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07/12/2009 10:00 am CST

Connor smiled. Everything was exactly as it needed to be. The the trailer sat a few yards away, the old barbeque pit on it already sending smoke up even at a relatively early ten a.m. He had set up a half-dozen collapsible chairs and even went so far as to set up a pair of heavy duty pvc tube posts with a volleyball net stretched between them. At each end of the the encampment he'd established he had a PVC pipe with one of the large fifteen foot surf rods deposited and tied in them. They set what he hoped would be at least semi effective boundaries that would keep most away, at least it had always worked in the past.

The beach and water had once been somewhat dirty, but thanks to the novas with Project Utopia, and the local clean-up brigades like Connor's it was free of debris and the water was crystal clean. "Well it's not the white sandy beaches of Pensacola, but it's home" he mused as he continued his preparations. There were of course 2 huge ice chests of drinks; water and gatorade in one, soda in the other. No one had specified a preference, so he had a smattering of everything. The same was said of the 3 ice chest containing the rest of the meat for the barbeque. With a bit of help from his dad he'd rigged the three electric coolers to run off a trio of car batteries. The last ice chest was by far the most traditional, and it was kept away from most of the camp near his Jeep. It held nothing but Ice and a gallon ziplock bag of mullet for bait for fishing. While it wasn't the purpose of this, he knew he had to at least attempt to keep the lines out for the sake of appearances.

He sat back in one of the chairs, his eufiber mimicing the appearance of white T-shirt and blue swimshorts as he listened to the sound of the Gulf. Seagulls worked a school of fish out about two hundred yards. In the distance he could hear another fourwheeler running the dunes. It sounxded as though it was getting further away, so he relaxed a bit. nothing would spoil this.

His Cell phone sat on the trailer No one had contacted him for transport and he'd pm'ed the details and location to those who said they'd come. Back home, He'd cleaned up the house as best he could, and even gone so far as to hire both of his younger cousins to finish. Amanda and Jason were both fourteen year old neatfreaks because of their father, his dad's brother. He was a hypochondriac and utterly obsessive about cleanliness. As such his children were second only to him in cleaning skills. He'd promised them both twenty dollars, a trip flying, and a fishing trip while he was home if they had his house spotless by the time he came back with his guests. "Would you like us to setup for the viewing too?" "Yes, please. I know it's mean not to let you stay, but I'll make it up to you."

It had been another promise, one he'd make good on.

His attention drifted across the water back to the beach and one of the rods, it started as a slow bend, but gre deeper, and then the drag began to spool off. "Sonovabitch, already?" He jumped from the chair and took hold of the rod. It wasn't much of a fight, in the end it was a small twenty pound redfish. It took him all of twenty minutes to fight it in, cut it so it would bleed and toss it in the icechest by the jeep. He replaced the bait and walked back out into the water casting the line back out into the cross-trough. He sat down again. "Starting off right I see. First fishing trip since I left for Japan and already caught one. This is gonna be a good day."

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Ten minutes earlier:

Melissa "Pew Pew Pew" Stutzenbach inspected the contents of her new beach tote bag. She'd bought it for this occasion, since central Iowa was at least a thousand miles from the sea in every direction she'd not needed one before. At first she'd thought the bag was too large, but after packing it she'd come to understand that beach bags are large out of necessity. She'd packed two towels, a hairbrush, a frisbee, a volleyball, sunscreen, two bags of vinegar-flavored potato chips, and a six-pack of bright green Gatorade.

Noticably absent from the bag was clothing of any kind. Normally a beach-goer would include a change of clothes or a cover-up of some kind. Missy had no need for that since Brittany--more commonly known by her nova handle of LiberTeen--had presented her with an astonishing gift of Eufiber on her prom night. Missy adapted quickly to the colony of living matter, and had learned to duplicate all of her favorite outfits. On this morning, the Eufiber was shaped like a yellow sundress over a bright red one-piece swimsuit.

Missy checked the wall clock once more and tapped Bellator's number on her mobile phone. He'd offered transportation to Missy, and she had found it difficult to resist the offer of teleportation. Like the vast majority of people, she'd never teleported before, and wondered how it would feel.

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Bell sighs and looks at the screen of his buzzing cellphone. Who do I know in Iowa...

"Oh crap! I'm late!"

He runs to the closet and begins putting on his Eufiber. He then reshapes it into a tank top, and jean shorts. He also grabs two bottles of wine from the fridge. Bell puts the wine in a backpack with a small bag of ice. Once he finishes that, Bell turns on his computer, bringing up the picture that was sent by Pew Pew Pew. He focuses on the image on the screen, memorizing the details. Bell then shuts off the computer and closes the lights in his apartment, as he walks out the door. He then runs down the street and into Ray's Pizza. Bell orders a regular pie and waits for it to be cooked fresh. Once the pie arrives, he walks out and smiles when he gets a whiff of the fresh pizza. He then fades out of sight and appears in front of a medium-sized house, with an attached garage. Bell walks up to the door, and rings the doorbell, "Pizza Delivery! Fresh from New York City."

