attacks as it sounded like and air rifle going off on 11.

"Time to eat, bitches!"  He dropped the pizzas on the table.  On the boxes it said 'Athens Pizza'.

"Athens?  Where is there an Athe-"  Cass paused mid sentence and looked at Devin.  "No."

"Yes."  He smiled, flipping up a box top.  "Athens, Greece, baby.  Hong Kong, Summit of Everest, Australia, Saint Lucia... guys... this blippy thing I got is the tits."  He took a bite a pizza and moaned in delight.  "Ugh, so good.  Where's Av-... Lona?"

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Clara started at Devin's appearance in the room and then just stood there staring for a long moment. The smell of pizza finally roused her from her shock. "That is...amazing." She belatedly remembered his question and added, "Lona's having a talk with Jase." She glanced out the door, but shrugged. "I'm not sure if he's being thanked or yelled at or both."

She reached over and snagged one of the pizza slices, taking a bite and nodding approvingly. She got a thoughtful look. "How did you pay for the pizza?" Her tone was speculative, not accusing. "Oh, credit card, duh. That is really impressive, the jumping around. Can you go anywhere on Earth? If you have a space suit, could you go to the moon?"

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"I can't believe you can go that far," Cass said. The way she'd jumped back and grabbed at her chest for a second was something she'd just as soon not dwell on, in hopes the others wouldn't notice. At least she hadn't squeaked. Truth told, she'd been too startled to squeak. Thank God.

"How do you get to a place you haven't been before? Isn't that a thing? Like, you have to know where you're going?"

Even as she spoke, Cassandra's hands moved as if on their own predatory instinct, prying a box open to get at the numptiousness within.

"Also, thanks for the pizza."

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"So far, anywhere I've tried to go, I've made it," he said pridefully.  "The farther I go seems to require me to concentrate or charge up, or something, I dunno.  Except home.  Here in Shelly, I can pretty much dip anywhere in a few moments... like... I'm bound here."

He shrugged and shoved his pizza slice in his mouth, letting it dangle as he raided Jase's fridge for something to drink.  "Oh...'" he said with a mouthful.  "Pictures help.  I can, 'aim', but it seems linked to distance... the farther it is, the longer the warm up.  Like vacation foreplay."

He popped open a coke and swigged it.  "Gonna see if I can't crank this blinking shit up to an 11 at this practice Jase has planned.  Become uber fast.  We'll see.  If we're gonna beat The Dark, we have to be at our best.  Which is the only reason I'm here, by the way.  To help find a way to stop that thing."

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Lilly had jumped up to her feet reflexively, readying herself to react when Devin appeared out of nowhere and then relaxed almost instantly, looking at him for a moment before she took her seat again. If he had gone as far as he said he had, then that was mind boggling and more then impressive. She sat back, thinking about it, though it was truly unbelievable.

Telekinesis, healing injuries instantly, telepathy, teleportation... If Lilly had not see these things with her eyes or felt them with her own mind she would not have believed them, which made the idea of trying to tell somebody else even all the more daunting.

She poured herself a glass of water and relaxed as the others ate. After how deven had gone out of his way to make a scene in front of the rest of the table Thursday morning to make it very clear that he was not cool with her, she had no doubt that the offer of the pizza did not extend to her.

"Cool." was all she said as she sipped her water and considered things.

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Jase closed the screen door behind them, then allowed Lona to lead him a small distance around the side of the house before they stopped, the tall youth leaning against the railing and regarding Lona with calm expectance.

"So did you put Liam in the hospital?" she asked tersely, crossing her arms.

"Do you want to know for sure?" he countered with sincere curiousity, his hands in his pockets, head canted slightly to one side.  There was no smile, nor gleam of amusement in the cold eyes.

"Yeah, I do," she said, lifting her chin. "You're my friend, and I want honesty between us."

He nodded at that, a respectful gesture of acknowledgement.

"Then yes." he said simply.

Her eyes fluttered shut and with a pained expression, she said, "Do you know what's been the worst thing about all of this? Ever since Liam jumped me?"

He considered for a moment that stretched out in his mind, images and impression of Lona flashing across his inner eye.  In seeking an answer to her question, he only found more questions. "I imagine you feared I would kill him. Which is why I did not."

"No, Jase. That was something I worried about, but what's been the worst is how many people are making decisions for me," she said, her voice thickening with tears that she blinked back. "Liam decided to attack me and hurt me. Marissa decided to tell the sheriff instead of telling me I was being an idiot. My mom decided that her pain over her daughter being hurt was more important than her daughter. And you decided to extract vengeance for me." She swallowed and said, "Why didn't you talk to me, Jase? Ask me what I wanted done?"

"Because I did not do it for you."  he said softly, his eyes on hers. "I know you well enough that you would not want that, and I am no storybook hero that avenges the damsel, nor are you a damsel."  He paused for a moment, letting her absorb that.

"I did it for me, Avalon.  Liam's actions... offended me.  He laid hands on a friend." Another person might have looked away, or tried to break the intensity of their words in some similar manner.  Jason just regarded her with that same stare. "It could have been Devin that was attacked, and I would do the same."

"You were not the one he hurt, Jase. Offended or not, it is not your call." She stared at him, sad and tired eyes meeting his. "I understand why you did it, but I need you to understand why what you did hurt me, too."

He considered, studying her weary face.

"I regret that.  I did not mean for my actions to hurt you." he said finally.  "You were not responsible for them, though. Any more than you are responsible for Liam's actions."

"I never thought I was." She shivered and looked out at the afternoon sun. "I held a sharp stick to his throat and  I couldn't do it. I told him to run because I knew you could. On some level, I feel safer knowing he's not out there, but now I have to ask if I can trust my friends with this kind of secret again? Here's a better question: Jase, if someone 'lays hands' on me again, do I have to decide between sharing that burden with my friends and marking them for a beating?"

For the first time in the time she'd known him, Jason looked uncertain, unsure of himself.  He still didn't waver in his gaze, but there was a tightening of his expression, a pensiveness that told of some conflict.

"I... don't know." he said, shoulders sinking slightly.  "I want to be there for a friend, should they need me, but I do not know if I can just let a thing like that pass.  You are precious to me. So are most of the Fellowship. I..." he blinked, then looked away. "I don't know how else to be."  he said again, more softly, as much to himself as her.

"Maybe you should consider that," she said softly, "because what happens if Devin puts a beatdown on Charlie? Or Lilly goes after Sean? How do you weigh who is more precious?"

 He said nothing, his eyes coming back to meet hers.  In the pale green depths there was a hint of anger, the firefly motes of copper brightening a little for a long moment before he spoke.

"Whoever throws the first punch had best have the mother of all good reasons."  he said, with more certainty. "Because only violence excuses violence, for me."

"But..."

He sighed, nodding in assent with her words.  "I will give it more thought."

