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Monstruous Regiment [Ep V Side Fiction]

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Marissa was not in the best of moods.  Some of it was her idiot brother's antics -  arguing with her about whether she was facing the Dark with them, going and talking to Jason and winding up staying for an awesome-sounding dinner and bro-down with the guys without, and this was the important part, inviting her (she wouldn't have gone, of course, but it would have been nice to be invited so she could refuse) and, possibly most egregious of all, asking out Cassandra Allen out of the blue without even mentioning the possibility to her.  Marissa didn't like surprises, least of all social dynamic blindsiding.  Sure, Allen was presentable in a 'needs to stop dressing like she's thirteen' way.  Nice dress, heels, makeup and some hair work and she would be, even Marissa was forced to privately admit, suitable arm-candy for her brother.

A large part of the lovely raven-haired teen's disquiet was the Enterich situation.  The man troubled her, his threats troubled her, his power troubled her.  He had United States Marshals in his pocket, for crying out loud, and not just a couple of worker drone types, given that he knew all about her father's situation - more than Marissa herself knew, she was certain.  She had no reason to doubt he and the people he represented could and would squash her family like so much roadkill on a hot stretch of asphalt.  Marissa knew well how influence and manipulation could be used unscrupulously - hell, she'd mastered the art to at least a small-town level.  And, like any gifted artist, she recognised a master when she met one.  She ran a high school and wielded significant influence over a town.  Enterich probably ran countries.  If he hadn't threatened her family (and been so obviously an evil shit), she might even have been flattered at the sorta-kinda apprenticeship he obviously felt he was offering her.

However, the focal point of Marissa's ire right now was that, after picking and conspiring with a suitable partner in crime to turn the tables on the greasy shitweasel, and after agreeing to meet said partner here at the Marias Medical Center...  Courtney was nowhere to be fucking seen!  Totally inconsiderate!  Marissa had even arrived fifteen minutes late for their morning rendezvous, just to ensure that she was giving Courtney ample time to show up first...  A blast of pop music caught her attention, and she fixed her disapproving gaze on the cherry-red convertible that pulled into the parking lot and slotted in neatly next to Marissa's vastly more classy Mercedes.  From behind the wheel Courtney gave her a smile and a little finger-wave, then killed the music and the engine and got out of the car, dressed in low heels, short crimson skirt and a cream blouse so low-cut as to be weaponised.

"Hey, partner."  she said with a smirk, pushing her sunglasses up on her head and winking one honey-brown eye.  "Hope you weren't waiting long."

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"No," she shook her head, lying to her 'partner' as she offered her a welcoming half smile.  Round, dark lenses hid her eyes from Courtney's gaze as she knew the redhead was already comparing their outfits in a never ending attempt to out fashion Marissa.  She was wearing a black pleated leather skirt that Courtney had been wanting to borrow (and never return) for ages that flowed down and stopped just above her knees with a fashionable maroon sweater that hugged her athletic curves.  With the addition of a wide belt, a variety of accessories and four inch heels that were disguised to appear as lace up sneakers, she looked positively adorbs once again and Courtney would have to wait to claim the title.  "Not too long.  It is just as well, too, I had a few texts to send out.  Cade and his stupid fishing.  Ugh."

"He's not serious, is he?"  Court scoffed with a chuckle of distaste added on for good measure.  "I mean, he expects you to what?  Become some bumpkin girl and take up fishing and meth?  What's he changing for you?"

"Chill," Marissa laughed softly.  "He asked politely and I agreed.  I can't fault him for something I agreed to, unless it turns out to be a complete shit-fest.  Which, I'm almost certain it will."

The two girls walked into the medical center, Marissa following Courtney as she seemed to know where the two needed to go.  They moved like a cold wind, catching the stares of employees and patients alike as the two beautiful young women were both sixteen and looking early twenties, easily.  While Shelly's Queen hadn't made it a habit of coming here, the few times she had, either with her mother or for some other reason, she'd always left with a few phone numbers of male nurses, orderlies and in a few cases a doctor, who just didn't know any better.  One of the nurses was a decent guy, fresh out of college with amazing blue eyes.  He was a hell of a kisser too but that ended when his girlfriend found out and had the nerve to confront Marissa when she was coming out of Bunnie's one evening.  She was a good kisser too.  As the guys stopped to catch a look at them as they passed, Marissa one a wink along with half of a smirk and the two ladies went on their way.

She had to hide in her child's giggling as secret passages and cloak and dagger elevators hidden in offices were about as kick ass as she could have hoped for as her normally draband boring life in Shelly had suddenly exploded into something from a romanticized spy thriller... with elder gods of evil trying to at her brother's junk.  Okay, so the writers needed a bit more Hot Pockets and Xena reruns, but for the most part there was nothing uncool about her life as of-

*bing*

Now.  The elevator doors slid open and she and Courtney emerged into an expansive series of hallways where military personnel moved about and doctors and researchers were all sealed away behind massive panes of plexiglass conducting all manner of research into Shine on a genetic and (although they didn't want to admit it) metaphysical level.  Until recently, no one knew what the breeches of energy were that were seeping into their world from places unknown, but the Fellowship dropped a hell of a bomb in their laps when they had claimed they'd all been to and battled within, multiple alternate dimensions resting parallel to Earth.  To say the place was currently a shit show of scientists with all manner of theories and increasingly pissed off because all their subject matter experts were 'enjoying their four day week end from school' would have been a gross understatement.

The made their way through the madness and were only a few doors down from the office they were needing when they were stopped by a rather round man in a button down and khakis.  He was somewhere in his fifties and gave up on fitness a long- okay, he had never really considered fitness at all in his life.  "You!  You," he stuck a finger out to point at Marissa but she didn't have time to react and stop so his digit collided with her sweater.  She took a step back and looked at him like she was about to claw his face off.  "Which on are you?  You're about the right age, you're the girl, the sister-"

She swatted his finger aside, scowling at him with maroon lips that were they they the curtains concealing fangs beneath would not have been unsurprising in the least.  "I'm the one who's going to feed you that finger if you ever touch me again, you weird-ass freak.  Who the he-"

He pressed on like she didn't just insult him or threaten his well being.  "Now, would you say the transference of matter and energy was a complete breakdown and reconstruction of your atoms and molecules or-"

"Larry," Annette chimed in, placing her hand on his shoulder.  He pressed on without seeming to notice her touch.  "Larry!"  She raised her voice in his ear and that seemed to snap out of his hypothesizing for how one would travel between the worlds.  "If you don't mind, these ladies and I have an appointment and quite frankly, you're scaring the hell out of them."  Her smile was nothing short of diplomatic and sincere as 'Larry' wet back to huffing glue or watching Japanese cartoons or whatever the hell he did there and the three ladies went on their way.

"So sorry about that," the door to her office closed and it seemed a million times more quiet.  "Since the revelation you and your friends dropped in here the other day, things have, to put it mildly, quite hectic."  She offered the girls a seat on a large, comfortable looking couch as she sat in a chair just to the left.  She crossed her legs relaxed.  Annette had always been good with people and she'd read the kids numerous times in their previous meetings, except Marissa.  No matter how hard she tried the teenager refused to offer up the slightest microexpression as to what was happening behind her eyes.  "So, Courtney tells me you have something important you needed to discuss, but could only talk to me?  If this is about your brother, Marissa, please tell him I already have a date for Homecoming."

