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Aberrant: Children of Heaven - Pen Pal

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Moira always debated whether or not it was worth being open on April Fool's Day. On one hand, many of her customers were superstitious and would by bevies of charms and consecrated candles and what-not to ward off, of all things, the stupidity of others on that day. On the other hand, she had to deal with the stupidity of others all day long. In the end she'd decided to stay open if only to be an oasis of reason for the poor refugees forced to go into to public on the first of April.

So when the twine and butcher paper package was hand delivered to her store by a smartly dressed young man, she wondered if she was dealing with reason or stupidity. The man smiled and asked her to place her thumb on the screen of his PDA to sign for the package and shook his head when she asked if there was a charge for it. "No, ma'am. This is a bequeathal item that has been with the firm for quite some time. The thumbprint is just to confirm that it has been delivered to the correct person per the instructions we were left with." He pocketed the PDA and handed her the package, "The date is just a coincidence. Have a wonderful day, Ms. Fitzgerald." With that, he was gone.

Moira set the package down, unsure if she wanted to open it or not. She'd woken up feeling energetic and ready for the day, and if it was some elaborate or vulgar prank she didn't want to ruin her good mood so soon. She managed to hold out for nearly a full hour before her curiosity finally trumped her concerns. She unknotted the twine and pulled the crisp brown paper away to reveal an ancient leather-bound book.

There was no fancy embossing or gold calligraphy like was usually found on the 'vintage' books she was brought by con artists and hopeful antiquers. This was actually old, the brown leather faded and cracked from time. The pages inside were thick, thicker than paper and when she pealed back the cover to look at them she could smell the musty, acrid stench of decay. They were yellowed and frayed at the edges and some even had moth holes eaten through the center of of the pages. The faded yellow ink scribed out line after line of some language Moira had never encountered before, interspersed with hand-drawn star charts, pictures, and other drawings that she couldn't decipher.

It was beautiful and it was utterly mystifying. She traced her finger over the design drawn on the first page, a sort of stylized dragon that didn't seem Eastern or Western and then she was somewhere else. It was dark and small and smelled of fur and candlewax; she could hear the sounds of a quill scratching over parchment. There was a single candle burning in the room, illuminating a book, a quill, and hand that didn't look quite human. A voice spoke out of the huddled figure in the near darkness even as the pen continued it's passage across the page.

"A day of light to you, Moira of Portland, though I regret that I must place this burden on you. My name, as you will no doubt come to curse, is Douval. I am the Apostate of Tiamat and unless my Gift from Her is failing as badly as my eyesight, the Gods have begun their return to our home. If you do not stop them, my future and your present will become nothing but-"

The hallucination or vision or whatever it was shattered around her and she clutched her head in pain, dropping the fragile book to the floor.

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She let out a little gasp as she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the throbbing pulses in her head. Then, as a surge of panic overwhelmed her, her eyes opened and she saw the book on the floor.

"Sweet Brigid's Flame, what 'ave I done?!"

She dropped down to one knee, and hesitantly reached out to touch the book, her fingers pausing for a moment, a flash of the memory of the vision making her pause. But she pushed it to the back of her mind for now, her concern for the obviously ancient relic overriding her instinctive fears. She picked it up carefully in both hands, before standing up and gently.. oh, so very gently.. setting it on the counter. She reached up and pushed a strand of fire-red hair from her face, and after a moment she let out a little gasp. She hadn't realized until that moment that she had been holding her breath. She called out in a slightly louder voice to the older woman who worked the store with her. She was in the storeroom, which was only linked to the main area through Moira's personal office, and she was doing a quick inventory of the items they were running low on, as she had been asked to do. It was an easy task, after all, and Moira had hoped to save Maria some of the annoyances that she had been certain the day would bring.

"Maria.. could ye come 'ere fer a momen', lass? I'll be needin' yer help at the counter..

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Maria bustled into the storefront, her brow furrowed in worry from the tone of her friend's voice. "Moira? Is everything alright? I though I heard someone come in earlier. Are the pranks starting already?"

Unlike Moira, Maria had a certain fondness for April 1st, but not while she was in the shop. She gave the book a curious look, "What's that? It doesn't look like something we can put up on the shelf, not in that condition. Is it a special order?"

