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Episode VI Intermission: Meet The Parents


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Tuesday, 3rd September, 1900

Marias Medical Center

 

Annette was good as her word.

The conference room was on the second floor of the administrative wing of the Marias Medical Center, a carpeted and soundproofed room dominated by a polished oval table, ringed by chairs with a high-tech speakerphone terminal in the center.  Bottles of water and glasses were set on a side table, the only other piece of furniture present.  The Fellowship, along with such family as accompanied them, were escorted by curiously fit and watchful hospital security guards to the room, shown inside, and then left to their own devices.  Though nobody was standing guard outside the room itself, it didn't escape the more observant visitors notice that this section of the hospital did not have many people in.

Other than the guards showing them to the room, the only person present was Annette Giles herself, who was seated at one end of the oval table, her well-manicured hands folded before her on the polished surface and a patient expression on her lovely features as she waited for all to arrive.

 

Spoiler

This thread continues on from Fallout.  Please, when describing your character and their family's arrival, put in something about what they were doing in the intervening 2 hours or so since the meeting at the Jauntsens.  It can be as descriptive or not as you please, but try to represent that they have an existence 'off-screen'.

Annette will greet you and your families, rising to shake hands, etc.  If asked questions at this stage, she will politely but firmly demure, suggesting that questions for her can wait until the PCs families have been caught up on all the strangeness from the Fellowship's viewpoint.  She is there simply to observe, at least for the first part of the proceedings.

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The Juantsen family met at the medical center.  The twins meeting up with their mother and father after they had spent some time speaking with Tawny and Sophia, both of which were still tired and frazzled from the previous day’s events.  They didn’t press any issues with the two victims of Not-Cody’s violent kidnapping of them and were, thankfully, still unaware of the full extent of the suffering Sophia had endured.  Still, they had an opportunity to at least make an appearance and remind them both that they were in their thoughts before leaving them to rest.

They hadn’t spoken much to their parents about what powers they possessed or any of the Branch-9, Project/Crossroads, although they had given vague explanations, so they weren’t walking in blindly.  Still, as they entered the room it seemed more like a setup for government head hunting than it did an opportunity for the families of the children to speak openly and honestly amongst themselves.  The room was bugged, the government lap dog was sitting patiently and professionally at one end of the table, and she even offered false platitudes in her greeting and spouted the obvious ‘I’m just here to observe and mediate’ garbage.  The problem Annette faced with the Jauntsens was that they were all very intelligent and proficient manipulators, and to them, this was seen for exactly what it was: an opportunity to observe, collect, and produce intelligence work on the families of the children who possessed extraordinary powers so that could disseminate across the various government agencies.

“Thank you all for coming,” Annette said as the Jauntsen family took their seats.  She noted how Misti, Devin, Marissa and then finally, Carl, sat, sandwiching their children in between them, a classic ploy to allow the to deliver looks, gestures or even a touch without having to move to far.  They weren’t the best of parents, but they were here thinking of the best way to keep their children from saying of doing anything that might be used against them.  “The others will be here shortly, I’ve word they’re on their way.”

“So, this Proteus organization… you’re what?” Carl asked, craning his head a bit to imply a measure of distrust.  “Research, Special Ops?”

“Perhaps it would be best if we saved questions for me until the end, after the ‘Fellowship’ has had their opportunity to say their piece.”  Annette’s smile was textbook, her words carefully chosen, and she noticed the way Misti seemed to be paying less attention to what she said so much as how she said it, reading micro expressions, measuring the flush in her cheeks, her pattern of eye movement.  “Afterwards I’ll conclude with a few words to help alleviate any concerns.”

Marissa sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Christ.  Crossroads and Proteus are essentially the same thing, they look for people like us, study us, find out what makes us tick and-“

“-essentially put a collar around our neck to make sure we’re jumping through the hoops that benefit their agenda.”  Devin chimed up to finish his sister’s thought.  “The difference is Proteus at least seems to have some manner of moral compass, so in the end, they’re not so much our allies as they are business associates and the lesser of two evils.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” the beautiful liaison said calmly but with still a hint of frustration in her voice.  “And a bit unfair.”

“From your point of view,” Marissa’s reply was like a swift razor blade seeking a throat to cut.  “We did battle with an ancient demon who kidnapped our friends and where were you and Proteus and Branch-9?  We had baseball bats and tire irons, where was Proteus and Branch-9?  Jason was almost killed today in retaliation for my spying on Enterich at your request.  Where was Proetus and Branch-9?  We wanted to have a calm meeting of the families to sit and discuss everything that’s happened to us up to this point and tell our parents what we could do and how we wanted to apply these new found talents-“

“-oh, wait… here’s Proteus and Branch-9!” Devin expressively held out his hands placatively towards Annette, feigning trying to convince her of what he was saying.  “‘Don’t have it in the comfort of your own homes, please, allow us to escort you to an isolated wing of the hospital by way of military escort and feel free to make use of our most-certainly observed meeting room.  Please.  All we want to do is help’.”  The twins did not seem at all pleased with Branc-9 or Proteus and the hard gaze they both gave Anette spoke volumes beyond their initial appraisal.  “I’ll tell you what unfair is, Ms. Giles: when it’s easy not to believe in gods and monsters until you wake up one day and realize you are one.  Then spend two months trying to figure out which one you are all-the-while trying to piece together which of these factions wants to be buddy-buddy with you now simply because you can make their lives really complicated if you're not on their side."

Annette sighed and cast a glance at their parents while trying not to say any more than she had to.  “Don’t look at us, Ms. Giles,” Misti offered a cold smirk.  “I assure you, we’re the least of your troubles this evening.  Secret installations, meeting with our children without our consent while willfully placing them in danger… irresponsible at best, outright negligent at worst, but as you said, we’ll discuss that later.”

“Wait,” Carl interjected, raising a hand while leaning to face his daughter.  “Jason was almost killed today?”

“Yuuup.” Marissa’s lips popped on the ‘p’, but she didn’t look up from her phone.

“Huh.”  He nodded.  “Well, damn.  Poor kid.  Glad he’s okay.”

Misti rolled her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration.

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"No."  Jason's tone wasn't petulant.  Indeed, he didn't even raise or project his voice.  The simple refusal was delivered with a cold, hard edge, like frozen diamond etching indelibly on glass.  Gar and Kaitlin looked at each other, Kaitlin giving Jase's father a faint shrug in response to the somewhat helpless frustration on the other's face.  "She's not welcome - not to the meeting, not in this house."

"Jase, she's-"  Gar began.

"Not my mother, except in the crudely biological sense of having once been an incubator for me."  Jason cut across his father's words with brutal straightforwardness.

"She raised you for eight years."  Gar scowled at his difficult son. 

"And then turned her back on me when she couldn't handle the truth of my nature.  Which seems to be a common trope of my life."  The lanky youth stood in the kitchen doorway where he'd stopped as soon as he'd seen Kaitlin sitting at the table, coffee in hand, talking in low tones with his father.  His head tilted slightly as he considered, then added with scrupulous honesty.  "With one or two notable exceptions so far."

"Oh, come on, Jase-!"  Gar started, then paused, scrutinising his son, looking for some signs in the cold exterior.  "Meeting didn't go well, then, I take it?"

"It went more or less as expected.  Some interesting revelations."  Jase moved from where he'd been standing and helped himself to a coffee, ignoring Kaitlin.  "I'm half expecting tonight's meeting to be just as stimulating and informative.  Which is why it is not the time for family therapy."

"Alright."  Kaitlin nodded slightly.  "I can understand that."  Gar started to protest, but the pretty blonde laid a hand on his arm.  "No, Jase is right.  If he expects a troublesome meeting, he can't afford to be distracted."  she told her beloved.  "However..."  

She set aside her coffee cup and stood, moving to stand directly in front of her son, looking up into his eyes unflinchingly.  Those eyes, so much like her fathers - cold, calculating, giving away nothing except perhaps wolfish readiness as he studied her in turn.  The scar on his cheek added to the impression she was gaining: her son was starting to look and act more Teulu every day.  Part of that would have been the attack this morning, she was sure.  And the combat he had seen the previous night.  He had tasted death, both dealing and surviving it.  He had gained a sense of his own power, and his own frailty - the latter of which might make a human more humble but would make a Teulu implacable, more viciously determined not to be so vulnerable again.

"You disagree.  But I am your mother."  she began, looking him dead in the eye.  "Yes, I abandoned you, but I was wrong to do so.  I hate myself for doing so, Jason.  I've told your father the truth of me - and of you." she added, steeling herself not to step back as the pale green eyes narrowed on her face.  Jase looked over her shoulder at his dad, who just nodded slowly, then back at Kaitlin.  "You might never accept me as part of your family.  And I'm willing to live with that as consequence for what I've done.  But please, allow me to at least fulfill my duty to you.  There are things you need to know, about yourself, about your people.  I can at least do that for you."

For a long moment, he hesitated.  He studied her face, then his father, who nodded encouragingly from where he sat.  Finally he breathed out, slowly, and leaned back against the counter.  "Alright." he said quietly.  "Alright."

"Thank you."  Kaitlin wanted to reach up, to push his unruly hair back from his face, to stroke his scarred cheek.  But she refrained, instead stepping back and sitting down again.  "So... Gar tells me you have a girlfriend."

"Oh, no."  Jase stared at Gar, then at her, his eyes narrowing again.  "Really?  A birds and bees talk?  I think I know how the parts fit together, Kaitlin."  He gave them a crooked half-smile.  "At least, based on experience so far."  His parents exchanged a Look.

"You mean-"  Gar began, but Jason was already moving towards the hall door.

"I'm going to grab a shower, meditate some, and get ready for the meeting."  he told them, his eyes alight with faintly malicious humor.  "I won't need dinner - I had something with Autumn earlier."

"Jason, we need to talk about-"  Kaitlin tried, but he was already gone.  The two parents could hear his booted feet thumping up the stairs as they looked at each other.

"He doesn't usually make that much noise walking up the stairs."  Gar said after a few moments.  "Or at all."

"No.  He's acting out like a human teen."  Kaitlin sighed, picking up her coffee mug again.  They exchanged another look.  "At least that's normal, right?"

"How do young Teulu normally act out?"  Gar frowned, worried.  Kaitlin smirked over her coffee.

"...do you really want me to answer that?"

"No."  Gar said after a few moments reflection.  "Probably not."  He sighed.  "I'll be sitting in on the culture lessons though.  I need to know this stuff too, I guess."  Kaitlin smiled, laying her hand over his fondly.

"You've done a good job with him, seriously."  she told the worried looking man.  "He could have turned out much worse.  There's a sort of kindness to him... almost.  That's your doing."  She paused, then "You'll let me know how the meeting goes?"

"Sure."  Gar smiled back at her, turning his hand over under hers and returning the clasp.  "You can come over for dinner tomorrow."

"Are you sure?"  she asked, her blue eyes studying his face as he nodded.

"Very sure."

= = = = = = =

The Bannons arrived without fanfare or ceremony, father and son taking the first seats they came to and seating themselves as they murmured greetings to the other people present.  Gar seemed a little on edge, gazing around suspiciously at the room and plainly uncomfortable with such a formal setting, whereas Jason merely sat back in an almost indolent slouch in his chair, bright piercing gaze scanning the others before settling on Annette.  His scarred face expressionless, he studied her for a long moment before shifting his gaze to rest on the wall opposite his seat, to all intents and purposes content to seemingly stare into space as he waited.

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Cade had stayed long enough to eat pizza with the others who were there, it would have been rude to leave after they'd ordered, at least in his mind.   After that, he'd headed home, thanking Devin and Marissa for having them over, even if things hadn't gone smoothly, and for the Pizza.   He'd paused a moment, unsure of how to approach things with Marissa, given that the truth of their "relationship" had been outed by Devin, but only for a moment.   He enveloped her in a gentle hug.   "I meant what I said earlier."   He smiled and released her without trying to do anything more.  He didn't want to pressure her, she had enough going on right now.  

Heading home, Cade waited for his parents.   Haruka wasn't coming to the meeting,  She was staying with a friend of hers.   His parents would ride together, and Cade would drive his jeep.  It was a fairly major concession.  

When they parked next to him at the medical center, he met them outside the vehicle.   "Mom, Dad, I want say this before we go in.   People are stressed already, and I can't imagine that getting any better.   You're likely to hear things that are gonna sound crazy, and they're going to make you mad.  Yes, I've been doing things I didn't tell you about.   I know you're gonna be mad, but please, if you can, save that for when we get home."

His parents just looked at him, and his mother nodded.  "Cade, I  will do my best to hold my peace, so that you can all explain to us everything that's going on.   That is all I can promise."   She looked to her Husband who nodded.   Cade nodded and replied.  "All I can really ask is to let us explain."

His father put a hand on his shoulder.  "That's what we're probably all hoping for from this, son."

The Allister family walked in and made their way to the room that had been reserved for the meeting,    They took their seats to the left of Annette, with Ian seated the closest to her.   Like the Jauntsens, his parents sat to either side of Cade.  

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In the interim the twins tapped away on their phones, sliding through their social media accounts, and pausing only to lean to the other to angle their phones to smirk or chuckle at each other’s choice of memes.  They spoke quietly amongst themselves in hushed tones, sharing with each other their opinions of the content but by and large kept to themselves.

While his children made small-talk Carl leaned over a bit and addressed Gar as quietly as one could across the Arthurian-sized round table.  “Hey,” he opened, getting Gar’s attention in a voice that was not particularly low.  As silent as the room was, even the twins’ hushed conversations about Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa and the direction of their music.  “You and Hank end up with anything over at Verden the other day?”

Gar shook his head.  “Hank’s good at hearing about the ‘best spots’, not so good at hearing about the ones that actually have fish in them.”  Both men chuckled.  “I appreciate what you did the other day, by the way.  I knew I had re-applied.”

Carl offered a dismissive curl of his lip and waved a hand.  “Eh, two days is nothing.  There are bigger crimes in the world than a two-day expired license.  Oh, I talked to Tammy, too, she cleared it all up.  Your new application was on the bottom of the stack.  They’d bumped several locals down to process al the new licenses for that small mouth tourney coming up.”

“That’s right,” the gruff man nodded, his finger bouncing along to the invisible thought in his mind.  “Forgot about that.  You managed to talk Tammy into bumping up an application?  People been trying to get her to do that for years.” He mused.

“Her daughter is sweet on Devin,” Carl smirked.  “That helped.  The rest is smiling despite wanting to unholster my sidearm and end myself.”

Gar nodded with another chuckle.  “Yeah, she can be a handful.”

“Try Holden’s Hollow,” Carl tapped his finger on the table.  “Busted a few guys there about a week back and they were dragging in bucket loads.  About eleven-hundred in fines all told.”

“Was it edible?” He asked.

Carl offered a shrug.  “Got me.  I don’t fish.  I’ve kept my interest more in the regulations than the sport-”

“-or pulling disgusting, unwashed things from the water when you can get them filleted and clean from the store.” Marissa chimed up with a look of disgust in her expression.  Her distaste for nature and things that happened outside the radius of her WiFi connection were nigh legendary.

“Thank you, Monkey.” He smiled but didn’t look back his daughter, who wouldn’t have seen him anyways through her phone as she fumed at his calling her his pet name for her that she thought was retired when she was... six.  "She’s not really an outdoorsy type.”

“I gathered,” Gar politely nodded and decided not to press the matter as Marissa’s eyes darted from Jason to Cade and then narrowed in suspicion as they were the only ones present who knew she’d been taken fishing.

“Yes, well,” Misti interjected in a volume that filled the small room swiftly.  It appeared that there was warm conversation taking place and that could lead to people possible be cordial and pleasant with one another and the black void that pumped ice-water through her veins just couldn’t cope with that possibility.  “We’ve certainly better things to do than sit here in silence all night.”  She was addressing no one in particular, but it seemed like Annette was intended to take the brunt of it as this meeting place was what she’d offered.  “If the others are not going to bother to show up, I see no reason to waste our time-“

“You get used to it,” Devin mused with an eye roll and a chuckle as he scrolled his phone, never bothering to address anyone  specific.  “It's like this every time.  That’s why I wanted this at the house, so when they ghosted us, we weren’t stuck with a drive home.  Cassie’s probably out taking pictures of raccoons in Bunnee’s garbage and in a few moments, she’s going to realize ‘oh my god, that was today?!’ and start peddling as fast as she can.  Kat’s was most likely on her way but saw a butterfly and wandered out into the wilderness, and Sean doesn’t show up to anything unless Jason personally drags him to it.  Autumn is just late for everything.  We’re fairly sure that’s her superpower.”

“I thought you were exaggerating, Devin, dear.”  Misti sighed in frustration.  “But so far, I concur: they do appear hopeless.”