Marissa smiled, noticing her use of humor as an icebreaker to make it easier for her to want to open up to Annette.  It was a common tactic, especially when talking with teens and children.  She decided not to remind Annette that her mother possessed a PhD in behavioral sciences and certain tricks wouldn't work on her.  It wasn't Annette's fault, Marissa and the others were far from ordinary and well outside the realms of normal.  "I don't think that's going to stop him," she chuckled, showing the proper emotional responses to her host's tactics.  "He's tenacious, and come Tuesday, single.  So, you're in for a treat."  Her maroon lips lengthened into a smile.  "So, there is no simple way to say this, so I'm just going to put it all out on the table and we'll see what we can do with it all."

"So, I was approached by this man," and she told Annette the story.  She told her about the Marshals and the meeting place and the man who threatened her family and what he'd asked her to do.  She never mentioned Enterich's name, claiming she didn't recall it.  This would allow for her to play a duplicity card later on the chance that Annette couldn't be trusted.  She never mentioned the money either, allow both Annette and Courtney to continue to help her out of sympathy for her and what could happen to her family (besides, she was doing all the work, why should she have to share?).  "...so now I have until Sunday to report something on the topics he's requested, or... okay, I've been eyeing them since the hallway," the teen brushed aside the current topics for more important priorities.  "Where did you get those shoes?  I so need them in my life.  I have like this skirt and top sort of outfit I threw together that has been waiting for that exact pair of shoes to complete it.  You didn't get those from around here, there's no way."

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"Milan."  Annette Giles replied distantly, her gaze on the tips of her fingers as they tapped lightly on the top of her desk.  She glanced up with a small smile.  "Milan for good shoes, and professional attire for the woman who wants to project competence.  Paris for summer dresses and party frocks.  London for outdoors-worthy clothing and formal long gowns.  Not the first things I learned, being born to parents in the Society, but I can definitely say the rules have stood me in good stead."  She had listened silently through Marissa's explanation, elegant brow furrowing and her dark eyes narrowing very slightly the only outward reactions she'd given.  The 'girl talk' covered, at least for now, she leaned forwards.

"You're between a rock and a hard place.  This man obviously works for Crossroads in some capacity, and they seem to have at least some inkling that 'special individuals' broke into their facility.  He probably targeted you very specifically as the ethically weakest link with the greatest level of competence, as well as having something they were utterly unwilling to lose.  Someone who would do business."  She smiled, a coolly professional smile.  "Obviously, he is testing you.  If he works for Crossroads, who have subverted our Project here through Kline and Cook, then he likely already knows a great deal about some or all of you from Cook's files.  He'll be watching to see if you lie to him, Marissa."

"Who don't you have files on?"  Marissa asked curiously, her mind working to attack the problem from various angles.

"I think I can do better than that."  Annette pursed her lips.  "I can let you peruse the files on your friends that Cook kept.  Then you can streamline your own briefing to Enterich - not to match exactly what he already knows, which is largely impersonal data from Cook, but to add some personal anecdotes to the mixture.  Those sorts of first-hand observations are candy to an information gatherer."  She paused.  "Cook was very inaccurate with his assessments of your friends abilities.  He had no idea one of them could form lasers, for instance.  Or that another could shapeshift in such a dramatic fashion.  When concocting your story, remember that Enterich will likely have footage from both hospital and prison."

"Wait... so I'm to go along with spying for this man?"  Marissa peered suspiciously at Ms Giles, who shook her head.

"No.  You're spying for me." she corrected with a reassuring smile.  "Not because I'm demanding it, or as payment for my help, but so you can help me get the information I will need to safeguard your family.  This person is just one man - we could descend upon him on Sunday and it would accomplish nothing save to trigger the threat to your family.  We need a dagger inside his network - or a slow poison, perhaps."  She sat back, sighing.  "Considering all the options, the most dangerous one is the one that will achieve your goal.  Work with him, be trustworthy, allow him to think he's won.  He will throw temptations in your path - juicy information that your friends really need to know, or appearing to give you a key to liberating your family from his power - so he can catch you out.  And so - this is important - if you learn anything about him, or Crossroads, bring it to me.  Don't take it to your friends - not yet anyway.  Don't try to act on it yourself.  Let me help you by acting as an addition layer of thought and analysis.  We will build up a complete picture, and then when we can we will deal with him in such a way that the threat to your family is eliminated."

"I wish I could just take care of the problem, but I can't, Marissa."  she said with genuine empathy in her expression.  "It's terribly unfair that you're in this fix.  But I can help you get out of it, and I will do all I can to that end."

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Posted (edited)

"Ms. Giles," Courtney leaned in with concern creasing her delicate, soulless beauty.  "She's sixteen, you can't possibly expect her-"

Marissa raised her hand, interrupting her friend(?).  "No, Court, she is right and she does expect me to do just that."

"Mari, this is dangerous," she replied, taking Marissa's hand.  Courtney may have been mean, a bit of a nympho and a tad psychopathic, but even she could recognize that all of them were just kids and should be worried about dating and homework and poorly worded social media slander, not spying for a secret society of attractive, well dressed, world traveling Illuminati women.  "This guy could hurt your family or you.  Maybe we should go to the Sheriff after this."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Annette urged Courtney to reconsider.

"What?  Oh, no!  No, not to talk about this.  I meant just to stop by, he's like really hot."  Courtney smiled and nodded, completely sure that the Sheriff was, indeed, hot.  "I think all of this is a bad idea, but I have nothing to offer aside from 'don't do it' so I thought we could at least oogle the Sheriff for a bit when we're done.  It always makes me feel better, that and chocolate."

Marissa turned her butt in the seat to angle it towards Courtney.  "Have you seen the Deputy?"

"Brad." They said in unison, nodding to each other.

Marissa rolled her eyes simulating a slight feint.  "Oh my god, that jawline."

"I heard from Stacy whose mom works with Rebecca's cousin that he's only twenty-two," Courtney practically cooed like Brad was completely attainable.

"Ladies," Annette's smile was forcing back her desire to laugh out loud as she was suddenly realizing how difficult it might get working with teenagers again.  "Can we focus?  Please?  I'm sure Brad is a pretty, pretty man, but he's not our primary concern at the moment, va bene?  Okay?"

"Right, right," Marissa shook away the lustful thoughts of Brad and placed her attention back on the current dilemma.  "Sorry, it is... it is just I'm really scared, Ms. Giles.  I may be incredibly pretty, and I may be one of the mean girls, but I have never done anything like this before," she lied, keeping her victim persona on full blast.  "I am no spy!  I did not have special secret society training in Milan and Paris," she gestured to Annette and those glorious shoes.  "The best I know is how to bat my eyelashes and hope he is not interested in anything past third base."