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"No.. it was a delivery, about an hour ago. I was afraid ta open it at first, figured it was some sort o'prank.. but it looks authentic ta me, at a glance. I think I'd like ta take a look at it in th' back, if ye don' mind watchin' the front for a few?"

Her fingers brushed across it lightly, feeling the heavy leather of the binding. She picked it up gently, and held it carefully, in that manner that Maria had seen her handle some of the small artifacts she kept in the private cases in the back room. Surprisingly, she hadn't gone looking for a pair of gloves yet, as she normally did when handling a delicate article, although the oversight seemed to be related to the distracted look on the girl's face.

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Maria nodded and having now taken control of the store, shooed her into the back with a, "Well, go on now. Tell me what it is when you've figured it out."

In the back, Moira carefully opened it again, the faded yellow ink still faded yellow ink and the thick paper still just as thick and crumbling. The leather creaked under her fingers and she could feel an odd tingle again, as if something should be happening. But for now, all that happened was her staring at the artifact. Her brain felt fuzzy and still hurt, like a buzz and a hangover all rolled into one.

Lacking another hallucination, she gingerly flipped through the pages again. The writing was indecipherable but tugged at her mind, as if she should at least know what kind of writing it was. The sketches and diagrams were equally confusing, save for one at the very end of the book. It was that that almost had her throwing away the book in disgust; proof that the book was a prank.

The sketch reminded her of a family portrait, although she certainly never belonged to such a family. But there she was, slightly to the right of center, wearing her usual corset and skirt. On either side of her were two men, one Asian and dressed in the classic samurai outfit she remembered from a trip to Japan during Golden Week. The other was dressed in denim overalls and looked like someone lost a greek god in a field in Iowa. Behind her and leaning down as if he was whispering into her ear was the most beautiful (sketch of a) man Moira had ever seen. Her heart fluttered when she glanced at him and she tried to memorize every detail from way his eyes seemed to gaze past her in sketch to the hand on her shoulder and the cuff of an expensive suit that could be seen beyond that hand. In front of the four of them were three teenagers, posing like the picture was some yearbook spoof. Two of them looked like the goths she had in and out of her store every day, and the other was wearing a football jersey. He looked lost.

There was a caption penned on the page opposite the picture, but again it was in the strange markings that permeated her odd bequethal. She ran her fingers over the faded ink, frowning in confusion and annoyance.

"-eyos, who will give you strength for guidance. Xavier Lancaster, whom will be your bane but you can redeem to be a savior instead of an adversary. Zoey Black, who runs away from everything and must eventually face hers-"

The gravely voice was by itself this time, though she could still faintly smell the candle wax and fur. Her head hurt more now, any pretense of a pleasant buzz wiped away in the dull pounding that eventually drowned out the voice. She was once again alone in the backroom, the book staring innocently up at her.

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Moira sighed, and closed the book carefully, looking at it with a faint hint of disgust and annoyance. She was too rational to truly believe that this was anything more than an elaborate prank. But at the same time, she was too pagan to completely ignore her instincts. And her instincts were whispering to her that it might be something more. So she picked up a pen, and quickly, but thoroughly scribbled down the images and the words that her mind had shown her. She picked up a digital camera, and after flipping it to "museum mode", she took a few pictures of the strange writing, and some of the diagrams and pictures. Then she picked up the book carefully, gathered up the camera and the scribblings she had made, and stepped back out into the shop.

"Maria? I'm gonna head upstairs for a few minutes if ye don' mind keepin' an eye on the place. I'd like ta' lock this away until I figure out what ta' do with it, and if it's real or not. I think I might take a few minutes ta' do a bit o'research, too, but if ye need me for anythin', just give me a buzz, an' I'll be right back down, ye hear?"

Moira looked a bit frazzled, which was something the Hispanic woman had rarely encountered, and the fact that she had confessed to not being able to tell anything about the legitimacy of the odd artifact blew the older woman's mind. She'd been convinced there wasn't a thing Moira couldn't identify at a glance. She nodded, and gestured towards the door.

"Go on, go on. I can handle the pranksters if they come around, do you think my kids didn't make me suffer on April Fools every single year? Especially my boys, they were the worst."

Moira laughed a little, and shook her head.

"Ye almost scare me off o'havin' kids one o'these days, Maria darlin'. I might hafta go straight from Maiden ta Crone, the way ye talk about yer own!"