"Let me know when you'd done thinking, because I'd like to revisit this," she said. "Liam should face something for what he did, but Jase, all you did was cause him pain. It didn't reduce my pain. It didn't help me, in fact, it made me feel like you didn't care about my feelings about it. So I'm going to be selfish and ask you to talk to me before you do it again. I know I can't stop you if you want to, but I want you to care about me enough to talk to me. Can you do that?"

"That.." he said with a small smile, head tilting a little.  "... I can promise. I will at least talk to you and hear your views before I act.  Is that fair?"

"That is all I can ask, because at the end of your day, you'll do what you do, just as we all will." She grinned at him. "Who knew I was such a philosopher?"

"Any wisdom is a plus, for a teenager."  he smiled back, his eyes warming a little before turning a little pensive once more.  "I am sorry your mother is not there for you to lean on. That can be difficult."

"It's not even that," Lona sighed. "She's just selfish. She's all wrapped up in fucking--" Lona stopped and turned startled brown eyes to him, then revised, "in fucking with all of her own big, important, personal things. Clara's mom is a better parent. Hell, at this point, you've done more parenting in five seconds than she's done in five months."

"She is only human," he said with enough of a deadpan expression that Lona wondered, for a moment, how serious he was before she saw the faint gleam in his eye.  "Do you... would you like a hug?" he asked with the same tone as he would offer coffee or iced tea - kind, courteous, selfless in it's way but also very odd, as questions went.

"Sure," she said with a little smile. "I could use a hug." She grinned as she wrapped arms around his waist and squeezed. "Thank you for listening, too.'

He smiled a little as he folded long arms around her gently.  "Any time. And thank you for trying to understand." She nodded and together the two walked to the house. 

As they stepped inside, Lona saw Devin and grinned. “Hey, you made it! And Greek pizza!” She grabbed a piece and took a bite. With a near-pornographic moan (at least the sex-laden minds of the teen boys in the room), she said to him, “Mmmhmm, still jelly, but all is forgiven with this.”

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"Understood," Clara said mildly, "and thanks for the pizza. Lona clearly enjoys it." She looked at her sister as she uttered the wry words, and actually chuckled when Lona stuck a tongue out at her. Laurie was sitting to the side, eyeing the pizza like it might be radioactive and she still wanted it.

"Jase, mind if I grab a coke? Tea and pizza is just a crime." At his nod, she got up and pulled one from the fridge. "I thought maybe we could make me boosting people part of practice after we spend some time figuring out what everyone can do on there own." She was trying to keep her jealousy in check, but being the group battery wasn't nearly as awesome as healing with a touch or bopping around the globe like it was a particularly small public park. "So, who else is coming, do we know? Cade and Cora? Charlie? Marissa? Anyone else?"

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"Powers practice will be tomorrow - giving Sean and Sara a chance to get back from the auction, if they make good time." Jason said as he stepped towards the fridge.  A slice of pizza lifted from the open box under Laurelei's reaching hand, causing the girl to let out a stifled yelp and draw back even as the fridge opened, a can of Coke sailing out, tab popping with a small hiss.  "Everyone is invited, as with today.  Today is mainly about setting up the string board Cassie suggested, letting us keep easy track of what we know and who is part of what is going on."  Taking a plate from the rack by the sink Jase turned and leaned against the counter, holding the plate out with one hand as the slice of pizza came to land as his other hand grabbed the can of soda from the air.  "Thanks, Devin.  This smells good." he said with a small smile to his friend.  The pizza lifted a little from the plate, Jason leaning forward and taking a bite with obvious enjoyment, if perhaps not as thought-provoking as Lona's.

"Um.. So is anyone going to talk about Liam?"  Laurie asked, torn between timid and exasperated, her blue eyes not quite able to meet Jason's.

"We just did."  Lona told her around a mouthful of pizza.  Laurie frowned slightly, fiddling with the edge of the pizza box.

"Yeah, and great and all but... Jason hospitalised a man." she blurted.  "And it was bad, from what Lilly said.  Right, Lilly?"  she looked at her mentor-figure for support, then at Jason whose pale gaze was on her as he chewed, seemingly unconcerned.  "It... It was wrong, Jase. I don't know what's up with you lately.  This isn't you."

Jase remained silent, taking a sip of soda before once more taking a bite from his slice of pizza.

"Thish- Excushe me..." he swallowed.  "This is very good, Laurie, Lilly.  You should try some."

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"What's to be jelly of Ripley?  You could totes own on Grey's Anatomy.  Wasn't for you Hotlips, I wouldn't be walking at all."  He winked at her.

Oh there was definitely something going on here.  Pet names, flirting, Lona turning a bit flushed when she saw Devin and him smirking like a boy while he pretended not to notice.  Plus there was the texts.  Lona was practically buried in her phone back at the house.  As things weren't tense enough between Devin and the others, Clara had to deal with her 'sister' possibly falling for the one guy Shelly no one could stand and he couldn't seem to stand any of them.  Because why not, right?

Laurie made a valiant attempt and was brushed aside.  Devin smirked and shook his head, she was adorable... trying so hard.  "Laurie, just stop.  Seriously, I know you mean well, we all do, but there's no point."

"We're teenagers, Red, we thrive off drama, and this group can't get enough.  Jason doesn't care about what he did, if given the option he'd do it again.  Eventually, hurting people won't be enough and that's when good people, decent people, will put him down."  His tone was cold, but so matter of fact in almost could have been a threat.  "Right now, The Dark is tearing a swath through our town.  It needs to be stopped.  We handle that, then you can all get back to your drama and story times.  I don't have the room in my life for it right now, there are bigger things to worry about."

"Don't you even care what happened to Lona?"  Laurie snapped at him.

Lona has people who love her and care for her," he remained calm although it was obvious the Cassidy was already irritating him.  "If Lona want's to talk to me, she knows I'm here.  Until then, it's her business, and we all know I'm not going to say anything you guys and everyone else haven't said already.  I care, she knows that.  Whether or not the rest of you think I do, isn't relevant, I don't answer to you."

He sipped his coke and smiled.  "Marissa said she'd be by in a bit, her and Charlie are on a date, something about exploring autoerotic asphyxiation, I dunno.  She said she has an idea, or theories about the Dark she wants to share.  And no, she's not happy with any of you, not she's high up on your Christmas lists.  All that matters is she, like me, wants to bring this thing down.  Now come on guys, I brought it for everyone, eat up.  Get your grub and, let's find this shadowy son of a bitch and pump some shine up its ass.  Prison yard rules, bitches!"

"No plates, get in touch with your inner savage.  Hands only, like the ancient greeks had to when they killed these pizzas with nothing but debate and math for weapons, in ten feet snow, uphill, both ways!  Ah, you crazy greeks... so silly... damn you and your wild pizza herds..."  He scooped up another thick slice and took a bite, savoring with an ecstatic moan in an attempt to childishly upstage Lona's porno moan.

