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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode V - Rainbow Weave

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"Cody."  Jason spoke up from his seat, gesturing with his soda can in acknowledgement of Autumn's words.  Ordinarily he would stand, but right now he felt sore and tired.  "The Man In Black said we had to find Cody Sikes."

"The who to the what now?"  Kat spoke up.  "This is what you guys were talking about when Sean and I arrived, isn't it?"

"But isn't the Man In Black part of the Dark?"  Cassie interjected, brow furrowing in confusion.

"Apparently not.  At least, when he visited me right before Cade and Marissa arrived he said he wasn't."  Jase shrugged stiffly.  "He said, and I quote, that he didn't want any of us hurt by the Dark 'any more than I'd want to go around my garden tearing up flowers'."

"Jesus.  That guy was visiting you right down the hall from us.  What else did he say?"  Autumn asked, one eye on the door.  Jason focused for a moment, then spoke with the Man in Black's cadence.  It wasn't a perfect mimicry, merely a replay of what he'd heard.

"The Dark hates those who Shine, boy.  It's in the name.  I know you've spotted the pattern in the killings over the decades and centuries here.  Every generation or so, right?  Just enough time to harvest those with Shine or the potential for it.  See, you and your buddies are food to the Dark, and flowers to me.  I want to see you guys win."  The pale-eyed youth then looked at the others.  "Then I asked him to tell me about the Dark, and he said: "Can't do that, kiddo.  Can't just give you everything, or you won't grow.  But you children need to find Cody.  And don't let the Dark kill you!  It's not just death it wants to eat, it's Shine."  Jase smiled wryly.  "He also ate my mutton casserole I'd brought for lunch.  I was hoping to eat that when I felt better."

He paused, thinking for a second.  "If Mr Black is an agent of the Dark then he had me dead to rights, and could have killed me there, then ambushed you all.  He's had opportunities to harm us, and hasn't done so.  I'm not saying I trust everything he's saying, but I have to ask what benefit he gains by lying about this.  I think if the Dark has a physical agent, it's Cody."  He glanced at them all.  "The cycle of death - Mr Black knew about what we found out through research.  It makes sense - if there's something here that encourages Shine, that explains why once a generation or so there's a harvest of those with unusually high levels."

"Okay, what's Shine?"  asked Kat.

"The Force." Jason said with a small smile.  "Technically everything that lives gives off a faint amount of it.  In most of us here, it seems to be stronger somehow, focused.  It's how we do what we do.  If you want to get scientific - the current theory myself and Sean have worked out is that it seems to be the Grand Unifying Principle, a sub-quantum layer of reality that binds everything together.  It explains how Devin can warp through space without turning into spaghetti from the gravity distortion that would entail if he did it on the quantum layer.  It explains how Cassie can see into the past as well as the present and future - time wouldn't exist the same way there - it'd be just another direction."  He looked at Kat, then Sophia.  "You, Kat, have the Shine.  Sophia does not.  There's a sensory aspect to it that some of us can use - we can feel others when they're close.  Cassie can feel them at much higher distances."  Sophia frowned at the lean, bruised youth, plainly unhappy - though whether with the diagnosis of being normal or the source of the diagnosis was hard to tell.

"As for the Dark - what Devin said, mostly.  It seems to be some parasitic force local to Shelly.  Every twenty-seven years it wakes up and causes a rash of murders and disappearances.  We're currently halfway through year twenty-six of the current cycle.  We've observed that it can amplify negative personality traits in normal people - cause boys harassing a girl to move to rape her, or cause an argument over household bills to turn into a beating, or a misunderstanding to become a brawl.  It seems to be a corrupting parasite - it has to work through proxies."  Jason frowned in thought.  "Which explains why Cody is probably still alive and we need to find him.  He was always a bit of a slimeball - someone like that is an ideal champion for the Dark.  If it needs eyes and ears, then that could well be what its using Cody for."

"Okay." Sean nodded.  "So far, it makes sense.  So do you think Cody is where Cassie felt that knot, the - what did you call it Marissa?"

"The taproot."  The prettier, smarter Jauntsen said as she sat back down by Cade, leaning a little against him.

"Taproot, right."  Sean nodded again.  "Is Cody there?"

"It's probably the best place to start looking."  Cassie tugged at her lower lip thoughtfully.  "When we're ready to, that is.  That place feels dangerous to me."

"Readiness.  Yes." Jason half-closed his eyes, leaning back into the couch seat.  "Those of us with psionic gifts have practiced tuning to each other.  Devin wasn't there, neither was Kat.  It doesn't seem to be inherently dangerous, though it is intimate.  You become very aware of the other persons in the link - not like mind reading, just a sense of their aura, if you will."  He opened his eyes, looking at Devin and Kat.  "The way it works is simple enough - one person acts as a... lens, I suppose, and the others in the link focus their power into the lens.  They can move Shine from themselves into the lens, allowing them to use their powers more, and the lens also gets a buff depending on who else is in the link.  In our tests, we found that Cassie can amplify range, Charlie boosts the signal of the lens-person's powers, Autumn and Lona could increase the effectiveness of the lens against living creatures, and so on.  There's likely other effects to discover, but we can do that later.  Devin's effect on a link would be interesting to categorise, for instance."

"Right now, though, we need to focus on dealing with the Project. Thanks to Sean, they don't know what we've been talking about.  So we talk a little, and let them talk a lot: see what they have to say, see how they are approaching us.  That will tell us how smart they are, or whether they are letting their sense of importance and authority do the thinking."  Jason paused, his eyes sweeping the group.  "We don't tolerate threats or intimidation, though.  We need to establish from the outset that we will not be pushed around - if they indeed try to do so.  As for Marissa's concerns about Devin...  I think we can count on Devin being naturally contrary-"

"Hey!  I am not!"  The teleporter objected with a grin.  Jason arched a brow at that, spreading his hands wide in a 'there you are' gesture that caused a few chuckles at the interplay.

"-And indeed, if the Project are trying to keep up with his antics it means they will pay less attention to the rest of us 'good kids' by comparison."

"Cool."  Devin said, glancing at his phone once more.  "So what do I do?  Just keep being me?"

"As easy as that, yes."  Jason smiled at his friend.  "Frustrate and infuriate.  Be by turns difficult and impossible.  Make them work a little."

"The major, Taggart?  He seemed reasonable."  Autumn said after taking another swallow of water.  "A hard-ass, but not a bully.  We might be able to work with him rather than treat him as an enemy."  Cassie nodded agreement.

"Yeah." the blonde seer spoke up.  "He listened when we warned him about the creatures, and I got the impression he doesn't altogether respect Doctor Cook."  Jason nodded at that, eyes closing once more.

"Let's hope we're dealing with reasonable people then."  he said.  "Charlie, Sean.  I don't know how much more time we've got right now, but this is a good time to bring Sophia and Kat up to speed - give them the 'story so far'.  Fill in the gaps so they're not constantly scratching their heads and saying 'what?' when we're talking about something."  He opened the bag of chips on his lap and slowly started to eat them, favoring the unbruised side of his mouth when chewing.

Edited by GDP_ST
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"That's a wonderful idea AyKay," it seemed that Autumn had earned herself the initialed title that that siblings seemed to share.  Her brother looked to Autumn and then to his sister before frowning acceptance and nodding as if to say 'AyKay it is'.  Apparently having one's name abbreviated to only initials was a phase of acceptance for the twins.  It definitely seemed a 'California thing' though.  "But we've had a million plans before and done nothing with any of them."

"Aykay?"  Autumn asked.

"Would you prefer 'Ack'?"  Marissa mused as she stood up.  She needed to stretch her legs and move a bit as her 'boyfriend' seemed to be lost in his own thoughts for a bit.  Seemed fair enough though, a lot was going on and everyone processed things in their own way.  She smoothed her jeans took a moment to groom her perfectly styled hair in her reflection on the glass of a picture hanging behind where her and Cade were sitting.  "I'm not saying I don't agree with you, Autumn," she said before turning around after she was content with her preening.  "I'm just saying, to everyone: when are we going to stop having ideas and start acting on them?  We're fumbling here, people.  Autumn is right.  Do we even really know what this things is or are all of us just happy to wrapped up in some bigger than life adventure?"

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"There's a lot going on," Cass said. "Autumn and me, for example, got down into the lower level of the medical center." She sighed. "Unfortunately, the minute we did, there was the Darksplosion, and everything went to shit. But the elevator...is in Cook's office. And we did find some stuff there."

She leaned back in her chair to look up at the ceiling.

"I don't know what to make of most of it, but maybe Jase or Sean will. First things first though, we hafta get out of here before we do anything. Then I think we have to start learning to combine our powers so we can head to the Town Hall. There's other stuff I want to do too, like investigate the prison and find out what the hell they did here that caused the Darksplosion, but those are like..." Cassie paused thoughtfully. "...like side quests, you know? Getting ready to go to the Tree is the main plan."

"I think we should get started on that right away. Like tonight even."

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"You went down there?  Alone?"  Devin suddenly became a mixture of visibly concerned and obviously irritated.  "Jesus Christ, you two, what the hell were you thinking?"

"Uh, we were thinking we didn't need to ask permission from you."  Cass snapped back, getting a little defensive at his tone towards them.

"You guys don't..." he paced back and forth, his arms tensing as he tried not to explode with all the thought in his mind.  "You just don't get it... do you?  I've seen the ones that haven't come through yet.  I was pulled from this realm into theirs.  If it can do it to me, who says it can't do it to any of you?"  His expression was one of absolute worry, of fear.  They didn't understand, they couldn't understand.  They'd never been hunted by something like he was.  Weaponless, powerless, and running until their legs burned like acid and their lungs gasped at only dust and dryness.

"Stop running off and not telling people.  How can I come get you if I don't know where you are?"  He asked, glaring at the two of them like an angry parent.  In a way he was.  None of them had ever been the victim before.  Bullied, maybe, but never were they ever so trapped in a situation where they'd considered a violent end to their of life as a means of escaping the terrors that chased them.  He made it sound awesome, but Devin didn't expect to survive that blast that the creature that day in the Land of Upside Down Thunder.  He was prepared to die to escape whatever horrors the beast might have in store for him.

"We don't need you coming to get us Devin,"  Autumn interjected before him and Cassandra got into a shouting match (which would not have been the first time).

"No?  You sure?"  He swiftly began undoing his pants, an act that suddenly left the whole room wondering what the hell had gotten into him.  He dropped his jeans exposing a very vibrant pair boxer briefs that depicted what appeared to be a two women making out where his junk was cradled.  Classic Devin.  Then he drew their attention to the vicious scar that spiraled up his leg and the 'X' like scar on his thigh where the creature's 'tongue' had bit into his flesh.  Lona had perfectly healed the damaged muscle tissue, but her skills were not quite on par enough to repair the skin as well.  Maybe with some more time and practice she'd told him, but for now it served as a humbling reminder that it wasn't a game they were playing.

"No, go on.  Look."  He urged them.  "Look at what those things do to people.  End up on this side of one Autumn and tell me you don't need someone coming for you."  He pulled up his pants and tightened his belt.  "I don't want you guys to go through what I had to," the frustration seemed to fade away as worry and concerned took its place in his voice.  "I don't do minds or shoot fire from my dick or heal lepers or choke out my sister from ten feet away.  I do one thing.  One thing and I do it well."

"Talk a lot?"  Cass asked.

Autumn looked at him with confused look.  "Be a jerk?"

"Download porn?"  Marissa chimed up.

Devin sighed, shaking head.  "Those are all facets of my many talents... but I meant be there for you.  Guys, I don't want you to endure what I had to.  I was never so alone in my life.  Please.  Please stop running off and taking risks without letting me know.  I can't help you if I can't find you."  It was obvious from the sheen of sweat forming on his brow that his time spent alone in the Upside Down Thunder had messed him up pretty bad.  "Stop running off."

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The actual kiss still surprised him, though it only showed in a slight narrowing of his eyes.   He opened her soda for her, lest she break a nail, and thought, Damn, she's already got me trained.  The thought made him smile just a little, before he opened his own chips and drink, settling in to eat.  It had been an eventful day, and the truth was, he was actually hungry.

Cass' revelation drew his attention, but he remained silent, as the others were quick to take up the banner of the conversation.  When Sean "All-starred" the ones they all knew were watching them, he chuckled.   "C'mon, talk about working together, then ya do that to them?  That's not gonna foster any sort of goodwill or belief that we're more than kids with weird abilities."   He was still smiling.  "Funny thought, so full marks for that."

Devin's next comment summed up his own concerns regarding Cook and his bunch, with Marissa's rebuttal echoing the counterpoint to it he'd been about to voice.  "It's eerie how you're saying what I'm thinking."   

