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It’s dark, outside the old warehouse. Though it seems abandoned, its owner still keeps some goods there, when other locations are full. Tonight, however, it is mostly empty. On the side of the building, a loose window swings open and children begin to jump out, one after the other. They come in all shapes and sizes, mostly boys but there are some girls. What they have in common is the expression on their faces. Slightly nervous, but triumphant, afraid of being caught, they are yet caught up in a frenzy of malicious glee. They glance back a few times, but nothing has changed, so they keep running. Then it is quiet again. Inside the warehouse, their victim stirs.
It’s hot, but there isn’t anything new about that. He opens his eyes and stretches out a bit, slightly stiff from his wounds and the stress of healing repeatedly in a short period of time. He tries to feel his back to check the status of his shirt. No good, it’s torn to shreds after all the junk they threw at him. His pants aren’t much better, and if he wants to leave with any dignity, he should probably put out the fire. Standing slowly, he rolls his arms and neck, and picks his way to the edge of the junk pile. A lot of it is on fire, and rolling in the broken glass, bricks, and metal isn’t going to put him out. His blood is what started the fire in the first place, shedding more of it will only make things worse. He calmly pats out the worst parts, ignoring the heat. Burns heal faster than anything else, to the point he almost doesn’t feel them.
He sighs, trying to come up with a good explanation to give his foster mom, for why he’s out so late. Would she believe he was in a study group? Well, probably not. She’s seen his grades. He looks back for a second, wondering if he should clear out the trash strewn all around, and his eyes widen. Oh, no. The fire is spreading. Some cardboard boxes on one of the tall shelves had probably been splattered, and now all of them are burning merrily, giving off a warm glow. Sure, like arson is all that jolly. He has to get out fast, or he’ll have more than the angry foster-mom to deal with. He jumps out the window into the alley, and hears the sirens approaching fast. He runs for the street, realizing a little too late that his burned shoes won’t hold him. Now he’s barefoot, sprinting on the cracked asphalt, sparks flying every time his foot hits a shard of glass or a torn beer can. The bright lights come around the corner behind him, signalling the arrival of the authorities, and shouting voices indicate that he’s been spotted. This really isn’t his day.
He looks for somewhere to duck out of sight. It’s been pretty quiet, which means the mech cop for this area is sure to be on the way, if they aren’t, they will be within a minute. And there’s no way he’ll be able to get away from one of those guys. Best to just come easy, if it comes to it. Low headlights from the other side of the intersection catch his attention. A lady gets out, holding a large box in front of her. She glances at it, then looks directly at him. Looks up the street, where the fire is now a blaze and people are milling about. Soon someone will point the mech cop this direction and he’ll be in a huge amount of trouble. His fretting is interrupted when the car pulls in front of him. The door pops open, and the lady hisses at him, to get in quick, if he doesn’t want trouble. Obliging, he shuts the door behind him. The car accelerates away at a speed that he’s sure isn’t legal. Thanks for getting me away from the police, he says. She replies, what police? That makes him shut up for the rest of the short trip. He looks out the window, trying to figure out where they are, or where they are going. Suddenly the scenery changes, and he isn’t looking at drab buildings and closed-down shops, but drab trees and a gas station that should have been closed a long time ago. The lady makes a quick left off the road, and turns back towards the city.
The car finally stops moving behind an abandoned strip mall. The lady fiddles with the levers on either side of the wheel, of which there are about seven, and the ground rises on all sides to envelop them in darkness.
He wants to ask, what she is going to do with him. He’s realizing that it may have been a better idea to go with the police and explain himself. He speaks up.
“Where is this? Who are you? What are you going to do with me?”
“Ahhhh shut up, shut up. Modulant doesn’t answer questions, I just reveal information as she sees fit. And here in my lab, new test subjects do not speak until Modulant speaks to them! She means you... “ She waved her hand at him questioningly.
“Uh, I’m Jason Arch? Do you not know who I am?” He doesn’t mean to imply that he is well known, but he is wondering why she picked him off the street without knowing that much.
“Bah, Jason is a boring name. I’ll come up with something better when Modulant makes an MID for you. After she does the testing, of course. Modulant loves testing.” She leads him out of the darkened garage, through a surprisingly clean white-tiled hallway, to a very large room. It’s so large, he can’t compare it to any he’s ever seen. About half of it is taken up with training things, like treadmills, weight machines, odd colored boxes, pointy things on chains suspended from the ceiling, a cage full of small reddish cubes, and a teddy bear. He isn’t sure about the last few. The other side of the room is taken up by a single massive machine, half finished by the looks of things, with a big cone on the end of a multi-jointed arm.
“Woah. Are you a mad scientist or something? Cuz this place looks awesome.”
The lady’s eyes narrow. “Modulant is never mad. But slights against my sanity are the best way to get on her bad side. You wouldn’t do that, right, my little Giblet? Who’s my best subject?”
Jason is perplexed. “Giblet? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s me! Me, I’m Giblet! Who’re you? Are you another test subject? I won’t let you beat me, I’m the favorite.” Jason looks to see who spoke. There is a short boy in a red wetsuit standing in front of the cage. Behind him, where before there had been a mass of red cubes, there is nothing.
“Oh. Hello, uh, Giblet. I’m Jason.”
“Booooriing. I’m gonna give you a better name, just you wait. What do you do?”
“Do? Like, skills and talents? I dunno, I’m not that great at anything.”
“No, no, Mother picked you up on her mutant detector, that’s why you’re here. You have powers, so tell me what they are.”
“Oooh. Why should I tell you? I don’t even know what’s going on here. For all I know you guys could be planning to turn me over to the MCO, or maybe you ARE the MCO, and you’re gonna disappear me or something.” Jason doesn’t actually think this is the case, but he wants to have the upper hand here, and he isn’t as afraid of this kid as he is of Modulant, who is no longer listening in and is being distracted by her giant spike-arm thing.
“Hmph. I think I get it. You wanna know my power first! I’m Giblet. That’s cuz I can turn into little cubes of flesh, like giblets. Okay, I went. Now you.” He looks at Jason expectantly. “Tell me… please? Or I’ll eat your arm. Then we’ll see if you heal as well as me.”
Jason doesn’t like the sound of that, so he decides the best option is to talk. “My blood catches on fire when I bleed. That’s why my clothes are like this. I was bleeding a lot earlier today. But then it healed.”
“Uh huh. I can use that. Gimme a second, I’ll have a cool name in no time. Lesse, fire, blaze, flare, flame, booring. Pyro is where it’s at for fire. Now blood, hmm, yeah it’s plasma, no question. Pyroplasma?”
“Oh, that sounds awesome, I like that -” The name is decent, and Jason can’t think of anything better. He doesn’t want it to turn into something stupid.
“Too long, that’s like four syllables. It has to be 2, for sure.”
“I know! You can be Pasma.” Giblet grins widely, and Jason barely has time to glimpse a grid of lines appearing on his face before he’s traveled the length of the room as a red blur, only to reform on top of the part Modulant is working on. Jason can imagine the conversation, and resigns himself to the name. It may be odd, but at least it isn’t cheesy.
Then he lets the shock set in. “I’ve been kidnapped!” He thinks. “Now I’m separated from all of my loved ones. That would be …. Uh….” He tries again. “Now I’m separated from all the people I hate, and the police who probably think I’m responsible for about five cases of arson, and the people who throw sharp things at me and are actually responsible for those fires…” A positive outlook is essential in times of stress, he tells himself. I’m just rationalizing, there’s no way I could actually be better off here. No way. I bet those experiments are going to be SUPER painful, then I’ll regret staying.
“Hey, Modulant, are you going to cut me open and stuff?”
“Huh? Why would she do that?” Giblet and Modulant reply in unison. “Do you want her to?”
“No, just wondering.” Jason stays silent for a long time, thinking.
“Tell me more about this testing,” Pasma says.
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Almost two weeks after his first meeting outside of school with Dice, Char was going over his most recent test scores. The minimum was in History, with a score of 77%. The maximum was in English with an 82%. The rest fell somewhere between these extrema. Though the numbers were undoubtedly lower than he was capable of, he should feel better about it, because this is what he had aimed for. Dice had advised him to appear average, so he tried to predict the grading methods of his teachers from his quizzes and homework assignments, and made sure he knew every last detail of the material to be covered on each test. This was all in an effort to get an average of 80% in every class, slightly above the supposed C average (he had a hard time believing anyone could score that low on accident, though he acknowledged the evidence). He had made extra plans solely for the purpose of staggering the fluctuations in his scores for the rest of the year, so nobody would get suspicious looking at his reports. But now that he was looking at the first set, he wasn’t sure he could force himself to continue the charade.
It wasn’t an issue of honesty. Char lied regularly with a straight face, and considered it the most useful attribute of his mask. Rather, he took issue with the fact that he was sabotaging the only real metric he had to measure his knowledge with. If he stopped and looked back, would he be satisfied in his mastery of the subject matter?
The memory alone could never suffice, because his memories were flawed. He sometimes forgot the little things just seconds after they happened, he forgot names and faces as fast as he heard and saw them unless he made deliberate efforts, as he had with Mithras and Dice. Even those memories were fuzzy. What color was Dice’s hair, again? And hadn’t she mentioned her full name at the end of their meeting that Sunday? He couldn’t recall what it was. These shortcomings were only frustrating in certain contexts. It wasn’t as though her hair color or full name were useful, he knew her when he saw her and nobody called her anything but Dice. The problem was the principle. If he could forget a classmate’s name, couldn’t he forget the name of a president?
Thoughts of that nature caused him brief bouts of concern several times a day, until he began to focus on the important things, like reading next year’s textbooks. He was almost done with the last of them, the English one. It had some interesting stories, that he had been taking the time to analyze for components such as ‘theme’ and the omnipresent ‘figurative language’. Soon he would have to figure out a way to sneak them back into the school without being noticed. Maybe he would have to learn how to pick locks and move stealthily in darkness. He doubted it. Those kinds of interesting skills weren’t all that useful in a normal life, which is what he was currently approximating. He paused in his thoughts. Supposing he did study up on lockpicking, there wouldn’t be any harm in it, so long as he didn’t plan to use it. He made no promises.
He turned his attention to a matter he had been putting off. Pulling up a map on his computer, Char searched for his town, then located the public library. A minute later he had printed directions, that he folded up and set on his desk. It was a normal Saturday, so his parents weren’t in the house.
“Well,” he thought, “if I go here like this and start reading all the reference books, someone might recognize me. Should I come up with an excuse, or disguise myself?” It wasn’t a real question, in that he already knew the most effective choice was the second one. Even if the excuse was solid, he could be remembered, and if he wanted to visit regularly, it would wear thin. Closing the tabs with the directions, Char opened a new search on the basics of disguise.