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Missy ran down the half-flight of stairs to the front door, barely bothering to touch the floor as she went. She peeked through the peephole and grinned to see Bellator on the other side, hefting an enormous pizza. From the living room her mother Amanda inquired:

"Is that Bellator?"

"Yep, sure is," Missy replied, as she pulled the door open. The pizza loomed over her like a parasol. "Hello there, judging by your pizza, I'd guess you're Bellator," she said cheerfully. Missy looked Bellator over, and summed him up with one word: solid. His six-foot frame carried a perfect build that topped two hundred pounds. Still, other details told a different story: the silver earring in one ear, the crosshairs for pupils in his eyes, and something in his relaxed posture which bespoke of the lazy confidence of a skilled predator.

Still, he had a pizza. That counted for something.

As had happened the last time a nova stood on the Stutzenbach doorstep*, Missy momentarily forgot herself and stared. Fortunately, her father Raymond was there to restart the social pleasantries.

"Well, don't just stand there," Ray said amiably, "Invite the man in!" Ray could easily see Bellator, and was instantly on guard for his only daugthter's sake, but he held that emotion in check. He's not her date, he reminded himself. There's no need to show him my collection of shotguns.

"Oh, sorry," Missy said quickly. "Please, come inside!"

(*LiberTeen's arrival in late May)

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Blissfully Autumn soared through the air. If there was one thing she and her sister, Summer, had in common it was the love of flight. It brought with it such an inexplicable freedom that only those who could do it could understand. It was a long flight, about three hours, but she honestly didn't mind.

Earlier in the week she had flown (first class) down to Tampa Bay where she was staying in one of their family’s extravagant summer homes. Apparently some guy named "Mach" was throwing a party on a beach somewhere in Louisiana. She explained, as politely as she could, to her mother that she really wanted to spend some time down south on the Florida Beaches to get away from the doctors and counselors for a bit. Since returning from California they'd been treating her like she was crazy, always asking her how she felt and giving her drugs, and keeping her under close watch.

When her mother and Director Cunningham approved her little vacation she instantly hopped on the first flight and was on her way to Mack’s party. After a few days of relaxing in the beach house the day had come for the Holly Beach Party. Now she zoomed at speeds in excess of one hundred miles per hour just a few feet from the water’s surface. She sped down the coast keeping it in clear view on her right and had to smile and chuckle from time to time as a swimmer pointed her out or a lusty surfer fell from his board, the penalty for not paying attention.

Almost all morning she flew before Mike’s ‘private’ beach came into view. Childish excitement welled up inside her the closer she came. She really hadn’t met any novas that were not on Utopia’s payroll and she was thoroughly pleased that Mark had approved her invitation.

The water sped past her like an azure movie reel. Fish and coral and plant life all passed beneath her suddenly, like the world being rewound. She reached out to the water with her hand perpendicular to the surface, slicing through it and sending refreshing droplets up in her direction before arcing up and preparing to land on Holly Beach. Behind her, a fifty-yard long wake was frozen atop the waves. Her hand had left a frigid scar upon the gulf, not that nature minded; the sun’s rays had already begun melting it away.

Gently her sandaled feet touched the shore close to where Matt was doing his fishing. She was in a simple red yoga outfit, and had a mid sized back pack on that no doubt contained the usual beach survival gear: towel, tanning lotion, cell phone utility belt, and a few things to drink along the way.

A bit shy she pressed her way towards the nova sitting in his fishing chair. “Um, excuse me. Is this Holly Beach?” She asked, her voice barely audible over the waves and her bashfulness. “I’m looking for a guy named Mush, he’s throwing some big nova party around here.” She brushed her raven black hair out from her eyes and tucked it neatly behind her ears, while in the same motion she rested her hand on her neck and toyed with the silver strings of the bikini top she wore beneath her outfit as she patiently waited for a reply.

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Connor watched the newcomer intently. The fishing was practically ruined with the ice but he didn't say anything, after all it wasn't what he was here for. He got up from his chair and extended his right hand to her. " I'm Mech, or Connor if you prefer to go by my real name. It's a pleasure to meet you."

He smiles warmly. "Technically Holly Beach is about three miles to the east of us. But you are in the right place. Bellator and the others will all be along soon enough. Out here we have some modicum of privacy from the media. Over on the table I've got some of the first batch of barbeque and some other foods. Drinks are in the two blue Ice-chests, water and gatorade on the left, soda on the right."

He nods to the ice trail. "Pretty cool effect. The best I get is a blue flare when I fly."

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“Mech, riiight.” She winched a bit and squinted her eyes slightly embarrassed. She had been trying to remember his name all morning and came up blank. “Oh, god I’m really sorry.” She smiled as best she could, trying to take some humor in her mistake. “I’ve really not been much for remembering things lately I’ve been under a lot stress and all.”

"Oh that?" She pointed out to the scar in the water. She playfully giggled. "I've been doing that all morning. It's fun to see the various shapes the water takes as it freezes. It's really pretty sometimes." For a silent moment the sun shimmered of the crytaline wake. Just as she said, in the right light it was absolutely breathtaking.