“Told you.” Marissa said with a huff, never taking her here eyes from her phone.

"'Five more minutes," their mother said calmly, but matter-of-factly.  "Then we either begin, or we're leaving."

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Ian Allister's eyes narrowed, It wasn't that he didn't agree, there were other things he could be doing as well, but still.  He knew about Cade taking Marissa fishing, and looked to his son, who shook his head.  That was left best unsaid.   Cade looked over at Devin and shrugged.   "It's abit annoying, but at least it's fairly predictable.    The others will be here."    When He  met Marissa's gaze after hearing her nickname, he knew with grim certainty that if he ever tried to call her that, or probably even said the word around her, she'd end him in the most painful methods she could devise.

He looked at Carl and Gar, and nodded.  "Lake Elwell is still probably the best fishing nearby that's not someone's private pond.  Though it's a long haul one way if you wanna fish the eastern part of the lake, and most of the west requires an offroad to get near, or you go up the river."   He shrugged.  "I have a couple friends from the track team that caught some great pike and half an ice chest of bass and bream on their last trip about four days ago."

While Mr. Bancroft's pond was the main place he fished, he did go elsewhere, and he tried keeping up with what was being caught.   Ian looked to to Cade.  "That sounds like a good trip.  Maybe it's time we go there."   Cade nodded, but it was Miyakko who spoke. "You should take Haruka, she hasn't gotten to go on any of your fishing trips lately."

She looked around at the kids, and asked, quietly.  "It may be none of my business, so forgive me, but Are all of you alright?  You had many injuries before, is everything healing as it should?"  As head nurse at the facility, and in general, she was used to caring about the well-being of others.   She remembered with a certain horror how they all looked when they got back, and since she'd heard nothing about it, she was taking the chance to at least ask them if they were alright.   She knew about Jason's injury, and it at least seemed to have healed, though there was a scar.  
 

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"Far as I know, ma'am," Devin answered Cade's mother with one of the first times any of them had heard him sound respectful to an adult.  "Apparently, blindly opening a cross-dimensional portal and pulling nine people through it ruptures every blood vessel in my body."  He shrugged nonchalantly and chuckled.  "Who knew, right?  I feel like went an entire practice against everyone on the football team without any pads on, but aside from that I think we're okay."

"I'm not sure whether it's stubbornness, our powers or pure tenacity that keeps up all stitched together, Mrs. Allister," Marissa added, looking up from her phone.  "Physically, it seems I'm healing faster than I should, so there's that.  Mentally and emotionally, however... well, I was almost swallowed whole and torn to pieces by Lovecraft's illegitimate children.  But respectfully, how does the medical profession define the term 'healing as it should' after one is almost torn apart by other-dimensional monsters?"

"It's a bit stressful," Devin cut in, before his sister's words got to scathing or had a chance to be sharpened to a fine edge.  "We've a lot on our plate right now and we've barely slept, let alone had a chance to rest or recuperate for days now.  There's always something everyday we have to do or someone we have to save or somewhere we have to be..."

"It's called growing up, dear," Misti happily cut in with a honed edge of matronly sarcasm.  Marissa rolled her eyes as Devin's narrowed.

"Is it?"  Davin asked.  "Just out of curiosity how many ancient dark gods have you and dad had to take on your professional, adult lives?  Hmm?"  He leaned in like he was listening for something he wasn't hearing.  "Is that a 'none'?  Yeah, don't confuse being in the bleachers with a lost of good play ideas for actually being on the field.  We're not pulling down nine-to-fives, Mom-"

"-we're almost being bitten in half.  We're being shot at, we're damn near killing our selves every time we push our abilities because everything out there," Marissa pointed to the door.  "Is ancient, powerful and evil and we're a bunch of high schoolers who by all accounts shouldn't even be out there having to do it... but we are," her words were hiding the growing flood of emotions she was keeping in check behind her robust levy of composure.  "And we're doing it to keep you and everyone else safe.  So please, stop with the patronizing 'growing up' crap."

"It's not 'growing up', Mom,"  Devin's words were calm and compassionate as his voice emulated the caring tones of someone trying to make another understand.  "It's duty.  We were born for this.  We're the only ones who can do it.  We don't like it sometimes, sure, or even each other... but if we don't hold the line no one else can.  There won't be anyone else who can protect you or Shelly or the rest of the world.  It just," he shrugged.  "Is what it is."

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“Is there anything else you want to tell us?” Ian asked soberly, glancing up as the soft, rhythmic sound of bare feet descending the stairway stopped at the sound of his voice. Dana, likewise, looked up from her plate of half-finished spaghetti expectantly. It had been nearly an hour since Jason had brought their daughter home, almost half of which she’d spent in the shower after reminding them about the meeting at the medical center and chasing the dogs around the yard to burn off some nervous energy. “Go Take A Hike!” the pink-cheeked girl’s bright blue t-shirt cheerfully suggested, and knowing more or less which families were meant to be in attendance, the older redhead wondered idly if the choice of attire was deliberate.

Autumn paused at the foot of the stairs, her towel and still-damp hair draped over her shoulders, one hand reaching automatically downward to rub the top of Zephyr’s head as the golden-furred Shepherd mix padded over to greet her. It was a loaded question, of course. What her father really meant, she knew from experience, was: “Is there anything you’d like to confess now, before we hear it from someone else?”

She’d already told them some things, sure- not about what happened with the Marshal-Formerly-Known-As-Dale, obviously, or the whole Coyote/Man in Black thing, or the fact that her boyfriend was apparently, maybe, an interdimensional alien, or about the Crossroads prison conspiracy- but the immediate stuff. Things they’d actually needed to know. Priorities. And since no one had ever bothered discussing anything specific that they didn’t want discussed, Autumn had a feeling it was going to get pretty tense.

“The short answer,” she replied after a moment’s uncertainty, visibly uncomfortable at the quiet scrutiny of her parents from the adjoining room, “is ‘yes.’ Probably,” she amended quickly. “But, honestly, that’s why we’re going to this thing in the first place. So much has happened in the last week or so, I couldn’t cover everything if I wanted to. There’s stuff I don’t remember, or didn’t think was really important, or wouldn’t be able to tell you without getting into a whole other conversation just to explain how we even got to that point. Plus, some of it happened before I even got involved. And… some of it’s not my business to tell you anyway,” the earnest teen hedged, acknowledging the promise she’d made to them at the Carousel.

“So this way you get to hear all that kind of firsthand: who everyone is, what’s been going on. Just…” Smiling slightly at the feeling of a cool, wet nose pressed against her palm, Autumn focused for a moment on the dog at her feet, kneeling down to rub a happily squirming Zee’s neck and shoulders vigorously with both hands. “Just try to keep in mind that, um.” That all of this is crazy, and so are most of the people involved? “Some of it’s gonna be a lot to deal with, and I’m not really sure how much everyone else has told their families, you know? So… expect chaos.”

“Fantastic,” her father sighed, shaking his head as he tore off another bite of garlic bread and Dana poured herself another half-glass of wine.

A little later...

“…I’m just saying, we don’t really know what kind of people these-“ There was a moment’s pause as their escorts stepped away and Ian stopped in the doorway of the conference room, blue eyes quickly taking in the measure of the room’s occupants. “Oh.” The conversation he’d been having with his wife ended abruptly on that awkward, monosyllabic exhalation as he realized that some of the people he was referring to were already present. “Evening,” the entrepreneur added after taking a heartbeat to recover, smiling affably and continuing through the door as Dana and Autumn followed him in. “Ah, you must be-“

“Annette Giles,” the poised Aeon representative replied, rising smoothly from her seat as the Keanes approached and the traditional handshakes and parental courtesies were observed.

“Of course, of course,” Ian nodded, still smiling. “Autumn’s told us…” The smile turned wry as he glanced over at his daughter, the dry sarcasm of his tone unmistakable. “So much about you. And this is my wife, Dana, and this-“

“Dad,” the younger redhead murmured in bemused exasperation, nudging her father with her elbow. “She knows who I am.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Giles,” the elder Keane woman interjected with a smile, clasping Annette’s hand warmly in her own as Autumn and Ian exchanged a quick flurry of playful nudges and hushed exhortations to quit playing around.

“The pleasure is mine.” Her reply seemed genuine enough, as far as Ian could tell, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on the faint accent that marked it. “Please, make yourselves comfortable while we wait for the others.”

Ian nodded, turning back to the few other folks arrayed around the table, glancing from the Allisters to the two men sitting with their backs to the door, and then the well-dressed foursome at the far end of the room from Annette Giles. Were there really enough kids involved to require that many empty chairs? he wondered, approaching the older man seated nearby.

“Hi, I’m-“ He stood there for half a second, hand extended as he caught sight of the lanky, slouching figure he’d somehow missed before, and realization dawned.

“He’s my dad,” Autumn supplied helpfully as she ducked around his arm, smiling at Gar and, beyond him, at the remote youth sitting next to him. “Ian. And this,” she indicated the taller, svelte redhead who likewise offered the Bannons a smile, “is my older sister. Ow!” She complained, grinning even as she rubbed the spot on her side where Dana had pinched her. “My mom. Dana. Mom, Dad, this is Jase’s dad, Gar Bannon.”

"Nice to meet you at last." Gar had risen from his seat a trifle awkwardly, as though he hadn't expected the courtesies, but his smile was genuine as he took Ian's hand in a firm clasp and shake. The differences in manner were noticeable between his nervous warmth and his son's composed, though equally genuine faint smile-and-nod of greeting to the Keane clan.

"Likewise." Autumn's father said by way of introduction as he returned the handshake. He'd heard around town that Gar was a drunken bum and a bit of a nut, but the hazel eyes were clear and alert, the face was shaved and hair was combed, and he was dressed in standard Montana-casual of plaid shirt and jeans rather than the 'prepper chic' of Army surplus clothing Ian had been half-expecting. Beyond him, Jase unwound from the chair he'd been inhabiting and stood. Ian looked at him. "Good to see you're okay, Jase." he remarked, a heartfelt enough statement. Sure, the kid was odd, unnerving and, worse, was dating his little girl, but Ian didn't actually wish him ill.

Dana moved forward and shook Gar's hand, still smiling, as Ian stepped back. "Autumn's told us a little about you." she confided. "Thank you for making her welcome at your place."

"She's a real pleasure to have around." Gar replied, his smile widening a little as he winked at the younger redhead, who smiled widely through her faint blush. Dana cast an amused doubtful glance at both of them, but said nothing as she stepped a little past Gar and gave Jase a quick hug.

"I'm glad you're okay too." she told the lean young man, studying the scar that ran from over his ear down his cheek. It looked months old - Autumn's 'gift' at work undoubtedly - but was still noticeable against the bronze-olive tan of his face.

"Thanks." Jason replied, giving her a slight smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little, as Dana stepped back. His pale jade gaze found Autumn, the smile still lingering in his eyes. "Hey." he said to her softly.

“Hey,” the freckled vitakinetic replied quietly, the faint rose in her cheeks deepening by degrees, and it was only the light pressure of her father’s hand on her shoulder that reminded her where she was. Tearing her attention away from the frosty green eyes that threatened to swallow her where she stood, Autumn nodded politely at the Jauntsens, her enthusiasm dimming slightly as the older Keanes likewise offered the somewhat infamous family a cordial- if distant- smile and wave of greeting. Carl and Misti reciprocated with the faux-friendliness of experienced socialites; if Autumn hadn't seen their behavior at the hospital first-hand, she realized, she probably wouldn't have known they weren't sincere.

Gently, but inexorably, her parents steered her back towards Annette, pausing for a moment to once again observe the obligatory semi-formal ritual of greeting with the Allisters. Ducking away from the guiding paternal hand, Autumn continued around the table a little further before taking the seat directly opposite Jase and settled in, waiting for her less-impatient family to catch up. They were still missing the Cassidys, Allens, and... Barrases? Was that right? Slipping her cell phone from her pocket she frowned a little, scrolling through her contacts as her toes skimmed the floor.

“Really?” Ian murmured a trifle archly as he sat next to his daughter, earning a bemused smile and shrug from Dana as she took the chair to Autumn’s left.

“Really,” the youngest of the Keane trio confirmed, switching her phone to vibrate and placing it face-down on the table.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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The Bannons had retaken their seats as the Keanes settled in across from them, Gar smiling a little over at Autumn's family before glancing at Jase, who'd once more assumed a relaxed, almost deliberately slovenly slouch in his chair, only the faint warming of his eyes as they rested on Autumn opposite him any indication he was paying attention to anything.

The door opened again, admitting Captain Williams and Kat.  The soldier looked around at the gathering with a professional eye and a tight, in sincere smile and nod as he moved behind his daughter, who herself looked nervy and ready to bolt as she took in the assembled parents and the emotional texture of the room.  For a telepath it was tense here, clouds of of suspicion, angst and lingering hostility floating around, flickering with lightning, and she didn't want to advance any further into it than she had to.

"Hey guys."  she said, giving everyone a shoulder-high wave as she pulled out the seat nearest the door, the one on Annette's right.  Between the calm of the Aeon woman and the warm concern of Gar Bannon, and beyond him the utter frozen lake of Jase, she felt that this was likely the least turbulent spot in the room - as well as closest to the door if she needed to bolt.  Her dad took the seat beside her, nodding to Gar and offering a handshake and murmured greeting as a message ping went off from the diminuitive French girl's phone.  Flushing as she drew stares, she glanced at the message from Courtney, tapped out a reply, and thumbed her phone to 'silent' before tucking it back in her pocket and looking around at faces, waiting for the meeting to begin.

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By the time Cassandra got in, her mom was already home for a change. She'd taken most of the afternoon off, since she'd have had to have left a bit early anyway. Thus, Cassie was greeted with a distracted, 'Hey kiddo,' from the living room, which startled her for a second.

"Hey mom," she said back as she cruised past the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her tone was an excruciatingly well-practiced nonchalance, that formed an almost solid and concrete impression of a perfectly ordinary day, in which nothing particularly important happened and certainly nothing worthy of concern or discussion... And Teresa accepted it at face value largely out of habit.

Bacon, however, wasn't having it.

The dog was up off the floor in front of the couch like a shot, weaving expertly around the coffee table and interposing himself between Cassandra and the door to her room. His ears perked forward and he wagged his tail...but the whine escaping him was tense and anxious.

Cass kneeled down and cooed, "Aww, what's the matter? Mom watching scary movies? Do you need a hug? Animal protective services?" She did reach out to give Bacon a hug; the german shepard being big enough to make such a gesture possible. The moment she touched him though, Cassandra froze.

Worried. Bacon was worried about her, worried sick. She wasn't well, she wasn't right, and unbidden in her head she could see...well no, not see...but she could smell something rising up...a smell like sweat, only a little worse. Salty, sour, dank. Her brain instinctively tried to turn it into a picture, and what she came up with was a dark old basement that had been made into a locker room but then abandoned after murders had taken place there. The smell of fear, but not just any fear...the slow kind of fear. The rot that ate you from inside. The sudden realization that it was her smell brought her up short, and she yanked her hands away from the dog.

Bacon whined again, his tail thumping the floor, and he pressed the top of his head against her neck and chin.

For a second Cassandra was back in the Dark. Skulls crunched under her feet, and it wasn't a dog pressing against her. It was something else, fleshy and tumorous, biting at her with teeth that had no business being where they were...

With a horrified yelp she scooted backwards away from Bacon, managing to catch herself on the heels of her hands so she didn't just flop over onto her back.

Teresa looked up, and immediately felt a stab of not just unease, but fear...and for some reason, guilt? That made no sense though, so she stuffed that away and got up. "Are you okay? What happened? Did Bacon trip you?

Even asking it though she could tell that wasn't it. The body language was wrong. Everything was wrong.

"Cassandra?" she asked.

"No," Cassie said as her breath returned. "I'm f..." she broke off, unable to say the word she'd intended. She wasn't fine. Bacon's big anxious eyes bored into her, and seeing herself in them she couldn't say the word. "I, uh...I just...had a second there... I felt scared even though there was no reason for it.It was just Bacon though."

It was on instinct more than anything that Teresa leaned down to give Cassandra a hug. Instantly she knew it was the right thing to do, because her daughter immediately turned to return it, her arms unexpectedly tight.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Teresa asked gently.

"Can't right now," Cassie demurred. "Meeting. Maybe later?"

"There's still plenty of time before the meeting," pointed out her mother. "No pressure or anything. Just...whenever you want to. Okay?"

But when Cassandra decided to let go, she couldn't. So instead she said, "Actually...maybe now's good." Then Cass took a deep, shivery breath and went on, "I need tell you about what happened the other night. And...when I do, I just...just please keep remembering that we made it out okay. It's over, it's done..."

