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Aberrant: 200X - A Saturday Morning Tea (and Flicker, too) [Done]


Rena Morgan

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The mid-morning foot traffic on 13th Street outside Tea and Sympathy was light for a Saturday in Greenwich Village, but the sunlight that drifted through the morning cloud cover bathed the tables at the outside windows in a comfortable haze of warmth. Sipping her tea from one of the small shop's cups, the short, delicately boned woman whose briefcase lay open next to her took a moment to simply enjoy the momentary quiet. Less traffic meant less gawkers pausing to stare at her; conservative gray skirt-suit or not, since her eruption she'd gone from turning heads to stopping traffic. At least the staff here had become sufficiently accustomed to her that she could get timely service. She'd learned to budget an extra ten minutes into any meal trip to a place she wasn't a regular to accommodate wait-staff too busy tripping over their own tongues to do their jobs.

Besides, the tea was excellent and the small, cozy table at the front of the restaurant had become something of private preserve for her. The subdued English décor and upscale clientèle afforded at least the illusion of dignified relaxation, and the store's owners hand become quite accommodating indeed when she'd taken the time to explain to them why they should. There were certain advantages to being... persuasive. Reaching up and adjusting her reading glasses before she returned her attention to the legal papers in front of her, she couldn't quite resist an ironic toast to her reflection in the glass. Superhuman beauty, charm, and I still couldn't get rid of being just farsighted enough to need these. The universe does have a sense of humor.

And you, Miss Morgan, finally have work to do after complaining about sitting idle for months. So perhaps you'd best apply yourself to doing it. Chiding herself lightly, Rena settled back into rereading the relevant portions of the Ohio State Constitution. Wouldn't do to look like an amateur, now would it?

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Nova "Flicker" Madigan stood in front of the nearly full-length mirror that hung on the back of her bedroom's door and checked her outfit. The mirror was chipped and worn, and framed in the faded and peeling remnants of a lifetime's worth of stickers, but it worked well enough. It still took Nova longer than usual to examine herself, however, as she flickered in and out of invisibility in a rapid and random pattern. Nova admired her outfit: a black knee-length skirt trimmed in red lace, a black fishnet bodystocking, shiny black knee boots fitted with many red buckles, and a corset which reached to the nape of her neck. An assortment of necklaces, bangles, bracelets, rings, and bits of ribbon completed the ensemble.

"Nova!" shouted her mother, Carol Madigan from the base of the townhouse's staircase. "It's almost ten, are you ready?" Carol wore her dark brown hair in a short and practical pixie cut, and her best casual outfit was woefully out of fashion. She'd been working two jobs since before Nova had learned to walk, and she had little time for the better things in life.

"Coming down now, Mom!" Nova replied. Her own dark hair was streaked with red. Nova grabbed her battered black messenger bag and slung it over her shoulder, and descended the staircase.

"Oh, come on, Nova," her mother said, seeing her daughter's outfit. "We're meeting an attorney, not going clubbing."

"Mo-om," Nova pleaded, "I'm a nova now, I have to set the standard you know. People look to me."

Carol shook her head.

"Set the standard some other time, hon."

"O-kay," Nova sighed, defeated by maternal executive veto. She paused at the bottom step to concentrate. Her outfit abruptly re-shaped itself, converting from the Harajuku goth trendsetter fashion into a black sweater with a false Oxford-cloth collar and cuffs, and a pair of fitted grey wool slacks.

"Better?"

"Much," Carol nodded and smiled, struck by how grown-up her daughter suddenly looked.

"I've got the location memorized," Nova told her mother as she held out her hand. "Ready?"

Carol took her hand.

"Let's"

A moment later, they appeared on the sidewalk in front of Tea and Sympathy. The passers-by, despite being jaded New Yorkers, stared openly, but still being New Yorkers they did not stop walking.

"Here we are, New York, New York," Nova said cheerfully. "And you thought your weekend was going to be dull!"

Carol smiled.

"Let's go inside, we're causing a scene."

They went inside.

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The door chimed softly as they entered, and a young woman wearing stylish New York semi-casual and a prominent Tea and Sympathy button walked up to them making just enough of an effort not to stare at Nova's flickering hand as it brushed a stray hair into place to give the impression that she was doing her best to be polite and professional in the face of the unspeakably strange. "You two are here to see Ms. Morgan, right?" At Carol's nod, her smile widened noticeably. "That's wonderful! I'll take you right over to her." The sudden sunniness of her demeanor struk Nova as ever so slightly strange, but the idea didn't last much more than a second or two; when they stepped around the wall dividing the small table area on the window facing the street, the woman seated at that table looked up at them and every thought in her head hit the back of her eyes like a twenty car pile-up on I-90.