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"I'm touched by your faith in me, and stand in awe of your insight into my motivations."  Jase smiled a little at Devin to soften the faint sarcasm of his tone, though he did set the plate aside before picking up the slice of pizza, raising it in salute to the teleporter.  "Causing pain is not my drive, but you are right in one thing - Liam's suffering does not bother me at all.  He hurt a friend, and now he is hurting.  He will not do what he did again, and that is all I care about."  With that he took a bite, chewing a couple of times before swallowing, and continued.  "Avalon, on the other hand, has asked me not to take such action again - should someone harm her - without at least first discussing the matter with her."  His eyes swept the small group present.  "I promised her I would do so.  Any of my friends is likewise able to ask such a thing of me, but it is a matter of individual request - not a blanket policy.  Like Devin, I choose who I answer to."

"So you talk to us about it, then do what you're going to do anyway."  Devin snerked around a mouthful of pizza.  "Way to have your pizza and eat it, Rain Man."

"Perhaps.  Nothing is certain - maybe in talking about it with Lona, we could have found a middle ground acceptable to both.  Perhaps I would have abided and allowed the law to attempt justice."  He took a sip of Coke.  "At the very least, there would be true understanding of each other rather than -"  he gestured with his can at Devin.  "-dramatic predictions and nebulous threats from good, decent people."  There might have been a slight touch of irony in his voice as he continued - or maybe more than a slight touch.  "After all, it's not like anyone in the Fellowship has ever attempted strangulation out of frustrated rage, or moved to attack someone because they didn't like what they said, or broken a person's nose over heated words...  Perhaps one day, causing a man to drown in his own blood won't be enough."  He took a bite of pizza.  "Something to think about."

"It's not exactly the same, dude."  Lilly said pensively, regarding Jason.

"No.  It's not.  Firstly, it takes more than words to make me attack someone.  And secondly, because I was in perfect control of my actions and fucking own them."  he said with quiet force.  "Just like when I protected Cora from rape.  Just as when I protected my friends from the smilodon.  Just as when I protected my friends from the Courtney-Coochiesaurus.  Liam was a threat, now he is not.  The only regret I have is that Avalon was hurt by my apparent disregard for her wishes regarding the vermin."  He drained the can of Coke with some vehemence, then tossed it towards the recycling can.  The metal container crumpled en route, landing inside the trash receptacle with a clang. 

"Devin is right about one thing, other than that the pizza is excellent.  The Dark is the most important thing right now, closely followed by Doctor Cook's black operation to create the 'Truman Show featuring experimentation into human enhancement'.  I've set up several whiteboards and pin-boards in the barn loft.  We brainstorm.  We form what connections we need to form to find the root of what's going on.  We practice with our gifts, not just for our individual benefit but so that we know what each other is capable of.  We train.  And then we burn the Dark, and we deal with Cook."  Another slice of pizza floated across the room to his hand.

"I said hands only!"  Devin protested.  Jase smiled around a mouthful.

"Y'or notsh my shupervishor!" he replied.

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Cassandra shook her head.

"Well, most of that is...a little terrifying, but okay. Here."

She got her phone out and tapped on it, then held it out for the others to see.

"Fellowship, meet the Dark."

On it was the shot Autumn had sent her, with the 'man in black' behind her.

"Creepy guy came into Bunnees after most of you left. He freaked Autumn out, so she sent me this, then he came in. Ordered an ice cream cone, then looked right at us and warned us the 'night was getting Dark' or words to that effect. I wrote it down, but I didn't memorize it."

"Oh, and he was basically driving Christine. So..."

She shrugged.

"One more for the conspiracy wall."

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Disagreements over comparative morality, the ingratitude of lesser mortals, and pizza etiquette forgotten, Jason stepped over to Cassie and leaned forward, peering at the phone intently.

"Now that is interesting."  he murmured, taking another bite of the slice in his hand.  He straightened and moved back, allowing others to look in turn as he finished chewing.  With a faint click, the slow-cooker on the counter turned to 'Low Heat'.  He swallowed and glanced at Cass.

"Very interesting.  A herald, an avatar, or a personification - or else someone trying to pass himself off as one.  I have a printer up in the loft and some photo paper - we can definitely put Mr Dark there on the wall."  He fell silent then, turning away from the others and staring out the kitchen window as he ate, deep in thought.

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Lilly looked to where Jase was examining Cass' phone and thought for a split second.

"He said, and I quote, "Damn good ice cream." then he looked at our table and said to us, "Y’all be careful now, it’s getting mighty Dark out there tonight." to our table in general, as if he knew us, or at least knew of us. It was not too long after Lona and Clara left. Hell, just check the timestamp on the message from Autumn if it is all that relevant." she stated with certainty, which was a little odd for her to have such specific recall unless the man and/or phrase had truly stuck in her head.

"Dude was like a walking cliche too. I mean, just look at him. Dressed pretty douchey in all black with his shirt open halfway to his navel, with his black hair that must be dyed to be that black considering how old he looks, and driving his gloss black, classic Caddy. It had to be a '58 El Dorado or Coupe DeVille. I think it was a Couple DeVille because it had the double headlights on each side, which the '57's didn't have, and didn't have the big rocket engines on the back like the '59. It was all chromed out too. There's sure not many of those around here, so the car, supposing it is a car and not some personification of Death's pale horse or something, is gonna stand out around here." she explained simply.

"Oh, and it was a hard top too." she added as she noticed how some of the others were staring at her in surprise.

"What? I drive, beneath all the rust, a '57 Chevy pickup. When I was looking at buying it looking up stuff about it online I couldn't help but see stuff about other classic cars from the same period. It ws quite the rabbit hole too, because those cars had some seriously awesome style." she said with a smile, thinking about the cars she had seen.

"I bought my pickup with the pipe dream of restoring it one day. Pffft. Like that's ever gonna happen." she said wistfully with a small shake of her head.

"Anyways, yeah. That's what he said. And I would not be so certain about Liam 'no doing it again' either. Laying there in the bed at the medical center, the Dark might be whispering in his ear and seeping into him until he is just seething with vengeance and waiting until he can walk out of there and extract it. Especially after that Douche in Black said." she added with a small shrug.

She then looked over to Devin as he scarfed down another piece of pizza.

"So what brought about this change of heart?" Lilly asked Devin and took a sip of her water. "Because.. what?" she looked down at her wrist, pantomiming as if she were wearing a wristwatch that she was looking at for a moment, "Forty-eight hours ago you were all about the drama and went way the hell outta your way to make a scene in front of everybody to make it super clear to me that you were not cool with me." she said, adding background to her question.

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"He just said he's only here because we need to fight the Dark together," Clara said with a quizzical look at Lilly. "It's not about a change of heart, it's about priorities." 

Lona piped up, grinning, "It's like a coworker brought lunch to the office. It's polite to say 'thanks' and have a bite."