"Seriously?"  Courtney asked.  "You and Cade haven't... y'know?  I figured you'd have smashed that by now, because girlfriend-"

"Courtney," Marissa turned and glared.  "Shut up."  Finished through a clenched jaw.  She smiled awkwardly at Ms. Giles.  Her cheeks flushed as years of being fake permitted her a near flawless ability to emulate almost any emotional response.  "Sorry, so... what am I to do?  I do not know how to doctor this stuff, I'm not super smart like Sean.  I guess I will need his notes and... could we not tell anyone about this?  They might be nerds but the Fellowship are my friends and lying to them is already killing me slowly."

Edited by Dave ST

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Annette smiled reassuringly, nodding as she looked at Courtney.   "Courtney, dear.  Could you go down to the labs for me?  I'll send a memo ahead of you for the files to be ready."  Even as she made the request, she tapped out a brief message on the sleek futuristic terminal that lay to one side of her desk.  Courtney stood, gently resting a reassuring hand on Marissa's shoulder, and left the room, her heels clicking on the floor of the hall as she transited from the carpeted office.  Annette rose and went to a small side table, picking up a small teapot and pouring a cup of the golden liquid within.  "Tea?"  she asked Marissa over one shoulder.

"Sure.  Thank you."  Marissa nodded with just the right amount of quaver in her voice - no more than a fraction.  The elegant Aeon Society representative brought a cup over to her, setting it on the edge of the gleaming black surface of the desk before retreating to her side and sitting down.

"It's a nice way to relax."  she said softly, her dark eyes on Marissa's.  At that moment, the keen social instincts of the teen informed her that she had been made.  She was impressed despite herself - virtually nobody, even her mother, could reliably detect when she was bullshitting them.  Her mother, and Devin to a lesser extent, usually just assumed she was running a hustle, because that was how shit went down in their family.  She let out a little sigh, straightening in her seat and returning the gaze with a frank smile of her own.  Annette nodded slowly, as though approving.

"Better."  she said in a dry tone.  "I respect that you don't completely trust me, or indeed Courtney, and don't want to show your full hand.  You know the name of the man you met - and let me tell you, I probably know that name too.  In certain circles, the pool of talent is a very small community.  I don't demand that you tell me everything, but I do expect you not to try and take advantage of my good nature."

Marissa sipped on the tea, finding it pleasant - and then found it reminded her of the flower-scented tea Jason used to make when she would visit the farm, and the taste soured as she set the cup down.  "I don't think of it as 'taking advantage', Annette.  I think of it as 'exploiting weaknesses'."  she said with a calm, composed smile.  Annette inclined her head.

"Of course you do.  I knew you were holding back details.  I also know that you only feel roughly thirty percent of the emotion you were expressing.  My compliments on a fantastic performance."

"To be fair, I am scared, for myself and my family, and even my friends."  Marissa corrected.  "I just... exaggerated for effect."

"Of course.  All the best performances draw on the artist's own experience."  Annette took another sip of her tea.  "I'm still going to help you, Marissa.  Because no-one, not even a manipulative little girl who desperately needs to grow up and re-assess what she values in life, should be left in the hands of that man, and Crossroads."

"Ugh.  And you were doing so well."  Marissa smiled condescendingly at the elegant older woman.  "'Little girl'?  I could have lived with the rest of it..."

Annette's smile over the rim of her teacup was both amused and warm.  "Dear girl, do you seriously believe you are the first lovely, talented socialite who thought too highly of herself and ended up running into a brick wall as a result?  You're not even the first in this room, Marissa." 

"You're not going to give me the 'you are not your khakis' speech, are you?"  Marissa raised an expressively dismissive brow.  Annette matched it.

"Why ever would I?  You obviously already know it.  Here is something I am going to impart to you, though.  A lesson I learned late - and I wish I had learned it earlier."  Annette leaned forwards.  "Aeon makes a business of saving the world.  In many ways, big and small, public and secret.  There is a secret every Society member learns, sooner or later.  Some don't express it in words, or don't really think about it, but it is there.  It's to do with why we work to save the world, to make it better rather than feeding our own petty concerns."

"Oh, do tell."  Marissa said with just a mild overtone of snark.  Annette smiled faintly, unfazed.

"When you save the world, it repays you - every second of every day."  she said simply, then raised an exquisitely manicured finger.  "No, don't react.  It's not required.  Just remember it.  One day, I hope, it will make sense to you in the way that it made sense to me.  Now."  She smiled as the door opened and Courtney walked in, a stack of files under one arm.  "Lovely girl.  Thank you.  Let's get Marissa up to speed with what she's going to be telling this creep on Sunday.  The game, as a Society member once famously said, is afoot."

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As the three ladies sorted through the information, Marissa gave consideration to words.  More than a few times Courtney offered her friend(?) a concerned look as the beautiful young telepath continued to get, what she called 'pings', from Marissa.  Small warning signs or emotional red flags that lingered in people surface thoughts that warned if someone was distracted or burdened by something like guilt or fear.  Marissa would wave her off with a silent gesture to let her know things were fine and they continued on with their work.

"So," she finally said.  "I've noticed that these abilities seem to come with a price.  Jason knows only extremes, not middle ground..  Autumn is infectiously energetic and lively.  Charlie doesn't seem to know who he is or what he wants.  Cassie can't help but 'know'.  Courtney is searching for real emotions in a world where there is none."  The other two ladies stop sorting, comparing and taking notes to pay attention to where she might be going with this train of thought.  "Cade can't relate to people because animals make sense to him."

"My power, I guess, is just being gorgeous.  Which I didn't ask for.  I was never pretty.  In fact it wasn't until we moved here that I started going out of my way to be pretty."  She turned her phone around where she had been sliding through images and showed them a picture of her and her brother taken just a few days before they moved.  They were smiling wide like only children used to being in front of a camera could.  If she hadn't already implied that it was her and her brother, the two ladies would never have guessed it was them.  Devin was rail thin with baggy clothes and a Transformers t-shirt he'd not be caught dead it today.  She was smiling wide with a hairband that gave her a glittering unicorn horn.  She wore an Usher t-shirt underneath a one-size-to-large red flannel with her sleeves rolled up.  Her pigtails were precious.

"Oh.  My. Go-"  Her Queen's glare cut Courtney off.

"You will never breathe a word of this or I will destroy you.  Utterly and completely.  Scattered ashes.  A fractured memory of only a girl that was 'What's Her Name'."  She leaned it Courtney's gaze, urging the telepath to tell her she was lying.  "Tell me I'm kidding."

Courtney smiled warmly.  "I think the horn is adorable."  They both broke into giggle fits before Marissa composed herself and moved on.

"My point, Ms. Giles, is that all I know it how to manipulate people.  They love me by default and so, I don't know genuine love from others.  I'm distrustful, skeptical and always assume that no matter what I'm told, it's just a lie to get in my pants or to appease me.  My father is a criminal, I guess, and my mother is a behavioral therapist... when it comes to conning and reading people and manipulating them, I'm an ace.  I've never been taught how.  If I am to do this, I need actual skills.  I need to be able to submerse myself in this and not make some stupid mistake because if I do, my family or my fr- the Fellowship, could end up dead or worse, on a slab being cut apart while some lunatic tries to figure out how they work."  She sighed and looked at Ms. Giles, steeling herself for what she was about to do.  "But you know.  You have those skills.  This," she gestured to all of her body.  "Is my only weapon.  I'm plinking off bottles on the fence when I should be laying waste to country sides.  Show me how.  Help me beat this guy and I swear I will tell you who he is, just give me some time get my own shit in order.  I can't do this alone."