Smiling up at her pole-axed visitors with a genial warmth, Rena ignored the simpering glance of the server behind them and greeted them with a smoothly commanding voice that visibly raised goosebumps on all three. "Good afternoon, Ms. Madigan, Flicker. Won't you sit down?"

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Carol froze momentarily, overwhelmed by the stunning charisma Rena had packed into that simple greeting. Before she knew what she was doing, she found herself pulling out a chair and sitting opposite Rena. Nova, for her part, was distracted by an altogether aspect of Rena's appearance: her sheer attractiveness. It hit her like two nine-millimeter bullets to the chest.* Feeling as clumsy and gawkish as she had in junior high school, she settled into a chair between her mother and the attorney.

"Thank you Ms. Morgan," Carol said warmly. She felt as if she were in a crime drama on television, the kind set in New York City. This gorgeous cafe was like nothing in Cleveland, for good reason. "This is a lovely cafe. I feel like I'm on television."

"It's very good to meet you," Nova added, almost putting too much emphasis on the word "very."

(* And she would know!)

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The smile that Rena gave Carol was, on the surface, a simple gesture of warm greeting. Combined with the subtle set of her shoulders and the compelling weight of her eyes, the effect was not dissimilar to reaching a hand into the woman's head and pressing a button labeled trust me. The older woman's neural chemistry flickered with micro-quantum fluctuations that impressed on her the utterly natural fact that she ought to take this woman's word as gospel truth; by the time Rena actually spoke, adding the subtle siren-song harmonic of her voice to the matter, the effect would have made one of Project Utopia's neural scientists cringe. "Oh, not to worry. Just a little local place I found that suits me. You should try the chai tea here; it's delicious." The way she glanced over her glasses at Nova brought the mismatched gray and green of her eyes into relief, and she had to fight down a wicked little chuckle at the way the girl's hormonal levels spiked at the look. "How about you, Nova? See anything you like on the menu? I'd be glad to treat you."

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"The chai tea sounds wonderful," Nova replied quickly, feeling her skin flush not with embarassment, but with a feeling that was more private. She stared deeply into the older nova's eyes, and was quite lost there for a moment, before being drawn back to reality by the sound of her mother's voice.

"The chai tea sounds great to me, too," Carol said. Rena's offer to pay had stung her pride--she worked two jobs just so she'd have a few dollars for occasions like this--but she was helpless to resist Rena's suggestion.

The server retreated quickly to retrieve the two cups of tea.

"So," Nova said first, breaking the ice, "This law thing looks pretty straightforward, but I'm an amateur. How does it look from your point of view?"

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Rena's approving smile made things run up and down Nova's spine that she wouldn't have believed she could feel in broad daylight sitting next to her mother. "Well, there isn't any established case law on this yet, so it would be a pilot case and those are always a bit chancy. But the fact is that unless someone overturned Tinker before we got it into federal court, you'd almost certainly wind up owning most of the school district by the end of the case. Essentially, your school board is about as far in the wrong as they can possibly be without actually having a case precedent to explicitly address the issue." She pauses to look up at the server, still standing there with her eyes on Rena and her notepad clasped in her hand. "Run over next door and get a set of fish and chips for me, would you, Karen? And another for Nova in case she wants them. After you put in their drink orders, of course." The girl was off like a shot, and Rena turned her attention back to her guests with a smile.

"In other words, Flicker, they've put their foot quite squarely down on the garden rake. If you want to take this public and through the courts, I'd be glad to see you don't have to pay a cent on it, because I think it's an important legal message to send. If you'd rather just go back to school, I'm quite certain that I can see to it that your school removes the suspension from your record, withdraws its policy and issues a formal apology to you within a week. You tell me what you want to do, and we'll make it happen."

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"The main thing is to get Nova back into school with her record cleared," Carol replied. "And go get the restriction on her being-- well, being herself removed. If it's that open and shut, that ought to be easy to do, I hope."

Nova nodded emphatically.

"We're not really interested in making a federal case of this," she continued, spreading her hands. "And we're not looking to hit the lottery at the expense of the taxpayers."

"Yep," Nova agreed, adding to her mother's explanation. "I'll be able to take care of both of us financially soon enough, anyway. Have you ever seen a poor nova?" Nova smiled, still unable to look away from Rena's eyes. She wondered what Rena smelled like up close.

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"I certainly haven't. I'm sure the sky's the limit for someone with your talents." Her slight, gracious smile would have put a stage spotlight to shame. "As to getting you back to school, I'll take care of it. Unless your school board is insanely stubborn, I should have it taken care of completely by the middle of next week. I'd be faster, but they'll probably have to call an emergency meeting." She dismissed the issue with a flick of her fingers, taking a sip of her tea. "It really is a pleasure to get to do something for such a promising and, if you don't mind my saying so, principled young lady."

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As one, Nova and Carol both beamed under the spotlight of such a compliment. Nova, for being the principled young lady, and Carol for raising one.