A flash of Enterich's face popped into her mind, smirking. Over and done, are we? What a relief. We wouldn't want to have to go through that again.

Even with as much time as they had, they were almost late to the meeting.

===========

On getting to the conference room, Cassandra realized there wasn't really a place left to sit that wasn't near the Jauntsens. She went up to the seat by Dana, and her mother took the one between her and Misti. Cassie didn't say anything, or meet many eyes as she came in. A sharp eye might have seen a little bit of puffiness around them that implied some tears had been shed.

Teresa, on the other hand, gave everyone a reserved smile as she went around to her seat and said, "Hello, I hope we didn't hold everyone up. We got off to a little bit of a later start than we'd hoped to...some last minute family business came up.

Under the table she reached over to give Cassandra's hand a squeeze. She'd suggested just canceling, but Cass had been rock solid firm that they had to go to this. There wouldn't be a make-up day if they missed this exam.

Cass returned the squeeze and then got up to get some water for herself and her mom just ahead of when the meeting started for real.

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Sean stared at his phone, head cocked in curiosity, having just finished a call with Brad Stanton, a rep with EA. The guy had been affable, enthusiastic, and maybe just the teensiest bit cagey with why he wanted to meet. Brad had known about Annwn, and had clearly played it from the way he talked, so his reasons might not just be about ReGenesis. Sean knew his curiosity wouldn't be sated without at least meeting the guy, so he had agreed to his offer of a business dinner at the Shelly Country Club on Friday.

The only time he'd been there was a kid, when he'd tagged along with his dad when he'd been on a job. Sean had no illusions about appearing super professional or anything, but he didn't want to look like a complete schlub or the archetypal antisocial neckbeard, as it were. He'd have to see what he could scrounge up, probably reusing most of what he'd gotten for Charlie's funeral.

While answering questions and comments on his game page, Sean tracked down Turing to give him a long needed good brushing and clipping of nails. His grey cat had been keeping himself scarce since Sean had used him as a test subject for one aspect of his powers. Turing accepted the brushing with dignified condescension. Sean didn't think he was forgiven yet. On the ReGenesis front, everything seemed to be going okay, though he had to firmly deny answering any questions asking about plot or hints for the game. He did have to walk one guy through the settings on his rig so that he could actually play the game. Sean wasn't even sure how the guy managed to mess up his computer that bad.

Dinner was a rushed mish-mash, everyone finishing off leftovers from the last week as Sean went over what was going on. He had actually told his parents, well, his mom, anyway, almost everything, except for Jase's, er, heritage, and what Dr. Cook had told him, and he didn't explain about those now either. But he did add when they'd learned about Enterich. Laurie looked riled and scared and annoyed that she was scared. Carolyn looked concerned, Jack grave.

The one bone of contention was when they started debating if Laurie should come to the meeting. Sean mentioned he was pretty sure no one else wasn't bringing siblings who weren't directly involved. Laurie stepped into his brother's personal space to leverage every inch of height she had on him, glowering down at him and grounding out she was directly involved - hell, Devin had even jaunted her to New Zealand. And other than Cade, nobody else even had a sibling who wasn't directly. Jack Cassidy reluctantly admitted Laurie had a point, even if he had to take a calming breath to avoid thinking what his youngest daughter and the Devin boy could have gotten up to in a foreign country. Sean and Carolyn had exclaimed, 'What?!' in various tones of surprise, concern, and totally not envy (Tolkien completely overrated). Laurie blushed, in embarrassment, self-recrimination at her blunder, and determination not to kept in the dark 'for her own safety'. The Dark was the danger in the first place!

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

The Cassidys rode to Marias Medical Center in Jack's work truck, a drive they had done often enough over the years due to Sean's medical condition. The atmosphere was more somber this time though. Walking through the Medical Center, Carolyn stopped to exchanged words with some of the staff she was friendly with, despite the exigency of the meeting they were there for. Sean slipped away to see how Sophia was doing, feeling a sense of shame and contrition. He was more than glad they'd been able to save her and Tawny. But it hurt that it had taken the depravity she'd suffered at Not-Cody's hands and the lost of Charlie for him to want to get over the painful grudge he'd held onto since she'd turned him down.

Tired and wan, Sophia still offered him an exhaustedly snarky smile edged with traumatic experience, mildly surprised it wasn't one of the Jauntsens poking their head back in. "If you ask me out, I'm still gonna say no, Sean."

Sean chuckled ruefully. "I'm not here about that." Sean ran his hands through this sun-touched crimson hair. "Just started to realize it's not good for me - or anyone else - to hold onto grudges and bitterness. Not with everything that's, y'know, going on."

"Uh-huh." Sophia's sunken eyes brightened as she sat up a bit more in her bed. Smile edged towards a smirk. "And what about Courtney?"

"Fuck Court-!" Sean sucked in a sharp sigh. He let it out slowly. "Look, it's a work in progress, okay? Just stopped by to see how you were doing. Not sure how long you'll be here, but thought I'd offer you a copy of my new game to pass the time." He tapped the laptop sitting at Sophia's side, an invisible digital spark passing through his fingers to the machine with a push of effort. "And if you want - not sure how my D&D game is going to go now, what with 'stuff' - I can fill in as guest DM for you for your group-"

"My Irregulars. Holmes."

"Better than The Fellowship," Sean admitted wryly.. "Anyway, offer's on the table while you recover. And after too, if you just need a break, or want on the other side of the DM Screen. What you running now,?"

"I'll think about it," Sophia said, before talking more animatedly about her campaign, grateful for the distraction. Sean interjected with his own questions and comments, unconsciously delaying going to the meeting. There was history between them, and new and not pleasant experiences, but for a moment, it felt almost like old times when they had been friends and co-conspirators in RPGdom. Until his mother found him, giving his shoulder an insistent squeeze. She gave the girl a sympathetic look and regretful look. She knew Sean and Sophia had had a falling out. Though not knowing the particulars, she had a few guesses.

"I hope you are recovering well, Sophia, dear, but I'm afraid I've got to steal my son back for something rather immediate."

"Thanks, Mrs. Cassidy. I'm getting tired again anyway." She looked back to Sean. "I'll send you a link to my gaming notes. I'll listen to any ideas or suggestions you have, even if I don't take you up on the offer."

"Alright. Later, Sophia."

Heading towards the meeting, Carolyn idly asked her son, certainly not prying. "Offer?"

"Mom!" Sean rolled his eyes. "It's just gaming stuff. God! She was dating Charlie."

Carolyn blinked, feeling more than chagrinned at the revelation. That was a blunder. Her chagrin didn't relent when the Cassidy contingent entered the meeting room and found they were the last to arrive. Discomfited, she went around the table, making introductions to any she hadn't met before, Jack Cassidy taking it in his more habitual laconic stride. He worked for all sorts of folk. As long as they didn't try to cheat him on payment and treated his workers with a base modicum of respect, he could deal. He exchanged a few brief words with Ian Keane, seeing if he needed any help with flipping or fixing up a house, while Carolyn remarked on how good Gar was looking, and how trials could bring out the best in someone. Then the Cassidys took their seats between the Jauntsens and the Bannons, Jack next to Carl, followed by his wife, Laurie, and Sean next to Jase.

"Apologies for running late," Carolyn said sincerely, though she didn't offer an explanation for why. "If we haven't missed the opening round, how shall we start?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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"Excellent," Misti said with a smile that lacked and and all caring for the proceedings.  "Well, as you all know, I'm Misti Jauntsen and this is my husband Carl.  He's a Federal Wildlife Officer, and I work for the school's administration department, so I know you all quite well, if only by reputation," no one missed the side-eyed glance she offered to Gar, whose reputation as a drunk was not unknown.  "While I'd love to say he and I have been fully able to grasp the happenings of the last few days, I unfortunately cannot.  We've agreed to listen with as open of a mind as possible, considering some of the things we've seen," she offered her son a glance.  "So, who wishes to start?"

As their parents eyes fell on the twins the two looked around the table and smirked evilly and simultaneously.  They leaned back in their chairs, Marissa crossing one leg the other and Devin resting an ankle on his knee.  Devin shrugged.  "Good question," he said.  "Who would like to go first?  We always used to, but now, it's not our circus-"

"-not our monkeys."  Marissa finished as the two sat and waited to see who would pick up the mantle of spokesperson for the Fellowship.

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"I think you should start talking." Bill Pryor said as he glanced at his daughter in the rear view mirror while telephone posts slid past the car rhythmically.

"It's, I dunno. It's a lot and right now things are still kinda fuzzy." Lilly said, rubbing her head.

"How about you try to start from the beginning?" Cassandra Pryor chimed in, putting an arm around her daughter in a side hug.

Lilly sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "From the beginning? You mean, like, the beginning beginning?" she asked.

"Wherever you are comfortable from. We just- This is a lot to take in, honey, and I'm still not sure what to make of it." Cassandra offered.

Lilly rested her forehead in her hands and signed once more. "It's kind of a long story. and you're not gonna to believe it until you meet the others, I'm sure." she semi-protested, but at the silence from both of her parents, she relented and continued. "Fine. I and my friends we all have... abilities."

"There are more like you? How did you get these abilities and why didn't you tell us?" Cassandra asked with some concern.

"I'm not entirely sure on the 'how' part, but I didn't tell you, partly, because I think it was due to the exposure to the interdimensional portal or whatever at the secret bonfire party thing we had on the reservation. And, for the record, they are not like me. They go things that I'll never do, like move things with their mind. Conjure fire and ice, teleport, read minds..."

"You are not serious." Cassandra said with her voice tinged with more than a hint of disbelief.

"As a heart attack." Lilly chimed back. "Oh, and that guy that went AWOL? Captain Cooper? He was there too.. sort of. He was looking almost like some zombie, but we found his uniform and stuff in the trailer we found there. Oh, and there was a saber-toothed tiger and the... monster-thing in the woods. They almost ate some of us." Lilly said with a nod, catching a glimpse of her father's eyes looking at her in the rear-view mirror, though she was unsure what to make of his gaze.

"Lilly. Honey. This is jus-" was all her mother got out before her father cut her off, "Let her talk." he said, his once again and coldly calm, making Lilly feel a little more like she was the subject of an investigation than his daughter right now.

"That was back in July, and I didn't tell you because what would I say? 'Hey mom and dad, I got these powers from the interdimensional portal that was at the secret bonfire party we threw on the reservation. Thankfully the zombie guy, saber-toothed tiger and monster thing didn't kill any of us.'? You would've though I was high or out of my mind." Lilly explained somewhat matter of factly, which prompted Cassandra to give a faint shrug of her shoulders and roll of her eyes in a 'well, that's true' gesture.

"So we found this fortified trailer out there with an interdimensional radio or something," Lilly continued, "...and Captain Cooper's uniform and all these photos of a Cessna's tail. So we go looking into things as best we can and, along with some of us getting temporarily stuck in this really bad dimension, we learn some stuff, like every twenty-seven years Shelly collectively loses its mind. Seriously. Go look in the papers and stuff. It is this cycle of this thing that we call The Dark. It like feeds off of bad emotions and pain and stuff, and it is trying to get from where it is trapped and into our world, and we realize that we are the only ones who have a chance at stopping it. And again, I think you can see why we didn't exactly go telling our parents."

"So yeah, we go doing more research and start learning to use our abilities and stuff and that's when I realize that me competing at the Olympics wouldn't be fair. I mean, I could probably beat this car in a foot race and I can run hurdles with high jump bars. It just wouldn't be fair and any victory would be hollow. I still want to go, and wish I could, but it's something I had to let go of. Other things are more important. So, like, I want's lying when I told you why I sandbagged, at least not fully. I just didn't think I could you everything behind it. So I'm sorry for that too. For what it's worth though, I was going to tell you yesterday, after the picnic."

"I kept playing football because it would draw more attention if I were to just up and quit, and it seems that, like positive emotions, like hope and happiness work against the dark. So yeah, I kept playing, but I held back a lot and try to not use my abilities, so help bring the town some hope and excitement, and the others have been helping with it too, trying to change the towns attitude and make it better and brighter.

"Cody, he got possessed by The Dark or gave into it or something, we found out, and it seems The Dark noticed us too and started coming after us." Lilly said as she turned to look at her mother. "Like the thing at the hospital the other day while we were out of town? That was actually an attack by The Dark, or Cody, or both. The other were there to fight it and now some government agency or something is involved and covering it up to help us. Oh yeah, some of the staff at the medical center are part of it too and had been experimenting on the population of Shelly for, like, decades and using a girl in school, who's a telepath, to help them. Hooray medical ethics." she said sarcastically and then sighed.

"Anyways, we had found Cody's like lair, or whatever, and last night we were meeting up and going to go there and face Cody and the Dark head on. It seems we won, or at least everybody survived, so that's good. But I was supposed to be there. I already let them down by not being there to help at the hospital, and then last night too." Lilly said, her voice trailing off a bit. "It's like what he said is true. Why do I even bother? They clearly don't need me." she said in a bout of self pity.

"If it's true, then why are we going to this meeting?" Bill asked.

"Because their are my friends and I'm not going to abandon them." Lilly replied without so much as a thought.

"Exactly. You said that this 'Dark' feeds on stuff like that, so are you going to make your enemy stronger and your side weaker? So you end your little personal pity party." Bill said, his tone firm, but not harsh, as he spoke to his daughter like he knew she needed. "Self pity lies to you about who are and steals from you who you can be. You're stronger than that, and I don't mean physically. Just look at what happened. If all you are saying is true, no matter how hard it is to believe, then you were asked to grow up quite a bit and do the mature and moral thing, and you did. You were asked to put something down so you could pick up something greater... and you did. And for that, we're am proud of you." Bill told his daughter, looking at her in the rear-view mirror again as the car sped down the thankfully straight and low traffic road. "...even if we aren't too thrilled about bonfires with underage drinking and being lied to." Cassandra added, resting her hand on Lilly's knee, giving it pat.

Lilly lifted her head, looking to her mother's eyes and then her father's in the mirror as she gave a small nod. It as nice to hear her father say what he did, really nice even, but the faint, momentary smile quickly faded. It was hard to take in what he said, to truly believe it after what she had been through the last twenty-four hours, but she would try.

 

Several minutes later...

The meeting room doors opened and in walked Lilly with her parents. Lt. Col. Bill Pryor was calm, neither smiling nor pensive, and gave the room a quick scan, interested in exactly who was at this meeting, as well the usual concerns his training taught him to be aware of, while Cassandra Pryor, who had worked as a head nurse in this very building for years, had a much warmer demeanor, smiling politely and nodding to any of the parents or kids who made eye contact.

Lilly, for her part, looked a bit rough. Her eyes were tired and to a keen eye like Marissa's, a bit puffy, even if it had gone down considerably already. Her long, dark, hair was up in a crude bun to try and hide its non-brushed state and she wore dark grey leggings and an oversized, black t-shirt. She smiled, though it was not hard to tell that it was at least somewhat forced, and gave a small wave as she looked to each of her friends, hoping not to find any visible injuries.

After a quick exchange of handshakes and simple pleasantries with Ms. Giles, the Pryors took the last remaining seats at the table, filling in the space between Annette and Kat, with Bill nodding to any of the other parents who made eye contact as he looked around the table, while Lilly glanced back over to Devin and brushes a few errant hairs from her face as she give him a less forced smile and softly mouthed, "Thanks." It was not lost on her that he was the only one to try and check on her when she did not show up the previous night. 

Edited by Lilly Pryor
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Lilly's entrance - and her somewhat drawn appearance - caused a curious raise of an eyebrow and narrow-eyed scrutiny from Jason, but he returned her wave of greeting with a nod and the merest hint of a smile on his scarred face.  He'd wondered if perhaps Lilly's disappearance from the Carousel had been related to the Dark, wondered if perhaps her body would be found as Charlie's had been.  The musing had not been particularly welcome - even given their estrangement he still didn't wish the girl ill: like Sean, she'd been a decent friend for too long for him to readily dismiss her simply based on recent changes and actions - but with other more pressing matters at hand, he'd been distracted from following up on his concerns.  He'd expected to see her at school this morning, and if she hadn't shown then would have followed up.  Events, however, had a mind of their own on such things.

Evidently, though, Devin had reached out, and now here she was, looking as though she had gone through her own version of hell if he was any judge.  He restrained his questions - Lilly would doubtless have a chance to speak just like the rest of them.