When Jason finally entered the conversation, he offered perhaps the most clear and logical course of action going forward, and Cade found himself nodding.   He'd been about to speak, but remained silent as Autumn, Cass, and Devin went back and forth.  He'd seen the actual wound, but not the scar, it was a good thing they'd killed the monster before it could do more.  Finally after Devin pulled his pants back up he found his chance.  

He looked to Marissa and gave her a knowing smile.  "I say let Devin be Devin, he's going to anyway.   While Devin's being himself, distracting them with his awesomeness and driving them crazy, they'll be less likely to notice what the rest of us are doing.  He's going to do it anyway, so let nature take its course, and we'll all do what we can to get into a position where we can Take the Dark down for good, and take hold of the reigns of what Cook and his bunch are actually doing."

"They're going to want to run tests, and as we are all still teenagers, they'll have to go through our parents to get those done.   The more people who know about this, the harder it will be for them to keep anything secret.  There's enough of us that we can do different things, yet all be working together towards our goal.  Devin's right, we do need to work on our communication, something even I'm guilty of not keeping up with."  He shared a look with Cass.  They'd not really told anyone of what they were doing that night, and if the Man in Black had been on the Dark's side, he'd caught the two of them alone.    

" I don't think we're ready to just rush to this taproot and take on the Dark in its place of power right now, with no real plan.  That just screams "Bad Idea" to me.   So we settle in, work with and within the Project, and with each other until we reach a point where we have the information we need, and a real plan on how to do what we want to do.    More than that, we need a real plan on what we do after that.  I'm not going to spend my life being a guinea pig, or anything like that.  I still have something I want to do."
 

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"No one's saying we just rush in," Cassandra replied, still annoyed, even if not exactly with Cade. She looked back at Devin.

"Look, we went to the hospital when Jase did. We were pretty much done, and it occurred to me, lets have a look around. This is like the one time no one will be surprised to see us here. I figured we'd just do a little snooping, maybe get eyes on Cook's office. Which we did, by the way. We didn't know we'd wind up taking a secret elevator to Conspiracy Central or we'd definitely have called first."

She sighed. "I get it. You're...concerned, and that's good. I really appreciate it. But sometimes opportunities come fast and furious, and we won't always have a chance to call. Like this time, things went from 'is the heat on' to 'boiling hot' in like ten seconds flat. We took some serious risks, but it paid off. Speaking of which..."

Her eyes went to Sean, and she asked, "Can you copy the videos and photos off my phone? Just in case someone around here comes to their senses and realizes I've had it all this time?"

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15 hours ago, Jaunt said:

Devin sighed, shaking head.  "Those are all facets of my many talents... but I meant be there for you.  Guys, I don't want you to endure what I had to.  I was never so alone in my life.  Please.  Please stop running off and taking risks without letting me know.  I can't help you if I can't find you."  It was obvious from the sheen of sweat forming on his brow that his time spent alone in the Upside Down Thunder had messed him up pretty bad.  "Stop running off."

"Be there for us? Are you fucking kidding me?"

Her reply was an incredulous near-hiss, the faint flush of rose beneath Autumn's freckles having deepened to a bright, angry scarlet that only served to accentuate the livid bruise on her cheek. She stared at Devin for a long moment through narrowed eyes the color of ocean-born storms, had been staring since Cass addressed him in her own diplomatic way, frustration graven into the tense outline of her frame;  it wasn't enough that he'd actively worked to make her life hell, now he was criticizing her for not calling him? What kind of fucking joke was this? The irate redhead inhaled sharply, resisting the urge to whip her water bottle at his stupid, entitled face only because she knew he'd end up teleporting out of the way, and someone else would get hit. 

"Jesus fuck, Devin," she breathed, half-disbelieving the sheer enormity of his ego as she raked one hand through her disheveled hair and glanced briefly skyward. Did he seriously just not understand that maybe there was a reason his name didn't spring immediately to mind when people- when she needed help? When neither answers nor a well-aimed lightning bolt seemed forthcoming, she sighed, her sharp grey-blue eyes once again fixing on his. "You-" she began fiercely, fully prepared to tell the obnoxious teleporter exactly what she thought of him and wipe that goddamned smug, smarmy expression off his face... but stopped short. It took a moment to register that right then he wasn't being arrogant, that the familiar broad, sweeping gestures and bravado were different somehow- more fragile, more brittle- forced, it seemed to her, almost desperate. Autumn recognized that look: the wide, darting eyes, the pallor of his skin and the tiny beads of sweat forming across his forehead, and the shock of that recognition left her momentarily stunned, dissolving the self-righteous fury she'd been ready to unleash and leaving in its wake an uncomfortable, less volatile emotion she'd never consciously associated with a Jauntsen.

"You're really not okay, are you?" she asked quietly, wonderingly, and before Devin could respond, almost before she realized she was doing it, Autumn closed the distance between them. A dozen alarms went off in her head, shrilly screaming that he didn't deserve to be treated kindly- that he'd just laugh in her face and humiliate her, or make some stupid joke like he always did, that he wouldn't appreciate it- but her body was already in motion, arms sliding around the gymnast's waist as she pulled him wordlessly into a hug. Nervous as she was, she could feel his heart racing, pounding against the confines of his rib cage in remembered panic as her hands pressed gently, insistently against his back; there was the vague impression of movement, flickering energy and expansive spaces beneath her fingers, and she realized that what she was feeling was something intrinsically Devin. It was the second time she'd voluntarily hugged someone who wasn't a relative in less than a week, and both occasions involved someone she hadn't especially cared for, but... if someone was suffering, and she could help, wasn't she supposed to try? Even if it blew up in her face, it still felt, as she held the taller boy silently, like the right thing.

She felt Devin freeze, sensed the coiling of confused tension in his body as he hovered on the threshold of pulling away or bamfing to another part of the room, or another part of the country, maybe; all he had to do was want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, and he'd be gone... but this was Autumn, who hated him, and the shock as he tried to process that fact was enough to delay his retreat. He wasn't used to being touched, not casually, and for a moment he just stood there awkwardly, arms hovering uncertainly at his sides as if he had forgotten they were there. It was an odd experience for him, to be embraced with compassion but not desire, to feel the quiet, grounding presence of another person transmitted through physical contact- a connection, of sorts, that hadn't existed a few minutes before. Slowly, and somewhat uneasily, he gingerly returned the hug, his arms going around her shoulders, and, for the first time all afternoon, Devin Jauntsen had nothing clever to say.

...for all of ten seconds.

"You, uh, know I have a girlfriend, right?" he quipped, unable to tolerate the stillness any longer. The redhead holding him sighed audibly, drawing back to regard him with a rueful expression that almost, almost suggested a smile, or was at least the closest to a smile he'd gotten from her thus far.

"Yeah, and she has a better chance with me than you do, so don't get it twisted, DeeJay," she retorted, pulling away with a huff and taking another drink of water as the fact that she'd just hugged Devin Jauntsen in front of everyone started to sink in. Eventually, they were going to need to have a conversation, at least if he was serious about wanting people to rely on him, but for now he seemed a little calmer, and he wasn't hurt- at least not in any of the ways she could do anything about. Focusing on that, rather than the surreality of what she'd just done, Autumn took a few steps away, putting physical and metaphorical distance between them as she allowed her awareness of the people around her to shift- an exercise that was gradually getting easier as she put it into practice.

It was still... Well, weird, to be able to touch someone, or look at them and see the energy that animated them, the dynamic almost-light that moved in scintillating currents through their bodies, but it was fascinating, too, and kind of exciting. As she glanced around the room, it occurred to the restless teen that there really was a difference in how brightly its occupants "shone:" the new student, Sean's elfin friend, seemed vibrant to her altered perceptions in a way that, say, Sophia did not. Gareth Bannon and his friend, the infamous Hank Graskle, were likewise only faintly luminous, their pale incandescence as candle flames next to the brilliant flame of Cassandra, or even Jason himself, but there was still an undeniable brightness suffusing their physical being, a radiance whose ebb and flow she intrinsically understood as their essential vitality. With a slight frown creasing her freckled brow, Autumn returned her attention to the tall, quiet youth sitting alone on the other side of the room, her clear, sea-colored eyes re-assessing his condition; she wasn't Lona, and didn't have the other girl's gift for making people whole again, but if she could inflict pain, as she had on the two seniors in the hallway, maybe it was possible to also take that pain away...?

As the others discussed plans for the future and relayed the events of the past to those who needed catching-up, Autumn herself focused on the present. With a crinkle of plastic, she finished off the last of her water and set the empty bottle on the table before heading to the couch where Jason was resting.

"Hey," she offered by way of greeting as she took a seat next to him, lips curving into a faint smile that didn't quite erase the worry from her eyes.  "How're you holding up?"

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His eyes opened slightly as she sat by him, focusing easily (she was happy to see) on hers as he mechanically chewed potato chips on one side of his mouth, then swallowed.  "Tired." he replied in typically laconic fashion, one corner of his mouth quirking in an answering smile.  "Odd how that wasn't important with monsters and the Dark all around, but without immediate danger I just want to eat and sleep."

"Yeah, not sure I'll be able to sleep, myself."  Autumn responded, noting how he was sitting and the bruises on his face, then glancing over at where Gar Bannon was sitting hunched over in contemplation of his folded hands, deep in thought.  She looked back at Jase, realising he'd followed her gaze over to his dad.  "But how are you holding up?" she repeated with slight emphasis, trying not to look away or turn red when his pale eyes once more flicked to stare into hers.  How was it so hard to talk to him without feeling like her face was going to catch flame?  She'd have thought that hanging out, laughing and talking last night would have built up an immunity to the strange and terrible Bannon, but no.  Even battered, tired, and wearing a replacement Rangers jersey and - ohgod - grey sweatpants, there was something about the way he focused entirely on her that was uncomfortably incendiary.

"Jaw is bruised.  Feels like some teeth are a little loose.  Bruising to the ocular region on the left side.  Bruising to the ribs and stomach.  Sore and stiff." he said quietly, almost dispassionately reporting on his injuries.  "No fractures that they detected, and my concussion seems to be mostly faded, though I have a headache."

"Mmhmm," she agreed, nodding thoughtfully as she caught the inside of her lower lip between her teeth. "Sounds like what I saw earlier, at least, so it's good to know that's accurate." There was a moment's pause, then, Autumn's gaze dropping to the pale, amber-flecked fingers drumming restlessly on her thighs. If she'd gotten involved earlier, would she have been able to prevent him being hurt? Maybe. All she could do now was try to repair some of the harm done, or at least make him more comfortable. Resolved, the worried redhead moved, shifting one knee up onto the couch and determinedly turning to face her friend, the unintentional arsonist. "Hey, listen," she began, her eyes moving over his face again, studying the bruises blooming dark and florid over his angular features, the tape they'd used to close the small lacerations around his eye and cheekbones, and noting the bone-deep weariness in his expression that, implausibly, remained absent from the piercing, glacial green of his gaze. "I was thinking- and, if you want to wait for Lona, I totally get it... I just thought maybe I could try to help. If you want," she added, more quietly, searching his expression for some clue to the content of his thoughts.

Jase regarded her for a moment, examining the warm concern in her sea-hued eyes and the hesitation in her manner.  She wanted to help, but wasn't sure whether the help would be accepted - or perhaps wasn't sure she could help?  He wasn't certain on the details there.  What he was certain of was that he would need to be on better form than this to deal with Cook - or whoever came to represent the Project.  His friends needed him to be in better shape, and that couldn't wait for an eventual meeting with Lona.  Autumn seemed to have the same biologically-based gift as Avalon - at the very least, she might be able to remove the tiredness and pain, let him bring more of his resources to bear on any problems that came up.  He smiled at Autumn, nodding as the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly in humor.

"I'm in your hands."

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He stood silent as a few of the assembled looked at him after the touching embrace he and Autumn had just shared.  He knew his mind was resistant to Sara's prying, like Jason he possessed such a strong sense of self that reading his thoughts and feelings was borderline impossible for someone like them.  His thoughts raced with a thousand and one whys and hows but through it all he came up with nothing.  Autumn shouldn't have some ability to read his thoughts and feel his fears.  The possibility that he wore it on his face and she'd reached out and connected with him emotionally with something as simple as basic empathy never occurred to him.  The Jauntsen twins had never had much in the way of practical experience in the realm of empathy, aside from their bastardized applications of it to suit their own needs.

"What?"  Devin said a bid harshly, looking at everyone as he  projected his mild embarrassment of Autumn getting the emotional one-up on him this time.  "Woman can't can't keep their hands off me.  We all know this.  Shows over," he paddled his hand out to shoo them all away like they should be looking somewhere else.  "Go back to being losers."

