TT0: Seeing is Believing
Seeing is Believing
Let us go
"Lady Astarte, welcome. I see we've all assembled."
"All?" Lady Astarte questioned, eyebrow raised. Night black skin-tight costume surrounded by a blue aura, Lady Astarte waved her sceptre at those assembled. Along with the man before her, wearing swimming trunks, a sky blue polo shirt and seated on a sun lounge beside the hotel pool, there were only three others present.
Lying on the sun lounge asleep, was a girl. She had on a one-piece swimsuit and her head resting on the lap of the man who had welcomed Lady Astarte. To the left and right of the sun lounge where two 'government types' in black suits, black ties, black shoes, black sunglasses. Both trying real hard to project Men in Black 'We are here for your protection' auras while glaring hard at each. Occasionally, furtively, frankly with more then a touch of trepidation, one or the other of the men would glance at the girl asleep on the sun lounge.
Lady Astarte floated down to stand at the foot of the lounge, her staff held theatrically out to her side. She gave the younger, sweating, MiB wannabe a hard glare, before turning back to the man sitting calmly on the lounge.
"Very few will run towards an 'End of the World' level event," he remarked with wry smile. "Even amongst those who have the skills to know its coming," he finished with a laugh, shifting absently to reposition the girl more comfortably in his lap.
"Everyone said it was unavoidable, the world would end, yet here we are," the younger of the dark suits growled.
"I think you are misquoting, or perhaps they themselves misguided you?" The man on the lounge politely questioned, turning to face him. "I'm pretty sure all your Readers simply stated 'neither you nor they' could stop what was coming."
"That was what I was told," Lady Astarte agreed, once again giving the sitting man a thoughtful look.
"Did any of you ask 'if not me, they who'?" He queried, smiling as he turned toward Lady Astarte.
"No. But I did ask what. She," snarled the younger dark suited man, pointing to the girl lying on the sun lounge with her head cradled lovingly in the sitting man's lap, "is destined to manifest in a breakout event that destroys the world!"
"Twist it and changes it, and not the knowledge or the control to prevent her accidents," smiling the man agreed. "And please, she has already manifested, and for your information has a danger sense. Don't, please relax." Holding a hand over the sleeping girls back he smiled. "Thank you. The true danger has passed, that there was when the world could have ended," he grinned around thankfully to Lady Astarte and the two men.
"Such a simple request?" Lady Astarte enquired surprised.
"Simple, but delivered to three with real power and, thankfully, iron resolve," he agreed. "If any of you had reacted to the confirmation of her power with violence, her danger sense would have triggered, and the escalating battle would have seen her accidentally unleashing an extinction Level event trying to defend herself. Please calm, I am not insane." Holding out a palm to them entreatingly he pleaded. "She is tired and drained. Unlike normal, at the moment fleeting thoughts of homicide towards her from the three of you are not enough to waken her, hence I can have this conversation were you will almost automatically analyse your chances of killing her, and yet she will not react. I need to get all of you past that before she is awake. Later thoughts such as the ones you are having now will cause her to retaliate violently, and it will quickly spin out of control."
"How can you sit so calmly nursing it like that?" demanded the younger dark suited man.
"How can I not love a child?" The seated man replied, simple truth in his eyes. "She is scared, and she is alone. Her parents where just killed in the plane crash in the desert. She is frightened and in need of comfort, of security, and yes, of love. How could I not provide it?" Watching the younger man he sighed, as jaws clenched the man turned angrily from him, glaring at the girl in his lap.
"What plane crash?" the second dark suited man asked with deceptive calm, enough emotion in his voice to leave none in doubt that he would 'demand' the answer if one was not forthcoming.
The seated man turned to him calmly. "The crash in Nevada, caused when the power generator spiked on the advanced gravatonic beam weapon being tested at Area 51," he answered, eyebrow raised in polite innocence, the smirk in the corner of his mouth betraying his understanding of how upset the black suited man was at his knowledge of how the crash occurred. "Before exploding and destroying itself, the weapon's beam spiked out and ripped Flight 92 apart in midair. That plane crash. The plane crash that crises manifested her mutant abilities in order to save herself," he finished gesturing slightly to the girl in his lap.
"How did it save her?" The man growled out, almost hiding his respect for the knowledge displayed.
"She warped herself to safety. From the flight to the ground. Here. Where I caught her," he replied, turning to smile down at the girl.
"TK? Force Field?" the younger suit demanded forcefully.
"No, nothing so impressive," the seated man laughed, before turning back to the older and more professional of the two men in suits. "I just jumped," he smiled at the fleeting look of frustration, the first emotion the disciplined black suited man had displayed, passed over his face. "I caught her in my arms and used the pool to cushion our impact as we fell."
"Exemplar? Flight?" the younger man pressed.
Turning to give him a sigh, the seated man shook his head. "No, I only jumped about two inches. She'd already aimed herself for the pool, I just got between her, to slow her a bit and to make sure I could get her back out. In my arms she didn't panic and warp again, instead patiently waiting to be rescued," he smiled happily around.
All three of them stared at him incredulously. "How did that save the world?" the younger man demanded incredulously.
Turning to regard the younger man with exaggerated patience, he replied. "Unlike you, I'm safe, calming, soothing," he stated flatly, moving slightly to better shield the girl in his lap from the glare of the younger man. "She was drowning and I rescued her. She was wet and I gave her a towel and a change of clothes. She was distraught and I comforted her. She was grieving and I talked to her, soothed her and let her cry it out. Basically she is a child, with a child's needs on a difficult day, I provided for them. Now she is exhausted and asleep, and except for the crash, not once did she feel frightened, scared or terrified enough to need to warp. No warping, no escalating. No accidentally destroying the world."
"So how do we deal with her now?" the impatient man demanded.
"You do not," the seated man declared forcefully. "You are scary. You are frightening. You don't get near her is how you deal with her." He spoke succinctly, biting off the words shortly as though dealing with a simpleton.
"I am an Agent of the MCO!" Mr. Young-Black-suit-and-tie snapped incredulously.
"I rest my case," the seated man snarled back with venom.
Lady Astarte and the Government Man were both too professional to react to that declaration, but a slight crinkling around her mouth, as though about to laugh, betrayed Lady Astarte's true feelings.
"She is a dangerous mutant who will destroy the world!" Mr. Self-confessed MCO man blustered.
"Aren't they all?" her protector replied with heavy sarcasm. "She's the same young girl she was yesterday," he continued seriously. "Only now she is orphaned and afraid. She's no more going to destroy the world today then she was yesterday."
"She destroys the world today at 12:47 pm!" the MCO agent snapped sharply, leaning in close to snarl in face of the seated man, who, unfazed, smirked slightly at the MCO agent's antics.
"And yet it is ten to one, and we are all still here," he calmly replied. "And please, keep your voice down, she's sleeping," he chided the MCO agent.
"As the ranking Agent here from the organisation with paramount authority over mutants, I demand she be turned over to me!" the MCO agent thundered.
Smiling wryly the quiet man just looked at him. "I think you'll find that none of the rest of us here agree with your claim of paramount authority over anything," he finally said, making no moves, threatening or otherwise. Just sitting there looking up at the MCO agent in amusement.
"I represent the United States Government Department of Paranormal Affairs..." started Mr. Dark Suit number two, when he was interrupted by Mr. MCO man.
"The Mutant Commission Office is a worldwide organisation, you only have jurisdiction in the United States!" he snapped, turning his glare on the DPA agent.
"Which is precisely where we are standing…" the DPA agent replied back, in a reasoned tone, his calm professional demeanour unfazed, almost pointedly bringing attention to the MCO Agent's fierce, emotional behaviour.
"Gentlemen," interrupted Lady Astarte before the legendary hostilities between DPA and MCO could break out in front of her. "I don't believe you are quite understanding the nature of the situation," Lady Astarte continued quietly, preventing an escalating battle for dominance between the two black suited men. When they both turned to look at her, she nodded to the smirking man seated on the pool lounge before them, the girl they were arguing over cradled protectively in his arms. "What we think should happen matters less than what he will allow to happen," Lady Astarte stated simply.
"And he decides why?" Mr. MCO agent demanded angrily.
"Because it is now five minutes to one," calmly the man on the lounge replied, managing to be seated but still project the impression of looking the MCO agent right in the eye.
"And your point about the time is?" the MCO agent demanded rudely.
"That it exists," he replied simply. "You came here knowing you could not stop the end of the world, but determined to try anyway. I came here and stopped it." Calmly he sat there staring at the MCO agent, his expression daring him to disagree. "You came here with questions, I came here with answers. You rushed here for the climax. I was here, already waiting, containing and controlling the situation."
"So?" the MCO agent snarled.
The seated man just sighed and returned to calmly monitoring the girl cradled in his lap, dismissing the MCO man from his attention.
"So," Lady Astarte emphasised. "The man had a plan. The man came prepared. This man who has proven to have pre-knowledge about what is going to happen, was sitting here waiting for us, the situation already under control and contained, and you believe you will be able to dictate what he does?" she asked with a slight raise of her eyebrow, the consummate teacher putting down the annoying pupil.
"How can he stop me?" arrogantly the MCO agent demanded.
"You don't even know who he is! How can you know what he can and cannot do?" Lady Astarte snapped in exasperation.
"If he is so important why wasn't he in the readings?" the MCO agent demanded dismissively.
"Why indeed?" questioned the DPA agent. "He is the man who saved the world, before you or I even understood how it was endangered." With a calm confidence, almost teacher lecturing favoured pupil, the DPA agent spelled it out for the MCO man. "He has been the one with all the answers. He is the one with all the knowledge. He has totally dictated our actions here and the path of our conversation. If he had wanted to, he instead of waiting for us he could have disappeared before we even arrived." Turning, he directly addressed the object of their discussion. "I have only one question," the agent stated. "Who are you?" he demanded forcefully.
"What is my name?" the seated man questioned quietly, sighing at the firm nod he received. "Wrong question," he absently muttered. "My name is not one you'll know, it does not help you," he advised calmly, watching the DPA agent, studying him carefully.
"What are you?" demanded the DPA agent after considering the reply.
"Technically imbued, again the wrong question, because it does not help you." The seated man studied the DPA agents reaction, his intent study at odds with his projected calmness.
Lady Astarte carefully examined the seated man and then smiled, "Very nice evasions. But let's stop dancing. Why should we listen to you?" she asked bluntly with a raised eyebrow, no hit of threat or violence in her posture at all.
Turning to Lady Astarte the man smiled, "Because it is now nearly one pm and I promise, while she is in my care, there will be no issues. She will live a normal life. I will teach her to control her gift, and the world will continue to spin." Calmly regarding Lady Astarte, he sat awaiting her judgement.
"You could have taken her, left before we arrived," Lady Astarte questioned.
"And the three of you would have searched," he replied with a sad smile. "Combined your resources to keep looking, and as long as you searched, as long as you chased us, the possibility of future events equally as terrifying, equally as able to get out of hand as those averted today remained. Running would not have resolved today's issues, merely assured a repeat at a later time," he reasonably replied.
"So what now?" Lady Astarte asked, inviting his suggestion without comment.
"We have a choice," the man replied, sweeping his gaze to include not just Lady Astarte in the choice, but also the two black suited men. "The four of us, we can end this, save the world once and for all from this danger," he seated, fixing each of them in turn with a firm gaze. "Let me go," he pleaded. "Let me take her, hide her, train her. Let her live out her life in anonymity. You have no records of her, no DNA, no pictures, nothing you can use to track her. While those circumstances stand we have an opportunity, an opportunity were I leave, take her with me, and the danger is over."
Slowly, turning from one to the other, he begged their understanding, their consent. "Nobody will chase us, nobody will attack us," he asserted. "I will be able to dedicate myself to the time she needs, to training she requires. Training and sheltering her until she has the ability, the knowledge, the skills, to do it for herself," he explained. "With nobody chasing her, there is no fear, there is no danger, no need to rush. Just calmness and time. Time to study, time to learn control, time to learn of her power and how to use it safely. To learn new responses to danger, responses that don't escalate through fear and desperation."
Slowly he turned from one to the other, trying to gauge their reactions.
"What power do you have to do to let you control her?" the DPA man asked quietly.
"Smell? Comfort? Familiarity?," he responded with a shrug. "I suspect that she is a proper little daddy's girl, used to sleeping within the comfortable protection of her father's arms. She is warm, she is comfortable, she is exhausted." Finally the man sighed and admitted the truth, "There is nothing else controlling her other then herself."
The MCO agent became visibly upset the more he spoke, finally he reached for his firearm. As he did so, Lady Astarte stepped behind him, and with an almost serene move rendered him unconscious, seemingly the most innocuous of touches causing him to fold into her arms. As she gently lay the unconscious MCO agent on the ground, Lady Astarte carefully observed the sleeping girl, sighing in relief as she stayed settled, happily cuddling into the lap of the seated man.
"I believe we have reached a decision," Lady Astarte announced regretfully. "It is obvious that letting her go is not an option for our MCO colleague."
Shifting slightly to accommodate the cuddling actions of the sleeping girl, the man looked up at Lady Astarte and the DPA agent with a sad smile. "With all regards for the MCO and its resources, it is the two of you that matter more. If you so decide, I can still leave, and the two of you can cover my tracks so well that the MCO, for all their searching, would have no means to identify us. We could be held in their cells for the rest of our lives and never once would their tests identify us." With quiet desperation in his eyes he appealed to them, "Please. It is so much simpler and safer for us all if you let us go." Looking back and forth between lady Astarte and the DPA Agent he silently begged their co-operation.
"I need something to know that I can trust you" DPA Man stated finally.
Shoulder's slumping, the seated man looked up dejectedly towards the DPA Agent. "I can give you no more then my actions today," he whispered softly with a sigh.
"What about a name?" The DPA agent pressed.
"No," he regretfully replied. "A name has traces, in the hands of the MCO, records can be made, DNA discovered, family harassed, resources traced." He shrugged his regret. "I need those resources if we are to survive, I don't have time to make more. I need to concentrate on the training of my ward, concentrate on giving her the skills she needs to control her gift."
"What about a code name?" The DPA agent demanded.
"I am not a mutant. I need no Mutant ID and its associated code name," the seated man replied in frustration.
"Damn it! You saved the world! There is no way you don't exist in our systems! By what can I find the records? Tell me!" The DPA man demanded.
"Anonymity is our only defence," the seated man pleaded.
"Any psychic can read this moment! The MCO will have all it needs as soon as our friend wakes up!" the DPA man growled out in anger.
"No. Think. I saved the world and none of you had the slightest inkling I would be here! I have nothing to fear from psychics, it is the mundane application of technology, logic and almost limitless resources I fear," desperately the seated man pleaded.
"How is it that you do that?" Lady Astarte asked, attempting to defuse the argument.
"Anonymity," the seated man repeated. "Anonymity is our only defence, once that is lost, then we no longer can walk away. Once you have the least bit of knowledge, it can be used to chip, chip, chip away at my anonymity until poof all is revealed. The choice I am offering is this. The best chance, the safest chance, the happiest chance for all concerned, is for you to go back stating the situation is resolved, and you left the girl in my charge, protecting both of us by making sure nobody knows who either of us are. Even with the MCO looking, once you have cleaned up the scene, no trace will remain and we'll disappear back into history, never to be so much as a passing comment or a footnote in a report ever again."
"Or?" the DPA agent demanded.
"Or I answer your questions, and with a single word you, Mr. Banks, will swear sulphorously and wish you had listened to me," the seated man replied sadly.
Looking carefully at Lady Astarte silently, Mr. Banks and her reached a decision and the calm man's shoulders slumped. With tears in his eyes he looked to the DPA man and silently begged him to change his mind.
"I'm afraid sir, I'm going to have to require you to give me some information about who you are and what you can do before I am willing to do leave her in your care," he firmly stated.
Crying silently the seated man looked him in the eye and said his one word.
Lady Astarte was white and she stood still, her fingers clenched tight, staring in disbelief at the man silently cradling the girl on the lounge beside the pool in a Las Vegas hotel.
Finally calming down some, Agent Banks of the DPA stalked back to the lounge from the pool and angrily ground out, pointing furiously at the man on the seat. "You don't exist, you can't exist, that name is a fantasy!" he all but wailed.
"That name is a legacy, as is its power," the seated man replied with exaggerated calm. "I told you, I'm imbued, I am not a mutant."
"You're also supposed to be an immortal agent of the Catholic Church!" the DPA agent half screeched.
"Hardly immortal," the seated man chuckled. "I'm no older then I seem. As I said, the power is imbued and the name is a legacy. It's not even a name we call ourselves, rather a code assigned by the enemies of the Church as they studied those of us with this power."
"Are the ratings true?" The DPA agent demanded.
"Yes," the seated man replied calmly.
"Impossible!" This time the DPA agent did screech. "There has never been a seven precognitive!"
"Impossible for a precog, yes," the seated man replied as if lecturing. "Anything higher then a three would cause intense anguish, by five or six even the sanest will find themselves broken and in a mental institution at best."
"So how can you be a seven!" the DPA agent demanded in disbelief.
"I'm not a precog, I'm a clairvoyant," the seated man replied with a shrug.
"What!? That's the same thing!" the DPA agent snapped.
"Actually no, they are not." Still as though lecturing the seated man explained, "Precognition is involuntary, it happens when it happens. Some learn to call the visions at their command, even look to the things they want to see, but all of them, always, for their entire lives, get visions they neither call nor control.
"Clairvoyants, on the other hand, always need to go looking to see the future. If we don't look, we don't see. You can think of precogs as clairvoyants with a danger sense. The more powerful, the more they sense, and the more often it happens. It's not the power that drives them mad, it is the anguish of the knowing, the inability to prevent, over and over and over again events they have seen. Eventually, the powerful ones will do anything to make the visions stop." The man calmly looked the DPA Agent in the eye. "Yes I am powerful, but only when I ask for the visions. I control my visions, they don't control me."
Calmly the seated man looked up at the DPA agent.
"That's why you can save the world, you could see it!" he accused.
"That's only part of my power," the seated man replied calmly. "'Solomon' is rated so high for the skill. The ability to see near infinite possibilities, and the cleft points in them all and to map out the paths between them. I knew not only what could happen, but how I alone could stop it, and the exact steps I needed to make to force those cleft points the way I wanted them to go."
"So you knew not just what was going to happen, but the steps you needed to do to prevent it?" the DPA agent clarified.
"More. What date, airline and flight to catch. What luggage to pack. What seat to pick. When to stand up and exit the plane. Which line through security to take. Whether to pick up my luggage first or organise a car hire. The company to hire my car through, the exact make, model and insurance to pick. The route to take. When to stop and rest, when to get petrol. A million and one little things, all cleft points where history's fate is decided, all needing to be correctly navigated to allow me to arrive precisely here at precisely the right time to allow me to do the things I need to do, to rescue, calm and comfort a frightened girl, all of which leads inevitably to now."
"If you knew all that, why are we having this conversation? Why did you tell me that name!" the DPA agent exclaimed in anguish.
"History doesn't run on rails," Solomon replied with a pained expression. "Even knowing all the possibilities, doesn't mean that I can physically affect the cleft points I needed. Yes. A simple trick with a door would have had your boss look right instead of left, and he would have sent your female partner and not you. She would have given up her career and let me go. Convinced Lady Astarte to do so as well. But I needed to be here and I needed to be here before she could have gotten here. There was no combination of cleft points that let me force the decision at your office and still make it here in time to catch Shelly. So I tried, oh how I tried to convince you anyway, even though I knew I was likely to fail."
"Why? Why try if you know it doesn't work?" the DPA agent demanded.
"I work for the Catholic Church." Solomon stated with a shrug. "I believe in miracles, but you have to meet them halfway. If I didn't try to convince you, God would have no chance to work on your heart and let you believe me."
"Miracles!" the DPA agent demanded in disbelief. "How can you talk of miracles! You said it yourself! You have the fate of the world in your hands, you can make it walk whatever Path you choose! You can make the butterfly flap its wings that would drown the entire planet!"
"Who better to recognise miracles?" Solomon replied calmly. "Who else but I, who can see all the futures and can see the ones that never should have happened? A face framed in a train window, just as a train that should not stop pulls up, allowing a quick dash and a chance joyous reunion?" Solomon smiled. "I know not which one prayed, nor who they prayed to, but that miracle was my gift for today." Solomon stopped and then cried as a sad smile played on his lips. "Was that my miracle? My prayer answered?" he whispered. "A joy to start the day to make sure I had hope in my heart and love in my soul to survive the hardships to come?" he mused.
"You prayed for a miracle?" the DPA agent demanded in shock. "You who set out to save the world knowing you'd succeed?"
"The world is not saved," Solomon reminded him with sorrow. "Unfortunately, you now know what I am, I can no longer hide. Shelly is still in danger, and that danger could cause another event like today's could have been. And now, I am confirmed. Something I've know from the moment of my gifts arrival to avoid has happened. Proof exists that I am real and my gifts as stated."
"What? With the existence of the world at stake, you worry about that?!" There was a note of contempt in the voice of the DPA agent.
"Think!" Solomon growled. "You think Lady Astarte turns pale and shakes at the mere mention of a name? You think secrets in her past I could know scare her that much? I shake the world when my skills are known. With the secret out, the world trembles. If I so will it, any nation I desire falls. Can you not see what that means? All the nations on earth with power will be after me. Not just nations, institutions, groups, individuals of power, it doesn't matter. All will need to make sure that if they can't control me, they can at the least deny me to their enemies. I can bring down anyone and anything, or I can raise it up. There will be a frenzy after me greater then you can possibly imagine, and at the centre of it will be Shelly, scared, afraid and unstable. And I cannot leave her, only I have the foresight to guide her through it, only I can guide her and show her the control she needs, and as of now I am a walking time bomb of my own, and my gift has been completely crippled!"
"Crippled? How?" Agent Banks demanded.
"Using our skill leaves ripples, leaves changes in the time stream other clairvoyants can see. Paths taken that should not have been taken, changes to history that are not natural. Skilled clairvoyants, and after I stop being a legend all the skilled ones will be looking for me, can track me. See what events have my touch on them, infer from those which events will touch me, which will not. Once they have a fix on me, even all my skill can't stop any of them, let alone all of them, pushing the cleft points till eventual someone corners me, and then?" Solomon shrugged. "We have Shelly witnessing attacks on me, and depending on circumstances, attacks on her, and then ..." he closed his eyes and shuddered.
Solomon sat there shaking, before finally, with a sigh, he looked up. "Anonymity," he sighed. "Anonymity was our best defence."
The three stood silent for a moment, before Lady Astarte finally asked, "What now?"
"You believe me?" Solomon questioned her.
"I do," Lady Astarte stated firmly. "Your actions speak for themselves. Your fears are well founded." Lady Astarte looked to Agent Banks. "You know as well as I do the protections needed by our highest skilled precognitives. Foreign governments are the least of those attempting to Shanghai them for their purposes." Turning back to Solomon, she asked. "What now? What is your suggestion for now?"
"Hiding is no longer possible," Solomon stated. "We need protection, protection formidable enough to deter most, but also of a type that doesn't inflame others." Solomon turned to Agent Banks. "I'm sorry, the protection of the United States Government is about the worst thing I could have. The United States Government has enemies. Once those enemies find out where I am, they will assume for my protection I am providing help to it. They will respond as though attacked. World War Three, even preemptive nuclear war lies down that path," Solomon warned, causing Agent Banks to stagger back briefly, blanching as white as Lady Astarte.
Turing to Lady Astarte Solomon continued. "I'm sorry, I know this is an imposition, but can you host myself and my ward? At least long enough for us to instil a layer of control for her gifts? Enough to allow me to try and build some cover again, learn some skills and hopefully make some contacts to try and allow us to disappear?"
"How long for?" Lady Astarte asked cautiously.
"About a week, a fortnight at the most," Solomon stated. "There is one who I believe I can contact that will change our fortunes. One who will hopefully allow us to disappear again, fade back into anonymity."
"Will they help you?" Lady Astarte questioned curiously.
"I believe so," Solomon stated. "There is something she wants, and giving us what we want obtains her desires too. But as with all, there are costs." He shrugged. "I need to ask."
"Can't you use your skills to make sure she does it?" Agent Banks demanded.
"Would you?" Solomon enquired. "Force someone to pay a price they may not wish to pay, to get a reward they might not consider enough, all just for your convenience?"
"The fate of the world!" Agent Banks started before a glare for Lady Astarte silenced him.
"I see your point. You have other options?" she inquired turning back to Solomon.
Solomon sighed and looked at Lady Astarte in sadness. "We both know the ultimate option," Solomon stated. "Solving both my issues and Shelly's."
"You would kill her?" Agent Banks asked incredulously. "After the stink eyes you just gave me for suggesting something as benign as coercing help?"
"Of course not," Solomon snapped. "Whateley has had incredibly dangerous students and other things bought to it for many decades. They have whole lists of options available to them, I am just confirming that their ultimate safeguard is as potent for me and Shelly as it is for the others. And no agent Banks, it does not involve a bullet to the head or anything else similarly lethal."
"Why don't we do that then? Solve the problem?" Agent Banks demanded, confusion and desperation showing through the cracks in his professionalism.
"It is our Ultimate solution for a reason Agent Banks," Lady Astarte primly reprimanded him. "Let's us instead see if one of Solomon's lesser solutions will suffice." Turning back to Solomon she replied, "Alright, you have my support. I invite you to my school and offer its shelter," she formally offered.
Solomon nodded and shook the girl in his lap. "Shelly. Shelly? We have to go now," he softly called as she slowly awoke.
Helping the groggy girl stand, he looked up, "Lady Astarte? I would suggest you take our MCO friend to his local office, and on the way please manage to drop his glasses, his pen and his phone into the pool, that will destroy his recording of everything we've said since you knocked him out."
Turning to agent Banks Solomon instructed, "Whatever you decide to put in your reports, destroy all evidence here. That will put the MCO on the back foot, needing to get records either from your office or Lady Astarte before they can start whatever it is they will do. You'll have some control if you do that."
Agent Banks nodded grudgingly. "And you?" he questioned.
"Anonymity," Solomon replied. "What you don't know you can't report, and what you don't report the MCO can't steal. Until we get to Whateley, the MCO is by far my greatest concern. None of the other problems are already spread out across the whole country, in every airport, major town and choke point ready and waiting to slam down the fiery warm 'unwelcome here' mat on us."
Agent Banks frowned at that image, then nodded his reluctant understanding.
Turning Solomon put his arm around the girls shoulders, guiding her, "Come on Shelly, I have a surprise for you," he stated, hugging her close as he walked from the hotel.
In permanent motion above continental USA.
"Naughty, naughty, chess is a game for two, and you are distracting my opponent." The figure studied his chessboard thoughtfully for a moment then smiled. "And to think, I almost didn't watch today's apocalypse," he murmured before turning his head and ordering a hovering underling. "Inform the council that both Solomon and Ragnarök will be at Whateley. They have less then a fortnight to carry out any action they wish before the window closes and the two of them disappear."
"And if they ask for specifics?" the underling enquired.
The Chessmaster smiled. "I believe they were most specific in their instructions to me regarding Whateley. Let them use their own resources."
"A Ferrari! I thought you said you were a priest!" Shelly demanded as she looked at the car she was led to in astonishment.
"I am, and I wish I could see the face of my Bishop when he gets that credit card bill," Solomon replied with a smile.
"You bought it?" Shelly squeaked, turning to regard him eyes wide.
"At more then a million dollars?" Solomon replied incredulously. "Of course not. I merely looked up the address of a company that hires them and let my unlimited Visa from an excellent bank do the talking." Shelly blinked, then laughed along with Solomon's chuckle.
"I thought we were going for anonymity?" Shelly said, excitedly climbing into the red futuristic machine's passenger seat.
"No, that is past," Solomon said helping her secure the racing harness. "They will expect us to rush to protection. The MCO will concentrate on Airports and routes to them, and flights booked from them by a man and a teenaged girl. So I have a computer in Australia happily booking such flights from all local airports and airlines, it will look to the MCO that we are trying to confuse them, trying to get through the airports with the least amount of time for them to find us. They'll need to waste manpower searching and screening all the airports and flights." Clicking the harness together he securely fastened the straps.
"Is this necessary?" Shelly asked looking at the racing harness in bemusement.
"Unfortunately yes," Solomon replied as he carefully closed the door and moved around to the drivers side and got in himself. "This car isn't a whim. Our trick to beat the MCO is going to be pure speed. We are basically going to ignore the airports and race across the country in a very fast car instead, going as fast as I can bear to take her." He finished securely fastening his own racing harness, then handed over his phone to her.
"Here. You can run the tunes. Keep her plugged in and charging, and leave the maps alone for now. She's all ready to lead us to our first destination. Let's see if I can get out of the parking lot without making a typical supercar noise and getting that put in Agent Banks report and our grand plan smashed before we've even started." With a conspiratorial grin for Shelly, he started the Ferrari.
Very carefully not pumping the accelerator, Solomon almost rolled out of the lot, carefully and slowly turning into the side road and keeping the revs as low as he could, they rolled down to the main road. Turning onto the main drag, Solomon only then let the accelerator spike the engine, causing the supercar rumble that put a smile of delight on both his and Shelly's face as he came up to the speed limit, were controlling himself with iron discipline, he carefully stayed under it.
"I thought you said we were going to speed," Shelly whined in disappointment.
"I did. But we're not going to get far if I keep getting pulled up for speeding," Solomon explained. "So patience. Put some music on and we'll get to the speeding once we are out of the city."
"Where are we?" Shelly asked, looking around curiously.
"Where are we going?"
"New England, we are near the west coast, and we need to get to the east coast, we're going all across the U.S. of A. running Route 66, after we make a few stops first."
"Stops. Play some music, put it on shuffle if nothing else, it's got a pretty eclectic mix of tracks."
Pressing shuffle Shelly looked at Solomon in surprise. "J-pop?" She stared at him in disbelief.
"Hey you recognised it too," he replied smirking, burbling the engine just to hear it sing, "never gets old!" he murmured sharing a smile with Shelly at the electric tingle down their backs from the sound of the deep rumbling engine.
Twenty minutes later, with the tracks still on shuffle, Solomon wasn't surprised to see Shelly silently weeping as an older song played. "Want to talk about it?" Shelly sniffed a few times. "A favourite song of your parents?" Solomon pressed.
