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Aušrinė

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“So, why are you going to meet with this guy again?”, asks Kazuo Kanai.

“He’s going to try to teach me how to use my abilities to open up spatial warps. Or teleport”, answers Aušrine. “Or maybe both. We’ll see.”

Kazuo just sort of looks at her.

“What?”, she asks. Aušrine doesn’t like it when Kazuo looks at her this way. Makes her feel like he can see right through her or something.

Kazuo arches an eyebrow and his lips curl in a wry smile. “You’re going to learn a brand-spanking new superpower from a total stranger when you’re already attached at the freakin’ quantum-hip to me? You mind explainin’ what’s up with that?”

“What does that have to do with anything, Kazuo?”, asks Aušrine evasively, becoming exasperated.

“That” would be the very unusual condition that both she and Kazuo share, but which they almost never refer to directly anymore. It is so much a part of their daily lives that actually taking the time to speak of it out loud is unnecessary and superfluous. Now it is referred to almost solely as “that”.

Long story short, their quantum signatures are all tangled up with each other, allowing him to use portions of some of her abilities, and her to use portions of some of his.

Short story long, it goes like this: At one extreme there is Aušrine’s quantum-enhanced physical beauty which Kazuo shares no part in, and Kazuo’s otherworldly reflexes which Aušrine shares no part in. At the other extreme is the ability to rapidly regenerate damaged tissue in seconds, which they both possess and in equal measure, and their Vectored Gravitational Field Effect (VGFE) for which Aušrine is very famous, but which no one (except some folks over at DeVries) knows Kazuo possesses. In between are all of their other abilities.

Kazuo is better with the light-based (radiation) stuff, with his Kurusu ga Nenshou, another of his super-secret abilities that no one knows about (and which is so horrifically destructive it makes Aušrine shudder just to think about it), but Aušrine can still generate her Vesper Light which, while totally harmless, uses the exact same principles as Kazuo’s more potent version. Meanwhile, Aušrine is better with the gravity-based stuff, being able to pull off several different, and highly versatile stunts all based around the control of gravitational fields. Kazuo, on the other hand, uses that exact same control over gravity to open up spatial warps.

Between the two of them, Aušrine has the more versatile spread of powers, but Kazuo is probably the more creative of the two when it comes to wholly original and highly unusual uses for what powers he does have. The paraphysicians who have been studying them for the past few years theorize that the gravity stuff is Aušrine’s, while the EM-stuff is Kazuo’s. This is ironic because it means that Aušrine’s Vesper’s Flight and Vesper Light abilities (two of her most recognizable and iconic quantum expressions) are actually a part of Kazuo’s quantum signature, and the only reason she has access to them is because of their “quantum entanglement”, whereas Kazuo’s Supe-su no Tuneru warp doors (for which he is most famous) are actually a part of Aušrine’s signature and he would have no access to them without her.

So, got all that? That’s the long version. And, as the astute reader will have picked up, Kazuo can already create spatial warps so why, he would like to know, does Aušrine need to go to someone else when she could just ask him?

“I can already create spatial warps”, says Kazuo irritably, “so why, I’d like to know, do you need to go to someone else when you could just ask me?”

Aušrine’s face and tone soften at these words and she says, “Oh, that’s sweet Kazuo.” She smiles and puts a hand on his shoulder consolingly and continues, “but I think we both know that if you could have taught me how to do what you do, then by now you would have. I just want to get an outsider’s perspective is all.”

“Who knows”, she adds, seeing the still-dubious look on Kazuo’s face, “what Henry has to say might finally provide the understanding I need.”

Kazuo thinks this is a pretty lame-ass excuse.

He says, “What a lame-ass excuse!” Then a look comes over his face, a very suspicious look, “Wait a minute! Who’s Henry?”

“Oh!”, says Aušrine, looking a little embarrassed, “Henry is Cain’s real name. He said I should call him that. Online, I mean.”

“Online, huh?” Kazuo’s got that look on his face again.