"Well, as my bae has pointed out," Marissa spoke up as she gripped Cade's arm and snuggled up close to him, interrupting her brother before he had the chance to start a brawl over a veiled symbol of peace of acceptance.  She side eyed him though, a bit bothered by the fact that Autumn had seen something she hadn't when she was supposed to be the closest person to him.  "Let's look on the bright side: the paramilitary contingent of soldiers and scientists who have been conducting unsanctioned collection on U.S. citizens and conducting decades long genetic experimentation on children... isn't going to bother us as long as our parents don't sign the permission slip they are no doubt going give us at some point.  We're saved!"  Her voice was perky and energetic like one of the cheerleaders back at school.  It was obvious how her appraisal was nothing more than a tactical nuke of sarcasm directed towards her 'bae'.  She splayed open her hands, fingers wide apart and got a super happy smile on her face.  She shook her hands and very quietly celebrated.  "Yaaay."

Cade slowly turned his head towards her, his eyes narrowed in that 'really' expression.  Around the room everyone's lips were pursed, tightened into a line that made them all wonder if Marissa was intentionally using her powers of persuasion or if it was a voluntary response.  The faces they were making were all Kodak moments as they all turned various shades of red to keep from doing the inevitable until Devin finally broke the silence.  His lips were pursed so tight in an awkward smirk that he eventually snorted a soft nasally sound that only rose up when trying to hold in a laugh.

Like a snowball down a mountain peek they all just burst into laughter.  For a moment they were teenagers who may have come from all corners of society, all with their own problems, but in those few seconds there was just the laughter.  It was possibly the only thing they could all say they had in common, but it was enough.  For now, it was what they needed.  It something to remind them that their light burned brightest when they were simply together, being themselves, and making each other miserable in their own fun and special ways.

Cade nodded slowly with his face twisted in a tense frown trying not to laugh but still giving in with a few chuckles.  "Okay.  Okay, I deserve that.  Sounded better in my head."

"Aww," Marissa cooed all pouty as she cuddled his arm.  "You still have me."

Her boyfriend looked at her with no expression in his eyes.  With a dead pan splaying of fingers she shook them and quietly celebrated.  "Yaaay."  Marissa smiled playfully and slugged him in his thick bicep as another round of laughs made its way through the room.

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After she managed to even make him laugh at himself abit, he sighed.   "Okay, okay, that really did sound better in my head, I get it.  I'll leave the deep thinking to those better suited to it."

It was at that point he actually did put an arm around Marissa, not because she wanted him to, but because he did.  She didn't pull away, instead, she huddled in next to him, accepting this tiny spark of initiative.  

"So Sean, about your Jamming, I'm assuming that you're still doing it?  Does anyone have anything else they want to say, or reveal, before we give them back their regularly scheduled program?  I'm really surprised they haven't already come in here to physically see what's going on, and I half expect them to do so at any time now."

It would be foolish of them to just bust in he knew, there was far too much artillery, and it wasn't like they were stuck there.  The gathered Teens had humored the Project thus far, but that could only go on for so long before one side would lose their patience.

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On 2/5/2020 at 4:35 PM, Cade said:

"C'mon, talk about working together, then ya do that to them?  That's not gonna foster any sort of goodwill or belief that we're more than kids with weird abilities."   He was still smiling.  "Funny thought, so full marks for that."

"Oh, I think it'll help foster some goodwill," Sean countered with smirk. "How they react will see if they are planning on showing us some goodwill."

Sitting next to Kat a little to the side of the refreshment table, Sean shifted on his seat, organizing his thoughts, then starting giving her the quick rundown she'd requested and Jase had suggested. "So, it all started - for us - during a late summer party with a disappearing tiger and an angry, flying starfish that ate a man..."

His grin faded as he recounted the tale to Kat, turquoise and jade eyes cool as he regarded Devin's scar and heard his plea to Cass and Autumn, to all of them really. Not all monsters were literal ones, and not all scars were on the surface. He might have a new regard for Devin, but it was still new. Making sure Devin knew where he - or any of his friends - were or what they were doing wasn't a natural consideration. And Sean couldn't help but note Devin hadn't mentioned doing likewise.

"... at school. Autumn got clobbered by a door - I'll explain later - but our powers were starting to grow. This is when Dr. Cook first..."

On 2/5/2020 at 11:09 PM, Cassandra Allen said:

Her eyes went to Sean, and she asked, "Can you copy the videos and photos off my phone? Just in case someone around here comes to their senses and realizes I've had it all this time?"

Sean raised his can of Pepsi in acknowledgement and nodded, while he held up an apologetic finger towards Kat, putting their conversation on pause for just a moment. His strange eyes seemed to flash with their own light for a moment, then he took a bite of his sandwich. Despite appearances, it wasn't bad.

"Done."

"That's it?" Cass asked dubiously, just started to reach for her phone.

Sean arched a brow. "That's it. C'mon, this is child's play. Even without psionic voodoo, it wouldn't have taken much longer using NFC. I got it - keeping it secret, keeping it safe."

Sean took a deep breath, plunked his empty soda can on the edge of the refreshment table, then turned back to Kat, keeping his voice low. "Cody Sikes and Liam, the Dark is no joke, but it has to have something to work with, and, well..."

Recalling the darker aspects of human nature, and the Dark, and the consequences, Marissa's teasing and the laughter it brought was a relieving weight. It made talking about what had gone on before, leading into where they were going, less wearying, and even seemed to make it an easier burden for Kat to bear.

"... and that pretty much brings up to now. There's more, here and there that we can go into detail later, but you have all the major points now, I think."

Sean leaned back and slouched in his chair, Kat mirroring him. It was a lot in a short time, and both saying it and hearing it took something out of the red-heads. Eyes heavy lidded, Sean finished his sandwich as Kat cogitated on what he had revealed. Sean cracked an eye when Cade addressed him.

"I still control the horizontal, I still control the vertical," Sean affirmed, paraphrasing the intro to an old Sci-Fi series, "but I can't tell if they're still at their TV sets. You're right, it probably isn't going to be much longer before they decide they've given us enough private time."

Edited by GDP_ST
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"Copper," Devin said suddenly.

All eyes were suddenly on him, waiting for him to finish that train of thought.  "Okay, so, we go along with this project thing, right?  Fine, but do you guys remember in that Mastermind movie?  What did the Metroguy do?  He claimed copper was his weakness and faked his death, right?"

"This had better be good," his sister said flatly.

"We know they're going to screw us over, but we need a means of measuring the how and when.  Copper.  All of us can easily 'let slip'," he air quoted.  "That there is something; a stimuli a mineral, a frequency that that keeps our powers from working.  Maybe I can't teleport into a place lined with asbestos... maybe Jason can't use his powers in certain extremes, maybe Cass can sense things through copper... maybe Sean can't focus at a certain frequency... maybe Cade can't commune with pit bulls, then we wait and see how they adapt.  If the walls are lined with asbestos all of a sudden... we know their planning containment.  If Sean keeps hearing the same frequency pitched through the air... or suddenly their safes are lined with copper we know what rooms they don't want us in and what safes have the loot in them.  When they start having more pit bulls on the security team..." He felt his point was being made.  "Everything they do will be subtle and calculated.  We need to be no different.  The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies."

"Napolean," Jason looked up nodded slowly at his friend.  "Didn't know you knew who he was."

"Everybody does, dude."  Devin shrugged, giving Jason the 'duh' face.  "He was like, in the Canadian army or something then retired and made that ice cream."

"Thus the expert in battle moves his enemies, and is not moved by him.  I see where you're going with this.  Plus, you get to fuck with them and see them lining their walls with asbestos..." Marissa finished with the real reason Devin proposed the plan.  She gently rubbed Cade's arm with her thumb and seemed to cuddle closer to him the closer Autumn got to Jase.

"Well, no, that shit'll kill, but you guys get the gist.  Fucking with them is just the bonus, I see no reason we can't have fun with this."  He smirked.  "The point is we need to look out for each other," he glared at Cass, opening his eyes wide to make sure she knew he was talking to her.  "And control the environment."

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"The Dark is our enemy," Sean injected as he sat up in his chair, hating that he thought he sounded like a shill for the other side, but not able to ignore that Dr. Cook had helped him, even if it was for his own ends. "These guys, the Project, they could be allies. But if we treat them like enemies from the start, they'll be enemies."

As several pairs of protesting eyes turned his way, Sean held up his hands in surrender. "Look, I get it. I even agree - they'll try to screw us, to control us. But look at it from their end. Until now, they thought they were the only ones in the game. Now, not only do they find out there's more than one new player at the table, these other players might have better hands than them. Of course, they're gonna do what they can do to stay on top, or do whatever they can to protect themselves from unknowns. And we're gonna have to give them some reason to trust us too, at some point, if we don't want things completely adversarial - that will only help the Dark too."

Hands balled into fists, Sean planted them on his knees and leaned forward. "Which doesn't mean we should be the first ones to extend that trust. I like your idea, Devin, but why make it so easy on them, while giving them a reason they see as valid for mistrusting us? Instead, we allude to weaknesses, and just tell them outright we're not comfortable in revealing those weaknesses to them, and then watch them to see if, and when, they scramble to figure them out? Easier to look out for each other when they others guy are trying to figure out how to screw with us rather than actually screwing with us."

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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"Sean, it's the same the same plan, you're recommending less 'fuck with them' and more 'wait for them to screw us over."  Sean's ex-bully pointed out.  "See, you're use words tells me more than I need to know.  'Allies' is not a thing with these types.  They are going to screw us over.  They are not 'friends', or 'allies', or 'Saturday poker buddies'.  The moment you think of them as 'allies' is the moment you're programming your brain for trust, and that's when they blindside you.  We are here to use them.  They are a tool to be used and cast back in the box to be forgotten when we're done."

They all knew the Jauntsens were messed up and Devin's appraisal wasn't something that overly shocked any of them.  He was a decent enough guy most of the time, but he was still a bully who enjoyed the torment of others to amuse himself.  To hear it out loud though.  To hear him put into words how callous and cruel they could be or how they could simply consider people nothing more than carved figures on thier personal chess board of fun and games... well, it wasn't easy.  Whether it was something all of them had considered at one point, or whether or not others were as in touch with their own personal levels of cruelty was all on them.  As always however, Devin had a way of saying what some were already thinking... they just lacked the lack of filters and moral decorum to voice their thoughts.  Like trying to live with and raise lions, the twins were perfectly reasonable... until one forgot they were both evil and rotten to their cores.  That's how people ended up mauled and the twins' well fed.

"It's true," Marissa cut in.  "Look, we specialized in manipulating people at the school.  Make them think a few trusting thoughts, implant certain buzzwords, a few polite gestures, and in no time people were ready to do our homework, buy our lunches for us, give us the answers to quizzes.  Look, Sean, I know what you mean, and I know my brother does too, but he's right.  Never think of these people as anything more than what they are: people who want to use you, experiment on you, and exploit your abilities.  You guys practically burst into tears and threw fits and cried as you sped away on motorcycles over just a few of my more scathing comments, I assure you that I have little to no faith in your ability to properly gauge the mental or emotional level of fuckery that these people are capable of.  Trust my brother and I on this.  Being manipulative, dishonest, and horrible people is sort of what we do.  Handle it however you like, but never make the mistake of building any sort of bond with these people.  Believe it or not, we're looking out for you guys."

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On 2/6/2020 at 10:18 AM, Bannon said:

Jase regarded her for a moment, examining the warm concern in her sea-hued eyes and the hesitation in her manner.  She wanted to help, but wasn't sure whether the help would be accepted - or perhaps wasn't sure she could help?  He wasn't certain on the details there.  What he was certain of was that he would need to be on better form than this to deal with Cook - or whoever came to represent the Project.  His friends needed him to be in better shape, and that couldn't wait for an eventual meeting with Lona.  Autumn seemed to have the same biologically-based gift as Avalon - at the very least, she might be able to remove the tiredness and pain, let him bring more of his resources to bear on any problems that came up.  He smiled at Autumn, nodding as the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly in humor.

"I'm in your hands."

"Yeah. No pressure," she murmured, more to herself than anyone else. "Just let me know if anything starts to feel worse, or uncomfortable, or... weird, I guess. All right?"

He nodded, and Autumn took a deep, steadying breath and leaned forward, gingerly reaching up to rest her fingers against Jason's temples. She didn't need to remind him to keep still or stay focused; if anything, composure seemed to be his default state. He watched her eyes, so near his own, go strangely distant, pupils expanding slightly as she looked not at him, or through him, but into him, her awareness extending from the gentle pressure of her fingertips through the glittering pellucid framework of his being. There was a growing awareness of his shine interacting with hers, the refractive precision of his focus helping to direct and shape the essentially restless, eager intensity that was immediately recognizable as Autumn.