Shelly nodded. "Dad. He loved singing to this as he watched the threshing machine."
"What about your Mum?" Solomon enquired gently.
"Dad and Mum didn't get on much," Shelly explained. "She left him before she had me, but stayed around local so he and I could see each other. I spent most of the Christmas holidays with Dad, riding around to the various farms with him, watching him loading up the truck with hayrolls, taking them back to town and running them through the machines. Dad had saved up enough to take me to see America, Mum saved up enough for herself, and we were gonna see some sights. We were flying to Las Vegas today," Shelly cried some more silently. "I didn't even get to say goodbye. I didn't get to say I loved them or anything," she quietly cried into her hands.
"I know," Solomon said pulling into a lookout beside the road, stopping the engine and getting out. Coming around to the passenger side door he opening it and knelt. "I know you didn't Shelly," he said popping her from the racing harness and pulling her into a hug. Just kneeling there at the side of the road hugging her as she let the tears flow, listening to her father's favourite song repeating over and over as she had set the repeat and now forgotten it.
When Shelly had cried herself out, Solomon helped her up and walked her to the lookout. Down below they could see in the distance emergency vehicles spread out over a large area, with signs of a fire all around them. "It's not much Shelly, but say goodbye. I promise they'll hear you," Solomon suggested
Once again he just stood there and held the sobbing girl tight, letting her take her time and say a proper farewell to her parents.
"Thank you," Shelly said heartfeltly as they arrived back at the car. "What now?" she enquired as Solomon stood there contemplating the Ferrari musingly.
"Dinner," Solomon said looking around at the twilight that had arrived while they had watched the emergency services below. Turning to Shelly he explained, "You've had nothing since breakfast, and that was airport food."
Shelly smiled. "I thought we was running? This is a very leisurely high speed getaway," she teased.
"And it's gonna get even more leisurely," Solomon replied with a smile. "Come over here," he waved Shelly over to the driver's door as he opened it for her.
"Yes?" Shelly said cautiously.
"Get in," Solomon instructed.
"In the driver's seat?" Shelly asked disbelievingly.
"Yes. Time for you to learn to drive a super car," Solomon replied with a smirk.
"Why?" Shelly asked confused.
"You're a country girl, you telling me you can't drive?" Solomon demanded back.
"Course I can drive, but why are you letting me?" Shelly stood arms crossed, waiting for an answer.
"Because it's a Ferrari," Solomon stated. "Which is fine, out here they're common as. But because I need you to spell me through tonight and tomorrow. We have to cross the country and once we truly start we need to go full pelt, minimum stops, as much time as possible on the road. I'm going to use the same trick I used when I drove across Australia once, Sydney to Fremantle."
"What was that?" Shelly asked curiously.
"Swap drivers every two hours. Only drive during the day," Solomon stated
"Why's that?" Shelly asked confused.
"For us there is two reasons. Swapping every two hours, or really every time we re-fuel and we'll be doing that near enough every two hours whether cars needed it or not, keeps us fresh. Let's us rest and recuperate, two hours isn't long enough to start feeling it before you get a break," Solomon explained.
Shelly nodded. "What about drive in the daylight only?"
"Well in Australia that was because it was drought and all the Kangaroos where right next to the road eating the grass, it was fifty-fifty if they'd hop left and away or right and straight across the road in front of you. After the first two hours of that we just pulled up for the night in the next town and swore off doing that ever again," Solomon explained with a laugh.
Shelly guffawed. "You needed a roo bar," she smirked.
"What? That thing that cuts them in half so half comes through your windscreen and the other half rips out your radiator?" Solomon replied with a smirk of his own.
Shelly laughed. "No silly, the full sized ones."
"Maybe," Solomon said with a shrug. "We just chickened out and drove daylight hours only, when all the Roos were asleep or at least sitting under trees well away from the road. But our second reason, today's 'drive only in the day' reason is because of cover. Out here we'll have free reign to let her rip and get some distance, but by tomorrow the MCO will be all over the roads. They'll know we didn't go by plane, but hopefully not what car we have. So they'll be watching the roads, and at night there will be few cars. With only a few cars, each of them will be studied carefully, followed, examined, its occupants identified. In daylight there will be so many cars on the road they can't do that, and they'll merely scan our license plate, see a valid rental and shrug at another middle aged man on his wish fulfilment trip, not even caring if they see us going straight down the highway all the way, because as long as they see the expected we are in effect invisible to them."
"So we're going to sleep?" Shelly asked in surprise.
"No," Solomon explained. "Tonight we drive like a bat out of hell, we swap every two hours and we'll drive deep into the afternoon tomorrow, then we'll crash and sleep somewhere way in front of where they'll ever believe we could be. Then the next day we'll get up nice and early and do it all again, before sleeping the night. Hopefully by the third day we'll be where we want to be. Now, before you get in, time for another change of clothes." Opening the bonnet he pulled out a couple of bags, handing one to her.
Looking at the name on the boutique bag Shelly raised her eyebrow, and then when she saw what was inside whistled and smiled up at him. "More gifts from the Visa card and your favourite bishop?" she asked wickedly.
"Cardinal actually, and a real mean bean counter," Solomon confirmed with a smile. "Not that I object normally, but I just couldn't resist putting it all on the one card, imagining his face over and over as he reads through the line items when he receives the card's statement." Solomon shared a smile with Shelly. "Now since it's nice and quiet here, you'll stand with the door open looking that way, and slip the nice dress on over your costume, while I swap my swimming trunks for a nice pair of pants on the other side of the car looking the opposite way, OK?"
"If I'm just slipping it on over my swimsuit what's with being such a prude?" Shelly asked pulling the slinky dress from its bag and holding it up to herself, eyes wide in appreciation.
"Shelly, you're a pretty young lady and I'm a priest. Ignoring my vows, there have been more then a few priests who would take advantage of that situation." At Shelly's glowing eyes of amusement he jumped in before she could say anything, "And yes, if we're pulled over that is the story I'm going to try going with. I'd much rather the two of us be taken to a police station and bailed out by the local Catholic Bishop before 'quietly disappearing', then the MCO get us and we not so quietly get shot."
Shelly went wide-eyed and stared at him. "Will the MCO shoot me?" she gasped in horror.
"Not on sight, not yet," Solomon replied giving her a comforting hug. "But for now I'd really prefer them not to catch us at all, wouldn't you?" At Shelly's nod he squeezed her tightly, and released his hug. "OK change. Call out when you finish and we'll swap your thongs for some sandals, and yes Shelly I know what the Americans mean by 'thongs' but 'flip-flops' is so juvenile, I refuse to contemplate using those words."
Secure Syndicate Tele-conferencing channel
"How reliable is the information?" a distorted voice enquired unhappily.
"My spy took pains to inform me that Chessmaster was almost gleeful in instructing the information to be passed on." Distortion of a different pitches was used to distinguish the different speakers, as all the voices were distorted and the icons were nothing more than random avatars.
"So true, and he believes we'll act on it," a third commented wryly.
"Not an especially powerful piece of precognition, deduction alone would inform such" the original voice commented. "We can't allow Solomon to come into play in the hands of anyone but us."
"Are we sure that Solomon even exists?" another voice demanded piqued.
Silence greeted the question, until a voice that had previously not spoken joined the conversation. "Whether Soloman exists or not is irrelevant, such an asset must not be allowed to deploy against us, we cannot take chances. It must either be in our hands, confirmed false, or removed from the board. As the Chessman expects, we must assemble a team. They are ordered to recover or neutralise the asset, off campus if possible. An operation on campus is authorised, if necessary."
"And our agreement with Whateley?" another queried.
"It survived the Chessman, it will survive this, especially if the team minimise damages and casualties. I leave the assembly and instructions of the team to our planner. If there are no further urgent matters?"
Quietly the avatars swapped to "disconnected" signs.
"Pull in here, this is dinner tonight," Solomon directed Shelly who was still at the careful and slow stage of driving the Ferrari.
"Little posh isn't it?" Shelly commented looking at the restaurant as she carefully parked in front of it.
"Keep your Australian accent, people think it's British. Don't force it or anything. We'll get a secluded table and a good traveling meal," Solomon suggested as he undid his seatbelt and carefully watched Shelly put on the parking break, put the car into park and turn off the engine.
"Travelling meal?" Shelly enquired as she released the steering wheel with a small sigh of relief and started undoing her own seatbelt.
"Something not too heavy, we don't want to be feeling sleepy. And I want to save caffeine for tomorrow, so no drinking coffee or coke, just go for the waters and the juices."
"Basically we'll be getting salad and the fish," Solomon summarised with a smile.
"You got a jacket in the boot?" Shelly eying the other cars in the lot, the Ferrari was the star, but she was hardly in poor company.
"It's not that posh," Solomon replied getting out.
Shelly got out too, and frowning looked around. "Is it OK for us to leave the Ferrari here? Right at the front?"
"It's the best car, let's use her as distraction. As an accessory, she's better then a jacket for getting into places, and walk slowly Shelly, one foot in front of the other. Let's give people a chance to mistake your age."
"Mademoiselle, Monsieur, how can I help you?" they were greeted as they stepped inside.
"Secluded table for two please, and what's the chefs suggestion for seafood tonight?" Solomon asked pleasantly.
"Ah, of course, the chef is pleased to recommend deep sea bass sautéed in a light lemon sauce."
"Perfect, two please, with Caesar salads," Solomon ordered as they were shown to a table.
"Certainly, and to drink? Shall I send the Sommelier?" the waiter asked.
"Regrettably no," Solomon replied. "Travelling, and we need to stay clear headed I'm afraid. Is there something else you can suggest?"
"We have a selection of bottled water..."
"Perhaps something with flavour? Fruit juice maybe?" Solomon suggested.
"I'll have the kitchen squeeze some fresh for you," the waiter replied with a smile.
"Thank you," Solomon said, holding out a chair for Shelly to sit in before sitting himself.
"We're not checking the menu? You're just going with the recommendations?" Shelly asked surprised.
"Even in a Posh restaurant," Solomon said carefully, looking around, "the Chefs specials are what they have most off, and it's always one of the fastest dishes to prepare. We are in a bit of a hurry," Solomon gave Shelly a smile.
"You could have fooled me," mumbled Shelly as Solomon's smile widened.
"There is a reason for this meal," Solomon murmured.
"There is?" Shelly asked in surprise.
"Shift change," Solomon replied. "Let's get the cops finishing shift and looking for one more ticket for their daily quota off the roads, and the new night shift ones busy with their normal customers, then we can sneak out to the back roads and let her rip with fewer problems from the police."
Fidgeting slightly, Shelly thanked the waiter for her plate of salad and then look at Solomon as he began to eat. "Salad is a course in its own right for the Americans," he encouraged. "Eat up."
Looking down at the multitude of cutlery she just look back confused. "Start with the outside and work your way in," he suggested shrugging. "That's what I'm doing. If it needs a special knife or a fork I assume it'll come with the plate."
"What if I get it wrong?" Shelly whispered.
"Still plenty on the table, I'm sure though if it's too wrong the nice waiter will bring you a replacement piece with the next course." Solomon smiled at Shelly's rigid posture. "Don't sweat it, you're already eating with a knife and a fork at the same time, that alone is going to cause all sorts of eye rolls from our antipodean friends," Solomon encouraged Shelly with a smirk, nodding to a lady a few tables over looking down her nose at them, though whether it was their holding the fork with the left hand as they moved food to their mouths, the obviously older man with a way younger woman, Shelly's dress, or his own lack of jacket that was causing the frown was of course a matter of conjecture. Smiling and nodding to her, Solomon encouraged Shelly to wave politely too.
"Why did we wave like that?" Shelly asked later as she finished her fish. "Shouldn't we be trying to not be noticed?"
"I don't know how to do that, so we are just going to look unscared and normal instead," Solomon explained.
"Unscared and normal?" Shelly asked with a blink.
"It's the hardest thing to do," Solomon explained. "But running, and looking like you are running, actually sticks in people's mind, it's the first thing they think off when law enforcement starts asking questions. Waving at that lady probably will stay in her mind somewhat, but what do you think she saw?"
Shelly shrugged. "A father with his daughter. Sorry, but you sense of style is a little staid, there is no way people think you're getting any from me."
Solomon just shrugged. "As long as it's not 'mutants running from the law'. On that topic, would you like some more to eat? Another salad? Some desert?" Solomon offered.
"No, this was fine," Shelly stated pointing to her finished plate.
Smiling Solomon raised his hand and summoned the waiter. "Let's make tracks then. I'll drive first and get us on the back roads under the speed limit, then we can swap at the first gas station."
"Are we really running Route 66?" Shelly asked eagerly.
"No, that runs south of here, we'll be using mostly the interstate like everyone else," Solomon apologised.
Shelly nodded as the waiter arrived to retrieve Solomon's much abused piece of plastic. Standing and holding the chair, Solomon offered a hand to her as Shelly too arose. Offering Shelly his arm they followed the waiter to the front counter, where Solomon signed the slip, retrieved his card and escorted Shelly from the restaurant smiling.
Handing Shelly into the Ferrari, Solomon quickly crossed to the drivers side, got in and looked across at Shelly who had just finished attaching the racing straps and was stroking her dress. Looking across to Solomon as he strapped himself in Shelly asked, "Isn't this a bit much for a drive?" pointing to the dress.
Smiling and starting the engine as he checked for other traffic, Solomon looked over to her as he pulled out. "Beautiful girl, stunning dress, million dollar car," he stated. "It's all camouflage Shelly, just never the type people would expect from those on the run. Our MCO Agent is actually one of their best, and he would know by now that he's chasing 'Solomon', who works with the Catholic Church, so is a priest, and unlike most Americans he can pick an Australian accent, so he knows that about me too. You he knows nothing about, thankfully. So our MCO agent is busy searching for a Catholic priest, who will stick out like a sore thumb in civilian clothes he thinks, with an Australian accent, possibly using Church assets, maybe even Vatican ones, trying to run and hide with an American teenager." Turning onto the main road Solomon smiled as the engine burbled its trademark gurgle and slowly he allowed it to accelerate, being mindful still to stay below the speed limit. "I believe we look as far from that as I can think off. Plus Ferrari!" Solomon enthused with a huge smile. "How could I say no to the chance to drive a Ferrari!" he said letting the engine burble again.
"How come I get to drive fast first?" Shelly asked after a while of Solomon carefully navigating traffic and keeping the speed down.
"Well, a couple of reasons," Solomon responded. "Partly because I drove it here, and might have already got the childishness out of my system," he said with a smile. "But mostly because both of us are fresh and we can concentrate on you learning to drive fast and learning your limit. We just need to go fast, not necessarily as fast as she'll go," Solomon explained to Shelly.
"If we are not going as fast as she'll go, why get a Ferrari?" Shelly asked.
"Because on the open road everyone lets a supercar rip, nobody would think anything of a supercar going past them at speed, they'll just be concentrating on the looks and the noise, they probably won't even glance at who is driving it. Again camouflage. A Ferrari going fast is expected. The MCO agents along our route will have probably seen it a million times before. They'll know to look out for speeding cars, but the Ferrari just won't prick their curiosity as anything other then a supercar to perv at as it goes past."
"So, we are just going to drive up to the school in a Ferrari?" Shelly confirmed.
"Nope. Around Chicago we have to return it and pick up a normal car rental," Solomon said regretfully.
"Why's that?" Shelly asked, also with a little regret.
"Eventually the MCO will work out where we must be going," Solomon explained, "and just move out ahead of us to block us. So we are going to go to Detroit, then cross into Canada and onto Montreal. We'll buy you some clothes and then catch a train down from Montreal to Berlin, and drive to Whateley from there."
"Why a train?" Shelly asked.
"The MCO at Berlin is all based at the Airport, they'll never expect us on the Canadian train. It's all about the unexpected. As long as we aren't doing what they expect us to do they'll keep not seeing us, even when we are right in front of them. Besides, as Australians the last thing they'll expect is us to be in Canada, so we'll be able to do the shopping we need in peace. I don't have the clothes for a Northern Hemisphere cold snap either after all," Solomon smiled at Shelly.
Precognitive Floor, MCO Headquarters
New York City
"We've got a request for all information of a precognitive called 'Solomon'," Agent James yelled across the room as he read the assignment screen.
Derisive laughter greeted the statement, and once again Agent James wondered what superior he had pissed off to get this assignment. They were precogs. Their number one joy was to stuff his inbox full of all the information someone was going to ask for days, if not weeks, before he was going to need it, then refusing to provide it for him again when the request finally came through. Every time he tried to push his superior's wrath to the deserving party, they'd desultorily pull out the offending file from the piled paperwork on his desk, before walking off leaving him to try and explain why he hadn't forwarded the information when requested.
"OK, which file is it?" he wondered allowed as he started searching his desk.
"Solomon is a myth!" Julie, the youngest precog explained. "He's supposed to work for the Catholic Church, and apparently there are reports of him doing so all the way back to the twelfth century."
"That can't be right," James muttered.
"If you believe the looney conspiracy boards," Adams, the most pontifical of the precogs, started up, "Solomon is an imbued line of Precogs stretching back unbroken to King Solomon the First from the Old Testament times. They say the reason the Catholic Church has survived so long is that when Constantine converted to Christianity, split his Empire and built a new capital, the Line of Solomon that had been moved to Rome at the conquest of the Jews, stayed in Rome, eventually falling under control from the Catholic Church."
"Anything else? Any power ratings?" Agent James asked curiously.
"Solomon is supposed to be one of the few true sevens ever to have existed," Adams shrugged.
Agent James boggled. "A seven!?" he whispered horrified. "A precog seven?"
"Actually, clairvoyant seven according to the crazies, but don't worry, it's all a myth," Adams assured him.
"Can you point me to some of the crazy's sites?" Agent James asked politely, breathing a sigh of relief as Adams just shrugged and started opening his browser. Agent James didn't know why someone wanted to know about a mythical precog, he just sighed in relief to get an easy assignment for once. He winced in pain at the vague sense of deja vu as he read the next item in his assignment list while waiting for Adams, he just knew that somewhere buried on his desk was that file already.
"Mrs. Carson! I certainly didn't expect you to meet us personally," Solomon greeted Lady Astarte in her civilian attire outside the Berlin railway station.
"A set of co-ordinates and the words 'discreet car'? I had no idea what to expect and our clairvoyants just can't find you! How do you do that?" she demanded of him in return.
"I assume you are able to give us a lift back to the school?" Solomon responded. "I'll tell you as we drive?"
Nodding she indicated a sedan and Solomon walked to the back and waited while she unlocked the trunk before putting the two suitcases and the gym bag into the trunk, then helping Shelly into the rear seat, getting into the front passenger seat himself.
"Well?" Mrs. Carson demanded as she got into the drivers seat and started the engine.
"It's real easy. We made no ripples. Even today what could be more normal? Two people meet at the station and enter a car. Every passenger who got off the train did the same thing. There are no ripples, no cleft points, nothing momentous happened. Shelly and I had a nice drive across the U.S. to Montreal where we did a little shopping, then boarded a train and came down to Berlin to be meet and picked up and driven the rest of the way," Solomon shrugged depreciatively.
"That's it?" Mrs. Carson exclaimed.
"That's it," Solomon confirmed. "Boring lives leave no unexpected ripples, and I picked a route and method of travel that went perfectly smoothly, and never had the MCO suspecting the least little thing. Even now, we'll drive up to the school in your car, straight through all their patrols, as they've been bugging your office phone and think you've received no messages from us. As far as they are concerned, you just went to Berlin for some shopping or a meeting or something else common place. They are not interested in you at the moment, so they'll note the car and then ignore it, it's expected."
"How did you let her know to pick us up without calling?" Shelly asked curiously from the back seat.
"I left a note in her pocket back in Las Vegas, knowing she'd find it this morning and only then send someone to pick us up," Solomon explained turning to smile at Shelly.
"Why only GPS coordinates? Why not an address?" Lady Astarte asked as she manoeuvred the car out of the car park and onto the road.
"Honestly, before you pulled up did you even remember Berlin had a passenger train connection with Montreal? Let alone where the station was? Even Amtrak just pulls up their coaches in the centre of town and throws you out. It's a nice normal everyday way of arriving here that even most Berlin residents forget about unless they live next to the railroad. It's simultaneously commonplace and forgotten, perfect for a surreptitious arrival without the appearance of being surreptitious, so clairvoyants go nuts trying to predict it."
"What's that got to do with anything," Mrs. Carson demanded.
"The reason I'm so hard for your clairvoyants to read is because I know how it works, and more importantly, what I have to do to stay below the radar. Nothing I do is exciting, so there is never any precognitive readings on me, which means your clairvoyants have to go looking, and since I do normal, everyday, but still unexpected things, they are never looking in the right place, or if they are looking in the right place, they can't spot me because it all looks so normal. Your clairvoyants were checking the airports, the buses, the roads, and if they thought of the trains, it would have been Dunwich station. Nobody thought about the Montreal - Portland line, so nobody looked at it. Not looking means not finding, it's as simple as that," Solomon explained with a shrug.
"If you were in Montreal, you were outside the country, why didn't you just keep running?" Mrs. Carson asked confused.
"The U.S. Canada boarder is a pretty permissive boarder," Solomon explained. "You don't actually need a passport to cross it. But to get out of Canada we'd need to use air travel, straight into the maul of the MCO. I don't have the resources to fool them yet."
"What about your contact?" She inquired.
"She'll be waiting for us at Whateley," Solomon explain.
"She's a member of staff?" Mrs. Carson asked with a frown.
"No," Solomon casually replied.
"A student?" Carson all but growled, giving Solomon a quick glare before turning her eyes back to the road.
"No!" Solomon assured her. "She's just a resident of the area, we'll be at the school, so that's where she'll meet us. I promise you, other then a meeting place, it's nothing more, she has no ties to Whateley past or present, she just lives in the area. If she agrees to help us, I'll organise a meeting for you, you'll understand everything then."
"I will?" Mrs. Carson asked surprised. "Why?"
"Because to be safe Shelly and I will need the support of people in your school, and it's your decision first about whether you'll allow us to do what we wish," Solomon explained quietly.
"What is it you wish to do?" Mrs. Carson demanded sternly.
"I can't say yet. She hasn't made up her mind," Solomon apologised.
"But you know already?" Mrs. Carson pressed.
"I have my plans yes," Solomon agreed. "But people need to agree to them. I promise, as soon as I have the means of implementing the plans, you'll be the first to know my proposal and have the right to refuse it."
"If you have the methods, what's to stop you ignoring that?" Carson asked sternly.
"You'll understand when I tell you," Solomon assured her. "But basically without your help the plan just doesn't work. Your contacts would be needed to get it done."
"So I'd be the linchpin?" Carson demanded.
"Everybody is a linchpin." Solomon laughed. "It's a complicated plan. If all goes well we get our anonymity back, that's all I am trying to do."
"You're going to fake your deaths?" Mrs. Carson suggested cautiously.
"Sorta, along the same lines certainly," Solomon agreed.
"I'm still not sure I trust you do to all you say you can do with her training," Mrs. Carson came right out and demanded of Solomon.
"Don't worry," Solomon assured her. "You'll get plenty of time to make a decision on that. It'll be about a week before even the first of the times we could try and do this."
"So what are your plans in the mean time?" Carson asked politely, but with the assurance of someone used to getting her answers.
"Well, for tonight, when we get there Shelly and I will be pitching a tent while you organise some quarters for us," Solomon said blandly, a slight smirk betraying his humour.
"A tent?" Carson gasped, quickly frowning at him again.
"I told you our contact would be meeting us at your school. Her instructions were to wait between the Grove and the school boundary and she'll meet us 'sometime' tonight." Solomon explained. "Since tonight is going to be practically a blizzard, Shelly and I will be waiting in a tent."
"Is that wise? Will she even come?" Carson asked concerned.
Solomon sighed. "Yes, she'll come. She doesn't know about the blizzard, it's not even September after all, but she does know that tonight is the meeting night. I'm sorry, if you drop me and Shelly off at your store I'll be able to buy the tent and supplies we'll need, and it's not as though you've had time to organise us quarters."
"I don't even know what type to organise," she grouched at him.
"Guest quarters, as far away from the students as possible." Solomon suggested. "I don't want any of them accidentally involved in any unpleasantries, and you have a lot of good kids here. They'll get involved if Shelly is a student in almost any of the dorms."
"Cottages," she corrected absently. "What cover story?"
"Let's keep it simple, those that are unfriendly won't be hindered by any cover story, and let's not have misunderstandings getting incompetents going after the wrong people. I'm a Catholic Priest, Shelly is my ward who has just manifested. She's here for some basic training and testing while we organise to have her start next semester."
"That's no cover story at all! That's almost the raw truth!"
"Yes. I want the MCO to call off their alert, and anyone else looking to concentrate here. No need to be fancy about it, it's not like the plan isn't to cower under the protection of the school. This is about time. Whateley is giving us breathing space to plan and implement a solution. We are not fooling anyone about where we are."
"Even the schools defences are not enough, you aren't a student nor technically a parent or staff. They'll take you and then face the consequences."
"Yes, but the reputation of Whateley will mean they'll only send their best and only when prepared. As I said, it's about time."
"Realistically two weeks isn't just the best chance, but the last. It gets pretty dicey very fast after that."
"About what you'd expect, kidnap squads, assignation squads, multiple kidnap squads. Not nice things to have wondering around a school campus. Shelly and I will leave before that happens, my word to you. I will not endanger your students."
"It doesn't take two weeks to organise that."
"It does to build up the will to authorise them to enter the grounds of Whateley Academy though, and I'll be staying on them." Lady Astarte nodded her understanding.
"I'm freezing!" Shelly said dancing around in front of the Whateley school store as she rubbed her arms and stamped her feet. "I thought these clothes were supposed to be warm!"
"Imagine how much colder you'd be if you weren't wearing them," Solomon suggested. "Hurry up Shelly, we want to get the tent up before it starts getting windy, not only will it be colder it'll be harder to pitch the tent too." Solomon bent down and strung the gym case over his shoulder with a strap, then picked up a sleeping bag and strung its strap over his other shoulder. With that done he bent down and picked up the suitcases and stood checking Shelly's preparations.
Shelly had her own sleeping bag over one shoulder, the bag with the tent in it over the other and two large reusable shopping bags with other assorted items in each hand. Smiling they set off from the store along one of the school paths. "Hurry up Shelly, I know I'm pushing you, but we'll have to hump all this through fresh snow, and I'd like to do that while it's still daylight and not blowing a gale."
"Aren't we getting an escort? Couldn't they help us carry this stuff?" Shelly demanded.
"They could, but I want to be there faster then they do," Solomon replied. "If it starts howling they'll just laugh at us as we chase the tent around, I want the tent pitched and to be snug inside before that happens."
Sighing Shelly nodded and quickened her pace slightly, up until the paths ended and they stepped off into the snow. Unfortunately with snow falling even patrols had been infrequent in these areas, so they were forced to walk through unbroken snow, a new experience for both of them, even if the snow was only about an inch thick.
"How much further," Shelly puffed.
"See those trees ahead? The ones off to the side near that bit of woods? That's our destination. We want to pitch our tent in the leeward side of the trees, between them and the woods."
"To protect us from the wind tonight, less wind on the tent will make for a warmer tent."
"OK," Shelly said and stopped trying to have a conversation and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other on the unfamiliar walking surface of snow. The unfamiliar, and hard work, of walking through snow was making Shelly's legs burn, and she found she wasn't quite up to polite conversation.
After a bit Solomon gestured to the ground and placed the suitcases down, unlimbering the gym bag and sleeping bag he turned to Shelly. "Drop everything in a pile here, but hand me the tent," he instructed.
Taking the tent bag Solomon carefully opened it, making sure not to drop any parts. Then sorted them out across the top of the gym bag so as not to loose parts in the snow. "Here Shelly," he said offering her a package. "This is the ground sheet, it goes on the ground under the tent. I want you to lay this out short side next to us here, and run it straight towards the woods, understand? Hurry up, because if the wind starts it'll blow it away before I can get the tent erected and on top to weight it down."
Nodding Shelly took the roll of plastic and started unraveling it as Solomon did the same with another roll, the tent, and then started threading bendable poles through slots in the tent watching wryly as a man on a snowmobile pulled up to them.
"Mrs Carson told us you weren't going into the Grove," greeted the man as he arrived, taking some more reusable store bags off the back of the snowmobile and casually adding them to the pile of bags as he walked up the last few feet.
"We aren't. That's the Grove there," Solomon nodded across the snow to their right. "You can tell by the impenetrable bushes all around. This is just a group of trees close to it." Solomon finished threading the poles through the tent and dropped the small three man tent on the ground sheet Shelly had rolled out. Lining up the tent tags with the holes on the groundsheet, Solomon knelt briefly and pushed a peg through both holes and partway into the ground before standing back up and driving it all the way into the ground with his boot heel.
"Shelly, just get all the bags inside, then I want you to blow up your air mattress and layout your sleeping bag on it and crawl in. You can then blow up my mattress for me," Solomon called to her.
Nodding Shelly got busy while Solomon drove in the next peg. Turning to the Whateley security guard Solomon commented, "You might want to get back on your bike too. This storm's gonna be a real howler. You can tell everybody we got the tent pitched in time and we are in the lee of some trees and protected."
The security guard nodded. "Right. I'll let the patrols know where you are so nobody comes roaring through your tent in a snowmobile. I'll also assure everyone you're snug as a bug with adequate provisions and all, as you said this storm looks to be a howler and may blow for several days."
"Two or three at least, but that's to the good, everyone still thinks we are trying to get here, the last thing they'll expect us to be doing is camping in a blizzard like this."
"Can't say I'd blame them for that, I personally think you've a couple of screws loose for doing this."
"Thanks for bringing up the food, sorry we didn't wait, I wanted to make sure the tent was pitched."
Looking up at the sky the security man laughed. "Can't say I'd blame you. Looks like you're barely gonna make it as it is."
"Well it's done now, so I'll just crawl in and seal her up. See you the tomorrow." Solomon drove in the last peg with his heel and crawled into the tent.
"Is this tent going to be all right?" Shelly asked as a gust of wind shook the tent just as he crawled in and mostly sealed up the two zippers.
"Yeah, I carefully placed it, and it's the same type of tent they use in Polar expeditions, it's rounded so the wind goes over rather then tries to blow it down."
"What about snow, and tree branches and stuff?" Shelly asked concerned.