"How about we take the pizza out to the barn and get started?" Clara suggested. "The others can join us when they get here, and then we can have chili back here when we need a break from banging our head on walls from all the information we don't have yet." 

She frowned, "Could that guy have been someone involved with Cook? I mean, being obsessed with black isn't a total cinch on being involved with the Dark or the goth kids at school are suddenly the scariest of social cliques." She frowned deeper and sighed. "Maybe I'm just hoping we only have one set of problems to deal with and not two."

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"She's right," Devin thumbed to Clara while addressing Lilly.  "Hate to admit it, but Clara is right.  It's about priorities.  The Dark is a priority."

He leaned in to Lilly to make himself clear.  "You. Are not.  Don't wanna eat?  Don't.  More for me.  Wanna bust my balls over shit I said a couple days ago?  Couple days ago I wasn't ass deep in Upsidedown Thunder with a vagina tongue trying to eat my dick.  So save it.  I'm not interested and I don't care.  I'm not taking it back.  We're not cool.  I'm not cool with any of you right now.  So suck it up buttercup.  I do know though, that all of us?  As messed up and hateful and spiteful and neurotic as we are... were brought together for a reason.  We Shine and there is beast called The Dark coming our way.  Do we need to get Cade's sister in here to do that math for us, or can you figure it out?"

He stood and looked at all of them.  "I don't have to like you to have your back when the sun sets.  I don't have to like you to help you protect those you love.  I don't have to like you to stand with you as a bastion of light between our world and a world of misery, despair and fear.  I may hate this town, but it's still my town.  I may not like you, but your still my people.  So if that bastard wants Shelly?  I say we get our asses in gear, stop with the bullshit, have another slice of pizza and do what angst ridden teenagers who all need to get over themselves do best..."  he leaned onto table, resting on his arms as he looked around to all them.  His face curled into a grin.  "...let's go get our misbehave on."

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The barn was much as everyone who'd been there before remembered it.  Rising rows of exotic and not-so exotic flowering plants, the greenhouse divided into differing climes ranging from temperate to tropical.  A riot of colours and greenery, the air rich with their scent and alive with the trickling of water.  Bearing the pizza boxes, most of the teens moved through without more than a casually appreciative glance, perhaps now and then pausing a moment to examine some rich hue or sneak an appreciative sniff of a fragrance.

Laurelei hadn't been here, though she'd heard of it from Sean and the others.  Though her reaction was not quite as blissed-out as, for example, Marissa's first introduction to the beautiful barn interior, the girl's eyes were wide as she trailed a little behind, her gaze trying to take it all in.  It was yet another jarring paradox about her brother's friend - from the conversation about callously injuring a man to... this.  Though she didn't know it, she was by far the only person in the Fellowship that had difficulty reconciling what they saw as Bannon's Jekyll & Hyde nature. But then the Fellowship, for all their talent and power and being forced to come of age in the most dangerous of ways, were still human: there were more things in heaven and earth than could be readily conceived of.

Even by he himself, Jase mused as he pushed open the door at the far end leading onto the stairs heading up.  Devin was right: there was no need for people to like one another in order to associate.  Which had shifted Jason's world view a little - he'd thought the other boy a friend, and friend's liked one another.  It didn't upset him, as such, merely required him to readjust.  Perhaps 'comrades' would be a better term?  He'd listened to enough veterans talk to know that they could not stand some of the guys in their units, but they'd stood by them, gotten drunk with them, and trusted them wholeheartedly.  Because to do otherwise was to die.

When this 'war' was done, the survivors would likely drift apart.  And perhaps that would be for the best.  The Jauntsens would go and be fabulous and successful somewhere - they all would, really.  All of them had a spark of something great: perhaps a function of the Shine.  He could see Avalon happy, perhaps pursuing a career in music.  Clara would find a Plan that was less of a religion and more flexible.  Cassie would go and be an investigative reporter, or maybe even a cop or FBI agent.  Lilly had a bright future as an athletic prodigy and, he reflected wryly, probably UN goodwill ambassador somewhere.  And what would he do?

The answer was easy - with his powers, intellect, and a modicum of imagination - why, he could do whatever he wanted.  So what did he want?  A challenge?  Power?  Respect?  Love?  All of it?

What indeed? 

The loft was orderly as always, a small potting table with tools over in one corner but now with several folding tables and plenty of chair set up in the large center of the room.  The red-herring file boxes had been stuffed to one side, only the aerial photographs remained out, pinned to a corkboard propped above them.  Several more large corkboards were set up along the walls, with a couple of whiteboards on stands completing the nerve-center.  One table to the side had a printer and a couple stacks of paper readied, along with his Chromebook and several packs of markers.

"There's no internet still, but people's phone services will work." he said tersely as a couple of windows swung open under his telekinetic direction.  "For today, at least."  He turned at the far end of the loft, a lean tall silhouette against the large window there.  "Cassandra - you're the conspiracy-tracking expert.  Ready to get started?"

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"Lets do this thing."

Cassandra pulled her phone out and called up her notes app. From her other pocket she produced a pack of 3x5 index cards. From her backpack came a plastic case of thumbtacks, a couple of rolls of yarn, and a black sharpie.

"Okay. I'm going to start with where it LOOKS like this all began."

She pinned a card to the middle of the middle corkboard, then wrote DR.COOK on it, over on the left side...leaving space on the right side of the card blank, for notes to be written on.

"He's connected directly to Etienne..." another card went up, close to Dr. Cook. "And...to Shelly..." another card. "And to the government." Each of those cards got a bit of yarn strung between them by the tacks. Green for Etienne and Cook, blue for Shelly and Cook, and red for the government and Cook.

Cassie then took out more cards and wrote each member of the Fellowship's names on each one. Then they got put up to the left of Cook and Etienne, and green yarn connected each of them to one another. She hesitated for a moment, then put blue yarn between Etienne and Clara. Then more cards for other kids from school, in a cluster off to the left of the Fellowship, farther from the center. Most of them were bound to one or more Fellowship members by red or green yarn, depending on if the relationship was friendly or hostile.

"Whew. Okay. Then we have..." She wrote The Dark on a card she stuck near the center, just below where Cook had gone. Red yarn tied The Dark to all the Fellowship. Blue lines tied it to the kids who'd been identified as influenced by it. Among them was Cody Sikes, who's card was separated off by itself, underneath the other non-Fellowship kids.

Up near Shelly went The Tree, which had a long yellow line connected to Cody as well. More yarn connected it to Devin, and to Cook.

"Yellow means a...speculated connection," Cassandra explained distractedly as she eyed the corkboards. Another line of it connected the Tree and Shelly itself.

She then put a card up for the 'Prison' which went between Shelly and Cook, with a yellow line connecting it to the good Doctor.

By that point, the corkboards looked pretty messy, though the logic wasn't TOO hard to follow if one had seen it put together and knew what the colors meant.

"There's obviously still a lot of questions here," Cassandra said, eying the board. "In fact..."