“Okay.” The redhead drew in another breath, then exhaled slowly, half-conscious of the cool, pale green of his eyes, their clarity oddly soothing- fixed points by which she could keep herself grounded amid the wash of unfamiliar sensations. She had a fleeting impression of winter, the vague sense of standing atop a frozen lake etched with crystalline fractal shapes like splintered glass, beneath the surface of which- fathoms below, in the shadowy emerald depths- something unseen and unknowable moved with predatory vigilance beneath her feet. It lasted only for a moment before she was once more aware of the physical presence of her friend, his essential vitality, and all the imperfections and flaws mortality entailed. As she concentrated, she became conscious of the rhythm of his breathing, of his heartbeat as faint echoes beneath her own, and, then- more keenly- of the jagged edges of pain that interrupted the otherwise smooth flow of energy through his frame.

The colors and textures weren’t truly visible or tactile, but nonetheless seemed and felt very real to Autumn’s enhanced perception. Her mind recoiled from the injuries as she brushed against them, the near-physical experience of shared discomfort a reminder why she was doing this in the first place. Refocusing, she directed her thoughts to the connections between them, the open pathways forged by the contact of her fingertips against Jason’s brow, and allowed the power that shimmered in restless streams through her veins to flow through them. It wasn’t like the fight in the hallway- there was no sharp blossoming of sanguine energy in response to a threat, no vicious hunger uncoiling in scarlet ribbons beneath her skin, but rather the warm red of the sun at the horizon, the flickering edges of smoldering golden flames, the visceral glow of life itself that stretched outward and into the very marrow of his bones, the heart of the cells that sustained him.

And then, for a brief, terrifying second, it waited, humming through the pair of them in a single current of potential, and she realized that this power came with a choice. His injuries and frailties, his strengths, the workings of his very corporeal existence were laid bare, vulnerable to the inexorable suffusion of vitakinetic energies throughout his body. In that instant she knew, somehow, how to relieve or exacerbate his pain, to further rend the bruised and lacerated tissues or encourage their mending, to alter the course of chemicals or the functioning of synapses to suit her intentions for good or ill. She’d never felt anything like it, the sense of being so intimately and fundamentally linked to another person on an almost cellular level, and as her focus wavered, the redhead blinked, finding Jase regarding her with that same incisive stare he’d worn the day before.

She swallowed hard as a ripple of uneasiness passed through her, unsure how to proceed- before, everything had been almost automatic, but this was different. She’d been hurt, afraid, and instinctively lashed out to protect herself. Now, she was trying to deliberately use that same power not to hurt, but to heal. Breathing in, the uncertain redhead centered her attention on that implacable jade gaze and again got the sense of something inescapable and vast rushing towards her, around her, through her, an almost audible sensation this time- the susurration of wind through leaves, a river surging around stones, blood coursing through veins-

-and that energy, the essence of Autumn extending within him responded, gently drawing the pain and fatigue away as discomfort ebbed and a sense of ease replaced it, coaxing greater efficiency from his body’s own inherent ability to heal itself. A slow smile of almost childlike wonder spread across her lips as she felt that shift, and yet, for all that she’d done what she’d meant to do… It wasn’t quite enough. They had no way of knowing how the Project would respond, and they couldn’t afford to be at any less than their best. Regardless of her own residual discomfort around him, or how others within the group perceived him, there was no denying that Bannon’s intellect and abilities were critical to their success… and, she reflected, feeling more than seeing the actual injuries he’d suffered, friends should be willing to do whatever was necessary. Whatever they could.

Her smile faded by degrees, the line of her jaw hardening with resolve. She could do more.

Autumn’s fingers slid into his hair as she exhaled/gasped with the almost instantaneous response to the thought alone, as if whatever power was contained within her had only been waiting to be freed. Heat and almost-light flowed out of her until she was dizzy with the sensation of being emptied, the rushing surge of energy swelling, rising as it poured through her fingertips. It swirled and eddied through his skull, spiralling beneath his skin in ardent lines to seek out the damage the two seniors had done, then expanding to envelop the wounded tissues, knitting them together again with a precision no surgeon’s tool could be fine enough to match. Nerves and capillaries, muscle and tendon and bone all stirred, resonating with the warm currents singing through every atom of his frame: loosened teeth tightened obediently in their sockets; the ugly split in his lip sealed neatly, leaving only a faint pink line that would be gone by morning; the swelling and bruising evaporated as blood vessels were woven delicately back together, and a dozen other tiny hurts and ailments were simply erased, carried away on that current as if they had never been. It was intoxicating- there was no other word for it- like the perfect buzz, the ultimate high, hovering just on the edge of being totally obliterated and incoherent, and...

...She could do more, which didn’t seem possible. It wasn’t, was it? Jase was fine, he was whole, he- No. He could be better. She could make him better, she realized, perfect those little mortal frailties and improve on them. She could do so much more-

Reality wavered in front of her eyes and she felt her hands drop, unbidden, to her lap as a vaguely uncomfortable tingling fizzed and bubbled through her face and fingers, a weird, fuzzy feeling that drained the color from her features and-

-Oh.

Fuck, the suddenly exhausted young woman thought dimly as a wave of vertigo rolled over her, carrying her bodily backward onto the cushions with the force of it as it passed. Maybe I shouldn’t have skipped lunch? Her field of vision shifted as the room tilted and she saw Jase's eyes, no longer bruised or tired but bright and sharp, focusing on her as a gentle force she remembered from the training day grasped her body as she fell, lifting and steering her so that she didn't sprawl gracelessly on the seat cushions or slide to the floor, but instead came to rest sitting back on the couch, head back and unfocused eyes staring at the ceiling.

Edited by GDP_ST
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"Oh shit!"

Cassandra hurried over to where Autumn had fallen and leaned over where she was sitting.

"Hey," she said, waving a hand in front of her face. Autumn's eyes were open, which was a relief. "Hey, are you okay? Say something...count my fingers...I dunno, something."

 

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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"Wstgphrl."  Autumn murmured as she squinted slightly at Cassie's waggling digits.  Aware even in her dizzy state that this was not the most scintillant of dialogue, she licked dry lips and tried again:  "I would if they'd stay still long enough."  As enough strength returned for her to move her head, she turned it to watch Jason stand, seeming to unfold endlessly upward from the couch to tower above her as he turned and looked down, twisting his torso and leaning this way and that, a smile curving his lips at not just the absence of pain, but the presence of enormous well-being and energy, as though he'd slept a solid eight hours and gotten a massage.  His emerald eyes seemed to glow from within as they met hers, and the lean shape of him bent to rest a slender hand on her pale brow.

"Is she okay?"  Cassie repeated, looking at Jase, whose eyes were narrowed slightly in concentration as he examined Autumn, taking her pulse for a count of fifteen before he nodded slightly.

"She pushed herself a little." he replied, glancing around and calling a couple of sandwiches, a candy bar, a can of soda and a packet of chips over, the foodstuffs floating across the room and coming to rest on the redhead's lap.  He felt good, full of restless life, as though the boundless vitality of the girl had somehow been shared with him.  He took the soda, popping the tab and placing it in her hand.  "Drink and eat."  he urged her quietly, his gaze calm as it examined her face.  She obeyed, raising the can of Dr Pepper and taking a sip before making a face.

"Blegh, warm." she complained.  Jason exchanged an amused glance with Cassie, who smiled a little despite the worry etching her brow.

"She'll be fine."  he said, reaching out and tapping the can's rim.  Autumn was aware of the metal cooling in her hand, water condensing out of the air onto the side of the can as its temperature lowered to refrigerated levels.  She took another swallow, sighing contentedly this time.  "You could have just taken the pain away, you know." he told her.  It wasn't an admonition, she grasped.  Merely an observation, laced with a hint of a question.

"We're better off if you're at your best." she murmured back, smiling a little as she noted the pink line where his lip had been split bloody.  "And besides, I wanted to see if I could."

"Good enough." he replied with a grin that crinkled the corners of his eyes and warmed their glacial centers, nodding slowly in answer.  He straightened up, turning to the others as Autumn took a bite of a sandwich.

"Marissa and Devin are right."  he said, pacing over to the conference table and pulling out a chair at one end, seating himself there.  "We have to be ruthless when it comes to the Project or indeed any outside authority figures.  I'm not suggesting we stab them in the back just to do it, but we should force the people we work with to earn trust and loyalty, the hard way, and never trust the organisation as a whole.  This is a black ops rogue government operation - we don't know how much blood is on their hands from people who have trusted them.  So long as they are of use and don't get in our way, we can work with them so far as I'm concerned."

"I like Sean's refinement of Devin's plan, too.  Allude to weaknesses, then let them scramble to find them.  Play below par, to use a golfing term - don't let them see what we're fully capable of."  Jase went on, appropriating another can of soda, chilling it, then popping the tab.

"You froze a monster the size of a horse solid."  Charlie put in.  "That's a pretty big demonstration."

"And not even close to what I'm capable of."  Jason responded immediately with such composed certainty that Charlie blinked, remembering the flash of insight he'd had the day before.  Sophia squeezed his hand, frowning at the lean youth's apparent arrogance.  She opened her mouth, wanting to say something to prick his bubble-

And then the doors swung inwards and people bustled in.  First were two Airmen, dressed in fatigues but armed only with sidearms, currently holstered. They scanned the room and then moved to either side of the doors, obviously mounting guard.  They were followed by two more Airmen, also armed, only these were also carrying pots of coffee and fresh plates of sandwiches, pastries and snacks which they set down, along with a stack of styrofoam cups and packets of sugar, before heading back outside.

Next to enter was Sheriff Allister, his gun, radio and hat removed and eyes snapping with annoyance in his otherwise composed face.  Spotting Cade, who was standing as he recognised his father, the big man crossed the room in three strides and pulled his son into a hug before stepping back, his hands on Cade's shoulders.  "You okay?" he asked, regarding the tall athlete with stoic concern.

"I'm fine, Dad."  Cade replied, only a little embarrassed by the paternal affection and more relieved that his father seemed well.

"We're all fine too, bee-tee-dubs."  Devin piped up from where he was sitting slouched in a chair, still texting with Lona.  It said something about the moment that not even the Sheriff looked exasperated at the usual Jaunt-isms, instead just nodding as he looked around the room at the others present.  His eyes narrowed a little at the sight of Graskle, then narrowed further at the sight of Jason calmly sitting at the bottom end of the conference table, watching the goings-on with his usual expressionless mien, but the burly sheriff said nothing for now.

Finally Doctor Cook, Major Taggart - now in just fatigues and with his nameplate showing, and a brunette woman wearing a dark blue suit that Marissa's expert eye judged as being worth the annual salary of a middle manager entered the room.  The two men seemed to hang back for a moment as they reached the other end of the table from where Jason was seated, glancing at the dark-haired woman, who calmly took a seat to the left of the 'head'.  Taggart took the seat to the right, leaving Cook to settle (somewhat uncomfortably judging by the look on his face) at the head of the table, facing Jason Bannon's green stare.

"Doctor."  Jase said with a trace of wryness in his tone.  "It seems we're a little late for our four o'clock meeting."  Cook smiled wanly before busying himself with the files he'd brought with him, waiting for the Airmen standing guard to shut the door.  When they had, taking up positions against the wall either side of it once more, he cleared his throat.

"Ahem.  First, to reassure all of you:  Your parents have been told you are fine, and are just being screened for bio-contaminants before we release you.  Which should be soon."  He said with a quick smile, glancing at Taggart and the dark-haired woman.  Taggart merely nodded brusquely, the woman on the other hand seemed to be intently studying the teens, her expression one of pleasant blandness under an arched eyebrow.  Cook gestured to the coffee on the table.  "Please, everyone, help yourselves to coffee and donuts.  We do have a lot to discuss, after all.  So we might as well be comfortable."

"On that note,"  Taggart interjected.  "It's probably one of you that is responsible for the music currently flooding our surveillance system, so I'd be grateful if you could stop that.  It's not like you need the privacy now."

Spoiler

The mystery woman!  0959b3b65686fc60a8d2eade079966d6.jpg

Those teens with empathy skills can readily tell that Cook does not feel in control of things right now.  The woman, on the other hand, does.  Let me know if you want to use any skill tricks (Cold Read, etc) or dice rolls to elicit more information.

 

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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"Privacy?"  Devin asked.  His phone slid back into his pocket with the methodical grace of a cobra preparing to strike.  "When have we ever had privacy in this town?  You have cameras everywhere.  You've been spying on us for years.  Cook's grand 'pod children' experiment," he air quoted.  "So, no.   I hope whomever is doing it also blows out every camera you have in this spunk stain in a dirty t-shirt town.  Not that I know who it is, I've never seen these people before in my life."  He testified.  Half the table rolled their eyes, the other half smirked as they Devin was going to make this into amateur improv night.