The older woman laughed back at that, but shook her head at her.

"You'll have them, and you'll love them. That is, if you can ever pull your nose out of those books long enough to find a good man." Moira opened her mouth to protest, but Maria cut her off with a wave. "Go on, go on - you won't be any good until you figure it out."

So Moira stepped into the smaller room, which was a fairly small, intimate setup for palm and tarot readings, amongst other things, and opened a door that was covered by a beaded curtain. It led upstairs, into her own apartment. This part of town had been built when it was still common practice for shopkeepers to live above their shops, and Moira had loved the setup - it reminded her of how things were still done in a lot of the smaller towns in Ireland, and other parts of Europe as well. Besides, it made her commuting time non-existent, and who could complain about that?

Once upstairs, she powered up her personal computer. The one downstairs handled on the store's inventory and expenses, so she liked to keep things separate. She had turned one of the bedrooms into a library, with a full wall of bookshelves, and an antique Irish writing desk and chair that she absolutely adored. The only sign of anything modern in here was her laptop, which she left set up on the desk most of the time for convenience. In a corner of the room was an over-stuffed deep green chair with an ottoman, next to the gas fireplace she'd had installed. She'd found a beautiful antique marble mantle at a local architectural salvage shop for it. It was the only modification to the apartment she'd had done. The rest of it was beautiful, just as it was.

The safe was in here too, and she opened it up and laid the book inside carefully. Then she locked it back up, and sat down at the desk. She spread out her papers in front of her, loaded the pictures from her digital camera onto the laptop, and began her research.

Click to reveal..
Rolling for research: (21:48:34) ChatBot: (Moira) rolls 6d10 and gets 8,4,8,7,9,10 = 5 suxx
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She started with some of freelance translator sites she knew from her archaeological digs, which put of a mind to contact some of her old friends as well. She posted a picture or two up on the forum boards most of her colleagues frequented and started composing a mass email asking for assistance. She was about halfway through when an instant message dialogue box popped up.

-Where did you get this from?- asked ProfKDieritter.

-It was delivered to me earlier today. Why?- she responded, her mind still half on the mass email.

-Have you put it somewhere safe? Somewhere climate controlled?- Text had no emotional intonation, but she knew enough archaeologists to hear the excited panic anyways.

-It's in my safe. Do you know what it is? Can you read it?-

-No, although it bears a strong resemblance to some of the more sophisticated dialects out of the Sumerian era. It's not quite pictographic and definitely not cuneiform, but the entire structure of the language and the symbols are eerily reminiscent of some of the dialects in certain temples and structures from the early Sumerian era. If it's authentic, and that's a huge if, given how well preserved it looks, it might just be one of the most amazing discoveries in modern archaeology. However, the Sumerians hadn't discovered paper or vellum yet, let alone that kind of book binding. It's more possible that it's some sort of history or occult book from a later period written in that style for religious reasons or as a code for a mystery cult. Might you be willing to bring that to the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Portland? I'm the Chair of the department, Dr. Dieritter. Your profile shows that you live in Portland as well, which is why I contacted you so quickly.-

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Moira stood up, and checked the climate control on the safe to make sure it was regulated properly. She kept it that way for select artifacts anyway, better safe than sorry. But the idea that she might possibly - however unlikely - have her hands on an..

Don't even think it. Ye know it's a prank.. or at best, like the doctor said, ye might have yer hands on some sorta later occult piece. Which is excitin' enough, no need ta be thinkin'.. still, best not ta move it aroun' too much, or have it out fer long.

She sat down at the computer again, and sent Dr. Dieritter a reply.

-I would be willing, Dr. Dieritter, but not just yet. I need to acquire a proper method of transportation for it, just in case.. well, just in case. If it is as you say, a history or occult piece meant to replicate Sumerian styles, and from a more recent period, then we'd probably be okay. And you're most likely right. But for now, I'll take some more detailed pictures, and send them over for you to review.-

She sent the message, and while waiting for the doctor's reply, she slid the laptop to the side of the desk, and turned it to face the wall opposite the safe. She stepped into the other room for a moment, and washed her hands thoroughly in the hottest water she could bear. She dried them first with a towel, and then she pulled out her hairdryer and flicked it on, blowing the hot air on her hands until they were completely dry. There was a lot of debate in the archeological and preservation world over whether it was better to wear gloves or use bare hands when dealing with ancient artifacts. Moira leaned towards the bare hands philosophy, so long as they were properly washed and maintained. But after a moment's hesitation, she headed back into the office, opened a drawer, and pulled out a pair of finely-woven cotton gloves. She was so nervous, she couldn't be assured that her hands wouldn't sweat slightly, and she didn't care do anything that might harm the book.

