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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode V - Rainbow Weave

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Late Monday Night

The woman who'd called herself Kaitlin for nearly two decades now closed the door to her cheap apartment with a sigh, clicking a switch to illuminate the dingy accommodation.  Setting her knapsack and a large heavy flashlight down, she passed her hands over her face tiredly before heading to the kitchenette and the small fridge therein.  There was half a box of leftover Chinese in there, and she wrinkled her nose before shrugging and beginning to scarf it down, using the plastic fork still in there.  Wandering back into the main room, she paused in front of a wall, upon which was pinned a large map of Shelly's environs.  Regarding it as she ate, she sighed.  A marker pen rose from the table as if in an invisible hand and slowly put a cross through a circle she'd drawn earlier before re-capping itself and dropping desultorily onto the table once more.

"Someone's frown needs turning upside down." remarked a male voice from behind her.  Kaitlin barely blinked, resisting the urge to immediately turn around and continuing to regard the map.  She hadn't felt him here, but then she wouldn't, not unless he wanted her to.  After a ten-count, she slowly turned to level her blue-green stare at the figure that the children of the Fellowship referred to as 'Mr Black'.

That wasn't his name, of course.  She knew his name, and barely even allowed herself to think it.  She just referred to Him as... Him.

"I'd say it's a pleasure, but we both know that would be a lie."  she stated with a calmness she didn't feel.  Mr Black smiled, a crooked quirk of his lips that would be charming, coming from someone - anyone else.

"I knew you'd come back here."  He commented, moving to stand alongside her but facing the map, studying it casually.  "Knew you'd come looking... but I bet you didn't expect what you found here, though."

She remained silent, swallowing the fear that coiled in her stomach at his proximity.  Had he engineered these events?

"I'm surprised you even care." she said, casually stepping away from him and turning, dropping into a chair as she stirred the cold noodles with the fork.  Mr Black turned to look at her, smiling faintly.

"Of course I care."  he said with a hint of a chuckle in his tone.  "Who doesn't want to see a warm mother and son reunion?  A touching Lifetime movie moment?  Tell me, darlin', was it a shock, seeing him all growed up and Shining so bright?"  Kaitlin said nothing, and the Man in Black's smile widened as he regarded her stare of surprise.

"You didn't know..."  A snort of amusement followed the statement, and Mr Black shook his head ruefully.  "You never were one to try and peer beyond the surface.  Honestly, if it wasn't for your other qualities I'd not have bothered with you at all.  True Shine, little girl far from her home.  Not a glimmer such as you possess, but the true unfettered Shine of old.  Oh, and he is a smart boy, too.  Utterly ruthless, without fear... Your daddy's gonna love him -"  The man paused as if pondering something "- well, if your daddy was capable of love, he would.  But he isn't, is he?  That's why you ran away...  Your folks ain't much for 'weakness'."

"You can drop the down-home accent.  We both know that's an affectation."  She snorted, smiling a little as if amused at his quirks-  

When she moved, it was without even an eyeblink to herald the attack.  A slender knife was in her left hand as her right hand tossed the noodle box at the Man in Black's face, forcing him to duck to the side.  Her left hand came up in a low, thrusting slash that would have opened him from groin to sternum - if her blade hadn't stopped dead inches from his crotch.  She tensed, trying to push forwards, but to no avail.

"I see home hasn't rubbed off you completely."  Mr Black stated mildly, his dark green eyes dancing with malicious humor.  "Oh, don't fret none.  I'm not gonna kill you.  You're far more entertaining alive."  Kaitlin felt a force grip her wrist and twist painfully until, with a gasp, she dropped the blade.  Mr Black stepped past her and headed for the door as she rubbed her wrist, eyeing his back.

"Circle time is coming soon.  Much to do, much to do."  Mr Black said as the door opened for him.  He stopped in the doorway, not glancing back.  "It's too late for you to go home, darlin'.  I kept my side of our bargain back then.  You had a home here too - a man and a child - but you ran away from them too.  Maybe running is all you're good for.  Something to consider, hmm?"

And with that he was gone, the door closing behind him as the woman who'd called herself Kaitlin for two decades stooped and recovered her knife, blinking through eyes suddenly unaccountably moist.

===================================================

Dr Cook was sitting at his desk - not his fake desk in the medical center complex above, but what he thought of as his 'real' desk.  Holographic screen projections danced in the air before him, faces of certain Shelly High students moving, rotating alongside written reports from the surveillance center and human assets concerning each face.  A beep from his console alerted him, and he glanced down at a smaller screen reserved for only one purpose.

//I've read your report on the meeting with the Bannon subject.//

"And?"  Cook said aloud, knowing he would be heard.

//He seems isolated from the others, but I have doubts.  He has a long-standing friendship with the Cassidy boy.//

"What about my observations?"  Cook wanted to know.

//You are correct that he seems to be a sociopath.  Given such history as we have gleaned along with our re-assessment of his intellect, that simply increases the risk factors of allowing him access to the Project.//

"That's what I thought too."  Dr Cook sighed, relieved.  He'd had to put forward the opportunity presented, but had hoped it would be turned down.

//Arm's length protocol.  We will observe and do nothing else.  Same goes for all the children.  Order human assets in place to maintain observation and get close to their subjects, but cease all psy-ops or recruitment measures.  We do not have a complete picture of these subjects' capability.  For now, we watch.  We will wish to avoid precipitating a conflict until we know more.//

"Agreed."  nodded Dr Cook, relieved when the small screen went black.  Frowning, he glanced up at the holo-projections and the enigmas contained within.

===================================================

It was dark and dank here, but that was okay.  Dark and dank helped things grow.

Cody was growing.  He could feel it, and the Horned Man had told him he was too.  He was Becoming, and the Tree was part of him now.  Not physically, but in his mind, in his soul.  He could feel the Tree's hunger as his own now, and killing the odd rat or stray cat with his railroad spike was not enough, not anymore.  So many out there were Breaking The Rules, and needed to be punished.  The Horned Man had shown him.

He approached the Horned Man now, a scarecrow of iron and twisted metal with a skull as a head from which branched strong antlers that didn't look like antlers from any deer or elk Cody had seen.  He lifted the skull down, a skull larger than a man's, large enough to fit over his own head - which he did as he had done several times before.  The Horned Man wanted to tell him things, show him things.

He saw Cade Alister and Cassandra Allen at the old mall parking lot.  They shouldn't have been there.  They were Breaking The Rules.

He saw Marissa Jauntsen speaking with her brother, and growled a slobbering noise inside the skull mask.  They were Rule Breakers too.  They had invoked the Tree falsely.  The Tree wanted them punished.  Cody did too - they were supposed to have been on HIS side.

He saw Jason Bannon sitting, talking with a red-haired girl Cody recognised from somewhere.  Autumn... Autumn something.  As he watched, she leaned over and hugged him.  Unbelievable!  Did she not know he was a Rule Breaker?  The worst of Rule Breakers, for he did not even care about the Rules - they were nothing to him.  The Rules said that popular kids like Cody were the ones who sent unpopular kids like Bannon running.  Autumn was hugging the Worst Rule Breaker, and that made her a Rule Breaker too!  Just like Sean Cassidy and Laurie, who was on the football team now - more Rules broken.  Lona Wilson too, she'd played a part in upsetting Cody's trap a few days ago.   It was enough to make Cody retch inside the skull.  They were all going to be punished... and the Horned Man knew just how and when it would happen.  And the Tree would be happy.

That, above all else, was the most important thing.

Spoiler

Session V starts here.  Collaborate or write solo some vignettes for the week.  These can take place at school, at home, or just hanging out somewhere.  Some plot elements will be tossed in as appropriate by yours truly.  If you want to discuss any ideas then go ahead and do so on Discord, open or PM is all good. :) 

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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Tuesday Morning - Jase

The air was already cooler in the early mornings, the end of summer heralded in the dew that still adorned the grass and bushes.  Jason's breath fogged the air as he ran, his lean shape moving with a lope that, if not tireless, was at least economical.  His legs and lungs were not yet burning, he noted with some sense of accomplishment as he passed the point where that usually happened.  Dressed in sneakers, grey sweat-shorts and t-shirt, he moved through the dawn like a lean, silent ghost, alone despite the few other students - and faculty - using the sports field for their morning routines.  Not a dedicated athlete, Jason viewed his body as the vessel which carried his mind, and as such took care of it in appropriate fashion.  A healthy body did what you needed it to do, when you needed it done, and was therefore fit for purpose.

He'd tried to get Sean to take up regular exercise, but his friend was... reticent, to say the least.  It was mildly perturbing for Jase that Sean couldn't see the practical benefits or, more properly, could see the benefits but didn't want to do it anyway.  And that had been before smilodons, hellbeasts, and spooky government organisations had been part of their lives, when the greatest threat Sean faced had been a swirly or bra-snap from Devin or Chet.  Self-consciousness, worrying about people staring or snickering, was baffling to Jason most of the time, but for it to be a reason for unreadiness was mind-blowing for the pragmatic teen.  As he ran, his mind mulled over how to get his couch-potato friend to take physical readiness more seriously.

Well, in part.  It also mulled over half a dozen other subjects, from the conversation with Marissa (and her likely renewed anger at him), to the talk with Autumn, to plans to find a buyer for his stocks of Lucifer's Reserve, to ways to test the limits of his own and others powers, to the lessons he'd learned from training with Hank, and so on.  He slowed to a jog, then a walk for half the track, swinging his arms back and forth to loosen them, stepped off the track to the grass and began the daily dozen Hank had set for him, powering through the burning it caused in his muscles, shunting that aside and focusing on the task at hand.  It was an effort of will, after all, and that was something he had plenty of.

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Tuesday Morning - The Allen House

"Cassandra!  I'm leaving in twenty minutes, so if you want a lift to school you'd better move that butt, young lady!"

Her mom's shout only dimly registered to Cassie as she watched, for what felt like the umpteenth time, the video that Dylan had, amazingly, sent to her last night.  She'd done what she could with the software on her PC, of course, but she still couldn't make out the details of the writing on the crates, or tell where precisely this loading operation was being conducted.  One thing was for sure, though - it was definitely her father in the clip.  Not just his face, which she would be suspect of after the weirdness with not-Dylan yesterday - and that was just another layer to the puzzle cake - but it was also the way he moved, tilted his head, his stance.  Her eyes misted a little but she blinked.  It was Dad.  One hundred percent. And now she had to find out what he was doing there, and where there was, and...  Why hadn't he let his family know?

He had to have had a reason.  A good one.  The only one that made sense was to protect them...  But from what?  What would be worse than his family thinking he was dead?  A few months back, Cassie would have had no answer to that, but now..?  Monsters.  Black projects.  Weird powers.  She realised that her dad might have had very good reasons for what he was doing, and that knowledge made her shiver even as it doubled her resolve to find him.  She wasn't just a helpless kid.  She had power - if she could learn to use it - and she had friends who were likewise gifted and each capable in their way.  Maybe Sean could clean up the image more, and then the two of them could track the research thread back to where her dad was, and then Cade and Devin and Jason could kick in the front doors and rescue her dad, or at least turn over what was going on...

One step at a time, she told herself, firmly setting the daydream aside.  She'd talk to Sean about the video clip, perhaps.  And then take things from there-

"Cassie!  Bethany's here, your breakfast is in the dog, and I'm about to go to work."  Mom called.  "You two take care."

Spoiler

Cassie - feel free to have a scene with Beth.  She's offering a lift in her little hatchback to school and, true to her threat / promise is catching up with her friend.  DM me in Discord if you want any questions answered.

 

Tuesday Morning - Jason

When he came out of the locker room she was waiting not far away, blonde hair gleaming in the morning sunlight.  She watched him react to seeing her there: a pause no longer than a fraction of a moment, a narrowing of naturally wary eyes as he set his expression into one of bland pleasant indifference as he gave 'Ms Forster' a nod of greeting.  That expression shifted to bland curiousity as she moved into his path, yet she also didn't miss the flash of... something... rippling under the surface of his gaze.  Hate?  No...  Assessment.  Calculating what she wanted, whether she posed a threat, and how quickly he could act to defend himself with as little compunction as a snake striking.

She knew that look well.

"Jason."  she said as she not-quite barred his path.

"Miss Forster." he replied with a mechanical smile that didn't reach his eyes.  "Something I can help you with?"

"I was wondering if we could talk."  Kaitlin watched the glint in her son's eyes, like a blade turning over and catching the sunlight.

"Am I in some kind of trouble?  My classroom performance not up to standard?"  His face was blank - he wasn't a good dissembler, but he could make himself hard to read.  Kaitlin had had a lifetime of divining intent in the predatory gazes of family and peers, but it chilled her somewhat to see such an intently expressionless mask.  In her experience, that never meant anything good.  My son has the Shine.  She almost took a step back, but realised she couldn't.  Not now.

"Nothing like that.  I just wanted a more personal chat."  Her eyes cut to the bleachers, then back to his, a clear invitation to step aside with her and talk privately.

"I see."  The two words could have etched patterns of frost onto glass.  Jason moved to step around her.  "You'll have to forgive me, Ms Forster.  I'm hungry and breakfast is being served."

"Can you not spare any time for me?" She asked as he passed her, turning to face him as he did so.  "Over breakfast, then?"  The noisy cafeteria would be private enough, surely.  Jason stopped, half-turning towards her as his mask slipped a fraction, something not-quite human meeting her eyes.  It was like looking into a past she'd once tried to run from, the stare making her feel like nothing, like a bug on the windshield or roadkill that the tire hadn't flattened yet.

"I am sure you have your reasons for being here, and for deciding you can invite yourself back into my life.  Let me make my position clear - you are not welcome in any part of my life, and the only reason I am not taking action to make that more clear is because we are in public, Miss Forster, and because people who I do care about would find it distressing to find your remains wound around the goalposts.  Unless serving your employment as a teacher, you will stay away from me.  And you will stay away from that which I care for.  And most importantly, you will stay away from my father."  His tone was cold, glacially matter of fact.  "Good day."