"The pleasure is all ours," Carol said, recovering first. "Your offer to help us is fantastic. We'd never have been able to--" she stopped herself from saying afford. "--To get the help of a top-notch New York lawyer. The middle of next week would be fantastic. I hadn't imagined it'd be possible to get this done so quickly." Carol's last contact with an attorney had been a court-appointed legal aid attorney who had unenthusiastically and quite unsuccessfully pursued Nova's father for child support 14 years previously, before giving up and ignoring Carol's phone calls.

"I'm just glad to meet another nova," Nova added.

Carol noticed the way Nova's gaze had yet to shift from Rena's. Whatever powerful nova-enhanced charisma Rena possessed, she observed, her daughter seemed to be equally vulnerable to it too.

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There was, perhaps, a moment of vertigo somewhere in staring at those mismatched eyes. A sense of a misplaced thought, or a vague sensation of falling. Whatever it was, it dissolved in the fluttering warmth of Rena's smile as she gave Nova a friendly nod. "It's always nice to spend time with someone who shares our unique perspective. Have you given any thought to your future, if you don't mind my asking? I'm sure you've had a lot of conversations about it since your eruption, but I'm curious if you'd like to talk about it. You're welcome to consider it a private matter, of course... but I'm glad to offer an ear if you want to speak to me about it."

Behind her warm smile and the smooth patter of words, Rena flicked the tumblers of the girl's mind with the simpler subliminals in the subharmonics of her voice. It's nice to spend time with me. You want to talk to me about your future. You want our conversation to be private. You want to speak to me again in the next few days. It almost pained her to ramble so inanely, but the forest was the most useful way of hiding trees when one came right down to it. And, she thought to herself with a hint of satisfaction, this game will almost certainly be worth the candle.

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"I think that'd be a great idea," Nova said cheerfully, and with more enthusiasm than was necessary.

Carol arched her eyebrows. She knew her daughter better than this. Nova hadn't been this enthusiastic about her first crush on the girl next door, Gina Santini. Carol shook her head once, almost imperceptibly. I suppose it's a good idea for her to make nova friends, she thought, but something abut Rena's emphasis on privacy bothered her.

"Let's get you back into school first," Carol suggested.

Nova didn't respond, and she continued to stare into Rena's eyes.

"Nova," Carol said with practiced firmness.

As if awakened, Nova startled and realized where she was.

"Right, back to school. Good idea." Nova nodded in wide-eyed innocence.

Carol smiled.

"After that, maybe I could come to New York? It's not like it takes me any time to get here."

Carol's smile faltered.

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Well, well. You are a stubborn woman, aren't you? Rena raised her opinion of the baseline sitting across from her a notch at the flicker of protective displeasure that touched her face. You ought to be brain-burnt enough by now to be offering her to me on a platter. Still, nice to get a challenge now and then. Setting her teacup down to catch their attention again, she offered Carol a reassuring smile. "I know it must be a huge adjustment for you, as well. Most parents are thinking about when to give out the car keys, and she can travel anywhere at all in an eyeblink. Still, if Nova does want to visit New York, I'd be glad to see she has someone to take her around the city. Even a bright and sensible young woman should see the world with someone she can trust, after all." She flicked a bit more compelling command into the word trust than was entirely subtle, but it was all right if Nova realized she was trying to reassure her mother. That ought, if her reading of the two of them was correct, to simply win her a bit more of the girl's approval.
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Without understanding how it had happened, Carol found herself nodding in agreement. Suddenly to her, Rena seemed to be reasonable and reassuring agian, and she wondered if perhaps she'd read too much into the situation a moment before and over-reacted. Nova's mother was unaware that her moment of control over the conversation had ended, and that Rena was once again dominating the table.

"I think that'd be okay," she said to Rena. She turned to Nova. "You'll definitely be seeing more of the world than I ever will."

"You'll see the world too, Mom," Nova said with sincerity. "I promise. As soon as I can find a way to use my abilities to make a living, I'll see to it that you can retire. There's all kinds of demand for what I can do, you know."

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Hiding a smile behind her tea cup, Rena watched the earnestness in Nova's face and felt a wicked little surge of pleasure creep up her spine. Aren't you just the most lily white little canvas... what art you'll make. She glanced up, caught Karen coming around the partition with the tea and food in hand, and favored the two of them with a warm little smile. "But first, perhaps you'll try some of the food from next door? Best fish and chips in the city. I find changing the world a great deal easier with a good lunch out of the way."

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Nova was surprised to learn that "chips" meant "fries," which further reinforced her impression that New York City was a vastly more cosmopolitan place than Cleveland. Over an early lunch, she and her mother and Rena discussed particulars which had nothing to do with the law or schooling.

An hour later, they parted with a promise to talk again very soon, one verbal, and one subliminal. . .

Fin.

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