"You're not," Courtney said softly, trying not to look or sound to sentimental as she scribbled down some notes from one of the assessments and tucked the papers away in a folder.

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"You have all the time you need."  Annette replied, nodding slightly in silent seconding of Courtney's statement.  "And, on the other issue...  Knowing how to do something is only half of mastering it.  Knowing when to, and more importantly when not to, is what it takes to turn a gifted artist into a master."  The stern expression was leavened a little by the warm smile in the older woman's eyes.  "You manipulate because that is what you have been taught, Marissa.  Just as Courtney does.  You have both been treated as resources, and so you have learned to treat others as resources for yourself."

"But you're more than resources.  And so are other people." she went on gently, such warm compassion in her tone that both girls looked at her, feeling almost like children rather than the young women they hovered on becoming.  "When you learn that - learn to master your own instinct to manipulate just to have your way, learn to set aside the fear that you're not in control - then you'll have taken that step towards mastery.  Yes, you have a gift - you're heart-meltingly pretty and adept with people, and I wish midriff tops were a thing when I was your age."  Her eyes danced with humor.  "And you're right, too.  All talents, gifts and so on have an innate price.  When your best tool is a hammer, everything becomes a nail in your eyes."  She scribbled some notes on a file about Cassie and passed them over for Courtney to look at, then settled back and looked at both girls.

"Your problems are similar to each others.  You can each study, learn where the buttons are, push said buttons and make the puppets dance.  But have you ever just studied a person and just appreciated them?  I mean, really empathised and appreciated that there is a whole universe in that person's head?"  Annette smiled wryly.  "A small universe, in some cases.  But you and your friends shine - pardon the pun.  For all the flaws, and extremes, I find you all fascinating and beautiful.  Young Mr Bannon might claim to be a psychopath, and might even believe it, but he obviously cares about his family and friends - which a psychopath does not, believe me.  And yet, yes, he can also be terrifying.  He made my blood run cold the way he dealt with Cook - but yet did not lash out at his friends when they admonished him.  Devin likes to play the rakehell, and even might be a bit of one, but there's a good man waiting to grow out of the boy.  And so on.  Even you, Marissa, are much better than you like to think you are - forgive yourself a little for being a product of your environment.  And Courtney, darling, you might have to learn to forgive people for being people.  It's hard, I'm sure, to look into a person's head and read them like a book - every negative thought they have about you, every ugly emotional flicker that they might never reveal - but everyone has those thoughts and feelings.  Even you."  She sighed.  "Even me.  I look at you two and get little jealous flashes, envying you your youth and beauty and the exciting lives you have ahead of you, as though I'm some old hag whose never had an exciting day in her life.  But I have, and I continue to have them, and so I laugh at that petty voice and get on with being the best me I can be."

"Which, right now, is helping two promising young ladies beat a sleazy shadowy foe."  she grinned, getting up and pouring herself some more tea.  "So let's review the confection we are preparing for Mr Crossroads.  Three parts what he already knows, two parts harmless anecdotal information from yourself.  Does that seem like a sound mixture?"

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Posted (edited)

"People," Marissa's face scrunched up in thought as her mind danced around a ton of possible phrases.  She sighed, not really finding a polite way to say it.  "People are fake, Ms. Giles.  I mean, everyone is just up there," she motioned to the ceiling, considering they were in a secret, underground base.  "Using everyone else.  No one really cares about anything but themselves.  Jason does not care that I'm not emotionally prepared to date him, all he cares about is that he 'loves me' and he wants to kiss me and I'm just supposed to shut up, look pretty and be kissed and that is that."

"Wait," Courtney held up her hand to pause the proceedings.  "You kissed Jason Bannon?"

"No, he kissed me.  And when I told him I was not ready or felt safe dating him he told me he loved me then ran off like everything was my fault and I wasn't allowed to be uncomfortable."  She refuted with a stern glare and a flat tone that warned Courtney that no rumor had better gain traction over this little admission of her personal life.  "Cade does not really want me, he wants some prim and proper, submissive country girl like Fawning Tawny.  I'm hot, horny and he knows I'm willing to put out so he sees no reason to not date me.  Autumn does not really want to be my friend.  I'm scary and have ruined her life for years.  She is waiting for the opportunity to either one: be entertained by the epic meltdown I'm going to have over some trivial issue that is important to me and not her, or two: get back at me for something I have done to her in the past.  It is how people are.  Even you, Ms. Giles... if we didn't have powers would you or Aeon even care?  No.  We have something you want, namely us.  So you will be nice, you will help, you will put on the face and we will all fall for it, hopefully.  In the end your ultimate goal would be to get us on your side."

She adjusted a few of the files, arranging them in order as she spoke.  The raven haired beauty's ability to juggle multiple things like sharing gossip while planning the faux downfall of her fr-... associates in the Fellowship was being put to the test.  Still she handled herself well enough in Annette's opinion and showed quite an attention to detail as a few slid back to Courtney for rewording.  "And do not misunderstand, Ms. Giles, I am not judging.  I neither blame, nor condemn, I am just saying: I understand.  We are tools to the Aeon people or the Project leaders, whomever they are.  They want to weaponize us, and we all know it.  In fact, we know a great deal about a great many things.  If we did not want to be here, we would not be."

She rested her palms on the table and leaned as the thought of Jason and her at her house the other day swam awkwardly in her mind.  The kiss had scared her not because she didn't want it, but because she did.  It was electric and just like when she kissed Cade it was a jolt of energy that seared through her body and left her wanting more.  Unlike Cade, however, she couldn't control Jason.  He did whatever he wanted and never could connect emotionally with her on any level.  She knew he'd never be jealous about her and Cade, she wasn't stupid, but Cade was a safer bet.  She could talk to him, make him smile, laugh, connect with him on a romantic and emotional level... even if it was all manipulation, smoke and mirrors at least it was an illusion that was real to her.  It was a confusing mess and in the end none of it was fair to Cade.  He'd been nothing short of a gentleman, but wasn't he getting paid out of all of this?  He had her.  He had her body, her attention, her lo-... affections.  It's not like he wouldn't bounce back from all this drama.  He was a puppy and could never be mad at her. He'd take his lickings and come running back every time.  "My point is, that people are not the simple and decent universes you make them out to be.  We are animals.  We hunt, we kill, we devour.  Be it attention or love, or revenge, or greed... we can not help but smile and tell everyone we are good and kind and decent and we truly convince ourselves we are, but at the end of the day we can not eat and be sated on the hope of good deeds and kindness from others.  We need to proactively get out there and get our and no one is willing to just hand over happiness, we need to take it.  Lie and manipulate and take what you can before someone does it to you.  They say money can't buy happiness Ms. Giles but I would much rather cry and lament in a Lamborghini than barefoot and pregnant in a trailer with Cade seven years from now."