He turned and walked off towards the cafeteria, and Kaitlin let out a long sigh, rubbing her left arm with her right hand in a reflexive gesture.  She had to talk to him.  There had to be a way...

Edited by GDP_ST

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Tuesday Morning - Autumn

“Shit,” Autumn grumbled to herself, annoyed that not only had she not managed to get more than a couple hours of sleep the night before, she'd completely forgotten about meeting up with Clara and Lilly to run the track this morning. ...And she was probably going to miss breakfast, yet again. She turned the handlebars away from the main road and toward the school parking lot, half-consciously reaching for the elastic band around her wrist- and finding none. "Really?" she sighed rhetorically, bike coasting slowly toward the rack out front as she raked a hand back through the still-damp tangle of curls settling around her shoulders. I swear, one day, I will get my life in order. One day. Her phone had chimed several times in the pocket of her hoodie as she'd pedaled to school; fishing it out with one hand, she swiped the lock screen with her thumb, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully as she checked her notifications. Absent-mindedly, the redhead rolled her bike into an empty space and clicked the cable lock into place as she scrolled through the list.

Just nooooot today.

There were three messages from Clara and one from Lilly (which Autumn grimaced at, but silently resolved to answer in person), and the infamous Snapchat group (now called  “Cereal v Milk Deathmatch”) was still showing activity even as she walked toward the building. The familiar sounds of conversation, shouting and doors slamming rang in her ears, and she glanced up just in time to narrowly sidestep two young-looking guys- Freshmen, maybe?- as they raced out laughing through the double doors of the cafeteria and past her, down the sidewalk. Blinking after them, the redhead felt the frown that had knit her freckled features dissolve, replaced by a slow, easy grin. Maybe the day hadn't gotten off to the greatest start, but it was still early yet, right? She tucked the phone back into the pocket of her faded red jacket and stepped inside.

It wasn't instinctive yet, the idea of searching for the faces of the Fellowship all gathered around a table; it didn't occur to her to seek them out until she was in line for french toast and happened to catch sight of them assembling.

Well. Most of them.

"Can I trade one of these syrups for extra butter, please?" Autumn asked the lady behind the counter with a smile. "Thank you!" Craning her head around the rest of the queue, she tried to figure out who was missing, her clear blue eyes scanning the crowd for people moving toward the group- people who moved with purpose because they were supposed to be there. No sign of the twins, or Cade's girlfriend, no Sara... No Jason Freaking Bannon, either, but after the Monday he'd described, that maybe wasn't so weird. Maybe the meeting that went wrong had something to do with the other latecomers, too? The idea twisted into a tiny knot of uncertainty in the pit of her stomach, and her gaze kept skimming the room restlessly as she swiped her meal card and headed out into the chaos of the cafeteria proper. She had almost decided to just go eat outside and count her blessings that she hadn't gotten stuck with oatmeal when she caught sight of another familiar face.

Oh!

...and, without any prompting whatsoever, felt her cheeks get a few degrees warmer.

Mother. Fucker.

Exhaling through clenched teeth, the redhead paused, squared her shoulders, and wove through the milling bodies to the mostly-vacant table where Jase was currently sitting. Alone. It's fine, she reminded herself. Totally fine. We talked, and it's fine, and we're friends, and I'll just say hi.

"Hi," Autumn began, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was getting sidelong glances as she stood across from the solitary/misanthropic/dangerous/impenetrable teen. "Do... you mind if I join you?"

No, no, no. This was not the plan. 'Just say hi' was the plan!

Edited by Autumn Keane
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The lanky, somewhat unkempt boy had not noticed her approach.  Shaggy hair slightly darker than usual from it's residual dampness, and with his breakfast half-finished, Jason had been staring out of the cafeteria window, his eyes tracking the bustle of the world beyond without conscious effort, marking everything with a predatory alertness.  The apparent interest in the world's goings-on was deceptive, a function of deep instinct without conscious effort - for his attention was elsewhere. 

The walls were a deep red with gold veins, neither marble nor jade but something in between, forming corridors through which his consciousness walked on solid polished floors inlaid with mosaics: abstracts which attracted the eye, conduits to mental processes that seemed to take on life and vibrancy as his feet passed over them, only to fade softly behind him, becoming inert once more as his attention turned elsewhere.   Along the pale gold veins in the walls, light pulsed faintly with rainbow glimmers, harmonies of colour which formed patterns in the air containing other sensory information as one passed through them - a puff of perfume, a boisterous laugh, the bite of a freezing winter morning, the taste of sauteed mushrooms.  He moved from the corridors through a gallery lined with shelves filled with books and curios, one of many in this place, and from the gallery to a vast central chamber that took the form of a lush indoor garden, adorned with statuary and portraits, the air filled with light from the prismatic crystalline ceiling.  There was the faintest of sounds in the air - not quite a rumble, not quite breathing, but possessed of the qualities of both, giving a sense of Something present and watchful.  A Something not currently inclined to action, content to abide until called upon.  Unleashed.

It was an edifice of reason and memory, constructed on foundations laid of Will.  There was little gentle or yielding here, little in the way of conventional morality or mercy, merely consciously applied principles of aesthetics designed to contain ruthless drives older than conscious thought.  It was beautiful, but it lacked most of what would commonly be considered 'humanity'... Except the central chamber.  The central chamber was warmer, held small niches of comfort and peace, the air here filled with faint music that changed as one moved around the garden.  He stopped before Marissa's portrait, gazing at it contemplatively as it came to life under his gaze, every image and memory and impression that he associated with the girl surrounding his consciousness as he looked upon her face.  He breathed in...  And paused.  The scent was wrong.  It was still pleasant, but it wasn't Marissa.  This was less sophisticated, warm juniper mixed with something citrus, a scent he associated with a welcome newer addition to his central garden-

"Hi. Do... you mind if I join you?"  Jason had been staring out of the window as though looking for someone or perhaps lost in thought, but the way he did not even blink, simply looked around and up at her was somehow so eerie that Autumn was struck by it.  There was no blink, or apparent change of mental gears - his attention shifted the way a wild creature's did when you attracted it, as though suddenly you were everything and whatever it had been doing before did not exist.

He studied the girl in that brief heartbeat or two, noting the bloom of colour in her cheeks as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other under his gaze, and the way her unruly mane of fiery red-gold framed her blue eyes and freckled ivory features, and then he smiled at her and gestured to the seat across from him, the corners of his cool green eyes crinkling ever so slightly.

"Of course you can."  Jason told his newest friend, shifting slightly and picking up his fork as he realised he'd not yet finished eating himself.  He was aware that a couple of sophomores at the other end of his table were snickering and throwing sideways glances, and turned his gaze on them as Autumn pulled out a chair and got settled.  The two girls hushed under that impassive stare, turning their attentions back to their phones, and it was with the faintest flicker of amusement Jason turned his attention back to Autumn.

"How's your morning so far?" he asked, swiping some sausage through the syrup on his plate and raising his fork to his lips as he tilted his head at her enquiringly.  "Good, I hope."

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BACON IS MY DOG, THERE ARE OTHERS LIKE HIM BUT THIS ONE IS MINE"The dog?" Cassandra lamented. "God...damnit..." She got up from her computer and with a couple of violent stomps mushed her left foot into its shoe. She'd yank the heel up later.

As she emerged into the living room, the aforementioned dog came running eagerly over, giving her the adorable big brown eyes and floppy ears and slightly down-cast tail wag that bespoke he was perfectly aware of what he'd done and hoped she wouldn't be mad about it. Cassandra leaned down and ruffled his shoulders and scratched between his ears.

"You know, Bacon," she said sweetly, "she's only feeding you my breakfasts so you'll get fat and full of nutrition for when we finally cook you up."

Bacon thumped his leg happily.

Beth poked her head around the corner from the dining room and gave Cassandra a smile and a wave. "Hey."

Cass returned the smile and stood up. "Morning. Thanks for the ride. Mom's kind of all hardcore about schedules these days."

"Well, she's being a responsible adult," her friend noted with a mischievous smirk. "You could learn something from her."

"Uuunnngh yeah, or...I could just keep spinning around in an oblivious, narcissistic haze until my life breaks and I become a homeless bum."

Cassandra considered. "Yeah, gonna go with that. Want anything before we go?"

With a laugh, Beth shook her head. "No. I actually ate my breakfast before I came over, instead of letting my mom feed it to my dog."

Bacon wuffed and went over to Cassandra to butt against her leg with the top of his head.

"Laugh it up, fuzzball," she told the dog with faux-irritation. "You're next."

---

As they piled into Bethany's very well-used Civic hatchback, a handmedown from her now-college-age brother (and, Cassie suspected, one of her parents' before that), Beth asked, "So...are we going to talk about...whatever there is to talk about right now?"

Cassandra dug her plastic spoon into the little carton of yogurt she'd filched from the fridge on the way out and bought time as she stuck it into her mouth.

Play dumb? Play dumb.

"You're going to have to narrow it down," Cass said as she stirred the yogurt some more. "There's so much to talk about. Climate change, for example. Why is no one talking..."

"You know what I mean," Beth insisted. "Yesterday at Bunnee's you were all worked up."

Cassie winced a little, then pressed herself back in the threadbare upholstery of the Civic's passenger-side seat. "It's...kind of a work in progress," she said. "I feel like I don't know enough to talk about it yet, and..."

She trailed off.

Beth stared at her for a little too long, then quickly had to slow down or risk plunging into an intersection. "And what?" she demanded.

"...and it involves...things...that maybe you'd be...better off not knowing?" Cassandra managed to say. It wasn't not true, but she'd stumbled getting through it because she knew damn well what Beth's reaction would be.

Her friend, now safely stopped, stared at her again. "I'm sorry...better off not knowing?"

"A little bit?"

"Not knowing. You're saying you don't want to tell me because I'd be better off."

Cassandra covered her eyes. "Beeeeeeth..."

"No no, because we've had this conversation, only from the other side. Remember when you were bitching about Crossroads and I said maybe your dad knew something and you said he didn't tell you and I said maybe it was for your own good? Remember what you said to that?"

"...maybe."

Beth glanced at the intersection, put the car into gear and started driving again. "You said that you'd always be better off knowing. And that people who said they were trying to protect someone else by not telling them something important were really just trying to protect themselves. Your words. Not mine."

Cass sighed. "I mean, technically paraphrased, but..."

"Don't technically me."

"Okay! Look. Beth." Cassandra sat forward again and latched her seatbelt, somewhat belatedly. They were almost to school now. "Here's the deal, okay? If it was just me, I'd tell you everything. But it's not just me. It involves other people too, and I can't just...blaaaauugh..." She pantomimed vomit spilling from her mouth. "...everything and drag them in, and drag you in...and all because of something I don't even know if it's REAL or not yet. I just...need you to trust me. I promise, when I'm surer...when I know more...when this whole thing is ready to pop...I will tell you everything. Okay?"

The car rattled to a stop in the school lot, but Beth kept her hands on the wheel for a moment.

"I just...feel like we're losing touch," she said tightly. "You never used to not tell me things. I had to consciously try to distract you to get you to stop telling me things."

Cassie reached over to put a hand on Beth's shoulder. "This is a really really special situation. It's not like when we were...well okay we are kids, but when we were younger kids. The worst thing we used to investigate then was like, who was stealing people's newspapers from their porches, or why your neighbor's cat disappeared. This...has to do with my dad. And if I screw it up, people could get hurt. I have to be careful."

Bethany shook her head. "And I guess calling the cops wouldn't work?"

"Cops need evidence. And...I have kind of a record just accusing people of things, so I have to work harder, you know?"

"And...these people who could get hurt. People like...who? Me? Your mom?"

Cass nodded. "Yeah."

Beth turned to look at Cassandra. "What about you?"

She smiled. "Nah, I'll be fine. Remember? Psychic powers?" Cass tapped her temple.

A slightly choked laugh escaped Beth, and she impulsively leaned forward to give her friend a hug. "Just...be careful okay? This isn't a movie."

The hug was returned with force. "I know. I will."

"And I'll hold you to that promise. There'd better be a Pulitzer or a novel or...or something at the far end of all this."

"You can be my editor."

Now Beth laughed for real. "Oh my god no. I've read your drafts. Kill me and send me to Hell first."

They pulled apart and got out of the car. Cass said, "I'm still hungry...I'm gonna go grab a quick bite at the cafeteria. Coming?"

Beth shook her head. "I actually can't. Meet you at lunch?"

Cassandra nodded. "Yeah. I'll text you if I can't make it, but should be fine. Seeya then!"

They split apart like atoms in a reactor, each going their separate ways. Oblivious to the chain reactions they could set off as they went.

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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Monday Night - Sean

Sean was up late.

When Laurie had revealed the depth of her intelligence and asked for his help in learning to apply it, for just an instant, he had felt a pang of pique and dismay. It hadn't been long that he had to accept that he would be shorter, less athletic, less strong that both of his sisters, the older and the younger, but he told himself that was okay. He was the smartest of the Cassidy siblings. But if that wasn't true, what did he have left? That he was bustier than both sisters combined? Not the tag he wanted.

It was an unworthy thought. Initially, he'd been pissed when he found out just how much Jase had been hiding his smarts, but he got over it. Sean still excelled with computers - even more so now, considering the nature of his powers - and math and puzzles, innate intelligence couldn't completely overcome skill and experience. And he didn't want to downplay Laurie's own revelatory Shine. It was clear she wanted to contribute however she could and he wanted to help her with that. But how could you help someone be smart? People learned in different ways.

He spent two hours doing the best he could, giving Laurie guideline and advice on how he learned. Like working out to build your body - like Laurie was doing since - or even before - joining the football team - you had to work out your brain too. Reading, watching, listening, were excellent start points, but for Sean, he also needed to apply that knowledge, use it, work with it, and make mistakes to really understand it. He might have always had a talent with electronics and computers, but it he hadn't taken them apart, and yes, made a few mistakes that his parents had been less than pleased about, he wouldn't be as good with them as he now was.

Laurie would need to find out what worked best for her. But he did give her access to his Curiositystream and Skillshare accounts to start, learning something, anything, was better than not learning at all. Laurie didn't seem entirely satisfied as she was leaving, not even when he gave her all the references he had looked at on Psionic powers, but it was what he had. Lets see what she can puzzle together.