Dice was in the habit of visiting the library several times a week to read graphic novels and old psychology texts. Today, as usual, she walked through the front door and waved a courteous greeting to the librarian, Miss Carsen, continuing past on her way to the Graphic Novel and Audiobook shelves. But the old woman wasn’t waving back today, she was waving her over. Casually, Dice came close enough to have a low-voice conversation.
“Yes, Miss Carsen? What is it?”
“Do you see that girl over there at the reading tables? I’ve never seen her before. Look at all those books she has piled up. Would you mind asking her to sign up for a library card?” Dice looked behind her, to the girl in question. She was a little amused. Miss Carsen was always asking people to sign up for cards, because the library’s budget was dependent on the number of cardholders. Then she was confused as well. The girl she was looking at was about her age, with long black hair in a single braid down her back, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, and a raggedy baseball cap. She was poring over one of three reference books open on the table in front of her. When she got closer, Dice could see a diagram of a padlock and its inner workings on one of them. A quick glance at the other books stacked next to them showed titles such as: “One Hundred or so Ways to Kill a Man with Your Bare Hands” and “An Introduction to Parkour”. There was a conspicuous lack of ‘Dummies’ books in the assortment.
“What are you, a guerilla in training?” She said, sitting across the table.
“No, I was looking for information on locks, and this other stuff looked interesting too.” Dice looked at the girl again, more carefully. Her voice was awfully familiar, but she didn’t know any girls that read these kinds of books… She took in the appearance of the person across from her, as a whole, and reconsidered her assumptions.
“Char, is that you?” She hissed.
“Was it that transparent?” He asked, flipping the page and scrutinizing a cross section of a double door locking mechanism. It might not be so easy to get into the school after hours, he supposed. Maybe after this book he would read one about working with metal, or he could use the internet to look for ways to make a lock pick set by hand.
“No. And might I ask, what the hell?”
“Why are you so surprised? Isn’t one of the fundamentals of disguise to actually be as far from what you appear to be as you can convincingly manage? People think Char is a boy, so they won’t make the connection between this image and me. And that means I’ll be able to come here as much as I want without risk of betraying my average image at school.”
“Well, for one thing, I wasn’t aware that you could pull this off. Are you wearing makeup? And second, even if you are in disguise, you’re still in plain view, reading a mountain of books.’’ She ticked the reasons off on her hand, which got a little awkward when she tried to think of a third and Char turned back to his reading. After a pause, he decided to remind her why she was here.
“So, can I sign up for a library card under a fake name, or is it an official process?”
“You heard that from way over here?”
“It’s awfully quiet in the library, you know.”
“Not that quiet.”
“Look, if you want to interrogate me, could you wait until tomorrow? I have a lot of material I want to get through today, and I’m finding it hard to talk to you with all this reading I’m doing.” He continued to stare at the book. Pointedly.
“..... Fine. I’ll pick you up. And no, the card doesn’t require ID, so feel free to sign up with whatever fake name you want. And don’t blame me when something goes wrong with this disguise plan.” Dice turned sharply on her library-class swivel chair and walked back to Miss Carsen.
“So what did she say?”
“It’s a definite maybe. That kid’s hard to read. Why didn’t you send Carl to ask, anyways? He’s your assistant.”
Miss Carsen sighed. “He quit. Said he had better things to do that restock library shelves for minimum wage. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Not much of a book lover, was he?”
“I guess not….”
“Well, I have some comics to read. Wish you luck looking for a new assistant, Miss Carsen.” With those parting words implying that she wasn’t interested in the job, Dice quickly retreated into the shelving units to grab the latest volume of her favorite series. “A Fool Speaks Only Truth” was always a good pick-me-up after an annoying experience.
[Char finally goes somewhere that isn’t the woods or the school. Or his house. It’s the library! Watch in horror as he devours the books one after another, with titles like, How to Not Be Convicted of Assault (hint, it’s self defence), 50 Cars and How to Steal Them, and The Fairly Intelligent but Uninformed Person’s Guide to Computer Hacking. Watch as his girl disguise causes him no grief, because nobody ever visits the library! Wait, did I say no grief? WRONG wahahahahah. Huh. anyways, we’ll see about that. And forgive me if the first third of this chapter if odd, I should have went to sleep 3 hours before I wrote it.]
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Char glanced at his watch. The library had a sign on the door that said the hours were from 10am to 7pm on weekends. The time was 6:28, so he wrote down the title and author for each book he hadn’t finished yet, and returned them to their appropriate shelves. He kept the parkour manual and the locksmith’s almanac, thinking he would check them out once he had a card. These were topics best learned while practicing, he guessed.
The lady librarian at the front desk smiled at him as he approached. “May I help you?” she asked, eagerly waiting for him to ask about the library card. Her hopes were up because he had books with him.
“Yes, I’d like to check these out,” he said, placing the books on the desk, “but I don’t have a library card. Can I sign up for one?”
“You certainly can, young lady. Here, let me get the blank card, and you just fill out this form. Write your email there, your name there, and check this box if you live here. In town I mean. Even I don’t live in the library.” She smiled warmly as she brought out the paper and walked into the Employee Only room behind her desk.
Char was pleasantly surprised at how simple the sign-up process was. Obviously rather than automate it, the library lady here had opted to use a system of personal recognition. Well, the way it worked was fine by him, if it let him sign up as his disguised self. He filled in the email space with the alternate account he had created that morning, before leaving his house. It was made to match his fake name, which he wrote in next. To finish, he checked the ‘local’ box. The other was for a ‘visitor’ pass, and would require more contact information, to prevent people from skipping town with books. At least, that’s what he thought it entailed. He double checked everything to make sure it matched.
Name: Addalyn Jacobs
Email: AddJabs13@ angnet.com
Everything seemed to be in order, and Miss Carsen (according to a plaque on her desk), was back with his card. He took it graciously, exchanging it for the paper, and signed his fake name on the line, as directed. Pocketing it, he was reminded of what he had overheard earlier, about the librarian’s assistant. He thought he might be eligible for the job, and he wanted to ask about it. First, though, he was going to test a new theory he had about his mask. He knew it could adjust its behavior based on what it perceived as the mood, and he had glanced through a chapter of a Psychology textbook at school the other day during a supremely boring homeroom block. At the time, a certain word had caught his eye, prompting a small research break when he got home.
--- ‘Persona’, something akin to a behavioral mask, is used by a person to project their character to those around. It can change depending on the situation, and depending on the person may hide a large portion of their personality.
From his search, he happened on the idea that his mask was a kind of persona, or at least it created one. Combining the idea with his new disguise, Char wondered if he couldn’t get his mask to form a semi-permanent persona to make Addalyn more believable. If he got the job, it would quickly be necessary to upgrade the quality of the disguise, because it would be under more scrutiny. For now, it was just loose clothing, a neat hairstyle, and makeup to redefine his features and make him look less pale. He could think of several improvements off the top of his head, but that would have to wait until he was back home.
Visualizing the Addalyn that was asking for work at the library, Char tried to activate his mask with the image as a blueprint. His concept was simple enough. Addalyn was very similar to himself, but she was more interested in the kinds of skills one can’t learn in school. He had based her off of Dice, in this respect. Her manner of speaking would be different from his own, as well. Less questions, more direct observations and a way of steering conversations away from herself. This was an extra defense mechanism, to dissuade people from looking into her nonexistent affairs. Until he had an idea of how much would be expected of her, he would leave it at that level of detail.
Miss Carsen tilted her head to look at the girl on the other side of the counter. She had been fumbling with her books for the past minute, staring off into space.
“Excuse me, miss. Would you like to check out those books? I’d be happy to do that for you.” The girl started slightly, then turned on her heel to face the older woman.
“Yes...Please.” She placed her books on the counter, and her card next to them. There were three blips as the librarian scanned first the card, then the books.
“Do you need a bag for these?”
“No….Thanks anyways.” She paused. “I like this place. I would like to work here. I heard you say the assistant position is open.”
“You mean, when I was talking to that other girl a few minutes ago? You heard from way over where you were sitting?”
“Everyone acts so surprised that I hear things people saw in here, like the library isn’t the quietest place they know.”
“Well, that is true… but I didn’t hear what you two were talking about, so it can’t be that simple. Did she tell you about it? Wait, no, I told her after you were done talking…”
The girl was beginning to look very uncomfortable. Miss Carsen assumed it was from the attention. Actually, it was because Char’s mask was having a hard time balancing priorities between not revealing information and not asking questions, and couldn’t think of a good way to get back to talking about the job.
“I….. My hearing is quite sharp.” She nodded at her own words. That was a satisfactory answer. “I would like to continue talking about the job.”
Miss Carsen’s eyebrows went up. She might be a little odd, but this girl was hitting all the right buttons. “Unfortunately, I can’t hire anyone younger than 16 years old.” It really was too bad that there were laws against child labor. She checked herself there. Inappropriate sentiments, Julie, watch it.
“I’ll volunteer, then.” She bit her cheek. There she goes, just implying her age, revealing information. From his interior vantage point, Char decided to tone down that trait next time. It was getting to be a real pain. At her words, the librarian looked thoughtful, then amused, then she was just grinning with a hand over her mouth, shaking her head.
“It’s a bit sudden, but you couldn’t have come at a better time, that’s for sure. I’m about to close for the day, and I could use an extra set of hands.”
“I do have hands.”
Rolling her eyes, but still smiling, the old librarian stood up and made her way to the other side of her desk. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Addalyn. You haven’t even done anything yet. Come with me, I’ll show you how to close all the windows with this stick.
When Char returned home, he was an hour later than he anticipated, but he had his books, a new technique for his mask, and a volunteer position at the library. His parents were also home, so he had to pull down his hair and rinse the makeup off his face with the hose before he could go in. A bit damp but still satisfied, he ate his dinner and went to bed.
He slept well, with only hints of silver in his otherwise normal dreams.
[Is that a new character? No, it’s the same old Char, pretending to be a new character! The kidder. Man, I’m tired. I gotta stop writing these after I’m supposed to be asleep. Did you know/care? I write each chapter in one sitting, so I don’t lose my train of thought. That’s why they’re all about 5 pages. Anyways. I’m not sure how soon, but some serious stuff is gonna go down. Reeaaalll serious. And at that point we will have another scene with Pasma and pals. Ok I just looked at my last update. Dang, man that was less that 12 hours ago. Get a life, me.]
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As they had arranged at the end of their first meeting, Dice met Char in front of his house, where she let him use her bike, and she brought out her scooter for herself.
“Why don’t you ask your parents to get you a bike of your own? I mean, not that it’s a problem to travel this way. It just sounds inconvenient. For you.” She watched impatiently as he checked his contacts again. Since forgetting them just once, he’d been a bit paranoid about making sure they were on before going anywhere. She was willing to bet he’d already checked them inside his house, maybe more than once. It was frustrating, to see be so cautious about such a little thing, when he was so noncommittal about the Club. He didn’t seem to understand what being caught would mean, no matter how many times she heavily implied it would be bad. For someone so smart, he stubbornly refused to take a hint.