As the Pryors settled into their seats, the remote genius's gaze roamed the varied expressions on the faces of the fractious Fellowship.  From the affected aloof smirks of the Jauntsens, to Cade's stoic mien, to Kat's nervous yet resolute expression.  Beside him, Sean looked uncomfortable, but somewhat reassured with his family about him, giving Jase a rueful smile and a half-shrug as he noticed his friend looking his way.  Across the table, Autumn's fingers tapped lightly on the tabletop as the energetic redhead forced herself to sit relatively still rather than pace nervously, flashing him a faint smile that reached her sea blue eyes.  Lilly looked a little pale, weary in ways other than physical, but she was here, at least, and whole.  And next to Dana, Cassandra sipped the water she'd gotten herself, her own puffy eyes evidence that events had taken a lasting toll on her.

Jase kept his gaze on the blonde girl, and as she noticed it, gave her an encouraging nod.  She was the reporter, after all.  If there was to be a chronicling of events, or at least a commencement of one, it should come from her.

Edited by GDP_ST
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"Okay."

Cassandra looked around the room, and felt a little tingle of nervousness and anticipation. This would be the first time all this was laid out for everyone. She was writing the Bible here, and hoped she didn't fuck it up too badly. Look what happened the last time.

"Some of us have heard at least some of this before, but I don't know who's been told what...and we need to all be on the same page, so I'll ask everyone to just bear with me. I'll also start off by saying, yes we each have powers that most people don't have, and we very recently used those powers to protect Shelley from a threat no one knew was there. And...I'll circle back around to that, so don't worry."

Feeling a little restless, she scooted backwards and stood up.

"It all starts with a tale of two parties, back in July. Chet was having one, distributing flyers, and so..." she nodded at Jason, "...Bannon had to get in on the deal and threw together a shindig of his own out on the reservation. More discreet...invitation only. Just kind of, teenage angst playing itself out, normal day. That would have been the eighteenth."

"The night of the party, things got wild though. Not in a good 'party-way' but in a...sort of reality is coming apart like wrapping on a Christmas present way. A bunch of us..." Here she indicated the Fellowship at the table, "...basically all of US, plus Clara and Lona and Charlie and...you know...we got separated from the main party. Went out on the paths into the woods nearby. Now, I don't know the details of what everyone else saw. But I bumped into Devin by accident, and he and I saw this crazy guy, naked, run out from the trees. And he had a gun." Cassandra took in a breath here, remembering that moment. "We were freaking out...this guy looked like it'd been weeks since he'd showered, if then, and he couldn't talk...just made noises. Before he could do anything though, there was this cloud behind him. And out from the cloud came...a creature. It looked kind of like a floating octopus, but I only say that because it had tentacles. It wasn't really that much like an octopus other than that."

She shook her head. "It grabbed the man, hauled him back into the cloud. Then the cloud vanished again. At the time, we had no idea what was going on. Now we have a pretty good idea, but...that's not going to make sense yet."

"Devin and me, we ran. Grabbed the gun he dropped and ran. We finally found the others near this...like trailer? Out in the woods? It was where the guy we'd seen had been living. Most of the rest of us were already there...we found Lona in the woods on the way there...but as I understand it, the ones at the cabin had been attacked by a sabertooth tiger. So...a whole LOT of crazy going around that night."

Cassandra held up a hand. "And I know what the adults in the room are thinking. Not...I'm not actually reading your minds, it's just obvious. Drugs. But you have to understand most of us hadn't taken anything that night. Even if someone had, pot doesn't make you see alien monsters or sabertooth tigers. Believe me, we've all been all over that. In the weeks after the party, I know I tried every rational explanation I could think of to deal with it. There's nothing. We learned the truth much later."

"Anyway, the trailer was full of maps and writing and...even though he'd seemed crazy when Devin and me saw him, he'd been working on something in that trailer."

"That's what kept pulling us back."

Cassie shrugged. "Most of us kept going back there over the next few weeks. Kept seeing each other over the summer, talking. Trying to make sense of it all. The trailer was full of files...Jase wound up moving most of it to his place in the end. Even so, it wasn't until after school started again that things started to fit together."

"That's when we found out Cody was missing. It's when we started putting pieces together that there was some next-level spycraft going on in Shelly, and it was connected to the Medical Center. It's when I found out about the prison riot on the night of the party, and some coverups related to that." She took a deep breath. "And it's when we learned about what we call the Shine...and the Dark."

"We call it the Shine, because that's what it looks like to us. There's this way of looking at the world that's just a little different, it's hard to explain. People have a glow to them, everyone has a little. But we...we have a lot. We're searchlights. I don't know if that was always the case, or if something happened that activated us or something. But when we met at lunch, we started putting all these pieces together in a kind of...random, chaotic way. So we decided to meet up at Jase's place and actually try to organize."

With a nod, Cassandra concluded, "And that put us on a long road that led us to where we are now, really. Obviously there's a lot more, but...lets take a breather for a second. First of all," she looked around at the Fellowship, "Am I missing anything important? I know I kind of glossed over a few details, but I'm trying to keep it manageable here. Still, I didn't see or hear everything, so if anyone wants to add something, this is a decent time. Or if there's questions about what I've said so far, this is good too. Just don't leapfrog ahead of me. I know there's still a lot to go over, but we will get there, I promise."

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"Leapfrog ahead?"  Devin said while Cassie reached for her water whet her throat after part one of the Fellowships epic tale.  "You left out the part where you came to my house that evening and totally went all handsy on my abs."  Cassie's cheeks swelled like a chipmunks when she choked on her water and her mother turned her head a shot her a look of pure 'excuse me young lady'?

Devin flipped his finger about his mouth, calmly advising Cassie.  "You got uh... a little something... um, yeah... you two hash that out..." He nodded to the ladies while Devin earned himself baleful glares that demanded blood and pain from Cassie while a few others from the Fellowship, well used to his antics by now, tried to suppress a grin.  Devin may have been an irritating guy most times, but he was never short of entertaining, especially in these rather tense moments.

He produced his phone and showed it to everyone then looked at Sean.  "Dude, you mind?"  He then slid his phone into the center of the massive table.  "For those of you who don't know, I'm an artist-"

"-and here we thought you were some punk who whose only talent was running his mouth and torturing our kids." Sean's father Jack interrupted him.  Whatever temporary truce had been struck between them before the Not-Cody battle seemed to have dissipated at the news of Devin jaunting their daughter half way around the world to do God-knows-what, at God-knows-where.

Through pursed lips Devin nodded and soaked it up.  The Fellowship could tell, just form his poise and tensed nodding that Devin wanted to go balls deep and run a train on Jack's attitude, but instead, he composed himself and smiled politely.  "Fair.  I do talk a lot.  So, I'm going to let that go because your daughter kinda has a thing for me-"

"NoIdon't!"  Laurie swiftly intercepted the conversation and then looked at her parents like she'd been accused of something she didn't do.  She shook her head at her parents.  "I don't."

"-and," his glance across didn't go unnoticed.  "Redheads are all the rage right now."  There was an audible 'thump' from under the table as Marissa suddenly shifted, but never allowed her attention to be pulled away from the table.  Devin grunted and tensed to one side, the side closest to his sister.

"You were saying, Deej?"  Marissa asked him, her lips curling into a smirk that falsely told how she was hanging on his every word.

"Anyway," he grunted, collecting himself from the stabbing fist that met his side just moments prior.  "Sean, you find it?"

"I've found a lot, dude."  Sean said, his eyes glossed over as a terabyte of data flowed through his mind in a series of 1s and 0s.  "Is there any girl at school that hasn't sent you a selfie?"

"There's a few I wish hadn't..." Devin added with a hint of sarcasm.

"Me too.  This whole phone needs to be set on fire and tossed into a volcano afterwards."  Sean added with a grin of his own.  "I think this is what you meant."  From Devin's phone there was a brief upside down pyramid of light that encompassed nearly half of the the table itself.  All the angles were visible, though see-thru as in its  center Sean pulled the images from Devin's phone and in two dimensions, like large playing cards, the artwork Devin had drawn of all the monsters they'd faced rotated there in the center of the table.  Sean's mind manipulated the data while simultaneously manipulating the light waves in the room to turn that data into floating holograms.

"I've drawn dozens of them," he continued.  He pointed to the one Sean was rotating, a blackened cloud of ink and tentacles with a gruesome jaw of sharp, stiletto-like teeth.  "That's what came after us in the forest that night."  The artwork scrolled and rotated, lingering long enough for all of them to see.  It wasn't just the monsters that Devin had drawn, he'd illustrated entire scenes he was present for, providing a still frame visual of everything the Fellowship had gone through, like a story book others could follow along to as Cassie talked.  Every argument was drawn in detail, the Fellowship around the table fighting like cats and dogs, Clara and Devin yelling from opposite sides of the room at one another as Lilly stormed out in frustration.

The creature they battled not far from the old trailer, the one that nearly tore Devin's leg off, was brilliantly displayed in a scene where everyone was doing their best to not lose their shit as it's barbed and mouthed tongue was wrapped around Devin's leg as he screamed and frantically tried to crawl away.  He'd captured the essence of The Dark wondrously with graphite and charcoal, a monochromatic testament to the visceral beauty of horror.  "These are what keep me up at night, Mom, Dad.  The night terrors, the insomnia, me spacing out and staring at nothing for minutes on end.  We've asked all of you here today because despite our differences we've all managed to do what needs to be done to protect Shelly and it's people.  Were you to ask me a month ago if I were to be hanging out with Sean, or Autumn?  Hell no.  I'd probably be beating up Sean in a bathroom or tipping Autumn's books out of her arms so I could watch her bend over to pick them up."  Her glare told him that she was not ammused.  "What?  You might have been a pleb, but girl, you still got dat peach, hnnng."  He flexed his fingers like he was squishing something soft.

"Ah, the good ol' days," Marissa added with a smirk as she reminisced.

"But we can't do this alone," he continued, shelfing his antics and soberly addressing everyone once again.  "We can't carry this burden on our own, we need help and lying to all of you doesn't help us or anyone else.  We need you to understand that a few weeks ago we were all punk kids, sure, but now... now we're friends."  He chuckled.  "Horrible friends who still don't trust each other, but we're getting there... slowly but surely, I think.  So watch," he motioned to the pictures then to Cassie.  "Listen.  And while you may not trust us at first, I think we'll get there, slowly but surely."

Annette surprised a smile behind her steepled fingers.  There were times she wished she could bottle whatever it was the Jauntsen children had in their words.  At only sixteen, they had a knack for working a crowd and she hoped that between Cassie, the twins and the testimony of the others, this night would end on a positive now.

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"So those creatures... they're the 'Dark'?  Or from the Dark?  Or... what?"  Ian Keane peered at the projections, fascination mixed with skepticism in the man's expression.  The other parents, too, leaned forward, recognition on the faces of Sheriff Alister, Capt. Williams and Gar Bannon at the giant fish-dinosaur abomination that was trying to eat Devin as Ian went on. "Seriously, it's hard to believe."

"That's the thing that attacked us here."  Gar said quietly, soberly, gesturing towards the creature's image.  "Came crashing through the doors to the lobby last Tuesday.  I could smell the damn thing it was that close behind us."  He looked across at Ian, shrugging.  "It's real, alright."

"And those."  Captain Williams spoke up from his seat next to Kat.  Out of uniform, the soldier gestured to the rubbery, saw-toothed creatures Devin had depicted swarming along the corridor walls and ceilings.  "They were all over the place.  Your girl warned us about them, or my men - and me - would've walked right into them blind."  He gave Autumn a wry smile.  "Thanks again for that, by the way."

"Sorry, who are you?"  Misti eyed him curiously, tapping manicured nails on the polished tabletop as her attention was diverted from Devin's portfolio of horrors.

"Captain Josh Williams, ma'am."  Kats dad nodded to her politely.

"That doesn't explain much..."  Carl's tone was dubious.  Lilly's father was glancing sideways at his fellow soldier, similarly curious as to what was going on.

"Captain Williams is part of our operations detail here."  Annette put in quietly.  "But tonight, he is here as a parent to a special child, just as you all are."  That plainly didn't satisfy all questions, but was sufficient to get the parents back on track.  Dana gestured at the projections, looking at Devin, then Cassandra. 

"So, back to my husband's question..?"

"They are corrupted life."  Jason didn't stir from his relaxed slouch as he spoke, his voice calm, almost professorial as he spoke up for the first time.  "Cassie told you about Shine - at least a little.  It's the energy of life, of thought, of... nature, I suppose.  We've also heard it called Radiance.  It exists, theoretically, below the quantum layer of what we call reality.  Everything that lives, from a blade of grass to all of us around this table, draw on it a little, possessing a little spark of it."  His lips quirked in a not-quite-smile.  "If you want to be profound about it, call it the breath of the Universe."

"Or the Force."  Devin suggested helpfully, smirking slightly.  There was some rolling of eyes and chuckles from the others.

"That fits too."  Jason shrugged.  "Though we should probably avoid that comparison.  All the hellish forces of the Dark are as nothing compared to the Disney legal team."  As people relaxed a little, chuckling, he went on more seriously.  "The Dark is a force which corrupts life, corrupts minds and bodies, blights whatever it touches.  Like Radiance, the Dark seems to be a cosmic constant, existing on another level of reality, and seeking to twist and feed on the energies of life.  Here in Shelly, there was just one parasitic fragment of the Dark - and it was enough to curse the entire area for who knows how long.  Our research showed that every twenty-seven years, as far back as there were records, there would be a surge in violent crime and disappearances.  The worst kinds of crime, too - brothers knifing brothers over a card game, murder-suicides, domestic disturbance calls that would end in bloodbaths...  The list goes on."

"And that was the Dark?  Well, the parasite, anyway?"  Dana asked quietly, her eyes on the lean, quiet-spoken young man, who nodded.

"We think it was.  My research initially was into strange sightings, you see.  After the party, and after a couple of us started manifesting strange abilities, I was looking for information about local legends, cryptids, monster stories.  That led to disappearances, which led to crime spikes.  I stumbled over the twenty-seven year cycle when I was sifting through all the data."  He gestured towards Cassie. "We all met up, compared notes, and decided to investigate further, including into why we had these gifts in the first place."

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"Jason is correct," the lovely brunette's voice rose up just moments after he'd finished speaking.  "But I feel more clarification is in order.  The dark, lowercase, like radiance, is simply a force of nature.  The inexorable pull of entropy and we all possess it within us as well.  The Dark, capitalized, is an entity, a being that uses that force of nature against us and this world, possibly even others.  As we use Radiance against it, it uses Darkness against us."

"And what is this 'entity' exactly?"  The sheriff asked.

"Not to get ahead, but it was once a being of flesh and blood, like you or I.  It succumbed to the corruption and I guess just transcended, becoming for all intents and purposes, a god, and no, I'm not using that term lightly.  That is exactly what this creature is.  Simply put, The Dark, capital, corrupts the dark, lower case, and uses that fundamental force of the cosmos against us.  Those of us with radiance can push back, or even cleanse that corruption, near as we can tell."

"Like the tales of the Devil, The Dark doesn't seem to be able to outright force people to do things.  It prefers to corrupt them, over time, but the choice has to be theirs, it seems.  I knew Cody very well, and he may have been a sleeze-ball but he wasn't that far gone.  I could see conflict, the boy he was, wrestling with the creature he'd become."  While her thoughts ventured back to last night, back to what Cody had become she rubbed the bridge of her nose to calm the influx of emotions rising behind her eyes and words.  "We call people manipulated by The Dark, 'Shades'.  Problem is, we have no real means of identifying who is normal, and who isn't until the corruption begins to change them."

"Change them?"  Dana asked quietly, looking at the images rotating in the room.

"We'll get to that," Marissa, in an attempt to not take things too far ahead politely dodged her best friend's mother's question.  "I just wanted to clarify that radiance and darkness are not, in and of themselves good or evil.  We could use our radiance for all manner evil if we so chose to, that wouldn't mean we were suddenly tapping into some darkness-"

"-we'd just be colossal jerks."  Devin added.

"Exactly.  Evil isn't born, it's made," his sister agreed.  "So, for clarification, we are generally referring to the entity we call The Dark, and as Cassie weaves more of our encounters for you, you will hear the term more often, as it has a tendency to show up at the most inopportune of times."

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Yeah."  Cassie nodded, taking another sip of water before speaking up again.  "There's, like, Darkness, the force that is opposed to Radiance.  And then the Dark here in Shelly that was responsible for the cycle Jase mentioned, which is sort of a..."  she frowned, snapping her fingers and looking at the others. 

"Avatar?  Wait, no: Anthropomorphic personification"  Sean supplied helpfully, causing the blonde to shoot him a grateful smile and nod.

"Yeah.  A personification of the greater Darkness."  Cassandra straightened a little in her seat and motioned towards the projection on the table Sean was manipulating.  "So anyway, that Friday, all sorts of stuff broke loose, all at once.  We were approached by Dr Cook, who told us he'd been spying on us and knew some of us were developing abilities.  The Project he worked for has the whole town wired up, school, med center - everything."