“Uh-huh”, says Aušrine weakly, looking even more uncomfortable. Time to change the subject. “You must remember him! Henry Yeager? He was on Team Tomorrow? Left about a year before we joined?”

Aušrine is pleased to see a look of recognition cross Kazuo’s face. Then he says, “Wait, you mean that guy who dated everybody’s favorite Firecrotch for a cuppla years an’ then dumped her freckled ass so he could go join the fuckin’ Teragen? That Henry Yeager?”

“Kazuo!”, says Aušrine angrily, “Jennifer Landers is a very sweet girl, and I don’t like you talking about her like that!”

“Alright!”, answers Kazuo placatingly, “sorry.”

“That’s better”, mutters Aušrine, then she adds, “but yes, that is the Henry I’m talking about”, and goes back to looking a little embarrassed.

Kazuo isn’t sure, but he’s thinking that this isn’t just about Aušrine getting some lessons on how to teleport, and is just about to say, “hey, this isn’t just about getting some lessons on how to teleport, is it?” (Kazuo says exactly what’s on his mind. A lot.), when he suddenly realizes something.

“Wwwwaaaaiiittt a minute!” he says, getting a huge wolfish grin on his face and fixing his one good eye on her knowingly, “you like him, doncha?”

WHAT?!”, shouts a shocked and wide-eyed Aušrine.

“Fantastic!”, says Kazuo, enthusiastically cutting off Aušrine before she can continue. He playfully punches her in the shoulder much harder than is appropriate (“ow!”, says Aušrine), and adds, “S’bout time you got laid, girl!”

Aušrine is mortified. Just - listen - just absolutely mortified!

After a few moments spent collecting herself (she actually fans herself with one hand for a couple of seconds, trying to cool off), Aušrine fixes Kazuo with an unreadable but very serious look and says quietly, “That is not why I’m going to meet with him, Kazuo.”

Lengthy and extensive experience with Aušrine and her various moods tells Kazuo that speaking right now would be a really bad idea if he values certain important personal assets like, say, his physical health in general or his balls in particular, so he wisely refrains from speaking and just gives her That Look again.

“It isn’t!”, insists Aušrine. “But, if you must know”, she says in her best impression of a bored, patronizing tone of voice, “I was hoping that, in addition to whatever training he can offer me, we might be able to talk about…”, but she loses the tone and starts sounding uncomfortable again, “well, you know, that Null Manifesto thing that everybody’s talking about.” Then she adds hastily, “I mean, he is in the Teragen! If anyone can explain it to me, he can!”

Now it’s Kazuo’s turn to be surprised.

“Jesus Christ! Are you shitting me?”, he says (shouts), “Why?!”

Because, Kazuo, what if there’s something to it? What if they’re right?”

“Of-fucking-course there’s something to it!”, snaps Kazuo, “It’s fucking self-explanatory Aušrine!”

Kazuo can’t believe he actually has to explain this to someone, which, like so many (so very many) other things in the world, makes him angry.

“I can’t believe I have to explain this to you! That Divis Mal asshole takes, like, a half an hour just so he can say, ‘Hey! Calling all shitheads with a node! Guess what? You’re not fucking normal anymore! Cool, huh?’” Kazuo just rolls his eyes and shakes his head in an utterly disparaging way. Who does this Divis joker think he’s fooling, anyway?

“Wow! No kidding?”, he continues, “So, hey, ‘Divis Mal’ - nice name. Is that, like, latin for ‘Captain Fucking Obvious' then?! Did you remember to register that with Applegate Lexington? Cuz it sure would be a shame if someone stole such a cool fucking name, dude!”

Kazuo starts to turn away so he can begin pacing angrily, but then - just to grind his sarcastic point into the dirt - he suddenly turns back and adds, “Oh, and did I mention how great you look in spandex and with a golden bird on your fucking chest! Awesome man! That shit’s hot!”

Aušrine’s eyebrows go up and she gets a distant look to her eyes, “actually, he did look kind of attrac-”

“Aušrine! I’m serious here!” Now Kazuo actually starts his pacing.