"You, on the other hand," Devin smiled and looked at the mystery woman.  "Hel-lo.  So, you're new here, and hot, total plus."  He smiled wide.  "You got a man or are you married to your ork because I'm thinking we should totally get together, maybe Netflix n' chill... play some skiball..."

"Your girlfriend?"  Marissa leaned over to Devin to remind him.

"Oh my god, she and I were like," he paused like he was adding up years.  "Until-she-walked-in ago, move on, Emjay, I have."  He met the eyes of the new woman and turned on that 'charm' of his, radiating snark, sarcasm and general resistance to everything before anything had started.  "So, Friday?  Pick you up at six?  I'll wear my Naruto boxers, just for you.  Just hit me up with what sublevel of the evil lair you're living in... I'm assuming closer to Earth's core so the heat can keep the black void that's pumping ice water through your veins at a decent temperature so you still appear human when you're pulled away from your feedings to mingle with us common folk."

"Devin," Sheriff Alistair spoke up, looking at the teen with a stern, authoritative glare.  He just shook his head back and forth, warning Devin not to continue.

"And you,"  Devin looked at the Sheriff.  "Protect and Serve.  If I find out you knew about this and let it happen, there will be a reckoning."  He pointed to the military and scientists.  "These people I can only fault so much.  Like children, they don't know any better.  Hurting and exploiting people for their own personal gain isn't something they can help.  They're monsters and they'll never be anything else.  They don't know how."

Marissa's lips quivered into a slight smile as she followed what her brother was doing.  She quietly folded her arms and observed.  Devin continued.  "You, however.  You swore an oath to protect this community and serve it by upholding the law.  Yet here we are, you riding bitch while we're being fed to these people and the monsters they're creating.  Pray I don't find out you had a part to play in this."

"That's my dad, Devin, chill," Cade shot to the young teleporter, looking none to happy with him.

Devin shrugged.  "Then you can join him, my sister can do better anyways."

Dissension among the ranks never hurt.  He planted the seed so they'd look to see who among the teens could exploited to sell out the others over petty grievances all the while Marissa observed the faces and body language of the adults for signs of any legitimate guilt as Devin called them out on what they had done and who they were.  Shelly High's masters of manipulation were already hard at work.

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"Jauntsen."  Sheriff Allister was no stranger to being irritated with Devin, but never had anyone seen him angry.  It was not a comfortable sight, especially as all six feet and change of him was sufficient to make Cade look slender by comparison.  "If you think for one second that I had anything to do with the utter... fuckery I've witnessed today, you're even dumber than you look."  He took a deep breath, calming himself with some effort.  "My deputies have all had their damned minds scrambled-"

"Just their memories of the last couple of hours restructured."  Cook put in with a certain level of aplomb that bordered on smug.  Allister whirled on him, pointing a finger.

"You said I was being left alone due to my son.  You've still not explained what the hell is going on!  Or why he was covered in ice, or he changed shape, or why he was throwing lasers around, or what the hell those creatures were!"  

"That's what we're here to do." Taggart said with a certain level of discomfort, plainly not happy about anything to do with this situation.  "If everyone would just sit down and calm down-"

"Have you been doing experiments on these kids?"  Gar Bannon asked, coming up behind the chair Jase was seated in to stand beside him, Hank Graskle in tow.  "Did you do something to my son?"  Hank was studying the two Airmen at the door, then Taggart, then the other two at the head of the table with a professionally assessing air.

"Gentlemen!"  Cook raised his hands placatingly.  "And ladies.  Please.  Sit down and we shall answer as many questions as we reasonably can."  The strange woman was silent and composed, ignoring the adults speaking and instead watching the antics of Devin with what seemed to be faint amusement, then regarding the other teens, and then finally the jade-eyed, silent youth still sitting still in the chair at the far end of the conference table, his gaze steady as a laser beam as he watched the trio across from him.

Sheriff Allister stared at Cook for a moment, then at the door, then at the others present.  Finally, with a muttered 'Fuck' he pulled out a chair and sat at the table.  Gar and Hank likewise pulled out seats and sat flanking Jason, their gazes distrustful and wary.  Cook glanced at the other teens present, obviously waiting to see if any of them were likewise going to sit.

Spoiler

Cook looks fairly composed - a high enough Cunning + Empathy roll will detect he's not as calm as he looks.
Taggart looks mildly uncomfortable, but has his 'soldiering face' on right now.
Allister looks pissed at being accused of being in on this, but is likewise keeping a lid on it.
Hotness in the suit looks amused and a little condescending at the antics, but doesn't seem upset. Again, make a Cunning + Empathy roll to read them.

Group members get a +1 enhancement to that roll thanks to Devin's provocateur antics. also, +2 Momentum

Devin and Marissa have managed to glean the following:
Devin can tell that Cook is hiding it well, but is scared. What of, he doesn't know.
Marissa and Devin can both tell that the woman in the suit is confident as she seems, and also doesn't read as 'hostile'. She actually seems more curious / fascinated (no, not with Devin's flirting)
Taggart and Alister are both what they seem: Taggart doesn't like this clusterfuck of a situation and Alister is genuinely outraged and also scared for his son, though he's hiding it well

 

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"Major, sir.  Doctor," Marissa looked at each as she addressed them.  "Mysterious woman who enters a room and does not introduce herself.  Love your shoes, by the way."  She paused long enough to nod her approval to the woman as she appraised her fashion sense.  "Before questions, let's start with a simple, easy to follow statement: whatever it is you are doing, you need to stop.  You are meddling forces you don't understand and it's going to ruin you and this town.  God only knows what it will do after it is finished here."

She leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms and legs.  "You have a choice.  You can ignore our warning, keep doing what you are doing, and get a stern 'I told you so' while it is devouring your hopes, dreams and large portions of your face.  Or, you can stop, and we'll all live happily ever after once it has been dealt with.  Bee Tee Dubs, we are the only ones who can stop it."

Spoiler

Marissa is all but looking at the group and giving them the 'play along' wink.  With three people watching she's trying to be subtle and hope people pick up on her ruse, as they were just talking about getting into the program a moment ago.

Whether you read it or not is up to the parameters set by the ST.

 

Edited by Marissa Jauntsen

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Jason nodded agreement with Marissa's expressed sentiment, expressionless but for the predatory intensity of his gaze.  "She's right.  We are the only ones that can stop what is going on, and more importantly what is going to happen.  We're not sure what part the Project here is playing in current events, but I get the impression that you really don't have much of a clue.  So it's probably best you follow the lady's advice and get out of our way - for your own good."  His tone was calm,  matter of fact, lacking the bantering delivery of Marissa's injunction.

"That could be taken as a threat, Mr Bannon."  Cook replied, not meeting the teen's eyes and instead glancing at the papers in front of him.  "I'm sure no-one here wants to be making threats."  A subtle tension had come over the two men sitting at the head of the table, Taggart eyeing the youth the way one might eye a coiled rattlesnake.  The woman, by contrast, seemed soberly curious, her dark eyes wide and watchful.  Autumn and Cassie drifted over from the couch, the redhead having scooped up her snacks in an armload which she dumped on the table as she pulled out a chair next to Gar Bannon, smiling at him as she sat, then continued eating.

"When my father is present, he is 'Mr Bannon'.  And how you choose to take it is a matter of extreme indifference to me."  Jason's voice never changed from it's level calm tone and his stare never wavered.  "I don't make threats.  There's rarely any point.  'For your own good' was meant in the sense that one would use when advising a slow child to stop playing football on the highway."  He paused for a moment as though reflecting.  "An unlikable slow child.  The kind whose birth certificate was an apology letter from a condom manufacturer, but you still don't want to be washing them out of your radiator grille days later."  There were snorts of amusement from both Jauntsens as well as one or two others present and Autumn, who'd just taken a delicious mouthful of cool soda, suddenly found herself choking as a shocked gasp met the urge to laugh and both reflexes mixed catastrophically with the Dr Pepper.  Graskle winced and tried not to laugh, Jase's dad blinked at his son in astonishment and then at the choking Autumn in alarm, reaching out and patting her on the back, and Sheriff Allister looked like he wasn't sure whether to laugh or scowl.  Cook's face went red, and Taggart shifted in his seat... and then the dark-haired woman leaned forwards.

"Annette Giles."  Her accent was brisk, educated, a trans-Atlantic mixture of British, American and Continental.  She sounded expensive and refined in a way that made Marissa take notes.  Cook and Taggart both looked at her in surprise, as though she had gone off-script.  "I am a representative of the Project's current sponsors, and I was only recently informed of... how things have been developing.  I think I've seen enough to make this call:  as of right now, all Project activities are paused pending a full review."  She glanced at Cook as she said this, who went from red at Jason's insult to pale from shock.

"But we- I mean-  I-"  he started several times, each nascent protest meeting a slightly higher arch of a well-shaped brow.  Finally, he subsided.  "Very well." he muttered with an air of defeat.  "I shall issue the orders.  The Doctor won't be happy, though."

"To borrow a turn of phrase from the younger Mister Bannon - that is a matter of extreme indifference to me."  Ms Giles said with a pleasant smile.  "The Doctor will understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune.  Or 'she', in this case."  She waited a heartbeat or two, arching a brow at him.  "I did say 'as of right now', Doctor Cook.  Everything on hold, no further tests, no progressing of experiments, all sub-projects paused.  I'm sure you will make sure that the wishes of the sponsors are carried out in this matter.  Come back when it's done."  Cook blinked, then slowly stood up and, walking like a man whose joints were made of string, left the room.  "Major Taggart - I cannot issue you direct orders, but I would take it as a kindness if you would send your men with Doctor Cook to ensure he can carry out his instructions."  She smiled at the teens and adults at the other end of the table.  "I'm reasonably confident we won't need protection here."

"Ma'am."  Taggart nodded at the two Airmen, who turned and left the room on Cook's heels.  Annette Giles reached for a cup and poured herself some coffee, sitting back in her chair and ignoring the recently vacated seat left by Cook.

"Alright then."  Ms Giles glanced at Marissa, then Jason, then the other teens.  "I trust as a demonstration of good faith that will suffice for now?  Before I start talking, does anyone have any questions?"

Edited by GDP_ST
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Devin leaned forward at the table.  He'd been tapping out messages to Lona but as he finished one he set down his obscenely expensive smart phone.  His demeanor changed as it seemed the twins and Jaybee were being left to field this interaction.  "I do."

"This ought to be good," Miss Giles, he hoped it was 'miss', dropped with a hint of both humor and snark in the delectable accent of her.

"Oh, you wait," Devin smiled.  "I'm all kinds of impressive."  He met her eyes and the smile left the curl of his lips as Devin took on the expression all of them had become familiar with by this by this point.  The young man was either running on insanity or treading water in the lake of his ice cold, competitive, 'get things done' mode.  Right now, it appeared things needed to get done, so he'd shelved his jokes for the time being.  "What did you do?  Do you even know what it is you're messing with?  Any inkling as to what your project is disrupting, disturbing or awakening or... whatever this thing is?  Because I do.  We do.  It is something that spans time, space and it bends ever law of metaphysics.  The chaos today?  Those were the special bus kids bouncing and drooling all over your shit, but I assure you that the roid raged football line-up is waiting for its opportunity to smash through.  Not even we have weapons for what's next, not yet.  It is Darkness in every malefic way you could define it and you geniuses woke it up.  So I'm curious to know, what did you do?"

Edited by Jaunt

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Ms Giles raised a petite hand, asking for forbearance.  "Please, Mr Jauntsen, isn't it?  I will answer questions about the Project as much as I have the leeway to do - and I assure you, that is a lot of leeway.    The unfortunate business with the dimension incursion earlier might have been the result of something we were doing - but it was entirely in the wrong place, as the only experiment that might trigger a dimensional upset was taking place nearly one hundred miles away.  From what I understand, something commandeered the energy of that experiment and moved the focal point from there to here, as well as resizing said focal point from twenty square feet to encompass half of this town."

"They phreaked you?"  Sean spoke up, his eyes narrowing.  As multiple sets of eyes turned his way, he explained.  "With a 'ph'.  It's when you spoof a network to ride along and make a call on someone else's bandwidth."  He sat down at the table roughly at the mid-way point, keeping his composure though inwardly shaking his head at the combative, hostile tone that the Jauntsens and Bannon were taking with the Project people.  Surely they must know something about what they were doing and what was afoot, and even if they didn't they could still be useful, dammit.