"Surveillance we have since scaled back and largely shut down."  Annette quietly interjected, noting the stares Cassie's comment was starting to cause from the assembled parents.

"Right.  That was the old Project under Cook who were spying on everything we did.  New management, and all."  Cassie didn't quite sound sarcastic, but she still managed to inject a delicate strand of skepticism into her tone as she went on.  "Anyway, round about the time Cook was twirling his mustachios and proclaiming us to be his finest work, some of us went up to investigate the trailer again.  There was some kind of weird dimensional... crossover."

"Conjunctional overlap."  Jason put in.

"...yeah, that.  And those of us who were at the trailer were sucked through to the other side."  She gestured to Devin and Marissa, then Jason and Autumn.  "Autumn had just been, uh, talent scouted that morning - we could tell she was one of us and she got thrown in the deep end.  We weren't expecting anything like this overlap, though we later found out it was a deliberate action of the Dark to try and get some of us.  The fish-dinosaur monster you see there started attacking the party at the trailer, and we were hustling in like the cavalry, and it was all sort of... well, nightmarish."  She gestured, the image Sean was projecting showing Devin's stark drawings of the event:  the monster trying to eat his leg, Jason ablaze and throwing fire from his hands as Lilly charged the hellbeast from the side and Cade took aim with the shotgun.

"So after we realised we'd survived, we decided to get together over that last weekend in August.  Saturday to compare notes and to plan, Sunday to do a sort of Danger Room thing and train our powers.  It was kind of a mess, still."  She shrugged, looking around at the others, most of whom nodded.  "There were all these old grudges bubbling up, and people getting on each others last nerve and storming out.  But we did at least sort of get a better idea of what we knew and didn't know, and what we could do - those of us whose powers were most developed, anyway.  Some of us were a little slower to bloom."  She grinned self-deprecatingly.  "By the time Sunday evening rolled around, things were mostly chill.  Not necessarily best of buddies, but chill."

Autumn nodded, remembering the campfire in the field at the Bannon farm, remembering the swish of the air around her as Jason flew her around like a toy airplane whilst the others laughed.  She smiled faintly across at the green-eyed young man, whose eyes flicked to hers and tightened slightly at the corners in his own version of a smile, showing her he remembered that moment too.  It wasn't lost on all the Fellowship that Cassie was deliberately leaving some details aside: Jason's psychopathy, the attack on Lona, and then the retributive attack on Liam, as some examples.  She was sticking to the main narrative involving the kids and the Dark.

She went on to describe the endless, hellish Monday.  How Devin had been sucked through again into the Dark's realm, narrowly escaping death thanks to the involvement of a mysterious armored figure.  How she'd nearly died trying to use her power on the bracelet the figure had put on his wrist.  Discussing Etienne and how he'd been using Clara on behalf of the Project under Cook's direction.  How they'd talked about the mysterious Man in Black who had ominously appeared on Friday to some of them.  More arguments at the meeting after school that day, Sara stalking off in one direction and Jason peeling rubber out of the parking lot.  "Not all of us were at that meeting."  she went on, "But it doesn't much matter, because not much got done.  And then... And then Tuesday rolled around."

"Jase got attacked at school by two seniors, right there in the halls.  Some dumbass reason or other, but in actuality it was the Dark, pushing them.  I don't know whether it wanted to kill Jason or just to provoke him into using his power at school, but it seems likely that it was a chess move, because right after, while he was getting checked out and we were visiting him here at the Medical Center... the Dark made another move.  It did that dimensional overlap again, and sent monsters after us.  Me and Autumn were investigating and had found the elevator in Cook's office leading down to the underground complex.  The others were upstairs visiting Jase, and then... it was like in that movie 'Silent Hill'.  Everything stayed sort of the same, but the light got sickly, and black rot patches appeared on the walls, and the air smelled like...  Like..."

"Burned pork.  Only not pork."  Autumn said quietly, feeling a little green around the gills as she recalled.

"Yeah."  Cassie nodded.  "Super creepy and gross.  So some of you were here for that."  she said to the adults, gesturing towards Kat's dad, Gar Bannon and the Sheriff.  "You know what it was like."  The three men nodded somberly, each silently recalling their own thoughts and memories of that day.  "The Dark's beasties were hunting us.  The guys upstairs had combative powers, so they fought their way clear.  Autumn and me, we had to sneak away from the creatures until we ran into the Project's security people, who protected and looked after us.  Upstairs, the guys were kicking ass."

"Did we ever."  Devin agreed, grinning.  "Dude, Sean was all 'zap, pew-pew' with the lasers, Cade was a beast with a fire extinguisher, Charlie was an armor-plated killing machine, Jase was Mr Freeze and I was ze Incredible Nightcrawler!  We totes X-Man'd that shit."

"Right."  Cassie rolled her eyes, but smiled good-naturedly as she went on.  "So then after the dimensional thingummy ended, we were all herded down to the Project and we had a big old pow-wow with Annette, Dr Cook, and Taggart - he's the security dude here -"

"Major Taggart?"  Lilly's dad spoke up for the first time, looking surprised.  "The para-rescue unit commander?"  He looked at Annette, then Captain Williams narrowly, both of whom remained silent.

"Guess that's his official cover."  Cassie shrugged.  "So a lot was discussed there, and it came out that Cook had been abusing his funding and authority even by the standards of the Project.  He was removed and locked up, and then we learned that the funds he'd been abusing had been used to build another secret complex staffed by mercenaries under the Crossroads Prison, and that he'd sent Etienne there when the dude had refused to spy on Clara anymore.  Sean did his thing and hacked the secret prison, found out they were up to all sorts of sick stuff there - I'm talking brainwashing, MKULTRA weird science stuff - and so some of us decided to go and spring Etienne."  She gestured around the table.  "Devin, Jase, Autumn, Cade, and Charlie all teleported to the prison, knocked out and roughed up some mercenaries, and rescued Etienne and a couple of animals that the sickos were experimenting on.  It was a whole thing."  She coughed, and took a drink of water to re-moisten her throat.  "Sorry, getting a bit hoarse.  So that story the press were running about a biological hazard at the hospital was just a cover." she admitted, looking at her mom apologetically.  "I wanted to talk about it, but honestly it was just... a lot."  Teresa smiled reassuringly and clasped Cassie's hand briefly, letting her know it was okay.  The blonde reporter looked around the table.

"So, uh, while I rest my throat for the next long haul, any questions from the audience?"

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"I've one, yes," Misti rested her arms on the table, allowing them to lend her support as she leaned in a bit in her chair.  "Precisely how many times were our children used to perform covert raids on terrorist cells?  That you or this Taggart are aware of, of course."

Marissa rolled her eyes while shaking her head but went directly back to swiping on her phone.  She didn't let is escape her that she'd left some finer details out, but that wasn't on Cassie.  Devin noticed too, he just was done caring.  The the teleporter rolled his eyes as well and allowed his head to collapse into his arms on the table.  After a moment there was a 'thok', 'thok' sound as he tapped his forehead in frustration on the hard wood.

"Christ, Mom," he complained.  "Do we trust them?  Not really.  But no one made us do anything.  We chose to go after Etienne on our own.  These guys," she gestured to Annette, since she seemed to representing all the 'they's' this evening.  "Couldn't have stopped us if they wanted to."

Carl also leaned into the table, cradling one hand into his other.  "Wait, wait, wait..."  he shook his head.  "This Etienne guy is who now?"

Marissa didn't look up from her phone and the tone of her voice couldn't sound anymore bored than she actually was.  "He's some Canadian guy, kinda hot, sexy accent.  I guess he was some prodigy who graduated high school, got a degree and managed to get through spy school all in before he was twenty three, twenty four?  Anyway, despite all those skill he decided to work for cook so he could sleep with high school girls."  Her mother's gaze slowly panned and fell upon her.  Marissa was unwavering thought and simply shrugged while meeting her mother's stare.  "I know.  I didn't understand it either."

It was Carl's turn to roll his eyes and he exhaled softly while shaking his head.  He plucked up his bottled water and smirked to Annette.  "You wouldn't happen to have anything stronger, would you?"

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Cade and his parents had been fairly quiet, some of this of course his father knew, but Miyakko was realizing the two most important men in her life had been keeping great secrets from her.   It obviously weighed on the pair of them, and her own overreaction when Cade had tried to tell them before, that certainly hadn't helped.   Ian had obviously known then, and was in his way trying to help her and Cade by acting as he had.   Still it hurt.

She looked at Ian, who nodded.  He knew there'd be even more explaining at home, but Miyakko wouldn't cause a scene here.   
 

Ian spoke up.  "So you raided the prison facility, fought against mercenaries, I'm assuming you didn't actually kill anyone during this.   You mentioned rescuing animals, what sort exactly, and where are these animals now?"  He looked first to his son, then the other kids who'd been mentioned by name.

Cade sighed.  "No, we didn't kill anyone. Some of them definitely felt it the next day I'm sure though.   I couldn't have at the time anyway.   The guns I'd picked up were chipped with locators and to only be usable by those who had the right unlocking chip.  We didn't know that at the time though."    Cade looked to Annette, and nodded.  "I'd like to know what became of the smilodon too.  We didn't risk our lives just for it to be put down.  It had already been made to suffer enough."


 

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"Now that's a load of crap," Marissa snorted.  As the attention all turned to her she looked up from her phone.  "When Devin vehemently demanded a no killing rule you clowns had the audacity to actually argue with him about it.  Now, this was only after you psychopaths had already racked up a body count, what with Jason shattering people's bones and Charlie slicing everything in his path to ribbons.  It wasn't until the prison and after a lot of arguing that you guys agreed to my brother's 'no killing' rule."

"Dirty laundry aired," she paused and repositioned herself in her chair, crossing her legs.  "I bring that up because we're teenagers.  Yes, we have super powers, cool, super powers are tight, I'm with you.  We, however, are not the military, nor the police.  We are not judge, jury, nor executioner and some of you more than others have a hard time grasping that fact, while others can't even grasp it at all.  If Taggart and his boys want to run through Crossroads shooting and blowing things up, fine, that's their job.  They're sanctioned to do that.  We, are not.  Frankly I don't want America showing up on my family's doorstep and dragging us out into the night to beat us and burn us at the stake because one of you morons couldn't keep it in your pants and branded 'our kind' as violent, unstable... what's the term?  'High functioning-psychopaths'?"

"Monsters are one thing," she sighed calmly.  "But people?  Killing people isn't our style, Annette."

"Our." Devin swirled his hand about a bit, symbolizing that Marissa was referring only to the twins.  "How the Fellowship chooses to handle their business is on them."

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"Correction for those of us not so enamored of spite we would slander the dead to enable it."  Jason's tone was glacial as he spoke up, his gaze level as it roamed the faces of those present.  "Charlie had only 'sliced up' - indeed only attacked - monsters prior to the prison raid.  To the best of my knowledge he'd never even adopted a 'war' shape until we were attacked at the trailer by that thing, then again at the hospital.  The 'arguing' consisted of my simply asking Devin if his no-killing rule - which was purely addressed to me - was the condition he required to allow me to come along and help.  He said it was.  At which point I then gave my word not to kill anyone, and implied it would be a challenge.  No-one else said anything about it.  I'm not sure if that counts in anyone's book as 'audacity' or even 'a lot of arguing', but those are the facts of that conversation."  He shrugged.  "The Jauntsen Twins are free, of course, to claim otherwise.  And you are all free to believe whom you wish."

"And yes.  I attacked a human someone with my powers, because they attempted to sexually assault a friend of mine, an action which I found offensive."  Jase's lips twitched sardonically.  "I also attacked the two individuals who shot me this morning.  All three survived the experience.  I bring this up simply to get it on the table and let people see the matter clearly.  Cassandra was evidently attempting to leave our dirty laundry off the table and stick to the most relevant facts, but based on what we just witnessed, we might as well air everything.  My action against the would-be rapist was not approved of by anyone else in the Fellowship - indeed, I believe most were upset by it.  But there is no 'body count'."

He reached out and took a sip of water from his glass.  "That's all I have to say on the matter.  Cade was telling the truth - we didn't kill anyone during the prison raid."  And he fell silent again, eyes gleaming in his expressionless features.

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"But you would have," Devin said softly and without malice in his tone.  "That's the point of what Marissa was saying.  Collectively the Fellowship is dangerous and seems to feel that it can operate with impunity and dispense justice in any manner it sees fit without worry or concern of repercussions.  You lack leadership, oversight and accountability.  My sister is worried that your continued, collective actions is going to end with our family being hurt as a result of the bad press you don't seem to care too much about.  At no point should I ever have had to argue with anyone about the importance of not killing people.  Our sidebar Jason, it was a debate.  You were literally trying to justify killing people to me.  Me.  A dude in high school who just wants to get laid and barely skate by then blow all of my parents money on eight years of college so I can live in their basement until I'm fifty."

"Put a gun in Cade's hand, he'll shoot dead anything that gets in his way, because grandfathers no one has ever seen before taught him how to be some Montaninja.  Even Charlie, the forms he took were on your suggestion and they were chosen for their raw ability to eviscerate.  Not to protect, but to destroy.  Today it was monsters, but he listened to you, trusted you, and upgrading to people would have been no problem because he shared the same look in his eyes that you have in yours when dying time's near.  That because abundantly clear after he tried to strangle Marissa in our kitchen.  Dude had some dark thoughts, and they weren't always there until this mess came along and you started reinforcing his need to kill instead of protect."  Devin slid back, relaxing in his chair.  "Look, I know we're beating a dead horse with it Jason, but once again, you escaped lying by simply omitting the truth.  Do you think we don't notice when you do shit like that?  You didn't 'just attack someone because' and we all know what you did to a defenseless person who had no chance against you.  You weren't protecting Lona  that evening Jason, you just wanted to hurt something and she gave you a most convenient excuse.  I know, because we risked a felony to keep you out of juvie."

"It's pointless."  Marissa shook her head in frustration.  "Fact Check True: One of you geniuses wanted to blow up a bridge.  Fact Check True: Devin had to actually convince you guys that killing is wrong.  Fact Check True: Jason followed Liam to his home, hung out outside his window and then proceeded to bounce him off of every wall in the house until nearly every bone in his body broken.  We still don't know to this day what actually happened because Lona isn't talking and Liam is still eating through a straw.  Good job, hero.  Not a single soul in this room is counting the two who tried to kill you this morning Jason, it was self-defense.  We might not get along, but that doesn't mean I want you hurt, or worse, despite my conniving, backstabbing nature," she sneered.

"That was him?"  Carl asked.  "That whole mess with the Liam kid?"  The Sheriff nodded his head through pursed lips.  Often times he really wished Marissa, for as beautiful as she was, would just stay pretty and stay quiet.  "Christ," their father added but honestly didn't seem to bothered by the news.  "Poor kid was folded like a pretzel."

"He was in our house, Carl, with our daughter!"  Misti didn't seem to take the news as well as her husband did.  She shook her head and buried it in her hand while rubbing her temples with her thumb and middle finger.  "Jesus.  You two are going to be grounded until you're three hundred."  She looked to Gar.  "And I'm sure you're just peachy with all of this, right?"

"No, no, Mom it's okay." Marissa consoled her.  "Jason has given his word that he would never, under any circumstances, ever hurt me, or any of us."

Devin looked over to his sister.  "Oh yeah, you mean how it's impossible for him to lie, yet he can use any manner of subtly and subterfuge to avoid being anything close honest?"

"Yeah, that's it!" Marissa said cheerfully.  "So, see?  We have absolutely nothing to worry about!  Everyone is safe."  There wasn't a scientific word for how fast her false smile straightened into a scornful expressionless visage.  "Like I said... this is pointless.  Let the Fellowship do as it pleases, they're Annette's problem.  The Dark needs to be dealt with and we're the only ones who can do it, so, as it stands, Branch-9 and Proteus need us, all of us.  So we'll do our part.  I would recommend a very short leash for them though."

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"Are you guys done?" Autumn asked bluntly, leaning forward around her mother as she peered down the length of the table at the twins, the freckles on her cheeks almost invisible against the flush of angry red that had been steadily creeping up the sides of her throat for the last few minutes. She had to admit, though, that Marissa had been right about one thing, at least: the fact that this was pointless. The Jauntsens were apparently on their own side, and no one else’s, and that didn’t seem likely to change, especially since they were clearly separating themselves from the others. So why were they even here, unless it was just for this? Just to pose in front of an audience and make royal proclamations, to pass judgement under the guise of being helpful… To stir up trouble. A whisper of unease snaked up the redhead’s spine as a sudden realization sank in. She’d been assuming that the twins were trying to change, to help in their own way; that they were all kind of just stumbling through this together, trying to figure out how to get along and hopefully save the world, or whatever it was they were supposed to do. Maybe they weren’t great at the whole friendship thing, sure, but sometimes it seemed like they were trying.