"My you do have a good imagination!" Solomon complimented her with a laugh. "We are in the lee of the trees, that means that the trees are protecting us from most of the wind, and the wind will help with the snow, it'll blow it off the tent almost as soon as it lands, piling it up in the lee of the tent, not on the tent. And I carefully positioned the tent, we are in the lee of the trees, but not under the trees, no branches should fall on us. And there is no tree directly upwind from us for the wind to blow over onto us either. All we have to worry about is the cold. Now lets fix that as best we can."
Kneeling down he started sorting the bags out, quickly finding what he wanted. "First Shelly, I want you to get out of your boots, coat and pants and hang them up on this hanger near the door, I'll do the same on the other side," Solomon ordered, handing Shelly a hanger.
"But it's cold," Shelly complained.
"I know it seems weird, but believe me, you'll be warmer in your undergarments with the over garments off. Your sleeping bag can do its job properly that way. In fact soon you'll strip down another layer without me even telling you, you'll be that warm."
"How?" Shelly demanded removing her jacket and hanging it up, and bending down to undo her shoelaces.
"Your outer garments are mostly water proof and wind resistance, the tent is now doing that. Slowly our body heat will warm the air in the tent making it a few degrees warmer then the outside air. Add to that the lack of windchill inside the tent and you'll start feeling warmer soon, in your sleeping bag your body heat will be trapped even more efficiently."
"What are you doing?" Shelly asked bemused as he shifted around the items in the tent.
"The tent is keeping the wind out, but it's still freezing cold out there. I'm putting the suitcases between the tent wall and our heads to give us some insulation from that, then I'm pulling the beds into the centre of the tent to get us away from the cold side walls. And I'm putting our food against the walls so that it is out of the way and stays cool."
"You know, maybe I don't want to be sleeping side by side with a horny old priest?" Shelly demanded.
"Don't worry," Solomon said pulling out a small camp table and setting it up between the air mattresses, setting an electric light on it and turning it on. "I'm well aware of our respective conditions," he smiled and set up a small camp stove next to the table between the beds. "Careful when you get in," Solomon warned Shelly pointing at the stove. "I'm just going to boil some water, makes us some two minute noodles and fill the thermos with some milk coffee."
"Milk coffee?" Shelly asked sitting down carefully on her bed and digging out some of the noodles in a cup and placing them on the table, then she picked up a small object and asked "what's this?"
"It's a porcelain thimble. It's the best I could find for our guest to use when she arrives."
"She's going to be sewing?" Shelly asked puzzled.
"No, actually I am, but that's for after dinner." Just then a harsh gust shook the whole tent, and Shelly shivered and started crawling into the sleeping bag again. "Shelly before you do that, better find your balaclava and inner gloves, you'll probably want to sleep in them tonight."
Nodding Shelly got up and went to her coat and dug them out of the pocket, pausing to put on the gloves before coming back and climbing into the sleeping bag. Pouring boiling water into the noodle cups Solomon handed one to her and then rummaged in a bag before passing her a bread roll and a fork. Shelly just held the bread roll and then looked at him confused. "Dip it in like for soup, it'll fill you up." Dubiously Shelly did so, slurping the resulting soggy bread up as Solomon prepared another cup of noodles for her and placed that on the table near her commenting, "You're cold, you need the warmth." Nodding Shelly continued eating as she watched Solomon.
Pouring hot water from the pan into two more cups of noodles Solomon then rummaged around behind him and brought forth a thermos and dropped the thimble into the pot of hot water.
"Why'd you do that?" Shelly asked nodding to the thimble.
"Just making sure it's clean," Solomon stated as he undid the thermos, first the cup cap on the top and then the actual sealing plug underneath, carefully placing the rest of the thermos on the table. Then he got out a fork and fished the thimble out of the boiling pot and placing a tea towel on the table dropped the thimble on it before pouring the boiling water into the thermos, sealing it and then carefully shaking the thermos before laying it down on its side.
"I thought you were gonna make coffee or something?" Shelly asked.
"I am," Solomon said reaching around behind and rummaging again, before this time setting a small tin of instant coffee on the table, some sugar packets and a bottle of milk. "The thermos is brand new, I'm just rinsing it out and using the boiling water to warm it up is all." Turning back around he grabbed two camp mugs and put them on the table, smiling as Shelly finished her first cup of noodles, returning the empty one to the table and taking a second. "Would you like a second roll?" Solomon enquired.
Shelly shook her head and settled back to eating before nodding to the cups. "I don't really like coffee," she said.
"Country girl like you? Probably a good tea drinker," Solomon commented. "That's all right, I don't really like coffee either, or tea much. It's a decided disadvantage to a priest I can assure you. But I like milk coffee and I think you might to, and I know our guest will love it."
"What is milk coffee?" Shelly asked again.
"Coffee made with just milk," Solomon stated pouring the whole bottle of milk into the pan and turning on the jet again. Then he took the sugar, tore open the packets and poured all that in before getting a spoon and prying open the tin and breaking the seal and peeling it back before slowly sprinkling some coffee into the milk.
"That's basically just hot chocolate made with coffee instead!" Shelly proclaimed as she watched him stir the pot."
"Basically yes. Since you seem to have done something similar before can you keep an eye on this? I'll just empty the thermos outside." At her nod he carefully pushed the lid shut on the coffee tin and put it away, before picking up the thermos and carefully crawled over to the tent entrance making sure to be careful not to bump the camp stove.
Quickly Solomon opened up the thermos, smiling at the wisp of steam and the proof it was working as expected, before opening the tent just enough to reach through and pour boiling water out into the snow outside, quickly pulling back his hand and closing the tent zipper again and moving back to the stove where Shelly was fairly quickly stirring the pot to keep it just this side of the boil. Smiling Solomon lined up the two mugs and the thermos and then just as the milk started to froth took the pot off and poured two mugs and then the rest into the thermos which he carefully sealed up.
"I'm just going to take the pot and clean it, I don't want to smell cooked milk all night," Solomon told Shelly. "Why don't you hold the mug? It'll warm your hands."
Solomon quickly took the pot and poured some water in to the warm pot, before swirling it around and using his hand to clean it. Moving to the tent door he partially opened the zip again then reached through to pour out the water, finally partially filling the pot with the last of the water from the large water bottle he returned to the stove.
Returning to his bed Solomon put the pot onto the unlit stove and then rummaging in a bag of purchases he pulled out a needle and cotton, a quick unpick and one of the extra thermal gloves he had purchased. Placing the cotton on the table he stuck the needle into it and sitting up with the glove in his hand started to unpick it. Looking only at his hands he suggested, "Tell me about your parents."
"What?" Shelly asked startled.
"Tell me about your parents. Tell me some stories about them."
"Because you are grieving. Because you keep remembering your last seconds with them over and over."
"I don't want to talk about it!"
"I know, but I don't want you to be only remembering your parents that way, to have it be the thing you remember each time someone mentions them. The mind is an amazing thing. Always playing back things to remember, building new links, strengthening old ones. If you fall asleep over and over remembering just those few seconds it will slowly build stronger and stronger links to them. I just want you to have other memories of your parents is all. Like, what does your mother smell like?"
"Dove. Dove soap and the cheep no frills fruit hair products. The ones that for some reason have 'peaches' and 'pears' and other foods as their ingredients. Dad always teased me about smelling the same, said he never understood the need to smell like a fruit salad."
Slowly Solomon teased out simple daily stories of her parents, keeping the conversation light, asking question after question as though a friend just trying to get to know her parents, at first unpicking the glove as Shelly nursed her warm milk coffee and sipped occasionally. Sometimes Solomon had scissors in his hand, mostly the unpick, eventually it was needle and thread. Shelly barely noticed, almost numbly responding to his questions about her parents. She didn't even register really when he casually packed up the table between them and moved the camp cooker, not even when he pushed his mattress beside hers and started sipping his own coffee, nor when he casually took her finished mug from her and put that away too. She just kept numbly, almost automatically answering his questions on her parents.
She did notice though that he was there to sweep her into his arms when eventually she cried "oh my God, they're gone, they are never coming back!" and just wept into his chest as he held her and stroked her hair.
After crying herself out again Shelly mumbled a "Thank you" into Solomon's chest and pushed herself up, wiping her face with her gloved hands.
"You needed it Shelly. Don't be afraid to take the time you need to grieve. That will be far from your last crying session, they are your parents and you loved them. Take the time to remember them and grieve over them like you need, people will understand."
"Not the MCO!"
"The MCO is not a problem at the moment. They will be a problem for the future, a future that will be better for you if you grieve properly, including crying when you need to. We are in the middle of a storm, can you think of a better time? No? Then don't worry."
Shelly nodded and sniffed a few times, blowing her nose on some tissues Solomon handed her. "Hey, aren't we supposed to be meeting someone? When is she getting here?"
"Selanothis is already here, do you want to help me coax her out?"
"She's here?" Shelly asked looking around. "Why can't I see her?"
"She's shy. Let's try and coax her. Shift around so you feet are at this end of the mattress and your head the other."
As Shelly did so Solomon moved the camp stove to the foot of the mattresses and started warming the water.
"What's that?" Shelly asked confused.
"A nice warm bath," he said stirring the water with his finger.
"Selanothis is cold, this will warm her up, especially as she got caught outside in the storm. Selanothis, please we know you are there," Solomon called. "We won't hurt you, we are here to meet you and make a proposal, that is all."
"How can she be here but I can't see her?" Shelly demanded looking all around. It was a three man tent with two of them in it and quite a bit of baggage, Shelly couldn't believe someone else would even fit in here, let alone hide.
"You'll see," Solomon said. Turning off the stove and adding some detergent to the pot and stirring it vigorously.
"What's that for?" Shelly demanded.
"Bubble bath, for Selanothis modesty."
"Wait, modesty? You'd only fit a hand in that pot!"
"You or I would, Selanothis on the other hand." He pointed across the tent.
Peeking out from behind Shelly's hanging jacket was a wonder, a tiny women, little larger then a man's hand in height, with long red hair and huge nearly transparent wasp-like wings. She was wearing what looked like brown leather pants and vest and her arms were tightly hugging her chest.
Flying down and hovering over the pot, Selanothis looked haughtily to Solomon and then pulling an arm loose from hugging herself, made an imperious twirling motion.
Shelly giggled. "I think she wants you to turn around."
"Yes Shelly I got that," Solomon sighed turning his back to the pot. "It wouldn't hurt for you to give her a little privacy too. Set up the table for her Shelly. Put the table cloth on it to help her dry. You will find the things I was working on for her are right next to it."
Rummaging at the foot of the mattress Shelly held her hand in his sight. "These? What are they?"
"They were a thermal glove, the closest things I could find in her size." Pointing he explained. "I cut the thumb off and sewed that up, then the two middle fingers I removed as well, turning the hole into a 'neck' hole for her. Then I evened off the lengths of the two remaining fingers by cutting the ends of and turned them into sleeves. It's a little lopsided, but should be warmer then anything she has." Pointing to the left over things on her hand he finished. "That's my best impression of a beanie, made from the end of the thumb. Those are opened up fingers, I hope they'll make warm leggings for her, just put them on the table Selanothis can examine them when she is warmed up."
Listening to the splashing behind him, Solomon waited patiently until he heard Shelly whisper. "It's like watching a bird!"
"Shelly!" he growled. "How would you like to be taking a bath with a great big giant leaning over you and commenting? She understands English, in fact she probably speaks it better then either of us, she's been doing it for longer then both of us have been alive!"
"Oh wow! Of course, Fairies live forever!"
"No Shelly, she's a mutant just like you. I just mean she was born in the sixties. She's old enough to be your grandma. Think how your grandma would react to you being in her bathroom with her!" Solomon chuckled at the sounds of Shelly quickly turning around and he couldn't help peeking sideways to see her flaming red cheeks as he heard musical laughter from behind him.
"Give her a chance Shelly, once she has stopped shivering she'll be able to say the spell to allow us to hear her talk, though if you want," Solomon called over his shoulder, "I give you permission to speak to my mind directly."
"She's a telepath? Cool, does she need permission to do it, is that like a fairy thing?" Shelly demanded excitedly.
"No, it's a Selanothis thing. She considers it rude to project into people's head without their permission."
"Oh cool! Please, feel free to telepath to me too!" Shelly called.
*Careful. You know not what you offer. After all once in, I could wander anywhere.* With the words came emotion, and these words came with all the humour and wickedness of a cat with a new toy mouse.
"I did Selanothis," Solomon replied. "There's nothing earth shattering in my mind. Sure, you'll find lots to embarrass me with, even confessions that are meant to stay between a priest and God, but still, I've only been a parish priest, the minor sins and misdemeanours of people you know not are hardly going to excite you."
"Solomon!" Shelly squeaked.
"Shelly is there anything you've ever done that embarrassed you and your closest friends weren't there with you? That they haven't teased you about your whole life?"
"And growing up in a small country town, do you think there is anything you or your friends have done that wasn't known to your parents almost before you finished doing it?"
Shelly crossly opened her mouth to defend, but Solomon just talked over her. "Shelly, an Australian, small, country, town? My mother came from one, her relatives begin conversations with 'well, wha' do ya' know?'. Gossip is the casual conversation of a small country town. Some of those old ladies would know what you dreamed the night before, probably who it was and what you were wearing too!"
Shelly blushed and nodded. "Yeah, Dad's Mum before she died. I swear every morning I woke up in her house last summer she had a smirk and an eyebrow lift that made me blush to the roots."
*First crush?* Selanothis asked to Shelly's rueful nod.
"Don't worry Shelly. If Selanothis has a rule not to 'path to people without their permission, I doubt she'd suddenly go all larcenous and rummage unasked through your memories. Just be careful what you think about, anything you're rerunning in your mind might as well being said out loud to a telepath."
*Spoilsport* came the miffed reply from behind them, causing Shelly to laugh.
"If it's sports you want, we could go back to watching you bathe and making comments?" Solomon suggested.
*Feel free* came the calm reply.
Exchanging glances, Shelly and Solomon turned to see Selanothis siting in the pot with plenty of bubbles covering her.
"Sorry about it being washing up liquid," Solomon apologised.
*Don't be,* Selanothis replied. *Most of the time I wash with ash and fat.*
"How does that clean things?" Shelly asked confused. "Isn't that like, rubbing in the dirty stuff more?"
"Wood ash from a fire and fat from cooking is the original soap Shelly. People used it exclusively for millennia."
*If not usually the best smelling,* Selanothis agreed. *So washing up detergent is a welcome change.* She sniffed her hand, *Smells of lemons,* she 'pathed with a smile.
"Are you warm enough?" Solomon asked.
*Warming up nicely,* Selanothis said wiggling her fingers happily.
"I'm sorry you got cold for a meeting with me," Shelly blurted.
*I was not aware of such a meeting?* Selanothis replied curiously.
Shelly turned to Solomon, who blushed slightly. "Selanothis lives in the Grove. I was aware of a chance to organise a meeting and I planned it. I may have slightly exaggerated the degree of mutualness about the organisation of the meeting to get certain other parties to get them to leave us alone for a while."
"Lady Astarte, you might know her better as 'Miss Might'? It's her capacity as Headmaster of the school the Grove is in the grounds off that matters at the moment."
*Ah. Mrs. Carson.* Selanothis nodded.
"If she wasn't here to meet us, why is she here?" Shelly asked confused.
"To get warm."
*I was very cold,* Selanothis agreed. *I saw your tent and crawled in to get out of the wind and to get a little warmer.*
"Cold? But, aren't you a fairy? Isn't this your natural environment?" Shelly asked confused.
Selanothis laughed, a silvery bell like sound that was both heard and emotions in their head. *It's a blizzard! Even wild animals are tucked up trying to stay warm waiting this out. Fairies are no more capable of surviving cold then humans are, we have just as little hair, and the Grove isn't equipped to receive weather reports, so an August blizzard took me by surprise.*
"But we have clothes!" Shelly declared, then looked at the tiny pile of things Selanothis had been wearing. "Um, that's not very warm is it?" she asked confused.
*OK I lied. Mostly I keep warm with magic, but this blizzard's so cold I drained myself and that's why I was so cold, I should be snug in my hole, but I was away from the Grove and the blizzard caught me.*
"You can do magic? Show me? Please?" Shelly begged.
"Um, Shelly, magic so drained she was freezing to death?" Solomon gently chided her.
"OH. Oh right. Sorry."
Picking up the thermos, Solomon address Selanothis. "I have a little treat for you." She looked a little warily at the huge thermos. "It's not anything special, it's a form of coffee the three of us can enjoy." Putting two camp mugs on the floor he carefully poured out the still warm coffee in to them, then taking the porcelain thimble he carefully dipped it into one mug to fill it before wiping the outside of the thimble and passing it to the eager hands of Selanothis.
As Selanothis all but inhaled her first thimbleful of coffee, Solomon passed a mug to Shelly before refilling Selanothis' thimble and taking a sip of coffee himself.
*I miss coffee.* Selanothis sighed, leaning back in her pot and hugging the thimble to her chest, causing Shelly to giggle. Turing towards Shelly, Selanothis smiled and 'pathed *Since we all know who I am, perhaps you'll introduce yourselves?*
"I don't know who you are, I was just told that you could help us and we were meeting you tonight." Shelly exclaimed looking crossly at Solomon. "But I'm Shelly Kelly, from Australia. I live in a small town near Wagga Wagga in case you know where that is?" Selanothis shook her head sadly. Shelly shrugged. "No biggy, it's the opposite side of the world after all. I can't say I've heard of most of the places we travelled through in the last few days either. I'm a newly manifested mutant and when the plane I was in exploded, I managed to end up in a pool being rescued by Solomon here and then we had Lady Astarte, the MCO and the Men In Black all there while Father Solomon here tried to talk them into letting us go. After Lady Astarte knocked out Agent MCO, her and Mr. Government Man agreed to let us go as long as we made for this school. We just arrived tonight in time to setup the tent."
*Father Solomon?* Selanothis asked with a raised eyebrow. *What Church? That's not a name I would expect.*
Looking at her seriously he explained. "'Solomon' is not the name I gave myself, nor normally the one I go by. You have heard the rumours about the Catholic Church and 'Solomon'?"
Selanothis eyes widened. *They are true?*
"Some. It is a legacy, I am but one of them, it's not a line, nor is it immortality."
*But? The rest?*
"At the upper limits of the more common speculation, nothing more."
*Upper limits! Nothing more! I think you and I have different scales of magnitude.*
"Why are people so surprised about Father Solomon?" Shelly asked wide eyed.
*She doesn't know?*
"She only meet me a few days ago, and we've been running ever since. She's had a busy few days."
"Why is everybody so upset with me?" Shelly asked.
Solomon looked to the distressed Shelly and the speculative Selanothis and then nodded firmly. "Shelly I want you to give Selanothis a demonstration of your power, she's lonely and she a little bit sad. Do you think you could think of a good companion pet that would cheer her up? Something Australian? Something she wouldn't expect to see around here?"
*A Pet? For a Pixie? That's your demonstration?*
"Don't worry about our sceptical friend Shelly," Solomon laughed. "Just close your eyes. Think of an Australian pet. Something that would be perfect for her. Imagine it right her. Imagine her cuddling and petting it, stroking it. Right here with her."
Laughing Shelly closed her eyes and concentrated, opening them shocked at a surprised squawk and yelp. Standing on her knee was now a black bird with white patches, a startled and naked Selanothis perched on its back.
*Your idea of a pet to cheer me up is a bird thrice my size?!* Selanothis demanded.
"But it's a Magpie!" Shelly exclaimed. "They have the most wonderful song! And I thought you'd enjoy riding her!" Shelly looked as though she didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but a smile was forcing its way out as Selanothis sat perched on the bird, who turned its head around and looked her in the eye. Startled Selanothis jumped in the air and floated away from the bird.
Tentatively Shelly reached out, turning the bird rubbed its head against her hand, before jumping off her knee and flying across the tent to perch on one of the suitcases. Confused Shelly looked up at Solomon. "How?" she asked pointing at the bird.
"You are a reality warper, a very powerful one," Solomon explained.
"Reality warper?" Shelly asked confused.
"If you concentrate, nearly anything you dream, you can make. You change reality in a field around yourself and after you've finished, things are different. There are limits on what you can do, but the most dangerous part of your skill is how good it is. Most reality warpers need to consciously build up in their mind in detail what they are warping, they are limited to what the can understand. You are not, if you can dream it, your skill can make it. And that's what has them scared."
"Why?" Shelly asked distressed.
"Well, unlike other warpers, if you decided to create a black hole, you'd get a black hole, only a micro or a mini one, but it'd still be an uncontained black hole in contact with the earth, quite literally 'bang goes the planet'." Shelly stared at him in shock.
*Why would you even mention something like that? Put that idea in her head?* Selanothis demanded outraged.
"Because she's a well adjusted girl. She'd never do anything like that except accidentally, and it's accidentally everybody is afraid off."
"How would I accidentally make a black hole?" Shelly cried desperately, starting to shake.
"Shhh." Solomon comforted her moving over to again pull her into his arms. "You wouldn't mean too. But, what's your favourite TV show, one with superhero fights in it?"
"I don't know, probably Dragon Ball?" Shelly suggested.
"And other Anime and cartoons right?" Solomon prompted to Shelly's shrug.
*Why is this dangerous? They are children's shows.*
"Because Shelly's gift allows her to think anime, but get reality. For example, think really big explosion and get an atom bomb."
*What? How? It took years of work by the worlds top scientists to make an atom bomb! You mean she can make complex machines like that just by thinking vaguely about them?*
"The complexity of an atom bomb is about making it not explode until you want it too. If you want the explosion, Uranium 235 occurs naturally and if you get enough pure U235 together as a blob it'll create a nuclear explosion itself, no outside action required. That's the 'nuclear meltdown' scenario all the original first generation reactors had people scared of. Her skill is more then capable of putting enough Uranium 235 together to do that. But more importantly, we are worried about something on the lines of her desperately thinking 'I want them sucked over there and crushed' and imagining it in an anime or cartoon way, and her skill interpreting 'black hole' as the most compatible real world event that could do it."
*Wouldn't a vacuum do the same?*
"Yes, and you see what Shelly's 'training' mostly is. Teaching her real life knowledge about various things so that she uses that when using her skill, and not anime and cartoons and Hollywood movies and all their fake physics. She'll grow out of being a danger to the world fairly fast with proper training, but the problem is people and organisations, like the MCO, are manoeuvring to physically threaten her now, and any confrontation that escalates too far will get her panicking and desperately trying things that will have these unintended consequences. She'll think fake physics but her skill will give her real physics, and its consequences. She's only dangerous if she gets desperate, and even then only because she's untrained, powerful and scared. Change any of that and there is no problem."
*So what is it you want of me?*
"Well, basically you. I want you to help me train Shelly."
*Me? Why me? What's so special about me? I don't know anything about reality warpers!*
"Shelly responds to me and likes me as me, and she is not threatened by me, but I have enough power of my own I can guide her. Similarly with you, she is enchanted by you and open to you, but you have the power to control her if needed, and she'll trust you and let you. If things get out of hand, and you need to sleep her to defuse a situation, she'll be trusting of you enough to not panic and let you. You're the safety valve if things get bad."
*Surely there are others?*
Solomon raised an eyebrow. "Pixie sorcerers with your power and experience?"
*There are others more powerful then me.*
"You enchant her, not sorcery or magic. You. I want you Selanothis, and we travelled a continent not to hide, but to meet you."
Selanothis stared at him with her mouth slowly opening and closing until Solomon turned slight red and mumbled "Um. Maybe you want to put some clothes on now?" he pointed vaguely.
Selanothis looked down and screeched *Turn around!*
Standing on the table with her glove-dress on and a thumb-tip beanie pulled down over her ears Selanothis struck a pose. *How do I look?* she asked.
"Warm?" Solomon suggested.
*Oh yes!* she replied. *and it's so soft* she continued hugging herself.
"It looks a little strange and lopsided," Shelly said truthfully.
"Sorry," Solomon apologised. "I'm not the best seamstress."
*But you are the first to make something just for me in decades,* Selanothis enthused siting down and pulling the two cut off fingers on as 'boots' before standing up and smiling as she jumped around a bit.
"Don't the other fairies make things for each other?" Shelly asked.
*Possibly. But I'm kind of an outsider, some things in my past make them really uncomfortable, so I make my own clothes.* Selanothis stood up and looked around then to Shelly. *Do you have a mirror?*
"Sorry, my things were lost in the crash."
"The p plane crash." Shelly hiccuped a little.
Selanothis looked sad and sent a comforting burst of pure emotion towards Shelly. *I'm sorry about your parents,* she commiserated. Jumping from the table to the bed, Selanothis walked to Shelly and just laid a comforting hand on top of hers, sending Shelly all the comfort she could.
Wiping a tear away Shelly gave Selanothis a tiny smile, "Thank you."
Jumping onto Shelly's knee, Selanothis turned to Solomon and crossing her legs sat down. *So, what is the proposal? How can I help you?*
"You are a powerful Mage, but you are stuck the size of a pixie even though you are a mutant. We can fix that."
Selanothis went still. Very, very still. *How?* she demanded dangerously.
"Shelly is a reality warper. I am a Clairvoyant. You are a powerful Mage. I need to disappear, become believed dead, Shelly as well. You want to regain normal size, interact again with humans, have relationships. I was thinking a spell that changes all our appearances. Actually, more a spell guiding Shelly's power and complimenting it as she does the necessary reality warping to make it work."
*And after that?*
"We become a 'family' and go somewhere that Shelly can learn control."
*What are the downsides?*
Solomon sighed. "The biggest downside isn't going to affect you directly, emotionally yes, but not otherwise. The biggest downside is we have less then a weeks to succeed, otherwise Shelly and I run out of time. If we can't get it finished on time we all lose our chance."
"Are you willing to share?"
*You know what you are asking?*
"I know," Solomon assured her.
"What is he asking?" Shelly asked.
*To let me relive his memories with him. I will have the memories as if they were my own.*
"Not just you, Shelly too. I will share my full plan and the readings I did to formulate it."
*Shelly do you agree to this?*
"What am I agreeing to?" Shelly asked confused.
*Solomon will remember and then I will interface with him, and he'll start reliving and I will too, and then I'll interface with you, and you'll relive it too. At the end it will be like the memories are yours. It can be … confusing, overwhelming. Not something that should be done lightly or often.*
"I will live his memories? It sounds wonderful! Imagine living the memories of another!"
*It is wonderful, and in its wonder lies its danger* Selanothis cautioned. *We, us, our identity is our memories. I have seen what happens to those who loose themselves in the memories of another and become nothing but a copy of the first.*
"OH!" Shelly exclaimed. "Will that happen to us?"
"This is not quite the same," Solomon assured her. "These memories are made of my visions of the future, which contain a lot about you anyway. It will just be disorientating as you are not a Clairvoyant. You will remember my skill at sorting the futures, and that it all made sense, but not have my skill. You will have the memory of seeing it clearly but not skills to do it again within your own 'memories'."
"Why do it then?" Shelly asked puzzled.
"We three have a choice. This is the information that can be used to make the choice. By reliving it with me, you will believe the choice even if later you cannot remember why it is exactly we made it. You will also learn the plan. At that point, your choice can be made with clear knowledge."
Shelly sat thinking then nodded firmly. "I understand. I want to know too. I agree to the sharing."
*Very well. Lie down. Get comfortable and make sure you are warm. This will take a while.*
"Wow," Shelly said with a smile on her face, that quickly drained. "Urg."
"Careful Shelly. Just lie there don't try and think about it. Relax," Solomon said lying her back down and closing her eyes. "Do your eight times tables."
"Why?" Shelly whispered.
"Because with this headache the eight times tables will require a lot of concentration. Let your brain sort the memories out subconsciously for a while, concentrate on something else."
"OK. Has Selanothis decided to help us?"
"Eight times tables Shelly," Solomon said sternly, waiting till he heard her start saying them under her breath before he looked to Selanothis who was glaring at him.
*I am a Telepath. I can read minds. You are holding things back. Show me the rest!*
"There is only heartbreak down there," Solomon warned
*I will decide my future. Show me all of it*
"Some have closed already, they were options only before my skill became known."
*But you have studied them? They have coloured your choices? Decided your actions?*
"Yes. But will you believe me? I hold them back not to manipulate you, but out of love? Only sadness comes for knowing what is lost."
Selanothis pushed on a knot in his mind *What is here?*
"Happiness we would have had if anonymity had been maintained."
Selanothis pushed a second knot
"Unhappiness. These are all the options that end with one or more of us dying because the plan fails."
*Those I will not ask you to see again.* Finally she pushed on a last knot. *Here?*
"If you look not at the first knot these cannot come to pass. If you do look, they are what happens if I don't take another decision. Those are not your choice, they are mine and mine alone."
*If I look in the first knot I force a choice on you?*
*It is a choice you do not want?*
"It is a choice I am willing to make for all of our happiness."
Selanothis considered him unhappily for a moment. *I am sorry, I need to know,* she finally replied.
Solomon sighed and turned to Shelly. "Do you trust me Shelly?" he asked softly. "Will you believe me that looking at options for happiness that are denied you by the choices made already will only upset you badly, for no purpose? That on top of your grief for your parents it is too much for you? That I only want you to be happy?"
"If I change my mind later, once I'm better, would you show me then?" Shelly asked still with her eyes closed.
"Anytime. If Selanothis is not there and you can't relive my memories then I'll tell you them instead."
"Then I don't want to know."
"Selanothis, I ofter you the same?" Solomon tried one more time.
*Unlike you and Shelly, I don't need to take your offer. It is just an option for me. I won't take that choice without first learning all I can learn.*
"OK, but first land on my palm, I don't want you to hurt yourself in grief."
*Its that bad?*
"No. I lock them away because I find them that good. Dwelling on them makes me very very sad."
*Show me,* she said landing on the palm of his hand.
Solomon nodded. Turning to Shelly he advised "I know you are tired Shelly and you want your answer, but Selanothis and I will have a lot to talk about after this, and she'll not make a decision till morning. Lie down and get some rest. I'll turn off the light and do the same, Selanothis and I will talk via her telepathy."
Yawning Shelly nodded and crawled deeper into her sleeping bag, before sitting back up and taking her sweater off so that she was only in her shirt. Shelly folded the sweater nearly and place it over the packages next to her bed, then snuggling back up in her sleeping bag again, turned over and fell asleep almost instantly.