Char could feel her staring, like a prickling sensation about six inches from the back of his head. She was probably annoyed that he was taking longer than usual to get moving. This was intentional, in order to test a hypothesis he had been sitting on. If he was right, when he looked to his side at the image reflected in the door of his parent’s car, he would see her attention focused on him. Careful not to move his head, he looked askance and saw, in blue monochrome, that he had been right. He moved on to the second part, and tossed a ball of paper he had in his pocket over his shoulder, high enough so Dice had to tilt her head back to track it. He watched for the moment her eyes snapped away from his head, and noted that the prickling had stopped. Now confident enough in his idea to share it, he stood, and smoothly stepped past her to pick up the fallen paper and return it to his pocket.
“You’d better do some real explaining when we get there, or else,” said Dice. Or else, she’d make him divulge the information with force, or magic. She hoped he was thinking of those two things and hadn’t just assumed it was an empty threat. That would be embarrassing, and she would prefer to not have to use magic on him again.
“I was planning to, either way.” He wasn’t exactly sure why she was so irritated. It may have been something unrelated to him affecting her mood, or something he did, or multiple things he did over the last few conversations they’d had. There was no way of knowing. He had no perfect recollection of the details. It could’ve been anything, really. Maybe she didn’t like his disguise. He’d end up talking about that anyways, because it was part of his ‘persona’ theory that he wanted to consult with her about.
They rode in relative silence, until they reached the park. They chose a new tree to park the bike at, for variety, and Dice brought out her handy length of chain to secure it. Once her property was safe, she led the way to her personal favorite of the investigation sites, number 8. It was an old twisted maple tree with a natural hollow at its base, a good size for two people to sit across from each other comfortably. It was just starting to drop its whirligig seeds, and here and there they could be spotted spinning slowly to the forest floor. They brushed some of them aside as they sat inside the tree. Both of them took a breath to speak first, but Dice was slightly faster.
“Before you start, I’m going to take a wild guess at what you have to talk about. Earlier, with the paper tossing, you were trying to test some ability, right? All I wanna say is, don’t do that stuff without talking to me first.”
“I wanted to try to confirm it before we talked about it.”
“That’s what I mean. I want to be involved in all of it, including the little tests… Look, do you have an email?”
Char hesitated. “I do… have two emails.” Dice gave him a funny look.
“Why do you need more than one? I mean, you don’t know anybody.”
“The first one is for websites that require accounts, and maybe I’ll eventually have to email somebody. Who knows. The other one is for work.” He waited for her to realize what he was implying.
“You’re too young to work. There are child labor laws and stuff.”
“‘Children’ are still allowed to volunteer, though.”
“Oh, I did. I’m not after the money in the first place. Now I have a connection to the library, and an excuse to give if anyone asks why I’m there so often.” His face adopted a smug expression.
“You can’t exactly tell anyone. Cause, y’know. You’d have to explain why you’re in drag.” Dice felt like saying ‘I told you so’, but it didn’t have the proper set up. She hadn’t actually told him so, to her chagrin.
“It isn’t drag, it’s a disguise. Addalyn Jacobs is an alternative identity, albeit one lacking documents. Oh, that reminds me, I found this cool trick with my mask-”
“No, no, no. You aren’t changing the subject. Remind me again why you decided to get work dressed as a girl?”
Char’s face twisted as he wrestled with his mask, trying to prevent it from saying anything embarrassing. In this situation, the truth was by far the best answer. As it usually was when talking to Dice. “I kinda want to be a spy. Wait. It isn’t that simple. I want to at least try to learn the skills I associate with spies, like disguise, hacking, lying, escaping danger, and combat. These are all very cool abilities, and being able to do them would make me feel more capable.”
“Ah. So you want to be badass.” Her eyebrows were itching to lift in incredulity. She had had him labeled as the academic type. “I don’t see how that explains you dressing like a girl.”
“Well…. So far as I remember it, I was searching for information on disguises, and I came upon a helpful article about getting started, without the fancy stuff, like bio-masks. It said, aside from wearing different kinds of clothes than usual, I should wear my hair differently, and try to redefine my face with makeup. Nothing complicated, I learned the basic procedure and how to apply it in about an hour. Then, I thought, I already have my hair tied back and makeup on, I might as well go for it. So I altered what I had already done slightly, and chose my clothes so nobody would pay much attention. Are you satisfied with that level of detail?”
“Only a little. It’s still ridiculous. Now if you want to keep the job you’re going to have to dress like that every time.”
Char leaned his head on the bark behind him and rolled his eyes. “I don’t understand why you care so much about what I’m doing or how I’m dressed at the library.”
“I mean, isn’t it a bit creepy? People will see a girl, but it will actually be, you know… you.” Dice was starting to get the feeling that the stubborn one here wasn’t Char.
“Dice. I’m not 100% sure, but wouldn’t it be equally creepy if I disguised myself as, say, an old man? But that kind of disguise would take a lot more effort and be more easily discovered. I. Don’t. Care. Think it’s creepy or whatever all you want, but I think it’s very useful, and you don’t have enough arguments to convince me to stop. So why don’t we just drop it and get to the important topic.” He paused. She stayed silent, and avoided eye contact. “I think I’m psychic.”
[It took a little longer than usual, because I wasn’t working on it…. But here’s a picture of the Addalyn disguise for those who wanna see a shoddy representation of the author’s mental image. Ugh, this chapter got sidetracked by a line of dialogue I hadn’t planned for. And it's pretty long, by my standards, too. Uh, not to imply that I’m just making this up as I go. I’m tired, so please let me know of any errors, thanks]
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“Okay. What kind of psychic? Are you an out-psych, an in-psych? Both?” Though she felt a strong urge to continue the argument from moments before, she was wary. From what she’d seen of Char these past few weeks, he didn’t rile easily, and that topic of conversation brought out an unusual stubbornness. She took the easy route, and dropped it in favor of superpowers.
“I’m guessing that out-psych refers to things like mind control and telekinesis, and in-psych to things like mind reading?”
“You got it.”
“It’s the second one. I can tell when people are looking at me.”
“Ah. Now I get it. The thing with the paper ball was to make me look away to see if you could tell the difference. An interesting experiment. OR you could have asked, and we could do a more thorough set of tests without pissing me off.”
“I assumed we would still do the extensive ones anyways. Do you not want to?”
“I never said that. I just said I’m annoyed and that didn’t have to happen. I hate when people don’t consult me, Char.”
Char decided to move the conversation along using a timeless technique. “Okay then, the first step of any experiment is to frame the question. I think it should be: Do I have the ability to sense when someone is looking at me, without any indicators from the usual 5 senses? Your thoughts?”
“You’re ignoring me! You could just apologize. That would be easy, then we’d both get what we want.”
“I agree, that is question to use for the first experiment. Basic, but fundamental. Now for the hypothesis. In this case, it would be: Yes, Char detect when someone is looking at him through a sense other people do not have.”
Dice gritted her teeth. “Chaarrrrooonnnn.” Char flinched and changed tactics.
“I am sorry I offended you by not telling you my suspicions when I first had them, about six days ago. So please only call me Char, thanks very much.” He didn’t know why, but as far back as he could remember, he had never gone by anything other than his nickname, even with his parents. He felt deeply irritated that Dice had used it against him, but he would let it slide until the second offense. There were things to discuss.
Char continued where he left off. “But in all seriousness, do you agree with the question and the hypothesis? I have some ideas for the actual procedure…”
“Nah, we aren’t going that specific for the initial tests. Here’s what we can do, I just thought of it: You go stand over there, and face away from me. I’ll look at you or away from you at varying intervals, and you will write down which one you think it is every ten seconds on this paper.” She pulled out a pair of clipboards and pencils from her bag. This other one is for me. I’ll write down the actual, to compare to your supposed values.”
“Oh. That’ll work.” He walked from under the tree to a point about twenty feet away and sat on the ground. He balanced the clipboard on his leg to write. When Dice gave the signal, he started the timer on his watch and tried to tried to focus on the tingling he associated with being watched. For a few seconds there was nothing. He marked a tentative ‘no’ on the paper.
Then another, and another, until he had twenty. He wondered if he had imagined it. Maybe, though, he was thinking about it wrong. Because every other time he had felt the tingling, it was on the back of his head, he had assumed that was the default. But, what if that was just where most people were looking when he was facing the other way? Then he would be sensing not only the fact that someone was watching, but where they were looking. He loosened his focus, and checked his senses for that odd out-of-body quality. Finding nothing after another ten seconds, he decided to shut out his other senses, to focus on finding that particular sensation.
Closing his eyes, Char reached into his mind. He felt where his self ended and the mask began. The connection was narrow but strong, and he extended his reach through it, searching out the connections between his mask and his senses. After the extended periods of mask activity he had become accustomed to, they almost exclusively passed through the mask’s filter, so it took some effort for him to retrieve the threads communicating his bodily sensations. Interestingly, there were many more than the five related to the usual sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. He set those aside. He was looking for a something more exotic. One by one he checked them for activity. Many of them seemed to do nothing, so he bundled them up with the main five to save space. Others were normal ‘extra senses’ such as balance and body sense, so he left them as they were. Finally he managed to narrow them down to seven. He dipped into them one after the other to check their purpose.
The first three were very similar, each showing him the flow of energy both in and around him. The energies varied slightly in their type, but the patterns of movement and intensity he sensed from each differentiated them. One was very defined and had himself as the boldest and most complex structure among many, simpler forms. Far behind him, where Dice sat, was a form like unto his own, but not as strong. He thought he might be able to use this to detect intelligent life. The other was more fluid, with a gentle ebb between himself and the environment, and a strong signature further below and a slightly weaker one at Dice’s location. He wasn’t exactly sure what that one was about. The streams of energy were weighty with significance, but he didn’t have enough context to place them. The third made him feel like he was observing a world of leaky balloons full of colored steam. Within himself, he could tell there were a multitude of currents following an organic pattern, but he could only see the outside of the life around him. The trees were more subdued, but scattered around, moving constantly, there were trails that he assumed came from animals moving about. He would have lingered on these senses more, to figure their purpose, and how to access them, but it would have to wait.
The next thread he tried turned out to be the one he was looking for. It was much more limited than the previous three, encompassing only the volume within a few inches from his skin, surrounding his body like a bubble. He was instantly aware of the sparkling waver on his knee. At that point, the field thinned into a thread, extending behind him, to where Dice was watching, marking down another data point on her paper. She glanced at her watch, taking her eyes off of him for a second, and as her gaze shifted, so did the thread tying her eyes to his field, tracking, then bending, until it couldn’t keep the connection and snapped back, leaving his bubble seamless.
Char retracted his awareness cautiously, keeping his sense threads where he could access them without going into an introspective state first. Thankfully, when he opened his eyes, everything was still in working order. He looked over his clipboard. Most of the points he had recorded were probably wrong, because he hadn’t been using the sense correctly, and Dice had been looking at his knee for some reason.