What if that wasn’t true, though? What if that assumption of good intentions was completely and utterly wrong?

"Yeah, sure. We're good." Devin’s reply was succinct and to the point, his tone as frosty as the expression on his sister’s perfect features. Autumn couldn’t tell what either of them were thinking, but if recent events were any indication, it probably involved bridges and kerosene. And, if it did… What was she supposed to do about it? After everything that had happened that day, her first instinct was to just hand them a match. Fuck it, right? If they wanted to go, it wasn’t her place to stop them, especially if they were willingly working with this Enterich guy, or someone like him. But then again, if the Dark did have some hold on them, and they weren’t too far gone to be pulled back…

God fucking damn it, she sighed inwardly.

“Cool,” the expressive young woman affirmed, studying the brick wall that was the Jauntsen family for a moment longer before turning the opposite direction to look at Annette. “So, back to the cats, before Cade jumps on the chance to play Captain America: Jungle Edition. The smilodon wasn’t the only one we rescued. So, just as a reminder, I’m still waiting to hear back from you guys about how they’re doing. As far as the rest goes, what Cassie said is true, as far as I know. I wasn’t involved until…” Her nose scrunched slightly, fingers tapping softly on the tabletop as she counted back over the madness of recent days.

“It was Friday, right after school started. And, yeah, what happened at the trailer was-” Autumn hesitated, searching for a word that sufficiently conveyed the nightmare quality of that landscape, the sounds they’d heard, the strange burnt-sugar smell of the air and the unsettling mirror-ness of the place. “Terrifying,” she settled on finally, quietly, with an unconscious glance up at her mother beside her. “But that was us being flipped over to that side, or that world, or whatever, and what happened here was kind of the opposite of that. The Dark didn’t pull us through, it pushed through from the other side into this one somehow.”

“Through the Door you talked about? The one you said you needed to close?” Dana asked thoughtfully, sharing a look with her husband as she remembered how Autumn had described the barrier between worlds during the ruined Labor Day celebration.

“Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know how all that works yet,” the younger Keane admitted, chewing for a moment on her lower lip. Jason had explained- sans crayons- some of the rudiments of quantum theory when they’d gone camping, but she had a long way to go before she could wrap her mind around subquantum or interdimensional anything, much less how their abilities worked in any kind of academic sense. It wasn’t magic, obviously, but there was a line she couldn’t immediately attribute that said something about any sufficiently advanced tech being basically indistinguishable from it. “And we still need to, yeah,” she agreed, even as her parents exchanged another look.

Ian Keane leaned back in his chair, cool blue eyes roving over the faces assembled around the table, taking in the mixed reactions to not only what Cassandra had said, but the Jauntsen Twins and the sheriff, as well. It was ridiculous, almost laughably unbelievable, but he'd witnessed the proof himself, hadn't he? It was too much to hope for a mass delusion now, especially after seeing the state Autumn and Jason had been in when they'd come back the night before. His gaze lingered for a moment on the lean, composed figure of his daughter’s new boyfriend, and then at the flushed, uncharacteristically pensive features of Autumn herself. “Well,” he drawled, “that’s certainly a lot to digest. Personal issues aside,” the keen-eyed entrepreneur continued, giving Jason another long, measuring look before eyeing the Sheriff, Captain Williams, and Lt. Col. Pryor, “I’m not exactly thrilled that the authorities kept us in the dark while our kids were in danger. What if my daughter hadn’t made it back from this prison break, hm? What if your son hadn’t, Sheriff? Because, frankly, the fact that we’re only now learning about this- after one of the kids was killed in his own home by some monster-“ His voice trembled with the effort required to keep it steady as he swallowed the rest of the sentence, and his hands, clasped on top of the table, were white-knuckled with restrained emotion. “So when the hell were any of you planning on telling us? Or were you just leaving that to our kids to handle, as well?”

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"Lt. Colonel Pryor was unaware of any of these events, though I can understand that his rank and position suggest otherwise."  Annette spoke up, her voice calm and professional.  "His remit is official and above-board, and he has had, to date, zero awareness of the Project."  Lilly's dad was looking quietly thunderous, his eyes narrowed as they considered the Twins, Jason, and the revelations of his daughter's friend's actions in addition to everything else that had been revealed.  But he nodded in agreement with Annette's words, remaining silent.  "Captain Williams is a member of our security forces, and thus is under several layers of secrecy not to discuss anything, with anyone, ever.  I imagine he is less than sanguine about his daughter's involvement, nevertheless.  He is here tonight as a concerned parent much as you all are, Mr Keane, not to answer for anything.  As for me, I am - was - similarly bound by oaths of secrecy, at least until earlier today."

"What about you, sheriff?"  Misti asked Ian Alister, her eyes narrowing.  "You knew about all of this before any of us, right?"

"Some."  Cade's dad admitted heavily.  "I knew that Cook and several local businessmen and developers were involved with Crossroads prison, though not how.  I knew that they had their eye on some of the local kids, but not why - and oddly, none of the kids here were on that list."

"Cook admitted we were not expected to manifest powers."  Cassandra put in, frowning slightly.  "Said something about us being part of the control group, not the actual experiment."

"Okay, so why didn't you say anything?"  Ian Keane asked.  The sheriff shrugged, exchanging glances with his wife before looking at Autumn's dad again.

"Because I didn't have anything to go on.  Hunches, bad rumors coming out of the prison, quickly hushed up.  I didn't know anything about powers, or experimentation.  But there were people disappearing or turning up dead in the prison and then Mr Allen went missing, and a lot of money changing hands somewhere."  He sighed, wiping his face with his hand.  "About six months ago, I took what little I had, plus some hunches, to a buddy upstate in the Federal building.  Talked to him over a beer about it.  We figured maybe human trafficking, or some shady financial dealings.  My FBI buddy was going to look into it."  He paused, meeting everyone's eyes.  "Four days later he died."

"Georgie?"  Miyako asked, surprised, her hand coming to her mouth.  "But that was a-"

"Car accident.  Sure.  Hit and run."  The sheriff nodded grimly.  "But a hell of a coincidence, and one that benefited anyone who wanted to keep Shelly quiet."  He glanced at Annette.

"There's no official record of any such operation on our books."  Annette said quietly.  "It wasn't handled by Project personnel, or authorised by Cook officially."  She met the Sheriff's eye. "If the Aeon Society - or Branch Nine - had approved such an action then there would be a record of it.  Not that we would.  There are more humane ways to deflect attention.  I'm sorry about your friend."

"Yeah."  Ian Alister replied, taking a deep breath before looking at the other parents.  "So yeah, I took it as a warning and kept quiet.  I didn't want whoever I told to be next.  Or worse, my own family being in the next 'car accident'.  And then, after last Tuesday..."  he paused.

"It was insanity.  Total insanity.  My deputies who were with me had their memories altered of the event.  But I saw one or two of those things, the rubbery critters.  I saw the frozen solid fish monster.  I saw Charlie Cole covered in armor plating and Jason Bannon covered in ice.  I saw Devin rip space apart, and Sean think hard at a military encryption level computer and hack it.  And then I learn about secret conspiracies and experiments and my son and his friends are fighting against the closest thing to real by-God evil that exists."  He gave a short, helpless laugh.  "So who the hell was I supposed to tell first?  What does a small town sheriff do in situations like that?  Who do I call?  I was still trying to figure out everything when Cade tells me yesterday that he and his friends are off to fight this Dark thing and might not be coming back.  What am I supposed to do?"

"You could have told us."  Misti snapped.

"And you'd do what?  Try to find a way to stop your kids from doing what only they can do?  If you even believed me at all."  the sheriff snapped back, his open hand slapping down on the table.  "I saw the creatures, I experienced this Darkness thing.  They saved Shelly.  They avenged Charlie Cole. They were scared and out of their depth and they stepped up and did it, and they still have some work ahead of them, from everything we heard.  So now I'd like to hear the rest of what they know, not because I want to blame someone for the world not being the way I want it to be, but so I know how I can best help them - because I sure as hell can't shelter them from what they have to go up against."

Gar Bannon nodded silent agreement.  After a moment's exchanged glance, so did the Keane parental units.  Cassie's mom's lips tightened, but she nodded assent and the Cassidy's likewise signaled their agreement, in principle, with the sheriff's words.  Annette, looking around at the assembled faces and gauging the mood, glanced over at Autumn.

"Both the animals your team rescued are healthy - at least as they can be."  she said reassuringly to the young redhead.  "The smilodon is kept mildly sedated, to take the edge off the pain caused by whatever those butchers at Site C did to the poor thing.  He's been fed and checked, but we're not sure we have the knowledge to reverse what was done."  The pretty brunette's eyes were grave as she sighed.  "I was going to ask if you could perhaps give us a hand there.  All we know for sure is that it has numerous surgical alterations and some implants which are driving it into a near-constant fury, but we don't have any real idea how to fix those without killing the poor creature."

"As for the... cat.  She's well - they removed the probes from her head and we're keeping her under observation.  She seems calm, even curious, and one or two of the staff report they've heard her 'talking' to them in their heads. Nothing solid, just impressions of gratitude when they feed her or clean her pen.  We still don't know exactly what she is or what she can do, though."

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Cade sighed at how the twins were acting, it was definitely several steps backward on party unity, and it wasn't helping. Goddammit you two.  This needs to stop. He listened as Autumn took up the torch, continuing with what happened as she knew them, and reminding Annette that he wasn't the only one who cared about the two felines they'd rescued.   When Misti went on the offense against his father, he was inwardly happy that he didn't wilt under her scathing attitude, but went on the offensive, telling them about why he'd remained silent, what he'd seen and experienced.   The fact that George was dead, well Cade remembered hearing his parents talk about it, but it had just sounded like one of those random, freak accidents that happen.

There was at least a small showing of solidarity among the parents with his father's words, and that made him smile, though he knew saying it, and then putting it into action were going to be two different things.   He turned his attention to Annette, and nodded.  "I can help too I think.   Not with the medical side of it, but I was able to calm him down before.  I can try to do that again, so maybe Autumn can help him heal.  It'd be good for him to realize we haven't just abandoned him too."   The cat, whether telepathic or not, being capable of gratitude made him smile.  "I'm glad she's doing better too."

It was an area he knew he shared common ground with Autumn, cruelty to animals was definitely an issue for him.

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Lilly's brow furrowed slightly at Mr. Keane's mentioning that "one of the kids was killed in his own home by some monster." To any who were looking at her instead of the 'discussion' going on could see her gaze drift down to the table as she began thinking about who Mr. Keane was speaking about. Yeah, Charlie and his parents weren't there, but this meeting was option, right? And besides, to call the task for getting both of his parents here at the same time "difficult" would be an understatement. That left her to idly wonder who else he might have been talking about. Lona's attempted rapist and Jase was the 'monster'? That didn't jive. So who the hell was he talking abo-

Her gaze snapped up from the table and right the Sheriff when she heard him say that "they avenged Charlie Cole." She stared at him as she finished speaking and then Annette spoke about the felines, her mind wrestling with she had heard, not wanting to accept it, but she could not help the statement reconciled with the fact at hand. She Sheriff was not one to joke, at least in her experience, and it was incredibly unlikely that he would be lying about something so serious.

"Charlie's dead?" Lilly asked nobody in particular, drawing the attention of several as she finally spoke up for the first time. Her eyes shifted down to the large table once more, but she was not really looking at it, or anything, for that matter. The observant could see her bottom eyelids tremble slightly as tears threatened her vision and her right hand, resting atop the table trembled slightly.

They had lost people before, by moving, being driven away or a mixture of both in retrospect, but they had never lost somebody.. one of their own. Lilly knew that with the battle they were planning on Labor Day night, that it was possible, if not likely, that they would not all return. She had even talked to Hank about it and how to handle it and the fear, but here it was. Charlie was dead. Charlie was dead and here they all were, still bickering with the twins just like they had however many times before. Lilly's fingers slowly began to curl clench into a fist and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly for a moment before her fist unclenched and her face relaxed.

"You know, I'd love to say some great, speech about all this..." Lilly had to think for a moment, search for the right word but had to settle on what she could come up with on such short notice, "...stuff..." she sighed and shrugged, relenting to frazzled, overloaded brain, "to bring us together and get us to set aside our difference and cut through the bullshit...but I can't. I just.. can't, because I just found out Charlie was killed and, for me, at least right now... that's...." Lilly closed her eyes and shook her head slowly, fighting to keep a mask of composure and not break down at the table. "But wait. There's more." she said weakly joked.

Lilly opened her eyes and looked around the table as she continued to speak, "I missed the battle the other night. I would say "as I'm sure you all noticed", but, unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case, because you see, at the picnic Mr. Cole introduced me to a business partner of his. I was having a hard time remembering his name, or even what he looked liked other than 'average', but..." Lilly said and closed her eyes, not really wanting to remember the meeting or the last several days, "...hearing about Charlie made me remember about meeting Mr. Cole and his 'business partner'... Mr. Enterich."

Resting her elbow on the table, Lilly rested her head against her hand on the side of her face and continued, "You see, I was introduced to... him.. at the Labor Day picnic thing and he..." Lilly's words caught in her throat and she shut her eyes tighter. Lt. Col. Pryor placed his hand on her back and began to rub in an attempt to sooth and comfort her as she tried to hide the worry on his own face. Cassandra Pryor reached out and too Lilly's free hand resting on the table into her own, interlocking fingers and wrapping her hand hand around, giving Lilly's hand a small squeeze.

Lilly swallowed hard and took in a deep breath which she slowly exhaled before she managed to continue. "He.. He said things. Stuff he had no business knowing. Thing that nobody outside of the fellowship knew and some things that I've never told anybody. But, somehow, he knew. And he said them... used them against me.. and brought up all this stuff in my mind, stuff in the back of my head, stuff I buried deep down or did not even know I had. He.." once again Lilly's word caught in her throat. Her eyes shut tighter causing her brow to furrow, and she clenched her jaw and gripped her mother's hand tightly.

"He.. somehow he put me in my own personal hell for the last few days. Every worry and fear dredged up, and I dunno, magnified, until I was drowning in them. I'm not even sure how I got home." she explained with effort, which caused her mother and father to nod in agreement as their own gazes shifted back forth from their daughter to the others at the table.

"We didn't even know she had left. I got a call from the front gate of the base that she was.. in a state." Lt. Col. Pryor politely put it. "We rushed home, got her, and have been trying to help her ever since." Cassandra Pryor added. "It was only today, not that long ago, that she finally seemed to at least start to come out of it. And when she did, she insisted we come here, for this. We weren't going to though... until she lifted her truck off the ground with one arm, that is."

"Mom.. That's not..." Lilly weakly protested, shaking her hands with her eyes still closed. "I knew we had to come because of Mr. Graskle said to me. I needed you to know all of this and why you found me like that. Why I am stil-" the athletic brunette shook her head.

"So I spent the last few days in my personal hell, maybe I am still in it even, and so I miss the battle. Charlie is killed, and I am not sure when you found out about that, but apparently not right know, like me, and I miss the battle after promi-" Lilly cut her own words short and took a deep breath which she slowly exhaled. "And only one of you showed and concern and tried to check on..." Lilly lifted her head and used her now freed hand to wipe at her closed eyes. "So there's some dirty laundry. Want some more?"

"We call ourselves 'The Fellowship', but I'm not so sure it's so accurate. I mean, like, just look at you two. You speak of yourselves and the Fellowship like you are not even part of it. I dunno. Hell, I guess it is probably just reflex to distance yourselves, exaggerate and divert all blame and attention onto others, trying to paint everybody else and bloodthirsty, idiotic, rampaging psychopaths who want to blow shit up, so you can look like angles, but it's just divisive. And frankly, really, really old. I thought we were past this, but I guess not. Maybe it is just a long, slow process. People who have been hurt and alone are slow to trust, and sometimes people do not cherish and nurture that small kernel of trust that they have earned, but how long this takes is on us. ALL of us. Yeah, it's probably been you vs them or you vs the world or whatever most of your lives, but it doesn't have to be. You have friends if you want them. And I am not saying that you haven't been trying. I know you have, everybody,  in your own ways. But this is... one of us died.. and this shit...  it.." Lilly said, or arguably babbled, as she looked around the table, meeting the gazes of the other teens as her own eyes glistened and she lifted her hand to wipe them from time to time.