"You might want to talk with Jase, about this too, sis," Sean said when Laurie had opened the door to the converted barn.

Laurie scowled at him over her shoulder. "He's a psychopath."

"But not the people-eating kind." Laurie didn't appreciate the sally and Sean sighed. "He can give you logical and objective advice. I learn stuff better one way, Jase does it a different way. Getting more than one point of view, more than one kind of advice can only help you. And really, does a simple word make him that much different? More than bloody real, actual psychic powers?"

"The word and the psychic powers definitely makes him scarier, Sean."

"And he can still help you."

Laurelei gave her overly buxom brother a long stare, then sniffed. "I'll consider it."

Then she left the barn, closing the door behind her.

And then there was the other thing. The intruder, the one who had invaded the sanctity of his sanctum. The one that had to be like him. He could sense the traces of the invader's presence, like digital fingerprints smudged all over his stuff. They hadn't taken anything, hadn't changed anything, that he could tell, just... looked. But it was a violation all the same, an infuriating one - they might as well have been peeping on him when he was taking his bra off. He didn't think they were lingering in his system or network, but all the same, he taped over every camera he had. He didn't lie to himself - even with his firewalls and cybersecurity, if the NSA or CIA or other alphabet soup wanted in, they would get in, but he'd like to think that even they would have trouble.

This was different. His defences had been broken or bypassed. They had been ignored. How did you stop someone like him from doing what he willed with your data, digital footprint, online presence? It was something he had been considering already, and so far, all he had really come up with was keep your shit offline and out of sight. If he didn't know where the trove was, and didn't have a wired or wireless connection leading him towards it, he couldn't hack it.

But his intruder had found a way in. Sean's fault, he hadn't been paranoid enough, or at least, had believed in his own digital supremacy. But that meant he should be able to follow the intruder back. True, the intruder might have raised the drawbridge - Sean might not be able to get inside the Intruder's defences, but at the very least, he'd have a better idea of where the bastard had come from.

Sean changed into something more comfortable, an old, oversized soccer jersey, worn smooth and comfy, and a pair of baggy shorts, stoked up the fire in the fireplace, then curled up in his gaming chair in front of his gaming computer. He stared at it, the screen saver flipping through screen shots and concept art from the video game he was working on.

Cold fury rose up inside him. The Dark was out there, threatening his town, threatening his friends, and now this fucking voyeur. He had built his computer himself, this one and others. He had overclocked the processor into an inch of its life, liquid cooling keeping everything running in top trim. Electric synapses, in synthetic or biological media, it was all the same, when you get right down to it. What worked in one should work in the other.

Unconsciously, the electrical impulses in Sean's brain began firing faster, stronger, in greater density, forming greater and deeper connections. He wasn't going to let this bitch get away. He had played at dipping his hand into the vast digital ocean, grasping at signals pulsing like fireflies, reading them, barely bothering to use an interface anymore when using his phone, or tablet, or computer. But he was going to go deeper this time, far deeper, far further than he had ever gone before.

Sean took a deep breath, then dived in with barely a ripple, imagining as though he was diving into his monitor and into the world on the other side, though he never left his comfortable, encompassing chair.

The internet is a series of tubes...

Sean let out peals of unmitigated laughter and the virtual world about him rippled in sympathy. The movies had it so wrong. It wasn't their fault, they were limited by the medium, and only being able to imagine the experience, rather experiencing it for real. It wasn't a series of tubes or highways leading to towering skyscrapers of a seizure inducing Time's square. It was infinitely branching and merging streams and rivers of bits and bytes, leading to and from two sided pools, lakes, seas that plunged into unknown depths and enticing heights in a virtual reality as vast as outer space, yet as packed as when the doors opened for Black Friday and there was that must have toy or gadget for the season.

There was the neon lights portrayed by Shadowrun and Tron, but so much more as well. Pastels, muted and dark shades of colour, matte finishes, glossy, vistas drawn with the absence of light, intermingled incandescence and a variety of darkness. The scrolling numbers of the Matrix were there too, in a fashion, if you could look close enough. Sean had seen them when perusing the comm transmissions flying about him. Here, the numbers were in an infinite palette, tight and close, to form photomosiacs, art and knowledge in one, for those who could decipher it.

There was sound too, music, hums and basses in a collage of frequencies and amplitudes. It was the sound the sound of the busiest city, the thickest crowd imaginable, that gave rise to incredible symphonies and counter melodies that clashed or challenged. Sean vibrated with sheer force of the encompassing sound. There was physical sensation there too that the screen could never convey. The coolness, searing cold, pleasant warmth, biting heat.... smoothness, coarseness, things that prickled, bit, engulfed, stuff that clung and stuck and had to be scraped off (Pop-up Ads?). And there was smell, tasted as well, the bitter and sweet, acrid and arousing.

Every sense, and the extra ones he possessed, was being assaulted, challenged, teased, and caressed. It was bewildering, terrifying... and fantastically wondrous. Sean had manipulated this place, had rowed about on its surface, but now he was a part of it. He had no form here save that which he conjured. He wasn't male, female, something in between here. He wasn't old or young. He just was, a self of will, bits and bytes of memory forming a core identity, and power.

And someone had gone poking in where they didn't belong - Sean conveniently overlooked the fact he had done so more than once himself. He was going to find them. The digital world was incredibly dynamic, ever flowing and changing, yet it was static too, everything leaving near indelible tracks, if you knew how to find them and follow them.

The hunt was on...

... Sean didn't get the satisfying conclusion to the hunt that he wanted. Someone had left neotic spoor all over the digital networks about and around Shelly - at least some of those networks must be part of Dr. Cook's surveillance system. There wasn't a single trail, but many. They didn't converge on a single point - his intruder was too wily for that, or at the least, minimally competent - but they did suggest a common point of interest in the virtual world. Two points.

One was Bulwark Air Force Base, light-eating darkness laying over parts of the para-rescue training center. The other was a shadow under the bright pool of the Merias Medical Center. With what he and Sara had learned about Dr. Cook and who was really behind the program, that drew his interest and curiosity more. Sean swam cautiously closer, the psychic miasma growing stronger. A tentatively probe at the indistinct node and he recoiled. Whatever that network node was, it was beyond SOTA, it was next-gen's next-gen level stuff. And had absolutely no reason to be in Shelly, clinging like a parasite to the underside of the Merias Medical Center, however seriously the Medical community took HIPAA.

For a moment, an instant, an iota of time, Sean considered trying to worm his way in, or even break through digital defences he had never encountered before, or even heard tell of. Then his better judgment got a hold of him.

Suddenly, he was back in his gaming chair, blinking his eyes, his chair rolling across the floor as he kicked away from his desk. His screen saver merrily continued flipping from pic to pic before him. He'd been in there for nearly two hours, when it felt like barely minutes. He brushed his red-gold hair from his face finding it damp with sweat. What had he been thinking? If he was going to try and penetrate firewalls like that - especially if they were backed by someone like him, he wasn't going to do it from home.

And if he did manage to get in, what would he find on the other side.

He stared at his computer, stared beyond it, thinking, considering, as he breathed slowly, trying to calm a racing heart he hadn't realized he had. Then he got up, full lips pressing into a tight line, and pattered across the hardwood floor in his socks and manually turned off his router/modem. It wasn't full proof, but it would make things a little more inconvenient if his intruder decided to try and visit again.

It took Sean a long time to fall asleep, pondering who had spied on him, what they knew, and what they could do, and what he could do about it, as he lay on his bed in the loft, petting his grey cat Turing who had nestled herself against his breasts.

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Tuesday Morning - Shelly High School

The parking lot was filling up, but two spaces next to one another were left untouched, despite being prime real estate near the front of the lot.  They didn't have names on them, or placards indicating a 'reserved' status, but everyone at Shelly high knew whose parking spaces they were...

The purr of the black Mercedes and the growling whine of the Ducati punctuated the bustle as the two 'owners' of the slots pulled into the parking lot, sliding neatly into the spaces left vacant, and killed their engines.  Devin removed his helmet and glanced around, his gaze pensive as it hunted for a particular face, only for him to grin as he spotted Lona waiting at the foot of the steps leading to the cafeteria, deep in thought as she stared at her phone  Pretending as though he hadn't seen her, Devin turned away and got his own phone out, thumbs flying over the touch-keys.

//Baby how come you treat me so cruel?  We been going out for like 12 hrs and no noodz?  I feel ignored//

Hitting send, he glanced over his shoulder and watched as Lona's phone chirped.  Her face intent, she tapped to open the message, then let out a small laugh, her cheeks colouring as she smirked and began tapping back.  Devin glanced down at his phone and chuckled.

//noodz are for bf's who don't make me miss breakfast.  You better get here fast or I'll send noodz elsewhere//

"Focus, Romeo."  Marissa lightly tapped him on the back of the head with her fingertips, interrupting Devin as he bent over his phone once more.  "Remember, best foot forward, business as usual.  I know you're all dewy with love right now, and I'm glad, but no blabbing about marshals or dad or any of it."

"Yeah, I got it."  Devin frowned, his good mood evaporating a little as he looked across the lot to the football field.  "Y'know, I bet they could help though.  Some of them, anyway."

"Are you kidding?  They can barely help themselves dress properly."  Marissa snorted, then said more quietly.  "Besides, it's our dad's screwups.  We can't ask barely-acquainted hicks to help out.  What are they going to do?  The marshals are handling it, it's their job, and they don't need a bunch of teenage nerds, losers and at least one verified psychopath getting in their way."

"Guess so."  Devin nodded, pursing his lips slightly.  "Well, I'mma go scandalise my girlfriend.  Want to come along and give her shit over the tater tots?"

"Another time, perhaps."  Marissa checked her makeup in her compact, then sighed before smiling somewhat evilly.  "I've got bigger fish to fry."  Devin paused a moment, some sibling intuition cutting through his desire to head over to Lona, and looked at his sister askance.

"Sorta skinny fish, about yea-high, green eyes?"  He shrugged as Marissa snapped her compact shut and glared at him, raising his hands in a peace gesture.  "Hey, you look like you're on the prowl."

"None of your business."

"You know my business."

"Everyone knows your business.  And that's why I'm not telling you my business.  Now scoot."  Marissa flipped her hand at him as though dismissing an errant servant, smiling a little as he flipped her the bird.  Turning as Devin bounced over to Lona, the Mantis of Shelly High straightened her grey knit sweater-dress and went hunting...

======================

Cassie was relieved on a couple of counts as she entered the cafeteria.  Firstly, that they still had bacon on the counter.  But more importantly, she'd been able to at least tell some of the truth to Bethany - even if that hadn't laid Beth's fears to rest, it was still a big step towards rekindling a friendship the young journalist hadn't even realised she'd missed as badly as she had.  Her new friends were... great! Of course!  Especially those ones that might be reading her mind right now!  But they weren't Beth.  Despite the weird dangers and discoveries they'd shared, Cassandra still felt a little unmoored when she was around them, as though she wasn't quite sure where she fit in.  'Sane voice of reason', perhaps, but it occurred to her that Jason would probably consider himself that too, and that was a cause for a slight shiver right there.  Perhaps not, then.

And speak of the devil...  There he was, being approached by Autumn.  Cassie had a momentary fancy of herself watching a horror movie and shouting "Don't go near there, girl. No... don't go down the stairs to investigate the spooky noise!"... and promptly felt a little ashamed.  Jason's speed of action and capability had saved her life, after all.  Psychopath or not, he cared on some level whether his friends - if they were his friends? Pets, perhaps? - lived or died.  And he'd helped with the psionic thing, helping Cassie come to grips with her new heightened awareness of the world.  Taking a grip on her tray and her fortitude, Cassie headed over.  It occurred to her that Jase was sitting out of the way, away from the usual Fellowship table, and that Autumn's hair was down- wait, were they having a private talk?  A little tête-à-tête in the cafeteria?  Scandalous.  Of course, it could be nothing...

Well, nothing for it: now she had to go over there.

"Hey guys!" she said brightly as she got to the table, just as Autumn was settling into her chair.  Cassie slid her tray into place next to the redhead's and likewise sat, taking the position that if you just assumed and sat down, people would ignore it rather than say 'Umm actually this is a private thing'.  Of course, that was normal people and, Cassandra reminded herself as two pale green eyes tracked her like laser-sights, at least one person present was not normal.  "Hope it's okay if I join you." she added belatedly, somewhat reassured by the faint smile on the neighbourhood psychopath's lips.

A thump from next to Jason spared Cassandra whatever the lanky youth's reply might have been, as Sean sagged into a chair, his stare somewhat glassy from a mixture of little sleep and too much coffee.  Dressed in a properly fitted black shirt, an open plaid overshirt, a green unzipped Miskatonic University hoodie, drab olive jeans, and scuffed red sneakers, the androgyne youth took a drink from the cup of coffee in his hand and scowled at the morning sunlight.  "Morning." he uttered, his normally melodious voice somewhat raspy.

"Late night?"  Jase enquired, regarding his oldest friend with a mixture of amusement and what Autumn, at least, recognised as concern.  It was similar to the expression in his eyes when making sure his father had his lunch last night, though the wry amusement diluted the effect somewhat.  Sean waved a hand as he yawned.  

"Tell you about it... Later." he muttered.  Jason nodded at that, going back to eating breakfast along with Cassandra and Autumn.

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Tuesday Morning - Shelly High Cafeteria

"How's your morning so far? Good, I hope."

It was a decent start, she decided as she sat down- no laser eyes, no smirks, no sly comments that made her feel like she was standing too close to a bonfire. This was real life, right? Jason Bannon was acting like a normal person, like someone she’d gone to school with for six years, and maybe had the occasional conversation with in the hall. ...Not like someone who definitely wasn’t normal, whom she’d given a more-than-wide berth for the last six years, and had only finally spoken to a few days prior because he and Clara had cornered her in the bathroom after she’d gotten slapped in the face by physics. But, even that was only because of the Shine, wasn’t it? If not for that single incident, she never would have gone with them to the trailer, would never have ended up in that nightmare place, would have never seen that- that- whatever the hell it was that tried to eat them, wouldn’t have needed to loan- 

bloody, on fire, ohmygod he’s naked ohgod cannot unsee

-Goddamn Jason Fucking Bannon her hoodie, wouldn’t have gone to his house on Monday to get it back. Wouldn’t have told him she was afraid of him. Wouldn’t have made a second friend, in as many days. 