He walked over to the hollow to ask. “Why were you looking at my knee? It made things more difficult than they had to be.”
“Huh? Oh, I was trying to tell what you were writing. To see if you were getting it right. Which seems pretty likely, cause I can’t think of any other way you’d know that.” She collected the clipboards and tossed them into her bag, taking a peek at his results as she did so. She smirked. “You’re absolutely certain you can do it? Your results don’t show it.”
“That doesn’t count. I figured it out while the experiment was in progress.” Char was reminded of his school test results, and how they didn’t reflect his knowledge. But those were different. It wasn’t like he was going to forget a whole sense, not like he could forget a Shakespeare play. He made a note to reread the collection next time he felt bored, to see if he had forgotten anything important.
“So, is that it, you can tell for certain when I’m watching you?”
“Yes. And some other things as well. I think I have at least 3 other senses, but I can’t figure out what they are for.”
“Do you know what this means, Char?”
“No. You are going to tell me what you see… er… sense with these senses, and I’m going to figure out what they are. Which may or may not require testing. Who knows?”
[And so, the author was FED UP WITH THE SLOW PACED TESTING SCENE AND TOOK A WHOLE WEEK TO NOT EVEN FINISH IT. >m< I’ve been planning a lot and uggghhhhh I want to skip ahead so badly but it won’t transition well at this point (see above ending. It sucks). anyways, take this pic.]
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Dice looked at the notebook where she was recording Char’s observations. “Hmm, so that’s just the first four senses, leaving three you haven’t checked yet. Veeery interesting. We’ll take a look at those in a minute. For now, I’ll just take a few educated guesses at what you perceived. The first sense could be several things. It doesn’t immediately make me think of anything in particular, so maybe it’s unique to you. The way you describe the patterns you attribute to me and yourself makes me think that it isn’t a direct visualization of energy flow, but a representation of some information unique to us as people. That would explain the sharp boundaries between us and the environment not present in the other senses. However, I can’t determine what exactly the patterns mean with a tiny sample size of just us two. If you can ..look.. at some other people at school or whatever, that could narrow it down.”
Char nodded, thinking. In retrospect, the first sense was heavily focused on people, with the enviroment disappearing entirely. Those simple shapes he detected around him might be small animals like birds or squirrels.
Dice continued. “This second sense is almost definitely special magic energy. You felt it all around, in yourself, but most strongly underground and in my direction. Underground is where ley lines are, I think. And my bag is full of magic energy, so it would look pretty bright. Additionally, the way you described it ebbing is consistent with my own experience. Though I’ve never heard of anyone being able to see the stuff, feeling it isn’t too hard with a little training, if you’re in a place like this. The best way to check this one would be to visit the Mansion. It should look like a giant bubble of magic energy.”
“We’ll go look at the mansion later. Now, this third sense is probably for seeing auras, albeit in a really roundabout way. I’m not really into that stuff, so I don’t know much about it, aside from the fact that seeing them is most common among people with ESP.”
“Extrasensory Perception?” Char said, interrupting her.
“No, that would be EP. It should be … Extra Sense Powers?” She made a face. “It sounds just as bad, doesn’t it? Try Extra Sensory Perception. Anyways, it’s kinda like being psychic, but these so called ESP-ers can’t read minds. The name basically says it all for me. They have extra senses…. and they percieve things. With those senses.”
“So, technically, I’m not psychic, I’m an esper?”
“.... Why does everyone do that?”
“Because esper sounds better than ESP-er.”
Dice was a little miffed at being interrupted earlier, and now Char was answering her questions when she was deliberately being vague. This was more confusing than annoying, but she wasn’t about to let him control the discussion.”The fourth sense. You said it was like a field around you, and that’s how you can tell when someone is watching. Do you think it’s an actual field, or just a mental construct?”
“I don’t really know. It isn’t like I’m able to tell the difference. Maybe with time.”
“Ah, whatever. What about the last three? You said there were seven, but you stopped at four.”
“Oh yeah. I didn’t check them once I figured out which one was associated with detecting people looking at me. Do you want me to take a look at them now? I tried to make them more accessible on the way out, and I kinda want to see if it works.”
“Go ahead, I’ll be doing a little research on my phone,” Dice said, retrieving a sleek black tablet from her bag. She turned it sideways and began tapping away with her thumbs on a virtual keyboard.
Char took a few steps back and closed his eyes, reaching for where he had left the threads of his extra senses. Without dipping into them, he could still tell which ones he had already experienced, and which they were. Passing over the familiar, he picked one of the three untouched senses at random, and let the information flow into his mind. The world around him bled into a gradient of hues, the plants and ground fading into general uniformity. Against this background, he could feel the brighter colors bleeding off of Dice just a few feet in front of him. It took him only a second to determine the nature of this sense. This was thermal vision… or some approximation. It was hard to compare it to sight, when he could ‘see’ both Dice’s glowing form and the dull coolness of the tree bark immediately behind her. In fact, if he concentrated, he could ‘see’ the far side of the tree, and through it, Dice’s back, then himself. Interested in this ability to see from other directions, he tried to extend the distance, using the next tree back as a reference point. When there was no problem, he selected another tree, farther back, and tried to see on the other side of that one. Though it didn’t feel like he was traveling in the space between, he found himself halted by some force halfway there. Was this the limit of his reach? Experimentally, he tried to push past the resistance.
Char’s sight, as it was, shattered into hundreds of splintered colors, blinding him. Like a shutter snapping back when pulled too hard, he retreated back to the safety of his base five senses. He had a strange headache, that felt as though his mind was slightly offset from his brain, leaving his movements awkward and uncomfortable. Luckily, there was no pain, but he was still wary. Maybe he would wait until the awkwardness faded to test the final two senses.
Dice saw that he was dazed, something his mask seemed temporarily unable to conceal. “What happened? Did you see something really awesome, or did you mess up?”
“I, ah, the second one. I did figure out the, uh, first of the three. It’s infrared? Or something. Looked almost exactly like false-color IR photos.”
“And how did you mess up?” Dice was more than a little interested in how he could possibly have thrown his own mask off balance.
“Ummm, I was trying to see farther, and I think I think I hit my limit. A little too hard. This is like whiplash? I dunno. I need a break.” Char lifted an arm to wipe some sweat off his forehead. He missed, and smacked himself in the face.
“Fine, you’ve convinced me. We’ll break for the day, as soon as you think you can walk back without running into any trees.” She smirked. She didn’t tell him she was planning to go home soon regardless. Her phone was almost out of battery, and the signal out in the forest was terrible, making her search for information too slow. “Ah,” she thought, “that’s a good idea for a new project.”
They waited for about ten minutes, then set out for the park. Dice walked closer to Char than she usually did, to make sure he didn’t trip and smash his face on a root or something. Though it was a bit funny to watch him stumble around like a drunk, if he got injured, she would have to explain to somebody why they were wandering around the forest together. At best, they wouldn’t be able to meet again, if his parents were as overprotective as she thought they were. At worst, they might catch the attention of the Astrologomy Club.
When they had retrieved the bike and scooter, they had to spend a minute to make sure Char wouldn’t fall over. As it became clear that he definitely would, Dice relented and let him use the scooter. Char felt a gaze when they left the treeline. Deciding against using the sense to see who it was, he glanced around with his normal sight. He stopped.
“What’s Mithras doing here?”
“He’s WHAT?” Dice said, so Char pointed him out, sitting on one of the swings, looking right at them.
She promptly turned and sped off. Char looked at her retreating dust, then back at Mithras, who hadn’t moved, and decided to follow her. He wasn’t sure what she had against the other boy, but there was no sense waiting around. He’d ask about it later.
[Okay, we're going to get some more interesting stuff. yaay. I have another picture, because that's what I do when I can't think what to write. I wonder how long it will be until the last two senses are revealed? ... no wait that's my decision, I don't ask you that. One thing I'm trying to work on is Char's tendency to dick around in his own mind without a care. He might be realizing the downsides to that. ish.]
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Mithras sighed heavily, the chains of the swing creaking as he kicked backwards into motion. It really was a shame, that Charon had gotten involved with Eurydice. He should have said something sooner. Well, that much was obvious. It was pretty much the singular truth in his life. No matter how much he saw or supposed, he never acted until it was too late. Too late for his decisions to matter, his advice to be followed, or his claims to be believed. He swung higher, looking over his shoulder to see the pair as they rode away. Falling back, he lost them, and when he looked again, they had already rounded the corner, where he couldn’t see them. A noise on the playground’s tube slide distracted him. A lanky young man crawled out the end, and lost his balance at the end, getting wood chips all over his hooded sweatshirt. He scrambled to his feet embarrassed, and made his way to the car that pulled up to meet him.
Odd, Mithras thought. It was almost as though that man had been waiting for a pair of teenagers to leave the forest. For what reason, though? He thought of endless possibilities, most of them improbable, some impossible. The majority were a variation on a theme. The local cultists had their eye(s) on a new victim or two. He was pretty sure this was the case. His hunches were usually correct, especially when he used a scrying circle to come up with them. Not that he was in the habit of invading the privacy of others. On purpose.
Once again, things were looking bad. What would he do about it? Try as he might, he couldn’t think of a solution, before it was rejected, stomped on, and left to an early grave by reality. Nobody gave a damn what he said, as far as 9 out of 10 of them were concerned, he was delusional, and the other two wouldn’t give him the time of day unless his own life was at risk.
There was something wrong with the math there? He didn’t think so. The two in question were his parents, and they got along so well they were practically the same person. A memory surfaced without warning, of one of those few times they were around and giving him their attention.
“Okay Mithras, let’s hear your alphabet.” It was his mother. She was holding a laminated sheet of paper with a bunch of characters made of lines on it. She held his hand and moved it over each character, waiting for him to name it before moving to the next.
“Okay… A, B, …. L? That’s not right, mommy, these letters are all wrong.”
“No Mithras, this is the OTHER alphabet. Mommy and Daddy want to hear you say your runes.” That was ‘Daddy’ speaking, probably. He was always getting them mixed up, in his memories. They spoke in the same tones, said the same words. They didn’t look alike, though. Otherwise he would suspect them of secretly being twins and not his real parents. When he was little, he didn’t think about those things.
“Huh. That’s not A? Is it…. D’lan?” His little mouth had a little trouble forming the complicated sound, but he managed, because he liked the proud smiles he got when he did well.
“And what does it mean? What is the significance of D’lan?” They looked expectantly at him. What did they think he would say? That D’lan signified a grouping of a familial nature, but in an aetherial rather than physical sense? No. He was a four year old. He barely had a firm grasp of his letters, and they expected him to skip over the phase of ‘words’ and ‘sentences’ and go straight to complex magic theory? He could have guessed his reaction even if he didn’t remember them.