"You did that didn't you?" Solomon asked Selanothis who smirked. Solomon chuckled a bit. "She'll be disappointed, her first experience of magic and she missed it." Reaching out to turn the light off Solomon started winding the generator on the bottom to recharge the battery a bit while Selanothis took the chance to fly freely around the tent and explore a little. Finishing winding the lamp, Solomon lay down and zipped himself up in his sleeping bag. Seeing this Selanothis flew down and landed on his pillow.
"You may want a different position as I sleep," Solomon warned as he turned to lie facing her. "I am a most restless sleeper, I'm afraid I'd accidentally hurt you in my sleep."
*But now is for talk not sleep,* Selanothis said smiling at him as she sat crossed legged on his pillow. *Come, procrastinate no more, show me!*
"On your head be it." Starting to tear up already, he closed his eyes and opened the memories again, playing them in his head and allowing her to experience them with him. Three lifetimes of memories that would now not be made.
"I am sorry Selanothis. I tried to warn you." Impotently Solomon tried to reach out and comfort her, but with a hand as big as her entire body there was little he could do.
Crying Selanothis took off and flew to Shelly, landing featherlight on her check before kneeling down and then collapsing facedown, spread-eagled on Shelly's cheek, crying as she tried to hug the girl. Eventually as Shelly stirred, she stopped and jumped up, hovering concerned over her face as Shelly turned over. When Shelly had settled again, Selanothis landed and kneeling, carefully dried the tears she'd left on Shelly's cheek before sitting back on her haunches and just stroked Shelly's cheek softly, smiling as Shelly too seemed to smile. *I would have loved her,* Selanothis sniffed. *All that I wanted. Hopes and dreams I'd hidden from myself. A life, family, children.* Turning to Solomon she looked him in the eye. *You.* Crying steadily now Selanothis just sat stroking the cheek of the sleeping girl. *Gone now, and I never even got to fight for them. Oh how I want to fight for them!* she cried.
Heartbroken Solomon sat watching, unable to comfort the small woman in any way, until sighing he turned over. Closing his eyes, he lay listened to her weep softly as he waited for sleep to claim him.
Selanothis sat on Shelly's shoulder in her warm remade glove, legs pulled up under her dress and hugged close to her body as with chin on her knees she stared at the sleeping Shelly. Finally she sighed and muttered, "Just more happy futures taken away from me by forces I cannot control, nor even understood until too late. Buck up, this time you have a choice."
Standing Selanothis flew to the top of the tent and even though it was dark she looked down and watched the two sleep. Shelly was obviously upset, curled up in an unhappy ball with her body all the way towards the edge of her air mattress, almost straining to go further. Next to her, Solomon too slept in an unnatural position, body straining just as much to get to Shelly and comfort her.
Selanothis smiled and flew down and checked their sleeping bags and grinned. Fate, it seemed, was with her. Both sleeping bags somehow had their zippers on the sides closest to the other, someone must have turned their bag completely around. She bet Solomon, who was just as restless a sleeper as he had warned her. Smiling Selanothis crawled into Shelly's sleeping bag, found the zipper and pushed it down all the way to the bottom of the bag. Then she went across and did the same for Solomon's bag. Humming softly to herself she crawled back into Shelly's bag and with a wicked smile proceeded to put a stingingly cold hand down the neck of Shelly's shirt, followed by up the shirt into the small of her back, and even up her pants leg onto her ankle. Slowly, flinching slightly all the time at Selanothis' touch, Shelly moved just a little bit across her mattress as Selanothis repeated this time and again, till Shelly's flinching touched Solomon where, as expected, all asleep, Shelly rolled over to cuddle up to him, and Solomon reached out to hug and comfort her automatically in his sleep as well.
Smiling greatly at her joke, Selanothis landed on Shelly's sleeping bag and grabbing an edge slowly, walking up and down, pulling it over little bit by little bit, she managed to drag Shelly's sleeping bag slightly over Solomon's so that it covered both of them. Smiling smugly she dragged her own large glove in between the two and jumping back into the outer glove 'sleeping bag' she snuggled up to sleep, warm, content and happy. For the first time in what seemed forever, Selanothis fell asleep with a smile on her face, dreaming about her future, a happy future, a future with a family in it once again.
Secure Syndicate Tele-conferencing channel
"Well?" the distorted voice demanded.
"Sources confirm a man and a girl have arrived at Whateley, and would fit the vague descriptions we have." Not even the distortion could disguise the lack of enthusiasm in the reply.
"You doubt?" the first voice pressed.
"I find it hard to understand how one who has the skills purported, one with the demonstrated skills to disappear completely like they did, would be so easily found again. With the advantages attributed to them, and the head start from their disappearance, it doesn't make sense that they go exactly where they were predicted to go, and are so easily identified again when they arrive!"
A long pause greeted the outburst. "I'm inclined to agree," finally the original voice responded. "This could be a trap, someone playing us to again blacken our name at Whateley, reduce our influence."
"You want me to abort?" was asked hopefully.
"No," the voice replied with finality. "The potential risks are too great. The damages incalculable. The existence, or fakery, must be confirmed. You are to continue assembling your team, but are not to make use of our assets on campus. Confine your contacts to the corrupt security officers, and make sure your team has no identifiable links to us. From now on you are on your own, until such time as you have proof positive of the existence of Solomon at Whateley, you are to operate separately from our organisation, but it is a priority that the situation is clarified as soon as possible."
"And if it is confirmed?"
"The full resources of the organisation will be at your call," the voice confirmed solemnly. "While we would prefer there to be no further incidents between us and Whateley, paramount is the protection of the organisation and the neutralisation of a threat to its existence."
"Understood, I will contact you again if I obtain the proof."
A wanted trap
Shelly was slowly feeding her manifested magpie some mince, smiling happily as it begged and sang for her between tidbits. Selanothis sat watching her smiling, then her body language changed. She looked consideringly at the magpie and smirked. Just as Shelly dropped some mince she made a high pitched whistle, more felt them heard, and then jumped up landing on the magpie's back as it swooped underneath her. Laughing she rode it around the tent, just a couple of times back and forth, because a bird with a more then half meter wingspan is a little inconvenient in a three man tent.
"How did you do that? Can you teach me to call her?" Shelly asked entranced watching the performance.
*You made her as a pet for me, wanting me to ride her. I assumed if that was the case, your talent would have 'taught' her to come to me. As for you.* Selanothis jumped up floating above the bird's back *Whistle her yourself, let us see?*
Shelly whistled and with a 'caw' the magpie flew to her and perched on her shoulder, gently pecking her ear and singing, making her giggle. Shelly removed the magpie from her shoulder to place it again on her crossed legs. With the rest of the mince on a plate on the floor in front of her, Shelly sat stroking the bird's feathers as it ate.
"What now? Have you decided?" Shelly asked looking to Selanothis with trepidation and barely concealed wistfulness.
*Yes I have,* Selanothis stated. *I will of course help you, how could I not?* she said with a laugh.
Yelling her joy, Shelly startled the magpie who fled and then landed behind Selanothis, attempting to 'hide' behind her. Laughing Shelly tried to whistle her back, waving a bribe of the mince until the bird flew back to her and settled in her lap again, attacking the leftover mince in the plate and accepting the caresses the girl's caresses. Shelly looked up at Selanothis with adoration in her eyes, absolutely enchanted when Selanothis rose up and flew to settle on her shoulder.
Solomon carefully observed Selanothis, who once again sat and watching Shelly's face with a wistful expression. Sighing he concentrated hard *You know I tricked you right?* he thought hard, hoping Selanothis would 'hear'.
Startled Selanothis turned to him frowning, *How?*
*You cannot unlove a child. Once you'd experienced that future, you are Shelly's adopted mother, those memories are yours now even though that future cannot now happen. There is no way you were not going to help Shelly once those memories entered your head, she is your daughter.*
*Pretend all you like, I'm the mind reader not you,* Selanothis said turning back to silently watching Shelly. *You may not have known the consequences, but I know your attempts to stop me were heartfelt and sincere. There was no trick. I trapped myself and I can't in all honesty say I am sorry. I want this. I want to hold her and comfort her just as you do. Until you showed me, I didn't realise how much I've always wanted a family. How much I hurt that it had been denied me all these years.*
*We can't now get that future,* Solomon reminded her regretfully.
*We can get a future,* Selanothis snarled. *I've had enough of simply surviving. I want to live. Have dreams, plan a life.* Selanothis turned to him with tears in her eyes. *Family.* That word alone came with so many feelings of loss, of solitude, of regret and anguish, Solomon briefly looked away.
Turning back to Shelly, Selanothis finished, *Tell me, in all the futures you mapped out deciding our fate, is there actually a one were I say no to helping Shelly?*
Solomon sighed. *Only the ones where I didn't ask. And yes, I looked at them too. Even I can see no matter what, you always preferred the futures where I asked you.*
Sighing guiltily he looked towards Selanothis unhappily. *You are sure about giving up your existence to stay with her and help her?*
*I told you it's not like that. I'm choosing to stop just surviving and moving on to living again." Selanothis turned back to watching Shelly. *This is as good for me as it is for her, and if you'd stop feeling responsible and tragic, you'd know that I am right.* She turned to Solomon and smiled. *After all, is it not exactly what you have chosen? You no more could stop loving our adopted daughter then I can.* Wryly, Solomon nodded at the statement's truth.
"So what do we do now?" Shelly asked happily, unaware of the conversation occurring in Solomon's head.
"You and I pack up the tent while Selanothis and her magpie scout the area for our ride back to civilisation," Solomon replied, allowing Selanothis time to get her emotions under control again.
*Scout?* Selanothis questioned.
"Just so we know they are on the way, there is no reason to let anymore then one other person know about you."
"Mrs. Carson. She is highly unlikely to agree to anything without meeting you, and we need her help."
*Mmmmhm,* Selanothis equivocated.
"We'll make sure though that she is the only one. This is a gamble. We have two weeks to pull it off. If we fail, the fewer who are aware of your existence, the better for you."
*I'm not sure I want to run and just return to 'surviving' again,* Selanothis mused.
Solomon looked towards Selanothis and noted her determined expression, dropping the subject as an issue for a later time. "Anyway, time for us all to get dressed. Shelly put your winter snow gear on again, it's still pretty cold out there even though the wind's died down. Selanothis your leather pants and vest should be dry by now, you can wear them under your glovedress and save some magic that way by getting some layers of warmth. Also don't forget to keep the Magpie warm, she's not a cold weather bird, she's not used to sub zero temperatures like this..."
*It's not that cold!*
"Zero. As in Celsius. As in 'water freezes' zero. There is ice on the ground. Water is freezing. Us Australians, including our magpie, aren't used to that. She'll probably need to nest with you at night, there is no way she'll survive outside in temperatures like these. They don't make 'magpie snow gear'."
Shelly giggled. When Solomon turned to her she laughed, "Collingwood supporter scarfs."
Solomon sighed. "Not even in Melbourne does it snow, and football club supporter gear isn't snow rated in Australia," he said with a smile of his own, happy to see her laughing.
With their snow clothes back on they exited the tent and Solomon knelt down to start removing the tent pegs, when he saw Selanothis dart away and hide in the surrounding trees, followed by a confused magpie who circled her branch calling. Concentrating he attempted to 'shout' in his head.
*Haven't you worked out what a large bird that will happily let you sit on its back means?* Selanothis darted back to the tent again, followed by the magpie, and just sat there blinking at him. "Your 'it's not me' glamour has something to deflect to. Something that flies," Solomon murmured.
*I can fly in the day!* she cried joyously whistling and jumping on her magpie as Solomon laughed.
Circling high and dipping low the magpie sung its song as Shelly and Solomon participated in Selanothis' laughter of joy.
"Still think a bird thrice your size is a strange pet?" Shelly called.
*Never! And you're not getting her back either! Weeeeeeeee!*
Shelly laughed. "Is it really that different? You could fly anyway!"
*But I have to not be seen! Ever since I manifested, I've been able to fly, but always not able to do it freely, only where it would be difficult for people to see me, and always on the lookout for people or lately cameras, always flying carefully, darting from hide to hide, waiting to see if anyone saw and is tracking me. Now I'm free! This. Is. Flying!!* Screaming in joy Selanothis dove on Shelly who ducked to Selanothis' joyous laughter.
"How are you controlling her?" Shelly asked amazed.
*Who cares, I just am. Weeeeeee!* Selanothis screamed as she rode the magpie past again zigzagging, side to side, getting almost perpendicular to the ground as the pair slalomed through the air, in and around Shelly, Solomon and the tent before climbing into the sky and turning around and diving down to do it all again the other way, before climbing into the sky, levelling out and shooting off.
"Come on Shelly, you get the bags out of the tent while I pull up the pegs," Solomon instructed laughing as Selanothis disappeared off into the distance. "Lay out the tent bag on the gym bag and we can then get started packing it. Selanothis will get bored soon and fly around higher and wider as we need."
"Are we sure Selanothis is a grandmother?" Shelly asked smiling as she watch the magpie wheeling about overhead with Selanothis aboard.
"As old as your grandmother, not is a grandmother," Solomon repeated. "Is some ways she's still the teenager she was when she manifested, she's had to hide from people ever since. She can look after herself and do magic, but she's not really had much of any imperatives to grow up."
"What? She's like Peter Pan?"
Solomon laughed. "I dare you to call her Tinkerbell, but wait till tonight when we're alone again," he smiled wickedly at her, and Shelly gave him a guarded look, before ducking into the tent to start getting the bags out. With a laugh Solomone knelt down and started unburying a tent peg and levering it out of the ground.
*Some Security on snow mobiles coming your way, looks like two for you and another two setting off on a patrol,* Selanothis finally called as Solomon finished removing the pegs and started on the tent poles.
*Please come back Selanothis,* Solomon thought real hard.
*Oh all right* Selanothis 'pathed with heavy reluctance, causing Shelly to giggle.
"How is Selanothis going to hide with us?" Shelly asked as she put down the last of the luggage and sat down on a suitcase.
"Oh, you'll love that," Solomon smiled smugly at her. "Here, bring over the tent's bag and help me roll it up."
Solomon and Shelly had just finished rolling up the tent and groundsheet, Solomon struggling to get the ground sheet in its bag, while a giggling Shelly watching sitting on her suitcase, when Selanothis and the magpie swooped up in front of her, causing Shelly to fall off the suitcase backwards and into the fresh snow, followed by Selanothis' infectious laughter. Standing up and brushing herself off, Shelly was startled as first Selanothis, then the magpie, darted at her. Selanothis to enter the hood of her jacket, the magpie to land on her shoulder.
"Hey!" Shelly cried putting her hands to her head.
*Worry not,* Selanothis comforted *I had a friend I did this with for years. I will hide in the shadows of your hood, and when you remove your hood, I shall hide at the nape of your neck, under your hair. I will not be seen.*
Shelly stood still wide eyed in shock at that announcement, before a smile like the sun raising lit up her face. "I get my own guardian fairy?" she asked in amazement.
Aware of the stillness of Selanothis at this statement, Solomon carefully replied. "More like Selanothis needs a friend to hide her so that she can be around us without revealing herself. You don't mind helping a friend?"
"Of course not!"
*It was innocent Selanothis,* Solomon thought hard.
*I know. And it was long ago, but still,* Selanothis thought back just for him. *The memories hurt, as they have always hurt, no matter the time since. And recent events just bring back the memories more.*
*Shelly is innocent in this. Her excitement is the innocence of one who has been given a special gift.*
*So was hers,* Selanothis said with great sadness in her thoughts.
*She knew not what she did Selanothis, and you never did tell her.*
*It was done and could not be changed,* Selanothis cried sadly in her thoughts. *Her unhappiness would not have benefited us in anyway.*
*She loved you Selanothis,* Solomon gently reminded her. *She knew you were sad, and you never gave her a chance to atone for it.*
*She had no need for atonement, she was as tricked as I was.* Selanothis sighed. *Enough Solomon. It was long ago and I was a different person. I will not hold innocent excitement against Shelly. Besides it is distasteful to carry out conversations while excluding Shelly from them.* Including Shelly in the 'path she commented *Our lift arrives!*
As she said it, Solomon became aware of the sound of snowmobiles making their way to them, and sighing he looked to Selanothis only to find that she had faded into Shelly's hood. Even knowing she was there he couldn't make his eyes see her, all he achieved was a vague shimmer and watering eyes. Satisfied that Selanothis glamour was as effective as advertised, he turned to greet Whateley's security team, unsurprised to see the same officer as before with a member of the ground staff following him on a snowmobile pulling a sled.
"Well, I thought for sure you'd have frozen solid by now, the way the two of you were complaining of the cold before the blizzard dropped so much snow on us," the same security guard from the day before greeted them.
"Delightful autumn weather you have," Solomon commented dryly.
"Autumn? You mean fall?" The officer asked confused. "There's two more months of this before we get the real stuff! This is nothing more then an excuse to play!"
Solomon sighed. "I assume there's somewhere warmer we can banter?"
The security officer kept his smile as he indicated the sled and bent to pick up a bag. "Chief said to take you to the delights of our summer retreat cottage. Outdoor pool, patio for grills and sun bathing, tall sheltering trees to keep the hot summer sun off you, secluded location, long scenic walks in privacy around the woodland grounds..."
"In other words, cold and uncomfortable, a long way from anywhere else in the school grounds and usually locked up for the winter?"
The security man smiled beatifically. "Exactly. Also it's on the other side of the staff cottages from the teaching halls and the student cottages."
"Perfect," Solomon agreed also grabbing some bags and carrying them to the sled, signalling Shelly to do the same and nodding greeting to the taciturn groundsman who was sitting on his snowmobile still, hopping off only when the bags started arriving so as to move them around on the sled and balance it properly.
Carting the bags inside and leaving them at the door, Solomon thanked the groundsman who nodded and drove off. Solomon turned to the security officer. "Now what?" he asked.
"Officially you're not here. You are not on the roster for the guests, nor on the notices for any of the security reports. Even this cottage is just listed as 'in use by Mrs. Carson for Magical Working. Stay clear and increase vigilance for perimeter. Magical workings may attract unwelcome external interest of highly skilled and resourced operators. Note and observe. Call in as priority. Do not engage unless directed to. Operatives may not respect school neutrality.'"
Solomon smiled. "Good, she's taking it to heart. Warn off those that can be warned. Confirm location for those that won't. Let's not have accidents. I assume students, staff and guests will be actively discouraged and escorted away?"
"Excellent. By the way, there will be magical working going on here, just not Mrs. Carson doing them. I would make sure your fellow colleagues understand that the dangers are real."
He sighed. "Unfortunately if you want the best they tend to be a curious bunch. They may not warn off easily."
"Find the most gossipy and magically sensitive to drive Mrs. Carson too and from here a few times, and then rotate the task through the most likely to be curious after that. If they see her here a lot 'by herself' they might better get the message."
"I think we can rely on the chief to know his job," was the officer's comment as he took his leave, waiting until Solomon and Shelly closed the door before driving off.
As Shelly raced for the bathroom, with Selanothis still hidden in her hair and Maggie flying along behind her, Solomon went through to the retreat's study and found the phone. Sitting back in the comfortable padded leather chair at the desk he dialled a number.
"Father Timothy?" he enquired as the phone was picked up.
"Well if it isn't Crocodile Dundee the Monsignor!" was the happy answer.
"Oh come on, I neither dress nor sound like him! And we don't use that rank anymore."
"Hey! Can I help it? There is a dearth of Australians in the movies."
"Now that's just untrue, there are a multitude of Australian actors and more and more of them all the time!"
"Yes, over here telling our stories. I basically have a choice between Crocodile Dundee, a bunch of guys in dresses and some Kelly guy for Australian movie characterisations."
"Hey, I tried to steer you to some classic Australian well made movies ..."
"And I told you if they can't be bothered releasing them in our theatres, I can't be bothered seeing them. I go to the movies, not sit at home watching things. It's a harmless thing I can do with a bunch of teen and preteen kids with no worries, let's not get into the wealth of potential issues with a priest, a number of teenage boys, or girls, and a video player could get accused of doing."
"Well, on the subject of problems with your Bishop ..." Solomon started with a huge smile in his voice.
"Oh not again!" Father Timothy moaned.
"You know how my mother's from the country?" Solomon said with laughter in his voice.
"No. Defiantly not! If your uncle the 'Poor forgotten country Cardinal' wants any more jobs done for the Vatican tell him I'm waiting for the Pope to ask next time! And you better not be getting your Rolodex out to find the Pope's personal unlisted phone number again. I nearly had a heart attack when you handed me that phone last time and merely said 'my bishop wants to thank you in person'. 'My Bishop' the Bishop of Rome you bastard! With no warning!"
"Hey, I told you he'd help with those problems your Bishop was giving you!"
Silence greeted him at the other end, until finally, begrudgingly, "What do you need?"
"So, really. You know how my Mum's from a country town?"
"And is related to a Cardinal, yes I know. What does his Eminence want this time?"
"Actually I'm just riling you up, it is the priest from the small country town that needs help."
"Is he related to a Cardinal too?" came the weary question for the other end of the phone.
"Probably, it is a small country town," Solomon said with a smile before getting suddenly serious. "You know that plane crash in Nevada?"
"Oh, I heard. There was some Australians on it?"
"Yes, a couple from his Parish, and there was also a little more bad news, we are keeping it out of the papers, but part of the trip involved visiting an elderly relative, unfortunately the shock caused a heart attack and, well, she was elderly."
"I am sorry to hear it, and I appreciate your humour to start the call. I assume this will be distressing?"
"Mostly paperwork. The crash of the plane and the death of her 'heir' complicates her will probation and it looks like it's going to end up tied up in courts, the family, being in Australia, and the amounts not being much, we wondered if you could contact someone in the local area and help the family gets some competent representatives locally to speed things along?"
"Thanks, the next may be a little more difficult."
"A little! If you make me gather more sworn statements of the type 'well everyone knew they were together, no matter what they were telling the government, the kids weren't appearing by immaculate conception after all Ha Ha!' I'll, I'll, I'll confess it all to my Bishop and do what he tells me to do, and I've got a new Irish Bishop now, he'll know exactly what it'll mean when I describe you!"
Solomon just laughed, letting Tim vent his unease of what he was about to ask. Sighing he became solemn. "Thanks for this, really, thanks. I'm sure you know what I'm going to ask."
"The plane victim's bodies?"
"I don't know if they'll be able to identify them, but if they do, if you could do the rites before they are shipped back...?"
"I'll contact the right people straight away. Would there be any problems with the embassy?"
"No, they'll be organising the return home, but they'll take the bodies after they are released, what we were hoping for was between them being identified and released ...?"
"Sure, usually after they are identified they let us in to perform the appropriate rites with the undertakers. I'll see about getting put on that list for you. If I'm there I might as well pass the word, see if there are others it needs doing for. I'm sure the locals would like the break or, if nothing else, some company."
"Also there were some personal items, jewellery the mother was wearing, a watch of the fathers and the like, that the family would appreciate someone keeping an eye out for, just in case. They are aware most things go unclaimed and if someone could pass on the word they would appreciate it."
"You're a good man Tim."
"Say a prayer for me, and I'll say a mass for them."
"Let me know the time, I'll pray with you. I'll send all the details in an email and I'll get Father Michael to fax you all the paperwork, I know you're fine to handle the U.S. end of that for us."
"Yeah, do that and welcome."
Solomon hung up and turned around seeing his audience for the first time.
"Who was that?" Shelly asked.
"A friend. Father Timothy is a Jesuit Priest and lawyer, he works with a lot of U.S. Government agencies helping the Catholic Church do its work. Oh don't look like that you two, it's nothing black or hidden! The Catholic Church owns a lot of land, Churches, Schools, Hospitals, Universities, Monasteries, Nursing Homes, the list is nearly endless. Add in our charities like the St. Vincent De Paul Society with all its second hand shops, Caritas with all its overseas missions, often in places that are officially sanctioned by the U.S. Government, and you get the picture. There is a lot of legal interactions of a completely innocent nature, but on our side they are being done by volunteers, priests, nuns, so we have people like Father Tim who gets sent from parish to parish, and agency to agency to negotiate the mess of U.S. law for those that are just trying to help people who keep getting caught in the gears."
"I thought the Catholic Church, well you know, The Catholic Church!" Shelly asked wide eyed.
"Most people do," Solomon replied with a sigh. "But you've played sport right? How you all belong to one big club but actually the different teams almost never see each other or have anything to do with each other? It's all these individual teams and the people and parents in them doing everything they each need and well, if another team really needs a hand they're there for each other, but mostly you're on your own? Yeah, that's the Catholic Church. Only really the Bishops get staff that is trained and hired and paid to do their jobs, nearly everything else is in the best hands free labour can provide, and I mean that as in 'free as in beer', they volunteered to do it for nothing."
"So what was that?" Shelly pointed at the phone.
"That was us building the beginnings of hiding, and also making sure your parents get back and buried properly." Solomon sat up and leaned forwards. "First Selanothis, I'm sorry, your official identity 'Dorlean Kelly' just died, and Father Timothy will make sure that your bank accounts, shares and other investments will all be officially shut down, the death payouts collected, and the whole lot sent to your 'heirs' in Australia." Looking to Selanothis Solomon waited till she sighed and nodded her understanding. With that Solomon turned to Shelly. "Next, Father Timothy will go to Nevada for us and make himself available to the victims of the crash, while waiting to see if they can identify your parents bodies Shelly. Once they do, he'll make sure that the Australian Government properly ships them back for burial, and that they'll get to the priest in your home town for burial in the cemetery there."
"Really?" Shelly asked wide-eyed, before diving into his arms and crying while thanking him, which inevitably turned to crying for her parents loss, as Solomon held her and Selanothis 'pathed as much love and understand as she could to Shelly.
"Do you have somewhere you know we won't be monitored, that what we say and see won't be heard or seen by anyone else?" Solomon asked Mrs. Carson as she entered the retreat cottage with the setting of the sun. "I'm aware of the reputations of the kids at this school, and that you like to, shall we say, 'encourage' the smart ones by letting them think they are getting away with things of an espionage nature."
"And that there is more then a few well equipped, well staffed, well motivated organisations with considerable power that like to know exactly what goes on in my school?" Mrs. Carson finished.
"Precisely. I'm unused to dealing with scrutiny, I've always relied on the passive security of being unknown rather then any sort of active security."
"The retreat was swept yesterday by Whateley security when I booked the place, by members that I trust that don't know what I need the cottage for, but are fully briefed on the threat I expect. For today I believe it is sufficiently clean. Of course, the longer after security checks, the more likely there is of new bugs being re-introduced."
"And we are not in a position to have frequent re-checks done." Solomon grimaced.
"No, but I might be able to leave some magical tripwires that will let us know if someone has come snooping at least," Mrs. Carson offered.
"No need," Solomon said gesturing her towards a door down the corridor that stood open. "My contact has agreed to help us, and she'll be staying with Shelly and I. She is quite the competent Mage, decades of experience using magic to hide from people. Magical wards are covered you could say."
Mrs. Carson raised an eyebrow. "Nobody was seen with you, either this morning, nor entering school grounds or your tent in fact."
"You see? Quite the competent operative," Solomon smiled at her not-quite frown. "Through here Mrs. Carson, we have setup in the entertainment room in the basement, less chances of being seen and commented on when you are not here."
"The basement?" Mrs. Carson smiled. "Excellent idea. You might want to stay down here all the time, if I'm the only one seen in the retreat that will add a layer of confusion. The glass windows and doors make observing from the woods outside childishly easy, the basement is fully enclosed with no external windows and only the one way down, and that's not visible from the outside."
"We noticed that ourselves," Solomon commented as they took the stairs down, arriving in the basement recreation room. The room was setup with a large entertainment system, including wall projection TV with accompanying surround sound system and comfortable couches. Behind that at the foot of the stairs, was another set of couches setup to be a comfortable conversation nook, with a refreshment bar behind them and a restroom, including shower, next to it. "Would you like a drink?" Solomon offered.
"Just some coffee please," Mrs. Carson suggested noticing the drip coffee machine on the 'bar'.
Smiling Solomon poured her a cup, and using boiled water made a cup of black tea too. Opening the bar fridge he removed some milk and offered. "Milk? I think we have some cream or something as well."
"No, black is fine," Mrs. Carson indicating the cup of black coffee on the bar.
Passing the coffee to Mrs. Carson he indicated a cup full of sugar packs. Picking up the tea he led her to the conversation couches with a low table between them where Shelly seemed to be playing cards with herself. Leaving the tea at Shelly's elbow, Solomon sat down next to her.
"What are you playing?" Mrs. Carson asked politely as she sat down opposite Shelly.
"Tricks," Shelly said taking a card from her hand and laying it down.
"I'll play the jack Shelly." Mrs. Carson was startled to hear the voice coming from Shelly's shoulder. "And then you can lay down the cards in my hand, you can't beat any of them."
Shelly turned over the cards on the table and sighed. "How come you keep beating me? I taught you this game!"
"Tricks are tricks Shelly, no matter which game of cards we are playing. You need to start learning to count the cards and also how to draw out your opponents big cards with your weakest cards so you win tricks with your mid ranged cards too. Now its time to put away the cards I think." Nodding Shelly gathered up the cards, placing them in a neat pile on the table. Smirking Selanothis flew down from Shelly's shoulder and alighted on the table and curtsied to Mrs. Carson.
Smiling, Solomon made introductions, "Mrs. Carson meet Selanothis, she's a mutant that manifested as a pixie in the sixties, she's also a potent Mage. Selanothis has agreed to help me with teaching Shelly and also with our plan to hide ourselves to prevent escalation issues with Shelly setting off events we'd prefer not to happen."
"Pleasure to meet you," Mrs. Carson said with a smile before turning to Solomon. "Does this mean that you are finally ready to discuss your plan with me?"
"Of course, I merely wanted Selanothis to have her chance first to agree without added pressure."
"Pressure?" Selanothis asked.
"Mrs. Carson is not quite a free agent," Solomon explained to Selanothis and Shelly. "As the headmistress of this school, she has responsibilities on one hand, to the safety of the students and staff for one, to the long term safety of the school for another, and obligations on the other hand, to the schools sponsors, board of governors, the members of the communities that host it, the list is nearly endless," Solomon explained to Mrs. Carson's somber nod
"You and I, Shelly," Solomon continued. "Represent complications to the delicate balances that allow the school to continue operating, not to mention valuable assets some of those with agreements or other points of pressure on the school will be manipulating to get Mrs. Carson, or others in power in the school, to act in ways they might prefer not to."