One last card went on, titled simply, 'Eugenics Project.' That got a green line to Cook, and a yellow line to all the kids, Fellowship or not. Then another yellow line to the government. And to the prison.

Cassie shook her head. "It looks like a clown threw up on this thing."

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"Aww, arts and crafts time," came the mocking sneer of Marissa's voice from the back of the room.  "How adorable.  Had I known I'd have brought milk and cookies for everyone."

"We got pizza," Devin pointed out.  "But I could go for some cookies..."

"I'll pass, thanks."  She smiled at him sarcastically.  "Where in the hell have you been?"

"Where haven't I been, Emjay.  It's a long story, I'll tell you later.  Right now we're trying to see how everything connects, get our bearings so we can take the fight where it needs to go."

"You can't be serious," she chuckled as she spoke.  "You saw that thing, all of you did.  Devin it almost took your leg off."

"If not us, than who?"  He stood up from where he was leaning and took a step towards her.  "With Lona's heals, Jase's fire, Lilly's strength and my speed... we might have a chance.  Everyone here is getting stronger by the day.  Developing, understanding, accepting what we are, Marissa."

"And just what are all of you?  Hmm?"  Her words were terse and tactless.  It was obvious she didn't want Devin getting hurt.  "Idiot kids looking to get yourselves killed!?"

"Hope."  Devin said softly.  "We're all this town and it's people have.  We need you Marissa.  You said you had a plan, a theory.  We need it, we need everything we can because something, someone, somewhere... may have the key to beating this... thing.  We can't rule anything out."

Marissa sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.  "Devin... I can't stand here and watch you and these idiots kill yourselves."

Her brother exhaled.  His face was the picture of disappointment but it was obvious he understood why she felt the way she did.

"Because I'm in heels today," Devin looked at her and a glimmer of hope shone in his eyes.  "And my calves are already burning.  So I will sit and watch all of you idiots plan your destruction."  She sat down in a chair and crossed her legs elegantly and folded her arms.  "I'll say my piece once all this..." she waved her hand at the board.  "Done."

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"Okay. That's enough." Lilly said as she rose up.

"We are not 'idiots' or 'bitches' or any of the of he colorful metaphors you two seem so fond of." she said looking to Marissa and Devin. 

"I am tired of the constant insults, name calling and put downs. That does not work, at least for me. If we are going to do this together, then we need to be a team, and a team is built on mutual trust and respect." she continued, looking from one to the other, her voice firm.

"You wonder why you have no real friends? Well look in the goddamned mirror and look at how you treat people. To have a friend you got to be a friend." she explained, her tone unwavering. 

"So get with the program, show some basic, fucking, human decency and be a part of the team, goddamnit. It does not mean we have to be besties or braid each other's hair, but you can at least drop the insults and name calling and talk to us with some basic, fucking respect." she said, again cursing which was enough of a rarity for her as to draw attention to her anger, or at the very least irritation.

"If not, and if everybody else wants to put up with your shit, then they can and I'm out. Either way, I have to, at the very least, step out for some fresh air before I say or do something I will regret, or probably regret more, to one of you or this place." she added as she turned and headed outside.

Once outside she paced back and forth, taking in sleep, deep breaths in an attempt to abate her irritation, which quickly turned into her doing push ups to try and bleed off some of her energy.

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"Mr Black goes by the Tree, the Dark and Cook."  Jason said from where he stood slightly apart from the others, his quiet voice breaking the silence after Lilly left. 

He'd registered Marissa's arrival with a faint smile, only for her to studiously avoid looking at him, to which his reaction was little more than Ahh.  So he was officially disapproved of - good to know, he'd thought with a certain wry amusement at the fact that of all the kids present, the two most openly judgmental were the two who had used a mixture of intimidation, lies, social manipulation and violence to crown themselves King and Queen of Shelly's youth.  Perhaps it was because, for all of their savoir faire rebelliousness and ruthlessness, they still mentally operated within the bounds of civilised human social behaviour and had suddenly realised that he did not, and in fact never really saw it as of any use except as camouflage.  Or perhaps they were softer-hearted than they let on - which he knew to be a fact, judging by Marissa's treatment of him following the smilodon attack.  Which begged the question why arguably 'good' people behaved in such a fashion, but then... He found most if not all of the Fellowship alternately amusing / confusing as hell in their contradictions.

"Also, we need to examine several chains of causality.  The major one being:  Is the black project here because of the location of this place - because of the anomalies and history of weirdness?  I mean, why Shelly?  The aerial photos were taken mid-eighties, which was also the time Doctor Cook was an intern at the freshly-overhauled Marias Medical Center.  But if what he told us was right, the money that started being pumped into Shelly around that time was due to the Project."  Jason stepped over to the board, tapping the 'Eugenics Project' card.  "So here is a *possible* version of events."

"Someone - Doctor Cook's mentor - hears about the Land of Upside Down Thunder.  The dimensional / temporal anomalies.  Perhaps they do the same research I did into Shelly's history.  They come here, perhaps building that trailer. with the atomic generator and the radio that picks up frequencies that it should not...  They take aerial photos of the area, and they learn something.  In the process, they recruit Cook - arguably an intelligent young man - into a project geared towards human enhancement and start pumping millions of dollars into Shelly.  Cook leaves, becomes a celebrated diagnostician elsewhere, but is kept in the loop on the Project.  He returns, officially at least, ten years ago to take up a post at Marias, but as we know he now runs the Project."

Jase had been staring at the board as he spoke, then turned to Cassie and the others.  "The Project is because of that other dimension, or perhaps another dimension - there might be more than one.  Someone with a vast array of scientific knowledge decades ahead of even where we are now was studying that and perhaps saw a way to make use of it's energy to make us what we are.  But, and here is the important thing if I am correct so far, he didn't tell Cook about the trailer.  Etienne wanted Cook's people to find it, left his device there.  He knew it was important and that Cook wanted what was there. So whoever recruited Cook might not have shared everything with him - or perhaps did not get the chance to."

"How do you know he didn't tell Cook?"  Cassie asked, staring at the board with narrowed eyes, then glancing at Jason.

"I'm extrapolating, based on the fact that all the photos and files, plus the tech, were still there.  There's no reason for Cook to leave them laying around unguarded."  Jason moved back across the room to where he had been standing before.  "Of course, it could all be coincidence and there might have been TWO parties studying The Land of Upside Down Thunder at the same time... And the presence of other-dimensional energy might have nothing to do with the rise of a dozen teenagers with the Shine.  But I dislike coincidence as an explanation.  There's gaps because we just don't know enough, but the simple chain is: Presence of the Dark leads to someone studying Shelly leads to someone starting a project to create humans with powers.  Now Cook said he didn't want to use us as weapons, but he's not the man who started it all.  What if the originator saw the need for... well, us.  As protectors."