“Oh! I’m Autumn Asto-“ She corrected herself, but the hesitation was obvious. “Solstice. Autumn Solstice.” Autumn extended her hand and her nova beauty shone almost as bright as the sun. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mech.”

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Bell grins and hands Missy the pizza, stepping inside as he does, "This is for your family. I wasn't sure what kind of pizza you'd like, so I got a plain pie."

He nods to Pew's father and mother, his back ramrod straight, "Sir, ma'am. Pleasure to meet you both. I'm Bellator. I'll be transporting your daughter to the beach party hosted by Mech. Is there a time you want her back by? The viewing should be around 9:00 at the latest."

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"Be right back!" Missy said as she accepted the pizza and then dashed to the kitchen to stash it on the counter. Ray arched an eyebrow, bemused at Bellator's formality.

"Come in, come in," Ray said pleasantly, meeting Bellator halfway and offering a firm handshake.

"It's good to meet you, Bellator," Amanda added, rising from the sofa. "You're only the third nova to ever visit Marshalltown, you know."

"From what Missy tells us, this isn't so much a date as it is that you're both going in the same direction." Ray said, releasing the handshake. "We hadn't really set a curfew, but we are counting on her to keep in touch by phone."

Missy returned from the kitchen and caught the end of her father's explanation. He had made it sound simple, but the negotiations which had allowed her to attend Mech's party were anything but. Concerns over her age and lack of worldliness and partying with novas were offset by the need for her to grow up and some point and her newfound ability to hold her own. In the end, they had compromised. Missy could attend, but only if she made frequent calls home. Missy hefted her beach bag and patted the side pocket where her mobile phone was nestled.

"I have my phone right here," she said. "Don't worry Daddy, I'll stay in touch."

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Mech nods. I know about stress. I've been put in the hospital twice during the show. Everyone expected alot out of me and they all seem happy with the final result."

He looked down and sighed. "I have my reservations though."

He smiles remembering how much fun it had all been. "They paid me, actually paid me, to turn into a giant robot and fly around. Definitely the most fun job I ever had, even if it did involve getting hit with a tank."

"So what about you, how do you enjoy passing your time?"

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She kept eye contact with Connor, absorbing every single word. "A giant robot?" She said, sounding a bit skeptical. "Wow."

Suddenly she stood frozen and almost confused. If she was taken off guard she managed to compose herself rather quicky. “Me? Pass the time? Well, I uh…” What Connor didn’t see was the flash of images overlap in her mind. Technically one of the two Astovik sisters did not exist but her node and brain quickly worked to correct that problem. In the span of just a few milliseconds Autumn’s SOMA laced node had created an entire past from which she could pull information.


Somewhere very close but not nearby…

“Woah! Sir! Sir! You might want to see this!” A technician called from his work station. In seconds Director Cunningham, shadowed by a large black man with sunglasses and corn rows that fell into long braids, arrived to see what the commotion was about.

“Something happening to her?” Asked the Director.

“Sir, yes. Look, the electroencephalograph just spiked her gamma rhythyms almost off the chart and her node flared to nearly one hundred pulses a second! It’s a wonder he brain didn’t explode!”

“The hell is a gamma wave?” The black man asked.

“Gamma rhythms, Reggie.” Director Cunningham corrected him as he started to explain. “They involve the higher feats of mental activity. Such as perception, problem solving, fear, and even consciousness.”

“So da bitch is awake.” Reggie retorted with a think urban accent. “Shit, we knew that.”

The Director turned to Reggie in an attempt to help him understand neuropsychological theory. “No, Reggie. Chances are what it means is that her node, just directly controlled something within her brain. Something that, until now we thought wasn’t possible.” He snapped around to the technician who was sipping his cherry coke considering if he would raid with his 54th level Paladin tonight or his 56th level Summoner. “You, copy that data and continue to watch her. Reggie, come with me to the lab.”


“All sorts of stuff really.” Autumn spoke up, a dozen thoughts suddenly on the tip of her tongue. . “I study, read a lot, chess, and I plan to go into drama club when school starts back up. For right now though I mostly spend time in power training. Being a member of Team Tomorrow is a hard job and I try to take my duties very seriously.” She gave Mech a once over then looked around to the beach, noticing they were alone.

“Um, Connor, you did tell other people about this didn’t you? Where is every body?”

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Connor nods as Autumn speaks of what he assumes are her hobbies. He smiles when she mentions Team Tomorrow. When she asks about the others he shrugs.

"All those that said they wanted to come know where we are. I know Bellaator and Instar are coming. As for the others I honestly don't know."

He looks back to the grill and the food. "If nobody else shows up at least I'll have food for a week."

He chuckles. "Besides a nice relaxing day at the beach beats a day working any day of the week eh?"

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"Half of a week Connor." Autumn mused as she walked past him, with a teasing grin on her face. She took a moment to look for some place to set her things down. "I came here to eat to you know, an I'm sure I could eat you under the table any day big guy."

Her pack found a home in a shady spot kicking up a bit of sand as it plopped down. "I've heard of Bellator, but I'm not familiar with Instar. Have you met either of them before?" As she rummaged through her pack heedless to the possibility that Connor's eyes were probably not where they should be. "What are they like?"