After donning the gloves, she dimmed the lights a bit and opened the safe again. She very carefully pulled it out, touching it as little as possible while still holding it securely. She sat it down carefully on the desk, pulled out her camera, and began to take detailed pictures of the book from every angle, including the binding, the paper edges, as much of a close-up as she could get to see the grain of the paper, and any other details the analytical portion of her mind could think of. She didn't begin turning too many pages just yet, but she got what she could from the front page and the last, and then sat aside the camera, and closed the book carefully.

At the bottom of her safe, she kept a box of acid free paper, and she pulled out a couple sheets and gently wrapped the book in it. Then she laid it back in the safe and closed it. Once all that was done, she began to breath normally again. She sat down, loaded up the pictures, forwarded them to Dr. Dieritter, and then settled in to look them over herself..

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The bell over the door jangled, and Maria straightened from where she had been arranging some of the displays and gasped as a huge blond man all-but ducked in through the door, honey-brown eyes alive and alert with childlike interest as he peered around the interesting interior. Maria watched with fascination as, with a curious delicacy only gained by long experience of trying hard NOT to bump, break, or otherwise wreck his surroundings the boyish titan half-stepped, half-shuffled further into the store, finally spotting her and giving her such a radiantly shy, sweet smile that the woman felt her knees melting. He was dressed in a grey sweatshirt and oversized jeans that did little to hide the hugely strong frame underneath, but for some reason she felt no sense of danger at all around him as he stood there trying not to take up too much space.

"Excuse..." a long pause, and Maria's eyes widened as she realised that the Adonis was, well, slow. "...me Miss! I..." She almost jumped in to try and help him, but remembered something a friend of hers that worked with special kids said about letting them speak for themselves. "I... am looking for... woman! Red hair." He smiled again, a trifle uncertainly as he looked at the brunette. Maria blinked, then frowned a little as she crossed to the back door and called upstairs.

"Moira! There's someone here for you!"

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Moira gasped at Maria's call, half leaping out of her chair. She had gotten engrossed studying the pictures as she waited for her fellow archeologist to reply to the attachment she had sent him of image files. She assumed, considering that there had been no reply as of yet, that the good doctor was as engrossed as she was. But she sat the pictures down, and tugged the gloves off, dropping them on the desk as she left her small library and hurried downstairs. She stopped as she got into the smaller room, it wouldn't do any good for a customer to see her frazzled. She began to speak, but as she caught sight of the huge man standing in the shop, she stopped, with a little gasp.

"Thank ye, Maria.. I'm Moira, how can I-"

Moira stared at the man for a long moment, her brilliant green eyes wide with shock as she slowly sank in the details of his hair, and his face. He looked just like the man from the book. Her voice was a faint whisper, but the store was so quiet it could be heard by all present.

"Sweet Hermes' sandals.."

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John's smile as he saw red hair slackened, his mouth opening as he gazed back at Moira in wonder, taking in the pale skin, flaming hair and green eyes. A slight blush darkened his handsome features further as he shuffled from foot to foot, ducking his head to one side as he swayed like a redwood about to topple.

"Uhh..." He started, then looked at her and forgot what he was going to say. The fair brow furrowed with effort as he tried to think, then he smiled shyly and stepped towards her, closing the distance in three strides as he held out a binder to her. He meant to say "This is for you" but what came out wasn't quite as intended.

"You're... p-pretty!"

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Moira laughed a little, she couldn't help herself, though Maria could sense a slight edge to it. She could tell right away that the handsome young man was a bit touched, so she waited patiently as he spoke. The smile on his face was almost precious, and his resemblance to the man in the drawing upstairs had her reeling a bit.

"Well.. thank ye, lad. Is this.. fer me?"

She glanced down at the binder he was holding, and motioned to it.