Autumn glanced across the table at the Impenetrable One, unsure if she should now be more, or less wary of him after their talk yesterday. Especially since she almost-

Nope, no, nuh uh. Hard pass on the 1000-degree face today, thank you. We are focusing on the now, and right now you have french toast to eat. With your friend. Because that’s what he is. ...Probably. Just like Marissa is also probably your friend. Don’t be a weirdo, weirdo.

“Yea-” she began, vaguely aware that the corners of her mouth were curving upward in response to the greeting- 

"Hey guys! Hope it's okay if I join you."

The redhead blinked as Cassandra, clearly not all that concerned about whether it was actually okay or not, quickly made herself comfortable… followed by Sean at the other side of the table, and any answer she could've given was rendered pointless. Seriously? Autumn sighed inwardly, regretting having even opened her mouth in the first place, and just nodded in response.

Should have stuck to the plan, her brain smugly opined as she peeled back the corner of her syrup container and busied herself making a loose spiral out of the sugary stuff over her meal. But… it wasn’t like they’d done anything wrong, really, they were probably like this all the time. 

What, rude as fuck?

No! Friendly, I guess. …? Just, different.

“Here,” she offered after a moment’s consideration, turning the end of her tray with the still-untouched buttered toast and bacon toward Sean. “Yours if you want it. Some actual food might help.”

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Tuesday Morning - Marissa & Cade

She avoided the cafeteria.  It was possible Cade was already there, of course, but if that was the case she’d wait till later.  For now, the huntress decided, it was best to seek her quarry elsewhere. She didn’t particularly feel like handling the usual breakfast drama-fest at the best of times, and today she was in no mood at all.  Devin and Lona would be being nauseatingly cute at each other - at least, she amended internally, it’d be cute if it wasn’t Devin and Lona - and she definitely didn’t feel like having her every move and expression tracked and analysed by a certain pair of pale green eyes.

She moved through the bustle of the corridors with purpose, a vision of elegance and beauty in a figure-hugging grey sweater-dress, black leggings and knee-length brown suede boots.  A touch of maroon lipstick completed the ensemble to her satisfaction. She was Shelly High’s Queen, despite everything else going on at home, and definitely despite the toxic male impertinence of Jason Bannon - whose gift she had dabbed on her pulse points this morning.  She was mad at him, not at the perfume after all, and so the faintest notes of hibiscus and jasmine floated behind her as she searched for a solution to her problem.

Cade was running a little late today, but only a little.  He’d eaten breakfast at home with his mom and Haruka, and had tried to call Cora in New York only to leave yet another message.  She’d texted him to say she’d arrived safely and sent a picture of her Julliard dorm room, but so far they hadn’t really talked. Ever the stoic, Cade figured that she was just settling in, probably had a hectic schedule, and they would be able to catch up properly over Labor Day weekend.  He definitely didn’t want to be one of those guys who sent endless texts and calls reminding a distant girlfriend that she had someone back home. It’d only been a couple of days, after all.

He dumped his sports bag in his locker and took down the books he’d need for first period - Chemistry.  Not his best subject. He sweated more at that than he did his athletics, it seemed, though Ms Lafferty was a good, patient teacher.  But it irked Cade a little that he was still only scraping a passing grade in the sciences and math. As stoic as he was, he was still healthily competitive and for all the work he put in it should be higher, he felt.  Professional baseball, assuming he got his break and went major, wouldn’t last him forever after all. He was musing about perhaps getting Clara, Sean or even Bannon to tutor him on the side when his train of thought was suddenly derailed by a vision of loveliness appearing in the corner of his eye.

“I’ve been looking for you.”  Marissa’s dulcet voice was quiet as she leaned a shoulder against the locker next to his, dark eyes frankly appraising as she looked up at the towering youth.  Maroon lips twitched upwards in an enticing smile. “I have a proposition to put to you that will resolve both our problems - my problem being an unwanted stalker and your problem being, well, just unwanted.”

“Full of charm today, aren’t you?”  Cade replied in a steady tone as he turned towards her, shutting his locker as he did so.  The Mantis shrugged one shoulder, managing to even make that look attractive, and smiled wider at him.

“I need your help, you need mine.” she asserted.  “Charm is all well and good, but this is business, Big Montana.  We, that is to say you-” she indicated him, then herself “-and me, need to start going out.”  Cade blinked, then uttered a short laugh before he could stop himself.

“I’ve got a girlfriend.” he stated.

“Who is half the continent away and waaaay too busy to phone-makeout with you every night.”  Marissa replied with a small toss of her head, then leaned closer, her tone intimate enough to raise steam from a cold lake.  “I, on the other hand, am right here and happy to hang out, chat with and make out with you.”

It was a testament to Cade’s centered nature that he didn’t swallow, stutter or grin nervously.  Marissa was sex-appeal on two well-shaped legs, and the hint of come-hither she’d directed at him was enough to make a priest rethink vows.  He considered a moment, his eyes on hers.

“And what’s in it for you?  Why not just have Devin run off your stalker?”  he asked, curious now. “I know you’re not so fond of me you’d look for excuses to hook up.”

“Don’t sell yourself so short.”  Marissa shrugged again. “You’re tall, built and have that down-home country boy thing going on.  I’d call you ‘Smallville’, but I’m not an intrepid big city newspaper reporter.” She regarded him and sighed, rolling her eyes.  “I’m not looking to pick out curtains, Cade. It’ll be until Homecoming or shortly after - maybe until Halloween. I just want my admirer to get the message and go bug someone else.  As to who it is… Well, it’s Jason.”

“Jason?”  Cade blinked again.  “Our Jason?  Stalking you?”  Marissa waved a hand dismissively.

“Not literally stalking.”  she sighed. “He’s got a thing for me, and it’d be sort of sweet except he’s persistent about it despite me saying no.  I’m pretty sure if I have a hook-up he’ll back off, and you are my lucky first pick. You guys are friends, so the Bro Code applies.  If I ask Devin to run him off, it could get nasty.” Her eyes met his, concern in their liquid dark depths. “I like Jason as a friend, and I don’t want anyone hurt, Cade.  So I’m trying the soft approach.”  She cocked her head to one side, gauging his mood.

“Would it be so bad to go out with me?  It’d be fun, and temporary, and I assure you it’ll be far from painful.”  She gave him an invitingly naughty smile. “Plus you’d be helping Jason out too, stopping him from getting all weirdly obsessive or pining over me.  What do you say?”

Edited by GDP_ST

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Cade's eyes narrowed.  His first thought was that Marissa was messing with him, but her eyes showed him she was actually serious.    Marissa, in her own way, was asking him for help.  It wasn't something he was accustomed to.  Largely he'd remained under her radar, despite his own star athlete status, and he didn't really care for or about the social games she played.   They didn't have any bearing on him, so it was at least in his mind, a live and let live scenario.   

With all the craziness leading into this year, they had at least some minor tangential connections, but this, what she was proposing would be a whole new level.   He was still seeing Cora, and he knew that him saying yes would definitely  get back to Cora. That would definitely have "Results."   He couldn't tell the others the truth of this, and it would probably expose him to some real negative pushback.  Jason knowing and acknowledging the "Bro Code" was something that was completely unknown.  He'd never heard of Jason dating anyone, so he wasn't sure how he'd react.

The fact he had concerns about Jason, how he thought and saw things, and what he'd already done using his powers, and now Marissa had exposed her own concerns, he knew he wasn't going to say no to her here.  Telling her no would bring its own problems, not the least of which is earning her ire and attention.  

"I am not so sure he knows about the "Bro Code" or cares.  He's shown himself to be fairly single-minded in his pursuit of what he wants, and direct in how he reacts to things."   He looked at her still holding her gaze.   "You're asking me to do alot Marissa, not the least of which is  lie to my friends and betray my girlfriend.  I won't lie, this is going to be hard for me to do.  Still, I'll do it, Not because you're some prize, but because I share some of your concerns."

He sighed.   "We're going to have to work hard on selling this.   The others are not going to believe this at all at first.  How exactly are you planning to start?"

Through the conversation, he of course had to look down, as he towered over nearly everyone at school, including Marissa.  There was no denying she was the most attractive girl at school, but this was business.  He did his best to not think about it, to just treat this as business, but to fool everyone, they'd really have to work at it.  Perhaps it wouldn't be physically painful, he was pretty sure she'd see to that, but there were other forms of pain, and that was likely something they'd both end up having to deal with.  

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Tuesday Morning - Kat

Felicity Kyleson was a kind-hearted woman, as one might expect a school counselor to be, but she was also sharp and perceptive, seeking out the best in the students she assisted whilst not being blind to their weaknesses and vices.  For instance, she knew that the petite redhead currently fidgeting in the seat across from her was going to be troublesome.  Not in a maliciously disruptive way, but in a 'poor dear, what a mess' way.

"So, Catherine - your dad calls you Kat, do you prefer that?"

"I guess."  the pixieish girl replied with a slightly nervous smile, her accent noticeable.  She wasn't thrilled to be here, but her choices were pretty limited.  And Ms Kyleson - Felicity as she insisted on being called - was nice.  Still that didn't make this whole thing any easier.  She was in America to stay for awhile, not just to vacation, and while part of her was interested to see how high school measured up compared to the movies and tv shows she'd seen, it didn't help with the sense that she was far from home and her friends.  Felicity smiled at her

"Relax, Kat.  We're going to find you a guide who can help you out, show you around and get you settled in.  Now let me see..."  Ms Kyleson pursed her lips as she studied the paperwork before her.  "Paperwork was all in order and very complete."  She raised her eyes to Kat with another warm smile.  "It makes my job easier.  So, your transcripts are impressive - you do very well in the Sciences but your tutors in France have said you have a problem with focusing.  If you have any problems here, Kat, please come and see me.  I know it's hard to be far from home, but here in this office at least you can say what's on your mind, okay?"

She paused, considering the elfin redhead.  "What are your interests, Kat?  Hobbies, music you like, things like that?  I have a few people I could pair you with, but anything you can tell me to narrow things down and make it easier would be welcome."

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Kat thought for a moment, a long moment. She could not help with grinding her teeth out of sheer nervosity, but she had known worse, like that first time she had to do a presentation alone, in front of her class. She was feeling so stupid. Thankfully, Alice and her smile eased the process. She wished Alice were here. She would definitely have another crazy idea to kill time. Kat remembered with a faint smile that time where Erwann initiated her to roleplay games, along with Alice. They spent hours plotting the world's doom, between two snacks breaks. Speaking of time, what time was it ? She still felt somehow jet-lagged, even after a couple weeks of accomodation. Time... Oh, scraps, the school counselor-

"Kat, are you still here with me ?" Ms Kyleson asked, kindly smiling. She took a glance at the rather skinny figure seated in front of her, with her leather boots barely touching the floor, her tight blue jeans, and her sailor covered by a perfecto that had known better days. The teen's focus was indeed scattered all over the room.

"Erm...computers, video games, Muse, Chopin, Bach, bikes, The Dropkick Murphys, my Dad likes'em too... he also likes to listen to swing and blues, which are not half-bad. When I was fourteen, he got into teaching me some self-defense, but I never really got to use it in real-life situations, which is kind of good news if you think about it. There was that time where my boyfriend took me, Alice was here aswell, window shopping around gaming and computer shops, and it was fun, by the way, I never thought I'd get into roleplaying. It started with video games, and then came pen and paper ones... I really like Chopin's Nocturnes." She suddenly stopped, realizing the speed and flow of her words, and a small and nervous laugh escaped her lips. Genuinely worried, she asked : "Did I help ?"

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Tuesday Morning - Kat

Ms Kyleson blinked, mouth slightly open at the stream of consciousness her probe had jogged loose, then studied the teen anew.  A qualified educational psychologist, Felicity was familiar with the signs she was seeing, which matched up to every other clue in Kat's transcripts.  And yet nobody had formally diagnosed the young woman yet - dear god, how could anyone miss it?  Disciplinary problems, bright but lacking in focus, and just talking to Kat one could see her mind was everywhere at once.  The counselor smiled, making a mental note to speak with Kat's father ASAP.  Shelly High was very good and had programs to help all manner of student needs without turning the poor child into a Ritalin zombie.

"Alright, well that narrows things down.  There's a young man called Sean who's one of our more academically talented students.  He's an absolute genius with all things digital - in fact he even designs and codes video games.  And I understand he runs a gaming group with a... wide mixture of personalities at the table."  Felicity's brow knitted slightly.  She knew most of the kids in Sean's group, and they were nice, normal teens for the most part.  With one exception...  But she was sure that would be fine.  Just fine.  "His friends are all interesting kids too - musicians and athletes and drama club members."  And drug dealers she added mentally, feeling a little uncharitable.  Jason bloody Bannon had sat across from her for four years with a boneless slouch and a hooded stare while she tried to get through to him, and all of a sudden after the summer he was wowing teachers with his performance.  While the larger part of Felicity was happy that he'd overcome whatever internal conflict had been making him underperform, she still resented that he'd essentially been sneering at her and the whole system for years.  Still, improvement was improvement.

It was fine.

"I'm sure you'll get along okay."  Felicity said firmly.  "If there are any issues, come and let me know?"    Kat nodded, and Ms Kyleson stood up with a smile, waving Kat to follow her.  "Good.  Now, let's get you introduced.  He has Chemistry first period, like a lot of the Junior year, so we'll ambush him there."  The pretty counselor grinned mischievously.  "Also I'll introduce you to Ms Lafferty, who teaches that class.  You two should get along well."

Spoiler

Kat, if you want to do a little bit about being led through the halls of the school and Kat's impressions, plus meeting Ms Lafferty feel free to write for the NPCs.  Otherwise the next GM post will be getting introduced to Sean. :D

 

Marissa & Cade

On 12/28/2019 at 4:59 PM, Cade said:

"How exactly are you planning to start?"