With a victorious "Aha" she rose up and twisted the cap from an energy drink eloquently called "Eruption"*, that had a reputation for being potent enough to keep a nova buzzed for an hour or so. She relaxed, took a sip and enjoyed her conversation with Connor in this nova paradise.

[[* The FDA is currently working to have "Eruption" removed from stores since the tragic school shooting on April 17th, 2009 in San Antonio, Texas. The student responsible for the deaths of seven classmates had an empty can of "Eruption" in his locker and a seventy four page letter detailing how he had spent the past four years being treated like garbage by the faculty and students of his high school and had finally had enough.

After an unprecedented twenty-six minute deliberation, the School Board decided that it was obviously "Eruption" Energy Drink and Heavy Metal that were responsible for the student’s tragic outburst.]]

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"No, seriously, why are we here?" I asked The Gnostic as we trudged down the vacant Gulf shore under the midmorning sun. The day promised to be a hot one, and I'd already ditched my shoes and jacket and stuffed them into my battered carryall. I'd been roaming the Old South since my home in Tampa had been torched, unwilling to settle down until I found more suitable digs. The insurance check was stashed safely in the bank, and I travelled light.

"Killing two birds with one stone," The Gnostic replied over his shoulder as he led the way up the sandy beach. "It's about time we found a place for you to live, and you've been spending entirely too much time alone lately as well." The beach was remarkably clean and pictureesque, and I had to admire the work that Project Utopia had done in cleaning up after hurricane Katrina. Without them, it would probably have taken a decade for the shore to recover from the pounding of the surf and the scouring of category four winds.

I still didn't much care for the bastards, mind you, but even Mussolini made the trains run on time, if you catch my meaning.

"Scouting," Backjack muttered. "Like that freakshow in Miami, there's a planned gathering of immature novas on this beach. Mech the robot boy's playing host. He and I have exchanged words online."

I knew for a fact that Backjack did not own a computer.

"I'm guessing you used my system, back when I had a house I mean," I said. Backjack nodded. I sighed. "What did you say to him? Did you start some kind of grudge?"

Backjack smiled enigmatically.

"Fine," I said, "But if you start a fight, you're on your own."

Backjack bristled.

"No man," he said, raising his hands, "It's cool. I was just playing with the dude, but he really got bent out of shape. I think I patched things before we went offline, though."

We were interrupted by the sound of a sudden rush of air. As one, we looked to our left just in time to see the passing of an airborne nova, skimming the wavetops and freezing them in her wake. She--it was a girl--disappeared around the next bend in the shore.

"Looks like the party's getting started," The Gnostic mused.

"Good. I hate arriving first," added Backjack.

After a few minutes' walking, we rounded the bend in the shoreline and saw a small beach encampment. An ad hoc volleyball net was flanked with fishing tackle and two people appeared to be sharing a beverage. One was the flying nova we'd just seen, so this clearly was the party.

I popped off a ping, just to be sure, and got two return echoes. Having made myself more than obvious, I waved pleasantly and announced myself.

"Good morning," I said loudly enough to be heard, "May I assume you are Mech and this is the site of your party?"

[ Author's note: Remember, King Felix is alone. The Gnostic and Backjack are elements of his imagination, and are not real people! If The Gnostic or Backjack speak to King Felix, the conversation is only inside his head and cannot be overheard. Anything King Felix says can be heard as usual, as he talks out loud to his delusions. Any physical actions made by The Gnostic or Backjack are actually made by King Felix.]

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It felt good to breathe the fresh salt air and listen to the seagulls fight over ocean scraps. It had taken him some time to find the address on the letter, and he looked foreward to meeting others who were like him. If all went well, they would treat him like the being he was, and not like a pariah. He told himself that he would stay calm and not get mad if they did disrespect him.

The invite itself was not his. He happened to acquire it from a handsome young man who took to ridiculing him. Since the man would not be able attend, Oogala thought that he might as well go instead.

So here he was, on a beach in a place called Louisiana.

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"I dunno about out eating me, but we'll see. Help ourself to the trays alredy done. I'll start some more in abit. I can always get more. It helps when the store owner is an uncle who owes me a favor."

He nods and smiles while looking over the waves. "I've never met either of them but we've talked online alot to be honest. This is gonna be an interesting day to say the least."

He shrugs. "I haven't had the opportunity to go out and meet a bunch of people. I had hoped to meet people at the big "novas only" baseball game that was supposed to happen, but things fell through."

He seems ready to go on, but another voice heralds the arrival of another guest. He rises from his chair and walks over to the newcomer. "Yes, I'm Mech, and if you've come to relax abit by the beach and eat some barbeque then yeah this is the place."

He gestures to the chairs and table set up with food and the ice chests of drinks. "Help yourself to the food and such, and make yourself at home."

He remembers his manners and then motions to where Autumn is sitting. "The young lady relaxing over there is Autumn Solstice. I'm sure she'll be glad to see someone else show up, we were both starting to wonder if anyone was going to."

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"How do you do, Mech," I said politely, setting my carryall out of the way. "Thanks for having us. My name's Harold."