“And the Teragen is even worse! They’re like a bad joke. Like something out of a badly written American comic book or something. You know they actually have a faction called ‘The Harvesters’?! Sounds like a group of militant vegetarians for Christ’s sake!”

“That’s the group Henry’s a part of, actually”, Aušrine points out quietly.

Kazuo ignores her. “And ‘The Pandaimonion’? Is that even a word?!”

“Alright, Kazuo, you’re just being insulting now”, says Aušrine with a look that is much softer than the assured tone of her voice, “I see your point, but this is important to me. Ok?”

Kazuo stops pacing and turns to look at her again.

“I’m just going to meet with a fellow nova who has kindly offered to try and teach me how to do something that the doctors are already assuring me I should be able to do anyway. I’m probably not going to learn anything today, because you’d think I’d have picked it up by now if that was ever going to happen, but it was very nice of him to offer, so I’m going to take him up on it. And when we’re done, we are most likely going to stop off somewhere for an espresso or something and have a nice conversation, which might or might not involve a discussion about The Null Manifesto.”

“Alright?”

Kazuo continues to just look at her for another second or so, and then he seems to forget all about her and reaches into his coat, pulls out a 7 and lights it up, takes a satisfied drag on it once it’s lit. Aušrine knows enough about Kazuo by this point in their shared lives to know that this is a sign that Everything is All Right again, the World can Resume Rotation, because Kazuo has been Mollified. Aušrine has to stifle a grin. Kazuo can be so dramatic sometimes.

“Alright”, he says mildly, “if that’s what you want.”

He looks over at the outer living room wall of the penthouse suite they share in Tokyo (their “unusual condition” mentioned above has the inconvenient side effect of necessitating that they remain in close proximity to each other whenever possible, but most especially when they are resting or sleeping, hence the roommate situation - which isn’t something they mention to strangers very often), and a large portion of it suddenly vanishes in a swirling, rippling mass of warping space that is just a little bit disturbing to watch. In its place is a view of a beautiful countryside of smoothly rolling hills covered with trees. The sky is somewhat cloudy, and it looks chilly, but it is still beautiful nonetheless.

“If I got the coordinates wrong, or if he just doesn’t show, you know how to reach me.”

“Yeah”, says Aušrine. Then she gives a little wave to Kazuo and steps through, simple as that.

“Hey!”, says Kazuo. Aušrine turns around to see him smiling mischievously at her.

“Just make sure you get some action, girl! You need to get laid! I’m tired of finding OpNet addresses for fanfic sites featuring erotic T2M slash fiction on the History dropdown! It’s embarrassing to see you that desperate, ya know?”

“That was one time, Kazuo!”, says Aušrine, holding up her index finger to emphasize her point, “One ti-

Kazuo’s warp door closes, leaving Aušrine standing alone on a hilltop with a mild breeze ruffling her hair. “Phooey!”, she says.

Without Kazuo to irritate or embarrass her, Aušrine turns to survey her surroundings and is pleasantly surprised to find herself surrounded by the beautiful pastoral hills that lie between Gdynia and the village of Chwarno, only a few kilometers away from the Gulf of Gdansk in Northern Poland. It almost reminds her of where she grew up.

It seems Mr. Yeager knows how to choose his training grounds. But where is he? She wonders if he realized how many trees there were in this area, because they’re making it hard for her to find him (assuming he’s even arrived yet).

Deciding that since it’s the middle of the day, and she probably won’t be visible from too far away, despite the Vesper Light that will come pouring off her as soon as she flexes her flying muscles, Aušrine takes to the skies for a better view. She stops about thirty meters up, realizes how cold it is, and promptly shifts her eufiber so that her top becomes a heavy fur-lined coat (extremely fashionable, of course). Then she begins to rotate in place, with what looks like nothing so much as the shimmering, radiant twilight of a cloudless dusk or dawn streaming off of her body in all directions, scanning the area around her for anyone who might be about (Henry Yeager or otherwise). A superstitious person seeing her right now might very well mistake Aušrine for a divine apparition.