"Exactly, yes.  The energy of our experiment was 'phreaked' and used to create this dimensional incursion.  At least, that's the best guess of a team of quantum physicists.  From Dr Cook's reports, it seems you all have some experience with who or what is capable of such a feat.  We do not, however we do have roughly a century's worth of experience with all manner of strange phenomena."

"And who is we?"  Cassie piped up, settling in next to Autumn.

"Miss Allen, isn't it?  Off the record, please."  Ms Giles smiled a little to soften her words.  "The Project started as a Pentagon initiative to create enhanced human beings, initially at least, but over the last three decades has come to be a joint operation being carried out by a directorate branch of the U.S government and a private foundation - the Aeon Society, with the Society taking the leading role in financing and providing expertise and Branch Nine providing security and official sanction to operate on U.S. soil."  She glanced at the Major.  "Major Taggart here heads up that that arm of the Project, whereas I speak for the Aeon Society.  As to what we are doing..."  She pursed her lips, regarding them all.

"The Aeon Society was formed to explore, seek out, and catalog the weird, the wonderful, the bizarre and the strange.  Sometimes said strange is too dangerous for the world, in which case we work to contain it, lock it away, or keep knowledge of it from the hands of short-sighted individuals who will see only the opportunity for power and not heed the dangers.  For a century now, we've helped advance humanity by those discoveries which we have shared, and protected humanity from annihilation a couple of dozen times at least."

"Bold claim."  Marissa said, staring hard at the woman, who shrugged slightly and smiled, her manner not condescending so much as warmly self-assured.

"And utterly true.  I hope to be able to prove it, but that can come later.  Branch Nine was created after the second World War for much the same purpose, only with less of a focus on study and more of a focus on containment and elimination of threats."  She sipped her coffee, made a face and then set it to one side.  "The strange, bizarre and weird the Society encounters falls into two categories.  The first is more mundane - at least on the surface - ancient texts, hidden histories, ciphers inscribed on tablets thousands of years old, scientific advancements that are tantamount to massive leaps, secretive cults: things which can be termed 'human mysteries'.  The second category..."  she spread her hands, indicating the assembled teens  "...falls under the heading of what the Society's scientist types term 'aether manifestations'.  People with talents that go beyond unusual into straight out unbelievable.  Dimensional and temporal anomalies.  Strange creatures from legend or nightmare.  Signs of alien visits-"  she held up a hand again. "-as hard as it is to believe, yes."

"Not really."  Jason said with his habitual unruffled tone.  "No harder to believe than monsters and mind powers."

"Quite."  Annette smiled at him, the pleasant expression bouncing off his immobile countenance and cold gaze.  Undeterred, she carried on.  "The Society made a report on this area of Montana over eight decades ago, noting an unusual quality to the place - an aether fluctuation much higher than normal.  A follow-up was planned, but then the second World War happened, then the Cold War, and other things became more important like preventing nuclear armageddon.  Until the 80's, at least, when a scientist named Dr Kline also discovered Shelly's strange qualities."

"That would be the 'Doctor' that Dr Cook was talking about?"  Sean asked, receiving a nod from Ms Giles.  "Okay, fine. So what is 'aether'?"

"It's what our scientists call the fifth fundamental force.  As I understand it, conventional scientific wisdom allows that there are four quantum forces:  gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces, which together go towards making everything that exists.  The Society's scientists discovered early in the 20th century that there was a fifth such force, and termed it aether.  It exists along with the others, but stands out either very rarely in certain artifacts with strange properties or, more usually, in pockets dotted here and there around the globe.  These pockets are usually tiny, at the largest perhaps half a mile in diameter."  She paused for effect.  "The one here is much larger and more extensive, at least a hundred miles across, stretching from Shelly across the Blackfoot Reservation all the way to Glacier National Park.  The level of aether fluctuation is also much, much higher than anywhere else that we know of on the planet.  Anyway, back to the story."

Privately Jason, Sean and a few others mused that 'aether' would be what they had termed subquantum energy, or Shine.  It seemed that the Aeon Society's scientists had not yet considered that there might be another layer of reality beneath the quantum.

"Doctor Kline was a scientist attached to Branch Nine, but he also worked for the Pentagon.  He was loosely tied to the MK-Ultra programs of the 60's, but his particular project was not shut down when the rest of the highly questionable experiments were stopped.  Firstly, because his experiments were not inhumane, and secondly because it was ruled that his project was in the national interest."

"He wanted to make super-people?"  Cassie guessed.

"He wanted to create the genetic conditions whereby enhanced humans could be naturally born and reared, rather than try to crudely force such evolution through similar means to the shut-down projects.  The Kline Project really started with the grandparents of the test group, most of whom did not even know that they were part of the experiment."  She paused for a moment.  "I should say at this juncture that no-one in this room is part of the test group.  None of you were supposed to turn out different, and how you did is something we are still working to figure out."

"Anyway, somehow Kline stumbled across the discovery of aether-  Wait, that's not altogether fair.  Kline is a brilliant scientist, but his background is in genetics, not quantum physics.  How he discovered aether and found this place is something of an accident to hear him tell it: A series of eureka moments.  He noted that perhaps this environment as well as the hereditary traits he was cultivating would trigger the evolution he was seeking."  Ms Giles spread her hands in a 'and there you have it' gesture.  "And so Project Proteus was formed, initially under the direction of Branch Nine.  Until the 90's, when black budget funding cuts threatened the whole endeavour.  The director of Branch Nine reached out to the Society, with whom they have a tentative alliance, revealed what was afoot, and asked for help."

"We agreed, not least because of our records of Shelly and the area being anomalous.  We also wanted to see if Kline's theories, which seemed sound, would bear fruit.  Which they did, after a fashion - even if it was by accident."  She smiled at the Fellowship.  "We also made another discovery within the high-aether area, which quickly became a separate project - more on that later: I do need to get extra clearance to discuss it but I think, perhaps, you might be able to help us with it.  Focusing on Proteus, though..."

"You young people are not part of the test group, and yet exhibit power and ability far beyond those who are.  I understand that trust is scant right now, and won't ask for any leaps of faith.  You know now the history of the project, and I also believe you know more about the strangeness around Shelly than we do.  So I'm making an offer of aid.  You mentioned horrible dangers and face-eating peril."  Her lips twitched in a smile at that.  "I want to better understand, so perhaps Aeon can give you the tools you need to deal with the threat if, as you say, you are the only ones who can.  Before we get to talking seriously about the exchange of information and aid, though, I'd like to give those present a chance to speak, ask questions and so on."  She sat back, bright dark eyes watching everyone's faces.

"I got a question."  Devin grinned slowly.  "What restaurant do you want to go eat at when we go out on Friday?"  Annette tilted her head slightly, smiling sweetly at him.

"Oh, that rakish assurance and charm must have the girls flocking to you, Mr Jauntsen-"

"Devin, please."  The teleporter interjected, placing his hand over his heart in a courtly fashion.  Marissa rolled her eyes so hard there should have been a rattling noise.

"Devin."  Annette Giles nodded.  "The first problem being, Devin, that your charming sister distinctly mentioned you having a girlfriend-"

"Who, her?  Whatshername?  I dumped her by text like five minutes ago."

"Which leads me to the second problem."  Annette looked sorrowful, though a spark of mirth danced in her eyes.  "I don't go for fickle men."

"Oh, Lona!"  Devin nodded, a soulful expression in his eyes.  "We're like two halves of the same being.  I could never see myself with anyone else.  She's the only one for me.  Not even looking at other women in porn, and lemme tell you that gets weird."

Ms Giles laughed, a warm pleasant bubbling up of good humor before she composed herself and glanced at the others present.  "Does anyone else have any questions?" 

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"You are correct," Marissa said with her usual air of superiority with a slight adjustment for diplomacy.  "Trust is in very short supply.  After all, behind the suit and the words and the smiles, you are an employee.  You answer to someone.  I'm positive it keeps you living well and offers you the means by which you can continue to live comfortably.  Which means to keep your job, their job, and not maintain a solid working relationship with the government," she gestured to the Major, "You'd no doubt sell us all to circus some... what Devin?"

"We're currently six stories below the street, comprised of a ninety six room complex of which a third of those are labs of some sort, living areas and maintenance.  Pretty evenly distributed but the security is shit, and not enough exits if there was a major fire or interdimensional viginasaur invasion."  Devin shook his head in disappointment at the lack of security and he let the entire map of the facility fade from his mind as his awareness of material world him faded.  It seemed like he was texting Lona again under the table when suddenly there was a muted 'pop' and he produced a large Starbucks cup and set it on the table by Annette.  He slid her rejected coffee aside with an ugly face, shaking his head as he looked at her as if he wouldn't dream of her having to drink such swill.  "Let's just get this out of here... yeah... hospital coffee, ugh."  Somewhere in Great Falls a man was arguing with a barista about not receiving the coffee ordered.

"You don't even drink coffee, stop trying to impress her.  She's like, thirty something, she's not gonna sleep with you."  Marissa fumed on her idiot brother.

Devin rolled his and winked to Annette as he leaned back and lifted his phone to text his girlfriend.  "Says the girl dating a mannequin.  Do you stick your hand up his ass to make him talk?  How does that work?"

"I hate you."  Marissa hissed at her brother in a flat monotone devoid of emotion.  Were it not for her brother it would would be easy to see Marissa as a woman far older than she was and these humbling moments that reminded the world that she was still young, immature, and still a kid.  "While I and my associates," she swept a hand to the rest of the people at the table, everyone took note that Marissa was careful not to say 'friends'.  "Are certainly willing to assist you in stopping whatever this is, after all, the enemy of my enemy.  I think you currently have a room full of parents who want to talk their kids and kids who have battled chokers and a coochiesaurus in a hospital and would really like a shower, some rest, and an opportunity to explain to our parents what the hell is going on.  We need time, Ms. Giles.  Perhaps the weekend?  We have school tomorrow and, frankly, we're all very tired and need to process.  At least, I need time to process."

Edited by GDP_ST

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"Okay sure, but one thing first," Cassandra interrupted. She'd been keeping quiet, hoping no one thought to ask her how she and Autumn had gotten down into the underground area, or how long they'd been there, or if she'd had her phone. But this was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

"The prison. Crossroads. Do you guys run that too? Because there's only two really weird things...sort of, industrially speaking...about Shelly. There's the Medical Center, which is super-overbuilt for this town, and there's the prison which seems like it's way bigger and closer to town than that kind of thing should be."

"So, is it yours? And if it's not, what do you know about it?"

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"The prison?"  Ms Giles looked at Cassandra askance for a moment, then threw a questioning look at Taggart, who shrugged and shook his head.  She looked back at Cassie.  "It doesn't seem the prison is anything to do with our presence  here."  Nobody missed the emphasis of the word 'seem', or the way the woman's perfectly manicured fingernails tapped thoughtfully on the Starbucks cup, her gaze curious.  "But I've been an associate - not 'employee', thank you - of the Society long enough not to dismiss strange things as coincidences."  Her gaze refocused on Cass again.

"Other than its location, what is drawing your attention to the prison?"

Edited by GDP_ST

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 Cassandra shook her head. "All I know is what anyone who keeps even moderately well-informed can tell you."

She started ticking off fingers. "It's crooked as shit. It's cruel and inhumane. It has a criminally bad safety record. And..."

Here Cass paused. "...and it's a Dark factory. Okay, one thing that not anyone would know. The point, though, is that you just started talking very carefully, and you're trying to bounce my questions back at me which is prime evasion tactics and it's not working."

"So one more time from the top. What do you know about it?"

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Rather than looking guilty or annoyed, Ms Giles looked pleased, smiling a little at Cassandra.  "The prison, nothing.  But you said 'Crossroads', which is a name I've come across before.  Would that be Crossroads Incorporated?"

"Yeah."  Cassie said, nodding. "You've heard of them?"

"I know of them.  Safe to say that they are of interest to the Aeon Society.  We've bumped into them tangentially in other parts of the world, always up to morally questionable activities - yes, more morally questionable than what we're doing here, before you ask - and always close to strange goings on.  We're still not entirely sure what their aims are.  We've also lost several associates who have tried to infiltrate their upper echelons."  Ms Giles frowned a little, taking another sip of coffee.  "I confess their presence here is a little surprising.  I am curious now whether Dr Kline might have been playing the pipes for two masters."

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"More questionable than mass surveillance and human...genetic stuff?" Cassandra asked skeptically. "I'm gonna need sources for that."

She paused, then the word she'd been hunting for popped into her head. "Eugenics!" Her cheeks colored. "I mean, not 'genetic stuff.' Eugenics. Like the Nazis."

As much to distract from the slip as anything, Cass pressed Ms Giles then. "Anyway, Crossroads owns the prison. What kind of 'questionable activities' have they done before then? And...hang on, how can they be a surprise? You guys were operating in Shelly before they opened the prison, right?"