Marissa laughed, a throaty sound of amusement as she leaned forward and placed a hand on Cade's arm above the elbow.  "Don't be silly.  We're already starting - Jebus... What do you feed these things?"  She grinned as she gave his solid bicep a squeeze, then a pat.  "Yes, this will be fun."  She added, gazing up at him through her lashes.  Although Cade was reasonably sure this was all part of the act, it was damned convincing even to him, and he started to get an uneasy feeling that the waters he'd waded into were a little deeper and faster-moving than he'd realised.  He also noticed several knots of students - the usual hallway people-watchers - had noticed Marissa's flirting, and so he smiled back at her, nodding.

"Hope so." he replied.

"Oh, it will."  Marissa retorted with a small flip of her hair, half-turning and looping her hand through the crook of his elbow.  "Now, how about you walk me to Chemistry, where we'll be bench partners and get to know each other a little better."

"Not wasting any time, then."  Cade murmured as the two of them strolled leisurely Chem-wards.

"Can't afford to, Big Montana.  I need Jason to get the message I'm sending loud and clear so even his weird brain can hear it."  The Mantis smiled, a perfect curve of maroon lips as she looked up at him from the corner of her dark eyes, the two of them moving through the school like a pair of lions through the grass of the savannah.

Spoiler

Cade - if you want to write some back and forth with Marissa as you guys walk feel free.  Otherwise nothing else will happen until Chem class starts.

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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Cassandra sat quietly for a moment, practically sitting on her hands. She didn't want to just bust in and grab the focus...but she actually did kind of want to do that, because what she had to say was way more interesting than Sean eating or not.

"So..." she said, her eyes flicking from Jase to Sean to Autumn and back again. "...I saw the 'dark' man again yesterday. Remember? Tall and skinny, intense eyes, black outfit?" Cass waggled her eyebrows. "I think he tried to get to me. It was weird though. Kind of...inconsistent, like it either didn't go the way he planned, or maybe he wasn't quite sure what he was doing."

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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Tuesday Morning - Shelly High Cafeteria

On 12/27/2019 at 8:57 PM, Autumn Keane said:

“Here,” she offered after a moment’s consideration, turning the end of her tray with the still-untouched buttered toast and bacon toward Sean. “Yours if you want it. Some actual food might help.”

Sean nodded at Cassandra in greeting, then finished taking a long pull from the large cup of coffee he'd gotten from Bunnee's on the way to school, and gave Autumn a long blink.

He'd gotten all of two hours of sleep last night, his mind too active from the intrusion and just wanting a distraction. He'd managed to overclock his thought processes last night when trying to track down his visitor, he didn't see why he couldn't accelerate other portions of his brain.

He'd sat down and began to write and code for his newest game. He'd never had trouble with the actual code, but the idea he had for a new quest line was flowing easier than practically anything else he'd ever written, and the model for a new series of mobs coalesced fully formed in his mind and scampered as merrily as Rascal from his brain and into the code of his brain as he savoured the first of many coffees that morning.

Sean had already eaten that morning, a delicious omelette stuffed with meat and veggies, and he had made enough that there was enough for the next two to claim them, which Laurie and his Dad cheerfully did, exasperating his mom. Carolyn's daughter and husband had much bigger appetites than herself or her son, so there wasn't a scrap of omelette left over for her.

But while his brain was still firing on all cylinders, his body wasn't so sanguine about the lack of sleep. Sean might have been fine with a habitual five to six hours of sleep, but two was too little. Food and coffee was only a stopgap measure and redlining his brain was burning even more calories. Sean was surprised that he was feeling a little peckish.

Sean tightened his jaw to stifle a yawn then gave Autumn a wan, but grateful smile, and nodded. "I've already eaten, but it was way early with little sleep beforehand, so I won't say no to some bacon and some extra sugary calories. Thanks Autumn. I hope your day has been starting out better than mine."

Sean leaned over and cut the wheat toast with the plastic fork and blunt piece of plastic that passed for a knife, drizzled it with the remaining syrup, then took a piece of bacon with each bite. When Cassandra made her reveal, Sean tilted his head to the side, his chewing slowing to a stop. He swallowed with a forced gulp.

"Mr. Dark trying to get to you how, exactly?" Sean asked, brows lowering over his large, too bright eyes. "Something - someone rather - payed me a visit last night too, though it wasn't face to face."

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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Cassandra grinned, already getting into the story...almost as if it had happened to someone else.

"So I was at school and class let out and waiting outside for me was my old ex-boyfriend. Which was a shock, because he cuts class like, all the time and if he's at school he'd usually be either in a class he couldn't dodge, or back behind the gym smoking and shooting the shit with his friends. But here he was, waiting for me and looking really worried."

She looked around at the others to gauge their reactions, then plunged on. "Anyway, he was acting really spooked...which is also very unlike him because he's super chill, like chill to a fault...and he told me to go to a spot way out where we used to go to make out, and that he'd left something there for me."

"So I asked Cade to come out with me, because this whole thing was really weird, and after school we drove there...and I found Dylan's phone. And on the phone was a video that showed my dad somewhere. That's obviously a big deal, so the first thing I decide to do is go find Dylan again to ask what the fuck is going on here. Where'd he get the video, why didn't he CALL me, what was the deal with sending me way out to the middle of nowhere to get it...all that. The whole thing... Anyway, I find him at this old parking lot where he goes to skate and smoke and I ask him..."

Here Cassandra paused, letting a little tension build.

"And he tells me he's been in the parking lot all day. Totally skipped school. Everyone else there says the same thing."

She sat back a little and spread her hands.

"THEN, me and Cade are going back to the car to leave...and the same guy from Bunnee's is there. And the cat fucking flipped his shit and ran, and so Cade and me ran to the car and pulled out...and...that was it."

"Wild, right?"

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Marissa and Cade-   Tuesday morning on the way to Chemistry

 

 Cade remained silent at first, thinking about how this was going to look.   There would be those cheering for him, and those who thought he was scum.  Still he also knew most wouldn't say a word openly about it.   While he didn't know Marissa, Everyone knew her reputation.  She was simply someone you didn't cross.   I've made a deal with the Devil herself. He thought 

Even with that realization, he knew he wasn't going to back out.  Cora would understand, given everything going on.  He had faith in that much at least.

He cast a sidelong glance at Marissa.  "So how are your grades in Chemistry?"     

There was a moment of silence, and she looked to him.  "Probably better than yours." 

Cade smiled down at her.  "Good, because if we're going to be partners, one of us needs to be better than "decent" at it, or it's probably not going to cut it."  

In his head, he worried abit, knowing she probably expected him to ask more about her proposal, but he felt now wasn't the time and place.  They'd have to work on it, establish boundaries and such, but that was something to do away from everyone.   
 

Edited by Cade

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Tuesday Morning - Shelly High Cafeteria

Slate-blue eyes darted across the table in Sean's direction, then over at Cass, as Autumn slowly pushed her breakfast aside, turning to face the intrepid blonde beside her. She remembered him, all right- the cocky asshole who'd nearly hit her with his car at Bunnee's, then warned her about crazies on the road. Fucker. She remembered that car, how loud it had seemed even when it wasn't running, enough to make all the other sounds recede into so much background noise, and how oddly dead his eyes had been behind the slick, oozing charm of his smile during their brief conversation, how something had seemed weirdly familiar. She remembered, too, how he'd been looking in the window where Cassandra and Lilly and the others had been sitting...

Her feeling of unease only grew as the bizarre tale unfolded, and while the redhead couldn't help feeling she was missing a few of the relevant details, the overall gist was fairly clear: whatever Twilight Zone episode she'd wandered into last week, she was apparently not going to be wandering back out of it again anytime soon. She kept trying to focus on Cassie's animated storytelling and the excited, conspiratorial tone of her voice, the elements of the story that raised questions- like whether it had actually been Dylan in the hall, or whether the plucky journalist had been seeing things, or whether all of the people involved were remembering things differently, or why she was talking about a cat- but then it all circled back around to the man in black again. Why? If he wasn't some sleazy producer or drug dealer, who the hell was he, and what the fuck did he want with them? There was no internal debate this time- Nothing fucking good, obviously. Duh.

The young woman's freckled brow creased into a frown at the thought, pale fingers drumming restlessly on her thighs. Even before he'd said a word at the diner, in that millisecond when her brain tried to assess whether he presented a threat, Autumn had already been flustered and angry at his obvious insincerity; even if he hadn't almost run her over, and instead had just rolled up normally into the parking lot like everyone else on the goddamned planet, she was as certain as she'd ever been about anything that she'd still have hated him on sight. Antipathy- that was the word. Some echo of that instinctive dislike she'd felt for the man, that irrational and uncharacteristic loathing, vibrated like a soft warning growl just beneath her words as she replied, "Yeah. Wild." She wanted to get up, walk around, do something to quell that resurgent feeling, but this was more important, so instead she just exhaled and pulled her hair to one side, letting her hands fall into the rhythm of weaving it into a quick braid as she repeated Sean's question. "You said he tried to get to you, but it seemed off. What happened, exactly?"

Edited by Autumn Keane

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Cassandra nodded at Autumn's question and leaned forward a bit so she could drop her voice even more.

"I just mean, like, what was the game plan here? If the 'dark' was imitating Dylan, making me see and hear him when he wasn't there, why send me out into the middle of nowhere and then not DO anything? And the phone I found was definitely Dylan's...when I talked to him later he said he'd lost it recently. So...what? Steal his phone, put this video on it, hide it, lure me out there and then...what was the endgame to that? And then this big dangerous dude pops in out of nowhere not out where we were far from the car and no one would have heard us scream. Instead he shows up in the parking lot and just sort of walks towards us, giving us plenty of time to get away."

"So what was the dark trying to do? It seems like all it really wanted was for me to see the video. Was the idea to get me to go rushing off to the prison and get myself arrested? It just seems like a really weird, roundabout way to get rid of me, you know?"

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"Occam's Razor."

Jason's voice was it's usual calm, even tone, containing an almost-patient air as he resumed eating his breakfast once more.  He'd paused to listen to Cassie, his icy jade gaze on her face as she told the tale and then peering past her face and elsewhere for a moment.  Whatever thoughts had been provoked were swift, for he was now once more mopping up syrup with a piece of pancake calmly.  Autumn looked over at him, gaze narrowing.

"Occams what?"  The redhead frowned.  Cassandra also spared the slender youth a glance, considering his words.

"He means the simplest likely solution is probably the most accurate."  The blonde journalist replied, receiving a slow nod from Jase and a grunt of agreement from Sean.  "The simplest solution being..?"

"That the Dark and whoever impersonated Dylan are not on the same side, for one.  Perhaps someone with Shine, making you think you saw Dylan.  Perhaps with a gift like Charlie's, disguising themselves as Dylan.  But their motive appears to be separate from the Dark and someone we assume is the Dark's agent - Mr Black.  Just because two weird things happen doesn't mean they originate in the same place."  Jase pushed his empty place aside, narrowing his gaze a little.

"Okay, so why did Mr Black just walk up all spooky like?  If he's our enemy, why didn't he just get us when we were far from the car like I said?  Why didn't he chase us?"

"Obvious enough.  He wanted to spook you, not catch you.  At least, not at that time."  Jason's tone was still unperturbed.  "He's testing, seeing how you react - whether you react intelligently or panic, whether you're bold or timid, aggressive or defensive in posture.  If you'd made it easy for him, by being dumb or panicky, then he might have done more.  This is the opening feints."

"What makes you so sure of that?"  Sean asked after swallowing his mouthful of toast and bacon.  "Not that I question the theory - it's plausible."

"He did the same to me, after the meeting at the bleachers."  Jason remarked casually.  "I was driving home and the Cadillac leveled alongside me, Mr Black beside the wheel.  His attitude was one of challenge, at least that's how I read it, so I sped up.  We raced a little, though my car was never going to be able to beat whatever is under the hood of his, then he disappeared after trying to make me wreck."  The others stared at him.

"And you didn't mention this till now because..?"  Autumn demanded. Jase's eyes met hers.

"I didn't know he was testing others.  Obviously it is not a personal issue between me and him, as I thought it might be, so I think it's best to share the experience."

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Tuesday Morning - Shelly High Cafeteria

"It seems like Mr. Black isn't the only one testing others," Sean added, shrugging as he tugged on his shirt to shake free the crumbs from his toast off his chest. He glanced around at the others. He had the same assessment as Jase about Mr. Black and Not-Dylan. "I had a visitor at the Barn last night, and he penetrated my hard drive."

"Phrasing," Cassandra said, lips twitching in a smirk.

Sean rolled his exotic turquoise and jade eyes in exasperation. "Yes, yes, they found the back door and all that. But seriously, they penetrated the security on my gaming rig and the PC I use for most online stuff. And it wasn't just a hack. Whoever they were, they were like me." Sean nodded his head at his friends. "Like us, and like Not-Dylan, too, I presume. They could do at least some of what I can do."

Sean's pink, cupid-bow lips quirked in a half-grin, as each person's phone at the table dinged with a text message simultaneously. // LIKE THIS //

"My visitor works for a different faction than Mr. Black, I think," Sean continued, glancing at the time on his phone to see how much time they had left before the bell rang for first period. "Don't know enough if they and Not-Dylan are working together, or if they are working at odds with Mr. Black. But I did manage to track them down to their... lair, I suppose."

Sean's lips tightened into a thin line. Even after learning about Dr. Cook's involvement, after finding evidence on his own, it still felt like a betrayal.

"I followed my intruder to a node somewhere at the Marias Medical Center. I haven't seen digital security like this anywhere before, never even heard of anything like it except in science fiction or Shadowrun." He pursed his lips for a moment, then gave his head a shake. "Actually, I did see something like this before. When I was tracking now my visitor all matrix style - I'll try to explain later, if you guys want to know - I found a similar digital fortress at Bulwark Air Force Base. A para-rescue training center shouldn't have that sort of protection. Nor should a Medical center, no matter how serious HIPAA violations are."