She slid Cass's file over to Annette.  "I have no idea how to tone down this file.  I know absolutely nothing about Cassandra, except that she needs to keep her hooks out of my brother."

"Wait," Courtney paused things again.  "Cassandra and your brother?  But, Lona just left.  Wow, she wasted no time..."

"Preach it, sister,  In a fit of pique he asked her to Homecoming, knowing it would piss me off," she shook her head like she just couldn't believe the audacity of Cassie, just couldn't even!  "Lona had not even moved yet!  What is it with my brother and these grungy, filthy, thrift store, slam-pigs he keeps asking out?  I really hope this is a phase or something.  Cassie is crafty.  She is quiet, slithers through all the dark corners of the school getting her stories and is all up in er'y one's business.  The only reason she has to go to Homecoming is to get something out of him.  I just do not know what, yet."

Annette could only shake her head as the teenage drama unfolded and she looked at Cassie's file while pondering Marissa's appraisal of the world.

Edited by Dave ST

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Sunday Morning

Her brother had already left, off to the reservation with Cassandra, the Psychopath, and the Crush-Stealing Freckle-Faced Harlot-Bestie who so help me God better not have done anything more than made smores with Jas-

Marissa took a deep breath, looked at herself in the mirror, and let it out.  Game face.  She smiled, a polite, cold smile.  She was the Queen, she was in control, and she was about to go and meet with Enterich, full of fun facts and observations about her fri- the Fellowship.  Most of which he would already know from Cook's files, plus some personal tidbits from Yours Truly to sell the lie.  This was going to work out.  She wasn't going to be murdered by Enterich's goons and dumped in a ditch, or worse, ostracized as a traitor by the nerd herd and then murdered by Jason and used as a novelty hatstand.  She wasn't exactly sure how he'd react to being sold out to shadowy evil dudes, but given how he'd wanted to roast Etienne in his own juices, Marissa wasn't rating her chances.  Unless she controlled the situation, made sure the others found out in a way and at a time of her choosing.  Or better yet, never found out.

Ugh.

Sunday mornings were quiet in the Jauntsen house.  Dad and Mom were each sleeping off their respective vices - booze for Dad, booze and pills for Mom.  No-one was there as Mari headed through the kitchen, grabbed her keys, and left.  The black Mercedes purred into life and the elegant beauty behind the wheel took a deep breath of the air-conditioned interior, blew it out, then put the car in gear.

She'd gone maybe five miles when the unmarked sedan swung out into the road behind her, and a glance in the rear-view mirror showed Marshal Marshall behind the wheel, giving her a perfunctory wave of greeting and a flash of his lights.  She blew him a kiss in the rear-view mirror, smirking to herself as he backed off from her bumper a little.  She made the handsome corrupt Federal agent nervous when she flirted with him, that much was apparent.  Which was reasonable enough - whilst she wasn't jailbait, in Montana at least, an affair with a Junior would likely end or at least stall his career in the Marshal Service.

A sobering thought occurred then.  Maybe he was maintaining aloof distance so it would be easier to put a bullet in her when Enterich snapped his fingers...

The same disused office, the other marshal - Whatshername - just inside the door, who nodded to Marissa and held out a hand, palm up.

"Your phone.  Enterich is waiting in the back."  she said.  "You can have it back when you go."

"That won't be necessary, Dale."  Enterich's smooth voice interjected as Marissa eyed the older woman's hand.  "I'm certain Ms Jauntsen can be extended a little trust."  Looking over as Marshal Dale stepped back like a dog told to 'heel', Mari saw him step from the rear office, dressed much the same as last time, only absent a tie and with the top button of his shirt undone.  His sable eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled at her.  "Can't you, Ms Jauntsen?"

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"I most certainly can not, Mr. Enterich," Marissa looked passed Marshal Dale and offered Mr. Enterich a polite smile in greeting.  "No more than you, or your little badge gifted henchpersons.  However, under the terms previously discussed, testing the already thin ice with heroics would be hardly beneficial, nor profitable for either of us.  I'm an ambitious opportunist, not an idiot."

"Henchpersons?"  Marshal Marshall asked softy and with a hint of confused inquisitiveness from his position behinds her.  His eyes fighting the crushing the weight of his desire to allow his eyes to wander all over her perfect frame.

"It's 2019, Marshall, even minions should be properly labeled with non gender specific pronouns.  We don't assume these days.  I'd hate to offend."  Her head cocked in a sway of innocence as her tone matched and he beautiful lashes batted his way distracting him for a moment.  "If you two will excuse me," she winked at Marshall, but clicked her tongue a couple times and jerked her head to the right, signaling Dale to get out of her way, like a good dog.  Dale's expression silently spoke the truth that Enterich's presence was the only thing saving the teen Queen from getting two in the back as Marissa walked past her.

Clunky black suede, knee-high heels thumped on the carpeted floor as she approached Enterich.  Dark makeup complimented the black turtleneck that hugged her curves like it was painted on to meet the red, white, and black squares of her plaid pleated skirt that short enough to barely still be considered classy.  A black hairband pulled her long bangs back and out of her field of vision as the rest of her dark brown hair cascaded down her shoulders, groomed to perfection.  Her stylish prescription lenses sold the outfit.  Not her first choice, but beauty was her super not grace and a lack of grace is what caused her to drop her contact down the sink drain the night before.  She almost qualified as a Bond girl/villain, or the daughter of one, if they all looked like innocent boarding school girls in twelve centimeter heels.

"No way is she only sixteen."  Marshal Marshall let slip quietly as his eyes reminded locked on the sway of her skirt in opposition with her hips.

Dale rolled her eyes and grabbed her partner, leading them away from the meeting about to take place.  "Oh, shut up."

The two of them left the sight of the Marshals, excusing themselves to a room off to the side that seemed like it was a meeting room.  Simple.  Square.  Large table and a small coffee/snack station on a countertop not far to the left as one entered the room.  Like the rest of this place, it was lit with the same Joe Vs. The Volcano soul-sucking florescent lightning.  Her eyes strained under the horrible hue of jaundice yellow that it seemed like they let off, but she'd not worn her glasses casually for years, fully expecting a headache later on in the day.

"Your penchant for an entrance is certainly not lacking, Ms. Jauntsen.  May I offer you a coffee?  Tea, perhaps?"  Enterich offered with politeness he'd honed like a scalpel's edge.  With a few words Marissa requested tea and within moments the two were sitting across from each other, hot beverages at the ready.  It was like Enterich was sitting across from his own, younger, feminine doppelganger, right down to the moment they both sipped their low quality beverages and made a face that told the tale that both of them demanded a higher quality of coffee and tea.  "You have what I asked for?"

He wasn't looking for excuses or reasons for failure, he'd sent her to complete a task and now the game was afoot.  There was no backing out or second guessing.  She couldn't slip back through the folder and spare anyone anything that she might not Enterich to know at this point.  Thankful her, Courtney and Annette had scrubbed the information as best they could.  This was it.

Go time.