The Gnostic had wasted no time scouting out the spread of barbecue, so I followed him to the table. Autumn Solstice was nearby, so I availed myself of the opportunity to make her acquaintance. Backjack had so far remained mute, and seemed content to watch Mech with his predator's eyes.

"Good spread," The Gnostic said. "I always liked this style of barbecue."

It did smell appetizing, especially considering that breakfast this morning had consisted of a box of convenience store doughnuts and a gigantic coffee. Still, manners came first. I turned to Autumn Solstice and regarded her. I'd never met anyone made of ice before.

"I'm Harold," I said, introducing myself and trying to keep eye contact with the girl. "I understand you're Autumn Solstice?"

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"It's no big deal Connor, if you need help with anything let me know, I'll be glad to give you a hand." She smiled warmly. "Really, I don't mind you know."

Autumn brushed her hair over her shoulder and stood to greet the new comer to the party. "Um, hey." She managed in a rather shy tone as she extended her hand. "Yes, I am Autumn Solstice, you can call me either Autumn, or Solstice, it doesn't really matter which. It only get confusing when my sister is around. When people just say 'Solstice' we both both usually answer unless they use Summer or Autumn first." She bashfully sighed something that sounded like a chuckle. "The joys of having a twin sister, huh?"

Pleasantly she shook his hand. Although there was 'nothing special' in particular about him Autumn was the slightest bit impressed with his charm. "So, Harold, Mech. Where uh, you guys from?"

She made a desperate play for conversation, so far the party was slow, as one would assume considering how early it was, but Autumn was never very good at meeting new people.

[[Autumn is not currently Bodymorphed. He looks like a regular raven haired, way to developed for her age, teenager at the moment. The water was frozen via Quantum Conversion (she still channels cold w/out being in her ice form.]]

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"This must be the nice one," The Gnostic muttered into his sleeve. I chuckled and smiled, but pretended not to hear. I'd seen Summer Solstice online, and she was consistently less than pleasant to be around. Hell, let's just be frank: Summer was a real grade-A cast-iron snarling cur bitch. Autumn, on the other hand, seemed to be a sweet kid.

"I'm from Tampa," I said, glancing to Mech so that he'd still feel involved. The two were talking when I arrived, but it didn't look to me like he was making any progress. That's fine. I'm not cutting him out, but I'm not cutting him in, either. "However, I've not been there in a little over a month. The climate there was not quite right for my health."

Since then I'd been wandering the Old South, checking out a number of potential new homes. I'm no dirty homeless bum, mind you. I had been staying in hotels and keeping up my appearance. Some people go all to hell when their life is turned upside down. That's not my style. I use that as an excuse to turn it up a notch. Hell, once I'd gotten over the loss of my library, the experience was even liberating. I was free to redefine myself.

Within limits, of course. I still carried the burden that had been dumped onto me when I erupted. Somewhere out there, Yaldaboath the creator-god was contriving to destroy me before I could infuse reality with the essential something to bring down the reign of his black iron prison.

Oh yes, the empire will end.

"This is really pretty here," I continued. "Maybe a little place on the beach would be just what I need."

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Bell looks at Pew, "I think it's time for us to go."

He then turns to her parents, "I'm sorry to cut the conversation short, but we're going to be late. Nice meeting you."

Bell turns back to Pew and concentrates, as he extends his quantum aura around her. "This might tickle a bit."

Bell smiles, and begins to fade out, along with Pew, only to fade into being a great distance away, on a beach in Louisiana. His nose picks up the familiar smell of grilling meat. He looks down at Pew, "Welcome to Louisiana. I think that's them over there." Bell points to a small group of people near some fishing equipment, and some coolers. He walks slowly over to the small gathering, looking around, "Excuse me... is this the beach party and viewing?"

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Missy had never teleported before, and had only her imagination to draw on when considering what it might be like. She was still collecting her wits about herself when Bellator walked away, greeting the others already present.

"Wait, what?" she said. "Welcome to--? Oh poop." She'd missed her chance to thank Bellator, and he'd already made a beeline for the food.

"He's definitely not my date," she mumbled softly, amused. "Thank you so much for the ride!" she called after him, ever mindful of her manners. Still carrying her beach bag, she chased after him, joining the others already present.

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When asked where he's from Connor looks North and smiles. "About thirty seven miles North of here as the crow flies. As for the scenery, yeah, I've always come here when I wanted to relax. Lots of good memories all along the coast. The Hurricanes did a real number on us, but Cameron's already rebuilt, as is alot of Holly Beach itself."

He looks to Harold and smiles. "I could talk to some people if you're serious about wanting to stay on the beach awhile. there's plent of room s and even a few full trailers available in Holly Beach proper, pretty decen rates too."

He hears another greeting and excuses himself. "I'll be back, time to meet the new arrivals." His tone is actually cheerful as he walks over to where the others are approaching, his bare feet leaving footprints in the sand.

"Yeah this is the place. I've got some grill already done it's in the tinfoil-covered pans on the table, I'll be cooking more in little while." The pans he indicated were at least two feet long by two feet wide.