Now, where is this “mysterious” Cain?

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[Not So Long Ago]

“I fucking hate you so fucking much. I hope you die. I’m deadly serious. I hope you open up a spatial gate in direct line of the nose point of one of the Blue Angels. No, fuck that. I hope you misfire into Geisha’s bedroom as she’s masturbating to whatever the fuck it is Geisha gets off on just as Pax is walking down the adjoining hallway right after Splash gave him that “not even if you were the last man on Earth and you bathed” look. I hate you that much. I hope you suffer. I hope every fleshy atom of your stupid body is systematically scattered one by fucking one until all that’s left is your stupid face soundlessly begging for a death that comes too slowly. I want you to know this.”

Henry smirked, exhaling a snort as he folded up his copy of ‘The New York Times’. “Love you, too, man.” He picked up a mostly-empty pack of Djarum Black cigarettes from a mahogany end table, pulled out one of the sweet-smelling black sticks, and lit it with a disposable lighter, which was itself only a touch more out of place in the room than his choice of gaudy, Pakistani coffin nails (you know, the ones that every hipster and art fag under the age of thirty also tokes on, because they’re so goddamn cool?). He tossed the lighter and the now-empty pack into a rubbish bin made from an elephant’s foot, which, if you know anything about the cultural idiosyncrasies and decorating choices of the filthy fucking rich, gives you some clue about the kind of space he was occupying at that particular moment, took a long drag, and spat smoke across the room, in the direction of a laptop terminal sitting idle on a matching mahogany desk that was supposedly owned by some clown named Jack Welch, once upon a time. The gesture was a meaningless one in practical terms, but had the desired effect in spirit. “Anyway, what’s yer fuckin’ problem?”

A chat window closed on the computer’s luminous face, replacing itself with the no less luminous face (har har) of a young man of around twenty, with the sort of smart-aleck features you could only pull off if you were young, kind of pretty, came from a family with money, and really did know more than most people twice your age. “Other than that you’re stinking up Raoul’s digs with those foul-smelling smokes? Plenty, my friend. I haven’t hated you this much since I sifted through your private files and found that little ‘home movie’ you and the firecrotch made.” Henry smiled a bit at that remark, but tried to hide it. “You know,” the picture on the screen admonished him, “it’s fucking bad enough that you get to strut around with your stupid body with it’s stupid hands and it’s stupid legs and it’s stupid torso and it’s stupid head full of stupid eyeballs, you could at least put up some pretense of not rubbing it in my goddamn face at every conceivable opportunity.”

Henry stood up and stretched, flicking ashes away from his cigarette, and cracked his neck. “Well, it’s not as if I have a fucking choice, now, do I?” He threw a dry expression towards the laptop, sitting on the desk, the desk at the other side of the room, the other side of the room about fifteen feet away, because chances were good that any closer would require yet another apology to his mentorfriendboss Raoul, and another two or three thou pissed away on replacing whatever unnecessarily powerful, top of the line, custom-built, diamond-encrusted computer boutique piece passed as the Orzaiz son’s “home PC”. His naturally dry manner aside, he noted that these visits back to Spain were costing him more and more money he didn’t actually have, and even if Raoul’s patience was nearly infinite and his generosity broader than Henry figured he deserved, he didn’t want to push it, and he didn’t like fucking up his friends’ houses. It’s rude, and one very important thing Raoul had impressed upon him during their time together was that there are rarely any good reasons to be rude, least of all to your allies.

Alex Doan, however, was not invited in from the rain under that umbrella of good table manners, but there was a reason for that. Unlike his relationship with Jester, which landed somewhere between physical attraction and commiseration, or with Leviathan, which was something more like drinking buddies who go out to pick fights with people, or with Raoul, which was…well, complicated, Alex and Henry were friends. Mates. Buddies. Hermanos. Part of that meant that they were there for each other during the best and the worst, that they could depend on each other, that they didn’t have to sit around tabulating the give and take between them like the balancing of some dick-stroking checkbook. It also meant that they could motherfuck each other incessantly, and that the flaws of neither man were safe. In a way, each man was, to the other, the slave who stood behind a triumphant Roman general, constantly echoing the words “Look behind. Remember that you are a man.”