"Were you able to circumvent their defences?" Jase asked, gold-flecked green eyes calm and direct, adding what Sean was saying to everything else revealed so far.

"Are you nuts?" Sean hissed. "I wasn't about to try to enter a dragon's den, when I wasn't expecting a dragon or a lair in the first place or having a clue what's on the other side. Especially not from my personal network connection. I gotta make a plan first."

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Posted (edited)

Tuesday Morning - Breakfast

"When you make the plan let me know. You'll need someone watching your back physically."  Jason stated as though reminding the effeminate boy to check his brake lights.  Sean met his friend's gaze and nodded without a word, taking another sip of his coffee to cover any faint uneasiness at the prospect of violence, an uneasiness he was certain everyone shared... except his oldest friend.

"Well, the location matches with everything else we know."  Cassandra muttered.  "We need to follow-up with Clara and the others about their talk with Eddy though."  The bell rang, signifying the end of breakfast and the beginning of the school day proper, and the blonde teen sighed.  "I'll see if I can do that before lunch.  And guys - no more keeping secrets about mysterious encounters.  We can't afford to be blind as a group."  She glanced at Bannon as she said this, her meaning clear, and to the surprise of at least some of those present the lean youth nodded silent acquiescence as he got to his feet, tray in hand.

"See you all at Chemistry." He smiled faintly and went to dispose of his dirty plate.

======================

Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

"Sean."  Ms Kyleson waved over the curvaceous redhead as he entered the classroom.  The counselor was standing by Ms Lafferty's desk, obviously waiting whilst conversing with the Chemistry teacher, her friendly face lighting in a smile as she spotted him.  She liked Sean - the boy was polite and fundamentally decent, bearing more than his share of burdens in her mind.  As he went over, his vivid gaze curious, Sean was momentarily distracted by the sight of Marissa - at her usual favored position of front of class - sharing her lab bench and flirting with... Cade?  He stared for a moment but Felicity Kyleson brought his attention back with a "Sean?" causing him to blink and refocus.  Right.  Counselor wanted a word.

As the other members of the Fellowship filtered in, each with their own reactions to the unexpected pairing at the front of the class, Ms Kyleson introduced Sean to the person she wanted him to meet.  "Sean, this is Kat.  She's just moved to our school from France - her father's in the Army.  I was wondering if you'd mind acting as her local guide until she finds her feet?  Kat, this is Sean, the boy I told you about."  The two redheads stared at each other for a moment - one slim and boyish, the other's curves apparent.

"A reminder: people are supposed to pick semester lab partners today."  Ms Lafferty, a short distance away, raised her voice above the bustle to address the rapidly filling room.  "I see some of you already have.  Like I said on Thursday, though, I reserve the right to break up any partnerships that turn out to be more about flirting and gossiping than science"  She raised a forestalling hand against the few murmurs of protest and scattered laughter. "That kind of chemistry you can explore in your own time.  In this class you're on my time."  she added with a good-natured smile.

Jason paused for a moment as he spotted Marissa sitting with Cade, eyes narrowing and his head tilting faintly to one side as though curious.  He moved to a vacant lab table and set his books down, pondering as he sat, somewhat puzzled.  Marissa had said last week that she wanted to be his lab partner, and was now plainly of a different mind.  He turned his unblinking gaze on the two of them, his expression intent as though viewing a strange compound interaction under a microscope.  What was this strangeness?  She appeared to be flirting, playfully, with Cade.  Someone who he was pretty sure she never even noticed before.  But then, maybe he'd misread signs, or missed them altogether.  Such was a common thing for him, after all.

He didn't fidget or frown, merely stared at the unexpected, yet attractive couple , his brain racing to connect the patterns.  Was this why Marissa hadn't reciprocated?  She'd had a thing for Cade - but he'd been taken by Coraline before Mari could move in.  And now, with Cora gone, Marissa had been emboldened to approach the tall athlete, perhaps spurred by what Jason had done the night before.  It made sense - Cade was stable, safe, conventionally handsome and popular in an understated way.  He was everything Jason was not, and despite her flirting with him the night before, perhaps under the bravado that was what Marissa had decided she needed.

Of course, such detached reason - whilst a good shackle for emotions - was not a good balm for them.  Jason was no less puzzled now than he had been last night, and whilst he didn't experience rejection in the same keen, acutely painful way others did, he was having trouble reconciling everything he'd seen and experienced of Marissa with... this.  His hypothesis followed no discernible pattern, that was the trouble: Marissa was not one to let the presence of another female get in her way if she wanted something - or someone.  And he was positive: she'd scarcely even referred to Cade or spared him a second glance before now.  His brow furrowed a little over his pale icy stare in an otherwise blank, expressionless face as he watched the two of them a few moments more, then turned his gaze away and inwards, sitting quietly as he waited alone at his lab bench.

Edited by Bannon

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Posted (edited)

Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

9 hours ago, Bannon said:

Ms Kyleson introduced Sean to the person she wanted him to meet.  "Sean, this is Kat.  She's just moved to our school from France - her father's in the Army.  I was wondering if you'd mind acting as her local guide until she finds her feet?  Kat, this is Sean, the boy I told you about."

"Of course, Ms. Kyleson, I can do that," Sean said with a nod, lips curving in a tight half-grin. He couldn't help but still feel somewhat awkward when someone else revealed the dichotomy between his appearance and his gender before he could.

Sean turned his attention back to the new student. He'd noted her arrival of course, but now gave her a more curious once-over. The girl was tiny. Despite the claims of his friends, Sean wasn't precisely short - in his mind - more modest of height for someone of the feminine phenotype, he just happened to have friends who were generally taller than average. But he had several inches on Kat. He hadn't been that short and boyishly slim since he was ten.

She was definitely cute, though.

For Kat's part, Sean wasn't at all what she was expecting the boy who was to be her guide at Shelly High to look like. Save for the lack of makeup and muted, tomboyish outfit, he had the fine features and dramatic figure any instagram pin-up model would envy. And a voice to match, a sweet and melodious mezzo-soprano with just the hint of a velvety rasp to make it interesting. Another redhead, though with golden highlights, hair left longer on top and swept to the side, shaved in an undercut on the sides and back.

"Bonjour, Kat," Sean greeted the newcomer, his pronunciation was quite good, even if the accent was a bit exaggerated. He grinned ruefully, skipping over what he presumed her first question was going to be to answer another. "Sorry, besides that, 'bonne nuit', 'oui', 'non', and 'pamplemousse,' is practically all the French I know. But it would be my pleasure to show you around school, Kat, and get you caught up with the place."

Sean nodded towards a pair of open seats towards the middle and side of the class room. "At least finding a Chem partner is already done."

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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Cassandra went to Jason's desk and hauled one that had been left empty by questing students over alongside it.

"Hey," she chirped as she took the seat. "You don't mind do you? I figure we'll be a good team. You're better at staying focused, and I have...pluck. You lack pluck, sir."

Out of instinct more than conscious noticing, Cass followed where Jason's gaze had been trained across the room to where Marissa was flirting with Cade. She lifted an eyebrow at that.

"Huh." Her reaction was rather matter of fact, as if not completely surprised to see it. She then looked back at Jason. "Anyway, remind me to tell you about the cat sometime when there's time."

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As Kat's was peering at each new face entering the class, her attention had been brought back to the rather pretty girl the Counselor just had called... Sean ? Although she was familiar with a couple syndromes affecting the human phenotype, having read the correct books, it was her first time seeing a person such as her local guide, and she simply stood there dazed at the sight, absentmindedly listening to the boy. Surgery at this age ? She didn't think it was that. It had to do with her - his genes, but she could not quite put a name on it. Not remembering it was almost teasing. Once she'd got back home, she had to open those books her mother had offered her last Christmas. The answer would probably lie in there. Wait, no, she could still ask him ! But how could she bring the subject without being clumsy ?

While her brains slowly grasped the concept, she came to realize a couple seconds of awkward silence had passed, a faint blush shading her pale cheeks. "Truly wonderful..." She muttered for herself, out of sheer amazement. Her eyes rose to meet Sean's, and another short moment passed. She had never seen such eyes before, and as she spoke, she could not help but stutter. "H... Hi, I... guess... wow, those eyes !" Contact lenses ? That would be a hell lot of trouble for a girl - a guy - it was so disturbing to think of him as male. Her last thought suddenly lost any interest and she mentally slapped herself. She had to focus on what was happening right now. School !

Most of the students had taken their seats already, except for a few - Kat suddenly felt like she wanted to rush into a dense crowd and disappear, and headed towards the desk Sean had pointed out, her head firmly tucked between her shoulders.

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"Pluck?"  Jason turned his gaze to the pretty blonde as she pulled up a chair.  His gaze was almost exactly the same shade as some of the curious jade icebergs Cassie remembered from a National Geographic article she'd read, and unblinking as he studied her.  The rest of his face was expressionless still, but the girl thought she detected a flash of something in the depths of his eyes that didn't seem hostile despite the eerie intensity which, she was coming to realise, was normal for him.  Finally one corner of his mouth quirked in a faint smile as he regarded her, which could mean anything but she chose to take as an encouraging sign.

"Pluck.  Totally.  It's okay though, not having pluck."  she forged onward.  "No shame to it.  You've got other stuff going for you.  Like... Umm..."  She hesitated for a moment as his eyebrow lifted a fraction in amused curiosity, then saw salvation come through the classroom door out of the corner of one eye.  She glanced quickly around and saw that, with the addition of the new girl paired with Sean, the class had an odd number of students now. "Hey, Autumn."  Cassie waved the freckled girl down even as she was regarding the dearth of empty bench spaces with some trepidation, indicating the bench she was sharing with Bannon.

Jason, following Cassie's glance, had noted the same thing and simply nodded at Autumn in silent agreement with the other girl's invitation.  He didn't mind sharing a bench with either of the two - they weren't likely to irritate him and, indeed, were welcome distractions.  He was also fairly sure Ms Lafferty would be cool with the idea - after all, he was unlikely to learn anything revelatory from the existing curriculum so he might as well assist friends who weren't so adept.  Also, Cassie had now twice mentioned a cat as though it were something significant.

Besides, he might not possess pluck, but he liked it as a quality... provided it didn't overstep into presumption.

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Cade's attention was primarily focused on Marissa, much as it probably would have been for anyone else.  When she focused her attention on you, it was only natural and veritably inescapable for you to reciprocate.    "Benchmates for the semester, sure, this will be fun."   He had to admit  she was mesmerizing, and he finally looked away, towards where he knew Sean normally sat, and Saw the new girl, Kat, seated with Sean.  "That duo looks like a perfect recipe for trouble."   He couldn't help but notice Cass sitting with Jason.    After finishing his sweep of the room he turned his gaze back to Marissa.  "Looks like this is going to be a very interesting class now."

Marissa, who hadn't missed Jason's expressionless stare and faintly furrowed brow, looked up and graced the tall athlete with a predatory smile.  "I'm sure."

Edited by GDP_ST

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Sean followed Kat to the desk, a natural sway to his shapely hips he no longer took pains to restrain in contrast to Kat's brisk, ducked-head swagger. A bemused grin tugged at his lips, his own fair cheeks colouring faintly. Sean was well acquainted with how men and women looked at him, both those who were aware of his condition and those who weren't. They varied, to be sure, but Kat's fleeting glances were different from nearly anyone else's he was familiar with.

Kat's gaze hadn't lingered on his most obvious attributes, and he'd seen her eyes widen at they met his own, and she made her stammered comment. He knew his eyes were weird - he might even say exotic - just a one of many genetic anomalies, but few commented on them when there were easier things to remark on. He felt a small thrill of pleasure race up his spine.

Sean took a seat next to Kat, his brows furrowing in puzzlement when he saw Cade and Marissa?! sitting next to each other, and seeming more than just tolerating each other's presence. He would have wondered about what the hell that was about, but kept his attention more on his petite charge. She still appeared to be embarrassed about voicing her - what Sean hoped were complimentary - thoughts.

His hand twitched, but he refrained from giving Kat's shoulder a comforting pat, finding it presumptuous with a girl he'd literally found out existed all of a minute ago. "Central heterochromia," Sean murmured, and when Kat looked up from the desk with a questioning tilt to her head, he add, "My eyes. They aren't contacts or anything, but genetic mosiacism, a mutation." His lips curled with wryness, and he nodded at Kat, or rather, at her hair. "Like the one we share, red hair, among others."

His hands curling into fists on his lap, Sean arched a brow at Kat, trying to affect a blasé calm he didn't fully feel. "Trust me, I get enough of the awks - awkwardness. If you want to ask about the others, feel free." Sean sighed, his eyes flicking away from Kat for a moment in reflection. "Few ever bother or want to know, when they can just assume and make wild exhortations of one sort or another."

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Kat waited for a moment, thinking on how to ask about it, then took a deep breath and bluntly went for it. "What kind of syndrome is it ? Ms Kyleson referred to you as a boy, but you clearly look female to me. I read about several kind of syndromes a while ago, but I can't really remember much. Just so you know, it feels really confusing. Last time something astonished me like that was when I caught two adults having sex on the backseat of a car, at the age of twelve... Don't ask me how..."

Sean blinked. His mouth opened, closed, opened, then closed again. He so wanted to ask. But Kat appeared to genuinely know about his condition.

"It's a genetic condition," Sean admitted, keeping his voice low so as not to distract others nearby. "It's called XX male syndrome or De La Chapelle syndrome. There are varieties to it, but basically, despite my chromosomes being XX, I appeared to be male in all respects."

He glanced down significantly, and he clearly wasn't referencing what was obstructing his vision. His lips turned down in a slight frown.

"I've always had girlish features, admittedly, but when puberty hit me early, lucky me, we found out I had a different unlikely condition that causes me to produce excessive estrogen. Puberty didn't go how anyone expected."

"I 'could' imagine..." She replied, actually picturing  a couple scenes in her head. What would have been her reaction had she been in the same situation ? She probably would have freaked out for a couple months... or years.

Not unlike Sean, his parents probably had a shock. His friends too, now that she thought about it. "Who are you hanging out with in this class ?"