"The show doesn't come on until Seven tonight, so I figure we've got a pretty decent amount of time to hang loose out here, with about an hour for me to pack everything up and transport everything and everyone back to my place."

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"That much information means you must be the host, Mech, right? I'm Bellator, and the young lady behind me is Pew Pew Pew. I should be leaving in a few minutes to pick up the other young lady I'm teleporting here. The food smells delicious. Thank you for having us here, and in your own home for the viewing." Bell extends his hand and shakes his host's hand.

"Oh, I brought some stuff to go with the food." He takes off his backpack, and opens it up, revealing two bottles of wine, with a small half-melted bag of ice to keep the wine cool.

"Do you have a small shovel? I want to partially bury them to keep them cooler, and I don't want to put them in the coolers because that will get them too cold." He takes out the bottles, "These are from a Vineyard on Long Island, called Pindar. They are supposed to go really well with grilled steak for the red, and chicken and fish for the white. I can't wait for the show premiere. It'll be awesome to look at the TV and say, 'Hey, I know that guy.'"

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Connor shakes Bellator's hand firmly. "It's nice to finally put a face to the name. You're most welcome my friend. As for the wine and all I can do you one better. I've got three electric coolers with plenty of room left inside. Or I can improvise on the shovel part."

He nods when Bellator mentions the show. "I'm so nervous it's not even funny regarding the show. Test audiences reacted to it like it was the Second Coming of Jesus. Several of the cast members have been unable to leave their homes since word and a couple of pictures leaked out about the show. Mr. Tomino was upset about the leak, but ecstatic with the fan reaction. I just hope it goes over as well over here as it looks like it will in Japan."

He nods to PewPewPew and extends his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, I'm Mech, or Connor, I'll answer to both.

Welcome to the party and please help yourself to any of the food and drinks. Harold is over there chatting with Autumn Solstice, They're both pretty nice people. If you need anything don't hesitate to ask."

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"Pleased to meet you, Connor," Missy said, tilting her head with curiosity at the handshake. "My name's Melissa, but I go by Missy. I brought some snacks and drinks," she continued, hefting her beach bag once more. "I'll add them to the pile."

Missy stepped around Connor and Bellator and joined Harold and Autumn Solstice. As she added her chips and gatorade to the stash, she flashed a nervous smile.

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"A trailer," The Gnostic mused. "That's classy. Maybe I can get some wife beaters from the Salvation Army and fill my used Kelvinator with forties of Milwaukee's Best Light."

"I've had worse digs," Backjack chuckled. I'm sure he has. It's hard to go feral in a comfortable setting. Hardship makes hard people.

"Well, look who popped in," The Gnostic added, turning to scope out the newcomer--correction, newcomers. The guy with the buzzcut looked like he took himself pretty seriously, and the girl was definitely not his type. The girl came toward me and Autumn Solstice, and I did my best to get a good look without staring. Her strawberry-blonde hair and earnest bearing gave her away.

"Pew Pew Pew, I gather," I said politely, hoping I was right. If not, I'd sound like a moron saying Pew Pew Pew. How on earth did she end up saddled with that monniker, anyway? She nodded and flashed another smile--my God her teeth are perfect, what do they feed girls in Iowa, and why can't we get it in Florida--and was unbearably perky toward me. I couldn't catch Autumn's reaction, but I'd wager it would be interesting to see.

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Akaisha fusses around her room for a bit, gathering things for the party. To say she was a bit nervous would be accurate as none of these people were anyone that she actually knew. She hadn’t gone to many parties while in school and she had friends there. And here she was going to a party with people she knew nothing about. After her recent encounter at Project Utopia, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the whole idea of meeting strangers. She just shudders and puts it out of her mind. Best not to dwell on that.

After going through her drawers several times, she finally decides on a purple sarong bikini for the beach. She didn’t get to go often so she wanted to make sure she got to wear one of her favorites. Stuffing that in her backpack, she slips into a pair of shorts and a halter top to wear to the party. After double-checking, she reaches for her phone, dialing the number Bellator gave her.

“Hello? This is Akaisha...”

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Autumn sipped her drink and fought back what seemed like a bit of surprised. From her vantage point she saw Bellator and Melissa just simply fade into view from nowhere. She had never witnessed teleportation before, even at Utopia, and was awestruck and impressed at the same time. Bellator was a handsome man, well toned and built for war with a touch of a charming smile. Melissa although pretty, was awfully pale. She wasn’t close to Autumn’s level of physical perfection but she was attractive, if a bit shy. Autumn usually ended up being disliked by other women who were just not as attractive as her. She figured Missy would be no different but for now there was no sense in being rude.

Missy flashed a nervous smile as she approached Autumn and Harold. Thankfully Harold was a more open person than Autumn was and he quickly started conversation with her. “Hi.” She finally said after Harold as she extended her hand, drawing attention to her presence and nearly swallowing Missy in her aura of quantum blessed beauty. “I’m Autumn Solstice. It’s nice meeting you.”