"Are you being serious right now?"  She rolled her eyes, displaying an obvious annoyance that he would dare doubt her.  She produced a thick folder from her oversized (designer) handbag and set it on the table between them.  "Of course I do.  One folder, broken down into chapters.  One for each of the Nerd Herd and excluding my brother, per our agreement.  Unfortunately there isn't much there that you don't already know, as they have only Doctor Cook's notes and recent appraisals of their own to go on.  What with school and all, they're not really spending much time with the nobilis bellator in their little bat cave, or whatever."  She fluttered her hand, dismissing the thought.

"This data is factual and current then?"  He asked, sifting through a few random papers he scanned them but didn't really read them, not yet.

"There are no facts, only interpretations."  She replied calmly, quoting Nietzche.  Now, all she needed to do was reel him in, just like Annette and her rehearsed, and hey, no pressure.  If this didn't work she'd just end up in a dumpster somewhere a few counties away.  "Everything in your hand is exactly as it appeared in their respective files.  Unfortunately, their abilities and the observations of those abilities do not have a very large description, since the losers prefer to do all their training and self exploration off site at a private location.  It's a shame, really.  The more I read those files the more I realized how little everyone really knows.  If only you knew someone who spent an unfortunately exorbitant amount of time around them.  Their sleep overs... their parties... possibly sleeping with one, or more, of them."  She grimaced at her cup.  "The tea is horrible by the way.  I have some Caykur Burgamont at home I special ordered a few weeks ago, you have to try it.  Remind me next time I'm dropping by, I'll bring you a few bags."

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"A gracious offer." Enterich nodded in response, giving Marissa a short, professional smile that only barely reached his eyes before once more dropping his gaze to the files she had handed him. "And you're correct in your assessment that more is needed. Luckily, unlike the erstwhile gentlefolk from the Aeon Society or their militant friends in Branch Nine, I have just such a resource before me." He shot her another brief, professional smile as he flipped once through the organised pages, nodding now and then. "So we shall begin, then, with the primary reason for your being here. I see you have organised these in alphabetical order, so we shall progress in that way. The first, then: Cassandra Allen. Not one of those who attacked the Crossroads facility, by our camera footage. And according to Cook's notes, the 'exact nature of her ability is unquantified, with only the emanation of Aetheric energy any indication she is special at all.' End quote. So..."

Enterich sat back, fixing Marissa with a direct stare. "What can you tell me about Cassandra Allen, and in particular her powers?"

"If Cassie possesses abilities, I have yet to witness them." She replied honestly. "She has an uncanny knack for finding things, much to my ire, as it means she's constantly in everyone's business. She has delusions of being a reporter one day, but I think it's just Jughead syndrome and she's been watching too much Riverdale."

"She has a crush on my brother. He doesn't see it, she certainly doesn't see it, which makes the whole thing sort of adorable and pathetic at the same time." She shrugged and sipped her tea. "Aside from that, Cassandra Allen is about as boring as a teenager can get. And she dresses like she has no desire to ever get a second interview in her life. Ever."

"Hmm."  Enterich nodded slowly, weighing Marissa's words - and the manner of their delivery - with an admirable poker face.  Marissa could tell, however, that he found the lack of hard data to be somewhat irritating.  "Very well.  Moving on, then.  Cade Allister.  Sheriff's son, athlete, large and physically capable, as was witnessed when he beat a member of Crossroads well-trained security personnel into unconsciousness.  Another anomaly - Aetheric energy present, no apparent paranormal abilities.  Your impressions?"

"We're sort of dating right now, I guess." She shrugged, looking off into space for the briefest of moments to ponder her next words. "He's a good kisser, which sort of shocked me. He always buys his t-shirts one size too small, which look positively fantastic on him."

"Aaaand," she added as Enterich gave her a look that told her he didn't care one whit about all of that. "Think about it. He's sixteen. Sixteen. Yet somehow he's managed to acquire survival training, knows his way, comfortably around any and every firearm. Is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, knows his way around knives, clubs, bats, you name it. It's like he is a modern day Spartan, born and bred for one purpose: war. He says his dad taught him everything, but I don't buy it."

"This isn't exactly a science, Mr. Enterich." She crossed one leg over the other and got more comfortable. "This isn't a comic book where these guys are exploding into fire or tipping over cars with super strength. Whatever they have is new, and it's in its infancy within them. For all I know, my Cadums has laser vision, but I can't relay that to you until I see him do it.”

"Indeed." Enterich agreed. "You make an excellent point there - this is all new. Crossroads has been studying human enhancement for a long time: drugs, implants, and so on. And now suddenly and seemingly at random a group of teenagers who were not part of our experiment have exhibited abilities, often beyond the capacity of those teenagers who were part of the experiment." He 'tsked', indicating the vexation this caused, then shrugged.

"Ah well. On to the next subject. Bannon, Jason. Psychokinetic - some apparent ability to create fire or ice through thermal excitation or subtraction, including but probably not limited to freezing the air solid in walls of ice. And, of course, telekinesis, which he seems strong enough with to toss a grown man around." Enterich mused as he skimmed down the prepared information. "Cook's notes suggest some manner of antisocial behaviour disorder, possibly sociopathy, as well as his impression of Bannon being smarter than his grade average would suggest." Enterich once more fixed Marissa with his dark brown eyes. "Your observations and opinions? In particular, anything usable for leverage."

"Guess we know who the favorite is," she rolled her eyes.

"Leverage on Jason Bannon? Mr. Enterich, I'm going to warn you once, and only once: you go after Bannon like you went after me, and he will not stop murdering your family, the families of your co-workers, the people you work for, those who work for them and anyone else he suspects posses a threat to him, or you kill him." She shrugged. "Only once. You screw it up, and all you will get from me is an 'I told you so'." "Jason is a lunatic. He's not a sociopath, Mr. Enterich, he is a psychopath, his words. Devoid of emotion and fear of consequences for any of his actions. He gets off on tormenting people with threats of violence such as informing Dr. Cook he'd rip his heart and show it to him before he died and raising a hay hook to the throat of a boy who goes to our school because he made some lewd comments to another student." She shifted and sipped her tea again. "He's unstable and revels in hurting other people, especially with his abilities. The boy Liam, that was him. As I went to the Sheriff to protect Liam from Jason's wrath, he intentionally maneuvered around me and raced there first for the sole purpose of breaking that guy like he did."

"My advice is to leave Jason alone," her eyes met Enterich's. "You won't survive it, and neither will we. He's a shark just looking for blood in the water."

"He sounds like too much of a loose cannon to just be 'left alone'."  Enterich frowned as he mused aloud, tapping his fingers on the desk.  "Sooner or later, his interests and ours will intersect, especially since he seems to be at least shallowly loyal to the group."  The older man made a face indicating disappointment and sighed.  "A pity."

He took a sip of tea, his gaze distant for a moment as he reflected, then shrugged.  "Ah well, one cannot make an omelette, and so on.  Let us move on, shall we?  Cassidy, Sean.  Highly intelligent, computer genius, quite likely the fellow who hacked Crossroads system and paralysed their communications, which suggests some manner of paranormal 'machine telepathy' or whatever one terms it.  We have a lot of information on him already due to his being Cook's patient, but naturally I'm interested in your observations, Ms Jauntsen."