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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Tuesday Morning - After Breakfast

The crowd in the cafeteria was rapidly thinning as Autumn scraped the sticky remnants of her breakfast into one of the large trash cans, but she hardly noticed. She kept thinking back to what Cassandra, Sean, and Bannon had revealed a few minutes before, that all of them had experienced some sort of unpleasant weirdness in the last couple of days, and it occurred to her that Jase's run-in with the man in black had happened the same afternoon she'd visited the farm- on top of everything else that had gone wrong that day. Maybe he was right. Maybe they were being tested... but why? And by whom? The sinister Mr. Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way himself? The otherwise unidentifiable "Dark"? Someone else?

...Maybe all of the above. It just seemed so freaking complicated. Almost everybody in their... group, or whatever, seemed to have a "dark man" story, going back to the night of the game; if the goal was to kill them, he'd definitely had the opportunity. Was it just that he lacked the means to do it, then? Probably not, she decided unhappily, based on what the others had described and her own gut feeling. She dropped her tray off on the counter, smiling distractedly at the attendant before heading toward Ms. Lafferty's classroom. It bothered her, to be so preoccupied with something so completely awful, but she just couldn't stop thinking about it. It wasn't like the trailer- that had been creepy, then terrifying, and then over. This seemed like just waiting, to her, letting someone else set the pace, and that was probably the part that frustrated her the most.

If he could get rid of them, then why hadn't he? They were just teenagers, so it was possible he didn't consider them worth the effort, or maybe-

"Hey, A-Rae. You... got a second?"

The redhead all but froze mid-step at the unexpected sound of the once-familiar voice- warm, resonant, and almost achingly comfortable given the grim nature of her thoughts, the aural equivalent of hot apple cider and a hug. She inhaled, counting to four, and nodded, exhaling past the uncomfortable tightness in her chest as she moved to the side of the hallway to let people pass. "Yeah, sure." It wasn't exactly the enthusiastic response he might have hoped for, but as far as she was concerned, he didn't exactly deserve one, either. Folding her arms, the restless young woman glanced down the hall toward the chemistry lab, then back up at the tall young man she would once have loudly proclaimed to be her best friend. "What's up, Jay?"

Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

Three things occurred to Autumn almost simultaneously as she walked into the classroom, face still flushed from her encounter in the hall. The first, and most prominent item of note, was that Marissa had apparently either lost her damned mind, or Cade had lost his. Either was a possibility at this point; she didn't think All-American corn-fed Cade Allister was a closet Chemistry prodigy, so it couldn't be to help her grades, and Mari had been pretty clear at the sleepover that she had no interest in dating, so what was her deal? That was definitely something she would ask later. And, honestly, the freckled redhead and the baseball star weren't exactly close, but she couldn't see a good reason for him to be flirting with Marissa, not when he had a girlfriend, and not when Devin was the type to go murder-hobo where his sister was concerned, and not when Jason Fucking Bannon was in love with the girl currently smiling up at him. Next, was the cute twelve-year old she'd never seen before following Sean to a bench- exactly how many Cassidy's were there?! And, finally, the fact that there was a new addition, and all the tables were occupied, meant she was SOL on a Chem partner, which she remembered at precisely that moment they were supposed to be picking today.

Oh, fuck me.

She was on the verge of just grabbing an empty chair and sitting by herself when she heard her name over the pre-class chatter, and turned to see Cass waving her over... to the table she was sharing with Jase, who just nodded. Autumn lifted her chin briefly in acknowledgement, a grateful smile on her lips as she headed over to join them, snagging a chair on the way. "Thanks," she offered by way of greeting to the chatty blonde as she took a seat in view of the board and got settled. Taking a moment to adjust her hair, twisting it into a knot and jabbing her spare pencil through it in lieu of a scrunchie, her wide, clear eyes flicked from Cass to Jason and back again. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," she quipped, grateful for the momentary distraction from the warmth in her face and the morning's events. It was going to be an interesting semester.

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"Well, it does seem to be the day for improbable romances," replied Cassandra with a chuckle, nodding towards where Marissa and Cade were canoodling.

"But no, I just need another girl over here to counterbalance Mr. Smoldereyes. This way when one of us tries to say something to him, and he just sits there staring, the other one of us can come to the rescue. It's perfect."

"So!"

She hauled her notebook out of her backpack and set it on the desktop.

"Chemistry. We can talk about that, or..." She dropped her voice. "...I can tell you about the talking cat that Cade and I saw the other day. Discuss."

Autumn stared blankly at Cassandra, unsure if she was trying to joke or what. "Talking cat?" she asked, giving Cass a chance to issue the punchline or retract the statement without being embarrassed.

Cassie nodded, her blue eyes twinkling merrily. "Cat that talks. I mean...it only said one word out loud, but it did some kind of mental thing too. Like telepathy. And it said a lot that way."

She looked at Jason and dropped her voice even more. "You know, I've been thinking about what you guys said at lunch. The thing where me seeing Dylan wasn't the Dark. You know, these experiments have been going on here for a long time. There must have been people before us that have abilities like ours. And you know what scientists do before experimenting on people?" She drummed her fingers on the desktop quickly. "Experiment on animals."

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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Tuesday Morning - Somewhere Under Marias Medical Center.

"..did she just say..?"  The surveillance operative looked at his watch-station partner.  Around the nerve center, other teams were keeping eyes and ears where possible on the various 'Persons of Interest' that the head of the Project had tagged.  Having so many of the gifted teens in one class had been a good opportunity, especially as the cafeteria hall had too much background noise to accurately hear what had been discussed over the french toast.  Skilled lip-readers were already working on the recorded video footage there, whilst the watch operations continued in real time.

"Sounded like it.  Telepathic cat."  The pair looked at each other, frowning, then one of them reached over and picked up a handset.

"Sir, we've just come across something anomalous and are not sure how to file it, but my gut tells me it's something the two Doctors are going to want to hear about.  I'm sending the footage over and will continue to monitor."  Hanging up, he turned to his console and began issuing some key commands.  His partner, the younger of the two, leaned over.

"Have we been experimenting on animals?"  The older man didn't look up from his work as he replied.

"Son, I've been here years and I've seen precisely dick to indicate that.  But then, I'd also seen dick to indicate human teleportation either."

"Maybe it's to do with the Argo team...  They did have that escape-"  The younger man shut his mouth as the older fixed him with a gimlet stare.

"If it is, you are better off never saying that word.  Focus on the kids and lets see what else they know that we don't."

========================

Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

Autumn's arrival was greeted with a slightly warmer smile, the corners of Jason's eyes crinkling a fraction as he watched her - to all intents and purposes the same way he watched everyone - with focused attentiveness to every nuance of her expression and manner.  Then Cassandra dropped her offhand remark about needing another girl present to offset his stare and the smile took on an crook of amusement as his gaze flickered back to her, an eyebrow lifting at his nickname.  Then Cassie mentioned the cat and the possibility of animal experiments, and Jason's expression smoothed out as he became distracted from 'peopling'.

"Cook has intimated several times that we weren't even supposed to develop gifts, that we were the control group."  Jason murmured thoughtfully, his gaze on some inner playback.  "He seemed nervous speaking to me - perhaps others have had gifts before us, but it's possible they never developed them so fast or so strongly."  He pondered for a moment.  "It seems like this project-"

"Proteus."  Cassie put in, murmuring likewise as she pretended to be sorting out the strap on her protective plastic goggles.  "That's what the overall project is called.  Sara revealed that last night after you stormed- um, made your exit."  Autumn listened quietly as she set out her own books, remembering how bitter Jason had seemed last night over that meeting, coming as it did along with everything else with his Monday.  Right now, however, he seemed calm.

"Proteus."  Jason rolled the word around slowly, then made a light snorting sound that might have been a repressed laugh.  "Interesting.  Okay, so what if Proteus think they're performing experiments, but are working from faulty theories.  Having so many of us not even be in the test subject group and yet develop such strong Shine indicates that they might not know what they are doing... like ancient Aztecs trying to make an aircraft fly by taking off the wings and then reattaching them so they flap like a bird, because to them 'flight' equals 'bird'."  He narrowed his pale eyes thoughtfully.  "Cook invited me to go and see him today after school.  I don't know if they'll let me look at anything useful, but it never hurts to ask.  What breed or type of cat was it?"

"Alright, everyone.  Page 23 of the textbook indicated the conditions under which chemical bonds can occur.  I know you all know this, because that was part of your reading and studying assignment.  Now we're going to move onto seeing it in practice."  Ms Lafferty called out.  Noting a few stifled groans and a couple of panicked looks, she added. "...in a few minutes.  So anyone that wants to briefly refresh their memory of the material which they conscientiously studied over the weekend can do so!"  Shaking her head slightly, she began sorting out and distributing some jars and beakers to each workbench as roughly half the class flipped their textbooks open to the relevant page.

Edited by GDP_ST

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Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

On 1/2/2020 at 10:36 PM, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

"I 'could' imagine..." She replied, actually picturing  a couple scenes in her head. What would have been her reaction had she been in the same situation ? She probably would have freaked out for a couple months... or years.

Not unlike Sean, his parents probably had a shock. His friends too, now that she thought about it. "Who are you hanging out with in this class ?"

Sean looked at Kat askance as he pulled out his textbook for appearances sake - he'd already read the entire thing - and slid it across the black-topped workbench to rest in from of Kat, in case she wanted to review the assigned reading herself. Idly, he began arranging the jars and beakers Ms. Lafferty placed in front of them.

Could Kat really imagine what he'd gone through? He certainly wouldn't call her masculine, but she was at least as boyish as he'd ever been until a swarm of boob fairies had paid him a visit. And while his early and excessive development often lead others to assume he was somewhat older than he was, Sean could well believe Kat garnered the opposite assumptions with her slight and short stature.

"Don't worry if you haven't had a chance to do the reading, Kat," Sean assured her, Kat catching just a hint of a shadow entering his vivid, multi-hued eyes. "I'll catch you up, and it's pretty easy anyway. As for who I hang out with? Mostly my D&D group... who actually mostly aren't in Chemistry this period."

He swivelled on the high stool and looked about class. He nodded at a very tall guy sitting at the front of the classroom next to a girl with glistening black hair that would shame anyone in a shampoo commercial. "There's Cade, he's a star on the school's baseball team." Sean gave a group on the other side of the classroom a small wave, two girls, another redhead and a blond, and a young man, who even at this distance, gave off a vibe of being... different. "The guy is Jase - Jason - probably my best friend. The girls aren't in the gaming group, but we've started hanging out lately... "

Sean trailed off. It wasn't like he could tell Kat the real reason, that they were psychic teens in between of a waking supernatural terror-entity and a government black project who were observing them, and played some role in their creation... possibly. Speaking of which, with the chatter dying down, Sean casually rubbed the back of his neck with a hand as he circumspectly glanced around class again, this time with his senses attuned to another frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum. He gave himself a small nod, confirming what he already more than suspected was there.

"My social circle has expanded this year," Sean finished obliquely, keeping his voice low and circumspectly trying to avoid giving the surveillance feeds a clear view of his lips. With a thought, he sent Cass a text, with the warning // Remember, Big Brother is Watching // followed by a simple diagram of the classroom. A rectangle, along with a couple of pizza slices indicating the likely field of view of the hidden cameras, and an arrow with the notation 'Front of Class'. "The redhead is Autumn, and the Blonde is Cass - Cassandra, intrepid reporter for the school paper. There's a couple of others not in Chem. The school's top athlete, an amazing musician, and a Drama nerd who's helping run the student production this year. It's a pretty eclectic band. I'm lucky to have them."

With the subtle upturn of Sean's lips, Kat could sense how grateful Sean was for his gaming group that straddled most of Shelly High's social circles, when he had so much deal with and endure growing up.

Elbow on the workbench, Sean propped his chin in the palm of a hand, waiting for class to really start. "What about you, Kat? Mrs. Kyleson said you were from France, but you speak English very well. Have you lived in the States before, or just visited a lot because of your dad?"

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She glanced at the people Sean named, mentally noting that the brown-haired young man he called Jason was Sean's close friend.

Kat opened the book Sean presented her with a "Yoink !" at page 23, and began reading it while answering Sean's question.

"I visited a lot, and my Dad taught me English from the youngest age, but let's be honest, shows, movies and video games are what improved my English. I still don't know shit about a lotta technical terms."

She closed the book. "All good. Any help for Chemistry, I'd appreciate. I was more into anatomy during the last two years, but I guess it couldn't hurt to learn how to make a bomb or something..."

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
messing things up as usual

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"Cook invited me to go and see him today after school.  I don't know if they'll let me look at anything useful, but it never hurts to ask.  What breed or type of cat was it?"

Cassandra shook her head as she performed 'study theater' of looking in her book.

"I don't know cat breeds other than 'floofy' and 'smooth.' We can look it up though. It definitely looked kind of...weird. Really big ears for a cat. And it was bigger than usual."

Then she looked up from the pages she wasn't really reading anyway.

"I want to go with you to see Cook. I've got questions for him. And also I want to see if I can get some kind of reading off of him."

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It was impossible for Autumn to both focus on the conversation Cass and Bannon were having and "review" the section she had totally already studied over the weekend in between all the other things that had happened. Fortunately, she was pretty sure Jase was gradually working his way through the entire catalog of the Library of Congress, and since they were just getting into the introductory chapter, it was probably fine. ...She hoped. The scuffed toes of her grey Chucks tapped arrhythmically on the floor. 

Maybe they weren't just waiting, after all.

"So," the redhead interjected quietly, chin resting on one hand as she stared at the space between two paragraphs. "I've never really been into the Sherlock Holmes stuff. I mean, it's interesting, and the movies were cool and all... I'm just-" Autumn paused, catching her lower lip between her teeth as her brow furrowed, and the faint, percussive sound of her shoes on the tile slowed. "If you guys are doing something, I want to help. Ever since last week, it's been like... Like things are happening to me, or around me," she continued, her tone underscored by a growing intensity despite the low volume, a frustration so vehement it was practically a vibration humming through her body. "I hate it, feeling like I'm just being carried along. And I'm tired of waiting for the next thing. If you can give me more info on the cat, my mom's a vet. I can try to find out what's up. If you need somebody to watch your back with Cook, say the word. Done deal. I just need to fucking do something, y'know?"