Synapse and Cain made a laughably odd couple, even in the Teragen. Not a “couple” - shut up, like they haven’t both heard enough gay jokes about the two of them to last them to the end of the Aberrant War, because, what, you think that subscribing to the homo superior party line makes you above sophomoric dick jokes about homos? - but as a pair of novas, there were no two who seemed more ill-suited to friendship. Alex existed only as a stream of electrons and data, floating farther away from his slowly-decaying corporeal shell every day, and then there was Henry, the tragic fool, the gremlin, whose very existence breaks anything more complicated than a ballpoint pen. Both met through Raoul, initially. They were his creatures from the start, the slacker middle children of the revolution, too late and too apolitical to have been considered for the Pantheon, too early and too valuable to be disposable, sycophantic hangers-on. As novas, they could not have been more opposite, but as men, they were two of a very familiar kind.

What Henry had said to him about not having any choice in the matter, just now, ties back to this. Not because they’re friends, specifically, but because while Henry is Alex’s outside man, the guy who can retrieve the hard versions of what precious little data doesn’t exist somewhere on the OpNet, Alex is likewise Henry’s inside man. He’d told Ausrine that he had assistance in using a computer terminal, and that was no lie: he didn’t feel the need to tell her that it was Alex at the keys, one of his millions of quantum-electronic fingers sitting in the study of the Orzaiz manor home, his 8.5 surround sound, still-boyish trill reading aloud the words on the screen, writing what Henry said back in. This fact – that he was, in the most direct sense possible, privy to everything said by and said to his dear, corpus-possessing friend – was the source of his current frustration, and while Alex knew that there was literally nothing more to do than impotently rage against the stark reality of the situation, he could at least give his friend a full ration of shit.

Because honestly, what else are friends for?

Such a pretense could only be held up for so long, however. The truth of the men’s respective feelings was adequately obfuscated by Alex’s wisecracking, acerbic, Sam Kinnisonian litany of curses he used to mask his jealousy and despair, and Henry’s smirking, unfazed, Bill Hicksian brand of almost desperate exasperation, which meant that the conversation could move on to what passed as standard serious discourse between the two (as opposed to “Serious” discourse, which thankfully wasn’t a level of DEFCON they had been forced to very frequently), something more akin to good-natured banter peppered liberally with jabs at each others’ competence and lots of references to movies, video games, and other pop culture flotsam.

“So”, Alex broke the momentary silence. “You’re going to nail Ausrine. I mean, that’s cool.”

“That is not why I’m going to meet with her, Alex.”

“Sure, yeah, of course. One of the most powerful and dangerous novas on the planet needs ‘Shit Magnet’ Yeager to teach her how to teleport. Do you even listen to yourself, Henry? The ostensible reason for this meeting is as flimsy and transparent as Narcosis is vain. This woman doesn’t need a goddamn thing from you, which, frankly, leads me to wonder what the hell she’s calling you out for at all. Your greatest fantasy aside, I doubt she actually wants a ride on your baloney pony. If anything, some fuckface with too much money who dramatically overestimates you probably wants you in the fucking dirt. Ever think of that?”

The though had crossed his mind, he wasn’t eager to admit. Alex was being a shit about it, but he wasn’t wrong, either. Ausrine probably didn’t need him to teach her anything, she probably did have ulterior motives, and they very probably did not involve the future writing of any letters to Penthouse. He was worried enough that he’d be able to maintain his composure around her; the last thing he needed was Alex feeding his paranoia. “I’m sure she just wants to talk. Who knows, maybe I have some strange insight that will help her out. She’s not known for being a cue intellect, you know. Maybe she just hasn’t had the right switch flipped.”