“I… I don’t know? But look, the one that isn’t really B, it’s really Luaess, then there’s Hrojeb, and…” They were already looking away, completely ignoring his near-flawless pronunciation. Did they think he couldn’t read the disappointment hanging in the air? Then his face lit up as he thought of a solution: “You can teach me! Then I’ll know all of the significances.”
With that attitude, he managed to hold his parents’ attention for another year. He memorized all of the runes they showed him, their names and ‘significances’. But after making his way through all 53 basic runes, they wanted him to learn how they worked in conjunction with each other in spells. It was too much for him to take in, and his pace fell dramatically. Weeks would pass without progress. They stuck with it for several months, but when it became clear that Mithras would not be the young spellmaster their first child was, they stopped trying to teach him magic, and sent him to public school.
Some children have trouble adjusting to life away from their parents. They cry and throw fits when they realize they must spend hours in a foreign environment ‘alone’. Mithras was one of these, but his parents would have none of that. They told him he would be going, and then he was there, no room for complaint. So he sat in the overly cheerful kindergarten classroom, sullen and serious like he was the only adult in the room. Even the teacher was unnaturally happy about her job, or at least she acted that way. The other children were so carefree, that Mithras couldn’t understand them, and they didn’t want to play with him.
The thought had crossed his mind many times before that this was the time his ostracization really began. But on the second day of kindergarten, a new student arrived, that the young Mithras recognized as someone he could get along with. He was a boy, pale with messy dark hair, whose demeanor was simple cold indifference. He was introduced by his mother as Charon, like Pluto’s moon. This boy, at first glance, appeared to be shy. He looked down, to avoid meeting the stares of his classmates, as his mother spoke on his behalf. But the second the introduction was over, his eyes flicked up, flickering around the room like he was taking in every detail. They settled on Mithras, and soon Charon was sitting in the empty seat on his left.
“I’m Mithras,” he said, “I hope we can be friends.”
Charon looked at his hands, and said nothing. The class moved on and began an arts and crafts project that involved drawing themselves as they wanted to be when they grew up. Twenty minutes later, when Mithras was putting the finishing touches on his picture of himself as a wizard, Charon finally spoke up.
“It depends on how you define the word ‘friend’.”
Mithras smiled at the recollection. Charon was too cool for his own good. He always spent too long to answer any question with nuance, not because he couldn’t think of an answer, but because he tried to consider ever answer. Well, that was then. Before his stupid cousin showed up and took him away.
A dark expression crossed his face. That was his first sin. He let his first friend be wrapped up with that twisted girl. It didn’t matter if she was bigger, or that she was scary and possessive. He had done nothing, even as Charon became more distant, and less like himself. If he had said something, anything, would he have had to suffer, all that time? Even then, after she had left and Charon was left in that empty state, he should have defended him, and his right to live. Not being able to think of a simple way to help, always contradicting his own thoughts, he had let ten years slip by, until the problem resolved itself, only to be replaced with another one.
And still he did nothing. That would have to change. Mithras slipped off the swing, which was no longer moving, and began the long walk home.
Modulant frowned at the computer screen, which displayed the full contents of Pasma’s blood. If it was correct, and not buggy, then she would have to revise her assumptions about his mutation. She had initially thought that this was a simple case of GSD and the Regenerator trait. But according to this, the blood sample she was looking at was not, in fact, Regenerator blood. It also contained a large amount of particulate metals, which explained the sparking. She put one hand on her chin in a classic ‘thinking’ pose. What was it, then, that kept Pasma from dying? A thought occurred to her.
“Pasma, Giblet, come over here for a second.” The boys reluctantly stopped trying to hurt each other, and did as she asked. “Pasma, what do you think of when I say the word ‘nanomachines’?”
“I dunno. No wait, they can do stuff on a molecular level, right?”
“Correct. Modulant has been looking at your blood, and she thinks that you have nanomachines, or nanos, in you.” She showed them the screen, then went over to the terminal to change the scanner’s function. The chart changed to a high magnification of the blood. “Do you see those dark shapes that aren’t blood cells? Modulant thinks that they are… wait a second.” She ran back and clicked a few times, zooming in on one in particular. She looked at the screen again.
“Oh.” She said.
“What?” Pasma asked. Giblet was still looking at the cool tiny robot picture, he had nothing to say.
“These, uh… Modulant made these nanos. Waaay back, like fifteen years ago. For a project. But that project failed ages ago.”
“Really? Cool. No wait. Why are they in my blood then?”
“Well-,” She said, “the baby who grew up to be you may have been part of the project. We did have some babies there. One of them survived. Maybe that was you.”
There was an awkward pause.
“ONE of them survived?”
“Hey, you can’t hold Modulant accountable for EVERYTHING. She didn’t feed the nanos to the babies. That was, uh, the bio people.”
“It’s still terrible. Did you know they were doing this?”
“I - er - Modulant thought they had permission! They had forms signed by the parents, and everything. And it was for the good of the planet.”
“HOW? I mean like, all of it.”
“Honest, the parents signed the babies over to the researchers. And don’t ask Modulant about laws, you two are technically not in her custody, things could get messy. As for the good of the planet, do you know how much pollution is produced every year by humans?”
“No, but I have been tossed in garbage more than a few times. It’s a lot, right?”
“Yes, it really is. The project’s aim was to find a way to modify a human so they could break down their own trash. The plastic, at least. The way we settled on was nanos, obviously. Modulant provided them. They are her best work, even if they didn’t really work. They have the capacity to modify the human body in response to the introduction of new materials. If they functioned as planned, not only would the subject be able to digest all kinds of synthetic waste, they would be immune to all kinds of toxins. I suspect that you have these traits now, with some additions.”
“But I don’t, I mean didn’t. I’ve gotten sick from things I ate before.”
“Like what? It could’ve been a biological illness. The nanos don’t protect from those… as well.”
“Uh… no, I think it was bleach or something. Lye?”
“Ah, Pasma. I don’t know what you were thinking, but a normal person would not easily recover from that. When was this?”
“I think I was ten.”
Giblet set aside the screen to give him a hard time. “Shouldn’t a TEN year old know BETTER?” He grinned triumphantly. “You can’t call ME crazy anymore.”
“Huh….” Modulant was temporarily lost in thought. “The odd thing is, the project was supposed to be a failure. Even before they could begin tests feeding you small amounts of plastic, the babies’ bodies rejected the nanos inside them.”
“Is that why they died? The nanos killed them?”
“Technically, the nanos didn't do anything, they just got pooped out.” She half smiled. “It was hilarious to watch those researchers trying to recover their tech from a bunch of diapers.” Her smile inverted itself. “But then, it wasn't funny at all, when every subject suffered fatal immune reactions from the rejection.”
“I thought you said one survived, though. That’s me, right?” Pasma wasn’t a fan of all this double talk or whatever it was. He preferred simple stories.
“Well, they were never working officially. Or legally. That could never be true when they’re doing things like experimenting on children, babies, even. No, they had a front. They were a daycare/nursery/orphanage for parents that didn’t want to deal with their own children. All sorts of suspicious documents had to be signed, nondisclosure and all that, to prevent repercussions. When everything went to hell, they decided to abandon ship, and take you with them if they could get away with it. One viable subject is better than being caught.” Modulant grimaced. The rest of the story was hard to tell. Giblet noticed, and saw an opportunity.
“Mod, Mod, you can be nice sometimes Mod. Nobody here cares if you act nice here.” He pooled around her feet, tugging at her ankles like a puppy made of little cubes.
“Fine. When I heard about their escape plan, I decided to get you out. I’m not all cold-hearted, I like kids. I didn’t want to see another one die. Didn’t even expect the others.... Anyways, I faked your death, made a fake, uh, baby corpse for them to find, and pulled you out to a real orphanage. And you know how it turned out after that more than I do. I mean, Modulant do. Does.” Helpfully, Giblet reached up and moved her palm to her forehead.
“Oh. Well, thanks then.”
“You saved my life, or something. Is that right? And it seems to me you’re the reason I have powers now. It’s the nanos, right? Still, now I know my parents weren’t dead, I wish I could’ve met them.”
“No you don’t. Listen to m- Modulant, and listen close. Your parents were shit. They knew full well what was at risk, and they gave you up with no reservations. They didn’t WANT you, didn’t even give you to the normal orphanage like a half-decent person. They took money, Pasma. They-” She turned the other way so he wouldn’t have to see the loathing in her face, rapidly contorting her features. When she was calm, she faced him again. “Pasma. As things are, even if your parents are still alive, they aren’t. I mean, they shouldn’t be, your parents. Ugh, this is always so hard… If you want, I’ll be your parent instead. Just… forget about them.”
“You mean, you’ll be my mom?” Pasma was embarrassed. He’d never called anyone his mother before. It was a foreign concept, to someone who’d only had temporary guardians.
“Please don’t call Modulant that, Modulant is… Modulant, okay.” Her face was reddening to match Pasma’s. She was in no way more comfortable that he was having this conversation. Giblet looked at them from below, bemused.
“So, Mod, what happened to those other researchers? Did you track them down, when they let their guard down did you kill them?” Giblet asked.
“Well, no,” Modulant said, glad for the distraction. “When Modulant checked on them last, they had all been killed in their sleep, by someone else. The pattern and cause of death matches what the cops call Silversnick. They wouldn’t give her any more information than that, and Modulant isn’t the hacking kind of Devisor.” She shrugged. “They got what was coming to them anyways, but now Modulant’s hands are (relatively) clean.” They all stood in silence for a few minutes, with nothing to say. It became a bit awkward.
“I think I’ll go get some sleep,” Pasma said. “I’ve got a lot to think about.”
“Yes, sleep little Pasma, I’ll be ready to face you when you wake,” said Giblet. Their fight wasn’t over just because it was interrupted. Pasma acknowledged the challenge, and walked out of the room.
In the hallway, Pasma smiled. It was nice to think he had a family, even if they were all crazy.
Back in the lab, Giblet and Modulant also smiled, as they thought the same.
[Oh noes, my swear counter just dinged. I try my best, but sometimes it just kinda slips, yknow. Anyways, this is kinda a double chapter cause I didn't want to take up a full normal chapter each with these sideish stories. So here's this long one. Have fun. Oh yeah, and here's a pic: ]
[also, this chapter was a real slog, so if there are any, i dunno, annoying parts or errors or typos, let me know.]
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Char's fall played back through his mind. He was trying to catch up to Dice, who was somehow faster on the bike than he was on the motor scooter. He assumed the handles were the accelerator, like they were on a motorcylce, but he wasn't moving fast enough for that to be the case. He thought that maybe the battery was low, but a small meter between the handles indicated otherwise. Confused, he tried to stop by pressing on the footbrake over the rear wheel. Instead of slowing, the scooter's whine increased in volume, and it doubled its speed. Ah, he thought, Dice must have changed it, when she realized the new wheels no longer worked with the existing brakes. Then he thought he knew how it worked, so he relaxed.