"I'm glad to see you understand my difficulties," Mrs. Carson acknowledged with a smile.
"I'm glad you used the word difficulties and not position," Solomon returned the smile. "It tells me we still have your support."
"I am my own woman still, you are correct" Mrs Cason agreed. "But I do have responsibilities to my staff and students. I will need to know the full plan before I can offer further support and, I'm sorry, as a contingency I have asked ARC to prepare capsules for the both of you, and preposition them here."
"ARC?" Selanothis asked.
"Arkham Research Consortium," Mrs. Carson clarified.
"They are a high security, extremely well funded and connected research group specialising in the paranormal and the parapsychic. Think 'Area 51 for things that go bump in the night'," Solomon expanded. "They also have an ultimate security housing facility for the most dangerous paranormals in America. I assume the capsules you are talking about are for securing and moving Shelly and myself to this facility?" Solomon asked Mrs. Carson with a raised eyebrow.
"That is correct," Mrs. Carson nodded. "As you yourself said, it will work. I need to prepare for the eventuality in case it is needed." Solomon sighed and nodded.
"If this place is safer, why are you not there?" Selanothis queried.
"Because ARC's containment facility is a very secure combined nuthouse and prison," Solomon explained sadly. "and people who run nuthouses and prisons are not very receptive to the idea that inmates are innocent or sane without their say so on the matter. Once there, no matter what the circumstances of our arrival, the controllers will take the position all inmates are potentially dangerous to public safety until proven otherwise. It would be easy to get into ARC, but considerably harder to get back out."
"I don't want to go to prison!" Shelly blurted out.
"I'm well aware of that," Solomon said giving her a gentle hug. "Mrs. Carson is just being over cautious."
Turning to Mrs. Carson, he sighed. Seeking inspiration he looking down at the table and laughed. "Time to put our cards on the table," he said wryly, before turning grave as he looked back up to Mrs. Carson. "You asked if my intent was to fake our own deaths? No it's not. My plan is to change us so much, that those trying to find us will be looking for the wrong people and then we can once again disappear while they chase phantoms."
"And when will this occur?" Mrs. Carson pressed.
"Timing is critical. I'd like sufficient time to prepare for this, but I'm aware we are not going to get it. It is a race between how fast we can train Shelly and how much time our enemies give us."
"So when?" Mrs. Carson repeated.
Solomon sighed. "I can't say. Events that happen today, events several states away and beyond my control, will dictate the timing. I need to wait and feel how the cleft points move."
Mrs. Carson frowned. "And what about Selanothis? Besides magical protection how is she helping?"
"Selanothis is a Mage of quite a bit of power, she can tap into the essence of the grove, I believe you know what that means?" Mrs. Carson raised her eyebrow at that revelation. "Shelly is powerful but totally untrained. Usually it would be madness to use her skills on ourselves, but we have two trump cards to hopefully let us succeed. One, Selanothis is a telepath and someone Shelly instinctively trusts already. We are hoping to have Selanothis guide Shelly through the process rather then Shelly do it alone. Tightly linked by telepathy to Selanothis, this should give Shelly the experience of Selanothis to help guide her through the process."
"As I understand it Selanothis is a Mage not a Reality Warper, how will her experience help?" Mrs. Carson asked leaning forwards with a slight frown.
"It's not knowledge of the same skills, that is true," Solomon agreed. "But a Mage of strength controls powers of similar scope to those Shelly manipulates, their learnings have instilled in them appreciation for the dangers of such powers, understanding for the areas of concern. Selanothis has decades of experience carefully planning her spellcasting to have the fewest undesirable effects. 'How can this go wrong' is second nature to her, it is this skill Shelly most desperately needs. Basically, Selanothis is the best of us to understand the ways in which innocent intent, enormous power and lack of proper forethought and planning can lead to unexpected and dangerous events. She's the best person we have to stop Shelly making a fatal mistake."
Mrs. Carson frowned. "Even so, magic is not reality warping. The dangers of the two are similar, true, but not the same. A week is nowhere near long enough for Selanothis to learn the differences! She could still unwittingly allow Shelly to make such a mistake!"
"And now we come to our other trump card, me." Solomon smiled. "I have abilities to see futures, more importantly with the help of Selanothis I can show those futures to her and Shelly. This can allow us to experience over and over the futures were we make mistakes and fail, until such time as Shelly and Selanothis have reconciled the differences between magic and Shelly's skills, at least enough to know how to do this one warp. Understand, we don't need to learn all the ways it can go wrong, just all the cleft points to make the one way we want to go work. After we disappear, Selanothis and I will have a lifetime to teach Shelly how to do it right so that she no longer needs foresight to guide her actions."
"A lifetime? You'd leave the Church for Shelly?" Mrs. Carson asked stunned.
"My bishop knew of my intention, and agreed with my decision, even before I left. In my own person I needed surety of my own commitment." Solomon shrugged. "Shelly has the need and I have the skills she needs."
Mrs. Carson sat looking carefully at Solomon, before spreading her gaze to Selanothis and finally Shelly. "And?" Mrs. Carson pressed. "None of you have the body language of those free and clear. What is it that presses you still?" she demanded.
"Time," Solomon sighed. "Time to read the futures and experience them. Time to learn. Time to plan and test. Plan and test until the foreseen event goes as we plan and the future is as we wish. Our problem is that we need time. Learning cannot be rushed, the changes are delicate to do and take time all on their own, but learning to do them is critical and we can't skimp on that, otherwise we'll die in the attempt. But already off campus people gather to confirm my presence, and others are on their way to plan and implement capture operations on myself."
"How much time do we have?" Mrs. Carson asked concerned.
"Not enough," Solomon sighed. "We are going to need to use subterfuge to confuse them, and in their confusion we'll just get enough time, but I cannot guarantee it. It is like with Las Vegas. I can see all the cleft points, but I can't be in enough places to influence all of them. I will push the ones I can, but for the rest, I can do nothing more then pray. From here the cleft points I can push are few. The events are already set in motion, I can merely react and control what little I can, mostly the decisions on how fast to push Shelly. Luckily in that Selanothis has a lot of advantages, her telepathy is going to allow us both to move faster, and more importantly, manage Shelly's learning exactly, allowing us to move at precisely the fastest speed Shelly can go, break to allow her time to independently absorb the information at precisely the right times." Solomon smiled. "You will be startled at how fast we can go Mrs. Carson."
"When?" MrsCarson demanded. "How long? I need to know the details so I can plan the contingencies!"
"I will go over in detail now all that we are sure of, and the contingencies we have" Solomon promised. "Tonight I will read again and get a feeling for the cleft points that have closed off due to events I cannot influence today, and I will be able to give you some very specific dates and times tomorrow, in plenty of time for you to sort out your contingencies. Also I will know who, when and where the other local players will be for you to accommodate as your needs dictate."
Mrs. Carson nodded unhappily. "I will listen, but I will be waiting for tomorrow, and your promised details, before I commit school resources above what i have now to the project." Nodding Solomon begun detailing their plans.
"Mrs. Carson, before you go," Solomon called as they stood. "I have been careful to keep certain things quiet, Shelly's full name. Mine. Nobody but the three of us knows about even the existence of Selanothis. Selanothis in particular I'd like to remain unknown, and Shelly and my names would also be nice to keep out of any records."
"You are still afraid of the MCO?"
"My history is interesting to way too many people. If they can't get me, they will want to try and get the imbued device instead, tracking down all they can find about me and mine as they hunt. I'd prefer to spare my family and friends that."
"She is a child, taking away her past is unnecessarily cruel. Someway to retain it may be possible, if there is none who know what that past is."
"There were only so many Australian teenaged girls on that flight," Mrs Carson replied dubiously.
"Most here will never learn that she is Australian, and only the five of us in Las Vegas, and now Selanothis, know about that flight. There are other teens on that flight who's remains will not be identified, all I'm asking is that you leave nothing but the name 'Shelly' in your records."
"How many teens on the flight named 'Shelly' can there be?" Mrs. Carson asked pointedly.
Solomon smiled. "None" he replied, laughing at her stunned look. "Shelly is a nickname, not a name on any of her records, it's not even a short form of any of her names. Searching the records of the flight will not find her."
Mrs. Carson looked thoughtful, before nodding slowly. "All right, I'll consider it. I promise to keep them out for now. I reserve the right to change that in future once the full outcomes are known."
Solomon sighed. "Well enough, but I hope you keep in mind my plea at the appropriate time."
"I will." With a nod Mrs. Carson turned and made for the stairs and the exit.
As Shelly made for the door to the basement's toilet, Selanothis flew up and hovered in front of Solmon's face. *What is it you aren't telling me about ARC?* Selanothis demanded as soon as they were alone.
*Not you, Shelly,* Solomon defended, checking over his shoulder to confirm where Shelly was.
*It's just you and me, though I don't promise to not tell her. I dislike secret conversations,* Selanothis reminded him sternly.
Solomon nodded. *ARC black level isn't a prison, it's a containment facility," Solomon explained. "If we are put into ARC Black containment, it will be as human popsicles, frozen until such time as an ARC advisor group feels it is a good idea to unfreeze us again. ARC Black is the 'lock them up and throw away the key' prison for awkward mutants."
*Highly dangerous but not actually guilty of doing anything yet. Those locked up for 'societies' good, without trial or parole, mostly for the sin of their power's existence and poor control. Oh, and there is a few super dangerous criminals in there too, the ones they rolled out when someone asks what the facility is for.*
*As good as being dead?*
*For us no, we are too useful to throw away the key, but we'd not be in control of our destinies there. We'd be released once they've found ways of making us do what they want us to do, and by 'they' I mean 'The United States Government', not actually a very appealing future,* Solomon grimaced. *Anyway, while we are chatting, Shelly and I will be having a Buffy marathon tonight and we'd love for you to join us.*
*What? Buffy? Why Buffy!?*
*It's a good show!* Solomon defended. *Something Shelly will like watching, and I'll enjoy watching again with her. After this afternoon's revelations I will want something to cheer her up, allow her to think of something else.*
*Why Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I can feel your smugness.* Selanothis demanded.
*OK, OK. She's a high school girl who is dealing with monsters, a destiny and people coming after her for things she's not even sure she wants, and she deals with these things by hitting her enemies. Anything that gets Shelly to try something other then her talents first gives us time to get to her and protect her and prevent her getting out of hand with anime instead.*
*So you're trying to brain washing Shelly into hitting things and not throwing anime at them?* Selanothis asked giggling.
*It is a good show! You should give it a chance!* Solomon defended.
*I think I'd prefer to wash my hair,* she laughed at him. *Do we have time for this?* she asked seriously.
*As I said to Mrs. Carson, Shelly can only link with you and me so much before it overwhelms her. She needs some time to just be Shelly. Get back centred as herself, and this evening's revelations will shake her badly. We needed her shaken and careful, but we also need her functioning. This will give her some time to relax and process things subconsciously before we move onto the project tomorrow." Solomon considered Selanothis thoughtfully. "What if I make some hot chocolate for Shelly and I, and coffee for you?* Solomon offered hopefully.
"This evening's revelations?" Selanothis demanded, glaring at him.
"Well, the first session of linking my visions and Shelly's choices this evening, with you linking us together. You and I already know that it's not going to be pleasant for the first few tries, it's going to take a while for her to learn the paths she wants to go to avoid, the outcomes she doesn't want to see, but first, she's going to see those outcomes."
Selanothis winced at the thought, then stopped and stared at Solomon. *OK, what aren't you saying, what is it you were hopping I'd miss in that unpleasant reminder?*
*I just want the three of us to be together tonight,* Solomon tried to innocently protest.
Selanothis looked at him. *In the basement, behind that illusion you've asked me to setup today on the basement door. Let me guess, you'll have the tent, sleeping bags and all your's and Shelly's bags down here too right? You know someone's coming tonight!* she accused.
Solomon sighed. *I don't want Shelly to get excited. I want her to fall asleep watching the show and we'll all just sleep down here. Tonight's visitors wont find us and we'll get the extra days we need.*
*The 'event' that was happening tonight that you needed to see what happened before you could tell Mrs. Carson the timing?* Selanothis guessed.
Solomon sighed. *One of them yes, the one I could influence. Another will be a phone call many states away today, and the third an event in Montreal, neither of which I can influence.*
*But if we all stay in the basement, behind the illusion, that will give us time?* Selanothis pleaded.
*Yes,* Solomon promised. *How much will depend on the other events, but yes, this alone gives us days of extra time.*
Selanothis sighed. *I hope you know how hard its going to be to watch this and not correct it all the time. The writers didn't even try to stay true to any mythology, just making it up and 'borrowing' things form all over the place as they went along!*
*Your fortitude is appreciated,* Solomon said with a smirk. *Just for you, we can start with the movie, so that we'll all get to laugh at the absurdity.* Speaking aloud Solomon continued as Shelly returned to the main room from the toilet. "Right, as we agreed with Mrs. Carson, keeping our presence clandestine would be best, so let's base ourselves down here in the basement. There is a 'bar' here at the back, it even has a sink and dishwasher of its own. We'll go up to the kitchen and steal the microwave and a few other things and move them down here along with the food, and turn the bar area into a kitchen, then we can bring down the camping gear and set up our mattresses and sleeping bags here in the basement as well."
"That's not very private Mr. Creepy Catholic Priest man!" Shelly objected looking around at the 'open plan' basement which only had a toilet and a shower as separate rooms.
"If it's that much of an issue, you can setup the tent in the corner next to the shower and sleep in it."
"Yay! Camping! Can we have a campfire too?"
"Inside Shelly?" Solomon asked confused.
"What about a magic one?" she wheedled.
Solomon started to answer then stopped at Selanothis smirk. "I guess that's up to Selanothis," he finally answered sighing. "I'll go fetch the microwave, you discuss that with her, don't take too long, Maggie and Selanothis have some flying to do."
"They do?" Shelly asked surprised.
*I want to set up some wards,* Selanothis explained. *Just warnings of when people approach, maybe some subtle wards of disinterest and the like to get them to leave us alone. It will be easiest to do so with Maggie, and will allow her out. She needs to fly and feel the sun, cooped up in here she'll sleep to much.*
Shelly looked over to the corner where Maggie was perched on a chair with her head down dozing and nodded. "OK, but I'm starting with the tent! And it's girls only in there!" Shelly stated mock glaring at Solomon.
"Certainly," Solomon replied calmly.
"Selleny, what do you have planned for the week?" Agent Banks asked distractedly, calling his partner on her private cell as he worked on the computer to book airline tickets and a rental car.
"Well, I thought I'd get a haircut, buy a new outfit or three, there's that new dance club I've been hearing great things about..."
"Pack your bags, come with me to New Hampshire," he ordered.
"I've been looking forward to the dance club..." Selleny half whined.
"It'll still be here when you get back. If it's as good as you say, I might even go with you, see those dance moves you've always teased you'd show me."
"Is that an invitation?" Selleny asked, her voice conveying much more interest suddenly.
"Could be. Come with me to New Hampshire, I'm sure that dress you bought last fortnight as we staked out that mall, the one with all the fall colours, would look great in the mountains with their scenic forests all turning red."
"Great, I've got the tickets booked now."
"You've got the tickets? For both of us? Paid?!" Selleny demanded in disbelief.
There was silence and then, "Pick me up in thirty minutes. I'll wear that dress since I know you liked it."
Smiling Banks replied, "Great, pack enough for the rest of the week, and the weekend too." Hanging up he printed out the ticket receipts and standing knocked on his bosses door. "Sir, I've contacted Selleny and I'll pick her up on the way. I'll call from the airport when we arrive before we drive out to Whateley to see if anything has changed while were are in the air."
"You do that," his boss replied waving him back out of the office before turning back to the smiling office aid seated across the desk from him. "What?" he demanded puzzled.
"You both seem to be forgetting Selleny is on leave this week," the office aid smirked. "What on earth do you think she believes Banks just offered her with his call to spend the rest of the week and the weekend together with him in New Hampshire in the Fall?" she queried with a naughty smirk.
"Shelly?" Solomon invited her to sit next to him on the couch once she had finished putting up the tent, blowing up the air mattresses, moving in her bags and setting up her 'room' as she wanted it. Shelly had been doing this while Solomon setup their 'Kitchen' and Selanothis took Maggie for some exercise and to setup magical wards around the retreat. Placing a cup of tea he had just made and a plate of cookies on the table, he waited for Shelly to join him.
Taking a cookie and dunking it in her tea, Shelly slurped it up looking at Solomon curiously as she sat down. "We are going to start your lessons tomorrow, today we are just going to get you used to Selanothis linking you and me and you showing me which decision points you want to take, basically letting you learn to control my gift."
"Really? I'm gonna get to see the future!" Shelly gushed.
"Eventually," Solomon laughed. "This afternoon I'm going to show you the past, more importantly a what if past. In particular what didn't happen in Las Vegas. You need to understand your power, and fully know its dangers, if we are to have any chance of doing this."
"Didn't something awful get avoided in Las Vegas?" Shelly whined.
"Yes. And you need to see it, and it will be very unpleasant. "Solomon watched as Shelly shut down, laughter fading away and she withdrew into herself.
Solomon took a deep breath and sighed. "Shelly, I need to you know, no matter what you see, no matter what it feels like, you did not do it Shelly," he emphasised sharply, before almost whispering. "And no matter what, Selanothis and I will love you still, even after we see it with you."
"Do I have to?" Shelly asked crying.
Solomon just held her tight and let her cry on his shoulder until Selanothis flew back in on Maggie's back. Seeing the crying girl, Selanothis nodded to Solomon who nodded back. "Come on Shelly," he shook her gently, leave ring her off his shoulder. "Tme to start. You lie down on this couch here and get comfortable." Giving Shelly a squeeze he helped her lay down as she wiped her eyes with her hands.
*Shelly?* Selanothis 'pathed hovering above her chest, where it was easy for Shelly to focus on her.
"Yes Selanothis?" Shelly answered still wiping her face. Solomon handed her a hankie and she smiled gratefully to him and used it instead.
*Just think it, I'll hear it. This is for you. When you are ready close your eyes and think of nothing.*
*OK.* Shelly closed her eyes and just concentrated on the blackness, and slowly she felt wrapped in strong arms, held close. Safe and loved. Then that faded and before she could even cry out at its loss, she felt cuddled and held, rocked as though she was a baby, comfortable and warm, until that too disappeared. This time she did cry out in loss until they both came back, but just there no longer overwhelming her.
*What is it?* she cried happily.
*I am linking us deeper then before,* Selanothis explained. *This will not be like reliving the memories, this will be like you yourself have telepathy, at least between yourself, myself and Solomon. The first you felt is Solomon's love for you. The second is my love for you. We are here for you, through all that is to come. You will feel us through it all, it will be how you know that these memories are not real,* Selanothis whispered, flying down to gently kiss Shelly's brow
*This will run as though you are living the events,* Selanothis explained. *But unlike last time where it was played back and you could only experience it, now Solomon will let you run his gift yourself, your decisions will decide what you see and it will be your alternate futures, or in this case alternate pasts, that you see.*
*This is going to be Las Vegas right?* Shelly asked fearfully.
*Yes Shelly, and for this one it will just be practice, a chance for you to learn,* Solomon thought to her as he placed a thin blanket over her. *I will still be running this one, but you can push the decision you want and if I feel them I'll follow them, by the end you should be able to push all the decisions. But for now, lie comfortably.*
Shelly nodded and closed her eyes. Nodding to Selanothis, who flew down and settled on Shelly's chest, Solomon quickly stepped over to the other lounge and lay down on it too, closing his eyes.
*OK Shelly, Solomon is starting now. Remember we love you,* Selanothis 'pathed as she gently reached out and wiped away a stray tear from Shelly's cheek.
"Shelly! Shelly its not real, it didn't happen! Shelly."
Crying in terror, Shelly became aware of Solomon holding her. Crying hard she clung tightly to him tight. "You were dead. You were dead!" she sobbed into his shoulder.
"Shh Shelly. It wasn't real, it didn't happen."
"He shot me! He ... just shot me. I hadn't done anything! Why did he shoot me?"
"Shh Shelly. It didn't happen. Remember? That's not what happened. Come on Shelly. Shh."
As her heart stopped racing, and her mind stopped playing over and over the gun coming up, pointing at her head, Shelly realised that she could still feel the love of Solomon and Selanothis. Looking up she saw Selanothis hovering anxiously just in front of her. Almost automatically she smiled and raised a hand of thanks to her. Darting in Selanothis reached out too, carefully wiping away a tear with her tiny hand. Shelly closed her eyes and sighed, luxuriating in the felling of love and comfort Selanothis projected through her link as she did this. Relaxing she let go her tight grip on Solomon's back.
As Shelly relaxed back into the lounge, Selanothis flew down, landing on Shelly's shoulder. Selanothis reached out and touched her cheek, pouring emotion down her telepathic link to Shelly, causing Shelly to close her eyes and unconsciously half curl her head and shoulders around the little pixie on her shoulder, like a cat purring to a fire.
Seeing Shelly being well comforted by Selanothis, Solomon carefully arose and moved to the counter, preparing a mug of tea with the ingredients he had left there before they started. Returning to the couch, he passed the tea to Shelly who smiled up at him, sipped her tea and staring at nothing, jerking slightly when Solomon spoke. "It didn't happen Shelly. You must try and remember that."
"It felt so real," she whispered. "No matter what I tried, he just kept shooting me." Looking wide eyed to Solomon she demanded. "Did I die? Were we dead?"
"It didn't happen Shelly," Solomon repeated.
"Did we die?" Shelly almost screamed.
Solomon sighed and after looking to Selanothis and getting a nod from her answered. "Yes Shelly. He shot both of us, and we were dying from the wounds, but that's not what was going to kill us."
"We survived?!" Shelly asked disbelievingly.
"No, we died. I'm not sure if you remember, above the pool?"
"I. I released something. I. I think it scared me more then the gun," she mumbled.
"That was your danger sense trying to stop you, it knew what you were doing would kill you."
Solomon sighed. "There was a huge explosion Shelly."
Shelly blanched and started crying again. "I killed the world!? I'm a monster? That's all it takes for me to destroy the world!?" she demanded.
*No! Shelly never think that!* Solomon interrupted projecting through the link Selanothis was still holding between them. *If it was not so important I would never let you see this.* Continuing with his voice he tried to sooth her. "These possibilities are not real. They are not happening. They did not happen. They are not you. Shelly, I want you to think about this as a very realistic simulator, a computer game. One where you can save your progress and try over and over again till you get it right. You've played those games right? Ones where there is only one way forward and many, many wrong ways that kill you and you have to try over and over all the different ways till you get it right? Can you do that?"
"I. I'll try," Shelly mumbled.
Solomon smiled and reached out and rubbed her back. "Good girl, I know you will, and Selanothis and I will be here always to help you. Now finish your tea and lie back down. Selanothis is going to massage your head for you, help you relax, while I make us some dinner. After that Selanothis has promised to sit with us and watch that Buffy marathon I promised you, let's see if we can get through the movie and the first few episodes of season one tonight."
Trying to smile her thanks, Shelly finished her tea. Relinquishing her cup she lay down. As Selanothis small hands worked expertly on her temples, she once again felt the warm comforting love of Selanothis through her link. As Shelly relaxed into the massage, the tensions in her body relaxed and she faded to sleep without even realising it.
As the food cooked, Solomon came over to where Selanothis hovered over the sleeping Shelly and looked worriedly to her. "How is she?"
*Scared. Very, very scared. She is afraid of her talent.*
Selanothis looked carefully to Shelly and then puzzled turned her head. *No,* she drawled. *She is intellectually afraid of what happened, but emotionally it doesn't connect to her talent.* Selanothis looked to Solomon who just nodded relieved.
"Good. Let her sleep for now. Do you mind going upstairs and setting up those 'workings' for our friendly visitors to find tonight? I'll watch her for you, I promise." Solomon smiled at Selanothis, who flew to his shoulder and tenderly touched his face before flying off, neither of them noticing Solomon's eyes half closing at her touch.
Needlessly straightening the blanket thrown over the sleeping Shelly, Solomon returned to the counter, removing the dish from the microwave just before the counter reached zero so that the beeping would not awaken Shelly. Adding a few more ingredients to the large bowl before adding two steaming bowls stacked with vegetables on top, Solomon returned the whole lot back to the microwave and turned it on again, checking the timer before coming back to sit with Shelly.
When the timer on the microwave finished and it started beeping, Shelly stirred and sat up. Looking to Solomon she asked, "How long?"
"Just a quick nap, only half an hour. Feel like helping me finish getting dinner ready?"
Pushing herself up, Shelly nodded, accepting a hand from Solomon to stand. "What's dinner?" she asked curiously.
"Beef stew for you and me."
"What about Selanothis?" Shelly asked as Solomon smiled.
"I wondered how long it would take you to ask," Solomon replied with a smirk. "She can eat the same as us, but her stomach is tiny, she basically needs to eat nearly all the time to get the energy she needs during the day to fly and do the magic she does. She eats as much sugar as she can get."
"Lots of energy in a small size."
"How did she get that living in a forest?"
"Bees honey, nectar, fruits, that sort of stuff. Here she just drowns her coffee in as much honey as it will take, she's basically drinking coffee flavoured Fanta there is so much sugar in it," he smirked at her. "She likes the taste of other stuff too, especially home cooked meals that remind her of before she mutated to a pixie, and she can't live only on sugar, she needs other things in her diet too."
"If she eats all the time, how come I've never seen her do it?"
"You have, you just haven't noticed. She munches on something each time she goes to the kitchen to get a coffee refill, but it'll be something like a single cornflake, or a similar sized piece of bread, mostly she's been nibbling the fruit in the muesli."
Shelly stared at him. "But she does that all the time! She's never without a thimble of coffee!"
"As I said, tiny stomach. It only takes a few minutes for things to go through, then she can eat again."
Shelly blushed red. "What about, you know, the other end?"
Solomon laughed. "Don't worry. She eats very little fibre, she needs to eat as close to pure sugar as she can get, and she sweats nearly all her liquids back out, just the mechanics of small bodies. She doesn't go to the toilet any more the you or I would."
Taking the stack of microwave dishes out of the microwave, Solomon poured all the contents into the bottom dish and stirred it all together before adding some seasonings and putting it back in the microwave. "Want to toast enough bread for you and I?" he suggested pointing to the toaster and waiting for Shelly's nod, keeping an eye on her thoughtful expression and waiting for the question.
"Solomon?" Shelly finally asked. "You can see time right?"
"Not really Shelly. I can see cleft points, important decisions and events in the future."
"In the future? But ... you just showed me the past!"
"That wasn't my talent, that was Selanothis. She let you experience my memory of examining a potential future while I worked to prevent it." Shelly just stood there looking confused. Putting down the plates he had just retrieved from a cupboard, Solomon tried to explain. "Selanothis is a telepath, you know what that means?"
"She reads minds?"
"Yes, and she's a very good one, not just able to read, but also project into minds."
"So she's reading your feelings of love for me and projecting them into my mind?" Shelly asked slowly.
"Is she still doing that?" Solomon smiled. "Actually there's a bit more to that, she's kind of clamping onto our love for her and projecting back her love unintentionally, because she's been lonely for so long. I think projecting my love to you is kind of a bonus there, it's her love she is projecting, she wants to do more, but her size stops her." Solomon looked to Shelly and saw the understanding there. "Now when she shares she goes even deeper, not just reading the mind like words in a book, but actually reliving the events as though she was the person doing them."
"OK. So that was just me reliving your reading a potential future?" Shelly tried to understand.
"It was my memory, and Selanothis let you live it like you were there, correct."
"But it didn't happen?" Shelly confirmed.
"Would it have happened if you were not there?" Shelly almost whispered the question.
Solomon looked at her silently for a bit and then sighed. "You saw me get shot right?" Shelly nodded. "Could that have happened if I was not there?" Shelly shook her head. Solomon stood and stared at the cupboard for a while before turning back to Shelly. "I don't want to lie to you, something equally as bad would have happened had I not been there. The MCO agent had no intention of letting you go and had steeled himself to kill 'a helpless girl' for the good of mankind before he arrived. He was so ruthless in hunting you down, not because he hated you, but because he hated himself for hunting an innocent girl like that."
"What?" Shelly asked startled.
"You are everything he swore to protect," Solomon explained. "But to protect everyone else, he had psyched himself to the point where he could kill you. He just wanted the dirty work over as fast as possible. He wanted it over as fast as possible because he knew what he was doing was monstrous and he was worried he was too weak to carry out the task."
Shelly stared at him before once again starting to shake and cry. "So not only am I a monster that destroys the world, I make others monsters too?" she wailed.
Kneeling down Solomon held the crying girl close. "It's not like that Shelly, it really isn't. You remember the first time we shared? The future you saw there?" Shelly nodded. "Now that Selanothis and I am with you it's almost certain you will not have problems with your talent."
"Certain?" Shelly begged tearfully.
"Certain," Solomon assured her. "If you dedicate yourself to learning what Selanothis is going to teach you, once you learn her teachings you will not unleash such destruction in future accidentally. It will all be under your control," Solomon stared Shelly in the eye. "Is ending the world something you want to do?" Shelly quickly shook her head no, eyes wide, horrified. "It's just knowledge you need Shelly," he assured her. "You are not dangerous, you have full control of your talent and what it can do, if people left you alone there would be no problems."
"How are you going to stop people chasing me? How am I going to stop doing things that hurt people?" she wept into his chest.
"We are going to teach you and protect you Shelly. Then you and Selanothis are going to change the three of us so much that no matter how hard they look, they will never find us again."
With Shelly peacefully sleeping curled up against his shoulder, Solomon reached over, and using the remote turned off the TV and the sound system, and sat there in the almost darkness, just the light from the microwave clock and standby lights on the TV and Stereo to see by.
Listening to the steady breathing of Shelly, he became aware of the sudden stillness of Selanothis. Closing his eyes tried to hear. Loud in his ears sounded his heart. Then, so soft that he couldn't tell if it was imagination or not, half heard noises came from above. Almost imagining it, he tried to trace the sounds of quiet footsteps above, when suddenly there was nothing quiet about it and the sounds of running could be heard, followed by the front door opening and then slamming above. Turning at the silent giggling in his mind from Selanothis he asked. "What happened?"