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"Uh-huh!" John nodded vigourously, his face once more clear as he recovered from his initial shock. His light brown eyes were large and trusting as Moira reached out and took the binder, and he shuffled round to stand at her shoulder as she opened it.

"See! Meat-eee-ore-ites." A large finger pointed at the page, then he lightly rubbed his chest, frowning a little. "Hurts! And here..." He pointed at the next page "...John, and pretty... girl. Red hair!" he said with innocent authority. "And... in back... map! See?" He half-took it and showed her the last page. "Here John... in hospital after... hurt by... meat-eee-ore-ites. Here... map to you."

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Moira flipped through the pages quietly, her face growing a bit pale as the man pointed at the pictures, letting the blond giant point to the back and the map. When he was done, she flipped through the pages briefly again, then glanced up at him, and spoke.

"Ye.. ye said ye're name's.. John, is it? And ye got here with this map, did ye? John.. can ye tell me where ye got this? Did someone bring it to ye?"

Maria could hear the thread of fear in her friend's voice and she stepped forward to speak, but Moira shushed her quietly.

"Just a minute, Maria. I want ta' see what he 'as ta' say. Go on, John.. could ye tell me about where ye got these pretty pictures from?"

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"Man!" John smiled happily at the apparent ease of the question. A minute later, and the unchanging nature of Moira's patiently confused expression led him to the eventual conclusion that he might need to explain further. His brow furrowed thoughtfully as he pondered the question for about twenty more seconds, then turned to the page where it showed him in the hospital.

"There... John in bed. Hit... by meat-ee-ore-ite." He enunciated carefully before lightly touching his own chest, his godlike good looks darkening in a sad frown. "Hurts... some. Wrecked the... porch." Then his earnest expression restored itself. "Man... come! Give... pillow to... Mother. Make John press... thumb on box. Box make... beep, then Man give... pictures." He looked at Moira, a serious expression in his eyes.

"John... not... smart like other... children." He shuffled his feet uncomfortably, shy once more. "But John can read... words and... pictures. This picture... show pretty lady. This map... does too. John... not smart but... can read map!"

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Moira touched his arm reassuringly, and smiled at him.

"Don' worry, lad, ye're doin' fine. So ye got hit by a meteorite.. las' night, durin' the shower, right? And they took ye to the hospital.. but ye're alrigh' now? And then a man came, and made ye touch a box, and then he gave ye the pictures? An' then ye used this map ta find me, did ye?"

John nodded enthusiastically at her, happy she had understood him clearly. Moira glanced at Maria, and motioned to the office.

"Maria, could ye pull up the security camera from aroun' eleven this mornin', darlin?" Maria nodded, looking confused but for now, following along. Moira turned back to John, and spoke with him again. "Alright, then, John.. do ye think, if I showed ye a picture, ye could tell me if it was the man who brought ye the box?"

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John thought for a moment then nodded before following Moira into the office. Both women were struck by the curious delicate grace with which he stepped, like a gentle Great Dane around Chihuahua puppies as he carefully placed his feet before shuffling his large bulk into a position where he could watch the black and white display.

He watched patiently as Maria fiddled with the CCTV display, giving a happy little laugh as he watched the people moving backwards on the recording as the clock wound back. Then the Man came in, bearing a parcel. John gave a little start, pointing at the screen.

"Th-thats..." his face screwed up as he tried to overcome his excitement "...th-the Man who came... w-with pictures!"

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Moira let out a breath, and sat down in the office chair. She ran her hands across her face for a moment, and couldn't help looking a bit lost. After a moment, she glanced up at John.

"John.. can I take another look at the picture book again, darlin'?"

She smiled gratefully at him as he handed her the binder, and flipped through it again till she reached the picture with the group of people. Then she held it out to Maria to look at.

"Take a look at this, Maria. The book tha' got delivered ta me this mornin'.. it looks ancient.. maybe as old as Sumerian, but possibly a later reproduction for occult purposes.. I could'na even peg it m'self, but the head o'the department of Archaeology and such here at U of Portlan' saw the pictures I posted, an' he asked me ta bring it in fer a look, if I could. The only reason I'm hesitant is cause.. well, it has a picture like tha' in it. A picture with me, an' John 'ere, and some other strangers.."

She shook her head, looking confused.