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"Aeon took over funding the overall Project in the 90's, following the discovery of... the thing I can't yet tell you about but really want to."  Ms Giles smiled a little ruefully.  "Before that, it was being sponsored solely by Branch Nine and U.S. tax dollars.  Please understand, our primary interest was not the eugenics aspect of the Project.  In fact, one of the conditions for our sponsorship was that element of the project to cease expansion - which again makes it even more puzzling how those of you here gained powers.  We were content to allow Kline and Cook to observe what they had set in motion, and to act as damage control to limit the scope of their interference.  Simply exposing them and shutting things down would have done nobody any favors, so we tried to maximise the good that could come of what had already been done."  She exchanged a meaningful glance with Taggart.  "Major Taggart here replaced the old head of security at our insistence some years ago.  We don't always see eye to eye with Branch Nine's way of doing things, but in this they have been largely cooperative.  The mass surveillance was deemed 'necessary' due to the fact that any random person might generate paranormal abilities, and so left in place."  She made a face.  "Distasteful, but not un-useful.  If it hadn't been for that, the Project would not have learned of you all, which means the Society would not have learned of you either."

"You realise we're not really considering that a bonus."  Jason said in a soft tone that sent warning tingles down the backs of his friends, one or two of whom glanced at his cold gaze and expressionless face and wondered if that tone had been what Liam Day had heard.  Annette seemed to catch the hint of unvoiced menace, nodding soberly at the lean youth.

"I assure you, we don't want to control or poke and prod you.  We are fascinated by the sheer level of what we've seen, far beyond anything in the Society's records, but that does not overrule our regard for your personhoods.  As I said, as of today we simply want to help you deal with the menace that seems to haunt Shelly, and then we shall observe from a distance and otherwise leave you alone - at least until you graduate high school."

"What happens then?"  Cassie asked.  Annette smiled warmly in answer.

"Probably an extended hand to join the Society, if I know my people.  What I can say is that, at the most basic level, the Society will fund your way through college or such further education as you wish to undertake, pay you a stipend, and largely allow you to live your own lives in exchange for, once in a while, being alerted to something strange that might suit your talents and personalities."  She glanced at the Major.  "Branch Nine will likely make you an offer too.  The point is that you can choose either or neither, as you wish.  We will protect your autonomy in that regard."  Her tone was firm on that point.

"Returning to the matter of Crossroads - we've tentatively linked them to human trafficking, organ-legging, blood diamonds, cutting-edge high-tech weapons research, custom pharmaceutical research into mind-altering substances, several ethically questionable PMCs, and even fomenting civil unrest in third world nations."  She sighed a little in frustration.  "All very tentative, all very nebulous, nothing we can prove.  Everything illegal usually done through shell companies and several layers of cut-outs protecting the main body of the corporation.  The last time we got close to something they were doing in Bangladesh, they wiped out an entire R&D building using some kind of seismic device to trigger a localised earthquake.  Everyone inside died, along with a couple of hundred in the surrounding neighbourhood.  Are they capable of immoral and illegal genetic research?  Definitely.  Which makes me suspicious that Doctor Kline has two paymasters."  Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  "When was the prison built?"

"1999."  It was Sheriff Allister who spoke up, his face somber as he did so.  "Over the on-record protestations of many of the city councillors and the then-sheriff.  But the state government rubber-stamped it."

"Hmm.  So roughly five to six years after we took over and started restricting the scope of Kline's activities."  Annette Giles' eyes were flinty now.  "That seems an unlikely coincidence."

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It was a shot in the dark, to be sure.   Cade had been following along for most of the conversation but one thing seemed to stand out, only one question he could ask that the others hadn't or a concern that hadn't been aired.

"Ms. Giles, Do you have a picture of Dr. Kline?"

The Man in Black.  Who was he exactly?  As one of several who'd come face to face with him, Cade was reasonably sure he could ID him from a photo, so he asked.   There was definitely something more to his tone that he had suspicions about Kline.

"We're all familiar with Dr. Cook, but I'd like to put a face to the name of the other person you say's behind some of the strangeness here in town."

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Charlie had taken his seat and listened thoughtfully. And watched thoughtfully too. Cook definitely was in the hot seat - the spot of Pepto-Bismol - indicated the obvious stomach upsets the Fellowship had been causing him. Jason felt a mental link curl out and politely offer to metaphorically shake his hand. Surprisingly, he recognized it as Charlie's. *If it helps to throw Cook off-balance, allude to his stomach aches.* Charlie's attention drifted away though, absorbed by the thrust of question and reveal - and Cook had left the room at Giles' orders anyway.

Giles was calm, composed and very high fashion. She certainly seemed the example of a mysterious weirdness-investigating society that had seen it all - so to speak. Contrary to Marissa, Devin and Jason's pre-meeting assumptions, the Aeon Society sounded like people the Fellowship could work with. Sounded, yes, but the point was that the group wasn't dealing with a monolithic Project, with multiple different viewpoints and goals.

But she had skipped over something that drew Charlie's interest. After she answered Cade, Charlie jumped in. "Moving back in the discussion, what was that experiment you were working on?" Because if the Dark had interfered, well, was it just for the energy or did it have an interest there too?

Edited by Charlie Cole

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Sean's eyes slid towards the door Dr. Cook had left through, then he glanced at Kat from the corner of his eye. Unlikely coincidence, indeed. He was parsing what had already been said, about The Aeon Society and Branch Nine, while Cass and Giles spoke about Crossroads. Stuff was spiralling out into a much better picture, and from what Sean could tell, Annette Giles was being on the up and up.

He had refocused his senses earlier, so he could feel/see the constellations of neural impulses flowing inside those around him. While he didn't have as much experience reading synapses as he did coding or wearing a bra, he still noted there was something... different about Giles. It wasn't as anomalous as Jase's neural impulses, it was just... Focus? Discipline? Jase had that too, but Giles' neural activity seemed more like everyone else's, just with little to none of the extraneous synapses most people evidenced.

When Giles' mentioned eugenics, Crossroads' other activities, and Kline possibly earning two paychecks, Sean frowned, folding his arms in an instinctively protective gesture. Since he had learned of the project and Cook's involvement, it had been a fear of his that his genetic anomalies might have been inflicted rather than occurring in a more random or natural - such as it was - fashion.

"If I may add a pair of questions of my own," Sean said, nodding towards the door. "While I be able to speak with Dr. Cook before we leave? He is my doctor and there's stuff I want to talk to him about, considering what's been revealed here. And following up on Charlie's question about the experiment, it was mentioned the Project being surprised by our abilities, considering we - most of us - are apparently in the control group."

His frown tightened as he learned forward, uncanny, multi-hued eyes bright and intent. "What I want to know is who is in the Test group."

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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2 hours ago, Cade said:

It was a shot in the dark, to be sure.   Cade had been following along for most of the conversation but one thing seemed to stand out, only one question he could ask that the others hadn't or a concern that hadn't been aired.

"Ms. Giles, Do you have a picture of Dr. Kline?"

The Man in Black.  Who was he exactly?  As one of several who'd come face to face with him, Cade was reasonably sure he could ID him from a photo, so he asked.   There was definitely something more to his tone that he had suspicions about Kline.

"We're all familiar with Dr. Cook, but I'd like to put a face to the name of the other person you say's behind some of the strangeness here in town."

"The last photograph we have of him is about ten years old, and I don't have a copy with me.  Major?"  She looked at Taggart, who shook his head. 

"I've never even met him, only spoken to him on the phone.  He spends most of his time at Site B.  To the best of my knowledge, he's not left that compound in years."  The major plainly wasn't happy with what he was hearing.  "Under the arrangement we have, my personnel aren't allowed here or at Site B unless there is an alert."

"Yes.  Site B.  It does seem to keep coming back to that, doesn't it?"  Giles looked thoughtful, then glanced at Charlie.  "The other experiment we were running was at Site B - which is the thing I think you should know about, and want to tell you about, but need to get approval to discuss with you.  Even for me, there are boundaries to my remit."  Her lips thinned in mild frustration.  "What I can say is that - from what I know - it shouldn't have had the effect it did."

1 hour ago, Sean Cassidy said:

"If I may add a pair of questions of my own," Sean said, nodding towards the door. "While I be able to speak with Dr. Cook before we leave? He is my doctor and there's stuff I want to talk to him about, considering what's been revealed here. And following up on Charlie's question about the experiment, it was mentioned the Project being surprised by our abilities, considering we - most of us - are apparently in the control group."

His frown tightened as he learned forward, uncanny, multi-hued eyes bright and intent. "What I want to know is who is in the Test group."

"You may speak with Dr Cook if you wish."  Annette nodded at Sean.  "I understand that you have a lot to discuss with him personally.  As for the identities of the test group..."  she frowned.  "You understand I am not happy with divulging that.  These other young people are, I believe, unaware of you and are likewise entitled to their privacy.  They are also considerably less advanced than all of you in terms of ability." 

"That as may be."  Jason stated, speaking up from the end of the table.  "But the Dark feeds off Shine - what we call our powers - which is why it attacked us here.  If these other kids Shine too, they are in danger, and their deaths will strengthen that which we're fighting against."

She considered for a moment, bright eyes on Jason's face, then regarding the others similarly before sighing.  "So far as I am aware, there are four 'successes' for Project Proteus.  A telekinetic called Tawny Roberts, a cyber-empath called Todd Asper, a psychometrist called Cody Sikes and a telepath called Courtney Adams."

"Do they know of each other?"  Jason asked immediately as several of the Fellowship muttered and exchanged looks.  Annette shook her head.

"According to the reports filed, they are unaware of anything except their own limited ability.  The Adams girl is the strongest amongst them - Cook reports she's capable of reading and influencing emotions, as well as scanning thoughts and even accessing and changing memories, though doing so is difficult and causes her pain.  Its possible that she knows more simply by reading Cook's mind, though.  The Roberts girl is the least developed - she regards her gifts as frightening and tries not to use them, resisting cooperation with Cook's tests."

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"We saw Courtney with Dr. Cook," Cassie said, glancing at Autumn. "Just before everything went to hell. I didn't know about the others though. Huh."

She looks around at the rest of the Fellowship, then at Giles. "Cody was one too. That...doesn't surprise me, I guess. But he's a perfect example of why we need to know. Those kids, all of them...they're in danger. Us too, but we're stronger and we tend to stay in groups. Which reminds me."

Cassandra dug her phone out and swiped through her photos until she got to the one Autumn had sent her. The one of the man dressed in black. The one that had come for her and Cade again later on.

Holding it out so Giles and the others at the table could see it, she asked, "Any of you know who this is?"

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The effect on Ms Giles was sudden as it was noticeable.  The air of ease even when discussing serious matters disappeared and she leaned forwards, hand outstretched.  "Can I take a closer look, please?"  Cassie stood, moving to lean closer and holding her phone out.  If the Aeon woman took note of the caution, she didn't show it, her eyes widening as she stared at the smirking face of the Man in Black before she sat back in her chair, looking as though she had seen a ghost.

"You recognise him?"  Cassie stated rather than asked, even as Taggart looked at the face on the phone with no recognition in his own expression.  Annette Giles nodded silently, appearing to be processing some chain of thought, then spoke.

"When was this taken?"

"Friday night."  Cassie replied.

"Here in Shelly, outside the diner."  put in Autumn helpfully.

"What the hell does it mean?"  Ms Giles asked no-one in particular.  She seemed visibly agitated, pushing away from the table and standing, pacing a few steps, then turning and pacing back.  "Have any of you spoken to him?"

"What do you know about him?"  Jason asked, eyes narrowing as they regarded Ms Giles.

"That he's a harbinger."  The woman said as she sat down again, recovering some level of composure.  "So far as we know, he's not what we would call 'evil', but his appearance does herald change, upset, and chaos.  He's popped up here and there throughout Aeon's records, and his appearance is always considered to be a sign that things are about to get very weird and very dangerous.  Which is not to say he himself is malevolent - the few times he's ever deigned to speak with members of Aeon he's been civil, if cryptic in the extreme."

"Does he have a name?"  Jason pressed quietly.  Ms Giles shook her head slowly.

"Only false ones.  Marquis d'Ys is the oldest one we've found, linked to a description from records of one of the Society's ancestors - records made in the 17th century.  Since then he's shown up in records as 'Monsignor Tatterdemalion' during an incident in Italy.  'The Ragged Man' during the 19th century in Spain.  One of our members called him 'Mr Crow' during a sighting in Depression era Chicago, and he was seen in several places in short order during World War 2.  He then popped up again in Dallas right after JFK was shot.  He's our oldest unsolved mystery."

"I aim to cause upset to the established order."  Jason quoted.  "That's what he said to me when I asked him what he wanted."