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"Good to meet you too," Missy replied, her eyes the size of silver dollars. She'd been taken in by Autumn's beauty at first sight, but the full force of her attention was nearly overwhelming. Missy flashed back briefly to the first time she'd met Liberteen in person, and remembered having the same reaction at that time. With a monumental force of will, she regained her composure. The only outward sign was a brief shake of her head, as if settling a stray hair into place.

"Is that Eruption?" Missy asked, diverting herself away from thoughts of the bedroom. "I've never tried that. I don't think we can even get it in Iowa. Are there more in the cooler?"

Am I going to feel this attraction to every single female nova I meet? Missy wondered.

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Missy didn't answer my question, but given the astonishing attractiveness of Autumn, I saw no reason to take offense. If I were charitible, I could find a way to interpret her words as if she were replying to both Autumn and myself, so I let it slide. Perhaps once she becomes acclimated to the company of novas, she'll get used to this sort of thing and resume paying attention to me. Backjack was rummaging noisily in a cooler for something to drink. I excused myself and helped him to find a can of Eruption for Missy and a can of something less "edgy" and "cool" for myself.

"Eruption?" The Gnostic asked. "You're not going to drink that slop are you?"

"Of course not," I told him. "But I think Missy will." I presented the can to her, holding the can out for a moment. She continued her eyelock with Autumn while I stood there like an idiot with my hand out. Finally, to my relief, she broke away from the magic spell and returned to the here and now.

"Oh, thank you," she told me. She flashed that perfect smile again, and I tried to hypnotize myself into believing the smile was for me. She popped the top and took a sip from the can. The can concealed her features except for her eyes, which kept straying back to Autumn's.

"Interesting thing about girls," The Gnostic muttered to me, "Is that when they're infatuated, they look each other in the eyes like that."

"I thought everyone did that," I replied, sotto voce.

"No, you look at their tits," he said.

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"Bible belt got a hold all the Eruption drinks out there huh? That didn’t take long." Autumn smiled at her playful sarcasm. Given the attention from the media it wasn’t so surprising that Iowa and every other country state had already pulled them from the coolers, given the drinks’ already bad reputation. "I brought these. I picked up a few of them on my way here. It was a pretty long trip so I stocked up. Excuse me a moment, please Harold?"

Autumn spun on her heels and looked around for the spot she dumped her pack off at. "If you'd like one you're more than welcome to share mine. I doubt I'll drink them all with all this other food and stuff here. Back in a jiff." She darted off to her pack to set Missy up with her second Eruption.

Kneeling in the sand under a tree she loaded up her arms with the drinks she brought. Those paying attention could easily see the skimpy triangular strip of shimmering silver fabric that had crept it's way up her hips and over the waist line of her yoga pants only to sneak back directly down her behind. Apparently there wasn’t much to Autumn's beach attire.

With her arms loaded with the drinks she had packed away, eight in all she dumped them into the cooler. The ice had already started melting away in the Louisiana heat and she buried each can in as best she could. Once done her hand took on an icy sheen and became as clear as crystal, but only from her forearm down. With a smooth wave of her hand the ambient quantum particles in the air bound to one another to create water, which in turn quickly froze to from small chunks of ice over the beverages that were already there. "Ha. Two dollars for a bag of ice, my butt." She mused, rather pleased with her self as her arm once again took on the appearance of flesh.

"Missy! Hey!" She jogged back over with a perky bounce to her step among other things... "Here ya go. Help yourself, there's more in the cooler." She smiled at the native Iowan. Side by side you would never tell that Missy was Solstice's senior by two years.

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He was awake again, sitting up in bed. Beside him was another woman. Another person he hoped would make him forget the one he should be with. She was gone and he had to move on, for both their sakes.

He swung his legs out of bed and walked over to the full length window. The city looked deceptively calm in the moonlight. He also liked the way the moonlight played on the woman’s body. She was pretty in a baseline way. More importantly, she was intelligent and outgoing, a doctor and though older than he was, an excellent companion. She was also a doctor at Zach’s hospital which explained why she had sought him out at the bar the night before.

Ravenshire put the night’s pleasantries behind him as he plotted out the day that lay ahead. He needed to head out to the airport soon. He needed to get away from New York, if only for a day or two. Louisiana sounded nice and flying down by himself only made it better. Piloting his own jet filled him with a sense of freedom

He walked back over to the bed, leaned down and kissed the woman on the cheek. She was still out like a light. He made some coffee, toasted a bagel, and packed an overnight bag. He called himself a cab and wrote her a note while he waited. It arrived soon enough. Daniel left his apartment and its remaining occupant behind as he got into the cab. He was going to another place he was hoping to unwind.

Five hours later found Ravenshire in Lake Charles with a rental car – a jeep to be precise. He rode with the windows down so he could take in the summer morning air. It was nice to watch the way the land and water interplayed here on the gulf coast. Mech’s directions to the party near Holly Beach were clear enough and he found the small gathering without any problem. He was glad he wasn’t one of the first there that was for sure. As he got out, he looked around and located Mech from a publicity picture he had seen. Ravenshire made his way down to where golden-eyed nova was and made his introductions.