"I honestly don't know Sean that well at all. Of all the members of the little rag-tag group, I've shared maybe one or two hellos with him over the last few months." She nodded in agreement with Enterich's appraisal. "He is a hacker and his powers do have something to do with machines. Again, I've never seen him use these machine abilities before. It was him that hacked your system, but I highly doubt it was any sort of powers that he used. He's a scamp, but he's good at what he does."

"Sean has his... condition, I'm sure you know and frankly he's just weird. Like creepy weird. His sister dresses him up in girl clothes, which he is totally on board with, but then cries and bemoans his fate when someone calls him on being a dude with breasts." She shrugged. "It's like, seriously, kid? Own it or don't. You can't sit there and have it both it ways... do you want the sympathy or do you want to be proud and in love with who you are. Make up your mind." She waved her hand about Sean to dismiss him as a thought. "Anyway, Cassidy is just incredibly weird, that's all."

"Noted." Enterich raised an eyebrow at Marissa's frank assessment, nodding slightly. "Cole, Charles would normally be next, but I have other sources for him and besides, I am most curious about the one I know least about. The redheaded girl who was part of the facility raid, apparently no powers, and all I've been able to find out is her name. So, tell me what you know about Autumn Keane, if you please?"

"I know as much as you do," Marissa said honestly. "I know she is a nature girl. Likes the outdoors, hunting, camping, rolling around in sleeping bag with other unwashed beasts like herself, but that's all I know. I am certain Autumn has some sort of abilities, after all, she's a crush stealing ginger who has no sense of personal hygiene or, worse, knowledge of styling products."

She shook her head and shrugged. "Superpowers are the only explanation for how she could get anyone to like her at all, let alone actually have friends. Thankfully, for you I have promoted her to my 'bestie' and we've already started the arduous process of hair straitening and the wonders of lip gloss. Whatever she's hiding in all that excessive body hair and patchouli musk, I'll find out. Eventually."

"My word."  Enterich seemed amused by the quiet vitriol of Marissa's description of her 'bestie'.  "Now that is an unusual set of observations, Miss Jauntsen.  I sense a little rancor there on your part.  'Crush-stealing'?  I was under the impression you were dating Cade Allister."

"Well," she set down her tea and placed her arms on the table, interlocking her fingers. "I've always had a thing for bad boys, and I developed a bit of a crush for Jason, this was before he showed his true colors as a shaggy murder hobo. Once that came to light I let him go. Now, everyone knew I had a thing for him, and just because I cut him loose doesn't mean he's simply available for any other tart to just help herself to, I mean, what if I wanted him back? He may be crazy, but Jason has a very nice penis." She separated her hands, holding up her fingers as they drew further and further apart.

Without so much as a flush to her cheeks she pressed on. "You understand, I'm sure. Anyways, it gets to my ears that Jason has a thing for little red, probably peeping on her while she was playing in the mud and trying to discover the secrets of fire in a dank cave somewhere. Autumn likes someone else, but she won't tell me who. I'm pretty sure it's my brother, but that doesn't excuse the fact that Jason should never have been interested in her to begin with so I aim to find out how. I'm guessing super powers or she's just easy. Guys can sense a slut, I've heard."

When confronted with Marissa's 'logic', all Enterich could do was blink and use every bit of his impressive self-control not to give away his true feelings.  Even so, a slight tic above his left eye indicated that there was some manner of internal struggle going on.  Evidently, he was not used to dealing with teenaged girls - least of all ones that were as much an apparent study in contradictions as Marissa.

"I see."  he managed, once the tic had faded.  He cleared his throat, then went on "Well, if you do learn anything more about Keane... or indeed any of your associates, I will of course offer you a substantial bonus in addition to the payment I am giving you today.  One hundred thousand dollars, in a manner of your choosing."  He steepled his fingers, looking at her over them.  "How do you wish the money to be paid?"

"Cash." She said with wide, darkened lips. The only form of money that he couldn't deactivate once this entire farce went up in smoke. Unlike the movies, a hundred grand barely filled a briefcase, let alone her designer handbag. "Harder to spend online, but thankfully I'm rich and people don't think to much of me waving around a few yards around here. Most importantly, I have college to prepare for."

"If I find out anything worth mentioning I'll certainly let you know." She steepled her fingers again and was back to being all business. "Again, this isn't a science. I need to maneuver the Fellowship as well as the Society, who have now taken as much of an interest in them as you have. I believe, since I have no powers, I may be able to glean more information by offering myself as an aide in the research, given my proximity to all of them and my brother being a part of their little party. What do you know of the Aeon Society and this Branch Nine? The more information I have, the more easily I can subvert them. I'm flying blind amongst all of you intrigue types. Forewarned and all that..." She waved her hand in a circle.

“Of course.”  Enterich smiled slightly.  “Branch Nine are possibly the more directly dangerous, as they are a professional intelligence arm of the United States Government.  Their purpose is to guard the nation against paranormal threats, and they were initially formed to counter various Axis attempts to affect the outcome of World War Two using various means not found in history books.  They continued this work during the Cold War, and so on up to the modern day."  He paused, sipping his tea, then went on.  "They are not a large agency, but they are plugged in to Homeland Security, the NSA, CIA and the FBI, along with other federal services, and can draw on military support when direct action is needed."

"Aeon, on the other hand, are not particularly dangerous in a direct sense.  They were formed in the mid-to-late 19th century, a gentleman's club of explorers and students of mysterious happenings.  They believe that their purpose is to benefit all mankind, either by disseminating knowledge through channels so that it can be used, or by containing dangerous knowledge until it can be made safe, then employed for their oh-so-egalitarian aims."  The scorn in Enterich's voice was palpable.  "Well-meaning fools, but far from stupid or unperceptive, and their Library of Shadows is supposed to be one of the greatest repositories on lore of the Hidden World in existence.  Sadly, it is inaccessible to all but inner council members.  I do not even know where it is located."

Marissa shook her head, trying to make heads or tails of the whole thing.  "So, Aeon is all 'on our side' by keeping secrets and sweeping the supernatural or gifted people under the rug?  So, if the Fellowship is working with them, how will they handle it?  Use them until they can lock them away for the rest of their lives?"  Her hands were expressive, gesturing her concerns as she made her inquiries.  "I mean, honestly, how do you just tell people they can't be who they are, powered or not.  They can't honestly expect them to hide under a rock their whole lives.  How do they make them behave?"

"How indeed..?" Enterich mused, almost to himself.  "As for gifted people... There have never been any, Miss Jauntsen.  At least, never on the scale of your friends.  A few 'psychics', people with unusual hunches or knacks... but never a verified pyrokinetic or teleporter.  Branch Nine are the more likely ones to attempt containment or elimination, if recruitment is not feasible.  Aeon?  I have no idea how they would respond.  Recruitment would be attempted, almost certainly.  But if that were not successful?  They would likely offer support to such people and attempt to steer them away from being threats to the common good.  They are very rich, and very influential."

“Well, thankfully, there still isn't," she smiled that boardroom smile of her as the idea of a verified pyrokinetic or teleporter.  "I trust none of you types.  Full disclosure, I'm sure Aeon is just lying to us, and you just want them vivisected on a gurney in a dank basement lab somewhere."  She smiled and raised a finger to punctuate her next point.  "However, Aeon hasn't threatened the death of my family.  However, however... they also haven't paid me.  So, as I said, anything else and I'll let you know."