That was a mistake. As he loosened his grip on the handles, they sprung back into their original position. The scooter, which had been moving at a sprint before, bolted into new territory. The brakes, he thought. He was going to twist the handle again to ease off, but a wave of heat overcame him. It started at the edges of his ears, and spread across his face, until he felt like he was dipped headfirst in a sweltering summer day. Without trying, his senses began to flicker. The world dissolved into points, that seemed to be in the shape of the air and the ground, but that never resolved into an image. All meaning was lost, yet he somehow knew every point contained more information than he could comprehend. Everything was so different from everything else, that it all became the same, and his senses couldn't distinguish the earth from the sky. He was no longer using his general five senses, and he didn't have access to the specific bodily senses he was used to either. No longer able to determine whether he was upside down, laying in the grass, or dead, though he didn't think the last one was likely, Char felt somewhat at ease.
It must be ironic, he thought, that in experiencing this overwhelming sense of everything, I am calmer that I ever was with those senses duller by magnitudes. It was the solitude that did it. There was nowhere else he could feel so alone. At school, it was expected that he would be surrounded by his peers at all times. At home, he never knew when his parents would be home to enact their particular brand of supervision. In the forest, Dice was always there. In the library, the librarian could see him at any one of the tables, from her desk near the front of the small building.
Char had always assumed that this was how the world was: nobody was ever alone. Everyone was always surrounding and being surrounded by each other. Sure, some of them didn't interact with the others as often, but they were always aware. Aware that someone could at any time enter any space they reserved from the busy world around them, making it impersonal. Constantly reminded, through the marks left on their surroundings. But here, here was his idyllic solitude. No matter what was happening around him, in this blizzard of data points, he had no way of knowing which belonged to a person, and their was no means of communication.
Unfortunately, his peace, like any, had to come to an end. He resigned himself to it, as his brain, working overtime, managed to parse some of the information from the points into a form it could recognize. It was like someone took the world's most complex dot-to-dot puzzle, and started drawing lines, from every point at once. Every one of these lines was tipped by a small triangle. Arrows, he thought. He checked himself. Vectors, representing motion, most likely.
And with that, he knew where he was, what he was doing, and the motion of everything around him. It wasn't as simple as just knowing, of course. But in a relatively short amount of time, he had determined the ground to be the area where the arrows were very small, the air to be where the arrows were larger, but pointed in all directoins, and his body to be where the arrows pointed in cycles as the blood pumped through his veins. Because of the vastness of the arrowfield in his range, and the depth of detail to which it went, he had to focus a little in order to really process anything, and he only really gathered the gist of the the directions and magnitudes. It was enough, though, to make the world concrete.
With no reason to stay locked into this sense, Char quickly retreated into himself, and emerged again into the usual. He was hit with a blinding pain in his head and lower left leg. He was overheating, burning up, and he hadn't even noticed because his sense of pain was blocked. He tried to feel past the pain, to get his bearings. He was tipped downhill, and the prickling on his face and arms was a sign that he was laying in the grass. Pulling himself to his knees, he noted that the pain in his ankle was different from the pain in his head. It was reactive, and whenever he moved the limb in question, it flared indignantly. Probably broken, at least sprained. He forced his eyes open and looked for the scooter, a much more viable way of getting home than walking at this point. The resulting flash of heat in his head made him squint, keeping his eyes almost closed until he cooled to a more manageable level.
Char thought that the heat he was feeling was caused by excess blood flow to his head, and that it had something to do with his senses, particularly the new ones. It was a reasonable conclusion, that he could say was his own, since Dice wasn't there to point it out first. Where was she, anyway? He thought she would be more concerned about her scooter being wrecked. Slowly, so his head wouldn't hurt any more, he looked about for the device that had dumped him unceremoniously down the thankfully shallow embankment. The reflection of clouded sky on metal caught his eye, and he worked his way up the hill to find that, despite what he had supposed, the scooter didn't have a scratch.
She does good work, he thought, and it explains why she wouldn't be so worried about it falling over.
Excellent craftsmanship or not, he still had to get home, and dunk his head in a cold shower. He hadn't read any medical or first aid books yet (though that would have to change), but in one of his middle school Phys Ed classes, they had mentioned something about heat stroke. That may have been about dehydration, though. They didn't go into much depth, aside from telling the kids to drink lots of water. The closest water fountain he could remember was at the library, and in his condition it might take over ten minutes to get home even with the scooter. A little test told him his ankle could probably handle pressing on the accelerator, if his weight was supported by the other foot. Careful to keep the handle twisted, he whirred along the sidewalk to the library.
The second the librarian saw him, she stood up from her chair in concern.
"Oh dear, are you all right?" The old lady made a vaguely concerned-looking hand gesture that did no justice to her face.
"I... I need water?" His mouth was very dry, but he didn't seem to be producing any saliva. This is bad, he thought, I might actually need to get real medical help. He turned to walk to the water fountain.
"No, no, you look terrible. Here, take this." Miss Carsen took a bottle of water from her desk and walked around to hand it to him directly. To her surprise, he only took a small sip. This child already knew to rehydrate over time, something she thought she would have to explain.
When Char finished with the water, she directed him to the bathroom to wash up. Obediently, he limped to the doors. He stopped and looked back. Something was nagging at him, seemed off. The librarian was watching him, expectantly. But expecting what?
Ah..., he thought. Maybe she's recognized me, now that I've appeared in this building two consecutive days, in disguise and out. If that was the case, there were two responses. One, he could pretend that any resemblance was superficial, and go on as normal. Two, he could pretend that he actually was Addalyn Jacobs, but underdressed for a day of outdoor activity. That would rely on the librarian not recognizing him as a boy. Three, he could try to pretend Addalyn was a relative. There was no way he would try that, it was just too risky, and cliche. And hard to prove, since he couldn't easily just bring in Addalyn at the same time. He would have to test the waters, so to speak, to determine the best course of action.
He flashed Miss Carsen a carefully calculated confused look and stepped into the men's room. Then he set about doing what he came there to do. He walked over to the sinks to wash his face.
"Wha?" His reflection stared back at him, scarlet faced like he was the most embarrased person on the planet. That, or he looked furious. If he looked closely, the veins in his temples stood out slightly, as they had expanded to support the blood flowing to his brain. His neck was also looking more like vampire bait than it had the last time he checked. Covering it all like a garnish was a dusting of broken stalks of grass. Looking like this, being recognized shouldn't be my primary concern, he thought. Still, he didn't like how he looked, and he was feeling thirsty again, so he stopped the drain and filled the basin of one of the sinks with cold water. Dunking his head felt marvelous, so he kept at it until the redness was just a slight blush.
Now, he thought, I have to figure out what to do about this situation.
[Okay, so I basically did a crude copy-paste of everything so far from my google doc to ywriter. Now im working from there. So far so good. btw there may be actual typos, due to the new software not having autocorrect, so if you catch any, please let me know. As always, enjoy... the picture! cause its too late to enjoy the chapter if you didn't already... :l ]
Edit: I couldn't help myself.
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Cautiously, Char pushed open the bathroom door. That old librarian lady was still there, but that was no longer a problem. He had decided just a few minutes before, while he was drying his head with paper towels, that it didn’t really matter what she might have thought when he arrived. If he was ever going to be seen like this by her again, she must not make a connection between him and her assistant Addalyn. The best way to ensure this, he thought, was to establish that his current appearance was another face of Adds. That, and it would be an interesting opportunity to test his disguise skills.
He was dressed like always, in a long sleeved shirt (today’s was a dull blue) that masked how thin he was, and in a pair of sleek black sweats meant for jogging, though as of yet they had never been used as intended. That was good, if he was wearing a t-shirt it would be hard to pretend he wasn’t a prepubescent boy, but with this level of body masking he would pass easily. The face was the most important part, though. Obviously the last time he was here as Addalyn, he had the same face, but he had to wonder if he wasn’t too obviously male without makeup…. Hold on, he thought. He looked more carefully at his face. It differed slightly from the one he was used to seeing. He couldn’t place it, and he wished he had that perfect memory Dice said mental Exemplars should have. Oh well. There was nothing for it, he would just have to make do. The next few minutes he spent untangling his hair and doing it in a braid, tying it with the drawstring from his sweatpants. It had elastic in the waistband, so he reasoned it wouldn’t do any harm.
Having just confirmed that he wasn’t at risk of overheating, Char put on his Addalyn mask and stepped out of the bathroom. He, or she, if persona is your measure, glanced at the sign on the door and narrowed her eyes. Well. Seeing as how nobody else was in the building, it shouldn’t matter if she got the wrong bathroom. She turned back to face Miss Carsen, who had returned to her seat. At the sight, she rushed over.
“Oh, Addalyn, I thought it might be you. Are you all right now? Are you still thirsty?” She had another bottle of water with her, which she held out as she peered down at her assistant for any remaining signs of illness.
“I am.” She took the water with a nod and drank deeply, eager to stave off the last remnants of her heat-induced headache. Pausing for breath, she remembered that she wasn’t supposed to be rude, just guarded. “Thank you… very much.”
Miss Carsen smiled in relief. She had been worried about this child before, but when she thought it might be her new assistant, well. It was all the more important that nothing happened to dissuade her from working. Some people (mostly her parents) said she invested herself too much in the institution. She argued that nobody else she knew was paid by the government to sit and read books all the time. To that end she had almost single-handedly saved the library from closing twice now. But now they (the town council) were demanding library records and check-out quotas! Absurd, truly absurd. But she was getting distracted in her thoughts again, rather than the situation she was poised to address.
The librarian had a brilliant idea. “Are you busy, Addalyn, dear?”
In response, the girl blinked twice. To be certain, she said aloud, “No.”
“Well then,” she said eagerly, “why don’t we start your job training right now? I mean, volunteer training. What do you think?”
The expectation practically dripped off of her.
“I’m not busy,” Addalyn-mask said, pointedly. In response, Miss Carsen clasped her hands in joy, and began her lesson with a happy spring in her step.
For the next hour, Miss Carsen walked Addalyn through the various tasks she would have to do as a volunteer, including taking returns, reshelving, light custodial work, checking shelves (reshelving as necessary), and managing the online catalogue. She listened intently at every step, confident that she would not have to hear the same guidance twice.
“So…. this is the library website. I can find books with this.” She looked at the computer monitor. “I don’t see it.” She smiled. It was funny, because she meant it two ways. She didn’t understand the existence of the website, because she would have known about it, and she also couldn’t see the screen because her eyes refused to focus. That was a bad thing, wasn’t it?
“Unfortunately, our library doesn’t get enough visits to warrant an online system,” Miss Carsen said. “It hasn’t been functional for years. It’s too bad, I’m sure some people would be more likely to visit, and get library cards if they knew they could check if a new book is here from home.”