"Fuck it. That was a mess. I'm just too worn out..." she finally let out with a sigh and then looked to Devin and Marissa, "Sorry if it sounded like I was putting you on blast. I didn't mean... I just... Enterich... Charlie... I dunno." she said weakly and then rested her free arm on the table to lay her forehead on it. 

Edited by Lilly Pryor
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"Lilly," Marissa said calmly, her tone almost enchanting.  "Enterich is a fear demon, he got to you and me as well.  I know it couldn't have been easy, and we're all here for you, but there is no lack love within the Fellowship.  I literally went to bat for these nerds and I'll do it again in a heartbeat.  But we don't agree philosophically, morally-"

"Ecumenically." Devin added.

His turned to him and just shook her head.  "Stop helping."

"What?"  He shrugged.  "I thought you were doing a 'thing'.  A pirates 'thing'.  Fine... go ahead, whatever, man."

She sighed and continued.  "Look, we might like everyone the way you'd prefer we did, but that doesn't mean we're not a team.  We have to be because we're the only ones who can do this.  People don't like us because we're domineering and opinionated, we get that, but we're decisive and results driven.  A few of you are about as useful as a glass hammer when it comes to getting things done in a manner that won't have us lying to authorities or racking up a series of felony charges.  Like blowing up a bridge, for example.  We're not directing our ire at a single individual, although a single individual is responsible for a majority of the poor life choices."

"We are concerned about how other's actions reflect upon us," Devin chimed up, helping his sister out properly.  "America is hardly the land of tolerance and understanding and we are freaks, mutants.  Unlike some whose opinion is to burn and decimate anyone who comes at them, we'd prefer to not have the CIA, FBI or our neighbors trying to kill us because one of you decided to get retarded.  You want freedom to do as you please, so we're giving you that freedom, go nuts.  You're Annette's problem now, we don't know what else to do."

"Uhh..." Carl raised his hand.  "Smilodon?  Implants?"

The twins just sighed and shook their heads.

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"We just went through this literally two hours ago," Autumn muttered under her breath, suddenly unsure if she'd rather laugh or cry at the ridiculousness of it all. Instead of just comforting or even trying to reassure Lilly after hearing what had happened to her and leaving it at that, the twins had to take one more opportunity to do exactly what she'd accused them of... And she was right. At least, the redhead amended silently, about the fact that they were being divisive. The rest sounded like a lot of blind hope and idealism that even the visibly frustrated Girl Scout couldn't co-sign.

Maybe they really were being influenced by the Dark. Maybe they'd even made that decision willingly- a possibility she had to consider. Either way, whether they were corrupted, or just regular humans who happened to be terrible people, it was getting harder and harder to actually care, to accept the responsibility of trying to pull them back from that threshold. Was it even her responsibility at all to get them to see that there were better ways to be, or just to offer the choice and let them succeed or fail on their own? Tomorrow, of course, she might feel differently. Tomorrow would be another day they'd survived. Tomorrow, when the lurid vision of Jason's bloodied face and limp body and the frustration of the seemingly endless arguing and hypocrisy were a little further from the forefront of her mind, she might find her patience and empathy somewhat restored. But right now? No. Not so much. Right now she wanted to scream, to rage against the pettiness and dishonesty even as she knew, deep down, that it wouldn't help and it wouldn't change anything.

I can't do this. I can't sit here. If I keep listening to this, I'm absolutely one hundred percent going to lose my shit.

"Annette, I'm down for helping with the cats," she interjected suddenly, pitching her voice to carry down to the other end of the table as much to distract herself as everyone else. Glancing at Cade, she frowned a little, shaking her head. "I think, if I understand what you can do, you'll be able to help once the implants are removed. I know you couldn't see what they'd done to the big guy, but it's bad, and I don't think it's something that can be fixed while he's awake. If we can undo what they did to him, though, you'd be a huge help getting him at least socialized enough to be safe until he can be sent back, or whatever." Taking a deep breath, Autumn slid her chair back, rising to her feet. "And now I'm gonna step outside for a minute, before I say something everybody will regret. We don't need to get any further off-track."

With her face practically aflame, the red-haired vitakinetic circled around the table behind Annette and out the door without so much as looking at anyone else, hands clenched at her sides. It hadn't been enough for them to go after Jason, oh, no, she fumed, the sound of her sneakers a brisk drumbeat as she stalked down the quiet, mostly empty hallway. They'd had to drag Cade into it, who hadn't done anything wrong apart from liking Marissa for some dumb reason, Sarah, who wasn't even there to defend herself, and poor Charlie... who maybe hadn't been her friend, but who had fucking died because he'd somehow slipped through the cracks and none of them had noticed. It was possible the same could've eventually happened to Lilly, she realized- although the timing of her disappearances was a little sus, her emotional explanation of how she'd met Enterich at least seemed genuine. Had Marissa known about that, too? Maybe that's why Devin contacted Lilly...

Slamming the heel of her hand against the door to the ladies' room as she pushed her way inside, Autumn stubbornly refused to blink, willing the hot, sharp sting of the tears in her eyes to disperse, and the anguished nausea writhing in her gut to subside. She'd just run her hands under the cold water for a little while, splash some on her face, and go back in. It was fine. It was going to be fine. 

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"Okay, I wasn't sure how...or whether or not to...get into this stuff, because like Autumn said we only just started unpacking it ourselves...but I guess that ship's sailed," sighed Cassandra. Then she quickly added to Annette, "I actually met the cat before. He seemed nice. A little cryptic, but cool."

Then she looked back at everyone else and took a deep breath.

"First, just...everyone please try to calm down. I know it's...emotional and tense and it's just a LOT. All at once. Believe me, I know. Rule one though...no one here has, to the best of my ability, acted with actual malice towards anyone else in this room. We're all at least kind of on the same side. In particular because Lilly's right. The thing we fought in the Darkness wasn't the only one. It was probably the...the biggest. Maybe the most important. But it wasn't working alone."

Cassandra closed her eyes for a moment and let the words roll down and off of her, like water droplets. "Which means the job isn't over yet."

"I know it's hard to hear. I mean, hard enough we already took all these risks, but now we're going to have to keep doing it. At least a little longer. I don't think we'll have to go back across into the Darkness though. That was the other one's home turf. Enterich lives here now. We'll face him here. But you have to understand this isn't something we can push off onto the police, or the military. I don't know exactly what he is, but I have a feeling I know how it'd go. All he'd have to do is say a few words, and they'd be shooting each other instead of him."

"So it's on us. And doing nothing isn't an option, because like the situation with Jase shows, Enterich knows we're a threat and he's already moving against us. That isn't going to stop."

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"Wait a minute... what situation with Jase?"  Lt. Colonel Pryor looked from Cassie, to Jason, to the other adults in puzzlement before once more looking at the blonde for answers.  "For that matter, what thing did you all fight in the Darkness?"  He shook his head.  "I think we missed a couple steps here."

"The meeting got a little derailed and disordered."  Cade replied with a calm what-can-you-do shrug at Lilly's dad.  "It happens.  A lot."

"Yeah, uh..." Cassandra looked at Jase to see if she could pick up any cues from his body language. "...this okay?"

The lean youth's body language and expression hadn't varied through all the storms of accusation and venom leveled at him, the only sign he'd even been paying attention the way his eyes had moved to regard Lilly as she told of the reason for her absence. At Cassie's question, those same cold green eyes moved to her face and he nodded. "Probably best to tell it in order, though." he suggested.

"Right." She nods. "Okay, so, starting with the Darkness. First...there was a sort of..." she winced and shook her head, trying to think of a not-airy way of saying it. "...spirit, kind of? It's hard to explain. A mind, an intelligence... It had power, but not a body. The body it was using was Cody's." Cass shakes her head at that. "And...it had made some changes around the place. It was...it turned him into an actual monster. Giant and...spiky, and he had horns or something, like a deer.  We were able to block their powers, mostly...but Cody was still super scary. In the end though...I guess we were scarier. We beat them."

"Right." Lilly's dad blinked a couple of times, nodding as he absorbed this. "So this was the Darkness that had been causing that cycle of violence and murder you guys mentioned?"

"We...thought so. At the time we didn't know about Enterich. So, now it seems like it might be a little more complicated. But it was a big part of it. It was using Cody to kidnap people...the Tree in the Darkness was growing out of a literal mountain of skulls. Sacrifices, basically.  I don't think Enterich is responsible for that kind of body count. I think he was kind of...running interference?  Making sure that the Dark's activities in town didn't attract attention. Making sure witnesses stayed quiet. That kind of thing."

"We think." Jason agreed quietly. "We're still not one-hundred percent sure, though."

"So..." Dana Keane looked from Jason to Cassie, curious. "Enterich is... what? A fear demon, like she said?" Autumn's mother gestured towards Marissa.

"I mean...maybe? We know he uses fear to force people to obey him? But honestly we've barely started working on the problem of what he is.  But he knows about us. Which brings us to the situation with Jase."  She nodded. "Enterich basically put a hit on Jase. He got a couple of marshals to pull him over, and just...shot him. In the car."

"Wait, marshals? As in United States Marshals?" Cassandra's mom's eyes widened, her hand going to her mouth as she stared horrified at the young man across the table. "Shot you? Without warning or anything?"

"No warning, no provocation." Jason affirmed matter-of-factly  "Pulled me over, walked up to the driver's side window, and drew."

"Christ." Carl Jauntsen said under his breath.

"...so yeah, that's how much power he can have over someone," Cassandra agreed. "Those guys weren't bad people. They didn't really want to do it. But they didn't fight very hard either. They knew who was in charge."

"Autumn spoke to one of them in depth." Jason put in. "She might have more insight there, but hasn't had a chance to share it all yet."

Cassandra nodded. "I think he went after Jase because Jase is the most physically dangerous...but also as a test. Seeing how vulnerable we were...and assuming he'd be the least vulnerable.  But I'm pretty sure he won't stop with Jase. Most of us would have been killed by that sort of thing."

The assembled teens - and their parents - went quiet at that, doubtless each of them imagining a tap at their car window, or a knock on the front door, a flashed I.D and then...

"So where are these marshals now?"  Misti asked, her face a little pale.

"Incarcerated deep below us."  Annette said briskly. "Where they shall remain for the foreseeable future."

"But Enterich is still at large."  Jason's voice was calm.  "And we don't yet actually know what he wants, only that he is hostile to us."

"And since he's using humans as...pawns...we can't just go in guns blazing like we did the thing in the Darkness."  Cassie agreed.

"And then there's Site B." Sean spoke up for the first time since the meeting had begun.

"Right, well...Site B is not our story to tell." Cassandra looked at Annette.  The Aeon representative nodded at that, regarding those present keenly.

"I received clearance earlier today to discuss Site B, and the Project as a whole, with those present here.  Given your children's unique natures and gifts, and with the interest of fostering cooperation.  But, and I have to stress this, what we share with you cannot be spread far and wide.  There is evidence that Enterich is working with a large syndicate, an organisation notorious in certain circles for illegal and immoral activities on every continent.  It is they who subverted the Project under Cook, they are behind Crossroads and they who currently hold Site B."  Annette's expression was stern.  "To reveal that you know too much, too soon would bring these people to your doors.  For your own protection, and that of your families, as well as the continued existence of the Project, you must agree to keep between us whatever I reveal.  Think it over, talk it over, take such time as you wish  I won't start talking until Miss Keane returns, in any case."

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"No need," Devin said before anyone had the chance to even considering 'thinking it over'.  "Because Site B is going to happen.  It's not a negotiation or a hope or a 'maybe sometime when we have time' scenario.  Cassandra's father is being held there and we're going in to get him."  He shrugged and looked to Annette.  "Tell us or don't, but rest assured between Cassie's sight, my long reaching reconnaissance and Jason's penchant for murder, we're getting him out out of there."

"Devin, calm down." Marissa said.  If she was bothered Autumn's exit she didn't show it.  At this point meetings weren't complete unless someone stormed out but she was considering asking Devin if he could place portals on the exits of the next meeting that just dumped everyone right back into the meeting room if they tried to pass through them.  That'd be fun.

"I am calm," He chuckled, shaking his head at the lunacy that while one of their family members was being tortured the Project wanted to talk about clearances and read-ins.  "I'm just tired of people talking like we're not just going to do it anyways.  We're sixteen, for crying out loud, adding all the tension-building caveats or warnings doesn't dissuade us in the slightest.  We're gonna go.  We're gonna bring Cassie's dad home and when were done, we'll decide if the government or the Project have the proper clearance and read-ins to be briefed on what we saw and did there, kay?"

"So yeah, talk it over if you like, I guess."  He looked to Cassie and offered her a warm smile that seemed to apologize for how he acted earlier.  "I'm going.  With or without you guys.  If Cassie's dad is out there, he deserves to be with his family.  That's why we're here and that's what we'll do."

From her handbag Marissa took out a small notepad and pen and slapped them on the table before sliding over in Cade's direction.  "Write that down.  Take notes.  That's how you impress a woman."

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"Wait just a minute."  Misti glared at Devin.  "You two are not going anywhere, least of all to assault yet another terrorist cell in some other place.  You are grounded until you're fifty, and as for-"

"I agree with Devin."  Surprisingly, it was Jason who spoke up, addressing Annette.  "Cassandra's father is there.  Something Coyote told us is important to this world is there.  We will be going to Site B, whether you tell us about it or not.  We sort of have to."  Misti sputtered something rude under her breath.

"I appreciate that."  Annette nodded, unsurprised by the defiance.  She measured the other faces present, gauging them once more.  "I am not saying I don't want to tell you all I can.  If it was just you kids, I'd already be ready to spill it all, because I know you need the information and are already in danger.  I'm simply saying that this knowledge carries dangers just by virtue of knowing it, and everyone here deserves to choose whether they accept that danger, Devin.  Anyone who doesn't can leave the room."

Silence followed, various parents exchanging glances.  Carl reached over past his kids and placed a hand on Misti's, who fumed but nodded as their eyes met.  Ian and Dana Keane likewise exchanged a glance that contained a page's worth of communication before each nodding affirmatively.  Gar Bannon simply nodded, as did Josh Williams.  Lastly, the Pryors, Cassidys and Alisters signaled their assent.

"But not you, young lady."  Jack Cassidy said to Laurie.  "You're neither going to Site B nor are you Sean's guardian."  He withdrew his keys from his pocket and held them out to her as her eyes widened in dawning horror.  "Go and wait in the car."

"Daaaad!"  The eruption of teenage protest was hardly unexpected, Laurie's face flushing as red as Autumn's had moments ago as she held up a hand, warding away the offered keys.  "No!  Come on!  I've sat through all of this so far and now you're kicking me out?!"  When he silently re-proffered the keys, she cast an imploring glance at Carolyn and her brother.  "Mom?!  Sean?!"

"Sorry, sis.  Dad's call - he's your guardian too."  Sean shrugged in the face of her angry glare.

"Laurelei Cassidy, you heed your father."  was all their mom had to say on the matter.  Laurie's defiance turned to disbelief at the lack of brotherly/maternal support, and she turned her blue eyes on Jack once more.  "Dad... please?  I've kept all of this secret so far. I'm not a blabbermouth!"

"Go and wait in the car."  Jack repeated, his face stern as a granite carving.  "We'll decide later how much we tell you."

"Shit!"  Laurie said disgustedly, grabbing the keys and standing up, ignoring her mother's glare at the profanity.  "I hate you guys so much right now!"  She turned and stormed towards the door.

"And don't hang around outside!"  Jack called after her.  "I'll be checking."

"Whatever!"  Laurie shot back over her shoulder as she flounced out of the room, the door slamming shut behind her.  There were a few cleared throats and sympathetic glances from the other parents towards the Cassidys.

"Believe me, I wish I could go and wait in the car."  Teresa Allen quipped, causing a few dry chuckles from the other adults present.  People shifted in their seats, sipping water and relaxing - or at least unclenching somewhat.

"Laurie is walking towards the front of the hospital."  Jason told Jack Cassidy, his eyes distant for a moment.  "She hesitated outside the door, but then got moving."

"You can tell that?"  Lilly's dad asked, curious.  Jason merely nodded.

"Well, then.  Since you are all decided, once Ms Keane returns I shall present what I know about Site B."  Annette sat back in her chair, taking a sip of water.  If she was at all ruffled by any of the events taking place, she didn't show it.

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Brushing away a drop of sweat with the back of his hand, Sean let go of psionic hold on Devin's phone, letting the holography fade. It wasn't that easy to do, not when the device wasn't designed for 3D projection. Now, if the Project or Aeon would let me get a close look at the tech... but it was only an idle thought. He couldn't help but feel rightfully castigated by Lilly's outburst. He could throw up excuses - like how she'd always been so physically and athletically impressive that he hadn't worried what might have happened to her, or that he'd been distracted and wrung out after the encounter in the Blight - but they were just that, excuses. He'd hunched his shoulders and mouthed a sorry to Lilly, though he knew it was too little to make up the lack of concern.