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"Evolution is applied stressors. What if that's the actual eugenics program?" Clara had watched Lilly leave, figuring that running after her was not going to actually improve the situation while also hoping that Marissa and Devin might actually listen for once an stop with the annoying verbal bashing all the time. She'd let it go for now - now was the time for theories and mental work - not fumbling group therapy sessions. "What if they found a marker in the local population that seemed to coincide with Shine in the local Blackfeet? And the whites in the area that have interbred? Given what was said of the treatment of non-whites and non-Blackfeet on this cycle, maybe it's a trait that's more common in Caucasians in general?" She shrugged. "Some similar factor acting on folks in Europe and the Middle East that selected for it a long time ago?"

"Either way, if that's the case, then it has to be Shelly, at least if this is the only active site. Like a volcano with a regular eruption pattern. And a built in test." She tapped her finger on her lip, looking over the board. "So, going on this train of possible, the Land of Upside-Down Thunder exerted evolutionary pressure on the Blackfeet and creating interesting anomalies, either on its own or through the selective evolution of the Blackfeet, in order to attract attention to Shelby. We have no idea if Cook's project would have existed without Shelly, just somewhere else, or if it came about because of Shelly. It would be interesting to know, but I'm not it would be important. What we do reporting on, by Cook's words, is that once they set up shop here, they also started controlling the flow of people in and out of Shelly. Perhaps by looking for certain genetic or expressed traits?

"We need a card for the Blackfeet," she said, reaching for a card and a pen. Once she'd written out the name, she pinned it up off to the side of the line of cards for Shelly, Cook, the Tree, and the Dark. "Also..." she made another one with Land of Upside-Down Thunder on it and pinned it next to the Blackfeet card. She strung red between the two and then yellow lines between the Land of Upside-Down Thunder, the Dark, and the Tree. She wound yellow lines from the Blackfeet card, Cook, and the Eugenics Project card. "We should go to the Rez. See if there are legends there that might help us or even other people with the Shine. Heck, a vision quest might actually be amazing and really helpful for us, if that's a thing the Blackfeet do. I can see if my parents have someone they can put us in touch with." She stopped again, pursing her lips, then put a note on the Blackfeet card of Wright Lab Genetic Research. "My parents' largest clients so far are the Blackfeet. If there is a shared genetic link to the Shine, then it might be worth getting them to run our DNA and compare to the Blackfeet's. That means either coming clean with them or making up a real good story. Or coming clean with the Blackfeet and working with them to get the DNA run more anonymously."

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"I was considering talking with the tribe's elders," Devin said.  He and Marissa offered up no acknowledgement, not even a smirk or frown, at Lilly's barrage before she stormed out and after had moved on like she was never there to begin with.

"At some point they started telling their legends about the god or monster, entity,' Marissa finished Devin's thought in the weird thing they did.  "Whatever it is.  Going to the source might prove fruitful.  As will possibly shining some light as to how it steps sideways between realms."

"Legend is based some fact, somewhere.  What could it hurt at this point?"  Devin finished.

"Also," Marissa spoke again, looking at Clara.  "A touchy subject, but, your boyfriend, Etienne.  Thus far he's shared bits and pieces of his side of the story with you and a few others.  Why has he not stood before all of us?  Your relationship aside, he is still responsible for willfully accepting money from Cook and willfully neglecting our rights and violating our personal privacies.  His credibility as a human being is shot and I'm suspecting the only reason he's not in a coma with brain damage is because of you.  He's spied on me, and all of you.  Are those cameras in our homes?  Bedrooms?  How can we trust this guy?  He's a sex offender, spying on underage, snooping through our medical records... he can't stay.  He needs to be dealt with.  I'm sorry Clara."

"Not something anyone wants to hear, I know," Devin chimed up.  His eyes scanned the room.  "No malice, no venom, guys.  Just the truth.  It is what it is and while my methodology is vastly different than Jason's hay hook, blood on the walls approach, that guy peeped on my sister, my mother even, and since we seem to deliver justice ourselves these days, if he stays in Shelly, I'll personally see to it that his stay is not a pleasant one.  I'm sorry Clara, I know you and I have beef, but this isn't about that.  This is justice for what he did to my sister, to me, and my family.  I will promise not to hurt him, physically.  But his life is about to downward spiral unless he leaves.  He's no longer welcome in Shelly.  Again, I'm sorry."

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"Don't be."  Lona smiled a little, then schooled her expression somewhat at Clara's hurt glance, though she rolled her eyes.  "Come on.  Everyone's thinking the same thing except you."  It was plain that this was a bone of contention between the two tightly-knit almost-sisters.

"I doubt that Etienne was in on the widespread and invasive surveillance."  Jason remarked absently, his eyes still on the string board.  "By what both he and Cook said, born out by the evidence of his GPS device, his only task was to inveigle himself into the Wright's genetics lab, for which he was brought in specifically.  The cameras and microphones everywhere were in place long before Etienne got here."  Pale green eyes flicked across to Marissa.  "You're right that Clara is one reason he hasn't had an accident.  I have one or two more - one being that attacking Doctor Cook's hireling might rope us into a war on two fronts. We can't deal as effectively with the Dark if we're also fighting against the mundane pressures Cook's black project can bring to bear, and we might need Cook at some point."  He shrugged, going back to studying the board.

"What, so you don't want to fuck him up?"  Devin asked, narrowing his eyes.

"I didn't say that.  I'm saying: fuck him up for the right reasons, and in the right way.  Clara knows my conditions regarding Etienne - he does not come to this farm, and if I catch him spying on me or us here, all bets are off."  Jason met Devin's eyes, his own expression glacial.  "But your anger - and it is justified anger - about the spying on yourself and your family should be aimed at Cook.  Etienne only spied on the Wrights - and intended to use Clara's affection to assist him.  She and her family are the injured party where he is concerned.  For the rest of us, he's a convenient but undeserving target."

"So we don't tar and feather him?"  Marissa glanced quickly at Jason, but not long enough for her to meet those eyes.  She couldn't deal with that, not right now.  "Because I hate to agree with 'Rule 63 Carrie' here, but he's right: going after Cook is going to be trouble we don't need while we're fighting monsters from Beyond." she said to her brother and the others present.  "He's literally got the town in his pocket."

"The Dark is more important, I'd say." Cassie piped up.  "I mean, at least Cook doesn't want to cause mass slaughter and terror."

"I never thought I'd ever hear you defend Eddy."  Lona stared at Jason, who smiled slightly and shook his head.

"I'm not.  By all means, get the tar and feathers if you all wish.  I just want everyone to be certain why he deserves punishment and not mix his crimes up with Cook's, as well as understand what taking action against Etienne might trigger.  Personally, I was considering extending Cook some cooperation - as I said in the clearing yesterday.  I plan to attach conditions to my cooperation, one of which is Etienne being let go from his mercenary employment and advised by his employer to move on - without a good reference.  After all, he's pretty much a failure and useless to Cook's project as things stand.  Punishment that fits the crime."  He glanced at Clara.  "I'm just inclined towards giving Clara a chance to untangle her emotions before I act."  He paused for a significant beat.  "Currently inclined, I should say."