Addalyn tilted her head uncertainly, eyes heavy-lidded. It was getting a lot harder to parse the old lady’s phrasing. Did she just say there was no website? She tried to ask, but the words got jumbled in her head. What was so tired? Could she need to sleep? It didn’t make sense that the website would be mentally exhausted, shouldn’t even be conscious at this point. She squinted, trying to make out the screen, but that didn’t help at all. Her eyes were already closed.
Miss Carsen saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head and saw her assistant fast asleep on the keyboard. “Oh dear, you must be so tired. I’m sorry I didn’t notice.” She berated herself for getting too caught up in her own excitement. Then she reminded herself that sleeping people can’t acknowledge apologies, and she decided to do the more practical thing, and move the sleeping girl off of her computer, and onto a rolled-up sweater.
“I guess for now it’s still just me.”
“It was nice knowing you,” said Giblet. “I hope you enjoy your last supper.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Pasma. “You’ll ruin my appetite.” He was seated halfway along the long side of a rectangular table. On the table, there were various bottles and buckets, of everything from air fresheners to motor oil. Nothing before him could be considered edible by any stretch of the imagination. Idly, he spun the only plate on its edge. He was shirtless, to make room for an array of sensors taped across his torso. Thin wires ran each one, leading to a single computer with several monitors. There sat Modulant, who had just finished the final calibrations. If Pasma’s health dipped at any point during the test, she would call it off. Probably.
“Modulant is ready, whenever you want to get started, Pasma.”
With a clack, he snapped the spinning plate down flat on the table. He had already decided which item to try out first, in the time it took to get everything ready. Reaching over a box of washers and a fly strip, he grabbed a tall glass of dirty brown water. Resting gently on the bottom was an old rusted bolt he had found lying on the ground outside. To start, he took a small sip. He could taste the dirt and metal on his tongue. At first it was unpleasant, but shortly he acclimatized and the earthy aftertaste faded. He took another drink from the glass, larger this time. The flavor had changed, or more specifically, his sense of taste had been adjusted to appreciate it.
“This is pretty good. Like carrot skins, but in liquid form. Slightly bitter.” He tipped his head back and poured the entire glass down his throat all at once. He set the glass back where he found it, and started on the bolt. Several minutes of uncomfortable crunching and cracking followed.
“How was it?” asked Giblet.
Pasma made a face. “The first few bites broke a few of my teeth, I think. Then the metal got softer or something and it was like chewing a lollipop. Blood flavor.”
“Modulant’s guess is that the nanomachines increased the hardness of your teeth while fixing them, broke down the bolt, or some combination of the two. She has an idea about the taste, too. The nanos are probably adapting you in response to the foreign substance. Why don’t you try something more…. extreme this time?”
Pasma considered his selection. Extreme, she said? He grabbed the drain cleaner, and poured some into the glass, about an inch worth. It foamed on the dirt coating the sides of the glass.
“Cheers!” He gulped it down.
When he stopped gagging and spitting bloody sparks, and waited for Giblet to stop laughing, he gave his verdict.
“I could go for another glass, maybe. It wasn’t so bad. Fiery, but tastes a bit like soap.” This time he poured a little less, and sipped it, letting the burning ease off before swallowing. “Yeah, I think it’s an acquired taste. I don’t think most people would appreciate it the first time.”
“I think most people would die.” said Giblet.
They repeated the process with every item on the table. A pattern developed. Pasma would initially find the toxin disgusting, but not lethal. After a certain amount of time, though, he found everything to taste unique, and pleasant in its own way. The time it took seemed to depend on the toxicity of the substance.
“Initially, Modulant thought there was a chance that the nanomachines were simply breaking the chemicals down to harmless components. Now she isn’t so sure. Can Modulant take a blood sample? She wants to check something.”
“Go ahead, I wanna know, too.”
While the tests were running, Pasma and Giblet started having fun making ‘dishes’ for him to eat. Giblet wore a hazmat suit, because even he could be hurt by acid. Luckily, Modulant caught them before they could blow anything up.
“If you are going to play with these chemicals, you do it in the Clean Room, okay?” She waved them away. They ran off carrying armfuls of dangerous chemicals, obediently moving their fun to the appropriate room. She watched them go in the reflective glass surface of her monitor.
She smiled. They were tough kids. At their level of Regeneration, Death would never touch them. To be their mother would mean never fearing on their behalf. Well, she would never be their mother officially. With her background, no sane person would let children live anywhere near her. Luckily, the boys didn’t seem to mind being cooped up in this underground complex. Her smile faded, as she recalled another young man, happily spending time with her in a similar but smaller facility. Before she had a contract with the MCO, making sensory arrays and scanners, before she had the money to install safeguards, of which the Clean Room was one among many.
You know what they say, she thought. It’s all fun and games until someone goes and dies.
There was a rumble and a crash from down the corridor, followed closely by the echoes of raucous laughter.
Miss Carsen quickly slipped a bookmark into her book, slipping it out of sight, into a drawer. A moment later, a lean young man walked in. Though he lacked his usual nervous tension, the librarian recognized him immediately.
“Carl! My goodness, where were you? Are you back for your job? If you are, I’m afraid I’ve found a new assistant. That’s what you get for leaving without notice, you know.”
Carl approached the desk so smoothly it was like his legs had no hinge to them, and were bending freely. He stopped just opposite his former employer, on the visitor side of her desk.
“Sorry, Ms Carsen, it was a bit selfish of me to leave like that. I just had to… take care of some personal problems. Some irrational fears that were holding me back. I took the most excellent class, truly unbelievable.” His eyes glazed over, then refocused. “So I came back to apologize, for all those times I didn’t work to my full potential, and for leaving, I suppose.”
Miss Carsen forgave him, of course, though she might not have been so willing if she hadn’t already replaced him. She chalked his oddness up to his new confidence, and he warmed up as soon as he realized she didn’t mind him visiting. As they chatted a bit, Carl leaned over the desk like he always had, putting his weight on his elbows to speak more easily to his old employer. Then he noticed the figure slumped on the desktop next to her.
“Who is that? My replacement?” He tried to get a better look, but her face was turned away from him, cozied into the sweater.
“Yes, actually.” She seemed a little embarrassed, having just remembered herself. She lowered her voice. “I’m sorry, Carl, now isn’t a great time to talk. Was there anything else you wanted?”
“I was just going to stop by, but on second thought, maybe I’ll browse.” And he did, prowling around the library with his new smooth, confident walk, looking for an interesting book to read. Every so often, though, when he was hidden behind a row of shelves, he turned, and peeked between the books, making sure the new assistant hadn’t left. In this town, the library was an odd place to visit in the first place. Anyone who elected to spend more time here than absolutely necessary was worth investigating. This new girl might have potential, said the small voice at the bottom-left of Carl’s head, and you should keep an eye on her. Carl didn’t hear the voice, but he obeyed it all the same.
Carl found a book, and read it until closing. The assistant was still asleep, but he couldn’t stay, since he was just a visitor. He didn’t know why he was disappointed when he walked out the front doors, waving goodbye to Miss Carsen.
At Char’s house, Mr. and Mrs. Ashworth wallowed in their worry. We should be going to our meetings, they said to each other, but neither of them moved. That morning, and all through the day, they sat around the house, wondering what Charon was doing. He was leaving the house, without them. That was unlike him, and it worried them. He was doing well in school, and spending time on his homework beyond what was necessary, which was unlike him. It worried them. He no longer looked tired just after waking up, right before bed, and every time in between, which was unlike him, and it worried them. The other day they discussed this. Char wasn’t what he used to be, and they were all tied up in knots over it. But they quickly realized, after some unfortunate resistance, that he wasn’t changed for the worse.
They started worrying about how much they worried, which, instead of replacing the earlier worry, only compounded it. Mr. Ashworth tried to joke that all this stress was going to age them. Neither he nor his wife laughed. It wasn’t funny, because it was happening to them. Maybe it would be funny later, but that wouldn’t relieve them in the moment.
When they woke up that morning, Lana Ashworth turned to get out of bed, and stopped. She was so tired. Maybe she could use the rest. So she pulled the blankets back and tried to relax. Unfortunately, sleep did not come to her. When Aaron woke up a few minutes later, he found her still beside him, and lost the will to leave the covers. They did have to leave eventually, to eat, but only for lunch, when it became truly unbearable. Char was already gone by then, to who-knows-where. He wouldn’t tell them if they asked, they were sure.
They turned on the TV, but didn’t really watch it. They could only think about their son. Hours passed. Finally, Lana spoke up.
“This isn’t good for us.”
Slowly, Aaron nodded. “No, and it can’t be good for Charon, either.”
“We can’t live only for our son, not like this.”
It went unspoken, for some time, that the evening meeting was approaching. But both of them were aware of it, watching the clock hands creep around with typical unfair uniformity. Just before it would be too late to leave, Aaron took a breath to talk.
He almost didn’t. But he remembered, distantly, how his life used to be, before he got wrapped up in this obsession, that had lost its purpose. He used to have things he would do with Charon for fun. They used to watch action movies, and cheer for both the protagonist and the villain, when they did something particularly daring. He used to read comics with his son. Now, both the movies and comic books were stowed in boxes, along with so many other things, that he had never felt ready to do, with his son in that state.
He wanted that back.
When she heard the hesitation, Lana also remembered, those things that brought her happiness. Buying new clothes every year, bringing Charon with her because he liked knowing what his options were. Running from place to place in the clothing store, and trying on more things than they really needed. For him, it was all about the aesthetic, not the style, and he always ended up looking like a colorful mess. At home, she’d help him with every project he decided to work on. One week, he’d make a lightsaber from a cardboard tube, and embellish it with paint until it positively glowed with colors, the next, he’d be stapling and cutting a trash bag to make a cloak. He never got it right the first time, always doing it over and over until it looked how he wanted. She loved watching him work, because whenever he finished he smiled wider than he did at any other time.
She feared he had lost that.
Together, Charon Ashworth’s parents decided that before they could help their son, they had to help themselves. They prepared quickly, and drove off to their weekly meeting at the Astrolomy Club, the large building across the street from the Community Center. They slipped into the back just as things were getting started. If anyone noticed their disheveled appearance, they didn’t say anything. There were hushed conversations all around, but they fell silent when the Club President stood to begin.
Mr. Trent was not a particularly interesting man to look at. He preferred it that way. Though he ran the town’s hospital, he would never stand to be called Doctor, and said he only needed one title. When he was President Trent, though, he was more charismatic than most politicians. His muddy brown hair, short and wispy, was fuller when he stood before the Club, his voice boomed, his back straightened and he gained several inches of height. He smiled easily and well. Many members believed that the Club would be less than half its size without him leading it.
Today, he began like always.
“Welcome, my Fellows! Today, we meet to pursue our skyward passions, but first, Business! Let us begin right away, so we can all have a little more of our precious Sky in our lives as soon as possible. First, the minutes from our last meeting…”
And it continued into the part where he reminded everyone of the Club’s subgroups.