“Hah!” Alex scoffing always caused static on the speakers, even when they were five hundred dollars and made by BOSE. “Yeah, I fucking bet you want to flip her switch. Really, buddy, it’s cool. To be honest, I’m pretty sick of watching you fuck Jester, anyhow. You’ve been a moody fuck when it comes to chicks for as long as I’ve known you. It’ll do you some good to hit the poon buffet.”

“I’m not even that attracted to her”, he grunted, and honestly, he wasn’t, except when he looked at her, or a picture of her, or saw her on television, or saw a magazine article about her, all of which provoked an uncomfortable tightness in his trousers as much as his chest. But Ausrine was big-titted and big-haired, the nova answer to the bombshell in the form of a woman who actually had greater destructive capacity than your average hydrogen nuke. Quite possibly the most physically attractive woman to have ever lived, and, if he was being honest with himself, a few ballparks out of his league, but not really his ‘type’, either, although really, concepts like ‘type’ tend to go straight out the window and fly off to the fucking moon when you look into her eyes, provided you even make it there.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot”, Alex snorted, “Over twenty-two’s too old, right?”

Henry said nothing, but turned his back to the monitor as he fetched his coat and hat, dashing out the remnants of his cigarette in a thousand dollar mother of pearl ashtray that hadn’t been used since the last time he’d visited. Alex didn’t know it, but he had gone too far, and would have done well to watch his mouth.

Such restraint, however, was not Alex’s strong suit, or even his medium suit, and as per usual, he plowed on. “Nice work, setting up a sport fuck with little miss Jailbait Slider-Pacifier, by the way. I was pretty impressed with the way you handled that one, you tall, dark, mysterious stud, you.”

Henry’s face cringed angrily, and an antique Ming vase committed suicide on the other side of the room in response. “You shut the fuck up, Alex.”

A pregnant silence passed, just long enough that neither man felt like yelling anymore. “Sorry”, Alex was first to offer.

“Yeah. S’alright. You, uh…you know…”

“Yeah, yeah. You don’t have to remind me. I said that I’m sorry, and I meant it. Let’s not flog the goddamn thing.”

Henry only nodded in reply, working out a look of mild disgust on his face, as if swallowing some bitter morsel and trying to get the taste out of his mouth.

“She totally looks like Ellen Page in ‘Hard Candy’, though, doesn’t she?”

Henry smiled a little. “Yeah, fucking tell me about it. If I go see her and don’t make it back, assume I’m hung by my neck somewhere with my bollocks cut off and made into a decorative coin purse or something, aye?”

[More Like Now]

Sometimes, Henry reflected, the old methods worked best. When he was fourteen and had his first date, an older friend had advised him to “rub one out first, so you don’t embarrass yourself on the date”. Meeting Ausrine was far from a “date” in his mind, but the principle was otherwise a sound one, and he was significantly more worried about inappropriate and involuntary displays of affection or attraction now than he ever was with chubby little Donna Matheson, who, as it turns out, did not care for Henry’s taste in music and was saving everything past first base “for marriage”, and wasn’t too much of a threat to the armistice in young Henry’s trousers, after all.

As his lungs greeted the chilly Polish air, near a city he still referred to affectionately – and stubbornly – as ‘Danzig’, his immediate concern over how to find the woman he’d come to see was hastily resolved, as at that moment she currently loomed above him in the sky, radiating an aura of perpetual dawn, or if you preferred, perpetual dusk, the kind of warm orange unique to those daily solar occurrences that made them worth getting up and staying up for. One look from his vantage point and he was reciting some advice Raoul had given him with the fervor of a zealot at prayer: ”Remember, despite how we look, how we behave, or what we can do, the key to all social interaction and social victory is confidence in ones integrity and self and the capacity to behave with civility and grace in the face of even the monstrous or the deific.” Easier said than done. He swallowed hard, steeling himself for what was bound to be a difficult evening, and called out to her.