"On the Blackfeet matter, I am in complete agreement.  Clara's theory about epigenetic expression is sound.  They have oral traditions, as she and the twins pointed out.  And demonstrating the Shine to them will help when it comes to convincing them we are genuine."

"Epigenetic?"  Cassie asked curiously.

"The theory that a lot of genes only express - or activate - under the right stimuli: what Clara called stressors - and are dormant the rest of the time through the family line.  Such as MAOA-L, the so-called 'warrior genes' that dictate aggressive reactions to perceived threats or offenses, albeit most strongly in males.  Not everyone has the same number of them, and most of the time these will activate due to environmental factors: abuse, abandonment, neglect, growing up in violent or harsh conditions.  The reverse is true of some genes: the right environment - removal of the stressors or more positive environments - can cause them to de-activate."  Jason explained.  "The rising presence of the Dark may be a stressor for those in adolescence with the right genes.  Perhaps there are some teens on the Reservation similarly undergoing changes - or perhaps not.  It is hard to say."  A thought occurred to him and he paused his eyes going distant.

"Was that why she was there?" he asked no-one in particular.

"Who?"  Laurie looked at him warily.  His pale eyes re-focused.

"There was a girl from the Rez, at the Fair.  I was sneaking a smoke and she happened to come into the same spot behind some vendors.  Something about her seemed - odd.  I assumed she might be a plant from the sheriff, trawling the fairground to catch dealers, and so I brushed her off and left.  But what if she was actually looking for kids with the Shine?"

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Laurie had listened as Lilly said her peace and left the building. That troubled her, on one hand she was right, but then so was Devin, people didn't have to like one another to work together, but then even if you didn't respect someone, common decency required you to at least act in a socially acceptable manner.

She looked at Bannon someone who had been at her house innumerable times who was probably her brothers best friend, had sat at their dinner table and shared  family meals, and had casually talked about beating a boy nearly to death with zero regret about the act. The rest of them weren't in her circle so she didn't know them as well as she was going to have too. She reached out and put her hand on Marissa's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, a comforting gesture. Then walked up to stand beside between Bannon and Cass.

"A string board is a good idea, making one without facts is a bad Idea, You should know this Cass, you only make a connection between subjects when you  know a connection exists, otherwise your following what are potentially false leads which leads to wasted time and resources. And in our cases could lead to harm for us or others."

 

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Cassie shook her head. "My string board, my rules. The yellow lines are connections specifically marked as things we want to research. Connections we think might exist, but aren't sure of yet."

She thumped the cork board with a fist gently.

"It does make it look more complicated, but it also gives us directions. Thems the rules."

Laurie shrugs, "You are the one with the powers,"  she walks back to where she had been standing before at the back near Marissa, "your board, your rules."

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Clara had been quiet for a minute after the twins' diatribe against Etienne, but she was floored at their accusations of him being a sex offender and spying on anyone other than her and her family. 

She took a deep breath. Then another, then pushed back into the conversation. "A few points: One, like Jase said, Etienne hasn't spied on anyone except my household. If that's your issue with him and you aren't me or Lona, look to Cook to be your victim. Second, Etienne hasn't addressed the group because we meet here and Jase told me he's not allowed here. If people want to talk to him, I can probably set that up at my house. And it's talk, not put through a wall. My house, my rules. Third," she sighed, though there was a bit of a grin hiding on her lips now, "he's not a mercenary and Cook is an idiot for calling him that. He was trained as a spy, the infiltrator kind, not the adventure spy movie kind. It's a good thing Cade did take his shotgun - he certainly knows how to handle it better." 

She went up to Etienne's card and in small letters underneath his name wrote 'not a mercenary'. She frowned, staring at the card after that. "And honestly, I'm not sure why Cook hasn't kicked him to the curb yet. Maybe treating him like a bodyguard and mercenary is his attempt to still get his money's worth? Or he thinks he can still use Etienne to get information from me? He - Cook, I mean - said he didn't think my parents were trying to poach his research anymore, but he could have been trying to hide that he really wanted something else from them. Like their Blackfeet research. Cook's running something clandestine. The more people he involves, the less secure his project is. It might just be that Etienne's an informed warm body and there's things for non-scientists and non-whoever was in the black SUVs to do. I don't know and that would be something to ask Etienne."

She looked back up at the group. "So, we think going to the Blackfeet is the next best action? Do we want to try to do that this weekend? Otherwise we're either cutting class again, trying to fit it in after class some night, and that's a lot of driving and late night for a school night, or we're waiting until next weekend."

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Lona rose and picked up a card. “We should go to the Rez,” she said, “because I saw a vision on the night of the Fair about a native American with glowing blue eyes crawling out of a hole. They might have a legend or myth about it.” With her shockingly bad handwriting, she scrawled Blue Eyed vision and tacked it to the board next to the Blackfeet card. When she turned to get yellow yarn, Clara slipped in behind her and replaced the card with one in her neater writing. Lona playfully flipped her off, and Clara said, “Then write neater.”

“So I dunno about this weekend. If not, this one, maybe next?” she added. “And we can do research in town to see what white people say about it.”

Glancing at the ladder down, she said, “I’m going to check on Lilly. See if she’s cooled off.”

With that, she headed down the stairs and out the door. Seeing her athletic friend pacing, she walked over and said, “Feeling better now? You missed all the ragging on Clara about Etienne already, who knows what else you’ll miss if you stay out here.”

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"Feeling better? Far from it, actually." Lilly sighed. 

"You're the only one to have come out here, and from what I can tell, it seems like I was just ignored by literally everybody up there." she said, shaking her head.

"On my way out people just went on like nothing happened, and all I've heard is talk about the research and stuff. I got no support or backup from anybody, so it seems everybody else is cool with Devin and Marissa acting like they do; talking down to us, insulting us, calling us names, putting us down... Frankly, that really surprised me. So I guess I am in the minority here, because sitting in there, or wherever, with them and enduring their crap is telling them how they behave is perfectly okay. 

Well, It's not.

I can work with jerks. Hell, I am on the same team as Chet, and half the other guys did not want me there to begin with too. But to work together and be a team, there has to be mutual trust and respect. Chet was an ass and he didn't like me, but we could still put it aside and function as a team." she said as she walked over to her truck and took down the tailgate, taking a seat. 

"And yeah, it took some time to build that with Chet and the team, but they learned that I was there for them and always did my best for the team, just as they did. And not to mention, it was a football team, not a team upon who's shoulders the literal fate of the town, at minimum, rests. The circumstances kinda accelerate things, but those two have no desire just be act *decent* toward us. Not 'besties' or even 'friendly', but just decent.