“If your interest is the stars, you’re in luck! The Astronomy group has a brand new, high powered telescope, and some absolutely Fantastic new star maps and planetary calendars. You have the rooftop observatory all to yourselves. For those of you who wish to discuss the future, the Astrology group meets in the back room. As usual, some of you wish to mingle, you can stay here in the main room, or one of the unused side rooms to talk in private. And remember, if you find yourself burdened by fear, the Healing group is always willing to accept new members into our group therapy sessions, which happen every other week, in the basement. This is one of the meeting weeks, so you who lack courage, feel free to join us!” Finally, President Trent stepped down. People began to mill, going their separate ways.
Usually, Mr. and Mrs. Ashworth would be with the Astronomy group. They had been in the Club since before they were married, and the observatory was where they had their first date. But today was different. They were going to begin the path to conquering their fears tonight.
Mustering their courage, they followed the President of the Astrolomy Club down the stairs, into the soft and welcoming darkness.
[Welp, here is a very long 'chapter', most of which i did over the past day. So if anything seems weird or doesn't make sense, typos, etc. please let me know so I can fix them up tidy-like asap. hmmmmmm I think I have a picture for this post. Also, big thanks to Malady for being a sounding board for me, it really helped.]
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Char was in a deeper darkness than he had ever experienced. He didn’t know if he was falling or drifting, and when he thought of it, he had no sense of his own form. His senses were oddly absent, and when he tried to find the point of access in his mask, he found himself reaching for nothing. But he wasn’t afraid. This darkness was an absolute absence, but he was an absolute presence in this non-place. In an inversion of his waking experience, instead of an encompassing awareness of everything within his limited space, with little means to interpret the information, he had a limitless knowledge of the void, that which had no definition or meaning, no beginning or end.
He tried to ponder the experience, to properly enjoy it. Words refused to come to him, that he could use to describe it, similar to the way his senses weren’t there when he reached for them. His mind was hitting some wall, or it ended prematurely, somehow cut off. Unnerved, he tried to think of the events that led to this circumstance, only to have his memories similarly barred. What was going on?
With nothing else to do, and only nothing to contemplate, he waited what seemed to be an eternity in the void. Though he didn’t feel the same need for focus as he did when he was awake, he hit drop-dead boredom fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the empty space around him didn’t react to his unrest, and he was forced to wait it out. It had to stop eventually. Hopefully.
From one instant to the next, the void became less than infinite. There was something now, a single point that by virtue of its existence became the center of his universe. He examined it, and found his memory to have expanded slightly, because he could still remember when the point was not there, even as he beheld it. But retrospect, the eternity of waiting wasn’t as long as it had felt at the time. Now, it seemed, the void was but a moment, left in the past. On the other hand, he could still remember his ever-growing boredom, the closest thing to a sense he had, and it was almost painful. He didn’t want to go back to that feeling.
The point was vastly more interesting than the void. For one, it had properties, or at least, he assumed it did. With only nothing to compare it to, properties were meaningless. If it was in motion he wouldn’t be able to tell, because the void was continuous, with no concept of location. These were the thoughts that he entertained, one after the other, as he waited for the world to expand again, as he supposed it might, because it already had, once. The time he waited was miniscule, the firing of a single neuron, but he had no way of knowing.
With the introduction of a second point, he was given many things. Comparison became possible, and he gained an axis. He still had no words to describe them, and he was bored again. For another firing of a neuron he explored the duality of the points, every way they were different, and the ways they were the same, but it was with the detachment that one has when separating colored candies.
From that time on, new points kept appearing, and every time, he gained further understanding and complexity of thought, at a decreasing rate that leveled off over time. Eventually he realized that these points weren’t separate from himself. Each one held a concept, and as a whole, they represented his interpretation of his own senses. The reason he couldn’t remember, was that his memories depended on fragments of sensory information, and he couldn’t use words properly because they were all in some way connected to such memories. The void wasn’t a place, it was the absence of his senses, while they recovered from whatever had been going on just prior.
When he couldn’t stand it anymore, Char shattered the void with a thought and a memory.
“On the other side of every darkness there is some light. If you don’t find it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It means you didn’t look hard enough.”
He had read that somewhere, he thought. He remembered it, and the slight hope he felt when thinking of it. But there was nothing here to read, so the words to heart and passed on to the other side of the darkness. For want of a book, he reached out, and turned away the void, stepping out of the pit into a bright place.
He was standing on a silver pool. Its familiar glow made him feel warm inside, and erased any leftover nihilistic desire to return to the void. He took a few experimental steps to confirm that it would hold him, though by all appearances it was indeed fluid. He took a quick inventory, to make sure that he wasn’t still a vague intelligence, and to his relief he did have a form. But it wasn’t the form he expected. Looking down, he could see his reflection on the pond’s surface. Staring back at him was the face of a girl. He knew that face, somehow, which confused him. It wasn’t Dice, and he hadn’t memorized the face of any of the other girls his age. It wasn’t his mom, either, from what he remembered from some old photos of her in an old album.
Did he remember that, actually? He thought hard about it, and concluded that he did not actually have any album-related memories at all. It confused him, because he thought he had seen one sometime in the last month. It occurred to him that at this moment he was sleeping, so this must be a dream. He looked around. There wasn’t much of anything around the silver pool. Deep clouds drifted above him, and fog on every side.
This isn’t much of a lucid dream, is it? He thought. I should be able to affect it.
He imagined himself with a book, as a test. Nothing happened. A bit disappointed, he tried to will away the fog instead. Again, nothing happened. He took a step into the fog, to see if he could travel through it, but like real fog, it seemed to recenter itself around him at his new position, with everything else fading after a few feet.
Char returned his attention to his reflection. It was partially shrouded by the distance between his eyes and the surface, so he got down on his knees for a closer look. When he placed his hands on either side for support, he felt the silver give slightly. He pressed harder, digging his fingers in, the face in the mirror scowling in concentration. The surface tension of the dream-silver was incredible, but this was a dream, so he technically didn’t have to use his usual weak muscles. This was probably an expression of will, he thought. Mental fortitude, something like that.
The reflection of his face was no longer copying his movements. It appeared to be saying something, but whether the silver blocked the sound or it lacked the capacity in the first place, he could hear nothing other than the general whooshing of a fog-stirring breeze. He leaned closer still, trying to guess the words by making the same shapes with his own mouth.
Hmm. Was it ‘What’s up, the best’? Probably not. The problem was that, (ironically) he no longer had a reflection of himself so he could compare his own mouth shapes when talking to what his reflection was trying to say. He added lip reading to his growing list of skills to learn. He also started to question his own mind’s dream sense. This was getting boring again, and he couldn’t even change anything.
The not-really-a-reflection stopped trying to talk and walked away, out of view. It was a bizarre sight, because she was standing on the underside of what he thought was a reflective surface, and he could see the bottoms of her feet. Char was left staring at an empty space, wondering if maybe the silver was really transparent, and there was something worth looking at on the other side. He pressed his head almost flat against the cool metal, looking at an angle in the direction she’d left. There was still fog on that side, or maybe it was just the reflection of the fog. He didn’t know how abstractly he was supposed to be thinking about it.
Far below the surface, a speck appeared. It grew and grew as it approached the surface, ever faster. He stood up quickly, not wanting to be laying down when it reached him. Then he did a double take, as he recognized it as his reflection, somehow approaching from far below. Was there even gravity below the surface?
That was a stupid question, there didn’t have to be gravity, this was a dream.
He squinted down at the person falling up towards him. He could tell she was yelling something, but that wasn’t going to do him any good if he couldn’t hear….
He froze. He did hear it. But not from below. That made him start thinking of how sound worked in a dream and to what degree it mimicked reality-
“WAAAAKE. UUUP. DUMBAASSSS.”
He didn’t have a chance to look up before the falling reflection landed feet first on his back. With the force of a cannon, he was slammed into the peaceful pool of silver, unyielding and cold.
Miss Carsen was getting uneasy. The time she would usually go home passed her by some 45 minutes ago, and her assistant, bless her heart, was still snoozing on the desk. Every time she went to shake her awake, she’d see that peaceful sleeping face, and be reminded of how it looked when she was red from the heat. It was concerning, given the weather outside was cloudy, fair at best, and nowhere near hot enough for heatstroke to be a problem. The only plausible explanation she could come up with on her own, was that Addalyn was suffering the results of overexertion. It wouldn’t take much, she thought. The poor girl was practically sticks and string. Little wonder she confused her for a boy at first glance.
The librarian paced some more. She didn’t have a pressing reason to return home just yet (her refrigerated leftovers weren’t going to get any colder). On the other hand, she was starting to wonder if Addalyn’s parents knew where she was, and it crossed her mind more than once that she didn’t have a way to contact them. Luckily, before the waiting pushed her worry down another notch to panic, the girl stirred.
“Tha’s one way to wake up.” she mumbled. Looking a little confused, she rubbed the dust from her eyes and drool from her mouth with one sleeve. As she worked the stiff out of her neck she caught sight of Miss Carsen, who was waiting, bemused, off to one side. ‘She’ remembered where she was, and who she was supposed to be. “Ah.” Quicker than thought, the drowsiness left her face and posture and her eyes became serious and unreadable. Addalyn-the-Mask did not like being seen as sloppy.
“Did you have a nice sleep, dear?” the kindly old librarian lady asked her underage volunteer assistant.
“....Yes.” said the assistant reluctantly. Her mouth was pressed thin to hide her embarrassment, but that only made her look sheepish.
“Do you need me to drive you home? You must be very tired.” Miss Carsen was getting some jabs in, but it did her ego no good to take leaves from her own mother’s book of tricks. She dropped the sweetness from a 6 to a 4. “I’m about to leave, myself. The library closed a few hours ago.”
“No. I’ll ride the scooter.” Char did a quick check, confirming that he was stable enough to ride. Strangely, he didn’t feel physically rested, but his thinking was clear, and there was a nice buzz to his vision when he looked around. No pain, no heat, no problems, he thought.
“Well, I’ll see you… when will you be here to work? I forgot to arrange the details, I was so busy.” Actually, she had been invested in a new book series by her favorite science fiction author, but she saw no reason to say that. She needed to look like a responsible adult if she was going to command any authority.
“I can work… weekdays. After 6. PM.” Char didn’t want this library work to cut into his weekend discussions with Dice. He was starting to enjoy them.
“Well, I guess I’ll be blessed with your assistance starting tomorrow.” She hurried Char out the door. She waited for him to get on the scooter and start humming away, then she checked the doors and drove home, eager to get some sleep of her own.
[Whoops, first upload, forgot the endlog. Hello. Hmm, what else.... Oh yeah! This picture is drawn using the Pen tool, instead of the Pencil tool, making it completely different from normal! Fascinatingg. Also I wrote the dream part of this twice. FUN.]
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