Sean felt no guilt at not going to bat to have Laurie stay. He was almost invariably going to tell her anyway, but their Dad was still their Dad. Having told their parents practically everything already, he hadn't paid much attention to their expressions, looking at the other parental units and having to focus to make the holographic display. If Sean had, he might have noticed the grave look Jack and Carolyn had shared when hearing about the 27 year cycle once more, and could have reasoned that the elder Cassidys deciding what Laurelei could hear was a way to grab at a hint of control in a situation the blue-collar family was way over their heads in.

With the talk turning to Site B, Sean straightened in his chair, more intent now, almost quivering with anticipation. He couldn't help it, despite wanting to keep it cool. He hadn't doubted Jace's resolve, but after the Jauntsen twins' talk about not being a part of the fellowship - despite their claims about still being in it all together - the relief he'd felt when Devin said he'd be going regardless was palpable. Cassandra's father was a top priority, but it wasn't the only top priority. Not for him, regardless of how much of a douchecanoe it made him feel.

"Cassandra's dad and what Coyote said isn't - or shouldn't be the only reason we have to go to Site B," Sean added after Annette said she'd tell them what she could about Site B.

The buxom boy could feel Jase's incisive green gaze turn his way and he licked suddenly dry lips. Sean looked around the table, at his friends, his comrades in arms. He'd have to tell them - he would tell them - his reason for wanting, needing to go, but not the parental units, not Annette, Aeon, Proteus, Branch-9, and whoever else was listening, though they might know depending on what Dr. Cook had told them. He gave Jason the minutest shake of his head.

"I talked, well, chatted online, okay, it's more like we were in the Matrix, with someone else who's a captive at Site B. One of Dr. Cook's, erm, band? Todd Asper. He made the effort to contact me, via technokinetic voodoo, begging for my help. He can do some of the stuff I can, and the assholes at Site B are forcing him to work for them, essentially overclocking him to destruction. And he told me, showed me, some of the other stuff that's going on there." Sean's pale face had a faint greenish tinge to it, recalling the encounter in cyberspace and the desperation in Todd's digital plea before he was yanked away. "It's pure, amoral torture, any means to achieve their ends. Even if we didn't have personal reasons to take down Site B, it's something we should do anyway, being the ones the best chance to do it."

Edited by Vivi OOC
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"Seriously?"  Marissa head dipped in absolute wonderment that Sean waited until now to bring up the Todd information.  "Christ Sean, that would have been nice to know around the same time we decided Site B needed to happen."  She raised her hands up in surrender.  "You know what?  Fine.  I-I don't even care.  I can't even care at this point.  We are going to end up dead, or worse at this rate.  We're an absolute hot mess."

Devin sighed deeply, obviously irritated (some more).  He just shook his head and like his sister raised up his hands in absolute surrender.  "Just tell us what your plans are for Todd and we'll work them into the rescue, I guess.  Now, instead of infiltrating and locating one individual, we need to scour the facility for a second one, which Cassie could have been doing already, and hope we can make it to them.  Great."  He chuckled as he leaned back.  "I give up.  I just... I plain give up.  Maybe I just don't comprehend the intricacies of your dizzying intellect, but you win.  You guys officially win.  I have given up."

Edited by Dave ST
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Sean's face screwed up in anger as he jumped to his feet and glared at the Jauntsen twins, his chair skidding behind him. "Wow! Really?! Telling everyone earlier would have changed exactly what, guys? We know as much about Todd as we do Cassie's father, which is they're at Site B. That's it!" With turning away from them, he pointed emphatically at Annette. "Until we actually knew where Site B was, maybe a floorplan, it didn't seem-"

Sean cut himself off, went to slump down in his chair, but caught himself right before falling on his ass. He pulled his chair back and plopped down into it, crossing one arm and pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to collect himself, knowing he was getting worked up. The Jauntsens sure weren't going to be happy when he told them his personal reasons for needing to go to Site B, away from the parental units. But he didn't want this meeting to devolve into the same mess as at the Jauntsens' place. "Look. I just learned about Todd Sunday night. Monday, we had Not-Cody to deal with. I could have mentioned it Tuesday at your place, but well, we know how that went. So I'm bringing it up now, when it looks we're actually going to make progress on going to Site B."

Carolyn placed a comforting hand on her feminine son's shoulder, but Sean wasn't in the mood to be mollified. He turned his large, jade and turquoise eyes on the representative from the Aeon Society, but if Annette was disturbed by the outbursts, she gave no sign of it, simply giving Sean a nod. He tried to fight down the dubiousness he couldn't help but feel and turned back to Devin and Marissa.

"And something else, why do you think going to Site B is just going to be a rescue mission? As your fond to point out, there are proper authorities here. Yeah, we have our reasons for going, but I'm pretty sure Aeon and Branch-9 want their Site back that Dr. Klein - or whoever he might actually work for or with - stole from them. We're a force multiplier, sure, and a counter for whatever super stuff they might have there, but we don't have to go alone this time." His eyes cut back to Annette. "I hope."

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"It's certainly not our intention to stay back and let a collection of teenagers, however gifted, do all the work, no."  Annette replied dryly, smiling a little at Sean as the door to the room opened and Autumn returned, freckled features paler than usual and her lips in a tight line as she made her way back to her seat.

"You okay?"  Dana murmured to her as she settled back into her chair.  Autumn threw her a small smile and a nod, mouthing "I'm fine." in response as Annette got to her feet, dimming the lights with a remote in one hand.

"Just before the dawn of the twentieth century, the Aeon Society was formed from a conglomeration of like-minded and, broadly speaking, philanthropic men and women.  Most came from to various clubs and secret societies beforehand, but all shared a common interest - the exploration of and the unlocking of our cosmos and of human potential, whether through philosophical, economic, or scientific advances."  Annette's voice was smooth and calm, little in the way of hesitation or stammering in her delivery.  "There have always been mysteries in our world - whether in the depths of the sea or earth, or the reaches of space, or locked away in atoms and molecules, or hidden in the human mind.  And there have always been those wanting to discover them.  The Aeon Society's aim was to be a central sharing of such knowledge, which would then be disseminated out into the world."

The conference call unit in the center of the table sprang to life, light shimmering from it's top to present a three-dimensional projection in the air that rotated slowly so that all assembled could watch as Annette's presentation continued.  Various faces in black and white, newspaper article headlines, newsreel recordings of events and people filled the air.  "We were not always successful.  Some of our efforts to advance industry led to abuses, some of our efforts to advance technology led to disasters.  And some of our efforts to improve humankind led to moral failing.  As always, the best of intentions does not always guarantee the best of results.  But we persevered."

"We weren't the only people investigating mysteries, however.  President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a sometime ally of the Aeon Society, formed Branch 9 as an arm of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence gathering, with the specific mandate to police the 'unseen world'.  Strange happenings, super-science falling into or being developed by the wrong hands, aliens and poltergeist events - anything and everything the Aeon Society researched, Branch 9 also studied - but with more of an focus on containment, to preventing danger to America and the world, than to research for discovery's own sake.  Our goals were not always aligned, and on several occasions our two organisations clashed because of these differing philosophies."

"We made a peace compact during World War Two, when we realised that Nazi and Communist organisations with similar focuses to ours existed and, indeed, presented a threat to both world security and to the progress of humanity as a whole.  Since that time, we have endeavoured to work together."  Annette looked around at them all in the gloom.  "That concludes the quick history of the organisations behind the Project.  Now for the Project itself.  Most of us here have heard of projects such as MKULTRA and various spin-offs, designed to brainwash people for purposes of interrogation and even programming them to turn on their nation.  When these programs were shut down, one of the scientists associated with them came forward to Branch 9 with some findings of his own.  Findings which, he claimed, could lead to the development of human potential in the arena of psychic powers."

"In accordance with our pact, Branch 9 sought Aeon's input and advice on this project, and so Proteus was formed in the eighties.  We pumped money and research into Professor Klein's theories, and began running tests on a control population - Shelly's.  Klein's theories postulated that it would take several generations for results to show, and so we settled in, upgrading Shelly's educational and medical infrastructure so as to give us the best chance of detecting and studying changes over time."  She gestured at those present.  "Your children, despite exhibiting powers, were not part of Klein's test group, but a result of the meddling of another person."

"Coyote."  Cassie said, sighing.  "Or Troy Lucero.  Or the Man in Black."

"Grandpappy."  Marissa said with a sly grin.

"Who?"  Carl looked at his daughter askance, then at Annette.  "What?"

"A seemingly-immortal alien-slash-god who has played a chess game spanning generations on generations, playing matchmaker and mover."  Jason said quietly.  "For reasons of his own, but which we think are benign to humanity as a whole, he is behind each and every one of us not only having powers, but being here in Shelly.  He advised us against the Dark, and also revealed to Cassie that her dad is still alive."

"It's a whole thing, dad."  Devin put in.  "But yeah.  Dude's up to something, and we're not sure what his end game is."

"He says it's to rest."  Marissa said softly, remembering her encounter with Coyote out by the bridge.  "He's tired, I think."

"At any rate, Project Proteus had one goal.  There was, however, another project set up under Klein's direction sometime after Proteus was started.  Project Argo."  Annette's voice was accompanied by the display switching to show a glacial lake that several people present, Carl, Cade and Autumn amongst them, recognised as being from the mountains on the other side of the Blackfoot Reservation.  "We're not sure how, exactly, but Professor Klein discovered something buried deep below Upper Two Medicine Lake.  So deep, in fact, that it was buried in the bedrock of the mountains themselves.  We began excavation and discovered... well..."

The image shifted to a recording, showing a large open cavern, littered with lights and safety and digging equipment.  Figures moved, showing the scale of the place to be on par with a giant aircraft hangar at least.  Most of the walls were flat gray excavated granite except one, which was a shimmering white and silver pearlescent wall that seemed almost translucent one moment, then solid the next before again becoming somewhat insubstantial.

"We think it's a vessel."  Annette said into the silence.  "We think it's somehow stuck out of phase with everything around it, neither solid nor completely ghostlike.  We think it's as big as a modern U.S. aircraft carrier, but it's hard to tell because it throws off all our instruments when they try to measure it.  Current theory is that it could be as large as a city for all we know.  We know that when we first found it, it allowed several of our teams to come aboard, but then something changed abruptly and they were all expelled.  The cat and the smilodon were taken from this thing in the early days - apparently there's some manner of on-board park or nature reserve."

"After the lock-out by the vessel, we've spent a couple of decades now trying to get back into it, with no success.  The authorities lost interest and urgency, and so Project Argo, like Project Proteus, was largely left to it's own devices until very recently.  When we took over Proteus from Cook and jailed him for going beyond his remit last week, we sent a team to Site B to investigate, only to have them fired upon.  It seems Professor Klein - with the aid of his allies in Crossroads Incorporated - has phased out all staff loyal to the Project and replaced them with his own people, or those whom he can control.  He is conducting experiments to 'crack open' the vessel, one of which is called the Quantum Key, some manner of dimensional generator which, if I understand correctly, is designed to bring the vessel back into phase with everything else.  It's this Key, we believe, that has caused the crossover events where the Void has been brought somewhat into our world.  We also have a report that there is a steady, solid portal there in Site B into the Void - from someone who came through it."

"Ellie."  Devin said.  Annette nodded before looking around at the others.  In the air above the table, the shimmering wall of the alien vessel faded in and out of reality.

"That's the overview of Site B."  she told them all.  "Any questions at this point?"

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"So that's the ship," Cassandra said quietly. "The one they came on."

At the quizzical looks from the table she added, "Coyote and the other one, the one who turned into the Dark. This whole thing, with the Darkness poking into our world...that ship is what made the 'crack' that let that happen. The world has some kind of protection, like a shell sort of."

Cassie hesitated, then said, "Okay, protection is a little misleading. It's not there to protect us specifically, though it sort of does by accident. It's there to keep us in, more than keep other stuff out. In the end it does do both though. And by 'keep us in,' I don't mean on the planet. It's more like we're not supposed to get these powers, and definitely not supposed to go out into whatever's beyond. So this shell stops all that from happening."

"Until it was cracked. That let the Darkness in, but it also meant people around here could grow in ways they don't in other places."

She shrugged. "At least, that's what I think he meant when he explained it to me. There's room for interpretation when Coyote talks, you know?"

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"Okay, okay," Carl waved his hands about, shaking his head.  "Coyote, bubbles, protection, magic powers... I am so lost.  If this Coyote guy is a god, how come he doesn't just do something.  Why give our kids magical powers?"

"Are we really supposed to sit here and swallow that 'aliens' are real and they trapped a demonic in an alternate world or some such nonsense?"  Misti scoffed at the idea, shaking her head and dismissing the idea.

"Because he's tired, Dad."  Marissa answered her father while looking at him, then turned her gaze to the rest of the assembled parents.  "Imagine a long time ago.  Humanity is still understanding fire and down from the sky come these people.  Aliens, to you and me, sure, but to those back then these people manipulated fire, lightning, were stronger, faster, and wielded technology that would even seem magical by our standards today-"

"-now read a few myths groups of these people settle in various corners of the world and lo' and behold, civilizations springs into being." Her brother picked up on the heels of his sisters line of thought.  "At the center of each civilization appears to a pantheon or cloister of ancient, powerful beings who strangely enough almost all possess the scarily similar origin stories and their 'people' all seem to build surprisingly similar structures all across the world, despite never having met.  They all have magical tools and weapons that defy explanation.  Magical smoking mirror portals, hammers the explode with lightning, helmets that made them invisible."

"Devin has taken to calling them 'Antes'.  Short for antecedents, but he can't use words that big."  With a playful grin Marissa slapped down the middle finger her brother put up to her face.  "Or precursors, or forerunners, whatever they were, Coyote was one of them a long time ago.  Whether there were hundreds or just Coyote and his brother a long time ago, we don't know.  Fact remains, that the Dark has grown powerful with age and by feeding on all the suck in the world.  Apparently humans don't mesh well with Ante DNA, it's a slow process but over generations he introduced Ante-genes into the populace and kept them deluded to prevent things like birth defects.  An immortal I can only assume that took like, a hundred generations, maybe?  Once saturated, he brings those populations together and effectively controls the allele frequency, forcing genetic mutation among humans."

"And how did he do that?"  Carl asked, still trying wrap his head around his daughter speaking so intelligently.

"Sex, Dad."  Devin happily provided the answer.  "Lots of sex.  Like sooo much sex.  Sex on sex.  Breakfast?  Sex.  Lunch? Sex.  Peanut butter and jelly?  Not before sex.  Walk to the Seven-Eleven?  Prolly gonna involve sex," he shook his head sighed.  "Man, it is so cool being a god."  He took a moment to wink at Annette.

"Anyway," Marissa smirked at her brother.  "Coyote needed more Antes to battle the Dark and it's taken him years to foster us, but we're imperfect, at best.  Failures at worst.  Rest assured that there are answers on that ship, but we can't do anything with it if it's out of phase like that."

"Piece of cake." Devin scoffed.  "Dimensions are my specialty, and I already have a plan.  Which comes after we rescue the people trapped in there.  Since the facility was built by Aeon and the government a long time ago, I'm assuming you guys have access to the blueprints?  I mean, I would hope.  All those people there need to eat and sleep and to their research, so it can't just be a cave in a mountain with a ghost ship in it.  We'll need those."

"Absolutely not," Misti shook her head scoffing and laughing at once.  "You two are not running off to assault some government funded terrorist organization.  You are all forgetting that you are minors and what this organization has been filling your head with and having you do is highly illegal."

Devin nodded, pursing his lips in understanding.  "Sorry, Cassie, Ms. Allen.  We'd love to help you rescue your father," he gestured to Cassie's mother.  "Your husband and bring him home safely so you can be a family again, buuut our mom says we can't help make that happen for you.  Sorry."

His mother scowled at him with a look that said she might evolve laser vision right there o the spot.  "That is emotional blackmail, Devin."

"Don't tell me," he shrugged.  "Look them in the eyes and tell them that.  Oh, and I learned from the best."

"Aww," Marissa hugged her brother, smiling lovingly.  "You said a nice about me."

The teenage teleporter relaxed in his chair and met his mothers glare with matched intensity and gestured for her to look in the direction of the Allen's and deny them assistance from the Jauntsen family in front of all of Shelly's other parents.  Devin certainly played at being dumb, but it was moments like these that showed he an incredibly proficient grasp on how the Game was played, all he needed was the proper setting and the right reason.

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