"I'd be callin' it a prank, but fer the condition o'the book.. I'm not sure ye could reproduce that kind o'condition. An' it'd sure be a he-" She glanced at John, and hesitated. "A blimey lot o'effort fer a simple prank, especially once ye add in this part with John 'ere.."

Maria shook her head, looking a bit confused.

"I don't know, dear.. this is all a bit beyond me."

Maria handed the binder back to Moira, who studied it for a long moment. After a second, her eyes narrowed, and she moved the binder in for a closer look. Then she stood up, and looked at Maria and John both.

"Maria, why don't ye close up shop fer the day, an' head on home? We're not as busy as I thought we'd be anyway, an' I need ta do some more research."

The older woman nodded, and headed out to deal with the closing of the store. Moira, on the other hand, turned to John and looked at him thoughtfully.

"John.. have ye had anythin' ta eat lately? Are ye hungry? Why don' we go upstairs - I can make ye a sandwich, if ye'd like.. and I'd like ta talk to ye a bit more, and look at yer pictures a bit longer. Would that be alright, lad?"

There were a lot of holes in the gentle giant's story, and Moira wanted to try and fill them in as best as she could.. though getting details out of John seemed like it was going to take some patience.

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At the mention of food, John's stomach let out a ferocious growling rumble. He blushed, clapping a huge hand over his belly and nodding affirmation that yes, food would be most welcome.

Ten minutes and two sandwiches later, John was looking mournfully at the empty plate as Moira examined his pictures again. The fire-haired beauty mused absently that she might have to send out for a few large pizzas given the speed with which he'd devoured the two sandwiches she'd ended up making for him. Come to think of it, she was incredibly hungry herself. Now that's strange. It feels like I haven't eaten in days, but I just had a sandwich too.

John was sitting gingerly on her sofa, his eyes darting around attentively at the various decorations in the room. There were a lot of pretty things here, and 'Moy-rah' was a nice lady who didn't seem to mind that he, John, wasn't very smart. His fingers itched to draw or paint her, she was so pretty. She was pretty as the ladies in movies, but real. And very nice to him. She didn't sigh or tsk or finish his sentences. It made John sad when people did that. He couldn't fault them: he was slow, whereas he knew that most people were fast. But they weren't trying to be mean, most of the time. They just weren't slow like him.

He was sitting patiently, thinking his glacially slow thoughts and staring at Moira when she looked up from comparing his pictures to some book she had on her lap.

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For a moment, Moira seemed to murmur to himself.

"It's the same paper an' everythin'.. maybe a differen' ink, and these pages have been preserved better.."

Then she turned to John, with a sigh.

"John.. I'll tell ye what, lad. I'm gonna order us somethin' else ta eat. And then while we wait, there are some things I'd like to ask ye, lad. Now.. which do ye like better? Pepperoni pizza, or plain cheese?"

John thought her words over for a long minute. The way she spoke made her words sound pretty, but sometimes he had to think about them a little harder. This time though, it didn't take too long for him to process what she was asking, and his face lit up happily.

"I like.. the pep-pepperonis.. Miss Moy-rah."

"Alright then, lad, pepperoni it'll be."

She disappeared into her office for a moment - the same room she'd gone into to get out the book she'd had all wrapped up in paper, and asked John not to touch. She came back a minute later, glancing at her phone with a little scowl.

"Now tha's odd.. I musta missed a call this morning. I don' recognize the number, though." After a moment's hesitation, she pushed the dismiss button on the phone's keypad though, and dialed the nearby pizza shop. Fortunately, it was family owned, and the pizza was both delicious and cheap. She ordered two pepperoni pizzas, and after a moment's hesitation, and a short sales pitch by the teenager on the other side of the phone, she added an order of breadsticks and a two-liter bottle of soda. She was pretty sure her yoga teacher wouldn't approve, but desperate times called for desperate measures. She hung up the phone, and then went to sit down next to John on the sofa where she'd left him.

"Alright, then.. th' pizza should be here soon, lad.. maybe in twenty minutes, they said. Now.. I wanted ta ask ye a couple o'questions, if tha's alright? There's no hurry, we got plenty o'time fer ye to answer them."

She opened the binder that she had been looking at to the page with John in the hospital, and held it out to him.