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(OOC: switching to past tense to match Cain)

Floating nearly a hundred feet off the ground, Aušrine looked as though she were literally floating in space. Her "flight" was really just a focused use of her ability to alter the effects of gravity in her immediate area, and so she was literally floating in a weightless, artificially created environment 30 meters over the surface of the earth. So as she rotated, looking for Henry, her hair billowed and waved in the passing breeze in a way that it never could normally, and she kept having to pull it out of the way, which was one of those minor inconveniences that comes with having superpowers that one never thinks of or can relate to until until one actually has superpowers.

When Aušrine flew through the air she was, in actuality, falling through the air. She made turns by altering the pull of gravity so that she would begin to fall in the direction she wanted to turn. When she wanted to stop, she would slowly reverse the pull of gravity until just before she'd have begun to fall in the opposite direction she'd been traveling in, and then she simply negated gravity altogether, leaving her floating motionless in midair (like she was now). This was another of those aspects of having superpowers that wasn't immediately obvious to those who didn't have them, or who didn't have Aušrine's powers at least: Aušrine didn't fly gracefully through the air, she fell through the air in a constant, terrifying free fall at over three hundred kilometers an hour (if she was traveling at her maximum speed anyway). Obviously, this took a certain amount of getting used to.

Floating motionlessly in the offshore wind, Aušrine didn't have to worry about any of that right now though, and she was focused instead on locating Henry. She was just about to "fall" to a higher altitude and begin an aerial search of the area, but then she heard an unfamiliar voice directly below her. Looking down she was startled to see someone who could only be Henry (or so she hoped) standing exactly where she'd been standing only moments before.

Looking down beneath her booted feet, Aušrine waved and called out, "hello!"

Then she simply allowed the earth's gravity to take hold of her again, and she began to fall back to earth, slowly at first but quickly gaining in speed. As she fell, Aušrine performed a slow backflip, rotating as if she were planning on diving head first into the ground. But before that could happen Aušrine shunted away the earth's pull and instead generated a new gravitational pull above and slightly in front of her. To the watching Henry, it was as though Aušrine had performed a high dive into the open air, arching her back, her belly missing the ground by perhaps three feet, and coming back up to a floating stop five feet away from him. The illusion of a dive into water was nearly complete, right down to the way her hair billowed and floated languidly around her neck and face, completely ignoring the earth's paltry mass. The only thing that was missing from the image were all of the streaming air bubbles that normally accompanied such a dive into water.

Then Aušrine mentally unflexed, earth's gravity regained its sway over her, the scintillating orange and red rays of light streaming through the air around her dimmed and vanished, and she dropped lightly to the ground.

"Henry Yeager", she said, extending a hand, "I am Aušrine Vasiliauskiute. So very nice to finally meet you."

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Jesus tittyfucking Christ", Henry swallowed a growing lump in his throat, as the beautiful nova fell back to Earth with all the preternatural grace of Olympian. Every fractional second of her approach felt like a growing weight on his chest, so much so that by the time she'd arrived in his level, he felt like a would-be astronaut undergoing centripetal pressure training. "For a woman who claims to not be appreciated just for her looks", he continued his silent monologue, "the woman sure knows how to make an entrance. And stop a bloody heart."

Reeling from the mild shock of coming face-to-face with quite possible the single most beautiful woman alive, to hear her say your name, to see her mouth, her lips making the words, the way her body moved when she spoke it, to know the scent her body made when she did, Henry found himself clenching his teeth in mute and desperate concentration, sadly leaving his guest hanging on the handshake. "Just another moment", he told himself, "please please don't let this be awkward for just another moment, and maybe I won't make a complete jackass of myself." This was worse than meeting Geisha, and what he'd accidentally done in her presence was bad enough. His senses weren't back then what they were now, though, and at the moment, they were only making things worse. He swore he could practically taste her on the air.