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Tuesday Morning - Lona and Devin

Marias Medical Center was never what you might call 'busy'.  A fair-sized installation with a lot more capacity than a town like Shelly needed under normal circumstances, the quality of the staff and the medical technology available there were, as the Fellowship had noted already, incongruous with the term "Medical Center".  In actuality, if not on paper, the place was better described as a small, cutting-edge hospital - the sort of place that a VIP or head of state might, if they were so inclined, receive the very best in clinical care away from the bright lights and media attention.

The grounds around it were scenic, with planted trees and maintained gardens through which paths meandered.  In a small copse of these trees on the west side of the Center, a sound disturbed the small birds and creatures that made their homes there.

Fwoop.

Lona blinked to clear her head of the slight disorientation as she took stock of where they were, then smiled up at Devin who was likewise looking around.  "Thanks."  she gave him a kiss on the cheek and, before she could have second thoughts, turned to head towards the medical center.  Devin gently grabbed her hand.

"Wait up." he said quietly, his gaze intent on hers as she looked back at  him.  "You sure you want to do this?"

"Yeah."  Lona said without hesitating.  "The guy's slime, and Jason hurting him isn't my fault but...  It kinda is at the same time.  Marissa was right about one thing - I should have gone right to the cops before Jase even got to hear about it.  I should have realised what he would do when he heard about it: it's not like I didn't know he was..."

"Crazy?"  Devin supplied helpfully.  Lona frowned slightly, leaning against his comforting solidity.

"Not crazy.  I can tell when someone's unstable, not working the way they're meant to, and he isn't.  He's just... uncompromising  when certain things happen.  Like a snake will bite you if you fuck with it, and won't care that other people might get upset.  Only he's smart enough to figure out a way to bite without it leading back to him."  She sighed.  "Honestly, I'm not sure if I can really understand how he thinks.  He's kind of sweet when there's nothing bad happening, when it's just him and you're talking about music or movies or Sean's DnD game.  You know, normal shit?  And then every now and then there'll be a little reminder he's not normal, like last Thursday when Clara and me were hiding out with him, and I was rattled but he was this calm reassuring presence, and then out of the blue he asked me what it was like to be afraid."

"So... you're saying he's crazy.  Cos if you could understand how he thinks, you'd be crazy too."  Devin grinned.  Lona elbowed him gently.  "Ouch.  No, look. I get it.  You feel that if you'd done things different, then Jase wouldn't have gone all Carrie on Liam.  Gotcha."  He squinted past her at the Center.  "But you're not going to be able to just walk into the ICU, babe.  Lemme help you."

"I don't want to get you in trouble."  Lona turned big brown eyes up to Devin's face.  "This is my mess."

"Our mess."  Devin stated more firmly.  "Not just because you're letting me hide the salami, either-"

"Eww!"  Lona elbowed him again, laughing as she blushed.  "Don't be gross!"

"-but because, at the end of it all, Jase is one of us.  You're one of us.  You'd help me clean up my mess, and I know Psycho Boy would help me out with anything up to and including murder and body disposal if I was really set on it.  Jase went too far, and the fact he can't see it that way is why we have to step up as his friends."  He gave her a lopsided smile.  "That, and you're letting me wash my winky in your sinky."

"You are so utterly disgusting."  Lona smiled, giving him a kiss.  "So what's the plan?"

"I'll zap us into a bathroom down the hall from the ICU."  Devin suggested.  "That way you don't have to run the gauntlet and we can be in and out quickly."

"Wait-"  Lona started, but Devin had already swept her into his arms and / fwoop / they materialised in the bathroom which, mercifully was vacant.

"-what if someone was using it."  Lona finished belatedly, glowering at her boyfriend, who shrugged.

"Didn't think of that." he said without any sign of abashedness.  He cracked the door and peered out into the hallway.  "No-one outside the ICU.  But there's a chair there with a paper and a coffee cup beside it.  Bet some deputy is keeping an eye on the place in case Liam wakes up.  He's prolly trying to wrangle donuts out of the soda machine or something."

"Then we better be quick."  Lona said firmly.  The two teens slipped out into the hallway and walked quickly to the ICU ward, where the sole patient currently using the facilities lay in a bed.  Lona paused, vaguely sickened by the sight of someone she knew, even if he was a sleazebag, laying there with casts on both arms, his torso and one leg, the parts of his face visible around the tubes in his mouth and nose horrifically cut and bruised, stitches and staples criss-crossing the skin.

"Fuuuuck."  Devin hissed as he likewise paused, his lips tightening.  "It looks like he was in a car wreck."

"Yes."  Lona heard herself say as if from far away.  She felt faint.  To hear about it was not to see it.  And to see it, and realise that someone she'd sat across from and played games with for months had done... this with about as much hesitation as she might feel about swatting a mosquito and probably less guilt.  That vague sense of guilt came back as she remembered Marissa's words. "You fed him to Jason, Lona.  Not a judgment, just a fact."  Well, that's why she was here.  To fix that.  She firmed her own expression and moved forwards.  "Pull the curtains around the bed.  They'll think someone's giving him a sponge-bath or something."  There was a chart there, but she ignored it.  Her gift, her Shine, would tell her what she needed to know here.  As Devin pulled the blue hospital curtains around the bed, Lona laid a hand on Liam's plaster-crusted arm and closed her eyes.

So much damage.  The impressions came back to her as if she was forensically re-constructing the beating.  She could read each bruise, each fracture and break and hemorrhage as it happened, as it had been inflicted, and the realisation came to her that whilst it was undoubtedly an expression of rage on Jason's part, the beating had nevertheless been as coldly scientific as a vivisection.  He'd wanted Liam conscious until the end.  He'd wanted Liam to hurt for daring to harm someone Jason considered his friend.

You fed him to Jason.

"You should have left town, you stupid fucker." she murmured.  And I should have gone straight to the sheriff and had Cade and Lilly knock Jase down and sit on him until we could talk sense into him.  She sighed, settling her inner turmoil, and reached into Liam's body with her gift, feeling the life within him very weak, very faint, a flicker of embers left behind.  She fed that spark first, strengthening his heart and organs.  He'd lost a kidney in the attack, but a man could live without a kidney.  She considered regrowing it, but this stunt was going to raise enough eyebrows as it was without the patient also spontaneously regenerating missing organs.  Her subquantum awareness moved through Liam's broken body, speeding the mending of fractures, focusing on the rib cage and spine.  She wasn't trying to make him factory-floor new, just kickstart him so he could get on with recovering back to at least some semblance of normal life.  He would need physio, his shoulder might ache in cold weather, he'd have to be careful about drinking, but he'd be able to walk, run, and live normally.  A second chance.  Don't fuck this one up. she mentally exhorted him as she turned the attention of her Shine, finally, to Liam's brain.

It wasn't too badly damaged.  Bruised, a little swollen.  It was the damage to Liam as a whole which had kept him unconscious, the brain shutting down to conserve energy and devote the body's reserves to healing.  Lona sighed in relief as, with a light touch, she reduced the swelling and bruising and felt Liam stir as the pain of his injuries started to affect his sleeping mind.  He was going to wake up crying in pain, afraid and confused.  But he was going to wake up, and he would live a relatively normal life, and Lona felt that was all she really owed him.  Drained, she stepped away from the bed and into Devin's hug, her arms going around his waist and burying her face in his chest.

"Let's go."  she whispered as the monitors behind them began to beep and chime various alarms that something had changed.  When the duty nurse came hurrying in and drew back the curtains, she was puzzled to find no-one there... and the patient beginning to open their eyes.

======================

"Well, that was interesting."  Doctor Cook sat back as the screen he was watching showed more nurses and a doctor come into the ICU.  "I didn't know that such a thing was even possible, did you?" 

"No."  Came the dry voice over the speaker.  "There seems to be a lot we don't know about the limits of psionic gifts.  The Jauntsen boy's teleportation was one such surprise.  The Bannon boy's level of psychokinetic ability is also beyond what we've experienced before.  And now some manner of psionic healing touch.  We're barely scratching the surface here, and these kids were in the control group.  None of these three were part of the experiment.  How did this happen, doctor?"

"I don't know."  Cook frowned.  "Something must be wrong with the central thesis."

"Impossible." the dry voice snapped.  "We spent decades working on this.  We need to investigate, thoroughly. You will work to contain any fallout from the young man's awakening?"  It wasn't quite a question.

"Yes, Doctor."  Cook nodded, getting to his feet and heading for the door.

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14 hours ago, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

"I visited a lot, and my Dad taught me English from the youngest age, but let's be honest, shows, movies and video games are what improved my English. I still don't know shit about a lotta technical terms."

Sean chuckled in wry amusement, his golden-red hair swaying as he shook his head. "Shows, movies, and video games is how I learned most of my Japanese."

His brows rose in surprise at how soon it was Kat closed the textbook. She'd read the chapter as fast he could - there weren't that many who could. Huh.

"I'm more of a tech and programming guy, but sure, I can help you with Chemistry. But if you want to get your Unabomber on..." Sean jerked a surreptitious thumb towards his fellow Fellowshippers, his lips curving sardonically. "... you should talk to Jase." Sean turned to face Kat directly, lowering his voice even more, recalling an early talk about bomb threats. "Um, you aren't serious about bomb making, right?"

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Tuesday Morning - Chemistry

30 minutes ago, Sean Cassidy said:

"Um, you aren't serious about bomb making, right?"

Kat looked Sean with a small grin on her face, repressing a giggle.  "Not seriously serious, like 'I want to blow up a place' serious, no.  I just think it'd be interesting to know how.  So Jase, huh?"  Sean relaxed a touch, rolling his eyes a little and nodding whilst placing a finger to his curved lips in a conspiratorial fashion.

"Probably.  If there's a kid in the school that should be on a Federal watch list it's him."  he said half-jokingly, privately musing that most if not all of the Fellowship would be on such a list - not necessarily due to inclination to cause mayhem but due to capacity for said mayhem were they to become so inclined.  "I'll introduce you at lunch if we get a chance."  Part of him wanted to forewarn Kat a little, the way he'd forewarned new members of the gaming group, about Jase's... peculiarity.  But it wasn't as simple as saying 'He's a bit odd but he's harmless' anymore, was it?  Because he really wasn't, and that knowledge changed everything.

Meanwhile, unaware of the conversation between the two smallest redheads in the class, Jason and Cassie both regarded Autumn in the wake of her offer to become more actively involved.  Aware of their scrutiny, she glanced up at them, smiling a little in response to Cassandra's little nod of acknowledgement before meeting the Effing Bannon's eyes.  Last night's long talk and their interaction had made his intent way of studying a person less creepy to her,  but the unblinking, unwavering gaze was still a bit daunting, in addition to making her face feel unaccountably warm.  She didn't look away, though, and was rewarded with seeing a smile that reached his eyes and a nod.

"Welcome aboard, then."  Cassandra murmured with a grin at Autumn.  "As for the cat, it found us once - me and Cade I mean - so I'll keep an eye open.  It's smart, it knows we come here, so it'll be back if it wants to be."

"What are they talking about, do you think?"  Marissa asked Cade, her narrowed gaze drawing the tall athlete's attention to the trio at the bench across the classroom.  He glanced over, then back at Marissa, who was tapping the end of her pen on the workbench softly as she stared a moment longer, then went back to skimming the relevant textbook page.

"Cassie might be telling them about what we ran into yesterday."  he murmured.  "A weird cat, and the Man in Black too."  He briefly filled Marissa in on the strangeness of his and Cassandra's after-school activities, which at least distracted her from side-eyeing the two girls sharing a bench with Jason Bannon.

"Alright, you've had enough time now to refresh what you should already know."  Caroline Lafferty said from the front of the classroom, cutting short various conversations both casual and otherwise.  "So who can tell me the three main types of chemical bond?"

===========================

Tuesday Lunchtime - The Halls

The fourth period bell rang, releasing the students from their durance-vile and flooding the halls with chaos as they exited the classrooms.  Some headed for the lockers, others for the cafeteria, still others stood around in tiny clumps talking excitedly about their upcoming plans for Labor Day weekend.

Sean and Kat threaded through the throng, making for the cafeteria.  It was a nice day outside, the lingering Montana summer not yet fully given over to Fall, and Sean was considering grabbing lunch with his new friend and headed out to the bleachers where, he was reasonably certain, there wouldn't be any listening devices.  With Kat present it was unlikely the Fellowship would be discussing much of note, but it was a nice day, anyway.

Cassie hustled towards the newspaper office - she had to turn in her draft for the Friday night game article and didn't need Leila snarking at her for missing a deadline.  She was going to get that copy filed, then head out to see if the cat was perhaps around looking for her or Cade.

Jason had sat alone in Lit., Marissa pointedly not sitting next to him as she had last Thursday and instead sitting next to Cade.  Her behaviour was still puzzling him, but he was more intent on the riddles of the mysterious Proteus and what the Man In Black might want with the Fellowship.  Devin and Lona had also been in the class, but likewise didn't seem to be in any current hurry to talk to him.  All very curious, but probably irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.  Perhaps Devin and Lona were simply wrapped up in each other the way he'd read new couples could be?  And the same went for Marissa and Cade, too, of course.

Now he made his way to his locker and opened it up, dumping his books inside and taking out a cooler-bag from the bottom shelf.  He'd packed his own lunch today - the cafeteria was fine, usually, but he was more of a mind to eat out by the bleachers, away from the bustle and noise of the cafeteria.  A flash of red-gold hair and a red hoodie caught his eye and he spotted Autumn, likewise dropping off her books several meters away, the two teens exchanging a nod and smile as they each shut their lockers.

Cade found Marissa waiting for him as he came out of Math, and after a peck on the cheek and a hug of greeting like they hadn't just spent most of the morning sitting next to each other the Mantis fell into step alongside him as they, too, made their way to the cafeteria.

Lunch was in the air!

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