"But which order?"  Annette asked rhetorically.  "Kline's?  Crossroads?  What game is he playing?"  She picked up the coffee Devin had procured for her and took a sip, frowning in thought.

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"Wait," Devin snapped up, suddenly interested.  "Tawnsters is a glow bug like the rest of us?"

"You know her?"  Anette asked.

"Yeah, she's like, my bestie."  He replied.

"Something like that." Sophia said dryly.  "More like she's totally in love with you and believes you two are destined to be together.  Christ, you can't be around her for five minutes without her talking about you.  It's enough to make me want to swallow a bullet.  She's so sweet about it too, makes it almost impossible to hate her."

"No," Marissa butt in.  "It really doesn't.  She is a canker.  A pox on my personal living space.  She over so much it's like she lives with us.  It's bad enough I'm linked genetically to this boob," she thumbed to Devin.  "I certainly don't went an extra pair in the house stealing my sweats for sleep overs."

"Aww, maybe if you had friends," Devin teased.  "They'd let you borrow their clothes for sleep overs."

"Ew!" Marissa recoiled away in an abject disgust.  "Have you seen what these people dress in around here?  The only fashion line available to these dregs of human existence is Mugato's  Derelicte' line straight out of Wal-Mart's homeless couture catalogue."

"Aaaand, we're right here, Marissa."  Autumn pointed out, opening her arms as if to say 'here we are'.

"Oh, no,"  Marissa waved her hand up and down as if excusing Autumn.  "Not you.  We shared a pizza, girl.  You're good."

"Joy."  The redhead half rolled her eyes back and shook her head as if hoping to shake loose whatever logic Marissa was using so Autumn could better understand it.

Sophia folded her arms and crossed her leg over her knee while shaking her head.  "Un-fucking-believable.  If that's what being pretty is like, just kill me."

"Why kill you?"  Marissa eyes narrowed like dagger.  "You're not pretty."

"Oooooh-Kay."  Devin interjected as Marissa smiled razors and Charlie used his arm to block Sophia from getting out of her chair.  "Good talk.  See?  We're bonding, bringing people together, learning and sharing.  Awesome.  See?  We're breaking new ground.  Now onto wonton violence to one another.  Great breakthrough, but your hour is up, ladies.  Kill each other on your own time."

The adults present were either amused, irritated, or a combination of both as the teenagers reminded everyone that, well, they were teenagers.  After a moment, once Devin and Charlie were sure the girls they were monitoring weren't going to leap at each other start raking out eyeballs, he asked Annette a question that had been burning in his mind for quite sometime.  "So, I've a question."

The way he said it made the words seem to carry more weight than he intended.  All his jokes and snide remarks carried a certain tone and now all that was gone and all that was there seemed to be Devin if chose to act like a regular sixteen year old boy.  "These guys can all do really cool things.  They share certain abilities, crossover, I guess.  Marissa didn't get powers, but she's obviously not human," his sister punched him in the side and game him a look that screamed 'hey'.  "Not in a bad way, I'm just saying, humans don't do what we can do.  But... how come I can't do what they can do?  Where's my fire and lasers and... Cthulhu powers?  A-and why can't they do what I can do, or what my sister does?  What makes us different?"

Edited by Jaunt

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Annette managed to shake off her shookedness at the sight of the photograph Cassie had shown her of the Man In Black, focusing on Devin and his question with a soft frown of concentration.  "In all honesty, Devin.  I don't know.  The Society's knowledge of psionic abilities is limited to random occurrences of telekinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance in the past, none of which have been proven reliable or studied in lab conditions.  Just like we can't explain why Jason - for example - is capable of throwing a fully grown man around whilst Miss Roberts can barely lift a softball."

"Wait."  Sheriff Allister leaned forward, grasping something from the dizzying whirl of talk about powers.  "Throw a man around?"  The Fellowship, practically as one, tensed as the large man turned his gaze on the one teen who wasn't tense at all.  "You're the one that attacked Liam Day."  He half-guessed, half-stated, eyes narrowing.  "It's the only thing that makes sense - no sign of a break-in, no fingerprints, no hair, no sign that he even fought anyone."

"That last might be to do with attitude."  Jason said quietly, ignoring the sheriff and focusing on Annette's words, as though an accusation of aggravated assault was nothing to concern himself with.  "You mentioned Tawny was intimidated by her powers.  One or two of us had that problem as well, at first."  He mentioned no names.  "The bolder among us made the most rapid apparent progress, the ones that saw it as something to be pushed at, explored, played with.  We shared what we learned with the others, and learned from them in turn.  As for why Devin, Marissa and Cade are different... I'm not sure.  Devin's power is definitely psionic in nature, but perhaps doing what he can do excludes someone from being able to do anything else.  Marissa and Cade don't share that commonality with us - they're different in how their Shine manifests."

"In other words, you don't know either."  Marissa said with a smirk.

"Yet."  Jason corrected with unruffled calm, smiling faintly at her - and then the Sheriff slammed his hand down on the table.

"Don't ignore me."  He growled, pointing at Jason.  "You put the Day boy in a coma.  He looked like he'd been in a damned car wreck without a seatbelt.  He attacked Avalon Wilson so you went all vigilante on him with your power."  Jason stared at him, face expressionless and a fathomless cold humor in his gaze.

"Prove it." he said at last, with a shrug.  Allister came to his feet, face turning red.  Gar and Hank likewise stood, plainly intending to defend Jase, though Gar's hands were raised in a warding off gesture.

"Steady on now, Sheriff.  We've all had a long day and don't need any more trouble right now."  Jason's dad said with as much calm as he could muster.  Ms Giles and Major Taggart looked on, somewhat concerned.

"Trouble?!  That boy of yours is trouble.  Goddamn criminal sociopath with psychic powers!"

"High-functioning psychopath." Jason said, looking a little surprised as Sean, Devin and Marissa all muttered it in chorus with him.  Flashing them a brief smile, he turned his gaze to the sheriff once more.  "What's the plan, sheriff?  Lock me up and ask me nicely to stay put while you find a judge willing to hear the case or a prosecutor willing to carry it?  And assuming you're lucky in that regard, and my defense lawyer is both asleep and drunk, are you going to send me to juvie and, once again, rely on my goodwill to keep me caged."  Jason's voice dripped scorn.  "Or maybe just whip up a posse and have a lynching party like the good ol' days?  No moral high horse there, I'm afraid."

"We have laws for a reason, Bannon."  Allister growled.

"Yes, to reassure people that the government is in control and has the monopoly on all use of force other than in self-defense."  Jason sighed, rolling his eyes.  "Tell me, Sheriff.  How law-abiding would you be if your friend was the one assaulted?  Or your daughter, perhaps?  Would all of Liam's rights and protections be observed scrupulously?"

"Gentlemen, perhaps we could all sit down?"  Ms Giles said soothingly.  "Sheriff, I am certain that you will find that Liam is in much better health than he was first thing this morning.  It seems that Avalon Wilson used her gift to speed the healing of the damage Jason caused."  She cleared her throat.  "Also, I think if you question him he will completely exonerate Mr Bannon.  I understand he believes that two burly men with foreign accents attacked him."

"Great.  More mind-fuckery."  The sheriff was unmollified as he re-took his seat, glaring at Jason as Hank and Gar likewise sat.  "And what happens next time your star pupil here decides to take the law into his own hands?"

"Planning to read the Dark its rights?"  Jason fired back without even a pause.  "Want due process for monsters?"

"The only monster I see here, Bannon,"  Sheriff Allister said with great deliberation "Is you."

The silence that followed filled the room for a long moment, as Gar Bannon went pale, Hank looked grim, and Jase merely smiled a thin, cold smile.

Edited by GDP_ST

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"Goddammit Dad, that is enough."  His voice was a low growl almost, despite his own concerns regarding Jason, he was one of them.   "Today Jason very likely saved our lives despite being injured, and his actions  definitely helped prevent any of us from being harmed.  You have seen some of the shit we're dealing with.   This is only the tip of the Iceberg.  There's been alot of strangeness going on, and even you have to admit that.  Think about that prison riot."  He knew he'd be in for it later, but it was far too late to stop now.

He sighed.  "Calling him a Monster isn't helping anyone Dad.  Jason knows what he is, and it isn't that.  A monster would have reacted violently when everyone aimed their weapons at it. A monster would have ignored the call to stand down, and it certainly wouldn't be here talking, trying to find a way forward.  That's what Jason, what all of us, want to do.   Things will go much better for everyone involved if we work together to defeat the very real monsters at our door.  We know we will have to keep fighting these things, they'll hunt us down if we don't stop them. This isn't the first time we've fought them, I can't imagine it will be the last."  

"Look I'm not glib or articulate like some of you, so let's just stop antagonizing each other.   We've all had a huge amount of information dropped on us, alot of which I at least am trying to process still.   Secret projects, this Aeon Society,  It's alot to take in, for me at least.   Let's not complicate that any further."

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"Hey," Marissa gently massaged her nails on Cade's scalp, speaking softly and thumbing though his dark hair.  "Do not let him get to you.  Okay?"

"And when did this happen?" The Sheriff waggled his finger between Cade and Marissa to place their sudden intimacy under scrutiny.

"Sheriff, I  understand you're upset, but your son is right," Marissa expressed calmly.  Her voice was the calmest they'd heard it all night, save for when the weirdness began happening and she started giving orders.  "And yes, Jason did mess Liam up pretty good.  We all tried to intervene and stop him but, we failed.  While I agree that we have laws in place for a reason, I have not lost any sleep for the would be rapist that is Liam Day.  You should also know that we dealt with Jason ourselves.  Given our unique situations, locking us up if truly go off the reservation is not really an option.  No cell could hold any of us for very long.  So, we policed ourselves.  We addressed the issue, and put Jason on trial, as it were."

"Did you now?"  Sheriff Alister asked derisively.  "Let me guess, not guilty?"

"No," Cade spoke up.  "We all found him quite guilty.  We almost turned him over to you, but knew he'd be out in a matter of days, the moment he got bored."

"He's a special case," Charlie spoke up.  "Look, none of us were on board with what he did, but also, none of us could sit there and claim that were were perfect people either.  It wasn't a rando act of bullying, Liam tried to rape Lona.  All of us wanted to do the same thing Jason did, we just..." he took a deep breath.  "We just didn't have the courage to act on it."

"We were all a bit lost and confused because it was the first time any of us really felt the sheer gravitas of the responsibility of having these powers."  Cassie interjected, following up Charlie like the twins when they finished each other's sentences.  "We were all shocked, confused, and most of all, scared.  It opened our eyes to the fact that even the simplest ways in which our powers touch the world could have a serious impact in the immediate or long term future.  Needless to say we couldn't turn him over, but we had to figure out some way to keep ourselves in line."

The Sheriff shook his head.  "That's not an answer."

"I'll kill him."  Devin said calmly.  When the adults all looked at him the teens all sort of looked away, like none of them wanted to speak the truth out loud.  "The agreement was simple.  Jason screwed up, but if he, or any of us, get out of line and use our powers to abuse or hurt people, then the rest of us are bound by a code to rise up and take that person down.  Since no cell can hold us, and leaving us free to roam isn't an option, putting us down is the only alternative, Sheriff.  For now, Jason has apologized for his actions, and we're all content to accept that answer because frankly, rapists and child molesters deserve to die anyways.  If you don't agree, keep in mind you're being silently judged."

"That's incredible," Ms. Giles shook her head.  "You've already established your own set of bylaws and a system of accountability for the abuse of your abilities?"

"There has to be order," Marissa said.  "Granted, I feel it should be my own self-imposed rule, but I was voted down."  She ended the phrase in a dry monotone.  "The point is, Sheriff, that I understand where you are coming from, but there is no black or white at the moment.  This," she shook her head searching for the right word.  "Entity, refuses to play by rules.  It can command people.  It was not until after Liam," she lied.  "That we learned that it could force people to do things against their will.  Now, Jason has to wear that guilt the rest of his life."

She gestured to Jason to present him as an exhibit of the guilt he was wearing, but Jason was on channel Jason which was expressionless, deadpan Jason all the Jason time.  "Okay, well, trust me.  He's feeling it..."  She waved a hand in his direction.  "Somewhere."

The lovely teen turned her attention back to the Sheriff, addressing his concerns.  "We all get it, Sheriff.  Things are scary.  My brother has the scars to prove how messed up things can get, but your son and the rest of the Fellowship have been protecting this town, it's people, and each other since the end of summer.  We're on your side.  We want to help you, not fight with you.  Sure, we've stumbled here and there, but you should be proud of Cade, Sheriff Alister, not yelling at him."

Edited by Marissa Jauntsen

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