Finally, with much difficulty, he managed to extend a rather stiff hand to Ausrine, and shook, carefully taking a mental count of five so he didn't hold on too long, taking pains to pull his hand away in one smooth motion so he didn't do some damn fool thing like stroke her wrist or tease her fingertips. It was hard. It was taking most of his concentration. And as the moments went on, it wasn't getting any easier. Part of him begged for the introduction to be out of the way and the logistic work to begin so he'd have a legitimate reason to turn away; the other part wished the moment would extend into eternity. He knew if he waited any longer, things would officially be "weird". He chanced breaking his concentration on maintaining his personal integrity long enough to speak.

"L-likewise", he sputtered somewhat, visually swallowing a three-pound lump in his throat. "It's a pleasure. Thank you for coming. My apologies if I was late in arriving."

"First step's always the hardest", he tried to convince himself. "It's all downhill from here, right?"

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Aušrine didn't know whether to be pleasantly surprised or disappointed at the sight of Henry Yeager. On the one hand, it didn't look like he was going to be one of those "intimidating" Terats that she was so worried about, which meant that she wouldn't be fighting to keep her head above the water throughout their meeting. But, on the other hand, Henry's stiff manner suggested that, like most people she met, he was going to have a tough time keeping his head above the water while dealing with her, which was a disappointment, but not one she wasn't accustomed to dealing with.

Checking herself mentally, Aušrine decided she would be neither suprised nor disappointed, and would instead let Henry show what sort of person he really was, and hold her judgement of him until then. Constantly dealing with people who could only see and think of your looks had caused Aušrine to become more than a little preoccupied with appearances herself, and it was a bad habit that she really needed to get away from. Henry had seemed knowledgeable and charming in her dealings with him online, and, in all likelihood, he would be just as knowledgeable - and possilby just as charming - in real life as well. And that was why she was here, not because she'd thought Henry was some kind of Nova amongst novas or something, but rather because he'd seemed so approachable.

So, she shook his hand, let go when he let go, ignored the slight stutter in his voice, and said, "oh, no! You are not late, I just arrived here myself, and thank you for agreeing to try and train me today, Mr. Yeager. You are most kind." She smiled at him again, and then coninued, "so, how do we begin?"

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He'd been mentally preparing himself to answer courteously and in a timely fashion since she started with "Oh--", so when she finished her question, he was relieved to find he had the answer.

"Well, let's see", he struggled only slightly to avert his gaze from her radiance to address the scrubby, rolling sprawl that would serve as the arena for today's practice. "Ah think we've picked a rather magnificent venue", he affirmed.

Henry knew what the first question was when trying to teach someone a new power. He just also knew that asking that question generally required such tacks of etiquette like looking your pupil in the face when you ask them a question, and as much as he didn't want to turn away from the devastatingly beautiful woman aside him, he knew that he had to, even if just for a moment, the same way a gazelle knows you don't pace yourself when trying to outrun a lion. With his mental palate now nominally cleansed by a visual segue to the Polish sky, he turned back to her, and claimed a tiny, fragile victory when he found he didn't feel like he'd been hit in the gut by a cement mixer. Maybe just a deadhead tractor, this time.

"Okay", he squeezed out. "Th'first thing I need t'know - or, t'be more clear, what I need you t'know I need you t'know - is what fundamental principal the powers yeh've already got operate off of. Every trick we can do as novas, they're all basically just extensions on one very basic trick, an' half of learning new tricks is knowin' what that first trick is. I mention all this on the off chance y'don't already know all this, an' b'cause now's th'time t'focus on what y'know about what y'do.

Take me, f'r example", he continued, not feeling it necessary to put on some gaudy display of power. "I manipulate probability, chaos. Really, there's nothing I c'n do that either can't or won't happen on its own, eventually. My trick is that I just make it a hell of a lot more likely, an' so, that's how I learn new tricks: I think t'myself, 'How do I make something more likely to happen?'" He found himself a little more relaxed to talk. The talking helped keep his mind - and his body - busy, under control. "So, as I said, figurin' out how t'do somethin' new is half about figurin' out how to make it fit int'whatever t'is y'c'n do, already. Make sense?"

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