*I borrowed from you,* Selanothis laughed. *Right across the main room from the entrance door appears to be a portal sucking in all not tied down. Our visitors from Whateley Security ran so as not to become 'accidents' sucked into a portal to who knows where,* she replied still giggling.
Solomon blinked and smiled. "Illusion?"
*The Fae are good at them,* Selanothis agreed. *Light, sound, a little bit of projected fear,* she smiled before looking down. *Will you move her now?* she asked indicating Shelly sleeping against Solomon's shoulder.
"Give me a little light Tinkerbell and I'll pick her up and move her now."
Solomon stood as with bad grace Selanothis started glowing slightly, illuminating herself and quite a bit of the room because of how dark it was. Without comment Solomon just smiled and picking up Shelly, moved to the tent and crouching down to manoeuvred Shelly inside. Removing her dressing gown he slipped her into her sleeping bag and zipping it up, waiting for Selanothis to drop her glove in and crawl into it herself before closing up Selanothis inside Shelly's sleeping bag.
"Night you two," he murmured, placing a night light on in the tent in case Shelly woke. He zipped up the tent and made his way over to his own sleeping bag and air mattress, stripping down to t-shirt and boxers and crawling into his sleeping bag himself.
*Goodnight David* he heard a sleepy Selanothis say, not even twitching at her use of a name he forgot he had never told her was his own, he too slipped off to sleep.
As Shelly happily buttered toast for her breakfast, spreading honey on some and Vegemite on others, Selanothis flew down and settled on Solomon shoulder. *Now that Shelly has the memories of the fight, should we worry about errant reality warping?* she asked concerned.
*Nope,* Solomon said swiping a piece of Vegemite toast from Shelly as she went to pile them all on her plate, putting it in his mouth and crunching on it before she could demand it back. Protecting the plate with her body to prevent any more thefts, Shelly huffily scurried away to the couches and the table of the conversation nook to eat in peace. *She didn't just manifest, she's been reality warping for months, it's just that it's almost unconscious, like wishing. Later we'll need to make her aware of it and get her to control that too, but currently it's not an issue.*
*What do you mean 'unconscious'?* demanded Selanothis.
*Well like the Vegemite,* he said picking up the jar and screwing the lid back on. *Shelly's Australian and breakfast was toast. When she went to the pantry she expected honey and Vegemite, so that's what she found. Now this being America it's not actually true that this is the case anymore, Americans don't stock Vegemite in their pantries...*
*I don't know how you can eat that stuff!* Selanothis shuddered.
*I don't think it's possible to get a small enough amount of Vegemite for a pixie to enjoy it, you saw how little we put on the toast right? Merest scrape? It's a very powerful taste, you just need a hint of it. Anyway, not the point. Shelly expected Vegemite to be in the pantry and as it wasn't there her desire for Vegemite pushed her talent into producing it. Same with this," he pulled a hair elastic from his pocket, a red one.
*What about that?* Selanothis asked confused.
Solomon pointed to the pony tail Shelly was sporting this morning, complete with its red hair elastic. *We only bought a single one of each colour, I happened to remember where she left this last night and had put it in my pocket to return it to her this morning. Shelly expected it to be where she left her other things last night and her gift produced. Now there is two red hair elastics.*
*So one of the reasons you're so sure we can do this is because Shelly didn't just manifest, she's already got pretty good control over her abilities, we just need to teach her how to direct them?* Selanothis asked impressed.
*Yep,* Solomon replied taking another bite out of his toast and chewing thoughtfully. *Nearly all the time is going to be like yesterday, with interruptions. But we got a break.*
*Yep, a break. Agent Banks will be arriving, but he bought his own distraction. She'll keep him a little off balanced and distracted, which will prevent him noticing anything unusual we do. Also our MCO friend is on his way to Montreal, he thinks we went to ground and are hiding in Canada.*
*Why would he think that?*
*I may have bought Shelly's and my winter gear from a survival store in Montreal that the MCO monitors, as its used a lot by groups that are mutant friendly to supply mutants they intend to hide from the MCO in wilderness locations across Canada that they built. Last night the local MCO agent retrieved this weeks footage from their hidden cameras and found both myself and Shelly on it, being a conscientious and thorough operative, he went looking through the MCO alerts and found our descriptions and correctly put one and one together and called it in. Our friend from Las Vegas rerouted a flight booking, and is now flying from Boston to Montreal and will be tied up with false leads and red tape for a bit and won't be here in our hair. So in one day we got Whateley's corrupt Security convinced Mrs. Carson is just doing dangerous Magical workings here, our main antagonist in the MCO diverting himself to the wrong country, and our DPA operative more then a bit distracted.*
Solomon smirked. *Here they come now,* he said to the sounds of multiple people entering the retreat upstairs. Shooing Selanothis to go hide in Shelly's hair, he finished cleaning off the breakfast ingredients from the bench and walked to the bottom of the stairs to great their guests.
"Agent Banks." Solomon smiled. "Couldn't keep away?" he greeted the man Mrs. Carson had escorted to the retreat that morning as he came down the stairs into the basement. Mrs. Carson followed with a second woman, closing the door behind her as they trooped down the stairs into the basement area where Shelly, with Selanothis hidden in her hair, also waited to greet them.
"My boss was less then happy reading my report and he wants me to learn more about something that can end the world and see that it is being properly contained."
"Shelly's not going to be contained, she's going to be trained, as I keep trying to explain to everyone," Solomon declared. "Containment is just another way of saying under pressure till she explodes like a pressure cooker. I'm stopping the explosions by training her."
"So while you're training her, I'll look at the containment protocols and make sure they are something my boss can live with," Agent Banks continued as though Solomon's interruption hadn't contradicted him, ignoring the presence of Shelly scowling at him from behind Solomon's back.
After giving him a sigh, Solomon turned and smiled to the new woman Mrs. Carson had been escorting. "Agent Selleny I presume?" he greeted the striking graceful woman with a dancers gait who was wearing a stunning flowing long sleeved dress in autumnal colours, startling yellow and white patterns at the top, that flowed in to reds and oranges around her waist and down to browns and reds in her long skirt. All this was in a light cloth that moved freely over her tight trousers, knee high brown leather boots and a tight woollen top.
"I heard you believed I'd have let you go if I'd been the one that met you in Vegas?" she demanded forthright of Solomon.
"Come to make sure your partner does not make the same mistake twice?" he replied back with a smirk.
"I'm here on holidays!" she replied dramatically. "I was promised a trip through the mountains, quaint forgotten towns, picturesque covered bridges, scenic mountains full of forests in fall colours." She turned to Agent Banks and grinned possessively. "Cold nights, warm open fires and hot blooded men keeping me warm all night long." She licked her lips suggestively. "There was to be dancing, close and tight."
"I apologised already," Agent Banks said bright red. "I didn't remember you were on leave when I called and invited you to come with me to New Hampshire. I'll clear it when we get back to the office and get you your leave returned."
"We'll see." Agent Selleny smiled languidly reaching up to stroke his biceps lightly. "If you apologise to me the right way, I may not mind the lost leave," she said huskily, causing Agent Banks to try and discreetly rearrange his trousers as Agent Selleny laughed throatily.
*That is some distraction!* Selanothis 'pathed delightedly to Solomon. *And do I detect some denial in our reluctant paramour's reactions?*
Turning back towards Solomon and Mrs. Carson, Agent Banks blushed brightest red at Solomon's raised eye. "She's a tease," he mumbled. "DPA guidelines are that close colleagues aren't to work in the same teams, so she does everything she can to get a raise out of me everytime she partners me," he explained squirming, while Agent Selleny gave him a daggered look from behind, then smiling beatifically walked up to him, grabbed his arm and cuddled up to it.
"He was my first love! Straight out of the Academy together, he looked me up and proposed out of the blue, I knew he'd be my only partner for life," she turned and looking up into his eyes with a love struck gaze.
*You know, I do believe she's serious,* Selanothis 'pathed delightedly.
Wide eyed and panicked, Agent Banks gave an embarrassed laugh at his partner's antics before turning to Solomon. "Perhaps we can sit and discuss your plans? See what we need to do?" he suggested, his voice slightly strained.
*I do believe you are right,* Solomon replied to Selanothis with a concealed smirk. *And boy-o-boy do I think Agent Banks might just have received the blunt end of the clue stick finally.*
"Certainly," Solomon replied addressing the DPA agents. "Agent Selleny, this is Shelly," Solomon introduced them. "She's both the problem and our solution. Now as I have explained to Mrs. Carson, Shelly isn't dangerous unless cornered and threatened, and only for a limited time period while she is inexpert in controlling her powers. She's not inherently dangerous to the planet, she's just potentially problematic and our plan to prevent accidents is two fold. The first is to change our identity and hide so well that we can't be found easily, if at all. If we cannot be found, the short term problems of a confrontations getting out of hand are negated. The second part is a mid-term plan to teach Shelly how to control her powers herself, so that in any future confrontations she can limit herself and prevent accidents."
"What about long term? Are we to expect Shelly to be fighting villains?" Selleny asked looking to Shelly with a raised eyebrow.
"Shelly's abilities are spectacular, but not very heroic. I'm sure Shelly's experiences so far have already taught her the dangers of confrontations. She is not going to go deliberately seeking them out in the future, are you Shelly?"
"Na uh!" Shelly replied wide-eyed. "My talents too destructive for that! Everyone would be after me even if I survived doing it!"
Mrs. Carson blinked, and then looked speculatively at Solomon. Turning to the DPA agents she enquired. "Agent Banks, you said you wished to check the containment?" Confused at the unexpected question Agent Banks nodded cautiously. "Well then, I believe I can kill two birds with one stone. As you know, part of our agreement with the United States Government is to allow the DPA to 'inspect' our school yearly. Since you and your partner are here and wish to 'check the containment' I will allow you and your partner to carry out our yearly inspection for this year, at the standard rules."
"Standard rules?" Agent Banks enquired confused.
"You may inspect any buildings, bar the student cottages, but only when they are not in use by the student body.
"There is to be no attempting to sight or meet or track or in any way whatsoever to interact with the students, the students are to be totally oblivious to your presence, but any of my staff may be interviewed away from the student body by request.
"You are not to attempt penetration of Whateley files of any sort by any means. Be those financial, medical, surveillance, disciplinary, or even just a list of students attending the school or any classes in it.
"Basically Agent Banks, you may inspect the school but its student population is totally off limits at all times and in all ways, am I understood?"
Agent Banks blinked. "I can have full access to the security cameras for this retreat, since it is away from the student population?" Mrs. Carson nodded. "I can liaise with the Whateley security about perimeter patrols, surveillance of this cottage and the wider grounds away for the students?" Another nod. "I can access information they have about any undesirables and their movements outside the school grounds?" A nod. "I can access the records of the staff, especially the security staff?"
"You may interview my staff, but I will not provide their records," Mrs. Carson countered. "Too much of it pertains to information about their interactions with the student body, information I will not be providing. How co-operative my staff are to your enquiries is your problem and not mine."
Agent Banks looked solemnly at Mrs. Carson and finally nodded. "Agreed. I will call my office and have them send the paperwork for this inspection, I will also wish to spend some time discussing it with the last Agents to inspect you."
Mrs. Carson smirked. "Well one of them is currently attempting to get your attention right now," she said pointing to Agent Selleny sitting next to him, who had been attempting to subtly gain his attention and get him to look her way ever since Mrs. Carson first started making the offer.
Smiling sweetly Agent Selleny stood. "If you'd excuse us, I think there are some things I need to talk to my partner about upstairs." Without looking back she strode to the stairs and exited the room.
As Agent Banks stood to follow, Mrs. Carson gently restrained him. "I'll have security send over some escorts. Whatever you want to inspect, let them know, they'll organise for it to be free of students when you arrive. If you can give them a list, they'll be able to organise things so that while the students are in one area you can be in another." She gave him a hard stare to let him know that access to the students was never going to happen. Nodding Agent Banks left the room too by the stairs.
As Agent Banks left, Mrs. Carson looked firmly at Solomon and Shelly. "I believe you have some information for me? In particular I'd like to know by what means Shelly became so aware of her power's destructive potential?"
Not waiting for Solomon to answer, Selanothis removed herself from Shelly's hair and flew down to sit on the table before Mrs. Carson. *By combining mine and Solomon's talents,* she explained. *A 'first run' for the teaching method we'll be using with Shelly from now on.*
"Can I ask what happened?"
"I showed Shelly what my powers showed me would have happened if you had not subdued our friendly MCO operative," Solomon explained.
"He shot Father Solomon, and he shot me and he just kept shooting me no matter what I did and then, and then ..." Shelly just got wide eyed and whimpered, causing Solomon to wrap her up in a hug.
Once Shelly stopped shivering, Solomon released her and suggested. "Shelly, we are going to get very busy over the next few days, and unfortunately after today we're going to need to stay in this basement practically all the time. Why don't you get dressed in your snow clothes and exercise Maggie?" Thinking hard Solomon projected *And Selanothis, you can listen into Mrs. Carson through me while we discuss things that are just going to make Shelly upset while keeping an eye on her.*
*Solomon! I hate private conversations and secrets!*
*I know, but this isn't secrets, this is Mrs. Carson getting very detailed knowledge about exactly what nearly happened in Las Vegas, do you think Shelly could sit here while we did that? Do you want her to?*
Selanothis signed. *No, you're right.* Smiling at Mrs. Carson she jumped up and whistling took off flying for Shelly's tent as Maggie woke up from where she was snoozing and flew to follow her.
Mrs. Carson watch the two fly to the tent and follow Shelly inside, then turned back to Solomon who casually put his finger to his lips and started talking. "As promised yesterday, I can give you more information." He smiled at her calm expression, only revealing her unhappiness at his behaviour by slight tightening around the eyes and mouth.
"As you saw, Agent Banks is here, and he managed to bring his own distraction with him. Agent Selleny will keep him mostly off balance enough for us to work around the two of them comfortably. Also Agent Selleny is already pre-disposed towards allowing our plan to continue, she has a slight pre-cognitive ability of her own, little more then trained intuition, but she 'feels' no danger from Shelly. No matter what people are saying, she has a lifetime's experience of following her own 'hunches' over other people's 'logic'.
"Next our gun happy MCO Agent is currently lost in the wilderness around Montreal, looking for mutant 'safe houses' in an attempt to find Shelly. As the only MCO Agent on the case who has seen her and believes I exist, that means the MCO is not a problem at the moment.
"Finally 'payola platoon' of your own Whateley security paid the retreat a visit last night and found your magical working in progress and reported back such to all their masters. They will be concentrating their endeavours for the next few nights in other likely places in their attempts to find Shelly and me and prove that we are here. Until they find such proof, the ones they report to will be content merely to gather and preposition their forces, but will hold off attempts on me and Shelly until such time as they have the proof, and the knowledge, to make those attempts successfully."
"So you will now restrict yourself to the retreat so that they do not get that proof?" Mrs. Carson suggested.
Solomon held up a hand in the 'wait' sign and stood, turning to the tent as Shelly rushed out with Selanothis back in her hair and Maggie flying above her head, waving happily to Solomon she ran up the stairs. Standing with his head twisted slightly to the side, Solomon waited till he heard the cottage door slam shut, then a moment later much quieter it closed again. Turning back to Mrs. Carson he smiled and sat.
"Now unless our DPA Agents were smart enough to leave bugs, we are alone." Mrs. Carson frowned and pointed to the seat Agent Sellany had been sitting at and Solomon again with a wicked gleam in his eye put his finger to his mouth, grinning at her.
*There is a bug!* Selanothis almost screamed in his mind.
*Just the one, planted by Agent Selleny almost automatically. Its battery will run out before you get back. Nothing has been said about or from you.*
*So? They can tell your whistle from a Shelly whistle how? Relax Selanothis, you can do a full sweep when you get back.* Smiling at Mrs. Carson Solomon explained. "Now that payola platoon has done their expected snooping we can put in place full wards, barriers as well as warnings, and not let people back in without your presence to walk them through the wards. With that up they'll concentrate on plain old observation, and they can't see into the basement, so as long as you seem to be doing your workings in the main room above and don't disappear from view for unexpectedly long periods of time, the cover of the retreat being reserved for you will hold."
Solomon sighed. "Days, not weeks like I had hoped. We should have enough time to train Shelly, but it's going to be close. Very close."
"What are you training Shelly to do?"
"Change us. Right down to the DNA. We won't look like we do now, nor have the same DNA. Then a simple teleport spell and we'll 'disappear', and it will be impossible for the MCO to find us. We can live normal lives, Shelly can learn without even the possibility of being tracked."
Mrs. Carson looked sceptical and Solomon laughed. "All right, would you accept the statement practically impossible? I know technically there would be people with the skills to track us anyway, but they would have no reason to try. The MCO is global, but without DNA, descriptions of us, clues to where we would go and who would help us, the resources they'd actually assign to looking for us don't have a hope of finding us. Next the DPA only have jurisdiction in the United States, if we are not in the United States their abilities are crippled below a level effective enough to find us. Finally there is you, as either Headmaster of Whateley Academy or Lady Astarte, do you really have any reason to want to track us down?"
Mrs. Carson sighed and shook her head. "You're right, I shouldn't be surprised, with your abilities, obviously you have advantages in planning things like this."
Solomon smiled. "Yes I do, and it's not really your fault. Everyone else who has abilities similar to mine likes to play 'spider in the web' and sit there pulling the threads to make people follow the paths they decide. I either have the choice of acting the same way so you'll remember my skills, or acting the way I do and you forgetting I have them. Let us just say people forgetting me is how I prefer things."
Mrs. Carson frowned. "So what did you show Shelly that has her so aware of her potential?"
"An alternate past, one that very nearly came to pass, just a few seconds hesitation on your part would have been enough for our MCO agent to have got his gun pulled and the world to end."
"Would it really have ended?" she asked curiously?
"Oh yes, extinction level event," Solomon assured her. "Shelly would have set off an explosion easily as strong as a super volcano or massive comet hitting the earth."
"How dangerous is she?" Mrs. Carson gasped.
"I can't really say the someone who could set of an extinction level event isn't a danger, but at the basics, her talent doesn't even sound dangerous," Solomon sighed. "At its simplest, Shelly can reality warp about one hundred kilograms of matter from one form to any other form she wants, with some limitations."
"It has to be real, it can't be impossible," Solomon explained with a shrug. "Also raw materials are easier for her, as are living things for some reason. Things she is intimately familiar with. Lumps of raw elements or compounds, living things she can do easily. Mechanical or technological 'things' require her to know what it is and how it's made. So she could easily get a lump of iron, with practice should could get an iron bar, but she'll need lots and lots of skill before she could get even a bare metal iron sword, let alone one with a wrapped leather grip or made of steel.
"That covers her limitations, then we get to the powerful part of her talent. It just has to be real matter. Shelly doesn't have to know its real nor understand it to make it. In fact she can think any unreal thing she likes and her talent will produce the closest real analog to it."
"And in Las Vegas? What would have happened if I hadn't rendered that MCO Agent unconscious?"
Solomon sighed. "Anti-matter not properly contained interacts with a similar amount of matter to convert to pure energy. The largest nuclear bomb ever detonated converted about two kilograms of matter to energy and produced an explosion so large that the designer of it on seeing the explosion became a lifelong proponent of limiting nuclear weapons, eventually culminating with the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Shelly could conceivably produce one hundred kilograms of anti-matter which would interact with a like amount of real matter making a two hundred kilogram matter to energy event. With an event that large, we've left the realms of nuclear war and moved into the realms of super volcanoes, things like the Yellowstone Caldera exploding or a substantial comet impacting the earth. An event similar to that which ended the age of dinosaurs."
"So she could make an event so bad it causes the extinction of the human race!?" Mrs. Carson gasped.
Solomon nodded. "When scared, cornered and pushed in fear of her life, she can strike out. When doing so, pushing her gift to its limits, wishing so hard for an explosion then yes, conceivably it's possible. But she knows about it now, it's almost certain she'll not wish for an antimatter or nuclear explosion no matter what. She understands what will happen, no just intellectually, emotionally. She has seen the results."
"But her skill can do it?" Mrs. Carson pushed.
"You know it can, otherwise why were you there? Mrs. Potter wouldn't have pointed you in the right direction and warned you again of the reactions of scared committed men if she'd known Shelly couldn't do that!"
"Mrs. Potter," Mrs Carson stated with a grim expression. "You are probably aware that she gave me two instructions for that day?" Solomon carefully nodded. "Believe you and 'prepare for the worst.' Do you want to explain to me how I am to reconcile those instructions?"
"All I can say Mrs. Carson, is that I can see the future, but I cannot control it. I have made my choice. I will stand beside Shelly come what may, because I believe in her, and I believe in her ability to learn what we have to teach her in the time we need."
"In that case all wise and powerful Solomon, I wish you all speed and success with your endeavour, but I must warn you that I will be, as instructed, preparing for the worst."
Solomon sighed and then nodded. "Mrs. Carson may I request a favour then, well two?"
"If the worst is needed, please intern both myself as well as Shelly in ARC Black section. Combine our stays, make it so that neither can be revived without the other."
"Something you have foreseen?"
"Nothing world ending, just personal. Shelly is a child and would be an easy target for those we know exist, to control and manipulate if she was locked in ARC Black. I merely wish to make sure that in that circumstance, I will still be there too to continue helping her."
Mrs. Carson examined his face carefully before nodding. "Alright," she agreed "And the second favour?"
"When you talk to Mrs. Potter, ask that she contacts me."
Mrs. Carson blinked. "You wish to contact a pre-cog?" she asked in disbelief.
Solomon laughed. "No. I merely wish to ask that she stops interfering."
Mrs. Carson stared at Solomon. "Interfering?" she enquired in a deadly cold tone.
Unfazed Solomon stared back. "You've heard the saying 'too many cooks spoil the broth'?" he asked, waiting for her cautious nod. "Well we have too many clairvoyants stirring the possibilities. Mrs. Potter has her own skills, her own contacts and a set of cleft points she can manoeuvre. I have my skills, my contacts and my cleft points. It should be obvious that we are not necessarily talking about the same cleft points, nor possibly the same wanted outcomes from even the subset of cleft points we both can manoeuvre. With more then one clairvoyant, the complexities spiral exponentially and neither can achieve the outcomes they wish. I merely ask that you pass on my invitation to talk so I can persuade her to let us be."
Mrs. Carson favoured him with a long stare before giving him a short nod. Turning towards the stairs she made her way up them and away.
About a future
At the first ring Solomon picked up the phone. "Mrs. Potter, so good of you to call," he greeted her.
"Spare me your drama David, you know that being with Ragnarök enables the chance for the very worst of outcomes to occur."
Solomon smiled. "Only if I die, and I have no intentions of doing that. Even then, it is only the remotest possibility that Shelly'll embrace her power and become a Super Villain Vigilante bent of punishing the MCO for my death by raining down antimatter explosions on all the MCO bases she can find."
"But it's not even a possibility if you leave her," Mrs. Potter reminded him.
"And all the life ending possibilities disappear from the table if Shelly is left in my care," he reminded her. "In fact no possibilities of life ending events would have ever been possible at all if all clairvoyants had left her to her fate unhindered!"
"Now David, that was always a low probability," Mrs. Potter chided him.
"Two of the agents there were yours, are you telling me your reputation alone would not have forestalled the last one too?" he asked dryly.
"I only sent mine when it was certain you would be there."
"And I only went as it was certain you would send trouble." Solomon sighed. "That is the past, I have not asked to speak to you for a she said, he said, who shot first debate, I was always in the camp that Han Solo was perfectly justified in shooting first," he defended with a laugh. "I asked to speak to discuss what will we do next? You have moved your chips, I have placed mine. I will pledge no more manipulation, if you do the same. I have faith in Shelly and I believe the course that is going to happen will have a happy ending. Will you allow it to run its course?"
Sweating slightly Solomon awaited her reply.
"You know the most likely outcome?" she finally asked. "It is next to impossible that you will succeed, I have already advised Mrs. Carson to be prepared for your failure."
"I believe in Shelly," Solomon replied simply. "Miracles do happen. I have seen them myself this very week."
Stunned silence greeted that claim, before it was broken with rueful laughter. "Solomon. I see now why that title commands such respect. The knowledge to change the world and the faith to let it be so changed! That is a terrifying combination."
A thoughtful pause followed that exclamation, with both Solomon and Mrs. Potter seemingly awaiting the others reply. "So be it," Mrs. Potter finally sighed. "I have my contingencies in place already, and the sure knowledge Ragnarök will not leave the school except in your care or mine. We will allow you your chance to perform a miracle."
"Thank you," Solomon replied simply, ended the call. Putting down the phone he breathed deeply, as though a weight had been removed from his chest. He had been bluffing, and he knew not still if Mrs. Potter had known or not. Giving up pushing the cleft points from here on out would be no hardship for him, that call had been the last cleft point he could manipulate before all would be decided anyway. Now it was all in the hands of God, and in those hands Solomon long ago had placed his trust. Standing up, Solomon went to prepare lunch.
With warm bowls of soup for lunch Solomon greeted the happy flushed faces of Shelly and Selanothis as they ran and flew back into the basement room. As Shelly slurped her soup, and Selanothis sipped her's from her thimble, Solomon explained what they were going to do that afternoon.
"Today is going to be about control," he explained. "About getting used to Shelly guiding me in the use of my gift through the telepathic linking Selanothis can provide us."
"Will it be like yesterday's sharing?" Shelly asked excitedly, pausing in her eating to look up at Solomon.
"Not quite," Solomon smiled back. "It's going to be less deep then that, and much more two way. Selanothis is going to try and link us just that little bit below conscious thought, at the level of intentions. Not just when we speak aloud, but at the level where we decide to speak."
"So, this will let me control your gift?" Shelly drawled skeptically.
"No," Solomon confirmed with smile. "But it will allow me to know how you want to move the cleft points. Hopefully, as we get better and better with practice, I can learn to respond to your desires fast enough so that it seems to you like you are experiencing a reality of your own making, and we can use that illusion to help you learn the consequences of your actions, basically use my gift like a huge Virtual Reality simulation of real life." Shelly stared up at Solomon, eyes wide in amazement, causing him to chuckle.
*Then little bird,* Selanothis continued. *I will start revising with you the choices you make, and what the results were. Together we'll decide on improvements and then we'll all try again, slowly working our way through the future like a video game, till we achieve the results we want.* Selanothis then flew up in front of Shelly with a huge grin. *And then my dear, it all gets a little bit difficult,* she intoned with dark humour.
"Difficult!" Shelly squeaked.
*Difficult!* Selanothis agreed. *Once we know the path to the right future, then we start drilling you over and over and over again until you can make those choices, fulfil those tasks perfectly, at exactly the right time, always!. No matter how tired you are, no matter what else is happening around you.*
"What? Why?" Shelly asked confused.
*Because you'll only get one chance to do this, and most likely people are going to be very serious about stopping you doing it,* Selanothis explained solemnly, reaching out a hand to gently touch Shelly's cheek.
Silently Shelly contemplated this, before Solomon offered her the plate of toast and silently encouraged her to finish her soup. Absently taking some toast, Shelly dipped it in her soup and chewed on it as she stared blankly down, obviously thinking deeply on what Solomono and Selanothis had revealed to her.
Sighing, Solomon opened his eyes, rubbing the palms of his hands against his forehead before sitting up and smiling at the patient face of Mrs. Carson, sitting primly on a chair pulled close so she could study Shelly's face.
"We'll let her sleep until dinner," Selanothis projected her voice audibly as she massaged Shelly's temples, slowly relaxing her into a deep sleep.
"How does the training progress?" Mrs. Carson asked standing to settle a blanket over Shelly, before taking her chair back to the secluded nook at the back of the basement room and resettling herself there.
Moving to the nook himself, Solomon sat and addressed her. "Well. Already in a single afternoon we have progressed to Shelly controlling the Seeing. It's still something she must concentrate on to do successfully, but with practice, it will become automatic, and then the real training can begin."
"What were you scrying?" Mrs. Carson asked curiously.
Solomon winced. "All too many Princesses, celebrities and boy bands," he grimaced. "Understandable, with the death of her parents she's automatically shying away from looking at those she knows, her unconscious is protecting her from seeing any more of them dead. Selanothis is also subtly influencing her so that we keep her away from emotional areas. We unfortunately just don't have time at the moment to deal with any unwanted emotional outpourings, the foreseen ones are going to cause us enough difficulties as it is. Dealing with her grief is something we hope to delay a little bit till we have the time we need to help Shelly work through it properly."
"So it's all still on schedule?" Mrs. Carson tried to confirm.
"It's all proceeding according to plan," Solomon promised.
Mrs. Carson nodded and moved onto her other issue. "Our DPA Agent has asked for testing of Shelly, to confirm what exact powers she has. Failing that, he wants to conduct a series of interviews with her."
Solomon grimaced. "We don't have time for testing, nor for him to do interviews with Shelly. Shelly doesn't know what her powers are, and I doubt Agent Banks will have the time he needs to tease it out of her." Solomon sat thoughtfully for a bit before suddenly he smiled at Mrs. Carson. "Counter with an offer instead to interview me. He can have as many interviews as he likes with me in the evenings after Shelly goes to sleep. I do know Shelly's powers, and it will give me time to work on putting him at ease with our plan."
"Your plan Solomon," Mrs. Carson reminded him. "I still haven't decided if I fully support it."
"Our plan Mrs. Carson," Solomon repeated firmly. "Selanothis, Shelly and myself have all agreed to it."
After regarding him silently for a few moments, Mrs. Carson stood without further comment. "I'll tell Agent Banks to come here this evening," she said as she took her leave and left the basement room.
Solomon sat down with a cup of hot chocolate and took a sip, sighing internally as he considered the angry glare of Agent Banks seated before him.
"What seems to be the problem Agent Banks?" he finally inquired politely.
"You know!" Agent Banks growled.
Solomon allowed himself an audible sigh. "Yes Agent Banks, I do know, but it helps things if I don't address people's 'private' thoughts out loud. I can't read minds, and I may be misreading the cause of your distress. Despite what you think, I don't spend all my time trying to read the future so that I can know everything of every interaction that will happen to me in a day, I have more important things to do!"
"More import things then the future?" Agent Banks demanded incredulously.
Solomon laughed. "I find the present infinitely more important then the future. After all, if you get the present right, the future more or less takes care of itself."