I was always told that you teach people how to treat you. Taking their crap just tells them that how they act is fine. I am not going to subject myself to it anymore. I have more self-respect than that, so I am not going to be around them and everybody is, apparently, a okay with that." Lilly explained, ending with a shrug.

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“I think it’s going to take more time to teach them how to treat you than one day,” Lona said mildly. “Devin had a change of heart yesterday because he nearly lost his dick to a monster, and Marissa is… nevermind, she’ll probably have a line of people waiting to dance and/or spit on her grave.

“Look, here’s what I’ve learned about Devin. If you react to his barbs, he’s won in his own head. He’s pushed your buttons and made you react.” Lona shrugged. “It’s unpleasant, but ignoring him takes all his power over you away. Marissa’s much the same, I think. 

“Regardless, working with them is important,” Lona said sincerely. “I know Devin has a least some good sides; I’ve seen them. But to get there took time and effort on both our parts. For Devin, today, it was coming here at all, and with pizza. For you and me, it’s putting up with his shit until we get the job done. 

“Now, are you going to come inside and work with us?” Lona offered her hand with a smile. “We want you there, and we’re waiting. Also, the pizza is fucking amazing.”

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"They've had weeks, Lona, not a day." Lilly pointed out simply.

"It seems like we all put *years* of shit from them aside and gave them an honest chance, and they just don't give a shit. They act like their very presence is a blessing. It's not. They are no better than any of us.

And he didn't push my buttons. In fact, I was welcoming and friendly and he get in my face in the cafeteria and made to crystal clear that he and I were not good. Though when he popped in today and called a table of just women 'bitches', certainly want not pleasant. Devin *has* gotten ever so slightly better, at least with the rest of you. but you should not have to put up with the barbs and shit just to be a friend. If you want to subject yourself to that though, then that is your choice.

In the last three days though, aside from the usual plethora of insults and shit from them, Devin went out of his way to make clear in front of everybody, and then reinforce in front of everybody, that he and I are not good. Jase told me that I should not care about him, one of my best friends. Jase then went and damned near murdered a guy. Dunno yet, the jury is still out on that one. I risked playing football and endangering the trust and confidence of the team and coach, as well as detention, to go help their and Mari's and Autumn's (but Autumn is cool) asses because we so much as *thought* they were in danger. I ran into the friggen flames to kick that thing to next week to protect them..." Lilly trailed off into a sigh.

"I've put my ass on the line to fight for and protect them, but it does not good. They act how they act and everybody just takes it. What did Clara say the other morning about it being an abusive relationship? Yeah. I'm not good with that." she added.

"Sorry Lona, only some of you want me there, the last few minutes made that kinda clear..And as long as they are around and behaving like that, then I won't be. I am not trying to force people to pick a side or anything either. Sometime you just have to take a stand though. if it's alone, then so be it." she said with a shrug.

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“Okay. We’ll be here if you change your mind,” Lona said with a hint of sadness. “I’m sure Clara can get everyone home from here, so you don’t have to sit out here and wait. I’ll see you at the game, I guess?”

With that, Lona turned and headed back inside. She didn’t want to miss any more of the discussion. She had a hard enough time keeping stuff straight and she didn’t want to struggle catching up. 

Back in the room, she took her seat and said, “What’d I miss?”

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"Gotta give us something more than that Clara, I'm sorry."  Devin shrugged.  "The only thing we have for evidence are the people telling us lies.  You feel me?"

The moment Jason addressed her Marissa's eyes narrowed like knife edges.  It was obvious there was some drama there, but Marissa tucked her crazy back in it's cell.  "Perhaps a compromise?"  She stood up and leaned on the table like Devin had in the kitchen earlier.  "Sara.  Sara links our minds with his and allows us to see the truth.  Memories don't lie, and considering he's working for the piece of shit whose tossed our privacy aside, I'm not too concerned with his at this point."  Her maroon lips curled into a smile and he voice became compassionate.  "Clara, I get it.  I do.  We've all had crushes and Etienne is great looking, charming, and you don't have a lot going for you."  For a moment it almost seemed like she'd make it the whole way without being catty.  "Letting go of something like that is hard.  Believing they're not as good as the pedestal you've placed them on is even harder.  No one wants their heart broken."

"Do you even have one?"  Cass asked the Mantis.  Everyone kinda gave her a look.  "What, I'm serious, up until now I've been going with a cyborg theory.  I need the data.

"I did," she replied, smirking as Cass's comment.  "Then I learned that the best way to not be hurt is to beat people at their own game.  To be better than them.  Clara, you like him.  I don't blame you, he's great, but love doesn't require second guessing.  Love is trust unconditional and it is not a secondary thought after a foundation of lies has crumbled.  I'm not going to tell anyone in here what to do or how to live their lives... mostly because you spiteful little shits would do the opposite just to spite me."  Her smile seemed genuine.

"Let us help you Clara."  She continued.  "Solidarity.  We all meet with him, Sara shows us the truth, and we can let it all go.  Frankly, you guys are proposing a war with another dimension.  I'd prefer you had allies, not more enemies."  She stood and shrugged.  "But what do I know?  I'm just the bitch?"

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"A smart one, though."  Jason said mildly as he plucked a cold slice of pizza from it's box.  Steam began to rise from the slice as it made the transition to his mouth, and he bit into the warmed cheese and meat with relish."  Mmmf- It'sh a good idea."  The small fridge in the corner opened as  he walked over, bending down and picking up a can of coke from the shelf inside.  The others could see more cans, plus bottles of water and what looked like craft beer of some kind.

"If Sara's willing, I'm willing to give Etienne enough benefit of the doubt to allow him the chance to clear his name.  Either way, we will learn valuable data - he's either deeper in Cook's dealings than we know, or he isn't and we have a potential ally."

Lona nudged him, causing him to look at her.  With a smile, the girl held up a cold slice of delicious 'za in mute appeal.  Pretending to think it over, Jase smiled very slightly as she felt it grow warmer in her hand.

"With that and the Reservation, I think we at least have some starting points for a 'what next'."

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"Marissa, Lilly's complaint is valid. You didn't have to put me down with your words, but it's like it's some psychological compulsion with you. I don't care about your opinion, but if you can't open your mouth without being rude then, I don't know, write down what you want to say and cross out the rude you've no doubt written down. At this point, you just sound like you're in desperate need of therapy and group hugs and even you can't afford the rates the rest of us should charge." Clara's gaze was solid and she didn't seem phased by Marissa's words, just tiredly annoyed at this point. It was the same deadpan look she gave Felix when he was being, well, six. "People see you as 'just a bitch' because that's how you act. Cut out that out and we'll be able to notice the rest of you."

"The idea of mind-sharing with Sara is a good one," she moved on. "Though we want to be careful not to give her more nosebleeds if she and Etienne both agree to it. I can probably help with that with my," she waved in the air, "Shine-enhancing thing. If he doesn't, I'm not going to ask Sara to basically commit mental rape. And his refusal tells at least one thing: he's got more secrets." 

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