“Hello there. I’m Daniel Ravenshire. We’ve talked a few times and it’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

He held out his hand for Connor to shake. As he did so, Daniel also made an understated

“Hello,” to the other people gathered around, not wanting to intrude on their converstations.

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Evan parked by the trailer and made his way over to the crowd of novas near the cooler. Only one was remotely familiar, and that was because he had met him at that Teragen club a few months back. He had seen another one’s sister at the same time and place. The rest were total strangers. He hefted his cooler and placed it beside the larger cooler … most likely the hosts. Evan hoped he wasn’t too much out of place with his swim trunks, t-shirt, and Hawaiian short sleeve shirt open over that. He pulled out a 20 oz. bottle of Smirnoff, opened it up and approached the crowd. All he needed now was an opening into the conversations going on around him.

The red-head had to be Pew Pew Pew. At least he wasn’t the only one in a swimsuit. From the way she resembled her twin, the other woman must be Autumn Solstice, a fellow Utopian – best not to talk shop here though. Bellator he knew, but the other man was a complete unknown. Of course, unknown novas were the norm for him. It wasn’t like he worked over in Nova medicine, he joked to himself.

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Connor was just turning back when his gaze fell on the bent-over Autumn. Between the near-nonexistence of silver he'd seen and the walk back his brain couldd only think of two words to utter. "Holy damn."

He was brought out of his hormonaly induced revereie by the sound of yet another guest. "Ravenshire, Daniel it's a pleasure to finally meet you. Lina spoke often of you while we were in Japan. I take it she's feeling under the weather?"

From his tone Ravenshire knew Mech was concerned about Lina, considering that she was a major part of the show. He nods to Bellator.

"Forgive my manners, Daniel, this is Bellator, he's also a frequenter of the N!Prime chatroom." He smiles and nods. "And he cerytainly knows how to make an entrance. I mean one second there's nothing, the next you and Missy are there and ready to party."

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It was early, early in the morning at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport. Hero had arrived – in costume as usual – early so as not to offend Divine’s kind offer for a flight to the Beach Party. Maybe he had come too early because now he was getting antsy about not being on time. On the plus side, people were looking at him and not screaming and/or running away. A child had even walked up to him and asked him his name. Her parents had watched the whole episode without undue concern. No one seemed to know who he was, but that was okay by Hero too. He needed to do more good to make a reputation. Maybe one day he’d even have a good enough reputation that he wouldn’t have to ask others for a flight to the Gulf Coast.

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Ravenshire's face took on a still calm.

"Lina had something she had to take care of ... alone."

Looking over to Bellator,

"Yeah, we've met before."

He offers to shake Bellator's hand.

"We were at the Blackburn together that night some weeks ago, plus we had a dinner together, which reminds me I owe him a night out on the town when we get back to NYC."

"So who else has already arrived?"

It was said as a general invitation for introductions.

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"I see. Well, tell her we missed her here at the party then for me. she is a hug part of the show, without her I dunno if we'd have finished yet." he turns to gesture at the other group of novas drinking in the chairs.

"Autumn Solstice was my first guest, Harold over there arrived not too long afterwards, then Bellator and Missy arrived just moments ago. Make yourself at home my friend." he notices yet another newcomer and shrugs. "Evidently someone else decided to show up while we were talking, I think I'll go say hello."

Mech walks over to the newcomer and smiles, extending his hand to Caduceus. "Welcome to the party friend, I'm Mech, or Connor if you prefer. Make yourself at home, there's plenty of good food and drink to go around."

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"I can't get anymore than this" The young red haired dealer said with shaking hands. "I only have this one eight-ball."

"Fine!" Divine snorted as she slumped back into her seat. "I'll see that Raphael pays you."

The engine started and she watched as the limo driver turned down Wishire Blvd and head towards the 5 Freeway. Meanwhile, she fumbled through her purse for her straw. After what seemed like an hour, she pulled out a 3 inch long platinum tube with her name engraved on it. In her other hand was the eighth of an ounce of coke she just procured. In one quick motion, she put one end of the straw into the baggie filled with coke, and the other into her right nostril. She closed the other nostrile and felt the anethitizing effects almost instantly.


Music was blaring from the Limousine as it pulled up to the guarded gate that prevented most people from having easy access to the private plane section at the Burbank Airport. Without even checking ID, the guards smiled at Divine and waved her past. As she approached the jet, she noticed a costumed figure near the rear entrance of the airport.

"Raphael, can you be a sweetie and load my luggage into the plane? There is someone I need to meet." With a smile and flirtatious toss of her hair towards the Limo driver, she skipped towards the costumed gentleman.

"Hey!" Divine says with a wave and large smile. "I am glad you could make it."

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She wasn't just drop-dead gorgeous, she was drop-dead and a hundred others die from grief gorgeous. It was all he could do to not stammer useless as the creature that could only be Divine spoke to him.

"Hello Divine. No description does your appearance justice."

Hero moved to meet her and looked into her eyes (though his were masked by his eufiber).

"Your offer of a ride is most kind and I thank you for it."

He stopped himself from offering to shake her hand. Somehow physical contact seemed too forward to such a beauty.

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