"So you expect me to believe that you didn't spend the day making sure I did all the things you wanted me to do?" Agent Banks demanded.
"I could do things like that, but I don't want to," Solomon assured him.
"Why not?" Anger Banks demanded disbelievingly.
"If I sit here all day looking for all the cleft points of your day and then manipulating them so that they go the way I want them to go, how does that not make you just my puppet? My plaything? I've basically taken all free choice away from you!"
"You feel you would be usurping God?"
"Hell no! I've still got my self-determination, I've not usurped God! Only a delusional would think that, but I have taken your identity away from you. The very things that make you you are no longer being controlled by you, they are controlled by me."
"Taking what makes me me? What? How?"
"You think controlling all someone else's decisions is good?"
"You're right it's not, it's evil."
"Well, that seems a little strong..."
"No Agent Banks, removing the free will from someone is just about the most evil thing you can do to them," Solomon assured him. "Agent Banks, remembering I am a priest, a Christian. What is the purpose of life?"
"The purpose of life?" Agent Banks blinked, caught of guard by the change is subject. "I don't know I vaguely remember a saying that ..."
"The purpose of life," Solomon stated forcefully, interrupting Agent Banks. "Is to discover God. The purpose of life is to become closer to God and show God that you wish to be together with God for all eternity. The purpose of life it to do acts that get you to heaven. Taking away free will is evil because it denies someone the chance to fulfil their purpose in life."
Agent Banks blinked and stared at Solomon in disbelief. "What about Shelly? Are you making an exception for her?"
"Why would you say that?" Solomon asked puzzled.
"Well, obviously Shelly is doing everything you want her to."
"Shelly is doing what Shelly wants to do, Shelly's free choice is unhindered. I am not making Shelly do anything, merely showing her the consequences of her choices and allowing her the chance to make other ones. Shelly is deciding which choice she wants to make each time."
"But you know what choices she is going to make! That's why you are showing her the consequences!" Agent Banks argued fiercely.
"I know, and I'm very proud of the decisions she is making," Solomon said with a fatherly smile.
"But you are manipulating her to make them!" Agent Banks snapped.
Solomon glared at Agent Banks, then took a deep calming breath. "Agent Banks, what would happen if your boss told your partner to put a bullet in the brain of a mutant under her care?" he asked calmly.
"She'd give him the finger," Agent Banks replied immediately with a shrug. "No way is she going to be overruled in the field by a pencil pushing xenophobe."
"And knowing that, if you left a, let us say 'controversial', mutant in her care, like you did in Colorado, would you be guilty of manipulating Agent Sellany when she ignored an order to do something like that?"
"What? Of course not! Like I could manipulate Sellany! She'd as happily tell me to fuck off as she would our boss!"
"So why do you keep insisting I'm manipulating Shelly just because I can foresee how she's going to react? I'm not changing her reactions, just foreseeing them! Accuse me of manipulation when I get someone to do something they'd normally never do!" Solomon snapped as Agent Banks sat there blinking at him.
Calmly Solomon read through the report Whateley security had prepared and Carson had delivered to them as soon as breakfast had finished. Passing the final piece of paper from the file to Agent Selleny, Solomon sat back and looked to Agent Banks. "So, now we know," he commented.
Frowning down at the papers spread on the table before him, Agent Banks accepted the portfolio of the last of the operatives from Agent Selleny when she finished reading it and added it to the papers spread on the table of the nook in the Summer Retreat basement. "It's an extraction team," he stated bluntly. "You don't gather this many skilled ex-special forces personnel together without a target in mind."
Agent Selleny reached out and pointed to a particular portfolio, calling attention to a particular skill of the operative. "Not just extraction. While a sniper is a good backup, a kill rate like this, with the non-war history of this operative, screams 'Assassin'. I'd say it's a 'capture or kill' mission."
Agent Banks grimaced, then nodded. "Agreed, but what is the target, and who is their employers?"
"The target is me," Solomon stated bluntly. "And their employers are The Syndicate."
"How can you know?" Agent Banks growled, glaring up at him. "All these are just hired guns, they work for anyone if the pay is right, it's impossible to guess who they are working for at the moment!"
Solomon just smiled and tapped his head, giving Agent Banks a sly wink. As Agent Banks glared at him, Solomon turned back to Carson. "They are assembling, but are not yet ready to attack. Their handler is not convinced I am here, and his masters would prefer to avoid an incident with you if at all possible. We still have time, this hasn't changed the time table at all."
"You still believe you can succeed?" she pressed him.
"The odds have not altered," he assured her.
Nodding Mrs. Carson turned to Agent Banks. "I assume you will want to observe them?" she asked, pointing at the portfolios on the table.
"If possible," Agent Banks agreed.
Nodding Mrs. Carson stood. "I'll take you to security, they can take you to the team keeping them under surveillance." As Agent Banks gathered the papers back into the file, she turned to Solomon. "I assume you will continue Shelly's instructions?"
"I will," he agreed. "As I said, the timetable is unaltered by these arrivals, it was always expected that my enemies would gather," he reminded her.
Grimacing, Mrs. Carson nodded, then turned and led Agents Banks and Selleny from the basement.
Once they had left, Selanothis calmly strode from her concealment in Shelly's hair and onto Shelly's shoulder, fixing Solomon with wry grin. *'The odds are unchanged'* she smirked at him. *I supposed once the chance of something occurring has already fallen into the drain and started circling it, additional complications aren't really able to change the odds,* she commented dryly.
"It was always known that Shelly and I would be pursued by The Syndicate," Solomon reminded her. "Their arrival is confirmation of this."
Selanothis laughed. *I have access to your memories Solomon, I know exactly what this means and what you haven't told Carson* she reminded him.
Seeing the concerned look on Shelly's face, Solomon quickly assured her. "It truly hasn't changed the timetable Shelly. You will still have time to learn all you need to learn."
Shelly stared at him for a few seconds before unexpectedly she broke out into a huge grin. "I have access to your memories too Solomon, and a priest should be ashamed of what you did! Lying by omitting is still lying, and that was a big, huge, whopper of a lie you just told Mrs. Carson there, she's not gonna forget in a hurry you did that when she finds out!"
Blushing brightly, Solomon quickly stood and started gathering the left over mugs from the meeting, scrambling off to clean and dry them as the laughter of Selanothis and Shelly followed him.
Sitting up on her mattress, Shelly looked desperately around as the mental sirens of Selanothis' wards sounded in her head. Silent to the ear, Selanothis had set her magic wards to shriek mentally to Shelly, Solomon and herself whenever they were disturbed, and now they were sounding. Desperately scrambling from her sleeping bag, Shelly grabbed the nightlight beside her, and diving out of the tent she ran for the stairs.
Running up the stairs, Shelly cried out in horror as the door above opened, and when she saw the holster on the side of the figure, hand already reaching for the gun, she screamed in fear and raised her own hand in terror.
"Shelly no!" Solomon called in terror himself, when a bolt of light left him, zinging straight for Shelly, who collapsed bonelessly, thumping painfully down onto the stairs.
"What happened? Is everyone alright?" Agent Banks demanded, gun drawn as he cautiously came down the stairs to where Solomon was carefully gathering Shelly in his arms.
"Just a sleep spell," Solomon assured him, before standing with Shelly in his arms and giving Mrs. Carson, who had defended the stairs behind Agent Banks, a hurt look. "We'd gone to bed and set the wards, Shelly woke to them screeching and thought we were under attack," he accused her.
"I'm sorry for the late arrival," Mrs. Carson apologised contritely. "Agent Banks stayed observing our unwelcome guests until late in the evening."
"I wanted to see what their night protocols were," Agent Banks defended himself when Solomon's accusing glare swung his way. "How well the team was interacting, if there were frictions."
"And?" Solomon asked curiosity as he carried Shelly back into the basement.
Agent Banks shook his head. "No issues, it's very professional, no egos at all. It's not a tight knit team, too many spoken instructions and meetings to organise things. They've not worked together frequently and already sorted all these things before. But there is no egos, no disagreements, just instructions and acknowledgements."
Solomon nodded his understanding as he lay Shelly on a lounge and covered her in a blanket, before pulling up a chair to sit beside her.
"So, how is the training of Shelly progressing?" Mrs. Carson enquired softly as she and the two DPA Agents also pulled up chairs close to the lounge Solomon had laid Shelly out on and sat.
"Excellently," Solomon replied stroking Shelly's head comfortingly. "Tomorrow we are going to do a test of her control, prove to Shelly that she does not need to fear her gift."
"Control?!" Agent Banks bleated disbelievingly. "Does she have any?" he demanded pointing to the sleeping Shelly, deliberately slept in order to prevent her lashing out with her gift.
"She has enough for the test," Solomon replied unconcerned.
"Enough for the test?" Agent Selleny jumped on the qualification. "That sounds ... ominous?" she queried.
Solomon shrugged. "Shelly has fears about the test. Concerns, emotional issues that if not dealt with will hinder her abilities, abilities we need her to use."
"You need her to destroy the world?" Agent Banks demanded horrified.
Solomon looked at him with disappointment. "Agent Banks, as I keep trying to tell you, 'destroying the world' is not Shelly's power. That is an out-of-control manifestation of them caused by emotional distress and extreme situations. Much like a telepath can cause headaches screaming for help, or a TK superman can accidentally punch through walls. Shelly's gift is wondrous, and used correctly, it is the answer to our current dilemma."
"OK, what is Shelly's gift?" he growled.
Solomon sighed and pointed to the magpie, perched asleep on the back of a chair. "As I have told you, she is a reality warper. She has the ability to transform up to one hundred kilograms of mass into all that she imagines."
"And this will help you how?" Agent banks demanded.
Solomon smiled. "I weigh less then one hundred kilograms, as does Shelly herself."
"You!" agent Banks exclaimed in disbelief. "You're going to have Shelly change the two of you?!" he demanded. "Into what?"
"Into not us," Solomon replied calmly. "The plan is to be so different, nobody will ever be able to identify Shelly or myself ever again."
In stunned silence Agent Banks stared at Solomon in disbelief.
*What If I fail? What if I can't stop her and she makes a black hole?* Selanothis worried privately to Solomon the next morning as Shelly happily busied herself making toast for breakfast. Smiling slightly Soloman again snagged a piece of Vegemite toast from her plate as Shelly shrieked and stamped her foot at him, glaring before gathering the rest and scurrying off to the nook to eat in peace.
Solomon laughed, then quickly covered his mouth and manfully swallowed the laughter so as not to offend Selanothis.
*I fail to see what is so funny about that!* Selanothis decried.
Solomon took a bite of his toast to hide his grin. *Its just that I made the point of a black hole to Shelly because its big and scary and 'end of the world' sounding, but at the same time, not actually a problem with her.*
*She can't make black holes?* Selanothis exclaimed in relief.
*Oh no, she can,* Solomon said with a smirk. *They are just not so very dangerous,* he explained.
Selanothis stared at him in disbelief. *A black hole isn't dangerous!* she mentally screeched.
*Not the ones Shelly can make,* Solomon assured her, smiling down at the upset pixie. *It would take better equipment then the very best physics labs in the world have to even detect any black hole Shelly could make.*
*What?* Selanothis asked stunned.
*Black holes have mass right? It is their extreme mass that makes them so dangerous, able to hold in light. Well, Shelly can only manipulate around 100 kilograms of mass. She could turn it into a black hole but it would still only be 100 kilograms of mass. To turn that into a black hole you'd need to compress it to a really, really, infinitesimally small volume. 3 times 10 to the minus 22 meters in radius. Zero point 22 zeros and then a lonely trailing 3 meters in size. The smallest things even the machines at CERN can detect are about ten to the minus 20 meters in size, and this would be a thousand times smaller.*
*What about the black hole's gravity?* Selanothis asked confused.
*It's 100 kilograms. It would be as dangerous as standing next to a 100 kilogram motorcycle. Does that rip you apart? Do you even feel any gravitational pull from it? Basically while she could create a black hole, you'd be hard pressed to even be able to detect it before the galactically larger earth's gravity field ripped it apart. Hence why I used it, 'big and scary' sounding to make Shelly sit up and take notice, not actually that bad if she really did it.*
Sighing Selanothis smiled up Solomon just before he finished. *No, it is the release of all that matter as energy as the blackhole disintegrates that would be the problem, not any issues from its gravity. It wouldn't be quite as bad as an anti-matter explosion, but only because it would only be the mass of the black hole converting to energy, not like for anti-matter, where you'd also have an equal amount to normal matter converting to energy as well. So if Shelly created the biggest black-hole she could, it'd only destroy any nearby cities, not rip the earth apart or anything like that.*
Selanothis stared at Solomon in horror, the smile freezing on her face like rigour mortis.
*Once I explain to her that she can only manipulate one hundred kilos, and that the gravity from that is pitiful, she'll understand instinctively how useless black holes are, and her talents should stop her building them,* Solomon assured Selanothis, turning to look across at the girl eating at the nook, who on spotting him looking her way stuck out her tongue before pointedly crunching down on a piece of toast.
Smiling, Solomon returned his regard to Selanothis and frowned at her grey, sickly expression. *You all right there Selanothis? You're looking awfully nervous,* he asked worriedly.
Without answering, Selanothis just took off flying for the basement's bathroom.
"What's with the side of beef?" Selanothis asked as they stepped out onto the deck and saw the beef caracas that had been left on the deck's patio table. The test with Shelly had been all that they could have hoped for, and Solomon and Selanothis were taking the time for a bit of air while Shelly slept off her exhaustion.
"Well, Shelly is going to need some mass, and a pig is about the right size and similar to a human in important ways. We'll get her to change this side of beef into a full pig carcass instead. If she can do that successfully, we'll then test some live warping."
"Live warping?" Selanothis looked scared.
Solomon sighed. "I ordered a couple of pigs, they'll be delivered here day after tomorrow if all goes well with the side of beef test tomorrow." At Selanothis glare he shrugged his shoulders. "You ate bacon this morning. These pigs were bought from the abattoir, don't pretend like you've never killed an animal before! I'm sorry, yes its animal experimentation, but we have to know she can do exactly what we need."
Sighing Selanothis nodded her understanding, as carefully Solomon wrapped up the side of beef in a cloth. "I'd better take this in," he explained. "If we leave it out here it'll freeze and be useless for tomorrow's test with Shelly."
Solomon grunted as he lifted the side of beef, and breathing heavily got it up on his shoulder, started manoeuvring it inside. Grunting Solomon quick-timed it through the cottage, before finally putting it down. Breathing heavily Solomon leaned against the bathroom wall, smiling happily to where he had the side of beef propped up in the shower stall.
"I wondered why you cleaned that so carefully last night, bleach and all," Selanothis commented having followed him.
"Well, I don't want it going to waste," Solomon smiled at her. "Once Shelly turns it into a pig's carcass we can put it on the spit out on the deck and cook up dinner for everyone. We've only got a few more days to go now. The pig's carcass tomorrow, the two live pigs the day after, and then we'll need to go straight into the main event the next day," he explained. "The Syndicate team minder has made up his mind. He's sure I'm here and he's given them the go-a-head for an extraction. They'll wait a couple of days to see if they'll have an off-campus opportunity, then he'll ask for permission to enter the campus to get me.
Selanothis gave Solomon a worried look. "You know how tricky this is. Aren't you going too fast?"
Solomon shrugged. "I believe in Shelly," he stated simply. "Maggie alone proves that she can do it. The test are more for Shelly's benefit."
"Shelly's benefit!?" Selanothis demanded stunned.
Solomon grinned at her. "Well, it would be better for her in her own mind after seeing all the ways it could go wrong, for her to see it in real life working perfectly before she tries it on us," he assured her. "And really, a dinner the night before, gathering together all those who are helping us?" he patted the side of beef happily. "Always good for moral, and Shelly likes roast pork better then she does roast beef." Turning to Selanothis he smiled at her happily.
Having been sitting beside the phone, Solomon answered it after a single ring. "Father Timothy?" he greeted the caller.
"How did you know it was me?" Father Timothy asked stunned.
"This time of night? This number?" Solomon countered logically.
"Yeah, I suppose so," Father Timothy sighed. "I have news, they positively identified the remains of the man and woman from your small town today, they will be releasing their bodies tomorrow. I just finished saying the rites over them and watching them being placed into coffins for the trip."
Solomon closed his eyes and slumped down. "I don't know how to thank you enough for doing this for us," Solomon apologised softly.
"Actually, it's not as bad as I thought, well it is as bad, but I'm handling it better." Father Timothy sighed. "There is a lot of need for my skills out here, both legal and spiritual. These people are getting circled by the absolute worst of ambulance chasers, getting caught up in all sorts of dubious things when their grief is such they have no idea what to do. Whenever the situation gets too much for me, and I feel too angry or upset, I can vent by tearing through the crap documents some of the scum are getting these poor people to sign. Filling out the paperwork to get them invalidated and the scum sanctioned for their actions is very cathartic, helps me calm down again and get back to the right state of mind for helping these people."
"What about the locals?" Solomon asked in concern.
"Desperately in need of the help too," Father Timothy confirmed. "Luckily once here, I could use my contacts to get other sympathetic and willing helpers out here too and reduce the load on the locals, let them take some breaks from it all. Get some clear thinking, help them start planning, not just trying to react."
"Once again Tim, thank you, if there is anything you need..."
"No need, I have the contacts and we are getting offers of help from all over, we have the numbers we need on the ground now. Oh, I almost forgot, the other detail you asked me to look into? Apparently it was open and shut. The assets were just money and investments, and a check has already been made out. It is on the way to the address you gave me now."
"I will keep an eye out and pass that on too."
"Listen, sorry I'm being called, they have identified some more remains and I'm on call for the Catholics tonight, and I'm being waved through, they are ready for me again. I just wanted you to know first so you can inform those that need to know and prepare them."
"I will. Thank you Father Timothy."
Putting down the receiver Solomon sighed and turned *Will you tell her now?* Selanothis asked. *She has a busy day tomorrow and could use the sleep.*
Solomon sat there and thought, looking towards the tent Shelly withdrew into to when she wanted privacy, the tent Shelly had entered hours ago and could be heard peacefully sleeping in. Finally he looked to Selanothis. "All I can go by is what I would want, and I would want to know. What about you?"
*The same, I would want to know too. I know she can't do anything, but still letting her know matters. It's her choice, not ours. However she handles the news, we shouldn't deny her the choice.*
"Please wake her up then, I'll put the kettle on for her and dig out the chocolate biscuits I've been saving."
Holding the crying girl, Solomon just concentrated on hugging her, letting her cry it out. Shelly had taken far to little time thinking about her parents deaths, and she needed this time to once again process that they were truly gone and to move a little further down the bumpy road of grieving.
When Shelly started wiping her eyes on the back of her hand, Solomon handed her a hankie and sat back a bit. "I assume you'll be wanting to go to the funeral?" Shelly just nodded. "With a case like this, there being well international interest in the funerals, there are a few things that need to be done. Do you want to plan the funerals yourself or are there people you feel will handle it well?"
Shelly thought for a minute. "Mum once said she had a will, and it's all written in there. She also said that when she and Dad divorced both of them wrote wills so that I'm taken care off, and they setup funeral thingies so that their needs would be taken care off and not impact me."
"So it all should be in their wills? And they wrote them together?" Shelly nodded. "OK then, I'll make sure that's passed on to those planning things. Next, you personally. Do you want to be involved?"
"I I couldn't talk, but I want to be there. Am am I able to be there?" Shelly asked looking at Solomon fearfully, like she dreaded the answer he would give her.
Solomon smiled. "That's why we have never told anyone any name but 'Shelly' for you. It may take some trickery, and the larger the funeral the better for hiding in, but if what we hope happens as we plan then yes, you will be at your parents funeral."
"Thank you," Shelly whispered, before once more she dived into his arms and started weeping.
"Well, you have your proof," Solomon proclaimed gesturing to the two bodies on the floor. Perfectly formed copies of himself and Shelly created by Shelly earlier. Mrs. Carson grimaced as she looked down on them. "Are you able to handle them?" Solomon enquired.
Mrs. Carson sighed and nodded. "I'm still not convinced you must do it tomorrow," she grouched.
Solomon sighed. "Our time has run out," he reluctantly admitted. "The Syndicate is at this very moment giving permission to their catspaw to release his team, and authorise them to enter Whateley's grounds to come for me."
"And you were planning to inform me of such when?" she asked icily.
"This afternoon," Solomon promised. "As soon as your security chief and Agent Banks returned."
Mrs. Carson sighed and nodded. "Alright, I'll get rid of the bodies then," she agreed, bending down to pick up Shelly's, which she cradled tenderly in her arms. "What are you going to be doing? More training?"
"No," Solomon smiled. "Shelly's too emotionally exhausted for that. Shelly and I have the pig's carcass she did yesterday to spit and roast. This afternoon we'll be holding a barbecue in thanks for all those that helped us."
"Tonight? Now?" Mrs. Carson explained in surprise.
"Well, we're leaving tomorrow," Solomon replied. "When else are we going to thank everyone?"
Momentarily speechless, Mrs. Carson opened and closed her mouth a few times, before ruefully she chuckled. "All right Solomon, I'll make sure to gather up everyone for dinner tonight and bring them over," she promised, before she disappeared up the stairs cradling the duplicate of Shelly.
"What is with the tent?" Agent Banks asked as Father Solomon gave it to him.
"As I explained earlier," Solomon sighed, "though admittedly after your eyes started glazing over, once we put the wards up for the night you're not getting back in. Now if you insist on staying outside the wards, the tent is so you can setup a warm place to rest and store some food and the like. We are being careful and trying to pretend this Guest Cottage isn't in use at the moment, so parking a car out front for you to use would be counterproductive. Hence a tent hidden in the bushes."
"I'm not here to play hiding in the bushes …"
"Not even with a pretty lady?" Agent Selleny asked huskily licking her lips and leaning forward in her chair so that Agant Banks could see … Christ! Did she forget to put a bra on today? He could see all the way down and usually …
With his eyes closed so he could turn his head, Agent Banks wrenched it around and opened them to look at Solomon. "I don't see…"
"Agent Banks, its quite literally freezing around here. We asked to be isolated from the rest of the school, especially the students and they obliged, giving us the summer retreat lodge. It's not usually used in winter as it has no garage, it has no underground links to the school and it's a long walk from everything else. Now since we are warding the one building around here protected from the weather, your choices are stark. Stay inside the wards and warm in the cottage, stay a long way from the house in the next closest building, freeze to death, or build a shelter. Hence the tent!" Thrusting two sleeping bags at them he turned around and placed a gym bag on the floor as well. "Camp stove, a pot, some water, coffee, whatever 'creamer' is, it ain't like any bovine product I've ever seen before, and some two minute noodles, because they are made with boiling water and quite warming in their own right. Now, go make camp. You'll need to be bedded down in it before everyone leaves and we set the wards for the night. And once again, I know they are not going to do anything tonight, you don't need to do this."
Quickly standing and grabbing the tent and sleeping bags, Agent Selleny almost ran from the room, calling back over her shoulder. "No, but Agent Banks wants to do it."
Looking towards Agent Banks, Solomon again warned him. "As soon as you've cleared the perimeter, and we've confirm the boundaries again, we'll raise the wards. Remember, no getting back in once you leave, so you might want to catch Agent Selleny and suggest she makes a detour past the ladies room?" he suggested with a smirk.
Agent Banks just glared at him, and once again Solomon sighed. "Agent Banks? Really, I know that the Syndicate team have authorised their catspaw to break their agreement with Whateley and try and snatch me on school grounds, but they are not coming tonight! There is no need for you to patrol the perimeter."
"I'm here to protect the public, and allowing the Syndicate to get their hands on you or Shelly is not fulfilling that oath. I've seen them Solomon. The Syndicate snatch squad are ready to go at a moment's notice. I'll use my skills to the utmost to protect the public, and that means tonight I patrol the perimeter."
Sighing, Solomon nodded. Watching Agent Banks quickstep off to catch his partner, Solomon rolled his eyes and shook his head, before with a wry smile he turned and made his way back to clearing up after the dinner.
With cleaning up finished, and Agents Selleny and Banks outside the perimeter, Selanothis took off flying on Maggie to strengthen the outside wards while Shelly went to take a shower. Seeing the stiff way Mrs. Carson was standing examining him, Solomon made a cup of hot chocolate and a mug of coffee and gestured her into the nook in the corner of the basement.
"Why are you doing this?" Mrs. Carson demanded as soon as they were seated.
Solomon blinked. "Why am I doing this, or why is Solomon, the Catholic Church's great Foreseer, doing this?" Solomon sought to clarify.
"Yes! Why!" Carson demanded.
"Has asking me why ever made things better or easier?" Solomon cautioned. "Are you sure you want to know? It's a little late for cold feet."
"I still control your destiny," Mrs. Carson reminded him. "This still fails if I so will it."
Solomon sighed and nodded, conceding her point. "First then, me the man. Why am I doing it?" He cocked an eyebrow at her, nodding at her demanding expression. "At least that is simple. For the same reason Selanothis' is doing it." Solomon looked her directly in the eye. "Love," he replied simply. "Shelly needs it, and we can give it too her. Our hearts strive to give it to her. Be crystal clear about that, it will clear your sight as far as Selanothis and I are concerned.
"Second, why is the Catholic Church's 'Solomon' doing it?" Solomon smiled. "Because even with great wisdom, Solomon was still a man, and all men are bought low by love, as the poets like to write. Personally I see little low in love, and consequences are usually not from love, but other darker stains interacting with it. Love is the final command of Jesus to the Apostles and I feel a worthy guiding light for my actions." Looking up Solomon smirked at Mrs. Carson's thunderous expression.
"Putting words in your mouth for your real question," he continued. "Why would a priceless unique asset to the Catholic Church, the holder of a legacy as powerful as mine, leave the Church to flounder as I dedicate myself to guiding a single girl?" he wiggled his eyebrows and smirked as Mrs. Carson nodded sharply.
"I'll let you in to a truth the Church tells over and over again, but nobody seems to hear. Mayhap you will." Solomon lent forward, the playful smirking expression replaced with one that was deadly serious. "There is no Solomon Legacy. There is no line of Imbued from the time of Solomon to the present working within the Catholic Church to continue the work of Solomon. There are no Immortals. There is no secret rights. There is no vessel of power. There is not. There has never been. I am not. Solomon," he stated firmly.
"And yet you called yourself such," Carson pressed.
Solomon smiled. "And I did it for exactly the same reason all have done so before. Legends have power. Names have a mystic appeal all of their own. By saying 'I am Solomon' I got us here, exactly where I promised I would, and everyone believed and pulled to make it happen. No other name I could have used would have done so, so I used the name I needed."
Mrs. Carson lent forward. "If you are not the line of 'Solomon' what then are you? A mutant?"
"Oh no, I am Imbued," he promised, then leaned forward with a playful smile, gesturing her closer. "But I'm not uniquely Imbued," he whispered into her ear, before leaning back with a great laugh at her shocked expression.
"What do you mean?" she demanded crossly.
"Have you heard of the 'Gifts of the Holy Spirit'?" Solomon inquired. "No? They are Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Wonder. These gifts are but some of the Gifts given to the Apostles and the first Christians at Pentecost, and God never stopped giving them in greater, or lesser, degrees to those who dedicate their life to his work."
Carson's eyes widened in shock. "The Catholic Church has more!" she demanded.
Solomon smiled. "To greater, or lesser, degrees," he repeated sitting back. "Basically there is no conflict for me. I was always my own man, working as I see fit, and I know that this is where I need to be, what I need to be doing. There are plenty more in the Church who can step up to cover my duties."
Carson sat there blankly staring in shock. Finally Solomon prompted, "Is this what you wanted to hear?"
Shaking herself Carson returned her gaze to Solomon. "No, but it is what I needed to hear," she admitted. While she sat in thought, Selanothis flew back in, and seeing the posture of Mrs. Carson, winged over to see what was happening. Shelly, coming back from her shower followed her, glancing fearfully at Mrs. Carson before jumping up and cuddling close to Solomon.
"Are you with our plan?" Solomon asked finally. "Tomorrow, will you do what we need you to do?"
Mrs. Carson looked steadily at him and sighed. "I don't know," she replied eventually. "You said it yourself, tomorrow may not work. You cannot guarantee the outcome. Already the vultures circle and ready their attacks. Timing for tomorrow is not in your hands, and it is not in mine."
Looking between the three of them she sighed. Solomon who waited patiently for her answer. Shelly who stared up at her, still awed to be in the presence of an idol of hers. Finally Selanothis, who had flown to Shelly and was scowling at her, unconsciously stanced protectively between her and Shelly, even though she stood on the later's shoulder.
"I have put in place what is needed for my, and Whateley's, parts in your plan," finally she conceded. "But it will happen only if I so will it. I will make the call according to what I see happening." She looked to Selanothis who reluctantly nodded, then to Solomon.
"I trust your wisdom," was all he said, standing and gesturing her towards the exit.
"Oh, by the way, this arrived on my desk today," Mrs. Carson announced as she stood. "With a letter asking that I forward the contents to the heirs of a 'Dolores Kelly', I assumed it was for you?"
Solomon took the letter from Mrs. Carson and thanked her. "It's part of our funding for disappearing, I'll make sure it gets where it needs to go. I didn't want to send it here under my name, and assumed one more letter from a bunch of lawyers would raise no eyebrows if sent to you, even if someone opened it."
Mrs. Carson nodded. "Certainly there have been more than a few 'secret identities' I've performed the same service for." Turning she walked to the door and left while Solomon removed the check from the envelope and placed it in a waiting addressed envelope and sealed it. Placing the envelope on the table as Selanothis flew down and landed next to the envelope.
Selanothis stared at the envelope and then looked up at Solomon, concern in her eyes.
"I know Selanothis, it's everything you've ever had, sent as a check through the post. Decades of clandestine work building up the resources to have anything to put in a bank account, and all the difficulties of holding on, even partially, to the last vestiges of your former self. I'm sorry, but we need to sever everything, and posting it is the most mundane and hardest to intercept way to do this."
*It will arrive?* she asked vibrating her distress.
"Yes, and even better, will be meet by a lawyer who will get it into a new account ready for your new identity, all nice and legal and traceable and everything above board and legal, just tracing back to the wrong thing so nobody will connect it to us."