"John.. ye said.. ye got hit by a meteor? Do ye mean a real one? One tha' fell from the sky last night?"

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Moira was sitting next to him. She smelled nice, and he went a little bashful, ducking his head and smiling shyly as he nodded in answer to her question. Then he slowly recovered somewhat, and decided to try and speak about it.

"We were... watching... the meat-ee-ores. I had... smores!" He told her with a big smile, eyes lighting up as he recounted one of the evening's high points. "They... the meat-ee-ores... were pretty. And then... one hit me!" He sounded faintly indignant, as though he thought it unfair pretty things should go around crashing into him at roughly five times the speed of sound. "It... knocked me... though the... porch!" He looked sad. "Mr N... likes the... porch."

He showed her the reddened palms of his hands. There was no real burns or blisters, save one area just under his thumb. It looked more like he'd stuck his hands for a second onto a stove than handled something with a temperature approaching molten rock.

"It was hot." He told her earnestly.

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"I'm sure it was, darlin'. Where did it hit ye' at? I mean - on your body, that is. Could ye point fer me?"

John nodded, and pointed carefully at his chest. Then he pulled up his grey sweatshirt, and showed her his taped up chest and stomach. Everything that wasn't taped over appeared to covered in different shades of bruises, and she could see some small burn marks that looked like he had indeed been hit with small bits of burning rock or cinders. Moira couldn't suppress a little gasp of shock.

"Good gods, ye really did get hit with a meteor, didn't ye, lad? An' ye took out a whole porch, ye said?"

John nodded at her again, and after a moment Moira motioned to him.

"Oh, it's alright, lad, you can put yer shirt down now." Moira hesitated for a moment, glancing back down at the binder, then up at John. "John, ye said something about the man who brought ye a binder givin' yer Ma a pillow? I'm glad ye came an' found me, lad, but maybe we better call yer Ma? She might be worried about ye'."

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John nodded, his face falling a little as he thought of his mother. "Mother in.. hospital!" he frowned as he tried to think. "Don't know number for phone."

Which hospital was it? Moira started to ask, but then thought better of it, instead looking at the map John had used to get to her and doing some swift calculations.

"Okay. Let's see if we can lay yer Ma's fears t'rest." She picked up the phone and dialed.

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Moira waited as the phone rang, and the woman on the other line picked up with a friendly greeting.

"Oregon State Hospital in Portland, my name is Becky, how may I help you?"

"Aye, Becky, m'name is Moira, and I have a bit of a strange request fer ye. I have a patient o'yers here, I think.. um, wait a minute, lass."

She covered the phone with her hand, and looked at John.

"John.. lad, can ye tell me yer full name? Like, yer first and yer last name?"

John nodded, thinking about it for a moment to make sure he answered Moira just right - he wanted to make sure she got to talk to his mother, so she wouldn't worry about him.

"Jo-Johann.. Steyos."

Moira froze for a moment, hearing again that odd, gravelly whisper echoing in her mind.

"-eyos, who will give you strength for guidance..."

*"Ma'am.. ma'am are you still there?"

Moira shook her head firmly, clearing the visions from her head.

"Aye, sorry about that lass. Johann Steyos.. I think he got up an left, I'm tryin' ta reach his Ma, she might still be there.. I dunno', I suppose the emergency room, he says he got 'it by a meteor las' night - oh, alrigh', thank ye.."

Moira was quiet for a moment as the woman transferred her to security, and after a moment a stern sounding man picked up the phone.

"Aye, m'name is Moira, Moira Fitzgerald. No, I don' know the lad, he showed up at m'shop. I'm tryin' ta reach his Ma, so she knows where ta' come get 'im.. no, 'e seems jus' fine. I own a shop a few blocks from the hospital.. aye, no problem."

Moira continued to speak to the man on the other line for a moment, giving him the address of the shop, and the phone number. Then she hung up, and smiled at John, just as the doorbell rang.

"Alrigh', lad. That'll be our pizza. I'll go get it, an' we'll have a bit more lunch while we're waitin' on yer parents ta' get here, alrigh'?"

John nodded enthusiastically, and she hurried downstairs to pay for their order. A few minutes later she came back up with the food, and laid it out for John to help himself. She ate a couple pieces herself while they waited. Despite the sandwich she'd already eaten, and her nervousness, she was still hungry enough for it.

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