She paused and her demeanor went straight from sixteen to thirty six, complete with an expressionless cold stare in her eyes.  "Is today's business concluded?"

Enterich met her gaze, smiling faintly, then nodded. "I believe so. Marshall?" he raised his voice at that last word, calling out. The door opened and the handsome and non-bitchy corrupted federal agent stood there with a small duffel bag in hand. Enterich smiled at Marissa. "Give Miss Jauntsen the bag and show her out, if you please. Then come back with Dale. I wish to speak to you both."

"This way, miss." Marshal Marshall gestured to Marissa, smiling politely.  The teen vixen stood, nodding once to Enterich, then sashayed from the room, smiling at Marshall as he handed her the bag, then leaning close.

"You know, you've still not called me, Marshall."  she said in a low, intimate voice.  "A girl's feelings could get hurt."  Faced with the double whammy of Marissa's dark eyes and the scent of her hair as she leaned in, Marshal Marshall nervously moistened his lips and smiled again, a trifle more brittley.  

"Been busy.  You know how it is."  he muttered, leading her towards the front door to the office building and opening it for her.  Marissa touched his arm just above the wrist, looking up at him with a pout that could melt the heart of a statue.  

"Too busy for me?"  she asked with just enough little-girl catch in her voice to remind the older man of her age, even as her eyes sparkled wickedly.  Marissa did so love her little game with the marshal.

"Marshall."  Dale said waspishly from the nearby desk where she glowered at a screen.  "Stop playing.  The boss wants us."

"Gotta go."  Marshall said, sounding almost relieved.

"Until next time then."  Marissa's pout was weapons-grade, and she made sure to put an extra roll to her hips as she walked away, feeling his eyes on her all the way out to the parking lot.

Edited by GDP_ST

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Courtney's auburn hair blew gently in the breeze outside Bunnie's as she waited for Marissa to meet her.  She wasn't difficult to spot with her auburn hair and being one of only two teenage girls in Shelly that wore heels on a near regular basis.  She'd considered going inside, but Marissa's text stated that she was close and she'd be pulling in any moment.  She looked down at her phone one more time and fired off a text to a few acquaintances and checked her social media feeds while she waited.

True to her word, Marissa's black Mercedes pulled into the parking lot and she took up three spaces parking lengthwise so no one scratched her car with a stray open door or however else the mongoloid population of Shelly managed to wreck everything around them.  She'd been told numerous times not to do it, but every time she came here, she found a quiet spot away from the other vehicles and did it anyway.  Her car door opened and the heel of her boot crunched the dirt and pebbles of the parking lot.  As she rose from her car, music blaring, Courtney was certain this was her super power: to be hot and have her own, perfectly timed soundtrack.

"Well?"  Courtney approached her partner in crime as Marissa closed the car door and the interior went silent.

"I need food." Marissa said flatly.  "And a milk shake.  And possibly a good cry or someplace to vomit, I've not decided yet."

With a fat burger in front of her and mint chocolate chip shake to compliment it, she seemed a bit more relaxed.  During their wait the two girls made small talk, shared some gossip and brought one another up to speed on various current events while Courtney jealously wondered where Marissa put all those calories.  She was on her second basket of steak fries before the talk of business even entered the picture.

"So, yeah, then she sends me a series of happy texts about how excited she is to tell me all about how she's fucking the guy I hav- had, a crush on.  Can you believe it?"  Marissa slid half of a steak fry through a concoction of ketchup, Lawry's and garlic powder.  Courtney found the mixture offensive to the senses but when it came to eating, Marissa was... all kinds of messed up.  "It's like... the gall, am I right?"

"Oh, absolutely," Courtney agreed.  She enjoyed a sip of her diet coke from a straw that was already stained red.  "Especially after all you've done for her!  Her hair has looked amazing lately, I can't believe she'd do that to you.  Anyway, you've partially devoured what is easily a seven hour, non-stop walk to burn off.  How did, you know... it, go?"

Shelly's It girl raised one eyebrow and sighed.  "Bad.  Just as we thought, they know enough to really cause problems for us.  He didn't ask about you, Tawny or Cody, so I don't think he knows anything about you.  Which is good, because if this guy knew about your abilities, Courtney," she placed her hand atop Courtney's, offering her support and comfort.  "I don't think you would be safe."  Her friend swallowed hard and found her appetite had suddenly left her.  "I managed to say as much I could while saying as little as possible.  I belittled everyone, acted like a spoiled, entitled brat, and did my best to not give away to much of everyone's abilities, but he's going to want more."

"Like, how much more?"  The pretty redhead asked listlessly.  "You were supposed to go in there and that's it, Emmy.  Annette is supposed to help get you out of this, we need to talk to her."

The raven haired enchantress' teeth tore off another bite of her burger, which was nearly as large as her mouth itself.  "I know," she mumbled after a few moments of chewing.  "But not now, not right away.  In case he has people watching, which I'm sure he does."  She tapped her phone that was lying on the table top, having turned them off before they sat down the two felt relatively safe speaking quietly in their booth.  "I might be able to exploit on of the Marshals, if he ever calls me.  He's weak and easily swayed, at least he appears to be.  Also, to see how far this guy is willing to go, I may have set them loose on Jase."  She squinted her eyes, bracing for the fallout.

"Are you out of your mind," Courtney looked around and leaned in, lowering her voice.  "Jason could be in danger.  If they go after him and they screw up he will-"

"-kill every single one of them." Marissa finished the comment with an evil smirk on her face.  "Mankind kills not when directed by God, but when ordered by man.  That son of a bitch threatened my family.  I hope Jason goes through every single one of them, slowly, and painfully.  It will kindle a fire in Jason.  A murderous drive to burn Crossroads to the ground and everyone involved with it and he won't stop until he succeeds."  She swiped another fry through her ketchup concoction.  "If he's going to act like a mindless murder machine, I'll wind his key and direct him to handle my dirty work for me."

Courtney shook her head, suddenly a bit uneasy at Marissa's own deviousness.  "That's a dangerous game Marissa, what if he finds out?  What if the succeed and they, you know... take him out?"

"Then Autumn will need a new date for Homecoming."  She shrugged like the answer was obvious.  "Hey, relax, okay?  All of them in time, will know what's going on.  They needed me to steal to it so they either know nothing, or they were just testing me to see if I would do it.  My goal is to save my family and any of them in my shoes would do the same.  Jason will be fine, trust me.  Now, I need you to do something for me."  Marissa leaned in, making sure that if anyone may have been listening that this was the one secret she needed kept.

"Of course,"  Courtney leaned in as well, suddenly enticed by the impromptu cloak and dagger routine.  "Anything."

She narrowed her eyes and looked deep into the soul of her partner.  "Listen in Aeon and Branch Nine heads for something called 'The Library of Shadows'."

Edited by Marissa Jauntsen

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Side Fic wrapped - +2 XP.  Good characterisation, showing Marissa's capacity for ruthless scheming whilst still being affected by the things she's doing.  Also, an entertaining read. :) 

 

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