Solomon looked at her conflicted body language and merely place the stamp on the table next to the sealed letter. "I think it's time for Shelly and I to do another Buffy marathon," he commented waving Shelly to follow him. "We have a few hours this evening, I'm sure we can get through another DVD together." Smiling briefly he reached out and just let the back of his finger brush gently against her cheek, as Selanothis once again sighed and leant into it for the briefest of instances before Solomon stepped away, calling out to Shelly to make some popcorn, leaving Selanothis alone with her letter.
By the time Agent Banks had finished confirming his sight lines, noting his paths around the perimeter and finally crawled back into the hidden 'clearing' under the large fir tree, Agent Selleny had pitched the tent. Looking dubiously up at the branches above him, the lowest bent nearly all the way to the ground by the snow on them, he turned to the smiling Agent Selleny.
"Relax Chicken Little," she laughed. "The grounds keepers specially checked out this tree for us and confirmed all the branches. Nothing is going to come crashing down on our little love nest in the middle of the night and cause you to come running out 'in flagrante delicto'."
"It's not a love nest Selleny," he growled. "It's a hide for us to warm up in between maintaining vigilance on our targets."
Selleny gave him another amused look. Together with the propriety ones she'd been given him ever since they arrived on this mission, they seemed to be all the looks she had thrown him since today started Agent Banks noted absently.
"So, do you want first watch?" Selleny suggested. "I'll get the inside set up?" she pointed at the tent.
"Sure. It will be dark soon and then we'll see what security has as updates for our expected guests."
Nodding, Agent Selleny ducked into the tent leaving Agent Banks carefully making his way out from the hidden space under the tree branches and starting his patrol from vantage point to vantage point looking down on the Whateley grounds.
Less then half an hour later Whateley security came in over the radio. "Banks, you there?"
"Go," he replied shortly.
"Snowstorm coming in, blizzard expected to drop another few inches of snow. Time to huddle up. Confirmed your guests turned home and have garaged up themselves. Nothing's going to happen tonight."
Swearing Banks thumped the ground, then calmly replied. "Wilko. Squirrelling in." Returning to the tree he carefully inserted himself into the clearing underneath, again making sure not to disturb the snow on the branches of the tree, a clear giveaway that someone was hiding under it, and crawled into the tent backwards, zipping it back up before kneeling and removing his coat, sitting to remove his shoes and finally sliding out of his cold weather pants.
Turning to look inside the tent for the first time, he stopped shocked, frozen on his hands and knees looking down at the smiling siren face of Agent Selleny, lying head right below his on the joined-together air mattresses in the middle of the tent. His favourite of her assets, her breasts, caught and held his attention. Like he'd thought, Agent Selleny wasn't wearing a bra today. She was instead covered in a black lace bodysuit. Crotchless, he couldn't help noticing, and she was grinning, like the cat that got the barrel of cream.
"Oh dear," she murmured wickedly. "All dressed up and nowhere to go. I do love a good blizzard, all those hours of lying side by side, cuddling close for body warmth, just whatever shall we do?" she asked breathlessly. With a throaty laugh she pulled down his face, planting a kiss right on his lips. So surprised was Agent Banks, her lips were locked with his, and her tongue invading his mouth before he could so much as catch his breath, let alone protest.
Kissing long and lingeringly, Agent Selleny didn't let up until a gust of wind rattled the tent. "Right on time, my new best friend," she purred, finally releasing him from her kiss. "You have nowhere to run now." Fixing him with a penetrating stare, Agent Selleny all but growled at him. "For the record, I don't tease what I don't want, I flirt with what I intend to have, and I'm all through with flirting. I will have my dessert."
Spinning round, she rose to her knees, pulling him up too. Untucking his top she pulled that over his head, followed by his shirt and thermal underwear, leaving him naked above the waist. Leaning back she pulled him down atop her. Running a foot up his thigh she smiled. "Yes, I knew you liked me." Rubbing her foot up and down until he drew short of breath, Agent Selleny smiled and stopped, then casually she popped her foot in through the waistband of his trousers and licked her lips. Pushing down with her foot on his waistband, she effectively pantsed him before rolling him over and onto his back, slipping a hip over him and then slowly pushing down as she sighed. "Now dear," she all but purred. "Let me show you some dance moves I'm particularly proud of."
Throwing a fully unzipped sleeping bag over them as a blanket, Agent Selleny lay full length on top of Agent Banks with a leg on either side, undulating happily. Leaning forward she whispered in his ear, "Mine. Aaalllll Mine."
"Doctor Trent," Mrs. Carson welcomed the man exiting the first of two vans to pull up to the loading dock for the Doyle Medical Centre.
"Mrs. Carson," he greeted her back. "Interesting drive. We barely made it in before the blizzard. I hope you don't mind putting up me and my crew for the night?" he said gesturing to the flying snow behind them.
"Not at all, and I'm afraid it might be a cold and late one. Did you bring them?"
Doctor Trent nodded. "Two anaesthetic transport capsules, guaranteed to keep even the highest regen mutant sleeping peaceful as a baby for at least twenty four hours."
"I need you to prep them. One for a baseline male. Six foot. Late thirties. Little bit flabby but still fit. The other for a fourteen year old girl. Caucasian. Also a baseline physique. No regen."
"Do we have medical records on them?"
"No, but I have been assured that the standard settings for their baseline profiles will be sufficient and non-dangerous for them by a trusted psychic."
"And when do you need them ready by?"
"Tomorrow, and I then need your team ready to move at minimal notice. Something may happen tomorrow our psychics say, and there is a chance we'll need to transport these two to ARC."
"And what will we be doing with them there? I just need to know so I can get the right setups for the chambers, wouldn't want to drug them into insensibility if they need to start therapy straight away."
"That won't be a problem. If we need to transport them it'll be because we need to insert them into the ARC Black facilities. The girl's codename is 'Ragnarök', we've already had one event with her that we barely survived, if we get lucky at another event I want your team ready to act."
"Lucky!" he gasped. "With a codename like 'Ragnarök'? Define 'lucky'?"
"We're still here to talk about it," Mrs. Carson stated coldly to the wide-eyed stare of Doctor Trent. "The name is warranted, a title given to her, not something she chose herself," Cason explained to the doctor. "Can you get those chambers prepared?"
"We'll work through the night if we have to," he promised fervently, waving to his team and wheeling the two ambulance trolleys with their coffin-sized, tube-shaped cargos through the doors and into the Doyle Medical Complex.
"Are you really planning to put Shelly into ARC Black?" the security guard with Mrs. Carson asked quietly.
"If the timing goes wrong and they cannot complete their spell in time, we won't have a choice," she admitted sadly. "They have until the first attack on them to get it done. Once the attacks start they are not going to stop, and it then becomes Russian roulette with the world on the line and an unknown number of bullets in the gun."
"They can't just try again?" he pleaded softly.
Mrs. Carson closed her eyes in pain. "The players against them are not amateurs. They have their own precogs and clairvoyants too. If they attack they believe they'll succeed, and I believe they'll at least get to them, that's all it will take to spook Shelly. Once spooked she can so easily escalate, slowly or fast, the spiral is inevitable and we know its eventual outcome doesn't bear thinking about."
"But she's such a good kid."
"As are all too many of the others held there that I failed," Mrs. Carson sighed turning away and walking into Doyle Medical Centre, face bleak.
"Father Solomon I want to discuss with you that tent!" Agent Banks cried out as soon as Solomon and Shelly stepped up from the basement into the main floor, where breakfast was being served to all those 'in the know' for today's endeavour.
"I wasn't responsible for what happened last night!" Solomon replied calmly. "I told you it wasn't needed to guard us."
"You can't tell me you didn't know about the snowstorm I ..." Solomon held up a hand to stop him.
"I didn't plan last night. Someone got up yesterday morning and planned what she would be wearing all day. It wasn't me. And anyway Agent Banks, it takes two to tango." Solomon favoured him with a smirk. "Though admittedly one leads and the other follows." Leaving the red faced Agent, Solomon made his way to Shelly, and hidden in her hair, Selanothis.
*Our reluctant paramour?* Selanothis smirked.
*I think he feels we cheated somehow,* Solomon confirmed.
*He had as much chance of escaping her as the Titanic had of making New York. He was sunk years ago, she has no shame in taking her man.*
*I think 'taking' is exactly what he feels she did.*
*Tell me that when his pants stop tenting at her merest scent,* Selanothis laughed. *He needed a good screw and she definitely enjoyed giving it to him. Look at her marking her conquest, rubbing all over him.*
*I do seem to notice a slightly changed 'alpha' / 'beta' feel from them,* Solomon suggested smirking as Agent Selleny casually reached around both sides of Agent Banks to take things off the breakfast table, not so accidentally rubbing her breasts into his back and making him stiffen and pale. Agent Selleny just lent sensuously into his back, eyes closed and an expression of bliss on her face. All around the room jaws dropped as Agent Selleny all but purred into Agent Banks' back.
*Oh my! I need to take notes, that's the way to mark a conquest complete!* Selanothis enthused.
"OK people," Mrs. Carson called attention to herself, waiting as the gathered quieted down and shuffled over to her. "This is the situation, today Solomon will be attempting to guide Shelly through a working that has a high degree of risk, with possible explosive outcomes, as such they will be attempting this in the hollow near the grove, right at the edge of campus." The security guards turned frowning gazes on Shelly at the mention of 'possibly explosive outcomes'.
"Now, as you know," Mrs. Carson continued gathering back their attention. "There are several outside powers that want our guests, and are prepared to initiate hostilities in order to get them, here then is what you will be doing in order to prevent this.
As security set-up their perimeter Agent Banks walked up to Solomon who was staring down into the hollow, occasionally glancing at the Grove nearby as well. "How will we know you are successful?" Agent Banks asked.
"There will be an explosion, a huge crater will be created and we will no longer be there. You can tell everyone I died containing 'Ragnarök's' final event that consumed us both," Solomon replied solemnly.
"And if it doesn't work?" Banks pushed.
"There will be an explosion, a huge crater will be created and we will no longer be there. You can tell everyone I died containing 'Ragnarök's' final event that consumed us both," Solomon dead-panned with a slight smirk.
Banks blinked. "How will I know which it was?" he exclaimed frustrated.
Solomon laughed. "You won't. Nobody will. Only we will know if we succeeded or not. If you want you can not lie to your boss by using words such as 'we believe they perished' instead," he suggested grinning widely.
"You're a cruel, cruel man," Agent Selleny stated, laughing at the shocked expression on her partner's face. "Some men handle uncertainty so poorly, and you're giving him no certainty at all."
"He has access to precogs, it's not like he can't check with them for his certainty." Solomon laughed at Banks outraged expression, raising a hand in farewell before he left, setting off quickly down the hill. At the bottom of the hill was the hollow they were going to use today, where Shelly, and unknown to most, Selanothis waited for him.
As he arrived in the hollow he hugged Shelly and concentrated hard. *Selanothis, prepare the sleep spell, just in case. The syndicate has moved and we may not have the time we need,* he thought loudly, trusting to Selanothis to hear his thoughts.
*No! If they take her...*
*Lady Astarte will get her back. I fear more for what Shelly may do, the hurt she may cause herself accidentally, then that anyone today will take her far from the school. Lady Astarte is right here with her, fighting to keep Shelly safe. Please. Let's not have mistakes Shelly could not control on her conscience.*
*Please?* Solomon begged.
Selanothis sighed *Alright, I'll prepare the spell, but I will not use it!* she fiercely declared.
*Thank you Selanothis!* he sighed in relief. "I believe we are ready," Solomon announced giving Shelly a final hug before he released her and looked her in the eye. "Are you ready?"
Shelly took a deep breath and nodded. Closing his eyes, Solomon concentrated, calling to Selanothis *Link us. I will start monitoring the patterns. When you have that link tight, reach out to Shelly and bring her in with us.*
*Sharing with you*"now" Solomon finished her sentence.
"Ready to bring you in now Shelly" Selanothis voice came from Solomon's mouth.
"Completing the link" "now!" Solomon and Shelly chorused in one voice, as simultaneously identical smiles rearranged their faces. "I think therefore I am," they intoned together, before stepping close, touching forehead to forehead they apparently entering a trance together.
"How long?" Agent Banks queried of Lady Astarte, who was standing next to Selleny and himself. After thirty minutes of watching Solomon and Shelly stand still as statues with their eyes closed with nothing seeming to happen.
"Solomon said an hour or more. We'll know when they are done," Lady Astarte reminded him wryly.
"Stop worrying about them," Agent Selleny muttered. "Instead worry about why the Security Officers just pulled their guns and have started scanning the sky."
Pulling his own gun, Agent Banks strode to the top of the hill and shielding his eyes, starting to scan the horizon towards the town of Dunwich. "I thought they were going to warn us when the kidnap squad in Dunwich stirred," he muttered.
Agent Selleny too had climbed the hill, but she was looking to the right, to the closest perimeter, scanning worriedly over the Native Lands. "It's not them," she warned readying her sidearm as she heard the base rumble of chopper blades.
Turning towards her Banks was just in time to see her lower thigh explode in blood as Selleny cried out in pain and collapsed, a thick geyser of blood shooting out the hole in her leg.
"Shit they got an artery!" Dropping next to Selleny, Agent Banks desperately undid his belt as he reach forth a hand to stop the spurting.
"If I'd known all it took to get your pants down was to show a little thigh, I'd have done it long ago," Selleny mumbled, staring in shock as again blood geysered out of her leg.
"Stay with me Selleny," Banks cried desperately as he pulled off his belt, wrapping it around her upper thigh above the wound, pulling it as tight as he could as the loud cacophony of a helicopter roared over their heads.
Flying low, the helicopter dropped grenades onto the girl and the man in the bottom of the hollow. Crying out in surprise, Shelly raised her arm in front of her eyes as the flash grenade blinded her, then again in anguish as a concussion grenade threw her and Solomon through the air, where Solomon heard a crack and then a pained scream as Shelly landed awkwardly, bending her arm under her body and then breaking her wrist as the force of the concussion caused her body's full weight to bend the wrist all the way back, caught as it was between her chest and the ground.
Crawling towards the sounds of sobbing, Solomon heard the muffled retort of shots. Desperately diving forward he tried to get between Shelly and her assailants as he felt impacts on his arms. Reaching out he felt darts, and realised that instead of bullets they were shooting darts to subdue them. Already loosing feeling in his arm he cried out. "Selanothis!" Solomon screamed. "It's lost, Shelly is down. Fly!"
Watching the armed men running for Shelly, Selanothis whistled and as the magpie swooped from the sky she jump from Shelly's hair to the magpie's back, keeping her glamour of misdirection active. She looked back just in time to see a black suited assailant grab and pull Shelly by her broken arm. Shrieking Shelly pushed her other arm towards the assailant and Selanothis felt Solomon's desperate cry in her head at the glow appearing around Shelly's outreached hand as Shelly screamed in pain. Weeping herself, Selanothis turned back towards the fight and released the spell she had prepared, the one she had hoped not to need.
Knocking Shelly unconscious, Selanothis shrieked her unhappiness to the wind, a cry not just of voice, but of mind too. Writhing on the ground, the assailants desperately tried to cover their ears against the pain, but as it was a shriek of mental anguish it mattered not. Swinging back around for a third pass, Selanothis struck out this time with magic, and mindful of Solomon's feelings she struck not to harm but with the same spell she had used on Shelly. One by one she hunted them down and slept them all. Careless of her own ethics on telepathy, she ruthlessly used the fear they were screaming to goad them and find them with her gift, and render them unconscious with her spells.
Eventually she realised that though they couldn't see her, they had started to associate the magpie with the effects of her spell, and after a couple of wild shots had come particularly close to injuring Shelly's gift, Selanothis came to her senses enough to pull back. Circling away, she realising in her rage she had slept not only the assailants, but also Whateley Security guards, even Agents Banks and Selleny were victims of her magic.
*Go! Run!* Solomon desperately pleaded as the effects from darts overtook him, and he succumbed, slumping unconscious.
Crying Selanothis paused, about to circle back, but more Whateley security was arriving, and taking no chances they started firing on the magpie. Selanothis wheeled and dove into the Grove, crying and not realising where she was going till she arrived at the tree deep in the Grove that hid the hole she had hidden in ever since she'd arrived at the Grove soon after manifesting, after making her way to where she had felt 'called' to go.
Dismounting she crawled through the defences against animals she had slowly, painstakingly, built up over the years, and into the bed of moss and dried grass that had been the best she'd ever learnt to make herself. Laying down she wept her unhappiness.
Slowly fighting off the dual effects of Selanothis mental scream and sleeping spell, Lady Astarte stumbled to where Shelly had been rendered unconscious and grimaced at the revealed injuries Shelly has been stopped in the middle of unleashing. While her assailant still breathed, his clothing had been burnt off all along the sides closest to Shelly, from his wrists along both arms to his chest, and up his chest to and through his face, nasty burns also covered his skin all along where the clothing had been burnt off. Shelly herself wasn't as badly burnt, but it was obvious that whatever she had been about to do was also reflecting back on herself.
Sighing she turned toward the newly arriving Security Officers. "Have Doctor Trent bought now, along with his two chambers. Ragnarök and Solomon will need to be transported to ARC, and we need to do it before they wake and fight us. This is the one chance we have of doing this, we must take it."
With tears seeping from her eyes she knelt down and gently turned the girl to her back, moving the injured arm so that it lay across her chest. Tenderly she brushed a stray lock of hair from her face, then sighing she stood to check on the others.
Sitting nearby where it had landed, the syndicates helicopter was starting to wind down its engines as the arriving security officers powered down the engines while removing the unconscious pilots from the craft, disarming them and securing them in case they awoke. Quickly the other six men of the extraction team were all also secured tightly, even the burnt one, by the arriving Whateley security teams. Looking further out she saw the lights of security and medical teams racing for the hollow near the Grove and sighed, finally looking towards Agents Selleny and Banks back up the hill. Banks was collapsed over Selleny, where he had been tying his belt on as a tourniquet. Judging by the lack of pumping blood from her wound Agent Banks had managed to successfully finish that before he was rendered unconscious. Already security officers were with them, one animatedly calling into his radio, presumably for urgent medical aid.
Lady Astarte sighed and pulling on her "Mrs. Carson" persona went forth to organise the response.
"Where am I?" Agent Banks growled as he awoke, looking around the medical room he was in.
"ARC," Mrs. Carson said simply. "Your partner was taken for immediate medical attention to Whateley's Doyle Medical Clinic, and her leg operated on successfully. She is recuperating at the schools medical clinic. You were only unconscious and so transported here with Ragnarök and Solomon. The contingency plan is being enacted already. They will not awake. They are being prepped directly for insertion to ARC Black right now."
"I thought you believed in Solomon?" Agent Banks accused.
Carson sighed, anguish showing through her usually impeccable teacher's mask. "I do, but as he always said, today was a one shot. They ran out of time and our enemies got lucky, they managed to render Ragnarök unconsciousness and unable to respond to her danger sense. We will not get a second chance like this, so, as I always warned I would, I have acted. Rest here. When we are ready you will be able to watch and confirm for your employers the insertion. Our MCO Agent friend has also been invited to attend, be warned." Turning she left Agent Banks to his thoughts.
"Agent Banks?" Banks looked up, one of the technicians was standing there holding something. Agent Banks had no idea how long he had been sitting there thinking since Lady Astarte had left. "We found it in Solomon's clothes when we were prepping him. It's addressed to you." The technician held out what he could now see was a letter. Numbly taking it Banks stared down at "For Agent Banks of the U.S. DPA. Open now". The technician left quickly, closing the door behind him and again leaving Agent Banks alone.
Turning the letter over Agent Banks saw it was an ordinary envelope, though Banks couldn't help smiling as he noticed it was sized for A4 paper, not US letter. Smiling at Solomon's almost obsessive snub of US imperial measurements, Banks pushed a forefinger under the tab and opened the envelope, inside was a letter and another envelope with no marking on it at all. Shrugging he started reading the letter.
Don't beat yourself up. I have foresight, not you. I was the one who's skills were supposed to prevent this.
For the record, if you had agreed originally I would have adopted Shelly, left the priesthood and got married and bought Shelly up as my adopted daughter in Australia. Shelly would have gone through school and by the time she entered University would have had iron control over her gifts. As I promised, there would have been not even the slightest notice of our lives passing, except in the memories of our family.
Also for the record, this was my 'Plan B' all along. This, Whateley's 'ultimate solution'. I have organised with Mrs. Carson that our incarceration is to be linked. To remove one of us from ARC's Black section, they need to remove both. Do not think of this as permanent, merely my way of once again becoming anonymous. Over time, less and less people will remember us or what we can do, and when most have forgotten we will be free to be awoken to continue our lives in that anonymity, to be a family and to disappear again into history.
When ARC believes the time is right they will release us, I do not fear this. Instead what I fear is those that would force them to release us, take control of Shelly or myself for their own purposes. So here is my final request of you, a penance if you feel the need. Get appointed to the oversight control group for our case. Make yourself prominent on it and fight to keep us frozen when you believe the reasons to release us are because of their convenience, rather then our interests. And watch carefully those who also get on the group. There are those who will add themselves to the group to get us released into their pet programs, and those who will be subverting the group to provide opportunities for attacking ARC to gain us.
Be careful, accepting this request will lead to an interesting life, in all the meanings of the Chinese curse. All I can give you is one more thing, it is the letter you hold unopened. Do not open it till you have failed and you have no other way of stopping them thawing us out. Choose wisely when to open it, you will only be able to do so once, so it better be the only time you need it.
Agent Banks looked at the unopened letter for a while, and then carefully placed it inside his jacket pocket. Folding the letter he'd just read carefully too, he put it back into its envelope and sat there holding it, finally he sighed. "You gave me the second letter already, you knew I'd accept your request. Where is your free will in this?" Smiling he stood and opening the door, left to oversee the interment of Ragnarök and the completion of his mission to prevent her from ending the world as they knew it.
Finally, after crying herself out, Selanothis sat up and wiped her eyes. Looking around at what was little more then a hollow she'd excavated out among the roots of an Oak tree. Dirt floor, dirt walls. Little else to show for all the decades she'd lived there. Selanothis turned and spied the one aspect of modern life in her hole, the letter with her check in it, secreted here when she had taken it from the desk last night.
Face firmly set, Selanothis marched to the letter, picked up the stamp from the dirt nearby, peeled it off its backing and firmly attached the self-adhering stamp to the letter. Taking hold of the letter, Selanothis started pulling it down the tunnel. At each of her defences, Selanothis deliberately dismantled them, leaving the tunnel free of obstructions. She no longer intended ever to return here, and something else might as well claim her shelter.
Reaching Maggie huddled in the snow outside, she apologetically reached out and warmed her with some magic, then climbing aboard she set off for the main school buildings, where she intended to post her letter and then talk Mrs. Carson into helping her. 'Return' Maggie, and herself, back to Shelly's home, a place she fully intended to start living. No more would she huddle here in the Grove and merely 'survive'.
Secure Syndicate Tele-conferencing channel
"Report." Even distorted, the command in that voice was unmistakable.
"Solomon and Ragnarok have been interred in ARC Black. ARC operatives were on site already, when they were both rendered unconscious, Carson ordered them to action. Both targets were confined in portable sleep chambers and transported to ARC, where they were immediately incarcerated, never regaining consciousness."
"What happened? How did you fail?" another voice demanded.
"Both teams performed flawlessly," the second voice responded calmly. "The decoy team was discovered and placed under surveillance immediately as planned, Whateley Security finding them and identifying them quickly ..."
"Did they trace them back to the organisation?" interrupted another voice.
"Of course, that too was part of the plan," the second voice replied smoothly. "At no time did the team identified by Whateley Security as being a Syndicate team enter or violate the Whateley neutrality."
"But Whateley believes they were planning to?" the planner's accuser rang out again.
"Correctly, the team was planning to enter Whateley grounds. The fact remains though, they did not. As far as Whateley is concerned, a different 'unknown' group attempted extraction," the planner replied calmly.
"But your second team was captured!" the accuser rang out again.
"You and I know that," the planner replied, not even the distortion hiding his humour. "But no one else does, not even the members of that team. I hired them directly by anonymous means, gave them full intelligence on the first team as a 'rival' concern, and they acted independently at all times. As far as they are all concerned, they were hired by a competitor organisation."
"So Whateley is completely unaware of our organisation's involvement in the incursion?" the commanding voice demanded.
"Good. Wind up team one, double-check no links between the organisation and the second team exist, and then close down the operation."
"But the Asset!" the accuser squealed.
Silence descended as all waited to see what the commanding voice would do about the interruption.
"This is the best possible outcome," the voice declared slowly, enunciating clearly as if to a simpleton. "The target's threat to our organisation in neutralised, and no additional strain has been placed on our association with Whateley."
"But he failed to obtain the asset!"
A silence of stunned disbelief greeted the additional outburst.
"The target's value as an asset was marginal at best," the commanding voice growled. "The resources needed to gain co-operation and protect him likely would have negated most of the gains from obtaining him. Due to the actions of our agent, the target is now no longer a threat to us. The operation was an outstanding success. It is to be closed and liquidated immediately, with the minimum of ripples."
"Understood," the planner replied, breaking the connection immediately.
Twenty four years later
"I should have known," Banks' last boss in the DPA, before his forced resignation and retirement, cursed when Banks was escorted to the control room, beaten and handcuffed. "Fifteen years you spent blocking me, now that I have what I want despite the best efforts of your protégé," he gestured to a corner "you appear again, like you matter. Well you don't matter. Sit here and watch as I unfreeze Solomon and get some real Talent for the Department, make our country great again!"
Looking to the corner Banks stared horrified. Running over he knelt down quickly, removing his tie and taking out his hankie, he bundled up the hankie and tied it over the gunshot wound to the leg of the woman laying there, then checked her breathing, finding it really faint. Moving the leg he saw why. Quite a lot of blood had already been lost from the wound. Turning, growling, he stopped facing the rock steady opening of the wrong end of a gun.
"You'd have been proud of her," his former boss gloated. "Proper protégé of you and her mother." He spat. "Once she realised what I was doing, it took a bullet to drop her, and bleeding out to stop her."
"You bastard! She's one of your own Agents!"
"As I said, poisoned by you and her mother." Turning dismissively, he ordered another Agent, "Guard them, take them somewhere else, no need to tempt fate by having another of the subjects' oversights here, no telling what he could do with these computers. Lock him up somewhere safe."
Growling Banks stooped and gathered Deborah in his arms and strode from the room with her. "This way," the guarding Agent tried to insist.
"Fuck you, she's one of ours! I'm taking her to the infirmary, shoot me in the back if you have to, otherwise clear out of the fucking way!" He strode off knowing that without the direct order of the man in the room, none of the Agents here would shoot him, especially as he was striding away from the area of concern.
Banks stumbled into a run, jaws clenched as he remembered his first introduction to Deborah as a fresh recruit, straight out of the Academy. As Solomon had hinted, his former partner, her mother, had sacrificed her career for the welfare of a mutant child, escorting the kid to Whateley over the express orders of the piece of filth he'd just left, at that time an up-and-coming golden boy desk jockey writing orders 'For the good of the Department' and not caring about the lives of the Mutants he so summarily traded like sides of beef. His partner had taken her sacking in silence, making them go through with the threat, refusing to quit, make it easy for them.
She'd left back straight, head held high and proud, walking out the office and his life, getting as thoroughly lost as only someone trained and experienced in finding people could. More then twenty years later out of the blue she'd walked back into his office, casually tossed a file on his desk as though she never left and smiled at him.
Shocked solid Agent Banks automatically reached for the file as she laughed a clear silvery laugh. "Good to see mor'n twenty years and a shock ain't changed you none. You'll like her, and she needs you. Don't muck her up. Now I'm taking my reward for being a good girl for so long." Leaning forward across the desk, she pulled his face to hers and kissed him long and lingering, before with a smile on her lips she turned and walked out of his office again. By the time he'd recovered enough to get out from behind his desk and chase her, she was long gone.
Swearing sulphurously he made his way back to his desk, snatching up the file opening it, eyes going wide in shock. Grabbing his coat he rushed out, yelling to the duty agent as he left, "I'll be at the Academy, attending the graduation."
It wasn't hard to find her daughter in the graduating class, other then a few more inches in height, she was the spitting image of her mother in her graduating uniform. "You won't find her," Agent Deborah Selleny had laughed easily, striding up to him as he looked all around. "She already told me she wouldn't be here, but she had a way of making sure you were. She also said you'd sign this," she smiled, handing over a form. Looking at it he grimaced. Taking the offered pen he signed it.
"OK you're mine, let's get this filed. I assume your mother grilled out of you all the crap the Academy tried shoving in there?"
"You have my file there."
"It was given to me by your mother. As all else she ever handed to me, it'll say only what it needs to get me to do as she wishes, and not a smidgen more."
"Actually, it does say something more." Taking the file she carefully opened it to a specific page, turning and handing it back to him.
Not even looking down he said. "I've known your mother was a mutant since before I ever met her. I tracked her down because she was a precog, even if it was only a boarderline level one ability. I always intended to do the dangerous jobs, I partnered with your mother to increase my chances of doing it right."
Folding the file shut again Agent Selleny handed it back. "Then you'll understand this, from her. While you stay an Agent you cannot track her down." Grimacing he nodded.
Bursting through the infirmary door he growled to the Agents with drawn guns standing over the staff. "Get out. She's hurt and they'll stay to fix her, they believe in their job and the oaths they took." Carefully laying Agent Selleny down on the bed, he waved over a doctor and then personally escorted the DPA Agents from the room by sheer force of fury alone.
Leaving the doctors to do their job, Agent Banks sank down in a chair and removed from his jacket pocket a letter, envelope sized for A4 paper and completely devoid of all markings. Sighing he slipped his finger under the flap and tore it open. "Well Solomon, I guess this is the time you foresaw, happening just as you feared. What pearl of wisdom do you have to get us out of this mess?" he wondered aloud.
A gold ring came out of the envelope and a single piece of paper. Taking the paper he opened it and read:
We are not there. We have never been there. We've disappeared into history as I promised you we would.
Sit with your daughter and catch up. Her mother will be there soon to enjoy the laughter as your former boss and her nemesis gets his comeuppance.
Marry her, she deserves her reward.
Silver laughter caused Banks to look up, where the daughter that had hidden her relationship to him for years smiled at him from the bed. "Doc, I think you need to send a nurse with a paper bag for my father. I may have lost all the blood, but he looks like he's the one that's gonna faint!"